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Lantis had expected Tokyo to be large, but he was a little surprised to find it was just as big and busy as Clef's letters had said; if anything, Clef had understated quite how different it was to anywhere in Cephiro. Even the green spaces here were tamed by people - though he didn't have the time to see much of Tokyo on this visit, as Clef and Umi weren't living near where the three Knights had grown up - nowhere near the place that connected them to Cephiro, either. The city certainly seemed vast enough to contain many surprises.

All the crowds and the looming buildings reminded Lantis of Autozam, and the transport to Kyoto felt almost identical to the high-speed connections between Autozam’s main cities. But the scenery through the windows was very different; the city gave way to farmland, interspersed with trees, towns, and some mountains, a lot more reminiscent of Cephiro.

"Is Kyoto more like this area?" he asked Hikaru as they sped along, thinking perhaps that was why they had moved. But Hikaru shook her head.

"No, it's a city, a bit like Tokyo but - there's a lot of older buildings, and it's not as big. It has a lot of gardens and parks, though?"

"Ah." His feeling of unease started to grow again, especially as they began to pass back into more built-up areas.

Tall buildings, lots of people, roads full of mechanised transport. All were things he’d grown used to in the years he was away from Cephiro, but he couldn’t easily imagine his former master, who disliked noise and technology, living a content life in this world - no matter what Clef's letters said.

At least, he couldn’t until he saw it with his own eyes.

Clef was smiling brightly when he greeted them outside the building he now lived in with Umi. Not only did he have more colour in his cheeks than Lantis had seen in years, but he’d filled out a bit more than in the pictures Ferio and Presea had brought back.

Lantis had known Clef would be wearing the local clothing, but it was still strange to see his mentor looking comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt and close-fitting trousers that were such a far cry from the layers of robes he normally wore.

“So, you’re settling in well here?” Lantis said.

“I suppose I am,” Clef said with a laugh as he opened the apartment door and asked them to take their shoes off, indicating the indoor shoes that were waiting for them instead. "Our neighbours in the building are generally very nice, and a lot fewer of them are overly interested in my business here than they were in the Castle."

"That's true," Lantis admitted. The long months with Cephiro's entire population living in one building had been far more like conditions in Autozam than the peaceful years of Lantis's childhood. After that, even one of those buildings fifty-floors tall might seem reasonable if your neighbours weren't demanding you hold the entire world together. This building was probably only seven or eight floors, and the apartment Clef showed them into was very clearly a private home with all its own conveniences.

When Clef had written they were moving to a little apartment in a shared building, Lantis had been concerned it would be something the size one of the low-level bunk rooms in Autozam, with barely space for more than one without tripping over one another, though being invited to stay there had implied there was at least more room than that. But the apartment was actually not much smaller than Lantis’s rooms back in Cephiro. More than big enough for two, so long as they were comfortable sharing space.

As Clef showed them about, Lantis realised it was also full of little things that made it feel very much a home, not just a place someone was staying for a while. The little group of plants on the balcony, the windchimes hung in the windows; the mixture of furniture that looked like it had been picked out carefully, piece by piece.

"When you said it was small, I imagined something much smaller than this," Lantis said, looking about the room. "This is a nice size for two. Obviously not as large as your rooms in the castle, but it's not bad."

Clef glanced around, his cheeks going a little pink. "Yeah. Maybe it's not as small as it might be, but it's definitely a little short on space at times for the two of us. But it's more space than I'd have had on Autozam, I'm sure."

"Far better in other ways too," Lantis said, glancing at a picture of Clef and Umi smiling together that Hikaru had asked about, the one from their wedding.

Clef turned away - the flush on his cheeks darkening rapidly - bustling towards the kitchen though the kettle didn't start whistling until he'd already taken two steps towards it. "I'll make tea, and you can settle in while I get lunch ready."

Lantis started to smile, and Hikaru giggled quietly peering out of the bathroom to grin at Lantis.

"See?" she whispered. "They're doing okay."

"So I see," he agreed, tension starting to fall away from his shoulders.

*

While Lantis knew that Clef had been doing the cooking and the cleaning - he'd seen the photographs of food sent to Hikaru and read Clef's letters about his new day-to-day life - actually seeing Clef moving through the kitchen so naturally was more disconcerting than how much Clef's wardrobe had changed. Partially because it was familiar - he had seen his former mentor at work brewing potions in similar spaces, but the harsh concentration he associated with Clef at work had somehow translated into a smile and thoughtful hum even as he chopped and stirred things with the exact same precise motions Lantis remembered.

