Author's Note: My first attempt at a Clover fic.
DISCLAIMER: Clover and all it's gorgeous characters do not belong to me.
It started with the slow realization that the headache he had been fighting off since this morning wasn't going away. The dull pain surged behind his eyes and pulsed across his vision as he sifted through the complicated set of numbers and symbols the Wizards had sent over for him to decode this time. He had promised General Khou that the job would be done by this evening, but he was making slow progress. In fact, he was making no progress at all. It wasn't a particularly difficult task, but this disc had yet to respond to any of the series of techniques he had tried. He was becoming increasingly uncertain about his own abilities to complete such a simple task and that worried him more than the task itself. He sat slightly hunched over, alone at the dining room table, staring intently at the screen projected before him through his visor. Page after page of text danced before his gaze in quick succession as he scrolled through the code one more time in the hopes of finding something that he had missed. Ran let out a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. He brought one hand up to brush away his bangs and rest briefly on his temple in an attempt to clear his head. He ran a few small programs in the background, figures just at the edge of his field of vision telling him when they were completed. He frowned as the last of them blinked a no results message across the page. He shook his head and slumped his shoulders in defeat and exhaustion as he willed the visor and wires out of existence and set the small shiny disc of information on the table before him. He closed his eyes and noted with growing frustration that his hands were shaking slightly. He tried to blame it on frustration or fatigue, but neither explanation satisfied him. He knew that the real cause was something he didn't want to admit just yet. Something he was trying desperately not to think about.
Ran swallowed thickly and took a deep breath. It was early yet. Gingetsu was still working on reports in the other room and Ran didn't want to disturb him. He knew that the man had deadlines of his own to meet. Ran stood slowly and noticed with a growing sense of foreboding that the room wavered in his vision. The image seemed to melt slightly around the edges as he forced himself into a standing position. His heart was beating much too quickly in his chest and the ache in his head had grown into something much less manageable. He clung to the edge of the chair and found it difficult to breathe as his delicate fingers shook too much to gain a good grasp of the backing. He tried to calm himself as he took slow unsteady steps towards Gingetsu's study. He somehow knew that once he made it there he wouldn't have to worry about the details anymore. He could count on the older man to take care of him. It was a comforting thought and gave him enough focus to make out the light shining from the half open door of the other room.
Ginegtsu looked up at the small sound of the door creaking open. Eyes too bright stared back at him from a face that was several shades paler than Gingetsu had ever seen it before. Without hesitation, Gingetsu rushed over to the younger man and caught him just as he fell, dark eyelashes fluttering across ashen cheeks as he lost consciousness.
Gingetsu pulled a chair close to the bed and leaned closer to Ran as he watched the younger man fall into a restless sleep. He had not awoken since before, but a little of the color had returned to his cheeks. Gingetsu ran a hand over the young man's forehead and let his fingers move across his smooth cheek and down his chin. The anguish and uncertainty swimming in his thoughts came out in one whispered word "Ran."
A small red flashing light at the corner of his vision indicated an incoming call. Gingetsu stepped out of the room quietly to accept the message, silently cursing whoever dared to interrupt him at a time like this.
General Khou's face came into view. "Gingetsu."
Gingetsu nodded at the image before him trying his best to hide the frustration he felt at having to be interrupted from keeping vigil at Ran's side.
General Khou seemed to be appraising the situation before her as she began her question. "We've been trying to contact Ran for several hours. We're still expecting the results from his most recent project."
Gingetsu frowned almost imperceptibly. "Ran is not well."
"Oh." General Khou paused for a moment, solemn eyes revealing more than simple words. "I see." Her voice held a slightly wistful tone, but what she was assuming was unmistakable.
Gingetsu cut off the connection before giving himself the opportunity to respond. He could almost taste the venom on his tongue as words of protest and anger rose into his thoughts. He knew exactly what the old Wizard was thinking, but Gingetsu would not lose faith so quickly. He didn't want to think about the shadows under Ran's eyes or the loneliness of a life without his presence.
Gingetsu's anger melted swiftly into concern as he stood in the doorway to their bedroom once more and watched the frail form of his companion lying in an uneasy sleep.
Late afternoon faded into dusk as shadows crept across the floor and Gingetsu clung to Ran's hand and watched over him as he remained unconscious. Reports left unfinished spread across his desktop and the bright light of his lamp still shining too cheerfully from the room down the hall where he did most of his work. Worry bordered on alarm and kept the older man on edge.
He started slightly at the sound of the front door opening, the click of the lock and the shuffling of footsteps far louder than the oppressive silence that had settled over the house since Ran's collapse. Gingetsu had let his thoughts get away from him – memories of happier times and quiet moments long since passed but still carefully cherished incompatible with the bleak scenes before him and he knew that this was only the beginning.
He stood up and headed towards the front door. He knew it was Kazuhiko before the other man said any words of greeting. He was the only other person with access to the security of this place and Gingetsu had little doubt that anyone wanting to break in would not go through the trouble of using the front door.
"Hey, Gingetsu! I hope you don't mind me stopping by."
Gingetsu nodded at his friend's greeting noting how strange his cheerfulness sounded after hours of uneasy watchfulness. Kazuhiko's visits were becoming more and more frequent over the last few months and Gingetsu was starting to wonder about his friend's motivations. They both knew that Ran would not last much longer and Gingetsu took comfort in the possibility that Kazuhiko was watching over him even if it couldn't possibly change the eventual outcome.
