Notes and Disclaimers: As always, these characters belong to CLAMP, while the story idea is mine.
The Tarot used in the story is the Rider-Waite, although I personally dislike it.
There is some sexual content of a not-explicit kind, so call it R rated. Don't be reading it if you're a minor.
Positive feedback is always appreciated - firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Cards
The full moon cleared the trees and an eldritch light poured down upon the manicured lawn. Inside, the silver strands mixed unsettlingly with the warm golden glow of the lamp. Looking out onto the night, he smiled and began to shuffle the cards he held in his hand. They passed through his hands fluidly, flashing in the unearthly light. He increased the speed and complexity of his motions, varying the movements of cards and hands, until they moved as a single unit of his thought. With a sudden cessation of motion the cards formed a single deck once again. Staring down, he turned one card over.
A young man looked back at him, the tools of his trade laid out on a table. Bright eyes shining, one hand raised, the youth was crowned with the lemniscate of infinity. He considered the card soberly, his mouth pulled down into a slight frown. It had been so short a period of his life, and long ago now, but once, yes, once he had been the Magician. It was long enough ago that he no longer felt the absence of power keenly. He had grieved and grown and moved on. But no one wishes to be reminded that they were once greater than they are now.
The next card. His lips turned up, slightly. The Queen of Cups? Puzzled, he considered this. Surely it should have been Wands. He lifted his eyes to the moon, but it was too bright, and too cold and made him hurt with a memory that was not his. He considered the Queen of Wands as he knew she would be now. And he smiled, thinking of her and her Knight of Swords together. But Cups . This puzzled him and he laid one hand on it trying to guess the meaning of the riddle. Determined to understand, he placed a new card upon it The Moon. His frown deepened. Some people read that card as betrayal, although he did not subscribe to that interpretation.
Leaving the riddle behind him, he turned over yet another card and found himself staring at the Lovers. He shook his head, wondering if he was as distracted as this reading made him seem. Disgusted with his own lack of comprehension, he scooped the cards back into a pile and once again shuffled. Eyes closed, he pulled a single card from the deck, glanced at it, scowled at The Magician once again, thrust it back into the deck and shoved the deck into the top desk drawer. Hed had enough of the search for truth and he was hungry. Maybe truth lay in the somewhat less obscure secrets of the refrigerator. He smiled and left the study with a springy step.
Suppi looked up as Eriol closed the door behind him. Yawning hugely, the cat-like creature nodded at his master and jumped off the window ledge, following the young man into the kitchen. Eriol waved Suppi along, gesturing to the cabinet.
"Which one do you want for dinner?" Eriol asked, already face first in the refrigerator, moving various objects in order to see what lay hidden in the depths. Suppi turned towards the open cabinet and reached a paw towards one of the cans, pulling it down onto the counter. Eriol, balancing several items in his arms, dropped the various foodstuffs onto the surface next to the chosen can. Never one to chitchat, Suppi had, of late, nearly stopped talking. Glancing at his "familiar," Eriol smiled and ran his hand along the creatures head, then scratched him under the chin. Rolling his eyes, Suppi submitted to this patiently, but said nothing. Eriol wondered if he had completely lost his ability to speak, or if he just had nothing to say. He was certainly more cat-like than he had been seven years ago his wings had become vestigial. Eriol sighed and turned his attention to fixing dinner for both of them.
Some time later, as Eriol pulled a casserole out of the oven, he could hear the front door open, a voice, then a second voice. A few minutes of not *quite* silence passed, a voice again, and the door closed. Noise of a person entering, removing coat, moving through the house, then a form burst into the kitchen, practically hurricane-like in its energy.
"I am *so* in love!" The young man screamed in a shrill, girlish tone. Suppi looked up and grimaced, then returned to his own dinner, humphing to himself.
The young man closed in on the beast and demanded. "What was that? What did you say?" Suppi refused to even look up and the young man simply smirked. "Youre just jealous." Turning back to Eriol, who had prudently set the casserole down, the young man threw his arms around Eriol and shouted once again.
"You are happy tonight, Nakuru. Come and eat and tell me whats happened."
The young man ran his hands through his short hair and scowled unconvincingly. "Nicky, Eriol, please."
Eriol apologized quickly. "I know its been years, but when you shout like that, you sound like Nakuru."
