Sweet morning sunlight cast warmth in stripped ribbons along Umi's back. She dove deeper into the simple cotton sheets on her bed, mumbling how it was too early to be waking, and began once again to tumble back into sleep. A soft, masculine chuckle pulled her up from the very edge of oblivion.

She turned over completely, finding a pair of delicious blue eyes that contained as much haziness from waking as her own, twinkling with humor and life.

"Good morning, sweetling," Clef purred, snaking an arm around her, sheets and all, and snuggling into the fresh bedding with his love.

Surprised but not afraid, Umi returned his greeting, curling like a burrowing ferret in the warmth of his arms. "Did you stay all night?" Her question was muffled in the many layers that separated them, causing Clef to smile contentedly before answering.

"You fell asleep while we were talking last night," he explained, Umi emerging to hear him better. "I didn't want to leave you under the tree, so I brought you here."

Umi nodded, remembering being with him in the garden, but not much past the part of his story where Clef had begun mentioning why he'd become a Master Mage. His tales of the many years he'd been alive had fascinated her. Umi could recall clearly everything he'd said about the adventures he'd had and the rejection he'd suffered, how his heart had been broken before so severely that Clef condemned himself to live as a child, thus averting any possible relationships. He had kissed her again then, and Umi smiled now as the flush of that heated embrace came back to her. Clef loved her, granted he hadn't said as much last night, but he had certainly shown her, and waking up this morning, safe and happy in his arms, Umi was more positive of it than anything else. Except maybe the rising discomfort caused by her nightgown.

Trying to fix it without having to get out of bed, Umi wiggled around a bit, nothing too obvious, but it drew Clef's attention nonetheless. "Is everything okay?" He asked, loosening his arms around her slightly.

"It's my nightgown," Umi huffed, finally pushing back the covers to fix her delinquent clothing. She was not prepared to see that she still wore the sage and purple dress from her school dance, and turned a questioning look to Clef, noticing for the first time that he too was still fully dressed plus appeared to have spent the night on top of the covers, not in the bed with her.

The Master Mage actually blushed at her expectant gaze. "I didn't want to wake you, and . . . ummm, wasn't about to, uh, dress you in a gown. Well, I mean, I would have dressed you but I would have had to undress you first, and . . . not that I don't want to undress you, it's just, your were asleep and I didn't want to wake you . . . I, uh, that is. . ."

He was easily the color of an apple now, all red with embarrassment to the tips of his ears, his eyes averted from Umi's face, but coming back every few word to make sure she wasn't steaming mad. The last time he looked at her Clef did a double take; just to be sure it was a smile that seemed to be creeping into her eyes while it tugged at the corners of those delicious lips of her's. Her deep sapphire eyes twinkled with amusement and love, something he had only a moment to recognize before Umi put her arms around him and hugged him close.

"Thank you," she whispered. He was too adorable, she thought, almost too good to be true and defiantly determined to do this right. Umi sighed, hoping that she didn't fail him. The thought that she might cause him pain was devastating.

A swift knock on the door brought them back to reality, and the two had just enough time to straighten and disentangle before Ferio opened the heavy wooden doors and walked in. He stopped short at the foot of the bed, looking back and forth from his mage to the only Magic Knight to appear in Cepherio, an unreadable expression of concern on his face.

"Clef," he addressed the older man with respect, "might I have a moment with Umi? I would like to ask some questions, and perhaps, find out why she is here alone." The tone of his voice softened as he spoke. It was obvious that Ferio was more hurt than concerned by Umi and not Fuu's appearance. Clef nodded once to his King, but was prevented from moving away by Umi's hand on his arm.

"Actually, Ferio, it's simple." She turned to face Clef, and answered the King's question in a clear voice, though it was her lover she seemed to address. "I wished to come back because I had to know something. I had left without my heart, and wanted to make sure it was in good hands."

She blushed slightly afterwards, and Clef sat back down on the bed, gently drawing a strand of her morning tussled hair behind one delicate ear. He cupped her cheek, willing himself not to kiss her too passionately, if that was possible with Umi, and them proceeded to return her brave gesture of commitment right in from of their King.

He drew back and whispered only loud enough for her to hear. "I love you, Umi."

They both froze, gazing at each other with that love shining like his magic had in their first kiss. Clef knew he had nothing to fear ever again, this beautiful young woman would be with him for as long as they chose to live, loving him always and unconditionally. Umi too recognized this and felt her own worries about meeting his expectations, and being old enough to handle the responsibilities of his love, slide away. She was with him, her earlier failure perhaps for the best since it led to this moment, with just her and Clef . . . and Ferio?

Umi gasped slightly, the blush that came over her clearly visible in the morning light, and ducked her head, not sure she could look at either Clef or Ferio until her embarrassment was under control. Clef cleared his throat in a somewhat awkward gesture that gave her a little relief, and then squeezed her hands before he stood.

"Shall we leave her to dress, Ferio?" He asked, grasping the now slumped shoulder of his monarch and easing the boy back out of the room. Ferio's despair was palpable, a thick gray cloud that seemed to follow him around, dampening the spirits of those nearby. Clef was concerned, naturally since he saw the young man as a son of types, but he was also too overjoyed to be drawn in.

He'd found the courage, like his beautiful Umi, to admit his love. They had a chance at happiness now, instead of being caught in a web of despair brought on by doubt. It was a great and terrifying new start, but the Master Mage of Cepherio was ready knowing his Magic Knight would be there too, and together they would make it better even than the way things were.



PS

There's that. If it seems there's a chapter missing, I did that on purpose. Before this piece but after 'Magic' there's quite a bit left out. I had posted that anyone interested in citrus should let me know and the only response I got was a polite request to keep it clean. I have a lemon chapter that fits in; it changes the beginning and flow of this chapter a little, but the end is the same. Umi and Clef's relationship will develop as I write out the other two major romantic interludes of Magic Knight RayEarth, leaving Fuu and Ferio for last.

Next up are Hikaru and Lantis/Eagle. In the manga it's pretty unclear where the Red Magic Knight's romantic interests lie, though I think it's with Eagle just because she never really seems to connect with Lantis, not even in the end when he asks her if there's anyone she would like to marry. I mean, he was holding her face about to kiss her and she totally didn't get it, so really I think Hikaru might be digging Eagle, if you know what I mean. We'll see.

Please review, let me know who's interested in the citrus version of this fic, because there's maybe another 8 chapters to go and that's plenty of time for a love scene or two, plus I want to know how the Eagle/Lantis tides are turning to help me decide where to go in the next installment. When I post this on my web site, both Lemon and Virgin versions will be available.

Cheers,

Rymsie

Your Resident DragonMuse.