If you're reading this, then Tomoyo is probably already gone. I've asked her to come help me, because I can't do this on my own. Please don't be scared, but neither of us may be coming back for a long time.
I found her, Dad, I found Sakura. It was the government that took her after all, just like I told you. I still don't know why, but they were keeping her in a top-secret satellite all this time. I figured out how to find it, got a ship, and rescued her. I can't believe I actually pulled it off, but I did it and she's with me right now. You wouldn't believe how old she is, how much she's grown. I can't send you a photo, but she looks so much like Mom now.
I know you want to see her. I know she wants to see you, we both do. But this satellite was loaded with security, and expensive, and Sakura is really valuable to them. They'll be looking for both of us, and I know they're watching the house right now. Your phone lines are tapped, they're checking all your mail and e-mail. This note is the last you'll hear from me for a while. We have to hide from now on, but don't worry, we'll be all right. Someday I'll find a way to meet you.
That's not all, Dad. You should know that Sakura isn't exactly how she used to be. They've been experimenting on her, doing things to her that left her damaged. She can walk and she can speak, but the things she says don't always make sense. She needs someone to take care of her, and that's why I asked Tomoyo to come. My friend should be able to sneak her out of town all right, but I know they're watching you more closely and I don't want to risk it. I don't want anything to happen to you too.
It's not fair. I don't know why they had to do this to us, after everything we've gone through, I don't know what it is about Sakura that makes her so important. But now that I've got her back I promise I'll always keep her safe. I won't let them or anyone else hurt her anymore.
I'd tell you to burn this note, but I know you won't. So just be sure and hide it in a safe place, and carry on like nothing's happened. Know that she's safe, at least, and with people that love her. It may not be much, but it's the best I can do for now. I swear that one day I'll bring Sakura home to you, and we can be a family again.
In the stillness of early morning, Fujitaka lay quietly in his bed and watched the flowered tree branches waving outside his window. It was the height of their season, fluffy pink petals beautiful in contrast to the bright blue sky. It was going to be a fine day, but he didn't move to get up just yet.
The note was folded up and hidden in the lining of his favorite textbook's binding, where he'd left it untouched for a year now. It didn't matter, he knew every word by heart. He repeated them often, to himself, taking what comfort he could in the promises of his son and clinging to a threadbare hope that one day they'd be fulfilled. It was what kept him going, what kept him getting out of bed every morning and going about his daily routine when otherwise he'd have surely given up. And never mind the blotchy tear spots on the paper that he knew must have fallen as his son wrote the words.
Fujitaka rolled out of bed and tied on his robe, then splashed his face in the bathroom and donned his glasses.
That one simple, short note had turned his world upside down, nothing had ever been so precious or so frustrating. His daughter was alive, after all this time, when he'd tried so hard to convince himself she was gone. Alive, but forced to hide somewhere with her brother where he couldn't see either of them. Touya said she was different now, damaged, words that filled Fujitaka with dread and left him with a hundred questions that the sparsely detailed note could not answer. The truth was there in her signature, though, at the bottom of the page. The uneven and scrawled characters resembled those she'd produced at the age of five, when just learning to write. It was frightening, but at least she had written them. After so long, to be presented with something made by Sakura's hand… He remembered how he'd pressed his cheek to the paper, trying to feel her in some way through the scribbled letters. He'd added his own tears to his son's, that day.
Fujitaka descended the stairs and greeted his family in turn. "Good morning, Nadeshiko," to the beautiful young woman smiling from her photo. "Good morning, Touya. Good morning, Sakura." His children shared the other photo, one he'd taken on one of their many picnics in the fields by the house. Sakura smiled merrily, arms wrapped around her brother's neck, barely taller than him even though he was sitting on the ground and she standing. Touya's smile was always a little harder to find, a subtle quirk of the lips and a light in his eyes. It was a smile that disappeared altogether when Sakura did. Fujitaka didn't care to remember that time, the dark and angry words that Touya flung at him, the arguments, the long stretches of stiff silence. In a way, he'd lost both his children that day Sakura vanished.
The water had begun to heat up. Methodically Fujitaka prepared a mug for tea, and assembled roll, butter, and fruit. That time was over, at least, somewhere out there Touya was with his sister and taking good care of her. And now there was nothing he, the father, could do except wait. Every new day was a faint hope that they might return, and every sunset was a resigned reminder to be patient.
