Chapter Twelve

It felt like only a few seconds had passed. Syaoran opened his eyes to see a cloudless sky above. He could hear birds chirping somewhere close by and children laughing in the distance. A feeling of déjà vu tickled his senses. For a moment he wondered if he'd returned to the same dream from a few nights ago in which he'd chased after Sakura though she'd kept slipping away from his grip.

Something next to him moved and moaned. His brows furrowed. If the spell had worked then he shouldn't be able to feel anything; he'd be nothing but air, just like Yue said.

"Did we make it?" came Sakura's muffled voice. She lifted her head and turned to Syaoran. "Are we in the past?"

The rest of his senses came to life just then. He felt Sakura's fingers twined with his and the weight of her legs on top of one of his. Slowly, he rose into a sitting position and, blinking rapidly, observed his surrounding.

The Li mansion stood behind them, but something about it looked different. Instead of glass panels, the door had a solid wood frame and the windows had shutters. The driveway that curved from the main gate to the front of the house had disappeared, and in its place laid a narrow pavement framed with rose bushes and hydrangeas. Unless the drastic change had magically occurred over a matter of minutes, Syaoran believed he was staring at his family's house in its early years. Hopefully, in the year that he was born.


And Sakura was there with him. Together they could roam around freely and learn about his past. They'd closely observe his sisters and decide if they had always been spoiled princesses. Oh, and Sakura would see the baby version of him. The embarrassment . . . .

Wait. Syaoran's head snapped around to the girl. Sakura! Was there! With him!

Oh God.

He cussed under his breath.

"What's wrong?" Sakura asked, sitting up as well. She smoothed her kimono with her hands.

It couldn't be. No, no, no, no, no. It could notnotnot be!

"Syaoran-kun, you're white as a ghost," Sakura joked and giggled..

He couldn't smile. He couldn't move. His heart stopped beating for a second. How could he have been so DUMB as to let slip something so vital? Sakura mustn't be there -- how the hell would he return to the present without help from the other side, and with all the powers required to bring him back being there, with him, in the past? The consequences were dire, if not downright lethal.

"Sakura--" he choked. He couldn't tell her. She'd freak out. He took a couple of deep breaths and tried again. "Yes, Sakura, we are in the past. But you aren't supposed to be here. You were supposed to stay back and bring me home."

Sakura stared at him, flabbergasted.

"I made a mistake." Syaoran sighed, his eyes fluttering closed. "I should've remembered that a card captor's spell is like an electrical current. It's the most basic law." He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Do you ever get electrical shock?"

Sakura nodded.

"Do you ever touch someone when that happens to them?"

She pondered, and then nodded. "Tomoyo, in first grade. We were playing with the new product from her mom's company when she got a shock, and I grabbed her thinking I could get her off of the thing, but got shocked in return."

"Well, physical contact with any person, or any being, that occurs during spell-casting allows the magic to course through that person too, just like what happened between you and Tomoyo. You and I touched, and that simply granted me a fraction of the power being generated. Since I grabbed onto you . . . ."

Sakura's eyes widened in horror, her hand flew up to her mouth. "Oh . . . ."


"Kero-chan never told me this! How could he miss something crucial like this?!"

"He never thought anyone would be stupid enough to touch you during spell-casting."

"But people have made physical contact with me before. Meilin, when I was sick that night, and you, too, when I was changing Light and Dark into Sakura Cards!"

"Those were different; you weren't exactly casting a spell then. Meilin helped hold your wand after you cast the spell. I channeled my powers to you so that you could transfer the cards to Sakura Cards, also after you cast the spell. But just now we held on to each other during the casting of the spell." Syaoran groaned. "If both of us are here and no one on the other side has The Time to bring us back . . . ."

Sakura scanned her surrounding frantically. "But I can use The Time from here, right? I can bring us back from here, can't I?"

"I honestly don't know." He let out a long sigh, his brain searching for options.

"What--" Sakura paused and swallowed, her heart thrashing violently as she considered the worst possibility. She took a deep breath and continued in a tiny voice, "--what happens if we can't go back?"

