Spoilers: the entire series.
Thanks to Mer for encouragement!
Sakura, her Lion and her Departing Friend
The bombshell came from the last place Sakura had expected, and from the gentlest person she knew.
"I've won a scholarship to study film-making in Hollywood for six months!"
Tomoyo's eyes sparkled with excitement, and she had clutched Sakura's arm for an instant. Then she'd stepped away in embarrassment, and held her hands to her chest instead.
"That's...that's wonderful, Tomoyo-chan! Congratulations! I'm so pleased for you. You always made such good movies even in elementary school."
Tomoyo smiled and blushed. "Thank you, Sakura-chan. But I was filming such a cute subject to start with. How could I make a bad movie featuring you?"
Sakura remembered smiling back and saying something self-deprecating. She was a high school student now. She now knew how to deflect Tomoyo's praise.
But inside, she was devastated. For all her magical powers and growing maturity, she wasn't sure of her ability to deal with losing the people she loved. As a child she remembered crying in Touya's arms when their father left to go to a conference or an archaeological site.
But she wasn't a child anymore. She was older and wiser now.
After all, she had said goodbye to Syaoran-kun almost five years ago without breaking down. A relative in the Li clan had taken ill, and he'd been called back home. He had promised to return, and she had believed him. But maybe that time didn't count. She didn't know it would be the last time she would ever see him. She hadn't known that increasing his magical powers would always be his top priority.
Life went on. As long as she didn't think about it, it didn't hurt too much.
Releasing Yue a couple of years later of her own free will had hurt much, much more. Self-deception was impossible. He belonged to Touya now, and separating them was an injustice she couldn't live with. Clow Reed may have given Yue life, but she was the one who gave him his freedom.
Tomoyo once told her that seeing the happiness of the one she loved was enough to make her happy. Having seen Yue's face as she had set him free, Sakura had learned the bittersweet truth of those words for the first time.
Sakura found solace in the knowledge that pain made one stronger. She'd already lost people she loved before. It wasn't the first time, after all.
And she knew she wasn't the only one upset by Tomoyo's news. Sonomi had railed and wept, but her daughter had held firm. For all her gentleness, Tomoyo had an iron will that belied her young age. The only concessions she made were to travel on her mother's private jet, and be accompanied by two of her mother's bodyguards. These tall mysterious women, clad in black, now flanked Sakura and Tomoyo as they walked through the departure terminal of the airport, one week after Tomoyo had broken her news.
"Six months is a long time, Tomoyo-chan. Won't you get homesick?"
Tomoyo smiled, the same sunny smile Sakura knew from childhood. "It isn't that long. I'm going to call my mother each evening to let her know how I am, and I'll send her a videotape a week by courier so she can see for herself."
With Tomoyo away, there wouldn't be anyone inserting a video camera in her face. Sakura had always found her friend's behaviour embarrassing, but the prospect of a camera-free future suddenly seemed too depressing for words.
One of the bodyguards went to the departure gate to enquire about the boarding time. The other led them to an exclusive departure lounge reserved for the wealthy. There were computer terminals in alcoves, with magazine racks and bookshelves in another corner. A small bar served drinks and snacks. The external glass wall provided a panoramic view of the main runway. Normally a visitor like Sakura would not be permitted past Customs, but such regulations were quickly waived for a close friend of the Daidouji clan.
Tomoyo sat down in one of the lounge chairs, and Sakura sat beside her.
"Would you like something to eat or drink, Daidouji-san?" the bodyguard asked.
"No, thank you. How about you, Sakura-chan?"
"No, thanks." Food was the last thing on her mind. She watched a passenger jet as it taxied to the start of the runway. In less than an hour, Tomoyo would be sitting in her own jet bound for Los Angeles.
"I will be here if you need my services, Daidouji-san."
"Of course. Thank you."
The engines let out a mighty roar and the plane began to race towards the sea. It picked up speed, yet it didn't seem so fast from where they were sitting. Then almost like magic, it tilted up and soared away.
"It's amazing how something so heavy can fly," Sakura said. Even in her sadness, she was still awed by the power of the jet.
"Yes, it is. But it's nowhere near as cute and graceful as you when you take to the air, Sakura-chan."
"Thank you, Tomoyo-chan." She did her best to smile back. "Where is your bodyguard? Isn't she going to sit with us?"
"No, she's on duty at the moment."
Sakura looked around, but she couldn't see the elegant woman anywhere. "Where is she? Isn't she supposed to be guarding you?"
"She doesn't have to be by my side to do her job. A good bodyguard knows when to be visible and when to be inconspicuous."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Tomoyo smiled warmly. "It is very sweet of you to be worried about my safety. But then that is the lovely thing about you: you're always so caring about other people."
Sakura couldn't take it any longer. "Tomoyo-chan!"
"What is it?"
"Forgive me, Tomoyo-chan." Sakura bit her lower lip in frustration. Perhaps Tomoyo wanted to squeeze in as many compliments as she could before she left for good, but Sakura desperately wanted to change the topic. "But I'd much rather talk about you than me. Is that all right?"
Tomoyo nodded, her features becoming serious. "Yes, of course. What is it?"
"I...I don't really understand why you have to travel overseas to study film-making. Couldn't you learn about it here in Japan? There must be many film studios in Tokyo."
"You're right, but Hollywood is famous for its big budget studios. I'll be able to learn so much about digital technology in generating special effects and animation, cinematography and editing, costumes and fashion...this will be my chance to learn from the best in the world. Then I'll be able to make more professional movies of you and your adventures!"
Sakura blushed. Even after all these years, she had never become accustomed to Tomoyo's blatant fan-worship. "Umm...I don't think there's much worth filming now. Tomoeda has been safe for years."
"Even if Tomoeda is safe, there is still much to film about you." Tomoyo's dark blue eyes shone with evangelical zeal. "You are growing up and I must improve my skills if I am to do you justice in my movies. Hollywood will be the perfect place for me to learn how to do this."
It was hopeless. Sakura knew there was nothing she could say. When Tomoyo made up her mind, nothing would alter her course.
"The time will pass quicker than you realise, Sakura-chan. Before you know it, I'll be back home. I'll write to you, and send you tapes as well. Would you like that?"
Sakura bit back the automatic 'Hai,' frustration overriding the courtesy drilled into her from childhood. "But it doesn't make sense that you must go away to learn about filming." She couldn't bear to look at Tomoyo, so she focused on the dark blue carpet of the lounge. "You've filmed so much that you're already an expert."
"Life is all about learning new things, Sakura-chan. We may practise and practise, but that doesn't mean that we are experts. Often it means that we fall into bad habits that increase our chances of making mistakes. By getting a fresh perspective and learning things anew, we can improve ourselves." Tomoyo's voice lowered slightly. "Don't you want me to improve myself?"
Sakura's head jerked up as if she'd been slapped. "Of course I do! I'm pleased you got that scholarship."
"Then you must be happy for me." Tomoyo's voice was as soft and sweet as always, but the implicit order was too much for Sakura to bear.
"I-I am." Her lips tripped over the lie. "It's just that..." Her eyes burned, blurring with tears. "I-I...don't want you to leave."
Blindly she reached out, and the next moment she was sobbing in Tomoyo's arms.
"Sakura-chan," Tomoyo murmured. Her hands stroked Sakura's back in soothing circles.
Sakura could hardly breathe. Her grief choked her, driving the air from her lungs and shaking her body with its ferocity. Where had this intensity of feeling come from? It was alien to her, terrible and frightening. She clung to Tomoyo, her fingers tangling in long silky black hair.
"You mustn't be upset like this." Tomoyo's breath was warm against Sakura's neck. "How can I not return to someone as cute and adorable as you, Sakura-chan? It would be madness. So you see, I can't leave you for long. I have to come back soon so I can film you again."
Sakura trembled, torn between a laugh and sob. How typically Tomoyo. Devoted as always...but not enough to want to stay. She lifted her tear-wet face, uncaring of her appearance.
"B-but why is it so important for you to film me? I don't understand. Why can't you stay in Tomoeda and be with me?"
Pain clouded Tomoyo's eyes. "Sakura-chan--"
"First Syaoran-kun, then Yue-san..." Sakura's fingers tightened around Tomoyo's shoulders. "Must I lose you as well?"
Tomoyo lowered her gaze. "You could never lose me, Sakura-chan."
"But I'm losing you already...to Hollywood and big budget blockbuster movies. You'll get caught up in the excitement and forget all about me."
Tomoyo shook her head, a sad smile curving her lips. "You aren't losing me at all. I go to Hollywood so I can remember you better."
