A/N: Sorry for the delay. Let's hope the next update will be faster!!!
Dedicated to ViscountessKeira and to all the lovely people who reviewed!
Come Break Me Down
There was stillness about Cephiro that was different from the quiet that reign over the land when they first arrived there. This stillness was not the lull before a great storm, but rather the comforting feeling that all was well. The sky was a blameless blue and the gentle breeze was pleasant to the skin.
The horizon was broken by the sight of the floating isles, some of them spilling with curtains of crystal clear water that pooled to the grounds below, forming vast quantities of lakes where some of the residents have taken to using as their public swimming holes. The deeper and wider lakes the Palu had claimed for his water creatures, cleverly placing blue irises and lavenders around the shoreline to indicate that the water was inhabited.
Around Cephiro, blue flowers were now officially Ascot's self proclaimed property, much to the chagrin of the gardeners and botanists that reside in the planet. The young man wasn't possessive of the blooms; he was more than happy to see it being used to make wreaths and table arrangements by the populace, and he delight always to see it adorning the various rooms of the castle whenever possible. But he has ordered his creatures to scare the living daylights of anyone who trampled or plucked the flowers for no obvious reason.
Blue flowers were precious, he'd been heard to mutter underneath his breath. They deserve all the caring and loving the world has to give.
Umi thought it was sweet how much attention he lavished on the plants.
Caldina thought it was both hilarious and sad that Umi didn't get it.
It was Hikaru, having been once under the same frame of the desperation Ascot was feeling, who decided to broach the subject to the Blue Knight. Even she, who was too naïve for her own good, could see what was happening when it came to Ascot and her friend. At least this time, it wasn't her who was blind to what was occurring. The redhead imagined that Umi merely needed to be pushed to finally see that the Palu would be good for her.
After all, she said to herself, Umi deserves to know what it feels like to be loved. It was unfair that only Fuu-chan and herself found the man of their dreams in their sojourn in lovely Cephiro.
She bid goodbye to the children she was teaching how to swim, then absentmindedly plucked a blue trillium flower on her way back to the palace, and lest one of Ascot's friends were watching the offense, gamely placed it behind one ear. Yes, Ascot would be very good for Umi, thought Hikaru.
She found the girl in the East wing, where one of the hallways led to a walled garden hidden from public view. Umi was sitting on top of the wall, her blue hair braided loosely to deter the wind from playing with the silken strands. Her two hands were braced on either side of her as she leaned a bit, her face upturned to the sky overhead.
Hikaru took a deep breath and in one fluid movement crouched low, her hands she used to push herself upwards as she took a flying leap. Her landing was noiseless, save for the sound of loose brickwork dropping to the ground where her feet dislodged them from their place. It was an old wall after all, old even before Princess Esmeraulde ascended to the throne.
When she was sure she was secure, she tuned her head to Umi and was not surprised to see she was being scrutinized.
There was a grin on Umi's lips.
Hikaru grinned back.
"Lantis had been teaching me some tricks," Hikaru explained, blushing a little at the mention of the name, but pleased nonetheless at how much she was advancing as a Cephirian fighter.
Her companion nodded and turned back to gazing at the blue expanse. It was on the tip of Umi's tongue to ask what the purpose was since sooner rather than later they would be returning to Earth where gravity would make such jumps impossible. 'On earth,' she thought with an almost tangible longing, will follows the rules of nature and not other way around.
'Except,' Umi told herself, 'not even I am that cruel'. Instead she made a noncommittal sound and added, "That's nice, Hikaru-chan. I'm pleased to know you and Lantis-sama are behaving when the two of you are alone." The tone of her voice changed from light to speculative. "Those tricks are acceptable, ne? After all, Hikaru-chan's 'nii-sans would be very disappointed if Lantis-sama taught you those tricks…"
She looked at the Red Knight slyly, just in time to see Hikaru, her face as red as her hair, pole axed and ready to fall to the lawn below. It took a few seconds for Umi to register what was going to happen next, and she moved quickly, reaching out to any part of Hikaru 's body that she could grasp.
It was unfortunate that the gentle breeze turned traitor and suddenly became a gust of strong wind. It knocked Hikaru – still too mortified to care - further off balance and Umi, having no foothold to secure herself was dragged down.
The sound of their fall was followed by profound silence.
Then, "Baka, baka!!!" Umi was ready to breathe fire and she waved her two hands in the air, too afraid to let them have a go of pummelling Hikaru deeper to the ground. Her left side felt like it was on fire and she almost winced at the probable bruise she would be seeing come next morning. The red head with her blessed luck had landed on top of the Water Knight.
Hikaru took no notice and started bawling. "But that was so mean, Umi! Lantis-kun would never – I mean, he is a gentlem- and those tricks – I;m too young! - and we –" She was unable to finish the sentence, mind too occupied of trying to not visualize what sort of tricks it was that Umi alluded to. Good grief, was she guilty of being an idiot and not noticing when Lantis was being… male?
It caused her to turned even redder and even Umi began to worry.
