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Pain is So Close to Pleasure

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According to chaos theory, the infinitesimal shudder of wind produced by a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could redirect the path of a tornado in Kansas. A minute variance in an initial action — a chance encounter—  could have a profound effect on the course of history, with each potential variance branching off into an infinite number of possible futures. An infinite combination of cause and effect. Jane Deacon could not have predicted the outsize significance of a single drink, a dingy club along the Thames, a weird, no-name band. It was just another Thursday night, after all. 

Thursday nights at the Marquee Club were relatively low-key. There were bigger live acts in Chelsea and better drink deals on King’s Road, and rowdy pub crawlers rarely ventured this close to the river. The music wasn’t half bad either, if one could abide the enthusiastic fumblings of college bands after their third and fourth drink. So Jane made a habit of winding down at the Marquee after her Thursday engineering labs, nursing a drink or two and maybe a half-written song in her notebook, cozied up in the dark, back corner near the speakers. The thud of the bass helped her think.

Tonight, however, her corner booth was occupied. Typically, she’d let it go— find another table for one out of sight or just, y’know, leave. But it had been a long day, and she’d been slightly rattled from a minor electrical shock after messing about with the homemade amp she’d taken to fixing up. A little bit of routine and privacy would be appreciated. And, judging from the instrument cases laying at the foot of the table, the occupants were musicians and would be up on stage soon anyway. She pulled up a bar stool at the end of the bar and ordered her drink. She could wait.

The acoustic act on stage appeared to be finishing up, the long-haired woman banging her tambourine with a little more flourish than strictly necessary. Jane’s eyes kept flickering back to her corner, the musicians there obscured by the dim lighting. She could make out a shock of shaggy blonde hair though, and its owner turned in her direction. She realized with a flush that although they were largely obscured in the shadows, she was sitting directly beneath a light at the bar and was thus not inconspicuous in her staring. Her eyes quickly dropped to the drink in her hand, and she busied herself with downing it. The last thing she needed was some wannabe rocker coming over to talk to her.

“Hey.”

Shit.

Jane dragged her eyes up reluctantly, pursing her lips in a tight smile. Sure enough, it was the blonde. Now that she could see him in the light, she recognized him as the drummer for a somewhat regular act. They went by Smile for a while, though the last time they played a few weeks ago, they had used some other name, something weird and outrageous. 

The man in front of her wore a cocky smirk and was leaning against the bar with the casual confidence of someone who’s done this dance many, many times over. He hadn't even spoken and she was already exhausted. 

“Hi,” she replied finally. “Can I help you?”

He cocked an eyebrow, flashing an impish smile. “I was going to ask you the same question. Did you happen to see something you liked?”

Her face burned, and she gripped her glass tighter, though it was empty now. “No, I just— well, your table.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Our...table,” he repeated slowly.

Jane nodded, not meeting his eyes. “It’s nothing. It’s sort of where I sit, sometimes. When I’m here,” she muttered, her voice trailing off in the din of the bar. 

He leaned in, pointing to his ear. “Sorry, say that again?”

“It’s my table!” She said louder, practically yelling into his ear just as the ridiculous tambourine player finished and there was a lull in the music.

He chuckled. “Didn’t think you could own a table.”

“I didn’t say I owned it, I just…” She was getting flustered, and the fact that the man standing very close to her also happened to be very attractive didn’t help much. Did his hair do that on its own, or did he purposefully make it looks so disheveled? “Are you going on soon?”

He looked back toward his band mates, biting the inside of his cheek. “In a bit. You can join us, in the meantime.”

She stared at him blankly, trying and failing to read his intentions. “I’m good.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself. I’m Roger, by the way.”

“Right. You’ve played here before.”

His grin widened. “Ah, a fan!”

“I’m not a fan.”

“Ouch.” He pressed a hand to his chest in mock hurt. “Everyone’s a critic, eh? What’s your name, love?”

She absently shook her glass to hear the rattle of ice, and glanced at him sideways. “Jane.”

Apparently catching on to the fact that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with her, he inclined his head slightly in a playful bow. “Then enjoy the show, Jane. Or don’t. Your call.”

He turned and left, and Jane shook her head. Drummers really were all cut from the same cloth, but at least he had taken no for an answer. To be fair, she hadn’t been entirely truthful with her brief assessment of his band. Not that she was a fan, per se. But they weren't bad. 

His band had first played at Marquee in October ‘70, and they had been alright — nothing to write home about. But the last two shows in the months since have been almost...good. The audiences were still small, paltry even. But their lead singer, a brash and flamboyant man with a voice like a rocket, was something to behold. Unbidden, the band’s new name popped into her head— Queen. Outrageous, indeed. She supposed she could order another drink. Stick around for a bit longer.

 

 


 

 

 

The show was good. Not fantastic. The Thursday crowd had been pretty dead, despite the lead singer’s — Freddie’s — best efforts to rile them up. The rhythm section had been lackluster; Roger’s beats were steady enough, but there was no helping the bassist, who she was fairly certain was a new addition. The poor sod couldn’t keep time to save his life.

The curly-haired guitarist, on the other hand, was on top form, and Jane was rather interested in the unusual squeals the man plucked from his instrument; she was dying to take a look at his amp configuration. As an electrical engineering student and a musician herself, she had a particular interest in sound equipment. The guitarist had seemed pleasant enough on stage during their set, so Jane headed round to the back after the show, where bands unload and reload their vans, to pick his brain.

What she found when she left through the side door, however, was Freddie and the bassist locked in a heated argument. Embarrassed, she tried to go back inside, only to discover the door was locked. She went with plan B, which was to flatten herself against the wall and pretend to be taking a smoke break— shit, she didn’t have any cigarettes on her. So she stood awkwardly in the alley, watching as the bassist stormed off, kicking a piece of equipment over in the process.

Freddie released an audible sigh and then looked up, noticing her presence. She waved awkwardly, then gestured to the door. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop or anything. The door, it—”

“Yes, you’ve got to prop that one open,” he said wearily, offering her a kind, if exasperated, smile. “Looking for a light, dear?”

“I, ehm, forgot my smokes.”

He pulled out a pack from his back pocket, beckoning her forward. “Come on, then. Silk Cut alright?”

She crossed the alley to take the proffered cigarette. “Lovely. Thank you.”

“I’ve seen you here before,” Freddie said casually, lighting her cigarette for her. “I never forget a face.”

She nodded. “I’m here every so often. My apartment is literally next door.”

Freddie chuckled, his hand covering his mouth. “Good place for an alcoholic to live,” he paused, as if rewinding what he had said. “Sorry, that was rude, wasn’t it?”

Jane shrugged. “I like a drink. Nothing wrong with that.”

He grinned, toothily this time. He had quite the impressive set of teeth. “Cheers to that, darling,” he said, dangling his cigarette jauntily between his fingers. “What’s your name, by the way?”

“Jane. Jane Deacon.”

He held out his other hand for her to shake. “Hello Jane, I’m Freddie Mercury.”

She smiled. “Yes, I know who you are.”

“As everyone should,” he said with a wink. “So, tell me Jane, what did you think of the show?”

She took a drag, considering her words. “It was…”

“Be brutally honest, dear.”

She normally wouldn't, really. But she had had a few drinks and this man she had just met put her strangely at ease. “It was loose," she admitted. "There were gaps in the sound. Vocals and the guitar were tight, but—”

“The bass was falling behind. Yes, that’s what I said!” Freddie exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “Doug didn’t care to hear that at all, but good riddance.”

“He left, then?”

He raised his eyebrows in affirmation as he exhaled a puff of smoke. “Mm, third one in a year. You can have a bass player with talent, or a bass player with a good personality, but you can’t have both, I’m afraid.”

“They’re out there,” she said shyly, a small smile tugging at her lips. “Or at least, I like to think so.”

Freddie cocked his head. “Oh? You play?”

She nodded. “I was in a little band back home, in Leicester. The Opposition. You...wouldn't have heard of us.”

“Hm,” he pursed his lips, scanning her curiously. “And you’re good?”

“I think I’m decent,” she said, cringing at the uncertainty in her voice. She was good; she knew that. Saying it just seemed...brash.

He grinned, leaning toward her as if about to tell her a secret. “You know, I think the boys and I could do with a little more decency, sometimes.”

 

 


 


The hallways of Imperial College’s arts building were nearly deserted. It was a Saturday, and the university’s students presumably had better places to be on a February morning than in an inadequately heated academic building. Except, of course, those looking to join a local rock ‘n roll band. Jane stopped outside the lecture hall where auditions were taking place, parking the wheeled case for her practice amp against the wall. She checked her watch: quarter after nine. The booming rattle of someone’s over-amped, out-of-tune bass echoed outside. She would be next.

Jane had exchanged numbers with Freddie that night outside the Marquee, though she hadn’t actually expected him to call her up with an offer to audition a couple weeks later. Joining the band seemed like a longshot, but it had been ages since she had the chance to play with talented musicians, and the audition sounded like it might scratch that itch. Truth be told, she had missed playing in a band and had been aching for a jam or two.

A guy about her age dressed head to toe in denim finally exited the lecture hall, equipment in tow. He looked her up and down, taking in her own equipment at her side, and raised an eyebrow. “You’re Deacon?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, they’re ready for you,” he said, passing her and muttering under his breath, “Good luck.”

The auditorium was cavernous, with only half the lights turned on. A drum kit and a few amps were set up at the front of the hall, before the blackboard. The rest of the band - Freddie, Brian, and Roger - were sprawled on the first row of fold-down seats. Freddie perked up when she entered, bounding onto his feet. He had traded the glitter and sweeping necklines of his stage attire for a t-shirt and embroidered jacket. 

“Here she is! Decent Deacon! Thank you for coming, dear.”

“Not much of a rock name, is it?” A voice commented from the front row. Jane didn’t need to turn to look to know it was Roger. “Now wait a second, I remember you. You’re Table Girl!”

Jane flinched at the memory of her awkward encounter with the drummer.  She was also somewhat annoyed to find that Roger was still attractive in the harsh light of day. He wore a loose blue button-up shirt, sleeves rolled and the first three buttons indifferently left undone. But despite the casual bravado, clearly nothing about the way he presented himself was indifferent. Here was a person who wanted you to look at him. 

“I didn’t know we were holding groupie auditions today,” he said with a shit-eating grin, perched on the back of his chair. She flushed, biting her lip to hold back an indignant retort. Brian rolled his eyes, whacking his bandmate’s knee.

“What? I was obviously joking…”

“Oh hush, Rog. How about you get set up, Jane? Take your time,” Freddie said, gesturing for her to unpack her equipment.

She bobbed her head in acknowledgment, silently getting to work. The boys talked and laughed among themselves while she hooked up the amp and tuned her bass, making minor alterations to account for the change in temperature. After a couple minutes spent warming up her fingers and her strings, she signaled to Freddie.

“You ready then?”

She nodded, adjusting the strap across her shoulder. “What would you like first?”

“Start off with anything you’d like, sixteen bars or so,” said Brian, who was sat on the edge of his seat, hands steepled. He smiled kindly at her. “And then we’ll make requests.”

“I’ll play some Led Zeppelin, if that’s alright.”

“As long as its not a funeral dirge,” drawled Roger, sliding down into his chair, foot propped up on the armrest.

She exhaled, tapped her foot to catch the beat, and played. It was one of her recent favorites, Ramble On, and she could play it in her sleep. Sixteen bars went by quickly, and when she finished she allowed herself to look up at her audience expectantly. They gave her nothing in the way of reaction, except for a request from Brian.

“Can you play some Beatles for us, please?”

In response, she played the first twenty bars of Happiness is a Warm Gun, to be followed by requests for pieces from The Who, Deep Purple, and The Rolling Stones. All fairly straightforward, nothing requiring too much fancy finger work. She rode the beat, steady and sure, until the lecture hall was filled with the thumping pulse of her bass.

Roger’s face (she’ll admit, her eyes were drawn to his first) was nearly passive, aside from the smallest trace of a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth. Brian was slightly more expressive, clapping politely after she had finished The Stones’ Miss You. She knew she hadn’t done anything impressive — any idiot with a bass could stumble through the hits unaccompanied. The real test of a bassist was how they were able to fit in with the rest of the band’s sound.

Freddie popped up to his feet, grinning widely at her. “Bravo, darling. Excellent. But that’s enough solo stuff, I think. Let's have a little fun.”

The rest of the band took his cue, Brian and Roger returning to their respective instruments, and Freddie standing, hands clasped, front and center.

“Careful with this one,” Brian said to her as he shouldered his guitar, gesturing to Roger settling in behind the kit. “He’ll run away with the beat if you give him an inch.”

Roger’s head shot up, pointing a drumstick at Brian. “I’m a fucking metronome, Brian. You’re the one who’s always trying to slow down— ”

“I play the song exactly how it’s written; if you want to change the bloody BPM you need to warn us ahead of time—”

“You studied the song I told you to, right?” Freddie interrupted from his spot, leaning against the lecturer’s podium.

“Hm? Oh, Helter Skelter? Yeah I know it.” She wasn’t about to tell him that every bass player and their mother knew that Beatles song. Fun to play and could be pushed quite fast, but it wouldn’t kill her.

“Good. We cover it every so often. Rog, give her a beat.”

The drummer locked eyes with her and tapped the rim of his snare to set a breakneck, pulsing rhythm, snappier than she usually heard the already heavy song. He clearly had no intention of taking it easy on her. Jane could appreciate that.

“Got it,” she said. “I’ll follow you.”

Roger gave the count, and she latched onto his beat, starting the song at a run and escalating to a sprint while Freddie wailed into his makeshift microphone - an empty beer bottle. It was good they were there on a Saturday morning when the campus was deserted, because they were loud. No stage monitors needed - the sound bounced off the vaulted ceilings and hurtled back at her. But...they could be louder. She caught Brian’s attention and jerked her head toward his stack. He mouthed up? and she nodded. He grinned, leaning down to crank up the volume before vaulting into the next verse. Jane cranked up her own volume, and Roger’s drums pounded like cannon fire in lock step with her bass. When the song came to a close, she could feel the remnants of her and Roger’s wave of sound reverberate through her feet.

Before she could gauge the others’ reception, or take a breath even, a clatter of Roger’s hi-hats pulled them into the next song. Which...she didn’t know. They had probably played it at their last gig, she was fairly certain, but couldn’t remember anything about the bass part. She looked frantically to Brian, who was already ripping away at his guitar. Freddie looked as surprised as she was that they were playing this song, but shrugged cheekily at her, shouting over the crescendoing trill of Brian’s guitar, “It’s called Stone Cold Crazy! Improvise, darling!”

If this was how they wanted to test her, fine. Jane had taught herself how to play by listening to her dad’s jazz records; she could bloody well improvise. She caught up with Roger’s beat as Freddie started the first verse, playing quick and choppy to mirror Brian while plugging any discernible gaps in sound. The song was fast, and she had the distinct feeling of laying down the tracks for a train that was hurtling toward her at full speed. It was exhilarating.

She glanced up, catching Roger staring at her as he played. He was smiling now — a real one, with teeth, no smugness in sight — and when she unconsciously added a little hoppity sort of dance to her movements, he threw his head back and laughed gleefully. Before she knew it, Freddie was screeching the last note, and the song came to an end with a mighty crash of snare and cymbals. Jane looked to Freddie, who smirked and snapped his fingers. “Sons and Daughters, Rog. Count us off.”

They played like that for another 30 minutes, or maybe an hour — one song bled into another as they jammed, occasionally playing songs she already knew. By the time they finished, she was hot and sweaty and her fingers burned with the familiar buzz of overuse. She doubled in half, catching her breath while the others laughed and swore at their own exhaustion. Roger tossed his drumsticks in the air, letting them spin and clatter somewhere behind him.

“So? How was that?” Jane asked, once she had composed herself. Now that she wasn’t playing, her shyness crept back, and she felt somewhat out of place.

“Like standing in front of a jet engine,” Freddie said breathlessly, tossing his sweaty hair out of his eyes. “You and Roger are two parts of a sonic volcano, you know that?”

Brian set his guitar gingerly down on its stand, coming around to inspect her equipment. “That little practice amp packs a punch. Is that a Hiwatt?”

She nodded shyly, patting the top of her amp as if it were a well-behaved dog. “The bones of it, yeah. I did some tweaking to make it louder.”

“You build your own equipment?” Roger asked, sitting forward on his drum stool to take a look.

“Oh, well, I’m learning. I’m studying electrical engineering at Chelsea, so fixing up amps and radios is sort of a hobby.”

“A lady electrician,” Freddie hummed. “That’s quite different, isn’t it? How’d you end up on that path?”

Jane looked down, self-consciously picking at a loose thread on her strap. “I’ve just always liked taking stuff apart, I guess. Taking a look at what’s inside, making it work better.”

“And do you think you could do that for us?” Roger asked cheekily. “Cut us open and dig around to make us sound good?”

“I...I suppose I’d like to try. Do you have another audition today, or…?” She asked, looking at her watch and realizing with a start that it was already half past ten.

“Nope,” Freddie popped the p. “You were our last. And I’m pretty sure our decision—”

“Will be made this afternoon,” Brian chimed in, casting a sideways glance at Freddie. “We have a lot to talk about. We’ll call you to let you know.”

She deflated a little at the tone in his voice, but forced herself to smile. “Thank you. I really appreciated getting to play with you guys. It was a great time.”

Roger, looking put out, climbed from behind the drum kit to speak to Brian and Freddie. While she packed her gear, they spoke in hushed tones in a huddle. She thought she had played rather well, especially considering she had never played half the songs before. But she had been in a band before, she knew all about band politics; if she joined, she would be entering a pre-established unit, with a set structure and hierarchy. It was a delicate balance, the makeup of a band. She’d leave them to their discussion.

Sidling past their huddle, she slipped out of the lecture hall unobtrusively. She was rolling her amp down the hallway when she heard the echo of Roger’s voice from the auditorium.

“Wait, where did she go?”

She smiled to herself. They had her number.

 

 


 

 


“What’s there to talk about anyway?” Roger said, once they realized Jane had somehow sneaked out without them noticing. He had climbed atop the podium and was drumming aimlessly against the wood. After a full and early morning of ear-splitting and (mostly) shitty wannabes, he was more than ready to call it a day. “She’s obviously the best we’ve seen. Bit of an odd bird, though. Quiet.”

“That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned,” said Freddie, lighting his cigarette in direct rebellion against the prominent No Smoking sign behind him. “There’s enough personality between the three of us as it stands. She won’t put up too much of a fuss.”

“If it’s a doormat you want, we could just go to Tesco, ” Brian said wearily, tapping a pen on the notebook in his lap. Roger didn’t realize they were supposed to be taking notes

“I don’t think she’s a doormat,” Freddie said. “She’s shy, but she’ll open up eventually. Brian, at this point we just need someone we can work with. Besides, she is a solid bassist. You’ve got to admit that.”

“Yes, and I wrote that down in the pro column. I even circled it,” he said, showing them his notebook. 

Roger rolled his eyes. Nerd. “So what are the cons?”

“She’s solid, but she’s not particularly imaginative, is she?”

“I think we’re all set on imagination, Bri.”

"And...well, it's not a con, necessarily, just something to consider. She’s...a girl.”

“Excellent observation,” Roger said dryly. “What, are you uncomfortable seeing a woman out of the kitchen? That’s rather sexist of you.”

Brian turned in his seat to face Roger, crossing his arms. “You of all people can't lecture me on sexism. I’m just being realistic. You’re saying you don’t see any possible way that could go badly for the band? Any at all, Roger?”

Roger set his jaw. “What’s that tone for?”

“You’ve never met a woman you wouldn’t sleep with if given half the chance. You’d fuck a pillow if I drew a mouth on it.”

“Don’t give him ideas,” Freddie muttered. “You’re not the one living with him.” Roger shot them both a withering look.

“Oi, that’s my personal life. If Jane joined the band, she’d be part of my professional life. I don’t mix business and pleasure,” he said, scowling when he leaned over to see that Brian had written “Roger is a slut” in the cons column. “Besides, she’s not exactly my type, is she?”

“Women’s lib is a big thing now, you know. It could be a plus, actually. Broaden our appeal,” Freddie added.

“I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t pick her because she’s a girl, I just want to address the fact that the band’s dynamics will change,” Brian said, taking a moment to scribble “Feminism ??” under pro. “Also, is she really even the rock ‘n roll type?”

“She was wearing a sweater vest,” Freddie mused, tapping his chin. “And something would have to be done about that hair.”

“She doesn’t need to have sex appeal; she’s the bassist, for crying out loud,” Roger groaned, hopping off his perch on the podium. “We’ll stick her in the back, in the dark.”

Brian looked up at him, squinting. “You sure are defensive of a woman you don’t know, who you supposedly don’t want to sleep with.”

Roger threw his hands in the air in exasperation. “I just want a good bassist! She’s the only one we’ve met who doesn’t have an attitude. Not to mention, she’d a fucking electrician.”

“And that really was a good session,” Brian allowed, “She didn’t drop a beat.”

Freddie looked from Roger to Brian expectantly. “Well? What’s the list look like, Bri?”

Brian looked down at his notebook and sheepishly held it up. It was a mess of scribbles and arrows, and a lot of question marks. “I’m not entirely sure.”

“Well, I think she’s just what we need. Rog, you agree?”

He nodded and turned to Brian. “Bri? Come on.”

Brian paused, glancing down at his list and nodding thoughtfully. “Yes, OK. Deacon is in.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Amps could be finicky things. Every amp had its sweet spot — the setting where its connecting instrument sounded warm and clear. It was a delicate art to finagle that perfect balance, and just about anything — wear and tear, everyday use, changes in humidity and temperature, jostling in the back seat of an equipment van — could knock it all out of place. Sort of like a band, in that way. Add in four musicians who weren't exactly gentle with their equipment, despite having little to no money to professionally fix said equipment, and you get a stage full of electronic devices that may or may not choose to work at any given time.

Queen was scheduled to perform in just under two hours at the Kensington Park Summer Festival, an outdoor fair that promised terrible acoustics and an inattentive audience, but at least it paid. Each of the acts in the lineup had been afforded a measly five minute soundcheck — enough time for the band to diagnose half of their equipment as broken.

"Jane, darling, could you…"

Of course she could.

Which was why Jane was on her knees on the ground, screwdriver in hand, surrounded by her and Brian's stack of amps, cabs, and pedal board. The gritty blue tarp she was kneeling on did little to dull the jab of rocks and overgrown tree roots into her shins. A fly buzzed annoyingly in her ear as she wrestled with the backing to Brian's cab, sweat dripping down her neck under the late afternoon sun. God, she hated open-air gigs.

The trio were...somewhere. After four months with the band, that's how she still thought of them in her mind — Freddie, Brian, and Roger were the original trio, the three musketeers. And she was the bass player. She stepped in, plugged a gap, and went home. Part time musician, part time electrician.

Brian had given her an obligatory offer for assistance, which she had waved off. She worked best without distractions. Besides, she wouldn't want Brian around to see her disapproval when she cranked open one of his Vox ACs— humidity damage, clearly. Was he storing his equipment in a pool shed? Jane sighed, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work, salvaging what she could.

She was screwing in the back panel of the final amp, another one of Brian's, when a man wearing all black and sporting an auburn ponytail approached her. He tapped the clipboard in his hand against a speaker cab, getting her attention.

"You're needed by the third act. Loose Rabbits, or something. They've blown a fuse."

The man, apparently part of the event staff, walked off before she could respond. Looking around, she figured their equipment was safe enough in the holding pen for the bands, and she had nothing else to do before their set. Grabbing her toolbox, she dutifully followed him to a tent in a clearing in the park, where a few musicians lounged on fold-out chairs and fiddled with their instruments. The amp in question had been taken apart and abandoned in the middle. She knelt down beside it, frowning when she saw the rusted state of the back panel.

"What's the fuse value?" She asked the guitarist standing closest to the amp. He shrugged. She rephrased her question. "What kind of voltage are you running?"

Again, the guitarist stared at her blankly. She sighed.

"It's probably your rectifier tube. I'll see what I can do."

An hour later, Jane had made the rounds to four other bands, ushered by Steve, the event coordinator. She was sitting cross-legged on the ground, fixing the output jack for another bassist when Freddie and Roger found her, drinks in hand and girls in tow.

"Jane, dear, what are you doing?" Freddie asked, eyeing the dirtied state of her red trousers with distaste.

She didn't look up, continuing to examine the bass's alignment. "Oh, I'm just helping out," she answered distractedly.

"We've got a set, in case you've forgotten," Roger said, and she felt a quiet sort of smugness at the irritation in his tone. How many times had she, the newest member of the band, been the only one on time for a gig? For once, they were the ones who could wait.

"I'll be done in a minute. Go warm up."

There was a loud sigh of exasperation and then Jane was being lifted by her underarms up off the ground. She yelped in surprise, frozen for a second before twisting around to shove the offending hands away. Unsurprisingly, they belonged to Roger.

"Time to go, Deacon."

"Don't touch me like that again," she muttered, scowling at Roger while she brushed the dirt off her pants. He ignored her, already turning around to converse with the two leggy blondes following him. Oh, so some distractions were OK…

Freddie took her arm, steering her away from the tent. "Come on, dear. Brian is waiting for us—"

They were stopped by ponytailed Steve, tapping his clipboard impatiently. He pointed a pen at Freddie. "If you needed an equipment check, you should have asked an hour ago. It's too late, and she's busy right now."

Freddie drew himself up to his full height which, admittedly, was not all too impressive on its own. "She's our bassist, not a bloody roadie, you twat," he snapped, sidestepping Steve and pulling her along.

"Honestly, Jane. Sometimes I think if a man with a clipboard told you to jump off a cliff, you just might do it."

She said nothing in reply, shuffling after him to rejoin the rest of the band. What she wanted to say was it depends on what's on the clipboard.

When they had returned to their equipment, guarded by Brian, Freddie turned to her, arms crossed over his chest and looking at her appraisingly. "I can understand the mix-up, to be honest. You don't look or act like a rockstar, dear."

"Probably because I'm not one," she said under her breath, finding her bass case and bending to unlock it.

Freddie shook the hair out of his face, smiling crookedly. "Fake it, then. Until even you start to believe that it's true."

She hummed noncommittally, inspecting her instrument for any last minute adjustments. "Has that game worked for you?"

Freddie laughed. "I invented the game, darling."

From where she was standing, Jane could see the actual event crew carry the next band's rig to the temporary stage, a sizable throng of people buzzing with restlessness below. Queen would be on in fifteen minutes, and Jane was starting to feel the nagging edge of anxiety with each breath. She reached for her cigarettes, lighting one and taking an insistent drag. She had put her pack away when Roger cleared his throat.

"You're not going to share with the class?"

He was sat leaning against a tree, drumming on his legs sprawled out in front of him — his kit already assembled and taken to the offstage loading zone. He looked at her expectantly.

She sighed and retrieved her pack, passing it to Roger. "Forget your own?"

"We're a band, love. Bands share smokes. It's an unspoken rule."

She stared at him blankly, and he returned her glare with a wink. Her gaze dropped, irritated to find that, yes — that still made her blush.

"Speaking of group activities," Freddie said, now stretching his arms over his head in an attempt to limber up before the show. "There's an after party in Kensington for the groups performing tonight. I know the hostess; it should be a smash. We could drop off all our stuff at my and Rog's place and drive over together."

Jane had stopped listening at the word party. Freddie, Brian, and Roger often went out together after shows, sniffing out clubs or parties to celebrate a good show, or drink to forget a bad one. Sometimes she would order a beer or two at the bar post-show, but most often, once the gear had been loaded into the van, she would slip out into the night, back home or to some other, quieter bar. A party filled with drunk, grabby strangers gyrating to loud, shitty music sounded like a particular kind of hell.

"Jane?"

Her eyes snapped back up to Freddie. "Sorry?"

A muscle in his jaw jumped, as if swallowing a laugh. "I asked if you'd like to stop by your flat after the show for a change of clothes."

She tipped her head to the side. "Why?"

"Because you're coming to the party tonight, and you're not wearing a sweater with grease stains on it," he answered with a finality that implied he wouldn't be entertaining arguments. But she could try.

"I can't. Sorry."

"And what's the excuse this time, Deacon?" Brian asked with a tone bordering on fatigue, studying the sixpence in his palm. "Visiting your sick mum? Summer school work?"

"Maybe she has the mysterious 24-hour stomach flu again," Roger muttered, throwing a drumstick into the air and catching it.

"What? No, I'm not— it's…" Jane fumbled for her words, unprepared to dig her heels in this far. Since when had they been keeping track of her excuses? "It's just not my scene, OK? I don't do parties."

Roger laughed. "Sort of comes with the territory of being in a rock band."

She grit her teeth. "What, like mooching off my cigarettes?"

He craned his neck to look up at her, hands on his criss-crossed knees. His eyes sparked with a challenge. "Exactly."

"I'm not here for the lifestyle," she said quietly, stuffing her hands in her pockets and looking off toward the stage. The current act was playing a Stones cover to a mostly dead audience. "I just want to play bass."

"Roger's right," Brian said, and she could tell it pained him to even say it. "It's called networking, and it's important. If we want to record an album, we're going to need connections. Not to mention, people who are going to want to buy the damn thing."

Jane bit her cheek and shrugged. "Sure, whatever. I'll try to make it." — Having no such intentions of doing so. By the time they finished their set and had their fill of the event coordinator's free drinks, they wouldn't care less where she was, or wasn't.

"Queen?"

They all turned their heads. A crew member in a black t-shirt beckoned to them. "You lot are on deck."

Jane got to her feet, putting distance between her and Freddie before he could continue to cajole her into attending the bloody party. She supervised the crew hauling her and Brian's amps toward the stage, following behind them with her bass slung around her shoulders.

Roger trotted up to walk next to her, pocketing his sticks. "I don't believe you, by the way."

She narrowed her eyes, but didn't rise to the bait. "OK."

"If you really hated the idea of the rock 'n roll life — the parties and all that shit— you'd be a session musician. Or you'd sit behind a bloody desk and electrocute yourself or whatever it is lady engineers do."

"I'll keep that in mind, thanks," she muttered, stuck at the base of the stairs to the stage when Roger stopped to block her path. Behind him, she could see the small crowd of people, dispersed somewhat after the previous act. She tried to duck under his arm, but he climbed up a step to block her again. He grinned down at her.

"Will you come tonight?"

"Maybe. Now can you move, please?"

He acquiesced, extending a hand to help her up the stairs. She ignored it.

Passing him, she heard him mutter almost inaudibly, "Can you at least pretend to like us?"

Taken off guard, and still flustered by the interrogation, she didn't have an answer for him. Instead, she took her place on stage right, partly obscured by the speakers, where she would plant herself for the next twenty minutes. Roger's words rattled around in her head throughout their set, though she couldn't exactly place why.

 

 


 

 

 

Jane never had the opportunity to execute her plan to quietly slip out following the performance — once the equipment had been packed into the van, she had been all but dragged into the backseat by Freddie.

"Be sociable," he had said into her ear, squeezing her to sit between him and the bass drum. "Twenty minutes is all I ask."

Twenty minutes in a black and white patterned top Freddie had procured from a heap in the back of the van, eyeliner hastily applied in the rear-view mirror. Twenty minutes tucked into the corner of a beer-stained couch, in a stranger's house filled with bodies in every state of dress and undress. This was fine. She'd be fine.

Freddie had deposited her on the couch when they had arrived, promising to greet the hostess, find them some drinks, and keep her company, in that order. Jane had little faith she would be seeing him for the rest of the night. Roger had already latched onto a gaggle of co-eds by the stairs, and Brian...well, who knew what Brian did at these things, anyway?

She recognized a few people lingering about — musicians who shared the pub circuit with them and who sometimes passed along gigs they couldn't make. There was a man sat at the piano, surrounded by admirers, whom she was fairly certain attended her second year physics class at Chelsea. However, she had little motivation to make conversation and even less courage, without the drink Freddie had promised. And she didn't feel like wading her way through the mass of people to find the kitchen.

Sound blasted from every unbalanced, crackling speaker in the house, creating an experience not so much akin to listening to music as to rolling around in pure, unfiltered noise. People somehow still managed to find a beat to dance to within the wobbling thumps of bass. Beside her, a couple she didn't know alternated between arguing and snogging furiously. Jane rested her head against the back of the sofa, closing her eyes. For a moment, all she heard was the ringing and a wave of static, and she couldn't be sure if it was in her head or the malfunctioning speakers.

Just twenty minutes.

"Jane?"

Her eyes popped open, taking a second to focus before recognizing Freddie standing in front of her, palming two red plastic cups.

"Were you actually sleeping?" He asked incredulously, leaning against the arm of the couch.

"No, but that would be nice right now."

He shook his head, shoving a cup into her hands. The slightly pink liquid sloshed around invitingly, and she immediately took a swig before asking, "What is it?"

"Alcohol and sugar. Plenty of both."

She took another sip. The alcohol only briefly burned the back of her throat before being soothed away by the rush of juice and syrup. Not her usual drink of choice, but it would serve its purpose.

She hummed. "Didn't think you were coming back."

A shadow of dismay passed briefly across his face, his smile faltering. "I wouldn't abandon you, Jane."

Jane shrugged, easily downing the rest of her drink. "I wouldn't blame you if you did."

His eyes narrowed, studying her curiously before taking her empty cup to replace it with his full one. "Well, I'd like to make the rounds. Do you want to stay here, or…" He asked, glancing sideways at the couple locked in a rather messy embrace.

Jane quickly shouldered her purse and stood up. "Nope, I'm with you."

Taking her arm, Freddie led her into the hallway, passing Roger who was deeply engrossed in conversation with a beautiful redhead, seemingly half a drink away from taking her upstairs to a spare bedroom. Freddie chuckled at the sight, leaning closer to Jane to whisper, "Rog is on top form tonight, hm?"

She laughed dryly, her eyes flickering back to the drummer — one arm propped up on the wall above the girl's head, the other spread across her hip. As if sensing her staring, Roger turned his head toward her, pushing his shaggy hair out of his face. He grinned brazenly back. She rolled her eyes and looked away, letting Freddie lead her further down the hallway.

They settled on a small room off the hall, a study with a couch and a few chairs dragged in from the kitchen. It was quieter, the roar of music and chatter somewhat muted once the door was closed. There was a group of five or six huddled around a table in the middle of the room, playing what appeared to be...Scrabble? Freddie cleared his throat, and they turned to look up at him.

"Everyone, this is Jane. Jane, these are the poor souls I'm about to whoop in Scrabble."

There were a few murmurs of greeting in reply, and some good-natured challenges to Freddie's trash talking. A young, blonde woman stood up from her place at the table, coming to Freddie's side and wrapping her arms around his waist. They shared an intimate kiss as Jane stood there awkwardly, racking her brain for mention of Freddie having a girlfriend.

Even after they pulled apart, Freddie's gaze lingered on the woman, smiling down at her fondly. Eventually he remembered Jane was there too.

"Jane, I've told you about the incomparable Mary."

Had he? Embarrassed, she realized how much of her bandmates' lives and gossip she had simply tuned out during practices. 

Mary smiled warmly, extending her hand for Jane to shake. "I've heard so much about you. Freddie says you're a genius with electronics."

"Hardly a genius, but that's very nice of him to say," she demurred, glancing between Mary and Freddie. "I just like to fix things."

Mary put a hand on her back, gently steering her toward the table. "Well, let's see if you can do anything about my atrocious Scrabble record. You'll be on my team."

 

 

The next couple hours were spent sat on the floor between Mary and Freddie, watching Freddie place increasingly strategic tiles while trying to help Mary keep up, with intermittent breaks for food and cigarettes. The rest of the group, seemingly a mix of Imperial College art students and local musicians, were a pleasant, if more subdued lot than the crowd outside. After two drinks, Jane had relaxed significantly, and her smile came easier now.

She whispered the next play to Mary, who grinned and set the tiles down accordingly. Triple word score. There was an uproar of cheers and challenges alike around the table.

"No way is that a word. Challenge it, Fred," urged Tommy, an Irishman who had studied with Freddie.

Jane laughed, spreading her hands in front of her imploringly. "Be my guest."

Freddie scratched his head, craning his neck to study the word on the board. "How do you even say it?"

"Quiescence," Jane repeated, her smile growing as Mary fell into a fit of tipsy giggles beside her.

Freddie stared at the board in intense concentration for another moment before throwing his hands up in defeat. "Whatever. Fine. No challenge. But you," he said, pointing at Mary. "Are a traitor."

"Loser has to re-up my drink," Mary said cheekily, thrusting her cup in Freddie's direction. A few others followed suit, jeering and raising their empty cups in the air.

"The game's not even over yet!" He sulked, but started collecting the proffered cups anyway. "You're all just taking advantage of my generosity."

Jane carefully rose to her feet, wobbling unsteadily after sitting cross-legged for so long. "I'll help, Fred," she volunteered.

"See? This is why she's my favorite," he said, blowing her an air kiss while passing her two cups to carry. As they left, he called out over his shoulder, "For your insolence, you're all drinking whatever the fuck I want to give you."

They weaved their way through the throng of people toward the kitchen, the smell of spilled beer and weed thick in the air. Jane helped Freddie refill the cups with a savage mix of liqueurs and syrups Freddie threw haphazardly together. Except for the cup labeled "Mary A.," which was filled with red wine.

"They're not too bad, right?" Freddie asked, taking a sip from Mary's cup.

Jane nodded. "They're very nice. Mary's lovely."

He leaned against the counter, smiling dreamily. "The loveliest, isn't she?"

Freddie had stayed true to his word so far, sticking to her side like glue even as other friends of his popped into the study to pull him away. His constant presence had put her at ease enough to start talking to the others, who really were quite friendly. She poured herself another drink, feeling warmly buzzed now that the initial edge of anxiety had faded.

"Do you usually play Scrabble at parties like this? Or do you mix it up with Monopoly sometimes?"

Freddie laughed airily, scooping the collection of drinks into his arms. "Some nights I'm in the mood for a bit more adventure, but tonight called for something low-key."

"Don't let me hold you back," she said, carefully balancing three cups in her hands as they made their way back to the study.

Walking in front of her, Freddie turned around to grin toothily. "Oh don't worry, dear. Next week we're going clubbing. There's this place on Fourth, you'd love it. Well, you might hate it, actually. But it'd be loads of fun."

Just as they rounded the corner, a huddle of guys congregating around the keg came into view. Before Jane could warn him to watch where he was going, Freddie walked straight into the nearest one, a tall and bulky man with hair cropped close to his scalp. He knocked into him head on, the drinks in Freddie's hands spilling down the front of the man's pullover and trousers.

"Fuck!" The man cursed, holding the sodden hem of his pullover in front of him. "Fucking hell, man."

Freddie's hands flew to his mouth in shock, apologizing profusely before quickly untying the scarf at his neck and using it to dab at the spill on the man's front.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. That's my fault, oh dear—"

"Don't touch me, you poof," the man snarled, shoving him away forcefully.

"It was an accident and I said I was sorry," Freddie snapped, drunkenly stumbling a bit as he regained his balance. "There's no need to be rude."

The man's buddies had perked up to the incident and were crowding around him now, leering down at Freddie with distaste, itching for a fight.

"I saw him, Joe. He walked straight toward you."

"That Paki did it on purpose."

"Let's take him outside."

Jane, who had been standing frozen behind Freddie, risked a glance to the side. Across the room in the corner, she could see Roger and Brian on the couch, staring straight at them. Roger had put down his drink and was rising to his feet, fists clenched.

"You're a real pleasant lot, aren't you? So whose turn is it with the one brain cell tonight?" Freddie taunted, seemingly unafraid of the very large, very drunk men crowding in around him. 

"You're looking for trouble aren't you? Fucking fairy," another one of the men growled, spitting at Freddie's feet.

Something inside Jane snapped, and she shoved her way in front of Freddie. She glared up at the men, clenching her jaw. "He said he was sorry. Sod off."

The big one - Joe - laughed humorlessly. "You go for ugly cunts as well as blokes, Paki?"

"Jane, walk away," Freddie muttered to her.

She ignored him, eyes locked on the men in front of her. "You all want to make a scene. Go ahead. Take a swing at me."

Joe's bravado faltered a hair, his eyebrows furrowing. "What?"

"Go on. Hit a girl in public. Everyone's watching."

Freddie was pulling at her arm, but she stayed planted, facing down the men as if prepared to fist fight each of them. The chatter in the room had dulled, though the music still played, as those around them had turned to look. She could feel her heart beating into her throat, the edges of her vision blurring as she held back her imminent panic. 

She grit her teeth, fighting the tremor in her hands from spreading. "I fucking dare you."

After a standoff that stretched several long seconds, Joe snarled and shook his head, taking a step backwards. "You're a crazy bitch, you know that?"

She didn't reply, continuing to stare at him coldly. After some grumbling and parting glares at both her and Freddie, the group vacated the hallway. All of the air in her lungs seemed to leave with them, and she leaned breathlessly against the wall, closing her eyes and sliding down as the room seemed to spin around her. She was distantly aware of hands on her shoulders, shaking her.

"What the ever-loving fuck did you do that for?" Freddie asked, sounding angrier than she'd ever heard him. When she opened her eyes, she saw him kneeling on the ground next to her, a fury in his face to match. "Those guys are maniacs. You could have actually gotten hurt!"

"I called their bluff," she said, slightly dazed. Her fingers were tingling now, the after effects of adrenaline and alcohol fueling her momentary lapse into instinct. "They weren't going to hit a girl."

Freddie groaned, rubbing a tired hand over his face. "A couple more beers and they would have hit my grandmother. That was idiotic."

"Jane!"

She looked up. Roger and Brian had crossed the room to them, concern etched into their frown lines. Roger crouched down next to her.

"Are you OK?" He asked, examining her as if looking for injury.

"Of course I am. No one touched me," she grumbled, struggling to bring herself to her feet.

After a couple of failed attempts, Brian took her hand and hoisted her up, keeping a steadying hand on her shoulder once she was upright. "We know, but you don't look so good. You're pale."

"I'm English, of course I'm pale." The loudness of the room had come flooding back into her senses, hammering a sudden headache into her skull. She pressed her fingers into her temples, rubbing them soothingly. "I'm just a little tired."

"That was pretty ballsy," Roger noted, something akin to admiration in his voice.

"It was stupid and unnecessary," Freddie snapped, giving Roger a withering look. "I can look after myself. That wasn't the first time I've been shoved around and it won't be the last."

She squinted at him, setting her jaw. "Are you mad because a girl stood up for you?"

"What? I—" he stopped, pursing his lips and breathing deeply through his nose. When he spoke again, it was slower and slightly softer. "No, I'm upset because my friend could have needlessly gotten hurt. And I don't need a defender."

Jane's attention zeroed in on a single word. Freddie considered them friends? Not just members of the same band? She looked up at him blankly, tipping her head.

"OK. I'm sorry."

Freddie sighed, waving away her apology. "I'm just glad nothing bad happened. And I suppose I should thank you, after all. For defending my honor."

Jane nodded, looking down at her hands. They were still trembling slightly. The past few hours had been overwhelming to say the least, and she was tired enough to drop where she stood.

"You should get some sleep," Brian said, as if reading her mind. "Where do you live?"

"Um, Westbourne Green, near the Marquee. It's not a long walk, I'll be fine."

"Like hell you will," Roger objected. "That's two miles away and it's one a.m. You're in no condition to walk by yourself. I'll drive you home."

Jane snorted. "You've been drinking all night. You can't drive anywhere. Besides, I know a shortcut. Twenty minutes max."

Roger stared at her for a moment before turning on his heels down the hallway. He returned moments later with his pullover. He jerked his head toward the door.

"Let's go, I'll walk with you."

She stayed planted, looking warily toward Brian and Freddie. Mary had come from the study and was now interrogating Freddie about the altercation she had heard. Roger sighed and grabbed Jane's hand, pulling her with him.

"Come on, Deaky."

The nickname, so casually dropped, made her hesitate. She'd never really had nicknames before, even in childhood A small smile came unbidden to her lips.

Jane nodded. "OK."

Deaky. 

She sort of liked it.

Chapter Text

There were two things to understand about Roger: he was a ladies' man, through and through. He was also not great with women.

The first seemed to contradict the next, but charming a woman into bed was very different from understanding the workings of her mind. He needed thirty minutes, tops, to bring a girl home, and approximately two years to realize she was angry at him for not calling. Luckily, he hadn't needed to spend much time navigating that deep divide between men and women, as most of the girls he chose to interact with socially were interested in the same no-strings, no-feelings arrangements. That much was easy.

But those were women he wanted to sleep with. Women who worked with him were another story, and Jane Deacon was a book written in another language.

The girl was virtually mute during band practices and gigs, and hadn't contributed much of anything during the writing sessions they had in the past few months. Most questions asked of her were answered with only as many words as strictly necessary — no more, and typically less. When she did speak of her own volition, it was often sarcastic in nature, which was honestly...infuriating.

Jane had built a twenty foot wall around herself, and the more bricks she laid, the more Roger was determined to knock them all down, if only to say that he could.

After the altercation between Jane and Meathead Joe (and where the hell that all came from, he had no idea) he had offered to walk her home, to which she had only reluctantly agreed. He had seen her laughing and enjoying herself at the party, for a least a little while, but now that they were alone, she had retreated back into her impenetrable shell. Her stony silence put him ill at ease as they followed Jane's shortcut through a deserted, wooded park, the gravel paths unlit and winding through the trees.

 

"I didn't realize you lived at Westbourne Green. I have a friend from uni who lives there. Davis Thompson," he said, reaching to find some sort of common ground.

Jane shook her head, looking straight ahead as they walked. "I don't really know any of my neighbors."

He snorted a laugh. "Who do you know, other than us?"

She turned her head and arched an annoyed eyebrow. "Are you accusing me of not having friends?"

Again, not great with women.

"Well, do you?"

"Yes," she said shortly, not elaborating any further.

He was about to give up and resign himself to walk the rest of the way in silence, when she spoke up, a small voice almost lost in the wind rustling through the trees.

"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you guys."

He stopped, and his sudden halt made her stumble a few steps.

"Why would you think that?"

Jane shrugged. "I caused a scene at a party where we were supposed to be networking, like Brian said. And Freddie was mad at me."

"The wanker who started it caused a scene, not you." Roger said, absently placing a hand on her shoulder. He watched her eyes drift distastefully down to his hand, and he quickly removed it. He cleared his throat. "And I wanted to thank you, actually."

"What for?"

"For sticking up for Fred. If you hadn't done something, I would have — and my plan didn't really involve any talking."

Roger had been a couple drinks past reasonable decision making at that point — not that his reasoning was ironclad at the best and soberest of times. He had gotten himself into fights on Freddie's behalf more than once, which irritated the frontman more than Roger thought was fair.

She glanced down at her shoes, crossing her feet at the ankles. Waves of brown hair fell in her face, though Roger could see the hint of a frown pulling at her mouth.

"That happens a lot, doesn't it? Freddie getting pushed around?"

Roger sighed, tipping his head from one side to another. "Sometimes. He's brilliant — don't tell him I said that, but he is. He's brilliant because he's just so...different. And some people really, really hate different."

Jane nodded, pushing her hair out of her face. "Yeah, I know," she said softly. "People lash out at things they don't understand."

"Right."

Moonlight flooded in between the boughs shadowing most of the path, illuminating them both. He realized suddenly that the shirt she was wearing, the one Fred had pulled from the back of the van, had once been his. It hung loosely on her frame, the sleeves extending past her fingertips. He would let her have it; it looked better on her than it ever did on him. He shook that thought from his head, unsure why it had appeared in the first place.

He crossed his arms and looked up at the sky, starless and slightly orange from the lights of the city and its pollution. "Y'know, Freddie hates it when we get involved in what he thinks are his battles, but that's where he's wrong."

"Hm?"

He glanced back down at her. "We're a band. You know, a— a unit. His battles are our battles, yeah?"

She tilted her head, pressing her lips together. "There's that 'all for one' mentality again."

"And one for all," he finished, grinning when her smile finally reached her eyes.

Roger thought he could probably count on his hands the number of real smiles he had received from Jane since he'd known her.

Not that he was keeping track.

"That applies to you, too," he added, scratching an imaginary itch behind his ear. "Since you're, uh, one of us and all."

Her face — moonlit as if wearing a white china mask — tilted up, considering him carefully. Finding something good, or perhaps simply honest in his expression, she smiled softly. Again, he couldn't help but smile in return. She wasn't particularly pretty — not even blonde, not even tall. But she had a sort of great smile going for her.

"We should probably keep walking," she said, breaking whatever fragile peace had settled in that moment.

Roger blinked, and then looked around, remembering that they had stopped in the clearing. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Which way, then?"

She jerked her head toward a fork in the path, where the trees on either side were denser. "Left. Be on your guard, there's usually a mugger or three up ahead."

Roger whipped his head toward her. "What?"

"Relax," she said breezily, leading the way into the woods. "Besides, I'm the one with the knife."

He paused, staring at her incredulously as she walked ahead. He shook his head, taking a few long strides to keep up with her. "I can never tell when you're kidding."

"I do carry a knife."

He chuckled under his breath. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me."

"I'm not a very surprising person."

He could barely see her features in the shadows, but just her bobbing gait was oddly confident, considering they were walking through a nearly pitch-black forest in the dead of night. If there were muggers in the park that night, he had little doubt she could rain hellfire down upon them.

"That," Roger said, kicking a stray branch out of their path. "Is not true. You're a bloody enigma."

"I'm just private."

"You've been in the band for four months, and we know fuck all about you," he challenged.

She slowed, stiffly turning her head toward him. "I don't advertise my personal life."

"There's a hell of a difference between sharing your bloody dream journal and just talking to us, y'know," he said, trying and failing to hide the frustration in his voice. "Why'd you join if you don't like being around us?"

"Don't put words in my mouth," she snapped, a wobble in her voice he hadn't heard before. "I'm not completely comfortable with you lot, fine. You're right. But if I didn't want to be here right now, I wouldn't."

"So you admit it; you could stand to gain a bit more confidence."

Jane let out an exasperated sigh, running her fingers roughly through her hair. "Why does everyone think I'm not confident, just because I'm a little quiet? I'm good at what I do; I know my worth," she said forcefully, her chin lifted defiantly. Their eyes locked for a long moment, until her gaze wavered and she looked away.

"Maybe I just can't always trust other people to respect me the same way," she said softly, her voice straining in the cool night air.

Roger almost stumbled backwards at her words, outrage bubbling in his throat. "So is that it? You seriously don't trust us?"

She brushed past him, folding her arms over her chest. "Trust is a process. It's earned."

"You have mine," he insisted, grabbing her arm to stop her in her tracks.

She looked up at him, shaking her head slightly. "Why? If you know so little about me, why trust me?"

He exhaled a dry laugh, throwing his hands up in surrender. "Fuck, I don't know, Jane. You haven't given me a reason not to?"

Jane pursed her lips, an unreadable expression flickered across her face. Turning on her heel, she continued down the path. Thinking she had had enough of him for the night, he was about to let her go on without him — he knew well enough when to stop chasing someone who didn't want to be caught.

"What do you want to know?" She called over her shoulder.

He perked up at her voice.

"You'll let me ask questions?" He asked, cautiously walking toward her, as if approaching a spooked deer. "And you'll be honest?"

She didn't slow her gait. "Five questions."

He bobbed his head, jogging to catch up with her. "OK, yeah. First question…"

"Make it good."

What's your favorite color?"

She looked at him disbelievingly. "Seriously? That's your first question?"

"Sure is. Go ahead, then."

"Yellow."

He hummed thoughtfully, not knowing exactly what he was supposed to extrapolate from that. To be honest, it was the first question that had popped into his head. "Like my hair?"

She laughed at that. "Like a daisy, you prat."

"Interesting choice. Next question: Why'd you pick up bass?"

Jane fell silent, taking a few moments to answer. A small creature, perhaps a squirrel, darted in front of them on the path. She stopped briefly to watch it disappear into the brush.

"I like the sound," she said finally. "It's bigger than me— powerful, you know? I don't get a lot of other chances to feel powerful."

"Understandable."

"Also…" she started, glancing at him shyly. "I like being the foundation of a band. If I have a good drummer to back me up."

Roger grinned at the compliment, slipping his tongue between his teeth. "What did Fred call us? A sonic tornado?"

"A sonic volcano."

"Yeah...I like that."

They walked the next few minutes in silence while Roger formulated his next questions. Rather than seem uncomfortable with the gap in conversation, Jane was utterly relaxed, apparently content to just walk beside him quietly, their elbows occasionally brushing. He had always been afraid of the quiet, and the stillness. Pauses were gulped down before they could become awkward— the gaps, filled. Jane appeared to thrive in the spaces in between. Roger sneaked a peak at her face, but saw no clues as to what she was thinking - her expression calmly, frustratingly impassive.

He remembered what had happened just a little earlier that night, and the inexplicable nerve she had called forth, standing toe to toe with a man twice her size. The rage in her face and in every muscle of her body had transformed her into someone almost unrecognizable from her current state.

"Why did you stand up to that guy at the party?" He asked, somewhat startling her out of her thoughts. "I mean, where did that come from?"

Her eyebrows furrowed, considering the question carefully. "I don't have patience for bullies," she said slowly. "I know what it's like to be picked on for something you can't change."

Roger nodded in understanding. "You were bullied in school, then?"

She paused, exhaling heavily through her nose. "No," she said shortly. "And I'm counting that as question number three."

"Oh, come on," he complained, but stopped when he saw Jane's pointed look. "Fine. What's your biggest fear?"

She answered immediately, her eyes staring straight ahead. "Illness. Not even dying, just...getting sick. Watching someone I love get sick. All of it."

There was a hitch in her breathing, but her face remained oddly, stubbornly blank. He was itching to ask a follow-up question, but there was little chance in hell she'd answer.

"What about you?" She asked, quick to change the subject.

He pointed at himself. "Me? Hey, this is about getting to know you. I'm an open book."

"Turnabout is fair play."

He laughed, cocking his head to think for his answer. As they rounded the corner, light from street lamps illuminated the end of the gravel path, and an aging apartment block came into view.

"OK. I'd say obscurity. I don't want to die and have no one know who I was."

She snorted. "I don't think you have to be worried about that."

"You think I'll be a famous drummer, then?" He asked cheekily, bumping her arm with his.

She rolled her eyes, smiling. "I think your conquests are already urban legends among the co-eds. Did you really sleep with the entire dance team at Imperial?"

He laughed, surprised and delighted she had heard that particular rumor. "Not all at once."

"Are you as big of a womaniser as you pretend to be?" She asked, leading him onto the city sidewalk as the wooded path emptied out into the street.

He hummed thoughtfully, tapping his chin. "Bigger, I'd say," he said, adding with a wink, "And at least three centimeters bigger than the rumors."

"You're a mess," she scolded, a smirk flickering across her lips. "This is my building, by the way."

He looked up at the concrete block, mostly dark at this time of night. Not quite ready to call it a night (and still having questions in the bank), he sat down on the steps in front of the building.

"Speaking of legends. If there was a book written about you, what would it be called?" Roger asked, looking up at her with his chin resting on his knees.

Jane sat down on her stoop next to him, staring at her shoes in front of her. "The phonebook?"

He nudged her with his knee. "Come on."

"I mean it. I don't think I'd even be the protagonist in my own story."

Roger cocked his head, the smile disappearing from his face. "I don't think that's true at all, Deaky. I think people are going to know who you are."

She lifted her eyebrows, shaking her head slowly. "I'd honestly prefer if they didn't."

They sat there for a few more minutes, watching the sparse street traffic in front of them while the distant sound of someone's stereo wafted down from the flats above. A small smile crept across her lips, though it soon faded when she caught his eye.

"Yes?"

He rested his back against the concrete stair, looking up at the sky. "What do you think about when you get all quiet like that?"

She didn't answer, and after a moment, stood up and brushed herself off.

"Jane?"

She smiled softly, reaching into her bag for her keys. "You're all out of questions, Roger. Goodnight."

Chapter Text

Mid October, 1971

 

 

"Can someone please shut the balcony door?" Jane called from the bathroom, a gust of wind rushing gooseflesh up her arms as she tied her hair back with a scrunchie. "I'm not paying to heat the neighborhood."

"Yeah, yeah. Just a sec. There's two pigeons out here, and they're either fighting or fucking."

Jane rolled her eyes, leaving the bathroom and navigating the mess in her small living room to pull the sliding glass door shut. Ignoring Roger's protest, she closed the blinds as well.

"Oh, sweet pigeon love," Freddie threw his head back and crooned from the couch, a teacup in hand. "Gimme gimme that pigeon—"

"You two are disturbed, you know that?" Brian said, not looking up from the book in his lap.

Hands on her hips, she surveyed the disarray before her. The boys' fall jackets and boots were piled in a heap by the door, and dishes from their breakfast of hard-boiled eggs sat on the coffee table. Several of her books had been taken from the shelves and were now strewn at Brian's feet.

Freddie and Roger's flat was the usual locale for band meetings, but they had neglected to pay the electric bill on time, and their heating would be off until the following day. Rather than shiver through their meeting, they had relocated to Jane's flat, since Brian shared with two other roommates.

None of the guys had seen the inside of her place until now, and it was slightly disconcerting to see her bandmates fidgeting about in her personal space. Roger immediately found her stash of candy in an old fishbowl, and Brian had started thumbing through the books in her sparse collection. Freddie, for his credit, had kept his hands to himself, aside from straightening the threadbare rug that she had purposefully arranged at an angle.

No matter. She would fix it all when they left.

"Hey Deaky," Roger called, one foot in the kitchen. "Not to steal food out of the mouth of a starving artist and all, but I'm a starving artist too…"

She waved him off. "Help yourself."

Not that she had much to offer guests. Now that uni had started up again for the fall session, she had fewer hours at the electronics shop and less time for paying gigs with the band. Queen was still scraping the bottom of the barrel for pub shows, many of which didn't even pay. Freddie said it was a matter of getting out of London — too much competition in the city. But Brian had been firm in his insistence that they needed a recording deal and a manager if they wanted to go anywhere at all.

But before they could sign with a record label, they would need a demo. And to make a demo, they'd have to find a recording studio willing to accept peanuts for studio time.

"I've made a list of all the studios in West and Central London," Brian said, spreading a stack of papers on the coffee table. "I figured we could divide and conquer, and then compare notes tonight."

"Why don't we just call?" Roger asked, leaving the kitchen with a half-empty packet of biscuits in hand.

Jane reached over and took a biscuit for herself. "Because calls aren't free."

"And it's harder to escort us forcefully out of the building than hang up on us," Freddie said, moving his legs off the couch so Jane could sit down.

Brian pointed his pen in Freddie's direction. "Exactly. Be assertive; that's the only language these people speak."

Jane picked at her biscuit, biting off crumbs as she listened to Brian's master plan. Studio time would be great, but she had little faith they could land a deal they could afford. Brian was struggling through his doctoral program, and Freddie and Roger probably had even less in the bank than she did, judging by the contents of their cupboards. The previous week, she had opened their fridge to find only a handful of soy sauce packets, orange juice, and a head of lettuce.

"I'll take these three in Kensal Town and West Kilburn," Freddie said, studying the paper in his hand. "I've got a friend of a friend at Rollover Sound."

"Rog, there's tons in Soho. I'll take east of Wardour if you take west," Brian offered, and Roger nodded his assent.

Jane tapped Freddie's foot with hers. "I'll tag along with you, then."

"But dear," he said with a grin, passing her the list of studios. "Who would take Marylebone?"

She gave the list a passing glance, shaking her head. "No. No, you don't want me talking to studio execs."

Jane could spend a few minutes at their parties, learn their friends' names and book small gigs for the band, but schmoozing and self-promoting was a whole different nightmare.

"These are small studios, Deacon," Brian said, leaning forward in his chair, palms up. "It's not like we're sending you to Abbey Road."

"And what am I supposed to say? 'Hi, I'm Jane; my band wants to use your studio but we don't have any money,'" she scoffed. "That will go over well."

"It's like selling a jacket," Roger said. "You've got to make them feel like they'll miss out if they don't buy this absolutely amazing jacket right now."

She crossed her arms over her chest, leaning back into the couch. "Sell them a jacket they've never seen?"

He shrugged. "Fred and I have made harder sales."

"I'll freeze," she said, tucking her chin against her chest. "I'll shake their hands and turn into an ice cube. And then you'll be out a bassist."

"Shouldn't be too much of a hassle to find a newer model," Roger said with a smirk. "Got any hot friends?"

She narrowed her eyes, glaring in his direction. "You're talking real fresh for someone sitting in my flat, eating my food."

"You wouldn't let me starve."

"No, but I'd let you eat outside with the pigeons."

"Children," Freddie scolded, whacking Jane's knee playfully with the sheet of paper. "Jane, you're 25 percent Queen, which means you do 25 percent of the work."

"Fine," she relented, collecting the dishes on the table to take to the sink. "But don't be surprised when nothing comes of it."

"Oh, Jane?" Brian motioned for her, raising his teacup. "While you're up, could you make another quick batch of tea? For the road?"

She glanced down at the dishes in her hand and sighed, nodding. "Sure. Earl Grey?"

"That'd be lovely."

While she filled the kettle with water from the sink, she heard Brian speaking to the other boys.

"I don't know what it is, but women are hands-down better at making tea. You can always tell when a man has made a pot, because it's shit."

She bit her tongue as the hot water from the tap spilled over the sides of the kettle, scalding her hands.

 

 


 

 

 

Getting off at Marylebone station, Jane headed west toward Blue Bus Studios — the first stop on her list. After some further coaching from Freddie and Brian on "selling the band," they had departed the flat around 10, going their separate ways to cross off as many studios on their list as they could before sundown. She rehearsed her script in her head as she walked, almost stepping into traffic when she failed to notice the light had turned. It wouldn't be all bad if she got hit by a car, though. If she was in A&E, she wouldn't have to solicit studios.

Unfortunately, she arrived at Blue Bus safe and sound. The receptionist, upon giving her an estimating once-over, instructed her to sit in the waiting area while Don Byers, the producer, could be fetched. The studio had not done a fantastic job at soundproofing, so she could faintly hear the clatter of cymbals from the other side of the lobby wall. Bouncing her knee in time with the distant beat and checking her watch often enough to make the receptionist roll her eyes, she waited for nearly 35 minutes, long after the music in the other room had stopped.

She was about to give up and leave when the studio door opened, revealing a disheveled middle-aged man in a pullover and jeans, headphones still slung around his neck. His scanned her up and down as she rose to her feet, his eyes lingering briefly on her jumper-clad chest.

"You wanted to speak with me, Miss…?" He asked, taking her hand and shaking it limply.

"Deacon," she said, hastily folding her jacket over her other arm. "Mr. Byers, I hoped we could discuss making an arrangement for studio time."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Miss Deacon, my secretary handles scheduling."

"I know," she said quickly, glancing down at the folder of supporting materials in her hands. "My group is just starting out, and we'd like to get our foot in the door by producing a demo. But funds are just a little tight—"

"We don't do charity, if that's what you want," he huffed impatiently, pursing his lips.

"We're not asking for charity," she stuttered, rushing over her words. "We'll pay what we can and take the time slots no one wants. I'm good with sound equipment, so I can offer my services for free—"

"I think we know where all the pretty buttons and dials are, thanks," he said dryly, turning away from her to lean on the front desk to speak to his receptionist, who was trying not to laugh at the exchange.

"What time do we have Missing Screws in today? I'll want to have lunch beforehand."

"We're good," she said louder, pulling his attention back toward her. "I promise, you've never heard a band like Queen before."

Don exhaled loudly, slowly tilting his head toward her, though his elbows still rested on the desk. "Take a hint. The answer is no, sweetheart. I don't have time for this."

"If you just heard us, you'd change your mind," she pleaded.

He laughed coolly, straightening up. Swooping his arm around around her waist, he led her forcefully toward the door. "If I've heard The Paris Sisters, I've heard every girl group. Good luck, Miss Deacon."

She was pushed over the threshold, the door shutting in her face before she could say the words: "We're not even a girl group."

An old hurt, one that had dislodged and stayed inside her since childhood, bloomed painfully beneath her ribs.

 

 

The second stop on her list, Jukebox Studio, didn't fare much better.

"I appreciate your interest in music," the owner drawled, perched on the corner of his desk and peering down at her with a sickeningly sweet expression. "If you'd like a tour of the facilities, I'd be more than happy to show you around."

Jane cast her eyes downward, the old wooden chair creaking as she fidgeted. "Oh, that's all right. If you can't spare studio time I under—"

"But you know what I can do, doll? Wait right here," he said, touching a hand to her cheek and letting it briefly stroke across her hair as he got up to move behind her. She flinched, her eyes darting to the door.

He returned with a stack of business cards retrieved from the filing cabinet. "Hold out your hand."

She hesitated, but did as instructed, and he placed the cards in her palm one by one.

"SoulFX specializes in children's choirs — they're owned by this lovely married couple, the Bakers. And these three are a favorite among the religious and folk groups."

Jane looked down at the cards in her hand, closing her fist around them tightly. "Thank you. I— I appreciate it."

On the way out through the lobby, she deposited the cards in the rubbish bin.

The rest of the day continued in much the same fashion. The QB Sound producers laughed her out of their office, but not before telling her she'd need bigger tits if she wanted to get on television. No one in charge at Metro Recording even agreed to meet with her, though the page boy, who had ferried the definitive no from his boss, did ask her out for drinks. She hasn't bothered to dignify that with a response, instead grabbing her jacket and storming out of the studio.

By four in the afternoon, she was trudging home tired, embarrassed, and irritable, not looking forward to rehashing the day with the boys. She figured they too had been mocked out of the studios they visited, but she'd bet at least none of them had been called doll.

 

The boys were already waiting by the door to her building when she arrived, shivering and jumping up and down to keep warm.

"About time," Roger muttered, crowding around her as she unlocked the front door. "My balls were going to freeze off."

She ignored the comment, leading them up the three flights of stairs. Once they were in her flat, she tore off her coat and scarf and slumped into the couch cushions. Freddie fiddled with the heater, blasting warmth into the small room.

"Let's get this out of the way. It went as bad as expected," she grumbled, picking at an unraveling thread in her jumper. "Worse, actually."

"I didn't have much luck either," Freddie sighed, leaning his head back against the couch from his position on the floor in front of her. "Made a few good contacts though. Lenny from Nascent Sounds took down my number, but their schedule is full for the next six months."

Freddie craned his neck behind him to look at Roger. "And what about you?"

Roger shrugged. "Livingston, Rak, and Urchin were dead ends. The guys at Soho Sonic seemed to really like me though. Said I had gumption."

Jane swallowed dryly, rising from the couch to grab a few beers from the kitchen. She half-listened as Roger recounted the tea he shared with the Soho execs, popping the caps off with a little more vigor than necessary. Returning from the kitchen, she set a bottle down in front of each of them, taking a long swig from her own.

Brian cleared his throat, rubbing his hands together gleefully. "Lads, I've got us something a bit better than gumption. I had a good talk with the owners of Offset Audio and...we've got an appointment to talk deals tomorrow at four."

"Are you joking? That's incredible!" Roger exclaimed, looking gleefully between Brian and Jane, who curled even smaller into the corner of the couch.

Freddie raised his bottle to Brian in a small toast. "Fantastic work, Bri. How'd you do it?"

Brian shrugged. "I told them about all the shows we've been playing, and the kind of music we want to make. They were interested!"

"This is it," Roger said, his hand slapping the couch cushion between him and Jane. "This is the beginning for us; I can feel it."

Jane lifted her eyebrows, frowning into the drink she clutched with both hands.

Roger nudged her shoulder. "What's up, Deaky? This is good, yeah?"

"Yeah," she murmured, her voice cracking. She nodded and cleared her throat. "Yeah, it's great for us."

"Jane," Brian said fimly, his hands folded in front of him. "I know you were out of your element today, but if you're still sulking because you had to introduce yourself to strangers, I have some bad news about the music industry."

Anger pricked hot at the back of her throat, swallowed down with measured breaths. An inexplicable weight settled around her neck and shoulders.

"I was humiliated," she said after a moment, almost whispering. She gripped her beer bottle so hard she could have crushed it between her hands. "No one listened to me, they laughed at me, they harassed me."

The boys had gone silent, and she took a deep breath, meeting Roger's eyes.

"When you go cold calling studios, it's called gumption. They pat you on the back and chat a little. When I do it, it's naivety. Foolishness."

"Jane, I'm sorry —" Brian started, but she cut him off.

"What did they call you, other than your names? Sweetheart? Doll? Baby?" She rattled off, her breathing coming faster now as she relived the day's indignities. "Did they touch your waist? Your hair?"

"One guy called me blondie," Roger added sheepishly.

She gave him a withering look. "They take you lot seriously because you're men. I'm never going to have that advantage."

Freddie sighed, moving to sit between her and Roger. She got up before he could, darting to the kitchen for another drink.

"Darli— Jane. What do you want us to do? How do we fix it?"

"I don't need you to fix it. I just thought you should know what we're up against," she laughed bitterly, cracking open another bottle. "All for one, right?"

"You won't have to go through that again, Jane," Brian said quietly from the other room. "Once we sign this deal with Offset, that's over with."

She shook her head, leaning over the sink and staring at the wall. "Now you're being naive, Bri."

 

 


 

 

 

The meeting at Offset was scheduled late in the day. Jane had kicked the guys out early the previous night, complaining of a headache, and fell into bed at nine. The full night's sleep had done her good, and although the events of yesterday still stung fresh, she was ready to sit down with the studio execs and watch their music career finally take wing. Brian was right — they wouldn't go anywhere without this first step. She had even dragged her nicest wool skirt out from the back of her drawer, pairing it with a white blouse that was only slightly wrinkled.

"You're looking chipper this morning," Freddie noted when she climbed into Roger's van, which would take them to Soho. "Are you wearing lipstick?"

She grimaced, swiping a hand over her mouth. "Too much?"

Roger looked over his shoulder and whistled. "Wow, you look like a girl!"

Frowning, she tugged her jacket closed. She looked out of place; none of the guys had thought to put much effort into their appearance, besides Freddie (who always gave approximately 25% more effort than necessary).

Freddie shot Roger a glare before turning to Jane, patting her knee kindly. "You look very professional, dear."

"Let's go over the plan again," Brian said as they pulled away from the curb, twisting around to face them from the front passenger seat. "Fred will warm them up, and then Rog and I will negotiate session times and equipment. And Jane—"

"Will talk money," she finished, holding up the black binder in her lap. She had spent the morning researching studio rates and royalties typical for their region. Numbers, like electronics, came easily to her, and she had gradually assumed the role of part-time financial advisor to the rest of the band. Not that there had been much to advise — moving a couple pounds between checking and savings did not a financial plan make.

"And then pizza?" Roger asked, glancing up at the rear-view mirror.

"If it goes well, sure," Brian allowed.

Roger caught her eye in the mirror and grinned. "It will. I have a good feeling about this."

They arrived at Offset a short time later and were greeted at the door by the studio's receptionist. It was a small office, but expensively decorated with chrome finishes on just about every surface. Jane handed her jacket to the receptionist, looking around the lobby at the framed photos and album covers made by bands that had recorded there. She didn't recognize any of the groups, but perhaps that was Offset's niche — nurturing bands who hadn't quite made it yet.

An assistant in a tweed coat took their drink orders; tea for all except Freddie, who asked for water with lemon. Having been told to make themselves at home while the owner could be fetched, they settled comfortably into the lobby's plush, velvet couches. Her fingers traced the ornate silver designs lining the edge of the side table, smiling to herself. This was an opulence fit for Queen.

She leaned in to Freddie, whispering, "I feel like we're in a palace."

He lifted his eyebrows in agreement. "Brian sucked the right cock to make this happen."

She slapped his arm, laughing despite herself. "Freddie!"

"You know I'm joking. Brian wouldn't know the first thing—"

"Gentlemen?"

Jane looked up to see the newcomer, a man in a crisp white shirt and tie standing at the door, his hands clasped together.

He smiled broadly at each of them, extending his arms. "This must be Queen."

Freddie was the first on his feet, strolling coolly over to shake the man's hand. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm Freddie Mercury."

The man laughed, clasping Freddie's hand with both of his. "I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Mercury. I'm David Parsons, but call me Dave."

"Thanks again for meeting with us, sir," Brian said, taking his turn to shake Dave's hand after Roger. "We really appreciate it."

"Well, I had to see for myself what all the fuss is about, didn't I? You all are making a splash around London," Dave said, patting Brian on the back and steering him toward the hallway. "Why don't you all come with me, I'll show you around."

They followed him down the short hallway, where it branched into two more corridors that were lined with glass-enclosed recording booths. There was a muffled vibration under her feet, the tell-tale sign of a bass with its volume turned to a healthy roar. She grinned at Roger, who was busy lusting over the glistening drum kit left in an empty booth.

"State of the art facilities. We're really proud of the mic setup here," Dave said, stopping in front of one of the booths. "You know how it's a pain to position the mic in just the right spot by the amps?"

Jane and Brian nodded in agreement. Recording any sort of amp sound was a nightmare with amateur equipment, which was why they had given up on producing their own demo from scratch.

"Well, these mics don't have that problem. Set them up wherever you like around the amp; the sound will be picked up just fine."

Jane's eyebrows furrowed, craning her neck to look into the booth at the mics. They looked like standard Sennheiser mics to her, and she wasn't aware of any audio equipment that had solved the issue of dynamic mic placement.

"If the sound is the same from any direction, how would you achieve off-axis coloration, then?" She asked, and upon seeing his raised eyebrows, quickly added, "If you don't mind my asking."

Dave chuckled, leaning against the booth's window. "Not at all. I appreciate assistants who take an interest in the work."

A knot in her stomach seized, the excitement from minutes prior dampening like water thrown on flame.

"Jane Deacon is actually our bassist, Dave," Brian said quickly, shooting her an apologetic look. "And our resident engineer."

"Is that so?" Dave said, his eyebrows almost shooting up to his hairline now. "That's marvelous, really marvelous. My apologies, Miss Deacon."

She smiled weakly. "It happens."

"A lady bassist," Dave murmured to himself pushing off the wall and continuing down the corridor, apparently forgetting Jane's initial question. "That's an excellent move, isn't it? Not a lot of those around."

"Our Jane is one of a kind," Freddie said proudly, slinging an arm over her shoulder and giving her an encouraging squeeze.

"Very marketable. Adds something pretty to the album cover."

"'Something pretty' is my role, actually," Roger said deftly, giving her a clandestine wink as he passed her to walk beside Dave.

They arrived at a conference room at the end of the hall, their requested drinks already placed on a tray on the table. They found their respective seats, with Jane claiming the chair next to Freddie, across from Brian and Roger. Two more suit-clad men entered the room, introducing themselves as Todd and Ben and shaking hands with all of them.

"Todd and Ben are our core producers. They know the business inside and out; you won't get a better sound from anyone else."

Looking around at the polished conference room and the men's immaculate suits, she was curious why a seemingly successful recording studio would even bother giving a bunch of broke uni students the time of day. She had expected a quid-pro-quo deal with a small studio — they'd fix up broken amps and vacuum the rugs in exchange for studio time. She didn't think anyone would roll out the red carpet for Queen.

What they were offering, too, was very tempting. Two-hour slots on weekday mornings, full use of recording and mixing equipment, concierge service. They'd even get an intern on slow days. And all without even hearing the band play. She looked across the table at Roger, who was practically bouncing in his seat with enthusiasm, and Brian, who was doing little to conceal the growing smile on his face.

"What's the catch?" Freddie whispered in her ear, as Brian and Todd talked parking arrangements.

"It'll be short-term, at their discretion," she reasoned. "And they'll probably ask for a return on their investment, down the road."

That wasn't unheard of, and she had even prepared a few pages in her binder about royalty clauses. Studios sometimes gave discounted rates to promising artists on the condition that they pay back the difference after the album is sold, or that the studio becomes the sole facility for all recording projects. It was just another form of advertising.

Dave laid a couple stapled packets on the table, pushing them across to Brian and signalling his assistant to distribute pens.

"We've drawn up the contract already, so you can just peruse its contents and then we'll be ready to welcome you to the Offset family," Dave said, smiling at each of them in turn.

Jane reached across the table to snatch a copy of the contract. Scanning the front page, it didn't take long for her to zero in on one section in particular. She frowned and circled a line in the first paragraph with pen.

"Parties will enter an exclusive artist recording agreement for the initial contract period, which shall run for fifteen months from the completion and satisfactory delivery of the initial product, three 'single' tracks," she read out loud, looking between Dave and the other two men. "We weren't expecting to sign a production deal."

"It's standard, love," Dave said dismissively before turning to Brian and flipping to the next page in the contract. "You'll get full use of our sound engineers on retainer, as well."

She circled another paragraph, still on the first page, shaking her head vigorously as Dave talked to Brian.

"Company shall have the right to require artist to record a full length album of ten songs no later than nine months after the commercial release of the initial track, with up to four consecutive additional contract periods to be exercised by Company in its sole discretion…" she rattled off, taking a moment to breathe. "That's ludicrous. If delivery is at your discretion, the contract could continue indefinitely!"

"This is standard, Miss Deacon," Dave repeated, annoyance coloring his tone. "I understand that contracts can be rather dense, but I assure you our lawyers draw these up all the time; they're a formality—"

"They're legally binding!" She snapped, flipping the next page hastily to scan the rest of the contract for similar nonsense. "And I know how to read a simple contract."

Brian cleared his throat, stepping into the role of diplomat. "Perhaps we should take the contract home and look it over tonight."

"No need, Brian. They're looking to get 30% of all royalties, advances, live performances—"

"That's enough," Dave said sharply, giving her a disparaging look. "I didn't realize they taught engineering and law at finishing schools nowadays."

"I don't need to be a lawyer to know—"

"The contract is renegotiable after the initial fifteen month period, at which point we can revisit our goals."

She clenched her teeth, sitting up straight in her seat. "Dave, please don't interrupt—"

He ignored her, speaking louder. "For a new group with no demo, no other prospects? You're not going to find a better arrangement. This is a steal."

"Or highway robbery," she muttered under her breath, sinking back into her chair.

Dave narrowed his eyes, pointing a finger at her. "I'd consider your words very carefully, sweetheart," he said, his voice adopting a tone of cold authority she hadn't heard that afternoon. "If you want to sit at the table with the big boys, fine. But you will be nice and quiet and play by my rules."

Next to her, she could practically hear Freddie's jaw pop open. She was tempted to get up and shove Dave's bloody contract in his face, but...word would get out. Reputation was a delicate thing. Not only would they not get a deal with this studio, they wouldn't catch a deal with any studio in Soho. She couldn't do that to the band. This was their future — her future.

So instead, she nodded. "Yes."

"Yes, sir."

"Hey—" Roger warned, training his eyes on Dave.

Jane ignored him, overcoming the revulsion to spit the words. "Yes, sir."

Dave smiled lecherously, reaching over the pat her hands primly. "That's a good girl."

"Oh, fuck you," Brian snapped, setting down his mug with a loud thump.

Jane whipped her head up, bewildered by the harsh words coming from him, of all people. Brian rarely cursed, unless he was exceptionally angry, or exceptionally excited.

"Bri," she started, laying her hands flat on the table. "It's fine."

Brian pushed back from the table with a screech of his chair. "Nope. It's not," he said, taking the contract in his hand and crumpling it up in a ball. "We're out. He can't speak to any of us that way."

"Come on, now. Think about what you're doing, son," Dave threatened, pointing his pen in Brian's direction. "This is your livelihood at stake. Your dream."

"We'll find our dream somewhere else, thanks. We don't take shitty deals from shitty men," Brian spat in reply, already heading toward the door with Roger on his heels.

Freddie pulled Jane out of her chair, where she had been frozen slack-jawed watching Brian's outburst. They didn't give Dave a chance to argue, hurrying after Brian as he stormed out of the office, grabbing their jackets from the harried receptionist on the way.

"The fucking nerve," Brian fumed, throwing on his coat as they exited the building.

She and Freddie struggled to keep up with Brian's pace, half-jogging as he led them around back to the car lot.

"Trying to trap us in an exploitative contract," Brain continued, muttering to no one in particular. "Disrespecting us like that...unbelievable."

"Wanker," Roger echoed.

"To be fair, he was pretty respectful toward you all," Jane mused, buttoning up her jacket as they walked.

Brian whipped around, bringing them all to a halt in the middle of the car lot. "He insulted you, so he insulted the band. I wasn't expecting a totally fair deal from them anyway. But we've got to draw the line somewhere, and it's our bloody dignity."

She didn't speak, and he didn't wait for a reply, turning on his heels and walking toward Roger's van. Once it was unlocked, he held the front passenger side door open, gesturing for Jane to get in. She hesitated — she had always sat in the back with Freddie.

"Come on," Brian said, jerking his head toward the van. "If you're as nauseous as you looked in there, you shouldn't be in the back."

She nodded, quietly thanking him as she clambered into her seat. The first few minutes of the ride were silent, and Jane feared for a terrifying moment that they all blamed her for losing their first and possibly only shot at a deal. At that point, Dave's abuse had not been surprising — she had experienced worse, and was prepared to grin and bear it if it meant securing their future. However, Jane hadn't been about to let him fuck them all over with a contract from hell.

Eventually, Roger cleared his throat, glancing at her sideways before adjusting his rear-view mirror. "Thank god for Jane, am I right?"

Freddie threw his hands in the air, groaning in exasperated relief. "Could you imagine? I wasn't going to read a damn word of that contract."

"Me neither! I would have signed away my left nut entirely."

She turned in her seat and looked at Brian, his legs folded uncomfortably close to his chest in the narrow jumpseat. They shared a small smile and he nodded.

"We'd have lost more than that, Rog."

Chapter Text

December, 1971 

 

 

A three-foot inflatable Father Christmas beamed at Jane from the corner of the recording booth, decorated haphazardly with lights and festive accoutrements. Over-inflated, the decoration was grotesquely rotund - its face stretched sideways over a bulging head so that its eyes followed one around the booth. She frowned, kicking it with the toe of her boot so it toppled sideways to stare creepily up at Roger playing behind the drum screen.

"Can someone move that fucking thing?" Roger complained, halting the crash of his cymbal with a quick hand. "I don't like the way it's looking at me."

Jane could take or leave Christmas. The lights and the decorations were tolerable enough, and people generally were kinder and more patient during the holidays, but there was a hollowness to the joy, as if everyone around her was performing some pre-rehearsed nativity play, reading from a script she didn't have. The overabundance of gifts, the false cheerfulness, the requirement that everyone be merry and bright was, quite frankly, exhausting.

While London screeched to a cold, dreery halt during holidays, she wanted, more than anything, to get to work. Christmas had, in a way, brought good tidings: De Lane Lea Studios, a recording studio with newly renovated facilities, had offered them discounted studio time during the holidays — their slow season — to test out their state-of-the-art equipment. With no exploitative contract to sign and no lecherous studio executives to butter up, the deal had been the obvious choice. Recording was going to be straight-forward, anyway; get in, press record, lay down five tracks.

As it turned out, recording a demo was not that simple. Queen began their ad hoc arrangement with De Lane Lea Studios the tenth of December, expecting to be done within several days. However, life got in the way, with Jane quickly bogged down with revising for her term exams, and Brian knee-deep in his doctorate. Part of the studio's building also was still under construction, so recording time was limited to the few hours after the drills and jackhammers stopped and before the studio locked up for the night.

It was now the 18th of December, and they had finished recording only two songs of their five planned, and mixing the tracks was not even a speck on their horizon yet. Jane was getting antsy, checking her ledger with growing anxiety as they paid the hourly fee for their sessions. The studio time was cheaper than average, but it wasn't free, and none of them had money to spare — within another week, she'd have to start choosing between her utility bills.

They had been in the studio for almost two hours that evening, getting a delayed start since Freddie had arrived late, giving some excuse about needing to accompany Mary to the dentist. With an eye on the clock, they raced to lay down as many parts as possible while their yawning audio engineer, Ned Bittle, lazily adjusted dials and switches.

"That's still too much cymbal, dear," Freddie called through the intercom from the control room. "We talked about doing more of a tsh tsh tsh CHA, remember?"

"Right, sure," Roger said into the mic behind the drum screen, turning it off before mumbling to Jane, "What the hell is he on about?"

"You were playing with the energy of an 80 year old man," she muttered, plucking at her strings impatiently. "Pick it up, some."

He chafed at that, giving her an annoyed look before sidestepping the prone Santa to fetch his bottle of water. She pursed her lips, knowing his "water breaks" tended to turn into 20 minute intermissions.

"We don't have time, Roger."

He waved her off dismissively. "Relax, will you? I'm just getting a drink."

"We're on the clock and we still have overdubs to do," she said sharply, planting her hands on her hips. "If we stay another hour that's an extra two quid each."

"Thanks for reminding me, again," he drawled sarcastically. "My hands are going to start bleeding soon, y'know."

Their eyes met, and she lifted an eyebrow in challenge. "So we'll play until they do."

The speaker crackled as Freddie spoke over the intercom. "Uh, let's not kill each other, alright? It'll ruin the atmosphere. Rog, do you need to ice your hands?"

Roger exhaled a dramatic, long-suffering sigh. "Jane wouldn't let me— she prefers the sound of my drums when they're covered in blood."

"Baby," she said, unable to resist cracking a smile. He stuck out his tongue in reply.

"Alright, alright. Just a couple more tries, please," Freddie said with a wave of his hand, signalling them to play when ready.

"How about you let the drummer set the pace this time?" Roger said blithely, bumping her shoulder as he passed behind her.

She pretended to think about it as she adjusted the mic next to her amp stack. "If the drummer can find a pace to stick to, sure, I'll follow him."

He laughed, rarely one to take her jabs too seriously, and counted them off.

They played another four takes, with Freddie declaring the last one perfect. As they packed up their gear for the night, Freddie went over the recording schedule for the next few weeks, once everyone returned from holiday, and the resulting recording fees.

Numbers flew and rearranged themselves in her head, trying to find a spare gap in her budget, but it was tight. She'd have to cough up at least another 30 pounds for the demo, and there were still books she needed to buy for her Electrodynamics class, not to mention council fees once she renewed her lease. Her mother could probably lend her money, but Jane would sooner cut off her right arm than accept money from her. She wouldn't be able to outrun her expenses for long.

"I think I'm going to defer this term," she said quietly, once there was a lull in the guys' conversation.

Freddie turned to her, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "But you're graduating in June."

"I need to pick up extra hours at the shop," she explained, ducking under a string of fairy lights to retrieve her amp. "Maybe get a second job."

"Your education is important," Brian said firmly, shutting his guitar case with a loud snap. "You're graduating on time."

Brian had had this conversation half a dozen times with Roger, she had heard, as the drummer bounced between subjects. But Jane's problem was never commitment to her studies — she loved learning, loved engineering.

It had been a point of pride for her, being the only woman of her year in the electrical engineering department to graduate in the standard three years. Rebecca Anderson and Molly Frum had been the only other girls in the department's new student orientation, but Rebecca dropped out before the end of the first year, and Molly had gotten pregnant during the second. Jane had been looking forward to receiving her honors diploma from the very same dean who told her she'd be better off finding a husband in a less strenuous field of study. Still, personal satisfaction didn't pay the bills.

"Being about to feed myself and keep the heat on is also important, Bri."

"You've got that place to yourself; you should get a flatmate," said Roger, as if that option had never been brought up before. "That would cut costs."

"It's a one-bedroom; I can't get a flatmate," she recited tiredly, leaning against the control room door. "Besides, I'm not good at living with other people."

"Roger has a point. Sharing a flat is the most reasonable solution," Freddie said, a sly grin spreading on his face.

Jane narrowed her eyes, knowing where he was going with this. "We've been over this, Fred. You know my answer."

He flicked a strand of hair out of his face and glanced over at Roger and Brian. "It would solve all our problems, dear."

"No."

"Jane—"

"No, Fred."

Freddie, Roger, and Brian had all moved into a dilapidated row house on Sinclair Road a couple weeks prior. It was cramped, poorly insulated, and infested with spiders. And with Mary spending the night half the time, there were basically already four people living in a three bedroom house. Still, Freddie had been pestering her to drop her flat and move in with them.

"This would let us all save money, actually," Brian added, ignoring the glowering look Jane sent his way. "More people to split the rent means less rent for everyone."

"It still means more people," she said stubbornly, biting the inside of her cheek. "I need my privacy, and there aren't enough rooms!"

"You can have my room," Freddie offered cheerfully. "I'll put some curtains up and turn the dining nook into my little nest."

"Freddie, no, I'm not kicking you out of your room," she said, raising a hand. "I'll figure it out, OK? Don't worry about my finances."

Freddie thankfully dropped the subject, though presumably not for long. Once the demo tape was removed and stashed away for the night, they let Ned close and lock the door behind them.

"So, what are you Christian folk up to for the holidays?" Freddie asked as they ambled down the steps to the street, now mostly devoid of the day's Christmas shoppers. "Decking halls and jingling bells?"

"I'll jingle a bell or two," Roger said with an impish grin, cackling as Jane smacked his arm with her beanie.

"I'll be at my parents' place until New Years," Brian said, giving Roger and Freddie a pointed look. "So don't burn the house down, please."

"But Brian," Freddie said imploringly, walking double-time to keep up with Brian's long strides. "How will we make pasta?"

"Maybe try putting water in the pot along with the macaroni," Brian replied dryly.

"Rog and I will hold down the fort, bravely," Freddie said, and then turned to Jane, walking beside him. "Are you in town for Christmas? You're more than welcome to join us, Deaky."

Freddie, although his family didn't celebrate Christmas, enjoyed the tacky traditions and decorations of the holiday, and had hung up tinsel and lights throughout the house. It had actually felt quite cozy sitting in the boys' den the previous night, though the fir needles from the anaemic Christmas tree had managed to get everywhere, including her hair, sweater, and shoes.

"Yeah, I'll be around."

"You're not going home for Christmas?" Brian asked. "Leicester, yeah?"

She pinned a smile to her face, shaking her head. "My mum's a nurse; she's working through Christmas. And I wanted to pick up some extra hours at the shop over the holiday, anyway."

"At least come by on Tuesday morning," Roger said. "We'll do presents before Brian leaves."

"You think you deserve a present?" She asked wryly.

"I've been good this year!"

"Depends on who you ask," Brian muttered.

"I had to walk home in the rain from my lab last week," Jane said, sniffing pointedly. "Because someone met a girl at a bar…"

"I lost track of time, and I said I was sorry!" Roger protested. "I'll grovel at your feet, do you want that? I'm great at grovelling."

"Yes, we know how much you like being on your knees," Brian said, earning a delighted bark of laughter from Freddie.

She pinched back a smile, stuffing her hands in her coat pockets as she brushed past him. "Pick me up from work tomorrow and I won't give you coal for Christmas."

 

 

Roger made good on his promise the next night, pulling up outside her work, Henry's Electronics, right on time. Ever since the ill-fortuned party over the summer, he had taken to occasionally walking or driving her home from band practices and sometimes her shifts at the shop, at first with the pretense that he wanted to visit his mate who lived in Westbourne Green, and then dropping excuses all together. He still peppered her with questions, half of which she answered, if she was in a particularly generous mood.

"When was your first...kiss?" He asked now, a mischievous glint in his eye as he glanced away from the road. "I'm driving, remember, so you can't hit me."

She smirked, jostling in her seat as they hit a pothole. "Are we nine?"

"Come on, it's interesting."

"Pass," she said, looking out the window at the dark and narrow side streets they were winding through.

"Aw, Deaky."

They were in the shadow of a tower block when they approached a row of dumpsters lining the curb, and her eyes landed on a flash of color, a familiar shape caught in silhouette in the moonlight.

"Stop the car," she instructed, batting at Roger's shoulder. "Stop right here."

The car came to a screeching halt, a bewildered look on Roger's face as she unbuckled her seat belt. "What? What's wrong?"

"Hang on," she said, jumping out of the van and trotting over to the dumpster to investigate.

They had stopped in sort of a rough part of town, line after line of decrepit row houses fenced in with jagged wooden stumps and wire, apartment towers looming just overhead. She specifically walked through the park to avoid this neighborhood. On cue, sirens echoed from somewhere nearby. Roger called after her in vain, demanding she get back in the vehicle before she got hypothermia, or stabbed.

Ignoring him, she stood on her tip-toes and reached up to grab what appeared to be a circuit board, but it dislodged itself from the back of a small electronics panel, falling deeper into the bin.

She heard the engine cut off, and a moment later Roger joined her, shivering with his arms wrapped tightly across his chest. "Are you mad, woman? It's freezing out here."

She took the bag from her shoulder and pushed it into his chest. "Hold my purse."

"You are not seriously getting—" he trailed off as she hoisted herself up on the edge of the skip and gingerly lowered herself down.

"Jane, stop. Jane!" He shouted, and then sighed. "And….she's in. Right. Of course, she's a raccoon…"

Reaching gingerly between a stack of broken chairs and sofa cushions, she found what she was looking for, holding the mess of wires and circuitry above her head triumphantly.

Roger dragged a hand over his face, shaking his head. "You just got every type of hepatitis."

"No, I got Brian's Christmas presentHelp me out, Rog."

He glared distastefully at the dumpster but acquiesced, holding out his hands to help her jump down off the ledge. Once on her feet again, she hurried back to the car, switching on the overhead light. Roger grumbled inaudibly as he started the car, which peeled away from the curb with a high-pitched squeal.

Jane inspected the object closer, guessing the circuit was an amplifier from a small radio or tape player. She had seen similar wiring in baby monitors, as well. She fingered the capacitors gently, pleased to see there was no visible water damage, despite it having rained recently. A few components were loose, but those could be tightened easily enough. She smiled, knowing exactly what she was going to build with her new toy.

"So, what is it, trash lady?" Roger asked, taking his eyes off the road briefly to study the circuitry in her lap.

"It will be a new effects amp, once I fix it up and find a case for it."

Roger wasn't convinced.

"Are you getting all of our gifts out of the dumpster? Is it too late to ask for the coal?"

 

 


 

 

 

Over the next few days, the amp was lovingly rewired, screwed into a modified bookshelf speaker, and outfitted with an input jack. She couldn't find any small transistor batteries lying around her flat, so she settled on a beefy PP9 nine volt taken from an old walkie talkie. There was no volume control — after experimenting, she found the little amp sounded best at max volume. Smoother, warmer and more sustained than any distorted amp she had heard before, it gave her old Stratocaster the timbre of a violin. This amp was going to make Brian's Red Special sing. 