He hadn't expected the man who had spent the past several years buried in his work to suddenly be spending time enjoying experimenting and creating his own dishes - let alone confidently sharing them with others through a piece of technology that looked so similar to the ones he'd hated having to use whenever more data came through from the Autozam restoration research group they'd set up.

Lantis stared at the datapad screen in surprise when Clef showed him the entries on a recipe sharing site.

“Lately I’ve been experimenting with spices to see if I can make things that taste a bit more like home. Not all of those have gone well,” Clef said, wryly, scrolling through the images. “But all of the ones I’ve shared have been fairly popular, which is nice.”

"You use this a lot?" Lantis tapped the screen experimentally, opening one of the recipes he couldn't read and admiring the photograph that had been taken on one of the plates Clef had served them lunch on.

Clef flushed again at that, but his lips twitched. "This one doesn't break as soon as I touch it, unlike those things from Autozam. The general lack of magic probably helps with that - but this was a great help when I was first here, and trying to learn Japanese as fast as I could. Look-" he dismissed the recipes and pulled up first the annotated photos of what must be items in Umi's family home, then something he explained was a game that taught the phonetic characters used here. That distracted them for a few minutes; Lantis had almost figured out the first three before Hikaru laughed and pulled Clef away to ask where would be best to keep their luggage while they were here.

It wasn't long after that before Umi got home, greeting them enthusiastically. Lantis didn't understand a word that Clef and Umi said to one another, but the way they spoke had the same playfulness that had been part of their interactions for years.

At least the lightheartedness was there until Umi joined Clef in the kitchen.

The briefest of disagreements - nothing more than a few sentences - led to a strained atmosphere for the rest of that evening. Clef was unsettled, and Umi was speaking a little too excitedly to Hikaru through most of dinner. Umi being unable to understand anything Lantis said and vice versa was a little jarring, but not enough to account for the continued strangeness.

Later that night, while Umi was taking her turn in the bathroom, Lantis got up to put the kettle on, and Hikaru sidled up beside him.

"Those two are acting weird," Hikaru said, opening the box of tea.

Lantis hummed in agreement. "They're having a disagreement about something."

"They don’t normally act like this when they’re arguing.”

“They don’t normally live together.” Lantis knew all too well that being too close to someone could be just as complicated as being too far away. "We're here in their space, maybe they don't want to talk in front of us."

"When has that stopped them arguing in the past? It's more like something has come up that has them both feeling weird." Hikaru leaned in close, standing on the tips of her toes and pulling him down to whisper in Lantis’s ear. "Do you think Umi might be pregnant?”

Lantis glanced back at Clef, who squinted at his datapad a long moment before getting up to fetch a pair of glasses - either not noticing Lantis and Hikaru's hushed conversation in the kitchen or politely giving them privacy. "I don't think Clef would keep that a secret."

"Even if he was worried about what might happen if word got back to Cephiro?"

With a sigh, Lantis looked back across into the main room. Something was obviously weighing on Clef's mind, but he didn't think it was likely to be that. “Clef wouldn’t be careless. And he knows neither of us would tell anyone something like that without their permission."

"Accidents happen." Hikaru shrugged. "Umi just seems like she's trying not to say what's on her mind, and I can't think of what else she might be trying to avoid mentioning. At least nothing important enough she’d work so hard to keep it a secret…”

Lantis shook his head. Umi might be impulsive, but he knew Clef was dedicated to supporting her studies here. A child would surely interfere with that.

“I should probably just ask Umi tonight,” Hikaru said and grabbed a packet of snacks for the tea tray.

*

At the end of the night, when they finally settled down to sleep, Clef flopped back on his futon with a sigh. “I’ve only spent one night away from Umi’s side since we moved here. Being out here makes me feel like I’ve crossed the line again.”

“Again?” Lantis asked.

“We went out with one of Umi’s friends and her partner a few weeks ago, and I had a bit more to drink than I meant to.” Clef rubbed a hand over his face. “I spent that night on the sofa because I was afraid of saying or doing something we might regret.”

