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Li Syaoran

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sub-TD plot arcs [03 Jul 2008|09:29pm]
My Mother's Boyfriend
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[02 Jul 2008|05:19pm]
Power Struggle in Hong Kong
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[02 Jul 2008|03:02pm]
Spring break in Hong Kong
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[01 Jul 2008|04:01pm]
Once Upon a Time in China
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[narrative] the first day of the rest- [01 Jan 2007|11:54pm]
We traded in glittering skyscrapers for winter-bared treetops and snowcapped rooftops, Chinese for Japanese, Christmas for New Year's holiday. But with the hustle and commotion of a patchwork family running about, filling the house with noise, the Kinomoto home didn't seem so different from the Li mansion now hundreds of miles away. Sensei had already begun preparations for an elaborate feast, and food piled on trays took up every inch of space on the kitchen counters and dining table. Tomoyo had the unenviable job of keeping the plushie at bay, and his incessant whining could be heard all the way upstairs. I know because I went there to (try and) escape it. Only the arrival of Hiiragizawa and his beetle-winged plushie distracted him.

Gods of sun and sea, help us. Hiiragizawa is back permanently.

Sakura was all atwitter with delight, of course, and tugged him down onto the couch to tell her all about his return, and ask him if he'd be going to school with us (of course), and if he'd attend our classes (naturally). The sun critters zipped upstairs to play a video game, and Akizuki made a big show of gushing over Sakura and the ring on her finger. Then Kinomoto arrived and she gushed over him some too, irritating him and improving my mood - the English crowd could have their good points. Sakura begged to hold the baby, but when she had to excuse herself to the bathroom I was the one who wound up with the kid in my arms. I'm so used to my sister shoving her infant son at me I didn't even think about it, but when I caught Kinomoto glowering at me while the squirt tugged on my finger, I made sure to gloat over her head. I told him that I thought my soon-to-be niece was cute, which was enough to make him red and Mizuki-sensei nod and thank me politely. I think I'm going to like little Mayu.

It wasn't my first New Year's in Japan, but it was the first time I really celebrated it in the Japanese way, with a Japanese family in their traditional shrine. I'd come here to battle Cards, I'd come here seeking answers to magical mysteries, but I'd never just come here, hand in hand with my kimono-clad fiance while she sparkled in the cold January sunlight. We tossed our coins together, and there was no need to ask what the other wished for.

Old friends, old rivals, lovers or magical guardians, we'd all been drawn to the cozy yellow house and those within - maybe there was some magic at work there other than an old book full of some old cards. Maybe they never really mattered at all, come to think of it, vast powers and all that notwithstanding. Maybe they were never meant for anything more than a way for all of us to find the yellow house and those within, find something better in life and hopefully something better within ourselves. I know I did. And I wouldn't change a day of it, not a single moment.

It's not the story I dreamed about when I was young. Somehow, it's even better. And the best part about it is:

it's only just beginning.
1 punch| throw a punch

[action] ghosts on the mountain [30 Dec 2006|05:07pm]
[ mood | scared ]

[Friday]

It would be the last time in a long time that I watched the moon rise over Victoria Harbor, thin and pale as a shard of clear glass in the light of the setting sun. Tonight was our last night in Hong Kong, and so much had happened on this trip

but

not

this.

I'd tried, Kami knows I tried. I made the distance from my home to his and stood before it, trembling like a little boy on his way to a spanking, but never been able to force myself inside. I'd tried it in the daylight, I'd tried it at night, I tried making myself angry and strong and I tried persuading myself that it was only the logical thing to do. In the end, with just one night left to try it, I gave up trying to do it alone at all.

"Can I borrow you?" I asked Meilin, when I caught her in the backyard alone, my voice low. "Just for a few minutes?"

So here I was again, while the sky turned to twilight around us, just like it was doing that first night last summer when I marched in without a second thought. Meilin had followed me asking all sorts of questions, but now that she saw where we were she fell silent. It was my turn to talk.

"Mother's had the repairs completed. There's no reason for no one to use the house. The family will start to wonder if she doesn't. I just need to... walk through it. That's all I have to do, and then it will be okay."

"Okay."

Sometimes, thanks to the hundreds of hours we've spent training together, Meilin knew just what kind of support I needed. She walked with me to the front steps and up onto the porch, a second heartbeat keeping me company on this quiet mountain face, and put her hand in my left when the right one started shaking. Eventually I managed to get my mother's key into the lock, and turned the handle. Nightmares flooded out and smothered me.

"Xiao Lang."

She nodded her head towards the darkness when I turned and looked at her, looking very patient and not like we'd been standing there for ten minutes while I fought for breath. Gripping her hand like we'd be torn apart if I let go, I picked up my foot and

stepped

inside.

It's only a house. Only a building, wood and plaster and bricks, put together by men who died a long time before my grandfather was even born, men who were only doing a job and paid handsomely for their work. They couldn't know that they were building a future prison for me, each brick carefully put in place to trap me and put me through a hell I'd never imagined. It's just a building in which bad people happened to live and bad things happened to occur, and I could not let this building control me. Bright golden light spilled through the western windows, carving up the front parlor with deep shadows, like the yin and yang of everything that ever existed within these neutral walls. Take your pick, light or dark. Good or evil. Love or hatred. Life or death.

Meilin followed me further into the house. "This is where it started," I said, outside the door of a now-empty study. "This is where he sprang his trap, where he took you hostage without you even knowing it. He took my sword, Meilin. He took every weapon I had, and he forced me to drink something drugged. I fell over on the floor."

Her eyes looked wide in the dying sunset light, disgusted and horrified. But we'd only just gotten started.

"This was where I fought back. I smashed his nose in, knocked him to the ground, and we fought with knives. He had a kali blade. I had a kitchen knife. We knocked over some of Grandfather's candles and the curtains caught on fire. It was really hard to breathe."

I glowered at the patch of floor where Jin met his all-too-timely end. I killed him like I'd kill a cockroach, without any regrets, but slicing open his neck hadn't taken away those three days in the basement. Jin was not the enemy - that would be too easy. How can you kill memories? My hand reached to touch the door that would open onto dark descending stairs, and started to shake again.

When it became obvious that I could not do this alone, Meilin covered my hand with hers and helped me turn the handle. Yawning blackness greeted us.

"Are there any lights?"

"I don't know." I found a fire ward and summoned its magic forward into practical form, the charmed paper bursting into flame and throwing a dancing array of light down the steps. "But this'll do."

Meilin would have never been down here before, though she was as familiar with the rest of the house as anyone in the family. Woodenly I forced myself down the steps and she followed me, shoes falling on the stone flagged floor like a thud of dread in my ears. Rows of dark wine bottles gleamed in the firelight, but we were the only things moving. Just me and Meilin, and the ghosts of last summer all around us. I watched myself wake up, watched Grandfather lecture me, watched Jin whip me and brand me. Watched him pour salt water over the wounds and blow smoke in my face and call me his bitch, and then I watched Sakura see me in such a state.

"I won't tell you what happened here," I said, or tried to say through a dry and scratchy throat. "It was- just bad. Too bad to say."

The firelight bouncing off the wine bottles was shaking so frantically, it was becoming difficult to see. Meilin's hand moved to my wrist, trying to still it, and I jumped.

"Xiao Lang, look at me." She stepped through Grandfather and stood there, calm and still and very real amidst the bouncing light and screaming ghosts. "It's over now. You walked through the house. You did it."

"I wish it never happened."

"I'm sorry. But it's over now. And you walked through the house."

I walked through the house. I walked in this basement, alive and healthy while the other two men who were here are long since buried. I lived. I won. And I wouldn't let a building defeat me either.

