| Author's Note: This fanfic takes place immediately after " Just Like Old Times." There's no specific reason for this, other than the fact that it was the perfect time to have this story take place, (and it saved me the trouble of thinking of a new reason to get the "Lunar SSSC" cast together again.)* * *|
The music wasn't anywhere near as elegant as the Magic Orchestra of Vane or Ghaleon's harp playing, but Nash still smiled contently, tapping his feet to the quaint folk tune. With all the work that needed to be done to restore the Magic Guild of Vane over the past few months, and helping to prepare Alex's surprise birthday party, it felt good to just sit back and relax. Chances like this didn't come around too often.
He idly looked around his simple surroundings, a crowded Meribian tavern. A year ago, he would have considered these people common riffraff, foolish simpletons. But after his adventure with Dragonmaster Alex, he had learned to appreciate people from all walks of life. He smiled wryly as he wondered what his former self would think of how much he had changed. Nash's eyes happened to fall upon a young couple, obviously very much in love. His smile turned slightly bitter as he thought about Mia. While Mia obviously considered him a close friend, he wasn't sure if she ever saw him as anything more than that. Or if she ever would. Although she was one of the sweetest, most gentle people Nash had ever known, she didn't seem like the romantic type, the type of girl who daydreamed of finding her "one true love." And even if she did, somehow he didn't think he would qualify as the man of her dreams.
Then again, remembering his former betrayal of Alex and his friends, Nash had to admit to himself that he really wasn't the best judge of what would impress Mia.
"Hey, shrimpy," a voice said behind him. Turning around, Nash saw Kyle standing behind him, a huge pitcher of beer in his hand. "Mind if I join you?"
"Go right ahead," Nash said, motioning to the empty chair across from him. Kyle and Nash had developed a strange friendship over the past few months. They were complete opposites in every way, and they had often quarreled during their adventure. Nash felt their friendship was another testament to how much he had changed.
Kyle sat down and stretched his legs out, making himself comfortable. "So, what brings you here? I didn't think this kind of place was your scene."
Nash shrugged. "I just wanted a few minutes of quiet time before heading back to Vane tomorrow. And I like the music. Where's everyone else?"
Kyle laughed. "Jessica's taking the ladies shopping. Poor Alex got dragged along for the ride."
Nash also laughed. "He can defeat a Magic Emperor but he can't get out of a shopping trip? Some Dragonmaster."
"I don't think the Four Heroes together could've gotten him out of that." "Then why didn't they take you along?"
"I wasn't invited. Jess probably thought I'd try and peek into the ladies' dressing rooms or something like that."
"Nah," Kyle said. "I wouldn't do something like that - not anymore, anyway. Now that I have Jess, I don't need to bother with other women. Seriously, she let me bow out because she knew I'd be bored."
Kyle took a swig of his beer and started laughing. "Y'know, thinking about Jessica going on a shopping spree is funny. She always acts like either a total tomboy or she puts on the 'daddy's little girl' act. And, of course, she's a big-shot hero. It's weird thinking of her acting like a normal teenage girl and doing normal teenage girl stuff."
Nash nodded. "I think the same of Mia. She's always been so sheltered, never really knowing about the world outside Vane. I also can't see her spending the day shopping. Especially someone with her responsibilities. I'm guessing the shopping trip was Jessica's idea?"
"Yup. Jess thought that Mia also needed to unwind. She's been working non-stop at Vane trying to restore the Guild, right?"
Nash nodded, his thoughts of Mia weighing heavily on his mind. Kyle looked at him curiously. "You're pretty quiet, for once. Lemme guess: you're thinking about Mia, aren't you?"
Nash looked at him, surprised. "How did you..."
"Been there, done that, buddy." Kyle chuckled. His expression then turned a little more serious. "Does she know yet?"
"How you feel about her. I think she's the only one who doesn't by now. You haven't told her yet, have you?"
Nash sighed. "Not yet."
