Chapter 44: Like A Child

 

 

 ¡°The Li Council has voted to remove Syaoran as the Chosen One if he doesn¡¯t return to Hong Kong immediately,¡± Meirin said.

 

This produced a prolonged pause from Kai, who took time to process the significance of Meirin¡¯s words. Finally he asked, ¡°Is that necessarily a bad thing?¡±

 

Sighing in exasperation, Meirin retorted, ¡°You never know how to take things seriously, do you? Stupid of me to try to tell you this.¡±

 

¡°I guess it does matter to Syaoran a lot,¡± Kai commented blandly. ¡°After all, he is completely caught up in the whole family honor business, which I personally believe is very useless. Anyway, is being removed from the position of Chosen One a really bad thing?¡±

 

¡°Yes, it is the greatest disgrace imaginable in the Clan. It¡¯s saying that Syaoran is not competent as the representative of the Li Clan, that he has dishonored his family, disobeyed the Clan codes, and that he will be stripped of all the titles that he had received from all the tests that he had passed.¡±

 

¡°Whoa, that¡¯s a little extreme,¡± Kai said. ¡°Just because he refuses to return to Hong Kong? What does his mother and his uncles say?¡±

 

Shaking her head, Meirin replied, ¡°It¡¯s a rather complicated business, many things piled up on top of each other. But such a thing wouldn¡¯t have happened if the Great Elder—the Head of the Li Clan—is in good health, but since the Great Elder is very ill and confined to bed right now, Syaoran¡¯s eldest uncle has taken charge of the Clan. As you know, he dislikes Syaoran immensely. Since Syaoran¡¯s eldest uncle is the second most prominent member of the Clan, he¡¯s taking charge right now. Even Aunt Ieran is helpless against him. She sent a letter explaining the situation with me, but she wanted me to break the news first.¡±

 

¡°So you¡¯re not even going to give Syaoran the letter?¡± Kai asked. ¡°Isn¡¯t it better to just tell such an important thing to him and get over with it? After all, he has the right to know.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s finally settling down to find his true heart¡¯s desires. I won¡¯t want him to have to waver and be stressed again,¡± Meirin said.

 

¡°But he¡¯s going to find out some day. And better through you then anyone else,¡± Kai replied, sitting up from the chair. ¡°It¡¯s not up to you to decide whether or not Syaoran can handle the news. If I were you, I would trust Syaoran¡¯s decision-making skills.¡±

 

Meirin sighed. She knew Kai was right. Yet, she had no will to convey such disheartening news to Syaoran.

 

******

 

¡°Since Mizuki-san is not here, you two supervise in the children¡¯s playroom,¡± Touya told Syaoran and Erika when they arrived in the intern office after school on Friday. ¡°There are many more children than usual because many parents who were injured in the earthquakes didn¡¯t have anyone to take care of their children, so they placed them in the playroom.

 

¡°Yay! The scary onii-san is not here today!¡± the children cheered upon seeing Erika and Syaoran enter the colorful room instead of the intimidating, bullying Kai with his sunglasses.

 

¡°Play doll with us,¡± one girl asked Erika.

 

¡°Grr¡¦ I detest little kids; so smelly and messy,¡± Erika stated, wrinkling her nose. ¡°Shoo, get away from me. Play quietly in the corner over there.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s not the way you handle children,¡± Syaoran said. His attention was diverted to a wail from one of the younger boys.

 

¡°WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! He stole my robot! Give it back, give it back!¡± The boy sniffled.

 

¡°No! It¡¯s mine!¡± A mischievous looking boy retorted, holding up a shiny robot over his head. The younger boy jumped up and down, reaching for it, which was a difficult a feat since his left was in a cast.

 

¡°Stop all the noise!¡± Erika snapped. ¡°Sheesh. How old are you guys? Sit down and behave!¡±

 

Immediately, the children quieted and sat down stiffly.

 

¡°Hey,¡± Syaoran said weakly. ¡°They¡¯re just children.¡±

 

¡°Well, you take care of them then!¡± Saying this, Erika walked out of the playroom door with a slam.

 

¡°Erika, where are you going?¡± Eron asked, walking down the hallway with Sakura.

 

¡°I can¡¯t stand the children¡¯s playroom,¡± Erika replied. ¡°Mizuki-kun is not here, so Syaoran-kun and I had to supervise today. But I just can¡¯t stand all the noise and commotion.¡±

 

With a crooked smile, Eron said, ¡°You and your short temper.¡±

 

¡°What are you two doing here, anyway?¡± Erika asked curtly.

 

¡°We¡¯re running favors for Yukito-san,¡± Sakura replied, holding up a bagful of extra bandages.

 

¡°I didn¡¯t ask you,¡± Erika retorted to Sakura. ¡°I hate this hospital smell and the white uniform and the stifling atmosphere. I want to quit!¡±

 

¡°Sakura-san, can you take these for me? I¡¯ll come back in a second, okay?¡± Eron said, handing his share of bandages to Sakura. ¡°Erika, let¡¯s go.¡±

 

Puzzled, Sakura stared at Eron taking Erika¡¯s arm and walking out. Though she was used to Erika¡¯s turbulent mood swings by now, Erika was especially more irritable today. Oh well. She grinned. Syaoran must be taking care of the children all by himself! I¡¯ll just have a peep at the playroom. I wonder how Syaoran¡¯s handling things. Carefully, she opened the door a crack and peeked in. She could hear Syaoran¡¯s voice.

 

¡°It¡¯s not fair for a bigger person to jump on a smaller person. Yet, this is a ruthless world and such things happen. It is wrong to use violence, but if you are under attack, it is important to be able to defend yourself,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Therefore, I will show you some basic moves to defend yourself.¡±

 

Sakura giggled. What was he doing? Teaching the children martial arts and giving lectures about violence? Yet, all the children seemed rapt and were staring at Syaoran with round eyed anticipation and had gathered round him. Even those with conditions so that they couldn¡¯t move had turned their heads in his directions. Two boys who seemed to be in the middle of a fight pulled apart and turned their attention to Syaoran.

 

¡°The most important thing in defense is to protect yourself; it¡¯s not about honor, bravery, or heroism. It¡¯s okay to make a run for it when you have the chance,¡± Syaoran continued.

 

At this, Sakura giggled. What an un-Syaoran-like policy. With Syaoran¡¯s stubbornness, he would always face the enemy and fight till he won or dropped.

 

Hearing the noise, Syaoran turned around, to face Sakura, laughing at him by the doorway.

 

¡°What are you laughing at?¡± he asked crossly.

 

¡°Oops.¡± Sakura straightened her face. ¡°You look like you¡¯re having fun.¡±

 

¡°No I¡¯m not!¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Wait till that Kai comes back.¡±

 

¡°The handsome ¡®nii-chan is blushing!¡± one of the girls exclaimed. ¡°I think he has a crush on the ¡®nee-chan. How cute!¡±

 

¡°Wh-what!¡± Syaoran stammered, turning more red.

 

¡°Little kids these days! So advanced for the age!¡± Sakura exclaimed, equally red.

 

A gruff voice came from the hallway. ¡°Sakura, what are you doing there? Yukito sent for the bandages ages ago!¡±

 

¡°Ah, sorry!¡± Sakura exclaimed, remembering her duty. She spun around to bump into her brother.

 

Touya glared down at Syaoran. ¡°Put more mind and thought to your task, and don¡¯t get distracted so easily. This is a hospital. We only need disciplined workers.¡±

 

¡°But, there¡¯s no one with more discipline than Syaoran-kun!¡± Sakura protested.

 

¡°Go give the bandages to Yukito, Sakura.¡± Obediently, Sakura left the room. Touya crossed his arms, staring at Syaoran with cool midnight blue eyes.

 

Meeting the piercing gaze, Syaoran commented, ¡°Sakura thinks the world of her older brother.¡±

 

Ignoring this comment, Touya replied, ¡°Maybe it is a little to late to say this, but I wish you would stay away from my little sister.¡±

 

¡°I am sorry but it is a little too late for you to say that,¡± Syaoran said dryly.

 

¡°You¡¯re no good for her,¡± Touya said. ¡°What she fails to see, I can see clearly. In the long run, you¡¯re bound to fail her.¡±

 

¡°¡¯Nii-chan, what is the next step?¡± asked a boy, who had been practicing punches.

 

 ¡°Practice the punching with your left arm,¡± Syaoran told him, his gaze never leaving Touya¡¯s. ¡°What makes you so sure? I can surprise you.¡±

 

¡°¡¯Nii-chan! What now?¡± another boy whined. ¡°Am I doing this right?¡±

 

¡°Not much surprises me,¡± Touya replied quietly. ¡°We¡¯ll continue this conversations next time. Until then¡¦¡±

 

¡°I know, I know, discipline. I¡¯ll pay attention in the hospital and be efficient and diligent,¡± Syaoran reiterated.

 

Almost chuckling, Touya readied to leave. Then he paused and turned around. ¡°Hey, Brat.¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Syaoran asked, with a sigh of exasperation.

 

¡°When did you learn to carry on a civilized conversation?¡± Touya asked.

 

¡°I told you I can surprise you yet,¡± Syaoran replied.

 

Waiting till he was out of the room, Touya finally allowed a bemused smile to play on his lips.

 

******

 

¡°The doctor said you¡¯re well enough to go home now,¡± Kai said, fingering the withered flowers in the vase on the hospital room nightstand. With a swipe of his hand, they were replaced by fresh white lilies.

 

¡°He said I can say on a few more days if I want to,¡± Meirin replied, fingering the flowers with hidden awe.

 

¡°I know you¡¯re burying yourself into the hospital because you¡¯re trying to avoid Syaoran. You can¡¯t avoid telling him the truth forever,¡± Kai said grimly.

 

¡°Can you stop pestering me and mind your own business?¡± Meirin snapped, lying down on her bed, careful not to upset her broken leg. ¡°If I¡¯m not mistaken, you have plenty at hand yourself, Kaitou Magician. Furthermore, aren¡¯t you supposed to be in the children¡¯s playroom right now? Do you have that much time to spend lazing around here?¡±

 

¡°Fine then. Fine! Do what you want then! But if you think you¡¯re doing what¡¯s right, you¡¯re deeply mistaken.¡± Crossly, Kai walked out of the door and slammed the door shut. Did Meirin truly intend to keep the whole Syaoran business a secret? 

 

In the hallway, he bumped into Sakura and Syaoran.

 

¡°Hey, Kaitou-kun! You were here the entire day?¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°No wonder you weren¡¯t at school. The nurse in the playroom was really angry too, because you didn¡¯t show up. How¡¯s Meirin now?¡±

 

Sakura¡¯s continuous chatter made his nerves tingle. Without heeding Sakura, Kai continued to walk. Before Kai could escape, Syaoran grabbed onto Kai¡¯s shoulder and said in a low voice, ¡°Answer Sakura when she¡¯s speaking to you. It¡¯s rude if you don¡¯t.¡±

 

The gaze that Kai gave in return over the bridge of his sunglasses was so icy and hostile, that Sakura stammered, ¡°Hoe-e, it¡¯s okay¡¦¡±

 

Kai tried to brush Syaoran¡¯s hand off, but he found that Syaoran¡¯s grip was very firm indeed. Finally Kai responded, ¡°Go ask her yourself.¡±

 

¡°Ah, I was planning to,¡± Sakura said, sweat-dropping at Kai¡¯s sudden coldness. ¡°If you were here, why didn¡¯t you go to the children¡¯s playroom, anyway? Erika and Syaoran had to take your place instead.¡±

 

¡°Why should I go there? I hate noisy, bawling children,¡± Kai replied curtly.

 

¡°But it was your shift today,¡± Sakura reminded. ¡° And the hospital needs all the extra hands it can get because there are many more patients than usual because of the earthquakes.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s the hospital¡¯s problem,¡± Kai stated. Finally knocking off Syaoran¡¯s iron grip, he disappeared down the hallway.

 

¡°What¡¯s with him today?¡± Syaoran muttered.

 

¡°Come, let¡¯s go see Meirin-chan,¡± Sakura said, disgusted with Kai¡¯s antagonistic demeanor, yet sympathetic all the same.

 

******

 

¡°Sakura-chan, what are you doing this Sunday?¡± Chiharu asked at school the next day, which was Saturday. ¡°The journalism class has to go to the Tokyo Art Museum to see the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece by the artist Shing-san. Since we¡¯re planning to write an extensive documentary on Kaitou Magician in our paper.¡±

 

¡°Ah, I¡¯m kind of busy tomorrow,¡± Sakura said, her eyes flickering to Syaoran¡¯s desk.

 

¡°Why, do you have a date with someone?¡± Chiharu inquired, eyes turning wide. ¡°Did you finally decide to go out with Li-kun?¡±

 

¡°Ah, no, it¡¯s nothing like that,¡± Sakura defended, shaking her head rapidly.

 

¡°It¡¯s true that you¡¯re meeting with Li-kun though,¡± Tomoyo said, smiling. ¡°Pity I can¡¯t videotape.¡±

 

¡°What, really?¡± Chiharu exclaimed. ¡°That is so sweet. I knew ever since the Best Couple Contest that you two will end up together! Of course, I was thrown off when you became closer to Eron-kun lately. But personally, I¡¯m rooting for Li-kun!¡±

 

¡°Please, Chiharu-chan, don¡¯t say things like that so loudly. People will misunderstand,¡± Sakura pleaded, desperately. ¡°Anyway, I¡¯ll go to the museum on my own next time.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s okay,¡± Aki interrupted. ¡°We¡¯re having a school field trip to the museum pretty soon, anyway. We can see it then.¡±

 

¡°Okay,¡± Sakura said, relieved.

