Rating: PG-13 for a bit of language
Warnings: Gratuitous hoof-shots and innuendo galore...
Summary: AU; loosely based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. When lord Touya seeks the Queen's counsel to forbid his sister to wed her childhood love, he isn't prepared for the interference wrought by two disgraced fairies to thwart his plans. Which is probably just as well; it's not as if they have any idea in heaven or hell what to do with these foolish mortals.
Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V; Scene i
Watanuki arrived at a massive oak tree some minutes behind Kohane, panting and sweating from the effort of keeping up with the spritely girl (with the giant centaur on her shoulders). He gaped at her in amazement; how in the world had she managed…with that gigantic…useless…lug… He collapsed against the side of the tree, holding his sides and gasping for breath.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Kohane squeaked, and crouched to get a better look at his face, "I went too fast, didn't I?"
"No, no," Watanuki coughed, "It's fine. I'm…fine…"
"He's fine," Doumeki agreed.
"No one asked you, you lump of-"
"Kohane, is that you?" Watanuki had some difficulty ascertaining precisely where this voice was calling from. It sounded for all the world as if it were coming from inside the tree itself, and so he was only moderately surprised when the great, rounded scar at the front of the tree swung open to reveal a remarkably small lady, bent and withered with age and leaning heavily against a walking stick. "Oh my," she said, clucking her tongue at the sight of Doumeki, still hefted against Kohane's shoulders, and Watanuki panting for breath. "Well, it seems you've found them, at least," she waved behind her, inside the tree, "Better bring them inside then; looks like things have gotten a bit complicated."
Watanuki followed the old woman and Kohane through the doorway into a surprisingly spacious living area. He checked quickly back over his shoulder – he was fairly certain that the tree hadn't looked this big from the outside… No, this was definitely some sort of magic at work here, though it was stronger than the sorts he was used to seeing around the palace. Kind of a wood sprite, indeed. He followed closely on her heels, through a long hallway and into a side room, where she settled Doumeki carefully in a corner to take a closer look at his injured foot.
"You're welcome to use this room as well," the old woman said as she joined them, carrying a large wicker basket full of salves and bandages, "I apologize for not being able to offer more, but it's normally only Kohane and myself here."
"No, no!" Watanuki spread his hands in front of him, waggling his fingers apologetically, "T-thank you so much. I don't know what we would have done if Kohane hadn't come along."
"Oh, don't you worry about a thing, dear," she assured him with a smile, brushing past as she made her way toward Doumeki's sprawl in the corner, "Yuuko did let us know you'd be by, after all. But, there's always room for surprises." She settled herself down on the floor and plucked a jar from the basket, taking the hoof lightly into her hand. "Let's see now," she mumbled to herself, "This does not look good…" She clucked her tongue worriedly as she pressed around the swelling, finally shaking her head with a disapproving sigh and turning back to Kohane. "Dear, will you take Watanuki out into the den while I take care of this? There's a package there that I pulled out earlier this morning."
"Of course, Grandmother," Kohane said softly and grasped Watanuki's hand to lead him from the room. He followed, still not certain what to make of this entire situation. Knowing Yuuko, this package was probably some sort of rare wine that she'd remembered was here after she'd already sent them away. Or worse, some sort of ingredient for her potions master to try out once they returned…
He was surprised, then, when she lead him into a small room filled with shelves and stacks overflowing with books and plucked the most inconspicuous one amongst them – a small, dirty rag of a thing – from a table to hand him. He stared at the ratty leather cover and for a long moment, uncertain if he was meant to open it, or simply deliver it. His eyes flicked back to Kohane-
She was smiling at him expectantly.
"Um," he tripped over his own tongue, "Should I…?"
"Of course you should," she answered before he could find the words to form the question, "That is what books are for, after all."
"Uh," he stammered, fanning the pages with his thumb, "Alright." Something in this room was making his stomach queasy, he decided, and stalked back toward the doorway. "Is it alright if I…?"
"Oh," Kohane said, stepping quickly back out of his way, "Of course. There's the main room, or you can go back to the guest room if you'd like."