Having little money to spare, Freddie and Roger's gifts were also of the DIY persuasion. She made a small wooden mantel clock for Freddie — admittedly, a truly elementary engineering project, but fitting for a man who played hopscotch with the line between fashionably and annoyingly late. Roger was a little more difficult, as the interests he was most vocal about — cars, women, Jimi Hendrix — were not so easily wrapped and gifted. Eventually she settled on building a tabletop metronome, a fun mechanical diversion that let her play with the gears and sliding weights that had been sitting unused in her toolkit for ages. All in all, the only expense was the 50 pence spent on wrapping paper as well as bandaids, for when she nicked her thumb while cutting the wood for the metronome.

As instructed, she arrived at the boys' house the morning of Christmas Eve, gifts bundled in her laundry sack and tossed over her shoulder like Father Christmas. Freddie and Roger, despite it being quarter to eleven, were still in their pajamas and dressing gowns.

"You look comfortable," she teased, setting the gifts down carefully beneath — or rather, beside — the very sad-looking Christmas tree, straining under the weight of the kitschy ornaments Freddie had hung upon its boughs. Their small house was untidy, though not as filthy as one might expect a house of three boys to be, with its messiness mostly coming from the cramped size. 

"It's Christmas Eve, darling," Freddie drawled, stepping over an abandoned Scrabble game to wrap his arms around her in a tight hug. "Pajamas are mandatory."

Out of instinct, she promptly wriggled out of the embrace, feeling a pang of guilt once she saw the wounded look on Freddie's face, though it was quickly replaced by an apologetic smile. "Oops, I forgot; no touching."

"No, it's OK, I'm just..." she started, trailing off as she realized she didn't quite know what she was trying to say. Thankfully, Freddie was distracted by Brian trudging down the creaking stairs, arms full of bags and packages.

"You better not be leaving yet," Freddie warned, taking Brian's duffel bag from him as if holding it hostage. "We need to open gifts before you abandon us."

"I'm gone for a week; I'm not abandoning you," Brian said wearily, though his small smile betrayed what Jane interpreted as a fondness for being missed. "And, good morning, Jane."

"G'morning. Any hot water on the stove?"

"No, but there's a cauldron of hot chocolate," Roger called from the couch, his eyes glued to the magazine held a few inches from his face. "Heavy on the chocolate."

"Marshmallows?"

He looked up and grinned toothily. "Obviously."

 

Once beverages were poured, Freddie made quick work of distributing presents to each of them. A small pile was laid before Jane on the floor, clad in identical paper but wrapped at three very different levels of skill. Brian's would be the rectangular box that was simply and neatly packaged, Freddie's had an elegantly tied bow tacked on top, and Roger's was...technically wrapped. The package was covered, at least.

"Go ahead, ladies first," Brian said, nudging his box toward her with his foot.

She obliged, unwrapping it carefully so the paper could be reused and prying open the white cardboard box. Wrapped in tissue paper was a new strap for her bass— soft padded leather with a sunny-yellow suede top. Until now, she hadn't thought to replace her current strap, which she had been playing with for years— the nylon digging into her shoulders and sometimes leaving marks on her skin.

"Your old one was really falling apart," Brian explained.

"Yeah, it was. This is wonderful," she said with a smile, running her fingers over the suede. "And it's my favorite color."

"Roger told me, actually."

Jane glanced up at Roger, surprised he had remembered.

He shrugged it off, mumbling, "Everyone is always so surprised when I remember something…"

She turned back to Brian, a hand clutching the strap tightly. "Thank you, Brian. This is exactly what I needed."

Freddie, already getting impatient, physically dropped his gift onto her lap. "Alright, my turn."

Jane laughed, getting to work unraveling the giant bow from the box.

"Oh, come on," Freddie said, rolling his eyes. "Just open it."

She gave him a stern look, making a show of taking even longer to fold up the ribbon and open the paper at the creases. He fell backward onto a pillow in exasperation, popping back up once she finally opened the lid of the box.

A pool of silky smooth fabric seemed to flow out of her hands when she picked it up to inspect it. Deep blue with gold-threaded detailing at the hems, it was the sort of bell-sleeved top she liked the look of, but had never thought to wear herself. She preemptively moved her mug of hot chocolate further away to protect the delicate fabric.

"I saw it at Biba, and I knew you had to have it," Freddie said. "In full transparency, I used Mary's employee discount."

"I'll wear it at the next show," she said, hesitating before putting a careful hand on his knee in a gesture she hoped was gracious. "It's beautiful, Fred; thank you."

He beamed, placing his hand atop hers. "You're very welcome, darling. Roger, last and...possibly least."

"Rude," the drummer muttered, though he perked up as Jane picked up his gift.

She looked up at him, an eyebrow raised, as she slowly removed a single piece of tape from his hastily wrapped box. The crinkled paper unfurled itself, falling easily to the floor. She bit back a grin.

"Nice wrapping job."

"At least it didn't take you 20 minutes to open."

Jane looked down at the gift in her hands and her breath caught. It was a leather journal, simple and embossed at the edges with a yellow cord binding it closed. She couldn't help the smile crawling up her face as she unwound the cord and examined the book.

"It's not much," Roger said sheepishly, sliding off the couch to sit next to her on the floor. "I thought, maybe, you could start writing songs. And, y'know, write that book of yours."

Jane stared at the journal for a moment longer before looking up at him. She nodded, smiling softly. "I love it, Rog."

From behind Roger, she could hear Brian ask Freddie, "Since when is Deaky writing a book?"

 

 


 

 

 

Brian left soon after all the presents had been opened, but not before eagerly testing out his new amp (dubbed the "Deaky Amp" by Roger, though Jane found this rather gauche) and nearly crying with happiness. Freddie was delighted by his clock and promptly found a place for it on their already cramped mantel. Roger put on a show of sulking over the metronome while the boys roared with laughter, but Jane was pleased to see him fiddling with it, fascinated, a short time later.

She had planned to go home once gifts had been exchanged, but Freddie had gently, but firmly, sat her back down onto the couch and pushed a topped-off mug of hot chocolate into her hands. "Drink. Relax. Enjoy the Christmas spirit, Deaky."

Jane didn't quite know what that meant, but she was content to spend the rest of the day lazing about the house. She couldn't remember the last time she had spent a day doing nothing, and it was a welcome exhale after what felt like weeks of holding her breath. Brian had a healthy collection of books to peruse, and she squirreled away the most interesting volumes to her corner of the couch. Freddie and Roger played a couple games of Scrabble, to which she only half paid attention, unless an argument broke out — which it did, several times.

 

It was late in the afternoon when Roger dragged out Brian's acoustic guitar from the closet, which prompted Freddie to take his place at his upright piano. Jane had once suggested selling the piano and replacing it with a cheaper keyboard to earn some easy cash, but Freddie had been personally offended by even the thought of doing such a thing.

Freddie banged out a few bluesy bars of a familiar Carole King tune, and Roger joined in on the guitar, both singing at the top of their lungs. Band meetings, as well as casual afternoons such as this one, tended to devolve into jam sessions, with Freddie starting out playing radio standards and improvising new melodies from there. Jane was content to sit back and watch during these musical interludes, drumming her fingers in time and singing along quietly.

"A little louder, Deaky," Freddie called over his shoulder, grinning at her impishly. "We need a lady's voice in the mix."

She raised an eyebrow. "You have Roger don't you?"

At that, Roger cheekily optioned up the next verse into his falsetto — completely unnecessary for a jazzy Carole King track. Freddie enjoyed trying to coax her into singing during live shows, though most of the time was spent miming into her mic. The boys had struck gold with their three-part harmony, so why mess with a good thing? Their sound was rich and layered enough without her thin, trembling croaks.

As the song came to its last verse, Freddie veered seamlessly into a tinkling, almost vaudeville melody of his own creation. Roger, kicking his feet up on the armrest of the couch, followed suit with a meandering guitar. Engrossed in his improv, Freddie was bent over the keys, bobbing his head and mumbling to himself.

It might have had potential, but like with any acoustic song, it sounded empty and frail without electric strings, or at least a healthy dose of bass.

She got up and tapped Freddie on the shoulder. "Can I try something?"

He inclined his head vaguely, which she took as permission. Bending over the piano at the far left end, she flexed her fingers before tapping out a steady bass line. It helped, providing a thicker foundation for the flitting quickness of Freddie's melody. She hummed, pleased, and bumped his shoulder.

"That doesn't sound half bad," said Roger, abandoning his strumming to thump out a beat on the guitar.

Freddie's fingers then slipped into a rather Christmas-y diminished chord, shooting Jane a mischievous grin. "They're singing Deck the Halls, but it's not like Christmas at all…"

She groaned, abandoning her bass line. "Really, Fred?"

"Baby please come home!" Freddie wailed, banging into the chorus with far too much gusto for a Christmas jingle.

"Come on, that tune was going somewhere," she complained to deaf ears; Freddie's attention could be a fickle thing, and he was now fully committed to his Darlene Love impersonation.

Roger, not wanting to join in on a holiday singalong either, put his guitar down and shared a droll look with Jane. "Scrabble, then?"

Roger set up the board while Freddie crooned to Jingle Bell Rock, singing progressively louder as if to entice them into singing along through sheer force of will. Leaning against the couch on the floor, Jane reached above her for the pack of cigarettes that had been wedged between the cushions. If she was going to be forced into the holiday spirit, she was going to need some nicotine to sooth her impending headache.

"What a briiiiight time, it's the riiiiight time…"

Unable to ignore him any longer, Roger threw a Scrabble tile aimed at Freddie's head, which bounced off with a plink on the piano keys. "Are you going to do that all fucking night?"

Freddie stuck his tongue out at Roger. 'You're ruining the Christmas spirit," he sniffed, tipping the piano lid down loudly and sending the piano bench screeching backwards as he rose. "I'm going to call on Mary. She'll make merry with me."

"Is that what you call it?"

"Bastard," Freddie snapped, though his eyes glinted with humor. He had already grabbed his scarf and was now upturning pillows and blankets strewn about the den looking for his wallet. "The bloody thing has legs, I swear…"

"It's in your coat pocket," said Jane.

Freddie patted down his coat, finding the familiar lump of his wallet with a grin. "Right you are, darling."

She snorted a laugh, snapping a Zippo to light her cigarette before offering one to Roger. He eagerly took one from the pack, letting her light it for him.

"Thanks, love," he muttered absently, cigarette balanced between his lips while he drew his seven tiles from the Scrabble bag.

After taking a quick drag, Roger looked up at Freddie. "You'll be out late?"

Freddie winked. "Don't you wait up for me. I'll be down the chimney by midnight."

 

 


 

 

 

They played two games of Scrabble, with Jane winning the first and Roger the second. She strongly suspected Roger was playing fast and loose with the spellings of some of his biology terms, but she didn't know enough about the subject to call him on it, and besides, it seemed in the giving spirit to let him have his victory.

"This calls for some celebratory vodka. Deaks?"

"Yes, please," she nodded, getting on her knees to pull the blanket down off the couch, and making a comfortable nest for herself on the rug.

Roger returned a few minutes later, drinks in hand. He gestured to the couch behind her with a cup. "We have seating, you know."

"There's something cozy about the floor though, don't you think?" She said, patting the carpet next to her for him to join her. "Reminds me of being a little kid."

"Whatever you say," he said, situating himself on the floor and spreading his legs out in front of him. He handed her a drink, seemingly a vodka tonic in a chipped coffee mug. Vodka, other than cheap beer, was the only alcohol they regularly kept in the house. Brian had tried to make a pasta sauce using the liquor once, until Freddie and Roger had yelled at him for wasting it.

They sipped their drinks in silence for a few beats, watching the fire crackle lazily in front of them. "What should we do Christmas day?" Roger finally asked. "Since we already opened presents today."

Jane shrugged. "Day drink?"

"Works for me," Roger chuckled, taking another sip. "My parents used to take me and my sister to the town square in Truro for this Christmas concert. They'd pass out these candles to everyone to hold while singing hymns. Nearly lit myself on fire a few times."

"Accidentally? Or were the hymns that bad?"

He grinned. "Both. What about your family? Any Christmas traditions?"

She clutched her drink, swirling the liquid in the mug. "Not really. My dad wasn't much for Christmas."

He hummed thoughtfully. "You said he passed a few years ago, right?"

He had pried that information from her a few weeks ago, in one of his rounds of questioning. She had admitted to him her dad had died when she was 17, and her accompanying glare seemed to make it clear she's wasn't going to field any additional questions on the subject. Jane didn't know how he still had questions left — there wasn't much more to know that she was willing to tell.

"Yes, why?"

"I dunno, seems weird that you wouldn't spend the holidays with your mum now, since you're all she's got."

"She'll be fine," Jane said shortly, irked at the direction Roger seemed to be steering the conversation. "She'll probably spend Christmas with my aunts."

He raised an eyebrow, bringing his cup to his lips but not taking a drink. "I thought she was working tomorrow?"

She swallowed dryly, shrugging. "You're right, I guess she'll be too busy then."

Roger sighed, setting his drink down on the coffee table and crossing his arms over his chest. "Why don't you want to see your mum, Jane?" He asked, his eyes quizzically studying her face.

She felt a cut of annoyance, and more than a little confusion at his sudden interest in her family life. Stubbornly, she stood her ground. The best way to avoid a conversation, she had learned, was to redirect it. "Why aren't you home for Christmas?"

He laughed humorlessly, his eyes not leaving hers. "Because my dad is a dick."

She flinched, remembering the awful stories he had told so offhandedly, as if recounting a particularly bad period of weather. His father had turned to drinking after a bout of unemployment when Roger and his sister were young, and had built quite the reputation for himself in their small town. Jane and Roger had been walking through the park to her flat one evening when he casually pointed out the kind of sparse-leaved switch his father would use on him, leaving Jane almost trembling with shock at the suddenness and nonchalance of his revelation. But that was just Roger — weirdly indifferent about his past, or at least accepting of it. 

"Of all people," he started, lowering his voice to a softness she rarely heard from him. "I'm the last one who will judge you for ditching a fucked up family."

"My parents never laid a hand on me, if that's what you're asking," she said quietly, downing the rest of her drink. "Mum and I just...don't get on well."

"When's the last time you saw her?"

"A few days after my dad's funeral," she admitted, biting the inside of her cheek. "I had saved up enough to move out and come to London."

Roger exhaled heavily, shaking his head. "Christ. That's what, three years? You haven't spoken to her at all?"

She narrowed her eyes, issuing a nonverbal warning against pushing her further. Truth be told, she didn't even know if her mother still worked at the hospital, though she was certain she still lived in the same house from Jane's childhood, as the half-dozen unopened letters from her mother she's received in the intermediate years were marked with the same return address. 

"Jane," he said, a firm insistence in his voice. "What happened between you and your mother?"

There was a spark of anger lit constantly in her stomach, the sanctuary lamp that stood vigil over an old hurt. Roger seemed intent on fanning the flame tonight.

"That's personal," she snapped, setting her mug down on the table loudly. "Why do you always need to know so much?"

"Why do you push us away?" he countered, facing her with resolve in his eyes. "I swear, it's always one step forward and two steps back with you." His voice was still low and measured though, as if speaking to a frightened animal. She prickled at the thought.

"That's what you think?" she asked incredulously, her fingers wrapping tightly into the blanket around her. "You ask so many questions, but you still don't know the first thing about me."

They sat in stony silence for a minute, and she could tell he was uncomfortable. Good, she thought, hearing his squirm beside her. If he felt so uneasy around her, he could get up and leave. Stubbornly, frustratingly, he stayed put.

"I know that you still don't trust me," he said eventually, folding his hands on his lap as he slid backward to rest his head on the couch behind them. He looked at her sideways, a sad smile playing at his lips. "I know that a million things are running through your head when you sit there, all quiet, and you tell me and the guys maybe one or two of them."

She made a little disgruntled noise in the back of her throat, but didn't reply.

"I don't know this for sure, but I think..." he continued, raising a finger. "I think you haven't let yourself get this close to anyone in a while."

"Don't flatter yourself," she mumbled, staring straight ahead at the fireplace - the logs reduced to mostly ash, the last embers popping and flickering with the draft.

She heard a small laugh, like the intake of breath, and felt rather than saw his hand land a few centimeters from hers on the rug. "It's more humbling, I think. I've never had to try this hard to get to know someone."

"Why bother, then?"

"Because you're my friend, and I — the guys and I care about you. And if you're carrying some—" he gestured vaguely in the air in front of him. "Terrible shit on your shoulders...then I think we'd like to know how to help."

She exhaled shakily, a sudden tightness in her chest constricting like a snake. "If you want a story from me, I don't have one," she said, and her voice cracked. "Or at least not one I know how to tell."

When he didn't respond, she swallowed back the anxiety rising in her throat, every impulse telling her to shut her mouth and leave. He didn't need to know, and she could lie if she wanted to. But she didn't want to.

Some part of her, a faraway voice that sounded much, much younger was shouting the words she hadn't let herself think about in years, and they came, rushing at her like a flood she couldn't outrun.

"I wasn't the kid my dad wanted, and mum wasn't the mother I needed," she said softly, the tell-tale sting of tears welling in her eyes, but she held them back with a will that was fraying at the seams. "We didn't belong together."

His eyebrows furrowed, he looked at her with a sadness that held something deeper, some thrashing and turbulent current, beneath the surface.

Not sure what to make of the look in his eyes, she took a shuddering breath, the repetitive, obsessive hurt of a child cresting over her in a wave that blocked out all light.

"He didn't want a daughter, so I tried to be the son he didn't have," she breathed, her eyes fixed on the dying fire. She felt its heat in her throat, in her lungs. "I fixed the circuitry he couldn't, I played the music he liked. But that all just made it worse, it made him hate me—" she croaked, ugly tears collecting in the corners of her eyes before seeping down her face.

"Hey, it's OK, you don't need to talk about it," Roger's own voice shook with unease, and something resembling anger. He sounded far away, though, and she ignored him, giving life to the flames with every ragged breath she took.

"It took me years, but I realized it's not that he didn't want a daughter," she said, sputtering a dry laugh. "He just didn't want me."

"Don't…"

"You know what he said once? When he was sick— god, I'll always remember this — I told him I was going to be an electrical engineer, like him. He said 'I'm glad I'm going to die before I live to see you make an embarrassment of yourself.' Mum didn't say a single thing, never did, and I think maybe she agreed with him. She never stood up for me because I'm pretty sure she thought he was right— "

"Jane. Janie."

She stopped, the unfamiliar nickname catching her off guard. Roger was kneeling in front of her, looking at her with wide eyes, his hands closing around her shoulders, although he didn't move to hug her. He just held her at arm's length, breathing in and out, and she stared up at him until she realized she was mimicking the rhythm of his breathing.

"You don't need to," he said firmly.

Need to what? Acknowledge the tidal wave that every day hung over her head in suspended animation? She didn't feel she had much of a choice anymore. But she could feel her heart hammering a bruise into her chest and a dizzying rush of adrenaline that threatened to do some very questionable things if she didn't take control of herself that very instant.

"I'm OK," she said, still breathing as if she'd run a few kilometers.

"You're OK," he echoed, worried eyes still searching hers. "I'm sorry, Jane. I shouldn't have pushed." Her eyes flickered to one of the hands still clutching her shoulders, and he slowly dropped them to hang listlessly in mid air.

"No, that was, uh…" she dragged a hand over her face, wiping at her wet cheeks. "Enlightening? I haven't talked about all that in, well, ever."

"You don't need to talk about it if you don't want to," he said, reaching over her to grab a stack of napkins that had accumulated on the end table, offering her one. "And I mean, if you'd rather talk to Freddie about it, that's good too."

She sniffed, blotting at her eyes with the napkin. "Why would I tell Freddie?"

He shrugged. "I dunno, you're comfortable with him."

She cocked her head. "I'm comfortable with you. You drive me up the wall but I— I trust you."

His face lit up like a Christmas tree, and she suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. "You do?"

"—To get me tea. I trust you to make me a cup of tea," she said, pinning down the corners of her smile.

Roger grinned, bounding to his feet. "I'll take it." He was halfway to the kitchen when he stopped, turning on his heel. His face was serious again, and he spoke in earnest.

"Jane, even if you don't feel like your family belongs together, you should know that you belong here. With us."

She pursed her lips, a different sort of tightness in her throat, and nodded. "I know."

 

 

 


 

 

She woke up, hours later, from a dreamless nap on the couch. The fire had long gone out, but she was kept plenty warm by a heavy blanket that had been stretched over her in her sleep. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she looked down to see Roger fast asleep on the floor a few feet away, one arm bent behind his head on the pillow he had stolen from the couch. He would surely be complaining of a sore back in the morning.

On the subject of morning, Jane's eyes trailed to the clock on the mantle: it was past midnight. She yawned, carefully moving the blankets and stretching out her legs.

"Well hello there, sleeping beauty," came Freddie's voice from the stairs.

Jane looked up and smiled. He was wearing a different set of pajamas from that morning, the belt of the dressing gown loose and trailing behind him like a train. "Hey Freddie," she spoke quietly, careful not to wake Roger. "I was just about to go."

He quirked an eyebrow. "Why? It's freezing out there and it's toasty in here. Just spend the night."

"I don't want to intrude…"

Freddie chuckled, leaning over the banister to look at Roger on the floor. "Intrude on whom? Rog certainly doesn't seem to mind."

As if in response, a quiet snore came from Roger's sleeping form. She laughed and nodded to Freddie. "OK, I'll stay. I don't really want to sleep in jeans though…" she said, looking down at her trousers.

"I'll get you something clean," Freddie said, turning around to return up the stairs.

"Oh, and Fred," she called, hesitating before forcing herself to say the words. "Do you think we could talk about me moving in, when Brian comes home?"

Freddie's grin spread nearly to his ears as he beamed at her. "Darling, that's a fantastic idea. Wish I'd thought of it myself."

 

 

Shortly after Freddie had gone upstairs, Roger roused, rolling over to croak, "What time is it?"

"Past twelve," she answered, stepping over him to add another log to the hearth and revive the fire."You can go back to sleep."

His hair had gotten caught in his mouth in his sleep, and the right side of his face was red and splotchy from the embroidery on the pillow. Jane was struck by how young he looked — older than her, though Roger never seemed to carry the same heaviness on his shoulders and in his heart. She hoped he never would.

"Hmph." He yawned, tugging the blanket up to his chin and smiling to himself as he closed his eyes once more. "Happy Christmas, then."

She lit a match and threw it into the fireplace, watching it catch fire and burn. "Happy Christmas, Rog."

Chapter Text

 

 

Jane moved in to the little house on Sinclair Road at the end of January, holding her breath and taking the plunge into unfamiliar waters with her eyes wide open. A year ago, Queen was a half-formed band who played for a pittance at her favorite bar; now, they were her housemates. There had been a long and winding road between plugging in her amp in that auditorium and stashing her hair dryer beneath the sink in their one shared bathroom.

True to his word, Freddie had graciously offered his room to her and taken the dining nook on the first floor for himself. The room was small, little more than two meters across, with just enough room for her twin bed, nightstand, and a peeling green steamer trunk crowded at the foot of the bed. Roger's was the only room big enough for a full-size wardrobe, so half of her clothes were crammed into that cupboard's few free shelves. In a house as small as theirs, every inch of space was expected to be shared.

The first week living under one roof with the boys was like her first week as a member of Queen — the push and prod of everyone cautiously skirting around each other as they acclimated to another body filling up space in their daily routine. It didn't take long to learn the quirks of her new housemates. Jane soon found that the brown and orange armchair closest to the fire was Brian's after seven in the evening, at which point he read for an hour or two and listened to a Doris Day or Ben E. King record. If his chair was otherwise occupied, he would sit on the couch and flip through a newspaper, grumbling audibly about his sore back and eye strain from the lack of direct light until the chair was surrendered.

Freddie was not a morning person, requiring tea or coffee and a long shower before he was ready to coherently and pleasantly hold a conversation. On the days when she had morning classes, Jane had to be sure she took her shower before Freddie woke up, otherwise her options were to go to class unwashed, or arrive late.

Roger's was the only routine she couldn't pin down — the drummer kept odd hours, sometimes staying out all night and crashing into bed at five in the morning, and other times going to bed promptly at ten and sleeping a full nine hours. He slept like the dead, however, so it was usually no problem to duck into his room in the morning to retrieve a missing jumper from the communal wardrobe; unless, of course, a sock or necktie was wrapped around the door handle, in which case she'd have to find herself something else to wear or wait until his guest departed for the day.

When building or patching an electronic system, Jane would hold her breath when attaching a power source, knowing the first few moments were the most crucial. Were the wires properly connected, the power evenly distributed? The system could overload or overheat, producing sparks and puffs of black smoke and the smell of burnt plastics. The first seconds were dangerous, because despite her confidence in her expertise, she was giving power to a system of unknown capability. When the last box was unpacked, when her bed was made and situated the way she liked, she held her breath. After a week without explosions or smoke or burns, she relaxed and exhaled. It was working. They were all falling into place, a well-balanced circuit board that shared the ebb and flow of energy.

Then, they got comfortable, which should have sent alarm bells ringing in Jane's head; any decent electrician knows that it's the systems you leave to run in the background, the ones you're convinced are stable and dependable, that are the most apt for failure, and always at the most inopportune moments.

She just didn't think it'd start with a casserole dish.

It was mid-morning on a Friday, and Jane was getting ready to head off to her first class of the day at 10. Brian had already left hours before for his day job as a teacher at Stockwell Manor School, while Freddie and Roger would not need to open their stall in Kensington until noon.

Peering into the kitchen sink, she inspected the crusted grease on a ceramic dish with distaste. "Fred, is this yours?" she shouted.

"Is what mine, darling?" he called back lazily, not looking up from his newspaper on the couch.

Jane huffed in annoyance, shaking the wet dish off over the sink before carrying it out into the den. She held it up before him. "This. It's been sitting in the sink since last night."

He gave it a cursory glance, clucking his tongue. "Oh yes, that's right. I made some chicken."

She waited a beat, but Freddie's eyes had already returned to his paper. "OK, so are you going to clean it?"

"I'm letting it soak."

She cocked a hip. "In cold water?"

"Honestly, Jane," he sighed, giving her an irritated look as he flipped the page over. "If it bothers you so much, have at it."

"It's your mess."

"And I'll get to it once I finish this."

Her lips tightened to a frown. "That's what you said three days ago, with the bacon skillet."

"Are you keeping score?" He asked incredulously, finally folding his paper and putting it on the coffee table. "It's a bloody dish, Jane."

"Do you want ants in the house?"

He squinted up at her and she stared back blankly, biding her time until he finally scowled and took the dish from her. "Oh, OK. Fine."

"Thanks, Freddie," she called to his retreating back as he walked to the kitchen, receiving a disgruntled wave in return. "I'll be on campus most of the day. Can you save some dinner for me, tonight?"

"Yes, mum."

She rolled her eyes, grabbing her coat from the hall closet. "Call me that again and you'll be crying for your real mother."

 

 


 

 

 

Jane headed home around seven after a full day of classes, craving a drink or two and maybe a hot bath. The day had been rough from start to finish, one of those avalanching disasters that left her altogether angry at anyone who looked at her.

Starting the day off strong, she had completely botched her practical electronics lab. Despite having built dozens of successful AC motors in the past year, the speed control mechanism for her induction motor had failed in spectacular fashion that afternoon, just as Professor Allard was standing by for a demonstration. She had been given a humiliating dressing-down in front of the rest of the class for the amateur mistake, and was assigned additional homework that night. She had bristled at the required reading — Introduction to AC Motors, which she had to stop by the library to borrow, as she had long since sold her introductory volumes.

Then she had blundered her way through a test in her least favorite class, Theory of Electromechanics, and she was certain she had earned no higher than a 70 percent. To make an already bad day worse, she had missed her bus by two minutes and opted to walk home rather than wait 30 minutes for the next bus.

As she approached the house, her ears pricked up at the sound of music and laughter. Through the first floor window into the den, she could see several people, strangers, talking and moving about the room. She gritted her teeth, stopping on the pavement to consider going back to the library for an hour or two. Jane was in no mood to be sociable — was she ever? — but she had been walking for 25 minutes and she was cold. Chewing her bottom lip, she walked up the rest of the steps to the house.

When she entered, she was greeted by a man stumbling back into her, caught off guard by the door opening. She stepped aside quickly, narrowly avoiding the spill of his drink. There were about a dozen people scattered around the den and kitchen, some vaguely familiar in looks, along with Freddie and Brian. She could hear Roger's loud, high-pitched laughter from the kitchen, though she couldn't see him. The music, at least, was decent, though there were far too many strangers in her home to enjoy it.

"Hello, Jane!" Freddie called from the couch, Mary sitting half on his lap. "Good day of class?"

Another man tried to hand her a drink, which she pushed away wordlessly. A blonde woman, one of the few friends of Freddie's she actually recognized, giggled shrilly and threw her arm around Jane's shoulder. Jane shrugged her off and weaved her way toward Freddie.

"What's going on?" She demanded, sounding a little more forceful than she had intended. "Who are these people?"

Freddie raised an eyebrow. "My friends from Ealing; you've met them. Darling, you knew we were having them 'round tonight."

"I certainly did not!"

There was the strum of a guitar, and she turned to see Brian sitting with a girl on the floor, letting her pick at his acoustic instrument. Brian was looking at Jane, nodding. "He's right, Deaky. We've been talking about it all week. Don't you remember?"

Jane flushed. It was possible she had been told. She may have vaguely recalled casual discussions about a small party, but the details of which had been tuned out and smoothed over. She had had slightly more pressing things to worry about that week, and to have a party today of all days…

Jane sighed, looking around at the admittedly low-key party. No one was so drunk they couldn't stand, and nothing in the house was being destroyed. But they were strangers, probably looking through and touching her things, taking up space, disturbing her routine — it made her skin crawl. She turned to Freddie.

"What time are they going home?"

Freddie just laughed. "It's a Friday, and not even eight o'clock yet. Have a drink, Deaky."

Sucking in a breath, she nodded. "Yeah, OK." She picked up her bag and turned back toward the door, zipping her jacket back up.

"Deaky! Where are you going?" Freddie called, scooting Mary off his lap as he stood up.

She looked over her shoulder, one hand on the doorknob. "To get a drink."

 

 

Jane left the pub a few hours later, pretty tipsy but still alert as she walked the dark and winding streets with a retractable knife stowed reassuringly in her pocket. It was past eleven by the time she arrived, and she was surprised to see that most everyone had gone home, leaving Freddie, Brian and Mary sipping tea in the den. Freddie's eyes found hers, and he looked away quickly, frowning into his cup.

"Look who's honoring us with her presence," Brian drawled, lifting his mug in salute.

She ignored him, methodically hanging up her coat and bag in silence. Her motions were punctuated only by the crackle of the fire and Brian's steady slurps of tea.

"We missed you," Mary said cautiously, craning her neck over the couch. "I could have really used you on my side for Scrabble."

Jane gave her a tight smile. "Maybe another night, Mary. I'm pretty tired."

Freddie, observing her from his chair in the corner, tilted his head and pursed his lips. "I suppose you'll have to plan the festivities next time, if we want to throw a party you'll attend."

"I suppose so," she muttered, closing the closet door and trudging up the stairs. He was clearly hurt, and she would deal with that hurt later, but not tonight.

Roger was coming out of his room when she reached the second floor, wearing only tracksuit bottoms that hung low on his hips. She flushed, pointedly looking at the space over his shoulder.

"Evening, Deaky." He leaned against the banister, blocking the narrow hallway to her room. "Where've you been?"

"Out," she said impatiently, biting her cheek. "Can you move?"

He leaned in closer, and she took an automatic step back, rattled by the proximity. "You smell like a distillery," he said with a frown, scratching the back of his neck.

"Fuck off."

"And you didn't think to invite me?" he asked, wearing an expression of exaggerated hurt.

"I wasn't in the mood for inane questions."

The corner of his mouth quirked up. "What are you in the mood for, then?"

There was a rustling and the squeaking of a mattress from behind his door, followed by a woman's soft voice. "Roger?"

Typical. Jane cocked an eyebrow, crossing her arms over her chest. "It's not my mood you should be concerned about."

He laughed, darting out a tongue over his lips as he glanced back toward his door. "Fair enough. G'night, then. Sleep tight."

"Somehow, I doubt I will," she mumbled as he disappeared into his room.

The house's paper-thin walls did little to dampen the travel of sound; not 30 seconds after her head hit the pillow, the bed squeaks began. And then the moans and the barely-audible whispers followed by very audible giggles.

The first time she had been an unwitting audience to Roger's nighttime activities, she had been embarrassed, flushing red and warm when she saw him the next morning with tousled hair and an almost worrying number of hickeys. She had even been somewhat jealous at first — not of the girls, she corrected her own thoughts, just of his ability to meet people and connect with them so easily. His manner of connecting, however, was just sort of disruptive to her sleep patterns.

Freddie, accustomed to sharing a wall with Roger, had advised her to buy earplugs. She hadn't done so yet, foolishly thinking it wouldn't be that persistent a problem. Jane shouldn't have underestimated Roger — persistent was exactly the right term to describe his sexual proclivities. Curling her hand into a fist, she rapped three hard knocks against the wall. There was a moment of blessed silence, and then another shout and a squeal of mattress springs. She groaned, throwing her quilt over her head, but not before hearing a shrill, theatrically pornographic, "Oh, Roger!"

 

 


 

 

 

Jane woke Saturday morning with five hours of sleep under her belt and a headache to boot. Staying in bed until noon was tempting, but she had homework to do and journals to study up on before she left for her trip on Sunday. She was attending a two-day convention in Edinburgh hosted by the Women's Engineering Society, which had provided her a sponsorship as the only eligible woman in her university department. Having never been to a professional conference before, she was eager to soak up as much residual knowledge as possible, like osmosis from proximity to brilliant, successful women engineers.

Pulling herself out of her warm bed, she rustled through her steamer trunk, looking for a fresh pair of trousers. With an inward sigh, she realized her last load of laundry had all been stashed away in the wardrobe in Roger's room. It was only nine, and the chances of Roger having already kicked out his guest from the previous night were slim. If she was in a better, more charitable mood, she would have waited until the girl left, but she was running on little sleep and a lot of irritation.

Wrapping herself in her dressing gown, she stood outside the door next to hers. "Rog, I need something from the wardrobe," she called, knocking on the doorframe. No answer, despite the soft murmurings clearly heard from inside the room. She knocked louder, knowing he could hear her. "Roger, come on."

When no one answered, she turned the handle and pushed the door open, purposefully twisting her head the opposite direction from where she knew Roger's bed was. Sure enough, she heard a telltale female shriek and the rustling of covers, accompanied by Roger's mumbled curses.

"What the hell, Jane?" he groaned, flopping back onto the bed with a loud sigh. "Do you mind?"

"I knocked, several times," she said simply, keeping her eyes locked on the wardrobe as she shifted through its contents.

"Um, who are you?" the girl asked, and Jane risked a glance over her shoulder. Thankfully, they were both now covered by the sheets. She was a pretty blonde, if fairly standard for Roger's tastes.

"I'm his wife," Jane said with a smirk, leaning back against the wardrobe.

"His what?" the blonde started, rounding on Roger furiously with a hand raised as if to slap him. Jane felt a sudden kinship with this stranger, and if she wasn't currently in bed with her playboy band mate, she'd say she had a good head on her shoulders.

Roger stayed her hand, glaring daggers at Jane. "She's kidding. Jane is my housemate, and she thinks she's a comedian."

"Sorry, couldn't resist," she replied innocently, grabbing her trousers off a lower shelf of the wardrobe and flitting out of the room. "Enjoy the rest of your morning."

 

 

Now that she was washed, dressed, and fed, Jane was ready to take on her reading list for the day. Armed with a list of panels for the convention that coming week, she had collected as many of their speakers' published work as possible to study before the conference. Elizabeth Laverick, one of the first female fellows of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and a personal hero of Jane's, was to give a talk on airborne radar. Naturally, Jane was determined to learn everything she could about radar in the hopes that she could hold some semblance of a conversation with the expert.

So even though she had little to no prior knowledge of atmospheric science, she had the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology spread out on her bed, tea in hand, and her eyes fixed on Ms. Laverick's recent article on airborne pulse-Doppler radar techniques.

She had read only the first page when her bedroom door was flung open and Freddie strode in holding two shirts on hangers, looking frazzled.

"Darling, I need your help."

Jane closed her eyes, breathing slowing through her mouth, before responding. "Fred, I'm a little busy."

"Yes, yes. It'll only take a second," he said hurriedly, fussing over the pleats on one of the shirts. "I'm having lunch with Mary and her parents today and I just can't decide between these two. The navy—" He held up the pleated navy dress shirt with white piping, looking up to gauge her reaction. Getting none, he switched to the kaleidoscope patterned shirt. "Or the paisley. I'm sort of partial to the navy, but the paisley is more fun."

She stared up at him blankly, shaking her head. "Ask Rog; he knows this stuff."

"But you're a girl. If you were bringing your beau to meet your parents, what would you prefer he wore?"

"A thong," she said dryly, her eyes returning to the Laverick article.

"Oh, you're no help," Freddie huffed, stomping out of the room and shutting the door behind him.

Alone again with her reading, she turned over onto her stomach, resting her chin on her folded arms in front of her. She took her highlighter pen and underlined a certain phrase, muttering it under her breath to commit it to memory. "The Doppler radar transmitter is a phase-coherent system composed of a very stable microwave source and a phase-coherent microwave pulse amplifier…"

Not five minutes later, her door opened. "Jane?"

She groaned, dropping her head to the bedspread. "What, Brian?"

"Do you have the Stratton textbook on electromagnetic theory?" He asked, peering into her room with one foot across the threshold.

She rubbed a tired hand over her eyes, shrugging. "I don't know, Bri. What's it called?"

"Electromagnetic Theory."

"Right. Uh—" She pulled herself up to her knees, bending over the edge of the bed to grab the crate of old books underneath. "If I have it, it'll be in there."

Brian knelt down by the milk crate, picking up the top book and inspecting it. "Oh, you have the Feynman Lectures? Can I borrow this too?"

"Fine, sure. Just take the crate with you, please."

"Great, thanks Jane," he said, lifting the crate onto his hip. "So, how much have you studied in spectroscopy?"

"Brian," she warned, pointing toward the door. "Close the door behind you, please."

When he's gone, she flops back onto the bed, reaching blindly for her tea on the nightstand. It's nearly ten in the morning and she's not made it through a third of the work she planned to cover before band practice that evening. Eying the door suspiciously, she waits another few seconds before exhaling a slow breath, picking up her pen to return to her article.

The door banged open. "Deaky!"

"Fucking knock!" she shrieked, throwing the pen at Roger's head.

He ducked and pulled the door halfway shut, so only his head peaked in. "Bloody hell, woman. I was just trying to ask if—"

"Out, Roger, or I swear to god, I'm throwing your records in the Thames."

Muttering curses under his breath, he finally closed the door, calling to the others, just loud enough for her to hear, "Is she on the rag, or what?"

 

 

Band practice that night was tense, with their normal spats about arrangements and lyrics amplified by their flaring tempers. Now that they lived together, it was that much easier for the professional to blur into the personal.

"Again, with the fucking biblical references," Roger groaned from his place on the floor by his drum kit, tightening the snare heads. "That's like, what, three of the last four songs you've written."

Even though they had finally completed recording their demo at De Lane Lea, they were already working on new songs for a full-length album, if such an opportunity ever presented itself.

Brian set his jaw, strumming an experimental chord on his guitar. "It's called a motif."

"Yeah, well I sang enough about Jesus in my church choir. It's not rock 'n roll. Right, Deaky?"

Jane hummed noncommittally, flipping through the haphazard music sheet Brian had edited and notated from the previous session. He had crossed out much of the bass line she had penned for the song, hesitantly called Son and Daughter. She frowned, looking up at Brian and pointing at the notes.

"You're seriously cutting all the good bass parts?"

"We need a pared-down backing for the guitar," Brian explained, bending down to adjust his amp — the Deaky amp. "There's going to be a lot of overdubs."

"My bass line was good," she argued, rising from her chair in the practice hall. "It worked."

"Then use it on your own song," he said, crossing his arms and looking down at her sternly. "If you ever get around to writing one, that is."

"Brian—" Freddie warned from the piano, shifting his eyes warily between his band mates.

Brian was a genius — she'd be the first to admit how much she admired him as a musician and person. However, as was often the case with incredibly intelligent people, he tended to think his ideas were the only acceptable ones. They all had their moments — Roger's insistence on ending every other track with a gong being one of them — but for whatever reason, Brian's obtuseness frustrated her more than Roger's or Freddie's. Perhaps it was the sheer pigheaded force with which he steamrolled dissent when he was backed into a corner. She marveled at that sort of confidence in his convictions as much as she abhorred it.

"I've been a bit busy lately," she said between gritted teeth, cursing her diminutive height, not for the first time, as Brian loomed over her. It could be so hard to be assertive when she had to crane to look up at him.

"You're busy? Try working on your doctorate—"

"On interplanetary dust," Jane finished, planting her hands on her hips. "Yeah, you never shut up about it, day or night."

"Clearly I do, since I have the time to contribute to the band, instead of whining—"

"Enough," Freddie snapped, his piano bench screeching backward on the tile floor. "Honestly, you two almost make me miss Roger's tantrums."

A disgruntled "Hey!" came from Roger in the corner, still kneeling to tune his drums.

"We take it from the top, with Brian's changes, and if anyone so much as mentions astrology—"

"Astronomy," Brian muttered, giving Freddie a sour look.

"Oh, piss off."

 

The rest of practice was fairly productive; however, whereas before Jane moved in, any arguments about the music were left in the rehearsal space, now they seamlessly continued on the ride home, around the table at dinner, and over evening games of Scrabble. She had heard the advice to never bring work home, but what were they to do when Queen itself was both work and, in a way, their home?

After another row with Brian over the new song — featuring a reprisal of an earlier argument about taking out the rubbish bins — Jane retired to her room early. Typically, she would take her tea in the den and watch television with Freddie and Roger, or discuss schoolwork with Brian. But Freddie had absconded to Mary's flat, Roger was out doing who knows what (or whom), and she wasn't much in the mood for bonding time with Brian — even if she was interested in hearing his thoughts on the Feynman Lectures.

Kicking off her trousers and tossing her jumper in the hamper, she fell back into bed with a sigh, staring up at the ceiling. Moving in with the guys was supposed to be the natural, easy option, but little about the last couple weeks had felt natural. She was just as much a part of the problem as anyone, that much was obvious, but it was hard to pin down exactly what the problem was. It was more than getting used to routines — it was trying to fit four mismatched puzzle pieces together. If Queen didn't exist, none of the four of them would have been friends, she was sure of it. Their paths would have had no reason to cross, and they would find no common ground to stand on if they did.

Leaning over, she double-checked her alarm clock before switching off the lamp. She had a long journey ahead of her.

 

 


 

 

 

Early Tuesday afternoon, following a busy two days and a four-hour train ride, Jane finally arrived back at King's Cross station. The conference had been a blur of panels, speeches, complementary meals (which she definitely took full advantage of), and networking. Despite initially hating the concept of networking, she had ended up buying an address book to keep track of all the names and contacts she had collected through surprisingly easy and engaging conversation. She had even met Elizabeth Laverick, who had shaken her hand and thanked her for asking such insightful questions during her panel. Jane could have fainted with happiness.

The intellectual stimulation and reassurance from like-minded women had provided a much-needed recharge, dusting off her mental cobwebs and oiling up the creative gears. She even did a touch of songwriting on the train home— Brian would be thrilled.

Scrounging up the last few pence in her purse, she paid for a cab — a luxury she didn't usually indulge in, but her bag was heavy and she had been on her feet, in heels no less, for much of the last few days. Perhaps she could finally take that bath and pour herself a glass of wine, since she'd have the house to herself until the boys returned from work that evening. A short cab ride later, she was dragging her small suitcase up the steps to the house, digging in her pocket for her keys.

When she went to unlock the door, she found the deadlock was unlatched. Jane frowned, reminding herself to tell off whomever was the last to leave that morning — were they trying to get robbed? Pushing the door open with her hip, she let her suitcase fall to the floor by the stack of shoes. There was a loud clattering of pots hitting the floor from the kitchen, and Freddie appeared, wide-eyed with a dishrag in hand.

"Jane!" He cried, dropping the towel and running to her. "Oh my god, Jane."

"Um, yes. Hi, Fred," she mumbled, standing awkwardly as he clasped her face in his hands, beaming down at her...tearfully? "Are you crying?"

"Of course I'm crying, you nincompoop," he said, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear as he fretted over her. "You're OK."

Jane put her hands over Freddie's and pushed him away, eyeing him curiously. "Why wouldn't I be OK? What's going on?"

"Jane, you disappeared!"

Before Jane could respond, Brian came barreling down the stairs, uncharacteristically wearing his pajamas and dressing gown. Wait— why wasn't he at work? The broad smile on his face quickly turned to anger as he stood on the bottom stair, hands on hips, glaring down at her.

"Where have you been?"

"Edinburgh," she said, mimicking his anxious tone. "I was at the Women's Engineering conference. Didn't I—" she looked from Brian to Freddie, slowly catching on as to why they were both so frantic at her arrival. Her stomach dropped. "Oh, I didn't tell you, did I?"

"No call, no note," Brian snapped, pushing the index finger of one hand into the palm of the other. "We called the university, your work, we called the police—"

"What? What'd you call the bloody police for?"

"Because you could have been abducted, Jane!" Brian cried, throwing his hands in the air. "You could have been raped, murdered, and thrown in the river."

"Jesus," she muttered, shrugging out of her coat. "You need to lay off the crime novels, Bri."

"He's right, Jane," Freddie sniffed, taking her coat from her. "This is serious. You can't just leave like that. We were worried sick about you."

Her expression gentled. She hadn't heard that sort of concern for her in years. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry you," she said, slipping off her shoes and perching on the arm of the couch. "I meant to mention it, but the last week was sort of… a lot."

"Maybe we'd do well to come up with some rules for the house," Brian suggested, his face relaxing somewhat as he joined Freddie and Jane in the den. "For everyone's sanity."

Jane nodded, smiling gently. "That sounds like a good idea, actually."

The front door swung open, and Jane turned to see Roger busying himself with unwinding his scarf from around his neck. "Nothing yet," he muttered, not looking in their direction as he deposited his keys in the bowl by the door. "But I'm going to call the school again." 

"Hey, Rog," she said, swinging her legs against the side of the couch.

His head shot up, staring at her as if he'd seen a ghost, eyes as wide as saucers. "Deaky!"

"I hear I gave you guys a bit of a— "

She didn't get the chance to finish her sentence, as Roger had hurled himself in her direction, causing them both to fall backwards onto the couch with his arms wrapped tightly around her and head tucked against her shoulder.

"I'm OK, we're all OK," she mumbled, patting his back awkwardly as he hugged her, with Freddie and Brian just chuckling at the spectacle.

He untangled himself from her, examining her as if making sure she had been returned in the same state as when she left. Straightening himself, he looked her in the eye and pursed his lips, a slight tremble evident in his jaw.

"Janie, you right bitch."

In a universe where Queen didn't exist, she'd never be in this situation. She would have attended her conference, and no one would have known she was gone. But that wasn’t a reality she wanted to wish into existence. As much as they infuriated each other, it was undeniable that there was a life to their music that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else, and roots that had tunneled deep to find each other and entangle themselves. Roger had told her Christmas Eve that the four of them belonged together, and maybe that was too pithy to be true. There were a thousand other directions her life could have taken, and many would have been easier or more successful or more natural than the one she had chosen. But they could belong to each other, and that felt a little more truthful, a little more comforting.

She fought back a smile, squeezing his hand. "I missed you too, Rog."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ever since he was a child, Roger had dreamed of being a rock star. He wanted the fame and the wealth, and all the fast cars and fast girls that came with it. That was the uncouth thing to say, apparently — it was more appropriate to claim you were in it for the sake of the music, or to bring peace and love to the masses, or whatever — but it was the truth. What other reason did musicians have to work their asses off to barely feed themselves, if not for the chance of one day obtaining that unholy trinity: money, sex, and power. Most everything done in the service of those goals was worth it, and hard work, if combined with talent, eventually paid off.

Queen's hustle finally came to fruition late in the spring, in the form of their demo tape being picked up by just the right producer at Neptune Productions, a small management subsidiary of the massive Trident. A De Lane Lea engineer had given the demo tape to John Anthony, who passed the demo to Barry Sheffield, who insisted his brother Norman take a listen, who met with Queen at a cafe in Soho and signed them on the spot. They agreed to the management and recording deal in May — a decent contract, one that even Jane didn't have too many qualms about, although they were allowed to only use the Trident recording facilities during "off-peak hours." Once the album was complete, management would shop it around to record labels for release. It was a stroke of sheer luck, or as Freddie called it — written in the stars.

As happy as they all were that they had finally scored a significant breakthrough, the grueling recording schedule had been rough on all of them. They'd be given access to the studio after two in the morning, and would have to be wrapped up no later than six, to make way for the firm's more lucrative artists. None of them had been avid coffee drinkers before their insane recording deal began, but now they each needed multiple cups a day to function.

Roger and Freddie had started alternating their shifts at the Kensington market so they could each have a chance to sleep during the early evening before heading to the recording studio. Brian's school had let out for the term, but he was tutoring to make some extra cash for the summer, and so spent much of the afternoon asleep before meeting his students in the evening.

Jane had it worst out of the lot of them. On track to graduate in late June, she was still attending her last month of courses and revising for her final exams, all while working several hours a week at the electronics repair shop. She had started taking cat naps throughout the day, curling up in increasingly unexpected and uncomfortable places to catch up on some sleep. Just the other day, Roger had caught her dozing propped up against the clothes washer while waiting for her load to finish.

"Once more with the chorus, darling," Freddie called from the control room. "Really attack it."

Jane nodded, holding down her intercom button in the recording booth. "Right, OK."

That evening (or rather, early morning), they were laying down the backing track for Freddie's song, Liar. Despite having already recorded the song at De Lane Lea, their producer Roy Baker insisted they re-record everything and create new mixes. It was four in the morning and everyone was getting a little slow and sluggish, Jane included, apparently. Normally tight and clean in her playing, she'd been somewhat loose in the last few takes. Roger didn't blame her. After pumping his sleep-deprived body full of caffeine, liquor, and sugary snacks, he had started to see double when putting down his drum tracks that night. Brian had pushed a cup of water into his hands and forced him to lay down on the couch in the control room until his head stopped spinning.

Jane played the section again, and Roger grinned at the requested oomph she packed into the bass line, tapping along with the beat. Even when she was running on empty, leave it to Deaky to take direction like a champ.

"How's that?" she asked, once the reverberations had settled.

Steven Short, their audio engineer, beat Freddie to the intercom. "That was great, love. Real heavy."

"You don't think I was a little too sharp for that last part?"

"I think you were perfect."

Roger rolled his eyes, sharing an amused look with Brian in the chair across from him. Steven, a 20-something failed guitarist with a ponytail and sideburns, had been shamelessly hitting on Jane since their first day with Trident, though their bassist was either oblivious or purposefully ignoring his advances. Brian had wanted to pull Steven aside and tell him to knock it off, but Roger didn't think there was any harm in it, as long as he wasn't being a dick or making Jane uncomfortable. Besides, they needed some entertainment during these long, frequently repetitive sessions.

"Alright, I think we got what we needed," Freddie said, beckoning for Jane to come back to the control room. "Brian, you're up."

Jane hung up her headphones on the hook and cradled her bass in its stand before rejoining them. Roger lifted his feet off the couch to make room for her. She promptly fluffed the cushion and laid her head against the armrest, bending her legs so her socked feet just brushed the outside of his thigh.

"That rhythm piece is going to be wicked," he said softly, tapping her knee so it swayed before resting against the back of the couch.

She hummed, her eyes fluttering close. That was his cue to shut up; she'd only had a short nap after work, where apparently she had been putting out literal fires when the equipment she was fixing sparked and almost sent Henry's Electronics up in flames. She could probably do with a couple minutes of rest.

"Do you need something to drink, Jane?" Steven broke the peace, swiveling in his chair to face them on the couch.

"Focus on what Brian's doing, Short," she mumbled, not bothering to open her eyes. Roger smirked, lifting his eyebrows with a pointed look toward Steven. "Roger can get me a coffee," she added.

His eyebrows puckered. "Seriously?"

"Milk and one sugar, please."

Roger sighed heavily but got up, swatting lightly at her knee. She had gotten their coffees at the beginning of their session, so it was only fair. He turned to Freddie. "You want a cup?"

Freddie shook his head, holding up a distracted hand as he focused on Brian's playing from the wood-panelled booth. Roger shrugged and ducked into the narrow hallway, heading toward the small kitchenette that held the studio's mini fridge and coffee machine. One of the perks of their deal with Trident and Neptune had been full use of their facilities, which included free coffee. It was the good stuff too, not that instant shit. Bless them.

When Roger returned with cups for him and Jane, she was sitting upright, watching Brian play through the glass. She accepted her coffee with a murmur of thanks, taking a satisfied sip. Steven was busy at the soundboard, sliding the dials up and down with occasional direction from Freddie.

"How's he doing?" Roger asked, reclaiming his spot on the couch.

"The coloration is a bit off," she mused. "I think the mics need to be adjusted."

Hearing her comment, Freddie pressed the intercom button. "Deaky thinks the amp mics need adjusting."

"Yeah, probably," Brian said, scratching his head as he looked down at his amp on the floor. "Jane, do you want to?"

She nodded, already setting down her mug on the table. "Yep, I've got it."

Jane slipped into the studio and went to work, crouching to fiddle with the mic stands crowded around the various amps. Roger frowned as he saw Steven not-so inconspicuously tilt his head to watch her bend over. The hem of her shirt had risen, revealing a strip of bare skin on her back.

"Oi," Roger said, snapping his fingers to draw the engineer's attention away. "Don't be a creep."

Steven flushed red and quickly ducked his head, returning to his work. Jane finished adjusting the mic and signaled Brian to play a few bars as a test. Satisfied, she got up and returned to the control room.

"I think I prefer the Beyerdynamics to the AKGs here," she said casually, leaning against the door. "That mid-range bump is great for Brian's guitar."

"You've got a good ear," Steven said, looking up with a grin. "Ever consider a career in sound engineering?"

"Don't you poach our bassist," Freddie warned teasingly, clucking his tongue. "We looked high and low for this one, and we're rather fond of her."

Jane smiled softly at the compliment, lowering her eyes. "I might consider a second job once I'm done with uni."

Roger crinkled his nose. "Two jobs? You're barely getting any sleep with one."

She shrugged. "Sleep is for the weak," she said, betraying herself with a yawn.

It was nearing five, and from the looks of Brian's slumping posture and Freddie's own drooping eyes, they would soon be calling it for the day. Luckily, it was Freddie's turn to man their clothing stall, and Roger had a warm, comfortable bed waiting for him at home. Just the thought of it made his sore muscles twitch. Jane, on the other hand, downed the rest of her coffee.

"Aren't you going to sleep when you get home?" he asked, eyeing her warily as she took his cup as well and winced at the bitter taste.

"Later. I need to do some work in the engineering lab before it gets too crowded."

"Deaky," Freddie admonished, crossing his legs at the knee as he steepled his hands. "You need sleep."

"I will, Fred. I only have one class at six today— there will be plenty of time to rest once I'm done with my radio."

That was a lie if he ever heard one. Once Jane got started on a project, she tended to lose track of time. Though she was better now about leaving notes telling them where she was, she'd sometimes hole herself away in the labs for hours without coming up for air. They'd given up trying to convince her to come home at a reasonable hour, and instead would bring her dinner in a Tupperware, so at least she wouldn't starve.

"I'm ready to call it for the night," Brian said, slumping into the control room with a yawn.

"Morning," Roger corrected. "It's almost five."

Brian groaned, letting his head fall back against the wall. "Remind me why we're doing this?"

"For the glory, mate. For the glory."

 

 


 

 

 

By Saturday, the mix for Liar still wasn't where they wanted it to be, but Roy had suggested they move on and come back to it later. They had switched gears to another Freddie song, Great King Rat, which required layers and layers of vocal overdubs, including blisteringly high screams from Roger. He had once been bullied for the rather feminine registers of his voice at the Truro School back home, but he found his falsetto to be an invaluable asset for Queen. As it turned out, he, Freddie, and Brian possessed the perfect mix of voices for harmonies: high, medium, and low. Jane, who wasn't much of a singer, sat out the harmony recordings and monitored the sound from the booth.

Except today, she appeared a little distracted.

"Jane, do I need to go stronger with the low parts?" Brian asked through the intercom once they finished a verse. "I feel like I'm getting a bit lost in the shuffle."

Jane popped her head up from behind the window, where she had her books spread out on the board next to Steven. "Sorry, say that again?"

"Can you hear my parts alright?"

Jane hazarded a glance toward Steven, who shrugged. She leaned in to the microphone, smiling sheepishly. "Um, sing it again, will you? I'll keep my ears open."

Brian released the intercom button and sighed, adjusting his headphones over his ears. "Where's her head at today?"

"Inside the workings of a toaster oven," Freddie said fondly. "Once she graduates, she'll be back to normal. Or at least, Deaky-normal."

Her graduation was still almost a month away, but her preparation for exams had swung into high gear. Roger didn't know if they could deal with another month of a high-strung, preoccupied, anxious Jane. It was like watching a coked-up toddler knock back a litre of espresso. It couldn't have been healthy.

Steven ran the backing track again, and they sang the same three lines until the words stopped making sense in Roger's brain. He wasn't exactly sure what they were looking for with this song — it was already pretty out there ("What does fallow deer even mean, Fred?") — but eventually they reached a point where Freddie was happy with the overdubs. Next up were the lead vocals; they liked to build from the bottom up with songs, typically starting with bass and drums, adding guitar and piano, then backing vocals and overdubs, and finally lead, typically Freddie's, vocals.

When Roger and Brian returned to the control booth, Jane was curled up on the couch, her jumper balled up and pillowed under her head while she silently read from the stack of index cards in her hands. He sat down on the far end of the couch, beckoning for her to give him the flashcards. He knew nothing about engineering, electrical or otherwise, but she had recruited him enough times to help her study that he barely tripped over the vocabulary anymore. 

He held the first card close to his face, his eyes adjusting to the dimmer lighting. "What's the bandwidth of a transmitted amplitude modulated signal?"

"Two times the modulating signal," she recited, staring up at the ceiling tiles.

He flipped the card over and nodded. "And what's the formula to find the modulating index?"

"Um, deviation divided by frequency of modulation."

Brian plopped down on a swivel chair, spinning toward them lazily. "Describe the Brillouin zone."

Jane's brows snapped together, giving Brian an annoyed look. "That's not going to be on any of my exams, Bri."

"It's OK if you can't..." he trailed off, flashing a small smile. 

"The Brillouin zone is a unit cell of the reciprocal lattice. A fundamental region in k-space, wherein the properties outside the zone can be determined from the properties inside the zone. Bastard," she rattled, not breaking eye contact with Brian, who beamed back at her proudly. Jane was never one to back down from a direct challenge.

"Attagirl," Brian praised, turning his attention back to Freddie in the booth, who was doing some experimental vocal runs.

Jane pulled herself up to a sitting position, resting her chin on her bent knees. "Rog, flip to the cards on Faraday's law. I keep confusing the Maxwell equations."

Roger shuffled the cards, flicking one at Jane. "I think you're good, Deaks. Take a breather and come back to it later."

Jane reached over and snatched the cards from him. "Electromagnetism is my worst subject. I'm not going to be top of the class, but I at least need to beat that dick Jimmy Forrester…"

Roger didn't know who Jimmy was and he wasn't about to ask. "Jane, you're going to be fine. You're the smartest girl I know—"

Her eyes shot up, narrowing. "Thanks for the qualifier, there."

"I would say smartest person, but Brian is older and I'm pretty sure he's actually a space alien, trying to chart his way back home..."

"Fuck you, Rog," Brian muttered from the control board, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest.

"It's the hair, mate," Roger said with a laugh, reaching over to grab his lukewarm coffee mug from the table. "There's no way that's native to this planet."

Jane had already returned to her cards, eyebrows knitted in intense concentration as she mumbled to herself. He sipped his coffee and watched for a minute, amused, as expressions of alternating frustration and accomplishment flashed across her face. They all looked a little worse for wear after the last couple of weeks, but Jane's undereye bags were starting to develop baggage of their own. She would probably castrate him on the spot if he said that out loud.

"You're burning the candle at both ends," he said conversationally, peering at her from over the top of his coffee cup. "You need to blow off some steam, or you're not going to have anything left in the tank when you sit your exams."

Jane set her flashcards down with an indulgent sigh, raising her eyebrows expectantly. "OK, and how do you suppose I do that? Drinking myself into a stupor is not an acceptable answer."

He shrugged. "Do what I do. Go to the pub, find someone decently attractive, and get laid. How long has it been for you, anyway?"

She gave him a fierce glare in response, pursing her lips tightly. He smirked, tapping his fingers against the mug as he sipped at his coffee innocently.

"Hm, a while, then?"

"Don't be a prat," Brian said, not looking away from the controls. Steven, for his part, had bowed his head to conceal a chuckle as he worked.

Jane rolled her eyes, but seemed to be caught in her own thoughts as she stared into the distance beyond the glass wall. Roger knew well enough by now to not push a frazzled Jane past her limits, so he let the subject drop and settled back against the couch, cradling his mug between his hands as he drank the bitter, nearly cold coffee. Freddie was running through the second verse now, repeating each line a few times until he landed on a sound he liked. When he reached a stopping point to catch his breath, Jane broke the silence in the booth.

"Steve, what are you doing after this?"

Roger almost choked on his coffee.

The studio engineer startled a bit at the sound of his name, and then rocked back in his chair, a ridiculous, smug grin spreading on his face as he gave her a sidelong glance. "Oh, I was going to have a drink or two at my flat, if you'd like to join me."

She nodded once, satisfied, and stood up to walk over to the board. Brian looked up at her as if she had two heads, gliding away in his swivel chair to give her room as she leaned over the controls. Steven gave her an appraising once-over, and Roger wanted to gag.

"Hey, Fred?" she spoke into the intercom mic, grabbing Freddie's attention. "I think we should stop here, before you wear out your voice."

Freddie, oblivious to the baffling turn of events that had just occurred, gave her a thumbs up and removed his headphones. "Excellent idea, dear. Let's all get some sleep."

"You know, I'm not all that tired," Jane mused, grabbing her purse from the floor behind the couch.

Roger's eyes flicked between her and Steven, dumbfounded, and shook his head. The audio engineer was a reedy-voiced, shaggy-haired burnout with bad teeth and an even worse appreciation for subtlety. Not that any of them even knew what Jane's type was, but no way could it have been that.

"When I said you needed to get laid, I meant a stranger," he whispered sharply, just loud enough for her to hear. "Someone we wouldn't have to spend hours a day with."

The corners of her mouth turned up, and she shrugged a single, disinterested shoulder. "Yes, but this is so much more convenient for my schedule."

 

 


 

 

 

"This is shit."

The audio engineer scrunched his eyebrows, glaring at Roger sourly. "It's your song."

"Yeah, and you've mixed it all wrong," Roger said, hitting the button to stop the playback with more force than necessary. Brian leaned over him to rewind the tape and play it again, listening with a troubled expression.

Steven had finished the draft mix for Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll, Roger's own composition, and was playing it for them in the control room before they started on the day's recording, but it didn't sound anything like it was supposed to. The levels were all wrong, and the guitars sounded harsh and overpowering, but only in one channel. Roger's temper flared— he had worked for weeks perfecting his first songwriting contribution, and this moron had gone and ruined it.

"We can't use this. You need to scrap it and start over."

"I worked it exactly as you told me to," Steven argued, jabbing a finger in Roger's direction. "My time isn't free, you know."

"Neither is ours," Roger snapped, pushing Steven's hand out of his face.

Freddie cleared his throat deliberately, giving Roger a sharp look in warning. "We can talk about it later. Let's get back to Brian's song."

Roger grudgingly stepped away, raising his arms in a truce. Steven just rolled his eyes and sat back down at his controls. It had been a week since Jane had first waltzed away from their recording session with Steven in tow, and the ego-boost had been going to the engineer's head because he was seriously starting to get on Roger's nerves; this man thought he knew Roger's own song better than him? Sleeping with the band's bassist did not make Steven an expert on their sound, as much as he seemed to pretend otherwise.

On the subject of Jane— she was late that morning, having slept in to compensate for a late night at the lab. Or at least, he presumed she had been on campus. Jane had spent little time at the house that week, flitting from classes to work to Steve's flat, and it was getting hard to keep track of her schedule. To be fair, she had already seemed to calm down a few notches, and was more alert and focused during their recording sessions now. Roger preferred not to dwell on why that was.

Brian was in the midst of recording his searing guitar flourishes for Son and Daughter when Jane finally made her appearance, chirping apologies for her lateness as she set her bass case down by the door. Despite the warm weather they were having in London, she was wearing a knit polo-neck shirt. Steven's eyes sidled over her lecherously before returning to Brian in the booth.

"Sleep well?" Freddie asked, a small smirk playing on his lips. To Roger's frustration, Freddie had given his tacit approval to Jane and Steven's little tryst. Brian, naturally, had been tight-lipped, if passively disapproving.

Jane hummed in confirmation, settling in on the couch next to Roger with her legs tucked underneath her. He looked her over and frowned.

"Nice hickeys," he muttered, turning back to face the booth window.

"That's cute, coming from you," she sniped, though out of the corner of his eye, he saw her tug the collar against her neck.

Steven smirked at him over his shoulder. "I think black and blue looks good on her." 

Roger's jaw tensed, and his fists instinctively clenched at his sides. "That's a really fucked up thing to say, you know that?"

"I didn't mean like that—"

"Prick."

"Boys," Jane snapped, switching a heated glare from Roger to Steven in turn. "Keep it professional. We're at work."

Roger exchanged stink eyes with Steven before leaning back and stewing in disgruntled silence for the rest of Brian's track. When they had gotten what they needed from the guitarist, Jane lugged her bass into the studio for her take. Steven had followed her in under the ridiculous pretense of adjusting her mics, as if Jane of all people needed assistance setting up sound equipment. Brian had left the control room in search of more coffee, leaving Roger and Freddie alone.

"I hate that guy," Roger blurted out, finally giving voice to his thoughts.

Freddie quirked his lips. "Because you don't like the way he mixed your song?"

"Because he's a creep and he's using Jane," Roger argued, gesturing out the booth window at them. Steven was on the floor screwing in the mic stand while Jane leaned against the wall, directing him with flicks of her wrist.

"Mm, pretty sure it's the other way around," Freddie said cheekily, waggling his eyebrows as he took a sip of his coffee. "Deaky knows how to get what she wants."

"Well it's still not exactly kosher, is it? I mean, he's technically working for us. That's like, a conflict of interest, right?"

Freddie chuckled, cocking his head curiously. "It's just sex, Rog. Why do you care so much?"

He clenched his teeth, shaking his head as he looked into the booth. "She's like our little sister. I don't want her to get hurt, is all."

Brian returned from the kitchen, juggling his coffee mug and two water bottles. He stopped in the doorway, warily looking at Roger, tense and sour-faced on the edge of his seat. "He looks mad," Brian said bluntly, facing Freddie. "Why is he mad?"

Freddie jerked his head in the direction of Steven and Jane. Brian followed with his eyes, nodding in understanding. "Ah, OK. Yeah, I don't like him either."

Roger threw a hand up, looking back at Freddie smugly. "See? He agrees with me."

"It's a recipe for trouble," Brian said calmly, narrowing his eyes to slits as he stared past them into the booth. "And he has a death wish."

Confused, Roger turned his head to look back at Jane. She was trying to tune her instrument while Steven stood just over her shoulder, hands resting low on her hips. Roger bit back a grin when she violently shrugged him off, frowning and walking to stand a few feet away. Amateur— no one who knew her would think to touch Jane like that, especially while she was working. Dejected, Steven returned to the control room.

"Ready when you are, love," Steven said into the intercom, ignoring the snickers from Freddie and Roger.

Jane spent a few more minutes tuning her instrument before giving them the signal to start Roger's backing drums. Roger stood up, taking Brian's abandoned seat at the controls next to Steven. He reached over the engineer, turning up the sensitivity dial. Steven made a small noise of protest, swatting at Roger's hand.

"She likes a bit of heat," Roger murmured distractedly, keeping his hand on the dial as he watched her play.

Jane would never call herself a terrific bass player — she knew she was good, certainly, though she'd probably say something modest, like she was just solid and reliable. But Roger had never played with a bassist who so seamlessly anticipated and self-adjusted to the idiosyncrasies of his drums. She didn't just find the pocket; she inhabited it, and between the two of them, you couldn't name a tighter rhythm section anywhere in London.

He bobbed his head with the groove, and when she finished the take, he gave her a thumbs up.

"How's it sound?" she asked, the intercom crackling in his ear.

He pushed the button to talk. "I think it's perfect. Come take a listen."

She skipped into the control room, finding Brian's eyes first. Roger had almost forgotten it was his song, his opinion that mattered.

"That bass line sounds really tight, Jane," Brian said approvingly, leaning against the stack of speakers. "You were right, that little riff adds a lot of interest."

She beamed proudly, leaning over Steven to turn on the playback. While she listened with a look of intense concentration on her face, she counted beats under her breath. Suddenly, Steven looped an arm around her waist and forcibly tugged her onto his lap, tucking his chin against her neck. Anger and embarrassment flashed across her face as she struggled to get up, her cheeks burning pink. Steven just laughed, finally relinquishing her with a smack to her ass that had Jane recoiling like a snake. Roger saw red.

"Don't you ever do that again," she bit, her voice low and sharp as she glared at Steven with an unwavering fierceness.

"I'm just messing around, love," Steven pouted, reaching to wrap a hand around Jane's wrist, which she snatched away as if he'd burned her.

Roger snapped, pushing the engineer forcefully so his chair rolled back and knocked against the wall. "Does she look like she wants to be touched?" he demanded, rounding on him with simmering rage. "She's trying to do her job; show some fucking respect."

"Suck a dick, Taylor."

Heat raced up his body, and he didn't give himself time to think before he flew from his chair at the other man, ready to knock those ugly teeth out of his head. He was quickly restrained with grappling hands by Brian and Freddie, who had probably anticipated a fight. Jane had already turned away, facing the corner with her arms clasped tightly across her chest. At the sight, Roger stopped struggling against Brian's grip, holding his hands up. Steven was plastered to the back of his chair, eyes nervously skirting between Roger and Freddie, who was giving the engineer a murderous look of his own.

"I— I'm sorry," Steven stuttered.

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to," Roger snarled, glancing up at Jane.

Steven turned around. "Jane, I'm sorry. You know I didn't mean anything by it."

"We have work to do," she said flatly, breezing past him to return to the recording booth. She shouldered her bass and picked through a warm-up riff like nothing had happened. Brian and Freddie just stared at her slack-jawed, looking like they were suffering from major whiplash.

Slowly, Freddie peaked his head into the booth. "Uh, darling? You sure you don't want to take a minute?"

In reply, she snapped on her headphones, looking straight ahead with fire in her eyes. "Roll the tape, Rog."

 

 


 

 

 

After the incident with Steven, Roger took the initiative and made a few calls to their producers, telling John and Roy in no uncertain terms that Steven Short was not working out for them due to creative and personal differences. Having a stable full of qualified and underused engineers, the producers had seen no problem with replacing Steven. On Monday morning, all four of them walked into the studio to see a stranger waiting at the controls. He was 30, married, and had two kids. Roger liked him already.

"Lads, this is Mike Stone. He's our new engineer."

"It's a pleasure," Mike said cheerfully, shaking hands with each of them. "I've heard your demo tape; I love your sound. It's got a real punch."

Brian lifted an eyebrow, cocking his head toward Roger with an amused look on his face. "Steven was reassigned, was he?"

"Mm, unfortunately so," Roger said casually, pulling up a seat next to Mike. "But I have a feeling we're going to get on great with Mr. Stone."

Jane met Roger's eyes, and she nodded wordlessly, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips. She turned to the rest of the group. "Does anyone want coffee?"

Everyone's hands shot up, and she laughed, collecting their orders. Brian volunteered to go with her to help carry everything back. Once the door closed behind her, Freddie sidled up to Roger, chuckling to himself.

Roger furrowed his brow. "What?"

"Are you just going to silently get rid of any guy who looks at her wrong?"

He shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I'd do the same for my sister. You'd do it for Kash."

Freddie hummed noncommittally, moving past him to tap Mike on the shoulder. "Let's start with Liar, shall we?"

 

 

Chapter Text

 

January 1973

 

 

Jane's eyes flew open at the sound of her alarm, but she let the clock ring for a few moments before her sleep-addled brain remembered why she was awake so early on her day off.

It was the 15th of January. The 15th.

Jane batted at the alarm until it fell silent, her legs getting caught in the sheets as she scrambled out of bed. She threw on the first articles of clothing she could find, and was yanking on a woolen sock as she shouted for the boys to wake up.

A few seconds later, there was a loud thump and accompanying groan as Brian fell out of bed. "I'm awake!"

Sliding in her stockinged feet to Roger's room, she banged on the door. "Get up, Rog!"

There came a grumble, and the rustling of covers as he turned over in bed. She opened his door and flicked on the lights, grinning at his immediate violent reaction— like a slug exposed to salt on the pavement.

"Whatcha do that for?" he groaned, throwing a pillow in her direction. It fell a meter short, landing at the foot of the bed. "It's bloody early."

Jane picked up the pillow and came around the side of the bed, whacking him across the shoulders with it. He ducked under the covers, cursing at her in between snorted laughs.

"Get up, it's the 15th!"

The covers were immediately whipped away, and a bare-chested Roger stared back at her with wide eyes. "Oh shit, it's the 15th."

She nodded, anticipation bubbling up her throat in the form of barely contained giggles. "Put clothes on, we want to be there at nine."

He clambered out of bed and grabbed the nearest pair of trousers, practically falling over himself as he pulled them up over his boxers. Jane left him to it, skipping down the hallway and grabbing her scarf from the banister on the way down the stairs.

"Fred, are you decent?" Jane called, stopping herself at the foot of the stairs before turning the corner.

"Yes, yes, come down," Freddie answered, appearing from the kitchen with his coat and shoes already on. Freddie was not usually one to be up this early of his own volition, and certainly not dressed without a shower first, but these were special circumstances.

He fretted nervously with the scarf in his hands, his eyes darting from her to the clock on the wall. "It's nearly nine."

She grinned. "It is."

Brian and Roger came bounding down the stairs, rattling the hung pictures against the wall with the force of their trampling. There was a flurry of shouts and movement as coats were grabbed, shoes tied, and wallets located. Brian's hair was a massive nest of knotted curls, and he appeared to be wearing his jumper backwards, but that hardly mattered. It was like Christmas morning, but a better Christmas than Jane ever remembered having.

"Rog, keys!" she called, tossing the keychain to Roger, who caught it deftly one-handed.

Racing out of the house and down the steps, unbuttoned coats fluttering behind them, they all came to a sudden halt at the curb. Jane looked around, squinting into the sun. The space they typically parked the van in the long row of cars was vacant. After a frozen moment, Freddie spoke first, hands on hips.

"Well fuck, someone stole our car."

"No, no. I just forgot; it's at the shop," Roger said, hitting his forehead with his own hand. "It was making that awful noise again."

Jane looked at Roger, and Roger looked to Freddie and Brian, who shrugged and said, "It's only a few blocks."

So they ran, looking quite the sight as four windswept, possessed young people booking it down High Street. Brian and those freakishly long legs of his were up in front, while she and Freddie lagged behind.

"I'm going to have a fucking heart attack," Freddie gasped, bending over to catch his breath.

"Do that later," she admonished, taking his hand and pulling him along.

They dashed across the street and around the corner, where Brian and Roger had already disappeared inside Meyer's Records. Bursting inside the small shop, they saw their bandmates stalking down the row of vinyls, looking for the Q'sThe shop was deserted, other than the frazzled, teenaged clerk who had probably just unlocked for the day.

She jogged up behind Roger, standing on her tiptoes to peer over the boys' shoulders as Brian's fingers traced down the stack of LPs and plucked one out from the box. He held it aloft — Queen, in all her majesty — and they all cheered as her heart swelled.

Their first album had actually been finished and ready to go in November, but Neptune couldn't find any labels who wanted to release it. Eventually, Barry and Norman Sheffield had given it another listen and decided to sign them to a publishing deal as well and released the album themselves. It had been a long and winding road, but they were here, with an album in hand— their very own album produced of blood, sweat, tears, and coffee. Jane could have kissed the record. Roger actually did.

"Can you play it on the speakers in here?" Freddie asked the clerk, snatching the album from Roger.

The clerk scratched his head, leaning against the front counter. "Uh, I can't open the wrapping unless you buy it."

"Obviously we're going to buy it," Roger grumbled, going up front and slapping a couple of bills on the counter. "It's our bloody record."

"You're…" the clerk tilted his head to read the album jacket cover. "Queen?"

"Yes, and her majesty demands you play this record right fucking now," Freddie said breezily, gently removing it from its wrapping and jacket before handing it with gravitas to the teenager. "Please."

That first scratch of needle against vinyl was practically orgasmic, followed by the twang of distorted guitar and crash cymbals. Roger howled a shout, pumping his fist in the air. Freddie grasped Jane's hand and spun her around gleefully, narrowly avoiding the glass display case of vintage records. She threw back her head and laughed, joining the boys as they belted out the opening lyrics.

I was told a million times of all the troubles in my way
Mind you grow a little wiser, little better every day
But if I crossed a million rivers and I rode a million miles

Then I'd still be where I started, bread and butter for a smile!

 

 

Despite their own elation at the release of the album, Queen was not even a blip on the radar for the record-buying public. When Freddie stopped by Meyer's a week later to see how the album had been selling, he counted a full bin of LPs; none had been bought. This wasn't all too surprising to Jane; to everyone in the world but them, Queen was just a curiosity filed alphabetically between Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones in the stacks. Still, it was fairly disheartening once the initial rush of adrenaline had worn off, and the band was getting increasingly irritated with Trident for not doing much of anything to promote or advertise the album.

"These things take time, kids," Norman said gently, shuffling the papers on his desk as he looked at each of them in turn. Two weeks after the release, they had been summoned to their manager's office or, as Roger put it, Trident had finally gotten sick of screening their calls. "Led Zeppelin didn't blow up over night, either."

"We're not Zeppelin," Freddie sniffed, uncrossing his legs to lean his elbows on Norman's desk. "The album isn't selling. We need promotion. We need a tour."

Jane nodded, meeting Norman's eyes with tacit resolve. "He's right."

"You can't go on tour if nobody knows who you are," their manager explained delicately, placing a finger on a paper that Freddie was leaning on and tugging it away.

Roger laughed bitterly. "And nobody is going to know who the fuck we are if we don't go on tour."

Norman sighed, leaning back in his chair as he steepled his hands. They had been over this several times in the last few weeks. Trident had found them a few shows in London as openers for their bigger acts, but those were the same clubs and university auditoriums they had played a dozen times since 1971. At this point, Central London knew them well enough; it was the rest of the world that needed convincing.

After a moment of tense silence, Norman reached for his reading glasses and drew out a folder from his desk drawer. He wet his fingers with his lips and flicked through it, finding what he was looking for and looking up at the band with a small smile.

"Do any of you speak German?"

 

 


 

 

And so began the shortest, most insignificant world tour undertaken by any self-respecting rock band ever, although Jane wasn't feeling much respect for herself as she threw her bags into the back of their new 14-seater van — a loaner from Trident. They were embarking on a two-stop trip to Bonn in West Germany and Luxembourg to entertain audiences who possibly didn't speak a lot of English and almost certainly had no interest in them. Jane thought it was a ridiculous move, but it was the only "tour" Norman could afford to give them on short notice during the dead season for gigs.

Such short notice, in fact, Jane had to quietly quit her job when it was clear her boss wasn't about to let her take so much unscheduled leave during a busy time of year for them, when everyone's electronic gadgets they had received for Christmas were faulty or already broken. So now she had no regular, guaranteed income other than her paltry Trident allowance; everything was riding on the success of this first album, and it started with a haphazard, ill-planned road trip across international borders.

"Be gentle with those," Jane warned, fluttering her hands in agitation as Roger lifted a sizable amp cabinet into the back of the van. It was almost eleven in the morning, with a full day of driving ahead of them, and they were just about packed and ready to go. "They can swing open at the back."

He gave her an annoyed look, blowing a strand of hair out of his face with a forceful exhale as he adjusted his grip. "Yeah, I know," he said through gritted teeth, wrestling to lay the amp down into the bed of the van. "I've been doing this longer than you have, Deaky."

Brian was sitting in the front passenger seat, sorting through the stack of maps on his lap. None of them had been to Germany or Luxembourg before, and Jane hadn't been to the continent since she left home. The trip should take only seven hours, but they were counting on getting lost at least once, depending on whose turn it was to navigate. 

"Are we almost good to go?" Brian asked, propping the front door open.

"Luggage, amps, guitar, bass, drums, tool kit," Jane checked off one by one on her fingers. "Now all we need is a lead singer and we're off."

On cue, Freddie finally made his appearance, trailing out of the house with Mary, who was holding the crook of his elbow. The single knapsack over one shoulder belied the full trunk of stage costumes he had packed. Mary placed a gentle hand on his cheek, kissing him softly and earning a fond smile in return. Freddie had effectively been moved out of their little house on Sinclair for a month, spending at least five nights out of the week at Mary's flat. He still spent most of his time with them during the day, but evenings were decidedly quieter now. She had to admit it was probably better for all of them to have a bit more space, both physically and figuratively.

However, looking in the back of the van, she wasn't sure if there would be much space to speak of for the next few days.

"I'm going to miss you so much," Mary said planting another solid kiss on Freddie's cheek before turning to the rest of the band. "All of you. But I'm so proud."

"It's just four days, my love," Freddie said, petting her hand. "We'll be back before you know it."

"Well, get on then; you have a long drive ahead of you."

After a final kiss goodbye from Mary, Freddie hopped into the van beside Jane. Roger settled into the driver's seat, consulting the maps with Brian as they planned the route forward. They'd be driving to Dover first, where their van would be loaded onto the ferry and they'd get to enjoy a 90 minute cruise before stuffing themselves back into the vehicle for the rest of the trip to Germany.

Freddie bumped her shoulder with his. "We're going on tour, Deaky," he stage whispered, as if it were some exciting secret.

"We're going to two random clubs in western Europe," she said, though she couldn't help the smile that rose to her lips at Freddie's enthusiasm. "It's not really a tour."

He hummed, patting her knee as they slowly pulled away from the curb. "It's something. It's another beginning."

 

 


 

 

The ferry ride to France was not nearly as enjoyable as Jane had expected — not that she had anticipated any part of this trip to be particularly pleasant. It was a windy day and the sea was equally choppy, so the ferry swayed with exaggerated jolts. It had been so long since she had been on a boat, she had forgotten one important fact about herself: she was prone to awful seasickness. Unbeknownst to the boys for the first half the of the cruise, she had been puking her guts out in the promenade loo while they horsed around on the deck, enjoying the mist and the wind in their hair.

Roger eventually found her curled up and bent over at the waist on a bench outside, a small black bin that a kindly steward had given her clutched between her knees. She was seriously regretting eating that fish and chips an hour before while they waited to board the ferry.

"Alright there, Deaks?"

She looked up at him murderously, but the arrival of the tilting horizon in her line of vision sent another wave of nausea rolling through her and she spit up into the bin. A sound of mixed revulsion and sympathy was produced from Roger's throat as he took a step backward. He whipped around to find Freddie, who was waved over.

"Poor dear, are you seasick?" Freddie asked, crouching down to her level.

Jane coughed and wiped her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut to make the world stop spinning around her. "No, I'm pregnant."

"What?"

"By whom?"

The panicked shock in both of their voices was enough to make her crack a semblance of a smile. "Joking. Yes, I get seasick. I don't spend much time on my yacht anymore, you see."

"Good to see your sense of humor is still intact," Roger drawled, sinking onto the bench next to her. "Fred, can you get her some water? Maybe ginger ale?"

"On it," he said, and she heard the sound of his footsteps leading away.

There was another strong gust of wind and an accompanying rock of the boat, and she moaned pitifully, grabbing desperately at the bin between her knees. As she heaved once more, her stomach clenching painfully at its overuse, she vaguely registered her hair being gently pulled back from her face. Afterwards, Roger took a crumpled up napkin from his pocket and handed it to her.

"Have a lot of experience holding girls' hair while they hurl, Rog?" she asked dryly, patting at the corners of her mouth.

Roger chuckled and rubbed a comforting hand over her back. "Yeah, but never on a boat. So this is new and different."

The ferry pitched sickeningly to one side, and then the other. Somehow, there were still contents in her stomach to retch.

"Just 40 more minutes and we'll be on dry land," he said, as if that was reassuring.

"Throw me overboard," she groaned, bending to rest her head against her knees. "I'll swim to France."

 

 

After the ferry ride from hell, they boarded the van once more and continued on their way, passing into Belgium and stopping in Ghent to eat and switch drivers. There had been traffic on the E40, delaying them by almost an hour, and the sun was already setting.

"How much longer, Brian?" Jane asked, staring out the window as they traversed the Belgian countryside. The scenery could have been beautiful in the daytime— green pastures on one side, lush forests on the other — but she was bored and restless, and her head was starting to ache from dehydration.

"Three to four hours, I think. Fred, where exactly are we?"

Freddie startled awake in the passenger seat at the sound of his name. "Hmph?"

"Come on, stay awake. You're my navigator, Fred. This is how we get lost…"

As Brian and Freddie quietly bickered in the front, she turned to Roger, slid down with his feet on the chair in front of him and a sketchbook tucked in his lap. Freddie was the band's artist, designing their logo and album jacket, but she'd sometimes catch Roger drawing in quiet moments like these, usually cars or geometric shapes. She leaned toward him, looking over his shoulder at his messy sketch of a boat— the ferry, presumably, though for some reason he had drawn an enormous smokestack like it was a 1930s steam liner.

"Our first cruise," she murmured, resting her fingers on the edge of his notebook. "Not exactly how I pictured it." 

He tilted his head toward her and grinned, and she retreated a bit when she realized how her cheek was nearly brushing his. "Next time, we'll go somewhere a bit more tropical."

Jane squinted, studying the drawing more closely. "Are you...steering the ship?" she asked, pointing at the little stick figure with shoulder-length hair and a captain's hat, holding onto the wheel at the helm.

"Mhm, and there's Brian fishing off the side, and Freddie is sunbathing," he said, pointing out each of their tiny figures in turn.

She chuckled, her eyes flickering over the page. "And where am I? Puking into a bucket somewhere?"

Roger tapped a finger on the shaded lines of water surrounding the ship. Underneath his fingertip was a doodle of Jane as a smiling mermaid, with wavy hair and…

"A knitted jumper?"

"I thought you wouldn't like it if I drew you topless," he admitted sheepishly.

"Clever boy," she mused, biting back a laugh. "Are you done with it?"

He nodded, carefully ripping out the sheet of paper along the perforated edges and handing it to her. "You can have it, if you like."

She laughs, looking it over fondly once more before folding it up to put in her bag. "I'll hang it on the fridge when we get home."

 

 

The sun was setting quickly, and the pockets of trees they passed through cast flickering shadows inside the van. Between the trees, Jane could make out the twinkling lights of farm houses in the near distance.

The soft whir of the engine and wheels on well-paved road were putting Jane in a sleepy state, and she reached up to tap off her overhead light.

She dozed off, blinking awake some time later to find that she had fallen against Roger in her sleep, her head tucked in the curl of his neck while his head lolled back against hers. His breathing was loud but steady in her ear. Sheepishly, she tried to remove herself, but Roger let out a little grunt, asleep, and sunk further against her. Though constricted, she was vaguely surprised to find she wasn't all that uncomfortable, and the warmth and her own exhaustion quickly enveloped her once again.

The next time she woke up, she was being gently shaken. The van was now filled with artificial light, which made her eyes scrunch up, and at first she tried to burrow closer into her source of heat, until she realized that heat was Roger.

"Hey, wake up," he whispered. "Where's your passport?"

She frowned, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she sat up, disoriented. Brian had exited the van and was conversing with a uniformed, armed man right outside, at what appeared to be a well-secured border checkpoint.

"What's going on? What does that officer want with Brian?" she asked, an edge of worry breaking through her cloud of sleepy confusion as she felt around the floor for her purse.

"It's fine, they need to see our passports so we can enter the country, darling," Freddie said soothingly from the front seat. "Brian will be right back."

She handed her passport to Freddie, who already had his and Roger's out and ready for the officer, who was now returning to the van with Brian. The man peered into the driver's side window with a stern expression, snatching the passports from Freddie and flipping them open. One by one, he studied each passport photo and held up his flashlight into the van, shining the light directly into their faces. The process to enter France and Belgium had not been nearly this intense, but she supposed this was to be expected for the nation bordering the Iron Curtain.

Upon seeing Jane, he lowered his light and spoke in clear, accented English. "Missare you well?"

She was sure she looked a sight — all stringy, matted-down hair and red, puffy eyes. Her voice trembled when she spoke, glancing anxiously at Roger. "Y-yes?"

"Do you know these men?" he asked sharply. "Are they your friends?"

Her shaken nerves were interrupted by the curious question. "What? I— yes, of course. We're a band."

The officer frowned, looking her up and down and lowering the flashlight slightly so it wasn't blinding her anymore. His eyes flickered to Freddie and Roger distrustfully. "Are you sure?"

"We didn't kidnap her if that's what you're asking," Roger muttered under his breath, and she regained enough sense to elbow him sharply.

"I'm fine, sir," she said, swallowing back the anxiety in her voice. "We're here to play a concert. In Bonn. I play bass."

At his confused look, she held up her arms and mimed it. Recognition flashed across his face and he nodded, pointing behind her to the back of the van. "OK, I will check your cargo."

"Please do," she squeaked, her panic quickly resurfacing as he walked around from the front of the van. Roger nudged her, his eyebrows knitted in concern.

"You OK, Jane?"

She gulped, bobbing her head. Confrontation with authority figures tended to make her a touch...nervous. Behind her, Brian was unlocking the trunk. "Yeah, I'm fine."

After a few minutes of opening and closing instrument cases and amp cabinets, the officer seemed satisfied. He handed back the passports to Brian, who shakily climbed back in the van, giving the rest of them a reassuring, if frazzled smile. Leaning against the vehicle, the officer again spoke to all of them.

"You need to be careful in Bonn. Do not let your friend walk by herself at night."

If she wasn't still shaken and dry-mouthed, Jane would have been offended at the implication she couldn't look after herself. Instead, a wide-eyed Brian just nodded and thanked the officer for his advice. The officer waved them off, and Brian quickly rolled up the window and pulled forward toward the opening gate.

"Well that was slightly nerve-wracking," Brian said after a moment, once the checkpoint was behind them. "Welcome to Germany."

"You think they have a sex trafficking problem?" Freddie asked, glancing back at Jane. "I hope you're not too shaken up, darling."

"No, no, I'm fine," she said quickly, knotting her fingers in her lap. "Just sort of an intense thing to wake up to."

"He thought we had kidnapped her," Roger grumbled, his face crinkling sourly at the mere suggestion. "Do we look like pimps?"

Brian looked at Roger through his rear view mirror, lifting his eyebrows and regarding him seriously. "Just be thankful we're coming in from the West."

 

 


 

 

The ride from the German border to Bonn had been quick, and they had shuffled into their motel — a rundown, seedy joint in the Bad-Godesberg district, near where the show would take place the following night. Trident, ever generous, had given them only enough money to pay for one cold, drafty double room. A maid had wheeled in an extra cot, which Jane had claimed, leaving Roger and Freddie to share one of the queen beds and Brian — the lanky bastard — with a bed to himself.

She didn't sleep much; the cot was lumpy and creaked whenever she made the slightest of movements, and a faint scratching sound in the peeling, papered walls had her convinced the place was infested with roaches. Off and on all night, sirens wailed outside in the unfamiliar city, and she startled awake from her fitful sleep every time a car pulled up in the lot a meter from their door, shining bright lights into their room.

No one could sleep in late the next morning, with all that sun streaming in through the curtain-less window, but no one was well-rested, either. With nothing else to do, they spent the most of the day sightseeing, wandering around the central city square and following the English language guidebook Freddie had picked up. Jane had been worried they would get hopelessly lost in Bonn, with the four of them knowing not a lick of German between them, but as it turned out, many Germans could speak at least some basic English, and they were able to find their way around without too much trouble. Armed with the second-hand camera Jane and Roger had pooled their money to buy him for Christmas, Brian was taking pictures of everything and everyone. Jane was able to successfully dodge the camera most of the time, though Brian did manage to capture the back of her head looking up at the impressive heights of a historic cathedral. 

Towards the end of the day, they stopped by the Koenig natural history museum, as Brian had insisted they visit the new asteroid exhibit on the top floor. All of the placards and informational booklets were in German, so Brian acted as their makeshift tour guide, explaining the bits and pieces of space stuff he recognized. They approached a pedestal that held a lump of rock, and an unintelligible placard beneath it. Brian stared at it for a few seconds before launching into an explanation for what it might be.

Freddie was doing his best to appear interested, but Roger had long since tuned out. He bumped Jane's arm and jerked his head toward a door on the other side of the hall, which was for the rainforest exhibit. She risked a glance at Brian, who was now trying to haltingly communicate with a museum staff member, and gave Roger a small nod. They slipped away, but not before Freddie, looking wide-eyed and helpless in the midst of Brian's continuing space lecture, mouthed "traitors."

The rainforest exhibit in the next room was warm and misty to mimic the climate of the tropics, enough so that she had to remove her light jacket once they entered. A recording of high-pitched primate calls, thunder, and the chirping of insects was playing on a loop though the loud speakers. Taxidermied monkeys hung from fake trees on either side of the winding walkway, their plasticized faces contorted in grotesque screams as if caught mid-laughter. Roger crouched down to look at what appeared to be a model of a miniature monkey with orange fur and white markings around the eyes, peaking between the leaves of a fern.

"He's a squirrel monkey. They have these little guys at the London zoo," he said, tilting his head to look up at her, leaning against the railing. "Have you been?"

"I haven't, actually," she admitted. "Seems like something I should do at least once as a London resident, doesn't it?"

He hummed in agreement, turning back to the monkey in question. "I'll take you sometime."

Beside them, a large group of young school children crowded in a circle around their harried teacher, who was trying to be heard over the cackles and mimicked monkey-calls of her students. Jane quickly ducked past them, leaving Roger to weave his way out of the throng. Wandering past the faux forest of small primates, she found herself standing in front of a floor-to-ceiling net, upon which hung hundreds of preserved butterflies of every size, color, and pattern imaginable.

