Please, take me
My first thought
And my last wish
A promised land where fairies wait
With room just enough for two.
"Gingetsu, I have to leave."
The words take more than a moment to register. Ran does not leave their apartment, has not set foot past the door since he first entered two years ago. He has reiterated, over and over, that the outside world is not for him, although the meaning changes with his mood – sometimes a promise, others a reassurance, a reminder, or a lament.
Gingetsu wonders why this comes now, so soon after the four leaf appeared and then abruptly thwarted their chance of helping her find happiness. It cannot be a coincidence. But he cannot deny Ran his own chance at happiness, not even if the search now takes him beyond his narrow permitted boundaries. Not even though freedom is an indulgence that will surely mean Gingetsu's death. Ran still does not know of the bargain he made to keep him. Gingetsu will not reveal it now. No matter what the answer, he has no desire to learn if the knowledge would change Ran's mind. Better to let him go, free and unfettered, and accept what he has always known might be a natural end of the bargain he struck. A maturing youth will always want the chance to spread his wings.
Ran, solemn, sorrowful Ran, smiles at him just before he warps away (warps himself in one of those blatant, astonishing displays of power that leave Gingetsu reeling at the gulf between three leaves and two). In the minutes that follow, Gingetsu carefully strips off his uniform, lays plastic sheeting over the floor to catch the inevitable effluvia released by a corpse, and lies upon it. He's somewhat grateful to the Wizards for permitting him time to finish these preparations. He had expected to collapse, like a killer doll severed from its command center when its orders become obsolete, the instant Ran's presence blinked out.
Hours later, still alive, gratitude has passed into confusion. He had been entirely prepared to die, made a choice with full knowledge of the inevitable consequences, and yet those consequences persist in failing to materialize. Lying naked on plastic sheeting in a room deliberately chilled to slow decomposition has lost what little allure it ever possessed. Ran has not returned, which is unsurprising, and no black ops team has broken down his door, as would have happened if the Wizards had attempted to use his kill switch and failed. Gingetsu begins to think that, inexplicably, they have chosen not to hold this failure to his account.
The emptiness this leaves is absurd. He has always known that Ran's death is approaching swiftly, and has been prepared for the possibility of life without him. A few hours of resignation to death should not counteract that. And yet when he looks in the mirror, he sees himself shattered the way Kazuhiko has been twice over, first by Oruha and then by Suu.
He gets up the next day, goes into work and hopes that he will not be given orders to hunt Ran. If the Wizards think to give him a chance to redeem himself and prove his loyalty, the end result will be the same as no reprieve at all, except the intervening unpleasant hours. The orders do not come. Gingetsu's understanding of consequences and causality trembles in the face of this impossibility.
He returns home. Ran is not there, and he both did and did not expect this. He knows Ran will not return. He cannot help but expect the apartment to contain him. The paradox is more painful than the simple fact of Ran's absence.
Late that evening, Gingetsu is standing, watching the cityscape from Ran's favorite window. There is a gust of displaced air behind him and he spins, katana raised. It has been many years since he went unarmed at home. It is Ran, who is simultaneously the first and last person he expected. There are two people with him, women, but Gingetsu’s mind rejects the evidence of his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Gingetsu. But you see why I had to go."
That seems to imply that these are not illusions or uncanny facsimiles, but Suu and Oruha themselves. He nods. It is impossible, but impossibility is part of being a Clover, especially a three- or four-leaf. Still, this is by far the strangest thing Ran has ever done yet. Suu is in Oruha's arms, white-faced and shaking with terror or sorrow. It occurs to Gingetsu that he has not yet reacted: has not moved to embrace Ran, to welcome him home, to smile, even to lower his sword. The situation is too bizarre for him to drop his guard easily. He makes himself relax.
“Ran,” he says, “if this is really them, you have to bring Kazuhiko here.”
Ran nods and moves to his rig. He goes slowly and carefully, obviously aware of how tightly this surprise has wound Gingetsu. He takes his time warping Kazuhiko, too, mostly keeping to the more ordinary ways that let him conserve energy. Kazuhiko comes through wary but unafraid. He knows Ran is the only one with the ability to grab him this way, and is prepared for Gingetsu to ask the impossible. They use conventional transportation unless the matter is both urgent and disastrous.
