A/N: Well guys, it's out later than I wanted it to be, but I hope you all forgive me. So, to celebrate the new year, here's the first chapter of my new fic! Yay!
Firstly: is this a sequel to 'One Week'?
Yes and no (not helpful, parma-chan). This story is set in the same world as 'One Week', but it's not quite a sequel. Imagine it replacing the last chapter – sort of an alternative ending. So new readers, you don't have to read 'One Week' in order to get this, though it may make things a little clearer if you do.
The readers of my previous fic will be familiar with the world in which I have set this story, but for new readers, let me do the explanations now: At the end of the second movie, Sakura is told she has to make a sacrifice of her feelings for Syaoran in order to seal Clow's final card, the Void. Of course, in the film, everything ends happily, but in this world, Sakura's feelings and memories of Syaoran were taken as payment so that she could seal the card. Syaoran then left for Hong Kong, and she forgot all about him. It's now ten years later, and Syaoran has stumbled across her working in a coffee shop … just at the same time that the sealed Void Card has decided it's no longer satisfied with just being sealed …
Enough of me, let's get on with it. Oh, and Happy New Year, guys!
Disclaimer: I'm only saying it once, so pay attention class: I don't own it. That privilege belongs to the wonder that is CLAMP.
I also want to say that the majority of this plot, particularly the beginning, was suggested and written out for me by dreamschemer, who was kind enough to take the time to provide a plot when I was completely stumped. So major credit to her ;p
Dedicated to: The reviewers of 'One Week'. You've all been so amazingly kind – reading your reviews is what inspired me to keep going with this one every time I got stuck! Huge thanks to all of you – I hope you like this!
Chapter One: Missing
Kinomoto Sakura was truly stumped.
It was only a top, she knew. She could quite easily go back into her room and choose something else to wear to work that day – in fact, that would be the most sensible course of action as it wouldn't result in her being late to work for the third time that week. But the point was she knew the top had to be somewhere in the apartment – there was nowhere else it could be – and she refused to admit defeat and add yet another missing item onto her ever-growing list.
"Sakura-chan … why would your top be in the dishwasher?"
Sakura looked up to see her best friend and roommate standing in the kitchen doorway, watching her root through the dishwasher with an amused smile on her face.
"It has to be in the apartment," Sakura replied determinedly, straightening up and starting to go through the nearby cupboards. "I remember ironing it yesterday and putting it in my closet, and I know I haven't moved it since then – are you sure you haven't borrowed it?"
"I never borrow your things without asking permission," Tomoyo replied, and Sakura knew that was true.
"I just don't get it!" she wailed, spinning around in a circle as though hoping a flash of green material would suddenly catch her eye. "Things don't just disappear into thin air like this!"
Tomoyo giggled. "They seem to around you. How many things have you lost this week now? Your watch, your black pumps, your nail varnish …" She began to hunt for some eggs in the fridge as she continued her list. "… Your hair brush, your brand new and horrendously expensive Gucci handbag –" She turned to Sakura, grinning slightly, but the smile froze on her face when she saw that her friend wasn't joining in on the joke. If anything, Sakura looked like she was about to cry.
"Hey …" Tomoyo said anxiously, realising she'd unwittingly upset her best friend. "It's only a top, Sakura-chan. It'll turn up!"
Sakura started, as though just realising that she'd let her feelings show in her expression, and hurriedly placed a smile on her face. "Of course it will! You know me, I'm just being scatterbrained …"
Tomoyo frowned uncertainly. "Sakura-chan …"
"I'd better go find something else to wear!" Sakura interrupted in that strangely false voice, tugging at her pyjama top self-consciously. "Kenji-san will kill me if I'm late again!"
"Do you want breakfast?" Tomoyo tried, not knowing what else to say.
"I won't, but thank you!" Sakura sang with a beaming smile, before hurrying into her bedroom to find alternative clothing.
Tomoyo stared worriedly at her friend's closed bedroom door, clutching the eggs in her hand dangerously tightly. It had been such an odd exchange … something so silly for Sakura, the eternal optimist, to get upset over. She was probably just tired and would forget all about it once she got to work.
