AN: *eyes new fic* I am not joking when I say it took me half a dozen tries to get this thing the way I wanted it. You would not believe…ugh…so I reallreallyreallyreeeeeeeally hope everyone appreciates it, because I did work very hard on it. *smiles* Any questions or anything, feel free to leave an email address or something in a review, or drop me a line. I like getting email *grins*
Well, on we go. Spiced with just a hint of Asmi freshness, but nothing huge. I don't own Magic Knight Rayearth. I am merely borrowing it from the manga goddesses known as CLAMP. They rule. I drool. Simple enough, ne?
Just Like Always
Twilight. A strange time, where it is neither too bright, nor too dark. The sun makes its downward trek towards the horizon, making way for Night to step in and reign over the skies until Dawn once again reclaims its heavenly throne.
Tonight, it seemed a little brighter than usual, as though the sun was slowing on its path. The result was a sky that was a brilliant pallette of reds, oranges, pinks, and yellows that blending gradually into the richer, darker greens, blues, and violets of the night sky.
Ascot, one of Cephiro's chief summoners, didn't pay too much attention, though. It was a beautiful scene, but he was occupied by something else. Namely, standing in the room of Cephiro's palace that housed an orchard, picking fruit.
He really didn't have to do this job anymore. With Cephiro finally at peace, there were workers, laborers, who did this kind of thing for a living. But he did it anyway. For some reason it was something he enjoyed, he and his friends both.
He wasn't going to be at this much longer, though. One of his many monster friends had come down with something, and was a bit under the weather. It was nothing serious; if it was, he certainly wouldn't have been standing there, relaxing by harvesting fruit! A few more minutes of this, and then he was going to head down to Guru Clef's library. The Master Mage had already told him he could go ahead and use the library as he needed, so he was going to see if there was anything in there that might help his ailing friend.
This was how Ascot cleared his head. It was almost ridiculous, but something about pulling fruit from the leafy boughs of the orchard's trees relaxed him, calmed him, and let him just think things through, especially when something was bothering him.
But right now, he wasn't really thinking over much of anything. Something was bothering him, but he didn't know what. At the moment, he was alone. At least, he thought he was…
Ascot whirled around at the sound of the voice. The tension that had instantly gathered in his shoulders at the intrusion immediately vanished when he saw who was talking to him. "For the love of Mokona, don't scare me like that!"
Umi chuckled. "Aw, poor Ascot." He pretended to pout, and she laughed at him. "So what are you doing in here, all by yourself?"
"Working," he said offhandedly. He still had—what had Hikaru called it? A crush? Yes, a crush on Umi. A huge crush. Not like he'd ever actually work up the nerve to tell her or anything. But time and practice had blessed him with the ability to speak to her without stammering like a moron, and his face no longer turned the color of a ripe turnip whenever she so much as walked by. But she still had a certain effect on him…he just had to be careful. Sometimes, she would smile, and his face would just light up.
She cocked her head to one side. "You don't have to do that anymore, you know."
"I know, but I like too," he said, pulling another piece of fruit from the tree and tossing it to her. "Here. Catch." He knew she liked the fruit; she had told him before. She caught it easily. "Are Hikaru and Fuu here too?"
"Of course," she said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"It's been a while," Ascot commented. He noticed that she wasn't wearing a uniform, like she normally did. Instead, she just had on dark blue jeans, a white shirt, and a lighter blue button-up shirt on top. He wasn't used to seeing her in anything but that school outfit, but he liked the look. It was softer; she looked more relaxed.
"I know. It has been a while," Umi nodded, tossing the piece of fruit from hand to hand as she spoke. "I'm really sorry it's been so long. Things have just been so busy at home, on Earth. You wouldn't believe. The three of us are getting ready to graduate from high school already, can you believe it?"
He stared at her blankly.
She quickly realized what the source of his confusion was. "High school. It's where people on Earth go to learn things, like math and science and stuff like that. And when you get to a certain point, you get a certificate saying that you learned everything you needed to learn, and then you're done with high school. There's a big ceremony and everything. It's a really big deal."
He nodded in vague understanding.
"And after high school, there's college," she went on, absently twirling a lock of cerulean hair around her index finger, and then resuming her game of catch with the fruit, tossing it back and forth between her left hand and her right. She was as energetic as ever, always incapable of standing still. Just like always. "College is like high school. You go learn things. But it's different, because you're learning what you want to do for a job. Does that make sense?"
"Kind of," he admitted. Truthfully, he didn't understand much of what she was saying.
And she knew it. "Liar. You didn't get a word of it, did you?"
"Guilty," he said sheepishly.
"So what has everyone been up to?" she abruptly changed the subject, but that was typical of Umi.
"Not much. It's been pretty boring since the Pillar crisis was resolved," the summoner gave a long suffering sigh.
