Just Turn Around
The problems were all there, right in front of Nigel Ashcroft. He could see them clearly. The answers behind them, however, were another story entirely.
He guessed it all started when Matt ran away. He was out one day, and Will was worried. At the time, Nigel didn't worry too much about it—he was trying to win points with Taranee and failing miserably at impressing her mother, after all. Matt missing school was a minor problem—he hadn't been sick the day before, but maybe he'd come down with something in the night; that kind of thing happened. But when he found out the reason behind it, he was as shocked as Will had been:
"He did what?" he half-shouted in the cafeteria when Taranee passed on the news.
"Yeah, Will can't believe it either," she replied. "He just left for Hollywood without telling her. It hurt her a lot."
"Why would he do something like that?"
Taranee looked at him in surprise. "Wait, you didn't know? Will said the letter Mr. Olsen had said Matt was trying to help the band."
"None of us got any letter," Nigel answered. "He didn't tell us anything."
"That's weird," she commented, looking down.
"But I wouldn't worry Will about it," he decided. "I mean, if Matt ran off the other night, he probably didn't have much of a chance to get the message to anyone other than his family. Still seems kind of weird he wouldn't tell his girlfriend of all people, though."
The timing was awful, though. The band had just gotten a gig, and they couldn't cancel. Instead, they called in a favor to Alchemy and had her fill in on guitar as a "special guest." Nigel had to do vocals. He was a good singer, but that wasn't the point. Matt had written the songs, and it was a bit odd singing "The Demon in Me" and "Will to Love" without having the same emotional connection. But they did well enough and got a request to come back again. Nigel and Alchemy each promised they would with their bands, and Nigel just hoped Matt would actually be there the next time.
And then, just like that, he reappeared. Nigel wasn't sure whether he should ask him what happened or just hit him. But something was different about him; there was no other way to describe it than that something was off. He smirked a lot more, as if he knew something they didn't. He seemed to be discreetly hostile—making comments that sounded like veiled threats more than anything. And though he and Will hadn't argued outright, there was definitely something wrong between them. Will glared at him, and they made cynical comments back and forth. And Nigel couldn't make himself believe that it was because Will was mad about getting the information secondhand.
But in the meantime, things were improving between him and Taranee, so he didn't have the chance to worry too much. After they'd both nearly been arrested in that sushi restaurant (he didn't think he or Taranee would ever fully get the smell of fish out of their clothes or hair), it looked like everything was over between them. He really thought he'd blown it, but then Taranee said that her mom wanted him to come over for dinner. And more than anything, he wanted to make a good third impression.
"Hey, Matt?" he called in school. Matt turned from his latest not-argument with Will. "Just wanted to let you know I can't make it to practice tonight."
"No problem," Matt replied smoothly. "In fact, something came up for me too, so think you can spread the word to cancel?"
"Sure, man," Nigel answered just as the bell rang and he had to head off.
Dinner went well, except that Hay Lin kept calling and Taranee had to tell her repeatedly that she'd already asked someone else to fill in for something. Nigel looked around at the table and saw identical confused looks on everyone's faces—Judge Cook, Mr. Cook, and Peter. Not a single one of them knew what was going on.
"Sorry," Taranee apologized after the fifth call. "Hay Lin's just worried about her grandma and wants help keeping an eye on her."
"Did something happen to her?" Judge Cook asked.
"Not yet, but Hay Lin's scared," Taranee explained. "Something happened to a couple of Yan Lin's old friends, and Hay Lin's scared of it happening to her too."
There were a couple of laments, but soon Peter changed the subject. Nigel didn't think anything more about it until a couple of days later, when Yan Lin agreed to work in the cafeteria.
"Thanks, Mrs. Lin," he said, getting a plate of orange chicken. "This looks great."
"It better be," she joked, adding a chocolate-covered fortune cookie. "I've been working on it all day."
Nigel started to look for a table, but he didn't miss the multiple glares that went around as Matt got his food. Nigel had gotten used to the looks of absolute loathing Will and Matt gave each other now, but the look Matt gave Yan Lin was terrifying, like a wild beast that had found its next meal.
He'd never thought he'd say it, but he wished Yan Lin hadn't taken the job. Somehow, the bad food they'd had before seemed insignificant compared to her and Matt's animosity. Nigel suddenly found himself afraid for her.
Then, the next thing he knew, Matt was called in to stay after class for detention. The reason behind it? He'd cut class and made some kind of insulting comment right outside Mrs. Knickerbocker's office.
"He did what?" Nigel asked.
