|Untie the Knot
Author: dragon of winter nights PM
:magic university au: Unable to use his magic following an accident, Mazda Clef is trapped at University, unable to finish his masters and increasingly frustrated. But things begin to change the day an undergraduate, Ryuuzaki Umi, runs him over...Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Clef & Umi R. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 15,235 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 06-25-12 - Published: 04-09-11 - id: 6892241
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This entire fic is filler, physio, and fluff. And yet somehow it now wants me to actually give it a structure? PFFT. *laughs* Maybe once Protecting You is finished I might pay more attention to the timing... ^^; (...This chapter is apparently a Sane Length. HOW HAS THIS HAPPENED?)
(Speaking of Protecting You, I AM SO SORRY, I AM WORKING ON IT. T_T Bear with me a little longer? I am juggling plot threads. Insane plot threads. Why did I think politicians were ever a good idea? Editing this chapter was my light relief!)
This chapter should be dedicated to the three physiotherapists who have shifted the bones about in my wrist. THAT HURTS, PEOPLE. *whimper* I don't even have an Umi to distract me!
As ever, I adore feedback, be it good or bad. And I love all of my readers! *hearts* (I don't mean to torment you with these long posting breaks ;_;) Thank you for your comments here, everyone! (ffn is not co-operating with my seeing them to reply at the moment, but get the notifications and love them~)
(SIDE NOTE while I am here - for those of you who might be interested, there's a fanworks exchange (fic, art, and/or vids) with signups currently open - the Parallels Exchange, (curse ffn for not allowing links in chapters! There's a comm on livejournal and on dreamwidth and the challenge is on archiveofourown) which is for rarer asian fandoms - and Magic Knight Rayearth is avaliable for offering and requesting this year! Along with Duklyon and Tokyo Babylon, and a host of other wonderful things - it's a low commitment, and all the prompts are going to be visible later in the exchange, and I would love it if people would sign up and request Rayearth things because I want an excuse to write them all. XD /pimp)
Right, moving on! Thank you for reading!
(ps if you read this chapter already please ignore the bit where I apparently managed to upload the version without certain people's names in. XD;)
Untie the Knot
Clef rolled into friday like a barely contained thundercloud, his expression ominous enough that people were steering well out of his way in the corridors when he eventually reached Uni.
Waking up had been an exercise in trying not to swear loudly enough his neighbours would hear. Sometime in the night he had worked his shoulders free of the covers, and his top hadn't been enough to keep a chill from tightening the muscles from the base of his skull across his shoulder and down to the bottom of his shoulderblade. There wasn't even time to batter it with hot water long enough to make a difference, he was due at the clinic downtown.
(At least he always took the bus. Riding a bike when he came out, thoroughly poked, wasn't usually a brilliant idea.)
His physio session had started with the therapist frowning at his shoulder before he'd even got his shirt off, asking what he'd done to stress it, and things went downhill from there. He spent most of an hour face-down on the table with his shoulder and neck coated in the chilly, sticky gel used with the ultrasound, chin and forehead wedged uncomfortably against the edges of the hole in the table which let him stay still and not suffocate.
Normally he didn't mind ultrasound too much. On his wrist and lower arm, at least, it was too far away for him to hear it. But as soon as it reached his neck he could make out the edge of the high buzzing, and it left him with a blazing headache.
Also, the room was cold, and he was shirtless with a lot of chilly gel spread across his back. Not an activity he appreciated.
"I want you doing the full set of shoulder stretches I gave you for at least the next three weeks." Dr ? said, spending the last five minutes actually working on his arm, manipulating wrist and elbow with a dire frown on his face. "You should be taking ibuprofen daily - how much have you been having since this fall? Hmm. Double the dose, please, this weekend - and for the next three days you are not to use this arm. No typing, no writing, no chopping vegetables - go and eat out, at least you'll avoid the washing up."
"I have essays." Clef grumbled, knowing it was useless even as he protested. The therapist didn't even look up.
"Yes, and if you follow my instructions you might even complete them without undoing the work we've put in this past year."
"It's been two years since I started coming to physio."
