Chapter 46: Spinner of Cobwebs

 

 

If one listened carefully enough during break times, especially when passing down the second floor hallway near the Seijou Junior High music room, a tender, sterling voice singing a hauntingly beautiful tune could be heard. If the rapt student or teacher stepped closer to the music room and listened more intently to the soprano voice with a marvelous range, he would soon become mesmerized by the captivating, yearning sound and feel nostalgic for the tangy, salty sea breeze of a summer morning or the faint, fresh smell of mist upon the evergreen hills of fairies. Finally, if that person became overcome by curiosity and peaked into the music room, he would see that a willowy, pale girl with soulful violet eyes and long dark hair which rippled down her back in luscious curls was the owner of that incredible voice. Then, he would marvel at how such a powerful, sensitive voice could come from such a frail looking girl. 

 

Hiiragizawa Eriol experienced all this one early Monday morning before classes started, in the midst of wandering down the hallway in his broodings. It was by chance he passed by the music room when he heard someone sing, if it could be called singing—it was more like the sound of waves crashing upon the shores or the wind rustling through the treetops, for it created the same soothing, calming effect. Immediately, the frown that creased his forehead disappeared, and he stood by the slightly open music door, attentive, listening with his eyes closed.  

When the song came to an end, Eriol opened his eyes again and clapped heartily.

 

The singer looked up, startled; Daidouji Tomoyo had been too intent in singing to notice her audience. ¡°Eriol-kun?¡±

 

¡°Your voice has developed since I last heard it,¡± Eriol commented, walking into the music room. ¡°It¡¯s grown even more beautiful.¡±

 

At this, Tomoyo blushed slightly; she wasn¡¯t sure whether to take the compliment seriously or not. ¡°I¡¯ve just been practicing for the upcoming National Junior High School Music Festival; I¡¯ll be entering the vocal category in the competition.¡±

 

Smiling, Eriol said, ¡°It¡¯s amazing how you¡¯re always busy with one project or another; it¡¯s so soon after the incredible Star-Crossed production, and here you are, already preparing for another great event. And you always find time for your friends also. I envy how you¡¯re so hard working and dedicated.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not that big of a deal,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°I enjoy all the things I do, so it doesn¡¯t seem like ¡®work¡¯ at all.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s what I admire about you, Tomoyo-san.¡± Eriol said, sitting down on the piano bench and looking over the music scores to the song that Tomoyo had been singing, ¡°Scarlet.¡± Then, he positioned his hands over the keys and began to play the piano accompaniment to the piece.

 

This time, Tomoyo closed her eyes and listened attentively; though it was the same tune she had sung moments ago, it sounded yet again different played on piano by Eriol, with different nuances and an eerily heartrending tone. It was hard to believe he was sight-reading the notes for the first time, for he played it with the familiarity of someone who knew it by heart.

 

¡°It¡¯s a pretty piece,¡± Eriol said as he played. ¡°Though I would say it carries the tune of an anguished maiden, pained by love, her sorrows lost to eternity.¡± He stopped playing, his midnight blue eyes glimmering as if he suddenly recollected something. ¡°Why did you choose such a sad piece to sing, Tomoyo-san?¡±

 

¡°Because I wanted to try something new,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°It was challenging, but when I chose this song, I wondered if I could put the emotions into the lyrics with sincerity. The emotions were hard to find, because I haven¡¯t experienced many things. It¡¯s hard, but that¡¯s why I¡¯m practicing.¡±

 

Shaking his head, Eriol said, ¡°No, you sang it perfectly; it sent shivers down my spine—something that any singer should feel proud to do to an audience.¡±

 

Smiling, Tomoyo said, ¡°You¡¯re just flattering me, Eriol-kun. It¡¯s okay. I¡¯m going to practice hard. Anyway, how are things with Miho-chan and her brother? Is he her real brother after all?¡±

 

¡°Well,¡± Eriol paused as if choosing his words carefully. ¡°The evidences are befuddling as of now.¡±

 

¡°Miho probably doesn¡¯t know how much you care for her,¡± Tomoyo commented slyly. ¡°It¡¯s my turn to say that I¡¯m impressed by you, Eriol-kun. You¡¯re really a surprising person.¡±

 

Staring at the always pleasant and cordial yet indiscernible girl, Eriol wondered if her words were more of a praise or jest.

 

******

 

¡°Kai, you¡¯re going to be late for school,¡± Meilin said, prodding Kai with her crutch. For a few days, she planned to stay with Syaoran¡¯s next door neighbor and her ex-kidnapper, former thief Mizuki Kai, just until the tension between her and Syaoran eased. Knowing Syaoran for all her life, she knew that Syaoran, though he didn¡¯t show it, was furious at her for not telling him about the Li Clan decision beforehand and that his anger would last quite a long time. ¡°It¡¯s a bright, sunny, school-day morning. Don¡¯t even think about ditching again, either.¡±

 

¡°Just five more minutes,¡± Kai muttered, turning over on the living room couch, blanket tangled between his legs. At least he had the decency to wear a tank top and shorts while sleeping—usually boxers were enough nightwear for him, as Meilin had learned previously.

 

Meilin held out a platter of steaming scrambled eggs and crisp bacons in front of his nose, and said, ¡°Breakfast is getting cold, you know.¡± Kai opened one eye and sniffed the delicious aroma of breakfast.

 

Immediately, Kai bolted up. ¡°Breakfast! For me? I haven¡¯t had breakfast for the longest time.¡± Grabbing the plate from Meilin¡¯s hand, he preceded to gobble down the dish with the fork that his parrot brought over from the kitchen. ¡°Mmm¡¦ Delicious! How did you manage to cook this with that injured leg of yours?¡±

 

¡°Oh, I¡¯ve learned how to hop around and manage things fine,¡± Meilin replied with an air of smugness. No need for Kai to see the splatter of eggs on the kitchen walls and the pieces of broken shell on the ground. ¡°I¡¯ve always been a fast learner.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m touched beyond words,¡± Kai said, gulping down the tangy freshly squeezed orange juice. ¡°Hey, Meilin-chan, if you¡¯re going to make breakfast like this for me every morning, do you want to marry me?¡±

 

 

 

Syaoran looked up from his morning tea and glanced over his shoulders, toward the wall. He was pretty sure he heard a loud slap from next doors. Shaking his head, he continued to sip his tea. Poor Kai.

 

******

 

Amazingly, Kai was just in time for homeroom, as he grumbled something about ¡°ungrateful wenches who don¡¯t appreciate hot guys.¡±

 

¡°Hey, Kai-kun, did you get into a fight again?¡± Sakura asked Kai, peering at his face. ¡°You have a big red hand mark on your cheek.¡±

 

¡°Ah, it¡¯s nothing¡¦¡± Kai mumbled, fingering his stinging cheek. ¡°Sheesh, I was only joking. She didn¡¯t have to slap me, not being able to take a joke, a ridiculous joke. As if I would marry such an unattractive, unwomanly, spitfire.¡±

 

Clutching her stomach, Sakura burst out laughing. ¡°Meilin slapped you? I¡¯m glad; she must have been in a better mood then. I was kind of scared, yesterday, since Syaoran looked so serious.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s why she¡¯s staying with me for now, when I know she hates my guts. Better than facing Syaoran in his fury, I guess.¡± Then, Kai shut his mouth, knowing he¡¯d said enough; he couldn¡¯t let Sakura know what was truly happening in the Li household.

 

¡°So they fought?¡± Sakura asked, frowning. For some nasty feeling, she felt like it was her fault.

 

The last person to enter the class was Syaoran, who came running in, out of breath, just as the teacher began to make daily announcements. He didn¡¯t meet anyone¡¯s eye, and Sakura looked down, biting her lip. I should apologize to Syaoran for yesterday; it is true that I was intruding upon his privacy. And I said some mean things to him yesterday that I didn¡¯t mean. Though he was quite rude too, when he kicked me out of his house. He probably didn¡¯t know that I followed him to his apartment to apologize. A surge of indignation rose again in her chest, before she took a deep breath. In her mind, she called, Syaoran, can you hear me?

 

There was no response. As she tried to call into Syaoran¡¯s mind, she realized that there seemed to be some sort of barrier; she couldn¡¯t connect to his mind at all. Syaoran! She tried as a last attempt, and failed. Yes, telepathy only worked when their two minds were connected, but Syaoran had somehow shut off his mind from her completely. Sighing, Sakura focused on the teachers words. Fine, be that way, you idiotic, immature, selfish¡¦ BRAT!!! She coined Kero-chan¡¯s nickname for Syaoran with satisfaction.

            

Who are you calling ¡®Brat?¡¯ came an amused, mockingly offended voice in her mind.    

 

Why, you were listening to my thoughts all this time? Sakura demanded telepathically, outraged. Her pencil lead broke from pressing it too hard on the paper.

 

I accept your apology, Syaoran said. I know that you do trust me further than tomorrow.

 

I didn¡¯t apologize to you for anything! Sakura retorted, scribbling down onto her notebook with venom the information that the teacher printed on the chalkboard.

 

Then I apologize to you for being rude to you yesterday.

 

At this, Sakura turned around from her seat to face Syaoran, who stared back with one of his hesitant smiles which often accompanied his apologies. Slanting her eyes, she asked silently, Why is Meilin staying with Kai now?

 

Syaoran blinked. Sakura realized that there was suddenly a barrier between the connecting pathway which had opened between their minds. As if Syaoran was purposefully cutting off his thoughts from her. This is it! He¡¯s doing this to me yet again. See if I ever apologize to him again. I¡¯ve had enough of him! She glared vehemently at Syaoran, who was pretending to be absorbed by the teacher¡¯s words.

 

¡°Kinomoto-san, please turn and face the front,¡± the teacher said. ¡°You¡¯re getting notorious for spacing out in class.¡±

 

Ears turning red, Sakura stared down at her desk, meekly, as the class burst out laughing, recalling the last incident where Sakura had completely ignored the teacher¡¯s words and had gotten such a scolding.  

 

 

 

 

During lunchtime, Sakura stated, ¡°I¡¯ve finally had it. Every time I think Syaoran¡¯s changed for the better, I realize he¡¯s still the same old guy.¡±

 

¡°Did you find out what he was talking to Meilin about yesterday?¡± Tomoyo asked, nibbling on her sandwich.

 

Gulping down her lemonade, Sakura replied, ¡°He refuses to tell me. But Kai-kun knows, don¡¯t you?¡± Sakura glared at Kai, who was eating lunch with them for a change.

 

Kai was absorbed in tasting all the little dumplings and assorted desserts that Meilin had packed him for lunch, savoring the taste. In between mouthfuls, he said innocently, ¡°No I don¡¯t.¡±

 

Frowning, Sakura said, ¡°It¡¯s probably because of family reasons, isn¡¯t it? Can it be that the Elders want Syaoran to return to Hong Kong?¡± Her heart thumped.

 

¡°Nah, if it was that, wouldn¡¯t Syaoran have returned to Hong Kong right away? Yet, he¡¯s not showing any signs of packing his bags or getting school withdrawal forms ready, is he?¡± Kai quickly reassured too quickly, popping a miniature chocolate cupcake with sugar icing into his mouth.

 

¡°Is Syaoran-kun such a pushover?¡± Miho asked; her bento was the same as Eriol¡¯s since Eriol packed lunch for both of them each morning.

 

¡°It¡¯s just that the Li Clan teaches its members to be devoted to the clan and be quick to rise when summoned. In olden days, if the Clan wanted you to slit your throat, you would have to do it gladly for the honor of the Clan,¡± Eriol answered—Miho was still not on talking terms with him, but he still conversed with her as if nothing was wrong.

 

Ignoring Eriol, Miho stated, ¡°Well, I better go to the journalism room to write up a new article supporting the upcoming Junior High Music Festival. Not to mention an editorial on my thoughts on the rascal Kaitou Magician. I have quite a few words to say about him; I can¡¯t believe that the police forces missed him again!¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re really on Kaitou Magician¡¯s case, aren¡¯t you?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°As would be expected from a reporter.¡±

 

¡°Nah—I¡¯m just on the side of justice, that¡¯s all,¡± Miho replied. ¡°I¡¯ve disliked him ever since I heard about him, that¡¯s all. Especially after stealing from my favorite artist. Well, I better get to work. Mizuki-sempai, you should come up too—you might try getting the layouts done on time this month.¡±

 

¡°Speaking of the Junior High Music Festival, how¡¯s your solo coming along, Tomoyo-chan?¡± Sakura asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°Pretty okay,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°I have to go to practice right after lunch. Actually, I¡¯m in kind of in a scrape now.¡±

 

¡°Oh, Rika-chan sprain her wrist during gym class, so she can no longer accompany you on the piano, right?¡± Sakura asked.

 

Nodding, Tomoyo said, ¡°It¡¯s too hard to find someone so late on—the contest is not that far off, and I don¡¯t think I¡¯ll be able to find someone who can learn the piano part and spend so much time practicing with me over the next two weeks.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s too bad Rika-chan hurt her wrist,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I know how much this contest means to you—with your vocal skills, you should have gotten first place every single year, but let¡¯s see¡¦ Last year you were busy preparing for the Best Director of the Year Contest, so you didn¡¯t get a chance to practice a song. The year before that, you caught a cold so you couldn¡¯t sing. So, this is your last chance to participate in the National Junior High Vocal Competition.¡±

 

Eriol looked a little reflective over this.

 

Smiling, Tomoyo said, ¡°It¡¯s not that big of a deal—there will be other contests in high school too.¡±

 

¡°But then, we all know how hard you¡¯ve been practicing for this—you really deserve to win,¡± Sakura defended passionately. ¡°Oh, I have an idea! Eriol-kun, you¡¯re so marvelous at the piano. If you¡¯re not busy, can you accompany Tomoyo-chan¡¯s song? She won¡¯t tell me what song it is—it¡¯s supposed to be a surprise—but I¡¯m sure it¡¯s a great song, so¡¦¡±

 

¡°It is a very beautiful song, all the more beautiful because Tomoyo-san is singing it,¡± Eriol said. ¡°Actually, I was about to offer myself, if you don¡¯t mind, Tomoyo-san, I would like to accompany the song. I admit I¡¯m a little out of practice, but would you give me the honor of accompanying you on the piano?¡±

 

¡°Ah,¡± Tomoyo began to stammer, something she rarely did. ¡°We¡¯ll have to come to school early each day and leave late also, and¡¦¡±

 

¡°I can assure you that I am ready to devote all my effort and time into helping you attain the first prize,¡± Eriol reassured.

 

With a brightened expression, Tomoyo said, ¡°If so¡¦ I am greatly thankful to you, Eriol-kun.¡±

 

Frowning—Kai never hid his great disdain for Eriol—he said, ¡°Well, I better wonder up to the journalism room and start on this months newspaper layouts before Aki-kun butchers me. C¡¯mon, Miho-hime—are you coming or not?¡±

 

Miho smiled. ¡°Kai-sempai, are you actually going to meet deadlines this time? I¡¯m impressed! I¡¯ll be even more impressed if you show up for after-school volunteer work at the hospital today, in the lovely children¡¯s playroom.¡±

 

Everyone laughed at the face Kai made. The last time he had showed up, all the children had run away, and Yukito had the hardest time finding them and convincing them that Kai wouldn¡¯t bite them.

 

******

 

Several articles on the students¡¯ experience at the hospital had already been published for the previous months newspaper, however the journalism club members still spent several hours a week at the hospital. Though it was not as chaotic as when the Wave was at its peak, traffic in the hospital was still heavy.

 

¡°Okay, grab that end; I¡¯ll hold this end. At the count of three, lift it up,¡± Sakura said, holding the white bed sheet. Eron and she were changing the sheets for all the beds in the ward. Tucking the blanket into place and fluffing the pillow, Sakura exclaimed, pushing back a wisp of stray hair, ¡°Whew, finished with the last bed! We worked pretty hard today, didn¡¯t we, Eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°This is routinely stuff,¡± Eron said, stuffing the old sheets into the laundry basket. ¡°At the orphanage, the older kids used to make us younger ones do all the household chores.¡±

 

¡°Oh¡¦¡± Sakura was without comment. She couldn¡¯t imagine Eron being bullied around by anyone and covered her silence by replacing the water in the flower vase.

 

¡°So, did you fight with Syaoran-kun?¡± Eron asked, bemused. ¡°You haven¡¯t been talking to him the entire day.¡±

 

¡°Is it that noticeable?¡± Sakura asked, thinking what a funny sort of relationship Eron and she were developing. Ever since Eron opened up to her about himself a little, they were able to state things very straightforwardly and bluntly to each other. It was nice to have one person like that.

 

¡°Not really,¡± Eron replied, smugly. ¡°I just notice all the things involving you though. You know the reason I haven¡¯t sent one of those evil little emotional dark forces to tear your relationship apart yet is because you two get into enough fights without me meddling.¡±

 

¡°Thank you so much,¡± Sakura said sarcastically. ¡°Why don¡¯t you go bet with Syaoran over which one of us will apologize first? I definitely won¡¯t apologize first, though.¡±

 

¡°Good idea,¡± Eron said, sticking his head into the intern office next doors. ¡°Hey Syaoran-kun!¡±

 

Syaoran, grouchily making photocopies, looked up. ¡°What?¡± Erika too glanced up from doodling little pictures on the back of patients¡¯ files.

 

¡°I bet 1000 yen that you will apologize to Sakura-san first,¡± Eron stated, grinning wickedly.