 

Scowling, Aki said, ¡°Where is Mizuki-kun anyway? I think it¡¯s time we get a new layout editor. Oh yeah. We have to work extra hours in the hospital today. As you guys know, there are lots of casualties from the recent earthquakes, and they need extra hands at the hospital.¡±

 

¡°Do you work there too?¡± Miho, who always visited class 3-2, asked in mock surprised. ¡°I didn¡¯t know.¡±

 

Aki turned red. ¡°Come on, last time I had a basketball tournament, so I couldn¡¯t go. I¡¯m going today. Oops! I forgot there is a class representative¡¯s meeting today—I guess I can¡¯t go after all.¡±

 

******

 

¡°Today¡¯s schedule is different from usual,¡± Yukito told Sakura and Eron when they arrived at his desk in the intern office after school on Saturday. ¡°A few hospital staff and I will go to the children¡¯s orphanage to give the children their yearly vaccination. I want you two to accompany us and help supervise the children while they are waiting.

 

The doctor, two nurses, Yukito, Sakura, and Eron arrived at the orphanage, a ten minute drive in the hospital van from Kinhoshi Hospital. The head of the orphanage greeted them and one of the assistants led Sakura and Eron to the recreation room.

 

¡°All the children are gathered in this room,¡± the assistant told them. ¡°They probably won¡¯t cause any problem. The vaccination room will be across the hallway. We¡¯ll call out the children two at a time. If there are any problems, you can come to me or ask Hanata Yuriko-san.¡±  

 

A slight, pale girl with short hair pulled back into a ponytail bowed to Eron and Sakura, balancing a basketful of laundry in one arm.

 

¡°Yuri-chan?¡± Sakura asked hesitantly, in instantaneous recognition. ¡°From class 3-1, right? I didn¡¯t know you worked here!¡±

 

Smiling, Yuri replied, ¡°I do volunteer work here every other day. Let¡¯s see. The older children manage pretty well by themselves, but the younger ones are rather restless today, especially because the older ones scared them about the big, sharp needle. If you can handle them while I hang up the laundry, it would be nice.¡±

 

¡°Sure,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Right Eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°Huh?¡± Eron had a vacant look in his eyes as he stared at the cramped, messy room with faded wallpaper and spider-webs on the ceiling. At the sound of one of the children bawling when another pushed him off the rocking horse, Eron cringed. 

 

¡°Eron-kun, are you listening?¡± Sakura asked again. She shook Eron¡¯s arm.

 

At her touch, Eron flinched and stepped back. His breath was uneven. Since Sakura was so used to Eron being composed and cool, the note of panic in his expression unsettled her.

 

¡°Eron-kun?¡± Sakura watched Eron¡¯s golden-hazel eyes flicker and then focus back on her.

 

¡°S-sorry. Umm, it¡¯s kind of stuffy in here. Hanata-san, let me hang up the laundry.¡± Without waiting for Yuri¡¯s response, he took the basket full of clothes from Yuri¡¯s arms. ¡°Where should I hang it up?¡±

 

¡°Oh, turn around the corner, and go out the back door. The clotheslines are in the backyard,¡± Yuri stammered, her cheeks flushing slightly. 

 

Sakura noticed that Yuri¡¯s gaze didn¡¯t leave Eron for a moment. She couldn¡¯t help wondering if that girl still liked Eron. Seeing the way Yuri became flustered around Eron, Sakura decided that Yuri¡¯s feelings had remained the same over the past few weeks.

 

When Eron was out of earshot, Yuri murmured, ¡°He hasn¡¯t changed since back then.¡±

 

¡°Since when? Did you know him from before he came to Seijou Junior High?¡± Sakura asked in surprise. Yuri had never betrayed any signs of knowing Eron from before.

 

¡°Huh? Kind of. When we were really young. But I don¡¯t think he remembers me anymore,¡± Yuri said softly.

 

¡°I wonder what was he like back then,¡± Sakura mused.

 

¡°He hasn¡¯t told you anything about his childhood?¡± Yuri asked, picking up the scattered toys on the floor.

 

¡°No. I just remember he told me that he used to live around this neighborhood when he was young. And that he doesn¡¯t remember either of his parents. That¡¯s about it. Funny, huh? Now that I think of it, I¡¯ve known him for over a year, and I still don¡¯t know anything about him.¡± Sakura stared down at her feet; she hadn¡¯t even tried.

 

¡°WAHHH!!! Su-chan is a mean bully! Su-chan broke the dolly!¡± A girl with pigtails was holding to her chest a headless doll. A dark haired boy, around seven or so, was scowling fiercely and held the doll¡¯s head in his fist.

 

¡°Baka. It¡¯s only a stupid doll,¡± the boy said. He threw the doll head at the girl.

 

¡°Su-chan beheaded the doll! Su-chan beheaded Annie-doll! Meanie! You selfish, mean¡¦¡± the girl trailed off, sniffing, as she tried to adjoin the neck to the body.

 

¡°Subaru! How many times do I have to tell you not to bully other children?¡± Yuri scolded in a firm but gentle voice. ¡°You hurt Annie-doll. Now, apologize.¡±

 

¡°No! Why should I apologize? It¡¯s only a stupid old doll,¡± Subaru retorted. Then his eyes flashed to Sakura, who was gaping at him. ¡°What are you staring at, ugly hag?¡¯

 

¡°H-hoe!? U-ugly hag? Me?¡± Sakura pointed at herself.

 

¡°Yeah, you, hideous witch,¡± Subaru reiterated, sticking out his tongue at Sakura.

 

 Head drooped, Sakura sank down to her knees, muttering, ¡°What did I ever do to you?¡±

 

¡°Subaru, is that what you say to the nice, pretty onii-san who came to play with you guys?¡± Yuri asked reproachfully. ¡°Go over there to the corner and don¡¯t speak to anyone until you feel sorry for what you did and want to apologize.¡±

 

Sulkily, Subaru stomped off to the corner of the world and slouched down, glaring at Sakura.

 

¡°Hoe¡¦ Why do strangers always put me on the spot?¡± Sakura thought. She stared at Yuri in admiration. How could she be so kind yet disciplined with the children at the same time? For the next few hours, Sakura tried her best to entertain the children¡¯s whims and played housekeeping with the younger children as the vaccination process went on.

 

¡°Thinking about it, Eron-kun has been gone for an awful long time, considering he just went to hang the laundry,¡± Sakura commented. ¡°I wonder if he got lost. Not that this place is very large.¡±

 

¡°Do you want to go look for him? I have things under control right now,¡± Yuri suggested.

 

¡°Okay. I¡¯ll come right back.¡±

 

 

 

Sakura found Eron sitting on the back porch. To her mild amusement, all the bed sheets and random articles of children¡¯s clothes were hung neatly by clothespins to the clothesline. For some reason, she had the impression that Eron was not capable of doing household chores. At the creaking of her footsteps, Eron turned around warily.

 

¡°Eron-kun, what are you doing here?¡± Sakura asked, leaning over.

 

¡°Sorry,¡± Eron said. ¡°It was too stuffy inside. It made me feel suffocated. I know I¡¯m a callous person—I hate shabbiness, poverty, illness, whining children, and most of all, looking at all these things, being near them.¡±

 

¡°But Eron-kun, people don¡¯t choose to have poverty or illness. Some people are just less fortunate than others. So, if it is within the abilities of the more fortunate people, they should extend their arms out and help others with all their capability.¡±

 

¡°Sakura, do you consider yourself a fortunate person?¡± Eron asked, turning towards Sakura.

 

¡°Hmm¡¦ I do,¡± Sakura slowly replied. ¡°I¡¯m healthy, have all my body parts, a loving family, great friends. There are times when I also feel callous and selfish, greedy and unsatisfied, yet in the end, I still consider myself a lucky person. Don¡¯t you Eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°No,¡± Eron replied shortly.

 

At this, Sakura was taken back. ¡°But you have so many things at your hand; there are numerous people who are envious of you.¡±

 

¡°I thought you were a smart girl, Kinomoto Sakura. I guess I was mistaken after all.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t think I¡¯m terribly quick or clever, but I don¡¯t consider myself dumb. I have more self-pride than that,¡± Sakura said, stiffly.

 

Chuckling, Eron said, ¡°I¡¯m sorry if I offended you. It¡¯s just that your life philosophy is so simplistic, optimistic, open-hearted. I can¡¯t really empathize with the notion that all humans are innately ¡°good,¡± that deep inside their hearts are pure and righteous, that the striver is rewarded in the end, and that after the rainfall always comes the rainbow. I tend to believe more in the darker side of human nature, the cold-hearted, animalistic instinct of survival, the greed, the rottenness in the human heart, the hunger for power.¡±

 

Shaking her head, Sakura said, ¡°I can¡¯t say that I am as foolishly optimistic as I used to be when I was younger because the more I see of the world, the more depressing aspects I see. Yet, at the same time, like yin and yang, juxtaposed to the darker side, there are the brighter, beautiful sides, the part which gives me faith in humankind and human emotions.¡±

 

Just then, a sharp pound came on her head. ¡°Ouch!¡± It was the bratty boy, Subaru. He had thrown the doll¡¯s head at Sakura¡¯s head. ¡°What was that for?¡± Sakura demanded.

 

¡°Ugly witch. Why are you flirting with that guy instead of looking after us?¡± Subaru asked, making faces at her.

 

¡°What?¡± Sakura leaped up to her feet. ¡°Come over here!¡±

 

¡°No!¡± Nimbly, the boy dodged Sakura¡¯s arms and ran down the hallway.

 

When Sakura tried to chase him, Eron grabbed her arm. ¡°Don¡¯t bother. He just wants attention. If you ignore him, he¡¯ll stop bothering you.¡±

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Strange how Eron seemed to know so much about children when he hated them.

 

¡°Here, I¡¯ll go back inside now. Sorry for leaving you on your own,¡± Eron said.

 

Upon returning to the recreation room, Sakura found that most of the children were whimpering because of the string from the shots. The pig-tailed girl was still weeping over her headless Annie-doll. Meanwhile, Subaru had already returned to the room, and was busily smashing up the Lego castle that the children had made.

 

¡°Subaru-chan! What do you think you¡¯re doing?¡± Sakura exclaimed, hurriedly pulling Subaru apart from the Lego castle.

 

¡°Attacking the castle,¡± Subaru replied in a matter of fact way, sweeping off he last block of Lego from the ground. ¡°Victory!¡±

 

¡°Su-chan, don¡¯t you do anything constructive?¡± Sakura sighed, wiping the sweat off her brows. This kid left no moment for distraction.

 

¡°Nope, witch,¡± Subaru said, folding his arms in front of his chest and glaring at her. ¡°So go mind your own business.¡±

 

¡°Why, you little brat! You¡¯re worse than Syaoran when I first met him,¡± Sakura exclaimed in exasperation, finally losing her temper. Then, she remembered Eron telling her that this child probably just wanted attention.

 

The assistant came into the room. ¡°Subaru, it¡¯s your turn.¡±

 

¡°No! I don¡¯t want to get shots!¡± Subaru stated, squirming to escape the room as Sakura grabbed his waist.

 

¡°Oh no you don¡¯t,¡± Sakura said, holding him firmly and carrying him over to the vaccination room. The two nurses pinned Subaru down to the bed, and the doctor pulled the boy¡¯s pants down and injected the shot.

 

¡°AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!¡± Subaru screamed, clearly not because of pain but to create a commotion.

 

¡°Su-chan! Aren¡¯t you a man? Now hush, or else you¡¯ll scare the younger children,¡± Sakura hissed.

 

¡°Ow! Ow! It hurts! I¡¯m going to die!¡± Subaru continued.

 

¡°Don¡¯t be silly. No one dies because of vaccination shots,¡± Sakura said, as Subaru got off the bed sulkily.

 

¡°I¡¯m going to die anyway,¡± Subaru replied.

 

¡°You¡¯re only seven. Not for a long, long time, anyway,¡± Sakura said, trying to remain patient.

 

¡°What do you know, ugly hag?¡± Subaru muttered, walking out the room and slamming the door.

 

Taking a deep breath, Sakura counted to ten trying to prevent herself from completely losing her temper.

 

Placing a soothing hand on Sakura¡¯s shoulder, the assistant told her, ¡°Try to be sympathetic to Subaru. He has a disease, a form of brain tumor, and his method of dealing with his illness is to cause as much trouble to other people as possible.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s ill?¡± Sakura asked.

 

 ¡°But he¡¯s so young. It¡¯s curable though, right?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not too serious right now,¡± the assistant said, sighing. ¡°He just needs to take medications. Eventually, he¡¯ll have to have a surgery, before the tumor cells grow larger and spreads. But the surgery is too expensive for the orphanage funds to afford.¡±

 

¡°Then what will happen to Subaru?¡±

 

¡°We¡¯re hoping that we can find him a sponsor,¡± the assistant replied grimly. ¡°Before Subaru¡¯s illness takes a critical turn.¡±

 

 

 

Dazed, Sakura walked out the door. Someone as energetic and young as Subaru—it wasn¡¯t fair. Seeing a figure moving in the children¡¯s bedroom, Sakura peeped in. It was Eron, sitting on the floor and gluing Annie-doll¡¯s head back on, and the pigtailed girl was crouched beside him, watching in rapture.

