A/N: I don't think I'm EVER going to really get over the ending of xxxHOLiC, and I will never stop believing that wasn't meant to be the end, even if we never see anything else from CLAMP about it. I will always imagine a better fate for my beloved TRC/Holic characters than they received. But I do think that writing this story helped to fill in the gaping hole that was left behind after reading Chapter 213. I'm officially ending it here, even though I find I enjoy writing from the perspective of Shizuka. I ended this with a lot of hope, and I don't want to screw it up by writing any more in this plotline. So, all this to say, I hope this story helped you as much as it helped me. If any of you have the courage to start reading Gate 7 . . . let me know how it goes.
I Will Be
I've never been one to talk much after sex. But I suppose that's when happens when you continually seek out for sex the sort of people you wouldn't otherwise talk to. I normally don't even stay after sex. Tonight, with my cheek stuck to his skin and my ear hearing the thumping of his heart, I find myself speaking. His hands are moving through my hair, lifting the sweat-soaked tips away from my neck.
"I always did love your hands," I murmur, drowsy. "Even when I was a kid."
The hands in question pause. "Do you think," he says, sounding extraordinary with my ear on my chest and with his voice accompanied by a fine quiver of amusement, "that we could never talk about you being a kid? At least not when we're in bed?"
That's what he says. What I hear is "I want to stay with you."
I chuckle softly, turning and moving upward and seeking to reverse our positions. He's smaller than me, so I'll be the one to hold him through the night. I don't want to let go of him, even when I fall asleep.
"Fine," is my reply, which is also "That's what I want, too."
I think we could be good at this double-speak.
"So . . . You like my hands?" he says, breathing against my throat and briefly making me think I might be able to go a third round. I'm exhausted from two, but I don't think I'll ever stop wanting this, not in this lifetime.
"Yes, but I was thinking that they might not be my favourite thing about you anymore . . . I like your mouth quite a bit, too."
He starts to shove me away in a flurry of embarrassment—but then he doesn't. Instead, he settles back down against me.
"Shizuka," he mumbles, but says nothing else and closes his eyes.
He is acknowledging that I am not him, and now I can close my own eyes and sleep, secure in the fact that in this one thing, I am only myself and I will have an entire lifetime of sharing my lover with no one, not even me.
I am woken by the feeling of something soft but heavy falling over my face. I had been sleeping extremely comfortably, with one leg thrown over his and my nose buried in his hair. I'm not sure when his warm presence disappeared, but I can't say I'm pleased to discover his absence while simultaneously being suffocated by a piece of fabric. I'm not even awake yet, and now all this?
"What?" I manage to grunt, trying to remember how my hands work so I can get this offending object off my face. I can only assume that he is still in the room and did this to me. "You? What?" is the best I can come up with, finally freeing myself of the heavy press of fabric.
"Put that on."
I was unaware that a night of perfect sex would leave one feeling so groggy—almost hungover—the next morning. I don't think I've ever slept so well, and I wasn't quite ready for that to be over. All he says is Put that on, obviously assuming I don't need anything else to orient myself back in reality. I struggle to sit up. After much rubbing of my eyes with the heels of my hands, I regain the ability to look at something and recognize it. The fabric he threw over me is a dressing robe, which apparently is being used in lieu of an alarm clock.
"There are better ways to wake me up," I mutter.
"So grumpy in the morning," he says, his teasing tone doing nothing to fix that.
"I'm nicer after coffee." A fact he already knows, I've slept at his shop plenty of times.
He is suddenly in front of me, then kneeling down, and then he's straddling my lap, with his knees pinning down the robe across my legs and effectively holding me in place. His kiss is long, deliberate, and full. My sluggish brain barely gets as far as Whoa and by the time I'm ready to respond, he's already standing up again.
"Better?" he drawls.
Somehow, while he slept, he became awfully sure of himself. Not that I'm complaining, far from it. Who the hell needs coffee anyway?
"Good. Now put that on."
The robe. Right. There is a reality beyond fantastic kissing.
"Do my parents want us or something?"
"I'm calling Syaoran."
He then proceeds directly to doing so, calling up a circle and blinding me with glowing light, and leaving me with the choice of scrambling to put the robe on or affording Syaoran the opportunity of seeing myself in all my glory. I opt for the robe. I'm aware that they're technically the same person, at least as I understand the situation, but the differences between them seem clear enough on this point.