Kyle frowned in disapproval. "Why not?"
"Mia is a sweet, gentle, refined girl, who just happens to be the next Guildmistress of Vane," Nash said defensively. "She doesn't want someone like me - an arrogant snob who betrayed his friends in Ghaleon's name. And even before all that, I meant nothing to her."
"How do you know what you meant to her? Did you ever try and get to know her before the whole Magic Emperor gig? Y'know, back when you were rugrats in Vane?"
"Hardly. Who was I to talk to her? She was out of my league from day one. Hitting on the daughter of Lemia Ausa, the Guildmistress of Vane and one of the Four Heroes, was impossible. Hell, just talking to her was an ordeal. I couldn't believe she even knew I existed. I think that's one reason I was so eager to ally with Ghaleon."
Nash shook his head regretfully. "I wanted to impress her, and I thought the chance to learn from Ghaleon would do the job. I wanted to prove I was worthy of her. And when I betrayed the team, I was doing it for her. Magic Emperor Ghaleon would have shown no mercy to anyone - not even Mia, the girl who saw him as a father figure. I would have done anything to keep her from harm."
Kyle scowled. "Even team up with a scumbag like Ghaleon? Didn't you know what he was?"
"You have to understand, Kyle. I lived in Vane my entire life. The high-class, sophisticated world of Vane was all I had ever known. Like Mia, I also saw Ghaleon as a father. Except for Mia, he was the only one who ever gave me any respect, the only one I ever considered a friend. He was my teacher for my entire life. He molded me in his image and drilled into my mind the importance of power and leadership. With no other influences in my life, who was I to say 'no'? How could I have known that Ghaleon's way was wrong? I trusted Ghaleon, and believed his way was right, because I couldn't betray him after all he had done for me. I couldn't let myself believe he was wrong.
"My adventure with Alex showed me that I was wrong, wrong about everything I ever was. And when I saw what I had done to Mia, the look of pain on her face when I betrayed you, and when you faced me in Ruid, I realized that I had still managed to betray a friend, one who meant more to me than anyone or anything - even a place in Ghaleon's new order. I didn't want to be her enemy. I was more afraid of that than any possible retribution Ghaleon would inflict on me. Everything I've ever done has been for her, to prove myself worthy of her.
"Now after all that, she considers me an equal, and I feel I can trust her and talk to her. But I don't know what else to expect. She told me she loved me during our battle in Ruid, but I can't be sure about how she meant it. And I do love her, more than ever before, after seeing the selfless courage she displayed during the battle against Ghaleon and all that she has done for Vance since. But I still don't feel I'm worthy of her love." Kyle rolled his eyes. "Look, why don't you just stop beating yourself up and tell her? What's the worst that can happen?"
"She'll say 'no,' I'll be broken-hearted for life, I'll die alone and miserable, having never experienced..."
"Okay, okay, I get the point. But still, isn't she worth it?"
Nash looked doubtful. "Mia and I are friends. If I tell her, and she doesn't want me, it may hurt that friendship. I don't want to lose that." Kyle smiled. "That's what all guys tell ourselves when we don't want to admit we're afraid the girl we like will say she doesn't like us." "What do you mean?"
"C'mon, Nash, I told you. I've been where you are, remember? I went through with Jessica what you're going through now with Mia. Remember Jessica always getting mad at me for never telling her how I felt about her? I couldn't tell her for the same reasons you can't tell Mia. She's a priestess-in-training and the daughter of one of the Four Heroes. I was a... um..."
Kyle flashed his trademark grin. "There's nothing common about me! I'm one of a kind!"
"Thank the Goddess for that," Nash said under his breath.
"See, this is what I mean. When we first met, you thought I was a... what was it you said... 'brutish, drunken, muscle-brained, lecherous thug,' right?"
Nash grinned also. "I still do."
"So anyway, I didn't think I had a chance in hell of hooking up with Jessica. I thought we were completely different in every way, and she wouldn't want to hook up with someone like me. In fact, I'd never really pictured myself permanently hooking up with anyone."
