Written for Round 4 of the Dimension Shop Fic Exchange
Title: Can I Get There By
Series: Clamp Campus Detectives, with cameos from Tokyo Babylon and MKR
Characters/Pairing: Utako, Nagisa, Akira, Suou, cameos of Hokuto, Umi; unrequited Nagisa/Utako, references to Utako/Akira, unrequited Suou/Nokoru
Rating: G all the way
Author's Notes/Warnings: It's really hard writing angsty Clamp Campus Detectives. No warnings, some writing notes at the end.
Can I Get There By Candlelight?
many miles to Babylon?
Four score and ten
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If your feet are nimble and light
You can get there by candlelight.
1. In Which Utako Notices a Thing
"It's the Lightning-Struck Tower," the little girl said, slapping down the battered pasteboard card on the picnic blanket. She was a slip of a thing, a scrap of black hair and brilliant green eyes; already the careful red kimono she'd been wrapped in was hiked to her knees and her bare feet twisted in the tall grass of the orchard. Around them, the visiting children and parents of the Clamp Campus Open Day gathered fuzzy, juicy peaches in wicker baskets and chattered amiably. The girl, Sumeragi-chan, went on. "See, this card is the Tower of Babel: pride, knowledge, pursuit of advancement, all struck down in one blinding moment of doom and destruction and d- er, d- uh, discommunication. Oh, and enlightenment is stuck in there somewhere, but remember the doom and the destruction. Isn't it cool?"
"Yeah..." breathed Utako, enthralled. She rested her chin on her hands and her eyes opened like moons. "What's next?"
The next card showed three people standing in a garden, hands not quite linked. "Ah, The Lovers. Also called The Choice. Do you have romance in your future? A choice between socially-approved love and the daring, racy sort that gets in the newspapers? O ho ho, only six years old and already a string of lovers, am I right?"
Utako put up a modest hand. "Oh, well, I have an understanding with a young person. He's not my first love," she confided, sotto voce, and Sumeragi-chan cheered. "But," said Utako with conviction, "I've made my choice and this is the one for me, whatever it takes." She fingered the beautiful ribbon that held back her hair and beamed. "I know that Love takes work, but I picked myself a good one and it will all work out, you mark my words."
Sumeragi-chan seemed inexplicably depressed that there wasn't more doomed love floating around but rallied valiantly. "That girl over there is just like a wisteria fairy," she remarked. Utako followed her nod, and saw that her best friend Nagisa had come and perched in a tree, her delicately coloured hair drifting like a breeze over the long flowered sleeves of her furisode robe. Utako lifted a hand in greeting and Nagisa nodded gravely.
"They're blind, you know," Sumeragi-chan continued cheerfully, "so you'd think you can't tell what they're interested in, but it's in their faces. Whatever they're about, they always follow the sun."
"You never saw a wisteria fairy," Utako said indignantly.
"No," said Sumeragi-chan, "but I know people. HEY, SUBARUUUUU," she shouted to the orchard at large, "COME TELL OUKAWA-CHAN ABOUT THE FAIRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE GARDEN..." There was a crashing sound like a ladder falling in the distance.
Utako took the time to consider her best friend, as usual more comfortable in a quiet tree than in the hubbub of people. She's wrong, Utako thought to herself, Nagisa never follows the sun. Wherever she is she always seems to be looking at... me. Oh. Suddenly it was as if the solid place that she stood on, unconsidered, built of solid bricks of everyday moments, was revealed in actuality to be the high point of a great tower, and Utako had just. looked. down. Sweat, dizziness, and a lurching feeling: describing it as 'butterflies in the stomach" did not really do it justice.
Fortunately, it was at this time that the evil Imonoyama District Shopper's Association invaded the orchard, determined to disrupt Clamp Campus's recruitment scheme (and eat the peaches) at all costs. The last Utako saw of the daughter of the Sumeragis, she was being kidnapped by a masked minion. As the little girl in red was very gently carried away to an uncertain fate she chirped, "This is the best school ever!"
Utako picked up the two cards thoughtfully, and tucked them in her dress pocket. And then she and Nagisa were fleeing from Evil Beast Caterpillar-kun and it was all very exciting and fun and they saved the peaches after all and ate them, just the two of them together.
2. In Which Utako Constructs a Cunning Plan
Utako released the indigo ties binding the scroll and let it unroll over the low table, nudging aside the tea things and falling to the floor. Her tuxedo-clad guest, known in the privacy of Utako's mind as My Friday Night Friend, blinked mild grey eyes behind his domino mask at the list of names Utako was pointing at.
"I need an evaluation of these people," she said bluntly. Her Friday Night Friend put down his teacup. There was a thump from outside as the unrolling scroll bumped against the balcony railing.
"Er, Utako-san, may I ask the... criteria?"
"My friend Nagisa needs a Most Special Person so I'm finding her one."
"What else are friends for?" murmured her Friday Night Friend, hiding his mouth with one gloved hand. "But, er, Utako-san, might she not want, perhaps, to pick one out for herself?"
Utako looked away. The turning wheel of the evening sky had never been more interesting. "That person," she said awkwardly, "that person has a Most Special Person already. That person feels Nagisa should be loved with a whole heart. And, and so." She turned back to her guest.
"I've compiled a list of the most eligible bachelors on Clamp Campus. We'll find someone good and graft them together, like a slip of wood onto the root-stock of their current affections. I learned about that in botany class today! But it has to be better than sun-warmed peaches, eaten on the run," Utako said elliptically. Her friend blinked at her.
