A/N: *blinks* What's this? An actual update? No, surely it can't be possible?
I know, I know, I'm a bad person. Real life has been kicking my ass this last year – I got promoted, I started my dissertation, blah blah blah. But I missed my fic. And I missed Sakura and Syaoran. And so I'm back, and I'm utterly determined to see this thing through no matter how long it takes.
Just to warn you, the next couple of chapters may be a bit awkward. It's taking me a while to get back into this, plus my writing style's changed a bit, so please bear with me. I'll try to make it as less jarring as possible!
Dedicated to: Those of you who over the last year have continued reviewing and messaging, asking me when I was going to get my act together and update already! I swear, as sappy as it sounds, it made me smile every time I got one of those e-mails. And it made me more determined than ever to get this out. You know who you are, and I appreciate it more than I can say. So yeah. This is for you guys :)
Chapter Ten: Consequences
"Wow. You look like death."
Sakura smiled weakly, and waved at Hana. "Good morning."
"Morning," Hana grinned. "What were you up to last night? Crazy party? All-night rave? Do any body shots off handsome men whose numbers you've oh-so-kindly brought back for me?"
"No, sorry," Sakura mumbled, trying to smile again before heading towards the staff room door.
"Whoah, hold it," Hana said sharply, grabbing her friend by the shoulder and hauling her backwards. "Usually you'd be fire-engine red by now. What gives?"
Sakura laughed, trying to duck around Hana. "Nothing, I'm fine –"
"Don't even," Hana scolded, pulling her back. "I wasn't kidding when I said you looked like hell. What's happened? You look like you didn't sleep at all last night."
"I slept!" Sakura protested.
Lies. She hadn't slept at all. She'd spent the entire night sobbing in Tomoyo's arms, wailing about what an awful, horrible person she was. A person who'd managed to cheat on her sweetheart of a boyfriend, and push away her one saving grace, in a moment of selfish weakness.
"Sakura-chan …" Hana whispered as the girl's eyes welled up. "Oh, honey, what is it?"
"Don't," Sakura choked, stepping backwards as Hana tried to put an arm around her. She didn't deserve anyone's comfort or sympathy. "Please. I'm okay."
"Are you sure you should be here?" Hana asked her sternly.
Sakura nodded furiously, blinking the moisture in her eyes away. "Of course, Hana-chan," she insisted, "I'll just put my stuff out back and then I'll be on the floor. Good as new. I promise."
Narrowing her eyes, Hana quickly threw several shots of espresso into a mug and topped it up with milk before handing it to her friend. "Go sit out back, and I don't want to see you until you've drank all this. Kenji-san's in the office, so don't worry about him."
"But …" Sakura murmured, staring blankly at the mug. "I don't want to leave you short handed …"
"Sakura-chan – go," Hana ordered, giving her a gentle push.
She didn't miss the way Sakura glanced sadly at an empty table near the back of the store – the table where Syaoran usually sat.
She kissed me.
Syaoran was sitting on his bed in his hotel room, fully dressed, staring blankly at his own hands. For the first time in his life he was completely unsure of himself, and he hated it. He hated not being in control. But he really, truly didn't know what to do any more.
She kissed me, but she didn't know what she was doing.
Did he dare show up at the coffee shop? Should he go to Sakura and Tomoyo's apartment? Or would it be more prudent to stay at his hotel and work from there? Would she even want him near her after yesterday?
She was just looking for comfort, for warmth. It didn't mean anything. It wasn't about me.
Or maybe he was better off cutting his losses and leaving now. Maybe he ought to be selfish and go. After all, she could never, ever be with him the way he needed her to be. What was the point in staying here and being tempted? Why was he torturing himself like this?
Just because her body is attracted to mine doesn't mean she can love me.
Syaoran drew his knees to his chest, sitting much like a little boy as he reached for his wallet and opened it with trembling hands. Tucked away in the folds of Italian leather was a tiny picture, taken in a photo booth. His eleven-year-old self was at the back, pressed flat against the wall as his cousin Meiling virtually strangled him in a hug. Tomoyo was beaming, happily pointing that damned video camera at them all while that stupid plush toy hovered about making the victory sign. And then … then there was Sakura, standing at the side, giggling helplessly at all of them.