 

¡°What are you doing?¡± Sakua hissed, tugging Eron¡¯s uniform shirt frantically, not having expected Eron to actually go up to Syaoran and bid. ¡°I was just kidding, Eron-kun!¡±

 

¡°No, I¡¯m serious! Li-kun, how much¡¦¡± Eron started, before Sakura grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the intern office. How could Eron have a flair for making all her squabbles with Syaoran seem so ridiculous?

 

¡°How could you?¡± Sakura demanded to Eron, when they were out of earshot.

 

Eron just laughed as Sakura fumed.

 

When Eron and Sakura disappeared, Erika remarked crossly, ¡°How wonderfully those two seem to get along with each other. It¡¯s all your fault.¡± She glared at Syaoran, who had botched up a 100 pages worth of photocopy material, gawking at Eron and Sakura acting so familiar with each other.

 

¡°How can that be my fault?¡±

 

Crumpling up the piece of paper she had been scribbling on, Erika demanded, ¡°Why can¡¯t you keep a tight grip on your girlfriend and treat her nicer than your nemesis does, at the least? Then, Sakura wouldn¡¯t become so friendly with Eron.¡±

 

¡°So why don¡¯t you guys hurry up with your attacks and reveal your true evil intentions?¡± Syaoran asked crossly. ¡°Then Sakura would see for sure what a foul foe Eron.¡±

 

¡°I wish I can do that too,¡± Erika snapped. ¡°But no, Eron wants to take things slowly and gradually.¡±

 

Carefully redoing the photocopies, Syaoran asked, ¡°Aren¡¯t you two on equal grounds? He is your twin, after all. Don¡¯t tell me you let him boss you around.¡±

 

¡°Well, Eron has always been the brains,¡± Erika replied. ¡°We follow his plans. If I had my way, I would have slaughtered you two the moment when I found out that you wouldn¡¯t fall for me like all those other brainless fools have, and ended things quickly and maybe less painfully.¡±

 

¡°So, I assume since Eron is taking his time, he¡¯s planning to end us slowly and painfully?¡± Syaoran asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

¡°Something like that,¡± Erika replied.

 

¡°Are you sure Eron is okay with you telling me all these things?¡± Syaoran commented blandly.


¡±It¡¯s okay,¡± Erika replied, smiling with a sense of superiority. ¡°Just because Eron is the brain of our family doesn¡¯t mean that I¡¯m completely brainless. Hey, you¡¯re jealous of Eron and Sakura, right? Do you want to make them jealous too? We can pretend to be close, you know? Maybe go out on a few dates and run into them? Besides, I¡¯ve been awfully bored lately.¡±

 

¡°I see; you are quite clever too,¡± Syaoran said with admiration brimming in his voice.

 

At this, Erika looked flattered, blinking up at Syaoran with her long-lashed golden eyes.

 

Syaoran continued coldly, ¡°Of course you¡¯re not brainless—you¡¯re mind is full of cunning little schemes and plots to meddle with other people¡¯s business. Well, sorry but I¡¯m not as low as that yet.¡±

 

At first, Erika looked enraged. Finally, she laughed. ¡°That¡¯s what I like about you Li Syaoran; you really do have brains plus a heart. It¡¯s refreshing. Eron only has brains. I only have a heart. But some people have neither.¡± 

 

 

 

 

There was never much order in the pediatric branch of the hospital, but it was nothing compared to the commotion caused on that particular day. While Sakura and Eron, Syaoran and Erika were working in their respective areas, Miho and Eriol had been sent in addition to Kai to supervise the children. However, the two were not much additional help since Eriol cared even less about children than Kai and Miho was a bit of a kid herself.

 

¡°NO! You do not draw all over the doll¡¯s face. You are destroying it!¡± Miho scolded, grabbing the abused doll away from a little girl.

 

Stamping her foot, five-year-old Nina screamed, ¡°Give it back, you bully! NOW!¡±

 

¡°Who are you calling a bully? This is not your doll; it¡¯s for everyone to share. You cannot draw all over it,¡± Miho said, now snatching away the permanent marker.

 

¡°No, it¡¯s mine!¡± The girl stated, scowling. ¡°Everything in this room is mine!¡±

 

¡°No it¡¯s not!¡± Miho retorted.

 

¡°Yes it is! It¡¯s all mine! MINE, MINE, MINE!!!¡± Nina continued, her high, whiny voice rising higher and higher.

 

¡°Who is that girl?¡± Meilin asked, plugging her ears with her fingers, which was a difficult feat since she also had to hold onto her crutches to balance. She had her leg checked up today and received positive reports from the doctor. As usual, she had stopped by the children¡¯s playroom to have a good laugh. Also because Kai was going to drive her home. It was convenient to have one friend who knew how to drive and had a cool car, she had to admit.

 

¡°Nina, age five, the most spoilt girl in this entire hospital,¡± Kai replied grimly. ¡°Her parents are rotten rich, but they care little about their daughter since they¡¯re always busy with their work. They find that the hospital is some sort of convenient daycare center. It is said that the girl¡¯s mother believes her daughter to have a weak body, and therefore deserves utmost care from the doctors. The way her parents show care is to maintain the largest suite in the hospital for their daughter, making sure all the top doctors pay court to Nina, and also making extravagant donations to the children¡¯s wing—when all that the girl needs is a little attention from them.¡± 

 

¡°This doll is mine! This teddy bear, too. And this slide, and this rocking horse, they¡¯re all mine! No one but me can touch them!¡± Nina shouted, running around the playroom, shoving aside the other children—some who had broken limbs—and grabbing away toys from the other children.

 

¡°It may be true, too, it all being hers,¡± Kai muttered. ¡°Her father¡¯s company is one of the greatest sponsors for this hospital.¡±

 

Losing her temper completely, Miho said, ¡°You stop that at once! Don¡¯t you know how to share? You¡¯re spoilt rotten!¡± She took Nina by the shoulders and shook her hard. This resulted in the younger girl bursting out into tears, though it was actually less of tears in her eyes and more of the appallingly piercing sound of her wailing.

 

By this time, Syaoran and Erika, as well as Sakura and Eron, all from nearby rooms peeked in to see what the fuss was.

 

¡°WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! She hurt me! WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!¡± Nina wailed, pointing at Miho accusingly. 

 

¡°Who¡¯s that girl?¡± Sakura whispered to Meilin, staring at the round-faced girl with soft curls pulled into short pigtails, tied with large satin bows and wearing a lacy pink nightgown, which contrasted with the plain hospital wear of the other children.

 

Shrugging, Meilin replied, ¡°That¡¯s Nina, the terror of the children¡¯s wing.¡±

 

¡°Whoa¡¦ I would say the only one who can match that temper would be Subaru,¡± Syaoran muttered.

 

Looking at Sakura, Eron asked, ¡°How does he know about Subaru?¡±

 

¡°Ah¡¦¡± Sakura said, sweat-dropping.

 

¡°What a brat,¡± Erika muttered, glaring at Nina and stomping off.

 

¡°I¡¯m not a BRAT! YOU ARE!!!¡± Nina called out after Erika, sticking out her tongue. Then she glared at one of the other girls, who stared at her with wide-open, horrified eyes, hugging an elephant stuffed animal close to her.

 

¡°Give me that!¡± Nina shouted, snatching away the elephant doll from the other girl.

 

¡°NO!¡±

 

¡°Give it!¡± Nina screamed, tugging hard at the elephant and pulling it away from the girl.

 

The other girl burst out crying. Sakura couldn¡¯t help thinking that the children¡¯s playroom that day paralleled with the every day chaos at Subaru¡¯s orphanage.

 

¡°You stop that!¡± Miho scolded. ¡°Apologize at once!¡±

 

¡°NO!¡± Nina retorted.

 

¡°Eriol, do something! Don¡¯t just watch with that amused expression,¡± Miho said, exasperated.

 

Smiling apologetically, Eriol replied, ¡°That¡¯s one area in which I lack expertise. Children.¡±

 

¡°Humph.¡± Nina drew out her black marker again, ready to decorate the elephant.

 

Miho began to open her mouth to start another lecture.

 

Sighing, Kai got up and walked over to Miho, landing a calming hand on her shoulder and shaking his head. Turning around to see Kai disapproving, Miho protested, ¡°But that spoilt girl needs to be taught a lesson! She¡¯ll never learn if¡¦¡±

 

¡°Shh¡¦ Just leave things to me,¡± Kai said, walking over to Nina and bending down before her.

 

Staring at Kai reproachfully, Nina demanded, ¡°What? Do you think sunglasses are so cool?¡±

 

Wincing at yet another barb at his eye apparel coming from such a young one, Kai said, ¡°So, tell me, what you are drawing?¡±

 

Nina replied, ¡°Can¡¯t you see? I¡¯m drawing a moustache on the elephant.¡±

 

¡°Which is wrong,¡± Miho stated off to the side.

 

¡°You should draw eyelashes, too,¡± Kai stated. ¡°And thick eyebrows.¡±

 

¡°Huh?¡± Nina looked up, taken back.

 

¡°But should I show you something even more fun?¡± Kai asked, his mesmerizing voice drawing even Nina into it. He held out a clenched fist. ¡°It¡¯s in my hand.¡±

 

¡°What is it?¡± Nina demanded, curiosity overcoming her reproach for Kai.

 

¡°Shh¡¦ Bend closer.¡± The hushed voice caused a thrill to run through Nina, and most of the other children, who peered closer. Kai flipped out a red rose.

 

¡°Oooh!¡± The children awed.

 

¡°Humph, it¡¯s only a flower,¡± Nina stated, turning up her nose and crossing her arms.

 

¡°Is it?¡± Kai asked, curling his fingers into a fist again, then spreading them open. The rose turned into a dove, which fluttered around the room.

 

¡°Kai-sempai! Animals are not allowed in the hospital!¡± Miho protested.

 

The dove settled on Nina¡¯s shoulder then with a poof, disappeared.

 

¡°Where did it go?¡± Nina asked, looking around, her curls bobbing up and down.

 

¡°I wonder where it went,¡± Kai said. ¡°Oh, I see it now.¡±

 

¡°Where, where?¡± the children squealed.

 

¡°It¡¯s hiding in here,¡± Kai said, peering into Nina¡¯s ear. ¡°There, I wonder how could the dove fit in here?¡± Carefully, Kai made a show of pulling the white dove out of Nina¡¯s left ear.

 

In spite of herself, Nina giggled. ¡°That tickles!¡±

 

Then, Kai proceeded to perform his usual number. The dove flew around the room, transforming into a stream of colorful rainbow ribbons swirling around the room faster and faster until they were all half-hypnotized. With a snap of Kai¡¯s fingers, the ribbons transformed into flower petals which scented the room of spring, then with another snap, the numerous petals transformed into colorful candies of varying flavors and wrappers, and remained that way. The children, realizing they were real, scampered to collect handfuls of sweets. There was plenty enough that none of them had to fight over favorite flavors.

 

Now, the children were to busy sucking on sweets to argue. Nina was too rapt in licking at her cherry flavored lollipop to be screaming anymore.

 

¡°They shouldn¡¯t be eating candies here¡¦¡± Miho muttered, peeling an orange favored bonbon.

 

¡°That was cool!¡± Nina stated, her tongue red and lips red from the candy. ¡°Do it again!¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re pampering her, Kai,¡± Meilin said, shaking her head.

 

¡°I want to see the dove again,¡± Nina continued, tugging at Kai¡¯s leg.

 

With a graceful bow, Kai said, ¡°As you please, Nina-hime.¡±

 

Miho stared at Kai, who looked up at her over the bridge of his sunglasses and winked.

 

Appeased by the honorific, Nina stated, ¡°And I want chocolates next. With caramel centers, not almonds. I hate almonds.¡±

 

¡°At your service,¡± Kai reassured.

 

The playroom door swung open at that moment, and Touya bolted in, ¡°What was all that screaming a moment ago? There were complaints from the patients about the noise level.¡±

 

¡°Well, it looks like Kai-kun has everything under control,¡± Sakura said, grinning.

 

¡°Oh? If so, that¡¯s a relief,¡± Touya said, leaving the room. Then he popped his head in the door again and told Sakura, Eron, and Syaoran, ¡°You three shouldn¡¯t be here, as I¡¯ve told you many times before. But I do wonder how in the world Mizuki Kai-kun got things under control, after weeks of failure. A mystery, a real mystery¡¦¡± He continued on, as he walked down the hallway.

 

Giggling Meilin said, ¡°Kai¡¯s really amazing at times. He used the ¡®humor the spoilt brat¡¯ tactic rather than the lecture tactic.¡±

 

¡°Heh. It was a little more successful than my method, I guess,¡± Miho admitted.

 

¡°You tried your best,¡± Meilin reassured, raising an eye as she heard Nina burst out laughing for the first time at a story Kai was telling. Not only Nina, but for once, all the children seemed to gaze at Kai with new found reverence. ¡°Hey, Miho-chan, I was meaning to ask you this from before. You said there was a token which made you definitely sure that Mikai-san was really your brother. Just out of curiosity, what was it, Miho-chan?¡±

 

¡°Oh, that¡¦¡±

 

Miho and Meilin¡¯s attention was diverted when there came excited squeals from the children when silver and blue balloons popped up and filled the room, with Kai standing in the midst, grinning.

 

 

 

 

¡°Ah, it¡¯s quiet in the playroom for a change,¡± Eron said, half an hour later, as Sakura and he folded up the freshly laundered hospital gowns.

 

¡°Kai-kun does have a knack with words,¡± Sakura replied, smiling slightly. ¡°If he wants to, he can charm anyone.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t you wonder why he took such a shady path then?¡± Eron asked.

 

¡°That¡¯s Kai-kun¡¯s private business, I guess,¡± Sakura said.

 

 

 

 

Later on, when Sakura peaked into the playroom again, she was surprised to find it completely silent, except for a single enigmatic speaker. Kai was seated crossed-legged in the center of the room with Nina on his lap, and his hands were animated as he told a story of magical kingdoms, evil magicians, and a beautiful and powerful princess, to the children sitting around him, round-eyed.

 

¡°The magical kingdom was governed by the beautiful Princess Veritas, who protected her people with justice and purity. But then¡¦¡± Kai¡¯s voice turned low and sinister. ¡°Also living in the borders of the kingdom, the fear of all the people and the nemesis of Princess Veritas, was the Earl, an evil magician who lived in a tall, dark tower. His hobby was to see the innocent people suffer and to plague the kingdom with all its misery and troubles. The Princess, champion of the righteous, knew that she had to conquer the wicked magician for there to be peace in her domain. Every day she trained to become more powerful, so that one day she would be able to overcome the Earl. Meanwhile, the evil Earl too was plotting against the Princess, to bring her down so that he could gain the throne.¡±

 

¡°Then what happens?¡± the children demanded.

 

¡°The fair Princess kept the staunch belief that the wicked are bound to meet their fate and come to a fall¡¦¡± Kai described, bringing his fist down to the ground. ¡°So one fatal day, she set out for the dark tower, the lair of the Earl, knowing for once and for all, it was either her victory, the victory of glory and light, or the victory of the Earl of darkness, which could not be since in all written laws of the universe, white must claim victory over black. For if the Earl conquered the Princess, it would mean the eve of destruction had begun and would tear the kingdom apart, bringing great misery to the people.¡±

 

¡°And who won?¡± the children asked, holding their breath, spellbound, though the answer was obvious.

 

¡°Of course, Princess Veritas claimed victory, piercing the Earl¡¯s foul heart with the Golden Arrow of Justice.¡± Kai mimicked being shot in the heart, and Nina squealed.

 

Then raising his fist in triumph, Kai concluded, ¡°As the dark tower of the wicked magician Earl crumbled down, the citizens cheered, for their noble Princess had saved them, and the flags of peace were raised all over the kingdom¡±

 

¡°I want to be the princess!¡± Nina stated. ¡°And so, did she meet her prince?¡±

 

Smiling, Sakura stepped away from the door, as Kai continued to relate the fairytale. Kai was such a nice person; why did he have to be so grouchy in the beginning, when things could have been this peaceful with a little effort on his part?

 

******

 

¡°Look, onii-chan bought me a new bracelet!¡± Miho exclaimed, holding up her wrist for all the journalism members to see during an after school club meeting which alternated with the hospital volunteer hours throughout the week.

 

¡°How pretty!¡± Chiharu exclaimed, nudging Takashi slightly. ¡°I want a pretty bead bracelet like that too.¡±

                                  

¡°Oh, I saw Miho¡¯s brother standing outside the school gates, after school last time,¡± Naoko said. ¡°He¡¯s quite good-looking. Is he single, Miho-chan?¡±   

 

¡°Yeah, I saw him too,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°He looked really familiar for some reason.¡±

                                                   

¡°I saw him somewhere too,¡± Aki said, frowning, drumming his finger on the table. ¡°What did you say your brother¡¯s name was, again, Miho-chan?¡±

 

¡°Tanaka Mikai,¡± Miho replied.

 

¡°Tanaka Mikai¡¦ Tanaka Mikai?¡± Aki bolted up from his chair. ¡°You mean the Tanaka Mikai-sama?¡±

 

Looking at Aki in surprise, Miho asked, ¡°Why, did you know him? How?¡±

 

¡°Umm¡¦ Well¡¦¡± Aki looked embarrassed. ¡°I might have known him from my elementary school days.¡±

 

¡°Thinking about it, you didn¡¯t attend Tomoeda Elementary like the rest of us,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°Since Miho-chan and her brother attended Eitoukou Elementary¡¦¡±

 

¡°That means Aki-kun attended Eitoukou Elementary School?¡± Naoko asked, aghast. ¡°After all that bravado about Eitoukou being our rival school? We all thought you hate that school, Aki-kun.¡±

 

¡°Yeah, I went to Eitoukou Elementary before Seijou Junior High,¡± Aki grumbled. ¡°I do hate that posh, elite place full of snobs.¡±               

            

¡°Why, didn¡¯t you fit in there perfectly?¡± Takashi asked innocently, opening one eye to see Aki¡¯s expression, as if knowing that Chiharu once thought highly of their class president.