"...Then you should know better than to argue by now, Mr Mazda." He was glared at. "With such extensive damage as you have to the mahou-bearing channels in your arm, it's a near miracle we've achieved as much as we have in that time. But if you don't obey instructions, you are never going to regain full use of that arm-"
"Which means they'll never consent to take this ink off my back, I know."
The therapist finished the final, painful bend of his wrist, and let go. At first he'd tried to get Clef to lie still for a minute or so at the end of each session,but he'd given that up as a hopeless task long ago. Now he just handed Clef a paper towel to get the worst of the gel off, and turned to wheel the trolley with the ultrasound away. "For what it's worth, the bones hardly shifted this time. A few weeks diligence should put you back where we were last week. I'll see you next Friday, as usual?"
Clef pulled his shirt back on. "I'll see you then." He confirmed, with a sigh. Every time he rolled his shoulders back there was a horrid crunching sound, but at least it was moving again.
The bus ride back to Campus gave him time to replan his work. He needed to get some reading out of the way as soon as he managed to switch his current books out for new. That he could still manage without breaking orders.
He should have been able to check the catalogue and plan his trip in the gap between his last tutorial and his meeting with Umi, but the world didn't like him enough today. One of the undergrads he was tutoring - a first year, Honda Ascot (and no relation to Ferio) - had been sent Clef's way because he was exceptionally gifted, determined to work hard, and had absolutely no idea how to study, having been bounced from country to country and school to school all his life. He was more at home outdoors with any kind of animal imaginable rather than sat down with a book.
As Ascot's magic was mostly focused on summoning and communicating with animals and creatures, created or otherwise, that made sense. But he was also shy, probably from being the perpetual new kid, so he hadn't spoken up when he started getting into trouble. By the time any of the Professors realised he needed some help none of them had time to offer it - enter Clef, the handy unpaid teaching assistant.
Clef didn't mind working with Ascot - far from it, the boy was probably the least annoying student he dealt with (and yes, he was damn well including Miss Ryuuzaki in that comment), but he also took up more time than the others. And this week and next were Ascot's first big essay deadlines. A one hour tutorial when he got back from physio turned into two and a half hours helping him convert his essay attempts into de-aru style Japanese, which Ascot had apparently managed to avoid using before. His report kept slipping out of it, and he sat apologetically in front of Clef as he skimmed through, getting quieter and quieter each time they found a mistake.
(They'd been making so much progress last week, too! Ascot had actually looked straight at him instead of hiding behind his overgrown fringe.)
It was almost done by the time Umi knocked at the door. "Excuse me?" She called, and peered round. "Oh. ...Are you busy after all? Should I come back later?"
Ascot flushed and grabbed at his scrawled-on work, shoving it into his satchel. (It was easier to write out the why of grammar in the margins than type it. This way the grammar notes wouldn't end up in the real thing by accident - and Clef could dictate what Ascot noted down, instead of having to explain why he wasn't typing. In an attempt to obey the Dr he'd left his laptop at home (no carrying anything heavy and no typing all in one), and Ascot didn't have one).
"A minute, Miss Ryuuzaki." Clef called out, with a sigh. "Send me a copy when you've typed it in, Ascot? I can check through it for you."
"I don't want to trouble you-"
"It's my job." Clef insisted, prepared to grab the boy and keep him here until he agreed. But Ascot nodded the next moment, bundling things into his bag, hunched about it even when he stood up. Ascot was tall as Eagle, but he never stood up straight - Clef winced for his back. "I'll see you on monday then, okay?"
"Yes, thank you, sir." Ascot murmured, and fled - or tried to. He got halfway out the door, spotted Umi, went a deeper shade and froze for a second - bowed awkwardly with his bag clutched to his chest, muttered something in a voice which had gone up half an octave, then shot off in the other direction.
Umi stared after him, blinked, then came in. "Is he okay?" She asked, perplexed.
"Just shy. Plus, it's his first term, so it's his very first essays due next week."
"Ah." Umi grinned. "I see. Everyone's allowed to go a little mad at that point." She came in and dumped her bag on his desk, where the exodus of Ascot's papers had left a gap. The bag was fairly small, light blue, with lace and ruffles - and when it went down with a hefty thump Clef jumped, and all the muscles of his right shoulder protested, loudly, cramping up.
