[Author's note: This story is set during the summer of 1999, and contains vague spoilers for the Bad Stuff in books 8-9. I don't think it contradicts anything canonical. Thanks go to Beth, Kristin O., Maria, and Radine for supplying me with various translations of X 11. Kristin also gets the gold star for pointing out my oopses. The flashback quote from Seiichirou is from his character file, translated by Fuu, with one minor tweak from me for clarity. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story.]
An X fic
By Natalie Baan
Summer sun broiled down onto the high school's empty soccer field, a molten white-gold light. It brought with it a sweltering heat that seemed to cling everywhere on the body like a leaden physical weight. The air too was heavy, thick, car- and truck-fumed, distances blurring into the haze. Little wonder, then, that there was nearly no sign of life or motion. Even the birds and insects had apparently collapsed into somnolence, somewhere out of the sun's unrelenting glare.
Atop the low rise that flanked the athletic field, a young man let his notebook slump onto his lap. He leaned his head back against the tree trunk that supported him, closed his eyes. Above him, leaves rustled, a small stray breeze rippling them, making the edges of the tree's shade waver and change shape. The breeze touched the boy's face, ruffled sandy hair back from his forehead--it fanned at the collar and short sleeves of his white shirt, its movement cool against sweat-dampened skin.
Everywhere else but around him, the air remained perfectly still.
What cruel evil-genius bureaucrat had come up with the idea of having their exams in mid-July, Daisuke wondered fretfully. Why couldn't they end their year in June, like American schools? Who could even /think/ in this awful heat? He pried one eye open enough to squint disgustedly down at his notebook. Mathematical signs and formulae lay on the page, not quite in focus, their black lines as flat, inert, and meaningless as dried-up worm carcasses baked onto pavement.
Ugh. That image was so not inspiring him to study. Daisuke squinched his eye shut again.
Not that he liked June so much better. The rainy season was stifling in its own way, the weather already hot and humid, and the almost constant downpouring making him feel like he was shut up in a box with walls of water, an enclosure that couldn't be broken down or even defined clearly. Spring he liked well enough--the falling of cherry blossoms, of course, and later the trailing strands of wisteria, the thousand greens of recently opened leaves--but his favorite season had to be autumn. He couldn't wait for that sudden shift of clear, dry weather sweeping in out of the west, the airy stirrings of silver grass and bush clover, the yellow fans of gingko leaves caught in cool, translucent light--
What would the autumn be like this year--this year, which would see the final battle for the fate of the world?
Lowering his head, Daisuke opened his eyes and stared broodingly across the athletic field. Would there even be a second term? And did it make any sense to be spending his time on schoolwork when everything was poised on a thin edge of decision, when any moment could be the most critical one in the entire history of the human race? He should be at Hinoto's side, ready to protect her against the Dragons of Earth, and yet--and yet their enemies weren't /doing/ anything. After that terrible tragedy in the pool house of CLAMP Campus, the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth had vanished, and while tiny rumblings still went on, minor earthquakes and the occasional failure of a local kekkai, there was no sign that the Angels were gathering to make some kind of decisive strike. The constant tension of waiting was hugely frustrating, but there was nothing Daisuke could do. Besides which, if Hinoto was ever threatened, she could call him back to her instantly, so there was no real reason for him to spend all day underneath the Diet Building. Souhi and Hien could take care of all Hinoto's physical needs--in fact, they'd be dangerously annoyed with him if he tried to meddle in their work--and the dreamgazer's limited strength was mostly taken up with foretelling for Japan's politicians and trying to scry for more information about the end of the world. He'd be useless there, his restless energy adrift in the dark, otherworldly hush of her sanctum, and yet it was the one place he wanted to be.
In the distance, the school's bell rang, signaling the end of the lunch break. With a sigh, Daisuke stood up and dusted off his slacks, then collected the remains of his bento and made his reluctant way back to class.
* * * * *
The teacher's voice buzzed like a big, slow fly at the front of the classroom. At his desk, Daisuke sat sword-straight, staring fixedly at his notes--or, for variety, at the teacher's squeaking chalk scrawling across the blackboard--trying to keep that monotonously delivered review from putting him straight to sleep.
