Author's note: Another chapter? Aren't you happy with me? :D LOL. Thank you so much everyone! You've all been very nice and wonderful to me :) Hope you enjoy the chapter!

Disclaimer: I don't own CCS.

Chapter 23

Sakura sat ramrod straight on the outdoor sofa situated at the elevated patio. The meticulously clean cream cushion felt luxurious, but she was far too apprehensive to fully appreciate it. The sun was setting, but she didn't need much light to see the expanse of land before her. Around her, the entire patio was filled with different sets of seating furniture. The area alone was more than enough to hold a small party. From her seat, she could see the steps leading down to the pool area. For a second, she could imagine how amazing it would be to soak up some sun while reading on those trendy longue chairs. She could also see the side of the mansion. It was an imposing structure that elegantly mixed traditional with modern design. It stood proud and honestly, it intimidated her a little. She sighed, relieved that she didn't have to stay inside. Then again, if intimidation was the goal, the outside area did just as well.

Her back stiffened. Even without seeing, she felt the commanding presence joined her. Sakura stood up and turned. "Mrs. Li." She bowed respectfully. "Pleased to meet you."

"Likewise, Miss Kinomoto. Please, sit down."

Sakura complied wordlessly as Yelan did the same. Immediately, someone came over and served them their tea. The help bowed before excusing herself quickly.

Yelan motioned for her to go on ahead. Sakura almost refused. Even from a distance, she could tell that these were really expensive fine china. Her currently unsteady hands might drop them. Then again, refusing would be rude. "Thank you," Sakura uttered softly.

"Thank you for coming on such a short notice," Yelan started. "I apologize for not being able to meet you sooner."

"It's no problem at all." She smiled uneasily as she gripped the cup tighter. What else was she supposed to say? She was still trying to figure out what the older woman wanted.

"I would like to get to know you better, if you don't mind. Tell me about yourself."

It might have been phrased like a request, but Sakura knew that it was a request that should be fulfilled regardless. Now she knew where Syaoran got that trait. "Please call me Sakura." She paused, unsure where to begin. She would have known what to say if this was a job interview. Maybe she should start with her job then? "I'm an editor and I work for a publishing company. We publish books, periodicals, and we have an in-house magazine, which I also write for..." She trailed off, realizing that Yelan must have known this already. After all, she knew where Sakura lived. She shuddered at the thought that someone performed background check on her. Another topic then. "I'm, uh, Japanese," Sakura threw in randomly. She knew Syaoran's family was of Chinese descent. "My father is an archaeologist and he travels most of the time. My mother died when I was three so I haven't really known her. I also have an older brother. He's staying at Tokyo with his family."

"I see." Yelan nodded, revealing nothing. "So you're alone here then?"

"Yes." Sakura took a sip, feeling grateful at the calming sense it brought her.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty two."

"And what are your views regarding marriage?"

Sakura almost choked. Swallowing forcefully, she hedged, "I-I'm sure it's in the future." She hastily placed the cup back on the table. Drinking was dangerous.

"How about children?"

She couldn't stop it this time. She choked on air. "I – I haven't..." She struggled to clear her airways. Damn, that was painful! "I-in the future, too."

Yelan patiently waited for her to recover before continuing with her questions. "How did you meet my son?"

Oh she knew this. "At a café." Sakura breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! Something she could readily answer. She had a discussion with Syaoran about what they were supposed to say in case they got interrogated at that anniversary party. For obvious reasons, they couldn't reveal the truth so they altered it a little and used their second meeting. Yelan didn't need to know that she was crawling on the floor that time.

Yelan continued looking at her. With alarm, Sakura realized that she was waiting for more details.

"Uh..." Crap! So it wasn't a discussion. They just skimmed over the topic briefly. Very briefly. They were too busy arguing over her dress that time. He rejected all her choices and she didn't like his. In the end though, the dress she agreed on was originally chosen by him. "Syaoran helped me with something." She winced. She was a terrible liar. She knew that. Everybody knew that! "I, um, I dropped something and I was looking for it... and uh, he helped me."