He folded up at the sudden pain, coming all too close to whacking his head on the desk. "Ah, shi-" He cut himself off, biting his lip and trying to straighten out, but Umi was halfway around the desk already, hovering over him uncertainly as he used his working hand to press down on the worst of the pain.
"What is it? Are you okay? Should I fetch someone? Did - did my bag hit you or something?" She lay her hand on his left shoulder, and pulled back a second later. "Please tell me I haven't broken you again!"
"No!" He said, in a hurry, looking up at her - which was a mistake, as his neck twinged and then joined the party. He curled up on himself, ear pressed to his aching shoulder, and tried to not swear too loudly until the bright sharpness of pain began to relax. Her hand found his shoulder again and stayed there, this time, holding on just tightly enough to be a comforting kind of distraction. As soon as he could, he said, "No, Umi - Miss Ryuuzaki - it's not your fault, it's just cramp. I moved the wrong way, that's all."
He was glad, for a moment, that he couldn't look up to meet her expression. "I'm sure. Just the aftermath of a bad physio session, and an inability to remember how not to move."
"...Would it have been a bad session if I hadn't run you over?" She asked, insistent.
"Um. Perhaps not," he admitted, then found himself rambling on. "But it'll be just as bad the next time I sleep oddly, or reach a heavy book down with the wrong hand, or just forget to not type too much. Bad sessions happen, and in between there are the mediocre and the better ones, and eventually there won't be any at all, hopefully. I wouldn't blame you, even if I thought it was your fault, and I don't. These things happen."
Umi frowned at him. "You can't really be that calm about it. It's unnatural."
It was the calmest he'd been about it since he woke up. Clef tried not to laugh. "Oh, I've been spitting mad all day. But at my arm, and the therapist who keeps moving the bones in my wrist each session, then buggering about with my shoulder too. You don't get a look in, I'm afraid, Miss Ryuuzaki." He grinned.
"...It's Umi, then." She declared.
"Call me Umi. If you're not mad at me, you should call me Umi. You did earlier, now I'm 'Miss' again?"
"Miss Umi, then?" He said, and watched with a swift moment of glee as she glared back at him.
"Just Umi. I can't hit you at the moment, don't force me to be sneaky about getting my revenge!"
"See?" She smiled. "That sounds better -"
"As long as you call me Clef." He said.
"What, you don't want me to call you Sir?" She widened her eyes at him, trying not to laugh, and Clef failed to glare at her, the last of his bad mood lifting. But he didn't take the bait, mindful of the clock, and his plan to hit the library before he went home.
"Well, Umi. What did you make of the reading so far?" He waved her back to her seat, and the meeting veered onto more normal lines.
By Sunday, Clef rebelled and started typing again, worried by how far behind he was getting. Only Emeraude knew him too well and found excuses to disturb him every half hour or so, or else sent Ferio or Zagato to do the same - Lantis, out for the day with Eagle, escaped the same duty only by his absence. So at lunch Clef shoved his laptop and books in his back, and trudged up the hill to lock himself into his office.
Finally alone, he determined to take a ten minute break for each half hour typing, and see how he was going. Contrary to Emeraude's dark muttering, he wasn't a masochist at all, but he had to do a final revision of Ascot's essay at the very least; it wasn't his work, so no one could insist he handed it over to anyone else - a student's right to not have unsubmitted work poked at by just anyone without permission was sacrosanct. That was the only reason, he suspected, that Emeraude had let him keep the laptop in his room at all.
Two hours later he hit send, looked up, spotted the clock, and winced.
That... was not good.
He hadn't even remembered the first break he'd intended to take. Ascot's essay was done, for now - he'd had to suggest changes in more places than he'd expected - and he had answered another couple of emails from people panicking about their deadlines. But the burning ache he'd not even noticed building in his wrist promised he was going to pay for it, starting immediately.
There was half a box of pocky in the pocket of his bag, stolen from Ferio when he'd come to disturb Clef that morning. Clef ate the last sticks in a hurry so he'd have something in his stomach before the painkillers - checked he was actually allowed another dose already - then sat very quietly for half an hour as they began to work.
If he went back home looking like he felt now, Emeraude would be furious, and he felt stupid enough already!