Math right after lunch, argh. Daisuke had always been pretty good at math, even if it wasn't his favorite subject--he liked history best, though the parts he found most intriguing weren't taught in classes, but were the strands of esoteric, behind-the-scenes involvement that he'd learned about in conversations with Hinoto--but he'd ditched a few too many days of school this term, and he'd never quite managed to catch up. He desperately needed this refresher, but somehow Tanaka-sensei's explanations were refusing to penetrate his brain. It was as though the light reflecting from the teacher's balding head and square-lensed glasses was blending with his flat, unresonant voice to create a deadly aura of stupidity. The heat didn't help, either--it was just as oppressive in the classroom as it had been outside. Not a breath came in through the open windows to relieve the sticky heat or the suffocating feeling of airlessness. Daisuke felt like a piece of tofu swimming in a bowl of soup. The rest of his classmates slouched behind their desks in a combination of heat-induced apathy and post-lunch food coma. Even Mori Ryuichi, their class representative and Daisuke's sometime partner on the debate team, was leaning way back in his chair, arms folded across his tall, lanky body as though to keep himself from melting and dribbling onto the floor. Behind his glasses, his eyelids kept sinking to half-mast over his usually intense gray gaze, then jerking up, briefly leaving him with a wide-eyed glare of concentration before they gradually started to droop once more. Ryuichi probably /could/ sleep through this class and be fine on the exam, but he was fighting it anyway. Idly Daisuke glanced at the clock in an attempt to measure the intervals between Ryuichi's seemingly regular half-nods, and was dismayed to see how much time there still was in the class. Grimly he dragged his attention back to his notes.
The teacher turned a page in the book he was working from, a fumbling rustle that was loud in the stillness. A bead of sweat seeped down Daisuke's head. Gah, he really couldn't take much more of this. He shouldn't show off his abilities in front of ordinary people, but surely if he was careful enough, subtle enough, nobody would know it was him? It would be good practice in control. Centering himself with an ease learned in long years of training, touching a place of focused calm, a stillness very different from sleep, he crooked his fingers, called just a thread of wind. A zephyr whispered in through the open window, a blessed small touch of relief. The breeze wasn't so cool in itself, really, but it was life, motion, a tiny lightness breaking the unremitting pressure of humid air. The students on Daisuke's side of the classroom sighed more or less quietly and relaxed into a deeper but contented slump. The girl sitting between him and the window wilted blissfully, turning her face toward the breeze. He looked over at her, the ends of her short, cinnamony hair stirring against her cheek, the unbuttoned collar of her white uniform shirt--her eyes opened, and she stared back at him, meeting his gaze with a look of quizzical surprise. Startled, Daisuke jerked his eyes back to the front of the room and tried to straighten his back even further. Beside him there was a faint back-of-the-throat catch of breath, the high-pitched hiccup of a stifled giggle. A different heat burned in his face. He could almost hear the unspoken words, the same ones he occasionally caught from the edges of girlish conversations, just audible as he passed:
/Saiki-kun is so serious!/
Well, /good./ He /should/ be serious. He was involved in a secret war that would save or destroy everything his classmates knew, that could cost them all their very lives if his side failed, and /none of them had any idea./ A confusion of emotions whirled up in him then: a thrill at being part of that epic conflict, frustration again at not yet being able to do anything, a sudden, tearing tenderness for his fellow students and their families and the teachers and even Tanaka-sensei, all of them moving through their days in a careless innocence that it was the Dragons of Heaven's job to protect. That unknowing was precious--he felt keenly the responsibility of being one of those who would guard it, the tiny flare of pride and terror at being a person outside the everyday run of humanity. The wind kicked up, blew into the classroom strongly enough to make some of the students jolt upright and Tanaka-sensei pause as a pile of papers swirled off his desk. The pages of Daisuke's notebook fluttered and curled back; he put his hand on them quickly but gently, pressed them still as he released the wind, soothed it into a mere breath once more. One of the other students made a low, disappointed sound. As Tanaka-sensei bent to regather his papers, helped by some of the students in the front row, Daisuke gazed down at his desk. Between his spread fingers, equations marched in and out of view, dark measured rows between the paper's lines.
