Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Publish Date: 5/2/2004 through 12/24/2005
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*
Had it really only been two days since the Battle? It seemed like a lot longer.
Everyone seemed to be doing wonderfully, though—Umi, in particular. She was full back on her feet and back to health. Her mood, however, wasn’t back up to the usual Umi standard of “I’m perfectly happy until I get pissed off and got into Hell-Bitch mode and then somebody’s going down.” She had been fairly subdued since the fight, keeping her own counsel and not even confiding in Hikaru, Fuu, or Kagura.
No one bothered her. For all intents and purposes, she had died that day, though she had been resurrected because of her own sacrifice. After that kind of a scare—and no one doubted that she had been terrified—she had every reason to be as withdrawn as she was.
But more was on Umi’s mind than simply her near-death experience. Make no mistakes, it was quite prevalent in her thoughts. Up until that moment in the void between worlds, it had never really occurred to any of the Magic Knights that they could die in battle. They’d always known that they could, of course, it had always been that tiny shadow perched on their shoulders. But at the same time, none of them had ever really acknowledged the true gravity of their situations.
It had driven home a horrible point, but she knew that none of them would ever again make the mistake of not considering all possible outcomes of a situation before charging headlong into the fray.
Also, she had realized something else, something that was more than a little frightening, and it was something that gave her great reason to pause: there was no word on Aeric.
Xander’s general had last been seen on the field of battle, while the Magic Knights were defeating his lord. In the excitement of the Aldarban army’s arrival and the resulting chaos of Xander’s downfall—a good chunk of his army had been supported by magic, and had actually disappeared with his defeat—Aeric had simply vanished. No one knew what had become of the blonde man with the black armor and the slimy-charming mannerisms. Umi had the sinking suspicion that they hadn’t seen the last of Aeric. It was a decidedly unpleasant thought.
There were other things she considered as well, though.
For the last two days, she could have sworn that she had seen…shadows. Things that she glanced out of the corner of her eyes, yet that seemed to slip around the corner as she turned to actually look. This would have frightened her, if she hadn’t been certain that she recognized at least one of the figures.
After seeing Amaya’s shadow-form in her dreams for this long, Umi was pretty sure she recognized her counterpart’s long-haired silhouette. So by process of reasoning, she deduced that the other forms that danced just out of her sight were Michiko and Sachi. She wasn’t quite sure why they were taking such pains to not be noticed, but she found it strangely comforting that they were keeping an eye on her and everyone. She even found herself hoping that she might get to actually talk to them again.
But there were still other things on her mind.
Fuu and Ferio had been all but joined at the hip for the last two days, and no one had dared intrude. His ring remained firmly on her finger—her left hand, Umi had casually observed. She had seen the two wandering the palace, hand in hand, talking quietly about this and that. They had noticed her a couple of times and stopped to chat, but she felt out of place interrupting their time together, and had usually absented herself quickly. After all, it had been a fight for those two to be together.
It had been much the same between Lantis and Hikaru—keeping each other’s company almost exclusively. And in the same way, Umi had often found herself scampering to avoid interrupting them. She refused to be the third wheel on either of her friends.
Not too long ago, Umi had been asked how she measured up to her friends. And until then, she had never really given much thought to it. Fuu was the smart one, Hikaru was the brave one, Kagura was the organizer (that girl could put anything together in record time and damned if it didn’t always work out exactly as planned), Takeshi was the funny one, and Umi was the one with enough attitude for an entire army of Magic Knights. She had never worried about it.
Now, though…Umi was jealous. Not of Fuu’s intelligence, or Hikaru’s courage, or Kagura’s natural leadership, or Takeshi’s sense of humor. She treasured her friends more than anything.
But Kagura and Takeshi were still—well, innocent was the best word she could come up with for them. Their hands were clean. They had never had to fight for the fate of an entire world. They hadn’t gone through what the Magic Knights had. Sometimes Umi craved that innocence. And Hikaru and Fuu had their special someones. She wouldn’t intrude, no matter how alone she felt sometimes.
And that brought her full-circle to the heart of the issue.
She still hadn’t given Ascot an answer.
Hell, she wasn’t even sure what the answer was yet!
