It seemed like this would be one of the easier worlds. There didn't seem to be much magic in everyday use, though Mokona said he could sense some, and it seemed to be pretty much at peace. So the day went by quickly, and they scanned the serene city for the princess' elusive feather. As the sun got lower in the sky, they all started to find themselves getting extremely hungry (except Fai, of course).
So they soon found themselves at a café. They hadn't had either time or resources to change clothing, and the entrance of a girl in pink with a cane, a huge bulk of a man in black, a young boy in a cape (of all things!), and a young man with only one eye predictably attracted a bit of attention. Ignoring it, they sat at a booth by the window and waited for someone to take their order.
"Can I help you?" queried an all-too-familiar voice. The high priest of Clow calmly took their orders: soup for Syaoran, a beef sandwich for Kurogane, a pastry for the princess, and just water for Fai. The priest-turned-waiter smiled sweetly at them, but if they had been paying attention, they may have noticed how similar the smile was to the one a member of their own group had once worn.
As Yuki walked to the kitchen, he heard the tall man in black say harshly, "Why are those guys at every restaurant we ever go to?" and wondered vaguely what he meant. As he stepped into the hot room, he leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. Eyes shut tight, he did his best to calm himself down, just focusing on breathing in and out, and not on the ghosts who had walked in the door.
"Yuki," said a voice in front of him, and he opened his eyes to the worried face of his lover. "Are you alright?" Touya asked. "What happened?"
Yuki pushed himself off the wall and cracked open the kitchen door. "Look," he instructed, "but don't react."
Touya's breath caught as he saw the patrons. It was Sakura, his dear little sister as she had looked years before her death, and he wanted nothing more than to run over and hug her and never let go. But after a second more of staring, he realized it wasn't her. The hair, the eyes, and even the voice like ringing bells that made its way to his ears were the same, but it wasn't his Sakura. This girl had a haunted look in her eyes that had never once graced the face of his little sister. She looked too old for her own body, and sadness seemed present in every part of her being. When she stood up to go to the restroom, he could see that she wore a brace on her leg, and used a cane to hobble to the door.
Touya shut the door sadly, and said, "It really looks just like her, doesn't it?" Yuki appeared again at his side, carrying a tray laden with the group's order. "But it's not."
Yuki smiled. "Well, it is, in a way. The same person, but from a different dimension. The same soul, but with different experiences." He handed Touya the tray. "Anyway, it's not her you should be looking at."
"What do you mean?"
Yuki pushed him out the door. "Go and see."
It was the king, this time, who delivered their food, but that was pretty much expected. He served their dishes with the usual detached efficiency, but his eyes seemed to linger on Syaoran for a long time. The boy fidgeted under the gaze, in a way that reminded his companions of their previous partner. "Thank you very much," he said, overly polite, as if this really was his king he talked to, and not just a reflection of him who served tables.
"You're very welcome," the king said warmly, much to everyone's surprise. Syaoran watched his receding back, and realized that this version seemed a bit older than the rest of them had, and somehow sadder as well.
Shrugging the feeling off, he started his meal before Mokona could start it for him.
They had a cheerful meal. Fai cracked some jokes with Mokona (often at Kurogane's expense), the smile on his face reaching his remaining eye more than it usually did. Syaoran and Sakura chatted together about how pleasant this world seemed to be, and Kurogane remained silent unless Fai and Mokona said something particularly offensive. All in all, it was the best meal they'd had in a while, with no awkward silences or anger, and for the time they were in that café, they felt almost like a family again.
When the dishes were mostly empty, Fai's glass of water had been discreetly spilled enough to look like he had drank some, and Mokona was eating the crumbs off Sakura's plate, the high priest was back to deliver the bill.
As the waiter left, Fai murmured, "We've been enjoying ourselves so much in this world, we've forgotten to get any money."
"Should we make a run for it?" Kurogane suggested.
Mokona fidgeted in Sakura's lap. "But the people here are so nice, and the food was so good… Mokona would feel really bad if we just left!"
"And we forgot to ask for information on the feather," Syaoran pointed out.
Their argument was cut short as a perfectly manicured hand pulled the bill off their table. A kind looking young woman stood in front of them, smiling, and she said, "I'll pay for you." Kurogane thought she seemed somewhat familiar.
There was a stunned silence for a moment.
"Wh… Why would you do that?"
The woman smiled sweetly at Syaoran, her long black hair spilling across her shoulder. "I don't know, really. I just took a liking to you." She turned her sweet smile to Sakura, who felt an instant kinship with the beautiful woman. "Is that alright? I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you say you were out of money."
"We are," Fai said, his fake smile and charm plastered back on his face. "Thank you so very much for offering."
The woman slipped some bills into the folder, and placed it back on the table. "You're welcome." They stared after her as she returned to her table, joining her friends.
After the high priest took the bill, he returned with the folder. "Your change." Syaoran stood up and went to the woman's table to give it to her, but she refused.
"Keep it," she said. "You need it more than I do."
