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Matters of the Heart

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[ Originally posted on Tumblr at https://sweet-ladyy.tumblr.com/ ]

 

 

 

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    “You think this dress is sexy enough to score with your friend Brian May tonight?”

    You had been perched on your roommate Tara’s bed, disinterestedly reading a book for class, while she tries on every potential party outfit in her closet. But at the words “score” and “Brian May” in the same sentence coming from her lips, you glance up in bewilderment.

    “Come again?!”

    She’s puckering her lips in front of the vanity and applying scarlet red lipstick—to match her scarlet red dress. “You heard me.”

    You scoff. “Brian’s not your type, Tara.” And you’re not his.

    “You sure? He’s a boy. I like boys. And boys happen to like me.” She steps back to examine her backside in the mirror. “Besides, word on the street is that Brian’s an ass guy.”

    Your mouth falls open in disbelief. I can’t believe this is happening right now…“What happened to that guy you were seeing last week?”

    “Eh, he was too buff. I’m thinking maybe I’m starting to like skinny musician types.”

    Of fucking course. You’re at a loss for words.

    Tara laughs, waving you off. “Nah, I’m just messing around. You know I wouldn’t go for your best friend, Y/N!”

    It takes you a moment to recover before you laugh along, relieved. Thank god. But a tiny part of you wonders to yourself if you’d really put it beyond Tara to pull something like that.

    God forbid the day someone like Tara tries to seduce someone like Brian. She’d eat him alive.

    “You ready to go?”

    You nod, stand up, and smooth down the little dress Tara lent to you for the night. It’s an ivory number, with a halter bodice and an eye-catching lace pattern. You could only pray you don’t spill anything on it.

    “Let’s go,” you say, grabbing your purse and coat. “Ronnie! Last chance to come with us!”

    Your other roommate—Ronnie—calls back from behind her closed door: “Thanks but no thanks! I have a hot date with Shakespeare tonight.”

    You smile and walk out the door with Tara. She giggles excitedly, bouncing as she struts down the hallway in her high heels. “And I’ve got a hot date with…some lucky bloke tonight!” She turns to you, grinning. “Maybe it’ll be Brian’s cute blonde drummer friend. Roger, was it?”

———

    It seems as if the entire student body of Imperial College London is at this house party tonight.

    The dingy rooms and narrow hallways of the house are jam-packed with a plethora of substance-abusing students, and the air is cloaked in a claustrophobic haze of smoke and body odor. Egregiously loud music pumps through the speakers, some kind of song from the Top 50 that sounds the same as the last one.

    You grimace and shoulder past a gaggle of guffawing boys dressed more like they attend the prep school up the road than your university. One of them inadvertently knocks his arm into your drink, and it spills onto your outfit.

    Fuck, that’s gonna leave a stain. Tara’s gonna kill me. Why’d you have to pour yourself a glass of the bright red Jungle Juice? You shoot the fucker a death glare that he doesn’t see.

    Speaking of which… You’re beginning to think your roommate, who’s been mysteriously AWOL for the majority of the party, had only used you as an excuse for coming here. You should have known better. Tara never used to invite you to parties…but she hates going alone. You had been the only person she knew that was free this evening.

    You barely recognize any other faces here. And maybe it’s the two Solo cups of Jungle Juice you’d already chugged or the too-loud music, but you’re lethargic and irritable and ready to go home to nurse your ringing ears.

    But then… You spot him, standing in the kitchen. A beacon of light, splitting across the boisterous crowd in the living room. A pinnacle of hope, in the form of fluffy hair and lanky limbs.

    Brian stands alone as he glances around the party and sips out of a red Solo cup, looking awkward and out of place, as per usual. You grin to yourself, forgetting all about the red stain on your borrowed dress as you pull your phone from your purse to send him a text message.

    “Look up, 9 oclock.”

    Not ten seconds later, Brian looks down to check his phone in his pocket. You giggle as his brows pull together and he looks up and around in confusion. He checks the text again, turns his head directly to the left, and makes eye contact directly with you. Your giggles turn into laughs as his confused expression turns into excitement.

    The two of you make for each other, meeting halfway in the middle of the living room, beaming the whole way.

    “Dust boy!” you exclaim.

    “Bookworm!” Brian greets you back. He squeezes you against his chest and starts spinning, taking you off the ground and with him. You shriek at him to put you down, which he only does after you’ve knocked into a few calves with your feet.

    “It’s been too damn long! How was your winter holiday?” you shout over the booming music.

    “Too bloody short,” he replies, beaming down at you. Fuck, you’ve missed the way Brian May beams at you. It’s as if you were the only person that matters to him, in this moment. “How was yours?”

    “Good! Well, kind of dull. I’m glad to be back.” You smile back at him, taking a moment to just smile and enjoy each others’ company.

    Brian May has been your best friend ever since you’d both sat next to each other Freshman year in English Comp I. You’d bonded over your mutual love of reading, writing, stargazing, music, and sitting in the front row. He’d been the first to show you the ropes around London, and you’d been the first to show him how to go out and have a good time. Now, two and a half years later, you and Brian are still best friends, despite the pursuit of two completely different fields of study.

    And you’ve been in love with Brian May ever since he fell asleep with his head in your lap watching Interstellar on your dorm room couch fall of Freshman year. But you’d never tell him that.

    “I came here with one of my roommates,” you say, “and I’m assuming you’re here with Roger? Where’s the bugger?”

    Brian opens his mouth to speak, but then you both hear the familiar, high-pitched laugh of the aforementioned drummer. You and Brian crane your necks over the crowds just in time to see Roger standing on the banister, smirking, with a bottle of champagne foaming out of the neck and over a crowd of giggling girls.

    “Why am I not surprised,” you laugh with Brian.

    “Typical. You want another drink? Looks like you mistook your dress for your mouth,” he says, gesturing to the stain on Tara’s dress you’d momentarily forgotten about. You scowl and thrust your empty Solo cup at him. He laughs and retreats back to the kitchen, returning a moment later with two filled cups.

    You sip and nearly gag. “The fuck is this?”

    “Whiskey and Coke,” he says.

    You grimace at the drink. “That’s foul. Where’s the Jungle Juice?”

    “They’re all out. You don’t like a classic Whiskey and Coke, woman? We need to fix your taste buds.”

    “I’ll tolerate it.”

    Brian laughs. “Alright, tell me about your holiday!”

    You summarize your less-than-exciting winter break happenings, but make sure to give him a play-by-play on the road trip you’d taken with your brother out to the country to watch a meteor shower, in which you’d been chased by a wild boar and almost gotten lost. Brian elaborates on his break and the time he’d spent at home with family. He’s stayed busy working on a huge research project on “zodiacal dust” (hence your nickname for him), practicing guitar, and designing virtual ads to recruit a new bassist for his band, Queen. You perk up at the mention of his band, wanting desperately to know how the group is faring.

    “John Deacon?” you say, repeating the name of the band’s latest auditionee. “I know him! We’re friends!”

    “You know the guy?” Brian asks in disbelief.

    “Yeah, he’s a freshman, but we took Government together last semester. He was my study buddy.” John had at first been outrageously quiet, but once you’d formed a study group with him and broken the ice, you got to see his true self. He’s quirky, loves a good laugh, and can murder someone with just a few words. John had become a good friend of yours; you’d even gone out to get lunch with him a few times last year.

    One time, John had been running late to class on the day of a major exam, and texted you in a panic asking you to stall for him. You’d pulled the fire alarm and the test was postponed. John had thanked you profusely and insisted that he owed you a favor. You’ll probably never cash that favor in, but the sentiment is nice. You like John.

    You frown and wonder why you hadn’t thought of texting him to catch up, making a mental note to text him in the morning.

    Brian tilts his head in acknowledgment. “You know, now that you mention it, I think he brought you up a couple of times. More than a couple, actually.” Brian waggles his eyebrows at you, and you scoff. “Anyway, the bloke’s bloody brilliant. Electrical engineering major. Knows all about amps and speakers and recording technology. Strange guy, though. Kinda brooding and quiet.”

    “Sounds like someone else I know,” you jest. Brian rolls his eyes.

    “His trial performance with us is on Friday. You should come.”

    “You don’t have to ask me twice,” you say. You’re glad for John; you’d been encouraging him to join a student band for months, now, even though Queen had already had a bass player until a few weeks ago. You know he’ll get along well with the likes of Brian, Roger, and Freddie.

    Just then, a familiar flash of red sequins in your periphery alerts you to look up. Sure enough, your roommate Tara is dancing wildly in the middle of the makeshift dance floor. There she is.

    “Ah, your flatmate,” Brian comments, following your gaze.

    “I came here with her. Lost her an hour ago. Glad to know she’s still alive, if not…fully competent,” you deadpan, watching as she starts practically grinding against three different guys and sloshing her drink around.

    Brian watches her, too, but with a completely different expression on his face.

    “Oh, you dropped this on the floor,” you say cynically, pretending to pick something off the ground and hand it to him. “Looks like it’s your jaw. Stop drooling.”

    Brian snaps his mouth shut and looks away from Tara. “‘M not drooling,” he mutters.

    “You were definitely drooling,” you mock him. You’ve been friends with Brian for long enough to witness him ogling his fair share of girls, but never like that…and never your roommate, for god’s sake.

    You think back on the little joke Tara had pulled earlier today, about scoring with Brian. You were unconcerned about it earlier. But now, it makes your blood boil.

    “She still dating that one rugby guy?” Brian asks nonchalantly, still glancing Tara’s way every so often.

    “Who knows.” You internally seethe at his words, but you manage to just shrug casually and down the rest of your drink. “Fuck. This is the shittiest house party I’ve ever been to,” you comment.

    Brian looks at you and laughs again. “You wanna dip?”

    You nod. “Yeah. I could crash for a solid twelve hours right now.”

    “You sure you wanna go home?” Brian asks. “I mean, if I know you as well as I think I do… I know you’re probably at least a little bit hungry for those shoddy waffles you always get at the 24-hour diner.” He smiles a little.

    It’s as if he just asked you to marry him.

———

    The weary-eyed hostess at the diner perks up only somewhat at the sight of her two most frequent patrons coming in. You and Brian follow her to your usual table: the booth in the back corner. On the way, you notice you’re not the only drunk college kids here tonight.

    You flop down on your usual side of the booth—the side against the wall—and laugh at yourself for knocking your hip into the whole table. You’re a little drunker than you’d thought; the stroll across town from the house party to the diner had certainly been interesting.

    Brian sniggers as he watches you across the table. “Still can’t hold your alcohol, bookworm?”

    “I can hold my alcohol, dumbass,” you say, even though you’re slurring. “And that nickname is really outdated for me, you know. I haven’t sat down to read a novel for fun since freshman year.”

    “Y/N. You’re an English major. Besides, once a nerd, always a nerd. And that’s how I’m always gonna remember you.”

    “Oh, and that’s coming from the wannabe astronaut who studies space dust for fun?”

    The waitress comes by, and you flip through the menu to decide what you want. You and Brian order your usuals: a cheese omelette and black coffee for Brian; a platter of waffles and a strawberry milkshake for you.

    “I don’t know why you even bother to look at the menu,” Brian smirks. “Pretending like you’re gonna change things up, like you’re not gonna order waffles and a strawberry milkshake. But you do, every time.”

     “Wow, you’re really gonna fucking call me out like that, aren’t you?”

    “That’s what friends are for.”

    “Don’t pretend like you’re not gonna ask me for a bite of my milkshake and a sip of my waff—wait—”

    Brian guffaws, kicking you under the table. “You’re so drunk!”

    “No, I’m not. And admit it. You live vicariously through my sweet tooth.”

    “It’s very American of you.”

    You fall in comfortable silence for a little until the waitress to bring out Brian’s coffee. She tells you, as per usual, that your milkshake will be ready in a couple of minutes. You scroll through Facebook while you wait.

    “Why is everyone we know getting fucking married?” you say, showing Brian yet another cheesy proposal announcement on your phone.

    Brian scoffs and sips his coffee. “Freddie told me it’s cuffing season. Whatever that means.”

    “You’d never heard of cuffing season?”

    “Not until recently. Sounds kinky, though.”

    “Fuck off,” you laugh. “It means everyone is getting into relationships.”

    Your last dating pursuits had been unsuccessful at the least and flat-out humiliating at the best. Meanwhile, it seems like just about everyone you know around you is settling down.

    “I noticed. It’s annoying,” Brian agrees. “Even Roger, the great philanderer of women, recently found some girl he fancies—”

    “Oh, speaking of Roger!” you exclaim. “You’re gonna piss yourself. Look at this.” You hold out your phone so Brian can watch someone’s Snapchat story you’d pulled up. It must have been taken at the house party tonight. In the video, Roger is smirking as he kneels down in front of some topless girl leaning over a table.

    “Um, Y/N?” Brian says in alarm. “What the fuck am I about to watch?”

    “Just wait, it’s funny!”

    “Everything’s funny to you when you’re pissed, Y/N. Is Roger… Is he chugging a stream of beer down her back?”

    “It’s an ass luge.”

    “Please never say that ever again.”

    Roger wipes his mouth in the video and grins cheekily at the camera before slapping the girl on the ass. A crowd of enthusiastic onlookers cheers. You and Brian both make a sound of amused disgust.

    “Thank God we left when we did,” you say.

    “Fucking Christ,” Brian says, facepalming. “When was that posted?”

    “A half hour ago,” you say. Brian groans again. Roger and Brian are roommates, and this wouldn’t be the first time the drummer’s done some stupid shit. Rog’s excuse is always that it’s college and that you only have four years of your life to have this much fun. Unfortunately, the boys met Freddie the Enabler about a year ago, and now the antics are even wilder.

    “That wanker’s gonna get himself killed and send me to an early grave,” Brian says. “Just wait ‘til you see what he did last week!”

    Brian pulls his phone out and opens his text conversation with Freddie, scrolling up to find the video. It was taken from the ground below some building that looked like a dorm, and the filmer—presumably Freddie, based on the hysterical laughter and shaky video quality—is zooming in on Roger scaling up the balcony.

    “Where the hell was he going?” you laugh.

    “He said he was trying to visit some bird, but the dorms don’t take visitors after dark.”

    “Is this the same bird he’s steady with now?”

    “Knowing Roger, probably not.”

    “Oh, Roger.”

    The waitress brings out your milkshake then and places it on the table in front of you. Every time you order the milkshake (which is literally every time), Brian always shakes his head in disdain, but joke’s on him, because he’s always the one who ends up finishing it for you.

    Only this time, you don’t register the nefarious glint in Brian’s eye until he’s snatched the milkshake from in front of you.

   “Bri-AN!!!” you groan, and reach for your purloined dessert, but Brian swats your arms away playfully. He raises an eyebrow and inches the straw closer and closer to his mouth.

    “You wouldn’t dare,” you caution him. “First sip is for me.”

    Brian just laughs and brings the straw between his lips. He knows you hate not having the first sip. You fling yourself across the table, nearly knocking his coffee over with the effort, and yank the glass away from Brian. But he just pries your hand from the glass and pins it to the table while he takes a long drink of your milkshake. You giggle and try to pull your hand out from under Brian’s.

   “Let go of me, Brian,” you say cheekily. He just wraps his fingers around your wrist and forces it to the table even harder.

    “Make me,” he smiles, and sips your milkshake again casually.

    Well, that’s sexy as fuck.

    But your other hand’s still free, and you make a surprise ambush to his ribs with your thumb.

    “Fuck!” Brian chortles, retaliating from your jab and freeing your pinned hand to clasp his own hand to his mouth. You snatch your milkshake back, satisfied. “You made me snort milkshake up my nose.”

    “That’s what you get, fiend.”

    “One day, I’ll get you once and for all, Y/N Y/L/N.”

    You study him deviously as you sip your milkshake. “Well, Brian May, think what you want, but you’ve just confirmed it for me.”

    “Confirmed what?”

    “Your darkest secret.”

    “Oh, yeah. And remind me what that is?”

    “That you’re a total dom.”

    Brian nearly chokes on his coffee then, spilling even more down his shirt and on the table, and you snigger at his bewildered expression. “Excuse me?”

    “You heard me. With the way you just looked at me, pinning my hand down to the table… I’ve wondered for a while now what you’d be like in bed, and now I’m certain.” Did those words seriously just leave my lips? You must be drunker than you think.

    Brian chuckles and gives you a strange look.”Have you, now?”

    In an effort to keep things from getting too weird, you add, “Unless you’re secretly a sub and you’re just hiding it.”

    You watch his face carefully, although he seems to be guarding his expressions well. Brian looks down at his coffee mug, tracing the edge of it with his thumb, and smiles a private sort of smile.

    “That seems a little more accurate,” he says. And then he looks up at you through his eyelashes.

    Your stomach jolts like you’ve been electrocuted. That’s a flirty look. Is he flirting with me? Is this flirting?

    But then Brian’s gaze drops and his expression falls, his brows pulling together. “Damn,” he whispers quietly.

    The warm feeling in your stomach turns sour. “What is it?”

    “You’ve just got me thinking about how I’m gonna end up forever alone,” Brian says with a sardonic chuckle.

    You blink in disbelief as Brian goes on. “I mean, shit, I’m twenty-one, and I’ve barely been in more than one serious relationship? That’s pitiful. I feel like I’ve been stuck in a rut lately. And a dry spell.” He laughs to himself again. “And like you said, every damn person around us are getting together or engaged or hitched. It’s depressing as shit.”

    You suck in a long, cooling breath, and try your very hardest not to slam your head on the table for letting yourself get your hopes up.

    “Yeah, I know how you feel,” you mutter, not sure what else to say.

    “I mean, not that I really care about fucking around the way Roger does, don’t get me wrong.” Brian speaks to the wall next to the table, looking more like he’s reciting his inner monologue to himself and less like he’s making a conversation with his best friend. “It’s just lonely. Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get all depressed on you.”

    “Hey, don’t blame yourself. It’s almost two a.m.,” you say, holding out your phone so he can see the time. “Everyone gets a little sad at two a.m.”

    “And the worst part?” Brian goes on, moving his lanky arms around in wild gestures as he talks. You’d almost forgotten how mouthy this boy gets when he’s drunk. “I’m pretty sure even if I had the courage to ask someone I liked to go out with me, I’d get turned down!”

    You grind your teeth in frustration. The urge to wave your hands in front of his stupid, perfect face and scream, I’M RIGHT HERE!! ASK ME OUT!!! is nearly impossible to ignore.

    “Well, that’s not true,” you say instead, maybe a little too curtly.

    “You wouldn’t know. You could have anyone you wanted, Y/N.” Brian’s eyes suddenly grow wide. “I didn’t mean to say that.”

    The irony is so palpable, you can’t help but snort a laugh. You’re almost livid with frustration at him, but Brian takes your laugh as a sign of embarrassment.

    “I’m sorry,” Brian says quickly. “I promise I didn’t mean it like that. I think I’m just jealous of you.”

    “Don’t say things you don’t mean,” you snap, but he’s not looking at your irritated expression, so he smiles.

    “Boys just seem to throw themselves at you left and right!” he exclaims. “I mean, John Deacon for one. Wanker’s head over heels for you.”

    Your brain feels like it’s spinning. You’re overwhelmed with the whirlwind of insipid, contradictory signals you’ve been getting from this boy. “What are you even talking about.”

    “I mean, like, I’ve barely spoken to the kid four times, and he never fails to ask about you or talk about how gorgeous you are.” He faces the wall again and not you directly. “It’s bloody maddening! And he’s not the only one.”

    You huff in exasperation and cross your arms. “Well, jeez, if I’d known I make you that goddamn angry, Brian, I’ll just leave—”

    “What?” He finally looks over at you in surprise at your tone. His hands reach out toward you, placating. “No, wait, shit, Y/N. I’m not upset with you. That’s not what I meant.”

    “Well, what did you mean?” you demand.

    “I just… I…” He sighs. “I don’t know! I’m drunk. I’m sorry.”

    You shoot him daggers. But he looks so concerned that he’s offended you, that you can’t help but sigh. “I know, Brian. It’s okay.”

    He still looks like a kicked dog. It’s pitiful. You start laughing. “It’s okay!! I’m drunk too!” you reassure him.

    Finally, he cracks a smile. Things should be okay between you two now; they always end up okay, even when you fight. You’re still kind of pissed off at Brian, but you don’t want to make anything awkward. You don’t want to taint your friendship with him. And you sure as hell don’t want him to find out you’ve secretly been in love with him for two and a half years.

    The waitress brings out your food. At the sight and smell of the fluffy, syrup-soaked waffles before you, you moan dramatically.

    Brian laughs. “Let me know if you’re about to honk all over your waffles. I need to be prepared.”

    “Shh,” you hush him and close your eyes. “I’m saying my prayer of thanksgiving to the waffle gods for sending this blessing.”

    You and Brian dig in, not saying anything for a while. He scrolls through his phone while he eats his omelette, unaware that you’re watching him, deep in thought.

    Is Brian seriously jealous of you…for having boys “throw themselves at you left and right?” He is wildly mistaken. He must be batshit crazy. You haven’t been on a proper date in…God knows how long. Not when every subpar bachelor at Imperial is beyond compare to the boy sitting across from you right now…

    The news about John’s little crush on you is unsurprising, however. The boy had followed you around like a puppy. Not that you hadn’t appreciated the sentiment, though. You like John. He’s kind and soft-spoken and friendly.

    But so is Brian. You watch as the guitarist sips his coffee again. Sure, he gets a little brash when he’s piss-drunk, but who doesn’t? He’s the most kindhearted, passionate, caring man you’ve ever met. He’s effortlessly smart and heedlessly graceful. He’s tall and handsome and completely ignorant to the matter. He fully commits himself to everything he pursues, from his studies to his band to even his eating habits. And you’d be damned if he didn’t one day regard a woman he fancies the same way.

    But why can’t it be me?

    You sigh and chew your bite of waffle a little too long. You’ll need to suck it up and accept the fact that you’ll never go on a date with Brian May.

    Unless…

    An idea brews in your head. A dangerous, stupid idea.

    “Hey Brian,” you say. “Wanna make Tinder accounts?”

    He looks up in surprise. “Come again?”

    “Tinder! We should make Tinder accounts! Give me your phone.” You reach for his phone in his hands, but he pulls it away too quickly.

    “I’m not letting you make me a Tinder account!” he says, but he’s laughing.

    “Oh, come on, it’ll be fun!” you encourage him. A plan begins to formulate in your head. “We can make it super meme-y and funny. I’ll make one too.”

    Brian just gives you a funny look. “What’s the point?” he says. “What would I do with it?”

    “Oh, come on, Brian, don’t tell me you don’t know what Tinder’s used for.” You raise an eyebrow at him and he turns bright red.

    “I know what Tinder‘s used for, Y/N. That’s why I don’t want to use it.”

    “Well…we don’t have to use it for that!” you say.

    “Then what would we use it for?”

    “Just dating!” You gnaw on your cheek before continuing: “we could…go on a double date.”

    “A double date??” Brian laughs again, still looking at you funny. But when he realizes you’re serious, he raises his brows. “What do you mean”

    “Like, you’d find a Tinder date, and I’d find a Tinder date, and we would all four go somewhere together. That way, we can be sure neither one of us ends up alone on a date with a psycho.” You’re desperately hoping he doesn’t think your idea is as stupid as you do.

    Brian purses his lips as he considers it. He’s actually considering it.

    Then he shrugs, unlocking his phone and opening the App Store. “Sure, why not?”

    Holy shit!

    You cheer to yourself and open your own phone, downloading the app Tinder. This could work perfectly. You’d find some random fellow, Brian would find some trashy girl, you’d go on a double date…and if all goes well, Brian would realize what he’s missing out on with you, dump his date, and kiss you beneath the sunset while the camera fades to black.

    Maybe you’re still drunk.

    “How does it work?” Brian asks.

    “You make a profile and write a bio, then you look at other girls’ bios and swipe right on the ones you’re interested in.”

    “Ugh, I have to make a bio?” Brian says. Then he slides his phone over to you. “I don’t know what to write. You write it.”

    You smile evilly at him. “You know not what power you’ve just granted me.”

    “Let me do yours,” he says, reaching for your phone.

    “No!!”

    “Oh, come on, I won’t make it that bad.”

    Giving in, you slide your phone across the table to him, as he gives you his.

    “Oh, I know just the picture you should use. Can I look through your Facebook photos?” He nods, and you open his Facebook to find the perfect portrait of him; a photo you’d tagged him in, holding an umbrella and sticking his tongue out. You save the photo to his camera roll and upload it to his Tinder profile, before writing the best bio you can think of in your drunken state.

    “Let me see what you’ve written,” Brian says. You show him the profile and snicker to yourself.

    It reads: “Brian, 21. Guitarist. Studies space dust for fun. Favorite movie: Interstellar. Can initiate a docking maneuver better than Matt Damon.”

    Brian snorts. “You’re horrible.”

    “Let me see mine!”

    You reach for your phone. Your profile reads: “Y/N, 21. Lover of Charlotte Brontë, waffles, and—if you’re lucky—you tonight 😏”

    “No way!!”

    “If you keep yours, I keep mine, Brian says.

    “Fine.”

    The two of you swipe through cringy profiles and laugh as you finish your meals. Brian laughs way too hard thinking up the most ridiculous pickup lines (for example, “Mind if I send my probe into your wormhole?”) It ends up being a lot more fun than you thought, and by the time you pay the bill and stand to leave, your stomach aches with laughter.

    Brian offers to walk you back to your apartment, even though it’s just a few blocks away from his. The January air is bitingly cold, and you huddle into your coat, shivering. But Brian doesn’t notice because his phone vibrates, and he pulls it out to examine the notification.

    “It says I got a match,” he says in bewilderment.

    “Open it up and check!” you say, craning your head over his shoulder to see.

    Brian opens the app and reads the opening screen, which reads, “It’s a Match!”

    No. Way.

    “‘Tara Super Liked you’?” Brian reads aloud. “Isn’t that your flatmate?”

    No. Fucking. Way.

    Next to Brian’s profile picture is none other than Tara, your crazy, flirtatious, hedonistic roommate. Smiling her seductive little smile, right next to Brian’s picture.

    “I don’t believe this,” you whisper.

    “Tara likes me?” Brian ponders aloud, and the excitement in his voice is palpable and hits you like a ton of bricks. “Tara super likes me? What does that even mean?"

     "When did you even swipe right on her?" you say, trying to hide your ire. Brian would have had to have swiped right on Tara first for it to become a match.

     "I dunno," he says in awe, "I wasn't even looking at everyone I swiped right on. Oh my god. What should I do?”

    “I dunno, message her,” you say, and immediately wonder why the fuck you said it.

    Brian beams and pulls up the messenger, reading aloud as he types. “Heyyy… Taaaara… Whaaat’s….up?” He shows it to you. “Should I send it? Wait, that’s lame, hold on…”

    “No, it’s fine,” you mutter.

    “Okay, sent. Wow, that was quick. Here I was, thinking I wouldn’t get any matches at all, and I get one in the first fifteen minutes. I wonder what she’ll say about going on a double date.” Brian glances at you. “You don’t mind, do ya, bookworm? I know she’s your flatmate and all…”

    “No, I’m happy for you!” you say. You’re starting to feel numb, and not from the cold.

    “Only if you say so. God, she’s so gorgeous,” he says, looking again at Tara’s profile picture and grinning to himself. It just about breaks your heart.

    You reach the stairs leading up to your apartment building, then. “I’m gonna go to bed,” you tell Brian.

    “Wait, but we haven’t even swiped through anyone on your Tinder yet!”

    “I’ll do it on my own.” You can’t get out of here fast enough. “I’ll let you know if anyone wants to do the double date. Thanks for the fun night, Bri.”

    “I’ll see you soon, alright?” He pulls you in for a quick hug. “Bye, Y/N.”

    “Bye, Brian.”

    The anger sinks in as soon as you get in the elevator of your apartment. Cursing, you smash the third floor button too forcefully and drop your head to your hands. The memory of Brian’s awestruck face as he watched Tara dance at the party earlier is seared into your brain. Jealousy courses through your bloodstream like a poison.

    Fucking Tara. Of course. And now you’ll have to go on a goddamn double date with your insufferable roommate, the love of your life, and some scumbag rando from Tinder.

    Unless…

    Without a second thought, you pull your phone out. I’ll show Brian. I’ll give him a taste of his own medicine.

    Pulling up a new text message to John Deacon, you type: “Hey John! Long time no see 🤗 I’m wondering if i’d be able to cash in that favor you owe me. Can we meet and talk sometime tomorrow?

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Chapter Text

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    You awake to a soft knock at your bedroom door. It must be obscenely late—or early in the morning—and the sky outside your third-story window is dark. The drabby furniture of your room is swathed in the shallow yellow light of the bedside lamp you must have forgotten to turn off.

    The door creaks open. A familiar head of curls peers inside. Brian.

    “What are you doing here?” you want to ask, but you can’t move your lips. Your brain is too addled with sleep. Brian just gazes at you, hovering beneath the doorframe.

    But before you can ask another question, Brian crosses the room to your blanketed form in the bed. And he bends down, caresses your face in his hands, and kisses you.

    A thousand haphazard memories ignite in your imagination… The memory of Brian’s sharp-toothed smile. The heartiness of his laugh. The intensity of his gaze that always remains the same, no matter if he’s gazing at a knob on his amp or at someone he loves.

    The onslaught of memories nearly tears your attention away from the present moment. You long to remember the detail of his soft lips on yours, his calloused hands against your cheeks, the quiet moan from his throat as you lean up and kiss him back.

    “Brian,” you try to say when he pulls away.

    “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time, Tara.”

    Tara?

    Brian’s voice echoes through a tunnel of consciousness. You suck in a breath as reality floods back in, hitting you like a ton of bricks and forcing your eyes to snap open. You suck in a cool breath, finally awake.

    Fuck me.

    You groan and rub your eyes, trying to purge the stupid dream from your mind. Of course, not even your subconscious could let you forget your idiotic crush on Brian May—or the fact that he’s now smitten by your slutty roommate.

    Dim daylight from your apartment window gives no indication of the time, so you check your phone. It’s past noon, though you would have never guessed it by the dreary London weather outside. But you had had a late night, and it had been a crazy week, so you definitely needed the sleep.

    Three people had texted you since you fell asleep, and you scroll through your messages to check them. The first is from Freddie:

     Any luck last night ? Saw you and Bri take off together. xoxo

    You sigh and write back to him:

     Nope, I’ll tell you later.

     You hadn’t intended on Freddie finding out about your little crush on the guitarist. But you also hadn’t intended on sharing a bottle of wine with him at a party last year after everyone else had crashed. And when there’s wine involved, you tend to spill your deepest, darkest secrets.

    Your heart sinks when you see the messages from Tara. She sent you a screenshot of a text conversation with Brian, which is riddled with suggestive connotations and winky emojis. The text coupling the screenshot reads:

    Y/N! You’re a wingwoman! Thanks for setting this up for me! 😏

    Motherfucker.

    You groan, throw the covers off your body, and roll out of bed. Does Tara seriously think you set her and Brian up? This situation could not get any worse.

    “Tara!” you shout, emerging from your room to knock on her closed door. There’s no response. “Tara, we gotta talk!”

    “She never came home,” Ronnie calls from her room. You cross the living room and peer through the door at your other roommate. Ronnie’s sitting at her desk, a graphite pencil flitting over her sketchbook in dark lines. She’s the creative one of the three of you roommates, always drawing or painting.

    “She didn’t?” you ask.

    “Nope,” Ronnie says, popping the P. “Who knows where she crashed. Let’s give her another couple of hours before we start to worry.” She frowns at you in concern. “Are you okay, Y/N?”

    You nod, brushing your hair out of your face. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”

    “You seem stressed.”

    Part of you is hard-pressed not to just spout all your problems out to Ronnie, no sooner said than done. But you figure she already gets enough of that from Tara. So you just shake your head. “I’m alright. What are you working on?”

   You walk to her side to peer over her shoulder at the sketch. She’s working on a pair of eyes and the beginnings of a nose.

    “You’ll make fun of me, but it’s my crush,” Ronnie admits with a sly smile.

    You raise your eyebrows. “Ooh, and who might that be?”

    “You’ll see when I’m done,” she says, turning back to her drawing. A sudden pang of senseless fear hits you: what if Ronnie likes Brian, too? But mercifully, the pair of eyes on the page bears no resemblance to Brian’s deep-set hazel ones.

    You go to the kitchen to make yourself breakfast and shoot Tara a reply:

    Didn’t set anything up…what a strange coincidence that you two matched! Do you like him?

    You revise the text way too many times before sending it, puffing your cheeks out with an exasperated sigh. Tara replies back surprisingly quickly, a quick succession of three short texts:

     sure. he’s tall

     you know what they say about tall guys ;)

     ask him about me when you see him next!!

     Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. She’s serious about getting with him. FUCK. This is your fault. Your own damn fault for trying to manipulate the situation. Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me. You leave her on read, not wanting to conjure up a reply.

     All you wanted was to set up a doomed-to-fail double date, make Brian a little jealous, and make him see what he’s missing out on with you. And in the process, you merely played matchmaker and took yourself out of the picture entirely.

    Well, there’s still at least one way you can regain control of the situation…

    John Deacon is your last hope. And luckily, he’s the sender of your last unread text from the night before.

    Hey, Y/N! Lets meet up at 2pm… Do you like coffee? 😁😁😁😁

    You sigh and smile before texting back to confirm the time and place. Only John Deacon would be excited about owing someone a favor. John Deacon—Deaky to his friends—your goofy Government study-buddy. He never failed to showcase unrelenting enthusiasm every damn time you met up with him to study for Government together last semester. Deaky-level enthusiasm is an instant self-esteem booster.

    You vaguely remember the comment Brian had made last night, about the young bassist being “head over heels” for you. Something—a twinge of guilt?—makes your smile falter. You’re pretty sure Brian had been exaggerating about John’s crush, but…  Is what you’re about to ask of your friend overstepping the line?

    Nevertheless, you’re about to go on a double date with the love of your life and your slutty roommate—whom you’d inadvertently set up on your own accord. You’re not about to take some random fuckboy as your own date.

    And if there’s anyone you know will agree to anything you ask of him, it’s Deaky.

    You finish your breakfast and go to get dressed. It’s a cold, rainy day, and you don’t want to dress too cute, so you throw on a blue sweater and some leggings with a pair of rainboots. You grab your umbrella and take off to meet John at a coffee shop down the street.

    Right as you step onto the rainy street, you get a text. It’s from Brian. Stomach flipping, you read it.

    Have you found a lucky bloke for our double date yet?

    You leave him on read, too. You’ll have an answer soon enough.

    Glancing around the busy coffee shop, you finally spot John sitting at a table in the corner. He’s looking down at a journal and pen on the table. His fluffy brown hair has grown long since you last saw him, reaching down to his shoulders now. His bottom lip is between his teeth in concentration—just the same way he used to concentrate on his Government textbook. He looks up toward the door as you walk in, and his whole face explodes in a smile.

    Now, you love a good smile on a man. And you’ve met a lot of guys with noteworthy smiles. But John Deacon? John Deacon’s smile is world-class, earth-shattering, show-stopping. It grows wider and wider as you walk toward him. It crinkles his grey eyes and illuminates the dreary coffee shop like a source of sunlight. It’s unlike nothing else, and utterly contagious.

    “It’s been so long!” you exclaim as you approach, unable to resist the urge to grin back at him if you tried. John stands to give you a big hug. He smells nice, like vanilla and spice.

    “I’ve missed you, Y/N,” he says in his charming drawl. You find yourself fixating on the lovely little gap between his teeth. “I haven’t seen you since finals last year. Did I tell you I ended up with a B-minus in Government?”

    “No way!” You high five him, and he beams. “And to think you would have failed.”

    “You’re a godsend,” he says, looking down shyly. “Do you, uh… Do you wanna sit? I’ll buy whatever you’d like.”

    “Oh, you’d do that?” You sit in the chair he pulls out for you. “Thank you. I’ll take a chai tea?”

    John departs to stand in line at the barista. You notice he’s left his journal open on the table. The page is filled with scribbled, handwritten notes; you quickly look away when you realize they’re song lyrics you’re probably not meant to see. John used to always have song lyrics scrawled haphazardly in the margins of his Government notes. You hope his trial gig with Queen on Friday goes well; the band could be a great outlet for John to share his songwriting skills.

    Returning a couple minutes later with two piping mugs and two scones, John sits across from you and smiles again.

    “How was your Christmas holiday?” he asks.

    You give him the same spiel you’d given Brian the night before, about the road trip with your brother and the stargazing and the wild boar. John listens with rapt enthusiasm, laughing at all the right places and making his own jokes. John’s laugh is so much different from Brian’s hearty laugh; when Deaky laughs, it comes in short giggly bursts that seem to bubble out of him beyond control. You love it.

    He tells you about his holiday spent with family. You love the way the blossoms of rosy pink grow on his cheeks as he talks.

    “Oh, I meant to say earlier, but congratulations!” you exclaim.

    John frowns. “On what?”

    “On Queen! I always told you that you were good enough.”

    “Oh,” he says, smiling shyly as he sips his drink. “Well, thank you. I’m not technically in the band yet, though. Fred told me he’s doing everything he can to make it happen.”

    “He must think you’re really good.”

    “Eh, just that I have potential,” John says, waving it off. Ever so humble. “They still want me on trial for this weekend.”

    “Friday night, I heard?”

    John nods. “Will you be there?”

    “I wouldn’t dream of missing it!” You lean toward him conspiratorially. “Brian had a lot of really good things to say about you. ‘Bloody brilliant,’ I believe he said.”

    “Really?” John says, eyes big as moons.

    “Yeah. And Brian’s picky. You’re a shoo-in, John.”

    His eyes crinkle at the corners. He opens his mouth, hesitating to speak. “You and Brian are still really close, aren’t you?” he asks carefully.

    Well, you kind of set yourself up for that easy of a segue. You take a deep breath. “Yeah, since freshman year. But we aren’t… We’re still just friends,” you reassure him, but you can’t help but frown a little.

    “What is it?” he asks quietly, mirroring the furrow of your brow.

    “Well actually…” you say, sighing, “that’s kind of why I wanted to talk to you. I have a huge favor to ask you.”

    “Sure, anything, Y/N.”

    Fuck, he’s so goddamn agreeable. “Anything?”

    “Sure. It can’t be that bad.”

    You begin to feel a tendril of guilt wrap around your throat again. So, as usual, you crack a joke to lessen the blow. “What if I asked you to murder someone for me?”

    John pretends to deeply consider. “Well, you’re a fair-minded person, so I’d trust your reasoning was sound, whatever the cause…”

    He’s so fucking sweet, it’s killing you. So before it can choke your words, you blurt out in a rush:

    “Will you make a fake Tinder account and pretend to match with me? And then be my fake date on a double date with me and Brian and my roommate?”

    John stops chewing his scone to look at you in disbelief. Saying it all out loud, you realize how much it is you’re asking of him. It’s certainly a big favor…or set of favors.

    Fuck. You bite your lip, suddenly afraid he’ll turn you down. It needs to be Deaky.

    When he realizes you’re serious, he gives a strange chuckle. “Okay, you’ve gotta explain. This just smells like a good story.”

    Your heartbeat quickens. A repressed part of you definitely knew all along that you’d be needing to tell the truth to John about your feelings for Brian. You’re hesitant, though; the more people who know, the higher the chance your secret will get out.

    But, alas… John is nothing if not trustworthy. More than Freddie, that’s for sure.

    So you heave a sigh and begin to elaborate on your longstanding feelings for Brian, how you’ve been in love with the astrophysicist since the night he fell asleep with his head in your lap watching Interstellar two years ago, how he’s the epitome of your lifelong definition of the “perfect boyfriend.” And how you don’t stand a chance with him.

    Talking about it all to someone as attentive as John is too easy. He watches you with concern and nods his head understandingly as you vent.

    You describe your evening with Brian at the party. “And then he just…” You huff out a breath. “You should have seen the way he looked at Tara. You know, my roommate, the slutty one?”

    “Is this…the one they call Sister Tara?” John says.

    You guffaw. “John! You’re a freshman! How did you know about that?”

    “She’s got quite the reputation,” he says with a mouthful of scone.

    Freshman year, Tara made a name for herself as “Sister Tara” in the first month of classes by perpetuating a story that she fucked her Religion professor on a field trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral. You hadn’t been roommates or even friends with her at the time, and yet, the story made its rounds to your own circle of campus gossip. You’re not even sure if the rumor is true or not, but never once has Tara made an effort to curb her reputation.

    “So Sister Tara is the girl Brian’s lusting after,” John prompts.

    You nod solemnly. “He was ogling her! Oh, it made me so mad. And then we left the party and went and got waffles—”

    “Brian ordered waffles?”

    “—got waffles, and he tried to steal my milkshake, so I called him a dom, and then I thought he was starting to flirt with me—”

    “You called him a what?”

    “Stop interrupting me! I called him a dom, then we flirted a lot, but then he went off on this whole spiel about how lonely he is, and how no one will ever love him.” You scoff. “Anyway, then my dumb ass decided to suggest he and I make Tinder profiles as a joke, and go on a double date.”

    John coughs a laugh. “And what exactly were you hoping to accomplish with that?”

    You throw your hands up in frustration at yourself. “I don’t fucking know. I think I just wanted to cheer him up.”

    You don’t miss the way John raises an eyebrow doubtfully.

    “Okay…maybe I was thinking it’d be the closest I could get to going on an actual date with Brian, but… I wasn’t thinking very clearly, okay?”

    “Blimey, Y/N,” John laughs your name, shaking his head in pity. “Why couldn’t you just ask him on a real date?”

    He says it like it’s the obvious answer. You glare him like he just asked you to stand on the coffee shop table and give everyone a strip show.

    “Not an option,” you say simply.

    He looks like he wants to ask why, but decides against it based on the finality of your tone. “So you need me to fake-match with you…why?”

    “Because Brian fucking matched with Tara. My roommate Tara.” Oh, that skank. “She super liked him. And he practically jizzed his pants right then and there.”

    You sigh and look up at John’s wary face. “…What?”

    “I nearly forgot how colorful your vocabulary is.”

    “I know, I know, I’m vulgar. But that’s not the fucking point.”

    He laughs. “Sorry. It’s just funny.”

    “Deaks… Will you do it for me?” you ask desperately.

    John gnaws on his thumbnail, thinking. “Well, why me?” he asks. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to help a friend in need—and I know I still owe you a favor—but why can’t you just go with someone from Tinder?”

    “I don’t wanna go with some rando!” you say in disgust.

    “Why not?”

    “Tinder boys are all gross and…horny. And I don’t want to lead anyone on.”

    John’s breathing halts. He looks away from you, his nostrils flaring just a little. You realize your mistake and feel immediately bad.

    “I mean—” you stutter, “I mean, I don’t wanna lead you on either… I wouldn’t do that, John, that’s not fair to you. So… you and I would go as just friends. Just friends, on a double date. And now you know upfront… We’ll be just friends.”

    He nods. “Just friends,” he affirms.

    “Just friends.”

    “…Just friends, but not to Brian.”

    You open your mouth. “I—”

    He laughs. It’s a short bark of a laugh…but his eyes are amused, not angry. “Come on, Y/N. That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Make Brian believe that we’re dating?”

    A whorl of heat reddens your face. “John…”

    “Listen, I’m not mad,” he says, “but I can see right through this. You want to make Brian jealous.”

    “I don’t want to make Brian jealous!” you refute. But the rise in the volume of your voice says otherwise. “That’s not what this is about. You’re reading into this way too much!”

    “Okay,” John says and made a placating gesture. You hate the contrast of his quiet voice against your angry, defensive tone. So you breathe deeply and bring it down to his level.

    “It’s not about making him jealous. I just… Everything got all messed up when Brian matched with Tara. And it’s my fault. I’m the one that made it happen. So now I have to figure out how to deal with it, and…  I need to go on this double date with someone I trust.”

    You twiddle your thumbs in your lap, suddenly desperate that John agrees to your request. He’s perfect for the job…someone you know and trust, but also someone Brian knows.

    John chuckles to himself, gathering his thoughts. “I understand,” he says. “But I still don’t understand why you can’t just talk to Brian about how you feel.”

    Is he serious right now? You wrap your arms around your torso. “I didn’t come here for a therapy session, John. I came here to see if you’d do this for me or not. And I’m really holding out on you to say yes…especially since, like you said, you still owe me for pulling the fire alarm for you.”

    John doesn’t react, but your own words ring in the air, and you realize they were ruder than you’d intended. Your shoulders droop.

    “That was impolite. I’m sorry, John… I didn’t mean to be rude to you.”

    “It’s okay,” he says with a kind smile. But you still feel bad. It’s beginning to become clear that you might be asking too big a favor from him.

    It’s also becoming very clear that John Deacon is way too good for you.

    “I’m sorry,” you say again, moving to grab your bag. “I shouldn’t have even asked. I’m gonna go. This was a bad idea—”

    “No!” John exclaims, shooting a hand out to grasp your forearm. You freeze, looking between his eyes and his fingers around your arm. He just squeezes you reassuringly, pulling you back down to the table. “It’s okay. Really! It’s okay. Finish your tea, at least.” He chuckles. “Besides, I didn’t say no yet.”

    You purse your lips but settle back into your chair. “It’s a lot to ask, though.”

    John considers. “It is a little risky. On my part, at least. Brian might hate me.”

    “Hate you? Why would he hate you?”

    “It’s pretty clear he likes you, Y/N. This whole jealousy scheme you’re going down is bound to work. I mean, new potential bandmate dating his best friend…”

    “Brian won’t be jealous. He’s obsessed with Tara.”

    John just looks at you skeptically. “You sure about that?”

    “Yes, I’m sure. Like I said, he practically jizzed his pants when she super liked him—”

    “No, I meant, are you sure that he won’t be jealous? I’m just saying… I don’t know Brian very well yet, but I know you’re his best friend out of anyone. And I think you’re gonna need to be prepared for him to react a lot more strongly than you’re thinking.”

    “He won’t,” you insist. “He likes Tara. He doesn’t like me like thatHe’s seen me fart too many times. I’m just a friend to him.

    John shakes his head. “You sure about that, Y/N? I think you underestimate yourself.”

    You bounce your leg under the table impatiently. “I’m estimating myself very accurately, thank you very much. Besides,” you add grumpily, “have you even seenTara? She’s eye candy. I can’t compete with Tara. I don’t stand a chance.”

    “You really like to play the self-deprecation card, don’t you?”

    John’s words hang in the air between you. There he goes again…the John Deacon-famous murder-by-words. You gnaw on your bottom lip.

    “I don’t mean to be that way,” you say, your voice now smaller. “I’m just… I’m just…” Sad. Heartbroken. Jealous. Hopeless.

    You can’t finish your thought, but John still nods, understanding. “I get it,” he says.

    He’s so good. He’s too good. Even now, as he’s looking at you with that perfectly naive, understanding, sympathetic expression…his brows slightly turned down, his thin lips parted, his eyes glued right to yours…you can’t stomach the idea that you’re about to use him like the most convenient tool in the toolshed.

    “You really don’t have to agree to this,” you say quietly. “Really. I shouldn’t drag you into this. I’ll figure out something else. It’s my own damn fault I got into this mess… You were just the only person I could think of who might agree…”

    “And the only person who has an obligation to do you a favor,” John says with a little wink. “I haven’t forgotten what you did to help me, Y/N. You literally saved my ass. I was gonna fail Government if you hadn’t pulled the fire alarm for me that day.”

    You chuckle a little at the memory. “Professor Frost was so pissed off.” He still probably has no idea who the culprit was.

    John watches you closely for a couple seconds, before sighing gently and pulling out his phone. “Alright, Y/N… I guess I’m doing this.”

    “You will??” you squeak. Yes!! You want to launch yourself across the table and hug him, but that would give off the wrong impression. So you just pat the table excitedly. “Thank you thank you thank you!!!!”

    You smile to yourself as you watch John download the Tinder app. But your spirits fall as you consider what kind of an impact this might have on John’s life…and his chances with Queen and the trial performance on Friday.

    “John.” You clear your throat. “I don’t think it’ll be you who Brian’ll be upset with. If he does get upset, I think it’ll be with me.” I think. “Don’t even worry about it.”

    He looks up at you and smiles again, but it doesn’t crinkle his eyes the way it usually does.

    “Okay,” he says kindly. You get the impression he’s masking something from you. Maybe that’s not why he looked sad. Maybe you’d missed the mark completely.

    John’s spirits lift again quickly, though. You and he spend the next half hour setting up his fake Tinder account, giggling at potential profile pictures and bios. John has a much dirtier mind than you’d thought, and you nearly choke on your tea when he shows you the bio he’d decided on:

    John, 19. Last week, I snapped my G-string on my bass. Looking for a girl who wants to recreate that.

    “Jesus Christ, Deaky!”

    “What?”

    “You know, it’s gonna be more than just me who sees that!” you tell him.

    “Oh, really?” he says with mock surprise.

    “Your bio is public!”

    He just shrugs and gives you a cheeky smile. You laugh and poke his forearm.

    “You’re really living up to your nickname, you know?” you tell him.

    “Which nickname?”

    You show him the name you saved his phone number under in your phone contacts:

    Freaky Deaky 🕺

    John laughs loudly. “When did you change it to that?”

    “It’s always been Freaky Deaky in my phone, dummy. You’re the one who put it in like that when you gave me your number.”

    “Oh, yeah.”

    You help him choose a profile picture—a silly shot of him sticking his tongue out at the camera. You don’t tell him how similar the photo is to the one you’d chosen for Brian.

    Now that he’s all set up, he starts swiping through all the other profiles to find yours. You scoot your wooden chair over to sit beside him so you can peer over his shoulder.

    “Nope, nope, nope, nope—oh, she’s cute, but nope, nope—ooh, yes.” He swipes right on a toothy redhead with dimples.

    “Hey, that wasn’t me,” you say.

    “I know, but she was pretty. Okay. Nope, nope… Yes, nope, yes, yes, nope… Ooh, she’s a physical therapy major, that’s sexy.”

    You smack John’s arm, and he laughs silently.

    “Oh, I found you!” he says as soon as he finally comes across your profile. He shows you his phone in satisfaction. “That’s a good picture of you! Very flattering.”

    “Thanks,” you say, feeling a stupid little blush coming on as John scrolls through all of your pictures. When Brian had helped you choose your profile pictures last night, he’d wanted you to upload the most embarrassing pictures of you he owns. Most of them taken while you were drunk, red-faced, and laughing. You’d vehemently declined, and decided instead on a series of much more flattering pictures. The first one is your favorite; a picture from a music festival last summer, smirking mysteriously, the skin of your torso glowing beneath a flowery crop-top.

    You’re sure a dozen Tinder fuckboys have all seen the picture of you. But yet, for some reason, it makes you more nervous to know that John is admiring it right now.

    “Okay, here we go.” John makes a show of dramatically swiping right on your profile. “Done!”

    Your phone buzzes once. You glance down to check the notification from Tinder:

    Somebody likes you. 😍 Open Tinder and swipe right to see who!

    You quickly locate John’s profile yourself, swiping right and sending a notification to John’s profile that you’ve matched.

    “Woo, we did it!” you say, holding your hand out. John smiles and gives you a high five.

    “So what’s the plan?” he asks. “When’s the double date?”

    “I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to tell Brian, and I’ll just text you once we figure it out.” You take a screenshot of the page that indicates you’ve matched with John. You’ll send it to Brian later today and work out a plan with him. The idea makes you nervous.

    You focus on your cup of chai tea, glancing up at the nineteen-year-old boy sitting across the table from you, his face passive as he scrolls through social media. John must truly be a talented bassist, if he caught the attention of the hard-to-impress Brian May. If your suspicions are correct, Brian’s band is going to start seeing a lot of success very soon. And John could very well be a part of that transition to fame.

    What if Brian does get jealous? Isn’t that what you’re hoping for, anyway…?

    But what if he actually takes it out on John? Have you accidentally just destroyed Deaky’s one and only chance to be a member of Queen?

    John glances up and catches you staring at him. He flashes you that silly, perfect, unwitting smile of his. You smile back at him and lift your mug. “Cheers,” you say.

     “Cheers,” he replies warmly, downing his last sip of tea. You finish yours as well. It’s lukewarm, but it’s as if it burns your throat.

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚: *

 

A/N Bonus: Here are the two photos Y/N picked out for Brian’s and John’s Tinder profiles… See the resemblance? LOL

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Another bonus: I was torn on what Deaky image/gif to use in the header, but this one was in a close second:

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Deaky with coffee!! ugh my swooning heart ♡ ✧・゚:* 

Chapter Text

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✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

Roger’s POV

    Roger wakes up Sunday afternoon with his head pounding like a drum. He would chuckle to himself at the “drum” pun, but any degree of laughter will only result in even more pain. This is the worst hangover he’s had in months, and his mind feels almost in as much of a haze as the London skies outside.

    He steps out onto the dreary street, lighting his first cigarette of the day. Roger had woken up in an unknown room—a dorm room, presumably—and had to peel himself from the clutches of an unknown girl beside him in an unknown bed. He had pulled his clothes on and left as soon as possible. It’s a shit move, he knows, not to at least bid the girl farewell or leave his phone number.

    But he has better things to do with his Sunday afternoons.

    Coffee. I need coffee.

    Roger makes his way to the coffee shop down the street. It’s packed with customers, but he stands in line anyway, checking all the missed notifications on his phone. Freddie had texted him a few times with updates about a recording studio willing to let their band use the space after-hours next weekend. Brian had sent Roger a Venmo request that morning to pay for half the groceries, the wanker. There’s a slew of Snapchat videos, probably starring him, which he’s not in the mood to open right now—

    A familiar laugh cuts across the coffee shop. Roger glances up and scans the room…to see Y/N, Brian’s best friend. She’s sitting at the back of the coffee shop, her back to the window. She’s giggling, a hand over her mouth, her nose crinkling.

    Roger smiles, deciding to go over and say hello after he orders his coffee. Y/N has always been a nice presence to have around; she’s friendly and quirky and the perfect person to bring out Brian’s wild side.

    Haha. Brian’s wild side. That’s a good one.

    But then Roger notices who Y/N is sitting across the table from…

    It’s John Deacon, their new prospective bassist. He’s laughing right along with Y/N, showing her something on his phone that must be hilarious. She smirks at him and pokes his arm, then moves to scoot her chair to sit beside John and peer over his shoulder. They both keep giggling, nudging each other and looking…well, they look madly in love.

    Yuck.

    Roger can’t make out a word they’re saying, but the body language is clear. Hell, Roger even witnesses the two sharing a prolonged gaze before a blush breaks across Y/N’s cheeks and she looks away bashfully.

    Since when did Y/N and John start dating? Roger thinks.

    He orders his coffee to-go. The two lovebirds in the corner haven’t even looked up from each other; they clearly don’t want to be interrupted. So Roger leaves the shop and makes his way home, trying to ignore his annoyance…and envy. It seems like damn near everyone he knows is getting into relationships now.

    Maybe he shouldn’t have left so quickly from that girl’s dorm this morning.

    Roger unlocks the door to his and Brian’s shared flat. Brian is lounging on the sofa in the living room, scribbling madly on a notepad, his acoustic guitar perched on his lap. The TV is on, playing one of Brian’s boring-looking Netflix space documentaries on low-volume.

     The guitarist glances up upon Roger’s entry and looks him over.

    “You look like shite,” Brian says.

    “So do you,” Roger retorts, even though Brian looks perfectly decent and well-rested.

    It’s one of their standard greetings.

    Roger kicks off his shoes and grabs a banana from the kitchen. His head still aches, and he has the sense that it’ll be aching for the rest of the day unless he eats something.

    “Did you get my Venmo request for groceries?” Brian asks. “I went shopping this morning.”

    “I’m not paying forty pounds for your groceries that I won’t even eat,” Roger says with a mouthful of banana.

    “Rog, you’re eating the banana I literally just bought. We had an agreement about groceries. Come on, cough it up.”

    “Fine.” Roger pulls his phone out and pays his roommate for the groceries. “Happy?”

    “Thank you. Where’d you, uh… Where’d you go last night?”

    God, Brian could be such a mum. Roger grunts and plops down on the couch beside Brian. “What’s it to ya?” he replies jokingly.

    Brian grins and chucks his guitar pick at Roger. “Just wanna know if you caught any more diseases I should be aware of.”

    “No, and fuck you,” Roger says, before frowning in consideration of the girl he’d woken up beside. Well, I sure hope not…

    “I saw a few Snapchat stories with you in them.” Brian sneers and begins fingerpicking a little melody absentmindedly. “An ass luge, Rog? Really?”

    “Wow, I’m surprised you know that’s what it’s called, mate!” Roger jests. Brian tends to be pretty out-of-the-loop on modern slang. “That party was insane. You left too early.”

    “I think I left at the perfect time. So… How’s Jessica?”

    “We’re not dating anymore,” Roger says.

    “Oh, I thought…?”

    “She was just in it for the shag.”

    “Isn’t that usually you?”

    “Bugger off, Brian.”

    “So where’d you sleep last night?”

    “Some random bird’s bed.”

    “Rog, do you realize the irony of what you just said?”

    “No…?”

    Brian laughs. “Whatever. Hope you had fun.” Brian’s phone on the coffee table buzzes, and he picks it up. Whatever text it was made him smile like a buffoon.

    “Briiiiiiian,” Roger says teasingly, trying to peer over at his phone. “Who’re ya textin’?”

    “No one,” the guitarist says, whipping his phone away from Roger’s gaze. But he’s still smiling.

    “Brian, did you finally lose your virginity?” Roger teases.

    “I’m not a virgin!!!!” Brian rebuts, and the drummer sniggers. Brian’s always so quick to defend himself on the subject of sex. Roger’s pretty sure his roommate isn’t actually a virgin…but it’s a running joke between Roger and Freddie.

    “If you must know,” Brian says, “I started talking to a girl from Tinder.”

    “You made a Tinder???”

    “…Is that so surprising?”

    “Yes!”

    Brian scoffs. “Well, she seems to dig me. I asked her to go with me on a double date Y/N is setting up.”

    “Damn, Bri. You’re gonna get some. What’s she look like?”

    Brian smiles excitedly and pulls up a photo of his date. She’s bloody gorgeous, with long blonde hair and a promiscuous smile. She looks like a girl Roger would try to hook up with after a show. And though Roger’s never met her, she looks familiar.

    “Her name’s Tara,” Brian says.

    “Oh! That’s Sister Tara!” Roger exclaims, finally recognizing her. “You’re hooking up with Sister Tara?”

    “We’re not hooking up yet—wait, what?”

    “Y’know. Sister Tara. The church story?”

    “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Roger.”

    “You don’t know?” Roger gapes.

    “No…?”

    “Never mind.” Poor kid. It’s best if he doesn’t know.

    Brian frowns, shaking his head. “She’s Y/N’s flatmate this year. She’s really cool.” He picks the discarded guitar pick from the floor and begins strumming a new progression of chords on his new acoustic.  

    “…You’re going out with your best friend’s flatmate?” Roger asks.

    “Yeah?” Brian looks up, continuing to play. “What? Y/N said it was cool with her.”

    “Hmm,” Roger considers, standing and crossing the room to discard his banana peel. “I guess she wouldn’t have a right to get mad.”

    “Nah, Y/N’s cool like that.”

    “Yeah, especially since she’s dating our new bassist and everything.”

    The strumming stops. Brian freezes as if Roger’d just electrocuted him. His eyes peel up slowly to meet Roger’s. “What?”

    “Oh, did you…not know?” Roger asks. Shit.

    “Y/N…and John Deacon?”

    “I saw them together at the coffee shop just now.” Roger cocks his head at his friend. “I thought you and Y/N tell each other everything?”

    “We do tell each other everything,” Brian says slowly. His nostrils flare.

    “Well, I’m only assuming they’re dating,” Roger says, drumming his fingers on his chest anxiously. “It sure looked like they’re dating. They were smiling and giggling and touching each other’s arms—”

    Brian mutters a string of curses. He throws the guitar off his lap and stands quickly, running his fingers through his curly hair.

    “Hold it, mate,” Roger says quickly, following Brian as he storms into his bedroom. “I could be wrong. They didn’t, like, snog or anything.”

    “Did you talk to them?” Brian snaps.

    “No, I left before they saw me. You’re not seriously pissed off, are you, mate?”

    “She didn’t tell me anything about John,” Brian practically growls. He unzips his backpack and packs his books and laptop. “She told me last night they were friends. She didn’t say anything about dating him…fucking hell…”

    “Slow the fuck down,” Roger says. “They could have just been catching up over coffee!”

    “They were touching each other. You just said it yourself, Roger. She lied to me.”

    “Why are you so fucking angry?” Roger says. “You’re the one who’s talking to her flatmate on Tinder.”

    Brian narrows his eyes. “That’s completely different! I didn’t lie to her about being just friends with someone when I’m actually dating them in secret! And he’s supposed to be our new bassist, for fuck’s sake.”

    “What do you care who Y/N dates?”

    “She didn’t tell me anything about it! She said they were just study buddies.” Brian barks a laugh.

    Roger studies his friend for a second. “You’re not seriously jealous of Johnare you?”

    Brian looks as if he’s practically about to explode. “I’m not fucking jealous!”

    “You’re sure acting like it,” Roger accuses, raising an eyebrow at him. Brian’s mouth snaps shut. “It’s not really fair that you’d get upset with Y/N when you’re dating her flatmate.”

    Brian gnaws on his cheek. “Y/N doesn’t care. She’s the one who made me get a Tinder, anyway.”

    “So if she didn’t get mad when you matched with her flatmate, don’t be an arse about her and John.”

    Brian looks away, sighing. “I guess you’re right. You really think they’re dating?”

    “‘M just telling you what it looked like.” Roger watches Brian zip up his backpack and hoist it over his shoulder. “Where are you going?”

    “I’m going to ask Y/N about it.”

    “Alright, mate…just don’t accuse her or get your knickers in a twist or anything.”

    Brian’s phone buzzes in his pocket, then. He pulls it out to check it…and his mouth falls open.

    “What?” Roger asks. Brian says nothing, so Roger peers over at his phone screen to read four new texts—from Y/N.

    Hey Dust Boy!

    Found a taker for our double date

    Found John Deacon’s profile and swiped right, and we just so happened to match!

    You’re cool with that, right?

    As they read, Y/N sends another text—a screenshot that says, “It’s a Match!” with Y/N’s and John’s profile pictures.

    “Shit,” Roger mutters. Brian is dangerously still as he soaks in the texts. Roger nudges him with an elbow. “Bri—”

    “She’s lying to me,” Brian says quietly.

    “You don’t know that for sure…”

    “Well, what else would it mean? If Y/N ‘just so happened’ to match with John, why would she have been on a date with him at the coffee shop…?” Brian wonders aloud.

    “Maybe she matched with him last night or earlier today, and they met up for a coffee date?” Roger offers.

    “Maybe… Wait, look at the time marked on the screenshot.”

    Roger looks. The time in the photo reads 3:11 PM. The current time is 3:30 PM.

    “Jesus,” Roger says.

    “That means…that means they literally just matched,” Brian whispers, beginning to put the pieces together. “And they’re together right now…on a date.”

    “Brian—”

    “Oh, my god,” he says angrily. “She’s lying to me. She’s fucking lying.”

    “It could just be a misunderstanding…”

    “No. I can see exactly what happened. She literally helped him make a Tinder profile and pretended to match up. Fuck,” he hisses and begins to pace the room.

    “Well, why d’you reckon she would try to lie to you?” Roger asks.

    “They’ve probably been dating for fucking months and she doesn’t know how to tell me.”

    “You reckon she’s just trying to ease you into it?” Roger says, frowning. “That doesn’t make sense. Something doesn’t add up.”

    “I don’t fucking know anymore,” Brian huffs.

    “Well…what are you going to do, then?” Roger asks carefully.

    “I don’t know,” Brian says again quietly, sinking down onto the edge of his bed and staring at the wall dejectedly.

    “Are you going to go talk to her about it?”

    “I said I don’t fucking know, Roger,” Brian snaps and glares at Roger. The drummer holds his hands up.

    “Okay,” he appeases. “Sorry.”

    “I just want to be alone,” Brian mutters, looking away.

    Roger nods understandingly and leaves the room, closing the door behind him. Brian’s always been a complete tart about his whirlwind of emotions. But Brian’s reacting much more strongly to all of this than Roger would have anticipated.

    But why…? Brian seemed pretty happy about the developments with Tara. So why is he acting so weird about Y/N and John?

    Brian had said he’s not jealous of John. But Roger can’t for his life think of any other explanation.

 

———

 

Y/N’s POV

    It’s merely a Monday afternoon, and even so, Kensington High Street is a hub of activity. A bustling crowd of shoppers congregates around the front entrance to Kensington Market,  braving the January cold as they gawk at the outdoor vendors selling jewelry and pastries from tented stalls. Ever since it reopened a few years ago, the Market has attracted a high volume shoppers, all eager to try the bohemian shopping experience as it once was in the seventies and eighties.

    You and your roommate Ronnie push past the crowd. Unlike the other people here, neither of you are here to shop.

