Fallen Through

Stripped: Backstage Hands

-Sakura-

Summer.

Ugh.

Summer.

Summer equals heat plus movement plus tour plus Li Syaoran in my face all the time.

I wanted to scream.

I really hate Ayame for hiring him. What was she thinking? Doesn't she know that close contact with Li would endanger the secret that I kept for nearly two years?

Of course not, because Ayame's an idiot like that.


-Syaoran-
-Later-

I'm sitting in a room
Made up of only big white walls
And in the halls there are
People looking through
The window in the door
They know exactly what we're here for
Don't look up, just let them think
There's no place else you'd rather be

Ayame showed me how to work the sound booth and control the special effects just in case the actual tech people, like Yukito-san, weren’t around when needed. My real job was to ensure the stage was rigged and in perfect working order for the show.

I watched Sakura from the sound booth located in third row of the auditorium. In the three weeks since school let out and I packed up my bags for Sakura Athene’s summer tour, I had only seen Kinomoto once. Last week, Tomoyo dropped by our present location, Tokyo Dome, with Meiling and Eriol to give Ayame the first set of costumes. Even though my cousins asked me where Kinomoto was, they didn’t seem too concerned about her lack of appearance. The three were awful cozy and comfortable with my employer and her manager.

“Li-san,” the singer called my name from onstage. “Could you make sure Yoh’s guitar pedal is hooked up to the speakers? We can’t hear any of the effects.”

I ducked down and found the cable labeled “Yoh’s Pedal ^_^’.” It's fixed!" I hollered back.

Sakura nodded to her band mates. "Again?"

The music started playing and I once again became lost in Sakura Athene's voice.


-Sakura-

God, I hate Ayame.

The little twit was persistent and determined—I’ll give him that. He seemed to be everywhere, trying to gain my company.

Then again, it wasn't Kinomoto Sakura's company he craved. No, it was Sakura Athene's presence that drove him to an almost sickeningly sweet cliché chase.

Like this one time. Oh Lord, I will never forget this one time. And the other forty incidences like it.

Li ran into me as I walked backstage to pick up another pick for Ren's bass. I didn't understand how the usually obsessive compulsive, organized man could lose such a thing as his pick but I suppose it happens to the best of us.

"Sakura!"

I freeze every time he calls my name. It’s unconcious, a habit from our long weeks together for Kenji-sensei's stupid project. What new and witty remark will he have for me this time to trash my reputation and make me sink even lower before Seijuu's Golden Boy? What strange and comforting gesture will he whip out from his shirt pocket to confuse me even more about his mental state?

He caught up to me, all smiles, the one that would make any other girl melt in a puddle of disgusting goo before his feet. I suppose that part of his charm is the fact that he doesn't even realize he's charming a girl. Any one would fall for it, except me, of course.

"Have you been avoiding me?" He asked me.

I cringed but laughed on the outside. "Well Li-san, this place is pretty big and there are lots of people around. Not really. Does it bother you?"

He laughed. "Geez, you remind me so much of this one girl I worked with on a project in my Morality class. So cynical and to the point."

"Name?" I asked, hoping to throw him off.

Li laughed again. "You know her, Sakura-san. She works for you. Funny thing is-" He paused momentarily and frowned. "- I haven't seen her since the day we left. I've only seen you around."

"Are you hitting on me?" I asked, incredulous. I was even half-scared to entertain the idea myself. In my eagerness to distract him from thoughts of my imaginary PA, I asked the stupidest question I could think of.

"Maybe. Will you let me?" He said with a sly smile.

Smooth. Real smooth, Li Syaoran. How many pathetic girls have you used that line on and turned their legs to mush?

Shaking my head, I muttered, "You're so pathetic, Li-san. Go hit on someone else. Like Yukito. Rumor has it that he's secretly bi, despite his rather strong and loyal relationship with Nakuru."

I left him gaping, secretly laughing at his shocked expression and doubly pleased with myself for distracting Li Syaoran's overly inquisitive mind from probing my secret any farther. He went too far with a simple observation like that.

But you know… I can’t wait to get out of Tokyo Dome. There’s something about this place that unsettles me, no matter how many times Toya-nii assures me it’s safe. Whenever I’m backstage, especially in the left wing, I always feel like something’s watching me, waiting to pounce.

Whatever. It must be nerves and my Kaorin-induced anxiety.


-Syaoran-

"You do your job pretty well."

I looked up and grunted. "I'm in a band at home, remember? Just something for fun with my friends. I'm used to this kind of stuff."

"Sakura-san wanted me to make sure you were doing all right. Why she would care, I would never know."

I straightened up from the floor and looked at the shorter girl in the eye. "Where have you been hiding? Tomoyo, Eriol, and Meiling were looking for you when they came by a week ago."

