Everyone was beginning to head out.
"I can't wait to get down to the park," Sakura squeaked as she slipped on her coat. "The fireworks are going to be great!" Syaoran smiled as he helped her hook her arm through one of her sleeves while and Tomoyo excitedly filmed the whole thing, pleased to have caught this moment of Sakura-chan's adorableness.
"It's a shame Meiling can't come," Tomoyo sighed, ending the take. "Everyone else was able to shake off their fevers except her."
"Yeah, you can tell she's sick because she's finally shuddup!" came Kero's tart comment from Sakura's bag.
Sakura almost kicked him. "KERO!"
Still, Syaoran gave a pitiful look. "She was looking forward to it."
The combined sadness of her boyfriend and best friend made Sakura feel momentarily sad. "I made her some warm milk and honey before we left but..." she hugged Syaoran's arm; she gave it to him when he was sick and he was better within hours. She would have felt miserable if she had to go and see the fireworks without him. Now coming to terms with the fact Meiling wasn't coming brought her mood right down.
"Maybe... we shouldn't go?"
A moment's pause. "I won't hear of it!"
The three spun around to see a red and weary Meiling waddling into the hall in slippers and wrapped in a blanket.
Syaoran ran to her. "Meiling! You shouldn't be on your feet with a fever."
Sakura took the other side. "I don't want to go without you, Meiling! It just won't be the same."
Meiling dabbled her burning cheeks with her freezing fingers.
"I said no!" she insisted. "Hiiragizawa is waiting for you guys, too. With Akizuki and Sponge point two."
"Sponge point two? You mean Spinny?" Sakura queried.
"I thought Hiiragizawa said his name was 'Spinal'?" Tomoyo wondered.
"Yeah but 'Spinny' annoys him," Kero chuckled. "So, imma sticking to 'Spinny'."
He laughed hysterically. It was making Meiling's head ring. Immediately, she was starting to regret getting up to see them off.
"Sakura," she said firmly to the miserable looking girl. "One last time: I. Am. Fine. I have blankets, milk and honey, a working TV. I'll watch the fireworks on that, nice and warm. Go now or you'll never get a good spot."
Tomoyo giggled and then signed, "My offer to stay is still open, Meiling."
Meiling rolled her eyes. "What? And deny you the chance to spend an evening watching the love-birds here being all kissy-kissy loser nerds?" Sakura and Syaoran stared with the doe-eyedness that spoke to their naivety. "Besides, I'm relying on you to film everything live so I can watch it later from your point of view too."
It was with those words her lady-like friend's eyes lit up. "Ohohohohohohoho!" she chuckled. "Yes, yes, I shall be filming my cute Sakura-chan, of course. I will also get wonderful shots of Li-kun's chivalric acts, too. Yet, your words give me an idea." She turned away a moment to pull out her phone. "I shall need to call-in my bodyguards..."
Now Meiling had no idea what she was talking about and was starting to feel as befuddled as her daft cousin and his girlfriend were.
She gave Syaoran a hug.
"Go," she ordered him, then Sakura. "Go, now! Standing here looking at your dorky faces all evening won't make me better any faster. Rest and warmth are what I need. Peace and quiet. So go! I'll hold down the fort, you all have fun."
Sakura smiled, nodding. "Meiling... you are such a good friend."
Finally, they peeled away from her towards the door. Tomoyo was even off the phone and waving with her free hand that was not holding her camera. "Keep your eyes on the TV, all right?" she said sweetly. "Promise me, Meiling?"
She blinked. "Um, sure?"
With a nod, she was the last out the door of Syaoran's flat before the door shut closed. Kero's voice was the last to hollaout. "See ya, girl-brat! Feel better, 'kay?"
Meiling was finally alone. She no longer felt the need to put on a positive front, either. 'Oh it hurts,' she thought to herself, feeling her forehead. It didn't just feel hot; it was stuffy and painful like her head was caught in a vice. It had started on Christmas Day, courtesy of Syaoran who was just getting over a fever and had ruined what had supposed to be a nice holiday visiting her friends in Japan. 'I hardly ever get sick, I had almost forgotten how icky it is.'
Stumbling back to her room where the TV was on she crawled back into bed and wrapped the numerous blankets that Syaoran had given her around her.