So why did Tomoyo have the strongest feeling that something was really wrong?
"I sorry – I'm so, so sorry – am I late?" Sakura panicked, running at high speed into the coffee shop where she worked. Several of the patrons stared at her a little oddly, while the regulars smiled in a knowing fashion – this happened more or less every morning.
Behind the counter, her boss shook his head despairingly. Takahashi Kenji was a middle-aged man, short and plump with hair that was peppered with grey strands. He was a good manager, and he was kind to all his staff, particularly Kinomoto Sakura – he knew she was a sweet young thing who always tried her best. But she was never, never there on time to start her shift.
"Sakura-san – we've talked about this …" he said, trying to make his voice sound strict.
"I know!" she cried, looking absolutely devastated. "I'm so sorry – I promise I'll try harder in future!"
He couldn't help it – she looked so forlorn standing there with wide eyes and wind tousled hair that he couldn't find it in his heart to stay mad at her. "Don't let it happen again," he sighed.
"I won't – oh, I promise, I'll be here on time tomorrow!" Sakura swore, bowing hurriedly before dashing out into the back rooms.
Kenji sighed again, knowing full well that she would be just as late tomorrow as she was today, no matter how hard she tried to keep her promise. He'd forgive her, though – she was an excellent waitress, and she brought in so many customers with her bright smile and friendly manner that she more than made up for a few late starts.
Sakura quickly threw her bag in a locker and clipped the key on the belt loop of her jeans, then hurriedly ran her fingers through her hair before deciding that she looked presentable enough to go out on the shop floor.
"Okay – I'm here and I'm ready to make coffee!" she announced, grabbing one of the dark green aprons from their hook and tying it around her waist.
"Ohayo, Sakura-chan!" her friend Hana called from behind the till, completely interrupting the man who had been giving her his order. "I love your earrings!"
Sakura laughed, flipping several switches as Hana's customer ordered a triple shot skinny dry cappuccino with vanilla syrup (Sakura suspected he'd ordered something so complicated just to spite her) and began to make the coffee. "Ohayo, Hana-chan. Ohayo, Michio-kun!" she greeted the newest member of staff, a skinny seventeen-year-old who was currently standing shyly in a corner.
"Um – uh – o-o-o-ohayo …" the poor boy stammered out, blushing furiously before dashing off to clear tables.
"Hoe?" Sakura muttered in confusion. Something about Michio's actions seemed strangely familiar.
"Aw, how cute!" Hana beamed. "I think Michio-kun has a crush on you!"
Sakura rolled her eyes. "I'm five years older than him!" she laughed.
"Oh please – age means nothing when it comes to matters of the heart!" Hana crowed, punching a triumphant fist in the air. "True love will conquer all boundaries –"
"Hana-chan, you have people waiting," Sakura pointed out, giggling slightly. She handed the cappuccino to its owner, who was shooting Hana an odd look.
"Well, I know I'm right," Hana announced confidently, continuing the conversation even as she took the orders of a long line of customers. "It's so obvious – so that's 650 yen to pay, thanks – bless his heart. And you don't help matters by smiling at him all the time."
"I'm not going to be mean to him because you think he has a crush on me!" Sakura cried, aghast.
"I don't think, I know," she insisted, sidling over to hand Sakura a paper cup she'd scrawled on. "And, speaking of people with a crush on you – your friend's sitting in his usual spot."
Sakura frowned in confusion. "Which friend?"
"You know – the ultra-cute guy who started coming in here a week ago?" Sakura could feel the blush spread across her cheeks as Hana sighed dreamily. "Oh, I could just eat him up with a spoon –"
"Hana-chan!" Sakura wailed, flushing hotly.
Hana laughed. "What a pity he's madly in love with you – I'd have him in a heartbeat otherwise."
"He is not in love with me!" Sakura insisted doggedly. "He's just a nice guy."
"Very nice," Hana grinned in approval.
"Hana-san, do I pay you to gossip?" Kenji asked as he breezed behind the counter, staring pointedly at the line of people waiting to be served. "I do not, I pay you to make coffee."
Hana huffed. In her mind, customers were a minor nuisance that got in the way of conversation.