Kinomoto Sakura shifted her balance. "Busy. I'm Ayame's PA and my job is endless. Hardly anyone sees me around because I'm always running errands for Ayame, my stupid irresponsible cousin."

It was the most I had ever heard Kinomoto say to me at one time. I had to keep her talking. "Ayame's your cousin?"

"Yeah..." Kinomoto regarded me strangely. "What's it to you?"

I waved my hand dismissively. "Not much. I was just wondering what side you're related to her. Ayame and Tomoyo were having a discussion and they found out that they're related to each other both through their mothers’ side."

"Oh. Wonder why she didn't tell me," Kinomoto answered vaguely. "I'm related to her through my mom's side too."

We lapsed into an awkward silence, walking side by side on the precarious catwalks above the stage.

"So Kinomoto, why do you hate me so much?" I blurted out without thinking.

"I don't hate you. You're the one who hates me."


-Sakura-
-Monday, June 24-

"Are you sure everything is all set?"

I paced back and forth in my rented suite, my thoughts still fixated on the eerie aura around stage left. Behind me, Ayame watched me like a hawk, patiently waiting for Yukito's verdict as he confirmed security measures on his laptop.

"Yes, Sakura. Every thing's going according to plan."

"What about-"

"No, she's not coming anywhere near the venue. Toya took care of that."

"And my pings?" I prompted. I continued to pace, still not looking at my faithful cousins.

I heard Yukito sigh deeply. "Don't you think it's time we took off the surveillance on them? It's been since the end of March and nothing's shown up."

"Yuki, we can't afford to relax our vigilance."

"It doesn't matter. Daidouji, Hiiragizawa, and Rae already know."

Ayame sat up straighter, shocked by the sudden revelation. I continued to pace. So they knew and they think I don't know that they knew my true identity. No wonder why they treated Sakura Athene and Kinomoto Sakura the same when they came up few weeks back.

"What about Li?"

Yukito hesitated. "He's... curious. Li-san thinks he's onto something but he can never just quite figure it out."

I stopped and Ayame held her breath. "Really now?" I answered vaguely, finally turning around to face him. "Then there's nothing that we can do."

"Sakura," Ayame protested.

"It's all in his head. I'll make sure that it stays that way," I vowed.


-Eriol-

I stretched out from my chair and yawned deeply, earning a giggle from Tomoyo.

“Something amuses you?”

Her bright amethyst eyes sparkled in the light. “You look like a well-bred cat. An extremely pampered Cheshire cat,” she said, hiding giggles behind one pale hand.

Raising an eyebrow, I said nothing to her and turned back to my work. A shadow fell across my computer and I turned to find Tomoyo draped across the back of my high backed office chair. “I’m so tired of watching these screens,” she moaned. “When I offered to help, this was not what I had in mind.”

“Yukito-san wanted us to watch for any possible threat concerning Sakura. It’s too important to let go, especially during a summer tour,” I gently reprimanded her.

“But Eriol-kun, nothing will ping Yukito-san’s radar.”

A resounding beep echoed across the room.


-Later-

“So you’re sure that’s what she’s planned?”

Kinomoto Toya scanned the transcription with furrowed brows. “Huh. Yuki, check this out. That bitch thinks she can waltz right into the Dome and assassinate my sister during the concert.”

The older man chuckled darkly. “Yeah right. Who on earth would kill a lowly PA during a rising star’s concert? Why not the star herself?”

“That’s it!” Toya cried triumphantly. “It’s a feint! Protect ‘Sakura’ and leave Sakura vulnerable so that the assassin has a clear shot of Sakura on stage.”

“That’s stupid. ‘Sakura’ doesn’t even exist during the concert,” I stated bluntly.

“She doesn’t know that,” Toya pointed out.

“Does she? Amai Kaorin is a clever person with resources at her disposal. She very well may know and you’re falling right into her cleverly planned trap.”

The room fell silent.


-Syaoran-

I walked through the hallways, listening to my iPod. I quickly learned that around Sakura Athene's tour gigs, music was God, second only to Tsukishiro Ayame.

"Hey!" I called out.

The honey auburn head froze for a moment before turning around. "Li-san,” the singer greeted me shortly.

"Where've you been? I haven't seen you in, oh... the last forty-five minutes?" I teased her.

She smiled faintly, but it seemed strained. "Well, that's life on the road. Why don't you go back to the hotel? Kinomoto-san and Tsukishiro-san are only hanging around to set up the security parameters."

Falling in step with her, I shrugged. "Didn't feel like it."

Sakura Athene said nothing to me and we walked in an awkward and tense silence towards the main entrance of the Dome. Her silence eerily reminded me of someone else's, someone who I haven't seen since the day we set up in Tokyo Dome weeks ago.

Kinomoto Sakura.

