Honor and Duty

By Esmee

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          I am Li Syaoran.

          I am the tenth descendent of the line of Reed, the mage.

          I am the Heir to the clan Li Empire.

          This is who I am.

          No other things may factor into this equation.

          No other things.


          Love is one of those 'things,' as my grandfather likes to say.

          I repeated this to myself to make doubly sure that I do not momentarily forget just what and who I am.

          I must be very careful of that some days.

          Today's 'episode' was brought on when I caught myself staring at the dull glitter of an emerald and gold bracelet in some old antique store window. The old agonies reemerging softly and catching me off guard at odd times. I should be used to them by now, but they still manage to surprise me whenever I let myself think. It had been the green of the emerald that had been the trigger this time. The green had briefly reminded me of a green I still held fresh and pure in my memories, though I never brought them to light anymore.

          Green, bright and clear and deep, like water. Gold, faintly blushed with red and gleaming like polished metal.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          I managed to move away from the store window without further incident.

          I remind myself that I am Li.

          Winter in the streets of downtown Hong Kong is not a pretty sight. The streets are endless, gray, and scabby, like some ancient wound the earth had once received and never procured the proper care for afterwards. The people are little better. They pass by each other without letting themselves actually see one another. But I am being hypocritical now; if you were to ask me what the face of the woman coming directly towards me was I would not be able to describe it at all. This is literally what they mean when they say, 'the faceless hoards.' A chill wind wraps up everything nicely. I ignore the homeless people begging for kindness from the gutters and crevasses of the city.

          I arrive at my destination before long, though I am never sure of the time after 'episodes', a prestigious restaurant in the upper up-scale end of the downtown. The air inside is a warm balm on wind chapped skin and smell faintly of spices, curry, and sake. Muted sounds of enjoyment issue from the dining room lit a warm golden-red by hanging lanterns of crimson and tangerine paper. The host comes and takes my heavy outdoor coat, handing it imperiously to another server lower down in the chain of importance, and ushers me towards my seat with my waiting family.

          Most of the clan is here, and the few who aren't here are away because they were ill. We have been sat in a secluded section of the dining room for more privacy. I can see the servers watching us covertly from the shadows of the room. I can tell they think us an odd party. They are right in a way if I give myself time to stop and think about it; there are very few parties where there are no voices raised in levity or gaiety, especially among the children. But, then again, they will have been told that all of the clan of Li are very self-possessed. I pull my chair in as my wife turns to me expectantly, but does not speak. Her tea-colored eyes were complemented by the black-green dress she wears. I think again of the Green.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          The chatter swing into a lull for a moment, before turning to less domestic topics as I, the Heir, have now arrived. They are talking about some trade that we are making with some large, western company, and I drift away, mentally if not physically. This topic being of absolutely no interest whatsoever to me though I am well aware that I should at the very least be trying to pay attention to it. I am almost at a state of Zen-like peace as I hear my son's voice rise shrilly about the hushed voices of the others. I winced slightly. My son has a truly beautiful soprano, but sometimes it can grate on person, especially when imbued in one as young and, 'precocious' as my wife likes to call it, as he. I suddenly wonder if the Green has a son or daughter yet. Perhaps not. Hopefully not.

          I don't care. I shouldn't care; I am married and I am Heir.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          There are no other factors.

          There is no Green.

          The conversation has now turned to how our shares in Japan are going. Japan. The last news that I had from Japan had been that the Green's brother had passed away. It had been the same cancer that had eaten away at her mother. I can imagine that the last months before his death scared her soul badly. He had always been a very strong man. The word boy had never applied to him. Green and his lover must have hurt very much. I had sent a 'my condolences' note to them at some point.

          I wondered, as I had many times before, whether Green had found comfort in her brother's lover's arms and he in hers. Her brother would not have minded as long as they were happy. He probably would have encouraged a relationship between them.

