A/N: And I swear. Cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The last chapter. Let's celebrate.
Card Captor Sakura (c) CLAMP.
- - - - -
- - - - -
There are questions that need a lot of contemplating before answering, such as mothers' perennial favorite 'Where have you been?' and 'Which dress would impress?' and those sort of things.
However, to this question, Sakura knew the exact answer. There was no other option, see.
Syaoran looked up her expectantly, eyes amber and fierce.
Tears brimmed at the edges of her eyes.
"Syaoran...I can't," she said firmly in a voice that wavered dangerously.
He stared at her, eyebrows knotting together. "...Sakura?" he asked quietly.
"I..." her voice broke, and she gripped convulsively at her skirts, not really seeing them through the blur of tears. "I'm not--" she fumbled for her words. "--ready, Syaoran...I can't, I just can't! I, oh, I'm so stupid, Syao, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so--"
A finger was suddenly pressed to her trembling lips, and strong arms wrapped around her, shushing her. Syaoran's voice shook, but it was still firm in the end. She knew he was bleeding inside--screaming, even. She hated having to do this. "Sakura, it's okay. It's okay, stop crying," he murmured, and she tried to stop. The tears came faster than ever, and she broke into sobs. "I can wait."
Syaoran broke away from her, but he still had his hands resting on her shoulders. He smiled warmly, not betraying a hint of disappointment or sadness. His eyes stared into hers, searching.
She smiled sadly. "You'd be waiting forever," she said lightheartedly.
"Then so be it. I'll wait forever, if that's what it takes," he nodded, as if affirming it to himself. "I promise. I won't love anyone else than you, Sakura."
"Neither would I," she declared, and he swept her up into an embrace once more.
- - - - -
"...so explain to me again why're you're spending the night at your father's house?" Syaoran asked as they halted in front of her childhood home.
Sakura squeezed his hand slightly, making him tingle all over at her touch. "I dunno. I just don't feel like driving back to my apartment so late at night."
"I could always just ask Wei to pick us up," he repeated, like he had been doing so the last fifteen minutes. They had earned more than a few stares and double takes as they walked down the sidewalks--him in a rather formal polo and slacks, her in a gown. It was incredible how she managed to walk on her heels without wincing.
"Nah. I wanted to walk. You didn't have to come with me, you know," she pointed out.
Syaoran laughed, running his free hand through his unruly hair. "Like I'd ever leave you alone. Who knows what could happen to you."
"Yeah," she nodded in agreement, smiling. The Kinimoto household's porch was pitch dark; it seemed Fujitaka-san had forgotten to turn it on tonight. The nearest source of light was the lamppost a good ten feet away. No matter; the moon was full today, bright and pale yellow in a clear night sky dotted with stars. "Well."
"Well...I guess I have to bid you goodnight, then," he said uncertainly. "I feel like a highschooler."
She laughed lightly. "Me too."
He couldn't resist pulling her close and pressing his lips to hers, and she melted underneath his touch. No matter. If she didn't want to marry him, he'd wait. He'd truly wait forever--but he hoped it wouldn't take that long.
After a few minutes they had to come up for air, and Sakura was blushing furiously, hands around his neck, his own slung about her waist. He leant forward until their foreheads were touching, panting slightly.
"I love you, Sakura," he murmured.
She closed her eyes and sighed. "I love you too, Syaoran. Always and forever will," she added, with a touch of amusement at the cliché.
"So do I, always and forever will."
Reluctantly, he released her, and she stepped away. The lamppost went out, as it was timed to do so every five minutes. She looked positively angelic, really, in the cool faint light of the full moon and the stars. His very own angel. He was lucky, he figured.
"Goodnight, Syao-kun," she said softly, heels clicking on the steps leading up to the darkened porch.
"G'night, Saku-chan," he whispered back. She smiled one last time and disappeared into the darkness that hid their home's front door. He heard the door creak open, and he took this as a signal to start out for his own home.
He paused, and walked on. He was pretty sure he heard Sakura call out a goodbye.
- - - - -
"Fujitaka-san!" he called out cheerily as he slid the door open. It was a Sunday, and he and Sakura were supposed to do a survey for her thesis today--something about parks and people who go there. "Ohayou!"
However, the scene that greeted him was far from cheery.
"L-li-kun!" Tomoyo wailed in what he supposed was a greeting. He stepped back slightly and surveyed the living room. To his surprise, all of their little posse was there--Rika, Chiharu, Takashi, Naoko, Tomoyo, Eriol, and to his surprise, Meiling. And...his cherry blossom was not with them. Uh.
Eriol nodded at him in greeting, face pale and rather drawn.
"What...what happened?" he asked, staring at the girl's tear-stained faces. His heart plummeted to somewhere behind his navel. Something bad had happened. If it involved Sakura--
"Syaoran?" His raven-haired cousin spoke up in a sympathetic voice. She was wearing a snow-white cheongsam today, and it horribly reminded him of the fact that Sakura wore white yesterday.
He had been living so long in Japan that he had almost forgotten that white was the traditional Chinese color for mourning.
Oh God, somebody died.
And he had a terrifying suspicion who it was...
"HE'S HERE! THE BASTARD'S HERE, I'M GOING TO KILL HIM!"
