summer.html Well this is my first attempt at an E+T, and I chose to make it an AU fic until I get to see the last season of CCS for the 17th time. I like to get things right. It was pretty difficult, I might add. It is also my first oneshot, even though it's larger than life...I hope you like it. Mush alert. Title has nothing to do with the story. Please R+R. Thank you!



My Own Summer
By animefreak



The click of her shoes on the ornate marble floor echoed in the heavy silence that reigned in the corridors of the castle. She knew in her heart what her presence in the throne room had been requested for, even though nobody had told her. She had been hearing people whisper around her, about her upcoming eighteenth birthday, about how beautiful she had grown up to be, about how easy it would be for her. She sighed, and her crowned head, heavy with dreadful thoughts, hung low, her eyes were downcast.

Princess Tomoyo had had a happy childhood. She had always been oblivious to what her future held for her from the moment of her birth, and now she had begun to be painfully suspicious about it. Would the King and the Queen really do this to her? She had thought she had heard, and she shivered when she remembered, that this was dictated by an ancient and rigid law.

The heavy oak doors were opened for her by two young guards in red and gold livery, who bowed respectfully at her. She walked carefully past them, past the thick velvet cloth that hung from gold rings on the ceiling of the antechamber and on to the Throne Room. Her steps were abruptly shut down by the plush red carpeting of the room, she absently noticed. She bowed at her parents before approaching them, sitting way up on their royal seats. She then looked up, her violet blue eyes wide and eager. For the first time in her life, she was nervous to meet her parents.

"You wanted to see me, Father? Mother?" she questioned.

"Dearest daughter" the King began gently "How are you feeling today?"

"Very well, Father" Tomoyo answered.

The King paused for a moment and quickly glanced at the Queen. She nodded. This was all for the best. Tomoyo's attention was then attracted to a huge pile of what seemed like letters, neatly arranged on an ebony tray at the King's reach.

"I see you have noticed" he gestured towards the tray "It is what I called you about, my precious child. These are letters from eligible suitors"

Suitors! I knew it! she thought sorrowfully. It was true. She was going to be forced into a loveless marriage. An union with someone she didn't even know. She had prayed for her suspicions to be groundless, but instead they had become a harsh truth.

"Do not worry, however, my daughter" he said, perceiving her distress "As your eighteenth birthday approaches the Queen and I have become increasingly worried with your future, and that of the Kingdom of Schia. It is the law that one of these suitors is chosen to be your husband, but against the best advice from our Counselors, you will be allowed to choose him yourself. You are to announce your decision in two weeks from today. If by then you have not reached a conclusion, we will choose for you, and the decision will be announced on the Masquerade that will be held next month in palace"

"But, Father, I..."

"I will have these letters sent to your chambers at once, my daughter" he severely cut her off "Remember you must choose wisely. And soon"

And she knew this was not a time to argue. This was the law, her father had made it quite clear that there was no escape from this. She bowed again, and spun on her heels to exit the room.

Her young handmaid was anxiously waiting for her in her room, and nearly jumped at her when she saw her rush in, her amethyst eyes brimming with tears and a sort of horrible desperation on her usually placid face that truly frightened her. She waited until the tall pile of letters was set down on her fancy escritoire by two very young attendants and until they left, not before giving her the deferential bow that she ignored in her affliction at the present time. This girl was not only her personal handmaid, but her best friend, the daughter of who had been her nurse, and her name was Sakura. She had shared in the Princess' concerns, had tried to soothe her, had joined in her nighttime prayers for their conjectures to be untrue, but as she faced her pale best friend, she realized that not only was it true, but it was going to happen really soon.

"What happened?" Sakura asked, handing her a glass of water, that she took with a thankful look.

Tomoyo paused for a second before answering. She rolled the thought in her mind, trying to perhaps make it sound less awful, but it was no use. She was miserable through and through.

"They're marrying me off to a stranger" she said, not bothering with politeness.

The young handmaid, who was always in high spirits, found herself unable to help her friend for the first time in her life. So, at a loss of words, she hugged her and let her cry on her shoulder.

--------

In a kingdom far away, the furious roars of an angry king resounded across the hallways of the ancient castle.

"Where is my son? Why haven't you found him? I need to speak to that boy right now!"

Terrified attendants swept the palace up and down, looking for the missing Prince. This was a common occurrence, the young prince disappearing mysteriously, and the King losing his very short temper for it and making rather absurd threats, but it never failed to terrorize the help, whose each and every member wished someone would decide to tie that accursed boy down with a chain, at the very least, as they searched the most unbelievable spots in the castle and the gardens.

He had a habit of vanishing right when his father wanted a word with him, as if he possessed magic and could guess it. Also, he was rarely found, he most usually came out of his hiding place by himself, with that profoundly infuriating smile on his face, as if nothing was wrong. The kid was charming, and beautiful, but he was going to give his father a heart attack one of these days.

But not today, he thought as he calmly walked up the stone stairs of the old basement he had been hiding in. This basement was sealed, and it was only reachable through secret passageways; rumors that alchemists and magicians at the service of the Kingdom of Molker had been secretly living there a long time ago, and that the Queen herself was a frequent visitor of them had been heard for years, almost since he could remember. He never knew his mother; she had died when he was very young. He had been raised by nurses, all of which had eventually surrendered to the child's natural wit and charm, inherited from his mother, they said, and they had allowed him to do whatever he wanted, wander around as much as he liked, and that was how he had discovered all those little hideaways that he used to escape from his father. It was not that he hated him; it was more that it amused him to make him angry.

"Good evening, Father!" he said, a good natured smile on his face "Did you want to see me at all?"

"I have been looking for you all day! Where have you been?"

"Oh. Here and there" he answered casually "What is on your mind, Father?"

"Well, the King of Schia has a daughter"

"Yes" he replied patiently, urging him to stop beating around the bush and get straight to the point so that he could leave.

"The Council of Elders sent a letter to him, requesting her hand in marriage"

"For you, Father?" the prince laughed.

"Of course not, Eriol!!" his father shouted, irritated at the fact that his only son was patently mocking him "For you! She will soon turn eighteen. Apparently the King and Queen gave the child a chance to pick a husband for herself, but she failed in such task. For that reason they have chosen one for her, but they will announce the name at the Masquerade that will be held in the Royal Palace of Schia. I have received an invitation to that ball, and it extends to you, too"

"Oh. In case I am the chosen husband, what?" he asked calmly.

"Exactly. An alliance with the Kingdom of Schia would not do us any harm. They are rich and powerful. Besides she is said to have immense beauty and grace"

"I see. Very well, Father. I shall attend the Masquerade"

"Good" his father answered, entirely pleased. Even though he was a little mischievous, his only son never let him down.

----------

Princess Tomoyo rolled restlessly in bed that night. She had read a few letters, but she wasn't interested, and in the end she couldn't make herself read them all and make a choice. It had been a lot easier to let time pass and have her father make a decision for her. It was going to happen anyway.

But the Masquerade was tomorrow night. The consequences of that night were too important for her future; her life would change forever after the ball.

She had feigned calm and composure for the last month, when in reality she was terrified. Her best friend Sakura had been the only one to understand, to comfort her, and to assure her that she would be there for what no matter what. What else could she have possibly offered anyway?

***

"Oh God, child, you look like you did not get any sleep!" said the Queen upon laying eyes on her daughter's face when she visited her chambers before the ball to check on things "Are you sick?"

"Not at all, Mother" came her cool reply.

"Could you leave me alone with my daughter for a minute?" she told the many attendants that were busily grooming the princess "I would like to have a word with her"

Mother and daughter waited in silence as the maids bowed and left the chambers, one by one. Tomoyo did not relax her stiff position and tranquil expression even as her mother sighed and sat on a crimson colored divan, and beckoned her with a gentle hand.

"I would rather remain standing, if you do not mind, Mother" she declined softly.

"As you wish. Darling, I can understand you are nervous. I went through the exact same situation you are in right now, and I too believed it was the end of the world. Like you, I did not dare oppose my parents, and was married to the King. But, as you can see, everything turned out wonderfully. Your father is a kind and wise man, and I know he made the right choice. You are our only daughter, and we want the absolute best for you"

"I understand, Mother"

"But you are upset"

"That is not an issue, Mother. I will obey my Father's wishes, and fulfill my duty as the rightful heiress to the throne of Schia. My feelings about this decision do not matter at all"

"They do matter, my daughter! You need to think positively about the future your father and I have planned for you. You need to trust us"

"I trust you, Mother"

The Queen remained silent. The teenage princess was not going to open up to her.

"Is that all, Mother? Because there are still many things to do. I am far from ready for the Masquerade"

"I think you will like the outcome of this night, Darling" her mother answered, raising elegantly from her seat "And some day you will thank your father for this decision. A whole world of happiness awaits you, my child. Your father and I will make sure of that"

"Thank you, Mother. Would you send the attendants back in on your way out, if you please?"

"Of course" she said, glancing sideways at her "And, Tomoyo..."

"Yes, Mother?" she replied politely.

"Smile tonight. You have a beautiful smile"

Tomoyo nodded, not feeling like talking anymore. All that chatter about happiness and their wanting the best for her had sounded like utter charlatanry. She felt blood rise to her face, passion and determination fill her heart. She was not to be a marionette. She could take her destiny in her own hands, and change it. So she would.

-------

Prince Eriol was bored. The journey from Molker to Schia was long, and unbelievably dull. The landscape was beautiful, he had to admit, for the lands they were traveling through were rich and well kept, with perfectly square wheat plantations alongside the dusty road, framed with wild flowers, and the blue green mountains on the background, the sound of running water, the humble cottages where the workers lived, and kept their animals, whose could be seen at times pacing the emerald green fields...but he was very, very bored.

The boy was, opposed to his father, the possessor of a proverbial amount of calm patience, and he was not one to complain, ever. Another trace of her mother, his nurses would say, eyes glinting with love and pride for him, and happiness, at the memories of the late Queen. He was so much like her. From her he had not only inherited his good nature and his unquenchable curiosity, but also his piercing lavender blue eyes, and his jet black hair. To tell the truth, he was nothing like his father. The King had been a warrior in his time. He had ascended to the throne at a younger age than Eriol was right now, and had been forced to mature in an unforgiving and hostile world. He had conquered many cities, and under his dominance had Molker blossomed into what it was: one of the richest, most prosperous kingdoms in the whole wide world. A land of mighty warriors, too, warriors that were powerful both on sea and on land. His ability as a leader was unquestionable.

The King could have been disappointed to find out that his son would rather spend his time with his nose pressed into a book than training with a sword. But he was not, could not be. He had loved his wife more than anything in the world; and she had left him so young. The Queen had not been of regal descent. She was a daughter of sorcerers, and she had healed his wounds after one battle where he had won over the country she was from. He had immediately fallen in love with the strange beauty, and had searched restlessly for her for five years after she finished her job and disappeared as swiftly as she had arrived. He had finally found her and begged her to marry him. And so she had.

Prince Eriol, his only son, had been born of that union. He was the spitting image of her: that same lanky build, the same pale skin, those dark blue eyes, that grace and strange beauty. Even the same satiric smile, that secretive aura. If he was so much like his mother, he had every reason to be equally proud of him. Even if he would not follow his father's footsteps as a warrior, he loved him. And he was a wonderful boy anyway.

"Do you not wonder what Princess Tomoyo is like?" his father asked him suddenly.

He stopped for a minute, as if pondering the answer.

"Not really, no, Father" he replied, giving his father a whimsical look "I do not know that much about her"

"They say she is beautiful"

"Bah"

"Exceptionally beautiful" he insisted, as if trying to convince his son.

"We will see, will we not?" Prince Eriol smiled impishly, making his father snort. Maybe he was a little like him in the end.

Besides this little interruption, the journey to the Kingdom of Schia was dull. So very dull. Even though the landscapes were beautiful, Prince Eriol was mortally bored.

-------

"Are you sure about this, Tomoyo?" Sakura asked her, her tone and expression dripping worry.

"Absolutely. I have made up my mind. I shall do it after my father announces the name"

"But it is very dangerous!" Sakura whispered as she fastened the last of her corset.

"I know. That is why I will need your help"

Sakura remained silent, busying herself with the finishing touches to her friend's rather spectacular outfit.

"I have been given permission by the King to come back up to my chambers and change gowns to meet the chosen suitor. That is when I shall do it"

"But Tomoyo, would it not be better..."

"Please, do not try to dissuade me from my purpose!" Tomoyo pleaded, turning around to face her friend "It took all of my little courage to make this decision...Sakura..."

"But are you considering everything? All that you will sacrifice?"

"I do not care for any of this" she motioned helplessly around her.

