So, here it is, the final chapter. It's taken me a long time to get here. Not just this chapter either; this entire monster of a thing has taken up two and a half years of my life and you know what? I love it. I loved writing it, I love the characters and I love every single person who took the time to read it and review it. You all stuck with me through a lot of ups and downs and stupidly long hiatuses, and I'm sorry about that. Now, I just hope I've done the story justice with this ending. I hope you enjoy it.
Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod.
She could hear people talking from her position in the wings. It sounded like there was a lot of people out there. Ohgodohgodohgod...
"Are you okay?" Bubbles was patting down the skirt of her dress and looked concerned, to the point that her eyes were wavering pink. Blossom attempted a reassuring smile, but she could tell that it was coming across more like she was sucking on a lemon.
"I'll be okay. It's just nerves; stage fright. I just have to... you know, get out there." Buttercup, standing a little distance away, snorted.
"Well, you might wanna loosen your grip, otherwise you'll be getting out there with a broken violin." Blossom was wound up to the point that she nearly let go of the instrument altogether when she realised just how tightly she was holding it. What was she doing? This was ridiculous. Bubbles could get up and perform complex cheer routines as easy as breathing, Buttercup went out and played sports as though her teams were extensions of herself. All Blossom had to do was stand on a stage and perform a few pieces of music she knew off by heart.
But then why was this so difficult?
"Where're the boys?" she heard Buttercup ask. Bubbles stood up from shaking out the bottom of Blossom's dress and gave her a critical look over before answering.
"Not sure actually. I haven't seen them since they came over to pick up their suits. Probably sitting out there somewhere." The idea of Brick sitting out in front of that stage waiting to see her play suddenly gave Blossom a jolt of what felt a lot like vertigo. What if she couldn't play like he taught her to? She'd never be able to look him in the eye again.
But wait. That would mean he'd won, wouldn't it? That would prove him right; that she wasn't as good a player as she thought she was. She felt her hands clench a little. She couldn't have that.
"Uh... you alright there, Bloss? That's kind of a slasher smile you have going on there."
"Hmm? Oh, I'm fine. How long until I'm on?"
"Five minutes. You ready?"
What was I thinking?
The fact that everyone was now applauding her as she made her way out was not making her feel any better. As it was, she was having enough trouble keeping her balance in her shoes and trying to stop her hands from shaking.
Just focus Blossom.
She took her position, kept her eyes averted from the crowd while she raised her violin on to her shoulder. Finally, when she was ready, she raised her eyes and looked out.
The Professor, Bubbles and Buttercup were sat in the front row. Bubbles had a grin on her face so wide that it looked as though her face was about to split in two, while Buttercup had a quiet smile that really lit her eyes up. Her heart lurched as her eyes settled on the Professor. He just looked so proud of her. She knew he was always proud of her, of all three of them, but right then, in that moment, he was proud of her for doing this, and that was what really mattered. She felt her throat tighten up a little bit and forced a small smile onto her face to try and hide it.
And then, as her eyes drifted over the crowd as she raised her bow, and just as it settled on the strings, she saw him. He was standing at the back of the hall, leaning on the wall next to the door and staring straight at her. The sight of him sent a jolt through her. It wasn't just his presence, or the fact that he was looking at her, but the way he was looking at her. No one had ever looked at her the way he was now; as though she was the most captivating thing he'd ever seen. As though there was no one else in the room.
She felt her mouth curve into a smile, closed her eyes, and began to play.
"Oh Blossom, that was incredible!" Bubbles squealed, launching herself at her sister and practically swinging around her neck.
"That was a wonderful performance Blossom. You wouldn't believe how much money this has raised; we've had so many more donations since you finished up." Miss Bellum was beaming. Blossom, having become accustomed to her more usual strained expression had to admit that it was a nice change.
"I'm... I'm just happy you all enjoyed it," she stammered. The Professor laid a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Just to give you a head's up," muttered Buttercup, appearing suddenly at her ear. "But I think someone wants to talk to you." Blossom tensed involuntarily, knowing exactly who her sister was talking about. She turned, and saw him standing by the door, away from the main body of the crowd, as he had been in the hall earlier.
"I... I, umm, yes, excuse me."
She made her way over, trying to ignore the fact that she was suddenly acutely aware of just how hard her heart was hammering in her chest. As she approached, a lazy smile slid on to Brick's face, and made her swallow. Hard.
"Hey, nice work. You really got it tonight; I think that's the best I ever heard you play." She felt the blush spreading over her cheeks before she could even attempt to play it cool.
"I... Thank you. And I mean for everything, not just the compliment. Even if you did shanghai me into this, I couldn't have done it without you."
There was a brief pause, with neither of them knowing what more to say, before Brick cleared his throat awkwardly.
"So, it's the 28th already, huh?" Blossom almost winced. She knew what was coming.
"Don't. Just... answer me. I know we've had a bit of a history. I know what I've done, but things have changed between us, haven't they?"
"Brick, it isn't that simple. I-"
"Blossom, please, I know you feel something. I really-"
"Stop!" She was panicking. She could feel herself panicking. All of this was too much to process, because she knew exactly what he was asking and it was just like that nightmare where she couldn't answer any questions in class.
She didn't know the answer.
She didn't know the answer.
So she ran.
