Paint the Sky Goodbye
Disclaimer: I don't own.
"Do you believe in soul mates?"
Brown eyes found her gaze, narrowed in curious confusion. With a casual shrug, he lifted his football easily into the air, balancing it on the tip of his sneakers before sending it back up. He watched it fly high, biting his bottom lip as he waited for it to come back. But she beat him to it, reaching up to catch it in her hands.
"I asked you a question," she said.
He sighed exasperatedly, dropping to a crouch on the ground. "What was it again?"
She aimed the football at his head and he yelped, ducking as it sailed past his ear.
"Would it really kill you to listen to me for once?"
He scratched his head. "I listen to you."
She sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. A lock of her hair had fallen out of place, lingering down over her eyes. Amused, he rose to his feet and carefully tucked the strands of hair behind her ear. She had to smile at that, shyly, that stupid grin coming to her face, the one that only seemed to show up when he was around. She fingered her bangs nervously. He smiled.
She blinked, surprised out of her daydream. "What?"
He turned away and went to retrieve his football.
"No, I don't believe in soul mates."
She straightened, astonished.
"Why not?" she demanded.
He shook his head. "I just don't."
"You honestly don't think that everyone has a certain someone they're destined to be with?"
She stared at him, amazed. Slowly, she shook her head in disbelief, struggling to understand why this seemed to upset her so much. No, not upset, she thought quickly. Why should she be upset? They were his opinions, and he was certainly entitled to them. They shouldn't upset her. Of course they don't.
Confused, she sank down on the bleachers, her elbows on her knees and her chin tucked into her palms as she watched him kick around the football.
"I can't believe you don't believe in destiny."
"I didn't say that," he corrected instantly. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "Of course I believe in destiny. I believe in purpose. I think everyone has a purpose they have to fulfill. But destiny and purpose are different than fate."
She cocked her head to the side. "How so?"
He bounced the football off his knee, focusing carefully, then sent it straight into the net with a simple, quick turn of the heel, followed by a sharp kick. He nodded his approval, satisfied with his performance, and then glanced back at her.
"Because people always have free will. Choice, Sora. It's all about choice. That's why soul mates don't exist."
She couldn't stop staring.
"I think that is the most profound thing you've ever said," she whispered.
He rolled his eyes.
"I'm really proud of you, you know that? This scholarship is an amazing opportunity."
"Yeah…." He frowned thoughtfully at the goal post.
She leaned forward.
He blinked, startled. "Huh?"
"You know, sometimes I don't know why I bother."
"Bother with what?"
"Exactly," she muttered to herself. She ran her fingers through her hair absent-mindedly, gazing across the empty football field.
Dusk was settling; she could taste it in the air, felt it tickling her skin. She sucked in her breath, relishing in the moment. This was her favorite part of the day. The end. When all the moments and words and thoughts collected to the point of finality, of conclusion, even if there really wasn't much of a conclusion to be drawn. It gave her a sense of accomplishment, to know she'd made it through another day and witnessed the dying of another sun. She'd never seen anything so beautiful than a sunset.
He had. The sunrise. The chance to start over. To begin again. A second chance, a new adventure, a promise of things unknown and undiscovered, waiting for him and him alone.
He was very vaguely aware of that possibility. That he might be alone. It hadn't fully occurred to him yet, but he could feel it beginning to take root in his heart. It ached.
Rubbing his nose, he shook his head of the thought and scowled at himself.
He glanced back at her.
"Are you really going to Kyoto?" he asked suddenly.
She straightened a little, her eyebrows arched. "Are you really going to California?"
"Yes," he replied confidently.
She stared at him. He thought he felt the mood shift, like something about her changed, but it only lasted a minute at the most, and now it was gone. Now she was smiling. It looked controlled, careful, and he didn't understand it.
"I didn't know you'd already decided," she said lowly after a long moment.
"You said it was an amazing opportunity."
"I know, but I—," and then she stopped, biting her lip.
He frowned. "What?"
"Oh, Taichi, don't you understand anything?" she whispered, sad.
He was caught off guard.
"What are you talking about?"
She shook her head again, harder this time. "You're leaving us. You're leaving me."
It was getting darker now, and he could only barely see the strange look on her face. Almost wistful, not exactly upset, maybe hurt, but a little regretful, too. He stared at the cluster of emotions in her eyes, mesmerized.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said.
"You're already gone," she replied dully, looking at her fingers. "Haven't you noticed? We're different now."
