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awake my soul

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When she is 10, Riley is given a big red diary in class and told to write in it – just a little bit each day for a week. She is told that it will be sent to someone else in the world, and they will write in it for a week, and so on until it’s been around 8 people. Then it will come back to her.

She is told she can do whatever she’d like in the diary – she could stick things to the pages, draw, write poems, anything – as long as she puts something in it and as long as she only uses a two page spread. She is told that the entries won’t all be in Icelandic, in fact, all of the other pages will be in a different language, but she shouldn’t worry because it’s not about reading everyone else’s work, but connecting to other cultures and people through a simple task.

It’s very weird, but Riley devotes her week to writing about herself – who she is, where she lives, what she wants to be when she grows up. She even finds the prettiest flower she can think of to dry out and stick to the page. It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s her mess and she loves it.

So she proudly hands her book to her teacher on Friday afternoon, skipping home with her father. It’s an even better day when he buys her an ice cream too.

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She’s forgotten about it within a week, and so it’s a surprise when she gets it back four months later and opens it up to see seven more double pages filled. The one after hers is stark, deep pencil grooves in the paper where someone has scratched their name – ‘Wolfgang’, and then something else in another language. There’s a picture of a big explosion completely covering the right side of the page, all dark blacks and greys and reds. Riley feels angry just looking at it.

The next is all colourful, drawings of zebras, lions, giraffes, a big picture of a smiling woman Riley presumes is the kids mum. Down the bottom of the left hand page is a sentence, but Riley doesn’t understand it at all.

There is a page covered in intricate patterns, more bright colours, what looks like a poem, and three more flowers. Riley runs her hands over the petals, liking how they tickle her palm. She likes this person.

One page is covered in characters of some sort – it seems to be telling a story, like Riley’s. In the top right colour is a small picture of a little girl hugging a woman who must be her mother. They’re smiling widely even though wind is blowing their hair in their faces.

One has a drawing of the Mexican flag and then a little paragraph in another language she doesn’t understand – couldn’t they have sent it to another school that speaks Icelandic, seriously?!

Another has a big drawing of a police car and some guns, then fireworks. There is some writing in English and Riley frowns at the person’s handwriting – it’s not very good AT ALL.

The last one makes Riley sad again. It’s a drawing of a storm – really it’s very good, but there’s something about it which hurts to look at. She traces the page, feeling where the pencil has been pressed in too hard, feels the shading of the lightening and clouds and rain.

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Riley takes it home and gets her papa to translate the bits he can. Riley already knows English, so that’s fine, but her papa reads out the first sentence, which she learns is in German. He laughs as he translates it – ‘this is a stupid project I will just always draw explosions’.

He doesn’t know about the other languages, but he helps Riley write a little paragraph in English – and of course she talks about her famous papa. She attaches more flowers and then a picture she finds on a postcard of Reykjavik.

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 She receives the book two more times before the end of the year, each time pouring over the pages to see what secrets they hold – she likes reading the English ones, about two boys called Michael and Will from America. They like to draw stick figures and talk about their favourite foods and things to do, but Michael always seems so sad. Will’s handwriting doesn’t improve.

She also likes the drawings a girl Kala does – in her third entry she writes the word India, and Riley likes to imagine the warm, beautiful places Kala always draws. It’s nice to be able to figure someone out, even when they don’t speak the same language.

She can’t understand the rest, but she likes holding the book to her chest and imagining she’s actually hugging her 7 new overseas friends. It makes her feel all warm and tingly inside, and she hopes they continue this journal project next year.

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They do. Her teachers tell her it’s a worldwide ‘initiative’ and so they’re going to keep it up for a few more years at least. Riley likes to imagine how Wolfgang would have reacted when his teacher told him that.

She starts drawing pictures too, complains about homework and switches between Icelandic and English. She even gets her papa to help her write a German sentence for Wolfgang – but she’s not sure if he ever reads it. Sometimes she puts ticket stubs of movies she goes to, or pictures of her room or house, sometimes her and her friends from school. She loves when it’s her turn with the book, and she’s always sad when it gets sent away. She eagerly counts down the four months until she gets it back again.

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Her favourite lot of pages is always around Christmas time – they all celebrate (or don’t celebrate) in different ways and she likes reading about Mike making a snowman with his cousins when they travel back to his grandparents’ house, or Will sneaking into his dads room to find his present and open them early.

Slowly, Kala starts painting on her pages – they come back stiff but beautiful. Riley takes pictures of them before she sends it back, because if the diary got lost she’d miss seeing the pretty pictures.

It’s exciting when Capheus starts writing in English – he has big writing and it is always colourful, always sounds happy. Riley likes being able to understand them more.

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When she is 12 the diary comes back full, another one in the same package and started. She’s not sure what to do with the full one, but her teacher tells her that it will be sent with the new one, so she can always look back at it.

And so it continues, a cycle of waiting and reading, drawing and writing.

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It’s funny, but although they don’t all speak English, she can figure out what the others seem to be saying through their use of pictures or emphasis on words where the pen has been gripped tightly and pressed into the page. She laughs at Capheus’ jokes, enjoys how Wolfgang’s explosions become more and more ridiculous, cries when she realises how lonely Sun (she thinks that’s her name, she’s managed to make a sort of symbol alphabet) and Mike are. She just wants to visit them all.

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When she is 16, she is told that the school isn’t going to be sending the journals out any more – her school cannot afford to send everyone’s and so they thought it only fair that no one gets to. She is given the address of the school Wolfgang goes to though, and told she will be able to continue it herself if she wants. She does want, but she doesn’t know how much it would cost to send the parcel (and by this stage there are five full diaries and a sixth half full and really it’s quite a hefty package) so she goes home, plonks them all down on the kitchen table and sits there studying them for hours, until the yellows, pinks, purples, reds of the sunset bleed into the blue.

She knows it’s weird – most of her friends at school don’t care about theirs this much, the novelty of reading everyone’s pages worn off by the time they were 13. But, the people from her book are her friends too. At least she’d like to think so. She knows them – knows Wolfgang hates his father, seems to hate everyone but his best friend Felix (sometime between 14 and 16 he actually started writing on the page, in a mixture of German and English, but the explosions also still remained). She knows Capheus’ mother is very sick, but that doesn’t stop him waking up every morning and going to school, or managing to make them some money. Kala loves chemistry, but Riley also knows what it must feel like to walk up to the temple and pray to Ganesha – because Kala has drawn it so many times it’s like Riley is there with her.

