Summary: He is curious about love. He is curious about glasses. He is curious about everything Gingetsu. But most of all? He just likes making tea.
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Ran/Gingetsu.
Type: One shot.
Disclaimer: You all know the jazz. And the T.S. Eliot belongs only to T.S. Eliot. I'm just borrowing.
Suggested Listening: Shadows, Rufus Wainwright; Dirty Harry, The Gorillaz; The Tower of Learning, Rufus Wainwright; Language, Suzanne Vega.

Notes: Told from Ran's POV. I highly, highly suggest reading the fourth volume of the manga first, but it isn't absolutely necessary. Once again, the T.S. Eliot is not mine. The story starts directly after Ran breaks out of the cage, and ends just before Kazuhiko takes Suu to Fairy Park.

-

What of the Three-Leaf
- tenika

-

so take me someplace far away

...

If you find a four-leaf clover
You will discover happiness

But it can
Never be found

Happiness lies inside
A secret cage

No one can possess
The four-leaf clover

...

But then,
What of the three-leaf clover?

-

I
in utero

-

He had left the cage.

He knew that he couldn't survive long outside of it, but he had left anyway. He hadn't cared, and still didn't. He wasn't going back. He didn't want to.

It was different outside, loud and cold and jarring. There were people shouting, machines roaring, paved sidewalks, slick asphalt roads and darkness; real shadows, like he had never seen in the clean-cut white and black of the cage.

And, of course, there had been the men chasing him. They hadn't surprised him, and they hadn't been hard to deal with. They had just exhausted him more than he had expected. He'd never killed anyone with his ability before.

It had been raining when he'd been found again.

He shouldn't have even hesitated with this man, Gingetsu; he should have strung the lieutenant up to dangle from the buildings, marionette-like and perversely amusing in the pouring rain, as he had done to the other men.

But something had seemed different about him. He had looked--despite his expressionless face and hidden eyes--like he might listen. And he was tired of killing. It didn't make him happy. Nothing yet had made him happy. Besides, he hadn't had any strength left. It was the best he could do just to keep focusing on the man.

"I'm not going back."

That was all he had said. It turned out to be all that had stood between him and someplace other than the cage.

-

"You don't want to catch a cold, do you?"

He frowned quietly at the white-tiled bathroom, somewhat bothered by how similar it was in certain respects to the cage: electric lighting, lines and divisions of black against white, impossible resolutions and monochromes. Then he realized that he was being irrational in the face of kindness, and stripped off his clothing instead. He had been offered a bath. He had no reason not to take it.

It was nice of the lieutenant, he mused, to let him use the shower like this; he had expected to wake up in the cage once again, with A smiling sweetly at him from the corner. Instead, Gingetsu (that was his name, wasn't it?) had done just what he had hoped the man would do: asked what he wanted, where he wanted to go.

Not that he had been able to really answer. He hadn't quite gotten there yet.

So, the man had pushed him into the bathroom instead, impassively glossing past the answer that might have taken hours, days, weeks for the three-leaf to formulate. He didn't know whether it was supposed to be a gesture of good will, or if it was just the result of an order being carried out, but either way, it ensured that he wasn't cold. And that he wasn't back in the cage.

Yet.

He left his clothes lying on the floor when he finished, taking another look around the room while his hair dried. It was then that he noticed the mirror on the back of the bathroom door, small and half-fogged from the steam of the hot water, no more than a face mirror.

He had to stand on the edge of the bathtub to see himself in it. This he managed with relative grace, composing himself in an easy show of balance on the porcelain rim, straightening until he could find his own eyes staring out from the glass.

He looked at himself in this clean-cut circular mirror for a long time, examining his boyish face over and over, until the scrutiny finally brought him to a decision.

He was never going to go back. He didn't care what he had to do anymore; he just wanted to get away. He never wanted to go back.

That way, he would never have to see A again.

-

Gingetsu looked in on him that first night. He didn't know why the lieutenant did it (of course, he could hazard plenty of guesses), but it didn't really bother him. He just pretended to be asleep.

He had expected the man to leave once he'd determined that the clover was asleep, but apparently that wasn't Gingetsu's style. The two-leaf stepped fully into the room instead, and moved over to stand right next to the bed he had been given to sleep in. He wondered if Gingetsu knew that he was awake.

After several very long, seemingly endless moments, the man moved back towards the door and left the room--but the three-leaf swore, even though he wasn't entirely certain, that the man had brushed his hair from his face at some point in those moments. He was almost positive that there was a difference.

And he was touched, really. Even A had never done something like that. This Gingetsu wasn't so terribly bad. The man was good at least good at heart, even if he was plain and cold on the outside.