"We will go back," Syaoran replied quickly, his hand squeezing Sakura's. "I won't let you think otherwise. I'll bring us back."

I don't know how, he thought, but I will. I promise you that.

Their eyes met for a second, and Sakura realized what Syaoran was silently asking her to do. She concentrated and immersed herself in the intensity of the moment. Then she felt it, the confidence, the belief, the fierce hope for the best outcome. If Syaoran said they'd be able to go back, they would.

Feeling calmer, Sakura nodded and smiled. "Okay, then." She took Syaoran's hand and let the boy pull her up to her feet.

"For now, let's just focus on what we came here for."

Remembering his promise to Touya, Syaoran warned gently, "Watch where you walk. Make sure you don't accidentally step on anything. Don't touch anything and try not to sneeze or cough."

Sakura quickly averted her eyes to the grass to make sure she wasn't about to step on flowers. She frowned at the sight. "Oh my," she breathed, and stopped walking. "Syaoran--"

He tugged on her hand when she halted and urged her to move along. "We need to hurry up. Um, you're very sure we can't be seen, right?"

Shaking the bewilderment aside for a moment, Sakura looked up and nodded. "If I wasn't before, I sure am now. Syaoran-kun--" She glanced down again. It was creepy. Scary, even. She hadn't realized it before, she hadn't noticed. It turned out that Kero had forgotten to tell her about a lot of things indeed.

The grass underneath her shoes did not budge as she trod along, as if a very thin and very transparent layer of glass hovered above the earth just high enough to cover the grass, and she was walking on it. Her steps left behind a fuzzy, smoky trail, like mist.

"Let's move on, please," Syaoran insisted, his grip on Sakura's hand tightened. She decided Syaoran would find out sooner or later, and quickened her pace as much as the kimono allowed her to.

As they came closer to the front entrance of the house, the sound of laughter that Syaoran had heard earlier intensified. It came from the vast yard behind the house. Voices of little children -- he couldn't tell if they were boys or girls -- followed by a carefree laughter of a man and the cheerful yells of a woman. He veered off towards the sound and crept sideways with his back flat against the wall. Sakura's hand was warm and soft in his clammy, trembling one. He could not detect a hint of nervousness in her at all. Envy welled up in him. If only he could have just a fraction of her confidence.

"What are we doing back here?" she whispered.

"Making sure we're in the right timeframe. When Meilin and I were little, she used to come here every day to play with me and my sisters. I just hope that isn't her we hear screaming in the playground right now."

They reached a corner of the house that provided them with unlimited view of the yard. Under a tree, a young woman sat holding a baby, laughing as she watched four little girls playing tag in the field. The man standing just a little behind her looked utterly familiar.

Sakura gasped. "Wei-san!"

About a decade younger, with jet black hair slicked back neatly and a crisp black and white uniform that wrapped his tall figure perfectly, Wei looked like he'd just stepped out of a magazine. The image of a perfect butler. Syaoran stifled a snicker.

"Wish I had a camera." Sakura giggled.

"That's Meilin's mother." Syaoran pointed at the lady. "How old do you think the baby is?"

Sakura chewed on her bottom lip and squinted at the baby. "I went to a cousin's house some time ago and her baby was about two months old. Baby Meilin looks bigger. I'm guessing around three or four months?"

"If you're correct then we've definitely entered the right timeframe. I may have just been born minutes ago."

Sakura cringed. "You know how extraordinarily weird that sounds?"

Syaoran turned around and headed towards the mansion, Sakura's hand back in his. Once inside, he quickly ran up the stairs and jogged to the room at the very end of the corridor. He hesitated at the door.

"This is my parents' room." He stared at the frame. "They're probably inside right now, my mother and father."

"Go on in, then," Sakura encouraged, a big smile on her face. "I'll wait out here."

His fingers reached for the doorknob . . . and they disappeared in the round-shaped bronze metal. Tiny sparkles pooled at his wrist and hovered for a moment around the doorknob before they too vanished.

