'epilogue'

Ring… ring…

What an annoying, disruptive noise the phone could make at times.  Eric did his best to block it out, concentrating on planting tiny little kisses up Meilin's neck.  That always made her giggle uncontrollably, and she did not disappoint, laughing and half-heartedly resisting as he pushed her up against the couch cushions and covered her mouth with his.

She responded with enthusiasm, arching her back as his hands moved down her chest and prepared to remove her shirt.

Ring… ring…

He paused to take a breath, and she spoke.

"I really think you should get that."

"No way.  It can't be that important."

"But it's been ringing for five minutes now.  What if it is?"

Eric looked from his girlfriend to the phone, then admitted defeat and leaned over the couch's back to snatch it from the wallset.

"Hello?"

"Stop waxing your surfboard, gwei lo, and let me speak to my cousin."

Eric gritted his teeth, then forced a fake cheerfulness into his voice.

"Li, buddy!"

Maybe it had been five years since the two had first met, but Syaoran had suggested to Eric, rather coldly, that he just stick to calling him Li.  That was fine with Eric, it was simpler anyway.  Meilin perked up and reached for the phone, but Eric leaned back out of her reach.

"Hang on a sec, she's putting her shirt back on."

Li choked a little, and Eric snickered.  Meilin rolled her eyes and grabbed the phone before he could torture her cousin anymore.

"Eric, I told you not to do that!  You know how much he hates it."

"Why do you think I do it?"  Eric shot her a wicked grin before rolling off her and retreating into the kitchen. 

"Syaoran?"

"I wish you wouldn't let him answer the phone!"

"Gomen ne, Syaoran.  But thank you for returning my message."

"Sakura said it was important.  What's up?"

"Well, here's the thing."  Meilin twirled the phone cord nervously between her fingers.  This was not going to be easy.  "I'm in a little trouble, and I need your help."

"You what?"  Instantly Syaoran was on full alert, and he clutched at the phone tightly.  "Is it him?  Did he hurt you?  I'll kill him!"

"Iie, baka.  Eric and I are just fine."

Pouring himself a coke in the kitchen, Eric heard her and smiled.  Oh yes.  More fine than even she knew.

"So what?  What's the problem?"

"Well, it's like this."  Meilin took the glass Eric offered her and sipped her drink.  "I'm starting another project in a few weeks, and I want you to be a part of it."

"Me?  Be a part of it?  What are you talking about?"

"It's going to be a fantasy, action/adventure type story and… well, there's going to be a lot of swordfight scenes.  And my agent thinks that I should keep all my combat scenes pure of special effects."

"So what does he know?  Stupid gwei lo."

"I do wish you'd stop calling Eric that, Syaoran.  He's a great manager."  She winked at Eric, who grinned as he took one of her feet and began to rub it tenderly.  She closed her eyes in delight.

"We want you to come out here and be the stunt double for the chief villain."

"You want what?" Syaoran repeated in disbelief.

"C'mon, you're perfect for the job!  Think how much fun it will be."

"Fun?"  He covered the mouthpiece as Sakura walked into the room.  "You will not believe what my crazy cousin is trying to get me to do -"

"Go work on her new movie?  Yes, she told me about it.  I think it's a great idea."

"Ambushed," Syaoran declared bitterly, and both girls laughed.  "Well, forget it.  No way.  Think how much time it would take!"

"Hai, you'd probably have to come stay with us for three to four months.  Maybe even longer.  But it's okay, we just bought a great new house, up on the hills.  There's plenty of room."

"Four months or more," he relayed to Sakura.  "There is no way I'm spending that much time apart from you."

"No, it's okay, Sakura can come too.  And Kero-chan.  Eric is looking forward to a rematch on the Playstation.  And Tomoyo, if she can.  She'll be in camera heaven."

Li scowled.

"What about my classes, Sakura?  I was going to take your father's archaeology course this spring, remember?"

"You can take a break from college for one semester, Syaoran, it won't kill you.  How many people get an opportunity to work on a blockbuster movie?"

"I wouldn't know," he remarked sarcastically.  "I'm not Hollywood's new 'Chinese Sweetheart'."

