My first update from Japan! Whoohoo! Honestly, I meant to have this out weeks ago, but… Oh well. Please enjoy.
And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Or at least that's when you lose yourself
for a minute or two.
As you stand, under the bar lights.
And the band plays some song
about forgetting yourself for a while.
And the piano's this melancholy soundtrack to her smile.
And that white dress she's wearing
you haven't seen her for a while.
-Airborne Toxic Event, "Sometime Around Midnight"
And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Syaoran – the original – wonders how it has come to this. How can things have gone to hell so quickly? Fai has lost his eye and given up the last of his magic, living only because he was turned into a vampire. Kurogane has lost an arm. The clone Sakura-hime's soul is dead, the original Sakura-hime is trapped by Fei Wang Reed, and his own clone is doing only God knows what, but he can imagine because he still dreams of the ruined worlds they followed him through.
(And he remembers the Sakura that isn't his, remembers her cold eyes and the way she turned away from him, and it hurts because he knew he was the intruder, that it wasn't him any of them wanted, knew that if he had only been a little faster, a little better, maybe he could have done something to prevent his clone from becoming what he has.)
And now they are leaving the relative safety of Nihon to seek out Fei Wang Reed. It has all come down to this. This is what the quest was all about, not about the feathers, but about Fei Wang Reed's manipulations and destructive desires. It is time to end the dream.
They land someplace familiar, someplace that feels safe to Syaoran. "Tomoeda," he whispers. It is only fair to land here, he supposes. They have already been to both Fai's and Kurogane's home worlds.
His two companions hear him, of course, and notice how pale he has grown.
"That man is here?" Kurogane demands.
Syaoran shakes his head. "No, he can't be," he says. Fei Wang won't be in the same world as Yuuko.
"Then why did the manjuu bun drop us off here again?"
They look at Mokona who shrugs in confusion. "Mokona doesn't know," it says quietly. "Yuuko chose the destination."
Syaoran looks around at half-remembered scenery. Trapped and imprisoned by Fei Wang Reed, when he hadn't been watching the journey of his clone, he had been remembering his childhood. He had only been seven when he left his home for Clow Country, so over and over again he reconstructed the faces and scenery of his home because he didn't want to forget. He didn't dare forget anything his parents had taught him. But it isn't the dim memory of his childhood that leads him to the mansion. (He had visited it only a handful of times before turning seven, after all.) It is the path the group had followed when last they were in Tomoeda, and the others recognize where he is going.
"Might as well find someone familiar, ne?" Fai says softly.
They walk in silence otherwise, recognizing the tension in their youngest member.
The group quickly reaches the mansion, and Syaoran goes through the motions automatically. He pushes the speaker button and says, "Hello?"
There is silence for a long moment, and then a female voice responds, "Who is this?"
"Li Syaoran, Fai-san, Kurogane-san, and Mokona-chan here to see Tomoyo-san," he says in monotone.
The silence is even longer at his response, and then the gates open. Syaoran's heart is in his throat. After all this time, he will see them. His family. How long has passed? What will they say now that it is him, and not his clone, that has appeared?
He stifles the urge to run ahead when he sees a woman waiting in the open doorway. (
"So," Tomoyo says softly as the group comes to a halt in front of her, taking in their changes. "It's that time at last?"
They are all taken aback by the changes in Daidouji Tomoyo. It is not that she is years older than she was last time they had landed in Tomoeda. It is that she looks older than she should be. It is the faint worry lines that linger, the old and tired sadness that resides in her amethyst eyes. Something has happened. She has suffered.
(Syaoran feels the first fission of foreboding, and he is frightened, because she should never ever look like that, he cannot imagine what can make her look like that. His mother and father would never let their closest friend suffer so.)
"How do you know?" the ninja asks suspiciously.
"I have no magic, if that is what you mean," Tomoyo says. "But I have kept in regular contact with Hiiragizawa Eriol, and he tells me things."
She turns her gaze upon Syaoran before any of them have the chance to respond, and smiles. (It is a true smile, and they can all guess at how rare it has become.) "Welcome back, Nephew," she says warmly.