He thanked her again, and as he turned away, the man she was sitting with grabbed his arm. "That thing you're looking for," he said, his glasses reflecting the merry light of the café. "You'll find it here," and images flashed into Syaoran's mind of a grassy area overlooking the city. "Go alone, if you don't mind. There are some people who want to meet you." Syaoran stared in confusion at the man, but he had already gone back to chatting with the red haired woman beside him, giving no sign that anything strange had happened.
Syaoran made his way back to his table. "Let's go," he said.
The five of them watched the traveling party leave. When they were out of sight, Touya asked, "How did you know they were coming?"
Tomoyo just smiled her sweet smile and said, "Eriol-kun called me last night. He said to meet me here, because he had something to show me."
The Englishman in question smiled as he stirred his tea. "I saw them coming here in a dream. I thought you all might like to meet them."
"The girl really looks just like Sakura-chan," said Nakuru thoughtfully. "I nearly couldn't believe my eyes."
"The girl's not the one I couldn't believe," said Touya. "I can understand what you're saying about different worlds, but that boy… There's only one person like that."
"There are three, actually," said Eriol. "But you're right. He's really something, that nephew of yours."
They stared out the window for a while longer, thinking. Touya couldn't get out of his mind the look on the boy's face. A face identical to the brat who had become his brother-in-law, but the expressions on it were just like Sakura's. He saw them both in the boy's eyes, and felt proud of his nephew for coming so far, and saddened that he had never gotten to know him.
"Well," said Eriol. "All's well that ends well. We saw them, and they're on their way."
"I videotaped it for Meiling," Tomoyo said cheerfully, pulling her camcorder out of nowhere. "She was so upset she couldn't make it, but now she'll get to see, at least, even though she didn't get to meet them."
The three at the table prepared to leave, scooting their chairs in, and as the two servers went to go back to work, Eriol pulled Yukito aside. "That's not quite the last of them. They won't leave until they've found what they're looking for. So could you do me a favor…?"
In the darkened evening, Syaoran walked the streets alone. He told the others he wanted to go for a walk, to get some time alone, and they had accepted without question, knowing the stress the boy went through every day. In truth, he was going to where the strange man had shown him. His feet seemed to know the way, even though he himself didn't, and he was soon walking on the grass.
As he continued walking, he noticed the neat rows of stones all across the plain. "A cemetery?" he murmured to himself. He hoped he didn't have to dig up any graves to find the princess' feather.
Though he didn't know where he was going, he kept walking in a straight line, never faltering. It felt like something was calling him, leading him to wherever it was he needed to be. As he reached the top of the hill, he saw something in the distance. From there, the view of the city was beautiful, the full moon shining brightly on the quiet buildings, but that was not what caught his eye.
There, atop one of the graves, was a book. Not just a book, the book. He knew it before he was close enough to see it properly, because he'd seen that book so many times, now two lifetimes ago, and he could remember climbing into his mother's lap as she pulled it away, saying with a laugh, "No, no dear, this isn't for you." He'd seen her pull down that book every day, and sometimes when she held it a small wind would pick up, even when they were inside, and sometimes she would do something magnificent with it, her magic circle appearing at her feet as she conjured spirits from what seemed to him like thin air.
He knelt down on the grave and stroked the cover of the book with a shaking hand, his fingers running gently over the name written on the cover: Sakura. Other than the name, the cover was blank.
He clutched the book to his chest, and stared at the headstone. He could tell there was a spell on it, but it felt like one of peace and protection, so he ignored it. He ran his fingers over the names engraved there: Li Syaoran and Sakura.
He cried there for some time. He rarely cried for anything, but he remembered his parents. He hadn't remembered this place, his own world, but he remembered his parents, his mother singing slightly out of tune to him as she ran her fingers through his hair, his father praising him for perfecting his kata or casting a spell, all three of them on the couch watching scary movies, his mother's face in a pillow because she hated ghost stories, and his father trying both to comfort her and not to laugh at the same time, and himself between them, unafraid of any monsters because he had them to protect him, so would they please be quiet so he could hear the TV? He remembered them, and he suddenly missed them dearly, crying in the darkness because he hadn't known they had died, or how, or when.
After what seemed like an eternity, he felt he had no tears left. He rose shakily to his feet, still clutching the book, and as he turned to leave, he was face to face with a lion. It wore golden armor, and white wings were folded on its back.
The beast lay placidly on the grass behind him, and he wondered how it had escaped his notice when it arrived. It watched him kindly with golden eyes, and when he realized it wasn't going to attack, he relaxed a bit.
"Hey there, kid," it said. "Long time no see."
Syaoran blinked at it. "You… know me?"
The lion smiled. "I knew you when you were real small, kid. I used to take you around the garden on my back, and even took you flying sometimes when yer mom and dad weren't looking. Thought it was dangerous. As if I'd ever let you fall," it said with a huff. "She never had any faith in me."
"Who… are you?"