When Hikaru made her suggestion, Lantis hadn’t factored in the possibility of alcohol-fuelled decision making, and now he wondered if her idea about the tension wasn’t quite so far fetched as he’d thought. "I don't believe I remember seeing you drink before," he said, slowly.

Clef waved a hand in the air. "I can't blow up anything here," he pointed out. "Not literally, anyway. At least, not if I stay out of the kitchen - but to be honest, I'm still too unfamiliar with the strength of the drinks here. Some of them taste so sweet and full of fruit, then half an hour later I've apparently forgotten all my Japanese." He paused. "I hadn't previously had a reason to be grateful Umi can no longer understand a word of Cephiran."

"Are you not…" Lantis didn't know how to finish that sentence without asking for details about Clef's life that he didn't want to know. But Clef followed the thought enough to shake his head.

"I'm imposing on her too much by being here. Anything more- but we should sleep. We have a whole week to catch up, besides which I'm sure Hikaru still wakes up early, and we're in the way of breakfast." With that, Clef turned over and pulled the covers up to his shoulders, blatantly cutting off any further conversation.

Lantis eyed the huddled shape thoughtfully, but they were indeed here for a week - and Hikaru was certainly going to talk to Umi about whatever was going on, and likely Clef too if the two of them were half as tangled up as he and Eagle had been. He needn't push, and certainly not tonight.

*

Clef’s futon was empty when Lantis woke up.

Lantis didn’t think much of it; he just assumed Clef had gone for an early morning walk - a habit he’d taken to in recent years to get a few moments of peace while Castle was boisterous with people bustling about getting ready for the day.

The kettle was simple enough to work, and the tea out beside it. Lantis was just sitting down with a cup when he was startled by Hikaru sliding open the doors separating the second room from the main one.

“Hey! Come here,” she hissed, motioning for him.

Setting the tea aside Lantis went to her, keeping his voice quiet. “What is it?”

Hikaru stepped aside and pointed. Clef and Umi were curled up together on Umi’s futon, both sound asleep.

“I slept through Clef coming in last night,” Hikaru said with a smile, slipping out of the room and sliding the door shut behind her. “Did you notice Clef leave?”

Lantis shook his head.

“Hopefully they talked,” Hikaru said. She glanced at the mug on the low table. “Did you make a whole pot or just a cup?”

“This is Clef's home, I made a whole pot," he said, winning a grin "Would you like a cup?”

“Yes, please.”

After finishing the pot of tea, Hikaru all but dragged Lantis out of the apartment on a quest to find a bakery Clef had mentioned a few times on the picture sharing system he and Hikaru used to keep in touch.

“Well, I guessed wrong,” Hikaru said as they stepped out into the morning sunlight. “It’s definitely not a secret surprise pregnancy. Turns out that they haven’t even had sex yet.”

Given what Clef had said the night before, Lantis was unsurprised. "I don't think they have worked out what kind of a relationship they both want."

“I guess it makes sense. Clef probably doesn’t have much more experience than Umi, given the Guru isn't allowed to do that kind of thing.”

“He was an adult for multiple centuries before he became Guru.”

“Yeah, but it’s been so long.”

“If there’s any hesitation, I don’t believe it’s from a place of inexperience,” Lantis said, slowly. "He always - he never minded any of his students coming to him with questions about that kind of problem, and he answered all of us easily enough, whatever we asked. Most of us he taught were at the age we were thinking of relationships for the first time, so I cannot imagine there's much he hasn't talked about through the years."

Hikaru nodded. "Yet he and Umi don't seem to be talking about any of this."

“They may have last night," Lantis pointed out, as they arrived at what seemed to be the correct shop. "As it is, I would rather not discuss my mentor’s sex life.”

Hikaru let out a laugh and shoved her phone into her pocket. "Well, let's discuss pastries instead! Oh, these look good!".

*

Back at the apartment, they had barely set their bags down before Clef burst out of the bedroom, bolted down the hallway, and disappeared into the bathroom.

“Did we interrupt something?” Hikaru asked.

Lantis of course couldn’t understand Umi’s reply, but he had been Clef’s student long enough to know that whatever the problem was, a pot of tea was never inappropriate as a place to start. The bedroom screen slid shut, muffling Hikaru and Umi’s voices, and he tasked himself with finding plates for their breakfast - hesitating when he opened one cupboard to find a large, unopened bottle of what looked like wine inside it, and remembering the short argument Clef and Umi had had the night before. Because Clef didn't want to be around alcohol right now, after what had happened? Or…

If this were Cephiro, there could be another meaning to a bottle of celebratory wine left unopened.

