Hikaru was not the only one to ever leave a part of herself behind in Cephiro. But what Umi left, that second time they visited, she didn't realise she was missing - it was such a new thing, and the loss was more of a relief than anything else would have been.
Romance was nothing she'd ever planned on, after all.
In fact, in the end, she only found out because Clef did…
Five years in Cephiro passed swiftly; when you had seven centuries to your name, a few short years were not long in comparison, no matter how full. And those first years after the reformation were very full. For Clef, helping build new villages and settle people into their new homes, learning how to negotiate with this new-founded land of consensus, every day passed with a new moment of sheer joy that any of this was possible.
But he was haunted by a recurring, lingering sadness, which would settle around him every few months for a few days.
It wasn't his own.
Clef knew the shape of his own loneliness, even when, having fled his childish form, he barely knew the shape of his body. It was familiar, and quiet - a soft 'maybe' in his heart when he watched a family, or a couple. (Or when he thought of one he had no hope of seeing again.)
This was - strident.
There was, very faintly, the sense of an aura behind it but so distant the emotion drowned any hope of tracing it. But he was aware that the way it settled around him made him a part of it - no one else felt anything, not even when they were stood next to him as it hit, not even when they had also been at the heart of the loss and changes to Cephiro.
He was curious, of course - how could he not be? But he could never trace it - a feeling wasn't a spell. So he kept on with his life, and accepted it as a mystery he might never know the answer to. That might be best - he'd been a part of so much change at Cephiro's rebirth, if someone associated him so strongly with the passing of their loved ones that he felt it, Clef didn't want to know.
But five years in came a day when he was walking through one of the new villages, checking it for stability - there had been a few tremors recently - when he turned a corner and walked straight into a young woman with a long fall of straight hair, and a familiar face.
"Umi?" he blurted, as she started at him - and he knew that it wasn't quite right even before the sadness slammed into him stronger than ever before, enough to make him physically stagger.
The woman - the woman who was not quite Umi - bolted. He grabbed after her, missed, and grabbed for his magic instead, thoughts of Nova in his head - if Umi had left her regrets behind in Cephiro-
He flung himself through the space between them with his magic, able to trace a person even if a feeling was beyond him, and appeared in a small deserted courtyard just in time to grab her arms as she shot through. They fell, a tangle of limbs, and she fought him even as they hit the ground. But Clef wouldn't let go of her, couldn't. His frustration and fear gave him the tenacity to hold on, until they tumbled far enough they slammed into a wall and came to a halt, him sprawled over her and pinning her down more by accident than design.
"Why are you here?" he demanded, as wide eyes stared up at him. He didn't like seeing Umi's face afraid, couldn't have it being afraid of him, even it if wasn't precisely Umi wearing it. "Why?" he asked again, voice cracking.
Regret, he thought, looking down at her as she stayed silent. Regret centred on you.
The thought - the realisation, and the echo of Umi's long-ago voice ("Clef! I - no, never mind.") rattled him into loosening his grip just a fraction.
Umi or not, this double recognised a chance when she saw one. She whacked her knee into his side and wrenched away, pushing him sideways, and he lurched after her with his ribs aching.
"Stop!" he shouted, grabbing and getting hold of her wrist, clinging desperately. "Please, Umi!"
The woman shuddered, and stumbled and collapsed as Clef rushed forward to catch her.
Umi was sitting in the park near Tokyo Tower one minute, wasting time before she was due to meet Hikaru and Fuu for one of their regular catch-ups.
The next moment she was falling, heart beating wildly and someone's arms wrapped about her, and then it was like the rush hit the inside of her head. She blacked out.
When she came round, groggily, it was barely a surprise to see Clef staring down at her with concern written all over his face. "Am I in Cephiro , of just having a very weird dream?" she asked him, blinking.
"...Umi?" Clef said, sounding far more confused than she felt her accidentally falling into Cephiro again should warrant.
"Yes? What, were you expecting someone else? Here, let me up - why do I feel so weird? I don't remember that the last time were summoned. Not falling from the sky was nice, though. Are Hikaru and Fuu here yet?" She sat up, brushed her hair back over her shoulder, and then looked up to see Clef staring at her "...What is it?" she asked, slowly. "We have been summoned, right? Or is it just me who - wait. You're tall!"
"Taller," Clef corrected, absently, more intent on staring at her than anything else. "I'm not aspiring to match Lantis or LaFarga."
Umi blinked, and then looked down at the clothes she was wearing - the robes, to be more precise, and said, slowly, "I cut my hair shorter last year. It's not been this long in - ages. What's going on? Clef?"