 

Grinning crookedly when he saw Sakura peeking in, Eron said, ¡°That pigtail-girl kept on crying and crying because her doll was headless. So I¡¯m trying to fix it up. Hey, can I have your ribbon?¡±

 

¡°Huh? Yeah.¡± Untying the red ribbon that held her hair back, she handed it to Eron. Carefully, Eron tied the red sash around the doll¡¯s head. Though it didn¡¯t camouflage the dirt-smudged face or the faded, patched dress of the doll, it still made the doll look a little brighter.  

 

¡°There you go,¡± Eron said, handing the doll back to the girl. ¡°Now go back to the children and don¡¯t cry anymore.¡±

 

Hugging the doll to her chest, she smiled brightly. ¡°Thank you, onii-san, thank you!¡± Then she ran out the room with merry laughter.

 

Sighing, Eron muttered, ¡°Children are so easy to please.¡±

 

Smiling slightly, Sakura said, ¡°See? I can¡¯t help feeling that children are innocent and innately good. It¡¯s unfair to think that people are born evil when we see children.¡± It was one of the rare moments that she saw Eron show a kinder, gentle face, making her reconsider her set image of Eron.

 

¡°Ah, you forget that I despise children,¡± Eron said tersely, shattering Sakura¡¯s newly formed impression.

 

¡°You and Erika both dislike children,¡± Sakura recalled. ¡°Maybe it¡¯s because I¡¯m the youngest child and never had to take care of a baby, but I love children. I¡¯ve always wanted a younger sibling, maybe because I was always bullied by ¡®nii-chan, but if I have a younger sibling, I would be really kind and play with the child all the time. When I¡¯m with children, I feel peaceful and carefree, like I am a child again.¡±

 

¡°You are still a child at heart,¡± Eron commented, slightly smiling. ¡°I spent all of my childhood, wishing that I was an adult, wishing that I could have control over my life. I hated being young, being helpless, being ignorant.¡±

 

¡°I bet you¡¯re still a child at heart too, Eron-kun,¡± Sakura said. The recent experience of becoming five years old still fresh in her mind, she continued, ¡°Everyone¡¯s a child at heart, I think, even the coldest, most callous person, and the oldest, wisest person.¡±

 

¡°No, I haven¡¯t been a child ever since I was seven,¡± Eron corrected. His lips curved cynically. ¡°When Erika and I finally left that miserable orphanage.¡±

 

At his words, Sakura¡¯s eyes rounded. Through the window, she stared at the frayed white sheets hung neatly up in the backyard and blowing in the wind as she digested Eron¡¯s words. The orphanage? What orphanage? Did they grow up in an orphanage? Surely, not Eron and Erika?  For the first time, she was at loss of words. ¡°Eron-kun¡¦¡±

 

¡°Yeah, Erika and I grew up in the orphanage. I told you before that we didn¡¯t have either parent. Where do you think they put two motherless, relative-less brats? In the orphanage of course. The place where we stayed was a hell where children were always crying—except they couldn¡¯t make any sound in fear that they may be beaten, where they never had enough to eat or enough clothes for the cold winter, and where there was no room for privacy, where everything had to be shared, where little girls couldn¡¯t even a doll of their own.¡±

 

¡°I-I¡¯m sorry,¡± Sakura stammered, at loss of words. ¡°I never knew¡¦¡±

 

¡°Of course you didn¡¯t,¡± Eron said shortly. ¡°Who would expect that Erika and I actually lived first hand with such dirty, wretchedness? We live like a count and countess now. But maybe the Chang Eron back then was a completely different person. After all, he was only a child.¡± Pausing, he stared at Sakura¡¯s sorrowful green eyes. ¡°Don¡¯t look at me like that. Don¡¯t look at me with sympathy. I don¡¯t want it nor deserve it.¡±

 

Abruptly standing up, Eron walked out the door. ¡°Hey, I¡¯m going home now. Tell the others that I felt sick, so I had to leave early.¡±

 

 

 

It was nine in the evening when the last child was vaccinated. There had been so many cases of children sneaking away and hiding, that it took much longer than had been anticipated. It didn¡¯t help that Subaru upset the nurses by knocking over the medicine boxes and unraveling bandage all over the floor. It took forever to straighten things out, and Subaru was rewarded with no dinner.

 

¡°Thank you for your great help today, Sakura-san. Sorry we kept you so late,¡± Yukito said. ¡°I hope Chang-san feels better. I¡¯d like to take you home since it¡¯s so late, but I have to return to the hospital. Will you be okay? Or I can take you home first.¡±

 

¡°No, it¡¯s okay. Yuri-chan and I are going the same direction, so I¡¯m fine,¡± Sakura reassured.

 

To the children, she waved, ¡°Bye guys! See you again!¡±

 

¡°Bye, Sakura-¡®nee-san! Come back again!¡± The children called back, waving. The bright, energetic, genial manner of Sakura had made her an immediate favorite among them.

 

¡°Hope I never see you again, ugly hag,¡± Subaru shouted, sticking out his tongue. His stomach rumbled and when Sakura laughed, he scowled.

 

¡°Whew, today was exhausting,¡± Sakura said, walking slowly down the night street. ¡°How do you manage this almost every day, Yuri-chan?¡±

 

¡°Oh, you get used to the lively children,¡± Yuri replied. ¡°Anyway, I like playing with them.¡±

 

Today, Sakura saw Hanata Yuriko in a complete new light and was in awe and respect at the girl¡¯s composure and level of maturity. It was hard to believe Yuri was her own age. Was it the environment she grew up in? ¡°Hey, Yuri-chan. You said you knew Eron-kun from when you were really young, right?¡±

 

¡°Yeah,¡± Yuri replied slowly, as if hesitant to talk about it.

 

¡°By any chance, did you know him from the children¡¯s orphanage?¡±

 

Halting, Yuri stared at Sakura. ¡°You knew?¡±

 

Hurriedly, Sakura said, ¡°Sorry—I didn¡¯t mean to be nosy. It¡¯s just that I had some questions about Eron-kun. You really don¡¯t have to talk about it if you don¡¯t want to.¡±

 

¡°No, I don¡¯t mind talking about it at all. Yeah, I knew Eron and Erika from the orphanage. One not too far from here,¡± Yuri replied. ¡°I was afraid that if my friends found out that I was from the orphanage, they would shun me, so I kept silent about my background. That¡¯s why I showed no recognition of Eron and Erika when they first transferred to Seijou Junior High. I was sure they didn¡¯t want to associate themselves back to then, nor me, either.¡±

 

¡°There¡¯s nothing to be ashamed about, having grown up in the orphanage,¡± Sakura said quickly. ¡°I¡¯m sure it wouldn¡¯t matter where you¡¯re from to your friends. I certainly don¡¯t mind.¡±

 

Smiling again, Yuri said, ¡°I never doubted Sakura-chan from the beginning. So, I guess you want to hear more about Eron and Erika?¡±

 

¡°Yeah. If you don¡¯t mind talking about it, what were they like back then?¡±

 

Looking up at the treetops, Yuri replied, ¡°They were an inseparable twosome; it was always Eron and Erika, Erika and Eron. Some children thought they were stuck up since they rarely talked or played with the other children, but I know it¡¯s because they only had each other in this world. I envied them, because while the other orphans were all alone, they had each other to love and cherish, they had a reason for living. Eron back then, similar to now, was mature for his age, always protective of his sister since Erika was very weak because of her illness. Though he had opportunities to make friends with the other children, he always stayed by his twin sister and always defended her when others teased her. That¡¯s why people thought the beautiful twins were stuck-up and problematic, hard to approach.¡±

 

¡°Wait, Erika was ill?¡± Sakura interrupted, finding the fact hard to digest. It was becoming much clearer why Erika hated the stifling atmosphere of the hospital and why both twins hated cramped places and children so much.

 

¡°Yes, something to do with her heart, I think,¡± Yuri said. ¡°Since her heart was weak, she couldn¡¯t run or play with the other children, and spent most of the time indoors or in the hospital. That¡¯s why she could make no friends, with only Eron to look after her, and he was only a child too. He really thought the world of his younger twin sister. I remember he used to work till late at night everyday, cleaning and stacking items at the local convenience store to save up money to buy his sister a brand new doll with golden hair and blinking eyes—the kind that used to be popular when we were little. Hard to picture, huh?¡±  

 

Shaking her head, Sakura remarked, ¡°It¡¯s completely different from the impression I¡¯ve had of those two.¡±

 

¡°I guess they¡¯ve changed since then—I found it hard to believe that they are the same Eron and Erika that I used to know,¡± Yuri said ruefully. ¡°I was adopted by a kind old lady shortly after my seventh birthday, so I was never sure what happened to them. At that time, Erika was so ill that she stayed permanently in the hospital, and Eron spent most of the time there. But looking at Erika now, I¡¯m glad to see her heart got better, and she seems perfectly healthy now. They were certainly the prettiest in the entire orphanage, identical except in the length of their hair, (though Eron grew his now also,) so maybe they both got adopted by a wealthy person who could afford to give Erika cardio-surgery in America—I heard rumors that Eron and Erika traveled all around the world before coming back to Tomoeda.¡±

 

Sakura recalled Eron stating that he and Erika lived only with the servants. So, it wasn¡¯t likely that they were adopted by someone. Then, how did they leave the orphanage? When they approached a cross section in the road, Yuri said, ¡°Well, I go this way.¡±

 

¡°Oh! Thank you for telling me everything,¡± Sakura said, not realizing how quickly time had passed while she listened to Yuki. ¡°I really appreciate it.¡±

 

¡°No problem,¡± Yuri replied. ¡°It feels refreshing to talk about everything so frankly after bottling everything into my memory for so long. Well, see you at school on Monday!¡±

 

¡°See you!¡± Sakura waved. Frowning, she turned around and peered at the shadow cast bushes. She had the funniest sense that something was following her, but hadn¡¯t mentioned it to Yuri because she didn¡¯t want to alarm her. Was it a dark force? Truthfully, she was too exhausted to care, and her mind was in bewilderment, overwhelmed by the new, unexpected details about the twin¡¯s history.

 

 

 

Entering her house and kicking off her shoes, Sakura called out, ¡°I¡¯m home, otou-san!¡±

 

Coming out of the kitchen, Fujitaka said, ¡°You worked till late today, Sakura-san. The dinner must be getting cold.¡±

 

An hour later, Touya¡¯s heavy footsteps came on the porch.

 

Leaping up from the kitchen chair, Sakura ran up to the door. ¡°You¡¯re late, onii-chan! There¡¯s no dinner left for you, ha.¡±

 

¡°I had evening shift at the hospital,¡± Touya said. ¡°And I¡¯m starving, kaijou. Oh yeah. I found this creature sleeping on our porch.¡± He held up a small boy with tousled dark hair by the collar. ¡°He was looking for you.¡±

 

¡°Ouch, let go you ogre!¡± the child grumbled, trying to kick Touya.

 

As she recognized the squirming boy, Sakura exclaimed, ¡°Subaru-chan, what are you doing here?¡±

 

¡°I followed you home, stupid hag,¡± Subaru replied, finally loosening Touya¡¯s grip on his collar and sitting down firmly on the ground, legs crossed. ¡°And I¡¯m not going back to the orphanage.¡±

 

Hands on hips, Sakura scolded, ¡°Su-chan, everyone must be frantically searching for you right now. Come here, I¡¯ll take you back.¡±

 

Retaining his position seated on the floor, Subaru retorted, ¡°No, I¡¯m not moving one inch from here, and you can¡¯t make me go back. Besides, nobody will notice that I¡¯m gone.¡±

¡°Su-chan, don¡¯t be difficult. You have to go back,¡± Sakura persisted.

 

¡°Sakura-san, why don¡¯t you just let him stay overnight? It¡¯s too late to take him back anyway,¡± Fujitaka reasoned. ¡°You can call the head of the orphanage and tell her Subaru-san is safe, and he can return tomorrow. ¡±

 

Arms crossed, Subaru stated, ¡°Spend the day with me and I¡¯ll go back to the orphanage tomorrow evening, without any fuss.¡±

 

¡°But tomorrow¡¯s Sunday,¡± Sakura protested. Bending down to Subaru, Sakura pleaded, ¡°Onee-san has an important meeting tomorrow, so I can¡¯t play with you.¡±

 

Pouting, Subaru replied, ¡°It¡¯s okay, take me along then. Why, is it a date with your boyfriend or something?¡±

 

¡°N-no!¡± Sakura blushed.

 

¡°It¡¯s my birthday tomorrow. If I return, I¡¯ll probably be grounded and sent to room without any meals,¡± Subaru said. ¡°I don¡¯t see why you can¡¯t spend the day with me. Unless it¡¯s a very special date with your boyfriend, that is.¡±

 

¡°I-I said it¡¯s not!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°Fine, I¡¯ll call the orphanage head right now and ask her if I can return you tomorrow evening.¡±

 

¡°Yay!¡± Subaru clapped in joy.