"So. Can you check their backgrounds for me? Starting from the top, Imonoyama Nokoru: family owns the school and much else, charming, of good personal grooming..."
"Chairman, uh, Imonoyama-san loves all women," explained her Friday Night Friend. "Inaverypureandplatonicway," he added hurriedly, "but it is not in him to care for a single person only. I think," he muttered to himself, "I think he might become very lonely someday."
"Very well. Next is Takamura Suou, kyuudo expert, on the Student Council, nice traditional family..."
"I believe that Takamura-senpai- er, -san's loyalties, once attained, would not be easily estranged," her Friday Night Friend said carefully.
"Does he have a girlfriend?"
"Well, no, but-"
"I don't think it's like that, but-"
"You disagree, I see. Hmmm, then Ijyuin Akira: good cook, mysterious but wealthy family-"
"In retrospect, Takamura-senpai is looking better and better," said Utako's Friday Night Friend, amusement lurking in his eyes. He hesitated and went on, "You are being kind, Utako-san. But perhaps Nagisa-san is content with the situation. I mean, my mothers never minded sharing a heart... They said they slept much warmer at night. Oh!"
Utako was no longer listening - the late night and her early years had sent her to sleep at the table. He gathered her up carefully and carried her to a chaise-longue inside. As he covered her with a bright-patched quilt, he mused, "Perhaps we don't want any of our friends to be lonely."
Utako woke in the morning with the scroll of names by her hand, and a careful tick by Takamura Suou's name.
3. Utako's Feet are Nimble and Light
Utako plotted her maneouvres as a true daughter of the Oukawas should: with precision, eccentricity, and all the grandeur money could buy.
The key point in her plan was this: saving someone's life endears them to you, and vice versa. Utako, who took love very seriously, had read many interesting things about brain chemistry and its relationship to affection over the past month (she was good at biology), and felt that the increased heart-rate and adrenalin had a lot to do with this; also, the act of saving must inevitably form some kind of bond which could be increased with time through compatible interests and shared experiences, which Utako would be more than happy to arrange.
With this in mind, it was the work of but a moment to organise a concert for the fall culture fair in the wisteria trellis by the archery range, with Nagisa as the star performer (for Nagisa was exemplary in so very many ways, she would be sure to shine), and - this was important - getting the wisteria trellis replanted in a bowl shape (she was good at physics, too).
Utako truly loved Clamp Campus. Where else could one commission a variable speed missile - almost supersonic, no less - with the avowed purpose of mapping the Campus with a camera, no further questions asked? Sumeragi-chan was right, this was the best school ever.
All that was left to do was prime Takamura-san and Nagisa with a mysterious meeting among the wisteria trees (why could she not stop thinking of wisteria?), and Utako ensured that the pair were at their best: dressed in the appropriate garb of their favourite skills with their minds focused on the same to give a good impression to the other and increase positive associations. (Also, Takamura-san might get some interesting athletic sweat on his kyuudo-gi, which Utako felt could only help the situation.)
Later, as the Clamp Campus Detectives ran around investigating the mysterious destruction of bowl-shaped landmarks on the Campus, Utako smiled secretly to herself. She would be sure they got enough information for Takamura-san to rescue Nagisa at the appropriate time. Soon, the pair would run merrily hand-in-hand down the path of True Love while Utako hid the road crews.
Utako blew out the candle she had made her plans by and went to sleep happily, dreaming of a wisteria girl smiling gravely in the trees.
4. Getting There by Candlelight
The day after the concert it rained heavily, and the students of Dolphin kindergarten class clustered chattering by the windows watching water run down the windows. Nagisa stood silently and apart, touching the glass very lightly. One of her classmates, a tall blue-haired girl, enquired politely as to the success of yesterday's concert.
"Well," said Nagisa gravely, staring blindly out the window, "I am fairly certain that my best friend tried to kill me."
At that moment, the Chairman of the Kindergarten Grade Student Association, Oukawa Utako, entered the classroom. The chattering fell silent. Nagisa glanced briefly in her direction and turned away, all her attention on the falling rain.
Just like that, thought Utako, as the high tower fell in a glorious cascade of broken bricks, the sun is gone. Who'd have thought it so easy to break something so precious?
5. Back Again?
It is difficult to avoid someone completely when the respective loves of your loves are the best of friends. In time Utako and Nagisa rebuilt a working relationship, one founded on politeness and discussion of Akira and Suou. An outsider might almost think them friends.
It was more than a decade later however, when Utako was living on nothing but nerves preparing for her wedding, that they really talked. Nagisa was helping Utako pin her dress, a magnificent confection of gauzy skirts and artful placement of flowers.
Utako turned suddenly, and touched Nagisa very lightly on the back of the hand. "Yes, but are you happy?" she said out of the blue.
Nagisa turned her head very slowly, her wide blank eyes considering Utako fully for the first time in many years. Outside the curtained window they could hear Nokoru and Akira and Suou talking, a melodious burble, earnest replies, and the latter's gruff kindness. "I think I am," Nagisa said at last, almost in surprise.
And somehow Utako knew, the broken tower had been - not rebuilt, for some things stand only once - but remade, the cracked bricks and rough mortar forming a bridge the pair of them could meet on.
And that would be alright.
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword says that as late as the forties, bright red was a traditional colour for Japanese girl-children. I figure the Sumeragi household would keep as many traditions as possible.
I couldn't find any resources on wisteria fairies outside Clamp books, so went with the description in Wish.
All I know of Umi is descriptions on Wikipedia. They said she went to a posh school, so I figured she could have gone to Clamp Campus. Apologies if I got her wrong.