"I can't believe it either, but I heard it myself," Mrs. Knickerbocker replied. "And while I'm glad that you're finally turning over a new leaf, I hope your friends don't try to make up your mistakes."
Nigel was too stunned to react. He just walked home and called the others to let them know that practice was canceled. Out of habit, he took out his bass and started to play some old songs from when he'd first started to learn. The familiarity meant he didn't have to concentrate, freeing his mind to look back over the past few weeks and try and put two and two together.
What is up with him? he wondered. First he runs away without telling us, then he shows up out of nowhere and keeps arguing with Will, and now he's mouthing off to the principal and getting himself detention. He was almost reminded of how Taranee was trying to play bad girl, but he couldn't think of a reason why Matt was suddenly trying to be a rebel.
He said he ran away for the band's sake, he reminded himself. But that was funny; Matt hadn't written a single lyric since he'd gotten back. Usually, he'd at least have a rough draft of a song done every couple of weeks, but now nothing.
It wasn't much longer later when KSHIP announced the Battle of the Bands. Nigel took great pleasure in taking a potshot at Uriah during sign-ups. Even though there were three bands on the list, all Wreck 55 really had to worry about was Alchemy's band. Both bands swore not to give the other an easy time. But Nigel figured that Wreck 55 still had it in the bag. Sure, he was biased, but he had a feeling their deep-from-the-heart rhythm would win over Alchemy's perky, poppy tunes. Maybe they hadn't practiced in a while, but their skills couldn't have atrophied that much, right?
"Matt…man, what's the deal?" he asked. Taranee and Will sat on the couch, looking somewhat embarrassed as Matt blew the song. He'd not only forgotten the lyrics, but he seemed to have forgotten how to sing and play the guitar while he was at it. "You're totally not…yourself," he continued, trying to get out in the open what he'd seen for a while.
"Maybe it's the song," Matt growled, but Nigel had an eyebrow raised.
"The song is sweet," he replied. "You wrote the song, man."
"Try another," Will suggested, leaning back with a smug look. "Try 'The Will to Love.' Or don't you feel that one anymore, Matt?"
As Matt glared at Will, Nigel started to realize it was going to get ugly if he didn't step in. "Come on, forget 'Will to Love,'" he reasoned nervously. "Let's just nail 'The Demon in Me.' From the top—one, two…"
The music started off, this time sounding right. Matt closed his eyes and started singing better than he had before—"Better," Nigel noticed, "Not great, but not as painful." The words came straight from his soul, containing a conviction Nigel hadn't heard before. Matt started rocking his head back and forth, getting fully into the music. And at the end, they grinned at each other and ended off on the same strum of their guitars. It looked like Matt was finally back.
It only figured that the day of the Battle, he'd completely vanished.
Nigel was beginning to worry. They couldn't drop out of the Battle this late, and it wasn't like they wanted to anyway. They would have to go on without him. If Matt didn't show, Nigel would sing and they'd risk using only the bass for "The Demon in Me." His one saving grace was that Uriah's band had been forced to go on, what with Eric refusing to let them back out.
"Hey, dude, our turn yet?" Matt asked, walking on stage with his guitar.
"Matt!" Nigel cried. Relief had completely overridden the "beat him over the head with my bass for making us wait this long" instinct. "Sweet! Where you been?"
"Finding my will to rock," Matt answered, sounding much more like himself than ever before. "Speaking of which, we're doing 'The Will to Love.'"
The urge to beat him over the head was starting to come back, along with some of the panic. "But we didn't rehearse it!"
"Trust me," Matt affirmed, "we'll nail it."
"Let's hear it for Wreck 55!" Irma declared.
As they played "The Will to Love," Nigel tried not to scrutinize his friend too much. Matt was completely back to normal—just the emotion in his voice through the song was testament enough. Will was in the audience, close to the front row, and she looked happier than ever.
When the song ended, Nigel took advantage of the audience's wild cheering to lean over to Matt and ask, "What's been going on?"
"Sorry about that," Matt apologized. "Just been fighting the demon in me."
Nigel gave him a confused look and was about to ask, but decided against it. He didn't need the reasons behind it. Whatever Matt and Will had been dealing with, let them keep it private. Right now, he'd just revel in their glory and normality. God knew they deserved it.
Standard disclaimer applies: I do not own W.I.T.C.H. Chatting with my friend Shaun after "S is for Self" got this little plotbunny going, and I had to write it up. The title comes from a song from Digimon season two, by the character Matt Ishida, ironically enough played by Nigel's voice actor, Michael Reisz. I couldn't resist the joke.