He closed the cupboard and went back to finding plates, but Hikaru appeared a few minutes later and announced, "Change of plans! Umi and I are going out, and you and Clef can- well, you and Clef can have the bread we bought."

“What happened?” Lantis nodded towards the bathroom.

Hikaru glanced back, then leaned in to reply quietly. “A kiss. Their first real kiss. And then Clef panicked. I’m going to take Umi out to calm down so they don’t end up arguing and then not speaking at all for the rest of the week. Can you talk to Clef?”

“And say what?”

“That Cephiro won’t break if he lets himself love her.”

Lantis drew in a sharp breath. When Hikaru had talked of inexperience, he had only considered the physical aspects of a relationship; not how frightening strong emotions could be if it was the first time you experienced them, or at least could acknowledge experiencing them. Add to that the example of his brother and Emeraude's disastrous relationship, the fears driving the Council to exile Clef…

His throat was too tight to speak; he nodded instead.

"Thank you," Hikaru said, resting a hand on his arm for a long moment before turning away to collect Umi and usher her out of the apartment.

*

Hikaru and Umi were long gone by the time Clef reappeared, looking thoroughly embarrassed… and, yes, a little frightened too, shoulders hunched in a way Lantis recognised from the days when Cephiro was literally falling apart around them

"Shall we talk about what happened this morning?" Lantis asked.

"I don't need another warning about the stability of Cephiro." Clef dropped into the chair opposite Lantis, gratefully accepting the tea. "I doubt things would have been any better if I went to Autozam."

"That's the last thing I would be saying to you, and you know it. Going to Autozam would have made you and Umi both miserable," Lantis said.

Clef's eyes went wide with surprise at that suggestion. Did he not realise it was obvious how much he and Umi cared for one another? Or had he expected Lantis's disapproval?

Honestly, he had had some doubts of his own when Clef's exile first became inevitable, though he'd not expressed them so loudly as Ferio had. Everyone knew the destruction the end of a Pillar could bring, but no one had known what would happen when the Guru was exiled, particularly with Cephiro's new system of support being not yet understood. Nor was it clear how long it would take to truly remove him from power, as Cephiro… did not seem to agree with the decision of the Council, and no new Guru could be appointed while Clef retained that particular connection.

But it had been months, and everything was more or less fine. That despite the fact that Clef's connection stood - much to the disgruntlement of several Council members, particularly as the Mage's Guild was standing firm on not appointing a new leader until the post was free. The land was solid, the weather had settled, and even the monster manifestations had decreased.

Hikaru had told Clef as much in her trips and messages every time she came back, he knew. And even when Lantis had been concerned about what might have happened, it was the Council who were in the wrong and deserved censure, not Clef.

"It's awful to be separated from the person you love, especially when you don't have an end date." Lantis would not wish that on anyone else, let alone a friend. His chest tightened a little as he tried not to think of Eagle. There was still so much more work to be done in both Cephiro and Autozam that both of them were reluctant to leave their homelands.

Clef and Umi had managed to avoid the pain of a separation, but they almost seemed to have less of an understanding than Lantis and Eagle did.

Well, if he was going to advise being honest about one's thoughts, he should at least try to manage the same himself. "I thought you came here so you could be together and have the normal life you're fighting for others to have, but you're dragging your feet. I don't understand what you're afraid of," Lantis said, and Clef flushed, visibly flustered.

"I'm not-" Clef visibly stopped himself, and the white-knuckled grip he had on his tea had Lantis worrying over the strength of the cup it was in. When he spoke again, Clef sounded as lost as he looked. "I don't know what to do. I've never felt like this about anyone before."

Taking a slow breath, Lantis tried not to look relieved. At least Clef had admitted it to someone, if entirely the wrong person. "I'm not the best person to give relationship advice, but you should talk to Umi. Work it out together."

"I know, but Umi has exams coming up. I don't want to be a distraction."

"And what will be your excuse once she's finished with those?"

"I'm sure I'll think of something," he muttered dryly, and Lantis couldn't help the expression he made at that.

Nor could he help nearly laughing a moment later - and at least if Clef could make a joke about it, he was acknowledging the faint absurdity of moving to an entire other world to stay with someone and then being too afraid to express how you felt. "Or, you could talk to her."

