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Something Changed on the Way to Chizeta

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In the middle of the afternoon on the fourth day of the week, Clef should have been sitting at his desk reading reports or attending a meeting or just about anything else but boarding a transport headed for Chizeta.

But he had been kidnapped.

Maybe it wasn't quite an abduction, so much as a conspiracy.

It was nearly ten years since the dissolution of the Pillar-system, and the land had been stable over half of that. There was far less for him to worry about as Guru than there had been, but his job still took up much of his time - there was so much of the Guild structure that needed changing to fit the new government.

Which was precisely why he had been ignoring Ferio's insistence that he needed a holiday; he simply didn't have the time.

"I have a meeting with the Academy leaders in half an hour," Clef complained as Umi dragged him onto the landing platform.

"No, you don't," she insisted, not letting go.

Clef pulled Umi to a halt - which was no mean feat; she'd definitely been working on her strength training in the past few years. "Yes, I do. I don't know what you have planned, but I have a full week of reviews and progress reports and-"

"No, you don't," Umi repeated, cutting him off. "Your schedule's been cleared for the next fortnight. Cephiro won't fall because you took a break."

"My schedule has been - What?"

"I've talked to Ascot, Ferio, and Sandero. We've got everything vital in your calendar either covered or rescheduled." She tugged him forward toward the waiting ship. "Come on. You're having a holiday, whether you like it or not."

"You did what?" Clef asked, helplessly as she managed to drag him forward a few more stumbling steps.

"Clef, you are coming on holiday with us, and you are going to relax and actually have some fun."

He was too startled by the idea that Umi had managed to go behind his back and reschedule all of his appointments and meetings without him even knowing to keep fighting her as she led him onto the ship. There should have been some sort of discrepancy in his diary, or someone should have mentioned something in one of his meetings - even if by accident.

An entire fortnight. Cleared. Just like that?

Clef was quite certain that Umi, Hikaru, and Fuu had booked their passage to Chizeta months ago, but when Umi gave both their names to the attendant at the door of the transport vehicle, Clef was left to wonder just how long she'd been planning this.


A second attendant led them through the ship to their shared suite - apparently, her plans hadn't extended to a second suite, that or she hadn't trusted him not to try and leave if she wasn't there to keep arguing with him. It was a little thing, only three, maybe four, paces wide. With a long settee along one wall, a tiny tea service tucked onto the corner of a desk on the other, and what looked to be a small ensuite tucked in near the door.

Clef stared about the tiny space, and a fresh wave of apprehension washed over him, which had little to do with the fact he was about to be stuck on a transport ship for the night and everything to do with spending the night with Umi.

The attendant rattled off a sort of safety briefing that rolled into an equally memorised speech about the meal times, before tapping the wall next to a little yellow circle with a drawing of a person on it. "If you need anything, just press this button here."

And with that, he was left alone with Umi.

But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Umi's excitement was almost contagious as she flitted about the room, investigating the amenities.

"It's like a train," she said - whatever that meant. "One of the big cross-country ones." She poked the settee. "Do you think this folds out into a bed?"

"I imagine so," Clef answered, staring about the small room. He certainly couldn't see anything else that might become a bed. Or a second bed.

Umi seemed to think this all perfectly reasonable.

A moment later, Hikaru appeared bright and happy in the doorway. "You made it!" she declared. "I wasn't sure Umi would convince you to come."

"I'm not sure 'convince' is quite the word I would use," he said.

Umi snorted out a laugh. "You could have stopped me, you know. But you just complained all the way. Don't worry; it'll be fun."

"We'll need to take our seats soon," Hikaru said. "They don't care where we're sitting, so we could go check out one of the dining rooms and see if they're serving any tea yet. They said something about cakes too."

Clef sighed and shook his head. "If I'm being kidnapped, then I definitely require both tea and cake."

Hikaru laughed and looped her arm through Clef's and tugged him back out and down the corridor, collecting Fuu on the way.


Clef found himself reading the menu for the other three and explaining the desserts that he knew - but perhaps not well enough, because Hikaru waved down their server and asked them to bring their three most popular desserts, two pots of tea and the fruit selection for Umi.

"We'll just share and see what we like best," Hikaru said.

Which turned out to be a nice plan. As they worked their way through the tea and cake - and then some other snacks that Umi ordered when she saw what other people were eating - Clef started to actually relax and even enjoy himself.

The four of them spent the rest of the day together. They went from the dining room to a lounge where Umi talked him into teaching them how to play one of the board games, then back to the dining room for dinner.