"What about me?" her best friend then asked.

Princess Tomoyo had to think about it. Sakura was her best friend. Her father was the keeper of the royal library, and had been married to her nurse, Sakura's mother, the woman who assisted the Queen when she gave birth to Tomoyo. She had taken care of Sakura and Tomoyo together, until her death, five years ago. They had grown up together, and now...

"I am deeply sorry, Tomoyo, that things had to be this way. I also regret asking you that question. It is your happiness what is being jeopardized here. If you want to go through this, I will support you. Because you are my sister, and I love you, and you would do the exact same thing for me if you had to"

Tomoyo's violet eyes filled with grateful tears, but her friend quickly wiped them away.

"No one shall notice you are upset. Think that you need to keep yourself together for a few more hours. When you come up to change, I will have everything ready for you. I will speak to Touya as soon as you leave. He will help us"

"Thank you" said Tomoyo with a trembling voice.

"You are welcome, my sister. Always"

-----

"Finally" muttered Prince Eriol upon their arrival to the Kingdom of Schia, earning himself a nudge on the ribs by his father. They were being received and led to their guest chambers by a dozen important ministers, and the King would be damned if he was going to allow the young prince to embarrass him in front of them. This night could be also important for the Kingdom of Molker, even if the prince was not the chosen suitor.

An atmosphere of celebration could be felt around the castle, on the perfectly kept gardens where they were walking around, following the expert lead of the ministers, one of them explaining cheerfully that these gardens were built especially for Princess Tomoyo, who loved plants and flowers, to then go on exalting the virtues of the royal heiress, and finishing by saying that this was a celebration time in the Kingdom of Schia because the beautiful princess was soon to be married. Prince Eriol barely listened to anything the short man was saying, immersed in his own thoughts as he was.

He did not really want to marry that Princess. He had consented so easily to come to this ball because he was sure he would never be chosen. Why would the King and Queen of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world, famous for their wealth and refinement, entrust their only daughter to somebody like him? They would probably choose a warrior prince, someone who could take care of their delicate flower in times of peace and in times of war. Someone like the Prince of Kartag, who was soon to be king due to his father's terminal illness, and who had been trained in the arts of war since he could walk. Or someone like the Prince of Atsumi, the most beautiful coastal city there was, who was so rich he could buy the entire world if that was his wish. But him, who spent all day locked in dark and humid basements, reading, and whose passion was finding new and improved ways to irritate people every day? Fat chance, he thought with a smile. He would attend the goddamned ball, he would smile and bow and be courteous and polite to everybody his father wanted him to be, and after the winner of this insanely stupid competition had been announced, he would snag a couple bottles of the liquor of choice, find a quiet spot outside the castle and get roaring drunk. Screw the princess and her chosen suitor. That was what he really wanted to do.

But for now, he was left alone to prepare for the Masquerade. Ah, yes, the lack of humanity in these royal balls. You could see the women desperately trying to show off their attributes from inside those tight corsets, hopeful to find a husband in there, while trying to maintain a demure yet elegant attitude. You could see the men discreetly drool over them, their eyes reflecting the dirty thoughts they would never dare verbalize, see them trying to wash them away with alcohol. Nothing ever escaped Prince Eriol's sharp observant eye, and these monotonously familiar developments, even though he knew the patterns by heart, never failed to amuse him.

-----

Princess Tomoyo peeked at the ballroom from behind wine colored velvet curtains. It was full of people. Some she had never seen, some she had a faint memory of, from a royal visit or two she had had to accompany her mother to, some she knew very well. And somewhere among that crowd was the man she theoretically would have to spend the rest of her life with. She smiled from behind her jeweled mask. Theoretically.

They were announced and the ballroom went suddenly quiet, only the murmurs that rose from the crowd as the King and Queen, followed by the masked princess whose destiny was to be announced today walked the crimson carpeted aisle towards the balcony. Tomoyo stood beside her father after he had taken his place, resting her hand on the railing for she felt like she was about to faint. Just a little more, Tomoyo, she reassured herself mentally, feeling comfortingly safe behind the mask she wore. You need courage. She took a deep breath as her father inaugurated the festivities, and the crowd began to cheer, and the band began to play nostalgic waltzes. The Queen turned to her.

"Will you not dance tonight, Tomoyo?" she smiled, giving her a meaningful look "After tonight, you will be an engaged maiden, matter of fact"

Thank you for reminding me, mother, Tomoyo thought bitterly as she forced a smile.

"Go ahead, darling" said the King, a gentle smile on his generally severe face "Have fun tonight. I believe you will be pleased with the outcome of this evening"

"Thank you, Father" she said, bowing her head slightly "I cannot wait"

Not wanting to give herself away she bowed curtly and started down the stairs. She planned on getting lost in the crowd, maybe retreating to some quiet spot in the garden to regain composure before the announcement was made, and go on with her plan. She held on to the banister, still feeling lightheaded, and at the end of the staircase she tripped over her own feet and lost balance. Great, she thought as she fell.

But a strong arm forestalled her fall. She held on to it for dear life, her heart racing, her breath shallow. She looked up and felt the heat rush to her face. What an embarrassing development. She quickly let go of the arm of the smiling young man, whose features were also covered with a silver mask.

"Are you all right, my lady?" he asked politely, his hands behind his back.

"Yes, sir, thank you" Tomoyo replied, bowing her head gratefully.

"You ought to watch your steps, my lady" he commented conversationally "That could have been a terrible fall"

"I was distracted" she replied in a dismissive fashion.

"Well then, my lady. Would you like to dance?" he said charmingly, offering her his hand. She smiled and took it with another bow. This was her last night, after all...

She was thoroughly enjoying the relative anonymity her mask provided her with. It was great to forget even for the length of a waltz, that she was the only heiress to the throne of Schia, and just mingle with the crowd. Just like any other seventeen years old. Just what she wished she was.

He was a great dancer. Better than any of the countless youths she had ever danced with. She suddenly found herself wondering whether he was one of her suitors or just any other guest. Tomoyo stared up at him, and blushed when his deep gaze met hers. She released him gracefully at the end of the piece, and bowed.

"Thank you, sir"

"No. Thank you" he said with a knowing smirk. She blushed again and walked away from him, into the crowd, madly embarrassed, and hid behind a marble column on the side of the ballroom, taking her mask off.

"Just a little bit more, Tomoyo" she said out loud.

Eriol was aware that he had startled the princess. It had been entirely his intention. She was a wonderful dancer, and now he wondered what she looked like. Well, he was likely to find out later this evening. She did look beautiful in her royal violet dress, and her jeweled, feathered mask. But something about her was off. She radiated sadness and worry. He understood that this night was crucial in her life, but was it possible that she was reluctant? Two things could happen if she was: one was that she meekly obeyed her parents and fulfilled her duty, and the other was...that she refused. But would she? It took a lot of nerve to defy the King and Queen of Schia. Especially when they were your parents and they expected lots and lots from you.

Whatever her decision was, she seemed to be in the edge of mental breakdown. She didn't have to say a word, he could tell. Maybe these things were harder for a girl than for a boy. He didn't quite mind marrying someone he didn't know. Marriage was just one more responsibility in the package he had inherited without a choice at the moment of his birth. But maybe to her this felt like an outrage. And if you thought it through, it sort of was. She was only seventeen. She couldn't possibly want to marry at all, let alone a stranger.

His train of thought was abruptly interrupted by the King's voice, which was startlingly strong even from the top of the staircase. He looked up and narrowed his eyes, the smile never leaving his face. He was about to make the long awaited announcement, and crush his daughter with it. He even sympathized with her.

"Esteemed friends, and fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Schia" he began "The Queen and I want to thank you all for attending this party. Tonight is a very special night for all of us, as you all already know, one full of joy; because tonight the Queen and I will announce the chosen suitor for our only daughter, Princess Tomoyo. I personally want to thank you all, and also to say that I wish I had one daughter for each and every one of the Princes here tonight" he quipped, and laughter rose from the crowd. Jesus Christ, Eriol thought. How can he joke? And has someone explained him the difference between a good and a bad joke? "Now to the announcement"

Tomoyo was hiding behind the velvet curtains. She was allowed to go back to her chambers and change before she met her future husband. But she still wanted to hear his name. Know what she was walking away from.

"The Council reunited and myself have made a choice that we hope strengthens the bonds between our two nations, not to mention one that will make my precious daughter the happiest woman in the world. That is why we have chosen Prince Eriol, of the Kingdom of Molker, to become the husband of our daughter, Princess Tomoyo of the Kingdom of Schia "

He frowned. He didn't expect events to unfold like this. He had been chosen from a zillion suitors, but based on what? His father came up to him and wrapped him in a ecstatic embrace, as he removed his silver mask, allowing his dark hair to fall over his eyes. His father uttered words of joy that his brain refused to process, so bewildered was he. He was dragged up the stairs, where the King and Queen greeted him, and assured him and his father that the Princess would be there any minute to meet him and make their official presentation as an engaged couple to the eagerly waiting subjects of the Kingdom. The cheers of the crowd and the amiable chatter between his father and their majesties had faded into a minor buzz in his mind. Then it hit him. The answer to all of his prior questions, and he smirked knowingly. Princess Tomoyo would not meet him tonight. Somehow, he knew.

-----

Tomoyo ran up the stairs to her chambers as fast as her garments and shoes allowed her. It was now or never. Who the hell that Prince was it would remain a mystery to her. She had already made up her mind, she would not devote her life to a stranger. Sakura opened the door nervously when she felt her fumble with the lock.

"You took too long" she reprimanded, quickly reaching out to undo her corset.

"I know. I am sorry. I had to dance" she replied hurriedly, kicking off her shoes and her mask.

"I spoke to Touya. He could not believe you were capable of such a thing. But I talked him into helping us. He has agreed, and has a horse ready for you in the stables. He will escort you to the gates of the city, to help you get past the guards. I put together a small bundle of clothes, and money, and a little food for your trip. You will be staying with our cousins in the city of Garnier. They are seamstresses there, and they will be more than willing to help you once they are informed that you are our friend"

Tomoyo listened carefully to her friend as she changed into a simple white dress, and removed the last of her adornments, her earrings, bracelets, and her crown. She tossed everything on her bed, and let her hair down. They had to move fast. Sakura led the way through dark secret passageways that finally conducted to the stables where Touya, Sakura's older brother was impatiently waiting for them.

"You are late, Sakura!" he scolded.

"I know. We had a few minor setbacks. Please forgive me, brother"

He shook his head and stared long and hard at Tomoyo. He had also been like her own brother, and wondered if this was the best for her. But he could not interfere. He knew her happiness was at risk and he loved her too much to deny her his help under these circumstances.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" he asked her instead of speaking his mind.

"Yes" she returned quietly.

"Then we must hurry up. Before they notice you are missing"

Tomoyo nodded and turned to her best friend, who was already in tears. Her look softened and she reached out to wipe her tears away with her fingers.

"Oh, Sakura" she began, feeling tears well up in her own eyes "Please do not cry! We will see each other again someday!"

"I cannot help it, Tomoyo" she whispered, suddenly throwing her arms around her friend "I am afraid. I want you to be happy but I will miss you so much..."

"We will see each other soon" Tomoyo stated firmly, pulling back from her friend to look into her emerald green eyes " And I want to see you smile. So please, Sakura..."

They hugged for a long time, until Touya cleared his throat.

"Your Highness, we need to get moving" he said casually "If we want to make it to the gates before they send the Royal Guard after you"

"You are right" she sniffed, letting go of her friend "I will miss you"

"I will miss you too. Now you must hurry"

Touya helped her on to the horse, and waving a final goodbye to Sakura, they left for the gates of Schia.

They reached the gates a few minutes later, and they crossed them uneventfully, after Touya convinced the guards that it was his sick sister under the dark cloak, who needed to travel to the neighbor town of Malia to get treated. Once they were outside and Tomoyo let the hood of her cloak down, Touya heaved a long sigh and decided he couldn't let her go without some brotherly advice.

"I will not question your decision, Tomoyo, for you consider this is the best for yourself. But you need to be very careful out there. Not everything is as easy as it has been for you as a princess. Take this letter to my cousins in Garnier" he said, handing her a yellowish envelope "They will help you out. Sakura and I will be going there shortly for a visit and we will see you there. For the moment, you must hurry. Before the King and the Queen start looking for you"

"Thank you, Touya. Take good care of Sakura" she said.

"I will. You take care of yourself, Your Highness" he gave her one of his very seldom smiles "You must go now"

Tomoyo nodded, and left her home town behind at full speed without once looking back. To never return.

