Gallery of Broken Hearts
(17: the healing of hearts)
In time, summer fleeted from the grasps of Tomoeda High graduates. The days of beach parties and road trips peppered with laughter whirled past them in bright, technicolor blurs. The web of life seized these adolescent hearts in autumn, weaving them complex paths and placing them before forks in the road. College and university plans were finalized, many tearful goodbyes were uttered— some friendships stayed the same, some friendships ended, some friendships changed forever.
When they were thrown into the throes of college life, they began measuring time in cups of coffee and late nights filled with studying. The lighthearted life of high school hadn't prepared them for such rigorous courses in the least, but majority tried their best, giving their all. It would be worth it in the end.
Just like their mirthful summer, yet in a much different way, their college days began blending together— the lines between tomorrow, today, and the day before became as indistinct as a wisp of thread.
Three years passed by in what felt like a matter of heartbeats.
Tomoyo Daidouji, now a third-year student at the Tokyo University of the Arts, leaned a shoulder against the doorway of her best friend's bedroom. Winter sunlight was already leaking through the curtains, yet a sleeping body remained motionless beneath a thick blanket on the bed just below the window. Long, wavy brown hair splayed across the floral pillows. Even as the alarm clock began beeping at 11:00 AM, the lump on the bed did not move.
"Some things never change," Tomoyo murmured, tilting her head fondly. She glanced at her shining wristwatch and waited a good minute or so before making her way in. She switched off the alarm clock and grasped the edge of the blanket, giving it a strong tug. "Good afternoon, sunshine!"
A tired groan sounded from the bed as the blanket fell to the floor. The young woman who had been beneath it instantly curled up into a ball. "Holy…! Tomoyo! It's freezing!"
"That's why you need to get up and get your blood circulating!" sang Tomoyo, pulling her friend's arm and managing to get her to sit upright. Finally, she was able to the lovely (albeit sleepy and grumpy) face of Sakura Kinomoto, now a third-year university student at the University of Tokyo. "You should know about these things better than I do; you're the med student."
"Being a med student is exactly the reason why I need to stay in bed." Sakura brought a slender hand to her mouth and yawned loudly. "You know how much sleep I need to catch up on after all those nights spent in the lab…"
"Regardless, I'm not letting you sleep your winter vacation away. We have plans, remember?" Tomoyo pointed to the pink suitcase resting against Sakura's wardrobe. "And you do remember what today is, right?"
At last, a smile crept onto Sakura's lips. "I do."
"Perfect, because Meiling is already waiting for us on the yacht! You know she won't hesitate to leave us and celebrate New Years on her own if we don't get to the marina soon."
"Oh, you're exaggerating." Sakura laughed, dismissing Tomoyo's comment with a wave of her hand. She stood up, raising both arms and stretching catlike. She shook her long locks away from her face and yawned once more. Then, she caught Tomoyo's gaze, and they both deadpanned. Sure, Meiling Li was known for being quite reckless and, at times, an irresponsible friend— but would she really sail away into the firework-speckled horizon while drinking margaritas without them…?
"She totally would," the best friends agreed in unison, and Sakura immediately rushed into her bathroom for a quick shower.
The Plum Jade (affectionately named after the English definition of Meiling's name) was one of the Li family's prized luxury yachts. She gleamed a creamy white, her exterior sleek and shimmering against the water, stationed securely at the dock as she awaited her passengers. Stunning and not overwhelmingly large, Plum appeared to accommodate no more than six people.
It was going to be a cozy New Year's Eve.
Sakura looked on with awe as she and Tomoyo made their way down the wooden dock. She had never been on a cruise before. Being close friends with two of the most affluent young women in Tomoeda meant occasionally experiencing the wealthy lifestyle, yet Sakura didn't think she could ever get used to it. Still, she found it exciting that she was going to be floating upon sparkling, endless seas while celebrating not only a year's worth of accomplishments, but a new beginning as well.
Two men in suits took the young women's luggage and disappeared into the yacht to store them appropriately. As Sakura and Tomoyo stepped onto the ramp leading into the yacht, a familiar, bright voice chimed from above. They followed the sound of Meiling's words to the main deck.
At this new height, Sakura was instantly captivated by her surroundings. Even in the wintry breeze, she felt overwhelmed with a pleasant feeling… and although they weren't off to sea just yet, simply standing atop the boat was enough to thrill her. She cast a long, earnest glance around the main deck— ogling the glossy wooden floor, the leather couches along the golden railings— she imagined that as soon as they set sail, they would have the perfect view of crystalline seas from this spot.
