Neo Fallen, Nach

Dear Readers,

Just to let you folks know, the Meilin rape thing from chapter… um… erm… well, it was a long time ago. Regardless, I kept attempting to resolve that issue, but I never really found a point in the story where I could actually do so. I had planned to do a chapter towards the end of Fallen Neo, but again, the story didn't feel like it was the right time for it. I plan to expand on many of the unanswered questions I left in Neo in the coming chapters, though.

Really, I think Meilin would be in that sort of situation, though. She is usually portrayed as a black sheep in the family. As much as she is one of my favorite characters (overall, not just out of the CCS cast), I don't think that she's really top priority to the clan. I guess I'll have to explain my take on it, neh?

Anyhow, I'll be switching characters for the next few chapters until I come full circle and get back to the Houses.

I would just like to know, however, what it is that people enjoy so much about chapter 20 and chapter 23. I have about one to two hundred more hits on those chapters than any other chapter beyond my first four (which, I think, is the point that all but a good 800 people stop reading). Don't worry, though! I plan on finishing this out. It's my little epic. It's just nice, however, when people decide to give me a hello and such.

I hope you will all stay with me on this ride until the end.

Disclaimer: CLAMP is the genius behind Card Captor Sakura. I do not own these characters, nor do I pretend to own them. My ideas and the stories that follow are my own follies.

Italicized words are thoughts. Bold words are emphasis. CAPS WORDS are shouting

Oo. Fallen, Nach: Afternoon World .oO

It was a small affair: an unusual conversation location but the usual conversation items. Two cups of tea had already set on the table before her. One was gently clasped between the hands of a very red – clothing-wise – Chinese girl. The other sat there, lonely and distant, with wisps of steam curling into the room. The small china cup seemed like the perfect metaphor for the other occupant of the room. The conversation was not, however taking place at some sort of fancy restaurant. No, this was a somewhat familiar location, a small apartment that Syaoran and Meilin shared during their visits to the East.

Sakura was almost certain the Li-clan owned a portion of this complex, but she never actually voiced that line of thinking. Now, however, she was standing here under entirely different circumstances. She suspected there would be not happy and cheerful hugs followed by awkward conversation. Although, she was quite certain the latter would be present in force.

"You wanted to meet with me?" Sakura asked as she closed the door behind her.

"Yes," Meilin motioned for her to sit down. "I… there were things that needed to be said."

"That you cannot say in front of a person in a coma?" Sakura said, taking the proffered seat.

"Things that I'd prefer Syaoran did not hear were he to suddenly wake up," she said softly, "so, please just understand." Sakura nodded, so the Chinese girl continued. "I don't have to ask you what it's like or how you felt because I'm pretty sure I can get somewhat of a grasp on your feelings."

Sakura stood, her chair scraping backwards across the floor. "You think you can—"

Meilin glared at her. "You will sit down," she said icily. Her red eyes never left the furious girl before her. They were neither angry nor frustrated nor was it hurt. Her gaze was as frigid as the coldest day and promised something that no person would want to discover. "You will sit there, and you will listen and you won't interrupt me." She raised a clenched fist and slammed it down on the table. Sakura dropped back into her seat. "Why? Because this is for your own good, just as much as it is for mine."

Sakura sat motionless, her mouth opening and closing as she fought to say something, anything, that wouldn't make her feel suddenly inadequate. "I'm sorry," she said, finally.

Meilin's expression lightened a bit. At least, her eyes were no longer threatening to declare a solo blitzkrieg on her friend. "As I was saying, I don't suspect I know what you went through. I don't even want to attempt to relive anything that had happened to you. I'm sure you dream of it, think of it. I'm sure you spend every day wondering what you could have done differently.

"I know I did. Could I have fought him off better? Could I have prevented this from ever occurring?"

She paused to take a sip from her tea. "You should drink that," she said, pointing in the direction of the other cup, "before it gets cold. This tea is something that is better when hot; at least, that's what Syaoran always said. Strange, though, I've always preferred it cold."

Sakura stared at the cup before taking it gently in her hands. "Is it something special?"

"He'd give it to me on those cold, lonely days. Maybe that's why I prefer it in a cooler state." Her eyes disappeared into the past for a moment before she snapped back into the present. "Too many memories of the past lie in warm tea. Who would have thought?"

"You called me here for a reason," Sakura said. "And I know that reason was not to talk all afternoon about tea."

"No, it's not." Meilin sighed. "Though, I would prefer if we could just sit and talk about tea. Sadly, there's too much else to be said here." She cleared her throat, setting the cup down. "Do you know what it's like not to be loved?"

Her eyes were intense and Sakura stumbled for an answer. "I… I've seen a world like that, once."