She took a step back, craning her head to take in the full display. She only recognized a few varieties, the orange and black ones that had congregated in her mother's garden during the summer and along the wooden trail beyond the gate. Roger soon joined her at the wall, stepping closer to the net to inspect the butterflies and their attached paper tags, which gave a short description in German.

She hovered a finger over a large, blue butterfly at eye level, careful not to touch the delicate wings. "The blue ones are pretty."

"The Morphos? Yeah, they're their own genus. Tons of them in the Amazon," he said, his eyes scanning the net as if searching for something in particular. He soon found whatever it was on the far right corner of the net, and beckoned Jane over.

"You see this one?" he asked, pointing at what appeared to be a stretch of empty net. "It's my favorite."

Jane frowned, cocking her head. "There's nothing there."

"Look closer. The head is here, and then the wings..."

She squinted, and when she saw it, her eyebrows lifted to her hairline. "It's transparent!"

The body and edges of the butterfly's wings were a ruddy brown, blending in to the netting behind it, while the wings were as undeniably see-through as a pane of glass. She'd never seen anything like it. While she inspected the fascinating creature closer, Roger rattled off facts he had apparently committed to memory.

"It's called the glasswing butterfly, Greta oto. I studied it for my insects and arachnids class," he explained, leaning against the empty wall beside the net. "They can actually carry 40 times their own weight, and they'll eat the nectar of toxic flowers to ward off predators."

"Predators have to find them first," she muttered, moving her head from side to side to observe how the light played with the almost invisible veins. "It's the perfect camouflage."

He nodded, chuckling softly. "Invisibility, super strength...it's the Lepidoptera Superman."

"Ooh, more big words from Mr. Biology," she joked, though her laughter faded when she saw the strained look on his face.

"Well, contrary to popular belief, I didn't sleep through all my classes," he said, a hint of irritation in his voice. "I worked my ass off."

Her eyebrows furrowed, confused now by his defensiveness. "I know, Rog," she said softly, giving him a reassuring smile when his eyes flickered uncertainly to hers. "I was shit at biology, so your knowledge of all this is really cool to me."

That took him by surprise, and he rubbed his neck sheepishly. "Oh. Well, thanks. I'll never need to use any of that stuff, of course. Other than for trivia nights or impressing girls."

"I'm a girl. Consider me impressed."

"You're not really my intended audience, but thanks," he said dryly, staring up at the ceiling.

She clasped her hands together, fluttering her eyelashes dramatically as she spoke in a higher, softer voice. "Oh, Roger, which butterfly best matches my eyes?"

"Piss off," he said, though she caught a hint of a smile on his face as he turned toward the exit to the exhibit. "Come on, they'll be looking for us soon. We've got three hours until show time."

"OK, but I'm going to want more butterfly facts on the way."

 

 


 

 

The show that night would be at a club and music venue called The Underground, which a couple of Trident's British bands had played before. Despite her misgivings about the trip, Jane had to admit she was excited. It felt like being a real rock star, in a way — travelling to a foreign country, playing for international audiences, even if they had no idea who Queen was yet.

"Here you are, darling," Freddie said cheerfully, unfolding a stack of clothing from his suitcase in their motel room and handing the pieces to her. There was a black, shiny pair of trousers that resembled plastic and a shimmery, white and black striped camisole

"Fred," she started, fingering the sleeveless top hesitantly. "I don't know if I can pull this off."

"It's black and white, darling. It looks good on everyone," Freddie explained airily, brushing past her to give Brian his stage costume. She couldn't help but notice he had a lot more fabric to work with.

"It's not the color I'm worried about," she said, holding the shirt up against her chest. It would be low-cut on her, not that she had much to fill it out on top.

"Just try it on. If you really don't like it, you can wear something else," he said kindly, pushing her toward the bathroom.

Getting dressed involved a bit of gymnastics to squeeze herself into the oil-slick pants, but the result wasn't as awkward as she had feared. The top wasn't that low cut, and the fabric flowed comfortably against her skin. It wasn't something she'd choose for herself, but for once she didn't feel like she was playing dress-up in someone else's clothes. Grabbing the makeup bag on the counter, she uncapped the eyeliner and carefully lined the rims of her eyes. When she was satisfied that both eyes were somewhat even, she gathered up her day clothes and returned to the main room.

"How do I look?" she asked, humoring Freddie with a twirl as he clapped his hands excitedly.

"Stunning, darling! But I have one more little touch…" he said with a sly grin, bending down to reach into his bag and pulling out a small piece of velvet. He held it toward her, gesturing to her throat. "May I?"

She eyed it cautiously but nodded her consent for him to clap it for her. When he was done, her fingers skirted along the strip of fabric, fluffing the bow that rested snug against her throat. "Am I a present?"

"Only to all the world, my dear."

Once Brian had changed and applied the requisite stage makeup, they locked the door behind them and departed for the night. Jane was climbing into the van when she remembered she had left her purse in the room. Taking the key from Brian, she told them to wait in the van while she retrieved it.

As expected, her small black bag was waiting for her on the cot. Taking another look at herself in the mirror — and grinning, despite herself, at the bow — she exited the room once more. Two men, their neighbors, she assumed, were leaning against the wall outside, taking a smoke. Catching her eye, the taller, blonde one smiled at her, saying something to her in German in a pleasant tone. She just smiled and nodded, turning to lock the door and head back to the van.

"Fräulein," the man spoke again, reaching for her arm, and she froze.

It was still light outside, and the boys were clearly in view in the lot, though they didn't appear to be watching her. She plastered a tight smile on her face, though the corners of her lips were already twitching.

"Wie viel?" the shorter, stocky one asked, his gaze roving up and down her approvingly.

She took a step backward, her eyes narrowing. "I'm sorry, I don't speak German."

The taller man made a noise of interest, crossing his arms against his chest and grinning hungrily at her. "How much?" he asked, jutting his chin forward.

She faltered. "Excuse me?"

"How much?" the man repeated, more urgently. "How much?"

Jane bit her lip and looked around, reaching into her purse. Was this a mugging? "How much what? Money? Do you want money?"

Strangely, the short man pulled out his own wallet, gesturing toward her with it. "We pay half now, half later. Yes?"

Realization dawned, followed by a sick, sinking feeling that dwarfed any nausea she had felt on the ferry. The velvet bow felt tight and restrictive against her throat, like a collar. Not a present at all. Clenching her jaw, she shook her head frantically, "No, I don't do that. No."

The word no came through loud and clear, at least, and they held up their hands, palms forward, as they backed off. A quake of relief shook her, and she sidestepped them, looking over her shoulder warily as she hurried to the van. The boys were in the midst of conversation when she climbed into the van, though they stopped when they saw the look on her face.

"Deaky?" Freddie asked. "Who were those men you were talking to?"

She shook her head, thinning her lips into a smile. "Nobody. I think they just wanted money for booze."

"Don't we all," Roger muttered.

She rode the rest of the way to the gig in silence, tugging at the bow around her neck until finally it snapped from the strain.

 

 


 

 

 

The band quickly realized that Trident didn't just have terrible taste in motels; they had done next to nothing to promote Queen's performance in The Underground. It was five minutes past the scheduled start of their set and the space wasn't even a fraction of the way to full capacity.

The venue's entertainment manager, who spoke little English, hadn't even known the band's name. Sleep deprived and rattled from the events of the last 24 hours, Jane knew as soon as she stepped foot on stage — in front of a nearly empty, silent room — that she was going to need a lot of vodka later to forget this show ever happened.

If being mistaken for a prostitute was embarrassing, playing like shit to a bored crowd of 40 — and that was a generous estimate — was downright mortifying. They had played rough gigs before, of course, but there was something unsettling about being ruthlessly heckled in a language she didn't know.

As their third song, Doing All Right, ended, there were a couple of polite claps from the audience, some booing, an unintelligible heckle, but mostly silence. The silence was making her uneasy, as she could see through the blinding lights that the drinks had not slowed down — they weren't just bored; they were restless. They hadn't even made it to the fifth song of the set when two loud drunks in the front row started singing — or rather, shouting — a verse of what sounded like a German drinking song.

Freddie, ever the showman, was pulling out all the stops to save their quickly sinking ship, but she could tell his patience was wearing thin as he dodged a crumpled up paper bag aimed at his head. Partway through her small bass solo in Liar, a man in the front row flung his beer bottle onto the stage, shattering at her feet as she jumped backward to avoid getting hit.

"Hure!"

She didn't need to know German to understand his intent.

Freddie put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her to the back of the stage before he swept his leg out and kicked the shards of glass off the stage, which led to even more jeers and projectiles tossed their way. She looked nervously to Roger, who had stood up behind his kit and was now just furiously wailing on his cymbals while they were being pelted with food and garbage. A flash of color was heading directing toward her and she ducked, but not fast enough to avoid the cold slime of something thick and viscous running down the crown of her head. Disgusted, she wiped a hand over her head, though that just spread the substance — pudding — into her hair.

There was a final strum of guitar and then Brian was booking it off the stage, with Freddie grabbing her elbow to pull her away as well. Roger was the last to leave, and for a nervous second Jane thought he might destroy his kit. Thankfully, he just pushed over a free-standing cymbal before throwing back his stool and storming off. The booing got louder, followed by a wave of cheers.

"Bastards," he muttered, stalking past them to the backstage area.

Jane let go of the shaky breath she had been holding, looking up at Freddie. "That went well."

"Were you hit by anything, darling?" Freddie asked, inspecting her in the darkness of the wings. "Other than dessert?"

She shook her head, following Roger and Brian out the back. "Just bruised my dignity."

"Good thing I brought the Smirnoff," Freddie muttered, trailing behind her as he picked flakes of crusted pudding out of her hair. "We're getting absolutely sozzled tonight."

 

 

The motel room door had barely shut behind them before Freddie was uncapping a bottle of vodka. Luckily, he had thought to bring shot glasses as well, though Jane would have been just fine taking a long gulp straight from the bottle. They wouldn't have to be on the road for the short trip to Luxembourg until noon the following day, so she had every intention of drinking until the barely contained fire within her was extinguished.

"Do you think it was the language barrier, or were we just shit?" Brian asked, kicking off his shoes as he fell onto his bed.

Roger, collapsing into the chair by the window, flicked open his Zippo, sparking it indignantly a few times before lighting the cigarette between his fingers. "We were fine," he mumbled, cigarette between his lips. "They just have no taste."

"I was pretty shit," Jane grumbled, taking her first shot and knocking it back easily, wincing through the burn. "This whole trip is shit."

"Well, there's still Luxembourg," Freddie said optimistically, turning on the grainy black-and-white television perched on the dresser. "Perhaps we'll be a hit in Luxembourg." 

Jane crossed the room to Roger's seat and wordlessly slid a cigarette out of his box resting on the side table. Glancing briefly up to her, he flicked his lighter and held it out. Balancing the cigarette between her lips while holding her hair aside, she bent over to light up. She saw Roger's eyes slowly veer down the gaping front of her shirt, and her throat went dry.

"Seriously?" she snapped, clutching her shirt close against her chest and standing upright. She hoped Freddie didn't pay too much for this top, because she was going to burn it.

"Oh, come on," he sputtered, gesturing haphazardly with his lit cigarette. "I'm a bloke; it's like dangling a bone in front of a dog."

"Pig."

"It's an instinctual response!"

She narrowed her eyes and retreated to the bed nearest the door, where Freddie was spread out watching television. He had either ignored the exchange or was very focused on a German-dubbed rerun of Bonanza. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest and stared straight ahead at the television. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Roger lean back in his chair, tilting his head to look at her and pouting pitifully.

"I'm sorry Jane. It won't happen again!"

After a slow drag of her cigarette, she turned to Brian, pointedly ignoring the drummer. "Did you bring that bottle of rum Freddie gave you for Christmas?"

Brian, looking nervously between her and Roger, nodded once. "In my bag. We've got no ice though."

She hopped back onto her feet and strolled over to her purse. "I saw an ice vendor by the dumpster. If there's a soda machine I'll get a Coke or two."

"Do you want help?" Roger asked, rising from his chair.

"No."

Jane closed the door firmly behind her, realizing with a rush of goosebumps up her arms that it was probably too cold to be walking around without a jacket. No matter — she'd be back soon enough. Taking sucking puffs of her cigarette, she hurried to the corner of the U-shaped motel compound, watching where she stepped as there was broken glass and garbage littering the lot. Norman had really put them up in some five star accommodations…

She turned the corner and gritted her teeth at what — or whom — she found there.

"Fräulein!"

It was one of the men from earlier that day, the tall one with shaggy blonde hair that fell over his eyes. He looked decidedly worse for wear now, shitfaced and barely supporting himself against the dumpster. She scowled, trying to give him a wide berth as she moved toward the ice machine. Instead, he followed a few meters behind her, babbling in slurred German. At one point, it sounded like he broke into garbled song as he swung his arms by his sides and spun away from her. She rolled her eyes, leaving him to his stumbled dancing as she inserted the few coins she had into the slot.

She had crouched down to collect the ice from the chute when she smelt him — the hot and sour breath of a drunk breathing over her shoulder. His hand followed, gliding down her arm.

"How much?" he mumbled, in English.

There was no time to be frightened, not that she had much anxiety left in her that night. Just sheer, boiling rage. Her hand darted to her purse as she shot up, and she flipped open her retractable knife. She didn't quit her job, vomit her way across the English channel, and get pelted with pudding just to be harassed by some bumbling drunk.

No shaking hands, no trembling lips. "I'll cut your fucking hand off."

His widening eyes froze on the glinting metal of the knife, then traveled back to her face nervously. He dropped his hands, lumbering backwards quickly. He stuttered something pleadingly in German before mumbling, "Sorry, so sorry."

"Jane!"

She squinted, catching sight of the boys spilling out of their motel room across the lot. Pursing her lips, she flipped the blade of her knife down and stowed it away. Fairly certain the drunkard was terrified of her now — if his trembling shoulders and repeated apologies in English and German were anything to go by — she put her hands out in a shooing motion toward the man. There was no need to start a drunken brawl in a German motel car park.

"Go. Get out of here, then."

By the time Brian and Roger reached her, the drunk was already stumbling away and she was dusting herself off. Roger tried to run past her and after the man, but she yanked on his jacket, forcefully spinning him around and to a halt.

"Oh, no you don't," she said, clutching both of his arms to his sides to restrain him.

"Fucking coward!" a red-faced Roger yelled after the confused drunk.

She pinched the crease of his elbow. "Relax, he wasn't going to hurt me. He just thought I was a prostitute."

"What?"

Freddie jogged over and almost collapsed against her. Taking heavy inhales, he gasped, "Don't worry, darling. We're here to rescue you."

She lifted an eyebrow. "Little late for that, I think."

"Jane, are you OK?" Brian asked, hands hovering cautiously over her shoulders. "And was that a knife?"

"Jane, are you OK?" she mimicked him under her breath, bending down and retrieving the forgotten bag of ice on the ground. "That seems to be the question on everyone's minds lately."

She breezed past them, throwing the bag over her shoulder as she headed back to the room. They skittered after her, bewildered.

"We're calling Norman tomorrow. I have some demands for our bookings and accommodations going forward."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

August, 1973

 

There's no doubt that this funky, energetic English quartet has all the tools they'll need to lay claim to the Zep's abdicated heavy-metal throne, and beyond that to become a truly influential force in the rock world.

-Rolling Stone

 

Sure, the material is so derivative it hurts (listen to guitarist Brian May cop riffs from Jimmy Page, Black Sabbath's Tony lomi, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Box and you'll see what I mean), but the group manages to inject such a fresh, energetic touch to most of it that I don't mind a bit.

-Winnipeg Free Press

 

 

"Derivative!" Brian spat, slamming the paper down on the coffee table in their den. "Fucking derivative? We're doing stuff in the studio no one else has dreamed of!"

"Brian, it's one review," Roger said tiredly, taking the paper and crumpling it. "Who's even heard of bloody Winnipeg?"

Jane sighed into her coffee cup, already regretting her request for Trident to forward all published reviews of their album to the house. If she had known, she'd have burned the copy before Brian could get his hands on it.

"Mick Box," Brian seethed, his jaw twitching. "This git listened to my guitar and thought Mick fucking Box?"

"Demons and Wizards wasn't half bad," she mused, earning a scornful glare from Brian. "What? I'm not mad at being compared to that."

"I don't cop riffs!" he shouted, getting up from the couch and storming upstairs while Jane and Roger chorused "We know."

Upstairs, Brian's door slammed shut, and Jane raised her eyebrows, exchanging an amused look with Roger. While Freddie had moved out to live with Mary and their two new cats — Tom and Jerry — several months ago, Jane still shared the row house with the other two boys. She was used to tantrums from Roger, but their guitarist had worked himself into a bit of an unusual mood. Brian's anger usually manifested itself in passive aggression — which Jane hated, and therefore ignored — or long-winded arguments that often only succeeded in wearing out his opponent. She'd kill a man for him, no doubt, but he also made her want to commit arson on occasion.

"The rest of the review was fairly nice, actually," Roger said, taking Brian's abandoned spot on the couch next to her. "Fresh and energetic is good."

"You know Brian," she muttered, picking up the Daily Herald and unfolding it over her lap. "He wants perfection. It's what makes him a brilliant musician and a right prat."

He held up his coffee mug in agreement. "Cheers to that."

 

Reviews for their first album had been trickling in throughout the spring and summer as the music press in England, America and even Winnipeg, Canada were catching wind of Queen. The review in Rolling Stone Magazine was the crown jewel of them all; Gordon Fletcher called their debut album "superb" and compared them favorably several times to Led Zeppelin. At least, Jane had thought the comparisons positive; Brian was getting overly hung up on being likened to anyone, as if they were supposed to exist in a musical bubble. But she understood the root of his frustration; she didn't want Queen to be "the new Zep," either. Queen was Queen, even if they themselves were still trying to figure out what exactly that meant.

Following the disastrous one-two tour of Germany and Luxembourg earlier that year, 1973 had been relatively devoid of shows, other than their small, hometown gigs. They had sat down with their management and decided that until they had more material to release and a better live show to market, they wouldn't let themselves get complacent with half-assed tours. So in the meantime, while the kettle was still hot, they'd write and fine-tune and rewrite for their new album, the yet-unnamed sequel to Queen.

It was now August and they'd only been in and out of the studio for a few days, but the record already felt different to Jane, as did the process to make it. They were finally allowed to use the recording facilities during normal daylight hours, so going to work on the album actually felt like...going to work. They weren't just kids playing around with new toys in a studio anymore; they had something here. Something real and true and so promising, if they could only find and name the unknown space their music was reeling toward blindly. So far, there were elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, metal, and whatever the hell Seven Seas of Rhye was shaping up to be. The only musical constant was that there was no constant, which perhaps, Jane thought idly, was exactly where they fit best.

She flipped through the newspaper on her lap, her eyes landing glumly on the classifieds. Their first album hadn't tanked with the public exactly, but they weren't going certified gold anytime soon. Luckily, she had been able to make a quick buck from their old studio, De Lane Lea, by fixing up some of their equipment, though that kind of work was naturally few and far between. She was running out of cash — they all were — and the lure of a part-time job to keep food in her mouth was becoming more and more tempting, if depressingly so.

"Your birthday is in a couple weeks, isn't it?" Roger asked, looking up at her over the latest issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.

"Mhm, the 19th," she muttered, turning the page over. "I'll be 22. Entering my dotage."

"Oh please."

Truth be told, 22 still sounded very young to her. Too young, at least, to be making decisions that would impact the rest of her life. Freddie was almost 27, and she knew even he felt unprepared and overwhelmed when the men in suits started talking business and figures and returns on investment. They were all just navigating blind, hoping that at least one of them could find a door in the darkness and lead the others through. Perhaps this was how the music industry made their money, pouncing on young artists who haven't lived long enough to know what sort of sacrifices they should be ready and willing to make.

Roger rolled up the magazine in his hand, tapping it thoughtfully against his chin. "Shall we hold a retirement celebration instead of a birthday party then?"

She made a face. "No parties. I'm serious, Roger. We've got a lot to do and none of us have any money."

He pouted, clasping his hands in front of him to beg. "C'mon, it's your birthday. We celebrated mine and Brian's."

"We went to a pub and got shit-faced," she said blankly. "You got into a fight with that guy who made fun of your shoes."

"They're nice shoes," he insisted. "And, it was a great birthday."

"No parties, no pub crawls, and that's the last I'll say on it." Jane glanced at her watch and, seeing that it was nearly half the hour, put her paper aside and rose to her feet. They were supposed to be at the studio in twenty minutes for the day's session, during which they were scheduled to continue one of Freddie's more...unorthodox tracks.

"We should get going. Can you get Brian?"

He got up reluctantly, looking toward the stairs with a grimace. "Can you do it? He's in a rather stompy mood."

She had already slipped on her loafers and was halfway toward the door. "I'll be in the car. Good luck!"

 

 


 

 

The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke was a bit of an oddity, starting with the title. It was inspired by a painting Freddie had chanced upon at the Tate Gallery downtown, which he had dragged them all to see soon after. Jane saw the song as a sort of sequel to My Fairy King from the first album, though the two sounded as different as could be.

"So, what do you reckon it's about?" Roger asked, coming to stand beside her as they watched Freddie lay a test track to play while they were recording backing vocals, though the final version would be re-recorded later.

She cocked her head. "Fairies, I guess."

He exhaled a laugh, crossing his arms. "Yeah, but are the fairies supposed to mean something?"

She widened her eyes in interest as Freddie tilted his head back to reach a piercing note at the top of his range. He grinned back at them, giving them a thumbs up as he continued the track. "Nah, I think it's just fairies."

"Are Rog and I going to sing, or is it going to be the Freddie show today?" Brian muttered crossly from the couch behind them, where he was bent over polishing his guitar. His sour mood had not faded from that morning. "If so, I'd like to get some lunch."

Jane rolled her eyes. "Relax. He's almost done."

"If he's not in five minutes, I'm cutting him off."

She and Roger had laid the complete bass and drums tracks the day before, and Roger still had to lend his voice to the backing track. She wasn't technically needed for the song anymore, but they worked better as a unit in the studio. Plus, the guys liked having someone at the controls with Mike Stone when they were all recording vocals together. However, the equally important, yet unstated reason for her to stay was her unofficial, reluctant role as tiebreaker.

While the guys mostly got along fine in the studio, it was becoming increasingly clear that all of them were pulling from vastly different musical styles and preferences, which was great for their album's diversity, but not so much for the peace. They were all enormously stubborn, too, which meant arguments could last for hours and drain studio time if someone didn't step in. As a rule, she didn't interfere in spats between Brian or Roger; that was an older friendship with history that she didn't quite understand, or Brian and Freddie; those two just needed time away from each other, and then they were best pals and collaborators again. But once they all started getting at it, she'd be forced to call a timeout and mandate a break, or mediation. Otherwise, things got ugly.

So when Roger and Brian finally joined Freddie in the recording booth, Jane was on edge as soon as Brian said something to Freddie — unintelligible, as the intercom was still off — and Freddie visibly bristled in response. While the tape was readied, there were what looked to be heated barbs exchanged between the two, followed by silent glowering looks. Roger stared back at her though the glass, wide-eyed as he mouthed "help me."

Mike glanced over at her and huffed a shaky chuckle. "Never a boring day at the office."

She shook her head, lifting her eyes to the ceiling. "You can say that again."

Mike leaned in to speak into the intercom. "Alright, lads. I'll start the playback a verse before, if you're ready."

Thankfully, Freddie and Brian's work ethic won out, and they got to business. The trio sang some aahsoohs, and odd little overdub lines, with Freddie stopping them often to make some note about resonance or length or other vocal particulars Jane didn't really understand. Not for the first time, she wished she could sing — if only to make songwriting easier, and to understand their language a bit better. Not that she needed to take vocal lessons to know that another tiff was brewing.

"You were flat all through that second half, Bri," Freddie said, after cutting them off with a flourish of his wrist.

"I bloody well was not," Brian snapped, yanking his headphones off. "It's the same three notes over and over; I think I can handle it."

Freddie pursed his lips, crossing his arms as he squared his shoulders. "I'm just saying, you're off pitch."

"I'm just singing a lower note—"

"You were a bit flat, mate," Roger interrupted, gently stepping between the two. "It's fine, we'll just go again."

"If you want to be singing aaaah all day, fine," Brian muttered, putting his headphones back on and gesturing sharply for Mike to roll the playback. "We'll sing the fucking line again."

Mike gave her a pointed look before pressing the button for playback. "There's a bee in his bonnet, hm?" 

"Seems so," she clipped, watching Brian through the window as they started singing again. He was fidgeting with his hands, twisting and interlocking them restlessly. He might have still been upset about the Winnipeg review, but Brian's grudges were usually much more short lived. "He's not usually this bitchy."

The next half hour was filled with more takes of the same thirty measures, with all three of them growing more agitated with every wrong croak and missed cue. Most runs sounded nearly identical to Jane, but Freddie was obviously hearing something different. Halfway through one take, Freddie cut them off suddenly, his lips twisted in displeasure.

"Bri, you're still sounding flat to my ear—"

"Oh for god's sake, can we just drop it and move on?" Brian asked heatedly, ripping his headphones away and dropping them to the floor with a clatter. "We've done this a thousand times."

Mike flinched at the rough treatment of the equipment, and Jane sighed, pushing the intercom button. "Careful with the headphones, please."

Freddie was regarding Brian coolly, jaw clenched. "I'm sorry, have you got amnesia? Have you suddenly forgotten how recording works?"

Jane frowned, watching Brian pace in the booth like a lion in a too-small cage. They all got tired of recording the same thing over and over again, but Brian had never complained about that part of the process.

He ran a shaky hand through his mess of knotted curls, pulling at them slightly as he shook his head. "The song's ridiculous, Fred. It makes no fucking sense—"

"Oh, like your funeral dirges are the height of accessibility."

"— wasting everyone's time—"

"Why are you so impatient all of the sudden?"

"It's a lost cause!" he exploded, raising his voice to a level Jane had never heard from the otherwise soft-spoken guitarist. "This entire album. We're trying and trying to get somewhere new, but nothing is coming naturally, so we're— we're recording filler!"

Jane sighed, pushing her chair back from the control board and walking her way to the recording booth door. She poked her head in. "Bri, take a break."

Freddie, however, wasn't about to let Brian's words go. "Filler? We've all worked bloody hard on this album. Just because you don't like one fucking song—"

"It's not the song, Fred!" he cried desperately, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "I mean, what have we been doing, really? Bickering and bitching about notes and lyrics and credit. Pretending like any of it is going to matter when no one's even going to buy this record. Just like how no one bought the last one."

Roger, who seemed to be taking the approach of letting Brian vent, took a cautious step backward, moving the microphone out of Brian's reach in case he was feeling destructive.

"That's not true. Our sacrifices are going to pay off," Freddie said, an urgency in his voice that told Jane he was convincing himself as much as he was trying to convince Brian.

"You want to talk sacrifice? Talk to Jane—"

She held up a hand, cutting him off. "Oh no, don't bring me into this."

He gestured to her indignantly. "You've got First Class honours! You should have your pick of engineering firms to choose from, but you're stuck playing the same four notes over and over again."

"Oh, shut up, Bri."

"You had to quit your job so we could go on a godawful tour where we lost money, I mean…" he laughed humorlessly, shaking his head. "Is this what you pictured doing at this point in your life? You deserve better than that. We all do."

When she spoke, her voice was low and measured, though a current of anger ran swiftly underneath. "My choices are my own. If you're not happy with yours, you are more than free to reevaluate."

"We're all on the same boat, but I seem to be the one making sure we have life vests—"

Finally, Roger spoke up, an irritated twitch in his jaw. "Oh stop pretending like you're the only one with a working brain; it gets old."

"Shut up, Rog," Brian snapped. "The adults are talking."

There was a thick, choking silence in the room. In shock, Jane looked uneasily from Brian to Roger, who was staring up at Brian as if he'd been slapped.

Brian shut his eyes with a grimace, apparently realizing a second too late what he had said. "Rog…"

"Fuck you, Brian," Roger muttered, knocking past him on the way out the door. Jane moved aside, watching him storm out of the control room and into the hall. His keys were still on the table, so at least he wasn't going far.

Her eyes fell back to Brian and narrowed. "That was uncalled for."

"He knows I didn't mean it."

"Does he?" she demanded, flinging an indignant hand in the air. "Because I don't know what any of that was about."

"I—" Brian hazarded a glance to Freddie, who was purposefully avoiding eye contact. "I'm going to take a walk."

He shuffled out of the booth, his head down as he slipped into the hall. With half the band now gone, Mike got up from his chair, stretching his arms over his head as he smiled wryly at Jane and Freddie.

"Shall we take a breather, then?"

She locked eyes with Freddie, lifting her brows expectantly. Even if they weren't recording, they were still on the clock. "Go hunt down Roger. You two can work on those screams for the middle section."

"And you'll soothe the savage beast?"

Jane nodded. Nobody would accuse her and Brian of being two peas in a pod — truth be told, she rarely talked to the man about subjects deeper than music or engineering — but quiet called to quiet. There hadn't been anger in his eyes, even when he was shouting at them. Jane wasn't the only one who kept her hurt to herself.

"Have fun…" He gave her a pat on the shoulder while brushing past her to the door.

 

She waited another few minutes before heading after Brian, figuring she'd give him a moment to catch his breath and collect his thoughts. Luckily, she didn't have to look long to find him. Trident Studios let out onto St. Anne's Court, an alleyway between Wardour and Dean that was mostly filled with art shops and cafes. Brian was sitting at a small wrought iron table wedged against the alley wall outside a cafe, looking down into the porcelain cup in his hands. He didn't look up when she pulled up a chair, the metal scraping against the cobblestone.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, rubbing his thumb in circles against the mug. "I'm a prat."

"You need to apologize to Fred and Roger."

He nodded, still gazing into his cup. "I will."

She sat there with him for a long moment, tapping her fingers against the table before speaking. "So, are you going to tell me what's going on with you?"

Brian sighed, finally meeting her eyes with a tight-lipped smile. "I'm fine, Deaky. Just didn't sleep well. Woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you know."

She stared at him, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Bullshit."

"Well, I don't have anything else to tell you."

"OK," she relaxed against the cold metal of the chair. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

It was a shame they'd be spending August cooped up in the studios; the weather had been consistently warm and mild the past few weeks, and that day was no exception. The elusive English sun was out between the clouds and the main streets were bustling with the sounds of feet on pavement, pedestrian chatter, and intermingling music echoing out of the many open-air cafes. But the alleyway was quiet— a single line of colorful pennant flags fluttering in the wind the only distraction as Jane waited patiently. He was doing his level best to ignore her, his eyes hovering over her shoulder before flitting back to his coffee. This was fine by her; she knew how this game was played. Besides, it was lovely to feel the sun on her face. She hummed the riff to Father to Son while he spun the ring he wore around his pinkie.

Eventually, he gave in with a sigh, turning his hands palm-up on the table. "You're as stubborn as I am, you know that?"

The corners of her mouth twitched with a smile. "So I've been told."

It took him a minute to formulate what he said next, and Jane studied him curiously as a wash of emotions flashed across his face. When he spoke, she had to lean in to hear him.

"I'm not registering with Imperial College this fall," he said softly, not meeting her eyes. "I'm putting my doctoral studies on hold. Indefinitely, I suppose."

Of all the unlikely things she thought Brian might admit to her — a secret love affair, a gambling addiction — this was the one she expected least. Taken aback, she gaped for words, finally settling on: "Why?"

He shrugged glumly, looking as if he wanted to crumple himself up and disappear. "There's no time for my studies. I'm distracted with the music and making the album…" he rubbed a hand over his face, shaking his head. "And PhD programs aren't free. I've already got my Master's; it doesn't make sense for me continue on right now."

"You're not making sense right now," she argued, propping her elbows on the table. "This is your dream. You've been working toward this for years; you can't just give it up now!"

"I have a lot of dreams," he said quietly, pushing a thumb into his open palm. "This one can wait. It's just...taking a little while to comes to terms with it."

She had never heard something so ridiculous come out of his mouth. Brian breathed astronomy. He loved music and performing, but nothing made his eyes light up like a discussion on the mysteries of the universe. Even she didn't love electronics the way he adored his stars. She couldn't let him do this, not for them.

"We'll postpone the album, then," she said firmly, grabbing Brian's wrist and looking him in the eye with resolve. "We'll play shows on weekends, like we used to, but you can focus on your thesis. I mean, you're halfway through—"

"Jane," he held up his other hand, smiling sadly as he slipped his arm from her grasp. "It's OK. My choices are my own." She hated the sound of her own words echoed back at her.

"But it's not fair. You've worked so hard on this, and you'll give it up for...for.." she laughed breathlessly, holding up her hands before dropping them listlessly. "An album nobody will buy?"

"I didn't mean that," he said sharply. "I was talking from a place of impatience and frustration and… and fear. I've put all my eggs in one basket and that terrifies me. I've never been this anxious in my life, but I've also never been more excited." He scratched his neck, glancing off to the side. "It's an...odd emotion."

She wrapped a lock of hair around her finger, looking up at him sheepishly. "I mean, you were sort of right though. Sometimes it does feel like we're walking on a treadmill, getting nowhere. Recording filler."

He shook his head. "But we're going to get somewhere," he said, a slight waver in his voice. "I know I've got a funny way of showing it, but I do believe in this album. Just like I believe in you and the boys."

A smile tugged at her lips. She supposed she knew all of that, but it was the first time he had said it in so many words. She got up, beckoning for Brian to do the same. "Well, those sound like words Freddie and Roger would like to hear, too."

"You think they'll be too cross with me?" he asked, rising to his feet, a good head taller than her in close proximity.

She looked up at him, shielding her eyes from the sun's glare peaking between the rooftops. "They'll be fine. We're a family, aren't we?"

His mouth twisted and opened, as if searching for words but finding none. He smiled down at her instead, settling for a heavy hand on her shoulder. Jane hesitated, but responded by reaching up to wrap her arms around his shoulders, tugging him into a stoop as she hugged him. She heard his intake of breath, and then a chuckle as he folded his arms warmly around her in kind, resting his chin on the top of her head. They shared a long exhale, and Jane was pleasantly surprised by how comforting her simple action had been for both of them. 

"We'll be calling you Doctor May one day," she said into his shirt, smiling to herself. "I believe in you, and I believe in that."

 

 


 

 

Her birthday fell on a Wednesday. Twenty-two was an even, visibly pleasing number. It was the atomic number for titanium, an element that holds strongest when alloyed with other metals. She was two and a half years older than she was the day she first met Freddie in that dingy alley behind the Marquee, and a world away from who she used to be. Twenty-two was a symmetrical number, a palindrome— she hoped that sense of balance would follow her for the rest of the year.

Jane's birthday came and passed exactly how she preferred it: no fanfare, no parties, and no acknowledgment other than the boys each wishing her a quick "Happy birthday, Jane" as they walked into the studio, following her instructions to not make a big deal out of it. Brian had served her an extra slice of bacon that morning, but that might have just been because Roger had stolen his shirt to wear for a date the night before, and had returned it with a beer stain down the front.

Petty bickering aside, all three of the guys had made up quickly following Brian's minor breakdown, with Roger and Freddie insisting they do what Jane had suggested first — that they delay the album so Brian could finish his thesis. Brian had refused to consider the offer; it was time to take a leap of faith, even if that leap was performed backwards, blindfolded, and off a cliff of unknown height. They would have to expect nothing, and be ready for anything. Including, apparently, Norman Sheffield sitting in their recording booth the morning of Jane's birthday, looking very out of place in his polished suit and tie while they stumbled into the room in jogging bottoms and t-shirts.

Norman had never visited them in the studio before, preferring to hold court in his plush office three floors up. His presence sucked the air out of the room, and she exchanged nervous looks with her bandmates, wondering what sort of urgent, awful news couldn't wait until after the session. Possibly the kind that negated the need for a session altogether, she figured.

"Good morning lads, Jane," he greeted them, rising to his feet while Mike sat off in the corner, grinning impishly as if he knew something they didn't. "A little bird tells me celebrations are in order. Happy birthday, Jane."

She shook his outstretched hand, eyes darting toward the boys hesitantly. "Thank you, Mr. Sheffield. Is that why you're visiting us today?"

"Oh no, I actually have some exciting news for Queen," he said, his eyebrows jumping in time with the quirk of his lips. "Have any of you heard of Mott the Hoople?"

"Of course, they're brilliant," Freddie declared, leaving Brian and Roger still frozen in the threshold to perch on the couch armrest. "Rog and I saw them at Hammersmith Odeon last year."

She'd never seen them live, but the glam rock band had been a consistent presence on the UK charts for months, and she enjoyed what she had heard. Roger owned their last three albums, and she was particularly fond of All the Young Dudes.

"I'm friendly with their manager, Bob Hirschmann," Norman explained, a glint in his eye. "Mott is doing a UK tour from the first of November until the end of the year, and they're going to need a supporting act."

Jane gasped as realization hit her, a dopey grin spreading unbidden across her face. Roger was the first to vocalize what they were all thinking. "Us?"

Norman smiled and nodded. "I sent them your debut album and a few of the unfinished tracks; they're impressed. There will be negotiations, of course, and some paperwork that I'll take care of, if you're interested—"

"Yes, we're interested," Freddie said quickly, with the rest of them echoing their agreement in overlapping tones. "When do rehearsals start?"

Norman tapped a finger against the control board, smiling at each of them in turn. "As soon as Queen part deux is finished."

 

 

The carrot Norman had dangled in front of them was an excellent motivator, with the band blasting through their scheduled tracks for the day in record time. By time time Jane took her smoke break in the alley outside, enjoying the August weather, the boys were wrapping up the vocal harmonies for Funny How Love Is. Now, they just had to finish up White Queen, Ogre Battle, and The Loser in the End before they could get to the business of preparing for the Mott tour.

A real tour, with promotion and itineraries and money. According to Freddie, Mott the Hoople was exactly the sort of loud and bold live act from whom they should be taking notes. Learning how to put on a show at the knee of one of Britain's fastest growing bands wasn't a bad way to start their touring career at all. Jane was cautiously optimistic, if only because she had been burned the last time she got excited over Trident's bookings.

The door beside her swung open, and Roger stepped into the sun with a hand shielding his eyes. The recording booth was uncomfortable in the summer, stuffy and often warmer than the temperature outside, so he had already shed his casual button-down in favor of a white undershirt. Matted down hair was starting to stick to the back of his neck from the heat and exertion of drumming.

"All done?" she asked, offering him a cigarette.

He took it with a murmur of thanks, lighting up and exhaling a satisfied sigh as he leaned against the brick wall next to her. "Just about. They're playing with guitar distortions now, so I left them to it."

She took a drag, looking past him to the mouth of the alley that emptied into Wardour. There was an ice cream store across the street they had visited a few days ago, and she'd been thinking about that salted caramel cone all afternoon while the humidity made her hair frizz out and her bass strings go sharp.

"It's hot as hell in the booth," she said, grinding the stub of her cigarette against the wall. "At least there's a breeze out here."

Roger hummed his agreement. "Mike says the aircon is broken. Do you think you could fix it?"

She shrugged, giving him a half smile. "Possibly. I've never done anything with HVAC, but how hard could it be?"

"We'll bill Trident for your time and expertise," he said, a puff of smoke escaping with his laughter. "Charge by the minute."

"Earn a little spending money for the tour," she mused, looking at the pennant flags whipping in the wind over their heads. She glanced back at him sideways. "Are you excited?"

"For the tour? Of course. It's what we've been chasing for years. But you know what I'm really eager for?"

"What?"

He took a deep drag, smiling contentedly. "Roadies," he sighed, as if the word was delicious to taste. "No more bumping out our own shit. Some other tosser gets to set up and tune my kit."

She snorted a laugh. He had shouted at Freddie the other day for messing about with his cymbals while Roger was in the loo. "You'd never let someone else tune your drums."

He shrugged, smirking. "It'll depend on how hungover I am."

Jane eased back against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest as a gust of wind prickled over her skin. "You know, I think this might be the best birthday I've had in years. Just in terms of going home tonight feeling better than when I left."

Roger snapped his head up, giving her a mischievous look. "Oh, that reminds me," he said, reaching behind him to pull a box the size of a wallet from his back pocket. "A little something for your birthday. Sorry, I didn't wrap it."

She eyed the black box suspiciously, accepting it with hesitation. "Rog, I didn't want you to get me anything."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll get twenty lashes later. Open it."

Carefully, she pried the lid open. A silver cuff in the shape of a coiled snake lay inside the cardboard box. The snake's eyes were a misty green glass and appeared to be staring up at her. She opened her mouth to speak, but it took a moment to figure out what exactly she should say. It was certainly interesting, though Jane didn't have much use for jewelry, and she was almost positive Roger had never seen her wearing anything besides a simple necklace on stage, and only at Freddie's insistence.

"It's very pretty," she said diplomatically, putting a hand over the cold metal of the snake. "Thank you, Roger."

He grinned at her reaction, as if seeing straight through her politeness. "Pull on the head."

She made a face. "What?"

Roger nodded, pointing at the barely perceptible seam below the snake's neck. "Go ahead. You won't break it."

Jane lifted an eyebrow dubiously but acquiesced, taking the bracelet in hand and lightly tugging on the snake's head. There was a faint click and the head detached, revealing a curved blade as she pulled it free. Amazed, she held the bladed snake head up to the sun, studying its angle and sharpness with her finger. It was small, but if held between her knuckles, she could do significant damage. With only light pressure, it pricked delightfully against her skin. A laugh bubbled out of her mouth, and she looked to Roger with a beaming smile.

"Oh, this is dangerous!" she said, her grin immediately confirming her words as she played with the bracelet's locking mechanism.

He laughed, lightly poking his finger against the edge of the blade. "It is. I know you carry a knife for self defense, but if a mugger takes your purse or you don't have time to go rifling through it, well…" he gestured toward the bracelet. "At least you'd have something close at hand."

There was a fluttering sort of burn in her throat, the feeling between wanting to laugh and to cry, and she swallowed dryly as she slipped the bracelet onto her wrist, the metal cool against her skin. It hung loosely, so she pushed it up higher on her arm until it fit snug. "It's pretty and practical."

"I know you don't really wear this kind of stuff, but I saw it at the Kensington stall next to ours. Don't worry, it wasn't too expensive…" he rattled on, his eyes flitting between her and the ground. "It just reminded me of you, a little. Sort of innocuous looking initially but if you push the right buttons it's, uhm, stabby."

She grinned up at him, amused by his rambling. "Am I stabby?"

He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry, that came out wrong."

"Rog," she stopped him, putting a hand on his arm. "Relax."

He looked down at her with a sheepish smile. "You like it, then?"

On an impulse, she leaned in and up, pressing a hasty kiss to his cheek in response. Her next breath caught a trace of cedar and smoke. Jane wasn't the casual cheek-kissing type, but it was the sort of tactile affection he seemed to understand and appreciate.

"I love it," she said softly, flushing when she saw his eyes widen as she drew back. Immediately questioning her actions, she took a half step backward.

A curious expression fell over Roger's face, followed by a shit-eating grin. "Did you just out-charm me? Is that even possible?"

She rolled her eyes and groaned, relaxing now that she could see he wasn't discomforted. "Don't ruin it."

"That was downright sweet, and absolutely unacceptable," he said, dropping his cigarette stub to the ground and stomping on it with his heel. "There's room in this band for only one shameless libertine, and that's me."

She waved a dismissive hand in his direction, smiling to herself as she turned to head back to the studio. "We should go see what Fred and Bri are up to."

He beat her to the door, opening it for her with a flourish. "I mean, what's next? A friendly high-five?"

"Shut up," she laughed, running up the stairs while he called up at her from several steps below.

"Control your urges, Miss Deacon!"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"Echo!"

 

Roger cupped his hands over his mouth, shouting out into the cavernous concert hall, lit only partly by the lighting rigs being installed on stage. "Echooo!"

Freddie joined him at the edge of the stage, singing a high, wordless note that bounced off the intricate stone walls and marble columns, turning in place as he let his voice tumble up and down his range. When he took a sweeping breath, he looked back at Roger, almost giggling with joy.

"You know, I think it might work, Rog."

The first stop on the tour supporting Mott the Hoople was Leeds, held in the grandiose, Victorian-era Town Hall. With a capacity of 1,500 seats, it would be their biggest and certainly most visually impressive venue they'd ever played. According to Bob Hirschmann, Mott's manager, tickets for the show were almost sold out — 1,500 people would be filling those seats that night. Not that all those people were there for Queen, or even knew who the supporting band was, but it was an exciting thought nonetheless. And if Roger had any say in the matter, at least some of their audience would be going home humming their songs too.

There was a thump and clattering of cymbals upstage, and Roger whipped his head around to find the roadie responsible for his kit. "Oi! Careful with that!"

The roadie, a young man named Patrick with spots and a fringe that fell over his eyes, shouted an apology as he righted the crash cymbal stand. Trident had gifted Roger a beautiful new Ludwig kit in preparation for the tour - a model he had lusted after in the catalog - and they'd even emblazoned the band's logo on the skin of his bass drum. He was still on a strict ration of three drumstick sets per show, but it was an encouraging show of confidence that Trident was starting to pump more money into the band. So when the sound of his lovely new snare drum being poorly tuned beat discordantly through the concert hall, Roger flinched.

"Thanks, Patrick. I'll take it from here," he called, walking upstage to shoo the kid from behind the kit. Jane had been right; it was going to take some getting used to, trusting an unfamiliar crew with his gear.

Picking up the drum key from the stool, he settled on the dusty floor of the stage, tightening the tension rods around his snare. Tuning was tedious work, and had to be repeated throughout shows as humidity, heat, and ceaseless beating loosened the drum heads, but it was almost meditative at this point. A chance to sit and check in with his tools and himself before shows.

"I'm trying to teach him, but he doesn't really have the ear for it yet."

Roger looked up at the sound of the voice, and raised a hand in greeting when he saw Mott's drummer, Dale Griffin, step around an amp cab. They had met the band just three days ago in London before jumping in separate buses to Leeds, and they had shared a few meals while they got to know each other. Dale was a nice guy, if an odd sort — extremely polite and charming one minute, and caustic the next. Freddie had taken one look at his long blonde hair and blue eyes and burst into laughter, declaring that Mott and Queen would have to switch drummers one night and see if anyone would notice. Ha fucking ha.

"We've played here once, last year," Dale continued, leaning against the back wall while Roger worked. "The acoustics are ace. You'll get a nice, big drum sound."

Roger grinned, tightening the last bolt and testing it with a flick of his finger against the drum head. "Good. Bigger is better."

Once all the toms, snare, and bass were tuned to his liking and he had warmed up his wrists, he played a few pounding measures of his solo from Keep Yourself Alive. Admittedly, it was partly to show off, but he was also itching to test out the acoustics for himself. Sure enough, the sound was full, loud, and ringing.

Jane, who had just donned her bass at the front of the stage, turned to give him a thumbs up. "Sounds good!"

The sentiment was echoed over the loudspeakers by the house sound engineer, who worked out of the booth at the top of the concert hall and would be monitoring the show that night. They had done sound checks at their previous shows of course, but they had always been quick, cursory procedures just intended to make sure everything was on and in tune. This show was a bit more of a production, and the sound check was comprehensive to match. Each of them were instructed to play a few bars, stop, and start again until the engineer gave the OK.

Once they were given the go-ahead to rehearse a few songs as a group so levels and monitor volumes could be fine-tuned, the remaining four members of Mott the Hoople trickled onto the stage to observe their supporting act. Standing on his left were Ian Hunter, the older guitarist with a mane of thick curly hair to rival Brian's, and Pete Overend Watts, the tall vocalist and bassist whose long, frizzy hair was already greying, despite being the same age as Freddie. The mind-mannered, red-haired Luther Grosvenor — or, as he preferred to be called now, Ariel Bender — was the band's other guitar player, and he clutched a beer can while he nodded and tapped his foot to the beat. Finally, the sandy-haired, mustachioed keyboardist Morgan Fisher, the youngest and most recent addition to the lineup, stood just offstage to Jane's right.

As a big fan of Mott's music, Roger had been slightly star struck when finally meeting them. They had almost everything Roger wanted — popularity, money, women — but they had proved to be thoroughly unpretentious so far. There had been a small crowd of girls clamoring for their autographs that morning in the hotel, and even though they'd been on the way to breakfast, the Mott guys had been patient and gracious in their interactions with the fans.

Being watched by them now, Roger felt scrutinized from all angles, but instead of being intimidated, it just made him play louder and tighter. Mott was a good audience, too, clapping at the right times and sending up a small roar of approval after Brian's and Jane's solos in Liar. Jane — who had been shy and tight-lipped around the newcomers the past couple of days, sticking close to Roger's side at breakfast that morning — even chanced a smile at the attention.

As soon as they were finished and the engineer deemed them stage ready, Ian and Ariel strolled across the stage, making a beeline to Brian.

"We have to jam sometime."

"What is that guitar, mate?"

While Brian recounted the story of how he had made the Red Special — a story all of Queen could recite by heart — Roger stepped from behind his kit to join them downstage. In the wings, Freddie was speaking in hushed yet excited tones with Pete, who was quite animated and gestured rapidly with his hands. Jane came to Roger's side, half hidden behind an amp cab as she pulled and stretched her hands. It had been a while since they were able to spend time with other musicians to talk shop, and Roger could already tell that Brian and the Mott guitarists would be getting on famously as they chattered excitedly about preamps and tube amplifiers.

"And is that a sixpence you're playing with?" Ian asked in disbelief, coming closer to squint at Brian's makeshift pick. "Is that how you get the distortion?"

"The coin has a nice crunch, but the distortion is from the Deaky amp," Brian explained, nodding his head toward Jane. "She built it for me a while back."

Morgan knelt down beside the amp in question, gently turning it on its side to look at its back panel. "You built this?" he asked, looking over his shoulder at Jane. "It sounds really solid."

She shrugged, a small smile beginning to form. "I like to tinker."

"Our Jane is an electrical engineer," Freddie piped up, having interrupted his side conversation with Pete. "She can fix anything."

"Nice piece of engineering. How loud does she get?" Morgan asked, his eyes still glued on the amp as he felt around for the volume dial.

"The amp, or Jane?" Freddie said cheekily, shooting Jane a mischievous glance.

Morgan looked up, grinning boyishly at Jane. "Both, I suppose."

Jane lifted an eyebrow, a curious glint in her eyes as her fingers flitted across the bass strings. "Loud enough."

 

 


 

 

 

The show that night was unlike anything Roger had ever played. He hadn't thought all the lights and additional speakers would make that big of a difference for their show, and he was pleased to see how wrong he was. They were lit in a rainbow of colors, so bright and blinding he couldn't see more than a few meters in front of him. Not that he needed to see to know how well they were playing. He and Jane were locked in tight, with the bassist finding a spot she liked just to the right of his kit and rarely straying. When she relaxed into the rhythm, Jane would give in to the urge to boogie, which was equal parts hilarious and distracting. Not for the first time, he wished he could get up from his kit and dance along with her during Keep Yourself Alive.

It was burning under the lights, and sweat freely dripped down his neck and chest, which was mostly bare beneath his open black and silver shirt. Meanwhile, Brian seemed to be running on pure adrenaline as he blazed through his solos with astounding heat, earning raucous applause from the audience. Freddie played it relatively safe with his vocals, as he was worried about overexerting his voice this early in the tour after months of performing very few live shows, but he didn't drop a single note. No booing, no heckling; the crowd loved them, cheering after each song as if they were the headliner. It made Roger sit a little straighter on his stool.

As the opener, they played a short 30 minute set, running through nine songs before dashing off the stage just before they were scheduled to be kicked off so Mott's equipment could be rolled on. As was the customary and polite thing to do, Queen snuck to the side of the theater to watch the rest of the show from the house. In the darkened concert hall, no one noticed the four openers - still in full show makeup and costumes - leaning against the far wall.

Roger had seen them perform last year, but Mott had improved tenfold since that show. They had seemingly found their niche as a band, leaning hard into glam and theatrics as they strutted about stage in their outlandish costumes and riled up the audience. Pete and Ariel were feeding off the theater's energy, whipping themselves and the crowd into a frenzied crescendo as the show progressed. Freddie and Brian were studying them intently, as if memorizing their every move and word to the audience and filing it away for later scrutiny. Jane, on the other hand, had closed her eyes and was swaying to the music, a nearly empty beer bottle in hand.

He leaned in to be heard over the crowd and music. "They're good."

She nodded and hummed her agreement, eyes flickering open as she lifted the bottle to her lips to finish it off. She tucked the empty bottle into the crook of her arm and crossed her arms over her chest. "Where are we going after this?"

 "I don't know, actually. I'm not sure if there's anything planned."

"I heard there's this great disco downtown, Ember."

His eyebrows lifted to his hairline, and he laughed loudly at the prospect. "A disco? You?"

She shrugged, smiling to herself as she turned to look back at the show. "Could be fun."

 

 

So Ember it was. After the show (including two encores for Mott), they were whisked away in their managers' cars to the popular dance club, the music for which Roger could hear while they were still two blocks away. Jane had been reserved in the lead up to their first show — nerves, probably, with the addition of strange new faces interrupting their routines — but she was almost giddy in the car, tapping her foot excitedly while squeezed in the middle seat between him and Freddie.

"Have you ever been to one of these clubs?" Roger asked. He couldn't for the life of him imagine Jane enjoying the hot, sweaty, people-packed discos he had visited before. He knew she liked to dance, but even he wasn't a fan of these sorts of clubs, which weren't so much fun as they were overwhelming.

She nodded. "Freddie and Mary took me ages ago. It was mad; I loved it."

That was news to him. "Seriously?" He craned his head around to look at Freddie. "And you didn't invite me?"

Freddie laughed. "You were wrapped around some blonde bird; we didn't want to interrupt the fun."

"Fair enough."

Brian turned around in his seat to look at them. "I'm only staying for an hour or so. I told Chrissie I'd call by eleven."

Brian had met a girl, Chrissie Mullen, at the first London gig they had played once Queen II was complete in August, as rehearsal for the tour. A pretty mathematics teacher at a London secondary school, Chrissie was somehow both smart enough to hold Brian's attention, and patient enough to put up with everything that attention entailed. Needless to say, the poor sod was already ass over tits and had promised to call every night of the tour.

Roger was happy that his friend had something to take his mind off the sting of leaving his doctoral studies behind, but entering a committed relationship before a tour was like deciding to be vegetarian the moment before a sizzling plate of steak was set in front of you. No man alive had that sort of willpower. As a supporting act, they wouldn't be the star attractions for female fans, but he had enough self-awareness to know he didn't need to spend a single night by himself if he didn't want to. And tonight, with the adrenaline and excitement from an ace show pumping through his veins, he really didn't feel like going home alone.

 

 

Arriving at the club was like entering a spaceship out of one of his science fiction magazines. Every surface was lined with ropes of neon lights, extending from the ceiling to the floor, with mirrors taking up most of the remaining surface area on the walls. Flashing lights of every color bounced off the reflective surfaces, washing the pulsing, jostling throng of people on the dancefloor in a living, breathing kaleidoscope. Roger didn't recognize the music, but its pounding beat and stomach-shuddering bass were the sounds of music that was made to be danced to, not necessarily enjoyed.

Before he could find an empty corner booth to stash their things, Jane returned to him with a tray of clear shots in hand. Roger laughed, taking a glass with one hand and knocking it back while he threw his jacket over the booth. He winced, not expecting to taste rubbing alcohol right out the gate.

"Are drinks on you, tonight?" he asked, watching with amusement as she set the tray down to take her own shot.

"Courtesy of Mott's management. Drink all you want."

"In that case," he said, eyes scanning past her and landing on the bar on the opposite wall. "I'm going to ease in with something a little more drinkable than bottom shelf tequila."

He slung an arm over her shoulders as they headed to the bar, passing a grinning Freddie on the way — decked out in a sparkly, white suede jacket and sunglasses Roger was fairly certain he wasn't wearing five minutes ago. Two bright-orange drinks in hand, he passed one off to Jane, who took it eagerly in both palms.

"Have fun, children," Freddie called over his shoulder as he let himself be swallowed by the crowd.

She took a sip, making a pleased note in the back of her throat. "I don't know what it is, but this is good."

As they waited in the mob of people at the bar for Roger to get his drink, his fingers on her shoulder mindlessly tapped along to the beat. One song faded into the next hard-thumping rhythm, and Jane's eyes lit up. She finished the rest of her drink, setting the empty glass on the bar.

"Let's dance!" she urged, taking Roger's wrist and making to pull him to the dancefloor.

He chuckled, gently prying himself loose from her grasp. "You go. I'm going to need a couple more drinks before I'm going anywhere near all that."

Jane made a brief show of pouting — something she really wasn't very good at, but it made Roger laugh, so he didn't actively discourage it — before turning on her heel toward the swarming crowd. He watched as she took a hair tie from her wrist, drawing her long hair up and away from her face and neck in a curly nest on the top of her head. To match Brian, Freddie had given her a black, flowing shirt with rhinestones dotting a deep neckline. In an act of defiance against wearing something so revealing, Jane had simply worn the top backwards, with the rounded back collar in front and the plunging V down her spine. With her hair out of the way, Roger had to admit the view of her exposed back wasn't terrible.

Then a stunning redhead in a tight dress walked into his line of sight, and all thoughts of his bandmates disappeared, replaced with loose waves and legs for days. He pushed himself off the bar and ambled toward her armed with a smile and an ample dose of charm.

"Hey, I'm Roger."

—-

Two and a half drinks later, Roger was starting to feel a mild buzz. The redhead had run off with her friends, but not before indulging him with a lengthy snog and a feel against the back wall. He hadn't even gotten her name, though that didn't concern him too much. There would be other girls, other opportunities for names and numbers. He had thought about joining Jane on the dancefloor, but every time he caught sight of her through the crowd, she had her hands on a different dance partner. He chuckled wryly to himself. At least one of them could get lucky that night.

Freddie had passed by a few times, pushing a drink into his hands and chatting for a bit before being whisked away by his admirers from the show. Brian was nowhere to be seen, and had presumably slipped out earlier than expected to rush back to the hotel and call his new girlfriend.

Now Dale sidled up to him at his booth, beer in hand, reeking of marijuana. "Where's your shadow?"

Roger lifted an eyebrow. "My what?"

"Jane," he supplied helpfully. "Did she call it a night?"

Ignoring his odd characterization of Jane, Roger jerked his head toward the dancefloor. "She's over there somewhere."

"She dances?"

Roger shrugged. "Apparently."

"Huh." Dale took another sip of his drink, watching with interest as the crowd cleared long enough for them to see Jane, arms stretched over head, dancing with a gaggle of similarly-enthused girls. "Should I join her?"

Roger gave the other man a sidelong glance. "I don't have her dance card."

Dale grinned at that, leaving his beer on the table and sauntering off to find Jane in the throng. She greeted him with a shy smile, turning away from the dancing girls to let him take her hand and spin her around. Jane wasn't a particularly graceful dancer, but she was a bassist; she knew how to inhabit the beat and move with it. On the other hand, it was a shame that Dale's rhythm didn't carry offstage, as he flailed like a wind sock in a heavy breeze. The music was so loud he could feel it in his lungs, but he swore he could hear her laughter over the din.

"Damnit," Freddie swore, plopping down in the seat next to Roger, who startled at the interruption. "For a second I thought that was you out there. I was about to have blackmail material for a month."

Roger rolled his eyes, taking another sip from his drink. "I'm not that hopeless."

"The resemblance is striking. If you squint."

"Bollocks. I'm much better looking."

Jane came up for air a few minutes later, leaving Dale to dance with a new partner and pulling a girl giggling after her to Roger and Freddie's table. Jane's face and neck were flushed and strands of hair that had escaped the knot on top of her head curled against her cheek. Her smile had tightened, and Roger recognized mild concern in her features as she glanced back at the girl behind her. Freddie grinned up at her, his chin propped up with his hands.

"Having fun, darling? Who's your lovely friend?"

Jane put a hand on her companion's back and gently pushed her into the booth next to Roger. "This is Dominique. I think she's just a little dehydrated," she said, patting the girl on the shoulder kindly.

Dominique was a pretty, petite brunette with elfin features and dark eyes, which were slightly unfocused as she settled into the booth. Roger gave her a polite smile before looking up at Jane quizzically, wondering why she had brought the poor girl here instead of packing her into a taxi.

Jane just shrugged and pointed at the plastic water bottle across from him. "Rog, is that your water?"

He nodded, showing Dominique the unbroken seal on the cap before handing it to her. "Yep, unopened. Drink up."

Dominique took the water eagerly, murmuring a thanks that sounded accented to his ears.

"Take small sips, dear, or you'll get cramps," Jane instructed, and then gestured to Roger. "This is my friend, Roger. How about you have a chat with him while you take a breather? He'll take care of you; he's very nice."

"Depending on the phase of the moon," Freddie added, his eyes flashing mischievously.

"And that's Freddie," Roger said dryly, propping his arm up on the booth behind Dominique. "He's a prick; don't pay him any mind."

Jane placed her fingertips on the table, her body already twisting away to leave. "She'll be OK once she drinks a little."

"Wait, where are you going?"

But Jane was already gone, and with a pointed look toward Roger, Freddie had jumped up and joined her, linking his arm with hers as they weaved their way back into the crowd. Roger raised his hands in exasperation, shaking his head after them.

"Your friends have made you the designated carer, then," Dominique said, her voice hoarse from overuse but tinged with humor. "You can go; I'll be fine."

"It's OK, I don't dance anyway," he said, scooting a little closer to her in the booth. She really was very pretty. "So, where's that accent from?"

 

 

Dominique was French, a secretary working in Oxford who was staying in Leeds for a few days visiting her sister. She had gone to culinary school in Paris, and was gushing about patisserie the same way Jane talked about circuit boards. Her voice was nice to listen to and if he was sitting just a little closer to her than necessary to hear her, well, he was just being attentive. Also, she smelled good. Roger was slightly disappointed to find that she hadn't gone to their show — despite knowing and liking Mott the Hoople, she hadn't heard there was a concert down the road — but she knew of the venue they'd be playing in Oxford the next week and promised she'd try to go. In exchange, he promised to take her backstage to meet Mott.

Typically, this would be the point where he'd wrap his arm around her, whisper something sweet in her ear, and usher her out to the cab. It was late in the night — or rather, very early in the morning — and judging by the sideways looks she was shooting him and the hand creeping closer to his on the booth, she was getting impatient waiting for him to make a move. But he just...couldn't.

Maybe it was the alcohol not sitting well in his stomach, or the headache that was already forming, or sheer exhaustion after sleeping barely a wink the night before. Who knew. It wasn't happening, and he gave her a sheepish smile as he squeezed her hand.

"I'd love to see you in Oxford," he said finally.

Dominique sighed, laughing softly to herself as she lifted her eyes to the ceiling in slight frustration. She dug around in her purse for a pencil stub and a scrap of paper on which to write her number, pressing the slip into his hands and giving him a peck on the cheek before pulling herself out of the booth. "Give me a call when you're in town. We can go somewhere more quiet, maybe with fewer distractions."

He hadn't thought himself distracted; he had been listening to her intently, only looking up and over the booth to check on the whereabouts of his bandmates a few times. Freddie was out of sight now, possibly having left already to rest up for the next day's show, and Jane had wandered back from the bar to the dancefloor, though she was lost to him in the crowd. Feeling far too sober, he got up from his empty booth and made his way to the bartender, who was less busy now that the night was winding down.

"Whiskey neat, please."

The bartender nodded, glancing up as he poured the drink. "You just made last call."

"Lucky me."

Roger took his drink and leaned against the bar, watching the slightly sparser crowd on the dancefloor throb to the last songs of the night. His eyes landed on Jane, as they often had throughout the night, and found her in close contact with, of all people, Morgan, who had skirted only on the periphery of Roger's attention. They were jumping and rocking with the pulse of the crowd around them, painted blue under the colored lights. She was looking up at him — a virtual stranger — with that toothy, ear-to-ear grin that had taken Roger months to pull from her, and irritation dug its way under his skin like a splinter. If he had known disco would draw her out like that, he'd have laced up his dancing shoes years ago.

The music faded into a new song, and now the two of them were dancing to a deeper, slower beat — the bass exactly how she liked it, loud and dirty. His hands were loose on her hips and he wore a lazy grin as he spun her away and pulled her back close in turn. Admittedly, Morgan was a better partner than Dale had been, though the keyboardist danced like he was listening to a song in a different time signature. Roger didn't make a habit of dancing, fearing he'd look ridiculous, but at least his body would know how to move with Jane's. They'd spent close to three years synching heartbeats; he knew how to anchor her, how to give her a beat that she'd fill and return to him.

Call it curiosity or protectiveness or just the primitive drive that made guys want to dance with pretty girls, but she was laughing and having fun and he wanted very much to be a part of that.

Finishing his drink, he walked toward the dancefloor, feeling the immediate change in temperature as the overblown lights beat down on him in flickering hues of violet. While he was still on the edge of the crowd working his way in, Morgan lifted his head and caught his eye. The other man's eyebrows furrowed slightly before he bent down, whispering something in Jane's ear and squeezing her shoulders before he dropped his hands and took a step backward. He cocked his head toward Roger, as if extending an invitation.

He took it, placing a hand on Jane's shoulder as he came up behind her. "Is it my turn?"

Jane slowed her movements and beamed up at him, her cheeks pink with exertion and her hair almost completely fallen from its bun. "I was wondering when you'd brave the dancefloor," she shouted over the music, turning her head to wave goodbye to Morgan as he slipped away.

"I'm rubbish at this," he shouted back, standing awkwardly in front of her as the throng of dancers moved around him. He swung his arms by his side. "What do I do with my hands?"

She laughed and touched her hands to her waist. "Put them here."

"If you say so," he relented, his hands finding a cautious place on her waist as he started to shuffle his feet in time with her. He could feel the heat of her skin through her thin blouse. "Are you going to let me lead for once?"

"If you rise to the occasion."

Just as he took her hand to pull her closer, the scorching spotlights flickered off, and the house lights popped on, one by one. Jane groaned along with the other dancers, though it was unclear if it was irritation at having their dance be interrupted before it even began, or disappointment that the party was over. Roger didn't feel like sorting through his own frustration that had been clawing its way to the surface. He let his hands drop, taking a step backwards.

"I suppose it's time to go home," she said, blinking up at him and rubbing her eyes as she acclimated to the brightness.

"I suppose so," he echoed, leading her off the emptying dancefloor and back to their booth, where only her jacket remained.

She tied the jacket around her waist, tugging the rest of her hair out of its knot to fall messily around her shoulders. "We're not far from the hotel, right? We can walk."

"Can you?" he asked, ducking his head to take a look at the platform shoes strapped to her precariously wobbling ankles.

She looped her arm through his, resting the other on the crook of his elbow. "You'll be my crutch."

 

 

 

They made their way through the streets of Leeds in the early hours of the morning — it was close to four, and the sun wasn't due to rise for a few more hours. For now, the streets lined with shuttered shops and churches were lit only with yellowing street lamps. Luckily, their hotel was on the same street as the club, less than a kilometer down the road, so there was little chance of getting lost in the unfamiliar city.

Jane, still drunk and giggly, leaned heavily on Roger's arm as they walked. Her tales of the people she had met at the disco were interspersed with random facts about the history of gas and electric lighting in England.

"Why didn't you go home with that girl? Dominique?" she asked, tugging him to a stop at the pedestrian stop light, despite there being no cars on the road. "I delivered her to you on a silver platter."

He chuckled quietly, humoring her and waiting until the light turned green so they could cross the empty street. "She was nice. I just wasn't feeling it, I suppose."

"Picky," she mumbled, tucking her cheek against his shoulder as they continued on. "I'll have to find you a prettier dehydrated girl next time."

He grimaced. "I appreciate you being my wingman, but please don't. That's a really weird M.O. and I don't want to get a reputation."

Soon, their hotel was in sight — a mid-tier chain that was clean and orderly, if not exactly luxurious. While Freddie and Jane had their own rooms, he and Brian were sharing, but at least they had their own beds. They would rotate throughout the tour, with each of the three guys getting a chance to have a room to themselves a few times. Only Jane, as the only girl, would get her own room for the duration of the tour; she had negotiated hard with Norman to make it a necessity for all shows going forward. Roger had been oddly proud of her for that. 

"Why didn't you leave with anyone?" he asked. "It's not like you have a roommate to kick out."

She hummed, loosening her grip on his arm as they approached the hotel. There was a short, looping drive up to the front door, and they hugged the curb on the side of the narrow way.

"I thought about it. The keyboardist is sort of fit."

Morgan. The splinter shoved itself deeper.

"Ah. Well, I'm sorry for interrupting, in that case."

She waved him off. "It probably wasn't going to happen, anyway."

"I don't know much about the guy," he said cautiously, looking at her sideways. "Did you get a chance to talk to him?"

"A little," she said, a starry-eyed look on her face as he lead her to the front door. It could have been just the alcohol. "He has a kind smile."

 

 


 

 

 

Roger's brain was trying to liquify itself and squeeze out his ears, he was sure of it. He had partaken in much wilder, much boozier nights than the one before, but he had played fast and loose with the boneheaded combination of sugary drinks, little water, and barely anything to eat. This was a hangover for the books.

Jane and Freddie had been likewise indisposed at breakfast, squinting at the muted sunlight streaming in through the hotel's dining room windows and wincing at every clang of cutlery and dishes knocking together. Only Brian was his chipper self, proudly professing to have just had one or two beers before calling it a night. Pompous git. Jane had eaten just a few slices of bacon before feeling nauseous and had already retreated to her room with Freddie in tow, grabbing a plate of pastries to bring up with them. Once Brian finished his breakfast, he left Roger with a table to himself so he could go speak with management before they left for Worcester in a few hours.

Morgan, carrying a full plate of eggs and toast, approached his table. "Morning. Mind if I join you?"

Roger waved a hand toward all of the empty seats around the round table. "Sure. My band has deserted me."

"That was a great opening set last night," said Morgan, settling into the chair next to Roger and reaching for the salt shaker. "You guys are going to be big."

Roger's lips pinched into a slight smile. "That's the dream."

"How long have you been playing together? You sound tight."

He cocked his head, taking a moment to recount the timeline in his mind. "Jane was the last to join in early '71, so as a foursome, almost three years," he said, and finished the last few drops of lukewarm tea in his cup. "Mott has had a few shakeups, I hear."

Morgan laughed, smearing the runny yolks of his eggs over the toast. "You can say that again. Verden left last year, and then Mick jumped ship over the summer. I've only been playing with them since July, but I like it. The guys are cool, and the money hasn't been bad."

"Sounds like a good gig."

"It is."

They ate in silence for several minutes, Morgan cutting through his toast and Roger working on his third Berliner pastry of the morning. Once the keyboardist had cleared his plate, he set his knife and fork down primly, folding his napkin over his dishes and looking at Roger expectantly, as if waiting for something.

"I won't be offended if you get up, y'know," Roger said, nodding toward the exit. "I'm still hungry."

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

Roger's eyebrows puckered. "Uh, Sure."

"What's the situation with Jane?"

"The situation?"

Morgan clarified. "Between you two."

Roger snorted a laugh, catching his drift. "Are you asking if I fancy her?"

Morgan nodded. It wasn't the first time a stranger had jumped to conclusions.

"No situation," Roger said, shaking his head and wiping a napkin over his mouth to capture a stray glob of jam. He took a sip of his orange juice. "We're just mates."

"OK, so you wouldn't mind if I asked her out?"

Roger almost swallowed his tongue. He coughed, shrugging as he swung his head from side to side. "She's single. You don't need my permission."

"Yeah, but I thought I'd ask. Don't want to step on no toes."

His immediate reaction was no. No, this interloper couldn't just waltz in and interrupt the delicate balance of their band. No; Morgan was in a dangerous position of power as their headliner. No, not their Deaky.

But he remembered how she had so freely danced and laughed with Morgan the previous night, had admitted that she was interested. She might have gone home with him if Roger hadn't swooped in because of his own selfish need to be the focus of her attention.

He smiled tightly, folding his arms over his chest as he leaned back in his chair.

"You should go for it."

"Really?"

He bobbed his head once, swallowing thickly. "Yeah, but give her a few days to warm up to you first. Get to know her a little. She'll come out of her shell when she's ready."

"Fair enough," Morgan replied, a grin spreading across his face as he got up from the table, pushing in his chair. "Thanks, mate."

Roger held up a hand, stopping him before he could leave. "Word to the wise: she doesn't do PDA, at least not sober. So if you try and get handsy with her in public, she'll cut your dick off."

Morgan was unfazed, taking the advice with a nod and a smile. "Thanks for the heads up. You're a good man," he said, patting Roger on the back as he made his way toward the exit.

"Yeah, yeah," Roger muttered, picking at his last, lonely pastry. "I know."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

November, 1973

 

The life of a fledgling rockstar involved a lot of tedium — sitting on a cramped tour bus for hours, waiting around for sound checks, killing time before shows. Once they were on stage, the magic returned without fail, but as soon as they were ushered off to make way for Mott the Hoople, the routine was startlingly mundane.

Jane wouldn't say she had settled into tour life yet, but she was no longer fighting for every minute of sleep at night in her unfamiliar hotel rooms or throwing up with anxiety before their shows. She was still a buzzing ball of restless energy in the evenings, needing a drink and a cigarette or two to calm her nerves, but otherwise she was adjusting fairly well to the repetitive lull of being on the road.

So far, they had played Leeds, Worcester, Lancaster, Liverpool, Hanley, and Wolverhampton, only taking a single day off between the third and fourth shows. The seventh show was in Oxford, at the lushly art deco New Theatre, which could seat 1,800 people. Roger had spoken to the house manager, who reported close to 1,700 tickets sold — not bad at all for a Tuesday night. Each show was getting bigger and better as they went, with audiences becoming more enthusiastic for Queen as they continued to lock down the intricacies of their stage performance. Pete had joked that crowds would be screaming for Queen's encore by the end of the tour, and Jane secretly thought he was right. Mott the Hoople was a good band — great, even — but Queen was a boiling, bubbling chemical reaction just waiting for a spark. They were going to explode soon; every subsequent show confirmed it in her mind.

In the lead up to their opening set that night, while the first concert goers started to trickle into the theatre, Queen was enjoying a relaxed game of Scrabble in their dressing room. None of them had thought to bring a board with them, so Brian had gone out that afternoon to a nearby toy shop to procure one. Ariel and Morgan had apparently thought they were joking about their love for the game, and both had burst into laughter when Brian returned from his errand with the game held triumphantly over his head. The Mott guys were becoming believers yet, however, as they watched intently as Freddie whooped all of their arses in the first game; the man's vocabulary seemed to expand in increasingly dramatic directions solely to accommodate more Scrabble points.

It had taken some getting used to, sharing space and downtime with strangers when she had been so used to only Freddie, Brian, and Roger's company for so long, but Mott were laid-back and genuinely nice, and if the boys liked them, she supposed she could too.

"Carmine," Freddie pronounced slowly, laying each tile down with a satisfying click against the board and picking up both a double letter and double word score. "Read it and weep."

"And what would a carmine be?" Ariel asked, leaning over Freddie's shoulder to look at the board.

"Why, it's the color of your hair, dear," he responded, pulling a squeaky laugh from the guitarist.

While Jane studied the rack of tiles in front of her, thinking up her next word, she caught Roger trying to sneak a peek.

"Hey, no cheating," she scolded, angling her tiles away from his prying eyes.

"What am I gonna do, sweep the board with my trove of C's, G's, Q, and Y?" he asked, turning his tile holder to face her with a grimace.

She laughed, applauding his truly awful hand. Roger's recent losing streak was impressive; he hadn't won a game in weeks, which he had been sulking about for just as long.

On her other side, Morgan was studying her tiles carefully. He wasn't playing, but had whispered a few words in her ear that had ended up being excellent plays. Since dancing with him at the Leeds disco the previous week — the memories of which still brought a slight blush to her cheeks — they had developed the beginnings of a friendly rapport, with Morgan often sitting with her backstage while she tuned her instrument, chatting about music and shows and whichever city they were visiting. He was kind to her, and though he was talkative, he didn't seem to mind that she couldn't match his conversations word for word.

His hand hovered the tiles, glancing at her for permission. "Can I?"

Jane nodded, removing her hands from the table and letting him rearrange the tiles on the rack to show her the word natrium, an alternate name for the element sodium. There was a triple word board space with her name on it, an easy 30 points. She rubbed her hands together in delight, thanking him for his assistance. It wasn't enough to catch up with Freddie's runaway game, however, and he soon laid down his remaining tiles to spell quartile, ending the game with another victory.

"Bow before your Scrabble king!" he cawed, standing up from his chair and raising a fist triumphantly. "I accept tribute in the form of drinks after the show."

As Freddie gloated over his win, the stage manager poked his head into the room to let them know Queen would be on in 30 minutes — their cue to get into costume. Brian swept the tiles into the drawstring pouch, and Freddie went off to look for his lemon and honey tea. While the rest of Mott slipped away to their own dressing rooms, Morgan lingered.

"Jane? Could I talk with you a moment?"

She looked up at him from her seat and smiled. "Sure. What's up?"

His eyes drifted to Brian and Roger conversing in the background as he tugged at the collar of his brightly patterned shirt, flicking his hair behind his ear. "In private, I think."

Roger cleared his throat noisily as he rustled through the clothing rack that held their costumes for the night. "Brian, can I borrow that jacket of yours?"

"Yeah, but I don't want it smelling like cigarettes after."

She turned her attention back to Morgan. "Alright. Do you need help with your equipment?"

Jane's expertise had already come in handy for the tour, and she had spent more than one afternoon assisting their roadies disassemble speaker cabinets and replace blown fuses.

Morgan blew out a laugh, scratching his neck. "Something like that."

She shot a puzzled frown to Roger — who was loudly extolling the virtues of a pre-show cigarette — before getting up and following Morgan out of the dressing room.

He closed the door and turned to face her. "So," he started, stuffing his hands in his pockets and rocking toward her with a half grin.

"So," she echoed, looking up at him expectantly.

He glanced around the empty hallway, leaning against the cinderblock wall. He was still smiling — Jane had noticed that Morgan was almost always smiling. "I won't beat around the bush. You're a cool girl, and I'd like to take you out."

"Oh?" she said, confused by the non-equipment related statement, and then realizing what he had said. "Oh! You mean on a date?"

He chuckled, bobbing his head. "Yes. Dinner after the show, if you're free?"

She paused, biting her lip as she turned his words over in her mind. True, at the disco she had found him attractive enough (and she had been drunk enough) to entertain the idea of a quick shag, and he had seemed interested in her as well. But a date had a whole different set of expectations. Jane had never actually gone on a real, sit-down, napkins-on-laps dinner date, and she couldn't imagine she would do particularly well with the charming, flirtatious small talk part of the game. Plus, she had gotten burned the last time she slept with someone who worked in close proximity with the band; Steven was a disaster she didn't feel like repeating.

Having sensed her trepidation, he held out his hands, giving her a reassuring smile. "It's fine if you don't want to. There's no pressure here. I just thought I'd like to get to know you."

I'd like to get to know you.

Truth be told, she was starting to like feeling knownat least by certain individuals. It was comforting, being with people who knew her moods and her particulars, who cared enough to learn her own language and let themselves be vulnerable to her in return. She liked the end result — the coming home. Jane just wasn't adept at the first part, where she had to decide whether or not to open the front gate and brave whatever was coming her way.

But there wasn't a monster on the other side. No fangs, no leering eyes. It was just a boy waiting patiently, hoping to take a girl out on a date. It was a story she knew and liked and had wanted for herself for ages. So, why not?

She took a breath, swinging her arms by her side. "What happens if it all goes to shit and the restaurant catches on fire and we truly have the worst date in recorded history?"

He threw his head back and laughed, and the sound reassured her. "Then that'll be a great story, won't it?"

She smiled, cocking her head. "So where should we go?"

His grin broadened, and he clasped his hands behind his back, rocking on his feet. "How do you feel about Italian?"

"Favorably."

"Excellent. I know a place that's open late. I'll pick you up after the show?"

Jane nodded, biting the inside of her lip as she slowly backed her way toward the door, her stomach fluttering in response to the way his mirthful eyes followed her. "I should get ready for our set."

"Good luck. Kill 'em."

"You too."

One hand on the door, she turned back around. "Oh, Morgan?"

"Yes?"

"Can we keep this between us for now?" She'd learn from her previous mistake, at least. No need to get the boys involved before anything even started. "Don't tell the guys?"

He paused to think about it and nodded. "Sure, that makes sense."

Once back in the dressing room, she closed the door behind her with a sigh, a dopey grin still plastered on her face. Roger, having already gotten dressed in his stage outfit, glanced up at her over a magazine from the couch.

"What's got you all smiley?"

She shrugged, feigning nonchalance as she strolled to the clothing rack to collect her outfit for the night. "The satisfaction of a job well done. Morgan needed my advice on an issue with his keyboard."

His eyebrows lifted higher, and his lips were held in a tight smile. "Did he now? What was the problem?"

Jane blanked, knowing next to nothing about keyboards. She went with the first thing that popped into her head.

"The keys were sticking."

"And Mott's brilliant prodigy didn't know how to fix sticky keys?"

The silence stretched too long, she knew, and Roger just stared at her expectantly. She sighed, grabbing the hanger with her folded black trousers and looking around to make sure Brian and Freddie were out of earshot.

"We've got a date, alright? It's not a big deal."

His lips twitched as he tilted his head, nodding slowly. "Interesting."

Jane frowned. "That's it? Interesting? No lecture about dating someone we're working with? No disapproving looks?"

"Do you want any of that?" he asked, sounding bored with the conversation, though there was a glint in his eye that vanished as soon as it appeared.

"No."

He licked his finger, flipping the page in his magazine. "Then have fun."

"Don't tell Fred and Bri."

Roger's eyes were now glued on the page in front of him, a crease forming between his brows. "Don't make a habit of lying to us, Deaky. It won't end well."

 

 


 

 

Jane was used to silence. Enjoyed it, typically, when there was no expectation for her to make conversation or be otherwise charming. It gave her space to think without all the excess noise and distractions constantly competing for her attention. Some might think it odd that a musician would be so comfortable with the quiet, but she found that an appreciation for silence was crucial for her work. The gaps in between sound were the negative space on the canvas, the area that defined the music it cushioned. A bit of quiet was good; it was healthy.

Silence on a date, however, was counterproductive and excruciatingly awkward.

As planned, Morgan had picked her up at the hotel shortly after the show, once she had changed into the one dress she had brought with her for the tour: a simple green shirtwaist dress that belted at the middle. She had told Freddie and Brian that she wouldn't be joining them on their excursion to a local club because of female problems — that always averted any follow-up questions. Jane didn't feel great about lying to her friends, but such was the price for keeping the peace. If the date went well and they wanted to continue seeing each other, she'd tell them. Really, she was just temporarily delaying the truth.

A roadie whose name Jane couldn't remember drove them to the restaurant, and during the short trip they had exchanged short words of praise for the other's performance that night, the safest small talk for two musicians to make. Her stomach felt the way it did before shows— somewhere between excitement and dread.

She was OK until they entered the restaurant, a nice, white-tabled affair with a tinkling piano meandering through jazz standards in the background. A hostess led them to the back of the establishment, which was quiet and dimly lit at this time of night, and gestured toward a table beneath a vibrant mural that covered most of the wall. There was even a candle on the table. Morgan helped her out of her jacket, pulled out a chair for her, complimented her dress, and she just...froze.

This wasn't a part she was accustomed to playing, and she had walked onto a movie set she was only familiar with in theory. Morgan clearly had the script; he was wearing a nice shirt and tie with his hair gelled back, and he seemed at ease with the flurry of appetizer and wine menus, the waiter hovering over his shoulder, the odd stillness of the restaurant that made her feel like they were in a snowglobe that would shatter if she moved too suddenly. Her throat felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and a discomforting shyness fell over her shoulders. It was like she was playing make believe, dressed in her mother's clothes, but her imagination was coming up dry for what should happen next.

She fidgeted in her chair, sweaty fingers wrapping in the loose fabric of her dress. Morgan was trying his best to make conversation, but she was as tightly strung as tripwire.

"How's your day been?"

"Fine."

"Are you enjoying the tour?"

"Sure."

"This is a really interesting mural they've got here. What do you think it's about?"

"I don't know."

Again and again, she answered questions only to realize two questions later that she had given the worst, most unhelpful possible responses, and while she was obsessing about something she had said, she'd zone out while Morgan was talking and miss the first half of his next story or question, so he'd have to repeat himself and yes, it was a disaster.

Jane glanced up at the clock on the wall and, realizing how that must look to her date, blushed and busied herself downing the rest of her water. It had been only twenty minutes. She would have to ask Brian later about black holes and relativity because she was positive this restaurant existed in a vortex where minutes lasted for hours.

He cleared his throat. "Have you seen any good movies recently?"

Her tight smile relaxed a fraction. "Roger and I saw this Italian film, Torso, before the tour. It was great."

The cinema was one of her great loves, after music and electronics. Roger was the only one of the guys who enjoyed the strange, grotesque, and fantastical films she preferred — or at least he humored her and pretended to — so he often accompanied her to the cinema when they both had a little money to spare. It had become a routine of sorts, and she already missed their movie nights.

Having finally pulled more than a couple words from her, Morgan sat up straighter in his seat. "I haven't heard of it. What's it about?"

She paused, and her eyes fell to her lap. "Um, a man who strangles young women to death with his necktie."

Morgan's eyes widened. "Jesus," he muttered, tugging uncomfortably at the tie around his throat.

The silence stretched on, somehow even more awkward now that Jane had brought murder to the dinner table. Their appetizers arrived, and she discovered too late that she wasn't hungry in the slightest. Not for the small platter of bruschetta, and certainly not for the shrimp scampi she had ordered on autopilot. She stuffed a piece of bread into her mouth anyway, avoiding eye contact with Morgan, who was putting on a good show of enjoying the date. He was probably calculating the odds of there being a window in the loo he could escape through.

"So, where are you from?" he asked, swirling the wine in his glass before taking a sip.

That she could answer. "I grew up just outside Leicester. You?"

"Brighton. Grew up on the seaside; it was gorgeous. And a great arts scene, too. Have you been?"

"To Brighton? No."

There was another pause, and she slurped her wine. She didn't care for the stuff, and the headaches they gave her were the worst, but she was in desperate need of social lubricant.

"And your parents? What do they do?"

Jane probably should have expected a question about her parents; it was normal first-date conversation, talking about one's family. But it was still a punch to the gut that made her lips tighten and the muscles in her jaw jump.

"My dad's passed. Mum's a nurse."

"Oh, I'm sorry about your father."

"S'alright."

Their waiter stopped by the table, refilling Jane's water cup and asking if she'd like more wine with dinner; the answer to which was yes, please. Morgan shifted in his chair; her nerves were contagious, apparently. She saw his eyes catch on the bracelet around her wrist.

"That's an interesting piece," he said, gesturing toward the cuff. "A snake?"

Her smile came naturally at the mention of her favorite trinket. She rarely wore it on stage, afraid that it might rattle loose with all her moving about, but it provided some measure of reassurance when she was out by herself in unfamiliar places. She held out her arm so the candle illuminated the bracelet.

"Roger gave it to me for my birthday. I don't really wear jewelry, but this one's useful," she said softly, sliding it off her wrist to demonstrate. "I can pull just here, and…" she tugged on the head, sliding the curved blade from its socket. "Handy in a pinch."

His eyebrows disappeared into his hairline as he laughed, holding his hand out so he could inspect the bracelet. She dropped it into his palm, and he held it close to his face, inspecting the knife. "I was not expecting that; this is impressive."

"It feels like something Cleopatra would wear, don't you think?"

"Yeah, very femme fatale. I can see why Roger warned me to keep my hands to myself; you could puncture an artery with that."

Her grin faltered. "Roger told you—?"

Morgan gave her a sheepish smile, tilting his head as he glanced off to the side. "Sorry, I should have mentioned that sooner. I sort of told him I was interested in asking you out. He gave me some, ah, advice."

She crossed her arms over her chest, pursing her lips. So the bastard knew all along that she and Morgan would be going on a date. Leave it to Roger to stick his nose where it didn't belong. "What sort of advice?"

"Just that you might need some time to come out of your shell," he said quickly, his gaze falling to his hands clasped tightly in front of him. "Which is why I know this date is going rubbishly, because I'm making you uncomfortable."

She groaned, rubbing a hand over her face, realizing too late that she was smearing her makeup. "No, no, it's not rubbish."

"What sort of awful dates have you been on that this one isn't rubbish in comparison?"

Jane blew out a laugh, resting her hands on the table. "Very, very few. I don't do this," she said, gesturing with vague motions to the restaurant around them. "I don't know my lines."

Morgan sighed, and he tilted his chin to study her curiously. "I knew I should have taken you bowling," he said after a moment. "You're not really the wining-and-dining type of girl."

Jane chuckled in agreement. "No, I'm not."

"How about," he started, cautiously moving his hand so just the tips of his fingers brushed hers on the table. "We ditch the lines. No more interview questions. I'll just...talk. And you can talk, or listen. Up to you. OK?"

She nodded, giving him a small smile in return. "That sounds good."

"Can I get something off my chest, to start?"

"Sure."

He yanked at the knot of the skinny tie around his neck, loosening it and flipping the tail casually over his shoulder like a scarf. She rocked back in her chair, laughing as she felt the remaining tension melt away.

"Sorry, I haven't worn one of these since sixth form, and I was starting to asphyxiate."

 

 


 

 

After that, the night proceeded swimmingly, with Jane catching herself two or three times actually having fun in their stuffy, puffed up surroundings. She let him take the lead at first, but Morgan was very good at asking leading questions and listening while she talked, not just waiting for his turn to speak. He hadn't gone to university, but he was extraordinarily well read and nodded along in interest when she talked about engineering, asking pertinent questions and telling his own anecdotes about the few amateur electronics projects he'd undertaken. Conversation flowed naturally from electronics to music to their bandmates, and Jane cheerfully recounted her favorite embarrassing stories about the guys, which they'd probably yell at her for divulging later.

"So while Freddie is putting out the fire with milk, Roger comes blazing down the stairs in an absolute panic, wearing only a bedsheet and opening all the doors and windows to let the smoke out," she said between choking fits of laughter, brushing tears from the corners of her eyes while Morgan was close to peeing himself with hysterics. "Meanwhile this poor girl comes tumbling down behind him, naked as the day she was born, probably thinking she's about to die in a fire after a one-night stand."

"But the real question is," Morgan asked, raising a finger. "Did the girl stay for round two?"

She grinned and rolled her eyes. "Of course. That's the Roger Taylor charm."

Morgan shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Incredible."

"Mhm, never a boring day in our house," she said, picking at the remains of the tiramisu they had split and licking the mascarpone off her spoon with a flick of her tongue.

She saw Morgan's eyes drift to her mouth, and maybe it was the wine talking, but she liked the way he had been looking at her. Every so often he'd catch her eye and bite his lip, ducking his head with a grin while she giggled — fucking giggled — in return. He had been a perfect gentleman so far, keeping his hands in his lap or on the table, but she was thinking things were about to shift course, and she was more than ready to let them.

"Shall we go?" she asked, nodding toward the paid bill on the corner of the table.

He was already halfway out of his chair, grabbing his wallet from the table and stuffing it in his back pocket. "Yep, let's go."

As they were leaving the restaurant, she let her arm swing loosely at her side, bumping his hand purposefully with hers. He smiled and took her hand, squeezing her fingers as they waited on the curb for a taxi. They didn't have to wait for long, and the driver took only took a cursory glance at them as they piled into the backseat.

"Where to?"

"The Jurys Inn on Godstow, please," Morgan instructed, lifting his arm to wrap around Jane's shoulders as she got settled next to him.

His arm was a pleasant, warm weight against her, and she leaned closer into his side. They sat in silence for a few moments, taking turns peeking at the other and laughing under their breaths.

Morgan, tilted his head closer to hers, the corners of his lips twitching. "I'd like to kiss you, if that's OK."

"That's OK," she whispered, and surged forward to meet his lips searchingly.

His grip on her shoulder tightened as he deepened the kiss, and she raised a shaky hand to his cheek. He tasted like wine and tiramisu, and his lips were steady and self-assured against hers. The driver cleared his throat loudly, and they jumped apart.

"None of that in my cab, thank you."

 

 


 

 

Giggling like school children, they ran into the hotel hand in hand, earning a reproachful look from the front desk clerk. It was approaching midnight and the lobby was quiet, apart from a young woman at the vending machine and couple snogging by the lift in the far corridor.

Jane turned to face Morgan, holding both of his hands and walking backwards towards the lift bay. "I've got a room to myself. Seventh floor."

He grinned and bent down to chase her lips with his and she closed her eyes, laughing against his lips as they bumped into the wall beside the lift. He took the opportunity to slip her bottom lip between his teeth, pulling a soft moan from her throat as she wrapped her arms around his neck to pull him closer.

"Deaky?"

Jane's eyes snapped open, breaking away from Morgan to find Roger across from her, a girl hanging off of him. Not just any girl, but Dominique, the French woman she had introduced to him the previous week. Apparently he had cashed in his raincheck.

"Roger," she said after a moment's pause to catch her breath, schooling her features into impassivity as if she wasn't five minutes away from tearing her clothes off. "Having a good night?"

He stared back at her blankly, lips parted but no sound coming out. Jane raised an eyebrow, switching to the girl at his side.

"Dominique. It's nice to see you again."

Dominique tittered shyly, pressing herself closer to Roger. "Hi, Jane."

The lift bell finally rang, and the doors opened. Morgan gestured for her and Dominique to walk ahead. "Ladies first," he said, and then nodded toward Roger. "Mate."

Roger didn't even look at Morgan, but was gaping at Jane as if she had two heads. He had been drinking; she could smell the fumes radiating off him.

"You're wearing a dress," he said dumbly, his eyes darting down to her bare legs and cocking his head, as if he'd never seen a woman's knees before.

"Observant, Rog," she said dryly, pressing the button for the seventh floor.

Morgan stood just behind her, resting his hands on the curve of her hips as they rode the lift in silence. She glanced sideways at Roger, only to find that he was already looking at her, frowning. Morgan shifted behind her, his hands coming to sit higher on her waist as he cleared his throat. It may have been the effects of the alcohol, but the air in the lift seemed to have thinned, and Jane swallowed dryly at the odd tension that settled thickly around them.

