A/N: IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTT LLIIIIIIIIIVVESSSSS!

My Tomoyo is NOT psycho! She's just adjusted to better fit in with this fic. I freely acknowledge that she's changed from the usual anime perception of her, but that's due to in-universe forces being applied to her upbringing. She IS still that Tomoyo most people know, it's just that that's not ALL there is to her. Kinda like Bruce Wayne and Batman…

By the way, this series now has a Wiki and a trope page. Check out "2814universe dot wikia dot com". Cast your wiki-magic!

….

Kinomoto Sakura of 2814

by Shadow Crystal Mage

Chapter 3: When All Seems Lost In Black Of Night…

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters in this story. If I did… well, this would all be canon. WARNING: MAY CAUSE HEAD EXPLOSION!

….

There were times when Tomoyo debated whether she should, for those brief, brief times Sakura wasn't in her sight (or in range of her spy equipment), tell Sakura a little bit more about how the world worked. Like how one shouldn't go with strange girls wielding strange powers, in the middle of the night, after a battle against anthropomorphized incarnations of human evil.

Tomoyo could practically feel Sakura saying, "Eh? But isn't that how we became friends with the Senshi? And Green Lantern-chan? And the Fate Knights? And Ala Alba? And…"

Tomoyo sighed. She loved Sakura– now in a completely platonic way since she had chosen Syaoran, really, definitely, no joke, yeah!– she really did, but sometimes protecting her was quite difficult! She rechecked her arsenal, aware of the knife now in her purse, eyes locked on the back of the girl now leading them through the park. She could hear Negi-kun following behind them, guarding their back. She honestly couldn't see what Tsukuyomi-sensei found so attractive about him. Like Kuro-san, she had always found him to be… meh. Of course, no one could match the divine, exquisite, matchless, holy beauty of Sakura-chan. Such would be blasphemy!

There was a distinct lack of the sound of emergency vehicles, though Tomoyo had caught sight of nondescript black vans arriving when they left. Yuuno had stayed behind to talk to them, since he apparently had the higher clearance. Public Safety Division 4, most probably. She wondered how Himari-sensei was getting on with them. After all that trouble with those two demons months ago…

She shook her, head focusing on her surroundings. They were moving to the other side of the park now, which was still unsecured. The street was dark, relatively speaking, and Sakura shivered, hand rising to the stone hanging around her neck. It still emitted a soft blue glow, the light strangely comforting to Tomoyo. Sakura seemed to find it so as well, since she stopped shivering. Still, she stepped a little closer to Syaoran, causing Tomoyo to calmly and systematically grab, arm-lock, incapacitate, tie up and throw her jealousy into a dark closet with a claymore mine.

They crossed the street, and the silent, bespectacled girl led them away from the park, turning into a narrow side-street. Syaoran went first, cautiously stepping forward before waving for them to follow. A rather sleek sports car was parked there, a tall, pale-haired man leaning against the driver-side door. He wore a pair of dark glasses, despite the time of night. His face was strangely nondescript. Tomoyo guessed those were identity obfuscation glasses of some sort, like the ones Ala Alba used on their masks. Minute discolorations made Tomoyo suspect they also possessed some kind of light amplification technology or spell, which probably made up for their apparent impracticality.

"What you did should be impossible," the man said without any preamble, starring at Sakura, who stepped back slightly. Syaoran instinctively moved in front of her, while Tomoyo more subtly guarded her back. The movements did not go unnoticed by the still-unnamed man, and Tomoyo saw a hint of an eyebrow rise. "Invaders are a product of Gates. Theoretically, it requires Gate power to undo the transformation."

"Clearly, the theory is in error," the still-unnamed girl said, the correction blunt but not unkind.

The pale-haired man nodded, looking at them intently. There seemed to be something wrong with his eyes. At least, that was what Tomoyo could make out through the dark glasses. Something seemed to be moving behind them, which was very disquieting. He seemed to scan Syaoran thoughtfully, and stared at Sakura for even longer. Tomoyo knew that look. It wasn't appreciation for Sakura's natural divine divinity, it was someone realizing they were in the presence of a potential great power. Many of the Association had looked at Sakura like that, the little vampire most especially.

Good. That meant she wouldn't have to make plans to kill him for being a pervert.