I groaned silently. Why was I thinking of her? After we passed Kenji-sensei's class, we would never see each other again, much less remain friends, beyond the school hallways. Well, that would have been true if it weren't for our mutual summer job and the three friends we had in common.

"You busy today? Let's hang out at Disneyland," I blurted out in a weak attempt to banish thoughts of Kinomoto from my head.

Emerald eyes hardened and I was once again reminded so vividly of the same look Kinomoto used to give me when I irritated her. "Sorry, Li-san. I have an appointment with Daidouji-san and her entourage in about fifteen minutes back at the hotel. Maybe some other time."

She left me standing in the venue lobby as she walked out the door. I stared after her, thinking of another green-eyed, honey-haired girl that I knew of, one who could never be the kind of person I knew Sakura Athene to be.

Even though I knew rejection when I heard it, I didn't feel too put out by the singer's refusal. She had a valid reason, but it wasn't the whole "prior engagement" thing that was throwing me off. It was the whole feeling of "oh, this isn't too unusual to be rejected by this person" I felt as I blankly stared at the empty space where Sakura Athene occupied only moments before.

This would not be the last time.


-Tomoyo-

I bounced into the hotel, giddy with delight. We, meaning Eriol, Meiling, and I, were going to see Sakura again for costume fitting.

I just knew that she would be too cute for words, especially in outfits designed especially for her by moi.

"Tomoyo," Eriol's rich voice cut through my thoughts. "Calm down, you're scaring the other guests in the restaurant."

I stopped walking and turned back around, striding confidently into the hotel's restaurant. "Table for three please. If you would be so kind as to seat us as soon as possible, that would be greatly appreciated. We're on a tight schedule and haven't eaten yet." I spoke to the maître d, slipping back into the aristocratic keigo I grew up with.

Eriol followed me, laughter sparkling in his deep sapphire orbs.

"What?" I self-consciously demanded as we took a seat and accepted the menus from a waiter.

"Nothing,” he replied, still laughing at me through his eyes.

"If you two love birds wouldn't mind," Meiling snapped, peering up at us behind her menu. "I'm freakin' starving and it's two in the afternoon. I want to eat. Now."


-Later-

Ridiculously full from lunch, I entered the elevator behind a bellhop pushing trolley full of my designs. "Room 613 please."

"So... designer at sixteen. Quite an accomplishment," Eriol commented, breaking the long silence.

The bellhop looked at us curiously, but manners and his paycheck ruled he keep his mouth shut.

"What of it? Her stuff hasn't hit the shelves yet, Eriol. Don't hold your breath yet." Meiling pointed out.

"Such a cynic, dear cousin. Not all of us can be famous since two."

"Not all of us can be a jackass like you," Meiling replied smartly to Eriol's comment. I laughed as the elevator came to a stop.

Handing him a 1000 yen tip, I thanked the bellhop and knocked on the door labeled '613.' Ayame answered the door, her face looking harried and drawn but she attempted a weak smile as she ushered us inside Sakura's suite.

"Go on in. She's expecting you in the small bedroom," Ayame whispered. "My brother called. I have to go take care of some things at the Dome."

Eriol and Meiling nodded, hanging back to talk briefly to Ayame about the concert in three weeks. I walked ahead of them when Meiling waved me on, saying she'd bring in the outfits in a bit.

Opening the door of the smaller bedroom, I poked my head around. "Sakura-san? May I come in?" I said, remembering at the last moment to act like a professional.

She dully waved me in. "Come in then."

I briskly strode inside, shutting the door behind me as I went. "I just need to make sure everything fits right, Sakura-san. This shouldn't take too long if I've done everything correctly."

The singer mutely nodded but refused to meet my eyes. I half-wondered what was plaguing the girl this time, but wisely chose not to ask. Sakura Athene did not know that I knew her secret.

I handed her the first set, a pair of dark denim jeans and a black silkscreen print tank top. She said nothing to me as she took the clothes from my hands and walked into the bathroom to change.

"All right for you?" She said once she stepped out.

The jeans were much too long on her but the top fit okay. It didn't cling to her the way I thought it would. Had she lost weight?

"It's been a while since I've seen you last. How are you doing? It's great to see you again, even if we're in a professional setting," I rambled on as I pinned her jeans to the correct length around her feet.

Her response prepared me for absolutely nothing as the next six words—the longest phrase she uttered to me since I walked through the door—tore me apart from the inside.


-Sakura-

“So nice to see you too, Tomoyo," I said, sarcasm dripping from my voice.

The raven-haired girl at my feet froze, before looking up at me in shock. "You know?" She asked me, voice shaking as she stood up to face me.

Snorting at her obvious give away, I answered, "As if your pathetic denial proved otherwise."