Sakura blinked away her tears. "Tomoyo-chan, you're talking in riddles."
"Let me try to explain. Do you know why I film you?"
Sakura shook her head. She'd always wondered, but she'd never had the courage to ask.
"It's because I don't want to ever forget you. I see you almost every day at school, but my memory is fallible. That's why I film you on tape. I can rewatch you later as many times as I like. That way I will never ever forget the little details that make you so special to me."
"Really?" Sakura blushed bright red with embarrassment, but she couldn't deny her pleasure at the words.
"Yes, really. I'm even bringing my library of videotapes with me so I can refresh my memory. I checked, and I should be able to watch them in America. They use NTSC, the same colour system as we do."
"But you don't need videos or a camera. You don't have to film me all the time!" Sakura had a sudden urge to shake Tomoyo until she saw sense. "I'm here now, right in front of you! You can see me with your eyes, hear me with your ears, feel me with your fingers." She seized Tomoyo's hand and placed it against her cheek.
Tomoyo's lips parted, a look of wonder on her face. Her fingers shifted slightly against Sakura's skin, tentative and hesitant, as if she feared that Sakura might break. "Sakura-chan," she whispered.
There was a strange light in Tomoyo's eyes as she cupped Sakura's jaw, her fingers tracing a path behind one ear. "I've been patient for so long."
Tomoyo drew close until they were nose-to-nose. "Forgive me, Sakura-chan. I can't wait any longer." Then she leaned forward and kissed Sakura full on the mouth.
Sakura froze, too stunned to move. This was completely beyond her experience. Soft lips caressed hers, making them tingle and become alive. A delicate tongue slid against hers, teasing and tasting with an intimacy that made her tremble like a leaf. She knew she should push Tomoyo away, demand an explanation...but she was helpless to resist.
It filled her entire world, the heat and moisture and the clinging glide of Tomoyo's mouth against hers. Sakura closed her eyes, willingly losing herself in the kiss again. She could smell the fragrance of the shampoo Tomoyo used, taste the salty sweet flavour of her mouth. It made her dizzy, disoriented. She leaned forward, supporting herself against Tomoyo's shoulder.
Tomoyo drew her closer. Her hand stroked Sakura's throat, lightly traced the fluttering pulse. Then her hand slid lower, seeking out the swell of breast though the layers of clothing, teasing the nipple with gentle fingers.
Sakura turned away to gasp for breath. Her nipple ached, a painfully sensitised peak that strained against the confines of her clothing. Heat sizzled through every nerve-ending: in her flushed cheeks, her throbbing lips, the wetness of Tomoyo's lips gliding along the side of her neck. She moaned softly, and Tomoyo smothered the sound with her lips. Heat kindled within the pit of her abdomen, a nameless ache that cried out for release.
Dimly she wondered where this inexplicable hunger had come from. There had been no warning, no sign. It erupted fully formed from the depths of her being, ignited by Tomoyo's touch. This made no sense. Tomoyo was her friend. Syaoran and Yue had never elicited the same degree of feeling, yet at the time she'd thought she was in love.
In love...with Tomoyo?
No. She didn't want to be hurt again. It was too much, too soon. She felt suffocated by softness, by the warmth of Tomoyo's embrace. It was everywhere, and she couldn't take it any longer.
She pushed wildly at Tomoyo's shoulders and jumped to her feet. Tomoyo released her instantly, her outstretched arms still open wide.
Sakura took a step back, arms crossed over her chest. "I...I can't!"
Tomoyo dropped her arms, and held her hands in her lap. The empty bleakness of her gaze tore Sakura in two.
"Daidouji-san?" The female bodyguard appeared from nowhere, studying both girls from behind dark glasses. "Is there something wrong?"
"I...I'm fine." Aside from the betraying tremor, Tomoyo sounded incredibly normal. "Sakura-chan, are you--"
"I'm fine, too." Sakura hugged herself tightly, wishing she could curl up and die.
The second bodyguard entered the lounge. "The jet is ready for boarding, Daidouji-san. They've given us fifteen minutes."
"Thank you." Tomoyo stood up and smoothed her dress with trembling hands. "We mustn't keep them waiting."
They walked to the gate, neither of them saying a word to break the strained silence. Sakura bit her lip and kept her head low. Her breast still ached beneath her blouse, her lips swollen and moist with Tomoyo's kisses. Her body felt alien to her, as if some malevolent spirit had taken possession of her senses. She had a mental image of herself responding shamelessly to Tomoyo's touch, and it filled her with horror.
Her thoughts were in chaos. She wanted to scream at Tomoyo for abandoning her for Hollywood. She wanted to run away and hide so she'd never have to face Tomoyo again. She wanted to have a cold shower to erase the ache that permeated every fibre of her being.
At the gate, Tomoyo said nothing. She simply looked at Sakura for a long moment. There was no recrimination or shame, only a terrible sadness.
Sakura couldn't bear to see Tomoyo like this. She wanted to fall to her knees and plead Tomoyo's forgiveness.
"Tomoyo-chan, please...please write to me." It was a simple request, yet she could feel her face redden.
Tomoyo blinked in surprise. "Are you sure?"
Sakura nodded vigorously. "I've never been to America. I'd like to read about how you like it, and the things that you learn there. But I only want you to write to me if you have the time. I know you will very busy with classes and learning English and--"
Tomoyo suddenly smiled, a smile that almost reached her eyes. "I would be more than happy to write to you, on one condition: you must also write to me."
"Yes, Tomoyo-chan!" Relief washed over her. They were still friends in spite of what had happened. Tomoyo had accepted her olive branch. "I'll do my best to make my letters as exciting as possible!"
"Now it's my turn to ask a favour of you." Tomoyo reached into the pocket of her jacket, and pulled out a small box. "I have something very precious that I was thinking of taking to America, but I'm afraid to lose it. Could you please take care of it for me until I return?"
"I'd be happy to take care of it. What is it?"
Tomoyo held the box out to her. It was covered with velvet, and the size of her palm. It was the right size to hold jewellery, such as a ring or a pair of earrings.
"It isn't of great value, but it means so much to me."
"Don't worry. I'll care for it as if it were my very own." And she meant every word.
"It's time to go, Daidouji-san."
"Goodbye, Sakura-chan. Take care of yourself."
"I will, Tomoyo-chan. You take care of yourself too."
She waited until they'd disappeared before finding the nearest bathroom to splash cold water over her face and neck. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't rid herself of the memory of Tomoyo's sweet suffocating softness.
The Seal Beast knew something was wrong. He'd lived with Sakura long enough to recognise the signs. She no longer laughed. Her bounding steps on the stairs were replaced by a slow ponderous gait. She talked less and less about high school, preferring to do her study in silence.
She became withdrawn and introspective. Her zest for life was gone.
Kero waited and watched and worried. He was Sakura's advocate for matters relating to the Cards and magic; it wasn't his place to advise her on affairs of the heart. But when he saw Sakura staring blankly out her window one night too many, he could remain silent no longer.
She blinked as Kero fluttered between her and the window. "What?"
"Why are you looking out the window? What are you looking for?" His tail lashed from side to side in furious counterpoint to his flapping wings.
"I...I'm not looking for anything!"
Kero frowned and folded his forepaws, still hovering in mid-air. "You can't hide the truth from me. I thought you were over it, but it seems old habits die hard."
"What habits? Kero-chan, what are you talking about?"
"The moon! I've seen that wistful look you get when you see it through your window. But you're wasting your time. It may be there one night, but it will have moved on in a few days time. It's not worth giving your heart to it."
Sakura couldn't quite make sense of Kero's logic, but she blushed anyway. "Kero-chan, I haven't given anything to the moon. You're imagining--"
"It's not fair!" Kero landed on the desk with a vicious thump. "What's so special about the moon anyway?" He turned to snarl at the gibbous moon hanging in the sky, a distant silver teardrop amid a background of velvet black. "Why don't you ever look at the sun with a dreamy look on your face?"
"Umm...because it would make me blind?"
"That's no excuse! All you have to do is buy a special filter to block UV rays, and then you can see the sun all you want! It's not that hard."
Sakura was patient by nature, but she was tired of being chastised over nothing. "I'm not looking at the moon, Kero-chan! I was just...thinking."
"You're dreaming, not thinking! You'd rather dream of Yue and the brat, two gloomy souls powered by the one gloomy Moon. Admit it!"
"They aren't gloomy...well, not exactly..." Her voice faded off as she realised Kero had a valid point: Yue and Syaoran were brooding and reflective by nature.