Watanuki considered this – one on hand, he really would like to know that the big lug was alright, or at least mendable… On the other, he was beginning to feel like the queasiness wasn't so much related to anything in this room, so much as it was whatever the book in his hand contained. This was especially troublesome, as it didn't appear to be anything more than a simple book – nothing at all like the books of spells and curses he had flitted through in the royal libraries. "I'll…" he stared down at the yellowing pages, "I'll stay out in the main room, if that's alright."
"Of course," she nodded and motioned down the hallway, "I'll prepare you something for dinner. We don't have much, but it seems you've had a long day and could use a warm meal." She directed him to a large, overstuffed chair beneath a window he was quite certain hadn't had a counterpart on the outside of the tree and left him for the kitchen.
He settled in and flipped open the cover to stare at the first page.
The Very Secret Diary of Kimihiro Li
It was an innocuous enough title, he supposed, and it really shouldn't have been conjuring the pants-wetting terror he felt deep within his being… And it probably wouldn't have, had it not been written in his own handwriting. He swallowed harshly and flipped the page over. Rather than launching into a description of the day's events or an angst filled rage, as most diaries were wont to do, there was a harshly scribbled note across the page.
Goddamn it Eriol, this MEANS YOU. STAY OUT OF MY THINGS. If I find out you have been reading this to dig up more material to tell the girls at court about me I swear I will kick you so hard your testicles will be lodged inside your brain so deep not even the surgeons can find them. I am not your laughing boy! I will bring down a reign of terror upon your head! I'M SERIOUS. TURN BACK NOW OR BE CURSED FOR ALL ETERNITY.
…What a spazz. (And why, why, WHY were there pink centaurs scribbled in the margins?) The following pages were more of the same – the inane rambling and ranting of a teenager tormented by his older brother padded by scribbled recipes for sweets and knitting patterns. It wasn't terribly interesting (although the entry – scribbled in all capital letters – about the incident involving a hamster, watermelon, and garden fountain really had been quite funny), and certainly didn't seem like the kind of thing Yuuko would find important for him to read, so he flipped ahead to the end pages.
June 26, Clow 129
Stiches knit: 0
Days without a girlfriend: 6,661
Squirrels(?) fought: 16
Days since Eriol's disappearance: 895
Returned to Outo after three days spent camping in the damned woods. Fleas in unmentionable places. Still no sign of Eriol, and no one in this godforsaken pit of a town seems to know anything about him either. Managed to find work washing dishes at the local inn – will head back out into Cephiro Forest in a few days time, but really need money for supplies this time. Can't take the risk that I'll be lost for days again – who knows what other parasites lurk in the forest's depths? Also – must find some better way of fending off the local squirrels (at least, I think they were squirrels – they had awfully sharp teeth… Note to self: ask someone about this).
Lots of love,
He balked at this, feeling that it was all horribly familiar…
But, no – this was just a strange book written by someone – some whiny, spazzy, idiot – who happened to have handwriting that was remarkably similar to his own! It probably happened all the time…right?
He flipped to the middle pages, intrigued despite himself and needing to know just what had sent the author off on a journey to find the brother – he was very sure it was a brother, though he wasn't sure why – he had spent so much time railing against in the beginning pages. The middle pages didn't contain much information about that, but the recipes and patterns which had interrupted the whining in the earlier pages were now replaced with intricately scrawled maps, all drawn free-hand with wavering lines connecting crossed-off city names. Probably cities he'd been to; there were several others, much further to the south than the last pages indicated he'd traveled, that had been starred and circled. Watanuki traced his fingers over the pathways, starting from…way out west in Clow? What a ridiculous journey to make…this had better be good… He flipped back a few pages, to just before the maps began making an appearance.
