Clamp Campus, Tokyo
"Of course the contract will be fulfilled. Don't worry about it!" Seishiro snapped and resisted the urge to growl at the phone. "Japan's not going to fall just because that crook breathes a few days longer."
=You are obliged to--=
Seishiro didn't listen. He stared at the offending phone -- more precisely, at the receiver daring to transmit an offending caller's voice -- just long enough to cause a faint, audible cracking of strained plastics. If he ever figured out how to make curses work over a scrambled phone line he'd make that ministry bootlicker worship the porcelain god for a day or two. He would have to squeeze some information out of Nokoru about how phone lines in general and scrambling in particular worked. He raised the receiver back to his ear just in time to catch the end of the tirade.
"Deputy," he said coolly. "If you want me to start working that badly, I'm sure you won't mind me starting with you."
Silence. Flat, accelerated breathing.
The beeping of a disconnected line.
Seishiro banged the receiver onto the cradle. He wouldn't work today. He looked at the scholarship approval he'd pinned above his desk with great satisfaction. The Mori might disapprove of his ongoing education, might cut off his access to the clan's financial resources, but he was no longer dependant on that. And when school finished, he would be able to sign for himself. With regard to the Mori, he was free! He felt jubilant, like dancing in the streets.
Maybe he would do just that. The costume he'd chosen was simple but effective: a pale pink silk shirt and a black suit. He shrugged into the jacket and briefly tugged it into shape before he pinned the little twig of silk sakura to his lapel. After a short glance into the mirror, he deftly dunked his right arm up to his elbow into the pot of thick, bright crimson food color. He shook the hand a while for the color to dry.
Post-Exams Carnival at Clamp.
Sakurazuka Seishiro, fresh-made Imonoyama scholar and fledgling Sakurazukamori, appeared as... Sakurazukamori. The irony appealed to him.
The Gamera Hall was filled with music and laughter. A stage had been set up at one end of the dance floor. Bright, colorful lights, silver paper and ornaments formed a futuristic set. A live band filled the room with happy pop music. Someone touched his arm, called across the music to him. "Costumes guessing," Nokoru laughed. "Who's Akira trying to be?"
Seishiro eyed the boy wearing a black suit, cape, top hat, and a black velvet mask. "Zorro?" he guessed, while noting, amused, that he wasn't the only one who'd appeared in "work clothes": Takamura Suoh wore the dull black gear of a ninja. Now, there had to be some way to get fun out of that! He arched a brow at Suoh. "Few would dare to appear as a yagyu."
"Ouch," Nokoru snickered.
"What's a yagyu?" Akira asked, perplexed. "I thought Suoh was a n--"
"The yagyu were the Tokugawa shogunate's version of the Gestapo," Suoh bit out. "And I am a ninja."
"But we know that." Akira scratched his head under the top hat. "I thought we're talking about our costumes."
"We are talking about them," Suoh told him and turned his attention to Seishiro. "And even fewer people would dare walk into this company dressed as you."
"Now, why would anybody dress as a first-year highschool student?" Seishiro blinked.
"Besides, if we all dressed to be ourselves it would be decidedly boring, ne?" Nokoru snickered and turned in best dressman style around his own axis. "Now, who am I?"
Seishiro scrutinized him from head to toe, then tapped his index finger against his lower lip. "Tuxedo Mask," he declared finally.
"Giacomo Casanova!" Nokoru corrected, laughing. "And who are you? Nijyu Menso?"
Akira next to him burst into a nervous titter. Seishiro smirked. "Too nice." He raised his crimson-smeared hand. "Sakurazukamori."
Nokoru's eyes widened briefly, then he burst out laughing. "How fitting. How about we two ladykillers get over there and--"
"I don't quite limit myself to ladies..."
"So what is it with the Cherry Blossom Burial Mound Guardian?" Nokoru asked roughly an hour later at the buffet. Having lost Suoh and Akira to their respective girlfriends, they both had picked some food and a drink and ventured out onto the terrace. Imonoyama's youngest was blowing at the cup of warm tea between his hands. "I mean... that is what Sakurazukamori means, right?"
"More or less." Seishiro shrugged. "It's an old fairytale of my family. About a magician killing people who are a threat to the state by punching his right hand through their chests."
"Eew." Nokoru drew a face. "Not your story, the tea." He blinked, tongue in cheek, at the red-soaked sleeve of Seishiro's costume. "That's got to ruin the outfit, right?"
"Likely." Seishiro grinned. "I guess the government would have to pay dearly for an execution if the story were true."
"With inflation as it is?" Nokoru snickered. "Five thousand yen for the kill, fifty-thousand for the ruined suit -- if he shops cheap." He tossed a look around and smoothly emptied his tea into a potted palm. The cup ended up on the bannister. "But doesn't he get stuck in the ribs? I mean... There's the sternum, the ribs, lungs..."
"According to the myth, the magic takes care of that." Seishiro shrugged. "Though I don't know how that's supposed to work. I mean... body is body, right? Magic or not." He tapped against his cheek. "I guess if he ever existed he'd strike upwards through the diaphragm into the rib cage."
"How?" Nokoru frowned. "Isn't that too deep inside?"
"Here." He tapped against Nokoru's abdomen just underneath the sternum. "A swift strike upwards out of the shoulder like this and--"
"NO!" Something crashed into him, threw him against the stone bannister at his side. Another blow hit him across the face, had him fall hard. He turned, brought his leg up just in time to have the other's face connect with his knee. Takamura. He rolled over, the incantation already on his lips. His hand poised to strike and--
"Stop!" someone screamed. "Stop it!" A shadow leaped in between.
"Kaichou! Get out of the w--"
"May I ask what is going on here?" A cold, female voice cut in. "Why is Sakurazuka-kun bleeding?"
"I slipped, Ma'am." Seishiro stated from his place on the tiled floor, leaning against the bannister. "Takamura-kun tried to catch me."
"You slipped?" She studied him closely.
"The tiles are wet." He met her stare squarely, daring her to say otherwise. "Nokoru spilled tea."
"I see..." She nodded slowly, clearly not satisfied with the explanation but deciding to let it slide. "If you experience any other symptoms of... clumsiness, I expect you to report to the sick room, immediately, clear?"
"Yes, ma'am vice head."
"Alright, then. Takamura-kun, please come with me. I'd like to have a word with you nevertheless."
Seishiro slowly came to his knees. He refrained from claiming his feet just yet. An embroidered handkerchief was offered to him. "Are you alright?" Imonoyama Nokoru asked quietly, crouching next to him.
Ignoring the handkerchief Seishiro wiped his split lip with the back of his uncolored hand. The blood glowed a brilliant red in the falling dusk. "I will be."
The next day.
Yearbook 1981 photo shoot
"Why didn't you rat me out?" Takamura asked after he strolled over from the photo-shoot for the middle school classes. His eye had turned a shade of dark violet-blue that slightly reminded Seishiro of an overripe plum and would just look fascinating on the yearbook picture. He absolutely had to get one!
"Suoh?" Nokoru looked, startled, at his friend and self-proclaimed bodyguard. "I think--"
"As you so aptly put it: I'm a Sakurazuka. I've got a certain reputation to maintain and the vice principal getting your head first would kind of ruin that." He smiled maliciously. "Besides -- nice eye, Taka-kun."
"Nice lip," Suoh shot back. "I'll be watching you."