Chapter 2: Graduation
A CLAMP Campus Detectives fanfic
These characters belong to CLAMP and associated copyright owners. This is a work of fan fiction for fan entertainment purposes only. (In short: please don't sue me.)
ashita no koto yoku wakaranai sore demo
mirai no koto nara wakaru
jibun no shita koto ga nan na no ka na
mina sagashiteru tochuu
Even though I don't know what will happen tomorrow
I know what the future holds
Everyone is looking for
What they want to do with themselves
Bokura no Rekishi (Our History)
CLAMP Campus Detectives Image Song
The current guest speaker finishes their speech and there is a pause before yet another speech begins. Graduations have never been my favorite part of the school year but after years on the student council, one gets used to them. Nokoru is sitting in the Director's (1) seat onstage and given the amount of speeches he has had to sit through so far, I am almost surprised that he is still awake. But like myself, he has become a professional at sitting through graduations without yawning and now as Director he actually takes a great deal of pride in them. But even so graduations can be mind numbingly boring especially with speaker after speaker saying the same thing over and over again.
Since I am Board Secretary and not required by standard to be on stage for the speech part of the ceremony itself, I am standing offstage in the wings, directing traffic. And truth be told I am basically thanking the gods that I do not have to be onstage until the diplomas are handed out.
I offer up a silent prayer of thanks approximately ten minutes later as the current speaker finishes their speech and returns to their chair. Finally the next to last speech is about to begin. According to CLAMP Campus tradition, the last speech before the Director's speech and the handing out of diplomas would be that of the top student whose grades and activities best exemplified the academic and social excellence of CLAMP Campus. It was only a year ago that I was onstage, giving the traditional model student graduation speech before the new Director, Nokoru, gave his. And it was only two years ago that Kaichou was giving his own farewell speech to the CLAMP Campus University division.
Finally this year it is Akira's turn. He walks up to the podium with a practiced ease that comes from years of being on Nokoru's Council. He stands there for a moment, taking in his audience, his eyes clear and purposeful. Directly in front of him are more than 200 graduates, 700 continuing University students and nearly a thousand of their closest friends and family. Unlike the speakers before him, he smiles gently yet confidently despite the solemnity of the occasion. (2)
Akira begins to speak, his voice carrying clear and strong in the grand hall. As his speech begins, I find myself thinking back more than a decade ago to the young boy whom Kaichou and I happened upon while walking outside the Elementary Division building. The boy who was cornered by a group of girls, all eager to capture that smile of his on film. This boy stuttered his greetings after discovering who Kaichou and I were. The boy with the innocent eyes and the wide grin who barely paused when Kaichou asked him to pose with us for the girls.
I notice Nokoru sneaking a look over at me, as if to say, "Look at him, Suoh. Look at how far Akira has come!" The pride on his face is unmistakable. I nod back and Nokoru returns to watching Akira.
In so many ways, that boy that Kaichou and I met is no where to be seen today. At the podium today stands a man nearly as tall as I am. He is fearless, confident and well spoken. Even though I know that inside he is still nervous, it does not show. He stands here, addressing a full house of University graduates, students, faculty and friends without a hint of nervousness. He stands tall, proud, his eyes clear and purposeful. His voice carries clear and strong and his words are powerful. Any members of the audience who may have been slipping into a state of slumber with the previous speeches are now rapt with attention.
But yet, the boy we met so long ago is still there, somewhere. While listening to him, I decide that what makes this speech different is the fact that he is earnest. To a degree he may be saying things that have been said by countless other speakers, yet he is the only speaker so far that holds the rapt interest of his fellow graduates and the university students. I slowly begin to realize it is because he is their sempai, someone whom most of the university looks up to as a role model. Over the years he has garnered such a rapport with the other students that he can command the respect and interest of his audience as well as Nokoru can.
As his speech continues I cannot help but listen to the advice that he gives to his fellow graduates and the assembled audience. He speaks of the importance of not only academic achievement but also emotional achievement, pride in oneself and ones' abilities, for love of what one does, wholly and without reservation yet without narcissism or hubris. The advice he doles out is wise and I see several people nodding thoughtfully in agreement.