Umi felt horrible. She hated the idea of stringing the poor guy along—and that’s what it felt like, even if it wasn’t intentional. But she really didn’t know what to tell him, and she wasn’t sure what would happen if she actually tried to face him now. If she went in without any real idea as to what she was going to do, she was certain that whatever happened, she would regret.
So she avoided the issue—and Ascot—until she could decide what she wanted to do. Not that he was actively seeking her out either at the moment. It was a mutual unspoken mission of theirs to avoid each other as long as possible—a situation that had Caldina ready to lock them in a closet together until something happened.
Knowing Caldina, probably something not entirely decent…
But instead, Umi tried to focus her attention on another subject. She was truly intrigued by the idea of their predecessors, the first Magic Knights. And so in an attempt to shift her attention away from her own problems of the heart, she decided that she wanted to learn a little more about those who had gone before her and her friends.
The biggest trouble was not knowing where to start. But Umi had already figured that part out. There was only one person she knew of that would certainly be able to tell her where she could find that sort of information, giving her a point from which she could begin to understand her predecessor.
And so she found herself knocking on the door of Clef’s study; when he called, she entered. The diminutive Master Mage was hunched over at his desk, intent on some book; he looked up from the thick volume at her entrance, and smiled genuinely at her. “Umi,” he greeted her calmly, “I’m glad to see you’re up and about again.”
She smiled back, if a bit hesitantly, and then remembered her mission. “I have a question. I was hoping you could direct me to some information.” At his quizzical look, she went on in a rush. “I want to find out more about Amaya and Michiko and Sachi. Where could I find information on them?”
His expression shifted slightly to something she couldn’t place, but only for an instant. Then the smile returned, and he nodded. “There is a records room here in the palace. We’re fortunate that most of the records have remained intact—a good many of them have inherent magical protections to prevent them from being destroyed. You should be able to find what you’re looking for there.”
A moment later, she was sprinting from his study, calling a thank you back over her shoulder as she turned the corner and headed down the stairs to the lower levels of the palace, as per Clef’s directions to the aforementioned records room.
Umi was so intent on her destination that she didn’t even notice Hikaru and Lantis coming out of an intersecting corridor. She breezed right past them without even seeing them. The couple stopped and watched her running, her long hair streaming behind her.
As the Blue Knight reached the end of the corridor, Hikaru turned to Lantis. “Didn’t you promise Lafarga a spar?” He looked a bit discomfited, and she smiled. “I kind of want to see what Umi’s up to. She seems pretty excited about something.” Lantis started to protest, but she hushed him gently. “You go spar, I’ll go snoop, and we’ll meet up later.” She rose up onto her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his cheek before scampering off after Umi, running at top speed to catch up.
Umi paused in the doorway to catch her breath before actually walking into the darkened room, arms outreached to search for a light-source. She’d barely taken two steps in, though, when Hikaru skidded into the doorway behind her, panting.
“Hikaru?” she actually jumped as she turned to look at her friend quizzically.
The lithe redhead tossed her braided ponytail back with one hand and grinned cheekily. “What’re you up to? You went tearing by…I was wondering where you were off to in such a hurry,” she explained, joining Umi just inside the doorway. “Sooooo…where are we, and is there a light switch in this place?”
“I was just wondering that…” Umi replied, squinting through the darkness.
Hikaru frowned, then held up her left hand. Her ovum-gem flared, and a tongue of flame appeared above the jewel on her glove, casting an eerie orange glow around them. In that dim light, they spotted several lamps on the walls near the ceiling, running the perimeter of the room. Hikaru’s magic made quick work of that, and they were all lit in less than half a minute, and they were free to take a good look around.
The room was far larger than it had first appeared in the shadows. It seemed to stretch out for a mile, lined with rows and rows of endless shelves. All of the shelves were completely covered in papers, books, folders, boxes…that went on forever.
“Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick…” Umi gasped, borrowing a favorite phrase of Takeshi’s.
“Oh my gosh…” Hikaru breathed. “Stuff…”
In spite of her own awe, Umi had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
It amazed her sometimes how one person could be so very…Hikaru.
“So what is this, anyway?” Hikaru asked, walking up to the first shelf and tugging at the first volume. She flipped it open in her hands and studied it for a minute before frowning. “Numbers. Blech!” The book was replaced on the shelf, and she turned back to Umi for an explanation.