 

Relenting at the sight of Subaru smiling so widely, Sakura called the orphanage immediately. ¡°Yes, Subaru somehow followed me home; he¡¯s safe. I¡¯m very sorry, I don¡¯t know how he did it¡¦ Yes. It¡¯s too late in the night, so I thought it might be better to let him sleep at my house. And I was wondering if he can spend the day with me tomorrow. I¡¯ll take good care of him and promised he won¡¯t cause any trouble¡¦ Of course it won¡¯t be any trouble for me. I¡¯ll return him in time for dinner¡¦ Okay, thank you very much.¡± Sakura hung up the receiver.

 

In the midst of eating dinner with Touya on the Kinomoto kitchen table, Subaru asked, mouthful of food, ¡°Is it okay?¡±

 

¡°Yup.¡± Giving an okay signal, Sakura grinned. She just hoped that Syaoran would be in a very understanding mood the next day.

 

******

 

Yawning, Sakura stood in front of King Penguin Park, waiting for Syaoran. It was exactly five to seven, Sunday morning; she was not only on time but early. She was dressed in a blue and white plaid jumper over a white cotton blouse and her hair was neatly pulled into two high pigtails at each side her head and tied with narrow blue and white ribbons.

 

¡°Kaijou-¡®nee-san, why are you all dressed up?¡± Subaru asked, yawning also. ¡°Ugly Hag¡± was replaced with Touya¡¯s old nickname for Sakura, ¡°monster.¡± Subaru was also dressed in fresh clothes—clothes Touya wore when he was that age, stored away neatly in boxes by Nadeshiko. ¡°And why did we have to wake up so early?¡±

 

A familiar sound of barking came down the road. A pale golden-tan colored puppy with pointed ears came leaping down the road to the park and joyfully jumped into Sakura¡¯s wide-open arms.

 

¡°Wolfie-chan!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°What are you doing here?¡± Then, she looked up expectantly.

 

¡°What is that ugly creature?¡± Subaru demanded.

 

¡°What are you talking about? Wolfie-chan is the cutest puppy in the world!¡±

 

Staring down at the panting puppy disdainfully, Subaru said, ¡°Humph, you have strange taste.¡±

 

Finally, Sakura caught a glimpse of Syaoran, in pale beige pants and a crisp white flannel over a white shirt, strolling down the road. ¡°You¡¯re ten minutes late, Syaoran!¡± she called out.

 

Upon reaching Sakura, Syaoran replied, ¡°I was planning on making you wait ten hours. Luckily, I¡¯m too nice to do such a thing. I came as slowly as I could though.¡±

 

¡°Then why are you out of breath?¡± Subaru pointed out.

 

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran flushed. He had run all the way there because he was afraid he might make Sakura wait. When he was in Sakura¡¯s view, he had slowed down and pretended to take all the time in the world. Unfortunately, this little kid had seen right through his act.

 

¡°So you¡¯re the Kaijou-¡®nii-san¡¯s important date, Li Syaoran,¡± Subaru commented. Hand on chin, he scanned Syaoran up and down. ¡°Humph, better looks than I expected. But crappy personality.¡±

 

With a dark expression painted on his face, Syaoran pointed to the kid and demanded, ¡°Who is this brat?¡±

 

¡°Ah, well, it¡¯s a long story,¡± Sakura began, twiddling her thumb. ¡°He¡¯s from the orphanage, but it¡¯s his birthday today, and he followed me home, and somehow he ended up sleeping over at my house and we have to spend the day with him and¡¦¡±

 

¡°Wait, wait, wait a second,¡± Syaoran interrupted. ¡°Slow down, I can¡¯t understand a word you¡¯re saying. You certainly don¡¯t mean to tell me that we have to spend the entire day with this kid?¡±

 

Slowly, Sakura nodded.

 

Staring at Sakura, Syaoran demanded, ¡°So, you¡¯re trying to tell me that I sacrificed how many Sundays in a row to end up babysitting a kid?¡±

 

Again, Sakura nodded. ¡°Sorry,¡± she squeaked in a small voice. ¡°Please? It¡¯s only a day. I need to return him for dinner.¡±

 

¡°Humph. No wonder the ugly hag said that your temper is only a little better than mine,¡± Subaru stated to Syaoran with a smirk on his face. ¡°But I think it¡¯s even worse. Umph!¡±

 

Blocking Subaru¡¯s mouth with her hands, Sakura said, ¡°W-when did I say that? Ouch! You bit my hand!¡±

 

¡°I heard you clearly tell me yesterday, ¡®You¡¯re even worse that Syaoran when I first met him,¡¯¡± Subaru insisted. ¡°Don¡¯t you remember? I know you¡¯re dumb, but don¡¯t tell me you have a faulty memory also.¡±

 

Eyes slanted stonily, Syaoran crossed his arms in front of him. ¡°Sakura? Surely you don¡¯t go around talking about me behind my back to children.¡±

 

Quickly changing the subject, Sakura asked, yawning again, ¡°Why did we have to meet so early, though? It¡¯s Sunday, a rare chance to sleep in.¡±

 

¡°Well, I thought we can resume our martial arts lessons, with the kid included,¡± Syaoran replied blandly. ¡°We used to meet out in the middle of winter at 5AM, you know.¡±

 

Sakura looked slightly horrified. She hadn¡¯t thought that Syaoran was this stoic. He planned on teaching her martial arts today? And she had gotten all dressed up for no reason! She couldn¡¯t fight with this kind of outfit. Of course, she shouldn¡¯t have hoped too high, but still. Finally she noted that Syaoran was wearing clothes unsuitable for martial arts training—she should have seen right through his trick from the beginning for Syaoran had a teasing twinkle in his eyes.

 

Seeing the momentary dismayed expression on Sakura¡¯s face, Syaoran chuckled. ¡°I was just kidding you know. To punish you for standing me up for so long, not to mention bringing a kid along. So, I request that you eat breakfast with me, as well a lunch and dinner—out of course. If you had agreed last, last, last week, it would have been just lunch. Now, I¡¯ve increased the criteria. And we¡¯ll have dinner together after the kid goes back.¡±

 

Sakura smiled. That wasn¡¯t that bad of a punishment at all. She let go of Wolfie-chan, who jumped down to the ground and began yapping at Syaoran. He was being pretty decent about bringing along Subaru, after all.

 

¡°Troublesome dog,¡± Syaoran grumbled. ¡°Shouldn¡¯t have brought you along.¡±

 

¡°Thanks for bringing Wolfie-chan,¡± Sakura said, rubbing her nose in the puppy¡¯s soft fur.

 

¡°I wasn¡¯t planning to,¡± Syaoran said defiantly. ¡°But he just tagged along.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s so ugly; it looks like a little wolf,¡± Subaru stated crouching down and poking Wolfie-chan. ¡°Stupid dog.¡±

 

¡°Arf arf!¡± Wolfie-chan licked Subaru¡¯s face.

 

¡°Hey that tickles!¡± Subaru laughed. Tentatively, he stroked Wolfie-chan¡¯s back.

 

Bending over and patting the puppy¡¯s head, Skaura said, ¡°His given name is Vega, like in the star Vega of the Lyre, which means ¡°Swooping Eagle,¡± but everyone calls him Wolfie-chan because he looks like a small wolf.¡±

 

¡°Stupid name. You named him, right?¡± Subaru commented, scratching Wolfie-chan¡¯s chin. Then his face lightened in a broad grin. ¡°Wolfie-chan likes me, doesn¡¯t he? Can I hold him? How old is he?¡±

 

¡°Why, Wolfie-chan does like you, Su-chan,¡± Sakura said, smiling. Maybe Subaru was a nice kid, after all. The puppy wasn¡¯t nice to all strangers—for example, he took delight in biting Kai¡¯s ankle.

 

¡°So, what should we have for breakfast?¡± Syaoran asked.

 

Sakura spotted the ice cream truck and pointed to it. ¡°That!¡±

 

¡°What? Ice cream for breakfast?¡±

 

¡°So what! I¡¯ve never done that before. ¡®Nii-chan would never let me something like that for breakfast. My treat!¡± Sakura exclaimed.

 

¡°Yay! Ice cream! I rarely get to eat ice cream. Can we try it? Please? I want chocolate flavor!¡± Subaru exclaimed.

 

¡°Oh fine,¡± Syaoran relented.

 

Recalling her resolution from last Sunday, Sakura demanded, ¡°Syaoran, what¡¯s your favorite ice cream flavor?¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t have any in particular. It changes depending on my mood,¡± Syaoran replied without thought.

 

¡°Oh,¡± Sakura said, crestfallen, looking down at her feet. ¡°Umm¡¦ Which flavor do you want then?¡±

 

Noticing the disappointed expression on Sakura¡¯s face, Syaoran quickly retaliated, ¡°Ah, right now, I think I fee like having¡¦ hmm¡¦ I think I feel like having vanilla ice cream!¡±

 

¡°Vanilla?¡± Sakura smiled brightly. ¡°Two vanilla cones, one chocolate, one strawberry, all double scoop,¡± she said to the ice cream vendor. At times, she wondered if Syaoran could read her mind.

 

Soon, Syaoran and Sakura were licking double-scoop vanilla ice cream on waffle cone. The strawberry flavor went to Wolfie-chan.

 

¡°Yummy!¡± Subaru exclaimed, quickly licking his chocolate flavored ice cream to keep it from melting. ¡°Let¡¯s go to the aquarium next! I¡¯ve never been to the aquarium before. I want to see the sharks!¡±

 

Of course, the aquarium was not an ideal spot for holding a serious conversation. Oh well. Shrugging to Sakura, Syaoran asked, ¡°Do we have a choice?¡±

 

 

 

Sakura hadn¡¯t been to the aquarium since her semi-date with Yukito, five years ago. Surrounding her was the aqua blueness of water and swarms of fishes and eccentric sea creatures.

 

¡°Look! It¡¯s an electrical eel! Cool! And that¡¯s a shark!¡± Subaru exclaimed, jumping from place to place.¡±

 

¡°Subaru, don¡¯t get in other people¡¯s way,¡± Sakura called out. Turning to Syaoran, she commented, ¡°He seemed like an angry, problem child when I first saw him at the orphanage yesterday, but he¡¯s only a child. Now that I look at him again, he¡¯s kind of cute.¡±

 

¡°You think everything is cute,¡± Syaoran replied dryly.

 

Peering at the greenish seahorses, Sakura asked, ¡°Syaoran, did you know that Eron and Erika grew up in the orphanage?¡±

 

¡°Kaijou-¡¯nee-san, come over here! Look at that shark¡¯s teeth!¡± Subaru said, tugging at Sakura¡¯s skirt and squirming through the crowd to the shark¡¯s tank. One of the larger kids pushed him over. ¡°Ouch! I can¡¯t see!¡±

 

Sighing, Sakura lifted Subaru up by his waste, struggling because he was heavier than he looked. ¡°Can you see now?¡± she asked, short of breath.

 

¡°Hold me up higher!¡± Subaru demanded.

 

¡°Umph. You¡¯re quite heavy.¡± Straining to lift him up over the heads of the crowds, Sakura asked, ¡°Can you see now?¡±

 

¡°No, not at all,¡± Subaru replied, squirming to see the shark.

 

Without any words, Syaoran took Subaru from Sakura¡¯s arms and hoisted the boy up by the waist, high above the heads of the people. Sakura stared at Syaoran in brief gratitude.

 

¡°Wow, oh wow! I can see now! Just look at the size of that shark! It¡¯s awesome!¡± Subaru exclaimed, clapping in delight. ¡°¡¯Nii-san, ¡®nee-san, look! Can you see? Does it eat people?¡±

 

¡°No, this one is a tame shark. But there are ferocious sharks in the ocean that devour little naughty children,¡± Syaoran said, grinning slightly. Actually, he himself didn¡¯t remember the last time he had been to an aquarium.

 

¡°I¡¯ve never seen the ocean,¡± Subaru said. ¡°I¡¯ve seen it in pictures—it¡¯s so blue and big, with no end to it. I wish I can swim across to the end of the ocean and see what¡¯s there.¡±

 

¡°There¡¯s just more land,¡± Syaoran said, setting Subaru down on his feet. ¡°The continent of America.¡±

 

¡°No, I think mom and dad would be on the other side of the ocean,¡± Subaru said. ¡°They¡¯re waiting for me at the end, waiting for me to grow big enough to swim across on my own. And they¡¯ll be waiting for me there, even if it takes a long time, won¡¯t they?¡±

 

Kneeling down to be face level with Subaru, Syaoran replied gently, ¡°Of course they would, of course. That¡¯s why Subaru has to be a good boy and work hard towards becoming a strong man in the future.¡±

 

¡°The head of the orphanage tells me that I am a problem child, that I will grow up to be a delinquent. That is, if I don¡¯t die from brain tumor. If I do die, she told me that I will go to hell, because I am a bad boy, and bad boys go to hell and burn away in a pit of fire for eternity. And I¡¯ll never be able to see mother or father,¡± Subaru said in a matter of fact manner.

 

¡°Su-chan.¡± Bending over, Sakura stroked Subaru¡¯s hair. This time, he didn¡¯t knock her hand away.

 

¡°It¡¯s already one. Let¡¯s go eat lunch,¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°I want to eat pizza!¡± Subaru exclaimed.

