A Better Sound: Part II
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A Better Sound: Part II

Illyana hesitated briefly before she picked her guitar up again and started strumming. The sound was infinitely better now that her amp settings were normalized–more treble and less bass. She beamed at Nick and played one of his song choices from before, at least what she remembered of it, and her confidence in herself seemed to grow. It sounded equally as good as he had played it. The improved sound caused her conviction to return in full and she began playing with vigor.

It had been such a long time since she had let her guard down so completely. Alarie and Leona never saw her insecurities. It must have been a sort of muscle memory around Nick, now that he was being a decent human being again. She felt less hassled while in his presence and even started to relax.

Nick nodded with approval at hearing her play, walked over and picked his own instrument to jam out beside her.

They weren’t even dueling anymore but rather making music together. Nick improvised notes to what she played and she ended up falling into her favorite metal song but it didn’t sound as heavy nor muddled. It was clear and melodic, enhanced by Nick’s accompaniment. It was quite an experience as neither of them had played together before.

Illyana noticed that Nick played guitar with his eyes closed when he was really feeling it. She took a moment to study him in his creative element and didn’t notice that her own playing had eventually subsided.

He opened his eyes at the sudden lack of music to find her staring and seemed a bit startled until he laughed and stopped playing as well; his laugh turned into a yawn. They had been jamming out for a longer time than she had thought. She looked at the clock on the TV and it was already nearly midnight!

He made a surprised grunt as she suddenly grabbed him into a hug.

“Thanks for this,” she said quietly, muffled into his shoulder.

“Hey, what are friends for?” he wrapped his arms around her and returned the embrace. She didn’t realize until that moment just how much she had missed Nicholas being her friend.

The hug lasted a long time, probably more than a regular hug should be but she hadn’t hugged him in so long. He had grown so much taller since the last time too; he nearly enveloped her. It was finally broken when he gave another yawn, disengaged, and backed away, “Look at me, practically falling asleep over here. I should probably head home.”

“You want some coffee first? We got a cappuccino machine and I could make us some?” She offered.

“That’d be cool, thanks,” he gave her a tired smile and followed her into the kitchen, taking a seat at the table while she put the ingredients in and let the grounds steam.

“We should hang out like this more,” he suggested as she handed him a cup and sat across from him at the dining table.

She would have agreed under regular circumstances but the fact remained that they were still competitors. “Maybe after the Battle of the Bands,” she suggested and took a sip of her cappuccino. She knew Nick had a lot of confidence and hope that his band would win but he wasn't that competitive. She was, and didn't want it to come between the freshly renewed and fragile friendship they had.

Nick looked buzzed enough for a second guitar duel after a few gulps of his cup, his words started coming out of his mouth quicker and in shorter sentences, his foot tapped the floor in frenzied beats.

“You’re actually a lot better at playing than I thought. Not better than me of course. If you lose the battle, though, you’ll be mad at me again. We can’t hang out if you are mad at me. Don’t be mad at me if you lose.”

“You think I’m going to lose?” she looked affronted. Was he trash talking her?

“No, I think I’m going to win. I just am. Orion and Cypress are the best players in the region. A result of that is you losing. Sorry to break it to you, Ill.”

He just had to start acting cocky again. Maybe caffeine was a bad idea. She would make him pay for it. She swallowed the last of her drink and stood to wash the cup, “If you are so sure you are going to win, why don’t we bet on it?”

He gave an amused scoff and finished his own cup, coming behind her to drop it in the sink along with hers, “Okay, what are the terms?”

She turned around and took a seat in the chair he had previously occupied, throwing her hand to her chin in consideration. He did the same while turning his back on her, seeming to think of his own ideas. She stared at his back and a positively hilarious idea struck her that could put him in his place, “If my band wins, you streak a lap around the school when it starts up again.”

He whirled around with his brows raised in shock, though his expression soon melted into that ever-present smirk, “You mean...you want to see me naked?”

No!” she reeled back, feeling her cheeks getting hot again. He was by no means undesirable…aesthetically...to certain people...if they were into that sort of long hair, pale, freckled, bluish-green-eyed, jock type that Nick happened to be; she was thinking more along the lines of embarrassing him in front of all those girls he kept flirting with. She quickly gathered her wits, “I want every girl at school to know you’ve been talking a big game but have very little to show for it.”

His grin didn’t even falter at her insinuated jab; she knew he thought he had no chance of losing and his overconfidence would be his downfall. He nodded, “Fine. If your band actually, by some miracle, happens to win–I will streak on the first day of senior year.”

She gave a triumphant smile and stood to put the milk back in the fridge that she had used in her cappuccino. She had completely forgotten to ask what would happen if the scenario played out differently. She didn't have to wait long. Once the milk was in there, he closed the refrigerator door for her and leaned against it. “If I win, you let me take you out on a date.”

She nearly had to do a double-take, not expecting such a condition from him. All the color in the world flooded her face then and she put her hand on her hip defiantly, “What? That’s dumb. Are you being serious?”

His ever-present smirk was gone. He didn’t even need to answer because it was clear he wasn’t fooling around this time.

They stared at each other intensely for a few moments while she searched his face and body language looking for any indication that he was joking.

“That’s my term if you want this bet,” he finally answered, arms crossed, looking down at her seriously.

She frowned and stared at the tiles on the kitchen floor. What was he trying to pull? A date? How weird was that? How desperate. What was he to gain from it though? She hoped he didn’t expect her to kiss him or anything gross people did on dates. That is, if she lost. She had to win Battle of the Bands now.

She took in a deep breath and met his eyes, “Fine, we have ourselves a bet. Now shake on it," she said and held out her hand which he grabbed and gave a sturdy shake, sealing their bet and smirking like usual.

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