She wasn't beautiful – not in the same way she was now, but still utterly adorable. And he hadn't known it at that point … he'd just stumbled along blindly, wondering why he blushed when she said certain things, unable to understand why her safety had suddenly taken precedence over everything else, even the Clow Cards.
And now he'd been kissed by her.
It didn't mean anything.
Syaoran shook his head, staring determinedly at the photograph of her in his hands. This was Sakura. Sakura. She wouldn't kiss him if he didn't mean something to her.
You're nothing, not even a memory.
The little girl in the picture beamed up at him, and Syaoran was struck by a sudden desire to see her. It didn't matter if she shot him down; he couldn't just walk away again.
Not before finding out if he had a chance.
Hana looked up, shocked to be addressed so rudely, but rolled her eyes when she saw who it was. "Buzz off, Shiori-san," she sighed. "Don't you have some rich old man you should be seducing?"
Shiori scowled. "Why are you giving Kinomoto-san breaks before she's even started? You're not the boss here."
"Oh, don't get me started on how many times Sakura-chan has covered for your sorry ass," Hana shot back.
"I'm telling Kenji-san," Shiori announced.
Hana flicked a coffee bean at the girl, which bounced off the middle of her forehead. "You do, and I'm writing in the men's bathroom that you're actually a guy in drag."
"Oooooh!" Shiori squealed in rage. "I could just – just –" She trailed off as the front door pinged, and a smile slid across her face as Tai walked in. "Never mind." She beamed. "This should be good, anyway. It's only a matter of time 'til that little two-timer Kinomoto gets found out."
"What did you just say?" Hana demanded, slamming her order book down on the counter as she glowered at Shiori. "You listen to me, you jumped up, spoiled rotten, selfish, immature little bi –"
"Um, hi?" Tai interrupted awkwardly.
"Tai-kun!" Hana beamed. "Hi, how are you? Shiori-san, get Tai a latte."
"But I'm not on the coffee machines –"
"I mean it, Shiori," Hana cut in menacingly. "Or I'm heading into the men's room with a permanent marker."
Tai blinked as Shiori began stomping about, making his coffee. "Um, I was actually hoping I could catch Sakura-chan? I thought maybe I could have a quick chat with her before I headed out to work."
"She's just out back," Hana said – she knew she was smiling too much, but she couldn't seem to stop. "She'll be through in a minute."
"Okay …" Tai said slowly, taking the latte Shiori held out to him. "I'll just be over there then. Thanks for the coffee."
Hana smiled and waved, just as Sakura hurried out of the staff room. "Hey," she smiled at her friend. "Feeling better?"
"I'm okay," Sakura said. She had her normal, happy face back on, but Hana could see that it didn't quite meet her eyes. "But thank you."
"No problem," Hana replied. "Uh … I don't know how this fits into your plans for the day, but Tai's over in the corner."
Sakura gasped, carefully keeping her back to him so he couldn't see the expression on her face. "What? Why?"
Hana frowned in confusion. "He wants to say hi to his girlfriend."
"Oh," Sakura moaned. "Oh god, I'm so awful … I don't deserve him …"
"Sakura-chan, what are you talking about?" Hana asked worriedly, before glancing over at Syaoran's usual table. "Does this have anything to do with the fact that tall dark and handsome is absent this morning?"
"I – I don't …" Sakura stammered, anxiously wringing her hands. "I'm not sure he'll be coming by any more. I did something stupid."
"I – um …" Her stomach churned as she thought about the night before – the horrible, terrible thing she'd done to Tai. The kiss that she knew she should regret but couldn't, couldn't, because for those few minutes everything that was so wrong in her world had inexplicably been fixed and made whole again.
"Honey, you really don't look well," Hana aid anxiously. "You need to go home – I'll just tell Tai-kun you got sick …"
"No," Sakura cut her off. "No. Thank you, Hana-chan, but I'm fine."
She wasn't ten years old any more. She was a grown woman, and it was her job to fix her own problems.
