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stays with you forever

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Ian comes within a hair's breadth of missing his ten year high school reunion.

Because the only address the School of the Arts Alumni Association has for him is the place his parents had lived when he'd gone to school there, which is all well and good except dear old Mum and Dad had upped sticks and moved back to England once he'd graduated and if Ian were to guess he'd say any forwarding address that had been left had long since been lost. He's moved at least a dozen times in the last ten years - life of a touring musician and all that - so it's not until Jesse calls him and asks him if he's going that he even finds out the damn event is on. When Jesse realises that Ian hasn't a clue what he's talking about, he says, "Leave it with me," and the next thing Ian knows, he's getting a call from Dusty, who's on the organising committee (because it's Dusty, of course she is), apologising profusely and telling him all the details.

At first, he doesn't think he's going to go, after all there are precious few people from the School of the Arts that he keeps in touch with, but when the invite comes, when he sees the montage of photographs enclosed with it, a pang of what can only be described as homesickness sweeps over him. It's an interesting sensation because he hasn't had a proper home in years but when he thinks about it, it makes sense - after all, the School of the Arts had probably been the last proper home he'd had, the friends he made there, for those couple of years, had been closer than his family.

He checks the date, sees that as luck would have it, he's actually in the country that week. Without telling Jesse or Dusty, his manager or anyone, he ticks "accept" on the little RSVP card and sends it back.

Of course, when the day actually comes, he's nervous. He tells himself he shouldn't be, because he's played to packed houses, sold out stadiums, knows what it's like to hear thousands of people chanting his name. But walking down that street, up those steps, into that hallway, he's that sixteen year old kid with the big hair and the funny accent and the weird ideas and he feels every inch the outsider he felt himself then.

Until he hears Jesse call his name, until he finds himself in a hug that nearly lifts him off his feet. When Jesse puts him down it's Dusty's turn and then from out of nowhere Maxie and Jillian are shrieking his name and there's a whole round of "I can't believe you came" and congratulations about his career and his albums and they're chatting away a mile a minute like they'd only been classmates ten minutes ago, not ten years.

Then, as suddenly as the noise started, it stops or maybe it just seems that way. Because Jillian stills almost imperceptibly as she sees something over Ian's shoulder. Then a huge grin breaks out over her face and she's moving away and before Ian turns around, he knows exactly who he's going to see.

He turns slowly, as much to savour the moment as to get his courage up and when he does, there she is. Reggie Higgins, his best friend for so much of high school, his girlfriend for a little less than that. They'd made quite a pair, the two of them both with the big hair and the weird ideas, but they'd worked in a way he's never made it work with anyone else since. They'd lost touch though, he hasn't seen her in years and though she looks familiar, for a moment, he can't quite reconcile the gorgeous woman with the long brown hair and the long red dress with the Reggie he'd known but then she smiles and that's it.

Ian's home.

Her smile gets wider when she makes eye contact with him and when he steps forward, wraps her in his arms and buries his head in her hair, it's like the rest of the room fades away. She hugs him for just a little longer than she hugged everyone else and he knows, when he steps reluctantly back, that the rest of their friends have noticed because there are little smiles being hidden and looks being directed away from them and he's expecting some teasing but it never comes. Instead, they slip back into catching up and exchanging stories and more people come and join them and it's like no time has passed at all.

As the evening goes on, Reggie's never far from his side so it's with a bit of surprise that he turns around from a conversation with Leroy and notices that she's nowhere to be seen. He takes a bit of a walk around, doesn't see her in the crowd and decides to go a little further afield. But she's not in the Nicole Chapman Memorial Auditorium (he hadn't known they'd done that and the memory of his friend makes a lump rise up in his throat) and she's not in the dressing rooms either. He strikes paydirt when he opens the door to the music rooms, sees her through the window sitting at one of the pianos, picking out a tune. Soundproofing doesn't work when the door's open and he recognises the music the second that he hears it, "It's Love I'm After, After All," the first song they'd ever written together, the song that had changed everything for them. Well, changed everything for him at least - Reggie had already worked out her feelings for him, and back in the day, she'd never let him forget it.

He knocks softly on the door frame, not wanting to startle her but she turns her head with a smile that almost makes it look like she was expecting him. "Hey, Gershwin," she says and he smiles because she'd said something like that then too.

"Noticed you'd gone into hiding," he says as he steps inside. He does close the door behind them before he crosses the room and she scoots up a little on the piano stool, leaving room for him to sit down beside her. "Thought I'd see where you'd got to."