"Sakura-san, I'm going to put Michio-san on the machines," Kenji continued. "Can you supervise him while I do some order forms in the office?"
Sakura beamed and nodded. "Not a problem."
Once she'd finished explaining a few buttons to Michio, Sakura stepped back and let him operate the machines himself. And as he did do, she allowed herself a sneaky glance at the man sitting in the far corner.
He was staring at her, she realised, and the thought made her feel all bubbly inside.
Realising he'd been caught, the man's eyes widened and a furious blush spread across his face, before he snatched up his paper and buried his nose in it.
Sakura giggled. He was so cute.
There was something strange about him, she couldn't deny it. He'd started coming in at the same time every day, dressed impeccably in an expensive suit, and would sit at the same table with a black coffee and a croissant in front of him. She'd chatted to him like she did with everybody, but he seemed almost … frightened of her? No, that wasn't right. In awe of her? Maybe.
He just seemed so sad. There was a strange shadow in his eyes every time he looked at her, and Sakura couldn't help but be curious about what had happened to him.
Her interest in him probably wasn't all that healthy, to be honest. She'd taken to watching the clock, waiting for him to arrive. And it wasn't anything to do with him being 'ultra-cute', as Hana had put it – although she couldn't deny that he was …
He made her heart hurt. She didn't know how else to put it. For as long as she could remember, she'd felt like something was missing. And now the feeling got stronger every time she saw him. Her chest ached when he did anything particularly cute or familiar – like scowling, or blushing, or the way his fingers rapped on the counter when she kept him waiting for his coffee. The strangest sense of longing welled up within her and she couldn't help but wonder why she felt like there was something she'd missed –
Her thoughts were interrupted by the loud clanging sound of tin colliding with a tile floor.
"Uh, Sakura-san … I think I messed up," Michio wailed miserably.
Sakura spent the next half hour sweeping coffee beans off the floor.
"Tadaima!" Sakura called as she let herself into the apartment, two bags of groceries balanced in her arms. "Tomoyo-chan?"
Sakura frowned when no one answered, but made her way into the kitchen. When she got there, she found a note from her best friend taped to the kitchen table.
Disaster at the studio. Izumi has torn a ream of 700,000-yen material. Had to go in to fix it. See you later.
Sakura winced, feeling sorry for her friend. Tomoyo was set on becoming a designer one day – she'd no doubt achieve it with the way she was going – but the job was incredibly high pressure, especially when something like that went wrong. Sakura knew she could never handle it, but Tomoyo did so with elegance and grace.
She started to put away the odds and ends of groceries she'd picked up on the way home from work, knowing that the rustle of the paper bags would no doubt attract the attention of her third roommate. Sure enough, as soon as the vegetables and other healthy items were safely away in the fridge, a small golden blur barrelled into the kitchen at high speed.
"FOOOOOOD!" it yelled at the top of its lungs. "Food! You went shopping? Why didn't you tell me? Did you get me cakes? Cookies? Pudding? Sakuraaaaaaa –"
"Here!" the poor girl cried, holding up a tube of cookie dough as a peace offering.
There was a pause as the creature analysed the gift, then deemed it satisfactory. "Yatta! Arigatou, Sakura-chan!" he crowed, before plunking himself down on the table and proceeding to stuff the entire thing in his mouth.
Sakura shook her head despairingly. "Kero-chan …"
"Hey, I need to eat!" he defended himself, brushing crumbs away from the corners of his mouth. "Anyway, how was your day? Did you find your top?"
Her face fell slightly; she'd forgotten all about that. But she smiled at Kero anyway, not wanting him to worry. "No, silly! I've been at work all day, haven't I?"
"You know, it's funny …" the creature mused, floating in the air with his legs and arms crossed. "Tomoyo-chan searched high and low for it after you left this morning, and she couldn't find it anywhere."
"Tomoyo-chan did that …?" Sakura asked, feeling incredibly guilty that she'd caused her friend so much trouble. "Oh, she's so silly … it was only a top …"
"She's worried about you. And so am I," Kero said bluntly, unusually serious.
"Worried about me?" Sakura echoed in disbelief. "Whatever for?"