It was horrible to be ill at Christmas. Plus, even though she hated being outside in the cold, Meiling hated missing out on the fireworks. She would never admit that, though. She didn't want to spoil their fun. Especially Sakura Kinomoto, who always had the expression of a dejected puppy when anything made her or her loved ones sad. It would be cute if it didn't make Meiling feel guilty. It was better she wasn't here moping about, fussing about Meiling. She'd never get any rest with all that going on.
"Still it'd be nice to have company," she whispered, looking at the TV.
She settled down against the pillows and closed her eyes.
Better to make the best of a bad moment.
The doorbell rang out, forcing her awake.
Meiling's weary eyes opened and looked at the clock. She must have drifted off as it had already been an hour since the others left. The TV scene had changed, too, showing a view of the park where people were doing outside ice skating. 'Miss Daidouji must be enjoying that,' she thought. Someone knocked at the door, reminding her the bell had been pressed. Maybe Syaoran had come back early? Had he forgotten his key? It meant Meiling would have to leave her blankets. She was not happy about that.
However, she heard to rattle of keys as a voice called out. "Miss Li? I'm sorry but I'm coming in."
She froze where she lay. 'Whose voice is that?' It sounded familiar but almost not. The door opened and she heard someone shuffle inside, remove their shoes and make their way in. "Who-who even is this?" she finally said.
"Aha, well I suppose it has been a while."
She looked up at her doorway and saw a smiling figure she had not seen in a very long time.
Eriol Hiiragizawa looked amused.
"You look like a pupa."
Meiling stared blankly at him.
"I look like a- what?"
"A cocoon," he explained. "A chrysalis about to birth a beautiful butterfly."
She might have blushed if she weren't already flushed. "Oh, right. The blankets. Well, it's cold and I'm sick so I certainly don't feel beautiful nor like a butterfly. Don't come too near or you'll get it, too."
"I don't get sick," he chuckled and walked further into the room. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, I'm perfect," she quipped. "Who needs booze when you have cough syrup?"
He snorted at that, muttering, "You sound like someone else I used to know."
Then, he took a seat near her bedside that Sakura had been using earlier.
Meiling was still confused as to why he was even there.
"Weren't you going to see the fireworks with the others? And... how'd you get keys to Syaoran's place?"
"Ah, yes. I heard you were ill from the others. So, I asked whether it would be all right if I came here to give you well wishes for the New Year," he explained. "So Sakura lent me her key."
'Of course, it was Sakura,' Meiling thought. She'd pretty much been living with Syaoran since they were fifteen. Sometimes it felt like they were all still little kids, not seniors in high school. "That's nice of you," was all she said. Her relationship with Eriol was pleasant enough but they had never really spent time alone. It surprised her that he even remembered who she was at times.
"It's a shame to spend New Year in bed," Eriol said sadly. He lifted his hand and placed it on Meiling's forehead. His hand was pleasantly cold despite him presumably having worn gloves outside. He flinched and the looked into her weary red eyes. "You still have a high fever," and he then noticed the barely touched mug of milk and honey. "I'll fetch you a fresh warm drink."
He took the cup and stood.
"Oh no, you don't have to," Meiling said trying to sound healthier than she actually felt, and failing miserably. She didn't want her friends and family waiting on her, let alone the acquaintance reincarnation of one of her dead ancestors. "Besides," she added, "I bet everyone is waiting for you."
He shook his head. "They know where I am and I really don't mind." Then, tilting his head he added with a smile, "Plus, I feel I have a duty of care to 'my other cute little descendant.' Just settle down and I'll be back in a moment."
Meiling didn't have the energy to argue. She just resigned herself to his 'duty of care'. He'd do his bit and then leave, she told herself. Sinking back into the comforter and the blankets she watched as he disappeared towards the kitchen.
"Thank you, Hiiragizawa," she managed to croak out.
She could hear his movements from the kitchen as he opened a few cupboards, draws and then, finally, the fridge. It was hard not the chuckle but when she tried all she felt was the violent shiver of her fever and groaned. He probably got in there only to realise he didn't know where everything was kept. He'd always sat happily in the living room while Syaoran put on the tea and drinks after all. It had also been the only time she remembered speaking to him.
