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"It's not working!" Umi shouted, trying to project her voice through the maelstrom that was hammering down at them - shouting at Fuu to one side of her, hands spread to the howling wind to try to calm it, and Clef on her other side with his hands full of lightning, catching every strike that could have caused damage, letting it cascade about him and dissipate into the ground.

Umi had her own hands out, grasping for the clouds and the grinding power of the sea as it struck the base of the cliffs far below.

"It will!" Clef shouted back, just as another flash of light split the sky, and he reached out and yanked it into his hands, flung it into the ground at his feet, where the grass was nothing but embers and the dirt was half molten, hissing with every drop of rain that struck it. "You have to believe it will!"

Swearing, Umi closed her eyes and dug her heels in harder, trying to reach with her thoughts and her heart and not look for where the surges were coming.

This wasn't a natural storm, and trying to quell it was a matter of unravelling the threads of power whipping the weather into a fury. Otherwise, it was going to not only flood but also flatten a hefty chunk of Cephiro - the buildings here weren't designed to take a tsunami, and there were practically no flood defences. After all, this kind of weather didn't just happen.

Except when called, whether by accident or deliberately.

"Who called this mess up anyway?" She flexed her hands again, trying to shift the pins-and-needles that were starting just from the length of time she'd been holding them out. Or possibly from the amount of power she was shifting, but whichever it was, it was distracting, and she was not enjoying this. The more they calmed the edges, the more power was spilling into the middle of it.

The other side of her, Fuu was trying to work into the core of the maelstrom, where the wind spinning up was the catalyst and the driver behind all of it. If the air about Clef was sharp and full of ozone, the air about Fuu was vibrating, not a swirling breeze so much as a dense trembling pressure against Umi's skin on that side.

Fuu was concentrating too hard to do more than glance Umi's way at the question, and on her other side Clef answered but without looking - "It isn't being consciously driven. I suspect it was a nightmare. But it's not our job to find that out, just - watch that next swell, it's going higher - to stop it!"

"Pretty sure stopping the person causing it would be the easiest way to do that!" she snapped, back, gritting her teeth and eying the new rush of water headed towards the rocks below them. It was covering some of the outlying rocks that the others hadn't touched - clearly taller than they had been, and as she reached out, there was more power in it. Some magic, yes, but mostly it was being driven by the wind above. "Fuu-"

"Can't, sorry," Fuu gasped, and Umi glanced up high enough to see the swirling maelstrom that was taking Fuu's attention away.

"...Yeah, fair enough," she muttered, and got to work on her own, trying to add just enough friction in the other direction to reduce the force of the wave as it came crashing in. If the sea kept this up they were going to be getting a storm surge, and the river mouth below them was going to carry the flooding back miles inland. The rain wasn't helpful, but it wasn't such an immediate threat - if Clef could keep the clouds from setting anything on fire a moment without her having to douse anything-

"I'll do my best," he said into the wind, flinching a step towards Umi as the rain slammed into them, and Umi hadn't realised she was planning aloud, but that made things more efficient anyway.

There was too much energy in the water, the waves were too strong and too fast, and she needed to slow them enough she could take her attention off the shore and help with the mass of the storm itself. She’d briefly considered trying to divert the currents so they were going along the shore, or curving to head back out instead of hammering solidly in, only to get a mental image of the whirlpools that would probably result when the currents hit.

Pressing back against the tide was only going to hold it so long. So she took another breath, closed her eyes, and set herself to focusing on the water in the skies: the thick clouds churning in a massive spiral, dumping rain on them all. To her magic, the whole mass glimmered, and the power had to be coming from somewhere – not from the centre, where the still eye of the storm felt like a massive black hole. She and Fuu had both checked that out, and there was nothing distinct enough there to be the source and the catalyst of this. It had to be something caught up in the storm itself.

Drawing as deep as she could, she pressed her own magic into that storm, letting it be whipped to pieces and dragged through every cloud, every raindrop, where maybe – maybe – it could highlight something different.

She and Fuu ‘spotted’ it at the same moment – she heard Fuu shouting ‘it’s there!’ the same moment she found a space too dense with power for her magic to touch; a space which felt like…

Like a small, summer-afternoon cloud?