A small portal opens, revealing a startled face. I see a man who used to be a boy I knew and still is trapped in that boy's decisions. His face is still youthful, but it is youthful in the way mine is—we are nearly the same age. It's not the unnaturally frozen state that has kept the person beside me from ever changing. He is definitely older, and his mature face is alight with joy that takes the years right back off.
"Watanuki!" he cries out, his voice deeper than my very old instincts expected. There's a scar down his forehead that divides his eyebrow in two, but doesn't seem to have touched his eye. I don't know if he had that before. "I can't believe you found a way to contact me!"
My Tsubasa gives him an encouraging smile, revealing his happiness at seeing this person again. "Syaoran, how are you?"
I suppose it would be strange if they were both calling one another Tsubasa, but since I can no longer think of him as "Watanuki," it makes "Syaoran" feel just as unfitting. But then, I think he actually enjoys being called Syaoran. It's what his princess calls him, after all.
"I'm fine," he says dismissively, "but let's talk about you sending Mokona away and losing all contact with us."
I had been aware of just how chilling Tsubasa can be when he's angry, but I was unaware that Syaoran could manage the same thing. His eyes, usually so warm, have become rather flinty.
"We couldn't travel to you anymore, we couldn't even call you, I thought something had happened to you—"
"As you can see, I'm fine. I told Mokona that I just wanted him to be happy, instead of stuck in the shop with me. Has he been happy?"
"Well enough," Syaoran says brusquely. "Other than worried sick about you, like the rest of us."
It is at this moment that the rest of them make their appearance. I can see that the door behind Syaoran is opening and not only the Mokonas are bouncing through, but the two men who have accompanied Syaoran on his journeys.
"Hyu!" the blond man says happily, rushing forward to join Syaoran at the opening of the portal. "Watanuki! How are you?"
"Hello, Fai," Tsubasa answers.
"Huh," Kurogane mutters, walking up behind them. "I thought it was just this idiot mage who didn't get older. It's a wizard thing, isn't it?"
The same does not hold true for Kurogane. The line that always appeared on his forehead when he scowled is now a permanent fixture, and there is a certain stiffness to the way he moves his arm that I suspect has become normal for him. He must be approaching forty, by now.
And I know that this acknowledgement of it has hurt Tsubasa. His unaging face is a sign of his choices, and a reminder of how bitterly he has come to regret them. For my part, I am comforted in knowing that he will age normally from now on, and I won't linger on his regrets. But I do move to stand closer to him, offering him my silent support. As always.
That's the moment that Kurogane meets my eyes and frowns deeply. Somehow, he has just figured me out. I have no idea what Tsubasa is planning to say to them, so I don't do anything. I just hold Kurogane's eyes for a moment, then turn my face to my companion.
"At least you had someone with you," Syaoran says, seeing me.
"You're not in your shop." Fai is the one who points it out. "Where are you?"
"My bedroom," I reply while Syaoran's eyes are frantically searching the scene behind us. I think Fai and Kurogane had both noticed the tableau we were presenting immediately, but it's only just dawning on Syaoran that I'm in a dressing robe, Tsubasa wearing little more, and the bed behind us is rumpled—it looks thoroughly debauched. I do believe that I'm feeling rather proud of myself, at the moment. And the minute he notices my satisfaction, he's probably going to punch me because there's something in his spirit that's still feisty and seventeen.
For a minute, this is the only thing that comes out of Syaoran's mouth. He's probably the only one on his side of the conversation who has not realized that I am me and not—well, me. Even the Mokonas . . . The upset looks they're wearing seem to be directed more at him than at me, actually. It makes sense. They were devoted to Yuuko first of all, and his actions must seem gravely disappointing to them. Especially when he sent Mokona away to isolate himself still further.
But that was then, and this is now. Perhaps we can say he was ill, and now he's well again. It's something like that, and it hardly matters to me what we call it. He's with me. That's all I care about.
"You left the shop," Syaoran finally says. "How . . .?"
"I've become that powerful," he answers softly. Then his face is as hopeful as I've ever seen it. "I think— I really think I can do it, Syaoran. I can send you home."
The expression on the man's face is truly something to behold. I'm glad I was woken up and allowed to be present for this, because there is no way to believe the universe is all bad when looking at Syaoran. He is completely speechless. And a hand falls on each of his shoulders, one slender and pale and the other sturdy and tanned. His two friends are there to support him, even though their own hearts must be struggling just to take it all in. Their journey is finally coming to an end.