He then goes on to say that the learning does not stop in the classroom. He begins to talk about kouhai and sempai and all the things that cannot be taught in the classroom. Friendship. Love. Camaraderie. He urges the underclassmen to remember all that their sempai taught them and in turn, for the graduates to remember that it is not only their kouhai that have learned from them but they who have learned from their kouhai.
Akira's sentiment echoes throughout the hall and from where I am behind the curtain I can see much of the graduating class as well as many in the audience in tears as well. Graduates turn in the chairs to look to their kouhai, their kouhai craning their neck to exchange glances with the sempai.
His voice rings out, clear in the hall, with the tears shining in his eyes. To give him his due, he holds them back well. "I have had the honor of being kouhai to both Director Imonoyama and to Board Secretary Takamura throughout most of my years here at CLAMP Campus. It is to these men that I owe a great debt of gratitude and respect for everything that they have taught me of the years.
"Director Imonoyama, in his years as Chairman of the various divisions of CLAMP Campus, as my school sempai and simply as one of my best friends has taught me the importance of kindness, selflessness and resourcefulness. And to the chagrin of Board Secretary Takamura, he taught me the importance of a sense of imagination, freedom and adventure."
I glance back at Nokoru now and it is more than apparent to me that he is only holding onto his composure by a mere thread. Only the most professional part of him is keeping him from getting up and crushing Akira in a huge hug. Much like Akira, Nokoru has never been shy about things like that. He sneaks another look over at me and I offer him a small smile and another nod, suddenly aware of the tears rising in my own eyes.
Part of me wants to turn away, to keep the tears in my eyes from showing. But these are tears of pure pride for Akira as my kouhai. But more importantly, the pride I feel for him right now is so much more than just of sempai to kouhai but rather as one of my best friends, one of my two partners.
As I listen to his speech, I find it more and more difficult to keep my composure. I cannot help but think back so many years ago to the day we met him and the day after, when Nokoru asked me if I could accept him as my kouhai.
"While Director Imonoyama may have been leader to us both, it was to Board Secretary Takamura whom I looked to most over the years for guidance and direction. Board Secretary Takamura, throughout his years as class division Secretary, as school sempai and my other best friend has taught me the importance of loyalty, respect, fealty, responsibility and countless other values over the years. It was to him that I looked to the most as a role model and strove to be worthy of him as his kouhai. I can only hope that I have been as worthy of a kouhai to him for all he has taught me as my sempai."
I find myself thinking about how at first, I was unsure about the stranger who Nokoru wanted to add to our team. It occurs to me now that if I had said no, Nokoru would have listened to me.
If I had said no, the two of us would not be here, attending Akira's graduation. We would not share this best friend, the boy who was so unlike me yet so like him, who has grown into this amazing young man. We would not be here, sharing this pride in our partner, thinking to ourselves about the more than a decade the three of us have been together: learning, working, playing, growing.
It occurs to me how different the years would have been without Akira to innocently cheer Nokoru on with his silly schemes or to help me keep Nokoru from breaking his neck doing something we had told him not to do. I think about all the things that we have been able to accomplish because he was with us this whole time.
But most of all, I think about what a shame it would have been, to not have had the honor of knowing the extraordinary person that Akira was and is.
"Rijichou, Takamura-sempai, though these words cannot begin to express the gratitude, respect, friendship and love I have for you, please accept this as an expression of my most humble thanks for all the years we have had together. You both took a boy who was unsure of himself and his place here on CLAMP Campus and helped him to find it. It is only with your help that I stand here today, addressing this crowd as we all look forward to what our future holds. "
On that note, the speech ends. Akira leaves the podium and as he crosses the stage he stops where Nokoru is just getting up to cross over for his own speech. From where I am, I can see Akira say something as bows, low and solemn. Nokoru says something back, returning the bow and I can see the tears flowing freely down Nokoru's face now.
As Akira spots me in the wings he straightens and turns to face me. I step out of the wings, just enough to be seen by the assembled crowd on stage and the first few rows of the audience.
"Thank you very much." The sobs from the audience are making it almost impossible to hear but I do not need to hear him to know what he is saying to me.
