The red light cast through him as it filled this empty world.  Without direction or focus it was thick and suffocating.  He waded through it, knowing that in actuality everything was in his mind, but needing to get to the center, to discover the cause.

In the midst of a dimension without a center or edges, he found her.  Surrounded by an orb of pain, she floated there within reach like so many times before, but unlike any dream, she saw him.  He actually made contact with her eyes, gazing into those two perfect crimson pools, before the circle around her constricted and then collapsed.  All at once the void was empty again save for the two of them.

He came closer than he'd ever dared before, just staring at the form of the woman he'd come to love so dearly, and couldn't stop himself from touching her.  Those eyes were upon him again, even as he finally laid his hand along her, and he knew true hell. 

The pain was swift, stabbing intensely at his hip and thigh, and throbbing though the rest of his body at every extreme.  He hadn't felt anything in so long, could not remember ever experiencing anything so horrible, but to be reintroduced to the physical world again in such a violent manner would have broken any other man. 

A cry tore from him, mounting in tone and call as the burning intensified in him.  Beside him she awoke.  He could see her tears through the black curtain of hovering unconsciousness.  She touched him, pulling some of the agony back, relieving him.  Together they strained in the pain created by millions until it was too much.  Such sadness, such violence and cruelty, so much . . .

*-*-*-*-*-*

Lantis finally broke through the door into Eagle's room.  His friend's tormented voice had stopped moments earlier, as had the sound of winds blowing and furniture crashing, but it all still echoed in his mind.  They had all come running; himself at the front with LaFarge close by, but the door was magically blocked with something even Guru Clef could not break.

"It is deeper magic than mine," Clef had said.  He had come to understand how much in the time following.  While the women stayed a pace back, Lantis used his own powers to try to gain entry to the room, even going so far as to call to RayEarth for help.  It had been for naught, and all anyone could do was anxiously wait for the end to come.  And it had.

The space that Lantis had visited only that morning was a complete mess now.  Nothing had been spared from whatever force had found its way into Eagle's room.  The skylights above were all broken, their remnants scattered like fairy glitter all over the floor.  The regal and comfortable furniture was scrap wood now, the draping carpets and wall hangings mere strips of fabric and string.  Nothing remained, and yet daylight poured into the room, adding calm to what was obviously a scene of destruction.

"Eagle . . .?" Umi said in a small as she finished surveying the room.

Lantis turned to see which way she was looking and followed her line of sight to the far corner.  There the remains of Eagle's bed lay propped against the wall, a kind of lean created by the headboard of the bed.  Even from across the room the golden shine of Eagle's hair was visible as was what appeared to be blood pooling around him.

Hurtling over ruined furniture and pieces of the castle roof, Lantis reached his friend first, already preparing himself for the horrifying image of a mangled and bloody body.  He was not prepared to see that the blood was not such, but rather a streaming mass of deep red hair.  Pulling the headboard away from them, Lantis felt his own heart stop at the sight.

"Hikaru. . ." he whispered.  The Pillar was tucked close to Eagle, encircled in his arms like a lover sleeping, and it was her hair that pooled around them both.  He knelt next to them, hearing LaFarge's warning to not touch them yet, but paying it no heed.

Slowly he reached to search for a pulse, first on Eagle then Hikaru, praying with all his heart that they had both survived. 

*--*--*--*--*--*--

The cool hand on her throat was a blessing after so much burning, heated pain.  She hadn't thought such was possible and yet, she knew she'd survived.  That he had too.

Hikaru sighed and pressed herself closer to the surrounding comfort of Eagle's arms.  She could remember seeing him in the void, and though she knew the pain her presence had caused them both, she felt no regret.  If he hadn't been there, hadn't saved her like he did, Hikaru knew they both would have died.  Her from the forces that could tear someone not on a road apart, and him from the connection they shared.

Somewhere above her she heard Umi say her name and knew it was time to awaken.  Clenching her hand slowly, she turned her face up out of Eagle's chest and opened her eyes.  There was someone hovering over her, their cool hands now brushing her hair back and cupping behind her head.  It took Hikaru a moment to recognize Lantis, but once she did it was that much easier to being a smile to her lips.

She was ready to try to get up when Eagle's arms tightened around her.  She turned back to face him and had the wonderful experience of watching him awaken as well.  Her smile grew as he blinked a few times and then registered where he was. 

The young man watched her for a moment, looking past and above her to Lantis only once.  She could see stirrings deep in his eyes; similar to those she had seen when they had battled on the path to the Pillar so long ago.  She hadn't let him go then, instead holding him with all her might and then delivering him back to Cepherio alive. 

