Disclaimers: I don't own CCS-- 'tis property of CLAMP and all those wonderful people. Please don't sue, it's not nice to do. However, while the characters are not mine, the story is, and if you steal it or its ideas, I will find you. Trust me. ^_~
C&C would be most appreciated . . . it's my first attempt at writing something for this particular genre. Thanks for reading!
Crown of Silver, Heart of Tin
"Eriol-kun, please?" Sakura's eyes were pleading as she distractedly stroked a young child's back, trying to quiet him in her arms. "He's always loved your stories."
"I'm tired, Sakura," he said quietly. "It's late. Have your husband tell him a story."
She managed a rather strained grin. "I did, but Syaoran has a tendency to tell rather boring stories. He leaves out all the important details, forgets where he is, and doesn't say the exciting parts."
"Want story!" said the little boy, his eyes, like his mother's, wide and full of pleading.
Tomoyo, standing behind Sakura in the doorway, smiled softly. "He's so much like his parents," she said quietly, brushing a few strands of hair away from her eyes. "Your stories must be something special for him to request them so strongly."
The young sorceror murmured something, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Why does he want a story all of a sudden?"
Sakura shrugged, or tried to, a difficult thing with a child squirming in one's arms. "I'd put him to bed a few hours ago, but he appeared just as Syaoran, Tomoyo, and I were going out. Said he couldn't sleep. He said he wanted a story, but when Syaoran tried to tell him one, Toyuki threw his stuffed bear at him." She flushed in embarrassment, the little boy choosing that moment to start tugging on his mother's hair.
Eriol sighed, and while Sakura was busy detaching her son's chubby fingers from her reddish-gold locks, Tomoyo spoke up once more, for the sorceror's ears alone. "Hiiragizawa-kun, you know she's new at being a mother. Humor her just this once . . . please?"
That was what did it, finally-- with a long-suffering sigh, the young man turned and ushered the two women and the boy into his house, shutting the door behind them. He led the way to his make-shift library, where a fire was going cheerfully. Tomoyo had suspicions about that-- it was nearing midnight. How could Eriol have known they were coming, and known he would have been persuaded to let them in?
"Have a seat," he said, gesturing at two comfortable-looking chairs near the hearth. "You can let To-chan on the ground; the grille is up, so the fire can't hurt him."
The child wasted no time in slithering to the ground, beaming up at Eriol with an almost smug expression on his little face. There were even pillows on the ground for the boy-- Tomoyo was sure of it, now. The sorceror had something up his sleeve, else how could he be so sure that he'd be telling a story to the boy in the middle of the night?
"Let's see . . . what story should I tell tonight?" The young man seemed to be thinking aloud, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling as he seated himself in his large chair. It had been only recently that he'd moved back to Japan from England, and somehow he'd found a mansion for sale in Tomoeda to live in. No one had asked him how he'd managed it-- if anything, the years had increased his air of mystery. "One about dragons?"
The boy shook his head.
Toyuki shook his head again, saying quite clearly, "To-chan want new story!"
"Hmm . . . Fair enough. I've told plenty about dragons and witches before, I suppose." He fell silent, appearing to think. "You know, To-chan, I may just have the perfect story. It's a classic fairy tale, a story of good and evil, of great adventures and small triumphs."
"And of love?" Tomoyo raised an eyebrow, a faint smile tracing her lips. "A fairy tale's not a good fairy tale unless it has a grand love story, full of thwarted desire and self-sacrificing lovers."
Eriol raised his eyes from the child on the floor, who had lost interest the moment the word 'love' had been mentioned. "Yes, of love, too. It is, actually, my favorite love story."
Tomoyo blinked-- it may have been the fire throwing odd shadows upon his face, but she was sure he'd just winked at her. She pushed that aside, glancing at Sakura, who was eyeing her son nervously, as if she expected the boy to start throwing things again. "You'd better start the story before Toyuki starts complaining again."
