They land in a desert world that has both of the children bright-eyed and excited; the princess still doesn’t remember much, but her entire body seems to relax into the punishing heat, and there’s a healthy flush to her white cheeks. When Fay himself wilts and retreats to hide inside, she lingers on the veranda of their borrowed rooms and turns her pretty little face to the sun. Wrapped in loose gauzy white, she looks like a creature of air and spirit, so light that she might drift away on the next strong wind. Fay watches her through the windows as dusk falls and he’s able to emerge with the cooling day, watching the clean lines of her shoulders and tries to remember that she’s not real. She’s just as much of a construct as Chii: a copied mind and a copied body, going through the automatic motions of life because she knows no better.
She’s just a copy, but he’s sworn to keep her safe until her creator calls her home. The hot weather makes her eyes sparkle and she has enough of her feathers back to shake off her initial doll-like lethargy; she smiles for all of them and pushes herself hard to stay awake.
Fay watches her spread her arms to the sky like she could embrace the dusk close as a lover, and falls just a little in love. He can’t help it, really: royalty has always been his weakness.
Somewhere along the way, Fay forgets.
Oh, he always remembers that she’s not real — that she’s really nothing more than an construct of blood and bone and magic — but he forgets. It’s all her fault, anyway: she smiles sweetly at his jokes and lays her head on his shoulder and plays along when he calls them a family. They arrive in a world where he actually dresses as a mother and she plays along, her soft hand in his as they walk in step together. He buys her a small bag of rock-candy at the end of the day, and watches how her face changes in pleasure as the sugar dissolves on her tongue.
Even then, she’s so obviously royalty that he’s amazed no one else notices: there is a lightness to her smile — to her very presence — that lifts her above everyone else in the marketplace. He lets her take his hand again, but watches her from the corner of his eye the entire way back. The afternoon sun turns her hair to gold and her skin to marble; she is poised and lovely, and Fay realizes that he is no longer thinking of her as the clone, or the princess’ copy, but as Sakura-chan, as his own.
This is his princess, he knows; this is the only one for him.
The thing is, it is entirely possible to change your fate. That was one of the first things that King Asura taught him. And he’d tried — fate knows he’d tried — but everything has come to this instead: a neat, coldly impersonal room with a clear view of the entire city of Infinity. He stands with the closed door behind him, and the princess lies stretched across the bed, with her skirts artfully arranged and her hair spread across the pillows. Her eyes are closed, the lashes creating pale shadows on her high cheekbones, and her hands are folded low across her stomach. She looks like a princess from a fairytale, though dead or merely sleeping, Fay cannot tell.
“Sakura-chan,” he says.
Her lashes flutter, but don’t rise. He crosses the room and perches on the edge of her bed, looking down at her. There is little left of the light laughing girl he’d bought candy for — oh, a lifetime ago, it feels. In her place is a cold quiet creature, equally lovely but quietly distant. She’s no longer the Sakura-chan he had come to know, because in that final crucial step, he couldn’t keep her safe.
Her master doesn’t care, he knows: as long as the body has its proper memories, that is all he needs, but Fay has broken his own rules so many times for this ragtag cobbled-together family that he can break another and mourn his failure. He touches her cheek with light fingertips, and she finally opens her eyes to look up at him. Her soft mouth remains a quiet, unsmiling line.
“I,” he begins, and sighs. “I wanted to save him.”
He says nothing else, but she sits up with careful, conservative moments. He holds still as she traces the line of his jaw with her soft fingers. There are secrets in her eyes where there used to be known, and that in itself is an obscure pain — Sakura-chan never needed those before.
“I know,” she says.
“For you,” he says. “No, for everyone, and for Syaoran-kun himself — I wanted to –”
She slides her fingers into his hair. Against his cheeks, her hands are cold. He draws in a quick breath and holds it as she stretches up and kisses his forehead. It feels like a benediction he doesn’t quite deserve.
“I know,” she says again, and her fingers skim lightly against the edge of his eyepatch. She smiles sadly, and it’s beautiful in its own way, though he misses the way she smiled before, carefree and featherlight and innocent.
“I know,” she says again. She strokes his hair, and Fay lets himself bend forward just briefly, his forehead to her shoulder, and breathes quietly. It won’t last for long, he knows — other feathers and a boy with a stolen eye out there waiting — but he rests his arms loosely around her tiny waist and lets himself pretend that her forgiveness is for all of the things he’s yet to do.
For the moment, at least, it’s enough.