Whatever it was, she and Fuu turned their wills on it at once; Fuu hammering at it with the surrounding air, shearing pieces off it which Umi could get at and rip apart.

The end, when it came, was abrupt: that little cloud hidden in the mass of the storm really had been sustaining the whole. When they managed to tear it down to less than half its size, the power that had suffused it now wobbled, and failed, and the whole storm collapsed in on itself like a very damp illusion.

The sun came gleaming through the clouds, illuminating a rough sea that still looked unpleasant to be out on, but the waves being driven at the shoreline were already starting to drop back to a more usual size.

"We did it!" Umi crowed, bouncing on the spot and then dancing in a circle, damp clothes flapping about her. She reached out and grabbed Fuu's hands and span her around, and Fuu, laughing, went with it - but she let go and stumbled to a halt a few moments later, as Ferio came up to catch her, a drink in his hands for Fuu.

Umi turned from them and grabbed Clef instead, wrapping her arms about his neck and hugging him. He yelped at first, surprised - but she was the one startled when he then laughed, his arms coming around her back, spinning her in a circle like she had Fuu, but tangled a lot closer together.

"You're far too energetic!" he said, as they stumbled to a halt, but his voice was just as ecstatic as she felt. His magic was leaking just a little, or maybe the air was just charged up with it, a tingling running over Umi's skin as they held each other. It was almost ticklish.

"We did it! No one's going to get hurt!" She twirled them about once more. "That was ridiculous! Who manages to summon a typhoon in their nightmares?"

"We don't even have a word for what that was, and I've no idea how it started, but- it's gone!"

"Yep!" she pulled away far enough to grin at him - they were eye-to-eye, give or take a couple of centimetres, so she was on exactly the right level to see the crinkles about his eyes as he grinned, the damp of the rain in his hair - and the way his eyes dropped to her lips for the tiniest of moments as he bit down on his lip.

Umi didn't even think; she just leaned in, and kissed him.

If the noise he'd made when she hugged him had been startled, the one he made now was - so much more. Surprise and a desperate kind of - something ragged, and-

She hadn't kissed many people. This was more like a smushing their mouths together than anything coherent, anything that one might reasonably considered a proper kiss, but Clef leaned closer and tilted his head and their lips fit, somehow, and his were soft and a little dry and made her insides do some very strange things.

He pulled back a moment later, gasping 'sorry, sorry!" at her, which was stupid. His eyes were wide, and she grabbed him before he could actually fall over the rock behind him, which got another apology.

"But I kissed you!" she pointed out. "Why are you sorry?" It didn't seem a good sign - but then again, she should probably be apologising to him. She opened her mouth to do but was beaten to it by Clef flushing hard and speaking up instead.

"Because you just kissed me because we beat that - I'm the one who-" he flailed a hand between them, and Umi wasn't at all sure what he meant. He looked at her, bit his lip, and closed his eyes. "Escalated it beyond friendly?" he squeaked out.

"...Would you do it again?"

"What?"

"I just-" she bit her lip, face heating up as she took a breath, and started to panic. What was she saying? What was she doing! Clef was her friend, he didn't –

He tugged on her arms, just slightly, the pull so tentative she could have dismissed it as a mistake if he wasn't bright red and staring at her. Umi swayed into him again, and this time she managed a better angle, catching his lips with hers and a shiver running through her in a way which made her lean in closer, wanting to wrap herself as close as possible. Clef returned the kiss, and his hand slid up into her rain-wet hair, his shoulders shaking under her grip.

It was several minutes before they broke apart, and even then not very far. She wasn't going to let go of Clef because she wasn't sure what happened next, or quite how this had started, though it was - her fault, wasn't it? But he'd kissed her - well, he'd kissed her back- he was holding on to her, that had to mean he didn't hate this. Right?

"I have absolutely no idea what I should do now," he said, staring at their joined hands.

Umi blinked, then started laughing. "Sorry - neither do I!" she managed, and then remembered Fuu and turned - but they were alone on the top of the cliff, fortunately, "I guess we should talk?" she said, uncertainly. At least they wouldn't have an audience for that.

