Well…I wrote this a long time ago, like…in January. And I just stumbled across it today. Um…the characters may seem a little OOC but that's because this story is based on real events that happened in my life, and I just put it into fanfiction form. Unfortunately, forever is a silly word, and I didn't have the courage to post this until now. I wasn't sure if I should, but I figured if I'd written it I should probably post it (unless of course it was terrible) so…here you go…hope you like. I don't own Rayearth, as you all know by now and flames and reviews are always accepted, as you also know.

Minotaurs

Umi tossed her head away, angrily slamming her arm onto the ivory keys beneath her. Her fingers wrapped into a tight ball as she gritted her teeth angrily. It just wasn't fair!

"Don't give up Umi-chan," Presea glided into the room with the grace of the dancer she was.

"H-hai," Umi smiled sweetly and wiped the sadness from her face.

"I'm sure you're going to get it eventually," her voice was a tinkling whisper that made Umi want to cringe and then cry for wanting to cringe. Presea's long brown hair simply accented her rare blue eyes. Her jeans (a fashion introduced to Cephiro by the Knights) hugged close to her tiny form. How could she compete? Presea was gorgeous.

"Where'd you get that music from anyway? It's so beautiful," Presea set the vase of flowers upon the sleek surface of the grand piano with a gentle click.

"Clef," Umi mumbled softly and looked at the music with a gentle light in her eyes.

Presea's hands tightened around the vase for an instant as her mood darkened. She turned her head back to Umi and smiled warmly, "That's so sweet of him."

"Hai," Umi's hands settled back on the keys and began to play a gentle melody, simple, but meaningful, challenging only because it was a bass melody. Bass…Umi's thoughts drifted to Clef's quiet humming. Her fingers fumbled, and she fell from her trance only to find Presea's thoughts were elsewhere as well. Her fingers had settled on two roses, one blue and one white, each with its own set of thorns.

"Presea? What's wrong?" Umi inquired anxiously. Since returning to stay in Cephiro after her eighteenth birthday Umi had become closer with the craftswoman. They were in each other's company constantly. Umi told her everything, everything except for one thing, the one thing that seemed most important to her.

"Nani? Just thinking about… stuff," she tried to put on a smile that was a dismal failure.

"What stuff?" Umi gritted her teeth. You asked, why do you always ask? You know exactly what plagues her thoughts. She never thought twice about telling you her feelings for him. And why should she? You've never been in the same league. Yet you ask. Every time you ask and torture yourself further. All for what? He will never love you!

"Clef," the word barely escaped Presea's lips before Umi was plunged into a treacherous labyrinth of regret and betrayal. At the center were her memories, dangerous minotaurs, all seeking pure emotions on which to feed. Emotions such as…"sometimes I think that I…" a tear fell from Presea's cheek, and Umi threw back the piano bench to embrace her friend, "love him," she whispered in choking gasps as Umi's minotaurs found her.

"When I look into your eyes all I see is hatred and anger. I'm sorry, life isn't supposed to be like this, especially not for you," his hands almost seemed to itch to cup her face. She wanted to force softness into her eyes for him, to scream out and beg him to love her, but the minotaurs were out. Rejection after rejection flashed through her mind like a TV screen inside her head.

She smiled bravely and shook her head at him, "I'll be fine; I'm strong."

"Too strong," he mumbled to her fading form, but she kept walking, staying deaf to another nick.

It was in that moment that she knew she could never know love. If he couldn't love her who could? He was possibly the most caring person she'd ever known. He could solve any problem, except…he couldn't save her from herself, could he? But then…not even she could do that.

"Sh…don't cry," Umi begged. "I'm sure he cares for you," she held back a shudder. "It's just too soon for him."

It wasn't exactly common knowledge that the Guru had just gotten over a secret lover who had fed him to the dogs. She loved someone else that left her, she had known she could never love him full heartedly, but she didn't care to share that with him until after the damage was done. The anger still flared in Umi's heart, but the minotaurs were tired of feeding on that.

"Gomen nasai, you're such a good friend Umi," Presea smiled warmly as Umi dropped her hold on the girl. Umi shook her head in disbelief, No Presea, I'm really not, she thought to herself.