December 22, Clow 126
Stiches knit: 362
Days without a girlfriend: 6,110
Humiliations suffered at the hands of my brother: billions and billions
He's ruined the Winter Solstice again! Every year it's the same…he ends up surrounded by an adoring gaggle of our cousins and I end up sitting alone in the corner darning the holes they've all worked into their socks hauling out the Yule log. It was MY turn to tell stories around the fire this year, dammit. And of course he has to ruin it with his "Kimihiro's best story is a dissertation on how to more effectively dust his rooms." Jerk. And then he tells them all the same story he's been telling since we were small about great, great, great grandfather Clow Reed and the fairy lady. Silly romantic drivel. It seems to have gotten more graphic lately too – I don't remember hearing anything about just how *wide* her wingspan was when I was younger. Oh! And he's now tacked on some stupid ending about Clow being reborn after 100 years and setting off to find his true love once again. Why are they all so entertained by this? What's wrong with dusting?
Lots of Love,
Good gods this guy had issues, though he had to admit he was hard pressed to find anything wrong with dusting. He sighed and flipped a few more pages back toward the maps.
January 20, Clow 127
Stitches knit: 689
Days without a girlfriend: 6,139
Days since Eriol disappeared: 5
No one in this household wants to listen to a damned word I try to tell them. Mother and Father are convinced that Eriol was carried off by bandits in the middle of the night and there seems to be little that I can do to convince them otherwise. Syaoran is under lock and key (as he's now the only one of us with an apparent chance of passing on the family name) and I…I don't know what to do.
I took the books and journals I found in Eriol's room to Mother, but she dismissed them as rubbish. Am I the only one who recognizes exactly how sick my brother is? He not only tells that stupid story about Clow Reed and the fairy lady at every opportunity, he actually believes it to be true! I always knew there was something off about him (the obsession with shoujo manga was a big tip off), but I never thought he would be delusional enough to think he was the reincarnation of our ancestor… I really think he's gone off in search of this fairy woman. He's somewhere in the wilderness, crazy and alone and probably reading more shoujo manga to feed his delusions.
I can't let him be alone. I can't let him just disappear like this. He's my brother, no matter how many reptile eggs he's put in my breakfast cereal or rodents he's put in my trousers. I'll start preparations tomorrow to search for him. He can't have gotten that far.
Lots of Love,
Clow. He knew that name. He hated that name…
"You always do pick the finest pets. Looks a lot like Clow, doesn't he?"
That red haired fairy they'd met in the glade had said that, hadn't she?
He swallowed thickly against the churning of his stomach and turned the page again, not caring where he landed, so long as it wasn't this. The last of his warmth left him as the repeated scrawls on the page registered in his brain, a progressive neatness to their form, as if they were being practiced over and over again to cement them into familiarity:
Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki Watanuki
He slammed the book closed and dropped it to the floor like a poisonous thing. What in the hell was this? What was Yuuko playing at, wanting him to read something like this? Moreover, why was he in such denial? He knew goddamned well that-
"Everything alright in here?" Kohane's head peeked around an archway, face falling at the sight of him. Whatever she had held in her hands dropped to the floor with a loud clatter as she darted around the corner to him, stopping to pick the book up from the floor before clasping his hands. "What's wrong?" she pleaded.
"I…" he staggered to his feet again, taking the book back and clutching it tightly against his chest, "Nothing. I'm…going to go read this in the other room for awhile, if that's alright."
"Of course," she said, not letting go his hands just yet, "I'll bring you some dinner in awhile, please make yourself comfortable-"
"That's alright," he said without thinking, "I mean, thank you very much, but I'm not hungry. I'm sure that busted up fool would like something though…"
He shook himself free of her and made his way, slowly and shakily, back to the guest room. The grandmother was still seated on the floor before Doumeki, winding a long bandage around the swelling of his ankle and chastising him for being so reckless as Watanuki collapsed wordlessly onto the bed, eyes still fixed on the journal. She regarded him with sad eyes for a moment before tying the bandages off and rising to her feet. "Is there anything I can do for you, dear?"
"No," he shook his head and sank back into the mattress, "Thank you." He needed to…he didn't know. He needed to read more of this. He didn't want to read more of this. He could really use a nap…
"Yuuko had hoped that your memories would come back on their own, before that journal found its way back to you. She was afraid it would be too much for you to handle," she smiled kindly down at him and bushed a lock of hair from his face, "But it seems that will not be the way."