The water had boiled, and he poured the steaming liquid into his teacup. It clouded up and he stirred in sugar, then carried the tray outside to eat in the garden. The morning was indeed a fine one, peaceful, with only the birds' singing to disrupt the quiet. He indulged himself in looking up at the sky for a while, wondering for the millionth time where his children were on the other side of all that blue. When his tea had cooled off enough, he lifted the cup to his lips.
At that moment an atrocious noise shattered the stillness, so sudden and violent that Fujitaka started. Tea spilled onto the table and onto his hand, uncomfortably hot, and he quickly set the cup down. The roar was deafening and he looked up to see a spaceship gliding toward his house.
Baffled, he stared at the scarred old cargo ship and wondered what to make of it. Pilots didn't fly their ships into the middle of town, particularly sleepy neighborhoods like this one. Fujitaka didn't know much about ships, but this one seemed particularly weatherbeaten. It must have seen a lot of action.
The ship hovered for a moment and then dropped to the earth, right next to his front garden, and all his breakfast plates clattered. Fujitaka hastily stood, not sure whether to be curious or afraid.
A stream of vapor released with a hiss, and he jumped. The gangplank lowered, and someone emerged from the interior of the ship. Boots clunking a little on the metal ramp, he descended one careful step at a time. Someone else's hand was in his own, and he led her tenderly and unhurriedly out of the shadows until they were both standing on soil.
It was his son, he realized numbly, a boy that had grown into a man since he saw him last. And the beautiful girl at his side could have been his wife, years earlier, she wore the same eyes, the same smile.
Nadeshiko was gone. Who was this girl, returning his gaze and crinkling her fingers in a timid wave? Her lips moved, in a soft greeting that he was too far away to hear.
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I don't think I'll do a follow-up discussion, this time.
Haha! That was, of course, a joke. Let me just get the cast together.
Peacewish: Welcome to the party, all! Time to celebrate the long-awaited end of Wild Flower! (blows on little party noise-maker thing)
Sakura: It's over, thank goodness. You know how exhausting it is, being crazy all the time?
Li: Peacewish probably has a good idea (snicker).
Peacewish: I heard that.
Tomoyo: No fighting now, this is a celebration. Remember?
Peacewish: Ahem. Yes, after all the hardship and all the struggle –
Li: You're talking about my fight scenes?
Peacewish: No, I'm talking about my writer's block. But somehow I managed to conquer it and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. Long list of superlatives for this one: at 19 it has the most chapters of any story I've ever posted at , and at 281 pages it's the longest. It also, of course, has the most reviews of anything I've ever written, a staggering 774 as I write this.
Peacewish: And yes, it also took the longest time: a year and four months to be exact.
Li: You know that's the only reason you have so many reviews, right?
Peacewish: (growls a little) Yes, I know it, and I feel a little cheap for loving that high number like I do. When six weeks go by between updates, naturally more people are going to review for each chapter.
Sakura: So if you'd spaced out updates on your other stories, you could have gotten just as many reviews!
Peacewish: I would never stoop to such petty mongering! Well, um, at least I think I wouldn't. Trust me, readers, I got each chapter of WF up as quickly as I could make myself go. There were just so many… things in the way.
Li: Like what?
Peacewish: Well for starters, I moved to Thailand in between chapters 7 and 8.
Li: Oh, is that all?
Peacewish: And then I started a new career, and got a job teaching English to Thais.
Li: Get married while you were at it?
Peacewish: There are no decent men in this country. (glances meaningfully at the sullen, silent Touya) Anyway, I can talk about the move and new job as an excuse, but the truth is this story kind of took me by surprise. It was way more complex than I thought it'd be, not to mention longer. I spent many a lonely night just staring at the screen, wondering how on earth I was going to bring this to a happy ending. Did you think I had it all planned out, you innocent readers of mine? Get real! I was totally winging it! I didn't have a clue what was going to happen.
Sakura: Say it ain't so, Peacewish. Say it ain't so.
Peacewish: But I don't regret the story, damn it, for all its faults and flaws I am proud of it.
Li: Which… means you're probably going to talk about it now. Aren't you?
Peacewish: How did you ever guess? So let's get started. First up: the influences. All of you sweet, dear readers that left me reviews complimenting me on how original this story is – please look away for a few minutes. As for the rest of you…
Sakura: Oh, where to begin?
