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Dim Smitten Star

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     Waking up from his first real nap in almost two thousand years (running Clow's crazy projects didn't count as a nap despite his lack of consciousness), Kerberos stretched out in the cool, tropical night and breathed in the humid weight of the coconut grove. He could hear the sounds of pirates drinking and singing away off toward the beach, too. Maybe they'd have more takoyaki for him to steal?

     He'd walked four inches, cursing the stubby legs on his low-energy form. It'd take him forever to get to the beach! Then he remembered...


     The thought had barely crossed his mind but he was in the air, ready to fly for the beach at top speed. Nothing but snacks and drinks and dancing for the next two thousand years -- that was his plan.

     "You left the festivities," a man's voice called out of the night. "Someone might worry."

     Kerberos spun in the air, but he couldn't see who'd spoken.

     A softer voice answered, "I wanted to be alone."

     They were coming from the East. And Kerberos knew he ought to pass them by. There was takoyaki and a bonfire to get to, and partying pirates with endless quantities of booze. But but but -- spying on people having a private conversation! How could he not?!

     He flew low into a bush and peeked out from under the leaves.

     Maybe he shouldn't have come. He'd never forget the faces of Clow's old friends, and those two -- both the green-eyed man who looked ready to spit venom and the broad-shouldered man with one eye, holding the other fast by the wrist -- could wipe him clear out of existence if they saw him here. Probably lucky he was in his low-energy form after all, and wouldn't register as any more significant than a squirrel.

     Or whatever kind of animals they had on this island.

     He could just creep back. Leave them be. Nobody would know.

     The branch where his wings caught had other ideas. The only way he'd get out easily was going forward, right at the two star-readers whose attention he never wanted if he could help it. If he skooched backward, he'd make plenty enough sound to be heard. So, okay, he was stuck watching the Barrows-guard and the Sumeragi having a fight. But how bad could it be? Even the Barrows-guard didn't look horribly frightening when his other hand was holding a slice of roasted papaya on a stick, right?


     Kerberos stayed extra still as the assassin leaned toward the other man's ear. "Alone, on a night like this? Subaru-kun! People will say you're running off to meet a lover." The white-clad man stiffened, and the Barrows-guard laughed. "Maybe I'm thinking of how we used to meet. I wonder, do you ever dream at night of how it used to be? That I might still follow you out under the full moon and tell you that you're pretty?"

     "The moon is waxing gibbous, Seishirou-san. It won't be full for three days." As the Sumeragi yanked his arm away, Kerberos expected the grove to erupt in fire. But there were only two flashes, one light and one dark, as they flicker-stepped a yard and ended with the Barrows-guard clutching the Sumeragi to his chest, his free hand around the youth's throat.

     "Rigorous as ever," he murmured against the young man's hair. "That's part of what makes you so cute. We may have changed, but you haven't."

     From his trapped hiding spot under the bush, Kerberos hoped they'd at least changed their habit of blowing craters ten yards deep when they fought. He squeezed his eyes shut, ready to bolt at the first sound of an attack. Even flying at top speed, he might not get outside the blast radius. That wouldn't stop him trying, though.

     Clow and Yuuko wouldn't intervene, and until he'd charged up his full power again, he might as well be a squirrel for all he could do. But Fai or Kakyou might be around to stop them.

     They'd know if something started blowing up.

     The explosion didn't come. Kerberos opened his eyes. The Barrows-guard pressed his stick of roasted papaya into the Sumeragi's hand -- bare now, his glove on the ground -- and slipped his fingers under the man's other glove, tugging it off an inch at a time.

     And now he was doing that creepy kissy-fondle thing to the flushed, red star carved into the back of the Sumeragi's hand, and Kerberos was really regretting that he'd opened his eyes.

     He shut them again, tight, pressing his paws over them, too, and tried not to get distracted by the smell of honey and ginger coming off of that papaya... Mmm, and nutmeg... Maybe they'd have more at the campfire?

