Yue stroked his wings strongly, climbing toward the moon that was his namesake. The cool night slipped through his hair and feathers, a living thing in its own right, causing him to sigh softly in satisfaction. Luminous violet eyes stared unblinking at the shining orb toward which they strove.
Ah, you are once more at the peak of your prowess, old friend. As am I. I wonder what a new year will bring to the both of us? Another year of peace and happiness for my Mistress and family, I hope. The Moon Guardian did not smile, but his normally stern features were soft and open under the late September moonlight.
Abruptly, that rare look disappeared, shadowed as the graceful angel-like being flared his wings up sharply to either side of him, both stopping his upward climb and reversing his direction. Narrowed eyes scanned the skies beneath them with a curious combination of impartiality and keen concentration.
The moon, at its fullest this night of the year, cast its silver light over the world, revealing a fluttering form in the distance. Too far away to tell its precise size, Yue could nevertheless make out a rough man-shape and what could be a pair of dark wings. In spite of its slightly meandering path, there was no question that the form was a live creature and not a falling object. For one, it was approaching Yue's location more or less steadily and counter to the wind current. Secondly, it was giving off a strong, and distinctly familiar, aura of magic.
Yue relaxed -- slightly. He spread his wings in a hovering position and allowed his body to hang vertically in mid-air as he waited for his nocturnal visitor to make its way toward him. He crossed his arms as it approached and resolved itself into what looked like a pale-skinned young woman with long reddish hair tied up in two buns on either side of her head and a pair of tremendous red-patterned black butterfly wings. She smiled impishly at the Moon Guardian of the Sakura Cards.
"Long time no see."
Yue's expression did not change. "Ruby Moon."
She fluttered to a stop and mirrored his expression, hanging in mid-air with arms crossed, though hers was more a parody of his pose than a serious imitation. "Well?" she said.
"Aren't you going to ask me why I'm here and not across the ocean in England?"
Yue raised one elegantly long eyebrow. "Would it prevent you from telling me if I did not?"
Ruby Moon pouted. "You're no fun." Then she shrugged and smiled brightly. "I was sent to find you and give you a message from Eriol, but since you're being so difficult -- I won't."
"Very well. Good-night." And Yue turned to go, folding his wings for a swift stoop away from this irritating nuisance.
"Wait a minute!"
Yue swooped out of the beginnings of his dive, an expression of mild impatience covering his delicate features. "Yes?" he said with forced politeness.
"I've got something personal to tell you too."
Ruby drifted closer and put her face within half a meter of Yue's own.
"I think you're hot!"
~ \ \ o o o / / ~
"I still don't understand..." Sakura said, her voice full of doubt. She tapped the back of her star eraser-tipped pencil against her notebook. "Why can't I just move the x over to this side and make it equal to zero, then--"
"I just explained that you can't do that, kaijuu!"
Sakura pouted. She wished she had taken up Syaoran's offer to go over the math homework with her. But she had wanted to try it first by herself, and when her stupid brother had come along and seen her struggling over it, he'd oh-so-kindly stopped in to help. Now they were both just frustrated, and with Otousan out on an overnight dig, there was no one else to lend a hand.
I wish Yukito-san were here, she thought to herself. Even though she loved being in junior high, the down side of it was that with the constant pressure of the approaching high school entrance exams, homework problems were inevitably more difficult, and she often had to rely on the help of friends or Yukito-san's tutoring to get by -- especially in her worst subject, mathematics. She didn't hate math anymore as she had in grade school, but that didn't mean that she was much better at it now. Yukito-san loved math, and he was always patient with her. 'Sides, she always liked his pleasant company.
Her brother sat back in the chair beside her own, his face a confusion of helplessness and irritation. Where's Yuki when you need him? he grumbled to himself. His mild-mannered soul mate would know just the way to teach Sakura what she needed to know without getting embroiled in a test of wills. Sometimes, in his more exasperated moments, he swore that Yuki's eternal patience and cheerfulness had to be the most non-human part of his magical existence.
"Hey, don't go yellin' at Sakura just because you can't do the stuff yourself," a cross little voice piped up from the desk. Touya glared at the rag doll of a Sun Guardian currently perched on the corner of Sakura's algebra book.