The man turned to look at Tomoyo… and jerked back, one stiff arm reaching up as to guard his neck, the other rising to jab at her in a familiar gesture. It was a casting gesture, and meant… well, several, things, though in this instance, it meant he was capable of some kind of energy-casting attack that he habitually preceded with a gesture. Tomoyo didn't move, her innocent, saintly smile© not shifting one bit, and wondered how the man knew she'd been planning go to for his neck if he did anything suspicious. "Are you all right, sir?" she said, positively radiating innocence, good will, and a desire for good things towards all living beings.

The man shuddered.

The girl who'd led them was frowning. "Nazo?" she asked.

The man straightened, and his eyes seemed normal now. There was no longer any of the movement she'd seen, at any rate. He faced Sakura, though Tomoyo knew he kept his eyes on her. "I apologize. I thought… no, I must have imagined it," he said. He spoke to Sakura now. "What you did tonight was a miracle. Until now, no one believed there was any way to restore someone who had been converted into an Invader."

Sakura blushed. Tomoyo couldn't see her face but her "Sakura-chan-is-blushing" senses were tingling. "I-it wasn't anything much…"

"On the contrary, it was a considerable much," the man interrupted smoothly. "I was wondering if you would be willing to accompany me to my laboratory and repeat the effect."

Both Tomoyo and Syaoran tensed. "Oh my," Tomoyo said, her voice concerned. "But isn't it already late? If we don't go back home soon, we'll oversleep tomorrow!" Not his neck then. His eyes first.

"Sakura, I don't trust this guy," Syaoran said more bluntly. "Besides, a laboratory? That's suspicious!"

Negi raised his hands in a placating manner. "It's all right, um, Wolf-kun. We've worked with him before. He's trustworthy."

"Still, we really shouldn't go with him," Tomoyo said. The acid first then, or the mace, in case he blocked. "Why, we don't even know his name!"

The man hesitated. "Kageyama," he said. "Kageyama Reiji."

Lie, Tomoyo thought, then amended. Often-used alias. One I think I've heard somewhere before

"That's not your real name," Syaoran said. "No one could possibly be born with a name that cool naturally."

"Why, thank you," Kageyama said.

"If you wish to see if the effect is repeatable," the girl interrupted bluntly, "I have some crystals harvested from some stragglers."

Sakura frowned, looking unsure. "I'm… not sure…"

"You can do it, Star Wing-chan!" Tomoyo chirped loyally. It was the sort of sound that she knew made Syaoran's skin crawl and had him checking his back for knives, and thus one she used at every opportunity. Hey, she was only human, she was allowed some petty pleasures! "I know you can!"

Smile. Sparkly, flower-strewn background.

Everyone else but Negi and Sakura shuddered.

"Yes, it's a cold night, isn't it?" Negi said.

Sakura pursed her lips. "I… suppose I can try one…"

"Ayane-san, a crystal please," Kageyama said.

The girl, Ayane, held out a hand. "My payment?"

Sakura blinked in confusion as Tomoyo looked at the girl appraisingly, wondering if she'd be able to sign on a new mercenary. Kageyama's lips curled into a small, fond smile, but nodded. "It shall be sent to your usual account."

She nodded, and pulled a small bag out of her pocket. It clinked. She handed it to him.

He took it and opened the back door of his car, drawing out a large glass canister with metal caps at both ends. Unsealing the caps, he opened the bag and poured its contents inside. Green crystals glowing with their own luminescence poured in. Taking one, he sealed the rest and returned the bag to Ayane. He turned and held out the stone to Sakura.

Gingerly, she took it, cradling it in her hand like she was afraid it would shatter with a breath. "Um, I'm not sure how I… Oh! It's… warm. It's… alive…"

Kageyama raised an eyebrow. From his stance, he seemed to be committing Sakura's words to memory. "Can you do anything?"

"I… don't know…" Sakura said, before her expression firmed. "But… I want to try."

On its chain, the blue stone began to glow, pulsing slightly. Small, wispy tendrils, either light or mist, began to trail from it like smoke, curling into shapes. Tomoyo fancied she could see flowers, petals and feathers in the changing, minute swirl. Sakura made her determined face (SO CUUUUUUUUUUUTE! Tomoyo mentally gushed) as she took the blue stone, holding in between thumb and forefinger like it was a piece of chalk she was going to write with. It seemed pulse brighter as everyone leaned forward expectantly, the girl Ayane and Kageyama holding their breaths, clearly tense. The stone began to blaze.