Watanuki swallowed again, "So then…these are...this is…"
"That is the journal we found we with you, nearly three years ago. Yuuko asked me to keep it here in my library, as she does most of her precious texts. She sent word this morning that it was time you had it back, my dear boy."
"I-" his face fell. So this was it – the restoration of his memories. It was far from what he had hoped; he didn't feel any connection to what was in this book – it was all just a story… How was he supposed to believe…? "Thank you. Again," he said at long last, "I'd like to read the rest, if that's alright."
She smiled and nodded, then turned to join Kohane in the kitchen.
"Hold still, just one more pin."
Sakura held back a sigh, which would have expanded her ribcage more than the millimeter necessary for Tomoyo's large, thick and above all else unforgiving pins to bridge the gap into her flesh. She frowned instead, and twisted her neck as far as she could without moving the rest of her torso toward the night-gown-clad princess squatting to her side. Tomoyo was lost in her own world for the moment, eyes narrowed with focus and lips pinched tightly around her excess pins; Sakura didn't have the heart to interrupt her while she was working like this and waited until the last of the pins had been set. "You really don't need to go to so much trouble," she murmured and tried to smile.
"Don't be silly," Tomoyo climbed back to her feet in a hurry to tug against all the adjustments she had just made in the white satin, ensuring each one held in place until she could finalize her stitches, "What else would I be doing at one in the morning?"
"Oh," Sakura considered this, "Right. It's just…"
Tomoyo paused in her fussing and turned Sakura around to face her. "What's wrong?" she frowned deeply on seeing her friend's face.
"Oh Tomoyo," Sakura half-sobbed (the bodice of the dress was holding in her far too tight for the unrestrained upheaval that was threatening her with every breath she took), "I don't think I can do this."
Tomoyo smiled and wiped a tear away from Sakura's eye, "Do what? Stand here for another hour? Because I can make it two if that's better…"
Sakura laughed half-heartedly, "I'll go for three if I don't have to get married."
"Where is this coming from?" Tomoyo frowned and hurriedly began gathering the restrictive material from around her friend, "You were ready to run away a week ago. Did something happen?"
"No," Sakura was only too happy to be able to breathe freely once again, "I just…" she trailed off as tears started falling in earnest.
"It's alright," Tomoyo soothed, dabbing at Sakura's eyes with a handkerchief, "No one is forcing you to get married. In fact, I know of at least one person who would probably be a whole lot happier if you didn't. But you were so happy with Syaoran – what went wrong."
"Nothing went wrong!" Sakura insisted, and stomped away from the dressing station to stare out the window, "I love Syaoran, I really do, but this is all so…so…wrong!"
Tomoyo laid a hand on her shoulder, "What's wrong about it? Are you sure the boys' talk at lunch about cucumbers and curry didn't upset you too much? You know Eriol just stole the lunch menu before he started all of that…"
"I know," Sakura shook her head, "That's not what I meant. I mean…my brother…I haven't seen him in days. I have no idea how he feels about all of this – your sister just decided to go ahead and arrange a triple wedding for all of us. He could hate me and I'd never know…"
"Sakura," Tomoyo said sternly, "Your brother could never-"
"And Syaoran's brother returned – they should be…doing whatever brothers do. He hasn't even informed his parents yet! And his parents are coming! I have to meet his parents! And the women down by the docks!"
Tomoyo had been following along dutifully until this point, nodding her head and rubbing Sakura's shoulder in a manner she desperately hoped was soothing, but this last was…unexpected. "…what docks?"
"The ones where the women of questionable morals work!" Sakura rounded on her with wide eyes, "I heard Eriol promise Yamazaki that they would eat Syaoran alive. You have cannibals in your kingdom and they're going to eat Syaoran!"
"Sakura, that doesn't even make any sense. Why would his brother-"
"I don't know!" Sakura shrieked and pulled at her hair.
