AN: Old story that I found while Googling myself. It's over 10 years and 4 laptops old, which means I don't remember a thing I wrote. Still, it's not as bad as I thought, and I'd like to have it around somewhere as a nostalgic memory of my Umi fangirl days.
She closed her eyes and the image flowed unbidden into her mind. Brown, silken hair cut boyishly short. It was stylish and bold, with a maturity that made herself feel childish in comparison. Bright eyes, always smiling. That grin that would cheer her up even in the darkest of times.
The darkest times... Yes. She winced a little at the memories. The despair that she and her friends had gone through, the pain and regret that washed over them when they realized the horror of their handiwork. But even more so than that despair was her own fear. That panic, that she would be trapped forever in an alien world, never to return. Never to see her again. Never get to tell her how she really felt about...
"Umi! Hey Umi!"
Umi's eyes flew open at the voice. Buchou's face was several inches in front of her own, a mischievous light behind the brown eyes.
"Bu-buchou!" she stammered as her heart skipped a few beats.
"Ha! Gotcha there!" That maddening grin widened. "You know, you really shouldn't be sleeping on the job. Looks bad on the club." She waved to the girls in the room practicing their strokes.
"Buchou!" she said with enough righteous indignation to cover up her surprise and embarrassment. She stood up straight and folded her arms defensively. "I wasn't asleep."
"Oh?" A delicate eyebrow arched questioningly.
"Of course not. I was just... thinking."
"Heh. Yeah right."
At Umi's pout, she gave a laugh and rapped Umi lightly on the head with her knuckles. "Remember, you're captain now."
Umi nodded, a little chastened. Buchou started to walk away, then turned back and gave her a knowing wink. "Must've been some dream. Never seen you go that red."
"Oh!" Umi's hands flew to cover her burning cheeks.
"Ears too, even." She chuckled and walked away before Umi could think of a retort.
Umi watched the tall girl round the corner and disappear from sight, and felt a twinge in her chest. "Buchou," she said softly.
How old had she been? Around twelve, yes. She had just moved into their lovely new house -- Papa and Mama wanted her to grow up into a proper young lady. It was a wonderful neighborhood, and there was a good girls' school within walking distance. She remembered being so excited on her first day of school.
She smiled in memory. Her parents had been worried, but all she could think of was making lots of new friends.
The first day of school. That was the day she met buchou. When she was alone and confused after arriving at school, a pretty girl, older than her, had appeared at her side with a bright smile...
"Hi! You must be new here. What's your name?" the girl said.
Umi smiled in return. "Umi. Ryuuzaki Umi. I'm looking for the headmaster's office."
"The office? Hmm... Hey, tell you what, I'll take you there. It's too hard to explain anyway." And she grabbed Umi's hand and led her to the office, pointing out all the parts of the school for her along the way.
"Okay, we're here. I gotta run. I'm late for practice."
Umi's face fell. "You're going to be late? I'm sorry... I didn't know..."
The girl waved her off and grinned. "No problem, I'm the captain. Say, do you fence?"
"Fence?" Umi blinked at the unexpected question. "A little... I'm not very good."
The girl grabbed both her hands, and her face lit up. "That's great! Drop by after school. We'll be in the gym. Oh shoot, I gotta run." And she took off in a sprint before Umi could ask her name.
That day, Umi joined the fencing club, and Hasegawa-sempai, no, buchou, introduced her to all the girls on the team. They treated her like she had been there for years. It was one of the best days of her life.
Umi shook herself out of her reverie. Buchou was right. She couldn't afford the luxury of daydreaming now that she was captain. She glanced around and was relieved to see that all the girls were too busy practicing to notice her lapse.
She clapped her hands to get their attention. "All right everyone. Break up into pairs and start sparring. I'll be coming around to check your stance, so don't get lazy!" She added a smile so the new members would not be intimidated, and nodded approvingly as they quickly organized themselves.
The girls began to spar, and Umi walked around, giving words of encouragement and advice. Everyone tried her best, and she couldn't help but feel proud of them.
"Umi-buchou! Umi-buchou!" A pretty girl with tea-colored hair trotted up.
"Suzu-chan... Is something wrong?"
The girl shook her head. "No, but I was wondering if you could be my partner."