 

¡°Humph. My older brother was always head of the class and won prizes in all those science fairs and was the senior class president and basketball MVP—he was the greatest legend before Tanaka-sama,¡± Aki explained, wearily. ¡°I got tired of all the teachers comparing me to him, so I transferred to Seijou, where my sister attended because Seijou has a better drama club than Eitoukou, plus I bet she wanted to be with Asuma-san.¡± 

 

¡°I see,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°But why didn¡¯t you say so before? Doesn¡¯t that mean that you and Miho-chan are elementary school alumni? Do you guys recognize or remember each other from back then?¡±

 

Shrugging, Aki said, ¡°I think I heard that Tanaka Mikai-sama had a little sister, but then I was never a great fan of him so I don¡¯t think I paid that much close attention—he was a grade above and Miho-chan must have been a grade below. Stupid of me to not associate Tanaka Miho with the Tanaka siblings back then. Not something I care much to think about though.¡±

 

¡°Well, I don¡¯t remember seeing you either,¡± Miho said, shrugging. ¡°I don¡¯t really blame you for not recalling sooner.¡±

 

Snapping his finger in recollection, Aki stated, ¡°Oh, I remember there was a big fuss back when I was in fifth grade, ¡®cause I heard that Tanaka Mikai-sama from class 6-1 disappeared in the middle of the year, maybe transferred to another school or something. And supposedly his little sister transferred to England. It was really big on the news how the Tanaka house burned for several days even with all the firefighters trying to put out the fire. Even stranger, such a large fire didn¡¯t even spread to the other houses near it.¡±

 

¡°Wow, isn¡¯t that quite strange?¡± Naoko asked, eyes widening at the possibility of a supernatural phenomenon. ¡°Say, Miho-chan, were you there to see the fire? Was it really that big?¡±

 

Noticing that Miho had turned white, Sakura interfered, ¡°So, when is this month¡¯s newspaper coming out?¡±

 

¡°It is out already—Mizuki-kun should be being distributed right now—what are you doing here, Mizuki Kai? I told you to distribute the newspaper!¡± Aki exclaimed.

 

Yawning, Kai looked up from his usual seat at the corner of the journalism room; he had been using the last remaining copy of the newspaper to shield his face from the afternoon sun that peeped in through the window. ¡°I finished it ages ago.¡±

 

¡°How could you do it so fast, alone too?¡± Naoko asked.

 

¡°I went to the rooftop after classes ended and dropped it down from there as the students were leaving for home,¡± Kai replied. ¡°I can guarantee that everyone got a copy.¡±

 

¡°You did what?¡± Aki slapping his forehead. ¡°Stupid of me to ask you to carry out such a simple task. You do those things by hand. Certainly not by dropping our school paper down from the roof.¡±

 

¡°But I think it¡¯s rather a creative idea,¡± Chiharu commended.   

 

¡°So, did you bring back any extras?¡± Aki questioned, ignoring Chiharu¡¯s defense for Kai¡¯s method.

 

¡°No, you said distribute everything so I just dropped the entire load off the rooftop,¡± Kai replied. ¡°Oh, I did save this copy.¡± He held up the crumpled newspaper he had been using as a sunshield.

 

¡°You idiot, don¡¯t you know it¡¯s given that you save some copies for the actual staff?¡± Aki demanded, hands on hips.

 

¡°C¡¯mon, Aki-kun, give Kai-kun a break,¡± Sakura said, afraid of the dangerous smirk that Kai wore and not trusting when his temper would flare.

 

Before Aki could throw another tantrum, an urgent knocking came on the door, and Rika, with one hand bandaged and the other hand clasping a school newspaper, burst in.

 

¡°Rika-chan, what are you doing here?¡± Chiharu asked. ¡°Don¡¯t you have orchestra?¡±

 

¡°I just came to warn you all—the Kaitou Magician fan club members are on their way to bombarding the journalism room,¡± Rika panted.

 

¡°Why in the world?¡± Aki asked.

 

Rika held up the Seijou Junior High newspaper and pointed to the front page editorial, titled, ¡°KAITOU MAGICIAN: A POMOPOUS FOOL BLOWN UP BY THE MEDIA!!!¡± 

 

¡°What is that?¡± Aki inquired, quirking an eyebrow. ¡°I never saw that article when I was editing the copies.¡± All the journalism club members expect Kai crowded around the front page.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

KAITOU MAGICIAN: A POMOPOUS FOOL BLOWN UP BY THE MEDIA

 

For almost two years, the notorious Thief of the Night, also known as Kaitou Magician, has been plaguing various cities around the world, stealing priceless treasures ranging from valuable jewels to most recently, a painting by the ingenious artist Shing-san. Even after having disgraced the Tokyo Police forces and being shot by a bullet in Hong Kong during the summer, the Kaitou Magician is still at large, roaming around as he pleases this very day.

             Without doubt, this havoc must be put to an end, for despite the flock of admirers this scoundrel has gathered with his flashy escapades and excess coverage from an overcurious media, without doubt, he is a dishonest, dangerous criminal, one that deserves to be punished severely for all the chaos and property damage he has caused.

             Whilst other thieves are condemned, Kaitou Magician, Criminal No. 603, is viewed to the public as the daring, dashing, charming, Prince of Darkness, a form of entertainment that outplays action movies and a source of admiration that extends over that for the police. The image that news and other forms of media projects of this ruthless delinquent is misleading to viewers, as it glorifies criminal activities and the vandalizing of private property. Disrespect for the law and ridiculing of police forces should by no means be endorsed.

             Partly due to ignorance, party due to curiosity, people of varying ages, especially females, have paid particular attention to the Kaitou Magician. Such appeal is because Kaitou Magician is supposedly a young man of mystery whom no one knows anything about. His background, family, friends, age, face, living quarters, are all unknown. For all we know, he may be residing near by, carrying on an ordinary lifestyle during the day. But fanciful thinking does not change the fact that Kaitou Magician is a thief, and the most befitting place for him is behind the bars.

It is time for us to wake up from our illusions and see this scoundrel as he is. Those who fail to see him as a criminal or those who thinks that he can be excused for his sins because he is stylish and charming should recheck their ethics.

                                                                

                                                                 -Editorial by Assistant Editor M. Tanaka.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

¡°An editorial by me added at the last moment,¡± Miho replied, crossing her arms, when the others finished reading it. ¡°Seriously, I¡¯m disgusted by how everyone here seems to worship that rogue, Katiou Magician, and I personally don¡¯t see why the police is having so much trouble getting him.¡±

 

¡°Well I do admit the article¡¯s kind of harsh,¡± Chiharu said, twiddling her fingers, recalling that mysterious man on the black motorcycle, back at the beachside during the Best Couple Contest. ¡°I think Kaitou Magician, despite him being branded as a criminal, is rather a romantic personnel, and he never steals from the poor or needy, nor has he ever hurt anyone.¡±

 

¡°A convict and murderer often began as a little boy who took pleasure in pulling wings off butterflies and throwing rocks at stray kittens,¡± Takashi commented.

            

Rolling her eyes, Chiharu asked, ¡°What does that have to do with anything? And don¡¯t even think about replying to my question.¡±

 

¡°Still, I don¡¯t take back my words or regret having them publishing,¡± Miho reiterated, stubbornly.    

 

They heard a rumble of angry footsteps, and a large group of girls parading around with ¡°I LOVE KAITOU MAGICIAN¡± banners burst into the journalism room, pushing Rika out of the way. Their leader, the president of the Kaitou Magician Fan Club (KMFC), demanded, ¡°Where¡¯s Tanaka Miho?¡±

 

Standing up, chin up, Miho replied, ¡°That¡¯s me. What is your request, bursting into our club room in such a manner?¡±

 

¡°Why, you¡¦¡± Waving the school newspaper over her head, the president of the KMFC screeched, ¡°How dare you write such a sacrilegious article on Kaitou-sama? We¡¯re waging war on the journalism club for publishing such trash. We¡¯ll to petition to boycott the newspaper throughout the entire school.¡±

 

¡°Crazy,¡± Miho muttered, walking up to the girl and snatching away the abused newspaper from her hand.

 

¡°Aki-kun? Aren¡¯t you the editor? I thought better of you! How could you allow such nonsense to be published? I¡¯m quite disappointed in you,¡± another girl stated tearfully, stroking her Kaitou Magician UFO doll.

 

Lifting his arms up in sign of truce, Aki replied, ¡°I know nothing of this. Though I, myself, don¡¯t see what that great fuss over that rascal thief is.¡±

 

¡°Tanaka Miho, the only way we will not boycott the newspaper is if you promise to publish a formal apology in the next paper, and you have all of this month¡¯s burned,¡± the president of the KMFC stated. ¡°You can choose.¡±

Hands on hips, Miho replied, ¡°I don¡¯t see any reason to apologize, and neither do I see any reason to burn all the copies of a perfectly good paper.¡±

 

A loud chatter among the girls started, all of them shooting angry glares at Miho who gazed back coolly.

 

¡°Miho, just do as they say,¡± Aki said tiredly. ¡°It¡¯s not that that big of a deal you know, apologizing over a stupid article.¡±

 

Miho glared at Aki furiously. ¡°A stupid article? Not that big of a deal?¡±

 

The other journalism members just gaped, astounded. Amidst the ruckus, Kai said carelessly, ¡°A person is entitled to his or her own opinion, and we must all learn to respect that.¡±

 

Sakura muttered, ¡°Even if that opinion is condemning you?¡±

 

¡°So, it is war then, is it?¡± the vice-president of the KMFC asked. ¡°Well then, we will see to it that all the copies of this newspaper are gathered and burned in a huge bonfire in front of the school tomorrow.¡±

 

Clenching her fist, Miho said, ¡°There¡¯s nothing untrue about my article, and if you burn the newspaper, I¡¯ll make sure more copies are made and distribute them all over again.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re still talking back?¡± the first girl snapped, raising her hand to slap Miho.

 

Someone pushed through the crowd of fan club girls crowded around the journalism club doorway. ¡°What seems to be the problem here? Miho, what¡¯s happening?¡±

 

¡°Onii-chan!¡± Miho exclaimed.

 

All eyes were turned to the handsome young man with silky auburn hair and casual grace. All of the girls¡¯ mouths dropped.

 

¡°I was waiting for your journalism club to end, but then I heard angry shouting voices so I came up to check things out,¡± Mikai said. Turning to the members of the Kaitou Magician Fan Club, he asked, ¡°Is there any trouble?¡±

 

¡°N-no! Not at all!¡± the leader replied, turning a deep crimson in the face of such a good-looking stranger. ¡°W-we were just complimenting Miho-chan for having the guts to write such a err—controversial article.¡±

 

¡°Since when was it ¡®Miho-chan¡¯?¡± Miho muttered,

 

¡°Oh really?¡± Mikai smiled. ¡°Miho-chan is a good writer because she takes after our mother who used to be a reporter.¡±

 

¡°I-I see,¡± the girl stammered. ¡°And you are¡¦¡±

 

¡°Miho¡¯s older brother, Tanaka Mikai,¡± Mikai replied.

 

Blushing idiotically, the girl batted her eyelashes and said, ¡°Well girls, why don¡¯t we head along home now? Sorry to cause such a disturbance, journalism club members. Keep up the great job! And a pleasure meeting you, Tanaka-san.¡±

 

¡°B-but—what about the article?¡± another one of the protestors asked.

 

¡°Hush. We can settle that later,¡± the president of the fan club replied. With a saccharine smile at the journalism club members, she, with the fan club members, trailed out of the room.

 

Wiping his brows, Aki sighed, ¡°Whew¡¦ a storm blew over. Nothing scares me more than a stampede of angry girls.¡±

 

¡°Onii-chan! Thank goodness you came,¡± Miho said, squeezing Mikai in a tight hug. She held up a copy of the newspaper. ¡°See, this is the Seijou Junior High paper, and I wrote an article condemning Kaitou Magician—you know that nefarious phantom thief who stole Shing-san¡¯s painting—and the Kaitou Magician Fan Club was angered. But I don¡¯t think I wrote anything incorrect.¡±

 

¡°Of course not,¡± Mikai reassured. Then he bowed to the rest of the journalism class members, before picking up Miho¡¯s bag.

 

¡°Well, let¡¯s go onii-chan,¡± Miho said, waving good-bye to the others.

 

¡°Hey, wait! Meeting¡¯s not adjourned yet!¡± Aki called out, in vain.

 

¡°She¡¯s slipping away from us,¡± Eriol murmured quietly so that only Sakura, who was sitting next to him, heard.

 

Sakura sighed, wondering where Syaoran was despite of herself. He would have been amused by the Kaitou Magician Fan Club—he had been plagued by a Romeo Fan Club for a few weeks. But then he blew up on the pestering group of girls and they had to retreat to make it an underground organization. However, seeing that Aki was not making a fuss about a missing reporter as he usually did, Syaoran probably had a valid excuse to skip meetings.

 

******

 

¡°It¡¯s been much quieter than I expected things to be,¡± Kero-chan commented that evening in Sakura¡¯s room. ¡°There are many unsolved mysteries, such as that brother of Miho¡¯s. It seems as if Eriol¡¯s off his case, which means that there is a possibility that this really may be the real thing. And I don¡¯t trust the Dark One¡¯s nonchalant demeanor¡¦ I mean, you¡¯ve openly confronted with them, announced that you know what they are up to, yet they¡¯re so calm and unresponsive about it. I mean, shouldn¡¯t they be doubling their attacks or something? Yue shows no response when I tell him my concerns, so he is no help, while Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun refuse to tell me what Eriol is up to. And¡¦ Sakura-chan! Are you listening?¡±

 

¡°Hmm?¡± Sakura, sitting by her desk and leaning her chin against her hand, sighed.  

 

¡°Plus you and the Brat fought, once again, and I can smell something fishy is going on in the Li Clan,¡± Kero-chan continued, shaking his head disapprovingly. ¡°And you are like this, all spaced out when the great Cerberus-sama is telling you important things.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry Kero-chan, let¡¯s continue our talk tomorrow. I¡¯m so tired¡¦ There¡¯s been a lot of homework lately, and I¡¯m working on my article for journalism,¡± Sakura interrupted, stretching, and falling down on her bed, letting her just just-shampooed hair fan out, and squashing a little stuffed black bear under her. I hate it when this happens. I hate it when Syaoran and I are not talking. I hate it so much, but I make him angry, all the time. Though he does his share in making me angry, also. If it¡¯s any of my other friends, it¡¯s so easy to make truce again, but it¡¯s so difficult to apologize to Syaoran.

 

The truth is, I guess I¡¯m too stubborn and proud at times.

 

Hours later, well past midnight, Sakura lay awake on her bed, weary but unable to sleep. ¡°Kero-chan? Sorry, I wasn¡¯t listening earlier on. I¡¯m thinking of all those things too, all the time. I¡¯m not neglecting my duty as Card Mistress for personal reasons. Kero-chan, are you sleeping?¡± Sakura leaned over to see the bottom drawer of her desk, Kero-chan¡¯s personal bedroom, was shut, and therefore, Kero-chan was fast asleep. ¡°G¡¯night, Kero-chan.¡±

 

Just as her eyes began to droop, a tapping sound came on the window. Muffling the sound with her pillow, Sakura clenched her eyes shut. The tapping sound came again. Sakura opened her eyes again. It wasn¡¯t her imagination; the tapping on her window came once again. Bolting up from her bed, Sakura walked tentatively to the window, recalling vividly those horror stories of ghosts with bloody heads that came to bedrooms in the middle of the night for revenge. Shivering, Sakura opened her window to reassure herself that it was just the wind knocking on the glass. Out popped an outline of a head. As Sakura was about to shriek, a hand covered her mouth, and the intruder jumped down from the windowsill into her room.

 

Rapidly recalling the powerful sidekick move taught by Syaoran in one of his martial arts lessons, Sakura kicked out with all her might. The person doubled over, clutching his stomach and groaning.

 

Wait, that voice sounded familiar. ¡°Syaoran?¡± Sakura whispered, squinting her eyes as her pupils adjusted to the dark.

 

¡°Oww¡¦ I can feel my dinner coming up,¡± Syaoran groaned, curled up on the ground. Something like this always had to happen to him; he regretted ever offering Sakura marital arts lessons.

 

¡°What in the world are you doing here?¡± Sakura demanded, careful not to raise her voice above a whisper, since her brother was up studying till late in the room next doors.

 

¡°It¡¯s not me¡¦ It¡¯s this fellow who has been barking all night, so that I couldn¡¯t sleep,¡± Syaoran said, fumbling under his jacket and scooping out the puppy with pointed ears like a wolf¡¯s. ¡°He missed you, I guess, so I was doing him a favor and brought him over. Though I¡¯m afraid that you might have squashed him when you attacked me.¡±

 

The puppy leaped out of Syaoran¡¯s arm and jumped onto Sakura, whimpering and rubbing its wet nose against Sakura¡¯s cheek. ¡°What? Syaoran hasn¡¯t played with you lately? How dare he?¡± Sakura responded, rubbing her nose against Wolfie-chan¡¯s.

 

¡°Whew, it¡¯s hot in here,¡± Syaoran said, peeling off his jacket and taking off his shoes and laying it to the side.