"It's not the same thing," Meilin said softly. "I mean, have you ever been looked down upon solely for something out of your control?"

"If you're saying that people look down on me because I've been raped, then I suggest you just stop talking." Sakura had knocked her chair over as she stood. Her gaze was narrow and piercing, but the Chinese girl sat there, utterly unaffected.

"No, that's not what I'm saying." Meilin gave a short, but exasperated sigh. "Look, Kino… neh, Sakura, where I'm from, things are much different. I wasn't born under the right signs or at the right time, so I wasn't endowed with their gift. My siblings have it. Syaoran has it. His sisters have it. Even his mother has it. But it's that deficiency that sets me apart and makes me unnecessary.

"I suppose," she said softly, "it's why I clung so desperately to Syaoran."

"And why do I need to hear this?" Sakura was more bewildered than anything else. Her tone conveyed neither negative nor positive feelings. If anything, it sought immediate answers for its impatient owner.

"Because your hell only lasted for 6 months," Meilin said softly. Her tone almost dared the listener to respond. Sakura, for one, could not find a way to say the words that jammed in her throat.

"It's not like I asked for it either, you know. I mean, honestly, does anyone ever want to be born into my situation? Then again, I did have friends, I did have people around me who did love me, but it took me a long time to find them. They were there the entire time, but I guess you could say that I never cared to notice." She smiled, disappearing into her memories once more, "It took a silly bird and a sillier boy to pull me out of my stupid downward spiral."

"I don't have a bird, and that stupid boy nearly died for me," Sakura retorted.

"Did you ever think that he would give his life for you not out of stupidity but out of something else completely?" Meilin regarded her from over the top of her tea cup.

"I'd prefer that no one dies for my sake," Sakura replied.

"I know. That… it came out wrong." Meilin set the cup down. Her eyes seemed to be stumbling for some way to say what she wanted. "He loves you," she finished abruptly.

"I know that." The reply came instantly and without hesitation. Sakura looked up and Meilin nodded for her to continue. "There are times, though, that I wish he didn't. If he didn't love me, then he wouldn't be willing to sacrifice himself for my sake."

"You can't stop someone from loving you. If he wants to love you, then what right would you have to deny that of him?"

"Did I ask him to love me?" Sakura stood, palms pressed flat against the table.

Meilin rose at the same time. Her reaction was instantaneous. Rather than saying something, rather than attempting to reason, she let her reactions speak for her. Her good arm reared back as far as it would go. In two steps, she closed the distance between her seat and the infuriated Sakura. Meilin, arm cocked, swung around with all of her might. The resounding slap traveled through the empty apartment. Sakura stood there, half-stunned, while the Chinese girl shook her hand out. As soon as she snapped back into reality, she shifted and placed a hand on glowing red mark that took up the majority of her cheek.

A highly audible scrape of metal on wood accompanied her movement. Both teenagers looked down at the table. The Clow wand laid on the table, in its fully released state, pinned to the table by her other hand. Sakura looked down at the wand and then at Meilin and back to the wand. After a moment, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and the wand dissolved back into the chain and charm that usually hung from her neck.

"Damn it!" Meilin shouted. "Damn you! He doesn't care. He would die for you." Every word was accompanied by an emphatic gesture. "He would give up his world for you, Sakura!"

"Then tell him to stop," she said, her tone level.

"All he wants you to be happy!" Meilin cried out.

"Then tell him that I would happiest if he'd leave me alone."

Meilin shut her eyes. She remained silent for a long time, as if she were trying to compose herself. The only sound in the room was Sakura's harsh breathing. When she finally opened her eyes, Meilin locked Sakura in her gaze.

"Would you be happy?" Meilin said finally. "Would you really be happy if he suddenly disappeared from your life?"

Sakura, evidently, didn't expect the question. She blinked, floundering for an answer, until she found the only thing she could think of. "I… I don't know."

Meilin cracked a slight smile. "You defended his life with your own. Perhaps you already know that answer."

"I didn't want him to die!"

Meilin smiled. "I don't think anyone ever wants anyone else to die," she said softly.

"If they don't return Tomoyo, they'll find out exactly what dying feels like."

"Taking another human life isn't really so simple, though," Meilin said softly. "You know, I killed that man so many times in my mind. I killed him until he wasn't even human. I took him and turned him into some sort of object that I could just extinguish." She walked back around the table and leaned heavily against her chair. "But, if you had put me in the same room as him, bound and helpless, and given me a knife… I wouldn't be able to kill him. Hell, I wouldn't even be able to stab him." A nervous chuckle drifted out of her lips. "It's silly, really… I mean, he told me all these things and warped my mind until I was no longer sure how to think. You can't just tell a girl 'I love you' and expect her to know that you never meant it. I wanted to make him wish he never existed, but were I given the chance to make sure he didn't, I still couldn't do it. It's funny, isn't it? Under the pressure of the moment, I'd crack."