"I think I'm okay," I told her.

"Good."

"I don't want any of my sisters to live here. But if they do, I think I can handle it."

"Your mom will do the right thing," she reminded me, and reached to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. Firelight bounced off that flashing ruby.

"I hate that ring."

"Funny, you seemed more scared of it than anything else when you saw it Christmas Day."

"You know what I thought it was."

"But collapsing on the floor?" She grinned wickedly, more like Meilin the Cousin now than Meilin the Training Partner. "Really, Xiao Lang. You pick the silliest things to panic about."

"I do not."

"You do..."

Arguing, we left the basement and the house, and I didn't even have to look back. There would be no ghosts on this mountain tonight.

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[action] the promise or threat of things to come [29 Dec 2006|11:00am]
[ mood | angry ]

[Thursday]

He was on his way from the front door to the rear parlor, just passing the study doorway, when my shuriken whizzed past his nose and embedded itself in the plaster wall beside him.

"Huh," I commented, and idly wandered a little closer. The lecher's face had gone pure white and his eyes were dilated to the size of old silver dollars, the bottle of wine and box of chocolates suffering in his tight-knuckled grip. "I missed. That's strange."

I tugged the four-pointed blade out of the wall, just an inch or two away from the faded stain that could have (maybe) been my target. "Normally I'm very... accurate."

"X-Xiao Lang," he stuttered, taking a self-defensive step backward. "I know you do not like me very much. But... I do not think it is necessary to take such extreme steps to scare me away."

"Is it working?"

His shoulders relaxed in a way I did not like, and when he smiled, it wasn't a nervous one. "She did warn me that you would be the difficult one, Xiao Lang. She said you were a world away from her daughters, and I didn't understand what she meant until I met you. It's true that I wish you could like me, but no. It isn't going to scare me away from your mother."

Fuck. I clenched my fists in frustrated malice, consumed with the urge to just strike out and put him on the ground for such an arrogant statement.

His smile turned irritatingly condescending as he watched me glower. "I know that is must be very difficult. You think that I am going to replace your father-"

"No," I spat, and advanced on him with a dangerous wrath. "No, you do not talk about him. Nobody talks about my father to me, least of all you. You don't have the right."

He backed up, and lost the smile. "Er, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you, Xiao Lang. I only meant that it's not easy to move on, sometimes. You see, I am a widower myself. I didn't think I would ever feel love for another woman after my wife died ten years ago, and I didn't even try. But when I met your mother, my feelings changed. She's kind, and wise, and beautiful-"

"Shut UP."

"I feel very strongly about your mother, Xiao Lang. I want to ask her to marry me."

Oh no no no no no, WHY does it have to happen to me? What did I do to deserve any of this?

"Does it pain you so much? You live in Japan now, she told me herself that you rarely come home. If you don't care to spend much time with your mother, then I will do it instead of you. We're very tired of being lonely, Xiao Lang."

"I hate you," I choked, furious at the world because I couldn't hit him to prove it. "You don't deserve her. She's been through so much, you don't even know-"

"What your father did to her?"

"Don't talk about him!"

"I'm sorry, Xiao Lang, but she told me. He left her all alone, long before he died, and it was so painful. I want to be different from him. I want to make Ye Lang happy." He paused, watching my reaction with a touch of uncertainty. "Is that really something to hate so much?"

"Why did you have to come? We were fine, everything was fine!"

"She was sad, that you were finding your future in Japan, moving on. You were fine, Xiao Lang, but she was not. How can you be angry at me, when you left her?"

"I just can," I growled, because I'm good at being angry like that. Kami I hated him so much, hated the way he looked at her and talked about her and most of all that he was right. I wished he'd never been born. I hated him to the depths of his very being, and still I did not hate him as much I hated my father.

My hand snagged his tie and brought him close to me, prompting a nervous squeak in his throat.

"If I ever have any reason to think you're after my mother for her money, there will not be enough of you for the police to find."

And then I left, storming up the stairs and leaving a trail of blood because my shuriken was in my fist the whole time I was clenching it. I was wrapping a bandage around my palm when blondie bounced into my room.

"Hey Li, Meilin said she had to go somewhere with Half-Pint, so we're on our own again tonight. Let's go find where the European backpackers hang out, I'll pick a political fight, and then you can kick all their asses. Cuz that was totally fun last time."

I cinched the bandage with a pin and looked up. "Sounds good, actually. Let's go."

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[narrative] nagging doubts [26 Dec 2006|09:59pm]
[ mood | unsure ]

For Christmas of this year I went where I never thought I'd go, and bought Sakura a dress. I did it apprehensively, with Tomoyo a permanent companion on my cell phone to keep me appraised of her size and assure me that she could perform any alterations "Sakura-chan" would need for a perfect fit. I bought it because I could not get the image of Sakura in my sister's traditional dress out of my mind, and I desperately wanted - needed - to see her in Chinese clothing again.

I found one very similar to the one she'd worn for Fu Di's wedding, in a classy shop that my sisters always talked about so I knew it must be good. The silk was a rich emerald shade, enhancing her eyes and embroidered with delicate gold lyre birds. When she squealed and held it to her chin to see how it would look, I almost couldn't breathe. I knew I'd found the right gift, but some other nagging doubt surfaced when I saw her.

I'd brushed aside my sister's petty demands that we marry in Hong Kong the way I brushed aside everything my sisters said, put no thought into it because of course we'd marry in Japan. We'd live in Japan, we'd do everything in Japan. But now I wasn't so sure. When I looked at Sakura in that dress, part of me wanted to see her in the red Chinese dress like Fu Di married in, speaking her vows in my native language and lighting the incense of my culture. It was a silly, selfish daydream to indulge in, and told myself that repeatedly.

But still the doubts nagged.

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[action] on the enemy's turf [24 Dec 2006|01:53pm]
[ mood | aggravated ]

[Saturday]

Blondie was fussing. This wasn't anything new and certainly nothing I couldn't ignore, except it was the day before Christmas Eve and Meilin needed to find her gift for him. She was out shopping, and I was "in charge" of the pest and his whiny needs. Failure to entertain would inevitably result in Meilin bringing out my most embarrassing baby pictures in my mother's collection to show Sakura. So when he fussed, I didn't leave the room, just shot him a few cold looks.

"I'm bored," he moaned, ignoring them. "Let's go do something."

"It's Christmas Eve tomorrow," I pointed out. "You can join the party down by the harbor and knock yourself out with rum then."

"Well, yeah, but what about now? It's totally nice, let's go do something."

"No."

"Aw!"

"I agree with Eric-kun," Sakura chimed in. "Your sisters have taken me to a lot of really fancy stores, Syaoran, and... it's nice. But I feel like I haven't got to see very much of the city with you. Couldn't we go somewhere nice?"

How could I say no to that? "I guess," I grumbled. Blondie's eyes lit up.

"Alright!!! Let me just flip through my trusty guidebook here to find out what I've missed." It was already in his hands and he hummed delightedly under his breath. "The Zoo Gardens? Nah, I've already been there. Hong Kong Park? Nah, been there too. Meilin and I totally made out in that groovy tower thing. What about Bird Street?"

"No," Sakura and I answered at the same time, perhaps a little too quickly. Blondie blinked, then shrugged and returned to his book.

"Ooh - I got it! The Hong Kong History Museum, over in Kowloon."

"Not a chance," I snapped, taking both of them by surprise.

"Why not? The guide book says that it was recently remodeled and it's totally awesome."

"I don't care, we're not going there."

"But I wanna." He pouted. "There's a full exhibit for every stage of Hong Kong history, and finishes with the handover to China. It's the great communist theft of the century, I hafta see it!"

