Wow, it feels like it's been centuries since I posted anything here. I wrote one half of this fic a long time ago, and only finished it up recently, so there might be some inconsistencies in personality and writing style. I also have an epilogue written up (which I still need to proof-read), so I'll post that if anyone's interested.
Hm, I wonder if people still read my fics. xD
Disclaimer: I don't own CCS and/or any of its characters.
"…uh, five more minutes…"
Sakura awoke to a gentle, yet incessant prodding. She blinked once and rubbed her eyes blearily. Then, she suddenly shot up in her seat. Everything around her was pitch black. Without a moment's hesitation, she turned to her left, only to be met by more darkness.
'This isn't right,' she thought. 'I usually have a nightlight on so I can walk around at night if I have to…so I know I'm not at home.'
At the realization, fear began to creep into her thoughts. "Okay Sakura," she told herself, taking a deep breath. "Calm down and try to remember what happened."
"I had to stay back to rewrite my test, so I told Tomoyo and everyone else to go ahead. I left school an hour late and didn't want to walk home, so I took the bus…"
Her thoughts came to a halt as she noticed the seat in front of her. It was battered and covered in a dull grey cloth that was peeling in some areas. That, plus the worn handle, brought her to a conclusion.
"I fell asleep on the bus!" she exclaimed. Then, she heard a snort.
"Took you long enough to figure that out," said a voice to her right. Startled, Sakura whipped her head around to meet the bored, amber eyes of the man next to her. Her heart began to pound.
'When did he get here? Could he…have been the one who was poking me? That's how I woke up in the first place…'
Nervous, she slid away from him and closer to the window. "W-who are you? What do you want?"
The stranger scoffed and looked away. "You try to help someone and this is what happens…" he muttered to himself. After this, he remained silent and Sakura grew more scared.
'What is he planning to do to me…?' Dark thoughts formed in her head and her breath began to come in short gasps. He noticed this and seemed to struggle with himself for a few moments before suddenly standing up and sticking out his hand.
"Come on," he said, avoiding eye contact with her. "I'll take you where you want to go."
She blinked. "H-huh?""
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed in frustration. "What does it look like? You're stuck on a bus that isn't going to move until tomorrow morning. It's already late, you have no idea where you are and I doubt you'll be able to find your way anywhere."
"You'd…help me?" she asked, surprised. "Why?"
His ears turned red. "It's the decent thing to do!" he blurted out. "And I can't just leave you here, it's…not right."
Despite herself, Sakura smiled. Although he was a stranger, he seemed alright. Carefully, she took his hand and pulled herself to her feet. Her legs felt numb and she stumbled a little, grabbing onto a seat for support.
"Thank you," she whispered after a few moments. The stranger said nothing as they slowly made their way out of the bus.
The moment they stepped outside, he strode past her and into the darkness. Scared that she would lose him, Sakura hurried behind him and soon matched his pace as they walked silently along the sidewalk. It was then that she looked around her and realized that she truly had no idea where she was. All she could see was darkness and, at regular intervals, dense foliage where the street lamps illuminated the trees to her left. Mentally thanking herself for having worn her jacket to school that day, she pulled it tighter around her and looked around anxiously.
"Where do you live?" His voice cut through the silence like a knife and snapped her out of her thoughts. Startled, she met his gaze as he turned around. When he raised an eyebrow, she realized that she had not yet answered his question.
"Uh…in the Upper District of Tomoeda…" she replied softly. "My house is sort-of on a hill, and there are a lot of cherry blossom trees…" she paused when she heard him scoff.
"I should have known," he said. "You're one of those rich, spoiled types. It's no wonder you were so lost on the bus."
A wave of anger washed over her suddenly, and she stomped her foot. "Don't you dare make assumptions!" she yelled. "I am NOT helpless or spoiled! I can find my way around Tomoeda just fine in the daytime!"
She breathed heavily and watched for his reaction. He stared back for a few moments, and then turned around suddenly and continued walking without a word. Startled, she jogged ahead to keep up with him. They walked on in silence once again, until Sakura sighed.
"And for the record, my family is not rich," she said softly. "We may have our own house, but it's small and cozy…well, it used to be cozier when okaa-san was around…"
He didn't reply and she sighed again, afraid that she might have upset him by yelling. They carried on and she stared at the back of his head as she walked, subconsciously admiring the way the lamp light illuminated his hair.
After a few more minutes (or was it a few hours?) he stopped abruptly. She almost ran into him and opened her mouth to speak, but he interrupted her.
"Do you recognize anything?" he asked. Realizing that she had not been paying attention, she looked around. And sure enough, she noticed a large post-box nearby.