"You're from England, aren't you?" she had said in a soft, formal tone.
He smiled. "Yes, a lovely townhouse in London handed down through the Reed family. They are all almost gone now but a maiden third or fourth great-grandniece of Clow Reed was kind enough to leave it to me in her will. Though she stated she was simply doing her ancestor's bidding she was no obligation to help me. I will never forget her kindness."
Meiling smiled, "She sounds like a wonderful person."
"She was. I was deeply saddened when she passed but... she was surrounded by those who loved her. I was there, with Ruby and Spinal, and Kaho..."
His voice had then trailed off with sadness as if the best days of his life had already passed.
Then her own heart had tugged with sadness, too.
She opened her eyes as he walked in with a tray carrying two steaming mugs. The one for him was quite obviously milky black tea. "How British!" she groaned, wiggling her body to sit up. He just chuckled as he set the trap down by her bed and turned the cup handle towards her.
"I put a dash of lemon in, as well," he informed her. "You should eat something. Can I prepare some soup or broth for you?"
He took as a seat as she reached to take her cup while manoeuvring herself enough so she wouldn't have to uncover herself too much.
"I don't think I'm up for that," she muttered. "Besides, aren't you supposed to starve a fever?"
"Starving won't help anything, cold or fever," he told her.
"If you say so, Dr Hiiragizawa," she joked with levity and taking a sip. The lemon made a good addition to the hot concoction designed to help her keep her strength. "That is the point of milk," Sakura would say. "We feed it to our babies so it's a sneaky way to get food into you when you have a weak stomach." She licked her lips of the cup of sweet and sour. "I can't say I've ever had broth."
"Clow used to always prepare broth and honey-lemon drinks for his brothers and sisters when they were ill. Then later for Yuu-" he tailed off again, then shook his head and smiled. "Come to think of it if you were a few years older I might have warmed some brandy with hot-water, lemon and honey for sweetness. It works wonders when I'm feeling ill - but I wouldn't want to be caught providing alcohol to a seventeen-year-old."
Meiling cocked an eyebrow. "You think I've never had alcohol, huh?"
"If you have, I could not possibly condone it."
"Spoilsport," she mumbled, snuggling down a little and staring down her cup. "Such a double standard if you have it yourself when you're sick."
"I'm a real grown-up," he smirked mischievously. "I'm probably closer to your Dad's age probably than yours," he reminded her. "Remember - I'm the reincarnation of a hundreds-year-old sorcerer. I kept myself young so I could be a contemporary of Sakura but the fact is I am old enough to be her father. I am her father's twin, in many respects."
"Yeah, I never quite understood what Clow was thinking with that..." Meiling's head was already fuzzy from fever; now it was fuzzy with magical gunk. "Geez, there are hardly any times I'm glad I was born a magicless weirdo but this is one of them."
"Your father is Li-kun's mother's brother, correct?"
"Yeah," she nodded, taking an extra half-second to dissect his run through of the consanguinity. "He was never as strong magically as his little sister, either. Then there was my mother who had barely any magic to fill her pinky. It really wasn't a surprise when I came out barren of power. The shock was my big cousins. Shiefa, Feimei, Fuutie and Fanren are quadruplets yet that seems to have resulted in only a half-decent magic power being split four ways. So, they barely have enough power to raise a slight breeze." At least they didn't care. She sighed, "I believe some of the other magical families across the world joked that my entire generation was a 'failed crop'."
Eriol cringed, "That's... unpleasant."
Meiling shrugged, "I'm not hung up on it as I was when I was a kid. Besides, Syaoran was born. He's got the potential to be the most powerful sorcerer the Li clan had produced in generations. He was born to lead; Auntie said the stars had other plans for me. That's why I put all my efforts into being the best in martial arts and self-defence. I wanted to make myself useful in other ways, to prove Auntie right."
'There's no point in focusing on what you're not. You don't have magic, Meiling... but you also don't have gills. Focus on what you have and who you are.'"
He smiled, "She is a wise woman."
Meiling returned the smile. "Yeah, she really is. Don't laugh but people used to say I'm a bit like her."
To his credit, he didn't laugh. However, he instead placed a hand gently atop her head. The motion was so sudden and unexpected that Meiling almost split her drink in surprise... but it wasn't unpleasant. It was almost familial. They were family... in a roundabout way.
