It had started out such a nice day, Nokoru Imonoyama, CLAMP Campus' High School Division class chairman, sighed as he stared vacantly at the umpteen-millionth proposal, making sure he understood the contents. He briefly contemplated dumping it in the wastebasket, but he knew that Suoh Takamura, CLAMP Campus' High School Division class secretary (and Nokoru's best friend), would check there first for anything Nokoru had "missed." He had this tendency to just know when Nokoru was trying to get out of the numerous pieces of paper that made up the bulk of his job--or so it came across to him. Granted, getting trips to Paris in the middle of the school year could not be accomplished by a mere wink and nod (not even for him), but the sheer number of forms seemed a trifle outrageous. Mentally throwing up his hands at the futility of concentration, he stared out the window in contemplation.
Yes, such a good day...I got Akira-kun and Suoh-kun to blush. He smiled at the memory. Granted, the former was not exactly hard to do, Akira Ijyuin, CLAMP Campus' High School Division class treasurer (and Nokoru's other best friend), had a tendency to blush easily, but it still was incredibly satisfying to watch. He still held his naiveté from his kindergarten years--something that Nokoru frequently wondered at. Especially considering that his girlfriend in middle school was incredibly...knowledgeable for one her age. Usually all it took was mentioning an upcoming "date" with "Utako-chan" (or just mentioning Utako-chan in general) and whoosh went the flames up his ears and down his neck.
Getting Suoh to blush...now there laid a challenge, and the blond chairman could never resist a challenge. Suoh seemed to be very easy to embarrass on the subject of Nagisa Azuya, the beautiful flautist who he had saved that one day all those years back when she was in kindergarten. He actually was easy to embarrass when discussing anything relationship or crush-oriented, if one worked hard enough. Which, of course, Nokoru had never been one to slough off on work--paperwork nonwithstanding. He took great delight in trying to tease his way into getting a stammered disclaimer from Suoh, while his friend's face was burning red.
He also hates to be embarrassed, Nokoru reflected, wincing. He didn't have to tie me to my chair. Or the chair to the desk...or lock the door--all to do this bloody paperwork! Chalking it up to needing to loosen his friend up more, along with Souh's rather vindictive streak, he heaved another sigh, and looked down at his desk to see what was next in the never-shrinking stack. To his astonishment, there was nothing sitting anywhere that was marked "to be read/signed." Glancing over at the proposal he had been reading, he picked it up, skimmed the last page, stamped it with his signature, and tossed it into the "complete" pile. He gave a bright smile, and opened his mouth to call Suoh in to untie him, when the blue haired secretary unlocked and opened the door, entering the room--with an envelope in his hands. What looked to be an official envelope.
"No," Nokoru groaned, and dropped his head onto his hands--braced by his elbows on his desk. "Not another one...Go away, Suoh-kun--wait, untie me first, then go away," he commanded, voice muffled by his hands. Suoh rolled his eyes.
"Honestly, chairman, one would think we're back in elementary school again, rather than in our last years of high school." Nokoru lifted his head long enough to fix Suoh with a glare, before dropping his golden head back into his hands. With a small sigh of his own, Suoh walked over and placed the envelope on Nokoru's desk. He then pulled one of Nokoru's arms out from under him, causing the blonde's head to fall forward. Before it could hit the desk however, Suoh placed his other hand on Nokoru's forehead, effectively stopping its descent. He was treated to another baleful look from under Nokoru's bangs. He inwardly stifled an exasperated sigh, long since used to the soulful looks directed his way when the chairman wanted to avoid doing anything. Seeing that his mournful stare was ineffective, Nokoru moved his head from Suoh's hand and let it thud satisfyingly onto the desk below.
"I hate you," he grumbled into his desk. Suoh nodded, unaffected (as usual, Nokoru snarled inwardly), and turned to leave. He paused momentarily, looking back down at the blond's head.
"Oh, and by the way. If the scent of the envelope is anything to go by, I would say that it is not paperwork." Nokoru snorted inelegantly, muttering under his breath about the Middle School Division's chairman having a distinct affectation for heavy perfumes. Suoh merely leveled a Look at him, one that clearly stated that even if it was more of the dastardly paperwork, it was still getting done. Today. Nokoru, realizing that there was no escaping, sighed heavily before nodding. Smirking slightly, he patted the top of the blond's head, leaving Nokoru staring after him as the door closed firmly.