"About what just happened?" Clef asked, "or-"

"What else could we talk about? I mean, the weather- I guess that's a bad example, with the storm, we could actually talk about the weather-"

"Or," he continued, rolling his eyes at her, which at least had the bonus of his looking less terrified. "We could talk about what now, which I think might be more important?"

"...Oh." She pulled a face at him. "But I don't know what now! We kissed, it was nice, I really liked it, I want to do it again. Do you?"

He stared, flushing brightly. "That..."

"Well, it seems to be everything important, really, isn't it?" She bit her lip, shrugging. His silence was... worrying. Maybe he really hadn't wanted - maybe it was the adrenaline, the rush of their success, and he really wasn't interested in her- "I thought, maybe-"

"But if - wouldn't you want to discuss what kind of a courtship you would like?" Clef asked, and she stared at him, and he at her - and there was, in fact, a huge issue here that Umi hadn't even thought of, because what even did Cephiro do about dating?

She had no clue.

"Uh."

"I mean, I don't know what - what would happen where you are from, or even what happens here these days," Clef said, cheeks flushing even harder. "I haven't... that is, I only ever took part in a couple of miraa courtships, which-"

"I have no idea what that word means?" Umi said, biting her lip. "I guess - things are so different here that the words don't even translate. I mean, I'm just asking - did you like kissing me?"

"Yes," Clef said, and then bit his lip hard enough it looked painful.

"Do you want to do that some more at some point?"

"...Yes," he flushed so hard she was surprised that he was still standing and hadn't fainted from the chaos of his blood all being diverted due to embarrassment.

"Do you want to spend time together, and talk, and go see things together - like going on a picnic to the sea, or a walk in the gardens, or - I don't know. Going to see that singer that was here from Chizeta a few months ago?"

"Yes, but we do that already?" He blinked at her. “We did, in fact, go to see that singer together, even.”

Umi opened her mouth, and then closed it. "Well, yes, I guess we do, uh. But we could hold hands while we do it? And maybe kiss afterwards? I don't know, what are the different types of courting?"

"Well, miraa – um. Casual courting, which is-" he paused. "Pretty much what you were describing, I think, but it's - you want to have a good time with them, you're usually friends, you're not intending the situation to be permanent and there's no intention of combining households in future. Then there's beruto courting with the intent of joining households, so you're more focused on making sure you fit with the balance of people around the other - I guess that's not very relevant, as I don't have a household that you would be interested in joining, and your family is -"

"Is not in Cephiro."

"So I cannot easily join them," Clef agreed. "So, uh, there's courting with the intent of forming a household. Handoru. That involves more work to make sure that you have the same kinds of ideas on the ways you want your household to function, and all the practical things, making sure your skills fit together-"

Umi shook her head, lips twitching. "From what you're saying, courting in Cephiro seems a lot like a job interview. Dating back home is just checking you're compatible and get on with each other."

"Compatible?" He looked at her, curiosity on his face, and she wrinkled her nose at him.

"With, you know. Kissing, and - stuff. Making sure you like doing 'that kind of thing' with each other."

Clef's lips twitched. "Stuff?"

Reaching out, Umi poked him on the shoulder. "Yes! Stuff! Without clothes!"

"The kind of thing you're trying to ask me if I'm interested in, but you can't say the words?" He shook his head, dramatically slowly. "I'm not sure that we should really be doing anything if you can't-"

Umi groaned dramatically and then poked him again, sidling closer. "Just because I get embarrassed saying some things aloud - that's just because, you know, I haven't-"

"Is that meant to be helping with this conversation?"

"Am I meant to go off and pretend I'm interested in someone random in order to get experience I don't want with them or something?" Umi paused. "I'm not doing that, so you know."

"I wasn't saying you should?"

"Just-"

"I was saying it might be a good idea if you were able to talk about things before you start trying to do them, at least for ease of communication-"

Umi poked him. "Are you teasing me?"

"...Maybe a little." He smiled, and it was like the storm clearing again, the sudden brightness of it, and she couldn't help it. She thumped him on the shoulder.

"Not funny!"

"Oh, it is a little-" he started, and she pulled him in and kissed him again, which he leaned into while grinning hard enough she could feel it against her lips.