"You remind me of someone else, actually," he finally said, giving her a light pat before finally removing his hand. "No one I knew in this lifetime but... your spirit, your attitude. In an odd way, you are very much the same."
Meiling glanced at him, smiling sheepishly. It was hard to accept at times that this guy was the embodiment of Clow Reed. All those memories, all those people he had known in his previous life were all still in Eriol's head. It had to be hard enough having his own memories of love and loss.
He said no more, only smiling a smile that revealed nothing else.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The high-pitched tone pierced out of Eriol's phone like an alarm first thing in the morning and drilled into Meiling's head weary head.
"Apologies," he said, hurriedly switching it off and jumping to his feet. He pulled something out of his trouser pocket and plonked it on top of the TV before jiggling with an app on his phone. Meiling stared at the foreign object; a cross between a camera and a transmitter. "I almost forgot to do this," he said breathily, returning to his seat. "The show is about to start soon."
Meiling glanced at the clock as she took her last sip of the lemon, honey, milk and brandy-less drink. "Really? It's like another hour or so until midnight. Still, you better hurry and get back out there if you want to find the others in the crowd."
He shook his head. "Not fireworks show. Well, not exactly, anyway."
After staring at his phone for a moment longer, his brow furrowed. "Maybe," he went on, "you would know better how to get this app going? Ruby stole my phone to give to Miss Daidouji who then installed this on my phone and I... can't make sense of it."
Meiling snorted. The almighty reincarnation of Clow who was peerless in magic yet clearly a doof with technology.
She took his phone gently. "What did Daidouji put on here, anyway-? Huh?"
She knew exactly what this was!
After a brief fiddle and swipe, a video call began. In an instant, the image on the phone popped up on the television screen. Eriol even breathed out a, "Oh, how clever!" as the phone dialled and, finally-
Tomoyo answered. "Yes!" she squeaked excitedly, her eyes shining in triumph. "The transmission has started! I was starting to worry there had been complications with the app; Hiiragizawa's model of phone is pretty outdated."
"I know, right?!" came the whining tone of Nakuru in the background.
Eriol just smiled, "You could have used your phone for this, Ruby."
To that, she gave no audible response as Tomoyo had already moved the camera's focus towards Syaoran and Sakura, who were playing with green and pink sparklers together. Tomoyo signed contentedly, "Aren't they just adorable?" They hadn't quite noticed her filming yet but it was only a matter of time.
"The video quality is amazing, Daidouji, even by your normal standards," Meiling commented.
"I know, right?" she cooed, still focusing on the young lovers trying to write their names in the sparks. The camera slowly zoomed in on them as they spoke. "That's because I had my mother's people bring out a new pair of camera prototypes that could hook up to a TV and be transmitted through our phones. Sakura's always talking about how it's dangerous for me to be filming in person. So, this way, I can do it from the comfort of-"
Tomoyo's presence was finally noticed by Syaoran and Sakura, who froze still. For a moment Meiling was worried the sparklers would burn down to their gloves but they absentmindedly put them out in the sand all while staring down the camera, at Tomoyo.
"Sakura, Li," Tomoyo said softly. "We're live! Meiling is watching."
"O-Oh?" was all Sakura managed to splutter.
"How long were you... watching us?" Syaoran asked.
"Long enough to see you reach about the fifth stroke of the second character of your name, Syaoran," Meiling responded in a teasing manner. "Excellent form, by the way."
"Sakura was also very good," Eriol pipped up.
"You... both saw that?" Syaoran grumbled.
"Sakura and Li are so cute," Tomoyo whispered gleefully. "Even when you're both camera shy and embarrassed, you're so photogenic."
"You dorks need to relax," Meiling said. "It's just me here," she then glanced at Eriol, "and Hiiragizawa. We already know you're both total flakes so there's nothing either of you could do to embarrass yourselves that we wouldn't already expect of you."
Syaoran lowered his eyes at that backhanded compliment. "Thanks, I guess?"
Meiling giggled, her head actually feeling a little clearer.