He really did go to sleep then, smiling vaguely as he slipped under. He didn't mind being caught as much anymore. Gingetsu wasn't going to force him to go back--at least, not yet--, and had even given him a bed to sleep in and clothing to wear (he still wondered, absently, who the shirt really belonged to). The three-leaf was no longer afraid.

The next day, A contacted him through the mirror beside his bed.

-

His hand hurt.

He hadn't meant to break the mirror (it had been so pretty, and hadn't even belonged to him), but Gingetsu hadn't seemed angry. He had just bandaged his hand and left it at that.

The contact had been nice. Gingetsu had gentle fingers for someone who looked so imposing. He had used it as an excuse to determine once and for all that the lieutenant was in fact human, a clover (two-leaf), and not some kind of machine. He even thought he'd caught a glimpse of the man's tattoo on his right wrist, just peeking out from the sleeve of his uniform. His own marking was on the back of his right shoulder.

Opposite from A's marking.

A. His brother. His other half. The only person in the world he couldn't live another second with. He didn't know if he ever could be happy without him, but it was more important now to get away. He didn't want to see A kill someone again.

That was what he told himself, at least, as he huddled in bed that night, hoping pathetically that Gingetsu would look in on him again, just once more, to show that someone cared. He really was weak.

His hand hurt. And his heart hurt, too, but that was only secondary. It was a pain that he would simply have to get used to outside of the cage.

-

The drifting spheres of light--the handprints of the city--flickered and shuddered beyond the multi-paned window, imprinting his eyelids when he blinked with burning red circles and lighting the room in broken patches.

He probably should have been sleeping already, but Gingetsu had made no move to direct him toward his bed. No doubt the man understood that he was still feeling rather shaken, even with a day of hindsight. After all, his whole life had just changed.

He was going to live with Gingetsu, by his own order. He had made his own decision. And he was never going to see A again---once more, by his own order. Everything that he had set out to accomplish from the second his foot had first passed over the threshold of the cage had become reality.

He didn't have anything left to do.

So he was sitting there, silent and monotone, in front of the window, staring out into the darkened night sky, past the thin metal strips margining off the panes, beyond the fogged up glass, shedding water silently as it continued to pour outside. It hadn't let up since he had first come.

"Does it ever stop raining?" he murmured quietly to himself, pressing his chin into his arms (crossed over the windowsill) and sighing. Behind him his shadow stretched into the sharp ice-blue and black of the unlit room, growing larger and longer across the black-and-white checkered floor, until it collided with the back of the first streamline couch, and stopped.

There was an unexpected hiss from behind him, followed by the vague smell of sulfur. Turning from the waist, he found that Gingetsu had entered the room, and was sitting on the couch opposite the coffee table, facing the window. In front of him on the table sat a brass-bottomed lamp, accented by two spread bronze wings extending from the line where the glass chimney met with the base.

Gingetsu was just shaking out a match with his other hand, which he had used to light the wick inside the lamp. The flame glowed a dull orange, flickering a strange contrast to the blue and black and white of the rest of the room.

The three-leaf stared curiously at him, unsure of what to think. Gingetsu stared back.

"It was dark," the lieutenant explained after a moment.

He furrowed his brows, tilting his head at the two-leaf. "Well," he mused softly, "I suppose you can always turn on a light if it's dark, can't you."

Gingetsu stared unreadably at him for a long moment before finally nodding once. Then he gestured briefly with his uninjured hand, making room on the couch.

He got up after a moment and went to sit next to the blonde man, watching the flame sway back and forth lazily inside the glass for a long time without comment. He thought about everything that had happened in the last few days, and about everything that had happened before that, and then he tried to imagine what might happen in the future.

Nothing came to mind. He couldn't tell what was going to happen at all. And for some reason, he couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps that was a good thing.

He leaned over and blew out the flame.

The next day, during Kazuhiko's first visit, Gingetsu gave him the lamp.

-

He had a name.

And it wasn't just any name; Gingetsu had named him.

Ran, he said to himself. Ran, Ran, Ran. He stared into his own eyes as he said it, standing in front of his bedroom mirror and feeling almost as though he would have to stop and sit back against the bed and take deep breaths through his nose. He didn't know what he was feeling anymore, but it was all because of Gingetsu.

The mirror was a new one. Gingetsu had brought it back the day after he...Ran...had broken the first one. He still remembered what that had been like--what it had felt like to have Gingetsu's hands covering his, slowing and stopping the bleeding with clean white bandages.

It had been nice; the first contact he had had with the lieutenant, skin to skin. It had proven that they were both human (at least to the extent that any person could be anymore).

Ran still wished that Gingetsu would have let him return the favor, after A had come and hurt Gingetsu's hand--but the lieutenant hadn't wanted that, and had said as much. He was perfectly happy to take care of it himself. He had let Ran cry on his shoulder instead.