Google Translate is a gift too. She doesn’t get internet at home, but sometimes she stays late after school, struggling over the characters of Sun’s passages until she’s read all of her entries. They make her cry, because Riley doesn’t know what she’d do if her father treated her the way Sun’s does.

Lito always writes a paragraph over something absurd that’s happened to him during the week and his stories make her laugh because they’re just so melodramatic. He always ends his stories with ‘big hugs from Mexico’ and always puts a picture of something he likes to do or somewhere he’s been.

Will’s passages turn into a mishmash of everything – pictures of fireworks, famous athletes, a few sentences here and there about how school sucks, and then even more telling – the day he finally writes, in very small letters, that he’s afraid of his father sometimes, he drinks so much Will doesn’t know what to do.

Mike stops writing as Mike, and starts as Nomi – admitting her biggest secret to seven strangers (except they’re not strangers, not really) and writing down the struggles of not being able to be rid of her male body yet. When Riley reads that entry she can’t help the burst of pride she feels in her chest at Nomi’s bravery, the grin on her face so wide it makes her cheeks hurt.

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So she saves her pocket money up until she has enough to send them all the Wolfgang – explaining the delay on her page, adding an email address papa helps her set up. At the very least if she doesn’t get it back hopefully she’ll be able to stay in touch with them.

It’s an agonising four months to wait. She waits, and waits, and every day it seems there isn’t going to be a parcel for her. Every day she gives up a little more hope, until a year has passed and she hasn’t received them back. She doesn’t get an email either.

Maybe they were like her friends in Iceland, didn’t care about some stupid project, some stupid diaries.

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And then Magnus happens. He’s tall and warm and kind, and picks Riley up from school on a horse of all things.

He laughs with her over silly things and takes her away for weekends, dances with her in front of camp fires.

She’s in love, she really is. Loves his kind eyes and gap-teeth, the way he gets a dimple in his left cheek when he’s really smiling, the way he picks her up and twirls her around when one of them has any exciting news.

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They get married a few weeks out of high school, her father crying tears of happiness as he gives her away and then they’re moving into a little cabin just out of Reykjavik.

It’s bliss.

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When she is 19, the diaries come back. She’s in their little kitchen deciding what to make for dinner that evening when the phone rings and it’s her papa.

“Riley, the journals are back!” He’s breathless on the phone, as if he too is giddy at the prospect of reading all of the new pages with her – and, she supposes, he knows them all too, the amount of times she proudly showed him all of the new pages and got him to help translate Wolfgang’s longer and longer sentences.

She doesn’t even care about dinner anymore, and so writes a note to Magnus – she’s gone home and will pick something up for dinner when she returns.

She’s so giddy her hands tremble as she makes the drive back to her old home.

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She’s not disappointed – Wolfgang has written a little sentence at the bottom of the page saying the parcel got lost before it got to him and then he also forgot to send it on, and to make up for it he’s pasted some clippings from the newspaper – things he proudly claims were done by him and his family. Capheus writes about his bus – the Van Damn, and how he painted it all himself. His mother seems to be better, but he still wakes up every day in fear that today will be her last day. Still, he seems to have hope – and he ends his page by saying – ‘I think today is going to be a very good day.’

Kala’s picture is beautiful, all bright yellows and oranges and reds, and she’s even written about going to university and majoring in pharmacology. Riley hugs her page to her chest because it’s such a bright, happy, warm picture.

Sun has written a paragraph in English too! Her handwriting is beautiful and neat, and she’s even dried some more flowers and attached them. She writes of her hopes to come and visit someone someday, once she’s finally free of her family, but Riley knows of the promise she made to her mother, knows she will never break that.

Lito has been doing some part time modelling – and has even attached a picture, and wow he is not ill-fated in the looks department at all – he’s even thinking about going into acting (because, he writes, did I ever tell you guys that when I was born my whole family could not keep their eyes off the television because of the telenova that was on at the time?) Riley thinks he’s probably destined to become a great actor just because of this. She’s going to know a famous person.

Will is in his first semester of college, on a football scholarship, and so far he has no idea what he wants to do with his life, but he’s thinking maybe a cop? He doesn’t want to drop out of college though and since he’s on a full ride scholarship he guesses he may as well stick it out. Maybe he’ll go into commerce or something, he has no idea.

And Nomi – oh, sweet, brave Nomi – has been taking hormones, is just waiting for the day she can have her surgery, has moved out of home and into a friends basement for the time being.

Riley runs her hands reverently over each page – the stiff pages where someone has spilt coffee, the dog eared corners, the pictures that have been sloppily glued in.

She thinks maybe these journals are their soul.

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When she becomes pregnant, a few days shy of her 21st birthday, she attaches a picture of her first scan to her page when it next comes around, adds a picture of herself and Magnus, a picture of her with her protruding belly, writes that she cannot wait to be a mother. She fills her pages with love, signs it off with a ‘love, Riley’ and sends it away, rubbing her belly.

She only has a few months to go so she might not even get the book back before her little baby is born – especially since they have to send them off themselves now, and god she cannot wait for the moment when she can show her child all of the books, all of mummy’s friends who live all over the world.

More importantly, she cannot wait to be able to hold and kiss and play with her baby. She can’t wait to see Magnus being the best father he can be (which will be pretty amazing), can’t wait till her papa teaches her little one how to play the piano or rocks him or her to sleep when Riley is exhausted.

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She doesn’t get the book back until after.

She can’t think of it as anything else – it is just after.

She shouldn’t be alive, she should be with them, somewhere where it doesn’t hurt anymore and her life is no longer meaningless.

It is a deep wound which hurts every day she wakes up back in the hospital, and then later back in her childhood bed. Sometimes in the morning before she’s opened her eyes it’s like she’s back at their little cabin and she rolls over to snuggle deeper into Magnus’ chest – but she just meets the cold sheets and the side of the bed. Those mornings are the worst – the ones where she can almost feel where Luna used to be, imagines her kicking into her skin and the way Magnus used to rub her ‘big bump’ as he fondly called it.

Those mornings Riley can’t get out of bed. To be honest, most mornings Riley can’t get out of bed.

She can’t go to the funeral either. She tries to get up, feels her papa come into her room and stroke her back but she can’t. She doesn’t want to say goodbye. Instead, she screws her eyes shut and pretends she is somewhere else, with them, happy. It doesn’t last very long, and the pain afterwards is worse but she can’t help herself.

Every breath she takes is like a knife to her heart because she doesn’t deserve to be alive. It was her fault, hers because she was cold and Magnus took off his jacket, lost control, she doesn’t deserve this, she doesn’t want this.

