Hikaru had waited outside the gate to the Ryuuzaki residence dozens of times over the past few years, but it was suddenly a very new experience when the person she was meeting was Clef, not Umi. It definitely didn't help that seeing him in Japanese clothing was going to take some getting used to. Especially when he looked so comfortable with it - and when Umi had steered him towards fashionable outfits.
Not that Clef needed to wear out-dated clothing, but in Cephiro he always seemed to be wearing something a bit old-fashioned compared to the other mages around. That was what he'd always worn, Hikaru supposed, and it wasn't like he was more familiar with old-fashioned than new things here. Perhaps the strange thing was him being comfortable with any of it at all.
The past few weeks seemed to have done Clef some good; he looked brighter than he had for months. It might just be that he'd caught up on some much-needed rest; however, Hikaru hoped there was something more behind the smile that kept settling over his face, even while he was complaining about getting used to Umi's tech-filled house.
"But you and Umi must be getting along well; I haven't heard of a single argument since you got here," Hikaru said.
The lack of complaints from Umi had Hikaru wondering if the two of them had found a different way to release their frustrations than arguing, but Clef's reaction shot down that thought almost immediately.
"There's not been much time to argue," Clef said. "With all her studying, we've barely seen one another the past fortnight." The disappointment in his voice only added to her suspicions about his feelings, even more so when he added wistfully, "It's just a few more weeks, and then she'll be finished with all these exams."
When they got to the cafe, Hikaru took it upon herself to order for them. Not only did Clef not seem that confident in his Japanese yet - even with Hikaru explaining the menu to him - but there were some things she wanted him to try that she suspected Umi would never even think to explain to him, like the sweet frothy coffee drinks she got for them.
As the conversation went on, Hikaru realised that Clef wasn't exaggerating how little time he had to spend with Umi right now, and that just wouldn't do. If they were going to stop being apparently oblivious about their feelings, they definitely needed to spend more time together. Which was why Hikaru pushed the suggestion that Clef should take Umi out on a date when she finished her exams.
Clef gave her a sharp look and set his drink down. "You are aware that Umi and I are not actually courting, right?"
"Friends can go out together," Hikaru argued, trying not to laugh.
He was right, they weren't courting. The two of them were skipping right over courting and straight into living together and getting married.
"And anyway," Hikaru added, "Umi won't be courting anyone else once she's married to you. So it might be nice to take her out once in a while."
Perhaps Clef hadn't considered that actuality, because a strange look passed over his face as he considered her words, and when their food arrived a minute later, any curiosity he'd had about it was muted by guilt.
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure she'd rather go somewhere with you occasionally than go out with anyone else," Hikaru assured him, giving in and giggling at the questioning stare he'd turned on her. She only gave him a moment to digest that thought before she launched into suggestions of places she thought the two of them would enjoy going together.
When Clef pulled a tablet out of his bag and casually started using the voice search, Hikaru was a little surprised, but she moved chairs so she could see the screen and help him put together a list of ideas - making sure all the items linked to the websites or at least the info pages for the locations. As the list grew beyond what could fit on the screen, Clef commented on the amount of choice.
"I don't think there's any way we could visit all of these places before we leave Tokyo," he said.
It was the perfect opportunity to encourage Clef to take Umi out enough they might actually start dating properly. Explaining Valentine's Day and White Day, Hikaru highlighted a few of her previous suggestions as her most recommended date ideas for those days. When she was finished, she remembered the idea she'd had when Umi first mentioned that her mother had gotten Clef using a tablet.
"Do you mind if I add a new app on here?" Hikaru asked. "I'll need to use some of your contact details, if that's okay?"
"That's fine. Go ahead." Clef gave her a nod and then picked back up his drink.
Downloading InPictogram, Hikaru set up and account for Clef using what looked to be his email address. She then followed her main account and the private account she had started posting pictures of Cephiro to. With her phone in her other hand, she followed him back, so he could see the pictures on the latter account. She also made sure to follow Fuu with his account but decided to let him work out how to find Umi on his own.
"I thought you might like a way to see for yourself that Cephiro is doing okay," Hikaru said, pulling up a brilliant view of the Castle from the Guard's training fields and passing the tablet back to him.
Clef delicately took it from her hands, staring down at the screen. "Thank you," he murmured.
"You can post pictures and share your life in Kyoto," Hikaru told him. "We'll be able to see them whenever we're back in Tokyo, and let friends in Cephiro know you're okay, too."
His first post was a picture of the pretty little tarts they had for dessert. Not only was he perfectly comfortable with the camera, but he was also surprisingly confident using voice-to-text. The only thing Hikaru needed to do was show him how to upload a picture, and Clef was able to write his own description and post.
He smiled wryly when she complimented him. "Well, I've been practising almost every day," he said and showed her some of the photos he'd taken about the house to pick up his first words in Japanese - no wonder he was familiar with the camera.
Hikaru looked forward to seeing what he would share.
Over the next few weeks, Hikaru watched her feed for hints that Clef was taking her advice about taking Umi out on a date. With Umi's sporadic posts about nothing but books and highlighted notes the past month, she definitely seemed to be in need of a break.
There was no evidence that Clef had taken Umi out on a single date, or that he was even following Fuu's suggestion to bring her souvenirs from his outings. He could just not be posting about them. Gifts seemed like the sort of thing he wouldn't be outspoken about. And the fact Umi hadn't posted about any presents didn't really mean anything, since she'd basically stopped posting about anything but studying.