 

¡°Well, you can go now,¡± Sakura said, crawling back into bed with Wolfie-chan in her arms. ¡°I¡¯ll take care of Wolfie-chan for a couple of days. After all, I¡¯m not sure how a person who kicks his cousin out of his house and shuns his friend will treat an innocent puppy.¡±

 

¡°W-what?¡± Syaoran stammered.

 

¡°You heard me; you can leave—I trust you¡¯ll be able to leave by the same route you entered,¡± Sakura said, glancing at the wide-open window. ¡°That Kaitou-kun did have a bad influence on you, I dare say.¡± Then she smiled wistfully¡¦ Around a year ago, Syaoran had entered her room in such a way¡¦ That was when he played the violin for her, back when she was overjoyed that Syaoran had finally returned from Hong Kong. Back in those days¡¦ Sakura bit her lips. Syaoran the mysterious, Syaoran the untouchable. That Syaoran was of gone by days. But now¡¦ Here she was, doubting again, realizing that just as she thought that she could see into Syaoran, that Syaoran was reachable, he had shunned her once again.

 

¡°L-leave?¡± Syaoran repeated.

 

Stroking Wolfie-chan, christened Vega of Lyra by Syaoran, Sakura said demurely, ¡°Unless you have business with me.¡±

 

¡°Umm¡¦¡± Syaoran replied.

 

Though it was too dark to see, Sakura guessed that Syaoran¡¯s face was red right now. At the thought of Syaoran blushing, she giggled.

 

¡°What are you laughing at?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°I went through the trouble of bringing Wolfie-chan to you, and some thanks I get.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s your fault for neglecting Wolfie-chan, always so wrapped up in your family business, too busy to care for those around you,¡± Sakura retorted. There I go again.

 

¡°Don¡¯t start this again,¡± Syaoran said, sliding over to Sakura¡¯s bedside.

 

¡°Don¡¯t come near Wolfie-chan,¡± Sakura said, turning her back to Syaoran in her sitting position and shielding the puppy.

 

Sighing, Syaoran said, ¡°Fine. Fine, I¡¯ll get to the point. Now face me here. I don¡¯t want to talk to your back.¡±

 

Reluctantly, Sakura turned around, greeted with Syaoran¡¯s intent eyes, gleaming in the dark.

 

¡°Look, I hate it when you¡¯re mad at me. I hate it even more when you¡¯re not speaking to me. And I hate it even more, because I know it is my fault,¡± Syaoran said, slowly and pronouncedly.

 

¡°I hate it too,¡± Sakura replied.

 

Syaoran looked a bit startled at her frankness. ¡°So¡¦ I¡¦¡±

 

¡°Syaoran?¡±

 

¡°Yes?¡±

 

¡°Did it ever occur to you that right now might not be the best of times to carry out a conversation?¡± Sakura asked frankly.

 

¡°Oh!¡± Syaoran was speechless. He glanced at the digital alarm clock by Sakura¡¯s beside and realized that it was already 2AM. And yes, he had snuck into a girl¡¯s bedroom in the middle of the night, even when knowing her brother was right next doors. ¡°I-I¡¯m sorry¡¦ I guess I was too caught up with my own thoughts and have displayed a lack of courtesy.¡±

 

Shaking her head, Sakura asked, ¡°Syaoran, what¡¯s the matter with you these days? You¡¯re acting very unlike your usual self.¡±

 

¡°Well, I¡¦¡±

 

¡°Hush¡¦ I hear footsteps!¡± Sakura hissed. ¡°It must be onii-chan! We were too loud!¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Syaoran whispered in return.

 

¡°We¡¯ve got to hide you!¡± Sakura exclaimed in a whisper, fumbling around in the dark.

 

¡°Where?¡± Syaoran leaped to his feet, staring around. ¡°Under the desk? Closet?¡±

 

The footsteps stopped in front of the door and the handle turned.

 

¡°Oh quick! Underneath the covers! Hold onto Wolfie-chan and make sure he doesn¡¯t bark,¡± Sakura said, thrusting Wolfie-chan into Syaoran¡¯s arms and lifting up her blankets.

 

With the sound of the door creaking open, Syaoran didn¡¯t have a second to hesitate, and he crept underneath, muffling Wolfie-chan with his hand.

 

Just as the door swung open, letting light from the hallway stream in, Sakura covered Syaoran and Wolfie-chan with the blanket and hopped back into bed. She made a show of yawning and stretching. Meanwhile, she could feel Syaoran¡¯s warm presence by her legs; he was scrunched up as tightly as he could, so that Touya wouldn¡¯t notice a huge bulk in the center of the bed, next to Sakura¡¯s legs.

 

Needless to say, Touya stood in front of the doorway, arms crossed and peering into the room accusingly.

 

¡°What is it onii-chan, bursting in like that in the middle of the night?¡± Sakura asked, rubbing her eyes.

 

¡°Are you the only person in the room?¡± Touya asked.

 

¡°Of course. I¡¯m so tired onii-chan; why¡¯d you wake me?¡±

 

¡°I swear, I heard voices in the room. And a dog barking, too,¡± Touya replied, eying the bulk underneath Sakura¡¯s bedcover.

 

Noticing Touya¡¯s straying eyes, Sakura squashed Syaoran down with her right leg, blinking up innocently at her brother and hoping he didn¡¯t hear the whimper of the dog. ¡°Maybe I was sleeping talking. Ha ha¡¦ Ah ha ha ha¡¦¡± Sakura sweat-dropped. 

 

¡°Do you bark in your sleep too?¡± Touya questioned.

 

¡°That must have come from the streets,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Or maybe, you¡¯re hearing things¡¦ Pre-med exams are exhausting, huh? Well then, ¡®nii-chan, I¡¯m going back to sleep. I¡¯m exhausted.¡± Sakura pretended to snuggle back into bed, which wasn¡¯t an easy feat since she was trying to cover Syaoran also. She accidentally knocked his head with her elbow, and kicked his already bruised stomach with her foot. She knew it must be really stuffy and hot, smothered underneath the blanket. Poor Syaoran.

 

With one eye, Sakura peaked at the door. Touya still stood there, peering into differently corners of the room, especially at the open window, suspiciously. Sighing, Sakura shut her eyes again, pretending to sleep. Knowing her brother, he would stay on guard until he was convinced she was sound asleep and that there was no intruder in the house. Trying to mimic the slow breathing of sleep, Sakura turned her head away from the door and the prying eyes of her brother, who refused to leave.

 

 

 

     

With the annoyingly bright chirping of birds and the rays of morning sunlight flooding in through the wide-open bedroom window, Sakura woke up groggily. Several times she blinked, recalling having the most ridiculous dream that Syaoran had suddenly popped up in her room the previous night. Did I wish to see him that much that he had to invade the privacy of my dream?  

 

Stretching, Sakura tried to sit up on her bed, her legs feeling awfully cramped. As she sat up, her legs hit something solid. Once more, she kicked under her covers. This time, she felt something furry. Through sleep-laden eyelids, Sakura realized that there was a huge bulk underneath her blankets. Jolted out of sleep, Sakura threw off her blanket and gaped.

 

Curled up in the center of her bed lay Syaoran using her lap as a pillow and with one arm around Wolfie-chan, both fast asleep. The golden tan colored puppy snuggled against Syaoran¡¯s chest contentedly, and Sakura realized that the two made an awfully adorable picture: a wolf-boy and a wolf-puppy. She did not know whether to laugh or to be horrified. So it was not a dream!

 

¡°Why are you awake so early?¡± Kero-chan asked, rubbing his eyes with his paws and flying out of his drawer. ¡°It¡¯s only five.¡± Then he saw the figures on the bed and screeched, ¡°WHAT ARE THOSE TWO MONSTERS DOING HERE?¡±

 

¡°Hush,¡± Sakura scolded. ¡°Onii-chan might hear! Anyway, it¡¯s a long story.¡±

 

The noise waked Syaoran, however, and he stirred, squinting at the sunlight streaming in from outside. With a dazed expression, Syaoran sat up on the bed, letting Wolfie-chan slide of his chest, waking him also. Letting out a whimper, the puppy settled on Syaoran¡¯s lap. Absentmindedly, Syaoran stroked Wolfie-chan¡¯s backside as he adjusted to the unaccustomed setting. With half-shut eyes, he glanced around the room, the dolls behind the bed, the flower-print blankets, the television in the corner, and the yellow stuffed animal with wings, floating around the room. Then, he opened his eyes wide and alert. His gaze redirected to Sakura and his mouth moved up and down dumbly. Pointing at her, he demanded, ¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

Hands on hips, Sakura replied, ¡°That is what I want to ask you. You¡¯re the one who invaded my room in the middle of the night and fell asleep on my bed when you were supposed to hide from onii-chan.¡±

 

¡°I did?¡± Syaoran asked, smoothing his bed-tousled hair. Yawning, he cracked his back. Then he scowled at the puppy on his lap and shoved it off his lap.

 

¡°Well, I¡¯m glad to see that at least you look better than you did for the past week,¡± Sakura said grouchily. Having a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she saw that she had dark circles under her eyes; her hair hung limp and tangled, her checked pajamas were rumpled, and she felt horrible, tired, not to mention that her leg ached from sleeping in such an uncomfortable position.

 

¡°I haven¡¯t slept this well in the longest time,¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°You only slept three hours,¡± Sakura muttered. Suddenly, she remembered those months that she had spent at Syaoran¡¯s. Back then, she hadn¡¯t known, but those were the exciting days, waking up to see Syaoran each morning, falling asleep at night, being the last person to say good night to.

 

¡°Well, I better go now,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Sorry for causing excessive trouble.¡± With ease, even after having slept in such an uncomfortable, crouched position, Syaoran stood up, then brushed the creases off his beige button down shirt and khaki pants.

 

Then he dug out a black teddy bear from underneath the covers. ¡°I¡¯m glad you take such good care of this fellow,¡± he said, gently setting the bear back on the pillow.

 

¡°Ah¡¦¡± Sakura blushed crimson.

 

¡°See you later,¡± he said, ready to hoist himself onto the windowsill. Then he turned around again. ¡°Sakura.¡±

 

¡°Yes?¡± Sakura¡¯s heart thumped. Syaoran¡¯s amber eyes caught the brilliance of the orange, crimson and gold morning sun.

 

¡°I got a letter from home, telling me to come back,¡± Syaoran stated in a matter of fact way.

 

¡°Are you serious?¡± Why in the world did he look so happy about it?

 

Then he smiled. ¡°But I¡¯m not going back!¡±

 

¡°Oh!¡± Sakura stared at Syaoran hard, with large forest-green eyes.

 

¡°And one more thing,¡± Syaoran added.

 

¡°Huh?¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t misunderstand; I apologized to Meilin the very next day after we fought.¡±

 

¡°Oh.¡± Sakura was without words. She wished that she didn¡¯t have to hear all this in her pajamas, just out of bed.

 

¡°Well then, see you at school,¡± Syaoran said, about to jump off the second floor, barefoot. Then he paused again. ¡°I forgot something.¡±

 

His eyes scanned the room. Then he whistled. ¡°Hey, pup, come over hear.¡±

 

Barking with joy at not being forgotten, Wolfie-chan leaped up to Syaoran and climbed onto his shoulder, licking Syaoran¡¯s cheek. With a nod of his head, Syaoran jumped out, holding Wolfie-chan with one arm, still barefoot.

 

For seconds afterwards, Sakura stared at the boy running across her front lawn, without any shoes, with a wolf-cub-like dog on his shoulder, his brown hair blown back from his forehead and his running form paralleling the grace and power of a wild stallion. She watched him fade away into a speck, before blinking, letting his words sink into her mind. Return home?

 

Shutting her window, Sakura shook her head with a wry smile, glancing at Syaoran¡¯s shoes and jacket, neatly laid aside in the corner of her room. He had forgotten them after all. Carefully, she tucked them into a shopping bag to take it to him later on.

 

Although Syaoran had said he had come because Wolfie-chan missed her, she knew that must not be true. It was clear that now, Wolfie-chan was probably fonder of Syaoran than her. Even if Syaoran pretended that the puppy was a nag, she knew that he probably loved Wolfie-chan as much, or even more than she did. Why couldn¡¯t he be just truthful and say he had something to tell her, instead of using Wolfie-chan as an excuse to meet her! As for the other thing he told her¡¦ Being summoned back to Hong Kong¡¦

 

She pushed it out of her mind. He said it smiling. He wouldn¡¯t be smiling if it were something to worry about. It mustn¡¯t be something that serious, she reassured herself.

 

******

 

¡°Wow, don¡¯t tell me you¡¯ve already memorized the entire score?¡± Tomoyo asked Eriol, during an early morning practices in the music room. They had just run through the piece without any mistakes for the first time.

 

¡°It isn¡¯t that great of a feat,¡± Eriol replied, modest as usual. ¡°I haven¡¯t much other to do than practice for the Music Festival.¡±

 

Sitting on a stool next to the piano, Tomoyo commented, ¡°That must be a lie—you surely have better things to do. If I¡¯m not mistaken, things haven¡¯t been resolved with Miho-chan yet, isn¡¯t that right?¡±

 

Sighing, Eriol took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He stared up at Tomoyo with his midnight blue eyes solemn. If Eriol was capable of looking worried, worry might have been seen in his expression, but instead there was merely a reflective silence.

 

Yet, even that pensive look was only momentary, and Eriol reverted back to his usual relaxed smile and said, ¡°Well, we need to continue to practice if we want to ensure you first place.¡±

 

Smiling back, Tomoyo replied, ¡°To tell you the truth, I don¡¯t really care whether I receive first place or not. I¡¯m not a very ambitious person.¡± Answering Eriol¡¯s questioning look, she continued, ¡°I¡¯m just doing this to make Sakura-chan happy. She wants me to win this contest, so I¡¯m trying my best.¡±

 

¡°Is that so?¡± Eriol asked, strumming a few chords on the piano.

 

¡°You are really good at the piano,¡± Tomoyo commented. ¡°Since when did you play?¡±

 

Ruefully, Eriol replied, ¡°Sadly, it¡¯s just part of the useless knowledge that was passed down from Clow Reed to his reincarnation.¡±

 

¡°Oh. So you never had to take any lessons or anything?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°How convenient! Then, Clow Reed must have been an excellent pianist, also.¡±

 

¡°Not really. He could play, mechanically, since his aristocratic father forced him to take lessons from a private tutor at a very early age. But truthfully, Clow Reed hated playing the piano, though he did like music. As you can tell, there was not much love lost between Clow Reed and his father, Lord Landon Reed.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s a pity,¡± Tomoyo commented, not specifying whether she meant Clow Reeds dislike for playing the piano or his disdain for his father. ¡°But Eriol-kun likes playing the piano, right?¡±

 

Eriol looked up at Tomoyo again, whose violet-blue eyes flickering with an already-known answer.

 

In return, Eriol just smiled again. Once more, he reminded himself to be more on guard with this particular girl who could penetrate through every single one of his moves with her dangerously sharp instincts.

  

******

 

¡°Here, you forgot to take this,¡± Sakura told Syaoran at school later on that day, setting the bag with his shoes and jacket on top of his desk during break. She was feeling horrible after sleeping only three hours the previous night.

 

Syaoran, who had been spacing out, focused back on Sakura. ¡°Huh?¡±

 

¡°Sheesh, Sakura-chan, don¡¯t you have better sense than that?¡± Kai, from the desk next to Syaoran, asked. ¡°He left it at your at house on purpose probably so that he can have an excuse to visit you again.¡±

 

¡°What do you take me for, you?¡± Syaoran exclaimed, turning red.

 

¡°Actually, Syaoran-kun¡¯s already used that tactic before,¡± Tomoyo commented slyly.

 

¡°When did I do that?¡± Syaoran demanded, glaring at Sakura, who had the awful habit of telling Tomoyo everything single thing he did.

 

Shrugging, Sakura said, ¡°Oh, I don¡¯t know,¡± though perfectly knowing when. 

 

Walking over to the group, Eron flicked back his dark ponytail and stated, ¡°So you two have made up? What a pity.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t say such stuff in that sickening honey tone. You sound like Erika,¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°We are twins, you know,¡± Eron said smiling sweetly. ¡°Sakura, you asked if I was free this Sunday?¡±

 

¡°Hoe? Well, I¡¦¡± Sakura peeked up at Syaoran, wondering why Eron had to bring it up in front of him. She had wanted to speak to Eron privately, outside of school. ¡°If you have time.¡±

 

¡°I would make time I didn¡¯t have for you,¡± Eron said, smirking, and sending a challenging look to Syaoran. ¡°With a certain faith that you wouldn¡¯t stand me up for half a day.¡±

 

¡°Why, you!¡± Syaoran burst up from his seat, restrained only by Kai.

 

¡°Oh, stop it Syaoran. Don¡¯t you see he¡¯s just saying those things to annoy you?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Guys: they¡¯re so touchy and aggressive!¡±

 

¡°Not all guys,¡± Tomoyo said absentmindedly.

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura blinked. ¡°Of course. Not all. Thinking about it, how are practices with Eriol-kun coming along?¡±

 

¡°Very smoothly. I feel bad because Eriol makes so much time for practices,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°He even memorized the entire score already.¡±

 

¡°Well, it is Eriol-kun after all,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Knowing him, I bet he memorized the piece after one reading.¡±

 

¡°I think he did,¡± Tomoyo agreed. Then she said in a softer voice, ¡°I think Eriol-kun has everything figured out.¡±

 

¡°What figured out?¡± Sakura asked, blinking.

 

¡°You know. About Miho-chan and her brother. Whether the conclusion is that Mikai-san is really her real brother or an imposter, I don¡¯t know, but I know that Eriol has reached certainty,¡± Tomoyo said.

 

¡°Did he say so?¡± Syaoran asked.

