Umi should have been warned when Caldina met them in the reception room of the Castle, grinning broadly at them. Instead, she let herself be distracted by the promised outing they were going on; all three knights were excited, Hikaru most of all – she was almost dragging them by the time they reached the dining hall, where their friends were gathering.
In fact, Umi was so intent on speculating with Hikaru what food there would be that she walked into the dining room and straight into someone’s back.
“Whoa- sorry, I-“ she started, rebounding off them and straightening up, and- stopping.
“You should pay attention where you’re walking!” the man said getting his balance back, and it was Clef’s voice and Clef’s robes and even Clef’s hair, the ridiculous mess of it fluffed up in the back and curling down over his face, but-
Last thing she knew, Clef hadn’t been taller than she was.
“What did you do?!” Umi demanded, flailing her hands at him. Clef glared back at her, and there was no question it was him – no one else could look quite so exasperated with her, which shut down Umi’s first insane thought that someone had cloned him, or he had a secret twin, or- something, she didn’t know. But her first reaction was very much that this was not allowed to be Clef.
He kept glaring at her, arms folded defensively across his chest, and Umi reached out and poked him on the shoulder, just in case- but, no, he wasn’t an illusion. She poked him again, just to be sure, then stepped closer so she could reach up, pat him on top of the head; even his hair felt real, under her hand, and now his expression was less a glare and more…
Close. His expression was very close because Umi had stepped right into his space, and she took a half pace back in a rush, cheeks going hot.
“Clef, you got tall!” Hikaru said, making Umi jump when she bounced next to her.
Fuu patted Hikaru’s shoulder, throwing a smile in Umi’s direction. “I think he already knew, Hikaru.”
“He isn’t that tall.” Caldina said, appearing on Umi’s other side and dropping an arm across Umi’s shoulders. “But it’s certainly a change from before - took us by surprise when we woke up to find him all grown up, didn’t it?” She aimed that at LaFarga, who made no response, only glanced at Clef – and Clef looked away from him, cheeks slightly flushed. Umi would have wondered about that, she really would have, but Clef was grown up and she was having some trouble processing that.
Granted, Caldina was right, he wasn’t actually much taller than Umi herself, but still – he didn’t look like a boy anymore.
Clef looked at her, and then away again. “It was time for a change, that’s all.” He explained himself with an irritated tone which said he’d been doing so for a while, now. “Particularly as I am going to be representing Cephiro in talks with many lands, most of whom have little to no magic. After several centuries, we are going to struggle to be taken seriously anyway, and…” Trailing off, he sighed, and spread his arms out. “Do I really look so strange like this?” He asked, quietly.
“No!” Umi shook her head, hard – and went to pat him on the shoulder, only she managed to turn it into a poke at the last moment. “Not – it’s just weird!”
“…And weird is better than strange?”
She was half convinced he was laughing at her, and poked him again on the principle of the thing. “Yes. It’s weird because it’s different, not – bad, just-“ she shrugged, and bit her lip, trying not to flush again.
The truth was, Clef looked… good, and she wasn’t sure what she was meant to do with that, but she was absolutely not admitting it aloud. Only she wasn’t sure what to say, instead, and he kept on looking at her as if there was something wrong, or she’d said something weird, or –
“It suits you, Clef.” Hikaru said, breaking through the awkward moment, and Umi would have hugged her there and then if it wouldn’t have made her relief so obvious.
“Thank you.” Clef said, just as gravely, and then Ferio was there – had probably been there all along, in fact, but Umi had been rather distracted. Anyway, he was chivvying them up, now, handing out baskets of food (Fuu got a kiss on the cheek with hers) and there was enough to keep Umi from staring any longer. It wasn’t enough to stop Caldina laughing at her, but hopefully she’d find something else to be amused by soon.
If Umi kept looking over at Clef every so often, well. It was a big difference! She just needed to get used to it,
Then she would be able to stop staring at him.