Meilin blushed a little.  Eric loved it when she blushed.

"I didn't come up with that.  And hey, it's better than 'brat', right?"

"Hmpf."

"Come on, Syaoran," Meilin wheedled, turning on all the charm she could muster.  "This is important to me.  My first movie.  Don't you want to be there for me?"

"First?  Please.  What about that Jet Li movie?"

"I was a villain, and it was just that one scene.  I got killed!"

"And that Bond movie?"

"Well, yeah I was the heroine, but that doesn't count.  Eric says nobody pays attention to Bond girls.  And all those movies I stunt doubled in don't count either.  This is the first time that I get to be the star and it's really important.  I want you to be there, Syaoran.  I need you to be there with me, so I can do this.  Please?  Please?"

Syaoran ground his teeth.  It wasn't that he didn't want to help Meilin, but the thought of spending so much time living in the same house as that- that gwei lo, who would be smirking and putting his hands all over Meilin just to prove he could do it… it was more than he could stomach.  And besides, if her parents found out that he was off to spend several months with her, they wouldn't leave him alone about trying to convince her to call.  Ever since her fame had spread worldwide they had been pleading for forgiveness, asking her to come home for reconciliation.

Meilin had told them both to get lost.  And he wasn't inclined to help them out one little bit.

"Syaoran?  Pleeeeeease?"

"It won't work, Meilin.  Crying into the phone is not going to convince me."

"Maybe.  But combined with Sakura's eyes, which she should be working right about now…"

Sakura hopped on his lap, right on cue, and bit her lip.  Already her eyes were glassy, and brimming with hope.

"But I- I don't want -"  Sakura and Meilin both sniffled at the same time, and he knew it was over.  They'd never leave him alone if he refused now.  "Fine," he groaned.  "I'll cancel my classes.  When do you want us?"

"Oh thank you, Syaoran!  Arigatou gozaimas, thank you so much!  This is going to be so much fun, you'll see!  We're scheduled to start shooting in April, so anytime before that is great.  Just let us know when your flight is."

"Hai, hai," he grunted.

"I love you!"

"I love you too."

She hung up, glowing, and attacked Eric with a hug. 

"It's a go!  They're coming before April, and he'll help me with the movie!"

"Oof.  I guessed."  Sometimes she forgot how strong she was, and Eric had to disentangle himself from her arms.  His friends always asked if he didn't think it was weird he dated a girl that could easily kick his ass, but he loved it.  He loved having a girlfriend that was so strong and so capable of defending herself.  It was an inextricable part of the girl that he cherished.

"Now, remember what we talked about," she lectured.  "This is your chance to really bond with Syaoran, while we're all together under one roof.  I want you two to become friendly."

"No problem, baby, I promise.  We'll bond like there's no tomorrow.  We'll go golfing."  Eric pictured him and Li, alone out on some golf course, with all those heavy clubs.  "Maybe we'll stick to chess."

"Whatever.  Just so long as you try."  She kissed him with an air of satisfaction.  "This is going to be the best movie yet."

Yes, it was, though she didn't know it.  It was all part of the secret plan, the plan that he had worked out with Sakura and Tomoyo over the phone.  In one of the scenes where she fought masked ninjas, he was going to disguise himself as one.  Before she could deliver the final blow, he'd pull off the mask and offer her the ring, right there on tape and in front of everybody.  Eric loved a good surprise, and this was going to be classic.  Li would blow a fuse, of course, but Sakura would be there to keep him from interfering.  Meilin wasn't even twenty-two yet, but it had been long enough now for him to know that things between them would never change.  It was real, and it was time to make it formal.  It was time to marry this girl.

"Eric?  You're staring at me again.  What is it?" 

"Was I?" he asked innocently, mentally kicking himself.  It was so easy to slip into daydreams when she was near; he would have to watch himself. 

"Yes."  She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, which was really his fault.  He was the one that had taught her to never trust a politician, even if he was just a lowly city councilman.  "I was just thinking about how much I love you," he said sweetly and not untruthfully.

