Red Lily

Just Once (Part 05)

Written By | Series: Cardcaptor Sakura | Part of

Chapter 5

Looks to me there’s lots more broken
Than anyone can really see
Why the angels turn their backs on some
Is just a mystery to me.


“All At Once” by Bonnie Raitt, from Luck of the Draw


 

Touya opened the door on the first ring of the doorbell. As he met Tomoyo’s eyes, his face was a study in mixed feelings; fury mingled with sympathy, anger giving way to pain, and bewilderment overshadowing all. “Tomoyo-ch–san” he said awkwardly, “Er…please come in.”

“Thank you,” said Tomoyo. Her musical voice sounded flat, the tone of a cracked bell. She slipped into the house like a shadow, like a ghost that had manifested itself but for a short time and was already beginning to fade away.

Touya asked her if she would please sit and wait for a moment. He had never spoken to her so formally before, Tomoyo reflected detatchedly. It had always been a casual “Tomoyo-chan” for Sakura’s little friend, but now…now he was treating her as though she was a stranger. Well, perhaps she was, now.

A minute or two after Touya had left the room, Yukito entered quietly, carrying a tea tray. He smiled at her sweetly, as he always had, but behind his eyes Tomoyo could see a weariness, and an echo of the same pain that haunted Touya’s expression.

How many people would be hurt by this before it was over? How much pain would she have caused?


 

“You should talk with her.”

“No.” It was not a vehement denial, as the earlier protests had been, but a dull, stubborn refusal uttered flatly but firmly.

“Sakura-” he said gently.

“No.”

With a sigh,
he seated himself on the bed next to her. She was sitting, leaning against the headboard with her knees pulled up to her chest. She stared unseeingly at the wall across from her, refusing to meet her brother’s eyes.

“Sakura,” he said, more firmly this time, “Tell me: don’t you love Syaoran-kun?” That got her attention, and she turned startled, angry eyes on him.

“Of course I love him! You know I do!”

“Then you must talk with Tomoyo.”

She drew back. “Why?” Her voice was raw.

“Because you owe it to him to straighten this out.” His voice was soft again as he continued, “Sakura-chan, you’re getting married tomorrow. You need to be…sure.”

Panic flared in Sakura’s eyes as they flew to meet his. “What…what do you mean?” she choked.

Her brother chose to answer the question with a question. “Why are you so adamant about not talking to Tomoyo?”

“I…I’m scared,” she whispered.

Touya’s voice was more gentle than she’d ever heard it. “Why are you scared, Sakura-chan?”

“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I guess…I’m afraid that she’ll say she loves me, and I can’t…I can’t…” Tears threatened to overwhelm her again. “I don’t want to hurt her!” she sobbed.

Touya looked at her penetratingly. Eventually he reached out and laid a hand on her head. “She’s known for a long time that you don’t feel the same way about her that she does about you. Has what happened between you last night changed everything so much? Do you hate her now?”

Sakura looked shocked. “No!”

Touya raised his eyebrows at the vehemence of her denial. “Then…how *do* you feel about Tomoyo, Sakura-chan?”

Sakura paled and stared down at the bedsheet she was twisting between her fingers. “I…I…” She shook her head, she couldn’t answer. Finally, she managed to murmur, “I don’t know.”

Touya sat with her for a minute or two longer, studying her face, but not saying anything. Finally, he stood up. “Then you must meet with her and figure it out.” Sakura’s head jerked up, but the protest died on her lips as he continued firmly, “I’ll send her in now.” She stared after him for a moment, then turned away.

He closed the door softly behind himself, then leaned against it for a moment, his head bowed and eyes closed. A soft sound made him look up, and Yukito was standing before him, a sad, tender expression in his eyes.

Without a word Touya reached out and drew Yukito against him, burying his face in Yuki’s soft hair and slipping his arms around his slender form. Yukito responded by pressing even closer to him, and for a moment the two simply stood, holding each other.


 

Sakura sat quietly, feeling like a prisoner awaiting execution.

Finally, a minute and an eternity later, the door slid open silently.

