It's 2005, and Nozomi Kasaki is watching a bad movie on television, seven years old and too young to understand anything that's happening on the screen. Her mother pats her on the head and changes the channel to a bunch of people, all of them holding shiny things and making the prettiest music come out of them. Nozomi reaches for the television with pudgy, grabby fingers like she can stick her hand in and pull out the sound.
It's 2008, and elementary school is hard. It's not the social aspect of it, not really - Nozomi's a chatty girl, she makes friends easily enough - but she's not super interested in any of the subjects and she has to focus for things to make any sense. She's walking home with a group of girls whose names all start with N, which she supposes was the criteria for bringing her along, and she indulges in their chatter about the math test next week and the boys in the class. Nozomi doesn't care to comment on the second thing. It's all very harmless and innocent, and she's having fun, but whatever her friends are saying is completely forgotten when something shiny appears in a shop window and she presses her face to the glass, drawn to the beautiful, sleek shape, memories of being seven rushing to the surface. She asks her parents for a flute as soon as she gets home.
It's 2011, and Minami Middle School is known for its flute program. Nozomi doesn't feel outclassed, somehow, her trademark confidence carrying her through the first day easily. She makes friends, as she always does, and she auditions for the school band and finds herself surrounded by like-minded people - here, she learns their names and connects deeper. There's a girl in her classes with blue hair and striking eyes, and she's intrigued, her heart beating a little faster when she thinks about the girl. She'd look good with an oboe, Nozomi decides.
It's 2014, and Nozomi knows she's the reason why Mizore followed her here. It's flattering and pressuring and relieving all at once. Natsuki's come, too, tugging uncomfortably at the uniform skirt while the sun catches the purple ends of her hair. There's also the trumpet girl with the bow - Mizore's friend - who's currently chasing down some poor second-year with hearts in her eyes. Four Minami alums, and Nozomi figures that'll be enough to ease her in. Besides, she'd always had an easy enough time making friends. As long as the band was decent, Nozomi would be happy. After all, Mizore was with her. Nothing could come between them.
It's 2017, and good things were supposed to come in threes, weren't they? So why, Nozomi wonders, why does this third-year ribbon hanging round her neck feel like a noose? Why does this hurt her so? She thinks of the shiny flute tucked snug in her suitcase and looks at Mizore again.
"You'll call?" she asks. Mizore nods. She's silent, probably swallowing back a lump in her throat, probably trying to hold back tears. Nozomi understands. She's doing the same thing. "You're going to do amazing things, you know that? Make sure not to forget me when you're the world's best oboist."
"It should be you," Mizore whispers, voice hoarse and melodic. Nozomi wonders if she's making a mistake. "All I've ever done is live in your shadow."
"No, no, what're you talking about, dummy? I love the flute. It's just not . . . you're amazing. You've been amazing since the beginning."
"Because of you!" Mizore snaps, and the outburst lets loose the tears she'd been keeping to herself. Nozomi's chest tightens, cries out, tells her to rip up the college acceptance letter. "I won't be any good without you there."
"Of course you will." Taki-sensei and his lore. Bluebirds and fairytale girls. What did any of it mean, really? "I'll still be playing for you, alright? Every time I take out the flute, or pass a test, or even fail a test, I'll be doing it for you. It won't be like the last time."
"You don't know that."
"I'm not abandoning you again."
"You can't say-"
"Aren't you supposed to be letting me go?!" The words come out harsher than intended, and Nozomi gulps them back. Mizore doesn't move. "You make it hard to leave."
"I love you," Mizore whispers, almost trembling. She reaches out her hands, a peace offering.
"I love you too." Nozomi pulls her in close, kisses her, breathes in the scent of lilies in her hair and some kind of chocolate in her breath, hopes that maybe she'll never have to stop.
"Promise me you'll live to the fullest," she gasps between kisses, plunging back in every chance she gets.
"Promise." Mizore's hands are gentle, and they interlock at the back of Nozomi's neck.
"Promise you'll spread your wings and soar as far as you can go."
"You and that book. Of course I will. You'd better do the same thing."
"I will." Mizore pulls away, still crying. Nozomi knows they're mirrors of each other, right then, tears trailing down both their cheeks. She knows she's making a scene. She doesn't care. "I'll miss you, Nozomi."
"You too." Nozomi watches as Mizore wheels her suitcase away, watches until she's nothing more than a speck in the crowd. She never turns around, and Nozomi understands that. It'd hurt too much.
"All passengers for flight 316, please report to terminal 23 immediately for boarding."
Before she can change her mind, Nozomi shouts one more thing into the crowd.
"This isn't an ending, by the way! We'll be alright!"
She hopes Mizore hears her.
It's 2020, and Polovtsian Dances feels a little rusty, but Nozomi's curled up on her couch with the love of her life, so she doesn't mind it a bit. She's grateful for how small both the flute and oboe are - she doesn't have to awkwardly rest the instrument on her lap, like the euphoniums do. Instead, the two of them are tucked under a blanket to block out the broken heating and the long, blue winter outside. The notes come back slowly, hesitantly, wobbly and utterly unmatched to Mizore's crisp, professional quality, but Nozomi works through it. She knows it sounds wonderful, anyway, knows that anything she makes with Mizore can't be anything but.
"When did you know?" she whispers once the song's over, resting her head on Mizore's chest. "That you wanted to be a musician?"
"When you told me I should play the oboe," Mizore replies, matter-of-fact as always. "You?" Nozomi smiles at the memory.
"I was seven, I think." It's coming back to her, hazy. She can't for the life of her remember what the movie was. "Though, I guess it was more of a gradual thing."
"You were the reason behind it, too, you know? The reason why I was really any good. You gave me a reason to play."
"I love you." Mizore sets aside her oboe and holds on tighter. Nozomi's response is nearly automatic, but it still makes her feel like flying when she says it.
"I love you too."