"Oh."  She relaxed.  "Well I love you too."

They kissed again, and again, and it was with supreme reluctance that Eric pulled away.

"Don't I know it.  Now I think it's time to feed the birds.  We better go take care of 'em."

"Hai!"  She skipped from the room, and Eric allowed himself one more mysterious smile. 

Oh yes.  She had no idea, and it was going to be great. 

His little bird was in for the surprise of her life.

--------------------------------------------------

Disclaimer:  I do not own these characters

Tomoyo: And yes, this is truly the end.  Newbies might have mistakenly stopped reading after chapter 11, but Peacewish's veteran fans know that it's never truly over 'til we've had the discussion.  Or 'rant' as some people might choose to call it.

Li:  Gee, I wonder why.

Sakura: So where is she, anyway?

Tomoyo: Still outside, screaming obscenities about the IRS.  Writing this story kinda got her worked up.  So she left her notes with me to host the discussion, since I had such a small part in the story.

Li: So that's what that noise is.

Peacewish:  - and do you know how much those #$&%ing  @$%*& took from me last year!  TWO &*$%# THOUSAND DOLLARS!  Do you have any idea how much – mmff!

Tomoyo:  Touya-kun, I thought you said you had her under control!

Touya: Gomen, gomen.  I got it!  (claps hand over Peacewish's mouth and drags her back outside with Yukito's help)

Tomoyo:  Right, thank you.  Now let's all welcome the new guy, Eric Masters.

All:  Hi, Eric.

Eric:  Hi, everyone.

Tomoyo:  According to her notes, Eric and Todd were two friends of Peacewish back in high school.  Very sweet, goofy guys that were great to hang out with and totally cute besides.  Peacewish, like TamChronin, apparently feels that an American is just right for Meilin.  She isn't exactly sure why.

Eric:  Not that I'm arguing.

Li:  Speak for yourself.

Tomoyo:  The vast family fortune, however, is invented, and the politics are a blatant projection of Peacewish's own personal feelings.

All: Shocking.

Peacewish:  Are you talking about the politics?  Don't talk about the politics without me!  I want to- mmf!

Tomoyo:  Thank you, Touya-kun.  So welcome, Eric.  Peacewish was pleased to see that you were a very popular original character, according to the reviews.  In fact, you had considerably more support than Li Syaoran.

Li:  WHAT?

Eric:  Haha.

Tomoyo:  Sorry, Li-kun, but the numbers don't lie.  While the readers were very enthusiastic about the chemistry between Meilin and Eric, they were less than complimentary about your actions.  "Yay, Syaoran-bashing!" I believe, was the term most frequently used.  In fact, even Jing Kun rated more positive reviews than you did.

Li:  Why does everybody hate ME so much?  I'm not the one with the cancer-forming addiction.

Eric:  Now don't you start!  As a matter of fact, Peacewish has never smoked and does not encourage any of her readers to indulge in this unhealthy and expensive habit.  But she does hate those government sponsored (tax dollar funded) anti-smoking commercials that insult everyone's intelligence.  This was just her way of getting back at them.  Frankly, I think she has got some kind of smoking fetish, because she made Eriol and Touya do it too, a couple of times.

Meilin:  But it's okay, because with Eric it's cute.  And he was very polite about always smoking outdoors when we were together.

Li:  Ooh, very polite.  Big deal.  He's not the one that was trying to keep you from getting killed!

Meilin: Which was very sweet, Syaoran darling.  But also kind of cheauvanistic.  You see, Peacewish was always a little annoyed by the way you kept ordering me around in the series, so she decided to get back at you this way.  The Song Card episode, in particular, bothered her.  This story became my chance to fight on my own, and I kicked some serious butt!  It was all rah, rah, take back the night!

Sakura:  Yeah!  Even I came off looking better than usual, figuring things out and arriving in the nick of time to save Meilin!  Someone actually portrayed me as smart for once! 

Tomoyo:  You always look smart to me, Sakura.  (bats eyes)

Sakura:  It almost makes up for looking like such a clueless ditz in Behind the Camera.