----

Back in the ballroom the murmurs were getting each time louder. The only person who seemed calm and collected was Prince Eriol, whose smile had not faltered even for the briefest of seconds. The King and the Queen were starting to get worried. It was true that Tomoyo's grooming usually took long, but not that much. Maybe something had happened to her. Maybe they ought to send someone to her chambers to look for her.

The Queen finally sent an attendant up to her chambers, and she came back utterly horrified.

"What happened?" the Queen demanded, feeling a little short of patience.

"The Princess...she is...gone!!" she didn't even bother to keep her voice down.

And that was when all hell broke loose. The Queen nearly fainted, the King clutched his chest with a hand as if he was having a heart attack, everybody started screaming and running around. Now it really feels like a carnival, Eriol thought with a mischievous smile. The little princess had gone through with it, her big escape from a miserable life by his side, and created a scandal of gigantic proportions while she was at it. Eriol even allowed himself a little snicker.

The Royal Guard was sent after her, but it was too late. She was nowhere to be found, neither in the city nor outside. She had a long head start. The men on horses searched all night, but there was no sign of her. She had just vanished.

The King and Queen of Schia were desperately apologizing to the King of Molker and his son. They had tried everything, even though the Prince had assured them he was aware of this not being their responsibility.

"We never thought our daughter capable of such an action. We are terribly ashamed, and we promise you to make our best efforts to find her and bring her back..." started the King yet again.

"Do not worry, your Highness" Eriol reassured for the umpteenth time that night "It will be fine. This is probably one big mistake. You will find your daughter soon and solve this with her. For the moment, we should all call it a night. If you will excuse me, your Highness?"

He bowed and started for the guest chambers, followed closely by his father and personal attendants. This party had gone on for too long, and he was not sure he could go on much longer without laughing at the whole thing. And that would make his father seriously angry.

***

At sunrise, the fugitive princess was still riding. She had not taken a break, not even for a second. According to the map she had been given by her trusted friends, Garnier was still a long way from where she was. And she was tired, and hungry, and nervous. She could feel the royal guard was on her heels, and if they caught her and brought her back home, there would be hell to pay. This time not only a loveless marriage, she knew for sure.

But she needed to make a quick stop now, for her horse was thirsty and tired. She dismounted next to a small stream to allow the animal a little rest and a drink of water. And even though in hear heart she knew she couldn't afford this rest, she also knew she needed it badly. She kneeled at the edge of the stream and splashed her face with the cool water, trying to fight off sleep. She really was on the verge of dozing off. But she couldn't allow herself. After what she reckoned it could have been fifteen minutes, she resumed her journey, at a breakneck pace.

But late at night Tomoyo found it impossible to continue. She felt as if she was going to die from exhaustion, and she hadn't even reached the proximity of Garnier. She had to stop. She needed to. She dismounted and fell right asleep on the soft grass, under the moonlight, in the heart of a dark forest.

***

Prince Eriol and his father had decided to return to their homeland after a whole day of unsuccessful pursuit of the princess. He had refused every apology present the monarchs of Schia had offered them, alleging that they were not necessary since he had taken no offence in their daughter's rash actions. They had bid them goodbye with profound mortification, while the searches for the runaway princess continued and extended towards neighboring cities.

------

It was still nighttime when Tomoyo woke up. She wondered if she had slept through the day. Her senses slowly returned to her as she drowsily sat up from the awkward position she had been sleeping on. She reached blindly for her bag, and was forced to look around when she couldn't find it.

Her heart skipped a beat as she realized that neither her horse nor her bag were anywhere on sight. She jumped to her feet and began looking. Maybe in her exhaustion she had misplaced the bag, and maybe the horse was around nearby. But she soon realized they had both been stolen from her. Now she was really helpless. She had no food, or clothes, or money, or map. No way of reaching Garnier anytime soon. So she did the only thing she could possibly do in this situation: she sat down and cried her eyes out.

***

It had started to pour down, and the carriage where Prince Eriol was traveling got stuck in the mud, to the youth's out and out irritation. He was rarely seen in a bad mood, but he was tired, bored, and frustrated. And now this rain, to top it all off. He had to dismount his vehicle, and wait until the many attendants got it out of the sludge. He removed his glasses and tossed them carelessly on the seat inside the carriage, and stood against a tree, arms folded across his chest, refusing the protection from the rain he was being insistently offered with an impatient gesture. He muttered a few choice words that were not very proper from the mouth of a prince, as it seemed that it was getting harder and harder to get the vehicle out. This way, they wouldn't get home anytime soon.

Tomoyo had ran for cover from the unforgiving rain, but there was nowhere she could hide. She was soaked, and freezing cold. She had began walking, hoping she'd find a village where she could ask for help, but the more she ran, the more lost she got.

The poignant certainty that she was going to die suddenly hit her. Was that better than living the life that had been planned for her without her consent? Now, cold and tired, and hungry, she wasn't sure anymore. Maybe this had been a huge mistake, brought by pure childish capriciousness. She would at least be safe if she had stayed home.

She froze in place when she heard voices, and loud noises through the dull drum of the rain against the trees. She followed the sounds carefully, until she reached a road. Thank God. Maybe these travelers could help her.

But she retreated like a scared animal when she realized it was a royal cortege what she had found, that was probably going back to their homeland from the Masquerade in Schia. She could imagine that everybody knew she had left, and she couldn't allow herself to be seen now. Even though she was cold and scared, she feared the reaction of her parents if she came back. That possibility was out of the question. She would hide, yes, and follow the cortege on foot to see where it would take her. To some place where they could point her the right direction towards Garnier, for sure.

Her violet eyes examined the numerous individuals that were desperately trying to get the carriage out of the sludge, between loud screams and rather rude complaints. But these were all attendants. Where was the royal one? She scanned her surroundings, careful not to make any noises that would give her away, but she found nothing. She then suddenly looked up and felt paralyzed in abject horror at the discovery of her noble, leaned against the very tree she was hiding behind. He was young, and beautiful, and was muttering sulkily. She crawled back as silently as she could, praying to the Gods that the noise of the rain and of the working men would help her.

This is not my lucky day, she thought as she banged her knee against a tree trunk making enough noise for the prince to notice someone had been hiding behind him. He turned around and locked eyes with her for a second before she took off running. And on an impulse he ran after her.

Tomoyo knew she was being chased, and was terrified. She couldn't be caught. She had decided she would rather die than go back to Schia, and not only marry the prince of wherever he was, but also face the wrath of her parents. She couldn't have that, but she felt that the prince was rapidly catching up to her. She tried to run faster, but it wasn't an easy task at all, having to dodge and jump over fallen trunks and rocks and about anything that was on her way, and she had the faint notion of blood streaming down her leg from the previous hit, and her feet were killing her. She finally tripped over something she hadn't quite identified and the young prince dove after her, effectively pinning her to the ground by her wrists.

"Of all the nerve" he began, smirking "To spy on me!"

She didn't answer, but her eyes widened in dreadful recognition. Oh, dear God. This one had been at the Masquerade. He had stopped her from falling from the stairs, and she had danced with him. She hadn't seen his face, but those deep blue eyes were unmistakable. She prayed to the Gods that he wouldn't identify her as well.

"Are you not going to tell me what you were planning, miss? Or would you rather have me take you to the dungeons, and lock you in until you do?"

"I am deeply sorry, sir" she began, fighting for control of her chattering teeth and her pounding heart "I did not intend to spy on you. I was lost, and looking for directions...but I am not supposed to talk to any aristocrats"

"And why not?"

"Because...because I am not one" she replied, fervently hoping he would buy it.

"That does not make your spying any more acceptable, miss" he grinned, narrowing his eyes down at her.

"I told you, sir, that I did not mean to spy on you. As soon as I realized you were...nobles...I decided to retreat without bothering you. But you unfortunately noticed my indiscretion. That I pray you will forgive"

He looked down at her. He had the feeling he had seen this young lady before. She was way too well spoken to be from a cottage on the fields...and an aura of mystery that truly fascinated him, and that made him feel faintly familiar. He released her wrists and helped her up to her feet, never taking his eyes off of her. She was soaking, and bleeding, but she was still beautiful.

"You are hurt" he pointed weakly at her bleeding knee "If you will come with me, I will fix that for you"

"Thank you, sir, but I must decline your gentle offer" Tomoyo shook her head energetically.

"I must insist. And may I add, I have a very obstinate temper" he smiled impishly.

"Well, my lord" she felt compelled to smile too "I do, too. And I really must refuse"

He knew he had lost this one. Beaten by a country girl. This would be a day to remember.

"You should go back" she suggested mildly "Before they come out looking for you"

He nodded, fascinated by the way she wiped the water off of her face, even though it was still pouring, and ran her fingers through her hair, in a futile attempt to keep it out of the way, and blinked repeatedly to rid her eyes from the excess water. She was by far the most beautiful creature he had laid eyes upon. Even wet, and dirty. And he needed to make sure he would see her again.

"May I ask your name, miss?"

"I also should go, my lord" she bowed, and started her recoil, still facing him "And you need to, as well. I am deeply grateful for your...mercy..." she stuttered, not quite knowing what else to tell him, and dashed into the woods. He would have ran after her again, just to get her name, just to take another look into the amethyst depths of her eyes, but his arm was forcefully grabbed. He turned around, mildly frustrated.

"Prince Eriol, the carriage is ready to go. Your father is calling for you" said the young Captain of the Royal Guard, who had volunteered to search for the prince in the rain.

"Very well" Eriol murmured, and followed the Captain, his eyes still fixed on the space she had disappeared into a minute ago.


Eriol remained silent for the rest of the journey, barely answering the occasional questions his father would ask him, under the excuse of being tired and cold. The King himself was exhausted, and didn't question him any further. The boy was soaking wet, and freezing cold even though he had been wrapped in thick blankets for the rest of the trip. Upon their arrival he excused himself and went up to his room, to have some rest. What he really wanted was to have some time alone to better bask in the memory of the beauty from the woods. Who was she? Why did he get the distinct feeling that he had met her before? Was he ever going to see her again? She hadn't even told him where she was headed to. But he needed to stop thinking about it. She was beautiful, yes, but she was probably the daughter of some peasant, who lived in one of the thousand cottages along the proximity of Molker, and even if he did meet her again and end up falling in love with her...what of it? He was the chosen suitor of the Princess of Schia, runaway or not, and his father would never allow him to marry someone else. Least of all a farmer girl. Even though he had not married a blue blooded woman, he knew his father believed his mother was a unique being in the world. That nobody compared to her, and that was why it didn't matter if she was a queen or a thief. He had a point, Eriol smiled.

------

Tomoyo sat on the floor with her back pressed to a tree, waiting for her heart to slow down. Not only from the long run she had taken, but also from her disturbing encounter with that prince. She knew nothing about him; but his gaze that night she'd met him, and right now, felt as if able to drill holes in her. She could tell he was a very particular young man; only by looking into his eyes she had recognized him. She didn't know his face though; he had been masked when she'd met him. He possessed a certain quality, which she found impossible to place a finger upon, that made him unmistakable. She would have never forgotten those eyes, not in a lifetime or a thousand. He was beautiful in a way she had seen many men fail to handle, and he managed it with so much grace and charm that it left her without any doubts; he was one of a kind.

She really wished she would see him again, even though the rational part of her screamed at her that she was insane. She shouldn't have met him in the first place; she should have been careful, but she was so inexpert at this running away and hiding thing. She didn't know his name; she didn't know where he lived. This world was immense, and she was little likely to ever meet him again. And if she did, she would just run, instead of staying back and socializing with him. But he was so...

"Oh, shut up!" she said out loud, banging her head against the tree.

***

When Tomoyo woke up next morning, she was feeling rather weak. She hadn't eaten in a long time, and she had walked under the pouring rain for many hours. She felt ill, and unable to walk any more. But she had to. She needed to get somewhere. Anywhere. She got up and started walking, each step being more difficult. She reached the road again, the same road she had seen yesterday she assumed, and found in horror that her legs refused to respond anymore. She couldn't walk any further, she thought. The beginning of a new storm was the last thing she noticed before collapsing on the side of the road.

***

She woke up wrapped in an unfamiliar warmth. She remembered passing out when she reached the road, she remembered it had been raining. So where was she now? Was she dead? She tried to sit up, but she was too tired and sore. The sound of a door being open, and footsteps. She tried to keep her eyes open, but failed.

"So you're awake, little girl!" said a female voice, one that from her experience belonged to a very old person "I thought you would rest longer. You have had a really bad fever all day, and you have a pretty nasty cut on your leg"

Tomoyo opened her eyes again, fighting to keep them open. It was, effectively, an old lady who was speaking to her. Had she been here all day? What time was it? Which day? She was thoroughly confused, and lost, and ill. And she couldn't make herself articulate a word, not to thank the old lady, not to ask her any of the impending questions that swirled in her mind at the time.