I know he sees my tears as they flow freely down my face as they do his. The entire stage and much of the graduating class can see my tears. But for once, I do not guard against my emotions. Just this once, I want him and the entire world to know, with no doubt, how I feel. "You have made me very proud," I say, bowing low as well.
We stand there a moment, Nokoru and I bowed to Akira and him bowed to us. Faintly I can hear the entire audience sniffling at the sight but all I can see is Akira. Finally he straightens and walks back to his seat. Only after this do Nokoru and I do the same and I resume my post behind the curtain.
It takes several moments for Nokoru to regain his composure once he has reached the podium. Normally his speeches are those that the student body looks most forward to but this year there is no question whose speech will be most remembered.
"That was quite a speech Akira made," Nokoru is saying to Ohkawa-san as we wait together patiently in an ante room to the side of the stage. Taking into consideration the mob that had gathered after both Nokoru's graduation and my own, we had learned that it was probably safest to retreat to the ante room until the crowds had gone. I had offered to go find Akira in the crush of people but his father had beaten me to it.
So here we are, sitting with the Ijyuin family and their family friends, Ohkawa-san and Nagisa-san. "I don't think there was a dry eye in the house for this graduation," Nokoru continues, glancing at me.
"Wasn't it?" Ohkawa-san beams with pride. "His speech brought me to tears too! What about you Nagisa-chan?"
"I think that speech was very well done," Nagisa-san says in that quiet way of hers. "It's one of the best speeches at a graduation that I have ever heard." Her eyes widen and then she lowers her head in shame. "Of course, Suoh-san and Nokoru-sama, your speeches were also quite impressive..."
"No," I shake my head and smile gently at her. "His speech far super ceded either of ours. Right Rijichou?"
"Suoh's right," Nokoru agrees readily. "I don't think anyone in the history of CLAMP Campus has ever reduced the audience to tears with a graduation speech. Well," he amends with a small chuckle, "maybe they have but those were tears of boredom, I'm sure. And to think Akira didn't even want to do it! Something about how the honor should go to someone more deserving..."
"No one deserved to give that speech more than him," I say stoutly just as the door to the ante room opens and Akira steps in, ushered by his father. Nokoru chuckles at my side. From the looks of it, even the two greatest thieves in the modern world were able to escape unscathed from the throng of Akira's fans.
Akira is looking somewhere between pleased, deeply embarrassed and ruffled as though he had just been cornered.
In fact, I find myself thinking, he looks a lot like he did the moment Nokoru and I first met him.
The room explodes in activity as he is immediately pounced upon - quite literally to Akira's surprise, it seems - by Ohkawa-san, followed by his kimono-clad mothers. Akira lets out a surprised and undignified squeak as a split second later it is obvious that the traditional solemnity of a Japanese graduation is not observed by either Ohkawa-san or his mothers. Meanwhile the elder Ijyuin-san retreats to a relatively safe corner, bemused at the attention his son is receiving.
The other men in the room - myself, Nokoru, Dr. Akechi and a detective friend of Akira's named Kobayashi-san (3) - hang back, watching the display with much amusement. Nagisa-san stands a little bit behind me, giggling softly into the sleeve of her kimono.
"Akira-kun, the tomato," observes Dr. Akechi as Ohkawa-san gives him a congratulatory kiss on the cheek. Akira promptly turns a deep shade of red. As soon as Ohkawa-san releases him, Akira disappears again as his mothers take their turn. "And there he goes again," Dr. Akechi observes with a laugh.
"What powerful women," Nokoru says, clearly impressed. Of course, I think to myself, only Nokoru would truly be impressed by the display. "Have they always been this enthusiastic, Dr. Akechi?"
"Oh they're quite toned down right now, amazing as it is," Dr. Akechi answers.
A few moments later, Akira re-emerges, his hair and tie mussed and generally looking considerably worse for the wear than when he first arrived but pleased nonetheless. Now it is Nokoru's turn to bound across the room - both Akira and I wince, no doubt wondering if Nokoru is going to inadvertently twist his ankle - to congratulate Akira. I follow in a considerably more subdued manner.
"Congratulations, Akira!" Nokoru wraps an arm around Akira's waist as Akira stands a good half head taller than him and Nokoru can no longer put his arm around his shoulders. "You're finally graduated!"