"Ah, I know this place!" she exclaimed. "That's the post-box I walk past every day. And…oh!" She ran over to a nearby street lamp. "This is the lamp-post I ran into last week while rollerblading. See? The dent's still there!" She pointed to a mark on the side of the post and he looked at it before shrugging.
"Never thought you to be the violent type," he murmured. Before she could think of a smart response, he had already walked on ahead yet again.
"Why does he keep leaving me behind," she huffed silently before following. Soon enough, they came to a medium-sized house with a small front yard. A bicycle was leaning against the wall and she recognized it as her brother's.
"This is my house," she told him as she stepped forward. He nodded silently and motioned for her to go ahead. She did just that, but stopped at the front gate before going in. Turning around, she waved at him and smiled.
"Thank you for helping me!" she cried, the happiness evident in her tone. He simply crossed his arms and looked away, embarrassed. Sakura giggled and ran up to her front door, ringing the doorbell.
Her father answered the door, a surprised look on his face. "Sakura-chan! Why are you home so late?" he asked her. She blushed and looked down at her feet.
"Sorry otou-san. I fell asleep on the bus and got lost…but a kind stranger helped me get back home!"
The older man frowned. "A stranger?"
Sakura shook her head rapidly. "Don't worry otou-san! He was really nice to me, even though he didn't say much…oh! I didn't get his name!" She turned away, only to see that the stranger was gone. There was no sign of him – she couldn't tell which way he had gone.
Fujitaka patted her head kindly. "It's alright Sakura-chan. You can introduce me to him some other time, okay?"
"Only if I ever see him again…"she replied dejectedly, before following her father into her house, closing the door behind her.
A few weeks later…
"Sakura-chan, you don't look so good…"
Sakura looked up to see Tomoyo leaning over her, a frown on her face. She offered her friend a weak smile before standing up slowly, leaning against a nearby wall for support.
"I'm fine Tomoyo-chan," she insisted. "I'm just a little tired after cheerleading practice…and I haven't been getting much sleep…"
"Maybe you should take the bus home today," the other girl suggested. "I don't want you to collapse from exhaustion on the way."
"Tomoyo-chan, I'm fi-"
"-no you're not." Sakura started at the serious tone in her friend's voice. She was genuinely concerned. "Please, Sakura-chan. It would make me feel a lot better if you took the bus. I would walk you home otherwise, but I have choir practice…"
She sighed. "Alright. But just for you."
By the time she had packed up her things and begun to walk to the bus-stop, she was in a daze. Struggling to keep her eyes open, she dragged her bag along the sidewalk, grunting every now and then with the effort.
'Maybe I'm in worse condition than I thought…'
As soon as the bus arrived, she stepped in and walked directly to the seat at the back of the bus. Without a second thought, she leaned her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes, beginning to drift off to sleep almost immediately…
"So I guess this is a regular thing for you, huh?"
She jolted upright and looked around frantically before meeting the eyes of the stranger, the one who had helped her. Cringing inwardly at the familiarity of the situation, her cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. He noticed this and smirked.
"Forgotten me already, have you?"
Eyes widening, Sakura shook her head rapidly. "N-no, of course not! I remember you – you're the one who helped me out before."
The corner of his mouth turned up slightly, but he said nothing in response, turning his head to face the seat in front of him.
"Um…I didn't get your name the last time we met." Her voice sounded weak, even to herself, but she pushed that thought aside. He looked at her, a neutral expression on his face. She wondered if he had heard her at all.
"Li Syaoran," he stated after a few moments, sticking out his hand. "Nice to meet you. Again."
She pouted. From his tone, it was obvious that he was mocking her. Nevertheless, she took his hand and shook it. "I'm Kinomoto Sakura."
"Sakura, huh? Perfect name for a delicate little girl."
"I am not delicate!" she yelled back, ignorant of the fact that she was in a public bus and that people were beginning to stare. He poked her shoulder and she flinched, letting out a soft squeak.
"Heh. Delicate enough for me."
They continued this argument for a while longer, but it was in good humour, and soon they found themselves laughing. Sakura found this man's presence strangely comforting – it wasn't often that she found someone that she could laugh with for no reason, and she was enjoying every minute of it. Then, she remembered something.
"Oh!' She exclaimed, suddenly grabbing her bag and rummaging through the contents. "I nearly forgot…here it is!"
She pulled out a small package and handed it to him. "I bought this a few days after you helped me, and I've been carrying it around every since," she told him sincerely. "I was hoping that I would meet you again, so I could give it to you…it's not much, but it's a token of my appreciation."