"Tough."

"Syaoran, I think it sounds fun," Sakura interjected, reading over blondie's shoulder. "It's been rated as one of the top ten attractions in Hong Kong. It promises to take at least half a day."

"No, no, no."

"Syaoran, you're scowling like this musuem has insulted you in some way. Why are you scowling like that?"

"I'm not scowling."

"You are. If you can't give me a good reason, then we're going to go."

"I don't have to give a reason. I'm the one that knows how to get there, I'm the one that says no, and under NO circumstances are we going to that museum!"





The museum was huge, land values being just slightly lower on the flat Kowloon side of the harbor, a sprawling and multi-storied building as big as any of my sisters' favorite shopping malls. Blondie skipped ahead joyfully, armed with a camera so that not a moment of anti-communism art would escape his personal records, and Sakura slipped her hand in mine.

"Try to smile, Syaoran. I think this will be fun. Thank you for bringing us."

I mumbled something and pulled the brim of my basball cap further down, trying to keep my face low. We all paid admission and the two of us followed blondie down the path of Hong Kong history. Sakura was almost as delighted as he was, and the full-size exhibits prompted unending coos of delight. It was 'oh, the people who first settled here were so interesting' or 'the early Chinese made such beautiful art'. The exhibits were so detailed that we could wander right through mock-ups of early temples, and in the face of blondie's glee and Sakura's avid interest, even I started to (reluctantly) enjoy myself. By the time we reached World War II, I'd forgotten all about the danger when -

"Xiao Lang! Xiao Lang!"

I stiffened and started walking faster, a surprised Sakura dragged along in my wake. "Syaoran? I think that man back there is calling you."

"No he's not."

"Well he's trying to catch up with you. Oh wait, isn't that -" She dug in her heels and ground my momentum to a halt, pinching my hand pretty painfully in the process, and cost me the few extra seconds I needed to flee the room and escape.

"Sakura!"

"You're not going to run away, it's rude." She shot me a stern look and then smiled at the curator as he slowed his approach. He was panting slightly, and straightened his tie as if nervous.

"Xiao Lang, I did think it was you! I saw your face on the monitors in the security room, I was very happy to see that you had come to visit..." His voice trailed off when he saw the look on my face, and his smile faltered.

"Good afternoon," Sakura spoke up in prim English, to cover the awkward pause. "This is only my second time to visit Hong Kong and I am enjoying this museum very much. It's so beautiful."

"Japanese?" He flipped to Sakura's language without so much as a hiccup, and bowed his head graciously. "I welcome you to the city and am very glad to hear that you enjoy my museum. It is small and unsatisfactory, but we tried to include our most important stories."

"It's wonderful!"

"Yeah, awesome," blondie confirmed, breezing his usual obnoxious way into the conversation. "What, are you the owner or something?"

"No, no, just the curator," he quickly corrected, switching back to English at the sight of blondie's white skin. "I'm happy you brought so many friends, Xiao Lang."

"They brought me," I answered flatly, and his smile dropped off again.

"Er- I had hoped that you would tell me when you came, so that I could take care of your admission for you. But let me offer these gift certificates for our cafe instead. I must return to the office, but please have lunch on me."

He offered me three gold-trimmed coupons that I made no move to touch. Blondie snatched them instead. "Awesome! Thanks, dude. Loving the museum, by the way. Can't wait until we get to the commie takeover."

"Um, thank you. It was very nice to see all of you, please enjoy your stay." He bowed his head in an overly polite farewell. "Xiao Lang, I will see you next week when I come to visit."

"We'll see," I growled, and he winced. He beat a hasty retreat, and Sakura gave me a Look. But before she could start, gwei lo was patting me heartily on the back.

"Dude, why didn't you say you had connections here? That's so cool, that you know the curator and he hooked us up with free food. How do you know him?"

I just snarled. Sakura was the one who explained it. "He's begun to, um, see Syaoran's mother. You know, romantically."

"O~oh." Blondie eyed me a little more cautiously this time and took a step back. "Dude, I'm surprised he's still alive."

"Just wait."
throw a punch

[action] capitalism in any language [21 Dec 2006|08:01pm]
[ mood | tired ]

Kami, but he hated shopping in the week before Christmas. Even the endless shops to choose from just minutes down the mountain - interconnected by walkways above street level, as blondie enthused - didn't make the task more enjoyable or less painful for Li. Particularly when he was shopping for four sisters who were bound to turn up their noses at whatever he got, and that went for the sister's children too. He wondered if he ought to get Hu Xan another weapon anyway. You couldn't get started too early, in this family.

"Maybe some books," Sakura proposed, pulling him into another shop. "You can't go wrong with a nice book."

"Yes I can. I can always go wrong, you watch."

"Don't be so negative," she chided, as if she would even know what it was like to be negative.

"Better a book than a sword," Meilin pointed out, just because she knew he'd frown at that. He did.

"Mao's little red book!" blondie crowed, and bounced over to a table piled with them. "Alright!! I wanted to get one of these last time I was here but I never got around to it!"

"Thought you hated Mao."

"I do! He was a communist jerk!" He wasn't bothering to lower his voice, and some shopping Chinese were looking their way. "And NOW, I am going to BUY his book in a STORE like he HATED with MONEY hahahahaha."

"Someday, somehow, I'm sure I'll understand what you see in him," Li assured Meilin.

"Maybe some of these cute calendars with kittens," Sakura suggested. "Any girl would love these."

For women that wouldn't even look at art unless it was over a hundred years old. Li swallowed a groan and turned to the nearest shelf, stocked with rows of language books. "Well, maybe I can find a Spanish phrase book here. There aren't any in Japan."

"Spanish?"

"It's the language in Belize. I don't know a word of it, though." Bloody languages. His mother promised him that once he achieved conversational ability in Mandarin and English that she'd stop shoving them all down his throat, and she'd held true to that. Now he'd have to start all over anyway.

"You have to learn Spanish?" Blondie zeroed in on the conversation, thumping Mao's sacred text against his hip absentmindedly. "Dude! Today is your lucky day, I am totally fluent in Spanish when I have a few margaritas in me. Repeat after me: dame una cerveza."

Li narrowed his eyes. "What does that mean?"

"I'm thirsty."

"Da..." Li repeated cautiously.

"Da me una cerveza."

"Da me u-na ser-vez-a. How do you say 'I'm lost'?"

"Donde esta la cantina?"

"Donday esta la canteena. What about 'How much does it cost'?"

"Ay, que caro! And be sure and say it forcefully." Gwei lo shot him a grin that was too much like Yamazaki's for comfort.

"I think I'm going to buy a phrasebook."

"If you wa~ant. But I'll be sure and tell you all the good words to fill in later, like dictator, corruption, and Contra scandals. All very relevant for South America."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Syaoran, what about these sweet little bookmarks?"

Time to move on to another store.

throw a punch

[action] ghosts of the past [18 Dec 2006|09:29am]
[ mood | distressed ]

When I saw it lying on the bathroom floor, I assumed it was something Guo-Gia or gwei lo dropped and almost kicked it out of the way. I changed my mind at the last second, and once I'd put on some clothing I picked it up and unfolded it.

And almost fell over on the tiles.

The only subject more taboo in the Li family than my father is her father, that nameless outsider who might have been nothing more than a myth if he hadn't left behind proof in the form of a daughter. She never talked about him, never wondered about him in my hearing, never gave any indication that she cared much at all. And because she didn't care, I didn't care. I looked at the old photo of a man who was, in a way, just as much my uncle as either of Meilin's stepfathers, and saw the pieces of her that came from him. I read the letter three times over, and even after I'd crawled into bed the words continued to circle through my mind. I don't know whether she or blondie shoved it under the door, but she must have wanted me to know. Why now? Where did it come from? Was she doing anything about it?