 

¡°No, I could just tell,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°Before, he looked rather puzzled and perplexed. Now, he just seems anxious, as if he is waiting for something to happen.¡±

 

¡°Really? How can you tell?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°He always has the same expression.¡±

¡±Well then, do you think Tanaka Mikai is a dark force, after all?¡± Syaoran questioned.

 

¡°I think he seems genuine enough,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°But that¡¯s just me.¡±

 

¡°Speaking of Miho-chan, I haven¡¯t seen her at school today,¡± Sakura commented, looking around classroom 3-1. It was around this time of the day that Miho burst into their classroom.

 

¡°I don¡¯t think she came today,¡± Tomoyo commented. ¡°Eriol-kun said that he came to school alone this morning.¡±

 

Shaking his head in disapproval, Syaoran said, ¡°I can¡¯t see how that guy calls himself Miho¡¯s guardian and yet, he doesn¡¯t even show any concern for her.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know about that,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Eriol-kun is very concerned, in his own way.¡±

 

¡°Anyway, do you have any right to criticize anyone like that, with the way you treat your own cousin,¡± Kai asked hotly. ¡°After kicking her out of your house, humph.¡±

 

¡°I never¡¦¡± Syaoran trailed off, sighing. What was the use?

 

******

 

After soccer practice ended, Syaoran found he and Eron were the only ones left in the changing room. Good. Stuffing his sweaty uniform into his sports bag and zipping it up, Syaoran said, ¡°Chang Eron, I would just like to warn you once.¡±

 

¡°Warn me about what?¡± Eron asked, shoving his bag into his locker, then turning around to face Syaoran.

 

¡°Stay away from Sakura. Don¡¯t get nearer. For both of your sakes,¡± Syaoran continue.

 

¡°What kind of position do you think you are in to determine who Sakura or I can get close to?¡± Eron asked coolly.

 

¡°Even if I were a neutral onlooker, which I am not, I would think that your relationship with Sakura is a little unnatural,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°It can be either that you are playing with her for your amusement, or like me, you love her.¡±

 

¡°Is that so?¡± Eron stared at Syaoran with amused golden eyes.

 

¡°If it were the former, which I think is more likely, I would like to bash out your brains—she¡¯s not your toy. If it¡¯s the latter, I might say I sympathize with you, but would like to remind you that you are in no position to fall in love with the person that you have been cursed to destroy or be destroyed in attempt,¡± Syaoran continued.

 

¡°As I¡¯ve mentioned before, I don¡¯t think you are in the position to be warning me,¡± Eron said mildly. ¡°When you yourself are at the knifepoint of the Li Clan.¡±

 

¡°I can forsake my family for Sakura,¡± Syaoran replied, unperturbed. ¡°Can you say the same? And if ever I find that I might bring harm upon Sakura because of my bloodline, I will offer the same advise to myself—to put her safety foremost and my heart¡¯s desire second.¡±

 

¡°Oh, so you¡¯re telling me that you are willing to stay away from Sakura if you happen to become a danger for her?¡± Eron smiled lazily. ¡°Always so self-sacrificing, are you? After all, you are the most miserable failure of the Li Clan and a disgrace to your father, the greatest Chosen One in generations.¡±

 

¡°At least I try make my own decision, whether things work out or not,¡± Syaoran replied coldly. ¡°I would sadly have to remind you, you are but a mere pawn of Chang Ruichi-sama, ready to his summons and bound to him by blood to carry out his revenge. Which you don¡¯t seem to mind.¡±

 

Tossing his bag over his shoulders, Syaoran walked out the locker room. ¡°I hope my words made some impression in that convoluted mind of yours,¡± he called out.

 

When Syaoran disappeared around the corner, Eron¡¯s composed face contorted and he banged his fist into his locker, leaving a dent in the metal, then preceded to rip off the locker door. He left it hanging on its hinges, hardly feeling any calmer. 

 

******

 

¡°What an amazing transformation to the apartment!¡± Sakura exclaimed, observing Kai¡¯s living room with awe and delighted that Meiin had invited her over after school; maybe now she could get some real answers. ¡°This place is spotless, Kaitou-kun!¡±

 

¡°Thanks to Mei-chan, of course,¡± Kai replied, gazing around his orderly, gleaming living room, then slightly grimaced. The tidiness didn¡¯t agree with him too much but since it pleased Meilin¡¦ She had been so apologetic about making a huge mess in the kitchen the first day she came, not realizing that it had been very messy from the beginning anyway, and had given the whole house a cleaning.

 

¡°How do you manage to clean and cook on one foot, Meilin-chan?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°It¡¯s not that big of a deal,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°My leg has gotten much better—the doctor told me that the bones are starting to mend—and besides, I¡¯ve always had a high sense of balance and coordination from all that martial arts training since I was young.¡±

 

¡°As modest as ever,¡± Kai commented.

 

¡°Meilin-chan,¡± Sakura said in a direct manner. ¡°Is it true that the Li Clan has summoned for Syaoran to return?¡±

 

Gazing at Sakura in surprise, Meilin asked, ¡°Did you Syaoran tell you that?¡±

 

Sakura nodded. ¡°But then, he said that he doesn¡¯t have to return.¡±

 

¡°Oh¡¦¡± Meilin glanced at Kai miserably. ¡°Is that all he told you?¡±

 

¡°Is there more to it? Is it okay if he doesn¡¯t return?¡± Sakura asked, forehead creased in anxiety. ¡°Won¡¯t he get in trouble with the Clan?¡±

 

¡°Noo¡¦¡± Meilin said slowly. Syaoran hadn¡¯t told Sakura about being removed as the Chosen One. ¡°No, it¡¯s not that big of a deal. You know the Head of the Li Clan General Council, Syaoran¡¯s uncle. He¡¯s notorious for his whims, calling up people whenever he feels the urge to, without much reason.¡±

 

Without looking convinced, Sakura asked, ¡°Is that why you fought with Syaoran, and why you¡¯re staying with Kai-kun now?¡± She added hurriedly, ¡°Sorry, being so nosy.¡±

 

¡°No, not exactly,¡± Meilin said. ¡°It¡¯s my choice to avoid Syaoran right now. Actually, I have my own reasons. It¡¯s not Syaoran¡¯s fault at all—he apologized the very next day after that night when he kicked you and Tomoyo-chan out of his house, remember?¡±

 

¡°What? He apologized?¡± Kai demanded, bolting up from the couch. ¡°You never told me that! And all this while, I was thinking what a great big jerk my next-door neighbor was.¡± He added after a second thought. ¡°Though thanks to his dirty temper, I did get a lovely cook.¡±

 

¡°Oh shut up,¡± Meilin said, recalling how Syaoran had rang Kai¡¯s doorbell, a few nights ago when Kai was out, the day after Meilin found out that Syaoran had discovered the letter from his mother.

 

~~~~~~

 

Meilin¡¯s flashback¡¦

 

Shifting on his feet nervously, Syaoran looked up at Meilin guiltily, ¡°Hey.¡±

 

¡°Hey,¡± Meilin replied, not knowing what Syaoran was doing there, standing by the doorway without entering.

 

¡°Umm¡¦ About yesterday,¡± Syaoran continued, still looking down at the floor. ¡°I¡¯m really sorry. I didn¡¯t mean to lose my temper on you.¡±

 

¡°Huh?¡± Had Syaoran ever looked so wretched before? And she had been worrying all day over how to face Syaoran again! But he too must have been feeling really guilty all night and day. Meilin smothered a giggle at the tail-between-legs image of Syaoran. Anyway, this was the best apology she would receive from Syaoran.

 

¡°What are you laughing about?¡± Syaoran asked crossly. Then he looked up at her sincerely. ¡°Anyway, will you return home now? I want you back to come back.¡±

 

Even more than the apology, these words touched her. Then Meilin smiled. ¡°There is no reason for you to apologize, but if you feel the need to, I accept it fully. But, I think I¡¯ll like to stay on at Kai¡¯s a couple days longer.¡±

 

At this, Syaoran looked horrified. ¡°You want to stay with Kai a little longer? You are mad at me. That¡¯s why you¡¯re not returning.¡±

 

¡°No, no,¡± Meilin said, shaking her head. ¡°It¡¯s not that, not that at all.¡±

 

¡°Then? Did he kidnap you again? Blackmail you?¡±

 

¡°No, it¡¯s nothing like that,¡± Meilin said hastily.

 

¡°I knew it,¡± Syaoran said darkly. ¡°You¡¯re still mad at me.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not because of you,¡± Meilin reassured weakly, as a blue aura radiated from Syaoran.

 

¡°Then he has done something to you.¡± With a dismal expression on his face, Syaoran returned next doors to his flat, shoulders stooped, grumbling, ¡°AHHHH!!! That bastard, he has done something to my cousin! I won¡¯t forgive him!!! What has happened to the Meilin I now?¡±

 

~~~~~~

 

¡°What are you chuckling over?¡± Kai asked Meilin, who was wiping the tear from the corner of her eyes from recollecting Syaoran¡¯s lame yet heartwarming apology. When she should have been the one apologizing to him.

 

¡°Anyway, if Syaoran apologized to you, why are you staying on with Kaitou-kun then?¡± Sakura asked in disbelief; since when did Meilin defy Syaoran? ¡°I thought that you hate him and can¡¯t trust him at all.¡±

 

¡°True, true,¡± Meilin nodded.

 

¡°So you¡¯re the one still mad at Syaoran?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Even after he apologized to you?¡±

 

¡°Ah, well¡¦¡± Meilin smiled apologetically. ¡°Kai-kun needs someone to look after him, doesn¡¯t he?¡±

 

Sakura stared at Meilin hard and said sorrowfully, ¡°He¡¯s hypnotized you.¡±

 

Throwing a cushion at Sakura¡¯s head, Kai stated, ¡°Don¡¯t say that with those eyes of great pity. If I hypnotized her, do you think she would go around slapping me and scolding me about every little detail?¡±

 

¡°Right,¡± Sakura said thoughtfully. ¡°She did slap you that time, and she does argue with you as much as ever. And I think Meilin-chan has too strong a spirit to be hypnotized so easily, but then again, Kaitou-kun can¡¯t be trusted and¡¦¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t waste so many brain cells reflecting over a joke!¡± Kai stated, slapping his forehead in frustration. His crimson parrot squawked, as if laughing at Sakura.

 

¡°Well, I¡¯m glad that you and Syaoran are on talking terms again,¡± Meilin said. ¡°H-he needs support from people around him. Especially you. He is nowhere near as tough as he seems to be. Especially now.¡±

 

Laughing, Sakura said, ¡°Syaoran¡¯s a big boy now. He knows how to take care of himself.¡±

 

Before Meilin could give herself away any further, Kaitou Magician stated, ¡°Hey Saku-chan, if you don¡¯t mind, can you call out the Magician card? The one you sealed last time?¡±

 

¡°Saku-chan???¡± Sakura blinked. ¡°Right now? Sure¡¦ but do you mind asking why?¡±

 

¡°Oh, I just wanted to have a closer look at the force which had been impersonating me for weeks,¡± Kai replied sketchily.

 

¡°Okay.¡± Sakura released her staff and called out, ¡°Magician!¡±

 

Immediately with a cloud of black smoke the tall, dashing Magician, dressed in a black tuxedo with a flowing cape with red trimmings, bowed elegantly, taking off its top hat, rather like Kaitou Magician.

 

Glaring at the Magician, Kai demanded, ¡°Now, how could that thing be mistaken for me?¡± Kai peered at it critically. As he had suspected, though the Magician had been sealed with his locket, it no longer possessed it on its body, meaning that the locket had not been sealed as a part of the Magician after all; it was probably in the hands of another. The Magician had lied to him just to escape being sealed.

 

 

 

 

After Sakura left, Kai stated, ¡°You¡¯re getting to be quite as talented in lying as me, Li Meilin.¡±

 

¡°What are you talking about?¡± Meilin asked, cradling the mug of hot chocolate in both hands that she had prepared for both of them, her left leg tucked beneath her as she sat on the floor and her broken right left propped on a cushion.

 

¡°You left out the most important part about Syaoran disobeying the Li Council decision.¡± Kai was eying his mug of steaming hot chocolate critically. Since when did he drink such a babyish drink like hot chocolate? That Meilin, always ruining his image. 

 

¡°I didn¡¯t lie; I just hid the fact that Syaoran might be removed as the Li Chosen One. If he didn¡¯t tell her that, I don¡¯t see why I should,¡± Meilin retorted.

 

¡°And I thought you learned your lesson,¡± Kai said, heaving a sigh. ¡°Anyway, why are you staying with me when your precious Syaoran pleaded you to return to him?¡±

 

¡°Why do you word things in such manner?¡± Meilin asked, rashly gulping down her hot chocolate and burning her tongue.

 

¡°I wouldn¡¯t dream that you have fallen madly in love with me or enjoy my presence so much that you have to stay with me 24/7,¡± Kai said ruefully, gazing down at the whipped cream which melted into the warm chocolate drink in creamy whirls. ¡°So, what is it?¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re right. Of course I wouldn¡¯t stand your constant company if I didn¡¯t have an ulterior motive,¡± Meilin said.

 

¡°Hmm¡¦ This hot chocolate is actually pretty good, as expected since it¡¯s homemade,¡± Kai commented sipping the cooled hot chocolate. ¡°Too sweet and rich though to suit my meager taste.¡±

 

To his surprise, Meilin reached over to him and ran a finger down the nape of his neck.

 

¡°What are you doing?¡± Kai asked. ¡°Don¡¯t tell me you want to become more intimate? Of course I¡¯m all for it if you are¡¦¡±

 

¡°Hey, Kai-kun, what happened to that locket you always wear, the one with the ruby inset?¡± Meilin asked abruptly. She had merely been checking if Kai still wore the chain and scooted herself away from Kai¡¯s proximity, just in case he was serious.

 

Shrugging, Kai replied, ¡°Why does it matter to you?¡±

 

¡°¡¯Cause you lost it on the night you were trying to rescue me, when I was attacked by the Magician and the Age,¡± Meilin replied.

 

¡°Oh, it was the Magician that lured you and had you locked up in the basement room?¡± Kai asked.

 

Nodding, Meilin replied, ¡°I recognized it when Sakura called it a while ago. But is it okay, losing the locket like that?¡±

 

¡°Well, it can¡¯t be helped,¡± Kai said mildly.

 

¡°Are you sure? Because you went through such a great fuss for that locket last summer, refusing to give it up even when it had a tracking microchip devise attached to it and the police were hot on your trail,¡± Meilin pointed out. ¡°For heaven¡¯s sake, you were shot in the chest because of it.¡±

 

¡°That was then,¡± Kai replied. ¡°I don¡¯t have any need for it now.¡±

 

¡°Kai, look at me,¡± Meilin said, setting down her mug and staring up at Kai with grave amber eyes. ¡°And take those wretched sunglasses off for a change when you¡¯re talking to me.¡±

 

¡°I am looking at you, and it hurts my eyes when I get direct light in them,¡± Kai said, grinning. ¡°Why are you acting all serious and uncute, Meilin-chan?¡±

 

¡°Mizuki Kai, you know who possesses your locket now, don¡¯t you?¡± Meilin asked.

 

¡°Yes, I do.¡±

 

Taken back at Kai¡¯s bluntness, Meilin continued, ¡°Do you remember how Miho stated that one of the ways she could verify her brother¡¯s identity was because of a token?¡±

 

¡°Did she?¡± Kai asked lazily.

 

¡°I asked her what that token was last time when we were at the hospital,¡± Meilin said slowly. ¡°And do you know what she told me it was?¡±

 

Kai smoothed his parrot¡¯s feathers, deciding to play along with Meilin¡¯s game. ¡°What?¡±

 

¡°She told me that it was a locket. A silver locket with a single ruby inset, a family heirloom,¡± Meilin said softly.

 

 

 

 

Slowly, Sakura walked down the King Penguin Park, lighted by the streetlamps, on her way home Kai¡¯s apartment complex. Dried leaves crunched as she stepped on them; Sakura realized that autumn was slipping away already when it seemed like summer had just ended. Sakura saw that no one was around, and walked up to the swing set. Setting her school bag on the ground, she sat on one of the swings, which creaked under her weight, and swayed back and fro. Closing her eyes, she felt the cool evening breeze blow on her face, at once appreciating the calming effect of swinging. This swing set had always been her favorite place to come to and think when she had a problem. This was the place where she had cried in Syaoran¡¯s arm so long ago when rejected by Yukito-san.

 

A gentle hand from behind her pushed her so that she swung forward higher.

 

¡°Have something to worry about? I remember this used to be one of your favorite thinking spots.¡±

 

Stopping the swing with her foot, Sakura turned her head to see Syaoran standing behind her, between her swing and the empty one next to her. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

¡°Were you coming from Kai¡¯s?¡± Syaoran asked, wondering how Sakura could always be so dense. Of course he was here to see her. Same as yesterday.

 

¡°Yeah,¡± Sakura replied.

 

¡°How¡¯s Meilin doing these days?¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s right next doors. Is it that difficult to see her?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t spend much time at the apartment these days,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Is she still mad at me?¡±

 

¡°No, she¡¯s not mad at you at all,¡± Sakura said, smiling. She didn¡¯t know whether to be jealous of or warmed by Syaoran¡¯s attention to Meilin. Besides, she still didn¡¯t know the real reason they fought.