He unwrapped it to find a small sword-shaped brooch, the size of his palm. He held it up to the window, watching in awe as it glinted in the sunlight. Touched, he glanced at her again only to see that she was blushing and looking down at her feet.
"If you don't like it, it's okay," she began. "I just wanted to-"
"-no one has ever done anything like this for me before," he whispered. Sakura looked up at him and saw a serious look in his eyes that had not been there before.
"This is…very kind of you," he said, fingering it gently. "Thank you. I'll treasure it always."
She was shocked. What had happened to the serious, cold person she had seen before? Suddenly, he was no longer a stranger in her eyes. She could tell that he was genuinely touched by her present from the way he was handling it, almost afraid that it would break. Letting out a soft laugh, she gave him a warm smile.
When the bus stopped outside her home, she was almost reluctant to leave her new friend. As she stood up, she looked back at him sadly.
"I'll see you again, won't I?" she asked him, a hint of desperation in her voice. He looked out the window, his gaze distant.
"Maybe," he replied softly. "If you ever need me, I'll be right here."
Despite his vague response, she could tell that there was sincerity behind his words. Smiling to herself, she murmured a quick "See you then!" before turning around and stepping out of the bus. She walked up the path leading to her home and paused when she reached the door, looking back at the bus.
'There are many sides to him,' she mused as she watched it drive away. 'Sometimes he's quiet and untalkative, other times he can be confident and outgoing. And I also saw his sincere side today.'
Placing the key in the lock, she opened the door and stepped into her house, making a silent promise to herself.
'Someday, I will get to know the REAL Li Syaoran.'
"So when's your birthday?"
He looked at her, surprised. "That's all you have to say after five minutes of silence?"
Sakura slapped his shoulder lightly. "I asked you a question!"
Their meetings had become something of a ritual now, ever since she found out that he took the same bus home as she did. Her school ended at the same time every day, after cheerleading practice, and she would always find him sitting at the back of the bus, usually staring out the window or reading something. Even if they didn't talk all the time, his presence was comforting and it felt nice knowing someone on the bus for a change.
However, right now he was looking down at the magazine in his hand, a scowl on his face. "Stupid question to ask out of nowhere…" he muttered.
"Well, would you prefer if I asked you more personal questions? Like where you live or what your parents are like?"
His expression darkened suddenly, the grip on the magazine tightening. She heard the soft crunch of paper and tried to look at his face, which was now turned away from her. Confused, but not wanting to pry any further, she sighed and leaned her head back against the seat.
"Just so you know," she began, her eyes trained on the metal roof above her. "My birthday's on the first of April. If you tell me yours now, it'll be a fair exchange."
She would have stayed in that position, but a stifled chuckle made her move to look at him. His eyes were still serious, but a hand was over his mouth. It was obvious that he was trying to hold in his laughter.
"What? What's so funny?"
"Your birthday...it's on April Fools' Day," he managed to say. She raised an eyebrow. "What's that? Does that mean I'm a fool?"
"Not really…but in your case it might be true."
She grabbed the magazine and hit him on the head this time, earning another chuckle from him. They lapsed into silence once again, but this time it was less awkward than before.
"July 13th." His voice snapped her out of her thoughts. "That's my birthday."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Well, at least mine's special. It's on…the day of fools, or something."
"You've never heard of April Fools'?" She shook her head. "How do you know about it? Do you celebrate it where you come from?"
His eyes turned dull again for a moment. "Not really…I've just travelled a lot. I know a bit about foreign traditions and stuff."
Sakura accepted his answer with a smile, but she knew that something was off in the way that he had spoken.
"You'll attend my next birthday party, right?" she asked earnestly. He glanced at her and nodded distantly, then looked away. She hesitated for a moment, but chose not to say anything else.
'He always seems sad or upset when I talk about his family, or his home. But I don't want to ask him about it…maybe he'll tell me someday…'
The tradition continued, as the seasons began to change. The two grew closer day-by-day, and this was evident in Sakura's change of attitude. She was the same, cheerful girl that everyone knew, but every day, after practice, she would take off towards the bus stop, always afraid that she would miss her bus. When asked about it, she would just reply with "Oh, I don't want to get home late!" Only Tomoyo knew the truth, and she took every opportunity to tease Sakura about it.
The teacher blew her whistle, and all the girls dispersed. Cheerleading practice was over for the day. Sakura rushed off towards her locker to get her things, and ran into Tomoyo in the corridor.
"Hi Sakura-chan. How was practice?"
"It was fine…you have choir practice now, right?"
The other girl nodded, a mysterious smile on her face. "So…off to meet your secret boyfriend?" she asked innocently. Sakura turned beet red and looked away.
