The Task
The task is simple: using the back-and-forth style of role-playing, the finalists will write a story. Together.

The Rules
1. This is not a role-play. So don't treat it as such. This is a story. One of you will start, the other will add on her contribution, the first will add another contribution, etc.
2. You must take everything the other writer stated into consideration. If you're in the middle of writing a romance scene and then your opponent has them get hit by a truck and die...guess what. No more romance scene and the character got hit by a truck and died.
3. This story is yours to tell. You can do whatever you want, as long as it's PG-13. If you want rainbows to shit jellybeans and Easter eggs because of a leprechaun orgy, go for it. Just don't tell us about the orgy so it stays PG-13.
5. The word limit for each post will be 1,000 words. However, over the course of the next two weeks, you will be allowed 2,000 extra words. Use these where you see fit. For example, your first, third, sixth and seventh posts may each be 1,500 words, if you'd like (500 x 4 = 2,000) but the rest of your posts must all remain under 1,000 words, then. And keep in mind, you won't know how many post this story may generate over the next two weeks

( Marluxia)

The violin case has sat untouched in the corner of my room since the day he left. I can't bring myself to look at it, although its presence holds a certain gravity that demands my eyes to follow. I never obey, but from my peripherals I still notice the shape of it: curved and blackened in the shadow of my room, taunting me for staying away and simultaneously begging me to come back. It wants me to open it up and attach myself to the instrument within once again, the one that had been every bit a part of me just like my very limbs are. There was once a constant flow of harmonies and melodies in place of my pulse, and I felt it thrumming throughout me to reach my fingertips, curling in the indentations pressed into the surfaces there that never seem to completely fade away. An entire lifetime of these hands, flesh grooving into the strings of my violin, fingers frantically flying across the neck, made me into the man that I once was.

And in one fell swoop he destroyed it all.

Mere minutes after I returned to the apartment, chinese takeout in hand and expecting to sit down and enjoy dinner with my lover, I found Luca's note and immediately considered shoving the case into the depths of my closet, stowing it out of sight and out of mind. Then my grief truly consumed me and I toyed with the more dramatic option of breaking the violin, splintering the wood and snapping the strings so I could set the pieces on fire within the case, watching as the entire thing was engulfed in the flames. But in the end I couldn't bring myself to do anything to it – neither harm nor hide – because my passion for my music was there for me first. It was only Luca who entered my life years ago and truly enhanced that passion, with the love we created together, and with his undying belief in my prowess.

Luca always told me how much he loved my hands; that he liked the oxymoron of them being calloused in the fleshy mounds of my fingertips and aggressive when necessary, but still silky soft and impossibly gentle when it mattered. He would watch me practice, dewy eyed when I put the utmost fervor into my performance, leaving my hands in a blur. He continued watching even after, when I carefully wiped down the wooden body, gingerly cradling the frame and delivering meticulous inspections of its surface, as if it were a newborn child. And after I was done, he'd pull me to our bed, remove our shirts, and demand to feel my hands on him in a multitude of ways.

So I would walk my fingers over his abdomen like I moved them down and across the fingerboard, only instead of digging in they would ghost across his skin, leaving goose bumps in their wake. He'd shiver and sigh his approval, and I'd move to brush over the protusion of his clavicles, this time delving into the craters, earning me more sounds of contentment from his throat. I liked to equate his body to my violin – smooth and supple, sturdy and strong in my hands – complete with f-holes in the form of venus dimples curved into his lower back.

That was probably my favorite part of him.

It was so easy to lose myself in these moments of ours, just like I'd lose myself in the concertos I practiced, and we would spend what felt like hours just caressing one another, learning our bodies as if each pore was a note to be read and memorized. And always, it would come to a peak with my body covering his entirely, the two of us moving together in waves the way my bow brushes across my strings, and Luca, he'd sing for me, the same way my violin would. We created our very own symphonies like this, compositions only he and I would ever hear. It was pure bliss, but it's something I will always keep private.

Even now, it's been a year since he's left and not a day goes by that those sounds don't echo in the hollow of my chest, that the memories don't sway across the forefront of my mind. The music was there from the start, but Luca ignited it in an entirely new way for me, and I can't bring myself to feel the same about it any longer. God knows I've tried, time and time again to walk over to that case and snap the locks open, grip my violin once more and pour the myriad of emotions I've felt about his departure back into bow strokes and intricate note fingerings. I want to compose rhapsodies to illustrate my joys and my sorrows, embody the essence of me that loved so fiercely and lost it all. I want the sounds to carry to wherever he is now, for him to hear it across miles, states, or countries, and to know that I'm still here. I haven't moved on.

But I can't do it. I can't feel the music anymore, and the absence of it frightens me.

Luca took it all with him.