Tomoyo backed away very slowly, lest she upset Sakura any further. The poor girl's chest was already heaving and her eyes seemed well on their way to bursting out of their sockets. "Why don't you sit down for a moment," she instructed, "And I'll be right back with something to make you feel better."
Sakura nodded in defeat and flopped into an overstuffed armchair to await Tomoyo's return. She didn't have to wait long; Tomoyo returned after only a few minutes carrying an armload of red and deep mauve satins. Sakura frowned at this – this was supposed to make her feel better? "What are those for?" she croaked and straightened slightly in her chair.
"For your dress!" Tomoyo smiled broadly and pushed the fabric toward her.
Sakura had to laugh at this. "Red? My brother would kill me…"
"Well, he would if it were for a wedding dress," Tomoyo agreed.
"If it were for a…" Sakura paused, her eyes tracing Tomoyo's face to find her meaning, "It isn't?"
"Sakura," Tomoyo took her hand gently, "You love Syaoran very much, right?"
"And you want to marry him someday."
"But not on Saturday."
Sakura paused, but shook her head in agreement.
"So don't," Tomoyo's voice was gentle but firm, "A wedding isn't something you should be unhappy over. You came here to get permission – there's no need to dive right in straight away. Take your time, get the things in order with your brother and with Syaoran's brother that you need to, and then get married."
"But everyone here has already gone to so much trouble…"
"Nonsense," Tomoyo laughed, "My sister would have had them jumping this high and this fast even if you and your brother hadn't been celebrating with her."
Sakura was silent for a long moment. "You're right," she said at last, and smiled for the first time all evening, "I'll talk to Syaoran later, but you're right." Her face froze as an unpleasant thought crossed her mind, "Do you think he'll…be angry?"
Tomoyo bit at her lip, "I can't say for sure, though if he is you probably shouldn't marry him anyway…" She smiled then and helped Sakura to her feet, "You know, with a little luck, his brother and Yamazaki have scared him away from the idea entirely." Sakura didn't know if that option was any better, but held her tongue as she was led back over to Tomoyo's dressing station. "Now," Tomoyo continued, "If you can stand still a little longer, I should only need a few hours to design a new dress for you."
"Hol' still, you leafy 'sterd." It was really difficult to grasp how the damned bush kept…moving like that, but then again, it was very difficult to grab anything at the moment when the world kept slipping up down and sideways every time he moved his head. All he was doing – all he wanted to do – was water…watering….water the goddamned bush! It should be thankful, the little shit. It wasn't like anyone ever gave him free drinks. Oh no. He had to pay – which was getting more difficult by the day because…because…money!
He really hated this bush. It had this annoying habit of sitting there, day after day, being all…bushy and acting like it didn't have a care in the world. If the stairs back to his home weren't so damned uncooperative at this time of night, he wouldn't even bother using it as a toilet…much less a conversational partner. It really wasn't good at keeping up its end of things, and he gave it a good kick as he finished up. "Stupid bush."
The bush did not, however, take kindly to this kind of abuse, and brought its bastard, bushy fist whanging down on the back of his skull, sending his hooves flying out from under him. "Dumbass."
"You can talk!" he bellowed from the bed of grass he had fallen onto. "I knew it! You just don't…" he sobbed from the ground, "You just don't like me!"
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
He opened his eyes again, feeling that a conversation like this definitely deserved some eye contact. Now, if only he could make his eyes stay both still and open for long enough…
"Good gods you stink like whiskey. How much have you had?" The bush's hoof tapped at his head. (Wait…that wasn't right. Bushes had roots, not hooves – the bush's root tapped at his head.) "Hah?"
"You oughta know, I pissed most a' it back on you…"
That was most assuredly a hoof tapping at the back of his head, but he didn't quite know how the bush had gotten it. Come to think of it, he didn't know how the bush had gotten on that side of him…he was almost positive that it had been the other way… He finally managed to make his eyes hold still long enough to ascertain that yes, the world was still spinning wildly out of control, but no, that certainly wasn't a bush behind him. It was a faun…a big, black faun with messy hair and long curly horns and really, really, really angry eyes. He snickered to himself, "Kurrrrro-tse, is that you?"
