"Master! Oh, Masteeeer!" Akizuki Nakuru pounded her fists unabashedly on the door leading to one of her lord's favorite rooms in the empty mansion they had resided in for a year already.

She received no response. It was then that her glance swept on the doorknob, which was holding a pale blue ribbon.

Locked, though not really so. Nakuru had been lectured time and again by her guardian counterpart, Suppi-chan, that their Master Eriol was simply too good-natured to actually lock his door whenever he needed peace, quiet, and solitude—things which the feline not-so-kindly-stated as her complete antithesis. He didn't favor the idea of putting "Do-not-disturb" signs on doors, as the London gentleman had regarded it as too rude a way to ward off close companions such as them.

Hiiragizawa Eriol had simply remedied this little problem by placing a little ribbon on the doorknob to tell his housemates when he would appreciate some time left alone with his centuries-old thoughts.

Now Nakuru here respected the rules imposed by their creator as much as the next person, but…

"But he's been there for hours," she mused, staring at the wooden frame of the door. "Does he really plan to spend his whole day there?" Her master had been getting a lot of friendly calls and greetings, led by, who else, but the Card Mistress herself, who spammed the answering machine with her sunny birthday greetings and well-wishes, and well, mild teasing for him to find a nice lady and settle down. Aside from that, his friends in the Tomoeda University had also left a lot of nice birthday messages for one of the best thinkers of the institution.

And furthermore, the special four-flavors-in-one gigantic ice cream gallon that she saved her allowance for was waiting inside the refrigerator, its birthday candles frozen solid.

All because her Master Eriol chose to frolic with dog-eared pages than to have fun with them.

Had she loved her master a little less, she could have continued to knock on the library door loudly, uncaring whether she was ruining his concentration as he explored the deep dark mating secrets of a beaver. But she revered him, not just as the Clow reincarnation that masterminded their existence, but also as a Master who treated them far above as how he should treat his creations.

His words were as sacred to her as oath itself, and so, even if she couldn't understand the rationale of his actions and decisions sometimes, she would willingly leave him alone.

Giving the door one last longing glance, she backed off and retreated to the stairs sadly.

……………………………………….

Romancing the Queen

A belated birthday request grant for strictly ext. I'm sorry for being days late. My floppy drive won't work -.- BTW, Close Up is near updating status. Just watch out for it, ext-san!

…………………………………………..

Spinel watched Nakuru dejectedly finish the flight of stairs. The cat deemed itself to be above the I-told-you-so lines, yet it couldn't help but sigh loudly—pointedly.

"He wouldn't come down. He wouldn't even answer me." The red-haired servant sat on the last step of the staircase, cupping her chin. "How can we celebrate his birthday if he's not here? It's like…um, eating ice cream without ice!"

"Simile well put," said the cat sarcastically, adjusting its reading glasses that Master Eriol designed especially for it. No optician would take them seriously the first time its master took it downtown to find glasses fitted for its needs, so Eriol decided to dedicate a whole two weeks to study the methods of optometry. Now Suppi was reading its favorite pieces of literature with no problem, except for the bright orange frame that its optometrist mischievously designed. "Just let him be. He'll come down when he's ready."

"But… but…" sputtered the moon servant, "I'm worried! I want to know how he's doing! He hasn't even eaten breakfast yet! The last time I saw him like this was when I accidentally set the library curtains on fire when I was playing with a magnifying glass by the window and then because it was summer, the fire spread through his books, and then I was like, wailing, and you were just sitting there, staring at me as I attempted to stop the fire—"

"I couldn't help it. I was amazed by your sheer brilliance." Spinel remembered Nakuru fighting the fire by spraying it with an air freshener. When it didn't help, she threw the canister to the fire in frustration. The explosion caught Eriol's attention, who was sleeping in his bedroom.

Thus, the mansion was saved. Eriol's books, some of them very old and priced highly, weren't as lucky. The sorcerer had no choice but to spend the whole day cleaning up the scene of the crime.