“Sakura-chan.”

Sakura turned to face her, and was taken aback by how pale Tomoyo looked, how broken. “To-Tomoyo-chan?” She winced at how lost her own voice sounded.

Without a word, Tomoyo-chan came a step closer, then stopped. Lowering herself to her knees, she bowed very low, nearly prostrating herself before Sakura.

“Moshiwake gozaimasen,” she said, her voice a tiny thread of sound.

Sakura slipped off the bed. “Tomoyo-chan, what are you doing? Get up!” She knelt down next to her friend, trying to pull her up. Tomoyo resisted for a moment, then slowly allowed herself to be drawn into a sitting position, though she kept her head bowed. Sakura stared at her. “Why are you apologizing?”

“Because I hurt you.” Tomoyo said simply, a chord of raw agony sounding in her otherwise expressionless voice.

“I should be the one apologizing to you.”

Tomoyo looked up at her then, confused. “Why?” she asked.

“Because you love me. Because you’ve always loved me. And I never figured it out.” It was not a question, and it was not an accusation. It was an admission, colored by bitterness, guilt, and self-loathing.

Gentle eyes looked back at her. Misery and loneliness, so long hidden behind a gentle smile, now showing clearly. And something else as well.

Fear.

“Tomoyo-chan….”

It was hard to meet those honest grey eyes, to read the feelings which had been there for so long…all along. She hadn’t seen them, hadn’t wanted to see them, had pretended, to herself and the whole world that Tomoyo-chan was her best friend, and very funny and dear, but that her feelings were nothing more than very close friendship. She had pretended very hard.

Because when she had finally begun to understand Tomoyo-chan’s true feelings, Sakura had already been in love with Syaoran.

So she had played along, lulling herself into believing a false reality, a dreamworld, where she could have everything, her best friend, her boyfriend, her family…and no one would have to hurt or suffer…because of her.

She couldn’t pretend anymore.

Couldn’t lie to herself anymore.

“Why…why didn’t you tell me?”

Tomoyo looked startled, as though the question had thrown her off balance. “I…I didn’t want to make you sad. And I was afraid…” Her eyes were painfully honest. “I didn’t want to lose you, Sakura…”

Sakura’s eyes were distant. “I wish…I wish you’d told me,” she said quietly. Wistfully.

“It would have been painful–and pointless.
I knew you would never feel the same way about me.” Resignation.

“Why wouldn’t I? Maybe I would have…

could have…

did…

do…”

Shock and a flaring pain. And, for one bright second, a flare of hope, quickly extinguished.

“No.”

“How would you know, Tomoyo? They’re *my* feelings!” A sudden touch of anger.

“No.” No anger in response, just resigned hopelessness. “And it doesn’t matter now, anyway.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter!? I–”

“What about Syaoran?”

A sudden horror washed over Sakura’s face, as though the anger had let her forget, for a moment, the understanding which had been tormenting her for…how long? Hours, now, or years?

Her hands went to her head, and a moan escaped her lips.

“No…” she said, her body shaking, her voice shaking. “I can’t choose. Don’t make me choose…”

Tomoyo started to reach out to her, but stayed her hand. She had given up the right to comfort Sakura, traded it for one night…one night…

Touya came into the room but stopped abruptly in the doorway. He took in the situation at a glance and turned an accusing glare on Tomoyo…only to have it falter when he met her anguished gaze. Abruptly, she stood up. She looked back at Sakura one last time, and then turned and walked out of the room. But she paused for a single moment in the doorway, meeting Touya’s eyes again as he stood aside to let her pass.

“Onegai…Take care of her…” Her words were very quiet, and filled with pleading and a kind of desperation. Touya held her eyes for a moment and then nodded once.

Sakura looked up.
“To…Tomoyo-chan?”

Tomoyo closed her eyes.

“Tomoyo-chan! Don’t leave me! Wait! Please don’t leave me!”

And Tomoyo fled.


“Why are you doing this?” she asked me.

“Because I love you,” I told her.