Ran, he said to himself in the mirror; his lips moved in accordance with the mono-syllable, sounding out the word (name). Beside him, on a nightstand that Gingetsu had put into the room at some minor point (whenever Ran hadn't been paying attention), sat the brass-winged oil lamp Gingetsu had handed to him in tandem with his new name.

He mouthed the name to himself for the last time in the mirror and nodded once. Gingetsu had chosen a good name; he could live with it easily, happily. He liked it.

And, though Ran couldn't see him in the mirror, he knew that back in the cage, A was smiling.

This was what it felt like to be reborn.

-

II
rebirth

-

Gingetsu wasn't there as much as he would have liked. The man always seemed to be working on something, some case or project or investigation. And, while he wouldn't say that he was bored (after all, he had spent years in a cage with nothing to do but exist), he was rather...rather disappointed. He had hoped to grow closer to the man, his warden, to learn what made him Gingetsu.

Of course, Ran had never even ventured beyond the first part of the house at this point, where his bedroom, the entrance hall, kitchen, bathroom and living room were found. There was a hallway beyond these things that led elsewhere in the red brick house; where, beyond other faceless doors, he knew had to lay the undiscovered territory of Gingetsu's room. There was even apparently a staircase leading to a second floor somewhere down that hall, but Ran had never so much as seen that, let alone climbed it.

Little by little, Ran grew tired of either being stuck alone or cut off from contact. He didn't want to be useless.

So, one day, when Gingetsu was elsewhere in the house doing whatever work he was always doing, Ran made his way down the foreign hallway and found the lieutenant.

"Do you need help?"

Ran watched Gingetsu's back stiffen slightly, followed by the man glancing up. He was sitting at a desk in what Ran assumed was a study, the floor of which was as littered with papers as the living room sometimes was.

"No," Gingetsu said at last, and looked back to his papers. If he was surprised by Ran, he didn't let on.

Ran frowned. "Well," he said, "may I help you anyway?"

Gingetsu looked at him again, and stared for a much longer time.

Helpless, Ran tried his best to convey the feeling with his expression. "I feel useless, Gingetsu. I know what a module is. I can transport and locate people. I can decode and translate." He lowered his head, and added quietly, "You've been so good, taking care of me like this. I can't help wanting to work."

Gingetsu seemed unmoved by the words for a long time, tapping the papers he held sporadically against the desk.

"Alright," he said abruptly. Delighted, Ran smiled and nodded his thanks.

From that point on, Ran helped whenever he could. Gingetsu eventually admitted that he moved faster with him there.

Ran felt rather proud of himself. Mostly, however, he was just glad to help, to begin to repay even a fraction of what he owed.

He would owe Gingetsu for the rest of his life.

-

Ran had grown. He had done a lot of thing in the last year, but growing was a highlight.

Since he had first asked Gingetsu if he could help, he had learned to clean and to bandage wounds. He had learned how to care for the artificial plants and animals that Gingetsu sometimes confiscated and brought home. He had learned how to operate all sorts of new modules, and how to transport people to other places within an instant. He had learned how to sew, and how to entertain guests (though the only real guest they ever had was Kazuhiko. Ran still had yet to meet his singer and lady-friend Oruha).

And he had learned how to make tea. That was his favorite skill.

Now, Ran thought as he looked at himself in his mirror, on top of it all, he had grown, too. He touched his face just beneath his eye, brushed his bangs from his cheeks, and examined the dips that had once been round and boyish, which were now growing refined and elegantly carved. He tried smiling.

The expression came more naturally than he had expected, lips spreading smoothly wide, still closed over his teeth, eyelids slipping down to halve his eyes.

He liked this face. He thought about trying it for Gingetsu.

-

"You smiled today."

Ran looked up from the counter, his hand stilling in the motion of scooping tea leaves from their tin. His ponytail began to slip over his right shoulder, the ends threatening to drag over his wrist and into the tea.

"Yes, I did," he answered gently, shrugging his shoulder and returning his hair to its proper place. "It's not the first time."

"You've never smiled like that before."

Ran smiled again before he could stop himself, letting the silver spoon drop into the tin entirely and forgetting about his hair. "Maybe you're just not used to seeing me older like this." It had happened in barely a week, after all.

Gingetsu frowned (Ran thought), moving slowly away from the sink and setting the kettle he had been holding onto the counter beside Ran's tin. Then, hesitantly, he reached out and touched Ran beneath the eye, roughly where he had been pressing his own fingertips earlier.

"No, I'm not."

Gingetsu turned and left the kitchen with that. Ran watched after him and could not think. Slowly, he lifted his own hand and touched his face once more.