Sakura hurried over to her boyfriend as quickly as possible, smiling brightly in an attempt to cover up her guilt. "Tai-kun!" she exclaimed happily. "How are you? Have you got everything you need? Want another coffee?"
He looked a little taken aback, but still seemed pleased to see her. "I'm fine, thanks," he assured her, taking her hand playfully. "Just missing my girlfriend."
"Oh, Tai-kun," Sakura sighed, biting her lip. "I've been terrible – how long has it been since I last saw you?"
"Too long," Tai replied with a grin.
"I know," she said, fidgeting guiltily. "I've been bad …"
"Extremely," he teased.
Sakura flushed. He had no idea.
"So I was thinking," Tai continued brightly. "Maybe we could go out tomorrow night? I've got tickets to see a new play at the New National Theatre, it's supposed to be really good."
Her eyes widened. "Oh, I – I don't know …"
"Come on," he pleaded. "We haven't been out in so long, and you need a break from – this thing – whatever it is you're dealing with. You look so tired. Come out with me and forget about it for a night."
"It's not the sort of thing I can forget about," Sakura sighed.
"You need some time out," Tai said firmly, "I'm worried about you."
Guilt began to squirm fiercely in Sakura's stomach. "Oh, Tai-kun … please, please don't worry about me …"
"Of course I'm going to worry about you, you're my girlfriend!" he cried, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. He got to his feet, kissing her forehead and stroking her cheek softly with his hand. "Please, Sakura-chan … let me in. Let me take care of you."
The guilt was paramount now, and Sakura knew she was going to have to tell him before she burst into tears. It was hardly the ideal place, but she couldn't let him carry on being so sweet and caring without knowing what she'd done.
"Tai-kun," she interrupted, gently moving his hand away. "I – I have to tell you something."
He smiled understandingly at her. "Sure."
"It's – oh, God …" she mumbled, feeling her hands starting to shake. "You have to know how sorry I am – I really am so, so sorry …"
Tai was watching her with worried eyes now. "Sakura-chan, what do you -?"
Suddenly, without warning, all the lights in the shop flickered and died. If it had been sunny, the problem would have been manageable, but the skies outside were so miserably cloudy that only those tables closest to the windows got the tiniest bit of light. Groans echoed from several disgruntled customers, and a general annoyed chatter started up.
Kenji came hurrying out of the office, looking at the staff accusingly. "What happened? Who touched what?"
"Honestly, boss, you really have no faith in us, do you?" Hana pouted.
Kenji glared at her. "This isn't a power cut. See?" he pointed out of the window. "None of the other buildings are having this problem."
Hana shrugged. "Maybe a fuse has gone or something?"
"Ah … bear with us, everyone!" Kenji announced, flashing a bright grin at the customers who were tapping their fingers impatiently on their tables. "The power will be back on shortly, I'm sure – in the meantime enjoy your drinks, and we'll pass around some free biscotti!" He turned to the staff, who had all grouped around him waiting for instructions. "I'll call the electric company on my cell phone," he sighed, "Get that biscotti round, and if you need me shout."
Hana grinned at Sakura happily. "How many pieces do you reckon we can swipe without it looking suspicious?" Sakura didn't answer her, and Hana frowned when she saw how white she looked. "Hey, what's up? Afraid of the dark?"
Sakura wrapped her arms around her stomach, peering around apprehensively. "Something's not right."
"What?" Hana asked, looking confused. "Hon, it's just a power outage –"
"No, it's not," Sakura said firmly.
It's her, she thought, panic tightening around her chest.
Void had done something to the power lines – she could feel her aura everywhere. Unease settled itself like a lead weight in her stomach, and Sakura found herself instinctively looking for Syaoran, even though she knew he wasn't there.
Don't you see? I'm everywhere.
Sakura's head shot up, her eyes wide with panic. "What?"
The voice laughed. I warned you. Everything you hold dear …
Everyone you love …
"Stay away from them!"
"Sakura-chan? What's the matter with you?"
"I …" Sakura turned to Hana, grasping at her hands. "You can't hear her?"
"Sweetheart, you're not well," Hana said soothingly. "You weren't well when you came in today – why don't you sit down and I'll get you a glass of water?"
