Syaoran woke as if from a deep slumber.
There were voices nearby, muffled by the walls. As Syaoran opened his eyes, he saw the ill-defined lines of the room. He blinked several times, trying to clear his vision. When the shapes didn't resolve into the defined lines he was used to seeing, he sat up. The pale sheets brushed against the skin of his arm, rough to the touch, made of cheap material. Through a small window on the edge of the room, he saw a sliver of moonlight, surrounded by stars. But like everything else, it was distorted somehow. The voices outside sounded off, as well. Muted. As if his ears were stuffed with cotton.
Yet he would have been hard-pressed to forget this room. He'd spent so much time here, before he'd left Infinity.
As his mind surfaced from the haze of sleep, he realized why everything seemed so blurred. His heart quickened at the thought. But when he lifted his hand in front of his eyes and tried to extend his claws, nothing happened. I'm human again, he thought, a shudder of relief running down his back. Of course. I never went with Seishirou in this reality. He never turned me into a vampire. Fai never killed me . . .
Outside his flimsy door, he heard Kurogane speak. "Don't use that tone with me," he growled. The line echoed in Syaoran's head for half a second. He'd heard this exchange so many times, he almost knew it by heart. "It's bad enough he thinks we all want him dead."
Syaoran turned to the door, resigned.
"I do want him dead," Fai said coldly. "Him and his clone both."
Syaoran thought back to that day, to his reaction, to the way those words had carved such deep trenches into his heart.
He turned the knob and stepped outside, moving carefully with his less coordinated human body. He saw Fai flinch and go still, saw Kurogane's eyes flash to his face.
The first time he'd overheard this conversation, he'd made a point to ignore it, to pretend he had merely woken up to sate his thirst—an ordinary, human thirst back then. This time, he stood in the doorway, letting the door close behind him.
Kurogane thawed out first. "What are you doing up?" he asked, a strange look flashing across his face. "You should've been asleep hours ago."
Syaoran smiled; Kurogane had said the same thing the first time he'd walked in on this conversation. Yuuko let me keep my memories of that timeline so I wouldn't make the same mistakes a second time. And if she returned us all to this moment, then that must have been when everything changed. He looked up, his smile turning rueful. "I overheard," he said softly.
Fai flinched, head whipping up to look at him. For a moment, his single eye danced between blue and gold. Slowly, brokenly, he lowered his head. "So you heard that."
Syaoran walked over to the refrigerator, pulling a carton of orange juice from the door and setting it on the kitchen table. "I heard," he said, opening the cupboard to retrieve a glass. The only sounds in the tiny apartment were those of his actions: the clink of the glass hitting the table, the sound of juice filling the glass as he poured. He lifted the glass to his lips and drank, relieving the parched feeling in his throat.
Human food for a human body.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Fai asked, arms wrapped around his torso as if shielding himself from a bitter wind.
Syaoran looked up from his glass. "All I can say . . . is that you won't hate me forever."
The magician glanced up at him, shock warring with desperation on his face. But the hatred was gone from his expression, washed away like silt in a river.
As if Fai had never truly hated him in the first place.
"What's going on?" Kurogane demanded. "Why are you being so calm about this?"
"Why?" he echoed, taking another sip of his juice. It took him a moment to formulate a response. "Because all dreams must end. Even nightmares."
They both stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. Perhaps, given all the hallucinations and nightmares, he had.
But there were worse things to lose.
"I'm glad," Syaoran murmured. "Truly, I'm glad I got to meet you both, even under such dire circumstances. I'm glad to be part of this journey, even if it hurts sometimes." His vision blurred slightly, and he opened his eyes wider, surprised to find his eyes moist with saltwater. In an even softer voice, he continued. "Most of all, I'm glad we're all alive to fix what once went wrong."
"Went wrong . . ." Fai echoed. "What do you mean?"