"I wanna help you Umi, but you won't let me in," she had made up every stupid excuse possible to spend time with Clef, and it all led up to this one single moment. The moment Clef could make or break her heart. "All I can see is your exterior. You won't let me in, and I begin to wonder if there's anything in there at all."

She looked up and her powder blue hair fell down to shelter her eyes. It was better he didn't see the tears, that was only more sadness. The thought that he couldn't ever return her feelings, that she was just another project to him, turned to sheer, bitter anger, "I don't need your help, really."

"I know you don't," he smiled and turned the subject to brighter things.

Presea wiped her tears and stood up straight, "Arigato."

"No problem, do you want to stay? Fuu and Hikaru are coming for tea in awhile," Umi offered a bright smile and couldn't help but wonder where the softness was.

"No thank you, Clef's been expecting me," Presea's eyes lit up in excitement as color flooded into her cheeks.

"Oh."

"Arigato, again," Presea gave her a quick hug and left with a graceful, practiced sway.

Umi fell against the piano and began to sob. The year had been a painful one. Both her aunt and her grandmother had passed away. It had been the year of finding herself; the path had been marked by the pieces of her broken heart. The person she found she did not approve of. She looked up at the sky; five days till the New Year, five days. Then she could start again. Her New Year's Resolution was self-preservation.

§§§

Her heart welled up as she finished her hair and looked in the mirror. She smiled in satisfaction- maybe now she could be beautiful enough. Maybe now…

She skipped down the hallway towards Clef's room. Her heart was filled with anticipation.

"Let us see what time brings," he touched her hand lightly, and she smiled.

"Ouch, two rejections in two months in two different worlds," Umi tried to make light of her pain. The last thing she wanted him to see was her weakness. She never even thought that's what he needed to see.

"I'm not saying no," he whispered, "but I just want to make sure my intentions are pure. I know we've been hurt a lot in our lives."

"I understand," Umi interrupted. "You wanna be friends."

"For now," he seemed pained to say it. "Until I see your inside, your real inside."

I'll change your mind Clef, she thought determinedly. I don't know how or when I built this wall but Berlin fell, I can tear this one down.

She pushed open the doors with her most winning smile. The bright red bow in her hair was to highlight her innocence, "Clef?"

"Umi!" Presea ran to meet her with open arms, and Umi embraced the girl while looking at the Guru over her shoulder. He gave her a meaningful glance, and she let Presea go as her smile shattered.

"I can only stay a few minutes, I just wanted to ask the Guru if we could hold a New Year's celebration," she quickly made an excuse for her presence.

"Surely you can stay a little while," Presea offered the room as if it were her own, and Umi turned green with envy.

"No," Umi laughed and shook her head. "No, I really can't."

Clef gave her another meaningful glance full of suspicion and a quiet tenderness. "Of course you can have a party, I'd be glad to assist in anyway I can-with anything," those last two words he gave an added weight to, before she turned and walked out, her mask completely shattered. At least not in front of him, at least he didn't see her cry.

"If you ever need anything, don't be hesitant to ask. I'll always listen," he gave her one of his knowing smiles that gave her the impression that he thought he knew a great deal more than she.

"There actually was something…" Umi blushed and looked down. She could tell Clef anything. In so many words she'd told him her feelings for him! But so far she hadn't been able to speak this aloud.

"Talk away," Clef transported her to the seaside. They both seemed to feel more safe there.

"Well, you know how Presea feels for you, what have you to say?" she tried to act as if her whole heart wasn't resting on this deal. She failed miserably, but Clef was too caught up in his own thoughts to notice. Judging by the grimace on his face, Umi guessed those thoughts weren't all together pleasant.

"Presea and I have spoken; she knows we have too much history, that I can't love her like that. She says she no longer cares for me, but we can both see through that. The truth is, I'm just not ready to be hurt again."

"Hai," she tossed her hair and looked out to sea, lost in thought.

§§§

The next morning Umi arose and regretted waking. In her dream they were dancing on a rooftop under the stars. The words he whispered in her ear were too amazing to be anything but a dream. She sighed wistfully and brushed her hair back only to meet her own eyes. For the longest time she just stared at her reflection, trying to find what it was Clef was looking for. But all she saw was herself, her image and her stormy eyes staring back at her.

"Umi-chan! Umi-chan!" Hikaru danced into the room. "Come on, we're going picnicking!"

