Disclaimer: The characters of Clover are property of CLAMP and their associates. All other characters in this 'fic are invented by me. This fanfic story is posted for non-commercial entertainment purposes only.Notes: This 'fic happens about two and a half years after the end of Clover 2, and therefore contains lots of spoilers. It's a sequel to 'Icosahedron', although it's not necessary to have read that 'fic to figure out what's going in this one. The story is currently incomplete, but will eventually have six parts. For more information about the content presented in Part One and later parts, please consult the posted story warnings. Sincere appreciation goes out to Kristin O. for beta-reading comments.
Summary: As Lan's five years of freedom draw to a close, the Parliament meets to decide on his future. But others who know of the Clover Project may have designs on his future as well... .
Chapter 4 (A)
Lan stood alone in the shade of tall evergreens, one hand splayed against the much darker background of a living tree. It was beautiful here. The air around him was cool and fresh, and heavy with the scents of earth and pine. Beneath his sneakers, a rusty layer of shed needles lay in a rich carpet over the ground, while above him stretched a thick canopy of branches. This grove of trees was only one small piece of a much larger domain, a glassed-in nature preserve that surrounded him on all sides. The place was artfully arranged and immaculately cared for, a haven of green that seemed designed to make those who visited feel contented and at peace.
If Lan hadn't been a prisoner here, he would have liked it very much.
He listened to the gentle murmur of the wind in the trees, knowing that what he heard wasn't a real breeze--just a stirring of air by huge fans located high above in their framework of metal and glass. Using magic, he reached for, but couldn't touch, the electrical circuits that powered those fans. The dome that shut this place off from the outside formed a complete barrier. Even the electronics built into it were sealed beyond the limits of a Clover's powers.
The rough bark of the tree trunk pressed intricate patterns into the surface of Lan's palm. The bark had grown in layers of complex and chaotic shapes that flaked off like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle if he pressed down too hard. Earlier, in another section of the gardens, he had come upon a stand of white trees where the bark had peeled back from the trunks in strips, showing pink underneath like the inside of a shell. A little farther on there had been a small clearing in the midst of a grove of willows, where flowers blossomed freely in every color imaginable.
Beyond that he had found the glass wall that marked the edge of the dome. He had searched along it, looking for a way to escape this place--because for all its peaceful atmosphere, for all its exotic wonders and painstakingly cultivated beauty, this place was not the place where he belonged. The exits were obvious, he had found at least two of the huge gates that were set into the wall of the dome. But he quickly discovered that the sturdy iron and glass doors were ones that he couldn't use magic to open. His kidnappers had locked them with a deadbolts and padlocks, and Lan didn't have any keys.
So he waited, having no other choice, listening to the sound of the wind. Waiting for Iris to complete whatever task she had been called away for, so that she could come back, and explain to him why he was here.
"You look lonesome," someone purred, from very, very close by.
The intrusion of that familiar voice caused Lan to look up immediately. There was a man standing barely two paces away from him, a man wearing a jacket of the Azurite military. He was very tall, a centimeter or two taller than Gingetsu, even, and equally as broad. But while Gingetsu's quiet presence radiated safety and calm, this man was just the opposite, oozing threat. Lan stared at him, thinking numbly that Barus had always looked smaller when translated into pixels on a computer screen.
Lan swallowed, and recovered his voice. "I'm waiting for someone."
The comment earned him a delighted smile. "How about that. So am I." Barus' eyes, shaded behind the circular lenses of a pair of sunglasses, glinted with an anticipation that was profoundly unsettling. "Perhaps we should wait together."
Cold was beginning to invade Lan's stomach. He had done jobs with the Secret Colors Battalion often enough that he was very well aware of the White Leopard's reputation. With great difficulty, Lan forced himself not to look upwards. There were security cameras built into the glass dome, he was certain of it. But the heavy screen of pine branches blocked the view from above as effectively as it blocked the sunlight. It was very possible that no one even knew Barus was here. Barus took a step forward. In almost involuntary response, Lan took a step back. The Azurite officer crossed his arms, having the gall to look hurt. The fabric of his jacket hardly whispered with the motion. How could someone that big move so quietly?