"Whoa, geez!" he gasped and pulled his hand back. He cradled it with his other hand and examined it carefully, palm and back. He counted his fingers to make sure they were all intact and rubbed them against his jeans several times, roughly at first, and then gently. He hadn't lost feeling in them.

"I wanted to tell you about this earlier outside," Sakura said. "The grass didn't move when we walked. Then I tried to touch the wall while we watched your sisters playing but my hand went through it, and it glittered just the same."

"The Return allows you to witness events in the past as a ghostly observer only," Syaoran whispered. "That's what Yue said. He said we can't interact with people and can't touch things. Basically we're nothing but air. We're like ghosts. People can't see us and we can't touch anything solid."

His expression soured once the words sank in.

"This must be what being dead would feel like. I used to think that ghosts could feel things, like they could touch us just for fun. That's why when you're alone in a dark room, sometimes you feel something cold running on the back of your neck, that's their finger trailing down your spi--"

"Stop it!" Sakura hissed, hands covering her ears. Her eyes snapped shut. She was trembling. "Please don't bring up the subject of spirits and death!"

Syaoran's arm flew around her shoulders. "I forgot. I didn't mean to scare you. Meilin always likes those kinds of stories, so I'm used to just blurting it out like that. I'm sorry."

Sakura gently removed Syaoran's arm and squeezed his fingers, smiling a little. "It's fine. I just hate ghost stories. Anyway, why is it that we can still feel each other, though?"

"I guess we only appear ghost-like to this world. Now, if I can't touch the door knob . . . "

"Maybe you should just . . . walk through?" Sakura suggested. Syaoran stuck a foot in the wooden door and it went through it just like specters do in cartoon movies. That gave him a good enough boost of confidence. "Come with me." He turned to Sakura. "Please."

She nodded, and they both stepped through the door. It felt like walking through an archway.

A four-poster bed stood against the far wall. A sheer white curtain draped around it, its hems pooling on the floor. Attached to the bed was a small wooden crib. The powder blue blanket and sheet peeking through the bars on its side. On the bed, Yelan Li was asleep, the quilt pulled up to her chin. Slowly Syaoran inched toward the crib. He had been so absorbed with the idea of meeting his father that he had forgotten to prepare himself for this -- he was about to see himself as a baby.

A muffled gasp from somewhere on his right side startled him. Sakura beat him to the crib and peered in. "Ohhhhhhhhh -- Syaoran-kun, you're soooo cute!"

"Eurgh," he groaned, grimacing as if he was in pain, and turned to a different direction. "I'd rather not look. This is too weird."

He averted his eyes and observed the rest of the room, amazed with the fact that it looked exactly the same as in the present: his mother's vanity, the small piano, the desk and the hutch. Yelan had kept all the details intact, except for one. His eyes fell on a painting of his parents in their wedding attire, hung above her mother's desk. That had now been removed and replaced with an exquisite European artwork of a flowery meadow and a luxurious mansion.

Sakura, bending over the crib, cooed at baby Syaoran. She reached in to touch, only to be disappointed when her fingers passed through the baby's skin. The baby laughed. "You know, I think you like me." She giggled at her own statement.

Syaoran rolled his eyes and tugged on her elbow impatiently. "My father's not here. Come on, let's not waste any more time."

Reluctantly, Sakura straightened up and followed Syaoran out into the hallway.

"Where to next?" she asked, practically bouncing beside him.

Syaoran raised an eyebrow. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

She giggled. "I get to have a peek at your life in the early years. It's exciting!" She made it sound as if they were roaming around at Disney World or something.

Syaoran tried to suppress his smile so as not to appear encouraging, but failed. Sakura looked too cute like that.

"We have a little shrine on the east side of the house, out in the garden. My mother goes there every month to say grace, and also on special occasions like birthdays, New Year's Day, and my father's death anniversary. She calls it a ritual that she and my father used to do together. I'm thinking he might be there right now to say thanks for my birth."