"Okay," Umi laughed and took Hikaru's hands as she skipped merrily down the hall, dragging Umi behind her.

They met the others outside. Fuu sported the picnic basket and a bright smile, with Ferio behind her. Caldina and Lafarga were there of course, along with a blushing Ascot. Aska, Sang yung, Tatra, Tartra, Eagle, Geo and Zazu were also joining them. Hikaru bounded over to Lantis, leaving Umi temporarily alone, until the crowd swallowed her into its laughter and joy.

They settled onto the grass and began to eat and talk. Umi began to find herself longing for it to be over soon. She wanted to go back to the castle, to speak with Clef. That's all she ever wanted to do, she wanted to speed time along. She wanted to make Presea better, for both of them. She felt selfish, but that's what she felt.

"Umi, are you okay?" Ascot inquired, and Umi realized she had been staring into space yet again.

"Hai," she nodded and put on her palest face. "I just don't feel too well."

"Are you sick?" Hikaru asked anxiously.

"No, well…maybe a little, I'll be fine," she coughed into her hand, and Fuu's brows creased in worry.

"Umi-san if you're sick you should go rest. You don't want to be sick for New Year."

Umi hesitated and then nodded and stood, "You're right, I'll go rest, and I'll be better by tonight. Gomen nasai, I hope you don't mind," she bowed quickly, and Fuu smiled her relief.

"Of course we don't mind!" Hikaru grabbed her hands and laughed, "We just want you to feel better Umi-chan."

"Arigato Hikaru, Fuu, minna," Umi smiled brightly, then caught herself and forced another small cough.

"Do you want me to walk you back Umi?" Ascot mumbled quietly.

"Sure, that'd be nice," Umi agreed, and Ascot jumped to her side.

They started off at a gentle, silent stroll before Ascot broke the silence, "So are you going to the party?"

"Of course," she giggled, "I asked for it."

"Oh right," he blushed and laughed. "So um…did you maybe wanna go? With me, I mean."

She looked at him and smiled sadly, always more sadness, "I would, it's just…I don't think I'm in that place right now. The thing is…I've been hurt too much recently, and I'm not ready quite yet."

"So, when will you be in that place?" he muttered.

Never for you, she thought to herself and wanted to cry for sadness. "Maybe after a little while."

"Okay," he smiled and changed subjects.

Umi liked him; it was fun being around him, but it was a boyish fun. He couldn't give her the depth that she needed. Even if he was taller, he was still a child, with innocence she couldn't bring herself to destroy. She had her own innocence in some ways, which she was willing to lose, but Ascot's was different. She wasn't going to force him to live her depression, he couldn't. He was simply not ready to know the real her. So you'll do that to Clef? she demanded of herself, You'll let him share your deepest fears and hates?

But he has fears of his own. He will understand; he's strong. But he needs me as much as I need him, she snapped back.

Is that your justification?

"Here we are," Ascot had stopped talking; he had realized she was just humoring him with weak, sometimes incoherent responses, "Hey Umi?"

She turned and smiled.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Hai!" she put on her best smiled and hugged him quickly, "You're so sweet Ascot. Yes, I'm fine. I'm hurt a little, but I'll be okay," she laughed with hollowness that he never quite caught and began to walk inside.

"Umi! It's time to move on! Don't forget that!" he called to her, and she spun and smiled.

"Arigato for walking me back Ascot!" she shouted back and walked into the castle.

"I have a banquet to attend in a nearby village soon. Come with me," Clef asked for the second time.

"Presea still can't go?" Umi inquired lightly.

"No, I told her I thought you needed some fun, that we'd have fun. She understands."

"She says she understands. I can't go; I don't do well at those things," Umi quickly made up an excuse, any excuse, even though she knew he knew it was a lie.

"I won't bother you, because I'm sure you have reasons for not wanting to go, but I really do think you'd have fun," he switched his staff to the left hand and ran his right through his soft lavender hair.

"I'll make you a deal," Umi grinned. "You try really hard to get a date, and if you still don't have one by the time it comes around, I'll go with you."

He nodded, "Fair enough."

She hadn't gone; she'd known when she made the deal she wouldn't go. She couldn't do that to Presea, even if she loved Clef.