"Well, I am Nakuru. But here, Im known as Nicky. And being Nicky in England has been so much fun!" The youth grinned and served himself some of the casserole.
Eriol watched Nicky from under his eyelashes. Seven years ago, they had returned to England. Ruby Moon, amused at having tried being a girl in Japan, had decided to try being a boy for a while. But his tastes hadnt changed much. His new boyfriend seemed as much like Kinomoto Touya as two people could be. Eriol casually wondered if Nak Nicky could transform anymore. As with Suppi, he found himself afraid to ask. And the admission of fear surprised him.
Nicky looked around. "Wheres Teach?"
Eriol shrugged. "She hasnt come home yet."
Nicky looked offended. "On your birthday? Shes not home yet? Nervy. Oh, that reminds me " He ran out, returning with a box wrapped in red paper and finished with a gold bow. Nicky stood over Eriol, as he unwrapped the object. A jade pendant on gold silk cord was lifted gently up. Nicky bounced up and down on his toes as Eriol held it up to the light.
"Look at the back!"
Eriol turned it around and scanned the characters inscribed on the piece. When he saw it, his jaw dropped and he stared at Nicky in surprise. "How ? Where did you find this?"
Nicky was grinning so hard he thought hed burst. "In an antique store! I swear. It was just lying there and it drew me. It would, of course."
Eriol shook his head a few times and placed the pendant back in the box with a hand that shook slightly. "Thank you it is a magnificent gift."
Nickys brows drew together. "You do like it? Ken wasnt sure you would, but I thought I told him a little bit of the truth. Sort of. Enough so hed understand."
Eriol took Nickys hands and squeezed them warmly. "Yes, I like it very much." He stared at it lying in the box and ran his finger over the seal on the back. Carved by hand in the soft jade was an inscription that ended " made by Clow Reed." "I love it."
Dinner proceeded normally from there. Nicky left to get ready for yet another evening spent with his Ken, and Eriol sat in the main room by the fire reading, with Suppi curled up on the chair arm.
It was late when she reached the house. The moon was high and the windows, all but one, were dark. She was sorry to have missed dinner with them, but there were so many things she had had to do. It was, after all, his birthday. She sighed with relief as she entered the house. It smelled of bread and chicken and she found her stomach growling. She smiled, hung her coat up, and headed into the kitchen for a snack.
When she entered the study, she found Eriol asleep in his chair, with Suppi on his lap. She walked over and kneeled by his side, tracing the well-known features with her eyes. His hair, longer than it had been on their return to England, was held loosely in a ponytail and, had he but known it, he looked remarkably like the man he had been - like Clow Reed. She brushed a strand of hair from his cheek and his eyes fluttered, then opened.
When he saw her smiling at him, his hand pressed into hers and he gave it a small kiss. "Welcome home." He said softly, in Japanese. She laughed and replied in the same language.
Her voice was so soft; he could barely hear her. He shot her a hard look.
She leaned forward slightly and brushed her lips against his. He responded more out of surprise and instinct than anything else. She pulled away and held out a hand to him. He placed his hand in hers, but spoke her name once again questioningly.
She smiled and shook her head. "What can I say that isnt clichéd? You must know I love you."
His reaction was not what she expected, and his mystification genuine. He began to speak, but she quieted him with a gesture.
"Ive waited for this day for you."
His brows furrowed, but she leaned forward and kissed him smoothing the furrows away. Another kiss on each eye and one lightly placed on his mouth, before he could speak. Then she leaned in once again for a slightly deeper kiss. Pulling away, she looked into his eyes, those deep beautiful eyes, and once again thought how lovely a boy he was.
His eyes were large and black in the room, glistening with the reflection of the small fire.
"Kaho, I never expected I never thought of you " he paused, trying to find the least hurtful way to say what he needed to say. But his words faded when he saw her face. Her smile, always so gentle, had the smallest quirk tonight. As if she knew something he did not. He thought again of his faded powers and wondered briefly at that quirk.
Kaho waited patiently for him to reject her, but he found that even as the words formed in his mind, they died on his lips. She *was* very beautiful. Her hair lay thick across her shoulders, burnished in the firelight, and her eyes twinkled at him. Why had he never seen it before? How come he had never noticed her round hips, and long neck? And why had he never longed to feel that ivory skin, or taste her lips? He blinked up at her as she smiled broadly, and shivered as he felt a wave of magical energy pass over them.