Kero shook his head. "The moon is trouble, Sakura. Sometimes it is close enough for you to touch and other nights it is distant. Sometimes it vanishes altogether and other times it is round and full. How can you depend on something so capricious and unreliable?"
The quirky comparison made her smile. "But the Sun is much more reliable. Is that it, Kero-chan?"
Kero's little chest puffed out with pride. "Of course! I will always be here for you, Sakura. You can count on me."
"Oh, Kero-chan." She swept him up in an impulsive hug against her shoulder, happy and miserable at the same time. "It...it means a lot..." She blinked back tears and found herself sniffling.
"Sakura! Why are you crying?"
"I...I'm just...it's nothing..."
Kero flew to the dressing table, seized several tissues with paws, and gave them to Sakura. After a muttered thanks, Sakura wiped away her tears and blew her nose until it was bright red.
"It's just that...hearing you say that you'd be here for me made me realise..." She swallowed. "It made me realise that no one else has ever said that to me before. Syaoran-kun, Yue-san...they never..."
Kero watched her intently as understanding dawned. "You mean no human."
"Yes. It's not that I don't appreciate what you've said, but...it would mean a lot to me if it came from a human as well."
"What about your father? He cares for you, doesn't he?"
"Of course he does, but he's family. It's not the same."
Kero sighed. As far as he was concerned, Sakura was splitting hairs. A human was a human was a human. "How about Tomoyo? She's your best friend."
Sakura lowered her gaze, and twisted the tissue between slender fingers. "She's in Hollywood at the moment."
"But not for long. Another five months or so, and she'll be back in Tomoeda again."
Maybe five months seemed like a blink of an eye to a magical beast several hundred years old, but it seemed like an eternity to Sakura. And after the way she'd hurt Tomoyo's feelings at the airport... "I'm not sure if she will come back to me, Kero-chan."
"Don't be silly! Tomoyo is one of the few who saw your potential as the Card Mistress from the beginning. She would never desert you." Kero saw Sakura wince. "What? Did something happen?"
Kero leapt to all fours, tiny wings quivering at the ready. "What happened?" he demanded. "Were you attacked?"
"No, no. No one attacked me. It's just..." She twisted the tissue in her fingers until it tore in two. "I...Tomoyo..."
"What? What?" Kero's eyes were wide with excitement, his wings perked up like pricked ears. "You and Tomoyo...?"
"Is that all?"
"It was the way...she touched me." Sakura stared at her hands, her face red with shame. Her hair fell forward over her eyes, shielding her tortured expression. "No one has ever done that to me before."
Kero sat down again. It didn't sound like Sakura had been placed in mortal danger. "Did she hurt you?"
"No, but..." She dropped the shredded tissue and hugged herself tightly. "I pushed her away. I couldn't take so much...feeling. I didn't mean to hurt her, but I saw the look on her face. It was as if...as if I was hurting inside too." A tear slid down her cheek.
"Sakura, is this what you've been mooning over? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I...I was so ashamed..." She covered her face with her hands.
Kero flew to the dressing table and carried the entire box of tissues to the desk. He then sat on Sakura's shoulder while she composed herself again.
"You must stop making yourself so miserable. If you keep this up, you'll outdo Yue."
"But I feel so terrible about hurting Tomoyo-chan's feelings," Sakura muttered. "I wish there was something I could do to make it up to her."
Kero frowned. "Tomoyo cares for you very much, Sakura. I can't imagine her holding a grudge against you. As long as you apologised--"
"But I didn't! I...I know I should have, but I..." She worried at her lower lip. "I was so scared."
Kero mused on what he'd been told. Sakura had been extremely vague, but he lived with humans long enough to understand. Clow had touched him with gentle strokes and pats, but it was very different to the touches he bestowed on Yue. There was touching, and then there was touching.
As friends, he'd seen Sakura and Tomoyo hold hands, brush each other's hair, even hug each other. It was obvious that they already cared for each other very much.
"Were you scared of Tomoyo?" Kero asked.
Sakura was silent for a long time. "I don't know," she whispered morosely.
"Do you miss her?"
"Yes." The reply was immediate. "I never wanted her to leave, but she said she wanted to improve her film-making skills so she could make better films of me." She turned to look at Kero. "I never did understand why Tomoyo enjoyed filming me so much. She tried to explain...but I couldn't make sense of it. I tried to convince her to stay, and that was when...it happened. Then the plane had to leave, and we didn't have time to say much else. Tomoyo asked me to look after something for her." Sakura took out the velvet box so Kero could see.
Kero jumped down to the desk. "What is it? A family heirloom?"
"She told me it was the most precious thing to her in the entire world." Sakura opened the box. Inside was a slightly used rabbit-shaped pencil eraser.
Kero gaped. "Is that all? Is that all it is?"
"Yes. I wonder if Tomoyo gave me the wrong box."
Suddenly Kero fluttered up. "Ahhh! I remember! Yes, yes, that's right. Sakura, this is yours, remember?"
"Huh? It's not mine; it's Tomoyo's. She gave it to me."
"But it was the eraser you gave to her! On her first day at school, you gave her an eraser."
Sakura stared at him as he hovered in front of her. "How do you know this?"
"Because I'm the Guardian of the Sakura Cards...and Tomoyo told me. This is the eraser you gave to her! She kept it in a special box, a box you helped to open when you caught Shield. Don't you remember giving it to her?"
"No, it was so long ago." Sakura picked it up with trembling fingers. "Tomoyo kept this after all these years?" she said in a forlorn voice.
"Yes. It was her most precious possession because it was her first memento of her friendship with you. Isn't that sweet?"
"I think it's terrible." Sakura dropped the eraser in the box, snapped it shut and shoved it in her drawer as though it were poisoned. "No one should ever care for another person so much."
"What? Sakura, what are you talking about?"
"The sooner she forgets about her infatuation, the better." Sakura slammed her books shut and pushed back her chair, her movements jerky and awkward. "I'm going to brush my teeth, and go to sleep when I come back. It's been a long day."
Kero blinked in amazement as Sakura stormed out of her room. He'd never seen Sakura so wilfully callous to the feelings of another person. Ever since he had declared her to be Cardcaptor, he had been impressed by her warmth and kindness with everyone, friends and strangers alike.
What had come over her tonight?
Kero eyed the moon. He thought of Yue, distant and suspicious, still clinging to the past.
"Leave her alone," he said to the moon. "She's had enough of your influence already."
With that, he flew to the window and drew the curtains shut, then settled into his little bed in the drawer of Sakura's desk. He had much to think about.
Sakura couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned in bed, tormented by guilt and regret and a gnawing frustration. Images of rabbit erasers hopped behind her eyelids. She couldn't even recall giving it to Tomoyo. It was such a small gesture, a little kindness that one would extend to a stranger. How did it come to mean so much to her?
More importantly, how did she come to be so special to Tomoyo?
It horrified her. She didn't want to be so important to anyone. It was too much responsibility for her to deal with. She could barely deal with her own jumbled feelings, let alone help Tomoyo with hers.
Was there a Card that could erase the ache of a broken heart? If there was, she would have used it on herself after Yue and Syaoran had left. How much easier her life would be! Release a Card, and the pain would be banished. Release a Card, and the people she loved would love her back.
Release a Card, and she could return to the blissful ignorance of childhood.
"Sakura." A deep voice, rich like chocolate velvet, murmured her name. "Wake up, Sakura."
Sakura blinked and opened her eyes. "Who...who is it?"
A pair of huge iridescent gold eyes shone from the darkness. "What are you asking such a silly question for? It's me, Kero-chan!"
"Oh, sorry." She rubbed her eyes. She could see him a little more clearly as her eyes adjusted to the dark. He stood by her bed in drastically altered form, a mane-less lion with feathery wings folded neatly over his back. He was free of his harness but he still looked intimidating. Even without stretching his wings to their full span, he seemed to dwarf the bedroom with his presence. Kero-chan seemed too familiar a name; in his true form Sakura thought of him only as Cerberus. "I couldn't understand why your voice was different." She suddenly sat up. "Do you sense danger? Are the Cards all right?"
"The Cards are safe. I don't sense danger."
Sakura didn't either, but she wanted to make sure. "Good." She lay back against the pillow. "So why have you changed your form?"
"Some things are easier for me to do in this form," he replied. "Can I join you on the bed? The floor is cold."
Sakura shifted herself and pulled her blankets aside to make room for him. "I don't know if you can fit. If I move over any further I'll fall out."