"Welcome aboard!" Meiling squealed, and Sakura and Tomoyo were amused (yet not surprised) to see their friend wearing a short sailor dress beneath a long fur coat. There were even tiny anchor earrings dangling from her ears; 'a nice nautical touch,' Meiling had thought. "It's been a while, Miss Kinomoto. Or should I say, Dr. Kinomoto?"
Sakura laughed humbly. "Oh, Meiling. I'm nowhere near becoming a doctor. That's probably seven years away…"
"Still, I should get used to calling you that now. You're going to be my future kids' pediatrician, anyway." Meiling winked. "But enough talk about professions and whatnot. How's your love life? That's what I'm really interested about."
"You never change, Meiling." Sakura shook her head, still smiling. "And the real question is, what love life?"
"Sakura!" gasped Meiling, bringing a hand to her mouth. She exchanged glances with Tomoyo, who only nodded solemnly. "Don't tell me you haven't been dating."
Sakura looked away sheepishly. "Don't get me wrong, there were a couple of nice guys here and there, but nothing serious. I don't really have time to date…"
"Ah, what a load of bull, sweetie. This is the holiday season! You need someone to keep you warm during these cold, cold nights!" With that, Meiling snuggled against Tomoyo, who giggled. "You need to put yourself out there— you're not getting any younger, you know."
"Um, Meiling, I'm only twenty-one."
"Exactly what I'm saying!" Meiling exclaimed, then her expression brightened as if a brilliant idea had struck her. She clapped her hands together. "You know what? I'll do you a favor. I'll set you up with someone. He can be your date for the cruise."
Sakura paled and shook her head. "No, Meiling, really… that's not necessary…"
"Why? Is there a certain reason why you're holding back?" Meiling purred, her lips curling into a sly grin. "Maybe because of a certain someone from the past?"
"N-no, that's not it…"
"Then what's wrong? C'mon, I know the perfect guy! He just graduated, too. And he's quite the looker. Isn't that hot? An attractive, educated guy with a good job?"
"Well…" Sakura hesitated, her voice faltering. She couldn't help but feel a little nervous. But why? Why didn't she feel open to meeting someone new? Wasn't that what the New Year was about? New beginnings?
"You guys will hit it off, I know it," assured Meiling, beaming as she reached for both of Sakura's hands. Suddenly, she peered over Sakura's shoulder. "And, speak of the devil, here he comes."
"W-wait, Meiling, I d-don't think—" Sakura's eyes flew wide as she stumbled over her words. Meiling's hands were on her shoulders now, and an uncomfortable warmth flushed over her skin as she felt herself being turned around. "To tell you the truth— you were r-right. I'm still not over—"
Kind, coppery eyes. Dark, mussed hair. A gentle smile.
"—Syaoran." By this time, Sakura was breathless, and the name left her mouth in a whisper. Being pushed into swift half-circle just moments ago left her dizzy, but what truly made her head spin was the sight of the person suddenly standing before her.
There was no hiding her shock. Her lips were parted slightly. Her eyes were large and glistening. She thought she would melt away into the ocean at any second, black out and wake up sputtering for air only to realize that she had dreamt it all. It wouldn't be the first time.
"We'll leave you two alone," Meiling cooed, linking arms with Tomoyo and leading her down into the lower deck. These words were unheard by Sakura, who could only momentarily hear nothing but her own thudding heartbeat in her head.
His voice guided her back to reality.
"So, this guy you're not over…" began Syaoran, crossing his arms over his chest and slowly taking a step forward, reducing the distance between them from six feet to five. It had been years since they had been this close. "I guess I'm going to have to beat him up before having any chance with you?"
It took a moment for Sakura to answer as she waited for her heart to compose itself. Finally, she found her voice, and managed to utter a rather demure response. "Yeah, maybe."
"Ah." Syaoran's gaze fell as he let out a short laugh and lifted a hand to tug it through his hair. It was such a familiar, nostalgic gesture that Sakura nearly lost her breath all over again. "He must be an idiot for not staying by your side."
"Maybe a little." Sakura smiled softly. The hints of sadness in her expression weren't unnoticed.