"As you wish," replied Eriol, with a light smile. "Our story begins, of course, long, long ago . . ."
Once upon a time, there was a tin soldier. The soldier was part of a set of twelve soldiers, belonging to a little Chinese boy who played with them every day. This little tin soldier, however, was the last one made in the toy shop and there hadn't been enough tin to finish him, so he was missing one leg. But despite such a setback, the tin soldier was the bravest and most faithful, standing his guard on one leg without complaint.
One day, the little boy was called away from playing by his mother, and left the tin soldier standing steadfastly on the table-top. The tin soldier had never seen the play-room from so high up before, and the vastness of his world surprised him. Scarce had a few moments passed, however, before a light tinkle of silver bells reached his ears, and he turned to see what was making the music.
It was a music box, with sparkling turrets and towers like a crystal castle, that had been opened by the little reddish-gold haired, green-eyed girl who also lived in the house. But she, too, got called away and left without closing the box again, leaving it lying open on the table. As the music played, a figure rose from the shadows of the box, twirling slowly in the afternoon sunlight. It was a paper ballerina, slim and beautiful, wearing a sparkling dress and crown of silver, dancing in the sunlit dust streaming from the window. She had one leg folded behind her, poised in a graceful way, but the soldier could only see the leg touching the lake of glass beneath her.
She's like me, he thought to himself, eyes fixed upon the girl's porcelain face. With a start, he realized she was looking back at him, her eyes soft and large in her delicate face as she gazed back towards him.
Come down, come join me, said the soldier to the princess ballerina, his heart so full he thought it might burst.
I can't, said the ballerina, her eyes sad.
Why? asked the soldier, feeling as if his tin heart had split in two.
It would make the little girl sad, replied the ballerina.
But I've never found anyone like me anywhere, said the soldier desperately. I've never felt like this before. Don't you feel it?
The ballerina just looked wistfully at him, her expression a world of sadness, her face a well of sorrow. Yes, she replied simply. But her happiness is my happiness. I can't bear to see her cry.
But I love you, said the soldier. May I at least know your name?
I'm sorry, replied the ballerina, a single crystal tear shining upon her cheek. Her spring wound down then, and she slowed to a halt, turning away from the soldier so he could no longer see her face.
The soldier knew for the first time what it was like to have a broken heart. He'd never had a past, because he'd been cast from tin in the backroom of a toy shop in the town. He was a toy, a model, a creation, not meant to feel love and hate and sorrow and joy. Because of this, he had never felt any emotion beyond his duty, and certainly had never wanted anything for himself. But now, he knew that his life, his soul, his very being was her, and that even if she couldn't join him, he'd be content to stay on the tabletop for an eternity just watching her stand gracefully in the sunlight upon a mirror of glass.
But alas, this discovery wouldn't come to anything, because another toy had been watching them. It was an imp, one that lived in a brightly-painted box with a handle to wind on the side. He was jealous of their happiness, bitter-sweet though it was, and wanted to destroy it. He forced the spring on his box so that the lid opened with a pop, knocking against the tin soldier and sending him skidding across the tabletop towards the window. For a brief, sickening moment, the tin soldier teetered on the edge of the table, before he fell, sliding along the glass window-pane, landing in the gravel below with a tiny tinkle of tin.
"Bored!" complained Toyuki, who indeed, looked as if he might have preferred one of the stories about dragons. His sudden vocalization startled Tomoyo, who had been as lost in the fairy tale as if she had been a child.
"Li Toyuki," admonished Sakura, her brow furrowed. "That was very rude. You don't interrupt Eriol-san when he's doing you a favor."
"Gomen," said the little boy, a sweet, regretful smile upon his lips that sharply reminded all present of his mother.
"Forgiven," said Eriol, before Sakura could go further. "I just haven't gotten to the exciting parts yet. You see, To-chan, what happens next . . ."
For a few moments, the soldier lay stunned on the ground, stars exploding dizzyingly before his eyes. He had just enough time to think of the ballerina's tear-streaked face before he felt the world moving around him again, scenes flashing before his eyes.