After a nice little dessert, Clef had had enough of company and just wanted a cup of tea in a quiet space, so he excused himself back to the suite.


While they'd been at dinner, someone had come in and folded out the settee into a double bed. It wasn't large. Two nightshirts were neatly folded on the foot of it, each topped with a small paper-wrapped sweet.

Clef claimed both sweets - it wasn't like Umi would miss them - and popped one in his mouth as he walked around to the bed to the kettle. He needed another cup of tea.

He'd just settled into the little desk chair when the door slid open and Umi walked in - bounce still in her step. She kicked off her boots and flopped onto the bed.

"Oh! This is nice." She rolled over and rested her chin on her hands, and Clef tried not to let his gaze travel over the length of her legging-clad legs as she stretched out. "So, do you want to be on the outside or the inside - against the wall?"

Clef automatically took a drink of his tea while he tried desperately to process the question, scalding his mouth and nearly dropping his mug with a yelp.

Umi was on her feet a moment later, grabbing a towel from the little ensuite and coming back to take the mug so he could dry what he'd spilled down the front of his robes. "Do you know any cleaning spells? Or are we going to have to find you new clothes tomorrow morning?"

"I'm assuming you were planning to get me new clothes anyway, given I don't remember packing anything for this trip," he grumbled.

"Ferio said you usually keep a spare set of robes in your ring, but we were planning to take you shopping. How do you feel about Chizetan clothing? We could dress you like the princesses' djinn." She grinned at him, dropping back down on the edge of the bed.

"Very funny." Clef threw the towel back at her. "I'll just wear the shirt and trousers I have under this tomorrow. It's too hot in Chizeta for my outer robes anyway."

"But it would be a good way to get some colour in your skin."

Clef rolled his eyes. "My skin does nothing but burn if I get too much sun."

Umi still looked at him with consideration. "Are you absolutely sure I can't talk you into it? Just for a day?"

"You are not getting my shirt off, no matter how many times you ask." Clef went to fetch his mug.


Clef's third cup of tea was just delaying the inevitable. He dumped the teabag out and dropped back into the little desk chair - nearly spilling the hot liquid over his hand.

Umi was happily looking out the little window at the head of the bed, something Clef was very much avoiding - there was just something disconcerting about the darkened star-scape. Stifling a yawn, Umi crawled across the bed.

"When are you going to be ready to sleep?" she asked.

"Soon." Clef checked his tea - it was nearly cool enough to drink.

He wasn't expecting Umi to casually sit at the end of the bed and pull her tunic up over her head. Swallowing hard, he turned his attention to the wall, but the wall wasn't nearly as interesting as the play of muscle across Umi's back as she changed into her nightclothes.

"I'm going to brush my teeth," Umi announced.

Braving a look, Clef turned to see her drop her leggings on the end of the bed and disappear into the little ensuite.

He put his mug down and picked up the other nightshirt and stared at it. Certainly, it couldn't be a one-size-fits-all sort of thing, because even holding it up he could tell it would fit him, but definitely not someone Lantis's size. When Umi came back out, Clef slipped into the little cubicle of an ensuite to avoid an audience while he changed into it. Though it wasn't much shorter than his own nightclothes, it was uncomfortable to have the hem brushing his bare legs when he normally wore trousers to bed.

When he walked back out, Umi was already settling into bed - only the bedside light on. She'd curled up against the wall, and Clef took a long deep breath before he climbed into bed beside her.

"You okay with that side, or did you want to switch?" Umi asked.

"It's fine," Clef said, switching out the light. "Sleep well."

"You too."


Clef did, actually, sleep well. Between the low hum of the transport's engines and the - surprising - comfort of Umi's presence beside him, Clef had drifted off faster than usual, and he slept deeply, perhaps too deeply.

Umi's giggling woke Clef up several hours later.

His mind was slow to wake completely and it took him a moment to realise that he was curled around Umi. Not just curled, but had practically claimed her, wrapping his arm around her and tangling their legs together.

With his hips pressed against hers, his body was far more alert than his mind was. And not only that. Whatever he had done in the process of sliding his legs over hers had pushed both their nightshirts up to the point of being barely decent. Only a few more inches and his bothersome erection would have been pressed directly against Umi's backside.

Clef froze, unable to work out how to extract himself from this situation with any shred of his dignity intact. It took several long breaths for him to give up on dignity, and at least try for some distance. He went to peel himself away from her so he could take a very cold shower (There had been a shower in that ensuite, hadn't there?) and forget this had happened, but Umi caught his hand as he tried to remove it from her waist.