    “You really think Freddie’s gonna like my drawings?” Ronnie asks as she follows you inside the front doors of the market.

    “I can almost guarantee it.”

    The stagnant air encased within Kensington Market is warm and fragrant with the smells of patchouli, Turkish sausage, and body odor. The clientele of the market is a strange hodgepodge of people; modern hippies, New Age fanatics with their crystals and incense, street performers, and lots of tourists. Ronnie follows you closely as you make your way through the crowd, ignoring the foreign-accented beckons of vendors selling their wares.

    “Which story?” Ronnie asks, having to shout over the cacophony of bartering and bird chirps.

    “Third!”

    The two of you make your way upstairs, where the haze of unidentifiable smoke grows thicker and thicker. The third floor is less noisy, yet no less a spectacle than the first. It is said that the farther one progresses into the reaches of the market, the stranger the wares being sold become. Sure enough, as you and Ronnie continue your journey upstairs, the more traditional venders—the shoe-repairers and handmade jewelry sellers—begin to dissipate. You simultaneously laugh and feel bad when you see Ronnie’s reaction to a stall selling exotic reptiles. The Market is not for the faint of heart.

    Freddie and Roger’s stall on the third story is lodged between a poke-and-prod tattoo stall and a curtained room without a label. Roger had once said it was rented by a man from Copenhagen who sells drug paraphernalia. You and Ronnie pass the curtained room and reach the tiny, coat-closet-sized space where the two boys sell their collection of vintage clothing.

    You peer around the titanic frame of a balding man bartering with Freddie over a men’s coat, which looks much too small for him.

    “Yes, sir, that’s an authentic Edwardian-era highland frock coat,” Freddie announces. He notices you behind the man and gives you a wink. “One-hundred-percent wool, fashioned with whalebone buttons, and lined with fox fur—”

    “This is faux fur, not fox fur,” the balding man grumbles.

    “…lined with faux fox fur, a classic number with a vintage twist, fit for any dashing gentleman, sold to you at a discounted price of only nineteen—”

    “A heap of bollocks!” The man humphs and casts the coat to the dusty ground before storming off.

     Freddie scoffs and scoops the coat up off the floor, swiping sawdust from its fabric. Then he looks up at you and breaks into a grin.

    “Oh, Y/N, dear! I’m sorry I haven’t greeted you properly yet!” he exclaims, leaning over the table to envelop you in a hug.

    “Hi, Freddie,” you giggle. His hair, dark in color and feathery from being straightened, smells of lilac and tickles your nose as you hug him back. He pulls away, holds your shoulders at arm’s length, and kisses both of your cheeks.

    Freddie Bulsara is simultaneously your most favorite and your most obnoxious friend in London. He’s brash and extravagant, and he never fails to know exactly how to make you feel special. His sense of fashion is transcendental, yet impeccable; lately, he’s been incorporating a rainbow scheme in his accessories. He’s complicated, and he knows it. And, in his own words, his preferred emotional state is ‘whiny bitch.’ He’s your most trusted confidant…and yet, he has an inevitability to spill secrets like coffee stains on a white shirt.

    “You remember Ronnie?” You gesture to your roommate behind you, who smiles shyly.

    “Yes, of course I remember you, flower!” He beckons Ronnie over for a hug and two kisses. “Have you visited the market before?”

    Ronnie shakes her head. “Never.”

    “Ah, well, let me be the first to tell you, welcome to the Rag Trade!” Freddie gestures grandly to the assortment of clothing that hangs on rolling racks in no apparent order. “The finest gentlemen’s outfitter in all of Kensington—and the occasional women’s find, too, not to worry. Selections trace their origins from Soho to Buckingham and everything in between—”

    You laugh and cut him off. “No offense, but can it with the shpiel, Fred. We’re here to sell, not to shop.”

    Freddie scrutinizes Ronnie before recognition floods his features. “Oh, you’re the one with the creative knack!” he exclaims. “Y/N’s told me so much about your artwork. I demand to see it at once.”

    He stares curiously at the satchel in Ronnie’s hands. She brings it up to the table and unzips it, pulling out a stack of meticulously-drawn sketches in graphite pencil. Freddie gasps and sorts through them all, holding each page as if it were made of fragile glass.

    “These are divine,” he gapes. “Ronnie, what are you doing selling these here? These belong in the National Gallery.”

    “You flatter me,” Ronnie says, blushing in excitement.

    Freddie’s not wrong, you think to yourself. Ronnie’s sketch work is beautiful. “How much will you buy them for?” you ask him.

    “These sketches will sell like peanuts. Ronnie, darling, how much are you asking for them?”

    “I mean, I’d give them away for free if you’d like,” Ronnie says.

    Freddie waves her off. “Pah! Nonsense. I’ll buy them all from you. Your portraits are lifelike…and my god, look at that shading…

    The two artists break into a discussion of shading techniques, and you begin to space out. You’re just happy that Ronnie can finally discuss with Freddie her knack for drawing. Suddenly, a jet of cool air in the conch of your ear makes you yelp and whirl around.

    It’s Roger, in his standard greeting for you, a shit-eating grin on his face.

    “Fuck you, Roger,” you laugh.

    “Fuck you, Y/N,” he replies, before nudging you affectionately with his elbow. He’s got an armful of new finds—presumably purchased for cheap from other stalls, only to be re-sold at their own. A ridiculous fur coat is draped over his shoulders. His blond hair is unbrushed, as per usual, and his neck is covered in fading purple hickeys, also as per usual.

    “What brings you ladies to the Rag Trade?” Roger asks, walking around the table to sit beside Freddie. He pats the bench beside him and gestures for you to sit, too.

    “We’re selling Ronnie’s sketches,” you say, moving to sit on the bench beside him. Ronnie and Freddie are still engaged in a discussion of her creative process, and the art jargon is beyond your comprehension, so you lean closer to Roger in a side conversation. “How’s business going?”

    “Ah, you know. Usual comings-and-goings, the occasional bite. You look good, Y/N,” he says with a smirk that never fails to make you feel warm.

    “You too, Rog…” Your eyes dart to his bruised neck. “I like the whole ‘I Was Ravished Last Night And You Weren’t’ look.”

    He draws a hand to his neck and gasps in mock offense. “I would never. Yesterday was the Lord’s Day. This is from two nights ago.”

    “Ever the pious one, are you?”

    Roger laughs. “Thanks for dropping by. Work tends to drag during the week.”

    “I’m sure you and Fred keep yourselves entertained.”

    Freddie glances up at the mention of his name. “Don’t ask him about his periscope,” he interjects before turning back to Ronnie.

    “Periscope?” You glare at Roger, who looks completely unabashed. “Do I want to know?”

    “Definitely not.” Roger’s grin grows cheeky.

    A pair of customers spot the Rag Trade and come over to take a look. Roger stands, welcoming them to peruse the wares. You smile up at Roger, who is making a gallant effort to schmooze the women with compliments and bargains.

    Freddie and Roger make a good pair here at their market stall. Roger is attractive, good-natured and draws a hearty crowd. And whereas Freddie’s exuberant mannerisms stand out anywhere else, they fit in perfectly here in this motley assortment of tourists and hippies. Together, the two boys attract a decent number of shoppers. And not to mention the new Rag Trade Instagram account Freddie had created to advertise their vintage finds, which recently gained a thousand followers.

    The two shoppers depart without buying anything. Roger sighs, sits back down, and turns to converse with you again. “So I heard about this little double date that you and Brian are going on.”

    “Yeah!” you say, before adding, “well, Brian and I aren’t going, y’know, together. We have different dates.”

    “Sounds fun,” he says offhandedly.

    “Hey, have you heard much from Brian in the past couple of days?” you ask. “He’s a shit texter, and I need to ask him where we should plan to go.”

    “He’s been around the flat,” Roger says, looking away from you, “but he’s sort of…out of sorts.”

    “Oh, why?” you ask, your heart lurching a little at Roger’s tone of voice. It sounds like he’s not telling you something. “Is he sick?”

    “No, not sick…”

    Roger’s usually never serious…or hesitant sounding. This is unusual for him.

    “Oh, well he seemed just fine when we were hanging out after the party—”

    Roger sighs in exasperation, cutting you off. “Listen, Y/N,” he says more harshly than before. “I really hate to play the middle man here, but you should know. Brian knows you’re lying to him about John Deacon.”

    You freeze. A shudder runs down your spine.

    No… How could he know? No, no, no…

    A thousand panicked thoughts race in your brain. Does Brian know you made John a fake Tinder and pretended to match with him? Does he know you’re trying to make him jealous? Does he know you’re pissed off about Tara?

    Does Brian know you’re in love with him?

   Oh, god. He knows. Freddie probably blabbed. He’s probably freaking out.

    Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” you reply weakly.

    “Come on, Y/N,” Roger chastises. “I saw you and John together at the coffee shop Sunday afternoon. Looked a lot like a date to me.”

    How didn’t I see Roger there? “I…”

    “Dunno why you’re trying to hide it, but Brian’s a little peeved that you didn’t tell him anything about it… And he figured out that the Tinder thing was just a ploy.”

    Brian knows I set John up. He knows I’m lying.

    “Wouldn’t it have just been easier to tell Brian upfront about your secret relationship?”

    Wait, what?

    “Secret…relationship?” you repeat.

    Roger looks at you with an amused sort of pity and chuckles. “Cut the bullshit. You and John are dating, it’s pretty clear. Well, it was clear to me when I saw you two being all sappy in the coffee shop. Brian had no idea, though. I only assumed you had told him, but he was surprised.”

    “Roger, I’m not dating John,” you insist. And despite the new developments, half of your panic subsides into relief. No one knows the truth… No one suspects you fake-matched with John on Tinder to make Brian jealous, in retaliation for Brian matching with Tara. Brian still doesn’t know you’re in love with him.

    But now he thinks you’re dating Deaky in secret.

    “Look, I saw you two in the coffee shop, went home, told Brian about it, he said you’d never told him anything about it…and then he got a text from you saying that you ‘randomly matched’ with our new bassist?” Roger makes finger quotations on the words randomly matched. “And assuming you sent the screenshot while you and John were still in the coffee shop…”

    “I—I didn’t mean—” Shit, how could you be so stupid? Your stomach twists in a knot. “That’s not what…”

    “I guess I’m just wondering, why go through the trouble of making John the fake Tinder account?” Roger continues. “I mean, maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to ease Brian into the fact that you’re secretly dating our new bassist.”

    “I’m not!” you practically yell, but drop your voice to an angry whisper when half the market hears you. “I’m not in a secret relationship with John Deacon,” you hiss.

     Roger raises an eyebrow. “Why are you still trying to deny it? It’s okay, Y/N. You have nothing to hide anymore. Just admit it.”

    “There’s nothing to admit!”

    Roger laughs, crossing his arms. “You’re bloody stubborn, love. Is it ‘cause you’re embarrassed by him? I mean, I get it… Freshman, engineer, a bit goofy…”

    “I’m not embarrassed by—…” You trail off and huff in frustration. “I’m not dating John.”

    “Right,” Roger says dryly.

    “We’re not dating!”

    “So how long has it been?”

    “We’re not fucking dating!”

    “If you’re not dating, how else are you going to explain why you pretended to match on Tinder?”

    That gives you pause. You can’t explain it…not without admitting that the only reason you did it was to make Brian jealous.

    Roger notes your silence with a condescending purse of his thin lips. “At the very least, I think you should apologize to Brian,” Roger tells you. “He’s pretty narked that you didn’t tell him the truth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was jealous.”

    Your ears perk up at that. “…How do you mean?”

    “I dunno, he acted pretty upset when he found out. I didn’t really expect it.”

    John Deacon’s words of warning from Sunday afternoon resonate in your mind. I think you’re gonna need to be prepared for him to react a lot more strongly than you’re thinking.

    So Brian was acting jealous, huh.

    You gnaw on your lip, considering. Maybe it’s because another deliciously bad plan is formulating itself in your mind, or because Roger is staring at you and waiting for a reply…but before you know it, you find yourself opening your mouth and confirming Roger’s suspicions.

    “Okay, fine. You’re right. John’s my boyfriend.”

    Roger’s annoyance finally morphs into smugness. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it, sweetheart?”

    You turn away from Roger and cross your arms. “Fuck off.”

    “No hard feelings,” Roger says, trying to nudge your foot with his under the table. “You two make a cute couple.”

    “You can’t tell anyone,” you whisper fervently, moving your foot away from his. “Especially not…” You give a small nod to Freddie, who is still talking with Ronnie and not listening to you. God, if Freddie found out the hole you’ve dug yourself into, especially knowing the truth…

    “I won’t,” Roger says.

    “Are you gonna tell Brian you talked to me?” you ask meekly.

    “Not if you don’t want me to, sweetheart. But you should really talk to Brian yourself.”

    Your stomach clenches like you’re about to be punched. What the hell are you doing?Sure, lying to Roger is better than telling him the truth… But eventually, you’re going to have to tell Brian. You’re going to have to tell Deaky. And this was not part of your original agreement.

    John’s going to hate me.

    “On a different subject,” Roger says, and then drops his chin and smirks. “How’d you manage to get your smokin’ roommate to say yes to our nerdy space poodle?”

    Oh, Christ. You clench your fists at the mention of Tara. “Can we please not talk about this right now?”

    “Don’t tell me he did it all by himself. Sister Tara… and our little Brian May?” Roger lets out a low whistle. “He never struck me as her type. She must have been really desperate. How much did you bargain him for?”

    Does Roger seriously think I had to pay Tara to talk to Brian? You want to scream, but instead, you say as calmly as possible: “Nope, that was all him. And I don’t want to hear about it.”

    Roger scrutinizes your face, and you feel like a bug under a microscope. It makes you squirm uncomfortably.

    “But Brian said you gave him the ‘okay’…”

    You remember the fleeting moment outside your apartment after the diner. When Brian asked for your permission—if you can even call it that—to bring Tara on the double date.

    “You don’t mind, do ya, bookworm? I know she’s your flatmate and all…”

   “No, I’m happy for you!” you’d said.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    You try your hardest to lie to Roger. “Yeah, I said it was fine. I don’t care what Brian does or who he dates. It’s not like he’s my boyfriend or anything.”

    The lie is clear in your voice. You can practically see Roger begin to put the puzzle pieces together in his mind. He can tell: you never planned on any of this.

    “Okay” is all Roger says in reply.

    You pull your phone out, then, and open a new message to Brian. Roger peers over your shoulder, and usually, you’d tried to shove him off for being nosy. But you don’t really care at this point.

    Hey, we gotta talk. when can we meet up?

    “Christ, woman, you’ve quadruple-texted him,” Roger jokes, looking at your three other texts to Brian. None of which he’s responded to. “Like, I know he’s a shit texter, but this is a new low.”

    Roger’s joking, but he might as well have just called you a desperate bitch. You make a noise of indignation and turn your phone screen away from Roger, so you can text John.

    Slight crisis alert. Can we talk?

    In stark contrast to Brian, John replies within seconds.

    I’ll be over at yours in half an hour.

    Your heart races at the prospect of having to explain to John what you’ve just done. You need to leave the market, but you don’t want to cut short Freddie’s and Ronnie’s conversation. So you lean across the table and pat Ronnie’s arm gently, getting her attention.

    “I need to go,” you say. “Are you staying?”

    “Well, I should probably get going, too,” she says.

    “Won’t you stay a while longer, darling?” Freddie asks. “I’d love to hear about these ones. And I still need to pay you!”

    “Yeah, keep us company, Ron,” Roger says with a flirty wink.

    “Oh, alright,” Ronnie says. “Y/N, I’ll meet you at home?”

    “Sure,” you say and stand to leave. “See you guys later.”

    “Y/N, dear,” Freddie says, reaching out to caress your hand. “I’m still waiting to hear updates about you-know-who. You’ll text me, won’t you?”

    Fred still has no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. Ronnie and Roger look at you and Freddie questioningly. You just nod and say goodbye again.

    You swear you can feel Roger’s eyes burning holes in your back as you walk away and head out of the market.

———

    You barely have time to even ponder the implications of what just transpired at the market—what you’re going to tell Deaky, what you’re going to eventually tell Brian—before you practically run into the latter trying to cut through a crowd of students walking the other way.

    “Brian!” you exclaim. You’ve practically just walked into his chest, and he holds your shoulders to steady you. Your heart lurches.

    “Hey, bookworm!” he replies. He gives you a surprised sort of smile.

    Well, a smile’s a good sign. Your heartbeat flutters at the prospect of seeing him—the way it always does, but this time is different. This time, it’s tinged with guilt.

    Brian’s still holding your shoulders. And then he completely surprises you by leaning down and hugging you. And not just a casual, one-armed side hug, either. A full-out hug, with both his arms engulfing you and his chin resting on the top of your head. Your heart feels like it’s been jump-started as you take in his familiar scent—detergent, cologne, a slight hint of Earl Gray, and the indescribable and completely intoxicating smell of his skin.

    Brian May hugs aren’t particularly rare for you or anything. And not that you’re not enjoying this. But isn’t he supposed to be mad at you?

    You smile and hug him back. He certainly doesn’t seem angry.

    “What a coincidence,” you say, breaking away. “Did you have class?”

    “Yeah, I just got out. I’m a TA for the Thermodynamics lab on Monday afternoons.” He’s wearing a warm-looking wool peacoat and a pair of gloves. His hair looks particularly frizzy in the humidity, which adds a couple of inches to his already imposing height. “Where are you headed?”

    “Home. I was just at the market. My roommate Ronnie wanted to sell Freddie her artwork.” You cock your head at him and say casually, “Haven’t heard from you in a while. How’s it going?”

    “Oh, I was just studying for a test.”

    Brian can do a lot of things, but if there’s anything he can’t pull off, it’s a lie. Plus, it’s the second week of the semester. No one has any tests yet.

    “Well, when I woke up this morning and didn’t see my daily cat video from you in my Instagram DMs, I thought you might have died or something,” you joke.

    Brian laughs a little. “Nope, I’m still alive and well. And don’t worry, I’ll send you two cat videos tomorrow morning to make up for it.”

    Neither of you says anything for a few seconds, stopped here in the middle of the sidewalk while students and pedestrians pass you on either side. This is weird. This is really weird. Maybe you were expecting yelling, or the waterworks, or the silent treatment, but Brian’s acting completely normal.

    “Hey, um… Did you get my text? Texts?” you ask hesitantly.

    “Oh, I, um…” He glances down to his phone in his pocket as if he’s about to take it out, but then thinks better of it. “Yeah, I did.”

    The boy’s straight up ignoring me. “Can we…meet up sometime and talk?”

    He scratches his nose. “We can talk now…since we ran into each other.”

    Ooooookay. “Alright, let’s move over here,” you say, placing a hand on his arm to pull him with you out of the way of foot traffic. He follows, and you and he stand in the grass now.

    “So…what’s up?” he asks. There’s absolutely no affect to his tone or his facial expressions. Your mind scatters, and you gulp, trying to think of what to say.

    “Uh… Well, I wanted to see if you had any ideas for what we should do for our double date?”

    Brian opens his mouth to speak, but hesitates, running a hand over his scalp. Something flashes behind his eyes. “Yeah, I had something in mind. I actually meant to run it by you today.”

    “Sure, what were you thinking?”

    “Well, Queen’s playing a gig downtown on Friday night. And like I mentioned, your friend—uh, date now, I guess—is gonna be doing his trial run with the group, and I knew you mentioned you’d be there, so it kinda works out perfectly.”

    He scratches the back of his neck. Itchy today. “Anyway, I’ve been texting with Tara, and she thinks it’d be fun if you and she came to the show together. Since you’re flatmates and all. And then we were thinking that all four of us could go pub-hopping around Belgravia afterward.”

    Ah, so they’re using the word we already. That’s fucking adorable. Not to mention that they even came up with the bar-hopping idea together. Meaning they’ve been texting. Probably a lot. And flirting. You want to puke all over his clogs.

    But instead, you plaster the sweetest smile you can muster on your face. “Yeah, that sounds brilliant!” you say. “I can’t wait.”

    “Okay, good,” Brian says. He still looks like he’s holding back something he shouldn’t say but desperately wants to.

    So you blurt. “I need you to know something.”

    Brian looks at you expectantly but doesn’t say anything. So you take a deep breath and say what every cell in your being screams at you not to say.

    “John’s…sort of…my boyfriend.”

    Brian’s reply is immediate. “I know.”

    “How’d you find out?”

    “I just sort of guessed it, I reckon.”

    Guess he’s not gonna admit he found out through Roger? What’s he doing? Trying to win the upper hand?

    “Brian, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” you say sincerely. “I feel really bad.”

    Brian just rubs his temple. His eyes are stoic, if anything. “Why didn’t you?”

    You consider what the cover story’s supposed to be. You haven’t had any damn time to think about it.

    So you just say, “I didn’t really know how.”

    Brian thinks for a second, biting the inside of his cheek the way he usually does when he’s trying to gather his thoughts.

    “How long?” he finally asks.

    Uhhhhh… “Since last weekend.”

    “And the whole Tinder thing…?” he prompts.

    “I told John to make a fake Tinder and match up with me. It seemed an easier way to tell all our friends than just…” God, what a horrid cover story! “I’m sorry, it was a really stupid idea.”

    “No, I mean…” His eyes flit to yours, then. “I get it, I think. I’ll admit I was a little ticked off at first that you lied to me. But…”

    You nod, urging him to continue.

    “I guess I understand now. You didn’t want to jeopardize John’s audition, or put him in an uncomfortable position with us.”

    Huh. “…Yeah, that’s why.”

    Brian nods, slowly at first, and then growing faster. “I get it. Yeah, I get it now. You were looking out for him. It’s, uh… It’s sweet.” He pulls his eyebrows together and tilts his head. “But why did you have me make a Tinder, then?”

    Fffff. “Well, you just seemed like you needed some cheering up at the diner on Saturday, so I thought it would be fun. Then I thought about it, and fake-matching with John on Tinder seemed like a good way for me to break the ice about us. Incidentally.”

    Lie after lie after lie. You’re becoming compulsive with them. Am I a sociopath? I’m a sociopath. Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me.

    A small smile appears on Brian’s face, a closed-mouth smile that brings out his laugh lines. “Well, I reckon I should thank you.”

    “For what?”

    “For helping me set up the Tinder…  It worked out perfectly. With Tara.”

    Oh, fuck me in both ears, so that’s how this is gonna go.

    “I mean, I would have never had the balls to even send her a friend request. She’s so out of my league. And now we’ve been texting for a while…and wow, Y/N. She’s so cool.I knew she’s your roommate this year, but I had no idea she’s this cool.”

    Fucking good for you! “I’m glad it worked out for you two.”

   He gives you a sincere look. “And for you and John. You two make a good couple. And, uh, no worries about any conflicts of interests with his Queen audition or anything. The kid’s fantastic. I’m sure he’ll be great on Friday.”

    “I’m sure.”

    Maybe a part of you was clinging to the hope that Roger was right, that Brian was even the slightest inkling of jealous, now that you’ve confirmed you’re together with John.

    But nope, that’s not the way the wind is blowing today. These things never fucking work out for you.

    Brian must be able to tell by your terse replies that something’s up. He raises his brows. “It’s alright, Y/N. I forgive you, about the whole Tinder thing. We’re all good, right?”

    Peachy fucking keen. “Yep, all good.”

    You feel like a deflating balloon, and all you want to do is go home and take a nap and hopefully disintegrate into nothingness. Brian’s got the hots for your roommate, you’re stuck in a pretend relationship with John Deacon, and it’s all for nothing. And that’s just how it’s gonna be. You were a grade-A idiot to think that Brian would ever be jealous.

    Unless…

    Like an airdrop crate on a parachute, another devious plan appears on the horizon. You’re stock full of those lately, it seems.

    And the thing about being best friends with someone for two and a half years is that you know just exactly how to provoke them.

    So you flip the switch.

    “Brian, oh, my god,” you say dramatically, feigning a swoon.

    “What is it?”

    “I’m so relieved that I don’t have to hide anything about me and Deaky anymore. I’m just…” You emit a girlish squeal that would, upon witnessing from any other girl, make you cringe. “Can I just gush for a second?”

    “…Gush?”

    “About Deaky!” You heave a smitten sigh that would put any theater performer to shame. “He’s such a good boyfriend. He’s so sweet. And such a gentleman!”

    You watch Brian’s expression carefully as you act out the part of the dotty girlfriend. He’s nodding at what you’re saying, but he’s hiding his expression very carefully.

    So you press harder.

    “He always…holds the door open for me at restaurants! It’s so chivalrous. And he…brings me flowers! And he’s such a good kisser.”

    “Oh, really?”

    “Yeah. He’s just really smart and kind and thoughtful. He reminds me a lot of you!”

    Brian’s carefully crafted mask begins to fall. “Ah, that’s nice,” he says, looking away.

    “I’m actually going to go see him now!” you say excitedly. “Want me to say hello to him for you?”

    “Sure, whatever, Y/N.”

    You need to do more. Something…drastic. Something that’ll really jar him.

    Y/N, don’t say it…that’s too far…

    So, of course, because you’re a little bitch, you say it.

    “I know this is TMI, but…” You lean toward Brian conspiratorially. “…I’ve never been with somebody so…”

    “Y/N,” Brian practically growls in warning.

    “…so experienced.

    Brian straightens like he’s been electrocuted.

    “Jesus Christ, Y/N!” He throws his hands up in exasperation. “Did I really need to know that?”

    You look up at him innocently. “I’m sorry, I just had to say it!”

    “Well, you’ve said it.”

    Resentment seems to seep from his pores now. You want to sneer in satisfaction that you’ve accomplished your mission. And yet, a part of you is achingly guilty…

    …and terrified at the fire in Brian’s eyes.

    “Why are you upset?” you ask calmly.

    “Because…!” He glares at you. “Because I hadn’t even heard you mention this John Deacon even once until Saturday! And now you’re dating him, which you lied about, and now you’re trying to tell me how good he is in—”

    Brian cuts himself off with a sharp exhale. He looks away, scowling, tongue pressing into his cheek in exasperation. You bite your lip to contain your smirk. You have him in the palm of your hand, and he doesn’t even know it.

    “I already apologized about the Tinder thing. I thought you said you forgave me, Bri,” you say, feigning being hurt by his harsh tone.

    “I do, I just… Whatever, Y/N.”

    “You’re my best friend, I just thought you’d be happy for me,” you say, and then add, just because you know it’ll sting, “the way that I’m happy for you and Tara.”

    Brian’s bony shoulders tense, and he slowly draws his eyes up to yours.

    “Don’t look me in the eye and pretend like you’re happy for me and Tara.”

    That fear—that addicting terror of Brian’s wrath you’re so good at provoking from him—wraps its icy tendrils around your spine and shoots shivers across your body. You couldn’t tear your eyes from his glare if you tried.

    “I don’t know what’s going on between you two,” he growls, “but you need to fucking work it out before this weekend, if you still want to do the double date.”

    Oh, dear. He couldn’t be more fucking clueless.

    “Tara and I are just fine and dandy,” you say without emotion. Despite the cold air, things feel very hot and tense between you two now. And not the good kind of hot and tense. This is progressing into the first real fight you and Brian have ever had. You and he have had your fair share of small tussles and skirmishes—but never anything of this degree. And you couldn’t stop now if you tried. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “You look like you practically want to punch me in the face every time I mention her.”

    “I could say the same about you when I mention John!” you accuse him.

    “Well, I’m not the one who went spouting off lurid details about my sex life!” he spits.

    “Oh, so this is about my sex life, then?”

    “It’s not…!”

    You drop your voice to a dangerous volume, looking up at him through your eyelashes. “Why’d you bring it up again, then? …Are you jealous?”

    Brian inhales despite himself, his lips parting, his eyes darting around.

    Gotcha.

    “You’re being fucking ridiculous, Y/N.”

    “I just think it’s ridiculous that I can’t even talk to my best friend about my new relationship!”

    “I don’t want to hear this!”

    Both of your voices are raised to an ear-splitting level, now. Passersby are beginning to stare. You don’t care. Adrenaline pumps through your veins.

    “We’re supposed to be able to talk about anything! That’s the point of being friends!”

    “Yeah, well, maybe I can’t find it in myself to trust anything you say anymore, after you lied to me!”

    “Oh, we’re going back to this, now?” You rest your hands on your hips. “You just had to go and bring it up again, didn’t you? When are you going to fucking make your mind up over whether or not you forgive me?”

    “Fucking hell, Y/N—”

    “Go on, fucking say it! Make up your mind! It’ll make things a lot fucking easier! What’ll it be? Do you forgive me, or not?”

    “No, I don’t! Okay???” Brian’s voice practically echoes through the streets. “And I’m fucking sick of you toying with me!”

    “Oh, screw you, Brian,” you say.

    “I’d say the same, but it looks like John Deacon’s already doing that.”

    Your mouth falls open.

    Oh, that’s low. That’s fucking low.

    “Wait, Y/N…” Brian registers your shocked expression and immediately throws his hands out in conciliation. His eyes grow wide as he begins to realize what he just said to you.

    You heave a perplexed scoff and shoulder past him, taking off down the street. Brian can say some pretty regretful things when he’s mad, but you weren’t expecting that.

    “Y/N, shit, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Brian says, right on your heels. He tries to make a grab for your arm, but you yank it away from him.

    “Don’t say another word to me, Brian.”

    He finally stops, and you can feel his regretful gaze at the back of your head as you storm off. He doesn’t try to follow you. You keep the pace up until you’ve rounded the corner and disappeared out of sight from him.

    And when you’re sure he can’t see you anymore, you cheer to yourself and give a little jump in satisfaction.

    Like a crazy person.

    He’s jealous!!! He’s jealous!!!

    But your enthusiasm is quickly drowned by exhaustion. Your voice is sore from the effort of yelling…and Brian’s final slander resonates in your mind.

    I’d say the same, but it looks like John Deacon’s already doing that.

    That fucking stung. But it’s a good sign. It means you have leverage on him now…leverage that you’re not sure when and how you’ll use, but you’ll always have something to hold against him.

    You’re a sociopath. You’re crazy.

     No, you’re just a jealous bitch.

    Your phone buzzes in your purse. You pull it out, fearing it might be Brian in another feeble attempt to apologize, but the sender is “Freaky Deaky 🕺”.

    You look at the time and curse. John’s supposed to be over at your apartment right now.

    I’m here, Tara let me in. You coming ?

    Anxiety pools in your stomach like blood pouring from a stab wound. Everything that just transpired…everything you just lied about to Roger and Brian…you’re about to have to tell John.

    And you don’t think you can lie yourself out of this one.

 

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*

 

Bonus: Some cute pics of Fred and Rog at their “rag trade” stall in Kensington Market! ◡̈

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Bonus part 2: the face that Brian made when Y/N provoked him about dating John:

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Chapter Text

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✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

   By the time you arrive at your apartment door, your heart is a rapid flutter. So many different emotions pool in your chest now, weighing heavy as a brick. Anxiety, fear…guilt, regret. You’ve never wanted to disappear so badly before in your life.

   But this is not something you’re going to be able to put off. You’re going to have to face the problems you’ve created.

   Taking a deep breath, you turn the unlocked knob and swing the door open. Sure enough, there’s John, perched on your living room sofa with a mug of tea in hand. He turns to look up at you at the sound of you entering. And as soon as he meets your gaze, his grey eyes take on that trademark sparkle…

   Don’t you dare…

   But there’s no stopping it. John breaks into an overwhelmingly sweet smile, the one that illuminates his whole face and practically resurrects dead kittens.

   You nearly stagger forwards, like a topheavy flower on a too-weak stem, at the sudden swelling of your heart. But the brick of guilt in your chest weighs you down.

   Fuck, you hate that terrific, perfect smile of his. Or maybe you just hate that pretty soon, you’re going to be wiping it right off his stupid cute face with what you’re about to tell him.

   “There you are,” John says. “How was the market?”

   “Good,” you say breathlessly, casting off your shoes and heaving your backpack onto a chair in the kitchen. “Sorry I got held up. How’d you hear where I was?”

   “Tara told me. You know, she’s actually a lot nicer than her reputation lends her to be… She’s a great host! She made me this tea,” John says contentedly, cradling his piping-hot mug.

   You look around. “Where is she?”

   “She left right before you came. Said she was going to the library.” John frowns slightly. “She made a strange comment before she left…”

   “Oh?” you say, your heart thudding.

   “Yeah, we talked about the double date thing, I told her I was excited and everything…and then right before she left, she said I’m a ‘very lucky bloke.’ Any idea what that could mean?”

   Shit, Tara knows. Someone must have tipped her off about the supposed new developments between you and John. Was it Freddie? Or Roger? No, she’s not friends with either of them…and Freddie doesn’t even know the full story of what’s going on. That leaves only Brian. Fuck nugget.

   The guilt threatens to drown you. Your shoulders slump and your face crumples into a grimace. John notices and sits up straighter, his frown deepening in concern.

   “…What is it?” he asks hesitantly.

   “I’m sorry,” you rasp.

   “For what?” John presses. He shifts over on the couch to make room for you, then pats the cushion. “Do you want to sit down?”

   You comply, letting your shaky legs take you across the living room and onto the couch beside John. Looking up at him, you desperately want him to pull you into a long hug. You’ve never hugged John for more than a few seconds in greeting or farewell. But he radiates a warm energy that makes you want nothing more than to bury your face in the crook of his neck.

   “Darling, you gotta talk to me,” he says softly. “What happened?”

   “I ruined everything,” you reply pitifully. For me, for Brian…for you.

   John’s expression turns commiserating, as if he feels bad for you, as if you’re the victim here instead of him. You turn away.

   “Please don’t look at me like that,” you whisper. You don’t think your heart can handle it. But John touches a finger to your chin and turns your face toward him again.

   “It’s okay, Y/N,” he says, his finger feather-light against your skin. “It’ll be okay—”

   “You don’t even know what I’ve done!” you burst, moving your face away from him again. Every passing millisecond he touches you, the guilt sears a hole deeper in your stomach. He’s too good, too fucking good, and you’re trash next to him. He doesn’t deserve this.

   Before he can reply, you choke out: “I told Brian that you’re my boyfriend.”

   Silence. You turn slowly to look at John again; he just looks confused.

   “I’m sorry, John,” you say sincerely.

   “You…” He hesitates, searching for the words. “But that’s not what we…”

   “I know,” you whisper, and you let your face fall to your hands.

   More silence. John shifts uncomfortably in his seat, breathing in deeply and letting out the breath in a long stream. You swear you can feel your own wretched pulse in your ears.

   “Y/N,” he says finally. When you don’t respond, he reaches over and peels your palms away from your eyes. You look up at him, fearing his expression will be pitying yet again. You’d rather he look angry than pitying. But he’s neutral, despite his eyes, which rapidly scan your own face as if he’s searching for answers.

   “Tell me what happened,” he says, sternly but softly.

   “You’re not going to like it.”

   “I won’t be mad,” he promises.

   “You can’t say that, John,” you insist. “I… I fucked everything up for you. I lied, and I made things a lot worse—”

   “Please just tell me,” he cuts you off.

   You gnaw on your lip, gathering your thoughts. “Roger saw us in the coffee shop yesterday. He thought it looked like we were dating, and he went home and told Brian.”

   “Oh,” John says.

   “Brian was apparently really pissed off. And he and Roger found out that the whole Tinder matching thing between you and me was made up…but…”

   “But what?”

   “But they think it’s just a cover for dating.”

   “I don’t really understand,” he says.

   Oh, it gets worse. You bounce your leg anxiously. “I…told Roger it was true. And then I ran into Brian and told him it was true. And one of them must have told Tara.”

   John inhales sharply and looks away, glaring at his dark reflection in the TV across the couch. You watch his expression closely, completely at a loss for what to expect. You’ve never made John upset before. Hell, you’ve never even seen John angry.

   And you want to see it. Not in the way that you wanted to provoke Brian’s anger, just for the satisfaction of making him angry. No… This time, you deserve John’s anger. You don’t deserve an apology or a show of sympathy; you deserve to be yelled at, to have to sit there and take it while John gives you a piece of his mind.

   So when he whips his head back to you, bores holes with his fiery grey eyes, and scolds, “You shouldn’t have done that, Y/N,”…it’s almost like a breath of fresh air after holding your breath for too long. The guilt rushes over you in a tidal wave, but it’s almost a relief.

   “I know,” you say, hanging your head.

   “Why?” he insists. “Why would you confirm it?”

   “It was really fucking stupid of me,” you say. You’re not going to even attempt to explain your indefensible reasoning. “I took an already-bad lie and made it even worse. And you’re going to have to suffer for it now. I’m so sorry, John.”

   “Suffer?”

   You look up at him, frowning. “I told everyone you were my boyfriend. That doesn’t upset you?”

   He just shakes his head, but it’s more as if he’s clearing his mind, not as a response to your question. He counters by repeating his own question: “Why’d you do it?”

   “I don’t know,” you say almost inaudibly.

   “I think you do know,” he says, his voice low and grating, “and I have an inkling, but I need to hear you say it.”

   Your pulse pounds in your ears. “I didn’t really know how else to explain to everyone why we fake matched on Tinder. And when Roger got the wrong impression about us, well, the opportunity kinda presented itself—”

   “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Y/N,” John snaps, his voice raised in volume. “‘The opportunity kinda presented itself’? Cut it with the excuses! You’re trying to make Brian jealous. That’s all you’ve been doing this whole time. Why can’t you just admit it?”

   You recoil; it’s the first time you’ve ever heard John curse. “You’re mad about that, but you’re not mad that I told everyone we’re dating when we’re not?”

   “I don’t care what you told them!” he exclaims in ire. “I care about why you feel like you had to. I care that you keep making up these half-assed excuses.”

   “John—”

   “First, it was just wanting to bring someone you ‘trusted’ as your date for the double date. Then, it was asking me because I was the only person you knew who owed you a favor. And now, you’re telling everyone we’re dating because the ‘opportunity presented itself’?”

   John’s voice is very low, now, and dangerously articulate. You gulp to clear the lump forming in your throat, but it’s going nowhere.

   “You’re not fooling me,” he continues. “It’s just been excuse after excuse with you, Y/N. And I can see past all of it. I’ve told you from the beginning that I know exactly what this is. So why can’t you just admit it?”

   The lump in your throat manifests itself as a stinging in your eyes. You didn’t anticipate John’s anger having such an effect on you, and you hate it.

   “Okay,” you whisper, unable to make much more of a sound without giving yourself away. “Okay, you’re right. I was trying to make Brian feel jealous…because…”

   John looks at you pointedly, waiting.

   “Because I’m jealous of him and Tara.”

   As if on cue, the door to the apartment rattles and opens to reveal Tara, carrying a backpack, her hair in a high ponytail, her sweater draped off her shoulders as if it were a delicate silken shawl and not a mass-produced piece of flimsy cotton from Target.

   “Hey, you two,” she says before crossing the living room to her own room.

   “Hey, Tara,” John greets her. You mouth a hello her way and sniff as quietly as possible, taking the brief interruption as a chance to recompose yourself. The last thing you want is for John to see you cry. “How was the library?”

   “I actually never made it there,” she laughs as she enters her room. “I got a text halfway there from Brian asking to meet up for dinner!”

   Your efforts in avoiding the waterworks become futile. The lump in your throat and the sting in your eyes return full-force, and you press your mouth in a hard line. John, thank god, takes over the conversation.

   “Ooh, where are you two going?” he asks out of politeness. You can hear Tara shifting through her hangers of clothes in her closet.

   “Sushi, I think. This is the first time we’re ever meeting in person. Y/N, can you believe we’ve been roommates for half a year, and I’ve never even met your best friend in person?” Tara giggles, the sound muffled from under a shirt she’s probably trying on. “He’s such a gentleman. I can’t wait to meet him. Anyway, I’m sure John’s already told you, Y/N, but are you good for going out on Friday night? We can go to the gig together! And I’ve got a few pubs lined up for after the show.”

   “Yep, sounds good,” you croak out. Your voice cracks at the end. John doesn’t miss it, and he glances at you in concern.

   “Come on,” he says softly, taking your hands in his and pulling you up with him off the couch. And then, louder, he says to Tara, “Have fun on your date! We’re gonna watch a movie in Y/N’s room.”

   “Oh, okay, a movie,” Tara says from her room, a hint of a suggestive smirk in her tone. “Have fun, you two!”

   John doesn’t hesitate to guide you into your room with a hand on your back, closing the door behind the both of you. You feel sheepish, unable to look at him. So you turn away and walk toward your window, looking out at the grey skies.

   And to think your roller coaster of emotions today would end so soon. The knowledge that Brian had proactively texted Tara—so soon after your fight with him—and asked her to go get sushi together…

   Is he really already over it? Does he even care at all?

   Fuck, don’t fucking start crying. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

   A gentle hand on your shoulder nearly startles you. “Y/N,” John says. “Look at me.”

   “I’m so sorry I messed everything up, John,” you whisper, your lip quivering, and you hope he doesn’t see it. “I should have never gotten you tangled up in this mess. You don’t deserve this…”

   The hand on your shoulder tugs and spins you to face John. He’s leaning down, eyes full of depth and level with yours. And then with another hand behind your neck, he pulls you in for a hug, pressing your face into his warm neck.

   It’s what you’d wanted so badly just minutes ago, but now the gesture makes you feel miserable. You want to pull away, but John’s holding you so tightly, his arms wrapped around you.

   “Please don’t pity me, I don’t deserve it,” you whisper, terrified when you realize a hot tear has spilled over your cheek and onto John’s neck. The last thing you want is to elicit sympathy from John by crying—when you deserve anything but.

   “Shh, Y/N. It’s okay. We’re gonna make this work out.” The hand on the back of your head massages you gently. And then you can’t hold it back any longer. Your chest collapses with a silent sob, and a whine escapes your throat.

   And you hate this. You hate how your body has betrayed your emotions. You hate how John is consoling you, holding you like this, when he really should be slapping you and screaming at you for what you did. You hate how gentle his voice is in your ear, how strong his arms feel around you, how good he smells, the vanilla of his hair, the spice of his skin. You hate how with every quake of your shoulders, he holds you tighter, pressing his mouth against your temple.

   “Aren’t you mad at me?” you murmur, sniffing.

   John shakes his head, rustling his hair against yours. “I was before. But not anymore. I’m frustrated at what you said, and at the situation… But I can’t stay mad at you.”

   “I deserve it,” you say.

   “Stop that. The only thing you deserve is a hug. That’s what I’m doing.”

   Your hands slowly snake up from your sides and reach around John’s back, clasping together. He sighs gently, squeezing you again, and his breath tickles your ear. Neither of you wants to break away, it seems. But you force yourself to step back and out of his embrace.

   “You shouldn’t be giving me sympathy for lying, John. This is my fault.”

   “Just because it’s your fault doesn’t mean you don’t deserve sympathy,” John says, looking straight into your eyes. A single tear—hopefully the last of them—runs down your cheek, and your pulse quickens when John wipes it away with a thumb, without hesitation. “You’re going through a lot. I could see it on your face when Tara told us about her date. And… I reckon I didn’t make it any easier for you when I started yelling at you.”

   You grimace. “I needed that. You were right about what you said. I was just trying to make excuses.”

   John nods understandingly. “I know it’s difficult sometimes to have to confront emotions like that. Especially jealousy. It makes sense that you didn’t want to admit it to yourself. It probably hurts you too much.”

   How is he so damn smart? How is he so damn observant? How is he so damn good at reading people? You nod slowly, feeling naked before his eyes.

   “But I need you to know that you have me as a friend in all of this,” he continues, looking deadly serious. “You don’t have to lie or keep secrets or make excuses about anything to me anymore. I’m always going to understand, or try to understand. I’m here for you, Y/N. Whether that’s a confidant, or an adviser, or a shoulder to cry on—literally,” he chuckles at the wet spot on his shoulder where your tears had stained, “but we’re going to figure this out together.”

   Your chest grows heavy, but with gratitude this time and not guilt. You reach over and squeeze both his hands with yours. “I can’t thank you enough,” you say. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”

   “Deserve?” John shakes his head and scoffs at you. “You’ve gotta drop the guilt complex, Y/N. You made a few mistakes. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be treated like a human being.”

   “You should go back to being mad at me,” you say, half-joking. “You’re being too nice.”

   “You want me to stop being nice?” he jokes, matching your tone. “You want me to be mean instead?”

   “I mean, it would be easier to handle.”

   A roguish grin grows on his face. “Well, I’ll show you mean—”

   He lunges at you and jabs his fingers into your sides. You can’t hold back a surprised peal of laughter.

   “Deaky!” you squeal, giggling as you try to bat him away. He lays off a little, looking straight into your flitting eyes.

   “Should I stop?” he asks seriously.

   Please, no. “Only if you want to lose this game,” you answer with a grin before launching into a full-force retaliation, both thumbs digging into his ribs. John emits a shriek of panicked laughter that makes you laugh even harder, and for just a quick second, you have the upper hand. But he’s quick to rip your hands from his sides and pin them against the wall above your head with one hand. And then he tickles your ribs even harder.

   “Is this mean enough for you, huh?” he grins. “Is this what you wanted?”

   “John—!” But you can’t say anything else around the agonizing laughter as he moves his hand to your midriff.

   “I’ve discovered your kryptonite,” he smirks, poking the skin below your belly button, and you screech.

   “Stop it, stop it, I surrender!” you screech along with your giggles. You’d meant it to be playful, but it isn’t until John stops tickling you that you realize he took your pleas seriously.

   His hand goes abruptly still. Somehow, in the scuffle, your shirt had ridden up your waist, and John’s hand is now resting on the bare skin of your tummy. A novel, supercharged tension now radiates at that particular point of contact, sending anxious pangs of excitement from your stomach down to your core. The reality of the situation hits you; you’re wedged between his warm body and the wall, your hands still pinned above your head, and John still has his hand on your midriff. You feel flushed with bewilderment and something else. The only sounds are John’s careful breathing and your own gasps for air, your chest rising and falling conspicuously. His face is suddenly so close to yours.

   Eyes wide and steady on yours, John slowly moves his hands off of you. Where his warm touch leaves, a cold tingling follows. You bring your arms down and lick your lips, suddenly dry from how heavily you’d been breathing, and you swear you notice John’s eyes flit down to your mouth for just a half second.

   “Sorry,” he mutters. A deep red blush blooms over his ears and neck. A blush unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

   “‘S alright,” you reply, still out of breath. “I didn’t mind.”

   “You said to stop, so I didn’t want to—”

   “I wasn’t very clear,” you explain. “We were just playing. I didn’t really mean stop.”

   His expression lifts gradually, his eyebrows raising slightly, the corners of his mouth coming up. “S’pose we gotta decide on a better word for next time, then.”

   If your brain could physically make a sound at this moment, that sound would be: hhhhhhhhhhh.

   Instead, two different sounds occur. The sound of the front door opening and slamming shut as Tara leaves the apartment again, and the sound of your phone vibrating against your hip in your pocket. The energy connecting you and John suddenly breaks, leaving only awkwardness.

   You glance down and pull your buzzing phone out, reading two new texts from Tara:

   havin fun in there? ;)

   i left a couple rubbers under the vase on the coffee table, in case you need em. you’re welcome!!!!

   Mortified, you hastily stuff your phone back into your pocket. She must have heard all the giggling and shrieking and assumed you and John were, well…

   John’s eyebrow raises. “What?”

   “Nothing.”

   “No secrets, remember?”

   You make a choked noise in the back of your throat. “Let’s just say, if Tara wasn’t convinced we were dating before, she is now.”

   John purses his lips at that, but you just step past him and sit gently on the corner of your bed. But the temptation to flop onto your stomach is too strong to ignore. So you do, the bed creaking under your weight, and you press your face into your pillow and groan loudly.

   “Ughhhhh.”

   The reality of your situation is finally catching up with you. Everyone thinks John is your boyfriend now. Which, inherently, is not a bad thing. You’re not ashamed of associating with the guy or anything like that. He’s quiet and respectable and well-liked among his peers. And he’s sweet and nice and treats you well. And you have a feeling John’s not inherently upset at being associated with you, either.

   But it’s a goddamn lie. It had seemed so fucking convenient at the time…and now that reality has hit you like a ton of bricks, you realize just how shitty this is for John. How the fuck is this fair to him? Having to “date” somebody, but not actually datingsomebody. Hell, you don’t even know his dating history in the slightest. Has he ever even had a real girlfriend before?

   You shift your head to the side to gaze up at John across the room. He’s smiling a little at your antics, his brows pulling together and his head tilting to the side like a confused cocker spaniel. And that strange, electric tension ignites between you and him yet again. You wonder if he can feel it too.

   As if that makes things any clearer.

   You bury your head in your pillow again. “What are we going to do?” you mumble miserably.

   The mattress shifts with the weight of John sitting at the edge beside your sprawled-out legs. “We’ll figure it out.”

   “I just wish I’d never said anything,” you say into your pillow. How did things get here? How could I have fucked everything up so royally? And to think it all started with that stupid Tinder matching idea with Brian at the diner. Now, the lie has just gotten bigger and bigger. And the damage you’ve already inflicted is comparable to the aftermath of a tornado. “I wish I had never asked you to do the stupid favor in the first place.”

   John makes a little grunt of acknowledgment. “Well, I don’t.”

   “Why?”

   “‘Cause I like hanging out with you,” he says.

   You roll on your side so you can scowl at him. “Yeah, but doesn’t it bother you that we’re only hanging out because of a lie?”

   “The lie bothers me,” he admits, “but we’re not hanging out just because people think we’re dating. We’re hanging out because we’re friends and we get along well.”

   You gnaw on your bottom lip. You and John had gotten moderately close last year through all the hours studying for Government. Close enough to talk about things other than just homework and tests…things like your lives, your dreams and passions, your families. There are still things you don’t know about John—like his dating history—just as there are things John still doesn’t know about you. But there’s nothing that says you and he wouldn’t have hung out together, just for fun, as friends, even long after your shared college class ended.

   “You’re right,” you say. “We would have still hung out, just like we are now…”

   “Just on different pretenses,” he adds.

   You make a face. “I’ve tainted our friendship with this. Don’t you feel used? Don’t you feel like this is fake?”

   He purses his lips again. “A little used, yeah, but that’s okay now. Fake? No, never.”

   “But the relationship is fake!” you say. “The dating is fake! It’s—”

   “It doesn’t have to be,” John interrupts you. Your breath hitches.

   Is… Is he…?

   “Don’t worry, I’m not asking you out or anything,” he says.

   Oh. “What do you mean, then?”

   “I just mean that maybe we don’t have to lie about everything we say we’ll do together. Well, some things, sure, but not everything. Do you get what I’m saying?”

   You shake your head slowly. Where is he going with this…

   John huffs a breath and scratches his neck, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. “Let me explain. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Well, a while since, like, half an hour ago.”

   He smiles down at you and pats your calf twice in endearment. “I’ve been thinking about it…about everything. And I want to help you in the best way that I can. Help you figure out what you and I are going to do…help you figure out this situation with Brian.”

   “Okay…” you say, sitting up on the bed and crossing your legs under you.

   “So I’ll still go with you,” he continues. “On the double date. And I’ll pretend to be your boyfriend.”

   “You will?” You can’t fathom why he’s agreeing to this still, after everything that’s happened.

   “Of course. I’m not going to kick you to the curb and let you work it out on your own, Y/N.” He shows you a closed-mouth smile. “But if we do this… I just have three ground rules, if that’s okay.”

   “Sure, of course.” It only seems fair that you play this game on John’s terms.

   He sits up a little straighter and holds up one finger. “Number one. No more lying about anything we do. I know we’re letting people believe we’re boyfriend and girlfriend, yes… But I really hate lying to people. And I’m really bloody bad at it too,” he says with a chuckle.

   You nod quickly. “Yeah. Okay.”

   “No lying about dates, either,” he adds. “If you wanna tell Brian that you and I went on a date this week, then we have to actually go on the date. Even if it’s secretly, y’know…platonic.”

   “Okay, that’s fair.” You’d be lying if you said you didn’t feel at least a little excited at that.

   John takes a deep breath. “And… I’d really like if we didn’t lie about…erm…”

   You frown. “About what?”

   He shifts uncomfortably, suddenly looking quite flustered. “About…hooking up, and stuff like that. When we really haven’t. Not that I’m saying we should!” he adds quickly, holding his hands up. “Nothing like that. I just don’t want people to think we…”

   Well, that’s exactly what Brian thinks. You gulp, feeling sweat beading in your palms. You want to slam your head against the wall right now. Or suffocate yourself under your bedsheets. John’s never going to forgive you for this one.

   “What about Tara?” you ask hoarsely. “After hearing us being loud earlier, I’m pretty sure she thinks…well…”

   “Yeah, that’s alright,” John sighs. “I just want you to know that I’m not gonna go telling everyone we did something together that we didn’t do, y’know?”

   You look at him in awe. You’re pretty sure John is the first guy you’ve ever met who isn’t interested in bragging to the world about his sexual conquests. It makes you feel even more repentant for what you told Brian.

   “I hope you understand,” John adds. “I just don’t like to lie.”

   Tell him what you told Brian. TELL HIM.

   “Okay,” is all you say, nodding at him that you understand.

   He nods back, looking noticeably relieved. “Okay. Number two: if we’re going to do this, we need to talk about how Friday is going to go. The double date, I mean. We need to plan it out now.”

   “I think Tara says she’s got it all planned out—”

   “Not like that. I mean, you and I, deciding now what we’re going to do and say. As a pretend couple.”

   “Oh.” He’s being so methodical about all of this, you want to chuckle. An engineer at heart, that’s for sure. “Well, tell me what you were thinking.”

   “Well… I think first, I need to know exactly what your goal is.”

   You shift uncomfortably. “My goal?”

   “Yeah, your end goal. What exactly is it you’re wanting to accomplish with the double date, the fake dating…all of it?”

   You pause, trying to think. You hadn’t exactly sat down to assess that. “Make…Brian…jealous.”

   John chuckles. “You gotta be more specific.”

   “Okay…” You sigh. “He’s just never really seen me with somebody else romantically before. I guess I was just hoping I could make him see what he’s…missing out on with me. That’s really stupid,” you realize.

   “We can work with that,” John says.

   You stare at him. You find it so hard to believe that John Deacon’s really still going to help you in this grand quest to make Brian jealous. “Well, I was able to figure out after our fight today that there really is a chance he’s jealous—”

   “You and Brian had a fight today?” John asks.

   “Oh, I guess I didn’t tell you. I ran into him on the way home. That’s when I told him…” That you’re my boyfriend. You look away, ashamed. “And he didn’t react well. So we fought. But I…kind of provoked it on purpose. I just wanted to see for sure that he was jealous.”

   John stares at you like you’re an alien.

   “I know, I’m awful, you can just say it,” you say.

   “No, you’re not,” John says, “but you seriously needed even more confirmation that he’s into you?” He shakes his head. “Christ, Y/N. Brian’s head over heels for you. I’ve told you that since the beginning.”

   “I didn’t know for sure!” you defend yourself. “I… I wanted to make him a little mad, the way he made me mad. I feel awful about it now. But for some reason, at the time…it made sense. But now I know it was just stupid and bitchy and manipulative. I just wish I could take it all back.”

   John nods slowly. “One day, you’ll be able to apologize to him,” he assures you.

   “I hope so.” You don’t know how you’re going to be able to live with yourself for creating the monsters you did.

   John sighs a long sigh before continuing. “So back to ground point number two. Let’s talk about how this is all going to play out. I feel like there’s a right and a wrong way to go about this whole… ‘Making Brian Jealous’ thing.”

   You bite your lip.

   “And I wanna help you do it the right way. Which is going to be…subtly asserting a jealousy-inducing relationship.”

   “Sounds scientific.”

   “I just mean, we should do it subtly,” John explains and strokes his chin in thought. “So everyone thinks we’re official… Dating for…how long have we been dating?”

   “Since last weekend,” you say, reciting what you’d told Brian.

   “So about two weeks at this point. So, to make it believable…” He looks at you nervously. “I think we should go only as far as dancing and hugging. Maybe kissing you on the cheek twice, if the time is right.”

   He— I— What? You reel, nearly laughing. “What are you talking about?”

   John stutters. “I guess I—well—I don’t… I don’t feel very comfortable with PDA,” he admits. “Not when it’s not real. You know?”

   “Oh,” you chuckle. “No, yeah, I get that.” Your heart flutters inexplicably. So damn methodical.

   “And that way we’re being subtle about it, but still showing Brian what he’s missing out on.” John scratches his neck. “But I get it if you think that’s not enough to drive the message home, so I supposed if you wanted, we could further discuss the possibilities of something…more, PDA-wise, something like kis—”

   You cut him off. “No, nonono, that’s okay.” That would just be…too much.

   John hesitates. You find your eyes fixating on his lips, out of the sheer power of suggestion.

   You blurt. “Not that I don’t want to!” Fuck! “Y’know…do…that…”

   “No, no, yeah,” he says, nodding like a bobblehead on a dashboard.

   “…Yeah.”

   “…Okay.”

   “I’m sure you’d… I’m sure it’d be very nice…” Kill me kill me kill me. “But…”

   “No, yeah, definitely not.”

   “Definitely not.”

   John frowns. “Not that I also wouldn’t want to…”

   You wave him off. “No worries, I totally get it.”

   “Glad we’re on the same page,” John says.

   “Yeah.”

   Aaaaaaand silence. You look away, wanting to disappear. A few excruciating seconds pass before you meet John’s gaze again…

   And then he starts giggling. And giggling. And he doesn’t stop. And then you join in because you can’t help it. And then you two are both in a giggling fit, unable to stop, falling on your sides, tears pooling in your eyes.

   It’s the best moment you’ve had all day.

   “Okay, okay,” you say through your laughs, trying to calm down. But then John makes the most ridiculous face trying to compose himself, that you both lose it again.

   “Okay, for real,” he says after a few minutes, “we gotta talk about the third thing.”

   “The third what?” you ask.

   “The third ground rule. Remember?”

   “God, you’re such an engineer,” you jest, poking his arm.

   He takes mock offense. “What does that have to do with anything?”

   “It’s just funny because…!” You chuckle. “Never mind. You’re just funny. Tell me about your last ground rule.”

   “Okay.” He works to finally compose himself for good, before looking at you seriously. “My last ground rule is that after this weekend, we call it off.”

   You frown. “Call it off…”

   “We’ll do the double date, wait for the weekend to be over, and then we break up,” he explains. “Obviously we can still hang out as friends—”

   “Wait, no!” you object. “This weekend?! That’s not enough time!”

   “It’s gotta be,” John insists, his expression desperate. “I can’t keep going with the lie. We end it after Sunday.”

   “That’s not enough time,” you say. “I can’t make Brian come around in one weekend!”

   “You have this whole week, plus the weekend,” John says. “Look, I’m sorry, I know it’s a tight deadline. But we gotta end it this weekend. Especially if I make the band.”

   You hadn’t even really thought about that. “You’ll make the band, Deaky.”

   “We don’t know that for sure. But there’s a really good chance I will, and I really don’t want there to be bad blood between me and Brian from the get-go. I’m sorry, but I’m not flip-flopping on this one. It’s gotta end this weekend.”

   You consider his words. This means you have from now—Monday—till Sunday to talk to Brian, maybe apologize, let him see how good John treats you, and get him to change his mind about Tara. Six days… It could work. Then you would make a clean cut with John, tell Brian, make him realize he’s in love with you, dump Tara, and you and he ride off together on horseback into the sunset.

   Ideally.

   “Okay, fine,” you finally agree. “We break it off after Sunday.”

   John sighs in relief. “Thank you, Y/N.”

   You nod. “Thank you, John. For everything.”

   His grey eyes grow warm. You feel like you could melt under a gaze like that, like ice cream on the pavement in the middle of summer.

   “Are we… Are we good?” you ask him, not quite sure what exactly you mean by it.

   But John nods surely as ever. “We’re good, Y/N.”

   You and he share a moment of comfortable silence. Memories of countless hours spent together in the library come flooding back. Comfortable silence is in your standard repertoire with John. And despite the awkward moments of a few minutes prior… You realize now, even while gazing at each other, that you’ve never really felt this comfortable with silence around another human being anymore.

   Not even Brian.

   The moment is broken yet again by your phone buzzing in your pocket. This time, it’s Ronnie calling you.

   “I’m gonna answer this,” you tell John, moving to hoist yourself up off the mattress.

   “I’ll be here.”

   Leaving the room, you hold the phone to your ear. “Hello?”

   “Hey!” Ronnie greets you, her bell-chime voice clear as crystal through the phone. There’s a commotion of noise in the background.

   “Hey, Ronnie! Are you really still at the market?”

   “Yeah! Freddie was a lot of fun. We sold four of my sketches already!”

   “That’s so great!” you reply, smiling.

   “Anyway, Fred and Rog are walking me back home now.”

   “Okay… I’ll see you soon?”

   “Yeah…” She makes an awkward sound. “Erm, Tara texted me. She said I should, quote-unquote, probably call you first when I’m on my way home.”

   Your face grows hot with embarrassment. Fucking Tara. “She’s just being dramatic. Nothing’s going on here.”

   “Oh, okay.” She sounds noticeably relieved. “Y/N, I meant to ask…” She seems to cup her lips around the receiver; all the background noise grows softer as she whispers, “what’s up with you and John? I didn’t know anything about this.”

   “Yeah, um.” Surprise! “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later. But it’s one hundred percent safe for you to come home,” you chuckle.

   “Yeah, Rog already told me all about it,” she admits. “He said you two are dating now? That’s new.”

   “I was gonna tell you eventually,” you plead. You desperately hope Ronnie’s not upset with you for not telling her. You and she had become pretty good friends in the past half-year of being roommates.

   Another person you have to lie to. Ugh.

   “Oh, that’s okay! I knew you would,” she says cheerily. “It just took me by surprise. I didn’t really know you two were even friends. I’m happy for you!”

   “Thanks, Ronnie,” you say gladly.

   “But… Freddie’s not very happy. Would you happen to know why? I can’t figure it out.”

   Fucking fucknut. Roger must have spilled to Freddie. “What did he say?”

   “Well, uh, he cursed you out,” Ronnie says politely, “and now he’s muttering something about you not telling him your secrets.”

   Ah, Freddie. Always gets his panties in a twist when he finds out he’s among the last to learn about drama. “I’m sure he’s not really mad,” you reassure her.

   “He wants you to text him, I think,” Ronnie laughs. “You probably should, before he explodes.”

   “I will. Thanks, Ronnie. See you soon?”

   “I’ll be home within the hour!”

   She hangs up. You sigh and stuff your phone back in your pocket. Let Freddie be mad. You’ve been hesitant to text him about the John-Brian situation. Freddie knows you’re in love with Brian—thanks to your drunken secret-spilling from last semester—and it’s very possible he knows now about the whole Tinder mishap. But he doesn’t know where your true intentions lie. You’re not sure if you want to tell him all of that. It might just be easier to convince him, too, that you’re dating John.

   Whatever. You’ll figure it out later.   

   “Hey,” you say once you return to your room. John is perched on your bed still, but he’s leaning back, his head against the headrest, his socked feet outstretched in front of him, flipping through a worn book he’d picked off your bookshelf. He looks very cozy, and you hate what it’s doing to you.

   It strikes you that the last boy you’d had in your room (that wasn’t Brian) had been a very humiliating one-night-stand after a Halloween party. Ugh. You’re glad John can take over that title now.

   “My other roommate will be home in an hour,” you inform him.

   “Mm,” he hums disinterestedly, flipping a page in your book. “How many times have you read this sappy book?”

   You realize then which book he’d snagged; your copy of The Notebook.

   “Hey!” you shout, lunging across the bed to confiscate it. John gives it up easily; you realize you were expecting more of a fight. But taunting you is more up Brian’s alley than John’s.

   You make a twisted-up face. “The Notebook is not sappy, it’s a heartfelt story of life and love.” You don’t truly adore the novel—the way you used to in early high school—but you want to see John’s reaction.

    “Seemed pretty sappy to me, from what I read,” John laughs.

   You look down at the page John had been reading, and feel suddenly warm. “You were just reading the sex scene,” you say in a mock-chiding manner.

   “Oh, I was?” replies says innocently. You smack his arm with the book.

   “Freaky Deaky,” you chuckle. “The book is better than the movie, anyway.”

   “Is the sex scene better in the book than in the movie?”

   You smack him again, and then stop to consider. “Hmm. You know, I don’t think it is. I can’t remember. I think the movie is more awkward. Have you never seen it?”

   John scoffs. “Do I look like the kind of lad who’d watch—”

   “You’ve gotta watch it!” you say. “At least at some point. It’s kind of a rite of passage.”

   “A ‘rite of passage?’” he mocks you. You smirk at him. Your best friends from high school always said to pull the Notebook test on guys to see how good of a boyfriend they’d be. If they didn’t cry at the end, they’re going to be a shit boyfriend. If they did cry, they’d be a good boyfriend.

   Something tells you John Deacon would be the kind of guy who cries at the end of The Notebook.

   Not that it matters.

   “We should watch it!” you suggest. “It’s on Netflix!”