Peacewish: Well, there's the obvious Firefly. Crazy girl in a spaceship! And Cowboy Bebop too, though that might be double counting because I'm just sure CB was an influence for Joss. I love them both for their refreshing vision of a future without sterilized white buildings and spandex everywhere. Ships were dirty, gritty, trees still existed and yes people wore cotton. Considering how difficult it is to get spandex clean, why would people wear only that on a spaceship?
Li: Well, thank you for not making me walk around in a Star Trek unitard.
Tomoyo: Ooh, costume idea…
Li: Quick, back to the influences!
Peacewish: Oh, right. There's also Star Wars, with the hunk-a-junk spaceship that everyone loves and her supercool pilot. Matrix, gotta love those fight scenes. A dash of X-men with the political stuff, and of course X-files as well. Smith was my 'cigarette-smoking man', except Eric kinda stole the cigarette thing.
Eric: I'm quitting after the next fic, I swear. (lights up)
Li: You are NOT part of the CCS cast.
Eric: Tell that to Peacewish.
Li: Go away!
Peacewish: (blows on noisemaker thingy again) Celebrating, remember? I've just victoriously finished off an idea that's been in my head for two years, when I was living in miserable rat-infested D.C.
Eric: All descriptions of the city in the story were true to the letter, incidentally, including pretentious bars, ghettoes, gangs, and rent control from hell.
Peacewish: Fox aired with Firefly that fall, which I immediately thought was a cute, funny, and –
Peacewish: - themed show. I lasted maybe six episodes before I was picturing it with the CCS cast, why I'll never know. But it was Joss's idea and I told myself to steer clear, I didn't want to step on someone else's territory. Knowing him, I'd never guess the eventual story. But then it got cancelled, and though I was sad, I felt like the way was clear to pursue my own story.
Tomoyo: Not one to be picky, but does Mr. Whedon know you stole his idea?
Peacewish: It's a fine line between plagiarism and 'influence', my dear Tomoyo-chan. I reconstructed the whole thing to be a story, after all, and not a series. I added in the D.C. stuff for Eric and Meilin, fixed it so the brother was the captain of the ship, and threw in all the Clow magical stuff. So it's totally different. I do wonder if I guessed right with Sakura's condition, though, and just what he'd think if he read this fic.
Li: "Oh my god."
Peacewish: Wow, thank you.
Li: Not in the nice way.
Sakura: So, what about me, anyway? In bad fics I've been written as a gangleader, a princess, and 'goth-punk'. But I don't think I've ever been crazy before.
Peacewish: Well, I tried not to wear myself out thinking about it. I did enough of that for the plot. But I went with the idea that Sakura's mind was reconstructed in order to solve the unsolvable puzzle Clow left behind, his legacy to her instead of a stack of Cards. Did I rub in the motif of 'puzzle' enough for you? The artifact itself, and the mystery around project Clow and Sakura both, and naturally Sakura herself. In the very literal sense, since her brain was rearranged like a jigsaw by the government. This modification left her omniscient, in a way, though the overload of information also left her a little bit insane. Hence knowing Li's sword attacks, how to sew, how to play chess and so on. She knew every person's past, like the bounty hunter, and their future, like her brother's eventual fate of torture. In addition to that she knew each individual's complex personality, memories, and thoughts, and I figured she would have trouble labeling all that with an arbitrary word like a name. Hence her nicknames, representing them as how they related to her.
Yukito: Of course, in the series Sakura calls her brother 'Brother' anyway –
Peacewish: Pesky details. But speaking of the tall, dark one…
Yukito: Sorry, Peacewish. But he says he's not speaking to you.
Peacewish: Not even for the end-of-the-fic celebration?
Yukito: It's the fic that he's mad about.
Peacewish: He's always mad, he'll get over it. Was it the hot needles in the chest?
Peacewish: The broken arm?
Peacewish: The multiple strikes to the face, kicks to the body, the broken ribs –
Peacewish: Then what? (Touya points sullenly to page in script)
Yukito: He's directing us to chapter 18, page 5. Quote, Touya gripped Li in a fierce hug. End quote.
Peacewish: Oh. Maybe he won't get over it this time.
Li: Hey! I didn't want to do it either! That was worse than Kero in the Change Card episode.
Kero: Stupid kid.
Li: Stupid stuffed animal.
Tomoyo: I think what I love most about these discussions is that they're so positive.