 

¡°I never asked you, kid,¡± Syaoran grumbled. ¡°I don¡¯t want to eat pizza.¡±

 

¡°No one ever asked your opinion, bully,¡± Subaru retorted.

 

Giggling, Sakura thought, Syaoran¡¯s finally met his match in a seven year old.

 

¡°What are you laughing at?¡± Syaoran and Subaru demanded simultaneously.

 

 

 

After a meal of a big pan of pepperoni pizza—once again Subaru¡¯s choice—Sakura asked, ¡°So, should we do the cake now?¡±

 

¡°Yes! I want a huge chocolate cake with seven candles!¡± Subaru replied.

 

The waitresses gathered around the table with red and white helium balloons and sang ¡°Happy Birthday¡± to the tune of the accordion and the rhythm of the clapping. With a triumphant expression on his face, Subaru blew out all seven candles in one try, as colorful confetti streamed over him and Sakura and an unenthusiastic Syaoran cheered.  

 

¡°Here, Subaru gets to have the first piece,¡± Sakura said, handing a huge slice of rich, creamily frosted chocolate cake to Subaru.

 

Staring down at the cake, Subara said, ¡°Onee-san?¡±

 

¡°Hmm? Mmm¡¦ This cake is good. Try it Syaoran,¡± Sakura said, in between mouthfuls of the cake.

 

Guilty, Subaru continued, ¡°Actually, it isn¡¯t my birthday today.¡±

 

¡°W-what?¡± Syaoran exclaimed.

 

¡°I wanted to spend the day away from the orphanage, so I lied to you, onee-san, saying it was my birthday today so that you wouldn¡¯t return me,¡± Subaru said. ¡°I¡¯m sorry.¡±

 

Smiling, Sakura replied, ¡°I know.¡±

 

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran and Subaru stared at Sakura.

 

Laughing sheepishly, Sakura explained, ¡°Actually, I saw your medical chart yesterday when you were getting your shots, Su-chan. Your birthday was last month.¡±

 

¡°But¡¦¡± Subaru trailed off. ¡°You mean you just played along?¡±

 

¡°Did you have fun today?¡± Sakura asked, brushing the hair out of Subaru¡¯s eyes.

 

¡°Yup! Tons of fun! I got to eat ice cream for breakfast, see the sharks and the sea horses and the ugly eels, and have a birthday party too!¡± Subaru replied.

 

¡°Good, that¡¯s what¡¯s important,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°Humph. You¡¯re smarter than you look, Kaijou onee-san,¡± Subaru admitted reluctantly.

 

¡°She is,¡± Syaoran muttered. He stared at Sakura¡¯s smiling face, half annoyed that she had let the kid tag along when it was unnecessary, half warmed by her consideration towards the boy.

 

¡°I want one more birthday present then,¡± Subaru stated.

 

¡°Sure, what is it?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°I want you to kiss the grouchy ¡®nii-san,¡± Subaru said with an angelic smile.


Both Sakura and Syaoran bonked Subaru on the head, identically red.

 

¡°Ouch! I thought it was an enjoyable thing grown-ups do. If I weren¡¯t here to interrupt, would you have done it? No need to be embarrassed!¡± With a wicked grin, Subaru stared up at the blushing Syaoran and Sakura. ¡°I saw the ¡®Star-Crossed¡¯ video that Yuri-¡®nee-san brought over to show us. It took me some time to figure out that kaijou-¡®nee-san was the beautiful Juliet in the production. Anyway, do it again, the kiss!¡±

 

They both bonked him on the head one more time.

 

¡°Fine, I think onee-san deserves better than that ill-tempered onii-san, anyway. Onee-san can go out with me instead,¡± Subaru stated. ¡°These days, eight year difference is nothing at all.¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Sakura gawked at the overconfident little boy.

 

¡°Ha ha ha ha!!!¡± Syaoran burst out laughing, clutching his sides. ¡°Good luck!¡±

 

******

 

After they returned Subaru to the orphanage, Sakura and Syaoran slowly strolled back to their neighborhood. Though Subaru had been reluctant to return, Sakura and Syaoran promised to visit again. Sakura just hoped Subaru didn¡¯t get into too much trouble for running away the previous day.

 

¡°Why are you continuously chuckling to yourself?¡± Sakura, unable to rid herself of blushing, demanded to Syaoran.

 

¡°What an interesting kid,¡± Syaoran said, in between chuckles. ¡°I haven¡¯t been this amused in days. To think that little boy proposed to you. I wonder what he saw in you. ¡±

 

¡°Shut up!¡± Ignoring Syaoran, Sakura began to walk faster. Wolfie-chan trailed after her. All day long he had patiently waited outside buildings, a little hurt because Subaru took away all the attention from him but still glad to see Sakura. ¡°I¡¯m going home now.¡±

 

¡°No you¡¯re not,¡± Syaoran stated firmly. ¡°You promised me dinner also. Finally I get some time alone with you.¡±

 

¡°Huh?¡± Halting, Sakura turned around. Wolfie-chan banged into her legs.

 

Bending over to Wolfie-chan, Syaoran gently said, ¡°Wolfie-chan, I¡¯m really sorry but now you have to go home and wait, okay?¡±

 

At first, Wolfie-chan whimpered, then he nodded in consent. With a final wag of his tail, the puppy scampered down the road.


¡±Wait, Wolfie-chan!¡± Sakura called out in vain.

 

Smugly, Syaoran said, ¡°Wolfie-chan listens to me better than to you now.¡± Before Sakura could come up with an indignant response, he continued, ¡± Well let¡¯s go now.¡±

 

¡°Where are we going?¡± Sakura asked, yawning. ¡°I¡¯m exhausted already, and we have school tomorrow.¡±

 

¡°We¡¯re going to Tokyo to have dinner at a five star Italian restaurant,¡± Syaoran replied.

 

What has come over Syaoran lately? Sakura wondered, as Syaoran grabbed her hand and ran to the train station.

 

 

 

The dim light of the flickering candle illuminating the restaurant, reflected off Syaoran¡¯s amused amber eyes. They were seated in a table for two by the window side, able to gaze out at the Tokyo night street. Though the full course meal was delicious, Sakura had to choke it down. The atmosphere was completely different from simply eating dinner at Syaoran¡¯s apartment when she stayed there.

 

¡°W-why are you so silent?¡± Sakura stammered. ¡°Say something.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re not supposed to eat the Italian tiramisu with a spoon,¡± Syaoran said out of the blue, taking a bite of the desert with his fork.

 

¡°It tastes good either way,¡± Sakura retorted. That wasn¡¯t the kind of conversation she wanted. By this time, she was starting to feel that the young man staring out at her through tousled dark brown bangs, sitting in front of her at this very moment, was a person she had met just recently. Why else would her heart be thudding so spontaneously? It was not a very comfortable feeling.

 

¡°You did that last time too,¡± Syaoran insisted. ¡°You ate your seafood penne with spoon.¡±

 

¡°Oh yeah. This is the restaurant we came to this summer!¡± Sakura recalled, ignoring Syaoran¡¯s criticisms. ¡°You kept me waiting for an hour, too.¡± And he had given her a beautiful pale white-blue rose which she had pressed into a heavy book to dry.

 

¡°Ahem. I don¡¯t recall doing such a thing. All I remember is that our meal was ruined because we were spying on your uncle and grandfather. Kai really owes us big time—just remembering all the trouble we went through this summer makes me dizzy.¡± 

 

¡°It was fun though.¡±

 

¡°Yeah.¡±

 

¡°Well, didn¡¯t you say you have something really important to tell me?¡± Sakura asked, wiping the crumb off her lips with the napkin.

 

¡°Weeks ago,¡± Syaoran replied, implying that he was cross, but with a mild smile on his lips.

 

¡°Sorry,¡± Sakura said, feeling her perspiration on her neck. ¡°I¡¯m ready to listen now. What is it?¡±

 

¡°Since you brought along that kid today, you owe me another Sunday,¡± Syaoran replied, leaning back on the chair. ¡°I¡¯ll tell you next Sunday.¡±

 

¡°Fine,¡± Sakura said, half wondering what kind of game Syaoran was playing at, dragging things out, half glad that she could spend even more time with him. ¡°Anyway, I don¡¯t know about you, but I think it was nice to spend the day with Subaru-chan. You saw how excited he was.¡±

 

¡°I never said anything. He¡¯s a decent kid,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Though he has funny taste in girls.¡±

 

¡°You know, I was pretty surprised that the Wave has been silent for a few days,¡± Sakura said to change the subject, feeling compelled to start a conversation. ¡°I can¡¯t help thinking if it¡¯s okay to just leave it like this. I feel like it¡¯s building up to something bigger. Especially because of the incident at the Best Couple Contest this summer, I¡¯m a little nervous. Oh yeah, just wait till we have some time on our hands. I¡¯m going to get revenge on you and Kai-kun for making fun of me while I was five because of the Age Card. Don¡¯t look at me like that, as if you find it amusing.  I¡¯m serious; I¡¯m really going to make you sorry.¡± Stopping for breath, Sakura gaped at Syaoran. It wasn¡¯t like him to just listen to her chattering and not argue back.

 

Shaking her head at Syaoran¡¯s indifference, Sakura continued, ¡°I was really shocked to hear about Eron and Erika. I knew their parents had passed away, but I guess I thought they lived with their relative or something. After all, the Chang twins and the orphanage don¡¯t seem to match. And Erika used to be really frail because she had a weak heart. I heard from Yuri-chan that Eron was really protective of his sister. It¡¯s so rare that we see such sides of them, however. But I can¡¯t help wondering if it¡¯s possible to bring out such sides. Eron is such a complex person, but I still can¡¯t help being drawn to his enigma, as if he is kind of a puzzle I have to figure out to find out the truth.¡±

 

¡°Hey, can we talk about something else just for today,¡± Syaoran interrupted.

 

A little hurt, Sakura said, ¡°I just thought you would be interested.¡± Wasn¡¯t Syaoran always the one who could never distinguish business and regular life?

 

¡°Actually, I¡¯m more interested in why you found it so difficult to make time to meet a friend,¡± Syaoran said, glancing away from Sakura for the first time during that meal. ¡°Just a single Sunday was all I asked for.¡±

 

¡°I-I¡¯m sorry. It really was nothing personal, really,¡± Sakura said softly.

 

¡°Look, I¡¯m not trying to make you apologize a million times,¡± Syaoran reassured. ¡°I¡¯m sorry too.¡±

 

¡°Why?¡±

 

¡°Huh? I don¡¯t know¡¦¡± Syaoran stammered. ¡°Because I¡¯m making you feel uncomfortable right now?¡±

 

Smiling slightly, Sakura thought, It¡¯s not your attitude, presence, or your words that¡¯s making me nervous right now; it¡¯s simply the atmosphere of the restaurant, that¡¯s all. That¡¯s what I want to believe. Since when have I felt this way in front of you, though? This flustered and baffled. There was a time when I felt at complete ease with you, when I didn¡¯t see you differently from any other person, wasn¡¯t there?  I don¡¯t know why or how, but you know me so well when I hardly know you at all. Yet, somehow, these days, I think I am getting to know you a little better.

 

¡°Umm¡¦ Syaoran? Actually, there was something I wanted to say to you also,¡± Sakura said. From her bag, she drew out a rectangular package, wrapped in green and white striped paper. ¡°I¡¯m sorry. This is nothing much, but I just wanted to express my gratitude for all that you¡¯ve done for me the past few months while I stayed at your house. I¡¯m kind of broke, so I couldn¡¯t get you anything more fancy. But I¡¯ll buy you dinner next time.¡±

 

Carefully, Syaoran opened the box. In it were two mugs, one a pale green and one a rose pink. Each had a teddy bear on the face of the mug. He hid a grin. How Sakura-like.

 

Laughing sheepishly, Sakura said, ¡°I guess that¡¯s something more of what I would buy myself. But then the teddy bears were so cute. The real reason I bought mugs is remember how your favorite green mug disappeared?¡±

 

¡°Yeah?¡± Syaoran raised an eyebrow.

 

¡°Actually, I broke it last time when I was washing the dishes. And I threw away the broken pieces before you saw it, because I was afraid that you¡¯d get mad at me. Sorry!¡± Sakura bent down her head in repentance.

 

¡°I always wondered where that mug disappeared to,¡± Syaoran said, fingering the teddy bear on the green mug. Then he touched the pink mug. ¡°There are two mugs. You only broke one.¡±

 

¡°Ah, well, they came in a set,¡± Sakura explained hastily.

 

Grinning, Syaoran said, ¡°But I only need one mug. I guess the other one is for my guest.¡±

 

¡°Oh, Meirin or Kai can use it,¡± Sakura said quickly.

 

Carefully setting the mugs back in the box and putting it in his bag, Syaoran said, ¡°Nope, I¡¯m going to reserve it for an especially guest only.¡±

 

¡°Really?¡± Sakura said, already knowing who but wanting to hear it from Syaoran¡¯s own lips. ¡°Who?¡±

 

¡°You¡¯ll see,¡± Syaoran replied, heading towards the counter to pay the bills. ¡°Well, should we start heading back? I guess it¡¯s too late too watch a movie, since we have school tomorrow.¡±

 

¡°Yeah, onii-chan must be worried. It¡¯s already nine,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°Hmm¡¦ Maybe we should see a movie after all,¡± Syaoran commented.