     So hungry...

     No! Focus! On living long enough to eat takoyaki again!

     "No dispute, Subaru-kun? You're not trying to kill me this time, to take revenge at last?"

     "If I could kill you, I would have done it a long time ago."

     "Ah, yes. It takes all six of our lives to turn Fai's heart into the prison he's using to keep dear Uncle Ashura down. But do you really think that prison matters when Fai leaves the door wide open to let that ninja in? You might as well, for old times' sake."

     Kerberos let his paws fall away from his eyes. Fai had let someone into his heart? No wonder that pirate had come after the orb Clow had asked Kerberos to guard. Had someone already gotten the second orb from Yue? They'd need it. It was only a matter of time before Ashura broke free, and then boom, crash! Everybody dies, this time for real.

     Two thousand years. Longer than he'd thought Fai would last. He was human, after all.

     The Sumeragi trimmed his mouth to a bitter line, hand in a fist where he pulled against the Barrows-guard's grip. If Kerberos had to guess, he'd say every word the Barrows-guard had said was true. As much as he wanted to hang out on this island, he might have to find Clow Reed first of anything.

     A smile snaked across the Barrows-guard's lips. "Subaru-kun. Do you still believe your friend can save the world forever? You know, you've always been too trusting."

     "I never believed anyone could save the world," the Sumeragi hissed, eyes like green fire. "Saving the world doesn't mean anything to me to begin with. Only one thing matters to me."

     "Then, knowing you, you're giving that your best."

     As the assassin walked away, Kerberos slumped into the ground with a sigh. This would've been the most embarrassing way to die he could imagine.

     "Seishirou-san. You forgot your food."

     No, he thought, watching the Barrows-guard turn back. This could get more embarrassing. He could die in a fight over giving back a roasted papaya on a stick.

     The man took a bite while it was still in the Sumeragi's hand, then freed the stick one finger at a time, studying the unbelievably tasty-smelling treat as if he were a pawnbroker setting a price. "I think I'm full, actually. Would you like the rest, Subaru-kun?" He smirked through another green-eyed glare. "Oh, but how could I forget? You never liked papaya. And you wouldn't want something I was eating -- that'd be an indirect kiss."

     The Barrows-guard tossed the stick and the fruit into the dirt at the Sumeragi's feet and vanished into the shadows as he walked toward the beach.

     Kerberos scowled after his footsteps. Still a jackass.

     "You have no idea," the Sumeragi half-whispered, half-choked. Kerberos's whole body tried to melt into nothing as he forced his eyes back to the man in white. Had he been seen after all? Or heard? Or had the Sumeragi been reading his mind?

     Apparently not. The youth had his eyes fixed on the empty space where the Barrows-guard had been, clearly unaware that anyone was watching because he looked close to crying. He bent his face next to the scars on the back of his hand, contorted with an awfulness that made Kerberos feel empty just looking at it.

     "Seishirou-san," he murmured.

     Slowly, steadily, the man knelt and pulled his gloves off the ground, covering the marks so red against skin that glowed like starlight. For what little good it'd do, Kerberos couldn't stop himself crawling forward, thinking maybe at least he could give the Sumeragi a hug. But trying not to make sudden moves that'd startle him, Kerberos only made it an inch before voices echoed off a nearby path. The white-clad man was on his feet again, his face an iron mask, and he walked off into the dark.

     Kerberos waited until he was sure nobody was coming back, then zipped toward the North as fast as his wings could go. Clow had to know. If nobody had told him yet, somebody had to get to him now, now, now!

     He'd barely thunk the thought when a shower of nadeshiko petals dropped out of nowhere, spelling, "Don't leave the island yet," in front of Kerberos's eyes, then blew away as if they'd never been there at all. The magic all around them smelled unmistakably of Clow Reed.

     Why was it not comforting to know that Clow already had his eye on the situation?