Campus was almost busy, when he made his way out the building. The libraries and the computer labs were all open, of course, and there were clubs running today. As he took the shortcut down to the back gate, he walked past a group who must have come out of one, paused to talk in the courtyard before they split up and went home. He was too busy feeling guilty to pay them much attention.
Then someone called "Hey! Clef! Wait up a moment!" and Umi came bursting out of the crowd, calling farewell over her shoulder as people waved at her, and watched Clef with interest.
He walked slowly, but didn't precisely stop to wait. (He... didn't like being stared at.) "Your club?" He asked when she caught up, walking down between the buildings.
"Not anymore - it was last year. I was just helping out today." She said, distracted. "Fencing. Clef, is that your laptop?"
The bag was slung over his left shoulder, but the weight was making his whole back tense. He hesitated, guiltily, and Umi took it as yes.
"Here," she said, and darted around him, taking it off him before he could protest - before he could even grab it, reflexes slowed by pain and painkillers. He still glared at her. "I'll carry it back for you." Umi insisted, implacable under his frown.
"Don't you bike?"
"Yeah, so you'll wait here at the gate for me, right? I won't be a moment." And she peeled off to the right, vanishing behind the hedge with his bag and leaving behind the trace of a cheshire cat grin in his memory.
With nothing else to do Clef sat on one of the bollards and waited, again, stretching his neck, watching the luminous blue of the sky as it began to darken. His irritation faded away as the velvet calm of the evening surrounded him, no traffic and no one walking by to disturb him. There was a breeze, just about cool enough to be welcome, and his muscles began to unwind a little as he relaxed.
Two minutes later Umi was squeaking to a halt in front of him and clambering off the bike, his bag in the basket, her large gym bag strapped to her back. "I'll walk with you." She repeated. "It's on my way, anyway."
"...You stole my bag." Clef pointed out, feeling uncomfortably gentle about it.
"I'm doing you a favour. I want one in return, don't worry - I want to pick your brains on the way to your place, okay? It'll be an equivalent exchange." She ended with a grin, and he had to laugh. He could imagine her watching that show, trying to work out if the 'alchemy circles' would actually work for anything. (They didn't. The principles were all sound enough, if archaic, but the detail was gibberish.)
"Fine, fine." He stood up, and stretched a little before setting off down the road, Umi pacing beside him with her bike on the edge of the road, wheels making a faint squeak to underlie the conversation. "What do you want to know? Did your reading throw up something else you want to look into before narrowing your topic - do we have to walk slowly?"
"It's not that at all, actually - it was what you wrote about that German Dr's work on circle design, in your dissertation? I can't pronounce her name, sorry. It's just, I'm trying to finish my design essay off, and it sounds like just the thing I need to pad the end out a little, but the only copy the library has is in German. I can almost manage English, but German's beyond me. So I was wondering..."
"Ah." They walked slowly after all, Clef moving carefully and pretending he didn't know Umi had noticed. "My copy's in German too, I'm afraid." Umi's face fell. "...I did do a kind of translation of that one chapter. Really rough, you realise. I mean, it has all the facts, but it's nothing like an actual translation-"
"That would be such a help! Honestly, it would be brilliant. Fuu - one of my friends, that is - knows enough to help me find the original quotes, if I know what I should ask her to look for."
"I'm not sure I should be helping you quote an article you can't read."
Umi pouted. "But you explained the whole thing so clearly in your essay! I know what it says, even without your translation."
"No, you know what I think it says." Clef pointed out. "I might be wrong."
"I trust you." Umi said, shrugging, as if it were just that simple - pinning her grade on her trust of him... only, well, it was that simple, some ways.
He was her tutor.
For a moment, he'd mostly forgotten that.
"Are there any articles in Japanese which talk about the same thing? You wrote that a couple of years ago - has anything come out since?" Umi asked, and he turned his thoughts firmly back to principles of control circle design.
Umi walked him all the way to Lapita while they talked - and then she tucked her bike up by the fence at the front, behind all the flowerpots, defended his bag from his belated grab at it, and proceeded to carry it up the stairs for him while ignoring every half-formed protest he was babbling. She didn't even wait for him to find her a pair of slippers, leaving him kicking off his own shoes in a hurry and shuffling into his own, catching her by the bottom of the stairs. Then they got far enough about the curve of the stairs to see Emeraude in the corridor, her eyes narrowed a fraction as she stood by Ferio's open door but looked at Clef's locked one, and Clef shut up fast.