"Who said I can't do it?" he demanded.
"If you could, Sakura would be done with her homework by now."
"What do you know about teaching algebra?"
"Nothin', but I know you could be a lot nicer when you talk to your younger sister."
"Oh please, don't fight," Sakura cut in, more exasperated than angry. She knew her brother was genuinely trying to help, and she was grateful to Kero-chan for sticking up for her, but even after nearly three years of getting used to each other, the two of them being in the same room tended to cause trouble. Still, she didn't want to hurt either one's feelings by asking him to leave...
Irritated but conscious of Sakura's academic well-being as well as her wish for peace in the family, Kero sat back down, crossing his short little arms. Touya-niichan ignored him once more as the flustered college student started again, slowly, to explain to his sister how to solve number five in the text book. Kero wished he could help Sakura himself, but the only time he had bothered trying to learn any mathematics was when he had, out of sheer boredom, picked up a book in Clow’s library about the applications of lambda calculus. One could guess how long that book had stayed open.
Looks like the fruit jelly Sakura promised to make isn't going to happen soon... Too bad Yue's false form isn't here. He's pretty good at this math stuff. 'Sides, Touya-niichan's always in a better mood when ol' Snow-Rabbit pops by.
No sooner had he thought this when a tremendous rapping came from the closed window. All three looked up to see a flurry of silvery-white and panicked violet.
"Yue-san...?" Sakura asked uncertainly. And indeed it was he. He seemed quite perturbed about something, mouthing quick messages as he continued rapping on the glass pane.
"I think he wants us to open the window," Touya said, quickly following action to words. He'd only just managed to unlock the window and get out of the way before the Moon Guardian pushed the casement open and dove inside, his wings fading away into nothingness as he came through the frame. He rolled to a rather graceless stop and picked himself up.
"Mistress! Sakura...!" he gasped. "Save me!" at the same time darting his large violet eyes around the room. His sight settled briefly on the bed, and Touya had the odd notion that he might be considering crawling beneath it.
Before he could have the fortune to witness this most unique spectacle, however, a golden light filled the room as Kero transformed himself into his original, more battle-ready form. "What's going on?" he growled, ready for danger to his Mistress.
Yue ignored his fellow Guardian's inquiry, instead whirling with an accusing expression on Sakura's brother. "You!" he spat. "Why is she after me and not you?"
Bewildered both by the question and by Yue's unusually emotional manner, Touya did not answer. But again, Yue's possible subsequent actions were cut short when Sakura spoke in a surprisingly calm voice.
"I feel it," she said, simply.
"What?" Touya asked, frustrated that he no longer had the ability to sense danger to his little sister.
"It's... power," Sakura answered her brother, closing her eyes briefly so she could concentrate better on what her magical senses were telling her. Kero-chan had been telling her she should break that habit of hers, since being blind to the world when magic was at work could be dangerous to her, but she was used to it after all these years. "It feels familiar... and it's very close," she continued, then snapped her eyes open. "It's here!"
"Helloooooo, Yue!" a sultry voice called from outside.
Yue stared out the window for a brief second, then light again filled the room, this time with a silver tinge. Yue's wings reappeared, lengthened, wrapped him in their voluminous cover, then disappeared again, leaving a tousle-haired and bespectacled youth in a soft blue shirt and spotless khakis behind.
Yukito blinked, looking around at the congregation of people around him. He stared for a moment at Cerberus. It was rare for the leonine beast to still be around after Yue had reverted to his false form. "Did something just happen?" he asked innocently.
"Yueeeeeee!" an oddly familiar voice called, quickly followed by the person of Ruby Moon. She drifted to a much more sedate entrance than her flurried target's had been, allowing her own butterfly wings to fade away as she stepped through the window frame. She caught sight of Yukito and formed a pout with her red lips. "Oh, it's you," she stated.
"Akizuki-san, hello," Yukito greeted her, recognizing her for whom she was.
She shrugged. "Coward," she tossed off, annoyed at Yue for running away from her in such a cheap manner.