 

¡°Then why won¡¯t she come back home?¡± Syaoran grumbled darkly, as he plopped down on the swing next to Sakura¡¯s. ¡°You know, I do wish you¡¯ll be careful of that Eron. Despite what you think, he¡¯s not the misunderstood, helpless, bad guy with a kind heart that you think he is. He knows what he is doing, and furthermore, he knows what he wants.¡±

 

¡°Syaoran, we¡¯ve talked about this before,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I¡¯m not being incautious, but I think I¡¯ll stick to what I believe of Eron and Erika. As Card Mistress, I can¡¯t afford to be close-minded.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not about open-mindedness or being kind,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Out of the two, though Erika is more poisonous, Eron is the more dangerous—he¡¯s like a ticking bomb. You have to always remember that he is like a cobra, coiling around a prey, preparing to crush it any moment. Don¡¯t trust him. Don¡¯t offer him sympathy. He will turn it on you later on.¡±

 

¡°I understand, so let¡¯s lay this topic off,¡± Sakura replied, sighing.

 

¡°I wish you would listen to me sincerely when I¡¯m being serious,¡± Syaoran muttered. ¡°You never heed any of my warnings of suspicious people. Even back in elementary school¡¦ Let¡¯s see, Mizuki-sensei, Eriol¡¦ Always ¡®hanyaan,¡¯ always thinking everybody is as good as you are.¡± 

 

¡°Hey, Syaoran.¡± Beginning to swing herself again, Sakura asked on fresh note, ¡°Do you remember that locket of Kai-kun¡¯s that he always wears?¡±

 

¡°Of course I do. We almost got caught by the police because of that; how can I not remember it?¡± Syaoran replied.   

 

¡°Does Kai-kun still wear it?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. Probably,¡± Syaoran shrugged, scuffling his shoes on the sand.  

 

¡°Who do you think he is?¡± Sakura asked, swinging higher up.

 

¡°Who¡¯s who?¡±

 

¡°Mizuki Kai. Kaitou Magician,¡± Sakura stated. ¡°Don¡¯t you wonder who he really is?¡¯

 

¡°Kai¡¯s Kai,¡± Syaoran replied flippantly.

 

¡°Syaoran, did you ever wonder what¡¯s inside that locket?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°Not really,¡± Syaoran said, swaying back and forth on the swing. Sakura always seemed so wrapped up in other people¡¯s problems. Though he might have begun loving her because of that little concerned look on her face when she looked at him, as if she cared deeply for him, lately he had begun to wonder if she always showed that expression to anyone who caught her concern, and if he was like any one of them, not any more special to her. That bastard Eron. 

 

¡°I happened to, briefly, on the train to Kusakou this summer,¡± Sakura stated. Then she turned pink, remembering what had happened on that train. Till this day, she wondered why he had kissed her then, so abruptly and calmly. Covering her lapse, she swung higher up till she felt that she could jump off the swing and grasp the moon in her arms.

 

On her way down, her hair blowing forward, she called out, ¡°I dropped the locket on the ground by accident, and it flung opened. So I got to see it by chance.¡± Pumping her legs, she flew up again. ¡°And inside, there were two sides, obviously. In the left half was an oval shaped mirror.¡±

 

By now, Syaoran was listening to Sakura intently. Reaching out, he grabbed the swing chain.

 

Sakura halted, panting from swinging so hard, and looked up at Syaoran, strands of her wind-tangled hair clinging to her face.

 

¡°And what was in the other oval?¡± Syaoran asked, still holding onto Sakura¡¯s swing.

 

¡°Inserted in the right face was a miniature photograph,¡± Sakura said. ¡°A photograph of Miho and Mikai when they were younger.¡±

 

¡°Wait, then¡¦¡± Syaoran gulped, taking in Sakura¡¯s words slowly. ¡°Then why hasn¡¯t he said anything? And what is¡¦ I mean, if¡¦ Never mind that; why haven¡¯t you said anything until now?¡±

 

Running a hand through her long windblown hair she replied, ¡°I¡¯ve always figured he had his reasons for keeping quiet. I respected his silence. So I decided to just wait until he brings it up himself.¡±

 

¡°Well, now is not the best of time to ignore such things; if Kai is really Tanaka Miho¡¯s brother, who is the ¡°Tanaka Mikai¡± right now?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°And how come Kai¡¯s not saying anything?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°But if Eriol-kun is staying put, I thought it was best for me to just wait and watch. That¡¯s what Kai-kun¡¯s doing too.¡±

 

¡°Damn, that guy has things really foiled,¡± Syaoran commented, swaying back and forth apprehensively. ¡°Even more so than me.¡±

 

 

 

 

It surprised Meilin when Kai burst out laughing at her serious confession. She had expected acceptance, denial or even anger at her statement, but instead, Kai thought it humorous.

 

¡°So, you¡¯re saying that I might be Tanaka Mikai, Miho¡¯s brother?¡± Kai asked, still laughing. ¡°Haven¡¯t you been listening to the stories about that angelic bastard? He was head of his class, model student, truthful, and compassionate for heaven¡¯s sake. Do I fit that description in any manner?¡±

 

¡°True,¡± Meilin reflected. ¡°But isn¡¯t it too coincidental that your locket is stolen and then ¡®Tanaka Mikai¡¯ shows up with the same locket as proof that he is her brother.¡±

 

¡°Even so, he fits the description perfectly,¡± Kai replied. ¡°Won¡¯t you say, better than me?¡±

 

¡°But that locket is yours,¡± Meilin said.

 

¡°Who said it¡¯s mine?¡± Kai asked, grinning ruefully.

 

¡°You¡¯ve always kept it on your body and you¡¯ve treasured it so¡¦¡± Meilin trailed off, thwarted by Kai¡¯s nonchalant demeanor.

 

¡°Well it is the first item that I have ever stolen,¡± Kai replied. ¡°So you can¡¯t exactly say that it belongs to me.¡±

 

¡°Wait a minute¡¦ So, you stole that locket?¡± Meilin demanded. ¡°So, it¡¯s not even yours in the first place?¡±

 

¡°It isn¡¯t,¡± Kai said, leaning back on his black leather sofa. ¡°It¡¯s the item which initiated my career as a phantom thief.¡±

 

¡°Are you lying to me again?¡± Meilin asked, trying to scrutinize Kai¡¯s face.

 

Peering over his sunglasses and looking directly at Meilin, he asked, ¡°Do you think I am?¡±

 

Picking up her mug of chocolate, now cold, Meilin said, ¡°I don¡¯t know. I don¡¯t know anymore when you¡¯re being serious and when you¡¯re not.¡±

 

¡°Anyway, you should answer my question too.¡± Kai took a deep gulp from his mug. ¡°Why are you staying with me, anyway, if you and Syaoran made up?¡±

 

¡°Isn¡¯t that obvious?¡± Meilin asked, smiling slyly. ¡°I¡¯ve been interrogating you. Keeping my eye on you to reveal your true nature, that¡¯s all.¡±

 

¡°I see.¡± Kai coughed.

 

¡°You seem disappointed?¡±

 

¡°Ah, you see, I had the slightest hope that you were physically attracted to me and enjoyed my company in your own twisted way,¡± Kai said.

 

¡°In your dreams!¡± Meilin stated, throwing a cushion at him. What an unpredictable guy!

 

******

 

As Sakura had predicted, waiting did bring due results. Although Miho was always the most enthusiastic for journalism club meetings, she began to skip more meeting days to go meet her brother over the week, and also missed article deadlines, something she had never done before. While Sakura and Eriol watched over her concerned, some people were less sympathetic.

 

¡°Tanaka Miho, get a grip on yourself! When are you ever going to turn in your articles? You¡¯re the only one who hasn¡¯t yet—even Mizuki-kun finished his layouts already,¡± Aki berated one meeting. ¡°You¡¯ve never done this before.¡±

¡°Hmm?¡± Miho looked up, startled. She had been absentmindedly alternating between staring out the window and looking at the clock on the wall, fidgeting for the meeting to end. ¡°Oh, sorry. I¡¯ll get them in by tomorrow. I¡¯ve kind of been busy lately.¡±

 

¡°Look here, we¡¯re all busy—and you¡¯re only a second grader too. Most of us here are preparing for high school, but it is our commitment to publish the school newspaper. And after all the chaos you caused last time too, publishing that abominable editorial about Kaitou Magician and disgracing our paper¡¯s name,¡± Aki stated animatedly.

 

¡°Stop being such a tyrant when all you do is give orders and make us do the dirt-work to publish your oh-so-precious paper,¡± Miho stated. ¡°You¡¯re so pathetic, always afraid of being overshadowed by those around you. What makes you so proud anyway? What makes you so special that you¡¯re always full of it and have to condescend down on everyone else?¡±

 

All chattering stopped, and the fifteen members of the journalism club halted their work and stared at the irritated Miho, speaking up to Aki in that way for the first time. In fact, it was the first time that anyone spoke to Aki in that manner, for despite the fact that Aki was arrogant, he was a good-natured, friendly guy that most people liked albeit his boastfulness.

 

Nudging Miho¡¯s arm, Chiharu hissed, ¡°What¡¯s the matter Miho-chan? Aki-kun¡¯s always bossy—we¡¯re all used to it now; he doesn¡¯t mean any harm you know.¡±

 

¡°Yeah, Miho-chan, you should apologize to Aki-kun—I know you didn¡¯t mean all those stuff,¡± Naoko said, glancing at how Aki was taking the situation. ¡°He is our editor, after all, and he is a good one, despite the fact that he does make us do the dirt work.¡±

 

The members of the journalism club let out a feeble laughter. Eron and Erika exchanged amused looks. Neither of them were fond of being bossed around and had been tense with Aki lately; they were enjoying the outburst.

 

¡°Do apologize—he is your elder,¡± Miho¡¯s grade-mate urged.

 

¡°I won¡¯t! I don¡¯t think I said anything wrong!¡± Miho retorted, bursting into tears and running out of the room. A low murmur ran through the room.

 

¡°Ha! Go running your precious ¡®nii-chan, are you?¡± Aki called out snidely, loud enough that Miho could probably hear.

 

¡°Miho-chan!¡± Sakura called out, trying to run after the younger girl.

 

Kai held her back. ¡°Let her go. She¡¯s been acting like a spoilt brat, and she probably knows it but feels to ashamed to admit it. If you try to console her, she¡¯ll only end up not accepting her faults.¡±

 

¡°Yeah, let her go,¡± Aki said, disgusted.

 

¡°Wow¡¦ I¡¯ve never seen Miho-chan like that,¡± Chiharu commented. ¡°She¡¯s always so cheerful and understanding.¡±

 

¡°But Aki-kun, you aren¡¯t much better,¡± Sakura said. ¡°You are older and you should be more understanding also.¡±

 

¡°I know, I know,¡± Aki said crossly. ¡°I¡¯m a bratty youngest child too, so I understand.¡± Realizing how tense the room had become, Aki laughed. ¡°Hey, you guys know that I do all the printing and headlines and final editing and stuff, don¡¯t you? I do work, contrary to what everyone thinks, and I stay up all night editing before deadlines, too.¡±

 

Everyone laughed, almost unnaturally heartily.

 

¡°Yeah, yeah, Aki-sempai, we know you¡¯re just a misunderstood figure, heartbroken because you were chosen as the biggest flirt when in fact, your heart is so pure and sincere,¡± a second year boy joked.

 

¡°Don¡¯t get cheeky with me, Masami-kun,¡± Aki said good-naturedly.

 

¡°Oh, did you guys hear about boxes of beads disappearing from the art room?¡± Naoko asked. ¡°I think it¡¯s a ghost, stealing it.¡±

 

¡°G-ghost?¡± Sakura squeaked.

 

¡°Speaking of beads,¡± Yamazaki Takashi began. ¡°In the olden days, beads were used as the monetary system because they were so shiny and pretty to look at, however people had the hardest time keeping track of beads because they were so tiny and easily slipped through holes in pockets. So, someone had the genius ideas to string the beads together and hang it around their necks. This solved the problem of losing the beads, but now, they realized that they couldn¡¯t use them as a form of exchange anymore. Besides, the beads looked so nice as necklaces, so that no one wanted to trade them anymore. So, people began to collect beads to make more necklaces and disregarded doing anything else. Therefore¡¦¡±

 

Chiharu realized that she had actually listened to more than half the story before coming to her sense to interrupt him. ¡°Yamazaki Takashi, don¡¯t fill Sakura-chan and Li-kun¡¯s head with that nonsense. ¡°They believe it you know.¡±

 

¡°Oh, but it is true,¡± Eriol rebutted. ¡°Men who could offer women the greatest number of beads were the most favorable, and it became a sign of wealth and prosperity the more bead necklaces you had around your neck. Soon, people ran out of space around their neck and resorted to stringing beads around their wrists and ankles and waists. This fashion was later imitated by the American Hippies in the Sixties.¡±

 

¡°I see¡¦¡± Sakura said, eyes turning to dots.

 

¡°There goes the pair again,¡± Chiharu muttered.

 

¡°Doesn¡¯t this remind you of our glorious olden days?¡± Takashi asked, holding out his hand to Eriol.

 

¡°ANYWAY, that¡¯s not the point,¡± Naoko said. ¡°The missing beads from the art room must mean that there must either be a thief or a ghost in this school. I hope it¡¯s a ghost though I wouldn¡¯t mind if it¡¯s Kaitou Magician stealing the beads, either!¡±

 

¡°Not a chance,¡± Kai muttered.

 

¡°G-ghost?¡± Sakura repeated.


¡±Eriol-kun, do you know the story of the beads that were made of different colored beans to grant the person a wish?¡± Takashi asked.

 

¡°No, but I know the story of the princess who enchanted her lovers into becoming beads that hung on a chain around her neck,¡± Eriol replied.

 

¡°Guys, get back to work!¡± Aki called out over the noise, half-heartedly because he was glad that the members regained their usual spirit. Only Sakura was peeved because Syaoran had failed to show up yet again, though she had seen him during classes.

 

******

 

¡°Wow, the music teacher let you use the entire auditorium for your contest practice?¡± Sakura asked, surveying the empty auditorium—this was the main building one, not the one used for the ¡°Star-Crossed¡± production. Tomoyo finally was allowing her to listen to a practice.

 

¡°Well, Tomoyo is our school¡¯s representative; first place depends on her,¡± Miho replied, who was to write a coverage on the upcoming contest and therefore wanted to attend a practice to get an ¡°inner view¡± on how hard their star singer practiced. She had quickly recovered from her flare-up at Aki the previous day and had even handed in all her overdue articles. ¡°Onii-chan got mad at me for walking out of school in the middle of school activities,¡± was her source of repent.

 

Besides, Miho never failed to express her outright admiration for Tomoyo, who she had idolized ever since the Best Director Contest. ¡°Remember to get a picture, Kai-sempai,¡± she reminded.

 

¡°Aye aye, Miho-hime,¡± Kai said, holding up his digital camera. ¡°A picture of vocalist Tomoyo-chan?¡±

 

¡°Hmm¡¦ Maybe one of Eriol too, since he¡¯s plays the piano awfully well,¡± Miho added on a second thought. She yawned and leaned against the wall.

 

¡°Yup. I get it. Just a picture of Tomoyo-chan, no one else,¡± Kai said, eying Eriol scornfully. Then he peered at Miho¡¯s pallid face. ¡°What¡¯s wrong, Hime-sama? You look really worn out.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m fine, I¡¯m fine,¡± Miho said.

 

¡°Aren¡¯t we all disturbing your practice?¡± Syaoran asked, folding his arms in front of him and sitting down in one of the chairs. Tomoyo was standing on the center of the stage, hands folded in front of her, and microphone positioned to her height. The grand piano was off to the left side of the stage, and Eriol sat placidly, fingers posed over the white and black keys, ready to begin on cue.

 

¡°I know! Should I go adjust the lighting and sound system in the auditorium?¡± Kai called out to Tomoyo. ¡°So that you can simulate actually performing on stage at the contest.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯d be nice,¡± Tomoyo replied, smiling at all her friends supporting her. She squinted when the spotlight shone on her.

 

From the piano, Eriol asked, ¡°Should I begin?¡±

 

Tomoyo nodded, clearing her throat. The clear notes of the piano drifted across the auditorium, amplified by the speaker system. On cue, she took a deep breath and began to sing.

 

At that moment, a thudding sound came from the front of the auditorium. Slowly, they looked around bewildered, as it took some time for them to register in their brains that the thud was the result of someone falling.

 

It was Miho, who had collapsed without any notice onto the ground, sending her folders of papers flying around her. The piano music stopped, and there was a creaking of the piano bench as Eriol stood up. Tomoyo too squinted through the light and saw that Miho lay unconscious. In slow motion, she saw Eriol leap off the stage and run to Miho, who was already being catered to by Sakura.

 

From the lighting room, Kai called out, ¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± When he saw that Miho had collapsed, he came running down to the front of the auditorium.  

 

Eriol, who was bent on his knees and feeling Miho¡¯s pulse said, ¡°Everyone, back off. She¡¯s okay; she¡¯s just fainted.¡±

 

¡°Just fainted?¡± Kai demanded. ¡°You live with her for heaven¡¯s sake. Why in the world did you let her come to school if her condition¡¯s this bad?¡±

 

At Kai¡¯s outburst, Eriol merely replied, ¡°We better get her to the nurse. What Miho needs is some rest. Can some one give me a hand and help me carry Miho to the infirmary?¡±

 

¡°You should continue practice with Tomoyo; the rest of us can take care of Miho,¡± Kai said. ¡°Here, get her on my back. I¡¯ll carry her to the infirmary.¡± Sakura and Syaoran heaved the unconscious Miho onto Kai¡¯s wide back.

 

The three of them hurried to the infirmary, while Tomoyo and Eriol remained in the auditorium

 

 

 

 

¡°So, will Miho-chan be okay?¡± Sakura asked the school nurse. Miho was laid on the white infirmary bed and was in quiet slumber.