A little white dog ran by, yapping playfully, a little girl followed closely behind. Umi laughed and ran after them to the gardens where the two stopped to roll on the grass. Umi smiled and knelt by the two. She let the dog sniff her hands before she reached down and scratched his ears. He rolled over, and she bestowed the same treatment upon his stomach.

"You're the Magic Knight of Water," the girl exclaimed, and Umi giggled and nodded, still staying crouched down to be at the girl's eye level. "Wow! Can I see your sword?"

"Sure," Umi stood and summoned her sword, holding it to the girl. "You can't pick it up though; it'll turn to water."

"Cool!" the girl shouted gleefully.

"So, what's your puppy's name?" Umi inquired as she resummoned her sword.

"Mickey, I got him for the New Year," she answered and pulled the squirming puppy into her arms.

"I had a puppy once, her name was Angel," Umi told her.

"Like you?" a voice whispered in her ear, and she turned and fell into deep blue eyes.

Umi shook her head fiercely, "Not even, I'm quite the opposite of an angel."

He laughed and gave her a mournful look, "I've gotta try. As much as you beat down my attempts I still try. You've gotta give me credit for that at least."

"That's what you call resilience, or maybe just stubbornness," Umi laughed.

"But you've gotta give me credit."

"I do, more than you know," she whispered, and he wrapped an arm around her waist, rubbing circles on her side.

She glared at him jokingly, and he laughed.

"Why do you do that?" he inquired.

"I don't know," Umi admitted. "It's just a habit, I don't know."

"Ms. Umi, will you come play with us?" Umi and Clef turned to find a group of kids running and jumping in the gardens.

Clef dropped hold of Umi to leave her feeling empty, "Well, go on," he laughed and Umi looked from him to the children.

"In there?" she pointed to the tumbling ball of children. "They'll hurt me."

"I'll protect you," he winked. "Your knight in shining armor."

She sauntered toward them, turning her head, "I think I'll be yours," she grinned and fell into the ball.

Clef laughed and joined them.

§§§

"I had fun with you today and tonight," Clef confided as he walked Umi back to her room.

"Good, that makes two of us," Umi laughed as they stopped in front of her door.

"You're really beautiful," he gently pushed a strand of her bangs behind her ear.

Umi blushed and looked away, freeing the strand of hair.

"You are," he whispered when she looked at him. "Those are the eyes," he pushed her hair back once more to see her eyes dancing, "Don't look away, you'll ruin it."

"Don't say things like that," Umi pleaded.

"Why?" he stroked her cheek gently, "You afraid you'll actually start believing it? I'll make you see the truth?"

"No, never," she shook her head. "You know, you need to stop working so hard."

He laughed and turned his head from her, "Okay."

"You do!" she laughed, and he looked back at her.

"Okay, we'll work on it."

"Okay," she agreed and gave him a long hug that she didn't want to end. Reluctantly, she pulled away, but kept her hands in his. "I'm going home for a few days. I'll be back on the thirtieth."

"Don't let your mom kill you, or I'll have to come after her," he joked, and Umi laughed.

"Oh we have our disagreements, but we get along."

He dropped her hands and nodded, "Night."

"Night," she whispered and walked inside.

She sighed heavily and leaned against the door. Her heart longed for him constantly. This had been one of the most amazing nights of her life. Yet, it was just a terrible reminder of what she couldn't have. Every minute she spent with him was torture and bliss wrapped in a snug little ball. All she thought was how she needed him to kiss her, and he never did. And why not? Because he knew Presea loved him, and he knew she and Presea were close. He didn't want to hurt her, so they could never be together. He didn't want Presea to regret introducing them. It wasn't fair! If only they'd met sooner, when Presea was happily with one of Clef's students. If only…

Stop it Umi! There are no if onlys! she scolded herself.

'Umi?' Clef's voice rang clear in her head.

'Hai?' she answered nervously, wondering how much of her thoughts he'd been able to hear.

'Are you okay?'

'Yeah,' she tried to put lightness in her mind, which was much more difficult than putting it in her voice. 'Arigato, for tonight.'

'No problem, the children love you.'

'Really?' Umi didn't have to exaggerate the joy in her voice that time.

'Really,' his laugh was so gentle in her mind. She could almost feel his hands caressing her face, and it made butterflies explode in her stomach.

