A/N. Skillet is an incredible band. This story is based off of their song, 'Say Goodbye'. Please listen to it while you read. I don't own anything.

Things are changing
It seems strange and
I need to figure this out
You've got your life
I got mine
But you're all I cared about
Yesterday we were laughing
Today I'm left here asking
Where has all the time gone now
I'm left alone somehow
Growing up and getting older
I don't want to believe it's over


I jump when Kendall snaps his fingers inches from my face. I shake my head to clear it from the thoughts that have been consuming my mind lately and try to focus on my best friend. "What's up?" I ask, trying to sound casual.

But Kendall isn't fooled and from the expressions on their faces, neither are Logan and Carlos. "What's up?" Kendall repeats. "I think we should be asking you that question. It's like you've been on another planet lately but especially today. What's up with that?"

"Just thinking." I answer evasively. I'm not completely sure I want to tell them of my exact thoughts right now. Saying it aloud will make it more real and I don't know if I'm ready for that yet.

"About?" Carlos raises his eyebrows and looks straight at me as if he's trying to read my mind.

I drop my gaze because after fifteen years of friendship with these guys, I'm actually a little scared that Carlos will be able to read my mind and know what I'm thinking about. "Were you saying something earlier, Kendall?" I ask, trying to change the subject.

Kendall frowns. "I was but now I forget." He admits. "James, seriously, is everything okay?"

I wince because I know that none of my friends are going to drop the subject until I tell them. "Yes, I mean, no. I don't know."

"You can tell us, James." Logan says gently. "If something is bothering you, then let us help you."

Logan is right. I can tell them anything and they'll do their best to understand and help me. But the problem is that I've already made my decision and the thing that's really bothering me is how I'm afraid I might hurt them. "I'm not sure how to tell you." I finally say, at a loss for any other words.

Concern leaps into Carlos' dark eyes and he trades glances with Kendall and Logan before speaking again. "Just. . . tell us." He suggests quietly.

I smile a little at his words. It's so like Carlos to tell me to just blurt out my problems without thinking of what it might do to them. But I can tell that my vagueness is unnerving to them so maybe Carlos is right.

"James," Kendall says before I can work up the courage. "Did we do or say something?"

"No!" I say adamantly. I shake my head and try to look them all in the eyes so that they know I'm telling the truth. They would blame themselves even when they have no idea what's going on. "No way, guys. It's not that, I promise."

"Well then?" Logan asks, his voice rising slightly in pitch like it does when he's scared of something. His brown eyes don't move as he stares at me. "Are you. . . are you sick?"

I almost laugh because in the past two minutes, all three of my friends have displayed the trademark behavior that I've come to love over the years. Carlos with his bluntness, Kendall with his undeserved self-guilt, and Logan, the future doctor, asking me if I'm sick. "No, Logan." I say as gently as I can, smiling when I see the fear ease slightly from his eyes. "I'm perfectly fine."

"Then. . ." Kendall is searching for a way to remain tactful when I can tell that he wants to drag it out of me by now.

I take a deep breath and reach for the TV remote, turning off the hockey game that none of us are paying attention to anymore. "I have something to tell you guys." I say seriously. My eyes move from Kendall to Carlos to Logan and back again, taking in their matching expressions of concern battling with a fear that they don't know is rational or not. "I already told my parents."

Kendall looks startled at first and I can't really blame him. Our bond is so ridiculously strong that it's unusual for any of our family members to know something that we don't know altogether. "Okay?" The statement comes out as a question and he falls silent, waiting for me to continue.

"Just. . . tell us." Carlos' words reply in my mind and they give me the courage to finally tell them. "I joined the US Army last week." The words fall from my lips and I watch my friends, waiting for their reactions.

Kendall's green eyes widen and he inhales sharply as he absorbs what I've just told him and Carlos and Logan. Logan's naturally pale face grows impossibly paler and his mouth moves in a silent whisper of my name. "James," Carlos isn't silent but his voice is a choked whisper and his eyes have filled with tears.

"I should have told you earlier." I say quickly. "I just. . . I just didn't know how-"

"How long have you known?" Kendall interrupts. He searches my face for understanding. "I mean. . ." He's at a loss for words and this makes me feel even worse because in all the years I've known him, Kendall has always known what to say.