"This is different," Sakura said through clenched teeth.

"It's not." Meilin looked down at her tea cup and then to Sakura. "Take this tea cup." She waved her hand at the object. "It's a plain tea cup. It sits there, holds tea, and does its job. I could break it instantly, erasing its existence in an instant. Why, though? What point would that serve?" She shrugged. Her expression was suddenly less cheerful that Sakura had ever remembered seeing it. "He raped me, but in the end, if I killed him, what would that do? He may not be able to twist another girl around his finger like that, but I would know that I ended someone's life. You can't just take that back. I would feel better for just a single moment before the weight of my act would come crashing onto my shoulders."

"You're sounding like Eriol," Sakura said, but she had at least finally relaxed the muscles in her jaw.

"You know…" Meilin's expression turned even more sorrowful. She continued from where she had left off. "I had a child from that man." She chuckled, and somehow her expression lightened for a moment. "It's not something that I even imagined that I would be glad about or that something that… disgusting… it wouldn't even be able to bring a smile to my face. Now, even when I look back on it, I can't help but to think of what life would be like caring for that poor, small soul."

"I'm not pregnant," Sakura retorted.

"I know you're not. Just bear with me." Sakura folded her arms over her chest and refused to meet Meilin's eyes. "You see," she continued, "I don't regret what happened. Even if I hate that man for what he did to me, it's not like I blame myself for some sort of weakness. I don't blame others for not being able to protect me. It's more of a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time." She shrugged. "Perhaps, in an infinite number of universes, things turn out differently, but, in this time and place, I cannot change what happened. Sakura, you can't change what happened."

"I already tried," Sakura said softly. "It didn't work out so well."

Meilin puzzled over the words for a moment. Standing, she collected Sakura's empty cup and dumped the contents of her own in the sink. "Maybe you just need to realize that you aren't as powerless as you think you are. You can't just go out and pluck Tomoyo to safety, but at the same time, you can make sure that, when we do find her, she has the perfect home to come back to."

"That's the problem, though." Sakura flopped over the table, nearly crushing her saucer. "Tomoyo should never have left in the first place. I should have been there to protect her and to make sure she never has to suffer like I did."

Meilin turned to look at her. "Life is full of 'should haves,'" she said softly. "Things like 'I should have fought harder,' or 'I should have done this.' It's not like you can just suddenly go back in time and make a should-have a did. Even if someone did have that power, I think it's cheating. Every time you get to go back in time and fix your mistakes, you'd never learn from them. If you ever go back and change one of your shortcomings, next time, you would just make the same silly mistake." She held up a hand as Sakura rose abruptly from the table. "It's not that Tomoyo's kidnapping was a mistake. It's not like we didn't do what we could at the time to save our own selves, but in the end, it's also not like you could have done anything more. They were intelligent, making sure we have separated before doing anything. They ensured that you would be preoccupied while we were mobbed with suits and thugs. If you could have done something differently, myself and Syaoran might not be one with this world any longer." She smiled. "The doctors say that his condition has been improving, so you did manage some good out of even this horrible situation."

"I put him into the hospital, possibly forever, and you say that's good?"

"No, I say it's good because he didn't die. If you were not there, he would probably be dead."

"You don't know that!" Sakura snapped.

"No," Meilin said with a sad sigh, "I don't know that, but I'd like to think that man wasn't just after you. I think you were just some additional bonus to him." She flicked her hair off her brow. Sakura opened her mouth to speak, but again, Meilin held up a forestalling hand, palm facing away from her body. "That isn't to insult you or attempt to trivialize you. It's just to say that Syaoran is more than capable of thinking for himself. He was more than capable of understanding what could and did happen to him."

"Then why did he do it?"

"You already know the answer to that question." Meilin fixed Sakura in her gaze, making sure that she had the other girl's eyes fixed on her own. "It's because, like you, he saw the only chance he had to save someone he cared about."

Sakura looked at her and then back to the table in quick succession, repeating the motion over and over again. The motion itself seemed panicked, almost distraught. When she looked back up after what seemed like the hundredth repeat of her action, she had tears in her eyes. They were frustrated tears or angry tears, but genuine, honest sorrow. And seconds later, she buried her face in her palms and let the flood burst into the world.