Well then, he thought, steeling himself, here we go. Leaning forward, he took a tentative sniff.
The scent was lighter than he had originally expected--meaning that the Middle School Division was out. It also hopefully meant that it was an invitation of some sort. Those he could respond to with ease--and several years of practice. Spirits slightly higher, he still opened the letter carefully--although with Suoh also acting as his bodyguard, it wasn't really necessary. He knew that if it were a dangerous anything Suoh would have known before now--somehow--destroyed it, found out who sent it, and then made sure they'd never send anything to Nokoru (and most likely anyone else) ever again.
Ah, the advantages of having a ninja as a bodyguard. Opening the envelope revealed a letter. The blonde stifled a groan. Oh no...not another love letter! When will these women learn that I'm not interested right now... Knowing that there was no turning back, he grimly set his sights forward and began the weary task of reading some mindless drivel about how lovely he was or how brilliant he was (etc. etc. ad nauseum.)
Being fully aware as I am about your receiving similar letters of this nature, I will spare you all the nonsense of "wanting to marry you and have your children" or other such rubbish--
At least she has a sense of humor as well as common sense, which most of my admirers never seem to have in these letters, Nokoru chuckled appreciatively. He read on further, beginning to enjoy the dry humor and random bits of wit in the letter. The writer only got mushy once, towards the beginning, but it was bearable. Refreshingly straightforward in fact. The last paragraph caught his eye in particular:
I also offer you a challenge and a mystery, both of which I know you will never pass up. I challenge you to find out who I am, for the fun of it if nothing else. Good luck to you, Nokoru-sama.
Nokoru's mouth dropped open in shock. He carefully reread the whole letter to make sure that he had read it correctly. Seeing that it indeed did say what he thought it did and no, his mind was not playing tricks on him, he reread it again to see if there were any clues about the girl in particular. Few people, much less admirers put this much effort into maintaining his interest. He usually was treated to the obligatory flirting, fawning, and flattery, followed by the assumption that he would clearly fall into the waiting arms of whatever poor sap was attempting the wooing.
This girl appears to at least have tried to get to know me. The whole letter is designed to keep me interested, rather than just spouting that she loves me and wants to marry me. She even makes fun of that concept in letters! She seems to be someone I could have as a good friend if nothing else, and she knows I can't resist a challenge, much less a mystery... He quickly decided that whoever this girl was, he was going to pursue the lead. If nothing else, he may gain a welcome friend to the three he already had. Who knows, he chuckled, maybe she'll be the perfect match for Suoh. Goodness knows he loves his puzzles as much as I do! That thought however, brought about the swift realization that being tied to one's chair and desk was rather counter-productive in solving said mystery. Enough was enough. Glaring at the door, he deliberately raised his voice and called:
"Suoh-kun!!" His bodyguard's blue head popped in, quickly assessing any possibly risks that had possibly arisen in the scant hour that he had been in the room next door. Nokoru rolled his eyes. He appreciated the fact that he was a high-profile target, but what could possibly go wrong in an hour while he was tied to a chair in the next room?!
"Yes?" Suoh queried innocently, after no threats had presented themselves. He was inwardly smirking at the obvious scowl on the chairman's face, and knew that the blond was only going to get more irritated as the conversation wore on. Nokoru gestured angrily to his desk.
"I finished the damn paperwork, now untie me!" he growled, causing Suoh to smother no small amount of humour. "It's not funny!" the blond protested, and Suoh could well imagine steam coming from between his One's ears. "Yes, it is. The smartest person in the world...the one man that everyone wants the brainpower of, can't figure out how to untie a bow?" At which point, Suoh lost his tenuous hold on his laughter, and almost doubled over with mirth. Watching his second in command, Nokoru began to do his best impression of a fish, mouth opening and closing several times before he shook himself.
"Wha--you--I don't believe you! All this time and I could have gone free?!" Nokoru was, at this point, torn between righteous indignation at the wounding of his pride, and satisfaction at making his bodyguard laugh with such abandon. Suoh rarely let his barriers down long enough to do more than smile at any given time.