   As soon as the words come out, you want to suck them right back in. What am I doing? Suggesting to watch The Notebook with a boy who’s supposed to be your fake boyfriend. Oh yeah, great idea, idiot. That’s not weird at all.

   But to your surprise, John looks like he’s actually considering the idea. “Right now?”

   “Uh…yeah!”

   “I have physics homework due at 11:59. But I can just multitask,” he says.

   “You’d seriously watch it?” With me?

   John shrugs. “You seem to think it’s a good movie.”

   “Well, I mean, it has its problems, but yeah, it’s pretty good. I don’t have any homework.” You shrug too. “‘S up to you.”

   John pretends to consider long and hard. “…Do you have popcorn?”

   “Heaps.”

   “Let’s do it!”

 

———

 

   Fifteen minutes later, you and John are nestled on the living room couch beneath a mass of various blankets, nursing two Thermoses of hot chocolate and one titanic bowl of popcorn between the both of you. John has his laptop on one thigh and his calculator on the other, but as the movie begins, you find he does a pretty good job of splitting his attention two ways.

   You, on the other hand, can’t seem to concentrate on the movie at all. Maybe it’s because you’ve seen it a billion times… But it’s probably more likely due to the fact that you can feel the heat radiating from John’s body through the blankets. Something you should be able to brush off. But for some reason, you can’t ignore it. It’s a small couch, and he’s sitting very close to you. His thigh is very nearly touching your knee where your legs are tucked under the fluffy turquoise blanket draped between you and him. You can smell his vanilla-spice scent so clearly, and it reminds you of the lengthy hug you’d shared just an hour earlier.

   And the electricity. It only manifested after the tickle fight from earlier, and it hasn’t faded since. You feel like you could shock him with it. Does he feel it, too?

   Nope. He’s intently focused on a physics problem, his eyes illuminated by the screen, his lips pursed. You sigh and shift as far away from him as possible, leaning against the opposite armrest. It helps.

   But where you’re not distracted by the strange tension… You find yourself distracted by guilt and worry.

   God, you hope you’re not fucking up Deaky’s chances with your own stupid life decisions. Looking at him now, you see this quiet, intelligent, level-headed, quirky, dorky kid, who smiles too much and forgives too easily. You imagine what he’s going to look like on stage…playing his heart out, winking at all the girls, dressed to the nines, all done up in eyeliner and glam à la Freddie Bulsara.

   He’ll blow everyone’s minds…if Brian even gives him a chance.

   But Brian is fuming right now. Well, right now, Brian’s on a date with Titillating Tara. But you wonder how much of that is out of spite for the anger you provoked earlier.

   Is Brian going to cut Deaky before he even has a chance to prove himself…all because of you?

   Not if one of the others convinces him otherwise.

   A plan hatches like a newborn baby bird. Making Brian jealous, getting him to fall in love with you instead of Tara, all while preserving John’s chances with Queen… You’re not going to be able to do it all on your own, unless you can enlist some major help.

   “Will you wait here?” you ask John. “I’m going to use the bathroom.”

   “I’ll be here,” he says with a little smile. “Wanna pause it?”

   “Pshh. I know what happens.” You hoist yourself off the couch and walk to the bathroom, hoping that John doesn’t notice that your phone is still in your hand.

   Pacing the little sink area, you pull out your phone, ignoring the old messages from Tara (and ignoring the stupid tug in your heart when you realize Brian hasn’t so much as texted you). Instead, you open a conversation with Freddie and type:

   I need to meet up and talk to you ASAP. When are you free?

   In standard Freddie “Never Puts His Phone Down” Bulsara fashion, he replies immediately:

   👿

  What’s that supposed to mean ??

   It means im mad at you / not talking to you

   So melodramatic. Why???

   A few seconds of nothing but the typing indicator bubble. Are you with john deacon?

   Yes.

   Then that’s why!!

   He just can’t fucking stand to be out of the loop.

   You type: It’s a long story. Can we meet up and talk about it?

   I need your help. Please.

   It takes a little while, but he replies: what kind of help

   I fucked up and I need you to help me un-fuck it

   you can’t un-fuck something, darling, I would know

   You laugh silently at your phone screen. I can’t type it all out. Can we plz just meet up tomorrow? I’ll buy lunch.

   No reply. Fred ???

   Finally, he says: im free tomorrow after our band rehearsal. we get out at noon. i want indian, but the GOOD STUFF, not from that shitty place down the road. and you’ll tell me EVERYTHING. got it?

   Perfect, your last morning class gets out at noon.  I’ll see you then. Love u fred💕

   im still mad at you.

   You smile to yourself. Freddie doesn’t know it yet…but he’s about to be your secret weapon in this whole ordeal.

   You return to John’s side by the couch and resume watching the movie together. Ronnie returns home a few minutes later, says hello, and leaves you and your supposed boyfriend alone to finish the movie. John finishes his physics homework after not too long, and puts his laptop down to give the movie his undivided attention.

   Which is what you feared. Because the first sex scene is coming up.

   Granted, it’s not really much of a sex scene. The second, sexier one comes later in the movie. But John can sense things are heating up between Nick and Allie, too, and he seems to grow increasingly uncomfortable beside you.

   Balls, why did I suggest we watch this stupid romance movie?

   Clothes begin to come off in a drawn-out scene. John laughs awkwardly beside you.

   “Oh, boy,” he says.

   “You just wait,” you reply.

   You realize now how much you’ve incidentally shifted toward John again. Or…has he incidentally shifted toward you? All you register is the strange, static energy that courses through your veins again and yearns toward him in anticipation.

   With a start, you realize you’re touching him now. Your knee brushes his thigh, just barely, but enough to send jolts of excitement down your spine. But you hadn’t even moved at all…which means he had. He stares straight ahead at the television, his expression disinterested, his eyes anything but.

   Half of you wants to pull away. Half of you wants to get a little closer. You decide on the latter, stretching your leg out so just the slightest bit more of your knee presses into his thigh.

   His reaction is small but imminent. Out of the corner of your eye, you see his lips parting ever so slightly. His leg is hot against your knee.

   “This scene is so awkward,” he comments softly.

   “Told you.”

   You hadn’t noticed while John made the comment that he had snaked his hand under the blanket…until you register the feeling of his fingertips resting on your knee, so soft you almost think you are imagining it. The new touch seems to multiply the electricity, scattering all over throughout your veins and down your tummy and pooling in your core.

   You inhale shakily; you hadn’t expected that.

   The scene drags on, and John’s fingers begin to draw little circles on your clothed skin in a manner that would have otherwise tickled. But your throat goes dry, and your breathing becomes shallower and quicker. Every rational thought in your brain tells you to pull away…but you feel frozen in time, unable to move even if you wanted to.

   Your mind flits to the vase on the coffee table in front of you, and to the condoms Tara had supposedly hidden beneath it.

   No! God! Don’t think about that!

   John doesn’t change the circular pattern on your leg, nor does he touch you any heavier than a feather-light brush. You wish he would. Your breath feels caught in your throat now.

   But the scene ends, and so does John’s inexplicable touch. He pulls his hand away and shifts a half-inch toward the opposite armrest of the couch, clearing his throat. You blink, perplexed, before scowling and moving away yourself.

   Well, what was I fucking expecting? For my fake boyfriend to make a fake move on me?

   But something tells you it wasn’t fake at all.

 

———

 

   John had decided to leave for home only halfway through the movie, asserting that he has an early class and should probably get to bed. Things felt awkward and tense as he gathered his things and re-laced his shoes. Before he’d left, he gave you a small side hug—which wasn’t what you had been expecting, after the ginormous hug he’d given you while you cried earlier—and thanked you for the popcorn and hot chocolate. You vowed to text him later, and saw him out the door.

   And now, two hours later, it’s 1 a.m. and you can’t sleep for shit. It’s as if there’s a TV of discombobulated thoughts behind your eyes that you can’t turn off. The day’s events replay on loop… Roger’s amused voice as he accuses you of dating John… Brian’s angry shouts that echo in your mind like a tunnel… John’s intense eyes as he stares into your soul and tells you it’ll all work out…

   John’s fingers as they graze your knee under the covers in a way that’s too purposeful to be an accident.

   What an obscure, contradictory game you’re playing here. Is he just playing along? Or is it something else?

   You huff and rotate onto your back, staring at the popcorn ceiling of your room. You’d forgotten to close your curtains, but you’re too lazy to get up now. The skies are still overcast with clouds and fog, which diffuse the city lights into an almost dawn-like glow that streams through your window and illuminates your room a colorless gray.

   Sleep simply won’t come. And you have a feeling it’s due to the unacknowledged demons rioting in your brain.

   You miss Brian. It’s only been a few hours since your fight with him, but you can already tell that the words each of you spat at each other are going to change things forever. Will he ever forgive you for what you said?

   You’d gone too far.

    “Oh, screw you, Brian.”

   “I’d say the same, but it looks like John Deacon’s already doing that.”

   That little slander would have been more of a blow to you if you hadn’t been lying about John. Mostly, you’re just shocked that the words even left Brian’s lips. He gets frustrated with you easily, sure, even angry at times. But you’d never seen him thatangry at you before. You must have really struck a chord, bringing up John in that way.

   Wasn’t that what you were hoping to accomplish, anyway? Making Brian mad at you…making him jealous of John?

   So why does it still leave you with such an acrid feeling in your stomach?

   Fuck. You have a class at nine tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll take a melatonin… They tend to leave you with a disoriented, hungover-like heaviness in the mornings. But it’s safer than taking cough syrup. You sit up and reach into your bedside table, pulling out the container of melatonin pills and popping two in your mouth.

   The main door to the apartment opens with a rattle of keys. Tara must be home, finally. You hear her throw her bags down and run the hot water for a shower before bed. You reach over to check the time—but you realize there’s a missed text from fifteen minutes ago you must not have heard. From Brian.

   Hey

   Hmm. You’d been wondering who was going to end up texting first. Usually it’s you, but you’d been determined not to text him until the morning, at least. Had he justfinished his date with Tara? You sit up a little in bed and type out a reply, hoping he’s still awake.

   Hey, Dust Boy.

   Your heart stutters. Is it too ambiguous? Should you not have used the nickname? You stare at the screen, waiting for him to read it…

   At last, the little read receipt appears at the corner. Another excruciating fifteen seconds pass before he starts typing.

   You’re awake?

   You consider typing out something snarky, like, “no, I’m asleep while I text this, dumbass.” But now’s not the time for your characteristic dry humor. Instead, you write:

   I couldn’t sleep.

   u?

   He replies: nope

   The thought of Brian lying awake in his own bed, staring at his ceiling the same way you had been, makes your stomach flip. You bet he’s wearing those gingham pajama pants of his, the ones that do ridiculous things to your body when you see him wearing them. Stop it, Y/N.

   You start typing out a reply, but backspace and wait for him to text again. He obviously sent you the first text for a reason.

   Sure enough, he says:

   I’m not really sure what to say.

   I wanted to apologize for some things I said

   But there are other things I’m not sorry for

   Guilt pools in your chest again. You say: Maybe I can apologize first if that’s okay

   He reads, but doesn’t reply. So you take a shaky text and spend a few minutes writing out your bit, aiming for the best grammar and punctuation possible to prove your seriousness:

   I can’t believe I thought it was a good idea to bring up all those things I did, about John. That was incredibly stupid of me. I should not have tried to provoke you like that. You had and still have a right to be angry with me for what I said. I am so sorry, Brian.

   You add in the next text: I won’t blame you if you never forgive me, but I just need you to know that I regret what I said.

   Your heart feels like it’s about to explode out of your chest, you’re so nervous. You tap your fingers impatiently against the comforter while you watch the typing indicator bubble.

   Thank you for writing that, Y/N. I’ll admit it was hard for me to hear the things you said. And I think I had the right to be angry. But I will never forgive myself for what I said before you left.

   Another text from Brian: I was just so angry. The words just came out

   And another: I am so sorry.

   You bite your lip unconsciously, but some of the tension in your body leaves upon reading his texts. Truth is, you’re not really that mad about Brian’s insult, but he doesn’t know that.

   You reply: I forgive you.

   He reads, but doesn’t reply. Suddenly, you desperately want to tell Brian the truth. You want to tell him you’d made up everything about dating John. You want to tell him you’re really in love with him. You want—no, you need—him to know.

   But you can’t say that. It would ruin everything.

   But finally, he replies. I forgive you too. I’ll always forgive you

   You laugh bitterly to yourself, flipping so you’re lying on your side now. He’s never going to forgive you if he ever finds out what you’re really doing.

   Another text comes in: You said you wanted to provoke me. Why?

   You want to tell him the truth. Tell him. Tell him!!!

   So you write: Honestly? I was jealous

   The second you send it, you gasp. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck fuck on a STICK, why the fuck did I just send that? You throw your phone to the foot of your bed and groan, covering your eyes.

   Brian replies back almost instantly. Reluctantly, you reach for your discarded phone and read it.

   I could tell

   Your life is over. You’re done for. You moan into your pillow.

   How could you tell

   I just know you. But the question is, why?

   What are you going to fucking do now? Tell him it was all because you’re hopelessly in love with him and you didn’t know how to cope with the agony that he’s into your roommate instead?

    You don’t type anything for a few minutes. But then, he texts:

   I just want you to know that Tara could never replace you. If you’re worried I’ll be hanging out with her now more than you. You’re my best friend, and I don’t want you to feel like our friendship is threatened because of her and me.

   Oh, so that’s why he thinks you were trying to anger him? Whew. But also, what the fuck. You don’t even know what to say to that.

  So you just roll with the punches: You don’t also feel threatened by John and me?

   Maybe a little

   no reason to be. You’re my best friend too. I’ll always want to hang out with you.

   Me too. 😌

   An emoji? From Brian May? That’s a good sign. But you scratch your head, trying to figure out where things are now.

   So are we ok? you say.

   Brian replies: I’d like to be

   You still feel like something is unspoken—unwritten—between the two of you. Shouldn’t he still be pissed off?

   Me too 🙂See u tomorrow?

   I look forward to it!

   Goodnight

   Nite

   You turn your phone off and place it on your bedside table. A long exhale leaves your lungs. God, you still feel wide awake. You still have so much you want to say.

   Before you can stop, you find yourself grabbing your phone and pressing the “call” button next to Brian’s name.

   The phone rings three times. Then he picks up.

   “Hello?” His voice is thick with tiredness. That voice you love so much.

   “Hey,” you say, so softly it’s barely audible.

   Silence. You hear him breathing through the receiver, just barely.

   “I’m sorry to call,” you say.

   “‘S okay.”

   You sigh. “I just really needed you to know…”

   “Know what, Y/N?”

   Every cell in your being seems to light on fire at the sound of his voice speaking your name.

   “What I said about me and John…about us hooking up. We haven’t… We haven’t done anything like that yet.”

   Admitting it out loud…it feels like a metric ton has been lifted off your shoulders. It’s only half the lie, but it’s better than nothing.

   Brian’s quiet on the other line. You wonder if he’s thinking about asking you why you’d said it.

   You add: “I’m sorry again. That I made you so mad.”

   “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Brian’s voice is level. Not accusatory, not angry, but also not impassive. He sounds almost curious.

   “Not anymore,” you whisper.

   “Well…” There’s a rumpling noise, almost like he’s shifting in the sheets. “Then I forgive you.”

   “Thank you,” you breathe out.

   Silence again. The buzz of static from the call’s audio is oddly comforting.

   “Y/N?” Brian says.

   “Yeah?”

   “This probably isn’t in my place to say. But I’m glad to hear that you and he haven’t gone that far yet.”

   Your breath gets stuck in your throat. “You are?”

   “Yeah. It’s…a good thing.”

    If you had any more energy in your body, you’d be annoyed. Who is he to judge how fast you want to move in a relationship? And Lord knows Tara’s taking it slow with him.

   “Yeah, I think so, too,” you say.

   “Well, when the time is right…”

   Oh, Christ. Is he seriously about to give you a sex pep talk?

   “I know how to be safe, Brian, I’m not dumb,” you chuckle. But your mouth feels dry. You hate how Brian’s talking like a big brother right now.

   “You’re not dumb at all,” Brian agrees, his voice soft. “You’re the smartest person I know.”

   “Have you looked in a mirror recently?”

   “You’re smarter than me in so many ways.”

   Your heart swells. Somehow, every word Brian says at two a.m. takes on a whole new meaning.

   “Thank you, Bri.”

   “Just, um…” He hesitates. “Please don’t feel like you have to do anything you don’t truly want to do.”

   “I know that,” you say gently.

   “Or be with anyone you don’t truly want to be with.”

   Holy shit. You have to work very, very hard to hold in the little moan in the back of your throat that’s threatening so badly to come out.

   A second passes before you reply, your voice like a breath. “I could say the same for you.”

   Neither of you says anything for a while. You hear Brian breathing, and you’re pretty sure he can hear you, too.

   “It’s nice to hear your voice,” he whispers finally. “Without either of us yelling.”

   “Yeah. Yours too.”

   “I’m…” He seems to smile. You don’t know how you can tell, you just can. “I’m glad this is how I can end my day.”

   “Me too, Brian.”

   “See you tomorrow?”

   “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

   “Goodnight, Bookworm,” he says.

   “Goodnight, Brian.”

   The call ends. You hold the phone against your ear for another minute longer before plugging it back in and setting it down.

   If Brian’s gentle two-a.m. voice could be the last thing you heard every night… You never want to fall asleep ever again.

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*

Bonus Bri and John pics because I love these (idk if they truly pertain to the story whatever):

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BRIAN IN GLASSES SKSKSKSKSK

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i n t e n s e   g a z e   d e a k y   b o i

 

Chapter Text

 


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✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

Tuesday morning, 11:00 am

    For a subject you’re so personally interested in, Women’s Lit is by far the most boring class you’re forced to endure twice a week. It’s repetitive and mundane and far too easy. It doesn’t help that you’re at your wit’s end from sleep deprivation. The entirety of class, you welcome any distraction you can get.

    But what you’re not expecting is for the distraction to come in the form of a flower delivery man.

    The door to the classroom swings open, and a spindly man wielding an unruly-sized bouquet of roses steps in. The professor ceases her lecture, frowning at the disruption. The sudden silence after an hour and a half of her lulling drone of a voice is jarring to your ears.

    “Apologies,” the delivery man stammers, “but I have an urgent delivery for a Miss, uh…” He refers to a tablet in his hand. “Miss Y/N Y/L/N?”

    Your professor glares at you with daggers in her eyes. This prompts half the class to swivel their heads around to you at the back of the class. You stiffen in your seat, your cheeks flooding with heat.

    “Is a Miss Y/L/N here?” the delivery man asks again.

    “That’s me,” you squeak. The man raises his chin in acknowledgment and walks down the aisle between two rows of desks to get to you.

    “It’s your lucky day, ma’am,” he says with a polite smile and hands the bouquet to you. You take them, completely dumbfounded. A couple of classmates snigger. The professor taps her foot and huffs a sigh. “If you’ll just sign here as a confirmation of reception… And that’s it!”

    “I’m so sorry,” you apologize in a rush to the professor as the delivery man makes his way out. Your peers have taken the brief interruption as an open invitation to break into their own side conversations now.

    “I hope this is merely a one-time occurrence, Miss Y/L/N,” the professor says with exasperation. “I will not have you interrupting valuable class time for any more kitsy gestures from your secret admirers.”

    Your stomach flips. “I won’t. I’m sorry.”

    The professor sighs, looking at the clock on her phone. “Well, this little interlude squandered two of our ten remaining minutes of class, so I suppose we might as well end early. Please do remember to submit your book report on The Handmaid’s Taleonline by 11:59 Friday night,” she announces as the class begins to gather their books and laptops. You clutch the bouquet to your chest, fling your backpack over your shoulder, and make a beeline for the door before anything else can manage to embarrass you.

    Standing in the hallway, you examine the roses. They’re beautiful, a deep scarlet red in color, and wrapped in ornate ribbons and packaging. There’s a note attached to one of the stems with your full name printed elegantly on the outside. You unfold the note and read a message from the bouquet’s sender:

    Happy Tuesday, Y/N! I hope you enjoy these fake flowers from your fake boyfriend. Be sure you bring them with you when you come to our rehearsal today. With affection, John Richard Deacon xo

    You smile, despite yourself. What an outdated, hackneyed gesture…but it makes you feel special. It occurs to you that this is the first time a boy has ever sent you flowers. And you’re glad they’re from John, even when the notion of romance behind the bouquet is entirely fabricated. A part of you finds his choice of words slightly odd...Fake flowers from your fake boyfriend. Well, the flowers certainly aren't fake. They're very real, bright red roses. Hmm.

    You smell the roses as you head out of the Liberal Arts building and into the muggy outdoors. Passersby glance at the ostentatious red bundle in your arms, and you can’t help but feel proud to have the best fake boyfriend in the world.

———

    Brian, Freddie, and Roger’s band rehearses in the basement of the Imperial College London recreation center. The university lets them reserve the dingy space for free—“free” being the keyword that rings like a bell to the desperate ears of broke college kids. The only downsides are: 1) the basement is where all the snooker and table tennis tables are set up, meaning the constant allure of distraction; and 2) the noise of their rehearsal is so cacophonous that you can hear it from outside the building.

    You stand outside the rec center and chuckle at the muted sounds of Brian’s wailing guitar and Roger’s snare drum licks coming from the front doors. It’s not hard to see why most critics universally describe the band’s music with one common word: loud.

    “Y/N!” a voice says behind you.

    You turn around and suppress a groan. It’s Tara, sauntering up the steps to you with a huge smile. “Hey, roomie!” she exclaims.

    “Oh, hey, Tara,” you say and plaster a smile on your face as well as she hugs you. Fuuuuuck, why is she here?

    “Oh my gosh, are those from John?” She leans in to smell your bouquet of roses. “I’m so jealous! Those are beautiful.”

    “Thanks,” you say. “Are you here to see—”

    “The guys rehearse? Yes!” she squeals excitedly, her breath fogging in the cold winter air. “I’ve never seen them live before! Everyone says they’re really good. Especially Brian. Did you know Brian made his guitar with his dad out of a hundred-year-old fireplace—”

    “Yeah, the Red Special, I know,” you interrupt her. You’d listened to so many hours of Brian raving about the Red Special that you could practically build one yourself at this point.

    Tara just beams. “It’s amazing! I was over at his and Roger’s flat last night, and I made Brian play a song for me. He says he’ll write a song for me.” She throws her hand over her forehead in a dramatic swooning gesture. “Perks of dating a rock star, huh? Who knows, maybe your John will—”

    “Whoa, whoa whoa whoa,” you say, unable to stop yourself from glaring at her. “You were over at his flat last night?”

    Tara bats her eyelashes with the innocence of a sly red fox. “Yeah, he invited me over after our sushi date, while you were with John. Speaking of whiiiich,” she says in a singsongy voice, “you have a lot of tea to spill to me and Ron about that.”

    You blink. “About…?”

    She nudges your arm. “About you and John! I definitely heard you two last night,” she says with a wink.

    Your nostrils flare. “Tara, we didn’t do anything like that.”

    Tara gives you her best “sure, Jan” look. “I’m sure after a few drinks on Friday, you’ll spill everything, anyway,” she says with a wave of her hand.

    You know Tara’s trying to be playful, but her words just exasperate you. It hurts more than you care to admit that Brian invited her over last night. What all did they talk about? What all did they…do?

    “Well, what about you and Bri?” you say casually.

     “We’re doing great!” Tara smiles a private sort of smile. “More than. He’s…” She bites her bottom lip and giggles. “…amazing. In every sense of the word.”

    Never fucking mind, I don’t want to know anymore.

    “Good for you two,” you say and make your way up the stone steps to the entrance of the rec center. She follows you inside, giggling like a stupid schoolgirl.

    Have they kissed already? Or… Christ, if Tara had her way with him—and Tara has to have her way with everyone—they’ve probably already fucked. The thought sends a clench of venom to your stomach, making you feel like you need to hurl your breakfast. Or punch a wall.

    Calm down, Y/N. You don’t know what they really did or didn’t do. You don’t know much, but you know she was over at Brian’s last night while you were with Deaky. You know she was over for a number of hours—she’d arrived back at your flat after midnight. And you know that for some reason, after she’d left him for the night, Brian wanted to text you and apologize.

    But what about your phone call with Brian last night? The words he whispered so hesitantly, yet so earnestly…

    “Just, um…Please don’t feel like you have to do anything you don’t truly want to do. Or be with anyone you don’t truly want to be with.”

     You try to put the pieces together. Could it have meant something about his date with Tara? Did he…reject her advances? What if they haven’t fucked yet? Is Tara lying? Why would Tara lie? To preserve her dignity?

    But…it begs the question; why would Brian want to reject Tara?

    He wouldn’t. He’s pined after her ever since the party, when his eyes grew as big as moons at the sight of her curvy body in that red sequin dress, her mascara-smudged eyes, her drink sloshing over everything. She’s a siren, and her song is too enchanting for the likes of Brian May and all the other smitten, lovesick types she’s pursued before him. He doesn’t stand a chance to her seductions. She’ll eat him alive, and she’ll suck the life out of him, and once she’s had her way, she’ll kick him to the curb and leave him desolate and barren like a dying dog.

    And the worst part? He’ll probably thank her for it.

    You march inside the rec and toward the basement with a new resolve. You have to stop Brian and Tara before it gets worse. You have to find a way to pry his hands from his ears, to force him to listen to reason. You have to get him to see Tara for what she truly is…for what she’ll do to him.

    You need Freddie Bulsara.

    Once you reach the foot of the stairs and swing the doors open, the wall of sound hits you like a ton of bricks. The concrete walls seem to trap it in and multiply it tenfold; neither the carpeted floor nor the snooker tables scattered among the lounge seem to dampen any of the sheer volume.

    Brian’s the first one you notice. He looks radiant today in a simple white shirt—half-buttoned to reveal a sliver of the tanned skin of his chest—his favorite pair of worn blue jeans, and sneakers. His lanky frame is hunched over the red guitar strapped around his shoulders as his fingers fly across the fretboard. At the sight of his teeth biting down on his bottom lip in a show of acute concentration, your whole body feels suddenly elated with warmth.

    The band doesn’t notice you and Tara come in, so you lead the way to a bench at the side of the lounge. Tara grips your elbow and whispers into your ear: “This is so exciting!”

    You just nod back, gritting your teeth. Something about Brian catches your eye… It’s a red piece of fabric wrapped around his forearm, right where his white sleeves are rolled up. At first, you think it’s a bandana, or a sweatband. But you’ve never seen him wear anything like that before. You squint, trying to focus.

    No, it’s a silk headband. Tara’s silk headband.

    You feel your elation deflating like a popped balloon. Well, there it is. She’s left her tag. Marked her territory.

    You clench your hands into fists… but immediately unclench them when you realize John Deacon’s been glancing to the side of the room, trying to get your attention. You meet John’s eyes. He gives you a wink—a knowing sort of wink. You can’t help but smile.

    You have John here. Maybe things aren’t going to suck so bad after all.

    The band continues with the song—a song of Fred’s called “Stone Cold Crazy” you’d only heard them rehearse a couple of times. You lean back and watch the guys play. Freddie Bulsara treats band rehearsals as if they’re actual performances—sans the costumes and glam. He struts about the front of their setup as if he owns the world; and he might as well one day, with that million-dollar voice. Behind him, Roger Taylor looks like he’s sitting upon an Iron Throne of drums and hi-hats that completely engulf his sweaty, slender frame. Brian—ever the fiddler—obsessively tweaks with his amp, his effects pedals, his pickup knobs on the guitar, his beautiful lips parted in a sensual way he’s completely unaware of.  

    And then there’s John. You almost don’t recognize him—he looks like a complete natural. His head bobs and his hips sway to the music, completely juxtaposed to the deft way his fingers move. His technique is impeccable, and you try but fail to focus on something else other than the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

    Jesus Christ. Why do they all have to look so sexual?

    The song ends with a flourish of riffs. Fred looks back at Rog with a final cymbal crash and laughs heartily. “Yes, Rog, sic’ em!” he shouts, giving the sweaty drummer a high-five.

    “We were really groovin’ that time around,” Roger says and turns to John. “And you stuck with my tempo, mate. That’s not easy. Good job!”

    John beams, but stays quiet. Brian’s quiet, too, practicing a missed lick over and over again. Freddie looks over at the guitarist and shouts over the noise, “What about you, Bri? What’d you think?”

    Brian stops and looks up; you realize he’s scowling. “Better, but seemed a little off after the second verse.”

    Roger scoffs loudly. You get the impression that this isn’t the first time today Brian’s been picky. “Christ, Brian, what this time…”

    Brian draws his eyes back down to his guitar, still practicing the riff on repeat. “Sounded like a second inversion from the bassline. Made the harmony sound a little unstable.” He glances furtively in John’s direction. “Can we run it again?”

    “We’ve already run through Stone Cold Crazy twice!” Roger whines, twirling his drumstick. “It’s past noon. I have places to be.”

    You sit up a little straighter in your seat on the bench, Tara doing the same beside you. You feel like you’re watching a reality TV show. It’s hardly a rare occasion to see the three hysterical queens in a spit like this, but you can sense the tension rising more than normal today. It probably doesn’t help that currently, John Deacon’s the only one who knows you and Tara are here observing. He glances over at you, his brows furrowed. You just shrug.

    “Brian, stop harping on our guest,” Freddie scolds.

    “He’s not our guest, he’s an auditionee!” Brian says.

    Roger makes a sound of disapproval. “He’s the best we’ve ever had! You’re gonna scare him off! You don’t gotta blow a fucking fuse like you always do—”

    “Uh, lads?” John says meekly from the corner. “I’m right here.”

    None of them pay him any heed. “I’m just saying,” Brian says, “we have a lot of people coming on Friday to hear us play, and I think it’s worth going over the show one more time to smooth out the kinks.”

    “The ’kinks’? And let me guess, none of those ‘kinks’ are from you?” Freddie says angrily. “You’re expecting all of us to be perfect” —he pops the p—“before you even attempt—”

    “Oh, don’t be so fucking ridiculous,” Brian says.

    “Guys, we have company—” John tries to intercede.

    No one hears. “You’re no perfect little princess yourself, Brian! You were the one dragging during Keep Yourself Alive!” Roger accuses. “And it’s your own bloody song!”

    “I’m playing what I always play!” Brian defends. “You’re always trying to push tempo—”

    “I keep us from dragging! That’s what I do! I’m the fucking drummer! It doesn’t help when you try to fill every damn second with riffs—”

     “I’m trying to slow it down—”

     “Well it doesn’t need slowing down! It’s—God, it’s creeping at the moment!”

      “Will you two hags just pipe down?” Freddie says, a manicured hand on his hip. 

     Roger doesn’t listen. “God, it was sooo slow! And it was getting even slower! You always try to play this like I never—”

     “That’s enough out of you, both of you! Just can it.”

     Freddie manages to stop the boys’ arguing for just a few breaths. But then Roger hits a hi-hat with frustration and glares at Brian.

    “You do slow down.”

    Brian throws his hands in the air and huffs, “Oh, fuck, slowing down…”

    Freddie groans. “We sounded fine. End of story. John, darling, we’d love to have you in the band—”

    “Hold up!” Brian interjects. “You’re just going to make an executive decision here, Fred? This is not what we agreed on. We said we’d give him a trial run on Friday!”

    “He sounded great on every one of our songs,” Freddie says. “He’s clearly practiced his arse off. He’ll be fine!”

    “Can we stop talking about me like I’m not in the room?” John says calmly. Freddie and Brian don’t notice, but Roger gives John a sympathetic smile.

    “We need to rehearse another time before Friday,” Brian insists. “This is our most publicized performance yet, and if we want to have any shot at all of making it big-time—”

    “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble at all making it big-time, darling,” Freddie drawls. “I’ll make sure of it myself.”

    “Oh, what, like it’s single-handed effort?” Brian scoffs. “You’re not the only member of this band, Fred.”

    “No, but I’m the lead singer, Brian,” Freddie mocks, “and if it weren’t for me, you lot would still be playing with mediocre bassists and wearing drab tee shirts at gigs…and playing Zeppelin covers!”

    “Fucking tee shirts,” Brian curses under his breath.

    “Don’t tell me you don’t remember the way you lot used to dress onstage? Pah!” Freddie makes a dismissive swiping gesture with his hand.

    “Hey! Not me!” Roger complains. “I’ve always dressed high fashion!”

    Freddie looks back at the drummer with endearment. “No, not you, Roger darling.”

    “What are you saying, then…!?” Brian barks.

    “Come on, Bri,” Freddie sneers. “I’ll give you credit, you look better now than you did a year ago. I much prefer your hair curly to straight. But I was half a second away from nominating our dear friend Tim Staffell for Queer Eye season four.”

    “Piss off about Tim,” Brian says. “And wasn’t it your band Wreckage that did all the Zeppelin covers? I’m pretty sure that was your bloody idea—”

    “You’re one to talk, Brian, your Facebook cover photo is the Physical Graffiti album cover!” Roger says, laughing.

    “That’s not the fucking point!”

    Tara bristles beside you. “They all really love to hear the sounds of their own voices, don’t they,” she whispers in your ear. And for once, you agree with her.

    Except for John. He watches all of this unfold from the sideline, completely helpless to stop the locomotive of drama that’s barreling at full-speed before him. Given the exasperated look on his face, he probably doesn’t even care to try. You wonder if the others know about his superpower yet—the power to make you curl up and die with two aptly-worded sentences. You would know; you’ve witnessed it yourself.

    The shit-show continues. “No, you’re right, it’s not the point,” Freddie says matter-of-factly, letting the microphone swing from his hands by the chord like a pendulum. “The point is, you lot brought me in the band, you let me fix your lack of theatricality, and if we can all just do our own bloody parts, we don’t have to worry about whether or not we become famous!”

    “And we need a bassist,” Roger adds.

    “We need a John Deacon!” Freddie says excitedly, smiling at John like he’s a puppy in a pen just waiting for a forever home. “Look at him! He’s perfect!”

    “It’s not a shoo-in position! Fucking Christ,” Brian mutters. “I thought we had an agreement? Trial performance on Friday, official band discussion, and then we agree on a new member.”

    “You and all your fucking agreements,” Roger gripes. “First it was an agreement about the groceries, and now it’s the agreement about bassists…”

    “He’s practically an expert!” Freddie vouches for John. “And he can build amps, and repair equipment, and write songs—”

    “What about singing?” Brian asks, turning to face John. “Can you sing?”

    John goes completely stiff. “I…”

    “Who cares if he sings or not?” Freddie says. “John, you play perfectly.”

    “Don’t we want a fourth singer? For backups and harmony?” Brian asks the band. “I think it’s pretty important, and well, if you can’t sing, mate—”

    “Brian, let it go!” Roger shouts. Your heart sinks at Brian’s words. This is exactly what you’d been fearing. Brian’s so angry, he’s never even going to give John a chance to pass the audition. And it’s all your fault. You were the one who provoked him. And now he’s taking it out on John. You want to bury your face in your hands.

    “Am I the only one who thinks it’s important to find another backup vocalist?” Brian asks angrily.

     “Don’t fucking nitpick,” Roger retorts. “If this is about Y/N…”

    You perk up. Tara presses her hand to her mouth and laughs silently.

    “Y/N?” Brian stammers your name. “What does this have to do with Y/N?”

    “I don’t know, mate, I’m asking you!” Roger says

    “Wait, I thought you’re dating Tara?” Freddie whirls to John. “And I thought you’re dating Y/N?” He throws his hands up in exasperation. “What is going on? Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything anymore?”

    “Neither Y/N nor Tara have anything to do with this,” Brian practically growls.

    “Really? Are you sure?” Roger accuses. “‘Cause I’m not convinced!”

    “Convinced about what?” Freddie shrieks.

    “That Brian’s not being a right tart toward John because of what’s going on with Y/N and—”

    “Enough, Rog!” Brian yells.

    “I swear to all that is holy, if someone doesn’t tell me what is going on this instant, I’m going to have an aneurysm,” Freddie declares.

    “Yeah, Brian, what is going on?” Roger says, pointing a drumstick at Brian. “Care to tell the class?”

    “Well, why don’t you ask the women of the hour themselves?” John says, calmly but loudly enough to be heard over the other boys’ yelling. They all three follow his gaze over to where you and Tara sit on the bench.

    “Hello, boys,” you both say at the same time.

    They stare at you and Tara, wide-eyed, and the sudden silence in the room feels somehow even louder than the bickering. No one says anything for a while.

    John is the first to break the stillness, pulling his bass off his shoulders and setting it on a stand. He straightens and crosses the room to where you sit.

    “Hey, babe,” John says. “Sorry you had to hear all that.”

    Funny that John should try to apologize for the others’ antics, when it’s all your fault. You stand as he approaches, smiling up at him. “I got your flowers,” you say and hold up the bouquet, trying not to laugh at how lovey-dovey you’ve made your voice sound. “They’re beautiful.”

    John reaches you now. You know—and you know he knows—everyone is watching at this moment. But it takes you completely by surprise when he pulls you close by the small of your back and presses a warm, long kiss to your forehead. It makes your whole body feel like it was just jolted with an electric shock.

    “Not half as beautiful as you,” he murmurs. Your face burns. He’d barely spoken the words above a whisper—certainly not loud enough for his bandmates across the room to hear. Gotta work on your volume, bud.

    Maybe he hadn’t intended them to hear.

    Over John’s shoulder, you see Brian gaping at you, still as a statue, completely at a loss for words. His eyes flit from your face to the huge bouquet of roses in your hand. You can’t hold back a satisfactory grin.

    “Hey, where’s my bouquet?” Tara jokes, breaking the awkward moment. Brian’s shoulders sag, and Freddie huffs a sarcastic laugh.

    “Okay, boys,” Freddie sighs. “Rehearsal’s over. I decree it.”

    Freddie wraps up the chord to his microphone and stashes it on one of the amps. From his drum set, Rog starts tapping out an anxious rhythm, filling the basement yet again with noise. Brian rips the connector from his guitar and turns away to start packing everything up.  

    “Wanna come see my bass?” John asks, and you nod. He grabs your hand with his and leads you over to the setup at the side of the lounge. He looks down at you and winks—again.

    That fucking wink of his is going to be the death of you. Your heart flutters in your chest. John’s got the whole fake boyfriend thing down to a tee. He’s so good at it—maybe too good.

    John picks up his guitar and starts doodling around, pointing out the different parts of the neck and body. You pretend to be interested, but you can’t meet his gaze. Feelings of guilt override everything else. You glance over his shoulder at the others. Tara has flitted to Brian’s side, where they talk to each other at a low volume. You strain to hear, but you can’t.

    Three things happen.

    First, Brian smiles slyly at Tara and unties the headband from his forearm, handing it back to her.

    Second, Tara giggles loudly and kisses his cheek, before throwing her arms around him in a full-body hug.

    Third, Brian wraps his arms around Tara’s waist, and his eyes meet yours. And it’s almost as if he knew you’d be looking.

    Your blood boils red-hot in your veins. Oh, I see what you’re doing, Dust Boy. He’s trying to get back at you. He wants you to see how happy he and Tara are. He wants you to feel bad for provoking him during your fight yesterday.

    “You okay, Y/N?” John asks you, his gray eyes full of intensity. It makes you feel even worse, how badly he’s invested in your well-being.

    You smile up at him a little. “Yeah. Thank you for the flowers, John.”

    He lifts his brows in a devious expression. “Did they…serve their purpose?”

    You frown. “Purpose?”

    “I’m hoping Brian noticed.”

    “Oh.” So that’s why he bought the flowers. He knew it’d make him seem like the world’s best boyfriend…and he knew it’d make Brian jealous. “I…I think he did.”

    “Then I’m doing my job correctly. Speaking of which…” John doesn’t look to see if anyone’s watching; he just takes both of your hands in his and holds them up to his lips, kissing the right one, then the left.

    Butterflies explode in your stomach. Behind his back, Brian is clearly watching…as are Roger and Freddie.

    “I’m free for the rest of today, love,” John says, more loudly now. “Let’s go get lunch together?”

    You open your mouth to answer, but Freddie beats you to it, an apologetic grin on his face. “So sorry, John dear, but Y/N has promised herself to me this afternoon.” Freddie snatches one of your hands from John and loops it through his arm like an escort.

    John looks confused, so you explain. “Freddie and I are gonna do some catching up. Lots of stories to tell me about your winter holiday, right, Fred?” you say, turning to look at Freddie and giggling with him.

    “That’s alright,” John says and smiles. You feel bad, though; he likely had plans in his mind with you, and you’ve clearly burst his bubble. “Will I… Will I see you later?”

    “Let’s make it a date,” you say with a wink.

    Freddie leads you away and toward the exit. “So sorry you had to hear our little row, darling. We’re all just a bunch of hysterical queens. As if I’m not enough as is for the whole lot.”

    “It’s okay, it was entertaining,” you say, patting his arm.

    “Fred!” Brian shouts. You and Fred turn around to face him. Brian gestures to all the amps and cases and equipment. “Are you going to help us pack up or not?”

    Freddie waves him off. “Eh, looks like you guys got it handled. Besides, that’s why I decided to become a frontman, not an instrumentalist…nothing to pack up.”

    “Oh, come on, Fred, let’s go help them,” you urge him.

    “I suppose we could go fetch the band van and bring it around to the front…” Freddie pretends to consider. “Oh, silly me, I almost forgot that I don’t know how to drive!”

    The other three groan. You hold back a snort. You know Freddie well; usually, he has no qualms about helping everyone pack up all the equipment and load the band van. But he’s the pettiest person you’ve ever met, and you’d bet a hundred bucks he’s being difficult on purpose—just to spite Brian for starting a row.

    “Well, will you at least take a stack of flyers?” Roger asks. You nod, and he crosses the lounge to you with a handful of event flyers on red paper. The band’s logo—which Freddie had designed with all of their zodiac signs—is printed at the top, followed by text reading, “The Band Formerly Known As Smile,” as well as the event details, beneath it.

    “I’ll give them out to everyone I know,” you tell Roger. He winks at you.

    Freddie begins leading you out the door again when Brian shouts out,  “Wait! Uh…Y/N?”

    You turn to face him once more. “Yes?”

    “Do you still have my Imperial College sweatshirt I gave you?” he asks.

    “Um, yeah, I think so. Why?”

    Brian’s face is impassive. “I need it back tonight. Can I drop by sometime this evening to pick it up?”

    A thousand questions whirl in your mind. What’s that supposed to mean? Is he trying to take back everything of his that you’ve accumulated over the years of being friends? Is he trying to make an excuse to come see you? Is he mad at you?

    “Sure,” you reply hesitantly. “What for?”

    “I need to go out to chart the movement of a couple of stars for a class assignment. I was going to make a trip down to Richmond Park tonight—”

    “He’s taking me stargazing,” Tara says wistfully, appearing beside him and clutching onto his arm.

    Brian barely skips a beat. “—and it’s supposed to be a bit chilly, so…”

    As much can feel your world start to crumble at Brian’s words, you try your best to mirror his stoic expression. “You can pick it up whenever, I’ll be home all night,” you say simply. Brian nods and turns away, and that’s that.

    “Aw, I wanna go on a stargazing date!” Roger whines.

    “Rog, what about that girl you were steady with?” Tara jests. “Jessica, was it?”

    “Nope, that’s long over…”

    The conversations fade as you let Freddie lead you up the stairs from the basement and into the main lobby of the rec center. You feel bad about leaving John alone down there…well, alone with a slutty drummer and a mismatched couple with the hots for each other. You’ll make it up to John later.

    You and Fred walk outside and into the cloudy London day. “To Shezan’s, then?” you ask Freddie. “I’m buying, remember?”

    He clasps his hands together excitedly. “Oh yes! Let’s get going.” The two of you turn right and head down the sidewalk to Freddie’s all-time favorite Indian restaurant.

    “So, is that how all band rehearsals go when I’m not there?” you ask, laughing.

    Freddie nods. “It’s basically just a big cockfight. But Brian’s especially pissy today for some reason. I’m pretty sure he’s on his period. How was your morning so far, love?” He turns to glance down at you, and then dramatically shifts from smiling to frowning. “You know what, never mind, I just remembered I’m supposed to still be mad at you.”

    “Freddie!” you laugh, nudging him. “Don’t be mad. I’ll tell you everything. That’s why we’re doing this lunch date, remember?”

    He makes a humph noise. “Why am I always the last to know everything?”

    You snort. “Freddie, this is literally the first time ever that you’re the last to know something.”

    He sulks. You walk in front and turn to face him, making a pouty puppy-dog face. It works; he can’t help but smile.

    “Oh, I can’t be mad at you for real, Y/N, you’re too adorable!” He leans forward for a friendly hug, and you giggle, hugging him back. “But you need to spill the tea. Everything. All of it. Now. Spill it!”

    “Get me a huge bowl of tikka masala, then we’ll talk.”

    Freddie nods knowingly. You grin at him, your anxiety somewhat dissipating. Thank God Freddie’s not mad at you for real. Lord knows you’ll be needing him on your side in the days to come.

———

    It takes about ten minutes of walking to reach the restaurant. The air is frigid today, and the heavy clouds look as if they’re right on the cusp of rain. Freddie rambles about his life, his winter holiday spent with family, a new song he’s been writing, the upcoming gigs Queen will be playing in Cornwall, the various jobs he’s been working to maintain a living wage.

    “By the way…” he starts as you and he enter the restaurant. “I told Brian and Roger last week.”

    “Told then what?” you ask.

    “I told them…you know.”

    You frown, confused for a second. But then it hits you. “Oh!”

    Freddie nods quickly. “Yeah.”

    “Well…how did they react?”

    He shrugs. “I tried not to make it a huge deal. They were fine with it.”

    You nod understandingly. Freddie had been wanting to come out to his friends for a long time now. “I’m proud of you, friend.”

    He squeezes your arm. “You’re not the only one who knows anymore,” he comments with what seems like relief. “But it’s still not…”

    “Official. I get it. Your secret is always safe with me, Fred.”

     You and Freddie take a seat by the back corner. You set your bouquet of roses on an empty seat and look over the menu. The waiter stops by your table, and you and Freddie order.

    “Speaking of secrets…” Freddie looks up at you through his dark eyelashes, a dangerous expression on his face.

    You laugh and say, “What?”

    “I’m about to explode, unless you tell me in five seconds what the hell has been going on.”

    You sigh. “Okay… I don’t even know where to start.”

    “Why don’t we start right at the part where, um… I thought you’ve been in love with Brian May for the past two and a half years?”

    Right. You take a deep breath. You’ve spent all of last night and this morning thinking through precisely what you want to tell Freddie about your whole Brian/John situation. In order for this to work as planned, you’re going to have to execute your story perfectly, without any holes in the narrative. And depending on how dodgy the accounts Fred’s already heard from Roger is…this could prove to be very difficult.

    You only have one shot.

    “I still am in love with Brian,” you begin.

    Freddie throws his hands up. “I don’t get it. I am… I am completely lost. I don’t understand.”

    You narrow your eyes at Freddie. “You haven’t even given me a chance to explain yet!”

    “I am going to detonate.”

    “Don’t be so dramatic.”

    “I’m just impatient!” he whines.

    “Oh, trust me, I know you are,” you laugh. Freddie shakes his head, the hint of a smile on his face. “Will you just let me explain?”

    “…Fine.”

    “Okay.” You clasp your hands together and look at Freddie directly in the eyes. You must choose your words very carefully. “I still like Brian, a lot. More than a lot. But a lot has happened. And an opportunity presented itself…”

    Freddie prompts you to continue with a raise of his dark brows.

    “…to date John Deacon.”

    “And that helps…how?” he asks.

    “…to fake date John Deacon.”

    Freddie’s eyes grow wide. Something swells in your lungs—is it relief, that finally someone else knows about the secret you’d been harboring? Is it anxiety, given Freddie’s less-than-admirable history of keeping secrets?

    “You mean to tell me you’re fake dating John Deacon?” Freddie says slowly.

    “Yep.”

    He looks around confusedly. “So the flowers, the hugging, all of that was shite?”

    “He’s my fake boyfriend.”

    “What the fuck does that even mean?!” He looks like he’s about to flip the table. Coming from someone as gentle-hearted as Freddie, the thought makes you want to giggle.

    “It’ll all make sense in a second. But—”

    “What’s the point of it? I don’t get it?” he insists.

    “I told you, I’m about to explain everything! But Freddie…” You glare seriously at him and then drop your voice. “Farrokh Bulsara, I swear to god, if you even so much as think of telling this to anyone, I will come into your apartment and rip out those pretty little vocal cords while you sleep.”

    Freddie doesn’t even bat an eye. “Risk-taking, heedless threats… Remind me, Y/N, are you a Scorpio?”

    “…No, Libra.”

    “Hmm,” he frowns. “How uncharacteristic.”

    The waiter brings your food by, then, and you immediately begin eating. But Freddie’s frown just deepens as if he’s letting your admission sink in, looking gradually more and more confused.

    “I don’t get it!” he says. “I made Roger tell me everything he knows, and all he told me was something about Tinder profiles? I am so confused—”

    “It doesn’t matter, okay?” you say, your mouth full of curry and jasmine rice. You’re cautious about going too far in-depth about the nativity of this whole fiasco. The less you can say, the better. But you can tell by the dissatisfied look on Freddie’s face that he’s not going to stop pestering you until he gets the whole story.

    “It does matter!” Freddie exclaims. “Why’d you pretend to match with him on Tinder? Something’s not adding up…”

    “Freddie, for once in your life, can you just try to live without the nitty-gritty details?” you snap at him.

    Freddie just throws his head back and moans like a child on the brink of a temper tantrum. “Come ooooooon, Y/N… You promised you’d tell me everything! You promised.”

    You pinch the bridge of your nose. Could it really hurt to just tell Freddie everything at this point?

    Yes, it could really hurt. A lot is going to be on the line if you tell Freddie. It would be foolish to wholeheartedly trust him to keep anything a secret…especially from Roger. The two boys are like brothers. Soulmates. They tell each other everything. And Roger’s already blabbed his mouth away…

    You can see the worst case scenario so clearly in your mind. Freddie tells Roger, Roger tells Brian. Boom. Your friendship, any chance you’ve ever had with Brian…poof, gone.

    If you really wanted to ensure Freddie keeps his mouth shut, you’d hold something against him as leverage. But just the thought of blackmailing your friend like that makes you feel sick inside.

    Even when you know exactly the kind of leverage you’d use…the kind that’s in the form of Jim Hutton, senior botany major. Freddie’s secret crush.

    It is the absolute worst idea you’ve ever had, and you cast it away yet again. Nope. Never, never, never. You would never do that to him. It’s going to have to be by faith alone that Freddie keeps your secrets.

    “Okay, I’ll tell you everything,” you sigh, finally giving in. Freddie perks up immediately. “Settle in, though. It’s a long story.”

    You outline everything to Freddie, from the very start, between spoonfuls of Indian food… The godforsaken house party. The way Brian looked at Tara in her stupid red dress. The diner. Brian being a horny dumbass. You being a drunk dumbass. Your stupid fake Tinder/double date idea. The way the stars aligned just so horrendously and matched Brian and Tara on Tinder. John owing you a favor from Government class last semester. Meeting John in the coffee shop. Pretending to match with John on Tinder so he could be your double date. Roger seeing the two of you and misinterpreting it as a real date. Roger confronting you about it in the market, and you stupidly confirming it. Your fight with Brian. Telling John about it. John agreeing to fake date you until you can win over Brian.

    Everything.

    Everything, sans the weird sexual tension between you and John. But Freddie doesn’t need to know that.

    By the end of it all, Freddie’s rubbing his temples. “You’ve really dug yourself into a hole, haven’t you, Y/N?” he says.

    “I know.”

    “So everyone but me thinks that you’re dating John?”

    “Yup,” you confirm.

    “Christ… You want to know what I’m thinking?” he asks.

    “What?”

    “That you’re kind of a genius,” Freddie says, grinning.

    “What do you mean?”

    His grin grows. “It’s a crazy, and I mean a batshit crazy plan… But I think it just very well could work. With Brian.”

    Does he mean about winning Brian over? You’re not an idiot; you know it’s very likely the worst masterplan you’ve ever hatched, ever. And you know the chances of things working out in your favor are slim to none. But Freddie seems to think it could work… You’ve come to the right person for help.

    “You can’t tell anyone, Fred.”

    He nods. “Okay, Y/N.”

    “Freddie.” You take his arm and squeeze. “You can’t. Tell. Anyone.”

    He pretends to zip up his lips. “Mum’s the word.”

    It’s not enough. “Look, I know you and your history of spilling secrets,” you tell him. “This has to be different. I’m trusting you—”

    “Oh, ye, of little faith!” Freddie cuts you off. “Haven’t I kept your secret about Brian for years?”

    “You’ve only known since that one party last semester,” you say. The one where everyone else had conked out, and you and Freddie were the only ones left awake, sharing secrets over a bottle of wine. Coincidentally, the same party in which Freddie had drunkenly come out to you and confessed his crush on Jim Hutton.

    His face twists as he backtracks. “Well, it’s been five whole months and I haven’t told anyone!”

    “You haven’t gained my full trust yet.”

    Freddie cocks his head. “But you trust me enough to tell me everything you just told me?”

    You chew the inside of your cheek. “I trust you…because you’re my friend. But also because I need your help.”

    Freddie considers you for a long moment, his brows pulled together, his brown eyes scanning your face. Beneath the table, you cross your fingers in your lap.

    “What kind of help?” he asks.

———

    Secrets take a toll on the keeper, but perhaps even more so on the one entrusting others to keep them.

    By the end of your lunch date with Freddie, you’re completely exhausted. You drag yourself through your afternoon Argumentative Writing course in a daze and thank your lucky stars when the professor lets everyone out thirty minutes early…only after assigning the first paper, due on Friday.

    A nap, you groan internally as you trudge back to your apartment. All I need is a nap.

    At least there’s a significant weight off your shoulders. Freddie knows all your secrets now, and he’s vowed to keep them. With his help—and the plan you and he had just devised while at lunch—Freddie will be able to free Brian from the evil clutches of Sister Tara, all while ensuring that John has a fair chance at passing his audition with the band.

    Your phone rings—it’s John. He’s gonna want to talk with you about that clusterfuck of a band rehearsal. You don’t think you’re mentally ready to even think about it. And yet, you feel guilty yet again. You accept the call and hold the phone up to your ear.

    “Hello?”

    “There’s a really big man with a teeny tiny puppy in the courtyard, and you have to come see it.”

    You smile. “And you thought of me?”

    “You gotta come see it,” he says again.

    “The courtyard by your dorm hall? Are you there right now?”

    “Yes, you gotta come.”

    “Okay, goodness,” you say, laughing. John’s enthusiasm is contagious, but you’re on a one-track-mind right now. “As much as I love a good comical size difference, I gotta be honest.”

    “What’s up?”

    “I desperately need a nap, I’m so sleep deprived.”

    “Oh,” John says sympathetically. “Me too. I was up way too late dissembling this old guitar amp I found. I’ve been yawning all day. What kept you awake?”

    Anxiety. Guilt. The overwhelming weight of your mistakes. “My neighbor’s dog.”

    He chuckles through the phone. “I can see why you’d want to be nowhere near any dogs,” he says. “I’ll leave you be.”

    “No, it’s not that,” you reply, “I’m just so sleepy. I need to go home and crash for a few hours.” You feel nervous again, suddenly needing to apologize to him about what you witnessed at the rehearsal. It’s silly that you feel like you should apologize for Brian’s behavior, but you do feel like it’s inherently your fault that he was being so bitchy to John.

    You have Fred now to help mediate, though,

    John hesitates before saying, “No pressure, but my dorm’s always open, if you’d like to come crash here while I study. I mean, well, it’s kind of loud, but I have my own room. Granted, it’s kind of out of the way for you…”

    “You’re not really making much of a case, are you,” you laugh.

    “I’ll let you use my noise-isolating earbuds while you sleep,” he offers.

    “Hmm…”

    “My bed is super comfortable.”

    “…Okay, I’m sold.”

    “Really? You’ll come?”

    “Sure.” You smile, despite yourself. “Where do you live again?”

    John gives you the name of his dorm hall and directions to get there; it’s directly next to the student union center.

    “I’ll be there in five?” you say, yawning.

    “I’ll meet you outside the front doors.”

    You hang up, and then immediately chastise yourself. What the fuuuuuuck am I doing? Agreeing to take a nap on my fake boyfriend’s bed while he studies? The anticipation of seeing him—of seeing his dorm room, the place where he lives, the bed where he sleeps—is overwhelming.

    Okay, calm down. It’s not like you agreed to anything else. You’re just napping. Lord knows you need it right now; the espresso in your system from this morning is wearing off.

    Five minutes later, you reach the front of John’s dorm, busy with the comings and goings of undergraduate residents. You spot John standing next to the doors, waiting for you. You notice he’s changed into a cozy jumper and a pair of sweatpants. He smiles with a flash of white teeth and waves.

    “There’s my fake girlfriend,” he says, much too enthusiastically.

    “Shhh,” you shush him, glancing around. It strikes you as a bit strange just how excited he’s been acting about fake-dating you. You’d have thought he’d be more standoffish about it, if not completely ticked off. Quite the opposite.

    He greets you with a hug so warm that you’d be foolish not to reciprocate it. “Thanks for the hug, but no one’s even watching, Deaky,” you chuckle against his chest.

    “I know, but you look cold. I see you still have your roses,” he says, gesturing to the bouquet in your hands.

    You smile appreciatively. “Where’s this large man with the small dog you mentioned?” you ask, pulling away to look around at the courtyard.

    “They left. I know, a tragedy. But look, I took pictures.” He pulls them up on his phone and shows them to you, and you giggle.

    “That’s so cute. Do you remember when that weird kid with the rolling backpack tried to convince Professor Frost that his dog ate his take-home quiz?”

    John throws his head back and laughs at the memory. “I almost forgot about that!” He looks down at you, still smiling. “Let’s go inside?”

    You nod and follow him inside the dorm hall. It certainly is much louder here than the relative stillness of your apartment building; students congregate in groups studying or working on projects, while others play table tennis and video games in the lounge. John leads you upstairs to the second floor and down the hallway.

    “Where did you live your first year?” he asks you.

    “Southside dorms,” you answer. “They were less hectic than this.”

    “Yeah, sorry,” he says, looking back at you sheepishly. “Warned you it was loud here.”

    “It’s okay,” you assure him. “I’m sure it’s exciting to live around so many friends.”

    “It can be… I kind of keep to myself, though,” John admits. You and he finally reach his room at the end of the hallway. He unlocks the door and pushes it open. There’s a small shared space, comprised of just a cluttered double-sink counter and a bathroom. Two large doors indicate the two bedrooms of the dorm room; one for John, and one presumably for a roommate.

    “Who else do you live with?”

    John shakes his head with an amused sort of disdain. “I have a flatmate named Paul. He’s kind of a dick, but he’s never really around. This one’s my room,” he says, pushing open the door to the right.

    John’s dorm room is different than you’d expected. It’s a spacious layout that he’s adorned with evidence of his various hobbies. A number of guitars in cases lean against the wall, along with various amplifiers, one of which is completely dismantled, revealing an open circuit board and wires.

    “Is that the amp you’re fixing up?” you ask him.

    “Yeah. I’ll need to replace a couple of parts, but once I do, she should be like new.”

    “That’s really cool,” you say. He beams proudly.

    You keep looking around. John’s desk is clearly an engineer’s desk, inundated with textbooks and half-finished designs on draft paper and all sorts of tools, from graphite pencils to calipers to bow compasses. The white concrete walls are relatively unadulterated, save for a couple of posters of his favorite bands. Everything in John’s room looks as if it has its own designated spot. And the twin-sized bed is neatly made with a navy blue comforter, which beckons to you like an oasis in a desert.

    “Make yourself at home,” John says. He throws his stuff down in the corner and kicks off his shoes. You follow his lead and do the same, trying but failing to suppress a yawn. John notices and snickers.

    “Bed’s all yours,” he says. It’s all the permission you need, and you groan in gratitude and let yourself sink down onto his comforter. He was right; the bed is extremely comfortable.

    “You’re a godsend,” you say with another yawn. John takes out his laptop and settles at his desk while you stretch out and make yourself comfortable. It’s the first chance you’ve gotten all day to lie down and relax, and it feels great. Exhaustion threatens to overcome you, but you need to talk to John.

    “So this morning was kind of crazy, wasn’t it?”

    John snorts, his eyes illuminated by his computer screen. “It was certainly…something else.” He looks up and draws his eyes to yours. “What…?”

    “What all did he say to you?” you ask. You don’t even need to specify who he is. “Before I got there.”

    John sighs deeply. “I could tell he was holding back. I get that the bloke’s picky, musically speaking, but he was picking me apart. ‘Your A-string seems a bit flat, mate.’ ‘Can we bring the bass volume down a little?’ ‘Maybe you shouldn’t dance around so much.’” He scoffs.

      “He didn’t yell at you or anything, did he?”

      “Only at Roger and Freddie.” He scrutinizes your face. “Let me guess. You’re feeling guilty.”

    Your face crumples in a grimace. “It’s because it’s my fault.”

    “Your fault?” John shakes his head. “It’s not your fault.”

    “You warned me,” you say miserably. “You warned me that Brian might get upset and take it out on you. And I didn’t listen.”

    John purses his lips. “Wasn’t anything I didn’t sign up for.”

    “John, you didn’t sign up for anything!” You groan and flip onto your stomach, hiding your face. John’s pillow smells like his skin. “I didn’t ever mean for Brian to get pissy at you.”

    John stands and sits at the edge of his bed next to your sprawled legs—just the way he had done yesterday on your bed. “I know you didn’t, love,” he says. The stupid pet name makes your stupid heart do stupid flips. “But I agreed to help you. Even if that means taking the blunt end of the stick.”

    “How is that fair to you?”

    “I think it’s fair,” he says. “Look, I’ve had some time to think about it. And if I can help a friend in need end up with the love of her life by being her fake boyfriend… Well, then, I’m going to be the best fake boyfriend this world has ever seen.”

    You are, and that’s the problem.

    “Don’t feel bad, Y/N, because I want to help you,” he adds.

    You still hide your face.

    “Hey. Look at me.”

    He taps your ankle twice. When you finally peek out, his eyes are warm. They search your face before trailing down and up the rest of your body, a small smile on his lips. A pleasant shiver runs down your spine.

    “It’s okay,” he whispers.

    “But what if Brian hates you?” you whisper back. “What if he tries to cut you from the audition?”

    “Brian doesn’t hate me, I don’t think,” John says. “I think he’s just frustrated and jealous and he’s just…taking it out on me.”

    You grimace. “I’m sorry, John.”

    “I’m not!” He shakes his head. “I think we’re in a good place. Frustrated and jealous. Isn’t that what we wanted?”

    “I guess…”

    “Well, Can you admit that me being your fake boyfriend is helping make Brian jealous?”

    “Yes…”

    “Okay, can you at least admit now that there’s a pretty high chance that Brian secretly likes you back?”

    You think back to your text conversation with Brian, to the phone call that kept you up too late last night. To the furtive glances at your bouquet of roses, to the strange request to retrieve his sweatshirt from you tonight.

    “There’s a chance.”

    “Alright.” He pats your ankle again but keeps his hand there. “Then I’ll keep doing my job, if you keep doing yours.”

    “What’s my job?” you ask.

    He doesn’t skip a beat. “Being beautiful and making boys jealous.”

    His gaze remains intense, even as his smile fades. Your breath catches in your throat. There’s a dark undertone to his words that you can’t even begin to decipher.

    “John,” you whisper. His hand on your leg feels electrifying.

    “Yes?”

    “I can’t tell if you’re being really sweet to me on purpose, or if you’re just method acting.”

    “Method acting?”

    “You know… Staying in role, even when the camera’s off.”

    His eyes glimmer. “It’d be pretty hard not to be sweet to you, Y/N.”

    The tension. It’s back. John’s gray eyes don’t release you, but you’re a willing captive. Nothing could break this moment…

    Nothing but a big, fat, horrendously-timed yawn.

    John laughs at you endearingly, You turn your face away, embarrassed, but you laugh with him. You swear you feel the hand on your ankle squeeze a little before he pulls it away and stands up.

    “No, you made me yawn!” John says, his mouth opening wide. You giggle at him. “You need to sleep,” he declares.

    “Looks like you do, too.”

    “Can’t. I have homework. Do you want some water?”

    “No, that’s alright,” you say, but he’s already crossing to the bathroom sink with a plastic glass. He holds it under the faucet; you smirk when he looks at his reflection in the mirror impulsively runs a hand through his fluffy hair.

    “Here you go.” He returns and hands you the glass. You smile in appreciation and take a sip. “Now, sleep. Goodnight.”

    “John, you look pretty beat yourself. Are you sure you don’t wanna…”

    He shakes his head. “I wish, but I have a lot to do. Besides, you’re using the bed.”

    “Right.” What were you even thinking?

    “Oh! I almost forgot.” He reaches in a drawer beside his desk and pulls out a pair of earbuds. “They’re noise-isolating.”