Ran smiled again and went back to his tea.

-

"I want to cut my hair."

Gingetsu looked over at him, Ran supposed in an incredulous way; it was somewhat difficult to determine exact expression with his eyes covered. It was fun to imagine, though.

"Why do you want to do that?" Gingetsu asked, using a tone that was probably more surprised than he had meant for it to be.

His reasons were simple; Ran had been growing again (from teenager now towards adulthood), and with his body, his hair had also lengthened, until his ponytail stretched down past his hips. Ran was uncomfortable with it.

"Because I don't like it like this," Ran answered. "May I cut it?"

Gingetsu frowned at him for nearly a minute, then unexpectedly rose from his chair and moved towards the kitchen. "I'll get some scissors."

Ran blinked after him. "You don't want me to do it?"

"No one should cut their own hair," Gingetsu called back.

Ran was smiling the new smile without thinking of it. "What, don't you want me to look silly?"

Gingetsu came back from the kitchen frowning. "Was that a joke?" He held a thin pair of metal scissors in his right hand.

"Yes," Ran replied, still smiling. "Cut it short, please. Like yours."

Gingetsu paused again, staring unreadably at him for another long moment before finally turning back for the kitchen. "We'll cut it in here."

"Alright," Ran said, and got up from the couch, leading Gingetsu into the other room.

He stood patiently in front of the sink as Gingetsu turned the faucet handle, letting the water run and shift from cold to warm. As they waited for it to heat, Gingetsu untied his hair and spread it over his shoulders. Ran stood calmly, ready to hear the scissors beginning to cut, and wondering absently what he would look like.

So he was somewhat surprised when--even though there was steam rising from the water--Gingetsu didn't start, and instead slid his hand into Ran's hair, running the smooth locks through his fingers slowly.

"It's a waste, you know," he said.

"I know," Ran replied apathetically. "Cut it off, please."

So Gingetsu did just that. He wet his hands in the sink, dampened Ran's hair, and got to work. Black wave after black wave slithered down to the floor over the course of the next ten minutes, until finally the ground around Ran's feet was covered. Then, at last, Gingetsu was done; Ran knew when he heard the scissors click softly against the counter.

The air felt cold against the back of his neck.

Then abruptly there was something warm there, and Ran realized that Gingetsu was touching him again, his whole hand wrapped around the nape of his neck. Ran could feel his fingers this time.

They stood like that, unmoving, for a long time, until Gingetsu at last moved away. "I'll sweep this up," he said coolly, and went to fetch the broom.

Ran stared after him, unsure of what to think. Thank you, he mouthed as an afterthought to the other man, and after a while of drawing blank thoughts decided to leave it at that.

His neck was cold.

-

His hair looked strange (foreign, even) as he examined it in his mirror, but that was to be expected. Or, as expected as it could logically be, considering that he hadn't really been expecting anything.

Ran had thought that he might end up looking like Gingetsu when all was said and done. In retrospect, he realized at once how silly that thought had been. Gingetsu was taller, his face more masculine, his expression and affect completely different; even with an identical cut, Ran would never look like him.

He touched the ends of his hair delicately, tracing the dark blue highlights with his eyes. It didn't look bad. It really looked fine, all things considered. He was just having trouble growing used to it. He had never done anything different from A before, which made this--comparatively--a huge change.

Now that he thought about it, though, he probably didn't look anything like A anymore. A wouldn't have grown in the cage, while Ran certainly had.

His hair looked strange. He was definitely starting to like it.

-

Once, when he was cold, Gingetsu found him.

The lieutenant never changed the temperature in the house, whether it was snowing or raining or brightly lit outside. He either never thought about it or didn't feel like bothering.

Because of this, Ran unfortunately found that he grew cold during the winter. He was uncomfortable with changing his habits, however, so he made no effort to stay in bed later than usual to build heat, or to leave in the middle of making tea to find a coat. He didn't even have a coat of his own. And since his hair had been cut, it had stopped offering the same amount of protection as it once had. His neck chilled easily.

So he was cold when Gingetsu found him sitting in front of the window one mid-week night. He looked up only momentarily at the other man, then returned to staring out the window.

Gingetsu examined him for another minute, then left. He returned later with a blanket, which he draped carefully around Ran's shoulders. He made certain to cover the three-leaf's neck before he turned and left again, and didn't come back.

Ran wasn't sure, but judging by the smell of the blanket, it had come from Gingetsu's bed.

For some reason, the thought made him smile.

-

III
life

-

Ran liked watching people through the window.

Since he could never go to the outside, he made a habit of at least watching it when he had the time; usually this was late at night, when Gingetsu was sleeping elsewhere in the house and he was alone. The living room window had the best view of any in the house, and it was this one that he sat in front of, with the room entirely dark, and watched the city through.