Umi faltered a little - most people in their department recognised Emeraude, her power was somewhat notorious, and that one occasion she'd lost her temper with a guest lecturer was legendary - but kept going forwards, and by the time they were out of the stairwell she'd turned back to face Clef. "I might as well come in. You have to find me that translation, anyway, and I was wondering about a couple of the things referenced in the book you leant me, whether they were worth chasing up... I wrote the titles down somewhere, to see if you knew anything about them."
"And how much time exactly are you spending on reading for your dissertation instead of your classwork?" Clef put in, nodding to Emeraude as she turned to watch them. He tried to not look as wary as he felt.
"Eh, enough that I'll be very well informed when you have to start talking me down from taking on far too much at once?" Umi said, and looked about the corridor. "Which one is yours again? 202, isn't it - Oh!" That to Emeraude, and Ferio, who was just opening his door. Umi bowed shortly to them. "It's Miss Mitsubishi, isn't it? One of my friends is being tutored by you - Hououji Fuu? She's a third year undergraduate, she loves working with you."
"Fuu? Ah. That makes you... Ryuuzaki, is it?" Emeraude asked, drawn into the polite rituals of society.
"Ryuuzaki Umi. And I need to thank you myself for helping Clef, last week." Umi said, and Clef could have hit her - that wasn't going to keep Emeraude distracted from him! - but she followed it with "I'm afraid I'm the one who ran into him." and bowed low and respectful, and that did distract Emeraude, long enough for Clef to get his door open without anyone noticing the shake in his hands as he struggled to fit the key in the latch. Even Ferio was watching Umi, and Clef leant his good - well, okay, better - arm against the doorframe to stand and watch, shuffling his bag behind it with one foot so Emeraude couldn't possibly spot the shape of the laptop pressing against the fabric.
"I'm pleased to meet you." Emeraude was saying. "I hear Clef is also tutoring you, now?"
"Mostly so far we're just arguing about the books I should read." Umi turned far enough to grin back at him, and he found himself returning the smile without actually intending to before she turned back. "I've talked him into lending me some of the books, anyway, so at least I won't get any library fines if I take too long!"
"Who says I won't fine you?" Clef asked, amused, and she shot him another infectious grin.
"You'd be that mean to this lowly little undergraduate?"
"You're barely shorter than I am," he retorted, "and I can't imagine you let anyone get away with calling you lowly. But if you want these books in time to get back to your friends for dinner... Sorry, Emeraude, Ferio-"
"Not at all, you're working." Emeraude nodded at him, and he tried not to shift guiltily under her level stare until she moved on. "I'm glad to have met you, Miss Ryuuzaki."
"Just Umi, please! I owe you a lot for helping Clef, and looking after my friend so well." Umi insisted, and then they had made their escape safely into Clef's room, the door shut between them and Emeraude's sharp eyes, and Clef slumped back against it with a sigh.
The curtains were still drawn across the window, statement of the lack of organisation in his morning, and though a fair amount of light filtered through the thin fabric it was still dim back here down at the end of the kitchen-stroke-corridor. Umi deflated a little once the door was shut, watching him almost warily, and her voice when she spoke was pitched low enough it didn't disturb the soft quiet in the shadows, and certainly wouldn't pass through the door. "...Was I right? You didn't want to talk to her right now?"
"Not until I've unwound some of the knots I've put in my arm this afternoon." Clef admitted, listening to the murmur of Emeraude and Ferio talking through the door. "You were brilliant, thank you. Emeraude has a-"
"A temper, yeah. Fuu has told us a couple of stories which... well." Nodding, Umi picked up his bag again and stepped up out of the entrance pit onto his wooden floor, bare-footed, and Clef was suddenly glad he'd swept up yesterday in a fit of defiant procrastination. (Sweeping being one of those things he was supposed to ask someone else to do this week.) "Where do you want this?" She asked.
"You don't have to-"
"I might as well finish the job, now I've got myself into it." She walked down into the main part of the room. "On the desk?"
"Where would it fit?" Clef followed her along, trying not to laugh when she stopped and pulled a face at the amount of stuff on his desk. "Just on the floor beside it is fine, if you insist. I'll get the laptop out before Emeraude gets here..."