Kero: At least the food's good. It's a Sakura-changed-all-the-Cards –
Sakura: Wrong setting, Kero-chan.
Kero: I mean, it's a Peacewish-finally-finished-Wild Flower-eat-up-a-storm party!
Yukito: We are definitely related.
Peacewish: Is everyone ready to talk about the politics?
Li: Oh my god. We haven't even gotten to that yet?
Peacewish: Eh, well. It's only fitting that this is the longest discussion ever too, as long as we're breaking records.
Peacewish: Where, oh where to begin? I'll go with Li, since I started the story with him too. He was breaking into a federal base, if you recall, but Li was not a top-class government criminal by choice. He and the rest of his family were minding their own business and not bothering anyone, in spite of their enormous power, when the magical equivalent of the ATF crashed down on them. Maybe we could call it ATM – Alcohol, Tobacco, and Magic.
Eric: Sounds like my typical date with Meilin. And I love the acronym.
Peacewish: I know the DC opening scene had you all thinking 'X-men', and yes there was some input. But the law that required sorcerers to register, like the Jews in Nazi Germany, actually passed a few years earlier (also by Pindexter/Smith's efforts).
Meilin: So we didn't pay any attention, and then one day BAM. The government seized everything and declared us criminals.
Peacewish: Too ludicrous to be real, you say? The DEA regularly freezes the assets of of accused drug traders, arguing that criminals shouldn't be able to hire lawyers with dirty money. Except we don't know they're criminals, because we supposedly practice innocent before proven guilty. Not the other way around. And how about the ATF, declaring the Waco crowd criminals and then bulldozing down the walls? The blood of the victims will forever be on your hands, Janet Reno! (Agent Jay Rino in my story).
Li: So how come Meilin and I were the only ones out of my family, and out of any of the likewise-targeted families, even trying to do something about it?
Peacewish: How come a couple of ten year-old kids are the only ones in your family to get involved with the Clow Cards?
Li: Good point.
Eric: Moving on to more important themes…
Peacewish: Eric's speech about government vs. sorcerers is a projection of my own feelings about anything the government considers dangerous – smoking, drugs, or guns. I consider the tobacco lawsuits particularly laughable; imagine, suing a company whose products you bought voluntarily.
Eric: The government, on the other hand, gives you no choice at all when it drafts you to go fight in Vietnam and gets you killed. Try to evade it and you'll get in trouble! So how come no one ever sues government for damages?
Tomoyo: I think Japan was neutral on that one.
Peacewish: That's not the point! The point isn't even about whether the government with guns is more dangerous than an average civilian with a gun, though I think the answer to that is pretty clear. The point is that we are talking about a right, and no government can strip you of your rights.
Sakura: I think they did in this story.
Peacewish: Violate them, yes, they very much did. But that's not the same, no right can be taken away. They are 'inalienable', as Jefferson said. To say government can take them away is to say they gave them to us, and only a clueless, arrogant politician would think that.
Eric: Is there any other kind?
Peacewish: Our rights existed long before government did, it didn't give us anything. In our freedom, we created government – it did not create us.
Li: She's got that sparkly look around her. It's creepy.
Tomoyo: She's on a roll, all right.
Peacewish: And yet the men and women of government continue to act as though we are theirs to command! Give us your money in taxes! Give us your property for public works! Give us your children to die in a foreign war! Deny us and suffer the price, because your pathetic 'rights' and selfish individual needs are obstacles on our path to the greater good. (pauses to breathe)
Yukito: Got it all out?
Peacewish: Mostly. The greater good is almost always something evil, ironically. If something's so good, how come government has to force everyone to do it? Consider the irony of a man who would destroy a family to preserve the safety of the masses. Smith pushed laws through DC restricting sorcerers' freedoms, laws consistently touted as safeguards 'for the children', and yet he himself didn't blink at kidnapping a ten year-old girl. And experimenting on her after that. He forever violated her right to a normal, free life and yet somehow he was still convinced that it was all for a good purpose. The best villains are always ones with noble causes.
Sakura: I still think Gorrell was better.
