Alright, so.

In the sequence of my Yuuko/Clow ficcage, this one comes a good deal of time before 'when this thy wrath is over.' I realize that the tag for that story involves Yuuko meeting "Clow" (ala Eriol) for the 'second time,' and that if this comes before that fic, it would in fact be her third time meeting him, but I didn't even have this story planned when I was writing the other, and I'm awfully fond of that line, so I'm just going to keep things the way they are and hope that you all will cut me a break.

ALSO! This fic ended up being fairly similar --in theme as well as in actual content-- to 'when this thy wrath is over,' which is kind of irritating (to me), but it's different enough that it can stand on its own, and anyway, I had to write this down once the idea popped into my head (because annoying Yuuko with Clow is one of my most favoritest pasttimes, and also because I've long been wanting to do a 'how in the hell did the Book of Clow come to be in Fujitaka's library?' piece), so here it is. What really sets this one apart from Yuuko's meeting with Eriol is the tone; with Eriol she is hopelessly bitter and angry, but with Fujitaka I can't help but to feel that she'd be and nostalgic than anything else. Because while Eriol embodies everything about Clow that was priggish and duplicitous and outrageous, Fujitaka is everything that was impossibly compassionate and desperately loveable.

And I am officially finished disclaiming.

Read on, chums.

He's clearly not sure why he's there –or even, really, how he's come to be there—but he's entranced nevertheless by everything he sees.

Yuuko has been expecting him, of course (he has been flitting in and out of her dreams now for weeks, appearing and reappearing in an annoyingly frequent and inexplicable –and often bizarre—manner she had long ago come to associate with the recalcitrant magician), but she is horrified all the same at how utterly unlike Clow Reed this man is. Clow's guileless smile and glibly honest, candid gaze had always positively radiated guile and deceit, but the young man before her is wholly and bafflingly sincere in his conviviality.

She perceives in him the man Clow could have been if there'd been no magic in his life: brilliantly intelligent, fascinated by the world's mysteries and eager to learn all about them, altogether untouched by misery or darkness, happy, with a family that loved him and a sickening buoyancy, an ease of manner afforded only to the innocent, the pure, the unburdened.

She almost cannot breath at the sight of him; her chest is curiously tight. If she knew how, she might have wept.

She does not invite him to sit, does not offer him tea or coffee or anything but stiff formality (which, infuriatingly, he rebuffs with kindness, affability, and understanding) and peripheral, deliberate lassitude (she cannot –will not—look directly at him). An absent supination and Maru and Moro appear at her side, one holding a thick red tome with intricate, almost baroque embellishment, the other standing at the ready to receive his payment for services rendered.

Fujitaka, unsurprisingly dazzled by the manuscript, begins examining it at once, missing entirely Yuuko's face as it reflects mute shock and dull pain, the way she stiffens nigh imperceptibly at the devastatingly familiar, spontaneous, and blindingly childish glee of his visage as he peers at what his shrewd mind is telling him is doubtlessly an item of incomparable scholarly value.

"Extraordinary. Simply fascinating. Where did you find it, I wonder…? It's so well-preserved, and look at that masterful artistry!" Despite herself, Yuuko finds she can manage an ironic grin; of course Clow would find some way to pay his over-inflated ego homage. "And the metal-working; so delicately-wrought…" She watches him dispassionately as he absorbs every detail of the book, his eyes hungry for knowledge of its secrets. And he is there, that goofy, foolhardy sorcerer, in the dangerous twinkle in Fujitaka's bright eyes, in the openly ravenous expression on his face (which Clow would have been fastidious about concealing) that suggests he might be willing to bend –or even break—a few rules if he believes that the situation merits such action, if he (arbitrarily) decides that his ethics will not be implicated, or perhaps even, merely if he thinks he will be able to get away with it without suffering the consequences.

Her eyes narrow while she reflects that it was just such thinking that led to Clow's death, and the violent, imperfect fracturing of his most important feature: his soul.

And then Fujitaka straightens, smile broadening impossibly as he consciously pulls himself out of his well-meaning academic rapacity, and she blinks in disbelief and crossly reminds herself (again) that this is not the four-eyed moron who had all but given the finger to Destiny.

She forces herself to hold his gaze, and is annoyed at the difficulty of the task.

"You've come here for a reason, young man," she dares not speak his name –either of them, "and in return for the befitting price, I will entrust this book unto your care." She is curt, and needlessly grandiloquent.

Apparently unfazed by her cryptic address, he asks her with an appraising eye how much it's "going to set him back," chuckling endearingly to himself as he produces his wallet from within the well-tailored folds of his pants' pocket, as if the thought of him somehow managing to afford what could only be a priceless artifact with whatever he had on him was thoroughly preposterous. He beams up at her, fingers still absently rifling through the contents of his worn, leathery pocketbook.

"I'm a professor at a University near…here," he fumbles, suddenly uncertain about where, exactly, 'here' is, "and if you'll allow me to take a few photographs, I'd be thrilled to show my colleagues what you've found, and see if they'd like to sponsor a grant for its purchase. I'm afraid all I've got are some small bills, maybe some change," he chuckles again, and her head starts to swim.