“If you love me, why are you forcing me to choose?” she said.

“I’m trying to protect you! I don’t want to see you in an unhappy marriage!”

She just looked at me then, her expression sad and sweet and serious. “Kinomoto-sensei would never make me unhappy, Sonomi-chan,” she said simply. “It is you that is making me unhappy.”

Her quiet words hit me like a physical blow. I can’t even quite remember what I said to her then, but I do know that it ended with me slamming out of the room, both of us in tears.


 

When the doorbell rang, Syaoran was already in his coat, with his hands on the door handle. He had waited by the phone, waited for the ring that never came. Twice he had called Tomoyo’s house and twice he had tried to call Sakura at her brother’s. But when Yukito-san had picked up the phone an unaccountable wave of shame filed him and he had hung up.

It’s been years, he thought, and I still can’t look Yukito in the eyes. Much less Sakura’s brother. It was utterly ridiculous, he knew, but there was too much in between them for him to be entirely blasé. He had kicked himself mentally and grabbed his jacket, ready to face down Touya if he had to. Something was wrong and Sakura needed him.

His hand had opened the door before his brain had had time to process the ring of the doorbell. He smiled broadly, expecting to see his fiancée standing there, face adorably flushed, and full of some story to tell him. Instead he pulled back as he found himself staring down into a grey and empty face that had once been Tomoyo’s.

She looked up, her eyes pleading with him, her voice soft and polite, asking for a moment of his time. He backed into his apartment, gesturing her in and pulling off his coat all at the same time. He turned away from the door, and swallowed hard. Whatever had happened, it had been bad. He’d never seen Tomoyo look so hopeless, so…alone.

Tomoyo had closed the door behind her, but she stood in front of it, hands clasped, gaze on the floor, as if she feared to enter any further. Syaoran stopped where he stood, an offer of tea on his lips. He stepped towards Tomoyo, but she shrank from his touch.

“I…I’m sorry.” She began in a lifeless voice. “I’ve done something, something awful to you…and to Sakura.” She looked up at him, her eyes so full of misery that he found himself reaching out to her again, before he could answer.

She shook her head and moved away slightly, her arms now wrapped tightly around herself.

“Tomoyo?” he asked, his voice as gentle as possible.

The tears dropped from her eyes, but she made no move to wipe them away. When she spoke her voice was strangely steady. “Please, Li-kun, go to Sakura right now. She needs you.”

“Why?” He knew it wasn’t what he *should* have said, but he wanted to know…

Tomoyo jerked away as if he had slapped her. “Because…” her eyes fell to the ground once more and her hands moved upwards to cover her mouth.

Syaoran’s mind reeled. She didn’t have to say it. He knew. In a single moment the few pieces he had made a whole puzzle. He began to shake, not out of rage, but out of pity and nameless emotions he couldn’t control. Sakura had spent the night at Tomoyo’s, and she had run away in the morning, leaving no note. Gods…

His fist clenched in an effort to control himself. He found his throat thick with things that needed to be said. “Tomoyo, please come in and tell me.” He forced the words to be quiet, reassuring, when all he wanted to do was grab the girl and shake her out of this horrible torpor.

Tomoyo shook her head. “Li-kun, I have to leave. After the wedding, I’ll leave. You…” she paused and looked him in the eyes, the tears gone, replaced by a terrible intensity. “You have to love her. You have to love her enough for both of us.”

Syaoran nodded. He could do that. Part of him now wanted to fly to Sakura, leave Tomoyo here and come back to clear this up later. But he shut that part away and forced himself to deal with the present crisis.

Clearing his throat, Syaoran said, “You don’t have to leave, Tomoyo.” He held up a hand as she began to interrupt. “You don’t think I understand, but I do.” He took a single step towards the girl, one hand outstretched to take hers. When she didn’t flinch or move away, he stepped closer. “I’ve always known you loved her. Just because you…this hasn’t really changed anything.” He touched her hand gently, wrapping his own around it, and stepping closer.