"Ya-kun," came a voice. "What'd you pick up?" A girl's face came into view, peering at him curiously, her two pig-tails waving in the wind.
"It's a toy soldier," came a second voice, belonging to the boy who'd picked him up. "Someone must have lost it."
"Well, put it back," said the girl. "If someone lost it, they'll be looking for it again."
"But he's lonely," he replied, smiling slightly at the girl.
"Ehh . . ." sighed the girl, rubbing at one temple as if with a headache. "Fine, go ahead . . . I suppose it can't hurt. It's only a very little toy, and missing a leg, at that."
The two children had started moving again, and soon the tin soldier could hear the sound of moving water. "You know, about tin soldiers--"
"Ya-kun . . ." The girl's voice was low, warning.
"It's not a lie!" The boy protested. "You see, in olden times, they used to make parts of tin soldiers seperately. For instance, they would have a separate mold for his heart, one for his head, one for each eye, and so on. Then they would put them all together into one soldier, and because these soldiers were made of separate parts just like people have different body parts, the soldiers could move around and talk just like us."
The girl had listened fairly quietly for the first part of the story, but at the mention of animate toys, she lost her temper and shook the boy into silence, her hands 'round his neck. The movement jostled Ya-kun's pocket, and unbeknownst to them, the tin soldier fell from it to the ground. He bounced once, and then rolled into the nearby river with a faint splash that was lost amidst the gurgling sound of the water itself.
The rushing water carried him downstream, fast enough to keep him from sinking. The stream got smaller and smaller, until it poured over a little waterfall and into an underground sewer, dark and damp. Only waist-deep in water, the tin soldier could finally take the time to look at his surroundings. The sewer was blocked from the sunlight, so all that could be seen were dark corners and shapes. The soldier thought he could see certain shadows skittering around in the darkness, surrounding him. For the first time in his life, as pairs of gleaming eyes began to open near him, the soldier knew what it was like to be afraid.
The storyteller paused for a moment, glancing at the little boy who sat raptly on the carpet at his feet.
"You stopped!" said Toyuki, almost accusingly.
Eriol smiled, noticing how he was finally able to smile genuinely without the expression feeling horribly out of place on a face that had once been used to trickery and treachery. "Not for long," he said. "I just wanted to make sure you're still interested. You did say that it was boring, after all."
"To-chan is interested," said Tomoyo dryly. For all that Eriol had remained the same throughout the years since Tomoeda Elementary, Tomoyo had changed drastically. Still achingly polite and quiet around strangers, to her friends she'd finally begun to show some of her sly, droll sense of humor openly, rather than lurking around the edges of scenes and manipulating both Sakura and Syaoran with skillfully placed words. "Look how wide his eyes are."
Sakura, however, was not amused. "Eriol-kun," she said, in that warning tone that mothers around the world manage to learn, "This is supposed to be helping him fall asleep. Adventures in dark sewers and gleaming eyes in the shadows aren't what I had in mind for a bedtime story . . ."
"Hush, Sakura-chan," said Eriol, a slightly teasing note in his voice. "Just let me finish the story."
The tin soldier backed away until he felt something metal behind him. There were two creatures there in the darkness, their eyes glowing in the dim light, small wings spreading from their backs..
You are brightly colored, one said, eyes shining fitfully.
But it is more than the uniform, said another, flicking its eyes towards the first creature momentarily. It glows from inside, too.
It is unlike others we've seen, said the first. We cannot let this one go.
No, agreed the second creature, who was lighter in color than the first. There was a brief pause, in which the soldier tried to think of some way out. But then, as if on some unseen signal, the two creatures leaped upon him in unison, their claws scrabbling against his once-proud red uniform, their breath coming in short, hot bursts against his tinny skin.