Lantis might have had his own trouble talking to Eagle, but that only meant he knew that the alternative to communication was worse than any awkward conversation could be. Before they'd come, he'd been worried that the exile and enforced distance from Cephiro, the strangeness of being trapped in a strange land, would be making Clef miserable. Instead, the enforced break from centuries of unyielding duty seemed to be doing him good… aside from this one point, which threatened to make him unhappier than anything else could.

Rather than agreeing that he would actually talk to Umi, even with the threat (or, perhaps, promise?) of a looming intervention by Hikaru, Clef insisted on taking Lantis out to show him around their neighbourhood.

Once out of the building, they didn't get very far before it became clear Clef was aiming for a small cafe only a few streets away.

"I would have thought some time away from work would have helped break your dependence on tea," Lantis said, amused, as they sat at a small table by the window.

"Oh, we're not here for tea," Clef said. "I'm guessing Hikaru hasn't had time to introduce you to coffee frappé, and I think you might enjoy it."

"Coffee frappé?" Lantis asked, repeating the unfamiliar words.

"Cold, sweet, and stronger than tea."

"Ah," Lantis said, lips twitching slightly. "I see why you might like it."

He wasn't sure quite what to expect, but even with Clef's limited description, he was surprised by the concoction that was brought over to their table a few minutes after Clef gave their order confidently in the local language.

"If you don't like it, I'll get you something else," Clef said, stirring his own one slowly.

That first sip was exactly what Clef had promised. The flavour was absolutely nothing like tea, but pleasantly rich in a rougher, broader way, and it reminded Lantis of several things he enjoyed to eat while being unlike any of them.

He took a minute to enjoy the experience before speaking. "You seem to have settled in comfortably here, even with the language barrier."

Clef rubbed a hand across his face, shoulders slumping. "I know it was selfish, Autozam would have been a more logical choice," he said, though Lantis had meant nothing of the sort. "I would have been more easily consulted from Cephiro on any issues arising-"

"The Council has no right to consult you until they rescind your exile and their demands you retake outdated vows," Lantis said, flatly, and Clef blinked. "Should things have become desperate, they would have had to concede. But Hikaru's frequent presence made that unlikely - should our last Pillar be unable to ease Cephiro, she has always been able to find you, and between us Presea and I would have been capable of holding things for at least the duration of her absence if it had come to that. Not that we have told the Council so much. Let them fret."

"Lantis-"

"Removing those kinds of binding on any individual was the entire point of Hikaru's revolution. I would not see it undone, even if it were a stranger in your position."

Clef slowly stirred his drink with the straw. "Refusing to recommit myself to my old vows had nothing to do with wanting to be with Umi, or whatever the current gossip is," he said. "I don't want another person to be hurt by those rules."

"But your choice of location was for Umi."

Flushing again, Clef sighed. "Do you know, I'd already been here several months before I realised the nature of my feelings for her?" The surprise must have been obvious on Lantis's face, because Clef let out an embarrassed laugh. "Don't look at me like that. I may be an old man, but all of this is new to me. Besides, I'd become so used to Umi being a part of my life that I never noticed when it became more."

Lantis nodded. His own relationship with Eagle had started with Eagle's curiosity about Cephiro leading them into frequent conversation that started to range onto other topics, until it became a daily occurence. Somewhere along the line, that relationship turned from something not precisely casual - Eagle never really knew how to take anything casually, not truly - but from a thing that made life easier into something so important he wanted to give anything to protect it.

That sudden bloom of emotion had been unsettling at best, and terrifying at worst. Especially with what Lantis knew was happening back in Cephiro, and what he was already planning to do.

He couldn't choose Eagle then, and they still weren't able to give their relationship a higher priority than the lands which needed them. At times, Lantis worried that he was the one enforcing that, afraid of making a selfish choice that would cause chaos like his brother's had done.

For Clef, who had been there to witness the downfall of that relationship, that fear was likely just as vivid.

"...I did not say it earlier, because I did not think it needed to be said - but perhaps it does. Whatever you choose to do here, Cephiro won't be harmed," Lantis said.

Clef shot him a wary look. "The issues that kept you from the wedding-"

"Were Cephiro being- grumpy, is the term Hikaru keeps using. But stable."

"Ferio certainly thought it was more than that."

