The plot bunnies! Oh my God, the plot bunnies! They won't – leave – me – alone! On a more serious note, I'm still not sure where this is going, but the first chapter or two kept getting more and more detailed in my head until I just had to write it down. In later chapters you will find I'm borrowing a bit from Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE. That is, alternate universes with familiar, yet different people. You'll understand eventually. And don't worry, my other story isn't being abandoned. Enjoy!
Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.
I have to look down all shy and I hear a few mutters of Bloody Jack and I guess I ain't never gonna get rid of that, especially if I keep on killing people.
-L. A. Meyer, Bloody Jack,
It had begun as a rather normal day for Sakura. Which was to say no idiot in flowing robes had shown up as of yet to demand she turn over the 'Clow' Cards (honestly, the least they could do was make an effort to discover that they were now the Sakura Cards), and Kero-chan had awoken her by tricking her into believing she was going to be late for school. It wasn't until she'd changed and rushed downstairs that she remembered that she'd graduated days ago. After loudly berating Kero-chan for once again waking her up, Sakura stomped over to the stove and began making lunch.
She had the house to herself today; Otousan was working, and Touya was at his classes. He lived at home, since Tomoeda U. was only a few bus stops away. That was where she planned to attend in a month, and she knew many of her classmates had also been accepted.
Sakura hummed to herself as she fixed udon for lunch. Kero-chan really didn't deserve it, but she set a cup of pudding before him as well. She had just cleared the table and begun running water for the dishes when someone knocked on the door.
Sakura and Kero exchanged questioning glances. All of her friends rang the doorbell. "Quick, up to my room," she hissed, and made sure he obeyed before heading to the door. He had a bad habit of eavesdropping without keeping quiet, and had almost been caught by visitors several times.
"Konnichiwa," she said automatically as she opened her front door. A man, probably in his 30s, stood there, looking at odds with his surroundings. It wasn't that he was dressed strangely or unusually shifty (although he did look as if he were trying to hide the fact that he was somewhat nervous); there was simply something about him that clashed with the world, as if he belonged to another time or place.
She snapped out of her speculation when he began talking and concentrated on his face.
"Konnichiwa. Anata wa Sakura, no, goment nasai. Anata wa Kinomoto Sakura desu…ka?"
His accent was atrocious, and he stumbled over several words, but for all that, he sounded almost familiar.
"Hai," she replied cautiously, gathering her sorcery around her should he prove to be dangerous.
"Boku wa – "
Suddenly she placed him, and threw herself forward, shrieking happily, "Severus-ojisan!"
He stiffened a little, unused to such displays, and awkwardly patted her back.
Severus Snape was not really her uncle, but she called him that to simplify things. Severus' aunt had married her mother's second cousin twice removed, or something like that. It had been years since she'd heard from him. By the time she'd released the Clow Cards he'd ceased to write. The family knew he lived somewhere in Scotland and taught chemistry, but beyond that he was a mystery. Sakura vaguely remembered him as a tall, dark presence in her childhood who would swing her around in the air if she pleaded hard enough.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in English, taking pity on him. He'd never been very good at Japanese, although he seemed to have gotten much worse. "Come in, come in."
He looked overwhelmed, as if not having expected such a greeting. She remembered how awkward he'd been at her initial joy of seeing him and thought perhaps he didn't have many friends. How sad.
Sakura led Severus to the kitchen and motioned that he take a seat. "Would you like some tea?"
"Yes, thank you," he replied stiffly.
"Otousan is at work and Touya had classes. Neither of them will be back until dinnertime, but you're welcome to stay."
"I wouldn't want to inconvenience you," he replied.
"It is no trouble at all," she interrupted firmly. "I insist. Are you hungry?" She shrugged inwardly. That was going to kill Kero-chan, who hadn't finished his pudding, but there was no help for it.
"No, I just ate."
"Where have you been? What are you doing here? We haven't heard from you in years, and our letters were all returned."
A shadow of a smile appeared, but she suddenly noticed how tired and stressed he looked. His expression was almost strained even when he appeared relaxed, and she noticed a few strands of gray in his hair.
"Are you all right?" she asked softly, before he could reply to her other questions.
"Of course," Severus replied. "I have simply been overworked as of late. As to why I am here, well there was an important…chemistry gathering in Tokyo. I thought perhaps I'd visit, since I haven't seen you in years."
She thought perhaps he would add something to his answer, but he didn't. So Sakura talked to him about her life, about Chiharu-chan and Yamazaki-kun, Naoko-chan, Tomoyo-chan, and Rika-chan and Terada-sensei. She felt guilty about keeping the Clow Cards from him, but she didn't know half as much about him as she did about her other friends who didn't know. He seemed content to simply listen, and offered very little to the conversation until she began talking about Syaoran-kun.
The moment she began talking about the Chinese boy, his eyebrows drew together in a ferocious scowl, and he asked, "Is he your boyfriend?"
"H-hai," Sakura stuttered in reply.