They trotted down the stairs and out of the house. Syaoran turned towards the backyard and took another turn around the corner. Sakura found it amusing when she recognized that Wei's current precious Koi pond was merely a spot covered in shrubbery. Colorful butterflies floated from one flower to another.

The pearly white and elegant gazebo stood not too far from it, and a little to the left of that, hidden behind a leafy archway, was a small shrine. They saw someone kneeling by a stone shelf full of offerings.

"He's there," Syaoran whispered, his voice trembling a little. "Let's go."

It wasn't really cold feet that made him take a pause at the mouth of the archway, but rather the eerie fact that, from this close a distance, the man looked like the adult version of him. He took a step forward to get a better sideways view of the man. The contour of his father's face resembled that of Syaoran's quite perfectly, apart from his jaw, which was more squared while Syaoran's rounded a bit at the sides. The thick eyebrows he definitely inherited, and so were the thin, small lips. The man even had the same hairstyle, though it was a darker shade of brown. And he was tall, much taller than Sakura's brother, and so nicely built that Syaoran couldn't help but feel envious.

"Father," he whispered. All intentions to annul the blood-signed ultimatum of a marriage forgotten, Syaoran stood like a statue, staring unblinkingly at his father, speechless and in awe.

Slowly Sakura retreated, untangling her fingers from his hand. "I'm going to see what Wei's up to," she decided, stepping backwards little by little.

When he didn't respond she turned around and walked quickly to the other side of the house.

Syaoran took a step closer towards his father, and then another. The man's long and slender fingers clasped together elegantly. His muscular forearms peeked out of the sleeves of his robe and Syaoran noticed how nicely tanned they were. His shoulders rose up and down gently as he breathed, and his handsome face carried a peaceful expression. His lips moved soundlessly. Syaoran had subconsciously leaned forward so close to his father now that he could've touched him if he wanted to . . . if he could touch.

The need to hold his father in a quick embrace washed over him without warning, such a strong sensation it was that his breath caught. For so many years he had dreamed of having a father, of how it would feel to be hugged by one, to shake a father's hand at the end of every martial art competition he'd won, to fall into his arms at every birthday, and to look into a father's eyes that would look back at him with pride.

He was physically there right now. Syaoran felt a lump growing in his throat.

Suddenly, the man before him smiled, his eyes fluttering open.

"So," he said very softly, "aren't you going to say hello?"

He rose to his feet and turned to face Syaoran. The gleam of pride was bright in his eyes as he spoke, "My son. I thought you'd never come."

- - -

Syaoran opened his mouth to speak, but all the words caught in his throat. He suddenly realized how ridiculous he must have looked -- widened eyes, shocked expression, gaping mouth.

"Your mother's done a remarkable job raising you," his father said. "My son."

There was that word again.

"You--" Syaoran choked. He swallowed and tried again. "You can see me?"

Of all the things that he would've wanted to say to his father, this definitely wasn't first on the list.

His father nodded. "Magic," he replied, waving his hand in the air nonchalantly like it was something so obvious that Syaoran shouldn't have had to question. "It's a wonderful thing, isn't it?"

"I thought using The Return makes us invisible."

"Yes, but people with extraordinary magical abilities can pierce through its powers and see the invisible, touch the untouchable."

His father extended one hand, palm up, and encouraged Syaoran to place his hand on it. Syaoran did. The hand felt warm. He pulled back immediately.

"I thought only Clow Reed . . . ."

The man stepped forward a little; Syaoran stepped back in reflex. The gesture seemed to have stirred something that made his father's smile falter. But the next second his lips curled up into a grin again, and he gestured toward a bench nearby. "Why don't we take a seat for a bit and have a little talk."

"I'm not sure I can," Syaoran said a little too quickly. He couldn't figure out why he felt wary and uncomfortable. Hadn't he dreamed of this day for ever?

"I know you are in a hurry," his father said. "But I promise I won't keep you long. Please, just a tiny bit of time?"

