BISHLOV:  Whoever said that you get inspired once in love ought to be trampled to death by a stampeding wallabies.  Not a brilliant chapter, mind you, so don't expect too much.  Sorry for the MAJOR delay.  I am still trying to get out of this rut.

DISCLAIMER:  I do not own MKR or any of its characters.  CLAMP does.  This plot is a product of my imagination.  Any similarities to other fanfictions are unintentional.

UMI'S STORY

By bishounen lovah

Chapter 5

It was the sound, the smell of the sea that woke her.  Somehow waking up was not such a painful experience today.  There was a warmth that enveloped her in her dreams and welcomed her back to reality.

And now Umi followed the sense of peace like a little lost lamb.  It didn't take long for that peace to shatter.  The moment she opened her eyes and saw the unfamiliar surroundings, she bolted up in panic.  It also didn't help when she realized that she was naked as the day she was born.

Recent memories began to dawn on her, enlightening her a bit like the rising sun.  It was all coming back to her: the clinic, Ferio, the rain…the man.  And, as if on cue, her head started to throb a bit and she winced when her questing fingers encountered the bump on her scalp.

The man stalked her in that alley, she was certain of it.  She recalled the fear that made her heart halt then race.  She could easily imagine the hard grip on her and the feel of the wall against her head before everything turned black.

Was this the man's home?  Did he bring her here?  Did he have his way with her?

As far as Umi could tell, there were no signs of abuse.  There were no bruises aside from the bluish finger marks on her upper arm where the man grabbed her.  And aside from her lightly pounding headache, she could feel no other pain.

She slowly got out of the bed, careful to keep the blanket around her.  She almost dropped the edges when a dog suddenly appeared beside her.  It amazed her how such a large dog could move so quietly.

"Easy, girl…boy…it…whatever you are!"  Umi stuttered as she backed away from the dog.  To her relief, the dog just barked once and left the room.  Just as she was about to close the door, the dog came back again, only this time it had something dangling from its mouth.

"Is that my bra," she shrieked, half in disbelief and half in simmering temper.  "Drop it.  I mean it.  Drop it right now or I'll…Did you just snort at me?  Hey, come back here.  I'm talking to you."

She chased after the runaway mutt.  It was a pitiful chase since she kept on stepping and stumbling on the trail of the blanket.  Eventually, she found "it" in what seemed like the laundry room.  "It" sat beside the folding table and alas!  Her missing clothes were on top of the table, including her now damp brassiere.

"I suppose you're expecting me to thank you now, right," she asked the obviously rhetorical question to the dog.  "Don't think that I'll be forgetting that you ruined my bra any time soon."

You've truly gone crazy, Umi.  Talking to a grinning, slobbering dog.  What'll you do next?  Have a pleasant conversation with the man who stalked you over tea and cake?

At those thoughts, she hastened to don her clothing, minus the slobbered article.  But even as her brain warned her of the danger, her heart told her that all was well.

Hmm, which would she believe?  Common sense or gut instinct?  No contest there.  Her instincts had never failed her and her brain, which might be at the brink of insanity, was not that reliable lately.

So she forced herself to calm down and looked around to gauge the situation.  Her gaze finally settled on the grinning dog that was still looking at her with great interest.

"You're not thinking about having me for breakfast, are you?"  The dog licked its lips in response then made a suspiciously smacking noise.  Umi didn't know whether she should be afraid or amused.  "I'll take that as a no, if you don't mind.  Now let's see who and what you are."

She crouched down in front of the dog and made a quick peek at its gender.  "Ahh, you're a boy.  I should have known from the way you latched on to my bra.  What's your name, boy?"

She cautiously reached for the dog's collar and read his tag.  She read it three times just to be sure.  "Ceres."

Could it be?  No.  But then…Coincidence?  Yes…No…

"Ceres," she whispered again in wonder.  "Who's your master your, boy?"

"Woof, woof," came the loud reply.  Ceres jumped on his paws and sauntered back to the front of the house.  Umi followed him, occasionally stopping to take in the pretty, little beach house.  They ended up in the den where there were lots of pictures displayed.  But Umi zeroed in on the beautiful watercolor painting that hung at the center of the largest wall.  The rest of the wall was bare.  It only held the painting.