"I don't think Tomoyo-chan knows why she's worried, but she has excellent intuition," Kero sighed. "She knows something's wrong."
"What's wrong?" Sakura asked in confusion.
"I'm serious, Kero-chan! Everything's fine …" she insisted, almost genuinely believing her own words.
Her guardian stared at her pointedly. "I know, and I think you know too, that there's nothing normal about all these things that keep disappearing."
"Oh, Kero – I'm just being scatterbrained, that's all!" Sakura turned to start dinner, desperately wanting this conversation to be over. She didn't want anything to be wrong – she wanted her life to stay the way it was. Ordinary, but good. If Kero shut up, she'd be able to keep kidding herself for a little while longer.
Kero didn't take the hint. "I don't think that's what it is. It's just like before."
She turned back curiously. "Before?"
"You know what I mean," he sighed. "Before the Void revealed herself."
"The Void …" Sakura echoed, the name making her feel oddly cold inside. She wandered through to the living room, Kero close behind her, and pulled open the drawer in which she kept the Sakura Book.
"It was exactly like this before you sealed the card," Kero pointed out. "Random things kept disappearing all over the place."
Sakura frowned, trying to remember exactly what had happened back then. She remembered things disappearing, all right – it had been round about the time she and her class had been rehearsing for the play they were putting on for the Nadeshiko Festival. But try as she might, she couldn't remember anything a lot more detailed than that.
"I don't really remember," she confessed worriedly, pressing a hand lightly to her forehead. "Everything from back then seems … fuzzy."
"Well, it was a long time ago," Kero replied, waving a hand dismissively. "You were only what, twelve, thirteen?"
"Still, you'd think I'd remember something that important," Sakura said, more than a little frustrated with herself.
"The mind works in mysterious ways," Kero said vaguely, refusing to meet her eyes.
Sakura carefully took her cards out of the book, looking through them all one by one. Doing this always made her feel stronger and safer – each card had an aura which reached out to her and calmed her down. Fly, Illusion, Sword, Sleep, Freeze … the list went on and on, fifty-two elements at her disposal.
There had been a fifty-third, a long time ago. It was another one of her hazy memories – she didn't know where it had come from or how it came into being, but there had been a fifty-third card, one with a winged heart on the front. But it had disappeared almost ten years ago now. Even though she couldn't remember its creation, Sakura felt its loss strongly.
But she had the rest of her cards; cards she loved with all her heart. They would protect her, she knew it. Even if something was wrong in the magical world, they would help her fight it. And she had Kero, and Yue too. Everything would be all right …
Then she came to the card at the bottom of the deck. The Void.
Looking at this one always made her shiver. Unlike the warm glow of its counterparts, this card radiated cold, tainted magic that snaked up her arms into her chest. The girl on the front gazed up at her with blank, dead eyes, and Sakura was struck by the urge to shove it back into the book and close the cover.
She reached out to pick it up, but as her fingers came into contact with it, a shock of dark magic shot up her arm, making her cry out and drop the card to the floor.
"Sakura-chan? What's wrong?" Kero asked curiously.
"It – it just …" Sakura stammered, unable to explain what had just happened. It was almost like it had given her an electric shock.
She reached out warily to pick up the card, but this time it lay dormant in her hands. Sakura could almost convince herself she'd imagined the whole thing, if it weren't for the cold shivers running up and down her arm and the odd aching in her chest.
"I think … it just threatened me," Sakura said worriedly, knowing the idea was stupid but at the same time knowing that was exactly what had happened.
Suddenly, Sakura was overwhelmed by the urge to get the card as far away from her as possible. She grabbed the book, stuffing the Void at the bottom of it and hurriedly smothering it with her other cards. She closed the book and flung it into its drawer before slamming the drawer shut, panting slightly as she leaned her forehead against the wood.
Kero looked at his spooked mistress, slightly pale himself. "Well … whatever this is, I think it's safe to say it's going to get worse."
Sakura couldn't help but agree. She could still feel the cold, pulsating aura through the wood, reaching out towards her as if trying to claim her very soul.
A/N: So there's the slightly boring set-up. More SxS next chapter, I promise!