"My grandson found you" she continued conversationally as she changed the compress on Tomoyo's forehead, which she hadn't even noticed she had there, for a warm one. Tomoyo couldn't hold back relieved sigh "And he brought you here" she smiled, satisfied that the girl was feeling better "I bet you're hungry. Yukito should be here any minute with your food"

Food. She had lost track of the time it had passed since she had last ate anything. The fact that she was alive seemed like a miracle. Suddenly, the door opened again and a young, smiling man entered the room with a tray.

"You finally managed to wake her up, ne, grandma?" he quipped, dropping a kiss on the old lady's forehead before setting the tray on the nightstand "How are you feeling?" he asked gently.

"A little better...thank you" her voice was hoarse, and her throat was sore.

"I thought you wouldn't make it when I found you" he said "You had a really bad fever. Good thing grandma here is an expert when it comes to diseases, huh?" he beamed at the old lady who promptly hugged him. Tomoyo had to smile at the scene "I guess you really need to eat something" the young man with smiling amber eyes passed her a bowl with soup, and handed her a spoon.

While his grandma chatted amiably with the girl, keeping her distracted, he observed her. She had refined manners, and an astonishing facility with words. She was not an ordinary girl. He had heard stories about a princess who had escaped the royal palace of Schia when she was forced to marry a foreign prince. But Schia was a long way from where they were. She was totally unconscious when he had found her. How had she gotten here if she was that fugitive princess? It couldn't have been on foot, because that princess had disappeared a few days ago.

What he was really sure about was that she had had a privileged upbringing, that showed in her every gesture. What had she been doing lying half dead at the side of the road then? A disowned aristocrat? Very likely. An instructress to a young prince? She was nearly a child herself. The intrepid little princess that had turned her back on everything she possessed to live a free life? He couldn't tell.

By the time she had finished her dinner, the old lady was already nodding off and the young man asked her to wait a second until he put his grandmother to bed, and told her that he would be right back. That would leave her a little time alone to examine her surroundings. She was in what she presumed it would be one of those country cottages that she'd seen from afar so many times. They had the familiar, warm speech of the villagers, the one that disgusted her mother so much but secretly amused Tomoyo. It made her feel strangely at home. Her thoughts were disrupted by the noise of the door opening slowly. She turned her attention towards the door, and smiled at the young man who was already back from helping his grandmother to bed.

"She cant see very well in the dark" he smiled "She needs help sometimes"

"All is well" she answered still smiling, her voice coming more smoothly now "I wanted to thank you, sir, for your courtesy. I would have probably died in the forest had you not kindly rescued me and brought me here"

"It's nothing" he waved his hand dismissively "And please call me Yukito"

"Very well" she responded, genuinely smiling.

"And what can I call you?" he asked cautiously.

Tomoyo pondered that question. She was grateful, she definitely was. But should she tell him the truth? He didn't look stupid at all. What if he knew, and turned her in? The sole thought of returning home and facing her parents was too much for her to handle.

"Are you afraid to tell me?" he suddenly asked, his gentle smile never leaving his face. It startled her. It let her know that he'd picked on something.

"I..." she began, then paused as if to rethink it "My name is Tomoyo"

Yukito looked at her for a second, then his smile widened.

"That's a beautiful name. But you're going to need another one"

And then she knew. She knew that he was aware of her identity and didn't care about it. All it mattered was that he'd found a girl lying unconscious on the side of the road and had decided to help her, whether she was a princess or a peasant. Her horrified look softened in gratitude. She then told him the whole story, about the way she'd planned her escape and fulfilled it flawlessly, about how her provisions and her horse had been stolen, about how she had been going on without food or shelter, driven only by the desire to reach the city of Garnier and live a normal life, like any seventeen years old would want to live.

"Garnier is not so far from here, Your Highness" he said, matter of factly.

"Oh, please, do not address me so formally. You can call me Tomoyo. After all, I am no longer a princess"

"And as I told you, you will need another name. You will be easily recognized if your real name is found out, and your parents are already offering a reward to anybody who can lead them to your whereabouts" Yukito added.

Tomoyo stiffened visibly, making the young man chuckle.

"You don't need to worry, Tomoyo" he reassured, amusement clear in his voice "I won't tell on you. And you can stay for as long as you want. My grandmother and I would love to have you here"

"I am sorry" she relaxed as obviously as she had showed discomfort before "But I find it difficult to trust anyone. Returning home is not an option. I truly ignore what my parents would do to make sure I did not escape again until the day of the wedding, but what I do know is that it would not at all be pleasant. And they would never forgive me for this. I realize it was a great affront to their pride, and a terrible humiliation, for they had promised my hand in marriage to some prince whose name I did not manage to pick up..." she trailed off.

Yukito observed her, and thought that she was just a poor, scared child. She was only seventeen, it was perfectly understandable that she didn't want to marry at such a young age. He fully understood her decision and the actions it had led her to take, even though to just anyone they would seem a little extreme. It took a lot of courage to defy your royal parents, and leave a life of comfort and luxury behind to go out and roam the world, even at the risk of spending several days without eating, or having no shelter from the inclemency of the weather, or nobody to ever speak to, left at the mercy of a stranger who felt sorry for her and took her home with him. Poor girl, he thought again.

"You need some more rest, Tomoyo" he declared, standing up from the spot on the bed where he had been sitting "I will see you tomorrow and I'll see what I can do for you then"

"Thank you so much, Yukito" she said, meaningfully.

"Bah, you're welcome. Sleep now" he smiled at her again, and closed the door behind him. For the first time in days she felt safe and content.


Prince Eriol didn't show up for breakfast that morning. He had been acting very weird, as if some strange bug had bit him. Not that he had ever been conventional; but he was getting weirder by the minute, and his father was mildly concerned. He thought perhaps he was a tad distressed about the whole incident with the Princess of Schia, maybe it had been a strike to his ego the fact that she'd ran away from him specifically...no, no, Eriol had a rock solid confidence. He was just being strange by choice. He had nothing to worry about.

But another thing was going on inside the brain of the young prince. He was depressed, for some strange reason, ever since he had had that encounter with the beautiful girl in the forest. Maybe she was a witch; maybe she'd put a spell on him that mad it impossible for him to think about anything else but her. He had forgotten all about the rebellious princess, the embarrassing episode back in Schia, and the fact that everybody turned to see him with pitiful eyes because his wife to be had ran away from him under his very nose. And his mind was solely focused in those dark, mysterious, framed by thick black lashes eyes of hers. And he didn't even get her name. What could the name of such a goddess be?

He wished the Gods presented him with a new chance to meet her. But...for what? Just for the hedonistic pleasure of losing himself in contemplation of her immense beauty, as if she were a statue? She didn't seem to have a precisely meek temper to allow him to do so. And he wasn't quite the conformist. He would soon want more, and every woman of the world was banned for him, as long as he was still engaged to that accursed princess who had ran away from him, whose face he didn't even know. The only contact he'd had with her was that brief dance, that waltz back at the Masquerade in Schia, nothing more. They had barely crossed any words. He supposed she had already decided to run away.

Eriol wondered where his mysterious beauty from the woods was right then. She had been hurt, and even though she very much looked like she needed the aid, she had categorically refused it. She had ran away before he could convince her, and the fates had conspired against him to keep him from following her. He would have caught up to her soon, he knew it. And somehow, he didn't mind at all leaving his cortege behind; they were used to his continuous and rather bizarre whims. If he disappeared suddenly, they would wait for him, and if he got lost, someone would look for him.

He just wanted to see her. Badly. But where to look for her? Where to even begin? Maybe if he returned to that forest...it was, after all, only a good forty-five minutes walk from the limits of the Kingdom of Molker. He would give it a try. He had to.

------

Tomoyo realized, very early in the morning, that the windows to her provisional room faced east. It was a wonderful morning, she was glad to realize. Yukito's grandmother had made her drink a very bitter potion, she seemed to recall, while she was half asleep, and it had obviously had an effect on her, for she felt strong enough to get up from bed. Which she promptly did, giving her sore muscles enough time to get accustomed to activity again. Yukito and his grandmother, who were having coffee on the kitchen table were quite surprised to see her up so soon.

"This girl has flair!" observed the grandmother, as Yukito got up from his chair to help her.

"Definitely does. Good morning, Jade"

Tomoyo looked at him strangely, but realized what he had just done when he shot her a meaningful glance.

"Jade is a beautiful name" continued the old lady "It suits you, dear"

"Thank you" said Tomoyo sitting on the chair Yukito had pulled out for her.

"Would you like some coffee, dear?"

"Absolutely, thank you very much"

Yukito served her coffee in a ceramic, hand painted mug. Tomoyo observed it in fascination. Never before had she seen something like this. Yukito smiled knowingly.

"It was painted by Grandma" he said to her "She's very talented for those things"

"I can see that. It is beautiful" she commented.

"Why, thank you dear! You can have that if you like it so much!"

"That would be lovely. Thank you very much"

The grandmother nodded approvingly. Such a delicate child, so polite. How could someone so refined and beautiful have been found in the conditions Yukito had found her? It must have been a kidnapping, or something like that, because nobody would abandon such a fine young lady to her luck like that.

"So, Jade, sweetheart" began the grandmother cautiously "How did you end up fainted by the road?"

Tomoyo blushed profusely, and opened her mouth to answer, when Yukito quickly cut her off.

"You know, Grandma, it's funny. But I spoke to her last night, after you went to bed, and she doesn't seem to remember anything about her past, anything that happened before I found her"

"But that's terrible!" exclaimed the old lady, reaching out to cup Tomoyo's cheek "You can stay with us for as long as you want. I couldn't let a wonderful young lady such as yourself to wander around"

"Thank you very much, but I will not be able to stay for long. I do not wish to be a burden"

"Nonsense! You could never be a burden!"

"Apparently, she needs to get to Garnier City, Grandma. She has family there"

"That's not too far away from here, is it?"

They carried on their conversation for a long time, until it was time for Yukito to get up and make lunch. Then Tomoyo was left alone with his grandmother.

"You need to change" she told her suddenly "I have a ton of dresses that I suspect would suit you perfectly. Let's go try them out"

"But..."

"Come on. I made them for...Yukito's fiancée...but she never got to give them any use...give this old woman the pleasure of seeing them on you!"

Tomoyo's expression softened at that plea. She couldn't possibly refuse. About Yukito's fiancée she would find out later.

"But of course. Here, let me help you" she said, offering the old lady her arm, smiling. And so they made their way to the sewing room.


One hour later Yukito's grandmother was still making adjustments to the zillion gowns she had Tomoyo try out for her. They were simple, but very beautiful and skillfully made, Tomoyo observed with a smile. She was beginning to like her life outside the castle.

"You can have them all, dear" she told her after finishing the hem of the last dress "They suit you wonderfully"

"I don't think I should..." she began protesting blandly, but was quickly cut off.

"Don't be silly. What use are these dresses to me now anyway? Take them with you when you leave. You will definitely need them more than I do"

"Then thank you very much. Someday I will come back and repay you for all of your courtesies. Yours and your grandson's"

"There's no need at all. I like you very much, Jade. You remind me very much of my daughter, Yukito's mother. She was beautiful, and sweet and kind just like yourself"

Tomoyo smiled in thanks. She hated lying to her, but she needed to trust Yukito. He hadn't told her anything for a reason. She would ask him later too.

------

Lunch was a fairly tranquil, even amusing business. Yukito and his grandmother were humble, yet wonderful people, and had plenty of funny stories to tell. She didn't remember the last time she'd laughed so much. And she had never tried any food from outside the castle before, either. She found traditional, common food quite delicious, contrary to what she might have thought at another time. Once the grandmother left to her room for her afternoon nap, Tomoyo was left alone with Yukito one more time. She had a ton of questions to ask him.

"Yukito...I have a few questions I would like to ask you"

"Ask away" he said, smiling as usual. Never in her life had she seen someone so keen on smiling. He was a lot like her dearest Sakura, she thought, fighting tears back. She would be worried sick if she found out she still wasn't in Garnier with her cousins. And there was no way she could let her know that she was fine without arising suspicions in Schia palace. For them, she needed to appear to be dead.

"Why should I not tell your grandmother about...you know...why should I not tell her the truth?"

"Oh, well, you see. My grandmother is a very nice, kind person, but sometimes information slips out of her. It's never intentional, but it can be pretty harmful, especially if it's information..." he gestured as if to illustrate his point "She's very friendly, and speaks to everyone, at the market, at church, and since that's the case we'd better keep her on the dark. Any clue she might give away, however unintentional, might be very bad. People are greedy"

"You are right. You are a very...noble person, you know?" she said, smiling "You remind me a lot of my sister"

"You have a sister?"