Tomoyo:  (clears throat)  Anyway, the point is, this is about more than Meilin just finding a new love.  This was about asserting herself, and learning to have confidence in herself. 

Meilin:  It was hard, I'll admit it.  But it was worth it.  No longer am I a downtrodden character in fanfics!  Oh, the joy!  And I got to be a famous movie star, too.  Did anyone ever have it so good?

Eric:  God I love it when you look so happy.  You wanna continue this in the closet?

Li:  Over my dead body!

Meilin:  Okay!

Tomoyo:  Sit down, Li, no one's excused just yet.  Buckle up and brace yourselves because it's time to talk about the –

Peacewish:  &%$#*& politics!!!!  It's half the reason I wrote this &*%$# story and I demand to be a part of this discussion.

All:  Touya!

Touya:  She overpowered me; I'm injured.  Help!

Yukito:  Ouch.  I thought she was in love with you.

Touya:  Apparently not as much as the politics.

Peacewish:  You're half right, my darling, half right.  Because it's not that I love it, it's that I LOATHE those horrible politicians.  And I HATE the IRS.  A few of my readers have asked what the IRS is; all I can say is that such innocence should never be spoiled.  Suffice to say it's a horrible government agency that feels entitled to every cent that I own, and believe me when I promise you that it's not much to begin with.  How DARE you, IRS?  How DARE you take my money for no good reason at all!  You filthy, rotten, stinking thieves!

Tomoyo:  (sigh)  The Everlasting Dragons cult was the embodiment of Peacewish's distaste for the IRS/communism in this story.  You see –

Peacewish:  Hush!  I wanna say it!  You see, they were jerks that felt entitled to killing and stealing the life-forces of others so that they could continue to live.  It was a sacrifice of the individual to feed the group.  Collectivist thinking!  Very unhealthy.

Tomoyo:  I was going to say that.

Peacewish:  All the Chinese names assigned to the gang members were high-ranking Communist Party Committee members.  All except Jing Kun himself, whose name was chosen randomly from a website because it sounded cool.  I considered calling him Mao Tse-dong, but I figured that would probably be too obvious.

Li:  Peacewish?  Too obvious?  Never!

Peacewish:  My characters expressed their distaste for the communist paradigm in two important scenes.  First the Cloud City-type offer that Jing Kun made to Meilin, offering her a chance at magic and power.  She refused because she remembered Eric's comments about taking ice cream from one to give to another.  (If you would like to read more on that subject, please refer to a wonderfully brilliant writer by the name of Frederic Bastiat, Essays on Political Economy.  He's the best that ever put this theory into words).  Then there was the chat between Eric and Jing Kun at the skyscraper, where Eric made it very clear that no matter how much Jing Kun felt he deserved to take Eric's life, he still had no right to it.  I was very proud of those conversations, but a little disappointed that nobody mentioned them.  (sigh)

Tomoyo:  Don't fret, Peacewish.  Everybody still liked the story overall.

Peacewish:  Really?

Tomoyo:  Oh yes.  At the time of this posting, Lotus Reborn has already elicited 122 reviews, making it your second-most reviewed story ever.  Apparently there was a positive market reaction to a fic starring Meilin.  Either that, or it was for a story that promoted capitalism.

Meilin:  I'm guessing it wasn't the capitalism.

Eric:  Hey, a man can dream.  And to Ongaku, Sara, Funki-Mage, and Sakura Rain: thank you for your positive comments after the ice cream dialogue in chapter 6.  I will be coming around to your houses shortly to give you a great big kiss.

Meilin:  What?

Li:  WHAT?

Eric:  Nothing!  I didn't say anything, I swear!

Meilin: Good.

Li:  And it better stay that way.

Eric:  Gulp.

Sakura:  Welcome to our world, Eric.  Good luck.

Peacewish:  Okay, I think I'm a little calmer now.  I feel better.  And even though I know some of you darling readers out there do not agree with my radical politics, you still take the time to let me know that you like the story, and I appreciate that.  Lotus Reborn was one of the more complex and difficult stories that I have tackled, mostly because its slick action-oriented feel made it more suitable for a movie than a narrative. 