"I'm not that big." He leapt on the bed with surprising lightness, the mattress barely dipping beneath his paws. "Ahh, this is much better." He settled himself down on his stomach, paws neatly tucked beneath him as Sakura pulled the blankets over them both. "I'm not squashing you, am I?"
"No." The softness of his pelt touched Sakura from shoulder to knee. It felt strangely comforting, like a heated fur blanket. "I like it. It feels nice and warm."
Cerberus's gold eyes loomed over her in the darkness. "I like it, too," he murmured. "I like being with you very much." He bent down and rubbed his cheek against hers.
"Hey!" Sakura giggled and batted him away. "Stop it!"
"Don't you like that?"
"Yes, but it tickles." It had been ages since she'd laughed. There hadn't been much to laugh about recently. She reached out to caress the thick fur at the nape of his neck. "Why did you wake me up?"
Cerberus rumbled in pleasure. "Mmm. Can you go behind my left ear? It's itchy and I can't reach it."
Sakura tugged at his fur. "Did you wake me in the middle of the night just to scratch your ears?"
"Yes, among other things. My ear is very itchy, Sakura. Could you please...ahh, that's perfect."
Sakura sighed. Typical Kero-chan. Even in his true form, he was as demanding as ever. "Somehow I can't imagine Clow Reed being so accommodating."
"Sometimes, but he spent more time with Yue than me. Yue was very special to him."
Something in his voice invited questions, and Sakura had long been curious about Clow Reed. "Yue-san cared for Clow-san very much, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did. Maybe he cared too much but..." Cerberus twitched his shoulders in what would pass for a shrug in a human. "Clow and he were both of human form. Much as I loved Clow, I could never mean as much to him as Yue."
Sakura stroked his forehead gently, soothingly. "Did you feel left out sometimes?"
Cerberus regarded Sakura with great tenderness. "I understood. He longed for the touch of one with human form. He found that with Yue." He lifted his head to lick Sakura's fingers. "It is the same for you as well. One day you will long for the touch of another, too."
"No." Sakura withdrew her hand. "I don't want to long for anyone."
Sakura shifted restlessly. "I don't want to be dependent on another person for my happiness. I don't want anyone to fall in love with me."
"Emotions are not like the Cards. You can't just order them to do your bidding."
"I know," Sakura said in a small voice. She thought of Tomoyo waving as she went to board her plane, and crushed the pang of grief. "But it would be easier if I could."
"Clow Reed was the most powerful magician in the world, yet he couldn't stop Yue from falling in love with him. Do you think you will have any more success in controlling the feelings of others?" Cerberus shifted his wings beneath the sheets and shook his head. "Love is an unstoppable force all of its own, Sakura. It can't be subdued by magic. Why would you even try something so foolish?"
"Because it hurts! It hurts when the person you love doesn't love you in the same way. It hurts when the person you love moves away and forgets your very existence." She'd never unleashed her anger and pain to a living soul, but there was something liberating about exploding in front of Cerberus. "I've made the same mistake twice already. Do you think I'm foolish enough to let history repeat a third time?"
"Is that why you pushed away Tomoyo?" Cerberus growled. "Because you were afraid? I never thought you were a coward."
"She was leaving for Hollywood! She'd rather film me through a camera lens than see me as I really am!"
"While you hardly noticed her at all, because you were so fixated on the snow rabbit and the brat."
"That's untrue!" Sakura sat up, stung by the accusation. "I value her as...as a good friend." Her words sounded grossly inadequate to her own ears.
"Is that all?" Cerberus challenged, eyes glittering in the semi-darkness. "A good friend?"
Sakura knew it seemed laughable in retrospect. The elaborate costumes, the library of videotapes, the obsessive filming...the eraser from elementary school was simply one more piece of damning evidence to add to the growing list she'd chosen to ignore.
If Tomoyo was guilty of fawning fan-worship, then she, Sakura, shared equal blame for playing her part as beautiful idol, graciously accepting the worship of her acolyte.
She drew her knees to her chest, an instinctive gesture of self-protection. "I know it sounds stupid...but I never really knew...until she kissed me."
"She kissed you? I thought she only touched you."
Sakura felt her face burn. "She did that too."
"Did you like it?"
"I liked it too much." Her shameful secret given voice at last. "I didn't want to, but I did."
Cerberus groaned, a sound of mingled frustration and amusement. "Touching is a source of great pleasure, Sakura." He rubbed his head against Sakura's shoulder and then lapped at the curve of her neck, making her laugh in spite of herself. "It's nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. Stop feeling bad about it!"
Sakura became serious again. "Sometimes I wish it never happened. Now I can't get her out of my mind. I find myself thinking of her, dreaming of her." She hugged herself, pressing her palms against the thin material of her pajamas. Her nipples, already hard, throbbed pleasantly at the slight friction. "Sometimes I can't sleep, and it's crazy. I'm not sure I'm better off feeling like this."
Cerberus stared at her, absorbing every word. The unblinking directness of his gaze lacked any self-consciousness. It was much like his approach to life: fearless and uninhibited, ready for any new challenge.
"Sometimes I think I envy you, Kero-chan. When you want something, you just have to ask."
"You can do the same. Tell Tomoyo about your feelings. You can't keep them bottled up forever. Give her the chance to come out from behind the camera. It's up to you to make it happen."
Sakura nodded. "I'll do my best, Kero-chan. Somehow I'll make things right between us." She lay back against the pillow, her mind more at peace than it had been in days. Maybe she could write a letter. Maybe she could call Tomoyo. The distance wasn't going to stand in her way.
"I know you can do it, Sakura." Cerberus rested his head on his paws. "Everything will be all right."
Sakura smiled faintly. Everything will be all right. Maybe it was time to start living by those words again.
She closed her eyes. She was cocooned in warmth, surrounded by the sheets and Cerberus's thick fur. There was only one thing missing. She imagined Tomoyo beside her in bed, holding her, kissing her. Weeks had passed, but she still remembered the details. Soft lips, a teasing tongue, the sweet scent of her hair, her gentle voice...
...Sakura-chan, I can't wait any longer.
She cupped her breast through the cotton and began to stroke herself. She took care to avoid waking Cerberus by holding her shoulder and elbow close to her body. Only her fingers shifted beneath the sheets, tracing circles around the nipple. It wasn't the same as Tomoyo's touch, but it was enough to trigger a smouldering heat inside her. Her nipple tightened into a hard nub of sensitised flesh. It didn't hurt, but neither did it bring much pleasure.
Maybe what she needed was more friction. She flattened her palm against her breast and rubbed gently, savouring the sensation of thin cotton against her skin. Yes, that was more like it. Her entire breast throbbed, an echo of her hammering heart. She imagined Tomoyo above her, watching with her loving gaze...
"Sakura." It wasn't Tomoyo's voice. This was deep and throaty with a husky catch.
She froze. "What?"
Cerberus suddenly loomed over her, his forepaws resting on either side of her pillow. The sheets slid off his back to fall on the floor.
Sakura quickly placed her hands by her side. The semi-darkness was flimsy protection against Cerberus's excellent night vision. "Did...did I wake you?"
"I never fell asleep." Cerberus looked into her eyes, gold eyes gleaming. "I was watching you." His eyes flicked to her pyjama top.
She wondered if he could also see the beetroot red flush covering her face. "I-I was just itchy, that's all."
"I know I'm not Tomoyo, but I want to help you. You shouldn't feel you have to go without."
"Kero-chan!" she squeaked. He couldn't be suggesting what she thought he was suggesting...could he? "I...you...I don't think..."
He silenced her with a single question. "Sakura, do you like to scratch my ears?"
"Umm...yes." His ears were velvety soft. Why would anyone not want to scratch them?
"Exactly. And I enjoy it when you scratch them. You are not afraid to touch me, and you willingly help me when I ask. So why should you be afraid to ask me to touch you? I will be pleased to help you any way I can." And with that, he crouched over Sakura, rested his cheek against her chest and rubbed himself with shameless abandon.
Sakura moaned. The friction of cloth against skin combined with Cerberus's body warmth felt divine. She reached for him, her fingers tangling in soft gold fur, flexing helplessly against him.
"Sakura." Cerberus was almost purring her name. He lay almost fully atop her, and she could feel his deep voice reverberate through her body. "I want to do this for you." He lapped at one nipple through the material of her top until it became a tight peak. Then he bent his head to the other nipple, carefully lavishing the same attention on it as well.