"She's not really my sister" Tomoyo said, eyes glinting with pride "But it is all the same. We grew up together. Her name is Sakura. She is the one that helped me set up my...escape..."

"You love her very much" he stared at her.

"Very much. I already miss her terribly. She is the only reason why I would ever return to Schia"

They stayed in companionable silence for a while, until Yukito broke it again.

"I see my grandmother made you try all of her dresses. She's great with all of those things and that one for instance suits you very well" he said, pointing at her.

"She did. She said...they were for..."

"My fiancée, right. You want to know" he smiled, making her blush.

"I am terribly sorry about my indiscretion. I would have never..."

"She died" he said, his smile not faltering "Two years ago. She drowned in the river"

"I am so sorry..."

"It's all good. At least her things will be of some use now"

Tomoyo decided she would be quiet now. Even though he had explained everything to her, and had made it sound like the most natural thing in the world, she still felt bad about intruding his privacy.

***

After a week of recovering, Tomoyo was ready to leave for Garnier. She thanked Yukito and his grandmother profusely before she left, for all of their kindness, and for the bag they had put together for her, with the dresses, and food, and a new map. They had even hidden a small amount of money inside, knowing that if they offered she would refuse. She promised she would someday be back to visit them, and that she would always carry the two gentle peasants in her heart, and finally left.

The weather was nice, which was a relief after the storm she had been caught in the last time she had had to walk. She checked her map one more time, and started to walk.

By nighttime she had reached the majestic gates of a city that reminded her very much of her homeland. The doors were tightly shut, and guarded by strong men, so she decided to camp outside, strategically out of eyesight. She was careful to keep her belongings well guarded this time, and, surprisingly, sleep came swiftly that night even though she was sleeping outside again. This had to be Garnier City, and in the morning, she would look for Sakura's cousins and begin her new life.

****

Prince Eriol woke up in a fine mood that morning, so fine, that he agreed to go hunting with his guards at his father's urgings, a very rare occurrence. It was not that the disturbing thoughts he had been having the previous days had abandoned his mind; it was more like the memory of the beauty in the woods had become numb and pleasant, like the memory of a dream: you never know if you'll have it again.

No more than twelve men left the city for the hunt that morning. The weather was wonderful, blue skies, light breeze, the sun shining merrily above their heads. He was feeling blissfully fine. It was a perfect day to go hunting, alas, to do anything outside the castle. He liked leaving the city very much, but sadly, he wasn't allowed to. This was an excellent opportunity to breathe the fresh air that could only be found outside the walls of the city. Marvelous.


Tomoyo woke up to the chirping of birds that morning. She was feeling strangely fine, as if today all of her problems would be miraculously solved. She stretched leisurely, allowing her nostrils to fill with the crisp air of the morning. She had no idea what time it was; nor did she care about it. She only knew it was time to make her way back to the gates of the city of Garnier.

She was walking towards the imposing stone walls she had seen the night before, her bag slung carelessly on her back, when she heard noises. She stopped dead on her tracks. Was that the sound of a cavalry? But there were dogs...was it a hunting expedition, then? She remembered her father used to go on those when she was younger, but had to stop after he had suffered a nasty fall from his horse during one of those trips. He had obviously never taken her with him, but she recognized the sounds because she used to go over to the stables, hand in hand with her nurse very early in the morning, to bid him goodbye. Once again, she hid as she heard them approach. It was a small group, she calculated. And they were headed right her way. Before anything else happened to her, she ran away from the noise.

At this rate, she would never enter the blessed city of Garnier, she thought bitterly as she sat against a tree. She didn't even get to see the hunters because she had ran away too fast. Hunters were men that were constantly roaming, she reasoned. They might be aware of her situation, especially now that she knew a reward was being offered by her parents to anyone who found her. And if she knew anything, was that the reward had to be very generous. Mercenaries and fortune hunters and pretty much everybody was probably on her heels; she needed to be extremely cautious. At least until the whole thing died down.

She lifted her chin and noticed someone walking through the trees, a few feet ahead of her. She could escape silently, and comfortably too, but her curiosity got the best of her. Especially after she recognized in the young man, the handsome prince that had chased her in the rain that other day. She smiled and padded quietly over to him, now deliberately spying on him. He seemed to be looking for something, his fine face somewhat troubled. Tomoyo bit her lip; luckily he hadn't noticed her.

As she listed all of his attractive qualities in her mind, despite herself, something caught her quick eye. A shadow lurking in the trees behind the prince. She froze in her place for a second, surprised that she wasn't the only one observing him from the shadows, and tried to follow the moves of the other watcher, who had also passed unnoticed by the unprotected prince. She knew she didn't intend to hurt him in any way, alas, she didn't even want to be seen. Why was she thinking the other person wanted to hurt him anyway? Was it just intuition? He was a prince after all; he might as well have had enemies. Or maybe it was another admirer? Tomoyo had to smile at her admission: she fancied the young prince somehow. But her eyes were still glued to the other silent onlooker. She stiffened when the stranger inched closer to him. Was the prince deaf?

Tomoyo's eyes widened in time with the loud gasp she couldn't hold back; the stranger had a weapon. She didn't think twice and lunged at the prince to get him out of the way, throwing him to the ground with all of her weight. When the attacker came onto them yet again, sword in hand and ready to liquidate both of them, she kicked him square on the face, making him lose his balance momentarily, but long enough for her to gain control of his weapon and point his face with it.

"Thank God I was spying on you again, eh, my lord?" she said without turning around from the attacker.

Eriol didn't know what to answer to her. She had just saved his life. She, that small, fragile looking girl he had easily caught up to that day in the rain, had effortlessly dominated an attacker who was out to kill him and doubled her size. Fortunately for him, the young captain of the Royal Guard came looking for him, and was confronted with that scene. He quickly looked from the Prince, to the girl, to the man she was pointing with her sword, and understood how the events had unfolded. He apprehended the attacker with a look of surprise and disbelief on his face. Tomoyo dropped the sword and turned around to look at the Prince, who was now sitting on the ground in mild shock.

"You must not be so scared, my lord" she said, politely offering him her hand "Apparently, you are a lucky man"

He reached blindly for his glasses, which was what he was looking for in the first place and put them nervously on before finally standing up and staring down at the girl in front of him. He had dreamt of seeing her again, had thought of the exact words he would say to her, and right now he was speechless. She smiled sweetly at him, and took a step back.

"You ought to be more careful, my lord" she bowed her head, more seriously now.

"Wait..." he managed weakly when he saw her start to walk backwards, as if not to turn her back on him. But she bowed at him again, and trotted away. This time he wasn't about to let her get away from him. Least after that odd, and amazing display. He grabbed her arm as she picked up her bag to leave.

"You are obstinate, if you will allow me, sir" she narrowed her eyes at him.

"You saved my life" he replied, ignoring the obvious meaning of the previous remark "Allow me to reward you. Come back to the palace with me"

Tomoyo froze. The palace? That she definitely couldn't do.

"I appreciate very much your kind intendment, my lord, but I must decline your generous offer one more time. Please forgive me"

"I will not take no for an answer this time, my lady" he replied, a kind of barely restrained despair in his voice "I want you to..." he shook his head and rephrased that thought "I need you to come to the palace with me. Please"

"I cannot have a blue blooded gentleman speak to me like this, my lord" she teased "I beg you to cease. I have strong reasons that keep me from accepting your..."

"My lady" Eriol then started, regaining his composure "If you do not agree to follow me to the palace, I will have you arrested for disobedience"

"On what ground, my lord?" she retorted calmly "I am not a subject of your Kingdom. And yet I served you. Would that not be...an ungrateful action? And you do not want to be pointed as an unjust man, or do you, my lord?"

She was clever. And well spoken. And beautiful. And she had beaten him yet again. He smiled and lowered his head.

"Please, my lady, come back to the palace with me. You deserve honor for saving my life, and I wish you would find it in your heart to grant me the pleasure of giving it to you"

"You are not being fair, my lord" she smiled faintly.

"How come, pray tell?" he smiled back, taking a step towards her.

"You are positively manipulating me"

"To manipulate you, my lady, I would have to have some influence on you..." he trailed off.

To this she blushed. He was so close to her. All beautiful, and available. And obviously thinking the same thing as her. She bit her lip. He cupped her cheek with his hand. She closed her eyes. And the Captain showed up.

"Your Highness? We need to go back to the palace and report the incident. My lady, I will need to request your company. The King will want to know what happened"

Tomoyo opened her mouth to protest, and Eriol smiled triumphantly at her. There was no escape. She was going to the palace.

-----

Tomoyo soon found out that the city gates she had taken for the ones welcoming her to Garnier city were in reality the ones of the Kingdom of Molker. She had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the journey, and had ended up wrapped in this predicament.

The city was beautiful, and she was somewhat content, for she had never been to Molker before. She had often wondered what it would be like, when she had studied World Geography with her tutor, and he spoke about such wonderful warriors that had come out of Molker. It didn't look at all like a city branded by the horrors of war; it actually looked like a rather prosperous, happy nation.

That was when she noticed that the Prince's gaze was on her. Steady and piercing. And she was shocked to discover that she wasn't blushing because of his staring, but because what his staring made her feel. She was used to people looking at her; she was from a Kingdom with thousands of subjects. But not this way. Her parents had always sheltered her very carefully from prying male eyes, in fact, she had never had the chance to flirt before. Now she was doing it shamelessly, and with someone she had no future with. He was a prince, and she was just some girl for what he knew. And if she had anything to say about it that was all the information he would ever have. She would be soon out of this city, and out of his life, and back on her way to Garnier. As soon as she got this over and done with. Before she could get a chance of allowing mere attraction turn into something else. God forbid.

Eriol had noticed her embarrassment and had reluctantly looked away. He had dreamt about this girl he didn't even know the name of. Yet. And if he had anything to say about it, he would find out a lot more. He was going to do whatever it took to keep her for a longer time. Even if his father freaked out. Even if he had to run away from home like his fiancée. God knew why she had ran away; maybe because she was afraid, or maybe because she had a lover. He wasn't afraid of marriage. But these feelings for this girl were starting to get a little out of control. That he was a little afraid of.

He smiled while he helped her dismount her borrowed horse, smiled as he lead her through what seemed like miles of opulent corridors, smiled as he discreetly watched her walk gracefully under the light from the stained glass windows, smiled as they reached the doors that led to the Throne Room. His smiling actually made her a little nervous, but she was great at hiding it. Seventeen years of aristocratic education were finally paying off. Such a good thing they weren't being wasted on an unwanted husband. The guards pushed the doors open for them and bowed.

She breathed deeply and walked behind the prince, in a futile attempt of maybe hiding. The only thing that made her more uncomfortable than having to meet the King was having to meet the King in a place that was unsettlingly similar to her own home. She paid the customary respects to the monarch on his high seat, but he quickly motioned for her to stand up.

"Arise, child" he told her benevolently, and she promptly obeyed. She had seen this man at the Masquerade. Oh, God. "I hear you have saved the life of my son. I am deeply grateful"

She bowed her head, feeling totally stupid for the first time in her life. Stupid, stupid girl. Why had she allowed him to talk her into this? When had he?

"I have told my son so many times to be careful when out in the woods. But he will never listen"

"It appears that he is obstinate, Your Highness" she muttered glancing sideways at the smiling boy.

"You have noticed too!" he quipped, and Tomoyo smiled despite herself "How can I reward you for your honorable actions, child?"

"Your Highness, I do not need a reward"

"I must insist" he said, his eyes glinting with some indecipherable emotion, and sounding rather like his son. He looked in the verge of getting upset, or taking the refusal as a deep offence. And Tomoyo didn't want that. She then quieted for a minute, trying to phrase her request.

"If you must insist, Your Highness, I will make you a small request"

"Anything you might want shall be yours, child"

She remained silent for another second, before articulating her thoughts.

"I would like to have a horse then, Your Highness"

The King frowned, and so did Eriol. A horse? What could she want a horse for? Oh, Gods. Was she leaving? This was a ridiculously low price to pay for the life of his only son, his father would have to offer her more. Something like...

"A horse? Remember you can have anything you might fancy"

She smiled sweetly, amused at his bafflement. He was a peculiar man, of strong gestures and manners, but resembling, somehow, the image of a grandfather. Somehow.

"I do not really fancy anything, Your Highness, for I have everything that I need. Except for a horse, which would make my journey a lot less onerous"

"Journey" A beautiful maiden such as yourself should not be roaming the world alone. Would you not rather have an escort?"