"I don't really know." I answer honestly. "It's been on my mind for a couple years now."

"So since you turned eighteen and you were old enough?" Logan guesses in faint voice. He looks dazed and in shock and I'm suddenly grateful that we're all sitting down because he looks on the verge of passing out.

I shrug and then nod in answer to his question. "I guess. I mean there really was no point in me thinking about it when I was too young." I'm quiet then and I wait for them to say something. But all I can hear is their ragged breathing and tears burn the backs of my eyes because I know I've really hurt them. "I'm sorry," I whisper. "I didn't know how to tell you."

"So you decided to tell us now?" The words coming from anyone else but Carlos would sound harsh. He simply sounds hurt and scared. "When. . . when do you leave?"

I feel like such a jerk now. "A month." I can still only whisper as I watch the pain in their eyes increase. My heart aches because I know that I've caused their pain.

"A month." Kendall repeats in a dull voice. "Wow."

Logan clears his throat and wipes hastily at his eyes with a shaking hand. "Why?"

"Why?" I ask. "Why what?"

Logan takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. I can see that he's trying not to lose it completely when all of them are on the edge. "Why did you sign up?"

This is where it gets difficult. I feel like I can never put my true feelings into words that even my best friends will understand. "I want to fight for my- for our country." I say, feeling like a living cliché. "I read about the men and women over there fighting for us and I see it on TV and I. . . I want to do something about it. I want to fight with them."

"James," Carlos breathes. "This is. . . it's just so sudden."

"I know." I say, feeling horrible. "I'm sorry-"

"Don't apologize." Kendall says, shaking his head. "I. . ." He glances over at Logan and Carlos who both nod. "We understand."

I believe them. They really do understand and I'm amazed at how fortunate I am to have friends like them. "Thank you." I say gratefully. "I just need to do this, guys. I mean, you all have your futures figured out. Kendall, you're in the minors and I just know that one day soon you'll be playing professional hockey. Carlos, you're in the police academy. Soon, you'll be just like your dad. And Logan, you're in med school. Me?" I shrug. "Since Big Time Rush ended, I feel like I haven't done much worthwhile with my life."

"James," Logan says slowly. "You could have gone solo. You had. . . you still have the talent."

I smile at him because it's his way of telling me he doesn't want me to leave. "Thanks, Logie." I say say quietly, almost regretting the use of our childhood nickname for him when I see a tear make its way past his stubborn blockade. "But even if I really do still have the talent, I don't have the desire anymore. I don't want to be famous anymore." It sounds strange saying it out loud because for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be famous. But fame is temporary and when you're gone from the music business, no one will remember or miss you. In the end, what have you accomplished? "I want to do something to help others."

"You can. . ." Carlos searches helplessly for another way for me to do what I want. But he gives up and offers me a weak smile. "Wow, James. That's really great." He says with feeling.

"Yeah," Logan nods and clears his throat. "James, we're. . . proud of you."

"So, you're not mad at me for telling you sooner?" I venture, hesitantly.

Kendall shakes his head. "No way, James." He says, instantly making any doubts I had disappear. "How can we be mad at you? This. . . it really is great of you and we are proud of you." He reaches out a sets a hand on my shoulder. "You're more than our best friend, James. You're our brother and we love you. We're here for you and I promise that we'll support any decision you make."

A tear escapes and slides down the left side of my face. I brush it away with a shaking hand. "Thank you." I whisper. The relief I feel is nearly suffocating because they're not mad at me and they're not really hurt anymore. They understand everything just like they always have. Just like they always will.

Don't say goodbye
Cause I don't wanna hear those words tonight
Cause maybe it's not the end for you and I
And although we knew
This time would come for me and you
Don't say anything tonight
If you're gonna say goodbye

Do you remember
In December
How we swore we'd never change
Even though you're leaving
That our feelings
Would always stay the same
I wish we could be laughing
Instead I'm standing here asking
Do we have to end this now
Can we make it last somehow
We both know what we've gotta say, not today
Cause I don't wanna leave this way

My heart beats wildly inside my chest as I climb out of the car, pulling my lone bag with me and settling it on my shoulder. The cold Minnesota air seems to cut right through my jacket like a knife and the shiver the wracks through me is a mixture of fear and cold. But I force a smile to my face for them. "So," I say, my voice cracking with emotion.