She looked down, unable to believe what was happening. She could just make out the outline of Cerberus's head leaning forward, and for a moment she wondered if he was about to devour her whole. He possessed the teeth and claws of a carnivore, and a lean body of muscle and bone beneath his pelt: it would be so easy for him to crush her as she lay helpless beneath him. But all she could feel was the wetness of his tongue and the ticklish sensation of his breath through the wet cloth.
"Please," she hissed as Cerberus began to rub his cheek against her again. Her nipples were so hard, taut peaks pressing against the confining cloth. She pulled at her top, fumbled with the buttons, and then yanked it up to her armpits. "I want...ahhh!"
Cerberus already knew. The abrasive heat of his tongue lacked the sandpaper texture of a domestic cat, yet its slight roughness was enough to sizzle against her skin like a brand. He lapped at the soft skin of her cleavage, nuzzled at the Staff pendant, then traced a trail of wetness over the delicate bones of her ribcage. His whiskers tickled her skin, feathery and ticklish, in contrast to his tongue.
She trembled beneath him, her fingers digging into the thickness of his fur. Her nipples throbbed, the swollen peaks aching in the absence of his touch. But Cerberus seemed more fascinated with the flatness of her abdomen, his tongue making lazy circles around her navel.
"Kero-chan!" She arched up, leaning on her elbows, offering herself to him. "Please..."
"Hush!" Cerberus silenced her with a playful nip to her shoulder. "What do you want me to do?"
Sakura sat up suddenly, yanking off the top with uncharacteristic impatience. Her hair fell in fluffy disarray over her face. She stared down at her erect nipples barely visible in the filtered moonlight, their dark colour visible against the pallor of her skin. They rose and fell in time with her erratic breathing. She lifted them in her palms. She could feel the moisture left by Cerberus's tongue mixed with her own perspiration. Her breasts felt heavier than before, ripe and full.
Cerberus seemed to approve. His wings extended and unfurled slightly. His gold eyes narrowed to slits. "Sakura," he murmured. "Tell me."
She touched her nipples gently, wonderingly. "It hurts a little, but it feels good at the same time." She flicked her finger over the one Tomoyo had touched, imitating the motion of her gentle plucking fingers. "Touch me here."
He rushed forward, knocking Sakura against the headboard. And then there was nothing in the world except the suction of his mouth, the lash of his warm tongue, and the slight graze of teeth against her breast. Sakura shut her eyes, lips parted on gasping breaths, head resting against the wall for support, her hands clutching golden fur. Perspiration broke out on her skin as the heat of him enveloped her. She was kindling to his fire, her nerve-endings sizzling at his touch, the flames concentrated in the pit of her abdomen. With one hand she clutched Cerberus to her; with the other hand she sought to ease the ache between her legs. Touching herself made it feel better yet worse. She hitched her knees up to stroke herself more freely.
She imagined Tomoyo touching her body with greedy fingers, caressing and kissing her breasts, showing her more wonderful things about her body she never knew before. And this time there was no pain or fear, only warmth and love. She concentrated on that image as she strained toward climax. Alone, she had never quite been able to capture it. But now she could feel it surging within her. She reached for it, every muscle clenched in anticipation. The heat coiled inside her, tighter and tighter...
And then she exploded. One scorching flare of bone-melting pleasure, followed by a brief spark that only left her longing for more. She tried to recapture it, but it was already over. Extinguished. All she had was the dull ache in the pit of her stomach and the soothing motion of Cerberus's tongue.
"Kero-chan," she whispered. She stroked his ears reverently. "Thank you."
He purred at her touch, and lifted his head. "Do you feel better now?"
"A little, thanks to you." She leaned forward and kissed his forehead.
"See? There is nothing to be afraid of. You worry too much about nothing. Tomoyo would never hurt you."
"I-I wish she was here. I want to make it up to her."
Cerberus nudged at the Staff pendant resting against her chest. "You can still do that. You are the Card Mistress now, remember?"
Sakura held the pendant. "I can't undo what has been done."
"But you can take a short holiday in America, can't you?"
Her jaw dropped as his meaning sank in. "I still have school!"
"You have weekends, don't you?"
She picked up her pyjama top and began to dress. "I have study to do."
"Study! You spend most of your time staring into space."
He was right. She hadn't been able to concentrate on schoolwork since Tomoyo left. What difference would a weekend make to her grades?
But it could make a huge difference to her happiness, and Tomoyo's.
"Okay," she relented. "This weekend we go to America."
"Yay!" Cerberus bounced on the bed, wings flapping. Feathers began to flutter down around them both. "Hollywood here we come!"
"Stop jumping! You'll break the mattress if you're not careful."
"Okay." He was instantly contrite, quickly lying on his stomach. "We're still going to America, right?"
"Yes. But maybe I should call her first."
"No! Surprise her! Surprises are more fun." He started bouncing again. "We can swoop from the heavens and land on her roof. I'm sure she will love it."
"Her bodyguards may be a bit less happy, Kero-chan."
"So what about them? You're coming to see her! Oh, we will have so much fun. I've heard a lot about American donuts and pretzels and pies and cakes. Sakura, you are the best Mistress I've ever had!" And with that, he purred and rubbed his face against hers.
Sakura sighed. She resisted the impulse to remind him that she was the only mistress he had ever had. But inside, she was happy too. After weeks of inaction, she finally had a course of action.
A few preparations had to be made for her weekend away. Sakura instructed the Illusion Card on her movements around the house. Her father and Touya were both working, so that would make the facade much easier to maintain. In the evenings she practised using Windy and Fly to time herself for the journey, and Cerberus flew with her as personal trainer and motivational coach. They had decided that Light would help guide them when it was night, and Dark would shade them in daylight hours.
She also needed suitable clothes. One of Tomoyo's creations was perfect: it was a long-sleeved pink and white balloon dress with oversized white wing epaulettes, a turtleneck collar and matching pink gloves with wings sewn into the cuffs. The dress was gathered at mid-thigh level, and white stockings covered the rest of her legs. The material was lightweight yet insulating; she remembered Tomoyo telling her it was similar to that used in the flight suits worn by astronauts.
Last but not least were the matching accessories. The hat was a variation of the pillbox hats popular in the 1960s, bright pink with white trim. Wings were sewn into the sides, and a wing was embroidered at the front. Her boots were again pink and white, with more wings sewn into the heel.
Kero was most impressed. "Who needs Cards? You look like you're ready to fly in that costume alone!"
Sakura smiled ruefully at herself in the mirror. "It's a very long distance, so I need all the help I can get."
"Sakura Airways are set to go! Flight SAK001 to Los Angeles will leave tomorrow after dinner!"
"After dinner? I thought you wanted to leave after I arrived home from school."
"But Sakura, you can't expect to fly all that way on an empty stomach! We must make sure to eat as much as we can before we go."
It made good sense. They would be starving when they arrived. "But make sure not to eat too much, Kero-chan. Otherwise you'll be so heavy you won't be able to take off!"
She didn't have room to take many clothes in her backpack, but she wasn't too worried about that. But there was one thing she didn't want to forget. The night before she placed the rabbit eraser in her backpack, along with the Book of Clow.
In a rented Beverly Hills mansion, Tomoyo relaxed in a bubble bath. One of the bodyguards was in the bathroom with her dressed in a black yukata, wearing her customary dark glasses. She carefully lathered Tomoyo's long thick hair with shampoo.
"The weather is windy and warm, Daidouji-san. It must be uncomfortable for you to have such long hair."
Tomoyo closed her eyes. "I keep it tied up or braided most of the time so it doesn't get in the way."
"But that is not good for the roots." Her fingers massaged Tomoyo's temples and scalp. "Too much tension will make your hair fall out."
"Mmm," Tomoyo tilted her head to one side, spilling lather down her neck and collarbone. Some of it slid down the slope of her breast. "I like it when you do that."
"Shorter hair is easier to groom, Daidouji-san. It would be more suited for this warm climate."
"Perhaps, but my mother has grown my hair long ever since I was little, and I'm accustomed to it now. I wouldn't want to upset her by altering my appearance."
"I understand." The bodyguard scooped up the stray suds from Tomoyo's neck, and began scrubbing behind one of her ears. "I didn't mean to overstep my authority."
Tomoyo opened her eyes and smiled. "I appreciate your concern. I know my mother would be pleased at how well you're looking after me."
"I am glad to hear that, Daidouji-san." The fingers in Tomoyo's hair slowed, then drifted down her throat to trace the path of bubbles along her chest. "But I hope that you too are pleased with my service."
"I am pleased." Tomoyo lifted herself slightly, just enough so that her nipples peeked above the suds. She sighed as the hand closed around one of her breasts, massaging her nipple in circles. "I am...very pleased."