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One day she manages to go to the kitchen for some food and she sees the journals waiting on the table – unopened, but she’s been doing this for years, she knows what the parcel looks like.

She can’t do it, can’t look. She turns her back from them and races upstairs, runs herself a bath and submerges herself in the water, not caring that the water is just this side of boiling – she just wants the pain to go away.

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It takes her four months before she books a ticket to London – she can’t be in Iceland any longer, she cannot take the pain.

On her last day, she sits down at the table and opens the package. It’s only fitting that she ends that happy part of her life where her life did end.

As soon as she sees the red cover she can’t breathe. The journals mean a simpler time, they mean Magnus and ice cream, summer days and Christmas. They mean happiness and Riley will not allow herself to be happy any more.

She stalls on the last page she did and chokes on her breath, not able to reconcile the happy girl with the big belly who is staring out at her with the woman she has become.

She rushes to the bathroom and throws up in the toilet, her breathing ragged and her wails and cries echoing in the space.

But she has to do this, she has to make it through, she needs to do this and then she’ll be free.

She cannot do it without crying though, and it makes her sob even more when she realises her tears are falling on their pages – on Kala’s beautiful drawing and blessing for her baby, Wolfgang’s explosion which is much smaller and his bigger paragraph. In the corner he’s drawn a stick figure mother and baby, with the mother teaching the child how to shoot a gun. It makes her laugh and she snorts through the snot and phlegm built up. Her eyes are sticky with tears, but she can’t stop now.

Capheus says he knows Riley will be a wonderful mother, and sends a big hug to her and her husband through the book.

Sun has also written some form of prayer – and wishes to see a picture of her beautiful baby.

They’re all too much but Riley keeps turning the pages.

Lito attaches a blurb for the show he’s been cast in, attaches a locket to the pages for Riley – to ward off evil spirits and keep any harm from coming to her family. It is a sweet and thoughtful gift, but now it is useless.

Will just writes – ‘a baby, wow’ and then says that he’s finished college and has joined police training. At the end he wishes Riley luck and also asks for a picture.

Nomi is now fully Nomi and Riley wishes she could be happier for her. She’s attached a picture of herself too and her grin is blinding that’s how happy and content she looks. It’s incredible. She writes that she can’t believe how happy she is for Riley, how beautiful her pictures were, her hopes that she is living her dream life.

Riley spends the rest of the day trying to work up the courage to pick up a pen, rocks back and forth in her room and clutches a picture of Magnus to her chest.

“What do I do, my love?” She asks him, wiping her face and exhaling deeply.

An hour later she goes down and writes one sentence – ‘I am all alone’. She doesn’t try to wipe her tears off the page, she can’t bring herself to care. Instead she shuts the book, kisses its front cover, puts it back in the box it came from. She will get her father to send it once she has gone.

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Life goes on and before she knows it 3 endless, agonising years have passed.

Riley becomes lost in a daze of drugs and alcohol, parties and the wrong people’s company. Somehow she becomes a DJ in some of London’s hottest clubs and she spends her time making remixes and getting people to dance, forget their inhibitions for the night they are in town.

Magnus and Luna become less constant in her mind, which makes her feel guilty, but it’s what needs to be done for her to survive. Because that’s all she’s doing – not living, but surviving. She doesn’t even want to do that.

The week after she turns 25, she arrives back to her shitty little apartment to find an email waiting for her – it’s from Nomi.

Hey Riley,

This may be a little weird but it’s Nomi here – we used to write in journals together.

You left an email address but it doesn’t seem to work so I found the address of your school and then your father and sent him an email too because, well, we’re all worried about you. So here’s me writing you an email. We don’t even know each other, but I’d love it if you’d replied. I keep in touch with the others, you’re the only one we can’t seem to reach, and your father has the journals at his.

I am so sorry for your loss, and we really hope you’re doing okay.

Love, Nomi (and Will, Wolfgang, Kala, Capheus, Sun and Lito)

It takes her a week to work up the courage to reply, and only then when she’s had some pills and forgets that she promised that part of her life was over.

Hello Nomi,

Yes I remember you. I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply, it takes me a long time to do anything these days. I am glad you are still in touch with the others, maybe you could give me their emails so I could also contact them.

Thank you for your message, I am a DJ in London now and I hope you are doing well too.

Riley

With shaking hands she presses ‘send’.

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A day later, she has received 6 other emails. They’re all very overwhelming and surprisingly all in English and they’re all kind, short messages of support and enquiries about what she’s doing now, whether they can add her on Facebook.

Riley is surprised to find that although it hurts to think about Magnus and Luna, with these seven strangers’ support she can still breathe, can face the hurt head on and make it through the day. It’s comforting, knowing that even people she’s never met can be so kind and loving.

So she adds them on Facebook. Kala is as beautiful as the pictures she draws, working for a pharmaceutical company and is apparently engaged. Wolfgang isn’t very active on Facebook but he seems kind and gentle through his emails – which is odd because his Facebook is very macho. Capheus’ smile lights up the screen, a picture with him and his mother as his profile picture. Sun is also very inactive but she is also beautiful and her messages to Riley are strong and soft all at the same time. She likes getting emails from Sun. Nomi posts a lot of pictures of her girlfriend and San Francisco, of Pride, and she shares a lot of interesting blog posts. Lito’s is all promotion for his movies (apparently he’s become quite a big deal in the years Riley has been AWOL). Will is – well, he’s incredible. Good looking, posts drunken pictures with his friends and shares links to funny articles. Riley really likes his smile.

It’s more convenient being on Facebook too – they’re able to have a group conversation, all of them at once when they’re all awake and the time zones align, which isn’t very often because they’re actually very spread out. They’re all ecstatic that they’ve found her.

While they still remind her of Iceland and happiness, she finds that she slowly manages to think about the happy times with Magnus and not want to drown. It’s an uphill battle and some days she still wants to take too many pills and just leave this earth, some days even tries to, but somehow she makes it through.

And when she’s feeling particularly bad and just needs to get high she will send them all the poo emoji – within minutes she will have a message of support from someone. She’s not sure how, but talking to these strangers becomes ingrained in her daily routine. She can’t believe that this came from some red journals, because they’re all so important. She feels like they really are a part of her.

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Talking on Facebook becomes Snapchatting too – Sun particularly enjoys when Riley shows her one of her favourite places in the city, the spiritual sun.

Snapchatting leads to the suggestion of a group skype while they play Cards Against Humanity over the internet.

