One for the Band - Chapter Nineteen
'Epilogue: Thank You for the Music'
Sora couldn't help but smile to himself as he folded up sweater upon sweater, cramming them all into an already bulging duffel bag. It'd been hard enough to hunt down the warm clothing on the tropical islands, but, as always, Bryna had come through. And now Sora could eagerly look forward to spending his last few days of summer vacation catching up with some old friends.
But then again, you know what they say about old friends.
Sitting firmly on the bag, Sora zipped it shut and let out a pleased sigh, flinging his arms up into the air and stretching leisurely. His room looked rather bare, the posters stripped from the wall, the bookshelf almost completely empty. Gone was the haven he'd spent his childhood in, studying with Riku, making up games with Riku, making out with Riku... Sora giggled at this thought and a grin made itself at home on his face, just like it always did.
College, huh? He'd never really thought the day would come. It seemed like only yesterday they'd all been together. All of his old friends... Sora shook his head. They weren't so old. You know what they say about old friends.
Getting onto his hands and knees, Sora crawled over towards the foot of his bed where he spied a sock that apparently hadn't quite made it into the duffel bag. Pulling up the comforter that just barely dusted the floor, Sora smirked to himself, picking up yet another sock. And another and another and...
Fingertips brushing over a smooth hard surface, Sora blinked confusedly before clearing away the old papers and discarded clothing. A marbled surface greeted his gaze, bent and withered pages sticking out at odd angles, the notebook abused from years of being forgotten, left for lost under the depths of Sora bed. Paine's notebook... I can't believe I still have this thing!
Folding his legs beneath him, Sora could only gawk at the pages that brought back memory upon memory, one after another in a massive torrent that he could barely comprehend. Late night practice sessions with Paine, helping him to make the team, giving him advice, smiling, grinning, being the Paine that so few ever saw.
Telling him about Rikku. Encouraging him to do something about Riku...
You know what they say about old friends.
Her neat and precise handwriting arched across the lined pages of the notebook, words or lyrics occasionally scratched out by one single line and ignored, better phrases and sayings taking their place and turning words into poetry, poetry into beauty. Just like he had been all those years ago, Sora was nothing short of amazed.
"Sora, you ready to go?" Sora turned his head towards the partially open bedroom door, grinning as Sam's voice drifted up from downstairs. "Your mom's in the car already and says that if you don't hurry up she'll drive off without you!"
"You can't go to my college without me!"
"Try telling her that!"
With a chuckle, Sora took one last look at the notebook before tucking it under his arm and grabbing his duffel bag with his free hand.
...So. College. The idea wasn't as scary as it once had been.
Sneakers pounding lightly on the staircase, Sora caught up with Sam and the two talked amiably, making their way out to the car. He'd never had much trouble adjusting to life with his stepfather. Strangely enough, he'd actually been happier with things the way they'd been in the past two years... Bryna was happy, Sam was happy... Raigh and his family had even made a sudden appearance in Sora's life and though it wasn't a large role that they played, it was a role all the same and Sora knew that somehow his father was happy as well.
So it would only stand to reason that Sora would find happiness in a world where everyone around him seemed to stand in buckets of that one little raw emotion.
...There would be a new color guard where he was going. Another marching band, another football field, more competitions, more flags, more... everything.
And as Sora closed the door to the car behind him, so many thoughts began fighting for a place in his mind at once, it became difficult for Sora to make sense of them. College, dorm-life... what would that all be like? His neighborhood he'd spent his entire life growing up in was flying past his window, but there wasn't any sort of sad or regretful tone in the wind that brushed easily past the window. It simply smiled and bade Sora a simple farewell, saying that it would see him soon.
It was really just that easy, apparently.
The drive was a long one, taking the small family across the island and to the docks, onto the ferry that carried them up to Traverse Town. There was a drive from there to Destati and there was a foreign silence that fell upon the car's occupants as the vehicle rounded the corner, bringing Sora to what would be his new home.
Raigh and his wife and two daughters were all there, happily helping him unpack and talking easily with Bryna and Sam. Throngs of students milled around, papers clutched desperately in their hands as they looked around the chaos and felt so misplaced that they were all wondering how they would ever find a home in this new place. It was completely alien to many of them and it was undoubtedly completely terrifying as well.
And then there were the two boys who drew stares and puzzled looks as they practically flew across the crowded grounds, slamming into each other in what must have been a painfully bone-crushing embrace. New students like Sora smiled and exchanged hesitant glances with one another, somehow reassured by even that small display that it wouldn't be foreign forever and that they'd adjust.