Questions haunted my night, so I was not feeling particularly well-rested the next morning when I shuffled into the kitchen for breakfast. My mother was having her morning cup of tea at the table, and she nodded in greeting.

"Good morning, Xiao Lang."

"Morning." What do you know about this? Did you ever meet him? Why did you let her get away with the affair? Why did you let him leave?

I kept my mouth shut and found the orange juice, sitting out on the counter of course because some sister or cousin never put it back after they'd finishd with it. "Fan Ren and Fei Mei have decided they would like to go shopping today."

"Great."

"They intend to invite Sakura."

"Whatever." I hate warm orange juice, and I found the ice cube tray in the freezer.

"They'll be shopping for Shi Fua's baby shower. I'm sure you've heard by now that your oldest sister is finally with child."

"Yeah. I'm thrilled." Clink went the ice cube when I dropped it into my glass.

"She and her husband will need to leave their small townhouse now, of course. I've decided it's time to open my sister's home to them."

She looked right at me, as if to gauge my reaction, but I only shrugged. "You know I don't care about that stuff. That's why I gave everything to you."

"If you say so. I'm sure she'll be glad of the extra space." Clink another ice cube went into the glass.

"Hn."

"Also, laborers have recently finished repairing your grandfather's home."

This time the ice cube slipped from my hand and skittered across the countertop with a loud clattering noise, prompting my mother to look up again. Clumsily I slapped my hand on it.

"Okay," I managed to get out in a stilted sort of way. She raised an eyebrow.

"It sits empty now. You know it can't remain that way forever. The family will wonder."

"Uh-huh."

"Can you live with someone moving into that home as well? Returning for weddings and the New Year feasts?"

No! Burn it! Raze it to the ground! "I don't care," I repeated, maybe a little too forcefully, and nearly threw the ice into my glass. "Do what you want."

"Very well." She rose from the table and glided towards the doorway. "Still, there is no hurry. I'll consider the options very carefully. Do have a good day, Xiao Lang."

Oh, sure.

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[action] city slicker [17 Dec 2006|05:19pm]
[ mood | hungry ]

The calm that descended upon my house post-wedding was a taste to be savored. Fu Di, a married woman, had left Hong Kong with whatever-the-hell-his-name-is for her honeymoon to New Zealand. Shi Fua and Fei Mei retreated to their homes elsewhere in the city, and only Fan Ren remained with her twin girls. Somehow she managed to stick me with them, when she heard we were all going out for an ice cream, and both of them were nose-deep in a shared bowl of cherry vanilla. Shu-Rui laughed hysterically every time one of them smeared more ice cream across their faces (and in their hair) and Kuan-Yin would chide her between neat little bites of her own cone.

"Syaoran, shouldn't we try to clean the girls up a little? Your sister surely won't like this."

"All the better."

"So, what were you saying about Kinomoto-sensei?" Meilin asked, idly twirling a spoon in her lemon-lime sorbet.

"Um, Belize. It's a very small country south of Mexico on the Atlantic Ocean. He's one of the professors leading a major excavation there for Mayan ruins, and he asked me to go."

"Only first-year student!" Sakura chimed in. "Isn't it exciting?"

"Sounds awesome," Eric affirmed. "Will you be, like, out in the wilderness, totally Indiana-Jones style? You know how to use one of those whip things?"

"No."

"Will you be in the jungle, though?" Meilin pressed, looking a shade doubtful. "Because, I never really thought of you as being the outdoors-type."

"I do lots of things outdoors."

"Such as?"

"I play soccer. I train with my sword."

"Yeah, not really wilderness if the grass has just been mowed, Syaoran. Have you ever even been camping?"

"As a matter of fact," I answered loftily, "I have. The fourth grade class went on a camping trip to the beach."

"That's true!" Sakura pipped. "It was just before you came, Meilin-chan. Although, Syaoran really spent more time doing laps in the bay than walking around much. Did you go with us on the nature hike? I don't remember you being there."

"I felt like swimming."

"Were you in tents?"

"Oh no," Sakura answered breezily, oblivious to my warning look. "It was a very nice place, actually, with small cabins for five people each, and electricity and windows with a view of the bay. I really liked it!"

Meilin's expression had gone from doubtful to pure cynical by now. "And now you think you're going to go camping in the Amazon, of all places? You don't even know how to set up a tent."

"It's not the Amazon," I informed her haughtily, ignoring the other comment. "The Amazon is much further south, in Brazil and the other South American countries."

"My mistake."

"I went on a camping trip once," blondie spoke up. "I was in the Boy Scouts when I was a kid, until I decided the ritualistic chanting and hand salutes were too fascist for my taste. But we did go camping out in the desert, which was pretty cool. My scoutmaster found this huge tarantula, like, right outside me and Todd's tent. It was bigger than my hand!"

"Thank you, blondie."

"Did you know there's a kind of spider so big it eats birds?"

"Thank you, blondie."

"I give it a day," Meilin speculated. "When you realize you can't kill mosquitoes with your sword, you'll come running back to Japan and never leave the house again."

"I can too handle this." I pointed my spoon at her in a vaguely challenging pose. "You watch. I'm not going to be wandering around the jungle, I'm going to be at the site and doing ordinary assistant tasks, nothing more. I'll be just fine."

"That's right," Sakura agreed, and gently guided my spoon back to the dish where it belonged. "After all, you didn't know anything about Japan when you first came, and you learned very quickly, ne?"

Though Yamazaki put me through a number of ridiculous hazing tasks before I finally caught on. I didn't remind her about that, though, and just kept my chin held high. It's only a jungle. I'll be just fine.

2 punches| throw a punch

[action] the big day [16 Dec 2006|08:17am]
[ mood | bored ]

Saturday the house was transformed into Panic Central. You'd think after doing this three times, my sisters would know how to host one stupid little wedding, and when I said as much Fan Ren hit me.

"It's not stupid!"

"Depends on your perspective," I muttered, and she didn't have enough time to berate me because she had to rush off and take care of something else. Our table in the dining room had been shoved to one side and joined by two others, and as the morning wore on servants added dish after dish to a growing spread. My job (because of course I had to have a job) was to play sentry outside the door and keep my nieces and younger cousins from sneaking in and tasting anything. Deliverymen arrived with bushels of roses and pale pink lilies, only for Fu Di to throw a fit because some of the bouquets had been crushed and disarranged.

"Ano," Sakura interrupted politely, when Fu Di took a breath from screaming at the poor guy, "I work in a flower shop back home. I think I can help fix these, if you don't mind."

"You'll regret that," I warned, too late. Fu Di's face lit up and she pounced on Sakura with a hug.

"OOHHHHHH, my sweet future sister-in-law is so wonderful! If you could, that would just be super great! And maybe, after you're done, you can help arrange the flowers outside too? And when my pathetic and overpaid hairstylist does our hair, you can help put in the flowers in my sisters' hair! Oh thank you, Sakura!"

She hugged her again and danced on to the next task, leaving a slightly bewildered girl in her wake. "Hoe?"

"Told ya."

The day's craziness wore on and I lost track of Sakura in the melee; I figured she'd been dragged upstairs by a sister and made to help with the finishing touches. I changed into a traditional qi pao, grateful that at least it was no longer summer and the silk wouldn't cling to my skin. I swiped a brush through my hair, just to forestall any sisterly complaints, but when I went downstairs it just about stood on end.

"Blondie?"

"Hey, Li, what do ya think?" Clad in a crimson and black qi pao, Chinese from head to toe, he plucked at the decorated buttons and grinned. "Pretty authentic, huh?"