The Final Battle was coming. It was inevitable. And even if the Dragons of Heaven triumphed and kept the human world safe from destruction, some of them were probably going to die. Though he wasn't a Seal himself, he knew that he was in the same line of fire, just from being associated with them. He accepted that. As long as he could use all his strength and his gifts as a windmaster to protect Hinoto, the one person he'd chosen to defend, he'd be content, no matter what his fate. Not for the first time, he wondered if Hinoto knew what would happen to him--but he'd never ask her. If she knew, she surely had good reasons for not telling him, and if she didn't, he wouldn't be responsible for maybe causing her more sorrow, for making her see what might be yet another painful vision of the future. She suffered enough as it was....
So he really didn't know if he'd see the rest of his last year of high school, or even if he'd survive through the next week, or, if he did survive, what he'd do after graduation and for all the vague expanse of adult life beyond. No surprise then if he sometimes had trouble keeping his mind on school or seeing the point of study and drill for exams. But whenever those feelings of doubt and instability threatened, he thought of Hinoto, and then there was that glow of devotion to balance them out: a certainty and a sense of purpose that brought him back to himself as he remembered what was most important in his world. And with that remembering, always, there came the reassurance that he had his part to play, however small.
Tanaka-sensei finished recollecting the papers. He spent another minute or so trying to poke them back into an orderly stack, methodically pushing in various misaligned corners, at one point pausing to blink owlishly at the top page before turning it to what presumably was right way up. Two rows over and one up from Daisuke, Ryuichi had finally lost the battle, his chin sunk onto his chest as he dozed, unruly dark hair falling over his face. As Tanaka-sensei put down the papers, picked up the text book, and cleared his throat, Daisuke could feel himself ever so slowly starting to tilt in his own chair under the pressure of mind-numbing tedium and a breathless swelter that had been only partly relieved by his breeze. He heaved a sigh.
He knew that as an ally of the Dragons of Heaven he shouldn't even think such things--but there were times when he wished that the end of the world would just hurry up and get on with it.
* * * * *
As soon as classes were over, Daisuke lit out from the school. Exams or not, there was no way he was staying for cram session. He headed across Tokyo, taking advantage of the usual obliviousness of normal people to follow the high road across the tops of the buildings, the swift, relatively effortless motion a delight after the confinement of the classroom, the wind of his passage overcoming the worst of the heat. He crossed the city quickly; arriving at his destination, he jumped down from his final landing spot in the branches of a tree, careful not to let anyone see him, and entered the CLAMP Campus grounds decorously through the main gate, just like any other visitor. On his first few trips to the school, he'd sprung over the moat and wall without really thinking about it, until at last he'd been accosted by the Chairman's dark-haired assistant, on a rooftop of all places, who had asked him very politely to not do that anymore as it disturbed the security systems. Not to mention, the man had added thoughtfully, the Chairman's secretary. It had been really embarrassing--Daisuke hadn't realized how just closely monitored the school's grounds were. On the other hand, such tight security was probably a very good and necessary thing.
He was halfway to the high school section, cutting through a small shopping arcade, its stores and cafes overrun with the usual after-school crowd of students of all ages, when he glimpsed one of the reasons for that security, and his own reason for being there. Furtively Daisuke stepped behind an arch; gazing around its edge, he studied the short, slender boy who had just come into view. A girl in the CLAMP Campus's junior high school uniform had his arm and was drawing him along the opposite side of the promenade, not hastily but with definite purpose. They paused in front of a lavish dessert shop window and she pointed to something enthusiastically, her short hair swinging about her face as she turned her head to beam at him, saying something that Daisuke couldn't hear. The boy looked vaguely bewildered and adrift, but he managed a hesitant smile. A few steps back, a slightly older girl observed the two of them, her own smile a tiny lift of the corners of her mouth, an amused lightening of her dark eyes.
The Kamui of the Dragons of Heaven. Daisuke's gaze was drawn back to the boy again as he stood framed between the two Seals that accompanied him. His gaze had wandered to some point far down the arcade, a distant and distracted look, his almost too-pretty face turned profile to Daisuke, his fine, unruly black hair wisping over his eyes, in dire need of a trim. Daisuke still had trouble seeing him as a savior of the human race. Oh, his power was undeniable, and despite his original lousy attitude he'd finally chosen to fight for the Dragons of Heaven of his own free will. Somehow, though, he still didn't act as if he was fully engaged in the struggle. At least half the time he seemed to stand around in a daze, his thoughts far away, as though he lacked the energy, the focused will actually to do anything. Watching him, Daisuke felt a faint, familiar tremor of unease. One of the people that Kamui had wanted to protect had died horribly; the other had become his implacable enemy. Without them, who did Kamui really give a damn about? Would his decision to fight for humanity for their sake hold firm?