"Ferio is not a mage," Lantis pointed out. "He may know a lot more than most people without magic; due to his sister he may well technically know more of the workings of Cephiro than many mages, in fact. But he cannot feel any of it. All he can do is see symptoms and try to assign them a meaning."

"There are still symptoms for him to observe."

"Yes. Of irritation." Lantis shrugged. "Believe me, and believe Hikaru. If we thought that there was a real danger, we would be petitioning the council to bring you back immediately, not coming on holiday. As it is, putting up with Cephiro's irritation may make some Council members rethink their stance on your post - but they shouldn't be a barrier to you finding happiness."

"I'm capable enough of that on my own," Clef said, wryly, rubbing a hand across his face. "But the situation is… difficult. I don't want Umi to think I want her merely because of proximity, because we share a household - and I don't want to make things awkward when she'll feel forced to keep living with me anyway, given she's taken responsibility for my presence here."

"Have you ever known Umi to let an awkward situation get in her way?"

"It seems to be doing so now," Clef pointed out - and then his head shot around at a voice calling out 'Ryuuzaki-san!'

Lantis looked up to see if perhaps Hikaru and Umi had ended up in the same cafe, but instead, a woman was approaching their table, and it was Clef she was calling.

Lantis blinked, but he supposed it followed from Umi's having taken Clef as her husband, and a part of her family - it certainly wasn't as though Clef had a family name of his own to share with her; Cephiro didn't have such a tradition. Clef answered to it so naturally, he was obviously used to it by now, though it was only a few months since the marriage weighted against centuries being simply 'Clef of Cephiro, Guru.'

It did make his point about his life here being dependent on Umi.

Lantis caught his own name in the exchange, and then Clef switched to Cephiran to say, “This is our next-door neighbour, Torii-san.”

Lantis nodded, carefully sounding out the 'hello' Clef had taught him, and he got a smile in return.

Her attention was back on Clef a moment later and they clearly knew each other well, as a quick exchange had Clef smiling - before her tone turned more teasing and she said something that made Clef flush brightly, shake his head, and protest. The woman laughed, and the exchange lasted a minute more before she left them with a goodbye to Lantis that he recognised well enough to respond to.

He waited until Clef looked back at him, then kept looking until Clef flushed brighter at the questions Lantis didn't even need to voice.

“One of the neighbours just came home with her new baby,” Clef said. He stirred his drink with a straw. “They have no family nearby, so Torii-san suggested I could help out."

Lantis couldn't see what in that would have Clef so flustered again. "You've not looked after many infants but I know you've helped care for some whose power came too early for understanding."

Clef shrugged, looking anywhere but at Lantis, the flush rising ever higher on his cheeks. "She says I should do it ‘for practice’.”

“Practice?”

“Child rearing. Baby care, in particular, I suppose,” Clef waved a hand. “Many of the people I spend time with have children - Torii-san has grandchildren - and they assume that Umi and I will be starting a family together in the not-so-distant future. Not that I’ve managed to do very much to dissuade those assumptions, I-" He took a breath, bit his lip, and glanced at Lantis and away again.

Lantis waited him out, slowly working through his drink, until words started spilling out of Clef - faster and faster.

“No matter how many times one of them makes the suggestion, I can’t make myself deny the possibility - the idea. Children! I can’t even manage to tell Umi how I feel about her, but I keep on wondering what it would be like for us to have a family together! Wondering if she could want - at my age, too! How selfish could I be? And she's got so much to do before considering that kind of thing with anyone-"

Clef cut himself off sharply, and Lantis considered his next words.

“So long as Umi understands the possibility that she might lose you, I don’t see how your age needs to be a major factor in the decision. It’s not as if Umi is without support. She has family and a multitude of friends who could step in to help.”

“She does have a lot of friends,” Clef said with a laugh.

"Indeed, her family is supporting you now, are they not?"

Children had never been something Lantis had given much thought about - it had always been something to worry about in the future.

Eagle didn’t want children - or at least that’s what Lantis had gathered from some of their slightly more open talks in the past. He didn’t want to bring someone else into the poisonous web of his family, and he didn't think even uprooting himself from Autozam wouldn’t be enough to keep a child out of their grasp.

Though Autozam operated under family blood-line rules, so perhaps an adopted child was exempt from that - though they both probably needed several decades to heal from their pasts before that topic should be considered.