Sakura took a deep breath, took a few steps away from them and knelt, laying the green crystal out on the ground. She gingerly touched her blue stone to it, face hopeful, her mind focused in trying to turn this crystal back into a human, of sending them back to their no-doubt grieving family, of letting them meet their friends once more…

There was a pregnant pause. It gave birth to a bunch of little pauses, each a disappointment that broke its mother's heart as nothing happened and kept on happening.

Sakura frowned, and her brow knit in almost comical but sincere concentration. She tightened her fingers on it, as if it was a recalcitrant bottle cap needing more force. The flow of light and patterns became more energetic as she imagined the person this crystal had once been coming back to life, of being able to continue their happy existence, but the whole lot of nothing kept getting born.

Kageyama seemed to slump slightly. He didn't move a muscle, but there was the feeling he was collapsing, becoming drained of… something. The blue stone dimmed ever so slightly.

"Nothing seems to be happening," Syaoran pointed out blandly.

"Obviously," Ayane said, voice just as bland. The two exchanged bland looks, something unknowable being exchanged.

There was a subtle rushing of air and a subtle green light filled the alley as Yuuno arrived. "Okay, that's the government sorted now, I just have to ask you to fill in the… am I interrupting something?" he asked, suddenly aware they were all focused on the stone, or in Tomoyo's case, on the stone's wielder.

The stone flared. Sakura yelped as the green crystal in her hand suddenly grew, twisting and inflating as it gained mass. It slipped out of her hand, bouncing to the ground before an unconscious, pudgy man was suddenly lying there.

There was silence as they all stared at the sleeping man, who vaguely stirred. There was awe on Negi's face, while Ayane's still-blank face stared with wide eyes.

Yuuno stared nonplused. "Was that supposed to happen?"

Slowly, Kageyama drew another crystal from the container. "Again, please?"

….

They managed to restore seven more people before the stone seemed to give out. Try as Sakura might, the blue stone only glowed dully, no longer letting out wisps and tendril.

"Come on, just one more," she begged earnestly, the little stone cupped in her hands. "Just one more time. Please?"

"Maybe it needs new batteries?" Negi suggested.

"Should have used Energizer," Yuuno agreed, tending to the last one they'd managed to revive, who was being given a complete checkup and conveniently kept unconscious to avert awkward questions.

"That old joke? Really?" Syaoran said, giving his friend the raised critical eyebrow.

Yuuno shrugged.

Tomoyo suppressed a yawn and strangled a glower. No one else seemed to notice the lateness of the hour, though the girl Ayane was leaning against the car with her eyes closed as Sakura knelt, the stone in her fingers as she tried to wave it over the latest crystal they were trying to revert. Tomoyo's brain was slightly mushy as she tried to think of the most diplomatic way to take Sakura home to get some sleep.

"It's pretty late. Maybe we should go home Star Wing-chan. You need your beauty sleep!" she chirped.

Yeah, not one of her more subtle moments.

Sakura-chan looked up, looking like she was about to protest, but Kageyama smoothly interjected. "I believe your friend is right, young lady. It does not seem like we will be getting any more results for tonight. Given the hour and your tiredness, it's best not to force the issue for now. Power, if uncontrolled or controlled improperly, could lead to disaster, and we had best not risk it with such an artifact."

"Never a good idea to use magic when sleepy," Yuuno said. His lips twisted sardonically, slightly fond, annoyed, and a touch bitter. "Something I have to keep reminding my partner of."

"Tell me about it," Negi agreed. "My Ministrae keep complaining about someone like that in the group, but they never tell me who it is. I guess they don't want to embarrass anyone." He seemed completely oblivious to the looks Yuuno, Syaoran and Tomoyo were throwing his way.

Reluctantly, Sakura stood, swaying and nearly falling over. Tomoyo and Syaoran were at her side in an instant, not even taking the time to exchange meaning-laden looks over her head. They were trying to cut down on that. Haruna kept teasing that it was a sign they were cheating on Sakura.

"I don't understood," Sakura said softly, almost mumbling. "Why isn't it working? It worked before."

"It's to be expected," Yuuno tried to reassure her. "After all, you're still not sure how it works in the first place. Maybe you and it just need a rest." He gave her a critical once over. "One thing's for sure. If you were anyone else, I'd knock you out and have you get some sleep. As you're not anyone else, I'll politely ask you to get some sleep. You can try again in the morning."

"Hoeee…" Sakura muttered sleepily. Now that she wasn't concentrating on anything, she was practically asleep on her feet. "I guess…"

"Perhaps we can make something of it," Kageyama said smoothly. "We have some small resources. If we could perhaps find a way to utilize this…" He held out his hand.