Sakura made the mistake of looking up. Yelan's eyes froze her on the spot. She exuded nothing but wisdom and power. She was a woman to be regarded highly. Spewing all these fibs seemed like a grave insult.

"I was at the church," Sakura blurted. Words came tumbling out before her mind could comprehend it. "I was the one who interrupted the wedding."

Yelan hardly showed any surprise. Sakura didn't know whether to feel horrified or relieved that she took back the lie before she was called out on it.

"It was an accident. I didn't mean to." It was still painful to recall her stupidity after all this time, but her word vomit continued. "He cheated on my friend. He got her pregnant and he was going to marry another woman. I had to stop him. I had to do something, so I did and – oh! He – as in another person. Not Syaoran! Syaoran's good!" Sakura clarified and apologized quickly. "I'm so sorry. Please rest easy. I didn't mean for you to think that he has a surprise for you in the coming months."

"Go on."

She didn't need any permission to continue rambling. "So I attempted to stop the wedding, but I didn't know I was at the wrong place. I acted so impulsively. I know it was horribly foolish of me." She looked up hesitantly. Yelan neither reassured nor reprimanded her. She bit her lip, finding it extremely hard to read the woman. "Syaoran and I kept in touch after that because we planned his proposal," Sakura admitted.

This time, Yelan titled her head. That was one piece of information she wasn't aware of. "You helped with the proposal?"

"Yes." She nodded. "We arranged it together. From the place, to the food, to the ring. Every little thing, really."

"I see."

Sakura was nodding again when something struck her. "Oh, no! Please don't think that I planned it all – that I sabotaged his wedding on purpose, and then I involved him in something in order to get closer to him so I could snatch him up for myself. I swear it wasn't like that at all. I'm not that kind of person." Her wide eyes implored. "Please believe me."

"Do not worry yourself," Yelan replied. "I'm having no such thoughts." As she stared at the troubled face of the young woman before her, she knew that Sakura would never be capable of that. She was far too honest to be able to pull something that deceitful. Her innocence wasn't an act. And besides, Yelan knew her son. He wouldn't let himself be 'snatched up' if he didn't want to. Somehow, she could see what would cause fascination with Sakura.

"Then that's really good to hear." Sakura sighed. Her reprieve, however, only lasted a short time since Yelan started asking again.

"So what are your intentions with my son?"

"Wha –?" She blinked. 'Oh God!' Sakura didn't know how much longer she could hold the conversation. It seemed like she could never let her guard down. "We – I... I mean..."

Yelan's dark eyes continued to bore into her.

She slumped in defeat. She was going to end up telling her whole life story if this continued. "Mrs. Li, I need to tell you something." It was a lost cause now. She was simply incapable of keeping up the ruse. "Syaoran and I... it's not... we aren't dating. He asked me to pretend so he wouldn't have to be introduced to other people."

Yelan regarded her carefully. "Then I shall tell you something, too. I know of that fact before inviting you here."

"Oh." Sakura's mouth opened to form the word.

"You must have realized that I had your information checked out."

"Yes," Sakura agreed weakly, realizing what happened. There was a reason why the older woman did not make herself known immediately. She gathered information and made Syaoran believe that she retreated, only to strike when he wasn't there. Yelan wanted her alone. "Excuse me for asking, but... if you knew, then why did you still want to meet me?"

Yelan waved it off casually. "I just wanted to know what my son is thinking." That boy almost fooled her. He was getting good. "He gives me nothing but headache."

"Yeah, he does a good job of that," Sakura muttered, almost darkly. Now that the truth was out, she could breathe a little easier. "He's not going to be happy." She cringed. "It's one thing for you to know, but then I went ahead and spilled more." She unwittingly shared more information that he was obviously comfortable with. "Oh no, he's going to rough me up so bad the next time he sees me." She hugged herself. "My body is aching just thinking about it."

A strange look crossed Yelan's face. For the first time since their meeting started, something finally affected her carefully composed features. "My son gets physical with you?"