Would he even care enough about the final outcome to be able to win?
Disquieted, Daisuke took a half-step back from the arch, ready to retreat to some better vantage point, and someone collided hard with him, making him stagger. "/Oof!/--Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry! I guess I wasn't looking where I was going!" Straightening, Daisuke turned and saw one of the CLAMP high school students, a fair-haired boy just a little shorter than himself. "Are you all right?" the guy asked, his eyes wide with concern.
"Y-yeah. I'm fine. Don't worry about it," Daisuke mumbled, rubbing at his shoulder. People getting all excessive with their apologies always flustered him, especially in public places, and this guy had a particularly ringing voice, at least when it was pitched high in distress. He hoped none of the three Seals would hear it through the crowd noise and glance over. He was sure Arashi would pick him out in a heartbeat, even with his back to them. And Kamui-- "Anyhow, it was my fault, I stepped back into you--"
"No, no!" Oh crap, now the guy was bowing, disrupting the flow of student traffic so that it swirled and backed up around the two of them, creating a knot of confusion. "I need to pay better attention and not be running people over like that!" He bobbed up again, his expression half-laughing, half-abashed. "I can really be a space-case sometimes! So really, I'm very, very sorry!"
"Yeah, whatever. Look--" Sweating a bit, Daisuke sidled over a step, putting more of the arch's column between himself and where the Seals had last been. He fought the ingrained urge to bow himself; with his luck they'd probably end up bonking heads. "Just forget it, okay? It's fine--anyway, I'm here looking out for someone and I don't really want to attract too much attention--" He risked a quick glance over one shoulder; nobody was looming there wanting to know why he was lurking about and spying on them. Turning back, he noticed the CLAMP student giving him a blankly bemused look, and as he realized what he'd been muttering he wanted to kick himself. Good grief. He might as well just stick a sign on himself that read "weirdo." And why wouldn't this guy go away and leave him to the ruins of his dignity?
"Oh, okay," the student said, with a little shrug of blithe acceptance and dismissal. He glanced past Daisuke and his whole face lit up so intensely that the air around him actually seemed to sparkle and glow. "Ah! /YOOHOOOO! SHIROU-KUUU--/"
/Gah!/ Daisuke charged the guy and bore him backward through the crowd, sending a cluster of grade school girls springing out of the way with tiny shrieks, until they ended up in a shaded sort of alcove between stores. Thrusting him up against a vending machine, Daisuke glared at him. "What are you, /stupid?/ Didn't I just /say/ that I was trying to avoid attention?" Leaning back, Daisuke peeked out around the building's corner and saw Kamui and the others standing outside the dessert shop, Kamui now carrying a bag with the shop's mascot embossed on it in vivid metallic purple. Thank goodness--they must have just come out of the store and didn't seem to have seen him.
"Wait--Shirou-kun?" Startled, Daisuke looked back and met the realization in the other's eyes, felt a realization of his own snap into place. He usually thought of Kamui just as "Kamui," without any family name, so he hadn't consciously registered just who the guy'd been calling to. His gaze jumped to the student's collar and the barred Z class insignia that was the same as the one that Kamui wore.
"Uh, yeah." He let go of the student quickly, stepped back to a less intrusive distance. The guy's gaze was flickering over him from head to feet, taking in his own school uniform.
"You don't go to this school," the student murmured. Suddenly his eyes went huge again as he stared at Daisuke in shocked speculation. "No way! Are you a stalker?"
"What--/no!/ I'm not stalking anybody!" The student didn't seem convinced. He clenched his fists and stiffened his spine--if he had any kind of occult power, Daisuke thought, he'd be generating a serious battle aura.
"You'd better not have any wrong intentions toward Shirou-kun!" he snapped.
