A Clover fic
A/N: This is an old fic from an old fandom, posted here because it is a prequel for a multi-part work-in-progress called 'Iris' which has also been posted here. This fic takes place after the end of volume 2 of the Clover manga, and contains quite a few spoilers for the series.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Clover belong to CLAMP and their associates. In this fic, only some of the minor, unnamed characters are of my own creation. This fanfic has been written for non-commercial entertainment purposes only.
Beyond the glass panes of the large, arched window, it was misting rain. The dampness coated cars and pavement in a dull sheen of reflected light, and pedestrians walked with hands in pockets, their breath fogging in the faint chill of the air. Lan stood still within the window's frame, staring down at the street below. Watching, always watching the world outside. He continued to observe the crowded street, even after the initial object of his scrutiny--the tell tale sign of white-blond hair matched with the traditional black, green, and gold of military dress had long since faded from view.
Gingetsu had not stayed at the apartment long, only long enough to drop off a small package he had needed to deliver. Errands, he'd said. He'd be back in a few hours. It was a relief that things were returning to normal now. The Lieutenant Colonel had been housebound with a severe cold only a few days ago, and had not suffered the setback with good grace. Lan rested a hand against the cold metal of the windowpane, eyes fixed in the direction that his self-appointed guardian had gone. Here in this building, outside the walls of the government installation where he had grown up, Gingetsu was the only family that he knew.
Lan gave a faint sigh, turning his attention away from the window, and to the package Gingetsu had left for him on his desk. It contained only a single computer disk, one of Azurite make. The 1x1.5'' black rectangle was sealed in a clear plastic case, devoid of any identifying markings except for a piece of masking tape, which had the words 'Icosahedron File' scrawled on it in blue felt-tip pen. Lan turned it over in his hands, examining it as if the exterior could give him some clue as to the data inside. Gingetsu had not said how the disk had been obtained, and Lan had not asked. He had only been told that the full-time Agents of the Parliament had worked on it for two-days straight, and had been unable to break the encryption code. Whatever was on the disk was important to someone.
Finding out what it was had become Lan's job.
Lan broke the seal and opened the plastic case. His right hand rose away from the disk, briefly rising to touch the T-shirt fabric that covered the back of his left shoulder. He clenched his fingers in it, as if he could feel through the cloth to the tattoo that was marked there. A leaf tattoo. Three-leaf Clover. He extended the hand out to arm's length, and closed his eyes. Because he was a Three-leaf, a Magician of computers, he could summon the hardware he needed without the use of a Modem. He didn't have the power of a Four-leaf Clover, but for this job, he didn't need it.
No one had the power of a Four-leaf anymore. There were no Four-leafs left.
Sharp-edges shards of white light materialized in the air, lengthening and fusing together, forming leads and cables. They sheathed his hand in a cybernetic glove, then snaked up his shoulder and across his back like spreading vines to the other arm. More shards pieced together across his eyes, forming a clear plastic visor, the shaded interior surface of which rapidly became filled with a scrolling feed of brightly lit data. The disk itself became part of the hardware that grew to encase the hand holding it.
Lan ran a brief but complete systems check of the workstation at his desk before opening the disk, cataloguing the programs and disconnecting all external ports. The disk had been thoroughly scanned and judged free of harmful code...but it was Azurite, after all. The protections they put on their technology were always something to approach with caution. Preparations complete, Lan held both hands out, palms facing each other as he did when creating a Transfer; and gave the disk a small mental nudge to access the file.
The code that protected the file unfolded before him, building itself up from equilateral triangles of holographic light. They pieced themselves together into a tight shell, forming a perfect 3-dimensional polygon in the air in front of him.
A polygon with twenty sides. An icosahedron.
Lan studied it intently. The seams were flawless. Each facet of code that comprised it was shiny, opaque, perfect. The details that allowed the construct to maintain its shape against intrusion were well masked, with no loose threads anywhere. It was no wonder that the Parliament's cryptographers had been unable to get past it. Lan sighed. Perhaps this would be an even more difficult job than he had anticipated. Well, he wouldn't be able to break the encryption by staring at it. Running his gloved fingers over the 'surface' of the holographic image, he tested the integrity of the protective code.