Tomoyo's amethyst eyes looked at me curiously. Concern shone from their depths, engulfing me like a tsunami.

I hated her more than anyone else at the moment.

"Sakura-chan," she began. "Are you alright?"

I didn't answer her for a while. In a few quick steps, Tomoyo had thrown her arms around me and let me go. "Sakura-chan..."

"Shut up."

My voice finally returned. "Quit lying to me. Is this kindness all an act? To who? Are you trying to prove to someone that you're kinder than you really are, Daidouji Tomoyo? Yourself?"

She faltered. "I don't... I don't understand. Sakura-chan, are you sure you're okay?"

I threw off her hands and walked to the window. "I just wanted to know how long you've known. How long you've been lying to me. How long you've used me."

"It's not like that!"

"Then what is it?" I exploded. "What the hell is going on? I don't need your false sincerity or friendship. What the hell do you want with me?"

The door slammed open, admitting Eriol and Meiling. "What's going on here?" He demanded in a quiet yet fierce whisper.

I whirled around to face them. "Are you in this too? Is this all some elaborate scheme set up by Kaho? She's a shrink, you know. She's been serving as mine for years!"

Meiling bristled. "Sakura, what the hell is your problem?"

"What the hell is yours? Does it look like I need to be babysat by hypocrites all the time?" I sneered.

SMACK!

I laughed manically, ignoring the stinging sensation Meiling's slap left on my cheek. "Go ahead! Isn't that what you've wanted to do for years?"

"I haven't been around for seven years! How could I've wanted something as cruel as that?" Meiling yelled back.

"You just did. You just slapped me. Admit it—it felt too good to release all that pent-up anger." Goading Meiling wasn't the best idea but I didn't care. I was too emotionally drained to care about anything at the moment.

"I'm going to make you see truth, Kinomoto Sakura! Don't talk shit when you don't even know half of the truth!"

She came at me—my best friend Rae Meiling charged towards me with every intention of carrying out her threat. At the last moment, Eriol caught her around the middle and dragged her away from me. "Meiling, quit it. Can't you see that arguing isn't going to do us any good?"

"Eriol! Did you hear her? Did you hear what she sa-"

Sapphire blue flashed. "Stop it. We're all tired, we're all too exhausted to give a damn about what we're saying. None of us are thinking straight. Knock it off."

Tomoyo's quiet sobs broke me from my angry trance. It must have done the same for Meiling and Eriol, because Meiling broke down crying herself and Eriol was by Tomoyo's side in a heartbeat. The last few minutes came rushing back to me and I looked at the three across the room from me in horror.

"Oh my God..." I whispered brokenly before sinking down to the floor.

"Sakura, it's not your fault," Eriol tried to explain.

I didn't bother waiting to hear the rest of his explanations. The sight of Tomoyo—kind, sweet, caring Tomoyo—crying so openly on the floor before me was enough.

I ran.

What demons have we become?


-Meiling-
-Days Later-

"Can I talk to you for a sec, Meiling?"

I looked up to see the tall and imposing figure of Kinomoto Toya. Nodding my head, I followed him to the security room in the Dome.

"We investigated the ping and our reports indicate that Kaorin may strike either the day before or the day of the tour's opening night. I hate to ask this of you..."

"You want me to keep an eye out for Sakura, right?" I interrupted him.

"Yeah. Too much for you?" Toya challenged, reminding me of my younger years.

"Not at all. I'm a black belt in tae-kwon-do and kung-fu you know. Li family requirement," I answered smugly.

"Good. I hope that'll be enough. Speaking of which, how is she? I haven't been able to talk to her or see her since the ping."

I hesitated. Should I tell him? Do I reveal to Kinomoto Toya, the most overprotective older brother on the face of planet Earth, that his little sister was currently in the midst of the biggest breakdown she's had in years?

"She's... tired," I simply replied.

For days after her explosion, Sakura kept to her room, lying on her bed or staring out the window in a cold silence. She hardly ate anything and Ayame kept inquisitive crew members at bay saying her PA took ill and their employer went on a trip exploring Tokyo incognito. It worked for the most part, until Syaoran came up to their hotel room to talk to Ayame about something concerning the set and found a despondent Kinomoto Sakura instead.

Ayame was all too eager to assign the latest addition to her crew of slaves the task of taking care of her "sick" cousin. I swear I saw Sakura snap out of her depression for a moment, plotting one hundred and one ways to kill Ayame oh-so-very-slowly and painfully but the moment passed and she turned to face the windows instead.

Syaoran, on the other hand, was determined to make Sakura well again. What they talked about in the three days he began to watch her out of the five days Sakura had taken ill, I have no idea about. But it seemed like she was on the mend and that's all that mattered.

To all of us.

"Tired," Toya said shortly, as if the response meant something else to him. "I see."