Sakura brightened even as Tomoyo and Syaoran shot flat 'do you think we were born yesterday' looks at him. Even Ayane was throwing a disbelieving look his way as Yuuno facepalmed. "Ah, perhaps you can help find out how to get it to work Kageyama-san…"

She put it in his hand before anyone could protest.

There was a brief, intense flash of blue light, and suddenly Kageyama was stepping back, blinking even with his sunglasses still on. "On... on second thought, perhaps it would be best in your care," he said shakily, still blinking and shaking his head.

"Well, we'll be off then," Tomoyo said brightly. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a business card. She nearly gave it to him before frowning, looking at it, and putting it back, hunting through her pockets before she found the right business card. "If you're still interested in doing business, have your people call our people… " She looked at her watch. "…tomorrow. Our star talent needs her rest."

They exchanged cards as Syaoran began prompting Sakura to walk, Tomoyo momentarily trotting to catch up before she fell into step next to them. Behind them, they could hear Kageyama and Ayane getting into the car and starting up the engine. Tomoyo heard Negi and Yuuno falling into step behind them as the car drove off, the sound of its engine eventually fading away.

They stopped walking, still obscured by the darkness and shadows of the alley.

"You can come out now, Kero-chan," Tomoyo said gently.

Sakura's bag opened, and the little Sun Guardian stuck his head out, looking annoyed. "Finally!" he cried, wiggling out. The distended belly from all the ice-cream he'd eaten was already gone. Not for the first time, Tomoyo had to wonder what happened to all that mass. He never used the bathroom except to wash, after all. "Don't trust him! He's suspicious!"

Syaoran rolled his eyes. "You say that about most people who don't hand you food when you first meet them," he pointed out.

"Well, my instincts for this sort of thing are good! Didn't I say that Haruna girl was evil?"

"Kero-san," Yuuno said gently, "Haruna said specifically introduced herself as 'Hello, my name is Kira Deathnote Paru-sama, and I'm the future evil empress of the Earth'. It doesn't take detective work to figure that out."

"Well, I was right, wasn't I?" Kero said proudly, puffing out his chest.

Negi sighed. "Can you please not talk about my student like that? Haruna-san is a good girl…"

"No, she's not," Yuuno, Syaoran, Tomoyo and Kero chorused.

Negi frowned at the impugnment of his student's honor. "Just because she keeps asking me and Kotaro-kun to pose for her…" He paused. "Just because she…" He paused again. "Well, she's still not as a bad as all that!"

"Hmm…" Yuuno, Kero, Syaoran and Tomoyo all chorused.

"She's not!"

Sakura began to snore where she was standing.

There was a mildly awkward silence as Sakura literally slept on her feet, the beginnings of a snot bubble starting to grow on her nose from the cold. Yuuno held up his ring hand. "Need a ride?"

….

Images. It had all been images, tinged in blue.

A figure as wide as the sky, spreading wings that went beyond the horizon, bathed in light…

"Don't be afraid…"

A man at a desk filled with paper work, full of requests and reports and little minutiae that can kill a man. The desk and papers were stamped with the A.E.G.I.S. shield…

"All will be well…"

An army, a legion of girls wearing white scarves, stitched or painted with a blue emblem, each holding a shining gem glowing with inner light. They stood arrayed to face a darkened sky, in which random, chaotic, eldritch, unspeakable, abominable, blasphemous shapes writhed, chittering in inhuman voices of unknowable things. At the legion's head, a proud figure whose arm crackled with lightning, one arm raised in defiance, a ball bearing balanced to shoot on her thumb…

"Everything is going to be all right…"

Kageyama himself charging into battle with both arms, an army of Gatekeepers at his back, against a foe he could not see, gates of light and darkness flaring to life…

"You are not alone…"

A girl with dead, empty eyes stood cupping a dying, pink light in one hand like a precious jewel as the other held a gun. And behind her, the same girl again. And the same girl again, and again, and again, each the same girl, each different, each holding the same precious light…

"Somewhere, someone is fighting for you…"

A tower in the sky no one could reach from the highest peak…

"Evocative imagery, if somewhat uninformative," Ayane said blandly from her seat at the front of the sports car once Kageyama finished speaking. She glanced sideways at the man paying her cellphone budget. "What do you think it means?"

Kageyama was quiet for a moment as he drove. "It means…" he said finally, "that I need to work on my running."

Ayane snorted. "Vain."

