[Author's note: This was inspired by a sudden, inexplicable mental image of Nokoru facing off against Fuuma ("Ooh, cool!...now how would that work?") and further inspired by remembering and rereading K-chan's fic "Blood Bound." Thanks to K-chan and Shanti for prereading comments! Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story.]
A CLAMP Campus Detectives fanfic
By Natalie Baan
Unhurried, he sprang street lamp to street lamp, touching down and then leaping again in a long, high arc, knowing himself to be a shadow appearing and disappearing against the still-dark predawn sky, his coat flapping almost inaudibly in the breeze of his passing. He took no special care to remain unnoticed. It would make no difference anyway; he'd felt a subtle attention lingering about him for a while, an awareness other than sight or hearing, as though the air itself transmitted his presence like a spider's web, shivering to each touch. The causeway beneath him, one of a number that bridged the canal separating CLAMP Campus from the rest of Tokyo, was empty of cars or walkers at this hour. He paused halfway across, balancing on a lamp's crossbar, and gazed for a long time at the rolling treetops and upthrust buildings that lay ahead. They rose against the dull sky, the weak glimmer of scattered stars. Brighter stars gleamed lower in the darkness: street lights, security lights, the windows of the very earliest risers. All was still; the lapping of water under the causeway, the whisper as a small breath of early morning wind shivered the nearest trees then let them fall motionless once more, the far-off hoot of a train's horn were the only sounds. He searched for something familiar--he'd been here once before, but it had been in daylight. Only the feel was the same, the unusual aliveness, the sense of a place apart. At last he moved forward again--one leap, another, and then a third that ended with him alighting in the center of the roadway. He began to walk, boot heels clicking quietly on the pavement.
As he drew closer to the opening where the road passed into the Campus, the details of the figure that stood just inside the wall, apparently waiting for him, grew more clear. The long, dove gray coat with an asymmetrical closure, fastened with an elaborate frog--he remembered it. The coat's skirt was swept back on one side, the man's hand resting in the pocket of matching gray slacks. Even in the bland glow of the streetlights, the golden hair shone true; the gaze of those dark-lashed blue eyes was level and serene, and a hint of a smile touched the finely shaped mouth. Far back from the entrance, a black car was parked, and two other figures stood near it, tensely watching. As long as they remained where they were, they were of little significance.
Raising his head, the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth, once "Fuuma," smiled back at the Chairman of CLAMP Campus.
It took all of Suoh's self-control to hold himself back. Though he didn't move from where he stood every muscle quivered on a deep level with the strain of it, like a bow drawn to the limit of what wood and gut could bear. Peripherally he was aware of Akira close by, distressed, almost as tense, uncertain but keeping his position also. Suoh didn't let the other's presence distract him. Instead he focused hard on the tableau by the Northwest Gate, as though he might by sheer concentration manage to read some minute gesture or shift in body language, might see trouble before it happened and know that he could do something to defend against it, that by some miracle he could get there in time and it would be all right--
The one person that he wanted to protect was in danger, and he wasn't at Nokoru's side.
"We're going to have a visitor to the Campus," Nokoru had told them. Standing by the parked car, he'd looked past them both into some night-hidden distance, his gaze abstracted, the way it sometimes was when his thoughts were off wandering their own convoluted path, but there'd been a barely perceptible undercurrent of urgency to him, to those low, clipped words, that was atypical. "I'm going to go down to meet him. I want both of you to stay by the car. Whatever happens, do not get between him and me--/do not./" He'd focused on them then, and on Suoh in particular, with the abruptness of a blow--steel in those blue eyes, the fierce acuity that Suoh had seen rarely, only when Nokoru was pushed too far, to the edge of real anger, and in spite of himself he'd quailed a little, surprised and disconcerted at having that look turned on him. Almost at once, Nokoru's expression had softened, becoming almost sad. "It will only make things more dangerous," he'd added more quietly. Tilting his head, he'd smiled at Suoh with a faint, gentle ruefulness. "Please."