"I think she knew about the ping. Something's been bugging her," I tried to explain myself.

His radio buzzed and Yukito muttered something about fifteen cubes waiting for Toya's signature at the harbor. The older man bade me goodbye but as he turned to leave, he paused for a moment before adding to me:

"Meiling, whatever you do, don't mention Kaorin to her. She's already burdened as it is."

I watched him leave. I already knew that, you fool.


-Sakura-

I really hate Ayame more than anything in the entire world.

I really hate Li for taking up this stupid job.

But I really hate myself for mentioning it to him in the first place.

In my defense, I didn't think he'd actually go through with it. There must be something he wants if he's willing to abandon his summer of partying for a hard job on tour.

Well, it's not something, but someone.

I knew all about his summers. Hell, the entire junior class at Seijuu knew. Half the class participated with him on those wild summer night escapades to exotic beaches and resorts around Japan.

Stupid rich kids.

Stupid Ayame.

Stupid Li.

Stupid me.


-Syaoran-

"Sakura!" Ayame sang as she entered the room. "Look who's here to visit you!"

She said nothing, still deep in thought. I wondered what she thought about most of the time.

"Ayame, I'll take it from here. Go do whatever you have to do," I muttered as I strode over to my usual spot in the armchair beside the bed.

Once the door had clicked shut behind Ayame, I turned to face Kinomoto Sakura, nestled deep within her blankets.

"Hiding again?" I ripped the blankets away from her body. Emerald-green eyes hardened into a deadly glare but her pink lips said nothing.

I climbed out of my seat and instead perched next to her prone body on the bed. "Kinomoto..."

I know that everyone else thinks my presence had a healing effect on Sakura and that she's getting better but I knew otherwise. I don't know how, but I just did. Perhaps being at the receiving end of her more volatile moods and experiencing her calmer ones myself made me understand her temperament in a way that others didn't.

She wasn't getting better and she wasn't getting worse. Conversation still irritated her but my presence lost its irritating effect on her.

Well, she was getting used to me?


-Sakura-

My thoughts took a darker turn. Kaorin. Amai Kaorin, why must you torture me so?

If I was anyone else, I would have assumed it was because you were a jealous lesbian lover who when mad when you found out I was straight.

But that oddity aside, I know the reason why.

I’m everything that you could never be and hope to be.

No one knows the whole story. Not even my father or my brother. It’s only me, her, and Okaa-san in heaven.

And yet…

“Sakura, you can’t keep running away.”

Am I running away?

Who told you to call me Sakura?

A smooth voice broke me away from my thoughts. I recognized the melody, hummed in Li’s rich tenor.

And it's obvious that you're dying, dying
Just living proof that the camera's lying
And oh, oh, open wide
'Cause this is your night
So... smile
'Cause you'll go out in style

That song… the only song I wrote for myself…

… to myself.

How long could I keep up this façade? I struggled and triumphed these last few years but nothing, nothing has ever weighed so heavily on my mind than these last four months.

I shuddered deeply, suddenly remembering the unnerving darkness of stage left.


-Syaoran-

Her expression changed. No doubt she was thinking about something she feared.

I unconsciously hummed the tune to the song I heard while in the sound booth. She seemed to recognize it and fill in the gaps with the correct words, their meaning dawning on her in some enigmatic fashion or another.

I lay down on the bed beside her. “Let’s do something.”

As I expected, she didn’t respond but she didn’t shove me off her rather soft and comfortably warm bed either. We lay there side by side, staring at the texture on the ceiling’s plaster.

I began to speak aloud, mostly to myself. “I wonder what life would be like if I didn’t screw up those precious first weeks we met. Do you remember that? I remember wondering why someone as good as you weren’t on the soccer team. It’s the only game I ever lost outside of competitive league, you know. Of course, when I tried asking you about it, you blew me off, much like you do today…”

No response. Undaunted, I continued on. “Actually, the first time we met was after winter break. I walked into an empty classroom and you were sitting there, reading a book. It’s like I didn’t exist to you.”

“So much crap happened.” I blew a stray hair away from my face. “I treated you horribly because of a bunch of rumors I heard from the people who I thought were my friends. I never said this, but thanks. To you, Kenji-sensei, and the rest of the group. You guys made me realize they weren’t my friends at all, just ornaments.”

“You getting sick and ending up in my apartment. You leading me to this job. God, you’ve done so much for me without realizing it, Sakura.”

I was rambling at this point. I didn’t even realize I said half the stuff that came out of my mouth until I said it. Like the thing with her name. When did Kinomoto become Sakura in my head?

“I wish we could start over, like the past four months didn’t happen. A clean start. Would it be fair to you or to me to do so? To try and befriend you already knowing the kind of person you are?”

She stared listlessly at the ceiling.