"Not exactly," Suoh replied, after regaining control of his laughter. He gestured towards the door as he set himself to neatening the stacks of paper in front of the blond. "That really was locked." Another smirk. "But I'm sure a man of your considerable intellect would have figured out a way to pick the lock." Deftly collecting the now tidy stack of forms, Suoh started for the door. "Or you could have asked Akira-kun to help you," he continued, ignored the glare shot at him from Nokoru. He watched with a certain amount of amusement as the blond struggled to get free from the rope.
"Like that would have helped," Nokoru replied waspishly. "You would have merely told him to ignore anything coming out of the office unless it was an obvious that I was in trouble. And," he added, looking sourer still, "if I had tried to make it sound like I was in trouble, you'd have rushed in to save me anyway, defeating the point of bypassing you." Suoh gave a small, mocking bow while Nokoru eyed him with continuing disfavor. "Whatever happened to the respectful bodyguard I knew in my primary years?" he wondered aloud. Suoh snorted.
"He grew up and realized that his charge has a knack of getting into trouble, politeness or no, and that he also likes to take advantage of that politeness to get out of doing his obligations." Suoh waved the stack of papers in his hand for emphasis. Nokoru's eyes grew large and watery, his lower lip starting to tremble.
"How could you think such cruel things of me, Suoh-kun?" he asked, tone wounded. Suoh rolled his eyes.
"Spare me," he muttered, turning back to the door.
"Fine, fine," the blond said, obviously realizing he had pushed the game as far as it would go--this time. "I still think that you are spreading horrid lies about my character, and I still hate you for this," he holds up the rope, having finally escaped its evil clutches, "but I want to know something: did you see who dropped this letter in the inbox this morning?" he asked, pointing to the one envelope still on his desk. An eyebrow went up as Suoh's shoulders tensing, posture straightening, and his face closed off back to its habitual, bland mask. Nokoru sighed inwardly. He liked it when Suoh relaxed around him, and watching that ease go back out of his stance made his heart hurt a little. But then, navigating Suoh's defenses was a bit like plodding along a proverbial minefield.
"No, chairman," the secretary answered curtly, all business. "I had more important things to attend to this morning than watching one of your many admirers drop off another love letter."
Nokoru blinked. That...was strangely curt. Even for Suoh. It wasn't that the bodyguard was abrasive or hostile, he just did not seem to find any use for the "social niceties" as it were. Still, it was unheard of for Suoh to be quite that blunt or short with him. Exasperated, even annoyed, yes, but not that...distant. Apparently I've struck a nerve, he mused.
"Ah, yes, I suppose you did," he replied sardonically, flicking his gaze to the rope, then the signed forms in Suoh's hand. The tension in the air around them thickened, as Suoh looked away towards the door, unable to find a suitable response.
"Chairman, Suoh-kun, I've made up some lunch for us, if you would care to come out and eat it."
Akira, as always, has the world's best timing, Nokoru reflected, watching the tension leech back out of Suoh's shoulders. The treasurer poked his head into the office, wide eyes taking in the tableau before him.
"Are you finished with all your paperwork, chairman?" he asked warily, eyeing Suoh, whose posture still held remnants of the heavy moment just before. He studied the ninja's face for a moment, trying to pick out what might have happened from behind the bland mask that Suoh always wore. Mentally throwing up his hands, he quickly brought in the boxes he had made up, along with two carafes of tea. Setting a box in front of Nokoru, he turned and smiled at Suoh. "I made us all unagi," he said sunnily. "You're favourite, if I recall, right?" A slight smile appeared on the secretary's face, and he nodded once. Akira knew better than to ask if all was well, as not only would Suoh clam up further and deny that any problem existed, he'd more than likely make up some excuse or other to go out to the outer offices and glare at the inboxes, as was his wont of late. Akira sighed lightly.
"Oh, Akira-kun?" Nokoru asked after pausing a few moments in his eating.
"I received a most intriguing letter this morning, and was wondering if you would be willing to conduct an analysis on the handwriting later." Akira watched as Suoh's posture stiffened once more, and gave a small inward groan.
Of course. He knew that particular tell of his friend's, and it could only mean one of two things: either the chairman had received a threatening letter that he wasn't taking seriously enough, or more likely, he had received a love letter that he was taking entirely too serious. Akira well knew that Suoh had feelings for the chairman. He personally believed all of CLAMP School knew Suoh had feelings for the chairman, with the exception, of course, of the chairman himself. He also knew that Suoh would never admit them aloud to anyone. He wasn't sure if it was fear of rejection or if there was something in his oath to protect Nokoru that was stopping him, though knowing Suoh, it was probably a combination of both, compounded with his stoic, self-sacrificing nature.