/Damn/ the man for having a line straight to the core of Suoh's being, past all logic or sanity. The protection of a Takamura could not be bought or commanded--but the trust and need in that plea would hold him, at least until the point of obviously imminent danger.
But where was the boundary between doing what his Chairman asked and holding back /too/ long?
Suoh stared with wolflike fixity at the tall, black-clad figure who had paused on the road just outside the open gateway. The height and breadth of shoulder were familiar, unaltered from the day they'd first seen him, before they'd known who he would turn out to be; so much else was different. Not merely his new style--the long, dark coat, wrapped about with straps and buckles, the carelessly windblown hair--but the way he carried himself spoke of profound change, the protectiveness and guileless concern of an older brother and friend transmuted into something brooding, contained yet dangerous, a strange mingling of immense force and emptiness, like a looming storm. Nokoru stood scant meters away from that threat, a little shorter, distinctly slighter, a too-fragile form that seemed to draw all the illumination to himself, his back turned to Suoh and Akira. Suoh's eyes flickered from his Chairman back to the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth--he started as he realized that the Kamui was looking directly at him. The distance was too far and the light too uncertain for Suoh to make out his expression clearly, but he appeared to be smiling. Suoh's lips drew back in answer, the muted beginnings of a snarl.
/Only give me a reason to do something,/ he prayed.
His mouth quirking with a subtly different smile, Fuuma began to move forward again, one measured stride and then the next, like the tick of a pendulum. He could feel the pressure building, desire teetering closer and closer to decision as he approached the gateway and the person who stood just within the walls. So little the provocation--so stubborn and desperate and blind the grip upon what was. He lifted his eyes to meet the still unfalteringly calm gaze of the Campus chairman, raised his foot for another step--
Energy sang in his mind like the opening of a multitude of flowers. A humming golden light burst up from the ground ahead of him, shooting skyward before curving in over the Campus, a vast, gentle arc that filled the gateway and followed the wall around until it faded into distance on either side. In moments a luminous dome of power had encompassed the school's grounds, its surface smooth and translucent as an unruffled skin of water.
Fuuma recoiled a deliberate pace, not alarmed but certainly more cautious. He studied that shining closely, probing its essence. A barrier of extraordinary size and as-yet indeterminate power--a kekkai, though not precisely the same as those of the Dragons of Heaven. After that first surge, its presence rested lightly on his senses; he was sure that such delicacy was deceptive, and that like the slim frame of his opposite, his twin star, this working possessed an unfathomable occult strength. He could feel the layerings of intention, the ties of blood and devotion, a patient, skillful shaping to the resonance of this site, all interwoven without flaw or disharmony. That the Campus had its protections didn't surprise him; it had been obvious that the whole place was built for magical purposes. He was here to test them, to learn what he could and see where the advantage might lie, and if he could overcome them tonight after all, so much the better. Yet though he'd arrived with no real expectations as to what he might find, something about this defense disquieted him. Was it the working's scale? Its complex depth? The indefinable quality of its energies, laced through with a quicksilver responsiveness that was almost like life? Perhaps it was the way all those elements, each one extraordinary, were combined.
/Definitely a learning experience,/ he thought wryly.
Drawing back another step, he held his hand out to one side in an almost languid gesture, called power to it, then flung that gathered energy at the barrier, a rolling lash, a broad, white dragon-wave. He struck with less than his full strength, but with enough force to shatter an ordinary magician's protections, to bring a city building down into dust. That crackling power broke against the barrier and furled back like a lily's petals--a flaring inflorescence, a subaudible howl and a flicker of void-black where those two forces met before his attack, unsustained, dispersed into a scatter of fading sparklike motes. In that instant, he knew two things. First and less important, he had the feel of the entirety of the kekkai, knew that it curved down under the earth as well, forming a seamless sphere that enclosed the entire Campus. Of more immediate interest, this wasn't merely some passive obstacle, a wall set up and left to itself to keep intruders out. There was consciousness here, a directed will and active attention.