Somehow, he managed to twist to the side, slipping through the metal grating behind him. One of the creatures hissed a despairing sigh, as the soldier fell, fell, fell. There was another splash, and this time he found himself sinking deep into murky depths, with no rushing water to whisk him away. He felt a lurch, and then a swirl of bubbles, and suddenly all was still except for a slow, steady waving.
That is hardly what I would call a meal, said the fish, who had swallowed the tin soldier in one gulp. The tin soldier could only wait, lying inside the fish with steadfast patience. After a while, there came another jerk, and the fish let out a squeak of frustration, and the tin soldier felt the pressure of the water falling away, and knew the fish must have been caught by something above the water.
All was dark, and he could hear very little of what was going on outside the fish. The only sounds he could make out were a jumbled mess of many voices, and shouting, horses neighing and livestock shifting about. Eventually he felt the fish lifted once more, and a soft voice from without murmuring something. Again, silence fell for quite a while.
Just as the tin soldier was about to lose hope, a sharp spear of light struck his eyes, and for a moment he could only stare at the sudden sunlight around him. Once his vision adjusted itself, though, he found a familiar face looking down at him with a startled expression. It was the father of the little girl who owned the ballerina! He must have bought the fish at the market, bringing it back and finding the soldier inside. The sight of the familiar kitchen brought back with a rush all of the visions of the ballerina's beauty that his fear had driven out, and his heart ached to see her. If only he could return to his table to watch her, dancing slowly in the sunlight . . .
"Eriol-kun." A faint whisper interrupted the story, and Eriol blinked and looked about with a start, absorbed as he had been in the telling. Sakura was kneeling on the floor, lifting her sleeping son carefully in her arms. "He's asleep now. Thank you."
Was it just Tomoyo, or was there a faint air of disappointment about the reincarnated sorcerer as he stood to show them out? "You're very welcome, my dear," he replied in a low murmur. "Take him back home, and for goodness' sake, go tell Syaoran to learn to tell stories. I can't do this every night, you know."
Tomoyo sighed and stood up, trying not to show her own disappointment that she wouldn't get to hear the rest of the story.
Sakura turned to smile at her friend, saying, "Don't let me tear you away from his charming story, Tomoyo-chan. I know how much you love fairy tales."
"But . . . the whole reason we came was so that To-chan would fall asleep and the three of us could go to the movies."
"We missed the movie long ago, Tomoyo-chan . . . besides, Eriol-kun is far more entertaining than a movie."
She wanted to stay. Oh, how Tomoyo wanted to stay . . . I don't need anything for myself, Tomoyo reminded herself. No matter if I want to stay or not. Sakura needs someone to escort her home; I can't abandon her to make myself happy.
There was a ring at the doorbell, and Tomoyo jumped. "Ah, must be Syaoran-kun," said Sakura happily. "Come to escort me home."
"But--" said Tomoyo, puzzled.
"He's wondering what's taking so long . . ." Sakura glanced at Tomoyo through shrewdly narrowed eyes for a few moments, and then said, "Sorry to dump you like this, Tomoyo-chan. I suppose I'm being rather transparent, aren't I? It'll be one of the few times I can be alone with Syaoran without this little kaijuu around."
And with that, Tomoyo was defeated. She had no choice, really . . . if it would make Sakura happy to be alone with Syaoran, she would stay. Sakura knew that, and was manipulating her shamelessly. But for some reason, living for Sakura's happiness didn't make her feel as empty as usual. Maybe because it was something she wanted, too. With a faint smile, she admitted her defeat and said, "Your happiness is my happiness, Sakura-chan. Go have fun with him."
Sakura started to head towards the door, from which direction loud knocking was beginning to sound. But then she paused and looked round, her eyes worried. "Oh . . . Tomoyo, how are you going to get home? I don't want you to be alone on the streets at one o'clock in the morning . . ."
"She can stay here," Eriol said blandly. "There's plenty of room in this big old house."
"I--" began Tomoyo.