          I pondered this thought a moment longer before discarding it.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          There had been a time when thoughts like that sent me into a fit of jealous rage so violent it made me ill and depressed for days. I was very young then. I am older now, and though I may not be wiser, I am resigned to it now. The Green is one of those factors that I had such a bare comprehension of as a boy.

          But . . .

          I stopped myself quickly, while sneaking a glance at Grandfather. As irrational and silly as it may sound, there are times when it seems that my Grandfather can read minds. And it is always when you are thinking something you shouldn't. 'Buts' are dangerous things. They are the beginnings of longings.

          I am Li Syaoran, Heir, husband, father, and descendent of Reed. I cannot afford longings.

          My Grandfather looked over in my general direction and I squirmed slightly in my seat before straitening my posture. I relaxed only when he looked away, distracted by another conversation.

          I have always dreaded these types of family functions. There is nothing to do at them. And that is dangerous because it gives me a chance to think. To make wild plans to call her, or to run away to Japan or something, only to discard them moments later when I was lucid.

          I had seriously thought about calling her when I was younger. Or maybe writing her. Whichever I knew would reach her. Not that my family would ever try anything like that. It was not in our nature. But I eventually learned that I was Li and never went through with it. In a small hidden drawer in my desk there is a bundle of envelops made from a heavy, cream colored rice paper that smells faintly of pine, that have never been mailed. I never open that drawer anymore.

          There is no place in the Heir of Li for personal feelings. Never has been. I would be deluding myself if I thought there was.

          I suppose that I should have called Green. I know I should have called her when her brother died. We were nothing if not friends. But I was too afraid my resolve would crumble if I heard her voice. It was a valid reason. I had newly come to my decision to honor the family and accept my fate. It was a very shaky resolve in the begining. So I did not call her and time passed, as it must in the waking world. Eventually I was too ashamed to call her, too afraid what would happen and so did not. Still, there are times . . .

          I am Li Syaoran.

          Dreams have no place in tradition.

          Longing has no place in duty.

          Love has no place in honor.

          That is something I was taught very young and have retained ever since.

          I am Li and all that it pertains to.

          "To be, or not to be. That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing end them?" Hamlet. Shakespeare wrote that. I know that he did not mean it for me, but it suits so many aspects of my life so well that I could laugh.

          To be: to be Heir and all it pertains. To be the good son. To be the descendent. To be the father and the husband. To be honorable and claim my duty with clear eyes.

          Not to be: not to be the Heir and all its consequences. The good son. The descendent. The father. The husband. Selfish.

          No matter what they say, in the end there is never really a question or choice. There is no Green.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          I am Heir.

          I am descendent.

          I am son, father, and husband.

          These are the lines of space I am required to fill. The lines that define the empty space I fill. I must never forget that. They are the invisible boundaries that are set for me and must never step beyond them.

          As a child on the cusp of manhood I had had wild thoughts of doing just that. But I am Li and learned that it was just not in my nature to ignore duty or honor.

          I was very resentful for a time.

          But I was young and that is my excuse. And my flaw. I stilled dreamed of the Green.

           I am Li Syaoran.

          My wife leaned towards me to tell me something, her lips and warm breath lightly grazing my jaw and cheek as she whispers in my ear. I imagine for just a moment that a girl with green eyes is whispering, lips and sweet breath grazing across his jaw and cheek, to a boy-man with pale hair as he sits very, very still.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          I choose duty over love.

          I choose honor over happiness.

          These are my choices, now I must live with then.

          And if I forced to make a choice again knowing what I know, I would still choose the same way.

          Love and happiness are fleeting; honor and duty last forever.

          Through the half shut lids of my eyes I watch my family and wonder who among them is truly happy, or if true happiness really exists at all. Briefly, on the backs of my eyelids, I see a tangle of smooth limbs enfolding and encircling each other, and slim fingers tangled in a mesh of silk hair, red-gold and silver-white, that tumbles around peaceful faces full of contentment.

          I am Li Syaoran.

          That is who I am.

          There is no changing that.

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Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Clamp does.