“I want to know more about you. You are the biggest mystery I’ve ever come across,” I admitted, turning onto my side to face her. “Would there ever come a time when you could trust me enough to do so?”

Such a philosopher I am today.

“Li,“ The quiet voice finally said, the first words she had spoken to me since I started “babysitting” her three days ago. “Shut the hell up.”

She started crying.


-Sakura-

The dam burst, in front of him of all people. Tomoyo, Meiling, Eriol, Nii-san, Yuki, Ayame, Kaho, Nakuru, Otou-san—any of them I could handle and reasonably cry in front of but him?

Not Li Syaoran, of all people.

Nothing I said made sense. Li could’ve passed it off as temporary insanity but a part of me secretly hoped that he paid attention and listened.

“She’s always there.” I shuddered through my tears. “Waiting for a chance to strike. Claiming her throne, the nobodies’ throne. Why would she want such a throne?”

“Not for her, but for him. For him, she would kill. For him, she would abuse on the only person who took an orphaned ugly duckling under her wing. What a mistake. Why not Jade?”

“He would never look at her twice. Reigning king and hated queen. The Queen of Hearts, coming to slice your head off. Be careful of the Queen of Hearts!”

“There’s something about the stage. Left, left, left, left—like something’s waiting to pounce. He’s there—I know it! She sent him there to wait for weeks and weeks. Waiting, always waiting.”

“But pain—pain! How foolish could I’ve been? To trust a wily snake… Oh God, don’t hurt me! Get away, Masahiro! Nii-san! NII-SAN!”

A pair of hands roughly pulled me into a sitting position and Li looked at me fiercely in the eyes. “Get a grip, Sakura!”

The tears wouldn’t stop falling and I continued. “You betrayed me! You sold me out to the Devil!” I shrieked. “I did everything for you! You couldn’t repay me after all these wasted years?”

He pulled me into a tight embrace, not letting me go no matter how much I fought against his hold. Li’s voice floated into my ear, the vibrations of his throat pulsing gently against my temple.

“Stop it. You’re okay. You’re not in Tomoeda anymore—you’re in Tokyo, far away enough from Amai Masahiro.”

Li let me go to study my face. I looked back at him through watery eyes, before launching myself at him and openly sobbing into his shoulder. Wrapping his arms around me again, Li muttered ,“You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay” in a low mantra against my temple.

And I foolishly—foolishly—believed him.


-Syaoran-
-July 15-
-Fallen Sakura Opening Night-

Kinomoto and Tsukishiro subjected us to a series of security checkpoints the days before opening night. This continued well into the night, the first concert of the ‘Fallen Sakura’ tour.

While Sakura Athene sat in her dressing room getting dressed, Kinomoto Sakura and I stood outside the door, conducting final sound checks.

My walkie-talkie buzzed. I ran off to stage left to fix some tangled cables. When I returned, Sakura Athene was coming out of her dressing room and Kinomoto Sakura was gone, probably on another errand for Ayame. The singer smiled at me but her gaze was veiled with something akin to anxiety.

“You’ll do fine and amaze us like always,” I assured her with a smile, handing over her water bottle.

“Thanks Li-san,” she whispered, taking a drink and tossing it back to me before taking her place on the moving platform.

I watched her rise towards the stage and the sound of cheering, roaring crowds told me it was time to get to work.

At a scheduled intermission, Sakura Athene came backstage again, clutching her head and stumbling slightly. She told Ayame to hold off the second half for as long as possible. Worried, my employer followed her to her dressing room after hissing some last minute emergency instructions to the band.

“What’s going on?” Tomoyo’s voice came from behind me. She and Eriol were on their way out the stage door to go back to the hotel. “Did something happen?”

I told her in a hurried whisper that Sakura Athene had suddenly taken ill when she stepped off stage. The dressing room door suddenly opened and out stepped an anxious Ayame. Upon seeing Tomoyo, the older girl seized her hands and said, “Can you cover for us for fifteen minutes or so? We need some sort of musical act and distraction until we get things sorted out back here.”

“Is Sakura okay?” Meiling demanded, coming in from the sound booth to check the situation back here.

“She’ll be fine after she takes some meds. Sudden migraine, extremely unusual for her to get in the midst of a concert,” Ayame explained. “Better yet, the stage is big enough, Meiling. Can you do some floor routine while Tomoyo sings one of Sakura’s songs? Pick something you know and tell me. I’ll announce it as a special act from the crew before Sakura comes back on.”

The two girls nodded. I stepped forward. “Are you sure she’s okay? Can I do something?” I worried.

“She’s fine, Li, it won’t be necessary. Hiiragizawa, sit with her for a minute. Your dad’s a doctor, you know what to do.”

Eriol entered the room and it locked behind him. I stared at the steel door. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do?”