Either way, Lantis had never imagined a future with children and had half considered following Clef’s example and footsteps into the Guru's chair once upon a time, when Clef eventually retired. Now, he wouldn’t consider it without the changes Clef was pushing for and perhaps a few other fixes to problems of overwork he’d witnessed Clef facing even before Emeraude and his brother brought the world crashing down around them.

He didn’t know how Umi might be with children, but Clef? Clef he could see as a parent.

Lantis smiled. “I’ll be invited to any naming celebrations, right?”

"Of course, but there are a few conversations I need to have with Umi before there would be any possibility of a baby to be naming," Clef's face flushed brightly. "Though if we fail to talk about things as badly as I did this morning, it's entirely possible the baby could come before the conversations."

Hikaru had said it had been a kiss. Lantis raised a questioning eyebrow. "Did we interrupt something this morning?"

"Yes. Me losing my self-control," Clef said, dropping his face into his hands.

"Then maybe it would be better not waiting until after her exams."

Clef shook his head. "No. I don't want to be a distraction."

When Clef had said the same thing earlier that morning, Lantis had thought he'd meant verbally expressing his feelings could distract Umi from her studies, but now he wondered if Clef meant physically expressing his feelings.

And while he sincerely wanted Clef to have a happy, healthy romantic relationship, Lantis still didn't want to think about his former mentor's sex life. There didn't seem much left to say about the emotional tangle, either; Clef and Umi needed to talk, anything else would have to come from that. "Will you actually give me a tour of this part of the city, or are we going to spend our day going from cafe to cafe?"

"Well, there are several excellent cafes - but I was thinking of a park next." Clef smiled at him.

*

Lantis wasn’t entirely surprised when neither Clef nor Umi pushed to change the sleeping arrangements, but he had hoped they would find some time to talk on their own.

Instead, both Umi and Clef seemed to be avoiding being left alone together, but, to his amusement, that didn’t stop them gravitating toward one another. No matter how far apart they started in the evening, Umi and Clef ended up sitting beside one another before bedtime, and anytime they were all out together, they would walk hand in hand as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

It was sweet, it gave him hope that no matter how awkward things were right now the two of them would work through it - they so obviously adored each other - and it made Lantis ache to talk to his brother about it.

He thought that Zagato - the brother he grew up with, before everything happened - would be quietly amused by the confusion their teacher was in, and Lantis could easily imagine the good-natured teasing that would have happened if he were still around. Or perhaps… Zagato did understand how falling in love could be complicated. Only this, with Clef and Umi, was only being complicated by themselves; there was no major disaster waiting to befall everyone.

Even if a consummation did lead to Clef's tie to Cephiro being severed, it could be handled. (Though admittedly, he would rather he and Hikaru be in Cephiro for that. Perhaps it wasn't so terrible if they waited until next week to sort things out.)

No, this would have both amused and pleased Zagato as it did Lantis, he was sure, to see Clef working towards this happiness.

But Zagato was dead, and there weren’t many people around who would see the humour in Cephiro’s Master Mage falling in love for the first time at seven and a half centuries old.

Eagle, however, was certainly one of them, and that was one of the reasons he accepted the offer of pen and paper the third night of their visit to write Eagle a letter while the other three watched a drama series that had been explained to him well enough he was happy to not put them to the trouble of trying to translate it for him. The letter could be sent back to Fuu in Tokyo, Hikaru had said, and from there Fuu could take it as far as Cephiro and have it sent on; he had bought a couple of small souvenirs to send with it, souvenirs seeming to be very prevalent here.

He wrote of seeing Hikaru's brothers again and being truly pleased to see Clef looking so happy and healthy - 'He looks almost as I remember him from my childhood, though I suppose somewhat taller. But he smiles again now,' he wrote, and found himself smiling too.

“I haven't asked - is Eagle doing well? I assume so, from that smile” Clef said, startling Lantis out of his thoughts.

Lantis looked up to find the sofa empty and the television turned off, only the two of them left in the main room. "Where did Hikaru and Umi go?"

“To bed. Or, at least, to gossip in the bedroom. I'm going to put the kettle on one final time. Do you want some tea?"

“Ah. Yes, please. And Eagle is well, so far as I can tell.” Lantis paused. He knew Hikaru was concerned about them, again, but… the distance wore more heavily some months than others. He certainly had not managed to say much about his fears recently, not when it would be foolish not to assume their every communication was being monitored by Autozam's military; Cephiro's weaknesses were not a thing to be mentioned save in person.