    “How does it work?”

    “Well, you just put them in your ears… Don’t worry, I cleaned them,” he laughs when you take the earbuds. You situate them in your ears, and immediately, all the sounds of the room vanish.

    John smiles and mouths something that you can barely hear.

    “What’d you say???” you shout, just to be silly.

    John cringes at your voice and pulls out one earbud, cackling his lovely John laugh. “They work pretty well, don’t they?”

    You nod and take the earbud back. “I’m going to take the fattest nap.”

    “You can plug them into your phone and listen to music, if you want.”

    “That’s okay. I’m too tired.”

    “Sleep well,” he says, settling down again at his desk. You re-adjust both earbuds and roll onto your side. Except, for whatever reason, your brain finds the back of John’s head too intriguing. So you roll onto your other side, facing the wall, shut your eyes, and let your exhaustion overtake you.

———

    You wake up a total of three times over the course of your afternoon nap in John Deacon’s dorm room.

    The first time, you stir awake with a sudden shudder. The temperature of John’s room has grown so frigid, and the skin of your arms is covered with goose flesh. You shiver again and huddle into a ball. You have no way of knowing how much time had elapsed, but you get the sense it wasn’t any longer than fifteen minutes.

    “John?” you call out, taking out the earbuds. The gentle, unamplified sounds of a bass guitar fill the room. You crane your head to look around for him. He’s sitting at a stool at the other side of the room, facing slightly away from you and gently plucking on a guitar. But he wears a pair of headphones, which are set up to his amp.

    So much for doing his homework. His fingers move across the frets gracefully, deliberately, and yet as if each fingering is completely new. His profile is turned slightly, so you can see the gentle frown of concentration on his face while he plays.

    He’s so beautiful. How had you spent so many months sitting beside him in Government, or across a table from him in the library, without coming to realize just how ethereally beautiful he is?

    You’re so cold. You have half a mind to crawl under the comforter, instead of laying atop it. But the idea of getting between the sheets of John’s bed is so strangely intimate that you immediately veto the idea.

    You huddle up and shiver again, your eyes about to drift closed again…when you hear a small sound from John. He’s…humming. It’s so faint that you can barely hear, but the humming grows a little louder as John seems to get more comfortable with the tune. You don’t recognize it at all, but John’s voice is a subtle, lush baritone.

    Smiling to yourself, you let the sound of John’s gentle voice carry you back to sleep.

    The second time you wake up from your nap, your consciousness is muddled; you’d clearly been asleep for much longer this time. You feel a gentle pressure in your palms, and when your eyes flutter open, you’re looking straight at John crouched beside the bed.

    He carefully removes the earbuds from your ears. “Sorry to wake you,” he murmurs, holding both your hands in his. “You’re shivering.”

    You groan softly. His hands are a stark contrast to your frigid ones, which almost tingle with the heat radiating from his skin. You’re so cold, and he’s so warm. In your reduced state of consciousness, it’s all you can think about.

    “You can get under the covers,” John says. You don’t object. With his help, you shimmy yourself under the covers, too sleepy to care about how weird it might have seemed before. His sheets smell clean and feel warm.

    “Aren’t you tired?” you mumble.

    He smiles with his eyes. “Yes, but that’s okay.”

    “You can nap, too.”

    “But I offered the bed to you,” he says. “I’m not going to kick you off.”

    Your eyes still feel heavy, and you can’t keep them open. “You don’t have to, I can make room.”

    He chuckles at you. “You’re silly.”

    “‘M serious.” You grasp for his warm hand and pull it weakly toward you.

    “You… You wouldn’t mind?”

    You’re too tired to say anything; you just scoot your body closer to the wall. John deliberates for a minute before finally giving in. He climbs on the bed, the mattress shifting under his weight, and pulls the covers on top of him. His body heat radiates under the comforter, and you lean closer to him against your better judgment.

     Ahh, warmth. You turn on your side and settle in once more, but not before glancing at John. He lays on his back, as close to the edge of the mattress as possible. He’s staring up at the ceiling, his expression somehow relaxed and alert at the same time.

    “Nap now, homework later,” you whisper. He glances down at you and smiles.

    “Later,” he agrees, closing his tired, gray eyes. You close yours, too.

    You dream this time. In your dream, you’re standing in the middle of the road next to the college library. Except the road is still—no cars, no pedestrians—and shrouded by a thick fog. You’re alone, and when you call out, your voice becomes lost in the mist. You don’t know which way to turn. Suddenly, a figure appears in the distance, but you can’t make it out. You stride toward it, but you can’t tell who it is. It’s a man, a man with long, dark hair.

    You shout John’s name, but the man doesn’t respond. You shout Brian’s name. Nothing. At last, the figure steps closer, and the face that materializes is Freddie’s.

    “You’ve really dug yourself into a hole, haven’t you, Y/N?” he says, an echo of exactly the words he’d told you earlier today, and his voice rings out through the fog.

    The third time you wake up, you’re not cold at all anymore. In fact, you’re quite hot.

     * It doesn’t take long before you realize the source of the heat. John is no longer curled up at the opposite edge of the mattress. Instead, he’s pressed up against you now. His arm is draped over your chest, and his breath is hot on your neck.

    You whisper his name in surprise, but he doesn’t move. He’s fast asleep, you realize. His skin is sweltering against yours, and although the covers have been cast off during your sleep, you’re now almost too hot. Though not uncomfortably so.

    Despite John’s warmth and the addicting scent of his skin, you attempt to shift away from under his arm and toward the wall. You want to avoid any awkwardness when he wakes up. But your movement stirs him anyway. He immediately reaches back out for you, his hand grasping your waist. He hugs your body, his whole torso flush against your side.

    You gasp at the sensation of his groin against your backside. You’re definitely awake now. But he’s not. A thin sheen of sweat coats the small of your back. His grip on your waist is strong and sure, despite that he’s asleep. You couldn’t move away if you tried…

    Not that you want to.

    John’s lips part and a breathy sigh escapes him. You’re terrified of waking him up, of the humiliation that would ensue from both parties if he opens his eyes to this. So you attempt once more to shift your hips away from his…

    He grasps you again and brings his pelvis back against yours, clinging to you like you’re his life support. He’s…he’s hard, you realize. His sweatpants do nothing to mask it. You can feel all of him pressed between your thighs.      

    You exhale shakily. That didn’t work at all. What do I do now?

    If you really wanted to move, you still could pry his fingers from your waist and roll away. But the jostling of the bed would surely wake him up.

   And you don’t want to move. John’s hot breath fanning out over your chest, his body against yours…it’s doing more to your own body than you’re willing to admit.

    But you can’t admit that. You resolve to push him off and not let this go any farther.

    Until he moves again, grinding against you ever so softly. Another low, involuntary moan comes from his throat. At the end of his breath, you hear a simple word from his lips.

    “Y/N.”

    It’s so quiet, you think at first you imagined it. But it happens again… the gentle buck of his hips, followed by your name in a low moan.

    A tremor of heat overtakes your stomach, right down to your core.

    He’s dreaming about me.

    The idea of his name on your lips like this is so intimate, so…sensual…and paired with the carnal bucking of his hips, his erection rock-solid between your thighs…

    Wetness pools at your entrance. Each time John moves, his cock seems to rub against it. There’s a low ache deep inside of you that you haven’t felt in a while.

    Fuuuuuck.

    Despite your better judgment, you arch your back and press into John’s hips—a small movement—just once. He responds with a low growl that you can feel reverberating in his chest against your back. His cock twitches. Your breath rushes in with a sharp inhale. Sweat beads on your forehead. You’ve never felt this hot before in your life…in both senses of the word.

    But it’s wrong. You shouldn’t move. You should stop John before it goes on any longer. He’s asleep, and he’s your friend…or fake boyfriend, or whatever. This should not be happening… Fake boyfriends and fake girlfriends do not fake dry hump each other.

    No, this is real, and it’s happening now.

    And if you make him stop, he’ll wake up to find himself grinding against your ass. There’s no way you could pretend to have slept through it. He’ll be humiliated. And things will never be the same again.

    You gasp again when John thrusts against you harder this time. The bulge in his pants is literally pulsing and radiates a moist heat. Your body screams at you to press harder against him, aching for friction. But your mind screams at you not to move a muscle. You are so frustrated in so many different ways that you sigh out a high-pitched moan. He seems to hear it in his unconscious state.

    “Feels so good,” John mumbles. It feels strange to not say anything back, but you have to be quiet. Every contact point between your body and his feels like an explosion of desire and tension. Your shirt has ridden up your waist, revealing a small sliver of skin. His fingers find it and dig into the softness of your belly, seeming to try to pull you even closer. Your own fingers yearn to move as well, to travel down your tummy and under the hem of your pants…

    No. Do not go there.

    John’s ministrations seem to intensify. His breaths become shallow and rapid, a low moan on nearly every exhale. His hips thrust deeper and longer. You have absolutely no idea what to do. As much as your body betrays you, your mind is on high alert. What’s going to happen when John finally wakes himself up from this wet dream…his crotch inevitably sticky?

    It can’t happen. You have to wake him up.

    John buries his face in the nook between your neck and your shoulder. A shuddering moan comes from his throat. You need to wake him up now. You pinch the skin of his forearm—hard.

    John gasps a huge intake of air, his body jolting awake. You lie motionless and close your eyes, feigning sleep. John props himself up to a sitting position, panting. The sudden loss of body heat, replaced by a rush of cool air against your sweaty skin, is jarring and miserable.

    “Fuck,” he curses between gasps. You don’t need to look at him to know he’s uncomfortably, undeniably aroused.

    As are you.

    You continue to breathe in a slow, rhythmic pattern. John spends a few minutes trying to calm his heaving pants, as you try to ignore the pulsing ache in your core.

    Slowly, as to keep from waking you, John rolls out of bed and crosses to the door. It creaks open, and then closed. And then you’re alone.

    And you let your hands sneak low, beneath the hem of your pants, beneath your underwear.

    You’re so incredibly wet. Letting your fingers become covered in the slick that drips from your entrance, you press hard against your clit. Oh, fuck. Your hips jolt upward reflexively. The ache low in your stomach glows with warmth at the pressure.

    Biting your lip to stay quiet, you add friction. Your fingers move in a familiar circular pattern with a mind of their own. You have no idea how long John intends to stay in the bathroom…but you simply cannot help yourself. But from all of John’s grinding and the hot, breathy moans of your name on his lips, you’re already so close to release.

    And it sneaks up on you, every muscle tensing, a dazzling array of stars bursting behind your eyes. You turn and bury your head in John’s pillow, unable to help the animalistic noises that emit from your throat. It takes every ounce of effort to keep them as quiet as possible.

    There’s no time to let yourself recover. You pull your hand out from between your legs and resume the exact position John had woken to see you in.

    And just in time. The door opens again, and John comes in. You keep your eyes shut and pretend, yet again, to be asleep. But an aftershock betrays you. Your body quivers with a delayed wave of pleasure.

    Please don’t be looking, please, please, please.

     ** You hear the opening of a drawer, the shifting of clothes. Meanwhile, you focus on your breathing, trying to keep it steady and deep—the way a sleeping person’s breathing would look.

    Minutes pass. Then, you sense John approaching the side of the bed. He crouches, and then—-ever so gently—caresses your cheek. You pray that he can’t see how rapid your pulse still beats in your throat. He touches your face with a feather-light pressure for a little while, and then his hand moves to stroke your hair. Gently at first, and then with more insistency.

    “Y/N,” he murmurs quietly. He’s trying to wake you up. You stir a little and roll onto your stomach, pretending to resist being awoken.

    John chuckles. “Y/N, love, it’s time to wake up.”

    “Mmmm.” You feel sore, and you ache in a different way; with relief, not desire.

    “Sleepy girl,” John says under his breath. He brushes your hair from your neck, and his fingers linger on the soft skin there. Your pulse is still racing. There’s no way he can’t feel it.

    “Y/N,” he says again. You sigh and turn to face him, resting your other cheek against the pillow. “You’ve been sleeping the afternoon away.”

    “How long,” you mumble, eyes still drooping. You should win an Academy award for this stellar performance.

    John checks his watch. “Just a few hours”

    “Mmmmmmmm.” You stretch your body and bury your face again. John laughs softly again.

    “If you keep sleeping, you’ll never get any sleep tonight.”

    “Did you sleep?”

    “A little.”

    Does he know you were awake? Does he know you…finished the job?

    Did he?

    The thought makes you feel warm all over again.

    “‘M up,” you say, forcing yourself to sit up properly. John smiles, pats your knee once, and stands up straight.

    “Sleep well?” you ask him.

    He just nods. “Did you?”

    You nod, too. He goes to grab his sneakers from the corner of the room.

    “I’m going to get dinner. Want to come?”

    So he’s just going to pretend like nothing happened, is he? You’re so frustrated, you could yell. So much just happened. So much just changed.

    And he has no idea. Because he was asleep. And he thinks you were sleeping, too.

    “No, I should probably get back home. Thanks for letting me crash here, though.” You stretch again and remake John’s bedsheets and comforter. You move slowly to put your shoes back on and gather your backpack and the bouquet of roses.

   “Want me to walk you down?” John asks.

    “No, that’s okay. Thank you anyway.”

    You make for the door, but your name from John’s voice stops you. “Y/N.”

    “Yes?” You turn to face him. John stares at you with an expression of yearning. As if he desperately wants to tell you something. As if he doesn’t want you to leave.

    “Never mind,” he whispers.

    The next thing you know, you’re hugging him. No words are shared. You revel in the way he wraps his arms around you and makes you feel so small. You can hear the steady beat of his heart in your ear pressed against his chest…and the way it accelerates when you hug him tighter.

    Finally, you pull away. “Bye,” you whisper with a small smile and head out the door.

    “Bye.”

    You exit John’s dorm room and step into the hall, exhaling a shaky breath. So much has happened today. You can’t muster up the energy to mull it all over. All you want to do is go home, make a microwave brownie, maybe start on your two papers due Friday, and try not to think about Brian coming over later to take his Imperial sweatshirt back from you.

    You go down the stairs and toward the exit when you’re stopped by the RA at the front desk. “Do you live here?” he asks.

    “No, I’m just on my way out,” you say quickly, trying to leave before you can get in trouble. You’re not supposed to be in the dorm unaccompanied by a resident.

    “Y/N, is it?”

    You frown and finally look up at the RA. It’s Jim Hutton.

    “Jim?” you say. “You live here?”

    Jim nods. He’s a handsome guy, with a bulky frame, dark hair, and the beginnings of a mustache that would look horrible on any other college kid and yet suits him well. His eyes are kind as he smiles up at you from the desk.

    “It’s been awhile,” he says. “Since the—”

    “The Halloween party,” you finish his sentence. You and he had first met this past October at a costume house party. You’d known about him for months, though—he had been all Freddie ever talked about. “Yeah, I remember. I didn’t know you were an RA?”

    “Yep, second floor.”

    You start. “Is John Deacon one of your residents?”

    “Yes, in fact,” Jim chuckles. “How’d you know?”

    “I was just hanging out with him. He’s my boyfriend.” The word slips out of your mouth with absolutely no hesitation.

    Jim just nods again, understandingly. “How’s your friend Freddie Bulsara, by the way?” he asks.

    You feel giddy at the thought that Jim asked about Freddie. Freddie will scream of excitement when you tell him. “He’s doing fine! Busy as always.”

    Jim gives you a curious look. “Well, tell him to reach out and say hi sometime! Haven’t heard from him in a while.”

    Poor Freddie. For somebody so flamboyant onstage, he can be painfully shy when it comes to people he has a crush on. “Tell you what,” you say, casting off your backpack and reaching inside. You pull out one of the red event flyers Roger had given to you. “This Friday, Freddie’s band is playing a gig. You should come.”

    Jim looks at the flyer with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll try my best. Thanks, Y/N!”

    You nod and bid Jim farewell, feeling good. For all the work Freddie’s going to be doing helping you with your love life, it’s the least you can do to help with his.

———

    It’s past eleven p.m. and Brian still hasn’t texted or called about retrieving his sweatshirt.

    Sighing, you put your phone down and stare at a blank Word document on your laptop screen. The inspiration to begin writing this essay simply will not come, not even fueled by a microwave mug brownie and a long, hot shower. You can barely concentrate, anyway.

    You glance at the chair beside your desk, where you’d draped Brian’s sweatshirt. It’s a heather blue color with a drawstring hood and the Imperial College London crest sewn on the front. You can’t help yourself from reaching for the sweatshirt again and bringing it to your face. It still smells of Brian, even after the months you’ve had it.

    It had been early November, just on the cusp of winter. Freddie had invited his closest friends over to his flat for a night of board games and laughter before the grind of finals studying began. You’d walked back with Brian and Roger, and you’d forgotten a jacket. You’d only shivered once before Brian offered his sweatshirt to you without any preemption. And you’d never given it back.

    It pains you more than you’d care to admit to have to give it back now.

    But is he even coming? Or has he already gone on his idyllic little stargazing date with Tara?

    But you hear a knock at the front door. Frowning, you set your laptop down on your bed and roll off to answer it. He hadn’t texted that he’s coming up or anything. Carrying the sweatshirt, you open the door for Brian.

    “Hey,” Brian says with a tight smile. Or…nervous?

    “Hey, here it is,” you say tersely. You hold out the sweatshirt. He just looks at it, but doesn’t take it.

    “Are you busy?” he asks.

    “Umm, kind of. Not really.” You’re still holding out the sweatshirt. “Why? I thought you were going stargazing with Tara.”

    “Tara’s not coming,” he says tersely. You frown. Did she stand him up or something?

    “Sorry to hear…” You shake the sweatshirt a little, prompting him to take it. He finally does. “Well, if that’s all you need—”

    “I’m taking you instead,” he says. “Right now.”

———

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*

And now…some bonus Queen boys pics that gave me serious MOTH vibes!!!

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fuuucccc me up

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LOOK HOW HOT THEY BOTH LOOK

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FREDDIE bein so sweet

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Freddie luvs deaky!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! uwuwuwuwuwuwuuwuwu

Chapter Text

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   “I’m taking you instead. Right now.”

    Brian takes your moment of stunned hesitation as an opportunity to sidle between you and the doorframe. “May I come in?” he asks.

    “Sure…wait, Brian, hold on—” you splutter as he steps past you into your apartment. “What happened—why aren’t you—”

    “Where do you keep your spare blankets?” Brian asks. He spots one on the couch—the fluffy turquoise blanket you’d shared with John while watching The Notebook last night—and folds it up in his arms. “Can we take this one?”

    “Brian, what’s going on?” you ask, finally finding your words.

    Brian looks up at you and the corners of his lips turn upward. “We’re going stargazing, Bookworm,” he says with childlike enthusiasm. You recognize a glint in his hazel eyes; it’s the glint of excitement, of adventure, of experiences to tell his future kids someday.

    “Why? What happened to taking Tara?” you ask.

    Something else flashes in his expression. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you on the way.”

    “On the way…?”

    “On the way to Richmond Park!” he exclaims as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. You frown, your pulse picking up in anticipation. What happened between Brian and Tara? You have absolutely no way of knowing…and the cryptic expression on Brian’s face doesn’t reveal any hints.

    He strides to your room, muttering a list to himself: “Shoes, socks, gloves, coat, scarf…” Still befuddled, you follow him on his heels, humiliated at the cluttered state of your room. But Brian pays the clothes and books strewn across your floor no heed. He goes straight to your closet and opens the door, sifting through your hangers of clothes.

    “What are you doing…?”

    “Here, this looks warm enough.” Brian pulls your wool parka—the one you’d bought for snowy or otherwise particularly cold London days—off the rack and tosses it your way. You catch it and stare at him, completely at a loss for words. He chuckles at your bewildered expression. “Well, you’re not expecting to go stargazing wearing that, are you?”

    He gestures to your current attire: a pair of pink pajama shorts and a much-too-thin white tank top. You wrap your arms around your chest shyly. You forgot you’re in your night clothes.

    “I don’t understand,” you say. “Weren’t you just here to pick up your sweatshirt?”

    “I was…” he says, turning back to your closet and crouching on the floor to sort through your shoe collection. “…but plans changed. Don’t you have a pair of hiking boots somewhere?”

    “Up, on the shelf,” you say. He stands and spots your boots with an “a-ha!” before grabbing them off the closet shelf and handing them to you. “Brian, I—”

    “You’ll probably want a warm pair of socks, and some gloves,” he says. “Oh! And a beanie. I have an extra in my car, though, if you don’t have one. I’ll go fill us up some water bottles—”

    “Hold on, hold on,” you say more assertively this time. He tilts his head at you. “Why are you… Why are you taking me?”

    “Because you’re my best friend, Y/N,” he says simply.

    “Yeah, but…” But why? It just feels so strange to you. Perhaps because it completely caught you off-guard, the way he barged into your apartment completely unannounced and started sorting around your closet for clothes… This is not how you expected your night to go. Sure, you and Brian are best friends. And you’ve definitely gone on impromptu excursions together before. But he was supposed to take Tara tonight. It was supposed to be a stargazing date for them.

    Is this still a date if it’s you instead?

    No, definitely not. You remind yourself of the red headband he’d tied around his arm…her red headband. A sign of her claim. And that devastatingly sweet smile he’d given her after she kissed his cheek at the rehearsal…

    He wanted to go stargazing with Tara. But for whatever godforsaken reason, she’s not here. Now, you’re just replacing her.

    A replacement. That’s all I am to him anymore. His second choice.

    “You should just go alone,” you tell Brian glumly. “I was going to bed anyway.”

    Brian’s brows pull together. “Alone?” he intones. “I don’t want to go alone.”

    Before you can make a lame excuse, you blurt out, “I’m not stupid, Brian. I know I’m not the person you want to go stargazing with.”

    He exhales in protest. “That’s not true. I want you to come with me.”

    A million comebacks circle in your brain. But you just sigh and hug your arms tighter to your chest. “That’s okay,” you say. “I’ll pass.”

    “You’ll pass?” he repeats.

    You nod and sink onto the edge of your mattress. As appealing as it may be to go out stargazing with Brian tonight, the last thing you want is to spend the whole night knowing you were his second choice. “I’m tired,” you say lamely.

    Brian raises an eyebrow at you. “That’s not the Y/N I know.”

    You suppress the urge to sigh again. You’re sick of Brian pretending like he knows you. If he really knows you, he wouldn’t be so fucking clueless after all these years you’ve been in love with him.

    “The Y/N know,” he continues, “she’d jump on any opportunity to go on an adventure. Remember the trip we took to Brighton during finals week freshman year?”

    “Yeah,” you mutter. It had been so hard to resist kissing Brian at the top of that ferris wheel.

    “Remember last fall, when Freddie told us all about that cat cafe that opened in Shoreditch, and you insisted that we all skip class to go see it?”

    “Yes,” you say, beginning to chuckle.

    “Remember when someone tweeted that Paul McCartney was at that pub in Chelsea and you—”

    “Okay, I get it,” you laugh. You have a history of impulsivity. And Brian always manages to make you smile. He returns the smile and crouches on the floor right in front of you. When he places his two hands on your knees—bare skin against bare skin—you feel yourself immediately go hot, like he’s pumping fire into your veins with his hands.

    “I know you have class in the morning,” he says. “And I know you’re busy, or tired, or whatever. And I know this is completely random and unexpected. But Y/N… this can be an adventure.”

    The eagerness in his eyes urges you to give in. But it doesn’t change the fact that he was supposed to have gone with Tara.

    “It’s not that I don’t want to go with you,” you begin gently. “It’s just that I don’t think you particularly wanted to go with me.”

    Brian shakes his head. “That’s ridiculous—”

    “You were supposed to go with your date,” you remind him. “And if she can’t go…. I think you should just go alone.”

    Brian chews his cheek. “I don’t want to go alone,” he says again.

    No, of course not, you wanted to go with Tara so you could fuck her under the moon and stars and all your stupid space dust.

    The thought makes you want to seethe like boiling water in a kettle. “If you really wanted to go with me, you’d have asked me first.” Not her.

    It sounds jealous as fuck. You are jealous as fuck. You’d told Brian as much on the phone last night. And it’s true—you are jealous that Tara’s taking all his attention away from you—but it’s just not the whole truth.

    You gaze into Brian’s eyes for a long time. He purses his lips in thought. God, he looks so perfect. His curls stick up in all the right places, and his skin glows gold in the muted light from your desk lamp. You wish so badly you could caress his cheek in your hands.

    “I know,” he says finally. His hands are still on your knees, and you try and fail to ignore the resulting twist of desire in your core. “I should have asked you first.”

    “It’s okay.” You shake your head in denial. “I get it. You wanted to go stargazing with her.”

     “That’s just the thing. I wanted to go with you more. I want to go with you.”

     Your eyelids flutter in confusion. “You do?”

    Brian grins, causing explosions in your chest. “It was dumb to ask her first. Stargazing? That’s our thing, you and me.” He squeezes your knees again. “I need to do a better job of showing that I care about you, Y/N.”

    You don’t get it. First time you’d seen Brian today, he was broody and moody and downright miserable to his bandmates. Now, he’s all grins and adventures and shows of affection? His mood shifts are going to give you whiplash.

    But the way he smiles up at you at this moment, his hands on your legs like this, is enough to make you want to do anything with him. Or go anywhere.

    “You really want me to come with you?” you ask.

    “Yes,” he says earnestly.

    “Not Tara?”

    He hesitates. “It’s a long story,” he says again. “But I promise, I’ll tell you everything. There’s a lot I need to tell you, Y/N.”

    He speaks with dead seriousness that makes you anxious and excited. He has a lot he needs to tell you… Could this mean…?

    This could be it. Your chance to change everything with Brian. Everything could change tonight. You need to go on this stargazing adventure with him.

    And besides, he looks so goddamn eager for you to say yes, you’d be a fool to deny him.

    “Ah, hell,” you say with a shrug. “I didn’t need sleep anyway.”

    Brian’s whole face bursts with happiness. “You’ll come?”

    “Sure, why not—oof!”

    Brian leans up toward you and gives your torso a quick hug without warning. Then he pulls away, kisses your right knee, then the left, and springs upright. “I’ll go pack us a canteen of water. You should put on some warmer clothes. And we need to hurry.”

    You don’t have time to process what just happened. “Why do we need to hurry?”

    “We’ll miss our opportunity. I’ll explain, I promise. Get dressed!”

    Brian strides out of the room and closes the door behind him so you can change. You exhale shakily, touching the places on your knees where he’d pressed his lips. He is going to kill you. And you’ll gladly let him.

    Your phone buzzes with a new text on your bed stand. You frown and lean over to check it.

    Tara: Is Brian with you?

    I’m on my way home, but I don’t want to see him

    You blink. What the hell happened? you think. If Tara’s avoiding Brian…

    What did Brian do?

    You quickly type a message to Tara: Yeah, he’s here at the apartment

    Why should you worry about what happened between Brian and Tara? Let them have their lover’s quarrels, for all you care. It’s not your responsibility to get involved.

    Unless…

    Nervously, you text her again: What happened?

    The typing indicator bubble comes up. She finally responds with a much longer text than you’d been expecting.

    Someone told him something really horrible about me. I thought he was different than the other guys. I just really don’t want to see him right now.

    Shit, shit shit shit. Freddie. He told Brian too soon!

    You frantically send a text to Freddie. You told him already???? Fred it’s too soon

    This is not how things were supposed to go.

    A knock on your bedroom door. “Are you changed yet?” Brian asks. “We gotta go!”

    Fuck, you don’t have time to deal with all of this right now. “No, but—Brian, wait, can you come in?”

    “Are you…decent?”

    “Yes, just—I need to talk to you.”

    The knob twists and Brian peeks his head through the door. He takes in the pajamas you haven’t changed out of yet. “What’s up?”

    “I just—” You hesitate, looking down at your phone again. You need to ask him about it. If Freddie told him what you think he told him…

    “Is it John?” Brian asks, looking at your phone. He draws his brows together in concern. “Shit, I hope this is not putting you in a weird position with him, going stargazing with me.”

    He thinks you were texting John. Your boyfriend. Of course.

    You find that you can’t say anything. You’re conflicted…should you tell Brian that Tara had texted you? Should you ask Brian about what you think Freddie’d told him?

    Maybe it’s not the best idea to bring this up to Brian first. He said he’d explain everything…he said he has a lot he needs to tell you. Maybe you should let him speak with an unadulterated testimony. You decide to let him tell you himself.

    “No, it’s…” You sigh, clicking your phone off. “It’s alright. John’s… John’ll be fine with it. He knows we’re friends.”

    Brian looks at you, a strange expression on his face. “Friends,” he echoes, a depth to his voice you hadn’t heard before. He tears his eyes away. “Okay, well, if you’re sure… Get dressed.”

    He closes the door again, leaving you alone. You want to groan. There’s so much you have to figure out…

    But the mention of John has your heart racing again, and desperately wish it didn’t have that effect on you. Something…changed between you and him today, while you napped together on his dorm room bed. His strong arms around your body, his breathy moans in your ear, his erection hard between your thighs…

    His gray eyes shut, deep in sleep. John has no idea what happened. And John has no idea you know what happened. But those memories are ingrained in your mind. You couldn’t forget them if you tried.

    Should you tell John your plans with Brian now? If John was your real boyfriend, you’d tell him without hesitation—even though Brian’s your best friend. But no… John’s not your real boyfriend by any means, and if things are going the direction you’re thinking they might this evening…it could mean some really big changes are going to happen between you and Brian.

    You reply to Tara again: If you come home in like 15 mins, you should be able to avoid him. You don’t really know what else to say, but you feel like you should add something else. So you type: So sorry to hear. Boys are dumb.

    Tara replies: Are you going with him?

    What the hell are you supposed to say? You sigh, bouncing your leg anxiously. You don’t want to make her mad…but you’re sick of lying.

    Yeah, we’re going out, you say.

    You think for a minute that Tara is going to leave you on read, but then she replies with one word: Good.

    The hell is that supposed to mean?

    You take a couple of deep breaths to keep from panicking. Freddie hasn’t replied; he hasn’t even read the text. You groan and click your phone off, placing it in your purse on the chair. This is going to be a huge mess. Goddamn Freddie.

    Why is Tara upset that Brian found out about the rumor? Historically speaking, she’s always been perfectly okay with telling the whole world about it. So why would she be upset if Brian knows, too?

    You change quickly, throwing your pajamas back into your dresser and putting on a bra. The weather outside is supposed to be chilly, so you choose a warm turtleneck sweater and a pair of fleece-lined leggings. In your dresser drawers, you find thermal socks, gloves, a scarf, and a beanie…but you forego the last item. If Brian has a spare hat in his car, you’d much prefer the one that smells of him.

    You lace up your boots and walk out, carrying your coat and accessories. Brian’s perched on your couch waiting for you, holding the blanket and a canteen of water. You notice he’s pulled on the Imperial sweatshirt. You bite back the urge to hug him.

    “Is that going to be warm enough?” you ask, gesturing to the sweatshirt.

    “I have another coat in my car,” Brian says. He stands and comes to stand before you, frowning.

    “What?” you ask.

    “Your hair,” he says, reaching a hand out to lift a lock from your neck. It’s still damp from your shower. “You’ll be freezing.”

    “It’s fine,” you brush him off.

    Brian narrows his eyes at you. “No, I’m not letting you catch a cold, Bookworm. Come on.” He grabs your hand and leads you to the bathroom.

    “Brian, it’s okay,” you giggle.

    “Unacceptable. Where’s a hair dryer?”

    You find one for him—the one that you and Ronnie share—and Brian wastes no time plugging it into the outlet and turning it on. You grin and blush as he gingerly brushes your hair from your neck with his fingers, pulling it back. He begins to dry your hair, holding each strand under the heat of the dryer.

    “I can dry my own hair, silly,” you say.

    “I wanna do it.” Brian’s expression in the mirror is one of acute concentration. You let your eyes close at the relaxing feel of his fingers running through your scalp. Your hair is going to be a frizzy mess by the time he’s done…but you’re enjoying this too much.

    A couple of times, his fingers linger on the soft skin of your neck, just a little too long for it to be an accident. You smile at the butterflies in your chest.

    “There,” he says, turning the dryer off. He runs his finger through your scalp for good measure, making sure nowhere is still wet.

    “You’re good at that,” you say, turning to face him. “Almost like you’ve had practice.”

    “No way,” Brian laughs, running a hand through his own hair. “You do not wanna see my hair blow-dried.”

    “I’ve seen it straightened,” you joke. “It can’t be worse than that.”

    “We don’t talk about that.” He glances at his watch and curses. “We gotta go!” He grabs your hand and leads you out the door again.

    “What’s the rush?” you ask.

    “We have a stop to make on the way,” he says, throwing the blanket over his shoulder. “A couple, actually.”

    “Where are we stopping?”

    Brian turns to you and smirks. “You’ll see.”

———

    The sky is surprisingly clear tonight, despite the cloud cover from this afternoon. It’s still cold and windy, though. You shiver in the passenger seat of Brian’s car and huddle into the warmth of your parka.

    Brian drives without speaking, the radio playing something upbeat and electronic at a low volume. It’s not Brian’s preferred genre, but Brian’s the kind of driver that keeps the radio on all the time. You want to turn it off and bombard him with questions, but you decide to wait. He’s comfortable with the silence between you and him, and so are you.

    Not five minutes after he starts driving, he stops along the curb. You look outside and frown.

    “Why are we parked in front of the Physics hall?”

    Brian gives you a mischievous look. “We’re gonna take a telescope.”

    You make a noise from the back of your throat. “What?”

    He cuts the engine and opens his door, beckoning for you to follow him. “Come on, I’ll need your help.”

    He takes off into the night toward the front doors of the Physics building. You scamper after him, still in disbelief. Take a telescope?

    “Brian!” you hiss. “I’m not helping you steal a telescope!”

    “We’ll be fine,” he brushes you off. “Live a little.”

    “Are you trying to become a felon?!”

    “You worry too much.”

    You can’t believe this. Brian’s such a good student; you can’t fathom he’d ever break the law. “I can’t do this. Nope. I’m sitting in the car.”

    “Wait!” He turns and grasps your arm, staring into your eyes. “I need your help.”

    “Help with what?”

    “Keeping watch while I get the telescope. Also, it’s pretty damn heavy, so I could use an extra pair of arms.” He squeezes your bicep and smirks.

    You scoff in disbelief. “No fucking way!”

    “Y/N. Do you trust me?”

    Of course you do. Especially when he’s holding your arm and leaning down to look into your eyes like this. You suck your teeth and kick the ground a little.

    “…Yes.”

    “Good.” Brian tugs your arm with him toward the building. “Let’s go.”

    You groan and let him lead you up the steps of the building and to the front doors. The key access swipe beside the door glows with a red circle indicating the building is locked. But Brian rummages in his pocket for his wallet and withdraws his student ID. He swipes it, and the red circle of light turns green as the locks click open. You and Brian exchange a look—yours uncertain, his playful.

    “TA’s get access to the building until midnight,” he says, waving his key card at you. “And it’s…” He checks his watch. “11:59. Just in time.”

    “So…we’re not breaking and entering?”

    “God, no. But we’re still taking a telescope.”

    You groan again as Brian leads you into the building. It’s strange being here after dark—the hallways are lit only by dim emergency lights and exit signs. You get the firm sensation that you’re not supposed to be in here. Brian must sense that; his hand finds yours in the dark, and you jump.

    “Relax!” he laughs in a whisper. “It’s just me. Come on.”

    “Brian, we’re going to get in trouble,” you whine, eyes darting behind you at the doors again.

    “You always like to point out the worst case scenario, don’t you?”

    “‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,’” you hiss. “Murphy’s Law, isn’t it? Didn’t you teach me that?”

    “I always preferred the Matthew McConaughey version,” Brian drawls, dragging you down the hallway. “‘Anything that can happen, will happen.’ It’s from Interstellar, remember?”

    Of course you remember Interstellar. You could never forget the day you and Brian watched it, curled up together on your dorm room couch Freshman year, Brian’s fluffy head in your lap, his eyes closed with the fatigue of midterms week. You wish you had kissed those eyelids while you’d had the chance.

    You go quiet at the memory, and Brian takes it as a sign that you’ve conceded. He sniggers and squeezes your hand.  

    You and Brian reach a door to a room; a laboratory, by the looks of it. The door is unlocked, and Brian steps in first and flips on the light switch. There’s a row of pristine white lab tables topped with various gadgets and tools. You wouldn’t even know how to use half of the contraptions if you tried. Along the back wall, beside the whiteboards on the walls, is a large storage closet. This is where Brian leads you. You watch nervously as Brian pulls a small metal key from his pocket and unlocks the latch to the closet.

    “Where’d you get the key from?” you ask apprehensively.

    “Dr. Lee’s keyring, during class today.”

    You sigh, praying to all the stars above that Brian wasn’t about to get you both into some deep shit with the Physics department.

    Inside the closet, there’s a number of expensive-looking telescopes, ranging in size from small cylinders on tripods to huge devices that probably stand half your height. Brian immediately goes for the largest telescope, which is zipped up in a case and propped on its side against the wall,

    “You’re joking, right?” you ask. “We’re not really stealing that telescope from here?”

    “Sure, we are.”

    “Brian!” This is so uncharacteristic of him. This is a Roger Taylor-esque stunt. Brian’s roommate must be rubbing off on him.

    But as Brian gathers the proper lenses and equipment, he notices you watching and smiles at you, his eyes sparkling. And your heart pounds with adrenaline and anticipation and the excitement of being here with him on this late night adventure.

    If there’s ever a day to just roll with the punches, it’s today.

    Together, you and Brian carry the telescope out of the storage closet, which Brian relocks on his way out. The telescope is massive and heavy as if it were made of lead. Brian has you look left and right down the empty, dark hallways before you and he lug the telescope out.

    “Aren’t there security cameras?” you say, your voice sounding high-pitched as it echoes down the halls.

    “We’ll be fine, Y/N,” Brian says.

    You’re not so sure. Looking down at the massive hunk of equipment between you and Brian, it looks and feels suspiciously like it could be a dead body. You laugh, despite yourself, at the sheer ridiculousness of it.

    Brian looks up at your giggling fit. “What’s so funny?” he says, his voice strained.

    You grunt and adjust your grip on the telescope’s handles, before breaking into a giggling fit again. “We just look so suspicious!”

    Brian chuckles with you. When you finally make it to the doors, Brian pushes them open with his hip and you help him carefully bring the telescope across the street to the car. Brian unlatches the trunk, and you help him hoist the telescope in the compartment and secure it. The whole while, you glance up and down the street, your heart racing. Why the hell did I agree to this? I’m an accomplice to a crime. I’m going to go to jail. My scholarship is going to get revoked—

    “Y/N,” Brian says, laughing at your twisted face. “We’ll be fine.”

    “I can’t believe we just did that,” you gasp. “We just did that. Why did we just do that? Stealing is illegal, Brian!”

    “We’re not stealing, just…borrowing.”

    “We just smuggled a telescope from the Physics building! Seems a lot like stealing to me!”

    His expression is humored. “Well, it’s a good thing I got permission from Dr. Lee to come by and check out the telescope overnight.”

    Realization sinks in, and your mouth falls open. He tricked me. “You didn’t.”

    Brian barks a carefree laugh and opens the driver’s seat door. “But it’s nice to know that if I ever wanted to pull a grand heist, you’d be such a willing accomplice!”

    You scramble to your own door and pull it open, climbing in. “So we didn’t just commit a crime?” you stammer.

    Brian’s still laughing. “Hell no! I’m not trying to lose my scholarship!”

    You hit Brian gently but angrily on his thigh. “I can’t believe you.”

    “I can’t believe you didn’t even put up a bloody fight!”

    You hit him again and pout. “You made me think we were stealing! That’s psychological manipulation!”

    “I never once said we were stealing the telescope,” Brian sniggers. “You don’t really think I would do something like that, do you?”

    “How the hell would I know?” you grumble. “You’ve been doing a lot of really weird things lately!”

    “Y/N. I can’t even jaywalk without feeling guilty. Do you really think I’m capable of stealing a thousand dollar piece of equipment from my own college?”

    You grunt and turn away from him, your aggravation turning into humiliation. Brian chuckles softly one more time before grabbing for your hand on your lap. “Hey,” he consoles, tugging your hand. You turn only a little toward him, but he places a hand on your cheek to turn your face head-on to his. “I’m sorry, Y/N. I hope you’re not mad at me.”

    Your face burns beneath his hand, and you’d yank away from his touch if you weren’t so addicted to the way his skin feels against yours. “‘M not,” you mumble. “I’m just embarrassed.” Today has been an incredibly overwhelming day, and this certainly hadn’t made you feel any better.

    Brian lowers his eyes at you, causing your heart to skip a beat. “You’re adorable. No more pranks,” he promises.

    Brian’s called you adorable a million times before, but always in a platonic, almost demeaning sort of way. Like, in a “you’re-so-adorable-I-want-to-pinch-your-cheeks” sort of way, not a “you’re-so-adorable-I-want-to-fuck-you-into-next-week” sort of way.

    But now, with the way his eyes are hooded as he examines your face, you’re not sure which kind of “adorable” you are to him anymore.

    You gulp and lick your lips subconsciously. His eyes follow the movement and don’t look away. His fingers on your cheek just barely twitch, almost like he’s trying hard not to caress your skin. And suddenly, you realize his face is a lot closer to yours than it was a few seconds ago.

    Okay, this is definitely the other kind of “adorable.”

    But a twisted thought taints your mind. Does he call Tara adorable, too?

    You suddenly feel hopeless. There’s no use in engaging in this kind of wishful thinking. You don’t stand a chance against Tara. Tara’s always going to be a “fuck-you-into-next-week” sort of adorable, and you’re always going to be a “pinch-your-cheeks” kind of adorable. That’s just how the world works, and you should stop pretending like Brian should see it any other way.

    Even as Brian’s actions at the moment beg to differ. You’re still nothing but Tara’s replacement for tonight.

    “Tell me what happened with Tara,” you whisper to Brian. It’s completely off-topic, you know. But you need to know.

    Brian studies you for a second longer before turning away, his breath leaving him in a long exhale. He twists the keys in the ignition, and the car sputters on. “It’s a long sto—”

    “Don’t tell me it’s a long story again,” you say as gently as you can. “You already said that. I need to know what happened.”

    Brian nods, gripping the steering wheel of the car. He’s stalling, you realize. Why doesn’t he want to talk about it?

    What doesn’t he want to tell you?

    “I made a mistake,” he finally says. “More than one, actually.”

    “With Tara?” you prompt.

    “Yeah,” he says. “And with—”

    He stops himself, looking down. And with…me?

    “It’s okay,” you say. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”

    “It’s not that easy,” Brian says. You can tell he’s struggling with what to say to you…or how to say it.

    “You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want,” you tell him. And really, it doesn’t matter if Brian tells you what happened or not. You’re pretty sure you know what happened, anyway, and it has to do with Freddie Bulsara.

    And sure enough, Brian glances up and you and confirms your suspicions. “I heard from…someone…a rumor about Tara. And I…wanted to know whether it was true or not, so I asked her about it.”

    The Sister Tara rumor. Freddie had told Brian—much sooner than you and he had planned—and Brian had no idea. You were ninety percent sure before, but now you’re positive.

    “What did she say?” you ask.

    Brian doesn’t answer your question. “Did you know about it, Y/N? The rumor?” He doesn’t sound accusatory, just…curious.

    You could lie, you know. But it wouldn’t make anything better—or easier. You nod. “Yeah.”

    “I kind of wish you had told me about it,” he says. Again, not upset. Just…matter-of-factly.

    But you reel. “Why?”

    Brian stares out the windshield at the dark street. “Just so that it wouldn’t have been a surprise when someone else told me about it.”

    Someone else. He hasn’t mentioned Freddie yet. Why is he keeping it a secret?

    “But the thing is,” Brian continues, “if the rumor was true, I wouldn’t even really be upset with her. I couldn’t care less what Tara’s done in the past.”

    You chew on your bottom lip.

    “But what really makes me upset? The fact that it became a rumor. The fact that it’s still spreading. The fact that everyone is still trying to make a mockery out of it, even years after the fact.”

    Your gut feels like it’s twisting.

    Brian sighs and keeps talking. “So I decided to bring it up to Tara today. And she… Well, I think she took it the wrong way. I didn’t do a very good job of bringing it up, y’know…objectively. And I think she thought I was accusing her. I wasn’t trying to, though. I just wanted her to know it was still going around—the rumor, I mean.”

    Because of you.

    But you’re utterly conflicted between feeling guilt and feeling resentment. What Brian doesn’t understand is that Tara perpetuated that rumor Freshman year.  She told the story at parties to anyone who would listen. She wore the name Sister Tara like a royal crown atop her head.

    So why would Tara all the sudden care about the rumor making its resurrection?

    It just doesn’t make sense. She’s just never cared about people knowing, or about the rumor spreading. So why would she care if Brian brought it up?

    “Is that why she didn’t want to come with you tonight?” you ask.

    Brian hesitates, still gazing out at the road, the car still in park. “No, actually. That’s not why.”

    You frown. “Then why didn’t she—”

    “It was about us,” he says, suddenly locking eyes with you. “About you and me.”

    Your mouth goes dry.

    “I think she noticed some…tension between us.”

    Yesterday—the fight. Is that what he means? The uneasy, mutual aggravation that escalated between you and Brian ever since you provoked him outside of the market yesterday? At rehearsal today, the furtive looks of jealous anger you’d shared over John’s shoulder while he kissed your forehead…or over Tara’s shoulder while Brian hugged her?

    Or does he mean the other kind of tension…the tension you always feel every time he holds your gaze for too long, or brushes up against you by accident? The tension you felt at the diner on Saturday night? The tension you felt just moments ago while he held your face and stared at your lips?

    “Oh,” is all you can say.

    “She told me to work things out with you before texting her again,” Brian says, his voice almost breathy. “So…this is me trying to work things out.”

    So Tara stood Brian up tonight…for him to work things out with you? What kind of stunt is she trying to pull? That explains why she’d replied with the text “Good.” after you’d texted her you were going out with Brian tonight. But…why?

    And then Brian…he’d said he wanted to go with you more than he wanted to go with Tara. Endless possibilities circle your mind as to what that could mean. You toy with a threadbare seam in the side of the leather passenger seat, suddenly feeling nervous. And yet…excited. Hopeful.

    “Y/N?” he says. You hadn’t said anything in reply for a long time.

    “I’m here,” you whisper.

    “Let’s make things right, Bookworm,” he says fervently. “I just want to make everything okay again. Will you still go stargazing with me?”

    A ghost of a smile stretches across your lips. “Don’t see why not.” You gesture to the telescope in the trunk. “We’ve already stolen a telescope from the Physics department.”

    A little laugh bubbles from his lips. “I never thought you’d forgive me for pulling that prank.”

    “I don’t hold grudges,” you say. But you know and Brian knows that’s a fat lie; he tilts his head toward you and raises an eyebrow. “Okay, I could never hold a grudge against you, Dust Boy,” you correct yourself with a laugh.

    Brian chuckles and smiles warmly. “I’m glad you’re here.”

    “Me too.” The mood between you and Brian is lightening up, finally. You feel the urge to crack another joke. “I’ll tell you what… Being tricked into thinking you’re committing a felony is hungry business. I’m starving.”

    “I knew you’d say that,” he laughs. “It’s a good thing I already took your perpetual hunger into consideration while planning our night.”

———

    Brian’s second stop before driving to Richmond Park: a convenience store.

    It’s a strange feeling to walk into a convenience store after midnight, where the fluorescent lights are so bright they hurt your eyes and the only other patrons are high as kites. In fact, it’s a strange feeling to be out this late at all on a school night.

    Maybe a part of it is the ever engrained notion of a curfew, instilled by your parents since your childhood. The mentality that post-sunset shenanigans are for delinquents and troublemakers. And even though you’re twenty-one now and thousands of miles away from them, you still somehow feel the same strange exhilaration tonight as you used to feel when you were just a kid and you stayed out playing past dusk. Or when you were a teenager and you didn’t text them where you were after your end-of-term school dance.

    The feeling is addicting, and the thrill that already exists by just being around Brian only heightens it. Like when your eyes meet over the short shelves of packaged foods in the convenience store—Brian picking out crisps on one aisle, you picking out candy bars—and he gives you that million-dollar smirk, and your stomach somersaults like you’re on a roller coaster. That’s a feeling you want to bottle up and keep reliving forever.

    After selecting sufficient choices of sugary, salty, and irresponsibly-caffeinated snacks, you and Brian check out and finally begin your journey to your final destination: Richmond Park.

    How far is it?” you ask him, buckling up your seatbelt as he pulls out of the parking lot.

    “About twenty minutes. Hey, can you pass me one of those Mars bars?”

    You comply, grabbing two out of the bag. “Are we sure the park is even open after dark?”

    Brian pulls onto the main road that leads south of London. “I’m sure. They only close the park at night during deer culling season, which doesn’t start until February.”

    “Deer culling?” you say. “Isn’t that where they—”

    “It’s how they control the population of deer in the park,” he explains, unwrapping the candy bar and taking a bite. “Otherwise, the populations would get out of hand. Sorry, you probably already know all of this, I know. I don’t want to mansplain.”

    You laugh. “How do you know what mansplaining is, old man?”

    “Freddie accused Roger of it one time. I try not to do it as much as I can.”

    “No, it’s fine,” you reassure him, “I love to hear you talk. Plus, you know a lot.”

    Brian smiles appreciatively at you, his eyes studying the dark road. “The deer culling is for good reason. Badger culling, on the other hand…”

    You listen and nod along as Brian goes off about the horrors of culling the park’s badgers, detailing the inhumane killing tactics by park officials and need for reform. One of your favorite things about Brian is how enraptured he becomes talking about something he is very passionate about—including, to say the least, the United Kingdom’s badger population.

    “I saw a video of a badger left brutalized in a cage. It’s truly awful how anyone can justify it. And the badgers barely even account for six percent of bovine tuberculosis!” Brian rants, waving his arms fanatically. “The cull has done nothing but waste millions of pounds of the public’s money, disastrously let down cattle farmers, inflict massive unnecessary suffering on thousands of mostly healthy native badger families, lie to the public about the effectiveness of what it is doing, delay the resolution of the bovine tuberculosis problem by possibly twenty years—”

    “Brian, you’re speeding,” you interrupt him, looking at his speedometer.

    “Sorry,” he says, slowing down to the speed limit. “I just get worked up over this.”

    “It’s okay. Isn’t there anything we can do?” you ask.

    “There’s a protest going on next month. I was thinking of going. You should come with me.”

    “Only if you wear the badger costume I got you for Halloween last year.”

    “Oh, you know I will.”

    “Then let’s make it a date.” You immediately want to slap your palm over your mouth. “I mean—I didn’t mean—”

    Brian just chuckles and waves you off. “It’s alright, I know what you meant.”

    There’s a second or two of silence then, and you despise the awkwardness you’d just created. And then—as if he wants to just make it even more unbearable—Brian says, “So you and John are doing alright, then?”

    You have absolutely no idea how to respond. How could you even justify keeping the lie going at this point? You don’t think there’s any way you could look Brian in the eye and tell him that you and Deaky are doing “fine”—when there was never really a “You and Deaky” in the first place.

    But you can’t spill the truth, either. Brian will never forgive you for fake-dating John. And besides—in the face of such a positive outlook with Brian tonight—you’d do anything to keep from ruining your adventure with Brian.

    But you’re sick as hell of lying. God, you’re sick of lying. You consider a list of truths, instead, and pick one out to give to Brian.

   “I think it’s going to end between us soon.”

    Brian frowns and glances over at you in the passenger seat. “What?”

    “I think we’re going to break up soon.” It’s certainly not a lie. As a part of the terms and agreements Deaky had outlined yesterday evening, you have until the end of this weekend to fake-date each other.

    “Why?” Brian asks.

    “It’s just not working out as planned.”

    Brian hums, his ringed fingers stroking the steering wheel. “I’m sorry to hear,” he says.

    Maybe you’re just reading into his expression too much, but he looks almost…smug. Are you really sorry, though, Brian?

    You think of John. The way his stormy gray eyes contrast with his sunshine smile. The way his soft-spoken voice contrasts with his powerful words. Something aches inside of you at the thought that things will all be over with him after this weekend. You stuff the aching feeling away and try not to think about it.

    “‘S alright,” you brush Brian off with a wave of your hand. “When you know, you know. You know?”

    He laughs at your words. “I know,” he says. And then you and he both laugh again.

    Brian doesn’t bring up the topic of John again for the remainder of the road trip out to Richmond Park, and for that you are grateful. Perhaps he can sense that it’s a touchy subject for you. And it is a touchy subject—just not for the reasons he thinks it is.

    Instead, you and Brian talk about space, while the radio plays one cheesy 80s song after another on a low volume. While your knowledge of it is limited to movies and TV shows…Brian’s knowledge is endless. As soon as he gets your permission to rave about space—and you love nothing more than to hear his voice—he goes off. The zodiacal dust cloud, nebulas, galaxies, extraterrestrial life, time dilation and the theory of relativity—everything.

    “You should write a song about it,” you say while gazing out the window. The city lights still pollute the skies, but not quite as bad as it is in Kensington. You wonder what the view will look like once you reach the park.

    “About time dilation?” Brian asks. “Pah. No one will want to listen to that shite.”

    “That’s not true. You could make it a folk song.”

    “A folk song?” Brian laughs. “Roger would stab me with one of his drumsticks if I ever tried to play a folk song. I can already hear it… ‘This isn’t the bloody Lumineers!’”He does a perfect impression of Roger’s scratchy drawl perfectly, and you tilt your head back and laugh.

    “Tell him he can play tambourine,” you joke.

    “Oh, yeah, that’ll go over well.”

    “You write good songs, though,” you compliment him. “You should keep trying.”

    Brian nods and smiles. “I will. I’m hoping one day, we’ll have so many of our own original songs, that we won’t even have to play any more Led Zeppelin or Arctic Monkeys songs at our gigs.”

    “I think maybe one day, people will perform covers of your songs.”

    Brian waves you off, but you can see the twinkle of optimism in his eyes.

    At last, Brian pulls onto the two-lane road that leads into the heart of Richmond Park. The road is pitch black. Your heart rate immediately picks up at the eeriness of it.

    “Uh, Brian?” you ask. “We’re not gonna run out of gas or anything, right?”

    “We’re on a half-tank,” he reassures you. There are no other cars in sight; just an expanse of grass and the leafless winter trees illuminated by the car’s headlights.

    “…Are there predatory cats in Richmond Park?”

    “Nope, just lots and lots of deer.”

    “…What about fugitives? Or witch covens? Or hermit cannibals living in—”

    “Y/N, you watch way too much Netflix,” Brian laughs. “We’re going to be perfectly safe.” He gives you a side-eye glance. “Are you scared?”

    “No?” Yes.

    “You don’t need to be scared, Bookworm.”

    “Oh, really? Weren’t you just talking about the inevitability of extraterrestrial life in the vastness of space? ‘Cause if there’s any reason at all to be scared, that’d be it.”

    “You’re worried about aliens?”

    “And you’re not?” you squeak.

    “I thought you were worried about predatory cats and cannibalistic fugitives,” Brian smirks.

    “I’m worried about everything, Brian. That’s what I do. I worry.” There’s absolutely no light in the distance from outside your passenger seat window. You imagine a pair of shining red eyes in the bushes and shudder.

    “Hey,” he says softly. “We can turn around, if it’s too much.”

    Right, and miss out on a night cuddling under the stars with Brian? No way. “No, don’t turn around,” you tell him, mustering up your courage. “I want to see this Orion’s Nebula you’ve been talking about.”

    “You definitely don’t want to miss it,” Brian says. “But I know it’s kind of spooky out here. Seriously, we can come back another d—”

    “No way,” you say with finality. “We’re doing this. We didn’t drive all this way just for me to chicken out.”

    Brian chuckles softly. “I’ll protect you.”

    “This ain’t the 1950s, Cowboy,” you say. “A woman can protect herself these days. Besides, I didn’t learn kickboxing for nothing.”

    Brian snorts. “Oh, you mean from the one intro class they offered on campus for free sophomore year?”

    “Duh. I’ll just roundhouse kick all those aliens before we get abducted.”

    “That’ll teach ‘em.”

    Brian keeps glancing up at the sky while he drives, checking for light pollution. As soon as he comes to a spot that he says is sufficiently dark, he parks the car off the side of the road and cuts the engine. Immediately, you’re hit with a wall of silence.

    “Alright, let’s bundle up,” Brian says, pulling an overcoat on over his Imperial sweatshirt. You pull on your own coat, as well as your gloves and scarf. You check your phone messages one more time—still no response from Freddie.

    “Oh, I forgot to tell you. But no phones.” Brian grins. “The screens have too much blue light, and your eyes won’t adjust to the dark as fast.”

    “Got it.” You click your phone off and stuff it back into your purse. “Hey, do you have that extra beanie I can use?” you ask. Brian nods and retrieves it from the back seat. It’s soft, and when he’s not looking, you press it to your nose. It smells like Brian’s shampoo.

    Once you’re both ready, you open the car door and step out into the night. It’s much colder out here away from the city, and you shiver in your parka. There’s the sound of croaking frogs from the lake and the more distant sound of cars on the highway. The first thing you notice, though, is the night sky above. You’ve seen starry nights like this before, but it never fails to take your breath away. There’s a half-moon sitting a little above the horizon that provides an inkling of light—just enough to see the ground you’re walking on, and also just enough for Brian to grumble about star visibility.

    Brian immediately gets to work setting up the telescope in the trunk. You hold a flashlight for him and watch diligently while he meddles with setting the scope up on its stand, polishing the eyepieces, and tweaking the alignment of the mirrors—“collimating,” as Brian calls it. You love to watch his hands as he works—his fingers long and nimble—and the acute concentration in his hazel eyes. You alternate between watching him and gazing up at the stars.

    It takes a while, but Brian finally finishes “collimating” the telescope. “Come take a look,” he tells you, his breath fogging in the cool air. He beckons you to come stand beside him. You do, and your breath catches as he holds both your hips and situates you in front of the telescope.

    “Now, just look with one eye through the eyepiece…”

    “I don’t see anything, it’s black.”

    “Move your head around a little bit. You have to be in just the right position…”

    You tilt your head, and a light suddenly hits your eye. “Oh,” you gasp. It’s the moon, and it’s in full detail before you. You can make out every divot in its surface and the faint outline of the half that’s shadowed.

    “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Brian murmurs. You make a soft sound of concordance, allowing your eyes to trace the movement of the moon across the eyepiece as it continues to set.

    “It’s gone,” you say after a few seconds.

    “Here, let me readjust it.” Brian crouches by your feet and looks through a crosshair scope, moving the telescope on its axis.

    “Isn’t it setting?” you ask. “How come it looks like it’s moving up in the eyepiece?”

    Brian glances up at you. “I’ve talked your ear off enough for a day, haven’t I?”

    You snort and ruffle his hair. He’s trying to be respectful, but you love to hear him talk. “I asked, so I definitely want to hear what you have to say.”

    Maybe it’s your imagination, but you think he leans into your touch. “The moon is setting downward toward the horizon, but the telescope is like a big mirror. So the image you see is inverted. That’s why it looks like it’s moving up in the eyepiece.”

    Brian eagerly shows you a couple of other spectacles in the night sky. He has trouble getting a clear image of the star he claims is Uranus—“It just looks like a white blob!” you laugh—and when he tries to show you the Andromeda galaxy, the image is too blurry. Brian curses the light pollution and vows to someday take you somewhere without any.

    “Probably the nearest dark site in England is in the southwest peninsula area,” Brian sighs, fiddling with the focuser knobs, his brows furrowed. “It’s much less populated out there, so you can see a lot more of the stars.”

    “Isn’t that where Roger is from?”

    “Yeah, he’s from Cornwall.”

    “Well, maybe we can go there someday,” you suggest.

    “We might be going sometime soon,” Brian says excitedly. “We’ve been trying to book a short tour in the Truro area for a while now. Hopefully, with a new bassist, we can start getting some bigger gigs.”

    Your stomach somersaults. John still hasn’t had his trial gig with the band yet as their bassist. He’s undoubtedly good enough, but the bickering you’d witnessed earlier today at their rehearsal has you worried for John. Brian seemed dead-set on finding every possible reason to discount John’s ability. You’re depending on Freddie to help vouch for John…but it’s worth bringing it up to Brian here and now, while you have the chance.

    “Do you think John is good enough?” you ask bluntly.

    Brian stiffens a little bit, continuing to adjust the focusers. “Yeah, I think he’s good enough. I’m going to switch lenses, we need one with more magnification.” He begins to remove the current eyepiece and fiddle with another.

    “It just seemed like you thought he was making a lot of mistakes at rehearsal,” you comment. Brian becomes transfixed with properly placing the new eyepiece.

    “Nothing we can’t work out before Friday. Okay, I’m gonna try to see if we can find one final space thing for you… You’ll think this one’s cool, it’s called the Orion nebula. Let’s see if I can focus it…”

    He’s avoiding the conversation, you realize. “I think he was really discouraged,” you press, trying to get just something out of him. Part of you is irked that he’d been so bitchy to John in rehearsal. But mostly, you just want to understand why.

    “He shouldn’t be, he has a lot of talent,” Brian says without inflection.

    “I think so, too,” you say.

    “Look, Y/N.” Brian steps away from the telescope and places a hand on your back, moving you closer to it. You bend down and look through the eyepiece. And then you gasp in awe.

    It’s absolutely stunning, the Orion Nebula, with an intricate, smokey haze made of purple and blue that fans out across the cosmos like the wing of a butterfly. Behind it—within it—shine a million stars, each twinkling and sparkling as if they’re alive.

    You tear away from the telescope and gape up at the sky with your naked eye.

    “Where is it?” you ask, your voice filled with emotion. For the moment, you’ve completely forgotten about your intent to ask Brian about the fight at rehearsal.

    “It’s in the Orion constellation.” Brian sidles up beside you and brings his head next to yours as he points to the stars. “Do you see that bright, orange star? That’s Betelgeuse. Now, do you see Orion’s belt?” He moves his index finger down and traces the three stars of Orion’s belt. You nod, completely transfixed. “Okay, now, do you see the three bright stars in a little vertical line, just underneath Orion’s belt? That’s called Orion’s sword. The second one—the one in the middle—that’s what you’re looking at through the telescope.”

    You look back at the magnified image of the nebula, your mouth agape. “I didn’t expect it to be so purple.”

    “Your favorite color.”

    You smile at Brian’s words. “It’s surreal.”

    “That’s what I love about space so much,” Brian says, his voice so low it’s almost a whisper. “It’s completely surreal. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s just an illusion. Or a projection. But no…it’s entirely real. Those stars are really out there.”

    Just like every other time you stare at the cosmos and wonder about the universe, you feel very small at this moment. Terrifyingly, fantastically, insignificantly small.

    “You never told me why you don’t think it’s going to work out between you and him,” Brian says.

    You’re still bent down, looking through the eyepiece. For which you’re glad; you don’t want Brian to be able to see your expression. Again, you’re struck with indecision. What do I tell him that isn’t a lie?

    “I think he and I both are in agreement that we’re not seeing each other for the right reasons,” you say. It’s an ambiguous statement, and you made it that way on purpose. But it’s not a lie.

    Brian makes a noise. “What reasons?” he asks. You shift uncomfortably on your feet, watching the stars blink in the eyepiece.

    “Dating in college is weird,” you answer—not really intending to fully answer his question. “‘Cause you get a sense pretty quickly, whether or not you’re meant to be with a person. And if you know, you know.”

    “‘If you know, you know, you know?’” Brian grins, quoting you from earlier in the car.

    “Right,” you say, chuckling. “And if you don’t know…”

    And you truly don’t know, with John. You have absolutely no idea what’s going on between you and him. On paper, it’s so easy. He’s your fake boyfriend, and you’re fake dating, and you have a list of three ground rules, and it’s all going to be over after this weekend. But no…it’s so, so much more complex than that. One shared look with John Deacon, and you know it’s not so simple between you and him. The electricity—god, the electricity changes everything. Nothing about John is simple, and you simply don’t know what to make of it.

    “…same idea applies,” you finish.

    “And that’s why you want to break up with him?” Brian asks.

    “It’s—” You sigh. “It’s a mutual feeling.”

    Is it?

    John’s made it very clear that he does not want to go on fake dating you any longer than necessary. But you can’t imagine what it’s going to be like after it’s all over. He says you’ll still hang out together…but there’ll be no more hugging, no more affectionate smiles, no more calling you his “love” for the world to hear, no more kissing your hands. No more naps in his horrendously-small dorm room bed.

    Is this what you wanted?

    “Is it because he wants to date other people?” Brian asks.

    “I don’t know, he might.”

    “Is it because you want to date other people?”

    You knew the question was coming. “Yes.” It takes you off-guard how confidently you say it.

    Brian doesn’t ask anything else. You take one final look at the nebula before it, too, moves out of focus with the rotation of the Earth.

    “I love the telescope, but there’s something so special about seeing the whole sky all at once,” you say.

    Brian nods. “I know what you mean.”