"Oh, don't worry, Mrs Li. It's nothing to think about. We just like to fool around." The moment the words left Sakura's lips, she instantly paled. She realized how her previous sentences could be misconstrued. With a horrified face, she backtracked. "No, no, that came out wrong. I didn't mean it like that. We don't do that! What I meant was –" She stopped short. She couldn't exactly say the truth about their physical fights either. There were no words to make it seem normal. "It's not like that. It's just..." She groaned in embarrassment as she buried her face in her hands. "I... well..." How the hell was she going to clear this up?

"Then I will just assume that you will tell me if you and Syaoran have a surprise for me in the coming months."

Sakura blushed hotly when Yelan used her own words back at her. "Oh no, Mrs. Li! It's not like that!" Then she abruptly straightened, realizing who she was talking to. Not the time for immature behavior.

"I do not believe in business mergers through marriages so social status is of no consequence to me," Yelan continued, matter-of-factly. "You're a healthy, young woman. As long as you bear heirs for the Li family, I will have no problem with the union."

Her jaw dropped open. What the fuck? How did the conversation even come to this?! She was just trying to do the right thing! She was making an honest attempt to tell the truth, but she somehow managed to make it worse. 'Only you, Sakura!' Her talent for inadvertently twisting a situation astounded even her. She tried to protest, "W-were not like that! I – we don't, it's not like that."

This regal woman sitting in front of her basically ordered Meiling to get a job. Now she was being ordered to pop out Syaoran's babies. How was that fair?!

"It's quite alright." Yelan leaned forward, effectively ending the topic. Sakura could now understand how her strong-willed friend was so easily usurped. "Now, why don't you tell me more about what my son has been up to."

Sakura trudged up the steps until she reached her floor. It was just her luck that the elevator was broken today of all days. 'Finally!' She was dragging her feet through the hallway when she noticed a figure sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall next to her apartment door. She hastened her steps until she was standing in front of him. "Syaoran? What are you doing here?"

He looked up. "I got your message." He stood, rolling his shoulders back. "I called, but you weren't answering."

She took her phone out and saw the several missed calls from Syaoran. "Oh. It was on silent." And it wasn't on her mind to check on it earlier considering what was taking place. "Sorry."

"I called the house, but they told me you were already on your way back so I just drove here after my last meeting."

"Done with them then?" Sakura asked, trying to start a casual conversation. She slid in her key and opened the door.

Syaoran nodded. "Yeah, but I have another set scheduled next week. You should give me a duplicate key."

"Huh?" She paused at the sudden change of subject. "And why would I do that?" She opened the lights and dropped her bag on the table.

He shrugged, following behind her. "So I won't have to wait outside. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it was?"

"You didn't have to wait at all," Sakura pointed out.

Syaoran ignored her. "Just have the duplicate ready so you can give it to me next time. Anyway, what hap–"

"Hey!" She cut him off. "Don't order me around. I haven't agreed yet." She turned to face him, only to stop when she got a good look on his face. "Have you slept?" She was exhausted, but Syaoran looked worse. "Excuse my French, but you look like shit."

He snorted at her description. "I'm fine. Just a bunch of business meetings." Numerous meetings with different associates and departments, all of which he had to be present. It started out early morning yesterday and dragged on and on until it reached midnight. By then, it was time for conference calls with international partners. It ended at dawn and it left him with just a couple of hours rest before he started the process all over again.

"You look dead on your feet. I'm going to go make you coffee." Sakura quickly moved to the kitchen.

"Thanks." He stretched his neck, trying to work the kink out of it.

"You should have gone home. You didn't have to check up on me."

Syaoran gave her a look, which told her exactly how ungrateful she was being. "Whatever. I know you're stalling. Stop it. What happened?"

"Eh, you know..." She stammered, focusing all her attention to the brewer. Unfortunately for her, it was a quick task. "It happened," Sakura finished lamely.


She walked closer to him and replaced his fingers that were massaging his neck. It calmed her when he did it for her, so maybe she could do it for him. She needed him calm. She needed him docile. Wasn't there a pressure point somewhere in the neck to knock someone out?


"Your mother is a very smart woman."

He leaned back. Her much smaller and softer hands felt better. "And?"