Akira grins in that bright way of his. "I have, haven't I?"
"Well I should hope so, I did stamp that diploma," Nokoru gasps.
Akira glances over at me. "And how long did it take him to finish signing the diplomas before the ceremony, Takamura-sempai?" he jokes with me.
"He finished stamping the last one approximately five minutes before they were due onstage," I report, my arms crossed.
"Suoh...!" Nokoru protests.
"But I made sure he signed yours first," I say with a wink, causing the both of them to laugh.
"But... that's out of alphabetical order!" Akira gasps, pretending to be scandalized. "I can't believe you authorized that!"
"It's a special occasion," I reason with a shrug. "Even I can bend the rules for a special occasion. No, Rijichou, that doesn't mean slacking on your paperwork for the rest of the week," I cut him off before he can even try it, fixing him with a stern look.
"Suoh...!" says Nokoru in a mournful tone before the three of us burst out laughing.
I stand outside on the balcony at the Ijyuin mansion later that night. The Ijyuin family has been kind enough to invite Nagisa-san, Ohkawa-san, Nokoru and myself to a post-graduation celebratory dinner at their residence. Between the cooking of Dr. Akechi, the elder Ijyuin-san and Akira himself, all of us are stuffed to the brim and can barely move. Nokoru took the opportunity to charm his way out of the paperwork that he knows I have waiting for him at the office.
As always, I gave him a tough time about it about it but secretly I could not help but let him off the hook for just one day. To see that mischievous smile on his face as he realized that I was not going to drag him back to his work was reason enough. As that American saying goes, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. And despite the grief he and his unfinished piles of paperwork cause me, I have to admit that a dull, well-behaved Nokoru just would not be the same.
Besides, the office will not be so lonely in a week or two when Akira joins us once again, permanently. It had been decided a long time ago, between the three of us, that we will work together as we always have. It will feel good to know that the three of us will be working together as the collective Board of CLAMP Campus.
Far in the distance I can see Tokyo Tower shining in the skyline. The road ahead of us does not bode to be an easy one but I am confident that three of us together can get through whatever is fated for us, as long as we are together. Sooner, rather than later, we will have to face our fate but for today there are more pressing issues at hand....
"So here you are...." I turn around to see Akira standing there, smiling apologetically. "Rijichou wondered where you went so he asked me to go find you."
"Where is he?" I ask out of habit.
He gestures towards the sunroom on the first floor. "Talking with Utako-san and Nagisa-san. And my mothers," he adds with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry about all this. I'm sure you must have had plans for him back at the office after the graduation."
I shake my head. "There's work to be done but nothing pressing. I think I can let him slide for at least one day. Besides," I add, "it's a special occasion. It's not every day that you graduate. And it's been fun today celebrating with your family. The food was delicious."
"Did you like dinner? I'm so glad. I'll be sure to tell my father and Dr. Akechi!" He grins, obviously pleased and turns to leave.
"Wait a second," I say a little awkwardly and he turns around, a quizzical look on his face. "I want to talk to you."
He cocks his head to the side in a slightly confused manner. "But shouldn't I tell Rijichou where you are?" he asks.
I shake my head. "He'll know that you've found me."
He seems to consider that for a second before returning to my side. "What is it that you wanted to talk about Takamura-sempai?"
I had been wondering how to start the conversation but I suppose that gives me as good of an opening as any. "About that.... You don't have to call me that anymore."
"Huh?" He looks surprised and more than a little confused. "But why not?"
"Because I'm not your sempai any longer so you don't have to call me that anymore," I say patiently.
"But of course you are!" He protests, looking almost horrified at the prospect. "You always will be! You're older than me and you've been Rijichou's friend longer than I have and you've been Secretary for him longer that I've been Treasurer... and... and... you're taller than me...!"
As he says that, there is a part of me wants to laugh but Akira looks so confused that I think better of it and just shake my head. I pause momentarily to choke down my amusement and try to find the right words to help him see that I have my reasons. "Rijichou and I may have met each other before we met you but that doesn't matter anymore."