A year ago today, everything changed with a hastily scribbled letter and an abrupt farewell. A year ago today, I woke up to empty space beside me, and I should have known even then what was coming. Not once in our three years together, had Luca not been underneath the sheets with me when my eyes fluttered open to greet him and the morning sun. And although our last night together had been as they always were – full of ecstasy and wonder – Luca had always been unpredictable. I simply never expected an unpredictability akin to heartbreak.

So much has changed since then. I no longer compose to make a living. Instead, I work at the coffee shop a few blocks from my apartment, as a barista. It wasn't my first choice, but it pays the bills, and that's my only concern right now. My morning routine is interrupted by a phone call, and checking the caller ID I read my sister's name – Sylvia. "To what do I owe the pleasure, amore?"

" will never guess who I just saw walking by your café."

Her tone of voice is rather serious, but I go along with her call as if it were nothing more than a ruse; my mind is still groggy and I'm not feeling up to a cryptic guessing game; I just want her to get to the point. "Some sort of celebrity, perhaps?"

"No, Derek. It was Luca. He's back in town."

( Sapphire Smoke )

I prayed I heard her wrong.

"I'm sorry, what?" A nervous laugh escaped my lips that I tried to cover up with a cough. Though my sister and I were close, I had never felt the need to voice the mind-numbing fear of his inevitable return. Perhaps I should have, because right now I was sure this kind of information overload at the ass crack of dawn wasn't doing any favors for my sanity.

I didn't believe in fairytales; I was far too practical to believe that a love lost could be found again, no matter how many times I had laid awake at night and dreamed about it. Luca would never be my white knight; there was far too much heartbreak involved to ever expect such a ridiculous notion. Yes, he once was my heart, my soul, my muse ... but things had changed. Hewas the one that changed them, without even bothering to give me the courtesy of a warning. He lifted me up so high, only to slam me back down to the ground without a moment's hesitation. So what good could possibly come from me knowing he was back in town?

Nothing, that was what.

It was my own fault though. Sylvia knew how much I missed him; how my life hadn't been the same without him. But that didn't mean I wanted him back in it. Only a sadist would allow someone back into their life that had completely and utterly destroyed them. I wished I had told her that though, because it would have saved me from this moment. I could tell by her tone that she thought she was giving me some kind of hope, or perhaps some sense of peace. What she told me did neither.

What she told me actually made me want to set something on fire.

"Luca—" she tried again, but I didn't want to hear it for the second time. I cut her off mid-sentence.

"Shit, sorry Sylvs; I'm running late. I'll call you after I get off work, okay?"

I heard her try to protest, but I hung up quickly before throwing my phone clear across the room. It landed on the ground with a crash, but the last thing I was worried about was breaking it. I took a breath, knowing I needed to calm myself before I ended up having a mental breakdown à la Britney Spears. Considering my hair is... well, pretty damn fantastic most days, that would be completely tragic.

Really though, in the end, my hair falls short of what kind of massive heartbreak I'd be in for if I let Luca back into my life again. I was only now starting to slowly pick up the pieces he had left behind; in what universewas it fair for him to just come back out of nowhere and screw up the semi-balance I had found?

I tried to look at it logically though: it could be a fluke. It was entirely possible that Sylvia had just thoughtshe saw him; after all, Luca wasn't exactly America's Next Top Model. He was beautiful, sure; but in that way that most men are. Having brown hair and an average build, he didn't exactly stick out from the crowd. And really, it didn't make any sense for me to stress myself out over something that I wasn't one hundred percent sure was fact.

Besides, if I didn't get to work soon, my boss would have my ass. And knowing him? Probably not in the fun way.

The day felt like it dragged on forever. Though with the constant paranoia in the back of my mind that Luca would show up, it was no wonder. He didn't though; thankfully. As I punched out I couldn't help but entertain the 'what if's' though; what if Luca didshow up? What if he told me he was a changed man and wanted me back? Or worse, what if he showed up with another man just to rub it in my face? God, I didn't think I would be able to handle something like that. It was bad enough that it felt like my love life was stuck on pause ever since Luca left, but to see that his wasn't? That would devastate me.

"You still comin' to the club tonight?"

I turned to see Mallory standing in the threshold of the doorway, arms crossed like she already knew what my answer was going to be and was challenging it. She confirmed my theory rather quickly when she barely let me get a word out.


"You promised."

She raised an eyebrow at my sheepish look. Yeah, I did promise. But with everything going on right now, I didn't really feel up to a night out on the town.

"Come on, y'know Jenna's gonna be pissed if ya don't show. She's got a whole slew of buff, sexy man-types lined up for your birthday; pretty sure half of them ain't even gonna be dressed." She smirked at the slight blush that adorned my cheeks. The visual wasn't a bad one. "You can't hide away in abstinence-land forever; pretty sure that shit'll kill ya."