Riley is incredibly nervous as they set a time and date. Capheus explains that he will need get to town to he can use the internet in his employers house, and that he may not be able to do it at all, but he will try.

So they aim for 6 am Riley’s time. She and Wolfgang complain that they’re going to have to wake up early, but it really is the best time for all of them so they grudgingly agree – well, Riley is happy to oblige and she gets the feeling Wolfgang doesn’t really mind either.

When she logs on, her nerves assail her with full force. She’s not ready, not ready to hear these people, her family. What if they’re disappointed by her? What if they leave her – then she really will be all alone.

She gets the call from ‘Nomi Marks’ a few seconds after she becomes ‘Available’ and she takes a deep breath as she clicks accept.

It’s like she forgets how to breathe, how to speak.

“Hello?” A voice floods through her speaker, an American accent of medium pitch. This must be Nomi.

“Is anyone there? Neets, I don’t think the mic is working, help me.” The voice comes back again. Riley closes her eyes and lets its warmth flood over her. She sounds beautiful.

“No, no I’m here. Hello.” Riley says.

She hears a heavy breath being exhaled on the other side and then Nomi starts chuckling disbelievingly.

“Oh my god, hi. Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening. It’s Nomi by the way.”

Riley smiles down at her keyboard and purses her lips as she thinks of what to say.

“It’s nice to meet you Nomi. Is your girlfriend there as well?”

Another voice chimes in over top of Nomi – “Hi, it’s Neets here, it’s so good to hear your voice!” Her accent is more brash, her voice louder.

“I hope you’re not too tired?” Nomi adds, and Riley can hear the concern in her voice, the question she really wants to ask – are you alright, are you in a good place at the moment?

“No, I’m good.” Riley smiles. It’s silly really, smiling, because they can’t see her since it’s going to be a group chat. But she does smile, she is good, because Nomi sounds exactly like Riley imagined her. Riley’s heart swells in her chest.

“Okay, I’m going to add people one at a time because otherwise it might get a bit chaotic.” Nomi says, and Riley agrees.

They start by calling Wolfgang, as it is also very early for him.

He answers in German first, and then chuckles and switches to English. “Hello.”

“Hi, Wolfgang.” Riley pipes up.

“Who decided this would be the time, I don’t like waking up so early.” Wolfgang complains, but he’s playful Riley can tell. They hear his head hit his pillow, or at least that’s what it sounds like, and Riley lets out a giggle.

“It’s not our fault you live in a stupid time zone.” Nomi says, and Riley can hear the roll of her eyes.

Wolfgang chuckles and oh, Riley feels parts of her soul starting to mend.

Kala is next, and she is the voice Riley wants to hear the most. She wonders if it will be as beautiful as her paintings and drawings.

It is as beautiful. She sounds kind and gentle, intelligent, warm. Of course Riley already knows she is all of these things, but her voice fills Riley’s bedroom and she feels as though she has been transported to the busy streets of Bombay.

Sun sounds weary, but her English is impeccable and she gives everyone warm greetings – even getting her dog to bark for them.

Lito is loud, his deep voice has a hint of an accent and like Wolfgang he begins to speak in his mother tongue before remembering that none of them understand.

“Hello, my friends, I hope you are all well, it’s very late here.” He finally says and Riley can hear the smile in his voice.

“How goes your new movie?” Wolfgang asks – Lito had been messaging them about the fight sequence he’d been shooting. Sun chuckles.

“I think I could beat you in a fight.” She says.

“No, I would.” Wolfgang argues, and soon they’re debating who actually has the best skills between them, how they’re going to have to meet and spar.

“Alright, karate kids. Capheus still isn’t online yet, but I’m going to add Will now.” Nomi says.

Riley clutches her laptop tightly. Soon they’re all going to be together. It’s all too much. She doesn’t think she can do it.

Before she can excuse herself though, his voice comes through the speakers.

“Hi everyone.” And oh, he sounds so kind, so earnest, so loving, Riley’s chest aches for Magnus.

“Hi, Will.” Nomi replies familiarly – Riley guesses that as they both live in America they’ve probably skyped before since their time zones aren’t that different.

“Hello, Will.” Kala says, then Sun, then Wolfgang and Lito, until it is her turn.

“Hello, Will.” She says, swallowing.

“Hi.” He breathes again. It’s perfect.

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Capheus comes online a minute later, and with bated breaths they watch the call signal until it’s connected.

“Hello my friends!” He booms. Riley feels like his voice has wrapped her in a hug.

They start laughing a little while later, all giddy at the fact they are talking to each other almost in real life.

They don’t end up playing Cards Against Humanity, and Riley doesn’t talk too much, just listens in as Lito, Will and Wolfgang debate action movies, as Wolfgang teases Kala and Capheus describes what the day is like in Nairobi at the moment.

“You guys there?” Will asks every now and then, and Riley and Sun will hastily reply with a ‘yes, we’re just listening’.

Riley doesn’t want the moment to end.

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They try to have a group skype every week, schedules permitting, but Riley sometimes gets calls from the others if they see she’s signed in.

Will is often awake when she is, coming off night shift as she’s finishing her DJ set. They’ll have a quick five minute chat about what’s going on in their lives before Will inevitably falls asleep on the call. It’s nice, hearing his breathing slow, as they gradually start talking about more and more personal topics. She looks forward to Will’s calls the most.

Nomi calls when she’s bored, but Riley also knows that’s an excuse to check up on her.

They’re all very protective of each other, and ultimately that’s what prompts her to buy a ticket back to Iceland for a week to stay with her father. They convince her it is a good idea, send her their strength, tell her to contact them if she starts to feel lost again.

She misses her home, misses her papa playing the piano and she misses the fresh, clean smell of the air.

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The day she is to leave she starts panicking again.

She blindly reaches for her laptop, sees Capheus is online and calls him.

“Hello, Riley.” He answers, video popping up and she sees him waving wildly.

His expression changes a second later as he sees the look on her face.

“What is wrong?”

“I’m terrified of going back.” She responds, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

Capheus smiles softly. “You are so brave Riley, do not be scared. It is going to be wonderful. Remember you have us too.”

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And it is wonderful to be back. Her papa sings to her at the airport, and Sven bundles her into a big hug when he comes to visit. Not much has changed, it is still the beautiful Iceland she knows and loves.

It’s hard to go to the cemetery, but she told herself that while she was back she had to go, and she thinks she is strong enough now.

It takes her ten minutes to get past the gate, but Riley imagines seven other people standing behind her – the little push Wolfgang and Lito would give her, her hands being held by Sun and Nomi, Capheus’ hand on her shoulder, the kiss Kala would press to her cheek and the tender way Will would wipe away her tears.