"It only makes sense," Barus insisted. "If we're both waiting, don't you think we should keep ourselves entertained?" He took another measured step forward, and Lan retreated again--not realizing that he was being herded until he felt the unyielding bark of a tree trunk at his back. Lan placed his right hand flat against the surface of the trunk and shifted his weight to step to the side, preparing to bolt.
He hadn't realized how fast Barus was, or how far he could reach. A hand caught him roughly by the front of the shirt, twisting the fabric tight and shoving him back against the tree behind him. A second hand clamped itself beneath Lan's chin.
"Don't go so soon," Barus murmured happily. "See, the Prince hasn't arrived yet, and I don't have anyone to play with until he gets here."
Pushing at Barus was like trying to move a wall, and the fingers fisted firmly in the black cloth of Lan's T-shirt couldn't be pried free. Desperate, Lan drove his knee upward, only to have the other man effortlessly block the attack. "Cute." Barus stepped inside the arc of Lan's legs, effectively foiling further attempts. The solid weight of the man's body pinned him back against the tree, and Barus lowered his face until it was barely centimeters away. "But really, you're no challenge at all." Strong fingers dug painfully into the corners of Lan's jaw, and his throat closed over a small noise of pain as his clenched teeth slid apart. He writhed, trying vainly to escape as his assailant leisurely took possession of his mouth in a bruising and invasive kiss. This man was much stronger, strong enough to take anything he wanted by force, and Lan was helplessly unable, on his own, in this place, to do anything to prevent it.
Barus was not quick, nor was he gentle in his exploration. When at last he drew back again, both of them were breathing hard. He shifted his hold on Lan's chin, pushing it back to glide his lips along the young man's bared throat. The muscles there quivered and contracted with reaction as Lan swallowed hard. He felt Barus smile. Those slimy lips found and traced his collarbone, then worked their way back up the side of his windpipe. The grip on his shirt loosened, and a hand pushed up beneath the fabric to touch skin. Lan flinched, fighting back nausea and panic. "D-don't..." he managed.
Barus chuckled deeply beside his ear, and stubble scratched along the side of Lan's face. "Come now. Who do you think took care of you while you were sleeping? The trip across the border was long and boring, and I had to keep entertained somehow." The wandering hand became more adventurous. "Actually, this is all familiar territory to me."
Lan's exclamation of disgust was muffled, his breath stopped beneath the advance of that cruel mouth. I don't...I can't...can't let this happen... Lan closed his eyes, summoning his magic and casting out blindly for anything he might be able to use in his defense. He had the sinking feeling that his own magic wasn't going to be enough to save him. There was nothing within this prison that a Three-leaf's powers could affect, and each time he tried to reach beyond the walls of the dome, his magic was rebuffed by the thick, impervious glass.
There. He almost missed it, the traces were so faint. It was the tiniest of signals, the buried pulse of an electrical current. Not above him, but below. There were rooms far underneath the dome, shielded by thick layers of rock and concrete. If he reached, he could just barely touch the circuits of alarms and lights and computers with his thoughts. Fear lent him strength, and he wrapped his mind around those interconnecting wires, to rip them free of their housings and drag them up through the stone.
A strong wave of Clover magic, with Iris' 'presence' laced all through it, smashed through that desperate contact, shattering Lan's power. The recoil of that gathered magic caught him unprepared, and his body spasmed in reaction as if jolted by an electrical current.
"Barus!" A woman's voice intruded, cold and sharp. Iris. Barus chose to ignore her.
"Barus!" Louder, and closer this time. The words that came next were frosted with ice. "Unless you want to single-handedly sabotage everything that we've accomplished so far, I suggest that you release him right now. Or have you forgotten that you have other work to do?"
The big man paused a moment, appearing to consider. Then, because he could, he trapped Lan for one last, lingering kiss. Before drawing away, he allowed his breath to trace with deceptive softness against the side of Lan's cheek. "Don't miss me too much," he murmured. "We may get to play more later, after all." The imprisoning hands loosened, and Lan staggered to the side, away and out of his reach.
With a single, mocking nod in Iris' direction, Barus turned on his heel and sauntered off into the trees.
"Why," Lan asked shakily, after he had gone, "Why are you cooperating with him?"