He did this just so he wouldn't forget what it was like. After all, he had only been there once before that he could remember, and Gingetsu had found him then.

He wondered, were he to leave a second time, if Gingetsu would look for him again.

The people that he watched couldn't see him like he could see them; the house was much too far away from the metropolis for their eyes. But they were all too easy for him to examine, just as he examined the cold blue and yellow lights of the city that painted the parlor white and sharp black, even when it stood at its darkest.

He had thought, up until this point, that he had seen every kind of person pass by in the city beyond the window, and he had even started sorting them into categories as they came; young, angry, sad, sociopathic, old, destitute, paranoid, arrogant, joyous, creative, flustered, heart-broken, depressed, melancholic, and too many more to name.

Now, he realized, he had forgotten one: in love.

He had never seen two people in love before, and he knew that these two, even as he watched them stumble down the street on the edge of the city, passing in and out of the yellow cones of midnight lamplight, would stay in his mind forever.

They couldn't stand upright, laughing and happy and clinging to one another, stumbling down the pavement like a tall four-legged creature, touching one another whenever they could, endlessly kissing as the opportunity rose, as oblivious as it seemed possible for any human to be. Ran had never seen anything like it.

It made him curious.

Had Gingetsu ever looked like that?

-

It was around this time, as he watched through the windows late at night, that he became curious about two things: people in love, and what Gingetsu's eyes looked like behind his glasses.

Needless to say, that was rather a dangerous combination. Even Ran thought so, and Ran's judgements concerning social curiosities were not always the most sound.

They were easy things to become curious about given the circumstances; Kazuhiko--Gingetsu's friend, the tall officer, the one his warden treasured so greatly--had finally brought his lover, the singer Oruha (one-leaf clover, Ran reminded himself), to meet him. Even Ran had had to admit that she was beautiful. It was a shame that she was another clover.

And they had been so in love when he had seen them, like the people on the street. Watching them, and the way Gingetsu stared solemnly at them, it was hard not to become interested.

Gingetsu's glasses, conversely, had always been a curiosity of his, right from their first meeting. Ran had started to look past them right when he had first opened his eyes and taken in the lieutenant who had brought him out of the rain, but had ended up stopping himself, deciding instead that it would be more infinitely interesting if he had to work to see behind them.

They were also easier to understand. All the lieutenants that Ran knew of wore them--enhanced glasses were standard issue, required, too important for improving vision to bother removing without a good reason.

Love, on the other hand, was complicated. He couldn't even understand happiness yet, and that was simpler; he found it hard to imagine how two people could so utterly forget themselves, to a point where even standing became impossible without the other there to lift them up. It was a strange concept.

Of the two, the glasses were the easier challenge. It was only logical that he try for them first.

-

When Ran set his mind to something, he thought it through for a long time before finally acting it out. For example: he had decided to leave the cage nearly a month before he had actually done so; he had just needed that extra time to bolster himself, to think out every nuance, every detail, of what was going to take place.

When it came to trying to devise a plan for removing Gingetsu's glasses, Ran employed much the same technique.

He could simply take it off, make it disappear--but that would be too easy. It would also make Gingetsu angry. The whole point was to see a different side of the man, and hopefully to make him want to reveal one; upsetting him would be fruitless.

Ran could not find an opportune moment to ask about removing it, either. Gingetsu never indicated that he grew tired of it, and every night he went to bed at a certain time, so Ran never got to see whether he took it off before sleeping. In between that occurrence and Gingetsu's off-and-on military absence, Ran only met with him in the evenings or afternoons, whenever Gingetsu was home from his work. They ate together and spoke a little, worked together occasionally, and sometimes sat in the living room and did nothing, but otherwise they brushed past one another, only colliding at the edges.

Personally, Ran found it a little frustrating, and he wondered whether Gingetsu thought the same thing. He supposed the lieutenant did, because the little touches had increased. From the moment Ran had first cut his hair and grown up, Gingetsu had seemed to find some kind of interest in examining him, and particularly in lightly brushing his cheek or his neck. Ran had never asked about it, but it was starting to happen more often.

He wondered if Gingetsu was attracted to him. He had read about it in books, and he had just started to see people in love on the streets; he wondered if the two-leaf wanted that. It would no doubt be interesting, considering his current curiosity about love in general. To be honest, the idea even excited him. The idea of Gingetsu wanting him for anything was exciting.

Whatever Gingetsu wanted, Ran could be. He owed it to the lieutenant. He wanted to owe it to the lieutenant. The man was kind, had always been kind at heart, and that was all that was important to him.

Which still left the problem of the glasses.