They'd all adjusted to high school, right?
"I thought you were supposed to call me before you showed up!"
"Sorry! I guess I kinda forgot, huh?"
"Which house are you in? Come on, you promised you'd tell me..."
"Hehehe, take a wiiiiild guess."
"Are you serious?"
"Hahaaa! This is great! I'm right down the hall and... and... holy shit. You're going to love it."
As far as reunions went, it was low key. Hell, to some, it was probably even off key. But for Sora and Riku, they'd just picked up right from where they'd left off, never missing a beat as they strode energetically down the hallway, Riku happily showing off the campus that he himself had grown to know and love over the last year.
And it was as though nothing had changed...
Riku's hair had grown longer still, pulled back in a low ponytail that hung languidly at the nape of his neck. A simple dark blue t-shirt hung from his lithe frame, jeans and sneakers carelessly thrown on that very morning before Riku had left his dorm in a rush to get a look at all the new, incoming students.
And of course, one in particular.
Pausing mid-stride, Riku grabbed Sora's arm, pulling the other boy to a halt beside him. It was almost as though it was an afterthought, something that had almost slipped Riku's mind, but not quite.
"...I'm really glad to have you here, you know."
"Well I'm glad to be here, ya know."
"...You're crushing my arm."
You know what they say about old friends.
"I love you too."
They're the best kind of friend you'll ever get.
x x x
Summer has a way of drawing up memories that were, at one point, perhaps, forgotten. Maybe it's the lazy haze that falls over everything right before school starts. Maybe it's the heat that hangs in the air, the wind that picks up the noises and laughter that drown out the rest of the sounds of the city, the squeal of tires and the drone of shoes clacking against sidewalks as people bustle off to work, completely oblivious to everything except the lingering heat and the day ahead of them.
Whatever it was, Sora was flooded with memories as he stared at the pair of tickets in his hands.
Riku looked up from Sora's bed, which he'd spent the afternoon sprawled across, catching up on nothing in particular with his younger boyfriend. Upon spying the envelope in Sora's hands, the amazed look on the brunette's face... Riku couldn't help but beam. Of course Sora was excited and thrilled. Riku had helped Raigh pick out the tickets, after all.
"I thought it would be a nice way to welcome you to Destati! Nothing better than a bit of music a little reunion with a couple old friends, right?" Raigh grinned, tucking his hands into the pockets of his slacks as he proudly watched his son's eyes widen, reading and rereading the words printed clearly on the tickets.
Just who's concert was Sora holding the tickets for?
Go on. Take a wild guess.
x x x
"Heee-eey! Sora, Riku! Over here!" Both boys turn their heads in unison towards the voice that somehow manages to carry itself over the din surrounding them. Two familiar faces greet their eyes, blonde strands of hair catching the lights from the stage as Rikku and Cloud wave them over. The concert has yet to begin, but already there are clusters of people swarming around, searching for their seats and babbling excitedly amongst themselves.
"Long time no see, huh?" Cloud grins at the two younger boys, though they've long since grown as tall as him, Riku even growing an inch or so taller. Cloud decides not to comment on it, but that fact just unnerves him a little bit. Just a little.
x x x
Sora flipped through the pages of the notebook, a pen dangling lazily in his grip, one foot swinging slowly back and forth off the side of the bed. Headphones clamped securely around his ears, music pulsed into his head and pulsed into his blood, filling his mind with the words and teasing his memories with the voice he'd once spent hours listening to and talking to.
A voice that was now rising in fame and would probably continue to shout its song out into the crowd for many more years to come.
x x x
"You tell me not to call you up
'Cause it ties you down
You don't tell your friends
I been hangin' round
You must be crazy for me"
Somewhere in the mass of screaming and dancing fans, pumping fists and swaying bodies, Cloud, Riku, Sora, and Rikku manage to find their place. There are three pairs of eyes from the group that are riveted to the lone figure up on the stage, the girl with the guitar who is giving it all she's got and knowing that it's good.
And three pairs of ears are listening and are filled with music and voice and everything that Paine will ever want to do with her life, everything she wants to make herself into. She hasn't changed in two years at all, her silver hair still cropped short, her crimson eyes still holding the same grip on anyone she set their gaze on. And she still had an air that surrounded her, demanding a respect and acknowledgement that always came.
But one pair of eyes strayed and one pair of ears was listening and hoping for a different voice to come through the crowd.