"He isn't my boyfriend! …and yes, I am. S-see you later." She began to walk stiffly towards their classroom. Tomoyo chuckled and waved after her. After a few moments, however, her smile turned sad.
'This Li Syaoran-san…he's had such an impact on her. I hope things never change between them...'
Sakura shivered as she stepped outside, struggling to put her jacket on. Winter was approaching fast; soon it would start to snow. Practices would be cancelled then, so she would be leaving school earlier…
'I should remember to tell Syaoran-kun about that!' she told herself, as she began to run towards the bus. She grabbed the handle and swung herself on, and the doors closed behind her. Letting out a sigh of relief, she made it to her usual seat.
As always, he was sitting at the back of the bus, staring out the window and lost in his thoughts. She sat down next to him and nudged his shoulder, which snapped him back to reality.
"Oh…you're here already." He sounded tired. Sakura, noticing this, placed a hand on his face. He shivered.
"Your hand is cold. Don't you have any gloves?"
She shook her head. "That's not important. Are you upset about something?"
He avoided her gaze. She used her other hand as well, turning his head to face her. "Tell me."
When had she become so direct? She had always kept her distance, but now something was bothering him, and she needed to know.
"Tell me," she repeated, and he let out a sigh. And for the first time, she saw a hint of sadness in his eyes.
"I…won't be able to meet you for a while," he said, looking straight at her. She took her hands back, clasping them lightly over her mouth.
"…why?" she whispered after a few moments. "Did something happen?"
He shook his head. "I'm a traveler, Sakura. And I've stayed here too long. I need to leave Tomoeda."
"I don't understand…why do you need to leave? Why can't you stay?"
Syaoran took a deep breath. "I've…been running away. For the past three years, in fact. When my father died, my family started to put a lot of pressure on me. They wanted me to take over his responsibilities, being the first-born son. I was only 13 years old!" He slammed his fist against the seat, startling the other passengers. "I was too young, but they insisted and I finally agreed. But eventually, it became too much for me. So…I left."
He met her gaze steadily. "I need to keep going, so they don't find me. Whenever they think I'm in one place, I'll have moved on already. This is how it has to be."
"No, it doesn't."
His eyes widened. She looked back at him, without any trace of hesitation. "You could go back and face your responsibilities now. You have a duty to your family, Syaoran-kun…and you're mature enough to handle it now. I know you are." Sakura placed a hand over her heart. "I'm not asking you to stay here, but please…go back and make things right."
"What does it matter to you?" he yelled suddenly. "I'll be gone either way, so why should you care where I go?"
When he saw tears forming in her eyes, Syaoran knew he had made a mistake. He closed his eyes and sighed.
"Look, I'm sorry. This isn't easy for me to talk about…and I didn't want you to know in the first place."
"Why not?" she managed to whisper. "You didn't want me to worry?"
"That and I didn't want you getting too close to me. I kept my distance at first…but it wasn't easy. So I decided to just not tell you anything about my past, and hoped that you wouldn't get too attached."
"But it's too late for that now!" she cried. "I care about you, and I want you to be happy! But if you keep these feelings inside and stay away from your family, you'll never be content…"
They sat in silence. Sakura reached into her bag, pulled out a few tissues and began to wipe the tears off her face. Syaoran looked down at his hands, playing with his fingers. Then, he whispered, "I'll try."
Before they knew it, the bus had stopped in front of Sakura's house. She stood up and turned around to look at him.
"Can you tell the driver to wait for a minute? I'll be right back." He nodded, and she dashed off. When she came back, he was standing outside the bus, waiting for her. A few snowflakes were starting to fall.
She ran up to him and held up a scarf. Without a word, she wrapped it around his neck and stood back to admire her handiwork.
"It looks good on you," she nodded, and smiled. "Wear that, wherever you're going. It'll keep you warm and…maybe remind you of me…" she trailed off and blushed.
He touched the scarf; it was warm. Without thinking, Syaoran wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close. She stiffened, but gradually relaxed and placed her hands around his neck, hugging him back.
"Take care of yourself," he told her. "Don't fall asleep on the bus again."
She laughed; an attempt to keep the tears from falling. "I won't. Come back and visit me someday, okay?"
He nodded. Then, before either of them realized what was happening, he leaned in and touched his lips to hers. She froze.
He pulled back slightly and whispered, "Goodbye, Sakura." Without waiting for a reaction, he turned around and walked back to the bus. The doors closed and it drove off.
Sakura stood there in shock for a long time. 'He said my name…so many times today, and I only noticed now…' Her knees gave way and she collapsed on the ground, reality crashing into her like a ton of bricks. He was never coming back. Burying her face in her hands, she cried and cried as the snow began to fall around her.