-

After two weeks of playing with the issue, Ran got effectively fed up with trying to find the opportune moment. There was never one to be had, which left it entirely up to him to simply create his own.

Some nights, before Gingetsu went to bed, he would rest on one of the couches in the living room. He always chose the one facing away from the window. Gingetsu said it was because he didn't like having any light directly in his eyes, but Ran knew it was because he was watching the door.

This fact failed to bother him. In fact, he was happy that on the night he chose to finally act, Gingetsu could see him, and everything he did. He didn't want the lieutenant to think that he was being sneaky.

He walked into the room with absolute composure, smiled at Gingetsu when the man tracked him invisibly with his eyes, head turned slightly, and made his way silently to the couch. With that same fluidity he climbed on top of Gingetsu and settled on the man's abdomen, as though he did this every day.

He could feel Gingetsu's stomach tightening beneath him. A shifting of nervousness in his gut finally reached his mind, but Ran ignored it, staring curiously down at Gingetsu instead. The lieutenant was watching him silently, obviously uncertain; his eyebrows had climbed all the way into view.

Ran smiled gently at him. "May I take those off?" he queried, gesturing to the glasses.

Gingetsu's eyebrows fell. His stomach began to unclench beneath Ran's thighs. He stared up at Ran for several long moments before finally nodding his assent, a short motion.

Ran lifted his hands, placing them on either side of Gingetsu's face. Not wanting to do anything with his fingers, he pulled the flat screws out with his mind instead, catching them and the glasses as soon as they began to drift lazily up toward him. He then set them on the coffee table and forgot about them.

Gingetsu had closed his eyes. They appeared to be just a little deep-set, almond shaped, neither too close nor too far from his nose, placed beneath slightly arched white eyebrows. His eyelashes were long and dark, differently colored from his hair.

His eyelids flickered. Gingetsu sighed through his nose, soft but audible, and at last opened his eyes.

They were brown.

Ran smiled gently, touching the soft skin beneath one iris with a long, elegant finger. Gingetsu didn't flinch.

"Am I the first one to see you like this?"

"No."

"Am I the second?"

"No."

"Then I'm the third."

"Yes."

"Again."

"...yes."

"Alright."

Ran leaned down and kissed him.

He didn't ask whether it was alright; he didn't have to. He didn't have to ask whether Gingetsu wanted it, either, because he didn't need to. And because he didn't care. He had satisfied his curiosity about the glasses. Now he wondered about love.

So when Gingetsu pulled him down to be lost in long, white-sleeved arms, Ran didn't bother to ask anything at all. He had too little time left to squander.

-

Gingetsu had a strong heartbeat.

Ran pressed his hand against it absently, letting his fingers smooth back and forth over the man's chest whenever the fancy struck him. Beneath him the lieutenant was still save for one hand, which worked gently against the small of Ran's back without stopping, teasing the clover's lithely muscled frame into an oddly relaxed state.

It had been six hours, nine minutes and twenty-three seconds since Ran had first kissed him. It was 5:03 in the morning. The sun still hadn't risen. They hadn't moved from the couch yet.

His breathing was strong, too, Ran mused, and even. Every time Gingetsu took a breath, the younger man rose slightly, then slipped back down as he exhaled. It was a strange sensation, being lifted up and down entirely due to one person's breath, one person's existence. His shoulder kept rubbing against the couch fabric.

Unexpectedly Gingetsu shifted his head downward, nudging his face against Ran's, his nose pressing into Ran's own. Shifting down farther, he pressed his lips to Ran's and began to kiss him. There was no intent behind the gesture, no motive or idea; only a simple desire to touch and be acknowledged. Ran didn't mind. He tilted his head to the side and reciprocated.

Gingetsu kissed him lazily and well. He explored the clover's mouth; his lips, his tongue and teeth and the insides of his cheeks, and then he transferred his affections to Ran's lower lip, then to his chin and jaw, where he paused, pressed against the soft skin, before continuing to his throat. Ran sighed and tilted his head to the side, pressing his fingertips against Gingetsu's heart. He wished for more time.

The sun began to rise.

-

Kazuhiko seemed to find it funny that he figured it out so easily and so quickly. Ran wasn't sure why particularly; he wouldn't have found it hard to determine either, considering that he was standing closer to the other man than he usually did, and that he called him by his name more often. Gingetsu just seemed to be embarrassed, if quietly so.

He slept in the lieutenant's bed now. He hadn't seen his own in a while; he looked in Gingetsu's mirrors when he was curious, and he burrowed under Gingetsu's covers when he was cold.

Everything was Gingetsu.

One night, while they lay saving warmth beneath the sheets, Gingetsu found the tattoo on his shoulder. He had been lying with his back to the other man and was shirtless, so it hardly surprised him. He only noticed because it was the first time that Gingetsu had touched it in recognition.