After a few seconds of consideration, more to gather up nerves and to calm the maddening pounding in his heart, Syaoran nodded. His eyes were glued to his father as they walked over to the bench. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing the reflection of himself a couple of decades older.

He carefully kept his distance from his father on the bench. How strange that after spending practically his entire life imagining this meeting, he was spooked to the bones now that it finally happened.

"Syaoran," the man said, and suddenly chuckled. "That is such a beautiful name, if I may say so myself. I chose well."

"I thought Mother named me."

"She gave me two lists of names, girls and boys. All of them were wonderful, but I got to choose one from each list that was best. It took me nearly an hour sifting through those, mind you. The first time I got to call you by your name was just minutes ago -- and now here you are, a teenager already."

"Thank you … for my name."

"You're welcome," the man said with a smile. "So, you came here to ask me a favor."

Syaoran's brows furrowed. His father laughed.

"Magic lets you in on a lot of secrets. I know why you're here." He placed both hands on his lap, fingers interlaced. "The will I wrote, one that binds you in a marriage with Faikong Xiu's daughter. Such a nuisance that is."

"Please know that I would never disobey you, Father," he said quickly, feeling a jolt when he said the word. "But to go ahead with your will means that I'm betraying myself. I hardly know Fang Yin. I met her just a few days ago and now she's supposed to be engaged to me for life. It's truly quite unjust for the both of us." Syaoran looked down at the pebbles on the ground. "Especially considering the fact that I'm in love with someone else . . ."

His father placed one hand on Syaoran's shoulder, very gently. Syaoran didn't flinch. He felt the grip tightened just a tad. "I know you are. You wouldn't be here otherwise."

The older man's gaze followed a butterfly fluttering over a peony and then away into the gazebo. He cleared his throat before speaking. "There is something you should know about this will. Faikong Xiu and I wrote it together and our bloods were dropped to bind the agreement. He is such an ambitious man and has been so determined to marry his offspring into our family. Unfortunately they haven't been able to conceive all these years -- until now. I agreed that if our babies were both of the same gender, they would become brothers or sisters, and if they were a boy and a girl, they would be betrothed by the age of thirteen."

He turned to Syaoran and offered a weak smile. "I realized how difficult this could turn out for you -- for the both of you -- so, eventually, I managed to have him agree that if either of you found your true love and wished to annul the engagement, we would honor your decision."

Syaoran perked up. "Oh, thank you. Thank you so much! But why wasn't it written in the will?"

His father's smile turned mischievous. "Well, how else would I ever get to see you in person like this? I'm a selfish man, I admit. I deliberately arranged it so that one day you would come to ask me yourself. And now that the time comes, I'll put the last and most important part of the agreement into writing. When you go back, ask your mother to turn the parchment over and read the part on the back."

"Thank you, Father."

Syaoran received a smile in return. "You're welcome." The man stood up. "Is it time for you to go now?"

"Actually, may I ask you a couple of questions first?"

He sat back down, this time closer to Syaoran. "Fire away." They had the same eyes, but his father's were brighter, more intellectual.

"How can you see me? According to Yue, only Clow Reed and Kaho Mizuki have the ability to dismantle the properties of the cards."

"Yue the Judge was one of Clow's creations. His knowledge and memories go back as far as the day Clow created him, but never further. Clow taught Kaho Mizuki the magic behind the cards so that he would have someone to back him up just in case mishaps happened, or if the cards went out of hands. But in our case," he turned a little in his seat to face Syaoran, "we're family. Our blood ran in Clow's veins and his blood spreads mischief in ours. You do recall that his great powers sprung from the mix of Eastern and Western magic together?" His eyes twinkled for a second as one corner of his mouth curved upwards. "We are the Eastern part of it."

"So you're saying that naturally we have some of his powers."

"Better than that," his father replied. "We made him the way he was. Do you know where he gathered his magical powers?"

"In China."