Tomoyo looked up at him, and, finding his eyes kind, she shuddered. “It’s changed everything.” She looked away. “The best thing I can do for the two of you is leave.”

“What about the best thing for you?” Syaoran asked.

She shook her head. “It’s the only thing I can do for myself. Can’t you see that?” Her voice shook with uncertainty.

“No. I can’t. It’s not like you to run away…”

“I’m not running away!” Tomoyo yanked her hand out of his and turned away from him. “I’m leaving because if I’m here, she’ll never be happy again! Don’t you understand? She doubts everything. She thinks it could have been, might have been…do you want to marry her if she spends the rest of her life wondering?”

Syaoran took a deep breath before speaking. “I want to marry her. Any way she’ll have me. I love her that much.” He came up behind Tomoyo and turned her around to face him. “How dare you love her any less than I do!” His voice was firm, sincere, and her eyes widened.

“But…” she began and he stopped her.

“Tomoyo. If you need time after the wedding, I understand that. If it were the other way around, I would need time. And Sakura understands that too. Maybe better now that you…you’ve been honest with her. But you have to come back, do you understand? We need you – she needs you. You can’t just leave us.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and looked down into tormented eyes. “Tomoyo, we both care about you.” And he held her as she stiffened in his arms, then tried to pull away. But he tightened his grip and would not let go. Tomoyo, her face flushed with effort, stared back at him in a whirl of emotions. “I will not let you leave.”

Syaoran gripped her wrists until she stopped struggling, then let go and reached for his jacket. “I have to see her now. Will you give me your word?”

Tomoyo nodded. “I won’t run away.” She stepped out of the door that he held open, then turning, put one hand on his arm. “Please, Li-kun, love her enough.”

He nodded and closed the door behind him, as they headed down the hall.


 

Tomoyo wandered aimlessly down the street, not seeing the first pink streaks of dawn touching the cherry blossoms on the trees that lined the sidewalk, not hearing the first tentative trills and chirps of the same trees’ inhabitants. She had left the limo behind, told the driver to wait; she wanted to go for a little walk.

She’d given her promise not to run away, and she could already feel the pressure of that promise binding her, suffocating her. Li-kun had been so understanding, so unexpectedly kind, somehow she had expected jealousy, anger, but not…that…that gentleness that she’d seen in his eyes.

Of course, I always knew he was an amazing person. I thought he could make her happy, could protect her, he was the only one worthy of my Sa-

She bit off the thought and stared very hard at the trees lining the path, littering it with pink, delicate, blossoms of S-

Tomoyo put her face in her hands and a bitter chuckle escaped her lips, a sound that was alien coming from her throat, even to herself.

Tomoyo, you’re no good to anyone like this, no good to yourself, no good to Li-kun, certainly no good to Sa–she forced herself to finish the thought–Sakura-chan. Li-kun’s voice echoed through her head: ”You don’t think I understand, but I do…How dare you love her any less than I do!…If it were the other way around, I would need time…”

Time! thought Tomoyo bitterly. All she had left was time. Yet not even enough of that…It would take more than a lifetime for me to stop loving her, Li-kun. You must know that, surely you must know…

But for all that, he was right. She did need time, needed enough to let the wounds turn to scars, enough time so that they would forget her, and think of her as just a childhood friend that they had lost track of…

Enough of this self-pity, she thought, giving herself a mental slap. It’s done, it can’t be undone, and now I need time to…

She stopped, something about that thought catching and holding some part of her consciousness.

Time.

A half forgotten memory from childhood surfacing…The images coming back to her, as clearly and sharply as they had when she would re-watch them in her own, private home theatre…

Time!

And one other person, one who had returned, not long ago…the one…the only one…that might be able to help, to end this, to give her, to give all of them a second chance…
TIME!

Startling the birds nesting above her, Tomoyo gave a sudden inarticulate cry, whirled around, and raced back to where she had left the limousine.

Behind her, the soft, pink petals continued their unceasing fall.