She laughed. "You felt it?" He nodded. "Good. That means that you still can sense magic." She let go of his hand and pulled the other chair closer to his. He watched her settle herself and even caught himself watching the way her legs curled up underneath her.
"Eriol." Her voice was gentle and she grinned at him as he returned his attention to her face, but he still felt a wash of warm embarrassment flow through him.
"Is it a spell?" His voice was not as steady as he might have liked.
Kaho shook her head. "No. Not the way you mean. Its just time."
He thought about this. "You mean it was ordained?"
She rocked her head side to side noncommittally. "I mean, it might not have happened and it might. Like Sakura-chan, you have a chance, but you can still fail."
He seized upon the single point he felt comfortable questioning. "Fail? What would I be failing to do?"
She smiled so sweetly his chest began to ache. "To regain your power the power of Clow Reed."
Silence hung heavily over the two of them, punctuated only by pops and cracks from the fireplace. The meaning of the earlier tarot reading slowly began to become clear. He thought about the first card, the Magician. To wield that kind of power again.... He pondered her words. Did, he, in fact, desire that kind of power anymore? He had been so relieved to be rid of it, as had Clow before him. But he was no longer eleven years old,and he was not Clow Reed...
"There is a challenge." It was not a question. As he had forced Sakura to use her own powers, he began to understand that he too would now face a trial. He stared into the fire and wondered if he would be up to the task.
When Kaho did not answer, he turned to gaze at her. She sat, her eyes closed, her face serious. "There is a challenge." She agreed at last. Her eyes opened and he was left breathless by their emerald glitter.
Kaho gave him a small, ironic smile. "Eriol, I am a vessel. You must have recognized that by now. I have no power of my own, but I hold within me many powers that belong to others." She sighed wistfully. "When I met Touya-kun, I sensed in him a vast well of that power and I knew from whom it came. I went out with him I spent time with him so that at fifteen years old he might not find himself with some girl who might force him to deny it. It was too important for him to retain it. I could feel it. And so I protected him."
Eriol nodded. "And Tsukishiro-san lives because you did. Yue, too." The sigh now came from his own lips. Beautiful Yue. My finest creation. He caught himself in mid-thought. He hardly did that anymore and it unnerved him. He was no longer Clow Reed, was he? Those days were years past and yet, here was Kaho offering him that power again. But what would it cost him, and more importantly, her?
Kaho had begun speaking again. "You know what happened with Sakura-chan." Her eyes closed and she steepled her fingers "And you know how it hurt me to not be able to help her more than I did.
"And now, you must have noticed that Suppi and Nakuru are no longer magical, as they once were."
Eriol nodded. "I have, and I have been too weak to ask about it. I'm frightened of the truth." He stroked Suppis back reflexively as he spoke. "Do you know if they can transform anymore?"
Kaho shook her head. "They might, but it would be their last act. Nakuru, that is Nicky," and she cast a grin at Eriol, "hasnt had cause or desire to. And he has more power in his human form than Suppi has in his.
"Eriol, before we go further, you have to decide for yourself do you want Clows magic or not? Dont do this out of guilt or you *will* fail. Nicky is happy the way he is probably happier now than he was as Ruby Moon. And Suppi is content with his lot. You have to decide for yourself and no one else."
Silence fell again, but this time was cut short by Kahos soft voice. "And Eriol," she rose, walked around his chair and placed her hands on his shoulders, "it must be tonight." She turned and left the room, the door closing behind her with a soft, final click.
The fire was low, now, no more than a few embers, and Eriol hadnt moved from his chair. Some time ago, he had heard the sounds of Nicky returning. Now the young man had gone to bed, and only he remained wakeful. He stared out of the window at the silver-frosted lawn. The moons light created deep pockets of shadow, but did not reveal the answers he sought.
The Moon. Eriol sat up with a start. The Queen of Cups, the Moon and the Lovers. The meaning of his reading became clear to him and he mentally slapped himself for his obtuseness. "I am a vessel," she had said.
And time was passing so quickly. Eriol stood, placing Suppi on the chair he had vacated. He glanced once again at the moon, nodded and walked quickly from the room.
