Suu strokes the chin of a mechanical bird and feels its coolness/warmth on her fingertips; it is one and then the other and she isn't sure whether it's supposed to be either.
In her cage, flowers grow wild and she holds one up to the bird, watches it tilt its head at her and move as if its programming allowed it to ponder it.
"Flowers," she murmurs, "have meanings, did you know? Most of them have many. Many and many. A flower says different things, depending on colour or on the number of leaves."
The bird knows nothing. She holds up a flower for it, but it cannot see, only record.
As the only four-leaf, she can listen in on the other Clovers, and, though they can't hear her, she silently hopes their meanings are good to them.
Think of Me
Oruha curled against Kazuhiko's chest. She still wore her skirt, though it was pushed up to her waist to act more like a belt than an outfit. Her corset had been tossed somewhere behind the couch, and she suspected her panties were there besides.
"Did you like my singing today?" she asked him, good-natured.
Kazuhiko smiled up at her. "I always like your singing, Oruha," he murmured at her, hands sliding up to carress her breasts again, to slide between and brush over the clover tattoo she had been given. "Your voice is so beautiful I imagine angels weep at it."
She thought of the phonecall she received, the fourth of its kind, a little girl who shouldn't have been able to hear it whispering into the phone: Oruha, it's me again.
"Maybe they do," she said, and smiled down at him.
She loved his smile; if there were anything she wanted to remember of his, should he die, it would be his smile.
She thought he might feel the same, so she tried to always to smile for him.
It had only been a full-time job for him to look after Ran for a few months; once the Wizards determined that A's agreement to stay in his cage would hold, and likewise Ran's determination to stay with Gingetsu even though it meant his death, Gingetsu was put back to work.
He was a good soldier, after all, though he was a two-leaf -- he was never sure if he was only a two-leaf, weak as the results of the Clover Project went, or thankfully a two-leaf, as it meant he was of little threat to the Wizards. The bomb he'd had implanted to let Ran stay with him lowered his threat, so he suspected he was, to them, only a two-leaf.
But he was a good soldier, and so he was frequently sent out on frontline missions against men like Barus, who would so much rather be facing Kazuhiko instead, or other missions. Spying. Deliveries.
Most of these missions he would come through unscathed, but sometimes he'd come back with injuries. Once a neat set of three broken ribs. Another time, a cut to his face.
Ran had become accustomed to taking out the medical kit before Gingetsu came home. There was little to do for the ribs but use plast on them, to hold them in place until they could heal; the cuts Ran would spray, then bandage with old-fashioned bandages, as if he were trying to use up all the old medical supplies before moving on to the newer ones.
But then, Gingetsu thought, and grabbed Ran's hand before he could quite move away, held it to the gauze on his cheek: but then, Ran had to be preparing for his next three years of life; if Ran would age fast, his bones would become fragile, and then he would need the best medical supplies he could have, and on short notice.
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" Ran asked.
Gingetsu shook his head, and eventually released Ran's hand.
There are people out there who believe in gods of various kinds. Ran had never been one of them, unless his gods were the Wizards; they wre already toying with human fate, after all.
He was reminded of an old story he'd read once, in Gingetsu's files, of two humans and an apple, and a god who threw them out because they were too close to gaining the power the god himself had.
Ran remembered that in the story, the humans were expelled for that deed; they were cursed with the ability to die -- presumably they'd been immortal beforehand, though he could not remember whether or not the story had mentioned that earlier -- and sent out from their garden into the wide world to meet their deaths.
He seemed to recall that they spent most of their time before death making love and having children, and it didn't sound like such a bad thing to do. The making love, at least.
"Ran," Gingetsu said, looking up as Ran placed a cup of tea in front of him.
Ran blinked at him, then smiled faintly; Gingetsu had exhaustion in his eyes. And no wonder; he'd been spending hours with his papers, examining them for information important, presumably, to his job.
"Perhaps," Ran suggested, "you should have some sleep instead of some tea."
Gingetsu shook his head, frowning slightly. "No," he said. "This needs to get done. I was just going to thank you."
Ran supposed he must be grateful to the Wizards after all; they allowed him his voluntary exile and his willing mortality, a death approaching in a haste it wouldn't otherwise, and freedom from the garden he and A had been kept in.
"You don't need to thank me," Ran murmured, and pressed a kiss to Gingetsu's upturned face. Gingetsu seemed surprised, but he always seemed surprised by that.
Still, Gingetsu moved without question to let Ran settle in next to him on the couch.
You are blind -- see me now.
For A, the worst thing is knowing that there was someone greater than him.
A felt C's aging, felt it like rough wire against his skin and thought that might be his punishment. It was wrong that he be punished, of course; he was a three-leaf Clover, the most powerful of the Clovers. The Wizards could punish him -- but they wouldn't, because he was their pride, the best Clover they could create, enough that they were afraid of him and kept him locked up.
There was someone greater than him, though there was nobody more powerful.
He sometimes wanted to scream across the void at C: Look at me, look at me, look at me.
Don't look at him.
But perhaps there was a punishment for death worse than him feeling B die under his hands. He remembered the feeling of his own hands closing around B's throat, and the pain/panic/nothingness of it as B's senses faded out from his own.
C had been forced to feel that as well.
But now C was aging and dying far too fast, and though it was his choice alone, A had to feel it as well. It was a slow death. Five years before C would die, they had suggested. Three of those were left.