"Boring?" Umi yelped, actually making him jump. Every time he saw her or talked to her, she managed to surprise him somehow. Just like always. "How could a place like Cephiro possibly be boring?!? I mean, there's so much to do here! We've never been bored here!"
He couldn't help himself. He laughed, and pointed out, "You don't live here."
She paused, then nodded. "True. And I guess being a Magic Knight isn't exactly what you'd call a boring job, is it?" She sighed, then gave him a Look; it made him nervous because he couldn't read what was behind it. It was as though she was trying to figure something out.
It made him nervous enough that he decided to completely change the subject. "Well, I need to go look something up in the library. One of my friends is sick." He managed to make it sound genuine. Truthfully, he didn't want to do anything but sit here and talk to her, but he was just too damn nervous. It was times like these where he especially cursed his shyness.
"Mind if I tag along?" she asked, dropping the piece of fruit into his basket. Some part of him noticed that she hadn't taken a bite, but he didn't pay it too much mind. She probably just wasn't hungry at the moment, and didn't want to hurt his feelings.
"S-sure…" he stammered, feeling his face heat up. He quickened his pace a little, hoping and praying to every deity he had ever heard of that she didn't notice. Fortunately, she had even gotten taller since her Magic Knight days, and managed to do a fairly good job of keeping pace with him.
By the time they strolled into the library, Ascot had managed to get his face back to its normal color, and he was able to speak without stuttering like a moron. Both very good things. Not like Umi would ever call attention to either, but still…
The window was open, and the curtains blew ever so slightly, tossed by the tiniest of breezes. There was a fire roaring in the fireplace set into one wall; the glow from the flames coupled with the ever-diminishing brightness from the setting sun to provide the only light in the room, casting ominous shadows onto the hundreds, if not thousands, of books that lined walls.
Ascot immediately strolled over to one particular shelf and slid one outstretched finger along the row of books, searching for a particular title. When he found what he had been looking for, he smiled, and pulled the volume from the shelf. "I think it's in here."
"You seem to know exactly what you're looking for," Umi commented, dropping into one of the room's enormous chairs. She immediately made herself comfortable. Just like always.
He shook his head. "Not exactly. A vague idea." He set the book down on a table and began flipping pages; he felt a sudden warmth that had absolutely nothing to do with the fire. "But anyway, I'm glad things are going well for you three." Feeling greatly daring, he added, "Just don't forget about us over here, okay?"
Success. She laughed out loud at the notion. "Forget you? How could I ever forget any of you?" He turned and saw that she was regarding him with a raised eyebrow. "After everything you guys put me and Hikaru and Fuu through, you think I could forget you if I wanted to?"
He knew she was kidding. But her next words took him a little by surprise.
"Well, we've talked about me," she sat back in her chair. "But how have you been?"
He paused. "Ano…" Stammer alert. Not good. "F-fine, I guess." He paused, then added in a softer voice. "I missed you, Umi."
"Well, I missed you, too," Umi laughed. "Silly boy."
He felt himself blush. "B-b-but it's not like we'll never get to see you three again, right?" Oh, damn that stutter to the lowest hells! It picked the absolute worst times to attack him! "I-I mean, you'll still c-come see us, right?"
She nodded a little, but didn't say anything. Her expression grew more thoughtful. Then she did something that took him completely by surprise.
She walked over, stood on tiptoe, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
It wasn't anything major, just a little peck. But it was beyond anything he had expected, and he was too stunned to actually react at first. She…kissed…me? She kissed me?
Umi stepped back and smiled up at him again, but it wasn't her usual smile. It was softer, somehow. The firelight danced across her features, half-shadowing them, adding even more to what could almost be called a mysterious aura around her. It didn't take away from her beauty, though, but rather accented it. "I already told you that Hikaru and Fuu are here, too. They're really upset right now, though."
"W-why are they upset?" he stammered, one hand unconsciously going to the spot on his cheek where her lips had touched it. "S-shouldn't you be with them, then? And if they're upset, why aren't you?" With effort, he managed to get his speech back to normal, human quality.
She shrugged. "I have nothing to be upset about. So I just do what I can to watch over them like I watch over all my friends. Just like always." Then she turned and skipped back towards the door. "I'd better get going. There's still a lot to do." She gave him another one of those Looks, that made him swear she was looking right through him, right into his very heart and soul to read his innermost thoughts and feelings. Only she and Caldina could pull off that particular Look. "Are you okay?"
He started. "Y-yeah, I'm fine."
Umi smiled. "I'll see you later, okay?"
"Okay…" Her smile was beyond brilliance then. "See you later."
And she was gone.