"And... she knows we aren't seeing each other." She quickly added, "She found out about it on her own."

Syaoran frowned. "What did she say? Maybe I can work around it."

"I don't think so." Sakura kept her voice light. Where was that pressure point? "She's really sharp." He didn't need to know that whatever he was planning wasn't going to work because she gave away all the details. What? The woman was persuasive! At least she managed to salvage the situation before they parted ways. She was able to convince the Li matriarch that there was nothing illicit going on. That would have been disastrous! But since it was avoided, she decided it was another thing he didn't need to know. Like she would willingly let him know of her blunder. "You know, you should have really went home," Sakura not-so-subtly changed the subject. "Don't you miss your bed? I bet you do. You could have been resting by now, you know? Your bed is so comfy. I'm jealous. I want one like that –"

Syaoran placed his hand over hers, effectively stopping her words and action. "I used to have a goldfish when I was younger."

Her brows knitted together. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Syaoran started dryly, "I thought we were talking about things that didn't matter."

What the...? The nerve of this man! Sakura placed her hands on her hips and glared. "I'm just saying –"

"And you're still talking. Go on. I yawn when I'm interested."

"You're unbelievable!" She scowled. "Your jerk energy is so tremendous! You're barely awake, but it keeps you standing."

He ignored her. "I'll use your bathroom." He needed some cold water to splash on his face to wake himself up. He was going to go home and come back some other day. Sakura wasn't going to talk tonight.

Sakura shot him one last dark look before returning to the brewer to pour his cup. 'What a jerk!' She had been stirring for a while when she realized that Syaoran had been gone a long time. "Syaoran?" She called out. He couldn't have left her apartment without her seeing him. "Syaoran?" Still no answer. She entered her bedroom, about to go straight to the bathroom door to check on him when she noticed his sprawled out form on her bed. "Syaoran?"

He remained motionless. He was lying on his stomach with his head tilted to the side. His body seemed much too big for the bed meant to accommodate Sakura's frame.

"Hey, Syaoran." She bent down and tried to shake him awake.

He didn't budge. He was more tired than he was willing to admit.

Sakura bit her lip. She felt guilty for trying to wake him, but she knew he couldn't stay here. Maybe she could give him an hour before sending him back? She nodded approvingly of her decision. She was about to stand when she noticed his damp hair clinging to his forehead. "You didn't even dry properly," Sakura muttered in a quiet, chiding tone. She sat on the floor next to the bed and brushed his hair back. She noted with surprise how soft his hair was. With its perpetually messy state, she wouldn't have guessed it. Momentarily forgetting herself, she went on to enjoy her new discovery. She made a few strokes, careful not to disturb him as he unconsciously leaned closer to her touch with each tender glide over his scalp. She frowned upon seeing the way his eyebrows were furrowed together. Even in his sleep, he was still tense. She reached over gingerly to smooth them out. 'There. Better.'

She took the moment to study his features. It was not an opportunity that came so easily. Without conscious thought, her fingers slid to caress his forehead down to the side of his face. She felt the slight stubbles and realized that he must have been really busy to go forego such a part of his routine. The fact that he still made time to come for her made her feel oddly... special. She shook the thoughts away as her hand continued its exploration. She grazed the tip of his eyelashes. They were so long, she almost felt jealous. Her touch remained gentle as it traced the slope of his nose. She would never admit it to him out loud, but he really was best-looking person, man or woman, she had ever met.

Sakura leaned in closer as her fingers hovered above his slightly parted mouth. His lips were full, soft, and yet very masculine at the same time. No one would think that this mouth almost did nothing but demand when the owner it was attached to was awake. This mouth was perfectly capable of saying offensive things, but it could also bring about the opposite effect. After all, it was from this mouth that she heard she had beautiful eyes.

'He has beautiful eyes, too,' Sakura thought as she lifted her fingers to his cheekbone. Not quite brown, but more of amber. It really was an interesting shade, made more intriguing by the knowledge he seemed to hide behind it. 'He looks better like this,' Sakura decided. He should stop glaring or giving sharp stares to anything or anyone in sight. Without the calculating look, he seemed more genuine, his curiosity clearly showing through.