One shoulder rises and falls in a shrug. "Just needed some air."

He nods, lets his fingers noodle on the piano, wishes he had his guitar. All these years later, he's still better at singing than talking. He realises he's playing part of their song - "I'm trading in my foolish pride for what I'm seeing in your eyes," is the lyric and it makes him swallow hard - and he lifts his hand from the keys, gives into temptation and reaches out, takes a lock of her hair and pulls at it gently. "This is new."

He'd forgotten how much he'd loved to hear her laugh. "Look who's talking," she retorts and he reaches up self-consciously, runs his hand over the top of his now bald head.

"Well, the mullet's well out of style now," he tells her, even though he'd never had it because it was fashionable. "Plus, me hair was walking backwards so fast it was nearly back in England ahead of me. Seemed easier this way."

"When my hairdresser almost cried one day, I knew it was time to ditch the bleach." Her eyes dance. "Plus it's more versatile for parts."

"I've seen some of your stuff."

She looks away. "What, news reporter number three on 'Law and Order' you mean?" Her cheeks darken suddenly and he knows it's nothing to do with happiness at their reunion.

He leans into her, bumps her shoulder. "I happen to think you were excellent as reporter number three. You left number one and two in the shade." It's nice to know he can still make her smile and she relaxes against him just like she used to, lets her shoulder rest against his, the top of her head inclining towards him.

It seems natural to reach out, close his fingers around hers.

"You look good, Reg," he tells her quietly. "Beautiful." When her smile turns wobbly and her eyes turn bright, he takes a deep breath, takes the plunge. "What happened to us?"

"You got your record deal," Reggie says. "And we both knew you couldn't make it work and carry on a relationship with me." Which they'd both agreed on - he was going to be busier than he would ever have believed possible, and she deserved more than that. He'd even said as much to her but it had still hurt like hell to make that decision, hurt still worse to follow through with it. He knows it was the same for her too, and there's no bitterness, no recrimination in her voice. "And I knew it made sense and I knew it was the right thing to do..."

"But I thought we'd stay friends." He can't remember the last time he'd seen her, the last time he'd talked to her, yet for so long she'd been the centre of his world.

"Me too." Tears are very near the surface now and something tugs painfully in his chest. "But I think I'd forgotten how to be your friend... after what we had..."

"It didn't seem like enough any more." She turns her hand under his and he laces their fingers together and he lets himself remember what he'd previously forgotten, the awkwardness, the longing, the stab of jealousy when Jesse had casually mentioned that she was out on a date one night. It had been easier, maybe, to put a little distance between them, and then they'd drifted miles apart without even realising it. "I missed you, though... there were so many times I wanted to talk to you, some silly story I wanted to tell you..."

"Yeah," she whispers. "Me too." She ducks her head and her cheeks flame scarlet. "I guess it's true... you never forget your first." Ian blinks at that because the way he remember it, they'd neither of them been each other's firsts. She must see that because she tilts her head, wordlessly conceding the point. "Fair enough... but you were the first one who really mattered."

Put like that, Ian could only agree. "And you were mine."

Reggie lifts one eyebrow, her face equal parts surprised and questioning. "Me?"

Joanna's face, long forgotten, dances across Ian's memory, followed rapidly by Reggie's, smiling as they sang together, crying at Nicole's funeral, furious during an argument, laughing as she flung a snowball at him after a foot of snow fell during fifth period math class and they'd all rushed outside for an impromptu battle. "Like you say," he says and he means it, "the first one who really mattered."

Her smile at that moment might just be the best thing he's seen in years but he's not seeing it for long. Instead, he finds out that it feels even better than it looks and he loses track of time as he kisses her, loses track of everything but how right it feels.

She's the one who pulls away first and he rests his forehead against hers. His heart is pounding in his chest and his breathing is heavy and he really wants to take this further but he knows they can't, not here. Instead, he takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. "I'm in town for a while," he hears himself saying in a voice that's rough and scratchy that doesn't sound like his at all. "Can I buy you dinner?"

"That depends." His stomach drops because he doesn't know what she's going to say but then she's smiling brightly. "Only if I buy you breakfast."

It takes a second to register and when it does, he laughs, pulls her into another kiss. "You've got a deal," he says and he kisses her again and again before they go back to the reunion where they spend the rest of the night hand in hand.

Turns out she buys breakfast before he buys dinner.

Neither of them really mind.