Come back to me, he wanted to tell C, wanted to make him hear.
But it was better, he was sure, as he hugged himself hard and sat against the back wall of a cage built for three, to wait until C died because then A would be alone.
And when he was alone, he wouldn't have to feel anything ever again.
Ran was naked as he climbed out of the shower. Gingetsu was already in the bath, and it was an easy transfer from one to the other.
Gingetsu gave him what, for him, passed as a smile. Ran gave one back automatically, a tiny twitch of his lips.
The walls of the bath were mirrored, and he caught himself reflected in it a hundred times and a hundred times besides. There was something different today.
He blinked and looked closer, reaching up to tug the surprise feature forward: A gray hair.
Gingetsu noticed him examining it in the mirror and leaned forward himself, the water sloshing between them.
"How old are you?" Gingetsu asked after a moment, moving Ran's face this way and that as if he hadn't seen it before. Though he knew Ran was a child when he first came to him, and had been there two years, he obviously also knew that the Clover Project was an odd thing.
Ran lowered his eyes and shrugged. "Thirteen, I think. Maybe fourteen."
Maybe younger, he did not say. It was easy to lose track of time in the cage. Everything seemed to take longer there.
His reflection in the mirror was of a young man in his early twenties. Gingetsu frowned slightly, and Ran felt the sharp sting as Gingetsu pulled the gray hair out.
Ran gave him a wry face. "Gingetsu, there will be more."
"I know," Gingetsu said.
"You can't pull them all out. That'd hurt."
"I know," Gingetsu said, and handed him the gray hair in something like apology.
Ran dropped it into the tub and watched it float on the water, a silver line like wire. It had been an unusual display of emotion for Gingetsu, but then, this was a man who'd agreed to die if the Wizards chose, just to take care of Ran.
"Promise me," Ran said, quietly, "that you won't cry for me once I've died."
Gingetsu put a hand on his head and ruffled the dark hair, gentle. "Hush," he said, but did not promise.
It was getting late and Gingetsu was waiting for Kazuhiko to be done -- he was talking about Oruha's latest show and and showed no sign of stopping. Gingetsu had been out all night the night before and was tired.
"And you should have seen her outfit -- man, Gingetsu, even a man with your habits would be in a sweat if you saw it," Kazuhiko said, grinning.
"His habits?" Ran asked, amused, as he picked up the empty teacups and cookie plates.
Kazuhiko's grin only broadened as it fixed on Ran "You should know exactly what I'm talking about! Not only taking a boy as a live-in, but a young one as well --"
Ran chuckled. "At least you didn't call it his hobby."
Gingetsu cleared his throat pointedly. Ran smiled at him sweetly and continued to clear the plates away.
"See, Gingetsu? Ran knows what I'm talking about! Of course, he'd better, given the context--"
"You've covered her singing, her personality, the wonderful sex you had, and now her outfit," Gingetsu interrupted, counting the items down on his fingers. "Was there anything else or were you just leaving?"
"Aaaah, you're such a blunt person," Kazuhiko groaned. "Here I am, sharing the most intimate details of my life with you and all you can do is try to boot me out the door?"
"Don't blame it on him," Ran said, standing with the plates. "He does it for my sake -- it's late, and I get tired easily."
Kazuhiko blinked up at him. "You're tired?"
"Just doing a good job at hiding it," Ran said, as if Gingetsu weren't the one forcing his eyes to stay open behind his dark glasses, and forcing his back ramrod straight. "He's trying to save me my dignity, but I thought I should just come out with it."
"Well, in that case," Kazuhiko said, and rose. "I'll just be by later, how's that? Get a good night's rest -- and oh! Oruha's mentioned she wouldn't mind meeting you again, Gingetsu, so come out to the club tomorrow."
"I might," Gingetsu said, though he wouldn't.
When Kazuhiko was gone, Gingetsu looked at Ran and eloquently raised an eyebrow.
"Well," Ran said, serenely, "I was thinking about bed, at any rate."
"Hey," Kazuhiko asked, in the careful, nervous tones of someone raising a delicate question, "Oruha?"
She stretched, rising up in bed naked, the blankets pooling about her waist. She felt as if she should sleep, but didn't dare waste the time. "Hmm?"
"Have you, ah... ever thought about children?"
Oruha had thought about them often when she was younger, in her first flush of love with Kazuhiko, and dismissed them every time. Even if she were capable of bearing children -- which she might not be; she'd certainly had enough sex and not had any, and there was no telling what other effects the Clover Project had caused her -- she would be unwilling to have them.
Her only ability as a Clover was to foretell her own death, and though she was selfish enough to not tell her lover that she'd die next week, she had never been so selfish as to have children young and leave them alone when she died.
"Children would get in the way of this, don't you think?" she asked, laughing and smiling, and pressed him back into the bed again.
Suu lets the flower fall from her hand, watches it spiral down from the branch she's on. She cannot see where it lands among the rest of the flowers.
She thinks: There are so many meanings here.
Alone, she can't be sure which is hers; every meaning wants someone else. Language needs communication; it has to feed one on another, has to find something to return it for it to matter at all.
She casts among them and finds nothing. Closes her eyes and listens to song on the wind and tries to return its call, to open language between her and the air.
There is a fortune out there just for her, she thinks, language and meaning, but she is alone so she might never find it.
There is a part of her, she thinks, that wants something to call her own.