"James," We're all close to tears but it surprises me that Kendall is the first to give in. He steps forward and envelopes in a crushing hug that takes the breath from my lungs.

It hurts like to crazy to see Kendall so broken and know that I'm the cause for his tears. It's frightening to see our strong leader so weak and helpless and. . . scared. Kendall is scared. I let my pack fall from my shoulder so I can hold him tightly. When we pull apart, it's a wonder we can see each other for the tears that are streaming down both of our faces. "Thanks, Kendall." I say softly.

"For what?" Kendall is struggling to regain control of his emotions but it's not working and in the end he has to sink down to the ground, overcome by a flood of emotions that he's unaccustomed to.

I sink down until I'm kneeling directly in front of him and touch his shoulder so that he looks up at me. "For everything." I tell him. "For supporting me no matter what I've done. For getting me started in Hollywood-"

Kendall chokes on a laugh. "Look where you ended up." He says, gesturing to my uniform. "You're a soldier." He shakes his head in disbelief. "I can't believe you're old enough to risk your life like this. I mean, you can't even get drunk legally."

I laugh too. "Tell me about it." I say, rolling my eyes and nearly blinding myself with the tears that have yet to fall. I grip his wrist and stand up, pulling him to his feet. "Thank you, Kendall. Promise me one more thing."

"Anything." Kendall says.

I gesture to Carlos and Logan who are wrestling with their own feelings as they watch us. "Take care of these two like you always have." I whisper. "Stay together." I bit my lip, trying to remain together enough so that I can continue talking. "And watch out for my parents too."

Kendall frowns, his expression full of pain. "James-" He begins slowly, sounding completely lost and scared and not at all like the Kendall I've known all my life.

"Just listen." I plead. "In case. . . something happens to me." I hear Carlos start to cry then and out of the corner of my eye I see Logan hug him.

"Don't say that." Kendall tries to sound stubborn and strong but his voice shakes. "James, don't say that. Please."

"I'm sorry." I run my fingers through my shortened hair. "But Kendall, I need you to promise me that you'll take care of everyone just like you always have even if something happens to me."

"Why. . . why me?" Kendall's voice falters.

I swallow hard. "Because I know you can." I say quietly. "You're all stronger than you think but you're the one who has always kept us together, Kendall. You have to stay that same person."

Kendall's jaw is clenched tightly but all the same his bottom lip trembles like he's a little kid. "Okay," His voice shakes impossibly hard on the one word and he gives a sharp nod. "Okay, I promise. For you."

I'm stunned at how things have changed over the years as we've grown up together. But the past month has been the most difficult time. It seems like we've gone from little boys at heart to grown men in those short thirty days. When I was younger I never wanted our happy and carefree lives to change but here we are and we're all okay. Growing up isn't as scary as I used to think it was.

Still it's obvious as Carlos steps away from Logan and closer to me that I may be the only one ready for this. "Carlos," I murmur, holding him as he clings to me tightly, crying. "Don't cry, buddy."

He catches me off guard by laughing slightly hysterically at my words. "You're kidding, right?" He asks in a muffled voice as he continues to hold me so close that his face is smashed into my jacket. "You're leaving, flying over the ocean to who knows what and you tell me not to cry?"

"I'm sorry, Carlos."

My apology makes him stiffen and he pulls away. "Don't apologize." He tells me in a voice that is strong despite his tears. "Don't apologize for being selfless and brave like this." Carlos gives me one last hard squeeze and then steps away, brushing at his streaming eyes.

Before I can say anything else to Carlos, I'm nearly knocked over by Logan who can no longer bear to watch Kendall and Carlos fall apart. His smaller frame shakes with sudden sobs and I turn my attention to him. "Logie," I whisper, my throat growing tight all over again.

"Just come back." He begs even though he knows it's impossible for me to promise. "Please, James. Come. . . come back."

I don't say anything. I can't. I want to come back but I can't lie to my best friends. So instead of speaking I just hold Logan close to me and we cry together. When we finally pull away it's incredibly painful and I get the strangest feeling like I'm leaving a piece of heart with each of my friends. But at the same time I feel like those pieces have been replaced by pieces from their hearts.

