A tall woman slides open the classroom door, blinking down with a surprised smile at the young boys milling about the entrance.
There's a sternness that all teachers seem to develop in the crease of her brows, but a knowing smile graces her lips. She announces, "Homeroom is starting!"
A chorus of "Good morning!" rings about the classroom as students scramble quickly to their seats.
There is a young boy, loose waves falling down to his chin, already standing patiently at his desk. He beams when the teacher meets his eyes. The teacher laughs softly, pink dusting lightly across her cheeks.
"Hoe?" Sakura blinks at the exchange with much confusion, and spends all of roll call musing.
"Today, a new foreign exchange student will be joining us," the teacher announces. Immediately the class breaks out in animated speculation.
To Sakura's right, a boy with inky hair that's neatly trimmed leans over to say, "A foreign exchange student at this time of year? That's unexpected."
"Mm." Sakura nods absentmindedly. "I wonder what kind of person they are."
"Settle down class." Quickly, silence spreads across the room, but the students are still fidgeting noticeably with lively energy.
"Alright then, come in," the teacher calls to the door.
And in walks a girl with large, bright eyes and short, messy hair. Down her back a long, chestnut braid trails to her knees, corded so tightly that it looks like a tail.
Excited whispers bursts throughout the room. "She's so cute!" some gush, others, "Is it real? Her hair's so long!" or "She's not a boy!"
The new girl sweeps her gaze across the sea of chattering students, eyes narrowing to focus on the seat by the window at the back of the class.
Sakura tugs uneasily at the collar of the uniform's black turtleneck. "Ho... hoe?" Is the girl looking this way?
"This is Li Syaoran from Hong Kong," Terada-sensei announces after she writes the characters of the girl's name neatly on the board.
Tomohiyo leans over again, a finger tapping thoughtfully at his cheek. "Sakura-kun, isn't she looking this way?"
"U-un." Sakura scratches his neck, absolutely clueless.
Terada-sensei places one arm around the girl's shoulder and says, "Everyone, be nice to her."
Chimes of agreement and much enthusiasm greet the teacher's request.
"Now, your seat..." Terada-sensei scans the class quickly. "Behind Kinomoto is good; there's an empty seat." She points to the furthest corner of the room.
"Eh?" Sakura sits up straighter, alarm in his widened eyes when the girl stops right in front of his desk.
She glares at him meaningfully.
Sakura tries to smile welcomingly. Really, he does, but all that comes bubbling out is nervous laughter.
"Your seat is here," Tomohiyo interrupts the terse moment. "The locker behind you is for your hat and coat."
Syaoran spares Tomohiyo a brief glance and just as quickly dismisses him. She moves to her desk, pulls off her hat, her gloves, her coat. She doesn't place them inside a locker, instead lets them drape over the bag she hooks onto the table.
Sakura doesn't dare turn around to offer a greeting like he'd usually do. He doesn't dare to relax the slightest bit, because there's something strange about this girl. He sits, back ramrod straight with his eyes glued to the kind old teacher at the front, tense and agitated and counting down to the bell as his mind races.
What did I do?
The new girl has been glaring daggers into the back of his head all morning. All morning.
Sakura attempts to focus on the teacher's words, on Kanji and lefts and rights. He tries and fails. Why? Today is the first time I've met her. Sakura cringes and draws his shoulders up defensively, because the intensity of the stare seemed to be strengthening with each passing minute. Why? WHY?
"Well, that's it for today!" The Japanese teacher closes the book in a snap and Sakura heaves a huge sigh of relief.
Until a hand descends onto his shoulder, touch heavy and warm even through the many layers of winter uniform. He almost jumps right out of his seat, but there's no way to hide the involuntary shudder that crawls down his spine.
"Wait," the new girl says. Her voice is quiet and soft, steady and firm.
It feels like a noose tightening around his neck.
"Uum." Sakura fidgets noticeably with his tie. "What did you―"
Syaoran ignores him and pulls out something not unlike a game board. (Something that surely couldn't have been hidden underneath her school dress!) Eyes closing and brows furrowing in concentration, Syaoran begins reciting.