“Clef said this was the records room,” Umi absently slid one hand through her hair, studying the perceived mess with a frown. How in the world was she supposed to find anything in here? “I wanted to do a little research.”
“Like for a paper?” Hikaru grimaced. “We’re in Cephiro. You don’t have to study.”
“No, no—I wanted to see what I could find out about Amaya and the others,” Umi clarified with a sigh. “Sachi. Michiko. I mean, we really don’t know anything about them…”
Comprehension dawned, and Hikaru nodded emphatically. “Okay, that’s the kind of research I think I can handle.” She swung around, hair swinging freely behind her. “But where do we start?”
Umi chuckled dryly at the echo of her own thoughts. “Let’s just dive in and see what we can find.”
The throne room door creaked open slowly.
Mokona was sitting on the throne in all his puffball glory. The little creature watched curiously as Fuu slipped through the opening and pushed the door closed again before making her way up the red carpet that ran the length of the center of the room. She paused a meter away from the throne and knelt down.
“I have a question to ask of the Creator, if that’s all right,” she asked, ever-polite.
“Puu!” Mokona chirped, and in a flare of light, sprouted wings. The pink stone turned yellow, and the vacant, carefree expression grew serious and knowing. “Greetings, young one. Might I compliment you on that ring you are wearing—it is quite lovely.”
Fuu looked down at her left hand, where Ferio’s ring was prominent on her finger, and blushed. She shook her head. “T-thank you…but I do have a question for you about Michiko and the others.” She paused. “It’s been bothering me for the last two days…and I was really hoping you would be able to clear things up for me.”
“Ask what you will,” Creator nodded.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Michiko and Sachi and Amaya and what they told us about themselves,” she took a deep breath. “And I want to know about their children.”
A moment later, Fuu left the throne room, vindicated. She had been right, and she absolutely had to share this revelation with Umi and Hikaru. With her newfound knowledge, she headed towards the records room, as per Mokona’s directions, in search of her fellow Magic Knights.
Wait until they heard about this…
“So whatcha reading?”
Umi dropped the book she was holding and jumped a mile, letting out a tiny scream. When she took a good look at the newcomer, she heaved a sigh of mild aggravation and put one hand to her heart. “Good god, don’t scare me like that!”
Amaya, who had been peering curiously over Umi’s shoulder, grinned unrepentantly.
A shriek from the other side of the room made it clear that Hikaru had just gotten the same surprise treatment. This was followed by Michiko’s voice; it sounded like she was giving Sachi a good, old-fashioned lecture.
“What in the world?” Fuu asked from the doorway, peering at the chaos.
Then she let out a little meep as Amaya bounded over. “Hi!”
Fuu chuckled lightly, then noticed something. “Amaya…you’re not wearing your armor.” She glanced at the other two, who had moved from beyond the shelves into view. “None of you are…”
Amaya grinned cheerily and looked down at herself. “Yeah. We figured that you probably know who’s who by now. Besides,” she gestured towards her plain blue long-sleeved shirt and black pants, “we’re still color-coded. It’s good.” Sure enough, Michiko and Sachi wore identical ensembles, each in their own color of green and red, respectively.
“Hey guys!” Hikaru bounded out from the shelves, having already recovered from her surprise at Sachi’s appearance. “Guess what? I found something! Check it out!” Her hands were clutching at an old book, obviously much handled; the brown leather binding was extremely worn.
To everyone’s surprise, Sachi straightened up. “Give that to me.”
Grinning unrepentantly, Hikaru flipped the book open and started to read. “I swear to Rayearth, he’s driving me nuts! This guy at court—he’s a soldier—won’t leave me alone…”
Hikaru’s reading became a bit more hurried and breathless as she began sprinting around the room, up and down the rows of shelves, while Sachi chased after her, her tone of voice somewhere between angry and amused as she demanded that her old diary be returned to her at once.
Amaya and Umi were no help at all. They simply stood there and laughed.
Michiko rolled her eyes. “You’re all hopeless. Completely hopeless.” She shook her head. “I’m surrounded by idi—hey!” She stepped back between the shelves and reappeared with a good-sized box in her hands. Her hands ran over the sealed, dusty lid with some fondness. “This has my name on it,” she explained, tracing the lines of the characters with one fingers. “These were the things of mine that they saved…” And she was momentarily lost to memories.