Then, at the beginning of February, Umi shared a picture taken in a private karaoke room. Hikaru hopefully clicked through to see who was tagged in it, but it seemed Umi had gone out with her friends, not Clef. And given that Umi helped with her friends' baking every year, Hikaru wasn't sure she trusted Umi's pictures of cakes around Valentine's Day until she'd spoken to Clef a few days later.
A Valentine's cake was hopefully a step in the right direction.
The day after their visit, Clef posted a picture of a beautifully coordinated bento with a description which read 'Going to the Aquarium today.' Not long after, Umi shared a mirror selfie with 'Aquarium Date' which looked promising.
Hikaru called Fuu to ask "Have you seen InPic today?"
There was a pause and rustling on Fuu's end before she said. "Finally. For all their rush into marriage, those two are very slow about actually getting together."
Hikaru couldn't help but laugh. "That's so true!"
"There is every possibility that their love grew alongside their friendship so naturally they have never realised they have that kind of feeling for each other," Fuu said.
"I never thought of it like that."
Umi always made a point of seeing Clef during even the shortest of visits to Cephiro. The two months he'd spent in Autozam last year had had Umi complaining incessantly every trip about how annoying it was that Clef wasn't around. As for Clef, any time he'd join them for a meal or a card game or anything, he always gravitated toward Umi, despite knowing most of their other friends far longer.
"If that's true, that's all the more reason we should help them," Hikaru declared.
"Could it not make things awkward when they move?"
"Well, they're going to figure it out at some point. Isn't it better if they get the awkwardness out of the way before they're married and living together?"
"Perhaps today's date means they finally have it worked out."
"Hopefully," Hikaru agreed.
While the first month of following Clef had resulted in nearly daily pictures of foods that Clef had cooked and places he had gone, the month following that visit to the aquarium was almost complete radio silence.
Hikaru kept double-checking that one of them hadn't unfollowed the other. Clef was still firmly in both her following and follower lists. He just hadn't shared anything after the date except a single post announcing he'd managed to successfully wash his first load of laundry. He was obviously still able to access his account, because Hikaru occasionally got notifications that he'd gone through and liked some of her pictures - especially the ones of Cephiro.
It left Hikaru wondering just what might have happened to trigger the abrupt shift.
While Clef had stopped posting, Umi had been sharing a flurry of posts about the trials and tribulations of apartment hunting. The selection of one-bedroom apartments could either mean that things were going very well or very badly; it was difficult to tell much from Umi's blunt descriptions. The few times she used a pronoun, she was still using 'we' instead of 'I', but that could as easily mean her parents were helping her hunt.
At least Clef hadn't contacted her about getting back to Cephiro so he could move to Autozam instead - though, technically, that was probably illegal? Hikaru didn't think she would be able to take him straight to Autozam without going through Cephiro, but as he was exiled, even appearing momentarily was likely a problem.
Hikaru wondered if he or Umi actually had a plan if they did fall out with each other. The hasty way the whole move had come about suggested probably not - and once she'd thought that, she went and had a chat with Satoru about keeping a room free just in case Clef needed somewhere else to stay, at least for a while.
Not that she thought Umi would ever throw him out, but living in a small apartment with someone you weren't comfortable with wouldn't be fun.
Hopefully, things were going really well, and her friends were going to be wonderfully happy together, and she was worrying about nothing.
With everyone's busy schedules, the first time Hikaru actually saw Umi or Clef in person again was at Umi's eighteenth birthday party. Despite talking to both of them several times and watching every time the two of them ended up in the same place - which didn't happen all that often though the party ran all afternoon - the only thing Hikaru knew for certain when she left was that they'd submitted their marriage registration that morning.
"We signed the paperwork, and I'm still Guru," Clef murmured, as he handed her a drink.
Hikaru hadn't been worried about that. She hadn't realised he was, either. "Of course you are," she told him. "Cephiro doesn't mind."
"A number of people with influence in Cephiro were very certain she would. Or at least that she should."
"Well, now there's good evidence that she doesn't." Hikaru patted him on the arm. "I'm sure they'll work out their mistakes with a little time."
Clef shot her a swift smile. "I'll try to enjoy the holiday in the meantime," he said, and then vanished before she could ask any questions about how things were going, and she didn't get another moment with him all evening - Umi's friends from school kept catching him to quiz him about his past with Umi, to which he answered with a lot of humour.
As she and Fuu left, she sighed, glancing back in. "Did you get any information out of them?" she asked, and Fuu shook her head.
"Nothing about their relationship. Neither of them look unhappy?"
"I guess we might find out more at the wedding, at least."
It wasn't until the day before the wedding ceremony that Hikaru saw the reason for Clef's internet silence: The shiny, new Ryuuzaki phone that he pulled out of his pocket and set aside before he sat down.
"It's a little easier than the tablet to take out," he said when Hikaru asked him about it. "Especially when we've been on the train so often, looking for an apartment."
"Do you have all the same apps on it?"
"Not yet. I'll sort that out when things are less busy," he said, and turned back to a question from Umi.
Before they left for the evening, Hikaru made sure he had her contact details, at least, and hopefully, Clef would get back on InPictogram by the time they moved, and she could keep an eye on them from Tokyo.
In the meantime, she was definitely going to make sure she had some good photos from their wedding to share when she got back to Cephiro.