Eventually, the lift stopped on the seventh floor, and Roger led Dominique out by the hand. Right. She had forgotten Roger had the room next to hers. With one last look over his shoulder, he put his hand on his date's back and ushered her around the corner.

Jane and Morgan walked in the same direction, taking their time while Roger disappeared into his room and pulled Dominique in behind him. Morgan looked down at Jane while she dug her room key out of her purse.

"Well, that was strange."

"No kidding," she muttered, unlocking the door and pushing it open. "He's drunk off his arse."

 

Once they were inside, she flicked on the lights, illuminating the cramped hotel room with the pale orange glow of the buzzing ceiling light. Casting Roger's odd behavior to the back of her mind, she reached for Morgan and pulled his head down for a kiss. His lips opened to hers easily, and she let her hands fall to his chest, toying with the buttons of his shirt. She popped the buttons open one by one as he mouthed against her neck, his hands tangling in her hair. Blindly, she walked them backwards to the bed, easing herself onto it and pulling him to join her with a groaning of mattress springs.

From the room next door, there was a similar echo of sounds and her body automatically stiffened before she forced herself back to the moment, gripping Morgan tighter and squirming impatiently beneath him. He held himself carefully above her, his kisses slowing and becoming more distracted as she slipped her hands beneath the fabric of his open shirt, trying to pry it off his shoulders. When he stopped responding to her hands and lips, she broke away from the kiss, looking up at him questioningly. He sighed, stroking Jane's cheek with his thumb.

"I don't think this should happen," he said softly, looking down at her with a sad smile.

Lust and adrenaline clouded her thoughts, and it took a second to process his words. "Why not?" she asked slowly, her eyes searching his. "Did I misinterpret something...?"

He blew out a breathy chuckle, leaning his head against hers briefly before sitting upright. She reluctantly followed, drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms around her legs.

"I really do like you, Jane. It's just...the situation is clearly more complicated than it seemed from the outside," he explained slowly, re-buttoning his shirt. "I don't know if it's a good idea to get involved."

She pursed her lips, nodding tersely as she looked down at the bedspread, tracing the swirling stitches with her finger. The giddiness from earlier had drained, and practicality settled coolly over her shoulders. 

"It would be messy, wouldn't it?"

He thinned his lips. "That's one of the words I'd use, yes."

"I suppose you're right. It's a long tour, and it would make things awkward for both of our bands if things didn't work out," she reasoned, rubbing her neck sheepishly. "I slept with a guy we worked with once, when we were recording our album. It didn't turn out well."

His eyebrows quirked and he opened his mouth to speak before closing it, humming thoughtfully to himself.

"I did have a nice time though," she said quietly, brushing her hand over his. "We'll be friends, right?"

He smiled, taking her hand and squeezing it. "Absolutely. You're fantastic."

"And you're sweet," she said with a sigh, rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand. "So this is goodnight, then?"

He nodded, leaning in and kissing her cheek chastely before rising from the bed. "Goodnight, Jane."

 

Then he was gone, and the room was quiet. She fell back onto the the mattress heavily, exhaling a groan as she rubbed a tired hand over her face. Morgan had been right, and she shouldn't have overlooked the ramifications of dating a member of their headlining band, who could quite possibly make or break their future as a touring band, but still. Jane had done nothing but work for months, and it had felt so good just to be touched and kissed and looked at like she was something to be wanted, if only briefly. She hadn't slept with anyone in almost a year, and the cracks in her resolve were starting to show. 

She closed her eyes, hands drifting to her chest to unbutton the front of her dress as she lay on the bed, her cool fingers sparking against her skin. This drought was killing her; either she was going to have to get more comfortable picking up random men at pubs, or she'd need to ask Mary where she had bought the "magic wand" she had raved about in hushed giggles one morning over breakfast.

There was a loud thump that reverberated behind her head, the sound of a headboard slamming against the wall, and Jane's eyes shot open. Roger's date clearly had not had second thoughts. Lucky him.

There was no sound insulation to speak of between their two rooms, and she suddenly found herself privy to even soft mutterings of the filthiest things she'd ever heard Roger say out loud, and he already didn't censor himself around her. She felt like an unwitting voyeur, and was simultaneously irritated and uncomfortably aroused, which seemed to be the overarching theme for the night.

Jane sat up on her bed, crawling over to her nightstand for the television remote. Dixon of Dock Green was on, and she turned the volume up until she couldn't hear the grunts and moans emanating from the other room while she distracted herself with removing her makeup and undressing for the night. Jane had lived with Roger long enough to know that the man had stamina — which, OK, good for him — and could be at it for a while. She pulled the covers back and settled into bed, the TV still broadcasting the adventures and mishaps of Constable George Dixon.

But then came the rhythmic, crescendoing rocking of headboard against wall that rattled her own mattress, and all the fake fisticuffs and canned audience laughter in the world wasn't enough to distract her.

 

 


 

 

Jane ambled down to breakfast the next morning in a stormy mood, having taken ages to wind down enough to fall asleep, and then being woken far too early by the next room's encore. Dominique was already gone by the time Jane had filled her plate with the morning's fare, but Roger was there in the hotel dining room, sitting by himself and looking all too pleased with himself.

"Morning, Deaky," he said, raising a forked sausage link in greeting. "Is Morgan still sleeping?"

She glared at him, sitting next to him and emptying the salt shaker onto her eggs violently. "If you're asking if we had sex, the answer is no."

That seemed to take him by surprise, and his eyes brightened. "Really?"

"We're doing the mature thing and staying friends. For the sake of inter-band harmony, and whatnot."

Roger chuckled, raising his eyebrows curiously. "I'm guessing it wasn't your idea."

"And why would you say that?" she snapped.

"Because that," he said, pointing to her with his fork. "Is the face of a woman who wanted a good shag and got left hanging in the breeze."

"No, it's the face of someone who was kept up all night because her inconsiderate bandmate was going at it like a howler monkey," she bristled.

Roger looked only momentarily chastised, and he lowered his eyes to his food, shoveling in a mouthful of scrambled eggs. Swallowing, he glanced back at her with a sly smile.

"So, how'd I do?"

She rolled her eyes. "Seriously?"

"I've got to get feedback somehow."

"She was faking it," she muttered, stabbing a sausage link repeatedly.

"Was not!" he cried, pouting when she laughed at his reaction. "I take pride in my work, thank you very much."

"I'm just saying, no girl actually screams when she comes," she said, waving her fork in the air. "That's just porn."

"Sounds like you've never had a really good lay, then."

Morgan passed their table, hesitating in front of them and exchanging a quick, tight smile with Jane before hurrying off to join the Mott guys at the next table. She groaned, already dreading the new few days of awkwardness between them.

"Not for lack of trying," she mumbled, and Roger snorted into his coffee.

"Poor thing."

She sipped her orange juice, her attention lingering on Morgan for a moment before returning to Roger. "By the way, new rule: you can't set me up and then not tell me," she said, giving him a pointed look. "Not cool, Rog."

His eyebrows furrowed and then lifted as he realized what she was talking about. He shrugged and gave her a sheepish smile. "You would have gotten in your head about it. I thought I'd give him a chance to win you over."

She rolled her eyes. "How thoughtful."

He grinned and lifted his mug to her in salute. "Just looking out for you, Deaks."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

January, 1974

 

 

After more than a month on the road, stopping in every major — and not so major — city in England, Wales, and Scotland, Jane was exhausted. The venues all blended together after a while, and she stopped going out for drinks and tours around whatever city they were in somewhere around the 12th show in a row. It was still exhilarating, of course, and playing to sold-out audiences that cheered for Queen as if they were the headliner never got old, but Jane missed home. She missed sleepy Sundays and game nights with the boys and brunches with Mary. She was a homebody, which she knew was paradoxical for a rock musician, but that was the truth of it. Touring the country and converting thousands of people into burgeoning Queen fans was great, but she needed a break.

And she got one, for a little while at least. They were able to spend Christmas and New Year's in London, but by the first week of January, Norman had called them up and told them to pack their bags again and make an appointment with a clinic to get their shots post haste, because they were going to the Sunbury Pop Festival in Australia. When a band is toeing the line of obscurity and fame, opportunities tend to come out of nowhere and disappear as quickly as they materialized. So of course they said yes. They always had to say yes.

Two weeks later, they were at the airport and Jane was teetering in a physical state somewhere between nausea and heart palpitations. Australia seemed impossibly distant; Jane had never traveled outside Europe nor been on a plane, and she hadn't been able to comprehend spending upwards of 20 hours in the sky, trapped in a metal tube with a hundred strangers. If she got ill on a short ferry ride to France, she couldn't imagine she'd fare well in flight.

When they had first been told they'd be going to Australia, Roger immediately asked if they were taking a private jet. The answer to that had been a resounding no. They were being squeezed into Coach class for the 12 hour flight to Hong Kong, at which point they'd transfer to another jet that would take them the remaining nine hours to Melbourne. It was a 747 craft, so at least there was room to get up and move around, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be called spacious.

Norman had been able to secure them four seats together in the middle section while he sat in business class ("Frequent flyer miles, kids."), and they had drawn straws to decide who got to sit on the aisle and enjoy more legroom. So Jane and Freddie were stuffed in the middle two seats, while Roger took the aisle seat next to hers. Brian had technically lost the straw draw to Freddie, but they all thought it cruel and unusual punishment to make the poor bastard fold himself into a pretzel to accommodate his gangly legs.

A few rows behind them sat their roadies for the show— their first time traveling with their own dedicated crew, some of whom they had shamelessly lured from Mott the Hoople while the band took a break from performances. Jane and Freddie's assistant was a young man named Peter Hince, who had been dubbed "The Rat" by Mott's bus driver for some unknown reason; Freddie, possibly in an attempt to soften the nickname, had started calling him Ratty, and it stuck. Chris Taylor (no relation) was Roger's drum tech, Brian had Richie Anderson to look after his guitar, and Rob Harris and Charlie Lake rounded out the team with sound and lighting supervision. They were all young and boisterous lads with foul mouths and a passion for their work, and could be relied upon to do their jobs decently and find the best spots for booze after a show.

Jane hadn't yet spent much time getting to know her new helper, but Ratty looked after her bass and amps like they were his own children, so she begrudgingly put up with him touching and rearranging her gear. She had gotten the feeling that her insistence at concerts that she strap on her Fender Precision without his help and tune it herself annoyed him — or possibly offended him — but she was still getting used to the novelty of having roadies around.

"When can we order drinks?" Freddie asked, looking over his shoulder at the stewardess preparing for takeoff in the back of the plane. "I could use a vodka tonic right about now."

"It's not in the budget," Jane said through gritted teeth, gripping her armrests with white-knuckled fists as they turned onto the runway. Inhale, exhale. 

"Of course not; there's nothing in the bloody budget," he muttered, sitting back in his chair with a sullen look.

Jane too very much wished to settle her nerves with a drink or two before takeoff, to act and dress the part of a rockstar, but she had been trying to use as little of her meager personal stipend as possible, instead putting every spare pound into savings. They were gaining momentum, but they were still poor — Queen was a vaguely recognizable name only to those who followed the movements of British rock bands. So they were stepping back out into the international market, wetting their toes with Australian audiences, which Freddie considered the warm-up to capturing America. Getting radio time in the States still sounded far-fetched to Jane, but she'd leave Freddie to his dreams. She'd just keep a careful eye on the books.

The real reason they were going to Australia, of course, was money. The festival was expected to attract 30 thousand people and tickets were going for a mint. Despite the Mott shows consistently selling well, Queen had seen barely any of that profit; everything had been fed back to Trident and EMI to pay for their second album, which still had not been released, five months after its completion. Norman had told them it was because of the ongoing oil crisis — vinyl was prohibitively expensive following the energy conservation measures that Parliament had put in place. Roger said it was because Norman was incompetent. 

The plane accelerated, rattling the headrests in front of her, and she took a shaky breath, reminding herself that she was sitting in a marvel of modern engineering, built and tested and flown by brilliant minds. Logically, she knew they would probably be fine, but the primitive, fear-driven center of her brain wanted very much to stay firmly, safely on the ground.

Roger, perhaps sensing her anxiety and trying to distract her, launched into a story about a plane journey to Italy he had taken as a teenager. Jane only half listened, staring straight ahead and working to regulate her breathing as the floor beneath her feet shook with the plane's acceleration. Two seats down, Brian was groaning quietly. When she glanced over at him, he was hunched over with his head in his hands.

"You alright, darling?" Freddie asked, placing a hand on Brian's shoulder.

"I feel awful," Brian muttered, turning his head to look at Freddie and Jane. He was paler than usual, and his wild hair was already starting to stick to the sides of his face and neck with sweat. "I think it was that smallpox jab."

They had all gone to the clinic the previous afternoon to receive their required inoculations for smallpox and meningitis prior to traveling. It was a crowded and dingy clinic in a rough part of town, but it was the only place that could schedule them on short notice. The doctor had not been at all gentle and Jane's left arm still ached slightly at the injection sight.

Freddie nodded, patting Brian's back reassuringly. "The doctor said you might feel a little ill for a couple days afterward. You'll be right as rain by tomorrow."

Jane could focus on her concern for Brian only for a moment; out of the corner of her eye, she saw the horizon from the window tilt before she felt the lurch of the plane leaving solid ground. Feeling a sudden rush of vertigo, she exhaled slowly out her mouth, her ears popping with the rapid change in altitude. Roger's steady hand closed over hers on the armrest, tapping her knuckles as he hummed a meandering tune. She slipped her hand out from under his.

He winced, quickly snatching his hand back to his lap. "Sorry."

She shook her head, reaching for his hand and lacing her fingers tightly with his, resting their interlocked hands on the armrest. Roger smiled and squeezed her hand, and she squeezed back, harder. It comforted her slightly, but then they were climbing higher and the plane — and Jane — shuddered.

"Hey Bri?" she asked, raising her shaking voice over the engine's rumble. "What's the scientific consensus on the feasibility of teleportation?"

He laughed breathlessly, and she could practically hear the grimace. "There's debate, but I'd say it's theoretically possible."

"Splendid. Get on that, will you?"

 

 


 

 

 

After 30 hours of flying and layovers and more flying, band and crew arrived in Melbourne as zombies, barely making it to their hotel late in the evening before collapsing with exhaustion and jet lag. Jane's first experience with flying featured airsickness, panicky bouts of claustrophobia, and the infuriating inability to nap on the silent, darkened plane, but she made it in one piece, more or less.

Luckily, Norman had had the foresight to pack in an extra day to their itinerary before the festival, so the band spent much of their first full day comatose before waking up around one— not exactly well-rested, but itching to explore their new surroundings. While the festival would be held 45 minutes north on a farm in Sunbury, their hotel was in Melbourne, just a short drive from St Kilda beach.

Naturally, as soon as everyone was showered and fed, they all headed to the waterfront, making a pit stop at a surf shop on the boardwalk when Jane admitted she didn't own a swimsuit. She wasn't planning on getting in the water anyway, but Freddie insisted she get the appropriate attire for an afternoon on the beach. She bought the cheapest, most conservative one-piece suit the shop sold, and layered it with an oversized yellow t-shirt and a pair of jogging shorts.

As she left the dressing room, having changed into her purchased wares, Freddie gave her an incredulous look.

"Would you like some tube socks and sandals as well?" he asked, eyes catching distastefully on her shirt emblazoned with "Melbourne" and a jumping dolphin. "You look like a tourist."

"I am a tourist," she said, tugging at the hem of her shirt as she pushed the shop's door open, jangling the hanging chimes, to join Roger and Brian in the scorching heat outside.

They had left London in the middle of a bitter frost and were welcomed to Melbourne with a blazing 30 degrees Celsius and a cloudless sky. The warmth had been pleasant against her skin for exactly five minutes before she started to feel like she was melting from the inside out. Tourists and natives alike were out en masse enjoying the sun, however, and the sandy beach stretching along the bay was packed with beach goers under pitched umbrellas, sunbathing on towels, and splashing in the small, rolling waves. Children and their parents licking at ice cream cones passed in front of them, and Jane's head automatically turned to find the source of the treats. Roger followed her gaze and rolled his eyes, pulling at her arm.

"Ice cream can wait. If I don't get in the water soon I'm going to turn into a raisin."

The roadies had run ahead, scouting an empty patch of sand further away from the pier and spiking their large, rented beach umbrellas in the sand like explorers claiming new land. They took time rolling out their towels, reapplying sunscreen (Norman had ordered them all to apply the lotion before they left the hotel, as none of them had seen the sun in months and they were sure to burn), and guzzling down the water bottles they had brought with them. Then the shirts were off, and Jane was sure their fellow beach goers had never seen such a skinny array of ghostly, English pastiness. Jane, for her part, kept her shirt and shorts decidedly on.

As Freddie, Brian, and the roadies galloped down the beach toward the water, Jane made to sit on her towel under one of the umbrellas. Roger, gently applying an extra layer of sunscreen to the delicate skin beneath his eyes, stopped her with a cluck of his tongue.

"You're not sitting this one out, Deaks. When are you going to get another chance to swim in the Indian Ocean?"

"It's not the Indian Ocean; it's a bay. And besides, I don't swim."

He raised an eyebrow, reaching a hand behind him to slather lotion on his neck and upper back. The motion made his trunks slip a little lower on his hips, and she drew her eyes away.

"Don't or can't swim?"

Her cheeks burned red and she sniffed indignantly, stretching the shirt so it pulled over her knees. "I know how to swim; I just don't make a habit of it. Not a lot of beaches in the Midlands, you see."

Finishing his sunscreen application, he stood above her, offering his hand. "C'mon, just for a little bit. Then you can sunbathe and ogle fit locals, or whatever it is you plan on doing."

She eyed his hand warily for a second before taking it, and he pulled her to her feet. "If you splash me, I'm coming right back," she warned, following him down the sloping beach as they dodged a group of children playing frisbee.

"Right, god forbid you get wet at the beach."

Brian and Freddie had already swum out from the shore into deeper waters with Ratty and Richie, and all four were engaged in a battle to dunk each other's heads under the waves. Jane slowed once they reached the water, the edge of the incoming tide rushing over her feet. Roger gave her an impatient look, jerking his head out toward the bay, and she sighed, wading into the surf behind him.

The bay was shallow around the beach, and they had to walk several meters before the water even reached the bottom of her shorts. There were mostly families with young children about, splashing in the shallows and tossing volleyballs back and forth. The water was pleasantly cool against her skin, giving her a welcome respite from the afternoon's heat. Once the water rose above her navel, she instinctively lifted her arms, cautiously toeing in the sand and mud packed beneath her feet.

"We can just stay here, right?" she asked nervously, pausing to look back toward the shore.

Roger continued to wade toward the rest of the guys, beckoning for her to catch up before he sunk into the water and started to swim. Groaning, she teetered after him, her hands skimming the crest of the surf as she felt the ground beneath her start to slope. Roger's head bobbed above the surface a short distance away, only to be dunked right under again by Freddie, who had seen Roger approaching and took the opportunity to pounce.

"Get over here, Deaky!" Freddie called, laughing as Roger resurfaced, sputtering and slapping at Freddie's back. "I promise I won't dunk you!"

Jane grimaced, feeling her toes slide down the bank as the water rose higher and higher to her chest. The boys at least were still able to stand at that depth, though she was several inches shorter and already out of her comfort zone. In the middle distance, a speedboat towing a water-skier was ripping across the bay, and the boys turned to watch and swim closer as the boat's wake sent rippling waves toward them.

Taking a deep breath, she threw herself forward, tilting her chin up and walking as far as she could on her tiptoes. The ground dropped again, the low surf from the boat knocking her off her feet. Her arms and legs thrashed ungainly as she tried to force her head above the surface, but water was sucked into her mouth and up her nose, burning the back of her throat. 

Roger, just a couple meters away, turned around at the sound of the commotion. He saw her and his eyes went wide before he dove forward, swimming a few strokes to reach her. Jane lunged for him and seized his shoulders tightly, sputtering and gasping for air as she clung to her anchor. His arms wrapped solidly around her waist, hoisting her up against him and allowing her to catch her breath. Worried eyes scanned her up and down, and he used one hand to thump her on the back, prompting her to cough.

"Are you OK?"

She nodded dumbly, spitting out the remaining saltwater and wiping her mouth. She felt like a half-drowned rat, salt stinging her eyes and t-shirt plastered uncomfortably to her skin. "I'm fine."

"I thought you could swim!" Roger exclaimed after a second's pause, a tightness to his voice. "What the hell, Jane?"

"I mean, I technically know how to. In theory..."

"Oh my god," he groaned, adjusting his grip on her and shaking the wet hair out of his face. "Theory is not the same as practical knowledge here. What was your plan? Drowning?"

"I can figure it out," she said petulantly, recovering from her momentary panic and kicking experimentally away from his body in a swimming motion, though his arm across her back kept her anchored to him. "It's easy enough."

He lifted an eyebrow. "You're pretty cocky for someone who was just trying to drink the bay."

"I would have gotten the hang of it if I hadn't been caught off guard by those waves!" she argued.

"Those were ripples."

"Whatever."

To prove his point, he untangled herself from her and started to step away. As soon as she began to sink, she shrieked and grabbed for him again, wrapping her legs around his waist to keep him in place. He just smirked up at her, his hand resting on the middle of her back.

"Alright, Calypso. Lesson one is treading water."

 

 


 

 

 

If the heat had been oppressive on their first day in Melbourne at the beach, then the Sunbury festival the following day was aptly named because Jane was certain she was actually, currently dying on the surface of the sun. By the time their bus arrived at the festival grounds early in the evening, it was still an impossibly hot 35 degrees, a reading she was pretty sure her mercury thermometer back home didn't even have. The heat hadn't deterred most people from the concert, however, with the audience of thousands in full, drunken, rowdy force for the current act on stage — a band introduced as Daddy Cool.

The large stage scaffolding had been set up at the base of a foothill, with a small, dried-out creek running nearby. The constant pounding from the crowds and equipment trucks had packed the arid, browning brush into debris beneath their feet, the kickback of dust from the occasional gust of wind blowing like hot ash into her face. Tents for food vendors, campers, and merch stands were set up around the perimeter of festival, and attendees not congregating around the current act meandered in groups, some playing acoustic instruments of their own. The band was led to an enclosed white tent in a roped-off section near the stage, a paper bearing "Queen" tacked to the post in front. Tarps had been laid on the ground, and a few plastic chairs were arranged around their instrument cases, which the roadies must have already unpacked for sound check when they arrived a few hours earlier.

They hadn't been there for fifteen minutes before Roger was approached by a couple of tall, tanned blondes in bikini tops and denim shorts who were advertising for a local brewery. Despite a warning look from Brian, he strolled off with the girls, shouting over his shoulder that he'd be back before warm-up.

"Hopeless slag," Brian muttered under his breath, exchanging a look with Jane and rolling his eyes.

"Let him have his fun," she said, slouching into a chair and fanning herself with the festival's program. "How are you feeling?"

"Still a little nauseous," he admitted, patting a hand over his stomach. "It comes in waves."

Poor Brian had still not completely recovered from his shots before they left, and had been laid up in bed most of the previous evening while the rest were out for dinner. She had taken a boxed meal back to their hotel for him, but he had barely touched it. He had at least eaten lunch after sleeping in, and wasn't looking as feverish as he did last night.

"Stay hydrated, won't you? And eat a little more before the show," she said, before twisting in her seat to look at Freddie, pacing in the corner of the tent. "You good, Fred?"

Freddie ignored her, or rather, he couldn't exactly hear her; Brian wasn't the only one in less than ideal shape for a live performance. Either water was still clogging his ears or he had contracted an ear infection at the beach, because Freddie had been worryingly hard-of-hearing since that morning, asking them to repeat themselves several times and practically yelling at them in response. They weren't scheduled to play until sundown, but Jane still watched with unease as he ran through increasingly out-of-tune vocal warm-ups.

"He'll get it together," Brian offered reassuringly.

She nodded, distracted, and drew out her pack of cigarettes. Brian watched with a sigh, settling back in his chair with a grumpy look.

"Do you have to?"

"Spare me the lecture," she said as she lit the cig, angling herself away so the smoke wouldn't blow in his direction. "I'm nervous."

He had always carried a distaste for cigarettes, as his father's chainsmoking habit had put him in ill health the past few years, though it was only recently that Brian started to vocally air his protests when his bandmates lit up around him.

"There are healthier ways to work through anxiety, Jane. Like..." he trailed, waving a hand in the air. "I don't know, knitting."

"Are you saying that because I'm a woman and knitting is a more ladylike activity than smoking?" she asked, straightening her lips into a frown, though she wanted to laugh at his resulting scowl.

"No, I'm just expressing concern for your lungs."

She chuckled, taking another drag and making a show of twisting her lips and blowing the smoke over her shoulder as far away from him as possible. "I appreciate the concern, Bri. I'll take it into consideration."

"No, you won't."

She grinned around her cigarette and nodded. "Yeah, probably not."

He huffed, gripping his armrests to haul himself out of his chair. "Well, I'm going to find something to drink. Would you like anything?"

"A Coke, if you can find one."

Brian ducked under the flaps of the makeshift door in search of a bar, and a few seconds later in stormed Ratty, sweating in a black t-shirt and cutoffs. He stopped short of Jane and made a confused face at the sight of Freddie, facing the corner and still singing off-key to himself, before turning to Jane with his arms folded over his chest. Peter was a touch younger than her but had been in the business since he was a teenager, leaving home at 16 to travel the UK with middling rock bands. He was more accustomed to life on the road than anything resembling stability. 

"What's up, Ratty?"

He bit his cheek. "We have a problem. The local crew isn't cooperating."

She narrowed her eyes, cocking her head. "What do you mean?"

"They're getting in the way. Won't move our stuff, won't let us touch the rig. And they're being real cocks about it, too," he complained, swatting a buzzing fly out of his face. "Norman buggered off to who knows where, so they're not listening to our crew."

"What's got them all riled up?" she asked, grinding the butt of her cigarette in to the ashtray and rising from her chair.

"Politics," he said simply, brushing his long brown hair out of his eyes. 

"Politics?

"They don't like that we brought our own rig and crew. Apparently that makes us stuck-up pommies," he said, badly mimicking an Australian accent. "Also, Queen is the only non-Aussie band here."

Her eyes widened. "Are you serious?" she asked, her voice lilting higher with a combination of anxiety and anger as realization hit her. They had more to worry about than a couple of pissed off roadies. "We're the only foreign group? Sheffield didn't tell us that!"

He nodded, posting a hand on his hip as he lifted the tent flap to look out at the festival grounds. "Yeah, we didn't know either. I wouldn't expect a welcoming crowd. Apparently, Judy Garland came to Melbourne a few years back. She was booed off the bleedin' stage after 40 minutes."

"I'm going to kill Norman," she muttered, wiping a gathering bead of sweat from the back of her neck. The tent was protecting them from the sun, but it was starting to feel like a greenhouse. "OK, I'll try to butter them up. Lead the way."

He didn't move, glancing toward the door nervously. "Can you just tell me what you'd like me to do?"

She frowned, stepping forward to leave the tent. He shuffled to the side to block her. "What are you doing? Peter, I can just talk to them."

"I know, but please don't," he said, his eyes pleading with her. "That's breaking the cardinal rule of roadie-hood."

She cocked her hip impatiently. "Which is?"

"Not getting the band mixed up in crew business," he snapped, gentling his voice as he stuffed his hands in his back pockets. "If they don't respect us now, they definitely won't if I come dragging mum to the playground."

"That's a fitting metaphor, because that's childish."

"Look, you're the boss, but you've got to trust me here. It won't help if you get involved."

An anxious noise came from the back of her throat, and she whipped around to find Freddie, but he was stretched out on a deck chair, eyes closed and mumbling to himself. Brian was long gone, and they probably weren't going to be seeing Roger until fifteen minutes before their set. She knew how to solve their own little squabbles, but she wasn't equipped to handle personnel.

"We're only going to have 30 minutes before the set and we haven't even been able to touch the stage, so just tell me what you want us to do," Peter urged, bringing her attention back to him.

"Right," she said, taking a deep breath and calling up some reserve of confidence. "We compromise. Use their rig, but Rob and Charlie get their hands on the lights for adjustments as soon as the band before us steps off the stage. They get to take as long as they need; screw the schedule."

He bobbed his head in agreement. "OK, and what if they get snitty with us?"

"Then you'll play the parts of English gentlemen and don't escalate."

"But—"

"Hince."

He sighed, lifting his eyes to the sky as he groaned. "Yes, ma'am."

 

 


 

 

 

Queen was up next, and Jane was feeling the familiar return of pre-show jitters, which she thought she had banished after playing weeks of performances with Mott. But in a foreign country, with an enormous stage and a crowd bigger than any they'd played before, this was an entirely different animal.

The equipment situation was solved as well as could be expected, though they were running several minutes behind schedule and even from the wings, Jane could tell the audience was starting to get impatient. The sun had almost fully set, so at least they would be playing in the manner Jane preferred best — when the stage lights were too bright and the audience too poorly lit to make out any individual faces.

While Brian was feeling well enough to play without issue, Freddie still couldn't hear much of anything from more than a meter away. That had been Jane's next big worry after the lighting fiasco — after all, how would Freddie possibly sing and play the piano if he couldn't hear the others' instruments? He wouldn't know where to come in, surely. Temporary deafness wasn't going to deter him, though, and he announced that he was just going to perform their songs by memory.

"So darlings, now is not the time for improvisation," he had told them, limbering up backstage. "Exactly as we play it on the record, please."

While the sound technician hurriedly finished his work on stage, Ratty was making final touches to the tuning of Jane's bass. She still kept a watchful eye on him as he tightened the strings, but she had relented and let him do his job, deciding it was best to show a little more faith in her roadie. After all, she liked this one well enough and didn't want to go through the effort of replacing him.

Roger slid into place next to her, tapping his drumsticks playfully against her head. She ducked from under the sticks, swatting them away. He grinned down at her lazily, not even attempting to hide the fresh love bites dotting his bare neck and chest.

"You look relaxed," she drawled, quickly extinguishing the jealousy that had flared up.

She had had exactly one thoroughly lackluster shag while on tour with Mott — an overconfident grad student in Bristol who thought being a human battering ram adequately compensated for a lack of finesse, or basic working knowledge of the female body. Admittedly, she had gotten desperate. It wasn't fair that Roger could snag just about any attractive woman he met and get a halfway decent lay out of it — without the fear of being murdered, to boot.

"Aussies are a relaxed people," he said, giving her a wry look. "It's contagious."

"Lucky you."

Once Ratty was done with her Fender, he lifted the strap over her shoulders for her — an action that still felt weird, but she supposed she would have to get used to it.

"I'm going to replace the strings later tonight," he told her, handing her a couple picks to tuck in her pocket. "She should be fine for the show, but I've got the Rickenbacker tuned as backup just in case."

"Thanks, Ratty."

He nodded, flashing her a grin. "Let me know if you need anything. I'm going to check on Freddie."

Beside her, Roger plucked at the crepe sleeve of her shirt and watched it billow. "You look nice," he said idly, patting the fabric so it laid flat against her shoulder.

"Hm?" She looked down at her top, a flowy white piece with flared cuffs and ruffles around the neckline. "Oh, thanks."

"Like a pirate wench."

She rolled her eyes. "Should have stopped at 'You look nice.'"

"Sorry." 

Finally, the stage was deemed ready to go and the MC was beckoned back to introduce them. With a loud cheer from the audience, the MC — a local DJ named Jim Keays — took the microphone. He set about riling up the crowd, though not in any particularly flattering way.

"Well, we've got a load of limey bastards tonight. Called Queen, naturally. They'd apologize for keeping you waiting, but the poms had to apply their makeup juuust so," he sneered into the mic, earning a raucous round of applause and jeers.

Jane caught sight of Freddie peaking around the other curtain, and he could clearly hear enough of what Keays was saying to be shaking with barely contained anger. It actually reassured her, in a way; Freddie played some of his best shows when he thought he had something to prove.

"We'll have a real Aussie rock band on stage for you in a bit, so if you need the toilet, now's your chance," the DJ continued, twirling the mic cable around in circles. "In the meantime, here's Queen."

She almost missed their abrupt cue.

"Some intro," Roger muttered, giving Jane a pat on the back before jogging onto the stage to take his seat behind the drums.

Freddie had trotted ahead, armed with his sawed-off microphone and a spine of steel as he surveyed the simmering, restless crowd. He always used the first few seconds on stage to gauge the crowd's energy and adjust his presentation from there. Tonight would be no small feat — they'd have to win over an audience who already wasn't thrilled with their presence.

Across the stage, Brian caught her eye and nodded, playing the opening lick and cuing her to join. She licked her fingers and plucked an easy, low pulse, soon joined by Roger's metronomic hi-hats. They stalled like that, waiting for Freddie's signal to jump into the intro for Ogre Battle. She still didn't know how much of them Freddie could hear, so they'd have to be on their toes for this show, ready to catch up or slow down or cover up any stumblings on their vocalist's part.

From somewhere in the pit below, there was a shout of "Go back to Pommyland, ya pooftah!" 

Jane froze, missing a beat.

Freddie heard the heckle. Or at least, he felt the animosity of it. But instead of flying off the handle, he did something strange; he stopped his prowling and laughed. Threw his head back and let out a full-throated shout of laughter, raising his fist in the air. Then he brought his mic close to his face, strolling to the edge of the stage and cracking the mic cord behind him like a whip.

"You're a sleepy lot, aren't you?" he said conversationally, flipping the cable this way and that. "We must be at the wrong festival."

The electricity in the air sizzled as the audience — and the band — waited for his next move.

"You see, we were sipping tea in our parlor, pinkies up, when we got the call that you jolly cunts wanted a rock 'n' roll show," he bellowed, and the resulting cheer from the crowd took Jane by surprise. "But it seems we've landed at a Girl Guide jamboree."

There was a roar of mingled laughter and booing, and Jane shifted her eyes nervously, wondering where Fred was going with this crowd work.

"Oh, no?" he asked, propping his foot on the top of a short amp, cupping his gloved hand around his ear. "Did you want to hear some rock 'n' roll?"

More cheers, more applause. Jane glanced back at Roger, who was chuckling and shaking his head at the madness.

"I said: did you want to hear some fucking rock 'n' roll?" 

The resulting roar was almost deafening, and Jane grinned, squinting out beyond the bright lights to see thousands of people on their feet, cheering and yelling for Freddie to give them what they wanted.

"Then let's fucking get to it," he shouted, pointing with a flourish at Brian, who ripped into the distorted opening sequence, soon followed by a flurry of crashing percussion.

Propelled by an appropriately riled crowd, they were off running. Ogre Battle was the perfect starter to get the blood pumping, and the momentum only built from there. It wasn't their best technical performance — they had to play it safe for Freddie's sake — but the energy was incredible, and the Aussies turned out to be a fantastic audience, once properly won over.

His partial deafness seemed to have given Freddie even more confidence on stage, or at least he was making a good show of faking it. He chatted with the crowd between songs, exchanging barbs and praise in equal measure and stalking the stage as if he was looking for his next meal. They'd never been a very stationary band before, but Freddie was up on the drum risers one minute and circling Jane on the far right the next. It was as if an electrical current was running from the stage into his legs, and if he stayed still for even a minute, the power would be lost.

By the fourth song, Seven Seas of Rhye, the crowd was firmly in Freddie's pocket, so Jane let herself relax and enjoy the music. While Freddie and Brian were playing to the audience downstage, Jane bopped her way over to the drum risers, rocking and shuffling in time with the notes she plucked. Roger was bobbing his head, face screwed in concentration as he laid into his floor toms, reaching up every few beats to strike the crash cymbal. When she caught his eye during his brief rest in the song, he poked his tongue between his teeth and grinned. There was unbridled laughter in his eyes as he watched her dance in increasingly ridiculous fashion in a bid to make him crack up. She always won those games— as soon as she lifted her folded arms to flap like a chicken, he was a goner.

They played a 35 minute set, and by the time they were giving their bows, the audience was chanting for an encore. Jane turned to Freddie, wordlessly asking with a quirk of her brows whether they should go ahead and play another song. Before he could make a decision, however, the MC strolled back on stage with his own mic, stepping in front of Freddie as if he wasn't there.

"D'you want anymore from these pommy bastards, or do ya want an Aussie rock band?" Keays shouted, making a lewd gesture with his hands.

There was more cheering, though it was hard to say whether they were cheering for an encore, or for Queen to get off the stage. Still, Jane took a moment to bask in the remaining adrenaline while it lasted, catching her breath as if she had run a marathon.

"C'mon, we don't want 'em back. We want Madder Lake, right?"

With the spell broken and the audience's attention otherwise occupied, an all-around great show came to a perfunctory end. Freddie swiveled on his heel with an exaggerated sigh and roll of his eyes, jerking his head toward the wings. Jane followed dutifully, unplugging her Fender and handing it off to a waiting Ratty, who gave her a thumbs up.

"What a load of bollocks," Roger muttered as they left the stage. "That was a bloody good set. They were totally asking for an encore."

"Cheer up, Rog," she said, taking one last look at the stage from the wings before following him down the stairs. "They loved us; that's all that matters."

Her eyes landed on Freddie and she beamed, shaking her head in amazement and still a bit of shock at what he had managed to pull off, all the while hardly hearing a thing. He gave her an uncharacteristically shy smile and ducked his head, looking thoroughly exhausted from the rocket-fuel levels of energy he had just called forth. Later, they would digest the show, exchanging notes and picking apart their performances. But for now — rest, and the knowledge that they had made people happy, at least for a little while. They'd stumbled upon something just then — something weird and delightful that could power a ship to Mars. Jane didn't know quite what to call what they just did, but she had felt the shivers down to her bones.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

February, 1974

 

 

"It's in a real soft focus, you see, with white feathers, and it's like we're parting the clouds to heaven."

"Of course, of course."

"And then we have our four angels — or perhaps, fallen angels…"

"I love it, darling."

Roger bit his tongue to bridle his laughter. The photographer for the promotional shoot, Mick Rock, was finding an all-too-eager sounding board in Freddie, who was lapping up his increasingly insane ideas like an ice cream cone. Roger had to keep his blinders up and not glance at either Brian or Jane on either side of him; one look at their undoubtedly baffled reactions, and he wouldn't be able to control himself. Screw anyone who thought he couldn't be professional— he was trying very hard.

When they returned from Australia almost a month ago, there had been no expected release date for Queen II, and nothing much for them to do besides twiddle their thumbs and wait for the next booking. Now, the album was set for a rush release in just a week, with the single Seven Seas of Rhye already selling fast across the country. The storm that blew these favorable winds their way? David Bowie's incompetent secretary, of all things.

Top of the Pops, everyone's favorite steaming piece of promotional shit, had booked Bowie to sing his new single on the show one Tuesday. The day before, he backed out due to a scheduling error on his secretary's part; as it turned out, Ziggy would be in Amsterdam that afternoon. With an empty slot to be filled post haste, the show's desperate producers rang the label promoters at EMI, who just so happened to have an advance copy of Queen II on hand. With less than 24 hours of notice, the band had to rush into the studio to record a new backtrack that would be broadcast during the show— Auntie Beeb had a strict miming only policy, which they had mocked endlessly during the taping. But they had been paid and, even better, phones had rung off the hook asking where people could buy the single.

Within a matter of days, the single had cracked the UK Top Ten, EMI had pushed the full album into imminent release, and Mott the Hoople's manager had gotten in touch with Norman to inquire about the possibility of Queen supporting the band on a United States tour. Just like that. Just by a stroke of dumb luck. Roger couldn't believe it; they had been working their asses off for years, playing in shitty pubs and paying every pound they had to record in the dead of night, and all of the sudden, everything was just falling into place.

God bless Bowie. 

Norman had demanded they strike while the kettle was still hot, scheduling a photoshoot with the same photographer who had taken their album cover art and setting up interviews with several British publications in preparation for the album's release and their U.S. tour. The public was intrigued by this young, talented band of handsome lads - and Jane - who rocked like Zeppelin and crooned like McCartney. And Roger was more than happy to indulge their curiosity.

"I'm thinking something natural," Mick effused, walking around his expansive, white-walled studio with Freddie eagerly in tow, throwing open the thick gray curtains to fill the cavernous space with light. "Something fresh and young."

Roger couldn't help it; he turned to Jane on the leather couch next to him and nudged her shoulder. "The theme of the shoot is infancy. We're all going to dress like babies."

She snorted, looking straight ahead at Mick and twisting her lips in a valiant effort to not laugh. Brian was nodding slowly as Mick rambled on, his lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed as he tried to puzzle though the photographer's grand vision.

"The Garden of Eden!" Freddie cried.

"Yes!" Mick agreed, facing the rest of the band with his arms outstretched. "Innocence. Sensuality. Nudity."

Jane's head snapped up. "What?"

Roger grinned. "Oh, hell yes."

 

 


 

 

 

Shirt gleefully discarded, Roger sat patiently in the hair and makeup chair as Mick's stylist Tammy teased and styled his hair. She had already packed on the makeup, which was more delicate and powdery than the goop Freddie insisted they wear on stage.

"Have you considered bleaching your hair?" Tammy asked, meeting his eyes in the mirror and holding up a lock of his hair. "You'd be very striking as a bottle blonde."

"Now there's an idea," he mused, turning his head slightly to consider her suggestion. He'd been towheaded as a child, and had been eager for his hair to darken as his mother said it eventually would; teenaged Roger had thought his light hair made him look soft and boyish, and very un-rock 'n' roll. Now, however, there was definitely something to be said for standing out among his dark-haired cohorts.

"Don't encourage him," Freddie drawled from the couch; flipping through a newspaper on his lap. "He's pretty enough to be insufferable as it is."

Once his hair was deemed suitable, Roger joined Freddie and Brian in the cushy seating area to wait for Jane, who had tugged Mary with her into the makeshift dressing room the costumer had set up in Mick's office. Chrissie had also tagged along for the day and was artfully positioning Brian's coils around his pinched face. Even with a jar of makeup slapped and smeared onto his skin, Brian's face was a little more drawn than usual, the cut of his jaw more pronounced and the bags under his eyes barely concealed by the powder. Roger figured that Brian's vegetarian diet was finally taking its toll. He had gotten stricter about his meat intake, eating only the very occasional fish now, and weight had been dropping from Brian's already thin frame. When they ate meals together, Roger surreptitiously slid extra helpings of potatoes and beans onto Brian's plate. He couldn't have his guitarist fainting like a bloody damsel in the middle of a set, that's all.

"Let's move the softbox to the other side," Mick said to one of his assistants, a tripod hauled over his shoulder. "I want to use as much natural lighting as possible."

Mick was working with two of his assistants in the corner of the studio to set up the lights and backdrop, which would alternate between white and black. A prop crown and scepter were leaned teasingly against the wall, along with a box of white feathers. Roger had agreed to all of Mick's ideas because first, they were hilarious and totally over-the-top, which made them perfect for Queen. And secondly, the photographer had worked with Bowie, Lou Reed, and The Stooges, so he probably knew his stuff. Brian had been reluctant but came around once Mick described his vision a little more clearly, while Jane….well, she was being Jane.

He could distantly hear the sound of Jane arguing with Mary and the poor costumer in the other room, though he could only make out a few curses. Mick had assured her that she wouldn't be topless like the boys — they would be giving these photographs to magazines after all, and not the fun sort — and would just be in a simple dress; problem solved. Jane didn't make a habit of wearing dresses; the only one that came to mind was that green dress she had worn months before on her ill-fated date with Morgan. Granted, he was more than a little inebriated at the time, but he thought she looked rather pretty in it. Roger didn't see why she was making a fuss about it for just a few photos, unless the thing was truly hideous.

Eventually, the door opened and she tiptoed out wrapped tightly in a dressing gown, followed by Mary, who was watching Jane with an anticipatory grin. Her hair had been curled and brushed out to lay in waves down her shoulders, and her makeup was softer than the bold, dark look Freddie insisted upon for performances. She shifted her darting eyes toward the boys and frowned, a stubborn set to her jaw. Roger knew that look— Jane was two steps away from murdering someone. Or at least she would be if her bladed bracelet hadn't been confiscated already.

Freddie put down his paper, beckoning for her to come closer. "Come on, dearie, let's see the frock," he cajoled. "What's the damage?"

She pursed her lips, wrapping her arms around her middle and crossing her legs. "No. I'm going to look ridiculous."

"No more ridiculous than us," Roger assured her, gesturing to his bare chest. "The paying public is going to be treated to Brian's pasty, hairless pecs; we'll all be upstaged."

"Hey," Brian warned, looking down at his chest. "You're just as pasty as I am."

Jane rolled her eyes. "Big deal, you're shirtless. At least you lot aren't wearing bloody lingerie."

Roger cocked his head. "Lingerie—?"

She untied the dressing gown and shrugged it off, and Roger's jaw almost unhinged itself. The garment could only be called a dress by the loosest of definitions. It was a nightie— white, silken, sleeveless, and short. He'd swear he didn't mean to, but his eyes dropped to her legs as if drawn by magnets. She was slouching and bending at the knee to tug the hem down further, but there simply wasn't enough fabric to hide two of the longest, shapeliest legs he had ever laid eyes upon. He had seen her in shorts before, but nothing this revealing, and never in anything as obtusely sensual as a negligee.

Brian broke the silence with an uncomfortable cough. "That is certainly something," he said dumbly, ever the gentleman as he focused intently on her face.

With a reproachful look toward Brian, Chrissie sprung up from her chair to join Jane, taking her dressing gown from her and adjusting the straps at her shoulders so they laid flat. "You look angelic, sweetie. It's beautiful."

If Jane's an angel, then heaven might not be as dull as all the books make it out to be.

Roger froze, realizing the inexplicable direction his thoughts had taken without his permission and shaking his head as if to dislodge them from his brain. Jane caught the movement and cocked her hip, making the hem rise up further and revealing a creamy expanse of her upper thigh. Which made it...worse? Better?

"What?" she demanded, hands on hips. "Is it that bad?"

"Huh? No, no! You're fine. Just, are you…" he stammered, scratching his head and glancing off the side at Mick. "Are you going to be comfortable in that?"

She huffed, folding her arms over her chest protectively. "Obviously not, but I'll get on with it. I like the idea for the shoot; I'm just feeling a little...exposed."

Immediately a wave of guilt washed over him, even if his ogling had been more out of shock than lecherousness. Once again, she was willing to sacrifice her comfort and security for the sake of the band, while he got off easy. Posing for a shirtless photo was odd for him and the guys, but he supposed it wasn't nearly as mortifying as flouncing around in his pants would be.

But that was an idea.

Without pausing to think, he reached for the belt of his jeans, unbuckling it and pulling it from its loops to drop on the floor with a jangle. Jane and the others watched in confusion — and in Freddie's case, fits of choking laughter — as he unzipped his jeans and pushed them down to his ankles, stepping out of them methodically. And then he was left in his briefs, standing cold and mostly naked in front of his bandmates and their girlfriends.

"Well," he said, holding out his arms. "Now we're even."

The emotions on Jane's face flickered from bewilderment to amusement to gratitude, and she shook her head with a wide smile as she looked him up and down. "You're crazy."

He shrugged. "Well, yeah."

Mick, who had been watching the exchange with interest, stepped between Roger and Jane with a wild grin, wagging his finger. "This," he said, pointing at Roger. "Is a good idea. I love the vulnerability."

"I love it too!" cried Freddie, still in barely contained hysterics.

The photographer nodded and snapped his fingers. "Lads— down to your knickers, please."

That got Brian's attention, and his eyes widened. "Wait, what?" he stuttered, shooting an irritated look at Roger before bouncing up from the couch to speak to Mick. "Like, now?"

While Freddie and Brian were goaded by their respective girlfriends into shimmying out of their trousers, Jane sidled up next to Roger, arms still crossed tightly over her chest but smiling a little more easily. Her eyes dropped to his legs and she smirked.

"Nice pants," she said, raising an eyebrow. "Really pretty."

His cheeks flushed scarlet. For whatever reason, he had chosen the orange, lacy-looking pair a uni girlfriend had gifted him once. They were not, in fact, women's knickers, but they may as well have been for all the coverage they afforded him.

"Don't stare," he hissed, crouching to cover his briefs with his hands. "I'm not looking at your...bits."

"No, but you were."

He swallowed dryly. "Jane—" he started, but she waved him off.

"Yeah, yeah. Instinctual response, I know," she said, rolling her eyes with a forgiving smile, turning to follow Mick into the shooting space.

Freddie, sporting the less revealing sartorial choice of black boxer shorts, snorted a laugh behind him. "Rog, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you've got terrible business sense," he said, clapping him on the shoulder. "If you're going to strip in public, you've got to charge."

 

 


 

 

 

Mick Rock the person was a laid-back, pleasant bloke to be around. Mick Rock the photographer was a bloody hurricane and a bit of a crackpot. As soon as he had shuffled them around in the configuration he wanted, fluffy white feathers were pushed into their hands, only to be snatched away a few seconds later and replaced with different feathers. He shouted baffling instructions and encouragement in equal measure, whirling around them to adjust lights and locks of hair and finger placements.

"Be coy about it," Mick called from behind the camera, one eye squeezed shut as he took the shot. "Freddie, what are you hiding behind the feathers?"

"My nips?"

"Your virtue."

Roger cackled behind him, and Freddie turned around to swat him. "Don't disrespect my virtue!"

"None left, mate."

Freddie dove to tickle Roger's sides with the feather, and he let out an embarrassingly shrill shriek in response, slapping at Freddie's hands and jumping behind Jane in defense. But Jane just grabbed the feather from Freddie with a wicked grin and mercilessly went after his underarms— the traitor. Roger shouted both curses and gasping bursts of laughter, trying to grab onto her wrists to stay the attack, but she was relentless. Even Brian betrayed him, leaning from his stool to swipe a feather down the back of Roger's knee, making him jump.

"Alright, alright," said Mick, stepping from behind the camera, wiping tears of laughter from his own eyes. "That's enough of the props for now."

"No, it was getting good!" Mary cried from the couch where the girls were spectating, raising a glass of wine and falling into Chrissie's shoulders in giggles. "More feathers!"

Roger tugged the feather from Jane's hand, bopping her on the nose with it before giving it to Mick's assistant. She was tittering mischievously, and Roger groaned, knowing that he had just provided her ample ammunition for future attacks. He took a step backward, raising a finger in warning.

"Watch it, Deacon."

"How did we not know you were ticklish?" she whispered, while the photographer was giving directions to Brian and Freddie in front. She took a step closer, clasping her arms behind her and rocking back on her feet. "That seems like very important information to know."

In the next second, her hand had ghosted down the back of his neck, electricity arcing between nerve endings, and he almost leapt out of his skin. It hadn't tickled, exactly— more like being splashed in the face with a bucket of ice water. He scowled at her, rubbing his hand vigorously over his neck while she just snickered at his reaction and her newfound power.

Mick moved on from Brian — who he had arranged with one arm draped over his chest, the other on Freddie's shoulder — and eyed Roger and Jane for a moment to decide how to pose them.

"OK. Roger, right hand on your left shoulder."

He did as instructed, waiting patiently as Mick directed Jane to do something similar.

"And Jane, move in closer to Roger."

She took a step toward him, a hands-width away. Mick shook his head, coming up behind them and shuffling Jane over until her left side was pressed totally flush against his front, which left Roger sucking in a breath at the sudden heat. Mick angled them both so they faced the camera before giving a nod of satisfaction.

Roger froze, forgetting to exhale as he took in the feel of silk and bare skin against his chest, her hair brushing against his jaw. They had been in closer proximity then this — she'd hugged him, fallen asleep on him, stood toe to toe with him while straightening his shirt collars. But now he could feel her warmth and smell the lavender of her shampoo, and the dress she wore might as well have been made of water, the way it melted into her skin, revealing the jut of her hip, her left leg almost wedged between his.

While Mick conversed with his assistant about lighting, Jane shuffled her weight from foot to foot, and the smooth glide of fabric and brief press of friction made his throat run dry. His eyes drifted down — catching on the gaping top of her dress, the thin fabric that did nothing to conceal the exact size and shape of her breasts — and he immediately snapped them back up, his cheeks burning.

It was sensory overload from every direction, an onslaught of nice smells and smooth curves and body heat. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, bring her closer, bury his nose in her hair, against her neck. Driven by something not quite conscious within him, his hand drifted down, shaking, to inch closer and closer to the dip of her upper waist. His fingertips barely brushed her before Jane was leaning into him with a comforted sigh — somewhere, distantly, alarm bells were ringing, but his body was simply reacting naturally to a beautiful girl with soft skin and long legs that could wrap so nicely around him—

Alarms reached a screaming pitch. His stomach dropped.

 

"Toilet break!" he shouted, jumping back from Jane and hurrying to the loo around the corner before the others could complain.

He yanked the door open and shoved himself inside, flipping the latch and pressing his body against the door. Abandoned by the will or strength to hold himself upright, his body slid down to the floor, a thousand competing thoughts racing through his mind as he stared wide-eyed at the wall in front of him.

Jane was attractive.

He was attracted to Jane.

He wanted Jane, and there was hard evidence in his pants to prove it. Nothing about his sudden reaction to her was making sense in his head, so he focused on the urgent, literally pressing issue at hand.

Roger couldn't remember the last time he had gotten an unwanted boner in public, yet here he was, sprung and ready to go after ten seconds of physical contact. With Deaky. And all after she'd made it very clear she was uncomfortable being half naked, and he had made a big deal out of undressing to match her. He was a bloody perv and if Jane had noticed or, god forbid, felt any hint of his reaction to her, she'd never go near him again. Never trust him again. He'd lose one of his closest friends over a fucking slip of fabric.

This was very, very bad. This was Pandora's Box, forbidden fruit, fall-of-man levels of not good.

"Fuck," he said softly, clenching his eyes shut and rubbing his hand over his face. "Fuck."

Roger wanted nothing more than to run out the back exit, go home, and not look at or hear or talk to Jane for a week. This — whatever it was — needed to be severed at the root before it could grow into something cancerous and infect the rest of him. But for now, he had to go back and join the others. Had to stand close to her, pretend like nothing was wrong, and finish the shoot. He could work through the rest later.

No one could know — least of all Jane — so he had to take care of the situation in his pants ASAP. He ran through what he could remember of the periodic table — not much. He pictured the gruesome slides of diseased gums and rotting teeth he had studied in his first and only year of dental school. He replaced Jane's face in his intrusive thoughts with his grandmother's.

 

After a couple minutes, he relaxed enough to rise shakily to his feet, satisfied that his arousal had been tamed, at least for now. Roger took a deep breath and left the washroom, walking back to the main part of the studio to rejoin the others. Brian and Freddie were still sat on their stools, though they had dropped their arms from the poses Mick had arranged. Jane was sitting on the floor next to them, her arms propped behind her in support and legs stretched out in a long line in front of her. She smiled when she saw him, and the familiar bubbling of satisfaction he felt when she smiled at him was corrupted with unease.

"There he is!" she said, hopping to her feet.

Roger swallowed and tore his eyes away from her to nod toward Mick. "Alright, I'm ready."

"About time!" Freddie chided, straightening his back and returning to his pose. "I thought you'd fallen in."

Roger was redirected back to his spot next to Jane, who tucked herself against him. He exhaled slowly through his mouth, tilting his hips slightly away so she wasn't pressing into his pelvis. He gripped his left shoulder tighter with his opposite arm, letting the other hang awkwardly at his side and as far away from her as possible.

Mick circled the four of them, studying them and leaning in every so often to fix a stray hair or arrange a thumb just so. Satisfied, he returned to his camera and took a few shots, muttering under his breath and shouting directions as inspiration occurred to him.

"Roger, you can't dangle your arm like that," Mick called, lowering his camera. "How about you lay it on the side of her neck," he instructed, gesturing with his hand to demonstrate. "Just under her hair, there.'

Roger's eyes went wide, looking down at his hand and back at Jane. She shrugged, brushing her hair aside and revealing the expanse of her neck and shoulders, bare but for the thin straps of the nightie. This was fine. This was platonic. Slowly, he brought his hand to hover over her shoulder, hesitating before letting it lay against her delicate collarbone, fingers brushing the warm skin of her throat and feeling her pulse jump at the contact. She flinched, and he whipped his hand away like he had burned her.

"Why is your hand so cold?" she hissed, rubbing the neck where his fingers had been. "Jesus."

"Sorry," he mumbled, making to rub his hands on his jeans, but remembering he wasn't wearing any. Good move, that was.

"We haven't got all day," Brian complained, twisting around to look at them. "We've got a meeting with Norman this afternoon."

Impatient, Jane grabbed his hand and pressed it to her collarbone. He stood there, still and silent as a statue, as he let her arrange his fingers just right. When she was done, she angled herself back toward the camera, tilting her hip against his. He sucked in a breath between gritted teeth, every muscle in his body tensed as Mick took shot after shot, telling them to have fun with it, to smile, to relax. As if that was ever going to be possible for Roger, ever again. When the photographer took a second to exchange cameras, Jane sighed and rested her head against his chest, and he had the conflicting desires to stroke his hand over her hair as well as to run screaming in the other direction.

Gingivitis. Anodontia. Germinated teeth. Oral cancer. Oral— fuck.

 

 


 

 

 

The penny dropped. Or maybe a piano — something heavy and crushing that had fallen from the sky and flattened Roger where he stood.

Obviously, he had known Jane was a woman. He'd even been vaguely aware that she was attractive, in the same half-minded way one might know who the Prime Minister of Canada was; it didn't concern him, so he didn't spend much time thinking about it. At least not consciously. Not until now. And all it took was a silly little nightgown and David Bowie's favorite photographer and the floodgates were opened.

Penny, meet Roger's thick skull.

As soon as Mick got all the shots he needed and called it a wrap, Roger had dashed to throw on his clothes like some blushing virgin while Jane and the others loitered about half naked. It had been a long session — nearly three hours — and Roger was about ready to throw all cameras in sight out the window.

The rest of the day was filled with the dull parts of almost-stardom — meetings and paperwork in preparation for the U.S. tour in a month's time — and Roger kept a careful distance from Jane throughout. Not that she noticed, knee deep as she was in contracts and royalty clauses with Norman and Mott the Hoople's management. Ever since their first run-in with industry sharks, they had let Jane take the reins on the business side. Roger had to admit it was captivating to watch when she got in her element; gone was the shy Jane who spoke only as much as she had to around outsiders, replaced by a no-nonsense businesswoman carrying spreadsheets and saying things like "recoupable items" and "cancellation insurance." But then she had licked her fingers to turn the page in front of her and Roger had to busy himself with clicking and unclicking the ballpoint pen in his lap until Brian put a stern hand on his wrist and told him to knock it off.

It shouldn't have rattled him so much, honestly. He'd felt lust before; he knew how this worked. It was the near-constant proximity to her that had triggered these thoughts — his imagination latching on to the nearest available girl and his hormones taking care of the rest. The only cure was space; if he just waited out the storm, and distracted himself with uncomplicated girls in the meantime, this passing attraction would fade, and everything would return to the way it was before he started popping inconvenient erections like a horny teenager.

But this was Jane, so of course it would be different. Nothing about her or their friendship had ever followed standard rules of engagement. Namely, it was going to be prohibitively difficult to keep his distance from Jane when they shared a house, played in the same band, and spent a significant portion of their free time together. Their lives were just too entangled for a clean break — not that he wanted one.

But maybe...if he kept her out of arm's reach, just for a little while, he could have a chance to breathe. Jane was so wrapped up in their finances and contracts and tour planning, she probably wouldn't even notice that he had taken a small step back from her life. They could still go on grocery runs and have lunch together and play Scrabble — the bones of their friendship didn't have to change. After all, what was an evening cuppa alone between two mates?

After their meeting with the lawyers, Freddie had gone home to Mary and their cats, and Brian was spending the night with Chrissie at her flat in Brixton. Which left him and Jane in the den to watch television before bed— his trial run in maintaining an appropriate, friendly distance. So far, so good. Jane had crawled behind the television set (a Zenith she had rescued from the curb and refurbished) and was fiddling with the connection to get a clearer picture. They weren't watching anything of note, just a rerun of Coronation Street, but she couldn't sit still if there was something to fix.

"Try bonking it on the side," he supplied helpfully.

She chuckled, dry and muffled against the wood of the TV cabinet as she bent her head to study the wires closely. "I'm pretty sure all the bonking was what broke the last one."

"Nonsense. Tellies are built to withstand plenty of abuse."

The aspirated scream of the kettle got his attention, and he got up to see to the tea in the kitchen. While he prepared the tea — lemon ginger for Jane and chamomile for him — he heard Jane's muttered "Fuck it," followed by the distinctive sound of a kick landing against the side of the static-y TV. The program then came in loud and clear, and Roger grinned to himself.

"Told you," he called to her, dumping a generous spoonful of sugar into her tea, and then another. "Where do I pick up my engineering degree?"

Jane laughed as she leaned up against the wall separating the den and kitchen, wiping the dust from the back of the TV on her joggers. "The Roger Taylor Institute of Brute Force and Dumb Luck," she said, and nodded toward her teacup. "Another sugar, please."

He gave her an incredulous look over his shoulder. "I've already added two," he said, reaching again for the tin of sugar. "It's just going to taste like candy water."

"Mm, good."

Once she was satisfied with the tooth-rotting sweetness of her tea, they retreated to the den, with Roger reclaiming the far end of the couch across from the television. Setting her tea on the coffee table, Jane grabbed the blanket from Brian's chair and settled in on the other side of the couch, folding her legs beside her.

She blew on the hot tea before taking a careful sip. "Is this the one where Stan gets into that car wreck and loses his job?" she asked, eyes glued on the television.

Roger squinted at the screen to see. Freddie enjoyed the mindless drama of Coronation Street and had put it on nearly every week when he still lived with them. It had become something of a staple in the house.

"Uh, no that already happened. They're going to meet their estranged son's children."

"Ah, Trevor," Jane sighed, putting her cup down and smoothing out the folds of the blanket. "That bastard."

They watched the episode in relative silence, broken by Roger's occasional snorted laughter at some contrived plot point. Jane had slipped further into the couch and was resting her head in the crook of her elbow on the armrest, her legs tucked in tightly under the blanket. She looked comfortable and soft, and he wished he could join her in her sleepy, warm cocoon... but that — he realized with a start — was exactly the sort of train of thought he wasn't supposed to be entertaining. Clearing his throat, he averted his eyes back to the TV.

He had been so certain that once she was back in her regular clothes and away from the charged tension of the studio, his response to her would return to normal. And yet, she was in ratty old loungewear clutching a quilt Brian's mum had made, and he was still questioning his sanity. There was no stuffing this genie back into the bottle. This was going to be harder than he thought.

Don't be a creep. Don't be a creep. Don't be a creep.

"The Exorcist is playing at Dukes' this weekend, remember?" Jane said, and Roger nearly bit his tongue off at the sound of her voice. "We're going, right?"

Roger shook his head, not daring to look at her. "Sorry, I'm going to be busy. Uh, cleaning."

He glanced at her sideways in time to catch her incredulous expression. "Really? You're cleaning?"

"Yeah," he said, shifting uneasily on the couch. "Y'know, spring cleaning."

"It's February."

He shrugged. "Early start."

She stared at him for a moment longer and made an ambivalent noise in the back of her throat, the corners of her lips twitching downward. Just a fraction. Just enough for Roger to notice and feel a pang of guilt for disappointing her.

"Alright. Another time, then."

Roger chewed on the inside of his lip, sneaking looks at Jane as they continued to sit and watch the program in somewhat less comfortable silence. He had never canceled on her for such a lame excuse as cleaning, but spending so much time alone with her in darkened rooms probably wouldn't be good for his blood pressure for the time being. He'd make it up to her, once he got his head on straight. Once he could look at her without the intrusive urge to snog her senseless.

It would have been more straightforward if he had just objectified her — nice legs, nice ass, nice tits. It would make him a perv and a creep, but those are urges he can will away and satisfy with any halfway-decent woman. No, now he was thinking about holding and kissing her too, which was highly inconvenient and rather unlike him. Leave it to Jane to turn even the laws of animal attraction on their head.

She wriggled out of her blanket, stretching her arms over her head as she got up. "You think Bri will mind if I nab some of his biscuits?"

He yawned, rubbing his eyes with the sleeves of his jumper. "Yes, but he'll live. Bring 'em over."

She disappeared into the kitchen, rattling around in the cupboards as she searched for the biscuit tin Brian thought he was so adept at hiding — behind the canned beans, covered with a tea towel. Jane reemerged victoriously with the tin in hand, her head cocking slightly to the left when she met Roger's eyes and breaking into a grin.

"What? Do I have something on my face?" he asked, bringing a hand to his cheeks.

"You still have eyeliner on, from the photoshoot," she said, gesturing with the biscuits. "It's smudged all around your right eye."

"Ah shit," he muttered, wiping his eyes and leaving flecks of brown on his jumper. "This stuff never comes off."

"Here, let me."

Jane put the tin down on the table. Before he had time to respond, she climbed onto the couch, her knees straddling him on either side of his hips, and leaned in close to wipe the errant makeup away with her thumb. He had a lapful — noseful, eyeful, handful — of Jane, her lips just centimeters from his, breath soft against his cheek. Panicked, his voice caught stutteringly in his throat before it exploded out of him.

"Jane! Personal space!" he strained, shoving her hand away and wedging himself tighter into the corner.

He regretted his actions immediately.

Her eyes had gone wide and she jumped off of him, clambering to the other side of the couch with shame and sadness and fear written all over her face. With a heavy thud in the pit of his chest, he realized he had scared her.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, looking so small as she wrapped her arms around her legs and all but caved into herself. "I didn't mean to."

Roger scrambled onto his knees on the couch to face her, hands outstretched. "No, no, no. It's fine. You're fine," he blurted. "I was just startled, that's all."

That didn't reassure her, and she turned her face, beat-red, away from him. "Then I'm sorry I startled you," she said, and his heart tightened painfully at the familiar thinness of her voice, a far-away tone he hadn't heard from her since the earliest days of their friendship.

He sighed, inching toward her on the couch, throwing out any and all of his self-imposed restraints. "You didn't do anything wrong, Jane. I'm just jumpy today. I... I don't know why."

When she didn't lean away or get up, he moved closer, sitting beside her and resting a hand on the shoulder closest to him. She relaxed somewhat, and he took that as permission to wrap his arm around her shoulders fully. She took a deep breath, tilting slightly toward him. He exhaled gratefully.

"I'm sorry, Janie," he said softly, rubbing his thumb over her arm in a circular motion, calming him as much as it did her. "I shouldn't have shouted."

She didn't speak, looking down at her hands clasped in her lap.

"Are you OK?" he asked after a moment, Coronation Street buzzing like white noise in his periphery.

She nodded and leaned her head against his shoulder. Roger was well-acquainted with the different forms of Jane's silence: the sleepy quiet of the mornings while they drank their respective teas and passed the sections of the newspaper back and forth, the ease and exhaustion of a quiet ride back from a gig, her concentrated, dreamy focus while Roger watched her fixing one of her many electronic projects. This was a nervous silence, the sort of quiet that belied the chaos of thoughts flickering like a broken projector behind her eyes.

He cleared his throat. "Can you tell me what you're thinking, please?"

Jane didn't look up to meet his eyes, still staring down at her hands twisting into the blanket. She sighed, tucking her chin. "It's just...my dad used to say something similar."

"Say what?"

"Jane, personal space," she said, her voice dropping several decibels. "He didn't like me hugging or kissing him when I was a little kid. I think affection annoyed him. So I, um, grew out of it." Glancing up at him, she added quickly: "I'm not comparing you to him. Just...the words brought me back."

Roger stiffened, and he forgot to breath for a frozen moment. She rarely talked about her parents, her father even less, but every time she brought him up, Roger had the bitter urge to throw something. Jane's father, Philip Deacon, had hung his love at an unreachable distance over his daughter's head, dangling it like a carrot she'd chase desperately for years before giving up entirely. Philip's coldness had settled somewhere deep in her heart, and Roger had gone and exhumed those frozen remains.

He stared straight ahead at the television, the scene barely registering to his eyes. "If I ever remind you of that man you have every right to punch me in the face."

Jane snorted a mirthless laugh, and Roger squeezed her shoulder. "I'm serious, Jane. Affection isn't something you grow out of. Don't let me or anyone else make you think you don't deserve love and affection because you do."

"I know," she said, snuggling closer to him, breathing steadily against his chest. "It's just easy to forget sometimes."

 

He ducked his head to press his lips against her hairline, the action feeling both familiar and unspeakably intimate, but he wasn't going to spend another minute that night locked inside his head, obsessing over his own discomfort. His knee-jerk reaction to separate himself from her was never going to last more than a day without fracturing the hard-won friendship they had built together, he could see that now. Jane's warmth would be met with warmth; anything else was a disservice to the trust she carried in him. Consequences be damned; he wasn't about to hurt her so he could be more comfortable.

They fell into Roger's favorite type of quiet — the comfortable, tender sort where their breaths would sync like they did on stage. She took the hand not resting on her shoulders and pressed her thumb into the meat of his palm, an action he had seen Brian do a hundred times and one which Jane had picked up. Instantly, a tension started to trickle from his muscles, and he felt her smile as he relaxed.

After several minutes curled together, a new television program droning in the background, Jane's breathing steadied and softened, and a slight nudge of his shoulder revealed that she had fallen asleep against him. He took the blanket, bunched on her lap and falling to the floor, and carefully spread it to cover them both. It wasn't long before he was sliding down into the couch, letting his head loll back and arm relax beside her hip. In the moments before sleep drew him in, Roger thought idly that space, real or imagined, had no place between them.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

March, 1974

 

 

Black. No busy patterns. Something sexy.

Jane repeated the instructions Freddie had given them in choosing their outfits for "official band activities," which easily voided half the items in her possession. Not for the first time, she missed always having Freddie within shouting distance; it had been so much easier when he could just pick out her clothes for her.

Jane flung open the doors of the wardrobe in Roger's room, inspecting the pile of folded jumpers on the top shelf with longing. Freddie had been clear, no jumpers, even if it was cold and damp outside. They had interviews lined up for the day — their first articles in big, recognizable music magazines — and Freddie had insisted they all look the part of rising rock 'n' roll stars.

Melody Maker, NME, and Circus Magazine— all publications Jane had bought and read before, who now wanted to speak to them. The concept of appearing in those magazines seemed insane; a month ago, barely anyone knew or cared who they were, but then they appeared on Top of the Pops, and their single shot into the English charts, and everything was happening so fast. To be fair, Norman told them they'd probably be small blurbs to fill in extra space on slow news weeks, the sorts of bottom-page afterthoughts people usually skipped right over. But it was a big step, and Jane was cautiously optimistic, with a healthy side of nerves. She still was not fond of self-promotion, though that probably wouldn't be an issue; if the interviews proceeded how most aspects of their professional lives did, Freddie and Roger would do most of the talking.

But there was still the question of looking the part. She reached into the wardrobe and unfurled a gauzy black vest, a racy piece Fred had tried, unsuccessfully, to cajole her into wearing during their UK tour. It was quickly bunched back up and stuffed into the farthest depths of the cabinet. There was her trusty white collared shirt and matching tweed trousers and blazer, which she pulled out for business talks with management, but she couldn't imagine Freddie would approve of that level of stuffiness for an interview where they were supposed to be presenting themselves as the "next Led Zeppelin."

As she felt around on the top shelf of the wardrobe, her hand landed on something silky and soft to the touch. She pulled the garment free, holding it up to eye level and considering it thoughtfully. It was one of Roger's more subdued stage costumes, a black satin shirt with leopard print suede on the collar and cuffs. If she paired it with her leather trousers and suede platforms...yes, that might be glam enough for Freddie.

She returned to her room to finish getting dressed, slipping on the silken shirt and wrestling herself into the trousers which were somewhat tighter than she remembered. The shirt still smelled distinctly of Roger's cologne, a warm and earthy scent that reminded her of strong tea and smoke. Once dressed, Jane shuffled down the hall to the bathroom to brush her teeth, stopping outside Brian's closed door to knock on it softly.

"Bri? Are you up?"

It was almost nine, and their first interview was in an hour, at the Trident offices across town. There was a muffled groan and a creaking of bed springs from inside Brian's bedroom.

"Yeah, give me ten more minutes," he called, sounding about ten feet under water.

Her hand hovered over the doorknob, but she thought better of it and retreated. He had had another late night working on a song, a guitar-heavy piece he had started months before but couldn't finish in time to record for Queen II. Brian had been looking more tired than usual lately; he could do with the extra sleep.

The bathroom at the end of the hall was presently occupied by Roger, though he had left the door open as he shaved, staring with intense focus at his reflection in the mirror. He didn't have much facial hair to tend to, just the scraggly bits that grew in patches on his chin and upper lip, which Freddie teased him about mercilessly. He was annoyed by his inability to grow a decent beard, though Jane rather liked his baby-faced look. The steady stream of girls he continued to bring home every week seemed to agree.

Coming up behind him, Jane reached around Roger to grab her toothbrush from the cup on the counter. Roger, taken by surprise, flinched at the movement, followed by a sharp intake of breath that indicated he had nicked himself with the razor.

She jumped back, wincing with sympathy when she saw the shock of blood welling up under his jawline near his chin, the red vivid against the white of the shaving cream smeared over skin.

"Oops, sorry, Rog."

"Shit," he muttered, leaning in toward the mirror to inspect the cut. "That's a good one, huh?"

Jane slid behind him in the cramped space to unroll a few sheets of toilet paper, handing them to him to mop up the bleeding. "Do you have a styptic?"

"Yeah, somewhere in the cupboard," he said, gesturing to the counter drawers with one hand as he pressed the toilet paper to the nick.

"I'll fetch it."

"I swear, I need to put a bell on you like a cat," he joked, removing the wad of tissue from his jaw and making a face at the blood stain. "You're too light on your feet."

"I'll just always stay where you can see me," she replied, bending down to rustle through the bottom drawer of the cupboard, pushing aside containers of floss and packets of extra razor blades until she found the chalky white pencil.

He laughed, balancing his razor between two fingers before setting it down on the counter. "That's another option."

Jane uncapped the styptic pencil and wet it under the cold stream of water. Roger stepped back, making room for her to stand between him and the sink. He had not yet gotten dressed for the day, wearing a pair of joggers and a white undershirt that was now stained with a couple drops of blood from his small wound. Jane reached up and pressed the styptic to the cut, backing off the pressure when he grimaced from the sting.

"Is there a reason you know your way around antihemorrhagics?" he asked, his gaze dropping to meet hers with a curious grin.

She shrugged, lifting the pencil from the cut and, seeing that the wound hadn't sealed, reapplied it. "I helped my dad shave when he was in the hospital. Even when he was sick, he didn't want to look like a slob."

"I see," he clipped, his face adopting that pinched quality it took whenever she mentioned her father. "You were a good daughter. He didn't deserve you."

She gave him a sharp look, cuing him to shut up; she was in a good mood and didn't feel like dwelling on darker times. After a moment's pause, she changed the subject.

"You've been jumpy lately, Rog."

A muscle in his jaw twitched. He swallowed, and she could feel the movement against her hand holding the styptic to his skin. "Yeah, I guess."

She hummed, flicking her eyes back up to him. Roger had been acting strange the last couple of weeks, though she couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was that bothered her. More easily startled, more prone to bouts of zoning out and inattention — like he wasn't quite always in the same room as her, even when they were sitting next to each other.

"Are you anxious about something? Can I help?"

His eyes softened, and he gave her a small smile as he looked down at her, still holding the styptic to his jaw and resting her arm against his chest.

"It's just the stress of the tour coming up. A lot could go wrong."

She nodded, understanding that much. "America making you nervous?"

"You could say that," he said, and breathed a shaky laugh, twisting his hands in front of him. "It's...really important to me. To us. I can't fuck it up."

"We've been through hell and highwater to get here, Rog," she reassured him, removing the styptic and placing it on the counter but not backing away from him. "We always come out the other side unscathed."

He grinned, bringing a hand up to brush over the sealed-over wound. "We do, don't we?"

"Let's just take it one day at a time," she said, leaning back against the counter and looking him up and down. "Starting with these bloody interviews. You're not wearing a vest, are you?"

"No, but speaking of which, is that my shirt?"

Jane shrugged, turning away to wet her toothbrush under the faucet. "Maybe. You want it back?"

She caught his reflection in the mirror as she bent over the sink. His eyes lingered on her back, trailing slowly up to her neck, where she had gathered her hair at the nape. Something in his gaze made her throat run dry — it was the face he wore when he studied a new piece of music, intent on committing it to memory.

"Keep it; it looks good on you."

 

 


 

 

Once they arrived at the Trident offices, the band was ushered by a minder to the third floor — typically reserved for the firm's high-rolling guests and big-name bands, which apparently now included Queen. A parlor off the side of Norman's office, draped in ornate rugs and velvet furniture, had been reserved for the interviews. There were no fewer than six vases of fresh-cut flowers in the room, and gold-plated lighters were left purposefully on each side table. Red and gold velvet pillows emblazoned with the Queen crest were propped on the couch. Trident was really pulling out all the stops to ham up the band's image now that they were making money. Funny how a management company could afford custom upholstery, ornate wooden furniture, and a fleet of towncars but couldn't afford to pay them more than 50 quid a week.

Jane watched the gold-dripped clock on the wall with increasing agitation as the minute hand inched past the scheduled time for the interview. The room was silent apart from the ticking of the clock, and Roger sitting next to her repetitively flicking open the gold lighters. She crossed and uncrossed her legs at the knee, jiggling her foot to shake off the excess nerves. On her left, Freddie nudged her with a weary sigh.

"You're going to make me nervous, darling."

She grimaced. "Sorry."

"Relax, Deaky," Brian said, sitting in the armchair next to the couch. "They're journalists, not piranhas."

"Same difference," Roger drawled, offering his box of cigarettes to Jane, who accepted gratefully.

Just as she was lighting up, their first appointment of the day, a writer for NME, strode through the door escorted by Norman. The journalist was a stout older man dressed in a tweed suit with a greying mustache and sizable sideburns — not exactly what Jane had pictured for a rock 'n' roll tastemaker.

Norman faced the band with an easy smile, looking upon his newly prized flock with pride. "Everyone, this is Mr. Martin Webb, one of our friends at NME. Martin, I'd like to introduce Queen," he said, gesturing to each of them in turn. "Mr. Freddie Mercury, Mr. Brian May, Mr. Roger Taylor, and Miss Jane Deacon."

Freddie hopped to his feet and strode over to meet the journalist, and the others followed his lead, standing to shake Martin's hand as he lumbered over to join them. Martin gripped Jane's hand tightly with both of his, patting it with sweaty palms before releasing her back to her seat. He set his briefcase on the coffee table between him and the band, unloading a tape recorder the size of a textbook. While the equipment was being set up, Norman departed to his office, giving them all a slanted, sharp smile as if to silently communicate: "Behave."

"And we are...rolling," Martin said, hitting the record button with a tap and settling back into his plush armchair with a satisfied grunt. "Alright. First off, I'd like to congratulate you all on your first single to chart in the UK. Number five at the moment; must feel good."

Freddie smiled, tightening his lips over his teeth. "It's nice, but not as good as number one will feel."

Martin raised an eyebrow. "That's confident."

"That's Queen."

Martin threw them several softball questions, asking about their single, supporting Mott the Hoople, and their just-announced United States tour. As expected, Freddie and Roger took care of most of the answers, leaving Jane and Brian to nod and hum in agreement. Martin wanted to know about the band's origin, so Roger broke into the story, starting with Smile and telling how Freddie and Jane were eventually pulled in to form Queen. After a while, she zoned out, staring at the oil painting on the papered wall just over Martin's shoulder— it looked like an original. Expensive.

"Miss Deacon?"

She looked up, meeting the interviewer's inquisitive expression. "Pardon?"

Martin smiled, leaning in and tilting his head toward her. "I just wanted to know if you could tell me a little about yourself, my dear. We haven't heard a peep out of you yet."

"Oh, well," she looked at Roger, who gave her an encouraging nod. She swallowed dryly, folding her hands in her lap. "My name is Jane Ruth Deacon; I was born on August the 19th, 1951."

Freddie snickered into his hand beside her, disguising it poorly as a cough. She glared at him, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. Roger's hand snaked behind her to rest briefly on the middle of her back before drifting to settle across the upper ledge of the couch. She scooted forward to perch on the edge of her seat, resisting the urge to lean back and into him; she was keenly aware that she was being observed, and her seeking of comfort would be misconstrued as something else entirely.

"You were a university student when you joined the band?"

She coughed, settling her composure. "Yes, I attended Chelsea College, studying—"

"I'm sorry, love. You'll have to speak up for the tape recorder."

Flushing, she leaned forward toward the recorder, raising her shaking voice. "I attended Chelsea College and studied electrical engineering."

"Wow, good for you," Martin praised. "That must have been very challenging."

She brought her cigarette to her lips for a nervous drag. "Well, I suppose so. I enjoy the subject."

"And you play a bass guitar, correct?"

She nodded, before remembering he was recording audio. "Um, yes. I play a Fender Precision mostly, with a Rickenbacker on standby."

"That's quite an unwieldy instrument. It's longer than the electric guitar, isn't it?"

Jane's brows furrowed at the odd question. "Um, yes, it's a bit larger."

"Does it get very heavy on stage?" he asked, his expression soft and open, like he was asking a child to recite her times tables. "Lugging that thing around for long shows must be tiring for a woman of your stature."

The room suddenly felt five degrees warmer, and she tugged on the collar of her borrowed shirt. Beside her, Roger tensed, and he gripped the back of the couch as if anchoring himself.

"Well, I guess that's what the shoulder strap is for," she answered slowly, using all her available restraint to keep the sarcasm at bay.

"Of course," he allowed gently, flashing her a condescending smile. "Jane, you've recorded two full albums with Queen thus far. We've got lots of Mercury and May compositions, and even a few penned by Mr. Taylor."

She nodded, pursing her lips as she realized where he was going.

"Why do you think you haven't been able to write anything for the band?"

And there it was— punch to the gut, right where it hurt. Jane shook her head blankly, lips parted but unable to speak. It was true, after all — she hadn't been able to write more than a few lines of a song before getting frustrated and throwing the whole thing away. Most times, it just felt like she didn't have much of consequence to say in a song, and when she did, she couldn't manage to find the right words. The guys didn't seem too bothered by her lack of songwriting contributions, but she was all too aware that she hadn't been pulling her weight in that department.

Freddie jumped in, coming to her rescue. "She's able to write just fine. Her talents have just been put to better use elsewhere. We've got more than enough cooks in the kitchen, I think."

Martin tapped his pen against his chin, looking from Freddie to Jane with an oily smirk. "I would think it might be difficult for a woman to write a song — say, a love song — that could believably be sung by a male frontman."

"What a ridiculous assertion," Freddie said flippantly, rolling his eyes. "That's a non-issue."

There was a tense moment between the two men, as Freddie stared the journalist down, daring him to continue his line of questioning. Martin eventually broke the silence with a strained chuckle.

"Touchy subject, I see. Let's switch gears, shall we?"

Freddie's jaw clenched before relaxing into a false grin. "Let's."

Martin shifted in his chair, visibly unsettled by the intensity in Freddie's stare. He turned to Brian, plastering the polite smile back on his face. "So, I hear there's an interesting story behind your guitar, Brian. Would you mind telling me about the Red Special?"

Brian, suffering from a case of momentary whiplash, nodded hesitantly, his eyes flickering to Jane before answering. "Sure, sure. So, um, when I was growing up my family couldn't afford to buy me a guitar, so I set about making one with my dad…"

With Martin's attention averted, Jane let herself exhale, though she couldn't help the stiffness that crept into her shoulders and neck. Catching Freddie's eye, she mouthed thank you, and he nodded, giving her a wink before returning his attention to the conversation, which Martin was twisting this way and that to coax out something about Brian's relationship with his father — and his father's reaction to him quitting his doctoral studies. Martin asked if Brian thought his father was proud of his choices, and Jane's heart thudded painfully in her chest at the look of despair that passed momentarily over her friend's face. He was measured and self-assured in his responses, though Jane could see his hands shake and ball reflexively into fists before he slid them under his legs.

Jane now eyed the tape recorder on the marble-topped coffee table with contempt; there was something grossly disingenuous about the whole affair. She had tried to keep an open mind about the interviews, but she couldn't shake the distinct feeling of being prey — young and fresh meat for the kill. The band would give their uneasy answers to inappropriate questions, and all of these journalists' jobs were to try and pull something dramatic from the tapes with little concern for context or subtlety.

While Brian rambled on about his songwriting, she looked to Roger and found him fidgeting with the gold lighter in his lap, snapping it open and closed with increasing vigor. His mouth was pulled tight into a straight line, a burning flare in his eyes as he stared straight ahead past Martin's shoulder. She reached over and gently stayed his hands. He tensed at her touch before giving her a sheepish look and putting the lighter down.

"Queen has a very camp, theatrical presence on stage," Martin continued, pulling her attention back to the interview at hand. The journalist had returned his focus to Freddie with a wobbling smile, a new bite in his voice as he spoke. "Are your sights set on wooing a certain type of crowd?"

"The type that enjoys our music, dear," Freddie replied, flicking a piece of lint off his shirt as if bored with the whole affair.

"The gay crowd, perhaps?"

Freddie's eyes shot up and he squinted, jutting his neck forward. "Our music doesn't have anything to do with what people choose to do in their bedrooms. Unless they're making love to our songs, in which case I highly recommend Queen II," he said, pausing to flash a cheeky smile. "It builds."

Martin eyed him carefully, twirling his pen between his fingers. "Do you think of yourself as a sexual deviant, Mr. Mercury?"

Jane made a face, taken aback by the abrupt rudeness of the question. Brian, judging by the storm brewing behind his eyes, was about two inappropriate questions away from throwing Martin's recorder out the window. Roger — still silent, still seething.

Freddie was unphased. "I'm devious, darling," he replied, and Jane saw a shadow of his stage persona fall across his face. "Possibly evil."

 

 


 

 

The second interview of the day was slightly more palatable, as Lou Nelson from Melody Maker more or less ignored Jane's presence on the couch, which was just fine by her. Lou was even older and stuffier than Martin, and spent much of the interview asking their opinions on other (and in his eyes, clearly better) rock bands. It was also obvious he had never listened to a single note of any of their new songs, judging by the glazed look in his eyes while Roger and Freddie talked about the latest album. Once the interview was done, Lou shook each of their hands — he called her Jean, which she didn't bother to correct — and slipped out the way he came.

Norman poked his head around the door from his office. "How's it going, kids?"

"Nelson was a wanker," Roger muttered, lighting another cigarette and looking up and over the couch at Norman with undisguised contempt. "Couldn't be bothered to pick up the album or learn Jane's name."

"He almost got it," she allowed with a shrug. "Jean, Jane. Close enough."

Roger glanced back at her sharply. "No, it's not."

"Just one more and you're done," Norman promised, his eyes crinkling as he smiled down at Jane. "And I think you'll get along great with your next appointment, Jane. She's a woman."

"We'll have so much in common," she said dryly, facing away from Norman to roll her eyes toward Freddie. "I probably already know her."

Norman nodded, oblivious, before disappearing back into his office, throwing them back to the proverbial wolves. While they waited for the next journalist to arrive, Freddie jumped up to pour himself a drink, courtesy of Trident's well-stocked dry bar on the wall behind them.

"Any requests?" Freddie asked, fingers lighting upon the sparkling glass decanters in varying shades lining the shelf.

"Bourbon," Roger called. "Two fingers."

Jane turned to look at Freddie over her shoulder, sliding slightly closer to Roger in the process. "Same. But a generous two fingers."

Brian leaned on his chair's armrest toward her, tired eyes scanning her searchingly. "You know it's fine that you haven't written anything yet, right?" he said in a low voice, his expression softening. "You're going to get there."

Somewhat surprisingly, Brian had become her biggest encourager in her (failed) songwriting attempts. She hadn't felt comfortable showing him any of her abandoned songs, but he was insistent that she had a story to share and just needed to become more familiar with the tools needed to shape it into lyrics and music. He had found her a keyboard at a secondhand shop, and she was very slowly teaching herself how to play, with Freddie's occasional tutelage. Once she learned the keys, Brian maintained, she'd more easily be able to write her own songs. Jane wasn't so sure if it could be as simple as all that, but she was willing to try. Perhaps on their upcoming tour, Morgan would be available to give her some pointers.

Freddie came around to distribute their drinks, and Jane took hers with two hands. She gave Brian a soft smile, nodding once. "I know, Brian. Thank you."

"Just wait," Roger said, accepting his glass and clinking it with Jane's. "Soon enough you'll be penning hits and raking in the cash. We'll be coming to you for loans."

There was a curt knock on the door, and the band exchanged wary looks. Freddie cleared his throat, setting his drink on the coffee table.

"You can come in," he called.

A second later, in walked their next appointment — and out went all the air in the room, judging by the sudden intake of break from the boys on either side of her. Their interviewer was an attractive young woman in a stylish blue skirt suit, tall and elegant with her blonde hair pinned slickly back. Like the others, she carried a briefcase with a recorder, which she set down at her heeled feet with a decisive thunk before looking each of them in the eye with a mannered smile.

"I'm Natalie Rowe with Circus Magazine. How do you do?"

There was a pregnant pause as Freddie, Brian, and Roger gaped at her, practically drooling. Jane shook her head, rising first to greet the reporter. She had several inches on Jane, towering over her in immaculate white heels, but she had a warm smile that, admittedly, disarmed Jane immediately.

"Jane. Jane Deacon," she stammered, shaking the woman's hand. "It's a pleasure."

Natalie gripped Jane's hand firmly, the corners of her eyes crinkling. Christ, those eyes are blue.

"The pleasure is mine. I've been following Queen for a few months now; I'm quite a fan. And it's so refreshing to see a woman on stage."

There was a flurry of moment as the boys rocketed from their seats, with Brian almost tripping over his feet to shake Natalie's hand, and then take her briefcase to the table for her. Freddie asked if he could make her a drink — "Ice water would be lovely, thank you" and complimented the gold bangles that slid down her wrist when she shook his hand.

"Thank you, I bought them while I was on assignment the past few weeks in India, writing a feature on Laxmikant–Pyarelal," she said, touching the bracelets fondly.

Roger breezed past Freddie to stand in front of the journalist, smoothing his hair back and flashing a practiced, playful grin. "I was going to say, you look far too sunkissed to have been cloistered in England all winter."

Jane's eyes almost rolled to the back of her head. That was heavy-handed, even for him.

Natalie raised an eyebrow, looking him up and down with unabashed approval. "As do you."

He raised one shoulder in a sly shrug, raising a hand to fall on the back of his neck, not-so-subtly flexing his arm. "I try to get sun when I can."

"Of course."

He extended his arm, stepping in closer than necessary to shake her hand. "Roger Taylor, by the way."

Her smile stretched wide across her teeth, and Jane had the unsettling feeling in the pit of her stomach that Natalie was about to distend her jaw and swallow Roger whole. But the moment passed, and Natalie chuckled, clasping Roger's shoulder with her other hand as she gave Jane a conspiratorial wink.

"Yes, I've heard all about you, Mr. Taylor. Shall we get started?"

"Please," Jane muttered, placing a hand on Roger's arm and pushing him toward the couch.

As soon as she sat down, she reached for her glass of bourbon, taking a long, slow sip. There was a buzzing tension while Natalie set up her recorder with a fresh tape, and Roger's knee jostled against Jane's as he watched — or rather, stared.

She lowered her glass and leaned in to whisper into his ear, angling her head toward the back of the room over his shoulder: "Keep it professional."

Jane took a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He shifted in his seat, clearing his throat as he looked away from her. She caught Brian's attention and he raised his eyebrows, shaking his head in silent commiseration.

Once the cursed device was set up, Natalie pressed the record button down with a manicured finger. Propping an elbow on her armrest, her gaze settled on Freddie.

"First things first: the name of your band is very interesting to me. What does it mean?"

Freddie shrugged, his finger absently tracing the embroidery of the pillow on his lap. "Whatever you want it to mean, darling. And nothing at all."

"You're aware of the connotations of a queen?"

He shot her a sardonic look. "Obviously."

"And your stage name, Mr. Mercury? I happen to know you were born as a…" she glanced down at her notes, fingers tapping on the page. "Farrokh Bulsara. From Zanzibar."

Freddie's eyes narrowed. "And where did you come across that information?"

"It's publicly available; you filed a deed poll."

"You've done your research, Miss Rowe," he drawled. "I hardly think you need us here at all."

"You're all college-educated, academically-minded individuals," she said with an innocent expression, her eyes flickering to Jane and staying there. "I figured you'd appreciate some due diligence."

"We'd appreciate focusing on our music and career," Jane spoke up, surprising the rest of the band, and herself. "If you don't mind, that is."

On her left, Freddie reached out a hand to pat her knee, and Natalie's eyes followed the movement. Jane cleared her throat, shifting away from Freddie and folding her hands in her lap. Natalie didn't skip a beat, smiling cheerfully as she turned a page in her notebook and turned her chair to face Jane fully.

"I'd love nothing more," she said, crossing her legs at the knee and leaning her elbow on the armrest, as if they were two friends out for Sunday tea and gossip. "I understand these three gentlemen were playing under the name Smile for a time before you joined. Could you tell me about how you met your bandmates?"

It had been a long time since Jane had spared a thought for their first meeting at the Marquee pub; truthfully, it seemed an insignificant milestone in their timeline. Much more important were the months and years that followed, as they learned and grew together as a band, and then a family. Hell, for the first three months she barely spoke during band practices except to ask Brian to play softer, or Roger to slow down. She had been a different person in February of 1971, a full three years and seemingly lifetime ago.

Still, Jane remembered it clearly. She had just stopped by the pub for a bit of distraction; it had been crowded and thus her favorite table in the back corner was occupied. So she sat and waited and stared at the interlopers, until one of them walked up to her with a cocky grin and a half-baked attempt to get in her trousers.

Oh. Can't say that.

Jane swallowed, returning Natalie's smile with a brittle laugh. "I saw them play at a pub near my flat. They had been unlucky with bassists, so Freddie asked me to audition."

Natalie scribbled something in her notebook, and Jane eyed it suspiciously. What was there to write that couldn't be captured by the tape recorder?

"Why do you think they chose you as their bass player?"

Beside her, Roger snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. "Because she was the best one."

Natalie ignored him, tilting her head and looking at Jane with a piercing gaze that made her feel so very small. "There are groups with female vocalists, and of course we have some girl groups, but no female bassists in an otherwise all-male group come to mind."

"No, I suppose I'm...unique, in that sense," Jane agreed slowly.