Iris looked off in the direction he had gone, her expression betraying deep feelings of guilt. "I'm sorry," she said. "He won't be staying here much longer." She turned to Lan and bowed apologetically. "I've been a poor hostess, to leave you waiting here so long. Is there anything you need?"
Lan shivered, his skin still flushed and crawling with the memory of that man's touch. "Some running water would be nice."
Iris led him to the bank of a small stream, a flow pumped quickly over smooth stones to generate a current. There she left him in privacy, while Lan spent a long time trying to wash the clinging taint from his skin, the foul taste from his mouth. When at last he felt less dirty, he stayed kneeling beside the stream, his thoughts as unsettled and turbulent as the surface of the water. He sensed Iris walk up behind him.
"You were going to tell me," he reminded her, "why I've been brought here."
"Yes." She knelt on the side of the streambed beside him. She was wearing a tan cardigan sweater over her violet sundress now, and had on matching fingerless knit gloves. She set a lit oil lantern down on the ground nearby. It was getting to be late in the day, and it was already growing dark beneath the trees.
White daisies grew in the long grass here, and Iris reached out to cup one of the blossoms between delicate fingers, gently caressing the soft petals. She was silent for a very long time, as if pondering what to say. At last, she asked, "Lan, what's the difference between Wizards and Clovers?"
He blinked, taken a little off-guard. He hadn't expected the change in topic. Taking on faith that the question was leading somewhere, he answered almost automatically, "A Clover has more power."
Iris gave a small smile. "For us, that's true. Three- and Four- leafs certainly have more power. But," here she tilted her head to the side to study him, "what about a Two-leaf. Do you truly believe that a Two-leaf Clover would have more magic than a single Wizard, or would they both be equal?"
Lan took a moment to think about that. He had never met a Wizard in person, but he was always aware of them when they used their magic individually--as he was aware of Gingetsu's magic, within a certain limit of distance. Against the combined power of the Parliament, a Two-leaf wouldn't stand a chance. But against a Wizard acting alone? Lan suspected that it would be a pretty even fight. "A Two-leaf and a single Wizard are nearly the same."
Iris didn't stop there, but pursued that question with another. "What about a One-leaf? Would a One-leaf Clover be equal?"
"No," Lan said at length, thinking about the only One-leaf that he had ever met. Oruha hadn't had much magic of her own at all. "A One- leaf doesn't have a Wizard's power."
Iris allowed the satin petals of the daisy to slip free of her fingers, sitting back on the grass and drawing her knees up to her chest. The freed blossom bobbed a few times on its stem, then stilled. "So," Iris said, "haven't you ever wondered why Two-leafs and One-leafs are called 'Clovers'? Why not call Two-leafs 'Wizards' and One-leafs 'Sorcerers'?" She looked down, digging the toe of her sandal idly into the smooth stones at the stream's edge. "In addition," she continued, "The power of a Sorcerer is not so rare. A new one is discovered every few months. Why aren't these Sorcerers also called 'One-leaf Clovers'?"
Lan was silent. Within the shelter of his limited existence, forbidden contact with the outside world, he would have to admit that he had never had a reason to give the subject much thought.
Into the quiet Iris spoke, her words like pebbles tossed into still water. "Lan, have you ever heard the term 'genetic engineering'?"
In response, ripples of surprise. "Genetic engineering?"
Iris nodded, her gaze drifting away, out across the grass. "It's when someone tampers with the program that makes up another living thing. A human being, for instance."
She was silent for a long moment, her gaze focused on the growing darkness beneath the trees, giving him time to absorb and comprehend her words. "The Clover Project was a collaborative effort between countries to study the natural changes that allowed people to be 'Wizards' or 'Sorcerers'," she said at last. "The scientists of the project studied the genetic code of the people who had these powers, compiling a list of keys they believed were responsible for the ability to use magic." Her gaze came back to study his face. "It was a harmless enough goal. Actually, it was a very useful one, since it allowed them know what to look for when testing children who might have a talent for magic--especially those children whose power was latent and not yet developed.
"It would have been fine if they had just stopped it there. But the temptation to apply their newfound knowledge became too much for them to resist. As a result, the Clover Project became an experiment in human evolution.