Swallowing, Clef stood and held his hand out to her. Umi took it, noticing for the first time that they were in an open courtyard with a couple of benches, a few little potted trees sat about against the white walls, doors painted bright colours. She let him help her up, and even walking felt slightly... different.
When they were settled, Clef looked away. "Do you remember Nova?" he asked, quietly.
"Do I remember the part of my best friend who got mixed up and tried to kill me?" Umi raised an eyebrow at him, though he wasn't looking to see. "Yes, I do. What's that got to do with -" She trailed off, and stared down at her hands, again, at the Cephiran clothes she was wearing. "No."
"I - came across her this morning," Clef said, still not looking at her. "I - startled her. Well, to be entirely honest, I yelled - the whole thing was quite startling. And I think she may have got so frightened she … switched."
"So you're saying I'm sat here in my double's body, while she's wandering about Tokyo in mine?" Umi demanded. "All because she was scared by you? That makes no sense! Why would I even have a double? We saved Cephiro, I didn't come away with any huge regrets, like Hikaru did before - sure, it wasn't - neat and easy. With Eagle, and - but we did it! Cephiro's safe! What else would I regret that much?"
Clef seemed to flinch, and then glanced at her from the corner of his eye, and - Umi flushed, at that hesitant look, from this newly grown-up face.
"What?" she snapped. "Out with it! If you have some idea -"
He glanced at her again, and was blushing, the colour high and blotchy on cheeks that were still pale, but not as unhealthy as she remembered. Of course, she was seeing him in sunlight and outside for once, which hadn't happened at all the last go round. He hadn't even been there at the end, when-
Umi flinched away from him, remembering suddenly those last moments and what she'd said - what she'd confessed to him.
It wasn't that she'd forgotten, since. She'd dreamt about it, sometimes, but the whole ache of worry and hope and - the tangled emotions each time she'd seen him had felt distant, like they'd happened to… someone else…
"You didn't finish what you wanted to say, at the end," Clef said. "It's - unresolved. Maybe that's what you left-"
"What point was there in finishing it?"Umi demanded, suddenly furious. She reached out and yanked Clef around to face her. "Even if I told you - even if you - you were happy with that - I was going back to Earth! It's not like we can just bring ourselves back again-"
At that, she got a look which said very clearly 'Yes, I can see you're not in Cephiro right now'. Umi thumped him on the shoulder.
"You - shut up! Even if I - if I told you now, it'd be all resolved, and she'd vanish. Is that right?"
"If that is why she exists… then yes, that is likely," Clef said, slowly.
"Then I tell you, her body vanishes, and I end up back in Tokyo, without you, not coming back -" her voice got louder and she waved her hands more with every word.
Clef rolled his eyes and grabbed her hands in his. "If your double can leap between her body and yours without any preparation, the way between our worlds is most certainly still open," he snapped. "And last time you were summoned, you summoned yourselves. Yes, it was powered by worry, but that's not the only emotion strong enough to bring you back at some point if you wanted to-"
"Do you want me to come back?"
"Yes!" he snapped, glaring at her, and Umi's breath caught in her throat, even as she reached out, pulled him closer -
It was a mess, as first kisses went, the two of them meeting in the middle with more irritation and five years apart driving them than - whatever gentler, romantic emotion was meant to happen. Clef's lips opened against hers when she bit at them, catching his lower lip between her teeth, hungrily drinking down the tiny startled gasp he made as she pressed closer and closer and every emotion he'd ever inspired in her flared bright in her chest, catching light again, coming home.
She felt it when this body that wasn't her began to fade, starting to lose sensation in her hands and feet. She clambered into Clef's lap, knees pressing hard into the wall behind him as she wrapped her fingers in his hair and held on.
"Come back to me," he whispered, lips against her and his eyes shut tight like he couldn't watch her go, his hands twisting the fabric at her back.
Umi kissed him again. "I promise," she said, pressed her lips back to his to seal the vow as the world spun apart and wrenched him away from her. "I'll come back. I promise."
Clef leaned against the wall with his eyes shut, cool air the only thing ruffling his hair now, unable to make himself look at the empty courtyard. Five years distance, but as soon as he'd seen her…
"You didn't say when," he whispered.
Hikaru and Fuu found Umi still sat in the park, on a bench which didn't lean against any wall. Her counterpart hadn't moved - must have just sat, and waited.
"Umi! Are you okay? What's happened?" Hikaru asked, catching up Umi's cold hands in her warmer grasp. Fuu, stood behind her, looked just as worried.
Looking up at them through the blur of the tears that wouldn't stop, Umi smiled at her friends. "So," she said, brightly, watching their confusion. "When are we going back to Cephiro?"