"Who else would it be, you idiot?"
"But you're all…" he bit down on his uncooperative tongue and tapped vaguely in the direction of his head, "Pointy. And fuzzy," he added, running his fingers through the thick black locks around the hooves. Oh gods that was luxurious; he splayed his fingers out and worked his palm into the action. "So silky…"
"Tche," Kuro-rinta seemed very put off by this, "So are you, damned troublesome faun. What the hell were you thinking? Disappearing like that without a word. Do you have any idea what I had to go through to find your ass?"
"Kuro-sama," Fay whined and curled into a ball, "'m very sleepy. C'n we talk 'bout it in the morning?"
"Who says I'll be here that long?"
"Why wouldn' you," Fay started, then fell silent. Oh yes. That. Right. That little thing that he'd spent the better part of the evening drinking away (and had been stunningly successful in doing so). That thing where he was a faun and Kurogane was a fairy and hated him. Except that Kurogane wasn't a fairy. Which…what the hell. This made less sense than the goddamned bush. "Okay," he said dumbly. There was a long, exaggerate exhalation from somewhere overhead, and then the world shifted once again as his body was lifted, folded, and somehow brought face to face with a black, hairy behind.
"You're a dumbass."
This bed was amazingly comfortable; the sheets were silk and the mattress stuffed with the softest down Syaoran had ever laid on. The summer curtains that hung from its posts were sheer and, he suspected, served no real purpose at the moment other than to filter the light streaming in from the window into pleasingly dreamy patterns that floated across the blankets (at least, this was why he had drawn them – he didn't expect any real degree of modesty when he was sharing a room with his brother, who was a likely as not to throw them aside without a second thought in his on-going quest to ensure the his brother began his day with both a warm breakfast and jolt of shame). All of this, however, was not helping him sleep.
He wasn't sure how long he had been lying here, but the moon had tracked a fairly sizeable path across his window and Eriol had moved into his second dream-speaking bout of the night (at least, Syaoran hoped it was his second – if the shouts of "a bit to the left" and "beware the sausage-slinging trebuchet" were somehow related, he really didn't want to know). He was exhausted after a long day of planning, taunting, teasing, and planning some more; his eyes burned and his limbs ached, but unconsciousness was something he had apparently not suffered enough to earn throughout his day of torment.
Torment may not have been the best description. Teasing, yes; goading, yes; gonad-shriveling, fear-induced performance anxiety, definitely…but torment was something he had been heaping on himself. The sudden announcement of his marriage had left him with at least two years less preparation time than he had originally assumed; this alone would have been bad enough, but their little adventure in the forest had left Sakura troubled and himself with his own troubling affinity toward her brother's fiancé's glorious posterior. Neither of these were problems he felt equal to conquering, at the moment. He and Sakura had never had so much as a mild tiff before this began; how was he supposed to know how to deal with this? And attraction to another…well, how was he supposed to forgive himself or even excuse that?
He dragged himself out from the comfort of the bed and stole quietly into the hallway. Perhaps he would get lucky and a kitchen servant might still be awake at whatever hour this was to help him to an herbal remedy, splash of warm milk, or even just a large glass of wine. He could hope, at least.
He crept carefully down the darkened hallway, toward the servants' staircase that would lead him directly down into the kitchens, and pressed his ear against the door before opening it. There was chatter coming from the other side, which he interpreted as a good sign, and headed down to greet its makers.
He hadn't expected to find Sakura seated at the small table the cooks used for kneading dough, swinging her scandalously bare ankles from beneath her scandalously loose nightgown in full view of the chittering head maid.