"The name's Keroberos, kid. Guardian of that book you're holding. Well, one of 'em anyway."
"There are others like you?"
"Just one," said the lion. Over in the tree there." Syaoran turned in surprise. A man with long white hair stood on a tree branch. Like the lion, he also had wings.
"Hello," he said softly, seeing Syaoran turn. "I am called Yue."
He stared at the strange man, who lightly jumped off the branch and landed before him. "You knew my mother, too?"
"Not long enough," Yue said sadly. "She died very young. But I knew her before she knew me, and I served her long after."
Syaoran smiled at the two guardians. He felt safe in their presence, as if his parents were here with him, too, protecting him. Yue gently grasped his chin with a cool finger, and lifted it to stare into his eyes. "You look just like your father," he said quietly. "But your soul is more like your mother's."
He tears stinging at his eyes again. Yue let him go in surprise. "I never realized how much I missed them," he sobbed, He felt no shame for crying; with the princess or Fai or Kurogane, he would have felt embarrassed at this show of emotion, but the guardians felt safe, and he knew that they missed his parents as much as he did. "I miss them so much…"
He felt a large paw land on his shoulder and found himself pressed against Keroberos' warm body. He buried his face in the fur and cried for another eternity, Yue's hand stroking his hair the way his mother had once done.
Yue spoke softly into his ear. "You need to stop crying now," he said. "There is something you came here for, and you must retrieve it." Syaoran reluctantly pulled his face away from Keroberos' shoulder, and the lion released him.
"Do you know where it is?" he asked them, wiping the tears on his shirt.
"We do," said Keroberos. "But first we got a present for ya." He grinned into the boy's face. "Open the book."
Syaoran hesitated, because he could remember his mother's words, "This isn't for you," but these were his mother's guardians, so he undid the latch on the cover and flipped it open.
Something enormous, no, a lot of small things, came flying out of the book. He covered his face with his arm, but Yue pulled it away. "Look."
He looked up and saw what looked like tarot cards floating above his head, each one bordered in bright pink and bearing the signature Sakura on the bottom. They danced around his head, glowing brightly against the dark sky, and one by one, they changed to their true forms to greet him.
He had never met them before, but they were his mother's spirits, so they loved him like they had loved her. Windy and Wood wrapped him in their embraces, and Fiery streaked across the sky as she raced Thunder. The Twins sat on either side of him, Dash curled around his neck and whistled, Song and Voice sang him a duet in what sounded like Tomoyo's voice, Bubble washed the tears from his face and Watery rinsed the soap away. They all said hello and goodbye to him at once, Dark and Light stroking his hair gently, and Fly and Jump nuzzled his shoes. He laughed with them, because there was only joy in this strange meeting, as Keroberos and Yue watched from the side.
The last to return to her card was Mirror, appearing first to him as his mother, when she was ten. She whispered to him, "Zettai daijoubu, ne?" and then she was a card in his hand, the ribbons in her hair looking strangely out of place. He carefully stacked all the cards up and clutched them to his chest. "Thank you."
Keroberos pointed. "There's one more."
Syaoran picked it up, and the card hummed lovingly at his touch. It showed a woman smiling, and a heart with ribbons around it. "Sakura made that card for Syaoran," the lion said. "I'm not even sure what it does, but it saved our butts from the most dangerous card of the pack, and then merged with it to become what you're holding now. It exists because of the love between your parents."
Syaoran held the card to his face, and felt its power rushing through him, filling him with that feeling of love all over again. He carefully put it back in the stack, and walked back to where he left the book.
"Now," said Yue, "It's time for you to move on. You've a long journey ahead." Syaoran nodded in understanding. The guardian approached him and smiled. "I'm glad to see you've grown up so well. Sakura and Syaoran are very proud of you, I'm certain."
The white haired man stretched his wings out and looked up at the sky. "Now, I must go. It's very late, and Touya will be getting worried."
Syaoran gaped in astonishment. "Touya?"
He smiled. "Your uncle, Sakura's brother. I promised her I would look after him."
"Pfeh!" Keroberos spat. "Promise my butt. You did that on your own. And you only stay for the sex."
Yue just smiled mysteriously, and took to the air.
Keroberos snorted derisively, and walked over to Syaoran, who remained staring up at the sky in confusion. "He's right though, kid. Time to put the cards back, and go finish yer adventure."
Syaoran reluctantly turned to follow the lion, but he was gone. He looked around wildly, but the only thing there was the book. A golden beast with white wings now adorned its cover. Smiling, he picked up the volume. "Thank you," he said again. He opened the book, and saw, within the card-shaped gap in its pages, a single white feather, adorned with Sakura-hime's symbol.
The next morning, they left for a new world. As Mokona's magic swirled around them, Syaoran had a belated realization that if this really was his home world, then Yuuko and Watanuki were here too, and they should have gone to see them. But no… when he needed to see them, he would. This time around, he had met who he needed to, and learned what he needed to.
Zettai daijoubu, he thought to himself.