In the hall, he stopped in front of Kahos room, placed his hand on the door, and stood, breathing heavily. But no, this wasnt fair to her. To treat her as no more than a vehicle to regain his power this route would lead to sure failure. Clow Reeds magic was never about that kind of dominance. Entering his own room, Eriol stripped quickly and sat on the bed. He closed his eyes, and thought about who he was, who he had been. Did he even want the power he had formerly borrowed? Was being Clow reborn enough to claim Clows power as his own? Did he feel he could carry the burden that Clow could not?
A voice came from within his mind, a deep voice, one he knew had belonged to Clow Reed. "What was your face before you were born?" And the voice laughed. Eriol scowled at the echo of his past self and tried to listen to his heart.
For the next few minutes, there were no sounds from the room, except soft, steady breathing that slowed and deepened. After what seemed like a long time, he stood. The room was gone. Eriol looked out onto a plain that was lit with a diffuse crystalline light. He was wearing the robes he had worn as a child, when he had presumed to use Clow Reeds power. The staff he held cast a long dark shadow on the featureless ground.
A movement caught his attention. A tall figure strode quickly across the plain towards him, one hand outstretched, palm outward. This was no greeting the tall figure was gathering energy to attack and Eriol had no time to avoid it. The blast struck him in the chest, throwing Eriol back several feet. The tall assailant kept coming, gathering energy once again and Eriol struggled to his feet.
"Clow Reed ." Eriol gasped and the figure halted.
"I am Clow Reed." It said. Shadows covered its face like a mask and Eriol shook his head.
"No. You were Clow Reed." Eriol cast about for a source of power. The grim flatness of the ground mocked him.
"As were you." The figure lowered its arm. "What makes you worthy of my power?"
"Because it is my power." Eriols voice was soft. A surge of something like magic passed through him - an impression of the truth, of a soothsaying.
The figure cocked its head and laughed grimly. "Very well. Take it from me." And it lifted its hand once again.
Eriol held the staff out in front of him, but it barely deflected the energy. He remained standing, but only with an effort. Once again he sought a source of power and found himself wishing the shadows werent so deep, that the sun of his staff could drive them away.
And with that thought, the sun at the end of his staff began to shine. He stared as the light created a glowing sphere of energy. As his heart filled with hope, the light shone forth even more strongly. Eriol began to believe that he could prevail. The sun glowed ever more brightly and he extended the staff. His adversary strode closer, arms at his side, until his face was visible. Eriol braced for the vision would it be Clow, or himself he faced?
"I wont take the power from you. I dont have to."
The figure moved into the sphere of light and simply faded away, until all that remained was Eriol, nearly blinded by his own staff.
"Because it is already mine." And Eriol knew that the decision had been made. Yes, he thought. Yes I want this, I want to feel the thrill of magic as it passes through me once again. I want to be the Magician once again. He was also aware, as if it were written in the air in front of him that this time it was not borrowed magic, an echo of someone else's greatness. This time, it was his own. Created by him, this magic would not be a cloak too heavy to handle, a fate too heavy to bear.
A deep, resonant noise sounded behind him and he spun to find Kaho standing just outside his sphere of light.
"Youve gained the Sun. Can you find it in your heart to accept the Moon?" And she lifted her hand to ring the Crescent Moon Bell one last time. The vision vanished and Eriol found himself once again in his bedroom.
He was covered in sweat, his hair plastered along his back. A glance at the clock let him know that little time had passed. One more, entirely mundane thing and then he would be ready.
The door opened quietly into the dark room. Eriols eyes adjusted to the moonlight that shone so brightly through the window. At the sill, a figure stirred. Kaho turned, and seeing Eriol, stood. The hem of her robe trailed behind her as she moved forward to meet him. She stretched out her arms, took his hands into hers and pulled herself closer.
"I am not the man I was." Eriol smiled.
"No," Kaho agreed, and lifted one hand to stroke his cheek. "No, not this time. You have to be yourself and it will be harder." She looked up into his eyes.
"But youll be there for me."
She smiled. "No, I always follow young men to foreign countries and live with them for years, waiting for them to grow up into powerful magicians." And she leaned forward to place a kiss on his lips.
He kissed her back, drawing her close. When they broke apart, Kaho leaned her head against his chest. He could hear his own breathing in the quiet room.