"But the point is, he has to come down from that place and spend his birthday with us!" Nakuru crossed her arms in front of her chest. "It's his twenty-ninth year in this lifetime! Do you know what it means?"

"Enlighten me."
"Just one more year and he's already thirty!" The moon guardian rolled her eyes at the cat's lack of logic. "And then next, next year he'll be thirty-one!"

"And so the abacus of life continues to move." Suppi shrugged and turned its attention back to the book it was reading.

"You're not listening! You don't understand the gravity of the situation!" shrieked Nakuru.

"Whatever situation are you referring to?" The black cat was forced to give its attention to its counterpart once more.

"His genes are fast aging! And he hasn't passed it on to his next generation yet!"

Silence.

"Ten points for comedy," said Spinel, blinking.

"Noooo! I was not kidding at all!" Nakuru got up and scrunched her fists together. "The Clow bloodline is unsecured! See, Sakura-chan and Master Li Syaoran still hasn't produced an heir…"

Spinel clicked its tongue quietly. Sakura had been diagnosed as having the same disease as the one that killed her mother. Thus, Syaoran had decided that until she was completely cured, they would not be talking any plans about a baby.

"… all of Master Li's sisters are already contented spinsters, and Touya-kun… Touya-kun won't father my future baby!" she exclaimed dramatically.

The cat looked at the lunar sentinel as if she grew another head. "I'm sorry to hurt your feelings but as of this moment, you're not capable of procreating even a bug." Out of compassion towards his servant's pleading, Eriol decided to give Nakuru a real female appearance sans abilities, for according to him, anything beyond what he gave her was interference with the higher powers of creation.

"Who told you I was going to mother a bug?" said Nakuru, offended.

"Fine, fine. Forget that we even had this conversation." Suppi was about to look back at its book when Nakuru sauntered towards it and grabbed its book. She headed for the kitchen, and when she returned, it saw her carrying a bottle of choco syrup.

"Okay, listen up, Suppi-chan. It's either you give me your full, undivided attention, or I let this yummy syrup drip down your boring book!" she announced smugly.

It gave her a narrowed look. "You will do no such thing, Ruby Moon."

She opened the bottle's cap. "Dare me, Spinel Sun, dare me!"

………………………………………..

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of his servants' bickering was now twenty-nine-year-old Hiiragizawa Eriol, who was seated in front of his computer, a palm cupping his chin. He hunched over to assess what was on the screen, and then moved his mouse cautiously.

"Check." He smiled in satisfaction when the computer opponent went silent for awhile, and then admitted defeat.

The next screen flashed his winning streak. Just five more wins away from topping the internet record. He still had two days to beat the number one player, and then keep away challengers for his coveted position.

Stretching, he decided to get some rest for the day. He had been doing this chess marathon the whole night, right after Daidouji Tomoyo-san's secretary sent him a referral link in his email.

He remembered that in the course of calling up her desk and time and again, asking for an appointment with Daidouji-san, they became close acquaintances as well. He had also discovered that she was, in fact, a person he knew back in their elementary days. Mihara Chiharu's braids were replaced by a smart and neat ponytail, but otherwise, she should have been completely recognizable.

Later, he learned that she was still the special best friend of his Tomoeda University colleague, smiling-face Yamazaki. He had since been engrossed in matching the two together.

When he wrote Mizuki Kaho about his activities in Tomoeda, he received a prompt email reply from her.

If you have so much free time as to play matchmaker, then why the heck can't you find a girlfriend there?

To which he replied, I already have one.

Years ago, he and Kaho used to share something special—something that in his twenty-ish naiveté thought would last forever. But then, the eyes of the society weighed much more than they thought. At last, after eleven years, they went separate ways.

She moved on, with a career of her own as an elementary school teacher. He was happy for her, because from the start, he knew that was the kind of life she wanted for herself. But he knew she didn't feel the same for him; there was still guilt in her for leaving him.