 

Cutting Syaoran off, Sakura urged, ¡°Hurry, so we won¡¯t miss the train.¡±

 

 

 

The train was very crowded and Sakura and Syaoran barely squeezed in.

 

¡°Ouch!¡± Someone shoved Sakura into the corner, and another person knocked her aside.

 

¡°Sakura, keep in sight with me,¡± Syaoran called over the heads of the people, trying to make his way to Sakura¡¯s side. ¡°I didn¡¯t know that there would be this many people. We should have just taken a cab.¡±

 

¡°Hoe-e!¡± Barely escaping being smothered by two huge men, Sakura grabbed onto the handle as the train started before she lost her balance. She bumped into Syaoran¡¯s chest.

 

Suddenly, there was a screech and the train halted. All the standing people collided into each other. Syaoran shielded Sakura from the shoving people. 

 

¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± People demanded. ¡°We¡¯re not at the station yet?¡±

 

The next moment, there was vibration throughout the train cars and a large thud sound. This was followed by consecutive shaking in the cars.

 

The operators voice was drowned out by the commotion created by the passengers. ¡°Passengers, there will be brief delay in all train schedules. Please evacuate the cars in an orderly fashion, and please do not push each other.¡±

 

¡°Is something wrong?¡± Sakura asked, looking up at Syaoran. ¡°Is it possibly another dark force?¡±

 

¡°I think it was another earthquake,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Quick, let¡¯s leave the train before we are tread over by these people.¡±

 

The passengers were frantically trying to exit, selfishly thinking of getting only themselves out of the train cars.

 

Finally squeezing out the door, Sakura looked back, expecting to see Syaoran. Yet he was nowhere in view. Then, she caught sight of him, helping an old woman get off the train. Again, that fluttering feeling in her heart ran a tingle down her spine.

 

¡°Hurry, Sakura, we have to get out of the station,¡± Syaoran said, after making sure that the old lady was safely out of the range of the hoards of people rushing out of the train.

 

¡°It¡¯s the Wave again,¡± Sakura said, running to catch up with Syaoran. They walked out into the streets, flocked with people who had left the trains in a hurry.

 

The ground beneath them shook again, and Sakura stumbled.

 

¡°Where do you get such poor balance?¡± Syaoran asked, sighing in exasperation.

 

¡°From my mother, probably,¡± Sakura replied, sheepishly.

 

¡°Weren¡¯t you supposed to be gymnastics star of Seijou Junior?¡± Syaoran muttered. Yet, Sakura wasn¡¯t listening; she had already run to the direction of the dark force.

 

After running for minutes, Sakura halted, panting. ¡°I lost track of the dark force. I thought I felt the aura coming from this direction, but I guess I was wrong. It¡¯s strange—I can¡¯t locate the Wave; it feels like it¡¯s coming from all different directions.¡±

 

¡°Obviously, since it is the ¡°Wave¡± it¡¯s powers reverberates and spreads out in all different directions,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°That¡¯s why you have to concentrate extra hard and find the center of it, not where it radiates out its aura.¡±

 

¡°I hate it when you try to sound all smart,¡± Sakura said, crouching on the ground since her legs ached.

 

¡°I¡¯m not trying to sound smart— I¡¯m just telling you the straight facts,¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°You know what¡¯s strange?¡± Sakura asked, standing up again, accepting that once more she had lost track of the Wave. ¡°I used to be really determined to conquer the Dark Ones. I was convinced that the righteous would always win, that everything will work out in my favor. And then, I began to think. Who is the righteous one? What am I really doing? Why am fighting the Dark Ones? I think it¡¯s foolish to be fighting the Dark Ones when I don¡¯t even know the reason why.¡±

 

¡°Well, they¡¯re attacking us for one thing, and harming innocent people, for another,¡± Syaoran said dryly.

 

¡°But why? Do you truly believe that Eron and Erika are any different from us?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Kero-chan told me that the original Dark Ones have some desire or revenge, a long wrought hate sprung in the era of the Five Great Sorcerers. Then, Kaitou Magician entered the picture. He stole the Five Force Treasures from us and the Dark One, also. Yet, I don¡¯t consider him a villain-figure. He also has his reasons—he has to collect the Five Force Treasures. When Eriol-kun attacked me, five years ago, it was because he wanted to make me a strong new mistress for the Clow Cards. And when you fight, it is because you wanted to uphold your family honor and the title of the Li Clan Chosen One. Yet, I, alone, have no intrinsic motive at all. I don¡¯t want to fight the Dark Ones—not in that I want to defeat them and destroy them. Neither do I want immense power or recognition, either. I don¡¯t even want to fight under my mother¡¯s name, nor the Great Magician Amamiya, my far-off ancestor¡¯s name, because I believe my mother was a peaceful person at heart, and I do not know anything about Amamiya-sama. So, what am I fighting so desperately for?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s such a silly think to ponder about,¡± Syaoran scoffed, in a tone which piffled Sakura. ¡°Haven¡¯t you realized yet? You¡¯re not fighting for any stupid old intrinsic motive. You¡¯re fighting because you have no choice, because it is the responsibility you have from the blood that runs through your veins.¡±

 

Playing with the idea, Sakura commented, ¡°I don¡¯t really like that concept, either.¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t think you would,¡± Syaoran said, grinning crookedly, before becoming solemn again. ¡°So, continue to think that you¡¯re fighting for righteousness. After all, you alone have the purest of motives, for the soul sake of defending yourself and the people you love. Isn¡¯t that the best motive of all? You¡¯re not fighting in anyway to benefit yourself; you¡¯re completely unselfish. Long ago, the five greatest magicians of the world formed a circle, the Circle of the Five Forces, joining hands to combine and use their gift to benefit human kind, to prevent competition and rivalry between the most powerful in the world. Now, in modern day world, the circle has collapsed, yet what will be able to keep order and balance in this perilous world of power and greed? Sakura, you alone will be able to keep the equilibrium, because you are the center of the current magical world, the nucleus of a star, and you will extend your arms out to all the points of the star, to all of the lost wanderers lusting for more power, reminiscing the glory of the past, and rotting away from the curse of their ancestors.¡±

 

 Noticing that a lost expression had washed over Sakura¡¯s face, Syaoran said lightly, ¡°Look, it¡¯s not because of your magical powers or ancestry which makes you the way you are right now. You¡¯re not an especially special ¡°Chosen One¡± either. You¡¯re simply you. It¡¯s probably your existence rather than your magical powers which sets you apart from others. So, I think you should start taking more pride and credit for the role you play in the magician¡¯s world now.

 

Shaking her head, Sakura said, ¡°I don¡¯t see what point you¡¯re driving at, not at all.¡±

¡°It¡¯s not that difficult of a concept,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°I¡¯m no Clow Reed who believes that everything is predetermined. Because I think you induced the situation you¡¯re in upon yourself. Do you need a more thorough explanation? I¡¯ll tell you. You already had begun the process by becoming best friends with Tomoyo, as well as having the support of your brother and father. But really, it all started six years ago, when your first befriended your brother¡¯s best friend, Yukito-san, the first of your solid allies, later to become Yue, one of your guardians. Then, Kero, your second guardian-to-be accepted you as Card Captor. Then, I came here from Hong Kong. Believe it or not, I am the first point of the star that you extended your arms to and definitely gained. And I thank you for accepting me. Unlike me, you also were drawn to Mizuki-sensei and won yourself another powerful ally. Obviously, Cerberus and Yue both accepted you with Yue¡¯s Judgment, so you became their Card Mistress. Next, Eriol came to Tomoeda to test your skills. And once more, you won him over with your charm, which also won over Yue and Cerberus¡¯ counterparts, Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun. As of now, these seven people correspond to seven points of a twelve-pointed star.¡±

 

¡°What¡¯s with your star analogy?¡± Sakura asked, dumbfounded yet fascinated.

 

¡°Haven¡¯t you noticed the magic circle which appears when your release your staff? It¡¯s your own symbol, like Clow Reed has his own sun circle. Yours has a five-pointed star in the center, where you stand; this star represents you. It overlaps another five pointed star, each of the five points representing the original Great Five: Amamiya, Li, Reed, Mizuki, and the last one probably Chang. Encircling these is a large twelve-pointed star. Each point is a spot for each person of special power that you have drawn into your own special circle. As I said before, seven spots are already definite and filled. Last year, the Dark Ones have appeared. So two more points are reserved for the legendary twins, for the day you will win them over to your side, if such a day comes.¡±

 

¡°Optimistic thoughts coming from Li Syaoran,¡± Sakura murmured. Will such a day come?

 

¡°The tenth point, if I¡¯m not mistaken, is that rascal, problem-causing thief you insisted on befriending. But again, you reached your hands out to him, and he is starting to sway towards your circle,¡± Syaoran continued.

 

¡°Kai-kun?¡± Sakura repeated.

 

¡°Yes, haven¡¯t you noticed a special aura around him? It¡¯s subtle, yet still strong,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°And finally, there are two spots left, for two new people to appear and fill in the near or far future. Once all these spots are filled, once everyone has joined, equilibrium, disrupted since the Golden Age of the Great Five, will finally be reached in the magical world.¡±

 

These novel ideas were intricate for Sakura to absorb completely, for it didn¡¯t seem possible that the equilibrium that Syaoran talked of could be restored by her. Oh well, for the moment, all she could do was try her best to survive day by day and maybe find out Eron and Erika¡¯s real motives.

 

¡°The earthquakes ceased again,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I hope there weren¡¯t to many casualties or damages caused by it.¡±

 

¡°We really need to track it down as soon as we can,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°But before thinking of that, I think we should return home.¡±

 

¡°Hoe-e!!! How are we going to get home?¡± Sakura panicked. ¡°Should we call a cab? Are there any buses?¡±

 

¡°Shh¡¦ There aren¡¯t any people around here. This is when it becomes convenient to have magical powers. Call the Unicorn or something,¡± Syaoran said, glancing around the streets surreptitiously.

 

¡°Really? I can really do something like that? You won¡¯t get mad at me for being irresponsible or frivolous or anything?¡± Sakura fumbled for the key hanging from a chain around her neck.

 

¡°Sakura?¡± Clearly, Syaoran hadn¡¯t been paying attention to her rambling.

 

¡°Yeah?¡±

 

¡°What do you really think my motives for fighting against the Dark Ones are?¡± Syaoran asked solemnly, staring into the starless night sky.

 

¡°Why, that¡¯s obvious. To uphold family honor as the Li Clan Chosen One,¡± Sakura replied.

 

¡°You really think so?¡±

 

¡°What else?¡±

 

¡°Sakura, why do you think I first came to Japan, five years ago?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s even more obvious. To capture the Clow Cards for the Li Clan,¡± Sakura replied, getting more baffled at Syaroan¡¯s pointless questions which were heading nowhere.

 

¡°Then why did I stay in Japan after the Clow Cards were captured?¡±

 

¡°Because strange things started happening in Tomoeda, and you might have wanted to meet Clow Reed,¡± Sakura answered. ¡°What point are you trying to make?¡±

 

Shaking his head, Syaoran said, ¡°Never mind. Let¡¯s return home.¡±

 

¡°Hoe¡¦¡± Syaoran¡¯s acting so strange today. Maybe he¡¯s still mad that I brought along Subaru today. Without further thought, Sakura released the Unicorn. But all the same, I hate it when he doesn¡¯t finish his thoughts. He¡¯s always so vague and ambiguous.

 

******

 

¡°Sakura, don¡¯t fall asleep,¡± Tomoyo whispered into Sakura¡¯s ears during math lessons the next day. ¡°Were you out with Syaoran-kun that late in the night yesterday?¡±

 

¡°Hmm?¡± Sakura blinked, trying not to let her eyes shut again. Her brother had been furious once more that she had returned home around midnight last night, even though she had explained the trains had shut down. It was uncanny how her brother always knew it when she met Syaoran.

 

Before she could whisper back a proper response, she felt Syaoran, seated behind her, flinch and drop his pen onto the ground. Then, she too felt a sharp bolt ripple through her body, the feeling she received when an extremely powerful force was near by. Bolting up, she shouted, ¡°Earthquake!¡±

 

¡°Huh?¡± The math teacher stopped in the midst of an explanation, ready to scold Sakura for interrupting the class. Before the teacher could do so, an extremely powerful quake shook the building. The vase on the teacher¡¯s desk smashed onto the floor and books fell off desks. It was the worst quake that Tomoeda had received of yet, and was followed by another one and another one. Most students had crouched underneath their desks.

 

Sakura¡¯s cool green eyes flitted to Eron, who was sitting calmly at his desk. He looked up at her and smiled, only to be greeted by Sakura¡¯s hard stare.

 

 

 

Once school was dismissed, the journalism club members headed straight to the hospital. The hospital was crowded to the point that it was chaotic and the doctors and nurses were tenser and busier than usual. Seemingly, a few buildings had collapsed and caught fire. Though there were no deaths, there were quite a few serious injuries, and many broken joints, heart attacks, and car accidents.