"In the Li house in China, to be exact. Our family lived there for centuries, until about two generations ago when my great grandfather decided to relocate to a new world that is Hong Kong. Would you be so surprised if I told you that the library at our house is the original place Clow Reed recognized his powers for the first time? He spent his childhood poring over those dusty books. Forever a bookworm! For years he practiced magic and trained himself most diligently. He was an intelligent man to begin with of course, a beautiful advantage that eventually led him to acknowledge that if he blended his strong Eastern and Western magical sources, he could have the world folded in the clasp of his hands. And finally, that one fateful day, he did. And born was the most powerful wizard in the universe."

Syaoran felt smug that he would now be able to brag about all this to Yue and Kerberos.

"How do you know so much about Clow Reed?"

"I happen to be in possession of his diaries. He started writing them at seven years old and never stopped fulfilling parchment after parchment of life stories. Later on in the years he switched to plain, conservative books."

"Do you still have . . . I mean, may I read them?"

His father chuckled lightly. "Sure. Ask your mother for them. She insisted on keeping Clow's diaries locked up since the day your oldest sister was born. Your mother strongly believes that Clow's magic may inflict harm on the family. She made an oath to not let any of her children learn magic the way Clow did. She dreads the day any of you would come across his diaries and read them, and you might be intrigued, or worse, encouraged, to follow his footsteps."

"That really contradicts with the enthusiasm she demonstrated in regards to capturing Clow cards," Syaoran said. "She even sent me to Japan."

His father raised an eyebrow. "Did she, now?"

"I'm sure she just felt that the cards belong in the family and wanted them back."

"And you succeeded."

Syaoran blushed. "I captured a few, but failed to gain their trust in the end. Those cards were meant to fall into her hands, after all. She's a lot more powerful than I can ever be."

"She . . . ?"

Syaoran's cheeks turned redder.

"Sakura Kinomoto. The cards came to her and eventually chose her to be their owner. I went to school with her. We . . . became really good friends."

His father's eyes twinkled gleefully. "And Sakura's the reason you're here."

Syaorand nodded. He began to talk about Sakura and his feelings for her, and even mentioned the dream he had of the future with her, blushing furiously all the while. Just like water contained in a dam that suddenly came loose, the words rushed out of his mouth so comfortably. It amazed him how strangely at ease he felt. Being a private person he often found it difficult to confide in anyone, even the ones he considered his closest -- Meilin, Wei, his mother. But here he was pouring his heart out to someone he'd just met literally minutes before.

His father's expression softened when Syaoran finished.

"Do you want to meet her?"

The older man's eyes widened. "Sakura? She's here . . . ?"

Syaoran flinched.

"She used The Return to take you here but she's also here?"

"Yes, we kind of had a fluke. Would you think it wise to utilize The Time to return to the present?"

"Oh dear." His father's eyes moved rapidly, his brows furrowed in the middle of his forehead. Syaoran could almost hear the man thinking. Now he felt terribly nervous.

"Of all the times Clow played around with those cards, it is my son that has to get caught in the past. Although to be fair, Clow was so much more mature and possibly smarter than a couple of thirteen-year-olds."

"Father, we made a mistake. We need to know how to get back now, preferably before the betrothal ceremony begins."

"Close your eyes."

Syaoran raised an eyebrow at the request.

"Just close your eyes and imagine a very long thin thread that connects you to, say, a friend of yours who lives across the street . . . across a very wide street. Are you seeing it?"


"You hold on to one end and he holds the other end. Whenever you need someone to talk to you can just tug on your end and your friend will know it's time to talk."


"Well, now imagine both of you standing on the same side, holding just that particular end of the thread. Do you suppose you'd wiggle it around hoping to get a grip on the opposite end, the end that you can't see, or do you pull the thread in?"


"Or imagine this. You tie one end of a rope to your house and hold on to the other end while you're walking into the jungle. If the thread broke, how would you get home?"

"Father, I get it."

Syaoran eyed Sakura walking towards them from the field and waved her over. He could just anticipate her ear-splitting HOEEEEE! when he'd tell her they might not be able to go back.

The introduction went briefly, a bit rushed even, and afterwards Sakura and the older Li continued to stare at each other. Syaoran's father reached a hand to touch Sakura on her shoulder. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. Sakura did the same.