Eriol looked painfully hopeful, but neither his father nor Tomoyo noticed. He would escort her to hell if she needed him to. He would do anything. He so wanted to keep her from leaving...

"I appreciate your kindness, but I believe I will be all right on my own, Your Highness. I shall leave as soon as you allow me"

"In that case, child" he looked at his son "I shall let you leave tomorrow morning. In the meanwhile, do feel free to explore the castle and the gardens. We take pride in those, especially the Prince" he said, gesturing towards his son "Your belongings will be taken to the guest chambers on the east wing. My son can lead you there, after he has showed you around. You will also be summoned for dinner"

"Your Highness..." she frowned in mortification, as she tried to keep an overly efficient attendant from taking her bag.

"Do enjoy your stay, child" he said, before rising from his throne and disappearing behind the curtains. A muffled snort echoed throughout the now empty room, making her spin on her heels to look at the prince, slightly irked.

"Do you mind sharing the quip, my lord?" Tomoyo said without a hint of laughter.

"Do not worry, my lady" Eriol bit his lip and offered her his arm "Shall we?"

She eyed him for a second more, and then took his arm with a suspicious look in her eyes. He was up to something, she knew.

-----

Tomoyo had had fun with the prince after all. She had discovered that he was intelligent, and sweet in an odd way. She had also been amazed at his vast knowledge of plants, and how he could make it interesting to hear about. She had even almost forgotten that he was a prince and she was no longer his equal. And that she would never be so again.

He showed her to her room, and was slightly taken aback by her aloof reaction. Had she been in a castle before? Common people were usually very amazed at the luxurious lifestyle that they weren't at all used to, that lots of them hadn't even seen, but she seemed to remain unruffled. She had also shown signs of an impeccable upbringing when they were at the dinnertable, from her manners to her clever small talk. She had seemed to appreciate everything with such a refined taste that he wondered if she wasn't really a noble. No, she couldn't be. If she was, he would have never met her in the situation that he had. But how come she was so wonderfully elegant then? She intrigued him more and more with the minute, but he didn't dare to ask her about her origin. Somehow, even though she had spent all day with him and had been very friendly towards him, she drew a strongly definite line that she made clear he wasn't allowed to cross. She didn't quite trust him, for some reason. She turned around, and smiled as she found him lost in thought.

"A penny for your thoughts, my lord" she quipped.

"Eh. I was just...you must be tired, my lady" he said, shaking his head slightly "You should better get some rest. A long journey awaits you tomorrow" he finished, somewhat sadly.

She had noticed and was shocked. Was he sad because she was leaving? Was he as attracted to her as she was to him, or was he just lonely? She had better stop thinking about that before she did something she might regret. She bowed at him good night, and was startled as he grabbed her hand all of a sudden.

"Thank you, my lady. For the pleasure of your company today. But I must ask you for one more thing"

"And what could that be?" she murmured dazedly.

"Your name. I have yet to hear it from you"

Tomoyo remained silent for a second, doubting between telling him the truth or keep on going with her little game of lies.

"Jade" she decided sorrowfully. How it hurt to have to lie to him.

"It suits you" he whispered, moving closer to her, until he was close enough to brush his fingers effortlessly against hers, almost touching her nose with his. She swallowed loudly, much to her regret "It is a beautiful name"

"Thank you" she whispered back, almost afraid to move. Because she wanted to take the next step, but at the same time dreaded the thought. What was she thinking? To get involved with someone like this wouldn't only represent a dangerous development, but also a very broken heart. For he would never be hers; she was just anyone. So she suddenly backed away, surprising him.

"Good night, my lord" she managed to babble.

"Good night" he repeated monotonously, a hurt expression on his face. She hadn't meant to. It was probably for the better...

Tomoyo resisted the urge to close the distance between them and hold him, run her hands through his dark locks, apologize to him for her rudeness and remain like that forever. She couldn't. One more trembling smile and she hastily entered her room and closed the door behind her, before he managed to enchant her any further. She needed to get some sleep. Badly. That way she would probably forget. Or postpone those thoughts. Whatever suited her, to appease her pounding heart.

Eriol remained a long time before her doors, as if he expected her to come back out to him. Why was she being so reserved? He had clearly shown her that he was...interested...in her, and she had seemed to return his feelings for a minute, but had soon rebuilt the walls around her. Why? Did she fear he would hurt her? Truth was he hadn't let her know that he was going to follow her to wherever she was going. But hadn't she felt it? He had thought he had been broadcasting it with his every gesture. But maybe he had failed to show her precisely the depth of his...

"Oh, my God" he cut himself off, and walked away towards his bedroom.

***

Tomoyo tossed and turned for hours on her huge borrowed bed that night. It had been many days since she had experienced such comfort and yet sleep refused to come to her. Why?

Oh, she knew exactly why, and it made her want to bang her head against something hard. She rolled onto her side one more time, frustrated. She wanted to sleep, wanted to rest, wanted to forget...

No. What she really, really wanted, was to go find him, and slide beneath his sheets, beside him, and do really ungodly things with him.

"Oh, my" she blushed at her own indecorousness. But again, she couldn't stop thinking. He was so close to her. It would be so easy to go and find him. Even if she would skip the shocking part of her previous thought. So easy to walk down the corridor and find his door. And knock on it. But what would she say once he opened the door to her? What would she do, most importantly? She needed to stop herself from doing it.

She desperately thought of ways to restrain herself as she crawled out of bed, tried to hold back as she made her way to the door, and opened it, and exited the guestroom quietly. Heard the alarm that fired off inside her brain as she walked down the corridor, looking for the right room.

"Could not sleep?" asked a gentle voice from behind her, making her jump a mile high in the air. She turned around as quickly as her bare feet allowed her, her heart thumping wildly again, for she very well knew who the voice belonged to.

"No. You scared me, my lord"

"Well please forgive me" he whispered, grinning "Please believe that I did not intend to. Where were you headed, my lady?"

"Nowhere" she said quickly "I should better get back in and try to get some sleep"

"If that is really your wish, my lady" he responded cautiously.

No. Her wish was poignant, and clear. But wishing was one thing, and ever daring to fulfill that wish was another completely different.

"But, is it?" he asked.

No answer. He watched her struggle, watched her avoid his gaze, and couldn't take it any longer. He knew the answer to that question long before he had asked it. She wanted it as badly as he did. So he hooked an arm around her waist to pull her closer, and lifted her chin with his free hand quickly before pressing his lips to hers.

Tomoyo was utterly appalled at herself. Horrified that she was allowing herself to do this when she knew it shouldn't have happened, and horrified that she was responding to him. That she was kissing him back. He then suddenly pulled away an inch and stared at her, as if waiting for her reaction. But she wouldn't move, or open her eyes. She was positively paralyzed.

She remembered one time one young subject of Schia had jumped onto her during a parade and had kissed her. He had been apprehended immediately, and severely judged. It had been a harsh kiss, and somewhat desperate, and scary. Nothing like this. They stayed in silence for a while, their foreheads pressed together, her back to the wall.

"That was wrong" she finally declared slowly.

"Because of what I am?"

"That amongst other things, my lord. I am...a difficult person, and you could not know..."

"Then tell me" he almost begged her.

Tomoyo then opened her eyes, and was startled at what she saw in his when she did. It was an emotion she was not familiar with. What she had seen in her best friend's eyes when she had met the young captain of the Royal Guard of Schia. She would most likely never wed, much less a Prince, but she was pretty sure that what he radiated right then was what one was supposed to feel in case one wished to. But did she feel the same way?

"Yes" she whispered to herself. He didn't question her about it; he knew she was lost in thought. There was a sound from the other end of the hallway, rather like somebody walking towards them. He laced his fingers through hers and gently guided her. Fully aware that it was a mistake, she followed.

They entered what she guessed was the prince's room. He signaled a divan, and gestured her to be quiet. She wasn't going to speak anyway. As if she wanted someone to know she was alone with the prince at midnight. And not wearing what could be called appropriate garments, she was sorry to remember. She sat with her legs crossed, silently fidgeting. Why was she here? What the hell was wrong with her? She tried to get up and leave, but he placed a soft hand on her shoulder. He wasn't about to let her go, she knew, and somehow she had been expecting it, something to stop her from leaving. Her internal struggle was getting the best of her, but knowing that she was being made to stay made things a lot easier. She functioned well this way.

He sat by her side, for the first time not smiling, and not looking at her. It had seriously hurt him that she'd say it had been a mistake, when to him it had been the most wonderful realization in the world: he was in love with her. He was willing to give everything up for her. And maybe, just maybe, she hadn't felt that way too. He wanted to ask her, but didn't dare. Even after kissing her, she still seemed to be keeping him at a safe distance, to not be willing to allow him to get closer to her. It was frustrating.

"Anyone who was outside must have already left" he said "I brought you here because, had it been someone of the help or any of the guards neither of us would have ever heard the end of it. These things are prone to be misunderstood. Feel free to leave whenever you like"

He was making her choose, much to her discomfort. She was pretty stiff; she had been raised that way. A whole life couldn't be easily forgotten just because the circumstances had changed. Even if the change was such a radical one, it didn't matter. She still found it hard to communicate wishes of such nature.

"Tell me the real reason you brought me here, my lord"

"I think that is rather obvious" he shook his head nervously when she cocked an eyebrow "Allow me to rephrase that..." Eriol blushed strangely.

"I understand" Tomoyo smiled faintly. Here goes, she thought. "It is not my wish to leave...but to...I wish I could...oh, I wish I could stay forever with you, but I am afraid it is impossible"

"Why? Why is it impossible?"

"Because...I will not allow you to turn your back to your whole life for just anyone"

"You are not just anyone"

"Yes, I am. I have problems that are not easily resolved, and that make it impossible for me to...fulfill my wish...as much as I would want to. Please forgive me"

To that he remained silent. So she was saying that she felt the same way, but she couldn't be with him? Why? Was she married? Engaged? Had she made a vow? She was mysterious in more ways than one. He wished she would tell him what her secret was all about, but he couldn't force her to do that.

"But you can stay with me tonight, can you not, my lady?" he asked hopefully, closing the distance between them and taking her hand in his.

The alarm inside her brain went off again, louder this time. What in the seven names of the lord was he asking her? If it was what she thought, she supposed he knew that what he was asking her was not a reversible procedure; it went against everything she had been taught in her life to believe. But what if that was all wrong? Wasn't she free of those bindings now? Couldn't she allow herself, for once in a lifetime, something she really wanted that she could never have dreamt to have? And most importantly, hadn't she realized a while ago she was in love with him too?

"Yes" she managed to say before he kissed her again. This time she wasn't scared, or surprised, or appalled at her own incorrectness. She truly didn't believe in her heart this was wrong; what she did believe was that it would have devastating consequences. As he lowered her onto her back she remembered she was to leave in the morning, and never see him again. His father would marry him off to somebody of importance; he would never allow him to choose someone as undistinguished as her. Because even though she had been born a princess, she was not one anymore, and would never be again.

Tomoyo didn't care about anything anymore. She loved him. And this was her only chance to let him know that, ever. For it was better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. Or so she read in one of those romantic novels Sakura had began to read when she realized her feelings for the handsome captain. She smiled slightly at the thought that her mother would have a full blown heart attack if she ever found out that someone had their hands where the prince had his, and that she had been wearing what she was in front of someone other than Sakura.

She didn't allow herself to be scared as he began undoing the bindings on the back of her nightgown. She had consented to this; she knew she wanted it and she had agreed with herself that she was willing to deal with the consequences. But once she was eased free of the garment and she felt her bare flesh make contact with his, her mind went totally blank. She would think things through some other time.

------------

Tomoyo woke up first. He was breathtakingly beautiful when asleep. He looked peaceful, and content, and Tomoyo stifled a little chuckle upon seeing him slightly stretch, still in his sleep, and go back to his position with his arms around her. It was still very early; Tomoyo had not had much sleep, although the little she had had been peaceful. It was probably time for her to leave, but she sure as hell didn't want to. She was starting to feel like her heart was being ripped out of her chest. I told you, a little nagging voice seemed to repeat over and over in her mind. But she wouldn't listen. Even though she knew little about him, she loved him, and whatever little she thought before doing what she had done with him served to prove it. If she stayed, someone was bound to recognize her and return her to her parents. She hadn't been in love before, and she had still ran away, but now that she had had a taste of what it felt like, she would never marry someone else. Not even if he was the king of the world, she wouldn't. She would rather die first. But she still had to leave him. She would disappear from his life, yet, she would never forget him. Tears welled up in her eyes as she carefully detached herself from his embrace and kissed his forehead. She managed to get herself together enough to leave the room silently, and return to her own to prepare for her imminent departure. At the doors, she turned around to watch him for the last time, tears now streaming freely down her ivory cheeks. It is better this way, she repeated to herself time and again as a mantra. And she left.

