[Author's note: This fic is set some years after the end of the CLAMP School anime. It's probably necessary to have seen the last seven episodes in order to follow it. (If you don't know who Idomu is, you're almost certainly going to be lost.) Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story. Special thanks go to K-chan, for putting up with my manic multiple drafts and making all my crypticness a little clearer. Any murkiness that remains is my own damn fault. Please enjoy! And, as always, comments are most welcome.]
By Natalie Baan
He knew from the moment he walked in through the door of the High School Division Student Council Room. Unease was in the set of Suoh's shoulders, in the subtly hooded gold eyes. Nokoru offered his "good morning"s cheerfully, smiling as he took the day's schedule from the Secretary, then glanced past the other young man to blink at his desk. "Eh? Those are...."
"Flowers," Suoh supplied. As though realizing that was terse even for him, he added, "They were delivered this morning from one of the Campus flower shops. With this." A small white card appeared between his fingers; he proffered it to Nokoru. "The sender was unidentified."
"Ah?" Nokoru glanced at the card. It read "To Imonoyama Nokoru-kun" in a lady's elegant handwriting--but that meant nothing, for he recognized the refined, stylized script as belonging to one Murasaki Yoshiko, who worked in Tokonatsu no Hana, one of the Campus's best flower shops. He had employed them often himself, ordering arrangements to decorate various events and to send as gifts; he was more than familiar with their staff. Slowly he climbed the steps to his desk, laid the schedule on the blotter, and looked at the bouquet in the crystal vase: flat heads of tiny flowers in shades of dark apricot and cream.
/Achillea millefolium/...more commonly known as yarrow.
As he settled into his deep leather chair, Akira appeared by his side, placing a steaming cup of tea on the desk, just like every morning. "I wonder if they're from one of Kaichou's admirers?" the Treasurer mused, sounding a bit subdued. Suoh shook his head.
"Everyone on the Campus knows Kaichou's policy toward flowers from the ladies. They all go to the hospital, no exceptions. The flower shop would have sent them directly. " It had become necessary, unfortunately, as he'd grown older and his "fan club" had expanded--there was hero worship from the elementary to high school divisions now, and even the university ladies had begun to take notice of him, which meant that the median spending money of his admirers had also increased. There was still a deluge of orders on his birthday, more as a gesture than anything else; if he hadn't been gently firm about not accepting any flowers for himself it would be a strain on the florists all year long. If a woman /had/ sent these flowers, she would have been confirmed for certain as someone from outside the Campus.
And if not....
Swiveling around in his chair, Nokoru faced the desk and picked up the cup of tea. "Ah, thank you, Akira!" He took a savoring sip, then set the cup down, smiling at the other two. "Everyone, let's get to work!" Suoh's jaw slackened almost imperceptibly, betraying surprise at his enthusiasm; Akira blinked at him uncertainly before hesitantly echoing his smile. Nokoru picked up his stamp and the top sheet of the first pile next to his desk. He began to go steadily through the paperwork, fully aware that his behavior was setting off all kinds of alarms with Suoh--but if he let his mind wander as usual he'd only find himself staring distractedly at those flowers.
Somehow, he suspected that would trouble Suoh more.
* * * * *
/Nokoru pelted along the path, sprinting for the center of the park that lay at the heart of the Campus. He gasped for air, clutching at a stitch in his side. No time to collect Suoh, who was couriering disks to the school's computer center for him, or Akira, who was teaching an afternoon cooking class at the university. He'd finally tracked down the worm that had infected the middle school's computer system during the last twenty-four hours, leaving a trail of quirky, frustrating glitches behind it. He'd found the puzzle in its code, had unraveled the clues that led him step by step to a file deep within the main school network--
--an access log for a part of the Campus that even he knew only as "Top Secret"--
--and he was running, running to see for himself, because everything related to that place was either tampered with and unreliable or else beyond his security clearance as the youngest member of the Imonoyama family. He bounded up the shallow steps, flanked by twin kirin statues, reached the wide paved terrace at the top--
A mist of water hid the statue at the center of the fountain, just as it always did. He stopped, one hand pressed against his chest as if it could still the rapid beating of his heart. At the edge of the compass pool, a slim young man turned to face him, hands clasped casually behind that figure's back. Sunlight flamed over auburn hair, lit glinting green and laughing eyes. Nokoru straightened in shock.
* * * * *
Nokoru tapped the sheaf of papers against the desk, aligning its edges, then laid the neatened pile down on the desk. "Is it okay if I go now, Suoh?" he asked wheedlingly, giving his second-in-command a soulful look. After the industry of the morning, he'd let himself run amuck a little following lunch, at least in part to soothe SuohÕs concerns. Nonetheless, a rather extraordinary amount of work had gotten done. Suoh nodded with a slight smile, probably not fooled at all but taking pity on him anyway, pleased with the progress they'd made.