A scraping noise came from the window, startling them both. Instantly the bodyguard came to her feet and pulled out the firearm within the folds of her yukata.
"Could it be an animal? Maybe it's a squirrel," Tomoyo said.
"Perhaps." But she didn't sound convinced. "Get dressed quickly." She pulled out her walkie-talkie to call for her partner.
On the roof of the mansion, Sakura and Cerberus made a hasty landing. From their vantage point they could see the second floor balcony overlooking a swimming pool and spa. Small lights lit the garden path winding around the house. The letters of the famous Hollywood sign glowed from a distant hillside.
But Cerberus had no eyes for the view. "What do you mean, you forgot where you were?? You were hovering outside her window! You can't just give your wings a rest!"
"I didn't mean to. It just happened." Sakura touched her tousled hair with one hand, the other holding the Staff with a white-knuckled grip. "I lost my hat."
"You're lucky that's the only thing you've lost. If it hadn't been for Windy..." Cerberus grimaced, and shook his head. "Promise me you'll never do something so stupid again."
She flopped down on the roof before she made an even bigger fool of herself. Her legs were as wobbly as jelly. Her wings sagged on the tiles, and she was too exhausted to fold them up or undo Fly's spell. The weight of the backpack tugged at her aching shoulders. Her stomach rumbled with hunger. But all these sensations receded in the background. She felt numb and empty, too exhausted to waste energy on displays of emotion. She was grateful for that small mercy. She'd never been good at masking her feelings.
"So did you see Tomoyo? Is she too busy to see us?"
"Kero-chan, I'm not sure this was such a good idea."
"Huh? What do you mean? We arrived here safely, didn't we?"
"Wait." Sakura listened. She could hear doors opening and closing. "They know we're here."
"Then let's go and say hello! I hope they have some food for us. I'm starving."
Sakura seized Cerberus's harness. "No."
There was a tense silence, followed by the balcony doors sliding open. Sakura grabbed her Staff and the Cards. The Erase Card was at the top of the deck, right at her fingertips. It was uncanny how the card she wanted was always close to hand.
She threw it up and held her staff to catch it. The baton twirling and shouting were all for show: true magic didn't require any artifice. The shower of silver fell over her and Cerberus, erasing them both from view.
The two bodyguards crouched on the balcony. One used night binoculars to scan the premises. The other looked up at the roof, a perplexed look on her face.
"I thought I heard voices," she said. "Do you see anything?"
"Not yet." The other bodyguard kept looking, concentrating on the gardens and trees.
Tomoyo opened the balcony door and crawled out on her hands and knees.
"Daidouji-san! I told you to stay inside."
"Forgive me, but I wanted to collect something." She grabbed the pink and white pillbox hat that lay on under a chaise lounge. "I forgot I left it out here."
"Stay there and don't move!" She touched the shoulder of her colleague. "It's time we looked in a different direction. Will you cover me?"
"Always." Her colleague pocketed the binoculars and took out a firearm.
She flashed a smile. "I'll hold you to that."
In the blink of an eye, she grabbed the eaves and swung herself up on the roof. With careful steps, she prowled across to the other side. The other bodyguard waited until she was halfway up, then joined her. After a few seconds, they both returned to find Tomoyo sitting on the lounge with the hat in her lap.
"Daidouji-san! We told you not to move."
"I haven't come to any harm." She looked from one to the other. "You didn't find them, did you?"
"No. But you have to obey our instructions if we are to do our work properly. Come inside this minute." They ushered her inside and locked the door.
Still concealed by Erase, Cerberus and Sakura sagged together in relief on the rooftop.
"That was close!" Cerberus said.
Sakura nodded. "Thank goodness. I don't know what explanation I could give for us being up here. We must look like stalkers."
"What's wrong with that?" Cerberus looked at Sakura in puzzlement. "Tomoyo and I used to follow you all the time when you met the snow rabbit."
"What? What!! You never told me!!"
"So stalking isn't a good thing?"
"No, of course not! It can get you arrested!"
"I'll remember that next time." Cerberus rubbed his head against Sakura's thigh to distract her. "Good thinking for using Erase! Now let's un-erase ourselves, knock on the front door and get some food!"
"No!" Her expression became mutinous. "We can't do that."
"Why not? Don't tell me you came all this way to look in her window?"
"No, but..." Sakura bit her lip.
"What? What is it?"
"I don't think...she needs me anymore." Such ordinary words, but they seemed to be trapped inside her throat. Dimly she recalled Tomoyo's blissful expression in the bath. "I left it too late, Kero-chan."
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"She's found someone else." Her voice quavered on the last word. The numbness was fading, and the pain was as sharp as ever.
"Who?" Cerberus bared his gleaming sharp teeth in a menacing snarl. "Who is this person? When I get my claws on--"
Sakura clamped his muzzle shut to silence him. Someone was opening the balcony door again.
It was Tomoyo. Her thick damp hair fell loosely about her shoulders. She was dressed in a gauzy nightgown of pastel pink with lace over the sleeves and bodice. The skirt was gathered at the waist, the double-scalloped hemline of the gown ending just above her knees. The silvery moonlight gilded her graceful form, making her look like a fairy deprived of its wings.
Sakura held her breath. She always knew Tomoyo was pretty, but she never appreciated how beautiful she was until this moment. For years she had been too blind to see what was right in front of her.
Tomoyo looked down at the gardens, then turned to the roof. Her eyes seemed to focus on Sakura for a moment, then her gaze drifted, still searching.
Sakura's heart sank when she saw the pillbox hat. Tomoyo was clutching it in her hand like a talisman.
"Sakura-chan," she said aloud. "You came all this way to see me. I'm so happy you're here." She lifted the hat, smiling. "I was inspired by the uniforms of airline stewardesses when I designed this outfit for you. I remember how cute you looked when you tried it on. I remember taking a photo." She looked inside the hat, frowning at the broken strap. "I guess it's not that practical for real flying. I'll try to do better next time."
"What are you waiting for?" Cerberus muttered through the side of his mouth.
Sakura shook her head. "She's only guessing we're here. She doesn't know for sure."
Tomoyo waited. A breeze stirred the folds of her gown and lifted her hair from her face. Her lips were parted in expectation. What was she waiting for?
Go inside, Sakura urged her. Go back inside.
Undeterred by the lack of response, Tomoyo leaned over the balcony rail to address the garden. "If I'd known you were coming, I would have prepared a cake to welcome you to America. I would have made a dinner just for you. Would you have wanted Japanese food or American food? I miss Japanese food, but I would be happy to eat anything as long as you were with me."
Cerberus's stomach rumbled. He made a whimpering sound. "Sakura," he muttered miserably, "I'm going to die if I don't eat soon."
Sakura ignored him. Each gentle word Tomoyo spoke only intensified the blossoming pain inside her.
In the moonlight, she saw Tomoyo look up at the sky again. "Sakura-chan, please...don't be afraid of me. Don't be angry at me." She whirled around, suddenly desperate. "What happened at the airport...it was a terrible mistake. I swear it will never happen again." She held out the pillbox hat, offering it to the stars. "At least take back your hat. The costume I designed for you isn't the same without it."
Maybe Tomoyo was right. Maybe it was just a mistake. The kiss had awakened something inside her, a terrible emotion that clawed at her insides, leaving pain and emptiness in its wake.
Cerberus shook his muzzle impatiently. "Sakura! How can you ignore her like this?" A rumbling sound came from his belly. "How can you ignore my stomach like this?"
"I was a fool to come here." She let him go and clambered to her feet. She had seen it with her own eyes: Tomoyo had found someone who knew how to make her happy, someone older and experienced who wouldn't reject her out of fear. It should have made her happy too, shouldn't it? Seeing the happiness of the person she loved most in the world...
...only made the pain ten times worse.
Tomoyo waited and waited until her arm became weak from exhaustion. Finally she dropped her arm, and her shoulders drooped in the moonlight. "I never meant to hurt you," she whispered. "Maybe it was wrong for me to encourage you with Yukito-san and Li-kun, but I thought they would make you happy. You smiled so much when you were with them. And that's all I ever wanted in life: to see you happy. As long as I can see your smiling face, and know that you are happy in what you are doing..." She lowered her gaze, her fringe covering her eyes. "It would mean the world to me. Just to be a part of your life, however small...that is enough."
"This is getting ridiculous," Cerberus muttered. "Sakura, if you don't un-erase yourself--" He stopped as something splashed on his muzzle, followed by another. "Sakura?"