Meilin stopped short of her next words. This moment was one of those few places where words would only hurt the situation. That Sakura buried down so deep, beneath so many layers of protection to prevent the outside world from damaging her, was finally – at least – peeking out onto the world. Meilin was not one to prevent that from happening. It took the combined effort of four very caring females and the mother of the boy she loved so much to jerk her forcibly out of her self-imposed solitude. She smiled, thinking back on the memory, before walking up behind the sobbing girl.

"Shh," she said softly, wrapped her arms around Sakura's shoulder.

Sakura honked loudly, cutting the line of sobs for a moment before breaking out into a peal of laughter. Confused, with no direction as to what to do or where to go, she was simply a conduit of everything that had previously befallen her. Sakura couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry or lash out or just scream. Certainly, her mind recognized that attempting to perform so many actions at once would only result in a terribly embarrassing outcome. At the same time, she could figure out what to do or feel. For the first time in so many months, she wasn't trying to figure out how to rearrange her life. She just allowed herself to cry.

Meilin's presence behind her has left some time ago. The Chinese girl handed her a box of tissues when her sobs finally slowed and Sakura raised her head from her hands. Her eyes were bloodshot and her entire face was a little puffy. Sakura accepted them gladly.

"Sakura, you can't keep living these 'what if's' that you keep seeing," Meilin said softly. "Maybe you'll let something grand pass you by because you look to a probable instead of reality. Maybe you won't." She was currently standing just before the girl, much of her weight placed on the table. "Just don't forget that we'll support you, no matter how many times you try to shove us away from you." She grinned, rather stupidly. "I guess you could consider us a bunch of masochists."

Sakura snorted and reached for another tissue. "I'd say you just blame it all on stupidity, actually. Actually, perhaps just plain stubbornness works a lot better." She blew her nose loudly, seemingly interrupting her train of thought, as she halted her speech.

"I'd like to think it's because we care," Meilin replied. "And I'd like to know that you really do appreciate it rather than just assuming it."

"Just don't make an ass out of yourself in the process." Her eyes were still damp. Sakura sniffled, but her smile returned. She even allowed a little laugh to slip out. Meilin followed suit with a grin. Sakura looked at the clock for a moment and sighed. "Where does it all go?"

"Into another dimension, probably," Meilin offered. "I think it just slips away unnoticed most of the time."

Sakura rolled her eyes. "It's funny how conversations can do that to you, no?"

"Make you laugh and cry and want to beat up the others involved all in the same passing moments?" Meilin smiled and extended a hand to Sakura. "If I remember correctly, you have patrols to do."

"You've been talking to Eriol?" Sakura asked.

"I have to keep up with everyone somehow." Meilin lifted the arm she still wore in a sling, wincing in the process. "If that method is best performed by doing duties behind the scenes, then so be it." She shrugged. "I don't mind being some sort of coordinator. It allows me to make sure everyone is still on the same base."

"Or at least so far as you can manage that," Sakura said with a wistful little smile. "I'll let you know how the patrol goes tonight. I think Ruby and Kero said they would be on duty, so I may have my hands full." She smiled. "It's always nice to interfere in business that isn't my own, especially when it harms the Houses."

Meilin couldn't help but notice the briefest of shudders that traversed her friend's spine. Rather than saying something, she simply chose to overlook it. Giving Sakura a little wave, she walked the other girl to the door.

"Be careful," she said softly.

"I will be."

And then the door closed between them.

Meilin plopped down on a sofa in the empty apartment and sighed. Little by little, she knew things would return to normalcy. Yes, everyone had changed. Events had forced people to People had grown up and grown older, but beneath all the wrappings of society they were still the same person. Even though every one of them had been forced into a situation that no person could ever describe as normal, they would prevail.

Meilin truly believe this, but she prayed that her beliefs would not become empty dreams.

Sincerely yours…

Yes, another talky preachy chapter that is full of words and not full of Syaoran. I mean no offense to you folks who read this, but I do actually have a plan, so please don't ask me to suddenly write more of someone into the story. I don't just write this willy-nilly, throwing my characters about in a tumbling plot.

Yes, this story is listed as a Sakura/Syaoran romance, and that's because, le gasp, it is! It's not your run-of-the-mill romance, though. It's real. It's something that I wrote because I believe in these characters. I love the series, and as much as people wonder how loving Card Captor Sakura births a fiction like this, it's because I believe the characters have such depth that I can twist them into situations like I have put here on paper.

I'm sorry to drag the soapbox out here, but I guess I just feel like preaching to an empty choir, as not too many people actually bother to read these silly (and somewhat lengthy) fore- and after- words. I love my readers and I love my writing, but at the same time, I feel like you are expecting something from this story that I may never deliver, even after the many years I've dragged this story on.

Ciuline Ihmenjo