"So might you have gotten the job because of that uniqueness? An added shock factor in an already provocative band?"

"I...I don't know," she admitted, glancing nervously to Freddie. "I don't think so?"

"Jane was the best person for the job; that's all there is to it," Freddie said, setting his lips in a firm line.

"No one would blame you, of course," Natalie said quickly. "It's a competitive market, and it's important to stand out. And with Miss Deacon being an attractive woman…" she said, casting a small smile to Jane. "It certainly couldn't hurt the band's image."

"That's nonsense," Roger huffed, setting his empty glass on the table loudly. "Brian wasn't sold on the idea at first because she was a girl. He thought she'd make things…" he waved his hand dismissively. "Complicated, or whatever."

That was news to her. Jane took in a sharp breath through her nose, eyes widening as she looked toward Brian, who had jumped in for damage control.

"No, no. I just wondered," he turned away to scowl at Roger. "I wondered, Rog — how having a woman in the group might...change the dynamics. Obviously, it was a unanimous decision to give Jane the job because she was the best musician and a skilled electrician," he rambled, his voice growing slightly higher, looking to Jane with increasingly anxious eyes. "Actually, you should ask her about the amps she's made. She found one of the amps I use in the dumpster and fixed it up for me. Go ahead and tell her, Jane."

Jane glared at him, refusing to rescue him from the hole he'd dug. Natalie's attention had glossed over Brian's rant, however, and remained fixated on Jane. She tapped her pen against the corner of her mouth, cocking her head.

"Do you think Brian was right? Is it complicated being the only woman in the group?"

Jane stuck her tongue in her cheek, a wave of angry heat washing up her neck. If she survived this interview, she was going to murder Brian later.

"No more complicated than being the only woman in any other workplace. They're my coworkers; that's all."

Roger tensed, his breath hitching in a dampened choke. She knew it wasn't the most accurate of analogies, but this woman was on her back now, and she had to shake her off somehow.

"Most coworkers don't live together," Natalie noted, a sly grin creeping onto her face. She had done her research.

"Contrary to appearances," Jane said, looking pointedly to the luxe art on the walls. "We're not exactly rolling in money at the moment. It's cost efficient to live together."

"That must make dating difficult."

Jane sat back against the couch, arms crossed and lips tightly pursed. Her personal affairs were off limits; this viper wasn't going to gain an inch in that direction.

"No comment."

Freddie coughed dryly, slinging a friendly arm around her shoulders and squeezing. "Our Deaky is very focused on her work. She really doesn't date much at all."

She almost bit through her lip, and she met his reassuring smile with a warning glare. He meant well but he was not helping.

"And I admire that, as one professional woman to another," Natalie said kindly, the artifice dripping from her words. "But I happen to know that's not all true, is it?"

"Ah, you happen to know about my secret boyfriend in Siberia, do you?" she said derisively, growing tired of this game. "Miss Rowe, I'm not here to talk about my private life."

"When you were touring with Mott the Hoople, didn't you become romantically involved with the newest member, keyboardist Morgan Fisher? I don't blame you; he's very handsome."

Shit.

Brian and Freddie chuckled openly at the suggestion that Jane had been, seemingly by random, linked to Morgan, though Freddie quickly sobered when he saw the frozen look on Jane's face. She swallowed, schooling her features into a blank mask.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Natalie sighed, though there was not a trace of exasperation on her face. "Several members of the official Mott fan club were staying in the same hotel as your band for the show in Oxford. One of them witnessed you and Mr. Fisher in a rather...intimate embrace in the lobby, returning from a night out. The whole situation was circulated in their monthly newsletter."

Jane couldn't help the flush that rose to her cheeks. She hadn't been fully in control of her faculties at that point in the night, and had failed to notice anyone in the vicinity who might have had an interest in the comings and goings of the hotel's clients. Except for Roger, of course.

Roger had gone silent at the revelation, Freddie was staring down at his hands in his lap with puckered lips, and Brian was looking at her with an expression akin to a kicked puppy. None of them could help her now.

So she fell back on old habits and held her ground. "I've never been involved with any member of Mott the Hoople. Morgan and I are friends, that's all."

Natalie blinked slowly, looking down at her with an incredulous twist of her lips. "You're saying you didn't go on a date with Mr. Fisher?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying."

"So the fan…"

"Was probably drunk. I don't recall even leaving my hotel room that night after the show. I was laid up with feminine problems, Miss Rowe. Freddie and Brian can vouch for that."

Natalie turned to face Brian, and he spoke through gritted teeth. "That is what she told us, yes."

"I've been told I have a familiar face," Jane added, flashing a forced smile. "Perhaps Morgan was entertaining a woman who merely resembled me."

Natalie stared at Jane for a long moment, the journalist's eyes boring a hole through her. "Perhaps so. Either way, I'll omit the...alleged affair from the article. Out of professional courtesy."

Jane nodded, the corners of her mouths starting to ache from the weight of her smile. Her eyes darted to the side at Brian; he was still staring at her, the same look of hurt etched into his face, now clouded with anger as well. She cleared her throat.

"I'm glad we understand each other."

 

 


 

 

The rest of the interview was stilted and overly polite, with Natalie throwing easy questions and compliments to the guys and all but ignoring Jane once she made it clear she wouldn't give the journalist any straight answers. As soon as the equipment was packed away and Natalie was led to the door, there was exactly one second of silence before Brian rounded on her.

"You slept with Morgan?"

"No, I didn't," she shot back, annoyance dripping into her tone. "We went on a date and yes, we kissed, but that was the end of it." She narrowed her eyes, hands on hips. "Not that it is any of your business."

"Not my business? He was our headliner, Jane."

"Morgan's a good guy. He wasn't going to— to punish the band if things didn't work out. Hell, he was the one who didn't want to get involved!"

"This was what, Oxford? We'd known him for a week at that point," he scoffed. "You didn't know what kind of man he was."

She stalked toward him, her hands shaking at her sides. "Oh, so Roger can pick up women whose names he doesn't even know, but god forbid I have dinner with someone who was in my constant proximity for a week."

"Roger doesn't shag women who have power over the band, Jane."

"That we know of," Freddie muttered, earning a dirty look from Roger.

Jane rolled her eyes. "Oh please, Morgan doesn't have that much influence."

A muscle in Brian's jaw jumped, and he pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "More than you do. If something had happened, if he had been a different sort of person, he could have ruined your career."

"Well I knew that wouldn't happen, and I trust my judgement," she said, coming in close and poking him in the chest, making him take a step back. "Why can't you?"

"Because you hid it from us!" he exclaimed, dragging his hands through his hair. "You wouldn't have lied if you knew everything would be fine. If you had been upfront and honest, you know what would have happened?"

"You'd throw a hissy fit, like you are now."

"I'd tell you to be careful," he groaned, posting a hand on his hip. "And yes, we'd watch Morgan like a hawk, because we care about you, but at least everything would be above board."

"Right, I'll start keeping a sign-in sheet for my bed, just to keep everything above board for you."

"I don't care who you sleep with," he said, jabbing a finger into his other hand. "As long as it doesn't hurt you or the band."

Typical Brian; disguising control as concern.

"God, this is exactly what you were worried about isn't it?" she said, raising her voice until a hoarseness crept in. "I'm so sorry I've complicated things for you, Bri."

"Oh, don't be so fucking ridiculous. That was three years ago."

"You thought I was going to seduce you all, didn't you?" she laughed bitterly, taking her jacket from the rack by the door and yanking it on. "My feminine wiles would be just be too damn overwhelming."

"Come on, that's not fair."

Jane, breathing heavily now, looked to Freddie and Roger, who had retreated to stand with their backs against the wall, watching the argument unfold in front of them like a tennis match. "Nothing from you, Rog? Seriously?"

"Oh no, don't involve me," said Roger, shooting her a pleading look.

"You were the one who told Morgan to ask me out!"

Brian turned to him, red in the face. "You what?"

Roger's shoulders fell in defeat. "Ok, fine. But he seemed like a nice guy, and we all knew Deaky needed to get laid…"

Jane shook her head, casting her eyes toward the ceiling. "Wow, I'm so glad everyone here is utterly invested in my sex life," she muttered to herself. "That's really comforting."

"And you encouraged her to keep it a secret?" Brian demanded of Roger, darting accusatory eyes toward him. "You didn't see any way that could backfire?"

"I was just trying to be a good friend—"

"I don't like this little pact you've got here," Brian said, stepping back and gesturing between her and Roger. "It's not supposed to be you two against me and Fred. We have to trust each other."

"Maybe I trust Roger more because he doesn't scold me like you do—"

"Is anyone else hungry?" Roger asked, practically shouting as he edged toward the door. "I'm starving; let's get tea, yeah?"

"Fine." Brian grabbed his coat from the rack and threw it on, brushing past Roger to open the door. "You two have fun telling each other secrets. I'm going to Chrissie's."

Roger rolled his eyes. "How? I drove you here."

Brian was already marching down the hallway, throwing a shout over his shoulder: "I'm taking the bus!"

Once it was just the three of them, Freddie looked patiently from Jane to Roger, clasping his hands in front of him. The air in the room went stale and dry, like the aftermath of an electric storm.

"Well," he said, finally breaking his silence. "That was eventful."

Jane shot him a dark look, wrapping her arms across her chest. "And you wonder why I don't date."

Freddie sighed, resting a hand on her shoulder. "Darling, we both know it's not about the date. We can be a dysfunctional family in a lot of ways, but at least we don't make a habit of lying to each other."

Jane didn't respond; that cool, stern reproach of Freddie's — rarely heard, even rarer directed toward her — never left room for argument.

"I know you value your privacy and your independence, but there are some things you can't keep to yourself," he said, adding in a softer tone, "I'm sorry you felt like you couldn't be honest with us."

She stared at him, unable and unwilling to challenge his words. It was only two in the afternoon, but the emotional drain of the interviews and her argument with Brian had exhausted her. She didn't want to talk about the reporters or Morgan or the band, this amorphous and powerful deity bigger than all of them that now demanded her deference. So she just nodded, shutting down the combative parts of her brain that were firing like cannons.

"OK," she said blankly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Freddie's statement.

She turned to Roger, who was staring at his feet, twisting a loose thread from his shirt around his finger. "Can we go home?"

He nodded, grabbing his jacket from the coat rack and retrieving his keys from the pocket. "Fred, you need a ride?"

Freddie, still looking curiously at Jane with those dark, watchful eyes, shook his head. "Mary is picking me up. I'll see you at rehearsal tomorrow."

Roger was reserved as they left the office, quietly bidding Freddie goodbye when they parted on the stoop, with Freddie heading to Wardour, and Roger and Jane cutting through the alley to find the car on Dean Street. The worst of winter had long passed, and they were left with just the last, lingering bites of cold air whipping through the alley like a wind tunnel. Jane turned her head to watch Roger walking beside her — head down, hands bunched into fists in his pockets.

"Are you mad at me too?"

He exhaled a laugh through his nose, shaking his head ruefully. "No, I'm not mad at you. I get why you did what you did, and I get why Brian is upset."

"So…?" she asked leadingly, quickening her pace to keep up with him as they turned the corner onto Dean. "What's wrong?"

He stopped suddenly, and Jane nearly knocked him over. His mouth was pinched into a tight frown, eyebrows furrowed as he studied her carefully. "Why did you say that bit about us just being coworkers?"

"Seriously? That's what you took away from that train wreck?" she asked in disbelief, raking her fingers through windswept hair. "I was just trying to get Natalie off my back. I didn't want her poking around our friendship."

"Why, are you ashamed of it?"

There was an odd, sharp edge to his voice, a tone she wasn't accustomed to hearing him use with her. 

"Of course not," she insisted, leaning one shoulder against the brick wall of the building as a group of tourists passed them by. "My relationship with you guys is...it's precious to me, OK? I'm trying to protect it from...innuendo."

He paused, reaching a hand under his shirt collar to rub at his chest. "You called Morgan your friend."

She gave him a pointed look. "You know very well that I'm not friends with Morgan in the same way I'm friends with you."

"That makes me pretty special then, huh?"

She snorted a laugh, relieved to hear a little levity back in his voice. "You like to think so, don't you?"

"I do," he hummed, his eyes crinkling into a small smile. "C'mon, let's get something to eat."

Jane looped her hand into the crook of his elbow and they walked the rest of the way to the car parked parallel on the street, pressing herself close to his side to guard against the wind. She tried not to think about Brian — still mad at her, and still the object of her own anger — or Freddie, who had seemed more sad than disappointed. They'd had loads of fights in the time she'd known the guys— loud, caustic attacks over songs and money and promotion — but few that had seemed to cut down to the bone of Queen. Fighting with Brian was always like fighting with herself; they both knew where to hit that would hurt the most. They would make up and they'd heal, like they always did, but the evidence of the fracture would remain, aching like an arthritic knee before a storm.

Queen was changing. Right before her eyes, they were growing out of the comfortable nest they'd built themselves, pushing and grabbing at each other as they teetered nervously on the edge of something big and unknown. Even Roger, who was supposed to be her sure and steady lodestar, was wavering in ways she couldn't predict.

Next to her, his posture had relaxed, though she couldn't shake the sense that something was still wrong — he held a stiffness in his jaw, and she could tell he was worrying the skin of his inner cheek with his teeth. She told herself to let it go; whatever was bothering him would come out in due time, as things always did between them.

And if not, well, Jane didn't believe what Freddie had said anyway. She wasn't the only one who kept secrets.

Chapter Text

April 11, 1974

 

 

As a little girl, Jane had dreamed wistfully of America. From the maps in her parents' atlas, she knew it was big— bigger than she could possibly imagine, with wide-open spaces where a person could walk for hundreds of miles without seeing another living soul. For her tenth birthday, her mother had given her a copy of My Side of the Mountain, and Jane dove headfirst into the untamed wilderness of the Catskill mountains, learning how to light a fire from flint and steel alongside the young Sam Gribley. Her own life felt increasingly cramped and suffocating in comparison.

There were no towering, hollowed-out trees from which to carve shelter in Leicester, and the sparse greenery was too soft and damp for campfires. And most of all, the quiet of her family's small flat was not the same quiet of acres of untouched forest, where the constant buzz and rustle of a hundred thousand things simply existing created a deafening, soothing silence. In the evenings, she tiptoed behind her father's armchair, where he sat and read the paper, and pretended he was a Black Bear— harmless as long as she made no sound or sudden movements. Alone in her room, she imagined the home she'd build one day, of stones and clay and sticks, collected and shaped by her own hand. She'd live in a tree, like Swiss Family Robinson, on a mountain in America, far away from anyone who would care to bother her, finally alone in the way she liked to be alone, without the always-present feeling that something was missing.

Now, so many years later, she was on her way with a plane ticket in hand and a different dream stoking the fire in her stomach. America was still big, still looming in her imagination as they waited at Heathrow for the plane that would take them to Colorado, to the mountains. She probably wouldn't be building any treehouses this time around, but she was giddy with childlike anticipation as they prepared to enter a different sort of wilderness— unmapped and laid out for them to discover.

Flying was still not Jane's favorite means of transportation, but after the flights to and from Australia, the ten-hour, non-stop journey to their first destination in Denver wasn't nearly as daunting. In addition, the British Airways lounge at Heathrow was complete with a full-service bar, which was doing wonders for all of their nerves while they waited to board. Jane sipped her cocktail through its tiny black straw while Roger spoke animatedly with Mary about her new car, a slightly banged-up but usable Hillman Avenger. Even Brian, who had been growing more tense and irritable in the days leading up to the tour, was relaxed as he and Freddie discussed the sight-seeing diversions they were planning to take during their allotted days off from performing.

As expected, Jane and Brian had made up quickly following their argument about Morgan a few weeks prior, even if she had offered her lackluster apology more for the sake of band peace before their high-stakes tour than anything else. She had been perfectly nice and courteous to him ever since, though she'd rejected his offers to take her out for lunch or a movie in his attempt to patch things over more smoothly. His questioning of her judgement had struck a nerve; she knew Brian and Freddie still saw her as their little sister who needed guidance, as if she'd stumble into trouble if they weren't keeping a keen eye. Roger said she was too good at holding grudges, and maybe he was right, but Jane was fine with letting the last of her frustration with Brian burn itself to fumes. He'd live.

On the bar stool next to her, Roger, a beer halfway to his lips, stopped and stared at something over Jane's shoulder. "Your friend is here," he said, nodding his head and gesturing for her to look.

"My friend?" she asked, swiveling in her seat just as a familiar voice sounded.

"Hey, Jane."

She saw who was walking up to them and beamed. "Morgan!"

Morgan grinned down at her with that same, mischievous light in his eyes, though he had changed his look somewhat in the months since they had last seen each other. His mustache was gone and his hair had grown out to curl below his ears, which Jane could approve of. Behind him, she saw Pete, Ariel, Ian, and Dale also entering the lounge, luggage and tour managers in tow, to join them at the bar.

"It's good to see you, love," Morgan said, stooping to kiss her cheek. "How are you?"

"Nervous, but excited," she admitted, setting her hand on his arm. "I'm glad we're doing this with you guys."

"We couldn't ask for better openers," he said, reaching his other hand out to clasp Roger's shoulder. "Roger, mate! How've you been?"

Roger, mid-gulp with his bottle pressed to his lips, gave Morgan a thumbs up. The two guys had become friends during the tour, which helped alleviate any feelings of awkwardness around him after their date. As the three youngest, they had stayed out at discos together long after the others called it a night, resulting in one memorable evening in Glasgow where they got so shitfaced they ended up stumbling back from the club and wandering through the halls of the wrong hotel.

"I'm good, man. Been looking forward to this for weeks," said Roger, setting his bottle down on the bar and turning in his seat to face Morgan. "I can't wait for New Orleans; that's going to be wild."

Morgan laughed and slapped Roger's hand. "Right on. Why else are we going to the States? Play for some big crowds and get some…" he trailed off, clearing his throat as he glanced at Jane. "Good conversation."

"And get some pussy," she supplied, rolling her eyes as the guys crowed and slapped five again.

"That's the spirit!" Roger praised, raising his bottle in cheers.

Mary chose that moment to slip off her bar stool and catch Jane's eye, jerking her head deliberately off to the side. Jane raised an eyebrow but obliged, leaving Morgan and Roger to their snickering and following Mary away from the bar. Once they were situated in a quieter corner of the lounge, Mary unshouldered her large purse and set it down on a high table.

Jane gave the purse a cursory glance. "What's up?"

"I have something for you," she said, an air of mystery to her voice.

"Oh? What is it?"

"Well..." she began, wiggling her fingers over her bag as if it was a magic cauldron. "You're going to be gone a very long time—"

"Two and a half months isn't that long."

"—And I know you haven't had a great record of picking up men at pubs, so eventually you might find yourself wanting to relax…"

Jane narrowed her eyes. "Where are you going with this?"

Mary waggled her brows and came around the side of the table so both their backs were to the rest of the guys by the bar. Looking over her shoulder once more, she slowly withdrew a black plastic shopping bag from her purse, label-less and wrapped around itself to hint at a rectangular box contained inside. Slyly, she handed it to Jane.

"Take a peak."

Confused, she took the package and started to unwrap it, shooting Mary a skeptical look before reaching inside to remove the box. As soon as she saw the words on the box's bottom flap, she stuffed it back inside the bag, eyes widening.

It was a vibrator. Or rather, a "Ladies' Personal Massager," clad in a fluorescent pink and purple box.

"You didn't," she hissed, clutching the bag to her chest and looking back furtively to the guys. "Mary."

Mary held out her hands, a toothy smile growing on her face. "C'mon, you know you're curious. We've talked about it!"

"Yeah, to maybe try when I'm at home, alone, and the doors are locked. I'm going to be on a tour bus for two months!"

"I'm sure you can get a few minutes of privacy. Besides, you won't always be sleeping on the bus. I counted at least seven hotels on your itinerary."

A wicked blush was rising up Jane's cheeks, and she pushed the bag into Mary's hands. "No way. No."

"You don't even have to plug it in! It's totally discrete."

Admittedly, that piqued Jane's attention. "They've made it battery-powered? What sort of ERM is it running?"

Mary rolled her eyes, thrusting the bag back toward Jane. "I don't know, Deaky. Take it apart if you must. It's a gift; do with it what you want."

Jane eyed it cautiously and sighed. "I suppose I should say thank you, then."

"You may."

"Thanks Mary," she grumbled, accepting the subsequent hug in defeat. "I'm going to stuff it in my bag and then never look at it."

"Sure you will," Mary said with a wink, grabbing her purse and heading back to the bar to join Freddie.

Jane was now uncomfortably aware that she was in an airport clutching a vibrator, albeit a wrapped and boxed one. Sliding past the guys, now engaged in conversation about the house in the suburbs Morgan had recently purchased, she reached for her bag slouched at the foot of the bar by Roger's stool.

"Whatcha got there, Deaks?"

Jane froze like a kid caught with one hand in the biscuit tin. Looking down at the package in her hands and then back up to Roger, she gave a lopsided shrug. "Nothing."

"Did Mary pack us treats for the trip?" he asked, his tongue poking between his teeth in a smirk. "Are you hoarding them to yourself?"

"No, it's nothing—"

"She did this last time," Roger said as an aside to Morgan, calmly reaching to restrain one of Jane's hands while using the other to try and tug the box from her. "Mary packed these fantastic lemon bars for the UK tour, and this little goblin ate half a dozen before we even knew she had them."

"It's not lemon bars," she insisted, blushing and breathing hard with the exertion of a very unfair game of keep-away.

"Ha!" Roger exclaimed in victory, pulling the box free from her grasp and holding it above his head while she scrambled to take it back. "Meringues, then?"

Desperate, she pulled out her last line of defense. "They're tampons," she blurted.

Roger paused and shook the box, hearing a solid, heavy rattle against the carton. He raised an eyebrow, confused.

She nodded, swallowing thickly as redness crept hotly around her neck. "I needed a lot. The heavy-duty kind."

Morgan's laughter had disappeared, and he turned back to the bar with wide eyes, downing the rest of his drink. Roger just made a pained face, sheepishly pushing the box back into Jane's waiting hands. She could always count on men's refusal to talk or even think about a woman's menstrual cycle as a means to divert attention.

"Sorry I asked."

She shoved the package into her bag, stuffing it down to the bottom below her toiletry kit. A little breathless still, she wiped a sweaty strand of hair off her face. Looking between Roger and Morgan, she smiled tightly and nodded.

"So, who wants to grab me a chocolate before we board?"

 

 


 

 

America greeted them not with the sunshine and blue skies Jane had dreamed of, but a whiteout. After a two-hour diversion in New York, they arrived at Stapleton Airport in Denver on the tail end of a snowstorm that had blanketed the city in nearly ten inches of snow. Regis College, their first venue of the tour, was cradled in the shadow of the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains— a vista of such breathtaking magnificence they had all stood in silent wonder for several seconds after deboarding.

Jane had never seen so much snow in her life, and after their jetlag-induced coma had worn off, they spent much of the following afternoon frolicking in the snow and engaging in snowball fights with students from the college. She, Roger, and Morgan proceeded to crush Freddie, Pete, and Ariel's meager attacks until they cried out in surrender, hands up. It was a shame it didn't snow more in England; Jane didn't get nearly enough opportunities to safely throw things at her friends.

Wet, cold, and hungry, they had retreated back to the safety of their hotel on the edge of campus for a bite to eat and a nap before the concert at eight. Jane, too wired from the exhilaration of their afternoon romp, gave up on trying to sleep and had trudged in the snow with her bass case slung over her back across a wide-open athletics pitch to their venue, the Fieldhouse, following the deep tracks made by their roadies who had already been setting up for a few hours.

The cavernous gymnasium played host to basketball and volleyball games and, occasionally, concerts— Jimi Hendrix had once played there in the 60s. The school was private, Catholic, and by all accounts conservative, so why the administration booked two of England's most outrageous stage performers to entertain their student body was anybody's guess. They had been advised that there should be no swearing or foul language; the odds of Freddie abiding by that rule were slim to none.

A couple crew members were lingering on the newly constructed stage when Jane entered the gym, Queen's own Rob and Charlie. Or as Ratty called them behind their backs, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. As far as Jane could tell, they were arguing about who was going to crawl underneath the stage to retrieve the drill someone had left behind.

"Afternoon, Lady Jane," Rob called, tipping an imaginary hat to her. "If you're looking for Ratty, he went out for a burger with Crystal."

Crystal, being the roadies' new name for Roger's drum tech, Chris Taylor. The crew was fond of dishing out nicknames, she had learned. Charlie had tried to call her "Baby Jane" once, after the movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but she had been sure to cut that off at the root.

"No, I'm good. Just thought I'd get a head start on rehearsal," she said, waving him off. "Do you two mind if I…?"

"Knock yourself out."

While Rob and Charlie vacated the stage, Jane set about unpacking and polishing her instrument. Once she was plugged in, she took her time tuning and walking aimlessly around the stage. Her sound reverberated with a more metallic rattle than she preferred, bouncing unpleasantly off the polished tile floors and steel bleachers stacked against the wall. She sighed, resigning herself to bad acoustics for the night.

"Crystal said it'll sound better once there are people to fill the space."

Jane looked up to see Roger entering the gymnasium from the far door, a rucksack slung over one shoulder.

"I hope he's right. I sound like shit," Jane called back, playing a discordant riff to demonstrate. "Your drums and all this linoleum are going to make my ears bleed."

"I'll play softly."

Jane laughed. "You don't know how to."

Roger just grinned, walking the perimeter of the space with his neck craned to study the blue and gold banners hanging from the concrete walls above the bleachers. The Regis Rangers, apparently, had not enjoyed a very successful history in basketball. A ball cart still sat in the corner of the gymnasium, and Roger made a beeline to them.

"Do you play?" she asked, watching curiously as he took a ball in hand and bounced it.

"Of course not," he scoffed, throwing the ball up against the concrete wall, sending a smacking ring throughout the gym. "I'm 179 centimeters on a really good day. My go-to move would be to bite the opposing team's ankles."

While Roger dribbled the ball haltingly down the court, narrating his actions like an American sports broadcaster, Jane removed her bass and drifted to the drum kit. Crystal had already set the kit up to Roger's specifications, though Roger preferred to tune his own drums. He wasn't exactly gentle with his equipment, but god forbid anyone else lay a hand on the kit. Now was her chance to see if the same rules applied to her. Tongue caught between her teeth, she glanced slyly over her shoulder at Roger and, seeing that he wasn't looking, slid onto the stool.

She'd always been curious about the drums as a child, though her parents would have never allowed her to practice such a raucous instrument in the flat; the electric bass turned all the way down had grated on her father's nerves enough. She grabbed a pair of sticks held in the pouch attached to a floor tom and weighed them in her hands, looking up over the top of the cymbals at Roger, his back turned to her. Biting her lip, she popped her wrists the way he did, banging a rattling roll against the snare while tapping the bass pedal with her foot. The noise echoed sloppily in the empty space, and she winced at the cacophony. Immediately, Roger whipped around, letting the basketball fall from his hands and bounce limply down the court as he strolled toward the stage.

"What are you up to, Deaky?"

She smiled sheepishly, ducking her shoulders. "Just playing around."

Disregarding the steps on the side of the stage, he used his arms to hoist himself up onto the platform. He gave her an appraising look, coming around to stand beside her at the kit.

"That didn't sound good."

She rolled her eyes at his bluntness. "Oh, really? I had no idea."

He chuckled, jerking his head to the side. "Scooch. I've got to tune these suckers."

She vacated her seat, and he wheeled the padded stool to the side, reaching into his back pocket for his silver drum key.

"The first time I played for Brian, he was amazed that I was tuning my drums," he said, settling himself behind his snare to adjust the tension rods. "Bloke didn't think drums were something that could be tuned."

"That's a guitarist for you," she said with a grin, leaning over his shoulder to watch him. "Can I try?"

He paused, but gave her the drum key. "Sure. It sounds too loose to me, so I want to tighten the heads a bit."

She took the key, taking his place behind the snare while he crouched on the floor next to her. The drumheads had been recently replaced and had yet to take on the discolored scratches of a well-worn drum skin.

"Go diagonally. Tighten this one here," he said, pointing to a tension rod closest to her. "And then the one directly across from it, not the one next to it."

She did as instructed, tightening the two bolts a half-turn as she had seen Roger do hundreds of times.

"Good. Then do the one to the left of the first rod."

Jane silently adjusted the rest of the bolts according to his set pattern, with Roger occasionally offering corrections or approval as she worked. After she had tightened all the rods twice over, Roger handed her a stick.

"Nice. Ok, so now you'll want to get an even sound. Tap the stick here," he said, pointing to a spot on the edge of the drumhead near a lug. "And then tap it on the opposite side. Sounds different, yeah?"

She nodded, snapping the stick against one side and then the other. The edge closest to her was definitely lower in pitch. Taking the key back, she tightened the loose lug a quarter turn more before trying again, to a much better result.

"There you go," he praised, patting her shoulder. "Keep going around the edge like that with all the rods."

Jane made quick work with the rest of the drum, once she knew what she was listening for. With a final test and nod of approval that the snare was good to go, she set about doing the same for the tom-toms. Roger, typically tense when watching someone else tune his kit, had relaxed and seemed to be enjoying letting her do the work.

"You're a natural," he noted, as she flicked the top of a tom with her fingers. "I'm going to hire you as my new tech."

"And how will you be paying me?"

Roger pretended to look affronted. "The privilege of working for world-renowned drummer Roger Meddows Taylor should be payment enough."

In response, Jane took a stick and struck the crash cymbal hard, wincing at the subsequent ringing that seemed to ricochet between her ears. Roger laughed, leaning over her to dampen the cymbal with his hand. The kit was all tuned now, and she should probably leave him to his practice, but there was one more thing she wanted to do first. She turned on the stool to face him, hands on her knees.

"So...can I have a lesson?"

"You want me to teach you to play the drums?"

"No, I want you to teach me the accordion," she said sarcastically, picking up the other drumstick from the floor and twirling it between her fingers, like how Roger always did.

He watched her manipulate the stick for a moment, a curious, almost anxious look falling over his face before he snapped his eyes back up to hers. Clearing his throat, he nodded toward the kit.

"Alright, Ringo. Let's see what we're working with."

Conscious that she was being scrutinized, Jane sat up straight on the stool, gripping the stick tightly and letting her hand hover over the snare before letting it fall with a whack. She had lifted her arm for another hit when Roger's hand caught her elbow.

"You'll hurt your wrist like that," he warned. "First, you've got to hold the stick right."

Taking her hand, he gently pried one of the sticks from her fingers and rearranged them so the stick was cradled between her thumb and index fingers, with her other fingers lightly wrapped around the base.

"Keep your palms facing down, and elbows like...so…" he said, bent over behind her as he adjusted her posture.

His stooping couldn't have been comfortable, so Jane scooted forward to the edge of the stool, patting the back and nodding up toward him.

"If you're going to hover, might as well sit."

Roger looked down at the stool and seemed to hesitate, and Jane worried for a moment that she had made him uneasy. She knew she had already intruded in his bubble by commandeering his drum kit, and he had been funny about his personal space lately. His hesitation passed without incident, however, and he took his place behind her on the stool, his legs spread to accommodate her in between them.

He was so warm behind her, and Jane was unprepared for the sudden, relaxed drowsiness that sapped the energy out of her limbs as soon as his arms reached forward to encase her.

"Don't let your arms droop by your sides," he cautioned, propping her elbows up. He was speaking just over her shoulder, centimeters from her right ear, and the vibration sent a shiver running down the length of her neck.

She cleared her throat, twisting her neck to look back at him. "Can I hit the damn thing now?"

Roger chuckled, and the gust of warm air brushed against her cheek. "Impatient. You know what a paradiddle is?"

She snorted a laugh. "Sounds dirty."

"Out of the gutter, Deacon," he said, covering her hands with his to guide her movements. "It's a basic rudiment. Like a pattern."

He brought her right hand and stick up to sharply tap the snare, followed by the left, and then two more taps on the right.

"Then we switch the accent to the left hand…" he trailed off, demonstrating the same pattern but leading with the left. "And then back to the right."

Once she got the hang of it, he withdrew his hands and let her bang away, speeding up and only faltering once or twice as her hands forgot which stick was supposed to receive the accent.

"Good," he said approvingly, his hand cupping her elbow with the softest of pressures and tipping it upward. "It becomes muscle memory after a while."

"When do I get to learn the hi-hat backbeat trick?"

Roger paused before letting out a delighted laugh. "You don't know what a paradiddle is, but you've studied technique?"

"I do listen when you play, funny enough," she chided, reaching up to hit the hi-hat with one stick and the snare with the other in a loose approximation of his favorite trick.

"I know; I just didn't think you took notes."

He leaned forward to adjust the hi-hat stand, pressing his chest flat against her back in the process. A blush rose unbidden to her cheeks, but she shoved her discomfort firmly to the back of her mind. It had become easier over time to dismiss her physical reactions to him, once she had acknowledged and labeled each one as unhelpful and unnecessary.

Roger Taylor was an attractive man; that much had been glaringly obvious since he first sauntered up to her in the pub three years ago. He had pretty eyes and a gentle, mischievous mouth, an overall boyishness that disarmed the objects of his charm immediately. His prettiness was useful; Roger attracted lots of female admirers who followed the band from show to show, who told their friends and convinced them to buy tickets as well. Jane could look at Roger and see the heartthrob and the marketing asset, and in the next moment see her friend and confidante. One wasn't detached from the other, just...walled off.

She cleared her throat, but didn't move to give him more room on the stool. "I've got nothing else to do on stage, other than look at Freddie's arse while he's doing calisthenics up front."

"Now you know how I feel," he said, poking the side of her leg. "I've got a great view of everyone's arses back here."

She raised an eyebrow, turning her head to face him. "Do you now?"

He nodded, a sly hitch in his smile. "Brian's got a cute one. Small, compact."

She tipped her head back to laugh, and her cheek just brushed the side of his jaw. He leaned into the motion, tucking his chin against her shoulder. It was a soft, almost tender gesture. But then she heard him expel a dry cough, and he withdrew quickly, the stool squeaking in protest at the sudden movement. Before she could turn around, he was on his feet and coming around to the other side of the kit, facing away from her.

"I need to talk to Crystal about this crash stand," he hurried, crouching on the floor to inspect the stand's legs, which looked just fine to Jane. "The grips are slipping."

She crossed her arms over her chest, leaning to the side to catch his attention. "What about my lesson?"

"Uh, another time, yeah?" he said, glancing up at her before dropping his eyes back down to the cymbal stand. "Fred and Bri will be here soon for soundcheck."

Jane didn't care much for the tone of dismissal in his voice, but before she could argue, Ratty and Crystal were bounding up the side steps to the stage, paper bags from a local fast food joint in hand.

"What's up, boss?" Ratty greeted, depositing his leftovers on the top of a speaker cabinet and wiping his hands on his jeans. He nodded toward Roger, still huddled on the floor around his cymbals. "Are we interrupting something?"

Jane turned to Crystal. "Rog says the stand grips are worn out."

"Don't worry about it; I've got it covered…" Roger said quickly, waving him off with a shooing gesture, but Crystal wasted no time joining Roger on the floor to inspect the hardware.

While Roger and Crystal consulted over the kit, Ratty told her he had replaced her amp's output vac and fuseholder that afternoon, as requested. He set about opening the back case of the amp for her to check, though Jane's attention still rested a few paces away. Roger wore a troubled, distracted expression as his assistant systematically checked each leg of the cymbal stand, declaring it in fine working order. Even after Crystal got up off the floor to polish the cymbals, Roger stayed put, sitting cross-legged as he stared off vacantly into the wings.

"Did I lose you?"

Jane started, blinking as she turned back to Ratty, who was gesturing to the innards of the amp. "Hm, what?"

He raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think this would bore you, of all people," he mused, biting back the smile twisting at the corner of his mouth. "Is the altitude getting to you?"

"Sorry," she said, flashing him an apologetic smile. "Yeah, must be the altitude."

 

 


 

 

The show that night went well — not great, but good. Freddie had been nervous, and it showed in his relatively reserved performance, as he wasn't quite his usual, colorful self gallivanting about on stage. Still, the audience was extremely receptive, going wild for every song and even pulling a quick encore performance out of them before Mott took the stage. It was a good omen for the rest of the tour, as Jane knew they would only get better and better as they grew more comfortable in front of their American audiences. The two bands had wanted to celebrate in town after the show, but management had almost immediately shepherded them into their respective tour buses; the drive to the next stop, Kansas City, would last all through the night and into the early hours of morning the next day.

Now that they had made themselves comfortable in their tour bus — a sleeper with four bunks and a small galley — Jane was rather content to be spending their first official night of the tour decompressing, just the four of them. Well, and their driver, Arnie, a very friendly Minnesotan who played a lot of Eric Clapton on the radio.

As soon as they had boarded, the guys had run to the back of the bus to throw down their bags and claim their bunks. Jane had been too slow, and was stuck with the top bunk on the right, over Roger's claimed spot. There were no ladders to the top beds, they soon discovered, which meant climbing down in the middle of the night to use the loo would be an exercise in caution.

"Don't sleep too close to the outer edge," Jane warned Roger, tossing her rucksack onto the bed with a defeated sigh. "If I slip I'll step on your face."

Up front was a sliver of counter space, a mini fridge, and a microwave that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in months. The red vinyl floorboards were starting to warp, and would crack and pop under Jane's feet if she stepped on certain tiles. A long fold-out sofa bench with beige cushions was situated against one side, with a table and additional seating on the other wall. The table, of course, was quickly covered with a Scrabble board as the final checks were finished and the bus roared to life.

While Freddie and Brian faced off over Scrabble, Jane reclined on the sofa with a Woman's Day from November 1973 she had found wedged between the cushions. Roger was quickly engrossed in his new book Ringworld, and didn't seem to notice or care when she stretched out and propped her feet in his lap. The loud, constant rattle of the engine and the humming of road noise was distracting at first, but it soon blurred into white noise as the evening Denver lights grew dimmer and they rode in the darkened shadow of the mountains. Jane flipped through her magazine slowly and with great interest, as if examining an anthropological artifact from another civilization.

"Twenty Thanksgiving treats the whole family will love," she read out loud from the page. "This looks promising."

She sat up to show Roger the picture-perfect spread of glazed roasts and glistening vegetables on the page, but the movement sent a small spasm of pain radiating from her shoulders, making her flinch and release a quiet yelp in protest.

Roger looked up from his book, eyeing her curiously. "You good, Deaky?"

Jane craned a hand back to rub at the tender spot in her trapezius, which she suspected she had strained frolicking in the snow earlier that day. She was no stranger to back pain— holding much of her tension in her shoulders and neck, not to mention her less than perfect posture, had made her upper back liable to aches and stiffness. Luckily, Freddie happened to have a pair of perfectly magic fingers and an uncanny ability to blindly dig his fingers into the exact knots that were giving her trouble. Roger and Brian had relied on Freddie's skills for years, plopping themselves down in front of him at home or before shows to have the tension in their backs worked out. He'd pretend to complain that they were using him for his body, but more often than not he'd happily acquiesce.

"Fred. Freddie. Dear," she said, letting her magazine hang off the the couch as she leaned toward the Scrabble table on the other side of the aisle. "My upper back is killing me."

Freddie just hummed absently in response, his focus entirely on the game in front of him as he fingered a tile carefully.

"Fred?"

He held up a finger. "I've got to crush Brian first, darling."

Brian snorted. "Crush me? You're 35 points behind, Fred."

"Hush."

While Freddie and Brian playfully bickered over the game, Jane set her sights on Roger, who was again nose-deep in his book. His eyes, however, didn't seem to be moving across the page. She cleared her throat, wiggling her feet in his lap. A small smile appeared on his lips, though he didn't look up. Still, progress. She cleared her throat and shifted again in her seat, whining audibly at the pain in her back. His mouth twitched, but still nothing.

Staring straight at Roger while he focused intently on his book, she let out a single, blunt, "Ow."

Finally, he lowered the book, facing her with an indulgently patient expression. "Would you like me to rub your shoulders, Jane?"

"Well, since you asked…" she said with a grin, quickly getting up and situating herself to sit cross-legged on the bench, her back to him.

He laughed, putting his book on the floor and turning to face her back. Once she was settled with her hair pulled into a bun on the top of her head, she waited patiently for Roger to start, and after a long moment's pause, his hands tentatively found her skin. His hands were warm, and they rested heavy on her shoulders before he moved to her neck.

"Keep your expectations low," he advised with a shaky chuckle, beginning with light, circular motions at the base of her neck. "I'm nowhere near as good as Freddie is at this."

"Damn right," called Freddie from the table. "Don't paralyze her, dear."

"Didn't know that was a possibility," Roger muttered, easing up on the pressure over her neck.

Now he was barely touching her, his fingers ghosting over her skin with the mere suggestion of pressure. The knot in her shoulder, now that she was intensely focused on it, ached pitifully under her skin. She squirmed impatiently, frowning to herself. "Harder, Rog."

At her words, he almost fell into her— digging his thumb into her trapezius with enough force to make a moan escape her lips. It ached, but it was good.

"Sorry," he blurted, quickly retreating. "Did I hurt you?"

"Do that again," was all she could manage, sighing when Roger reapplied pressure to the same spot. "Yes, right there. And deeper, please."

"You do realize how this sounds, don't you, dears?" Freddie asked, and Jane didn't have to look to know he was wearing that shit-eating grin of his.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, shut up, Fred."

Roger continued working both sides of her spine, moving his thumbs in circular motions over her rhomboids. He didn't quite have the familiarity with massage technique that Freddie did, but every press of his fingers into her back released a modicum of tension she didn't know she had been holding onto. Soon enough, she was jelly in his hands and let her head loll forward.

"You're good at this," she mumbled, her eyes fluttering shut.

"It's easy to find your pressure point when your entire body is a pressure point," he noted, digging his thumb into her scapula and earning another pleased moan. "You should really see a massage therapist."

Jane laughed dryly. "With what money?"

Suddenly, there was a high-pitched screeching of brakes as the bus came to a skidding halt, braking so suddenly and from such a high speed that Jane flew into Roger, whose arms had immediately wrapped around her waist as they slid back backwards and thumped into the divider separating them from the driver. Jane braced herself for an impact, but none came. Freddie and Brian, looking equally stunned, both ended up on the floor, their Scrabble tiles cluttered around them.

"Are you OK?" Roger asked, his voice closer to her ear than she expected before she realized she was basically sitting in his lap. Again. Roger looked down and quickly unwound his arms from her waist.

She nodded, righting herself on the sofa. "I'm good."

"Sorry, guys!" Arnie called, glancing behind him at the groaning members of the band. "Tractor trailer cut me off. Is anyone hurt?"

"I think we're all fine, Arnie," Brian said, shakily rising to his feet. "Just a little startled."

"My tiles!" Freddie cried, ignoring his own currently floor-bound state. "I had a great hand— wait. What is that?"

Brian stared at him blankly, rubbing the arm that had broken his fall. "What is what?"

Freddie jumped to his feet, looking around the cabin with confusion. "That sound. It wasn't there before."

Jane heard it too, an insistent, high-pitched rattle, though she had assumed it was road noise. The sound droned on as Arnie started the bus back up again, and Freddie started to look under the couch cushions for its source.

"That's going to drive me insane," he muttered, gesturing for Jane to move as he looked under her seat. "Did the engine get...I don't know, knocked loose or something when we braked too hard?"

"That's not how vehicles work, mate," said Roger.

While Brian set about collecting the Scrabble tiles from the floor, Freddie continued his search for the buzz in the galley, checking within cupboards and drawers. Jane turned back to Roger, nodding toward her shoulder.

"I think you missed a spot."

"Yes, yes, fine. So needy…" he said with an overly dramatic roll of his eyes.

As she returned to her former position sitting sideways on the bench, she saw Freddie stooping to pick up a bag — her rucksack — that had apparently fallen from the bunks when the bus had braked. She saw the victory in his eyes as he held it aloft and felt the instantaneous sinking feeling of dread in her stomach as she realized just where the buzzing sound was coming from.

The vibrator.

"I found the source!"

Roger's hands had just returned to her shoulders when she leapt from the bench, racing to the bunks to rescue the bag from Freddie. In the moment before she reached him, she saw a flicker of recognition across his face, followed by pure, unadulterated joy.

"That's mine, Fred," she said, taking a shoulder strap and tugging it from him. Now that she was in its immediately proximity, the buzzing was almost unbearably loud and obnoxious.

Freddie released his hold on the bag, looking down at her with unmasked glee. "Why Deaky. I never—!"

She clutched the bag to her chest, opening the drawstring with one hand and frantically reaching inside to try to turn the cursed contraption off. Meanwhile, Roger and Brian were staring at them, utterly confused.

"What is that?" Roger asked, standing up to join them.

Jane immediately starting backing away. She glanced toward Freddie, who was covering his mouth with both hands to stem his laughter.

"Uh, it's just...y'know…"

Her eyes darted to the still-buzzing bag in her hands and back to Roger, coming toward her. Panicking, she closed the drawstring and threw it - hard - up into her bunk, where it thudded against the wall and, miraculously, stopped.

Roger looked between her and her bunk, furrowing his brows. "What the—"

"Power drill," Jane hurried, reaching up to yank the privacy curtains to her bunk closed. "Just a power drill."

Freddie snickered beside her. "She's drilling something, alright."

Jane elbowed him in the ribs, shooting him a glare. Roger, meanwhile, looked like his brain was working overtime as it tried to process conflicting information. With a grimace, Jane watched in real time as the gears stopped turning; his eyes suddenly went wide and his mouth dropped open to form one, small "Oh."

"Don't say another word," she seethed, pointing at Roger and then at Freddie. "I mean it."

Freddie, almost crying with laughter, patted Jane on the back, ignoring her murderous expression. "Good for you, darling. You deserve to get yours."

Roger, still staring at her like a deer caught in headlights, just dumbly nodded his head in agreement.

"Oh shut up."

Edging toward the loo at the back of the bus, Roger gestured over his shoulder. His eyes landed everywhere except for Jane. "Well, tonight was, uh, fun. I'm knackered though, so I'm going to turn in…"

Freddie turned to Jane, trying and failing to conceal his wide grin. "Will we be needing earplugs tonight, Jane? Or will you be pursuing your drilling some other time?"

"I'm going to throw you out the window."

"Can someone please explain what's going on?" Brian called from his seat at the table, visibly befuddled. "I feel like there's a joke I'm not getting."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

April 14, 1974

 

 

Kansas City came out in force on Saturday night, packing Memorial Hall to the brim with close to 4,000 bodies. There had been so many people pushing and prodding to get into the concert venue, the police had been summoned for crowd control. The event managers had been forced to delay the concert's start time by thirty minutes while the chaos was controlled and the seats filled, so Queen lingered restlessly in the wings, jumping around and shaking off nervous energy while they waited for the stage manager's cue. Roger had brought a tennis ball backstage with him and had been playing an increasingly competitive game of catch with Jane and the guys, as all four tried to bounce the ball higher and further than any of them could reach.

"I'm open!" Roger called to Jane, walking backwards across the stage while the curtains were still closed.

Jane grinned, palming the tennis ball as if she was a Major League pitcher. She wound up and arced the arm holding the tennis ball over her head as if to throw it, following through with the movement, ball still in hand, while Roger ran in the other direction. Freddie and Brian joined her in laughing at the spectacle, and Roger caught on quickly, whipping his head back and pointing a finger at her.

"That's mean!"

"My aunt had a golden retriever who used to do the same thing!" Jane cried, doubling over with laughter.

Roger crossed the stage toward her, shaking his head and holding out his palm. "Hand it over, you muppet."

"I don't know what you mean," she said, straightening her face into something resembling innocence and gesturing behind him with the hand not clutching the ball behind her back. "I threw it over there."

"Oh, sure you did," he said, lunging for her and missing as she shrieked and jumped backward, sticking her tongue out at him.

"Slowpoke."

With a mischievous smirk in his direction, waggling the tennis ball in front of him, she ran to the far wall of the stage. He gave chase, almost running into Ratty, who was carrying Freddie's special sawed-off microphone in one hand and Jane's bass in the other.

"No running backstage!" Ratty shouted, but his words fell on deaf ears as Roger cornered Jane against the cinderblock wall and a crate of boxes.

They were both breathing hard from exertion as well as laughter when Roger reached behind her to grab onto the ball. She held onto it for a few seconds longer, quirking her eyebrows at him in amusement when he couldn't get a good grip from his angle, but eventually letting him take it.

"Ha," he said, throwing the ball up and catching it again. "I'm not falling for your tricks again."

Jane clapped her hands. "You're learning object permanence! You're only, oh, 280 months behind your projected milestone."

He blew her a raspberry in response, turning on his heels and walking away to join Crystal on the other side of the stage. Ratty, having handed off the microphone to Freddie, sidled up to Jane with her bass.

"SM said it should be curtains up in five," he told her, situating the instrument over her shoulders. "Final headcount is 3,800."

Jane let out a low whistle. "That's a lot of people."

"Just wait 'til we get to the St. Louis auditorium. It can seat over 9,000."

She shook her head, still unable to believe Queen and Mott were capable of attracting those kinds of crowds, night after night. She could hear the audience beyond the curtain, a roaring buzz of people and movement, getting impatient for the evening's festivities to begin. Taking a deep breath, she tried to slow her heart rate and soothe her nerves.

Next to her, Ratty now seemed to be trying to silently communicate with Crystal from across the stage, using hand signals and mouthing words Jane couldn't make out. Roger's tech was standing with his hands on his hips, frowning and shaking his head while Ratty just grinned. Jane cleared her throat.

"Something wrong?"

He waved his hand. "Ah, nothing to worry about. Roadie business."

She shrugged, and wandered to the next wing to find her amp. While she double-checked its readings, Ratty followed her, standing a few feet behind. Jane rolled her eyes, sighing. Clearly, something was the matter.

"Spit it out, Hince."

That seemed to be the invitation he was looking for.

"Can I ask you something? It might be out of line."

She narrowed her eyes, but nodded for him to continue. He jerked his head to the left, where Roger was conversing with Freddie, twirling a stick absently in one hand.

"Is that a thing?"

She looked back at Ratty, confused. "Is Roger a thing?"

He rolled his eyes, making a vague, waving gesture with his hand. "No, I mean are you two sleeping together?"

Taken back, her eyes widened in surprise at his words before shooting him an icy glower. She'd been asked that question in varying tones and levels of subtlety before, usually by the women who followed Roger like cats in heat and initially eyed her with suspicion, but she hadn't expected it from her own assistant.

"That is out of line," she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. "Incredibly inappropriate and unprofessional, Hince."

"Yes, ma'am. Sorry."

Now that Ratty had gone and blanketed them in a thick layer of awkwardness, they waited for the show to start in uncomfortable silence. Why he would think it was acceptable to say something like that to her — or even think it in the first place — baffled her. Yes, Jane spent a fair amount of time with Roger, perhaps more so than the others, but that was because they were friends. If Ratty didn't think a man and a woman could have a close, platonic relationship, then what the hell was he doing being her assistant?

And of all people least likely to sleep with her, Roger was at the top of the list; Jane was fairly certain Roger forgot she was an actual woman most of the time. Their relationship was comfortable and safe and innocent, and she didn't need nosy roadies casting aspersions on that. But still...now she was curious. Biting her cheek, she turned back to Ratty, who was looking appropriately chastised.

"Why did you ask me that?" she demanded, the firmness in her voice leaving no room for him to weasel his way out.

He lifted one eyebrow, but didn't seem all that surprised at the question. "It just looks like there's something between you, that's all," he said calmly, glancing at her sideways.

"Why's that?"

He chuckled, raising a shoulder in a lopsided shrug. "It's my job to watch you like a hawk, Jane. When you two aren't giggling like schoolchildren—"

She huffed indignantly. "We do not—"

"Then he's staring at you. Or you're staring at him," he finished, crossing his arms. "It happens like 50 times during a showIt's impossible to ignore."

"Because we're the rhythm section; we have to keep time with each other," she insisted, though a splinter of doubt wedged its way under her skin. She didn't think they looked at each other that much.

He smirked, drawing the curtain to the side to peak out beyond the wings into the audience. "Sure, you're probably right."

"I'm definitely right."

She kicked her toe against the wood of the stage, glancing up to see he was trying to straighten out a smile. "And I'm still mad at you."

"OK."

"But...could you please put a water bottle behind my amp?" she asked, softening her voice. "And maybe a beer or two?"

He nodded, and there was a glint in his eye as he turned to leave. "Whatever you want."

 

 


 

 

Between the Kansas City and St. Louis shows, Queen and Mott had Sunday off to do as they pleased. Morgan had found an advertisement in a local paper for Klondike Boating, a business 45 minutes outside St. Louis that rented kayaks and canoes to tourists and weekenders for a lazy cruise down the Missouri river. Jane had never gone kayaking before, and no one would accuse Queen of being a group that sought out such earthy activities, but they were bored and tickets were cheap, so reservations were made and lunches for the afternoon were packed. Their other sight-seeing option had been to walk around St. Louis and go up the Gateway Arch, but Jane had no desire to stump around another city for hours or cram herself into a claustrophobic pod and ride to the top of the Arch for a short view of the surrounding area. So, kayaking it was.

It would be Pete, Ariel, Freddie, Morgan, Roger, and Jane on the river that day, while Brian, Ian, and Dale were staying behind at the hotel in St. Louis. Freddie had begged Brian to go with them, but the man was apparently determined to be a stick in the mud, claiming he wanted "rest and relaxation," as if people didn't seek out a leisurely float for exactly those reasons. Kayaking was the sort of outdoorsy thing Brian could conceivably enjoy; after all, Freddie was the one who looked at all things "nature-y" with contempt. Brian's stubborn refusal raised a few eyebrows, but Jane wasn't about to push. If he wanted to be a curmudgeon, fine by her.

The participating members of the two bands were packed into a van and driven to Klondike Park, where they'd retrieve their boats and set out on the ten mile journey to Weldon Springs. Freddie's complaints began the moment they set foot on the gravel leading down to the small strip of sandy beach, where their three tandem boats were tied up.

"My shoes are going to be ruined," Freddie lamented, limping dramatically over the sharp gravel underfoot.

Jane looked down at Freddie's feet and laughed. He was wearing the soft leather moccasins he had bought in Denver, which were almost surely doomed to be destroyed on the river. Jane didn't exactly own a plethora of attire suitable for the wilds of Missouri, but she did at least have a pair of rubber sandals she didn't mind losing. St. Louis and the surrounding areas had been enjoying a warm April so far, with the temperature already at 21 celsius before noon. It was a bit of a shock after coming from Denver's snow and ice, but it was a welcome change; she hadn't been able to wear shorts and a t-shirt out of the house since the Australian festival.

Not for the first time, Jane marveled at the sheer diversity of American geography. The weather, the trees, even the dirt looked completely different from Colorado, and even Kansas City, less than four hours away. The park didn't quite have the astounding mountain views of Denver, but it was peaceful in its own way, with white-stone bluffs jutting up on either side of the winding Missouri river, which washed lazily over outcrops of rocks and sandbars in its path. The dense woods that grew along the banks were sprouting new leaves, and the constant chirp of birds and insects indicated spring was very much present on the river that day. Jane closed her eyes and breathed it in. She didn't know it was possible for something to smell like blue sky.

"You smell that, Fred?" she asked.

"What, deer shit?" he grumbled. "Or moldy leaves?"

"Nature."

"I'm regretting this already," he groaned, swatting his hand at a bug that had landed on his shoulder. "I should have stayed back with Brian."

Rolling her eyes, she left him to sulk and ran ahead to join Roger and Morgan, who were conversing with the couple who owned the kayaking business. Morgan was an experienced kayaker, so the group wouldn't be paying for a lesson, not that Jane thought they needed one anyway; it was a boat and a set of paddles. How complicated could it be?

"Grab your life jackets over there," the man said, nodding toward a heap of yellow and orange life jackets on a tarp. "And you'll find your paddles beside the vessels. The float downstream is real smooth and easy; just respect the river, and she'll leave you alone."

Once money was exchanged, Morgan hollered for Pete, Ariel, and Freddie to come retrieve their life jackets. Freddie clutched his life jacket in one hand and Jane's arm in another.

"You'll ride with me, right?" he asked her pleadingly.

"Like hell. You'd make me do all the work," she said, prying his hand off her arm. "But you know who's a good kayaker and wouldn't mind the extra weight to row?"

Jane pointedly looked toward Morgan, who laughed, taking the assignment in stride. "Yeah, OK. You're with me, Freddie."

That left Pete and Ariel to fight over who got the front seat in their kayak, and Jane and Roger in the third boat. As Morgan explained the basics of paddling and keeping the boat level, Jane dropped her drawstring bag on the ground by their kayak, rustling through it to find the small bottle of sunscreen she had packed.

"Really, Deaky?" Roger asked, eyeing the lotion skeptically. "It's not that hot."

"Yes, but the sun's out," she said, squirting out a dollop onto her hands. "Close your eyes."

He sighed, but stepped closer and shut his eyes, letting her reach up to smear the lotion all over his face with a purposefully sloppy application, some of it getting into his mouth. He made a face, flinching backwards and spitting onto the rocks.

"Gross."

"But now your pretty face is protected," she said, laughing at his annoyed expression as she applied her own sunscreen with a much lighter touch.

He smirked, biting his lip cheekily. "So you think I've got a pretty face?"

She gave him an exasperated look, pushing his life jacket into his hands. "You don't need me to tell you that."

"Oh, I know," he said with a wink, gripping the edge of the kayak and pushing it down the sloping beach. "But I'm glad you're enjoying the view."

Jane grabbed her paddle and started to follow him, but hesitated. His words, and Ratty's from the previous night, turned over in her mind uncomfortably. She hated to admit it, but Ratty had been right; during the concert, every time she chanced a look to her left at Roger, he was almost always looking at her. No, not looking — staring, like he was trying to figure out a particularly stubborn puzzle. Sometimes he didn't even realize she was watching him stare because his attention was very clearly not on her face, which had made a flurry of unfamiliar, uncomfortable feelings rattle emptily inside her. Unsure what to make of this, she hadn't mentioned it to him, sure that she would sound ridiculous just bringing it up.

There might very well have been an innocent explanation for why his eyes followed her all night, why he blushed the few times he realized she was looking back at him questioningly, why he'd been jumping out of his skin whenever she touched him, but...for the life of her, she couldn't think of one. This, like other inconvenient thoughts, could be filed away and forgotten with time, but the novel intensity with which he had watched her last night still sent a fresh pang of bewilderment through her. This, whatever it was, was new territory, and Jane much preferred to stick to the well-beaten path they'd been walking for so long.

"First Mate Deacon!" Roger called from their boat on the beach, his hand cupped around his mouth. "All aboard!"

Head down, she took a steadying breath before walking down the slope to join him. Pete and Ariel had already situated themselves in their kayak and had pushed off from the shore, sending themselves drifting in circles as they figured out how to paddle the boat. Morgan was trying to shove his and Freddie's boat into the water while the latter sat safely, unhelpfully inside and watched with interest.

When she reached their kayak, the hull was perched precariously on the rocks while the shallow water buoyed the rest of the vessel. Roger held out his hand to help her into the boat, and she gripped his other arm to steady herself as the boat rocked slightly at the additional weight. His hand lingered on hers longer than necessary, though the dark, intense concentration with which he had stared at her last night was completely gone, replaced with the carelessly jovial expression she was most familiar with.

"First mate?" she asked with a raised brow, carefully dropping to a crouch over the back bench and laying the paddle to rest across the boat. "And that makes you...?"

"Captain Taylor, at your service," he said, tipping an imaginary hat.

She laughed, weighing the paddle in her hands and dipping one end into the water experimentally. "I think we both know I'm the captain here."

"Fair enough."

As Roger got settled on the bench in front of her, Morgan paddled his and Freddie's boat out in front of theirs. Freddie had donned his wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and was resting his head on an extra life vest. He waggled his fingers in a cheeky wave.

"Don't work too hard, Fred," Roger said dryly.

"Oh, don't worry, dear. I won't."

Eager to get moving, Jane stuck her paddle vertically into the rocky river bottom, gaining leverage to push them off the shoreline. Unprepared for the takeoff, in front of her Roger clutched the sides of the boat as it propelled forward. His paddle, unsecured, went sliding off the boat.

"Shit," he muttered, leaning over the side to grab the slowly sinking paddle and tilting the boat to a dangerous degree in the process.

"Careful!" Jane warned, extending her foot forward to poke him in the back. "You'll capsize us."

Morgan, who had rowed over and easily snatched the paddle out of the river, handed it back to Roger with a pointed look.

"So, did you two hear any of my instructions, or were you too busy flirting?"

Jane opened her mouth for a retort, but Roger beat her to the punch, chuckling as he glanced over his shoulder at her.

"Can you blame her? I'm adorable."

Caught between annoyed and flustered, Jane just kicked the back of Roger's seat. Morgan grinned at her, and gestured with his paddle downstream.

"Just follow me, and avoid rocks. The river is calm in this section, but it's deep, so life vests on."

"And if you capsize, shout for us before getting back in the boat," Freddie said, pushing his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose.

Jane raised an eyebrow. "And why's that?"

"So we can watch and laugh, darling."

 

 


 

 

This was the America Jane had been chasing for so many years: a gentle float down the river, warm sun and cool breeze through her hair, the sound of chirping birds and insects and the steady stream of water over rocks echoing between gorge walls for miles. The dip and pull of her paddle into and out of the water was meditative, interrupted occasionally by Roger humming or jiggling his foot, unable to sit still for long. Once they built up speed, she could dock her paddle and sit back, closing her eyes and enjoying the lull of the gentle current. The guys in the other kayaks had drifted ahead, already around the bend cut by a jagged cliff, leaving Jane and Roger in relative peace. Relative, because like the river carrying them, there was more under the surface than Jane cared to acknowledge.

Roger had been acting progressively strange around her for over a month, which he had blamed on everything from tour nerves to indigestion. He would latch onto her one moment, only to find some excuse to put as much distance between them as possible ten minutes later. After the show last night, when he was drunk and riding on adrenaline, he had given her a tight hug and kissed her forehead for seemingly no reason at all before absconding with a pretty girl from the audience who he had invited backstage. It had given Jane a severe case of whiplash. And it couldn't have been her imagination either; even Ratty had noticed Roger's odd behavior, enough so that he had assumed they were involved. Morgan...well, he might have been taking the piss earlier, but no one had ever accused them of flirting before. Clearly, something had changed. Jane didn't know when the tides had shifted or why, but they'd been tossed off course and she didn't have a bloody compass.

For now at least, they were skimming the placid surface of the water. His back was to her, so she couldn't see his expression, but his posture was relaxed, at ease. He had smuggled cigarettes and a lighter on board, and the smoke lazily drifted across the water with the wind. Jane cleared her throat.

"Can I steal a cig?"

Roger nodded, tucking his paddle inside the boat as he reached into his pocket for his pack. He plucked one out, holding it over his shoulder for her to take.

"And what am I going to do with an unlit cigarette?"

Roger snorted a laugh, turning in his seat and offering her his lighter. Jane had already popped the cigarette between her lips and was leaning toward him, chin resting on her propped-up hands, waiting for a light. If they were in unfamiliar waters, she was curious where the boundaries were. He gave her a bemused look but acquiesced, lighting the tip of the cigarette.

"Brian says we should cut back," he commented idly, snapping the lighter shut. "Says it's bad for our lungs."

Jane rolled her eyes, taking a drag. "Brian should mind his own damn business for once."

"Are you seriously still mad at him?"

She shrugged, tucking her cigarette in the corner of her mouth as she pulled at the straps of her life vest, loosening them. "Maybe."

He clucked his tongue. "Let it go, Deaky. It's been a month."

She bristled at that. "Bri hasn't let it go," she muttered, unbuckling the top row of straps. "Why do you think he's not here right now? He made up a lame excuse so he didn't have to be around me."

"Ah, of course. It's all about you," he drawled, frowning when she continued to unbuckle her life vest. "Hey, you have to keep that on, you know."

"You took yours off," she grumbled, nodding toward his vest, which was abandoned at the front of the kayak.

"Because I know how to swim."

"I know how to—" she started, but sighed, re-bucking the straps. "Fine."

They resumed paddling, though Morgan, Freddie, and the others were now far downstream. The scenery and fresh air didn't compensate for the fact that paddling was tiring, physical work, and she wasn't particularly fit. She rested her paddle against the sides of the boat to stretch her sore arms, letting Roger row for a few minutes.

Slim as he was, she could see his back muscles working underneath his thin cotton t-shirt and had the sudden impulse to slide her hands under the shirt to feel the movement for herself. He had stubbed out his cigarette on the inner wall of the kayak and was now breathing a little harder, a little louder. One hand left his paddle, reaching back to wipe sweaty strands of hair from the back of his neck. Inexplicably, the motion made her throat run dry. Tilting his head slightly, he glanced back at her as he rowed.

"You've got two good hands, don't you? Feel free to help me out anytime."

Her eyes shot up to his face, widening at his words. "What?"

"If you wanted to daydream and twirl your parasol, you should have ridden with Morgan."

"Bastard," she said with a laugh, picking up her paddle and dipping it back in the water. The next words escaped her mouth without foresight or filter. "Perhaps I just like this view better."

Roger paused his motions, turning to face her. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were flirting."

A blush bloomed to her cheeks, which she tried to conceal by ducking her head while she paddled. "I don't flirt."

"Yeah, exactly. You have a fever or something?"

She brought her paddle out of the river and held it over Roger, letting the water dribble onto his head. He scowled, hands shaking out his hair as he shot her a look.

"Must be the fever," she said, looking up at him with wide, innocent eyes, her lips twisting into a sly smile.

Leaning over the side of the boat, he dipped his hand into the water and splashed her, wetting her shorts and sending cold water running down her legs. She yelped, scooting away from his reach and returning her paddle to the water to return the favor. The resulting gush of water she splashed into the kayak got them both wet, but it was worth the look of shock on his face as the water soaked his shirt and dripped down his hair.

"What the fuck, Jane?" he cried, though there was already a trace of laughter in his voice. He pinched the fabric of his sopping wet shirt away from his skin. "I'm going to freeze in this!"

"Better take it off, then."

His eyes darkened, and he cocked his head slightly. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

She shrugged. "I can appreciate a fine— " her eyes drifted past him to the oncoming obstacle ahead— a large outcrop of rocks in the middle of the river, around which rapids were forming. Her stomach dropped.

"Behind you!" she warned, taking her paddle and furiously endeavoring to steer them away from the onslaught.

Too late, Roger whipped around to the front as the kayak careened over the rapids, narrowly missing the rocks. They both shrieked, gripping tightly to the sides of the boat as it tipped alarmingly forward and almost rolled over, the violent spray from the rapids whiting out their vision. The roar of the river and the dull thud of the kayak smacking into rocks deafened her, and for a terrifying moment, she was completely disoriented, unable to discern which way the boat was even facing and bracing for the impact of the cold, rushing river as the kayak inevitably flipped over. Miraculously, when she pried her eyes open, she found herself upright — drenched to the bone and shivering, but still seated in a mostly unharmed kayak while the rapids rushed behind her.

But Roger was gone.

Jane scrambled to the side of the kayak, swaying the vessel with her panic as she searched for sign of him in the churning water. She grabbed her paddle, trying in vain to turn the boat back in the direction of the rapids. By the rocks, a yellow paddle bobbed to the surface, and she lost her breath.

"Rog? Roger!"

In the space of a heartbeat, she had a vision of Roger bashing his head against the rocks and slipping under the water, unable to swim to the surface. Immediately, she yanked her shoes off, unsteadily rising to her feet in the rocking boat and preparing to dive into the river.

"Jane!"

At the sound of his voice, she whipped around to the other side of the kayak, and she felt the air return to her lungs in a rush. Roger was treading water several yards away in a calmer current, one arm waving over his head. No visible cuts or bruises. Breathing a sigh of relief, she repositioned the kayak and paddled over to him.

"Are you OK?" she demanded, kneeling and reaching a hand out to him. "What happened? Did you hit the rocks?"

Roger chuckled breathlessly, wiping the wet hair out of his eyes before slinging an arm over the side of the boat. "I'm alright. Just a little damp. Help me up, will you?"

Jane grabbed his other arm, grappling against the slick skin to help hoist him back into the boat. He fell in without an ounce of grace, rolling to the floor of the kayak and groaning when his shoulder smacked into one of the benches.

"Are you OK?" she repeated, helping him up to a seated position.

He rubbed his shoulder absently, his relieved smile inching downwards into a frown. "Were you seriously about to jump into those rapids?"

She paused, replaying the last few minutes in her mind. "Um, I guess so."

"You can barely swim, and you thought you'd be able to dive into rushing water to pull a grown man to the surface?"

"I hadn't...quite thought that part through."

He took off his sodden shoes and socks, looking up at her with a sigh. "I appreciate the enthusiasm, but that's dumb."

"Well, I wasn't about to sit there and let you drown," she retorted, arms tucked over her chest.

"I wasn't going to drown," he said firmly, reaching forward to squeeze her hand. A slow grin spread across his face. "Not without hearing how you were going to finish that sentence, anyway."

"What sentence?"

"You said you could appreciate a fine…?"

She shoved her paddle at him, heat spreading up her neck. "Row, or I'm throwing you back in."

 

 


 

 

It was late afternoon by the time all six adventurers were picked up at the dock in Weldon Springs and shuttled to the hotel. As expected, Jane and Roger were the last out of the river, still damp and shivering when they washed up on the pebbled shore. Freddie had taken one look at them and burst into laughter, though the tightness with which he squeezed Jane in greeting made her suspect he had been more worried by their lateness than he was letting on.

Roger told the story of their near-capsize at the rapids with dramatic flare, though she noticed he left out the more flirtatious elements of their exchange just before they came upon the rocks. After that brush with disaster, Roger had been much more subdued, and with his oar lost to the river, he had insisted he paddle, even though Jane suggested they take turns. For the rest of the journey downstream, he kept his eyes front, not taking the bait when she teased and prodded him from the back seat.

"Next stop, I'm choosing the excursion," Freddie sniffed, shepherding them into the van. "It will involve significantly less nature, I'll tell you that."

It wasn't until Jane bundled herself into the backseat of the van, squeezed between Roger and Freddie, that she realized how exhausted she was. Her arms still ached from the effort of paddling during the first part of the journey, and there was a dull spasm in her lower back from their tumble over the rapids. Without meaning to, she quickly fell asleep on Roger's shoulder, only to be woken 40 minutes later when they reached the hotel.

"Are you going upstairs to sleep?" he asked, climbing out of the van after her. "I was going to shower and change before getting dinner."

"Bath first," she said blearily, rubbing her eyes. "Nap later."

When they returned to the hotel lobby, Jane bid goodbye to the guys as they went off in search of showers and food. She browsed the magazine stand at the concierge's desk for bathtime reading material and, seeing the latest month's issue of Circus Magazine, handed a quarter to the clerk. The articles written from the previous month's interviews were finally being published, including a certain Ms. Natalie Rowe's. Call it masochism, but Jane was interested in seeing what bullshit had been cooked up about them. They had already read the articles published in NME and Melody Maker— neither were particularly complimentary, with NME's Martin Webb eviscerating them as an "overblown, sideshow commodity" and the "cloying flavor of the week." Lou Nelson's article had, naturally, misattributed her as Jean Deacon.

Jane rode the elevator back up to her room on the ninth floor, flipping through the magazine. The cover story that month was on Jeff Beck and Tim Bogert, which she earmarked to return to later. There was also a concert guide for Uriah Heep and Mott the Hoople advertised on the front page, though the guide itself mentioned Queen only in passing as the "colorful hard rock neophytes" accompanying Mott across America. Their full profile had been shunted toward the end of the publication, along advertisements for stereos and a pull-out Rod Stewart calendar. On page 82, in fuzzy black and white ink on the bottom half of the page, was one of the photos from the Mick Rock photo shoot— the one photo that just happened to clearly show her nipples peaked under the fabric of the silk nightie. Typical. 

The elevator stopped at her floor, and she blindly walked off, nose buried in the magazine as she read the first few paragraphs with interest. Natalie was a talented writer, that much was obvious, and she was clearly familiar with their music. She was the first journalist they had spoken to who seemed close to understanding what their music was about, "toeing the line between tongue-in-cheek operatic drama and heavy, bombastic chaos." Despite her lingering grudge against the woman for ambushing her during the interview, Jane was frustrated on Natalie's behalf; an article that well written shouldn't be relegated to the back pages.

Her empathy lasted all of ten seconds. The next half of the article, below another group shot of them clutching that ridiculous scepter and crown, started in a promising fashion, drawing attention to the rhythm section's enormous sound and, particularly, Jane's lyrical style as a bassist. And then Jane came to a screeching halt in the middle of the hallway.

"Miss Deacon, the archetypal silent bassist, is likewise tight-lipped about her romantic entanglements, though the passionate tension she shares with the exotically handsome Mercury crackles with the electricity she has devoted her academic years to studying…"

The rest of the paragraph playfully insinuated Jane and Freddie's relationship had caused a "dramatic strain" between the four members, reading more and more like a gossip column than an actual review of the band. Jane couldn't read any further, rage bubbling up inside her and clouding her vision. She had figured she'd be misrepresented in the article, but implying she was having an affair with Freddie, that she was some siren who trapped and seduced her bandmate to cause strife within the band...that was a flavor of misogyny she hadn't been expecting from another woman.

Storming into her hotel room, she threw the magazine across the room, sending loose pages flying. Landing on the bed with a groaning of mattress springs, she curled against the headboard, knees tucked under her chin. Angry tears pricked at the corner of her eyes, and she wiped them away roughly. Negative assessments of Queen and their music she could deal with, but Natalie's article felt deeply personal and humiliating in a way that squeezed the air from her lungs. All of the good things she had written about Jane — her strength as a musician, her interest in electronics — were instantly undermined for the sake of gossip. What did any of her hard work mean if it could be so easily dismissed by a half-baked, cruel assumption?

And how would Freddie feel, being unwittingly cast in this made-up drama? Surely he wouldn't appreciate the implication that he was unfaithful to his girlfriend, regardless of how ridiculous the story was. Jane's eyes widened at the thought of Mary, and she quickly reached to flick on the bedside lamp, illuminating the telephone on the table. Internally wincing at the international phone charges that would rack up on her hotel bill, she dialed Mary's phone number. It would be close to 11pm in London, but Mary was a night owl and thankfully, she picked up.

"'Ello?" Mary's voice crackled sleepily from the line.

"Hi, it's Jane. Did I wake you?"

"No, no, I was up," she said, though a yawn betrayed her. "Is everything OK?"

Jane took the telephone cradle into her lap, sliding down and resting her head on the mountain of pillows behind her. "Yeah, I just...well, our interview with Circus Magazine came out in the States."

There was a quiet laugh from the other end. "Ah, yes. I saw it this morning. That bitch really wrote a double-edged piece, didn't she?"

"The story about me and Freddie is complete bollocks— you know that, right? She made it up out of thin air, I swear—"

"Jane, I know," Mary soothed. "Honestly, I thought it was hilarious. Offensive and hurtful to you, yes, but just absolutely bonkers."

Jane sighed with relief. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you say that."

"Really, Jane. Have a little more faith in me," she said, a hint of irritation clouding her voice. "I wouldn't take a ridiculous story like that at face value."

"I know, I'm sorry. Today has just been...weird," she said, twirling the phone cord around her finger. "And that article made me see red."

"It's an intriguing story, I'll give her that," Mary admitted with a laugh. "Just not very believable. If you were going to be engaging in an illicit affair with anyone, it'd be Roger…"

Jane was grateful Mary was thousands of miles away, because her jaw almost unhinged itself, and she found herself unable to speak for a frozen second. "What— why would you say that?" she stammered finally, her cheeks heating up again. "Why Roger?"

"I dunno, there's more of a chemistry between you two, isn't there?"

Her eyes flickered up to the ceiling. "Maybe—"

"And between you and me, he's probably a decent shag, right?"

Jane nearly snapped the cord out of the receiver.

"I hadn't thought about it."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

April 16, 1974

 

 

"My fingers aren't long enough!"

"So?"

"So, I can't reach the bloody thing."

"Not with that attitude, you can't."

Jane groaned, stretching her hand past the point of comfort to reach the next octave on the keyboard. Her pinky barely hit the F key, but she landed on the chord she was looking for. Morgan, ironing his trousers on the other side of his hotel room, hummed to match the key.

"So what are you going to do with that?" he asked, not looking up from his work.

She moved her hands down an octave, striking a couple unfortunate notes on the way. "Not sure. In my head it sort of goes like…"

She sang a few pitchy notes, finger plucking along on the keyboard. "Sort of pop-ish, yeah?"

"Play around with G and C major chords, then," Morgan said, adjusting the trousers on the ironing board.

Jane stared at her fingers on the keys, already blanking. "Right. Because I know what those are offhand."

Their St. Louis show at the Kiel auditorium that night had been a massive success for both bands, who were screamingly well received by a crowd of nearly 9,000. There was an impromptu after party being held downstairs in the lounge of their hotel, the Red Lion, but Jane had opted to keep Morgan company while he packed away his things after the show. He was letting her play around on his keyboard in hopes of finally banging out the half-formed song that had been rolling around in her head for weeks. No such luck, yet.

Morgan set down his laundry and walked around to where she was perched on the end of his bed. He brushed her hands away, demonstrating the proper chord progression a few times before stepping back to let her try it. She repeated the G and C chords twice before an idea sparked.

"How do you make a D major?"

"D, F sharp, A."

Her fingers haltingly found their marks, but the resulting progression stuck, and she played a short rhythm she'd been experimenting with on bass. Morgan clicked his fingers against the side of the keyboard to keep time, nodding his head with approval.

"Sounds good. You've got lyrics for it?"

Jane snorted a baleful laugh, stilling her hands. "None at all. That's the part I'm shit at."

He shrugged, stooping to reach into the suitcase beside the bed and pulling out a green and orange striped shirt. "Give it time; it'll come to you."

"That's what Brian says," she groaned, sitting back from the keyboard and criss-crossing her legs. "But I'm not like him and Freddie. Brian just paces around the house singing to himself all day and by dinner, he's got a song."

"And Freddie?"

Jane smiled wistfully. "Freddie dreams music."

"So figure out what works for you. Maybe you just need time."

"Haven't you heard, Morgan? My time isn't my own anymore," she said dryly, slipping off the bed and walking to join him at his ironing board. "Besides; I don't even have anything to write about."

"Inspiration comes from experience, I find. You're only 22; you've just got to experience more life, right?"

Jane leaned against the wall, watching him press flat the sleeves of the shirt he was going to wear to the party. "So once I'm 40, I'll be ready to write?"

He chuckled, glancing up at her sideways. "I don't think it'll take quite that long. Ever been in love?"

"No."

Morgan nodded, smiling to himself. "Write about that."

 

 


 

 

After packing away the keyboard for the night, Jane and Morgan made their way downstairs to the party, still going strong a quarter after midnight. It wasn't the kind of function Jane typically enjoyed — not even a dance floor in sight — but spending the rest of the night alone in her room hadn't held the same appeal it usually would. The lounge, tucked away behind elaborately carved wooden doors in the lobby of the Red Lion, was packed to the brim with party goers in varying states of inebriation draped over stools at the long bar and the red leather couches clustered in circles around the room. Thick clouds of smoke and heat obscured the darker corners so that people walking to and fro appeared to be disappearing into the fog. Beautiful women swathed in scarlet sequin dresses roamed with trays of drinks, from which Jane plucked a glass of amber liquid as she got her bearings. She felt distinctly underdressed in corduroys and a simple short sleeved blouse, though no one seemed to be paying her any attention.

Once her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she caught sight of Roger and Freddie in an enclave on the far wall, holding court with their female admirers. As if feeling her eyes on him, Roger turned and grinned at her in that lopsided manner that told her he was at least three drinks into his night. He transferred his drink to the hand dangling a lit cigarette, waving animatedly for her to join them. Morgan squeezed her arm, stooping to whisper in her ear.

"I'm going to make the rounds. Enjoy yourself, yeah?"

"Why don't you come with—?" she started, turning to face him. But Morgan had already disappeared into the smoke toward the bar, and Roger was still beckoning her over.

She made her way over to Freddie and Roger, the latter of whom eagerly patted the spot beside him for her to take, sliding over so that the girls on his other side were forced to rearrange themselves. Freddie, already dreamy-eyed and smiley, gave her a wave and a puckered air kiss in greeting.

Roger pushed his drink into her hands and gave a cursory glance toward their audience. "Ladies, this is Jane. Deaky, these are...women."

Jane snorted, taking a sip of the proffered drink. "I can see that." At the sting of the alcohol burning her throat, she made a face and turned to Roger with reproach. "What's in this, tar?"

He hummed, taking the drink back from her and finishing it in a sickening gulp. Jane winced just watching him. Freddie, looking on gleefully from the couch across from them, lifted his empty glass toward her.

"I'm still thirsty. What's your poison, darling?"

"Mm, surprise me."

He got up unsteadily, bringing a couple girls with him in the process, and tapped her on the head. "Vodka and sugar it is."

"Where've you been Deaky?" Roger asked once Freddie left, angling his body toward her and slinging an arm over her shoulder. "I missed you."

She laughed, giving him a skeptical look. "You missed me? I spend all day, every day with you."

"We went looking for you, but you weren't in your room."

That gave her pause; she hadn't thought the guys would much care that she was absent, at least not once they had a couple drinks and groupies to occupy their attention. At that point, Roger should have been used to her ducking out of stuffy after parties early or skipping them altogether; it had never really bothered him before. But again, that was the old Roger— the one before her now was squeezing himself into her side as if trying to adhere their bodies together from shoulder to hip. Wedged between him and the curling armrest of the couch, he had all but cornered them off from the women he had been entertaining just minutes ago. A few of them had already gotten up to leave.

"I was with Morgan," she said, tilting her head in the direction of the keyboardist, leaning against the bar on the other side of the room speaking to a pretty brunette woman. "He's helping me learn keyboard so I can do more writing."

"Oh," he said, drawing out the syllable. His face scrunched into a drunken pout. "Is he your favourite now?"

"Is he my favourite?"

"He's giving you private lessons…"

"You gave me a private drum lesson, you twit."

Roger's "Hmph" was punctuated with a possessive squeeze to her shoulder. There was a stubborn set to his jaw, and the look on his face would have made her laugh if the situation wasn't so bizarre.

"Are you jealous?" she asked, the question feeling ridiculous as soon as it left her lips.

His answer was immediate. "Yes. I want you all to myself."

He said it with neither hesitation nor apology— his face was totally neutral, as if affirming the correct spelling of his name. Jane stared at him, taken aback by the blunt force of his words and feeling far too sober for whatever that was. She reminded herself that he was completely pissed and thus prone to his usual bouts of theatrics. Chrissie had once stopped by the house to return an umbrella she had borrowed from him, and Roger, five drinks into the night, had declared his intent to marry her on the spot. Brian, accustomed to Roger's outbursts, had drolly asked to be invited to the wedding as he kissed Chrissie in greeting.

Freddie eventually appeared with drinks in hand, flanked by two hulking, bouncer-looking fellows, and sure enough, Roger's attention was instantly diverted.

"Freddie! Fred, Frederick!" he cooed, holding out both hands toward Freddie, who gave Jane a bemused grin and roll of his eyes. "You were amazing tonight; have I told you?"

"Several times, dear."

"Well you were. You always are, but tonight you were on a different planet. Wasn't he, Deaky?"

She humored him, exchanging a knowing glance with Freddie. "Yes, he performed very well."

"I'll accept any and all compliments," Freddie said, tossing his hair back with a shrug. He handed her one of the glasses he carried. "Doubleshot for Deaky, because you need to catch up."

It was a tall glass of something pink and frothy, with thick pink sugar crystals lining the rim like rock candy, but her eyes were drawn to the small plastic bag clutched between his fingers as he passed the drink, though she couldn't make out its contents. He quickly palmed the bag and slid his hand into his pocket. Jane followed its trajectory with narrowed eyes, and when she looked up at him questioningly, he gave a sheepish smile.

"Fred…" she started, glancing at the two men standing beside him. "What are you doing?"

"Don't you worry your pretty head, darling," he said quickly, pressing a cool hand to hers. "I'm just stepping outside for some air."

Jane watched him walk away and exit out the side door before turning to Roger. "Was that…?"

Roger had leaned forward to grab the second drink Freddie had left on the table. "Coke? Yep," he said, popping the before taking a sip. "He'll be fine, Deaky."

"Have you done it?"

He shook his head. "Nah, but I tried marijuana at uni."

"Everyone did," she said with a laugh. She traced her tongue over the sugared rim of the glass, and she could feel Roger following the movement.

"Would you try it?" she asked after a slight pause.

He blinked a few times, his eyes returning to hers. He cocked his head as if to consider it. "Yeah, why not? I'd try anything once." He stopped, took another gulp of his drink. "Try anyone once."

Jane almost choked on her vodka, and he burst out laughing. She coughed, wiping the sticky pink syrup of her drink from around her mouth.

"Sometimes I think you and Freddie are the only real rockstars in the group," she mused, swirling her glass in hand. "Brian and I were born to be fuddy-duddies; we just stumbled into the right opportunity."

"Speaking of…" Roger said, twisting in his seat to wave someone down.

Jane turned her head to see Brian, who was already walking toward them with a small smile.

Roger beamed up at him, raising his glass in salute. "Bri! You beautiful wanker; where'd you disappear to?"

Jane was surprised Brian had even come to the party; he'd been holing himself up in his room lately after shows, complaining of fatigue or a stomach ache or just "needing rest." It was impossible to say how many of his excuses were bullshit, but she secretly, silently worried nonetheless that Brian might not have the constitution for touring.

Brian leaned against the wooden column next to Jane, palming a mostly-full beer bottle. "Just wandering. Making friends. I'm glad you came down to join us, Jane," he said, and it might have been her imagination, but his voice sounded softer than usual. "We haven't hung out in a while, all four of us."

They hadn't been able to do so without bickering in even longer. 

"Well, number four is off doing…" Jane trailed off, waving her hand in the direction of the door.

"Cocaine," Roger supplied, enunciating the word meticulously. Jane shoved her elbow into his side.

"Ow. He is, Deaks," he said petulantly, nodding toward Brian. "He's getting high right now."

Brian raised his eyebrows, but offered no other signs of surprise or disapproval. "I figured. He was talking about it earlier."

Jane frowned into her drink. Freddie speaking to Brian about doing cocaine sounded...odd, and it rankled her a little; Freddie had all but patted her head and told her to look the other way when she had asked, as if she was a nosy kid sister. She didn't need or want sheltering, and especially not from any of them.

"I'd try it," Jane said quietly, clearing her throat.

Roger and Brian gave her matching incredulous looks and said, in unison, "No, you wouldn't."

Her eyebrows furrowed, and she gripped her glass tighter, glaring up at Brian. "And why not?"

"You're the good one," Brian said simply, offering her a slight smile. "Decent Deacon."

The old nickname made her crack a grin in return, though she hid it by bringing her glass to her lips. She didn't really have any interest in drugs, but she wasn't a child.

"I don't know about that," she said, swallowing the rest of her drink. "I'd try anything once."

Roger chuckled, clinking his empty glass with hers. A woman carrying a tray of shots walked by, and Roger held up a hand to flag her down. Only then did Brian's face turn sour as he glanced from Roger to the empty glasses sitting on the table in front of him.

"Hey, slow down, mate."

Roger just shrugged, holding his new glass up in cheers before downing it. "I feel fine."

"Yeah, 'cause you're drunk."

"'M just getting started, Bri," Roger said, smacking his lips together loudly. "I'm good."

"Don't be an idiot. Are you trying to black out?"

"Are you trying to be a stick in the mud?" Jane drawled, reaching behind her to take a shot for herself from the waitress. "Because you're not quite up to your usual standard; but you're getting there."

Brian turned his glare on her, pursing his lips so tightly they turned white around the edges. "Whatever. I was only coming over to say I was going to bed, anyway."

"Aw, c'mon Bri!" Roger cried, reaching out a hand for him. "Don't leave."

Brian's eyes were trained on Jane, and for a minute she thought he was about to say something to her. In the end, he just sighed and walked away, leaving his beer with a waitress before shoving himself out the door and into the lobby. Jane released a heavy exhale, fingering the shot in her hand before throwing it back.

"That was sort of bitchy of me, wasn't it?" she asked after a minute, chancing a look at Roger. "I don't know why I said that." 

He nodded, frowning. "I don't like it when you fight."

Me neither, she wanted to say.

Roger set down his empty glass, closing his eyes briefly. Jane tightened her lips, watching as his eyelids fluttered open and took a few seconds to refocus. Brian was probably right — Roger was tiptoeing the line.

"I'm getting you water," she said finally, standing up and holding up a stern finger. "Don't drink anything before I get back."

"Yes'm," he said obediently, folding his hands in his lap.

Jane weaved her way through the crowd to the bar, passing Morgan and the unknown brunette against the wall, locked in a heated kiss. She smiled to herself, glad that at least Morgan was enjoying himself, and feeling only the slightest pang of envy. He had been a great kisser, after all, though a decidedly better friend. While she was waiting at the bar, Morgan pulled away from the girl and locked eyes with her, blushing bright red before taking his partner's hand and leading her away. Jane swallowed, and her eyes started to rove the surrounding area; there were plenty of attractive options around, but none she wanted to take upstairs. Besides, she'd been unintentionally assigned the role of babysitter for the night.

Bottles of water retrieved, after several minutes she returned to Roger, who was sitting exactly as she left him. She handed him his bottle and turned to put hers on the table in front of them. Before she could take her seat, Roger's hands crept up to either side of her waist, though he didn't pull her back. Jane stopped, all focus on the heat of his hands through her shirt.

"C'mere," he implored, his voice soft and sleepy. His eyes were heavily lidded, though the blue was still piercing.

This was a bad idea, but Jane didn't have the strength of will to refuse, and she let his hands guide her back onto his lap. His arms wound around her middle, pulling her tightly against him and encasing her in the heat and smell of him. She shivered, though no part of her could possibly be cold. Roger rested his chin on her shoulder and took a deep breath.

"I like your hair," he said, and Jane was caught off guard by the statement, by how close and low he was speaking— the air around her ear seeming to vibrate with his words. "I like when it curls."

She swallowed thickly, a blush wrapping around her throat. "Um, thanks."

As if to demonstrate, one of his hands wandered up to wrap a frizzy lock of her hair around his finger, which he tugged lightly. The sensation wasn't pain exactly, but electricity crackled at the base of her neck and traveled down her arms. She concealed the resulting whimper with a dry cough, her pulse playing double-time.

"It's getting long," she choked, startled at how thin her own voice sounded. "I should cut it."

"No," he whined, dragging out the word. "It's so pretty."

"Yeah, OK," Jane said with a laugh, which seemed to make Roger giggle too, though she wasn't sure if even he knew what he was laughing at.

The opening notes of a popular Diana Ross song played, and Roger sang along softly in her ear, tapping his fingers to the beat against her shoulders.

"We don't have tomorrow, but we had yesterday…"

At odds with the slow, sweet song pumping through the speakers, the party around them was getting progressively louder, but their quiet corner existed in a delicate bubble. They weren't talking, or even facing each other, but somehow this was the most intimate moment she'd ever shared with Roger, tucked against his chest with his hands on her arms, singing half-remembered lyrics to a song about longing. Jane worried if she breathed too hard, the moment would burst, and the chaos would rush in like a ruptured dam.

The few drinks she had imbibed were starting to catch up with her, and she fell into a warm, comfortable buzz that made her insides feel pleasantly of cotton. A new batch of fans and party goers had joined their enclave and were talking to Roger, but she couldn't string the words she heard into sentences— her focus was now matched to the trail of his fingertips running softly up and down her arms, leaving goosebumps in their wake. When he found a patch of sensitive skin in the crook of her arm that made her breath catch, his fingers traced the area teasingly.

"Where are you going next?" a woman asked Roger, wrapping her blonde hair around her finger.

She felt him shrug, and then he was brushing Jane's hair to one side, his hand folding over her shoulder so his right thumb could press soothing circles into the base of her neck.

"I can't remember," he said, though he murmured it in Jane's ear as if she was the one who had asked. "Do you know, Janie?"

"Memphis tomorrow," she stuttered, her breath hitching in response. "And then Oklahoma City."

Roger had never touched her like this before— touching for touching's sake. He was drunk, but his movements were purposeful, like his hands were following a path his mind had already mapped. And what's more— she liked it. His attention, his affection, despite the presence of chattering interlopers, was totally on her, for her. It was an utterly new sensation, and she was high from it. She didn't return his easy, tender touches - didn't know how to - but he didn't seem to mind, running his hands down her sides and scratching lightly at the corduroy over her legs.

Since her phone call with Mary the previous night, she'd been fending off intrusive, curious thoughts about Roger, stamping the flames out before they breathed enough oxygen to burn out of control. He wasn't an option - had never been an option - until now, with his entire body seeming to suggest he'd come to the same fork in the road that she had. The walls she'd built in her mind, cordoning off her desires from her realities, were beginning to crumble, quickened by the alcohol and adrenaline in her blood. It was ill-advised, whatever it was — the thrill of being wanted, perhaps. But nobody had touched her like this in recent memory, and possibly ever, and she didn't want him to stop.

But, biology said otherwise. Jane's hands fell to Roger's, which were now wrapped tightly around her middle, and reluctantly pried his fingers away. He whined at the loss of contact, clutching her hand.

"Where are you going?"

"Just the loo," she said, forcing herself up and out of his warmth. "I'll be right back."

He let her hand go, and she gave him a reassuring smile before hurrying away to the ladies' room around the corner and down a short hallway. There was a line out the door, naturally; she leaned against the wall and tapped her foot impatiently, eager to get back to Roger. A Rolling Stones song faded out to the intro of Seven Seas of Rhye, and there was a small cheer heard from the main part of the lounge. Jane grinned, imagining Roger was singing along and possibly dancing.

The women in front of her in line had their compacts out and were checking their makeup, and Jane brought a hand to her mouth absently, wondering if she should have dabbed on some lipstick before coming down. Roger always seemed to notice when she wore a little color on her lips. But when had she started caring what he found attractive?

Somewhere between 30 minutes and three years ago.

The line moved slowly, and it was another 10 or so minutes before she had the chance to use the toilet and pat down her hair in front of a mirror. The lounge's humidity — and Roger's continual fussing — had made the ends curl, though there was a fine halo of frizz around the top. Before stepping outside, she popped open the top button of her blouse. Just...because.