Seconds passed. They both looked up and smiled at each other.

"You've been through a lot, young lady," Li senior stated. "I am proud of your accomplishments."

"Thank you." Sakura bowed. "I hope to learn more to understand things better."

"You will. My son, on the other hand--" Syaoran squirmed; his cheeks began to color again. "--he will need your help."

It bothered Syaoran more than a little that Sakura and his father shared important and private things that he could never have done, because he was not the chosen card captor. Without a doubt they had passed on each other's memories just now, most likely on Li senior's wish, and now his father knew everything about Sakura and Sakura had seen a glimpse of his life.

Swallowing the green monster deep into the pit of his stomach, Syaoran placed a hand on his father's forearm. "If there is any way at all you can think of to bring us back, Father."

Sakura opened her mouth to speak, a look of horror in her face. Li senior raised one hand to stop her.

"Is your mother home?"

They both nodded.

"Of course she is, silly me. It's your betrothal, where else would she be. Come with me."

Without the existence of the flowers and the herb gardens Syaoran hardly recognized the trek, but when they reached a certain section in the open field, the sense of familiarity washed over him. His father pointed at a short stalk on the ground.

"Knock on it twice, and then again three times."

It felt odd, but Syaoran crouched and knocked. "What is this thing?"

"It's a beginning of a tree."

"Will it grow high to the sky and take me to a celestial palace where a giant slumbers?"

His father gave him a look, though without meanness. "If you're lucky, your mother would have been waiting on the other side and heard your knocking. She will pull in the unattended thread."

The stalk shivered and a faint tap tap tap emanated from inside it.

"Your mother's ready." Li senior turned to Sakura. "You may now call The Time, Sakura. Oh, and use that other card, too. " He gave Sakura a meaningful look. "It'll get you across safer. "

Sakura understood immediately and pulled out The Time and The Hope.

"How does Mother know?" Syaoran asked his father as Sakura busied herself with the cards.

"Well, I guess once you and Sakura are gone I'll have to go upstairs, wake her up and tell her about all this. Then I'll inform her what to do thirteen years from today."

It suddenly made sense to him. When his mother insisted that he wear his robes to the tea ceremony, she mentioned something to Meilin about giving him more time. Having The Mirror go through the dozen layers of his ceremonial robes and then putting on the sword, the shoes, and the headpiece, that must have bought him at least a good half hour.

"Have a save trip, son." Li senior leaned forward and pulled Syaoran into a hug.

A different arm tugged on Syaoran's hand urgently just as he was about to tighten his embrace. Sakura screamed something intangible, and suddenly a powerful force swirled around him and yanked him off the ground. He let out a surprised gasp, hands flailing before his eyes.

The next second his body descended to the ground and he fell with a loud thud. He saw stars behind his eyelids. It took a moment before the view finally swam into focus.

((ch. 13 – Final Chapter))

Note: Exactly two years ago today I published Winged Hope with confidence that I'd get it done before the Fourth of July of the same year. At that time it seemed highly feasible; I was bed-ridden, sick as a dog, and really had nothing to do but twiddle with my fingers. Might as well jot down waves of ideas onto the computer. I'd just finished watching the second movie for the third or fourth time then, my hyperactive muse was bouncing off the walls in my head, whispering – no, shouting -- scenes and dialogues between Sakura and Syaoran, Meilin and Tomoyo, and even Meilin and Fang Yin. The original story idea I had at the time was a tad different from what you've been reading here. Two years later, I'm still not done writing Winged Hope. I wish real life activities/issues did not have to interfere with my hobbies. But I am happy to say that the Final Chapter comes up next, and then the Epilogue, and then I'll be DONE. :) To those who have been here since the beginning, THANK YOU for sticking with me, for your patience, for your encouragement and wonderful feedback/reviews. They are very much appreciated and you are very much loved.

Armageddon Angel – you are DA BOMB DOT COM. You rock hardcore. Thank you, thank you, thank you!