Her actions make Sakura apprehensive, and he watches with rising trepidation when unnatural light domes over the spinning compass. Wind tugs violently at her hair, her dress, sends her tie flying and the collar of her uniform fluttering into the air.
Game boards shouldn't do that, Sakura thinks when a laser of glowing light shoots out and slams right into his chest. A startled cry escapes his lips. It doesn't hurt, but it's not exactly a pleasant sensation.
"Clow Cards." The girl jumps back and jerks the board to the side. Abruptly the beam blinks out and the wind dies down. Spiraling leaves drift slowly back to the ground. "You have them."
"This Rashinban was made to locate the Clow Cards." She holds out her free hand, a fierce glare marring her pretty face as she demands, "Give them to me!"
Syaoran's brow twitches, and she's giving him this look that expresses just how dim she thinks he is. "The Clow Cards!"
Sakura huffs. "I can't! I made a promise to Kero! " He folds his arms resolutely. "I have to collect the cards!"
"Kero...?" She assesses him carefully. "Cerberus, the Guardian Beast?"
"You know him?"
Syaoran crosses her arms. "Why would Cerberus give the cards to a child?"
"Kero doesn't have enough magical power to transform. That's why..." Sakura frowns down at his shoes.
"Cerberus is the symbol of the sun, but he needs the fire and the earth cards," Syaoran explains. She slants him a narrow-eyed look. "Which you don't have."
Sakura drops his head and nods weakly.
"How long have you been looking?"
"A-April this year?"
"You haven't been able to find them in nine months?"
Sakura stumbles into the fence. Low blow, he winces. But, "And how do you know about the Clow Cards?" he demands defensively.
Syaoran turns up her nose. "You're not related." It's none of your business, she means. "I'll look for the rest." In a blink, she's covered the three wide steps between them and is reaching for necklace dangling down Sakura's collar. "Give them to me."
"I can't!" Sakura grabs her wrist and backs away. Scowling, the girl grabs Sakura's shirt with her other hand.
"H-hey, you can't just―"
"Sakura-kun?" They both glance up to see Tomohiyo heading towards them, a curious expression on his face. Saved! Sakura cheers with great relief.
Then Syaoran cries out in alarm when a hand grabs her by the scruff of her dress and lifts her off her feet. Surprise has her releasing her grip on the tiny key underneath the shirt.
Syaoran glares over her shoulder at an insanely tall girl wearing a light blue blazer.
"What do you think you're doing to my little brother?"
"Onee-chan!" Sakura exclaims with exasperation.
Tomohiyo runs quickly to his side. "All right there, Sakura-kun?"
"Mm." But he was distracted, watching as the girl twisted her body around to aim a spinning kick at his sister's head.
His sister blocks easily with her arm. The new girl flips away and lands in a low battle stance.
"―out..." Sakura trails off.
"Gaki," Touya spits, readying her fists.
Sakura blinks away the daze and hurriedly jumps between the two. "O-oi, there's no need to―"
"I've got pork buns!" Someone yells cheerfully from the other side of the school fence. Long, long dusty-colored hair trails after her like a curtain as she speeds towards them, arm waving enthusiastically in the air while the other clutches a large paper bag to her chest. She scales the fence in three breezy steps.
"Yukiko-san!" Sakura exclaims happily, momentarily forgetting the animosity flying over his head.
"I've got pork buns and pizza buns and curry buns―!" Yukiko skids to a stop and beams sunnily. "Would everyone like some? I have five! Let's see..." She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose, opens her eyes and headcounts: "One, two, three, four..." Her gaze drifts over towards the still-glaring girl. "Five! Perfect."
Yukiko walks right on over to Syaoran and crouches down just a bit. "Here you go." She offers a round ball of white that's still steaming with heat. "A pork bun!"
For a second, or maybe ten, Syaoran stares blankly at the proffered bun. For the next four, her cheeks glow an alarmingly bright red. Then, there's a cloud of dust drifting up into the air right where she stands.
And Syaoran is gone.
Sakura stares at the empty space, most bewildered. "Hoeee?"