“Positive,” Ayame said before rushing off.


-Eriol-

Entering the dressing room, I found Sakura curled up into a ball on the couch. “Hey, you okay?” I asked her, taking a seat next to her and rubbing her back gently.

“Eriol, I feel so weak. My head’s killing me,” she moaned.

I started to question her. So far, nothing unusual happened. She drank plenty of water, ate regular amounts of food, nerves were functioning normally pre-concert. I couldn’t figure out what was causing her migraine.

“Hold on, Ayame’s bringing you medicine.” I soothed.

“It won’t do any good,” she snapped before apologizing. “I can hardly move. It feels like every part of me is screaming from over-exertion. I don’t understand it. It wasn’t like I was doing one of my old gymnastics routines onstage.”

“My head’s pounding, as if there’s something in my skull struggling to get out, clawing its way past tissue, fluid, and blood.”

The gruesome description made me uneasy. The sound of falling feet and Tomoyo’s smooth voice echoed through the room’s speakers. Tomoyo and Meiling were doing a good job stalling. The crowd loved the “crew” acts and cheered louder, calling for an encore. The two girls obliged for fifteen minutes hadn’t past yet.

The door unlocked and Ayame hurried in holding a glass of water and a bottle of pills. Locking the door behind her, Ayame rushed over to her cousin and held out two pills and the glass. “Toya says you have to take this.”

She swallowed without complaint and tried to stand up. I caught her as she fell over.

“What in the hell?“ Ayame asked, bewildered by Sakura’s sudden fall.

“I can hardly move. It gets a little better with time but I get the feeling it won’t wear off enough to function onstage for a few hours,” she explained again.

“You mean-“

“Yeah. Switch.”

Switch? What in the hell did that mean?

To my astonishment, Ayame unlocked one of the travel wardrobes and took out a short honey auburn wig and a contacts case.

So that’s how they pulled off this charade for years. That also explains the incredibly small amount of backstage hands for a tour as big as this one. I noticed when we first visited that Ayame seemed to know everyone fairly well outside of the working hours.

No one would question it. It also explained Yukito’s secret double role as a bodyguard and sound engineer. He could secretly monitor and control a tape of Sakura’s actual voice pre-recorded in studios for moments like these. At the same time, he could jump to Sakura’s defense from his third row sound booth if Toya was too far away.

I turned my back as Ayame changed into one of Sakura’s outfits. No wonder why they had Tomoyo create extra pieces for Ayame. It wasn’t because Ayame wanted her own clothes—it served a practical purpose too.

Sakura managed to help pin Ayame’s hair flat against her skull and situate the wig on her head. The manager put the contacts on quickly and helped Sakura out of her clothes and into the ones she was wearing earlier as Kinomoto Sakura.

“You going to be okay?” Ayame whispered as she removed the makeup from her cousin’s face.

“As long as I stay at your booth in stage left in a chair, I think I’ll be fine.”

“Syaoran will be there,” I mentioned. “He’s monitoring the lights back there right now.”

“Good.” Ayame stood up and I was amazed with the transformation. She looked uncannily like Sakura Athene from up close—it would be impossible to tell from front row.

Impossible…


-Syaoran-

Eriol and Tomoyo finally left for the hotel after my best friend escorted an extremely pale Kinomoto Sakura to Ayame’s booth nearby my station.

“She okay?” I asked Eriol.

“Headache and mild stomach cramps,” he dismissed. “Ayame stepped out and sent her PA to watch things.”

Once he left, I turned to Kinomoto. “You okay?”

She didn’t answer; I suppose that was a good sign. I didn’t know how to handle a hysterical Kinomoto—last week proved just as much.

“God, it seems like every one is getting sick around here,” I casually mentioned.

“Whatever, Li,” she muttered, her voice muffled from her head lying on the table.

The concert started back up again. Ayame was right—Sakura Athene was fine after a few minutes and meds. She was as energetic as ever.

As the music continued on, the lights in our wing began to flicker. “Kinomoto, is that normal?”

“Obviously not. Go fix it. That’s your job.”

I frowned and stared up at the flickering lights. “Come with me. I can’t leave a sick person by herself. What if you pass out?”

“What if I pass out on the catwalks? How the hell are you going to get me down?” She retorted back, sounding like more herself for the first time in days.

The cables overhead creaked ominously. “Kinomoto, just go with me,” I pleaded. I didn’t want to be by myself.

We started to climb the stairs as the next song began to play. I recognized the tune and the associated memories distracted me from the eerie flickering lights.

I'm sitting in a room
Made up of only big white walls
And in the halls there are
People looking through
The window in the door
They know exactly what we're here for
Don't look up, just let them think
There's no place else you'd rather be
You're always on display
For everyone to watch and learn from
Don't you know by now
You can't turn back
Because this road is all you'll ever have

As we reached the top landing, I ushered Kinomoto in front of me. She made no complaint but I could feel her obvious pain from her migraine.