He stared narrowly at the man on the other side of the barrier.
"Dragon of Heaven...Dragon of Earth." The man's voice was pitched low, outwardly grave yet with a hint of laughter in it. "But I am the 'Dragon' of this Campus, which stands outside the worlds yet touches all the worlds." A shift of weight, a tilt of the blond head--that smile, quiet and assured and dazzling as the not-yet-risen sun. "You cannot pass me."
Suoh jerked his arm against Akira's grip. Akira didn't release him but also didn't try to pull him back, and their momentary struggle stopped like that, returning by mutual agreement to a coiled, watchful stillness. Suoh's pulse pounded with frustrated adrenaline. He'd have leaped forward at the Kamui's first threatening gesture if Akira hadn't grappled him, and though nothing seemed to have happened he resented the restraint, would have thrown anyone else into the nearest tree, and it had been a damned close thing even with Akira. Only a long habit of trust and the instinct-deep knowledge that Akira was only being loyal to Nokoru's wishes and in fact probably hated this almost as much as he did had stopped him. He could feel Akira's tension, could sense the strain as Akira tried to split his attention between Nokoru and Suoh--it had to be very like the strain he felt, wanting so desperately to be able to focus on only one place. Any distraction could be deadly. And there was a strangeness in the air, a sourceless pressure he couldn't identify--it was like the intuition of an unseen danger, of a trap or an attacker nearby, a cold-hot prickle down his spine, a tightness underneath the skin. Was he picking up on the meeting of wills as those two looked at each other through the empty gateway? Was something about to happen? What were they doing?
"What is it?" Akira whispered as though talking to himself, his voice thready with something not far from panic as he echoed Suoh's thoughts. "This light--"
Imonoyama Nokoru, the Chairman of this CLAMP Campus. What he'd said was true--at any rate, Fuuma saw no reason to doubt his words. It was obvious enough that the school's leaders had prepared every aspect of it with an eye to the contingencies of the future.
But all the works of humans were subject to human frailties.
Fuuma let go the trammels of self, opening himself to reflect. The other's qualities glimmered in him like rays of daylight shimmering on a river's surface even as they passed through it to echo more diffusely in the depths. The unfurling sweep of intellect, irrepressibly expansive, always seeking to achieve something more, something new, not from ambition but with the natural exuberance of morning glories winding higher and higher, exploding into bloom. The love of science and technology, not for their own sakes but for what could be done with their discoveries to make life happier and more fun; the love of art, tradition, and the beauties of the natural world, not as abstract ideals but as part of the completeness of a human existence. The love of this Campus, where those two streams merged. Not as a symbol, a great institution, not even a home, but as an environment to move through, to be one with as a fish was one with water--a system that was endlessly complex, endlessly changing and evolving, its inhabitants ever new, each one unique and fascinating, special for itself. Images of people flickered past the mind's eye, an impossible number remembered in particular detail: faces, voices, the touch of hands, the incline of a head, a flourish of delicate handwriting, a trembling sadness, a suffusion of joy. A woman bending close as if to enfold him in her warmth, her perfume of lilies; another placing a doll on a mystic diagram and straightening, brushing back a fall of long, straight black hair. A princess with flashing eyes and a spirit of fireworks to match; a fairy in a rain of flowers, the wind catching her trailing kimono and the sonorant notes of her flute. A sly grin, a challenging green glance, the clasp of strong, artistic fingers, the scent of cedar and shade. A fan veiling a lady's eyes, a wickedly curving smile. This hovering gentleness, a faithful, giving warmth, the fragrant steam of tea and the taste of incomparable sweetness. That constancy like gravity, a strong presence as close as the heart's own beat. Almost, here or here, there was a catch, a snag of longing, but then it was gone, let go like a passing moment, like the release of a breath so that the next one could be drawn. Nothing possessed, nothing held onto--instead this unfaltering giving out for the happiness of others, this opening to the brightness of a wide, wide future--
Fuuma rocked back a half-step. Lowering his head, he looked sidelong at the Chairman.