Kazuhiko still spent his days searching for clues and new information about Oruha and Suu. He continued his investigation even though Gingetsu was reasonably sure that someone was throwing Kazuhiko false leads. Despite that possibility, Gingetsu understood that there was some value to it as well. For Kazuhiko it was more of the investigation than the actual conclusion that he needed – a connection to Oruha and Suu and a feeling that their deaths had not been in vain. He, on the other hand, knew exactly who Ran's killer would be and there was nothing he could do about it.
Gingetsu followed Kazuhiko into the kitchen as the other man pulled ingredients out of paper grocery sacks. He was no doubt anxious to experiment with a new recipe or perhaps work on perfecting an old one.
"Is everything okay?" Kazuhiko asked as he turned to Gingetsu leaning slightly on the opposite counter and watching him without really seeing him. The other man was quieter than usual and there was a nervousness in his stance that Kazhukio couldn't ever recall seeing before. He wasn't sure what it meant.
"Ran is ill." Gingetsu answered simply, but the strain in his voice spoke more than his words alone. Kazuhiko picked up on the tension and his eyes reflected genuine concern.
"I'm sorry." Kazuhiko answered sincerely.
Gingetsu shook his head and shrugged his shoulders slightly, but he couldn't force himself to say the words. We knew that this would happen.
Kazuhiko accepted his friend's quiet detachment for what it was and knew that Gingetsu wouldn't want him to worry about it too much. The best thing he could do was continue with the normal routine and wait. Kazuhiko turned back towards his array of groceries and worked at preparing the vegetables for dinner.
Gingetsu left Kazuhiko to attend to dinner and wavered for a moment at the door to the dining room. He wasn't quite up to seeing Ran right then. The reality of the situation would be impossible to ignore when faced with the image of Ran's pale face and still features. Instead, he sat down in one of the wooden-backed chairs and listened to the sound of Kazuhiko cooking just a few feet away beyond the doorway. His own fatigue was starting to catch up to him and his eyes stung slightly more than he wanted to admit. He blinked back the pinprick feeling of tears gathering in the corner of his eyes. He wasn't used to feeling helpless in any situation, but he knew that this was beyond his control. Gingetsu rested his head in his hands and tried to force back the feelings of loneliness and despair that washed over his thoughts and seemed to cloud his vision.
Several long minutes of silence later, Gingetsu looked up at the soft sound of uneven footsteps rustling across the linoleum floor. Ran stumbled slightly and leaned against the doorframe as Gingetsu stood and rushed over to him.
"Gin-ge-tsu." Ran whispered haltingly as Gingetsu wrapped strong arms around slim shoulders and led the young man over to a chair.
Ran fell back into the chair and looked up at Gingetsu through eyes half clouded by exhaustion not erased by hours of sleep. Fatigue that ran through his soul too deeply. Gingetsu leaned forward to place one hand under Ran's chin and lift the young man's head slightly to gaze into gray eyes. There were so many questions he wanted to ask and so many answers he was afraid to hear. He looked over Ran's features appraisingly.
"You look tired." He said softly, strain making itself evident in the tightness of his voice and the furrowing of his eyebrows behind mirrored shades.
Ran reached up towards Gingetsu's face and his lips curved upward with a hint of amusement. "So do you." He said tenderly.
Gingetsu bent his head to avoid Ran's gaze. His own mouth tightened into a distinct frown.
"I'm sorry I make you sad, Gingetsu." Ran's soft voice rang out with wistfulness and sorrow in the silence of the room. He turned away from the older man abruptly and pushed himself slightly forward in his chair as if to leave.
"Wait." Gingetsu scooted forward until he sat face to face with his partner and brought both hands up to rest on Ran's
Gingetsu bent his head slightly and took a deep breath before continuing.
"I knew exactly what I was getting into when I fell in love with you and I could never regret a minute of it. I will be sad when you go, but you have brought me happiness since the day you came into my life and I wouldn't trade that for all the treasure in the world."
"Gingetsu…" Ran's eyes widened at the string of honest words spilling forth from a man who rarely spoke. It was something he had always known from the way that Gingetsu held him at night to the kind gestures he experienced during the day, but hearing the words spoken aloud at a time like this was even more cherished than he could have imagined.
Gingetsu leaned closer and broke the distance between them as he pressed his lips against Ran to claim his mouth with a kiss. The two pressed close to one another, lips moving across lips in an expression of love that began delicately and ended with more passion and tenderness than words could ever express. Ran brought one hand up to run through Gingetsu's silvery bangs and let the strands tangle in his fingers as he leaned forward to deepen the kiss. He tasted the warmth of Gingetsu's open mouth as the older man wrapped one arm around Ran and ran his fingers across his back soothingly. The toe men broke away from the kiss reluctantly. Ran's pale cheeks glowed with a hint of crimson that had nothing to do with fatigue or illness and Gingetsu's face held a hint of contentment that was difficult to discern behind the reflection of his visor, but Ran had no doubt that those eyes were sparkling as well. His suspicions were confirmed with a slight smile.
"I love you, Ran."
"I love you too, Gingetsu."
Kazuhiko stood just a few feet away, pressed against the wall and trying to stay perfectly still just inside the doorway to the kitchen. He had come in to tell Gingetsu that dinner was ready and had been surprised to hear such honest words from his friend. He felt slightly guilty for eavesdropping, but he also felt a warmness in his heart at the sight of that gentle kiss. He knew that Gingetsu was finally happy and he had finally found some peace in this world no matter how fragile and how fleeting. Ran was his happiness. And when the day came for Ran to depart he only hoped that he could provide a small fraction of that joy in his friendship.
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