The outcome was completely unexpected. As his thoughts traced the planes of the outer shell, he heard a soft but audible click. The triangular piece at the top lifted away, and the rest of it began unfolding like a flower, each facet breaking off and blinking into nothingness of its own accord. Lan felt a sharp twinge of unease. How could the encryption be vanishing? He reached for the shards of code, to stabilize them, solidify them against this chain-reaction breakdown...but the code was as ephemeral to him as the holographic image. This couldn't have been the solution, could it? He hadn't even done anything to it yet...
His gaze became caught and held by the shape that had been hidden within the icosahedron, and he allowed the last bit of the encryption to slip through his grasp without even trying to salvage it. The image of the file was fully visible now, and Lan stared at it in confusion, willing it to make sense. A single strand of incredibly dense code, coiled and supercoiled and looped around itself, packaged neatly into the center of the space the polygon had occupied. Lan only had time to see its shape, and assimilate a few of the more blatant bits of data on the outside twists of the code, when again, the unexpected happened. Between one nanosecond and the next, the data disappeared, winking completely out of existence. The holographic image, the data feed which produced it--even the readout on the disk, which had only a moment ago registered as "Full". All of it was gone. Erased.
Lan stared at the air the file had occupied, and began cursing softly under his breath.
"It had a self-destruct mechanism."
Lan nodded at Gingetsu's assessment, listlessly pushing the remnants of his food around on his plate. He hadn't the appetite to eat much of it. "It was keyed to one person, and one person only. I could see that much before it vanished." Lan sighed, tangling his fingers in strands of dark hair in frustration. He was bone-weary, and had a bad headache from earlier hours of trying desperately to reconstruct the lost data. It didn't help that the room was uncomfortably warm.
"There isn't a trace of anything left on that disk." It had taken him until evening to finish the diagnostics. "...Not even the remnants of the code that protected the file. The disk was wiped clean." Unhappiness at his failure lay like a lead weight in the pit of his stomach. He hardly ever messed up a job. How could he have botched this one so badly? "Several people tried to break that code. All I did was test the encryption signature."
"The Azurites are good at keeping secrets," Gingetsu said, sitting back in his chair and pushing his plate away. "This file must have been something they wanted very badly to protect."
"They did a good job." Tired of staring at his food, Lan brushed the back of his hand across bleary eyes and stood up. "I'll clean up. Then I'll have to contact General Kou." Absently he wiped his wrist on the leg of his jeans. It had come away from his face damp...it really was too hot in here.
Gingetsu studied him as Lan began to clear the dishes from the table, the expression behind his shades marred by a slight frown. "You don't look well," he commented abruptly.
Huh? It was true, Lan realized. This wasn't just a simple headache or over-tiredness. He really wasn't feeling well. His fingers shook slightly as they closed around the rim of Gingetsu's empty plate. The temperature of the room was spiking sharply. How had it gotten so hot, so fast?
A wave of dizziness washed over him, and the ceramic plate slid through his clumsy grasp, tumbling downward to shatter against the black and white tile. Lan swayed precariously on his feet, and suddenly found that he had to grab on to the edge of the table with both hands to keep from following it. Everything was sliding out of focus...
He barely felt the strong hands that closed around his arms, supporting him as his legs gave way beneath him. His surroundings blurred together into a fuzzy smear of light, then grayed out altogether and faded into black.
Kazuhiko stripped the dark glove off his hand and rapped smartly on the heavy wooden door before him, a door that bore no identifying markings of any kind. He waited a minute, brushing the toe of one boot across the thick mat on the doorstep, then waited another minute. His expression slightly puzzled, he went ahead and knocked a second time.
Almost immediately, he saw the little red LED light of the scanner in the doorframe wink on. It blinked a moment, and then the door opened, to reveal Gingetsu standing just inside. The Lieutenant Colonel nodded a greeting, then stepped aside to allow Kazuhiko to enter.
"Hey." Kazuhiko stepped into the spacious main room. The place was immaculate, as always. It never looked like anyone actually lived here. Afternoon sun from the huge arched windows spilled across the spotless black and white tile in near-blinding pools of segmented light. The weather outside was extraordinary, the sun was so rare. But in here the cheerful brightness seemed garish, rather than pleasant, today. "I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd stop by, since you stood me up at the livehouse last night." He held out the paper-wrapped bundle he'd brought in. "Here."