I'm pretty sure it was already killing me. But I sigh, relenting. My friends did go through a lot of trouble to set this up; it'd be pretty crappy of me to bail just because I wasn't feeling up to a party. "Yeah, alright. I'll be there."

"Good. We'll pick you up at ten. Wear somethin' pretty."

Mallory winked at me before she walked out, heading back to her register. I shook my head and chuckled softly as I grabbed my coat from my locker. I really should know better than to try to win with her. Besides, maybe a party was what I needed. Hell, maybe a party with a bunch of half-naked menwas what I needed.

Because if that didn't spell 'therapy,' I didn't know what would.

( Marluxia)

On the walk back to the apartment, there was an insane part of my mind that entertained the possibility of Luca showing up there, waiting for me when I reached the top of the landing with my key in hand, and just what I would do in reaction to this. Perhaps I'd faint, all the blood rushing to my head and clouding all other functions. Or maybe I'd decide that running back the way I came would be a better idea. Most likely, I imagined I would advance on him in a blind fury, push him into the wall and then...I couldn't finish the thought. I wasn't sure if I'd kiss him or kill him.

I was definitely capable of both.

But the hallway was empty as always when I arrived, and relief fluttered in my chest as I opened the door, hanging my keys on the hook immediately to the left. It had been a stressful day, my equilibrium thrown off by a simple phone call and a few words that I thought I'd love to hear until they were actually voiced aloud. It felt like I was coming full circle after the one-eighty Luca pulled on my life by leaving last year, and I wasn't sure if I was ready to come back to the beginning yet again, unsure of what I would find. Closure, or a flame rekindled? I didn't think there was anything Luca could tell me to make me trust him once more, but then again...I never imagined he would even come back. Maybe that in itself, meant something.

I mulled it all over with a hot bath, even taking a cigarette in with me and sucking out the nicotine in deep pulls, feeling the haze of smoke grip at my lungs tighter with each drag. I had quit smoking months ago, but kept a pack stashed away for emergency purposes. I was doing fine, hadn't twitched or craved the poison even once, and how ironic it was that it would be Luca to be the catalyst setting me back once more, just how he spurned a more profound level of devotion for my music and then, the inevitable termination of it entirely.

Luca could always make me do anything. Something entirely new, something a bit different, or something I never even dreamed feasible. Perhaps this was something dangerous, to be so easily influenced by someone, like putty in the palm of their hands, but all along I always considered it exciting. He was exciting. And I may tell myself when I'm alone, soaking in the water with a cigarette dropping ashes off to the side of the porcelain tub, that I could resist his natural aura of compulsion, but the truth was...I wouldn't know until I found myself face to face with him yet again. Either way, I dreaded that scenario ever coming into fruition.

I hadn't expected what little resolve I had to waver so soon, or so easily.

Towel wrapped around my waist, I padded over the wooden floors to my closet, searching for an outfit. I knew there was a particularly nice pair of shoes I rarely wore on the top shelf, and in tiptoeing to grab them I knocked down the box beside it, which landed on its side and spilled the papers out. "Dammit," I cursed under my breath, stooping down to shove them all back in, seeming to forget for a second that these were old compositions of mine, but the top paper caught my eye and the realization hit.

It was a composition titled "Promessa / Luca," my own handwriting an untidy scrawl above the very first stave. Everything on the page was black upon a white that has turned musty with age and time spent locked away, spikes and blots of the notes trailing across the page in patterns only a musician could recognize as art.

What stood out, were the words in red staining the margins. Luca's writing, a simple group of words stating: I can't wait to hear you play this for me, Der. Love you.

I couldn't stop the impulse my brain sent to my hand, crumpling the page into a fist before shoving it and the others into the wall of my closet. That particular piece had been, as he wrote...our promise. I vowed to compose him a piece for the two of us and all our promises made, to play it for him when the time was right. And I never did. I slaved over the piece ruthlessly, making changes upon changes because I needed it to encompass the two of us precisely. It never felt good enough, and so I never shared it with him. In a way, it felt like the opposite of what I intended: a broken promise.

I shook my head, wanting to rid my mind of those thoughts and continued to search for an outfit to wear. I didn't need this right now, I was supposed to have fun tonight, not brood over the past. Hell, I'd spent the past year brooding. One night of pushing that shit aside wouldn't kill me.

It had been a while since I'd entered the clubbing scene, but nothing had really changed. The music was still blaring, the drinks were still expensive, and the whole building was still like a sauna of too many bodies pushed against each other, either dancing together or trying to navigate around. Jenna wasted no time in dragging me to the bar, ordering several drinks on the spot whilst screaming in my ear things that were barely discernible. I caught phrases such as "a good time" and "meet someone" and merely nodded along when I felt it was appropriate. But all the while I could feel someone else's gaze from my left side, and when that feeling of gravity became unbearable I turned to make eye contact.