He considered, briefly, rushing back up the rickety staircase, or diving headlong back into broom closet below (which probably had a latch inside that he could grip to refuse entry to anyone and thereby retain his dignity…at least until they knocked the hinges loose), but in the end decided to stand there, frozen in place and gaping, as Sakura scuttled her knees up under her skirts and squealed at the intrusion. "I'm…I'm sorry," he finally managed, once his brain had regained mastery of his tongue, "I didn't think…didn't think anyone would be here…" He ruffled a hand through his hair nervously and eyed the staircase again. "I'll, uh, head back to be-"
"Now, now," the maid smiled – surprisingly kindly, for the faux pas he had just made – at him, "You couldn't have known better. Why don't you pull up a stool and let Granny find you something warm to drink. I think the two of you have many things to discuss before sleeping."
"Huh?" Syaoran replied dumbly. What did she mean by that? Something warm to drink sounded nice, though, and he allowed himself to be shuffled over to the same table and sat down to wait as the old woman clattered about the cupboards and set a kettle to boil. They sat in awkward silence for a long moment, swinging their feet and ignoring each one another to the best of their abilities.
The maid returned to the table in short order and left Syaoran with a steaming mug of mulled wine and sharp thwack to the head. "Get it all out now, dearies. I'm off to bed."
Syaoran watched as she waddled toward the door, her skirts sweeping up the forgotten bits of dinner as she moved, and wondered just what he was meant to say now. After a few false starts and raised eyelids from Sakura, he finally managed, "This is all wrong, isn't it?"
He'd expected, with the way she'd been acting for the past few days, tears, or shouting or outright accusing…he hadn't expected the laughter he was receiving now, hollow though it sounded to his ears. On closer inspection, she was crying, just not the bitter tears of rejections. "I'm sorry, I don't know… Are you alright?"
"I'm terrified," she cut him off and gripped his hands, "It's alright, Syaoran. I feel the same way. I love you so much, but it's all wrong and I…" she trailed off and looked very eagerly at every point in the room that was not his eyes, "I don't want to get married – right now."
Syaoran swallowed thickly. That stung, even though she had been careful to emphasize "right now." Still, even with the smarting of her confession, he felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. She was obviously feeling exactly as he had felt earlier – rushed, tormented, hell, she even said she was terrified…
"It's just," she coughed out a chuckle as he leaned forward to wipe away a tear, "I thought we would have a year or so to prepare. And with your brother showing up and all this mess in the woods… We've never even kissed…"
Syaoran sighed. He was more than averagely aware of that fact. Even now, just the thought of it made his stomach twist up in anxiety. If he couldn't even manage a kiss…
No. He'd steeled up his resolve to even talk to her tonight; he couldn't continue to be a coward like this and still expect her to marry him – even years down the road. Now was his chance to prove once and for all that he was a man and that he wasn't cowed by the sight of her ankles! With a shaky breath, he leaned forward and puckered his lips.
"What are you…?" Sakura stared at him, "You want to…?" She blinked rapidly as he closed in, as if the rest of her body had forgotten how to move. He sucked in a quick breath through his nose, shaking this away, and dived in for the kill.
It was quick – nothing more than a rapid mashing of tightly puckered lips with an obnoxious popping noise toward the end. But it was, and that was what was important. For the second time that night, a huge weight seemed to leave his shoulders and Syaoran grinned like a madman. Sakura was gently rubbing at her lips, her eyes still fixed on him in shock. She seemed pleased though, and that could only be a good th-
She was on him so fast that he didn't even have time to be properly surprised by it. Unfortunately, that also meant that he had no time to readjust his balance, and the both of them went toppling from his stool and fell beneath the table, lips locked and tongues thrashing the entire while. He didn't even mind when his head collided with the table post – this was everything he had dreamed it would be and more. It was still awkward as hell, sure, and their teeth clacked together with far more frequency that he had really liked, but the hands in his hair and the lust in his belly and the brand new, very real intimacy of it all was…was…
"I love you," he mouthed against her lips and loosened the tie in her hair.
"And I love you," she smiled. God, she was beautiful when she blushed like that. He was grateful the old woman had left them alone, now, as they (finally) explored each other in the relative privacy the drooping table-cloth afforded them. Sakura tasted of mulled wine and home, and Syaoran had never been happier.
At least until the cooks found them there the following morning, but then, even the celebratory pancakes were delicious.