Kageyama just smiled. For once, he was finishing the night with fewer crystals than he had started it. No matter what, FINALLY, they had a win.

….

The hotel room was huge. It had a living room, a bedroom with a king-sized bed, a hot tub room, lots of tasteful carpet and wallpaper, and the kind of in-room refreshments so obscenely expensive they didn't bother with a price list because if you had to worry about how much you spent on the food, you were too poor to even know this room existed. It was that kind of room. Tomoyo's security detail had been alarmed they'd come in so late, but Tomoyo had waved them off. Yuuno had dropped them off right next to the building under invisibility. Tomoyo was unsure how he'd done it and didn't much care, but it seemed to work.

Tomoyo actually usually stayed in her family's condo when in the city— she was rich, not Paris Hilton!— but she figured Sakura would enjoy the treat. Though in hindsight, she'd probably have enjoyed ANY hotel room. When they'd arrived, Syaoran helped lay her out on the bed and had left to fill the bath while Tomoyo had gotten Sakura changed. Sakura had roused enough to be responsive to things like 'lift up your arm,, but she'd basically passed out the minute she'd hit the mattress. Keroberos landed next to her, and sat cross-legged next to her head, a determined, serious expression on his face as he grimly resolved to protect Sakura from harm while she slept in this strange and dangerous city.

By the time Tomoyo had sat down on the room's desk chair to take off her shoes, he'd passed out on the pillow. She laughed fondly as she set her footwear aside, rolling back her socks and massaging her toes with a sigh and looked up when Syaoran came back into the room carrying a pile of towels. "Bathtub's ready for you," he said, opening his side of the shared closet and putting the towels down on a free space.

"Thank you, Lee-kun," Tomoyo said, falling onto familiar habits. "You didn't have to do that." Her smile became teasing. "No comments about having taken advantage of Sakura while she was unconscious?"

"Can't be bothered to make any," he said a bit gruffly, letting himself fall down on the cot that had been set up for him a bit to the side. The sofa in the living room folded out into a bed, but that had seemed cruel somehow, like he was being banished, though Tomoyo had actually predicted them falling asleep there after staying up much too late watching movies and eating— or perhaps just watching Kero eat— too much junk food.

Syaoran began undoing his shoes, then paused, staring at the dark, blank screen of the bedroom TV before turning around to stare at the bed. Tomoyo noticed it too.

Sakura's stone was beginning to glow brighter again.

For a moment, they both stared at it, watching its shine grow stronger through the blanket on top of Sakura.

"I wonder if this is because it was used today or if it always glows like that when she's asleep," Syaoran said thoughtfully. "It's not as if either of them would notice…"

Tomoyo shrugged. "At least we know it doesn't need new batteries," she said cheerfully.

Syaoran gave her a withering look. "Seriously?"

She just smiled brightly at him.

He sighed, finally pulling his shoes off. "Go take a bath already, will you? The water's going to get cold."

"Such a gentleman," she murmured as she stood up, enjoying the feel of her bare feet on the carpet. "Try not to take advantage of Sakura-chan while she's unconscious."

The cot's pillow flew past her as she laughed and headed for the bathroom. Undressing, she folded her clothes and laid them on one of the empty racks before getting cleaned up. The water was nicely warm as she slipped into it after her shower. That had been nice of Syaoran. She'd been expecting having to go to sleep feeling mucky. Well, perhaps not that, but she hadn't thought she'd be this comfortable. She lay back, closing her eyes and sighing in contentment. For a moment she just lay there, basking in the warmth as her long hair clung to her neck and floated in the water around her. It was actually making her pretty sleepy.…

There was a thump through the heavy wooden door and she slowly opened her eyes. The steam had fogged up the mirror that went across an entire all of the bathroom as she found the motivation to raise her head quizzically as a few more thumps sounded.

"Now that you've had a chance to freshen up," came Syaoran's muffled voice through the thick door, "What do you think?"

Tomoyo stifled a groan, instead opting to partially submerge her face and exhaling her sigh through the water. She did it twice more. "Lee-kun, can't this wait? The water feels so nice…" she almost whined. So warm…

"You're saying a bathtub trumps Sakura's safety?" Oh, that sneaky, evil bastard.…

Tomoyo took another deep and regretful breath. "We have previous information on the Gatekeeper organization, though most of it is hearsay, apocryphal or contradictory, mostly from the wizards," she finally managed to say by way of an answer as she dredged up some of the things she remembered. "The man known as Kageyama Reiji has featured in some of them, both as an enemy and an uncertain ally. Though I think we can trust Negi's word that they've worked before. Some of those stories are old."