'That makes me so happy!' Umi squealed excitedly.

'Good! Then don't leave, and we'll go visit some others tomorrow.'

Umi laughed, suddenly bitter, 'Yeah right, you know the second I'm gone you won't think twice.'

There was a long pause before Clef responded in an almost inaudible whisper, 'You're wrong. I actually miss you…I never thought I'd see the smile I saw tonight.'

Umi tried to think, but her head was spinning so fast, 'Well I never thought there'd be a minute where my hands weren't cold.'

Another long pause ensued, and Umi was afraid she had said too much, 'I'm speechless,' Clef whispered. 'Do you think Presea would really get that frustrated if-'

'I don't know, to be honest,' Umi cut him off. Hearing him say the words would only make her regret not having it more.

'Well, I'll work on it.'

'Okay, I just don't want to her unhappy,' Umi's stomach jumped. He wanted to be with her!

'I know,' he said quietly.

'She's one of my best friends,' careful Umi, she told herself privately, haste will destroy you in the end. You can't afford to destroy Presea in the process.

'She's my greatest confidant,' Clef answered. Umi knew he wouldn't hurt Presea, but she knew that he wouldn't see her hurt either.

'Well I should probably get to bed, I have a long journey ahead of me,' Umi barely held back a sigh. What bad timing for her to be leaving.

'You should, sleep well!'

'You too!'

'And Umi…' Clef took a mental breath…'Take it as you want it…but, aishiteru.'

Umi's heart did somersaults, 'I love you too,' she whispered.

'Night.'

'Night.'

Umi fell into bed as the night's events replayed in her mind. She laughed helplessly, but as the hours wore on the minotaurs found their quarry, the purity of the emotion she had expressed for the first time.

"Even if he did care for me in that way it wouldn't matter. One of his closest students was my lover. He doesn't want me to be with Clef, and I still care for him too deeply to betray his trust," Presea confided, and Umi smiled and shook her head.

"Clef doesn't want a relationship now, he said it himself. But that doesn't mean you can't have a chance, give it time. Time heals all wounds," no one ever would have guessed Umi was madly in love with the Guru herself. She kept everything safely locked away and guarded.

"Time," Presea sighed, but nodded and smiled. "Arigato."

"No problem," Umi winked and hugged Presea tight.

"I don't want to be another problem, someone to get in the way. I know with your last love interest one of your friends won over. I don't want to be that to you. I don't want you to harbor any resentment toward me," Presea's hands clenched into fists, her head hung so her eyes were sheltered.

"What?" Umi laughed and shook her head, "Don't be silly; Clef and I are friends, nothing more, don't worry," she held the slender girl's arms and forced her to look into her sapphire eyes. "If anything I'm just jealous that someone cares for you the way he cares for you. I wish someone loved me like that," Umi was confident her eyes wouldn't betray how much she really cared; her eyes betrayed nothing.

"He cares about you!" Presea protested.

Umi laughed and shook her head, "No, it's not the same."

You're hurting her again Umi; you're tearing one of your closest friends apart. You swore you'd never do that. What kind of selfish monster are you?

Umi clutched her pillow tight to her head, trying to block out the voice her conscience. She began to whimper, and tears fell from her eyes, No, not again…

Memories turned to dreams, turned to nightmares, which engulfed her and found her screaming his name in the night.

§§§

Umi grasped Hikaru and Fuu's hands as they transported back home. Once back in the Tokyo Tower they agreed to meet at 2:00 on the thirtieth to return to Cephiro.

Umi unlocked her door and set her bag on the ground as her mother and father rushed to greet her.

"Umi, it's so nice to see you darling! Did you have a safe flight?" Mrs. Ryuuzaki inquired after she let Umi go.

"Yeah, it was okay," Umi laughed as she hugged her father. Some details of Umi's new home had to be omitted.

"So what kind of job did you end up getting that you can't call?" her father demanded, and Umi smiled and patted his cheek.

"I've been working a lot, very busy. I got a job as a journalist for the New York Times," Umi wanted them to be proud of her, even if she was lying.

"Oh Umi that's wonderful!" Mrs. Ryuuzaki exclaimed and swooped in on her daughter for another hug.