Thus, at every opportune time they cross paths, she would always ask him about his special woman. However, much as he wanted to lift her guilt, he wasn't ready for another love story yet. So here he was lying through his teeth, proudly declaring a girlfriend born out of pretenses.

But Mizuki Kaho wouldn't be trusted the knowledge of Clow Reed's secrets had she been less perceiving. I want her picture pronto.

And for the life of him, he found himself attaching the picture of Daidouji Tomoyo that he found in the college library's digital archive.

Like Chiharu-san, Daidouji-san was a face from his Tomoeda Elementary memories. The ubiquitous camera-wielding best friend of the card mistress with an uncanny ability of insight and profound understanding of human emotions and feelings in its most complicated hues.

She earned his respect when she told him about her selfless wish for Sakura-chan to be happy. Her philosophy of happiness had been one of the most convincing reasons why he chose to set aside his gift in sorcery and try to live as a normal average person: in hope that through normal experiences, he would learn these things which were, he believed, understood by normal human beings only.

The brief time he knew her back then made an impact in his memories. But their next meeting, seventeen years after, made even more so.

The first time they met again after so many years was when she unexpectedly showed up in the airport. He could very well remember how their first meeting went.

…………………………………………

Smartly-dressed in white silk blouse with matching scarf and black slacks, the immortal face of Daidouji Tomoyo stood out in the mammoth crowd that flooded the airport.

His recollection of her was a little cheerful girl albeit more reserved than Sakura-chan. The woman he was now staring at had slightly shorter hair, styled just at her slender neck's level. Gone were her colorful hairpieces—she had favored the minimalist pride and had allowed it to influence even her outfit and accessories: a simple diamond-cut wristwatch and a pair of pearl earrings.

She had grown taller, emphasizing her slim figure. From a little angel, she had transformed into a goddess of a modern business cult. The right style, the right facial expression, and just the right aura of authority.

Beside her stood a woman dressed handsomely in dark blue pinstripe suit with dark eyeglasses. He knew though that behind the forbidding lenses were the busily roving eyes of a bodyguard that was reared to trust no security aside from what she could give.

The bodyguard was clutching a walkie-talkie and was speaking to it. A second later, the guard's gaze fell upon him.

He waved awkwardly in response.

A quick conversation transpired in the walkie-talkie, and before he knew it, three more similarly-dressed women had materialized beside him. Polite and no-nonsensically, they assisted him to the waiting vehicle that was parked nearer than most other cars were. It was a Daidouji privilege, he knew, that even most other Tokyo VIPs couldn't invoke.

He found Tomoyo inside the car, seated primly and eyes set dead straight at the car mirror. Her posture was impeccable, but then again, her job demanded that. As the power person who represents her mother's business empire overseas, she had shaped herself into an image that would display solid superiority. Yet her face was a striking soft loveliness, perhaps one of the key factors that helped her mother's company resolve its most difficult conflicts here and abroad whenever she was sent.

He sat down beside her, a sunny smile ready on his face. "Long time no see, Daidouji-san."

She turned to him briefly, nodded formally with a business-like smile, and then spoke. "I trust your flight has been pleasurable."

"The turbulence was frightening. The airline meals make chips gourmet food."

"I'm happy to hear that," she replied wanly. "I hear that most of the time from my mother's visitors."

He was about to reply when behind him, the door opened, and the bodyguards sat in, still clutching their walkie-talkies.

"Don't let them disconcert you," she said when she noticed his uneasiness. "Unless you're planning to harm me, they won't bite."

"Good thing I forgot to bring my car bomb."

"This vehicle is designed to detect presence of TNT, RDX, ammonium nitrate, and other high explosives two seconds after the material has entered the car's perimeter," the bodyguard-driver informed him gravely. "Miss Daidouji attracts the worst kinds of attention most of the times."

