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A Trick of Guilt

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This was only the second time they’d hung out together since meeting at the movie premiere and Rowan still found himself flustered every time he talked to Frances. It had been so long since he’d felt the raw, unhinged nerves of...well, it couldn’t be a crush yet could it? They hadn’t known each other long enough for that sort of thing. But he supposed it didn’t really matter because he knew it was something. And he really really liked it.

They were sitting on the floor of his bedroom and she wore an eccentric jumper covered in lips of varying neon lipstick shades. His jeans and t-shirt paled in comparison, though it would’ve been a tad strange for him to sport a cape in his own bedroom. The Ark’s first album played on softly in the background as she coated his fingernails in a deep burgundy to compliment his shirt. She had decided she should give their music a go once Rowan had word vomited to her about Universe City on their second meeting.

He tried dearly to be nonchalant about it all- him sitting right in front of her as she swayed her head along to the beat. Her not knowing who he even was had been the most striking thing about her, but that had more to do with her lack of interest in his fame. Having her listen to the music he’d put so much time and effort into right in front of him was something different.

The song ends and the next one starts up, Frances hums contentedly to herself, “I really liked that one.” Rowan smiles up at her and resists the urge to plug that he’d been the one to write it.

“You really weren’t disappointed I wasn’t another adoring fan?” She muses and he laughs at the exaggerated lilt she places on adoring.

“God, no. Bit of the opposite really.” Rowan looks to her curious face and laughs a bit self-deprecatingly, but her face remains serious. Him and Bliss had fought so many times because she didn’t understand his resentment of the girls. She saw them as just fans, but they were more than that. They held the power to pick apart every little thing he did until he felt like he wasn’t even the one deciding the meaning behind his own actions. He couldn’t blame her for not understanding, but it still hurt.

Frances’ eyes are so incredibly kind as she looks him that it makes him panic. It felt undeserving for his ungratefulness. “Not, not that I don’t, like, appreciate them-”

“Rowan.” Her hand rests on top of the one that hasn’t been painted yet, cutting his panicked rambling short. “It’s okay, I get it.”

His shoulders relax, “I always feel like such an asshole saying it.”

Frances takes a deep breath to focus herself, gnawing on her lip. It’s unjustly adorable. “When I first started helping Aled with Universe City, his identity was still a secret from the fans.”

Rowan nods in recollection, he’d seen some vague posts about the reveal of his identity on Twitter. The whole situation had mirrored too much of Rowan’s life to read further into.

She notices his nodding and smiles a little to herself, “You really listened to all of it?”

“Well,” He clears his throat in an attempt to draw away attention from his flushed cheeks, “It was really good.”

“I’ll be sure to tell Aled that.” She twists the cap onto the bottle and sets it aside. “He and his boyfriend will die just a little.” And Ronan snorts at that despite himself.

“Anyway, I’d been posting my drawings online for a good while before I started with him. So, once I started drawing for it some of the fans-”

“Started connecting the dots?”

Frances smiled a little sadly. “Yeah. They started looking into personal photos of mine, looking for clues about who the narrator was and, yeah.”

He let his fingers tighten around hers, “Frances, that’s awful.”

“I remember how awful it was, feeling watched like that.” Her eyes become glassy “Especially because Aled’s secret identity had been faring along just fine until I showed up. “

He bent down to meet her eyes glaring determinedly at the ground. “Still not your fault though.”

“No, I know. But still.”

“It fucking sucks.”

Frances smiles, wiping prematurely at her eyes to prevent any tears from falling. “It really fucking sucks. So no, I don’t think it makes you an awful person at all, Rowan.” She rubs her thumb comfortingly along his. And all at once he’s overcome with the relief of not having to feel guilty, of not having to apologize.

Rowan looks to their still connected fingers and notices that hers has now curled in on his, intertwining so they’re now properly holding hands. “Oh! Sorry. You just, um,” And now it's Frances’ turn to flush, “You have very soft hands.” Rowan smiles again and for a long while, he feels like can’t stop.