"Ne?" The Blue Knight shook her head in exasperation. "I was joking, Hikaru! I know Lantis-sama would never do those things to you."
"And why not?! Is something wrong with me?"
"Oh, for the love of …" Umi counted to ten before speaking again. "You just said yourself that your boyfriend is a gentleman. And you are too young to know those things." This last part she emphasized every word.
The two remained silent after that, with only Hikaru's occasional sniffing to break the silence. After a while this too quieted down. Umi waited for her friend's skin color to return to normal before she spoke again. "Are you alright?"
The Donner of Rayearth nodded, before blushing again. "I guess I was caught off guard, is all. I mean, I never really thought Lantis-kun would think our relationship would progress to that stage..." She looked down rather than see Umi's possible disapproving look, wringing her hands nervously. "But I forget how old he already is and that he may, well… you know."
The other knight gave a straggled cry that was half laughter and half embarrassed squeal. She didn't need to know the ins and outs of her friends' relationships. It was enough for her to know that both Umi and Fuu were happy and content. God's truth, if they ever decided to actually give up their virginity to their Cephirian lovers, who was she to say no? It was their life, she told herself firmly. Their choice and not hers.
But she was troubled by the idea all the same. Hikaru and Fuu were already so in love that to make the relationship more intimate…
'What would they feel then when it is time to return home?' came the worried thought.
Her hands gripped either side of Hikaru's shoulders and started shaking her enough to rattle the poor girl's skeletal system. "Too young, Hikaru-chan!" she ranted in a loud, I-will-not-be-disobeyed voice. "Tooyoungtooyoungtooyoung!"
It was a hand placed on top of her head - one very large and very strong hand – that made her stop her movements and let her own hands fall limply to her sides, her breathing shallow and fast. Before her, Hikaru continued to sway back and forth, her eyes open wide and dizzy looking.
None of the girls registered the two shadows that fell on them: Umi was still trying to calm her frazzled nerves and Hikaru was still in lala land after Umi's 'lecture'.
But when the owner of one of the shadows chuckled…
It was the Celes's knight this time that became pole axed, while Hikaru turned her head so fast it produced whiplash. The starling amber eyes turned very big when she realized who had joined them.
Umi started twitching.
Hikaru once again turned very red.
Eagle chuckled yet again.
And Lantis took his hand off Umi's head and with a weary sigh went and picked up his girlfriend who had seemingly turned boneless at the sight of him. He studiously ignored his friend's laughter, not wanting to dignify whatever it was that the Autozam Prince was thinking behind Umi and Hikaru's strange behaviour – then again, the Knights of Cephiro were always strange, except maybe for the Wind Knight.
Once he had Hikaru in his arms, he nodded to Eagle, who was still smiling in that maddening way of his and then to Umi, who was still twitching and did not notice the gesture. This done, he left the two alone, the redhead in his arms too intimidated with conflicting data –courtesy of Umi – to remember the real reason she went looking for the girl in the first place.
It seems pushing Umi to acknowledge Ascot's feelings would have to wait for another day…
He had no clue what it was the two girls were discussing prior to their arrival, but he admitted to being curios about what it could possibly be. Certainly the two had the look of guilty little children caught with both hands inside the cookie jar. He was amused enough that the normal sadness he felt whenever he saw Hikaru and Lantis together did not register.
Umi's twitching may have something to do with that, he mused. It was a fascinating reflex to see on such an elegant looking young woman.
They haven't spoken to each other since their duel though he caught glimpses of her from time to time. More often than not he forgot about her existence, for Umi tended to stay in the lower areas of the palace, where the kitchen was located, or loiter around the Great Fountain, taking to the water's reflection with an animation of the certifiably insane.
It was only when he saw Hikaru herself talking to the fire located in the Temple that he realized Umi may have been talking to her Mashin rather than manifesting at last that she was crazy.
The prince smiled as he looked at the Water Knight's expression. Lantis has asked him if he'd caught sight of hikaru and rather than saying no and going his merry way, he'd offer to help look. He missed his friend's company, and Lantis's smile showed he too had missed his.
Umi was still twitching, and while it was entertaining he decided it was time to stop. Not very courteous, after all, to let it continue. He was raised better than that.
Eagle held out his hand before her and waited for her to acknowledge it. No words were necessary. When her soft hand gripped his a moment later, he smiled yet again, before helping her stand up.
Come Break Me Down
Suspicious looks were being thrown at him and he hid the growing smile by putting his hand – the one she held; it smelled of lilacs and a scent entirely new to him – over his lips and coughing a little.
The waning light was still strong enough for them to see the mountain ranges to the right and the shadowed world that was the Forbidden Forest.
Sunset has come. It turned Cephiro into a land of different shades of red, orange and purple. The Blue Knight's hair, still in its confined state had turned an intriguing shade of violet, while his own he imagined was now with a ginger tint. 'What a fascinating star, to not just give light, but also to have the power to reflect colors,' he thought idly.
He turned his head, one hand still casually holding the edge of the wall, and raised one sculpted brow.