 

Touya rushed up to Sakura. ¡°Hey, Sakura. You and Chang-kun. And you, Mizuki-kun-where were you last time? You come too. Anyway, we have to rush over to the orphanage. The head of the orphanage fell down the stairs during the earthquakes earlier on today and broke her hip bone—she¡¯s in the hospital right now, so they need extra help there.¡±

 

 

 

If Sakura had been surprised at the fuss and noise children could make on her previous visit to the orphanage, that would have been called music compared to the state of the orphanage that day. The assistant had given up in despair, lying down on the couch faintly. The other assistant had assisted the head of the orphanage to the hospital and was gone. Diligent as always, Yuri alone was trying her best to tend to the problems of twenty or so children of ages ranging from three to fourteen. As calm as she usually was, she looked near tears.

 

¡°The children didn¡¯t have lunch yet, but I don¡¯t have the spare hand to make food right now,¡± Yuri explained, in desperation, stroking a child¡¯s head. ¡°Hush now, here¡¯s a banana.¡±

 

¡°Kaijou-¡®nee-san! I¡¯m starving!¡± Subaru exclaimed, jumping down from a chest—he had been in the middle of playing bandits. ¡°I think I can eat Annie-doll at this point!¡±

 

¡°No!¡± Holding the doll close to her chest, the girl stuck her tongue out at Subaru. ¡°You had five cookies when the rest of us only had two; how can you be still hungry?¡±

 

¡°Kai-kun, go to the pizza store and bring over four pans of pizza and five bottles of coke,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Your treat.¡±

 

¡°Why do you I have to go?¡± Kai grumbled.

 

¡°Because you ditched school again,¡± Sakura said simply. ¡°Hurry now.¡±

 

¡°Fine, fine.¡± Kai hurried out.

 

Before leaving the room, Kai glanced at Eron¡¯s left ear demurely. ¡°New earring? It¡¯s a pretty sapphire jewel. Not as pretty as blood red rubies though. Probably not as useful, either.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll crush that self-confident face of yours, Kaitou Magician,¡± Eron murmured so quietly, that only Kai could catch his words. In return, Kai merely grinned, much to Eron¡¯s annoyance.

 

The ground shook once more as Kai left, startling the younger children.

 

¡°See, I told you!¡± Subaru said to the younger children. ¡°The Earth-Monster is mad, so it¡¯s trembling with anger. Soon, it¡¯s going to open its mouth wide and swallow all of us up.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s not true!¡± an older boy scoffed.

 

¡°Oh yes it is. You know why the head disappeared? She was a bad woman, so the Earth-Monster swallowed her up,¡± Subaru stated confidently.

 

¡°Really?¡± The children asked in fear.

 

¡°No, she broke her hip, so she¡¯s being treated at the hospital right now,¡± Sakura defended, glaring at Subaru. ¡°Su-chan, stop making up lies. You an one of my classmates will get along really well.¡±

 

Yet, the ground shook once more, more violently than before, and it shook again three more times, each time even more startling. Even Sakura felt nauseous.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, don¡¯t you think we better evacuate this building?¡± Yuri asked, frowning. ¡°The earthquakes getting worse—I¡¯m afraid this house will just collapse on top of us.¡±

 

Half the children were crying, and the other half were near tears, many of them holding onto each other¡¯s hands. It was the first time they had experienced such disorder and confusion. The almighty, resilient head of the orphanage was injured, the assistant was faint, and even Yuri was panicking. Uneasiness and tension brimmed in the room.

 

To Sakura¡¯s dismay, she heard the building¡¯s frames creak—or was it her imagination? A tile from the roof slid off and crashed onto the ground outside. The children shrieked.

 

¡°What¡¯s happening, Kaijou-¡®nee-san?¡± Subaru demanded, fingers plugged in ear. ¡°Stop it, right now!¡±

 

¡°Where¡¯s Eron-kun?¡± Yuri asked, her voice even, yet strained. ¡°I think it¡¯s best if we get out right now. I¡¯m not sure how sturdy this building is. All I know is that these earthquakes are coming nearer and nearer towards this area, and I don¡¯t want the roof to fall over our head.¡±

 

¡°Wait a second—I¡¯ll go find Eron-kun. Gather everyone into this room,¡± Sakura told Yuri. ¡°Tell them not to panic.¡±

 

As she had expected, Sakura found Eron sitting on the back porch steps. Unruffled as usual, he was calmly staring into nothingness. Stomping up in front of him, Sakura demanded, ¡°Chang Eron, stop this right now! Please.¡±

 

Fiddling with a gem, which looked like a wide open eye, hanging from a black cord around his neck, Eron asked coolly, ¡°Stop what?¡±

 

¡°Stop these earthquakes,¡± Sakura replied, furious that Eron seemed so calm.

 

¡°If you¡¯re so smart to figure out that I¡¯m causing them, if I indeed I am causing them, why don¡¯t you simply attack me?¡± Eron asked, looking up. This was the first time Sakura had confronted him in this manner. The ground beneath Sakura¡¯s feet trembled as the tension in the land built up. ¡°Why did you come up to me and plead to cease what I am doing? Do you truly think that is a wise thing to do? You¡¯re walking into the spider web with your own two feet.¡±

 

This time, the ground shook so abruptly that Sakura was knocked to her feet. As she tried to stand up, the ground shook again, and Sakura collapsed on the ground once more. Her head swirled round and round as she tried to stare into Eron¡¯s amused golden eyes. Never before had they looked so menacing. Often, she thought they were mysterious and indecipherable, but now they looked scornful and even more untouchable.

 

¡°The more I look at you, Kinomoto Sakura, the more I realize what a fool my opponent is,¡± Eron continued. ¡°It¡¯s a pity. You¡¯re so stupid, you¡¯re boring.¡±

 

It was strange to hear such cruel, harsh works drip out of Eron¡¯s mouth, for he usually carefully chose his words and managed to keep a refined air around him.

 

In her kneeled state, Sakura forced herself to stare into Eron¡¯s golden flecked hazel eyes. ¡°I don¡¯t care if I¡¯m stupid. I don¡¯t care if you attack me or harm me or hate me. All I ask, Eron-kun, is to stop involving and injuring innocent people. I don¡¯t care if you want to make me suffer that much because you hate me. Hate me all you want to, send all the dark forces in the world to attack me, make me bleed—I won¡¯t reproach you for it. Maybe someday I¡¯ll know the reason why. But Eron, you have a kind heart, I know. You¡¯re the kind of boy who loved his sister so much that he will do anything to protect her. You¡¯re the kind of boy who fixes a broken doll for a crying girl. You¡¯re the type of boy¡¦¡±

 

¡°Shut up!¡± Eron said, his usually elegantly arched eyebrows furrowed down, his beautiful face contorted in anger for a change; such a fierce expression, Sakura had never seen on his, or any other person¡¯s face before. He continued in a soft, dangerous voice, ¡°Don¡¯t jump into any conclusions just because I told you a little bit about my childhood.¡±

 

The ground beneath Sakura split open so that one side rose higher than the other, tossing Sakura over onto her face. Her body was covered in dirt. Stubbornly, Sakura pulled herself up again, despite the fact that the ground beneath her was shaking unstably. The screams of the children inside the building could be heard. Kneeling in front of Eron again, head bowed down, Sakura repeated, ¡°Can¡¯t you see? If the earthquakes continue, the orphanage is going to collapse. Don¡¯t harm the children. That¡¯s the one favor I will ever ask of you. Please don¡¯t hurt innocent people, Eron-kun. Please.  It¡¯s not too much to ask, is it? She stared up with glassy emerald eyes. ¡±Is it?¡± She held out a pinky to Eron, a gesture of promising, smiling pleadingly.

 

¡°Put aside such nonsense!¡± Eron exclaimed, knocking her hand away.

 

Sakura said, ¡°I like Eron-kun; I like Eron-kun a lot. I think family business is family business and friends are friends. Though blood may be thicker than friendship, trust runs even deeper than blood. I think I want to try trusting you, Eron-kun. I think you have and are capable of more good in you than you are aware of. Despite what you think, I believe humans are worthy of redemption. So, please promise me that you won¡¯t harm innocent people in pursuit of the Dark One¡¯s revenge.¡±

 

Eron¡¯s knuckles were turning whiter and whiter as he clutched his necklace. Then, he noticed the ground beneath Sakura start to shift again. She was ignoring it, obstinately holding out her little pinky finger towards him. The crack she was kneeling on was starting widen.

 

¡°Sakura, move out of the way!¡± Eron exclaimed abruptly, surprised as the words left his mouths.

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura stumbled back, as the ground beneath her cracked open at a rapid rate.

 

Without thinking, Eron leaped up from his seated position, shoving Sakura¡¯s body out of danger¡¯s way. The spot Sakura was sitting on seconds ago was completely jagged and dangerously angled. Had she remained there, her bones would have been crushed. Dazed, Sakura picked herself off the ground, brushing the dust off her clothes.

 

Slowly sitting up himself, Eron stared at his dirt covered hands. What had he just done? He had thrown his body over Sakura to prevent her from being injured from the dark force that he himself had sent out. Who was the more foolish one now?

 

¡°T-thank you, Eron-kun,¡± Sakura stammered. Clearly, she was even more startled than Eron at is actions.

 

Ignoring her words, Eron sat up on his knees, looking haunted. In a hoarse voice, he said, ¡°Sakura, I¡¯m just curious about one thing.¡±

 

¡°What is it?¡± Sakura asked, uneasily.

 

¡°Why do you bother to be kind to me or Erika?¡± Eron asked.

 

¡°Do I need a reason?¡± Sakura asked back. She recalled that summer at the beachside, when Syaoran had confronted her with the same question. Back then, she had replied, ¡®Because they are still only humans before they are my enemies. I want to know the reason why they are doing this. I want to get to know them not as someone to be cautious of and to distance myself from, but as someone who I can discover different sides of. The good and bad sides.¡¯

 

Eron too recalled the conversation he had overheard during the whole Best Couple Contest business. It had left him dumbfounded, perplexed, and bewildered. The girl he had thought so dumb had known everything, and even more, had kept it a secret because she wanted to show him sympathy? Or maybe even give him a chance to prove himself? Prove what? That he too, was only human? Slowly, Eron replied, ¡°Does one need a reason?¡± He answered himself. ¡°I guess not. Because you are Kinomoto Sakura.¡±

 

¡°And you¡¯re only Eron-kun,¡± Sakura stated, whimsically. ¡°For what is in a name? That which we call a rose shall smell just as sweet were it called something else.¡± At this allusion to Romeo and Juliet, Eron managed to smile slightly. ¡°Eron-kun is like a beautiful crystal rose, returning people who want to admire it and touch it with prickly thorns. In ways, even Erika-chan¡¯s policy is better. At least she outright states it when she dislikes a person, when she¡¯s dissatisfied with something, or when she is annoyed. She doesn¡¯t keep it all in herself, letting the hatred rot away from inside, in the flesh which is concealed by the crystal encasing it. Eron-kun¡¯s problem is that you try to hide away any flaws with perfection and distance, like a cold glacier. That is why, when people approach you, you end up hurting them, because you feel compelled to repel them with the icy barrier.¡±

 

¡°So, I am a crystal rose with prickly thorns?¡± Eron repeated with a mocking curve of his lips. ¡°Do I repel you, Sakura? When people try to touch me, do I leave them only to bleed? Is that the impression you get of me?¡±  

 

Recalling the cruel rejection of Yuri, Sakura bit her lip. She hadn¡¯t meant to let such words, her inner thoughts, flow out of her mouth so easily. Yet, when Eron stared at her without any words, as if prodding her to continue, she couldn¡¯t help but blurt out such nonsense.  ¡°I¡¯m sorry, Eron-kun. I didn¡¯t mean to say such stuff.¡±

 

For a moment, Eron remained silent. It was disturbing how such a seemingly simplistic girl could so easily crack through his exterior mask and state so outright everything there was to his character. Was he that transparent, when he was supposed to be unapproachable? How could someone who barely knew him know him so well? Yet, he didn¡¯t want to acknowledge that fact, that this girl knew him even better than his own twin sister.

 

¡°You¡¯re such a silly girl, Sakura,¡± Eron murmured, shaking his head in disdain.

 

Sheepishly, Sakura replied, ¡°Maybe I am.¡±

 

The tremors grew less frequent as the earthquakes ceased. Finally, Eron said, ¡°I can¡¯t guarantee anything, and I swear that I will win over you, Sakura. But, but I¡¯ll try my best to not harm and innocent people.¡±

 

At first Sakura stared at Eron unexpectedly, disbelieving her ears. ¡°Really? Eron-kun, really?¡± Sakura smiled wildly, grabbing onto Eron¡¯s hand. ¡°Thank you, Eron-kun, thank you.¡±

 

Did my heart just thud right now? Up till now, I never realized that my heart was capable of beating. I thought, when I became a crystal rose, my heart too froze and ceased to beat like a human heart. ¡°I said, there are no guarantees,¡± Eron replied, clearly uncomfortable. ¡°You seem to look upon your enemy too lightly. I¡¯ll prove to you that the Dark Ones are not to be taken so easily and that you shall regret the day that you set eyes on us.¡±

 

¡°Okay!¡± Sakura said, extremely happily.

 

¡°That¡¯s nothing to be excited about,¡± Eron said, sweat-dropping. Yet, Sakura¡¯s smile was so bright. She is stupid. How can she be happy just because I said that I will try not to harm innocent people? I wonder how someone who¡¯s been through all she has can still smile so happily like that, like a child. Like a child. Are all humans really children at heart?