    You tread over to the back of his car and hop onto the trunk. It makes for a perfect seat, even if the metal is a little cold beneath you. “It’s almost overwhelming, y’know?”

    “Seeing the whole sky all at once?” he asks.

    “No, actually…” You lean back and rest your back against the windshield, interlacing your gloved hands behind your head. “The telescope. I think it’s more overwhelming to see the stars in that much detail. It boggles my mind.”

    “Really? I always felt the opposite. An image in a telescope lens is so tangible, so measurable, so observable. I can make sense of it. I can appreciate it. But the whole sky, all at once?” Brian tilts his head up toward the stars above. “It’s so vast. And large. And…incomprehensible. There’s no way I can appreciate it the way it’s meant to be appreciated, not all at once.”

    You notice Brian walking over to you, and you scoot over on the trunk to make room for him. He hops up and sits beside you, crossing his slender legs. He feels warm beside you, and you want nothing more than to nestle up against him. Maybe you will, if you can work up the courage.

    “Does it scare you?” you ask.

    “What, the night sky?” You nod. Brian pauses, considering. “Not in the standard sense. Not like ghosts, or spiders, or cannibals in the woods.”

    He smirks and jabs you in the side with his elbow before his face turns somber. “It scares in the way that death scares. It’s always there, it always looms above, staring us all down, never fully going away, even if it’s daylight and all you see is blue. You can’t ignore it, and you can’t avoid it. I think I’d be a fool not to be afraid of the stars. Just like I’d be a fool not to be afraid of death.”

    If there’s anything you’ve learned about Brian in the two and a half years you’ve known him, it’s that sometimes, he gets lost in his own head. He’s a man of wonder and depth and existential crises. You’ve learned over the years how to tell when he’s beginning to withdraw into himself. More often than not, he’ll be on the topic of space when it happens…giggling and jesting like his normal self in one moment, and completely derailed by his own existence in the next.

    You roll your head to the side to gaze at him. His eyes are glazed over and sparkling with moonlight, his lips parted, his mind clearly elsewhere. You can see his breath curling out from his mouth, hot against the cool air.

    “It makes me feel small,” you whisper. Brian blinks, eyes turning to you as you speak. “Thinking about how large everything is, like the moon and the planets and the galaxies. And how vast and empty everything is in between it all. And I’m just…here,” you gesture vaguely around the park, “just a little speck amid it all. Nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things.”

    “I don’t think you give yourself enough credit,” Brian replies. “I think you’re more important to the universe than you realize.”

    “Am I, though? Wouldn’t we all like to think that of ourselves? Would the stars not keep shining if I never existed?” You tilt your head to the sky again. “I don’t like to think about it. Sometimes, I think it’s easier for us to stay wrapped up in our own little universes. I don’t think we were built to fully comprehend the big one out there above us.”

    Brian’s studying you, now—you can sense his eyes trailing over your face—but you know he’s studying your words even more closely. That’s the thing about musicians; they’re always searching for their next song. They’re always writing new lyrics, even when they appear to be doing nothing at all.

    A flash of light catches your eye. It’s a shooting star, brighter than any you’d ever seen before. It blazes across the sky in a flare of blues and greens. And just as soon as it came, it’s gone.

    “Did you see that?” you gasp, turning to look at Brian. But he hadn’t seen it. He’d been looking at you.

    “It was Freddie,” Brian says, completely out of context. “Freddie told me the rumor about Tara. He told me this afternoon.”

    You already know this. But Brian doesn’t know that you know. You don’t say anything.

    “And…” Brian gulps. “He told me something else, too.”

    You go completely still. Brian’s eyes are wide, his pupils dilated.

    “He told me that you have feelings for me,” he whispers. “Is that true?”

    It’s as if the world just stopped spinning. Brian’s words echo in your mind as you process them. Your breath catches in your throat.

    Freddie. No. Freddie told Brian.

    This cannot be happening.

    Your breath rushes in shakily, and the cold air seems to sting your throat. You’ve never wanted to disappear so badly before in your life.

    “Y/N.” It’s just your name from his lips, but you flinch hearing it now. Two and a half years of carefully constructed bricks begin to crumble all around you.

    “Tell me,” Brian urges. “Is it true?”

    “Brian.” Your voice is just a creak. You can’t tell him. You can’t do this. This isn’t happening.

    Brian grasps your gloved hand, bringing his other to your cheek and turning your head to face him again. “Tell me. Please.”

    “Yes,” you breathe. “It’s true.”

    Brian’s mouth falls open with a small gasp. You draw your eyes up slowly to meet his. They’re full of wonder—not disgust, not anger, not confusion.

    “It’s okay,” he murmurs. His gloved fingers caress your cheek. “It’s okay, Y/N.” You can feel his hot breath fanning out over your face.

    Is it okay, though? Your heart gallops in your chest, and you swear Brian can see your pulse in your neck. You open your mouth to speak, and find a question bubbling from your lips: “What do you mean, it’s okay?”

    Brian’s eyelids flutter. “Murphy’s Law,” he breathes out, almost inaudibly. “Remember?”

    Anything that can happen, will happen.

    You can’t resist him any longer. You’ve lost the willpower.

     * It happens so fast. You have no idea whether you moved first, or he did, but your lips are on his, and his lips are on yours, and they’re moving and moving and moving, and you’re kissing him, really kissing him. After all this time, after two and a half years of pining, after countless times of getting your hopes up, only for them to come crashing down, after years of heartbreak and self-hatred and wondering what’s wrong with me…

    You’re finally kissing Brian May, your best friend. And he’s kissing you back.

    Stars burst behind your closed eyes. Your breath leaves you in a rush at the same time Brian’s leaves him, and you can hear how it’s just as shaky as yours. The hand on your cheek moves to the back of your head, pulling you closer to him. You tangle your hands in his hair—these damn gloves, you want so badly to take them off. His lips are warm and supple and sure against yours.

    You break away and press your forehead against his. There are no words to be spoken, just heavy breaths and a shared gaze, a gaze full of mutual desire and need and everything that’s been pent up between you two this whole time.

    You don’t really know who moves first, but you find yourself following Brian into the backseat of the car. His lips don’t leave yours, not even as he closes the door, trapping you both inside, where the warmth of the car’s heaters still persists. Rational thoughts evade you—it seems outlandish that you could be having any thoughts at all.

    Perched in Brian’s lap in the backseat, you wedge your tongue between his lips. A low, lovely growl escapes him from somewhere inside him, a deep and primal sound that makes your toes curl. His tongue meets yours, dancing between you, and you moan with elation. He tastes so good…completely intoxicating, the taste of Him, and the faint hints of chocolate and Earl Grey tea.

    Clothes. Too many clothes.

    You and Brian both discard your gloves, throwing them to the floor. Feeling his face beneath your bare fingers for the first time, his soft curls in your hands…you wouldn’t trade this feeling for the world. You strip your parka off and move to help Brian with his overcoat. Beneath it, his Imperial sweatshirt—once a symbol of unrequited feelings, quickly turned bitter the second he asked for it back—is now nothing to you but a nuisance. You grasp the bottom hem and pull the sweatshirt up and over. His curly head gets stuck as you struggle to pull it off, and he giggles and giggles while you work to free him. At last, his face emerges from the sweatshirt, and you kiss him over and over again.

    Everything moves so fast. But you can’t seem to move fast enough. Brian’s tee shirt comes off—by your doing or by his, you don’t know—and you gasp at the sight of his bare torso. He’s lean and gaunt, his collarbones protruding perfectly from under his skin. You latch your mouth onto his right collarbone, and Brian hums in encouragement. His hands search for the bare skin of your lower back underneath your sweater. You bring your arms up in permission, and he helps pull your sweater off.

    “Holy shit,” Brian breathes. He drinks in the sight of you in just your bra like it’s something holy to behold. But you’re desperate and impatient, and you quickly unlatch the bra, casting it aside. His eyes are so wide, his lips swollen, his hair wild—it’s the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen. You find his left collarbone and plant a messy kiss there, too. Brian groans, his hands finding your breasts, and he bucks his hips up to grind against you.

    Heat rushes to your core, and you both draw a collective inhale. Fuck.

    The next thing you know, Brian’s lying flat against the seat of the car, and you’re sitting on top of him, unbuckling the belt of his trousers, both of you panting with desire and anticipation. There are no thoughts; just Brian, Brian, Brian. You unzip his zipper and try to pull his trousers down. You’re impatient, but so is he, and he distracts you by slipping his hands beneath the hem of your leggings, beneath your underwear, and grasping your ass hard. You moan into his touch, bucking your hips into him. It’s only after it happens that you realize you’d moaned his name.

    “Y/N,” he reciprocates, almost a whine. Brian’s said your name a million times before, but never like this. Never from beneath you straddling him, his shirt off, a wild look in his eyes as he drinks in your body. You’ve never lusted for somebody so badly in your life. There’s absolutely nothing that can stop you now.

    Nothing except the sight of the fluffy, turquoise blanket on the seat beneath Brian’s head.

     ** John Deacon.

    It’s only been one day ago since John hugged you in your room while you cried and told you everything would be okay. Only one day ago since your tickle fight, John’s hands on your bare skin, mutual electricity coursing through your veins. Only one day since John’s finger traced little circle patterns on your knee beneath this same turquoise blanket while you and he watched The Notebook.

    It’s only been a few hours since John held you in his bed and moaned your name in your ear.

    You go completely still atop Brian, as if you’ve turned to ice. He notices immediately; his hands still, and he peers up at you with a thousand questions in his eyes. You both stare at each other for a long time, breaths slowing while you both process what just happened.

    “I can’t do this,” you finally breathe.

    “Fuck,” Brian whispers, his eyes wide now with realization, not lust. “Shit. Shit.”

    An unspoken rift wedges between you and Brian, and you slowly climb off of his lap, breaths still heaving. You feel absolutely sick with guilt.

    John. This is cheating. I just cheated on John—

    But it’s not cheating if you’re not even dating John. You never were.

    “Y/N,” Brian says in a low, dazed voice as he sits up. His eyes never leave yours. “W-We almost… Oh my god.”

    You don’t say anything. You can’t find the words. Bile rises in your chest.

    John’s sweet smile fills your mind.

    “You and John…” Brian trails off.

    “I know,” you mouth.

    “Y/N, I am so sorry.” Brian’s eyes grow panicked. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for—”

    “I know,” you say again, cutting him off. You know what he’s going to say. You know it’s going to break your heart.

    “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he says anyway. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was a mista—”

    “Stop,” you say, your voice cracking. “Don’t say that. Please don’t say that.”

    The silence between you is roaring loud. Brian exhales an unsteady breath and zips his trousers back up. You realize you’re still shirtless and exposed before him, and you move to find your bra.

    “Y/N, we can’t,” Brian says fervently. “We can’t.”

    As if you don’t already know that. But the thing is, why can’t you? This was exactly what you wanted, with Brian. You’re not dating John. You never were.

    Tell him. TELL HIM.

   It would be so easy. It would fix everything. Tell him you’re not dating John. Tell Brian you never did. Tell Brian there’s nothing between you and John, and there never will be. Tell Brian it’s always been him.

    But you can’t tell Brian. You can’t tell him any of that. Something momentous holds you back. You feel like you’re tearing apart at the seams, and you moan in misery, covering your eyes with your hands, your bra still only half-on.

    “Y/N…” Brian speaks your name again, only this time it’s full of remorse.

    The thought of the look on John’s face when he finds out what happened tonight…it feels like a stab to your chest. It hurts even worse when you remember that this is what you’d been hoping for all along. You’d wanted to end up with Brian since day one.

    The worst part? John had agreed to this. He’d agreed to help you win Brian over. And you’d never once thought of how badly it’ll break his heart…or yours.

    Tears prickle behind your eyes, and you dig your palms into them until you see stars. You’ve ruined everything, yet again. You’ve ruined your friendship with Brian. You’ve ruined Brian’s friendship with his bandmates. You’ve ruined Brian’s relationship with Tara.

    You’ve ruined everything you had with John.

    You’ve ruined John’s chances of joining the greatest rock band that will ever live.

    “Please, say something,” Brian says in a groan.

    “Why don’t you want him?” you say in a rush, your voice thick with tears.

    “What?”

    “John. Why don’t you want John in the band?” You don’t really know what you’re saying. But you need to say it.

    Brian gulps. “I never said I didn’t want—”

    “Are you punishing him?” you croak. “For what I did?”

    “What—”

    “I lied, Brian,” you say, a tear falling from your eye onto your burning cheek. “I lied to you, I lied to everyone.”

    He can sense that your emotions are beginning to spill out. “Y/N, please don’t—”

    “It’s all my fault,” you cry. “Everything. All of this. This is all my fault. Just please, don’t take it out on John. Please don’t kick him out of the band. He doesn’t deserve this.”

    Sobs wrack your body. You can’t hold them in anymore, and you cover your eyes. All of the adrenaline of the evening manifests into the worst knot of emotional pain you can imagine in your stomach. You’ve ruined everything. Everything.

    You can sense Brian scooting closer to you. “Y/N, it’s okay, please don’t cry,” Brian whispers, moving to wrap an arm around you. But you flinch away from his touch. His hands on your exposed skin feel like acid to the touch.

    Brian sits there for a while, contemplating what to do while you crumble before him. He must decide that the best option is to leave you be. You feel him move away from you and pull his shirt back on. The car door opens and he steps out, leaving you alone in the car.

    Numb, you latch your bra and pull your turtleneck back on. You brush your hair from your face and crawl up the middle compartment to the front seat. You can hear Brian loading up the telescope equipment back into the trunk.

   I didn’t mean for this to happen, he’d said. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was a mistake.

    A mistake. A replacement.

    A few minutes later, Brian finishes packing up and comes around to the driver’s seat door. He sits and starts the engine, saying nothing as he turns around and heads back the way you’d come.

    It’s going to be a long twenty minutes back to Kensington. The radio spares you from sheer silence. The song is “Time In A Bottle,” by Jim Croce. The soundscape it creates as you gaze out the window at all the winter shrubs is otherworldly and haunting.

    It isn’t until you reach the main road leading back to Kensington that Brian finally speaks. “Are we gonna talk about this?” he asks.

    You grind your teeth and stare out the window. “We can’t.”

    “Yes, we can.” Brian takes a deep breath. “Y/N, you and I—”

    “We can’t,” you say again, more forcefully this time.

    The radio station goes on a commercial break, and Brian changes the station. You recognize the song: “ocean eyes” by Billie Eilish. Brian hates Billie Eilish. But he knows you love her. He’s so good at remembering small details. It makes you want to change the radio station again yourself.

     “Why not?” he asks, matches your stern tone.

    “You said it yourself, Brian. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”

    “I shouldn’t have said that,” he murmurs.

    “Well, you did.”

    Brian huffs. “Well, did you think it was supposed to happen? Did you… Did you expect it?”

    “Please stop,” you whisper, wrapping your arms around your torso.

    “Y/N,” he insists. “Did you know that was going to happen?”

    “Of course I didn’t know that was going to happen,” you say, exasperated that he’s accusing you. “Why would you even say that.”

    Brian’s quiet for just a second, before launching into another question. “Are you going to tell him?”

    The thought of telling John what just transpired makes your stomach hurt. You shoot back with your own question: “Are you going to tell her?”

    Brian makes a noise of contempt. “Maybe.”

    Fine. You couldn’t care less what happens between Brian and Tara at this point. You’re having a hard time caring at all anymore. You’ve already fucked up this bad. You glance at the clock on Brian’s dash—2:39 a.m.

    “Guess you probably should,” you say, acid in your tone. “Since you belong to her now.”

    Brian releases the accelerator pedal too quickly, and the car lurches just a little. “The hell is that supposed to mean.”

    “Don’t play dumb. I saw her headband on your forearm today.”

    Brian seethes quietly for a few seconds, before biting back, “What do you care?”

    “What do you think, Brian.” He’d be stupid if he didn’t guess by now that your jealousy toward him and Tara isn’t just platonic.

    “I think it’s none of your business, that’s what I think.”

    “Oh, really? Well, I think you sure as hell made it my business when we started making out in the back of your—” You cut yourself off. The memory feels too raw.

    Brian sighs. “I never planned on that… I never thought we were going to…”

    He trails off. You whip your head to face him.

    “Never thought we were going to what?”

    “You know what I meant.”

    “Never thought we were going to fuck, is that what you meant?”

    His nostrils flare at the vulgar word. “Yes, Y/N, I never thought you and I would get to the point where we’d fuck. Is that what you want to hear.”

    You can feel your heart on the verge of collapse again. But it just fuels more anger. “You regret it, don’t you.” Your voice is corrosive and accusatory. “You think it was a mistake.”

    “Oh, like you don’t?” he barks. “I saw the way you pulled away first. You regret it as much as I do.”

    “Fine,” you burst. “I regret it. And I feel guilty. But I don’t think it was a mistake. And if you do, you’re dumber than I thought.”

    You hadn’t meant for the words to come out so harshly. Okay, maybe you had. But Brian recoils like you’d shocked him. “Fuck that,” he curses.

    “Look me in the fucking eyes and tell me you think that was a mistake,” you hiss. “Tell me you don’t think that was meant to happen.”

     There are a couple of seconds of consideration before Brian angrily turns his eyes to you and glowers, before averting them back to the road. “That was a mistake,” he says with no hesitation at all. “That was never meant to happen.”

    He might as well have just hacked an ax into your ribcage. The agony makes you see red. “You’re just fucking pissed off that it was me and not Tara,” you snarl.

    “That’s a load of bull—”

    “You just wanted to drag her out to the fucking woods, and woo her with your space talk bullshit, and fuck her under the stars, didn’t you?”

    “Oh, fuck off!” he yells, gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turn white.

    “How dumb do you think I am?!” You throw an accusatory finger at him. “Just admit it! I’m nothing but your fucking replacement for her tonight, aren’t I?!”

    “No! Christ—”

    “I’m just the second choice! But it didn’t matter to you in the end, did it? You didn’t care who it was with, did you? You just wanted to get your dick wet, and I’m the only other girl in all of London that would let you—”

    “I said fuck off, Y/N! I—”

    The car lurches with an ear-splitting screech. A tall figure with tan fur and limbs stands like a statue in the middle of the road, eyes wide and bright. Brian slams on the brakes, and your body lurches forward into the dashboard, your seat belt the only thing keeping you from plowing through the windshield. The car halts to a stop.

    You can’t breathe. The deer comes to its senses and leaps away, back into the darkness of the woods.

    “Holy shit,” you breathe, cortisol coursing through your veins. Brian gapes at the empty, still road before him. He doesn’t move.

    A few more seconds pass. “Brian,” you say, shaking his arm. “Brian. It’s okay. It’s okay. We’re okay.”

    “I could have…”

    “You didn’t swerve, that’s good. You did the right thing. You did good.”

    Your praise finally breaks Brian out of his stupor. “Are you alright?” he asks.

    “Yeah,” you say, rubbing the place where the seat belt had dug into your shoulder. “I’m okay. Are you?”

    He nods absentmindedly. “I was going too fast,” he quavers.

    “I was provoking you,” you say insistently. It’s my fault. Everything is my fault.

    “I could have hit it.” Brian’s voice is so tiny. “I could have killed it.”

    “But you didn’t.”

    Brian turns to look at you. His face crumbles.

    You don’t waste a second. You unbuckle your seat belt and lean over into him, wrapping your arms around him. He buries his head in your neck and cries. You just hold him, smoothing his wild curls down and rocking back and forth until he’s okay again.

    Once he recovers, he pulls away and sniffs, thanking you silently with a look of despair.

    “I’m sorry,” you whisper. “I’m so sorry I said all of that to you.”

    “I’m sorry, too.”

    Brian drives you home the remainder of the way in silence, the road devoid of life and the usual bustle of traffic at this hour. He finally reaches your apartment building in Kensington and pulls up right next to the curb. As you gather your things and step out of the car, Brian says your name. You look back at him, and he says six words to you—six final words to end the night.

    “You’re not a mistake to me.”

    You watch him drive off and back home to his own apartment. It takes a second before you realize that you still have his beanie in your bag. 

     You pull it out and press it to your nose once more. Detergent, cologne, a slight hint of Earl Gray, and the indescribable and completely intoxicating smell of Him. 

     Maybe you won’t have to give this one back.

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

 

A/N FUN FACT: Brian’s rant about Badgers and culling was pulled directly from this article on the subject which he (meaning the IRL Brian) wrote in 2016! You can find it here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/26/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis-tb (meaning: please don’t think I was trying to plagiarize his words! I wanted to add this element of realism!)

Here are a couple of Brian photos that are too sweet, I just had to share!:

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Here’s 1971 Bri working on a project for his PhD! LOOK AT THAT PINK SWEATER!! He looks delightful ugh my heart

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     Hooooly shit can you imagine a boy looking at you like this???? (I think this is from Ridge Farm in 1975)

Chapter Text

 

 

 


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✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

    Your alarm doesn’t wake you up on Wednesday morning.

    Maybe it’s because you’d been out with Brian until 3 a.m.—and tossing and turning in your bed for who knows how long after that. Maybe it’s the psychological toll of the past three days finally catching up with you. But by the time you pry your eyes open, it’s already half past 9.

    “Fuck,” you grumble, rolling over to turn off your blaring phone alarm. Crisp morning sunlight streams in from your window—the last of the clear skies, you suppose, before winter takes its hold on the London weather yet again. Despite the sunny day, you’re clearly not making it to your 9 a.m. But you already know you’re not going to be making it to your 10 a.m., either. Or your 11 a.m. Frankly, you don’t know if you’ll be getting out of bed at all today.

    Oh, well. It’s only the second week of classes. You could afford to miss a few. Resolving to stay in bed for the rest of the morning, you scroll through your missed notifications on your phone from the night. There are none from Brian. And none from John. Roger had sent you a Snapchat—probably just his daily blurry ceiling picture with a caption that reads “streak.” An email that your bank account balance is low. Nothing interesting… But there’s an Instagram notification from @heyytaraa_ that you’d been tagged in a photo.

    Sleepily, you open the app and find Tara’s post. It’s an album of maybe eight photos, and the caption reads, “2019, you’ve been good to me so far 🍷💋✨”. The first of the photos is Tara in her sparkly red dress from Saturday’s party, posing with a kissy face and a bottle of bubbly. You swipe through until you find the one you’d been tagged in. It’s a selfie she’d taken of you, her, and Ronnie, smiling on your living room couch about a week ago.

    Despite everything you feel about Tara, you smile a little bit. Things seemed simpler back then—a week ago, before your life turned into a shitshow. You and Tara never got along perfectly, but at least you and she could always exist as mere acquaintances, fellow roommates, maybe even superficial friends. You hope things can stay that way between you and her.

    That is, until you see the last picture in her Instagram post.

    Oh, that skank bitch.

    It’s Brian. His face is turned, his angular profile slightly out-of-focus, a small smile on his lips. His shirt is only half-buttoned, as per usual. A red-hot coil of ire twists around your spine when you notice the red mark on his chest. Just under his collarbone. A perfectly-shaped, scarlet red kiss mark.

    You huff and push yourself upright so you’re sitting up. As much as the image pains you to look at…you can’t look away. There’s no way of knowing where the actual fuck the picture was taken, or when. Your mind races as you glare at that stupid smirk on his face, that stupid red mark on his skin.

    Is it from their sushi date on Monday? Fuck, it had to have been…Tara had been wearing red lipstick just before leaving, thinking back on it.

    But fuck, she always wears red lipstick. You dig your palms angrily into your eyes. The red mark, the damn red mark…her lips on his chest, Tara kissing his fucking collarbone…

    The collarbone you’d kissed last night.

    And he’d let her kiss it, too. He’d let her take a goddamn picture.

    You’re definitely not getting out of bed today. You groan and flop onto your belly again. A thousand emotions and thoughts burn white hot in your mind. Okay, Y/N, calm down. Maybe Tara took and published the photos without Brian’s permission. Which would still be bad. But not as bad as Brian approving.

    You suppose you could text him and ask. Shit, you really don’t want to talk to Brian right now, but—

    There’s a gentle knock on your door. “Y/N? Are you awake?” It’s Ronnie. She cracks the door open and peers her head in. You see she’s dressed for the day, a backpack strewn over her delicate shoulders.

    “Yeah, ‘m up,” you rasp from beneath your heap of covers.

    “Are you okay? I heard your alarm going off for a while.”

    “Yeah, sorry.”

    Ronnie must mistake your sleep-addled rasp of a voice for something more serious. “Are you sick? I can walk with you to the clinic.”

    “No, I-I’ll be fine, thanks anyway, Ron.” You crack a halfhearted smile.

    Ronnie doesn’t look convinced. “Okay… You’re not going to class?”

    You pull the covers up to your neck. “No, not today. But don’t worry about me, seriously, I’ll be fine.”

    “Okay, hope you feel better.” Ronnie doesn’t leave though; she just shifts awkwardly at the door like she wants to say something but is too afraid to.

    “You alright?” you ask her.

    “Yeah…” She draws her troubled eyes to yours. “I just wanted to ask something.”

    “Sure,” you say. “What is it?”

    “I…” She looks very uncertain and very uncomfortable. “I know there’s some stuff going on between you and Tara. And, uh,” she scratches her ear, “if it’s okay, I’d like to try to stay…uninvolved.”

    You blink. “What did Tara tell you?”

    Ronnie opens her mouth reluctantly, but then shakes her head and looks away. “I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t—”

    “Wait, Ronnie, please.” You make your voice as mild as you can, even though you’re growing frustrated and concerned at her words. She and Tara obviously have spoken about this—about you. Ronnie’s clearly not uninvolved.

    “Okay…” she says. “She talked to me last night. She said Brian took you to Richmond Park instead of her. She was pretty upset.”

    You frown and shake your head. “I thought she told Brian she didn’t want to go. She told Brian to ask me instead.”

    Ronnie quirks an eyebrow, so small a movement that you almost miss it. “Is that what he told you?”

    “Yeah?” You gulp. “Why, what did Tara tell you?” Is that not what happened?

    “She told me that Brian canceled on her. He straight up told her he’d rather go with you. On top of the Sister Tara thing, she’s pretty heartbroken.”

    “I don’t understand,” you say, sitting upright in your bed. God, what the hell is going on? Did Brian lie to you? Why would he lie?

    No… You know Tara. Queen of Hyperbole. She probably concocted a sob story to get Ronnie on her side.

    “Y/N,” Ronnie says in a strained voice. “Please tell me it wasn’t you that told Brian about the rumor.”

    “What? No.” Well, sort of? You did tell Freddie to tell Brian. Maybe by transitive property…

    Fuck.

    “Is Tara mad?” you continue.

    Ronnie sighs. “She’s just sad, I think. You should talk to her. Just…I’d like to stay out of it. I hope you understand.”

    You and Ronnie share a heavy look. After a minute, you sigh, too, and nod to her. “I’ll talk to her.”

    And what are you going to say when you talk to Tara? Jesus fuck. You can’t believe Brian would lie to you. No… It’s more plausible that Tara lied to Ronnie. What game is she playing? It’s like she’s toying with Brian. Or you. You’re so fucking confused.

    Ronnie bids her farewell and heads to class. Tara must already be gone for the day, too—you don’t hear the sound of her hair dryer and pop music, the telltale signs she’s getting ready. You’re glad she’s not here. You’d be hard-pressed not to heave out of bed to strangle her.

    The stupid Instagram post. You scowl and read through the comments, which are all variants of “yess hunny 😍” and “QUEEN”. She’d just posted an hour ago, but she already has a hundred likes and seven comments.

    And that’s when you spot the most recent comment. From @brianmayforreal: “Fun night 🔥”.

    What. The. Fuck.

    Pressure wells behind your eyes, threatening to produce tears. You stare at the comment for a long time, completely baffled.

    This hurts. This hurts bad. What the fuck kind of fucked up game is he playing? Fuck. Fuck.

     Has he completely forgotten about what happened—what almost happenedbetween you and him last night? Does he even fucking care?

    Did he know you were going to see this?

    It’s public now. Fuck. Tara has almost two thousand followers. Clearly, Tara wants the world to know she has a new boy toy. Clearly, Brian approves.

    You feel sick. You feel used. You feel worthless.

   Aren’t you, though? To him? Brian’s not yours. You’re not Brian’s. You and he may have almost hooked up. But it didn’t happen. And at the end of the day, your friendship/relationship/whatthefuckever with him is forever destroyed, and it’s your fault. You shouldn’t care about what happens between him and Tara anymore.

    At the end of the day, Brian still has the hots for Tara. Not you. You’ll never be Tara. You were just his mistake.

    Wait. No.

    You weren’t.

    The memory of Brian’s last few words to you come rushing back. “You’re not a mistake to me,” he’d said.

    God, what the fuck is going on. You moan and press your hands into your now-wet eyes. You’re so confused. So fucking confused. Nothing is adding up. Nothing makes any fucking sense.

    Your phone buzzes once with a notification. It’s from @deacon0819—John. He’d sent you a private message on Instagram. A little nervously, you open it, but it’s just a dog meme video. You like the message but don’t respond.

     You cast your phone away and close your eyes again…only to grab it again and open your text conversation with Brian. You spend way too much time typing a simple sentence:

     what are we now?

    You send the text and set your phone on your nightstand, not bothering to set another alarm. You don’t expect Brian to respond to that. Thinking of Brian is too much. Thinking of John—of talking to him—hurts your heart a little too much right now. Everything is too much. You don’t want to do anything, or go anywhere, or see anyone. You just want to fuck up your sleep schedule and nap your troubles away.

    So that’s what you do.

———

    The morning sunlight has turned muted with thick rain clouds by the next time you wake up. In all your days in London, you’ve never seen the weather so volatile as it’s been this past week. Clear skies for less than a day…and then it’s back to gray.

    It’s half past noon. You’ve successfully skipped all your Wednesday classes. You should feel daring and devious at your truancy. Instead, you feel numb.

    You’ve missed a number of group chat texts, a few emails, and two calls and a voicemail from John. Reluctantly, you play the voicemail recording:

    “Hi, Y/N, uh, it’s me, John Deacon. Hope you’re doing alright. Haven’t heard from you in a little while…” He hesitates. “I was just getting out of class, and I wanted to see how you were. There’s a lady with a little puppy in the courtyard right now…y’know, those little golden dogs, the ones you like a lot. You should come see it.” He chuckles a little awkwardly. “I don’t know why I said that. You’re probably in class right now. Anyway…uh, if you just wanna give me a call back whenever you get out, that’d be great. Maybe we can do something later today? Or if not, that’s cool too, whatever works. Just let me know. Okay. Bye.”

    He’s so adorably awkward. You can’t help but smile a little at the sound of his voice. But your smile fades. You know you owe it to him to tell him you’re home napping and wasting the day away. But you can’t bring yourself to return his call.

    You don’t owe him anything, though, do you? He’s not your real boyfriend.

    But you feel guilty. So insanely guilty. You know it’s nonsensical. You know John’s not your boyfriend. You know you weren’t truly cheating on anyone last night in the car with Brian. So why does it still feel like you’ve just fucked over the only good thing left in your life right now?

    Okay. Calm your tits, Y/N. Time to stop being so melodramatic and entitled. You have plenty of good things going for you. For one, this mountainous heap of pillows and blankets you call your bed. Which you don’t intend to leave for the rest of the day. And snacks…you have snacks in the kitchen. That’s good. Your standards are low, but that’s okay.

    You spend the rest of the afternoon eating microwave mac and cheese cups and Jaffa Cakes, lounging in bed, ignoring your phone, and distracting yourself from homework and your own spiraling thoughts by rewatching season one of Grey’s Anatomy. A divine Wednesday afternoon, if anyone were to ask you. You’ve truly achieved Freddie Bulsara levels of treat yo self.

    Freddie. You nearly forgot you were supposed to be mad at him.

    Fucking livid. That little snitch. You trusted him. You fucking trusted him with everything…and he went and spouted off all your secrets to the one person you wanted to keep them from. He was supposed to have waited until after the double date to tell Brian the Sister Tara rumor. But he acted too soon.

    And he betrayed you by telling Brian that you have feelings for him.

    What, was he thinking he was helping? If anything, he’s only made it worse. Hell, if you weren’t so self-loathing for being fool enough to trust him in the first place, you’d blame Freddie single-handedly for ruining everything.

    What makes you even more livid is that Freddie hadn’t even ruined anything at all. In fact, you and Brian nearly fucking hooked up in the backseat of his car. Isn’t that what you wanted all along?

    No… The issue isn’t the outcome of last night. The true issue is that Freddie had spilled your secrets so thoughtlessly. You trusted him, and he betrayed that trust.

    It feels like hot steam is blowing out of your ears as you grab your phone and call Freddie. You’re itching to give him a piece of your mind. The phone rings and rings, but eventually goes to voicemail. You try again. Same result. How convenient that Freddie “Never Puts His Phone Down” Bulsara doesn’t have his phone on him, for once.

    You text him: We need to talk.

    A knock on your door nearly startles the phone out of your hands. “Hello?” you call out.

    The door opens. It’s…

    “John? What are you doing here?”

    John Deacon smiles warmly at you from your doorway, his eyes crinkling. “Hey, sleepy. May I come in?”

    You nod and sit up, before realizing you haven’t changed out of your night clothes. That’s two boys now in one twelve-hour period who’ve seen you in this flimsy white tank top. You pull a blanket up to your neckline.

    John notices. “Are you cold? I heard you were sick.” He comes through the door and enters your room. He’s wearing a tan fleece-lined jacket, a striped jumper, and a black beanie. You notice a large brown shopping bag in his hands.

    “I’m not really sick…”

    “That’s not what I heard. Do you have a fever?” John places a hand on your forehead and purses his lips. He feels warm to the touch, despite having been outside. You wonder how he’s always so warm. “Hmm. You feel fine. Are you coughing?”

    You smile a little. “No, Doctor Deacon. I’m fine.” You look up into his eyes, but your smile fades as something painful twists in your stomach. He’s usually a reassuring presence to you, but today…his unceasing smile feels like a poison.

    John’s fingers on your forehead move to your hairline, brushing your hair back. But he must see your nostrils flare ever so slightly, because he pulls away and rubs the back of his neck. “I, uh… I brought you something. A few somethings, actually.” He reaches into the brown bag in his other hand, pulling out a plastic container of soup. “I got this from the market. It’s chicken noodle.”

    “John…” you say, tilting your eyebrows. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

    “I wanted to. You’re sick.” He reaches in the bag again. “I also bought you some teas. I got chamomile, and this one called Throat Comfort. And some chocolate. Which is probably not the best thing to get someone when they’re sick…but I know you like chocolate. And I found a couple of new releases you might like to read—”

    “You shouldn’t have bought all of that,” you say. God, he’s too sweet to handle. You can’t handle it right now. That’s the problem.

    But John just frowns and pulls the books out from the bag, setting them on your bedside table. Somehow, he knew exactly which genres you like to read. “I wanted to. I wanna make you feel better.”

    “I’m not sick, John.”

    He frowns at you. “You’re not?”

    You turn away from him. “I just skipped class. I didn’t feel like going. Who told you I was sick?”

    “Ronnie messaged me. Did you get my calls?”

    “Yeah,” you say, gnawing on your cheek. You really don’t have any excuse for him.

    He stands looking down at you, kicking the toe of his shoe against the carpet. You wonder if he’s going to realize you’ve been ignoring him on purpose. You wonder if he’s going to become angry.

    Instead, he just asks, “Are you okay?”

    No. “I’m okay,” you say mildly. Of course he’d be concerned about you first and foremost. That’s just the way John is. God. You don’t deserve him.

    “You sure?”

    He’s nothing if not persistent. In the best of ways. But it’s not what you want right now.

    “Yes, John, I’m sure.”

    He must sense that you’re not in a talkative mood today, because he doesn’t ask you to explain yourself. He just sits at your office chair by your desk and purses his lips again in thought. You rap your fingers against the mattress. You don’t want him to worry about you unduly. But mostly, you just don’t want him here at all. You can’t look at him the same anymore, and you don’t really know why, and it scares you.

    You should tell him. You have absolutely nothing holding you back from telling him what happened last night. You should tell him about Brian, and this whole fake relationship bullshit will be over. But you just can’t. You just want him to leave.

    “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do for you?” John presses in a small voice.

    “No, it’s okay,” you say, more curtly this time.

    “Seriously, if there’s anything at all—”

    “I’m fine. You’re not my restaurant waiter.”

    He inhales sharply. Okay, you said that more harshly than intended. Or maybe you had intended it? You don’t want to talk to John. You want him to leave. But you also don’t want to hurt him.

    “I’m sorry,” you say. “I’m really grateful for you, John. Seriously. Thanks for the soup, and the tea, and the candy, and the books. But I don’t need them. I don’t need anything.”

    “I don’t believe that,” he says under his breath.

    “I just need some time to myself,” you say. “To be alone.”

    He considers your words. “Did something happen?”

    You could say no, but he looks so goddamn earnest. You just don’t know what to tell him. You can’t talk to him about the Brian situation, because you don’t want him to know about the Brian situation. You can’t talk about how Freddie betrayed you, because you don’t want him to know you talked to Freddie.

     “I…” You sigh. “Some stuff happened. It’s really not important.”

    “With Brian?” he guesses. You just nod. “Did you guys have another fight?”

    I mean, yeah? Technically, you did. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

    John looks sympathetic. “I can’t really help you if you don’t want to talk about it.”

    “I didn’t ask for your help.”

    His expression shifts. “Okay, I get it,” he says tersely and stands up. “I’ll just be on my way. You can keep the stuff I brought. I’ll put the soup in your fridge on my way out.”

         You sit up in your bed and watch him head out. It pains you to see him leaving, even though you’d just wanted nothing more than to kick him out, and you hate it, you hate this strange cognitive dissonance that rules over you now.

    “Wait,” you squeak just as John reaches the door. He turns to face you, any emotion on his face hidden by a mask of callousness. But now that you have his attention again, you can’t think of anything to say. You wrack your brain for something clever, something meaningful, something true, something redeeming—anything at all to express how you’re feeling.

    No words come out of your parted lips. Seconds pass, and you can see the growing frustration in John’s eyes crumbling away his mask.

    “What?” he snaps. “What is it now?”

    You feel like you’re choking on all the things you should be saying. He waits, but you’re speechless.

    “I can’t figure you out, Y/N.” His voice is cold as ice and contrasts the fire in his eyes. “You know exactly what you want one minute, and then you’re at a loss for words the next. And you completely shut down when things don’t go the way you planned.”

    You feel your heart rate fluttering as his words sink in. But you still say nothing.

    “Your life, it’s just constantly up and down,” John glowers. “You attract drama like a magnet. And you always seem so remorseful about it. But I’m starting to think you attract it on purpose.” He huffs a humorless laugh. “Sometimes it’s just too much. It’s draining. I can’t bloody keep up with you.”

    “It’s a good thing you won’t have to after this weekend, then,” you say before you can think better of it. John blinks in surprise at your words.

    But you’re not angry…just hurt. You wonder if he can see it in your eyes.

    “This weekend,” he repeats.

    “That’s when this is over, right?” you whisper. “The end. The expiration date. Then you won’t have to put up with me any longer.”

    John is so still that you can barely hear him breathe. “You think that’s why I’m upset? Because I have to put up with you?”

    Why else? You’re a fucking mess. It’s a miracle he even wants to be around you at all. “You said it yourself. I’m draining to you.”

    “No,” he says, shaking his head. “That’s not what I meant.”

    “It is,” you rasp. “I’m…too much. I’m sorry.”

    “You could never be too much.”

    “Don’t lie just to make me feel better.”

    John sighs. “Listen. I won’t lie and pretend like I’m not overwhelmed as hell about all of this. But you’re not too much for me. You’re perfect.”

    Your breath hitches at that.

    “It’s not you that’s too much. It’s the shite you’re having to go through right now. Y/N…” He suddenly walks over to where you’re sitting in your bed and peers down at you, brows pulled together. “I love being around you. But this whole…situation…it’s taking a toll on you. I want nothing more than it to be over. I want to see you happy and stress-free again.”

    You blink rapidly at a sudden rush of emotion and draw your eyes away from John. But he grasps your hand, demanding your attention again.

    “Yes, we’re ending the lie after this weekend. But that should be a good thing. We won’t have to pretend anymore. There won’t be any more stress.”

    No, no, no. That’s what you’re dreading the most. He’s got it all wrong. Something about his edgy gaze seems to draw the words from you, finally, despite the lump in your throat.

    “I don’t know what to do. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so lost.” You barely speak above a whisper. But admitting it aloud feels like ripping off the band-aid off. You’re not numb anymore. You want to scream with the sudden onslaught of emotions.

    “What aren’t you telling me, Y/N?”

    “A lot,” you whisper. He just stares at you. “I’m sorry.”

    “Should I even bother asking?” he says. “Is it really so bad that you can’t tell me?”

    There’s nothing inherently bad about what happened last night with Brian. Except that it would shatter everything you have going on with John. Fake dating or not, this friendship is real. The tension you feel with John is real. Even if it’s all just a scam. Even if it’s all ending after Sunday.

    You’ll never forget the way it feels to hug him, to receive gifts from him, to hear him say you’re his girl. To hear your name from his lips as he moaned in your ear. You’ll never experience those things again. Nothing will be the same once John hears you almost hooked up with Brian instead.

    When you don’t say anything for a while again, John just murmurs, “I just wanna help you. Even if you don’t want it. That’s why I came here. But I can’t help you if I don’t know how.”

    “I know,” you breathe.

    “Will it help if I leave?”

    “…No.”

    “Then tell me. What can I do?”

    His eyes hold you captive. They draw you in. You don’t know what to say, but you find yourself pulling the covers off your body and standing, your bones crackling from lying in bed all day. You find yourself wrapping your arms around his skinny torso and pressing your face into his chest.

    John doesn’t even hesitate to hug you back, not at all. And it’s everything you needed. His hugs are like heroin, and after your first hit on Monday night—when he calmed your sobs with that perfect bear hug—you’re hooked. You never want to pull away from him. You never want to forget the way his hands on your back hold you so tightly and make you feel so safe.

    You feel him chuckle softly into your hair. “If this is what you needed, why didn’t you just say so?”

    “I didn’t think I needed you until just now.” You. The word wasn’t supposed to be there. You’d meant to say it. Freudian slip, maybe.

    He holds you for a while, his forefinger tracing little circular patterns on your lower back. Just like he’d done on your knee while you watched The Notebook. It makes you want to nuzzle into him even more. But before you can, he moves his hands to your shoulders and holds you out at arm’s length.

    “I know you don’t want to talk to me right now,” he says softly, “but when you do, you call me first.”

    “Are you leaving?”

    “I think I should. You’re overwhelmed. And I have class in twenty minutes.” His mouth twitches—a grimace. “I’m sorry I said all that stuff to you—”

    “You shouldn’t be sorry. You were right.” You shrug in a defeated manner. “My life is a shitshow. And it’s because I attract shit.”

    He smiles a little. “Sometimes I wonder if your life is a movie.”

    “What kind of movie?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. A teen rom-com, maybe.”

    You laugh. “It would be. Love triangle and all.”

    Oops. You shouldn’t have said that. You realize your blunder and your eyes grow wide. John’s expression is unreadable.

    “Suppose that’s what we’d call it,” he murmurs.

    “Something like that.”

    Maybe it’s because you’re expecting him to say something completely different, but you’re taken aback when John says, “I’m sorry to hear things didn’t go as planned with Brian.”

    But hadn’t things gone exactly as planned with Brian? Until the very end, when you’d pulled away? You stiffen a little and look down at the ground. “It’s okay. I’ll work things out.”

    “Do you wanna talk later about Friday, the double date?” he asks. “We can work out a more…cohesive plan of action, if you want. I have band rehearsal later, but we can hang out after…?”

    You’re sick of scheming plans. You’re sick of pretending. “I kind of want the night to myself. We can just text?” You hope he understands.

    “Will you text me back?” he asks.

    “I will,” you vow with a small smile.

    “Okay,” he smiles back.

     “John?”

    “Yes, love?”

    “Thank you.”

    John grins and hugs you once more before leaving. As soon as he shuts the door behind him, you flop face-down on your bed. You hadn’t realized just how bad the butterflies in your tummy had gotten until after he left.

    How does he do this to you? You never used to get nervous like this around John. Not since you started fake dating. Not once when you were in Government together did you ever feel flustered and blushy around him the way you do now. It’s like every time he so much as looks at you, it strikes a cord of yearning and softness and uncertain desire in your stomach.

    It’s a different feeling than you get with Brian. When you’re with your best friend, you feel familiarity, the richness of your almost three years of friendship. But it stings your heart more often than not. It’s a tumultuous relationship. If being with John feels as easy as breathing, being with Brian feels like holding your breath underwater, your lungs burning with the ache of unrequited love.

    But it’s not quite so unrequited anymore, is it? Fuck. You roll onto your back and heave a huge sigh, looking down at your body. The body Brian had his hands all over last night, the skin he’d caressed with the intensity of so many years of longing. You remember the feeling of those hands on your bare torso, on your hips, on your breasts, tangled in your hair as you pinned him against the car seat and kissed the life out of him. You hope you never forget. You hope you get a chance to feel those hands on you again.

    You’re soft for John. But you’re desperate for Brian.

    This double date on Friday is going to be a fucking doozy.

    Wait.

    You sit up so quickly you feel a rush of blood to your head. What the hell even is the point of the double date anymore?

    God, you’re an idiot. You haven’t even considered this. The whole double date idea…it was all to make Brian jealous. Well, clearly there’s no need for that any longer. You and Brian were literally seconds away from shagging in the back of his car. There’s still the whole comment thing on Tara’s Instagram post—which you still don’t fucking get—but it’s pretty clear that Brian’s into you now. And that you’re the one holding back. For whatever godforsaken reason.

    You sit back against your headboard, suddenly baffled. If Brian wants to be with you, why on God’s green earth is he still with Tara? Why is he still commenting on her Instagram photo? Why is he making it so public? Why is he still acting like a couple? All he’s doing by flaunting his relationship with Tara is make you more and more jealous…

    Wait.

    WAIT.

    Holy fucking shit.

    You throw yourself out of bed, muttering, “What the actual fuck. What the fuck.” You unlock your phone with bated breath and find the Instagram photos Tara had posted, scrolling to glare at the very last picture. The blurry Brian picture, his beautiful profile. The perfectly-shaped, scarlet red kiss mark.

    All of it perfectly posed.

    Your mind reels so fast, you have to brace yourself against your desk to keep your knees from buckling. The silk headband on Brian’s forearm…the way he looked at you through his eyelashes as he hugged Tara…

    He wasn’t just incidentally making you jealous…he was doing it on purpose.

    And the Instagram picture. There’s no way Tara didn’t pose him that way on purpose. And Brian had to have known you’d have seen his comment.

    Tara flaunting all her stupid dates with Brian to you. Her singsongy voice rings through your memory…

    “We’re doing great! More than. He’s…amazing. In every sense of the word.”

    Holy fucking FUCK.

    They’re pulling the same shit you’re pulling with John. Brian’s using Tara to make you jealous, to get back at you for dating John. And Tara’s helping him do it.

   You throw your phone on your bed, your hands quaking. You’ve never been a physically violent person, not once. But you want to punch something right now. That something ends up being your pillow. You seize it and hurl it across your room. It lands on your dresser, knocking over everything in its way, including a picture frame. The frame falls flat on the wood dresser and shatters the glass.

    Your fit ends as soon as it begins, and tears well in your eyes. You don’t know why your epiphany makes you so upset…it’s exactly what you’d done with John. Fake dating, to make your best friend jealous. God fucking dammit, you’re a hypocrite. But the knowledge that Brian did it right back to you…

    Logically? It should be relieving. It confirms that Brian likes you. More than likes you. He likes you enough that he felt jealous, about you and John. And that’s entirely your fault…especially since you’d intentionally perpetuated Brian’s anger.

    Logically, you should be ecstatic. You and Brian are in the same boat. You should tell him you know, tell him you’d been doing the same thing. You and he both admit that you like each other. And you make up. And everything works out.

    But there’s one thing stopping you, the same thing that stopped you from sleeping with him in the car.

    John Deacon.

    This is way too complicated. Things are way too fucking complicated now. Which is absolutely ridiculous, because the answer should be so damn simple.

    You should have seen this coming. And that’s what hurts the most.

    How did this even happen? Wasn’t the whole Tinder thing a complete fluke…? You’d accidentally set Brian up with Tara, hadn’t you? You have no idea when they would have even conspired this whole thing to make you jealous. The sushi date, maybe. Who the fuck knows. They’re pulling the exact same shit as you’ve been pulling with John this whole time. You have no way of knowing exactly when it started.

    Fucking Tara. She stabbed you in the back…just like Freddie.

    You haven’t heard her come home at all since she left for class this morning, before you’d even woken up. Chances are, she’ll be home in a few hours. Suddenly, you’re torn again. A part of you wants to wait at home for her return so you can let her know exactly what’s on your goddamn mind. Another part of you dreads talking to her at all. You’re angry and you’re fed up…but mostly, you’re just hurt. You feel foolish. Duped.

    Here you were, this whole time, thinking Tara had Brian whipped. When you’ve really just been a sitting duck from the beginning.

    The tears sting your eyes, but you sniff hard and brush them away. No more moping.

    Instead, you search for your running shoes in your closet.

———

    You return from your afternoon jog covered and sweat and too tired to care about anything anymore. It’s been a while since you’d last gone running—and you’re more than a little rusty—but the state of catharsis it always induces was much needed. And now, all you want to do is shower and sleep. Even though it’s only the mid-afternoon.

    But clearly, that’s not going to happen. Because the first person you see upon returning to the apartment is Tara.

    She peeks her head out from the bathroom, where she’s primping for something. “Ronnie?” she asks, before her eyes find you. They narrow. “Oh, it’s you, Y/N.”

    “Hey,” you grunt, intending to slink past her and into your room. You’d just sprinted across the greater part of Kensington to forget your Tara troubles. Seeing her now doesn’t really help with that.

    Fuck, you still need to take a shower. But it appears she’s commandeered it with her makeup supplies. Usually, when any of you three roommates are in a pinch, one will shower while the other or others get ready in the same bathroom. It’s always been pretty casual. But now, you don’t think you can stand to look at Tara, much less be in the same room as her.

    “Hey, wait,” Tara calls, following you into your room. You frown and turn to face her, wiping a bead of sweat from your forehead. “We should talk.”

    You blink, perplexed. “Okay… Can I shower first?”

    “Just hold on,” Tara insists. You focus on the caked-on makeup of her cheeks. “I need to talk to you about Brian.”

    Ahh, so Brian didn’t want to face you himself. So he got his accomplice to do it in his stead. Slimy bitch.

    “Look, it’s fine that he wanted to take you stargazing instead of me. I get it. But he’s been acting weird since last night. He won’t text me, and I don’t know what’s going on between you guys, but I think he’s really upset about something. And I think it has to do with you.”

    You hate the accusatory tone of her voice, but you hate even more that Brian’s put her up to this. He’s just trying to make you feel bad about still being with John.

    “If Brian’s upset with me, he should come and talk to me himself,” you assert.

    Tara shakes her head, hairsprayed curls bouncing. “He hasn’t said a word to me about it. But I can tell he’s upset, so I wanted to ask you about—”

    “Don’t pretend like he didn’t put you up to this,” you snap. You can see right through her guise of naivety.

    Tara blinks, seemingly baffled. “What do you mean? He didn’t put me up to anything.”

    You’re tired, and you’re sweaty, and you don’t have the energy to fight her right now. “Whatever, Tara,” you mutter and turn away.

    “Look, you guys have been weird with each other for days now,” she continues, following you into your room. “He called off our stargazing date and told me he wanted to take you instead. I told him it was fine, because you guys clearly need to figure things out, but he’s been weirder than ever today. Something obviously happened last night between you and him.”

    You wonder if Brian confessed to Tara that you’d almost hooked up. That his plot to make you jealous of Tara finally worked. Had they conspired today again? Figured out a way for Tara to make you feel even worse for it all?

    “Just drop it,” you say in a low voice.

    “I won’t. He’s your best friend, Y/N. And I’m your roommate. I just want to help you and him—”

     “Oh, come on, don’t fucking pretend to be all buddy-buddy with me now,” you say, crossing your arms and glowering at her.

    “What are you talking about? We’re friends.”

    “Friends don’t stab each other in the back.”

    Tara scoffs dramatically. “If this is about the fact that I’m dating your best friend, I’m sorry, but you said it was okay. Brian told me so.”

    “Will you drop the fucking act?” You stare at Tara, your heart rate rising yet again from your jog. She stares back, eyes darting to and from your face.

    “There’s no act,” she insists, her voice rising an octave. “I just wanna figure out why Brian’s acting all depressed!”

    Ah, they want you to feel bad for Brian now? He’s acting depressed? Because you wouldn’t nail him in his car under his stupid space dust? Boo fucking hoo. It’s not going to fucking work on you.

    You get close to Tara and glower at her through your eyelashes. “I’m not an idiot. I’m done putting up with this. Now go run off to Brian and tell him if he wants to tell me a sob story, he needs to fucking tell it himself.”

    Tara shrinks under your gaze, and it feels too good. “What is going on with you?” she gapes.

    “know what’s going on. And you can delete your Instagram picture. Tell him I already saw it.”

    Tara studies you. “Are you and John not doing okay? Is that what this is about?”

    “You leave John out of this,” you hiss.

    “Please just try to figure things out, Y/N…” It sounds like she’s pleading now. “I just really want this double date to happen. It was supposed to be such a fun night.”

    You squeeze your eyes shut, fuming. “Just stop. Go run back to Brian.”

    Is the double date really still happening? You’re too chicken to tell John it’s over, but why the hell won’t Brian and Tara just call it off? Maybe he still wants to use it as a final chance to make you jealous. As a final blow, a punishment for not saying you’ll break up with John.

    Tara doesn’t say anything for a second. But you watch her expression morph from feigned confusion to a clean slate. A calculated, cold glare. The guise falls.

    “It would really benefit you to stop blaming everyone else for the problems you make, Y/N.”

    With that, Tara turns away and retreats back to the bathroom. You huff out a breath and sink onto your office chair. Tara’s clearly not going to budge on the whole act, the fact that she’s just playing the role of Brian’s ditzy girlfriend to make you jealous.

    Outside the room, you hear Tara’s phone ring. And then, very loudly and very intentionally, as if to prove your goddamn point, she answers with, “Heyyyyy, hottie! I was just about to call you!”

    You want to gouge your ears out. But you can’t block out the sound of Tara’s tittering as Brian says something. “Yeah, I’m almost ready! Yeah…uh huh. Oh, you’re already outside?… Okay, give me just a sec.” Then she laughs as if he’d just told the funniest joke in all existence. “Brian! Oh my god!… Okay… Okay, I’m coming. Bye.”

    You hear her gather her things and leave. There’s silence in the apartment.

    And then you can’t hold back anymore. You sob into your hands, angry hot tears spilling over your eyes and mixing with your sweat. You sob and sob, and you don’t know if you’ll ever stop.

    This is insane. This is fucking batshit crazy. The mess you’re in is so colossal, you have no idea how you’re going to get out of it. You don’t know if you’ll ever come out of this without more tears, more heartbreak, every relationship and every friendship in your life destroyed.

    Eventually, your tears dry out, and you drag yourself to the shower. You make the water so hot that it scalds your already overheated skin. You stay there, curled in a ball in the tub, staring at the wall, using up all the hot water and probably annoying the hell out of every other resident in the whole building. And when the stream runs cold, you force yourself out of it and wrap a towel around your body. The mirror is so foggy, you can’t even make out your reflection. You wipe the condensation from it and stare into your eyes, bloodshot and haggard. The mirror fogs over again as quickly as you’d wiped it away.

    Your mom always taught you that when you’re feeling upset, the best thing you can do for yourself is distraction and self-care. The rest of the afternoon, you do just that. You dry yourself off and put on your coziest pair of sweatpants, fuzzy socks, and an oversized Imperial tee shirt. You heat up the soup John had brought over—your first meal of the day—and after eating that, you make yourself a cup of chamomile. You play your favorite music through a speaker and settle down in bed to start reading one of the new novels John had brought you. And you do everything you can not to think of the clusterfuck of a situation you’ve gotten yourself tangled in.

———

    “Freddie, I know you’re ignoring me. And I know what you did. I trusted you. And you stabbed me in the back. And now you won’t even return my calls. Call me back, or else I’m never speaking to you ever again.”

    You click your phone off and grunt in anger. It’s midday the next day, and you’d just gotten out of class. The London air is supercharged with the Imperial student body’s collective anticipation for the weekend. You find a bench beneath a shade tree outside the Liberal Arts building and plop onto it, sighing deeply.

    You’d gone to sleep before 9 p.m., woke up at 6:30 this morning, worked on your essays, went to your morning classes…and not a single peep from Freddie Bulsara. It’s clear now that he has absolutely no intent to face the consequences of selling you out.

    Not a peep from Brian, either, despite the text you’d sent. Brian’s usually a shit texter anyway.

    But Freddie’s not. Freddie should have replied by now.

    Freddie was supposed to have waited until after the double date on Friday to tell Brian the Sister Tara rumor. That was the plan, and he’d veered too far from it. The reason why is because, at the time, you’d wanted to make sure Brian still went on the double date with Tara…so he could see you and John together and get jealous. If he found out about Tara’s promiscuous past too soon, he might have called off the date.

    Not that it matters much anymore—since you figured out that Brian is fake dating Tara to make you jealous. But aside from that, you’re having a hard time figuring out what personal gain Freddie could have possibly sought for telling Brian you have feelings for him. There seems to be no motive. Other than to piss you off.

    You’re determined to figure out why. And you’re determined to make Freddie see how much he hurt you by betraying your trust. But he won’t answer his goddamn phone.

    He hasn’t even opened any of your text messages. And you know he’s seen them. He’s been quiet on social media, too—eerily quiet for a flamboyant wannabe YouTube personality who feels the need to share with the world what he eats for breakfast every day. Even the Instagram accounts he runs—The Ragtrade, Queen’s official band account, and a side project he calls The London Catspotting Society—have all been inactive since Tuesday. Even his Snapchat stories have been quiet.

    He’s gone MIA from social media. Maybe he’s dead? Honestly, it’d be a valid guess.

    But then, you have an idea. You open your Snapchat app and swipe down to see the map of your friends. Sure enough, there’s Freddie’s Bitmoji on the map—smack-dab in the middle of the recreation center.

    Bingo. He’d forgotten to turn off his location.

    You hoist your backpack over your shoulder and make your way toward the rec center. Maybe it’s stalkerish of you to use his phone location to seek him out…but you’re not going to get answers unless you take some drastic measures.

    It doesn’t take much searching to find Freddie in the rec center. Sure enough, when you descend the basement stairs and swing open the door to the lounge, you spot him…

    …giggling, involved in a very intense-looking match of table tennis with John Deacon.

    Well, you certainly weren’t expecting this. But neither was Freddie, evidently. Freddie spots you within seconds and misses John’s serve, his mouth falling open in disbelief.

    “Hello, boys,” you drawl, closing the basement door behind you. Part of you suddenly fears that Freddie’s told John that he know your relationship is fake. But you hide your nervousness and just smirk at Freddie.

    “Hey, babe, what are you doing here?” John beams.

    Well, John’s still got his perfect boyfriend facade on. Which means he doesn’t know Freddie knows. John sets his paddle down and crosses the lounge to give you a hug. You hug him back, but you glare at Freddie over John’s shoulder. Freddie’s eyes are wide.

    “Yeah, what are you doing here?” Freddie asks, feigning a casual tone of voice but failing badly.

    “Well, I just wanted to come visit my favorite boys!” you say with a bubbly laugh, patting John on the arm. “Table tennis, I see?”

    “Yeah, we were just having some fun,” John smiles. “Except there’s really no competition here. Fred’s practically wiping the floor with me. Weren’t you a school champion as a kid or something?” he asks Fred.

    Freddie nods but doesn’t elaborate.

    “Well, I am so sorry to drop by unannounced,” you say. “And Freddie, I haven’t heard a peep out of you since Tuesday! How are you doing, darling?”

    Freddie fiddles anxiously with his paddle. “‘M alright…”

    “How’d you guess where to find us?” John says, beaming at you.

    “Oh, you know, I just so happened to see Freddie’s location on Snapchat! Which is great, because I’ve really been meaning to talk to you, Fred,” you say pointedly toward the other man.

    “Oh, well, uh…” Freddie scratches his neck. “Deaky and I were kind of in the middle of a match—”

    “That’s alright!” you say with a sly smile, sitting at one of the benches and crossing your legs dramatically. “I can wait.”

    John laughs at your antics. Completely unaware. “No, that’s alright, Fred and I can take a break,” he says. “I’ll go get us some snacks from the vending machine.”

    John walks out of the basement swiftly, leaving you and Freddie alone. There’s a second of tense silence. Freddie looks away, nervous…but a defiant glint in his brown eyes and in the way he holds his nose in the air tells you this could quickly turn into a row.

    You break the silence. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, I know what you did.” There’s venom in your voice, and you can see him growing more and more uncomfortable.

    Freddie turns away and messes with the table tennis ball. “Please don’t become angry with me,” he says.

    You scoff in disbelief. “Don’t become angry…bullshit. I have every right to be angry!”

    “Y/N…” he begins weakly but trails off. You tap your foot.

    “What?” you say. “Can’t think of any believable excuse?”

    “I had my reasons, darling.”

    “Don’t darling me,” you gripe. “You betrayed me. You fucking told him I was in love with him.”

    Freddie looks up and narrows his eyes at you. “That’s not what I told him.”

    “Brian said that you told him I have feelings for him,” you growl, shooting an accusatory finger toward him. “I should have known better than to trust you with secrets.”

    Freddie’s body language indicates more and more nervousness…but his eyes seem dark and brash. “Go ahead, chew me out,” he says flippantly. “Tell me how you really feel.”

    “Why did you do it?” you practially bark. “Why?”

    “I told you, I had my reasons—”

    “On Tuesday, you swore to me you wouldn’t tell anyone. And then you fucking did.”

    Freddie stays cool and calm. “That’s not what happened. On Tuesday, I swore that I wouldn’t tell anyone you and John Deacon are fake dating. And I haven’t told a bloody soul about that.”

    “Last semester,” you spit, “when we got drunk at that party and I told you that I was in love with Brian. You promised me, that day, that you would never ever tell anyone!”

    Freddie purses his lips. “That secret is outdated.”

    “Outdated??” You can’t fucking believe him. You shoot daggers with your eyes. “News flash! I’m still fucking in love with Brian!!!”

    Freddie doesn’t say anything to that. He just raises an eyebrow ever so slightly.

    “Fine.” You throw your hands up. “If that’s how you want to fucking justify it in your head, Fred, go right ahead. It doesn’t change the fact that you backstabbed me. You’ve ruined this friendship. I can never be your friend anymore.”

    “If only you knew.”

    “Knew what???”

    “Knew that everything you said to me was nullified after Brian told me a little secret of his own,” Freddie says.

    You freeze. “What?”

    “Well, wouldn’t you like to know?” Freddie says, picking at his nails.

    “Freddie!!!” You shake his arm, but he moves away from you. “Tell me, for fuck’s sake.”

    “You know, I don’t really want to tell you anything anymore when I know all you’re going to do is assume the worst!” he yells at you.

    You blink. For fuck’s sake… “It all seems pretty simple to me,” you hiss. “You told Brian the one thing I trusted you not to tell him, ever.”

    “I had to,” Freddie insists.

    “You didn’t.”

    “Tell me, Y/N, you’re a pretty good little liar, but have you ever even batted an eye at making all your friends lie for you?”

    Your breath hitches. You haven’t thought about that.

    “Some of us don’t get off on lying the way you do,” he spits.

    “I don’t get off on lying.”

    “You don’t?” He huffs a laugh. “And just how many lies are you sporting right now?”

    You seethe. You don’t want to count. “I never told you to lie for me, Freddie.”

    “Oh, don’t pull that shit. You want me to cover your arse about Brian, you want me to cover your arse about John, you want me to tell a rumor about your roommate Tara that you don’t even know is true.”

    “I trusted you,” you rasp. “You’re my friend. I thought you’d be someone I could fucking confide in.”

    “I’ll keep your damn lies, Y/N, but not when someone threatens those lies with the truth.”

    You’re completely lost. “What the hell are you talking about?”

    “Does it even matter at this point?” Freddie glares at you. “You said it yourself. We’re not friends anymore.”

    “Stop playing the victim!”

    “Well, you’re sure as hell not the victim yourself—”

    “Uh, guys?”

    Another voice from the door startles you. You spin on your heel to see John, juggling an armful of crisps and other snacks from the vending machine.

    A jolt of fear shoots down your spine. You wonder how much he’d heard. “We’re just chatting, John.”

    “Chatting,” he echoes, looking back and forth between you and John. “I see. I’ll go…wait in the foyer, I guess.”

    John leaves. You turn slowly to face Freddie again.

    “Tell me what Brian told you,” you demand in a low voice.

    “I will,” Freddie says, “but not until you understand where I’m coming from.”