Umi regarded him with a small frown and she indicated the setting sun. "You said something about it being fascinating."
There was no change on his face. Too long he'd trained himself to always appear calm and collected. But he was surprised. So he had spoken out loud. Eagle made a mental note to stop doing that. Ever since his planet began a campaign against Cephiro, he'd taken to talking to himself and sometimes speaking his thoughts even when there was no one to hear it.
It didn't escape him that not so long ago, he'd accuse Umi of being insane when he thought the girl was doing the same thing.
He nodded slowly, and turned again to watch the object of their discussion. Besides him, Umi nervously run her hand on the smooth texture of his cape. He'd gallantly insisted she put it on when it became evident she was going to stay in the garden to watch the sunset.
It will be cold, he told her in his soft voice.
She agreed finally, with a hint of frustration, thinking he would then leave her alone so she could return to her thoughts.
But he was still there, sitting besides her, watching the sunset as well.
The wind had picked up and it howled around them in that alien sound the gust had a way of making as it weaved itself amid the leaves and branches. It caused their cheeks to turn a ruddy red, and stung her eyes if she opened it too long.
Stubborn pride was the only thing that kept her from leaving her post. She was there first.
She wondered what it was that kept him from leaving his.
He would be damned if he knew why.
Eagle himself was wondering why he insisted on staying. On the surface, the answer came readily; that feeling of longing every time he saw Lantis and Hikaru had caught up with him finally, and he was reluctant to stray away from the one place he would never chance upon them.
But then…. there was also that kindred mood the girl was emitting.
She hid it well. There was no outward signs that she was lonely, or yearning, but he'd seen the reflection of his eyes as he stared at himself on a mirror to recognize it one someone else's. It reminded him of the rumours; the Great Paladin in love with the Magic Knight. And she loved him back.
A scandal of course, if ever proven true.
The world has moved on, but the hearts of the people, their very traditions and beliefs, remain rooted and protected.
The Great Yil was looked up to with even more veneration than Princess Esmeraulde herself when she'd lived. He deserved it, for he was the appointed mentor and advisor, a man whose influence and dedication to Cephrio spanned more than three Pillars of the land. Such a man was worthy of respect.
The Mage was now Cephiro's guiding light.
"Aren't you cold?" Umi's question came unexpectedly, and interrupted his thoughts. He realized night had descended and now only starlight helped him discern his companion's features. She was frowning as she clutched the cape closer to her body. The fringe of her bangs were long enough that it occasionally hid her troubled gaze from view.
He looked at his armoured body, the whiteness of his garments visible enough in the surrounding gloom. "T'is fine, Lady Umi. I am comfortable enough." He gave one more passing glance at the now dim landscape. "Should we be leaving? The others may be wondering about us."
She sighed then nodded.
Eagle stood up easily, balancing on the brickwork and once again holding out his hand. She took it without saying anything – the way she did before. The cape swirled around her, now that it was not held close to her body.
When she tried to take her hand away, Umi found she couldn't.
Her confused look, he could feel it on him.
"You're hurt," he informed her patiently, and his free hand unconsciously went to her left side, where it touched her ribcage with care. The silky barrier of her tunic, the fact he was wearing his leather gloves, did not stop him from imaging the warmth of her skin. It left him feeling oddly vulnerable. "I noticed when you vaulted the wall."
She made an impatient noise and snatched her hand away, and when she spoke, she sounded haughty. "I can get down easy." She sniffed delicately and muttered, "I don't need help."
He said nothing after that and merely waited.
There was a sound of wind on swirling velvet, and fast on that was the yelp of pain when she landed. She gritted her teeth from crying out more, and made a mental note of whacking Hikaru's head next they meet. She was surprised though when once again Eagle's hand was before her, a silent invitation.
The knight hesitated, before with a grimace she decided to take him up his offer of help yet again.
The walk back inside the palace was uneventful. The moment the pool of light from the torches reached them, it was Eagle himself who moved away from her and bowed respectfully, telling her he must be on his own way. After she hastily took off his cape and shoved it to his face, she stiff walked away, calling out thank you in a louder than necessary voice.
Now all alone, she almost whacked her head on the wall, berating herself for her ungracious actions, except that would mean additional pain, and she really wasn't up for it.
So she decided to forget about the encounter and Eagle-sama's behaviour. What she really needed to do now, she told herself forcefully, was choose between the need to eat or to go directly to bed.
Standing before her bedroom door, she tapped her foot rhythmically as she mulled what it was she wanted to do. Her stomach was growling, but she also felt very drained and listless having come up with no solution to her problem, or even being sure that there was a problem to solve in the first place.
When she felt something soft and furry latch itself on one of her leg, she almost died of a heart attack.
Looking down, a vein ticking on her forehead, she saw a white manju bun, with a red gem in his forehead above his eyes smiling blissfully at her.
A/N: there you go. Makona is suicidal, I think, to do that to Umi, but I need him to make the story plausible. Next chapter will elaborate.
Expect Umi and Clef love on that one and of course, Umi and Eagle.