He looks at me oddly then. "You know... I have wondered what you thought of me when I first met you," he says quietly, turning away to look back down at the garden. "You were so protective of Kaichou back then. The more I think about it, the more I wondered what could have made you accept me."
I put my arm around his shoulders and I feel him relax slightly. "It was you, actually," I tell him.
"Me?" He gives me a quizzical look. "How could it have possibly been me?"
I nod. Letting him go, I take a something out of my jacket pocket. "Do you know what this is?" I ask, handing him a picture that Nokoru gave to me while we were preparing for the university graduation ceremony earlier this week.
Akira takes it from me and his eyes widen in surprise. "It's a picture from when we were children! Oh god, look at those shorts!" he laughs. "Where in the world did you find this?" he asks me, still laughing.
"Rijichou found it in his desk the other day. I suspect he's been hanging onto it for years now and he gave it to me a few days ago." I gesture at the picture in Akira's hand. "That was taken the very first day we met you."
"Eh?" Akira does not look like he believes me. "Are you sure?" I nod. "But it looks like we've been friends for awhile in this."
"That's what I thought too, when I first saw this a long time ago," I tell him. "You just fit in, just like that." I take the picture from him and hold it up, looking at the Akira in the picture and the Akira in front of me. "You haven't changed," I say before tucking the picture back into my jacket pocket.
"Have you ever stopped to think why Rijichou calls me Suoh and he calls you Akira?" I ask suddenly, unable to think of another way to segue into it. I can tell by the look on his face my question has caught him off guard. He looks somewhere between thoughtful and confused, as though he has wondered but perhaps never allowed himself to think it through. "It's because he thinks of us as equals to each other and to himself. He always has and he always will."
"But...." He bites his lip and I can tell I have hit on a sensitive subject for him. "But I've always thought of him as Kaichou - before he was Rijichou that is - and I've always thought of you as my sempai!" he protests. "And I figured... I thought that maybe you always thought of me as your kouhai ...." His voice trails off and he suddenly looks extremely unsure of himself.
I study him and consider my next words carefully. He has always been sensitive, sometimes overly so. On more than one occasion Nokoru noted that as wide-eyed and innocent as he seemed, Akira had demons that haunted him. It was a part of him I could never understand but that Nokoru could.
"Of course I did at one time," I admit, "but things change."
A movement out of the corner of my eye catches my attention. Instinctively the two of us turn around to see Nokoru's blond head walking on the grounds of the Ijyuin mansion with one of Akira's mothers on each arm, allowing himself to be led on what seems to be an enthusiastic tour of the grounds. Looking back he spots us and flashes a smile back at us before being tugged on excitedly by one of Akira's mothers.
"Should we go save him?" Akira laughs, nodding at the sight.
I watch him for a second, making idle chit chat with Akira's enthusiastic mothers and shake my head. "I have the feeling he'll be just fine on his own for a bit," I say dryly and we both laugh. I look back at Akira now as he watches over Nokoru and I find myself thinking back to all we had been through together both protecting Nokoru and just being best friends with each other. "Do you remember that you told me once that you hoped that we would always be together protecting him?" I ask him.
"Of course I do." He nods and looks back at Nokoru as he talks animatedly with his mothers. "I think about it all the time..." he says, mostly to himself.
"How many years ago did you say that?" I ask and he turns his attention to me now. "Look at us. We're still together, working together, protecting him."
There is a faraway look in his eyes now and I give him a questioning look of my own. "I have wondered..." he says slowly in a tone that suggests to me that this is a question that he has thought about a lot. "... about whether or not I offended you by saying that."
It is my turn to blink. "Offended me?" I repeat, confused.
"Rijichou is your daimyou; not mine." He gives me a pained, apologetic smile. "You're the head of the Takamura clan. It's in your blood to protect someone. My family legacy on the other hand..." He sighs, his eyes distant and finally just shakes his head. "It wasn't until I really understood who you were that I realized what it meant for me to say what I did back then. And then it made me worry that maybe I was encroaching on your duty and that you may resent me for it...."
For a moment, I am floored at the thought that he could have ever thought I resented him. I cannot help but feel deep regret at the sorrow that must have caused him, to think that he believed that I may have ever resented him when all he ever did was look up to me. "Listen to me," I say, taking him by the shoulders and force him to look me in the eye. "I could never resent you; for that or for anything else."