 

¡°Yes, Tanaka-san just needs plenty of rest,¡± the school nurse replied, covering Miho with a blanket. ¡°Her health seems perfectly fine, so I figure her fainting spell came from mental overload.¡±  

 

Brushing Miho¡¯s auburn hair away from her face, Sakura said, ¡°That¡¯s a relief.¡±

 

At that moment, Tanaka Mikai burst into the infirmary. He demanded, ¡°Is my little sister here?¡±

 

¡°And who may you be?¡± the nurse asked, taken back by the young man¡¯s urgency.

 

¡°I am Tanaka Mikai, Miho¡¯s older brother,¡± Mikai replied, politely bowing this time.

 

¡°Ah, I see,¡± the nurse said. ¡°Your sister seemed to have fainted in the middle of school. She¡¯ll probably gain consciousness in a few hours—seems like she¡¯s just in sleep right now. Better let her rest for a couple of days though.¡±

 

¡°I see,¡± Mikai said. Then he turned to Sakura and the others. ¡°Thank you for looking after Miho. I can keep watch now.¡±

 

 

 

 

¡°Why aren¡¯t you singing Tomoyo-san?¡± Eriol asked, as Tomoyo missed her cue for the first verse for the third time.

 

¡°I know you must be worried about Miho-chan too,¡± Tomoyo said, sighing and turning the mike off. ¡°Should we go see how her condition is?¡±

 

¡°Sakura and the others must be looking after her right now,¡± Eriol said. ¡°She¡¯ll be fine.¡±

 

Wondering how Eriol could seem so staid, Tomoyo said, ¡°I¡¯m sorry Eriol. But let¡¯s take a break. I-I can¡¯t concentrate.¡±

 

Before Tomoyo could step down from the stage, Sakura, Syaoran, and Kai returned to the auditorium.

 

¡°Sakura-chan! How is Miho-chan?¡± Tomoyo exclaimed. ¡°Why are you guys back already?¡±

 

¡°Miho-chan¡¯s sleeping now. Mikai-san came, and he said that he would watch over her. We wanted to stay, but the nurse told us that class would be starting soon, and one person was sufficient enough to watch over Miho-chan,¡± Sakura replied, sighing. ¡°It would have seemed awkward if we insisted on staying when her brother showed up.¡±

 

¡°Miho¡¯s brother came?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°How did he know that Miho fainted during school?¡±

 

Shrugging, Sakura said, ¡°I guess it¡¯s like me and onii-chan—he can always tell when I¡¯m sick ¡®cause we are siblings. Plus, onii-chan has the second sight so¡¦ Anyway, that is if he is really Miho¡¯s brother, which I doubt he is.¡±

 

¡°Really? But why would Mikai-san be so concerned about Miho like this if he wasn¡¯t?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°He sincerely seems to care for Miho.¡±

 

¡°Truthfully, that threw me off too,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°That time at the journalism meeting and again today; if he was a dark force, wouldn¡¯t he want to do harm to Miho? Yet, he¡¯s always defending her, being her greatest pillar.¡±

 

¡°Still, I think Miho-chan is safe for now,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Tomoyo-chan, do let us hear your song before break ends.¡±

 

¡°Okay then,¡± Tomoyo said without much resolve.

 

This time, Eriol stumbled on the keys of the piano. ¡°Sorry,¡± he said and started over again, flawlessly.

 

With her mind made up to really sing this time, Tomoyo turned on the mike again and opened her mouth. Once again, she missed her cue. Patiently, Eriol started from the top. To everyone surprise, Tomoyo collapsed onto her knees, clutching her throat.

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan, what¡¯s the matter?¡± Sakura asked, jumping on to the stage.

 

¡°I-I¡¯m fine,¡± Tomoyo replied, wiping the sweat from her brows.

 

¡°Tomoyo-san, are you okay?¡± Eriol asked, placing a supporting hand on her shoulder.

 

¡°I-I can¡¯t sing,¡± Tomoyo whispered.

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura tilted her head. ¡°What do you mean, Tomoyo-chan? Is it a dark force? I remember the time that the Voice card took your voice and you couldn¡¯t speak.¡±

 

Shaking her head, Tomoyo said, ¡°No, I can speak. I¡¯m perfectly fine.¡±

 

¡°Do you want to try again?¡± Eriol asked, helping Tomoyo up.

 

Nodding her head, Tomoyo said, hanging her head, ¡°I¡¯m sorry making you play the same thing over and over again.¡±    

 

Yet once again, she failed to produce any sound when she tried to sing. Patting Tomoyo¡¯s back sympathetically, Sakura said, ¡°It must just be from the shock of seeing Miho faint. All you need is plenty of rest.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-san is right. Why don¡¯t we call it a day, Tomoyo-san, and we can try again tomorrow, ¡° Eriol suggested, shutting the piano.

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry, Eriol-kun,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°You went through all the trouble of borrowing the auditorium for practice.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t worry about it,¡± Eriol reassured.

 

 

 

 

Yet even the next day and the next, Tomoyo could not sing. Every time she opened her mouth, no voice came out, even though her speaking abilities were not impaired in any way.

 

¡°What do you think is wrong with Tomoyo-chan?¡± Sakura asked worriedly to Eriol in between classes. ¡°Is a dark force preventing her from singing or something? Tomoyo¡¯s never had any stage fright before, and she¡¯s had solos in choir since elementary school. ¡±

 

Eriol replied quietly, ¡°I think it is less a physical problem than a psychological one. It seems as if the aftermath of the Phantom¡¯s evil has not worn out yet. As you know, Tomoyo-san almost broke under the mental pressure when the Phantom was manipulating her. And this must have carved down on her self-confidence greatly. The combination of the stage and also Miho¡¯s accident probably transmitted a minor shock to her brain, and therefore her body shut off one of its mechanisms. And it happened to be one that was rather important to her, which was singing, since she knows all her friends, and the entire school, is counting on her to win first prize.¡±

 

¡°This is all because of the after-effects of the Phantom?¡± Sakura asked, biting her lips. She thought that once the card was captured, everything was over; yet Tomoyo was still suffering from that experience. And she hadn¡¯t known. It was simple with those cards which attacked you physically, because external pain could be felt briefly but faded away as quickly. Yet, internal hurt scarred permanently.

 

That¡¯s it. Sakura clenched her fists tightly. She had to do something about Miho. If not, Miho would be hurt too. Hurt so much that she might not have the strength to rise again this time.

 

¡°How is Miho-chan these days?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°She hasn¡¯t been coming to school.¡±

 

¡°She stays home. Or Tanaka Mikai takes her around. She doesn¡¯t speak to me these days, as you know,¡± Eriol replied, ignoring Sakura¡¯s confused expression, clearly asking why he seemed so indifferent.

 

******

 

Finally Sunday approached for Sakura and as planned, she met with Eron.

 

¡°What a pleasant surprise, having Sakura ask to see me outside of school like this,¡± Eron said. ¡°You will allow me to treat you to lunch, will you not?¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun, we need to talk,¡± Sakura said, sitting down on a park bench. She had sacrificed her Sunday with Syaoran to meet with Eron, and she clearly knew how bothered Syaoran was about it. Yet this was more important. 

 

¡°So, this is not a date?¡± Eron asked sourly, sitting down next to her.

 

¡°I thought you promised not to harm any more innocent people,¡± Sakura blurted out.

 

¡°I haven¡¯t been harming any innocent people,¡± Eron replied.

 

¡°Then stop what you are doing to Miho-chan,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°What am I doing to Tanaka Miho?¡±

 

Sakura blinked at Eron¡¯s game of being clueless—she thought he was more open now. ¡°Why, you set a dark force or whatever it is on her, to act like her brother, though I don¡¯t see what you would gain from that except hurting Miho terribly when she finds out that it isn¡¯t her real brother.¡±

 

¡°And who told you that it was my doing?¡± Eron questioned, arching an elegant eyebrow.

 

¡°You didn¡¯t? Then who is that Tanaka Mikai?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°It¡¯ll be lying to say that it has nothing to do with me, I guess. But you can say that I provided the sources, and she conjured up the rest,¡± Eron said. ¡°If anyone¡¯s to blame, it¡¯s her.¡±


¡±But¡¦¡±

 

¡°Besides,¡± Eron cut her off. ¡°I would not call Miho ¡®innocent.¡¯¡±

 

¡°What has she ever done to you?¡± Sakura demanded.

 

¡°Nothing specifically. It¡¯s just her fault for being born into the Mizuki bloodline. I detest all those who are descendents of Mizuki Mayura.¡±

 

¡°You mean Mizuki-sama of the Great Five?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°How can that be a valid reason to hurt someone in that manner?¡±

 

¡°Well, the only reason that we are enemies is because you are the direct remaining descendent of Amamiya Hayashi, you know,¡± Eron replied. ¡°What other reason do you think is there for me to be receiving such glares of hatred from you right now?¡±

 

Mouth agape, Sakura stammered, ¡°B-but aside from that family business we are friends?¡± She had meant to make a statement which came out more like a question.

 

¡° ¡®From ancient grudge break to new mutiny; where civil blood makes civil hands unclean,¡¯ ¡± Eron quoted off from Shakespeare.

 

Brushing off Eron¡¯s literate remarks, Sakura stated, ¡°But Eron-kun, I don¡¯t think I will ever be able to forgive you for what you did to Tomoyo-chan.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ve never asked forgiveness,¡± Eron said, smiling wryly. ¡°Do you think Erika and I became the Dark Ones¡¯ Chosen Ones to be granted forgiveness? Besides, it was Tomoyo who was vulnerable to the Phantom, not me who made her vulnerable.¡±

 

¡°Then are you saying that it¡¯s Tomoyo¡¯s fault for buckling under the Phantom¡¯s venom?¡± Sakura demanded, eyes flashing like shots of emerald. 

 

¡°Besides, she has the Amamiya blood in her. In my eyes, I think she can fend for herself,¡± Eron said.

 

¡°You disappoint me, Chang Eron,¡± Sakura said, standing up and stepping away from Eron. ¡°I thought you had some morals left in you.¡±

 

Since Eron¡¯s eyes were downcast, Sakura couldn¡¯t see that momentary change over his face that had been triggered by her reproving words.

 

Eron stood also. When he spoke again, the sudden coldness present in his voice chilled Sakura, as he said, ¡°Well, it¡¯s about time that you get the notion out of your head that I am a nice guy, that you can befriend me by throwing bones at a stray puppy. I¡¯m not as simple as Li Syaoran.¡±

 

Once more, Eron¡¯s words were mocking and derisive, and his chin was tilted up so that he could look down at Sakura with half-shut eyes, in that arrogant manner of his. He then stepped up closer to Sakura.

 

¡°Syaoran is not¡¦¡± Sakura was cut off.

 

Gripping her shoulders tightly so that she couldn¡¯t squirm away from him, Eron said in a dangerously pleasant tone, ¡°If I were you, I would be more on guard. There¡¯s no knowing what I might do from now on.¡±

 

Struggling to loosen his grip, Sakura demanded, ¡°Let go of me!¡± For the first time, she realized that despite being light-boned for a guy, Eron was remarkably strong too, his fingers digging into her flesh and grinding into her bones.

 

¡°And if I don¡¯t want to?¡± Eron asked quietly, face close enough so that Sakura could clearly distinguish the golden flecks in his hazel eyes. This was the second time they were this intimately close—the first time was that summer, as she came out of the old theater, and she thought that he was going to kiss her then. ¡°What, do you too think that I am but a mere pawn of Chang Ruichi-sama, that I can¡¯t do as I please?¡±

 

¡°What are you talking about?¡± Sakura tried to throw off Eron¡¯s balance but failed, wincing as Eron¡¯s grip tightened, and he slammed her into a lamppost behind her. The iron of the long pole collided into her left shoulder blade and spine. ¡°Ouch! L-let go! You¡¯re hurting me!¡± 

 

Sakura stared up at Eron furiously. This was not the Eron that she had seen at the orphanage, the one who had asked her to save him so piteously. This was not the charming, charismatic person who smiled and offered her idle compliments. This was not the person who she thought she had been slowly getting to know over the past months. The person standing before her was brutal, aggressive, cruel. Indeed, he was like a cobra, waiting for the perfect opportunity to crush her.

 

¡°Does it? Does it hurt?¡± Eron scoffed, purposefully jabbing his nails into her skin. ¡°Tell me, is it the love that you always preach about when I sometimes feel like breaking every bone of your body and hear you writhe in pain?¡±

 

Once more, Sakura lunged forward to escape, but Eron again threw her back against the lamppost with ease, as if she were a mere rag doll, and Sakura felt something snap as an excruciating pain etched down her back. ¡°You can¡¯t escape from me,¡± he whispered in a coldly threatening tone.

 

Bending over even closer, without loosening his hold on her arms, he asked, ¡°You wouldn¡¯t mind this if I were Syaoran, would you?¡± he asked.

 

This time he really would have kissed her but Sakura turned her head away sharply and his lips landed on her left eyelid. To his surprise, he tasted salty wetness on his lips. Then he realized that Sakura¡¯s eyes were glistening with tears of pure terror.

 

¡°Please let me go, Eron-kun. I know you¡¯re usually not like this,¡± Sakura said, chin trembling as she looked straight up at Eron.

 

Blinking, Eron stared down at Sakura, realizing that his knuckles were white from digging his fingers into Sakura¡¯s skin so forcefully. Gradually, he loosened his grip, breathing hard. The wildness and passion contorted on to his face was replaced with one of remorse and concern.  ¡°Sakura¡¦ I¡¯m sorry. I didn¡¯t mean to¡¦¡± Her realized that Sakura wasn¡¯t listening to him, that he might have made a fatal mistake.

 

Stumbling away from Eron, Sakura ran, ran as hard as could away from that frightening figure. Just take me away from him. I don¡¯t think I can face him again. For the first time, I¡¯m really scared of him. I¡¯ve never been scared of a person like this before; it¡¯s not simply being scared, it¡¯s terrified. I¡¯m terrified because I know Eron was not lying about anything he said.

 

Once again, a sense of helplessness washed over her; she was numb to the increasing pain on her shoulders, back, and arms, the result from Eron¡¯s aggression and flouting Syaoran¡¯s warning.

 

******

 

By that evening, Sakura had calmed her nerves and simply deleted what had happened earlier on with Eron as merely an unpleasant memory; she vowed to simply cease thinking about the incident and those menacing golden eyes. She even ignored the red and purple bruises that had form over her body and the fact that she couldn¡¯t bend her back properly because of being banged against the iron post several times; she just took the caution to wear a long-sleeved turtleneck shirt in case her brother saw them.

 

Carefully, Sakura laid out her Sakura Cards, face down, in the fortune-telling formation. If neither Eriol nor Eron would tell her about what was going on, she had to bring it on her own hands to figure it out. She felt the aura of her cards glowing around the table she had arranged them on.

 

When the right balance between the power of the stars and her own vision reached, she picked out the first card. ¡°The Mirror,¡± she stated out loud.

 

¡°Obviously, since he is a replica of Miho¡¯s real brother,¡± Kero-chan commented. When Sakura had burst into the house a several hours ago, eyes red and steps unsteady, he was luckily the only one home, and he had wisely left her alone. If he noticed that Sakura was a shade paler than usual, or that though her voice was unusually firm her hand trembled as she picked up the cards, he failed to comment. Kero-chan only raised an eyebrow when Sakura ignored three consecutive calls from Syaoran, obviously curious if Sakura had really met up with Eron, by not answering the phone and later unplugging both her house phone and turning her cell phone off. 

 

¡°Next card is the Illusion,¡± Sakura said, turning over the second card.

 

¡°That too is obvious,¡± Kero-chan said, peering over Sakura¡¯s shoulders at the cards.

 

¡°Then Create,¡± Sakura said, turning over the third card down vertically.

 

¡°I guess that makes sense,¡± Kero-chan reflected. ¡°The Create—creates things of the imagination

 

Sakura turned over the next two cards bordering the side of the card formation simultaneously. ¡°The Twin and the Libra.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s a bit confusing,¡° Kero-chan mused, stroking his chin. ¡°The Twin signified a double, the Libra reflects truth.¡±

 

¡°The Dream.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s more self-explanatory.¡± Kero-chan nodded. ¡°Next?¡±

 

¡°And the last card, the counterpart of the current dark force is¡¦¡± Sakura turned over the last card in the bottom. Then, she gave a shudder. ¡°The Phantom.¡±

 

¡°So, this dark force is the opposite of the Phantom, which dwells on people¡¯s greatest fears. Hmm¡¦ This is rather a hard one,¡± Kero-chan ruminated.

 

¡°I get it,¡± Sakura stated. ¡°The opposite of dwelling on fears is dwelling on hopes and dreams. What creates your dreams and brings it to reality yet is only an illusion though it seems like the truth?¡¯

 

Scratching his head, Kero-chan admitted, ¡°I really have no clue. The Riddle is better at this kind of thing.¡±

 

¡°Fantasy. Which brings to life one¡¯s greatest fantasies,¡± Sakura answered for him, recalling that dark force was listed in the Five Force Scroll.