When she saw his puzzled face, she shrugged. "Corporate rivals, politicians, old men, stalkers, anti-violent toys advocates…"

"So I am seated with a celebrity."

"It's another way of putting it."

He leaned back on the comfortable seat, enjoying the smoothness of the ride that luxury cars were famous for. "I'm honored that you found time to personally fetch me. I was told to expect your people."

"I was in the neighborhood."

"Sakura briefed me about your activities." He turned to her. "I was expecting that you'll follow your dream and become a singer or a fashion designer. Never in my life that I imagined will you be part of the corporate world."

"Just one of life's little surprises, I guess," she said.

He glanced at her fingers, which was adorned by a simple college ring. "You're not wearing your wedding band?"

"Single." A small smile formed on her face. "Sakura-chan should have told you if I weren't so."

"A good scientist always verifies," he replied, scratching his cheek.

"Miss Daidouji," said the other woman who was seated beside the driver, "We are approaching Mr. Hiiragizawa's residence."

The business-like demeanor returned. She gave him a prim smile. "It was nice meeting you again, Hiiragizawa-kun. I hope you enjoy living in Tomoeda again."

"Won't you come down for awhile and have tea?" he offered.

"Miss Daidouji will be meeting the board of directors shortly," the woman in front said apologetically. From the laptop she was holding and the way she knew Tomoyo's schedule, he guessed that she was her secretary.

"Some other time, I'm sure," he said good-naturedly.

"When my schedule permits," promised Tomoyo.

……………………………….

But it turned out that the schedule she was referring to was stricter than a parent monitoring his daughter's first date. Everytime he would call her secretary for an appointment, it would always be an apologetic note that she was fully booked for the week but that she would personally call him back when her schedule was less demanding.

Meanwhile, as days passed, he slowly realized that Daidouji Tomoyo was actually an icon that everyone worshipped in town. All little girls wanted to be like her, while all the little boys wanted to marry her someday. Businessmen knew her for her outstanding role in epitomizing the whole Daidouji business corporation. Women knew her for the gorgeous men associated with her social life, while men sought her as a passport to their dreams: a beautiful trophy, an instant financial stability, and an envied life of a fisherman that caught one of the sea's very best catches.

The town proudly calls her the Queen, a woman who was as near to the top of the world as one could be. And that was then that it dawned on him that in his previous lifetime when he personally had no knowledge and concern of social stratification, he never really considered social gaps as an issue.

But now, face to face with the bookings, the adoring townsfolk, the bodyguards, and the great margin of a difference between their lifestyles, he finally understood one of the mysteries he had been contemplating at numerous times while inside the library.

Why childhood fairy tales of princes and witches and magic are called "classics".

……………………………………..

"Alright, alright! Drop the book already!" Suppi-chan took off its reading glasses and straightened.

Nakuru smiled triumphantly and threw the book down on the counter. "I knew Suppi-chan will listen!" She sat down smugly and continued to speak. "Now, the situation is, Master Eriol needs to have an heir because as of now, there is no available host in the world that can support Clow Reed's spirit. It requires a connection, no matter how miniscule, to the Li clan. If Master Eriol dies without an heir, Clow Reed won't be able to reincarnate anymore. This means that if ever the Clow cards were set loose again, no one would be able to watch over the card mistress and help her."

"Yes, and…?"

"It's up to Master Eriol himself to continue the bloodline since everyone else is unavailable. Sadly though, he's not particularly interested in anyone right now," explained Nakuru. "He's got practically zero probability of hooking up with anyone anyway since he doesn't go out on dates that aren't library-bound. But if we get him at least one great date that would change his mind about romancing… yes, that is what he needs, a date!" Nakuru got up energetically, divinely inspired. "In fact, I should call Sakura-chan right now and tell her about it!"

"It can't be an ordinary date," said Spinel wryly, making her stop. "The person must be someone who could stand Master Eriol's attitude and interests. That's the only way a date could succeed."

"Details, details. We'll worry about that later!"