There was a short pause. "But will Sakura be all right?" Syaoran asked. "I remember those stories too. He tried to take over Japan, didn't he?"

"Who doesn't eventually?" Tomoyo said sardonically.

"Yes, I've heard of your plans," was Syaoran's dry reply.

Her eyebrows rose. "Who told you about that?" she demanded.

"Kuro," he said, and her eyebrows rose again at the easy familiarity. Though she probably shouldn't be surprised. Kuro was one of the few girls who regularly hung out with the 'Boys Club', as they called themselves. Or to be more precise, one of those the boys regularly hung out with, as long as Shiro wasn't around, and he regularly wasn't. As one with an actual sex life, he was treated with a mixture of reverence and a slight degree of disbelief. Technically, Zafira had one too, but his lovers and he tended to be more low-key about it, while Saber, Rin and Luvia— well, technically Rin and Luvia… weren't. "I must say, as a way of spreading the gospel of the Church of Sakura, it's unlikely to work. Sakura would cry."

Tomoyo made a note to scold Kuro about revealing such things as she regretfully decided it was time to get up. She hadn't turned off the air conditioning vent when she'd gone in, and the sudden breeze was chill, a sharp contrast to the recent warmth. She wished she hadn't let her hair hang loose while she'd been in the tub. It was now plastered to her skin and dripping, making her shiver. She reached for a towel… and paused. She eyed the rack that held the clothes she'd worn.

The empty rack. She looked around. The chrome towel racks near the door were empty. So where the wooden shelves under the counter and the racks above the toilet. The roll of toilet paper was also conspicuously missing.

"You bastard!" she said. "Syaoran, where are all the towels?-!-?-!-?"

In the silence, she could almost literally hear his smirk.

She glared at the door, and she could feel the hot, burning sensation of her sclera turning black from her Shinmeiryuu, but forced the sensation down. Blasting the door open wouldn't be productive. She grimaced as she considered putting her soiled clothes back on. Tomoyo was holding up the purple dress she'd been wearing when there was a knock . She glanced at the heavy wood suspiciously as the knock came again. Warily, holding her dress to her front, she pressed herself behind the door and carefully pulled it open, peeking her head out past the gap. The sudden rush of cold, oh so cold air from the outside made her gasped, and she shivered all over as her teeth chattered involuntarily.

One of the wooden chairs from the living room had been dragged up to the door, and one of the hotel's large, very fluffy bath towels had been draped over the back, facing the door. Beyond it, she saw Syaoran, standing deliberately in front of the room's large windows, the curtains pulled open to either side of him, outlined by the light from outside. His back was directly to her, and for a moment she longed to throw something, preferably something metal and pointy, but at the moment all she had was the towel and the dress. She could have thrown the soap or the little shampoo bottles at him, but she might have broken the window.

She quickly shut the door and began the process of getting dried…

….

"That," the self-controlled and refined voice behind him said in sad, disappointed and scolding tones, "was not gentlemanly."

Syaoran didn't turn around, just kept his gaze on the window. They'd turned the lights down when they'd come in and left only dim lights burning because it hurt their eyes, and between that and the glare coming in from the window, he could barely make out Tomoyo's reflection on the glass. She was almost right behind him, almost close enough to reach past him and touch the window.

He'd watched her come out of the bathroom behind him, tensed to move and dodge if she threw the soap and shampoo bottles at him, or possibly something pointier. She'd been little more than a silhouette against bright opening of the doorway when she'd stepped out of the bathroom, moving from shadow to shadow towards him like some kind of horror movie monster… and worse. After all, Syaoran knew there were things that went bump and screamed horrible curses at mankind in the dark and haunted the night, dark forces that wished humanity only ill.

Though it helped that half the time, they were bumping around and cursing because they were running away from him and his friends in abject terror.

When he said nothing, the voice lost some layers of refinement and became recognizably annoyed and just a touch hurt. "Seriously Lee-kun, that was totally uncool."

"I could hear you shivering from all the way over here," he said, allowing himself another small smirk. "I think it was cool enough."

He heard her snort. "Well, if you're going to resort to tasteless practical jokes on unsuspecting young women, I suppose bad puns isn't far behind."

"You were there when I walked in carrying the towels," Syaoran said. "I gave you the opportunity to suspect."