"I— I can't— thank you. You can finally leave, and you could do anything, but you're doing this for me first, and . . . Thank you."
"I think we'll have to come to where you are," Tsubasa says, almost lightly, almost glibly. "I think it would be easiest to send you, if I were physically with you."
"I'm coming," I tell him, very much in spite of myself. I know it's unnecessary to say it, but there's still something in my soul that clenches tight with horror at knowing freedom to leave means freedom to leave me behind.
Thankfully, he seems to understand. There's even a flash of regret in his eyes because he knows why I needed to say it.
"Of course you are, did you think I was going to let you get away with being lazy and not helping?" he says, mock-scolding to get us away from such melancholy thoughts.
"Thank you, Doumeki," Syaoran blurts out. "For staying with him all this time."
I was wondering when we'd get to this moment, but I don't think I ought to be the one to say it. It should be Tsubasa, but I suddenly don't think he's going to. This is a joyous occasion, or has been so far, and this will change it. But Syaoran is the only one who doesn't seem to realize the truth.
It's Kurogane who breaks it to him.
"That's not Doumeki."
I know because I was told that these men came to visit the shop a couple of times, and that Kurogane and my great-grandfather, with hardly a word spoken between them, seemed to reach a perfect understanding available only to brothers-in-arms. It's no surprise to me that he knew.
"I could tell because I can see it," Fai murmurs, tapping his unnatural eyes. "How did you know?"
Syaoran is stiff with shock while Kurogane explains.
"He has a different posture. And he's standing too close to him."
"So who are you?" Syaoran blurts out.
"I'm his great-grandson."
"Almost true," Fai murmurs thoughtfully.
"What?" It's obviously not the sort of question that actually requires an answer, so we all keep silent while Syaoran's chilling anger takes over. "You— how long has it been?"
"How long has it been, Watanuki?"
"Since you last saw me?"
"Yes," he bites out.
"Nearly a hundred years."
"A— a hundred—" he stumbles over this concept, then shakes his head ferociously. "You fool," he spits out. Then he turns around and marches to the door we can see in the portal, walks out of it, and slams it behind him.
The white Mokona springs forward to follow him, but Fai catches her. "Not now," he says, and his own voice is very, very cold. He looks back through the portal. At me. There are tears in his eyes, anger or sorrow, I'm not sure which. I don't really know him. "You are a fool," he says, and for a minute I don't know who he's talking to. Then he marches out of sight, although he doesn't leave. He's still close enough to listen.
I look at Kurogane, who still remains there. "Do you think I'm a fool?" I ask him.
"Doesn't matter what I think," he replies. "It was your decision to make."
He is the one who is capable of seeing this from my perspective, and I'm glad to have somebody who does. He knows. He knows it doesn't matter how it happens, it's only being at his side that matters. My Tsubasa has me, and I will be there to shield him from all the anger directed his way. It's nice that somebody might have my back while I'm doing that. Well . . . A look at Kurogane's face does not convince me that he is a particularly forgiving individual. Maybe he'll have my back. Then again, it's not like I need it.
Syaoran, having thought the better of his temper, comes back in and slams the door just in time to hear me say, "That's right. It was my decision."
Hearing this coming from me at least gets them all back in front of the portal, although none of them look particularly happy. Mokona is weeping.
"If you're not Doumeki, why do you look just like him?" Syaoran asks, and his voice is trembling with the war for control.
"You can see it, can't you, Fai?" I ask the blond man, who nods a little. "His soul is in me. I'm . . . reborn. It gets confusing at times. I don't actually have his memories, but I've heard so many stories about him and have so many of his feelings in me that there isn't much difference sometimes. There's days when the word 'me' gets a little flexible. Although we've established just who's bed we're in." If I had lost sight of who I was at any point last night, I think I would have gone stark raving mad.
"What is your name, by the way?"
I can't help the fact that my smile is a little mocking, and a little sheepish. "I think my great-grandmother, his wife, knew this was going to happen. She must have told my mother about it before I was born, because she insisted on naming me Shizuka."
"Remind me that I'm going to give Kimiko hell for that," Tsubasa mutters.
"Does that mean it wasn't like that for you and Doumeki?" Syaoran asks, looking both confused and angry now.
"No. He was married."
"I think it might be different each time," I add in. "I know you have met people who are bound together in different dimensions and they weren't all bound in the same way."
