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Sanctuary

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When the four-leaf died, Ran knew, because he felt it.

It wasn't like the awareness he had of Gingetsu, or had had of Oruha; he was the three-leaf, and they were the two- and one-leaf, respectively: he'd always been aware of them, because his power exceeded theirs. When he'd been face to face with Suu in their apartment, he'd known her to be the four-leaf, but not because he'd sensed her; her power was far, far beyond him.

But when she died, that power was released and dissipated, never to be used to its full potential, and in the one instant that it overwhelmed the world, Ran felt it, as well as a sense, brief and brilliant, of joy.

He understood that feeling, fragile as it was, for it was what he felt every day, undoubtable, unquestionable happiness, happiness despite the bars of his cage. Most days, he didn't feel them, but that was because Gingetsu had consented to dwell within them with him; Ran could empathize only too well with Suu's desire to escape hers, even at the price of her life.

But just because he was constantly aware of Gingetsu, and in point of fact was watching his fight with Baruz via the holoprojector, didn't mean that when Gingetsu finally came home from the Fairy Park that Ran could prevent himself from jumping into the two-leaf's arms. Ran had grown a lot since he'd come here, but he still had to stand on his tiptoes when Gingetsu caught him up, though he didn't care. He'd probably be dead before he was as tall as Gingetsu, and it didn't matter.

Kazuhiko was trailing behind Gingetsu, looking even more lost than usual, but Ran pretended he hadn't seen the former lieutenant and kissed Gingetsu, their noses bumping together before he got the angle right. He'd missed this, and he needed it, far more than he cared to cater to Kazuhiko's sensibilities about the difference in their ages.

Gingetsu set Ran down just before they both ran out of breath, still within the circle of his arms. "I was worried," Ran said into his shoulder.

"I know," Gingetsu replied. "Sorry."

Ran shook his head, denying the apology; it was an old argument between them, that Gingetsu didn't have to apologize, after all he'd done. It was the price of his service to the government, that he go away; he'd exchanged his loyalty and his life for Ran's life outside the facility, and Ran didn't want to hear apologies for the absences that Kou and the generals required. They weren't, in the end, Gingetsu's fault, or his choice.

"Hey," he greeted Kazuhiko, stepping away from Gingetsu. "How do you feel?"

By now Kazuhiko was used to him knowing what Gingetsu knew; he didn't look surprised. "Worse than I look, probably," he replied, stepping into the apartment, but his heart wasn't in it. Ran hadn't seen him look so listless since Oruha's murder; only his mad determination to find her killer had revived him, and the four-leaf's death seemed to have taken him all the way back. For a moment, he almost regretted putting him out further with the kiss; it had to remind Kazuhiko of what he'd lost, twice.

She loved you, he wanted to say, but he didn't know whether someone who wasn't a Clover would find it comforting, and he didn't know whether he was talking about Suu or about Oruha.

He certainly couldn't tell Kazuhiko that Oruha had been murdered to keep Suu solitary, or that Gingetsu had almost certainly been ordered to kill him if Suu had shown any sign of failing in her intention.

Ran hadn't asked Gingetsu about his orders before he left, but he knew the generals' ruthlessness; he'd also never asked Gingetsu what his duty had consisted of, the night of the one-leaf's murder. He didn't want to know the truth, but he didn't want to hear lies, either, and he didn't want to put his flashes of anger at the generals in the balance against his desire to live, and to die, happy. He couldn't be absolutely sure, if it came to it, that he could have kept such a secret from Kazuhiko, especially not now that he looked so close to despair. Better not to face the choice at all.

Kazuhiko stayed late, drinking but not saying much; when he'd left at last, Ran crawled into Gingetsu's lap and kissed him again, tasting the liquor on his breath as well as the faint bitter aftertaste of regret. It had always been there, even the first time, and he was used to it, one more thing that they shared: Ran regretted the price that Gingetsu had paid for Ran's freedom, and Gingetsu regretted that he hadn't been able to give him more than this apartment and the equipment within it, by which he watched the world go by.

Ran had been trying to tell him from the start that it didn't matter, that he was happy, that this was far more than he'd ever dreamed of when he'd been caged in the facility. It was more than Suu had had, or Oruha, and if it wasn't forever, what was? It would still be lifelong, if Ran had anything to do with it, and that was more than most people, especially Clover, could expect.

He was pretty sure that the message had gotten through a long time ago, but it never hurt to repeat the transmission. Ran leaned forward, letting Gingetsu take his weight while he deepened the kiss, fingers slowly undoing the togs and zippers of his uniform while Gingetsu's hands slid beneath his T-shirt, warm and just a little rough, the gun calluses rough on his spine. He murmured Ran's name when Ran pressed a kiss to the hollow of his collarbone, strong hands drawing Ran closer to press their bodies together.

They would never unite their abilities and rise against the government that had caged them; they would never learn the true scope of the four-leaf's power, or whether it could change the world. But they had each other, and their sanctuary within these walls; and for Clover, that was happiness.