"I don't--!" Daisuke stopped and took a deep breath, feeling his face flame with embarrassment. "Look, I--I--ah--a friend asked me to keep an eye on him." Daisuke slumped, added more quietly. "To make sure everything's okay." It wasn't entirely a lie, even if Hinoto was something other than a friend, and Daisuke hadn't had any actual instructions to watch Kamui since the very first days after Dragon of Heaven's return to Tokyo, before Arashi and that monk from Koyasan had managed to drag him to the Dreaming Princess's sanctum. An extra guardian to watch over Kamui from time to time couldn't hurt. He was sure Hinoto knew what he was doing and approved of it.
"He's had some kind of trouble recently, hasn't he?" Surprised, Daisuke glanced at the student, who was still leaning up against the vending machine, his gaze now resting pensively on the ground. "I thought so. He often seems so sad, so far away from everybody else. Like there's something really serious in his life that he doesn't talk about."
"Yeah. I--" Daisuke faltered, not sure how to put his first impulse into words, or even if he should, but the danger that moved around Kamui was too great, too lethal to an ordinary person. Maybe Kamui thought the same--maybe that was why he kept his classmates at arm's length. "Don't take this the wrong way," Daisuke said at last, his voice low and strained, "but for your own good, you, uh, might not want to get too close to him."
"But if somebody's in trouble, isn't that the time when they most need a friend?"
The student smiled--his gaze, lifting to find Daisuke's, was perfectly sunny and guileless. Faced with such simple, open assurance, Daisuke couldn't find anything to say. The guy abruptly seemed to register what he was leaning against and pushed himself upright. "Oh, hey, a vending machine! It's pretty hot out today. Are you thirsty?"
"U-um." Put further off his stride by the change in subject, Daisuke followed the student as he stepped around to look at the selection. It actually wasn't as hot on the campus as it had been in the city proper. Maybe it was all the trees. Still, something to drink wouldn't be a bad idea, and it would give Daisuke a moment to gather his thoughts. He looked at the vending machine and blinked a couple of times. "They have pudding-juice," he muttered.
"Hmm, do you like that?" Daisuke started and made a vaguely affirmative sound. He was distracted by thinking about his last encounter with a pudding-juice vending machine, which, come to think of it, had been during an equally muddling conversation. The student popped some coins into the machine, then handed him one of the drinks that slid out. "Cheers! Oh, my name's Segawa Keiichi."
"Saiki Daisuke." He tried to offer some money to pay Segawa back, but the other waved it off, making him feel even more on the spot. "Um, cheers." He sipped at the juice; Segawa knocked back a long gulping swallow, then sighed happily.
"My mom used to buy this for me when we went out special places," he said. "It makes me feel like I'm at a festival or something!" Daisuke thought of his own memories, of meeting with his uncle earlier that year to discuss the imminent end of the world.
/This pudding-juice is more important to me than the Earth or kekkai or other abstract things like them,/ Seiichirou had said, gently smiling but serious. /The pudding-juice that is my wife's favorite./
/The person one loves being able to stay happy. That is more important to me than anything else./
"There are some things that are too big for a person to do anything about," Segawa said softly, distracting Daisuke from his thoughts. "I know that. Nobody can make everything in this world okay, or even take away a tiny piece of somebody else's sadness." Daisuke glanced over, but Segawa was gazing at the wall by the corner of the alcove, his short hair sticking up a little even with the humidity, a few stray bangs tumbling forward around his face, dark brows slightly drawn over thoughtful, troubled eyes. "But that's why it's important not to forget about somebody else. To let them see that if they're happy or they're sad, they're not alone with it. Because it's what we /can/ do as human beings. Right?" He turned to smile at Daisuke again, those momentary clouds gone in a burst of unexpectedly brilliant joy. Daisuke drew in a breath. His mind flashed back to his uncle, who smiled like that too sometimes, whose power and conviction never wavered, who found the strength to create his kekkai in protecting those who were most important to him.
To have something or someone in particular to protect....
/Not to be alone..../
Daisuke found himself smiling back at Segawa, almost in spite himself, feeling a glimmer of unlooked-for hope--a hope that was inseparable from the risk of loss, but hope nevertheless.
"Yeah," he said.
Because for Kamui--for the entire human world--maybe the nearness of a single other person could make all the difference.
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