Fai puts on a teasing, pouting face at this. "I refuse to believe that there is any version of me or ever will be that doesn't want to take Kuro-pu and—"
He is unable to finish because there is a scarred, calloused hand clamped down over his mouth. It was a good effort, but Syaoran is not amused, and even the Mokonas are not taking this and running with it.
"How could you let it go on for so long?" Syaoran asks, his voice deceptively soft.
Tsubasa begins a halting explanation of what has happened in the past hundred years. But what is clear to me about him and his motivations does not seem entirely clear to him. He knows he sent great-grandfather away for the sake of the family, but he can't seem to explain his reasons for remaining in the shop, and for deciding to leave it with me. He is miserable, trying to come up with something to say and having to face how little he thinks of himself.
"Yuuko," the white Mokona weeps softly.
"You let her down," the black one adds.
"You let everyone down," Syaoran snaps.
"Especially Doumeki," Fai whispers, his hand clinging to the one that was so recently over his mouth.
I step in to his side and put my arm around him and draw him up tight against me. "It doesn't matter anymore. We've gone past that. The only thing I care about is where we are right now, and I won't let any of you say anything else about it to him."
Kurogane hadn't said anything anyway, and my words make Fai smile rather bitterly, so I know I won't have to worry about the two of them. But Syaoran is my Tsubasa, in a way that is similarly strange to the way that I am Doumeki Shizuka, and he is capable of cutting him down in ways worse than anyone else. But he looks down at the way my hand grips my lover's waist, and the way he is leaning into me, hanging his head in shame and breathing unevenly, and something in the man's face softens at last.
"Okay," he says, even though nothing about this is really okay. "I would have waited a hundred years, too," he adds, almost too quietly to be heard. I think it's me he's coming to an understanding with me, more than with his own other self. But it's a first step. There will be time later for the rest of it. We are free now, after all. As free as we want to be, in any case, although there are some bonds that are very welcome and have led to a pleasantly warm and slender body pressed against me.
"She'll be glad you're moving forward," Mokona says, even though I was distracted and don't know which it was. I think it was speaking for both of them.
"Are you coming right now?" Syaoran asks, taking a step backward as though we're simply going to step through the portal.
"No," he says, still leaning into me. "We have to say goodbye to his family. And I want to make sure I haven't left any loose ends in the universe. We'll come in a few more hours." I wonder, briefly, if the differences in the passage of time will negate this and make it seem immediate to them. But Syaoran is nodding.
"We've been here for a while, too," he says, indicating the world they're currently inhabiting. "We ought to say goodbye to a few people."
"Fai," Tsubasa says suddenly. "I may need the assistance of your magic. Will the two of you come back to Clow with us? I think between us, we can manage to give them bodies again."
Kurogane suddenly grins. "You mean I'll finally be able to kick their asses?"
Fai looks up at him quite seriously, though. "I know how much you want to go home. Are you sure?"
"It's only going to be, what, a couple of days? I've only been back to visit a couple of times in fifteen years, you idiot. I can handle a couple more days. Let's give them time to get used to the idea of you moving in."
I know it will cost him to wait, no matter what he says—even now, I can see the anticipation building in him—but he wants to see all this completed as much as any of us.
"We'll see you soon, then."
I know the conversation between them isn't entirely over, but the rest of it will go unsaid. There's no reason to be angry and accusing over something that's already over with, and any condemnation Syaoran might offer can be heaped right back on him, since he's the reason my Tsubasa exists to begin with. It would get them nowhere to argue. Instead, they'll move past it. They'll go on to the joy of returning Syaoran to his Tsubasa—although I suppose we'll call her Sakura. I am most eager to meet the beautiful princess I have heard tales of these past hundred years. I know my Tsubasa will be glad to see her in reality, outside of dreams. And the other Tsubasa . . . He's shaking. I can see his hands shaking, even through the portal.
"Okay. Wait for us, and we'll be there."
"Where are you going, after that?" Syaoran blurts out.
We both shrug. The portal closes on those beloved faces, and then it's just the two of us again. He steps more fully into my embrace, and accepts a kiss of reassurance. I don't need to tell him anything, and he doesn't need to say anything to me. Last night was answer enough to the regrets and need for forgiveness. We are free from those, too.
"I don't think I mind," he says, sounding surprised. "That I don't know where we'll go."
I certainly don't mind. I like the way that all these universes are spreading out around us so invitingly. Freedom is almost as beautiful as this one thing that still chains me.