Peacewish: I think so too. I kept Smith in the shadows, setting him up faceless like an average government agency or bureaucracy. But it did make him weaker. I tried to draw a parellel between him and Touya, though, for a better glimpse into his head. Anyone catch the implication of 'big brother'? Both of them were convinced they had the right to run Sakura's life for her, both of them were more-or-less obsessed with her and keeping her safe. It was their common downfall, at separate times in the story: Touya in his jealousy kicked Li off the ship and was consequently outgunned when Rino caught up to them. Smith loved Sakura for her power, and pushed her into unleashing so much of it that it killed him.
Li: Still would have liked to impale him, though.
Peacewish: Your swordfighting climax came with the bounty hunter. Anything after that would have just been weak, so I didn't even try. Anyway, Touya's genuine love for Sakura –
Yukito: (cough)sister complex(cough).
Peacewish: - as opposed to Smith's love of power –
Sakura: Is everyone coming down with colds, or something?
Peacewish: - prompted him to make the right decision in the end. He acknowledges to Sakura that she is her own person and he cannot control her feelings, anymore so than the government can control us. Individual rights, the main theme of the story. So take that, you commies!
Tomoyo: Just when she was so close to making me cry.
Yukito: Speak for yourself, Touya is.
Touya: Am NOT.
Yukito: But at least I got you to talk.
Touya: You're not getting any tonight.
Peacewish: (in her own world, still) Stupid bureaucrats! Stupid politicians! They think they can just do whatever they like to us, trample our rights and take away what's ours, in the name of what they think is 'right'. Like, the cotton-brained &*$-ups in the State Department that are robbing American citizens of their hard earned money for idiotic foreign projects.
Meilin: As in…
Peacewish: As in the government grant they're 'giving' to my school in Thailand. Some dim bulb thought up a plan to prevent future terrorism by teaching all the Muslims down here some English – I guess in the hope that if they know how to order a hamburger in a restaurant they won't be so inclined to blow it up. Doesn't bin Laden speak perfectly fluent English?
Tomoyo: Well, in his fatwahs he seems to think it's all right to end a sentence with both a question mark and an exclamation mark.
Peacewish: Can you believe it?! TVs. DVD players. DVDs. And as many students on scholarship as my boss can budget for, all on the U.S. taxpayer's dime. And I screamed and hollered about it, but my boss just kept saying that I should be happy. As recipients of all this government largesse, we're better off! Doesn't he get it? Someone, somewhere, had to pay for it. Nothing is free! So of course, you can guess what this means.
Li: Time to bore us to tears with another lecture?
Peacewish: No – well, yes. But besides that.
Meilin: Time to write a sequel to Lotus Reborn?
Peacewish: Tempting, but no. Nice try.
Tomoyo: Time to get a new job?
Peacewish: Bingo, as Botan would say. And for those of you that think I'm kidding, or overreacting, you must not know me at all. I don't have very much (I make less than minimum wage over here) but I treasure my principles and I stand by them. I can't write stories about the folly of government taxation/redistribution and accept dirty money at the same time. I could never live with myself.
Sakura: So, when?
Peacewish: We just started taking scholarship students this term (the taxpayer leeches, or TLs for short). The electronic goodies haven't come through yet, though I'm sure they will soon. It wasn't until my boss told me that it was happening for sure that I even began to look, so I've barely started. And looking for a job is such a job, particularly when one is searching across the globe. Couple that with my limited internet time, and I know it's going to take a while. And I don't even really know what's next – do I want to stick with teaching English or try something new? Go home, or try another country?
Meilin: But it seems like you just got here!
Peacewish: I know. Last long fic I finished was Lotus Reborn, and I hadn't even left DC yet. I can't believe how much time has passed since I started this story. But only a fool would return to America just before the start of winter, so I'm not rushing things. I've got my account set up at Careerbuilder and Monster, and have begun to post my resume here and there. I'm so very unqualified for so many things, though. The real world can really suck, for you teenybopper's information.
Li: So, it'll be a while before you write any more?
Peacewish: Thanks for your concern, Li. And no, I'm not making any promises. Moving around and making life-changing decisions can be very distracting, as writing this story proved, and I don't want a repeat of the six-weeks-between-updates thing. So this is it, my lovely readers, thank you again for all your patience and kind comments and enthusiasm that kept me going in the darkest hours of writer's block. Thank you for giving me an outlet to a hobby I love and something to work for when all the other foreigners in this town just drink every night. Thank you for enduring this incredibly long discussion and thank you – I hope – for at least considering my arguments when I talk about politics. Most importantly, thank you for leaving a review. Thank you, and goodnight.