When she left the ladies' room, she chanced upon Freddie draped at the bar surrounded by a small entourage, champagne flute in one hand and cigarette in the other. His eyes fell on her and he grinned, a little manic, as he waved her over. Up close, she could see his pupils were completely blown, and the intensity in his gaze unnerved her slightly. He scooped his arm around her and pressed a kiss to her cheek, sloshing some of his champagne onto his shoes in the process.

"Darling Deaky, are you having fun?" he asked, almost shouting to be heard over the roar of the crowd at the bar.

She nodded, accepting the extra champagne flute Freddie had seemingly conjured from thin air. "Brian left a while ago; it's just me and Rog now."

"You, Rog, and Rog's friend," Freddie said with a snort, studying the nail polish on his fingers.

"Who?"

Freddie nodded, gesturing behind her. Jane turned, craning her neck to look past the haze and the moving bodies to see Roger...and a woman. One of the women who had been idling near them earlier, looking for Roger's attention. She had evidently found it, and was straddling him on the couch, lips locked with his as his hand held her stick-straight blonde hair out of her face. Jane had seen this exact tableau dozens of times before, but this was the first time she felt a guttural, physical repulsion to the sight of Roger with another woman. She ripped her eyes away from the scene.

"Typical," she muttered to Freddie, looking down to conceal the flush of shame rising up her cheeks.

The rosy fog in her mind had cleared, and the giddy, excited heat in her stomach had soured to embarrassment. She had really been so naive to think his affection — so freely given to anyone who asked for it — was anything she could lay claim to for more than a few moments. Not to mention the fact that she knew he was drunk off his ass and might not even remember what or who he did the next day. He hadn't wanted her— just a warm body. Roger was Roger; she was a fool for forgetting that.

"Tell him I'm going to bed," she said, handing the champagne back to Freddie and turning to leave. "I'm tired."

 

 

  ★・・・・★ ・・・・・・・・★・・・・★ ・・・・・・・・★・・・・★ ・・・・・・・・★・・・・★ ・・・・・・・・★・・・・★ 

 

 

Back in her hotel room, removed from the soft, dreamy haze of the lounge, Jane felt almost sober. Or at least, she would if not for the rush of uncomfortable arousal still pumping through her veins. Her brain had concluded Roger was a non-starter, a brief fantasy born from alcohol and touch-starved desperation, but her physiological reactions had nothing to do with logic. Roger's ministrations had sparked every nerve ending, every pore of her skin, and after a dry spell that had lasted longer than Jane cared to admit, her body was screaming for something, anything. She was a live wire, exposed and liable to spontaneous ignition.

She could scratch the itch easily enough by herself, having become well-accustomed to the quiet and perfunctory releases that took off the edge. But her mind had wandered, unrestrained, elsewhere. She looked at the open travel bag on the dresser, its contents half spilled onto the table. Without thinking, she reached her hand inside and drew out the bright pink box - still unopened. Turning it over in her hand, her eyes skimmed the back of the box, which included some rather cloyingly sexist depictions of half naked women and leering, fully dressed men. A bubbly typeface instructed users to "Press the heart-shaped button to escape to a world of your deepest fantasies."

Rolling her eyes, she put it back down on the dresser and sat down on the bed, steepling her hands. She stared at the box, and the box seemed to stare back, taunting her. Blowing a loose lock of hair out of her face, she got up again and paced to the window, shutting the blinds. She wouldn't do it - didn't need to, didn't want to. It was a gag gift, a sex toy, a ridiculous piece of machinery with a whiny, poorly-constructed motor. No, she'd take it apart to cannibalize the mechanical parts and then throw it away.

And yet…

She was drawn back to the dresser. Sliding her fingers under the glued flaps, she opened the box and held it upside down so the vibrator fell into her hands, along with a pitiful slip of satin she assumed was supposed to be a carrying pouch. Holding it in her hand was so much worse. It was pink, plastic, and undeniably phallic. Six or seven inches long with a slightly bulbous tip, Jane had the unnerving feeling of touching an android's artificial genitalia.

"Nope, no way," she muttered to herself, placing the vibrator back on the table with a decisive thunk.

She escaped to the bathroom, where she combed out her hair and brushed her teeth, all the while trying to forcibly repress her lingering curiosity, as well as the pulsing ache between her thighs. Did even considering it make her weird or perverted or lonely? Plenty of women used instruments like it all the time; hell, even Mary was unapologetic about enjoying hers, and she had a boyfriend who was presumably able to meet those types of needs. Not that Jane wanted to think about Freddie's…aptitude in any sort of detail. After rinsing her mouth of toothpaste, she cautiously leaned against the doorframe, peaking around the corner to look at the vibrator on the table. It was just a hunk of plastic with a battery, she supposed— it didn't have to mean anything she didn't want it to mean.

Swallowing back her hesitance, she returned to the dresser and picked up the vibrator. Her finger hovered over the ON button, a raised black heart at the base of the toy. Pursing her lips and holding the vibrator an arm's length away, she turned it on. The machine roared — or rather, buzzed — to life, almost jumping out of Jane's hand with the force of the vibrations that numbed her fingers while sending a sort of spasm up her arm. She fumbled with it to turn it off, tossing it on the bed as if it had burned her. She looked down at her hand; the skin still tingled, though not unpleasantly.

Interesting.

Circling the bed, she glared down at her foe, steeling up her resolve; that thing would not beat her. Its mere existence was now a challenge and a puzzle— two things that Jane had never been good at leaving well enough alone. Exhaling a short breath, she nodded to herself and began undressing methodically, unbuttoning her blouse and folding it into her suitcase before wriggling out of her trousers. Left in her bra and knickers, she looked at the made bed and the pillows fluffed on top — was this an under the covers affair, or over? Did she keep her bra on? The box hadn't included those types of instructions.

She gingerly picked up the vibrator and drew the covers back before climbing in, making herself comfortable against the pile of pillows behind her. The toy sat patiently beside her on the bed. Waiting. But— the lights. One couldn't possible debauch oneself under fluorescents. Stumbling out of bed again, her foot getting caught in the sheets, she shut off the overhead lights. The bedside lamp, casting a dim, orange glow over the room, was somewhat more appropriate for the mood. The mood at the moment being clinically detached horniness. This was an experiment, and she was both scientist and variable. Trial one: subject's sexual agitation has driven her to drastic measures.

Her hand, shaking before it even reached the vibrator, pressed the ON button. Expecting the force and volume of the vibrations this time, she held a firm grip on the handle as she let her hand acclimate to the buzzing sensation. Tentative, she moved the tip of the toy to the inside of her elbow and pressed it against the sensitive skin. It felt...odd, like her nerves were being individually shocked with a pleasant static. She trailed it up her arm and over her shoulder, wincing at the feeling of it rattling her collarbone. Noted: vibrations did not feel pleasant over bone. She took her time, experimenting with different pressures as she moved the vibrator down her bare abdomen, over the soft skin of her stomach. The sensations there tickled, but the aftershocks sent pangs of need coursing downward. She untangled her legs slightly under the covers, letting her hips relax as she edged the vibrator toward the waistband of her knickers.

There was a sudden door slam from the room next to hers, Roger's room, and the reverberation shook the wall behind her head. She stopped her movements, holding down the vibrator's button to turn it off as she listened in frozen silence to the sound of heavy shoes hitting the floor and a woman's soft laughter. A moment later, the wheezing of bedsprings and the thump of a headboard against the wall as Roger and his guest fell onto the bed. Roger's voice was soft and dampened through the wall, but just his tone was enough to send heat rushing down her body. Jane rested her head back on the pillow, squeezing her eyes shut.

No. Not tonight.

As it turned out, hotel room walls in America were just as thin as those in England. Maybe she was imagining it, but she could almost hear the buttons of his shirt being undone, the garment thrown unceremoniously to the floor. She wondered if he was undressing himself, or if the woman had unnotched his belt, sliding it from its loops and tugging his trousers past his hips. Maybe she was running her hands down his chest, over the slight swell of his stomach. He was skinny, but he had always been soft. There was a strained moan from the woman that devolved into a whine, and Jane could only imagine what Roger was doing to illicit that sound.

And she was imagining it, in detail. It felt voyeuristic and invasive, but she couldn't help the flush that enveloped her at the sound of his voice, both familiar and unfamiliar, instructing his partner.

"Spread your legs, love."

It wasn't a conscious decision, switching the vibrator back on, but she did. Pressing the tip just above her pubic bone, she let out a shaky sigh, reacclimating to the nearly overwhelming stimulation. Lower and lower she let it travel, slipping underneath her knickers as the moans from behind the wall grew breathier. Finally, the end of the vibrator nestled between her folds, pushing against the bulb of her clit, and she almost rammed her head into the wall, so intense was the shockwave that ricocheted from her center to every inch of her body.

It wasn't a bad sensation — quite the opposite — but that much direct stimulation was altogether too much. Avoiding placing too much pressure on her clit, she circled her slick folds now with the tip and let her eyes flutter shut once more. She could see why people liked this— masturbation had never felt so easy. There was a rising and ebbing flow to the heat that pooled deliciously in her core, and once she found the line between control and unravelment, she toed it leisurely.

The bedsprings from Roger's room had started to softly creak, accompanied by dual grunts and sighs. The few muttered words Jane could make out were absolute filth, driving the hand holding the vibrator to thrust in increasingly quick, short motions. Her legs were getting tangled in the sheets, and she kicked them free, moaning as the movement sent the vibrator pushing up against her opening.

The headboard banged loudly against the other wall, and the rhythm of the mattress squeaks faltered before reaching a pulsing, punishing pace. Her eyes squeezed shut, she imagined Roger over her, under her, pressing into her with the same breakneck urgency— his lips parted, eyes barely open, fingers digging into her hips. She bet he looked beautiful, like he did in the middle of a show, sweaty and in ruins from the destructive force of their music. And his hands, sure and clever and eager to show off, would fondle her breasts, her clit, with a single-minded focus.

"C'mon, you can come for me."

Jane whimpered at the sound of his words, pressing one hand insistently against her lower abdomen as the other thrusted the toy in a stuttering rhythm. She was so close, she could feel the embers of her orgasm sparking in her core, and she fanned the flames desperately, no longer caring to stifle the moans escaping her lips. Roger's muffled grunts, primal and raw, urged her to climb higher and higher, the atmosphere getting thin and her breathing growing short and labored, until finally, finally, she felt the rush of heat rising upward like a fireball through an elevator shaft. It was falling and floating at the same time, suspended for a long, dizzying moment between consciousness, and then—

"Jane!"

She tumbled, crashing to earth hard. The sound had been a choked cry, strangled and strained, but undeniably her name. The blood drained from her face as feeling returned to her hands and feet. Drawing in heavy, ragged breaths, she stared at the ceiling, frozen while the vibrator dropped uselessly from her hand, turning off when it hit the floor. Roger and the girl had come to a sudden silence, and the air in the room hung stale. The full force of what had just happened — what she'd done, what he'd done — hit her like a bus, knocking the wind out of her while she grappled to hold onto a solid thought, an explanation for why the world had just turned on its axis.

Her mind raced, first reeling with guilt and shame for casting Roger unwittingly in her private fantasy, but then stunned shock. He'd said her name in the height of her climax, and probably his as well. The walls were thin— if she could hear his every moan and sigh, she had every reason to believe he had heard hers. Had he been thinking of her in the same way she had been thinking of him? Using the image of her as she had used him to reach release? What it meant for her, for them, she couldn't say. She didn't have the energy to fight with herself all night, when she knew she'd end up back where she started.

There were rising murmurs behind the wall, the rustling of clothes and footsteps on carpet. Jane tuned it out, closing her eyes and sinking back into the pillows, exhausted and still shaking. Like she had taken more than she could hold onto, and her arms were buckling under the weight.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

April 17, 1974

 

 

In the aftermath of what Jane had deemed the incident the previous night, she reverted to the time-honored Deacon family tradition of trying to ignore a problem in the hope that it would eventually disappear. It worked for her parents, so it would work for her. 

If she could cast what had happened from her mind, strip those thoughts of their power over her, then everything could return to normal. Normal, of course, being the state in which Jane could comfortably exist in the same room as Roger without wanting to tear off his clothes— or hers. But normal was nowhere in sight. Everything she thought she knew about their relationship, about the last three years, had come crashing down around her in an instant, and the pieces were too big to shove neatly under the rug.

She couldn't bring herself to go downstairs for breakfast, to face Roger and try to discern what he could remember of last night, so she hid in her hotel room until their tour manager banged on her door and told her the bus would be leaving in 20 minutes. They had a four hour drive to Memphis ahead of them; four hours to sit across from Roger in a cramped space and pretend like the molten core of their friendship had not just imploded.

He was leaning against the tour bus talking to Morgan when she finally left the hotel; sunglasses on and head down, he looked desperately hung over. Jane walked a wide arc around them, trying to board the bus without drawing attention to herself. Naturally, she wasn't about to be so lucky. Morgan caught sight of her and beamed, pushing himself off the bus and beckoning her to join them.

"Hey sleeping beauty!" he called, waving at her cheerfully. "Good morning, Jane."

Roger visibly flinched at the volume, and then froze at the sound of her name, raising his head ever so slowly to meet her gaze through shaded eyes. She could see his throat bob with a swallow before plastering on the cool, forced smile he gave reporters and their management. It stung to be on the receiving end. Jane gripped her bag slung over her shoulder with white knuckles, walking back toward them despite every part of her body screaming at her to run in the opposite direction.

"Morning," she said, adopting as chipper of a tone as she could manage. Her eyes flickered to Roger, whose face had gone ashen. "Hi, Rog."

He gulped, nodding. "Hey, Jane."

She didn't think she had ever heard Roger sound so timid, hungover or not. They stood there awkwardly for a long moment, and his silence spoke volumes more than he could possibly say. Because there was nothing they could say, or at least nothing she knew how to make sense of and verbalize. Morgan, in between them, shifted his weight from foot to foot uncomfortably.

"You two look like shit," he said, looking questioningly at Jane. "Rough night?"

She bit her lip, tearing her eyes away from Roger. "Yeah, I think we were all out of our heads a little."

Stepping forward and angling himself so his back was to Morgan, Roger reached for her arm. When he spoke, his voice was still soft, but firm.

"Can we talk?"

She flinched away from him at the shock of his skin on hers, though she quickly camouflaged her panic with a wavering smile. The hurt on his face at her reaction cut her sharply.

"Later," she lied, walking backwards toward the bus door. "I'm still knackered; I think I'll catch another couple hours of sleep on the bus."

 

The ride to Memphis went better than expected, mostly due to Roger's crippling hangover that left him all but immobile and mute. Avoiding him was easy when he spent the entire trip either hurling up the remnants of last night's indulgences in the toilet or laying on his back in the bunk, moaning pitifully. His absence gave her time to think as they cut through the small, no-stoplight towns and hayfields of rural Missouri on their way to Tennessee.

There wasn't much comfort to be found in her thoughts, not that she needed it. Logic and cool-headed rationalization would be the answer to her problems. After all, wasn't it her pursuit of comfort that landed her on Roger's lap and stuck in this endless hamster wheel of a feedback loop?

No, she was going to tackle this in the only way that made sense. If a piece of equipment broke, Jane didn't throw out the whole machine; she'd find the broken component and replace it, balancing the load. The same could be done to her relationship with Roger: isolate the faulty parts and redistribute the charge. It was Engineering 101. She already had a rough idea of what needed to be fixed— her uncharacteristically reckless, starving desire for touch, for gratification, had shorted out her brain. The cure? Well, that was more biology than engineering.

 

 


 

 

Jane knocked on the door of Morgan's dressing room/rehearsal space, interrupting a rendition of Drivin' Sister. The tour buses had arrived in Memphis early and — since they were forgoing a hotel stay in favor of riding through the night to Oklahoma City — had spread out in the backstage accommodations of the Mid-South Coliseum while they prepared for the evening's show. She had been able to successfully dodge Roger's attempts to talk so far, though she did feel horribly guilty about giving him the runaround. Once she was in a more clear-headed state of mind, then she'd be in a position to talk to him. Which was where Morgan came in. He was the obvious answer to the question she'd be struggling with all morning. She just had to ask.

"Come in," he called, halting his playing.

She took a steadying breath before pushing the door open and stepping into the dressing room. It was small but cozy, a couch and shag rug softening the atmosphere cast by the white cement walls and harsh lights of the vanity mirror. Morgan had set up his keyboard in front of the dressing table, which was already littered with food wrappers and soda cans. He turned as she entered, leaning against his keyboard with his arms folded, a customary grin on his face.

"If it isn't my favorite student! Is it time for another lesson?"

She dug her foot into the floor, twisting it. "Actually—"

"I'm just playing around right now, so I could teach you a song or two, if you like."

"Can we just talk?"

He stopped, a momentary blip in his smile as he looked her over. "Sure. Everything OK?"

She nodded, shutting the door behind her. "Yes, completely. I just thought we could hang out before the show, if you're not busy…"

"No, no, not busy at all. Please," he said, standing up straight and gesturing for her to sit down on the couch. He twisted around to scan the table, his hands lighting upon an unopened six-pack of beer. "Make yourself at home. Fancy a beer? They're, ah, very warm."

"No, thank you. I don't suppose they've hidden any kettles for tea about?"

"Unfortunately not," he said with a grimace, cracking open a bottle for himself. "We should have put it on our rider."

"Our rider," she snorted, shaking her head. "We're not Bowie."

"You're right; Bowie's beers are cold."

Leaning against the wall across from her, he took a sip and looked at her over the top of the bottle, his lips twitching with an amused smile. "So…" he started, tapping his fingers against the glass. "What's up?"

She bit her lip, digging her hands underneath her legs on the couch. He cocked his head, waiting for her response. Unable to hold back the question ready to burst from her lips in fear of losing her nerve, she took a breath and ripped the plaster off.

"Do you want to have sex?"

The beer bottle was just touching his lips when he stopped, lowering it slowly as he stared at her, dumbfounded. She stared back, gaze unwavering with her question. There was a long, tense moment where Jane feared he was about to kick her out of his dressing room. He swallowed thickly, his eyebrows bunching.

"With...you?"

"Well, I wasn't gauging your general interest in the concept of sex…" she said, a blush coming quick to her cheeks. "I know we've been here before, but I'm not talking about wining and dining. Just...fucking."

"Jesus, Jane," he groaned, putting his drink down on the table. "Where did this come from?"

She shrugged, biting her tongue between her teeth. "The short answer is that I'm horny. Haven't gotten laid in a while, and it's starting to drive me crazy."

He scanned her face critically, crossing his arms over his chest. "Does the long answer have something to do with Roger?"

She gaped at him, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. Was she that easy to read? Or had this...thing between her and Roger been brewing for longer than she knew?

"I— I don't know what you mean."

"I'm not an idiot, but sure. Whatever," he said flippantly, narrowing his eyes. "So why me?"

She counted the reasons off on her fingertips; it had all made perfect sense to her on the bus. "I'm comfortable with you, I find you attractive and I'm reasonably confident you're still attracted to me, and I have reason to believe we'd be sexually compatible."

He snorted a laugh. "Wow, you really know how to romance a guy."

She rolled her eyes. "I don't need or want romance. Look, I just need someone to fuck me, alright?"

"Jane—"

"You wouldn't even need to put your dick in me, if you didn't want to. You've clearly got talented hands—"

"Stop," he groaned, rubbing a hand over his face. "You've got to stop talking like that."

"Why?"

"Because you're making it hard — pun fully intended — to say no."

She grimaced apologetically. "Sorry. But, um, no? Why not?"

"You're my friend, Jane," he chided, his voice sounding tired and strained. "I thought we had agreed to stay friends for a reason."

She posted her hands on her hips, a lick of anger burning low in the back of her mind. "Yes, well, now I don't fucking care what Brian or Freddie or anyone else has to say about who I sleep with!"

"We both know that wasn't the reason," he said with a sigh. "Come on, Jane. You don't want me."

"I just told you I did!"

"Not like you want him."

Then there was silence; Morgan didn't need to specify who he meant, and Jane knew there was no point in trying to lie to him.

She looked down at her hands in her lap. "Well, he's out of the question, so the point is moot."

"You should talk to him."

She laughed humorlessly. "About what? There's nothing to discuss. If we slept together, I'd be casting myself in the role that every single fucking person outside our bubble expects me to play. No, I'm not doing that. It'd ruin everything we have."

"I thought you didn't care what people thought about you."

She glared at him, growing more agitated in the face of his enduring calmness. "So that's a no from you, then?"

"Sorry, love."

She rose to her feet, feeling like she needed to run to run far, far away now that she had thoroughly embarrassed herself. "Well, I should probably go."

He sighed, smiling woefully to himself. "Yeah, OK."

She reached for the door, but let her hand drop as she turned back to face him, unable to ignore her lingering curiosity. "But um, Morgan?"

"Hm?"

"Would you sleep with me, though? If, uh, if he wasn't in the picture?"

Morgan pursed his lips, looking away from her as his jaw clenched. When he glanced back, there was an unreadable expression on his face, though it resembled exhaustion.

"You're a sweet girl, but you can be sort of obliviously cruel sometimes, you know that?"

She took a step back, caught off guard by his tone. "I— I'm sorry, Morgan. I didn't mean to—"

He waved her off, pinning his lips into a tight smile. "Have a good show tonight, Jane."

 

 


 

 

Roger had fucked up.

It wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last, but he had never managed to sabotage himself in such a spectacular fashion before. It was like the time he had tried to extinguish a grease fire with the hose from the kitchen sink and had almost burned down the house; except this time, Jane wasn't coming to the rescue with a carton of baking soda to dump on the fire. She was the fire.

Drinking like it was his last night on Earth was his first mistake but, to be fair, he would not have drank so heavily if he had known Jane would join them in the lounge that night. He didn't trust Drunk Roger to be within a hundred meters of her, and for good reason. His memories of the night were still fuzzy, but it would take more than a few shots to forget the softness of her skin under his hands, the way she sighed and leaned into every touch. Roger had basked in the heat crackling between them, not realizing that he'd gotten too close until he was burned.

At some point, she had left, and he had grown antsy counting down seconds that felt like hours, wondering where she had gone. And then a woman had started talking to him, flirting with him, and...OK, he wasn't proud of the swiftness with which his brain had changed gears and throttled ahead, but Jane had left and this new woman had practically thrown herself onto his lap. What was he supposed to do? Shove her away? Not return her sloppy kiss? Not take her hand and lead her back to his hotel room for a quick, nameless shag? In hindsight, he supposed he could have said no to all of those things, but he'd always been eager to please.

So he shagged the pretty blonde, and it would have been a mediocre, booze-dulled fuck if it hadn't been for the sounds. At first, he had thought it was the ringing in his ears, like a high-pitched jackhammer against his skull. But then he remembered whose room he shared a wall with, pulling forth his memory of that exact noise and the shameful fantasies that had followed. He had heard her moans, soft and desperate, and could have bit his tongue clean off but opted instead to fuck the woman underneath him harder, imagining it was Jane's body he was rutting into, her climax he was chasing.

Shutting his eyes, propping his hand against the wall to steady himself as he rocketed toward completion, he could have sworn he heard the exact moment she let herself get swept away. It was too much— the erotic fantasy of her sprawled and writhing on the bed underneath him, dark hair draped over his pillow, green-grey eyes widening before clamping shut. He didn't realize what he had said until her name had already left his lips, and a deep, unsettling silence had followed.

The blonde — he never caught her name, though it was abundantly clear it was not Jane — had left in a hurry, and then he was alone. Alone and drunk with nothing to do but picture all the ways Jane could tell him she was disgusted and wanted nothing to do with him. His imagination's Jane yelled and cursed at him, slamming doors in his face and throwing things out the window. But that was just his subconscious dressed in Jane's clothing. The real thing took a much crueler form.

Jane was avoiding him. She had never done so before, and Roger decided he didn't care for this new phenomenon at all. When they arrived at the Mid-South Coliseum that afternoon, she had been first off the bus, shouting something about needing to find Ratty. He had went looking for her a few minutes later, unable to help himself from receiving some sort of reassurance, or condemnation. But when he found her on the stage conversing with her roadie, she had greeted him with a tense, polite smile before ducking out to "go for a walk" (no, she didn't want company, and yes, she could find her way back without issue). Ratty had given Roger an exasperated look, as if Roger had done something particularly dumb. Which he supposed he had, but he didn't believe for a second that Jane had told her assistant, or anybody for that matter, about what she had heard last night.

With Jane running off to who knows where, Roger was thrown off his pre-show rhythm. Before shows, they would all typically camp out in the guys' large dressing room (Jane was promised her own space to dress at all their venues, even if it meant a broom cupboard was to be cleared out for her), playing Scrabble, warming up their vocals, or reading the local paper. They weren't always particularly chatty, especially if they were nervous, but they were always together. Now, with less than an hour before showtime, Freddie was sipping his hot tea with lemon, Brian was huddled over his guitar with a strobe tuner, and Jane was nowhere to be found.

In his antsiness, Roger had already snapped three drumsticks clean in half. A roadie Roger vaguely recognized popped his head in the room to announce that Crystal was suffering from a bad case of food poisoning and would not be assisting him that night. Instead, Roger would be relying on this pockmarked kid, Nick, to keep his part of the show running smoothly. Which was just...perfect. Not that it mattered; Roger's head was in a thousand different places, and none of them were focused on the job he was being paid to do.

Jane was avoiding him, and it hurt, most of all because he had no way of knowing whether their friendship as they knew it would even survive. And what did she want from him, anyway? For him to grovel for forgiveness at her feet? He could do that. Or perhaps she wanted to ignore it completely and never speak of it again, which seemed a very Jane thing to do. That was also doable, but it hardly solved anything. He could deal with her shouting or icy stares or sarcastic comments; those were symptoms of emotions he understood and could work with. But absence? Absence scared him more than anything.

He just wanted to go back in time, erase the events of last night, and maybe everything since the photoshoot two months ago as well, just so they could continue living in the easy, comfortable way they always had before. But until Brian invented the means to achieve time travel, he was stuck in the present, trying to ignore the nagging voice inside his head telling him that he had wanted Jane for much longer than just a couple months.

At twenty-five minutes to showtime, Roger was getting ready to send a search party after her when Jane finally strolled through the door, muttering apologies to no one in particular as she hurried to the costume rack against the back wall. Roger put down the periodical he was reading and watched silently as she slipped off her denim jacket, letting it fall to the floor carelessly.

"Kind of you to join us," Freddie drawled, turning away from the mirror where he had been making final touches to his eyeliner. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Sorry, I lost track of time," she said, sounding distracted as she flicked through the clothes on their hangers, looking for her stagewear. Head down, she was avoiding eye contact with all of them. Most of all, Roger suspected, him.

"You missed sound check," said Brian, already up and leaning against the door, ready to go on stage. "Ratty had to do it."

"Well, that is part of his job."

"Doesn't matter. We do sound check together, Deaky."

Jane ignored him, removing her satin trousers from their hanger and cursing under her breath. "Shit, I was going to get these dry cleaned," she muttered, holding the garment up under the light.

An unsightly mottled stain ran down the upper portion of one of the legs, a reminder of when Jane had knocked over a nearly full bottle of beer backstage towards the end of the show the previous night. As the supporting act, they didn't quite have the luxury of a full-time wardrobe assistant, so spills and rips were their responsibility to clean and mend. Or at least, bribe a roadie to do it for them.

"Well we don't have time to clean it now. Just wear something else," said Brian.

"All my other costumes are in the bus!"

"Not all of them," Freddie sang, grinning as he rose to join her at the clothing rack.

He plucked a hanger from the rack, dangling a white satin skirt in front of Jane's face. The skirt had originally been designed for her by Zandra Rhodes for the tour, but Jane had put up a fuss to Freddie, eventually getting her way and having a matching pair of trousers be made instead. Which, thank god, because Roger didn't think he'd be able to survive watching Jane bop around the stage in front of him in a tiny slip of a skirt.

He was confident in the knowledge that there was no way she was going to do it. Jane didn't care what outlandish outfits Freddie shoved her way 90 percent of the time, but she drew the line at anything that made her feel exposed. Something about keeping the audience's attention on her playing or, ideally, on Freddie and Brian at the front of the stage. Sure enough, Jane had fixed a cold stare at Freddie, opening her mouth to issue her rebuke when— she stopped. Her eyes flickered to the side, landing on Roger for the briefest of seconds. Pursing her lips, she snatched the skirt out of Freddie's hands.

"Fine. I'm going to change; I'll meet you on stage."

Roger felt a cold sweat coming on.

 

 


 

 

This was it; Roger was going to lose his fucking mind, followed by his job. Between his brain replaying the previous night's events on a loop like the worst sort of rerun and his current predicament staring at the back of Jane's exposed legs, he was wildly distracted from the moment he stepped on stage. Even better, Nick-the-roadie was a piss-poor drum tech, spending ages trying to replace the broken bass pedal when Crystal could have done the same thing in a matter of seconds. Roger prided himself on being the reliable backbone of their sound, but tonight he found he had no spine to speak of. The show was going off the rails, fast.

Ogre Battle had started off far too slow, forcing Freddie to hike one foot on the drum riser and clap his hands, urging Roger to pick up the pace: "It's not a funeral dirge, Rog." He lost his place halfway through Great King Rat and ended up playing the second verse twice, knocking the rest of the band off their rhythm until the song ended with a rather anticlimactically-delayed bash of cymbals. Throughout the first half of their set, Jane was conspicuously absent from her usual place just in front of his drums. She hadn't strolled over to check in with him, hadn't danced her way in front of the risers, hadn't even turned her head to look at him. But he couldn't think of anything else.

Just look at me, damnit.

And then they were playing Liar, and Jane's damn skirt was hiking up every time she leaned forward to sing the chorus with Freddie over his shoulder, and Roger was wondering if he should just shut his eyes and play the rest of the show blindly. He knew Jane's solo towards the end of the song was her favorite part of the show, and yet he managed to fuck it up spectacularly. He felt like an amateur drummer in his teenage band again, abandoning the set tempo and driving them faster and faster. She had lightning fingers, but even she couldn't make sense of the slapdash, breakneck speed with which he was rushing them through her solo.

Now, Jane didn't typically show her frustration on stage. The most visible display of anger Roger had ever seen from her during a concert was a sharp exhale and shake of her head when she broke a string. But when the song ended, she turned around (finally!) with a white-hot fury in her eyes as she stalked toward him.

"What the fuck, Roger?" she seethed, standing to the side of his kit, hands on hips while Freddie introduced their penultimate song of the night. "Where's your head at?"

Unexpectedly, her anger only fueled the spark of his own. Where was his head? Where was hers? He had been trying to do the adult thing and talk to her, apologize if she'd let him, and she had done nothing but run from him since the previous night in the lounge of the Red Lion. Only now did she see it fit to even face him. Now she was ready to get angry?

He returned her glare, spinning his stick between his fingers. "Focus on yourself, Deacon. You're good at that."

"Prick," she muttered, spinning on her heel to walk away from him.

The next song, Keep Yourself Alive sounded like shit. His drum solo was shit. The spot operator who kept shining that damned light straight into his eyes was shit. Just when Roger thought the show couldn't possibly get any worse, the power flicked off during Son and Daughter, casting the auditorium into a terrifying blackness as the roadies scrambled in the dark to troubleshoot the issue.

"Fuck!" he shouted, not caring that everyone could hear him over the dull buzz of the audience talking among themselves.

The blackout was only momentary, thankfully, and they were able to jump back into the song where they left off, with Jane going back to ignoring him from the front of the stage. But Roger's mood had darkened to irredeemable depths, breaking another pair of sticks with his iron-tight grip before the first chorus of Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll. He couldn't even say for sure where his anger was directed — Jane, the venue, Nick, himself — but it was like a shot of amphetamines to his bloodstream, driving his pulse to unsustainable speeds as he wailed on his drums with all the pent-up frustration of the last few months. His sticks were digging into the calluses on his hands, ripping a pained shout from his throat as he stood up to beat furiously on the cymbals. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jane coming toward him; he didn't look her way but he gave her a single, firm order through his teeth: "Move."

Perhaps it was the look on his face or the tension in his voice that told her to listen, but she scattered, and as Brian played a final riff, Roger launched forward and shoved his bass drum and a tom-tom over with all the force he could muster, taking his cymbals down with them as they clattered to the floor with a crash. For added measure, he picked up the snare and tossed it clear offstage. Freddie, narrowly avoiding being hit with a cymbal, bid the audience goodnight before grabbing Jane by the arm and fleeing the stage.

Panting through his adrenaline, Roger shoved past Nick waiting in the wings with the cigarette he had requested fifteen goddamn minutes ago. The stage manager was yelling at the crew to hurry and clean up the kit so Mott's gear could be loaded on stage, but Roger didn't care about the roadies or the audience or Mott— he needed off that stage, and preferably out of Memphis. He ran down the stairs from the backstage area, striding down the empty tiled floors with heavy footsteps, yanking his drumsticks from his pockets and chucking them down the corridor. Behind him, he could hear the clatter of platform heels giving chase. He didn't need to turn to know who they belonged to.

"Who the fuck do you think you are?" Jane yelled, stalking after him as he turned the corner toward their dressing room. "Keith fucking Moon?"

"Piss off," he muttered, yanking open the dressing room door and slamming it behind him, which didn't feel nearly cathartic enough.

Jane was quick to follow him into the room, her face bright and sweaty and beautiful with fury.

"Are you insane?" she seethed, throwing her hands up. "You know how expensive those things are! Norman is going to have your fucking neck when he hears!"

He crossed his arms over his chest, subtly moving behind the couch to protect his nether regions. "I'll deal with Sheffield."

"You're damn right you will," she said, her voice lowering but sounding no less menacing. "You are going to pay every penny for those drums, so you can kiss that new car you've been eyeing goodbye!"

He rolled his eyes. "Fine, whatever. Are you done now?"

She held up a finger, pointing it at him accusingly. "No, I'm not. You played like shit tonight and it threw us all off."

"Wow, OK, that's real supportive of you, Deaky. I appreciate all of your goddamn concern."

"I'm not going to baby you, so don't be a child."

He choked a breathless laugh, shaking his head. "Don't lecture me about acting like an adult when you can't bring yourself to look me in the eye and talk to me."

Hands on hips, she narrowed her eyes, looking straight into his eyes with piercing intensity. "What do you think I'm doing right now?"

"I mean about last night! You abandoned me at that party—"

"Don't," she said, nearly growling the word. Her eyes had gone dark, and she prowled toward him until he was trapped against the back of the couch. She was glaring up at him, but he felt about a foot shorter than her in that moment.

"You had your tongue down some random woman's throat."

She was angry about thatHe didn't even think she had still been there at that point.

He shook his head, refusing to dwell on the moment. "After you'd been gone for a bloody hour!"

"Oh don't be so fucking ridiculous; I was gone for ten minutes!"

"A half hour."

"Fifteen minutes, tops," she sneered, poking her finger into his chest. "You couldn't control yourself for fifteen minutes."

As if replaying her words in her mind, she stopped, pursing her lips. "Not that it matters. I don't care who you shag."

Roger could have laughed if he wasn't so angry. That was a barefaced lie if he had ever heard one, and he couldn't stem the tirade that followed.

"It seemed to matter last night, when you ran up to your room to pleasure yourself when you had a whole fucking room of men to choose from! When you had your good pal Morgan— "

The mention of Morgan's name lit something deep and deadly in her face, and she rounded on him with fury.

"Just like it mattered when you were shouting my name while fucking another woman? What, were you trying to mess with me?"

He gaped at her, heat shooting up the back of his neck. "Of course not—"

"You thought it'd be funny—?"

She was so close to him, he could feel her breath coming hot and angry against his bare chest, exposed by his open shirt. Roger panicked, and when he panicked, he tended to tell the truth.

"I wanted her to be you!" he cried, whipping his hand through the air. "I wanted you!"

Alarms sounded in his head, screaming at him to retreat, to make it into a joke— deny, deny, deny. But he stood frozen, rooted to the spot, his heart pumping so hard she must have been able to hear it.

Her eyes widened, and there was a fragile, paper-thin silence between them until — in the space between heartbeats, Jane surged forward to crash her lips against his, knocking the wind out of him with a kiss that begged for an answer his body was all too eager to give.

Jane was kissing him.

Once recovered from his momentary shock, all thought left him as he grabbed her face with both hands and deepened the kiss, slanting his lips fully over hers. He had imagined this in so many places, scenarios, contexts, and yet none had prepared him for the electricity surging between them, driving him to open her mouth with his tongue, tangle his hands in her hair, groan into her mouth when she pressed herself flush against him. Her cool hands dipped beneath the collar of his undone shirt, digging her fingers into the back of his neck and ripping a half-bitten groan from somewhere deep inside his chest. Even with her lips on his, so soft and pliant and searching, that pounding ache in him wasn't satisfied; he needed her closer, deeper, more— he needed her to the point of pain.

He walked her backwards, lips still hungrily attached, until her back collided with the wall. Roger was lost in the taste of her, the pushing-pulling feel of her. He hooked his hands under her thighs and she did the rest, hopping up and wrapping her legs around his waist as he pinned her firmly against the wall to offset the weight. The movement pushed her skirt up, and when his hips inadvertently hitched forward, she gave him a full-throated moan before attaching her lips to his neck, just below his left ear, and sucking hard. He nearly blacked out from the excruciating heat.

There was nothing in the world more important than this— kissing her, being kissed by her. There could have been an earthquake that crumbled the building down around them, and he would die happy just as long as she kept touching him like she wanted him as badly as he wanted her. There were lips and heat and friction in all the best places, but not enough. He palmed her ass and rocked his pelvis harder against her center, grinding her down on him and capturing her lips mid-gasp.

Roger was spiraling— wanton and obsessed and driven purely by the primal urge for more, more, more. When he pulled away to gasp for air, her eyes were closed, head tilted up and lips parted as if still savoring the taste of him. She looked like a painting, like an angel caught in the midst of rapture, and his mouth ran dry. Stricken by the sight, his lips attached to the long column of her exposed throat, gentler now, kissing his way up to her mouth while continuing to rock her against him with slow, hard drags of his hips. Jane let out a breathy sigh, eyes still clamped shut, fingers of one hand lightly tugging at his hair while the other wrapped around his shoulders. He touched his forehead to hers, breathing the same air and slowing his movements.

"Jane," he murmured, surprising himself with the hoarseness of his own voice, dry and ragged as if he hadn't spoken for days.

At the sound, Jane's eyes popped open, and the dreamy, desire-darkened haze that had blown out her pupils before was gone. She stared up at him with uncertainty. With fear. Her fingernails dug like claws into his arms.

"Put me down," she demanded shakily, her own voice sounding small and strained.

His stomach dropped, and he quickly let her down, almost stumbling over himself as he backed away from her. Pressing herself flat against the wall, she heaved deep breaths into her lungs, not tearing her wide eyes away from his even as her hands seemed to tremble by her sides. His brain was slow to catch up with what his eyes were processing, high from her lips and her hands, the ghosts of which still burned hot on his skin.

"Jane—" he started, holding his palms up. Her face had taken that pinched quality that could either mean she was thinking very hard or was about to cry. Both made him worry. "Are you OK?"

"I'm sorry," she croaked, pulling her skirt down to an appropriate position with fidgeting fingers. "I don't know what came over me; I'm so sorry."

"You don't need to apologize."

"I do," she insisted, folding her arms protectively over her chest. "I wasn't thinking, and it was...ill-advised. It can't happen again."

Roger opened his mouth to argue, blinking in shock at the sudden change in circumstance, but there was nothing he could rebuke, at least not while he had control of only a single working brain cell. She had kissed him, but she regretted it. She had kissed him, but it was a mistake. The room felt ten degrees colder, and sweat was dripping uncomfortably down his back. Swallowing dryly, he nodded, taking another step back

"Can I just say," he started softly, "I meant what I—"

"Deaky! Darling, have you murdered him?"

Jane's head snapped up at the sound of Freddie's voice down the hall, and then down at the very conspicuous bulge in Roger's tight leather trousers; her eyes on him only made him twitch uncomfortably. They exchanged nervous looks, both panicking at the prospect of Freddie walking in on them with visible evidence of their indiscretions. Wordlessly, she pointed at the small loo attached to the dressing room and he sprinted to it without a moment's hesitation, shutting and locking the door behind him.

Catching his breath, he flicked on the lights, coming face to face with himself in the mirror of the cramped space. His hair was a mess— knotted and sticking up in odd directions where she had bunched it at the back of his head — and a bright red bloom of a hickey was already forming on his throat.

Shit.

The dressing room door opened, and he heard two pairs of footsteps enter. Naturally, Freddie had brought Brian as backup.

"We thought we'd give you a head start to string him up," Freddie said airily, and the door clicked close a moment later. "Where is the twit, anyway?"

"Toilet," Jane blurted. "He's sick."

Taking the cue, Roger made a retching noise into his hands, making the sound echo.

"Not him too," Brian groaned, adding after a moment's hesitation: "I mean, Crystal is sick. Food poisoning, I think."

"Poor chap," Freddie said with a cluck of his tongue, and Roger could hear footsteps approaching the bathroom door. "Rog, are you OK?"

"I'm fine!" he called, rubbing a hand over his face as he sat down on the closed toilet seat. "Just give me a couple minutes."

"Alright… well, I suppose that's penance enough for tonight," Freddie said, moving away from the door.

Roger closed his eyes, shaking his head in his hands as the three continued talking outside, making themselves comfortable for the remainder of Mott's set. His erection pushed almost painfully against his trousers, even though his lust-induced fog had lifted. He supposed it was only fitting that he be back where it all started, huddled pitifully in the toilet with an inconvenient boner while the others were blissfully unaware on the other side of the door.

Except for Jane. Now she knew, and even if she wanted him back— and, from the urgency and passion with which she had kissed him, he thought she very well might — she wasn't going to let them make a bigger mess than they already had. And unlike him, she'd stick to her guns; she always was stronger.

Jane's voice came soft from the other room. Subdued. Freddie and Brian might have assumed she was just tired after a rough show, but Roger didn't have to see her to know her eyes were switching back and forth anxiously, that her hands were winding around each other, that her breathing had not yet evened.

The taste of her hadn't satisfied his need; if anything, it sent hunger pangs coursing through him. He bent over at the waist until his head was almost brushing his knees, groaning. He didn't have to fake it; he was positively nauseous.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

April 19, 1974

 

If Jane had learned anything so far about America, it was that the heartland was filled with an unfathomable number of no-name towns, middle-of-nowhere diners, and fields— miles upon miles of corn and wheat and hay and more corn. They had traveled six hours to Oklahoma the night before and would complete another ten hours by the time they arrived in New Orleans, but looking up at the poster of America taped to the wall of the bus, Jane could see they hadn't even made a dent in the country's thousands of miles of highways. Its enormity was what had endeared the country in Jane's imagination as a child — all that wide open space, the quiet, the freedom. But there was space, and then there was absence. And at three in the morning on the bus riding through rural northeastern Texas, a freight train rumbling on tracks parallel to the empty stretch of highway, all Jane could focus on were the things that were missing.

She missed home. She missed being able to step outside without a roadie or tour manager wanting to know where she was going, and how long she'd be gone, and how she even expected to get around in a country that demanded its inhabitants drive everywhere. She missed the old days, when fame was just a pipe dream and not something they had to actively, relentlessly pursue — back when they all fought over dirty dishes and laundry but would still take their tea together in front of the telly that evening. She missed the security of knowing that no matter what happened, Freddie, Brian, Roger, and Jane belonged together.

So in the middle of a corn or wheat or hay field, lit only dimly by the headlights, Jane was desperately homesick. Homesick, despite the three people who were, for all intents and purposes, her home sleeping just a few yards away. Roger, in particular, had never felt farther. But that was her own fault. She'd poured gasoline on a wildfire, so she couldn't pity herself for getting singed.

Memphis had been an anomaly— a seismic upheaval in the otherwise level-planed course of her life. The how or what or why of what happened still escaped her, two days later. Well, she supposed she knew why she had kissed him: she wanted to. But wanting something had never been so immovable of a motivator before. Jane wanted a lot of things, after all; she was one of four hot-headed musicians in a rock band, so she was used to compromising by now. But she hadn't wanted to compromise that night. She had felt his turbulence on stage, with all the violence of a lightning storm, and had wanted to taste it for herself. And then Roger had said the words that she had already known, but needed to hear for herself to be sure she wasn't crazy: he wanted her. 

She was, of course. Crazy. She had propositioned Morgan as a remedy for her lust, hurting him and embarrassing herself in the process. She had resolved to keep her distance to let her attraction flicker out and die, and then gone and cornered Roger. She'd kissed him, and then shoved him away. Like clockwork; bad decision after bad decision, screwing up her friendships and drawing focus away from the only thing any of them should have been paying attention to: the tour.

Jane couldn't trust herself around him anymore, so what had followed after Memphis had been all but radio silence. On the bus ride to Oklahoma City, she had stayed in her bunk all night, curtains drawn, though she couldn't sleep until the guys eventually trickled off to their own bunks. Roger had stood next to their stacked bunks for several long seconds, and Jane thought he must have been able to hear her heart thudding from inside her chest. He had taken a deep breath — or maybe a heavy sigh — before crawling into his own bed. If she thought hotel walls were thin, that was nothing compared to the ease with which sound carried from Roger's bunk; she could hear his breathing and his sheets rustling as clearly as if he had been lying in bed beside her. The thought made her stomach hurt.

When they arrived in Oklahoma, Jane walked laps around the streets of the small, flat downtown until her feet ached, despite the lack of anything noteworthy to do or look at. The guys had taken an outing to the Myriad Botanical Gardens, which had at least sounded interesting, but strolling through rose beds flanked by Roger and Morgan had seemed like the worst of two options. She had taken a taxi back to the concert venue— the Oklahoma state fairgrounds, located on a dusty patch of trampled down earth four miles outside of town. She was back in time for soundcheck, so there was little grumbling, but she'd been exceedingly conscious of the way Roger's eyes had followed her, how he had gravitated towards her as quickly as she had repelled herself from him.

He had played better that night, but not great. Neither, though, had she. A rhythm section who refuses to look at each other is not a particularly effective team. Afterwards, Freddie had wanted to grab a drink at a nearby bar before loading back onto the bus for their long-haul drive, but both Jane and Roger had demurred, and Brian wasn't feeling up to it.

"None of you are any fun," Freddie had sniffed, casting a critical eye on Jane that lingered long enough to make her squirm.

If Freddie had noticed anything out of the ordinary between Jane and Roger, he wasn't saying anything. Brian, on the other hand, was fit to burst.

"What did he do?" Brian had demanded, cornering Jane in the dressing room after the others had left.

"What did who do?" she had asked, busying herself with adjusting the straps on her bag while Brian stared holes into her forehead, his mouth drawn into a pinched frown.

"You know," he huffed, posting an arm against the wall she was leaning on. "Roger. You haven't spoken a word to each other all day."

"Why do you assume he did something?"

"Because it's Roger. He's been acting like a kicked puppy."

"Well, you're wrong," she said, sliding under his arm to reach the door. "And it's none of your business."

With Freddie and Brian now curiously watching the growing tension between her and Roger, Jane had again gone to bed early that night. Staring at the stained plywood on the top of her bunk, she had listened to the halting conversation between the three at the front of the bus. For once, Roger didn't seem to have much of anything to say. Brian had asked Roger if he was OK, if he and Jane were fighting, if there was anything he could do to help. Roger had answered tiredly: "Yes," "I don't know," and "Probably not." Which was more forthcoming than Jane had been, anyway.

She wondered if he resented her for ruining their friendship. She did.

Jane had slipped into an uneasy sleep, but had woken up a few hours later with the jolt of the bus going over a speedbump. Peeking outside her bunk, she could see only a faint overhead light coming from Arnie's driver's seat up front. The guys had long since retired for the night, with Brian's snores sounding like a small engine from the opposite bunk. Restless and unable to return to sleep, she had crawled out of bed and tiptoed to the couch behind Arnie's divider. It was quiet and peaceful in the darkness, watching the fields and farmhouses on the side of the highway rush past, briefly illuminated by their headlights, but there was no solace here.

Arnie was humming along with the radio, playing so softly Jane could only hear it when she laid her head back against the thin divider wall. It was The Beatles, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." She cracked a smile; that was one of Roger's favorites to sing in the shower, belting away cheekily as Jane or Brian pounded on the bathroom door for him to hurry up. But the days of the three of them living together were quickly coming to an end, as far as Jane could tell. Brian would probably move in with Chrissie soon enough, and Jane and Roger couldn't afford the rowhouse between just the two of them. Not that they'd be able to live together anymore, anyway. Not when sharing a stage with him was hard enough.

Everything was changing, and Jane didn't even know how, or with what words to name the feelings that had come from nowhere and gnawed away at her sanity. The only thing that was certain was the damage she had inadvertently wrecked on half of the relationships in her life.

With the upbeat Beatles song still crooning in the background, Jane felt tears welling up in the corners of her eyes— the timid kind that she was usually able to force back, but tonight she didn't have the will to do so. She was confused and angry and sad, and if a dark bus in the middle of nowhere at three in the morning wasn't a good place to cry, she didn't know what was.

Jane couldn't remember the last time she had cried, but it felt good; like a small part of the chaos in her head had been distilled and siphoned out, easing the pressure.

There was a rustling from the back of the bus, the sound of curtains being pulled back followed by the sound of bare feet meeting the vinyl floor. Jane looked up, squinting in the dark to see the outline of Roger perched on the edge of his bunk, bent over and rubbing his hands over his face. He had worn only his boxers to bed, but the sight didn't stir any feelings of wanting in her. Just a deep ache in her gut. She held her breath, unsure if he had seen her yet.

His head turned, still resting on his hand propped up by his knee, and she got her answer.

"Why are you up?" he asked, a soft croak breaking the silence of the sleepy bus. "It's late."

"It's early, actually," she replied, wincing at the crack in her voice. "It's past three."

After a moment's pause, he stood up slowly, taking a single step toward her. His face was lit only faintly by the overhead lamp at the front of the bus, the heavy shadows accentuating the deep bags under his eyes, which she was sure matched hers as well.

"You're crying." It wasn't a question.

"I'm not."

"Deaky."

She inhaled through her mouth, not wanting him to hear her sniffle like a child. "I'm fine. You should go back to bed."

Instead, he sat down at the other end of the bench, leaving several feet of space between them. Leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees, he looked straight ahead, out of the window opposite them. They were passing through a small town, shuttered and dark for the night, save for a few street lights dotting the main road.

"I can't sleep."

She nodded, dragging the wetness from the corner of her eye with a flick of her finger. "That seems to be going around."

Arnie had stopped humming, but he had turned up the radio, perhaps to offer the two of them some semblance of privacy. Jane wondered how many late night conversations he had overheard, and if he ever got sad listening to the loneliness of his passengers. Or if he thought their petty problems were so laughably insignificant to be insulting. 

"I'm sorry."

She furrowed her eyebrows at the unexpected statement, glancing at Roger skeptically. "For what?"

He wasn't looking at her, and it was too dark to read much on his face, but she could hear him grinding his teeth.

"I dunno. Everything."

Jane shook her head. "You have nothing to apologize for. You didn't do anything wrong."

Roger clasped his hands in front of him, tilting his head to the side to look at her. "Then why are you mad at me?"

"I'm not—" she stopped, realizing her voice had risen. She took a breath, looking down at her feet curled beside her. Now was not the time for an argument, not when Freddie and Brian slept a few paces away.

"I'm not mad at you," she said softly. "Angry at myself, maybe, but not at you."

She heard his quiet laughter, exhaled through his nose.

"Why does that not comfort me?"

"Sorry."

There was a suffocating, dense few seconds of silence between them, filled in the background by a Ray Charles song gradually fading out. The blindingly bright lights from a truck approaching from the opposite direction briefly illuminated the bus, revealing a stark snapshot of Roger in profile, more subdued and tired than she was ever used to seeing him. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye in the same moment and frowned. She must have looked a sight— red puffy eyes and disheveled everything. The truck passed, and they were blessedly concealed in darkness again.

Roger broke the quiet first.

"We should talk about it."

There was no need to specify what it was. Jane swallowed, her throat clenching around empty air. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"So you're just going to ignore me forever?"

"I'm not ignoring you, I'm just…" she trailed off, rubbing a tired hand over her face. She shook her head. "I need space."

Roger chuckled ruefully, resting an arm onto the back of the bench as he looked out of the window behind them. "You didn't want space in Memphis."

It was deserved, perhaps, but the jab took her off guard nonetheless. She pursed her lips, looking away from him as she stood up, crossing her arms tightly across her middle. "I'm going back to bed."

He sighed, waving a hand in defeat as she strode past him to the back of the bus. She slotted her foot on the wooden ledge next to Roger's mattress, hauling herself up to her bunk.

"Jane," Roger started, and she paused, one hand on the handrail next to the bunk. "Why were you crying?"

She didn't look back at him, eyes unfocused as she stared into the blackness of her empty bed. She shrugged. "I don't know."

That, at least, was the truth.

 

 


 

 

The band's dressing room in the hour before the New Orleans show was silent. Silent, that is, except for the clock ticking at a volume that was just quiet enough to be forgotten about when a room was adequately busy, but infuriatingly loud when it wasn't. In between ticks were the echoing drips of the leaky faucet against the porcelain sink, creating a backbeat tempo that was just irregular enough to drive the musician in Jane crazy. One of many things doing so that night.

Their costumes donned and makeup applied, all four sat in a sort of circle around the room, like they did back home when they were writing songs and bouncing ideas off each other. Except no one was talking. Freddie, catching on to the something that was askew between Jane and Roger, had asked her three times in the last half hour if everything was OK before resorting to glowering silently when she stopped assuring him that she was fine. Brian hadn't spoken much to any of them, but was continually peeking up over his copy of The Times-Picayune to look cautiously from Jane to Roger, as if expecting a brawl to break out between them at any moment. Roger, in a marked change from the previous night, was decidedly avoiding her as much as she was avoiding him.

It was like those scenes in the old Westerns Brian liked to watch, the simmering tension in the moments before a gang of fugitives draw their weapons. Freddie, as always, drew first.

"Dears, if someone's died you've got to tell me; I'm not properly dressed for a wake."

"We're just tired, Fred," said Jane, crossing her legs at the knee in her folding chair, which was rickety and uncomfortable, but Freddie was sprawled on the moth bitten loveseat and she didn't want to squeeze herself between Brian and Roger on the longer couch.

"She speaks!" Freddie cawed, throwing his hands up in mock surprise. "What an honor."

She shot him a glare. "Don't be a prat."

"It's your time of the month, isn't it?"

Before she could issue a sharply worded retort, Brian piped up, not looking up from his paper.

"No, not for another two weeks."

She whipped her head toward him, cheeks flushing from both anger and embarrassment. "Are you seriously tracking my cycle?"

Brian shrugged, flipping a page and scanning his eyes over the contents before looking up at her. "We've spent nearly every day together for three years. You're very consistent."

She gaped at him, clenching her fists as she struggled for the words to throw at him. "That is so—"

"Not the point," Freddie interrupted, swinging his legs off the loveseat and onto the floor. "You've been strange the past few days. Stranger than usual."

"Gee, thanks," she drawled, standing up to return to the vanity, avoiding his smug look.

"And you've been odd too," Freddie said, pointing at Roger with an accusatory finger. "Ever since St. Louis."

Roger, who had been sitting quietly with his head down, just scowled back. Freddie groaned, letting his head fall back onto the couch cushion dramatically. Jane rolled her eyes, sitting down at the stool in front of the vanity and grabbing a brush to run through her hair. She had already brushed it past the point of maintenance, and her fussing with it had made her hair frizzy and brittle at the ends.

"Do we need to bring in a mediator? A therapist? A priest?" Freddie asked indignantly, craning his neck around to look at her over the back of the couch. "I'm not a holy man, but I will gladly recite some Latin to exorcise whatever has gotten into you two."

Jane ignored him, abandoning the brush to pull her hair into a high knot on the top of her head. A few seconds later, a soft object came flying toward her, thumping against the side of her face. Whirling around on her stool, she found Freddie's travel pillow laying at her feet, and its owner was glaring at her petulantly from the couch.

"You can give those two the silent treatment, Deaky," he said sternly, setting his jaw. "But that shit won't work for me."

Snatching the pillow, she wordlessly chucked it at the opposite wall before turning back to the mirror. Behind her, Freddie made a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat. More than anything in the world, Freddie hated being ignored.

"Give it a rest, Fred," Roger said from across the room, forcing her eyes up to look at his reflection in the mirror. He was staring straight at her, his lips in a hard line. "She needs space."

Her eyes narrowed at his use of the word, but she refused to turn around and take the bait. They had to be on stage in twenty minutes; they didn't have the time for any of this. Later, when she could make sense of her own thoughts, she would talk with Roger. She would talk for as long as he wanted to listen, about the kiss, St. Louis, the weather— whatever he wanted. Just...not yet.

"Oh, she needs quite the opposite," Freddie said, and Jane didn't like the mischievous quality in his tone at all. "We all do."

Jane swiveled around to face him, crossing her arms over her chest. "What are you talking about?"

"Festivities are not optional tonight, darling."

"Fred—"

"We're in N'Orleans, Deaky. Strap on your dancing shoes."

 

 


 

 

Roger didn't dance. Life so far had taught him that only men with inadequate social graces had to dance to charm a woman into bed with them; he got by just fine with a few trusty lines, a charismatic smile, and a well-trained eye for all the usual signals that a woman wanted him too. No sweaty grinding or crushed toes necessary.

Then why, he wondered, had he ended up in this position once more? Sitting at a bar watching Jane dancing with strangers and desperately, urgently wishing he could join her.

The show that night had gone well despite all of the pressing distractions, and Mott's management had been able to get both bands into one of the most popular nightclubs in the French Quarter, a disco called Fat Cats. He wasn't exactly a purveyor of discos, but this one seemed like all the others: loud, crowded, and dark aside from the spotlights and strobes speckling the dance floor in different colors. Roger hadn't wanted to go, but Jane had promised Freddie she would be there and...he was a glutton for punishment. At least she was having fun; with him tucked comfortably out of her sight at the bar, she had finally been able to relax and enjoy herself, getting swept up in a group of female American tourists who had seemingly adopted her as their own.

It was deja vu of the worst kind, where the only difference was that at least now he could acknowledge his fascination with Jane. Couldn't understand it or will it away or act on it in any way, but he could at least recognize it for what it was: infatuation of the most impure, forbidden variety.

Surprisingly, earth-shatteringly, he hadn't succumbed to temptation first; Jane had. She had kissed him with an intensity he didn't think he'd ever been kissed before, and pulled a similar heretofore-unknown passion from him as well. And now...she was icing him out, which both pained and infuriated him. Roger knew this was how she worked; she needed time to tumble her thoughts over in her mind until they were as smooth as stones eroded by river currents. But Roger didn't want to wait to receive answers for the dozens of questions he wanted to ask her, most of them starting with some variant of "Why?"

Why had she been so soft and pliant in his arms at the Red Lion? Why did she run upstairs to masturbate while presumably listening to him shag another woman? Why had she kissed him? Why had she stopped kissing him? Why was she crying on the bus in the earliest hours of that morning? And why was she able to dance and laugh with a group of strangers now when she hadn't so much as smiled at him in days?

He wanted to march up to her and interrogate her over the din of the nightclub. He also wanted to hold and kiss her until she stopped looking so lost when she met his eyes. It was a confusing emotion, and he settled instead for washing it down with the cold beer handed to him unexpectedly by the bartender.

Except it wasn't the bartender. It was Morgan, looking a little less put-together than the dandy normally did. A tad less chipper. He was wearing the same brashly patterned shirt as he had on stage, but he had undone most of the buttons and rolled up his sleeves unevenly. He already stank of beer.

"You look like you could use it," Morgan said, nodding toward the drink on the bar as he dragged a stool over to Roger's piece of countertop.

Roger snorted in agreement, raising his glass. "It should be illegal to have this little fun in New Orleans."

"Night is still young; there's hope for you yet."

"And you?"

Morgan took a long swallow of his own drink, which clearly was not his first, or even his third. He shook his head. "Nah, I'm going to wallow in self pity a little longer."

Roger raised an eyebrow, taking in his uncharacteristic drunkenness, the absence of his usual cheerful disposition. "Something wrong?"

He shrugged. "The age-old sad song. I like a bird and she likes somebody else. Woe is me, right?"

That was news to Roger, who hadn't been aware Morgan was interested in someone. Then again, Roger hadn't exactly been paying much attention to anyone besides himself and Jane for the past months or so.

"Well, she's mad then, isn't she? Passing up a good bloke like you."

Morgan laughed, a short and humorless sound. "Sometimes you meet the right people at the wrong time, nothin' I can do 'bout that."

"That's defeatist."

"That's life," said Morgan, smiling half-heartedly as he clinked Roger's glass with his. "But you, my friend, are one of the lucky ones."

"How's that?"

Morgan leaned in close, as if about to share a secret, and slung an uncoordinated arm onto Roger's shoulder.

"You've got all the right people at the exact right time," he slurred, pointing his finger in Roger's face. "Now's the easy part; you've just got to hold on."

Before Roger could question him further, Morgan ambled away to the end of the horseshoe-shaped bar, where Dale and Ariel were doing shots provided by a woman in a gold bikini top and matching shorts. Shaking his head to dislodge the strange encounter from his mind, Roger swiveled on his stool to look for Freddie, who had left him and Jane at the bar before disappearing to the shadowy corner of the massive dance hall. But Freddie was nowhere to be found, which was just great of him— pressuring them all to go and have fun together and then vanishing as soon as they got to the club.

Speaking of vanishing acts, Brian had made exactly one lap around the room after they arrived, greeting their management and fans like a good little rockstar, and then escaping out the back exit when he thought no one was watching. Roger would have to ask him about it later; he'd been skipping out on after parties with the same old excuses for long enough. He couldn't always be tired.

And then there was Jane. He didn't have to look long to find Jane; his eyes always seemed to lock on to her of their own accord. The tightly grouped gaggle of women around her had dispersed somewhat, but Jane was still dancing on her own like she hadn't a care in the world, like when Freddie would put on a record at their house, and Jane would dance with him until she was pink-cheeked and breathless with laughter. She always tried to tug Roger up and out of his chair to dance with her, and he'd spin her around a few times — unable to deny her completely — before depositing her back into Freddie's hands.

But it had been a while since he'd seen her dancing. He wondered if it was cathartic for her, to let go like that after keeping herself so tightly wound during daylight hours, if this was her way of forgetting about him long enough to relax. The thought stung; he used to be the one to calm her down, to make her laugh and ease the tension he knew she carried stiffly in her shoulders. And now he was the tension.

All he'd been trying to do for the last two months was preserve their friendship— keep his unwelcome thoughts to himself and far away from her. He'd been conscientious and careful and guarded, none of which were words that anyone could typically use to describe him, and he was starting to fray at the edges. But he'd done it for her, to protect her, and it hadn't even mattered in the end. They'd been hurtling down this hill without any brakes, and the speed bumps they had tried to maneuver towards had only given them lift and momentum toward an all-the-more crushing fall. But what if they let go of the wheel? Let this thing between them run its course?

Now that, he hadn't considered. It was crazy and sophomoric and rash— so naturally, it made the most sense to Roger.

The song ended, and there was dead air for a minute while the DJ changed shifts and another took his place. Jane was left standing in the middle of the dance floor, unmoving under the still flashing lights, looking uncertain and out of place now that the music had paused. With a half-formed plan and nothing left to lose, Roger pushed away from the bar and cut through the throngs of people toward her. With the opening notes of a synth-heavy song blaring, they locked eyes and Jane stood frozen, a deer in headlights as Roger reached her. Wordlessly, he grabbed her hand, turned on his heel and tugged her to follow behind him back through the crowd.

When they reached a quieter nook off to the right of the dance floor, mostly private due to the placement of a support column, Roger dropped her hand. Jane was watching him warily, and she pressed herself against the pillar, putting space between them. Roger took the space back, leaning against the structure and close enough to her that he could see the individual droplets of sweat rolling down the side of her neck. She stared up at him with wide, inquisitive eyes, examining his face and, from her resulting expression, seeing something there she didn't recognize.

"We need to talk," he said, raising his voice slightly when the music grew in volume.

Jane made a face, looking over her shoulder at the party raging behind them. "Here?"

Roger stood up straighter, strengthening his resolve. "Yeah, here. I've got stuff to say and I think you should listen."

"I'm not comfortable with this—"

"I know. I've been trying very hard the past couple months to make sure you're comfortable, but you know what?" he asked rhetorically, breathing a laugh as he ran his fingers through his hair. "I think a little discomfort can be good, Jane. It can be productive."

Her lips pursed, and for a second he thought she was about to tell him to piss off. Instead, she nodded slightly, flicking her eyes back up to his expectantly.

"Go on, then."

"Right, well," he started, scratching the back of his neck. He honestly hadn't expected to get this far. Getting her attention and pulling her away from the dance floor had seemed like a longshot in and of itself. Clearing his throat, he collected his thoughts in some semblance of order.

"I don't think we should brush this under the rug anymore."

"'This' being…?"

He gave her an exasperated look, wondering if she was trying to be difficult. "The kiss. The night at the Red Lion. Wanting to tear each other's clothes off."

She swallowed, her teeth pulling at the skin of her lip, but she made no move to agree with or refute him. So he continued.

"If we make it this forbidden thing that we can't talk about, can't bloody think about, then yeah, it's not going to go away, Deaky," he said, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. Jane responded best to reason, not theatrics. "An infection won't heal unless you drain it and clean it out."

Her nose scrunched at the grotesque mental image. "So what are you suggesting?"

Roger lifted his hands before him in supplication. "We stop ignoring it. We let it run its course naturally, get it out of our system."

Catching on, she finished the thought he hadn't quite mustered up the courage to vocalize. "You want us to sleep together."

He paused, clamping his mouth shut as they stared at each other for a loaded second. The party roared behind them, but as if through a glass wall, with sounds and lights muffled and unobtrusive to their moment. Biting the bullet, he nodded slowly. "If that's where it takes us. And I think it will."

Jane breathed a surprised laugh, shaking her head as she looked around the room and watched the lights flash in time with the music over the throbbing crowd. When she turned back to face him, she squinted her eyes up at him critically.

"You seriously don't think that will fan the flames?"

He bit his lip, a half-smile tugging at the corners. "I think it'll extinguish them."

"I can't tell if you're underplaying your skills or casting aspersions on mine."

"I'd never do either."

"Charming."

His teeth pulled at the inside of his cheek. "I'm not trying to woo anyone here. Our problem is that we want to fuck each other senseless—"

"How eloquent…"

"So the solution is to...do exactly that."

Jane laughed again, a humorless chuckle that she directed at the ceiling as she leaned her head back against the pillar. He could practically hear the gears in her head moving faster than she could keep up with.

"We'd be crazy to even consider it," she said, a softer lilt to her voice than what he had been expecting.

"We'd be crazy to continue what we're doing and expect things to change," he countered. "Just once, Jane. Just enough to scratch the itch. Check the box. And then we can go back to the way things were."

When she looked up at him again, it could have been the roving disco lights, but he thought he saw a flicker of something vulnerable in her eyes, open and searching and sad. But it passed, and her features were schooled into contemplation as she regarded him carefully.

"What do you suppose we do now?"

He exhaled a heavy sigh; he sure as hell hadn't thought this far ahead. "I don't suppose you're in the mood for a quickie out the back?"

"I'm really not."

The look she gave him was unimpressed, though there was a hint of a smile in her eyes as she folded her arms, goading him. She wanted a game? He could show her a good time.

He leaned in until his lips were nearly brushing her cheek, and he chuckled when he heard her sudden intake of breath. He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, tilting his head to whisper: "Do you want to dance with me?"

She pulled away slightly, just enough to look at him with interest. "You don't dance."

"You're my exception."

Smiling wider now, it was her turn to grab his hand and pull him away from the quiet corner, back into the fray. A funky James Brown song was playing, one of Jane's favorites with a pumping bass lines and simple guitar riff, and she let her hips swing as she led him into the center of the dance floor. On instinct, he drew his eyes away from her ass in their tight leather trousers, before remembering that they had just given themselves permission to cede control. So he stared, and when Jane turned back around and saw where his eyes were still trained, she flushed a shade of pink he intended to see many, many times that night.

The next song was somewhat slower, heavier, and a prominent bass thumped deliciously in the pit of his stomach even as the pulsing, jostling whirl of people crammed on the dance floor made him dizzy. Flashing lights of every shade bounced off the disco balls dotting the ceiling, making Jane appear lit from the inside — pink and orange hues flickering like candlelight across her skin. Her disheveled hair was aflame with color. She didn't seem real.

Jane was stiff at first, perhaps self-conscious now that he was watching her, or feeding off his own nervous energy as he stepped jerkily side to side as he had seen other men on the dance floor doing. His heart rate had picked up with the pace of the music, and he could feel sweat dripping down his chest, both from the heat of the dance floor and the sheer panic coursing through his veins. He didn't want to mess this up. He was going to mess this up.

Interrupting his spiral, Jane squeezed his hand, giving him a smile and a raise of her eyebrows that said she was just as anxious as he was. Bolstered by the confidence that they were both on equally unsteady footing, Roger took a chance and circled one arm around her waist, pulling her in closer as his other hand clasped onto hers. Finding the beat, he rocked his hips in time with the music, and she followed suit, her breathy laughter puffing hot against his chest.

More confident now, he lifted their clasped hands over her head and twirled her around in tight circles. Throwing back her head in full-throated laughter, she closed her eyes and let the light show wash over her in cold, colorful flames, needlepoint pricks of light dotting her skin like freckles.

He was burning, he was freezing, and all the while a steady, pumping beat flooded his veins with something so raw and hungry he wanted to crawl out of his skin and under hers. It was almost too much, but then he met Jane's eyes once more, and it was no longer nearly enough. As if coming to the same conclusion, she wrapped her arms up and around his neck, drawing herself flush against him. Her body was warm and solid, a necessary anchor as he felt himself growing lighter and more buoyant with every passing moment.

His breath came heavy in her ear as they rocked in time with the music, the jackhammer thump of his heart matching hers, matching the relentless drive of the beat that both of them latched on to instinctively. This feeling in his stomach, the topsy-turvy rush of endorphins and adrenaline, was a concentrated dose of the energy he felt every night on stage with her — moving with her, making rhythms with her.

He lowered his head to the crook of her neck, lips a hair's breadth away from her skin. "If there weren't so many people watching, I'd kiss you."

She took a moment to respond, and he worried for a brief second that he had crossed a line.

"How?"

He straightened, looking at her curiously. "You want to know how I'd kiss you?"

She nodded, biting back a growing smirk. "I have a good imagination."

Wetting his lips, he chuckled to himself as he looked off to the side, taking stock of the people around them. No one they knew. He leaned back in to her, pressing a light-as-air kiss against her temple.

"I'd kiss you like it was my only shot," he said softly, their bodies slowing to a gentle rock even though the music and the crowd around them had rocketed to greater heights. "'Cause I'm pretty sure it is."

The beat dropped and the lights flashed to a blinding brightness before extinguishing, strobing at a disorienting speed that made the bodies around them appear to move in start-and-stop motion. The crowd was going wild, jumping and writhing within the chaos of light and sound. No one was paying them any attention; no one would notice if he leaned in and took her face in his hands, kissing her under the kaleidoscope of shifting colors. In the milliseconds between strobes, her face flickered between expressions, as if he was shuffling through a flipbook of Jane's emotions: nervousness, shyness, anticipation.

There was nothing more natural in the world at that moment than Roger's hands coasting down her sides to her hips, bowing his head to tuck it against the hollow of her neck and shoulder. He mouthed at the bare skin there, short-circuiting at the disconnect between the sonic chaos of the club and the aching sweetness of her skin.

She gasped, and may have said his name— he couldn't be sure, because in the next moment he was grasping her face gently between his hands, blown-out eyes searching hers hungrily for permission. She swallowed and twisted her head just slightly to press her lips to the thumb that had been caressing her cheek, and then time stopped. Or at least they did, planting themselves frozen on the dance floor as the crowd tossed and turned around them.

With a desperate little sigh escaping his lips, Roger tipped her chin up and surged forward to kiss her. His hands fluttered across her cheeks and throat before tangling in her hair at the back of her head, and she groaned into his mouth, kissing him back feverishly. They were standing on the ledge of a volcano, flames licking up their limbs and fingers going numb as he burned from the inside out, but he couldn't care less. Not when her tongue was darting into his mouth, her hands clutching him to her like he was her last source of oxygen on Earth. And maybe she was his, because when they pulled away for air his lungs only ached more.

"Jane," he breathed into her ear, ducking his head against her neck to nibble there, sending shivers down her back and arms. "Please, please tell me you want this too."

In response, she grabbed his face and crushed her lips back against his, drinking him in and pulling at his hair. He answered with a grunt and two hands firmly on her ass, grinding her pelvis against the almost painfully-hard bulge in his trousers. She broke away, panting.

"We should get out of here."

Realizing the intent behind her words, he exhaled shakily with a lazy grin tugging at his well-kissed lips.

"We could go around back," he murmured, tilting her head back to suck and lick at the skin below her ear. His fingers played at the hem of her shirt, and he ached to have his fingers put to better use.

"I was thinking— " she panted, sighing at the alternating pain and pleasure of his bites to her delicate skin. "More like a bed. Say, in your hotel room."

"Now there's an idea," he said, planting one more kiss to her waiting lips before grabbing her hand and pulling her after him.

They weaved their way out of the club, and as he was opening the side exit for Jane to step through first, he caught sight of Morgan watching them from the bar. The other man raised his glass to Roger in salute, a small smile playing at his lips. Roger grinned, holding a finger to his lips before turning and following Jane out of the club and into the night. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The door clicked shut behind them, and neither Jane nor Roger made any sudden moves toward the other, their eyes still adjusting to the hotel's fluorescent lights. Their walk to the hotel from the nightclub had been quick, but each second had stretched into an excruciating eternity as it hit her, again and again like crashing waves, what they were about to do.

Blinking in the brightness, her eyes scanned over every corner of Roger's hotel room — identical to her own — before returning to him, standing before her with wide eyes and fingers that fidgeted restlessly with the key in his hand. She found his nervousness charming; he was always so self-assured that to see him even a little off-balance was rare.

"So…" she started, wiping her sweaty palms over the sides of her trousers. "How do we do this?"

He quirked an eyebrow. "How? Don't tell me you're a virgin; I can't take any more bombshells right now."

She laughed, and she felt a modicum of the tension dissipate, though her heart still pounded relentlessly against her chest.

"No, but this is…" she said, searching for the right word as she stepped out of her platforms so she stood in her socked feet, significantly shorter now. "...Different. I might be a little nervous."

Roger's smirk softened, and his hand lifted to graze the side of her arm. It was an innocent touch, a friendly gesture he'd made a hundred times before, but it sent shivers rushing down her spine.

"If you're uncomfortable, we can just turn on the telly," he insisted, his voice low and light. "Watch some Coronation Street. Order takeout; whatever you want."

She knew he meant it, too. They could spend the rest of the night like they would have in months past, sharing laughs and a pizza over a soap opera, and he'd never bring it up again. Roger was giving her an out, and it put her at ease just knowing it was there. But she didn't want it.

"No," she said, closing the gap between them. She looked up at him with quiet resolve, her fingers finding their way to the collar of his shirt and running along the embroidery. His Adam's apple bobbed with a heavy swallow.

"A little bit of discomfort is good," she said softly, finding her confidence growing and trailing a shaking hand down to the first button of his shirt and popping it open, revealing a small expanse of skin. "It can be productive, I hear."

His words tossed back at him took him by surprise, but they didn't have the effect she thought they would. Roger's hands closed firmly over the fingers toying with his shirt, stopping her slow attempt to undress him.

"Not now, it isn't," he said, his gaze steady and serious. "I have to know that you're comfortable with this, Jane. I have to know that you want it."

There was a new softness with which he pronounced her name, and it rounded the edges of her desire. She had never been with someone who was so careful with her, who cared for her. It only bolstered her resolve.

"I'm comfortable with you," she whispered, her other hand coming up to skim the side of his ribs through his shirt. "And I want this."

Jane felt the shift first. His grip on her hand loosened and fell away, but she didn't move, still holding her fingers against his sternum, his heart beating soothingly underneath. Roger stepped closer, his gaze dropping to her lips, and when he leaned in, he pressed a kiss to her mouth that was confoundingly sensuous for its brevity.

It lasted little more than a second, leaving her no time to react other than to reach for more when he retreated with a small smile. He followed it up with another, no longer than the last, and another— short, searing kisses that chased her lips open before pulling back, his hands just barely brushing the skin of her arms exposed by her short-sleeved blouse. He was teasing her.

Impatient, she grabbed his face the next time he ducked to kiss her, clutching him to her so she could more easily explore his mouth. Seemingly delighted by her initiative, he moaned happily, gripping her sides tightly as he let her deepen the kiss. The beer on his tongue earlier had faded, and now he just tasted the way he felt— warm, soft, and heady.

"Bed," he breathed, pulling away from her lips with a sigh. "I wanna touch you."

Nodding eagerly, she let him lead them backwards until they reached the bed, and he pulled her onto it after him. He situated himself so he was sitting against the mountain of pillows at the headboard, his legs spread in front of him. Following his hands guiding her to his lap, Jane straddled him and bent down to resume kissing his yielding mouth. While she busied herself nipping and soothing his lips in turn, Roger's hands wandered, and she was keenly aware of every movement, every bend of every joint of his fingers trailing down her back and coming to snake just under the hem of her black and white embroidered blouse.

His hands were warm, but the feel of his hands on her bare lower back was a shock to her system, and goosebumps erupted down her arms. Roger paused, and then chuckled against her lips at her reaction, dragging his hands slowly up her back and taking the hem with him.

"Can I take this off?" he murmured, the fabric bunched unevenly halfway up her back.

She nodded frantically, releasing her hold of Roger's shoulders to let him pull her blouse up and over her head. He tossed it somewhere over the side of the bed, eyes glued to the tops of her breasts in the plain grey cups of her bra. Jane squirmed in his lap, partly due to the hungry way with which he was staring at her, and partly just to tease out the delicious moan he made when she dragged herself against his erection. Surging up, he seized her lips with his while his hands gripped the curve of her waist and ground her down onto him, the shape and hardness of his cock readily apparent even through their trousers. An embarrassingly desperate moan escaped her lips when the bulge caught on just the right, aching place.

A quick study, Roger rocked her back and forth in exactly the same way to chase that sensation. Their lips fused together, and Jane found herself wantonly hitching against him, a warm flush blooming over her cheeks and her chest, a pulsing between her legs. Roger broke away from her lips, head tilted back and heavy-lidded eyes fluttering shut momentarily as he groaned, his hands leaving her grinding hips and traveling up the expanse of her abdomen.

Remembering that Roger was still fully dressed, her hands found the buttons of his shirt once more, making quick work of them as she tucked her head against his neck, latching onto the pulse below his ear. She had struck gold there, and the resulting gasp from Roger sent heat straight to her core.

"Fuck, sweetheart. Keep doing that," he moaned, canting his pelvis up and almost making her lose her balance with the shock of pleasure that followed.

Also shocking was the term of endearment that had flowed so naturally from his lips, he didn't seem to realize he had said it. What was typically a word lobbed at her from other men with condescension now sounded soft and sweet. She redoubled her attentions on his neck, sucking and kissing the feverish skin until he was stroking her hair and panting— Jane had never been with someone who was so responsive before his clothes were even off. But that would be taken care of quickly enough; with the last button undone, she pushed the shirt off his shoulders. His skin was slightly tanned, smooth and warm under her hands with just the barest tuft of hair in the hollow of his chest. Her mouth left the crook of his neck to trail down to his chest, exploring his body with lips and hands and leaving wet kisses and gentle nips in her wake.

They had done nothing more than kiss and rut against each other like teenagers, but she was overwhelmed with the surge of a boiling tide— desire, the all-consuming need to please and be pleased in return — rushing over her, flowing through her. Her tongue dipped into the crevice created by his collarbone and Roger groaned again, this time threading his hand into her hair and tugging light enough so as to be unpainful, but hard enough to pull a whimper from her throat, a whimper that was soon swallowed by his mouth pressing savagely to hers.

His fingers were tracing the skin just below her bra, and when he broke away from the kiss, he looked up at her with blown-out pupils.

"Off?" he asked breathlessly, nodding toward the bra.

"Please."

Dutifully, he reached behind her, undoing the clasp with deft fingers and releasing an appreciative noise in the back of his throat as his eyes roved over her chest.

"Christ," he muttered, bringing his hands up to gently palm her breasts, eliciting a quiet sigh from Jane as he massaged them. "I knew you'd have perfect tits."

"Did you now?" she breathed, leaning backwards to stabilize her hands on his thighs behind her as he ran his thumbs experimentally over her peaked nipples. She was lightheaded, almost giddy with the soft pleasure he was showering her with now. "Been paying a lot of attention to my chest?"

"Not nearly enough," he said with a laugh, shifting forward to wrap his arms around her waist and roll them over so she lay flat against the bed. He hovered over her, eyes slowly drinking her in before giving her a heated grin. "You're so fuckin' pretty, Deaks."

Jane stared up at him, lips parted in wordless acknowledgement, but before she had time to process or respond to the compliment, Roger was ducking his head to her right breast, pressing a warm, open-mouthed kiss to the mound. She sighed contentedly, arching up to encourage his wandering mouth. While his lips lavished attention on one breast, his hand continued to squeeze and stroke the flesh of the other, leaving Jane in a writhing, anticipatory purgatory where everything was so good, but not enough.

He switched sides, and the one part of her brain that was operational mused idly that she hadn't expected him to be so thorough. Enthusiastic— of course. But methodical was a word that applied to very few aspects of Roger's life. Tuning his drums, perhaps. And now he was tuning her, listening with a careful ear to her quiet gasps and adjusting his ministrations in turn; he was trying to make her sing. And he'd get there soon enough— his hot mouth had trailed down between her breasts to her stomach, and her head fell back onto the pillow with a shudder, a strangled note escaping her lips.

"You're so sensitive," he marveled, looking up at her with something akin to sheer wonder as his tongue skimmed over the skin just above her hips, following with a gentle nip that made her muscles jolt.

She squirmed restlessly over the covers, knocking her knees against Roger's legs caging hers on either side. "Trousers, Rog. Off."

Roger glanced up at her through his eyelashes, sucking what would probably become a hickey into her skin. His lips detached with an audible pop, forming a cheeky grin. "You're speaking in incomplete sentences already? I've hardly touched you."

"Roger."

"Yes'm," he conceded, moving further down the bed to undo the button and zip of her bottoms.

Jane lifted her hips, helping him to shimmy the tight trousers down her legs and onto the floor, followed quickly by his jeans. She had seen him dozens of times in this state of undress at their shared house, in the mornings before his shower or just lounging in the den during the day, but never in this context. Never with his own gaze idling over her bare legs, and certainly never with an erection straining against the fabric.

Climbing back onto the bed, he exhaled a shaky sigh, the first sign of nerves she'd seen from Roger since they entered the room, and gave her a quick smile. His left hand returned to her abdomen, resting a reassuring weight there, while the other skimmed up her right thigh, the pressure light enough to tickle. When he reached the sides of her grey cotton knickers, he looped a finger under the waistband, glancing up at her for her nodded approval before tugging them slowly over her hips. At the feel of her skin against the rough hotel coverlet, however, she flinched, raising a hand to stay his motions.

Roger froze, scrambling off of her like she'd chastised him. Realizing what he must have assumed, she reached out to him, quick with reassurance.

"It's fine; you're fine," she said quickly, noticing how Roger had already put several feet between them. "These covers are just gross. They don't wash them after every hotel guest, and I don't want my bare ass touching who knows what," she explained, pulling herself up to a sitting position and swinging her legs over the side of the bed, kicking her knickers off from around her ankles.

Roger nodded cautiously, relaxing once he realized she wasn't pushing him away. Coming around to the other side of the bed, he helped her fold down the covers, tossing them to the chair across from them in a heap. With a flourish, he threw back the white top sheet, gesturing for her to take her place back on the unmade bed.

"Only the best three-star accommodations for your bare ass, madame," he said, earning a laugh and a swat to the shoulder from Jane.

Just as he sat back down on the bed, she pointed to the light switch on the opposite wall, nodding to it pointedly.

He lifted an eyebrow. "Seriously, you want the lights off?"

"Just the overheads," she said, reaching over to the bedside table and flicking on the lamp there. "I don't want to be naked under fluorescents like I'm a frog to be dissected."

Roger laughed, rolling his eyes as he rose to his feet again with an exaggerated huff. "Charming image, that."

He strolled over to the light switch, gestured to it expressly, and flipped it downwards. She didn't know why, but the action made a pocket of giggles climb up her throat. Before tonight, it had been a while since she and Roger had been able to relax and laugh together; despite the less than normal circumstances, it felt right.

"There. Is the mood set now?" he asked, now standing in the shadows against the wall while the bed and Jane were lit with the soft orange light of the bedside lamp. "Shall I light candles?"

"No, no. That'll be all," she said briskly, leaning back on her elbows and patting the bed beside her. "Where were we?"

He strode toward her, and when he came back into the light, Jane's mouth went dry at the naked desire in his eyes. His smile was almost predatory. "Why don't you open your legs and we'll find out?"

So that's how this is going to go.

She let one leg fall to the side at his words, the other still raised and bent at the knee. Crawling into the cradle between her thighs, he dropped a kiss over her stomach, between her breasts, and finally on her mouth, a soft sigh chasing his lips as they parted.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, a whisper puffing hot against her cheek.

She swallowed thickly, shivering slightly in the cool air now that she was naked and exposed. "Make me come," she said, her statement rising into a questioning inflection.

Roger chuckled against her skin, pressing a soft kiss to the hollow of her throat before lifting himself up to a kneeling position between her legs.

"Well, yeah, Jane. That's the goal," he said, and her stomach dropped at the speed with which his jovial teasing dropped into an intensity she rarely if ever heard from him. "What do you want me to do first?"

She didn't answer, on account of her tongue twisting itself into knots in an effort not to accidentally swallow it. Roger continued, clearly enjoying her reaction.

"Do you want to come first on my fingers, my tongue, or my cock?"

Jesus.

What would have sounded like puffed up bravado from anyone else felt like a legitimate, genuine question from Roger, like her pleasure was a lyrics sheet he intended to learn. To practice.

"Dealer's choice," she croaked.

His eyebrow quirked, and his hand stroked the circle of the knee that was still raised above the bed. "That doesn't sound like the Deaky I know."

She bit the inside of her cheek, her lips twitching upward. "Show me what we're working with, and I'll let you know when you do something wrong."

His smile grew. "When? That's more like it."

"I should have known you'd be mouthy."

At that, he pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the skin just above her knee before pushing it down to lay flat against the bed, meeting no resistance and spreading her legs wide on either side of him. "You haven't seen half of what my mouth can do."

She shot him a look, raising an unimpressed brow. "Nice line. Are you always this cocky in bed?"

Roger smiled sheepishly, taking a pillow and offering it to Jane to slide between her head and the mattress, allowing her to lay back comfortably. "Only when I'm trying really hard to impress someone."

"All the other times you phone it in?"

He laughed as he fluffed a second pillow until it inflated and then set it to the side next to him. "I'm not thinking about those other times right now," he said, tapping the side of her hip with two fingers. "Lift up, please."

She did, and he slid the pillow beneath her hips. Realizing why he might want her pelvis raised, a new flush worked its way up her cheeks and down her chest. Roger smoothed his hand up her thigh, coming so close yet achingly far from where she wanted him most.

He moved up her body so he could nuzzle once more against her breasts, and she tangled her fingers in his hair, pulling the soft locks when he slipped a nipple into his mouth and sucked. She arched upwards, desperately seeking friction against the flesh between her thighs, which sparked and flared like faulty wiring. One of his hands traveled between them and pressed down low on her abdomen, just above her pubic bone, and she whimpered behind closed lips.

"Can I taste you?" he asked, his own voice sounding rough with arousal.

In response, she gripped his hair tighter, pushing his head down toward her center. He chuckled at her impatience, nipping playfully at her hip bone and quickly soothing the slight pinch with his tongue.

"That'll be a yes or no answer, Deaky."

"Yes, fuck," she moaned softly, barely above a whisper.

He stroked his fingertips feather-light against her inner thighs, and she opened her legs wider for him, shivering at the cool air on the wet folds of her exposed sex. His fingers continued their meandering path up one thigh and down the other, smirking at her wanton writhing against him, though she could tell from the look in his eyes that his control was rapidly unraveling.

"God, you're gorgeous," he told her, dragging his eyes over every inch of her, his fingers now circling the crease of her thigh. "So fucking sexy."

There was a sharp bolt of pleasure-pain at his words, the cognitive dissonance between her desire for his praise, his approval, and the pragmatic, transactional affair she had convinced herself this would be. Luckily, she didn't have long to barricade herself in her mind because in one fluid motion, Roger had situated himself on his stomach between her legs, his fingers parting her thatch of curling hair to slip between her wet folds. She drew in a sharp breath, managing to hold back a heady moan as he collected her slickness on his finger — not stimulating her clit or venturing inside her, just...exploring. Testing the waters, so to speak.

"You're so wet," he murmured appreciatively, swirling his finger just on the perimeter of her opening. "You're dripping for me, aren't you?"

"Are you just going to narrate everything?" she asked shakily, her teasing coming out more like whining. "Or are you going to— oh, god."

He had flicked out his tongue to circle her clit, and her thighs flinched off the bed at the electrical surge that ran all too briefly down her legs. He repeated the motion, flattening his tongue against her and making her hips buck into his mouth. It was good, so incredibly good, and she panted from the heat that originated in her core and rushed through the rest of her body like a wall of water bursting through a dam. Dipping his tongue down her slit to trace her opening, he gathered her wetness eagerly with his mouth, kissing and licking and sucking while his hands came around to hold her shaking thighs down against the bed.

She strained under him, trembling as he continued to stroke her clit with his tongue, covered in the evidence of her own arousal. There was a tingling sensation of weightlessness that washed over her, not like she was falling, but...floating. Suspended between the tangible world and the furthest heights of pleasure, she buried her fingers in his long hair, pulling the strands while simultaneously pushing him more firmly against her center. She could feel the reverberations of his laughter, a dull buzz that was not unlike the pleasure of a vibrator.

He pulled back, taking a moment to rest his cheek against her thigh while he caught his breath. "What do you need, Janie?" he asked, and he looked so debauched as to be positively sinful— her arousal slick on his lips, his hair rumpled and askew in every direction. He looked like a man undone.

She swallowed, bucking her hips and tugging his hair, willing him to continue. Instead, he slid a single finger up between her folds, brushing over her clit and making the muscles in her legs jump involuntarily. He did it again, pressing down firmer, and a strangled gasp escaped her lips before she clamped them shut. Roger narrowed his eyes playfully, circling the sensitive bud teasingly, not breaking his gaze with her.

"Don't go all shy on me now, sweetheart," he murmured, his voice low and soft. "You're never shy for me."

She laughed dryly, reaching up to brush a sweaty strand of hair out of her face. Her fingers were tight and cramped from holding onto Roger.

"Yes, well we're not usually doing this," she said, looking pointedly down at Roger breathing hot over her center.

"But we take care of each other." He pressed a soft kiss to her thigh, glancing up at her through long lashes. "And that's all this is."

With that, Roger swept his tongue back into her slit, and Jane's head fell back onto the pillow, hand carding through her hair as she let herself moan freely as he worked her back into that mindless, spinning sensation just on the cusp of orgasm.

"That's my girl," he muttered against her, and she didn't have to look at him to know he was grinning. "I'm going to take such good care of you."

Jane knew from sharing a wall with him that Roger never shut up in bed. She hadn't realized that his words, so gentle yet unquestionably erotic, could push her so insistently to the edge. So, so close, she just needed…

"Suction," she gasped, bringing a hand to his cheek. His head tilted, as if perking up to listen for orders. "Light, pulsing suction."

That was the direction he was looking for. Abandoning his flicking motions, he immediately wrapped his mouth over her clit, forming a seal with his tongue as he sucked softly, rhythmically. That was the kindling she needed, and her back arched off the bed with a wordless shout at the scalding, boiling heat coursing through her. The sensations that had kept her floating in limbo before were now concentrated, seismic shudders building with every pulse of his lips against her.

"Just like that, just like that," she chanted, her eyes clamping shut. "Fuck, don't stop."

Not that Roger was showing any signs of stopping. With her thrashing, whimpering, beneath him, he kept the same steady, metronomic pace. Her climax didn't catch her unawares, striking her from the sky like a lightning bolt, but bubbling up from deep within her, like a spring rising and bursting from its well, flooding her in a heat that unmade her. Her head, tilted back against the pillow with a silent shout on her lips, felt like it was stuffed with cotton as she came back from her high. Roger, wary of overstimulating her, had pulled off her clit and was now lapping soothingly at her labia.

"Fuck," she sighed, dragging a hand over her face. She didn't bother to hold back the crazed giggles that escaped her lips. "That was good."

"That was amazing," Roger groaned, leaving a kiss on her hip bone before crawling up her body and hovering over her, grinning wantonly. "You're amazing."

She looped her arms around his neck and pulled him down to kiss her, and the taste of herself on his tongue was strange, but undeniably erotic. His lips left hers to leave messy, wet kisses down her cheek, making her laugh — and then moan — when his tongue swirled teasingly under her earlobe. Still balancing above her, he left his weight rest partially on her— his erection pressing hard and hot through his boxers against her stomach. Feeling deviously confident in her post-orgasmic haze, she snaked her hand down his abdomen and into his pants, finding his cock and delighting in its thickness in her hand. Roger, too, seemed delighted, particularly when she ran her thumb over the wetness at the head.

"Fucking hell, woman," he said through gritted teeth, rocking his hips harder into her hand as he buried his head against her neck. "Is that what you want, baby? You want my cock?"

Jane wondered if it was possible just to come from words alone. Roger was making a pretty good case for the prospect.

She gave his length an experimental pump, dragging a guttural grunt from him, before slipping her hands out of his boxers and trying to shove the waistband down.

He stopped her, giving her a cheeky grin as he bent down to attach his lips to her throat, suckling roughly before releasing her tender flesh to murmur softly against her jaw, "I wanna see you come on my fingers before I fuck you."

Jane had to take a second to catch her breath, already feeling her core sparking with anticipation again. "Feeling ambitious, are we?"

"Always," he promised with a quirk of his lips, his hands reaching downward to return between her legs. "And I seem to remember you casting doubts on my ability to induce screaming orgasms."