"You don't have to go," she said, rolling over in his arms, and Clef was suddenly very aware that she wasn't wearing anything but the nightshirt either. The hem slipped up even higher as she moved, and Clef could feel the burning heat between her legs against his thigh. The sensation was as much of an invitation as her words. "You could come closer, instead."

Clef swallowed as he stared into those bright, hopeful eyes.

"I just don't want to lose our friendship," he whispered. The words came out of his mouth before he even realised the truth of them, and that it was the main reason he'd never done anything about his ridiculous attraction to her.

Somehow Umi curled even closer to him, and the gentle kiss she pressed against his cheek sent a shiver down Clef's spine and a new bloom of heat burst through him.

"I'll always be your friend," she said.

"You can't know that." Clef'd had a few physical relationships in his distant past, and while he kept in touch with one or two, their friendships had never been quite the same afterward.

"Not unless I try," she said, nearly brushing her lips against his. "And if it doesn't work out, I'll just go back to bugging you about magic theory and telling you that you're wrong about science stuff - because you're often wrong about science stuff."

"Do you promise that?"

"I promise." Umi smiled with such honesty that Clef couldn't help but believe she would try her best to put everything back to normal even if they tried this and it all went wrong. "But we can just pretend this conversation never happened, if you'd rather not try."

"I don't think I could pretend that," Clef murmured, meeting Umi's honesty with his own. "But - maybe - we could try to make it work?" He let his hand drift down Umi's side to brush her bare thigh.

The touch of Umi's lips stole Clef's breath away. He pressed closer, wrapping his arms around her. The kiss went from the resolute seal of her spoken promise to an oath of something much deeper, and when they broke apart, Clef wasn't the only one trembling.

"Just so you know, even if you do sleep with me, I won't stop bugging you about magic and correcting you on your science," Umi said with a laugh.

"I wouldn't expect you to."

"Good."

She kissed him again, teeth playfully catching his lower lip. When she pushed him back into the pillows, it was like a pulse of electricity shot through him.

Straddling Clef's hips, Umi tugged on Clef's nightshirt until he sat up enough to pull it off. His skin tingled with her touch as she slid her hands across his skin.

"You said I wouldn't get your shirt off," she said with a grin.

"I never said you couldn't get me naked." Clef couldn't help but smile up at her. "I just never expected you to ask."

"Have you wanted me to get you naked?"

"I've tried not to think about it."

"I'll take that as a yes." Umi yanked her nightshirt off and threw it on the floor with his. "Just so you know, I've been thinking about the two of us being naked together for a while."

Clef stared up at her in awe. She was so beautiful she could have anyone, why would she want an old man like him?

He didn't know how to ask.

Any words he might have had were lost when Umi slid forward, pressing his erect prick against his belly with the slick heat of her core, and all he could think about was how it would feel to sink inside her when she reached the tip and pushed back, but she stopped short and slid back again.

"I wasn't planning to seduce you until we got to Chizeta," Umi said, grinding forward again, and the pleasure radiating through Clef's body made it difficult to follow her words. "So, the condoms I packed are in my main bag, which is in the hold."

She reached the same stopping point again, and Clef whimpered.

"I'm going to give you a choice." Umi grinned wickedly. "We can do a bit of everything without penetration, or we accept the consequences and just go all the way without any protection." Her voice dropped low as she ground forward against him again. "Just so you know, I'm not opposed to having a baby with you."

It wasn't her words that took Clef by surprise, so much as his reaction to it. He'd been right on the edge nearly from the moment she'd climbed on top of him, but he hadn't expected the ferocity of the orgasm that slammed through him, leaving him trembling sticky mess unable to form a single word of reply.

Umi laughed and kissed him again before she bounded off the bed and disappeared into the en-suite only to return a moment later with a wet cloth.

"You like the idea of getting me pregnant, don't you?" Umi asked. Her tone was teasing, but her expression was full of as much fondness as the hand gently wiping the spent seed from his chest.

It was the same affection he'd seen in her eyes for the last few years, but he hadn't dared hope for it to mean anything besides friendship.

His heart beat faster as his mind imagined a dozen possible futures for them as a family, together: Umi smiling that same smile as she stroked a hand over her swollen middle, and as she nursed a baby, and as she walked a toddler toward him.

But it couldn't ever be true.

"I'm too old for that," Clef choked out.

"You can't know that unless you try, either" Umi said.

Discarding the cloth, Umi kissed her way up his chest. Her breath trembling with want, with a need Clef knew he could satiate.

Clef pulled his strength together and tumbled Umi back over into the bed, and slid down the mattress.