Still, Gingetsu knows he cannot have prepared himself for the impossibility here. Rather than even attempt explaining what he himself does not understand, he nods toward Suu and Oruha. Oruha is singing to Suu. Gingetsu counts them all lucky that she has chosen “Love” rather than “Clover,” but her voice nonetheless echoes through the air. Kazuhiko looks at them and pales, swaying on his feet. He looks like Gingetsu feels, only worse.
Gingetsu shrugs sympathetically.
“Ran says it’s them.”
He hasn’t, of course, not really. But his actions amount to the same admission in any case. Kazuhiko, ever more open and demonstrative than Gingetsu, stumbles toward the women, folds around them and into their embrace. There are tears. Gingetsu cannot begin to fathom this turn of events, but he is not too poleaxed to see that Suu’s resurrection has been traumatic, and he starts to suspect that it is not what she would have chosen. Not after going all the way to Fairy Park to die.
He looks at Ran again. Ran is impassive in that way he has where it means uncertainty and resignation. Gingetsu cannot be reassuring now, when he still does not understand what Ran has done.
“I have to go back to the cage.”
It’s the last thing Gingetsu expects to hear from Suu, although his surprise is followed swiftly by the realization that he should have expected this. Ran has the same terrible understanding of his potential effect on the world.
Oruha’s voice breaks at Suu’s words and Kazuhiko mutters a negation, indistinct but unmistakable. In response, Suu wrenches herself away from them both.
“A four leaf clover must always be alone. She can never find happiness. When they thought I had forgotten that, they killed you rather than attack me. I have to go back.”
Despite his position, it’s the first time Gingetsu has heard that black ops was responsible for Oruha’s death. He supposes Koh chose to spare him the conflict of planning the death of his best friend’s beloved. No wonder the General had let Suu make her trip. Affection mixed with guilt sometimes erodes even the strongest sense of duty.
Gingetsu cannot offer reassurances. Ran’s presence has already required the strongest he has. Given the exponential growth of strength with each leaf, nothing will suffice to keep Suu free.
“You can’t. They gave me a life outside the cage and someone to love.”
Ran is usually so calmly accepting of his limited life that Gingetsu cannot quite believe his words now, the passion and misery in them.
“But a four leaf clover must always be alone. Why did you pull me back to that?”
“I wanted you to find happiness.”
Gingetsu stirs uncomfortably. He has not sought to interfere with Ran, has trusted Ran’s self-imposed limitations. Now he wonders if he is witnessing the consequences of that lack of boundaries.
He makes himself ask, “Ran, what exactly did you do?”
Ran looks at him carefully, but with pride leaking around the edges of his stoicism.
“We’re Clovers and I was watching her. I knew she wasn’t gone.
“Energy can’t be destroyed. With our power, holding together the energy of our minds, shaping it to retain consciousness and thought, is easy, even without a body to anchor it. Even a one leaf can do it for a while.
“I think Suu picked Fairy Park because Oruha had moved there along with her song, and picked then to go because she couldn’t keep herself together much longer. When I reached them, Suu was sheltering them both, and she couldn’t have preserved Oruha from so far away. Four-leaf strength is massive, but not limitless.
“I built her a body to hold her so she could help me. I wasn’t strong enough alone to remake their living selves. Joining our powers let us create those, and when we were done and Oruha was properly back, Suu agreed to return too.”
Some of the pride fades a bit as Ran admits, “she said it didn’t matter if she was alone there or in the cage. Gingetsu, we can’t let her go back to that. It wasn’t why I did this.”
Ran never asks for anything, yet he has made two impossible demands in as many days. As Gingetsu acceded to the first, so he will to the second. With the others safe and well, Ran will not need him. Kazuhiko swore to look after him at the beginning, when he looked no older than Suu does now, so Ran will have somewhere to go if he remains content to be contained after. It is unfortunate that this time he will not be able to ensure dignity or a lack of mess, but he does not want to deny Suu or Ran a chance at happiness by mentioning unwelcome consequences. He regrets that Ran will learn that even his limited freedom has come at such a cost.
But Ran is watching him with a bemused look.
“I noticed the kill switch as soon as it was implanted, Gingetsu. Tech like that is unmistakable. It’s no longer a factor.”