I take a deep breath and pick my pack up again. "So, this is it."

Kendall shuts his eyes as if he's hoping that all four of us are in the same dream and he wants nothing more than to wake up. "Yeah," He whispers.

Now that the time has come to say goodbye I don't know if I can. I know that I have to because it's far too late to turn back now. But it suddenly hits me that I'm not saying goodbye only to see them the next day or even the next week. It hits me that in the fifteen years we've been best friends, we've never been apart for longer than a week. Now. . . it could be the last time I see them.

"Don't think that." Carlos says reading my mind.

I nod, hardly able to speak. "Okay," I manage to say. "Guys, just let me talk before I leave, okay?" I wait for them all to nod and then I take a deep breath and clear my throat. "You have been the best friends anyone could ever have."

"James," Despite his silent promise to just let me talk, Logan is already wavering. "Don't-"

"Please, Logan." I interrupt gently. He bites his lip and is quiet so I continue. "I thought I would be able to do this so easily because it's something I've wanted to do for two years now. But saying goodbye is so much harder than I thought it would be. I'm. . . I'm not really scared of. . . dying." I watch as they all flinch at the word but keep talking because I know that if I pause, I'll never be able to finish. "I'm not scared of dying." I repeat, stronger this time. "What hurts me the most is leaving you three and my parents. What scares me is never seeing you again."

"You will." Logan says firmly. "You will, James. You have to."

It's scaring me to see how vulnerable they all are and how they refuse to even think that I might not return to them. But instead of trying to give them a hard dose of reality, I let Logan's words go unanswered, my silence filling in the blanks.

Just then a voice comes over the airport's loudspeaker and announces that my flight is boarding. I glance over my shoulder and see other uniformed men begin to head to the gate for the plane that will take us to our destination where everything is uncertain. Then I turn back to my friends. "Well," I say, bracing myself. "This is it."

"For now." Logan corrects stubbornly even though he looks unconvinced himself. He steps forward and hugs me one last time. "I'll miss you, Jay. We all will."

"I'll miss you guys more than you'll ever know." I tell him, my voice breaking on every other word. I reluctantly let go of Logan so I can hug Carlos and then Kendall.

When Kendall and I break apart, he steps backwards in between Carlos and Logan, and wraps an arm over each of their shoulders. I smile at the sight, realize that he's already keeping his promise. "Thank you." I say softly.

My flight is announced again and I stumble backwards a step, unwilling to lose sight of them. "Goodbye." It's only a whisper but when though there's noise all around us, I can tell that they heard me.

"Goodbye, James." They say as one.

At last I turn around and focus my tear blurred vision on the other men and the women in front of me. I take one step forward and then I keep walking. When I've walked a while, I turn back one last time. I can just barely make out the three figures standing there but I know they're there all the same. Even though they now can't hear me, I whisper one last farewell. "Goodbye."

Don't say goodbye
Cause I don't wanna hear those words tonight
Cause maybe it's not the end for you and I
And although we knew
This time would come for me and you
Don't say anything tonight
If you're gonna say goodbye

And if it's over
It hurts but I'm giving you my word
I hope that you're always
Happy like we were
Happy like we were

The sun burns over head, scorching the desert sand and my face as I make my way across the barren landscape with the rest of my troop. My throat is parched and completely dry. Each step is harder than the last and my feet are literally dragging. I'm thirsty, hot, and so tired. But I have to keep going.

Just in front of me, a man goes down. I drop down besides him. "Mark," I whisper his name through dry, cracked lips. "Come on, man. We're almost there. Just a little further." This may or may not be a lie. I can't tell how close we are to reaching the base but I'll never forgive myself if I let him die here without any encouragement.

"I. . . can't." His voice is weak and I can barely hear it even though we're surrounded by silence. He's much weaker than I or anyone else is and I know he can no longer walk himself. He reaches inside his shirt with a trembling hand and withdrawals a sealed envelope. "Make sure this gets to my mom." He pleads.

I can't. . . I won't leave him to die alone in the middle of the desert. Calling on every last bit of my own strength, I stand up, hauling him into my arms. I manage to throw him over my shoulder, grateful in a sick, twisted way that he's half starved because it's the only reason I'm able to carry him in my weakened condition. "You can send it yourself." I tell him, pausing in my steps to cough hoarsely.