"Kaho," his voice was uncertain, full of emotion, "Im not sure I can do this."
Her voice was muffled against his chest and he could feel her warm breath through his robe. "You can." She pulled away, taking him by one hand and leading him towards the bed. "You can, because you want the power and I have it. You can, because you are young and alive, and you can because I am beautiful." Her face, when it turned towards him was more than beautiful. It was lit with a expression he had never seen before, something not of this world and once again he thought of her words. I am a vessel. She was not being facetious, or simplistic. She *was* a vessel, of the power beyond the power, of some Shakti that required him to be present and perform his role. She was a vessel of the Moon the Queen of Cups in truth. Her expression spoke of desire, of power of gifts offered only once and then lost forever. He stepped forward and embraced her, pressing his lips to hers. It is not often that one is allowed to serve a Goddess.
Her hands were warm as she slid his robe off his body, her robe already was gone, and he found himself seeing her as if for the first time. Her ivory body lay below him and in that moment, his body flooded with desire. There was no more question of can or want; Eriol simply met her passion with his own. He marveled at the smoothness of her skin, the exquisite feel of her body against, then around him. Eriol became lost in byways of sensation, but at last Kaho found him and brought him back. Looking into his eyes, she moved with him, until he felt their breathing match. For one brief moment he could feel their union as a reflection of In and Yan, as the complementary principles that create and define the universe. As his body peaked, he sensed another wave that moved through him and about him, something less physical and more eternal. Body, mind and spirit exploded as one, both waves joining together through himself and the priestess beneath him. Sun and Moon eclipsed each other and power flowed through each.
Together, Eriol and Kaho drew in threads of magic from the world around them and twined them together. Standing once again in the otherworldly plain, Eriol dropped the staff he held. Gathering in the strands of energy, he and Kaho wove a new pattern that glowed softly before them. The intertwined arms of a galaxy spun in a lazy spiral, its center a compressed core of inexpressible energy. Standing before this vision, Eriol took Kahos hand in his own and lifted them both to the image. As they touched it, it became fixed and it shrunk, flattened and fell, to lie as a sigil in their palms.
When Eriols eyes opened, he lay next to Kaho, his body entwined with hers, their hair mixed in a halo around them. He smiled down at her, and kissed her softly on lips made full and red by passion. Her eyes did not open, but she stirred in his arms and smiled, then snuggled herself against him.
The moon had not yet sunk, its unreal light filling the corners and niches in the room with shadow. Between her breasts he could see something dark and round, yet shimmering softly. As he shifted, Eriol could feel something cold on his own chest and he looked down. Lifting the item he could make out a faintly glowing galaxy, its stars pulsing with a slow, uneven rhythm. Smiling, he let the sigil drop against him, then leaned down, as Kaho, her eyes meeting his, opened her arms to him once again.
Eriol pushed open the study door, then stopped dead, two steps into the room. Staring at him with unsmiling expressions were Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun. Eriol felt a flush creep over his face, but managed to stop himself from turning and running.
The two magical beings watched in silence as Eriol crossed towards them, a somewhat strained smile on his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but Ruby Moon held up a hand.
"Teach is in the kitchen." She just managed to not smirk. "I promised Suppi not to tease you, but be grateful I wasnt with Ken or anything."
Eriol cleared his throat and tried to think of something to say, but Ruby Moon waved him away. "Really, Eriol, I think we understand the general gist of things. Go away and have some breakfast."
Eriol nodded contritely and fled.
Kaho was in the kitchen, singing softly to herself as she cooked. Her hair was loose and he stood in the door to watch as it moved across her back. She spun around to face him, and her smile disappeared. Eriol felt a hard knot form in his stomach as her green eyes turned cold.
"Good morning." Her voice was even, but distant.
His voice reflected the ache in his chest. "Kaho, I "
She turned away. "You dont have to say anything. Its over and done and we can both move on."
Eriol felt as if he had been hit. "What?"
Kaho continued to look at the pan in front of her, where noodles lay simmering. "It was just for the moment. I understand." The control in her voice was painful.
"Youre wrong!" Eriol felt something inside him burst. "Im not like that and youre not like that." He grabbed her wrist and jerked her around to face him. Her eyes were blank, her pain buried under duty. "Kaho, you are very wrong."