That took a little while. The kissing continued, though both of them were tired enough that they swayed unsteadily. Clef took one hand from her shoulder to summon up a bench for them and then flopped rather unceremoniously onto it, looking startled and like his legs had just given out from under him.

"...Are you okay?" Umi asked, sitting beside him, and wincing as she realised how much her legs ached. They must have been standing almost on the spot for several hours, and she was slowly starting to feel it. She was also starting to realise how uncomfortable her wet clothes were.

"Exhausted, damp through, but fine," he said. "You?"

"Eh, the same." She reached down and lay her hand on top of his, and he tangled their fingers together. The sea stretched out before them, the sunset throwing bright colours across it like a painter throwing paint out in a tantrum. It was pretty. "And a bit... confused?"

"Because of the kissing?"

"Because apparently we've just started kissing today, and I don't know what to do about that?"

Clef nodded, and took a breath. "Probably we should wait and see if we still want to do it tomorrow, and then talk when we're less tired. About what you want to do, if anything, going forwards."

"Are we so tired we're just avoiding having an awkward conversation tonight?"

"Yes," he said, firmly enough that she started giggling. "And I'm not talking about it with anyone else, either."

"Why would anyone else-" Umi began, then stiffened, and shot bolt upright. "Fuu! She-"

"Might have a few questions, yes," Clef said, and wrinkled his nose up. "Ferio will likely have some too, but-"

"Can't you take us straight back to the castle?" Umi asked, fervently.

Clef looked tempted, but shook his head. “Besides the fact our friends would likely worry if we vanished on them, we did, in fact, just stop a devastating storm that was caused by unknown means. We should stay here in case it starts up again.”

“Bother.” Umi flopped back against his side, enjoying the way he automatically wrapped an arm about her shoulders, even though the damp of his robes under her cheek was no more pleasant than her own clothing was. “…Can you at least dry us off some?”

“Which of us is the water mage?” he asked, but she could hear the smile in his voice. “I’d think you would have worked out how to pull unwanted water from your clothing by now.”

“Not without damaging the clothing, and I’m a bit too tired to try working it out again.”

“Best hope I’m not too tired for this, then,” he muttered, and waved his spare hand in front of them in a small sharp gesture.

A shudder seemed to run through everything she wore, all the water working its way out, pooling on the bench and splashing to the ground below them. It was a ticklish feeling; she tried not to wriggle, and he didn’t drop his hand until all the water had been driven into the mud below them.

“There. Better?”

“Much.” Umi turned, levering herself a little more upright as he looked at her. “Thank you.” She kissed him again, trying to keep the touch gentle this time.

It almost worked. At least, if she pretended she was trembling from exhaustion and nothing else by the time they broke apart.

“Maybe you could just magic us up a hut up here and we could stay in case of another storm starting up, but not have to talk to anyone yet?” Umi said, wistfully, and Clef laughed.

“I’m definitely too tired for that – and I don’t see what kind of accommodation you would manage to pull together. No, we’re going to have to go down to the village.”

“And you absolutely don’t want to talk about this tonight?”

“If you want coherency from me, you don’t want me to talk about this tonight,” he said, wryly. “No, if anyone asks, we just say it’s none of their business. Which is absolutely true. Then tomorrow…”

“We can work out what kind of courtship we’re both interested in?” she said, heart beating a little harder.

“Yes,” Clef said, looking up at her – and his voice was just a little too rough on that word, his eyes steady on her, and this time he was the one who hesitated a moment then gave up and pulled her in again.

However the sky was starting to darken not because of any clouds, but because of the sun dipping below the horizon, and eventually they gave in and headed down the hillside to the small collection of houses which had been directly in the path of that storm. There was a guest hall, where they expected at least Fuu and Ferio to be waiting with teasing questions – and though Fuu and Ferio were definetly there, along with a cheerful Hikaru and Lantis and a very welcome meal, there was no teasing.

Suspiciously no teasing.