 

Eriol was making coffee when he heard a loud knock at the door. Frowning, he moved quickly and quietly through the house, opening the door just as his visitor had raised her hand to knock a third time. When he saw who stood there, he smiled for a moment; then the expression faded into a frown as he took in her almost feverishly bright eyes, her too-pale skin, the way her hands were clutched together as she bit her lip so hard that it looked as though it might start to bleed at any moment.

“Tomoyo…san?” he said, puzzled and worried.

“Eriol-san,” she said, startling him both by the use of his first name and the intensity with which she spoke it, “I need your help.”

Eriol’s frown grew deeper, but he stood aside and said quietly, “Won’t you come in?”

He led the way into the kitchen, knowing he need not stand on formality with her. “I hope you don’t mind sitting in here,” he said apologetically, “I’m in the middle of making breakfast, and I don’t want to wake Kaho, so…” He trailed off as she just stared at him with that same, quiet intensity, almost…hungrily…and he realized that she hadn’t heard a word he’d said.

“Tomoyo,” he said sharply. She blinked and looked at him. He held out a cup of coffee. “Drink this,” he said in a clear, commanding tone, one that he’d perfected only after centuries of experience. Obediently, Tomoyo brought the cup to her lips, starting at the not-quite scalding temperature and grimacing at the bitter taste. He knew she preferred it with cream and sugar, which was why he had given it to her hot and black. She’d clearly had a shock, and before he would let her speak to him, he was going to startle her out of that queer, inward focus. He’d had to do the same thing to Yue once…He quickly and firmly shut the door on *that* memory.

After a few sips of the black liquid, Tomoyo began, “Eriol-”

“Wait.” He ladled some rice into a bowl and set it before her, and then did the same for himself. She looked at the food with an expression of profound distaste. Something must be really wrong; for Tomoyo would never do something so rude, even in her own home, let alone someone else’s. “Please eat some, Tomoyo,” he said in a voice like velvet-covered steel. Her eyes focused on him again, startled. Again obeying that commanding tone, she reached for the bowl and took a few bites. While she was doing that, Eriol poured her a glass of water and sat down across from her.

“Now,” he said in a tone that was still firm, yet far gentler. “Tell me.”

And she told him.

The story came pouring out of her, not a hurried torrent of words but a steady stream; without shame, without hesitation, she told him everything.

Everything.

And with every word she spoke, a little of the light went out of her eyes, a little of that force that had driven her there seemed to drain away. But when she finished, she leaned forward and clutched at his hands with her own. Her skin was white, but two bright spots of red burned in her cheeks. “Please,” she said, her voice desperate and pleading, yet commanding as well. “Help me, Eriol-san.”

Eriol looked at her. He had already guessed what she wanted him to do.

“No,” he said clearly and sharply.

Tomoyo let go of his hands, shocked, and the color fled from her cheeks again. Even her lips were white.”Why?” she said, anguished.

Eriol stood, his presence matching hers. “Because,” he said, “If it hadn’t happened last night, it would in the future. There would be some moment when you would slip, or Sakura would open her eyes, and realize-”

“Don’t!”

“Would you prefer it to be after she’s married, then? Perhaps when she has a child or two? Do you think that would make it any easier?” His voice was strong, but it held no hint of mockery or sarcasm, only anger. Suddenly he grew quieter. “This…this was inevitable. And even if I could help you, I would not. But the truth is…I can’t.”

And Tomoyo looked at him with eyes that held not a shred of hope.

“I no longer have enough power to bend time to my will. I cannot turn back time and make it so last night never happened.” And he watched as her last hope died, and she crumbled away into nothing, her eyes becoming empty, black voids. She had no dreams left to fill them with. “Only someone like Sakura,” she winced at the name, “can do that. But don’t ask her, Tomoyo, for she will not say ‘Yes’, will not make the choice to go backwards into the ignorance of not knowing that you…love her, no matter how much pain that knowledge has caused. And you would have no right to take that choice away from her, even if you could. Surely you know that?”

Tomoyo looked through him for a long moment. “Yes,” she said, her voice flat and mechanical…and…distant, somehow. “I know.”

Chapter 6