“Uh, guys?” Fuu said, entering and stepping around the chaos as Hikaru sprinted by.
“Gimme back my diary!” Sachi screeched loudly, hot on Hikaru’s heels.
“Guys?” Fuu persisted.
Michiko was carefully breaking the seal on the box, sending small clouds of dust into the air.
“Hello?” Fuu tried again.
Umi and Amaya were laughing so hard that tears were running down their faces.
“HEY, PAY ATTENTION!”
All action in the room skidded to an instant stop. Several pairs of widened eyes turned to stare at the Wind Knight’s unexpected outburst. Fuu, meanwhile, looked immensely pleased with herself.
“Um, Fuu, can this wait just a second?” Sachi asked, frozen in mid-stride.
“No, listen, you have to hear this!” Fuu rushed, her face pink with excitement.
Everyone listened. For Fuu to be this worked up, it had to be good.
“Caldina and I were just goofing off, and she threw something at me, and it landed on my head, and she made the comment that if I was a redhead, then Michiko and I could pass for twins!” she blurted out hurriedly. “And I looked in the mirror and realized that she was right, and I started thinking. So I went and talked to Creator.” She shrugged. “I had a hunch, and I wanted to ask.”
“What were you thinking, exactly?” Hikaru pressed, remembering her friend’s deduction concerning the idea of a bridge spanning an empty space between the worlds of Earth and Cephiro. Fuu’s hunches were almost supernaturally accurate.
Beside them, the three ghosts had gone quiet, listening with much interest.
“Remember how Amaya told us that she made a wish for the children of the Magic Knights to be taken away to somewhere else, where they could be safe?” Fuu was positively giddy. “Well, that’s what I asked about. I wanted to know where they’d been sent.”
“…AND?” Umi half-screeched.
“Creator altered their memories and put them on Earth,” Fuu announced.
Umi’s eyes widened. Hikaru’s jaw dropped.
Amaya, Michiko, and Sachi were silent and smirking.
“And then I found out that my theory was one hundred percent right!” Fuu rushed on, jumping up and down in a strange little dance. She turned to look at their predecessors. “You said that you’d known for a long time that we were the ones, and you’d been watching us. And I was wondering how you knew. And it’s simple—your children were our great-great-grandparents, or thereabouts.”
Hikaru’s mouth was sagging so far open that you could have driven a Mack truck through it.
Fuu nodded emphatically, crossing her arms and regarding them all triumphantly. “Yup. Michiko, you would be my great-great-great grandmother, if I’ve figured it right.” She waited expectantly.
After a long moment, Michiko frowned. “When you put it like that, it makes me feel old…”
The younger Knight of Windam thrust one fist into the air. “YES! I was so right!”
“My goodness, I really need to keep an eye on you,” Amaya jeered. “You keep figuring out all these things that you shouldn’t be figuring out!” She huffed in mock-irritation. “Damn Windam Knights…”
Michiko gave her a dirty Look.
“So you and I…” Umi cocked her head to the side and regarded Amaya somewhat suspiciously. “We’re…related? Is that what I’m to understand here?”
Amaya nodded. “Yup! You can trace your lineage back to my daughter Taura—she was the younger of my two. She was a teacher.” Her brow furrowed in thought. “My son, Akira…he grew up to become a successful businessman.”
Eyes shifted expectantly to Sachi, who smiled. “My third child was born two months before the battle—Haruko, my daughter. She lived to be ninety-eight years old. \My oldest was another girl, Kei. She passed relatively young in an accident. And my son, Taro, had nine children. He had been adopted into a wealthy family, and became a lawyer.” She grinned at Hikaru. “You can trace back to Taro.”
Michiko didn’t wait to be asked. “My son, Kisho, was a doctor—his line gave you to us, Fuu. But my younger boy Yasuo…he died very young as well.” She fell silent. “I’d rather not talk about it. All three of us kept a very close eye on our children. We were proud of them. But it hurts like hell when you see something happen to them.”