Ascot remained motionless for a moment; then some impulse kicked in, and he ran after her, knocking over a small table in the process; he dashed out the door, and into the hallway. He wasn't really surprised that the hall was empty. She had a few seconds headstart, and she was probably in a hurry to go see everyone else if they had just gotten here.
Which meant she had probably headed towards the main hall. That was the usual meeting place for everyone, as well as being Guru Clef's usual hangout. So if he wanted to catch up and see the others, that's where he needed to go.
The summoner looked up as the figure in white came flying towards him. "Nani?"
Ferio grabbed Ascot's arm and pulled. "Come on, the girls are here." The girls meant the former Magic Knights. "You'd better get down here and see them. They've got some big news."
"I know they're here," Ascot said with a shrug. "But hey, did you see where Umi went?"
Ferio looked at him strangely, then shook his head.
Obediently, Ascot allowed himself to be led to the main hall—ironically, his original destination—where most of the occupants of Cephiro's main palace were already gathered. They all seemed to be huddled around two figures in the middle of the room—one green, one red.
Hikaru spotted him first. "Ascot!" She darted across the room and, to his surprise, threw her arms around his waist in a tight hug. Fuu ran to Ferio's side.
Feeling poleaxed seemed to be getting to be a regular occurance as of late. First Umi had kissed him, and now Hikaru was hugging him. Then he remembered that Umi had told him Hikaru and Fuu were both upset, though she hadn't told him what they were upset over. So he felt incredibly stupid, but he had to ask, "What's wrong?"
The Knight of Fire looked up at him, tears streaming from her crimson eyes. "It was terrible!"
Her next words slammed into him with the force of hailstones, sharp and painful, yet he only heard a few of them. Umi. Night. Raining. Car, whatever that was. Accident. Died instantly.
But that was impossible. She had just been here! He had seen her, talked to her! She had kissed him, for the love of Mokona! He couldn't have been imagining things. It had been too real to be his imagination, and he hadn't been asleep, so it wasn't a dream.
She couldn't be gone…
"I have nothing to be upset about."
Her words came flying back at him.
"I have nothing to be upset about."
Nothing to be upset about…because she wasn't the one in pain.
Hikaru's voice got through to him, but he wasn't quite coherent enough to think about the next words that came out of his mouth. "I saw her."
"Nani?" Everyone was suddenly staring at him.
"Umi," he continued, not really realizing what he was saying and who he was saying it to. "She was in the there, in the orchard. She came in while I was picking fruit. We talked for a while. She said you two were here, and you were upset…but…" He paused.
"But?" Lantis prodded, none too gently. "But what?"
"I have nothing to be upset about," Ascot finished recounting. "That's what she said when I asked what was wrong…and she was really happy, the whole time we were talking…" He fell silent, suddenly realizing how completely idiotic he sounded.
The room remained silent around him, save for the sound of Caldina weeping inconsolably. Even Hikaru and Fuu's sobs had stilled in shock at what he was saying. For once, even the Master Mage looked at a complete loss.
Finally, Fuu managed to choke, "Are you sure?"
He nodded mutely.
"You asked if I'd seen where she went," Ferio recalled.
Another nod. "She'd just left." He felt like a moron, but he knew what he'd seen. It had been real, he was sure of it! He couldn't make himself lift his gaze and look any of them in the eye. He was angry, shocked, saddened, embarassed, and, for some reason he wasn't quite sure of, ashamed.
But he could feel them looking at him; he could feel their gazes. And he couldn't take that anymore. Tearing away from Hikaru, he turned and fled, feeling like a complete coward. But no one chased him, and he was grateful for that.
Ascot wasn't quite sure how he managed to get back to the library. He had no actual control over where his feet were going; he just suddenly realized he was standing inside the room, lined with rows and rows of books arranged neatly on shelves.
He looked at the dark blue chair by the wall. She had sat in that chair. She had stood in that spot by the fireplace, laughing at him. But she was gone…
It was then that he noticed the table he had overturned in his mad dash to the hall was standing upright again, and the book he had been paging through was sitting on that table. It was open. Ascot moved to the table and picked up the book. It was open to the page with exactly the information he needed.
"I have nothing to be upset about."
He would never forget those words, them or what she had said next.
"I have nothing to be upset about. So I just do what I can to watch over them like I watch over all my friends. Just like always."
That was why she had come.
Ascot smiled. It was a sad, soft smile, but a smile nonetheless. And he could still feel that tiny bit of pressure where her lips had brushed his cheek.
Umi was watching over her friends.
Just like always.
"When, when and whenever
death closes our eyes"
still shall I behold her
smiling such brightness
lady of brightness &
the illumined heart
soft walker in my blood
snow color sea sound
track of ermine
delicate in the snow
line of the sea wave
delicate in the sand
lady of all brightness
donna del mio cuor. ("lady of my heart")
"The Last Poem to be Written," by James Laughlin