 

¡°Now I know for sure Eron-kun is a good person in the core,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°I¡¯m not,¡± Eron replied grimly. ¡°I¡¯m rotten to the core. You said yourself that I am rotting away beneath the flesh.¡±

 

Hanging her head down, Sakura said, ¡°I¡¯m sorry. I really didn¡¯t mean to put things so unflatteringly.¡±

 

¡°I accept that you did not speak any untruth. But one thing you were mistaken about. I do not hate you, Sakura, not at all.¡±

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura stared hard at Eron, who now had a somewhat contemplative expression on this face. Lately, she had seen so many different nuances of Eron¡¯s facial expressions, more than she ever thought he was capable of possessing and expressing.

 

¡°I am accursed and twisted in every single way,¡± Eron continued, his expression growing grimmer as his fingers moved to that strange reddish-black crystal around his neck.

 

¡°Sometimes, it think you induce unhappiness upon yourself,¡± Sakura sighed, deeply disturbed by the shadow cast over Eron¡¯s face, which had been smiling just moments ago.

 

¡°Maybe I do,¡± Eron replied. ¡°Say, Sakura, isn¡¯t this a strange conversation for us two to be having?¡±

 

¡°Not at all,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I¡¯ve known Eron-kun for over a year, yet I feel like this is the first time you¡¯ve even opened up to me.¡±

 

¡°God knows why I¡¯m telling you all these things,¡± Eron said, shaking his head. ¡°It¡¯s madness. You know it too, don¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°I learned long ago it¡¯s best to separate business and friendship,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°For as long as it is possible. And what is to come will come eventually. But until then¡¦ Until then, we can just try to get along as peacefully and happily as possible.¡±

 

¡°Peacefully and happily? Us?¡± Eron scoffed. ¡°You know, all I ever wanted was for my sister to have a healthy heart and for us to live happily together. That simple, really. Funny, coming from me, isn¡¯t it? Is that too much for a person like me to ask?¡± Eron broke off, his breath becoming shorter.

 

The ground trembled the slightest bit, but Eron clenched the gem with a tight fist. ¡°Is it too much for one to ask?¡± he repeated.

 

An uneasy aura, a dire blackness, was radiating out of the crystal, Sakura noticed. Eron stumbled forward, panting. ¡°Eron-kun, are you okay?¡± she asked.

 

¡°I think I am. But maybe I¡¯m not. At times, I don¡¯t think I can hold out much longer,¡± Eron whispered. An electric pain bolted through his blood vessels and he groaned.

 

¡°Eron-kun, what¡¯s the matter?¡± Sakura asked, reaching over to support Eron.

 

¡°Don¡¯t touch me!¡± Eron exclaimed, jumping back and startling Sakura. His golden eyes were wide and dilated. ¡°Don¡¯t come near me!¡±

 

¡°What¡¯s the matter with you?¡± Sakura asked, frowning with bewilderment. She stepped forward. ¡°Let me feel your forehead. I think you have a fever.¡±

 

 ¡°Don¡¯t come a single step closer to me right now or else I might really hurt you,¡± Eron said. ¡°For it is my fate to conquer you and end this misery.¡±

 

¡°Hurt me then, Eron-kun¡± Sakura said, eyes blurring with tears to see Eron in such agony. ¡°If that¡¯ll stop that black aura enveloping you, then attack me.¡±

 

¡°You¡¦ you can see it? The aura?¡± Eron asked, holding out his hands, palms up. A smoky black cloud-like aura wove through his fingers and up his wrist to his arms. Then he flinched and crumpled to the ground again.

 

¡°Eron-kun!¡± Hesitantly, Sakura placed a hand on his shoulder. He was shivering uncontrollably and his skin was burning hot, even through the cloth of his shirt. In fact, she doubted a regular person could be alive with such a body temperature. ¡°What¡¯s wrong with your body?¡±

 

Eron stared at Sakura with haunted, overcast eyes. Never before had she seen such a lifeless look coming from a live person¡¯s eyes.

 

¡°Tell me, Eron-kun, what can I do for you?¡± Sakura asked, brows creased with worry.

 

Drawing Sakura into his arms, Eron said, ¡°Sakura, you¡¯re really a good person. You really are. I can¡¯t hate you, even if I want you.¡±

 

Being so close to Eron, Sakura was even more unsettled to find that Eron¡¯s heart beat was faster than a person who had run a marathon, and now his body was chilly, to the point that it was icy. She couldn¡¯t help wondering how normal it was for body temperature to be burning hot one second and icy cold the next. ¡°It¡¯s okay. I¡¯m okay now. Just need to catch my breath,¡± Eron said faintly, slightly recovering control. The next few words Eron said were whispered so quietly, that Sakura could never decipher if she had imagined it or if it had truly come from Eron¡¯s lips. Yet, it sounded like, ¡°Save me, Sakura.¡±

 

******

 

After his hospital duty had ended, Syaoran walked over to Meirin¡¯s room. He felt rather guilty because he had rather neglected her lately. At the same time, she never looked too happy to see him when he did visit her. When he entered the room, he found that the bed was empty, and a nurse was tidying the room.

 

¡°Do you know where Li Meirin is?¡± Syaoran asked the nurse.

 

¡°She¡¯s having a checkup,¡± the nurse replied. ¡°The doctor will bring her back in a few minutes. You can wait here.¡±

 

¡°Okay.¡± Walking into the room, Syaoran sat down on the chair by the bedside. Eron, Sakura, and Kai still hadn¡¯t returned from the orphanage.

 

¡°You know, it¡¯s really funny that Li-san seems to want to stay in this hospital longer or something,¡± the nurse chattered on. ¡°She could have been released a couple days ago, though she would have to have return for regular check ups, but she insisted on staying on in the hospital.¡±

 

Why would Meirin do something like that? He had thought that she would be eager to be released. ¡°Oh, really?¡± Syaoran said, trying not to sound too interested. He wanted to be left alone and didn¡¯t want to encourage the nurse to continue her chatter. As he desired, the nurse left the room.

 

Judging from the mess of the room, Meirin had no intention of leaving it anytime soon. Of course neither she, nor Kai who visited so often would pick after her stuff. Sighing, Syaoran began to gather the scatter magazines on the ground. Then, he picked up a book, an ancient looking Chinese book—something that Meirin rarely read. As he examined it, a crisp envelope slipped from its yellowed pages and floated to the ground. Hesitantly, he picked it up and turned it around. To his surprise, it was addressed to him, from his mother. Was it a letter to him? Then why hadn¡¯t Meirin given it to him? Because she was hiding its contents?

 

With trembling fingers, Syaoran tore open the envelope. Out of it slipped a single three-way folded paper. Unfolding it, he read his mother¡¯s neat, even handwriting.

 

Dear Li Syaoran,

 

You probably have heard the news from Meirin already. I thought it was best you hear it from your cousin, so I haven¡¯t contacted you before. As you know, the different factions of the Li Clan have been quite tense lately, especially since the Great Elder has collapsed. Currently, I am tending to him at the Inner House and though his health is greatly wasted from overwork; he is no longer in dire peril.

 

My dear Syaoran, please do not take the decision of the Li Clan Inner Council to remove you as the Chosen One too harshly. It is not your fault. I understand completely that what you are doing in Japan is equally important, if not more important than anything the Clan can order you to do here in Hong Kong. Yet, you must also remember that it is partially your fault for neglecting all duties to the Clan as the Chosen One. You left Hong Kong against he wishes of the Elders and your own mother. It¡¯s been over a year since then, and you haven¡¯t returned even for a visit. The Inner Council members and your eldest uncle are growing impatient with you. It is natural that they took the opportunity when the Great Elder fell ill and couldn¡¯t protect you to condemn you. However, their decision to remove you as the Chosen One is merely a threat. Please return to Hong Kong immediately, and such a talk won¡¯t arise again. Think wisely, Syaoran. I have faith in your decision-making skills. I am not asking you to return forever, nor am I telling you to abandon all you have established in Japan. I am merely telling you it is wisest to submit to the wishes of your uncle and the Inner Council and come back home for the time being. Your father probably would have given you the same advise. After all, you are the soul, destined Chosen One of our generation.

 

Love, Li Ieran

 

It would be lying to say that he wasn¡¯t startled and shaken by the letter. Though his uncle had warned him from the beginning that Syaroan of the consequences of not returning to Hong Kong, Syaoran hadn¡¯t expected his uncle to carry out the threat of removing him as the Chosen One, so suddenly. 

 

Though he would have liked more time to process his thoughts, Meirin at that moment returned from the therapy room, pushed in a wheelchair by a nurse. ¡°Syaoran! You were waiting for me?¡± Despite her bright smile, she didn¡¯t look at all glad to see him, and now, Syaoran knew why. The nurse helped Meirin onto the bed again, before leaving, shutting the door shut.

 

Surreptitiously, Syaoran crumpled the letter in his hand into a ball and slipped it into his pocket, keeping a nonchalant expression. ¡°I heard that your leg is much better now.¡±

 

¡°Huh? Yeah,¡± Meirin said. The doctor told her she could be released any day she chose. ¡°So, how did the date yesterday go?¡±

 

¡°What date? Sakura brought along a little kid from the orphanage,¡± Syaoran said, scowling. ¡°We spent the day babysitting.¡±

 

¡°Really? I wish I could have seen that!¡± Meirin laughed out loud. ¡°Oh yeah. Have you seen Kai lately?¡±

 

¡°Huh? Oh. He skipped school today, again. But he turned up for volunteer work—he went to the orphanage with Sakura and Eron,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Thinking about it, he never comes home to the apartment anymore. Isn¡¯t he always here with you?¡±

 

 ¡°No,¡± Meirin said slowly. ¡°For the past several days, he always shows up in the late afternoon in the children¡¯s playroom and stays till early in the evening. Then he disappears in the nighttime, until the next afternoon. God knows where. I¡¯ve given up on him.¡±

 

¡°Oh, if I¡¯d known, I would have stopped by more often,¡± Syaoran said weakly. Had Meirin thought that he was not capable of handling such dismaying news, was that why she had been keeping it from him? Did she not believe in his ability to handle his own life?

 

¡°No, no, I¡¯m fine on my own. It¡¯s nice and quiet here,¡± Meirin lied glibly. ¡°Well, you must be tired, working the entire day. Why don¡¯t you go home and rest? I think I¡¯d like to sleep now.¡±

 

¡°Okay then. I¡¯ll come again tomorrow,¡± Syaoran said, slowly getting up. ¡°Rest well.¡±

 

¡°Thanks, Syaoran,¡± Meirin said, closing her eyes.

 

Upon leaving the room, Syaoran took out the crumpled letter from his pocket, staring at it hard, tense with deep contempt and frustration. The words, Syaoran, please do not take the decision of the Li Clan Inner Council to remove you as the Chosen One too harshly; it is not your fault, stared out at him boldly. He took a last glance at the bitter letter. Then, he tore up the letter into shreds, throwing it into the trashcan without second thought on his way out of the hospital.

 

******

 

The clock struck midnight. Standing on the highest building top, Kaitou Magician stared down at the distant, abandoned streets. His black cloak fanned out in the wind. After being cooped up for so long, pressured under various people, the sense of liberation thrilled him. A cold, murderous expression swept over his face as he leaped off the rooftop to the next building. He could never escape his past. Once a criminal, always a criminal.

 

 

******

 

Wish-chan: Once again, the chapter is out much later than I promised. Hehe¡¦ I¡¯m sure many of the readers are tired of waiting by now. But I still love to write, and I love my characters. ^.^. And there is yet another arc to come. Hmm¡¦ this chapter was hard to write. Transition chapters are always hard to write—meaning, the action is soon to come. Hehe. More focus on Eron this chapter. I like villains. Refer back to the Special Chapter on the legendary twins. Oh yeah, I don¡¯t know if you understood Syaoran¡¯s star analogy. If you¡¯re confused, look at the design on the back of the Sakura Cards (not the Clow Cards.) There are two overlapping five-point stars in the center (so that it looks like the star has ten points.) Anyway, the star on top is where Sakura stands, the entire thing. Then, the five points below represent each of the five Great Sorcerers. Then, there is a twelve point star surrounding this. At each end of this star, there is the sun and the moon emblem. Cerberus and Yue stand on their respective spots. Then, there are ten more spots left. First is of course Syaoran. Then Kaho, Eriol, Spinel Sun, Ruby Moon. These are the CLAMP characters from the Clow Card and Sakura Card arcs. There are five spots remaining. Supposedly, two spots are reserved for Eron and Erika, one for Kai, and two for characters yet to come. I¡¯ve been playing with this idea for a long time now—hehe¡¦ I guess I was studying the Sakura Cards in too much depth. These are all abstract and my own imaginations.

 

Well, this is the last chapter I¡¯ll be writing in my old room. After 14 years I¡¯m finally moving~  I know I said I¡¯ll be less busy after winter vacation, but I think I got even busier, with preparation for moving. But I too get very frustrated because I want to move on with the story.

 

Is the Li Clan structure confusing? Please refer to version one of the Li Clan Hierarchy.

 

Comments always welcome at hopeluvpeace@hotmail.com and my guestbook—and please visit my site at www.geocities.com/wishluv. I¡¯ll try to update some parts of it over the next few months.