"On the day that's to come, the Kamui of the Dragons of Heaven will take up the Holy Sword." Dawn was muting the sky to gray, thinning the kekkai's glow to a spangled dust mote haze, though its strength remained undiminished. The breeze freshened, stirred Fuuma's hair and the skirts of his coat. It didn't touch the Chairman, standing on the other side of that dimly luminous barrier. "Until that day, the Sword's power is sealed by the spell built into this Campus." The chairman smiled faintly. "Sorry, but it's out of your reach."
Already turning away, Fuuma paused, glanced back at the Imonoyama. "Do you believe that I came for the Sword?"
A sharper look then, blue eyes darkening almost to indigo--a short, penetrating stare before the chairman ducked his head, his shoulders shifting in a gesture that might have been a shrug, that evanescent smile returning to his lips, touched now with something like irony.
"The Sword is what I'm bound to protect," he said. "Beyond that charge, I have no power or right to interfere--though I can offer help, of course." He held his hands a little out from his sides, palms forward, closed his eyes, and for an instant Fuuma saw the slim, straight length of the Sword flickering through him like a star, a god's flame burning through the shadows of ordinary reality. "Until the Final Day, my role is only this--to hold the Holy Sword for Kamui."
For a moment longer, Fuuma studied the Chairman. Then, wordlessly, he finished his about-face and began to walk away. A lone, early seagull swept across the causeway in front of him, following the canal around toward the bay, white wings rowing against the lightening sky. At his back, the Campus loomed in its protections like a great still void, an untouched space of air around which storm winds turned.
/Until the Final Day,/ the Chairman had said.
And after that?
Suoh didn't quite sprint to his Chairman's side, but his strides were brisk enough to be only a little short of an outright run. He halted at Nokoru's shoulder, hands clenched into reflexive fists, and stared after that figure in black as it walked away down the very center of the causeway, moving without any sign of haste. It was early enough that there was still no traffic on the road; in any case, Suoh supposed it was too much to ask for that the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth be run over by a service truck. He felt Akira arrive, mere steps behind him, and then the three of them watched together as the Kamui dwindled into the distance, taking with him that aura of power and menace. It was like a shadow slowly lifting.
"/Rijichou,/" Suoh growled at last under his breath, in a tone he hadn't had to use since their school days, when the possible consequences of Nokoru's adventures had been a lot less direly perilous, "if you ever even /think/ about doing something like this again...."
"Sorry, Suoh!" And damn it, he /would/ be sorry, would genuinely regret having made Suoh and Akira worry--and it didn't mean he wouldn't do it again. Suoh scowled warningly at Nokoru, and Nokoru met his gaze with that understanding and apologetic little half-smile. "I wouldn't have put you through this, but I knew if I tried to come by myself the two of you would have just found out and followed me anyway, and then things would have really been dangerous, because you wouldn't have known...." Nokoru glanced along the causeway once more, but the Kamui had already disappeared.
"Thank you," Nokoru said then, and his voice was quieter, utterly serious now, "for waiting by the car, as I'd asked. If you'd faced him, he would have found a way to use your own wish against you. That's what he does." Suoh drew in a short, startled breath. The potential horror of it flashed before him, that the main purpose of his life, his desire to protect this one person could somehow be wielded as a weapon against him. Yet how could he /not/ pursue it?
And if Akira hadn't been there....
"But Kaichou," Akira said hesitantly, reverting to Nokoru's old title, as he sometimes did, "what about /your/ wish?"
Nokoru regarded Suoh and Akira for a long, seemingly thoughtful moment. Then he turned and gazed up at the nearby trees. The very highest leaves were already touched with light from the just-rising sun; they flashed a brilliant green-gold as the morning breeze touseled them. Nokoru smiled once more, his expression a complex weave of wistfulness, a quietly soaring joy, the shadow of a secret inner resolve.
"My wish," he murmured, "is that all that I love should be preserved."
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