“Would you tell us more about your families?” Hikaru asked. “I mean, if you don’t want to…”
“Well,” Sachi reached over and finally plucked the elusive diary from Hikaru’s fingers, “as you’ve just announced the entire room, there was a young soldier in the army who did not grasp the concept of NO. Pretty much from the moment we came to the Palace permanently, he decided that he was going to be my friend. His name was Garin, and he followed me around—constantly.”
“Sounds like a stalker,” Fuu commented.
“Well, pretty damn close…” she smiled, and pressed on. “Okay, I picked a day on the Cephirean calendar and christened it an unofficial Valentine’s Day. Once everyone got the hang on it, it caught on within the court, and all the little nobles were just delighted. The downside to this was that he now had a legitimate excuse one day a year to be irritating.” She laughed.
“Oh gods, I remember…” Amaya laughed. “Every year, she’d get the card, and throw it over her shoulder, rolling her eyes, asking how many times she was going to have to say no before he got it.” A pause. “I think she punched him once.”
“He surprised me,” Sachi retorted. “He shouldn’t have been standing outside the bath, anyway.” She smiled fondly at the memory. “But the next morning there were flowers outside my door, with an apology for startling me.”
“How many times did you say no, anyway?” Fuu asked.
Sachi glared. “Hey, I said ‘I do,’ didn’t I?”
As they told their stories, Umi was continuing to poke around through the various boxes. She had located one bearing her predecessor’s name, and carefully opened it, gently looking through the various personal effects therein. She continued listening as Michiko came under fire.
“What about you?” Hikaru asked. “Who’d you snare?”
Michiko grinned. “Royalty.”
“Ironic, ain’t it?” the elder Knight leered. “But enough about that, tell me more about this Ferio kid. Tall, good-looking, kind, good standing, has a big…um, sword…” Belatedly, Michiko realized exactly how that sounded, but it was too late to save her pride, and she flushed a brilliant crimson as the others dissolved into giggles.
Umi, who had doubled over with laughter, straightened up and brushed tears of laughter away as she asked, “So, Fuu, does he have a big sword? Inquiring minds want to know!”
“I wouldn’t know,” Fuu replied delicately.
“He was a good man, and the most doting father I’ve ever seen,” Michiko went on to stave off any further embarrassment. Her expression grew distant. “I do miss him…”
The three younger girls were silent for a minute before Fuu spoke up once more. “There’s something else that’s been bugging me. A lot. Michiko and Sachi, you told us that your lovers perished in the battle. Amaya, what became of yours?”
The former Water Knight’s eyes clouded over, and she averted her gaze. “He survived.”
“Really? But I thought you said—oh…” Fuu trailed off as comprehension dawned.
Amaya had wished her children away to the safety of another place. If her lover had been alive…
“It was just too dangerous,” she explained. “There was too much happening. The Pillar was still very young, in desperate need of guidance to pull Cephiro back together. There were still enemies everywhere. Cephiro needed a leader, and he was really the only one who could have pulled this country through. He did…but I don’t know if he ever forgave me for what happened. I wouldn’t blame him if he hated me…though I hope he understood.”
Meanwhile, Umi had pulled a leather folder from the stack of books and things marked with Amaya’s name. It was brown leather, ornamented with gold on the front, and showed every sign of being important and well-protected. Curious, she opened it, and found one piece of parchment inside. Her eyes scanned over the writing…
“Somewhere in here, you’ll probably find the contracts,” Sachi was explaining. “Marriage isn’t the word they use for it here, but we made the promise, took the vows, kissed in front of everyone to seal the deal, and went about what was essentially married life.”
“With the benefits?” Fuu grinned wickedly.
The next few lines that came out of Sachi’s mouth were absolutely unprintable.
Fuu winced. “Did you kiss your hubby with that mouth?”
Sachi smirked. “Frequently.”
“Umi, what’s the matter?” Hikaru asked, moving to her friend’s side. All attention turned to the aforementioned Knight, who was standing rigidly, hands clutching at an old piece of paper. Her wide cerulean eyes were fixated on the words in shock.
“Umi?” Michiko asked, concerned. “What is it?”
And suddenly, Umi was her normal self. “Oh, nothing. I’m fine. Just a little surprised, is all.” She laughed unconvincingly and headed towards the door. “I’ll be right back. I need to go talk to someone really fast. Just a quick question, I’ll be back in a few minutes. You can keep looking, don’t wait on me…” She was babbling now, and she knew it, as she inched her way out the door before turning and tearing down the hallway, parchment still clutched carefully in her hands.