A painting of her.

In her Cephiran armor.

She had difficulty breathing in, as well as believing.  Her hands were raised to touch but she did not dare to.  She was afraid that her touch would make it disappear.  She was afraid that what was happening was not real.

Her brain was frantic for answers and her initial conclusion was that whoever brought her here knew about Cephiro.

Ferio?  Lantis?  Zagato?

No.  They had not interest in her.  Why call the dog Ceres when they could have called it Rayearth, Windam or even Innova?  Why paint her?

"Who made you," she asked the painting, not at all minding that it has less chance of answering than Ceres.

Umi finally tore her eyes from the painting and saw that the dog was already dozing on the rug.  She looked around some more and there were even more paintings and sketches on the other walls although they were not as big as his own.  She recognized them.  The floating islands of Cephiro, the castle of Cephiro, the sea of Cephiro…

Ah, Kami!  Ascot, could it really be you?

But somehow she knew that there was no other person who could paint monsters and produce such beautiful pieces.  His majyuu.  Only Ascot could draw the tame and compassionate side of his majyuu.

When she reached the bookshelves, all of her doubts were erased.  There were framed pictures there of people, some new, some old.  Most of them contained strangers, people whom she had never laid eyes on before, people she had no interest of.  She only searched for one person and found his smiling face in a single shot.

She didn't know whether she should laugh, cry, scream or faint.  She wanted to do all but all she could do was stand there, frozen in time.  A tear escaped her eye and dropped on her bare foot.  Her silly grin barely diminished even when one drop turned into a rainfall.

The long wait was finally over!

There at the corner of the shelf was the undeniable proof that Ascot came for her.  He was here, in this world.  And he came for her.

Unconsciously her feet brought her outside but she was no longer searching.  With her head raised to the sun, she let love and happiness wash over her just as the sea washed the sand from her feet.  I can die in peace now, the thought came suddenly and she chided herself instantly.  Why would she want to die now when all that she wanted was within reach?  She giddily smiled at her silliness.

The series of barking made her look up.  That was when she noticed the light tingling at her nape then down her spine.  He was watching, she was sure of it, but she was too scared to turn around and look.  Too scared that if she did, he'd disappear, just like a mirage.  She was thirsty for him…so thirsty.

Umi could hear the footsteps coming nearer and nearer.  It stopped just a couple of feet behind her.  She closed her eyes and held her breath, savoring the light touch on her shoulder.  Her heart was beating so hard she almost failed to hear his words.

"Why won't you look at me?" came the achingly familiar voice.

Fresh tears escaped her tightly shut lids.  Her fingers pressed hard on her lips, trying to seal the whimpers that came at the sound of his voice.  Her shoulders shook, first lightly then more vigorously when Ascot drew her in a tight embrace from behind.

"I'm sorry," he pressed a kiss on her temple.  "Shh, love.  Everything's going to be okay.  We're together and nobody's going to have to leave ever again.  Shhh…"

More sobs racked her body as relief coursed through her blood.  The sadness and loneliness of the past years dissolved with the tears.  The dam that held all of the negative emotions now had a huge gap, emptying everything until there was no more to give.

When her tears dried and her shaking receded, she noticed that she was no longer standing but sitting on Ascot's lap, both of them sprawled on the sand.  She took in a deep breath, tasting the salty and manly scent of Ascot and the sea.  She held her breath as long as she could then released it slowly, relishing the first of memories.

Ever so slowly, she lifted her head from his chest.  The first glimpse of Ascot's brilliant green eyes made her blue ones tear up again.

"Don't," he whispered raggedly.  "Don't cry again.  It pains me to see you so sad."

"I'm not …sad…not anymore…You're really… here.  I'm…I'm not dreaming…this time."  Umi watched and felt his cheek pressed more firmly against her palm.  The dampness made the reunion more real.  He'd been crying with her!

