To Be Strong

~*~

Daidouji Tomoyo sat in the airy, white room, her plate of soba untouched and unappetising to her as she held her best friend's frail hand in her gentle grasp. On impulse, she squeezed it in a way that would be familiar to the life on the hard bed that was rapidly disappearing.

Kinomoto Sakura turned her now dulling jade eyes onto her friend with dark, lavender tinted hair, who managed to muster a what she thought must be comforting, yet weak smile. Tomoyo wasn't at all surprised when Sakura didn't return the expression – she knew that was now far beyond her abilities.

Alone in the room with Sakura, Tomoyo suddenly realised that this may be her last time alone with her childhood friend. However, that seemed like such a cruel term to use, as their childhood had barely finished, and it seemed such a waste, such a terrible waste that Sakura would never get to her next stage in life.

Touya and Yukito were in the hospital canteen, Tomoyo thought. Mr Kinomoto had been sent home to sleep, having been vigilant at his daughter's bedside for many, many nights. Their friends, Naoko, Chiharu and Rika had visited once before, and probably wouldn't again until… until it was all over, the sight of their once so alive friend having sickened and shocked them too deeply.

Eriol-kun was being himself, a gentle worrier as he struggled to get a flight back to Japan, and rung every hour or so for an update. Meiling had visited for the first time the other day; she had surprised them all. She had stood at the door of the clinical and artificial room, standing tall and proud as she always had, before breaking into a hoarse sob and throwing herself almost violently across Sakura's bed, crying even harder when Sakura didn't move or protest.

There had seemingly been an endless stream of people to see Sakura in her final days –she having touched so many lives during her own existence. And now it seemed like such an ironic anti-climax, that she should be lying here against this white background and the droning electronic beep that promised them nothing, only that her suffering would be prolonged longer.

Suddenly, Tomoyo startled herself out of her thoughts as she realised something. Jerkily, she looked down at Sakura, to find she was still staring futilely straight ahead of her.

"I'll be right back, Sakura-chan," Tomoyo whispered in a guttural voice, before firmly kissing her on the forehead, and slowly dropping her hand. Sakura's eyes followed Tomoyo as she walked out of the room.

Outside, Tomoyo hailed a nurse, who smiled amicably at the pretty nineteen year old.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes, please. I'm in room 912," she explained, gesturing to the closed door behind her, and wincing when she saw the nurse's smile flicker. "I was just wondering if you know what happened to the young man who was…visiting?" Tomoyo thought it better she didn't mention that he had been sleeping underneath Sakura's bed for as long as she had been in hospital. The nurse raised one eyebrow and flicked through the notepad that was suspended from her side.

"Li Syaoran?" she asked, hesitantly.

"Yes…" Tomoyo answered, just as hesitantly, wondering what Syaoran had done this time.

"Kinomoto Touya brought him to the doctors, and we prescribed him with sleeping drugs. He was bouncing around the hospital, harassing doctors about a patient and was suffering from lack of sleep. He'll be out for a while." Tomoyo's dark eyes opened incredulously. How could the nurse say this with amusement evident in her voice? Tomoyo rarely got upset to the extent that it was plainly obvious, but seething rage, worry for both Sakura and now Syaoran and her own lack of sleep pushed her over the edge.

"How could you do that?" she cried, startling the nurse with the worry and despair in her voice. "You know that the girl in that room isn't going to live much longer! She could go at almost any minute! That's- that's his, his…" Tomoyo struggled against her tears for the word. "That's his fiancé in there, and you're making him miss her final hours! Haven't you any compassion?" The nurse looked uncomfortably at the openly crying girl who was drawing unwanted attention to her.

"This is a hospital –"

"Daidouji," Tomoyo snapped.

"Daidouji-san, and believe it or not, we deal with a lot of deaths and grievance. I understand this must be a difficult time for you, and the rest of Kinomoto-san's family, but you must learn to keep out of hospital business." With an efficient sweep, the nurse continued down the hallway, leaving Tomoyo staring vehemently at her back, but calming down at the same time. Tomoyo felt the last of her anger leave her, and stood in the crowded hallway, feeling the most alone she had ever felt in her life, and the most helpless.

Gingerly, she touched her throbbing forehead with the back of her hand, and with an apologetic glance at Sakura's door, she wandered, seemingly aimlessly down the hallway towards the coffee machine. It seemed like an eternity until the Styrofoam cup filled to the top, and even longer for Tomoyo to make her way back to room 912 with the cup of hot liquid in her shaking grip.

Syaoran looked up, startled as the door to the room swung open, but his expression faded as he saw it was Tomoyo. She on the other hand was looking at him in surprise.

"What?" he asked, in an unnerved voice, turning his gaze immediately back to his hands that were cupped around Sakura's.

"Nothing, Li-kun," Tomoyo murmured gently, setting down her coffee cup. "It's just that the nurse told me they were going to give you a sleeping drug." Syaoran shrugged.

"They tried to inject me with something…" he murmured, nonchalantly. Tomoyo smiled slightly. "I wasn't having any of it." Tomoyo's smile broadened as at least one of her fears was dispelled.

"I can imagine," she answered, sipping her coffee daintily. The room fell silent as Syaoran continued to gaze in earnest at the shell of a girl that lay on the bed. Tomoyo rose, decisively.