There was a long moment of silence, save for the thrum of icy waves brushing against the side of the yacht. They simply stared at each other. The sun was high in the sky now, illuminating the vivid green of Sakura's eyes. The late-December breeze picked up, sending chills over their skin and tousling Syaoran's hair. They were studying one another, desperately trying to figure out what had changed about the other in the past three years.
Their thoughts were identical: You're so different now, yet exactly the same.
"What are you doing here?" Sakura asked quietly, her gaze unmoving.
Syaoran cleared his throat as he, too, fell out of the mutual daze. "Well, what Meiling said was true. I just graduated. Don't you remember I went through an accelerated program?"
"I remember. I just didn't know you would come back to Tomoeda after college."
"I didn't think so, either, until I got a job offer here. So I thought, 'Why not go back?' Tomoeda is home. And…" Syaoran hesitated, wetting his lips before continuing. "I left some pretty amazing things back here."
"'Things'?" Sakura echoed inquisitively.
"People. A person." Syaoran's warm smile returned. "You."
A blush proceeded to spread across Sakura's face— gentle heat that fought against the cold air. Although she smiled faintly, she wouldn't look at him. Even as she remained silent, Syaoran understood. There was no way they could simply pick up where they left off after three years of being separated. They weren't teenagers anymore. This wasn't a high school romance. Too much had happened, on both ends. There was a lot to talk about.
Behind the door leading into the lower deck, Meiling and Tomoyo huddled together as they peered through a tiny, circular window.
"…Do you think we're getting a little too old for spying?" Meiling whispered, yet she couldn't help but resume watching the heartfelt reunion. Syaoran and Sakura didn't seem to be talking much; there was a lot of disjointed eye contact and shy smiles, and things certainly weren't the same as it was back in high school.
"Never," gushed Tomoyo, setting down her camcorder as soon as she was satisfied with the captured footage.
"Oh, here they come!" hissed Meiling, and they back away from the door. Tomoyo quickly moved to sit down on a small couch and Meiling rushed to lean against the counter of the minibar. Everything was so exquisite, but compact.
The door opened, momentarily letting in the chill from outside as Sakura, followed by Syaoran, came down the small set of stairs. While Syaoran latched the door closed, Sakura joined Tomoyo on the couch.
"We should be setting sail soon," Meiling informed them, ignoring her companions' vaguely exasperated expressions as she began to pour herself some champagne. "What? I know it's early. But it's New Year's Eve. Live a little." She took a sip and sighed happily, then pointed a pinky finger at Syaoran and Sakura. "By the way, you guys have adjoining cabins. Hope you don't mind."
Sakura mumbled something incoherent and averted her gaze. Tomoyo giggled and slid an arm comfortingly around her friend. Syaoran joined Meiling at the minibar and gave his cousin a stern look.
"You're diabolical, you know that?" he said under his breath.
Meiling winked at him. "Thank me later."
By sunset, the Tokyo Metropolis grew tinier with every passing second, turning into a mere set of silvery columns in the distance as the Plum Jade continued to sail. They had been seaborne for quite some time now, enjoying the yacht's many amenities, as a group and separately. While Meiling enjoyed mixing her own drinks at the minibar and entertaining herself with a healthy dose of tipsy solo karaoke, Tomoyo joined the chef in the small kitchen to observe dinner preparation in fascination, and Syaoran caught up with the elderly captain, who had been a dear friend of his since childhood.
Meanwhile, up on the main deck, Sakura admired the oceanic view, her elbows perched against the golden railings. She clasped her hands and rest her chin atop them, dreamily watching the crystalline waves roll by. A shiver coursed through her body as the wind picked up. As if perfectly on cue, Tomoyo appeared by Sakura's side, passing her a mug of steaming hot chocolate. A dollop of frothy whipped cream hid the cluster of puffy marshmallows beneath.
"From the chef," said Tomoyo, a mug of her own in her other hand, which she extended for a toast. "Here's to the year ahead of us."
There was a grateful look on Sakura's face as she clinked her mug against Tomoyo's. "What do you think this year will bring us, Wise One?"
"I wish I knew the answer… but one thing's for sure." Tomoyo's eyes sparkled, smiling subtly. "Our friendship will remain the same. Always."
"Forever," confirmed Sakura, nodding sincerely. Finally, she took a sip of the hot chocolate, a burst of rich sweetness and heat spreading over her tongue. A touch of whipped cream clung to the tip of her nose as she lowered the mug. Tomoyo laughed melodically, and Sakura grinned.