"You say you'll see me once or twice
Every week or two
There's more important things
That you've got to do
You must crazy for me"
x x x
With a small sigh, Sora thumbed through the pages of the notebook, reveling in the words that flew off the pages and caught his eye. The smell of black ink still clung to the notebook, the aroma lifting into the small dorm room and flitting from wall to wall, curiously observing the teenage boy still sprawled across the bed.
And when Sora's idle leafing through the pages came to an end, his eyes widened as his gaze fell on the last page of the notebook, filled with the neat and perfect writing of Paine's that had remained hidden in the back of the book for nearly two entire years. It was a letter...
x x x
"Cause when I kissed you last night
In my own backyard
You ran so fast and you fought so hard
You must be crazy for me
You must be crazy for me"
With every strum of the guitar and every burst of song that came from Paine's mouth there became a more desperate look in Cloud's eyes as he scanned the crowd. Familiar faces dotted the throng of people... Yuffie's black mop of hair standing beside the shorter and red-haired Kairi, both of them happily singing along to the tune they'd heard on the radio, the voice they'd heard in their high school...
Selphie, Tidus... How did they all manage to make it up to Destati just for one concert?
And... why wasn't Leon there?
"Do not expect you to wait
Do not expect you to phone
Do not expect anything
When I catch you alone, baby
You must be crazy for me"
x x x
By now I'm wondering if you've reached this page because you've filled the book with your own writing or because you're just bored and looking through the old thing. I guess I'm hoping you'll take the time to write some of the things you're thinking down... You may think they're stupid, but really, they're not.
And trust me, I think I'd know. I'm the one who stayed up into the wee hours of the morning practicing with you and listening to all your thoughts. I really don't think you give yourself enough credit, Sora. It's corny, I know, but you're really important to me. And you don't realize it, but you're a big part of the reason I was able to get together with Rikku. So thank you for that. Really.
I'm not sure what I'm trying to get at through all this. I just sort of felt that I had to leave a note or something. I have no idea. Whatever. I might as well finish what I started.
x x x
"I know, I know you're crazy for me
You must be crazy for me
I know you're crazy for me
Crazy for me..."
Cloud blinks back numbly at his reflection, marred by the pools of oil that had settled on the surface of the puddle, swirls of gasoline distorting his features and turning his truly pretty face into a rather grotesque smear of color and light. Looking away, Cloud sighs and tucked his hands into his pockets. Why had he walked out...?
He's standing outside of the concert hall that still thrums with the music and energy leaking from inside. The words and song still reach his ears and still begged for him to come back inside and be with his old friends once again, just like old times. Old, old, old. It was just like high school, minus one very important thing.
I wonder... where Leon is. What he's up to. Does he know about Paine and what she's up to? Does he hear her singing on the radio and get the same nostalgic feeling I do? That I'm not doing enough with my life or... that I'm not trying hard enough? Look at her and how far she's come... Why can't that be me?
And to Cloud, it's all true. Paine has her fairytale ending with Rikku by her side, fulfilling her dreams and living her life to its fullest. She's in control just like she's always been and she knows how to handle herself and those around her. She's doing something she loves and she's with someone she loves and as far as Cloud can see, everything for Paine is picture perfect.
So what about Cloud?
Destati's lights glow in the late night, the streets filled with people out enjoying the early fall season. It's not crowded as Cloud stands there on the corner, but he can't decide whether he feels like he's suffocating or dying from isolation. And he knows he's feeling sorry for himself but he knows he just can't help it.
It's not Cloud's fault that things didn't work out the way he wanted them to. Perhaps the only thing that is his fault is how he let himself get his hopes up. How he allowed himself to believe that he might see Leon again and that even after all these years, he might have a chance...
I wonder if Leon ever misses me...
x x x
"Well wow. Where to start..."
I've got a lot to thank you for, Sora. Everyone does really. I don't think you even know just how much of a difference you made in the school in just this year alone. So let's see... Where can I begin?
For starters, you've obviously revolutionized the structure of the color guard. It desperately needed to be changed anyway. You're going to run into people like Quistis and you're going to run into people like Kosha. I don't know why they exist, really, but they obviously do. For all the shit they've put you through, you've handled it graciously, so I thank you for that too.
You really proved you can do whatever you want to if you just try. And I can honestly say that you are probably the best new edition the guard has. No doubt about it.
"I guess I should thank all of you guys for showing up. So thanks, everyone. ...I'm not used to this either, so bare with me, okay?"
