(Set some time shortly before Eriol departs for Tomoeda to begin antagonizing darling little Sakura.)

The second time she meets Clow Reed, his cheeks are slicking off the last vestiges of childhood; he is mere days away from cresting his tenth year.

She's standing at the front gate (he isn't entirely certain the gate even warrants such an identification; there isn't –to his knowledge—a "back" gate of which to be spoken, as there seemed only to have ever been a gate out front, with her backyard stretching into verdant, overgrown eternity), long, silk-encased arms crossed over her chest (emblazoned with a brilliant crimson butterfly, its wings frozen in an eternal, delicately-crocheted downbeat, folded elegantly over the slope of her breasts, curving down over her abdomen, only just grazing the opposite hip), her dark eyes heavy with muted bitterness, quiet wrath, familiar hauteur.

The wide, ostentatiously sincere smile on his pale face is curled upward into what she recognizes instantly as 'especially specious.' (One notch higher and he'd be flirting with 'malignant prevarication.') It is a face she has known for –has it been centuries?—a great deal longer than she wishes; high, angular, perpetually cheerful, beautiful. She finds that her want to flatten his pretty nose has apparently not diminished with time, and she spares him a brief, cold smirk (and she wonders if he knows she's thinking of bringing him harm; Clow's –her Clow's—eyes had always brightened minutely with knowing, as if he were privy to the dislike she fought daily to maintain, as if it amused him).

But as familiar as these fair features are, as maddeningly alike as they are to the man he once had been, she sees, in the round softness of his jaw, in the subtle cracks in the surety of that disingenuous smile, in the over-large glasses and cropped hair and thin shoulders (that are all partially the mark of youth, and largely the mark of difference), the traces of the Hiiragizawa Eriol the boy would have been otherwise. Her heart breaks for the boy even as she opens her mouth to deliver him unto the biting lash of her sharp tongue.

"Clow," she acknowledges, undramatically.

He reaches the gate, bows elegantly –he is so very short—and speaks,

"Hiiragizawa Eriol." His voice is too old for his body, his fingers (which do not clutch nervously at fabric, like a normal human's should, which do not tic or fidget minutely with lack of and want for something to occupy them, as a normal human's would) much too powerful, far too deft for his age. "Yuuko-san."

She keeps her lip from curling –just barely—and then can't decide if it's his blatant formality and the nagging employ of the distancing honorific or the insinuated familiarity in the soft-spoken, mellifluous vibrato of his (too-) deep voice that makes her want to punch him in the face.

She stares at him for a long moment, making no attempt to mask her disdain. His smile slips to sorrowful, and the line of his mouth sags photogenically.

Then he cocks his head, considering her.

"Do I not get the speech, Yuuko-san?" She blinks at him, one fine eyebrow ascending in what is clearly condescension, if not also curiosity. "I did very much enjoy the greeting process." His smile falls, surprisingly, into candor. "I'm not intruding, am I?" She understands the question as a prompt, and glares. "I hardly even realized I was coming until I had already arrived." This is the recitation she hears every day, and he expects her now to respond in kind.

Infuriatingly, she discovers that she can't tell if he is being serious, or only playfully trying to coax "the speech" out of her.

Hitsuzen flashes through her brain, and she slams the thought violently against a neighbouring synapse.

"Perhaps I don't give coincidence enough credit." She says blandly, holding his gaze.

Maybe he deflates a little.

Maybe she doesn't care.


"I know very well you have a wish, Clow." She sees his eyes echo surprise, and the fleeting urge to correct her address. "But I have no intention of granting it."

"You mean to defy fate?" She laughs, a dangerous, broken thing. And then she glowers at him.

"I have already granted your wish." He shakes his head, ruefully.

"Clow is Clow. I am Eriol." He asserts, sorrow shading the darkness of his eyes.

"No, you four-eyed cretin. You want to be Eriol. Unfortunately for you, my pity for this poor soul's misfortune at having been selected to serve your twisted understanding of 'purpose' does not outweigh my fervent hatred for you, and your selfish attempts to manipulate destiny to suit your fancy."

The smile never wavers.

"Yuuko-san." He says, and his voice is barely a whisper. "The power is unbearable."

She is unmoved, impervious to his eloquent entreaties.

"I recall warning you about that."

He's looking at her squarely, that damned smile fastened securely into place.

"Unmake me," He pleads once, softly, his voice (too, too) tired, broken by knowledge and time that does not (and does) belong to him. "Please."

And perhaps, in some rarely-explored region of her heart, she aches for this boy, for this man.

"Unmake yourself." Is what she sneers, and turns to walk away.

"Yuuko." And this time he is whispering, and she hears the smile crash to the ground, crumbling at his feet. She pauses, giving him her profile, and cocks an elbow against her waist. "I could not have anticipated things would go so awry. Which, of course, my dear, you did warn me to take under consideration. But this is no longer solely about a silly magician's naïve whimsy."

This is Clow, she realizes, and if her eyes widen, even fractionally, he doesn't show that he sees it.

"I have brought a grave burden unwittingly upon this boy. It is a ponderous weight to shoulder. And my cute little daughter," briefly, something like sad affection gleams in his eyes, "will be destroyed by the very power I have passed unto her care." He brings his gaze to settle upon the sharp contour of her jaw. "Please."

She regards him carefully, gauging, among other things, the level of his heart's desire. She narrows her eyes when she finds what she's looking for.

"You are not willing to pay the price, Clow." His eyes scream 'Eriol' at her and she knows that the weary magician has faded into the comfortable veneer of unwanted memory. She grins maliciously.

"I will pay whatever you ask of me."

"You will not receive another chance."

"I will not want another." His certainty sickens her.

"What about Yue?" His eyes soften with that Look and she hates him.

"Yue's heart will learn to love again, I am sure."

"You're such a selfish prick."

"Perhaps." She wants to wring his neck.

"Very well, then." She breathes out simply. She approaches leisurely, arm extended until her long fingers curl around the skin of his neck, traveling sinuously over his chin, his cheek. "You must inflict hardships upon your 'cute little daughter.' You must be relentless, be willing to hurt her if she fails. In order to measure –and, ultimately, to increase—her capacity to handle your power, to understand whether or not she is able to manage it, you must test her, severely. And you must continue to do so until she has nothing left, or until she is strong enough to take the power away from you and into herself.

"If you are truly selfish enough to inflict anxiety and suffering upon your pre-pubescent legacy, then you will succeed. The decision is yours to make." His head droops, just so.

"As for payment," she begins, stooping over his –much, much shorter—form, her fingers framing his face briefly before they move to lift the glasses from before his eyes. "Couldn't you have landed a vessel with better eyesight? You have to have known I would still make fun of you, you near-sighted idiot." And her cruel smile suggests she means this in more ways than one.

Before he can answer, she takes the frames away from his face and closes the distance between them, brushing a chaste, lingering kiss against his lips. When finally she pulls away, her expression is firm.

"The burden of murder is heavy, Clow."

"Eriol," he corrects, finally, resolutely.

She ignores him.

"But you must never return here," she whispers, eyes hard, "or I will bear it."

(What was Clow's wish initially, I wonder?

Perhaps I'll tell you later.

Perhaps not.

I am awfully lazy...)

Just for clarification.

Yes, Eriol is asking her to give him a way to split his powers, as they were supposed to have done on their own. Also, however, he's asking her to help him figure out a way to keep Sakura from being overwhelmed by the power that Clow gave her. In this version of events, he clearly did not anticipate that she wouldn't have enough power to sustain Kero and Yue, and had no plan for such a contingency.