"Flowers?" the Lt. Colonel said with a hint of surprise.
"Don't worry, they're not for you. They could use some water, though." Gingetsu took them without comment and disappeared into the kitchen. Kazuhiko could hear the sound of the tap running. He stuck his hands into the pockets of his trench coat. "So," he said, walking over to a small maple end table set up near the kitchen doorway. After a moment's contemplation, he reached out an absently traced the grain of the wood. "How's the freeloader doing, anyway?"
The silence went on longer than Kazuhiko expected. Gingetsu reappeared in the main room, the flowers now contained in a simple crystal vase. Expensive. Civilian types just couldn't match the guys with the cushy military salaries. Kazuhiko was fortunate, that he'd saved so much of his, before retiring.
...Or perhaps unfortunate, depending on how one looked at things. He'd had plans for that money. Plans that hadn't involved allowing it to molder away in some bank account. Plans that included a life, a family, happiness...
All of that was destroyed, now.
Now the money just sat there, except for the sums that he used to search for Oruha's killer. He hadn't found the person yet. But he would. He had promised it to himself. He had promised it to her. He shook his head, annoyed at himself for allowing his thoughts to wander in that direction.
Not fair...that the two women who had become most important in his life were also the two who had occupied it for so short a time...
"The doctor is with him again," Gingetsu said, breaking him out of his reverie. He glanced over to the mostly-closed door that was the entrance to Lan's room. "You may as well see him, since you're here."
Something in the way the Lt. Colonel said the words made Kazuhiko look over at him sharply. The other man had already turned away to walk away across the tile floor. Kazuhiko frowned after him, dark eyes behind the rounded lenses of the pince-nez glinting with concern. Gingetsu looked...tired. Kazuhiko couldn't remember ever seeing the man look so tired before. It worried him.
There was a doctor hovering at the bedside in Lan's room, a white-haired bespectacled man in a green and black military uniform. His attention was wholly absorbed by the readings of the heavy medical scanner he held in one hand. Several more wires and connectors were poking out of the large green and black bag that he had set up on the mattress of the bed. Kazuhiko paused in the doorway.
"Restraints?" he murmured in surprise. He shot Gingetsu a sidelong look. When he got no reaction, he shook his head. "Lan's a wimp compared to you. I wouldn't think he'd give you any problems."
"Not my idea," Gingetsu said in a curiously flat tone. Not for the first time, Kazuhiko found himself wondering what expression might be hidden behind those ever-present shades. "The General insisted."
Kazuhiko was baffled. "Grandma Kou? Why?"
Gingetsu didn't answer.
Filled with a sense of foreboding, Kazuhiko slowly approached the bedside, stepping around the single chair set close to its edge. The doctor looked up as he stopped beside the patient, but Kazuhiko barely noticed, his gaze fixed directly on Lan. Trapped deep in the throes of delirium, the young man tossed restlessly, eyes half-lidded, but seeing nothing. A deep red flush colored the area around his cheekbones, but the rest of his skin was pale as ash, and glistening with a fine film of sweat. Graceful, uncalloused hands twitched in faint spasms against the prison of the restraints. The fingernails of the right had old blood underneath them. Lan's left shoulder had been wrapped with gauze.
Kazuhiko sank down into the chair beside the bed. Stupid, to ask how the patient was doing. This illness was as serious as any Kazuhiko had ever seen. The doctor disconnected the electrodes of the scanner from his patient's forehead and chest, wrapping up the wires and depositing the bundle in his medical bag. Kazuhiko watched him as he walked over to the doorway and began speaking with Gingetsu in low tones. "I don't have good news," he murmured. "I'm afraid the patient only growing worse. With your permission, I would like to call and arrange medical transport to hospital facilities." The two walked away, the rest of their conversation lost to Kazuhiko's hearing.
Left alone in the quiet, Kazuhiko allowed the worry he felt to show in his face. "Hey," he said to the restless patient on the bed. "You know you can't get sick on me now. I've known you for less than three years. I have plans to make a lot more trouble for you before the end. Don't you know that you're supposed to be my fast track out of the country if they ever come to arrest me again?"