    You huff, propping your hands on your hips. “Fine.”

    Freddie levels you with his gaze. “I didn’t want to talk to you about any of this because I knew you’d take it the wrong way. I knew you’d only assume the worst.”

    “You didn’t tell me anything, you just went MIA. Of course I’m assuming the worst.”

    “I need you to hear me out,” he says, almost earnestly. “Please, dear. From my perspective.”

    “Fine.”

    Freddie leans against the table and lets out a long sigh, staring at the wall. You wait.

    “Would you believe me if I told you that Brian approached me first?”

    You study Freddie, the depth of his eyes, the pout of his lips, the chipped nail polish of his left hand. “Why would Brian approach you first?” you answer with your own question.

    “It was on Tuesday, after you and I went out to lunch.” Freddie pauses, gathering his thoughts. “We were supposed to meet up anyway, to arrange the guitar part to this new song I had in mind. So anyway, we met at his and Rog’s flat. I don’t know where Rog was, but Brian pretty much immediately asked me a question.”

    “What?” you ask, almost inaudibly from the breath you’re holding.

    “He asked me what I knew about Tara,” Freddie revealed. “He said that she and he had been texting for a while, and he wanted to know more about her.”

    That’s strange. Wouldn’t Brian and Tara already have been fake dating at this point?

    “Brian asked me if I knew anything about the term ‘Sister Tara’ and a ‘church story,’” Freddie continues, making air quotations. “I was a little dumbfounded, since you and I had literally just talked about it. But Brian was insistent. He said he’d heard Roger say it in passing at some point, but he had no idea what it meant. So I told him the rumor.”

    So that’s why Freddie had told Brian too soon. It makes sense now.

    “I could see it in his eyes that the rumor would have no bearing on his feelings about Tara, though,” Freddie says. He gives you a cursory glance. “And by the sound of it, there seemed to be some…feelings there.”

    You feel cold. “What do you mean, feelings? Like, Brian has feelings for Tara?”

    “He didn’t say that. But he seemed to really enjoy her company. At first, I chalked it up to just physical attraction. She is a very pretty girl. Sorry, darling, you’re very gorgeous, too,” he says at your grimace. “But I wasn’t so sure after a while. He seemed to talk about Tara like…”

    “Like what?” you press.

    “Like he felt guilty, or something.”

    Ahh, that would make sense. He feels guilty about Tara the same way you feel guilty about John. The fake dating.

    “But then, something else happened. We got to playing together, me on piano and singing, Brian on his acoustic. And he just…stopped playing. Like, all of a sudden. I asked him what was wrong, and he just stared at the wall and told me he had to go.”

    Hmmm.

    “Before he left, he looked at me and asked me another question. He asked me what he should do if he thinks he’s developing feelings for his best friend.”

    Your breath catches. Your vision turns into a tunnel.

    Freddie looks at you, his eyebrows pulled down. “Look, I know you made me promise never to tell him. I know. But I couldn’t keep it. I had to tell him. It was the perfect opportunity—”

    “It wasn’t your secret to tell,” you whisper, your voice completely gone. You feel dizzy. Brian told Freddie he has feelings for you.

    Freddie told him your secret.

    “I know. And I’m sorry, Y/N. But I had to.”

    “You didn’t,” you rasp. “You shouldn’t have told him.”

    “Brian has feelings for you, too, Y/N,” Freddie tries to persuade you. “It only made sense that I’d tell him you feel the same—”

    “I trusted you not to tell him.” Your voice grows stronger. And your indignance makes its return.

    “But didn’t it work out? Didn’t he take you on the stargazing trip instead of Tara?”

    You gape. “How did you know about that.”

    “Brian asked me what to do. I told him he should ask you to go stargazing instead. I’m the one that suggested it.”

    Fuck. He thinks he’s playing matchmaker. But he made everything so much worse.

    “You shouldn’t have done that,” you say, stepping back.

    “Why not?” Freddie’s voice grows in volume. “Because your little plan was gonna work so much better? The fake relationship with John, the stupid double date, using a rumor about Tara to make Brian change his mind? It was a horrible plan, Y/N! It was doomed to fail!”

    “You have no idea what you’ve done.”

    “I know what I’ve done. I made his choice easy. You and Brian just weren’t fucking communicating, about anything. I realized that if only you two would bloody talk to each other, you could skip all the lying and the jealousy. So I told him to take you on the stargazing date. I told him to tell you how he feels about you.”

    Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

    Freddie’s stupid plan to play cupid would have worked flawlessly…if only you didn’t have feelings for John Deacon.

    Who’s sitting in the foyer right now. Wondering what you and Freddie are fighting about.

    “Well, guess fucking what, Freddie,” you snarl, striding close to him again. “Your perfect little plan? It didn’t fucking work. Brian and I aren’t even speaking now. And he was lying to you, about Tara.”

    “What? It didn’t…work?”

    “You messed everything up. If only you were to just stick to the plan—”

    “I messed everything up?” Fred matches your tone. “You got yourself into this bloody mess the second you started fake dating John! Don’t blame me for your own fucking transgressions!”

    “You gave my secret away!” you yell. “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way!”

    “It was supposed to work!” He throws his hands up. “He cares for you! You and Brian were supposed to make up on the stargazing trip! Knowing you, you probably started a fight just to provoke him—”

    “Don’t you dare say that,” you snarl.

    “It wouldn’t have been the first time,” Freddie accuses. “You told me yourself, at the Indian restaurant! You like to push his buttons, don’t you?”

    “It’s not that fucking simple!”

    “I don’t understand how you still don’t see,” he hisses. “The miscommunications? The lies? It’s toxic! It’s a disease!”

    “How would you feel if I threw around your secrets the way you did?” you hiss back. “I’m sure you wouldn’t like it very much if I told everyone about Jim?”

    Boom. The atmosphere completely changes. Freddie’s eyes grow wide. “You wouldn’t.”

    “I wouldn’t?” you snap. “I thought you wouldn’t. I never thought you would backstab me the way you did. Who says I won’t show you how it feels to be betrayed?”

    “Y/N, please, no.” It’s almost humorous how quickly Freddie’s entire demeanor has changed.

    You’re not a monster. You have absolutely no intent at all to spill Freddie’s secret. But it’s the threat that you’re going for. And Freddie’s secret crush on Jim Hutton implies a lot more than just a crush.

    “You’re right, Freddie,” you say. “I wouldn’t. I would never do that. I promised you that your secret is safe with me. And no matter what you did, no matter what you said… I will always keep your secrets.”

    Freddie looks noticeably relieved.

    “Because I’m a good friend,” you continue, and glare right into his eyes. “And you’ve shown me that you’re not.”

    “Y/N, wait…”

    “I know you think you were just helping. You think you were making things better. But at the end of the day, you gave away the one secret I told you never to tell. And I’ll never trust you again.”

    With that, you turn on your heel and leave. Freddie tries weakly to call for you again, but you won’t listen. You slam the basement door shut and head up the stairs, your heart hammering.

    Fuck, you have a headache now. You press your fingers into your temple as you ascend the stairs, your mind racing.

    Freddie’s testimony…you can’t not believe it. Brian likes you. Brian told Freddie that he likes you. And Freddie decided to set up the whole stargazing date based on that… Freddie told Brian to ask you to go instead of Tara. And Brian listened.

    Jesus. Had Brian intended all along that night to tell you how he feels? To show you how he feels?

    No. You think back to Brian’s words.

    I didn’t mean for this to happen. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was a mistake.

    Brian clearly didn’t intend or expect to sleep with you that night. Because he thinks you’re still dating John. Brian didn’t want to make you cheat.

    Had Brian intended to tell you how he feels about you, though? You think back to that night… Brian asked if it was true that you have feelings for him. You said it was true. And then…well, then you and he started going at it, that’s what happened. There had been no time for Brian to admit it back to you. No time for him to reciprocate his words. Only his actions…which you’d cut short the minute you thought of John.

    You reach the top of the stairs and walk into the foyer. John sits at a bench, a pile of unopened snacks beside him. He stands when he sees you, eyes wide and curious.

    “Are you okay?” he asks.

    “I’m fine,” you say curtly, not looking at him. This is what you were dreading…having to explain to John what happened. You don’t want to.

    “Where’s Freddie?”

    “Still down there, I think. Don’t worry, I’m leaving.” You push past John and walk toward the exit to the building.

    “Wait, wait—fuck, wait a minute, Y/N!” John catches your arm. You turn and pout while he bores his eyes into yours. “What’s going on?”

    “I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “When are you going to want to talk about it?” he retorts, voice raising. “When are you going to want to talk about anything to me?”

    “Please don’t yell at me,” you mumble, turning your body away. You’re sick of yelling.

    “I—fuck, I’m sorry,” he says more calmly. But he grabs both your hands in his and squeezes, hard. “Tell me what happened. Tell me why you were arguing.”

    “Why don’t you just ask Freddie?” you say meekly.

    “I don’t want to hear it from Freddie. I wanna hear it from you.”

    And you don’t want to tell him why you were arguing. You can’t find it in you to care what Freddie chooses to say to John. But fuck, for the life of you, you can’t admit that what Freddie did…because it would mean admitting to John that Brian likes you for real. It would mean the end of your fake relationship.

    “The only thing I heard was that you and Freddie aren’t friends anymore now,” he prompts. “And that he’s playing the victim, or something?”

    Good, he hadn’t heard anything else.

    “Please, Y/N, talk to me.”

    “I can’t,” you say.

    “Why not??”

    “I just can’t—”

    “Why not?!” Anger radiates from him, and you can feel yourself lose your grip on your poise.

    “Because I don’t want to lose you,” you admit, tears burning behind your eyes like venom.

    John looks astonished. “You could never lose me.”

    You wrench your wrists from John’s grasp. You wish you could explain yourself to him. But you have nothing to say that isn’t a cover story. And you sure as hell can’t admit your feelings to him.

    “You don’t understand,” you whisper, your chin quivering.

    “I can’t even try if you won’t let me help,” he says.

    “You can’t help.”

    “Yes, I can!” He takes your hands again. “There’s always a way I can help!”

    Not this time. “I have to go,” you say.

    “No, Y/N—”

    “I have to go.” You pull away from John. He watches you with stormy eyes.

    “I just want to fix this,” he says miserably.

    “You can’t fix it.”

    You realize you’re trying to tell an engineer—someone who thrives off fixing things—that this is something he can’t fix. And it looks like his whole world is crumbling.

    “I’m sorry,” you say, tearing your eyes away before rushing out the doors. This time, he doesn’t try to stop you.

———

    Booze. I need booze.

    You’ve been staring at a wall for about an hour. Your eyes are puffy and sore, and you feel numb. You’ve ignored the pangs of hunger in your stomach for far too long, but food isn’t what you’re looking for.

    I need to get fucking wasted.

     A group of uni girls laughs loudly from the street below your flat. The noise briefly diverts your attention from the wall to your window.  It’s a chilly, half-cloudy evening outside. The sun is making its descent toward the horizon. People flock out of their flats and hail down Ubers to take into the city. London uni kids regard Thursdays as practically the weekend already—the “pre-weekend,” as Freddie always called it.

    But you don’t want to think about Freddie right now. You don’t really want to think about anyone. You just want to get absolutely sloshed and forget about everything. Only problem is, you have no more booze in your cabinets. And you’re not about to go to a bar on your own.

    You decide to channel your negative energy into cleaning, instead. Your room has become a pigsty of clutter and unhung clothes. With your favorite playlist playing, you start with your closet and don’t stop until you can see the carpeted floor. You move to your desk to organize your haphazard writing utensils and textbooks. You strip your sheets, replace them with a fresh set, and make your bed. But you can’t find one of your pillows…you look everywhere, under the bed and behind your desk.

    You finally find the pillow sitting on your dresser, where you’d thrown it earlier in frustration. Sighing, you pick up the pillow and rearrange all the items it had knocked over…lotions, perfumes, various novels, a Polaroid camera…

    A picture frame. Carefully, you take the frame in your hands, sighing at the broken glass. It was a gift from Freddie. The photograph is of you, Freddie, Roger, and Brian from about a year ago, taken after your birthday party.

    You had spent the night cavorting around the city with friends, on a grand scavenger hunt of London’s best bars. It had been Brian’s idea to search for every joint in London that offered free food and birthday shots on your birthday. You’d gorged yourself on fried food and tequila all night. Afterward, you’d wanted a picture, and the boys had the idea to lift you up horizontally and pose for the camera. You had been laughing and laughing in their arms; Roger supported your shoulders, Brian your midriff, and Freddie your legs.

    You smile at the photo. Your face is shiny and your smile too big, but you look happy. Genuinely happy. A wave of nostalgia washes over you. You desperately wish you could go back to happy days like this…where Brian was your best friend in the whole world and nothing more, where Freddie was your closest confidant and life coach, where Roger pulled pranks on you and pretended to be your boyfriend at bars to fend off bothersome men.

    Nothing will ever be the same again.

    Your phone buzzes once. Brian has finally replied to the text you’d sent almost twenty-four hours ago. Nervously, you open the notification. You’d texted him: what are we now?

    Brian’s reply: Break up with him, and we’ll talk.

    Holy hell.

    How did you get here? You have absolutely no one to talk to now. Brian’s ghosting you until you break up with your fake boyfriend. Freddie betrayed you and you can’t even look at him the same anymore. You can’t talk to John. Tara’s a bitch. Even Ronnie’s requested not to be involved with any of this shit.

    Well…that leaves only one person.

    You trace Roger’s face in the picture frame. His hooded eyes and sly smile make him look like he’s up to something, as per usual. He always looks like that in photos. Usually, he’s not up to anything. He’s just blind as fuck.

    And he’s the one person you know who will always be down for getting absolutely fucked up with you.

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A/N: Okieeeeeee I know this chapter was super intense, probably hard to follow, maybe frustrating…but I hope you all enjoyed it! I hope you see how necessary it is to build up these characters and the tension between them like this. I can’t wait to share the next part with you, esp. since I feel like this was kind of an in-between chapter. I hope you enjoyed Freddie’s scene as much as I enjoyed it…Fred is kind of the Varys character of MOTH (except, you know, not a eunuch) and distributes secrets to the others. As our narrator mentioned in chapter three… “He’s your most trusted confidant…and yet, he has an inevitability to spill secrets like coffee stains on a white shirt.”

 

Also, the photo of Brian in the header is the photo I imagined Tara would have published on her Insta…imagine a little kiss mark on his chest…oof. 💕 

Here are some FUN BONUS PICS:

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FRED AND DEAKS! They love each other uwu

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God I wish I looked this good. Unrelated to the story but god i love this photo

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I was gonna use this deaky pic as the header for a future chapter but fuck I just couldn’t wait, LOOK AT HIM 😭

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This is kind of the picture I thought of as similar to the one I imagined Reader had in her picture frame! They’re sitting down and stuff and John is here, but look at their damn smiles. Imagine these boys holding you horizontally and posing for a picture for your birthday ugh !!! My heart goes boom

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Another quote A/N: If you haven’t yet, please read this post—a message to you all, as my readers and followers, from me, as the author of this fanfiction series. I believe it is very important that everyone read my message and understand what you can expect from me and my story from here on out.

 

 

 


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Roger’s POV

   For fuck’s sake, this student band is bloody terrible.

    Roger scowls and finishes off his glass of chardonnay. It tastes awful. And to think he’d paid nearly eight pounds for it…a glass of wine so sour, he’d had to scrunch up his face with every sip. Such is the nature of the substandard drink selection of this shoddy excuse for a pub. But Roger’s not here for the alcohol.

     Every Thursday, the pub—called Champion Jack’s—hosts a university band night, which gives aspiring student bands a chance to perform live. Champion Jack’s is where Roger and Brian’s old band Smile had their humble beginnings. They’ve since graduated from Champion Jack’s, right around the time Freddie came along and changed the band’s name from Smile to Queen. Now, they find themselves commonly playing for swankier places like the Marquee Club. But Roger still occasionally comes to the pub on a Thursday to scope out the competition.

     The four-piece band finishes their final song, eliciting scattered applause from the scarcely-populated venue. Roger claps halfheartedly, although he’s anything but impressed.

    Clearly, this lot of wankers is anything but competition, Roger thinks as he watches the lead guitarist nearly trip over his own pickup. There are a good number of diverse bands in the line-up for tonight, but even if they’re all just half as bad as this band, Roger’s ears are going to start bleeding.

    He stares at the empty seat opposite of him. Roger doesn’t really mind being here alone—despite the shitty music—especially not when there’s a group of preppy uni girls a few tables down who are making the eyes at him. And boy, are they making the eyes tonight… Who knows, maybe he’ll muster up the energy to purchase another overpriced drink and go talk to them…

    He sighs and shakes his head. For some odd reason, the idea of chatting up a bunch of birds at a bar seems more tedious than exhilarating today. He doesn’t know why. Well, yes he does. It probably has something to do with that hollow feeling in his chest he’s been refusing to acknowledge for days now.

    Roger hadn’t wanted to go alone to the pub alone. Everyone’s just busy doing other things, and he hates it.

    Freddie was supposed to be here—he’s always ridiculously, inexplicably free on weeknights. But the little shit stood Roger up, claiming he “wasn’t in the mood” for their usual weeknight tomfoolery. Roger considered calling up the new kid Deaky to invite him, but after Tuesday’s particularly tense band rehearsal, that’s probably not the best idea until John officially joins the band. So Roger had barged into Brian’s room, fully ready to drag his studious twit of a flatmate out for a rare night on the town. But the guitarist said he had plans already. Probably with that girl he met on Tinder…Tara, Y/N’s flatmate.

    Maybe Roger will stoop low tonight and call up that girl he’d slept with last week—whose name eludes him at the moment—the one whose dorm room bed he’d woken up in and promptly snuck out of, leaving without so much as a note. Yeah, a girl like that will probably drop everything on a sixpence just to see Roger again…

    WaitY/N!

    Certainly, Y/N would be down for a Thursday night on the town. Roger’s already got his phone whipped out to give her a call before he even considers if it’s appropriate.

    Would it be a dick move, considering she’s dating John Deacon now? And not to mention the mess she’s in with Brian… Roger admittedly doesn’t even know the half of it. All he knows is that there’s been a fuckload of unresolved tension between Y/N and Brian ever since Sunday.

    Eh, fuck it, Roger thinks, tapping the “call” button next to her name in his phone’s contacts list. Y/N’s just a friend. I should be allowed to hang out with my friends.

    The phone only rings once before Y/N answers. “Whoa, Roger Taylor!” she speaks. “I was literally just about to call you myself.”

    “Tell me you’re free right now,” Roger drawls, cutting to the chase.

    “What?”

    “Let’s knock around on the town. Freddie stood me up, so you’re filling in.”

    Y/N seems to be in disbelief. “Wait… You’re not joking, are you?”

    Fuck, this was a bad idea. “I mean, if you’re too busy with assignments or whatever, I get it—”

    “No, no,” she interrupts, chuckling a bit. Her voice is raspy; she sounds tired. “I just… You’re asking me to come hang out with you?”

    “That’s what I’m doing, yeah.”

    She laughs again, louder this time. “That’s so funny. I was seconds away from calling to ask you the same thing.”

    Roger’s surprised. “You were?”

    “Yeah, no joke. And I mean, like, seconds. I’m so glad you called. I’m in dire straits.

    “What’s happened?”

    “A lot. Roger,” she says in a suddenly serious voice, “today has sucked ass. This whole week, really. I desperately need to get shitfaced drunk, and I don’t wanna do it alone. I just wanna get hammered.”

    A laugh bubbles out from Roger’s throat. That was the last thing he expected her to say. “Do you, now, sweetheart.”

    “Desperately.”

    “And it’s me you want to get drunk with?”

    “You’re probably the only person in all of London who would want to see me right now.”

    “So dramatic!”

    “Besides, I wanna hang out with you,” she adds.

    “You flatter me,” Roger drawls into the phone. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d wanna see you. What about Freddie? Or John?”

    She’s silent for a second too long. “I can’t be around either of them right now.”

    Roger purses his lips, considering. What could have possibly happened? “Not even Brian?”

    “Definitely not.”

    “What happened?” Roger asks. “Maybe I can find a way to help—”

    “Nope, nope,” Y/N says with a new resolve. “I’m done with all of that. I don’t want your help. I just want you to help me get drunk.”

    Roger tsks. “Drinking on a school night. Bad girl. What would your parents say?”

    “Fuck you, Roger,” Y/N says, but there’s humor in her voice. This is why Roger likes her so much—she’s so easy to poke fun with.

    “Hmm, whatever you’d like, sweetheart.”

    “I will duct tape your mouth shut.”

    “Ooh, didn’t know you were into that.”

    She ignores it this time. “Where are you?”

    “Champion Jack’s.”

    “Perfect. I’m coming.”

    “That’s what she said,” Roger sneers.

    “Don’t get your hopes up, fuckboy,” she laughs. “Is it… Is it cool if I come, though? Like, just let me know if you’d rather I didn’t.”

    Roger considers cracking the joke again, but she sounds sincerely concerned about overstepping a line. “Of course you should come. I want you to come. That’s why I asked if you’re free right now.”

    “Okay, I’m walking over now. Wait… Are you with anybody?”

    “Just me, myself, and I,” Roger says.

    “Good,” Y/N replies, seemingly relieved. “Be there soon.”

    Roger hangs up and smiles to himself, even though he’s a little nervous. Y/N’s always so fun to be around. He’s used to having her around with the guys, but Roger’s never hung out with Y/N one-on-one like this before. He doesn’t even know why he’s nervous. Not nervous in a romantic sort of way… Maybe he’s always felt a little nervous around Y/N because she’s so much more intellectual than the other girls he knows.

    He hates how he tends to default to bad jokes and flirty innuendos when he’s around her. He’s never even held a serious conversation with Y/N before that wasn’t tarnished by his trademark crude humor. Maybe things can be different tonight. He’d love to discuss deeper topics with someone as smart as Y/N; maybe they could get to know each other beyond the surface level.

    When Brian first introduced his friends to Y/N two and a half years ago, Roger had been concerned that having her around would change the dynamic of their group of blokes. That’s just how it is with most girls—Roger always feels like he has to dial back when there’s a girl around.

    But Y/N’s not like that. She’s the perfect combination of kindhearted and thick-skinned—a “guy’s girl,” she always deems herself with a laugh, since she fits in so well with the guys. She’s ridiculously vulgar and annoyingly stubborn, but somehow ineffably sweet. When she talks to Roger, it’s as if she genuinely cares what he has to say and how his day is going. And she’s got this infectious laugh which Roger always appreciated. She loves impromptu adventures, from what Roger can remember—meaning she’ll be the perfect person to scope out some shitty uni bands with tonight.

     Roger scrolls lazily through his Instagram feed while he waits for Y/N to arrive. But all the couples posts—even Tara, who’d posted this blurry photo of a smitten Brian May—are putting a knot in Roger’s stomach. He sets his phone face-down on the table and scowls at the new act beginning to set up.

    There’s a high-pitched giggle from the table across the way, and Roger looks up to see one of the girls staring right at him through false eyelashes. She smiles beckoningly. Roger smirks back a little and cocks an eyebrow. She’s wearing pink lipstick and a too-short dress. But Roger withdraws his eyes and doesn’t look in the girl’s direction again.

    A sudden gust of air in Roger’s ear has him jumping three feet out of his seat.

    “Gotcha,” Y/N quips as she pats Roger’s shoulders.

    “You got me,” he admits and chuckles. He hadn’t even seen her come in. Usually, the air-blowing-in-the-ear thing is his trademark greeting, but it looks like she’s adopted it as well.

    She’s got a huge, contagious smile on her face. He smiles back, taking in her outfit. She’s wearing her charming, everyday getup: a casual but fitted blouse, faded jeans, and an even more faded, oversized denim jacket that she’d bought from the Ragtrade years ago. The jacket’s label is vintage—she’d made Roger and Freddie triple-check that it was authentic before she purchased it.

     “You know, this isn’t a 1980s denim party,” Roger jokes, gesturing to her attire.

     “Oh, fuck you, too, Roger,” she laughs and leans down to hug him from above. Her jacket is still cold from the chilly evening air, but her cheek is warm against his. “You know, double denim is back in style!”

    “Double denim?”

    “Yeah. Denim jeans, denim jacket. Double denim. It’s a trend.”

    Roger studies her, smirking. “I wasn’t aware you liked to stay up-to-date with the latest trends.”

    “The denim trend is a trend I can get behind. Thanks for letting me come, by the way.”

    “Letting you? I was gonna invite you anyway, silly. Come on, then, sit down,” Roger says, pulling out the chair beside him. Y/N sits, and Roger notes she’s not wearing makeup, but she’s naturally stunning as ever. Her eyes look tired, though.

    “God,” she chuckles, looking around. “I haven’t been back here since your last show, back when Tim was still around. What was that, a year ago?”

    “Think so. We’ve come a long way.” Roger smirks. “Oh? What’s that? You want me to give our old friend Tim a call, and tell him you were thinking about him?”

    Y/N’s eyes widen. “You wouldn’t dare.”

    Roger just laughs and waves her off. Tim Staffell had always been head-over-heels for Y/N, much to her chagrin. “I’m just messin’ with ya.”

    Y/N sighs in relief. “So, this is where you and Fred come every Thursday, huh?”

    “Not always here, but we usually go out for drinks on Thursdays, yeah,” Roger replies. School night escapades are not usually Brian’s scene, which explains why Y/N’s never tagged along before. She and Brian are inseparable, usually. Well, Roger’s not sure about nowadays. But historically, Y/N would only tag along if Brian did.

    “I don’t remember it being this…bougie.”

    Roger snorts. She’s not wrong. Champion Jack’s is one of those overpriced joints that tries too hard to achieve a classy ambiance. The effort is betrayed by its overcrowded seating, moderately disreputable clientele, and mysteriously sticky floors.

    “No kidding. At least the music is good. Usually.” Roger narrows his eyes at the band onstage. Y/N follows his gaze.

    “Scoping out the competition then, are you?” she asks.

    “Pah,” Roger scoffs. “Competition? Hardly. I’m getting a Bon Iver vibe from this group, and they haven’t even played anything yet. You should’ve heard the last band.”

   “Bon Iver, Roger, not ‘bawn eye-ver.’”

    “Does it look like I give a shit about Bon Iver?” he says, mocking her pronunciation in a posh voice. “It’s all indie folk, and all indie folk is the same.”

    “Oh, god forbid anyone anywhere plays indie folk,” Y/N says sarcastically. “Roger, you might die.”

    “God, I can’t stand indie folk bands,” Roger grumbles, toying with his empty wine glass. “It’s like, they all think they’re being so original, but they’re all doing the same bloody thing. Look!” he says, pointing to the band, “they’ve got a mediocre guitarist playing a mediocre model of guitar, a female vocalist who’s probably going to be whining unoriginal lyrics into the microphone like every other female vocalist trying to be ‘quirky’”—he makes air quotes—“and the drummer, who I’m already guessing is gonna be reduced to keeping basic time in the back! It’s a travesty!”

    “Roger, they haven’t even started playing their set yet.”

    “I know, but still. I’m sick of all the Hozier-Sufjan Stevens tryhards.”

    “For your information, I like Hozier and Sufjan Stevens.”

    “Where’s the rock-and-roll revival everyone keeps talking about? Sure as hell not here in London. At least the market’s not gonna be oversaturated once we start getting our name out there. We’re doing something original.”

    “I distinctly recall the critics calling you guys an ‘Arctic Monkeys cover band’ the last time you had a gig,” Y/N says with a smirk.

    That always gets Roger worked up. “Flippin’ hell, we played ‘Do I Wanna Know?literally once, and suddenly, every bloody critic in the world has the audacity to call us a fucking Arctic Monkeys cover band?!”

    Y/N just laughs silently.

    “At least we’re better than these bastards… Fuckin’ unoriginal lot of Mumford and Sons fangirls—”

    “Not that I don’t love the idea of sitting here and bashing on the local talent, but let’s cut straight to the chase.”

    Roger hums in concordance. “Right, and that is?”

    She looks up at Roger through her eyelashes. “I’m here to get drunk.”

    Brash as always. Roger wonders what exactly it is that got her so riled up. “You’ve made me well aware, love.”

    “Great.” She stands. “I’m going to the bar, then. Want anything?”

    “Jack and Coke. I’ll pay you back.”

    Y/N departs for the bar at the side of the hall. The band begins their introductions now and launches into a mellow song. Roger rolls his eyes at the frazzled-looking drummer behind a sad drumset, tapping out a sequence of horrendously uneven eighth notes.

    Roger looks over at Y/N, who’s waiting patiently for a bartender. He wonders what could have possibly happened to make her want to get drunk this badly. He knows she and Brian had a fight, apparently, but Brian hadn’t said a word about it to Roger. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Brian’s not very happy about the developments between Y/N and John Deacon. God, the look on Brian’s face when Y/N showed up at rehearsal with that massive bouquet of roses…he looked so pitiful, Roger almost felt bad for his mate.

    Almost. Tara had shown up, too, and as pouty as Brian had been about Y/N, he looked pretty satisfied with Tara’s little silk scarf on his forearm and her lips on his cheek.

    It’s almost funny, seeing Brian and Tara together like that. A sap like Brian probably has absolutely no idea how to be with a straight-up woman like Sister Tara. And yet somehow, for some reason, the woman’s got Brian absolutely wrapped around her pinkie.

    Christ, she’s a stunner, though. All smiles and curves and red lipstick… Fuck, if Roger’s not a sucker for red lipstick. Maybe if things don’t work out with Brian and Tara, I could shoot her a message myself…

    Fuck. Stop that. He needs to stop regarding every female in his life as a potential conquest. It’s a despicable habit.

    “They’re charging twelve freaking pounds for a Long Island Tea!”

    Y/N’s returned from the bar scowling and empty-handed. Roger glances up at her, rubbing the nape of his neck, still stuck in his thoughts. She looks at his face and her brows pull downward.

    “What’s wrong?” she asks.

    Roger breaks from his stupor. “Nothing,” he says quickly.

    “You looked a little spacy.”

    “I’m alright,” he says. “So you didn’t get your drink?”

    She huffs. “Fuck no. I’m not spending all my money on a watered-down cocktail.”

    Roger raises an eyebrow. “Love, if you wanted to get plastered for cheap, you would have just gone to the liquor store.”

    The band begins another song, and Roger’s attention is diverted yet again to the egregious excuse for a drummer. “God, he’s hitting that hi-hat like it’s a fuckin’ piñata!”

    Y/N sighs in frustration. “I don’t have much money left.”

    “I’ll give you my credit card, if you wanna use that,” Roger offers, still watching the drummer. “Fuck, he can’t even bloody keep time! He’s swinging it! This isn’t a fucking doo-wop, it’s a folk ballad! And a shoddy one, at that!”

    “I’m not gonna use your card, Rog. It’s too expensive here.”

    Roger looks at her and cocks his head. “I don’t know what else to tell you, sweetheart. Alcohol is expensive.”

    Y/N purses her lips at him, but there’s a spark in her eye. “Hmm…”

    “What?”

    The corners of her lips tilt up. “Are you done being condescending toward this band?”

    “I can be.”

    “Great, let’s go.” Without warning, she slips her wrist under Roger’s arm and pulls up. Smiling confusedly, Roger lets her hoist him up onto his feet.

    “Whoa, where are we going?”

    “Somewhere with cheaper booze,” Y/N declares, hauling Roger out of the pub by the arm. Roger laughs at her vigor. She can be a little ball of fire sometimes. And she always seems to be well aware of exactly what she wants.

    “You’re quite determined, aren’t you?” Roger asks as they walk out into the night, the frigid evening air nipping at his ears and nose. They’re ambling down the sidewalk, now, and Roger wonders if Y/N has any destination in mind.

    Y/N gives him a look. “You have no idea what this week’s been like.”

    “S’pose I don’t.” Roger pulls a vape pen from his jacket pocket and takes a long drag. Y/N watches him with an amused expression.

    “Really? Vaping?”

    Roger shrugs.

    “What are you, a prepubescent boy?”

    Roger blows a breath of vapor in her face. She scrunches her face up.

    “Let me guess, you play Fortnite and disrespect your mother, too?” she jokes. 

     “No,” Roger retorts, “I love my mother very much.”

     “Wait…is that…green apple flavored?”

    Roger smirks. “What’s it to ya?”

    “Case in point.”

    “I’m waiting for you to stop insulting me long enough to congratulate me on breaking my cigarette habit.”

    She quirks an eyebrow. “Congrats, bud! But couldn’t you have chosen more refined flavor than green apple?”

    “Don’t bud me,” he jokes. “And who says green apple vape juice is unrefined? I think I’m very refined.”

    “You’re refined? Ha!” She barks a laugh. “I dunno, Rog, I wouldn’t really qualify using a girl’s ass as a luge as refined behavior.”

    Roger giggles, but he feels himself turning red. “Fuck, you heard about that?”

    “I saw it, in a Snapchat, when I was with Brian after the party, and I wanted to gouge my eyes out.”

    Roger groans sardonically, a huge grin on his face. “Can’t say I regret that.” He glances over at Y/N when he doesn’t reply. Her eyes are downtrodden all of a sudden, and she stares at the pavement as she walks.

    “What’s wrong?” he asks.

    She shrugs. “Nothing.”

    “You’re lying.” He nudges her with his shoulder. “Is it about Brian?”

    “No, why would I give a shit about Brian?”

    “Oh, so it is about Brian.” He nudges her again. “What’d the prick do this time?”

    “More like, what didn’t he do,” she mutters.

    “Wanna talk about it?”

    She sniffs and kicks at the sidewalk. “Not really.”

    “Need a shoulder to cry on?” Roger offers playfully.

    “I’m not your damsel, Roger.”

    Ouch. Roger stoops to her eye level, pouts his bottom lip out, and makes a mocking whimper noise.

    That draws a reluctant smile out of her. “Stop trying to make me feel bad.”

    “O, wherefore shall thee not speaketh to me, fair maiden?”

    “You’re such a nerd.”

    “At your service,” Roger smirks with a dramatic bow.

    “So, no horde of women at your heel tonight?” Y/N asks.

    “You’re changing the subject.”

    “I’m not, I’m just wondering where’s the random girl or two or five you usually have hanging off your shoulder on nights like this.”

    “No one tonight…unless you decide my shoulder looks rather inviting,” Roger jests, grabbing Y/N’s arm and throwing it over his shoulders. She giggles and pulls away.

    “Better luck next time, Casanova,” she says. A slight breeze blows Roger’s hair back and causes Y/N to shiver in her denim jacket. Roger would offer her his coat, only he’s only wearing a thin, floral sort of jacket himself.

    She goes quiet for a little, and Roger wants to punch himself as his words and actions sink in. What am I doing? Roger tilts his head back, gazing at the starless sky as he chastises himself. Y/N’s a taken woman. Sure, she’s a friend, and she agreed to come out tonight. But if Roger keeps up the flirty attitude, things might end badly.

    It strikes Roger that he doesn’t really know how to be friends with a girl without flirting with her. He tries to swallow down the uncomfortable, empty feeling creeping up again from his chest.

    “How’s John, then?” Roger asks casually. “You two doing alright?”

    Y/N shrugs. “Sure.”

    “Does he mind that you’re out tonight?” Or that you’re out tonight with me?

    “He doesn’t own me.”

    God, she’s tough to crack today. It’s like she’s guarding herself behind titanium walls, and no matter how hard Roger tries, he can’t chip away at them.

    “Okay,” Roger says.

    “Didn’t you guys have another band rehearsal yesterday evening?” Y/N asks. “How’d it go? Hopefully better than Tuesday.”

    “The rehearsal was fine, but you’re changing the subject again, love.”

    Y/N stops abruptly and turns to glare at Roger. “I’m not changing the subject.”

    “Hmm, yes you are.” Roger stops, too, and turns to examine her. It’s impossible to get a read on her face.

    “I’m not, because there’s no subject to change. I have nothing to say.”

    “I think you do.”

    “I don’t.” She starts walking once more, clearly intending not to speak on the subject again. Roger decides to press harder.

    “If you can tell me what’s bothering you, I might be able to help. Is this about Brian, or—”

    “Why is everybody so hell-bent on the idea of helping me?” Y/N stops in her tracks again and whirls on Roger.

    Roger throws his hands up passively. “I was just offering.”

    There’s a moment of tense silence. Her eyes soften a bit. “I know. Thank you. But I don’t need your help.”

    “What is it you need, then?” Roger pries.

    “I told you already. I need to get shitfaced.”

    “Yeah, but…why?”

    “Does it matter?”

    Roger just stares at her, trying to figure out her angle. She sighs—a slow inhale, an even slower exhale.

    “Look. I know it’s a lot I’m asking, and I know it’s not very fun taking care of a drunk girl. So if you don’t mind, let’s just go find some drinks, and when we’re done, you can just call Br—John,” she corrects herself. “He can come pick me up. You won’t have to put up with me after that.”

    Roger nearly laughs. “I’m not worried about having to put up with Drunk Y/N. I’m worried about why you feel the need to be Drunk Y/N in the first place.”

    “Do all of your friends interrogate you this much when you decide to get drunk?” she shoots back. “‘Cause last time I checked, you never seemed to need a reason to drink. Sounds like a double standard to me.”

    Defensive. She’s deflecting. “We’ll get you nice and drunk if you want to, Y/N, and I don’t mind at all taking care of you. But I figured you might trust me with knowing why.” Roger draws his brows together. “Something’s bugging you. I can tell.”

    Her eyes harden over again, like ice freezing over a lake. “Listen, I really appreciate you, Rog, but if I wanted to open up about my problems and feelings, I would have gone out for a night on the town with my therapist instead.” 

     “Your therapist sounds fun.”

     “A hypothetical therapist.” She tucks her hair behind her ears. “I came out tonight to forget everything. Not to bring it back up. A lot of shit happened today, and I don’t want to think about any of it for a while.”

    Roger thinks about her words before nodding. “I can respect that.” Part of him wonders how much tea she’ll end up spilling once she’s got two or three drinks in her. Knowing Y/N, probably a lot.

    “Alright, then. Let’s go.” She shows Roger a small smile and starts walking down the sidewalk again. Roger follows. The night air is filled with the sounds of uni kids and traffic. The air is thick with moisture, and it looks like a fog is forming on the street level. The streetlights glow off of Y/N’s skin as if she’s iridescent.

    Roger can’t help but wonder what she’s so upset about. Clearly, it’s about Brian, though Roger suspects it could be about John, too. And Brian’s been acting just as weird and cryptic as Y/N lately.

    Y/N and Brian have always been a good pair. They always seem to feed off of each other’s energies—Y/N audacious and fun-loving, Brian pragmatic and intuitive. Which explains why they always bicker over the stupidest things. Roger always found it peculiar, the way Brian and Y/N argue. It’s as if they always agree on the end goal, but never the method of getting there. Like an old, married couple. Roger and Freddie always joke about that behind Brian’s back.

    But it seems like more than just an argument between them now. It seems more like there was a full-on fight.

    “He doesn’t know,” Y/N says quietly, breaking their silence. She’s walking ahead of Roger, so he can’t see her face.

    “Who?”

    “John.” She tucks her hands into her jacket pockets. “He doesn’t know that I’m out tonight.”

    “You didn’t tell him?”

    “No.”

    So she’s finally gonna give me something to work with, huh. “Alright…” Roger says slowly. “Isn’t he just gonna find out anyway, when he comes to take you home?”

    “Yeah, I know.”

    Roger tsks. “Not to, uh…assume anything, but are you positive he’s okay with you being out with me tonight? I know he doesn’t own you,” Roger adds quickly when he sees she’s opened her mouth to protest, “but I just wanna make sure I’m not accidentally picking a quarrel with someone’s boyfriend. Especially not when he’s 24 hours away from becoming my bandmate.”

    Y/N sighs. “I know. But I promise you, John doesn’t care. He doesn’t have any reason to care who I hang out with.”

    Well, what’s that supposed to mean?

    “As long as it’s alright with you,” Roger says.

    Y/N turns to look at him and smiles a bit. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

    “I dunno.” Roger kicks a pebble and watches it roll across the pavement. “Let me know if I’m being too…”

    “Too what?”

    “Too flirty.”

    Y/N barks a laugh, and it echoes through the streets. “That would be like telling a fish not to swim!”

    Roger chuckles, too, but he can feel his face burning. “I’m serious.”

    “That would be like asking Freddie not to send you cat memes on Instagram,” she laughs.

    “Okay,” he laughs, “I get it.”

    “‘Roger Taylor’ and ‘flirts with anything that moves’ just go hand-in-hand.” Her eyes fly open wide when she realizes what she’d said. “Oh, god. That was so offensive of me. I’m so sorry, Roger, I didn’t mean it like that—”

    Now it’s Roger’s turn to laugh loudly. “Calm down, I’m not that easily offended, love. Besides, you’re not wrong,” he adds with a shrug. “I do tend to flirt with anything that moves.”

    “Well, there’s nothing wrong with flirting, anyway,” Y/N says. “You’re at least respectful about it. God, I’m backpedaling so hard.” She covers her face with a laugh.

    Roger snorts. “I guess what I was just trying to say is, if I ever make you feel uncomfortable with anything, just let me know.”

    She shakes her head. “I will. But it’s just your personality, Roger. I’m not going to tell you to try to be someone you’re not.” She nudges his shoulder with hers. “I don’t mind it. It’s all in good fun. We’re just friends.”

    “I just don’t want to, y’know…lead you on, or anything.”

    She laughs again. “Bold of you to assume I’m so easily wooed like those other girls!”

    Roger smirks a little. He’s feeling the atmosphere between them become more lighthearted again. “You’re telling me that my stellar good looks and charming personality have no effect on you?”

    “If the effect is ‘eye-rolling so hard my eyes pop out of their sockets,’ then sure, you have that effect on me.”

    “Gross.” Roger’s relieved out of his mind, though, that he and Y/N are on the same page.

    A new sound fills the air—a distant commotion that grows louder and louder the more they walk. Roger sees that Y/N’s noticed the sound, too; she walks with a new resolve, seemingly intent on finding the source. He follows her lead.

    They’ve reached the middle of one of the busier scenes of this part of London, and the street is lined with all sorts of nightlife, from restaurants to pubs to bustling clubs. Roger knows a few of the dives on this street sell cheap beer, but Y/N’s dead-set on finding what’s clearly the loudest pub here. Roger realizes what the commotion is: music. Does he hear a…fiddle?

    It’s an Irish pub, and it’s absolutely popping inside. A humongous set of green wooden doors are propped open, beckoning passersby with the sounds of live music and a boisterous crowd. Y/N spins on her heel to look back at Roger when they reach the doors, her face radiant and beaming.

    “We’re going in, aren’t we?” Roger asks.

    Y/N just nods excitedly and grabs for his arm again, pulling him inside the pub with her.

    It’s busy. They have to squeeze past a congregation of drunkards to get a proper view of the interior of the venue. It’s quaint—much more quaint than they would have expected, given the influx of people—and a five-person Irish band plays a raunchy sort of reel that fills up every inch of space in the pub. The atmosphere is intimate and dim, with dark seats and tables lit by fairy lights and glowing lamps. A large expanse of space in front of the band has been cleared out, and a handful of couples laugh and jump around in choreographed dances. Other people sit at the tables and bars, their tankards of dark beer sloshing about as they laugh and cheer.

    Y/N turns her head slowly to look at Roger, her crystalline eyes glowing with the soft lights of the pub. “This place is magical,” she says, awe in her voice.

    Roger agrees, but he scoffs at her anyway. “Haven’t you ever been to an Irish pub, Y/N?”

    She shakes her head no while she turns to take in their surroundings again. “I’ve never danced to Irish music, either.”

    Roger watches her, smiling a little. “Well, you’re not getting a dance out of me until I’ve had a drink or two. Or three.”

    He stays close behind while Y/N leads the way to the bartop. Most of the people here seem like students, just like Roger and Y/N. It’s a shock he’s never been to this pub before.

    The bartender sees them approach the bar, and Roger does a double-take. “Welcome to O’Briens,” she greets them, blowing her ginger bangs out of her face while she leans forward to wipe the leftover condensation from the bar top. “What’ll you have tonight?”

    Roger’s eyes grow wide as his eyes trail down to her exposed cleavage. No wonder this place is so popular, he thinks.

    Y/N looks to Roger. “What do you want?”

    “Whatever you’re having, love.”

    “Two Guinnesses, please.”

    “You like Guinness?” Roger frowns. Guinness is such a Brian drink.

    She shrugs. “I do now.”

    After showing their IDs, Y/N tries to hand her credit card to the bartender, but Roger beats her to it. He bats his eyes at the red-haired bartender and says, “Busy night, isn’t it?”

    She doesn’t look up at him as she replies, “Yes, obviously. Wanna keep your tab open?”

    “Yes, obviously.” Roger leans in closer to the bartender. “What about you, love? Will you be busy later?”

    He feels Y/N kicking his shin under the bartop, but he just smirks. The bartender still doesn’t look up as she swipes his card.

    “If by ‘later’ you mean after we close at 2 a.m., then yes, I’ll be busy getting home to go to sleep.” She hands Roger his card back and slinks off to pour the beers they’d just ordered.

    Roger huffs in defeat—well, it’s not quite a defeat yet, by Roger’s standards, but it’s still a blow.

    Y/N pats his cheek condescendingly. “Hmm, you’re off your game tonight, buddy,” she mocks him.

    “I’m never off my game,” he winks. “She just didn’t get a good enough look at me.” He notices Y/N eyeing the food menu. “Are you hungry?”

    She looks up sheepishly. “Yeah, a little.”

    “When was the last time you ate?”

    She gnaws on her cheek. “A while ago.”

    “Y/N,” he scolds, saying her name like a child who’s just gotten in trouble. “When was your last real meal?”

    “…I had some chicken noodle soup yesterday evening.”

    Roger throws his hands up in exasperation. “Christ, and you were gonna start drinking? On a stomach that’s been empty for 24 hours??”

    “Calm down,” she laughs, “my stomach’s not completely empty.”

    Two tankards of beer appear in front of Roger and Y/N. She reaches for hers, but Roger grabs it first and holds it out of reach, giving her a level look. She scowls at him, but she looks as menacing as a kitten.

    “You’re not drinking this ‘til we get some food in you.”

    “My beer will get lukewarm!”

    “It’s a Guinness, you can afford to drink it a little warm.”

    She pouts. “I’ve had food!”

    “You just said you haven’t had a meal since last night.”

    “I’ve had a lot of snacks.”

    “What kinds of snacks?”

    “Microwave mac and cheese, Jaffa cakes, coffee, Pop Tarts, more coffee—”

    “Alright, that’s it.” Roger gets the bartender’s attention again. “Get this woman some shepherd’s pie,” he orders.

    Y/N pouts. “I can’t eat a whole shepherd’s pie. Besides, it’s gonna take ten times longer for me to get drunk right after eating.”

    “That’s why you didn’t eat anything?” he gapes. “You wanted to get drunk faster?”

    Y/N shrugs. Roger shakes his head in condescension.

    “You shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach, sweetheart.”

    “I know.”

    Roger and Y/N sit at the barstools, tapping their feet to the music as they wait for Y/N’s food. She complains again about her drink getting warm, so Roger complies and lets her sip on it while they wait and talk. The band is good—really good—and in stark contrast of skill and style to the uni bands that had played in Champion Jack’s.

    They chat while they wait. When Y/N asks with eager interest, Roger talks about the status of his own band, how the rehearsal yesterday evening went, their setlist for the gig on Friday, plans for the future. She listens raptly; Y/N’s always been Queen’s number one fan, always so invested in their latest projects and performances. She has this skill of completely immersing herself into someone else’s topic of conversation, listening without feeling like she needs to interject. It’s refreshing.

    When her food arrives, Roger watches and laughs while she eats like a starving woman, and he finishes the rest of the pie when she’s had her fill. Then, he orders them more alcohol—a round of tequila shots, followed by a Jack and Coke for Roger and a Long Island Tea for Y/N, as originally planned. He insists on paying for it all, but Y/N insists on Venmo-ing her portion of the final bill.

    “You’ve got that look in your eyes right now,” Y/N comments, sipping her drink through a straw as she studies Roger.

    Roger covers his eyes with one hand, causing her to giggle. “What look?” he says. “I don’t have a look.”

    “Yes, you do.” She tugs his hand down, looking into his eyes and smirking. “I can see it. It’s a very certain look.”

    “And what very certain look would that be?”

    “Roger Taylor,” she says formally, “I’ll have you know that I am a very observant person…”

    “That you are,” he says.

    “…and I’ve observed that at any given time, you have one of three looks in your eyes.”

    “Oh, do I, now?”

    “Yes.” She counts them off with her fingers. “Either it’s: one, that look you have when you’re about to flirt with someone or say something distasteful…”

    Roger snorts a laugh.

    “…two, that angry look, like when you’re really worked up over something, and I just know you wanna pummel someone…”

    He shrugs. Given his temper history, she’s probably right.

    “…or three, that sad kind of look, when something’s really bugging you, but you don’t want to come across like Brooding Brian or draw undue attention to yourself, so you just keep it all bottled up.”

    Roger can feel his own expression deflate. He takes a long sip of his Jack and Coke.

    “Let me guess,” he says, “you think I have the third kind of look in my eyes right now.”

    “Yep,” she says quietly, sipping her drink too.

    “Well, you’re wrong,” he says as he crosses his legs and leans back in his stool, his voice lighthearted. “I’m perfectly content right now.”

    “Are you?”

    “Peachy keen.”

    “Your lips say one thing,” she says confidently, “but your eyes say something entirely different.”

    “So you’ve been watching my eyes and my lips?” Roger smirks at her.

    Their attention is diverted as the band ends their tune with a final flourish of notes, inciting applause from the whole pub. The tin whistle player introduces a new song, and they all take off in a lilting jig that has people standing and flocking to the dance floor.

    “Let’s go!” Y/N hops down from the stool and beckons for Roger to follow her to the dance floor.

    “Oh, fuck no,” Roger laughs.

    “C’mon. It’ll cheer us both up.”

     “I’m still far too sober for dancing.”

    “Finish your drink, then.”

    “Won’t you finish yours?” Roger asks, holding her half-finished Long Island tea out to her.

    She grabs it, raises an eyebrow at him, and starts chugging the rest of the liquid. Roger chuckles and shakes his head, watching her tilt her head back more and more with each gulp.

    “Now you,” she says, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and gesturing to Roger’s remaining few sips of Jack and Coke. He shrugs and downs his drink, too.

    They make their way to the dance floor, and Roger swears his heart begins beating to the lilting tempo of the song. The music is rich with melodic intricacies, and the performers play it in a way that seems to permeate Roger’s very soul. 

    “Are we really doing this?” Roger moans, enthusiastic dancers brushing against him as they move their bodies to the music. We’re going to look fucking ridiculous out here.

    Y/N shoves Roger’s shoulder and grins. “C’mon, Rog, you can give it a shot. I think I see a hint of Irish in those eyes.”

    “A hint of Irish? I thought it was a hint of repressed sadness?” Roger jokes. She just smiles and takes off her jean jacket, tying it around her waist.

    “What do we have to lose?” she asks.

    “Not much, I guess.”

    And so they follow the other couples’ lead. Roger rests his hands on Y/N’s sides, her hands on his arms, and they start spinning. He and Y/N find their dancing shoes easily, but it’s an undignified ordeal. The alcohol has made them both clumsy and giggly. It doesn’t matter, anyway, because no one is paying attention. They’re both quite tipsy, and neither of them has any remote idea how to properly dance to an Irish jig—but nor do a vast majority of any of the other couples, most of whom have opted for just spinning around and laughing.

    “You’re not half-bad at this!” Y/N giggles, panting with exertion. Her eyes are wide and bright with energy. Her face is sheen with sweat, and she’s so close that Roger can feel the heat radiating from her body.

    “You’ll find that I’m good at a lot of things, love,” he says with a wink. He’s not really sure why he’d said it, but he regrets the words immediately. But what she says next confuses him entirely.

    “Mmm, why don’t you show me?”

    Roger’s taken aback by her suggestive choice of words, contrasted with the complete casualness of her actions tone of voice. Those are the kind of words that girls say when they want someone to make a move on them. But clearly, that’s not the case here. Y/N’s just mirroring his playful nature. And obviously, Roger’s not about to make a move on someone else’s girlfriend.

    These are precarious waters they’re treading on—Roger’s able to recognize that immediately. He’s had drinks, Y/N’s had drinks, and he’s well aware that he needed to have stopped flirting with her a long time ago. Even if it’s all been in good fun.

    So he avoids an awkward moment by spinning her around dramatically and initiating a poorly-executed dip. It works. Y/N shrieks and throws her head back with laughter.

    “That dip was horrible!!”

    “Come on, it was smooth and you know it.”

    “If that’s your standard of excellence, I don’t even want to know about your other skills,” she jokes.

    “Give me a chance! I’ve got plenty of skills to offer.”

    “Oh, really? Other than your ‘stellar good looks’ and ‘charming personality?’ Please, do tell!”

    Roger knows she’s only messing with him, but something about what she’d said seems to tear open the void in his chest, the one he’d almost forgotten about. It feels like an airtight chamber that’s been burst, and a stream of air rushes down his throat and chokes away his words.

    He turns away, saying nothing. Y/N’s smile falters.

    “Roger?” she asks, her voice smaller now. “What’s—shit, Rog, wait… I didn’t mean it like that.”

    “I need another drink,” Roger grumbles.

    And just like that, the elation of the dancing and the laughing is gone, deflated like a popped balloon. He starts heading back toward the bar, pushing through the crowd of people without checking to see that Y/N’s following behind him.

    It’s so stupid that he feels like this. He’s being completely irrational. And Y/N hadn’t even said anything wrong—hell, she’d even quoted his own words.

    But that’s just the thing. Y/N is right, isn’t she? What more does Roger have to offer, other than looks and personality? Without those, he’d be nothing, wouldn’t he?

    It isn’t until Roger’s reached the bar and ordered a double whiskey neat that Y/N catches up to him. “Roger, what’s wrong?” she says, tugging on his jacket sleeve.

    “Don’t worry about it,” he brushes her off, tapping his foot impatiently while the red-haired bartender prepares his drink.

    “Is it because of what I said? I’m so sorry, Rog, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

    “Seriously, I’m good, don’t worry about it.”

    Y/N shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Something’s bothering you, I can tell—”

    “Don’t say that when you won’t even tell me what’s wrong with you,” Roger snaps.

    Y/N winces, biting her lip. Roger doesn’t wait for her to say anything before he snaps again.

    “All night, you’ve done nothing but deflect every one of my attempts at helping you with your situation,” he growls. “You don’t get to ask me about mine. Not like this.”

    She has the audacity to look shocked, as if she hadn’t even been aware of the double standard. Roger doesn’t say anything more. He just sips his new drink, letting the fragrant, dark liquid burn his throat.

    “I’m sorry, Rog,” she says again, hoisting herself onto the barstool beside him.

    “I know,” he says, “but don’t you see now?”

    “See what?” she whispers.

    “It’s frustrating, trying to offer your help to someone who clearly needs it but won’t accept it. Isn’t it?”

    Y/N picks at her thumb and looks around the raucous pub. “It’s too complicated, the situation I’m in. You won’t be able to help me, no matter how hard you try.”

    “I could say the same.”

    Everyone around them is laughing and having a good time, but Roger feels isolated from them. And he hates it. There’s nothing worse than a serious case of the moody blues hitting you while you’re having fun at a pub with good company all around you.

    “Alright, fuck it.” Y/N spins in her seat and orders another drink—a vodka and lemonade. Roger frowns as she waits for it, not saying anything.

    After a few minutes, the bartender places the drink in front of her, and Y/N wastes no time in drinking the whole thing, saying nothing in the process. She dabs at her mouth with a napkin, crosses her legs, looks at Roger, takes a huge breath, and finally speaks.

    “Brian and I almost hooked up.”

    Roger nearly chokes on his own drink. “What?”

    “Yeah, on Tuesday night,” she says softly. “And John doesn’t know.” She tilts her head back. “God, it’s freeing to admit that aloud.”

    Shit. “Shit,” Roger says aloud. Y/N laughs without humor. Roger always knew it was just a matter of time before either Y/N or Brian snapped and did the deed…but not like this.

    “Y/N,” he frowns. “What do you mean, ‘almost?’”

    She closes her eyes. “Almost, like, it was about to happen, but it didn’t happen.”

    “‘It?’”

    She glowers at him. “Hooking up.”

    “What does that entail?” he demands.

    “Isn’t that self-explanatory?”

    “Sorta, but there’s a lot of gray area for—”

    “Sex, Roger,” she snaps. “We almost had sex, but we didn’t.”

    “God,” he breathes, mouth open in disbelief. Fuck, Roger was right—Brian likes Y/N. He remembers Sunday afternoon…Brian was angry as hell when he found out Y/N and John were dating. Roger could never get him to admit it, but he knows it’s because Brian was jealous.

     “Did you…kiss?”

    “Yes,” she stressed, throwing her hands up. “That’s what happens when you almost hook up with somebody.”

    “Are you gonna tell John?”

    She inhales slowly. “Eventually. But there’s an expiration date on our relationship anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. Ahhhh, I wasn’t supposed to say that,” she sighs and holds up her empty glass of vodka-lemonade, half-smiling. “It’s the truth serum, doing its dutiful work.”

    Roger wonders how much more information she’s purposely keeping from him. It sounds a lot like she’s cherry-picking her words.

    “He deserves to know,” Roger says, even though he knows he shouldn’t say it.

    “Please, don’t counsel me right now.” Y/N pinches the bridge of her nose. “It was a mistake, and it’s my fault, and nothing is going to ever be the same again. And there’s nothing I can do to take it back or make it better.” She holds up her drink again. “And so I drink. And I dance. And I try my damn hardest to forget, even if just for a night.”

    “Well, I can’t fault you for that,” Roger admits. He wants to tell her that’s not a good idea, but he’d be a hypocrite. Besides, she clearly doesn’t want advice.

    It was a mistake, she says. That means she probably doesn’t feel the same way about Brian as she feels about John. He wonders if she knows how much Brian truly cares for her. But it doesn’t matter…she’s dating John.

    And, oh, that’s right, Brian’s seeing Tara. Right?

    “Isn’t Brian still dating your flatmate?” Roger asks.

    The question lights a fire in Y/N’s eyes. “Oh, god, don’t even talk to me about Brian and Tara until I’ve got at least three more drinks in me,” she groans.

    This is madness. Y/N’s jealous of Tara, Brian’s jealous of John. They’re dating the bloody wrong people. The solution to their problems seems so fucking obvious…although something in Y/N’s eyes tells Roger there’s much more to the equation than meets the eye.

    “Wait, I don’t understand. What about this double date you lot were supposed to go on?”

    Y/N makes a hugely comical face. “That’s a damn good question!” she says. Roger can tell she’s becoming quite tipsy. “I have no fucking idea why the double date is still happening, but lo and behold, it is. Probably for the same reason that Tara posted that stupid photo of him on her Insta. Maybe you can ask Brian why he’s so dead-set on stringing me along.”

    Roger’s mind is absolutely spinning at her words. What the fuck is going on?

    “Aw, man,” she groans. “I wasn’t supposed to say any of that either.” She turns toward the bartender again. “Fuck, I’m gonna blow all of my money on alcohol. Hello, miss? Shot of tequila, please. Oh, and a lime.”

    “Last one for now, love,” Roger warns her.

    “Okay, so that’s what’s been going on in my shitty life,” she says. “Now you know. And now you gotta start talking, pronto, or else I’m gonna end up spilling all my secrets.”

    “I got nothin’ to say,” he mumbles.

    “Come on. I told you what was going on with me. Now it’s your turn, Rog,” she urges.

    Roger’s problems seem stupid in comparison. “We could just go dance again instead?”

    “Nope, you’re not getting off that easy.” She nudges her knee against his.

    “‘Getting off’?” he smirks.

    A shot glass of tequila with a lime wedge appears on the table in front of Y/N. She studies it, and then decidedly slides it over to Roger.

    “Tell you what. I’m gonna try to guess what’s eating away at you. If I’m wrong, I’ll take the shot. If I’m right, you’ll take the shot.”

    “If you wanted to play a drinking game, I could think of a thousand better ones,” Roger says.

    “No, no, we’re doing this. I win, you drink. I lose, I drink. Okay.” She drops her head in seriousness. “You’re upset because…”

    Roger shakes his head and chuckles at the intensity with which she studies him.

    “…because you’re jealous that Brian’s dating Tara.”

    Roger snorts, erupting in laughter. “Fuck no!”

    “I’m wrong?” she asks, laughing with him.

    “You couldn’t be more wrong.”

    The meaning of Y/N’s guess sinks in, then. Is that really why she thinks I’ve been so upset?

    Obviously it is. That’s all people see when they look at Roger. A shallow, cock-brained fuckboy.

    Y/N must have seen his expression change because she watches him silently, brows pulled together. He feels scrutinized under her gaze, and he doesn’t like it.

    “Well, go on. You were wrong, take your shot,” he says, gesturing to the shot glass. She still looks hesitant. “Go ahead,” he insists again. She does, throwing her head back and grimacing at the burn of the liquor. He holds the lime out to her, and she bites into it.

    “Well…” she begins. Roger looks out toward the crowd of people on the dance floor, drumming his hands on his thighs.

    “Well, what?”

    “The tequila shot idea didn’t work. I still don’t know what’s the matter with you.”

    Of course it didn’t work. Roger can hardly find the words himself to describe what he’s feeling.

    He doesn’t say anything in reply to Y/N. She sighs and purses her lips at him, which would have been annoying, but it’s so damn endearing that Roger can’t help but smile. She notices and smiles back.

    “Alright,” she says decidedly, hopping down from the barstool. She holds her hands out to get a feel for her balance in her tipsy state. “If I can’t get you to talk, I’ll try something else.”

    “What?”

    “I’ll get you to smile some more,” she says. “C’mon!”

    And so Y/N drags Roger back out to the dance floor. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and Roger finds himself laughing and jesting as they trip over their own feet trying to dance. They skip and spin until they’re dizzy and fresh beads of sweat begin forming on their brows. Their footwork is all off, and Roger has to steady Y/N more than once, although he has to admit she’s helping him keep his own balance just as equally.

    Before long, he also has to admit that he’s forgotten all about the empty void in his chest, too. They’ve danced so long and laughed so hard that Roger has forgotten why he was so moody in the first place.

    The song ends, and applause breaks out. Then, the atmosphere shifts. To Y/N’s delight, a troupe of professional-looking dancers announces that they’re teaching an impromptu dance lesson session. “Everyone, gather ‘round and find a partner,” one of them says, a middle-aged woman with a thick Irish accent. Roger and Y/N quickly pair up, giggling at everything and anything.

    The Irish troupe teaches the crowd a simple routine, with stepwork that’s far too complicated and far too funny to Y/N and Roger in their intoxicated states. It involves each couple interchanging with one another, all while skipping to the beat of the jig. Roger and Y/N try hard to focus, but more often than not they both fall into a fit of giggles and have to fall out to watch from the outsides.

    “Oi, watch out!” A large man dancing with his slighter-framed male partner accidentally bump into Y/N. She stumbles a little, but Roger holds a hand out to steady her.

    “So sorry, miss, are you okay?” the man says with concern in his voice.

    “Yeah, I’m fine!” Y/N smiles.

    “Totally our fault. We weren’t paying attention to where we were going. Here, we’ll make it up to you. Do you like alcohol?” the thinner man asks.

    Y/N’s eyes grow wide. “I love alcohol.”

    “Oh, no no no,” Roger says, patting his friend on the back. The last thing they need is more alcohol from these apologetic strangers. “Don’t you think we should hold off on the drinks for a bit?”

    “Pshhhh, I’m hardly even tipsy,” she scoffs and waves him off, her words just beginning to slur together.

    “Love, I think it’s about time I cut you off.”

    But Y/N wins. The couple ends up bringing over a round of fancy shots, with sentiments of cheers and repeating their apologies over and over again for bumping into Y/N. She’s, to say the least, delighted to have such booze at her disposal. Roger lets her take one shot, but only one and no more.

    Big mistake. She stumbles about the pub, giggling and laughing and very off-balance as she tries to dance. Roger does his best to keep up with her, half-amused by her antics and half-concerned for her well being.

    “You’re soooo pretty,” Y/N slurs, leaning heavily against him.

    “Maybe it’s time to go sit down,” Roger urges, wrapping his arm around Y/N’s shoulders.

    “Mmmm, why are you so pretty?” She presses her hand to his cheek.

    “Alright, alright,” he says mildly, pulling her hands away. He’s tipsy, too, but he feels fine. Y/N, however, has had a lot for someone with a lower tolerance.

    “Wait,” she says, a little louder now. “I promise, I don’t wanna date you or anything, but I just think you’re sooooo sexy.” She makes a grand gesture. “All of you are! You and Freddie and Roger and John and Brian. And you’re all in the same band! Why are you all so sexy? It’s not fair!”

    “It’s time to go sit down, sweetheart.”