In contrast with his pale skin and ridiculously blonde hair, it looked nothing short of bizarre. Shi Fua and Fei Mei were giggling.

"Doesn't he look handsome? We saw he was planning to watch the ceremony in a suit and tie and we just had to dress him in something more traditional. It will help him blend in a little better."

"Oh yeah, I'm sure no one will even notice him," I remarked sarcastically. "Wait a minute - isn't that mine?"

"Well of course, who else in this house has boy's clothing except Guo Gia? Eric is a little taller than you, but it fits alright."

I opened my mouth to start yelling but was held in check by the soft "Syaoran?" behind me. I turned, and for the second time in the last three minutes I froze. Wearing a shy smile on top of her traditional Chinese dress, almost glowing in the peacock green edged with gold, Sakura fidgeted a little and blushed. "What do you think? Your sisters saw that I only had a western dress and they lent me this. Do you like it?"

"Oh he likes it," Shi Fua answered for me, draping a suggestive hand on my shoulder. "You can tell, see, how he's not blinking?"

"And the way his mouth is hanging open," Fei Mei added, shutting it for me with a gentle push of the pointer finger. "Go on, Xiao Lang, tell her she looks beautiful already."

"It's nice," I managed, hoarsely, and they tittered.

"Well, I suppose that's the best he can do."

"He's still our little brother after all."

"Oh, we really need to change too, I see some guests coming in."

"You're right, let's go!"

They scampered on, and blondie wandered off in search of Meilin, leaving the two of us alone.

"You really like it?"

"Yes," I promised her. "I think... I like the way you look in Chinese clothes."

She ducked her head bashfully and closed the distance between us, giving me the opportunity to lean down and kiss her in private, for once. She looked so amazing, and we hadn't been able to in so long, that it seemed to taste exceptionally sweet and we went on for a while. It was the sort of kiss that, upon finishing, Sakura would melt into my arms and rest her head against my chest with a little "mmm". But hardly had I drawn away when I stiffened and uttered some kind of choked noise in my throat. I had just caught a glimpse of the guests wandering into our backyard.

"He's here."

"What? Who?"

"That... man." Hastily I pushed her to the hanging curtains and peeked around the edge, unconsciously squeezing Sakura tight within my arms. "That man that thinks he can date my mother is here, at my sister's wedding! What's he doing here?"

"Probably because your mother invited him," Sakura pointed out. "Which one is he?"

"Him, the one with the old gray hair and the granny glasses and has a book under his arm."

"You mean the one with a little gray at his temples and glasses?" Sakura craned her head to follow the bastard as he moved through the crowd, probably looking to find my mother. "I think he looks nice. Very respectable."

"He looks like a lecherous pervert, is what he looks like. Now's my chance. I'll run him off before my mother even knows he's here."

"Syaoran, no!" She tugged me back when I tried to leave. "Today is a wedding, it's a happy day. You don't want to start any fights, do you?"

"He can't fight, just look at him."

"I meant, any verbal fights. It could ruin everything. And if your mother invited him, she would be sad if he wasn't here."

"She'll live," I retorted. "She's gone all these years without a man, why does she need one now?"

Sakura turned around in my arms, letting out one of those long-suffering sighs. "I think, Syaoran, that you just answered your own question."

throw a punch

[action] family tree [15 Dec 2006|10:45pm]
[ mood | sleepy ]

I slept with a pillow pressed against each ear, but it didn't help. And after blinking myself awake late the next morning, thanks to a night of senseless and repetitive political back-and-forth, the first face I saw was blondie's.

"Happy Bill of Rights Day!" he sang out joyfully. I'm gonna break his neck. Grouchily I shoved him out of my way and shuffled out of the bedroom, down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Fei Mei ambushed me with her baby.

"Good morning, Xiao Lang! Boy, you look terrible. Here, hold Hu Xan. He'll cheer you up!"

"Mnmgh."

"Mama!"

"No, no, Hu Xan, I'm Mama. This is Uncle Xiao Lang. Can you say 'uncle'? Say 'uncle' for your uncle!"

Hu Xan waved his chubby little arms and hit my in the jaw, bubbling over with energy and happiness.

"Look how happy he is to see you!"

"Mnhn."

"Isn't he getting big? And he's already so strong. He's going to make such a great big brother, I know it. Here, feel the new baby!"

Before I'd even had so much as a sip of orange juice, Fei Mei snatched my free hand and planted it directly below her waist. A surge of abrupt revulsion shoked me awake, and I yelped in protest.

"Ahh, Fei Mei, cut it out!"

"Oh Xiao Lang, you're not still fussy about that, are you? I just want you to feel the baby move!"

"Let go of my hand!"

"I don't know how you can be so allergic to anything female and still have a girlfriend. What do you do, kiss her long distance?"

"You're my sister, now let go already!"

"Baby," she sighed. "And stop yelling, you'll upset my far-more-mature son."

I ripped my hand out of her iron grip and took a few dignity-preserving steps back. "I've told you a thousand times, Fei Mei, I hate it when you girls do that! I don't want to touch... that."

"Well I pray Sakura doesn't have to depend on you for emotional support when she's pregnant."

"She's not right now and that's good enough for me."

"Did you know that Fan Ren is pregnant too?"

"Yes," I groaned, wondering when the troll would let me pass and get breakfast.

"And that's I'm due about a month after her?"

"Swell."

"And Shi Fua is due about a month after me?"

"What?"

"Oh, didn't know? That's what you get for not telling us you're engaged!"

"Shi Fua's pregnant too?"

"Just found out," she trilled. "Isn't it exciting? If Fu Di gets pregnant right away, we could have four little cousins born all within a few months! Just think of all the babies, Xiao Lang. All your sisters pregnant at once, all the babies crying at once, all your sisters breastfeeding at once -"

"I need some water." I shoved Hu Xan back into her arms and fled the kitchen, to the ringing sound of her laughter. I think I know what I need to do to get any peace and rest in this house of my family.

I need to go back to Japan.

1 punch| throw a punch

[narrative] scarlet A [14 Dec 2006|09:17pm]
[ mood | tense ]

Summer nights in June were sticky with humidity, a long and sordid tail off of the typhoon season that swept Hong Kong in spring. Her hair clung to her damp face, the heat only made worse by our closeness and the depraved lust burning inside me. She smelled good, so feminine, and her body felt good pressed against mine. Right then, just right then, I wanted her badly and would have taken her.

We hugged, almost gingerly, as if mere contact would have us tearing off one another's clothes on the floor of the aiport in seconds. She still smelled the same, still felt the same in my arms. We cheated on those people just two steps away, and they'll never know. I'm so glad she walked away.

"Welcome back."

"It's good to see you."

throw a punch

[action] a very brady christmas [14 Dec 2006|03:16pm]
[ mood | sleepy ]

"Syaoran?"

A timid knock on my door and the sound of the knob turning woke me up, though it was more or less about time to get up anyway. I stirred and propped myself up on one elbow, surprised to see that Sakura was already awake and out of bed. She peeked inside my room.

"Are you awake?"

"Yeah, I'm up." She was whispering as she sidled through my doorway, and it occurred to me that maybe she didn't like sleeping in a separate bedroom anymore than I did. Maybe she was sneaking in here for an early morning quickie. Hastily I sat up. "Did you want to come in? Get under the covers?"

"No... I don't think so. I, uh, woke up with an audience this morning." She looked down and I saw the everpresent munchkins had followed her into the room. "I think they belong to one of your sisters?"

Of course. I swallowed a groan even as they broke into huge smiles and raced toward the bed, scrambling up the bedspread to tackle me. "Oof! Oi, oi, cut it out!" Giggling, they ignored me and I had to pin them to the sheets with tickles before they relented.