That conversation had been playing in the back of her mind recently as well. She was starting to think the pornographic squeals she had heard from Roger's room that night hadn't been exaggerated; he just might be that good. Not that Jane could give him the satisfaction of knowing that so easily.

"Go on then," she goaded, finding his hand and pushing it downward to rest over her core. "Prove me wrong."

Arcing up to kiss him, to feel the press of his bare chest against her breasts, she keened with need as he slid a finger into the hollow of her sex, his thumb circling her clit. To get a better angle, Roger situated himself off to her side, and she whined at the loss of his weight against her until she felt him add another finger, and they both moaned at the stretch.

"Fuck, you're tight," he muttered, bending to kiss the roll of her shoulder. "So tight and wet and sweet."

She bit her lip, her breaths coming in ragged pants now that his ministrations around her clit had quickened. The fingers inside her pumped with the same rhythm, slowly plunging into her to the knuckle before dragging them out. The stretch was pleasant, almost comforting, and brushed against something that simultaneously pulled him deeper and bore down on his fingers. Roger seemed to be enjoying this almost as much as she was, his other hand slipping away to palm at his erection while he echoed her own gasps.

"You're going to feel so fucking good around me," he said, babbling now with his head lowered to his chest as he kept his temp. "Have you thought about it before?"

"Yes," she admitted, all filters and self-preservation falling away as she thrashed against his hand, seeking that which was just within reach. She bent her legs, feet pressing flat against the bed to give her some sort of leverage to find the friction and angle she craved.

"That's it, sweetheart. Show me how you want me to give it to you."

Her breath devolved into a series of ragged cries, chasing her climax as her back arched clear off the mattress. His fingers hit something then, a spongy patch within her walls, and a choked scream came unbidden from her throat at the electrical pleasure that fried her nerves. His immediate reaction was to slow his movements in fear that he had hurt her, and she grappled for his shoulders to draw him back.

"Do that again," she pleaded, raising her hips higher to maintain the magical angle they had found.

Exhaling a laugh, he resumed his fingers' pumping motion, his thumb vigorously rubbing the sensitive skin circling her clit. Within a few seconds, he had found the same deep, tender spot that made her panting gasps rise to encouraging shrieks as he brought her closer and closer to climax. Her whole body shuddering with the exertion, she tipped her head back onto the pillow and came, eyes wide open, with a high, breathless scream. Roger, his eyes locked on hers the whole time, brought her down to earth slowly, easing his fingers out of her and shaking his head in wonder.

"Hottest thing I've ever seen," he said, bringing the fingers that had been inside her up to his lips, licking them clean in a lewd display.

She stared up at the sight, eyes wide with a pounding desire she didn't think she could possibly feel for him still, after two bone-crushing orgasms. "Agreed," she said, voice barely above a whisper.

Her eyes flickered down then, catching on his cock, still straining and neglected beneath his boxers. "You want to do something about that?" she asked, regaining her composure enough to sound halfway solid, as if she wasn't minutes away from melting into a puddle.

Roger followed the movement of her eyes and bit his lip, grinning back at her with an expression that felt almost shy in its eagerness. He dipped his head to tenderly kiss her lips, the tip of her nose, her forehead— a rogue display of gentleness that warmed her from the inside. His hands ghosted up her ribs to her breasts and she shuddered, another whine leaving her throat.

"We can stop here, if you want," he said softly, his eyes earnest when he pulled back to look at her squarely. "Or I can eat you out again; you seemed to like that."

Her brows knitted. "Do you want to stop here?"

"Fuck no," he laughed, drifting a hand down to absently palm over his erection. "But we will, if you don't want—"

The rest of Roger's sentence was knocked out of him, as Jane had forcefully grabbed hold of his shoulders and pushed him onto his back. She swung one leg over his hips to straddle him, and he stared up at her in surprise, mouth fallen open.

"If we're on the same page, I'd like to fuck you now."

Shock turned to glee turned to lust, and Roger moved with frantic motions to shove his boxers down his hips, with Jane helping to draw them down the rest of his legs and onto the floor. While he leaned over the side of the bed to grab the box of condoms stowed in his bag, she took her time raking in the sight, taking inventory of the soft lines of his abdomen, the jutting planes of his hips leading with a trail of coarse, golden-blonde hair to his cock, which was, as far as penises went, altogether satisfactory.

"Do you like what you see?" Roger asked, watching her with a bemused expression as her hands caressed the sides of his thighs. He tossed her the condom before crossing his arms behind his head, looking utterly relaxed— if not for the shimmer of anticipation in his eyes. A touch of the same giddy nervousness Jane felt spilling over inside her.

"I do."

Pushing herself up so she sat over his thighs, she maintained eye contact as her hand closed around his cock, raising her eyebrow with a mischievous smile as she stroked him once before sliding the condom over him. He groaned, head tilting back with pleasure.

"Don't tease," he gasped, sending her a look that would be sharp, if he wasn't still grinning deliriously.

She laughed, removing her hand as she slowly inched her way up his body. "That's not teasing, honey," she said, the term of endearment surprising even her when it left her mouth. Positioned over his hips, she lowered herself until the wet folds of her sex — aching now with need — stroked up against the underside of his shaft. He jerked up, releasing another, louder groan that trailed off into whimpers as she ground her clit in circles around him, seeking her own electric pleasure and dangling his in front of him. Jane leaned down as her hips continued to grind, whispering into his ear:

"This is teasing."

Roger's eyes narrowed, and in the next moment his hands were cupping her ass, squeezing and pushing her down more firmly against him. Now it was her turn to falter, falling onto his chest from the force of the shudder that ran through her limbs. He chuckled into her hair, bending his knees and continuing to rock up against her, sliding slickly between her thighs.

"I wasn't going to tease you," he murmured darkly, though he still sounded breathless. "I was being nice."

"Yes, yes, you're a saint," she replied, breath hitching when the tip of his cock nudged insistently against her clit. She had no more patience for games; she needed him, now. "Are you ready?"

A slow, sly smile twitched at the corner of his lips, and he squeezed the right thigh he was palming. "I've been ready for three days."

She returned his smile, the last remaining nerves in her stomach blooming into sweet, bright desire. Reaching between her legs, she closed her hand around his hardness, bringing him to her core and resting his tip against her opening. Roger's hands had drifted from her thighs to her hips, steadying her as he stared up at her with raw hunger. The absurdity of their current predicament — her friend laying ready and willing beneath her, both of them naked and stark mad with lust — flickered briefly across her thoughts, but she shoved it back. Nothing that felt this good could be wrong.

With a moan of relief, she sank down onto him, letting him fill her in one smooth movement that made her tremble from top to toe. Roger hissed at the sensation, throwing his head back and gripping her hips tightly but not bucking up into her.

"Fuck, baby," he groaned, gritting his teeth when she slowly dragged herself up and then back down again, exploring and relishing the stretch, the fullness. "Shit, you feel incredible."

Jane rode him slowly at first, shuddering at the deepest point of every thrust, breathing turning ragged as she rocked her hips and made them both moan with the change of angle. When her movements became jerky, Roger guided her hips, helping her rock back and forth in a movement that dragged beautifully against her clit on each stroke. He caught her gaze and held it, giving her a sweet, dreamy smile that felt far too soft, too gentle, and it unnerved her. But Jane was too far gone to give the moment a second though; abandoning Roger's slow and steady pace, her downward thrusts picked up in speed and intensity, hands digging into the skin of his shoulders, driven by the fire licking hotter at both of their heels.

Roger moaned at the change in tempo, bringing his hands up to cup her breasts and, when he wasn't satisfied with tweaking her nipples with his fingers, pulling her upper body down closer so he could mouth at the dusty pink tips. His hands, conversely, traveled down to the junction where their two bodies met, rubbing her clit with precision.

Her breast slipped from his lips. "Is that good?"

Jane sucked in a breath, shoulders rolling backwards. "God, Roger. Yes."

It was better than anything she had imagined— every sensation brighter and sharper than normal, every hitch of his cock deep inside her simultaneously dowsing and fanning the fire. Jane had gone years with bad sex, or no sex, when she could have been having this? What a terrible, needless waste.

Roger, predictably, had continued to babble as she moved over him, sometimes coherently and sometimes just curses mixed with her name. Either way, just the sound of his voice — rough and needy — made her see stars.

"That's it, Janie. That's my girl," he gasped, jerking his pelvis up to meet her on a down thrust. "Taking my cock so well. You're bloody perfect— fuck."

She had bent her head into the crook of his neck, nipping sharply at his words. In response, he rolled them over so she was flat on her back, pulling out of her only momentarily before plunging back in with a new vigor that left her clawing at his back, straining to meet his thrusts. Flushing, sweating, her feet slid restlessly against the sheets until Roger looped his hands under each thigh, drawing them up closer to her chest and finding an angle so deep, so persistent, that within seconds Jane was close to sobbing desperately beneath him.

Every sensation, every movement, every drawn-out, breathy moan was sharp, almost painful with arousal. Roger's right hand had left her thigh and returned to her clit, fondling it until she was writhing, hips bucking up to meet his and arms circling around his neck to pull him down for a deep, messy kiss.

"Oh shit, please, please—" she whined, not knowing exactly for what she was begging.

Roger's thrusts sped up, and he panted raggedly above her, sucking in breath and grunting with the force of his rutting. Pushing one of her knees further against her chest, he shifted angles, hitting the same deep, dark place he had found with his fingers and pulling her nerves almost to the point of snapping. Jane cried out, digging her nails into his back as she arched toward him.

"I've got you, sweetheart," he groaned, applying more pressure to her clit as he fucked into her, hard and steady. "I wanna see you come one more time. One. More. Time," he said, punctuating his last words with deep, rough thrusts that made her shout for him.

"Don't stop, don't stop," she chanted, pulling both her knees as tight as they could go against her chest and going dizzy with pride at the stream of curses that fell from Roger's mouth.

Her climax started low and hot, rising like the tide steadily in time with his thrusts. And then Roger rolled her clit between his fingers at the same time he hit that spot deep inside her, and the crest broke over her, enveloping her in a white-hot pleasure so intense her mouth fell open in a silent scream, her whole body spasming with aftershocks that seemed to keep crashing into her, one after another. She was only half aware when Roger let out a choked groan, bucking into her with abandon a few more times before clenching his eyes shut and releasing inside the condom. He collapsed onto her briefly, and she savored the deep pressure before his faculties returned to him and he quickly rolled off of her.

Breathing heavily, her pulse pounding noisily in her ears, Jane stared up at the ceiling, still foggy-eyed and dazed from her orgasm, which had cast a heavy drowsiness over her tired limbs. It wasn't until Roger spoke that the haze was broken.

"God, that was— fuck," he croaked with a laugh, as breathless as she was, if not more. Sweat was dripping down his neck onto the pillow, his hair almost soaked through, and he pulled the top sheet up to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Turning his head slightly, he met her gaze and grinned. "Sorry, words are hard right now. I'm still—" he waved his hand tiredly in the air.

"Recovering," she finished, her own smile pulling at her lips. "Yeah, same."

Roger turned onto his side to face her, cradling his head in the crook of his elbow, and Jane mirrored his position. She could have bathed in the luxurious afterglow, curling up beside him and letting sleep take her, and she knew it would have been the best sleep she'd had in months, if not years. But she saw the lingering question in his eyes, could practically hear him struggling with the words in the back of his throat. She smiled, inching closer to him and trailing her fingers lightly down the damp skin of his arm.

"Out with it, Rog."

He loosed an easy laugh, ducking his head and gently butting her forehead with it. "I'm trying," he mumbled, eyes closed as he nuzzled against her neck. "Give me a second, will you?"

Her heart bent, and she slung an arm around him, running a hand in soothing circles over his heated back. He practically cooed at her ministrations, fitting himself firmer against the hollows of her body and attaching his lips softly, lazily, to the junction of her throat and shoulder. They were both soaked to the skin and uncomfortably warm, but holding him like this — and she was, for once, the one doing the holding — made her breathless in a way she thought only an orgasm could.

Eventually, he spoke, face hidden from view.

"That's not going to be the last time, is it?" he asked softly, mumbling into her skin. "That was far too good to be the last time."

A full-body shiver ran through her, though his words came as little surprise. She had thought the same thing after only her second climax; she couldn't possibly let this go now, not when he had learned her body so quickly, so proficiently.

"I think you're right," she murmured in reply, sweeping her hand up and down his back. "Why should we, oh, I don't know... deprive ourselves?"

Roger squirmed out from under her grasp, grinning at her with mischievous abandon. "We shouldn't. Not ever. We should do this twice a day, every day, from now on. And when I'm not fucking you, I should be kissing you," he decreed, pushing her over onto her back and attacking her neck and breasts with nips and kisses. She squealed at the onslaught, shrieking with unbidden laughter as his hands found her ribs and tickled her mercilessly.

"Yes, yes fine!" she yelped, jumping at the love bite he left over her hip.

His hands stilled their attack, though they continued to caress in sweeps over her stomach. Face bright with laughter, he tilted his head up to leave a tender kiss on her lips before depositing himself heavily beside her once more.

"I'm glad we had this talk, Deaky," he sighed happily, folding his arms behind his head and shutting his eyes. "Very productive."

"I think you did most of the talking," she teased, pinching the side of his hip.

He smirked, eyes still closed. "Your body said all I needed to hear."

There was another minute of easy quiet between them, just the soothing sounds of his breaths coming slower as he relaxed, before Jane had the courage to ask what she'd needed to know for days now.

"So…" she started, bringing herself to a seated position, legs curled beneath her. "What do we do now? What happens?"

Roger raised one shoulder in a lazy shrug. "Whatever we want. Nothing changes— other than the addition of mind-blowing sex to our list of tandem hobbies."

Jane nodded slowly to herself, studying Roger's resting face carefully. Though it was the answer she expected, she couldn't help — or explain — the way his words stung her. But it was a momentary ache, a bee sting that could be easily brushed away. In the afterglow of good sex, with her closest friend finally beside her and talking with her after days of silence, she was just feeling sentimental. Soft.

"Good. Nothing changes," she repeated. Her hand lifted, meaning to touch his face — to stroke and smooth over the curves of his jaw — but she dropped it instead to the bed, patting it twice. "Well, it's late."

He hummed in agreement, and she could tell he was getting closer and closer to sleep, the muscles in his neck relaxing further into the pillow. Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she crouched down to gather her clothes, left in a heap on the floor. Behind her, she heard Roger stir.

"Where're you going?" he asked drowsily.

Clearly, he had intended her to stay the night, and a part of her ached to sleep in secure comfort in his arms. Promiscuous as he was, Jane knew he rarely kicked the women he slept with out of his bed before morning. But if this was to be just sex, just release, then that would be their line in the sand. And Jane was nothing if not a stickler for her own rules.

"Back to my room," she said simply, doing the clasps of her bra and slipping her knickers back up her legs. "I'm beat."

"You can stay," he offered softly, a sweet and searching look in his eyes. "I'd like you to."

Jane smiled tightly, pulling up her trousers and buttoning them closed. "I sleep better on my own."

She finished getting dressed in silence, with Roger watching her from the bed. With her shoes on and purse in hand, she hesitated in the space between the door and the bed, wondering if she should kiss him goodbye. She opted not to.

"Well, thank you," she said, internally wincing at the lameness of her words. Thank you?

Roger grinned, rolling on his side and supporting himself on his elbow. "Any time. And I mean that literally, too."

"Any time," she murmured fondly, nodding her head once as she stepped backwards toward the door. "Goodnight, Roger."

"Sweet dreams."

She stepped over the threshold, pausing but not looking over her shoulder back at him. She wouldn't be able to leave if she did. With a slow breath, she let the door shut behind her. The silence in the empty hall was deafening.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

A pril 21, 1974

 

 

Roger was a man who knew what he liked. Within seconds of hitting his first toy snare drum gifted to him by his mum as a child, he knew he would be playing the drums until the day he died. He had a favorite brand of cigarettes and whiskey before he was 16, which was also the year he lost his virginity and gained a voracious appetite for sex, whenever and wherever he could get it. Sex with Jane, however, was a whole different vice.

Sex with Jane was like taking that first drag from a cigarette and knowing in his gut that this was what addictions were made of. One hit could never have been enough, not when she was coursing through his bloodstream like the best kind of poison, when the smell of her in his sheets lingered long after she left. He woke up the next morning with a headache, an erection, and a jittery, buzzing restlessness, as if he hadn't just woken up from the deepest, most restful night's sleep he'd had in months.

Roger had hoped she would stay the night — had hoped for an encore or two — but he realized then, in the bright and harsh light of morning, that it would have been too much, too soon. Sex together would be an indulgence to be rationed, to be savored. They should try to pace themselves. After all, one shouldn't throw back four shots in a row his first time tasting alcohol. Roger had, and he'd been knocked around by his father for his mistake. He was older now, and he knew better than to let his vices control him like they had his old man. It had been agreed — no, promised — that nothing would change between the two of them. Jane was his friend, first and foremost, even if the lower half of his body vehemently disagreed.

There would be time enough for hashing out the details of their hazy arrangement soon enough; the band had three days to spend in New Orleans to do as they wished before jet-setting to Boston for their next show later that week. And Roger had a good idea of how and where he wanted to spend those three days.

Once showered and dressed, he made his way downstairs to the hotel dining room for breakfast. Freddie, Brian, Morgan, and Ian were seated around one round table, with Ariel, Dale, Pete, and their manager dining at another. Jane was conspicuously absent, and it made his nerves flicker with the fear that she could be avoiding him again. Perhaps the events of last night had only made things worse. Brian looked up and saw him scanning the table, misreading his apprehension.

"C'mon, Rog. There's room for you," he called, waving Roger over and gesturing with a hand to the chair beside him.

He plastered on an expression as closely resembling nonchalance as he could muster, though he had the distinct feeling of entering an active minefield. No one paid him much more than a brief nod or "good morning" when he sat down, but there was a slight tension amid the table that he couldn't tell if he was imagining or not. Brian had left the club early the previous night, but there was no telling if Freddie had seen him and Jane kiss on the dance floor and leave together. Morgan, however, had, and almost certainly knew exactly what they had gotten up to that night. He didn't seem like a snitch, but Roger braced himself for an accusation, a snide comment, a row…

But nothing. Everyone continued quietly working on their meals with the sort of silent, determined munching of men who were desperately hungover and didn't care if Roger looked disheveled or guilty.

Not that he had anything to be guilty for. He and Jane were responsible, consenting adults and had done nothing wrong, though Brian would almost certainly think differently if he ever found out. It didn't require much imagination to know what would happen: Brian would have a hissy fit, possibly murdering Roger in the process, and then find a way to bring him back so he could yell at him some more about threatening the band's future and taking advantage of Jane. The fragile friendship Jane and Brian had ever so slowly begun to heal would be torn to shreds as they went about the same old song and dance of him pushing too hard and her pulling violently away. Freddie, as the peacekeeper, would refuse to take sides but would look at them both with distrust and disappointment. And then, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the band really would unravel.

So naturally, Brian couldn't know. And Freddie too, for that matter. What they didn't know wouldn't hurt them, with the added benefit of Roger keeping all his bits intact. A small voice in the back of his brain prodded him, asking if it was worth it, if sex could be worth imploding friendships over. But then he remembered last night, and it wasn't even a question. Wars had been fought for beautiful women and good sex.

So yes, Jane was worth it — why else would his chest seize and his fingers tap restlessly against his leg when he didn't know where she was or what she was thinking? Luckily, he didn't have to wonder for long; once Roger returned from the buffet with a plate full of American pancakes and sausages, Jane had come down for breakfast and was pulling back the vacant chair between his and Freddie's. She was wearing track shorts and a t-shirt to cope with Louisiana's relentless humidity, damp hair fresh from a shower hanging loose over her shoulders. Without meaning to, his eyes lowered to her legs — legs he had touched and kissed and laid between. The sight made him stop in his tracks, sending a sausage rolling off his plate to land pitifully on the tiled floor.

"Ah, shit…" he muttered, gaze dropping down to the sausage link and back up to Jane, who was looking at him with a bemused quirk of her eyebrow.

"Rog!" Freddie scolded, pointing his fork at Roger with a grin. "Control your sausage!"

Hurriedly, he bent down to grab the piece of meat and wrapped it in a napkin, shooting Freddie an exasperated look as he took his seat next to Jane. Unraveling her fork from its napkin, Jane skewered an unsullied link from Roger's plate, laughing at his annoyed expression as he watched the shameless theft.

"Control your sausage," she mouthed toward him with a cheeky smile before biting into the stolen food.

And just like that, his annoyance and anxiety dissipated; Jane was teasing him, grinning as she nabbed a bite of his pancakes and knocked her knee against his under the table. This was the Jane he hadn't seen much of in the past week. He'd missed her.

But he was also starving.

"Paws off, you," Roger chided lightly, chasing her fork off his plate with his own. "Get your own plate."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "I was just sampling."

"Go sample the buffet."

Jane exhaled an exaggerated sigh, still grinning as she got up and took her empty plate over to the buffet table at the other side of the room. With Jane gone, Brian put his knife and fork down to look up from his French toast.

"You two are getting along again," he noted dryly, nodding toward Roger. "What'd you do to piss her off, anyway?"

Roger rolled his eyes, frowning into his pancakes. "I didn't do anything."

"Clearly you did."

The rest of the table had clued in to their conversation and were watching with interest— except Morgan, who was intently focused on the bowl of fruit in front of him. The back of Roger's neck suddenly felt very warm.

"I just…" Roger fought to stay cool, racking his brain for an easy lie. He managed to cobble together something halfway intelligible. "I promised to give Deaky drum lessons, and I, uh, blew her off. We fought, cooled off, and now...we're good," he finished lamely, keeping his face neutral.

"That's it?" Freddie badgered, an incredulous furrow in his brow. "You two barely spoke for three days over drum lessons?"

Roger shrugged. "I nearly socked Brian in the jaw over a can of Coke once."

Brian snorted a chuckle. "'Nearly' because you were drunk and missed my face by a foot."

"Yeah, OK, there's no need to audit our rows…"

Roger was saved from the inquisition by Jane returning from the buffet, her plate stacked with pancakes and a lake of maple syrup. She wore the wild, triumphant expression of a lioness who had her prey in her clutches.

"God, I love American breakfasts," she said breathlessly, grabbing her knife and fork to cut the flapjacks into manageable bites. "I'm never going back to hard-boiled eggs."

Roger watched with fond amusement as rivulets of syrup dripped off the side of her plate onto the table. He tucked a napkin under her plate— Jane was too busy devouring her confection.

"Did you want some pancake with your syrup, sweetheart?" he asked, laughing when she paused her chewing to look up at him with confusion.

The metallic clicks of Freddie and Brian's cutlery also stopped as they stared at him, and it took Roger a second to rewind and realize what he'd said. It had slipped out so easily. Jane, taking a heavy swallow and a gulp of milk, thankfully took the comment in stride.

"Fred is rubbing off on you, darling," she teased, rolling her eyes and sharing a laugh with Freddie.

Eager to change the subject, Roger angled himself toward Jane, resting his arm on the back of her chair. "Anyway, I was telling the guys about our drum lessons, Deaks," he said, giving her a pointed look as a cue to follow his lead. "After I, ah, blew you off."

She raised her eyebrows, the corners of her mouth twitching to conceal a smile. "That's OK; one of these days I'm sure I'll blow you off too."

His instinct to laugh at what would otherwise have been a clumsy innuendo was tampered by the blood draining from his face to rush below the belt. Biting his cheek, he smiled tightly and nodded, eyes flickering to either side to see Freddie and Brian more invested in their meals than their conversation. Morgan, though, was looking slightly nauseous as he pushed one remaining cantaloupe cube around his bowl.

Heat still flooding his neck, Roger nudged Jane's foot with his under the table. She just smiled into her pancakes, absently smoothing her hair over her shoulder — the picture of calm. Meanwhile, Roger was weathering the first stirrings of a hurricane, imagining Jane sliding to her knees before him under the tablecloth, unbuttoning his jeans and reaching her talented hands into his pants…

"Miss Deacon!"

Roger was shaken from his daydream by Freddie's scandalized stage whisper. Jane, too, jumped at the exclamation, eyes narrowing with apprehension as Freddie leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, with a shit-eating grin spreading on his face, looking for all the world like the cat who got the cream.

"Fess up, you little tart. What was his name?"

"What was who's name?"

"The Hoover who gave you those love bites, darling. I didn't know you left with someone last night!"

Roger could have swallowed his tongue.

Jane's eyes went wide, clamping a hand over the side of her neck that hadn't been visible to Roger, face burnishing a brilliant red. He busied himself cutting up a sausage link into several small pieces, pushing down simultaneous surges of panic and primal pride; he hadn't left visible hickeys on anyone in some time. He would have to inspect his handiwork in better detail later.

"That's none of your business," Jane replied coolly, brushing her hair back over her shoulder, nervous eyes landing everywhere except Roger.

"I'm proud of you, Deaky, really," Freddie gushed, always gleeful when he managed to crack open this side of Jane. "But I'm going to need details."

Brian's lips were twisted tightly, looking almost as uncomfortable as Jane. "Leave it, Fred. We really don't need to know."

"Thank you, Bri," she said stiffly.

Freddie leaned both elbows on the table, chin rested in his clasped hands. "If not the dirty details, then at least tell us who. Granted, my attention was otherwise occupied, but I didn't see you talk to anyone except for Roger all night—"

Morgan cleared his throat. "It was Nelson, right, Jane?"

Roger paused mid-bite, lowering his fork to his plate as he stared at Morgan. Jane was likewise confused.

"Nelson," she repeated dumbly.

Morgan nodded pleasantly, as if reminding Jane of something that had merely slipped her mind. "Yeah, the local Mott fan I introduced you to. Nice bloke, good looking."

Roger looked from Morgan to Jane, unsure why he was volunteering to cover for them but grateful all the same. Roger would have to remember to buy him a drink sometime. For her part, Jane bobbed her head slowly, going along with the story.

"Right, Nelson. Well, don't tell him I forgot his name."

"I'm sure he didn't forget yours," he said softly, giving Jane a weak smile.

There was an empty moment of quiet, the sounds of cutlery and chatter from the rest of the dining room growing in volume before Morgan coughed, pushing his chair back from the table. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I wanted to tour the city today."

"We'll see you for dinner, right?" asked Ian, who had remained a bemused spectator for the duration of breakfast.

Morgan patted his bandmate's back, smiling tightly. "Yeah, I'll see you."

With that, Morgan departed. Freddie frowned, leaning to his other side to whisper something to Ian, who sighed and nodded. Roger didn't miss the way both of the men's eyes flashed toward Jane, though he couldn't decipher the preoccupied crease in Freddie's brow.

Roger's attention was pulled elsewhere soon enough, though, as he felt a warm hand graze the side of his leg under the tablecloth. He tensed before relaxing into the touch, his lips twitching when Jane got bolder, smoothing her hand flat over the top of his thigh. The rest of the dining room faded into the background as he focused, laser sharp, on the weight and heat of her hand, on the sudden flood of endorphins into his bloodstream. If she wanted brazen, he could show her brazen. Staring straight ahead, he closed his fingers over hers, pressing her hand briefly against his already hardening erection before slyly moving her hand back to her own lap. An audible, strangled whimper left her lips, causing Freddie to look up at her strangely.

"Alright, Deaky?"

"Bit my tongue," she explained, raising a hand to her mouth. She was blushing again; a phenomenon Roger was starting to really, really enjoy.

As they were finishing up breakfast, Peter Hince traversed the dining room from the roadie's table to theirs. Giving Roger and the rest of the table a quick nod, Ratty gripped the back of both Jane and Roger's chairs, leaning slightly forward to look down at Jane.

"Good morning," Jane greeted brightly, turning in her seat to face her assistant. "Did you and the boys enjoy yourselves last night?"

"We did well in stimulating the local liquor economy; I'll say that."

"Good for you; you deserved it," she said with a laugh, earning her an amused chuckle from her assistant.

"You seem...well-rested."

Freddie coughed pointedly. "Deaky got laid."

"Fred," Jane said through gritted teeth, elbowing Freddie in the side.

Ratty's eyebrows shot up, grinning boyishly between his two bosses. "Hey, good for you, boss!"

His left hand clasped Roger's shoulder, digging in slightly before returning to the back of his seat. The action startled Roger, but he didn't know enough about the younger man to read anything into it. Jane crossed her arms over her chest, glaring up at Ratty.

"I assume you came over to discuss more than just my sleep patterns, Hince?"

Chastised, Ratty nodded. "Right, sorry. Thought I'd let you know the P bass is going to need new strings. I know you prefer restringing her yourself—"

"That's fine, you can do it," she said quickly, waving her hand.

He paused. "You're sure?"

"Of course; I trust you. And I'll be busy this afternoon," she said, casting an eye toward Roger with a sly smile. "I've got drum lessons."

Roger's fingernails curled so tightly into his palm he could have drawn blood.

Ratty, looking far too chuffed for a man who was just given a chore on his day off, stuffed his hands in his pockets and said, more to himself than to any of them, "And I've got to see a man about a dog."

 

 


 

 

The next three days passed in a hot, humid haze of sex, sightseeing, good food, and more sex. Roger and Jane were attached at the hip, exploring New Orleans with the giddiness of children and exploring each other with the unbridled horniness of teenagers. His earlier resolve to take things slow, to ration their indulgences, was swiftly thrown out the window. Jane still wouldn't spend the night with him, but it seemed ungrateful to covet something so minor when he had her to himself all day and in his bed every evening, for at least a little while.

Their first day off, they strolled the French Quarter, browsing boutiques and antique shops and ducking into alleyways and abandoned parks to kiss and tease when the desire to touch grew too hard to ignore. Most of the day, however, was spent simply walking together, talking and laughing like nothing had changed. It felt as easy as it ever had to walk beside her, their arms brushing every so often, though she had rebuffed his attempt to hold her hand with a bashful smile. But even that couldn't sour his good mood, not when he finally felt like he had his friend back, with added benefits.

The weather that day was sweltering, and when a yellow fan with white lace in a storefront caught Jane's eye, Roger used what little remained of his daily stipend to sneak off and buy it for her while she fetched them ice cream cones from a street vendor. When he presented it to her, she lightly scolded him for wasting his money, but looked well pleased once she put it to use. They found a shaded bench to sit under a sprawling oak to eat their ice cream, and when Jane finished hers first, she used her gift to fan his face, giggling when he sighed contentedly and slumped down in the park bench.

"That's the good stuff," he mumbled, letting his eyes fall shut and enjoying the momentary peace amid the bustle of the city and tourists passing by. "Now I just need to be fed peeled grapes and have my cock sucked."

Jane laughed, her fan faltering. "I don't know how good I am at peeling grapes, but I could probably do something about the second request."

Roger's eyes snapped open. "Time to go back to the hotel, yeah?"

 

 

The second day was lazier, nursing the sunburns they both managed to cultivate the previous day and giving Roger an excuse to ask Jane to rub aloe gel onto his shoulders and back — a messy, slippery endeavor that quickly devolved into slow, sleepy, afternoon sex.

Afterwards, they ran into the hall, half dressed, giggling and looking surreptitiously over their shoulders as they raided the vending machine across from Roger's hotel room. Jane counted the American coins into Roger's palm, and he selected a veritable bounty of Baby Ruths, Oreos, Fritos, Almond Joys, Snickers, and Pringles. As they were crouched on the floor, collecting their trove from the vending machine's chute, there was the sound of a door creaking open somewhere around the corner. With hushed laughter and whispered orders to "hurry!", they gathered the remaining snacks into their arms and sprinted back to the room before they could be spotted.

Laughing, Jane spread her snacks onto the bed before collapsing onto it herself, laying on her side as she used her teeth to rip open the wrapping of a Snickers bar. She was wearing Roger's Led Zeppelin t-shirt over her knickers, and although he had seen her in his clothes dozens of times — ownership of clothing was a very loose concept in the Queen household — there was something particularly arousing about it now, something that tugged at a darker, possessive bent. They had just had sex not ten minutes ago, and although his dick might have needed a little longer to recover, he still ached to taste her.

He climbed onto the bed and crawled toward her, skimming his hand up the side of her exposed thigh and ducking his head to drop kisses on the skin just above the waistband of her knickers. She squirmed under him, laughing breathlessly when his hands fluttered under her borrowed shirt.

"Rog, I'm trying to eat!"

He hummed, fingers coming back down to loop beneath her waistband. "Don't mind me. You can have your treat, and I'll have mine."

She groaned, a pretty blush spreading from her cheeks to her neck, and she lifted her hips to help him drag her knickers down her legs. The candy bar was quickly thrown to the nightstand and forgotten.

 

 

The third day in New Orleans was, in comparison to the first two, torture. Executives from Elektra, the record label that distributed Queen II in America and Canada, happened to be in the area courting a potential signee from the local jazz scene and had arranged to meet Queen and Norman for Sunday brunch on the steamboat Natchez. Roger was a fan of brunch; eating breakfast food in the afternoon accompanied by sweet alcoholic beverages was fantastic. Dining with label executives in the hot and stuffy enclosed dining room of a rickety steamboat while their eagle-eyed manager babysat them was not.

Mark Holzman and David Geffel were clones of every other label execs they'd ever met; white, clean-cut men in their 40s with expensive suits and fake, shallow laughter. They talked about "engineering an upheaval in popular culture" and flattered them with promises of American stardom that made Freddie beam and Roger roll his eyes. He'd believe it when they gave him the cheque.

To make matters worse, Jane was wearing a sundress— the most ingenious of American inventions. The dress was butter yellow, thin straps leaving her newly-tanned arms bare and a hemline that just grazed her knees. It must have been a recent purchase, and Roger idly wondered if she had bought it with him in mind— if she had pictured him sliding the straps down her arms and bunching the skirt up around her waist. Because he sure was.

Not that that was an appropriate subject to dwell on while seated between Norman and Brian, the latter of whom was looking progressively greener throughout the meal. Jane had been nervous about boarding the boat, the memory of their ferry ride across the Channel still fresh in all of their minds, but the slow moving steamboat and the smooth current of the river made for an easier ride, and she seemed all but unaffected by the minuscule rockings of the boat. Brian, however, was having a rougher go of things.

"Can they eat any slower?" Brian whispered through gritted teeth to Roger, arms wrapped protectively around his middle. "I don't know how much longer I can do this."

"The boat's barely moving, mate. Deaky isn't even seasick."

"Well, my insides disagree."

"Just try to eat something," Roger prodded, nodding toward Brian's still full plate.

He had barely touched his cheesy grits, and had been nursing the same (now cold) cup of black coffee since they arrived. Brian pursed his lips, pushing the grits around with his fork. Roger couldn't help but notice that Brian's appetite had been strange lately, leaving more food on his plate than he ever would have back home in London. Perhaps it was stress, or perhaps he just didn't like American food, but either way, Roger wasn't about to let his friend starve.

"C'mon, try the parfait at least," said Roger, pushing his own yoghurt in front of Brian. "It's got praline morsels."

Brian puckered his lips in thought, shifting his eyes to Roger before hastily accepting the parfait. "I do like pralines."

"Good man."

With Brian finally eating, Roger let his attention turn back to the table's conversation. Rather, his eyes fell to Jane while he half paid attention to Mark telling Freddie about an interesting Australian rock band Elektra was considering signing. As per usual in these sorts of meetings, Jane had barely said a peep beyond the necessary pleasantries. Her Belgian waffle (also praline — the chefs here seemed to have a thing for sugared nuts) was already finished off, so she sat primly with a freshly topped cup of tea. Lips rounded to blow on the steaming tea, her eyes lifted to meet his over the rim of the cup, and she smiled.

Not for the first time, he wished she was sitting next to him, or, better yet, that they could get off that damn boat and be alone. Hours spent not touching her were a waste, especially when she looked as beautiful as she did then, with the sunlight filtering in from the expansive windows turning her plaited hair a shade of burnished mahogany.

"What about you, Miss Deacon?"

They both turned in the direction of Mark, who had asked her a question neither of them had heard. Roger saw a familiar pinkness flush on her neck, and Jane set her teacup down with an embarrassed laugh.

"Pardon?"

"I was just wondering what your favorite part of the tour has been so far?" Mark asked patiently, swirling his Mimosa in hand. "Any particular city or attraction?"

"Oh, it's hard to say…" she started, glancing out the window before turning back to Mark, her eyes briefly cutting to Roger's.

Jane shrugged, a coy smile playing on her lips. "I suppose I've just really enjoyed getting to spend so much time with my favorite people."

"Aw, Deaks," Freddie gushed, reaching an arm around her to squeeze her shoulders. "You can be surprisingly sweet sometimes, you know that?"

Roger swallowed, a pleasant bubbling of warmth rising up his throat. Freddie didn't know the half of it.

Brunch stretched on for what felt like hours longer, but eventually they parted ways with David and Mark, with no one more eager to head back to the hotel than Roger. They took a cab from the pier, and Jane sat in the middle seat between Brian and Roger, the heat of her skin practically burning a hole through Roger's trousers where their legs were pressed together. He watched a bead of sweat drip down the side of her neck behind her ear, noticed the way her hands tightly wrapped around the fabric of her dress at her knees, and he forced himself to close his eyes before he went insane.

When they arrived at the hotel, Roger stepped out of the car first, holding out his hand to help Jane out behind him. She glanced at his hand for a split second before taking it, letting him pull her to her feet on the curb. Her yellow dress was fluttering against her legs in the breeze, and Roger realized after a moment spent staring that they were standing altogether too close to be inconspicuous, and took a step back, shoving his hands in his pockets so they wouldn't be tempted to reach out for her.

"What time is our flight tomorrow, Bri?" Jane asked as they walked into the hotel, her voice taking on a rougher timbre than he was used to hearing.

"Seven sharp," Bri answered, looking down at his watch. "So don't stay out late."

Her eyes not leaving Roger's, she nodded. "I don't think I'll be going anywhere."

 

★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★

Once they all returned to their hotel floor and into their respective rooms, Roger waited all of five seconds before slipping out of his room and practically running to Jane's at the opposite end of the corridor.

Breathless and a little sweaty, he only had to knock once before her door flew open, as if she was waiting in the threshold for him. She pulled him inside with grabbing hands, which were instantly buried in his hair as the door closed behind them, her lips soon finding his in a frenzy.

He melted into the kiss, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist and backing her up against the door. She tasted like syrup, and she kissed as if she was as desperate for him as he was for her. Her mouth was electric, and the energy flowed hotly between them.

"God, you look so fucking good," he murmured, breaking away from her lips to press his mouth hotly against her jaw. His hands traveled down to her ass, pushing her pelvis firmly against his erection. "Can you feel what you do to me?"

Jane whimpered, nodding as his hands runched up her dress to reveal the bare skin underneath. She stepped up on her tiptoes to suck sweetly on his pulse, and he nearly growled, bucking up into her. He loved the feel of her fingers in his hair, loved the slide of her tongue against his throat. Getting bolder, she hitched one leg high around his waist, and he got the message loud and clear.

"You drive me crazy," he groaned, looping his hands under her thighs and pinning her between him and the wall. He surged forward before she could answer, savagely searching her mouth while his hips dragged rhythmically against her center. Jane's dress had been pushed up to her waist, and he could feel her wet heat radiating through her knickers.

"You're one to talk," she muttered with a gasp, hands leaving his hair to slip underneath the hem of his t-shirt, smoothing over the planes of his stomach. "Walking around all the time looking...disheveled."

He looked down at her with a slow grin, rocking solidly against her. "You like seeing me disheveled or you like making me that way?"

"Both."

"Yeah?" he laughed, nuzzling his head into the crook of her neck as he continued to rock their hips in tandem, pleasurable friction shooting up his spine. "You're all wet for me now, aren't you?"

She nodded, a breathless yelp leaving her lips when his hands tightened around her hips. With the extra leverage, he drove his erection hard into her center, finding a tempo that made her whine and made stars appear behind his eyes. A distant voice in his head told him to start moving to the bed, but then Jane let her head fall back against the door, one hand returning to his hair to pull, hard.

"Roger," she moaned, and the sound bypassed all neural processors and went straight to his cock.

His orgasm swelled so suddenly, he had only the briefest of seconds to try and hold back the ruptured dam before it broke free. He came with a sudden cry and a stuttering thrust of his hips, gasping and shivering from the force of his unexpected release. Boneless and sweating, Roger slowly let Jane down to the floor, head still tucked into the crook of her neck as he breathed heavily through the aftershocks. She rubbed his back, whispering inaudible yet soothing sounds into his ear. Then realization hit him, and he felt an uncomfortable warmth in his pants, redness coloring his cheeks. He had come in his pants like a bloody teenager; he was almost too embarrassed to draw back and look at her.

"Oh my god," he muttered, voice muffled against her throat. "I can't believe I just did that."

Her fingers carded through his sweaty hair, and he felt the tremors of her soft chuckling. "I'll take it as a compliment."

He groaned, wrapping his arms around her middle so they stood against the door in a prolonged hug. "I'm just going to find a deep, dark cave somewhere and never come out, if that's OK with you."

Jane laughed, cupping his face and drawing him away from her shoulder to look at him properly. "It's fine, Rog. It happens!"

"Not to me!"

"Better luck next time, champ."

Roger rubbed his hand over his face, finding it damp with sweat, and his embarrassed groan turned into laughter. He gestured to Jane.

"To save what little dignity I have left right now, I'm going to blame it on the dress," he said, running a finger down one of her straps to the button that clasped it to the bodice of the dress. "It's too cute."

Jane cocked her head, soft smile turning mischievous as she brought her hand up to slide one of the straps down her shoulder.

"We should remove the problem from the equation, then," she said, hand floating toward her other strap.

"God, I love the way your mind works," he mumbled, leaning in to kiss her softly while his hand stilled her fingers. "But hold that thought while I, ah, clean up. Go make yourself comfortable."

Receiving an eager nod from Jane, Roger dashed to the loo to take care of the mess he'd made. An idea came to him, and he paused in the doorway, craning his head around to look at her.

"Deaks, do you still have that vibrator?"

She turned back to him, eyes wide. Her voice was somewhat shaky when she responded. "Yeah."

He grinned. "Good. Fetch it and put it on the nightstand for me, will you?"

 

 


 

 

With their arrival in Boston the next afternoon, the tour was officially back in the regular swing of things, which was good for their wallets but presented a few challenges for Jane and Roger on a more...intimate level.

For one, the Boston show had been a last minute change to the schedule, as they had previously planned to play Reading, Pennsylvania that night, with Boston not appearing on the itinerary for several more days. This meant their hotel reservations were also last minute purchases, and expensive, so Norman could only afford to book the band into two rooms, with Roger and Brian sharing one and Freddie and Jane sharing the other. Roger had weakly suggested trading spots with Freddie so he and Jane could share, but Freddie had given him a strange look, forcing Roger to drop it promptly.

Second, Roger had almost forgotten the highly structured days preceding show nights; their whereabouts were strictly accounted for to make sure they were keeping with the schedule and would be in fine working order by the evening. There was no time to sneak off with Jane for a bit of fun— not with Norman and their other minders watching them like hawks.

There were a few hours before they were scheduled to be at the Orpheum that Norman had penciled in for "sightseeing and photo-ops," so they trotted around Boston Commons aimlessly, stopping periodically to have their photograph taken in front of some landmark or interesting piece of architecture. Ratty was evidently an amateur photographer, so he had been recruited to the cause, herding them into frame while Freddie needled him about lighting and capturing his "good side."

Jane stuck close by Roger's side that afternoon, seemingly embarrassed by the attention they were attracting with all of their photoshoots, as tourists and locals alike stared at the four strangely-dressed British pricks being prompted to pose this way and that by their entourage. Roger didn't mind the attention, nor did he mind the way she tucked herself next to him in every photo, wrapping her arm around his waist and letting him drape an arm over her shoulders. None of the guys batted an eye at the physical contact, the touchy lot that they were, though Roger caught Ratty snapping candids of him and Jane as they strolled through the park together, a little separated from the others. Maybe later he'd pull the kid aside and ask if he could make Roger a few copies.

They had spent a couple hours circling the park and surrounding streets — including a jaunt through the Boston Public Gardens — when Brian started asking to return to the Orpheum, complaining of stomach pains and exhaustion. He insisted it was a result of not enough sleep and bad eggs for breakfast that morning, and Freddie told him to sit down while water was brought to him.

"Is he OK?" Jane whispered to Roger nervously, watching Freddie pet Brian's hand on the bench as the ailing man bent forward to rest his head between his knees, at Freddie's instructions. "He doesn't look too good."

Roger bit his lip, studying his friend anxiously but nodding his head to reassure Jane. "Yeah, he'll be fine. You know how Bri is; he'll stress himself out until he's got a stomach ache. He just needs a nap and some tea."

Jane didn't seem all too convinced, looking like she wanted to join Freddie and Brian on the bench but standing rooted to the spot. Relations between Jane and Brian were still strained, though Roger was fairly certain neither even remembered nor cared what the initial fallout was about. They were two of the most stubborn, proud people Roger had ever known, simultaneously fascinating and deeply frustrating to him. They would deny it up and down if he ever told them how similar he found them to each other.

Soon enough, Brian was rehydrated and feeling well enough to walk back to the Orpheum, though he still looked pale and drawn, like he needed a full meal, preferably with some meat. Roger respected his ideals and all, but the man clearly wasn't getting enough iron.

 

★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★

Back at the Orpheum, they did sound checks with Brian's guitar tech, Richie, allowing Brian to rest backstage. Jane's mood had brightened once her bass was back around her shoulders where it belonged, and Roger basked in their renewed connection on stage. It was the first time they had played together since the New Orleans show, and he could feel her fall in step with his drums, filling the gaps and feeding off each other's rhythm. She found her favorite spot to his right, shuffling to the beat of "Keep Yourself Alive," and Roger lit up. This was the electricity they had been missing the past few shows— the sonic volcano they formed when they were together and locked in tight. Freddie, whose voice was in top shape after days of rest, also looked delighted with their rediscovered sound, and he riffed off their energy.

It was only rehearsal, but Roger was getting swept up in the music, adrenaline pumping through his veins and dissolving into lust with every lip-bitten smile Jane sent his way. He had the itch, and it wouldn't be scratched until he had Jane whimpering underneath him — or above him. He really wasn't picky.

There were issues with the on-stage monitors, so sound check lasted longer than normal as the sound crew troubleshooted the system. Roger was getting antsy, and he improvised drum fills to keep his hands and mind busy, in an effort to not pop another boner on stage while Jane swayed aimlessly in front of him. Eventually they were released to allow the venue to be prepared for the fans queuing outside. Freddie was accompanied by Ratty to the dressing room shared by the guys, while Roger trailed after Jane to her accommodations at the end of the corridor.

Her dressing room was more like a converted storage room, with cardboard boxes stacked on metal shelves lining the back wall, but he knew Jane was happy just to have her own space. She breezed into the room ahead of him, loosening her hair from its ponytail and slipping off her shoes. Roger lingered in the doorway, watching her sort through her cosmetic bag on the counter in front of the mirror. She glanced over at him sideways, raising an eyebrow.

"Can I help you with something?"

He smirked, tilting his head. "I hope so."

She chewed her lip, a half smile on her lips as she unscrewed the lid to her jar of foundation. "Rog, we've got to get ready for the show."

Coming up behind her, he rested his chin on her right shoulder, smoothing his hands down her bare arms. "We can be quick."

"The guys are right down the hall!"

He pressed a kiss to her jaw. "We can be quiet."

She laughed at that, but her hands trembled as she brought her makeup brush to her face. "You've never been quiet in your life."

"Should make for a fun experiment then," he urged, leaving a trail of kisses down the side of her throat as his hands fell to her hips, making her sigh and lean back into his chest. "And besides, I think I feel a little stage fright coming on."

She turned her head, giving him an incredulous look. "Stage fright? You?"

He hummed, fluidly moving his hands over her hips and up to her stomach, bunching up the hem of her shirt. Meeting her eye in the mirror, he murmured hotly in her ear, "I'm all antsy now. You soothe me."

Jane squirmed against him, pressing her ass into his crotch and making him groan. "Well, I can't have you going on stage feeling any less than your best, can I?"

He grinned at her in the mirror and leaned in to kiss her wetly on the cheek. "You're so good to me."

"Hurry up and get my jeans off."

Not wasting another moment, Roger undid her trousers and tugged them down her legs, letting them puddle on the floor around her ankles. Fumbling with his wallet, he pulled out a condom before throwing the wallet to the counter and shoving his jeans and boxers down to bunch above his knees. Jane had thrown off her shirt and stepped back from the vanity to turn and face him, but Roger stopped her, gently pushing her shoulders down so she was bent at the waist over the counter.

"Is this OK?" he asked breathlessly, rolling the condom on.

She looked up at his reflection with wide eyes and nodded, her pupils blown out with desire. "Please."

He stabilized himself with one hand pushing into the center of her back, the other smoothing over the roundness of her ass. A swipe of a finger into her center — and her subsequent needy moan — confirmed that she was ready for him, and he shoved himself into her with a smooth, deep thrust that punched the air out of his lungs.

"Oh fuck," he croaked, gripping her hips tighter and pulling slowly out to savor the wet heat gripping his cock like a vice. "I'm not going to last, sweetheart."

Jane snapped her hips back into him, forcing a grunt from his lips. "That's the point of a quickie, Rog," she said impatiently, circling her hips invitingly. "So get on with it and fuck me."

That was all the invitation he needed, and they were off to the races. They hadn't tried this position yet — he'd wanted to see her face when she came — but it was becoming a fast favorite, reaching a different angle that was pure heaven. With the mirror in front of her on the counter, he could see every silent gasp and flutter of her eyes as he plunged deeper into her. And her ass, it had to be said, was simply magnificent.

When he felt the familiar stirring in his groin, sooner than he would have liked, he leaned forward to press his chest flush against her bare back, reaching a hand down to find her clit and circling it the way she'd taught him. Soon, she was gasping and whining to the tempo of his thrusts, clamping a hand over her mouth to muffle the sounds, and he squeezed his eyes shut — getting closer, closer…

And then, as if in slow motion— a sudden draft of cool air hitting his legs, the door swinging open and the doorknob hitting the adjacent wall, a familiar gasp and intake of breath.

Freddie.

Jane yelped when she heard the intrusion, and Roger scrambled out of her, yet still crouched over and covering her to protect her from view. As if Freddie didn't know exactly who was beneath his drummer. As if he didn't know whose dressing room this was.

"Well then."

"Out, Fred," Roger said firmly, belying the rapid-fire pounding in his chest. He didn't even look at Freddie standing frozen in the doorway— his attention still on Jane, who was shivering — or shaking — under him. "We'll talk in a minute, just wait outside."

There was a second's pause, and then he heard Freddie leave, closing the door behind him. Roger slowly unfurled himself from around Jane and took a step back, studying her with caution. The blood had drained from her face, and she had grabbed her shirt from the counter to press against her chest.

"Shit, shit, shit," she muttered, anxious eyes not meeting Roger's. "Shit."

"It's fine; I'll talk to him," Roger said, hoisting up his pants and trousers. "Are you OK?"

"No I'm not OK!" she whispered harshly, looking toward the door. "I'm mortified! I'm...I'm..." She didn't finish her sentence, chewing her lip with her arms crossed tightly over her chest.

Roger ran a hand over his face, shaking his head. "I know, I know. Fuck. OK, just... stay here."

He didn't need to tell her twice; stone-faced and still clutching her shirt as she slumped into the chair next to the vanity, she clearly wasn't going anywhere. With one last concerned look over his shoulder, Roger ducked out of the room, shutting the door firmly behind him. As instructed, Freddie was leaning against the wall to the right of the door, eyebrows raised, glaring at him expectantly. He was waiting for an explanation that Roger didn't really have.

"Don't freak out," Roger pleaded, taking Freddie's arm and pulling him away from the door so they could talk out of earshot. Looking around, he was grateful at least that the hallways were empty.

"That depends on what you say next," Freddie drawled, snapping his arm away from Roger. "And if you lie, I swear to god I'll know."

Roger swallowed, glancing toward the door and nodding. "No lies."

Freddie's eyes could have burned a hole into Roger's forehead. "What is going on?"

"It's just sex, Fred. That's it. It's nothing. Hand to god."

Freddie stared at him, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he digested Roger's words. He shut his eyes for a long second, exhaling a sharp puff of air from his mouth. "For how long?"

"The night of the New Orleans show."

Freddie snorted an amused laugh, shaking his head. "Drum lessons. I should have known. For such a clever person, you sure can be a moron sometimes, you know that?"

"Just don't tell Brian, please," he begged, holding out his hands in supplication. "Please, Fred."

Freddie rolled his eyes. "Why? Are you fucking him too?"

"No, but he'll blow up. He'll throw me in the harbor."

Freddie tilted his head, as if considering the option. "Maybe I should let him."

"I told you it was casual—"

"And you think that makes it better? You think no one's going to get hurt from this?"

Freddie's quietly intense words took Roger by surprise, and he took a step back, feeling himself shrink under Freddie's gaze. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Freddie took another deep breath, seemingly trying to calm himself.

"It would have been easier if you just said you were in love with her."

Roger scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Don't be a child."

"At least then I'd know you'd do right by her!"

His blood boiled in his veins, indignant at the accusation. He fought to keep his voice level in the echoing cinderblock hallway, but his temper was starting to get the better of him. "I have never treated her with anything less than respect, Fred. Never," he said through gritted teeth, pointing a finger into Freddie's chest. "You know that."

Freddie pushed Roger's hand away, narrowing his eyes. "You're going to get bored, but she's not a hooker you can leave behind at a truck stop."

His words nearly knocked the wind out of him, and his fists curled at his side. It took all the restraint available to him not to take a swing at Freddie. "Is that seriously how you think of me?"

"You have a reputation."

"Jane is my friend," he seethed, pointing to her dressing room. "We're both adults; if things start going sideways, we'll break it off. That's it. No one's hurting anyone."

Freddie stared at him with pursed lips, his gaze probing deep into Roger and making him squirm uncomfortably, eyes shifting nervously back to Jane's room, which was still silent. Finally, Freddie spoke, holding up a shaking finger.

"I won't tell Brian. But, I'm not going to lie or cover for you," he said, his voice calming. "So don't be idiots."

Roger nodded, anger starting to dissipate. "Understood."

Freddie gripped Roger's arm tightly, but his gaze unexpectedly softened to something resembling concern. "And Rog...just be careful, OK?"

"I know, we're using protection."

The corner of Freddie's lips twitched into a weak smile, and he squeezed Roger's arm before releasing him. "Good, but you know that's not what I meant."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

April 25, 1974

Providence, Rhode Island

 

 

Jane closed the practice room door behind her and turned the lock, shutting herself in with her bass, a chair, and a keyboard. She took stock of her surroundings, a windowless, cinderblock room — a blank canvas of sorts. Flipping open the latches on the case, she let a soft and steadying breath release in an exhale.

That first glimpse of her bass after it had been packed away was both a rush of exhilaration and sense of peace. After all these years, it always felt like the first time. She ran the backs of her fingers over the sunburst body— freshly polished. Ratty must have taken care of the Precision the previous night. As much as she appreciated his help, Jane couldn't help but feel she'd become untethered from her instrument by always handing it off to be looked after by someone else. Tuning had always been a moment of grounding for her, to be alone with her bass and her thoughts, taking a minute in the silence to just listen.

Sitting back in the plastic chair by the piano, she cradled the Precision in her lap, checking with a sharp eye for nicks and loose screws. Gone were the days of playing on second-hand basses bartered for at pubs and fished out of donation bins, instruments that broke more often than they played, but she was still obsessive about maintenance. Satisfied with her inspection, she passed the strap over her shoulders — the yellow suede strap Brian had given her their first Christmas as a band had held up well, and the leather had molded comfortably to her shoulders. Switching on the electric keyboard next to her, she reached over to find her tuning note. She let it resonate, humming with the tone, and plucked her open E string. Sharp, so she slid her hand up the neck to loosen the peg, adjusting until the lowest note reverberated with a tone that she felt deep in her stomach.

And on to the next string. It was meditative work, requiring just enough focus to keep her present and cut through the noise and the chaos that coursed through her mind. With the noise dulled, she could think. She could find clarity. Jane hadn't had much of that lately.

Yesterday's scene — Freddie bursting into the room while she and Roger were in the most compromising of positions — had been replaying continuously, offering nothing productive besides crippling embarrassment and shame. Shame, not from the sex itself, but from the look she caught on Freddie's face as he left her dressing room to let her collect herself: disappointment, worry, with a cut of hurt. Now that the dust had cleared, the shame had given way to frustration when she recalled what she had heard next.

Freddie and Roger's conversation had been loud enough to hear from the storage closet-turned-dressing room. It was hard not to eavesdrop — not when they were talking about her as if the sex, the sneaking around, was something being done to her. As if she was the passive, simpering victim here who could get hurt if Roger wasn't careful with her feelings.

Give me a break.

Lost in her annoyance, she tightened the tuning peg too hard, and the warbling twang made her grimace. Jane was every much as active a participant as Roger was, and she sure as hell wasn't as fragile as they thought she was. If Freddie thought their arrangement was so terrible, then why hadn't he scolded both of them? He hadn't said a word to Jane about the incident, apart from shooting her concerned, watchful looks whenever she so much as spoke to Roger that night and the following morning on the tour bus. Perhaps he was watching to make sure Roger didn't leave her at a truck stop.

Another peg was twisted too tight, and the D string broke under her fingers, startling her. She picked up the limp end of the snapped string on the bass's neck and groaned. It had been years since she'd last broken a string while tuning — a rookie mistake, and an expensive one. Ratty had just restrung the instrument a few days ago.

"Shit," she muttered, removing the shoulder strap and tucking the bass back into its case, where she couldn't accidentally hurt it in her frustration. This was supposed to be a calming activity, but she'd worked herself up to snapping — literally. She'd have to ask Ratty — very nicely — if he could restring the bass after he returned from lunch with the rest of the guys.

As she packed away her instrument, a distant echo of drums rang down the halls outside the practice room; she wasn't the only one trying to fit in a mid-afternoon warm-up, then. She and Roger would probably be the only people from their camp in the theatre… and they hadn't had much alone time lately. Jane had the spark of an idea, fanned by her sudden need to prove — to herself, to Roger — that she had just as much agency as he did. Roger had told Freddie their trysts were "Nothing." She'd show him nothing.

Abandoning her bass in the practice room, she marched down the hall to the single flight of stairs leading to the stage of the Providence Theatre. Roger's drums grew louder as she approached, both from proximity and a surge in the intensity of his playing. Pushing back a heavy black curtain, she stood in the wings off stage right, watching him sweat up a storm as he played a pulse-pounding solo she hadn't heard before.

Jane rarely got to watch him like this, drumming for himself rather than for the band. Like her, he could lose himself in his instrument, wailing on the drums with a fraction of the wild temper that she knew coursed through him like a riptide. He was a force of nature, and it was captivating to watch him relinquish control. For a minute, she forgot why she had come up to the stage.

But then Roger caught sight of her in the wings and stopped playing, halting the roll of the cymbal with his hand. He dropped his sticks to the floor and wiped his hands on his jeans, breathless as he nodded toward her.

"What's up, Deaks?"

Wordlessly, Jane jerked her head to the right, gesturing for him to join her offstage. Knowing that he'd follow her, she turned and walked behind the cyclorama, where stage crews kept extra props and equipment in the crossover. Handily, there was also a rust-colored velour couch, which was either for the comfort of performers relaxing off stage, or a set piece that had yet to be put away. It would serve just fine for her purposes.

★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★

"Have you eaten lunch yet?" Roger asked, catching up to her when she stopped in front of the sofa. "I could go for some burgers right — oof."

Jane had put a hand to his chest, pushing him backwards until he fell onto the couch in a small plume of dust. Recovering from his momentary surprise, Roger took stock of their situation and grinned up at her, reaching for her waist to pull her onto his lap. She stepped out of his grasp, lowering herself instead to her knees in front of him with a bite of her lip.

His eyes widened, realizing what she had in mind. "Fuck, Deaky—"

Not breaking eye contact, she unbuckled his belt and unzipped his jeans, sliding them halfway down his thighs with his assistance, though he was still staring at her wordlessly, dumbstruck. With his half-hard cock freed from his pants, but before Jane had even touched him, Roger was already whimpering, his eyes reluctantly leaving hers to glance to the side.

"Sweetheart, the roadies—"

"Are on their lunch break," she finished smoothly, running her fingers over the tip of his cock and making his hips jolt upward. "But you should probably still be quiet."

Roger pressed his hands flat to the cushions on either side of him, and as Jane lowered her mouth to hover teasingly over his cock, his fingers curled into fists. She smiled, leaned in, and closed her lips round the head, staring up at him to gauge his reaction. His blue eyes went nearly black, the pupils blown, and his mouth fell open as she wrapped her hand around the base and slid down and back up in time with her lips.

Jane had never particularly enjoyed giving oral sex — she didn't hate it, per se, but it was often boring and slightly uncomfortable, especially when past partners tried to take control and ram their cocks down her throat. But it was a different act altogether with Roger, who ceded control so willingly, so completely, it had surprised her the first and only time she had done it for him so far, in New Orleans. He had laid back against the pillows, hands to himself, while he babbled praise and filthy promises in equal measure. He gently pushed her off after a couple minutes, though, wanting to spend his energy doing things that would bring her pleasure too.

But she was determined this time, and seeing him react to her, like putty in her hands, sent a thrill up her spine. She took him deeper and sucked, and he practically whined.

"Shit, Jane," he panted, the muscles in his thighs jerking with strain. "I don't know how quiet I can — oh fuck — I can be."

His words only served to encourage her, and she licked a long stripe from the base of his cock to the tip, flicking her tongue over the frenulum and smiling when he practically jumped out of his skin with a gasp that dissolved into breathless laughter.

"You're trying to kill me," he groaned, his feet sliding on either side of her as they tried to find purchase on the floor. "Such a pretty mouth, baby. So pretty taking my cocklike a fucking angel…" he trailed off with a whimper, his eyes fluttering shut briefly.

She looked up at him through her lashes, flattening her tongue against the underside of his cock as she worked him with a quickening pace. His hands floated up from the couch, reaching for her momentarily before clenching into fists at his sides. She pulled off of him with a slick pop and rested her chin on his thigh, catching her breath.

"It's OK, you can touch me."

He didn't need telling twice; one hand immediately found her hair, tucking the loose strands behind her ear, while the other was simply held softly against her cheek. She returned her mouth to his cock, and his head fell back on the sofa.

"Shit, yes, just like that," he groaned, arching his back as she swirled her tongue around the head before taking him as deep as she could. "You're so good for me, Janie. So good..."

Jane had seen few things in her life hotter than Roger Taylor progressively losing his mind as she sucked his cock. Wet heat was pooling between her legs, just from listening to his whimpers and feeling him buck and quake beneath her. She saw him look down at her, panting as he met her gaze. Her eyes were starting to water, and his thumb swept gently over her cheek to catch the tear that fell there.

Her mouth lost its rhythm, startled by the tenderness in his eyes, in the soft caress of his hand against her cheek and the shell of her ear. She clenched her thighs together, trying to relieve the building pressure and distract herself from Roger's piercing gaze. Lowering her eyes, she took him deeper, hollowing her cheeks, and he groaned, his hand tangling in her hair, though he didn't pull or even try to guide her.

Bringing him back up to his high, she focused on maintaining a steady pace, sucking and sliding his cock into the depths of her wet mouth while his panting and squirming grew more and more desperate.

"Sweetheart, I'm gonna — fuck, can I come in your mouth?"

In response, Jane just gripped his thighs, not straying from the pace that was turning him inside out. Roger moaned, hands fluttering to her jaw, feeling her mouth work under his fingers. Letting out a reedy gasp, he tilted her chin up.

"Janie, look at me."

She did, opening her eyes and meeting his gaze, and she watched the exact moment that the floodgates broke, and he bucked forward with several involuntary jolts, spending himself into her mouth in successive, twitching bursts.

His long, low groan dissolved into a breathy chuckle, and he stroked her hair softly as he came down to earth. Not seeing a bin or cup around to spit into, she swallowed his semen down with a grimace. It was unpleasant, but cleaner than the alternative.

Roger released a shaky, contented sigh, leaning forward to slip his hands under her arms and tug her up off the floor. She landed on the sofa next to him in a heap, and he grinned lazily, wrapping both arms around her and pressing a firm kiss to her forehead.

"I don't know where that came from, but thank you," he murmured against her temple. "I needed that."

She luxuriated in his hold for a few minutes more, feeling incongruously warm and pliant and safe for something Roger had sworn to Freddie was "nothing." But it hardly mattered what sort of feelings were stirred in a moment of vulnerability; that was a whole different game— one which Roger had made very clear he was uninterested in playing.

"You need a nap," she whispered, gently untangling herself from his arms so she could stand up. "And I need a drink."

 

 


 

April 30, 1974

 

"B - E - T - R - A - Y. Betray."

Freddie slid the tiles into place, slowly retracting his hands from the board to fold in front of him. He met Jane's narrowed eyes with an innocent smile and cock of his head.

"Double word score, darling. Twenty-two points. Write it down."

She rolled her eyes but grabbed the pencil stub to mark Freddie's points in the notebook that was now falling apart at the bindings — they'd kept track of all of their games since the tour started in early April, with the intention of crowning a Scrabble Tour Champion when they returned home in June. Said Champion would receive free drinks from the other three contenders for a month, so competition had been fierce, with Freddie and Brian neck and neck in points. Brian, however, was currently napping peacefully on the bench across from them.

Either Freddie didn't see Jane as a threat to his crown, or he just wanted to fuck with her, but he'd been having more fun with his word choices than actually trying to win this game. Despite having far better options available to him on the board, his last move had been to spell the word Lies for a measly four points.

Since Providence, Freddie had calmed down somewhat, no longer shooting Roger murderous glances over breakfast or chaperoning their every move. Instead, he was conducting himself with the maturity of a twelve year old. They'd been on the tour bus that day for five of the eight hours it would take to drive from Portland, Maine to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Freddie had spent at least a third of that time making barely veiled innuendos. At least it was an improvement from the silent stewing — sort of.

"Is he being a prick again?" Roger called, preparing his tea in the bus's small kitchenette.

They hadn't been equipped with a stove, so an electric kettle had been procured; Jane wasn't a fan of the contraption. Logically, she knew it didn't make a lick of difference, but Jane could swear electric-boiled tea didn't taste as good.

"Yes; he thinks he's very clever," she replied dryly, sitting back with her arms crossed.

"That's because I am clever," Freddie clipped, drawing his extra Scrabble tiles. "Your turn, Deaky."

While she was planning her next move (and trying to think up a workable synonym for busybody), Roger set their two mugs on the table and slid onto the bench beside her. Jane hadn't asked for tea, but she'd never turn down an Earl Grey, even though Roger tended to steep the tea a little longer than she liked. As she blew over the mug to cool it down, he slung an arm over her shoulder and leaned in closer than strictly necessary to examine her tiles. His breath swept warmly across her cheek.

"What about…" he muttered, pointing to an R, A, I, S, and H. She frowned, trying to puzzle out what she could do with the letters he had indicated.

Roger dipped his head lower, lips barely brushing her ear. Gooseflesh prickled up her arms. "There's a V on the board."

Ravish.

Jane flushed, partly at his suggestion, but mostly because of Freddie's exasperated sigh as he looked on with disapproval.

"I'm right here, you know."

"And if you weren't, we could be having much more fun," Roger muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Jane to hear.

Since starting their crowded New England branch of the American tour, they'd been spending fewer nights in hotels and more time on the tour bus, leaving Jane with precious little...quality time with Roger. Not that they had slowed down much; on the contrary, the perceived scarcity of a valuable resource — in this case, sex — tended to trigger a greater demand. So they had gotten creative.

Jane's dressing room was always a trusty option; in the time between sound check and the performance, Brian usually rested or rehearsed, and Freddie now knew better than to go looking for them. And when her dressing room was in close proximity to the other band members or the crew, there was no shortage of abandoned closets and dressing rooms tucked away in these old New England theatres where no one would overhear the odd thump or moan.

The downside, of course, was the lack of comfortable furniture, and both Jane and Roger had the bruises to prove it. In Portland, Roger had bent her over a large storage bin that then proceeded to slide out from under her mid-thrust. He had jerked forward to catch her but had lost his balance, and they both tumbled to the ground in a tangle of sweaty and sore limbs. For their efforts, Jane walked away with banged-up knees, and Roger had scraped open a ghastly cut on his right elbow. Somehow, they managed to convince Brian and the roadies that they both tripped down the stairs. Freddie hadn't been fooled, of course, and dryly suggested they hold on with both hands when braving the stairs in the future.

Jane placed her tiles on the board, cutting horizontally across Freddie's plankton to spell rakish. Twenty-one points. Freddie snorted a harsh laugh, tossing Jane the drawstring bag from which to draw five more tiles.

"Very appropriate," he said, steepling his fingers. "Seeing as you've taken our very own Earl of Rochester as your lover."

Roger rolled his eyes. "You're right, Fred, it's a scandal. Two consenting adults enjoying good sex—"

"Rog," she hissed, pinching his thigh. It was one thing for Freddie to know, but talking about it in front of him was too far. Not to mention, Brian was napping on the couch just feet away across the aisle, hands clasped loosely over the book spread on his chest.

Roger followed her nervous glance to Brian and snorted before cupping his hand over his mouth to project his voice. "Hey Bri, the Royal Astronomical Society is finally publishing that paper you wrote in their Monthly Notices."

No response, other than Brian's continued light snoring. Roger turned back to give her a pointed, self-satisfied look. She pursed her lips, unrelenting.

Freddie was likewise unimpressed. "I may not be a snitch, but I haven't given my blessing either."

"Didn't ask for it," Roger said shortly, and Jane could see the back of his neck flush pink. "Don't need it."

With that, Jane could agree.

"Just keep this—" Freddie started, looking for the right word with distaste. "This affair...private."

Jane raised her eyebrows as she stared intently at her Scrabble tiles, muttering under her breath, "I'm trying to."

Roger, however, wasn't ready to let it go.

"Will you stop calling it that?" he complained, setting his teacup down on the table so hard a few droplets spilled onto the table. He pressed his hands on the table, leaning forward to stare Freddie fiercely in the eye. "It's not an affair. You're the only one making something out of nothing."

Freddie returned his glare impassively, carefully sliding his rack of tiles away from Roger's clenched hands. He lifted a single eyebrow, a smirk playing on his lips. "And you're getting rather heated over nothing."

"Because you're making Deaky uncomfortable, and that pisses me off," Roger snapped, an unusual sharpness in his tone. "And I'm getting real tired of all the smug remarks. You're not a prude, so stop acting like one."

"You're the one making her uncomfortable!" Freddie argued, turning to Jane for reassurance. "Right, Deaky?"

But Jane had heard enough, and she had already swung her legs over the side of the bench to stand up, taking her mug of tea with her. She wasn't giving anyone any more ammunition.

"Brian has the right idea; I'm going to catch some kip before the show," she said curtly, jerking her head toward the bunks in the back of the bus.

"But our game," Freddie protested, his lips puckered in a pout that promptly dropped when Jane trained an icy glare on him.

"Jane—" Roger started, leaning into the aisle and reaching for her hand. "I'm sorry; we'll behave."

The warmth of his hand and gentleness in his voice was enough to give her pause, and the way he looked up at her imploringly, like his attention was wholly enraptured by her...

Damn it. He knew what that did to her.

She squeezed his fingers slightly before dropping them, watching his face fall simultaneously. "Wake me up when we get close."

As she walked to the back of the bus, depositing her tea on the counter, she heard Brian stir restlessly beneath his splayed book, as if he had an unconscious radar for emotional strife within his bandmates. She had already climbed into her bunk when he shook himself awake with a grunt.

"What did I miss?" he asked blearily, the couch groaning as he slowly sat up. "Who's winning?"

 

 


 

 

"I don't care what your local rag had to say; I sure as hell have never heard of bloody Aeroplane."

"It's Aerosmith, and we can say the same about you fuckers. I'm aware of only one English Queen, and we declared our independence from her."

"America declared independence during the reign of King George III, you coked-up buffoon."

Jane watched the insults volley between the two frontmen, snacking on the pretzels in the bowl Roger was holding beside her. It had been a while since they'd had some good tour drama that didn't involve her or Roger, and a riled up Freddie was a sight to behold. He did have a reason to be irritated though; they all did.

There had been some scheduling mistake on the part of the tour managers, and this American band — Aerosmith, apparently — had been booked as a second opener alongside Queen for the Harrisburg show. The rub came from the ambiguity around who would play last, before Mott the Hoople went on; whenever a show had more than one opener, the bigger act always played last. So both bands were competing for the coveted spot. To make matters worse, only one large dressing room had been provided for the two openers, so tensions were starting to reach a boiling point. Jane had suggested they flip a coin, but both parties involved had shot that idea down in favor of bickering and petty name-calling.

Men.

The other frontman stepped forward until he was toe to toe with Freddie, his fists curled at his sides as if contemplating whether to take a swing. He cut a striking figure, though somewhat similar to Freddie, with dark, wavy hair that fell in curtains around his face and over his eyes, which were heavily rimmed with liner. Sure enough, his pupils were so dilated as to make his irises appear almost completely black. Just as Roger had sprung up from the couch to come to Freddie's aid, the man let out a piercing, hooting laugh, raising his hands and spinning on his heels to face the rest of his band.

"Motherfucker's got me there."

There was a smattering of chuckles around the dressing room before the bleach-blonde bassist, who had introduced himself as Tom, announced his intention to find "Jim" and confirm that Aerosmith would be the lead opener. Not to be outdone, Freddie shouted for Ratty to find him a telephone so he could call Norman. Brian, meanwhile, had declared that the opening order didn't matter — a sentiment which one of the guitarists, the handsome one, shared, and the two of them were off in the corner chatting and knocking down more beers than Jane had seen Brian imbibe in weeks.

Surprisingly, Roger had remained relatively calm, exchanging only a few heated barbs with Aerosmith's drummer before settling in next to Jane to beat his sticks on his legs and on the couch to warm up his hands. Every so often, his sticks would wander to tap lightly on her thighs or her back, making her smile as she swatted him away.

While Freddie stomped around, ranting about disrespect and order of precedence and "Fucking Norman," Roger ceased his warm-up to scoot closer to Jane on the couch, glancing around the room before leaning in to speak low in her ear.

"This looks like it's going to take a while. What do you say we get out of here?"

She bit the inside of her cheek, checking to confirm that Brian was otherwise occupied. They did have time, after all. And Jane had been aching to touch him since he'd donned his new stage costume — a black and gold waistcoat that left his chest bare. Since this thing had started, he'd been wearing fewer and fewer clothes around her. She wasn't about to complain.

"I could be persuaded."

"Yeah? That's good, because I can be persuasive," he murmured, his hand lightly skimming her outer arm. "How about I finger you until you're begging for my cock? Then, you could ride me — God, I love it when you're on top."

Jane swallowed thickly, lowering her head slightly to conceal the blush rising fast to her cheeks. She shrugged with mock disinterest, and Roger chuckled softly at her nonchalance.

"Ah, OK. So you're saying you don't want me to eat you out, either? You don't want my tongue wrapped around your clit, or pushing inside your hot, wet—"

"Either of you got a light?"

Jane practically jumped out of her seat, quickly leaning forward and away from Roger to face the other band's frontman, who had flung himself onto a green rocking armchair across from them, legs sprawled over one armrest. An unlit cigarette hung between his fingers. He gestured with the hand holding the cigarette between Jane and Roger, grinning lazily as the chair rocked from the sudden weight.

"Sorry, was I interrupting something?"

Roger rolled his eyes, stretching his arm back behind Jane on the sofa."Yeah, mate. A private conversation."

"By all means, continue. And speak up," the man implored, wiggling the cigarette between his fingers. His voice was soft and raspy, with a charming affectation that sounded well-rehearsed. "A light would be appreciated, as well."

Jane cleared her throat, reaching into her pocket for her lighter to toss it to the newcomer. He caught it with one hand, giving her a wink as he flipped it open and lit his cigarette.

"Thanks, doll."

"It's Jane, actually," she said, meeting his bemused smirk with a firm gaze.

He cocked his head, inclining his chin toward her as he tipped an imaginary hat. "Steven Tyler." Glancing to Jane's left, Steven raised a single brow. "And boy toy here? Not for nothing, but on first glance I thought he was a lady."

Roger bristled beside her, crossing his arms over his chest and glowering back at Steven. "Don't push it."

Steven took a long drag, blowing ringlets of smoke in Roger's direction before grinning wolfishly, looking him up and down. "Wouldn't dream of it," he breathed.

"That's Roger," Jane added, catching her lighter when Steven tossed it back to her. "He only bites when provoked."

"And what about you?" Steven asked, swinging his legs off the arm of the chair. Feet on the floor, he leaned forward toward her, elbows on his knees. "I wonder if you bite, Janie?"

"It's Jane to you," Roger interrupted, fixing a cold stare at the other man. "And you're well out of line."

Jane frowned, nudging his knee with hers. "It's fine, Rog."

"No, it's not."

Steven just barked a high-pitch laugh, slapping his thigh. "Looks like we found the right provocation, huh?"

"Piss off."

"You've got something against nicknames, pretty boy? Or that one in particular? I could call her sugar tits, but I feel like that's a bit disrespectful."

"If you don't shut that fat mouth of yours—"

"Relax, pretty boy. I'm not trying to fuck your girl," Steven said with a wave of his hand, a mischievous grin curling up his lips. "Unless you're into sharing, in which case I'll have your cake and eat it, too."

Before the last word had left Steven's mouth, Roger had lunged off the sofa toward the other man, drumsticks thrown to the floor in a clatter. Jane leapt from her seat to grab Roger's arm with both hands before he could wind up. At this point, the room had gone silent, with the remaining members of both bands ceasing their chatter to gape at the tense tableau before them. Looming threateningly over Steven, who was nervously chuckling and sliding further down into his seat, Roger struggled to pull out of Jane's grasp only briefly before letting her pull him back.

Freddie, leaning against the wall in the back corner of the room with a phone cradled against his shoulder, craned his neck around to find the source of the commotion. "Hey, what the fuck — Norman, a minute, please — what the fuck is going on over there?"

"Everything's fine," Jane said through gritted teeth, tugging Roger further away while Steven stuck his tongue out, flipping him off. "Just boys being children."

Roger trained a pointed finger at Steven, even as he was pushed backwards onto the couch by Jane. "Talk like that again and I'll beat the fucking smirk off your face," he growled, a murderous look in his eyes. "Prick."

"Rabid dog," Steven muttered, springing from his seat and skirting around them to rejoin his guitarist and Brian, who had moved onto taking shots of what appeared to be tequila.

With the room returning to its previous volume, Jane collapsed onto the couch, sitting cross legged with an exasperated frown aimed pointedly in Roger's direction. He held up his hands, lifting his eyebrows.

"He started it!"

"He's high and was trying to get a rise out of you. You took the bait."

Roger choked back an impertinent noise, pursing his lips. "Can you blame me? He can't say that shit and get away with it."

"And wouldn't have let him," she said firmly, clenching her jaw before taking a deep breath, glancing away from him. Freddie was still staring at them while he spoke to Norman on the phone, scrutiny in his eyes. Jane sighed.

"I can stand up for myself now, Rog," she said softly, eyes meeting his searchingly. "I know you mean well, but I don't need your protection."

He opened his mouth to speak, hesitating before clamping his mouth shut, rubbing the back of his neck.

"And I really don't need the jealousy."

At that, his head shot up, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "I'm not jealous! I was looking out for my friend."

Her eyes could have rolled to the back of her head. She couldn't tell if he was being obtuse or just prideful. With Roger, it could be a little of both.

"Fine, call it what you want. Just don't do it again."

The quiet intensity in her voice must have struck a nerve because he lowered his head as if chastised, fingers inching toward her hand on the couch behind her bent knee, out of sight from the others.

"I'm sorry, Deaks."

She let him lightly stroke the tops of her fingers, smiling softly when he curled his hand around to hold hers, just for the briefest moment, before releasing it.

"It's OK," she whispered, ducking her head with a conspiratorial grin. "We can still sneak out, if you want to."

"I always want to."

A few feet away, the door to the dressing room was flung open, and Tom strode in triumphantly, followed by a shorter, harried-looking man Jane supposed must be Aerosmith's tour manager, Jim.

Jim cleared his throat, getting the attention of the room. "Alright, boys. Queen is playing first, Aerosmith second."

A chorus of complaints came from both Freddie and Roger, which the tour manager promptly silenced with a raised hand.

"But Queen gets an additional five minutes."

Another uproar from Aerosmith, and Steven jumped to his feet indignantly. "That's not fair! They can't get a longer set!"

"Sure we can, darling," Freddie drawled, rocking back on his chair to prop his feet onto the vanity counter. "We've got plenty of material."

Brian, who had been quietly sipping his drink in the corner, rose unsteadily from his seat. Eyes half closed and hands held limply aloft, he was completely pissed.

"Hey guys, it's cool," he slurred, stumbling into the center of the room. "This is a good com— a good copra—"

"Compromise," Freddie supplied helpfully, looking up at Brian with a fond smile.

Brian nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, Fred! It's a compromise!"

Jane leaned over to Roger, still watching Brian curiously. "Is he going to be OK to play?"

Roger chuckled, nodding. "I've seen him perform drunker than this. He'll be fine."

But Steven wasn't appeased. Rounding on Brian, who was a good head taller than the lithe frontman, he pointed a finger into Brian's chest.

"There's only an hour to split between two openers, so if you get 35 minutes, we only get 25. And that's not fucking—"

Jane didn't hear how Steven chose to finish that particular sentence, as Brian had heaved forward with a groaning lurch — face positively ashen — and expelled a stream of vomit all over Steven's shoes. There was a pregnant, frozen silence, and then came Steven's anguished, disgusted wail as he jumped backward.

"My shoes!"

Any further complaints were lost in the resulting roar of laughter from both bands — Freddie was pink-cheeked and nearly bursting with glee, and Brian's drinking companion fell out of his chair, cackling as his own drink smashed on the floor. While one of Aerosmith's roadies scrambled to help Steven out of his shoes, Brian was apologizing profusely, offering up his handkerchief repeatedly. His offers, naturally, were swiftly rebuked by Steven.

"What the fuck is a hanky supposed to do? These are velvet!"

In the momentary chaos, nobody noticed Roger squeeze Jane's knee, jerking his head toward the door with a sly smile. She nodded, biting her lip as she checked to make sure everyone was sufficiently preoccupied. They slipped out quietly, while Steven was demanding restitution, and shut the door, pausing to exchange grins before booking it around the corner and down the corridor.

After jiggling the handles of two consecutive locked doors, they found an unlocked room and burst inside, nearly falling over themselves in their frenzy to find bare skin as they divested each other of their clothing.

Once her shirt was thrown to the corner of the darkened room — a small and barren office, from the looks of it — she pushed Roger's open waistcoat off his shoulders, letting it drop to the floor as her hands splayed over his chest. Roger covered her fingers on his sternum with his hand, his other arm wrapping around her bare waist to haul her flush against him. He kissed her with a gentle urgency, his open mouth tightening in what Jane blindly recognized as a smile against her lips.

Her hands wandered upwards to his hair, wrapping her fingers around the strands that fell over his shoulders and tugging playfully. His smile widened, and Jane's tongue met teeth.

"I can't kiss you if you're grinning like the Cheshire cat," she murmured, nipping at his bottom lip.

"I can't help it," he whispered, sweeping her hair behind her ear before planting slow, wet kisses on and around her pulse. "You're too much fun to kiss."

She gasped when his lips puckered just under her earlobe, and his low chuckle reverberated against her throat.

"So responsive, too."

His hands trailed over her shoulders and down her back, cupping his hands over her arse for a quick squeeze. She laughed and pulled his hair tighter, earning a hummed note of approval.

"You know what else is fun?" she asked slyly, slipping Roger's belt from its loops and unzipping his tight trousers.

He shoved his trousers the rest of the way down his legs, stepping out of them before hooking his fingers in Jane's belt loops and jerking her back into his arms.

"I have a few ideas," he murmured, chasing her lips with small but heated kisses.

"I do, too."

Wriggling away from his lips with a giggle, she wrapped her arms loosely around his neck, making him stoop slightly so she could whisper in his ear.

Her pulse quickened as she spoke in a rush of explicit instructions, suggestions, and the sort of heated language that Roger loved to hear her say, probably because it made her flushed and flustered.

Taking a deep breath, she drew away to study his face, lifting an eyebrow in anticipation. "Well?"

Wide-eyed, Roger gulped, a hungry smile twitching at his lips.

"Yeah, that could work."

Chapter Text

 

 

May 7, 1974

 

There wasn't much to be said for or against Waterbury, Connecticut. It was a city of middling appeal and middling population, home to a university campus of middling prestige. According to their bus driver, Waterbury had once been esteemed for its thriving brassware manufacturing centers, which had, in the years following the second World War, shuttered their doors. The more desirable New Haven, not an hour's drive away, had been booked straight through August, and there had been enough interest from the University of Connecticut's Waterbury location to warrant the pit stop on their meandering path to New York City.

It might have been a college town, but a nursing home probably could have matched the Waterbury crowd in terms of energy and enthusiasm. The show that night was lackluster — not because of any mistakes on the band's part, but it was hard to put on a spectacular performance when playing to an audience of dead fish. It didn't help that the theatre — an ornate relic of a foregone era of wealth and prosperity — had a strict no alcohol policy, even for the performers.

While the theatre may have been dry, the surrounding town certainly was not; after the factories closed, the biggest remaining industry seemed to belong to the many bars and dives cluttering the downtown, catering to wild university students and aimless drunks alike. Queen found themselves at one such establishment after the show, drinking away the cringing embarrassment of a mediocre concert.

There was a billiards table in an alcove, which Roger and Freddie immediately gravitated towards, once they'd ordered their first round of drinks. Jane sat with Brian at a high table nearby to spectate; Brian was actually quite proficient at pool, but he had winced in pain as soon as he bent to angle his cue on the table.

"My joints hurt," he had complained, shaking out his arms as he handed off the cue to Freddie to take his place. "I think I'm getting too old for this."

"If you're old, what does that make me?" Freddie had griped.

"A barmy old queen."

Now sitting across from each other, Jane and Brian sipped at their beers silently, occasionally looking up and smiling in that tight way shared by casual acquaintances or colleagues. Not friends who'd spent nearly every day together for three years. But it had been a long time since they had been left alone together, and there was still a lingering tension from...well, Jane wasn't sure what. An argument that evolved into a dozen little spats before disappearing altogether, leaving only the impression of an impact behind. On top of that, Brian had just been...quiet lately. Quiet and tired and very un-Brian. There had been time enough to see a traveling space exhibit at a museum in Portland, and Brian hadn't even wanted to go. Very odd, indeed.

Across from them, there was the loud crack of a cue hitting the balls, followed shortly by Roger's triumphant yell.

"Suck it, Mercury!"

"That was my ball, you dolt."

"No, I'm stripes!"

Jane observed the ensuing trash talk with amusement, exchanging a small chuckle with Brian when he met her eye over their beers. He cleared his throat, setting his drink down and sliding it away from him. Brian had chipped at the white nail varnish on his left hand, leaving a dusting of paint flakes behind on the wood table.

"Are you having fun, Deaky?"

She raised her eyebrows and glanced around the establishment. "I suppose? It's a decent place—"

"I mean on the tour," Brian clarified. "Are you enjoying the tour?"

Jane shrugged, gliding her finger over the condensation of her glass. "Sure, it's fun. I mean, it's more new than anything, isn't it?"

"Yeah," he said, pursing his lips into a small smile. "It feels different now. We're different."

She cocked her head, propping up her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand. "Yes, but that's a good thing, isn't it? We're growing."

"In different directions, feels like."

Jane didn't know what to say to that, so she drank the remainder of her glass instead, and they fell back into an uneasy silence, broken by the sounds of Roger and Freddie re-racking the pool balls for another round. But Brian was right; their dynamics, the tectonic plates on which they had stood so comfortably for so long, were shifting as they crawled out of each other's pockets and into the real world.

Queen wasn't just four friends fucking around with some instruments anymore; the stakes were higher, and the demands on their time and energy more varied. That was the choice they had all made though, wasn't it? They'd sacrificed every bit of stability they had for a longshot chance in hell that they could make something out of Queen. Of course they would change. They'd have to.

But that didn't mean it didn't scare her too.

"Bri—" she started cautiously, wanting to comfort him but not sure if she knew how to anymore. He didn't give her a chance to try.

"Actually, I think I'll head back to the hotel," he said, his eyes not meeting hers. One arm was held around his abdomen as he eased off the high chair. "My stomach is a bit sensitive."

"Seriously?" Jane asked, frowning as she looked him up and down. While at the beginning of the tour she had thought his frequent ailments were excuses to get out of group excursions, she was starting to worry about his health. He'd been vaguely ill or "under the weather" more days than he'd been well, lately.

"Are you OK, Bri? Do you need to see a doctor?"

"I'm fine," he said, his tone terse as he reached into his wallet to hand her a dollar for his drink. "It's stress. And I sleep like shit on the bus."

She took his money reluctantly, red flags practically sprouting from the ground around him. Jane knew what Brian looked like when he was stressed and sleep-deprived, and this wasn't it. Still, she wasn't about to argue with or interrogate him. He was an adult, and he couldn't abide being told what to do.

Brows knitted in concern, she reluctantly waved him off. "Well, rest up, then. Give a shout if you need anything."

"Thanks."

He patted her back awkwardly, the gesture feeling cold and stilted, before he escaped toward the door. Roger had looked up from his shot to see Brian leave, and soon joined Jane at the table, leaving his cue with Freddie.

"Where'd he run off to?"

"Hotel. He's not feeling well, again."

Roger's face twisted into a worried expression as he stared off toward the door. "Poor bastard."

The worry soon turned to mischief, though, as he looked back at Jane slyly, biting his lip.

"We could follow his lead."

She raised an eyebrow, interested. "Now?"

Roger shrugged, a half smile tugging at his lips as he glanced back at Freddie over his shoulder. "Well, maybe after this game. I'm gonna win this one; I know it."

Jane snorted a laugh, pushing down her own eagerness. "From the sound of it, Freddie's got this in the bag."

Roger pressed his hand to his chest, affronted. "You're supposed to be on my team here!"

"I wasn't aware I was supposed to be choosing teams."

Glancing over his shoulder at Freddie, who was watching them with a tight-lipped frown, Roger leaned in until his lips ghosted her right cheek. "Who's taking you to bed tonight?" he murmured, sending a delicious chill running down her spine.

Her mouth went dry, and she clamped a hand over the back of her neck to conceal her blush. "That remains to be seen."

He straightened his shoulders, grinning devilishly and mouthing the words "My team," as he walked backwards to the pool table. Freddie just glared at him, shaking his head and thrusting his pool cue back into Roger's hand.

Roger's suggestion that they head back to hotel together after one more game was forgotten soon enough, however, as one game stretched into two, and neither of them paid her much attention besides the occasional comment and invitation to join. But that was fine; Jane's mood had flickered out as quickly as it had been fanned. Absently, she raised her glass to her lips before remembering that it was empty.

Time for round two, then.

She got up and turned to ask if the boys wanted to top off, but they were too engrossed in their game to notice. The bartender was busy making cocktails for a group of university-aged girls, so Jane pulled up a chair at the bar, tapping her fingers against the polished wood of the counter while she waited. Her eyes wandered back to the alcove, watching Roger sink the cue ball and let out an exasperated groan. She laughed softly to herself, happy at least that the game was still friendly and no fights had broken out between Roger and Freddie. Yet.

A stool beside her was scraped back on the linoleum floor, and she turned her head a fraction of an inch to see the occupant: a man, probably out of university, but not much older than Brian or Freddie. He smiled in greeting, and she gave him a slight nod before turning back to flag down the bartender, now that he was done serving the girls.

"Sorry to bother you, but you're in the band, right?" the man asked, leaning over the bar to return to her field of vision.

Jane sighed, glancing at him sideways. He was handsomely nondescript, with the sort of clean-cut features and cropped brown hair that appeared to be the universally acceptable style this far north.

"I'm in a band," she allowed, not bothering to hide the disinterest in her tone.

"Queen, yeah. I saw the Mott show," the stranger continued, talking excitedly. "Honestly, I was more impressed by you guys. You have a much tighter act."

She rolled her eyes, but her interest was piqued. It hadn't seemed like anyone had been paying them much attention on stage that night, and certainly not enough to remember the face of the opener's bassist.

"We're only tighter because it's 30 minutes as opposed to Mott's 90."

"Still, you guys are great. And you play like a beast."

He was persistent, but at least he knew how to flatter; she'd give him that.

"Thanks," she said, granting him a tight smile. "Glad you liked the show, um..."

"Will, Will Murphy," he supplied eagerly, extending his hand for her to shake.

"Jane."

The bartender finally made his way to Jane, and she gave her order for a whiskey sour. As the bartender was reaching for the bottle, Will put his hand on the counter, glancing at Jane with a lopsided smile.

"Same for me. And you can put hers on my tab."

The bartender nodded, not looking up as he poured the whiskey into a cocktail shaker. Jane's eyebrows lifted, but she didn't refute him; her wallet was nearly empty, and she wasn't about to turn down a free drink.

"Thanks," she said, turning in her seat to face him. "Again."

Will shrugged. "Least I could do. I know Waterbury isn't the most...exciting destination."

She dipped her head in acknowledgement. "No, but the tickets sold."

"Dead crowd, though."

"You can say that again," she said with a snort. "I couldn't tell if we were playing that bad, or…"

"Nah, just puritanical New England sensibilities. No one here knows what to make of bands that don't sound like The Carpenters."

"Figures."

The bartender slid their drinks to them over the counter, but Jane lingered at the bar, enjoying the first decently stimulating conversation she'd had with a fan while on tour — and he was, clearly, a rock music devotee, sharing anecdotes about the many rock concerts he'd gone on pilgrimages to attend. He was also quite adept at stroking her ego, and was now peppering Jane with questions about her technique and where she had learned to play.

"I'm entirely self-taught, actually," she said, taking the last sips of her drink. The booze had served well to help her relax, enough so to indulge questions from a total stranger. "I've been playing since I was 12 or so."

He shook his head, grinning as he finished his own drink and signalled the bartender for another round. "That's fantastic. I've tried to teach myself the guitar and only succeeded in pissing off my neighbors."

The bar had gotten busier as the late night crowd filtered in, and Will had scooted his stool closer to hers, leaning in to make himself heard over the din.

"Oh, we've gotten our fair share of noise complaints," she said with a laugh, recalling the time Freddie had invited a pair of cops into their house for tea and scones, narrowly avoiding a formal citation.