I found his gray eyes, dull from lack of light, and regretted it instantly.

( Sapphire Smoke )

The man who was staring at me was about six and a half feet tall and apparently had lost all conscience decision to dress himself properly when he woke up this morning. He grinned, standing there in what could only be described as a banana hammock gone awry, something that he was far too overweight to wear in the first place. He was covered head to toe in glitter, which made me muse for a second that he looked as if Ke$ha had vomited on him. Maybe that was the look he was going for though. He smiled at me and I tried to smile back, but I'm sure it came out looking like more of a pained grimace.

"Would you ever sleep with a stranger?"

Well, apparently formalities and tact wasn't on the menu tonight. He leered at me, showing off his dingy yellow teeth, and I instinctively took a step back. Jesus Christ, this wasn't what I signed up for tonight.

"No," I yelled over the music, hoping he would get the hint and leave me alone. I was so far past 'not interested' it wasn't even funny. This guy looked like someone crossed a bear with Al Bundy and programed 'serial killer' into his mannerisms.

"Well then hi, I'm John." He shot me a cheeky grin, apparently thinking he was clever for that line. God, even his smile was creepy. He held out his hand for me to shake and I stared at it warily, wondering where it had been. I definitely didn't want to touch it and find out.


I nearly collapsed from relief as Mallory bounded over to me, a look of excitement on her face. She stopped short once she saw who I was with though and a look of sheer horror crossed her face. Yeah, John is one of those people who cannot be unseen. Her horror turned to amusement once she took notice of the pleading look on my face, however. I needed her to get me out of here before this turned into a horror story on the eleven o'clock news.

Thankfully, she did come to my rescue. Just, you know, not exactly in the most tactful way.

"Hey, ya see my boy here? He's a ten. You really think he wants to be kickin' it with a two? No. So ya best get to steppin'." Mallory waved at him in a sarcastic manner before she grabbed a hold of my arm, pulling me away from him. I couldn't help but look back at John and I felt a pang in my chest by how upset he looked. Damn, maybe not a serial killer then.

"That was rude," I tell her once we're far enough away. Not that I wasn't grateful, but the poor guy looked devastated.

"Whatever. We both know you're too damn nice to say anythin' and I'm pretty sure ya don't want all thatin your bed tonight."

No, I definitely didn't. I sighed, knowing she was right. I've always had a problem telling someone I wasn't interested; I didn't want to be the one to hurt feelings. God knows I've gotten my heart torn from my chest more than once that way myself.

"Come on," she told me, nodding her head a little in the direction of the back of the club. "Jenna got you a lap dance."

Confusion crossed my face. "This isn't a strip club." Then again, with how some people were dressed in here, it damn well could have been one. Really, some of these people had no shame.

"So? Everyone's got their price, Der. And this one? Totally worth every penny; swear to you. Tight ass and rock hard abs... you're so gonna be beggin'for him to bend you over by the end of the night, promise."

I raised an eyebrow. "I think you're confusing strippers with hookers again." You'd be surprised how often she did that.

"Who said we didn't get ya both?" she countered, causing me to flush a deep crimson. A lap dance I could handle, but a prostitute? Call me old fashioned, but I kind of liked to have sex with someone I cared about, not someone I paid. The whole situation seemed incredibly awkward to me.

"I don't know..."

"Don't be such a girl. I swear, this dude is top shelf. Take him home myself if I didn't know he was so keen on makin' fudge." She smirked and a look of disgust crossed my face.

"I'm so about to take away your speaking privileges."

"Mother may I?" she responded with a snarky grin. I rolled my eyes but couldn't help the small smirk forming at the edge of my lips.


Jenna was practically on top of me in a second; hands wrapped around my forearm as she began to lightly tug me. "Come on, we've been waiting for you! Wait until you see this guy..." She looked positively proud of herself. I, on the other hand, was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

"Okay, okay. Just... let me go out back for a smoke first, alright?" I pleaded, knowing that since I didn't have enough alcohol in my system for this yet that I should at least calm my nerves with a smoke.

"Fine, but you have five minutes!"

Jenna's tone was of playful warning, but I took my out immediately and began to weave my way through a sea of half-naked, sweaty bodies to get to the back entrance of the club. The heavy bass was making the floor vibrate beneath my feet and I nearly got slammed into by some drunk guy, but thankfully managed to get out of the way at the last second. It was bordering on boiling in the club so when I stepped outside and the cool air hit my face I breathed a sigh of relief.

My back connected with the brick wall as I began to dig through my pockets for my smokes. As I fished them out, my eyes landed on a couple down the far right of the building, clearly forgetting they were in public by how they practically humped each other's legs. While I never aspired to be that classless, I did miss the feeling of being so caught up in someone else that nothing else mattered. I missed kissing someone and the rest of the world falling away around us; I missed looking at a sea of people and only seeing them. I missed... everything.