"You wanted to be a confirmed bachelor, huh?"
"Yeah. Besides, most of the women I used to hang out with were these dumb floozies who make the girls of Meryod seem like the Magic Guild of Vane." "Wow. That's pretty dumb."
Kyle nodded. "They were easy on the eyes and the... rest of me, and they were fun to be with. But they were all looks, no brains. I couldn't stand any of them for more than a couple of hours. So I was just having fun, not ever taking anything I ever did with any of them seriously. Jessica's different. She never put on the phony act. She never pretended to be something else, and she never made me pretend either. Ever since I'd first met her, there was something about her that was... special. She's the first girl I ever really considered going steady with. She's the only girl I've ever known who ever cared enough about me to try and change me. And the only girl I was willing to change for. If today, I had to choose between Jessica and my old life, I'd choose Jessica without thinking twice." Kyle sighed, taking a swig from his beer. "But for the longest time, I could never tell her that."
"Why not? If she meant that much to you..."
"I didn't want to screw up. What if I said it wrong, or it came out weird? I could trust Jessica with my feelings, but I couldn't trust myself to share them with her in the right way."
Nash looked surprised. "For someone with your experience with women, I'd have thought you'd have known just what to do."
Kyle laughed. "You don't understand women, Nash. I don't understand women. I've been around lots of 'em, I like to have fun with 'em, but I still don't understand 'em. Hell, even Damon couldn't answer that one. There are no tricks of the trade or magic spells that can help you out when it comes to women. Some things you can figure out with common sense, but the other stuff - a lot of the other stuff - is still a mystery, even to us experts. "I finally did tell her that I loved her. And it was the best thing I've ever done in my entire life--even better than helping defeat The Magic Emperor."
Nash nodded, then looked at Kyle curiously. "So why are you telling me all this?"
"'Cause I wanna help you out. We may not be the best of friends, but we're buddies, at least. And buddies look out for each other."
Nash still wasn't completely convinced. "But how do you know what worked for you and Jessica will work for me and Mia?"
"Nash, stop doubting yourself. Just tell her, and mean it when you tell her. If she says 'no,' grin and bear it. Take it like a man. But if she says 'yes,' she's gonna make every day of the rest of your lives together into a gift from the Goddess."
Nash looked down at the table, then back at Kyle. "Maybe you're right. Besides, if I can't be honest with Mia, I can't be a friend to her."
Kyle nodded. "You only go around once, pal. You've gotta make every moment count, and you can't take anything for granted. You and Mia aren't going to be around forever, so enjoy whatever you have here and now."
Nash smiled. "That's very insightful, Kyle. You really have changed over the past year. I'm impre-"
Before Nash could finished, he was suddenly knocked out of his chair as Kyle unleashed a huge belch. Kyle looked around at the annoyed customers and smiled sheepishly. "Um...sorry about that."
"Never mind," Nash grumbled, as he climbed back into his seat.
Kyle grinned. "I didn't want you to think I'd been softened up TOO much." "Thanks for clearing that up."
They laughed, and Kyle turned serious again. "This stuff may sound strange coming from a guy with my rep, but I mean it. Every day, I'm glad that Jessica is there for me to get my act together. Every once in a while, I miss the days when I could have a cute honeypie in each arm just by yawning. But I look at Jessica, and I think about what I've got, and I'm glad I have someone really special there for me. Take the chance. Tell Mia how you feel about her, tell you're crazy about her, and then you'll realize what you've been missing."
The door opened suddenly and Jessica came in, Mia and Luna following close behind, and a haggard-looking Alex bringing up the rear, with a grumpy-looking Nall perched on his shoulder. He grinned at Nash and Kyle, but it was obvious he'd been wiped out by the ordeal, and it was even more obvious that he was trying to hide it. Nash and Kyle grinned back, trying hard not to laugh. "Have a good time?" Kyle asked innocently.