She was not the only one who suffered from their separation.  Whatever his reasons were for taking so long, he had suffered too.  Speaking of reasons, she wondered what his excuses were even if she had already forgiven him.  Umi would not be Umi if she did not give him hell for it.  And she could already feel her feistiness coming back.

She slapped his chest once and she pushed back.  "What the heck happened to you!?  What took you so long?  I was going out of my mind with worry.  Do you realize how long I've been waiting?  Why, I—"

She never saw it coming.  One minute she was yelling her tirade in one breath, the next she was watching her sweet, shy Ascot kiss that breath out of her.  Her eyes closed an instant later.  Her lips softened underneath his as she let herself go.  She knew that she was safe now.  Ascot was there to catch her.

The tide came and went, and still they sat there…talking…kissing…savoring.  Ascot explained his delay and, with gentle prodding, Umi confessed her depression.  No secret was kept.  He even told her that he'd been following her for months now but was too scared to approach her.

After a while, she disentangled herself from him and stretched.  She took a deep breath of fresh air and looked around in wonder.  "You know, I get this feeling that I've been here before."  She skipped and twirled around, keeping her arms outstretched as if wanting to embrace the sea.

"I remember, when I was a little girl, my parents took me to the beach one summer.  I sneaked out of our house and played from sunrise to sunset.  There were lots of kids.  I remember…"  She abruptly stopped, turned around and looked quizzically at Ascot's pseudo-innocent face.

"I remember playing with a boy.  He had a dog," she stared at Ceres for a moment then at Ascot's smiling face, epiphany dawning slowly.  "Like yours.  And brown hair, like yours.  You don't happen to know anything about it do you?"

Ascot crouched down and petted his dog.  "She was Ceres' grandma.  Great dog.  You never came back.  After that summer, I had dreams.  Of Cephiro.  Of you.  Messed with my head a lot.  Until one day, I woke up and understood.  I knew I had to find you again."

"But what—how!?  I was fourteen when I went to Cephiro and yet you're telling me we met even before then?"  As confusing as it was, Umi began to understand something.  They met before.  Way before she found out about the reincarnation.  The contract wasn't broken.  There was no fluke.  They were together because the contract was fulfilled.

"I don't know how it happened," he got up and pulled her in his arms.  "Magic…freak accident…destiny…Does it matter?"

"No," she whispered up at him.  "No, but I'd like to think that it was Destiny's work."

"Ryuuzaki Umi…A romantic?  Who would have thought?"  Ascot joked then yelped when Umi pinched his arm.

"Don't think for one second that you're completely off the hook, buster.  I should give you hell for scaring me yesterday in that alley.  What's the big idea stalking me there anyway?"

~*~

"Where is she?"

Umi's stalker paced around his living room, wearing the gleam off his polished floor.  He had waited for her outside the apartment complex but she never came home last night or this morning either.  She wasn't in any hospital.  He checked all of them already.  Besides, her roommates would have gone to her if she was brought somewhere.  No.  The girls didn't leave the building, just their boyfriends.

ARRGGH!!!  Where is she!?

He almost tore the hair from his scalp.  He knew that he was going out of his mind.  The change in his plans was too much for what was left of his sanity.  He needed to see Umi.  Just a glimpse.  But she didn't go home.

"Can't take it…I can't take it anymore.  Umi…I want her.  I have to have her…now.  Umi…Dammit!  You'll pay for this!"

And quite suddenly his mind cleared.  The madness was wiped from his face and was tucked deep in his brain.  Gone was the mad man, replaced by a composed, amiable man.  That man reached for his phone and dialed a number.  Her number.

"Moshi moshi."

"Aa.  Moshi moshi.  I'm looking for Ryuuzaki-san."

"She's not in right now.  May I take a message?"

"Aa.  Tell her that Miyajima-sensei called.  Tell her that if she doesn't want to be dropped from my History class, she'd better come to my office before this day ends.  If not..."

TBC…

BISHLOV:  Reviews, greetings, constructive criticisms, and/or death threats are welcome and will be very much appreciated.  Gomen nasai, minna-san.  I may be taking too long but you have my word that I'm gonna finish this one.  Huggles!