Several hours later, students and staff were gathered in the large dining room to have the graduation party for Will and the others of his class. Presents exchanged, and speeches were made. It was mostly a fun time for all except those who were naturally sentimental about old friends moving on to new chapters in their lives.
Fuu and Joan entered with their heads huddled together. It was unusual for Joan to be late to anything, so that threw up a few flags to some of her friends. Seeing the young Japanese woman with her, they didn't ask her more. They just assumed it was another example of Joan's over-interest in all things Japanese.
Hikaru and Steve were talking with each other. She'd beaten him soundly, just as Clef had predicted. For someone who'd been solidly defeated, he looked rather happy. He seemed entranced as he stared at the red-haired woman with stars in his eyes.
"I recognize that look," Jessie whispered in his ear.
"What? What look?" Steve answered with as much innocence as possible.
She raised a single eyebrow and then inclined her head to the visiting kendo expert. "She's going back to Japan when Umi leaves, so if you're going to make a move, you'd better act fast, killer."
He laughed at her use of the nickname. Steve really loved Jessie, and it was in a moment like that where he appreciated her most as the true friend she was. "I'll see what I can do, hot stuff."
Umi and Clef arrived to the dining area separately a few minutes later, both wearing clean clothing with no evidence of the food fight they'd had previously. Upon seeing her friend, Fuu strode over to her.
"You're glowing like a firefly! It's so wonderful to see you so happy," she enthused.
In simple answer, Umi replied, "It's good to feel this happy."
"I think… Well, I think we might have a surprise to help with more happiness later," Fuu said in her best effort not to give away the nature of the secret.
"You know how I hate surprises!" Umi protested with her mouth agape.
Fuu shrugged and smiled again, but this time like the Cheshire Cat from the story books.
Elsewhere, Scott found Clef to talk to him. It had been so difficult for the young man having him here no matter what name he used. His presence interrupted the calm of his world. It was difficult not to resent him, but the fair part of his psyche tried to let it go.
At the sound of his name, Clef turned to Scott, fixing his blue eyes on his green ones. "You remind me of someone I know at home. I never told you that, but I hadn't remembered it until just recently."
Clef pointed to his head for emphasis. Then he continued, "He was much like you, and he became a very strong, ethical man. I feel proud to have known him. As I know you…"
Holding out his hand, the once-mage said formally, "I thank you for all you've done for me. I would not have been able to survive here without you."
Scott swallowed hard while thinking of the best response before he decided upon, "It was the right thing to do."
"Not many people choose to do the right thing," Clef observed as he scanned the crowd.
He was always aware of Umi's presence, but this time he didn't have to hide the fact that he was actively looking for her. By the time he saw her, she was talking to Hikaru. He could never shake the impression of the Magic Knights when the three were together.
"So what are you going to do? I assume you're leaving," Scott said, interrupting Clef's ruminations as Mr. Templeton came to join their cluster of conversation.
"You can stay here longer if you need," Richard offered.
Mouth agape at his generosity, Clef responded, "No, I can not. I have taken too much without giving in return. Though you are kind, I would not be able to live with myself if I took advantage of you."
"That's precisely why you won't," Mr. Templeton responded with a quirk of his mouth.
He couldn't hold his sarcastic retort in check. "I think you have too much faith in humanity."
"Dad, why would he stay here? He wants to be with Umi," Scott said dryly before his father could react to previous comment.
Richard gave Clef a considering look out of the corner of his eye before taking a sip of his beverage, and Clef did his best not to respond. There was no denying of the truth. He would not stay at the ranch longer if she wasn't there.
"Good luck to you," he said after another sip of punch and clapped Clef on the shoulder.
Later in the festivities, a dinner bell rang to announce the special procession of Umi's cakes. Sounds of appropriate appreciation were heard all over the room. An individual cake was put on Will's table that he shared with his friends. He stood up to give a speech to the room, but was short and sweet.
The party got quieter as the people in attendance ate with friends at various tables. When the adults were gathered at one large table, it was reminiscent of Clef's first dinner with them as Harry, but this time it included friends Hikaru and Fuu.
Joan put her fork down on her plate loud enough to get the attention of the adults at her table. "I have an announcement," she stated importantly, standing to build tension.
The look she shared with Fuu had that same secretive look that Umi had seen earlier. Because of it, Umi was immediately on her defenses. Whatever the big reveal was, this was probably going to be it.
"We all know that Umi is returning to Japan in a few days. We will miss her, but sadly life goes on. Don't forget that phone calls and the internet work both ways," she admonished.
"And now we have the matter of Clef," Joan continued, gesturing to him in example. "He came to us as Harry, and we grew to care about him, too. And it seems that he and Umi have a not-so-secret-anymore history together."
Steve shuffled in his seat wondering where all this was going. Scott didn't look like he was faring any better. Jessie was the one who spoke for the group. "Hurry up, Joan. We know this part."
Drawing in a deep breath, she looked at Clef. "I overheard what you said to Derrick. I have a friend in the Department of Defense thanks to my teaching aspirations to work overseas. That kind of thing is useful for getting a placement where you want to go. So I pulled a few strings, and I've got your travel documents if you need them. Well, I don't have them right now but they'll be here by the time Umi leaves if you want to go to Japan with her."
Fuu put her fists up to her lips and giggled from behind her knuckles. Usually Hikaru was the excitable one of the trio, but she couldn't help herself, especially not when she'd helped Joan plan this so brilliantly.