"Why aren't you with Syaoran?" Tomoyo asked lightly, lifting a hand and gently swiping the cream away.
"Oh, I don't know…" Sakura turned to face the ocean again, holding her mug close. "Should I be?"
"Well, it's been years since you've seen each other. I'd like to think that you two would want to catch up. All day, you guys have just been sort of… glancing at each other. As if there's something you want to say to one another, but you two are holding back. There's no need to be shy, you know. It's just Syaoran," Tomoyo teased, but her voice was calm and soothing. There was a knowing look in her eyes; the look that she'd often had while observing Sakura and Syaoran in high school. "But the short answer is… yes, you should be with him."
Sakura bit her lower lip, unsure of what to say. She was saved when Meiling called out from the lower deck.
"Come on, everyone! Dinner's ready!"
The best friends linked arms and made their way down into the lower deck's dining area, which was a small yet incredibly refined space with a round glass table surrounded by white leather chairs and illuminated by candlelight. There was a window beside the table, allowing for a close view of the ocean's churning waves. Sakura settled down on a seat beside Tomoyo, finding herself sitting directly across Syaoran, who had looked up and smiled at her as soon as she entered the room. She returned that smile now, retrieving her cloth napkin and draping it over her lap.
Meiling was spiritedly chatting away with the chef, who had come to personally serve the first course, which was an appetizer in the form of delicate egg drop soup. After the chef served a generously aged red wine to the four of them and bowed out of the room, Meiling focused her attention on her companions.
"We have such a magnificent meal ahead of us," she told them excitedly, already indulging in the wine while the rest tasted the soup. Her cheeks were flushed with pink. "He made eight courses, just like I asked him!"
"We might be eating 'til next year, then," Syaoran inputted humorously, and Meiling glared at her cousin. Sakura tried not to sputter out her soup as she choked on a laugh.
"Speaking of bringing in the New Year," began Tomoyo, lowering her spoon from her lips, "is the chef the man you will be sharing your New Years kiss with, Meiling?"
Meiling's intoxicated blush shifted from pink to scarlet at Tomoyo's question. The chef was not much older than they were— he appeared to be in his mid to late twenties— and he certainly wasn't terrible to look at, with his sandy hair and friendly, dark brown eyes. In fact, he was rather handsome.
"D-don't be ridiculous!" stammered Meiling, looking down at her soup. "We have a strictly professional relationship!"
"I'm sure he's quite the professional," teased Syaoran, and Tomoyo and Sakura giggled as Meiling hid her embarrassed face in her hands.
"What's all this talk about a New Years kiss?" queried Sakura, who had heard Tomoyo and Meiling mentioning it a few times throughout the day.
"I'd like to hear about this strange phenomenon, too," added Syaoran, glancing at Sakura, who began fighting a blush as soon as she realized his eyes were set on her.
"You two seriously haven't heard about the New Years kiss?" Meiling asked, lifting her head and looking both incredulous and disdainful. "It's when you kiss that special someone at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. If you don't do it, you're destined to a year of loneliness."
"How tragic," Syaoran and Sakura droned in unison, both of their voices faking sadness. They exchanged flustered glances at their matching response, while Tomoyo and Meiling snickered.
A quarter before midnight, Sakura stood upon the main deck once more, deciding that the farthest end of the Plum Jade was her favorite spot on the yacht. Standing there, she could still see Tokyo and its faraway city lights, a spectrum of blinking colors. She knew that behind the glow of Tokyo was the smaller city of Tomoeda, her hometown. She thought of the innocence she had left there… the naivety and the childhood memories. It wasn't as if she hadn't made plenty of good memories at the University of Tokyo— she definitely had, and with Tomoyo's school a mere twelve minutes away from her own, she always had her most cherished friend nearby. But nothing was the same as home.
Once again, a chill ran down Sakura's spine as the wind speed heightened. Someone was next to her now, but this time, it wasn't Tomoyo. She felt a warm, heavy coat being placed upon her shoulders. With a small start, Sakura turned to face Syaoran. She gripped the collar of the coat and tugged at it to keep it from sliding off.
"Thank you," Sakura murmured, smiling appreciatively at him.
Syaoran shrugged, as if to indicate it was no big deal. He mirrored her earlier stance, resting his elbows against the golden railing. "Watch the fireworks with me?"
Sakura nodded. They both cast their eyes upward, where the sky was a black canvas splattered with shimmering stars and luminous dust. The moon was full, hugged by a resplendent halo.