"I'll do that too, if you don't mind me going through your bag?" She offered, glancing back. The soft light seemed to dance over her, a glow across golden skin, and for a moment Clef's voice caught in his throat. Hopefully she didn't notice.
"I don't mind, it's all just essays and notes, but you really don't have to..."
"Well, you might forget. I don't want to have my work wasted." Umi pointed out. "...Plus, then Emeraude would know I was aiding and abetting you and I don't really want that to happen." She crouched down to pull the laptop out while he laughed, then stood regarding his desk. "...You do have a lot of stuff on here, don't you."
"Half of it doesn't count, it's my bedside table too." He said, cheerfully enough, and went to the fridge to see if he actually had anything to offer a guest. "Uh, do you want a drink? I have orange juice or some apple drink, or there's water. I've got tea somewhere, but Emeraude stole all my coffee a month back and hasn't returned it yet..."
"What, did she run out?"
"No, she found me drinking it at three in the morning." Clef admitted, wry, winning another laugh out of Umi and watching the way it made her eyes light up. "I've been banned since then. There's always the drink's machine outside if you want something else. And I swear I have some biscuits here somewhere..." He glanced into the fridge again, absently wondering what he should do for food tonight as he seemingly had none, and when he turned back Umi was staring into it with him, lips still quirked up.
"...You're a fan of cooking, then?"
He raised his arm in defence. "Banned from chopping too many things!"
One eyebrow quirked up, and his lips twitched in response, and how had she done that? How did she have him making jokes about his arm, when he barely managed that with his closest friends? He'd known her for a week! But she...
When she'd looked at his arm, at the ink staining him, there had been curiosity in her expression. Not horror, not pity, but interest. It was... refreshing. It hadn't put her off, she wasn't ignoring the rest of his existence for it...
"I'm fine, thanks. I had a drink after fencing." She said, after a moment, and turned back to the shelves. "...Which of these books am I borrowing?"
"The biggest blue one on the bottom right, for one. If you get that one, I'll dig out the other two..."
"Two? Are they multiplying?"
"Well, while you're here, you might as well borrow everything I have which should help you. Like you said, no fines, right?"
"I'll have to take you out for dinner to pay you back." Umi said, absently, and he nearly dropped a very hefty book on her head as she knelt by his feet to look at the lowest shelves. Fortunately he managed to grab it with his other hand before he'd completely let go. "That's what I do for Fuu and Hikaru, anyway." She continued, oblivious, and glanced up. "Eesh, is that one of them? It's massive! Do I have to read all of it?"
"I, uh. No." Clef said, trying not to squeak. "It was just in the way. It - here, hold it a second?" And he dumped the book in her hands to turn his attention fully to the shelves and away from distracting undergraduates. "The one by Daimler and the Suzuki one - okay. That's it, I think. You're all set." He traded two thinner volumes for the hefty one and wedged it back into place. "The translation for the German one is tucked into the back of it - if you struggle with my handwriting, send me an email, I've got the notes typed up somewhere."
"Thanks, Clef. I'll get going, then; I actually do have people to meet this evening. I'll try to get through these before the next time we meet-"
"You'll read one of them and then get your other work done." He said, trying to glare, failing miserably. Umi just laughed at him.
"I won't get into any trouble I can't get back out of. I'll see you soon, then."
"Get home safely." He said, walking with her to his door, then feeling rather silly at having said such a... domestic thing. "I mean, don't run anyone else over!"
"Don't worry," she shot back. "I only aim for you!" Then she was out of the door and passing Ferio as he walked back from, presumably, Emeraude's, just in time to catch Umi's shout. Ferio pulled a shocked face at Clef, who glared right back at him.
"Don't you start, or I'm not inviting you to Jumbo's tonight."
"I'm not saying a word!" Ferio insisted. "Not when I might miss out on okonomiyaki - you're paying, right?"
"Oh, go away." Clef told him, and shut the door again on his friend's laugh.
"I'll see you in half an hour!" Ferio announced loud enough most of their neighbours must have heard it as well.
Downstairs, the heavy front door swung shut with a clang as Umi left.
end chapter three
*down scurries back to throwing things at Protecting You*