He lifted the sigil from around his neck. "Where is yours?"
She shook her head. "I took it off. Its not my magic I dont have any magic of my own."
Eriol stared. "Then youre wrong about that, too."
Kaho pulled her arm from his grip, but she didnt move away. Eriol continued. "Dont you see? It wasnt a challenge for me alone. You told me that, last night. But did you really think that your only reward would be to give me my power?"
"Yes." Kahos voice broke on the single syllable.
Eriols eyes widened. "You were going to leave, werent you?" Her silence was answer enough.
"This magic is ours. Not mine. Ours. We made it together." Eriol found his fists clenched and forcibly loosened them. "You said you loved me has that changed?" Eriol stepped closer to Kaho. "If it has, then tell me, because I love you."
Kaho stared at him. She could feel the wave of his power and much as she wanted to deny it, something within her replied.
"You felt that, didnt you?" Eriol said gently. "I know you did. Cant you see? This really is your power as much as it is mine. If you leave now, Ill only have half my magic." He brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "Ill only have half my heart."
Kaho closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against his hand. His arms were strong and warm as the embraced her. She could hear his heart and with a small shock, she realized that their hearts were in synch. She could feel them breathe as one, and she understood that Eriol was right. She lifted her head, met his liquid brown eyes with emerald ones, and smiled.
It was late and the moon was past full. The cards lay on the desk, while two figures looked over the formation.
Once again the Magician smiled his professional smile, holding his arm raised over his symbols. This time the High Priestess lay to his immediate right. Kaho laughed gaily at this.
"Tarot symbolism is so hideously unsubtle." She joked. Eriol agreed. His reading was seriously heavy on the major and short on the arcana.
"Whats the next one?" He reached out to sense the card and felt Kaho do the same.
Together they spoke. "The Lightning-Struck Tower." And the card flipped over, its identity revealed.
"Last one." This time the card didnt hesitate and flipped immediately. The World sang paeans of glory and joy as they smiled at each other.
Ive used nothing but Major Arcana in this story, because they are, after all, the greater secrets.
The representations used are the standard Rider-Waite. Although it is not a deck I favor, I figure itll be more immediately recognizable. Here are the meanings of the cards Ive used *as I see them*.
The Magician represents skill on many levels, also accomplishment after long study, cleverness and a host of other good stuff. Reversed he represents trickery and snake-oil. Here Ive used him as a straightforward analogy to Clow Reed, magician and creator of the Clow cards.
The Queen of Cups represents a woman of emotion, but in this case, the reference is to the idea that a cup is a vessel. The Queen also represents a mature individual, which I felt contrasted nicely with Eriols apparent youth, despite his being the reincarnation of an older magician.
Sakura as the Queen of Wands would reflect both her nature as a "doer" and to her use of her key/wand. Li therefore follows as her Knight of Swords the youth of Action and martial skill. (And yes, Ive put in the age dichotomy again, although they are the same age, which reflects my perception that as a woman, Sakura would be more mature for her age than Li, and also her preeminent position as Mistress of the Cards to his subordinate role.)
The Moon is traditionally seen as representing betrayal, but like Eriol, I dont agree. I tend to think of it as seeing things with "other" sight. Think of the way your yard appears under a really full moon nothings different, but it is *all* different, if you take my meaning. For the story, the Moon is also a direct representation of Kahos Moon powers and really, if you didnt get that, you werent paying attention to the anime or manga, because they really beat it to death there. Even her name refers to the moon.
The second appearance of the Magician is due to an old rule in Tarot reading, that if a particular card keeps popping up as you read, then it is a message to you, the reader. This is more important when you are doing readings for other people, but would be no less true in readings for ones self.
The Magician again and the High Priestess well duh. If you cant figure that one out then you werent paying attention! As Kaho mentions, its not terribly subtle.
The Lightning-Struck Tower represents sudden enlightenment emphasis on the "sudden" part. Could be bad, could be good, but itll hit you like a ton of bricks. Got it? Both Eriol and Kaho have had a few eye-openers with this one.
The World symbolizes "completion" and triumph. Thus the final card, the fanfare and paeans. :-) Take a look at the card to see what I mean.
Extra special thanks to Sparkle on this one she always reads my CCS stories so carefully. And as always, to Stirling, my own High Priestess.