"Always knew you'd make a good journalist; you see things, and you don't let your emotions get in the way. Good qualities to have," her father smiled proudly, and Umi smiled back, strongly, despite the weakness in her heart. Hiding her emotions had cost her every love in her life, except the one she couldn't have. He was willing to work for her, and she couldn't be with him. Some girls tested their prospective lovers with games and jealousy ploys, Umi didn't need to; she was her own test.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself Umi! Pity is not going to make the situation any easier! Shape up and pull your chin up.

"Umi darling, is something wrong?" Mrs. Ryuuzaki asked concernedly.

"No, of course not," Umi smiled. "Just glad to be home is all."

"I'm glad, come in, and we'll get you settled. You can tell us all about America and your life," Mrs. Ryuuzaki hugged her daughter's shoulders as Mr. Ryuuzaki grabbed her bag.

§§§

"Umi dear?" Mrs. Ryuuzaki knocked lightly on Umi's door.

"Yes mom?" Umi looked up from her window seat and turned to her mother.

"It's a man isn't it?" her mom came in and sat next to her on the window seat.

"Nani?" Umi realized it was far past time to start paying attention.

"It is, who is he then?" Mrs. Ryuuzaki's eyes lit with delight. "Is he nice looking? Does he treat you well? How long have you been together?"

"He-" Umi faltered and put her head in her hands. "He's perfect mom; he treats me like a princess. He makes me feel so elegant; he's a true gentleman," tears got the best of her and started racing down her cheeks.

Mrs. Ryuuzaki stared at her daughter, distress filling her expressions, "Then why are you crying sweetie? That's not a reason to be upset. I mean, you've found yourself a wonderful man like your father and-"

"He's not mine mom," Umi whispered, burying her head in her knees.

"Well then…oh," Mrs. Ryuuzaki put her pointer and middle fingers on her bottom lip as the realization dawned on her. "Oh, well then…Umi, I thought I raised you better than to go after a taken man! A good man wouldn't chase you, but it does take two to tango as the saying goes."

"It's not like that mom-Clef, it's, he's…one of my best friends, Presea, she's in love with him too, and he says he doesn't care for her like that. Still, she's always with him, and they've known each other so long. I just can't compete, and I shouldn't want to. I, sometimes I think I'm in love, but how can I be? How can I be?" she clenched her head in between her hands and sobbed as her mom held her and rocked her. "I want to be with him all the time, and it's so wrong," she whimpered, and Mrs. Ryuuzaki cradled her and kissed her head, shushing her gently.

"No honey, no, it's not wrong. You deserve love. Umi, it's never worked for you. When you moved away you left with broken wings. I only hoped they'd heal, but even behind the pain I can see healing happening. Umi, if you care for him, don't let him get away. If your friend loves you, she'll understand. The thing is…she's gonna hurt, but would you want to see them together and have everyone end up miserable? If they end up together no one will be happy. She'll get over it, time heals all wounds."

Umi listened to her mother's comforting words and loved her more than she could ever remember, "Arigato."

"Do you remember when you were little, and I used to rock you like this? You'd curl up on my lap, and I'd rock you to sleep," Mrs. Ryuuzaki laughed, and Umi did too.

"Yeah," she looked up, and her mother pushed back her bangs.

"I love you Umi."

"I love you too mom."

"I'll go mix you a drink and draw you a bath," Mrs. Ryuuzaki stood, and Umi nodded, still clutching her knees to her chest.

"Arigato, that'd be nice."

Mrs. Ryuuzaki laughed and winked, humming softly to herself.

§§§

Umi smiled as she settled into the bubbles. The water of her Jacuzzi tub almost came up to her neck, while candles lined the tub. She took a sip of the Long Island Iced Tea her mom had mixed her and smiled peacefully.

She stared at her reflection in the mirrors that lined the tub. Her long blue hair was pinned up messily and a few stray strands hung down to the water. She pulled back her bangs and gazed at her reflection; she really didn't like herself.

She sighed and picked up the remote to her stereo. Gentle piano music floated to her ears as she settled into the tub.

She clutched her stomach tight as butterflies swam through her. She couldn't take it any more! She closed her eyes and concentrated her magic to a rift the size of a pinhole in the fabric of the world. She pushed her magic through the hole and sent it toward the castle. Finally, when she was about to give up, he grabbed her magic and held it.