Sakura suddenly stiffened when reality struck. With horror, it dawned on her that she had been staring at Syaoran's eyes – at Syaoran's opened eyes. 'Shit! Shit!' She quickly snatched her hand back and almost fell over backwards in her attempt to put distance between them. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. How long had he been awake?! Sakura turned beet red. 'Fuck!' She was caught! "I, uh..."

Syaoran didn't move. He continued to stare at her.

'Shit!' Her mouth opened and closed for an embarrassing amount of time before she finally found her voice. "I w-was just, uh..." Sakura stuttered. "T-there was, um, something on your face, and I was j-just..."

His tone was rough from a half asleep state, but she could detect a hint of amusement to it. "Must have been a lot to cover my whole face."

Sakura flushed more if it was possible. At least that answered her question. He was awake the whole time. 'The whole time!'

"I'm not sure if it was the whole time," Syaoran answered her unintentional slip. "I just felt something on my nose. So was it the whole time?"

It took a moment before Sakura understood his question. She squeaked before protesting wildly. "O-of course! I didn't touch you before that!" If you didn't count his hair, his jaw, his eyebrows, and his eyelashes. 'Oh God! I molested his whole face!' Trying desperately to gain control over the situation, she pretended to be irritated. "What are you doing sleeping in my bed anyway?"

"I love the smell of your pillows." He took a deliberate sniff before sitting up.

Her jaw dropped. Sakura was rendered speechless once again. She was obviously and painfully losing this round. "You, you..." She glared, unable to come up with a retort. Her annoyance was starting to become real when her heart began beating violently. He was doing it to her again! "What are you like that?" Sakura demanded. "What's wrong with you?"

He shrugged. "Don't ask questions you're not ready to hear the answers to."

That irked her. Oh no, he didn't. "How dare you tell me what I am and I am not ready of!"

His eyes never left her as he slowly raised his hand towards her.

Sakura noticed the action and hurriedly scrambled away.

"Exactly that."

Before she could ask what he meant, Syaoran was already standing up.

"Come on."

She blinked. "Huh?"

"I'm going home."

"Oh no, you won't!" She stood up and blocked him. She would not allow him to send her into another emotional tailspin. She was going to get her answer and she was going to get it now! "What are you doing?"

Syaoran was unfazed. He was giving her that long calculated look again and it unnerved her even more. As if finally coming to a decision, he released a deep breath. He wrapped his hand over hers. "Retract your claws, kitten."

Sakura wasn't aware that she was digging her nails to her palm. She watched, mesmerized, as his thumb ran random patterns over it. Without her knowing, the anxious lines on her forehead disappeared.


She glanced up, surprised at his serious undertone and the use of her name.

"I like you."

Her eyes widened. "W-what?" The word came out like breathless whisper.

Syaoran's voice was firm but gentle. "I like you."

The air seemed thick all of a sudden and Sakura found it harder to breathe.

He leaned in closer. His other hand was suddenly on her face, cradling her and guiding her closer to him. With a startled gasp, Sakura felt Syaoran place on open mouthed kiss to her jaw. She could feel the movement of his lips as he spoke against her skin. "I like you." He reached further and brushed his lips right below her ear. "A lot."

'Oh.' Sakura's eyes closed against her will. She was weak against the sensations he was stirring inside her. She felt light headed. She was going to faint soon if she didn't continue breathing. "I..." She needed to regain control. "S-stop." She tried to move away, but she was immobilized. All her strength seemed to have left her. "W-wait..."

Syaoran moved his head back. It was just a few inches, but Sakura was immensely grateful for the space. She was powerless against him.

"Stop it," Sakura's voice was faint as she struggled to get the words out. "What do you want? Y-you're just doing it again. Like b-before..."

This time, Syaoran backed away. His eyes narrowed for a fraction before he snorted. "Well now this is just ridiculous."

Without warning, Sakura found herself being pushed back until she landed on her back on the bed. Instantly, Syaoran was above her with his hands planted firmly on either side of her face. Before she could point out that she was right and he was just repeating what he did before, Syaoran shot her a look to keep her quiet.