"Kawaii! They're so adorable."

"You say that now, but wait until they've been following you day in, day out, for the next two weeks. They're Fan Ren's brats, and have about as much notion of privacy and minding one's own business as she does." I rolled out of bed with one under an arm and the other hanging over my shoulder. "This one's Hui Ying, the one upside down is Huan Yue. Don't worry about telling them apart because they're always together anyway."

"Syaoran, you look so cute right now! I never thought you liked children."

"I don't. But in this family, they all seem to like me too much."

"So you're an uncle. How sweet." She crinkled her nose at Huan Yue, who grinned back. She was very close, and the delighted smile on her face was irrestistable. I leaned in close, only to jerk my head back when Fan Ren sailed past my open door.

"Hand check, Xiao Lang! My daughters do not count as chaperones!"

Will I get no privacy with Sakura in the next two weeks? "Shut it, Fan Ren!"

"Syaoran, I think maybe you should teach me some more Chinese. It's awkward not to know what people are saying."

"No, Sakura, I think this is just fine. In fact... it would make me really happy if you never understood anything my sisters said, ever." I kissed her quickly on the cheek. "Here, take this one. Let's go get some breakfast."

throw a punch

[action] a thousand and one [13 Dec 2006|06:23pm]
[ mood | sore ]

I asked myself if I was mad when we met at the airport bus station, then again when we arrived at the terminal, and a third time when we found our seats and buckled in. There's a thousand and one ways this could go wrong, too many potential disasters to even name let alone contemplate. Sakura had dressed up for the occasion in a cheerful red blouse and fluffy skirt, all smiles and anticipation of what Hong Kong would hold for her. Didn't she remember the last time she saw it? Or the time before that? So many bad memories, but still she held onto my hand and watched our descent towards HKI airport with eager green eyes.

"Ne, ne, Syaoran! This airport is huge. It's so beautiful!"

"I guess."

"Wow, look at the Christmas tree! I think it's taller than the penguin slide!"

"Wasn't it here last time you came?"

"Mmm... come to think of it, I think it was! It's still very beautiful, though." She linked her fingers through mine and beamed, typical Sakura. She followed me faithfully out of the baggage claim area, but looked surprised when I turned toward the exit instead of the train stop. "Isn't the Airport Express the best way to get to the island? I remember that's what Onii-chan read in the guide book when we came."

"Yes, if you're a guide-book reading tourist." I tried to keep the smugness out of my voice. "But my family's car is waiting to pick us up. Come on."

I led her outside and she bubbled over with delight at the temperate afternoon that greeted us, cool and dry compared to the bitter and slushy cold of a Japanese winter. Then she got a good look at the car door I was opening and her jaw really dropped.

"Sugoi! That's your car, Syaoran?"

"Not my car," I mumbled, tossing in the luggage before Chang could get out and do it for me. "Everyone uses it."

"But still..." Her eyes were perfectly round, and I wished we had taken the Express after all. I never wanted Sakura to be intimidated by my family's money, especially since her brother has some kind of problem with it. I held open the door for her and she crept it, still looking awed. "Nihao. I'm-"

She broke off when she found herself staring at the tinted divider, a little puzzled. "Syaoran, why is that glass up? The driver can't hear me."

"He's, uh, not used to people introducing themselves in this car, Sakura, most of the people in this car don't talk to him. That's up for privacy."

"Oh." Her eyes kept getting bigger, and I tried to distract her by pointing out the scenery. That at least rekindled her enthusiasm, and she passed the short trip trying to pick out the landmarks that she remembered and match buildings to names. We dipped below the harbor to drive through the underground tunnel, then turned the opposite way to climb Victoria Peak's steep roads. She boggled at the impressive view, then boggled some more when we swept into the driveway of my home.

"Sakura, you've seen it before."

"I know... but it's so much bigger than I remember." She tilted her chin up to take it all in while I struggled to carry both her suitcases and mine. "It's a very old mansion, isn't it? Has your family owned it for a long time?"

"This one and all the others," I grumbled. "None of them have air-conditioning."

"That's alright; the weather is just right how it is. The winters must be so nice here."

"Only until typhoon season." She climbed the steps to our front porch and I almost jumped in front of her, ignoring the way the straps dug painfully into my shoulders. "Wait!"

"Nani?"

"Sakura, I- I just want you to know that, whatever happens inside this house over the next two weeks, I really love you." I took her hand and grasped it firmly. "Remember that."

"Syaoran!" she laughed. "It's your sister's wedding! What on earth do you think is going to happen?" She tugged her hand out of mine and opened the door for me, and we entered my house. Three seconds later, all hell broke loose.

"THEY'RE HERE!!!!!!!!!"

As if they'd been lying in wait, all four of my sisters converged on the front sitting room, stampeding toward a paralyzed Sakura. Weighed down by luggage, I could do nothing before they'd simultaneously tackled her in a hug. Fei Mei actually pushed me into the door to clear her path.

"It's Sakura! He brought her, he really brought her this time!"

"Oh my god, she's just as cute as I remember!"

"But she's beautiful like a grown up woman too!"

"Yes, yes, doesn't she look amazing! What a cute skirt! I love it, where did you buy it?"

"Did Xiao Lang promise to take you shopping? I sure hope he did, because Hong Kong has the best shopping in the world and we'll definitely take you to all the 'in' shops!"

"And we can take you to the best restaurants too! But maybe Xiao Lang already promised to take you to the most romantic places -"

"Silly, our brother would never do that!"

"Oh, you're right. But don't worry, Sakura, we'll make him take you!"

"Hey!" I tried, only to be ignored.

"Are you hungry, Sakura? Thirsty? I hope you didn't eat any of that horrible airplane food, because we just set out tea and were waiting for you to begin."

"Mama just can't wait to see you again!"

And without even glancing in my direction they herded her down the hall and into the rear parlor, with its bay windows open to catch the mild breeze. Wei was putting the final touches on the table when they all entered, me trailing behind, and looked up with a pleased smile.

"Sakura-sama. How lovely to see you again."

"Wei-san!" Sakura looked relieved to see someone she knew a little better than the rest, and after a moment's awkwardness on how to greet him settled for a generous hug around the chest. "You look wonderful! It's so great to see you too!"

"I hope you have been taking good care of Syaoran-sama for all of us."

"I try." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and then Fu Di propelled her to the couch, sitting her firmly down in the middle so that Fu Di, Fei Mei, and Fan Ren could squeeze in around her. Mother was already seated in one of the armchairs and Shi Fua shoved me out of the way when I tried to sit in the other. Huffily I dropped into a cross-legged posture on the carpet.

"Sakura," my mother said graciously, "I'm very happy you were able to come visit us for the holiday. Xiao Lang's sisters and I have been anxious to see you again for a long time."

"Forever!" broke in Fei Mei, and everyone nodded vociferously.

"Yes, we've asked him and asked him and he always refused! It's like he's ashamed of us or something!"

"Imagine that," I muttered, helping myself to a generous slice of chocolate cake.

"She-she," Sakura anunciated in careful Cantonese. "I'm very glad to be here. I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner, but it really isn't Syaoran's fault. We've both been so busy."

"He's been busy keeping you all to himself, you mean!"

"Fan Ren."

"Sorry, Mama."

"No, no, really. Syaoran is on the football team, and he's been working so hard. And I'm a cheerleader, so I have a lot of practicing in addition to the game performances."

Everyone squealed. "She's a cheerleader!"

"Oh, of course, doesn't she just have the cutest face for it?"

"And she's got such a perfect figure too, I'm really envious!"