I sighed before bringing the cigarette to my lips, now digging around for my lighter. I seemed to have misplaced it though and I grumbled something inaudible, annoyed. Great.

"Need a light?"

The voice startled me and I looked up, my eyes becoming wide as saucers as I realized who they had landed on. My heart sped up in my chest and the cigarette dropped from my lips, forgotten. The fag was the least of my worries though. I'm pretty sure the list of things to worry about just got a mile freaking longer, actually.

"Are you stalking me now?"

( Marluxia)

Sometimes I wished I carried a pocket knife on me at all times. Or perhaps even a gun. Because there are just some people I'd never want to be alone with in the dead of night, an alleyway open and inviting right beside us.

Everyone has those really regretful hook ups, maybe even several. I've never regretted any of them more than I did with Rudy. He's not the kinda guy I usually go for, not at all. He's ripped, scarily so, and that's something I'm actually quite turned off by – I don't want to feel up a rock, for Christ's sake.

Jenna had thrown a party just for the hell of it about a month ago, and insisted I make an appearance. Rudy hadn't been planned for me, for once – Jenna always has someone she wants me to meet when she forces me out of my shell – but we found each other at the party either way, two wallflowers kicking back with a beer in hand, entirely uninterested with the enviroment around us. We ended up gravitating toward each other, making small talk that turned into more of a full on conversation and all the while, absorbing beer as if we couldn't get enough of it. And of course we ended up making out in a dark hallway, because what else can you expect of two drunk strangers?

But Rudy showed his aggression then, and being inebriated didn't allow for much rational thinking or behavior on my part. Instead of kicking him in the nuts and returning to safety, I went along with it, fully intending to never see him again. That night just solidified in my mind the reasons why I didn't like to randomly hook up with anyone; you just never knew what you were really getting yourself into, and that rung true even more in the days to come. Before I could warn Jenna not to give him my number, he got a hold of it and called me, asked to meet me again and when I refused, his temper slipped through, but I wasn't having that shit. I just hung up on him.

And then he visited me at work, again, because he asked for this information before I could find ways to withhold it from him. Our interactions there were through gritted teeth and hushed breath so that no one could hear us, but he basically would not give up and leave me the hell alone. Jenna knew by then just what trouble he was causing me, but had no control over the situation. Just three days ago he showed up again as I was closing up shop, and tried to corner me behind the counter and kiss me again. Mallory, bless her heart, walked back into the shop and began hollering away at him to get the hell out and never come back again. I thought I was done with him then, but well...looks like I was wrong.

"We just happen to be in the same place at the same time, Derek. Ain't stalkin' you," he chuckled, crouching down to pick up the cigarette I dropped and holding it out for me beside the lighter in the palm of his hand. "Jenna let it slip she was comin' to the club tonight, and meetin' you here. Thought I'd make a cameo and say hey."

I gave him a blank stare, infused with a bit of you're shitting me, right?for good measure, and lightly pushed his offered hand away. "Don't want it anymore," I murmured, crossing my arms over my chest and pointedly looking away from him as he shrugged and lit the cigarette for his own. He chuckled around the butt of the cigarette, and then blew the smoke back in my direction. "Not so happy to see me, are ya Derek?"

"Since when have I ever been happy to see you, Rudy?"

He scowled at that, and I wished I'd kept my mouth shut. I thought about how I'd rather be inside the club, drenched in the sweat of others as well as my own, or hell...I'd even take seven minutes in Heaven with good 'ol John in there than being in this shit storm right now.

"You were pretty happy to see me that night at the party."

The words were flying out before I had a chance to control them, all the frustration I felt toward this man shaken up in the bottle and then popped open, spewing everywhere. "Seriously? We were freaking drunk as hell! That night? Meant absolutely nothing. Less than nothing! I was repulsed by you even then. I don't see how this is such a foreign concept to you and you simply cannot wrap your head around it. I mean, are you really that much of a goddamn idiot that you-"

His hand flew but I was faster. His fist connected with the brick wall instead of my face (thank God) and while he howled in pain, cradling his hand to his chest, cigarette fallen and still burning on the concrete, I sprinted back into the club and practically parted the crowd like the Red Sea trying to find my way back to Jenna. She had to know about this, about how her psycho friend followed us here and tried to knock the shit out of me.

If this was how men were nowadays, I'd rather stay single.

I found Jenna in the same place I left her, and dragged her with me down the hallway in the back of the club where the rooms for supposed lap dances undoubtedly were. Jenna already looked half past gone, but I tried to bring her back to reality.

"Jen, your creepy ass, insane friend Rudy is here, outside. He tried to freakin' punch me just now."

The change in her expression was almost comical – from a loopy kinda grin to a face of utter shock, her mouth making a small "o."