Umi's cry of surprise felt like a victory after all she'd done to push buttons he didn't even know he had.

Her fingers tangled in his hair, pulling hard as she arched up off the bed, barely stifling a scream with her other hand as she came nearly as violently as Clef had.


Waking up with Umi shouldn't have filled Clef with anxiety, but sleeping with Umi should have come after a number of very important conversations they'd failed to have.

Conversations he wasn't sure he could face without a bracing cup of tea.

Sliding out of the bed, he put the kettle on and dumped the last teabag into his mug.

Umi roused at the sound of the kettle, and grumbled incoherently as she rolled over, only to blink as Clef before her expression shifted into a smile.

"Hi," she said, eyes sparkling.

"How do you want to do this?" Clef asked before nerves could stop him.

"Pretty sure we just get dressed and go to breakfast," Umi yawned. "I don't think there's an option to have it brought here at the last minute."

Taking a breath to collect himself, Clef clarified, "Not breakfast. This. Us." He waved a hand between them.

"If we're having the 'where is this going' conversation before we've even had breakfast, you better have made me tea too." Umi sat up and stared at him.

Clef glanced at the cup in his hand and the now-empty bowl that had once held their teabags before turning around and handing his cup to her.

Umi's eyes went wide at that silent answer, and she opened and closed her mouth a few times before quietly admitting. "I honestly didn't think I'd actually get this far. I mean, I packed a box of condoms on the off chance I might get you to relax, but I wasn't sure it wouldn't just be a one-time event."

"Did you ever consider the fact I might not want a one-time event?" Clef said, sinking into the desk chair.

Umi shook her head, her cheeks going painfully red. "I really didn't think that far ahead."

"You cleared my entire schedule, confirming my absence with my colleagues, and booked my transport and - I assume - my lodgings in Chizeta, while making a clear plan of how you were going to acquire me more clothing when you didn't pack me any. You even planned contraception, but you didn't think about what you wanted after?"

"Don't look at me like that." Umi turned away from him. "I was just talking to Ferio when I said you really needed to have a holiday, and then we came up with the plan. I wasn't even sure it would work, but Ferio was right, when I talked to Sandero about planning a secret holiday, he was more than willing to help."

A number of Clef's conversations with Sandero over the past week suddenly made a lot more sense.

"Umi, you took it upon yourself to rearrange my schedule," Clef said, fearing he might just be reading too much into that. "Don't you think that signifies some sort of intent?"

"My intent was to make you take a holiday and relax," Umi said, her fingers going white as she clenched them tighter around the mug. "Didn't expect to have any sort of relationship talk until we got back to Cephiro."

"I tend to prefer to have those sorts of conversations before I have sex with someone," Clef said. He sighed and sank back into the chair. "I don't think I want to continue having sex with you if it's only going to be a casual thing."

"Okay," Umi said quietly.

Clef's chest tightened, and he dropped his head into his hands. He messed up. He messed up so badly with this.

They sat in uncomfortable silence for an agonisingly long time before Umi spoke.

"What does a relationship look like to you?" Umi asked. "I mean, we already spend a lot of time together - dating isn't that much different than what we've been doing."

Clef lifted his head.

"I know Cephiro doesn't really do marriage in the same way as Japan, but we could try moving in together, if you wanted to?" Umi said with a shrug, before a familiar mischievous grin spread across her face. "Living in the same rooms would make it easier to take care of a baby together."

A yes had been on the tip of Clef's tongue - he did like the idea of actually living together - but Umi's last comment caught him off guard.

Something about his reaction must have amused Umi because she burst out laughing. "When I say I wouldn't mind getting pregnant, I do mean that I think I want to have a child sometime in the next few years, so getting pregnant now would be fine."

"Umi, did you drag me out on a conception holiday?" Clef blurted out.

"A what?"

"A trip to relax away from any other responsibilities - to have a lot of sex with the intent of having a baby," Clef explained waving a hand at the room. "It's not polite to take someone on a conception holiday unaware, you know."

"I-I packed condoms!" Umi declared, face going brighter red. "I just didn't think I'd seduce you so easily, so I only have one box for the whole two weeks, and that's definitely not going to last."

"Chizeta has contraceptives," Clef said, letting out a startled laugh. "And we did perfectly fine last night without."

Setting the mug aside, Umi closed the distance between them. "Only because you finished early," she said, sliding into his lap. "All I could think about last night was how badly I wanted to feel you inside me, and I was willing to accept the consequences." Her hot breath made him shiver as she added, "And I still am."