That is nothing Gingetsu expected to hear; it doesn’t explain why black ops hasn’t broken down his door to finish things instead or why the Wizards haven’t moved directly, but all evidence points to Ran being correct. So, Ran has always known, and it’s safe to live out their days. Very well.
“In that case, there is one other concern. There are ten leaves in this room, and five was enough for the Wizards to demand a fail-safe. Nothing will be sufficient to make them trust that we don’t intend to interfere.”
“Power increases exponentially with each additional leaf. Like you said, there are ten here. And the one lesson I think we’ve all learned very well from the Clover Project is not to want for ourselves. A pity they forgot to teach us how not to want things for each other.”
Ran looks at Suu, who has drawn into herself, shutting them all out in her sorrow. Kazuhiko and Oruha hover over her uncertainly. Gingetsu notices that they are holding hands, as though after so long apart, they have to touch. If it weren’t Kazuhiko, he might even find them sweet. As it is, it’s a strange combination of mildly sickening and gratifying. At least those two have emerged from this little debacle less broken than they were at the start.
For the first time, Gingetsu tries addressing Suu. She knows the power he holds as General Koh’s head of black ops. Maybe she’ll listen if he tells her that this private rebellion is possible. Probably not, but it’s worth a try.
“Suu–” He pauses for a moment, gropes for the right words, “I think we, all of us together, can keep each other safe. If just Ran can protect me well enough that he’s only contained by his own will, and if you believe as much as he does in leaving people to their own devices, I think you can take a little happiness. Ten leaves should be enough that we can manage that without having to fight for it.”
He’s not sure if that last promise is true, but Suu and Ran will both shatter utterly if the price of their freedom is the slaughter of endless enemies. Still, ten leaves, when four is enough to destroy the Wizards, should be sufficient to forestall hopeless attempts. Well, other than Bols, but that kill will be a positive pleasure for both Gingetsu and Kazuhiko.
General Koh picks then to call, of course. He should not be surprised by her timing, just as they’ve openly admitted to contemplating outright rebellion, but he sometimes likes to forget how closely he and Ran are watched. He excuses himself and leaves the room to take it. He hasn’t forgotten what both Ran and Suu admitted about their command over sound waves, but he hopes they’re too preoccupied to listen if things inevitably careen toward disaster.
“Commander Gingetsu. I see C has been busy lately.”
“Call him Ran. And yes, General. It has been a surprising couple of days.”
“You mean to see this course of action through, then?”
“Very well. You’re right, you know. Ten leaves is too many for us to hope to control. You get your lives and your years with the children, unless you make yourselves impossible to ignore.”
“Thank you, General.” He could swear the old woman sounds faintly approving, as though this is a much hoped-for occurrence rather than a disaster. It’s unexpected, and explains a very great deal about the lack of black ops and other assassination attempts. He hadn’t accounted for the possibility that Koh loves the Clover children.
When he returns to his living room, he can see from everyone’s expressions that Ran and Suu must have been eavesdropping. Much as he had hoped they wouldn’t, given the content of the conversation and Suu’s greatly relaxed demeanor he can’t be unhappy that they did.
Suu is the first to break the silence, “Outside the cage, I have about three years. That’s more than enough when spending them like this means I have my happiness.”
There’s nothing much anyone can say to that. Kazuhiko and Oruha don’t even try, just pull her into another, less desperate hug.
Even Ran seems to have run out of clever ideas. It’s no surprise; Gingetsu knows he was aware of his rapid aging from the start, and two years of his five are already gone. He and Suu will die together.
It’s Oruha, the least versed of them all save Kazuhiko in the power wielded by Clovers, who, unexpectedly, asks, “If ten leaves together are so powerful, can we fix that?”
It is, Gingetsu thinks, a good question. It had only taken seven leaves to bring the dead back to life, after all. Surely a little aging is nothing in comparison.
Ran and Suu exchange an excited, ecstatic look. A weight he barely remembered existed lifts from Gingetsu. He no longer faces an imminent life without Ran. He reaches out at last, pulls Ran into a hug, for once not caring enough about Kazuhiko’s accusations of cradle robbing to be more discreet. Ran leans against him contentedly. Gingetsu guesses that if General Koh is alone, she is probably openly smiling now, an expression that, as far as he knows, no one has ever seen on her face.
The four-leafed clover.
I only want your happiness, and
At last I can be yours to share it.