And I guess what I really want to thank you for is for just being you, Sora. You're an amazing person and a true friend. Thank you for all the times you've made me smile and for all the times you've made me laugh. For all the times you cheered me up without knowing it and for how you always supported me, again, even if you didn't know it.
"Okay, whatever. I'm just glad you all showed up tonight."
x x x
It's a light cough from somewhere behind him that stirs Cloud from his hazy trance. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Cloud buries himself deeper into the warmth of his coat, waiting for the next cab to speed on around the bend. Though he doesn't want to, Cloud will probably leave the concert for good.
He's thinking he has some strange complex in which if everything isn't perfect, it's just no good at all. And he knows that's a lie. But he can't help but think it.
Another cough and Cloud turns with a slight touch of annoyance to see who is disturbing his solitude. And of course, we all know who he sees standing only a few feet away, stormy gray eyes instantly honing in on Cloud's own blue ones.
What we don't know is what will happen. So pressing pause on Cloud's own picture perfect moment, let me tell you just what is about to unfold.
Cloud will stare at Leon and Leon will stare back. Both will be afraid to say something to the other, to reach out a hand towards the other. Both will fear the moment will shatter into a million pieces and something will be broken that cannot be repaired or replaced.
But what will happen is this...
x x x
"So I guess I'll stop stalling and get to the song you all want to hear, right?"
x x x
Cloud will give Leon a shaky smile and wait. He won't wait because he's hoping something will happen. He will wait because waiting is just what Cloud has grown accustomed to doing. He has been waiting for Leon for years and it is only second nature for him to continue waiting. Hoping? Not always. But always, always waiting.
And when Leon realizes that he is going to have to do something now or risk losing the opportunity to do something at all, he will take a deep breath and his glance will falter, his gaze flickering down towards the damp concrete, still glistening from the earlier rain that had fallen upon the city. And he falters because Leon is only human and faltering is just what humans do sometimes.
x x x
Cutting all the flattery down to a minimum, I'll wrap it up with this.
I am so glad to have known you. And I am so thankful for you being Sora.
So here's my final thank you.
Thank you, Sora.
x x x
"But before I do... I'd just like to say one more thing, okay?"
"Cloud... I... It's... good to see you again." The words will barely be audible, but Cloud will hear them. He hasn't yet forgotten how to deal with Leon and how to talk with Leon, though both things certainly required years and years of driven practice and determination. And no matter how jaded Cloud may have found himself feeling in the years since his graduation day, Cloud will still have everything it takes to know and understand the stony brunette.
"Yeah... I've missed you Leon."
"...I've... missed... you too..."
Leon will look up then and in just one fleeting moment he will finally make a decision. He will find that he's tired of waiting around and doing nothing. He will find that he's tired of excuses and he's tired of being lonely. And perhaps he will know exactly what to do and exactly how to make things right.
Whether or not he will know it, he will nonetheless manage to finally do the right thing.
"Cloud... I'm sorry I always drowned you out. I... Would you believe me if I told you that I don't want to anymore?" Leon's voice will be unabashedly desperate, pleading for a forgiveness that Leon will still think he has never earned. "Would you believe me if I told you... that I really... do love you?"
And once a moment of tenseness and unbearable nervousness has passed, let me tell you what will happen.
Cloud will smile and he will walk towards Leon and nod. He will simply say, "Yeah, I'd believe you." And Cloud will wonder if his heart will burst as he hears the thundering in his ears, the pulse of blood fixing to the beat that will still pour out of the concert hall behind them. But it won't matter because Leon will finally smile and finally pull Cloud into an embrace they'd both wanted for so long.
And when they're both satisfied with one another and reassured by the presence of one another, they'll both turn in unison and head back into the concert hall, one hand clutching another with no sign of letting go.
"I'd like to dedicate the next song... This one's for the band."
(x) (x) (x)
Whoooot! Okay. The song snippets used were all by Melissa Etheridge, of course. 'You Must Be Crazy For Me,' obviously.
And that brings OftB to its long-awaited closure. XD I hope you all enjoyed it! I can now finally return to working on Raspberry Heaven and Lucky Thirteen, but I have to admit that this fic has definitely been fun to write. Learned a lot along the way, so hopefully there's a significant difference between the first few beginning chapters and these final ones. ...And hopefully it's a good difference. XD So keep a look out for updates in RH and LT. Now that it's back to just two fics, who knows. There might be a third coming up soon!
Thanks to all the readers and reviewers who helped make this fun to write. Love you aaaaall.