His companions jerk, their eyes widening in surprise, and Mokona bounces up bursting with curiosity. "I thought you were from Clow Country," it says as Tomoyo invites them inside.
Syaoran's only answer is to shake his head. He is anxious at the conspicuous absence of people who should be here.
"Eriol-san should have been here," Tomoyo says as she leads the group to the living room. "I suspect his flight was delayed, or perhaps he was caught in traffic. In any case, once he arrives I will provide you with a car and accompany you."
"Where are we going?" Fai asked curiously.
"To see the Witch, of course," Tomoyo says, head tilted slightly to the side.
"That woman lives here?" Kurogane demands.
"Yes." Tears glimmer in her eyes for a moment before she blinks them away. "Roughly an hour by car."
"Aunt Tomoyo," Syaoran says. His voice is barely above a whisper, his fear constricting his throat. "Where are mother and father?"
There is complete silence. Fai, Kurogane, and Mokona watch the scene with sympathy.
"They are paying a price for a wish," Tomoyo says at last. She opens her arms upon seeing his stricken look, and he willingly falls into the embrace. Syaoran can't remember the last time he had been held close like this.
"Yuuko-san…?" he mumbles.
"No," Tomoyo says, meeting the regretful gazes of her nephew's traveling companions. "They fulfilled their wish themselves, but even then there is a price." She sighed and looked at each of the men in turn. They deserved to hear this, she decided.
"You remember when your clone and your companions landed here," she says, a statement rather than a question. "Your mother accidentally dreamed bits and pieces of what had brought the group here, and what would happen in your future. She chose not to look further then, preferring to live happily while she could. But she would never let her child suffer so without doing something to prevent it, and so after she married your father she dreamed your life. She saw what would happen, and she and your father did what they could to make sure your ending was happy. We all did. But we can't know whether it was all enough."
"What was the wish?" Syaoran asks while his companions digest the enormity of the news. How many people had made sacrifices to make sure they were successful? How many people were counting on them to triumph?
"I'm not sure even Eriol-san knows. It has been years since anyone has seen your parents, and they warned us that they would be gone. But you know how your mother was, Nephew. It was so very difficult for everyone to adjust to her absence," she says sadly. "Your grandfather, uncle, and I are living one day at a time."
"And Kero-chan?" he asks hesitantly.
"He and his counterpart sleep," Tomoyo says simply. "They do not have the power to do more, and this long wait for their Mistress is like an unhappy dream."
"I apologize," she says to Fai, Kurogane, and Mokona after a moment of silence. "Please forgive me for neglecting you. Will you care for some refreshment?"
"It is perfectly fine," Fai says understandingly. "It has been a long time since you have seen Syaoran-kun, has it not? His capture must have been most distressing."
There is enough time for the group to rest and eat before Eriol arrives. He greets them all, introducing himself with his trademark smile, and reacquainting himself with his somewhat-nephew, somewhat-grandson. He regards Mokona most peculiarly as they ready themselves for the car ride to Yuuko's shop. It is a mix of interest and pride, and he asks several technical questions about its function. Only Tomoyo and Syaoran know why he acts the way he does, and now is not the time for complicated explanations.
The world-traveling group is mostly silent. They are tense, preparing mentally to face a man more powerful than they, a man who has manipulated their journey from the beginning and who is remorseless in his quest.
Yuuko's shop is just as they remember it, and they are not surprised to see her waiting. She and Hiiragizawa-san exchange a long look rife with hidden meanings that none of them quite understand.
"Ready?" she asks, a long ribbon in her hand and pooling at her feet.
Kurogane grunts. "Let's go," he says.
Mokona floats into the air, wings appearing and spreading wide.
"Remember your mother's invincibility spell," Tomoyo says suddenly as one end of the impossibly long ribbon disappears into the sky. Yuuko pulls, stifling a scream of pain as lightning skates down and engulfs her.
Syaoran nods, eyes wide and worried as he witnesses Yuuko's pain. He says, just before they are sucked into Mokona's mouth, "Everything will definitely be all right."