 

¡°Ah, that¡¯s it! Good one,¡± Kero-chan exclaimed. ¡°I knew I picked the right Card Mistress. You¡¯re getting to be an expert at this! Who knows, you may really exceed Clow Reed someday. So, the Fantasy, eh? That¡¯s the identity of Tanaka Mikai.¡±

 

¡°No, no, it¡¯s not just the Fantasy.¡± Sakura pointed at the Twin and the Libra. ¡°The Twin signifies a double, but it also indicates there are two joined forces. And the Libra indicates truth and also balance—the two forces exist to balance each other and create a convincing human being. Which is why it threw all of us off track for so long, since it didn¡¯t radiate the aura of a dark force at all. Though I¡¯m not sure what the second dark force is, I¡¯m figuring one gives it the form of a human being and the other gives it the content, the soul.¡±

 

¡°I see¡¦¡± Kero-chan gaped at Sakura, unable to conceal great awe for his Card Mistress and wondering what had come over her that day. ¡°You¡¯ve come a long way, Sakura-chan.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m just translating what my cards conveyed to me,¡± Sakura replied simply, placing out her hand and letting her cards magically stack on her palm.

 

You¡¯ll see, Chang Eron. I won¡¯t let you beat me, nor hurt any of my friends.

 

******

 

¡°Meilin, I beg you, come back home,¡± Syaoran pleaded. He had found the perfect opportunity when Kai was not home; his pride was greatly crushed by the fact that Meilin chose to stay with Kai over him and didn¡¯t want to this in front of him. ¡°It¡¯ll still be a while till you can remove your cast and return to Hong Kong.¡±

 

¡°I should be flattered,¡± Meilin said, carefully tying a ribbon around Kai¡¯s parrot¡¯s neck. It was a change to have Syaoran seeking her out like this, even coming to her like this when Kai was out. ¡°But I think I¡¯ll stay here a little longer.¡±

 

¡°Your mother is going to kill me if she finds out that I¡¯m letting you stay with a stranger, dishonorable thief, ex-criminal who stole two Li Clan Treasures and kidnapped you once,¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°Oh, so that¡¯s it,¡± Meilin said crossly. ¡°You¡¯re just worried what my mother and your aunt will say if they found out that you weren¡¯t taking good care of your cousin. It¡¯s always been like that, after all. Well, you¡¯re not exactly in the situation where your name can be dirtied anymore. You¡¯re in enough trouble with the Clan, anyway.¡±

 

¡°Why are you being so unreasonable?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°If you¡¯re so mad at me, why don¡¯t you go stay at Sakura¡¯s or Tomoyo¡¯s instead of moving next doors? Doesn¡¯t that make more sense?¡±  

 

¡°That defeats the purpose,¡± Meilin said. Maybe she had enough fun making Syaoran feel guilty. ¡°Actually, I¡¯m just keeping an eye on Kai right now. I¡¯ve talked about this with Sakura. She thinks it¡¯s a good idea too.¡±

 

¡°Well, you can keep an eye on him from next doors. You don¡¯t have to be in the same house as him,¡± Syaoran said. Then he frowned. ¡°Unless, don¡¯t tell me you¡¯ve really fallen in love with that guy.¡±

 

¡°How can you even say something like that, even as a joke?¡± Meilin demanded. ¡°When you know what my feelings were always like. You do not know how long it takes to get over having an engagement cancelled, do you?¡±

 

¡°Meilin, that was a childhood joke,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I¡¯m not scorning your sincerity, but I just think, it¡¯s about time that you learn to set aside childhood fantasies and be a little more truthful about yourself.¡±

 

¡°What are you saying?¡± Meilin asked, suddenly her eyes blurring with unexpected tears. Why does my heart ache like this, even now? You¡¯ll never realize how much pain I felt because of you. It¡¯ll take a long time to heal, if it ever will, and I¡¯ve been trying my best to forget you.

 

¡°Just, don¡¯t waste time and let opportunities slip away because you are still dwelling in the past,¡± Syaoran said quietly.

 

Meilin bit her lips as she realized that she was definitely unsure of her unwavering love for Syaoran. Were the same feelings there, even after knowing he liked another, even after vowing that she would abandon old love, even after realizing that Syaoran could treat her easily as another sister? Or was the ache in her heart merely an echo of the emotions she felt in the past, simply there because she was so used to the idea that she loved Syaoran and no other? After all, she had grown up with the idea that she would marry him ever since she was five. I think I really don¡¯t love him like I used to before, she thought. I still love him in my own bittersweet, fond way, but it¡¯s different from what it used to be. That I know for sure.

 

At that moment, Syaoran cell phone rang. It continued ringing but Syaoran didn¡¯t get it.

 

¡°Aren¡¯t you getting the phone?¡± Meilin asked.

 

¡°No,¡± Syaoran said, taking out his slim silver cell phone and removing the battery. The phone stopped ringing.

 

¡°What are you doing?¡± Meilin demanded, taking the phone and inserting the battery again. It began ringing again.

 

¡°I don¡¯t want to get it, okay?¡± Syaoran said. He knew for sure it wasn¡¯t Sakura¡¯s call anyway—he was furious that she had disconnected her home phone and turned off her cell phone clearly meaning to cut him off—and there would only be one other person calling him.

 

It was too late. Meilin was already answering. ¡°Yes, this is Meilin, Aunt. Syaoran¡¯s next to me. You can talk to him.¡± Covering the receiver with her hand, Meilin said, ¡°It¡¯s your mother.¡±

 

¡°I know. I¡¯ve been avoiding her call for days now,¡± Syaoran replied.

 

¡°I can¡¯t believe you¡¯ve been doing something like that,¡± Meilin said. ¡°And you¡¯re the one who got mad at me for running away from our Clan problems. Get the phone. Sort it out with your mother at least. Aunt Ieran would understand you.¡±

 

¡°Fine.¡± Syaoran picked up the phone and walking to another room, shutting the door behind him. ¡°Mother.¡±

 

¡°Li Syaoran, have you deliberately not been answering the phone lately?¡± Li Ieran demanded, stopping in short of screaming through the receiver because she was too dignified to scream. ¡°You didn¡¯t get the house phone, nor your cell phone.¡±

 

¡°Sorry. I guess I¡¯ve been busy,¡± Syaoran replied, wondering if he had pestered Sakura with his phone calls like his mother pestered him.

 

¡°Well, I gather you heard from Meilin about your current situation and read my letter. I¡¯ve been expecting a much sooner response from you, but I thought I should give you some time to sort things out there and prepare to return. But still, it¡¯s been more than a month since I sent Meilin to carry the message. So, when will you be returning?¡±

 

¡°I won¡¯t be returning.¡±

 

¡°Excuse me?¡± Ieran asked, sharply.

 

¡°I said, I won¡¯t be returning,¡± Syaoran repeated.

 

¡°Don¡¯t be ridiculous. I know it¡¯s rather sudden, but you¡¯ll be coming back next Sunday, with Meilin—I¡¯ve booked the tickets already.¡±

 

¡°I have to stay here. I have something to do,¡± Syaoran said.

 

With a nervous laughter, Ieran said, ¡°Syaoran, I think you underestimated what I meant by the letter. It¡¯s not a petty excuse to make you return to Hong Kong. The Elders have really ruled to remove you as the Li Clan¡¯s Chosen One because you have been shirking from your duty. It¡¯s been more than a year since you ran away from home, I repeat, ran away, stealing my credit cards, without any notice whatsoever. I¡¯ve reasoned with them, so the Clan has agreed to give you one more chance, in condition that you return immediately. You know that the Great Elder is not here to defend you anymore; he¡¯s having enough problems with his health without having to deal with the affairs of the Clan. You¡¯re really going to have to forfeit your title if you choose to remain obstinate.¡±

 

¡°Then I¡¯ll forfeit my title as the Chosen One,¡± Syaoran replied shortly.

 

¡°Syaoran, don¡¯t joke around with such important manners.¡± Ieran sighed.

 

¡°I¡¯m not taking things lightly. I¡¯ve thought things over carefully too, and I know the consequences. But I¡¯m not returning to Hong Kong, next Sunday or any time soon. I¡¯ll staying in Japan,¡± Syaoran said, staidly and deliberately.

 

Taken back by Syaoran¡¯s cool, diplomatic manner, Ieran stammered, ¡°S-syaoran. I know you¡¯re an intelligent boy. Just come back for now; I¡¯m not saying that you have to stay here forever. Just appease the Clan and verify where your loyalty lies. And by and by, this fuss with be over, hopefully as the Great Elder regains his strength, then you¡¯ll be able to return to Japan. This is not too much to ask, is it? You are a reasonable person.¡±

 

¡°Mother, nothing you say, nor anything that the Clan can do to me will induce me to return to Hong Kong right now,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°So, please respect my wishes. If the Clan desires to disown me, let them be. I am sorry for disappointing you, Mother. Then, I trust you won¡¯t hear from me anymore.¡± He hung up the phone.

 

¡°SYAORAN! WAIT! Li Syaoran don¡¯t you dare hang up on your mother!¡± Li Ieran exclaimed, only to be greeted by the beeping of the receiver. ¡°So foolhardy and rash! Just like his father!¡± She buried her face into her hands, wondering how she could convey the message that her son chose to defy the Clan.

 

******

 

Kai, who had been about to enter his apartment via his window jumped off to the ground floor again. This time, he really hadn¡¯t meant to overhear Meilin and Syaoran¡¯s conversation. That fool of a girl, always pining away for Syaoran, when he clearly loves another.

 

But he had to say, he was impressed by Syaoran¡¯s firmness in deciding to remain in Japan. How sweet of him to stay to protect his loved one, he thought sarcastically. He himself couldn¡¯t be bound to a person like that. I have to be free, and to be free, you can¡¯t have any personal ties.

 

Disgusted with himself for feeling annoyed at Meilin for gazing at Syaoran with such passionate eyes, he sauntered down the streets, aimlessly. At a distance, he saw two bright auburn heads. It was Mikai waving good-bye to Miho. Miho headed off one direction and Mikai continued down the street to his direction. Kai walked towards him.

 

Catching sight of him, Mikai smiled. ¡°Good afternoon, Mizuki-san.¡±

 

Staring at Mikai stonily, Kai said, ¡°Don¡¯t you think you¡¯ve been putting an act long enough?¡±

 

¡°What do you mean?¡± Mikai asked, his gray eyes widening to reflect mild surprise, not anger.

 

¡°Who are you? Or more precisely, what are you?¡± Kai demanded.


¡±I¡¯m Miho¡¯s older brother, who else?¡± Mikai replied calmly.

 

¡°Then who am I?¡± Kai asked, his pitch-black sunglasses gleaming.

 

¡°You are me and I am you,¡± Mikai replied. ¡°Though we are not each other.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t say such ridiculous things,¡± Kai said.

 

¡°You¡¯re a coward, always escaping reality,¡± Mikai stated. ¡°And you hate me because I am what you should have been, but you are not.¡±

 

¡°I do not know you,¡± Kai said.

 

¡°I do not know you either, Kaitou Magician,¡± Mikai replied sharply. ¡°Who are you? How have you fallen so, like Lucifer fell? I would think you should be too ashamed to show your face to me.¡±

 

Trembling, Kai said, ¡°I am as I am. I¡¯ve always been this way. But I would just like to warn you, don¡¯t you dare harm Miho.¡±

 

¡°Why does it matter to you?¡± Mikai masked aggravatingly. ¡°What relationship is she to you?¡±

 

¡°There is no relationship between her and me,¡± Kai replied tensely. ¡°But I cannot watch the innocent become stained, can I?¡±


¡±For you are a damned body yourself,¡± Mikai laughed. ¡°Well, I¡¯ll keep your words in mind, Criminal Number 603.¡±

 

******

 

¡°Don¡¯t you think time is slowly running out for us?¡± Erika asked, sighing and leaning back on the sofa.

 

It was a quiet Sunday evening and Erika appreciated the day away from school, away from seeing all those content, dim-witted faces of students. But she detested the idea that Eron had went to meet Sakura early that day and came home disheveled and beside himself, moodily locking himself up in his room for hours. Now, he seemed a littler calmer.

 

¡°What makes you say that?¡± Eron questioned, sipping the red wine from a crystal goblet with an elegance that was natural to him. 

 

¡°Just a feeling I¡¯ve gotten lately,¡± Erika replied, running a hand through her thick curls. ¡°We¡¯ve already been here for over a year and we¡¯ve done nothing.¡±

 

¡°We¡¯ve done many things,¡± Eron corrected. ¡°We¡¯ve went to camp, attended the Winter Wonderland, visited New York City, performed in a musical production, you¡¯ve participated in the Best Couple Contest¡¦ We¡¯ve done an awful lot in one year.¡±

 

Erika stared at Eron with hard hazel-gold eyes.

 

¡°What?¡± Eron drank from his glass.

 

¡°You sounded an awful lot like Sakura right now,¡± Erika said.

 

¡°Did I?¡± Eron crossed his legs and leaned back on his chair, smiling maliciously.

 

¡°Add one more thing to the list,¡± Erika replied bitterly. ¡°You¡¯ve fallen in loved with that despicable girl.¡±

 

Eron laughed only to aggravate his twin sister. ¡°So what if I have? It won¡¯t interfere with our business, anyway.¡±

 

¡°You have then, have you?¡± Erika asked, a cold chill sweeping through her. ¡°You idiot.¡±

 

¡°I am an idiot. Our bloodline is notorious for being full of idiots,¡± Eron continued to laugh. ¡°And they continue to produce more and more idiots. Remind me not to marry, Erika. I¡¯ll make sure that our wretched bloodline is ended, prevented from bringing more idiots to this world full of idiots.¡±

 

¡°Did you have too much wine?¡± Erika asked dryly.

 

¡°No¡¦ We¡¯ve been drinking wine and champagne since we were eight you know,¡± Eron said.

 

¡°That¡¯s because you wanted to do everything that adults do, have all the luxuries that adults have, and be an adult when you were just a child,¡± Erika replied. ¡°And while I¡¯m at it, I think it¡¯s rotten what you are doing to Miho.¡±

 

¡°What am I doing to Miho?¡± Eron asked, setting his goblet down on the ground and folding his hands together, facing his twin.

 

¡°Setting the Fantasy on her like that,¡± Erika said. ¡°It¡¯s really cruel.¡±

 

¡°Since when have you gotten to be such a ninny, Erika?¡± Eron asked. ¡°She¡¯s a descendent of Mizuki Mayura. You said it yourself that we have no room for pity.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t care. I don¡¯t really care what you do to the others—but I can¡¯t help sympathizing with Miho,¡± Erika said. ¡°I¡¯ve been thinking it over. And it¡¯s horrid to play with her dreams like that. It¡¯s like offering a baby a new toy then taking it away, leaving the baby worse off than when it had nothing, because it then knows the feeling of having something taken away.¡±   

 

¡°It¡¯s not my fault that she attracted the Fantasy¡¯s interests,¡± Eron drawled. ¡°She¡¯s at fault for spinning cobwebs and being carried away. After all fantasies are frail like cobwebs and can be shredded with ease.¡±

 

Erika stared down at the maroon rug. ¡°Is it a sin to fantasize?¡± A flit image of a girl gazing out the orphanage window, wishing to play jump rope with the other children outside came to her mind, followed by the image of her lying in a hospital bed, wishing for her twin brother to come, for a pretty doll, for her heart to be strong and healthy.  

 

¡°We live in the real world here,¡± Eron replied coldly. ¡°Which leaves no room for those feeble in the mind and lost in their own dream world.¡±

 

¡°When have you grown so harsh and cynical, Eron?¡± Erika asked softly. ¡°I don¡¯t seem to know you anymore. I don¡¯t even know myself.¡± All she knew was that her heart was full of hate for Sakura, who seemed closer to Eron than she was.

 

¡°Haven¡¯t I always been this way?¡± Eron asked, draining his wineglass. ¡°Me and all my forbearers—haven¡¯t we always been the same channel for seeking stinking vengeance, the same old pawn of Ruichi-sama and Risa-sama?¡± Eron laughed again, this time bitterly.

 

Eron shut his eyes as Sakura¡¯s bright smile reappeared in his mind, then her kneeling form as she pleaded, ¡°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.¡±

 

I¡¯m sorry Sakura, he thought, reopening his cat-like golden eyes. But there really is no knowing what I might do now.

 

~~~~~~

 

Wish-chan: Chapter 46 and 47 were actually one looong chapter, but I ended up dividing it into two, but actually, they can be seen more like a Part A, Part B kind of chapter. It took me a week to divide this into two chapters, and it was so hard to come up with titles. I¡¯ve looked back at some of my previous titles and realized how corny some of them were, but I do like some of them quite a lot. Do people prefer poetic titles or titles describing the chapter? Just wondering.

 

Chapter 46 was pretty uneventful, huh? It¡¯s just the stage for building tension and moves really slowly. Do I sense more E+T in the air? o.O. Umm¡¦ Is there anyone routing for Eron and Sakura by any chance? Just curious—I¡¯ve heard of a few. I like Eron by the way. Erika too. I like all my characters. ^^. Well, foreshadowing, foreshadowing—move right on to the next chapter—that¡¯s where the action begins. As I said before, it was supposed to happen all in one chapter, but it turned out to be too long.

 

All comments welcome and cherished at hopeluvpeace@hotmail.com. I read and savor each e-mail I receive—I mean, how else would I have sustained this massive novel I¡¯m writing? And thank you for those who sign my guestbook, even those disgusted by how long I take to write, and thank you even more for those who are patient and understanding. ^.^. Also, I enjoy all the reviews at fanfiction.net—those of you who have trouble with Geocities: ¡°Sorry but this page is temporarily¡¦ blah blah blah¡± can view my fanfic there—I¡¯m Wish-chan there, too. Thank you once again for Digidynasty, who posted up my fics there initially, and Amethyst Beloved who¡¯s posting up the rest.

 

Visit my homepage at www.geocities.com/wishluv -- my newest chapters would always be up at my page first. If you want to hear the latest news about why I haven¡¯t been posting new chapters, go to www.geocities.com/wishluv/updates.