"No way, Derek, oh my God! Are you okay? I can't believe him!"

I rolled my eyes at that. "Yeah, well you should. You know how much of a complete freak he's been since your party. I'm sorry, but I just...I really don't feel up to being here tonight. I'm gonna call a cab home, and I'll make this up to you and Mallory some other time. I promise."

I hugged her and gave her a quick smooch on the cheek before pushing her back into the busy crowd of the club and turning around to find a back exit. I felt horrible, paranoid as hell and I couldn't help but whip my head around in all directions as I made my esccape, my feet moving in more of a jog than a simple walk. I took the alleyway to the street behind the club and found a cab soon after, hailed it down and threw myself inside gratefully, giving the driver my directions and pressing my forehead against the cool glass window to try and calm down.

Even when I arrived outside my apartments I felt unsafe, the entire way up to my floor spent looking warily around. I breathed a sigh of relief once I was within sight of my door, but even then there was something out of the ordinary to throw me off guard.

Piece of white paper. Harsh black letters jagged across the surface. All of it, too familiar.


Call me ASAP, we need to talk.



( Sapphire Smoke )

No. No.I can't—no. Eff no.

My hand reached up to grab the piece of paper that was stuck to my door, tearing it off the wood paneling and throwing it to the ground without a second look. My heart was pounding in my throat, but I didn't want to deal with it right now. If I was to be honest, I pretty much didn't want to deal with it ever.Yet there I was, all screwed up and feeling like my world started turning backwards while my head was stuck up my own ass. Like I didn't have enough to deal with tonight? After "Serial Killers 'R Us" and "Rudy the Anger Management Needing Psychopath," I was pretty sure my insanity quota had been filled for the day.

People really needed to start respecting the quota.

My hand shook as I turned the key in the lock, resisting the urge to bend down and pick up the piece of paper with Luca's number attached. Part of me wanted to. I didn't know why; maybe to cry over it, or maybe just to have the satisfaction of burning it. Regardless, I knew my psyche couldn't deal with it tonight, so I walked into my apartment, closing the door behind me. I leaned against it heavily; exhaling a breath I didn't realized I had been holding. As far as birthdays went, this wasn't the best.

I stumbled into bed shortly afterwards, not even bothering to remove my clothes. I collapsed on my mattress face first and tried desperately to shut my brain off. I wasn't sure how I managed it honestly, but I found myself fast asleep rather quickly, despite the circumstances. Maybe for once my brain knew it needed a break, or else I really would end up finding myself on the fast track to a mental ward.

I woke up to blinding sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. When I opened my eyes and read the digital clock by my bedside, I sat up quickly. "Shit!" I exclaimed, realizing I only had fifteen minutes to get to work. With everything that went on last night, I had forgotten to set my alarm.

See? And this is why the quota needed to be respected.

I nearly tripped over my pants as I tried to get them on while simultaneously brushing my teeth. The phone rang but I ignored it, knowing it was probably my sister and I seriously did not have the time. I spit out the toothpaste in a rush and it landed on the floor instead of in the sink, but I really couldn't be bothered with trying to clean it right then. I really should have though, seeing as I slipped on it while trying to get my shirt. I swore when I banged my knee on the counter, having the urge to just rip everything to shreds in my haze of pain and anger. But being destructive would waste time and I couldn't afford to be late.

I pulled my shirt over my head as I opened the door, only to realize I didn't have my shoes. I sighed in frustration and ran back into my living room to retrieve them, making note of the fact that I just wasted another sixty seconds. Mentally berating myself, I slipped them on and headed back out the door. I meant to only hesitate for a second to look at the crumpled note on the ground, only to stop completely when I realized it was no longer there.

God damnit, the apartment janitor must have already picked it up. And okay, maybe I wasn't ready to call Luca just then, but that didn't mean I wouldn't be ready ever.

Fortunately, I didn't have time to dwell on it. I locked my door and ran down the hall as fast as I could, praying I would somehow manage to make it in on time. I couldn't afford to lose this job.

The day went by quickly. We had a rush of customers that kept me continuously busy, though left me exhausted at the end of the day. Even Mallory, who was a never-ending fountain of words and opinions, just collapsed in a chair after her shift. She looked as if she were debating whether she wanted to make the effort of going home, or just pass out where she sat. I couldn't blame her. My feet hurt, my head hurt, and I swore if I heard another order of "Iced Mocha Caramel Latte," I may just scream. Especially since everyone and their mom pitched a bitch fit when we ran out of caramel halfway through the morning.

Though I wasn't opposed to just collapsing on the spot, the call of my own bed won me over. I waved goodbye to everyone as I exited the coffee shop, stopping only for a moment to light a cigarette. It had felt like ages since I had one, considering my break turned out to be practically nonexistent. As the smoke filled my lungs, it instilled a familiar sense of calm inside of me. At least that was until the appearance of someone rounding the corner smacked me in the face like a two by four.