How she had hoped to see him again, awake and happy, as it had been those last few seconds before Umi and Fuu pulled her from the road.  The three Magic Knights left before he had regained consciousness, a fact of great disappointment to Hikaru.  To her there was something about Eagle, something that Lantis and Zazu and any other man she'd met just didn't seem to have, and it was attractive.

Eagle's hands spread wide on her back and a slight blush crept into his hollow cheeks.  In his eyes she could see his confusion and dedication.  There was also a tiny bit of gratitude, something Hikaru could not reason to figure out, but only a shimmer of that shown before she could see Lantis reflected in Eagle's expressive eyes. 

Turning out of the blond man's arms, she let Lantis gather her into his huge arms.  He rose and backed away enough for LaFarge to kneel down for Eagle.  Before Hikaru could make eye contact with the other man though, Lantis had turned away and begun back to the doorway, where Umi and the rest of Hikaru's Cepherion friends waited.

The next hour was a whirlwind of activity.  Concern for her condition, the excited and worried presence of Umi, and Lantis always hovering about.  He was dedicated to making her every moment comfortable or less of a strain or relaxing.  In less time than it took her brothers to do, the Magic Swordsman had become more of a thorn in her side than an actual help.  She would have asked him to give her some time alone but knew he did it all out of concern.

Finally, Umi came forward and insisted that everyone stop asking Hikaru questions and to let the Red Magic Knight get some sleep.  She winked once to Hikaru whilst herding Lantis and Mokona out of the room but returned a few minutes later with tea and some little sandwiches.

"Hey there," Hikaru said, sitting up in bed while her friend brought over a chair and nightstand for the food.

Umi, poured the tea then sat back.  "So . . . where's Fuu?"

She shrugged and sipped the tea.  Its honey-sweetened warmth coated her throat and helped her feel the best she had all day.  "Not sure.  I was going to the Tower to meet her but never made it there.  Was almost hit by a car."

"OH Hikaru!  Are you okay?"  Umi was sitting up and closer to the bed now.  She relaxed when Hikaru nodded but still remained at the ready to get Clef, in case there was some injury her friend would rather blow off.  "Tell me if you're hurt, okay?"

"Sure," she replied, setting the tea aside.  "Umi, why are you here?"  Hikaru had some idea but needed to be clear and jumping right into it all was the easiest way.

The Blue Magic Knight blushed prettily then brought her arm up to show Hikaru an impressive cuff bracelet that she hadn't noticed before.  The intricate overlay of flowing silver waves were combined tastefully with bursting stars that, each centered with tiny, yet vivid blue stones.  As Hikaru admired the piece of jewelry the colors seemed to change into a strange indigo then an intense violet.  The transition was almost unperceivable but the magical aura surrounding Umi's bracelet was apparent to anyone familiar with Cepherio's strange ways.

"What . . ?" she asked and the single words intensified Umi's blush.

"Clef gave it to me," she whispered, stroking her fingertips lovingly over the item.  "It's a betrothal charm.  Kind of like a promise ring."  Umi glanced at Hikaru, wondering if the less mature girl understood.

"So you came back because you are in love?"  Hikaru understood perfectly.  Umi's spirited and buoyant energy since she had arrived was not just a result of being back in Cepherio, it was also a part of being with Clef.

Her friend's eyes begged her to understand and Hikaru made herself see Umi's side of everything.  She was lonely, both Hikaru and Fuu had been able to see that much in Tokyo, but Hikaru wondered if Umi had considered what her disappearance would do to family and friends.  There were things that Umi had to know about, people she needed to return to Earth to reassure and comfort.

But it was too late for that right now.  Hikaru needed to rest at least one night, regain her strength, and then take Umi to task.  Fuu would no doubt know by now that she had made it to Cepherio and Hikaru could only reason that the final Magic Knight would eventually make her way across the void as well.  It was common knowledge among the three girls that Fuu loved Ferio and that fact alone gave Hikaru confidence that her friend would be able to make her way here unharmed.

Unlike her and Eagle.

"How's Eagle doing?" She had asked the question before the thought had even registered in her mind.  Umi raised an eyebrow to her friend's passionate inquiry but kept her tone casual in response.

"Resting.  Clef told me he has made an almost full recovery and should be fine."  Hikaru nodded, and Umi waited for her attention again before continuing.  "He asked about you too, you know?"

"Really?"