“Hello, my loves.” She breathes as she sits down in front of their graves.

“I’m sorry I haven’t visited before today. I was too scared.”

She feels the familiar ache in her chest – the one she’s managed to push out before now, and she looks away from their headstones to try and control the tears.

“I miss you every day.”

She traces the letters of Magnus’ name, closing her eyes and just feeling the grooves in the rock.

The wind whips her face and stings her eyes when she opens them but Riley needs this time with them. Needs to say goodbye.

She thinks of Magnus’ smile, his laugh when she teased him about the belly he seemed to be growing alongside her own. She thinks about how sometimes she can still feel the way he would traces patterns on her neck as they lay in bed, can sometimes imagine his arms around her as they rode his horse.

The others have shown her over the months that it’s possible to move on but keep them with her, and she knows she will always have her memories. She will still always be able to feel his love because she still carries a piece of him, and Luna, in her heart. She kisses her hand and stretches it out to the name on the stone before she moves closer and lies her forehead on the rock.

“I need to let you go now.” She finally chokes out, closing her eyes and finally allowing herself to be here, to feel the pain again.

She’s not sure how long she stays there, but her tears, and the wind finally stop and she sits up. Fondly, Riley strokes their names again and then she stands up and walks away, blowing a kiss to her two loves as she leaves.

Her heart feels less broken when Sven picks her up again.

.

When she makes it back to London Will is the only one online, so she calls him once she’s hopped into bed.

“Riley, hey.”

“Hello, Will.”

He lets out a sigh of relief and through his camera she sees him close his eyes for a second.

The smile he gives her makes her squirm and duck her head so he can’t see her face on his screen.

“We were worried about you, after your call to Capheus. Was home alright?”

She nods, sees the way his eyes are darting (probably) around her face. “Home was good. I’m glad I went. I got to hear papa play, it was beautiful, I wish I’d been able to call you so you could all hear.”

“Maybe one day we can all come to a concert with you.” He suggests.

She’d like that.

.

During one of their skype sessions, Kala drops a bombshell. They’re all online, Amanita and Hernando (Lito’s boyfriend) included.

“I’m not getting married to Rajan.” She announces, leaving everyone in stunned silence. Riley is in shock – yes she knew Kala didn’t seem to be as in love with Rajan as she should be, but she figured it was just something about how Kala showed emotions.

It seems as though no one knows how to react to this news.

Until Wolfgang – “What the fuck, Kala. You can’t -“

Kala interrupts, and Riley has never heard so much passion in her voice. “I know what you’re going to say Wolfgang, but I don’t love him, I don’t, and you can’t tell me I have to marry him when I only want you!”

Riley remembers the softer way Wolfgang talked to Kala, their playful teasing sometimes, the way he used to check out of the conversation whenever someone asked about Kala’s impending nuptials. Well, then.

Wolfgang starts to speak. “Kala –“

All Riley hears is a strangled sob and Kala has disconnected.

“Fuck.” Lito manages to say, and then Wolfgang has also disconnected.

“What was all that about?” Will asks for everyone.

Riley hears Nomi sigh. “Wolfgang loves Kala, and she loves him, but I presume Wolfgang thinks he doesn’t deserve her because he’s a criminal.”

“Wolfgang needs to be brave, that’s the only way you get the person you love.” Lito muses.

Hernando interjects at this point. “Lito you always had me though, Kala and Wolfgang have never met.”

Amanita murmurs her agreement, but Riley disagrees.

They’ve basically know everything about each other since they were 10. They’ve grown up together, they’ve seen each other’s souls on paper – and isn’t that what it means to know someone, to know their soul, even if you’ve never met in person?

.

Wolfgang gets on the first flight to India. He messages them – but not Kala – and tells them it’s now or never, Felix is safer without him around and he needs to get away from Germany anyway.

Lito hoots and hollers and Will wishes him luck – anyone who’s brave enough to fly across the world for someone they love deserves a happy ending.

Nomi manages to find Kala’s address through her hacking ways and then casually enquires as the where she’s going to be when Wolfgang arrives so he can find her.

They don’t dare to move away from their computers and time slowly ticks by as they wait for one of them to say something.

Capheus ends up having to leave and go back to his mother – she’s doing increasingly well with the medicine and he hopes to be able to earn enough money to move them somewhere better, but it’s a slow journey to that point.

“What if it doesn’t work out?” Riley asks worriedly.

“Riley, it will be fine. They love each other.” Hernando tells her.

“Wolfgang was the one preventing anything from happening anyway.” Nomi pipes up, and Will hums in agreement.

A few minutes later they get a Snapchat from ‘kalabear’ – it’s a selfie of the two of them, Wolfgang’s head on her shoulder, arms wrapped around her waist. She has been crying, but the smile that adorns her face is iridescent.

Riley wraps her arms around herself and nuzzles her nose into the blanket she’s wrapped around herself.

“Damn.” Nomi says.

“Damn is right.” Lito echoes.

.

A month later, Riley is sorting through her mail when she comes across a letter in Nomi’s handwriting – and it’s a wedding invitation.

Riley surges from her table and rushes to her bedroom, finding her laptop in amongst her bed sheets. With shaking hands she finds that everyone else is having the same freak out in their group message.

Surprise! :P Nomi writes.

You all better come though…. If you can…

Riley skypes her a minute later, adding the others who are online too.

“Nomi, we thought you never wanted to get married?” She’s said before Nomi can even say hello.

The woman on the other side chuckles, “We were never going to, but I don’t know, it felt right. And if I ever have to go to the hospital, they won’t be able to call my mom, they’ll call Neets, and that is such a great thing too, we just really wanted to get married I don’t know!

Will chimes in, “Well, I will definitely be there. Hey, Riley and Sun, you guys can come stay with me for a little bit too if you want after, make the trip a little longer.”

“I would like that.” Sun muses.

Riley is already checking plane tickets.

.

They all co-ordinate their flights as well as they can, so Will or Nomi or whoever is going to pick them up can do so in one trip, but Riley is the last one to arrive.

She knows Nomi illegally moved money so Capheus could come for a few days before and after the wedding too, so everyone is going to be there.

Riley can’t believe she’s going to get to touch these people, be in the same room as them, be able to have a normal conversation without internet cut-offs and stupid time zones. She trembles with excitement the whole plane trip.

Going through customs takes longer than anticipated, and once she’s finally cleared she quickly darts into a bathroom to make sure she’s presentable.