He saw the slightest bit of movement in the shadowed areas where her eyes would have been. A twitch of annoyance. Something jabbed at the back of one of his calves, an almost dainty little kick. "Not cool," she reiterated. Her voice turned dry. "I drained the bath for you. You can refill it if you want."

He finally turned around— his back had been itching like crazy— to say… something that completely slipped his mind as he found himself involuntarily staring. The highly inappropriate but strangely fitting thought that flitted through his stunned head was that Tomoyo had really pale skin. She stood there wearing nothing but a smile that was ever so subtly turning into a smirk, her long hair cascading over her shoulders but not, as convention would have normally dictated, down her chest. Syaoran made a strangled sound as he jerked his gaze up to the ceiling before he found out if that was really her natural hair color or even how cold Tomoyo found the room. "Daidouji, what do you think you're doing?-!" he managed to choke out.

Her answering low, throaty laugh was not at all seductive and held more than a touch of evil, albeit the sort of kindergarten evil Haruna and Kuro dabbled in. There was a rustle of carpet as she suddenly stepped closer to him, the top of her pretty little head coming into the bottom most sliver of his view. He imagined he could feel her body heat, and was very definite about feeling her breath on his neck.

"You know Lee-kun, most boys wouldn't consider this retaliation," Tomoyo purred, and he involuntarily backed up, his back thumping against the window as he very determinedly kept his gaze on the ceiling. "They'd consider this an invitation. "

"Not anyone I know," he managed to choke out, and she laughed that oh-so-refined-and-feminine tinkly bells laugh of hers. It was true. Heck, Negi wouldn't even understand what he was doing. Actually, the only ones who'd see it as such would be the Servants, and even though, only if Tomoyo was maybe six years older. Possibly four. Certainly not less than three. He hadn't heard any legends like that about Cu Chulainn.

"True, true," she said, and her tone said she was still smirking. He could just barely see her eyes at the bottom of his peripheral view, and they glinted with amusement at his self-imposed predicament. For a moment, he wondered about just looking down and calling her bluff, looking at her. What would she do then?

Even as his mind recoiled at the idea, she gave a final bell-like laugh, turned and headed for the bedroom, the towel dragging behind her on the carpeted floor, and closed the door after her. Finally letting himself look down, he let out a sigh, eyeing the door and wondering if she'd let him in later. With a yawn, he grabbed the towel and change of clothes he'd stashed in the drawers under the living room TV and headed to the bathroom to take his own bath.

Five minutes later, he stepped out again to call room service. Tomoyo had poured all the shampoo and soap down the toilet.

….

"Aren't you three supposed to be the boring ones?" Kuro said from her portion of the TV screen Tomoyo had attached her laptop to. "How did you end up dealing with Kageyama frickin' Reiji, of all people?"

"They tried to go on vacation," Nanoha said solemnly. Behind her, the screen was black and filled with points of light, none of which twinkled. Syaoran suspected she was nowhere on Earth, and possibly not even in the same Solar System. "They ignored the immutable laws of the universe, and look where it got them."

"Green Lantern-chan, vacations are NOT cursed," Negi said, trying to sound reasonable.

"YES, THEY ARE!" Nanoha and the Sailor Senshi who'd shown up for the video conference chorused.

Supergirl nodded. "Definitely cursed," Kara said. "I leave for a week, nothing happens while I'm in Metropolis, I go back home to find everything was being conquered by Lovecraftian people-replacing tentacley things!"

Even Chisame was nodding, and she seldom went in for what she saw as foolishness. "Remember Kyoto? And the Festival? And that time we went to Mundus Magicus?"

"Nothing happened on Golden Week!" Negi protested.

"Didn't you and Twilight Princess over there get in a fight and refuse to talk to each other for the first few days?" Haruna said.

"CURSED!" Nanoha declared with finality.

Syaoran sighed as everyone devolved into their random tangent, tapping his foot until they got back on topic. The events of last night hadn't spread very far. Yuuno and Negi hadn't been the gossiping sorts, so they'd had to tell everyone but Green Lantern what had happened. The space cop had apparently gotten a report from Yuuno or something.

"Ah, everyone, do you have any advice?" Sakura said during a lull, regaining everyone's attention.

"I can try running a materials analysis on it," Kuro said, shrugging. "No promises on whether I can tell what it is, though. I can't believe we took a glowing blue rock for granted after we checked that it wasn't radioactive! We should have realized it wasn't that simple!

"Perhaps you can try going to the source of the stone and seeing if they know anything?" Negi suggested.