The words fell hollow, even to his own ears. He listened for long minutes to the endless string of barely-voiced words coming from Lan's throat; some of which made sense and some of which didn't. ...Most of which didn't. "I know," he said quietly, "How Gingetsu must feel. To see something he has given his life to, something he has sworn to protect, slipping through his fingers without being able to stop it. Gingetsu and I...we're military men. We're used to fighting things we can see, things we have a chance to beat. Not things like illness...or assassins." Kazuhiko fell silent, then said quietly, "You're the only family Gingetsu has. I don't think that he would be able to forgive you for dying so soon." Then, in an even quieter voice, he added, "A part of me still hasn't forgiven her."
He got no response, not even the flicker of an eyelash. He cleared his throat as returning footsteps sounded across the floor, and rose from his seat to join the others in the main room.
"The transport should be here soon," the doctor was saying. "The medics will take care of moving the patient, but I'll ride along with them to ensure that he makes it safely to the hospital."
"What is the illness?" Kazuhiko asked the doctor, as he settled onto the edge of one of the chairs.
"The symptoms are misleading," the man replied. Kazuhiko detected a hint of frustration coloring his voice "Whatever is causing this, I can't find it to treat, and none of the medications prescribed so far have worked. I presume that it's some sort of virus, though all the medical scans for that have come up negative as well. We'll know more once we have access to the complete testing facilities available at the hospital." He sighed. "Ironic, I suppose, since your young friend seems to have such a preoccupation with virology. Is he a medical student, by any chance?"
Huh? Kazuhiko's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. A medical student? Lan?
Gingetsu was frowning. "What do you mean?"
The doctor looked surprised. "Forgive me. I heard him mention the word 'Icosahedron' several times while I was running the scans. It's not a common term. I assumed he was talking about a virus."
Kazuhiko saw Gingetsu's face suddenly turn very pale. The Lt. Colonel rose abruptly to his feet, and walked off into Lan's room without a single word. Kazuhiko looked after him, allowing an annoyed expression to show on his face. "Did I miss something important in this conversation?" He turned to the doctor. "What do you mean, Lan was talking about viruses?"
The doctor glanced in the direction that Gingetsu had gone. "I was referring to the shape of a virus particle," he said. "The 'information' part of a virus, the DNA or RNA, is usually contained inside a protective coat. For many viruses, that coat is in the shape of an icosahedron." He shook his head. "I only brought it up because I thought the boy was interested in medicine. I really didn't think that your friend would find it so disturbing."
Kazuhiko got up, and favored the doctor with a polite smile. "Please excuse me, for just a moment. I'll be right back."
He found Gingetsu standing in front of one of the windows in Lan's room, looking out over the street below. Kazuhiko waited patiently, tactfully, beside the restless patient lying on the bed, until the wires trailing down from the connections on Gingetsu's shades, his visor, lost their resolution and contracted into nothingness.
"I have to go out," Gingetsu said. "Watch Lan for me."
Gingetsu turned to face him in surprise. "No," Kazuhiko said again, before his friend could speak. "I'm going with you."
"You can't," Gingetsu said harshly.
"Lan is my friend too. I can help, if the Parliament will let me."
"You have no idea what this is about."
"No, I don't. But you seem to."
Gingetsu's left hand clenched into a fist, and frowned out the window at the sunny street below.
"Look," Kazuhiko said. "You don't have to tell me the details if you don't want to. But my car is parked out front. At least let me drive."
Gingetsu stood there for long moments without moving. At last he shook his head as if in defeat. He went to Lan's desk, removed a small computer disk from a drawer, and slipped it into his pocket. "Fine. Let's go."
Five people met in the large, dimly-lit room that served as the nerve-center for an entire country. Five people who wore electrical connectors, bionic insets, and computer cables as naturally as they wore their robes of office. All of them Elders. All of them Wizards. They knelt in a circle upon the floor around a large, opaque half-sphere; staring deeply into mirrors that reflected past and present.
...Two men standing outdoors, sharing a smoke and waiting with ill-concealed impatience.
...An elderly woman in a hospital bed with a white-haired, bespectacled doctor bending over her with a medical scanner in hand.