A near-hysterical Touya burst out from the general direction of the kitchen, and a panting Yukito desperately tried to restrain him, his grey-blue eyes wide and rather tear-stained. He wisely backed away as Touya's wife, Kaho-san, suddenly came down the stairs and joined Yukito in trying to restrain her husband. Two succeeded where one did not--but Touya still flailed, fingers curved into claws as he tried to wrench himself free.
"What the hell is wrong with you!" Syaoran bellowed, leaning backwards and collapsing on the couch beside Eriol.
The tall, imposing brunet grimaced painfully. "If hadn't she decided to go on that stupid date of hers with you...Syaoran! If she didn't go she most probably would've, she most probably would've...!" His voice broke, and he sagged to the floor, whimpering.
"Touya, it's not his fault..." The brunette woman said soothingly, rubbing her husband's back as Yukito released him. Touya knelt on the floor and sobbed unashamedly into his wife's shoulder.
He blanched. No. This wasn't happening. There was only one person who could make Touya break down like that. He leant back into the couch and whispered fearfully. "Can somebody please tell me what's going on?"
"You don't know yet?" Eriol asked quietly.
"Don't know what?" he demanded, pitch and loudness of his voice rising with every syllable.
"Last night," Meiling hesitated, fiddling with the hem of her skirt. "Last night...there was an accident."
"Yes, there was, the one in front of Tokyo U!"
Tomoyo let out a fresh sob and Eriol had to calm her down before his cousin could continue.
"Syaoran, there was another one. Near Café Li," she swallowed, shaking her head slightly. "It...it was Sakura's car. She got hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. And--and..." she trailed off, biting her lip and looking down. Kaho finished the sentence for her.
"She was declared dead on the spot."
Syaoran sat there, numb, for something that lasted a few minutes. Or maybe it was something like forever.
always and forever will be
Wait. That was impossible. He had walked her home himself--"When?"
Kaho, once again, answered. "Around eight in the evening."
He spluttered incoherently. "B-but! I was with her and everything last night! Claire and Bonné's, I saw her, I ate with her, I even walked her home! It was past eleven when I... I swear! Ask the manager! Sakura was there! Is this some kind of sick joke?"
He didn't miss the sympathetic glances the people in the room exchanged with each other.
"Is anyone laughing, Li-kun?" Yukito said distantly.
"But Yukito-san! She--I--oh, Sakura--"
He certainly did not hallucinate proposing to her last night!
Tomoyo was crying unstoppably now, hiccuping into Eriol's shoulder. "...and I just talked to her on the phone and just gave her something to wear jade green to match her eyes and all jade and...m-my...Sakura-chan I didn't even get to say goodbye properly just a quick wave--"
Syaoran blinked, imagining rather impossible explanations on what had happened last night. But as the pieces fell into place, and the memories clumped together--it was surreal, but it was awfully, unmercifully true.
Café Li was at least ten minutes from Claire & Bonné's. Even if Sakura had somehow escaped unscathed from the car wreck, there was no way she could've arrived at the restaurant at eight o' clock. On foot or by anything else.
She was wearing snow white, while Tomoyo was insisting that Sakura had left the Daidouji mansion in jade-green. Syaoran remembered thinking that she really looked like an angel--and in all probability, she was one. He never really believed in angels, but maybe this was a good time to do so.
...she refused to marry him. Maybe, just maybe, she knew that they could never get married, because she was already dead. His memory shifted, and he could hear in his head her words--'You'll be waiting forever.' and he realized she had meant it literally.
And Sakura had gone home to her father...to see him one last time.
He had just spent yesterday evening with his girlfriend's spirit.
Oh God, his head spun wildly. He put his head in his hands, desperately trying to find some rational explanation.
He could find none.
Sakura had done all she can not to be late...even death did not stop her from coming. She had somehow found a way to be able to properly say good-bye to him, her best friend, constant companion, and would-be fianceé--her soulmate. And she was right; she was never going to be late again. Ever. Because all she is now is a broken porcelain doll lying in some morgue out in Tomoeda, all life and cheeriness and soul extinguished cruelly.
She was cured of being chronically late, it seemed.
Dazed, he stood up and made his way outside, deciding that some air might be able to unblock the dam of emotions building up in his chest. His girlfriend was dead. Dead and he was never going to be able to kiss her or to hold her or to whisper in her ear how much he, Syaoran Li, loved her, ever again.
He had almost stepped on something glinting on the porch. Luckily it caught his eye before he had the chance to bring down his foot on it. He instantly knew what it was, and for that, he feared for his sanity.
A silver ring, round amber stone inset in it, and the name Syaoran carved into the metal.
So she had been here...he wasn't hallucinating last night.
That frightened him the most of all.
He bent down to pick it up, and he held it in his fingers, feeling the cool of the metal. It reminded him so much of her...
"I told you, Sakura-chan," he said aloud, knowing that he would be considered clinically insane if someone caught him talking to thin air, thinking it was his girlfriend. Dead girlfriend. But he just had to say it. Syaoran managed to smile as he clenched the ring tight in his fist. "I'll wait forever. I don't break my promises, you know."
He could almost hear her laughter in the breeze.
I think the ending's pretty much overused, but I just had to write it.
Now you know why it's entitled 'Chronically Late', ne?
Should I write a sequel?
Read and review. Thanks to all who stayed with me 'till the end.