The two-leaf fingered the marking gently, running his fingertips across the black ink beneath his skin over and over, tracing the number three.

Finally he said, "I wish this weren't here."

Ran smiled. "So do I," he answered, and found the tattoo on Gingetsu's wrist with his right hand.

-

Gingetsu sometimes brought home things from his work. Mostly they were weapons and stolen property, but occasionally he found things that Ran liked.

The lieutenant usually tracked down thieves and mercenaries when he wasn't busy working on operations that he couldn't tell Ran anything about. Often times in stopping these thefts he reclaimed the stolen items personally and brought them home, there to be held until the original owner put in to have whatever they had lost returned. Sometimes, however, the items were left unclaimed, and Gingetsu was allowed to take first pick before they were auctioned. The stoic man had hardly any desire for possessions of his own, so instead he took things for Ran.

This time he had given Ran a book; a collection of poetry.

It was written in English, holding pieces that were centuries old, but this hardly bothered Ran; he had yet to encounter a language he couldn't read, and there were hardly any books in the house as it stood. He was more than happy with this gift.

Besides, he liked poetry. It was a new discovery on his part, something he had never been able to look into in the cage. There had been no books there.

This collection was of works by a particular author (one T.S. Eliot) whom he had never heard of before, but who he was starting to like gradually more. He hadn't left Gingetsu's room all day, in fact, lying in the bed they shared and savoring the book. He hardly ever allowed himself to act like this, so he considered it necessary to forego life on occasion and indulge in a pastime, before he could forget that he was free.

His fingers traced over a page gently, running along the neatly typed words. Slowly he read aloud,

"And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea
."

Ran smiled at the image (toast and tea) and flipped farther into the book, turning several pages and then scanning down until he reached another passage he liked. (He'd read them all already now, so it was just reiteration.)

"Now that the lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
'Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you who hold it in your hands';
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
'You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
And smiles at situations which it cannot see.'
I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea,
'Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful, after all
.'"

"Wonderful and youthful indeed. What are you reading, Ran?"

Ran stiffened, eyes widening in pleasure before he turned and smiled over his shoulder at Gingetsu, the gentle sensation of melting from the center out taking hold of his chest, as it always seemed to with Gingetsu of late.

"You're home," he murmured. Then, when he realized that Gingetsu had asked a question, added, "T.S. Eliot--the book you brought me. Have you heard any?"

"No," Gingetsu answered blandly, unbuttoning his heavy military jacket with the ease of one who'd been doing it for too many years. "I'm surprised by you, Ran."

The three-leaf bent an eyebrow at him, watching as the lieutenant's coat was dropped across the back of a chair opposite in the room from the bed. "How so?"

"Lying in bed, naked, reading poetry?" There was something nearly amused in Gingetsu's voice as he spoke. "It's just atypical."

"Well," Ran smiled, "I don't have much else to do when you're working."

"It's just the feminine aspect that intrigues me." Gingetsu's vest and tie joined the jacket, so that he was left with just his white dress shirt. Most people never got to see him like this. Ran considered it an honor.

"Aren't I feminine, though?" he asked mildly. Gingetsu made a face that was almost a smile.

"Yes, I suppose you are."

Ran smiled at him warmly for that, somehow inexplicably pleased by the whole exchange, before sliding his fingers out of the book and setting it down, standing out of the bed the next second.

Walking over to stand in front of Gingetsu, Ran smiled at him, then reached up and put his hands on either side of the glasses, gently removing them with his mind and catching them with his hands, setting them on the desk behind the chair.

Gingetsu blinked a few times, wincing slightly as his pupils dilated in unison. "I have to work, you know."

Ran's smile widened. Touching Gingetsu's cheeks reverently with his fingertips, he brought the other clover down, standing up and kissing him openly. Despite his initial protest, Gingetsu readily settled a hand on one of his hips and made no move to push him away.

Ran began unbuttoning Gingetsu's shirt, feeling a swell of pride at how easily it came to him now; he had gotten much better at this in the last month. Gingetsu paid no attention to the smaller clover's hands, pulling the young man's lower lip into his mouth instead and dragging his fingers up Ran's spine, drawing out a shudder and a sigh.

Shifting his affections lower, Gingetsu nuzzled Ran's neck as white cloth crumbled to the floor. "Ran..." he murmured into the clover's skin. "Did you memorize all of that poetry?"

Will you say more of it? Ran heard clearly, even though it wasn't spoken. He smiled and began to recite breathlessly without thought, "For I have...known them all al--already, known them all...have known the mornings, evenings, aft..." A brief stumble as both tried awkwardly to stagger back into the bed, and then a thump as they succeeded. The book was pressing into the small of his back now, but he didn't care.