"Individuals with no traces of magic anywhere in their family history were hired to provide the materials for the creation of human embryos in test tubes in the laboratory. The embryos that were produced--also carefully screened to ensure the complete absence of any pre-disposition for magic--were then altered. Their genetic code was re-programmed, additional data spliced in to confer abilities that never would have developed without artificial interference.
"Surrogate mothers were necessary to bear these modified children to term. The mothers were chosen carefully, and given exorbitant amounts of money. The money was a bribe from the government to prevent unpleasant questions from being raised, and to ensure that the women would be willing to abandon their children when the project decided it was time. Most of the women deserted the children as soon as they were born, cradling their paychecks as they left. Many didn't even bother to give the newborn infants real names."
Iris brushed her thumb across the surface of the glove covering her right hand, tracing on its surface the outline of the Three-leaf mark underneath. "Instead of names and families, we got these. Numbered and tattooed like lab animals, creatures in cages to be watched and monitored through each and every stage of development. Placed into ranks by the number of leaves we possess. The numbers weren't assigned as a ranking of power, though ironically when they tested us they found that it seemed to have worked out that way. The number of leaves actually signifies the number of mutations they made in each one of us. It just happens that all the genetic alterations are cooperative, working together to increase a person's magical power."
A little farther down the stream, a bullfrog croaked, and then another. Lan became aware of the high drone of cicadas from the trees above. "There were more of us in the beginning," Iris continued. "There were labs in each of the three countries involved in the project. But the groups were kept apart, and shielded so that they couldn't sense each other." She gestured up at the dome in the fading light. "Like this place. The dome was built by ordinary people, then the glass was bespelled by the magic of a Four-leaf Clover. Nothing gets through. No Major Waves, no Minor Waves, no Clover magic. The alternative is to go underground. Even a Four- leaf's power doesn't penetrate very well through a kilometer of solid rock.
"This dome was created by a Four-leaf, but not the one that you know. He was from the first generation of Clovers that the scientists produced--like myself, and your friend the Two-leaf."
Even amidst his internal turmoil at trying to sort out so much new information at once, Lan still caught her use of the past tense.
Iris' dark eyes grew very sad. "He fell in love."
She shifted her position, smoothing the folds of her dress around her ankles. "Things were different at the beginning. The Clovers of the project were allowed much more freedom. Everything was part of the experiment...and so when a Four-leaf of the project fell in love with a Two-leaf, it was encouraged rather than forbidden. I guess the Clover scientists were curious to see what would happen."
Once, the Parliament had almost refused to allow Lan to stay with Gingetsu, on the grounds that two leaves plus three leaves equaled five, a level of power they could not counter. Not directly. But a Two-leaf and a Four-leaf together would be worse. Two plus four equaled six. That amount of combined magic was hard to imagine.
Iris glanced over at him, taking note of his expression. "It wasn't as much of a power imbalance as you might think," she said. "Really, the power of a Four-leaf is infinite. How do you add to infinity? For a Four-leaf to fall in love with a Two-leaf is no different than a Four-leaf falling in love with a person with no magic at all."
"What happened to them?" Lan asked.
Iris sighed. "She...wasn't well. She was frail even as a child, and in adolescence the problem only became worse. The doctors tried their best to help her, but they couldn't fix what was wrong. She became very ill and eventually died.
"Something in the Four-leaf snapped. He hadn't been a particularly well-balanced individual to begin with. It was his lover who calmed him, who was his compassion and his conscience. Who was his happiness. Without her he had no other life. He had nothing left at all.
"So he filled that void with grief and anger and hate. If not for the project, I believe he would have turned those terrible emotions inward on himself, and committed suicide. But the Clover Project itself provided a convenient and much more suitable target for his wrath. Those people, they were the ones who had created the woman he loved--and they were the ones who had failed to save her. The sole purpose of his existence became a crusade to wipe out all traces that the project had ever existed. To destroy everything and every one, down to the last brick, the last file...the last body. Up to and including the other Clovers." Iris was silent a long moment, then bowed her head forward in sorrow, her dark bangs falling forward to cover her eyes.
"People do terrible things because of love."