"Stop it!" Sakura shouted. "I can't take it any more! Stop it! Stop IT!"
Erase obeyed the wish of its Mistress and reversed its spell on them both.
Tomoyo lifted her gaze, eyes wide. "Sakura-chan! I knew you were here!"
Sakura swooped down to the balcony with her backpack, her entire body trembling from head to foot. "I don't want you to say such things anymore," she said in a choked voice, her wings fading in a twinkling of starlight. "I don't want to you to think of my happiness all the time as if it's the only thing that matters in the world."
"Sakura-chan?" Tomoyo stepped towards her, but Sakura took a step back. "Why are you crying?"
Sakura pulled the eraser out of her backpack and pushed it in her hands. "I don't want you to keep the eraser I gave you and never use it. I don't want you to film everything I do." She pulled off her gloves and wiped her eyes with the back of one hand. "I don't want you making elaborate costumes for me either."
"But..." Tomoyo blinked in helpless confusion, then smiled. "But I can't help doing it. I've adored you since the day we first met."
"I don't want to be adored! I don't want to be worshipped." Sakura's voice broke on the last word. Tears blinded her vision. "I want..." She reached for Tomoyo's hand and placed it on her breast. "Tomoyo-chan, please..."
Tomoyo couldn't say no. Her hand cupped the firm mound, her fingers stroking the nipple. Sakura rushed into her arms, kissing her with clumsy eagerness, tasting her own tears against Tomoyo's lips. The hat and the eraser fell on the ground between their feet.
"Don't cry, Sakura-chan." Tomoyo held her face in her hands, wiping the tears away with her thumbs. Her own eyes filled with tears. "I never meant to make you unhappy."
"Then touch me." Sakura leaned forward to kiss Tomoyo again, her hands clutching at the gauzy material of her nightgown. Tomoyo's skin was warm and soft underneath, her curves round and lush. She stroked along the small of her back, her fingers splayed as she slid the silky material against Tomoyo's flesh.
"Sakura-chan." Tomoyo trembled, and buried her face in Sakura's neck. "Come inside," she whispered. She drew away with an effort, and pulled the glass door aside. Sakura pulled off her ankle boots and willingly followed.
Inside it was dark, the thick curtains blocking most of the moonlight outside. Disoriented, Sakura reached out for guidance, and found herself clutching Tomoyo again. She was warm and soft and ...and as necessary to her existence as oxygen. She parted her lips to receive Tomoyo's greedy open-mouthed kisses. Their tongues tangled, wet and slick and playful, until Sakura felt so dizzy that she had to pull away.
Tomoyo's hands fell away from her. "Forgive me, Sakura--"
"No!" Sakura grabbed her hands before she could withdraw further. "Undress me."
There was a pause, as if Tomoyo was waiting for her to change her mind. Then she shifted around, the soft shirring sound of her gown the only sign of movement in the darkness. Her fingers probed at her neck, then slowly pulled. The dress slid off with a whisper of sound to puddle at Sakura's feet.
"I always remember the placement of zips in a costume," Tomoyo explained quietly.
Sakura stepped out of the dress, still wearing underwear and white stockings. She remembered times when Tomoyo had helped her in or out of a particularly tricky costume. She'd thought nothing of it, just the help of a good friend. But having Tomoyo undress her in darkness...there was a deliciously forbidden allure about it.
Tomoyo's hands slid along her shoulder blades to her bra. With a single deft movement, she unclipped the bra and replaced it with her soft hands. Her gentle fingers stroked the underside of her breasts, cupped them as if they were precious jewels. She pressed light kisses on the side of Sakura's neck, her long hair cascading over Sakura's shoulder like a silken veil.
"Tomoyo-chan!" Sakura pressed her hands against Tomoyo's in encouragement.
Tomoyo took the hint. Her fingers played with Sakura's nipples, teasing them into pert hardness. "Of all the things I hoped for you...I never dared to dream..." She buried her lips against Sakura's throat, smothering the rest of her words in smooth unblemished flesh.
Sakura groaned and squirmed. The slight graze of teeth, the soft lips and tongue on her shoulder...it sent a sizzling surge of heat to her groin. She arched herself into Tomoyo's hands, while she reached behind to grasp Tomoyo's thigh. With a slide of her hand, she hitched the gown up to caress the curve of Tomoyo's hip.
They stumbled to the bed, Sakura led by Tomoyo in the darkness. They were in too much of a hurry to bother with lights. Sakura found herself lying on white sheets, clad only in panties and stockings. Tomoyo leaned over her, her long hair brushing her neck, shoulders and arms as she bestowed soft kisses on Sakura's breasts.
"You are so beautiful, Sakura-chan." Tomoyo traced one areola with her lips. "A goddess couldn't be more lovely."
Sakura held her head, fingers combing though her hair to press her closer. "Don't want...to be worshipped," she gasped.
"I can't help it," Tomoyo whispered. "It would be easier for me to stop breathing." She lightly nibbled Sakura's nipple with soft lips.
Heat suffused Sakura's skin. Cerberus had been more aggressive, more urgent. Impatient and eager, much like his fiery nature. Tomoyo was delicate and playful in comparison, her lingering touches drawing out the pleasure so it could be properly savoured. But the ache inside her couldn't be denied any longer.
She lifted her hips and pulled at her underwear until Tomoyo slowly slid them off. The stockings were left undisturbed, Tomoyo content to stroke her legs reverently through the material.
Damp heat and perspiration dewed Sakura's body. Butterflies fluttered inside her stomach, mingled dread and longing driving her mad. She'd never been so exposed before, yet she had never wanted so much. The feelings she had for Yukito and Syaoran paled in comparison to the immediacy of her desire now.
Tomoyo caressed her, soothing the tension in her quivering muscles. Then she carefully parted Sakura's thighs, and allowed her long hair to cascade across her abdomen and legs. She bent forward slowly.
Sakura cried out. No words could describe it. Tomoyo's tongue moving gently over her lips and clit, tasting and teasing the sensitised flesh. She swirled over her with slow and languid strokes, gently lapping at the pooling juices. Sakura bucked and squirmed, even as every nerve ending screamed for more. Too much feeling...she couldn't take it.
"It's all right," Tomoyo murmured, pressing kisses against the soft thatch of hair at her groin. "At least let me worship you like this."
Sakura shook her head, her body quivering uncontrollably with each touch. But her legs remained splayed on the mattress, while her fingers clutched the sheets.
Tomoyo's hand stroked her thigh, soothing yet arousing her at the same time. She placed her lips against the smooth skin, then returned to the moist dampness again.
The intimacy of it, the pure pleasure it evoked...nothing had prepared Sakura. When she'd stroked herself, she had been searching for a way to ease the ache. But this exquisite caress was making it worse. She was enveloped in heat and darkness and sweat and the silken strands of Tomoyo's hair. The air felt heavy and humid, scented with the sweet smell of Tomoyo's hair and the musk of her trembling body. Speech seemed beyond her. She was reduced to panting gasps. Dimly she was aware of Tomoyo's fingers gripping her buttocks, tilting her hips up so she could partake of her more easily.
Sakura didn't want to be worshipped. But to be the recipient of such a gift...she couldn't fight it any longer. Something inside her was building and building, something strange and wonderful. Then suddenly she felt it: wave upon wave of sensation rippling through her body. She clutched Tomoyo's hair as it powered through her, leaving her spent and exhausted.
Tomoyo finally rested against her chest, her breath cooling Sakura's sweat-damp skin. She still wore her nightgown. The material clung to her damp skin.
Sakura pulled at the gown with clumsy fingers. She couldn't leave her friend unfulfilled. "Tomoyo-chan."
Tomoyo sat up and pulled her gown over her head, her body visible as a silhouette against the window. Sakura could see the taut nipple of her breast. She reached up to touch it wonderingly. Tomoyo sighed and lay down next to her.
"This...this is more than I ever dreamed, Sakura-chan."
"You must learn to dream more often," Sakura teased.
Sakura leaned down and closed her lips around the bud. It filled her mouth, salty-sweet in flavor. She tested the firmness of it with her teeth, biting gently. With one hand, she delved between Tomoyo's thighs. She was slick with moisture. Sakura stroked her as best she could given the unfamiliar angle, a little uncertain of how to help. But Tomoyo seemed pleased with everything she did. She lifted one knee, arching herself against Sakura's hand. She guided Sakura's fingers against her lips, enclosing her in velvet heat.
"Oh!" Sakura withdrew in surprise, her fingers sliding out. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." Tomoyo shivered, and guided her back. Her muscles clenched around Sakura's fingers, enveloping her again. "It feels...good."