I pause and take a deep breath, trying to work up the courage to say what I think needs to be said. I have never been good at things like this. But even as I do so I am even more at a loss for words. There is just so much that I want to say. I want to tell him everything that's been on my mind all these years, things I have held back because I was too timid with my own emotions, unsure of how to bring them across and so instead, I hid them. I had become so used to him speaking for me, even though he might not have known he was. All the enthusiasm, cheerfulness and optimism that I could not allow myself to express, he did for me by just being himself. I needed him to express it for me just as much as Nokoru needed to see it.
I want to tell him about all that he has taught me so much over the years, without even trying: the importance of innocence, optimism, humility and laughter. I want to tell him how much admired his ability to stay so innocent and optimistic over the years after I had long since lost the ability to do so myself, if I ever had the ability at all. Physically, intellectually, mentally, he both makes up for my deficiencies and helps me strengthen myself, better myself for Nokoru's sake, his sake and my own.
But I realize right now that there are no good words for me to tell him that. Because as much as he has depended on me to lead him over the years I have depended on him too, perhaps even more so than he would ever realize. It is his smile that keeps me from breaking under the pressure of responsibility that I bring upon myself to shoulder; his laugh and sense of innocent optimism that keeps me sane in even the most dire of situations.
I guess what I really want to tell him right now is that though he may have technically been my kouhai over the years that he has taught me so much without even trying. But I cannot tell him that right now. As much as he has depended on me to speak up for him at times, I have depended on him to do the same with my emotions.
Slowly I see the uncertainty in his eyes ease and I realize it is because I am smiling at him. All at once the words come to me and I realize what I need to do. "You're the only one in this world that can possibly understand what it's like to promise to protect him. I'm glad that Rijichou became interested in you and that you joined us. And I'm happy that you're still with us, that here you're with me and I am not in this alone," I tell him, gripping his shoulder. "You are my equal not my subordinate. You may not have realized it but you always have been and you always will be. Remember that, Akira."
His grey eyes widen in surprise as he realizes that I intend to start calling him by his first name from now on. After all, he is my equal and I have been thinking of him as such for a long time so it is only fitting that I start to call him by his name as he deserves. For a second I see a moment of bewilderment and insecurity in his eyes. I know he is fighting those inner demons of his again, the same ones that have kept him from believing in himself.
But I believe in him. Nokoru believes in him. And I see that he realizes that now and is beginning to believe in himself. The last of the cloud of self-doubt fades away forever and replaces itself with the clear, confident determination that both Nokoru and I have known has always been there.
And finally I feel that I can relax now that I have fulfilled my last duty as his sempai, satisfied that he finally considers himself to be the equal that both Nokoru and I have known him to be.
"I will," he says solemnly before his face and eyes break into that happy, innocent smile that the years have not been able to dim. The light, boyish smile that I have come to depend on for the times I would not smile for myself lights his face as he puts his hand on the hand that grips his opposite shoulder. "Suoh."
E N D
(1) Director - In the official translations, Tokyopop translated
both kaichou and rijichou as Chairman/Chairlady/Chairperson which can cause
confusion as to what position is which. Board Chairman or Director are
both an acceptable translation of rijichou. For this story I prefer
Director since it's not lengthy of a title as "Board Chairman" and it
is fitting given Nokoru's personality.
(2) Graduations in Japan are solemn and generally take place in late
March since the school year in Japan begins in April. (This is why you
see many anime that involve either school ending/beginning with cherry
blossoms because late March, early April is cherry blossom season.)
They generally include a bunch of speeches and almost militaristic
precision in the lineups. The entire school attends in uniform - or in
the case of University, formal dress - and sits through the entire
thing, speeches and all, with no applause. And apparently crying is
(3) The elder Ijyuin-san (aka Santa-san), Dr. Akechi and Ryusuke
Kobayashi are all characters from Akira's story, Man of Many Faces.
I figure that Akira would be the type to make sure all
the important people in his life attend his graduation. And I know
that his father never revealed himself in canon but I figure it's been
over 20 years; he's got to come back into Akira's life and reveal who
he is at some point.