Our eyes met and I knew I stopped breathing for a second. Luca halted too; clearly unsure of himself and his master plan now that he physically saw me standing before him. Neither of us spoke. My legs felt like jelly beneath me and I was sure my stomach dropped to the ground with a sickening plop. I wanted to scream, I wanted to run, I wanted to throw up. Stalking my work was not waiting for me to call; in fact I was pretty sure that was the opposite.

I don't know what came over me, but suddenly I became very angry. There he was, standing there with all his limbs attached and looking relatively healthy. He looked goodand that infuriated me. I had often thought that maybe he left because he found out he had terminal cancer and wanted to spare me the pain, or because the freaking CIA decided to choose a random civilian, him, for some undercover ops mission. It was ridiculous, but it would be a reason. Right now, he looked fine. He looked happy, healthy, and normal. I hated him for that.

My hand shot out before I even had a chance to think, connecting with his face. He looked stunned, but in that moment I couldn't have cared less. I wanted him to hurt like I hurt, cry like I cried. "That was for running out on me; you stupid, selfish bastard."

( Marluxia)

I had busted his lip. There was a split in the corner of his mouth and a blot of crimson began to pool in the cut. I had to take a moment to feel proud of myself; these hands may have once nurtured an instrument and now serve freakin' coffee every day – both seemingly dainty occupations – but they could pack a nice punch when they really needed to...I simply seldom ever found the need to.

Luca wiped at the blood with his forefinger and exhaled sharply, perhaps from annoyance or pain, I wasn't sure. "Should have been expecting that" he murmured, and laughed ruefully. "Damn straight you should have been. What, did you think I was going to fall to my knees and kiss your feet, cry and thank you for coming back? Screw you! Why am I even standing here still? I'm going home."

But in turning to walk away, he grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me back around – the nerve of him. "C'mon, Derek. Don't do this. Just...can we talk? Please? I think it's the least you owe me after that sucker punch. Give me a chance to say what I need to say. I didn't come back for nothing."

That alone just made me want to sock him yet again. "Do you really think I owe you anything? Luc, I don't owe you shit. And why would you think I even wanted you to come back, to say anything to me? I don't care!"

Of course, that was a lie. I did care, and always would, no matter how angry the memories made me, how deeply he hurt me. It would always come back to this – the need for closure. Closure was a healthy resolve of conflict, and perhaps my lack of it was the thing holding me back from everything my life once was, keeping me from performing and composing again, keeping me from finding a new lover. So I knew I should at least give him five minutes of my time, and if he couldn't captivate my attention within that frame, I could dismiss him.

I studied his face, tried to find sincerity and regret in his features. His eyes were still the same shade of hazel and they seemed glistening, imploring. The corners of his mouth were turned down and he seemed to be clenching his jaw with abated breath, waiting for my reply. It was such an uncomfortable stare down, both of us not blinking as if we were waiting for the other to cave, to either give up or give in.

"Fine," I snapped, finally blinking and turning my head away from him, digging in my pockets for my pack of cigarettes and lighter seeing as I dropped the previous one in lieu of swinging at Luca. I was going to need to keep my hands and mind busy on the awkward walk back to my apartment –- our old apartment. "Let's go, we'll talk at my place."

I always was weak when it came to him. I'd just never really hated myself for it until then.

"So uh...when did you take up smoking? Thought you didn't like it..."

I cast him a sideways glare while I fumbled in my pockets for my keys, the dwindling cigarette still burning as it hung from my pursed lips. "A year ago," I answered around it, and he seemed to get the meaning of that as he frowned, his eyebrows furrowing together. Another wave of violence crept over me, but luckily for the both of us, my hands were occupied with the lock and key.

I opened the door and he followed me in, closing the door behind him as I walked straight to the counters in my kitchen. I didn't want to lead him to the couches, because it would feel too intimate, and I wasn't ready for that at all. The bastard could stand and talk to me. His comfort wasn't one of my concerns.

"Well, you wanted to talk, so get to talkin'. Just so you're aware, you're out of here in five minutes flat if you've nothing of importance to say to me."

He was on the verge of rolling his eyes, I could tell. A year away and I could still pick out the smallest of changes in his body and face to indicate his mannerisms. Instead he nodded curtly and crossed his arms over his chest, rolled his shoulders back to make himself taller.

"I know I screwed up a year ago. I know I left without warning. The note I left gave you nothing to go by. I know you probably don't want to hear this, but I'm gonna say it anyway: I'm so sorry, Luca. If you only knew how much I regret that night, you would know how genuine I am when I say that."

An ugly laughter forced its way out my throat; twisted, cruel, and hateful. "You are so full of shit Luca. You need to try harder than that."

He made a clicking noise, disapproval. "Would it help if I said that in leaving, I thought I was doing what was best for the both of us?"