Her voice was breathy and soft, like it had been when the guard had touched her. Sakura wanted to bring her the same pleasure. So she obeyed, entering her gently, her fingers sliding against moist velvet. The muscles clamped around her, easing her out. Then Tomoyo guided her in again, repeating the cycle. They fell into a rhythm of their own making, punctuated only by Tomoyo's gasping breaths. Sakura learned the secret recesses of Tomoyo's body, enveloped in heat and dampness and darkness.
It thrilled Sakura to know that she could give her friend this. Had the bodyguard touched her the same way? It didn't matter. It was her fingers deep inside Tomoyo, drenched in her juices. It was her name Tomoyo whispered before she stiffened and cried out.
She couldn't write her name on Tomoyo's body as though she were a Clow Card. But she knew it in her heart. Tomoyo was hers.
They lay still for several minutes, gasping quietly.
"I...I've never done this before," Sakura confessed.
Tomoyo stroked her face. "Are you ashamed?"
Sakura shook her head.
"Good. You have nothing to be ashamed of." She touched Sakura's hip and waist in slow circles. Her hands moved ceaselessly, as if afraid Sakura would vanish if she let her go. "As a child, you were so cute. As a young woman, you are beautiful beyond compare."
"Tomoyo-chan...I wish you wouldn't idolise me so much."
"I can't help it, Sakura-chan. Why does it disturb you so? Don't you think you deserve such affection?"
"It...it makes me uncomfortable."
Tomoyo laughed softly. "Forgive me, but I can't keep it bottled up inside. I've always wanted to show you how I feel. But I didn't want to make you guilty or unhappy. The most important thing in the world to me--"
Sakura silenced her with a finger to her lips. "Listen to me, Tomoyo-chan. My happiness is not complete unless you are happy too. I want you to concentrate on what makes you happy." She stroked Tomoyo's hair, allowing the long strands to fall through her fingers. "Are you happy with your film-making course?"
"Yes. I've learnt a great deal about how I can improve my films. There are so many advances being made in CGI and digital animation. I can't wait to put them in practice when I return to Tomoeda to film you."
"I want you to film other things beside me. I want you to be the best filmmaker you can be."
"Thank you, Sakura-chan. Of course I'll use other subjects, maybe even hire actors. I know you won't be available all the time. But filming you makes me happy." She took Sakura's hand and kissed it. "Must I give it up completely?"
Sakura sighed and snuggled closer. "No, you don't have to. I...I was afraid that you would be so entranced by your videos that you'd forget about the real me."
"I could never do that. Videotape will never do justice to the unique individual that you are." She caressed Sakura's bare breast. "Mmm. The only way to truly appreciate you is in person like this."
It was exactly the kind of appreciation she wanted, but she still had some nagging questions. "Do...do your bodyguards make you happy?"
Tomoyo didn't pretend to misunderstand. "She taught me how to appreciate and enjoy my body. I am grateful to her for her kindness. But I don't film her, and I don't make her costumes. She doesn't make me happy the way you do." She paused. "Would you like them to tutor you? If you'd like, I can ask--"
"No! You don't have to go to so much trouble!" The thought was too embarrassing, although it was very generous of Tomoyo to offer. But she didn't need them. Kero-chan had already shown her... "Kero-chan!" She bolted upright in the bed. "I left him starving outside with the Cards!"
"Kero-chan is here?"
"How could I forget all about him?" She stumbled out of bed. "I have to get dressed!"
"Wait. I'll help you." Tomoyo flicked on a bedside lamp to reveal a bedroom that mirrored the one in Tomoeda, with a double bed, a built-in wardrobe and a home-cinema set-up. She helped Sakura into a yukata, then put one on herself. Both of them rushed out on the balcony.
Cerberus rested on the chaise lounge, Sakura's backpack and staff on the floor beside him. He held a brown paper bag in his forepaws, and was tearing it apart with his teeth. A beef patty fell out, along with shredded lettuce, pickles and a sesame seed bun.
"Kero-chan! What are you doing?"
"Eating!" Cerberus gulped down the scattered scraps, along with half of the bag itself. Melted cheese covered his muzzle. "Tomoyo! How are you? Are you and Sakura touching each other now?"
Tomoyo laughed. "Lots and lots, Kero-chan."
"Very good. That was the entire purpose of coming here, wasn't it, Sakura?"
Sakura blushed bright red. "I...I can't believe you've made such a mess! We're supposed to be guests. Where did you get the food from?"
"I found it! I hunted it down with my keen sense of smell!" He pulled out a box of French fries and munched on them, his long tail lashing from side to side.
"He's eating a hamburger." Tomoyo crouched down to look him in the eye. "Did you buy this yourself?"
"Well..." Cerberus's ears drooped slightly.
"He didn't buy it. He stole it! Kero-chan, how could you?"
"That's not true, Sakura." Cerberus looked most aggrieved. "It was sitting on a table neglected and alone. I flew down and seized it for a worthwhile cause: my stomach." He burped loudly.
"Did anyone see you? Were you in this form? How are we going to explain you to anyone?"
"My cute form, of course! My true form is too big to escape exposure. I may be starving, but I'm not an idiot."
"We could say it was a UFO," Tomoyo advised them. "Many strange happenings are attributed to UFOs in America. No one will think anything of it." She patted Cerberus on the head. "I have more food inside. Would you like some dessert?"
"Yes, yes, yes!"
In Tomoyo's bedroom, they were fed a feast fit for a king with a sweet tooth: pecan pie and ice cream and chocolate cake and sticky date pudding and cheesecake. Tomoyo played the gracious hostess, cutting slices of each for Cerberus to gulp down at will, then helping Sakura to a serving of pudding. They chatted and laughed and argued well into the early morning.
"I don't know if I can come that often to see you," Sakura said. She took a last spoonful of ice cream and closed her eyes in bliss as she swallowed it down. "Maybe if I can organise myself, I can come once a month."
"Sakura-chan!" Tomoyo hugged her, then quickly composed herself. "I'd love to see you, as long as it doesn't interfere with your schoolwork. I know you must be very busy."
Sakura smiled. "It will be all right. I know I'll find a way."
Cerberus was feeling sleepy and full after three slices of pie, four slices of pudding, and two slices of cake. He yawned and stretched on the carpeted floor, then rested his head on his forepaws. "If it wasn't for me, we wouldn't have arrived here. Aren't you glad you came, Sakura?"
"Yes, I've very glad."
"She was mooning over you for ages," Cerberus told Tomoyo. "It was awful to watch. It was time for me to take action."
"So what did you do, Kero-chan?" Tomoyo asked.
Sakura blushed bright red. "He helped me decide what to do."
"I gave her a nudge in the right direction."
"What type of nudge?"
Cerberus's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Maybe more a lick than a nudge. "
"Kero-chan..." Sakura said warningly.
"Tell me more," Tomoyo said, a mischievous grin on her face. "What type of lick?"
"Hmm." Cerberus yawned again. "Like a cat with cream."
Tomoyo laughed. "I think it's so cute--the idea of you and Kero-chan together! Was he the one who showed you, like me with my bodyguards? Oh, I knew there was something different about you. You were much more assertive and bold. You must tell me what you did! I wish I was there to see for myself."
"Tomoyo-chan!" Sakura was so embarrassed she hid her face in her hands. "I...I don't know if I can talk about it!"
Tomoyo wrestled her hands away, still laughing. "If you don't tell me, I'll ask Kero-chan! Kero-chan, what else did you and Sakura do?"
The answer was a deep snore. They both peered over to check. Cerberus was fast asleep.
"He must be exhausted," Sakura said. "It was a very long journey."
"And you must be exhausted too. Maybe it's time we went to sleep."
They tidied up, taking care not to make too much noise. But the bodyguards probably knew, didn't they? All those times Tomoyo had snuck out to film Sakura sealing a Card...they were probably waiting around the corner, keeping a close eye on their mistress. They watched over Tomoyo in the same way Cerberus watched over her. And with her unflappable composure, Tomoyo had taken Cerberus's 'guidance' in her stride. She imagined trying to explain it to Syaoran or Yue, and the idea made her smile.
Later Sakura slept in Tomoyo's double bed, warm and snug in Tomoyo's arms. The curtains were not quite drawn, but there was still a sliver of moonlight coming through the windows. Briefly she thought of Yue and Syaoran. She still cared for them, and she still wondered about them. But thinking about them no longer pained her. She'd found her own special someone closer to earth.
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