"What are you doing?" Blossom only just had time to turn around before Buttercup's fist connected with her jaw, spinning her sideways. She found herself pressed against the wall, and slumped back against it, her face throbbing painfully. Buttercup looked livid, her hair a mess from charging after her sister, her eyes glowing faintly.
"What the hell is wrong with you, huh? Why are you running away?" Blossom swallowed painfully, her throat constricting.
"Buttercup, I can't. I..." Her sister advanced on her, her eyes narrowed.
"Don't you get it? He's not trying to screw you over Bloss. He doesn't know what he's doing and he doesn't know why he's doing any of it, but he still means it. And you know that, I know you do."
"But he's still-"
"Shut up. Don't you dare. You say you can't be with him because he's dangerous? You think you've got it bad?"
It was at that point that Blossom stopped and really looked at her sister. Buttercup was obviously furious, there was no denying that, but why?
Because Blossom was throwing away something that Buttercup couldn't have.
Butch was beyond dangerous. Brick might be the greatest overall threat, but he was in control of himself; Butch wasn't. Even if he did want her, even if it was mutual, they'd tear each other apart. They couldn't be together. They weren't built that way, and Buttercup knew it.
"You don't need to say it. I know. And you know exactly how different it is for you. I can feel it Blossom. Jesus, I think I can feel it more than you."
It was at that moment, staring at her sister with tears pricking the corner of her eyes, that Blossom finally did the one thing she never did. She stopped thinking. She stopped thinking about all the things that were or could go wrong. She stopped thinking about the how and the why and the should.
"I... I need to find him."
It took her around an hour for her to find him. She had gone back to the hall, but he was long gone, and neither Bubbles nor Boomer could tell her where he'd gone.
"He looked pretty messed up," Boomer had told her unhelpfully. "He coulda gone anywhere."
But she'd finally tracked him down in the park, sitting on the edge of the fountain with an unlit cigarette between his lips.
"Save it," he said, sounding almost tired. "I know you're a good girl and all, but spare me an apology. Unless you want to make me feel worse." She felt an unpleasant twist of guilt at his words. But that wasn't why she was here. She took a deep breath. She could do this. She had to do this.
"Brick... listen. I... need to tell you something. You were right. Things have changed between us." His head snapped up at the words, his eyes suddenly boring into hers. She felt herself flush a little.
"You mean, you..." He was struggling with the words, but he dropped the cigarette and stood up. Suddenly, she felt very small next to him, and the reservations started to creep back in.
"I'm..." She felt like she was about to choke on the words. What was she trying to say? What did she want to say? "I'm sorry, I..."
"Blossom, come on, please." She had never heard him sound so serious before. Mocking and teasing and angry, yes, but never serious. Never... sincere. Something in her chest felt like it was being torn in two. She didn't understand any of this. This was Brick. He was trouble, he was the worst choice, but he was funny and clever and he knew how to push all of her buttons and she had never met anyone else like him.
"I... I... I don't know. I didn't want any of this to happen. It shouldn't have happened, Brick. I wish you'd never found me that night; that you'd never made that stupid, stupid bet. But... what am I supposed to do?"
"I don't give a rat's ass about what you're supposed to do, Blossom," he spat, his expression a mixture of desperation and... was that fear? No, not quite. Something else, something she couldn't quite define. "This isn't about some stupid bet anymore. I mean it. Just tell me what you want to do. Tell me what you want."
He was close. Too close. Mere inches away, so that all she'd have to do was lean forward through that tiny distance that separated them and...
"I... I don't... I can't. I should... I should..." She couldn't say it. She couldn't say it and she couldn't just walk away either. What had happened? Where was the girl who knew what was right and could follow it through no matter what she had to sacrifice because it was the right thing to do? Instead she was stranded there, staring at this boy who looked like he was just as unsure about everything as she was.
"I..." He kissed her then. Just reached out, grabbed her and dragged her forward to him before she could speak. And she let him, because they both knew what she'd wanted from the second she'd opened her mouth.
It wasn't long, and it wasn't anything like the first kisses her romance novels had lovingly described. It was short and it was forceful and when he drew back, he was looking at her as though she was some kind of wild animal that he was worried was going to attack him. And the old Blossom would have, she realised. The old Blossom who wouldn't allow herself to have feelings and who took every word out of Brick's mouth as a lie.
She still didn't know if she could trust him. But she could find out.
"Close your eyes," she said, mildly surprised at how calm her voice was. He blinked at her.
"Just do it. Please."
He did. She took a deep breath, closed her own eyes, and opened her mind up to his.
There was no static. Everything was clear to her now. She sifted through his mind. Memories of the concert, of standing at the back of the hall and staring up at her. Of wanting so hard to talk to her afterwards but being scared of what she'd say. The crushing feeling of rejection when she ran away from him, and now...
She opened her eyes, checked her watch, then gripped his face in her hands and kissed him as hard as she was able. Because she knew. She knew.
He made a strangled noise of surprise somewhere in the back of his throat and then he was kissing her right back, because both of them wanted this just a much as the other.
"So does that mean I won?" he asked breathlessly. She smiled demurely.
"It is currently 12:08 am on the first of March. February is over. You lost."
He blinked at her, and then his expression took on a strange mixture of amusement and an odd kind of amazement.
"No," he said, leaning back in to kiss her again. "No, I really didn't."