They'd spent more time in Fei Wong's little world than he'd thought. But it was over. Over, at last, and he could finally come back home.

He rushed the doors of Shirasaki, ready to put all of his grand plans into action.

"Where's Tomoyo-hime?" He demanded of the nearest person he could find, an older looking man in long robes. The man did not seem to want to be disturbed and brushed him off. Kurogane, though, was persistent.

"Tell me already. Why isn't she here?"

He hadn't even needed to search the palace. He could tell just by stepping inside. It was odd, he thought, that bond, like a warm string typing one to the other seemed so faint, so distant...how long had he been away? Surely she hadn't--?

Eventually, the man gave in. He wrinkled his nose in distaste.

"Ah, so you're that young man she was waiting all this time for. Well," he said stoically, "she's out in the courtyard."

Was? Did that mean that she had stopped waiting for him? Had she married someone, had he been away that long? And if she was in the courtyard, why hadn't he been able to sense her presence? Damn, this whole thing made no sense.

When he came into the garden, he found no one there. Kurogane stopped short, a chill coming over his body as he looked around. Had that old man just been joking around with him? No, that couldn't be it...

Then, the small stone platform came into view. It was dark against the bright spring day, and cherry blossoms had swept across it, though from the polished look of the black onyx, it was well-taken care of. Kurogane walked toward it, curious, something in his heart weighing heavy with dread. He'd never seen that in here before.

So many things had changed. But as long as Tomoyo was still--

And then he realized what it was.

A grave marker.

Elegant, but not obtrusive. Quiet, but dignified. The writing described her as a beloved priestess, who carried the best wishes of her country with her. His mouth grew slack, and he found himself knelling before it, thinking that the placement couldn't have been better, some place where the moon's light could easily touch.

"There you go. That's what you get for keeping her waiting, you scoundrel."

Kurogane jolted to his feet. "Tell me how it happened."

The man turned away. "How does anything happen to royals these days? Sometimes, the right person isn't there at the right time and some fool with an arrow just gets lucky."

Kurogane didn't notice when the man left. He carefully swept the petals off the stone, and stared at the inscription for a long while. So she had been waiting this whole time, waiting for him to come back when each day it became more of a lie. And then, because he hadn't been there, she'd--

The night darkened overhead, and he was still there, now waiting to join her.

"You called?"

The Space-Time witch was looking out at him from a circle of moonlight, reflecting off the grave. Kurogane stood. He kept his promises, and this would be one he saw through no matter what.

"I want to make a trade."

Yuko smiled. "Turning back time for a single world isn't going to come cheap."

He nodded. He understood that when he had called. He was willing to pay

"But, first," she glanced contemplatively at his surroundings, "answer me this: tell me where the past years are."

He choked back a laugh. Was she serious? "They're everywhere. The little places you forget to look, the moments you half-forget, and they just keep building up until you lose track of them all. They never really go away, you just don't see them anymore because you've forgotten how to."

You just don't see them again until you realize that they've stopped coming, he said to himself as the winds once more whipped him away, back to a place where he would make another trade, and then off to another moment, a moment when he would make it in time.

No matter what the cost.

--

Princess Tomoyo was in her chambers when she heard the shouts. Without her dreams and without the best of her guards, she had wondered when this day would come, when her forces would fail, and when the perpetually besieged Shirasaki would no longer be her stronghold.

The arrow came from the window, the glass breaking with its impact, but she didn't feel anything. She wondered a moment if this was some bizarre pre-death or post-death feeling, but once she heard someone cry, "The bastard's charging the gate!" her eyes flew open.

The window was broken, shards lay sprayed about the room, but she hadn't been shot. Perhaps the arrow had gone astray? Had the archer really been so unlucky?

"Heh...Told you I'd come back."

There, on her floor, an arrow piercing his chest, was the man she'd been waiting all this time for.

A shout drifted up through the broken glass: "Got him!" Cheers rose.

"About time," Kurogane said softly, trying to get up but gasping at the pain. Damn, that witch had been serious when she'd said it would hurt like hell.

"You--" Tomoyo started, a sentence leading off to a million different endings. You idiot, why did you do that? You shouldn't have done this to yourself. You've been away so long and now you're-- "You were just in the nick of time." She finished. He grinned, painfully.

"When am I not?" He asked, eyes shining and chest heaving. "Wasn't that what I promised you all those years ago? To always be there just before the blow struck, always guarding you?" His eyes narrowed playfully, wearily. "You better not have forgotten."

"I..." She threw her arms around him. "I missed you so much!"

He smiled. "I tried to get here sooner, but..."

"You won't have much time. As soon as you enter, the archer will be in the tree, ready to aim."

"Damn it." His hands clenched into fists.

"You said you'd pay any price."

"You're here now," she said, tears in her eyes. "And that's what matters."

The black fabric of his shirt was sticky with blood. He'd left his armor in Mokona, and the manjuu had gone with Fai, off to let him keep traveling worlds. He could have laughed, if his chest hadn't hurt so much. The world really was a funny place. A bitch, but a funny place. Who would have known that a pork bun would have saved his life? He certainly wouldn't have believed it.

"Tomoyo, there's something I have to tell you," His voice became hoarse with the words. Damn, not now, not when there would never be another chance to say it-- "I want you to know I'll always keep my promises." He swallowed, forcing the lump in his throat down. "Always."

Later, she found a note tapped to the inside of Ginryuu. It wasn't very eloquent, and it sounded a little rushed, but it reflected the personality of its writer. It said what he hadn't been able to, in the tiny, cramped kanji that had always been his trademark:

I love you.