Alex nodded slowly. Luna took his hand, giving him an understanding look. "Sorry we took so long," Mia said. "One of the vendors was offering an all-you-can-eat seafood special. It took all of us together to drag Nall away. We had to call in the Meribian guards."
"I wasn't finished!" Nall whined.
"Other people needed that food too, you know!" Jessica said. "What did you guys get?" Nash asked.
"Not much," Jessica replied. "Alex got some stuff for his parents and Mia got some earrings for her mom. And I got a new jacket for my dad."
"You didn't get the birthday boy anything?" Kyle said.
"I got my present already," Alex said. "I got to see you guys again."
"I knew he was gonna say that," Kyle whispered to Nash.
"So what have you two been up to?" Jessica said.
"Just talking," Nash said quickly.
Jessica arched an eyebrow as she looked at Kyle. "About...?"
Nash glanced at Mia and then looked down at the table. "Just talking," he repreated.
Jessica caught the look, realized exactly what they had been talking about, and decided not to press the issue. As she and the rest of the group sat at the table, Nash went over to Mia.
"Mia," he said nervously, "can I talk to you? Outside?"
Mia's eyes widened slightly, but she smiled. "Of course."
Kyle watched Nash and Mia leave, and grinned. Go get 'er, shrimpy.* * *
It was a beautiful afternoon outside, and it strengthened Nash's resolve. Okay Nash. You can do this. You can do this...
"Nash?" Mia said. "Is everything all right?"
Nash blanched a bit, as he struggled for the right words. "Mia... I... I... want to... thank you for giving me a chance to redeem myself a year ago... after I had betrayed you to the Magic Emperor." Oh, yeah, great way to start off, you dummy! Reminding her of the biggest mistake of your life! Mia blinked in mild surprise. "You're welcome. But, why bring that up now?" "I... was just wondering... why you forgave me."
Mia smiled. "Because I had trusted you with my life when you first said you would help us stop Ghaleon. I never lost that trust. And I never truly believed you were our enemy. You're my friend, Nash. You mean a lot to me. You always have."
Nash gulped nervously, mentally saying every prayer he could think of so that he wouldn't screw this up. Otherwise, he'd never forgive himself. "You... mean a lot to me too, Mia. In fact... you're the most important person in my life."
Blind panic and sheer determination forced Nash to keep talking. "Your friendship and trust have kept me strong. You've kept me going. Everything I've ever done was for you. I... I..."
Mia took Nash's trembling hand gently, and the look in her eyes was now slightly nervous. "Nash, you can tell me. Whatever it is, you can trust me."
Nash trembled at Mia's touch, and took a deep breath. This was it. It was now or never. "I... love you, Mia."
Mia stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes wide open in shock. She looked as though she was about to speak, but no words formed. She looked down at the ground, tears starting to swell in her eyes.
"Mia?" Nash asked, a mix of fear and concern in his voice. He gently tilted her head upwards. Whatever her answer, he had to know. Soon he was looking into her eyes, her beautiful, dark eyes that had always enchanted him. She looked back, and slowly smiled.
"I love you too," she answered, her voice no more than a whisper. For a second, Nash was speechless, unsure how to respond. Suddenly he knew. Slowly, he took Mia in his arms and kissed her. He felt a magic in the kiss, a magic that he wanted to last forever.
They disengaged, and Nash smiled at Mia awkwardly. Okay...now what?? "Uh... should we head back to the others so we could say goodbye to Alex?"
"They're not leaving yet," Mia said. "We have plenty of time."
Nash laughed and kissed her again. Kyle had been right. This was the best thing he had ever done in his life. He swore to himself that he would never waste another minute of his life in doubt or uncertainty.
"We really should have done this a long time ago," he said.
"I know," Mia replied. "But we have plenty of time to catch up."
"Then I guess we'd better get started."
They embraced once more, their thoughts drifting to the future waiting for them - a bright future they knew they would share together.