"I didn't know what I was thinking trying to be subtle," Syaoran muttered, almost incredulously, to himself. He initially wanted to give Sakura time to herself to think this through – to discover him and consider the idea of them together without interference from his part. Sure he slipped sometimes, wanting to give her the push, but he consciously held back, believing that Sakura would soon come to terms with what was undeniably there between them.

However, Sakura was dense – incredibly so. And she was suffering from a strong case of denial. It was a lethal combination that she shrouded herself with. Syaoran promptly realized that he was getting nowhere fast. Why did he try to hold back again? Why did he even think that going against the core of who they were when together would actually work?

"Sakura." His voice was compelling yet there was a tinge of exasperation to it. "I'm not playing games with you." He looked at her straight in the eye to convey how serious he was. "I meant what I said." He let the tip of his fingers graze over the beautiful blush that was starting to appear on her cheeks. "I like you."

Sakura swallowed, licking her suddenly dry lips. The action effectively caught Syaoran's attention. The corner of his lips slowly curved upward.

"But if you still can't understand..." He lowered his head and his breath fanned across her face. "I'm more than willing to show you. It's very... tempting."

The way he was staring intently at her lips left absolutely no doubt in Sakura's mind. She could no longer make excuses after he made it unmistakably clear for her.

"Do you understand now?"


After a few excruciating seconds, Syaoran finally disentangled himself and sat up. Sakura remained frozen on her spot. Her mind was blank.

"I'm not asking for an answer, kitten," Syaoran continued easily. "I just wanted you to know. I underestimated how thick you are." He rolled his eyes. "If ignorance is bliss, you must be the happiest woman alive."

That snapped her out of her trance. "Hey!" She protested as she sat up too. She had not recovered, not at all, but she found it almost effortless to slip back to their banter. "I am not!" She was neither thick nor ignorant! "You just said you liked me! Why aren't you any nicer?"

"Should I be?"


He paused. "No, I don't think that's necessary." Syaoran stood. "I should get going."

Sakura instinctively accepted his extended hand to help her stand up. They walked out of the bedroom, with Sakura still trying to process what happened. She was overwhelmed – truly and awfully overwhelmed. A million thoughts seemed to suddenly plague her, but she knew that she wouldn't be able to sort them out with Syaoran's distracting presence nearby. Heck, she just met with his mother! Prior to that, she was frantically convincing herself of their friendship status. And now this? She needed a moment alone – stat!

"I'm going to need the coffee. Is it ready?"

"... Coffee?" She repeated obtusely. "Oh. Right." 'Get it together, Sakura!' "Coffee." She went back to the kitchen and discarded the abandoned cup. It was already cold. "I'll just go pour a new one."

Syaoran leaned his hip on the counter as he watched Sakura moved carefully around him. A couple of minutes later, she was handing him a bright pink travel mug. He looked at her dryly. "Thanks." He took the mug with one hand while the other reclaimed hers.

"Hey!" She objected, but Syaoran ignored her and tugged her to the door. "I don't have to walk you to your car, do I?"

"No. Because then, I would have to walk you right back." Syaoran faced her when he stepped out of the apartment. "I'll return this next time." He raised the mug.


"Goodnight." He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss on the side of her head as if it was the most natural thing to do. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Sakura stilled. Then she berated herself. She seriously needed to stop having that kind of reaction. Her eyes narrowed. Syaoran needed to stop giving her reasons to. "I haven't said anything yet, but you're already taking an awful lot of liberty with this."

"Then stop me." He raised his brow, almost in challenge. "The next time I do it, tell me to stop or push me away."

"But I never know when you'll do it." She huffed, indignant. "And you just do it because you like seeing me flustered."

"I do it because I want to," Syaoran corrected. "Seeing you flustered is a bonus." He shrugged casually. "You're always welcome to try it so we'll see if you have the same effect on me."

"Ha! You wish!"

Peeking through his bangs, he gave her a boyish grin. "I really do."

AN: Syaoran was never really the patient type, eh? Thoughts? I would love to hear them! Please review! :)