"Does Xiao Lang kiss you on the field for good luck before a game?"

I choked on my cake and Sakura's face turned the color of her blouse. "Ano..."

"Or does he kiss you afterwards in the celebration?"

"Does our female-phobic brother even kiss you at all?"

"Girls," my mother remonstrated, not nearly sharply enough, and they subsided. The worst thing about looking at Sakura's bright blush was knowing I probably had a similar one on my face. What is it with my sisters? "Please do tell us more about your activities at the Japanese college. It's very difficult to get my son to share anything."

"Er, well..." She plucked up her smile again and proceeded to tell my family all about Towa: about living with Tomoyo in the dorms, about the football team and the cheerleader squad, about all her difficult classes and how well I always did in mine, including her father's. "Did he tell you? My father selected him to be on the school's archaeology team to Belize. It's all the way over in South America! He was the only first-year student asked to go."

"EHHH?" shrieked all my sisters, and turned accusing eyes on me.

"I was going to tell you," I muttered into my cup. "Eventually."

"Our little brother is going to America! It's so exciting!"

"South America, Fan Ren."

"Even so! Even we've never been to the Americas!"

"Are you going somewhere dangerous?"

"Will there be ferocious natives?"

"Don't be ridiculous," I sighed.

Sakura was smiling more naturally now. "He's really excited about it, even though he doesn't talk about it very much. He's got lots of books on Belize and the Mayans in his apartment. I'm so glad that he and my father will have this chance to work together, but I'm a little worried that my father won't be able to get away from the site in time for our wedding."

All of my sisters' jabber cut short abruptly, and four pairs of eyes snapped back to Sakura. "What?" they asked in unison.

Oh - shit - no.

"The wedding. We decided we wanted it to be in the spring, but we haven't decided on a date yet." Her hands had been folded neatly in her lap all this time, but she raised her left one and held it out so all could see the ring. "You haven't seen it yet, have you? My friend Tomoyo-chan helped him pick it out. He really surprised me when he asked!"

I threw myself at the doorway a heartbeat too late; Shi Fua caught my hair and held on with the grip of a praying mantis. "Yeoowch!"

"You... proposed?" Fei Mei asked quietly, the air around her dark with menace. The other three looked the same.

"I meant to tell you," I gasped, trying without success to pry Shi Fua's fingers off. "I just-"

"ForGOT! You FORGOT to tell us you asked Sakura to MARRY you! Your own family!"

"I told Mother!" Tears were starting to come to my eyes. "I told her in June!"

"But you left US out?"

"Mother..." I appealed, but all she did was take a sip of her tea.

"It was your responsibility to tell them, Xiao Lang. Don't look at me."

"You heartless thing!" Fu Di wept. "And I was sure to tell you about my proposal right away! Don't you care about us at all?"

"I- ouch! Let go, damn it!"

"No! Not until you say you're sorry!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

"Hmph!" She released me and I collapsed to the floor, massaging my tender scalp. Sakura wasn't used to seeing someone physically abuse me and stared with wide eyes. "You deserve it, Xiao Lang. Imagine, being engaged for six months and not even telling your own sisters. Why don't you just pretend we don't exist?"

"Futile experience has taught me better?"

"Meanie! We're not talking to you!" All at once they turned their attention back on Sakura.

"So how did he ask?"

"Was it romantic?"

"Or did he just stumble over the words and throw the ring at you?"

"What month will you be married in?"

"You'll marry here, won't you?"

"Yes, it's tradition for all the Lis to marry here on the hill, overlooking Victoria Harbor. I'll be getting married here in our backyard. You could do the same!"

"Will you come and live here?"

"Will you want to have children right away?"

Looking absolutely overwhelmed, Sakura pressed back against the cushions under the barrage of questions. Again my mother intervened.

"Girls, these are difficult decisions. Do allow her time to consider the answers."

"Gome- I mean, I'm sorry. I really don't know yet; we haven't talked about those things." She sent me a fleeting look of panic, as if to ask why we hadn't. I could only shrug; I didn't know why anymore than she did.

"That's enough interrogation for now, girls, Sakura seems very tired. Why don't you let her go freshen up and unpack?"

"Yes, of course, sorry about that, Sakura."

"We'll talk later, okay? I've got all my bridal magazines that you can read."

"And you must meet my little boy when he wakes up - he's just adorable!"

"And my girls, too!"

"Xiao Lang, why are you just sitting there? Go get Sakura's bags already. I'm sure you weren't going to make her carry them up the stairs."

I shot Fu Di a dark look and stood, head still in considerable pain. "I'm getting up, already. C'mon, Sakura, I'll show you to my room."

Collectively, all four of them gasped.

"Xiao Lang, I hope you don't think you're going to keep Sakura in your bedroom while you stay!"

"Excuse me?"

Fu Di and Fan Ren jumped to their feet and pulled Sakura and me apart, shaking their heads and clucking their tongues. "There are little children in this house, Xiao Lang! And besides, it's my wedding and I don't want any 'impure' activities going on under this roof."

"Impure?"

"I don't care if she is your fiance, you're not married yet and you should not be engaging in naughty behavior."

If it hadn't been red before, my face certainly was now. "Fu Di, stop talking. NOW." Thank God she'd switched to Chinese and Sakura was merely following the conversation with an expression of bemusement.

"Sakura can sleep in Fan Ren's old room with Meilin, when she arrives," my sister continued, blithely ignoring my embarrassment. "And her American boyfriend and Guo-Gia will sleep in your room."

"What?"

"Oh, don't bother with that horrified look, Xiao Lang. It's not as if it's that long of a time. And we give you permission to kiss her in the hallway before you go to bed."

Everyone giggled, and I thought about crawling under the couch and not coming out for, oh, two weeks. Instead I clenched my jaw and extended a hand.

"Come on, Sakura. I will show you to... where you'll be sleeping."

"Door is open at all times when you're inside!" crowed Fan Ren, and they all dissolved into laughter.

"What did she say that was so funny, Syaoran?"

"Nothing."

Only a thousand and one ways to go wrong, this trip. And we were already well under way.

throw a punch

[voicemail] [05 Dec 2006|09:39pm]
[ mood | angry ]

You have reached Li - Syaoran's - voicemail. Please leave a message at the beep. If you wish to page this person, press 5 now.

*beep*

NiHAO, Cousin Xiao Lang! Guess who it is? It's me! Shu-Rui! I think this must be your message system but I'm not really sure because the lady was speaking in Japanese and I don't know how to say a lot of words in Japanese yet. I know arigatou! And konichiwa! I want to learn more though, so you and Jie-Jie should teach me some when you come home for Christmas. Shh, I'm speaking to Cousin Xiao Lang! Stop it, Kuan-Yin- no, you can't tell him! I'm telling him!

Oh yeah, so, you asked me to call you and tell you if the man with the glasses that likes Auntie comes to the house again. He did! He came on Sunday night, and he drank some wine with Auntie and Cousin Fu Di and they ate some cheese too. Auntie let me have a bite, but she wouldn't let me have a sip of the wine and I think she's lying when she says it tastes really bad because why do they drink it then? But I wasn't mad because Uncle - he told me I can call him Uncle now - brought me some chocolate! He says it's from a foreign country called Swizzerlan, and it was really yummy. They talked for a LONG time, though, so I got bored and went to go play. I dunno when he left because it was after my bedtime and Kuan-Yin's bedtime too. So I guess he stayed really late! I hope he comes back, because I want him to bring me more of the Swizzerlan chocolate. He's nice. Okay, I gotta go practice with Wei now but I just wanted to tell you! Don't forget the ice cream sundae!