"Is it a threatening letter?" he finally asked, somewhat tentatively, almost hoping that it was the case. "I mean, if it is, shouldn't you let Suoh handle it? After all, he is your bodyguard, and every bit as qualified--"
"Nothing so dramatic, Akira-kun," Nokoru replied, waving his hand dismissively. "A love letter is all," he continued merrily, missing entirely a quick look from Akira to Suoh. "I received it this morning, and well, it's different from all the other ones I've received." Akira gave an internal wince.
"Different, chairman?" he couldn't help asking.
"She didn't sign it. And she challenged me to find out who she is!" the chairman said, gesturing sharply with his chopsticks, near-missing Suoh's nose. The ninja glared at him, shifting a few more inches away from the excited blond. "You know I can't back down to that," Nokoru finished, flashing a smirking grin at the treasurer.
"Oh, of course not, chairman," Akira responded, voice growing dryer at each word. "Far be it from you to turn down a challenge." He ignored the dirty look Nokoru gave him as he shot Suoh another questioning look, noticing that the energy around his friend had shifted from uncomfortable to slightly nervous. Nokoru unfortunately noticed his concern, and directed his attention fully back to the secretary, much to Suoh's dismay.
"Ne, Suoh-kun, no barbs about my insatiable curiosity? Are you sure you're feeling well?" he asked, bringing one joking hand up to feel Suoh's forehead. Lightning quick, the other teen brought his hand up, grabbing the blond's wrist in a tight grip. Nokoru blinked. "...Suoh-kun?" he asked quietly, the teasing, the love letter--even Akira forgotten. The tension in the room spiked again around them, and he watched as Suoh's golden eyes dilated slightly before his hand was dropped quickly back to the table, Suoh retreating behind his walls once more with nothing more than a small, bland smirk.
"I thought Akira-kun was doing a good enough job of it, chairman," he replied evenly, taking another bite of rice. Nokoru rolled his eyes heavenwards, not sure if he should be grateful in the diffusion of the tension or annoyed that Suoh was dodging him again. Deciding on grateful, he hammed up the effect by adopting another wounded stare.
"The fates are against me, I swear it!" he cried dramatically, flopping back into his chair. He could tell Suoh was mentally rolling his eyes, as Akira began to snicker softly. "No respect," he muttered under his breath, pouting into his lunch.
"I didn't realize that you had joined the drama club," Suoh said dryly, reaching across the table to pour himself another cup of tea. "What with the melodrama," he continued, taking a sip. Blinking, he set down the cup and grabbed the soy sauce, adding a small amount into the tea. "It's jasmine tea," he said defensively, seeing Nokoru's stare. "The soy sauce helps bring out the sweetness of the tea!"
"If you say so," the blond muttered, eyeing the cup dubiously. Suoh refrained from rolling his eyes, as he picked up his tea, taking a sip. Akira, sensing a lull in the conversation, began to question Nokoru about the latest proposal for the current year's High School Division talent show. It was a never-ending struggle to allot enough funds for something truly entertaining, without becoming "overly extravagant," as Nokoru once put it. (Which from Nokoru, that meant something.) As usual, the debate hinged on whether or not each performer was entitled to the amount of funding listed. Akira usually debated on the side of allowing every person to shine, while Nokoru firmly sat on the side of asking if one singer really needed 20 back-up vocals. It was something that puzzled Suoh no end, as Nokoru was notorious for being extravagant to the point of utter ridiculousness. Hearing the blond argue for caution and prudence never failed to make him check for a double somewhere.
"Therefore, if we only offer $1000 and a free vacation anywhere in the world for one week, we will be saving about $4000," Akira stated proudly, pulling Suoh back to the here and now. He noticed Nokoru nodding slowly, looking over the figure sheet in front of him. He was quite taken aback however, when the blond's eyes snapped up suddenly to meet with his.