"What are you doing here?" a voice demanded. Ruby Moon glanced impassively towards the source, then perked up considerably when she recognized the speaker as her former playmate (aka plaything) from when she had posed as a student in Seijyou High. She grinned happily and flung herself at Touya.
"Hi, Touya! Long time no see!"
A muffled groan and what might have been a bitten-off curse was her only answer. She laughed and stepped back, ruffling Touya's hair with one hand. "Oh, don't worry. That was just for old times' sake. I know you're taken. Besides, Ruby has bigger fish to fry now..." She rubbed her palms together gleefully, and something inside Yukito that was part of himself but not quite, shuddered.
"Ruby Moon-san, please," a soft voice said. "Why are you here? Are Eriol-kun and Mizuki-sensei all right?"
Ruby Moon turned to the young girl standing in front of her. The Mistress of the Sakura Cards had grown noticeably taller and had a more mature aura about her, but she still held that sense of innocent invincibility that was part of what made her the most powerful sorceress in the world -- as well as a wonderful friend. Eriol will be proud to see her again, she thought.
"They're fine," Ruby Moon answered aloud. "But I've got a message for you guys."
"Oh? What is it?" the girl asked.
The pink-haired Moon Guardian grinned and raised both arms in a victory pose. "We're here to visit for the Autumn Moon Festival! But of course since we sold our house here, we're gonna have to stay with you guys!" She made sure to throw a pointed look at Yukito, knowing that the Moon Guardian of the Sakura Cards would see it.
"You're what?!" Touya exclaimed, outraged. These folk may have helped his sister to develop her magic a few years ago, but they had also put her through a lot of hardship that had gotten his big-brother instincts on guard. And now they wanted to tromp in and take over their house? Not if he could help it.
Besides, he admitted, he still had a sore spot for Akizuki Nakuru.
"Don't listen to her," a deep silky voice spoke up from outside. Ruby Moon pouted, obviously recognizing the voice.
A moment later, a large black feline alighted on the windowsill. "You take the fun out of everything, Suppi," Ruby Moon grumbled as the fine-boned cat with the corkscrew tail and pointed ears allowed his own aqua-patterned black butterfly wings to fade before stepping inside the room.
Sakura's bedroom was becoming more than a little crowded with three adult-sized beings, two large felines (one with vast feathered, albeit folded, wings), and one junior high schoolgirl.
Touya tugged Yuki a little closer and whispered in his ear, "That's Spinel Sun?" He'd never seen the creature before, though Yuki had told him all he knew from the scattered memories he retained. (Truth to tell, Touya had never seen Ruby Moon either, but that hair-raising voice could only belong to one person.) Unlike early after he had awaken to his true nature, Yuki was now almost always able to remember what went on when Yue took over. Still, it required a conscious effort, one which Yuki didn't often bother to exercise.
"Mm-hm," Yukito answered. "His false form is Spinel, a pathetic little cat-thing with dragonfly wings." He blinked. "Oh," he apologized, "that's how Yue would describe him, anyway."
"Hello, Spinel Sun!" Sakura-chan was saying. "Here, why don't we all have a seat so we can talk comfortably."
Yukito caught To-ya rolling his eyes. "Don't be mean," he whispered. "She's just being courteous to the guests. She thinks of them as friends, and she hasn't seen them in a long time." To-ya shook his head but evidently decided to humor his little sister, for he quickly made himself comfortable on the ground, pulling Yukito down to sit beside him.
Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun commandeered the bed, for which Cerberus, who sat stiffly on the ground beside his Mistress, shot them continual black looks, particularly directed at his Sun Guardian counterpart.
"So why are you two here?" Sakura asked.
"I told you," Ruby Moon said, in a voice brimming with excitement. "We're here for the Autumn Moon Festival!"
"What's that?" Sakura asked her. The phrase sounded familiar but she wasn't sure what it was.
"It's a Chinese holiday," came a voice from the doorway. "It's when families come together and admire the moon at the peak of its fullness. It's also known as the Holiday of Reunion." Startled, Sakura looked up to see her own Favorite Person leaning casually against the doorframe in a polo shirt and loose pants. The serious look on his face contrasted decidedly with his handsome but still somewhat boyish exterior.