Umi smiled and nodded. "Of course." Suzu-chan was a good kid, probably the best aside from buchou and herself. Ever since buchou started high school, she had had less and less time for the club. Umi knew it would be that way, but she still missed all those times they would practice, just the two of them. And coming back after those long weeks in Cefiro, and not being able to spend more than a few minutes with buchou... It hurt.
In any case, Suzu-chan was her regular fencing partner now. Umi slipped her mask on and picked up her foil. Suzu-chan was waiting patiently on the mat. Umi struck an en garde, the foil strange and alien in her hand. So unlike her sword. The sword that she had used to kill Zagato and... She tried to push thoughts of Cefiro from her mind.
Suzu-chan struck her own pose. "Don't go easy on me, okay?"
Umi laughed. "As long as you don't complain afterwards. Ready?"
By the time she had closed up the gym and gotten changed, all the other girls had gone home. She was packing up her clothes when she felt a tap on the shoulder. She turned around to find buchou standing there, a somber expression on her face.
"Practice went okay?"
"You're not yourself today. Suzu-chan was really shocked at the way you came at her. It's a good thing she wasn't hurt."
Umi hung her head guiltily. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to scare her. I guess, I guess my mind was just wandering."
"Is that all?" Buchou cocked her head. "You might fool the other girls, but I can tell something is wrong."
"Buchou..." Umi began, but couldn't find the courage to continue. "Buchou, I..."
The other girl folded her arms and stared out the window. The silence stretched out for several moments before she finally spoke. "You know, Umi, you're my best friend. And you don't know how glad I am that you feel the same way. And that you always came to me first whenever you had a problem."
She turned back to look at Umi. "But ever since that trip to Tokyo Tower, you've been moping around and looking like your world just ended. And today at club, you didn't have an ounce of concentration."
Buchou paused again before continuing. "What I'm trying to say is, I'm a little hurt that you didn't even say two words to me about whatever it is that's bothering you."
Umi shuffled her feet and avoided buchou's gaze. How could she possibly explain the real reason for her misery? Cefiro would seem like some stupid fairy tale. And she couldn't even imagine how buchou would react if she told her what her real feelings were. She felt like a traitor to their friendship.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, fingers under her chin slowly pushing her face up. No... Stop... She couldn't deal with buchou right now... Not when she felt this way, not when all she wanted to do was fly into her arms and cry out all the ache and guilt in her heart.
"Umi. Umi. Look at me." Buchou's voice was kind but firm. "I'm really worried about you. I've never seen you this way before."
Umi tried to reply, to say she was sorry, but all that came out was a sob. Her eyes met buchou's, pleadingly. "I wish... I wish..." she said, as the tears started to flow.
Then suddenly strong arms wrapped around her and she was in buchou's warm embrace.
"It's all right, Umi. It's all right."
Fingers stroked her hair, lightly, comfortingly. Her own hands clutched at buchou's jacket as she buried her face in buchou's shoulder.
"You don't have to tell me. I'm sorry, Umi." Buchou's voice was sad. "Please don't cry. I didn't mean to make you cry."
But she couldn't stop crying. All those weeks of missing buchou, of being afraid that she would never see buchou again. And just when she thought they had rescued Princess Emeraude and fulfilled her wish, the awful truth had been revealed. Her heart wrenched at the memory of what she had done.
"I couldn't do anything! None of us could do anything. I never thought it would turn out that way, that we had to..." she sobbed out. "To have it end that way..." She tightened her grip on buchou as grief overcame her.
"It hurts. It hurts so bad..."
"I'm just a coward."
She felt buchou tense a little in surprise. "Wha..?" buchou said.
Umi smiled bitterly to herself. Yes, that's what she was. A weak coward. She was a Magic Knight, and she hadn't even been able to save the lives of one little girl and her love. Princess Emeraude, I'm so sorry. If only I was stronger. If only I could go back to Cefiro, this time I will find the courage to make things right.
She took a deep breath and inhaled buchou's scent. She smelled nice. No, it wasn't over yet.
"It's not over yet. I'll go back. This time, I'll fight for myself. This time, I'll protect Cefiro."
"Urh?" went buchou, more than a little confused.
"And when I come back, I'll tell you everything. Everything." Umi hugged her tightly. "Thank you, buchou."
I'm so happy to see you again.