"Oh, that's just even better! Still not your best, I'm sure. Go on, give it another go." I didn't recognize my own sarcasm dripping from my words. I was never like this. I ran away from confrontation, I was reserved and mild mannered, always keeping my words to myself unless I was poked and prodded to the breaking point. But with Luca, it was as if I were carbonation, shaken up in a bottle and someone released the cap. I could have foamed at the mouth, I was so livid.

"I'm serious, Derek. I saw in you a genius, a goddamn Sarasate of the modern age. I felt I was only holding you back. I took your mind off of the thing that was most important to you. I intruded upon your world and your music. And me...I knew you would never love me more than that violin, more than those sheets you slaved over, creating musical masterpieces. I thought..." He paused to sigh and rub at his eyes; simply stressed, or forcing back tears? His voice wasn't wavering, but his posture had slumped considerably. I had never seen this Luca before. This wasn't my confident, boisterous Luca that lifted me up higher and higher each day we spent together. This Luca, the one who had opened himself up to spill his guts, looked defeated, weary.

"I just thought you would be better off, Derek. So I left. I thought you'd continue your work, and I'd soon hear about you composing the score for some new Hollywood blockbuster and raking in millions for it. I followed your name after I left, and when months flew by and the musical world seemed to no longer know you, I knew something had went wrong. And I never intended it to end this way. I guess I just didn't think it through. I should have talked it out with you, we could have worked through my concerns. Maybe I didn't do it because I was afraid of hearing it confirmed - that you didn't really need me after all. So instead I acted on a whim and we both ended up miserable. Some ridiculous soap opera we've got here, huh?"

The air seemed to crackle with the tense silence once Luca's voice faded away. My head, my heart, felt heavy with his words, and there were no stimuli pulsing throughout me, forcing me to react. Instead, Luca timidly took one, two steps closer to me, and on impulse I turned away, giving him my profile and staring at the wooden floors.


There was the crack in his voice that was missing before. And in turning to meet his eyes, I saw that I could swim in them, with the tears that welled there.

"Luca..." I breathed, and backed away a step. I didn't trust myself so close to him, not now that I had been made vulnerable once more. I still wanted to be angry. It was easier.

"You've had it ass backwards this entire time, you know that? You didn't lessen the quality of my work, or my inspiration. You were the entire reason for it all, every single note that I penned down and every note that I played. When I arranged even the smallest of projects and then practiced it after, you were what was at the forefront of my mind. I always considered you a muse, the one who awakened my true talent. And I did need you, so much. Perhaps it was too much. Why else do you think I've become what I am now? A goddamn barista. I haven't touched my violin since you left. My compositions sit unfinished in the depths of my closet. You made me extraordinary...but now I am a far cry from that."

I couldn't look at him anymore. I didn't want to see any tears fall, nor did I want to shed my own. Whatever I had been expecting, it certainly wasn't this, and I felt like Luca had dropped a bomb on me and soon it would detonate if I didn't do something about it.

But what didI want to do?

"So where does this leave us, Derek? What do we do now?" Luca spoke for me, almost as if he was picking up the transmissions of my own thoughts. Only thing was, said thoughts felt like white noise, blaring and grating on my nerves; more of a nuisance than anything helpful.

Shrugging, I scratched the back of my neck with an idle hand. "I don't know, Luca. Just...give me time to think. A day or two. That's the best I've got right now."

I saw him nod once and slowly back away toward the door. "Two days then," he said, and his voice sounded hollow. "I' you at the café again."

He left, the sound of the door closing once again sounding so infinite in an echo throughout the rest of the apartment.

It was the sound I was never around to hear a year ago.

I called in to work as soon as I woke up, faking my best sick voice. I knew what I had to do, and it sure as hell didn't involve bitchy customers and serving lattés.

The case was dusty, as I imagined it would be. I grabbed the handle and dragged it away from the corner, wiping away the buildup of a year of neglect caked onto the outside before opening the clasps. Inside, the rosewood still shone, but I knew the time spent dormant had warped the strings, loosened them and send them out of tune.

I still had it in me, every tweak and every pluck of the strings, the pegs, to tune the instrument that was once attuned to me. It felt like a welcome, a reunion, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't shed a few tears as I breathed new life back into my old friend.

Holding my violin once more, I realized desperately I missed it, the feel of my fingers arching over the neck and the bow, ready to play.

I played the first thing that came to mind, and the sound of the bow against the string sounded like a chorus of Hallelujah.

…And then I withdrew from the competition, coming in second place. Lol. I had too much RL stuff going on at the time to deal with their 36 hour time constraints. Besides, I wasn't invested in this story at all /shifty But I did learn that I don't work well with others, because I'm too much of a control freak xD I'll take a 'lesson learned' as a positive thing though.