'Clef?'

'Umi?' his voice was scratchy and faint.

'Hey, I just wanted to see how you were,' she smiled lightly and basked in the water.

'I don't feel too well,' he responded. 'I think you made me sick. Must've been those hugs.'

Umi laughed, 'Yeah, guess you don't get those anymore.'

He laughed as if that were an impossibility.

'I didn't mean to bother you, I'll let you go.'

'No, it's really okay,' he answered and told her of what she'd missed in her day absence which seemed to be a lot. She never realized how busy Cephiro was until she came home and was bored out of her mind.

'How's Presea?' she asked hesitantly. Glutton for punishment, she told herself.

'She's okay; I haven't seen her much. She's been in a good mood,' he answered softly.

'That's good.'

'Yeah, I didn't want to ruin her mood with telling her about…lately,' Umi didn't know if he meant her or his sickness, and she didn't want to ask. Either way he sounded as if he regretted it, whichever it was. Umi still didn't want to know. If 'it' was her, that was just terrible, she couldn't love someone who regretted her. If 'it' was his sickness that was its own kind of terrible, because he regretted being sick just because it may hurt Presea through his bad mood. He never hesitated trusting Umi with his displeasure.

Stop it Umi! He knows you're strong enough to handle it.

What if I'm tired of being strong? She argued against herself.

You're being foolish, stop thinking so much and concentrate; it's hard enough without all your mindless self-pity.

'I'll let you go,' Umi said suddenly. 'My mom wants me.'

'Okay, see you soon,' Clef didn't seem to suspect.

'K, ja.'

'Ja,' Clef released the magic, and Umi fell back into the water, exhausted. Her whole body was shaking, and she wasn't sure it was just the lack of energy.

§§§

She called Clef once more to tell him when to expect them. When it was time to say goodbye to her parents she could barely wait to get back to the Tokyo Tower. Hikaru was late as usual, but once she got there they transported right back to the castle.

The three girls stared in wonder at the garland and streamers that decorated the main hall.

"What do you think?" Clef appeared from the end of the hallway to greet them.

"Looks great," Hikaru complemented, smiling.

Clef smiled and led Umi away as Fuu and Hikaru went to go find Ferio and Lantis.

Umi hugged Clef tight as he whispered, "I missed you," into her hair. She laughed and pulled away to look at him. She stroked his cheek gently and smiled. He kissed her fingers and nodded, cupping her face in one of his strong hands.

"My whole life I've tried to cope with the pain. I've ignored it, tried to force it out through music and words. I've run from it," she looked into his gorgeous blue eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat. "But the thing is…when I'm with you it doesn't hurt anymore."

He smiled warmly and pushed back her bangs to kiss her forehead.

§§§

Umi didn't see Clef again that day. She was swept into preparations and planning. Before she knew it, she was appointed head chef and tossed into an apron. She ran her kitchen with an iron spoon, and cakes and pastries began to overflow around her.

When she was finally relieved of her duties in the kitchen she fell into bed with a heavy sigh, only to be risen an hour later by a knock on her door. She groaned angrily and forced her aching body to the door. Upon opening it and falling into Clef's eyes, she realized she wasn't hurting anymore.

"I just want to be with you," he told her almost immediately.

She just stared in shock, the sleep completely gone from her eyes, "Nani?"

"You heard me," he smiled, and it took another moment for it to process.

"But what about Presea?" she immediately felt guilty because she had to force the words from her throat.

"I don't care," he laughed a hoarse laugh. "I just don't care, I know she'll understand," he reached in to kiss her, but she turned away. "Nani?" he looked at her with such pained eyes she just wanted to scream to the heavens about torture.

"I love you Clef, more than I've ever loved anyone, but I want you to be happy. Find a girl who doesn't have as many chains as I do."

"Umi-"

"Good night Clef," she smiled sadly and shut her door.

"Umi!" Clef pounded on her door for several minutes before he slumped against it, "I love you," he whispered and retreated to his personal solitude.

§§§

'You did it again,' her mind taunted. 'You pushed him away again, just like you always do. You always push away the men you love. Just admit it!'

'It's not like I wanted Presea to love him too! It's not like I wanted to love him.'