She’s not sure why she cares, because they’ve all seen each other’s faces before, but this is different.

She looks at herself in the mirror and exhales deeply. Her hair is a mess, and she smooths it down as best she can before giving up and finding a beanie to wear. She’s a bit pale, but then she’s always been pale.

“You can do this, Riley.” She tells herself, before she’s picked her bags up and is walking out to find her friends.

There is a huge swarm of people waiting at arrivals since she’s just got off a plane from London and so she decides to weave her way around to the side, so they spot her more easily.

She’s biting her fingernails and resting on her suitcase, looking around at the unfamiliar faces and white walls of the airport when she hears her name.

“Riley?” It’s Will.

She spins around so fast she knocks her suitcase to the floor.

Not 10 meters away is Will, with Kala, Wolfgang, Sun and Capheus behind him. She gasps and claps a hand over her mouth. They’re real, they’re here for her. She loves them.

They’re moving towards her then, and oh gosh Riley wants to freeze this moment. Capheus’ smile is wide as he looks to Sun, Kala and Wolfgang are holding hands and Riley swears she sees tears in Kala’s eyes. Will is looking at her intently, a shy smile on his face.

Before she knows it they’ve reached her, and she’s enveloped in Will’s arms. She wraps her arms around him too, closing her eyes and sobbing as he lifts her up slightly, breathing in her hair and pressing his nose to the side of her ear.

It feels like home.

“Okay, that’s long enough, our turn.” Kala grumbles, and Riley feels Will chuckle, the huff of breath grazing the back of her neck.

He sets her down and pulls back, his smile wider.

Riley can’t stop crying, but she knows the others knows they’re happy tears.

And then she’s wrapped up in all of their arms, being squeezed by Capheus and hugged from behind by Sun – her grip is surprisingly tight. Kala presses her forehead to Riley’s and Wolfgang wraps his arm around her shoulder.

They stay entwined with each other for a long time, until they realise they should probably make their way back to Nomi’s – because there are still so many more people to meet.

Riley never thought she’d be this happy again, not after Magnus, but she can feel how light her heart is and she feels like she’s floating on clouds.

They squabble over seats, but Riley manages to get shotgun, curling up on the seat and watching as Will drives them out of the parking lot.

He has nice hands, she thinks idly.

“Was your flight good?” Capheus asks from the back.

Riley looks back and grins. They’re all folded in amongst each other, Kala practically sitting on Wolfgang (who is pressing kisses on her shoulder every few seconds) and they all look content.

“It was okay.” She replies, looking back to Will who quickly smiles at her before looking at the road.

“I can’t believe we’re all going to be together.” He says.

When Riley thinks about it, it’s a pretty amazing story – complete strangers who had to share a diary, now the closest friends.

Riley rests her head on her knees and gazes out the window at the new city she’s in, thinking about how beautiful the evening sky is – how much it reminds her of Kala’s beautiful paintings.

.

When they all pour into Nomi’s apartment, they’re greeted by an emotional Nomi who hugs them all so tightly they all start laughing, and a Lito who just pulls them into another group hug until they’re all a tangle of limbs on the floor. Riley’s not sure whose arm is whose anymore, all she knows is she’s surrounded by masses of warmth who care for her as much as she cares for them. Riley lets out a sigh of contentment and nuzzles deeper into whoever’s chest she’s lying on, grabbing the hand around her waist and pulling it tighter.

She looks up and sees Amanita wiping a tear off her cheek, taking picture upon picture and she reaches a hand up, pulling her down with them. After all, she’s Nomi’s other half, she belongs with them too.

Nomi is the first one to reluctantly move, and then they’re all sitting around their apartment, revelling in talking to each other face to face.

When it comes time to bed, they pull out the couches and Nomi retrieves the mattresses she borrowed from their neighbours and friends.

Kala and Wolfgang crash on one of the couches, curled so tightly together Lito mimes puking, while he also leaves to call Hernando and tell him how much he misses him.

Capheus and Sun both go for the smaller mattresses, explaining they don’t like being squished up next to people while they sleep – which leaves Will and Riley.

The tips of Wills ears go pink and he scratches his head before going to speak, but Riley cuts him off.

“We’re just sharing a bed Will, it’s fine.”

She gets changed into her pyjamas in the bathroom and does her teeth before making her way back to them all. She’s settling into the bed when Will comes out of the bathroom too.

He’s wearing a pair of sleep shorts and a baggy tank top which shows off the very fine muscles he’s acquired – Riley flushes as the thought that those muscles picked her up earlier.

He slides into bed and turns onto his side to face her, smiling softly as she turns round to face him too.

“Did you ever think we’d all be here?” He whispers, tucking an arm under his head.

Riley just shakes her head, beaming up at him as she takes him all in.

They fall asleep that way, heads bent together.

.

Sometime in the night she’s woken up by the person sleeping behind her shifting in her sleep. She’s disorientated for a moment before she realises Lito has squished on beside Will, causing him to roll into Riley. He’s also managed to get an arm around her waist and behind her he hums, pulling her closer. They’re spooning, and Riley pushes thoughts of Magnus from her mind. Magnus is gone, and this is not romantic – they’re just friends who are sharing a bed.

Her body is a traitor to her thoughts though, as she snuggles closer herself, looking up at Will’s serene sleeping face, shivering as his breath washes over her neck.

She falls back asleep quickly and has one of the best sleeps of her life.

.

They all spend the next two days before the wedding exploring San Francisco together. They go to Chinatown and get fortune cookies, reading each other’s out loud and laughing when Nomi’s reads You will marry your lover.

Will gets The man or woman you desire feels the same way about you and he nearly chokes on his spit. Kala giggles and Riley pretends not to notice when Wolfgang shoots an amused grin Riley’s way. She also tries not to think about how much she actually likes Will too – how sometimes she catches herself staring at his lips and wondering what it would be like to kiss them.

Capheus is amazed by everything he sees, and when they get to the Golden Gate Bridge he gasps in wonder. Riley thinks it’s pretty amazing too, and looks around at them all – at their little gang.

That night they watch one of Lito’s movies, chucking popcorn at him whenever he says a horrendous line. Wolfgang points out all of the inaccuracies with the fight scenes, Nomi contributes to the cliché storylines, Amanita complains at the lack of LGBT+ characters, while Riley and Kala reassure Lito that he’s great. Sun falls asleep halfway through, her body still exhausted from the flight, and Will spends most of the evening absentmindedly stroking Riley’s calves which lie on his lap.

.