But Hikaru had apparently managed a victory of her own. “I found her a couple of towns over,” she said, as Umi served herself a plate of the waiting stew and settled down at the long dining table. “She was so bright with magic – she’s only a kid, but apparently she was out daydreaming and watching the clouds yesterday, and after talking to Fuu I think she was dreaming about what kinds of ambitions a cloud might have…”

“And settled on ‘turning into a massive storm’? That’s… Well.” Umi shook her head, and snorted. “I guess that makes some sense.” It fits, anyway, if she was shoving power into that one little cloud and it built up the storm around it… but that much power, and she was only daydreaming?”

“Well, when people saw the storm starting, their worries may also have added onto it – but the drive was that one little cloud, so far as we can tell. Lantis was talking to her parents, and they’re going to get her to the Mage’s Guild tomorrow, get some assessments and some lessons arranged soon as they can. Hopefully there’s a tutor with some free time?” Hikaru aimed that over the table, at Clef.

“If there isn’t, I’ll make sure someone finds time,” he said. “That kind of power needs careful guiding.”

All in all, there were several brighter-than-usual smiles aimed at them from around the table, but no one said anything. Not even when they all headed to bed – Umi and Clef, being the last to arrive and start eating, ended up left at the table as everyone else vanished with a cheerful ‘good night!’.

“Is it just me, or is this all very suspicious?” Umi asked quietly, leaning on the table and watching Hikaru vanish up the stairs to where the bedrooms presumably were.

“Highly so,” Clef agreed, then yawned. “…Hopefully they are just planning to ‘accidentally’ come down to retrieve something they forgot in a moment, and catch us kissing.”

“Are we planning on kissing more in here?” Umi grinned at him, and he pulled a face at her.

“No, I’m planning on going to bed. But that’s my best guess.”

Either way, he flagged down the innkeeper to thank them for the meal, and they were met with a bright smile and a ‘please follow me’.

The corridor upstairs had any number of doors leading off it, some of which had to be other corridors given the size of the building, so Umi thought nothing of it when the innkeeper opened one for them. “You are both through here,” they said, with another smile. “Hopefully you will find everything you need provided. Have a good night!”

“Thank you,” Umi said, automatically, walking through after Clef – and nearly walking into his back when he stopped, at the same moment the door was shut behind them.

“Ah,” Clef said, and when she poked him, he stepped to the side. “I believe I found what our friends have been up to.”

“What- oh.” Umi blinked at the large room they were in, with cosy rugs on the floor, a door at one side with a little private bathroom visible beyond it – and one very large bed in the centre of it. It had posts at each corner, and soft-looking curtains that could drape about it – to which had been pinned wreaths made of greenery twined together with dozens of different flowers.

There were banners about the walls, too, ones she couldn’t read but which looked very congratulatory in their cheerful colour scheme.

“…Is this the honeymoon suite?” she asked, trying not to laugh.

“Huhnee- what?”

“The, uh. So, on earth, if you get married, some places have a tradition where you go on a holiday afterwards, just the two of you. To do all that stuff we were talking about earlier.”

“Ah.” Clef’s ears were red. “This is… similar. This kind of… it’s a ‘first night’ room.”

“So, a room for special sex?”

“You can say it, then?” He grinned at her, though he looked away almost as soon as he had. “The wreaths are a blessing on a new relationship. The banners… those ward the room. In case anyone involved has a little trouble controlling their magic, especially those first times.”

Umi considered that, looking at them. “That’s not something people normally worry about back home.”

“I’d imagine not,” he said, dryly, then shrugged. “…I mean, if you don’t mind sharing, I am very tired, and I do just want to go to sleep. We could just stay here. It would mean no one disturbing us in the morning until we had a chance to have that talk.”

“And no one asking any questions this evening,” Umi said, considering it. The bed was plenty large, and it wasn’t like she didn’t want to get Clef into one sometime soon, if he was amenable to that.

“Besides.” Clef shrugged, and turned a sudden grin on her. “It’ll be the most comfortable bed in the building.”

“The height of luxury?”

“Exactly.”

“And there’s probably some kinds of snacks or something hidden in here too, right?”

“Probably.”

Umi laughed, and reached out for his hand, pulling him across the room. “Okay, then, we’re staying here.”

And if she was thinking about those banners, and the morning, and how it might be handy to have a room all warded and ready if their discussion led somewhere interesting… well.

That was a matter for the morning.