"Afternoons...I have meas..." He trailed off, then labored on; "Measured out my--my life with coffee spoons...I know the voices dying...with a dying fall...beneath the music from a fa...farther...room, so how should I...presume...?"

And then Ran didn't have enough breath (or really, enough conviction) left to continue. Gingetsu didn't complain.

The next evening, Ran left Gingetsu's room to find a vase of artificial lilacs on the coffee table.

-

Ran was reading the book again a few days later in the living room, sitting in front of the window, when Gingetsu surprised him a second time.

Only this time he didn't announce his presence when he stepped in. In fact, Ran didn't even notice that he was there until something light and papery tapped against the back of his head.

Startled, Ran looked over his shoulder to find Gingetsu standing just behind him, looking as stoic as ever, with a small rectangular box in one hand.

"Tea for the tea maker," he said in a surprisingly good impression of Kazuhiko's voice, offering the box with one gloved hand.

Ran smiled and took it from him. "Thank Kazuhiko for me," he replied, and examined his gift.

Chai. He had never heard of it before, but even without opening the box he could detect a distinctly fresh and unique smell coming from the paper. "Chai?" he read out loud.

"You're supposed to drink it with milk," Gingetsu said blandly.

Ran stared at him, mildly taken aback. "Milk?"

"And sugar," Gingetsu added.

Ran stared measuringly at the box after that, appraising it all over again. This had the potential to be interesting.

Lifting his head, he smiled mischievously at Gingetsu. "Maybe we should try some?"

For very nearly the first time, Gingetsu smiled (an absolutely miniscule smile) back at him. "Perhaps we should. Then we can tell Kazuhiko whether it's awful or not."

Ran laughed softly and got up to make some.

-

He wasn't aging as quickly anymore.

Actually, he hadn't aged at all for quite a while now. At first he had grown rapidly--he had been able to actively feel it happening, almost as though, if he stared at his hands for long enough, he would be able to see them growing larger. Now, the more he grew emotionally toward Gingetsu (to the point where he hardly moved except to get closer to him, hardly spoke except to see his reaction, hardly wanted to think unless it was about him), the slower he seemed to grow physically. In fact, he almost felt as though he had stopped.

What frightened him was the idea of starting again, without a warning of any kind. Would it just happen, suddenly? Would he go from twenty to forty in the span of a day, young to middle-aged to old in the span of a week? Would Gingetsu still watch over him if that happened?

Right now it felt almost as though he was physically blocking himself from aging, making a conscious effort to slow the process. Maybe he really had been reborn, and he would have more than the scant five years that the council had predicted. Or maybe he had turned the house into another cage.

He didn't like that thought, but if it meant that he would stop (that there was a chance that he could have more, longer), then he would gladly stay in the house for the rest of time. He just wanted to stop. He wanted more time with Gingetsu.

He wanted more time.

-

"Gingetsu?"

"Yes?"

"Will you buy me a bird?"

Gingetsu looked up from the documents he had been reading, curious and slightly perplexed, nearly frowning. "Why do you want a bird?"

"Because Kazuhiko said that you would bring me one if I asked. A real one."

Gingetsu did frown this time. "And you said that I wouldn't be able to take care of it if you died."

Ran smiled, tucking his legs beneath himself and leaning back into the couch, pinning Gingetsu across the coffee table with his stare. He hadn't said when. "No, you wouldn't be able to," he replied, "but you could try. At least there would be something left."

Gingetsu stared at him for a long time. Then, finally, he said, "I'll see what I can do."

Ran let his smile widen and stood from the couch, moving around the low table to stand in front of Gingetsu. Then, leaning down, he brushed his lips to the other man's, still smiling as he did.

"Thank you, Gingetsu."

Gingetsu said nothing, but took hold of Ran's wrist (mirroring where on his own the two-leaf clover tattoo was inked) and smoothed his thumb over the clover's pulse gently. That was better than anything he could have said.

He still didn't really understand love. Ran wondered now if he ever would, or if it simply wasn't something he was capable of. At least he had seen what Gingetsu's eyes looked like. At least he had a little more time left to figure it out.

But he hoped that he was in love with Gingetsu. There was no real way to be certain, but he hoped that this--this sense of never wanting to leave, never wanting to stop, never wanting to run out of time--was something more than obsession. He hoped that he was in love.

"If you want, I'll go make some tea."

At least there would be something left.

End

End notes
The first stanza of poetry was taken from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; the second from Portrait of a Lady; the third from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (again). All were written by the magnificent T.S. Eliot, whose work you must read. Right now. SO DO IT.

Oh, and review while you're at it. :) Please?