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[action] invisible chains [03 Dec 2006|11:08pm]
[ mood | anxious ]

"Do we really have to go?" I asked for the third time, hanging about in the dorm room doorway while Sakura touched up her lipstick.

"Yes, Syaoran, we really have to go. I told you, I'm expected to be there as a hostess - all the cheerleaders are." She pouted at her reflection in the mirror, then carefully blotted with a tissue. "Why are you fussing so much about this? It's the big celebration party for your team, after all, don't you think you deserve it?"

"Not as if I played that much."

"But you will next year, and anyway you should have a little fun. It seems like all you ever do is exercise and study. That can't be good for you."

"Going by grades and stamina, I think it's very good for me."

"Silly, you know what I mean." She turned to face me at last, shrugging into some overpriced velvet jacket. "It's not healthy to be so isolated."

It wasn't bothering me any, but I knew it bothered her and I didn't like it when Sakura worried about me. So I let it go and draped an arm around her shoulders, all the while wishing I could just take off that jacket and the tiny dress underneath it so we could have our own end-of-season celebration. Later, I hoped, if she wasn't too tired.

The house was five blocks away from the campus, a tiny old one shared by three members of the squad and already overflowing with cheerleaders and teammates when we got there. A slight misgiving hit me just when we stepped onto the porch, but Sakura was already pulling forward and calling out greetings to the partiers inside. The crowd made it impossible for us to remain side by side, so I settled on keeping my fingers twined with hers as she led me through the mob, nodding automatically whenever someone shouted hello.

Sakura was in her element. Social gatherings, in addition to dance and magic, are where she really shines and tonight was no exception. Glowing in her low-cut scarlet dress (that of course Tomoyo picked out), she drew everyone's (every guy's) gaze and was almost immediately the center of a very attentive circle. I did my best to shoot nasty glares at the more obviously staring men, but in the dim lighting I know I wasn't doing a very effective job. Most likely, in my plain jeans and dark green shirt, I was not even visible next to her. People pressed in closer and an uncomfortable heat crept up my neck, triggering a faster heartbeat and shallower breathing. I shrugged off the heavy letter jacket, but it wasn't much help.

"I'm going to go hang up my jacket," I muttered into her ear. "Do you want me to take yours?"

"Hmm? Oh yes, thank you!" She slipped it off and handed it over without missing a beat in the conversation, causing me to doubt the wisdom of my actions when I saw how much more skin was bared. Too late now, I suppose. The crowd was suffocating me, I had to get away.

I broke free and found relief in a slightly emptier corner of the room, but only had a few seconds to catch my breath before Yamazaki found me and whisked me off to the coat room, chattering in my ear all the while about end-of-season parties and how they originated with the first Greek Olympics. Jackets safely laid out on the bed, he then dragged me over to the refreshments table and served me a brimming cup of punch. He drained his; I took exactly one sip and spit it back out.

"Dou shita no, Li-kun? Don't you like it?"

"It's got alcohol in it."

"Of course!"

"I don't touch it, not since my grandfather spiked my tea with sedatives."

"Okay!" The beauty of telling Yamazaki about the strange things in my life is that he always assumes I'm just trying to play along with his games, and he beamed. Next it was over to a knot of guys in the corner to discuss next season and all our various opponents, and I had to look over my shoulder to check on Sakura. Still going strong; I could practically see her sparkle.

"What do you think, Li-kun? Tokyo U. will lose a lot of good players at graduation. Do we have a chance next spring?"

"Huh? I don't know..."

"Aw, don't be shy! You know next spring we'll get played more, and we can take on those punks! You still want right forward or you going for some other position?"

"I guess-"

"Tokyo U. has that wall of goalie still," someone else pointed out. "He's only a junior. What we need to do is perfect that lateral strategy we've been busting our asses on and still don't really have."

"You're overlooking those times they scored on us - I think we should be perfecting defense more than anything." One of the halfbacks lit a cigarette and glanced at me, exhaling smoke. "Don't you think, Li-kun?"

My eyes burned with the effort not to cough, and I had to swallow the imaginary taste of blood in my mouth. This wasn't Jin, it wasn't, it was just a stupid cigarette. Get over it, Li.

"Tokyo U. isn't even our biggest problem! Kyoto is the problem, and next year it'll be our turn to play on their turf. If you want to start worrying then start worrying about that."

"Run the field and kick long shots, their defense is full of holes."

"I think they just had an off day with us; didn't you see that match with Tohoku?"

"You worry too much. You gotta light?"

"Sure thing."

Shit. Someone else lit up and in seconds I was surrounded by the stale throat-scratching odor of cigarette smoke. More guys were drifting over to join the conversation, crowding me, penning me in. The heat was starting to become insufferable and it was so hard to breathe. If someone attacked right now I'd never have the room to strike back.

"Hey, Li-kun?" Look at you all tied up - having fun yet? - don't be mad "Li-kun?" don't be mad - don't be mad - don't be mad "Li-kun!"

"Huh?"

Yamazaki was waving his hand in front of my face, and I had to fight the urge to knock it away. "You okay? Your face is white."

Just because I made you my bitch.

"I'm okay," I lied, feeling as though my lungs might explode any minute and the rest of me was sure to follow. "I just- need air. Just need to- excuse me."

I squirmed out of the knot as fast as I could and bolted back the way I'd come, back to the relative privacy and peace of the coat room. It was one of the girls' bedrooms and her sliding glass doors were partially open, leading out to an empty balcony. Outside in the near-freezing November air I gripped the railing and struggled to get control over my body. Fucking claustrophobia, I hate it, and I hate him - hate them both - for doing this to me even long after they've died. How long would it haunt me, was it as permanent as the burn on my back?

I didn't want to believe that, and twice I tried to return to the party. Every time it only took a whiff of cigarette smoke or a touch of an elbow against mine to send me running right back to the balcony, frustrated and disgusted with myself and getting closer to nausea every time. This couldn't go on, I couldn't make myself stay until I was vomiting on the host's carpet.

"Sakura." Somehow, I managed to hold onto my stomach long enough to approach her in the middle of her group. Keeping my voice low, I put a gentle hand to her shoulder and drew her towards me.

"Oh, Syaoran, there you are. Have you talked to-"

"I have to go."

"What? Why?" She turned anxious eyes on me and I could have kicked myself for having to make her worry.

"I'm sorry. I-I don't feel so good. I need to go home."

"Oh... I should come with you -"

"No, don't worry about it. I just need to go home and sleep, there's no reason for you to leave. I know you're having fun."

"But -"

"I mean it, stay. I'll be fine."

She didn't put up a very strong fight, since both of us knew how much she really wanted to be here. "If you're sure..."

"Don't walk home, get a cab."

"I will."

"And don't drink the -"

Someone inadvertently stumbled into me and my skin crawled with frustrated violence; I had to gasp for breath at the effort it took to not lash out.

"Syaoran? Syaoran, are you sure you can walk home? You look -"

"I'll be fine. I have to go, see you tomorrow." I kissed her hastily on the cheek and almost ran for the front door, not trusting myself to stay a minute longer. I was leaving Sakura alone, at a party full of untrustworthy men, but I couldn't even make myself care. All I could feel, upon escaping that house, was overpowering relief.

They marked me in more ways than they knew.

throw a punch

[private] oh shit [01 Dec 2006|08:18am]
[ mood | starting to sweat ]

Tropical Snakes and Other Creatures of Belize

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Tarantulas are large hairy spiders, nocturnal in nature, that live in holes they make in the ground.

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The deadly coral snake is quite blended into its surroundings.

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The lethal and most feared snake in Belize, the Fer-de-Lance, is almost invisible with its camouflage.

throw a punch

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