"Syaoran!" she exclaimed, getting up to give him an enthusiastic hug hello, which he returned somewhat abashedly. She thought she heard a muttered comment from the direction of where her brother sat, but she had long ago learned to ignore those. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I felt an aura of power heading toward your house, so I came to check it out."
"Thanks," Sakura said softly, touched at his continual concern for her. "Come sit down," she said more loudly, pulling him by the hand until he followed and sat down in the chair where her brother had been when they had been working on her math homework together. "So, this holiday... you said it's to celebrate the moon and the reunion of families?" Syaoran nodded, and Sakura clapped her hands. "That sounds perfect! No wonder Eriol-kun wanted to come back now."
"I thought the squirt was from England," Touya remarked. "What's he doing celebrating a Chinese holiday?"
"Well, of course Eriol would want to celebrate the Festival of the Moon because of me!" Ruby Moon put in. Smiling widely and glancing back at Yukito, she added, "and for Yue, too, of course."
Spinel Sun rolled his eyes. "I think Mistress Sakura was closer," he corrected none too politely, for which he got a quick jab in the ribs from the being beside him. "Since we heard that Li Syaoran had returned, Eriol wanted to have a reunion in Tomoeda, and being that the mother of his past reincarnation was Chinese, he decided that the Moon Festival would be a perfect time for it."
He smiled coolly. "Though perhaps it did appeal to him that one each of his and Clow's creatures would also be at the full height of their... glory at this time." Ruby Moon ribbed him again for the pause in his sentence, but he simply bared his teeth at his cross-dressed magical partner in half-hearted retaliation, then proceeded to ignore him.
"By the way," he added. "We're not staying here. Eriol has made reservations at a hotel nearby."
Touya sighed in relief.
"Ne, Syaoran," Sakura said aside to her 'favorite person.' "What about your own family? Wouldn't you want to see them on this holiday?"
Syaoran smiled that terribly earnest smile of his and took one of her hands in his. "I've got all the family I need right here. Don't worry about me." And it was true. He had decided on the course of his life almost four years ago and there wasn't anywhere else he honestly wanted to be but right here in Tomoeda with his friends here and Sakura.
Sakura blushed prettily. "Maybe next year," she suggested, "we can go visit your family in Hong Kong, okay?" Syaoran smiled widely.
"Okay," he answered.
"I see the party's started without us." All occupants of the room turned once more to the doorway where a young man with soft bespectacled eyes and short, immaculate black hair stood. Outwardly the same age as Sakura and Syaoran, he nevertheless evinced an aura of aged wisdom. He wore a carefully tailored suit with just enough of a pattern not to be plain and carried what looked like a rather flat cake box in both hands. "Sorry we let ourselves in."
A moment after he said this, a gracefully tall woman with wise grey eyes and straight, waist-length silver hair came to stand behind him, resting her hand on his shoulder in a lovingly possessive gesture. "Hello, everyone," she smiled. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Eriol-kun! Mizuki-sensei!" Sakura jumped up once again and clasp each of the new arrivals' hands. "I'm so glad you're here. What's this?" she asked, indicating the cake box.
"It's a moon cake," the young man replied. "There are other traditional snacks as well that I have left downstairs, including a rather nice imported tea. I hope you don't mind." Sakura shook her head furiously.
"No, of course not." After which she added, "Kero-chan, don't you dare eat the whole cake by yourself," at which Cerberus jumped back rather guiltily from nosing the box.
Touya and Yukito rose as well and bowed. "Hiiragizawa-kun, Mizuki-san, hello," Yukito greeted the two.
Hiiragizawa smiled that strangely ageless smile of his. "Hello, Tsukishiro-san," he returned. Then he reached out and touched Yukito lightly on the arm. "Hello, Yue," he added, and Yukito felt a stirring of surprise, then acceptance, and finally contentment inside him.
Yukito asked, "Would it be better for Yue to..." but a soft tone of negativity alerted him to Yue's wishes. "Um, never mind. I think he'd rather I stay here," Yukito finished.
Hiiragizawa nodded. "Perhaps later."