How does it feel, mistress? Knowing everything you touch is tainted? Knowing everyone you love will soon be engulfed by nothingness?
"You don't understand! I need to find Syaoran-kun," Sakura cried frantically, almost unaware of what she was saying in her desperation to find him. "I have to –"
She was cut off by the smashing of glass.
For several seconds, everything fell into chaos. She could hear glass breaking everywhere, hear people screaming and tables scraping as people fought to get out of the way of whatever it was that was falling. Then she felt someone grab her around the waist, dragging her to the side as glass continued to rain all around her. Her eyes were screwed tightly shut, and yet she knew somehow that it was Syaoran who had pulled her out of the way.
Sakura looked up, desperate to see his face, but all she could see was his profile as he watched the reigning chaos over his shoulder. But he was here. He'd come for her, like he always did. Sakura virtually sobbed in relief, clinging to him as tight as she dared.
"What – how are you here?" she asked in disbelief.
"Keep your head down," Syaoran said bluntly, bringing his arms up to shield her face. "I was coming to see you when I felt its aura … I don't think I've ever run so fast in my life."
"You were … coming to see me?" Sakura asked in a small voice.
"Yes," Syaoran said, blushing slightly. "I didn't know ... what you wanted. Was that wrong?"
"No," she sighed in relief, clinging to him tighter. "I was so scared you might have left."
Syaoran's eyes widened, and he looked down at her in surprise. "Why?"
Her lower lip trembled. "Because of what I did."
"Look at me," he ordered.
She did as he asked, and for one moment forgot the madness around them as his eyes bored into hers.
"I will never, ever leave you again. Do you understand?"
Sakura blinked in confusion. "Again?"
And just like that, Syaoran's face closed off again. "Keep your head down," he repeated.
Obediently she buried her face into his chest, happy to relinquish her questions in exchange for the safety of his arms.
Finally, it all went quiet.
Sakura summoned up her courage and went to peer over Syaoran's shoulder, but he placed a hand on the back of her neck, keeping her head down. "Let me look first," he murmured.
Sakura promptly ignored him, her curiosity now far too much to bear.
Initially it didn't look too bad. The shelves behind the counter had all disappeared, causing the crockery to fall and shatter; that had been what made the noise. The glass all around them had obviously come from the light fixtures, which had been crafted out of glass and hung all around the store. From what Sakura could tell, the screws holding them to the ceiling must have vanished, and the fixtures had crashed to the ground. There were a few people with minor cuts and scrapes, but everyone seemed okay.
At least, they did until she saw the body of a woman, lying perfectly still as a pool of blood widened slowly around her head.
For a second, the image didn't register within her brain. Then Sakura shrieked slightly, launching herself around Syaoran and towards the fallen girl.
She felt sick when she saw who it was.
"Oh no," Sakura whimpered. "Oh, no, Shiori-chan … I'm sorry, I'm so sorry …"
Around her people were screaming and crying and shouting, but it was all fading into a blur around her as Sakura reached for one of Shiori's pale hands, cradling it against her cheek. Blood was pouring across the floor now, soaking into the fabric of her jeans, streaking across Shiori's skin and matting her hair … blood, blood … there was so much of it …
See what you've done?
Sakura squeezed her eyes shut, desperately trying to ignore the cold voice echoing in her head. At this point, she couldn't tell if Void was actually talking to her or if the voice was just a figment of her imagination.
"Sakura, come away," she heard a voice say behind her gently, and she looked up to see Syaoran kneeling by Shiori's shoulders.
"Syaoran-kun …" Sakura mumbled weakly, watching as he searched for a pulse and examined the wound on Shiori's head.
You never liked her. You know you didn't. And yet look what's happened to her.
Finally Syaoran turned to her, and he attempted to smile reassuringly. "It's all right, she's just unconscious. We'll get an ambulance here and she'll be just fine."
Sakura smiled weakly, and he went back to trying to staunch the blood flowing from Shiori's wound.
Just think … if this is what I do to the people you don't like, what will I do to those you love? Imagine what I could inflict on them, trapped in this place you know so well. How would your darling brother fare in here with me? Or your beloved father, or your best friend …?