"No, we're not—,"
"Yes, Taichi. We've changed. I know you don't want us to, but that doesn't mean we won't. Everybody changes." She sighed. "If anything, that's destiny. Change is destiny, especially ours, as the chosen children. We chose to change and we will choose to change, whether we know we have or not."
He looked away, biting on the insides of his mouth out of habit.
"We don't have to be different," he said finally, hesitantly.
She smiled faintly.
"And somehow, a part of us never will," she promised him firmly. "But only a part."
He stepped back, hands crossed over his chest, frowning at her.
"You won't." She stared at him in confusion, so he added, "Change. I don't think you ever could."
She smirked, amused.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I don't want you to change, Sora. I want you to be the girl I—," here he paused, hesitant, than continued smoothly, "—the best friend who never changed."
"You can't stop change," she whispered.
"I can," he said defiantly, so fiercely she almost believed him. She really wanted to believe him. She would have given anything to believe him right then, because that would have meant—well, that would have meant they could be different, too.
And it didn't occur to her until that moment how much she wanted them to change. Them, as in the two of them, together. She wanted them to be different. She'd been waiting for it be different, to change together, but it never happened. She'd held her breath and waited and waited, only to find him so lost in thoughts he stopped sharing with her, in a life that she just suddenly wasn't a part of anymore
It hurt her, the first time he left her out, though she knew it wasn't intentional. And then, the first time he wasn't the first to know something important that happened to her, she'd been vaguely surprised with herself.
And then the wish for them to change together and become something more, it just faded.
It was almost as though he chose not to meet her half way when she waited for him. He chose not to, and sometimes she'd catch herself wondering why. And then she'd look at him, and see that brilliant, undying fire in his eyes, see the way his gaze seemed to be so focused on something she herself could never see and would never understand completely.
They were different already.
Without either of them fully realizing what was happening, they'd changed already.
Separately, they'd changed.
And he knew it then, what that meant.
She was the most beautiful girl he'd ever known, ever would know. He'd tried hard to tell her, so many times, but he never did. He hoped she'd never change, but a part of him knew that nothing could change the way he felt about her. Not California, or Kyoto, or destiny.
She was his best friend.
That wouldn't change. Even if everything else did, that wouldn't, couldn't. And maybe he made mistakes and had his regrets, but she wasn't one of them. No, she wasn't. He could look at her now, see her in all her perfections and imperfections, remember all the wishes and dreams and feelings he felt about her, and honestly say he didn't regret her. He treasured what they had. He did not regret it. Perhaps he once wanted more, perhaps he still did, but he would never regret anything. That wasn't his nature. And he knew she needed something else, something more than he could offer, because that was her nature. So, no, he did not regret her. If anything, he—
Yes, of course, he loved her.
And that wouldn't change either. Even if everything else did, that wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't.
The sun had set on them and now rose over a new friendship, deeper and stronger because of the test it had been put through. The dying, sorrowful reds now mixed with the bold, stronger oranges, and for a moment, he saw it in her eyes and knew it reflected in his own. They smiled at each other, shyly at first, until that familiar grin broke out across her face and he had to laugh. She stuck out her tongue, her cheeks reddening in slight embarrassment.
He retrieved the football.
"Want to play one more time?" he asked with a smile.
She shook her head.
"I have to go home. My mother—,"
"—thinks you're having dinner with my family, to celebrate my football contract and to give us one final farewell," he said.
She straightened. "But didn't I hear you telling your mother about eating with us for that same one final farewell?"
He grinned wickedly.
She sighed, pretending to be exasperated with his habits.
"All right, brilliant one. Where exactly does everyone think we are?"
He smiled. "Right where we need to be."
She leaned forward, fingering a lock of her hair again. "And where's that?"
"Here," he said, gesturing around them.
"A football field?"
He walked closer to her and leaned down, so that he could brush his lips over her forehead, closing his eyes.
"Here, Sora. Here, here…."
She held her breath, lifting her chin to look up into his face. He stared back silently, his eyes focused on hers now, mirroring the uncertain finality of her gaze. She could feel his breath on her cheeks, could almost hear his heartbeat if she listened hard enough. He drew closer, instinctively, and her eyes fluttered shut—
And then she shoved the football into his face and he yelled, startled, falling over the benches.
She laughed at him, hooting over her practical joke, but he merely caught her by the wrist on his way down and they both toppled onto the field, rolling in the grass, carrying on like they did when they were teasing, reckless children, until their farewell words stopped sounding like farewell and their goodbye kiss stopped tasting like goodbye.