Nomi spends most of her wedding day freaking out while the girls rush around fixing bouquets and hair. She wears a loose, flowy, summer dress that comes to her knees and Riley’s eyes well up with tears when she sees her.

She remembers her wedding to Magnus – the sun shining as she walked up to him, the look of awe on his face – and closes in on herself before she feels a slight pressure on her hand. It’s Kala, stroking her hand with her thumb, silently asking if she’s okay.

It’s a happy day, Riley is okay, except its days like this where she wonders what if? What would her life be like had the roads not been so slippery, what if they hadn’t had such a bad winter, what if –

“Riley. Come back to us.” Kala whispers.

Deep breaths, in and out.

Riley nods. Takes in her friends scattered around the place laughing. She has a good life now too, wouldn’t want to give up this part of it. She’s okay.

And she is. She is ecstatic when her friends exchange rings, laughs when Amanita pulls Nomi in for a kiss before the celebrant has told her she may kiss the bride, gazes in wonderment at the pure love they have for another.

She notices Kala and Wolfgang holding hands throughout the whole ceremony and wryly thinks that maybe they’ll be together soon enough for another marriage.

.

They’re all seated together at the reception, close to the bridal table and they even get a special mention in Nomi’s speech – “and to my seven other selves, the people who have been with me for 16 years of my life, who have shared my soul and shared their own – thank you. You gave me the courage to be myself, even if you didn’t know it, and I am so lucky to have you all in my life, here in person finally. We love you.”

Will silently hands his napkin to Riley before she starts blubbing, brushing a piece of her hair off her face and giving her a small smile. She notices Kala is crying, clutching Wolfgang’s hand tightly, and Capheus is too – allowing the tears to stream down his face, the smile wide and wondrous.

After the speeches and the meal comes the first dance – and it seems there is not a dry eye in the room as Amanita leads Nomi out to Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me.

Soon, Kala has pulled Wolfgang to his feet and they’re twirling around the room too – Wolfgang glaring at everyone they manage to bump into, Kala giggling her apologies. Capheus and Sun make their way out, opting for a good dose of arm wiggling and body shaking instead of a traditional slow dance.

“Do you want a drink?” Will asks her, tapping his hand on the table.

“Yes, thank you.” Riley replies, looking up at him from where she’s rested her chin in her hand.

Will goes to say something – and then nods, getting up and making his way over to the bar.

He is looking very handsome tonight, in a black suit with an unbuttoned deep blue dress shirt. He’s taken his blazer off too, rolled his shirt sleeves up and really, it’s unfair that such a lovely man also has such fantastic forearms.

“You two are pathetic.” Lito comes up behind her, settling down in Will’s vacant seat.

“What do you mean?”

Lito rolls his eyes, squeezes the bridge of his nose.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you two are wrapped up in each other in the mornings.” He just says mildly.

Riley blushes. Okay, maybe they have been waking up tangled in each other – Will’s arm around her waist and her head pressed against his chest, ankles locked together. And sure, maybe she pretends she’s asleep even when she knows Will is awake, because he can’t move then and Riley can sink further into his touch. Sometimes he even traces patterns onto the bare skin of her hip where her shirt rides up and it’s all she can do to keep her breathing even.

Of course, as soon as she starts ‘waking up’ he’s snatched his hands away as though she burns, but she still has those moments beforehand.

And okay fine, whenever they have to drive somewhere she’s always shotgun if he’s driving, scrolling through his phone to find some good music, laughing when he grabs her knee and taps along to the beat – but they’re just friends. Right?

Lito’s voice interrupts her thoughts again. “You deserve to be happy again, Riley. Remember that.”

She knows this, knows it’s been four years, and knows she is allowed to fall in love again – knows it’s what Magnus would have wanted. It’s just that knowing something in theory doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy in practice – except, everything is easy with Will it seems.

Will comes back before she can say anything, passing her the drink. She is hyper aware of how his fingers brush her own as he passes it over, smiles up at him and drinks in his responding look.

Lito clears his throat awkwardly and gets up, muttering something about needing a drink himself and then they’re alone.

Will sits down awkwardly and exhales, his knee knocking against Riley’s own.

“Nice wedding, huh?”

“It’s beautiful. I’m really happy for her.” She replies, looking out at all the couples on the floor.

They finish their drinks quietly, often remarking how much they like or loathe a song, pointing out the most scandalous outfits and who is the drunkest.

Finally, Will looks over to her, studying her face for a second. “Riley,” his voice sounds strange, “do you want to dance?”

Her heart swells. She can only nod mutely, eyes crinkling when his smile brightens and he stands up holding out his hand.

She takes it and links her fingers through his, laughing as he pulls her through the crowd. It feels right, like she is meant to be here in this moment with him.

Predictably, as they reach the floor a slow song comes on, and Will hesitantly places his hands on her waist, as she wraps hers around his neck and rests her cheek on his shoulder.

“You really are very tall.” She tells him, smiling as she feels his chuckle.

“At least I can see over people this way.” He replies, resting his chin on the top of her head.

They sway for a little while not talking, Riley closes her eyes and breathes in his cologne, basks in how safe and cared for he makes her feel, savours the pressure of his hands wrapped around her.

“Riley,” he murmurs.

“Hmm?” She looks up, bringing her hands down to his chest, resting them there lightly.

He goes to say something, swallows and takes a breath and –

“Cake!” Amanita exclaims from somewhere behind them.

Will’s hands tighten slightly and then he’s stepped back and they’re dropped from her waist.

She aches from the loss of his touch.

He clears his throat. “It doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it.”

But it does matter, she is worried. She feels a pang in her chest and realises, oh, she wouldn’t mind staying here with him forever actually, wouldn’t mind being able to hold him and touch him and not just be strange childhood pen pals.

“No, Will, what is it?”

She can see his jaw clenching, waits for him to look her in the eye, but he doesn’t.

Kala and Wolfgang interrupt moments later, just as he’s looked back at her and opened his mouth to start talking.

“Have you seen the cake yet? It’s fantastic!” Kala gushes.

Riley turns to look at her, a tight smile on her face.

“No, I haven’t. You should show me.” She looks at Will once more before Kala has dragged her away but he’s staring adamantly at the floor.

Kala seems to pick up on the tension then. “Oh no, Riley, did we interrupt something?”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Riley is a terrible liar, she knows.

Kala has the decency to look contrite and tries to apologise, but Riley brushes it off. It’s fine, she only has four more days in America anyway, and then it’s back to London she goes.

.

When they get back to Nomi’s apartment in the early hours of the morning – after waving the newlyweds off on their road trip honeymoon, Riley is relieved when Will slides in beside her in bed still.