Both Umi and Clef gave Joan dumb looks. Their silence stretched on so long that she started to get worried. "Aren't you the least bit happy?"
"I honestly don't know what to say," Umi said as she averted her eyes.
"We hadn't even discussed it yet, Joan. I hadn't asked to go with her," Clef said hesitantly.
"Because you didn't think you could! I heard you, you know. Well, now you can if you want to," she said triumphantly and sat down.
The pair looked shell-shocked and uncomfortable. Patricia leaned forward as the voice of reason and placed her hand on Clef's forearm. "Maybe you two should go have a walk to discuss this."
"Yes, yes. Good idea," he said, getting up to leave the table.
Umi followed him without protest, though she looked at Hikaru and Fuu over her shoulder before she left the dining room.
When he'd changed from their food fight, he wore dark blue jeans instead of the khaki cargo pants he'd initially been wearing. As he was walking in contemplation, he had his thumbs secured in the belt loops and the tips of his fingers in the pockets. Beside him, Umi walked with her long hair unbound and blowing softly in the light breeze.
"So… Japan," he said, feeling stupid because he couldn't have an intelligent opening.
"It's lovely this time of year," she said, daring to look up at him. It was strange this feeling of shyness she had around him in the present moment because it was so different from the intimacy of their shared kisses in the kitchen only a few hours earlier.
"Is it?" he said, with a distracted tone. His mind was running a mile a minute, yet he couldn't settle on one coherent thought.
Remembering her boldness, Umi replied, "It is when you share it with someone you love."
He stopped walking and reached out to touch a lock of hair swirling around her. He smiled in bemusement because it was like a living current of her water element.
"I want to be there with you," he confessed.
"Then come," she said in a tired yet final sound.
He opened his mouth a few times and didn't say anything as he mentally searched for the right words. "I wasn't sure I could go, and I didn't want to assume you wanted me there. Umi, we only figured out a few hours ago how I even came here!"
She looked at him with the patience one saves for a stupid person. "Isn't the fact that you're here enough for you to know I want you to be with me wherever I am?"
He gave a nervous laugh as his way to agree with her. Then he nodded.
"Then come," she repeated. "We'll end this part of our lives and then start a new one together. My mother will be so happy to meet you, by the way. She always suspected I was heartbroken over a boy, and she never knew how right she was," Umi replied, putting her hand to his cheek.
He put his hand on top of hers, letting his love for her shine in his eyes. "I will be there, and thank all the gods from here to Cephiro for Joan's friend in the Department of Defense."
"Good," she said as she rose on the tips of her toes to give him a sealing kiss.
Packing for Clef was easy. He didn't have many personal things to keep because most of his mementos he gave away to students and friends. For some reason Will was interested in his staff, so it was bestowed upon him as a graduation present. Meanwhile, Derrick had already accepted Fyula.
Fuu and Hikaru helped pack the rest of Umi's belongings. The furniture she had already arranged to sell before she had decided to move back to Japan. It was only the reason that had changed, not the outcome. Had she married Scott, they would have gotten new things as a couple anyway.
The departure day arrived, and Clef was nervous. "You're sure the courier will meet us at the airport?" he asked Joan.
"Yes," she said, "but that doesn't mean we should waste time getting there." To help that end, she was the one taking the quartet to their flight.
The Templeton family, Jessie and Steve waited near the van to give parting hugs to the friends they had made. While Jessie was embracing Clef and whispering final words in his ear, Hikaru had impishly gone up to Steve and kissed him on the cheek. He put his hand to his face as if to cover where her lips had been, and he actually blushed to the roots of his hair. He laughed at her nervously as she smiled back.
Umi's moment with Scott was not filled with words. She looked at him as if to will him to understand all that she had in her heart. He reached to hug her close, and she came to him willingly. She hugged him as if to touch heart to heart.
"Thank you," she breathed out.
He framed her face in his hands, and looked back at her with no anger. "I will always love you, Umi."
"Then I am the luckiest woman alive," she said, meaning it despite how trite it sounded.
The group loaded up in the van, and as they drove away the five people at the ranch waved after them.
Joan waited with them at the airport until the courier arrived with Clef's travel documents. The small window of time increased the tension the former mage had been feeling. He had to admit he was sweating under pressure. Once the documents were obtained, they had almost no time to spare for clearing airport security and customs.
Belting himself into his aisle seat in the airplane, Clef finally let out the breath he'd been holding. "Nothing but the future now," he muttered.
Umi, sitting to his left, laced her fingers with his. "It will be amazing as long as we're together," she said with a smile.
"So I've been wondering something," he said as he turned his head to look at her. "Do I speak Japanese?"
That set her off on twitters of laughter. "You'll learn quickly, and there's only one thing you need to know right now."
"What's that?" he said with interest.
As she opened her mouth to tell him she loved him, she realized how she'd so thoroughly picked up American mannerisms. "I'll have to tell you later," she teased.
"At least we have a later," he said, looking at her with reverence and wonder.
This was not the way he expected his life to go, and being a person without magic was something he still struggled daily to accept. In contrast, his inner optimist was finding his voice because he felt with Umi at his side, everything would be okay. He kissed her temple, and then turned his attention back to the flight attendants doing the pre-takeoff safety demonstrations.
"Japan, here I come," he declared softly.