"Get out of my head!" Sakura shouted suddenly, pressing her hands against her eyes in frustration as she tried not to cry.
Syaoran looked up at her, frowning worriedly. "What's the matter?"
"I … she's …" Sakura stammered, feeling lost. The voice in her head was blurring her sense of reality, and she wasn't even sure what she was saying any more.
"What is it?" Syaoran repeated urgently.
"Make her be quiet," Sakura begged him suddenly. "Please, stop her saying these things."
"She's going to go after them, everyone," she said frantically, "She's going to destroy them – because of me, all because of me. Shiori-chan could have – she almost … what kind of monster am I? What am I doing to people?"
"Stop it," Syaoran interrupted firmly. "Sakura, none of this is your fault."
"Don't you see?" she asked desperately, feeling almost hysterical as tears began to spill down her cheeks. "Void was here! She was here, in this building! She's going to keep doing this to everyone I love until someone –"
Syaoran crawled forward, pulling Sakura to his chest and holding her tightly. "Listen to me. No one died. Everything is okay. And nothing that happened here today is your fault."
She was full out crying now, unable to stop herself, and Syaoran felt sick with guilt. He'd come here to protect her, but when it came to it there was nothing he could do except hold her and watch as the Void slowly chipped away at her sanity. He looked between her and Shiori in despair; leaving Sakura was the last thing he wanted to do, but the other girl needed medical attention and nobody in the crowd appeared to know enough to step forward and help.
"Motomiya," Syaoran called suddenly, hating what he was about to do.
Tai came forward, cringing slightly at the sight of his girlfriend in Syaoran's arms. He couldn't miss how easily Syaoran was holding her, how naturally she curled into him, as if they'd done it a thousand times before … or how she visibly tensed up as Syaoran placed the shaking girl into his arms.
"Take care of her," Syaoran ordered, and received a glare. He supposed he was a bit out of line, saying something like that to her boyfriend … but it didn't matter anyway. Tai didn't know how to take care of her, not properly.
Syaoran returned his attention to Shiori, and took the basic first aid kit someone had retrieved from behind the till. "Call an ambulance," he ordered, balling up his suit jacket and placing it behind the girl's head.
He managed to keep her stable until the paramedics arrived, and offered to ride with Shiori in the ambulance. This got him a few odd looks, but he waved them aside, pretending that she had been a great friend. After all, there were likely to be a few officials around who'd want to know how Shiori had been hurt – people he needed to buy off.
As Shiori was being strapped into a stretcher, Syaoran glanced back at Sakura. Tai was holding her gently, whispering something in her ear, but she was just gazing ahead with blank eyes, tears pouring down her cheeks.
Syaoran twitched in annoyance. He knew Tai wouldn't be able to take care of her properly. He had to stop her crying like that or she'd never calm down …
She was in a classroom, in floods of tears because her best friend was trapped somewhere and she had no idea of how to find her. "How …" she sobbed pitifully, "How am I supposed to find Tomoyo-chan?"
"Don't cry!" he'd said, somewhat sharper than he'd meant to. "Nothing will come of just crying. Think about how we can get back to the classroom."
Her eyes were still sparkling with tears, but she nodded in agreement. "Yeah," she said softly, sending him a small smile.
Against his better judgement, he walked over to them both. "Listen to me," he told Sakura gently. "Don't cry. Crying won't solve anything." Then he took her hand in his, smiling slightly. "Everything will definitely be all right."
She looked at him in wide-eyed surprise, as though trying to recall when she'd heard those words before. Then she nodded slightly, squeezing his hand back. "Everything will definitely be all right," she echoed weakly.
Syaoran smiled for her one more time; he could feel Tai glare at him but he didn't care. Didn't that boy understand that Sakura was all that mattered?
Briskly he followed the paramedics out of the shop, swinging himself into the ambulance and sitting beside Shiori's stretcher. Void had gone much too far this time, and he needed to think of something quickly. Something had to be done, something more than sitting around flicking through books.
If they didn't act soon, Sakura's spirit was going to be broken beyond all repair.