Meilin:  Think how much fun it would have been to choreograph those fights!

Peacewish:  Tell me about it.  As Sara astutely observed, I do have a black belt of my own, and I like being able to write realistic combat scenes in my stories.  Makes it sound cooler.  Anyway, I'm pretty pleased with it, and I'm glad it went over so well.  It was nice to have something to work on when the Cato Institute unceremoniously FIRED me last Monday.  It was unwarranted, and unjust, and I am totally a victim of office politics here.  And damn it, there's more politics!

Tomoyo:  Uh-oh.

Touya:  Uh-oh.

Yukito:  Uh-oh.

Peacewish:  No good can ever come from that word!  And do you know what the best part is?  Do you?

Li:  Um…

Peacewish:  Even though I am now unemployed, come April 15 I am STILL GOING TO HAVE TO PAY THOSE &*%$# TAXES!!!!!  I ask you, how much sense does that make?  How can it be fair that I have to pay income taxes when I don't have an income?

Tomoyo:  Well-

Peacewish:  It's NOT fair! That's the answer!  I'm poor and unemployed and the government is going to take my money anyway!  WAAAAHHHHH!!!!

Touya:  I thought you said you'd calmed down.

Peacewish:  Sorry, sorry.  Thinking about it gets me a little worked up.  (deep breath)  Okay.  Let me assure my faithful readers that this is not a disaster.  I was getting a little bored with the job anyway, especially since the building supervisor and I weren't getting along.  And I do hate living in DC.  It's all about politics here, and I am sick to death of that.  So I'm going to get all my stuff together, and move back to Texas, where I left my heart.  At least there I won't freeze to death, and I'll have all my friends to help me out.  I'll figure out what I'm going to do eventually.  Meanwhile, I think it's probably best if I take a break from writing fanfics and try to sort out my priorities.

Haha.  That was, of course, a joke.  No matter what, I'll always have time for my writing.  Speaking of which, Sakura Rain, what am I?  A machine?  You didn't even let me finish this story before asking about the next!

Sakura:  But that's okay, because…

Peacewish:  Because, yes, I do already know what I want to do.  Previously in this section I threw out several different ideas for what story to begin working on; as anyone can see I settled on Wildflower, the AU scifi fic posted back in June.  Everything else I've talked about hasn't exactly been discarded permanently, just put on the back burner for some while.  Things are busy, so try not to hate me too much.  Reality calls, and a girl has to have her priorities.  Even a rabid fangirl like me.

Touya:  It's bizarre… she sounds almost healthy.

Li:  It'll pass.

Peacewish:  So get on to reading Wildflower, if you haven't already, and leave lots of reviews!  The kind I like best are the ones that discuss the politics in my stories.  Specifically, why the IRS/communism/big government in general are horrible entities and deserve to die horrible deaths.

Li:  See?

Peacewish:  The quest continues.  So in spite of my unemployment, I carry on bravely, with no one but my loyal cast to stand by my side…

Touya:  Huh?  Didja say something?

Peacewish:  I think it's about time you got tortured again.  Let me work on that.

Touya:  Aah!  Get away from me, you sick twisted writer!  What did I ever do to you, anyway?

Peacewish:  Oh, don't be like that, Touya sweetie.  Know that it's not you, it's my evil supervisor that I'm lashing out against when I write this story.  I'm just venting.

Touya:  That doesn't make me feel any better, for some reason.

Peacewish:  You'll get some more Yuki scenes…

Touya:  I'm going to die.  I just know it.

Peacewish:  Silly Touya!  I would never do that to you!  Unless maybe my unemployment money doesn't come through.

Touya: Gulp.

Peacewish:  So that's the status, everyone, what I am and am not working on and what you can expect from me in the near future.  And please, don't worry about me.  I'll be all right. The important thing is that I get back home to Austin and figure out what I want to do in life.  I'm young, I'm healthy, I can do anything if I want to.  It's going to take more than losing a job to get me down.  As long as I have access to a keyboard and computer, I'll be all right.

Domo arigatou to you all, I will see you next time.

Peace.