'But you do, and he loves you too! And still you force him away! No wonder no one loves you!'

"Shut up!" Umi screamed and threw herself on the bed, "Shut up…"

§§§

The next morning Fuu and Hikaru roused Umi late in the day. Umi looked up at them with sleepy eyes and smiled, "Morning already?"

"Afternoon already," Hikaru giggled.

"You slept far past noon Umi-san," Fuu informed her.

"We wanted to wake you up, but Guru Clef said to let you sleep," Hikaru opened Umi's curtains to let the sun in.

"That was nice of him," the night before was like a brick wall, and she went slamming into it.

"Something wrong Umi-san?" Fuu looked concerned as Hikaru came to kneel by Umi's bedside.

"Nothing," Umi smiled brightly and pulled herself from the bed.

"Hurry up and get cleaned up; we're going with Caldina, Tatra, Tartra and Aska to Presea's to get ready for the party," Hikaru grabbed her hands and pulled her toward the bath house. Umi groaned but eventually agreed and took a nice, relaxing bath.

§§§

Umi looked at herself in the mirror and nodded to Presea who nodded back, "Clef will love you in this dress," Presea said quietly, pulling Umi aside while the others laughed and talked.

"Nani?" Umi's eyes widened. Just how much did she know?

"I know you love him Umi; I just never wanted to see it before. I know he loves you too. I want you two to be happy. He'd never be happy with me and besides," she winked, "I'm still in love with one of his students."

"Presea I-"

"Don't say anything, just feel better, be cured," she kissed Umi's forehead and wiped a tear. "You deserve it."

"Hey Umi-chan! Presea-chan! Stop gabbing and get over here!" Hikaru called, and Umi and Presea linked arms and walked to the others.

§§§

She entered the hall and smiled, but couldn't bring herself to meet the eyes of the Master Mage, not with Presea looking on as she was. She still couldn't do it, not now, not here, but her heart was aching, and her feet were moving forward subconsciously. She turned and glanced at the swordmaster, who smiled sadly and nodded her approval, then disappeared into the crowd.

"What does she know that we don't?" Clef eyed her suspiciously, and Umi closed her eyes. "Umi, you look…stunning."

Until now, she hadn't even cared to think of her own appearance, but seeing Clef in new formal robes with the headpiece removed and his staff absent, her heart began to flutter and she knew everything about herself. She knew that at that moment her hair was wild and unrestrained, that there were pieces sticking up because of static. She knew that her shawl was hanging loose around her arms, and that her dress was tangled between her legs. All of it, but he didn't care, because she was beautiful to him always and more so on this night than ever before. "We should take a walk," she suggested, and he nodded and followed her to the gardens where she stopped to look at the ceiling that was the same shade as the night.

Seeing her search, he snapped, and the moon appeared in the ceiling, the stars twinkling beautifully around it.

"Wow," she whispered and turned to beam at him. "Thanks."

"It was the least I could do…now…Umi…"

"She knows Clef," Umi burst out. "She knows everything; she said she's still in love with your student, but I don't I-"

"Umi," he sighed heavily and stopped her outburst. "I feel the same as you, but I…I can't keep doing this to myself, I can't keep denying myself those eyes."

She looked down, prepared to simply not give them to him.

"You know that's not fair to anyone; you should always smile," he pulled her chin up with two fingers and stared down at her intently.

"Clef, I dunno…" she hesitated. Her whole body was aching for him to pull her near, but her mind was screaming in anger. This is not what friends did! This is not the way they behaved!

"Presea will find someone Umi, and when she does you'll be alone. Do you want that again? I can't wait forever."

"That's not fair," she mumbled and looked toward the ground. Not fair, but she knew it was right.

"Then…"

"Clef, I just," she turned and started to walk from the gardens, but he caught her wrist and spun her around. He looked at her for only an instant before he pulled her into his chest and kissed her fiercely. She wanted to stay in that kiss, but shock and fear pulled her back. She lay her head on his chest, both of them trembling.

"I love you Umi."

"I love you too."

"For better or for worse, I want to stay like this, with you, forever."

"Forever?" she looked up into those sparkling blue eyes that offered such safety and protection as he nodded gently.

She nodded back and let her smile free, "Forever then."

That's it, just a quickie. Hope you like! Until my next post!