Smiling at the memory, Jane's eyes lifted to the alcove at the other end of the bar. Freddie's back was to her, bent over the pool table, but Roger was leaning against the wall, cue in hand, staring stormily back at her. Jane frowned, tilting her head questioningly back at him before he looked away with a grimace. She recognized the glint of jealousy in his eyes, and it stoked a small, dormant fire in her.

As if he had the right...

"And another whiskey for the lady," Will said, pulling her attention back to the bar.

He handed her the drink, and she swirled the contents of the glass, regarding him with friendly scrutiny.

"Are you trying to get me drunk, Mr. Murphy?"

Will laughed, raising his glass to her. "Something tells me you aren't a blushing rose that'll collapse into my arms after two drinks."

Her focus was pulled back to Roger, who was stalking around the pool table, cue in hand, while he watched her exchange with Will. Pursing her lips, she quirked an eyebrow — a challenge. His eyes narrowed in response.

"True enough," said Jane, eyes sliding back to Will with an indulgent smile. "It'll take at least a couple more whiskeys and several more minutes complimenting me and my band."

She saw his tongue poke the inside of his cheek as he looked down at his glass, grinning. His free hand came to rest on the back of her stool, and he leaned in closer than necessary to be heard.

"You've got an amazingly melodic sound for a bassist."

The corner of her lips twitched, and she raised an eyebrow as she took a sip of her drink. A little bit of flirting never hurt anybody. And if Roger was so put off by it, he could find his own groupie to take home that night; god knows he had options.

"Yes, I know."

His smile widened, enjoying the game. She wasn't sure how far she'd let him take this, but in the meantime she'd humor him.

"That solo in your last song of the set was really grooving."

"Oh? I thought so, too."

As he was mulling over his next move, his hand drifted from the chair to the small of her back. Whiskey glass poised frozen against her lips, she flashed him a warning look. He slowly removed his hand, chuckling sheepishly under his breath.

"Sorry."

"S'alright. Where were we?"

"I think I was about to say I'd love to continue this conversation over drinks at my place, but now I'm not sure if that's going to be too bold."

Before she could answer, a familiar weight fell over her shoulders, and she looked up, startled, to see Roger hovering close beside her, staring coolly at Will.

"Definitely too bold," said Roger.

Jane hadn't even seen him walk over, but now she could practically feel the energy radiating off him — tense and angry and possessive. She frowned, and rolled her shoulder back to shake off his arm, but he tightened his grip, not even glancing down at her.

Will, eyes darting nervously between between the two, outstretched his hand to Roger. "Hey, you're the drummer, right? I'm Will. I'm a huge fan—"

"Or a stalker," Roger snapped, raking his eyes over the other man as if sizing him up. Will slowly dropped his hand. "The theatre is on the other side of town; did you follow us here?"

Jane rolled her eyes and twisted around in her seat to face Roger, not about to let him challenge Will to a dick measuring contest in the middle of a crowded bar. "What do you want, Rog?"

"Let's get out of here."

"Later. We're having a pleasant conversation. Will was just telling me how much he appreciated my performance—"

"He's trying to get in your pants."

Will raised both hands, abandoning his drink on the counter as he stepped back. "Hey, I didn't know she was with you."

Jane glared up at Roger, jerking his arm off her. "She's not."

Will laughed nervously, hitching his thumb over his shoulder as he backed away. "It was, uh, nice meeting you both. I'm just gonna…"

Jane ignored him, pushing off her stool to face Roger, who was glowering down at her with an anger she'd never seen directed toward her before. It burned, but she had a fire of her own welling to the surface.

"What the fuck was that?" she spat, dragging him away from the bar and the customers who were starting to stare. "What's wrong with you?"

"He was being a creep," he argued, crossing his arms over his chest. "You were uncomfortable."

His weak argument almost made her laugh. "No, you were uncomfortable."

Roger swallowed, straightening his posture. "Well, yeah. He was hitting on you."

"And I was letting him, if you hadn't noticed."

His eyebrows raised toward his hairline, studying her critically for a moment. Eventually, he barked a short laugh, raking his hands through his hair. "If you wanted my attention, you could have just asked."

"I—" she started, wide-eyed and rendered momentary speechless by his egoism. The charitable part of her hoped he was being facetious, but no — he was wearing that smug grin he adopted whenever he thought he had figured her out. Another fact filed away, another drop in the bucket.

Wanted his attention? She could have torn her hair out. He was the one vying for every minute of her complete and undivided attention. She bit her lip so hard she could taste the cut of copper on her tongue.

"Believe it or not, my life doesn't actually revolve around you."

"So then what? You'd leave with this guy? You'd shag him?"

"Roger."

"What can Will give you that I can't?"

"Respect, apparently!"

"You weren't begging me to respect you last night," he seethed, bowing his head to speak low and fast into her ear. "You were screaming for the opposite, if I recall."

She shoved him away furiously. Redness blooming on her cheeks from both embarrassment and anger. "I don't like this side of you. It's possessive and gross, and you're better than that."

"And I don't like it when you play games with me!" he retorted, volume raising. "I haven't so much as touched another woman since we started having sex—"

"Loyalty was never on the table," she said, stumbling over her words as her heart raced, adrenaline fueling her anger. "We're nothing, remember? I'm not your girlfriend; I don't have to explain shit to you."

Turning on her heel, she stormed away before he could reply, nearly running headfirst into Freddie who had apparently seen the argument and had come over to intervene. He gave her an exasperated look, as if he'd been waiting for this very moment to happen. She wasn't in the mood for an 'I told you so.'

"Jane—"

"Don't," she snapped, stopping to raise a finger in his direction. "I don't want to hear it."

She pushed past him, following the sign on the wall for the lavatories around the back of the bar. Heavy footsteps behind her revealed Roger was close on her heels. As soon as she reached for the doorknob to the loo, a hand appeared over her shoulder to push the door shut. Jane spun around, glaring up at Roger, who didn't bother to move his hand from its post on the door beside her head. Her breath was coming in fast, puffing exhales, her chest heaving with the exertion it took to not lose it right there.

"You've got some nerve," he spat, jerking his chin up as he boxed her in. "Picking up men while the bloke you're fucking is steps away."

"I wasn't going to sleep with him, but even if I was, it'd have nothing to do with you."

"Oh, sure, except for the fact that you'd be thinking about me the whole damn time," he said, pushing his other hand against the door and leaning in. "I'm the best lay you've ever had."

She scoffed, but her pulse picked up. "Don't flatter yourself."

He ducked his head so his lips were next to her ear, and she couldn't help the resulting, traitorous full-body shiver. "No one can fuck you like I can, Jane. No one knows how."

Fuck it.

Jane grabbed him by the collar and crushed her lips against his in a bruising kiss that didn't so much as ask as it did demand. Roger returned the kiss just as fiercely, his body soon closing the gap between them to press her against the door while his hands gripped her shoulders. The kiss was teeth and tongue and hot, heavy panting, and her sudden hunger was startling in its intensity. Up to now, kissing Roger had felt like breathing, like taking that first deep inhale after holding her breath underwater. But this felt like drowning— their appetites unrestrained, crashing into them while they pulled each other under.

★・・・・・・★・・・・・・★

Distantly aware that they were standing in a hallway that anyone could enter, her hands fumbled for the doorknob, flinging it open so they could both rush inside. She staggered back until her lower back made contact with the bathroom's counter, and Roger hoisted her up onto the ledge before attaching his lips to her throat.

Digging her nails into his shoulders, she pushed him away and twisted around to search inside the purse she'd unceremoniously dumped into the bowl of the sink beside her. Roger watched her cautiously, hungrily, as she found what she was looking for — a condom — and shoved it into his chest. He stared at her for a moment, hesitating.

"Well?" she taunted, breathing raggedly as she leaned back on her palms behind her, her legs opening slightly wider. "Are you going to fuck me, or should I go find Will?"

With a growl, Roger surged forward, bunching her corduroy skirt up above her waist and yanking her knickers down her thighs. He didn't kiss her, didn't run his hands over her body, didn't even take off her shirt. She didn't think she wanted him to, anyway. His jeans and boxers were pushed down only enough to free his cock, which he pumped a few times before working the condom on — his eyes, narrowed to slits, never leaving hers. He spread her legs wider and stood between them, lining himself up as his hands gripped the underside of her thighs and pulled her to the edge of the counter.

"Is this what you want?" he asked gruffly, and for a fraction of a second, the raging fire in his eyes dimmed to a more familiar light.

In response, Jane hooked her leg around his waist and hitched him forward, his cock grinding against her with a friction that made them both groan. Roger required no further invitation, bracketing his hands on either side of her hips and thrusting into her with a low grunt. A shuddering exhale left her lips, and her fingers curled tightly around the edge of the counter. There was little time to adjust as he withdrew before slamming in once more.

He didn't look at her — even when her hands twisted around his hair and pulled, making him gasp. He didn't touch her, other than two fingers methodically, vigorously circling her clit in a way she knew — he knew — would make her come as quickly as possible. But the part that unnerved her the most was his silence. Roger never shut up during sex; even when they were trying to be clandestine, he was always murmuring in her ear — words both sweet and sweltering, praising her and goading her in turn. But now...nothing. She was simultaneously too full and too empty, and the contradiction was agonizing.

Overstimulated, her eyes clamped shut, and her head rolled back between her shoulders. "Fuck," she whispered, her hips jumping to meet Roger's hand. "Damn it, Roger. Say something."

Snapping into her with sharper, shallow thrusts, he lowered his head to her sternum and propped one hand against the mirror behind her. Sweat was running down the side of his neck, and his hair had matted to one side where she had grabbed it.

"What do you want me to say?" he muttered, so low and quiet Jane almost mistook it for a wordless groan.

"I don't know," she gasped, feeling the rising burn of an orgasm she'd have to use two hands to grab onto. "Just— oh god, fuck."

Her eyes flew open with a particularly deep thrust, and she stared up at the fluorescent bulbs above them as her eyes watered. Her climax ripped through her, tearing an anguished shout from her lungs that was quickly muffled by Roger crushing her to his chest as she tightened around him. He rocked her through the rippling aftershocks, his thrusts becoming harsh and erratic until he came with a choked cry.

Roger slumped, heaving, against her. They were tangled chest to chest, his mouth against her temple and arms still wrapped tightly around her back. It took a few seconds to return to reality, and once the lights stopped swimming in her vision, she felt the cold sweat of his skin on hers and his hot breath on her har. It was familiar, and not, and she disengaged quickly, pushing him off her so he stumbled back a few feet.

He fumbled blindly with his jeans, looking at her, unblinking, with an expression she didn't know how to name. She broke his gaze, turning quickly to collect her purse and the belongings that had tumbled to the floor in their earlier desperation. A tube of lipstick had fallen and rolled under the counter, but before Jane could bend to retrieve it, Roger reached for her arm, tugging her up straight to look at him.

"Jane," he murmured, voice softer than she'd heard it all day. "Sweetheart…"

Fear. That's what was in his eyes. And she knew hers reflected the same.

She pulled her arm out of his grasp and shouldered her purse, pushing past him to the door. "Don't call me that."

 

 


 

 

May 9, 1974

The following two days were hell on earth, if Jane was to indulge her dramatic bent.

She didn't think she had a personality prone to addiction, but the evidence was staring her in the face — what else could explain the withdrawal rattling her brain after quitting Roger cold turkey? It had only taken two weeks, more or less, for him to patch into her limbic system so seamlessly that it felt like her base instincts had been rewired. His voice and his touch lit up the reward center of her brain like a Christmas tree, and now the plug had been forcibly, suddenly removed from its socket. For two days, she had been deprived of her trusty source of dopamine, so her brain was going haywire. That was the only explanation for the sleeplessness, the loss of appetite, the nervous and shaking energy when she laid awake in her bunk, listening to Roger's steady breathing below her.

The tightness in her chest was less readily explained, but easily dismissed. A symptom of PMS, probably.

Jane had barely been able to look at Roger, afraid or unwilling to see him looking back at her with that lost, lonely expression that once would have propelled her to his side, to be his comfort. But he wasn't the only one hurt and confused by the events of the last few days. She was suffering from emotional whiplash, the blunt force trauma of being showered with affection one minute and then casually dismissed the next. He wanted to keep things casual, until it got too casual, at which point he wanted all of her to himself. They were nothing, until they weren't.

It might have been...ill-advised, letting that man at the bar hit on her shamelessly when she had every intention of going home with Roger. But she had liked the attention, the rare praise from a fan for her skill and her performance. Maybe it was childish, but so was Roger's jealousy. Neither of them owed the other anything.

Well, almost. She liked to think they deserved honesty from each other — or at least clarity. But there wasn't much of that going around, and she had the presence of mind to know they were both to blame. They had to talk, and they would, but...well, it just wasn't a good time, was it?

They had made it to New York City for the most important show of the tour — the most important show of their lives. They'd been in press junkets all day, sweltering away in the stuffy conference room of their hotel, answering the same inane questions about how it felt to tour America for the first time, how it felt to play for audiences of thousands, how it felt to be the "next Led Zeppelin." How did she feel? Like she'd felt for the last month of touring — wrung out and squeezed dry, tired and overwhelmed and sick of long days on the road. Only now with the added benefit of knowing her friendship with Roger had been irreversibly shattered in exchange for those brief, shining bursts of pleasure — a split-second supernova with shockwaves that couldn't possibly be worth the momentarily fantastic light and warmth.

She couldn't very well say that, of course. So she said it felt great. Queen was great, the venues were great, America was great. Roger, whose patience had gotten shorter and shorter with the reporters until he had stormed out in the middle of an interview, was great. Her own mumbled one or two-word answers made her a poor subject for their interviewers, who had quickly given up on trying to pull anything substantive from her. Not that they got much of value from Freddie, who enjoyed taking the mickey out of journalists, or Brian, who was too distracted to do anything more than agree in vague, sometimes nonsensical terms with Freddie.

They had all gotten a stern talking-to from Norman for their behavior ("Don't think you're good enough to be too good for interviews yet. That sort of arrogance gets you eaten alive in the papers.") before being released to their rooms for the rest of the afternoon — like a timeout. Freddie was now on a self-imposed strict vocal rest, maintaining a vow of silence and steady stream of honeyed tea before their sold-out show that night, and Brian was, as usual, shutting himself in his and Roger's shared room for a nap. Roger had seemingly disappeared, leaving only a cryptic note with Crystal that he was going "out," and would be back for the show.

Earlier that week, before the fiasco that was Waterbury, Roger had talked excitedly of exploring New York City with Jane, hitting the requisite tourist attractions in the four days they were scheduled to spend in the city. It was going to be like another New Orleans, he'd promised: just the two of them, free to enjoy their surroundings — and each other — as they wished. Jane had told him that his plan sounded rather romantic, but he'd just rolled his eyes and laughed, playfully mussing her hair with his knuckles.

"Don't go all soft on me now, Deaks."

He'd then proceeded to insist they visit the Museum of Natural History because there was a tropical butterfly conservatory, and he wanted Jane to see the blue butterflies — the Morphos — she'd once expressed interest in, live and not tacked to a wall by their wings.

And she was the soft one?

Jane was too restless for a nap, so she too escaped the Empire Hotel for an excursion into the rest of the city. With the sound of blaring car horns and the mechanical drone of construction equipment making her ears ring, her feet seemed to move of their own accord to the one respite in view, just two blocks east, where the southern edge of Central Park's manicured wildlife was nestled amid the concrete jungle. There'd been a street vendor selling hot dogs near the entrance to the park from a cart with a red and white awning — the image so charmingly American, she felt like she was walking onto the set of a movie.

Which is how she ended up on a park bench under a giant Linden tree, slightly over-charred hot dog in hand. With a pleasant breeze in her hair and ample people-watching opportunities, she almost forgot about Roger and all the baggage that came with him. Almost.

Morgan, apparently having traveled the same route as her from the hotel, was ambling down the slight hill from the street into the park, identically-wrapped hot dog in hand. He caught sight of her and slowed as he approached her bench, raising his hotdog in greeting. She smiled tightly, nodding toward him. As much as she enjoyed his company, he was close to the top on the list of people she didn't want to see just then.

"Great minds think alike," she said by way of greeting.

"I couldn't very well leave New York without trying a street dog, could I?" he said, gesturing to the empty stretch of bench beside her. "Would you mind if I joined you?"

Yes, but it was Morgan, and it was impossible to say no to him.

She scooted to the side. "Please do."

Morgan sat a respectable distance away from her on the bench, exhaling a deep breath as he looked around the park, taking in the view. After a few seconds, he turned to her with a smile, a relaxed look on his face.

"You know, I think I'm going to live here one day."

Jane lifted an eyebrow. "In Central Park?"

"In New York, you goof," he said with a laugh, biting into his hot dog with hesitant curiosity and immediately grimacing. "Though I think I can do without the street food."

"What about Mott?"

Morgan shrugged. "Nothing lasts forever. It's good to have a backup plan. And then a backup for your backup."

Her lips twitched, remembering a similar conversation she'd had with Brian when she was finishing up her studies. He'd been adamant that she keep her options open and network (that most dreaded of activities) with local engineering firms that had expressed interest in her.

"Music is a fickle business," he'd told her, when she was close to pulling out her hair from the stress. "You've got to make sure you can take care of yourself."

He'd been talking about money, but that hadn't worried her; she'd been supporting herself since she was 17. She could take care of herself, but with Queen, she'd gotten used to being cared about, and that wasn't as easy to find as a well-paying job. There was no backup for the family she'd found.

"I don't know what I'd do if Queen ended tomorrow," she said softly. And that was a prospect that had never seemed as likely as it had right then. Because of her actions.

Chuckling, he threw his dog into the bin and wiped his hands on his jeans. "Well, I don't think you have to worry about that for a while. You guys are just getting started."

She bit her lip and shrugged, looking down at her lap in lieu of a response. A long moment of silence passed, and she could practically hear the wheels spinning in his brain. Morgan shifted on the bench so he was facing her, head cocked and eyes searching for hers.

"Did something happen?"

She glanced up at him, tightening her lips. "I don't know."

"Is it about Roger?"

Funny how that was the default explanation. Funnier that he was right.

Jane groaned, rubbing her face with her hands, cheeks burning from mortification. "Morgan, stop. I'm not dragging you into this again. I've learned my lesson."

"Oh, I'm not trying to give you advice," he said cheerfully, folding his hands primly in his lap. "I'm just nosy."

She snorted, rubbing her hand up and down her other arm in nervous strokes. "Or a masochist."

"That too."

She had her reserves, considering what happened the last time she'd gotten him even peripherally involved in a spat between her and Roger — not to mention the fact that he may or may not still harbor feelings of some sort for her. But...he was looking at her so kindly, and she'd been bursting to talk to someone who wouldn't judge or pity her.

So she told him. About Roger, and their unspoken arrangement, and the spectacular way in which it had blown up in their faces. She lost track of how long she was talking, but Morgan didn't interrupt — just sat there, silently, with a nod or heavy exhale every so often. The more she spoke about it, the more surreal it all became, like repeating a word over and over again until it ceased making sense. How could she have thought they could have sex — repeatedly, obsessively — and not make things infinitely more complicated? How was she so naive to think a relationship as emotionally intimate as hers and Roger's would be left unscathed by the addition of physical intimacy?

"Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I'm an idiot," she muttered when she was finished, leaning forward to rest her chin in her hands, watching a couple and their young daughter walk by. "A complete moron."

Morgan shrugged, following the family with his eyes before turning back to her. "Yeah, but love will do that to you."

She shot a tired look at him sidelong. "I'm not in love with him."

"You believe that?"

Annoyed, she straightened in her seat, eyes narrowing. "You think you're in a position to know my feelings better than I do?"

"I didn't say that, I just…" he paused, sighing as he rubbed a hand over her chest. "It seems like you care about him as more than just a sexual partner."

"Of course I do," she said firmly. "He's my friend. I enjoy his company, I value his happiness—"

"You're attracted to him," Morgan interrupted glibly, a provocative tilt to his lips. "You like sex with him."

She rolled her eyes. "Well, yeah. You've seen him."

He chuckled at that, nodding as he looked down at his hands. "Fair."

"It's been three years. If I was going to fall in love with Roger, it would have happened by now," she continued slowly, speaking more to herself than to Morgan. "I would have felt it."

His eyebrows bunched, and he looked at her curiously. "Felt what?"

Jane raised a shoulder, shaking her head. "I don't know — a snap, a spark. The epiphany."

Morgan went quiet, seemingly rolling over her words in his mind while they watched people walking by. She was expecting a rebuttal, a sly grin and a challenge to defend her definition of 'epiphany' or 'love,' but instead, she received a simple affirmation.

"OK."

She waited for more, but he continued to sit there, silently, face passively blank.

"That's it?"

"You're right; you're the expert on your own feelings, so I'm not going to argue with them," he said simply, a small smile lifting his lips.

"OK, so...what should I do?" she pressed, scooting closer to him. "How do I fix it?"

Still facing straight ahead, Morgan crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the back of the bench, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. "I said I wasn't going to give you advice. I'm not exactly a neutral party, am I?"

"Give me something," she pleaded, and reached to place a hand on his knee. "Please, Morgan. I trust your opinion."

Taking a deep breath, he tilted his head up to study her curiously, scanning her face as his jaw moved restlessly beneath his cheeks, as if trying to wrap his mouth around the words.

"Go out with me," he said finally, the edge of a challenge in his voice. His face was as open and legible as any book; he was serious. "Let me show you a good time. Let me take your mind off him. That's my advice."

Jane blinked in surprise, speechless as she tried to process what he had just told her, what he had suggested they do.

"Morgan, I—"

"You approached me weeks ago with the same offer because you knew I would treat you well, and you were right," he said calmly, hands clasping together. "Not to be crude, but unless he's got a second dick, there's nothing Roger can do for you that I can't."

Her bewilderment quickly turned to anger, and she snatched her hand away. "Roger wouldn't proposition me when he knows I'm vulnerable! If I poured my heart out to him, he wouldn't use it as an opportunity to—"

She stopped, her eye catching on the slight twitch of Morgan's mouth. Clenching her jaw, she exhaled sharply through her nose.

"You're trying to make a point, aren't you?"

He bit back a smile. "It was never about the sex, Jane. It was only ever about him."

"You succeeded in raising my blood pressure, and that's about it," she griped, ignoring his last statement as she grabbed her purse and rose from the bench. "You're a damn good actor though; I'll give you that."

"It wasn't totally an act," he said after a moment, looking up at her as he remained seated, his smile not reaching his eyes. "I'm not a saint, Jane. I thought I'd play my hand, one last time."

She closed her eyes, the rest of her anger evaporating as she stood in the sunlight filtering through the tree leaves, feeling suddenly unmoored. When she looked back at Morgan, he was staring glumly at her feet, hands clasped in front of him between his knees. She had the dizzying sensation of peering into the looking glass at another universe, another reality in which she sat back down next to him, took his hand, and kissed him. And that would have been the happy ending, in that world.

"You're not a saint," she agreed gently, catching his eyes when he glanced back up at her. She swallowed thickly, her smile wavering. "And I wouldn't deserve you all the same."

 

 


 

 

With fewer than 2,000 seats in the Uris Theatre, Queen had played bigger shows before, but none had possessed the magic of a Broadway stage. Tickets had been sold at a mint and the theatre was completely sold out; Mott the Hoople — and by association, Queen — was the hottest ticket in town. At least, for a Thursday night.

They'd gotten off to a rocky start; Brian had missed sound check again and had barely made it to the theatre in time to warm up, mumbling something about food poisoning in between apologies to the rest of the band for keeping them waiting. Jane still hadn't found the right opportunity to talk to Roger alone, but even though they weren't speaking, they hovered around each other in the holding pen backstage like moths drawn to light, seeking comfort as they stood at the foot of possibly the biggest night of their lives. Usually, the time spent in the wings before a set were lighthearted and loud as they amped themselves up; tonight, they were all quiet, almost contemplative.

The house lights were dimmed and the stage manager held up a finger, signalling for the band to prepare to take the stage as their procession played. Freddie clasped each of their hands, a focused and determined look on his face as he told them to "Tear the walls down, darlings." Jane met Roger's eyes, and he gave her a small nod, patting her shoulder as he passed behind her to the last set of wings. The brief touch of his hand burned like a brand, and her pre-show calm was momentarily rattled.

Focus, Jane.

The first five minutes of any set were the most crucial; if they made mistakes in the first song or if the audience was dull and not feeling the vibe, the rest of the show was likely to similarly flounder. But if they came out guns blazing, ripping fire into empty air to stir up a restless crowd, then they knew they'd have a good show on their hands. Thankfully, this was the second type of opening sequence. The transition from "Father to Son" to "Ogre Battle" was seamless, and Jane's hands flew over the tricky patterns with a practiced ease. Brian was lagging, just a smidge, but it was barely noticed; Freddie's voice was the best she'd heard in months, and the crowd was absolutely lapping him up. He was in total control and, not for the first time, Jane felt singularly blessed that they had Freddie as their frontman, ringleader, and consummate performer.

She just wished she had the presence of mind to enjoy it all. Even as her fingers moved with rote perfection, her mind was stuck firmly on Roger, and the way his eyes still found hers throughout the show. Her anger with him had long since evaporated, leaving in its wake only confusion and an uncharacteristic desire for the show to be over already, so they could solve the problem that they themselves had created.

Brian was still playing the final chord of Jailhouse Rock when Jane took the bass from around her shoulders and thrusted it into Ratty's unprepared hands stage right. Roger, too, had ended his final cymbal roll rather succinctly, standing up and leaving his kit before Freddie had finished his farewells, as if he too couldn't bear to spend another moment in this in-between space. They filed off the stage wordlessly, Roger following on Jane's heels, passing the members of Mott the Hoople as they prepared to go on and ignoring their greetings and hands held aloft for high-fives.

Like a half dozen times before, Jane led Roger to her dressing room, shutting the door behind them. Except this time, they didn't jump breathlessly into each other's arms, tearing at clothing and grasping for touch. Her heart rate had surged, but for reasons unrelated to Roger's bare chest — shirt long since abandoned on stage — and disheveled hair dripping sweat onto his collarbone. At least, mostly unrelated.

Jane stepped back until her legs hit the arm of the sofa, but didn't fall back into it. Gripping the upholstery behind her like an anchor, she took a deep breath, mirroring his own guarded position, back pressed flat against the opposite wall.

She looked at him, and he looked at her, and a jumble of unspoken thoughts — three years' worth, possibly — poured between them.

"Rog—"

"I can't do this again, Jane," he said abruptly, cutting her off. His voice was hoarse and overused. "I can't handle..." he trailed off with a choked sigh, gesturing weakly toward her with his hand. "This. The silence. I miss you."

"I know—"

"We can yell some more, if that'll help. You can kick me in the balls; I probably deserve it," he said with a breathless laugh, his smile not reaching his eyes. "But just talk to me, OK?"

Holding his gaze, she lowered herself to perch on the arm of the couch. "What do you want, Roger?"

The wrinkles in his forehead bunched — there were more lines there than she remembered. "I just told you. I want to talk—"

She held up her hand, stopping him mid-sentence. "Yes, I know, and I'm asking you...what do you want from me? What do you want from us? Because right now, I have no fucking clue, and it's driving me insane."

He was standing several feet away, but she could swear she heard his heartbeat as clearly as if he had been holding her to his chest. She watched him swallow visibly, raising one shoulder listlessly — Roger was able to talk himself into and out of almost anything, but somehow she'd managed to render him momentarily speechless.

"Well?" she prompted.

He licked his lips, sighing heavily. "I— I just want us to be OK."

Her mouth tightened in a thin line to disguise the way it quivered. "That's a cop-out."

A frustrated huff expelled from his lips, and he glanced away from her, annoyed. "Well, what do you want, then?"

And that was the question of the hour, wasn't it? The question she'd been wrestling with for weeks, without any answer in sight. Her breath stuttered, and she grabbed her left hand with her right to still the way they shook against her legs.

"I want to know why you say that sex with me means nothing," she said, the words stumbling out before she could call them back. "Because I'm starting to think that's not entirely true."

Her words lit a match that burned up the remaining air in the room. Roger's eyes went wide, and he let out a soft, short groan, as if he'd been punched in the gut.

For a moment in time, they existed in a liminal space where an infinite number of things could be said or done, and Jane would be at peace with any of them, no matter the outcome, because Roger wouldn't lie to her. Not about this.

"Jane," he said finally, her name wavering in his mouth. He was facing her, but his eyes were moving rapidly — blinking and glancing down at his hands and looking back up at her and then toward the door, from which footsteps were sounding. "I never thought—"

"Jane? Roger?"

Roger froze, shutting his eyes and exhaling a sigh. Freddie pounded on the door again, repeating their names until Jane called curtly, "Now is really not a good time, Fred."

"Put your fucking clothes on and get out here," he shouted through the door, his voice going high and cracking at the end. "Brian's collapsed."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

May 9, 1974

 

"Brian's collapsed."

With no other cues or context, aside from the stricken urgency in Freddie's body language as he ushered them down the hall, Roger's imagination was in high-gear, fear and confusion whipping up a whirlpool of increasingly impossible scenarios. Thoughts of Jane and their argument had been flung to the side with such force his brain felt rattled, overprocessed. His feet were following Freddie, Jane at his side, but he felt like he was spinning.

Brian. Brian collapsed. Jane. Brian's sick. Jane. Fuck— Brian.

The dressing room was always a flurry of activity after Queen's opening set, as the band shucked their stage wear and wiped away the remnants of their smeared makeup. Freddie would lead a play-by-play breakdown of how the show went — what worked, what didn't, who fucked up. There would be jibes and praise in equal measure, most days.

But that night, the dressing room had an eerie, unsettling quiet, despite the entirety of the band's crew standing about in the cramped space, centered around a plastic folding chair in the corner. Above them, Roger could hear the chorus of Mott's first song, echoed by the audience. The huddled occupant of the chair was bent over at the waist, as if in pain.

"Bri?"

Roger pushed past Ratty and Richie, the latter of whom was still clutching the Red Special aimlessly, waiting for direction.

"Bri, mate, what happened? What's wrong?" he asked, coming to Brian's side and crouching on one knee next to the chair.

Brian didn't look up, but he shook his head and let out a quiet, whimpering moan, his arms wrapped tightly around his middle.

"I don't know," Brian croaked, voice thin and hoarse. "Everything hurts. Like my insides are trying to get outside."

"Bri, look up, dear," Freddie requested softly from the door. "Show him your eyes."

"Why, what's wrong with his— Oh, shit."

Brian had shakily raised his head, sweeping sweaty clumps of tangled curls behind his ears. His face was starkly ashen — makeup sweated clean off — and with his skin drained of color, the sharp lines of his cheekbones were almost skeletal. But what had drawn Roger's gasp, and made his heart stutter a beat, were his eyes.

"Fuck, they're yellow," Jane muttered behind him. She didn't look down at Roger, but her hand found his shoulder and clasped it hard, steadying herself.

"Jaundice...that's to do with the liver, isn't it?" she asked, worried eyes scanning Brian as she chewed her lip. "Brian, does your liver hurt?"

Brian's eyes clamped shut again, eyebrows knitting tightly together. "I don't even know where my liver is, Jane."

"Upper right abdomen," Roger said softly, leaning forward and reaching out to press a gentle hand against Brian's abdomen. "Here."

A sharp intake of breath, and Brian recoiled from Roger's hand. "Fuck, ow."

Well, that wasn't good.

Roger cursed, twisting around to look up at Jane — as if she had any more answers than he did. Her gaze peeled away from Brian to meet Roger's with frozen panic, rooted to the spot.

"What's that mean? What's wrong with him?" Freddie pressed impatiently, crowding behind them.

Roger shot him an exasperated look. "I took an anatomy course, Fred. Not a Hepatology rotation. I have no bloody clue."

Brian let out another quiet, pitiful whimper, folding over himself so his hair brushed his knees. There was an accompanying, wordless sound of distress voiced nearby, and Roger realized with a pang that it was from Jane, shuffling in place, fingers twitching restlessly.

"What do we do? He needs to go to hospital, right?" she asked, almost breathless.

"No!"

Brian had straightened just enough to look Jane in the eye, his jaw set and unyielding. Even that small amount of effort sent a shockwave of pain across his features. "No American hospitals. I can't afford it."

"Brian, you're sick—"

"I'd rather be sick than bankrupt."

"I'd rather you be bankrupt than dead," Jane shot, a cold fury joining the fear in her eyes to produce an intensity that had Roger scrambling up off his knees to his feet. "I'll pay for it myself if I have to."

"No, Jane."

Despite the cracking in his voice, Brian's words were firm. Jane stared at him for a few more long seconds, at first with anxious anger, and then reluctance. On the one hand, Roger agreed with her; Brian was clearly very ill and needed prompt medical attention. He also knew that they didn't have travel insurance and literally could not afford to be saddled with a bill from a price-gouging American hospital. But if Brian could die from this…

"Ratty," said Jane, still eyeing Brian carefully, as if worried he'd disappear. "There's over a thousand people at the show tonight. There's got to be at least a couple doctors out there. Tell Morgan to make an announcement asking for a doctor to come backstage to tend to a medical emergency."

Ratty scoffed, shaking his head. "You want me to ask a member of the band currently performing— "

"The stage manager won't bloody do it, would he?" Jane snapped, turning around to glare at her assistant. "Neither would front of house. Morgan will. Tell him I asked."

Accepting her order with a sigh and bob of his head, Ratty ducked out of the room to run upstairs to the stage. Glancing between Jane and Brian, who was crumpled over himself again, Roger cleared his throat.

"Uh, Deaky," he said quietly, putting a hand on Jane's shoulder and turning her so they faced away from Brian. "Even if a doctor is found, what are they going to be able to do for Brian? This isn't the 19th century; doctors don't carry around their morphine and syringes in black briefcases everywhere they go."

Jane pursed her lips, looking over her shoulder at Brian. Freddie was sat cross-legged by his side, proffering a plastic water bottle that Brian refused with a shake of his curls.

"We don't need them to treat him now," she said, sounding distracted as she watched Freddie try to get Brian to drink. "We just need someone he'll listen to."

They did end up finding a doctor in the crowd — a middle-aged woman from New Jersey who had taken her son to see Mott the Hoople. Dr. Biderman's unequivocal recommendation was for Brian to check himself into a hospital sooner rather than later. The absence of vomiting and swelling meant he probably wasn't suffering acute liver failure or cirrhosis, but he'd need a full blood panel and — if her theory of hepatitis was correct — an immediate course of antivirals.

"But I won't die if I'm not treated within — say, a day, right?" Brian had asked, ignoring Jane's cry of protest.

The doctor relented. "Well, no. But you should catch the first plane out of JFK to London if you're dead-set on not being treated here."

There was a moment of silence as Roger, Jane, and Freddie exchanged knowing glances; leaving New York would mean the end of the tour — the end of the biggest shot they'd ever been given.

But Roger didn't give a damn about the tour, not when his mate was so sick he couldn't stand. Neither did Freddie, who promptly turned to Ratty and told him to call Norman to book them a flight home. Brian just looked on in shock, mouth opening and closing in wordless protest.

"For all of you?" Ratty asked dubiously. "Queen crew, too?"

"Obviously," Freddie sniffed, petting Brian's hair gingerly. "Why would we stick around? There's no tour without Brian."

 

 


 

 

To hear Ratty tell it, Norman had laughed like a possessed hyena when he called their manager at the hotel and told him that the rest of Queen's tour as openers would have to be cancelled. When Ratty insisted he was serious, that Brian was very ill and needed treatment in London, Norman's laughing had turned to yelling, threats, and orders to "Give him a steroid jab and tell him to get the fuck on with it" before hanging up. Ratty had shrugged and looked helplessly to Jane, who grabbed the hotel phone from him and redialled the number, mumbling angrily to herself until Norman picked up.

Roger was positive Jane's tirade could have been heard echoing down the hallway, raising her voice to their manager for quite possibly the first time and using language that almost definitely would have gotten them all sacked if it had come from him. Freddie had needed to clamp a pillow over his mouth to muffle his screeching laughter when she called Norman a "deluded arseface fuckoff," which...was a new one.

It was unclear whether Jane would be strung up by her thumbs when they returned home for her comments, but somehow, her blown fuse was enough to startle Norman into surrender. The flight was booked, the tour ended, and Roger was strangely at peace with that. A dozen missed tour dates were hardly consequential in the grand scheme of things. There'd be other tours; he was sure of it. There would only ever be one Brian May.

The earliest flight to Heathrow was 6 am, an unholy hour which Roger would have protested in any other circumstance, but now didn't seem soon enough. The evening hours between leaving the Uris Theatre and arriving at the airport were spent in tense wakefulness at the hotel, followed by anxious, disruptful sleep, if it came at all. Brian was exhausted — like he hadn't slept in weeks, he'd told Roger — but the pain in his abdomen and nausea kept him up, even with the high doses of ibuprofen Dr. Biderman had OK-ed for the time being. In the earliest hours of the morning, Jane had joined Roger and Brian in their shared room, saying she couldn't sleep, followed soon by Freddie with the same excuse.

They didn't need to speak the real reason for their wakeful vigil; none of them wanted to leave Brian, even if they couldn't help. Brian had curled up on his left side, facing away from them with the covers kicked to his feet. He hadn't wanted water or food or conversation, snapping at any of their attempts to care for him. Freddie had perched on the end of Roger's bed, flipping through a magazine and occasionally reading out loud, to no acknowledgment.

Jane, sitting with her back leaned against the wall on the other side of Brian's bed, had closed her eyes, though Roger knew she wasn't sleeping. Her left hand was outstretched at her side, a few inches from Brian on the bed, as if she had gone to rub his back and thought better of it. Grimly, Roger realized that this might have been the longest they'd all been within the same four walls together in weeks. It was certainly the longest spent without bickering.

 

 

By the time they were leaving for the airport early that morning, Roger had gotten three, maybe four hours of sleep. Jane, judging by the circles under her eyes and one-word answers while they were packing themselves into the taxi, had gotten even less. But then, a strange thing happened when they got to the airport; Jane stepped up.

As the self-appointed (and uncontested) "responsible one," Brian tended to take charge of all things logistics, shepherding them to their engagements, reminding them to eat actual meals, replacing the booze in their hands with water when they'd had too much. He kept them moving, on-time, and (sometimes miraculously) alive. But Brian was barely coherent as they walked — or rather, dragged — him through the dizzying maze of JFK. Now, Jane had shouldered his responsibilities, doling out orders like she'd been doing it all her life and gathering all of their passports in the purse slung across her shoulders after Freddie nearly lost his down a sewer grate.

Looking up at the split-flap board of departures, Jane pointed to their right, down an impossibly long corridor. "Terminal seven, gate four."

While Richie and Crystal walked arm-in-arm with Brian, Roger trotted ahead to talk to Jane, who had taken the lead at the front of the pack.

"Deaky, wait up," he grumbled, adjusting the rucksack on his back. "Slow down, will you? Brian can barely walk."

"If we don't make our flight, we'll have to wait another three hours for the 9 am, and that's three more hours that Brian isn't receiving medical attention," she said through gritted teeth, glancing down at her watch even though Roger had seen her check it at least seven times in the last five minutes.

Roger looked behind him at Brian, shuffling along with his head down, feet barely leaving the ground. He looked like the walking dead.

"Are they even going to let him on the plane?" he muttered, speaking low enough so only Jane could hear. "I mean, he's yellow."

One good look at Brian, and there was no way the airline would let him fly and risk keeling over somewhere above the Atlantic. They didn't even know if what Brian had was contagious.

Jane's eyes narrowed, and she took another glance at her watch. "Oh, they're letting us on that plane."

Roger wasn't sure what that meant, until they were at the gate and Jane had transformed herself into a giggling, bubbly British tourist, chatting brightly — and if Roger didn't know better, flirting — with the pretty female gate agent, who was distracted enough to give only cursory looks at the rest of the boarding party, allowing a sickly Brian to slip through the gate without scrutiny.

Norman hadn't booked them four seats together this time — either out of spite or laziness — but Jane quickly remedied that by organizing a complex switching of seat assignments with their neighbors in coach, eventually ending up with an arrangement that had Brian squeezed between her and Freddie, with Roger next to Jane. They'd had just enough time before their flight to buy a bagful of juice boxes and biscuits, the only things Brian had been able to hold down. For now, though, the goal was just to get him through takeoff without getting sick. With the way he was softly whimpering at every jostle of the plane merely taxiing away from the gate, that seemed a tall order.

"You've got this, buddy," Roger offered encouragingly, leaning over Jane to give Brian a thumbs up and a smile. "We'll be in London in no time."

He received an irritated groan in response.

The plane started to accelerate down the runway, and without thinking, Roger reached over to grab Jane's hand, hoping to soothe at least one of the fears he knew she faced just then. She wriggled out of his grasp, however, and instead took Brian's right hand in both of hers on her lap, rubbing her thumb into his pressure points as the plane took off with a shuddering jolt. Awkwardly returning his hand to the armrest, he watched Jane comfort Brian and realized shamefully that he didn't have any reassurance to give. He just wanted a piece of hers. She was the one holding it together.

"How's the pain? Do you need another ibuprofen?" Jane asked, once they had reached cruising altitude. "I have apple juice."

Brian shook his head, taking his hand from her and crossing his arms. "I'm fine."

"Should I ask a stewardess for a blanket and pillow? You should rest, the doctor said—"

"Jane, stop," Brian said with a sigh, looking up at the ceiling. He was blinking rapidly. "I know you're just trying to be nice because I'm sick. The charade is exhausting you."

"What? No, I'm just worried about you."

"You resent me for ruining the tour, and our careers, possibly. If Norman doesn't kill us first... "

"I don't give a fuck about the tour, and Norman fucking Sheffield can fuck right off."

"— once I'm healthy, you'll go back to hating me again."

"I—"

Whatever Jane was going to say next fell dead off her lips, and she stared at Brian in wounded shock. Freddie, mid-sip of his orange juice with eyebrows raised to the sky, had quickly lowered his blue satin eye mask and reclined his chair the fraction of an inch it could go in some semblance of giving the two privacy. Roger couldn't bring himself to follow suit, so powerful were the waves of distress suddenly radiating from Jane. Her hands, now clasping the armrests tightly, were trembling.

"You think I hate you?" she whispered, turning in her seat to face Brian. Roger couldn't see it, but he knew her eyes would be wide and watery. His stomach clenched at the waver in her voice.

Brian's head dipped, voice barely above a mumble. "I dunno. You don't like me, at least—"

"I know I've been awful lately, and I'm sorry, but I have never, ever hated you," she interrupted, a quiet urgency in her voice.

She clutched his arm, and a part of Roger wanted to tell her to stop touching Brian so much, that he could be contagious and get her sick. Not that she would listen.

"You're my brother and I love you."

I love you.

Roger didn't think he'd ever heard those words from her mouth, about anyone. Startled by her statement, Roger didn't realize at first that Brian had started crying, until Jane had unbuckled her seatbelt — despite the seatbelt sign being clearly on — and wrapped her arms around him in as close a hug as she could manage in the tight space. Brian, wincing from the pain of movement before relaxing into her hold, kissed her temple and buried his head against her neck.

"I love you too, Deaky."

He had the sudden urge to get up, to give them privacy, to forcibly remove himself from the disconcerting amalgam of emotions surrounding two of the most important people in his life. There was worry for Brian — an anxiety that felt deeply unsettling being triggered by the most dependable, solid man he knew — but also a nagging urge to pull Jane away and finish the conversation they had started; the first conversation in a very long time where they were both trying to be honest with each other. He wanted Brian to be OK. He wanted his friendship with Jane to survive the shit they'd put it through. He wanted to outrun the loneliness that had been chasing him for months, nipping at his heels every time he risked a look behind him.

Next to him, Jane had sat back in her chair, head leaning on Brian's shoulder; their eyes were closed, and their clasped hands rested on the armrest between them. He really, really wanted to hold her other hand.

Roger un-clicked his seatbelt. "I'm going to stretch my legs."

 

 


 

 

It was 9 pm by the time Brian was checked into hospital in London, and another hour until tests were run, and yet another hour until a harried doctor came to the room to diagnose Brian with hepatitis.

It was worse than Roger expected, but apparently not as bad as it could have been. The progression of Brian's symptoms indicated he had been sick for at least two months, possibly more, though the source of the infection was still a mystery. The doctor's line of questioning — Did Brian engage in reckless or dangerous sexual activity? Was Brian an intravenous drug user? — was met with blank stares until Freddie answered with a snort, "Not bloody likely."

Roger had taken a step back, leaning against the wall to steady himself from falling — two months Brian had been ill and hadn't said anything. They'd all noticed something was wrong, of course, but Brian had always offered excuses viable enough to not be questioned: food poisoning, a bad night's sleep, motion sickness, hangovers. Now that he thought about it, pushing aside the memories of sneaking off with Jane that had dominated his time, Brian had seemed tired or sick more often than not. Roger just...hadn't dwelled on it. Hadn't given a second thought to anything that wasn't Jane and sex and his own selfish needs. Even on the plane, his focus had returned again and again to what he was going to do about his predicament with Jane, while one of his oldest friends suffered.

The doctor continued, dropping medical terms and overly simplistic explanations of what exactly was wrong with Brian that Roger only partly absorbed while he waited for the doctor to get to the important part: was Brian going to be OK?

The answer was, as Roger should have expected, complicated.

His liver didn't appear to be at immediate risk of failure, thankfully, but the infection was advanced enough to warrant an aggressive regimen of antivirals — the side effects of which, the doctor warned, could be more unpleasant that the hepatitis itself.

"The outcomes we're trying to avoid are cirrhosis and liver disease, which would require a transplant," the doctor explained, glancing between Brian and the rest of the band, crowded around his bed.

Brian's eyes were unfocused, fixed on the blanket covering his skinny legs. Jane, seated close to Brian, hadn't looked at the doctor once. Her lips were pulled thin and taut, a deep crease seated in her brow — a look she wore when she was studying a broken piece of equipment she was determined to fix.

"And if it came to that," Jane started softly, hands folded tightly in her lap. "How successful are liver transplants typically?"

The doctor swayed his head from side to side and waved his hand in a gesture that seemed crudely casual to Roger. "One-year prognosis is 85 percent survival, five-year survival is...not as good. 60 percent. Hep C can come back with a vengeance, and transplants tend to be more delicate."

A 60 percent chance that his friend would be alive in five years was...unacceptable. Unacceptable, and unimaginable, and not how their story was supposed to endBrian was going to be the one dragging them to music rehearsals until the rest of them bloody well died, and then he'd go on to live to 120 because, as he was so fond of saying, "Vegetarians live longer, healthier lives."

Brian would not die in the prime of his life. Roger would sell his soul to see to it, if he had to. God knows he was already damned.

After several more minutes spent grilling the doctor, a course of action was decided. Brian, still blankly staring ahead, agreed to the inpatient treatment. He'd be confined to the hospital for a conservative estimate of six weeks, spending the majority of the summer in a bed, under constant supervision in case his liver decided to throw in the towel. Even then, he probably wouldn't be cleared to leave home to work at the studio until the end of the summer. And they had deadlines for the third album that could not, under threat of Norman's wrath, be missed.

"I'm sorry, guys," Brian mumbled, once the doctor had left. He gingerly fingered the IV running into his right arm before looking up at Roger, smiling grimly. "I've made a mess of things, haven't I?"

"Nah, mate. Getting Hep C must be the most rockstar thing to do," Roger said, offering as wide a grin as he could muster in the moment. "Next to contracting Chlamydia."

"And you didn't even get it doing anything fun," Freddie added slyly, reaching out to tweak Brian's foot under the covers. "It was that fucking smallpox jab, I know it. The clinic we went to was filthy. First thing tomorrow, I'm going to call up— I don't know, someone at the NHS, and demand—"

"Fred," Roger warned, fixing a glare at Freddie from across Brian's bed. "Not now."

Brian sighed, closing his eyes as he let his head fall back against the pillows stacked behind him. Roger watched him worry his cracked lips between his teeth until a small shock of blood appeared. He'd remember to bring Brian chapstick the following day when they visited.

"If you give me a pen and paper, I can write down a few names and numbers for you," Brian said quietly, eyes still closed. "Good session musicians. They won't blow anyone's socks off, but they'll get the job done."

Roger frowned, stepping away from the wall. "Bri, what are you talking about? We're not hiring session guitarists."

Brian cracked his eyes open, tilting his head to look at Roger with a tired sigh. "You heard the doctor; I won't be able to play for months. Months you can't afford to waste."

"The album can wait," said Jane, entering the conversation after a long stretch of seemingly distracted silence. Her bottom lip trembled, just for a split second, before her face returned to stony impassiveness. "We're not recording without you, Bri."

Freddie raised a hand, biting his lip. "Well, we can—"

"How could you say that? We can't—"

"Listen, darling," Freddie interrupted Jane with a soft smile before turning back to Brian. "We've already got half the songs written. We'll record our parts first, get them as perfect as we can, and then when you're ready, you can record your bits all at once."

Brian raised a skeptical eyebrow, struggling to sit back up until Jane quickly rearranged the pillows for him. "We don't record like that, in— in bits. It'll sound disjointed."

"Not if we do it right," Freddie countered. "We've got Stone, remember? He's the best in the business, as far as I'm concerned."

It would be a departure from their preferred recording method, certainly, and not having Brian's guitar would make writing the remaining songs on the album difficult, to say the least, but it was the only viable solution. Replacing Brian with a session musician was out of the question. Queen without Brian and his guitar was hardly Queen at all.

Any further discussion about recording came to a halt as Chrissie appeared in the doorway, breathless as if having run to the hospital, followed closely by Brian's parents — Ruth and Harold, looking as frazzled and worried as any two loving parents should be for their ailing only child.

Roger was well acquainted with Brian's mum and dad, having stayed with them for a holiday break or two during university, when he didn't fancy spending time with his own father before his parents' separation. Living in Hampton, they were able to visit fairly regularly, typically bringing pies and roasts with which to feed the starving artists for at least a few days. They were supportive of Brian's music — with Harold having helped Brian build his beloved guitar — even though they didn't quite understand it all the time. Roger had overhead the family's row when Brian called last year to tell them he wouldn't be finishing his doctorate after all, and his father's disappointment had brought Brian to tears after hanging up. All was forgiven and forgotten a couple weeks later, though, when the Mays dropped by for tea.

In times like those, Roger was sure he stared at Brian and his parents with the same wistful look as Jane did.

"Brian, honey," Ruth murmured, squeezing past Freddie to come to Brian's bedside, pressing a firm kiss to his forehead. "How are you feeling? Chrissie called us — luckily we were at home, your father had just gotten back from a fishing trip, actually, and I was just about to step out to book club with the ladies — You know, Abigail and Martha and the others — and that phone we have is on its last leg; I've tried to find a volume knob or something but it's so darn quiet—"

Harold placed a hand on his wife's shoulder, calming her chatter, before bending down to ruffle Brian's hair. "We came as fast as we could, is what your mum's getting at."

"I appreciate it, but you two really didn't have to come; I need to rest for a few weeks, but I'll be fine," Brian insisted, though his words fell on deaf ears.

His mother had picked up his hand and was fussing over how thin his wrist was, while his father was pressing the back of his hand to Brian's forehead, declaring him feverish and demanding a nurse be brought in to adjust his medication. Chrissie, quietly, had come to Brian's other side, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek and a reassuring smile. Brian was surrounded by a bubble of love and care, with people who shared none of the blame for Brian's current condition. Roger felt like an outsider.

Meeting Freddie and Jane's eyes, Roger jerked his head towards the door. They nodded and followed his lead out of the room, giving Brian and his family some privacy. As soon as the door was closed behind them, Freddie released a heavy sigh, wiping his hand tiredly over his face.

"I need a cuppa. Anyone else?"

Roger declined, and when Jane didn't answer — still staring back at Brian and his family through the door's window — Freddie put both hands on her shoulders and squeezed.

"He's going to be OK, Deaky."

Jane blinked, her jaw setting. "I know that," she said, shrugging Freddie's hands from her shoulders. "I'm going to find a nurse and see if we can do anything about the fever."

Roger couldn't be sure if she was purposefully avoiding his eyes, but he was tempted to call after her as she left for the nurse's station, take her hand, and offer his own meager comfort. She didn't need it, though. At least one of them was holding it together.

Freddie hesitated before following the signage on the walls for the canteen, looking over his shoulder first at Jane, and then Roger, with the same worried gaze he'd been directing towards Brian.

With nothing else to do, Roger found a bench near Brian's room and sat down, leaning forward on his knees and watching doctors and nurses float by. Some of them acknowledged him with a nod or confused look — it was after visiting hours, technically — but none spoke to him. Perhaps he had the face of a man who was in distress and shouldn't be disturbed. Closing his eyes, he rested his head back against the wall, though there was no chance in hell of catching even a short nap. From the room on the other side of the wall, he heard Harold's booming laughter and smiled to himself, picturing Brian cracking a grin and relaxing, at least a little.

A few minutes later, Roger heard footsteps approaching the room — not the squeak of the nurse's sensible trainers, but the soft steps of Jane's loafers. He opened his eyes and saw her standing a short distance from Brian's door, head held perfectly still as she watched the family through the window with an unreadable expression in her eyes. Realizing she was being watched in turn, Jane looked at Roger with a smile that didn't reach beyond her tightly pinned mouth.

"Nurse is on her way," she said in a voice that was far too bright, and pointed down the other corridor. "I'm just going to find the loo."

Roger swallowed, wanting again — always — to say whatever she needed to hear, but not knowing the words himself. He nodded. "I'll be here."

He watched her leave once more, taking sure, quick steps until she disappeared around the corner. Unbidden, memories of their first walk together through Kensington Park flashed through his mind. He'd been looking for an invitation to earn her trust, and she'd been waiting for a reason to give it to him.

"What's your biggest fear?"

She answered immediately, her eyes staring straight ahead. "Illness. Not even dying, just...getting sick. Watching someone I love get sick. All of it."

Jane was staring down the monster under her bed, stepping into her own nightmare with a head held high. Because that's what Jane did: she faced her demons alone, so no one else had to feel her fear.

The force that yanked him off the bench and down the corridor after her was the same velocity that had trapped him in her orbit since the day they sat side by side on the floor in their apartment for their first Christmas as a band, when Jane had trusted him enough to open her heart and he had promised himself he'd never give her a reason to regret it.

"Jane," he called after her, seeing her standing by the drinking fountains at the end of the hall, arms crossed protectively around herself. A passing nurse held her finger to her lips, shushing him, but he ignored her. "Jane!"

His feet propelled him toward her, body reacting as it always had before lust had been tossed into the mix — a desire, a need to be close to her, to touch and comfort and be a fortress around her, if he had to.

She looked up at him, and all at once, the mask was gone. Face red and blotchy, water was welling in the corner of her eyes, quickly smeared away by the sleeve she brought to her cheek. Her tears triggered a panicked, guttural reaction, pulled forcibly from somewhere dark and deep inside him, and he extended his arms as he reached her. Before he even touched her, the tension in her shoulders dropped, and she fell against him.

"C'mere, it's OK," he murmured, wrapping his arms firmly around her as she cried into his shoulder. "Everything's going to be OK."

Her body-shuddering sobs ripped a hole through his chest, one that he would gladly widen for her to crawl into for safekeeping. Her arms, slung around his neck, tightened with each hiccup until she whispered, soft and croaking, "This is all my fault."

"No, it's not," he hushed her, rubbing a hand in small circles over her back. "It's no one's fault."

"I knew he wasn't well and I ignored him for weeks," she cried, her voice muffled against his neck. "And he thought I hated him the whole time—" Her voice broke off into sobs, and he swayed with her in silence until she caught her breath.

"I know he's probably going to be OK," she said softly, pulling away just enough to look up at him, arms still looped around his shoulders. "But I— I'm fucking terrified for himRog."

"I know, and I am too," he said, drawing her back in with a kiss to her hairline.

Swallowing, he clamped his eyes shut to stop the sudden vertigo. Why did it feel like he was about to have an asthma attack?

He took a deep shuddering breath. "That's, well, that's love."

And when he opened his eyes, he found himself at the bottom of the pit, a pit he'd been digging for so long he couldn't remember when he had rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work, so far down now he could barely see the sun. He hadn't fallen — he'd grabbed the shovel himself and hollowed the Earth for her.

As he held her, stroking her hair and rocking on the spot, Roger felt the shattering crack, the ground crumbling beneath his feet with the force of an earthquake he'd only ever read about. He'd dug too far. The fragmented pieces of his life collided like tectonic plates, shoving deeply buried sediment to the surface of the widening, steaming chasm.

Kensington Park. The yellow notebook. Walking the streets looking for her for hours when he thought she'd gone missing. The mermaid drawing, which she'd kept and hung in her room. The snake bracelet and her delighted reaction that had coursed through his mind for hours afterward. Burning with jealousy when she kissed Morgan in front of him. Teaching her how to swim in Australia and wanting to hold onto her even after she was confident enough to tread water. Jane, poised to dive into the rapids of the Missouri river to find him when he went overboard. Their first kiss, and every kiss that followed.

In an instant, his topography had changed. Mountains had sprouted where no mountains had been before, recognizable in their form and beautiful, but so very, very dangerous to climb. Finally, he had the clarity he was looking for, but there was no comfort at the bottom of a pit, alone.

So he blocked the world outside from his mind and clung to Jane tighter, like it was the first time embracing the woman he loved. And in a way, it was.

Chapter Text

 

May 14, 1974

 

Roger spent the first week back in London digging himself out of the rubble. The sudden realization of his feelings for Jane had crushed him like a tonne of bricks, but the glimpses of blue sky peaking between the cracks of debris were glorious enough to bask in. Utterly terrifying as it was, the novelty of it all was rather...exciting. This palm-sweating, heart-racing, stomach-aching need for her was what songs were written about. It was like discovering a new color, one that was impossible to describe with words but could be recognized by sightonce it's named.

He loved her.

The shapes and edges of his memories were now brighter and sharper, like when he first got fitted for glasses and he spent the whole afternoon marveling at how many individual leaves he could see on trees. Finally, he had the clarity and the vocabulary to describe the world around him, and everything seemed to shout at him in unison — how could he have been so blind?

He loved her. 

When Jane smiled at him a little wider than she did for anyone else, and his only halfway-lucid thought was to do or say something even more ridiculous because making her smile was good, but making her laugh was better — that was love. When she plopped down in front of a newly scavenged piece of electrical equipment to excitedly take it apart as if she was unwrapping a Christmas present, and he couldn't help but follow the precise movements of her clever hands as they gave new life and purpose to something old and broken — love. And when Jane spent all afternoon doting on Brian in the hospital without complaint or cracks in her composure, returning to the studio or back home with exhaustion etched across her face, and all Roger wanted to do was to care for her the way she'd been caring for Brian — love, love, fucking love.

He loved her, and he could have dwelled in that revelation forever if not for the immense guilt he felt every time he visited Brian in the hospital that week. Holding Jane's hand on the way to the hospital just that morning and then arriving to see one of his best mates crumpled over in pain between morphine doses had been like the worst kind of carnival ride, with both his heart and stomach twisting painfully at the sight.

Brian had been in poor shape those first few days, but functional — talking and laughing with them, wincing every now and then if he moved wrong or if his pain medicine started to wear off. But now that he was strong enough to start IFN therapy, a whole new hellish chapter had started; the doctor's warning that the side effects could be "unpleasant" had been an understatement for the ages. Not an hour after the first injection, Brian had started vomiting, doubling over as a nurse helpfully shoved a shallow bowl in his lap and retching until his stomach was empty.

"The first time is always the worst, remember," Jane said, sitting at Brian's bedside and patting his hand gingerly. Squeamish herself, she had looked away while he was getting sick. "It'll get easier."

"Said the actress to the bishop," muttered Freddie, receiving dual groans from the other three.

Roger thought that would be the worst of it, but no — even with nothing left to vomit, Brian continued to dry heave, sobbing like Roger had never seen him cry before; it was deeply, deeply unsettling. They had come with the intention of distracting Brian during his treatment, and possibly to go over some new songs they were working on in preparation for their recording session that evening, but that was clearly off the table.

Instead, Roger, Jane, and Freddie sat uncomfortably around the room, remarking idly on the weather or football or the flowers his well-wishers had sent until Brian got sick again, at which point the room fell silent.

Eventually, the sound of Brian's gagging, choking groans forced Roger out into the corridor, which he paced for a good ten minutes, hands clasped over his head and struggling to regulate his own breathing. He had seen Brian in all manner of conditions, from drunk to heartbroken to just a little high, just the one time after a gig in uni. But this was too much. Brian had been through enough shit as it was; he didn't deserve this. It was pitiful then, walking back into Brian's room, sweating, as if he had been the one subjecting his body to chemical warfare.

And Jane had stayed. Jane, who was so averse to getting sick that she disinfected the whole house if one of them so much as sneezed on a countertop, had planted herself in the chair beside the bed and held Brian's hand, talking him through the nausea or saying nothing at all, smoothing her hand over his back when he shuddered from the aftershocks. When Roger had returned to the room, Jane's face had been ashen, eyes wide and lips pursed, and her other hand, gripping the seat beneath her legs, was shaking. But she had stayed. Freddie, too, was sitting on the bench beneath the window, reading aloud from the newspaper held up close to his face as if shielding him from the scene — or hiding his own face from their view. Only Roger couldn't handle it — a tiny bit of discomfort compared to what Brian was surely feeling.

Pathetic.

Worse, his attention kept drifting back to Jane, finding it too difficult to look Brian in the eye as he moaned and sniffled quietly, and far too easy to find solace in her. Every time she looked up from Brian and gave him a little nod or smile, he felt a modicum of tension disappear. Which was wrong and unfair and selfishbut he was dangerously close to losing his cool as it was, and he couldn't do that to Brian. Couldn't let Jane see how weak he really was, either.

Thankfully, Chrissie got off work and arrived at the hospital soon after, relieving Jane of her post by the bed and signalling to the rest of them that they could go. Jane kissed Brian's forehead and whispered something in his ear, which made him smile weakly, and Freddie followed suit with a loud, smacking kiss against his cheek, earning himself a slap against the shoulder from Brian and a sound almost resembling laughter.

"Alright then," Roger said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, placing an awkward hand on Brian's bony shoulder. He never knew what to say to sick people — Feel better? That was the point, obviously.

"Er, I'll see you around."

Brian, eyes starting to droop with exhaustion, had raised a questioning brow. "Sure, give me a ring next time you're hanging around the hospital, and I'll clear my schedule."

Roger's mouth twitched into a smile on impulse, but it didn't reach his eyes. There was so much he wanted to say — to tell Brian how strong he'd been, to apologize for being a shitty friend, to give him some semblance of the support and reassurance Brian had always given him. But his brain was rattled, and the words didn't come.

"Right, well...cheers," he said lamely, patting Brian's shoulder once and backing away, looking over his shoulder at Jane, who was watching the exchange with tense, worried eyes.

Roger felt like a prick, but he couldn't have gotten out of that hospital fast enough. Climbing up into the driver's seat of their van, he sat there for a long moment, releasing a deep breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Jane reached over the center console to take his hand, and the brief giddiness he felt at the contact was soon washed away by a rush of shame. Brian would be stuck in the hospital for weeks, if not months, and Roger got to leave. He could push Brian to the back of his mind and focus on their new music, on recording, on Jane. Hell, he could tell Jane he loved her right then, and — if she loved him back, and there was a good chance she did — spend the rest of the night wrapped in each other's arms. Roger could have everything he wanted, but it sure felt like it was at Brian's expense.

Freddie had then yanked open the back door of the van, complaining of the plume of dust that erupted when he plopped down on the bucket seat, and Jane quickly snapped her hand back to her own lap.

"Come on, then," Freddie said, leaning forward to squeeze the side of Roger's arm. "Moping about isn't going to make Brian better any faster, or get this album done on time."

 

 


 

 

 

What followed was a studio session that may as well have been replaced by an evening spent flushing a hundred pounds down the toilet. They had just a handful of embryonic songs between them, if a half-dozen scribbled lines even counted as a song. After Freddie, Brian was their most prolific songwriter, and his absence wasn't just a hit to their morale. Either they had to wait for him to feel well enough to put pen to paper, or the rest of the band would have to find a way to fill the Brian-sized hole in their catalog; they couldn't very well record an album if they didn't have any material.

Only "Stone Cold Crazy," a song they'd written ages ago and performed at their earliest concert together, was in any shape to finally be recorded, but they hadn't played it in almost a year, and Roger now remembered why. It was a bitch of a song; the few times they'd played it in concert, his hands had been torn to shreds, bleeding straight through the plasters already wrapped around his fingers.

They'd done a few practice runs before laying down the foundation tracks, and while it was as challenging as ever, the song wasn't nearly as fun to play without Brian's guitar burning a hole through the floor. It was one of the heaviest songs they'd ever written, but without the guitar parts, it just felt like noise. Jane had actually pulled a chair into the recording booth so she could sit while she played — something she rarely ever did — and was huddled over her bass, concentrating so hard on the complex fingering that it took her several beats to realize Roger had stopped playing midway through.

"Why'd you stop? We were almost done," she complained, fingers still ghosting over the strings. She had hastily tied her hair into a plait down her back, through her overgrown fringe still fell in her face. Roger's hands itched to tuck the strands back behind her ears.

"It sounds like shit."

Jane frowned, her brows creeping upwards. "Speak for yourself."

"Sorry, I'm just—" he muttered, flipping his stick to half-heartedly whack one of his cymbals. "Not really feeling it."

Jane's face softened, and she turned to the glass separating them from the control room, holding up a finger before setting her bass down on her chair. The booth door opened and Freddie peeked his head around the doorframe.

"Everything alright, you two?"

Roger nodded, waving at Freddie to return to his seat at the controls next to Mike Stone, but he lingered; Roger didn't miss the scrutiny in Freddie's eyes as Jane skirted around the drum screen and crouched by Roger's stool.

"We can take a break, if you'd like," she said softly, her hand finding the middle of his back and rubbing gently. Her touch could have burned a hole straight through his t-shirt, the way it branded him. "I know you were rattled by...well, earlier." 

Without thinking, he leaned back into her hand, chasing the modicum of peace he always found in her affection.

"I think we need to practice this song a little more before we can record it, anyway," she continued, though Roger was having a hard time keeping up with her words, what with her hand on his back and her breath rustling his hair. "I know I'm having a hard time keeping up."

His nose wrinkled and he shook his head, twirling his stick in one hand. "No, I'm the one taking it too fast. You're perfect."

Her silence caught him off guard, and when he replayed the words, realizing how they sounded, the drumstick fell from his hand with a dull thud against the carpeted floor. He was already flushed and sweating from their botched recording session, so with any luck, she hadn't noticed the way he blushed at his own compliment like a schoolgirl. Roger glanced up at her with a bashful grin, wheels spinning in his head so fast he could almost smell the burning rubber. Jane was staring at him with slightly narrowed eyes, brows bunched with a question he didn't have time to answer.

"I wouldn't expect anything else from Decent Deacon, though," he said quickly, stumbling over his words in a bungled attempt to sound casual. "But you're right; we should take a break. And I'll slow it down."

Her expression still quizzical, the corners of her lips twitched into the slightest impression of a smile. Distantly, Roger realized her hand had stopped moving over his back and had instead made its way to his shoulder. He willed her hand to smooth over the back of his neck, to travel up and cup his cheek, then brush back his hair — a flowing motion he had first noticed in New Orleans and quickly became conditioned to, like Pavlov's dog, though he doubted Jane even knew she did it.

"We'll take 30 minutes then," she said, straightening up from her crouched position and drawing Roger up in turn, like her hand and his shoulder were magnetically linked. "Get some coffee, take a walk—"

"Do you want to have dinner?"

Whoops.

The question surprised him more than it seemed to surprise her; sure, he had thought about it (had thought about little else since the night Brian was admitted to the hospital), but he was going to have a strategy, or at least a better plan than blurting out a proposition in the middle of their recording space while Freddie and their sound engineer were steps away. It was like a spirit had inhabited his body and was talking through him — a desperate, lovestruck, horny spirit.

Fuck. He didn't even believe in spirits.

Jane, for her part, looked completely nonplussed. Nodding, she bent down to pick up Roger's drumstick from the floor. "Sure. Where do you want to go?"

His eyes just about burst out of their sockets. Sure? That was it— that was his green light? He hadn't expected theatrics from Jane, but getting her to do anything even an inch outside her comfort zone usually required some wheedling. He wasn't prepared for this. Wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans, his hands were shaking when he took the stick back from her.

"Yeah? Um, OK, I hadn't actually thought about where, but there's always that kebab place on Carnaby—"

Jane had tuned out his babbling and turned around to call to Freddie. "You in the mood for kebabs, Fred?"

"Fuck, yes," Freddie groaned, hanging off and twisting around one of the room's padded supporting pillars like the world's most lacadaisical pole dancer. "I'm starving."

"Same, let's make it an hour for dinner," said Jane returning to her chair to pack away her bass.

It took a second to process, and then Roger felt the slow-motion punch to the gut and the resulting tumble down a dozen flight of stairs, though he was standing stick-straight. If he was blushing before, now he must have looked like a tomato, but thankful, at least, that no one else had picked up on his spectacular swing and miss. Of course it had felt too easy— nothing good, nothing worth having, had ever come with so little effort.

Jane, bass in one hand and sheet music in the other, was headed toward the door, laughing at a joke Roger hadn't heard Freddie tell. Arms full, she was trying to nudge the door open with her elbow.

"Wait, let me," Roger called, running for the door and knocking over a music stand in the process. "It's fine, nothing broke," he said sheepishly, opening the door for her while Freddie and Mike cackled at his expense in the control room.

Jane walked through with little more than a grateful nod in his direction; still, it was something. A start. He wasn't one to shy away from a little effort, not when the reward was worth it.

While she deposited her instrument in its case and fetched her purse, Mike sidled up to Roger, leaning against the cement wall of the control room.

"Hate to break it to you, mate, but opening doors doesn't count as wooing."

"What?" he hissed, casting a wary eye toward Jane and Freddie, who were talking and thankfully hadn't heard Mike's less than hushed comment. And since when had their middle-aged sound engineer paid any attention to their personal lives?

"Who said anything about— that?"

Mike shrugged, a lazy grin on his face. "Hey, just saying. And next time, you should be more specific when you're making dinner plans."

 

 


 

 

Well into the night, the house on Sinclair Road was unusually quiet. Brian's incessant snoring, as much as Roger complained about it during daylight hours, was as much a part of their home as the fading yellow wallpaper, the moth-bitten red drapes, the leaky faucet that dripped no matter how often Jane got on her hands and knees to tighten the valve. The house didn't feel right with only him and Jane inside it — just how it didn't feel right for weeks after Freddie first moved out to live with Mary. But this was a temporary absence. Brian would be back soon enough, with his snoring and late-night pacing. Back where he belonged.

In the meantime, Roger laid awake in the darkness of his bedroom, with nothing to focus on but his own circular thoughts wrapping around him in a vice. It was a dangerous thing, being left alone with his thoughts — especially when a good portion of those thoughts revolved around her. He could hear her rolling over on her old twin mattress, the springs creaking with every restless toss and turn, and all he could think about was how much he wanted to join her there, in that too-small bed— to be wrapped warm and tight with her, sharing breath and calm and sleep.

It had been more than a week since he'd last kissed her, in the dingy, light-flickering bathroom of a no-name pub, out of his mind with jealousy and desperate not to lose a good thing he couldn't even name. He hadn't realized his grip on her was so fragile, but he wouldn't make the same mistake again; he was going to tell her — somehow — and give them both something a little more tangible to hold onto.

Coming right out and shouting the L-word at her seemed ill-advised; he knew better by now than to dump his feelings at her feet like a cat bringing its master a dead mouse as an offering. Which meant dates and wooing and all the things Roger had never had to worry about. He'd watched a lot of television though, and more Cary Grant films than he was willing to admit; he could learn.

Eyes finally growing heavy, Roger drowsily resolved to himself that he'd pin down the specifics of his plan tomorrow — properly this time — and rolled over onto his side to get some sleep.

Except… there was a knock at the door. So faint he almost thought he imagined it, if not for the quiet voice that followed.

"Roger? Are you awake?"

Springing upright in bed, Roger's mouth went suddenly dry, and his hurried answer caught hoarsely in the back of his throat, coming out as a prepubescent squeak.

"Uh, yeah, come in."

The door inched open without a sound and in stepped Jane, features barely visible in the darkness. She was tense — that much he could tell just from her silhouette. Knees locked, one arm wrapped around her middle, the other hovering over the doorknob as if already planning her exit. But now that she was here, Roger couldn't possible bear to see her leave.

He cleared his throat. "Everything OK?" he asked, peeling back the silence.

"Couldn't sleep," she said, and pressed her back against the door to close it. "I can't stop thinking about...everything."

So they were both in the same boat. Or at the very least, two boats charting the same course in the night.

"I could make us some tea," he offered. "Raid Brian's biscuit tin—"

"Can I sleep with you?"

Her words came out jumbled, almost incoherent, like she was scared to hear herself even utter them, but Roger would have understood her perfectly even if she was speaking French. He stared at her dumbly, open-mouthed and flushed as his heart ran away before his brain could catch up. Realizing that she was still standing there, unmoving and waiting for an answer — as if the answer could be anything but 'Please,' he hastily threw back the covers on the other side of the bed, making room for her.

"Yes, of course. Absolutely."

Wordlessly, she crossed the room and crawled into the double bed beside him, and Roger focused all of his remaining energy on staying calm and cool and casual, though the hammering beat of his heart might have given him away.

They'd fucked — made love, he corrected himself — every which way, but they hadn't done this. After the first night, he had stopped asking her to stay, but he never stopped wanting her to. He wanted to hold her close and safe, letting the back-and-forth rhythm of their breathing lull them to sleep — Christ. He sounded like a dime novel. How did he ever convince himself that what he felt for Jane was nothing?

Blanket tugged up to her chin, Jane turned on her side to face him and smiled sleepily. At this proximity, he could see more of her features in the darkness, dimly illuminated by the light from the street outside filtering through the blinds. Any tension that had strained her muscles earlier had dissipated, and it made his chest swell to think he might have relaxed her, as easily as she calmed him. There were several inches of empty mattress between them, but lying next to her in bed — his bed, not a suspect hotel mattress, not a forgotten storage closet — was intimate beyond expectation.

He took a deep breath, laughing a little when Jane took her own shaky inhale. Was she as nervous as he was?

"Hi," he whispered, his body furling inward toward her in a movement that was not entirely conscious.

She smiled, and her hand drifted out from under the covers to rest on the sheets beside his pillow, just barely brushing against the loose tendrils of his hair. "Hi."

There was another span of silence, punctuated by both parties chuckling softly at their own awkwardness, their soft breaths of laughter meeting in the space between them. He lifted his hand out to her and tapped a finger against her temple.

"What's going on in there?"

Her lip quivered, shaking loose the small smile on her face. "A lot, all at once," she said, giving him a wry look. "It can be a scary place in there, sometimes."

"Are you...worried?"

He could hear her swallow, and the restless movement of her legs beneath the covers, but she didn't answer, which was enough of an answer for him.

"What are you worried about?" he pressed, inching closer to her. "Brian? The album?" Us?

Brick by brick, he could see her defenses going up as her expression hardened to a familiar cold, stony impassivity. She turned onto her back, staring blankly up at the ceiling, and the snub ignited Roger's frustration — and anguish at having a moment shattered by her reticence, once again.

"Deaky?"

Silence, and then the tell-tale heave of breath that preceded a sob. He clamped his eyes shut and cursed silently to himself — this wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't supposed to make her cry. Again.

"Come on, talk to me," he urged, reached out his hand to brush against her cheek. But when he made contact, he found her skin was cold, smooth and hard like a doll's, and he jerked his hand back, startled. "Christ, you're freezing."

Jane sniffled noisily, and when she turned her head to the side to look at him, his breath caught in his throat — her lips were a mottled blue, and what appeared to be tear tracks had frozen halfway down her cheeks.

"Can you warm me up?" she asked, voice low and whisper-soft, a timbre that clashed discordantly with the alarm bells ringing in his head. Something was very, very wrong.

"Jane, you're sick," he said, trying to sit up in bed but struggling against the weight of drowsiness pulling him into the mattress.

Not her too.

"You need to see a doctor."

"I need you."

He stared at her in shock, mouth open like a fish, and before he could blink or question her or breathe, she had thrown off his blankets and clambered on top of him — the full length of her body pressing warm and soft against his.

Wait...warm? Her skin had been icy to the touch just moments ago. But any logical thought escaped along with the remaining air in his lungs as Jane leaned down and slanted her mouth over his, kissing him with a desperate urgency that he couldn't help but return, after the shock had worn off. Her tongue slipped into his mouth, hot and wet, and he groaned, getting impossibly high off her taste. He was floating, completely weightless, and he remained earth-bound only because of the weight of Jane's body, grinding down against him with hypnotizing circling of her hips.

It was only when the weight eased, when Jane withdrew from his lips to move down his body toward his pants, that reason pushed through the fog. He stammered incoherently as he grappled for her shoulders, trying to pull her back up — though another, insistent part of him needed her to continue whatever the hell she had in store for him — until he found his voice.

"Jane, wait. We need to talk about this. We need to— oh, fuck."

Resisting his attempts to pull her up with a strength he didn't know she possessed, Jane had snuck her hand beneath the waistband of his pants to close over his cock, pumping him with firm, mind-frying strokes. His mind went blank, absolutely empty, as all the nerve endings in his body were redirected to focus on her, and her hand, and the fire she was building within him.

Surrendering himself to her, he relaxed back against his pillow and released a long, heady sigh when her thumb swirled over his tip. He closed his eyes, and a second later, his hips jolted off the bed when he felt the warm wetness of her mouth wrapped around him. He didn't quite remember when she had taken off his pants, but that didn't matter — not when she was sucking him in like her life depended on it (and he was pretty sure his did).

"You're perfect, Janie. Bloody perfect," he mumbled, opening his eyes and reaching down to tangle his fingers in her hair at the nape of her neck.

His other hand lazily trailed over her bare arm slung over his thigh, tracing her collarbone before drifting down to cup her breast, which was clad in...silk? Curious, he craned his neck up off the pillow; it took more effort than expected, as his head felt like it was cased in cement. Peeking over the top of her head — doing wondrous, fantastic things — his eyes caught on the opalescent glint of white satin clinging to her body, curving just under her arse. It reminded him of the nightgown she had worn at the photoshoot months ago, until his fingers touched on the lace trip at the base of the straps and realized it was the exact same garment.

But he had seen her just before they retired to their rooms earlier that night, and she was wearing her standard t-shirt and shorts combo. She also didn't have her hair done, he thought to himself, releasing her hair from his hand and staring, baffled, at the smooth ringlets that fell over her face.

Confusion distracting him from her tongue — which was currently flicking its way down the base of his cock — he pushed lightly at her shoulder, making her pause and look up at him through her curtain of hair.

"Jane, what's going on? Why are—" he questioned, pausing to look at her closer. "Are you wearing makeup?"

She laughed, brushing aside her hair and wiping her mouth in one smooth motion as she crawled back up the length of his body until her mouth was tucked close against his ear.

"Don't you like it?" she asked, her voice taking on a girlish, sing-song tone that sounded oddly foreign coming from her lips. "Don't you like me?"

"Of course, but this doesn't make any sense," he mumbled, eyes rolling back in his head when her hand found his cock again, but he resisted the urge to fall back into oblivion. "You aren't making sense. You were upset; you were crying—"

"Why would I be crying?" she whispered, drawing herself up on her hands to hover above him. Her mauve lipstick had smeared messily across her lips and chin, and spidery streaks of dripping mascara flared under her bottom lashes. Even with her mere inches from his face, his eyes were having trouble focusing on her features, which shifted and blurred as if seen through a kaleidoscope.

Fuck. He was having a seizure, wasn't he?

"I love you."

Seizure or not, her words ripped the air out of his chest, and the earth seemed poised to tilt on its axis — until it really did, sending him jerking out of bed and falling shoulder-first to the floor, tangled in sweaty, cold sheets.

"Shit," he groaned, clutching his shoulder and seething at the dull ache. "Jane, can you—"

But Jane was gone. Whipping his head around, kicking off the sheets from around his legs, he looked to each corner of the room — empty. Disoriented and still reeling from the pain in his shoulder, he scrambled to his feet, calling for her in the darkness as he tripped his way to the door and yanked it open. Head still heavy on his shoulders and ears ringing, he fumbled with the doorknob to Jane's room for a few seconds before flinging the door open. The slam of the door knocking into the wall made him jump, forcibly dissipating some of the fog, followed shortly by Jane's startled half-shout, half-groan from the bed shoved against the corner.

"You were just— how did you— Jane?" he babbled, combing his fingers through his damp hair and turning back towards the door as if expecting another Jane to appear behind him. "Why did you go?"

"What," Jane muttered, the bed squealing with her movement as she sat up in bed and turned on her bedside lamp. "the fuck is wrong with you?"

Blinking in the sudden brightness, Roger lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the light. "You're… you're in your bed," he stated dumbly, confusion making his head ache.

"Because I was sleeping, bitch," she muttered, leaning forward over her bunched-up blankets and wiping her eyes drowsily. "What do you want?"

Adjusting to the light, his eyes scanned over her; she was wearing the same black Led Zeppelin shirt from earlier that evening. One of Brian's, or maybe his. She was decidedly not wearing any makeup, and her hair was matted to one side of her head. He swallowed meekly, grasping at his reality with a tenuous hold.

"But— but you were in my bed. You were...we were…"

Dropping her hands in her lap, Jane cocked her head to the side and glared up at him, eyes widening and then narrowing sharply when her gaze landed on the prominent tent in his boxers. "Did you seriously just wake me up to tell me about your sex dream?"

Shocked, he glanced down at his erection and blanched, covering himself with his hands. "What? No! It wasn't a— I mean, sort of, but you were—"

She shook her head, exhaling a humorless laugh as she looked toward the ceiling. "Unbelievable. You're un-fucking-believable."

Panicking, he held out both hands in defense, inching backward toward the door. "It wasn't like that, I swear. You came to my room, and then you got upset, and I was trying to comfort you, but you, ah, you were—"

"Spare me the details," she huffed, rolling her eyes as she leaned over to turn off the lamp. "Go to bed, Rog."

The room cast into blackness again, Roger remained rooted to the spot, equally mortified and distressed that none of it had been real. Her cuddling up to him in bed, rolling over and kissing him, touching him — it didn't happen.

She had said she loved him. And it wasn't real.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, looking in the dark for her huddled shape under the blankets. "I don't know why I said any of that. I don't know why I dreamed that."

There was a pause, and then Jane sighed, rolling back over to face him on her side. "You're stressed, scared, and sleep-deprived," she said, voice gentler now, but still matter-of-fact. "It's been a rough week, and...I don't know. Your subconscious is looking for connection or an outlet, or something."

Something just about covered it.

"I mean, I guess," he said glumly, reaching behind him for the door handle. He faltered, choosing his next words carefully. "But if you are anxious or worried about something, or if you ever need some company..." he trailed off, hitching his thumb over his shoulder. "You know where to find me."

Jane made a disgruntled noise in the back of her throat, and she turned back to her other side to face the wall. "If I was a therapist, I'd say you were projecting."

"You're probably right," he breathed, heart sinking to the floor of his chest cavity. "Well...goodnight."

She didn't respond, and Roger was left with even more questions than he'd started with when he'd gone to bed that night.

 

 


 

 

 

He didn't get much sleep after that — how could he? He spent the earliest hours of the morning replaying his dream in his mind, over and over again as if the details gleaned from his own subconscious held any deeper meaning beyond wanting Jane to return his feelings. It was deeply unsettling, the way his dream had offered him a glimpse of everything he wanted, but in the form of a nightmare.

It probably meant nothing — just a result of stress, indigestion, and an overactive imagination that had been pinpoint-focused on Jane for months now. Or maybe it was his brain shouting at him to pump the brakes before he drove himself off a cliff. Either way, love had lost its glow as quickly as it had appeared, and its power over him was more unnerving than inspiring. If he pulled more stunts like that — Christ, what was he thinking? Waking Jane up and telling her? — he could end up pushing her further away. And that was the last thing he wanted.

Roger was worried about Brian, stressed out about the album, and too obsessed with Jane for his own good; he only had the capacity to focus on one at a time.

Better choose carefully, Taylor.

At 8am on the dot, Jane entered his room without knocking. The door creaked — it always creaked. She was already dressed, loafers dangling from her fingers, as she switched on the lights.

"Get up, we're stopping by the hospital to have breakfast with Brian before we go to the studio," she said, flipping the switch on and off to make the light flicker above him.

Roger groaned, pulling his blanket up over his head — partly to shield his eyes from the burning light, partly so he didn't have to face her in the cold light of day after what he did last night.

"Go away."

"Can't. You're my ride."

"You've got a license; drive yourself," he grumbled, muffled under the covers. "Keys are on the coffee table."

Jane clicked her tongue, probably leaning against the doorframe with a cocked hip. Probably giving him a disapproving glare. "So you're not coming?"

And spend the morning sandwiched between two of his greatest anxieties? He'd have to pass.

"I'm tired."

"Brian would like to see you."

He swallowed thickly, clamping his eyes shut. "Brian has seen me every day since '69. He'll be alright."

The words tasted sour and wrong in his mouth. Of course he wanted to see Brian; of course he wanted to make sure he knew Roger was there for him. But...he couldn't do it. 

Jane paused, and then added softly, "Please, Rog? I'm not— I don't like seeing him like that any more than you do."

He knew that. Intimately.

"You don't have to go either," he said, dropping the covers down to peek up at her cautiously.

Her lips thinned, and she shook her head. There was the disapproval he'd been imagining. "Yeah, I do."

Roger lowered his eyes, turning away and counting the seconds until Jane sighed and walked out of the room. A few minutes later, the front door was opened, shut, and locked. And then the house really was silent.

"Fuck," he whispered into his blanket, repeating again, louder, "Fuck."

It was for the best, though. He could handle his feelings for Jane, and he could stomach his concern for Brian, but he couldn't do both at the same time; it was too much. And perhaps a little time away from Jane was good — time to work through his thoughts while he was still clear-headed, to make a plan, to not jump in head-first for once in his fucking life because if there was one thing he knew, it was that he was only going to get one shot at this.

A little bit of patience never hurt anybody.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

May 24, 1974

 

 

"Vexilum."

Jane squinted at the tiles Brian had just placed on the board, debating whether or not she should make a fuss and challenge a word that she knew for a fact was misspelled. Though not typically one to shy away from calling for a dictionary check during one of their many heated matches, she had been trying to take it easy on him. After all, Brian had been having a rather rough two weeks. She could let him have his made-up word.

But for the record, it was vexillum.

Finally able to sit upright for more than a few minutes without pain, Brian was propped cross-legged across from her on the hospital bed, a mountain of pillows supporting his back. His mother had brought him a pair of new, blue and white striped pajamas the previous day, at least two sizes too wide and two sizes too short, which hung loosely on his frame but didn't reach past his shins, making him look somewhat like an overgrown child. Or a tent. Jane had refrained from teasing him too much when he stepped out of his room's adjoining loo, having changed into the pajamas at Ruth's insistence. They were better than hospital gowns, however, especially since Brian had been feeling particularly modest with both Chrissie and all the pretty nurses walking about.

Chrissie, who had taken a summer job as a nanny while school was on break, was only able to visit Brian in the afternoons and evenings, while Jane and Freddie typically stopped by in the mornings before heading over to the studio. Roger, meanwhile, had been coming up with increasingly dubious excuses, visiting only a handful of times since Brian was admitted. It bothered her that he seemed to be avoiding the hospital altogether, but not nearly as much as it bothered Brian.

She knew it was upsetting for Roger to see his friend like that, but it upset her too, and she still managed to come most days. More than once, while visiting Brian alone or with Freddie and Mary, she had unconsciously leaned back or reached out her hand, before remembering the comfort she was looking for wasn't there at all. But then again, maybe it was for the best that they weren't spending every waking second of the day together anymore; Roger, and all the history that went with him, was a supremely distracting force. Right now, Brian had to be her focus.

(Still— she missed him).

"OK, and a double word score...what is that— 38 points?" she asked, reaching for the scorebook beside her on the bed.

A muscle in Brian's jaw jumped, and he leaned back against the pillows, crossing his arms over his chest. "Forty, actually."

That math didn't add up in Jane's head, and the quirk of Brian's brow seemed almost challenging in nature, but she swallowed her objection and nodded tightly, forcing herself to write down the score.

It had been two weeks since Brian was admitted to the hospital — two weeks of near daily visits, and Jane had been walking on eggshells for every minute of them. Brian had acclimated to the treatment as well as could be expected, but he wasn't out of the woods yet. The medications he was taking were rough on the body, and he was still throwing up almost half of what he ate. He hadn't told any of them this, but Chrissie had let it slip that Brian needed a steady flow of drugs to even have a chance at sleeping every night. Jane couldn't help but recognize the part she had played in his compounding pain and discomfort.

As much as Roger and Freddie assured her and each other that it was nobody's fault, Jane knew all of them shouldered some responsibility — they were all their brother's keeper, and she had turned the other way when faced with mounting evidence that Brian wasn't well.

Her anger with herself was matched only by her startled and anxious fury over Brian's reckless attitude toward his own well-being, but she couldn't air those grievances now — couldn't even think about them without hating herself. It worried her how quick to anger she could be around Brian; she had never met someone who she loved so dearly while simultaneously wanting to argue with every second word that left his mouth. It wasn't good. It wasn't helpful — not while Brian, and their friendship, was healing. So she was being careful. Delicate, even.

"Deaky, be a dear and fetch me some water, will you?" Brian asked, interrupting her train of thought as she pondered over her own Scrabble tiles. "I'm parched."

Jane sprung up from the bed, knocking some of her tiles off their rack. "Right, sure."

A nurse had left a pitcher and stack of plastic cups on the table beside Brian's bed, well within his reach. But no matter — she was there to be helpful. Coming around the other side of the bed, she reached for a new cup when Brian held up his hand.

"No, don't get a new cup. I left one on the sink; use that one."

She smiled tightly, gingerly returning the cut to its stack. "Right-o. Cup by the sink."

Brian waited patiently, hands folded in his lap, while Jane fetched the correct cup from the bathroom. When she returned, Brian was conspicuously checking out her Scrabble tiles.

Cheater.

Pretending not to notice, she returned to his bedside to pour him a drink. When she extended the cup to Brian to take, he just stared at it, and then back at her, smiling with just the corners of his mouth pinched.

"Actually, I think I need juice."

"Juice," she repeated dumbly, her eyebrows lifting. "You want...juice."

"Apple, specifically."

Mouth hanging open, she flicked through all of the responses at the top of the list in her head, rejecting all of them until she settled with a minimally seething "Of course."

Driven by her own need to prove she could keep her cool, she strode out of room, around the corner, and down the hall across from the nurse's station to the vending machines, only to find that they were out of juice boxes.

"Is there another machine on this floor?" Jane asked, turning around to face the nurse at the desk behind her.

The woman shook her head, not bothering to look up from her work. "Sixth floor, Oncology Wing."

"Perfect," Jane mumbled, heading to the stairs to continue her quest for a children's beverage.

Brian had never, in all the time she'd known him, drank apple juice. Maybe the IFN therapy was giving him strange cravings. Maybe he was just being a prick.

Not helpful, Jane.

Two flights up, the sixth floor vending machine was tucked away in a dark and remote corner of the Oncology wing, in a corridor that sounded like it housed some lung cancer patients, judging by the sound of the coarse, hacking coughs echoing on either side. Her father had developed a similar cough in the last year of his life, a cough that kept her up at night, long after he was gone.

She had been a good caretaker for him, too — washed his putrid sheets, trimmed his beard, administered his pills and never once complained, though she could have, that she was doing so much for a man who had done the bare minimum for her. No, she held her tongue — wanted to bite it off, if only to avoid a meltdown that her father would call embarrassing.

But that wasn't fair; Brian didn't know all of that. And Brian wasn't her father—not even close. There was a reason she had taken that part of her life and locked it away tightly. It wasn't helpful.

More coughing came from the room next to the vending machine. God, she hated hospitals.

Luckily, the second machine had juice in stock, and Jane hurriedly purchased two — just in case — and nearly ran out of the wing, recognizing the tell-tale tightness in her chest and needing to put as much distance between her and the incessant coughing as quickly as possible. She'd have to remember for future visits to avoid the sixth floor.

When she returned to Brian's room, breathless and slightly sweaty from her jog down the stairs, she found him lounging in bed reading the newspaper that had been left at his door, which he must have gotten up to retrieve. He had swept the Scrabble tiles back into their box, dumped unceremoniously on the floor beside him.

"I had to go to two different vending machines, but I found it," Jane announced, juice boxes held aloft. Using her foot, she brushed the Scrabble box and a few loose tiles under the bed. "Two apple juices, lukewarm and possibly expired."

Brian peered over the top of his paper. "Did I say apple? I meant grape."

"You—" she started, clenching her teeth to stop the rush of expletives from escaping. He definitely, definitely said apple.

But she wasn't going to get mad. She wasn't.

Taking a deep breath, she posted her hands at her hips, looking down at the ground intently before glancing back up at Brian, slightly more centered. "Sorry about that," she said, keeping a laboriously measured tone. "But I don't think the vending machines carry grape juice."

Brian stared back at her, blinking deliberately. "There's a Londis around the corner."

Jane knew which convenience shop he was talking about, and it was not "around the corner." She wasn't sure what he was playing at, but he was clearly in an ornery mood — then again, she would be too if she was stuck in a hospital bed all day, every day. With that in mind, aiming for compassion and landing somewhere closer to resignation, Jane set the juice boxes down on the table and painted a forced smile on her face.

"Fine. No problem," she said, walking around his bed to pick up her purse stowed on the window bench seat. "Anything else you need?"

Brian folded his newspaper neatly on his lap, looking up at her blankly. "Four, eight, three, and four ones is 19, times two is 38," he said calmly, cocking his head.

It took a moment for Jane to realize he was referring to his last Scrabble play. She fidgeted, feigning innocence.

"Pardon?"

"The score should have been 38, not 40. Not that I'm the mathematician, of course. That's more your area of interest, isn't it?"

Jane swallowed dryly, fiddling with the zipper of her purse. "I can make mistakes, on occasion."

"Vexillum has two L's."

"I wasn't familiar with the word."

"I learned it from you. When you played it, correctly, in a game with Roger."

She left her bag fall to the bench, exchanging a lo