"It's so difficult," whispered Syaoran, "seeing the stars in Hong Kong."
"I know what you mean," Sakura quietly agreed. "It's the same for Tokyo."
There were many late nights when Sakura would peer out of her laboratory's window to look at the sky, only to see hazy darkness and the moon. And during those moments, she couldn't help but wonder if— somehow, somewhere, nearly two thousand miles away— Syaoran was gazing at the same moon she was.
Before Syaoran could reply and possibly take the conversation in a sad direction, which Sakura feared, she quickly added, "Tell me about the job offer you mentioned this morning."
"I've been given the opportunity to run one of the labs in the University of Tokyo."
"No way." Sakura looked at him in disbelief, eyebrows raised. "That's my school."
"I know," Syaoran replied, his mouth forming a barely perceptible smile.
"And I do lab work there…"
This piece of information, Syaoran did not know. He blinked. "Do you?"
"Yeah." Sakura couldn't help but laugh at the coincidence, and Syaoran joined in. "Well, looks like I'll see you there."
Syaoran smirked, and Sakura saw a glimmer of the schoolboy she once knew. "No competing this time, okay?"
"Can't make any promises," Sakura answered coyly, bumping her shoulder against his. This small action seemed to breathe life into the kind of relationship they once had when the hostility died down, three years ago. The playfulness, the teasing— the brief, lighthearted touches that held so much meaning behind them.
"Look, Sakura…" Syaoran suddenly began, and Sakura held her breath. By the tone of his voice, she knew what was coming, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to face the conversation just yet. "About losing contact with you… I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Sakura's voice was tiny, as if she had to reach into her voicebox and coax her words out. She swallowed dryly. Her eyes found the city lights once more. In the middle of that lambent mass was the university she attended— the place she often felt enslaved to, regardless of how much she enjoyed her major. "It wasn't just you— it was me, too. We both got so busy… and it sort of just… happened. We didn't mean for it to, but it did."
"But I'm still so sorry that it did happen. I should have reestablished contact." If Sakura had the courage to look at Syaoran, she would have seen how his eyes reflected the rawest kind of remorse. "You know… every now and then, back in Hong Kong, I'd be staying up late, writing up a report or studying… and I'd just stop. I would sit there for a while and do nothing except think about you and what you might be doing— if you were sound asleep in bed, if you were dreaming, if you were dreaming of me, maybe…" At this, Sakura looked at Syaoran through the corner of her eye. "Or if you were awake and doing work like I was. Maybe you were out in the town, hanging out with some spectacular guy…"
Sakura interrupted him, shaking her head and finally looking at him straight in the eyes. "I've done all of the above except for the last one, with the reason being all of the above except for the last one."
They smiled meaningfully at one another. Syaoran stepped closer to her and placed his hands on her shoulders, holding her at an arm's length. His brows met as he stared at her, as if something concerned him— or perhaps he was deep in thought.
At first, Sakura was puzzled. "Syaoran…?"
"Give me a sec. I just want to look at you." Syaoran let out an embarrassed laugh, which Sakura could only echo for lack of a better reaction. "I mean, it sounds weird, and I know it doesn't make sense, but—"
"It makes perfect sense, actually," Sakura suddenly replied with newfound enlightenment. This… this was what they had wanted to do all day: simply look at one another, reacquaint their memory with the sight of the other.
Syaoran observed the way Sakura carried herself— it was as if she had acquired a new sense of confidence over the years, and truly learned how to take pride in her accomplishments. Her hair was no longer chin-length, but instead waved slightly past her shoulders, healthy and silky as ever. Though still slender, she had developed a few curves— and while her waist seemed quite narrow, her hips flared out maturely. He lifted a hand, face alight with wonder, and traced the contour of her cheek. Her skin was still supple; her eyes were still precious green gems.
Sakura followed suit, bringing a hand to lightly trail her fingers along Syaoran's jawline. He was certainly taller now, with a more filled-out frame and broader shoulders. In spite of getting it styled shorter, his dark brown hair was still a mess, and it only grew more unkempt in the wind. His features held the same spirit as she remembered… a steadfast wolf on the hunt.
On the other side of the main deck, Meiling and Tomoyo cheered toward the sky as they began to count down toward the New Year. Syaoran and Sakura remained silent for a moment, not moving from their current position.