Clef wanted to protest, point out how it was a bad idea, but the more he thought about it, the less unwise it seemed. They were already good friends who knew they could work well together. He was well settled in his job, and Umi was settling into life in Cephiro, and if she already wanted to stay with him, wanted a family together, what would it matter if they started trying now as opposed to seven months or a year from now?

"If you come home pregnant, no one is going to believe we haven't been together for years," Clef said.

"I'm okay with that."

"I am still an old man."

"I'm okay with that too."

"Are you sure?"

"Clef, you're the only person I can ever imagine having children with," Umi said, going still and serious. "I want to have children with you, but it's okay if you're not interested. I can accept that."

"Whatever gave you the idea I'm not interested?" Clef asked. "Maybe I have opinions about the timing and the delivery of the question, but that doesn't mean I won't give you everything you ask me for."

Clef swept Umi up with him as he got to his feet, depositing her back on the bed.

"Do you want to keep moving fast, or should we slow down and take our time?"

Umi answered by grabbing hold of Clef, pulling him down onto the bed with her.

Everything separating them was pushed aside in that moment, and Clef knew nothing would ever be the same between them again.

He pledged the rest of his life to Umi in that cramped little transport bed.


In the end, the condoms stayed in Umi's bag for the rest of the trip.


Clef arrived back in Cephiro better rested than he had been in years. He guided Umi back into the castle by her hand as she faltered in her steps.

"What do we do now?" Umi asked, suddenly sounding unsure. "Do I just get my stuff and bring it to yours? Is there paperwork for room changes; do I need to tell my job?"

"You don't need to worry about it," Clef assured her, leading her on. "It's taken care of."

"What?"

"Come with me," Clef said, grinning as he led the way up to his rooms.

They'd barely made it to the door before it was flung open and half a dozen voices called out, "Congratulations!"

"Clef, what did you do?"

"Didn't I say that clearing my schedule would signify a specific sort of intent?" Clef teased. "Welcome to your moving-in party."

"Clef!" Umi protested, but she was grinning, too.

After they had told Hikaru and Fuu about Umi's plan to move in with Clef once they returned to Cephiro, Clef managed to find a moment to pull Hikaru aside and ask her to pass a message back to Sandero about wanting to have a small celebration - to surprise Umi like she had done him.

The party Clef expected was a small group of their close friends, good food, and several bottles of wine, but it turned out to be a lot larger than he would have ever planned.

The two of them barely had time to put down their bags before they were swept back out and down to one of the larger public rooms.

Garlands of flowers hung from the ceilings. Tables of food were laid out to feed the dozens more people who were waiting to congratulate them.

Clef caught Sandero's sleeve and said, "This is not what I had in mind."

"You said celebration, I gave you a celebration," Sandero said with a grin. "It's not my fault the two of you have so many acquaintances who want to celebrate your happiness with you."

Umi snorted out a laugh beside them. "Sometimes surprises just don't go how you plan, do they?"


Several hours later and completely exhausted, Clef once again opened the door to his rooms for Umi. "Welcome home."

"Give me a tour of my new home?" Umi said, kicking off her shoes and tugging him forward, only to stop two steps in and stare at the set of books that had been given a home on a new shelf on the bookcase by the door. "Hey, these are my books!"

Dropping Clef's hand she darted across the room to the sitting area - where she found the energy, Clef had no idea - and picked up a blanket neatly laid over the back of the settee. "This is my blanket! Why is this here?"

"It's traditional for your friends and family to help you move," Clef said. "I guess someone mentioned that to Hikaru and Fuu; though, they usually do it with you overseeing the process."

Clef walked into the bedroom and opened the wardrobe door. Sure enough, his things had been moved over to make room for all of Umi's that now also hung from the rail.

Umi followed behind him and started pulling open drawers and staring at her things neatly folded inside them. "After all this, what would happen if I changed my mind?"

Clef spun around to look at her, a knot forming in his chest. "Do you want to change your mind?"

"No," Umi said with a laugh, then wrinkled her nose at the drawer. "But I think I want to change where my stuff's been put. This is all wrong."

"Can it wait until tomorrow?" Clef asked, laying a hand over hers. "I don't have the energy to help you shift things tonight."

"Yeah. It can wait." Umi shut the drawer and turned toward him with a smile that told him she was about to suggest they take their clothes off. "Don't you have a private bath?"

"Yes," Clef answered, grinning helplessly. "Allow me to show you to your new bathroom."


It was only a little over a year later when Umi and Clef organised a much smaller gathering to celebrate the arrival of their first child.

They both agreed that some plans were better made together.