    “Roger,” she drawls, her voice a little too loud and a little too drawn-out now. Her head lolls to rest against his. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m drunk.”

    Roger smiles. “You look like you’re having a lot of fun. Don’t be sorry.”

    She smiles slowly back at him. “Yeaaaah,” she says. But then she frowns abruptly. “Are you mad at me?”

    “What? No, sweetheart, I’m not mad at you.”

    “But I objectified you. That was very Not Cool of me. I hate it when boys objectify me.”

    Big word for someone who’s plastered. “Don’t worry about it. Come on.” He spots an empty table by the back of the pub and begins to head in that direction, but Y/N’s making it very difficult to walk anywhere.

    “I’m sorry,” she says again.

    “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

    “Well… I’m still sorry.”

    “For what?”

    He smirks as she makes every effort to muster up the grace to speak. “That I couldn’t make you feel better.”

    “You’ve made me feel scores better, love,” he says. It’s sweet that she cares so much about helping him have a good time tonight, too. He smiles at her, but she just frowns at him, bringing her fingertips to touch his face. Roger holds his breath as she caresses his cheekbones, his brows, and finally his eyelids.

    “Your lips say one thing, but your eyes say another,” she says, repeating what she’d said before. She’s still caressing his face, and Roger’s aware that everyone could be watching.

    “I suppose I’m just feeling lonely,” Roger mutters, the realization suddenly washing over him. He feels stupid for admitting it.

    “Lonely…” Y/N repeats slowly. “Then go get a girlfriend.”

    Roger huffs a laugh at her bluntness. “I’ve tried that.”

    “Okay…then go get a boyfriend.”

    He raises his brows, but there’s a sinking feeling in his stomach. Y/N’s leaning against him heavily now.

    “Come on,” he says again and starts walking toward the empty table, “let’s go sit down.”

    “I don’t want you to be lonely,” Y/N slurs, gripping onto Roger’s hand for support. “I’ll help you. We’ll find someone…” She cranes her neck to look around at their fellow patrons.

    “No… It’s not that easy, love.”

    “Why are you lonely?”

    “I just am,” he replies.

    They reach the table. Roger tries to help Y/N into a chair, but she doesn’t seem to want to sit down. She’s still holding his hand.

    “Roger,” she says.

    “Yeah?”

    “I think I’m gonna go throw up now.”

    Oh shit. Roger springs into action, guiding her over to the small restroom at the back corner of the pub. Luckily, there’s no line, and it’s good that it’s a one-person bathroom, so that Roger can go in there with her. Y/N kneels in front of the toilet and pukes up everything she’d just consumed. Roger doesn’t even think twice about holding her hair back.

    “You really can’t hold your alcohol, can you?” he jokes, trying to lighten the mood while she pukes her guts out. It’s a good thing he’s not squeamish.

    “Brian made that same joke not too long ago,” she croaks, before moaning and hunching over the loo all over again. Roger brushes away the beads of sweat at her forehead. “Ughhhhh. Go away. I’m so gross.”

    “Not a chance, love.”

    “You’re too nice to me,” she groans, her words still slurred.

    “That’s what friends are for,” he says simply. She wipes her mouth and draws her eyes up to his.

    “That’s what we are, right?” she asks. “Friends?”

    “Of course we are,” he frowns.

    “Just friends? Nothing more, right? ‘Cause sometimes, I can’t tell with you.”

    Oh. “Can’t tell what?”

    “If you’re just joking around, or if you actually just wanna get in my pants.”

    Roger immediately feels horrible. “You’re wonderful, Y/N, love, but I don’t wanna get in your pants. We’ve already established this.”

    “So you’re just joking around, right?” she says, mumbling.

    “Yes.”

    “We’re just friends?”

    “Just friends.”

    “Just friends, even if I asked if you were down to fuck?”

    Roger starts at the bluntness of her tone, but he shakes his head. “I would politely turn you down. Besides, I have interests other than sex, you know.”

    “That’s not the way most boys are.”

    “Rest assured, I’m not gonna try to make a move on you, love. You can trust me.”

    She breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank god,” she says dramatically.

    “Sorry,” Roger mutters. “I guess I don’t really know how to be friends without flirting.”

    Y/N spits a couple of times into the loo. “Don’t care if you’re flirty, as long as it’s not serious.”

    Roger smirks. “Well, in that case…” He tries to think of the worst dirty joke he can make at this moment. “I have lots of experience holding a girl’s hair back, but never like this.”

    Y/N laughs weakly at that. And for once, Roger feels at ease that he can act naturally around Y/N without worry.

    He spots a hair tie on her wrist and slides it off, using it to tie her sweaty hair back. It’s a good thing he did, too, because she groans and throws up again.

    “Oh, darling.” He stands to wet a paper towel with cool water, and he places it on the back of her neck.

    “I think I wanna go home,” Y/N whimpers. She’s clearly still pretty drunk.

    “Okay, love. Stay here,” he instructs.

    “I’ll come with you,” she says, but then she retches again.

    “No, you stay here,” he says, patting her back. “I’m gonna get you some water and make a phone call.”

    “Don’t call John,” she whines.

    “I have to, love, you told me to.”

    “No,” she moans. “I don’t want to see him. If I see him, I’ll have to talk to him.”

    “He’s your boyfriend, sweetheart. Hold on, I’ll be right back. Can you stand up to lock the door when I leave?”

    She does, and Roger steps out of the bathroom, ignoring the strange looks from the line that’s formed for the loo. He wonders if it might be a better idea to call an Uber instead of calling John.

    No, he realizes, John needs to be there with her. Someone needs to help her get upstairs safely and ready for bed.

    He orders a glass of water from the bar and pulls up John’s contact info on his phone. He’d gotten it from John after rehearsal last night. Roger wonders if John is the kind of boyfriend to get angry that his girl’s been out drinking with another bloke. But Roger would rather risk that than risk Y/N’s safety.

    He presses “call” and holds his phone up to his ear. “Hello, this is John,” he answers.

    “Hey, mate, it’s Roger Taylor. How’s it going?”

    “Good,” John replies, a little confusedly.

    “I was just calling because I’m with Y/N right now, and I was hoping you might be able to come to pick her up,” Roger says. “She’s been drinking quite a lot, and she told me to call you—”

    “Is she okay??” John asks, alarm in his voice.

    “She’s fine, yeah, she puked a few times but she’s doing alright. Just very drunk.”

    John sighs. “Oh, Y/N,” he mutters.

    “Do you think you can come pick her up?”

    “I would, but I don’t even have a car on campus.”

    “Oh, shit.” That’s right, he’s a freshman. Did Y/N forget he doesn’t have a car?“Fuck. Okay. Well, she needs to get home safely…tell you what. Can you take an Uber over here? We’re at O’Briens Irish Pub. We’ll get you and Y/N an Uber back to her flat. You should probably stay there overnight, too, just to make sure she’ll be okay.”

    “Stay…at Y/N’s flat…overnight?”

    “Yeah,” Roger says, assuming that wouldn’t be weird for a couple to spend the night with each other.  “I’ll pay you back for your Uber rides. I just want to help you get her home safe. I mean, I’d help her home myself, it’s just…you’re her boyfriend, and I figured you’d want to be there yourself—”

    “Yeah, yeah, okay,” John says. “We can do that. I’ll, um…I’ll get ready and call the Uber now. O’Briens, you said?”

    “Yeah. Thanks, mate. See you soon.”

    “Cheers, mate. Okay…Uber says it’s on its way now. I’ll probably be there in about ten minutes. Oh, Roger? Thanks for taking care of her. I owe you one.”

    Roger says goodbye and hangs up, feeling relieved that John’s on his way. He takes the glass of water back to the restroom, muttering apologies to all the people in line he has to cut.

    “Y/N, it’s me,” he announces with a knock.

    She lets him in, leaning heavily against the door frame. Her eyes are ringed with dark circles now, but the color’s returned to her face. “Thank you,” she murmurs, taking the water from his hands.

    “Drink it slowly,” he instructs. She rinses her mouth out first before drinking the rest. “You look better. Do you feel better?”

    “Liiiike a million bucks!” She’s still slurring, but at least the alcohol’s out of her stomach now.

    As soon as she’s able, Y/N and Roger exit the bathroom. He still has to hold her upright. They find another empty table, and Roger helps Y/N into her own seat before sitting down himself.

    “Hey, Roger,” she says.

    “Yes?”

    “You never told me—” she hiccups “—you never told me why you’re feeling lonely.”

    Roger sighs. “We’re back on this again?”

    “I mean, I just don’t get it. You could have anyone you wanted,” she says, slouching in her seat. There’s a half-empty glass of someone else’s ale on the table, and Y/N reaches for it, but Roger moves it away before she can drink it.

    “I don’t want just anyone,” he says coolly.

    “You could have Tara, you could have Ronnie, you could have Freddie, you could have me… Wait, you can’t have me, I’m dating John Deacon!” she laughs, her words running together.

    Roger chuckles, shaking his head. “I thought we’ve established multiple times now that we’re just friends?”

    “We are jus’ friends,” she slurs. “But maybe, in, like, an alternate universe, we’re not. And I’m jus’ sayin’, you could have anyone you want.”

    “You’re sweet.”

    He wants to tell her his thoughts, but he doesn’t know why he’d even bother—she probably won’t remember much of this in a day. Maybe that’s what appeals to him.

    “I just want people to see me as more than just a pretty face and a good fuck,” he says quietly. Surprisingly, Y/N perks up at his words. He feels a blush coming to his cheeks. “That’s all they really think of me.”

    “Who?” she asks.

    “All the girls. It’s the same every time. They like my body and they like my words, but none of them really give a flying bloody fuck about who I really am.”

    She purses her lips, taking a minute to process what he’d said. “You’re not dating the right people.”

    “But what if there’s no ‘right person?’” he says. “What if that’s all I am, anyway? Just a pretty face? What if that’s all I have to offer to the world? What if I don’t have any other redeeming qualities?

    His own words surprise him. He hadn’t even realized that was the heart of what was bugging him. He looks away, but Y/N leans in closer to him, her eyes wide.

    “I think you’re a loooot more than just a pretty face.”

    “You’re sweet,” he says, “but you’re just one person.”

    “Roger Meddows Taylor, you’re a ffffucking idiot if you think that’s all you have to offer to the world.”

    Roger can’t decide whether the slurred quality to her words weakens her sincerity or strengthens it.

    “Come oooon, man,” she says. “You’re getting your degree in fucking…chemistry!”

    “Biology.”

    “Whatever, same thing. You’re smart as balls, that’s the point.”

    Roger shakes his head, but he can’t help but smile at her words.

    “You’re the best fucking drummer who ever lived,” she continues, gesturing grandly while she talks. “Better than John Bonham, or Keith Moon!”

    “No one’s better than Keith Moon,” Roger chuckles.

    She just points a decisive finger at his nose. “You are.”

    “You’re drunk.”

    “No, ‘m not.”

    “Yes, you are.”

    “Well, I would have said it even if I weren’t drunk.”

    “Well, alright then, don’t stop there!” Roger jokes. “What else makes me so special?”

    To his surprise, she takes him seriously, squeezing his hand and leaning even closer, a look of severity on her face. “You’re…loyal, and trustworthy, and kind, and friendly, and—”

    “Am I a dog?”

    She giggles. “If you were a dog, you’d be…you’d be a golden retriever.”

    “Should I be offended?”

    “No!” she exclaims. “Golden retrievers are the best!”

    It’s a strange, drunken compliment, but for some reason, Roger can’t help but beam like the sun. “Thank you, Y/N.”

    She smiles and nods, but she’s kind of spaced out. Roger shakes her arm gently. “You okay?”

    “Oh, huh?” She looks up toward him. “Oh, I was just thinking about what breeds of dogs Freddie and John and Brian would be.”

    Roger laughs and raises an eyebrow. She pays him no heed, just drunkenly considers her own idea. “Okay, John would be a cocker spaniel, Brian would be a poodle, and I can’t imagine Fred as anything but a cat…”

    “Christ,” Roger says, still laughing.

    “Don’t worry,” she slurs. “You’re still a golden retriever, and golden retrievers are still the best.”

    “Alright, alright,” Roger says, patting her back patronizingly. She gazes up at him with big eyes. But all of a sudden, Y/N goes still and tears well up in her big eyes.

    “I ruined everything,” she whispers.

    “What?” Roger says, squeezing her hand. Her quick shift of emotions alarms him. “What do you mean?”

    Her head lolls to the side, tears spilling over into her cheek. “Roger,” she says, “I’m horrible.”

    He doesn’t say anything, just scoots his chair closer to her and rubs her arm.

    “Brian won’t talk to me, I can’t talk to John, Freddie stabbed me in the back,” she says, growing distressed as she talks. “Everything is ruined.”

    Freddie? What did Freddie do? “No, it’s not, love. Everything is going to be okay.”

    “I lost all my friends,” she says, her voice cracking. “I pushed all my friends away. Rooooger. You’re the only friend I still have.”

    “Hey, hey,” he says, not really sure how to comfort her. He ends up pulling her in toward his chest. She wraps her arm around him weakly and buries her head in his chest.

    “Rooooger,” she says miserably.

    “Shh, shh. It’s okay.”

    “I love him,” she cries. “I love him, and I don’t know what to do.”

    Roger doesn’t get a chance to ask who she’s referring to.

    Someone opens the pub doors and walks in. Roger’s vision is shit, but he’d recognize that tall, lanky frame and wild head of curls from a mile away.

    “Oh, shit,” he mutters.

    Brian looks around at the bustling pub, obviously searching for someone…searching for Y/N. What the…?

    “Y/N,” Roger hisses, shaking her shoulder. “Y/N, why is Brian here?”

    She just grumbles, her tears staining Roger’s shirt.

    “Did you call him???”

    She nods. Fuck, she must have done it in the bathroom when I wasn’t there.

    “Y/N, why did you do that? I already called your boyfriend!”

    “‘S not my boyfriend.”

    “Huh???”

    She mumbles something incoherent, her face still pressed into Roger’s chest. Roger cups her cheeks and holds her head up. Her eyes are half-lidded and glistening with tears.

    “No, I called John,” he says.

    “Called Brian.”

    “What did you tell him?”

    “Told him, ‘take me home, Brian.’”

    For fuck’s sake. “Okay, well, your boyfriend John is making his way over here now, to do that very same thing.”

     “Wanna talk to Bri,” she says. “Don’t wanna talk to John.”

    “Well, now you get to talk to them both, ‘cause Brian’s already here, and John’s on his way.”

    She looks up again, her eyes still wet. “You called him?”

    “Yes, Y/N. I had to. He’s your boyfriend.”

    “He’s not,” she mumbles.

    “What do you mean, he’s not—”

    “Roger,” she moans his name, gripping onto his jacket now and trying to look up at him. But her eyes don’t focus—she looks at him like he’s see-through. She’s still pretty far gone. “I love him.”

    “I know,” he says, smoothing her hair. He glances at Brian again, who still hasn’t found them at the back of the pub.

   “Nooo,” she whimpers. “You don’t understand…you don’t understand…I’m so sad. I’m so confused.”

    “Shh, I know.”

    “I love him, but I love him, and I don’t want to.”

    She’s making no sense. But it’s too late to do anything now. Brian has spotted Roger and Y/N. He doesn’t make his way over to them; he just watches, seemingly aghast.

    And for good reason, given the way they’re hugging right now.

    Roger curses and attempts to push Y/N off his chest, but Y/N grips onto his jacket with alarming strength.

    Brian starts heading in their direction.

    And then the doors swing open again. In walks John Deacon.

    Fucking awesome.

    “What the hell is going on?” Brian demands as soon as he reaches them. Roger had given up on pushing Y/N away, and she’s just slumped into him even more now.

    “I promise, mate, it’s not what it looks like.”

    “Really, Roger?” Brian snaps. “Are you sure?”

    Roger rolls his eyes. “Yes, I’m sure. She’s drunk as hell, and she’d be passed out and half-dead if I weren’t here. Why the fuck are you here?”

    “She called me,” Brian says. “She told me she was drunk and needed me to come pick her up.”

    “Yeah, well, I really wish I had known that before I’d called her boyfriend and told him the same thing.”

    “Briiian, you came.” Y/N looks up at Brian.

    He glances down at her, frowning. “Wait, John’s coming?” Brian asks Roger in alarm.

    “Briiian, take me home.”

    “He’s bloody here,” Roger growls, gesturing to the door. Brian whirls to spot John, who’s coincidentally spotted them at the exact same time. “Can you please help move her off of me?”

    Brian turns back to Y/N and gently tugs on her arms, pulling her away from Roger’s chest. She sits up in her chair, dazed-looking. But once she spots John coming in, it’s like her upper body strength floods out of her, and she slumps onto the table.

    “Nooo,” she moans. “I can’t talk to John…I don’t wanna talk to John…he’s gonna ask about Tuesday, and I can’t talk about Tuesday. Roger, tell John to go away.”

    Roger rubs at his temple, and Brian sighs angrily. John approaches him, and as confused as he must be by the sight before him, he goes straight to Y/N’s side.

    “Hey, Y/N, baby, are you okay?” he murmurs, kneeling beside her.

    “‘M not drunk,” she says. He rubs gentle little circles on her upper back and kisses her sweaty temple.

    “You sure, love? You seem pretty drunk.”

    “She’s very drunk,” Roger corrects.

    John just glances up and asks, “How much has she had?”

    “Five, six drinks,” Roger answers. John shoots daggers at Roger.

    “You let her drink that much?”

    Roger groans. “If I hadn’t been here, she would have had twice as much. God,” he throws his hands up, “when is someone going to thank me for taking care of her, instead of accusing me?”

    John studies him but eventually relaxes. “You’re probably right. Sorry. Thanks, mate. But…I don’t understand. Why was she out here in the first place?”

    “I was with her,” Roger says. “She invited me out.”

    Roger waits for John to show some sign that he’s upset, but John’s face is stoic. Instead, John turns to Brian.

    “So why are you here, Brian?” he demands.

    Brian’s mouth falls open. He’s beginning to realize the predicament that’s fallen upon him now—he can’t exactly take home somebody else’s girlfriend.

    “She called me to pick her up,” Brian says in a small voice.

    “Brian, buddy, I told you, go home,” Roger says, practically through gritted teeth. “We’ve got this handled.”

    “Well, Y/N called me,” Brian says. “I couldn’t just not come.”

    “Well, Roger called me,” John says, matching Brian’s tone. “I’ll be taking her home. I’m her boyfriend.”

    Brian stares at John. And it’s as if something snaps. “Did you ever stop and think there must have been a reason she’d called me, instead of you?”

    “Stop it,” Y/N mumbles, her voice muffled by her arm.

    Uh oh. Tensions are rising. Roger can feel it in the air, like a stagnant, unignorable heat that’s growing hotter and hotter by the minute. This can’t turn out good.

    “She’s pissed, mate,” John says, “and as her boyfriend, it’s my responsibility to get her home safely.”

    “It doesn’t irk you that your drunk girlfriend didn’t think to call you first?”

    John is astonishingly unfazed by Brian’s blow. “At the end of the day, she’s still my girlfriend.”

    “Lads,” Roger says, “let’s just keep calm and work this out like gentlemen.”

    Neither of them listens to Roger. “Why don’t we ask Y/N what she wants?” Brian suggests, a layer of fire to his tone of voice. Roger facepalms, and John sighs in exasperation.

    “That’s not necessary,” John says.

    “She’s plastered, Bri,” Roger asserts.

    Brian ignores them and turns to look at Y/N. “Y/N, what do you say?”

    She just groans, but says nothing. Brian asks her again, but gets no reply. It’s pretty clear that Y/N’s either not in the mood or in the state of mind to reply. Roger fumes at Brian.

    “Will you just calm your fucking tits, mate?” Roger hisses. But he realizes too late that telling an angry Brian May to calm his fucking tits might be a bit counterproductive.

    Sure enough, Brian whirls on him. “Do you wanna explain why you were even out with Y/N in the first place, alone, at a pub, getting her fucking plastered?”

    “I told you, I was keeping her safe!” Roger shouts, his voice rising an octave. “And where were you, then, this whole time? Sitting at home moping over Y/N or Tara or badgers or whatnot—”

    “Oh, don’t start with me,” Brian seethes.

    “Brian, what the hell are you doing? Why are you so concerned about Y/N? She’s not your girlfriend.”

    “She called me,” Brian says again.

    Roger opens his mouth to scold Brian again, but he notices Y/N’s standing on her feet now. John looks up at her in confusion. She looks at all three of them, her eyes glazed over with drunkenness and tears.

    And then she turns, staggers to a nearby rubbish can and starts vomiting—again.

    Neither John nor Brian moves to do anything. They’re both completely still, mouths fallen open, as Y/N groans and pukes up the rest of her stomach’s contents.

    “Oh, for fuck’s sake, you’re both useless,” Roger mutters and strides over to where Y/N leans over the rubbish can. He holds her ponytail away from her face and brushes the loose strands from her hairline. Hopefully, this is the last wave of puking for the night.

    “Are you okay?” Roger asks Y/N gently. She just nods.

    John finally breaks out of his stupor and comes to stand beside Y/N, too. He rubs her back. “Okay, that’s it. I’m taking her home.”

    “I don’t wanna,” she moans. Which is funny, because she’d just told Roger fifteen minutes ago that she wanted to go home. Had she been anticipating it’d be Brian bringing her home, not John?

    “We have to, love,” he murmurs back.

    Brian just stares, speechless, but it looks like his brain is going a mile a minute. He has no reason to be here, and he knows it.

    “Go home,” Roger urges Brian. “We got this handled.”

    “Okay, okay” Brian says, his voice snippy but defeated. “I’m leaving.”

    “Brian,” Y/N croaks, still leaning over the waste bin. “Wait… I need to… I need to talk to you.”

    “You can talk to him tomorrow, love,” Roger says. He grabs her half-empty glass of water from the table and hands it to her. She straightens enough to bring the glass to her lips, swishes the liquid, and spits it into the trash can.

    “Go, Brian,” Roger insists again. “I’ll see you back at the flat.”

    “No,” Y/N says. She lowers the glass and turns to face Brian, a new sort of fire to her eyes. “You gotta tell me.”

    “What?” Brian blinks.

    “Tell me,” she demands, leaning toward him. She’s angry, all of a sudden. Roger and John both hold out hands to steady her. “Tell me why you’re playing with me like this.”

    Brian’s at a loss for words.

    “Hey, honey, let’s go sit down,” John cajoles her.

    “Don’t bullshit me, Brian,” Y/N spits, her words lethargic but deliberate. “I know what you and Tara are up to. I know what you’re doing.”

    “Y/N—” Brian stutters. “You—you told me to come…”

    “And the funny thing is, I don’t even know why you’re doing it!” She steps closer to him. “But I know. I know.”

    That’s why she’d called Brian to come get her… She wanted to talk to him. She wanted to give him a piece of her mind…wherever it is her mind’s at right now. She just needed liquid courage.

    And Roger’s too curious to stop her.

    “‘Break up with him, and we’ll talk’? What kind of bull—” hiccup “—shit is that? ‘Break up with him, and we’ll talk’, my ass, Brian,” she steps closer to him yet again, and Brian gulps. “‘M not gonna break up with my own boyfriend just to get you to talk to me.”

    John smirks from beside Y/N.

    Jesus, did Brian really say that to her?

    “I don’t get it!” she slurs. “We used to talk allll the fucking time! But now you won’t even speak to me. Any other prerec-exquisites I should be aware of to get you to fucking talk to me?”

    “Prerequisites,” John corrects.

    “Prerequisites,” Y/N recites.

    “We’re not doing this here,” Brian growls. “Not here, not now.”

    “Maybe I don’t wanna talk to you either, until you stop tag-teaming with Sister Tara,” she spits. “I know you’re just tryin’ to get back at me. I know what you’re doing, scheming with her, and I jus’ want you to know that it’s not working.

    “Scheming?” Brian hisses. “There’s no scheme, Tara and I—”

    “You’re a prick,” she rages, getting right up into Brian’s face. “You’re a fucking prick. You can’t do that to me.”

    Brian glowers, but his Adam’s apple bobs. “Not. Now.” He tries to stand his ground, but he’s crumbling, and Roger can tell.

    “Then go away, mate,” Roger shoots back. “You’re bigger than this. Go home.”

    Y/N blinks at Brian, a different emotion veiling over the rage. “I thought I… I thought I meaned something to you…”

    “Meant,” John says.

    “Y/N, come on,” Roger says. He tugs her arms back toward the chairs. She complies without much of a fight, but her eyes are trailed on Brian. Something in her eyes looks completely broken as she lets Roger guide her to the chair.

    “I can’t do this anymore,” she whimpers.

    “Go.” Roger points toward the door. Brian’s slack-jawed face turns steely. He glares at John with hostility, who stares back at him almost smugly. It’s a full-out staredown.

    “Fine,” Brian finally snaps, averting his eyes first. He starts to back away and throws his hands up in an angry shrug. “I get it. I’ll be leaving. You go home with your boyfriend.” Maybe it’s Roger’s imagination, but it looks like Brian glances at John as he adds, “Enjoy it while it lasts.”

    Brian leaves in a sulking storm. Roger sighs, turning back to Y/N and John. The bassist is sitting beside his girlfriend, spacing out.

    That’s right, Roger remembers. John has no idea what happened between Y/N and Brian. She almost cheated on him. Will Y/N tell him tonight, while she’s drunk? Will she tell him in the morning? Will she tell him at all.

    “Take her home,” Roger instructs. He pulls his phone out and summons an Uber for the other two. “Ride’ll be here in 2 minutes. Get her some more water, and—and maybe some food.”

    John nods. He’s silent as he holds Y/N’s hand and stares off into the direction Brian had left. Roger notices Y/N is slumped in her chair with tears rolling down her face.

    “Hey,” Roger says quietly to John. “Don’t let him get to you. He’s just…he’s just jealous. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise.”

    John exhales for a long time. “It’s no surprise at all.” He looks at Roger and smiles a bit. “Thanks again, Roger. You’re a good friend to her.”

    The Uber arrives, and Roger helps escort Y/N and John out. John promises to pay him back for the drinks and the Uber. Y/N gives Roger one last gaze—unfocused and drunken—before Roger closes the door.

   And they’re gone. Roger watches the car drive away, his thoughts spinning. He’s alone yet again for tonight. And the void in his chest is back, he realizes as he pulls out his vape pen and takes a long drag.

    He slinks back inside to close out his tab. It’s nearly two a.m. now; the time had passed much more quickly than expected. Luckily, Roger doesn’t have any Friday classes, so he can crash hard tonight and sleep in tomorrow. And that’s what he fully intends to do.

    “Your girlfriend gone?”  The red-haired bartender seems to be eyeing him up and down as she prints out his receipt.

    “Not my girlfriend.” He pulls out his billfold and pays with cash. “Keep the change.”

    “I wanted to see if your offer still stands after I get off work,” she says with a wink. “Mm,” she sniffs. “Is that…green apple?”

    Roger stares at her, taken aback. A hot bartender is flirting with him, and for some reason, he has no desire or energy or motivation left to flirt back.

    He certainly could. He knows exactly how the night would go with a woman like her. They’d make fruitless small-talk, they’d go home, they’d fuck once or twice, they’d talk some more about shit that doesn’t matter, they’d sleep, and then Roger would leave in the morning.

    The idea of it seems unfulfilling. More than that. Even the mere thought of going through that whole process again makes him feel empty inside.

    “Not today, love.”

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

 

A/N Fun bonus pics:

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this is the jacket I imagined Rog wearing :)

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Roger’s face when Y/N said “Oh, really? Other than your ‘stellar good looks’ and ‘charming personality?’ Please, do tell!” and his heart went still

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Some more dazed Rog drinking from a glass :) (Credit @cool-cats ) 

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idk this is just soo damn cute

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deaky disapproves of your irresponsible behavior on a thursday night

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Brian’s face when he walks into the pub :((

 

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ANGERY ROGER is pissed the fuck off at brian lmfao

Chapter Text

 


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✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

   “Uggggghhhhh.”

    You wake with a long groan. The room is dark—for which your tired eyes are grateful—but much too cold. Chills wrack your body, which, strangely enough, feels slick with a cold sweat. You reach down to pull the covers back up, and the action feels as fatiguing as if you’d just run a marathon.

   God. What happened last night?

   Memories come back to your consciousness. You’d gone out with Roger. You and he had danced at an Irish pub…and you vaguely remember Brian showing up. Why had Brian showed up at the bar…?

   And John. He had taken you home, like the godsend he is. The only memory you recall of the journey home is the new-car smell of your Uber driver, the elevator ride up to your story, and John’s arm firmly around your waist the whole time. He must have gotten you to bed safely.

   Water, you think. Your mouth is so dry. You reach over to check your phone on your bedside stand—4:45 a.m.—and you notice there’s a glass of water on a cork coaster beside you. Inside the water are a few slices of cucumber. Two orange-colored pills sit beside it, along with a package of saltine crackers.

   And looking around, that’s not the only gesture that’s been left out. A neatly-folded stack of clean clothes sits on your dresser. You look down; you’re still in last-night’s clothes. But he’d left out a set of clothes so you wouldn’t have to search. The clutter on your floor has been picked up. The curtains have been shut, effectively blocking out most of the early morning light that could possibly shine through.

   John. He’d taken care of you.

   You heave yourself up and swing your legs over the side of your bed. Your head spins like you’d just spent an hour straight on a spinning carnival ride. The cucumber water tastes amazing, and you have to stop yourself from chugging it all.

   But then your foot brushes up against something. It startles you before you realize it’s the head of a sleeping John Deacon.

   “John?” you croak. But he’s fast asleep, snoring lightly on the carpeted floor beside your bed. He had taken one of your pillows and some blankets he must have found in the closet. He’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes, too—blue jeans and a tee shirt—and his hair frames his face on the pillow like a halo. He looks like an angel.

   God. It’s so sweet, that he’s still here, sleeping by your side. But you feel so guilty. You’d wanted to get drunk so badly, but you hadn’t anticipated that John would be caring for you like this. He was willing to sleep on your floor—that’s how invested he is in your well being.

   He shouldn’t have had to stay overnight, just to be here with you. He shouldn’t have done any of this for you.

   “John, wake up,” you whisper. You lean down to examine his sleeping face, but the vertigo of bending over makes your head spin and your pulse pump in your ears. You steady yourself back against your bed, cursing this horrible hangover that’s entirely your own fault.

   I’ll let him sleep, you think. You swallow the two pills on your bedside table and stand as gently as possible. The world spins, there’s a hollow ringing in your ears, the vein right above your left eyebrow throbs, and your stomach feels wrong. You carefully step over John’s body and stumble out the door and into the bathroom.

   And you promptly throw up all the water you just drank.

   You lean against the toilet and pant when you’re done, wondering just how many times you’d puked in the past twelve hours. Probably not that many, but it feels like a lot. Your most distinct memories from the Irish pub are of a porcelain white bowl.

   You flush and force yourself to stand up. That really sucked. However, you feel a lot better after that—and something tells you that the worst part of your hangover is behind you now.

   You hadn’t turned on the bathroom lights—you know it’ll hurt your head to look at bright lights—so it takes you a second to spot another one of John’s little gestures for you on the bathroom counter. It’s a bottle of sports drink, with a little sticky note attached to it. It reads, “Sip on this if you throw up—but sip, don’t chug!” in John’s distinctive scrawl. You smile a little and open the cap, sipping on the liquid as instructed while you study your reflection in the dark bathroom.

   You look pretty bad. Your hair is a rat’s nest, your eyes are bloodshot, and your skin is pallid. The only good thing about it is that your mission has been accomplished. You’ve effectively taken your mind off of your stupid life problems, via excessive amounts of alcohol. You can’t even recall the same gut-wrenching emotions you’d felt all of Wednesday and Thursday—all you register is the ache of your hangover, which frankly, you’d prefer over the ache of drama and denial.

   There’s a gentle but insistent knock on the half-open door. “Y/N?” It’s John, and his voice is addled with the heaviness of his slumber. “Are you okay?”

   He must have heard you heaving. “I’m fine,” you croak.

   “I’m coming in,” he announces, much to your mortification because you look and probably smell like hell. The door creaks open a little wider, and John peeks in, his eyes puffy and still half-closed. “Did you throw up again?”     

   You just nod—but even that motion makes your head hurt. “Thank you for the drink.”

   “You should have woken me up,” he mumbles, leaning against the door frame. His shirt is all rumpled and wrinkled from lying on the floor, and his hair sticks up in a way that’s all too endearing.

   “I wasn’t gonna do that,” you say. “John, you stayed overnight for me…you didn’t have to do that.”

   “Of course I stayed over. I wanted to make sure you were gonna be okay throughout the night. I’m your boyfr—”

   He cuts himself off before he can finish the word.

   “You’re not,” you whisper.

   “I might as well be,” he whispers back. Words like that would have normally given you butterflies, but they make you feel sicker than you already are. You resist the urge to sink down to the bathroom floor in your misery.

   “Thank you for everything,” you say to change the subject. You don’t think your brain can process an argument or anything of the sort right now. “You’ve done so much for me. Getting me home safely, getting me to bed, the drinks, the aspirin… I…I don’t know what I would have done without you here.”

   “You would have gotten Brian to do it instead,” John replies, his voice cold.

   “What do you mean?” you croak. “What, like Brian would offer to take me home drunk from a bar—”

   John huffs a tired laugh. “You really don’t remember? You must have had way too much to drink.”

   “Remember…?” Brian. He’d been there at the pub, too. Was that why?

   John blinks at you. “You called Brian first. You’d wanted Brian to pick you up from the pub and take you home. But Roger had called me, too, by accident. So we both showed up.”

   That’s what had happened. Oh, god, what a huge mess. You slide down the counter cabinets until you’re sitting on the floor, and you drop your head to your knees and shut your eyes.

   “Y/N.” John looks down at you on the floor, his voice angry and chiding. “Why did you do that last night?”

   You don’t know. Why had you called Brian instead of John? You wrack your brain, which is difficult to do because everything is so achy right now. “I don’t know,” you rasp, “I know I should have called you instead, I’m sorry—”

   “No,” he says, shaking his head. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t care that you called Brian instead of me. Y/N,” John steps closer to you and frowns, the deep crevices in his face making him look five years older. “Why did you go out in the first place? Why did you want to get so drunk?”

   Oh. You gaze back at John, your lips parting. God. You’d been so worked up after your falling out with Freddie—and the subsequent argument with John—that you wanted to just stop feeling any emotions at all. You wanted to forget everything, even if for a moment. It had been so stupid.

   “I wanted to forget,” you whisper. “To…distract myself. Everything got so overwhelming so quickly, and I just…”

   You can’t stand the judgment in his eyes and how tall he looks standing in front of you. You look away, blinking rapidly. “It was so stupid. I’m sorry. It didn’t make anything better…it made it worse.”

   “Yeah,” John agrees, and it breaks your heart a little.

   “I’m sorry,” you say, your voice cracking. “I’m so sorry.”

   “Hey, shh, shh,” he says quickly, crouching down beside you on the bathroom floor. His hand rests on your shoulder, and his eyes grow compassionate.

   “I did it again,” you whisper. “I hurt you.”

   “You didn’t hurt me, love, you just worried me.”

   “I should have called you. Not him.”

   “It’s okay,” he reassures you, rubbing little circles on your shoulder. “No hard feelings. I understand. C’mon… You should get back in bed, you’re probably feeling dreadful…”

   You let John guide you onto your feet and back to your bedroom. Of course, he’s being so kind and helpful to you, even when your actions have probably hurt him more than you’ll ever know or he’ll ever admit.

   You remember now why you’d wanted to call Brian to pick you up instead of John. You’ve been avoiding John…for what you almost did on Tuesday night. You couldn’t bear to look in his face and tell him what happened. You try to ignore this thought while John helps you into your bed.

   “Keep sipping this,” John says, handing you the sports drink. “It’s the best hangover cure I know.”

   You comply, letting the cold, syrupy drink saturate your dulled senses. He leaves momentarily to fetch you a moistened hand towel; the last wave of vomiting has made you sweaty and hot. The cool towel feels nice on your feverish skin as John drapes it over your forehead.

   “Alright,” he says quietly, “you should try to get some more sleep.”

   “Are you staying?” you croak as John fixes your bedsheets at the foot of your bed.

   “I don’t want to leave you alone. Besides, it’s only five a.m.,” he smiles. “I don’t have anywhere for three hours.”

   Oh, right. Morning classes.

   “Will you sleep, too?”

   John just nods and walks around the foot of your bed to the nest of blankets and pillows he’d made himself on the floor.

   “No, wait,” you say quickly, feeling suddenly sheepish. “You shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.”

   He pauses, looking between you and the bed. “You want me to—?”

   “I’ll make room.” You scoot over in your bed, hiding a grimace as the movement sends a pang to your throbbing head. John starts climbing into your bed to lay beside you, but he hesitates.

   “Are you sure?”

   “Yes,” you say, your voice barely coming out. You’re exhausted, and sleep threatens to overcome you again. John stretches out beside you with a long sigh, and even though your body feels feverish, his body warmth is welcome.

   The last thing you remember before drifting back to sleep is John entwining his hand with yours.

———

   “Love, wake up. Y/N.”

   You flutter your eyes open, disoriented by the blurriness of the world. John’s sitting up in bed beside you. He’s shaking your shoulder lightly.

   “Hmm?”

   “It’s past eight,” he murmurs.

   You look around. Muted morning light outlines the curtains on your window. The sound of rain, light but steady, against the building fills the room.

   “Don’t you have an 8 a.m.?” you ask, yawning.

   “Yeah…” He trails off, staring off into the rain. “But fuck it. I’m skipping today. I’d really rather not get soaked to the bone trying to rush to a class I’m already late to.”

    “What about your other morning classes?”

    “Eh. Whatever.”

   You hum, rolling onto your side to look at him better. “I’m skipping, too.” You’re not in any state to go to class today; your head still hurts, and the rainy weather isn’t making it any better.

   “Okay,” John says. “Do you feel okay?”

   You take a second to assess how you feel. Overall, you feel phenomenally better—still somewhat shitty, your head throbbing, your mouth dry, but significantly better than you had been. You no longer feel feverish like you had been—in fact, you’re quite chilly again—but the sticky quality of your skin indicates you’d been sweating all the alcohol out of your system. You want a shower and a nice cup of tea.

   Though your body had felt groggy and numb a few hours ago, it feels like a live wire now. Your senses feel heightened, as if you’re hyper-aware of the sound of the rain, and the softness of the sheets, and the heat radiating from John’s body.

   “I’m better,” you answer, rubbing your temple. “Still a little hungover.”

   “Do you need some more water? Or tea, I can make you tea.” John starts to move to stand up. “No, you need breakfast. Do you have any eggs I can—”

   “John,” you whisper, holding his hand to stop him. “That’s okay. Really. Thank you, though.”

   He looks down at your hand in his, then back up at you with big, gray eyes. You already feel bad for how much he’s done to help you. He definitely doesn’t need to do anything more.

   “I’ll be okay,” you say. “So if you need to leave for class, you can…”

   John glances to the window again. “It’s practically sleeting,” he comments. “I think I’d get frostbite if I went out there.”

   Is this his way of saying that he wants to stay? You study him, resisting the urge to reach out and caress his face and all its distinctive features. Why does he even still want to be here with you? Haven’t you annoyed him or pissed him off enough yet with the stupidity of your choices?

    Do you even really want him to stay? You’d been so concerned with avoiding him the past two days, you hadn’t even considered if you really missed being around him or not. But if he sticks around today while you lounge in bed, nursing your hangover, he’s eventually going to insist you tell him what you’ve been hiding from him.

   But his earnest eyes are what finally cajole you into asking him, “Do you want to stay?”

   He nods. “If that’s alright.” He squeezes his hand in yours.

   “John?” you whisper.

   “Yes?”

   “Thank you again.”

   “You already said that,” he smiles.

   “Yeah, but… I’m gonna keep saying it. Thank you.”

   “You’re welcome.”

   You can’t hold it back any longer; you reach up to his face, cupping his jaw in your hand. You don’t really know why you did it. His eyes close, and he leans into you. You feeel sparks fly where you touch him, and it makes you want to touch him even more. He looks absolutely stunning in the sleepy morning light.

   And it strikes you how strangely intimate this moment has become…lying in your bed, touching each other, the rain on the window…

   “I, um…” You sit up, withdrawing your hands from him. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

   “A cold shower,” he suggests. “It’ll help.”

   “Hell no,” you say. You’re already cold enough as is.

   “Okay, a lukewarm shower, then. Just trust me. I’m gonna stay here, if that’s okay.” He looks up at you with an inquisitive expression. “Did you know that your bed is hands-down the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on?”

   You chuckle and shake your head. Your bed can’t be that comfortable.

   “It’s like sleeping on a goddamn cloud,” he adds.

   “It’s because of my extensive pillow collection.”

   “You do have a lot of pillows.” John fluffs up the one beneath his head for emphasis.

   You stand up and pad your way to the bathroom, fresh clothes in hand. Luckily, your roommates seem to be gone. You wouldn’t know how you could handle them if you had to see them now.

   You turn the shower water to a lukewarm temperature, strip off last night’s clothes, and step in the tub. The sensation of the water on your skin isn’t exactly pleasurable at the moment, but it feels good to wash away the sweat and tears of the night. It takes too much effort to stand, so you opt for sitting on the porcelain bathtub floor.

   The notion that John is right outside, resting on your bed, suddenly hits you. John, who took care of you when you were drunk. John, who set out drinks and medicine for when you woke up hungover. John, who’s been nothing but good to you. John, who you’ve been trying to ignore…and treated so unfairly in the process.

   You’re going to have to tell him everything. There’s no way you can look at him in the eye and keep these secrets any longer. The stargazing date with Brian, the kiss, the almost-hookup. Everything you’d discovered about Brian and Tara, how their relationship is just as fake as yours and John’s. And Freddie…you’ll have to tell John everything you trusted Freddie with knowing, everything you’d planned with him, every secret he didn’t keep, every ounce of trust he’d betrayed.

   A strangled sort of feeling manifests in your chest. It comes out as a groan. Once you confess everything, especially about you and Brian’s night on Tuesday, it’s over between you and John. And it never even really started.

   “He deserves to know,” Roger had told you at the pub last night. Those words were some of your clearest memories from the night…probably because they stung so badly. Roger’s right, even though Roger had said it from the assumption that you and John are dating. John deserves to know. You’ve done some shitty things, but it’d be even shittier if you kept the truth from him any longer.

   You turn off the shower and dry yourself off. After changing into clean clothes, you brush your teeth and swish with mouthwash, eager to rid your tongue from the acrid taste of alcohol, vomit, and sleep. You hadn’t brought a bra to change into—after all, you intend to just lie around all day anyway—but you hope it’s not too obvious that you’re braless under this tee shirt.

   Stepping out of the bathroom, the first thing you notice is the smell of toast. You cross your arms and wander to the mini kitchen. John is scrambling eggs in a pan, his hair still sticking up in strange places. He looks so domestic cooking breakfast in your kitchen, you want to laugh.

   “Oh, you’re finished,” he says when he notices you watching him. His eyes trail over your body ever so slightly.

   “Thought you said you were gonna keep sleeping.”

  “The best thing you can do for someone who’s hungover is to make them eat a full breakfast.” A kettle on the stove starts whistling, and John removes it and pours the boiling water into two mugs.

   “I’m really not—”

   “Before you object, I made enough for myself, too.” He smiles mischievously. “And I’ll force-feed you these eggs and toast if I have to.”

   You comply, sitting at the table while he brings over a plate of food. He sits across from you, and the two of you eat in relative silence, the ambient rush of rain from outside creating an almost tranquil atmosphere. You have to admit, though, you feel significantly better to your stomach after eating a proper meal.

   “Where did you learn to cook?” you ask quietly, scooping the last bite of scrambled eggs onto your fork.

   John makes a peculiar face and stares down at his plate. “It’s kind of funny, actually…”

   “What?”

   “An old girlfriend taught me,” he chuckles, sipping his tea. “Said if anything, I should learn how to make myself a hearty breakfast. I never imagined I’d grow to like cooking.”

   An old girlfriend, huh? “From high school?”

   He nods. “Yeah, my last year.”

   You feel winded suddenly. John has never talked about his old girlfriends before, not once since you’ve known him. You remember when you’d wondered if he’d ever even had a girlfriend before…you’d thought about how unfair it would be if his first relationship wasn’t even real. It’s almost reassuring to hear that he’s not new to the relationship frontier.

   You feel timid asking, “How come you and her broke up?”

   “Uni,” he explains. “Different plans. It was just a secondary school relationship, anyway. We were just kids. It wasn’t real. I mean, it was real, compared to…” He gestures to the space between you and him.

   A cold spike twists in your stomach. Don’t remind me, you think.

   “I think I’m gonna go lie down,” you say. You stand and walk to the sink to place your dirty dishes down.

   “Can I do anything else for you?”

   God, will he ever stop being perfect? “No, that’s okay, Deaky. You’ve already done so much.”

   “You sure?” He stands beside you, placing his dishes beside yours. You can feel the warmth from his arm next to yours. “I mean…I can make you some more tea. Or give you a back massage. Or braid your hair. Or—”

   “You’d braid my hair?” you laugh.

   He looks dead serious. “Of course I would. I know how. My sister made me learn.”

   Ignoring the melancholy feeling in your veins, you give him a half-smile as you rinse and dry your hands. “That’s alright. You don’t need to do anything else for me.”

   “Okay… Well, since we’re playing hooky today, maybe we can play a board game or something? Do you like Scrabble?”

   A board game. Of course he’d offer to play a board game with you. That’s just too sweet. It’s too much. He peers down at you with eyes like two bright, hopeful little stars.

   You have to turn away. “I’m not really in the mood.”

   John follows you to your bedroom, and you can sense the dazed hesitation in his voice when he asks, “Do you even want me here at all…?”

   You stop in your tracks and turn slowly toward him, your lips parting.

   No… You hadn’t wanted him here. You hadn’t wanted to see John at all. That’s the whole reason you called Brian instead. You’d wanted to avoid talking to John at all costs. And looking through the orbs of his inquisitive eyes now, you can almost see all of the questions swimming behind them. Questions that you won’t be able to avoid answering any longer.

   You have to do it. Just close your eyes, bite the bullet, and tell him everything.

   But you hesitate a second too long.

   “God. I am so stupid.”

   John’s entire demeanor changes as if a switch was turned off. His shoulders droop, his nostrils flare, and his eyes go completely dead.

   “Deaks,” you say lamely.

   “You never wanted me here.” His accusation is cold, hard, lifeless. “You never wanted me at all.”

   Fuck, no, fuck fuck fuck.

   “No, please wait,” you plead. “I need to explain everything to you.”

   John huffs a mirthless laugh. “I’m such a fool. I’m such a goddamn fool. I read all the signs completely wrong.”

    “Please, just let me explain,” you say, your voice high-pitched with strain. Signs?

   He stares at you, and the frigidity of his stony eyes could knock you to the ground. “You don’t have to explain anything. You’ve made your intentions very clear.” He tears his eyes away, glowering at the rain-spattered window. “It was my own fault for hoping things would be any different.”

   What?

   “Things are different,” you croak. “Nothing’s been the same since…since…”

   Since Monday, when he first hugged you and kissed your temple and told you everything was going to be alright? Since Tuesday, when he fell asleep beside you, his hot breath your ear, your name on his lips?

   “You’re wrong,” he retorts. “I’ve just been a pawn this whole time. You’ve been playing me all along. Everything we’ve said, everything we’ve done…” He shakes his head decidedly, smiling a sardonic smile that twists your insides. “It was all a ploy. Things were never going to change. I should have seen that earlier.”

   He couldn’t be more wrong. God, he couldn’t be more wrong. But the words to tell him otherwise…the words…

   “You’re not going to say anything?” he snips. “Nothing? Out of excuses finally?”

   The words are all gone, oh god, they’re gone. Your mouth opens and closes and your brain spins, but the words that had been so close to tumbling from your mouth just seconds ago are gone. They’re completely shattered, broken up into tiny shards of glass truths.

   “Well.” He grabs the blanket he’d used from the ground and folds it, placing it on your bed just slightly too forcefully. Same with the pillow. “I’ve overstayed my welcome.” He begins to collect his things, searching for his bag and his shoes.

   “Please don’t go.” Your voice is barely even a whisper. There’s so much you haven’t said yet. You just need time, just an inkling of time, to muster up the courage again to say them.

   He’s only got one shoe on when he stands to face you again. “Stop. You don’t get to do that anymore.” You feel like you’re being poisoned as he steps closer to you, saying, “You push and push and push, and when you finally push me away, you think you can just reel me back in. Why? Why do you do that?”

   You can’t breathe. “It scares me that I could hurt you,” you quaver, your eyes prickling with tears.

   “You think you haven’t already hurt me?” John’s voice shakes now, too, and the sound destroys you.

   “I never meant to.”

   “Of course you didn’t,” he says. The words are so bitter, you have no idea how to process them.

   “You mean more to me than I can express,” you say, your voice cracking. A tear spills over onto your cheek, and you watch John’s eyes follow its trail as it rolls down your face. You can tell the tear twists his insides, but he does nothing; he just watches it roll and pool at the corner of your lips.

   “See, that’s just the thing, isn’t it,” he whispers. “You can’t express it. And you won’t. You won’t even talk to me.”

   “It’ll break your heart,” you say.

   “No,” he says. “You’re not worried about that. You’re worried it’s going to break yours.”

   “That’s a lie,” you say, louder this time, so your voice comes out as a stifled sob.

   “I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard for me.” A broken exhale escapes his lips, and his warm breath washes over your face. “Having to stand back and watch you…you and him…

   Brian.

   “Please, John, I need to tell you—”

   “I’m done, Y/N. I’m done.” He starts backing away toward the door, his eyes glued on yours.

   What the hell did I do?

   Your mind swims in panic. Air rushes into your lungs in a gasp that sounds strangled with how constricted your throat is. He doesn’t even flinch at the sound. He’s leaving, he’s leaving, you have to say something—

   “I’m falling for you,” you sob. The sound of your voice is so small, just a whimper, that you can’t hear it over the patter of rain on the window and the rushing of blood in your ears.

   John stops backing away. He stills completely. His expression is so pained—so lost—that you want to shrivel up and die. But the words you just uttered were the key to unlock all the others that had been lost. They come spilling out in a torrent.

   “I can’t stop thinking about you. I tried to, but I can’t. Not even when I was with Brian in the car on Tuesday night.”

   “What?” he breathes. A single tear falls from his eye, just like yours, and you watch it roll down his cheek, just like he had.

    The tear nearly sends you reeling. Crying isn’t like John.

   “He took me stargazing, instead of Tara. We kissed.” Saying it aloud to John is the most freeing and yet the most obliterating feeling. “We kissed, and we were going to take it further, but I couldn’t. I had to stop him.”

   “Isn’t that what you wanted?” John says, his words not accusatory or angry, just seeking to understand. “Why did you stop?”

   God, can’t he see?!

   “Because of you!” you exclaim, your voice sounding alien to your ears. “Because I wanted it to be you!”

   The words resonate through the air between you. “Y/N,” he says, his voice thick with emotion. “Oh, Y/N.”

   “You told me I only care about my own heart getting broken,” you cry, your voice hoarse, “but that’s not true. I care about your heart so much, John. More than my own.”

   “Y/N, no…”

   “I would have done anything to avoid breaking your heart, the way I just did.” You gasp for air again, your inhaled breath shaking violently. “That’s why I couldn’t talk to you. That’s why I was avoiding you. That’s why I called Brian instead.”

   “I wish I had known,” John says in a breath, stepping so close to you that you can feel the heat from his body and feel the trembling breath from his lips. His glistening eyes flutter as he takes both of your shaking hands into his.

    You flinch away and step back. A crack of thunder outside shakes the whole flat.

   “No,” you say, almost a wail. “Don’t.”

   “We can make this better.”

   “I’m no good for you,” you choke out. “I am the worst option for you.”

   “You don’t get to make that judgment call.” John steps forward to grab your hands again, holding them tighter so you can’t back away. “I do. And I disagree.”

   “This can’t work,” you sob. “This came from a lie. This came from something fake.”

   “But this is not fake,” he insists, squeezing your hands. “This is real, even if it didn’t start that way.”

   “We can’t.” The words are barely audible through your warbled cry.

   “We can.” John lets go of one of your hands and cups your cheek. “Are we gonna keep ignoring this feeling that’s between us?”

   The feeling. The tension. The electricity. He felt it all along. Even now, through your tears and turmoil, you can feel the charge that radiates between you and John. It draws you nearer to him, even when the only thing you want is to push him away.

   “We have to,” you breathe.

   “No, we don’t.” Now both his hands cup your cheeks, holding your tear-riddled face up to his.  “I won’t ignore it. Not any longer. We can lie to Brian, we can lie to everyone around us, but we can’t lie to ourselves anymore.”

   You try to shake your head, but you can’t because he’s holding it so tightly. In his hands, you feel vulnerable, exposed, weak. A fear manifests in your chest—the fear that John’s forgotten why you and he started falling for each other in the first place. Brian. It was all to get Brian jealous. A voice in your head chants to you that it’s Brian, it’s always been Brian, it’ll never be anyone but Brian.

   But is that true? Or is that just a ghost of your old habitual feelings now? Have things truly changed in your mind?

   Can you love two people at the same time?

   “How can you be with someone who’s in love with someone else?”

   He hesitates. But the waver in his voice is completely gone when he says, “Would you rather it was Brian right here, holding you, instead of me?”

   No. You wouldn’t. You shake your head again, and this time, he lets your head move back and forth as you answer his question nonverbally.

   “Y/N,” he says, looking at you as if he’s drinking you in completely, like you’re a book of a thousand words and he wants to memorize them all. His lips part, and you know what he’s going to say next. You know.

   “I’m falling in love with you.”

   Fireworks explode in your brain. No. It’s not true. John can’t be falling in love with you. You want him to step back and laugh at your wretched tears and tell you he was just making a joke. But he won’t.

   You bring your hands up to his chest, at first with the intent to push him away, but you can’t move your arms. “John, no.”

    “Yes,” he stresses, his eyes sparkling.

    “I’ll just end up breaking your heart. There’s no way around it.”

   He brushes a tear from your cheek with his thumb. “Maybe so. But that’s the thing, with matters of the heart. Everyone is going to get hurt, and no one will be left unscathed. But if you’re right, and my heart is inevitably going to be broken, I want it to be broken by you.”

   “Why?” you choke out. “Why would you want that?”

   “Because it would be worth it. You’re worth it.”

   John stares at you with the intensity of a thousand suns. There’s something about that gaze…something about it that makes your anguish evaporate.

    John’s hands travel down your neck, raising goosebumps on your skin. Your hands travel up his chest—as if they have a mind of their own—to toy with the soft hair at the nape of his neck. Something is shifting between you and him. No longer is there sadness tainting the air. There’s just you and him. And you’re ridiculously drawn to him, the spicy scent of his skin, the hotness of his breath, the earnestness of his gray eyes.

    “John,” you whisper, but the implication of his name on your lips is completely different now. Something has changed completely. There are lingering tears on your cheeks, but the only thing you can think about now is him.

    The space between you and John is supercharged and growing smaller by the second. He’s so close now—just mere inches. Centimeters. Millimeters. And all you can think about is his lips, the one thing you weren’t supposed to think about, the forbidden fruit, the ultimate form of self-sabotage.

   “Talk to me, Y/N,” he murmurs. “Please, talk to me.” One of his hands rests on your back, the heat of it permeating through the thin material of your shirt, and you feel flames of desire creep over your whole body. It muddles your thoughts and incites a small shudder down the arch of your spine that doesn’t go unnoticed by John. His eyes widen with a yearning sort of eagerness. It’s as if he attuned to each and every slight movement of your body.

   “I…” You can’t think.

    “Tell me what you want.”

    His nose brushes against yours, and his hand slides down to your lower back. His other hand, still resting on your neck, moves to your collarbone—and oh god, he looks down at his thumb as it runs across your collarbone, licking his lips subconsciously, and you just know he wants to kiss you there so badly. You can’t control the way your back arches in response. Your breathing, once shaking and broken with tears, is now labored with the strain of desire.

   “Y/N,” he evokes, prompting you to respond. God, you can’t think like this. You can’t think about what you want—god, the possibilities—much less vocalize it. But you know precisely what you don’t want. “What do you—”

   “Don’t stop,” you gasp.

   They say the first time you kiss someone you’ve wanted to kiss for a long time, sparks fly. But sparks don’t do it justice this time. When John’s lips finally meet yours, it’s a full-out detonation.

   * Your emotions go haywire right as John closes the distance between you and him. His mouth is the warmest, sweetest thing you could have ever imagined, and you can’t contain the breathy hum that escapes your throat. It’s soft and slow and restrained at first, but you waste no time in pulling him closer and parting your lips to deepen the kiss. Your knees threaten to buckle—and maybe they do, but you wouldn’t know, because John is grasping your waist so tightly that he might as well be holding you up.

   You break away with a gasp. Your head spins. John rests his forehead against yours, both of your hot breaths mixing with each other’s.

   “Tell me what you want, Y/N,” he says again. “You have to tell me exactly. Please.”

   “You.” You grasp the collar of his shirt desperately. “I want you.”

   And that does it. Neither of you can hold back any longer. John pulls you into him so you’re flush against his body, and his mouth latches onto your collarbone at last. You can feel the warmth of his tongue there, and you moan. The sound is so desperate, so wanton, that it sounds foreign to your ears. Your fingers tangle in his long hair, pulling him closer.

   “I’ve wanted you for so long,” John murmurs against your neck. His hands on your back slip under your shirt, just enough to feel the warm skin there. He looks back up to your eyes, and you can see he’s almost smiling. “God, I’ve dreamed of this.”

   You know he has. You were there. You wonder if you should tell him, but the problem is, you can’t think with his hands slipped under your shirt and traveling up your spine.

   He stills and pulls back, gray eyes scanning your face, assessing your expression. “Is this okay?” he whispers.

   God, is it okay? He must have gauged your silence as discomfort or hesitation. The skin on your back itches for him to continue his exploration.

   “Yes, yes, don’t stop,” you say, your voice high and pleading.

   John crashes his mouth against yours again, and you part your lips for him gladly. His tongue runs across your bottom lip, and the sensation is so good that you feel pangs of excitement shoot down your core. He runs his fingers up and down your back as if he’s obsessed with the way it feels to touch you like this under your shirt.

   You want to feel his skin, too. Still kissing him, you lift the hem of his shirt. His stomach is soft, and you can feel the lean muscles of his abdomen under a slight trail of hair—which absolutely drives you crazy. You want nothing more than to kiss him there.

   “Take it off,” John murmurs against your mouth.

   You do, pulling the fabric up his torso and over his head. You waste no time in touching his chest, soaking in as much detail of his body as possible.

   “You’re so beautiful,” you whisper. John toys with your own shirt, and you nod, prompting him to take it off too.

   “I’m gonna need you to talk to me,” John says. “Tell me.”

   “You can take it off,” you say impatiently.

   “Good girl.”

   Your shirt comes off, too, and oh god, if only you could forever capture the memory of John’s eyes blown wide at the sight of your bare chest. He thumbs your nipples, watching them pebble under his touch. You look up at John through your eyelashes, silently pleading for more. He sees it in your eyes; he cups your breasts and squeezes them together. You tilt your head back and moan.

   This is happening, you keep thinking over and over again. This is really happening.

   You’re impatient, and he’s impatient, and things inadvertently begin to move faster. No more sadness, no more anger, no more tears; just lust. You back John up to the edge of your bed, pushing him slightly so he’s sitting, and you crawl onto his lap. Tangling his hands in your still-damp hair, John kisses you hard. The longer you kiss him, the sloppier it becomes; your tongues battle and addicting little groans emanate from John’s throat. You could stay here in John’s lap forever, but he has other plans.

   In one swift move, John simultaneously rolls you onto your back and resituates you to lie lengthwise on your bed. You gaze up at him, wide-eyed, as he peers down at you with your hair splayed out on the pillow around your head, your chest smooth and naked and inviting. After peppering kisses to the corners of your mouth, he begins his descent downward. His moist lips trail down your chin, your neck, your chest. As if the sensation of his hot mouth on your nipple isn’t enough, the look of sheer bliss as he does so is what really gets you going; his eyes fluttered closed, his brow relaxed, his every movement geared entirely toward worshipping your body.

   “God, Johnny, your mouth,” you groan. It’s suddenly all you can focus on.

   “Call me that again,” he commands.

   “Yes, Johnny.” The nickname just rolls off your tongue. He flashes a brazen smile, and his teeth brush against your sensitive nipple. You throw your head back and breathe out, “Just like that, fuck, I want you so bad.

   “You want me?”

   He gazes up at you, resting his chin on tummy, his eyebrows raised almost naively.

   “Yes, I want you,” you stress, cupping his face in your hands to pull him back up to you.

   He kisses you slowly, heavily, hesitantly, before pulling away again. “Are you sure?”

   You want to cry out in frustration. “Yes.” You plead with your eyes, and he looks like he’s about to collapse at the sweet sight. “Take me, John. Please, take me. I need you.”

   He ambushes you, his mouth pressing on yours, tongues meeting, teeth colliding. Calloused hands grip the soft skin of your tummy, and you claw at his back, trying to bring him closer. He nearly growls as he moves his mouth to your neck, licking your jawline, sucking bruises into the hollow of your throat. The feeling of his body weight on top of you and his groin pressing into your thigh makes you feel high.

   You feel yourself growing wetter and wetter under your panties, and you’re delirious with the need to make John feel it. Placing your hand on top of his fingers, you guide him down your tummy, to the waistband of the flimsy cotton shorts you’d thrown on. John’s breath grows heavy as you guide his hand beneath the waistband, beneath the fabric of your panties.

   He continues the journey himself. You watch his face as he explores the bump of your pelvic bone; his gray eyes are clouded over with lust. Your heart hammers so hard, you can feel your pulse thumping in your neck. But you’re certain you want him to continue, so you nod rapidly, encouraging his pursuit.

   “Fuck, baby,” he remarks as his finger finds your wetness. You wiggle in anticipation at the feeling of his digit playing with you. You love this, the way John hovers over you with a slackened jaw, his hand buried beneath your shorts. His finger swipes over your dripping entrance, and you gasp, your hips bucking up involuntarily.

   “Please, please,” you cry, clawing at his back. He knows what you want, and you can tell he knows it from the smirk on his face. You suddenly get the sense that he’s done this before, because he lets your wetness coat his finger entirely, getting it slick and smooth, before slipping it slowly inside of you.

   It’s as if he’d ignited a stick of dynamite in your core. You keen and arch your back at the feeling, your hands grasping desperately for some kind of purchase that you find in the form of your bedsheets, which you grip like your life depends upon it. John’s hot breath fans out over your neck as he pushes his finger all the way inside. His finger is so long—definitely longer than your own—and you can feel him brushing up against something deep inside of you that makes your toes curl.

   “Holy fuck,” you gasp. He’s not even moving his finger and you’re already experiencing the telltale pressure in your lower stomach of an impending orgasm. John watches hungrily as you buck your hips into his hand, your mouth fallen open.

   “You look so good,” he says. His finger twitches upward just slightly, right into that one perfect spot, and prickles of pleasure radiate from it. Your eyes flutter and you moan, long and low.

   But before long, he withdraws his hand from beneath your shorts. You whine at the ensuant emptiness, but you fall into a stupor as you watch him bring his finger up to his mouth. He sucks your slick from his digit, eyes boring into yours with a primal intensity that you’ve never seen from him before.

   “You taste so sweet,” he moans, pulling his finger out with a pop. Your stomach clenches at the sight of his pink tongue as he wets his lips. “Fuck, I wanna taste all of you. I can’t wait any longer.”

   “Then don’t.”

   John kisses your navel as he shimmies off your shorts. It frustrates you that he keeps the panties on—especially since they’re not your sexiest pair—but he seems to come undone at the sight of you in nothing but your panties. You tangle your hands in his hair as he kisses you lower and lower. His hands run up and down your legs, and you can hear him murmuring how much he loves them as he licks and nips at your inner thighs.

   At the first open-mouthed kiss he plants to your clothed clit, you writhe and cry out. The onslaught of heat to your pulsing core is simultaneously too much and not enough. He buries his face between your legs and wraps his arms around your thighs to press them against his cheeks. It’s the hottest thing you think you’ve ever seen.

   “John,” you sob out, “please, Johnny, please, I need you—”

   “I’ll take care of you, love.”

   And with a swift removal of the fabric separating you from him, he sets off to work taking care of you. His tongue makes a long, excruciatingly slow swipe from your entrance to your clit. You moan louder than you’ve ever moaned before, your body wriggling out of control. God, you haven’t felt this good in so long. You may have never felt this good before.

   John is deft with his tongue, and a rapt learner of the workings of your body as he explores what makes you moan the loudest. He transitions from long, languid laps to smaller, more rhythmic kitten licks. The unpredictability of it all jumbles your mind and transcends your consciousness. Your body moves on its own accord, arching up to meet his warm mouth. You love that you can hold his scalp and can feel the perspiration forming there as he focuses so intently on your pleasure.