"How come I didn't think of that?" asked Sakura, eyes shining. "I'll see you later then, Tomoyo-chan. Thanks again, Eriol-kun; you're a life saver." And with that, she was out the door, buried in conversation with Syaoran before Tomoyo could protest.
Left a little dizzy by the whirlwind exchange, Tomoyo sat down again, a bit heavily.
"Are you alright?" asked Eriol mildly, seating himself in his chair once more, one of those ghostly smiles upon his lips. "That's Sakura for you, hmm?"
Tomoyo nodded, finding herself echoing that smile. "Mm," she agreed. "Are you sure I won't be imposing on you by staying here?"
Eriol shook his head. "No, of course not. You're welcome any time, Daidouji-san."
There was a silence for a little while, before Tomoyo said thoughtfully, "You know, we've known each other for nearly ten years, and we still use formal last names when adressing each other. Why is that?"
Eriol shrugged, saying, "I was most likely daunted by your ever-present calm. I could always ruffle my descendant's feathers, and Sakura's as well, but you were always distant, apart from them."
"Odd . . . I had always thought the same about you. Always mysterious, always knowing everything . . ."
"Everything? That's a little bit of an exaggeration, Tomoyo-san."
Tomoyo smiled at the use of her name. "There, see? Was that so difficult?"
Eriol just laughed.
"Now, are you going to finish that story, or am I going to have to do something drastic? I could always rouse Spinel-san and offer him some of the cake Sakura and I made earlier today . . ." Tomoyo raised an eyebrow.
Eriol let out a mock gasp. "Anything but that! Ah . . . where was I?"
"The soldier had just been taken out of the fish, and was lost in thoughts of his little ballerina." Tomoyo curled her legs beneath her in the chair, leaning one ivory cheek against her hand.
"Ah, yes . . . the lovely and distant maiden," the young man said, removing his glasses to toy idly with them as he began to tell the rest of the story.
Tomoyo's last thought before she began concentrating on the story was that he looked surprisingly young and vulnerable without those glasses . . .
The boy who owned the tin soldier had meanwhile come into the kitchen to get himself a glass of milk. He saw the girl's father looking curiously at something on the table, and asked what the matter was. When the man held up the battered tin soldier, the boy let out a cry of surprise. "That's one of mine!" he said. "I played with him just this morning-- I didn't even know he was gone."
The boy retrieved the solder and cleaned him off, returning to the play room. Noticing the open window, he decided that he must have just knocked it out of the window by accident. This time, he set the toy on the table on the other side of the room, near the little girl's toys-- not even a foot away from the music box.
"Ri-kun!" came the faint, girlish call from outside. The boy looked up, his face transformed into a smile, and he hurried from the room to join the little girl.
Once he had gone, the music box opened of its own accord, the beautiful ballerina rising again to dance slowly upon her floor of glass. When she saw the soldier, her eyes widened and her turn faltered.
I came back, said the soldier, simply.
I had thought you were lost forever, said the girl.
This place holds so much for me, replied the soldier. The rest of the world is exciting, but it is this place that first made me feel. Will you come down from your castle now?
I can't, said the ballerina, turning her face away, eyes anguished. The soldier could see how much she wanted to come, wanted to stay with him, and yet she didn't come. If something should happen to me the way it did to you, my little girl would be unhappy, and she would cry.
Why can't you just be happy for yourself? For just a little while? The soldier looked up into her large, dark eyes, searching for some sign of hope.
Because I've always existed to make her happy. She's my life, she's everything. I know no happiness except hers-- I have no emotion. But the look in her eyes belied her words.
The soldier grasped that brief flicker of emotion like a lifeline. I did not feel until I met you. I was a creation, a husk, without life and without emotion. I existed to do my duty and watch over the two children. But they are growing up, my lady. They don't need us any more-- they only need each other. Don't you think that we can finally look for our own happiness now that they are safe?
The girl was torn. She wanted to come down from her distant castle of glass, and join the young man who was so like her in so many ways. But . . . if I can't make her happy anymore . . .