Sakura gazed up at Syaoran, her eyes twinkling beneath her lashes. "Do you really not believe in what Meiling said?"
"Hm?" Syaoran lifted a brow. He moved his hand from Sakura's cheek to push away a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "The New Years kiss thing?"
"I'm not that superstitious, so no… I don't really believe in it."
"Ah…" Sakura averted her gaze, dropping her hand from Syaoran's face. As she did this, Syaoran smiled at her, and caught her hand before it fell to her side. Tenderly, he pulled her close, prompting her to look at him once more.
Syaoran bowed his head until his mouth was beside Sakura's ear. His warm breath tickled her skin as he murmured, "But I'm going to kiss you anyway."
A resounding pop echoed through the icy air, and a stream of sparkling light beamed into the sky above them. It disappeared momentarily before erupting into an explosion of gold, and it was as if radiant glitter was spreading itself across a dark blanket, spiraling down like gleaming honey. Several more crackles sounded, and reds and blues and greens streaked into the sky, filling the cloudless night with vibrant colors.
The fireworks were nearly deafening and Meiling and Tomoyo's cries of excitement were shrill, but Sakura and Syaoran didn't hear any of it. In their world, everything was silent, and nothing and nobody else existed except the two of them.
Syaoran moved back to catch Sakura's anxious gaze before leaning down and resting his forehead against hers. They closed their eyes, blind to their breath visibly mingling in the air like transparent veils. Then suddenly, Syaoran brushed his mouth against Sakura's, and a pang of affection manifested itself deep in her chest, somewhere behind her ribcage— likely within her heart. Her heart jumped, and it almost hurt because she was feeling so much, but as soon as the jolt subsided, she felt every bit of wonderful warmth she had missed over the years— the warmth that came only with kissing Syaoran. The coat around Sakura's shoulders collapsed to the ground as their lips drew together and apart like the ocean's tides upon sandy beaches, his hands tangled in her hair, her eyelashes tickling his heated skin.
When they finally broke apart, they were breathless and trembling, slightly feverish beneath each other's touch. Their faces burned with a type of happiness that only silly, dizzy fools felt. They held each other and looked up, watching the final firework rise and plummet in the sky like a blazing, falling star.
Sakura closed her eyes once more as she felt Syaoran dip down to delicately press his lips against her forehead.
"Happy New Year, Sakura."
There was no denying the comfiness of the yacht's beds; Sakura had never before encountered anything so cozy and yielding to the tired body. The mattress was downy, with just the right touch of springiness, and contained a built-in heater. The blankets were thick and fluffy. It was like resting on a warm cloud. But if she had to be completely honest with herself, Sakura simply wasn't used to it, and that was reason enough for her not to be able to fall asleep.
Soon enough, she was sitting upright and slowly swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. She stood up, her pink satin nightie falling just above her smooth, milky knees. Yawning, she reached for her white fleece robe and draped it over her shoulders. It wasn't long before she found herself standing before the door that separated her cabin from Syaoran's.
She lifted a hand and hesitated for a moment. Then, she tapped her knuckles against the wood and held her breath.
"…Sakura?" A soft, vaguely confused voice sounded from the other side. Sakura's brows lifted in both slight surprise and relief. It didn't sound like she interrupted his sleep. He was still awake. Even so, she didn't know what to say.
What am I doing? she thought to herself, embarrassed.
After a minute of silence, Syaoran spoke again. "Sakura…? Open the door, if you want." Another pause. "I promise I'm decent."
That ushered a small laugh from Sakura, setting her at ease a little. She resolved to turn the brass knob, pushing the door open— revealing the sight of Syaoran lounging on his bed, wearing a plain gray T-shirt, blankets drawn up to his hips. In his hand was the remote to the small, flat-screen TV positioned high on the wall in front of him. He had been listlessly flipping through the list of available movies, but now his eyes were on Sakura.
"Can't sleep?" he asked, switching off the TV and setting the remote aside. He quickly raked his eyes away from the short nightie peeping from beneath Sakura's robe. When she nodded, abashed, the corner of Syaoran's lip lifted in a half-grin. "Do you need a bedtime story?"
Sakura was instantly reminded of the distant time Syaoran had climbed into her bedroom window and comforted her, then later helped her fall asleep after telling her a story. She leaned against the threshold, shaking her head at him. "How are you at lullabies?"
"Not so good, I'm afraid. You might have to go to Tomoyo for that one."