Umi nodded then leaned in closer to Hikaru as though divulging some great secret to her friend.  "He kept telling LaFarge to follow Lantis and you earlier, and when he didn't, Eagle threatened to send the entire Autozam fleet after him.  Caldina had to tell Eagle exactly which room you are in before he promised to leave LaFarge alone."

Hikaru smiled at the thought, Caldina starring down the entire Autozam fleet in defense of her love, a man easily twice her size.

"And then," Umi continued, " Eagle kept trying to get up and come see you.  He kept saying you were hurt and needed him to help the pain.  What did he mean, Hikaru?"

Her eyes fogged for a moment in memory of the feelings that had rocketed through her and Eagle whilst in the void.  It had been like her body was being torn in all directions, each cell seeking to escape its neighbor and dissolve her very being.  Eagle had taken some of that agony into himself when he'd touched her and Hikaru quickly explained it all to Umi.

She nodded and listened patiently through the entire tale, anxious that Hikaru might still be hurt in some way even she was not aware of, but then willing to believe her friend when she said she truly felt only exhaustion.  Umi figured that if anything went wrong it would happen in the next couple of days, and there were plenty of people with great healing abilities ready and willing to assist.

When Hikaru finally yawned for the tenth time, Umi too the hint and got up to leave.  Her friend was asleep before she had even left the room, and Umi silently closed the door behind her.  She turned and took maybe half a step right into someone.

"Oh, sorry . . . Eagle?"

He backed away from Umi, shushing her so no one else would discover his escape.

"Sorry for bumping you," he said in a voice that obviously hadn't been used in a while. "LaFarge was guarding the door and finally dozed off.  I just, that is I . . . and well," his glance slide over her head to the door.  "Is she doing okay?" he asked finally.

Umi smiled and nodded, taking his arm and turning him back down the hall towards his room.  "She's asleep but otherwise fine."  When Eagle hesitated and seemed like he wanted to check on her himself, Umi tightened her grip.  He relented finally and they continued down the hall. 

At the door to Eagle's room a shocked yet amused LaFarge raised an eyebrow at the returning commander.  "Thought it was too quiet in there," he said in a deep voice that belied his tough appearance.

"Don't worry," Umi smiled, her sweet tone a soothing balm to both men, "I doubt Eagle will need a 'guard' tonight.  We've been to see Hikaru and everything's fine."

LaFarge nodded to that and then excused himself, eager to get to his own rooms where Caldina was no doubt waiting.  Once he'd disappeared down the hall, Eagle turned to Umi and thanked her.

"You're not a prisoner, Eagle.  I'm sure he was only here to make sure someone was around incase you had trouble with something.  It was the same with Hikaru all evening."

He opened the door and went inside, unaware Umi hadn't followed until he head her say good night from the doorway.

"Wait, Umi." He called, going to meet her at the door.  "I just wanted to say thank you."

"For what, Eagle?"

He blushed slightly.  "Well, for coming to visit me all those times, and I guess, for coming back to Cepherio.  I don't think Hikaru would have come back if you hadn't been here to bring her." 

The confession scared Umi, almost as though he was saying he'd given up on living and only Hikaru's return changed that.  She placed a gentle hand on his arm and searched into the eyes that regarded her then.

"I'm not the only reason she's here, Eagle."  At his surprised look she smiled then squeezed his arm slightly before letting go and walking down the hall to where Clef was waiting.

--&--&--&--&--&--&--

Author's Note:

I need to explain a little about the flow of the story so that everyone won't get all confused by this.  First off, in the manga Eagle lives.  He's left sleeping in Cepherio but in that storyline the Magic Knights can come back to visit anytime they want.  Now, in contrast to that, in the anime Eagle died [sorry about the spoiler].  The Knight's leave and there is no mention made as to whether or not they can return.

Now, while that is all nice and interesting, how does it concern you?  Well, for my fic the Knight's leave Cepherio like they did in the anime, not knowing if they can return but being hopeful that it is possible, but also Eagle is not killed.  He's asleep in Cepherio and making his recovery and such.  It's kind of a cross between the two mediums and if it's hard to follow the best I can say [and I know it sucks] but read the manga and watch the anime. 

I am more of a proponent of the manga since that is the original plot and art, so most of my fics will follow that as a reference.  However, in the case of Umi and Clef it is more dramatic to have them leaving one another as they did at the end of the anime [because it is more romantic too], so that is why this fic series seems to be a combination of both anime and manga.

Okay, since I just spent like a total of three minutes of your time, I'll call it quits and go see about writing for one of the severely neglected fics that are actually posted on my site.

Cheers,

Rym

_