"Involving the card mistress would only complicate things, Nakuru," said the cat sternly as it watched her skip towards the phone cheerfully. "Besides, what will Master Eriol think of himself when he finds out that we had made an open book out of his love story?"

"It's not as if we'll publish it." The lunar servant started to dial the numbers written on the nearby scratch pad. "At least not until we get handsome bank figures."

"You're insane," muttered the feline, but it settled nearby to see how the conversation would go.

"Hello Mistress Li! Is Sakura-chan there? It's her sister-in-law!"

…………………………………………………….

Li Syaoran brushed the stray wisps of his wife's hair before tenderly planting a kiss on her forehead. "I'm sure you miss everyone in Tomoeda."

Kinomoto Sakura's green eyes twinkled. "I'm not coming back there unless I have a baby."
Syaoran's eyes flickered in sadness. It was Sakura's optimistic way of referring to her hopes for recovering from the same illness that deprived her of a mother. They had talked about this delicate matter seriously in the past, and Sakura was determined to cure her sickness first before she would have a baby. It was her way to protect the child from passing to him what she was suffering now.

Medical advances were brimming with promises, but Syaoran was still fighting his fear. He loved the cherry blossom too much to lose her now—she was his very life.

A knock on the door jolted him out of his thoughts. He turned to the door. "Who's there?"
"Meiling. With the phone. Sakura's sister-in-law is calling all the way from Japan."

Syaoran got up and opened the door, frowning. "Sister-in-law? From Japan?"

Li Meiling smirked. "Yukito has a sister?"

"It's Nakuru," said Sakura smilingly.

Syaoran watched in puzzlement as Meiling handed the phone to his wife.

"Nakuru-chan! How are you? Oh yes, I'm sorry for flooding your answering machine. I'm just too excited! Eriol's twenty nine already, right?" Sakura paused to listen. "Hmm? He hasn't left the library yet? I'm sure he'll come down soon… he must be reading a very good book that he can't put down."

More voices from the other side of the phone. He watched as the brown-haired girl blinked, and then laughed. "You're worrying too much! He's still young! Haven't you heard of men who father children even at age sixty? It's all about the drive!"

Meiling burst into laughter as her cousin's face darkened.

"Oh really? A date?" Sakura's grin widened. "I wouldn't have guessed. Well, he's a handsome fellow, the genes must be passed to the future generations." She nodded as she listened to the other side of the phone rant. "Yes, yes, I know the implications of not having a host for Clow Reed's spirit—ah, Nakuru-chan! If you only called earlier, I would have been able to do something to help. Oh… Syaoran-kun won't let me talk to you?" She eyed her husband, confused. "Well, anyway, don't worry. I already know what I'm going to do."

"What are you talking about?" Li burst out before he could stop himself.

Sakura smiled at him but gave no reply. Instead, she spoke to Nakuru. "I'll call you when I've gotten him a date. Okay, bye-bye!"

When she placed the phone down, her husband threw her a suspicious look. "Surely you weren't discussing romantic possibilities that involve Hiiragizawa Eriol? And what's with the talk about drives?"

"I don't have to answer that, do I? It's my secret." She spoke when he was about to open his mouth. "You keep yours too, don't you?"

Sensing a couple discussion ahead, Meiling seized the cue to gracefully leave the two alone. She closed the door gently behind her.

Syaoran's face softened. "Sakura, I just don't want you to hear stories about your hometown. I don't want you to miss Tomoeda more than you do now."

"Ne, Syaoran-kun, it's almost like not willing yourself not to write to me then when you were still in Hongkong," she reasoned. "Your letters make me miss you so badly, yes, but it somehow brings you nearer to me. Reading them eases my longing in a little way, and makes me look forward to seeing you someday." She touched his hand affectionately. "Please let me keep in touch with the people back home. It makes me really happy to know how everyone is doing."

And how could he ever refuse his wife? Sighing, he clasped her hand with his.