“Good night,” he whispers to her, giving her a quick kiss on the forehead, and then he’s asleep.

Riley moves as close as she dares before resting her head in the space by his shoulder and then she falls asleep too. They can always talk in the morning.

.

If the others notice the new found tension in the morning, they don’t say anything.

Riley is standing in the kitchen when Will comes out of the shower in the morning, shorts loose on his hips and no top – and she chokes on her coffee, Capheus clapping her on the back and asking if she needs anything as Will looks over, smirking even as he seems to blush.

It’s game on from then, Riley thinks, and she’s absurdly glad when they all go down to the local swimming pool because the day is so hot. She laughs as Will’s jaw drops when she shimmies out of her shorts and pulls her top over her head and dives into the pool. Except, when she resurfaces Will has no top on again and is doing a bomb right next to her.

Sun stretches out on a recliner and watches them all as they enter the pool, yelling out words of encouragement for Riley when Will, Lito and Capheus decide to gang up on her for a water fight.

Kala and Wolfgang join her on the side until Kala falls asleep and Wolfgang jumps in to take part too.

Riley manages to get Capheus until he promises to be on her team and then it’s only three vs. two and she can’t stop laughing as Wolfgang claps his hands together to make a large wave of water crash into Capheus’ face. She sees Will go under the water, but Lito distracts her and she forgets as she survives Lito’s relentless assault.

Just as he stops, Will tugs on her calf, laughing as she shrieks and he comes up for air. He’s very close to her now, close enough that all she’d have to do would be to take one small step forward and they’d be touching along the lengths of their bodies. He swallows and Riley watches the way the water runs in rivulets down his face.

He’s still staring intently at her when she grabs his head and pushes him down into the water.

It’s not a very good idea though, because he is so much bigger and stronger than her. Instead of being able to hold him down for a little while, his arms come up and he grasps her waist and picks her legs up until she’s cradled in his arms.

Now she really is touching him, and she hopes her bikini top is thick enough that he won’t see how much he’s affecting her in this moment.

She shifts in his arms so she can wrap her arms around her neck and then she looks up at him, arching an eyebrow.

“Don’t you dare,” she warns, just as he grins wickedly and sinks to the bottom with her.

When they come up she pushes the hair off her face and shoves his shoulder, laughing as he picks her up again.

“Will!”

“What?” he asks innocently.

She rearranges herself again, this time to see how much leverage she can get so only he goes under, but in doing so manages to bump her nose into his.

She’s so close she can feel his breath, feels the way his arms tighten around her, the catch in his breath as her face gets closer.

It’s now or never, Riley resolves.

“Oi, lovebirds, we’re getting lunch!” Wolfgang calls out, and dammit, the spells gone.

.

From then on it just gets more difficult. She’s sure he must know how she feels about him, but while everyone else is around there’s no opportunity to do something about it.

And then they’re at the airport again, with Sun and Capheus. Kala and Wolfgang are staying a little while longer to visit Lito and Hernando, and they leave a day before the others, promising to catch up soon.

It’s hard to say goodbye to them, but Riley knows it’s going to be even harder to say goodbye to Will.

Capheus is away first, giving Riley a kiss on the cheek and hugging them all tightly, eager to return to his mother but sad to say goodbye.

“Have a wonderful rest of your day!” He calls out as he leaves, waving to them all.

Sun is next, giving them both a tight hug and a little wave.

Riley swallows and looks to the ground. She really should have left with Sun, but she wanted some time with Will alone. Now, she can’t breathe.

Tears blur her vision and she can feel the lump in her throat. She doesn’t want to leave, she’s wasted so much time.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Will asks, cupping her face with his hands, pressing his forehead to hers. His face crumples as her tears start to fall, and he wipes them away in vain.

She hears her flight being called over the speaker system, and no it’s too early, there’s not enough time –

She leans up and presses her lips gently to his, stretching her hand up to touch his cheek.

Her tears make it wet and sloppy but his lips are warm and hard against her own. She never wants to let go, especially when he wraps his arms around her and clutches her closer. He pulls his head away quickly and kisses her nose before he’s leant down again and he’s kissing her frantically, noses bumping and missing her lips and getting her teeth when she gasps and begins to say something.

His lips are salty because of her tears too and she brushes them when he finally pulls away so they can breathe.

“I have to go.” She whispers, stroking his jaw and trying not to cry as he shakes his head.

“I don’t want you to.” He kisses her again quickly.

She sobs against his lips. It’s not fair.

“I have to.”

She manages to detangle herself from him, picking her bags up before he can grab her again. She presses herself up to brush his lips once more before she pulls away, sucking in her lips and turning away.

“Goodbye, Will.” She chokes out.

As she walks away she turns around and sees him, eyes closed and head tilted up as a tear rolls down his cheek.

She doesn’t even make it through customs before she’s sobbing outright.

.

By the time she makes it back to London she doesn't have any tears left. She showers until the water runs cold and finds in her luggage a top of Will’s she managed to sneak in while he wasn’t looking. She puts it on and breaths in the smell before opening her laptop and curling into a ball on her bed.

She needs to skype him, to apologize for making it worse for them both – but he’s not online.

She has a few messages from Lito and Kala, asking if she got home safely and she replies with a short message to each of them. She spends the rest of the time scrolling through the various pictures she’s been tagged in, stroking one particularly one of her and Will laughing at whoever’s taken the picture, the Golden Gate bridge behind them. It’s a really nice picture, he has his arm around her and she’s leaning in and forwards as she laughs, her dimples showing and her head tilted to the side. Will is looking down at her with a soft smile on his face.

.

She’s not sure when she manages to fall asleep, but she’s woken up to a banging on her apartment door and five missed skype calls from Lito.

She darts out of bed quickly, not caring that she looks like a mess when she opens the door.

Her heart stutters in her chest.

It’s Will, standing there like a drenched rat because of course it started raining, it wasn’t romantic enough having him on her doorstep in the first place. She can't get over his eyes, the intensity by which he is watching her - drinking her in.

“I couldn’t let you leave.” He says simply, shrugging.

Riley just nods and smiles through her tears, holding her arms out slightly.

He’s kissing her a moment later, her face gripped tightly in his hands, and she sobs as he picks her up and she wraps her legs around his waist.

Before they get to her bed, he pulls away just enough so he can speak and says, “Just in case you haven’t figured it out, I love you.”

She responds in turn, nodding desperately, “I love you too.”  

And as he kisses her again, she finally feels whole.