"You're stupid, Diamond." He says, his voice shaking with the effort it takes him to speak.

"Don't talk." I say, falling silent to converse my own strength.

I don't know how much longer we walk but as we reach the top of a hill, a grin spreads over my dusty face, splitting my chapped lips and making them bleed slightly. It's on the tip of my tongue to tell Mark and the rest of the guys that we made it when the plane flies over head and drops the lone bomb.

It's like flying except it hurts. I hit the ground hard, the air rushing from my lungs. Sand collects in my eyes and blinds me. I can't see. I've lost sight of Mark and everyone else, even the safe haven that we were so close to. My ears are ringing and I'm so dizzy.

I wait until the world stops spinning around me and then I begin to sit up. Pain blasts through my right side and I gasp. Both hands fly to the source of the pain and I feel a thick, sticky substance. The sharp, metallic, smell of blood reaches my nostrils and I nearly faint. I cling desperately to consciousness, not quite knowing how badly I'm hurt. Maybe I still have a chance.

I risk a glance down at my injured side and my eyes widen to see how much blood I've already lost. By now the enemy plane is long gone, having already done its damage on us. I can hear the shouts of approaching men as they rush from the base to help us but I know it's too late for me.

Tears come to my eyes and I try to blink them away only to have them roll down my face, washing away the dirt and mixing with blood from a cut on my left cheek. I don't want to die. I would have been going home in just a month. I almost made it back to my friends and family. The goodbyes we said at the airport so long ago would have been temporary but now they're so final.

They weren't enough. A choked sob escapes me as I realize that I'm dying alone without my best friends with me. I don't want it to end this way. I'm so scared. My shaking hands press tightly to my side even though I know there's no way I can stop the bleeding and live. I'm dying. Surrounded by men who have become my friends and even brothers, I'm dying. And yet, I feel so alone. I close my eyes, trying to imagine that Kendall and Carlos and Logan are with me anyway.


The voice pulls me back into consciousness and my eyes fly open. I squint because I'm staring straight up at the bright sun and it burns my eyes. I must have been dreaming already. There's no way-

"James, hang on."

The sun is blocked out by a shadowing figure and I open my eyes fully to see a familiar face. I ignore that it's impossible to really be seeing him and I smile. "Logan."

Logan's face is pale with disbelief and fear. He's dressed in a field medic's uniform that's tattered and hangs on his thin frame. He nods when I speak his name. "It's me." He whispers. "I joined about two months ago."

"I. . . you. . . never told. . .me." I say weakly. A sudden cough wracks my body and I squeeze my eyes shut at the pain. Blood trickles out of the corner of my mouth and I choke on it.

Logan eases an arm under my neck and elevates me slightly, quickly wiping away the blood on my face. "We all wrote you letters." He says softly. "I guess they didn't reach you yet."

"Logan," I manage to reach up and find his hand, gripping it tightly with all my failing strength. I can't believe that he's here with me and even though I realize this means that he's in an incredible amount of danger, I'm glad. I'm not going to die alone.

I must have spoken aloud because a frown crosses Logan's face and tears come to his eyes. "James, you're not going to die." He says as he starts to cry.

He's afraid but I'm not. Not anymore. I smile and give his hand a squeeze. "It's okay, Logan." I tell him.

"No, it's not." He argues in a voice that's broken. "It's not okay if you die, James. I. . . I have to help you." But he doesn't move and I know that he knows our situation is hopeless. He takes a deep breath and returns the squeeze. "Okay," He breaths. "It's okay, James. I'm right here. You're not alone."

I'm crying but they're tears of joy. "I know." I whisper. "Thank you, Logan."

"I told you that you'd see me again." He jokes weakly, the laugh sounding like he's about to go into hysterics. The arm supporting me begins to tremble violently and he has to lower me back down to the ground. "James," He chokes out, beginning to sob.

"Everybody dies, Logan." I remind him, wanting to help. I feel bad that my pain is ending while his and Carlos' and Kendall's is only beginning.

"You're twenty." He cries, lowering his head to my battered and bloodied chest.