This was nice. Though it wasn't the same as being there in person, seeing the interactions of her friends down at the park like this helped her feel a part of the action and less like she was being left out. She smiled wider and whispered under her breath, "Thank you, Tomoyo Daidouji." Thank you for thinking of me like this.
Her friend didn't hear her and instead turned the camera back toward Nakuru Akizuki. The other stuffed animal, Spinny, hung from a large breast pocket as she stood between Touya Kinomoto and Yukito Tsukishiro. The former glowering in the direction of Syaoran and Sakura, the latter was smiling at Nakuru's enthusiasm. She waving her own sparkler now and calling out to Eriol excitedly. "Look, Eriol!" she cried. "Watch me write my name. I can do it really fast. Watch!" Like a child calling to Daddy. He kind of was, Meiling had to remind herself.
"Don't wave that thing around like that!" Touya scolded. "You're gonna take out my eye!"
"You're really good at that, Akizuki," Yukito chuckled.
"I see, Ruby," he replied with a smirk. "Tsukishiro is right, you are very good at it, though maybe reign it in a little bit? The key is to keep movements quick but tight."
They watched a little longer before Tomoyo turned the camera back towards herself.
"You're breaking up a little on this end, Meiling," she said matter-of-factly. "I think it might be the app running slow on Hiiragizawa's old phone... could you try setting up the same app on your phone?"
Meiling reached for her own phone, "Sure, just tell me what I need to do."
"It's probably for the best," Eriol conceded. "I don't think my battery would last until midnight."
She followed the process as explained to her, surprised she was able to follow Tomoyo's technobabble through her steadily lifting fever until she was finally able to end the transmission from Eriol's phone and transfer it to her own.
"Much better!" Tomoyo declared with triumph. "My apologies for putting so much strain on your phone, Hiiragizawa."
"Not at all, I was happy to help," he assured her. "Besides, I wanted to make sure Miss Li was improving."
Meiling had wanted to thank him, too. He could have just set up the camera, left his phone and told her what to do. He didn't need to stay here, make her a hot drink or keep her company. He didn't have to listen to her rants about her family...
As she closed the app on his phone, she saw his wallpaper. It was a picture of his family; Nakuru, Spinny, himself... and Mizuki. Meiling froze for a moment. It was good to see her again though she still felt that twinge of sadness again.
Hiding that momentary flutter of grief with a smile, she locked the phone and handed it back to him. "Here."
He took it, "Thank you." If he had noticed her sudden unease, he didn't show it.
"O.K.," Tomoyo breathed excitedly, "We're all heading towards the ice rink now!" Her camera panned over to an overly festive arch with 'Winter Wonderland' written in Latin script. Her focus was more on the backs of Sakura and Syaoran as they walked towards the entrance, her lense zooming on her joined hands. "Cuteness alert, right, Meiling?"
"Hey, those two ain't the only ones 'ere, y'know!" came a muffled protest. The whisper being as audible as Tomoyo's own voice let Meiling and Eriol know that Kero had vacated Sakura's bag to take up residence in Tomoyo's. "I'm all for a photo op but them bein' all lovey-dovey is exactly why I 'ad to put some distance between Sakura and me."
"For once our noisy little sponge has a point," Meiling agreed. "Try to ease off them a little, 'kay? I want to see what you're up to as well, Tomoyo. Aren't you going to go ice skating? You're so talented."
"Oh," Tomoyo said blankly. It was like she was embarrassed and unenthused all at the same time. "Well, fine, though it won't be very interesting."
"I was thinkin' more 'bout filmin' me but whatever," mumbled Kero.
Meiling chuckled again and settled back against her pillows again. It was then she glanced at Eriol again, who quietly watched, phone still clenched in his hand like it brought comfort. Maybe it did. She couldn't imagine living with the memories of two lives as he did. Every lost life one he or Clow ever had was all contained within him, etched upon his heart. It was remarkable he still came out of it sane, let alone a decent man.
"Thank you," she finally said.
Without thinking much of it, she leaned over and gave him a quick, sweet peck on the cheek as one would when meeting a very old friend after a long absence. His head snapped around to look at her, not displeased or shocked... more awestruck. Like he hadn't expected the 'thank you' let alone a kiss for his troubles.
He said nothing for a moment, then finally returned her smile.
"I did nothing special really but... you're very welcome."