Eagle's returning distance was almost certainly his attempt to not weigh Lantis down with more concerns while he was dealing with upheaval in Cephiro, and… "I think he is feeling guilty again over putting Autozam first. I feel the same about Cephiro, some days, but I do know what I want to achieve before I consider myself free. If that comes before Eagle is ready to leave Autozam, then..."

"Then you'll have to persuade Eagle to come with you when you come back from Autozam to visit here. In fact, you should invite him to visit over Earth’s New Year. Both of you come and stay with us at Umi’s parents’ house in Tokyo."

“You want us to spend New Year with you?” Lantis asked. “Isn’t it a family holiday?”

“Yes,” Clef said, and set his tea in front of him, in a simple hand-made cup that looked almost identical to the ones Clef had always used when it was just him and his closest friends or students.

Lantis swallowed hard, wrapping his hands carefully about the mug. "Did you make these?"

"My Japanese teacher felt that craft lessons would be a good opportunity to expand my vocabulary. Or perhaps she and Umi's mother felt it would give me a chance to… try to find a hobby?" He set another mug down, sitting across from Lantis at the low table.

"Have you?"

"Learning Japanese along with how to tend to this place and to cook with the foods here has been enough to keep me well occupied, though I'll admit I'm glad I've reached the point of reading enough that I can look for books for myself with a little more confidence I might like what I buy. I haven't actually told Umi yet I'm looking for another bookcase for here, but with the work she brings home from University as well I think it's justified, and the idea of finding books to fill it is a pleasure I hadn't indulged in years. For so long all I've read is reports and notes from meetings - and if I buy something I find I can't manage yet, which has happened a few times, I have a goal to aim for." He looked about, contemplatively. "By the time we return to Tokyo for the holiday, I may actually be able to read some of the books in Umi's family home."

Whatever confusion he and Umi were currently in, part of Clef was obviously certain in his place here. He would not be inviting Lantis to the family home, otherwise, let alone Eagle.

Lantis nodded, cradling the warmth of the teacup in his hands. "I would be delighted to visit for the New Year," he said, throat a little rough. "And though I cannot speak to Eagle's availability without asking him, I know he will be honoured by the invitation."

Clef smiled again, brightly as Lantis had ever seen. "You will both be very welcome."

*

It was almost a week later and very late in the day before Lantis managed to escape his first day's work and make his way to the comms room, but it did mean that the room was nearly empty as he put his call through to Eagle, trying not to yawn at the same time. He probably shouldn’t have scheduled his return to Cephiro for the same day he went back on duty, but it was nice to spend one extra day with Clef before he absolutely needed to be back, and they had spent their last evening reminiscing over happy memories of Lantis's childhood when he was first training with Clef - much to the entertainment of Hikaru and Umi, but he and Clef had stayed awake far into the night, well after the Knights had retired to bed.

“I got your letter,” Eagle announced, waving the paper with a grin as he came back on screen. "Zazu and Geo both send their thanks for the gifts. It sounds like your old teacher’s done quite well for himself considering the circumstances.”

Lantis had been careful what he put into the letter, of course - but the exile and Clef's moving to live with Umi was public knowledge. He refused to hide his own affection for his teacher, however political it might be in this particular moment. “He definitely has,” Lantis agreed. "As for his invitation… Can you find the time to come to Tokyo for their New Year?"

Eagle paused, watching Lantis carefully. "Am I correct in thinking this is a family occasion, for Tokyo?" he asked, softly.

"Yes," Lantis said and left it at that. If Eagle was uncomfortable with being considered family-

But then Eagle looked down, failing to hide the smile growing on his face, one more real than most of his - one of the smiles that came out only in private, not on a presumably monitored call. "I don't think I have anywhere that I must be; if we could check that the dates have translated correctly, I will see to booking leave and transport for myself. I'd love to see Tokyo properly."

Lantis took a deep breath, unable to help the returning smile. “You're just hoping for more Christmas cake, aren't you?”

“It’s so good!” Eagle leaned forward. “I’m more than happy to count Clef as family if it means I get more of Umi’s cakes.”

“To get more cake, you’ll have to visit more often,” Lantis found himself saying.

Eagle paused, then grinned at him. “I’ll see what I can do about that.”