"I know," I still don't want to die but it's so much easier with one of my brothers by my side, holding onto me. "But you guys will be okay. You'll be happy again. Promise that you'll be okay. For me, Logie."

Logan nods against my chest, crying to hard to talk. His fingers wrap around my hand and hold on as tight as he dares.

"When. . . when we get home." Tears continue to coarse down my face as I think of home. "Logan, you'll get me home, right?"

Logan's tears cease and he jerks upwards to nod firmly. "James, I promise that I'll bring you home."

"Okay," Relief floods me and I can almost let go right then and there. "Thank you. When we. . . do get home. . . you'll tell the guys and my parents that I love them right?"

"Of course I will." Logan wipes the sweat off my brow with his free hand. His touch is as gentle and soothing as my mother's was when I was a little boy and sick with a fever.

"I love you too, Logan."

"We all love you, James." Logan smiles but he's seconds away from collapsing into tears once again. "We always will."

"Tell them I said goodbye?" I ask as I feel the last bits of my strength begin to leave me.

Logan nods. "I promise."

Instead of fear, I am surrounded by peace. I'm not alone. I'm in Logan's arms and even though it hurts to see him in so much pain, I'm ready to let go. I'm perfectly safe. "Goodbye, Logan." I whisper with one of my final breaths.

"Goodbye, James." Logan murmurs.

I close my eyes then and Logan's face fades in the darkness the envelopes me. I hear him start to cry again and just before I leave him I give his hand one last squeeze. And then I am gone.

Don't say goodbye
Cause I don't wanna hear those words tonight
Cause maybe it's not the end for you and I
And although we knew
This time would come for me and you
Don't say anything tonight
If you're gonna say goodbye

I'm home now but it doesn't feel right. As I sit with Kendall and Carlos by the shore of our childhood pond, I can't help but think of what, of who, we're missing. And it feels so wrong.

It's been six months since James died in my arms, across the ocean in another world. Six months since I kept my promise to him and brought him home where he belongs. Six months since we laid him to rest, a hero. It hasn't gotten any easier.

A sob tries to force itself from my tight throat and I press my fist to my mouth, trying to hold back the tears. But when I feel Kendall's hand on my shoulder and hear Carlos whisper my name, I break inside and out. The tears fall fast and heavy, blinding me, making it hard to breath. Over the sound of my own sobs I can hear that Kendall and Carlos are crying too.

There are days that I still don't quite believe that James left us. It seems like only yesterday that we were laughing and joking, completely carefree and happy together. But now I find myself sitting with my two remaining best friends, missing James more than any of us can ever put into words. Especially today.

James would have been twenty-one today. We would have played a game of hockey and then headed home to watch his favorite movie, Miracle, because that's how we celebrated it since we were ten. Every year it was the same thing and yet we never tired of it because we were with James and no matter how old he got, he still became a child again on his birthday, wanting to keep to the same old comforting things. Hockey, his favorite movie, and us.

We're here without him now and although it's the hardest thing we've ever had to go through, we're doing it together because that was our last promise to him. It hurts to live but we're not giving up. We're living for him. And slowly, maybe, eventually, we'll get past the pain enough to move on.

Not now though. For now, today, we'll remain here wishing that James was with us. We've already played hockey at the rink and in a little while, we'll head home and watch Miracle. James is dead, gone forever, but that doesn't mean we're not going to celebrate his life.

We're not in denial. We're just not ready quite yet. We say it every day and every night and yet we don't really mean it now. Because it's too final.

My tears slow at the same time as Kendall's and Carlos' and the two of them help me to my feet. "Ready, Logan?" Kendall asks. I nod and we all turn to face the pond, remembering with fondness the day the four of us met, and speak as one.

"Goodbye, James."

Yesterday we were laughing (if you're gonna say goodbye)
Today I'm left here asking (if you're gonna say goodbye)
And although we knew this time would come for me and you
Don't say anything tonight
If you're gonna say goodbye

A/N. I don't. . . really know what to say. My heart hurts so badly. I've listened to 'Say Goodbye' and 'Lucy' (just because) by Skillet on repeat and this story would not be finished already if I didn't. I wrote in one sitting, more than once wanting to stop and at least take a break. But music is such an inspiration to me and this song is so powerful. I can only hope that I did it justice.