Meanwhile, Touya was smiling somewhat ruefully at his former teacher and girlfriend. "So, Kaho. How are you doing?"
Kaho smiled. "I am happy. And you?"
Touya raised an eyebrow. "Do you really need to ask?"
Kaho laughed, the sound like the tinkling bells in a summer shrine. "No, I suppose I do not."
And they shared a small quiet moment with just the two of them, no regrets.
That over with, Touya looked around the room and exhaled in a tone of business. "Hey, kaijuu," he called, and his sister, who had been engaged in lively conversation with the Chinese brat and Hiiragizawa and Yuki, looked up at his insult/nickname with an automatic scowl that Touya just as automatically ignored. "You wanna move the party downstairs? It's getting a bit overcrowded in here, I think."
Sakura brightened. "Good idea! And I can get some of the tea made that Eriol-kun brought."
After much bustling and some growls and a brief spat that consisted of "Get your wings out of my way, Kero-chan!" and "Live with it, brat!" the whole company got themselves down the stairs and into the living room, whereupon a gasp was heard. All turned to look at Sakura.
"Oh!" she said, looking embarrassed. "It's nothing. I was just thinking that I ought to call Tomoyo-chan and tell her to come join us." Everyone agreed it was a fine idea, and she ran down the hall to do just that.
Tomoyo-chan accepted the invitation readily, talking excitedly in her gentle way about what a wonderful occasion it was and how glad she would be to meet everyone again. She also promised to make a memorial tape of the party and make copies of it for everyone. She would be over immediately.
Sakura hung up the phone, happily anticipating her best friend's arrival but feeling somehow like she was forgetting something important. Was there anyone else she needed to call...? She bit her lip, thinking.
All of a sudden, the doorbell rang, and since she was the closest to the door, she ran to answer it, first punching on the video intercom to see who was there. She gasped when she saw the image and immediately ran to open the door, swinging it open to reveal...
"Otousan! What are you doing back?"
Her father smiled, looking rather nonplussed himself. "I had a feeling that I should come home," he said simply in explanation, then shrugged. Sakura hurried to take her father's overnight bag and coat, then, dropping them just as quickly in the hallway, she turned and threw herself into her father's arms.
"Otousan, the most amazing thing happened tonight!"
Her father started to respond to his exuberant daughter when he caught a glimmer of lace from farther down the hall. "Nadeshiko...?" His wife smiled and twirled around in her glimmering, layered dress, showing it off to him, then beckoned him towards the living room.
"Okaasan's here too?" Sakura asked excitedly. "Oh, this is so perfect!" She grasped her father's hand and tugged him down the hall. "Come on, you have to meet some good friends of mine!"
And, as Sakura related to her father the happenings of the last half hour, the two joined the laughter and the cheerful commotion in the living room.
~ \ \ o o o / / ~
"So, did you mean what you said to Yue?" Yukito asked, curious.
Akizuki, once more in her false form and wearing a plain milky-white blouse with a blue plaited skirt, tilted her head to the side and smiled not unpleasantly. "Hm? What did I say?"
Yukito hesitated. He was about to clarify his question, but a firm note of finality inside him told him to leave it alone. "Never mind. Have a safe trip home," he said instead.
Akizuki nodded. "Thanks." Then her smile changed just a bit, becoming slightly impish. She sidled closer to Yukito and leaned in so that Yukito noticed the reddish tinge to her now amber irises. Rather bizarre but again, not unpleasant. "I do want to tell Yue something before I go, though," she said.
"Go ahead. He can hear-- mmmmmph?!"
Akizuki stepped back before Yukito could break off the brief kiss himself, and her smile was even more devilish than before. "I just wanted to tell him, 'Lighten up!'"
And she ran off after her own family.
Yukito gaped after her, even as the being that was his true self shuddered in disgust and disbelief and rage in alternation.
"What was that about?" A terse voice brought Yukito around, and he snapped his mouth shut and turned to see his 'favorite person' glaring ominously after the retreating figure of Akizuki Nakuru. He had to blink several times before he could get his thoughts together enough to form a coherent sentence. Then he laughed.
"I think Yue is being courted."