The tin soldier smiled at her, and said, You've made her happy for years. It's time to let go of her and grow on your own.
The tears sparkled on the ballerina's cheeks, and she looked down at him with love writ plain in her eyes. I . . . I think I could, she said hesitantly, unfolding her leg and taking a brief step towards the soldier.
It was then that they heard a loud sound, causing both of them to turn in fear. The imp had twisted his spring again, emerging from his painted box with a sneer. I separate you, only to find that you meet behind my back and mock me? His voice was cold, embittered. With an unhappy sound, he leaped forward and with one swipe of his arm, brushed both the tin soldier and the little paper ballerina off the table and into the flames of the fireplace below.
They could not speak for the heat of the flames, their words dying before they could reach their lips. But they were finally together, lying side by side as the fire licked around them, for once not caring about anything but each other.
The flames eventually died down into ashes, and neither the boy nor the girl noticed that their toys had disappeared together, so happy with each other they were. Late that evening, long after both children had gone to bed, an old servant came to sweep out the fireplace. As he sifted through the ashes, two strange objects tinkled musically against his brush.
All that was left of the two lovers were a little tin heart, and a shining silver crown.
Tomoyo had tears in her eyes when Eriol finished. "That's it?" she whispered. "There's no happy ending."
Eriol smiled at her. "That's because it wasn't an ending. They finally both realized that their paths to finding their own happiness lay in each other, instead of living to watch over others. And they're together-- wherever they are."
"You speak as if it were a true story," Tomoyo murmured, with a sigh.
"Who says it isn't?"
Tomoyo didn't answer, realizing that she was crying as a tear splashed against her hands. "H-Hiiragizawa-kun--" she began.
"I thought we'd agreed to be informal," he said.
Tomoyo smiled through her tears, brushing at them with the back of her hand. "Sorry," she said softly. "E-Eriol-kun, then. Sorry, I just sort of--"
"You don't have to apologize," he said with one of those fleeting smiles. "I should be the one apologizing for telling such a disagreeable story--"
"No!" interrupted Tomoyo, who then blushed at having interrupted. "No," she repeated, a bit quieter, "It was a perfectly wonderful story. I-- I just--"
"I'm glad you liked it. I picked it because I thought you would."
That confirmed Tomoyo's suspicions. "You knew we would be here, didn't you?" she asked, unable to hide the faint accusation in her voice.
Eriol nodded, surprising Tomoyo with his honesty. "I did," he agreed.
"You-- you manipulated us, didn't you?"
"Unused to being on the receiving end of it, aren't you, Tomoyo-san?"
"Why?" Tomoyo felt like she was drowning in confusion, her voice coming out as a mere whisper.
"I wanted to give you something," he said, actually looking a little embarrassed. He stood up and crossed over towards his desk, pulling a box from one of the drawers.
"You couldn't just send it to me, or drop it off during the day?"
He shook his head in answer, returning with the box and standing near Tomoyo's chair. At her questioning look, he added, "There's a story behind it, you see."
". . . A story?" whispered Tomoyo. She knew what was in the box.
"I hope you won't mind me opening your present for you." An onlooker might think he was perfectly detached, uncaring even, by his tone of voice. But Tomoyo could see the slight tremble in his fingers as he opened the box and lifted the gift from the layers of cloud-thin tissue paper.
He placed the simply-woven, silver mesh crown upon her head, tucking a curl of her dark hair behind her ear. Tomoyo could only watch him move, unable to take her eyes away.
"They don't need us anymore. Come down from your crystal castle, Tomoyo?" he whispered, a painful hope in his dark eyes.
For a few moments that stretched on like an eternity, Tomoyo could do nothing except sit and look at him, her heart beating so fast she thought it might burst. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak, her voice a mere whisper despite all of her vocal training. "I . . . I think I could," she said hesitantly, a small, sweet smile coming to her lips, the tears shining like crystal against her ivory cheeks.