"Are you sure you do not wish to have an escort, miss?" the King asked her for the umpteenth time. She managed to smile at him through her well concealed pain, and refused one more time.

"I am sure. I appreciate your kindness. I do not wish to cause you any more inconveniences, your Highness"

"Very well then" he sighed "You will always be welcome here, miss. For anything you shall ever need from us. We will be eternally grateful to you"

She smiled again, feeling that it was harder and harder to hold back the tears that threatened with spilling from her amethyst eyes at any time.

"I must leave now, your Highness. Say farewell to your kind son for me. And...please take care of him. I wish you both a lifetime of happiness"

"Thank you, miss. Remember you are welcome to come back if you do not like the life of a traveler"

"I shall take that into account, your Highness. Farewell"

"Farewell, child. Have a safe trip"

She bowed and made her way quickly to the stables, following the attendant closely. No one should see her cry, but boy was she having a hard time restraining herself. Upon receiving the horse she had been given by the King, she mounted and left the city in a hurry.

Eriol's heart skipped a beat when he realized she wasn't by his side when he woke up. She couldn't have possibly left him without saying goodbye. Oh, God. He put anything on, and ran down the hallway and the stairs towards the Throne Room, where his father was reunited with his ministers. Everybody looked at the panting, sweating Prince with barely concealed surprise.

"Where is she, Father?" he demanded.

"Who? That girl from yesterday? She already left" he answered simply.

"It cannot be..." he muttered in bewilderment and sorrow.

"She wished me to say farewell to you for her. She seemed very eager to leave early. She said she had family waiting in..."

"Where?" he asked, hopefully.

"I cannot remember, or maybe she did not tell me. But did you need her for anything else?"

"Yes. Because I love her. If you will excuse me, Father" he said and hastily exited the Throne Room towards the stables. The King remained unruffled, while the ministers looked at each other in utter shock. One of them finally dared to speak up the collective thought.

"Did you head what the Prince said, your Highness?"

"Loud and clear, Lord Reichberger"

"But as far as I am concerned, your Highness...she is not a...noble and..."

"Leave him" he said confidently "He does not know what he is doing now, but he shall know later. I trust my son's judgement. He will decide how to proceed"

"But, your Highness..."

"We must get back to our meeting" the smiling King cut him off "There are several pressing affairs of state that cannot be neglected in favor of my son's romantic entanglements"

All the ministers exchanged worried looks, but an order was an order.

-----

Tomoyo rode at a breakneck pace towards the east, which she had made sure was the right way to go. She hadn't stopped crying for a second since she'd crossed the gates of Molker. She knew it would be this way, and she also knew that her heart would belong to the handsome prince forever, making it impossible for her to ever wed. She would always love him.

But she was worried that he might have awaken, and upon finding out she had left he had come out chasing her. He would soon catch up to her, she knew, and she couldn't force her horse any further. According to her calculations, she should reach Garnier in two hours at the utmost.

Then she remembered. Her eighteenth birthday was today. She smiled bitterly through her tears: she had had too many things on her mind to even remember. She then thought of her parents. They must have been very sad. And Sakura, she was probably devastated. They had never spent neither of their birthdays apart, ever. She so needed Sakura right then.

She also remembered that she hadn't asked for the Prince's name. Such was her idiocy; she was madly in love with someone whose name she ignored. But he also ignored hers. She had to savagely repress the urge to return to Molker just to hold him. She needed to get to Garnier at once.

Eriol rode like the wind, trying to find her. All of the exhortations of the officers and guards of the castle that had seem him run to the stables in a frenzy and followed him, to allow them to at least accompany him, if he wasn't going to desist from the idea of going after the lovely Jade, fell on deaf ears. He was determined to find her, and bring her back, and marry her even if he had to defy his own father for it. She was all he could think about right then, and so he let know to all the men who insisted on following him, leaving them baffled. They had never seen the calm, smiling Prince act like this. Ever. Finally the Captain stepped closer to him and, laying a friendly hand on his shoulder, had bid him goodbye, begging him to be careful. And to bring the girl back. Eriol had smiled, briefly hugged him, and left immediately.

Tomoyo finally reached Garnier, and was petrified as she recognized one of the adorned horses of the Royal Guard of Schia, standing by the gates. Was her father in this city? Or were they just looking for her? She pulled up the hood of her cape, and passed by as discreetly as possible, although she hadn't seen any guards. She sighed in relief. Now she needed to find Sakura's cousin's house, and for that she had to ask. But she had lost the letter Touya had given her, and she didn't know the names of the girls. She seemed to remember that they had told her they were seamstresses. That was something. She dismounted and left her horse by an ornate fountain, and entered a inn of sorts. She sat down, and the waitress, a girl of about her age, with long raven tresses and deep terracotta eyes came promptly to take her order.

"Hey, there! My name is Meiling. What can I get for you, miss?"

"Er...may I have a cup of coffee, if you please?"

The pretty waitress seemed a little taken aback by her polite speaking manners, but seemed to recover quickly and smiled a friendly smile at her.

"Why not make it a whole pot? You don't look so happy. It's on the house. I'll be right back" and she bounced off to the kitchen to fetch the pot. She soon came back with the pot of coffee and two mugs. Tomoyo was a little surprised when she sat across her on the table and started pouring the coffee.

"Thank you" she said, taking the mug she was handing her.

"It's nothing. I could use a little break, too. It's been a while since someone like you came in here. All of our customers are old drunks who are always trying to grope you" she said, making Tomoyo giggle. It was good to speak to someone like this again, she thought as she sipped her coffee "What about you? What are you doing in a town like Garnier? This is one step above a village. Foreigners never come here, unless they have family here"

"I have been looking for this town for over a week" she said "I spent last night in Molker and just arrived in here"

"Molker? I hear there's been a tragedy there. Something like the Prince's fiancée disappeared...or something, I don't know. Did you get to meet him? The one time I've been to Molker was when my cousin came to visit from Schia, and he took me to the parade. He was gorgeous"

"He is, matter of fact" she said, fighting back tears "Do you have a cousin in Schia?"

"Yeah. He's the Captain of the Guard. I barely ever see him now that he's got a girlfriend. And since the princess of Schia ran away. Can you believe that? I wouldn't have left all of that luxury behind for the world. I can't remember why it was...oh, yeah, because her parents engaged her to a prince. They should adopt me. I would marry a prince" she said dreamily.

Tomoyo listened carefully. So she was the cousin of Sakura's boyfriend? Jesus, the world was small.

"Why are you so gloomy anyway? Left a boyfriend behind?"

"You could say" she muttered, amazed at her own openness on the subject. It hurt her. Maybe she needed to unwind.

"Ohhh" the waitress smiled mischievously "A lover!"

Tomoyo's cheeks burned at that comment. She hadn't thought it as bluntly as Meiling had put it. The use of that term was utterly embarrassing and unacceptable. She felt like hitting herself in the head. She needed to work on her stiffness. She wasn't the royal heiress to the throne of Schia anymore. She was just a girl and common girls didn't go around banning words from their vocabulary because they didn't like the sound or the implication. The prince had been her lover, not her boyfriend. The fact that she was deeply in love with him didn't change that reality.

"Why did you leave him behind?"

Tomoyo cocked her head to one side thoughtfully. Should I answer that?

"We were not meant to be. It would have been too awkward. But..."

"But you love him" she said, and chuckled at her surprise "I'm a waitress, you know. I have a knack for watching people. And you, my friend, look like a woman in love" Meiling sighed, making Tomoyo laugh a little "You'll find another. You're pretty enough. And nice. But you need to leave Garnier for that"

"And why, may I ask?"

"Come on! This town is dead! And needless to say, the men are awful. What could someone like you be looking for in this town?"

"The seamstresses, actually" she said after draining her cup.

"You need a dress?"

"I need to speak to them"

"Well, I can tell you where that is. We go shopping together, the girls and me. They're a lot of fun"

After thanking the waitress profusely for her information and the great coffee and kind company, and started for the house that she had pointed her to. She knocked on the door once, twice, three times and was beginning to fear there was nobody home and those Royal Guards of Schia were lurking around, when a small girl, about her own age opened the door for her. After examining her face for a second, she smiled sweetly at her.

"You must be Tomoyo" she whispered, shocking her "Don't be afraid. We've been expecting you. Come on in"

Tomoyo went in as she asked, letting her bag drop from her shoulder. The house was modest, looking rather like kind Yukito's and his grandmother's, only a bit bigger.

"My name is Naoko. My sisters are in the kitchen, and have they got a surprise for you. Leave your bag there and come with me. You'll love this"

Tomoyo was intrigued now. The girl seemed nice, and the place looked cozy. By now she knew she didn't need a palace to be comfortable at all. She followed the girl to the kitchen, where the sounds of conversation could be heard. Did she recognize the voice of...?

"Look who just knocked on our door, girls" Naoko announced as she came into the kitchen. Tomoyo couldn't believe her eyes. Sakura was sitting there, with two girls around the kitchen table. She jumped from her chair and lunged at her, wrapping her in a teary embrace.

"Oh, Tomoyo, I was so scared! I thought you had gotten lost, or had made prisoner or...or..."

"I am all right" she whispered into her friend's hair "And I have a lot to tell you"

After Sakura let go of her the other two cousins were introduced as Chiharu, and Rika. They had a room set up for her, and they helped her settle in completely. After that, they left her alone with Sakura.

"I saw a horse of the Royal Guard by the gates. Did you know they were here?"

"Don't fret, Tomoyo. It's only Syaoran. He has a cousin here too, and he took a little time off to accompany me in this trip. Touya will be here shortly, in a few days. He had some pending business back in Schia"

"Meiling. The waitress" she said thoughtfully.

"Have you met her? How come?"

Tomoyo sighed, and proceeded to narrate the long story of her misfortunes to her dearest best friend, who was eager to hear the news. God, how she had missed her.

------

"What? You spent the night with him? Who is that man?" asked a shocked Sakura, bright green eyes wide with surprise.

"Please, Sakura, lower your voice. It is a very delicate matter"

"I can see" she shook her head, but not quite in a disapproving manner.

"I love him" she declared. "But it was not meant to be. He is...a Prince..."

"WHAT?!" screamed her friend again, making Tomoyo shoot her a supplicating look "What?" she repeated, quieter this time.

"I saved his life. As I told you, I met him in the woods, one time it was raining very hard and I was looking for refuge. After those kind people helped me, and I was back on my way, I met him again. And someone was going to kill him, and I stopped him. So they took me to the castle...to...reward me..."

"Castle? You went to the castle? And don't you know..."

"Yes. I do know it was a very dangerous thing to do. But I did not want to offend the monarch of Molker and his son and..."

"Wait, Tomoyo, wait" asked Sakura, shock on her face "The Prince you love and you saved the life of and you spent the night with was the Prince of Molker?"

"Yes..." she replied, mildly confused.

"Oh, my" Sakura chuckled.

"What? What about him?"

Sakura wondered if she should tell her. Nothing besides her running away from her engagement with the Prince of Molker had been heard in the castle of Schia for days. The irony was just too big. She had fallen in love with the man she had ran away from. She decided against letting her know.

"Nothing. They say he is really good looking"

Tomoyo didn't suspect a thing. Sakura had always been too sweet, too innocent to lie. She excused herself, alleging that she had some things to arrange for Touya's arrival, and left the room. She smiled as she closed the door behind her. This was the chance of a lifetime to make her friend finally happy.


Eriol wandered around until very late at night, and had found no traces of her presence anywhere. He was too far away from Molker, so he would have to look for a place to spend the night in, to resume his search the next day. He found himself at the gates of Garnier, and sighed. He had always detested that town. It was where his mother had died, from a long illness, unable to reach the next big city to be treated; but he had no choice. He had to spend the night.

He also recognized a horse of the Royal Guard of Schia. Probably looking for his bride, he assumed. From the bottom of his heart, he hoped she wasn't found and forced to marry him, or he would be the unhappiest man in the world. He entered the inn, and Meiling readily set about to wait on him. He ordered a cup of strong coffee, and became adorably bashful when Meiling took longer than proper to eye him.

"You don't look like the average foreigner. You're not from around here, ne?" she asked with a sweet smile.

"No, I am not" he responded courteously. Another well spoken outsider. This must be the day.

Meiling's cousin, Syaoran, who had come with Sakura for the visit was visibly startled when he recognized who it was. He had been in charge of his custody back in Schia, when the whole running away incident had taken place, and was also aware of his story with Tomoyo, although not in detail, so after coughing repeatedly into his coffee mug, he discreetly got up and exited the inn, towards the house of the seamstresses.