He smiled again. I can still cherish the time I have with them. Even if that reality will never be anything but a forgotten dream to them, I'll remember. I can set right what once went wrong. "Just . . . Nothing. It doesn't matter so much now. Everything is exactly as it should be." His eyes drifted to Sakura's bedroom door, his dull ears picking up on the sound of her uneven footsteps. A moment later, she stepped outside, dark rings around her eyes. "Sorry. Did we wake you?"
Sakura blinked sleepily, then shook her head. "No." Her eyes roved the room until she found the clock hanging up on the wall. "Why are you all still up?"
There was a pause. Fai broke the silence. "We were just talking about what we should do next. To set everything right again." His blue eye flickered to Syaoran. All the malice of a few minutes ago had faded from his gaze, making him look exhausted.
Sakura cocked her head to the side, something flickering across her face. Not as if she remembered the last moments in that dream-forged world, but as if a ghost of her feelings lingered, coloring her emotions now. "I see," she said.
"Would you like something to drink?" Syaoran offered, rising from his chair. "We have orange juice. Or milk, if you prefer."
Their gazes met for a fraction of a second. A flicker of intensity crossed her face, as if she was trying to remember something her feathers hadn't given back to her yet. Or trying to remember something that would never come back to her. After a moment, the intensity faded from her eyes and she looked down. "Either is fine. Just a small glass."
Syaoran got up and pulled the orange juice from the fridge again, filling one of the smaller glasses with it. He walked over and handed it to her.
Her eyes flitted up to his, then paused there, scrutinizing his face. A wrinkle formed between her eyebrows. "Thank you . . . Syaoran-kun."
His heart thumped against his ribs as his lips stretched into a smile.
When the princess had started calling his clone "Syaoran-kun," the Other had been dismayed. But now, the mere acknowledgment that he had a name sent a wave of warmth radiating out from his heart. It was a promise that everything would be okay, that one day, in the absence of his clone, she might come to love him again.
It wasn't perfect—he could have never hoped for things to be perfect—but it was enough.
"I should go to bed," he said, finishing the last gulp of his orange juice. "Goodnight, Sakura-chan. Goodnight, Fai-san. Goodnight, Kurogane-san."
There was a pause, followed by a quiet chorus of "goodnights" from everyone else.
He opened his bedroom door, then closed it, his hand automatically moving to lock it. A moment later, he twisted the lock back, leaving it open for them. They were welcome here. They could visit him whenever they wanted. He didn't have to isolate himself anymore.
Syaoran stripped off his clothes, intending to don a pair of pajamas. When he heard the faint jingle as his jeans hit the floor, he pulled his nightshirt over his head and knelt down beside the pile of fabric. It can't be, he thought, rifling through his jean pockets.
But it was. In his right pocket, where he had diligently stored it ever since finding it in Cirrus, sat the bolt from Sakura's leg brace. He held it up, letting the moonlight glint off the smooth surface. His thumb traced the rounded top.
It meant so many different things to him: hope, love, a connection to the princess he had loved and lost and the clone he loved now. But more than anything else, it served as a reminder.
Syaoran set the bolt on his desk, underneath the lamp. It rolled a few inches, then came to a stop, catching the light.
All dreams must end, he reflected, a soft smile blooming across his face. Even nightmares.
Well, that's all folks. I hope you liked the ending, and I hope you liked the story. Thanks to all of you who read and reviewed. Thanks to everyone who told me they'd cried over the course of this story. Thanks to everyone who smiled and didn't say so. Thanks to everyone who kept track of this story even when I couldn't update it as often as I wanted to. And thanks to all the unnamed readers who stayed up late to finish this story.
Essentially, I ended it at a point where you could assume the price they paid would eventually lead them through Ceres, Nihon, and Clow. Some things would be different from the original series, given that several important characters died throughout the course of this fic, but I thought it would be interesting to connect the ending to the original series as if they had all actually experienced it in-story, and mostly forgotten about it due to the nature of their wish to turn back time to save Syaoran.
And with that, I bid you all a fond farewell.