She focuses on the crescent-shape of his smiling mouth to ground herself in the present; she cannot afford to lose herself to the treacherous vision-scapes of Other Realities at the moment. She finds herself regretting the decision to greet him sober; this halved reincarnation apparently has the same effect on her as the original. It had been easy to forget, in the intervening centuries laid out between them since Clow's death, that the mere fact of his presence (when unabated by inebriating substances) sent her tumbling headlong into Other-Wheres and Disparate-Whens, at greater length and in more crystalline, meticulous detail than she had ever managed to achieve by herself. The problem was that she couldn't control it; the future-past-present bled into each other in an anachronistic hodgepodge that was utterly beyond her ability to navigate.

But she has business to finish here, she chides herself; this isn't Clow and she's certainly not going to let some magic-less husk of a man influence the course of her own magic.

"If you wouldn't mind waiting just a bit, I can be there and back before you know it. Better yet, I could write down the shop's number and give you a call—" She's back completely when, as he's shuffling through different pockets to locate (she surmises) a slip of paper and an writing utensil, his wallet slips through his fingers and lands on the ground with a solid 'plop,' and various and sundry cards, odds and ends, and photographs all come sliding out at her feet. One, in particular, catches her eye, of a young boy with tousled hair and a cheeky grin and a striking young woman with gray-black curls and a warm smile that glows.

A flash of brilliant jade and a mega-watt smile appear in her mind's eye, and it is the first time she has seen the girl (his daughter) about whom Clow had spoken incessantly.

Moro has the picture in her grasp immediately, holding it out for her mistress to take. Yuuko only looks at it, at the radiant woman and the boy-child who clearly belongs to her, and then back at the man-who-was-Clow.

"No girl?" For the first time since he has entered the shop, Fujitaka looks taken aback, though he recovers quickly enough, smile leaping back into place as he stoops to retrieve his fallen articles. He sifts through them as he does so, eventually standing with his arm outstretched, offering in hand.

"One on the way," he says proudly, and Yuuko's gaze is on the glowing woman again, sans her son, who has two ivory hands posited lovingly over her stomach, which is tellingly swollen. "That's my wife, Nadeshiko-san." She regards him critically. The way he says his wife's name, the way he looks at the photograph, very nearly reverentially, no hint of remembered shadows or bleak epiphanies (no sign that he remembers her, or the different sort of darkness they shared), just adoring, indelible, unconditional love.

Yuuko wonders, unbidden, if Clow ever looked at her quite like that, if he ever said her name with quite the same profound affection. Then she dismisses such ridiculous notions as silly, counter-productive, and unforgivably human, and commands Maru tersely to hand the tome over to Fujitaka. Confused, he accepts the book, blinking at her in bewilderment.

She flicks her fingers elegantly into a fist, curling them around the photo in her palm. When she unfurls her hand, the picture has vanished, and she trains her expression into practiced aloofness.

"This will do as payment," she says, and just as it seems as if he might try to protest, she looks at him squarely and delivers her instructions. "Take this book home with you, speak of it to no one, and keep it somewhere hidden in plain sight. In time, it will find its way into the right hands. Don't try to open it, don't try to puzzle out the symbols on the cover, and after you've filed it away, you must forget about it altogether. Life, for you, will continue unimpeded, and you'll never think on this manuscript --or my shop—ever again."

When she finishes talking, Fujitaka already has a glazed, distant look in his eyes, and he stands immobile, staring at nothing, seeing nothing. Some few seconds later, he comes to himself with a start, and she ascertains quickly that he has forgotten the significance of the book, which hangs limply in his grasp as if it were any other mass-produced text anyone might possess. He makes no inquiries about the photograph she'd collected from him, and when he pardons himself for the second time for wandering in uninvited, she understands that the entirety of their interaction has been lost on him. It unnerves her how very little magic it would take to wipe him clean. This man, who once had been the most powerful sorcerer ever to have lived.

"I…I can't even recall coming inside. I'm terribly sorry, ma'am; sometimes I get lost in my thoughts and my feet carry me off somewhere I'm not expecting." Sheepishly, he executes a bow, and then, as he turns to leave, he pauses, catching her gaze, which is flat and heavy and grave.

With a special sort of smile she can't identify (having never seen it before –on either this man or his predecessor), he approaches, sets the bookless hand on her –bare—shoulder, and looks her in the eye.

"I don't mean to impose," he says, "but everything will be alright. Most definitely." His smile becomes a more modern version of an old one she used to threaten to shove her fist through on Clow. "That's what I always tell myself when I'm down." His hand falls, he straightens cheerfully, and she is uncertain how to react to this annoyance-turned-stranger-turned-new-acquaintance-turned-stranger-again accurately perceiving the emotion she is sure he could not possibly have detected on her countenance. "It's my…invincibly phrase, I guess." He laughs self-consciously. "Guess I'll…be going now. Sorry again for intruding."

When he has disappeared from sight, Yuuko calmly walks to her liquor cabinet and arms herself with as many vessels as she can carry, and she does not emerge from her parlor thereafter for nearly a week.

As for the price here...well.

I'm not trying to imply that Yuuko is in any way responsible for Nadeshiko's death. If I remember correctly, she doesn't do the 'taking lives' thing as payment. She just took the picture, because she's a big sap, really. Just in case that was an issue.

Also, the 'invincible phrase'? It's been years since I watched/read CCS, and I can't remember if they explicitly said if it was Sakura's phrase or if she'd just sort of picked it up from her father. Either way, in this fic, it belonged to Fujitaka first.



Mullet phones!

Bullet scones!