Lan thought of Suu, who had faked her own death in the hope that she could one day be reunited with the man that she loved. ...Thought of Gingetsu, who had placed the key to his life in the hands of the Parliament so that a lost little boy could find a home and happiness--and continued to use his life as a bargaining chip every single day so that the young man that the boy had become could keep it. ...Thought of A, who believed that love was worth killing for, because he understood it only enough to know that living without love would make existence unbearable and meaningless. It doesn't have to be that way, Lan wanted to say. People shouldn't have to make those kinds of choices. But what right did he have to say that, when his own choice made out of love had robbed him of several years of his life--and worse, caused Gingetsu to suffer as well. He stared down at the grass, lost in a momentary surge of guilt and misery.
"How did they stop him?" he asked.
Iris closed her eyes. "That was partly my doing. My fault," she said softly. "There is only one thing that is a match for the power of a Four-leaf Clover. Another Four-leaf Clover." She shook her head. "The only other Four-leaf that I knew of was a four year-old girl, an innocent child. She was the only hope for any of us to survive. So I transported her directly to the place where he was, to a room full fire and fresh corpses. She was hopelessly outmatched. A four year-old doesn't stand a chance against someone who is nearly twenty. But her appearance there halted him, made him hesitate...and that was enough. Enough time for a government sniper to put a bullet through his heart. He fell to the ground right at the child's feet." Iris drew in a shuddering breath. "Not even a Four-leaf is immortal."
When she spoke again, her voice was subdued. "That was the end of the Clover Project as a far-reaching and country-spanning endeavor. The governments involved decided to pick up the pieces as best they could. They separated the Clovers, and hid their existence from each other to the best of their ability. And swore they would do every thing possible to prevent such a thing from happening again. From then on, the Four-leaf was to be kept in isolation at all times, and the Three-leaves were forbidden contact with anyone outside the project who might influence them in ways not approved of by the government. Any freedom beyond that could only be bought at a terrible cost." Her dark eyes flickered up to rest on Lan's face. "But that, you already know."
Lan looked away from her, gazing down at the surface of the stream. His own thoughts were just as unsettled. He wasn't quite sure he understood everything yet--and the part of him that followed all that she had said rebelled against accepting it. Everything the Clover Project had done....
"Why?" He asked her at last. "Why did they...." he couldn't finish.
"Why did they create us?" Iris' mouth twisted in a bitter smile. "Why do you think? The perfect way to provide security for government files. The best tool for espionage when collecting data on an enemy's secret projects. The ultimate override for offensive or defensive electronic systems deployed in times of war. There are hundreds of reasons that could be used as persuasive arguments. How else could the governments involved in the Clover Project justify the expense of the science involved?"
Lan shook his head. "But the ones that were most powerful, they kept locked up. Why would they put so much effort into creating something, and then fail to use it?"
"They didn't expect their experiment to work so well." This time it was Iris' turn to look away. "Or maybe they did. After all, it's the nature of humankind to create weapons which it fears to use."
He probably wouldn't ever have been born.
He brushed his free hand across his eyes, noting as he did so that his fingers were trembling. It was too much to absorb all at once, too much to try and make any sense out of it all. If Iris was actually being honest with him about the Clover Project and what it really was.
Iris was watching him. Softly she said, "I have no reason to lie to you, Lan."
Do you have a reason to tell me the truth? He avoided her gaze, to prevent himself from saying the words out loud.
"The Two-leaf that you live with," Iris said, momentarily distracting him from those thoughts, "he must be very important to you." Lan raised his head to look at her, but her gaze was turned away from him now, off through the trees in the direction of the wall of the dome. It was nearly too dark to see anything beyond the circle of light cast by the soft but steady glow of the oil lamp. "He's coming here, you know. To rescue you."
Lan's breath caught in his throat. It was selfish, so selfish of him to feel that flare of hope. It was selfish for him to wish Gingetsu to put himself in danger for his own sake. Another thought occurred to Lan, and that hope abruptly guttered into fear. "How do you know?"
Iris' mouth twisted in something like pain. "It was unwise of the Parliament to send him," she murmured. "He is a Clover, and a Two-leaf at that." Her expression hardened, and she met Lan's anguished gaze with firm, unflinching resolve.
"All Clovers can sense those with an equal number of leaves or below. Because of that, we already know exactly where he is."
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