"I don't approve," he said automatically, and Sakura didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"Now you sound like 'Niichan," she said with a frown. "Actually, Syaoran-kun reminds me of you."
His frown deepened. "In that case, I definitely don't approve." She caught a haunted look in his eye, and wondered about him.
"Why not? When we first met, he was rather cold and unfriendly, but he's really very sweet."
"I don't see how he's similar to myself at all."
Sakura sighed and let it go. She was in the middle of telling him about how Yamazaki-kun lasted three days before breaking the vow he'd made to never again tell lies after Eriol-kun left, when the kettle began to whistle, demanding her attention.
She jumped up and poured him a cup of tea, before heading to the cupboard. Severus-ojisan had said he wasn't hungry, but it wouldn't hurt to set out a snack anyway. Sakura opened the door, and then jumped back with a frightened squeak. "Hoe!" She didn't notice Severus jump up, his hand immediately going to his back pocket where his wand was hidden.
"What is it?" he asked quickly. "What happened?"
"Oh...eto…" She grabbed Kero-chan, in her nervousness not noticing that she was squeezing him rather tightly. She thrust him at her ojisan. "Oniichan likes to play tricks on me, and…ano…put this in the cupboard. It startled me is all."
By now Kero-chan's face had turned an interesting, and rather attractive, shade of blue. Unable to stand it anymore, he pushed at Sakura's hand, and popped out of her fist, gasping for breath. Sakura's eyes widened in panic, and Severus blinked in surprise.
"He's a new electronic toy!" Sakura exclaimed with a nervous laugh. "You know, battery-powered. Tomoyo-chan's mother owns a toy company, and she gave it to me for my birthday present." This was going out on a limb, but she remembered that Severus knew very little about modern electronic toys and tools. Hopefully he didn't know that it was impossible for toys to hover motionless in mid-air.
As a wizard Severus knew very little about the Muggle world, and next to nothing about any toys, much less Muggle ones. He accepted her explanation for lack of a better option.
Sakura grabbed Kero-chan more gently this time. "Here's your tea," Sakura told her uncle. "I'll just go put him away in my room."
She hurried up the stairs and into her room. "You are in so much trouble," she hissed. "We'll discuss this later, and be assured that the words 'no pudding' will be part of it."
"Sakura-sama," Kero began in the sugary voice he used when he was in very big trouble.
She slammed the door and returned to the kitchen.
Severus raised an eyebrow at her flushed return, and sipped his tea.
Sakura plopped herself down on the chair across from him, and sat silently, eventually calming down.
Severus cleared his throat awkwardly and said, "So…does Touya have a girlfriend?"
Sakura was hard pressed not to laugh at the manner in which he asked: he nearly spat the words as if they were some sort of extremely distasteful food, and his mouth twisted into a sneer, as if daring her to make something of it. He was clearly trying to make polite conversation, and she couldn't fault him for his attempt.
She ceased biting her tongue and opened her mouth to reply, before realizing that she didn't know quite what to say. Touya had said that she could tell whoever asked about him and Yukito-san, although not in so many words. Sakura wasn't sure how Severus-ojisan would take it, but decided against lying to him. He wasn't one to be easily fooled, in any case.
"Boyfriend, actually. Tsukishiro Yukito-san. He's very sweet, and not at all like 'Niichan. I don't know what Yuki-san sees in him."
Snape blinked in surprise, but other than that slip, she couldn't read him at all. Sakura wished Tomoyo-chan were here to tell her what Severus was thinking. At last he inclined his head, and Sakura took that for acceptance.
They sat in silence for a few minutes more before Sakura had the courage to say, "Where have you been this whole time? Why didn't you ever call or write? What have you been doing?"
His expression darkened, and Severus recalled why he'd decided to come here after the Potions Convention. "That is none of your concern," he bit out sharply.
Sakura flinched, as if struck, and stared back at the man she had always thought of as gentle. He wears a mask, she thought, though whether she read him correctly or simply hoped it was true, she did not know. Once again she wished Tomoyo were here; she would be able to tell her what kind of person her ojisan truly was.
"We were worried…" she began, when she felt a tiny flare of magic. As if someone had clicked a lighter, and sparks had flared for but a moment.
Her eyes darted around the room, but quickly returned to Severus, who had suddenly paled, and clutched at his arm, tea sloshing onto the table.
"I cannot wait any longer, so I will tell you what I came to tell the rest of your family."
Sakura heard an undercurrent of urgency in his voice, as if he had very little time left.
"I want you out of my life. I do not want to hear from you again, so do not try to look for me." His words were cold and clear, as if he were trying to imprint them in her mind.
She stared at him, aghast. He was so different from the man she had known. "But…" she protested.
Severus narrowed his eyes at her. "I have killed people for less than that. And I laughed," he hissed.
Sakura ignored all the niceties of sorcerous manners, and relentlessly scoured his aura for even a hint of evil she might have missed. His aura was dark, yes, and strange, but there was no evil. There was blood on his hands, but she could also see a lifetime's worth of guilt and remorse.