"The stone came from when I sealed my Hope Card," Sakura said, holding up the pink Card. "But she said she hadn't made it. She seemed just as confused as we were."

"Lucky for us she was one of the chatty ones," Syaoran muttered, recalling it's many less talkative siblings.

"But… didn't you once say some bigshot guy made your card?" Minako pointed out. "What about him?"

Rei sighed. "If you'd been listening, you'd know that guy died over a hundred years ago!"

"He did…" Sakura said slowly. "But he reincarnated…"

Negi blinked. "That actually happens?"

"Happens to us all the time," Makoto said. "No biggie."

Sakura seemed to be slowly coming to the conclusion that Syaoran had already made. "Maybe he'd know something?" she finally said.

Syaoran suppressed a groan.

Tomoyo laughed, clapping her hands– if you'll pardon the expression– gaily. "Ah! It's been a while since we visited with him!"

"Road trip!" Kuro cried. "I'll go see if Broken-chan can teleport you!"

Damn these modern conveniences…

….

It was night time in England, but the house was brightly lit and they'd barely knocked on the door when it was flung open and a serenely smiling Eriol greeted them at the entryway. "Descendant," he greeted Sakura. He turned to a scowling Syaoran. "Cute descendant." He turned to Tomoyo. "Daidouji-san." His voice was neural. Oh. You.

"Hiiragizawa-kun," she said, all sweetness and light to match his eternal smile. "I hope my associates were not too much trouble when you visited." Yeah. Me.

"Oh, not at all, Daidouji-san," Eriol said. "I trust you received my letter." You owe me money.

She had. His list of grievances had been well itemized. "Yes. I shall remember to see to it as you always remember to give us timely warning." Like hell after you forgot to tell Sakura about that little loose end of yours.

"That's more than fair," he smiled. Oh, come on! I said I was sorry!

"I'm glad you think so," she smiled. Suck it.

"Eriol-kun, we need your help," Sakura said, clutching her hands pleadingly.

"Ah, I shall not occupy you further, Hiiragizawa-kun," Tomoyo said, still smiling. Be useful and I'll reconsider.

"Of course. What can I do for you, Sakura-chan, that you somehow managed to traverse the world on such short notice?" Eriol asked, shooting Tomoyo one last smile. Okay, fine! But I think you're being REALLY unfair! You're the one who sent assassins at me!

The language of smiles was a complicated and many-nuanced thing.

Eriol took the glowing blue stone from Sakura as she explained the circumstances surrounding it and why they needed to know more about it. "We thought, since you originally made The Hope Card– what's now The Hope Card– that you might know what caused this to appear," she finished explaining.

"Ah, yes," he said thoughtfully. "Fascinating. Yes, I see…"

"Then you can help us?" Sakura said hopefully. The stone seemed to glow brighter slightly. "You know what the stone is?"

"Hmm…" he said. "Sorry, haven't the foggiest clue."

The light noticeably died.

….

- To be continued…

….

A/N: the urge to write Sakura like Fuura Kafuka was incredibly strong. I glad I manage to resist it.

Nazo-Kageyama— this incarnation, at least— comes from Gatekeepers 21. Still unsure if Omamori Himari follows the manga or anime ending of the fight against Tamamo and Shouten Dougi. Now that the big fight in the manga is over and Kuesu is NOT dead (kinda), I'm leaning towards the former.

Yeah, Sakura's shaping up to be the oracular urchin… or at least, the cause of oracularness in other people.

I hope I don't lose steam. I have so many plans and ideas! Justice League! Puella Magi Madoka Magika of 2814! A Certain Magic Railgun of 2814! The Unequally Rational and Emotional Crossover (well, I already did that, but I have to write up to it)! Sinestro Corps War! Blackest Night! The rise of Cassandra! The inevitable Keeper appearance and subsequent wholesale ragequit of readers even though he never comes back! All Riders and Super Sentai Versus Magical Girls of 2814! Justice League Beyond of 2814! Legion of Superheroes of 2814! I even have this crazy idea of someone cloning 10,000 Nanohas, said clones being sent to another universe, and needing to start their own civilization built on Nanoha-ist ideals with nothing but their Raging Heart Copies and the Project Fate Cloning Facility they were born in. So far I'm undecided whether that universe is the Star Trek TOS universe, the Young Wizards universe, the Wheel of Time universe, Alloy of Law Scadrial or Alera. This might just be a random plot bunny that will die without ever coming to anything.

Maybe.

Please review, C&C welcome.

Until next time, this is Shadow, signing off.