Amaya watched silently.
Clef turned at the knock on the door. “Yes?”
He did not seem particularly surprised when the door opened and Umi slipped in, closing the door behind her. She was holding what seemed to be some sort of document; it looked old.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” he asked amiably.
“Yes…and no,” she asked, fidgeting nervously. Bad sign.
He waited, somewhat uneasily, as she crossed the room slowly, and deliberately held out the document in her hand. He took it and flipped it over to read it, brow furrowed in thought.
After a long, tense moment, he sighed and lowered the paper. His eyes closed as he spoke. “So you know.” It was a statement, not a question, and not a happy one in either case.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Umi asked quietly. “You and Amaya…”
“What was I supposed to say?” he snapped, suddenly irritated. “It really isn’t any of your business either way.” Turning away from her, he took a deep breath. “You should really forget what you’ve learned today, Umi. It’s for the best for everyone involved.”
Umi took a step towards him. “Could you forget her?”
He stiffened perceptibly. And after a moment, he sighed. “No…and neither can you.” As he spoke, he looked back down at the aged parchment in his hand. Marriage was a word foreign to Cephiro, but there was a legal equivalent—which is exactly what Caliana and Ferio had been promised to, to strengthen the alliance of their countries—and that document was proof of it.
“You can’t possibly expect me to,” she replied.
“No,” he sighed.
“…Clef,” Umi said after a long moment of tense, uncomfortable silence that spoke volumes, “…there’s something I think I should tell you.”
Quickly and succinctly, Umi told him of Fuu’s revelation. Clef listened silently, incredulously, as she explained their link to their predecessors, and most importantly in this situation, her true connection to Amaya. A connection that ran far deeper than mashin—a connection that coursed through her veins.
When she finished, he waited a moment before saying, “So you and I…”
“Yes,” she affirmed.
Finally, it was too much, and she decided to just change the subject from…that. “Were you angry with her?” Umi pressed. “For what she did?”
Clef answered a little too quickly. “No.”
She was startled to feel herself chuckle lightly. “Liar.”
He stared at her for a minute before he actually smiled sadly and shook his head. “Yes, I know…”
“Have you spoken to her yet?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve seen her, but she always disappears.”
“If you could corner her…would you ask her?” she prodded as gently as possible.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly.
Giving up, Umi moved back towards the door. But she paused, one foot out in the hallway, and turned back to him. “You haven’t let go yet, Clef. Anyone can see that. But…it’s been so long. I know it still hurts, but you shouldn’t let the loss of one love stop you from loving another.” Thoughts of long golden hair, a fierce temper, and a magical dance of sword-weaving flashed through Umi’s mind.
And she left before he could respond. She’d pried far more than was probably her business, but she had to know. This was her family, her heritage, and her legacy. It was quite a shock to discover that you hadn’t been chosen randomly to become a figure of legend, but it had been a mark placed on you well before you were even born—a title that was your birthright.
Strolling down the hallway, back towards the records room, she paused at one particular door. Beyond that door lay one of the palace’s orchards. And if her hunch was correct, Ascot was probably there. He favored the tree-filled rooms, and he and his rather large friends took it upon themselves to harvest the fruit on demand.
She debated—should she go in and talk to him? But what would she say?
She inched closer, and one unsteady hand raised to push the door open. They couldn’t go on like this. Time to set the record straight and get this figured out between them, come what may.
The Water Knight jolted and turned to see Fuu running towards her; her face was red and her breathing labored from exertion. But the most alarming quality was her eyes: they were red-rimmed and tear-filled. She was crying, and horribly, horribly upset. “Umi!”
“Fuu?” Umi frowned at her friend’s state. “What’s the matter?”
The Knight of Windam was frantic. “Creator just told us.”
“What?” Umi persisted with a sudden feeling of foreboding. Unbeknownst to both of them, a certain summoner was on the other side of the door, having heard Umi’s name and rushed over. Ascot was listening intently to whatever this big announcement was.
Fuu hiccupped and took a shaky breath before she sobbed out one sentence that made Umi’s world drop out from under her all over again. “He said it’s time for us to go back.”