"Well, I guess I'd better leave you two alone," she smiled, before downing what remained of her coffee. She stood up and approached the bed slowly, thinking carefully. "Ja né, Li-kun – see you later." She brushed a lock of Sakura's coppery hair away from her face and forced herself to look into the glassy jade eyes. "Sayonara, Sakura-chan – goodbye." Syaoran's eyes followed her as she walked to the door, sniffing delicately.

"Daidouji?" he called suddenly. She turned around, and followed his gaze to where a yellow 'stuffed animal' was curled up next to Sakura, having been snuck in by Yukito and currently as out-of-it as Sakura. Tomoyo understood, and gently scooped up the sleeping form of Kero, before giving a watery smile and carrying him out of the room. "Thank you," Syaoran murmured as the door closed behind her.

As soon as she was gone, Syaoran reached over, and just as gently as Tomoyo had moved it, he replaced the wisp of hair to where it had been on his love's face. He wanted her to be at her most natural and comfortable.

Suddenly, Sakura breathed heavily and gently closed her eyes, alarming Syaoran, but the steady bleep of the machines reassured him slowly that she was still there. He sat, still holding her hands, comfortable in the all-oppressing silence, yet somehow not. Sakura was always so full of life and happy noise; but they had their quiet moments, but usually she was curled up against his chest, dozing or watching television.

Now they had quiet and silence between them, but she was lying flat on a hard hospital bed, and he was sitting, holding her hands and slowly realising how lost he was already. How lost was he going to be when she was truly gone?

And she was going to go soon, he could feel it. In a detached way, he wasn't afraid of her dying; he wanted more than anything for her to be out of pain, it was all he ever wanted. But he didn't want her gone – he wanted her here, beside him, his partner as she had been for the past nine years.

She felt cold already under his fingertips, it made him feel nauseous. Soon, very soon, it would be a reality, and something he couldn't escape any more.

He had to be strong; for Daidouji, Meiling and for himself. He always had to be so strong.

But would Sakura want him to be strong? Would she prefer him to break down in tears and spend the rest of his life avenging the virus that had struck her down so unexpectedly – she who had grown up, ready to expect these unexpected turns in life.

And still, she lay so still, comatose even, on the bed in front of him. Her eyes were closed, and she just looked like she was a beautiful angel, full of drips and wires hooked up to monitors, and in a deep, relaxing sleep. He knew he shouldn't be selfish – he knew that if he knew she was about to die he should at least go and get her brother… but he just kept thinking that in the brief second he let go of her hand to even push the Call button, she would slip away.

"Sakura-chan…" he whispered, knowing, and hoping that she would hear him. "Aishiteru. I love you, very, very much. You know that." Her fingers twitched in his hands, and he smiled feebly at her equally feeble attempt at communication with him. It seemed like just the other day – probably because it was just the other day – that she, him, Daidouji, Yukito-san, Yamazaki and Chiharu had been having an all-out water war in Daidouji's sprawling gardens.

Syaoran flinched – not the best memory to have, as the two had a 'lover's tiff' that day – one of those stupid little arguments that nobody remembers fifteen minutes after they're resolved, but everyone learns something from. He couldn't even remember how it started, but he could remember clearly how it ended.

Sakura glared at him, her jade eyes flashing, penetrating deep through his honey coloured eyes into his soul – an annoying little habit of hers she never hesitated to use. She stood in a hostile stance, only about a metre away from him. Syaoran recalled his desire to laugh and sweep her into his arms – she looked so cute when se was angry. Of course he was far too stubborn, and stood apart from her, his arms folded obstinately across his chest.

"Syaoran-kun, what do you see when you look into my eyes?" she asked, almost pleadingly. He furrowed his eyebrows, in a confused manner.

"Well you tell me Sakura-sama," he said, sarcastically. "What should I see when I look into your eyes?" She stared at him sadly.

"You should see whatever you want," she answered, sincerely. "You should see everything and nothing, all at the same time. You should see me, and you should see yourself. You should see it all, Syaoran-kun. It all."

Snapping back into the present, Syaoran felt an overwhelming desire to look into her eyes again – not the eyes of this girl lying on the bed, but his Sakura's twinkling green eyes, so full of love and mischief, even at the age of nineteen. He wanted to look into them and see everything so clearly, as he realised that he had for the past nine years.

He reached down, hopelessness dawning on him. He kissed her knuckles with trembling lips, and stared at her expressionless face once more.

A throaty gasp wracked through Sakura's body as her eyelids flew open. Syaoran gasped as well, and stared in silent shock at the expression of pain on the former glorious Card Mistress's face. Something wet slipped down his cheek as she turned to look at him, her eyes wide with pain.

The two stared at each other for a few speechless seconds, Sakura's face paling and her chest wracking more with every passing moment. More tears slipped down Syaoran's cheek and he stroked Sakura's face with his thumb, watching the new-born light in her eyes fade and die like a cherry blossom withering in the winter.

"Aishiteru, Sakura-chan. Arigatou. Sayonara."

The last flicker of light faded from her eyes. The death was accompanied by a strident screech from all machines in the room, hooked up to the beautiful vessel of flesh that his Sakura had finally vacated.

"Aishiteru," Syaoran whispered again, oblivious to the hoards of doctors now entering the room as he gently removed his hands from hers and slipped his arms around her fragile neck. He lay his head on her chest, imagining that he could hear her heartbeat again. He cried, slowly, quietly; the wetness soaking into Sakura's hospital gown until there was no trace of them left

For tomorrow, Syaoran had to be strong.