...An image projector which displayed a three-dimensional holograph of what appeared to be an incredibly complex tangle of loops and coils, studied intently by a teenage boy, his long dark hair caught back in a simple leather tie.
...Another, far older boy with the same dark hair, who was being hooked up to a spidery web of equipment by military medics.
...A pile of medical scanners marked with biohazard tape sitting abandoned on a metal cart.
...A small black disk being analyzed by a series of computer diagnostic tools, all of which registered an error message saying no data was present.
"It's spreading," said one of the old men, lifting visored eyes from the images on the mirror. The glass surface went dark. The man who spoke bore an imprint like a single flower petal on his forehead. He had been given the title First Chancellor, though titles meant nothing within the bounds of this room.
"We have it contained." The Fifth Chancellor of the Parliament also looked away from his mirror. He looked around at the others, one natural eye and one cybernetic one glancing to each of them in turn. "It spread through the doctor's medical scanners."
"It may not have been the only one." The Second Chancellor, Sage Shuu, slowly bowed his head. "This file, this computer virus which can infect biological systems...it is cause for great concern."
"The disk," General Kou said, "Was brought to us by our informants in the Azurite military. The file should have been weapon schematics and armor development, not this virus."
"Then you are saying," the First Chancellor gestured at his viewing monitor, which flared to life again to show the body of the elderly woman being brought into the morgue, "That this was an error? Was the virus meant to be released upon us at a later date?"
"No," the General said. "It was planted here as an assassination attempt. The encryption file was coded to recognize the biological signature of a Three-leaf Clover. No one else could open it. It was designed so that when one or the other of the Three-leafs interfaced with it, the encryption would erase itself, and the virus would become absorbed into the victim's neural net."
"So it was given to us so that a Three-leaf could be eliminated."
"No." The Third Chancellor closed her eyes under the weight of the ill news she must deliver. "This virus operates like any virus does, spreading through the body and disrupting the normal function of systems. The virus is transferred whenever the victim interfaces with electronics. The Three-leaf was to report to me upon opening the file. If he had done so before falling to the virus himself, I would now be infected. From me, it would have gone to anyone I contacted. It seems that we were all its targets."
"An epidemic from the top levels of government, down." The Fifth Chancellor had gone a shade of pale. "We are fortunate that it was discovered in time."
"Yes," the Second Chancellor rasped. "We are very fortunate indeed. Even now, we are ferreting out the ones responsible. It seems that the Azurites may not have been the only ones involved."
The Fourth Chancellor, who had not entered at all into the discussion, looked over to the General. His brow furrowed over the lenses covering his eyes. "There is another question, too," he said quietly into the ensuing silence, "What will be the fate of the infected Three-leaf Clover?"
The lines on General Kou's face creased into deepening furrows of unhappiness. "We are studying the virus now, to learn how it works, how to detect it and prevent it from spreading if it resurfaces in another place. However..." She bowed her head to hide the sorrow on her face from the others.
"However...the cure, if there is one, will not be in time to save him."
The hospital room was still and dark in the small hours of the morning. It was quiet and full of shadows from the reflection of the streetlight far below the window, from the dim spill of light that crept in beneath the door to the hall. The only noises were from the faint buzzing of scanners, the slow beeping of the heart monitor, the soft hiss of the respirator. All the machinery in this room was self-contained, connected only to a single generator in the basement, attached only to the single occupant lying motionless on the sterile white hospital bed. Once the patient no longer needed the equipment, it would all be destroyed.
The patient was not the only person in the room. Beside the bed was a single chair, and on it, a pale-haired man in military dress. Despite the uncomfortable plastic seat, the bowed head and the slow breathing indicated that he had at last succumbed to the effects of nearly two full days without rest, and had fallen asleep.
A ribbon of light and shadow manifested itself in the clear space just inside the door. It snaked up from the floor and pulled itself upright into loops and coils like a complex spring, to form the Escher-esque outline of a human being. The ends of the ribbon curved around, winding down into place and merging there to form a fully completed person. A simple dark jacket and loose pants with no identifying markings, dark hair pulled back in a simple tie, facial features that indicated an age of maybe fifteen. The person stepped around the sleeper in the chair, over to the edge of the bed, to gaze down at the comatose occupant with an expression of indrawn, almost sad contemplation. Drawing a deep breath, as if coming to some difficult conclusion, the figure reached out to lay a hand on the pale, damp forehead of the young man who rested there, so still and silent.