It wasn't that he and Nokoru had never looked at one another before. Nor that they hadn't had stare-downs--it was one of the more effective ways of getting the blond to actually do what he was supposed to. But those long looks/staring sessions had never felt this charged before. It was almost like a crackle of strange energy between them, as cliché as it sounded. Then Nokoru smiled, and somehow the effect was broken. Suoh blinked a few times before snorting softly, and returning to the remaining portion of rice in the bowl beside him. Finishing, he grabbed a napkin, only to notice that Nokoru was once again staring at him.
"Is my chewing so interesting, chairman?" he asked mildly, refusing to be unnerved. He had, over the years together, seen every side possible of Nokoru. Nothing at this point should unnerve him. Especially one trained as he was by the Takamura family. It was a point of pride to defend his One. He knew he was one of the youngest in his family's history to have found such an honour. Something his mother loved to point out to him during her "teas."
"Only that you seem to be mulling over that last bite like a cow would over the last bite of grass, before heading back to the barn," Nokoru replied, smirking slightly. The ninja snorted, putting his dishes together on the tray in front of him.
"As if you'd know anything about cows," he retorted, standing and picking up his tray. "Or barns for that matter," he fired back over his shoulder as he dropped off the tray on the trolley near the door. He heard Akira snicker, and allowed himself a small smile in response.
"Well, if you are going to be difficult," Nokoru sniffed, "I more important things to do today--"
"Like signing the proposal that's in front of you, once I've written it up?" Suoh asked dryly. Nokoru cringed, giving the ninja a wounded look. Suoh merely raised an eyebrow in response, glancing towards to office meaningfully. He hoped his look conveyed the willingness and ability to tie Nokoru to his chair again to complete the rest of his paperwork for the day. The blond, apparently having received the messaged loudly and clearly, sighed in vexation, before a bright grin flashed across his face. Suoh had learned long ago to be wary of that grin, for what usually followed got Nokoru (and by extension him) into the worst of their troubles.
"I almost forgot!" Nokoru exclaimed, bouncing out of his seat. He dashed for the office, returning quickly with a familiar envelope. Suoh savagely tried to execute every one of the butterflies that had taken up residence in his stomach. He had hoped to make a convenient exit before this bit of disaster struck. He spared a moment to wonder at his odds of making his escape now, before writing it off as a lost cause. If, by some miracle, Akira let the letter slide under the radar, his abrupt departure would be like waving the proverbial red cape at the equally proverbial bull. He watched with building dread as Akira carefully opened the envelope, pulling out the letter. The treasurer gave it a cautious sniff, eyebrows lifting.
"Not the usual flowery scent," he commented, glancing over at Suoh, who suppressed the urge to flinch. Not that Nokoru noticed. His attention was firmly focused on Akira. "If I were to make a guess, this scent could easily have come from a man's cologne, rather than a woman's perfume."
"Huh," Nokoru said faintly, his face bemused. "I hadn't considered the possibility of it being a man." Suoh could practically hear the gears turning in his head, and braced himself for the realization coming.
"Whoever wrote this knows you very well," Akira continued, breaking the blond's concentration, effectively switching that focus away from the perfume/cologne question. Suoh allowed himself a small sigh of relief. "It is definitely different from other letters of this type you've had me look at," he said, a smile crossing his face. "Are you going to pursue the matter?"
"Of course I'm going to pursue it!" Nokoru declared, frowning slightly at the treasurer. "It's a mystery and a dare. I can't just let it go," he continued, before muttering "and they know it." He sighed once, rubbing a hand over his face, fingers trailing through his hair. "Did the writing style or the penmanship give anything away?" Akira frowned, looking over the letter more carefully. Suoh tensed again.
"No, chairman," Akira said slowly, putting the letter back down. "The author of this letter went to great pains to disguise any hints as to their identity. It could be just about anyone."
"A true mystery then," Nokoru mused, face beginning to take on a look that both Suoh and Akira were familiar with. All that was needed was the slightly manic look in the chairman's eyes, and they would have the blond in full-out sleuth mode.
"It would appear," Suoh drawled, trying for all the world to will his voice to sound steadier than he felt it was. He had somehow gotten away with it, and now had Nokoru interested in him--though Nokoru certainly didn't know that. Now to just keep the blond busy long enough to get things in place for the next step. He schooled his face back into its customary look of bland indifference before asking: "I suppose it would be too much to hope for you to look over those proposal forms after I've typed them then?"