They smiled at one another. Sakura hugged her midsection and looked down, tracing circles on the fine wood floor with a foot as she spoke. "I didn't realize how difficult it'd be, falling asleep in a boat. I feel a little queasy."
Concern began to etch its way into Syaoran's visage. "Do you need to throw up?"
"No… I feel like I need to lie down, but at the same time, that makes me even more nauseous." Sakura sighed. "Maybe I just need to get used to it. Maybe I just miss my dad and brother…"
"Come here," Syaoran said gently, and Sakura's head lifted in controlled surprise. He beckoned her with a hand. When she hesitated at the doorway, Syaoran chuckled and rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to seduce you."
Sakura pursed her lips, trying not to laugh. She slowly made her way to the other side of his bed, gingerly sliding under the covers. She initially left a good deal of space between the two of them, but Syaoran decidedly shifted closer to her, and eliminated the distance by wrapping an arm around her shoulder. Naturally, Sakura's turned her body slightly toward him, and her head fell perfectly against the crook of his neck.
Finally, she had found the ultimate comfort.
"Sometimes, being next to someone helps you feel steadier," Syaoran mumbled against Sakura's hair. "How do you feel now?"
"Much better," Sakura replied in a whisper that tingled Syaoran's collarbone. Her eyelids were already beginning to grow heavy. After a moment of silence and steady breathing from the both of them, Sakura asked, "What's your reason for being awake?"
"Well, I just… can't stop thinking about earlier." Syaoran began. She felt his throat rumble imperceptibly as he let out a soft, content chuckle. "That was the happiest I'd been in a long time."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, it wasn't like I was depressed while studying in Hong Kong. It was just… different." Syaoran sighed, and Sakura observed the slight rise and fall of his firm chest. She placed her hand there, savoring the warmth and the heartbeat therein. "But up there, with you— I was deliriously happy. I thought I was going to jump out of my skin and float away because I was so happy. And… I know I'm not making sense anymore. I'm just tired." He chuckled again. "But I'm glad. I'm glad to be here with you."
"Syaoran…" Sakura's brows met at his heartfelt words. They exchanged sincere looks.
Syaoran withdrew his arm and turned his body to face Sakura, gazing into her sleepy eyes. He lifted a hand to cradle her chin between his thumb and index finger— a gesture he hadn't performed since high school.
"I know it's not going to be fancy boat rides and fireworks all the time. Even after we get off this yacht tomorrow, I'll still feel this way." Syaoran's words overflowed with affection. Sakura's eyes began to widen. "I've always felt this way."
Syaoran's face was inches away from hers. He was looking at her with eyes awash with devout emotion. Sakura was lost in that ardent gaze, adrift in a coppery world flecked with radiant gold. She didn't know if she was still breathing— or if her heart was still beating, or if it was beating too fast for her to notice.
As if revealing a secret that had been desperately longing to escape his chest for lifetimes, Syaoran whispered, "I've always been in love with you, Sakura."
Instead of replying right away, Sakura only leaned toward him, closing her eyes and eradicating every bit of space left between their lips. Syaoran's eyes shut as he responded fervently. They both smiled into the kiss. Their bare legs were entangled beneath the sheets, and there was a sort of new, thrilling heat emanating from their touching skin.
Finally, as they pulled away slightly, Sakura spoke, her small voice riding on a happy sigh.
"And I've always loved you back."
There weren't any words left to be spoken for the night.
As Sakura snuggled against him once more, Syaoran couldn't help but notice how nicely their bodies fit together. Her hand was smaller than his, but their fingers seemed to meld seamlessly— not a single millimeter of space separated their touching palms. It was peculiar, the way every part of the human body seemed to be able to fit with the body of another— crevices between fingers, the bend of the elbow, the dip of a collarbone, the soft curve of lips. They were beings made with counterparts; being made for love. They were two completely different people, two completely different pieces of a puzzle. But around the edges they matched up perfectly, and together they clicked to make a beautiful picture: two hearts connecting as one.
There was a silent understanding that they would never be broken again.
A/N: …And there it is! The end! I want to thank everyone who stuck by this story even though there were times when I'd take forever to update. I wouldn't have been able to finish this without all your kind words and support. Keep an eye out for my future stories— there will definitely be more, and they will definitely be CCS. I already have a new one planned out, and if all goes well, it should be out sometime in January.
Have a Happy New Year, everyone, and stay safe!