She thought he shivered a little as she read his personality, and she wasn't surprised. Even those without magic could sense when their aura was thoroughly read. It made sense he would feel it as well. For she'd found something else as she examined his soul.
She found magic.
Sakura trailed after him in shock as he headed swiftly for the door. His back was rigid, but he did not look back.
Just outside the door he ran into another, exhaling at the shock.
"I apologize," Severus said tonelessly.
There was a pause as Tomoyo regained her composure, and then said politely in English, "No, no. It was my fault entirely."
Sakura grasped onto something as common as introductions as if it were a lifeline in a world that was quickly spinning out of control. "Severus-san, this is my friend and cousin, Tomoyo-chan. Tomoyo, this is Snape Severus-san, my uncle." She gave a shaky grin. "Actually he is your uncle, also."
Severus sketched a hasty bow, and strode quickly around the corner and out of sight. There was a flash of magic, and Sakura knew that he was gone. She also knew that he had not missed her omitting of the 'ojisan' she had always tacked onto the end of his name.
"I did not realize that we had an English ojisan," Tomoyo commented, standing next to Sakura.
"He's actually a distant relation on okaasan's side of the family. What did you think of him?"
Tomoyo followed Sakura inside and greeted Kero-chan, who hovered by the door with a worried frown, before answering. "He's in pain," she said quietly. "Has been for a long time, and so weighed down by guilt that it has made him bitter. He was also hurting physically when he left."
"Sugoi, Tomoyo-chan," Sakura said with a smile. "You ought to have been a sorceress; I don't know anyone more perceptive than you are."
"What happened?" said Kero, butting in.
Sakura told both of them as she poured more tea. Tomoyo gasped in shock when Sakura got to Severus' brutal warning. Kero-chan looked livid, and growled under his breath.
"How dare he threaten you? Why, if I had been there, I would have shown him a thing or two."
"I also discovered that he has magic, but different than anything I've seen. Do you know what he could be Kero-chan?" asked Sakura.
The Sun Guardian thought for a moment. "He could be a druid, but they always carry around a staff. Not a nekosiie, since you'd probably have noticed whether or not he had long pointed ears and a tail."
"Probably," Sakura agreed dryly, and exchanged an amused glance with Tomoyo.
"I can think of a few possibilities, but the fact that he's English makes me suspect that he's most likely a wizard."
Sakura frowned and thought back to her magic lessons. "They're the ones with wands, right? The ones who isolated themselves? I thought they'd disappeared or something."
Kero shook his head and assumed his sensei pose. "Long ago the wizards and witches isolated themselves, setting themselves apart from the non-magical world as a form of protection. The groups of magic-users respected their wishes, and over time many groups have forgotten wizards and witches ever existed. As it stands, we are little more than a vague myth to them."
"A wizard," Sakura murmured to herself. Suddenly she jumped up. "Hoeee! I forgot!" she exclaimed, and rummaged through the drawers, unable to remember exactly where she'd put the world map after she'd used it last. She snapped her fingers and disappeared into the dining room, returning in a moment with the map.
"I managed to place a tracking spell on Severus-san before he left," Sakura explained as she unfolded the paper and spread it on the table.
Kero beamed at her in pride.
She closed her eyes in concentration, then opened them, and passed her hand over the map. "Reveal to me," she said steadily, and colorful dots appeared in various countries.
There was a red dot marking Tomoeda, Japan. An orange dot drew her attention to Seattle, Washington, and yellow on Albany, New York. The last dot, green, marked the countryside in Ireland.
"Why'd he make so many stops?" asked Tomoyo curiously.
"Wizards are not so powerful as most sorcerers," Kero-chan explained. "They need to travel large distances in short hops, or it just won't work." He was distracted by Sakura, who was checking to make sure that the pouch that contained her Cards was tied securely to her belt.
"Sakura-chan, you're not thinking of doing what I think you are," he exclaimed.
She ignored him. "I'm sorry Tomoyo-chan, but I don't know what's going to happen. I don't want to put you in danger."
Tomoyo sighed sorrowfully. "I won't be able to film my kawaii Sakura-chan."
"You're not going without me," Kero told her.
Sakura shook her head. "If you come, Severus will know something's up. I want to pretend to be a witch for as long as possible." And I want to see for myself whether or not Severus is cruel, she thought to herself.
Kero nodded reluctantly. "Since you don't have a wand, you'd better stick with spells already imbued in objects. Only extremely powerful witches can use magic without wands, and then they're only mediocre spells."
Sakura nodded her thanks, mind already on the problem before her. "Syaoran-kun will feel me leaving," she warned Tomoyo.
"I will head him off," she agreed.
"I'll be back as soon as possible," Sakura said, and disappeared.
Kero and Tomoyo exchanged worried looks.
Okay, we'll just pretend I meant the Chinese New Year when I said I'd have a New Year's present for my lovely, lovely fans. Heh heh. And in case you're wondering, the next chapter of TRLT will be out after mid-winter break. So, at best, end of February, beginning of March. Ja matta.