"I suppose so," Suoh allowed, "but Kaichou, I hope you're going to pick up like this again in the morning. If not, maybe I should keep you here to work while this fit of madness lasts." Nokoru laughed weakly and waved, escaping down the steps. "Do you want me to walk you home?" Suoh asked, and Nokoru paused, looking back at the other who stood silhouetted against the haze of late daylight coming in through the tall office windows.
"Don't bother, Suoh," he answered at last, smiling up at his friend and protector. "You have other things to be doing. And I'll be fine. There won't any danger tonight. Not like that time." Slipping out of the office, he closed the door.
/Like that time./ Six years on, and Suoh still grew tense at any reminder. Ostensibly he'd forgiven that brief reign of terror, setting it aside like a civilized person as something that was over and done, but Nokoru knew that something primal in Suoh would never forget. It didn't help that Yuudaiji Idomu's last visit to the Campus had been a miniature repetition of the first. But even without the impetus of revenge, Idomu was the sort of person who reveled in challenges, in elaborate mental games that dared others to best him.
Perhaps people never really changed, Nokoru reflected.
Leaving the student government building behind, he made his way across the Campus. There were plenty of other walkers: kids going home from after-school clubs and activities, teachers leaving their offices, other Campus workers moving to and from jobs. He smiled and nodded, answering the various greetings as he passed. Turning at last onto a less-traveled side route, he walked slowly along the length of the music building. The sound of far off singing reached him, some choir running late with its practice. Partway down the path, he paused in the angled shadow of a tree. He gazed up at a particular window on the second floor, as though the memory that arose in his mind might be replaying there.
* * * * *
"So you don't know what that place is for either." Idomu's long hands glided over the keyboard, selecting a note here, a note there, fragments of melody, carelessly strung together and yet compelling. Nokoru shook his head.
"No, I don't." Leaning against the window ledge, he drew one leg up, tapping his folded fan against his knee. "Please try to respect our Campus's security in this matter, Idomu-kun," he added, smiling. "Otherwise we might have to hire you--and between your sense of humor and the Chairperson's, I don't know what would ever become of this school."
Idomu laughed out loud, the sound rising light and genuine above the music. "Somehow I doubt your family would hire a son of the Yuudaiji family," he remarked more quietly, his tone ironic, although it lacked any particular edge. "Even if he is currently out of favor." Nokoru lifted his shoulders in a small, noncommital shrug. Outside, a warm breeze whispered among the leaves of a nearby tree, crept in through the open window to touch the back of his hand.
"Then your father still hasn't accepted your decision to study the piano," Nokoru said after an interval, and Idomu closed his eyes, his mouth curving upward in wry amusement. The music found its theme at last: an intricate, complex play that gradually drew all those lone threads together.
"No," the boy replied. "And that's why, after I finish this two-week performance tour, I'll be going back to school in Europe." Nokoru watched the graceful, skilled rhythm of those fingers, tanned and sure, as they moved across the ivory keys.
"I'm sorry," he murmured at last.
"Don't be." The passage spiraled back to its starting place and ended with a definite chord. Both hands on the keyboard, Idomu turned around on the bench. He smiled into Nokoru's eyes, his expression intense, absolute and unwavering. "Because of you, I learned to pursue what I love."
* * * * *
From the top of the old clock tower, the heart of the Campus, Nokoru gazed out over the truly spectacular view. The setting sun swung low above Tokyo, a crimson pendant orb against a sky like brass. It had only been two weeks, the last time--but two weeks of excitement, of adventures and misadventures, he and Idomu egging each other on to new heights of playful competition and outright silliness. Nostalgia whispered to him of the fun they'd had, simple childhood pleasures shaded by a new complexity: Idomu's green eyes shifting between restlessness, gentle mockery, guileless surprise, a warmth like summer; the resonances of an otherwise ordinary gesture--/here, take hold of my hand./ Most of the time not occupied by school, concerts, or sleep had been spent together, to the detriment of student council work, of course. Perhaps that was why Suoh had been so disturbed by the mere reminder of Idomu's existence--or perhaps it was the memory of that safari incident, which had thrown the elementary school's summer picnic into chaos. Fortunately the cheetah Nagisa had encountered had proved to be perfectly tame....
Or perhaps it was simply those flowers, echoing their very first encounter: the original declaration of rivalry and opposition.
Nokoru leaned against the side wall of the tower's viewing platform. He watched the sun sink lower, his chest tightening a little, the anticipation of being on the edge of an unfolding riddle kindling similar fire inside his mind. "Yarrow" signified "battle," as Akira had once pointed out, but such symbolism was never really so cut-and-dried. There were double-sided interpretations, layered and interwoven meanings, and in one flower language "yarrow" held a different but not entirely unrelated challenge:/Are you in fact as unaware as you would seem?/
"No," Nokoru murmured. "Not then. And not now, certainly." The sun's curve brushed the horizon, casting red flame across the Campus buildings and trees. Inside the clock, slow gears caught and turned, inexorable, as the great bell began to toll the hour.
Touching his fan to his lips, Nokoru smiled.
* "Tokonatsu no Hana" = "Flowers of Everlasting Summer."
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