Wait—migraine? Where did I get that idea?

And it's obvious that you're dying, dying
Just living proof that the camera's lying
And oh, oh, open wide
'Cause this is your night
So... smile
'Cause you'll go out in style

“Li, did you bring up and use the tools earlier? There’re all over the walkway,” she asked me.

I looked down at my feet, suddenly aware of the metal bumps underneath my shoes. “I haven’t been up here since we arrived.”

The feeling in my stomach tightened.

You'll go out in style

Before me, Kinomoto slipped and started to fall backwards but I caught her in time. “You okay?” I whispered as I righted her.

“Yeah. Just can’t focus on anything,” she answered shakily.

It struck me as odd because Kinomoto Sakura never shakes. She’s always cool and confident no matter what.

If you let me, I could
I'd show you how to build your fences
Set restrictions, separate from the world
The constant battle that you hate to fight
Just blame the limelight
Don't look up, just let them think
There's no place else you'd rather be
And now, you can't turn back
Because this road is all you'll ever have

The cables around us creaked out of sync with the bass. The hairs on the back of my neck rose and I glanced over my shoulder, paranoia creeping in.

“Keep close, okay? It’s too creepy up here.” I brought her closer.

She slapped my hand away. “I’m fine. I’m not helpless or scared of the dark.”

I kept an eye on her anyways.

And it's obvious that you're dying, dying
Just living proof that the camera's lying
And oh, oh, open wide
'Cause this is your night
So... smile

I found the malfunctioning wires easily enough. They were located above center stage. No doubt one of the lighting technicians noticed the lights and set off some kind of distraction for the audience.

Kinomoto stood off to the side, aloof as always. She kept glancing around at the darkness around us as I bent over to fix the wires.

The lights stopped flickering above center stage.

I tugged on her hand. “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”

Yeah, yeah, you're asking for it
With every breath that you breathe in,
Just breathe it in
Yeah, yeah, well you're just a mess
You do all this big talking
So now let's see you walk it
I said let's see you walk it

We stopped every so often to pick up the scattered tools. I cursed whoever had been up here last for his carelessness. We could see Sakura Athene and the band below our feet. I was sure the music drowned out any noise from our footsteps, but we moved quietly anyways. The journey back seemed to take forever.

The cables creaked around us, causing Kinomoto to jump. “What the hell was that?” She whispered.

I dumped the tools back into the toolbox towards the end of the catwalk. “Nothing. You’re just over-reacting,” I told her, nonchalant.

Yeah, yeah, you're asking for it
With every breath that you breathe in,
Just breathe it in
Yeah, yeah, well you're just a mess
You do all this big talking
So now let's see you walk it
I said let's see you walk it

Her face contorted into a mask of anxious fury. “I’m telling you, Li, there’s something up here besides us!”

“Are you scared?” I teased her. I was never going to let her live this down, not for as long as we both lived.

“No, Li, I’m not!”

The lights suddenly went dark.

It's obvious that you're dying, dying
Just living proof that the camera's lying
And oh oh open wide

I blindly reached in front of me. “Kinomoto?”

“Kinomoto, where the hell did you go?”

“Li,” her terrified voice answered back. “I’m still here.”

Yeah oh oh open wide

“Stay still,” I instructed. “I can’t be any more than five feet away from you. With your headache, you could accidentally fall off the catwalk in your dizzy state.”

Yeah oh oh open wide

The lights flickered back on. Below me, I could hear the bewildered whispers of the audience as the lights in Tokyo Dome flickered on and off. The music continued to play.

I saw Kinomoto standing ten feet in front of me, terrified beyond belief. I couldn’t figure out how she had gotten so far away from me when she was beside me only moments before. The only one of us who had moved was me.

The stage darkened again. “Li,” she called more urgently. “Hurry up so we can get outta here!”

The lights came back on and I was five steps away from her. “I’m here. C’mon Kinomoto.”

'Cause you'll go out in style

The cables creaked around us ominously. Throughout the auditorium and the stage, the lights kept flickering, on and off, on and off. She was frozen in place, terrified by something around us that I couldn’t see.

“Let’s go,” I said impatiently, tugging on her hand when she didn’t move.

Lights on.

“Kinomoto, I don’t want to play these stupid games,” I warned her as she stood rooted to the same spot.

Lights off.

I started walking away from her and prepared to go down the stairs. “Fine. If you want to stay up here, I’m leaving you.”

On.

But then, her piercing scream filled the air and Kinomoto Sakura disappeared into the darkness.

"SAKURA!"

You’ll go out in style.

Off.

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