"What do you mean he's here?" demanded Sakura from her boyfriend when he told her about what he saw.

"I mean, Sakura, that he's in town. I asked Meiling to entertain him just in case you wanted to speak to him. He's apparently looking for her" he said, shifting uncomfortably at seeing himself in the obligation of gossiping.

"How do you know? What did you hear?"

"Calm down, all right? I'll tell you what I heard" he said, his amber eyes fixating on her. And he told her the whole story. After that, Sakura headed for the inn and Syaoran left the town on a mission set by his own girlfriend. Women, he thought.

***

Tomoyo woke up next day to a loud racket on the bottom floor. There was screaming, and pleading, and it sounded a lot more like a comedy than anything else. What the heck was going on? She put on a dark dress, and decided to take a look. She walked quietly down the stairs and was utterly terrified by what she saw there. About fifteen officers of the Royal Guard of Schia were in the living room and by the door, demanding that the Princess was turned over, for her immediate return in custody to the Kingdom of Schia. Her worse nightmare was unfolding in reality before her eyes. Sakura tried to keep them from coming in and searching the house for signs of the Princess, but one of the bigger, stronger men pushed her away and passed through. Tomoyo became desperate then, and tried to run up the stairs to find a hiding place, but the blond guard caught sight of her, and chased her, and finally caught up to her.

"Princess Tomoyo" he began, bowing "We are here to take you back to the Kingdom of Schia where your Highnesses are expecting you"

"I will not move from here"

"We have very specific orders, your Highness. To use strength if we must. Please, do not force us to do this"

"I said, I will not move from where I am now" she repeated stubbornly.

That was when he picked her up and threw her ver his shoulder as if she was nothing but a sack full of feathers. She kicked, and screamed but it did her no good, for the man dauntlessly carried her outside and ordered a few men to watch over her. He then turned around.

"I am the ranking officer in the absence of Captain Li Syaoran. I must request that you, miss Kinomoto Sakura, and your brother, Kinomoto Touya, also come back to the Kingdom of Schia with me, to appear before the King and Queen, who will demand justification for your acts of aiding the Princess in her escape, and who shall decide what your punishment will be. We must leave for Schia at once"

And he winked at Sakura, smiling conspiratorially when Tomoyo was taken and helped up the horse. Rika, Chiharu and Naoko exchanged pleased looks. They, along with Meiling, Syaoran, and a few more guests were also to travel to Schia, secretly.

Tomoyo didn't utter a word in the whole trip. She was outraged, but part of her was paralyzed with terror. She had seriously thought about throwing herself off a tower upon her arrival; her life made no sense now that she had been caught, and would have to appear before her parents, who would positively lock her in jail until her fiancé arrived and they would then marry her off to him, a man who wasn't the one she loved. It was actually much worse now that when she'd left the castle. Now her heart was bound to the handsome prince of Molker, and she would not be able to live an entire lifetime by someone else's side. She would most likely die of sadness. She would have to explain it to her parents, but how? How could she justify her sleeping with him? That would only make matters worse.

The cortege arrived in Schia that evening, at about six. The King and the Queen had ordered that Tomoyo was reinstalled in her chambers, guarded by two men on the doors, two at the foot of her window, and someone in every secret passageway she could possibly escape through. They had also ordered than Sakura was to stay with her, made sure she'd take a bath and dress her with the most elegant gown she could find, along with all of her ornaments, crown included, next day in the morning. For the rest of the day, she was made to rest, strongly guarded and forbidden to leave her chambers. She had requested to speak to her parents at once, but they had refused, alleging that there would be plenty of time tomorrow to settle things. So she was left alone, with Sakura, to have a long and anguished night.

And she thought of him. She would soon have to abandon every pretense of ever seeing him again, bury her memories of him deep inside her, to keep him separated from her new husband. She would never, ever love him, for she knew she would love the prince of Molker forever. Two nights ago she had rested in his arms, and now she felt sad, and empty. And desperate. She cried herself to sleep, deaf to the pleas of her friend for her to stop, because she would be swollen in the morning. She didn't care. She really wished she had died all those days ago in the forest. Everything would have ended there, and she wouldn't have had to know what this kind of pain, acute and devastating, felt like.

***

She woke up to Sakura's gentle voice, urging her to get up. It was time for her to bathe, and get dressed. Time for them both to face their responsibilities. Sakura seemed oddly tranquil, which somehow arose Tomoyo's suspicions. However, she didn't ask. She wasn't in the mood for anything. Everything seemed dull and ugly, the world as she knew it had changed, and not for the better. She let Sakura drag her to the bathroom, let her undress her and guide her to the tub filled with warm rose water. She sank deeply, wishing she would drown. She had thought of her own death in the last twenty four hours ceaselessly, more than she had ever thought of it in her whole life. She really wanted it.

Sakura picked a beautiful crimson colored gown for her, and spent the next half hour getting the stubbornly unresponsive Tomoyo inside it. She combed her long dark hair, set her crown carefully on top of her head, even adjusted her shoes.

"If it is my judgement, Sakura" began Tomoyo "Why do I have to dress like this?"

"Your parents requested it, Tomoyo. You should better obey them this time"

"I will not let anything happen to you. This whole incident was my doing and my responsibility. Neither you nor Touya shall pay for my idiocy"

"We will see about that, Tomoyo"

Princess Tomoyo walked towards the Throne Room, strongly guarded, with the enthusiasm one walks towards the guillotine with. Sakura almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

She bowed respectfully at her parents once she had been led to the Throne Room. Touya and Sakura stood behind her, and also bowed at their majesties.

"So, dearest Daughter" began the King "I hope you have had the fun I asked you to have, the last time I saw you, the night of the Masquerade. You were, I must say, a terrible source of humiliation for your mother, the Queen, and myself. Aided by these two youngsters, you committed what could be easily labeled as a crime. Not only because it is the law that you marry the suitor we choose for you; also because you had no reason to disobey us and disrespect us the way you did"

Tomoyo answered nothing. She knew that was coming.

"However, daughter, we have decided to give you the opportunity to fix this terrible mistake of yours, by apologizing, not to us, but to your chosen suitor and his father, who were terribly distressed upon learning of your escape and had to return to their homeland with all the weight of the shame they had to endure when you left us. If he will take you still, you will marry him within two weeks. Will you apologize, daughter dear?"

Tomoyo felt her eyes fill with tears. She didn't want to marry him. She wouldn't, she couldn't, she was in love with someone else, deeply, madly, and her heart refused the idea of ever belonging to someone else but him. She breathed deeply before uttering that short word that would seal her fate.

"No"

The Queen bit her lip in what seemed like an effort to stifle a smile. What the hell was going on? First her father acted benevolently towards her, now her mother was smiling...she had been ordered to dress elegantly, Sakura had been acting strangely, Syaoran hadn't been the one to apprehend her when she knew he was in town because she had learnt that the horse of the Royal Guard belonged to him, the very scene of her apprehending had seemed at times like a bad theatre play. What was going on? She had expected anything beneath a whipping, even though she hadn't quite ruled that out. What was it?

"Do you not want to meet him at least, daughter?" he smiled at her. Her back was to the heavy doors behind the heavy curtains, and she shuddered when she heard them being opened. The footsteps were muffled, but she realized that more than one person had entered the room. She slowly spun on her heels, and froze, violet eyes wide in disbelief.

"Your fiancé, my daughter" he nearly laughed "Prince Eriol of Molker"

Both the prince and his father were standing there. She opened her mouth to say something but quickly closed it. Unbidden tears flowed down her cheeks, part in embarrassment, and part in joy. So she was going to marry him after all? This whole trip had been pointless? No. She had fallen in love with him on her own, by her own choice. It wouldn't have been the same if she had been forced to marry him just like that. She had to want it, and boy, did she ever. She didn't know whether to run towards him and wrap him in the biggest embrace seen by man, or just stay there, standing primly, waiting for him to do anything.

"Sakura told us everything, Tomoyo" began the Queen, now freely smiling "And we decided that we were also responsible for your actions, even if it took us a little effort to admit it. We want you to know, that the ancient law that forces young maiden Princesses of the Kingdom of Schia to marry against their wishes, will be abrogated as from today. You are free to marry this young man, or not. You are still the official heiress to the throne, even if you decide to live your life as an unmarried woman"

Tomoyo clamped one hand to her mouth. He was really there, in front of her, smiling that ravishing smile of his, only at her. The King and Queen left the Throne room, and suggested graphically that Touya, Sakura and Eriol's father did the same. He walked over to her, until at least two steps separated him from her.

"You do realize you have been running away from me the whole time, do you not?"

She nodded helplessly, tears still running down her face.

"I hope you will...forgive me" she stammered, looking up at him with a heartbreakingly sad look on her face.

He closed the distance between them and kissed her for a long, slow moment. He then pulled back and stared at her.

"I love you. I have loved you since the minute I saw you back there in the woods. I nearly went insane when you left me without...saying anything...I thought I'd never seen you again. But now I understand everything. I spent that night in Garnier city because I had been looking for you all day, and your friend, Sakura, came to me and explained everything, after learning that you had...feelings for me" he grinned "She set everything up; your capture, your return to Schia, the situation with your parents, and my coming here. Now that you are free to decide, my lady..." he kneeled in front of her, and she clasped her hand to her mouth again "Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

She threw herself on the floor in front of him and hugged him for all he was worth, repeating heartfelt affirmations between tears. Of course she would marry him.

------

The cheers that arose from the crowd when the newlyweds came out to salute the subjects of the kingdom on the balcony of the castle of Schia, site of the wedding, were the loudest since the King had been crowned. The ceremony had been performed privately in the chapel adjunct to the castle, where all of the royal weddings in the Kingdom had been held for generations, and the whole city was ready for the nuptial celebrations. The official ball would take place in the ballroom of the palace, after the parade that had been organized so that everybody could see and greet their dear Princess in her happiest hour.

For the first time in her life, Tomoyo didn't feel awkward in a parade. She was truly happy. She had everything she could have ever wanted in her life; she didn't yearn to be just anybody anymore. She had made peace with her parents, who she'd profusely apologized to. She was back in her homeland, beside her friends, and the best of all: she had just married the only man she was sure she could ever love.

Eriol also was ecstatically happy. He had never been afraid of marriage, but hadn't been keen on the idea either. He had surely never pictured himself like this: as happy as he could be, on his wedding day. Marrying the most perfect woman in the world, having the certainty that he would be with her until his last day. He had thought he knew what happiness was; but discovered that the term was redefined for him once he took the first look into Tomoyo's eyes. And she was all his now.

Another surprise awaited Tomoyo when she and her new husband arrived in the ballroom and amongst the many guests were Yukito and his grandmother. Touya, who had seemed to hit it off immediately with the gentle youth, had personally gone to get them in the outskirts of Molker, along with Li Syaoran's cousin, Meiling, and his own three cousins, Naoko, Rika and Chiharu. She had personally approached each one, and had hugged them in deep gratitude, for all of their help during her time of need.

Just before the wedding Sakura had told her in confidence that the handsome Captain of the Royal Guard and her boyfriend for a long time now, Li Syaoran, had proposed to her and that she had said yes. She had also promised her that she would remain her personal attendant, whatever it may come, and that they would never be apart again. Then Tomoyo, in between choked sobs, had promised her she would take care of the wedding, and that she would make sure it was as special as hers. They were, after all, sisters.


The celebrations lasted for four days, until the guests started to finally become tired. After the last one was properly accommodated in the respective wing of the castle, the bride and groom were finally excused to retire to their bridal chambers, after the long festivities. Tomoyo, although blissfully happy, was drained. She had managed to stay up long enough to remove her heavy attire, the seventh she'd had to change into for the prolonged celebrations, and promptly fell asleep.

Eriol entered the bedroom and rolled his eyes with a chuckle when he noticed she was already asleep. She hadn't even waited for him. But what did it matter? This time, when he woke up, she'd still be there by his side. As she would be every morning from now on, for ever. Smiling, he laid beside her and took her in his arms, breathing deeply in her scent. She was so beautiful. He almost couldn't believe it; after all they'd been through there they were. Married.

He just loved happy endings.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Pardon the mush. I just had to. What sense would it make if this didn't end up like that? (In my twenty years of life, I have been to like, four weddings because I hate them, so it might not be accurate at all, it was the part I liked writing the least, so pardon...)
Well, as Eriol, I also like happy endings. So there you go. Let me know of any mistakes you might find(which I'm sure there are lots and lots) and please review if you liked it. Thanks.