The extended wrist was caught in mid-air before the fingers could make contact. "Don't," a rough voice said.
Startled, the figure looked up, eyes of an indeterminate color in the darkness of the room flashing to Gingetsu as the Lt. Colonel raised his head. The fingers on the wrist tightened a moment, a brief betrayal of unguarded surprise, before the hand fell away altogether.
Those eyes looked down at the floor. Green, they should be. But if Suu had dyed the flax-soft fall of white-blond hair, she would have altered her eye-color too. "I hoped you would stay asleep," she said softly.
Gingetsu didn't answer.
Suu looked up at him again. "You were expecting someone different."
It was true. Gingetsu had hoped, for Lan's sake...but no. It was foolish of him to have thought Lan's brother would come. There would be nothing that A could have done anyway, except to say good-bye. "You shouldn't be here," he said instead.
"Lan is my friend." Suu touched the thin blanket beside one of the pale, lax hands, running her fingers over the coarse weave. "We only met once. But he helped me when he didn't have to. You both helped me. If not for that, I never could have gone to Fairy Park."
Suu's wide, dark eyes traveled upward to focus on Lan's face. "Do you know what I heard, at Fairy Park?" She didn't seem to expect an answer, and after a moment, she answered herself.
"I heard singing."
Her gaze went back to Gingetsu. "The Parliament was wrong to think this country is the only place Clovers exist. There are others, in other places." Those guileless eyes seemed to look through the shielding protection of Gingetsu's shades and see directly into his soul. "A true Elsewhere really does exist. It is a place where anyone who is a Clover can be safe...including you and Lan."
Gingetsu slowly rose to his feet. He towered above her slight height, his expression and posture impassive. "You should not have come," he said, his voice carefully neutral. "This meeting will be reported."
"Yes," Suu said, "It will. But the one you call the General knows more than you think. What you have to say won't come as a surprise to her."
Gingetsu studied her for long moments. "You're different from when we met before," he said at last.
Suu replied with a small smile. She looked off towards the window, to the night sky outside. The stars seemed very bright. "No one can control a Four-leaf Clover," she said softly.
"That is why she must learn to control herself."
She closed her eyes. "I've always thought that Lan was lucky to have you...to have someone who cared what happened to him. My own family never cared about what happened to me. The only one who ever cared was Grandma Kou, and later Oruha. ...And the few people I met Outside that one time...you, and Lan, and Kazuhiko... Kazuhiko..." her voice trailed off. Her eyes opened, and again they focused on Gingetsu.
"I still love Kazuhiko," she said. "Would you give him a message for me? Would you tell him, 'I will come back for you,'? There are many things that separate us...age, distance, duty. I know that he may only see me as a child. But..." That dark, liquid gaze was suddenly full of light. "...I am growing up."
After a moment, Gingetsu gave a slight nod. "I'll tell him," Gingetsu said. "But that was a foolish reason to come."
"No." Suu reached out and gently touched her palm to the center of Gingetsu's chest. "It wasn't foolish, because it's not the reason. I came for Lan."
A Four-leaf Clover was the most powerful...feared by Wizards, because even a Wizard could not control one. A Four-leaf Clover could do anything. Gingetsu forced himself to release the breath that suddenly caught in his throat as he came to that realization. "You can help him."
Suu smiled. It was a knowing and mysterious expression, lending her pale skin a warm promise of beauty. In another year or two, she would be breathtaking. "We'll meet again, I think. I can't stay here long, but it should be long enough." She settled down onto the edge of the bed, and extended her hand to lightly brush across Lan's forehead. Softly, she began to sing.
"So take me
to a true Elsewhere
I want happiness
Not your past
but your present is what I seek
carefully winding back its fragile thread
I want happiness
and the happiness of others who can share it."
A/N: The numbers given to the members of the Parliament are simply an easy way to identify them, without having to give new descriptions every two lines. This arbitrary system is based on the symbols that they each wear on the backs of their robes; three complete lines is First Chancellor, three broken lines is Fifth Chancellor. Since power within the Parliament seems to be evenly distributed, the numbers are not intended to be any indication of rank or status.