"Thank you," she said, beaming gratefully. "Now if you may excuse my hand, it must get busy and start doing some phone calls."

…………………………………………

"Is that all?" asked Daidouji Tomoyo as she and her personal assistant-slash-secretary, Chiharu walked into her office. They had just came out of a dinner meeting with a possible business partner, and if things would go smoothly, the company might just be able to launch a new product line— singing dolls modeled after the female icons of the music industry. Packaged with a wardrobe popularized by the respective stars, flexible joints that could even clasp mini-microphones, and washable make-up kits, she was very certain of its salability come market time. But she would suggest that along pop superstars like the Britney dolls, they would release a limited edition of local teen idols that made waves outside the island of Japan.

"Yes. You're on parole this evening," said her secretary lightly, closing the door. "You may want to check on your calls."

Tomoyo peered on the electronic list. Her reliably systematic secretary had arranged the calls in hierarchal order from the most important to casual inquiries. Personal calls had also been separated.

"Is Mr. Hiiragizawa still calling?" she found herself asking out of curiosity.

"Missing him already?" teased the secretary.

"It's a yes or no type of question, Chiharu." Tomoyo shook her head. "Besides, he's a nice person…"

"And what's wrong with that?"

"Nothing much," she said slowly. "It's just that he's different from all the men I knew. He's a person that can… distract me."

Chiharu cupped her chin. "Which is why you ask me to lie about your schedule everytime he inquires. But really now, what's not to like about him? Yamazaki told me that Mr. Hiiragizawa is quite a popular professor among his ranks and the whole student body. Intelligent, laidback, and down-to-earth."

"There's nothing wrong with him," said Tomoyo. "It's just that my life's okay now even without its romantic hues."

"There is something better than plain old 'okay'," she advised. "Try falling in love."

"Falling in love means losing control. It makes one unfocused. That's perilous to my job." Daidouji Tomoyo's tone echoed with finality.

She was about to close the list when her attention was caught by a name that she didn't expect to see in the list.

"S-Sakura-chan!" Her purple eyes lit up like Christmas lights.

Chiharu had to smile. It was very rare that she would see her boss light up as radiantly as this. And she was grateful, for she herself would mourn deeply if Daidouji Tomoyo's entire persona was buried underneath the formalities and toughness of the identity that went along with her job.

Tomoyo was already eagerly dialing on the phone. "I tried calling her once or twice, but Li told me that it won't help her treatment if she would hear from any of us in Japan. It's been a year since I last talked to her."

The assistant sat down on her own table and began to clear her things as Tomoyo spoke on the phone. "Yes, life is one very hectic schedule for me right now, but I'm trying my best to cope with it. Thank you for asking, Meiling." She paused, and then laughed. "Sakura-chan! How are you? Really? I'm so relieved to know you're doing well. No one would tell me what's happening to you."

"A favor?" Tomoyo listened for awhile, and then exclaimed, "EH?"

Chiharu looked at her boss, puzzled.

……………………………………………………………..

Nakuru hung up the phone. "Sakura-chan just called. Master Eriol is going to kick himself out of this house tonight, whether he likes it or not."

Spinel snorted.

"He will!" said the moon servant confidently. "Sakura-chan had set him up on a blind date!"

The feline gaped at her. "Blind… that's preposterous!"

"Yeah, isn't it cool?" said Nakuru cheerfully.

As if on cue, Eriol went downstairs, stretching lazily. "Good morning, everyone!"

Spinel eyed the blue-haired man dryly. "Time zone differences, Master?"

He looked around, and then sweatdropped. "Hey, what do you know? It's already dark! How long had I been playing?"

"It's your birthday, Master Eriol," said Nakuru, pouting.

"Um…it is?"

"Well, I'll scold you for this later," decided the moon servant, flipping her scarlet mane behind her shoulders. "But for now, you have to get dressed."
"For what?"

Nakuru smiled sweetly. "You've got a date!"

…………………………………………..

To be continued