   It ends up being his lips wrapped around your clit, sucking gently with the most obscene noises, his tongue swipes rapidly over the bud, that makes you moan the loudest. You’ve never felt so out of control of the sounds emanating from your throat or the thrashing of your body. He drapes a forearm over your hips, pinning you down as he licks at you unrelentlessly.

   The knot, the knot in your stomach—it’s unraveling. You want to announce it, but you can’t find the words. All you do is moan and moan, your voice growing higher and breathier and more strained by the second. Suddenly frantic, you tap rapidly on John’s wrist that’s holding your hips down. No words needed; he knows what it means, and he doesn’t let up. But it’s not what you want.

   “John, John, wait wait wait wait wait,” you cry. He immediately pulls away, and the sudden coolness at the absence of his mouth is jarring. He frowns up at you, parted lips completely slick with your desire.

   “What is it?” he pants, eyes flitting over your exposed body.

   “Fuck me,” you gasp. “Fuck me now. Please, I need you inside of me.”

   John looks dazed, as if that was the last thing he was expecting to hear. You groan in impatience and hoist yourself up to reach for his crotch. He makes a gravelly sound as you unbutton his pants and tug down the zipper.

   “Is that what you want?” he drawls, his voice husky.

   “Please,” you beg, doggedly tugging down his pants. Your eyes widen at his bulge.

   “Do you have…any protection?”

   You’re on the pill, but an additional level of reassurance is probably best, and you really don’t want to think much about it, since every moment of waiting is more and more agonizing.

   “Yeah, I…”

   You had a box of condoms in your dresser, but you haven’t touched them in years. You have no idea whether they’re still good to use or not, and you’d prefer not to take the chance, but—

   Wait!

   “Go check under the vase on the coffee table,” you say breathlessly. John frowns and cocks his head. “Just trust me.”

   John quickly zips his pants back up and exits the room to find the condoms. You’re suddenly aware of your own nakedness, here alone on your bed. It hits you; you’re about to have sex with your fake boyfriend for the first time. You almost laugh at the irony. But John returns quickly, holding two purple-wrapped condoms and laughing in confusion.

   “How did you know these were there?”

   “It’s a long story,” you say, beckoning him over. He complies, crossing the room to sit on your bed again. You kiss him heedlessly, revelling in the new taste of his mouth and the swollen feeling of his lips.

   This time, as you take off his pants, you do so successfully. You can’t help yourself from planting a hot kiss to his bulge through his underwear, and he curses under his breath. He smells so good.

   “Oh, no,” John says, tugging gently on your hair to pull you away. “Not today. I wouldn’t last two minutes. C’mere,” he growls and pushes you backward onto your back. He removes his underwear himself, and—

   Jesus fuck. He’s huge. You have to moan at the sight.

   “Hurry,” you say as he unwraps the condom and slips it over his member, which is so swollen it’s leaking and almost purple at the tip.

   “I am,” he laughs. But the mood turns serious as he braces himself over you and his eyes lock on yours. This is happening, you realize.

   “I want you,” you say. You want to make sure he knows it. “I want you so bad.” His tip brushes over your entrance.

   “I want you, Y/N,” John echoes. Your hands trail down his sides, and his skin is raised with goosebumps. You rest your hands on his ass and begin to pull him closer to you.

   You watch his pupils grow as wide as his irises as he pushes past your lips and into your entrance. Huge, visceral tingles of lust and necessity spread over your body, and that’s just the tip.

   “Fuck,” you both breathe out at the exact same time, and a crack of thunder shakes the walls. He’s inside you. Fuck, the stretch, it’s been so long since you felt the stretch, but fuck fuck fuck it feels so good.

   “So tight,” John rasps. His hands come up to cup your face. “So fucking beautiful. My god, you’re an angel.” You’ve never felt such intense intimacy as John pushes himself more and more into you. It feels like warm water is rushing over every single one of your muscles.

   You feel John’s tip nudging the deepest place within you, and looking down, the sight of John’s hips pressed flush against yours makes you feel white hot everywhere. He’s completely buried inside of you. John follows your gaze, and he lets out a wanton moan.

   “You can move, Johnny, please, please move,” you whimper.

   And he does, trailing his eyes back up to yours as he slowly pulls out, almost all the way. His hips snap back to meet yours, and you cry out, throwing your head back and arching your back in pleasure. He thrusts into you again and again and again, each time growing more urgent as the rain outside grows heavier.

   “John,” you sob out, your voice louder than anticipated.

   “Yes, oh fuck yes, that’s it, Y/N love, you’re doing so good, so fucking good,” he moans with a shaky voice. Each thrust of his member inside you feels like a punch of sheer pleasure that grows and grows in intensity.

   You try to keep your eyes open, but they invariably flutter closed with each moan that escapes your lips. You scratch at John’s back in desperation as all your awareness of the rest of the world slips away, leaving only you and John.

   “Look at those beautiful lips of yours,” John says, his voice growing hoarse with strain. “You’re so beautiful.” He leans down to plant a messy kiss to your lips, and god, you’d almost forgotten you and he could do that now. You crane your neck up and kiss him again, getting lost in the feeling of his lips, the taste of tears and sweat and sex.

   The movement of John’s hips grows faster and more desperate. You fall back against the bed and let out a long sob of bliss. He feels so good. The knot in your stomach returns in full force, only now it’s as if John is massaging it with each thrust.

   “John,” you moan. “Faster, John.”

   “Y/N,” he moans back, right in the shell of your ear, his warm breath making your toes curl. “Y/N, my love, Y/N.”

   Moaning your name in your ear… It’s just like before, in his dorm room bed.

   “Johnny, I’m close, I’m so close…”

   “Look at me,” he demands. When you don’t do it immediately, he says again, “Look at me,” and grasps your jaw, gently but firmly. Your eyes fly open to meet his. He’s hovering right above your face, his grey eyes ravishing you.

    The thrusts grow faster even, and each of John’s heaving breaths turn into low-pitched, primal growls. He rests his forehead on yours, your noses brushing each other’s, still gazing into each other’s eyes.

    “You’re so perfect for me. God, you’re perfect. I wanna make you cum. Wanna feel you clench around me,” he groans. His hand reaches down between you to your clit, and holy fuck fuck fuck you begin to lose yourself as he rubs you in little circular motions. Paired with his rapid thrusts, you’re quickly overwhelmed with lust.

   “John!” you scream his name as you come unravelling beneath him, your body writhing.

    The dynamite explodes. Your orgasm is a rush of white hotness and a week of pent-up desire, like warm floodwaters rushing over a dam. You’re suddenly a thousand times slicker, and you know John can feel it, because he moans almost as loudly as you. He rides through your orgasm, watching your fucked-out eyes, and his thrusts stutter and grow erratic as his mouth drops and his eyes roll to the back of his head.

   “I’m coming, I—fuuuck, oh fuck, Y/N…”

   You’re still at the tail end of your own orgasm as John grasps your hips with a death grip and empties himself inside of you. Your name rolls off his tongue over and over, like a chant. He pulses as he cums, and you can feel the movement in your own throbbing pussy. You twitch and convulse around him, a series of aftershocks wracking your body and causing your legs to shake.

   And then John’s body goes slack. He nearly falls on top of you, catching himself by the forearms as to prevent you from being crushed. Your body is covered in a sheen of sweat, a combination of yours and his. You and John lie there for a second, basking in the feeling, and you think to yourself that this is quite possibly the best feeling in the world. **

   “I love you,” John gasps, pushing the damp hair back from your forehead.

   Suddenly, you want nothing more than to close your eyes and just disappear. You want him to take it back.

    You start crying.

    “What? Oh, god, Y/N, did I hurt you?”

    “No,” you wail, covering your face. The emotions in your chest are just too much right now, and they’re only amplified by the aftershocks of pleasure.

    “What’s wrong?” John grasps your hands and pulls them away from your eyes. Your face completely crumples.

     “I love you,” you admit, your throat feeling like fire.

     He strokes your hair, confused.

     “I love you, but I don’t want to.”

   John is silent, still deep inside you, his face buried in the sweat-slick crook of your neck, his breath gradually slowing and slowing. The full-bodied tingles slowly dissipate, leaving only a warm feeling of ecstasy.

   “You don’t want to?” John whispers.

   “John,” you sob his name almost in exasperation. “I can’t have this. I can’t have you. I’m no good for you.”

   He exhales slowly, but a slight shudder to the breath gives him away. He’s crumbling too, his mouth hard and stone-cold but his eyes broken. He says nothing, and the sound of the rain outside seems deafening.

   “Admit it,” you rasp.

    He shakes his head in dismay.

     “Admit it,” you repeat. “I’m the worst option for you—”

     “So what if you are?” he retorts, almost angrily. “I don’t care. I want you.”

    “John, I can’t love you like this. Not when there’s someone else.”

   “Why?” he says, his voice full of pain.

   “Because it’s not fair to you,” you insist. “I can’t do that to you.”

   “What if I want you to?” he counters. His hand finds yours, and you want to pull away, but you don’t. “What if I want to be with you, no matter what the complications?”

   “You don’t want that,” you whisper. A lump forms in your throat again. “You want something that I can’t give you. You’ll never be happy if you’re with me.”

   “You can’t say that—”

“This relationship was a lie from the start,” you sob, “so how can it end in anything but heartbreak?”

   “It doesn’t have to end!” John exclaims suddenly. You blink at the sudden outburst and study his stormy eyes. He’s not angry—he looks terrified. His grip on your hands is almost painful.

   “I’m sorry,” you say, your voice cracking.

   “I don’t want it to end,” he whispers, so soft you could barely hear. Sunday, he means Sunday. The expiration date.

   “I don’t want it to end either,” you croak, and even more tears spill over your eyes, blurring your vision. John holds you tightly, and you hear him sniff, too.

   You know the ultimate decision is yours to make solely, and that’s the hardest part. John’s just going to go along with anything you say—he has to, he has no other choice. He has no say on the matter.

   “I don’t know what to do,” you sob.

   “Y/N,” John says, holding your face. “I’m sorry. But you have to choose. It’s either me or Brian. You can’t have us both.”

   You know you do, but hearing it from John’s lips is more painful than you could have imagined.

   “What if I told you it’s always been Brian?”

   John shakes his head. “I wouldn’t believe you. Not after what just happened.” He runs a hand down your body, giving you a chill. “I’ve never felt anything like that before in my life. I know you felt it, too, Y/N. You can’t pretend like you didn’t feel it, too.”

   He’s right. You’ve never felt the way you felt with John before. Not once.

   “The cards are in your hands, Y/N,” he says gently, but you feel a drop of wetness land on your cheek. He’s crying. “You decide what you think is best for you. I’ll support you, always. Please don’t forget that. I’ll always support you.”

   His voice lilts and cracks at the end. You hug him tightly, feeling broken up inside.

   “I need time,” you whisper.

   “I know you do, Y/N, my love.” John kisses your forehead once before pulling out of you. You feel empty now, both physically and emotionally. “I’ll give you all the time in the world. I’ll wait forever, if you want me to. But you have to choose at some point.”

   He’s leaving, you realize.

   “What about tonight?” you croak. The double date, the one that’s still happening for some reason. “What are we doing tonight?”

   John’s eyes fog over. The glow of the muted, rainy daylight from outside your window makes him look like the most heartbreakingly beautiful boy you’ve ever seen. And despite everything, despite the fact that he probably feels like dying, he gives you the smallest, saddest smile.

“Tonight may be my last night ever I’ll get to call you my girl. And if it is, I want to cherish it. Just one last time.”

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       “People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.”

       — Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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A/N: …Yeah. I know. I’m sad too. That’s really all I have to say. I hope you felt this chapter was as bittersweet as I was aiming for. 

 

Just one bonus pic today:

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Chapter Text

 

 

 


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A/N: If you haven’t yet, please read this post—a message to you all, as my readers and followers, from me, as the author of this fanfiction series. I believe it is very important that everyone read my message and understand what you can expect from me and my story from here on out.

Okay here’s the deal…. So I’m a big fat liar!!! I said chapter 10 would be the climax / double date scene, but I once again underestimated just how much I tend to draw out details, lol. Chapter 11 will for sure be the climactic chapter of Matters of the Heart. (Also, I’m not doing any half chapters anymore because this one is long enough and I’m a dumbass and Shelby convinced me to consider them separate chapters.) As far as this chapter goes, I figured there’s a lot of finalizing character development I needed to do, so there’s a flashback in the beginning to four months prior to the events of MOTH!

Thank you to all of you who have participated in the MOTHverse by commenting, sending messages/asks, and creating art/moodboards/playlist/reviews/etc!

♡ Thank you eternally to my buds, the lovely and gorgeous and perfect @rogers-wristbands and @a-night-at-the-0pera!!! ♡

chapter 1 ~ chapter 2 ~ chapter 3 ~ chapter 4 ~ chapter 5 ~ chapter 6 ~ chapter 7 ~ chapter 8 ~ chapter 9 ~

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       Sunday, September 23rd

      Four months earlier

     John’s POV

     John Deacon liked to study in silence, but he also liked to people watch. His favorite place to do both was the Nest.

     He knew he wasn’t the first to discover the Nest, and he knew he wasn’t the only student at Imperial to use it. But it gave John a twinge of satisfaction to imagine the secret study spot was his and his alone. It wasn’t exactly a secret…it’s just that no one ever ventured to explore the government documents section on the fourth story of the Imperial College central library. 

     But John had. He’d stumbled upon it by accident in his first week of uni…a rickety metal staircase by the window, obscured by dusty shelves of proposed laws and census reports, that led up to a quaint loft area. 

     It was late September now, a few weeks into the academic year, and John was glad for a lazy Sunday afternoon to catch up on assignments. He’d been coming here most afternoons, partially because of the quiet and solitude the Nest provided as he tried to focus on his studies, partially because of the grand semicircle window that overlooked the library courtyard below. He found solace in watching the hustle and bustle of university life from his secret spot, the comings and goings of frazzled students as they went about. John was envious of them, the friends laughing or the couples walking hand-in-hand. But mostly, he was content to be apart from it all, observing from above. 

     The Nest was his little secret. But not for much longer. 

     His phone buzzed with a new call from Y/N—a Facebook messenger call. They hadn’t yet exchanged phone numbers. 

     “Hello?” John answered. 

     “Hey,” Y/N said breathlessly. John’s heart lurched at the sweet sound of her voice. “I’m on the fourth floor like you said… Where is this staircase? I don’t see anything.”

     “Hold on, I’ll come find you,” John replied. He sprang up from his seat by the window and descended down the staircase. Once he made it back to the fourth story, he looked around the quiet room for his study partner.

     She was standing by the east wall, studying a dated map of England pinned up on a corkboard. He could only see her profile, the point of her nose, the alluring curve of her parted lips, as she lifted a delicate finger and traced a crease in the yellowing map. John felt his throat contract and his heart race as he approached her. 

     “Found you,” he called. Y/N turned to face him, her eyes sparkling with interest. He remembered the first time he met her eyes, just a few weeks prior. She sat in the first row of the lecture hall, John in the second row right behind her, and he’d grown quite accustomed to the back of her head. But the first time she’d turned around after class and twinkled those gemlike eyes up at John, he’d felt like his knees were going to buckle. He still felt that way around her even now, weeks later.

     “You found me,” she concurred with a smirk, “but I still have no idea where the hell your so-called secret study spot is.” 

     John felt warm, but then again, the air conditioning didn’t really reach this story of the library very well. “You were so close,” he said, gesturing for Y/N to follow him. “It’s right over here.”

     He led her up the metal staircase at the back of the government documents section. As they ascended, speckles of dust whirled in the sunlight, and John laughed and apologized when Y/N sneezed. He didn’t mind the dust himself, though; dust meant lack of use, and lack of use meant seclusion. 

     “D’you think the rest of our study group is gonna show up?” Y/N asked.

     “I don’t think so,” John answered. He and Y/N seemed to be the only ones in the group chat concerned with studying for their first Government exam in Professor Frost’s class. Granted, the exam date was more than a week out, but John liked to get a head start on his studying. He liked that Y/N seemed to be just as studious as he.

     “Wow,” Y/N gasped when they emerged at the top of the stairs. The September sun was shining perfectly through the semicircle window, casting a golden glow on the quaint little loft. John watched Y/N walk around as she studied the details of the room, the ancient wooden study desk and chair, the scuffs on the hardwood floors, the pair of worn leather loveseats facing the fingerprinted window overlooking the courtyard. 

     She turned to face John, her awestruck grin rivaling the sun in intensity. “This is it? This is your study spot?”

     “The Nest,” John said, his chest puffed out a little. It wasn’t his spot, he knew, but he liked how he knew about something that Y/N didn’t. She was a junior, already a student for over two years, and he felt proud to know something about the university that a junior didn’t. She was older and cooler than John in many ways, but right now, just for this moment, he felt her equal. 

     “I like it,” Y/N said. And John beamed. It is so satisfying when you introduce someone to something you like, something that means a lot to you, and they end up liking it too. It’s more than just the validation. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that the things that are relevant to you are also relevant to somebody else. 

     She moved to peer out the window, smiling a little. A breeze rolled through the trees outside, scattering orange and yellow leaves along the sidewalk. Autumn was at its peak, and it was beautiful. So was she. 

     “It’s nice up here, isn’t it?” John asked.

     Y/N nodded. “Quiet.” She straightened and shrugged her backpack off her shoulders. “Too quiet for me, though. I like studying in cafes and coffee shops.”

     John stammered, “Oh, well, we can—we can move downstairs to the library cafe, if you’d prefer we—”

     “No!” Y/N said, shaking her head. “No, we’ll stay here.” She flashed her teeth at John. “It’s nice to be here with a study buddy. You don’t ever get lonely up here, all alone?”

     John shook his head. “I can’t usually focus on my work when it’s loud. It’s really quiet up here. I like it quiet.”

     “The Nest,” Y/N repeated the colloquial name of John’s study spot, still smiling. He nodded, feeling giddy and saying nothing more. He disliked being so painfully shy around her, but she was just so cool. 

      “Well,” she said, “we should probably get started on that study guide. Professor Frost doesn’t look like he’s the kind of professor to mess around with exams.”

     John and Y/N perched themselves on the two loveseats—John on the left, Y/N on the right—and spread out their laptops and textbooks and writing utensils. He found it ridiculously endearing that Y/N had come prepared with a box of Jaffa cakes and a bottle of Coke. He found it even more endearing how she demanded on sharing them with John. As they began working, John was hopelessly distracted by this gorgeous, studious girl sitting beside him. He couldn’t help but watch as she chewed the cap of her pen, her eyes illuminated by the screen of her laptop, her brow furrowed in concentration. John wasn’t used to studying in the midst of distractions, but she was a welcome distraction. 

     When the sun finally kissed the horizon, they called it a day. They’d gone through half the study guide and talked through all the concepts together, but they had a lot more to get through before the test next Monday. 

     “Same place, same time, Tuesday night?” Y/N asked.

     John nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll bring the snacks next time,” he offered.

     “Deal.” She packed her pens and notebooks away into her backpack, and John noticed all the books and novels she’s carrying with her. He wanted to look at them more closely and ask what she’s reading, but she’d already hoisting the bag over her shoulder. “Gotta get going. I’m meeting up with Brian, he needs costuming help for his next gig. Do you know Brian? Brian May?”

     John just shook his and tried to swallow. He didn’t know who Brian was, but he felt sideswiped by the knowledge that Y/N had a boyfriend. Of course she did, though. A girl that gorgeous and that smart? He really shouldn’t have been surprised.

     “He’s my year,” she explained. “Astrophysics major. You’ve probably seen him around… Poofy hair, slouches a lot, looks like he’s confused all the time. He’s in this student band called Queen.”

     “Haven’t heard of him,” John said, “but I’ve heard of Queen.” 

     “Have you seen them live? They’re really good,” Y/N exclaimed. John shook his head again, so Y/N continued, twirling a strand of hair while she talked. “Rumor has it they’re gonna be looking for a new bassist, so if you know anyone who plays bass guitar, send them to Brian.”

     “Noted,” John said, smiling a private smile. Little did Y/N know, John had been playing bass for years. He wasn’t interested in joining a band, though; it seemed like a waste of time. “So how long have you two been dating?” he asked casually.

     Y/N’s eyes went wide and she barked—literally barked—a laugh. “Oh, no,” she guffawed, “Brian and I are not dating. He’s just my best friend.”

     “Oh, sorry,” John said, feeling daft. “I just—I thought you and he—I thought you were—”

     “I’m not dating anyone,” she giggled, giving John a look that was somehow patronizing yet understanding. “Dating in college is weird. I don’t recommend it.”

     She laughed again, and John started laughing with her a little. A part of him was foolishly, heedlessly relieved…but he didn’t miss the way her eyes sparkled as she mentioned her friend’s name. 

     The two of them made their way back down the rickety staircase, Y/N in the lead, John following behind her. She descended the stairs delicately, gracefully, her fingertip tracing a line down the metal handrail just like it had traced a line across the yellowing map on the wall. John wanted to know what it would feel like for that fingertip to trace a line down his skin. He immediately banished the thought.

     “Hey, Y/N?”

     She turned to look at him, eyes big as moons. “What’s up?”

     “I don’t think many people know that the Nest exists,” he said, rubbing the back of his head. “I was wondering if you, uh…if you might not tell anyone about it.”

     “Sure, John,” she replied genuinely.

     “I mean, feel free to use it all you want,” John said. “I’m up here studying all the time, but if you ever want a quiet place to come relax, we can tag-team and study again together. It’s just, once the word gets out, I’m worried it’ll become a coveted spot, and more and more people will try to—”

     “I won’t say a word about it,” Y/N reassured him. She grinned up at John, and his heart just about melted. “It can be our little secret study spot. Just yours and mine.” 

     “I’d like that,” he said, returning the smile. I’d like that very much.

———

     Four months later

     Friday, the day of John’s trial gig with Queen

     Y/N’s POV

     Numb.

     That’s all you feel after John left your apartment on Friday morning—a dull numbness that seems to permeate your bones. You stare at the popcorn ceiling of your bedroom, the sound of the front door slamming shut echoing through your brain on infinite repeat. Your body throbs from head to toe—not a hungover throb like before, but a different kind of throb, a throb that would have normally made you feel empowered. But you don’t feel empowered. You feel nothing at all.

     It’s worse than pain. You wish you were feeling pain right now. You wish there was an ache between your legs where John had been inside you. You wish your skin was stinging at the memory of his lips kissing you everywhere. You wish your ears were ringing with the deafening silence of your room. You wish your chest felt hollow and empty in his absence. You wish your throat burned from crying.

      See, that’s the thing about feeling numb. Numbness is not a feeling, it’s a lack of feeling. It’s knowing that you’re supposed to be feeling something, but your brain registering nothing. It’s feeling devoid of feeling itself. 

     You lie there motionless for God knows how long before you even have the notion to move. A boom of thunder outside the window is the impetus. You untangle your bare legs out from the bedsheets and force yourself to sit up. The cool air of the apartment raises the hair on your naked body, but you don’t register the cold. 

     You drag yourself out of your bedroom and into the bathroom. The mirror won’t tell you anything you care to know, so you bypass it on your way to the shower, twisting the faucet to the hottest setting. You don’t even wait for the water to warm before stepping in. 

     Standing here in the shower, letting the frigid water wash over your face and your body, you find unwelcome thoughts intruding your mind like they’re prying through the doors of an abandoned house. John’s face, the way it crumpled at your words. His hands caressing your body as if he’d never touch something so precious again. His voice, scratchy and agonized, as he practically begged you to break his heart. And the door slamming as he walked out, leaving you alone—the damn door, slamming over and over and over again in your mind.

     “Fuck,” you whisper. The water grows warmer and warmer until splotches form on your skin. There’s a prickle at the base of your spine, and steam fills the bathroom. And then, you register it—the heat—and it’s like everything hits at once.

     The ache between your legs hits you at full force. Your skin stings. Your ears ring. Your chest becomes hollow with emptiness. Your throat burns. But it’s the emotional pain that hurts the most…the pain of allowing yourself to be vulnerable with someone when you shouldn’t have.

     You cry out. Your voice sounds warbled to your ears. You press the side of your face to the tiled wall and slowly sink to your knees on the shower floor. It’s too much, this delayed effect, and you sob and sob, letting your tears mix with the scalding water on your face. I deserve this, you think. I deserve nothing more.

     John had given you everything, and you stripped it all away. You and he had shared the most intimate thing humans could possibly share, and when you’d reached your peaks and he looked down at you and laid his soul bare to you and told you he loved you, you destroyed everything with a single sentence.

     “I love you, but I don’t want to.” 

     And that killed him—you could tell. It was as if you’d snipped the string on his parachute, and he was falling, falling, falling. You’d burst the bubble and broken the illusion. You’d brought him back to reality. And you hate yourself for it.

     But what was the alternative? What would you have done instead? Kiss him back and smile up at him and say, “I love you too, and that’s that”? Let him play out his fairy tale, knowing full well that you were lying through your teeth?

     John was never your fairy tale. Brian was. John was a wrench thrown in the plans, a wrench you happened to fall in love with.

     But you at least knew where to draw the line between fact and fiction. And if you hadn’t drawn that line for John, too, he’d still be stuck in the story…hoping there’d be a happy ending. 

     But there’s not a happy ending for you and John. If you let John be with you, you’d be subjecting him to a state of perpetual torture, of forever walking on thin ice, of constantly having to wonder, “What if I’m not good enough?” And you can’t do that to him. You just can’t. That’s torture you don’t wish on anybody.

     The right answer should be easy: tell John it’s over. Let him move on. Force yourself to move on.

     But you can’t. Not when the memory of him—above you, all around you, inside you—is still so clear in your mind. 

     Your stomach jolts. You love him. It’s true. The realization had snuck up on you. It wasn’t that way with Brian. Your love for Brian burned for years like a wax candle, slowly but steadily eating away at you and driving you mad with anticipation. But your love for John felt like igniting a stick of dynamite and trying to pretend like it wasn’t about to explode…until it exploded. You don’t think you’ve ever loved someone so fully, and if you let it, it’ll consume your heart. 

     But you can’t. You just can’t. Loving John is the worst betrayal you could possibly commit against yourself. Submitting yourself to loving John would be the biggest disservice you could ever do to the name of love. He doesn’t deserve a halfhearted love. But that’s all you’ll ever be able to give him.

     God. Is that even true? Or is that just something you’re trying to tell yourself to make the choice easier?

     What if you could give John the love he deserves? What if, in time, you could grow to change? What if John could show you the way love was supposed to be, not the way you always expected it to be? 

     What if you fell out of love with Brian?

     You remember what John had said only moments after making love…his body draped over yours, tears overflowing from his gray eyes and falling onto the flushed skin of your cheek as he said, “The cards are in your hands, Y/N. You decide what you think is best for you. I’ll support you, always. Please don’t forget that. I’ll always support you.”

     A choice. He’s offering you a simple choice, a choice that is entirely yours to make: John, or Brian. Choice is power, but indecision is weakness. And you’ve never felt weaker in your life.

     If it was about what’s best for you, the choice would be easy. It’s John. John is the best choice for you, and he always has been.

     But it’s not about you. It’s about him. And you…you are the worst choice for John. 

     The water’s not so hot anymore. You wrap your arms around your knees, letting the shower water flow over your eyes and blur your vision, thinking to yourself, why me? why would he possibly want me? when it suddenly strikes you. John Deacon is an engineer, and it is in his very nature to fix things. He is drawn to broken things, like that broken amp you saw in his room. It suddenly makes perfect sense; you’re John’s broken amp, and he’ll do anything to fix you. Even if it means dissembling all your parts. Even if it means he has to rebuild you from scratch. Even if it means he has to spend hours laboring over you. Even if it means he’ll fail in the process. He won’t give up until you’re fixed. He won’t give up on you.

     He wasn’t begging you to break his heart. He was begging you for the chance to try to fix you. 

     You could let John fix you.

     Should you let him?

———

     The Imperial College Central Library is always eerily empty on Friday afternoons. But right now, you seek the emptiness. 

     You shake out your umbrella and shiver in your coat, the sound of your shoes squeaking against the polished concrete floors echoing across the foyer. Four stories later, you reach the fourth floor—the government documents section. The smell of old paper and dust hits your nose, a familiar smell that’s strangely welcome. You find the obscured staircase leading up to the loft, and the metal steps creak beneath your weight. 

     Finally, you emerge at the top of the stairs and look around at the Nest. Your and John’s secret study spot. Perfect, quaint, warm, cozy, secluded. And quiet. So deafeningly quiet.

     So many hours had been spent here cramming for exams and pop quizzes, sitting beside John and his calming presence. You take a few moments to just look around and breathe, the memories flooding back. You barely remember anything about what you studied for your Government exams, but you remember John. You remember sharing snacks and laughing together at all the people running to class from far below. You remember watching a lightning storm from the semicircle window. You remember having a really bad day one time and trying to hide the fact that you’d been crying before your study session, and yet somehow John knew, and he drew silly sketches in the margins of your notebooks to make you feel better. 

     Things are so different now.

     Shrugging your coat off, you sit down on one of the leather loveseats—the right one, the right one’s always been Your Spot—and peer out the semicircle window. Far below, students and professors exit the academic buildings from their final classes of the afternoon, bustling about in anticipation for the weekend. All the trees, once vibrant with the colors of autumn, are now barren and dead with winter. Little water droplets form on the yellowing glass as the rainstorm picks up. You find yourself missing autumn, missing a time when things were easier.

     You have a choice to make, and for some reason, the Nest seemed the perfect place to go to think. But now, being here, looking out at all the people below going their own places living their own lives… You feel sick with loneliness. 

     But you know you need to be alone right now. Because tonight’s gonna be a fucking doozy.

     The Queen gig, John’s trial run. And then the godforsaken double date. 

     God, and to think back to why you’d originally set up the double date in the first place. All you’d wanted was Brian. He was supposed to take some random floozy, you were supposed to take some random fuckboy. And it was supposed to go horribly, so that you and Brian could laugh and laugh about it afterward. And then, maybe, just maybe, one of you would ask the other, “What if we went on a date? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad!” And friends would become lovers.

     What a stupid idea. A stupid idea from a stupid girl. 

     You bury your face in your hands and take a huge breath. Nothing about Brian makes sense right now. You know so little about what he has up his sleeve that it’s infuriating. Wasn’t it a fluke that Brian and Tara matched in the first place? At what point did they begin fake dating? It’s the only theory that works, but there are so many holes in the narrative that it makes you want to scream. 

     It’s clear why John still wants the double date to happen—he wants one final night to call you his girl. He said it himself. But why does Brian still want the date to happen? He has no reason to keep up the facade with Tara anymore. He knows you like him as more than friends. What’s the goddamn point of trying to make you jealous still?

     You don’t know. You just don’t fucking know.

     You stare out the window, leaning so close to it that your breath fogs the glass. At this point, you’re too afraid to question why the double date is still happening. You don’t know what the fuck is going to happen tonight…but John is right. You and he may only have one final night to be together, to be a couple. And after what happened this morning, you have no doubt in your mind that you and John are in fact a real couple…no matter how fake the relationship was to begin with. You and John are real. And it’s going to hurt that much more when it all ends.

     If it all ends. You still have a choice to make. John, or Brian? 

     John…or Brian…?

     …Brian?

     You blink, rubbing the sleeve of your sweater on the window to clear the fog from your breath. No way. 

     Brian is walking out of the Physics building across the courtyard, chatting with a white-haired professor. Your mouth falls open and you cup your hands over your eyes against the window, squinting to see him better through the misty rain. You can’t believe your luck. They stand there beneath the eaves of the building, Brian’s head cocked to the side while he listens to the professor speak. This must be the astronomy professor Brian’s assistantship is with. Brian is wearing a striped sweater with a white collared shirt beneath and a knit scarf that looks like it belongs to Freddie. Even from afar, you can tell his hair is especially frizzy today from all the humidity.

     Brian bids the professor farewell. But he doesn’t move to step out from under the overhang. Instead, he stares out at the sleet, shivering, one shoulder slouching under the weight of his backpack. You wish he would just leave, just do something, but he doesn’t. He just stands there, as if he’s in deep thought.

     Seeing Brian should have ignited a fire in you. It should have made you want to run across the courtyard, rain be damned, and yell in his face. But instead, it makes your heart swell. And you hate it.

     Brian, your best friend Brian, who smiles like an idiot every time he sees you, who kissed you under the stars on Tuesday night, who dropped everything just to show up at a pub to take you home when you called him. He’d done his own share of unfair things, but you’ve certainly been no better. You treated him like trash last night; you don’t even remember half of what you’d said, but you knew none of it had been any good. Brian didn’t deserve this.

     That’s the thing about your relationship with Brian. You and he have always pushed each other’s buttons. And while it always led to some good-natured banter, things are different now. While Brian is pushy and stubborn and arrogant, you’re impulsive and manipulative and selfish. Those things feed off of each other. You should have recognized that from the start. 

      You need to apologize to Brian. You need to say all of the things that haven’t been said. You grit your jaw, a new resolve forming as you realize you have absolutely nothing left to lose in this battle. Not anymore.

     You reach for your phone in your coat pocket, but you notice that Brian’s already got his own phone out. He stares down at it and types something, before stashing the phone away and squatting to sit at the top step of the building.

     Your phone buzzes, stealing your breath. He’d texted you.

     Are you doing okay?

     He’s talking about last night, the pub with Roger. Hesitantly, you type out a reply: I’ve been better, but I’m alive…thanks for asking.

     You look to Brian across the courtyard. He seems surprised at how fast you’ve replied.

     Good. I was worried about you Y/N

     Call him, you think to yourself. Talk to him. Now’s your only chance. But you feel frozen, torn by your emotions… Half of you feels sheer guilt, the other half sheer resentment. It was unfair that he gave you an ultimatum to break up with John. But you’re sick of playing this game.

     All of a sudden, as if he’d been thinking the exact same thing as you, Brian lifts his phone to his ear. 

     Your own phone buzzes: Call from Dust Boy 🌌.  Nervously, you answer. 

     “Hello?”

     “Hey, Bookworm.” You can hear the gentle patter of freezing rain in the background. You press your fingers to the windowpane and look down at Brian while he talks, your heart pounding. “I, um… I’m sorry if this is a bad time.”

     “It’s okay,” you reassure him. “It’s not a bad time.”

     There’s a sound on the other end—a gulp. “I… I don’t really know why I called,” he says.

     You don’t know why, either. “It’s okay,” you say again. Your resolve to apologize to Brian grows weaker and weaker by the second. You find yourself becoming desperate for the truth, desperate to know why Brian’s been acting the way he was acting.

     But then, ironically, Brian adds, “I think I just wanted answers from you.”

     “You want answers from me?” you say in disbelief, but your voice is barely a whisper.

     Brian sighs, gathering his thoughts. You watch as he toys nervously with the ends of his curly hair before you realize you’d been doing the same thing. “Listen… I’m really glad that you’re okay. I’m glad that…Roger took care of you, and I’m glad that you got home safe. With John.” 

     With John. Your breaths grow shallow as you wait in anticipation for him to finish.

     “But I need to know,” Brian continues. His voice shakes ever so slightly, and you can see his breath. “And I mean…I need it. It’s been driving me mad, not knowing.”

     “What, Bri?” you whisper.

     “Did you mean what you said last night over the phone?” His voice is deadly slow. “Did you really mean it?”

     Shit. You have no idea what you said over the phone. You start panicking. “Brian, I—”

     “Because if you meant it,” he cuts you off, “I… I need to know where you are right now, Y/N. I need to see you…need to make this better.”

     What did I say over the phone?

     “Brian, I have no idea what I said,” you answer honestly, your throat aching. “I was drunk.”

     Silence. You watch him process your words, running a hand through his hair over and over again. At last, he stands up. “Right,” he says curtly. 

     “Brian,” you plead. Your pulse feels like it’s going a mile a minute. 

     “Of course you don’t remember,” he mutters. You feel like you’re going to explode. What the fuck did I say???? 

     “I was drunk,” you retort. “I don’t even remember calling you.”

     “Just proves my point.” Brian throws his backpack over both shoulders and slowly steps out into the rain. He’s walking away. He’s leaving.

     “What point???” you beg.

     “Y/N,” he groans, as if saying your name was agonizing. “If it was true, you would know what you’d said.”

     That doesn’t even make any sense! “How could I know? I don’t remember anything, Brian—”

     “There’s only one thing I could be talking about right now,” he says sternly, trekking off through the courtyard toward the street. “If it’s true, you know what it is.”

     Well, that could be a number of things. “I don’t, Brian,” you say. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know.”

     He doesn’t say anything, but his pace slows. 

     “It might be true,” you add in a rush. “It might be. But I don’t know what it is. You have to tell me.”

     Brian slows until he stops in the middle of the courtyard. You wonder if the gentle rain has already dampened his hair. He says nothing.

     You say, “You can’t hold what I said against me. I was drunk.”

     “I know.” He speaks quietly now, in defeat. “I’m sorry.”

     Silence. You want so badly to tell him you’re here, watching him from the semicircle window across the courtyard. But you stay silent.

     “I guess I’m just angry at myself,” Brian whispers. “I wanted so badly to believe you…”

     “Tell me what I said.”

     Brian tilts his head up, letting the misty rain hit his face. “You said you needed it to be me who picked you up from the pub because…”

     You press your fingertips so hard into the windowpane, you fear it might shatter.

     “…because you’ve been in love with me since Freshman year,” he says finally. “Since we watched Interstellar in your dorm, and I fell asleep in your lap.”

     Two and a half years of bricks in the wall you’d built around yourself begin to collapse. 

     “You said you were drunk, and you needed me,” he continues, “and I never drove faster before in my life to get to you. But when I got there, and you were plastered, and John was there, too…”

     You croak out his name, but the lump in your throat makes it inaudible.

     “And then you were so furious at me. I’ve never seen you that angry. And I…” Brian hangs his head. “I deserve it. I really do. But Y/N… I need to know if it’s true. Please, tell me. Please.”

     You want to scream, but you’re silent. A tear falls over onto your cheek. The guise has fallen and you can never go back now.

     “Y/N,” he says again, desperate for you to reply.

     “Brian, I…” You can’t speak. You’re terrified, absolutely terrified. Everything could be ending in a few seconds. You’re just one word away from losing Brian forever.

     But what he says next completely surprises you.

     “Fuck it,” he gasps, throwing his hand up to his head. “I don’t even care anymore. I don’t even care if you meant it or not. Y/N, I am in love with you.”

     You’re stunned. Another tear falls, then another. And then your breath comes in in a rush. You feel like you’re about to black out.

     “I love you,” he says ardently, “and I am so sorry. I messed up so bad. I… There’s so much I haven’t said. So much I’ve been keeping from you.” He exhales shakily. “I don’t know how to make this better, but I can at least try.”

     “It’s true,” you breathe out.

     “What?”

     “It’s true,” you say louder, and your voice barely sounds like your own. “What I said. It’s true.”

     “Y/N,” he nearly sobs out.

      “Turn around, Brian.” He whirls around, looking left and right. “Look up, 12 o’clock. Toward the library.”

     Brian’s eyes shoot up toward the library. He scans the entrance, finally drawing up to the fourth floor…and looks right at you peering down at him from the semicircle window of the Nest. You press your hand against the glass, your lip quivering, your eyes silently pleading at him as he gazes up at you. And in this moment, both of you gazing at each other with a thousand words between you, white snowflakes begin to fall from the sky.

     “How do I get to you?” Brian asks simply.

     “Fourth floor, metal staircase by the window,” you breathe.

     No sooner do the words leave your lips than Brian hangs up the phone and takes off for the library entrance. You can barely believe this is happening. You take a few steadying breaths, wring your hands nervously, and pace around the lounge. Before you know it, you hear the sound of hurried footsteps coming from the fourth floor, and then the familiar metallic creak of the staircase.

     Brian emerges at the top of the stairs, panting, his dark curls peppered with tiny snowflakes, his jaw shadowed with the beginnings of a beard, his hazel eyes wild and resolute and locked on yours. He doesn’t hesitate; he barely even looks around at the Nest as he takes four sure strides and closes the distance between you and him.

     He cups your face in his calloused hands and kisses you. His nose is cold against your cheek, but his breath is hot and urgent. Something shatters inside you, something of such little consequence that you can’t bring yourself to hold back any longer. You lean into him and let a little moan escape your throat, and it just seems to make him kiss you harder, stealing your voice away yet again. Brian kisses you as if you might turn to sand and fall through his fingers at any moment. But you kiss him back, your lips moving bold and sure against his, a reminder that you’re not going anywhere at all. 

     Brian pulls away with a gasping breath, still cupping your face. You grasp his arms and bore your eyes into his. The entire world has fallen away.

     “I’m sorry,” Brian says.

     “I’m sorry,” you say at the same time. 

     “No, me first,” he says, so desperately that it makes you laugh. And then he laughs too. How absurd, to be laughing at a moment like this. But he squeezes your face in his hands, grounding you again. His eyes glaze over with regret.

     “I need to tell you something,” he says solemnly. 

     “Me too,” I whisper. But Brian beats you to it.

     “I’m not really dating Tara,” he admits. His next words come out in a rush: “I lied about it, lied about her. I've just been pretending to date her. I was just so angry and torn up and jealous about you and John, I just wanted to make you jealous too.”

     “Brian,” you sob out. His words both sting and soothe. They sting because you realize what a fool you’d been at first, falling for your own game, getting a taste of your own medicine. They soothe because they confirm what you’d been suspecting all along: Brian really was jealous. Enough to want to make you jealous. 

     That’s so fucked up. But you can’t care less right now.

     He doesn’t release the grip on your face. “I never cared for Tara. Not like I care for you. I’m so sorry. So sorry.”

     Tara’s behavior makes so much sense, now that you can confirm she was just fake dating Brian. The PDA, the Instagram post, the red silk headband, trying to make you feel guilty, shoving everything in your face—

     Just like you’d done with John. 

     “Brian,” you say again, holding his face now too. You gaze desperately into his eyes, desperate to make him understand. You’ve never been so terrified in your life, but you don’t hold back. “I’m not dating John, either.”

     Brian goes still as a statue.

     “John’s not my boyfriend. We were… We were never dating. It was all fake. It was all a ploy. Because of you and Tara.”

     It takes a second, but realization floods his features. His eyes dart rapidly over your face and his mouth falls open. You can see the unspoken words on his expression: No. It’s not true. There’s no way.

     “Yes,” you whisper. “It’s true. He agreed to make a Tinder and pretend to match with me. And then he agreed to pretend to be my boyfriend. That’s why I said we were going to break up soon. We were going to end everything after this weekend.”

     "John was in on this?" he all but whispers.

     "Yes."

     His eyes grow volatile, completely unpredictable. You have no clue whether he’s about to scream at you in anger or start sobbing. He does neither.

     Brian smiles and starts laughing.

     “Look at us,” he says. “We’re so stupid.”

     You flutter your eyelids in disbelief. What…

     “You mean to tell me,” he continues through his chuckles, “that we were both pretending to date other people?”

     “Yeah, I guess we were,” you say slowly, still in shock. This is not the reaction you expected.

     “Y/N,” Brian says. His voice is full of endearment, and he moves his hands to the back of your head, running his fingers through your hair. “It should have been us. We should have been dating each other this whole time.”

     “Brian, I’m so sorry,” you say, your voice much louder than you expected. “For everything.”

     But Brian just shakes his head, seemingly awestruck. “I don’t care,” he insists. “I’m in love with you.”

     Something snaps in you at his words, and you lunge for him, wrapping your arms around his neck and attacking his mouth with yours. It feels so, so good, this feeling of being with Brian. Nothing else matters. 

     Brian’s hot, shaky breath mixes with yours as he pulls you as close to his body as possible. It feels so right to be pressed right up against him, and you moan, but it comes out like a needy whine. He responds to the sound with his own. This is only the third time you’ve kissed Brian, but the feeling of his lips mashed against yours is becoming deliciously familiar. 

     You hardly notice as your hip bumps against the hard corner of the antique study desk against the wall. Brian breaks away momentarily and wastes no time in hoisting your body up onto the desk, knocking over a stack of encyclopedias. They tumble to the floor, but neither of you pays any heed. You spread your knees and pull Brian into you, reattaching your lips to his with a grunt. Your hands rake over Brian’s torso, desperate to feel him. A distant, repressed part of you wonders if kissing Brian is a virtue or a vice.

     “Brian,” you gasp out. Brian pulls away, but not for long. His mouth immediately finds your neck as his hands slip under your shirt, eliciting a moan from you. “Brian,” you say again.

     “Hmm?” he hums against your skin.

     “I love you,” you say, and to say it out loud is as lovely as it is freeing. “I always have.”

     “I know,” Brian murmurs. 

     You want him—god, you want him—and nothing else matters, nothing at all. Nothing except a small, pestering feeling at the back of your mind…a tether around your chest, growing tighter and tighter…

     Brian’s hands graze the skin under your shirt, raising goosebumps on your neck that you’re almost certain he can feel beneath his tongue. He smells like rain and cologne and Earl Gray, those smells that draw you in like blood to a shark. 

     But I…

     You can’t think. Brian’s actions say everything his lips cannot…all the apologies, all the proclamations, all the years of time to make up for. And you can feel him, his hardness, pressed against your groin in a way that incites something low inside you and pulls that tether around your chest even tighter…

     “Brian,” you say again, urgent this time. The excitement, the arousal…the associations… It’s too much, it’s too good, but it’s…

     “I want you,” he murmurs, lips moving to the hollow of your throat. You can’t help from tilting your head back with a gasp, giving him easier access. “I wanna make things better.”

     An alarm bell is ringing now. The tether is so tight, you feel like you might suffocate. Something tells you to push him away, but you just hold onto him tighter, tangling your hands in his hair. And Brian feels you clinging to him. He moans against your neck, sending visceral tingles across your whole body. You shudder at the sensation of his teeth brushing against you. He’s warm, and his hands are all over you, and he wants you, and you want him, and—

     The tether snaps.

     “No,” you hiss, and you push against Brian’s chest and force him off of you. He stumbles backward, and his eyes glint with surprise. You fall back onto the desk from the exertion, catching yourself with your hands, your chest rising and falling with your heaving breaths.

     This feeling. You can’t do this. You just can’t.

     You feel like a traitor to yourself. In Brian’s place, just hours ago, had been John Deacon.

     “Y/N?” Brian says in alarm.

     “I can’t do this,” you breathe out. They’re the same words you’d said last time you pulled away from Brian in the backseat of his car…for the exact same reason. Because of John Deacon. 

     Brian realizes it right away. You can see it in his eyes. “Y/N.”

     “I’m sorry,” you whisper.

     “But… But you said…”

     You just shake your head and close your eyes, your breaths turning into shudders. 

     “Y/N,” Brian demands, “why not? Why can’t you be with me?”

     “Because I love him, too,” you sob out. You’re crumbling now, a decrepit wall against a sea of regret and guilt. You blink your eyes open to see Brian standing there before you, flustered and disheveled and rife with confusion. His eyes dart between your face and your neck, and you realize now that the skin there is sore where his mouth had been.

     “But you said you were just fake dating,” Brian says slowly. “You said it was fake.”

     “It was,” you stress. “Until…” You can’t finish the thought.

     Brian’s face changes. “Until when?” he asks, low and steady.

     You feel your chin quivering.

     “Until when?” he insists, his voice rising in volume.

     “Until this morning,” you admit, your voice small and meek. You don’t have to say it for Brian to guess what you’re insinuating; it’s all over your face. You and John had sex.

     Brian’s nostrils flare and he turns slowly from you. “Fuck,” he curses as if you’d just stabbed him. He glares at the encyclopedias on the floor, and you wonder if he’s thinking about kicking them. You really hope he doesn’t.

     You don’t understand how something could have been going so perfectly well one moment and then so horribly derailed the next.

     “Brian,” you start, but he doesn’t let you finish.

     “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks angrily, still facing away.

     You flinch at the harshness in his voice. “I did,” you say frantically. “I just did.”

     His eyes fly back to yours. He looks so torn up. “I know, but… Why didn’t you tell me before we…?” 

     “I don’t know.” Everything happened so fast… Once Brian admitted he’s in love with you, it had been like opening the floodgates. Everything came flooding in, and you didn’t have time to think.

     He exhales and diverts his eyes, and you’re taken aback when you realize it looks like he might cry. “I can’t…the thought of you and him…”

     Brian presses his hands into his face, hiding his expression from you. Your heart breaks. 

     “I’m so sorry,” you repeat. It’s all you can say.

     He abruptly pulls his hands away, and his eyes are confused. “On Tuesday night,” he says, “when we were together in the car… Why did you pull away then?”

     “It didn’t seem right,” you answer.

     He just glares at you, the fire glowing brightly again. “‘Didn’t seem right?’” he repeats.

     “John and I weren’t together,” you explain. “We were just friends. And I wanted to be with you. But…everything was happening so fast, and…and…”

     “You thought of him,” Brian realizes. You nod, feeling prickles of tears behind your eyes. 

     You deserve Brian’s anger. You should have told him about John before you let Brian kiss you. You’ve just broken Brian’s heart, and the knowledge makes you feel weak with tears. 

     “I wish I didn’t have to do this to you,” you say. 

     “Is it over, then?” he rasps. “Between us?”

     “No,” you say quickly. “No, it’s not. I just…I need time, I need time to—”

    “I can’t do this, Y/N,” he cuts you off sharply. “I can’t…deal with the whiplash anymore. One minute, I’m thinking you loved me and you and John were only friends, and the next, you’re telling me you love him?”

     “I do love you, Brian,” you say, and your voice cracks. 

     “But you love him, too.” It’s a statement, monotone yet wounded.

     “I didn’t… I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

     “I don’t know how I can believe you.”

     “I love you,” you repeat. “But I am so torn.” He has no idea how torn you are.

     “Well, I can’t be with someone who’s torn.”

     The words bite. “I know,” you whisper. 

     “You can’t love us both.”

     “But I do.” You plead with him with your eyes, but he isn’t even looking. “I never wanted for this to happen, Brian, I just…”

     “Then don’t do this,” Brian growls. “Leave him. Don’t do this to me. Don’t do this to yourself.”

     “It’s not that easy,” you sniff, tears stinging your eyes. God, you wish it was that easy.

     “Yes, it is.” 

     “It’s not!” you insist, the lump in your throat growing larger.

     “Why not?” He looks so desperate. “Why am I not your first choice?”

     “I don’t know,” you say in a pitiful cry. 

     Brian surprises you by taking your hands again, his eyes both angry and earnest. It makes you feel even worse, how earnest he looks. “Let me be with you, Y/N. Let me make up for lost time. Let me be your first choice, your only choice.”

     “John was there for me when you weren’t, Brian.” You know the words are cutting, but you gulp and keep going, your voice low and grating and rife with emotion. “When you were with Tara—when I thought you were with Tara… It killed me. Because that was supposed to be me. Not her. I couldn’t cope with it. And while you were with her, John was there for me.”

     You expect Brian to fight back, but something shifts in him. He inhales slowly and stiffens, stepping away from you all the way across the Nest. The vibe in the room completely shifts. 

     “I fucked up,” he says under his breath. You frown, watching as he begins to pace in front of you. “Fuck. I don’t know what to do.”

     You get the keen sense that he’s not telling you something.

     “What is it?” you ask, leaning toward him.

     Brian glances toward the staircase. “I…” His eyes move back to yours. “Forget it.”

     Is he feeling guilty now? Guilty for making you jealous, the way you’ve felt guilty? “I want to be with you, Brian,” you whisper. “But I don’t know what to do, either.”

     “You have to decide,” Brian says, and he sounds—god, he sounds close to tears again. You remember John’s words from this morning, how similar they sound to Brian’s: I’m sorry. But you have to choose. It’s either me or Brian. You can’t have us both.

     “I need time,” you say.

     “I know,” he replies quietly. You’re still perched on the desk at the side of the Nest, baffled at the sudden space between you and Brian. His tender eyes flick to the side of your neck again, and he steps closer, frowning. When he’s so close that you can feel his body heat and smell his familiar scent again, he brings a gentle hand up to your throat. His thumb caresses the sore spot you’re almost certain has turned red with a bruise. “I’m sorry for this,” he murmurs. “I didn’t mean to.”

     You wonder if he’s talking about the mark on your skin, or something deeper. You wonder if he can feel your pulse fluttering beneath his fingertips. 

     “It’s okay.” You rest your hand on top of his on your throat, and both of you stare at each other for a long time, words forgotten. Brian has a right to be upset about you and John—it’s only reasonable. But the tenderness in his eyes isn’t making this any easier for you.

     “Do you really love him?” Brian asks, as if it pains him to say the words.

     You nod slowly. 

     “Do you really love me?”

     “God, yes,” you say. A new tear spills over onto your cheek; he catches it with his thumb. 

     “All those years,” he murmurs, “and you never said anything? You never wanted to tell me?”

     “I wanted to.” You lean toward him inexplicably, drawn to his warmth. “I came close a couple of times.”

     “Why didn’t you?” 

     “I was scared,” you admit, and your voice is just a squeak.

     “Scared of what?”

     You don’t know how to answer at first, but the words come flowing out like they’ve been idly waiting to be heard for two and a half years. “Scared that I’d lose you. Because when we fight as friends, we can always go back to being friends. Just…just Y/N and Brian, Bookworm and Dust Boy. But when we fight as…as lovers…it would just be that much easier to leave.”

     It’s so ironic. You’d think that friendship was so much more noncommittal than love. Fewer strings attached, fewer conditions, fewer vows taken. But while forgiveness comes easily to friends, it comes at a price for lovers. A fight between friends can be mended. But a fight between lovers means so much more is at stake.

     That’s what you’re afraid of…having so much at stake between you and Brian, that if something happens and he leaves you, you’ll never recover. 

     But in this moment, Brian seems determined to prove you wrong. He holds your face tightly and bends to your level, pressing his forehead against yours. “You don’t have to be afraid,” he says. “If you’ll choose me, Y/N…then I will never leave you.”

     “What if it doesn’t work out?” you croak. “What if it fails?” 

     Brian shakes his head. “We’ll work through it. I’m not gonna lie and pretend like we don’t have a lot to work through. But we’ll…we’ll work together. We can make this work.”

     You’re scared of the yelling, of the fighting, of the way you and Brian seem to play off of each other’s anger. You’re scared of having a fight you won’t be able to recover from. You’re scared of the passion changing from lust to fury. 

     You’re scared of an impure love. You’re scared of the lies, of the deceit, of the manipulation and the distrust and the miscommunication. Freddie was right when he said it’s toxic, a disease. And you’re terrified of falling ill. You’re terrified that a relationship with Brian will be forever tainted with those vices that seem to follow you everywhere.

     Would it be any different with John?

     “Please,” you plead. You sound like a child, small and afraid. “Please give me time.”

     “You have tonight,” he says gently. You suddenly stiffen. Does he mean…?

     “What are you talking about?” you rasp. 

     “The double date.”

     “What?” You blink, leaning back to study his face. He’s being serious. “The double date?” you repeat. 

     “Yes,” Brian answers in confusion. 

     “There’s no point anymore,” you say adamantly. John had told you he wanted to go—he wants one last night to call you his girl—but now that Brian’s confirmed that he and Tara had been faking their relationship, too… There’s absolutely no point to the double date. All the secrets are out. 

     “There is a point,” Brian says. He’s built up a new wall; no longer can you peer into his gaze like an open book.

     “No, there’s not,” you insist. “The whole point of the stupid double date was—it was…” It was to make each other jealous. No need for that anymore. Cat’s out of the bag.

     Brian moves his hands back to yours and squeezes them, hard. “Use it as an opportunity to make your decision, Y/N.” He doesn’t speak in anger anymore, just matter-of-factly. Your mouth falls open and Brian starts backing away, toward the stairs.

     “You’re not listening to me,” you argue, sitting up straighter as your frustration grows. “There’s absolutely no reason to put ourselves through a double date with our fucking fake dates.”

     “From what I gather, Y/N, John Deacon’s not so fake to you anymore.”

     “Brian,” you implore. You don’t understand what’s happening. “This is so stupid, why are you—”

     “Tell John we’re still going,” Brian instructs. “Tell John you still need him to be your fake boyfriend, just for tonight.”

     “Why?!” you shout, tears welling again.

     Brian’s face grows stony, but he looks…ashamed. “No one needs to know we had this conversation. We never met here, Y/N. Okay?”

     “What aren’t you telling me, Brian?” you demand, but your voice quavers again.

     “I…” he sighs. “…haven’t tied up all my loose ends yet.”

     The fuck is that supposed to mean?

     “I have to go,” Brian says gravely before you can protest. He gives you one last apologetic look before descending the metal staircase, leaving you alone let again in the Nest…nothing but the snow falling outside to keep you company.

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A/N: So sorry for the angst ://// But I hope you enjoyed the confessions!! Finally, at last, Brian and Y/N aren’t holding the truth from each other anymore! Or…are they?

What did you think about John and the Nest? What do you think was the basis of John’s attraction to Y/N from the start? Do you agree with Y/N’s conflicted feelings over Brian vs John? Were you surprised when Brian admitted / confessed to Y/N? Should Y/N have brought Brian up to the Nest—hers and John’s place? What could Brian possibly still be hiding from her?

And lastly…

Are YOU Team John or Team Brian?? Vote now!

*please only vote once

**Voting will have no bearing on the planned outcome of the series. I am just curious where everyone stands hehe

I hope you’re enjoying my fanfiction Matters of the Heart! It is thanks to the terrific support of you, my readers, who reblog my fanfics with your honest thoughts and genuine reviews, that I am inspired to continue writing. Without these comments, I lose motivation. I write fanfiction for free (although I accept donations if you feel so inclined to provide); my only request for payment is a genuine expression of your thoughts ◡̈ So if you decide to write a full-out review, or add your reactions // emotions in the comments or tags, or even if it’s just a “wow!” or just a keyboard smash, know that any and all feedback is welcomed with unfettered gratitude and with Blake squealing in excitement behind her computer screen. Thank you in advance!

Also, if you’re still reading my ender notes, bless you! I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be on vacation in England with my boyfriend and his fam for two weeks starting on Wednesday ◡̈ I’m sooo excited for the vacation, but I won’t be very active on Tumblr because I won’t have easy access to the internet! I also won’t be publishing any fanfics until I have laptop access, which won’t be until I return home. I apologize in advance for my absense. I’ll miss you all!! Feel free to send messages and anons, and I’ll get back to them each as soon as I can ♡ 

BONUS PICS:

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I’m such a lil slut for Brian with a beard lol

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Will Brian and Deaky ever be this happy around each other???

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College brian has my uwus (not actually college brian but he looks like a ~soft~ college boyfriend here) this is from like ‘76 I think

Chapter Text

 


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A/N: If you haven’t yet, please read this post—a message to you all, as my readers and followers, from me, as the author of this fanfiction series. I believe it is very important that everyone read my message and understand what you can expect from me and my story from here on out.

Can you guys believe that this is the climactic chapter of Matters of the Heart? Shit’s about to hit the fan. And there’s a lot of it. It’s a long as hell chapter, so I really highly recommend you take breaks where I’ve suggested them! I have a feeling that this chapter is going to take many of you by surprise…for many, many reasons. A lot comes to light in Reader’s world in this chapter.

Thank you to all of you who have participated in the MOTHverse by commenting, sending messages/asks, and creating art/moodboards/playlist/reviews/etc!

Specialist of special thanks to my lovely beta readers for this chapter, @a-night-at-the-0pera and @anotheronebitesthedeaks! Thank you also to @istheresomebodywhocanimagine for throwing around ideas with me. I couldn’t have done this without you guys. Thank you as well to @brianandthemays for inspiring a little detail in this chapter as well ◡̈  You’re a true friend!!!

chapter 1 ~ chapter 2 ~ chapter 3 ~ chapter 4 ~ chapter 5 ~ chapter 6 ~ chapter 7 ~ chapter 8 ~ chapter 9 ~ chapter 10 ~

Last note before you read: This is the climactic chapter. It is supposed to be intense. It is supposed to make you feel a lot of things…shocked, anxious, angry, upset, sad…this is how I designed the chapter. Your discretion is advised. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. (i.e. please don’t send me anon hate k bye)

 

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    Why are hickeys so damn impossible to cover up?

     You groan in exasperation and set your beauty blender onto the bathroom counter, giving up. No amount of makeup seems to be properly concealing the fresh bruise on your neck. Too much concealer looks unnatural on your skin, but too much blending and you can still see the discoloration.

     You concede defeat in your efforts and glare at your reflection in the mirror. It’s almost time to leave for the Queen gig in Soho, but you can’t go like this. You’ve already tried twice to conceal the mark, to no avail. In any other case, you’d consider bearing the hickey proudly—just like Roger—but not tonight. It’s as if it’s taunting you, that angry red little demon lurking on your neck just below the line of your jaw. Reminding you of your transgressions. 

     Damn you, Brian. For someone who hadn’t meant to do it, he’d certainly made a nasty little mark on you. The notion of a hickey from Brian would have otherwise thrilled you, if it weren’t for the circumstances. You can’t let anyone know what happened with Brian in the library today…

     …least of all, John. And you’ll be seeing both of them again tonight. 

     Why, why, why why why why why. Why the bloody hell is the date still happening? You’d been expecting to get answers from Brian today at the library, but if anything, he made things even more confusing. “I haven’t tied up all my loose ends yet,” he’d said. And though you’ve belabored yourself over those words all afternoon, for the life of you, you cannot decipher what they mean. What loose ends?

     Brian isn’t telling you something. Something important. Something so important, that he wants you to carry on with the double date tonight as though nothing has changed at all.

     You can’t let anyone see the mark, but clearly, your idea to cover it with makeup isn’t working. Perhaps you could change into a turtleneck. But the Roundabout House—the intimate venue at which Queen is playing their gig tonight—tends to get pretty steamy inside, especially with so many bodies packed so close together, eager for live music and local beers on tap. You don’t have any high-necked tops that aren’t sweaters, and you really don’t want to be sweating your ass off tonight in the pub. Perhaps you’ll just grab a scarf of some sort on your way out. It is still snowing outside, after all. 

     “Need some help with your makeup for tonight?” Your roommate Ronnie appears at the bathroom door, smiling kindly at you. You watch as her eyes flit down to your neck. “Oh.”

     “I don’t think this is something that can be helped,” you grumble as you thumb away at the makeup on your neck, “but thanks anyway, Ron.”

     “Let me try, I might be able to help,” she offers and approaches you, her brows furrowed as she examines the mark. “Wow. That’s pretty dark. Is that from John?”

     Your stomach lurches. “Um—”

     “Sorry,” Ronnie apologizes with a nervous laugh. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

     “That’s okay.” You gaze at Ronnie, your heart pounding. If only she knew. God, if only you could tell Ronnie everything. She’s always been so sweet and compassionate and understanding. And you’re itching to spill to her everything that’s happened this week. But Ronnie told you on Wednesday that she’d rather stay uninvolved with everyone’s drama, and you respect her wishes. So you keep your mouth shut.

     Ronnie looks at your neck again. “Hmm, that won’t do, will it. Which products did you use?” 

     You point out the bottle of concealer you’d nearly depleted.

     Ronnie tsks. “Well, you had the right idea with using a concealer, but I think you need a base of some sort. Have you got any makeup primer?”

     Without even questioning it further, Ronnie gets to work helping you cover your hickey. She finds a bottle of primer in Tara’s makeup cupboard (and assures you that Tara won’t notice if you just use a drop). She suggests you wipe off the makeup already caked on your neck and start from the beginning again. You follow her instructions, feeling glad for a friend who’s willing to help you with your predicament.

     “You’ll probably need some kind of color corrector, but I can’t seem to find any in here… Oh! I’ve got an idea. Hang on.”

     Ronnie departs for her room and returns with a mint-green oil pastel. “Green will cancel out the redness of it,” she explains. 

     “Really?” you gape. “How do you know?”

     “It’s just, y’know, complementary colors,” she says with a shrug.

     “I should have asked the art major for help sooner,” you laugh graciously as she starts dabbing the oil pastel onto your skin and blending it out with her fingertips. 

     Sure enough, after a few repetitions of concealing, blending, and powdering, the makeup worked. You tilt your head back to examine your neck in the light. It’s as if the hickey just up and disappeared. 

     “You’re a lifesaver,” you tell Ronnie as she sprays your neck with one of Tara’s setting sprays. “Thank you so much.”

     “Of course,” Ronnie says, almost hesitantly. She looks like she wants to say something else. 

     “Hey Ronnie, which of those pastels of yours will cancel out these horrific dark circles under my eyes?” you ask lightly.

     Ronnie smiles. “My offer still stands, if you still need help with your makeup.”

     You accept Ronnie’s offer. She surprises you with her beauty knowledge; you don’t think you’d ever seen Ronnie wear anything more than occasional mascara, but Ronnie seems to have a few tricks up her sleeve. She knows exactly which eyeshadow shades will make your eyes pop, and she has an exceedingly steady hand for drawing the perfect eyeliner wings.

     “Hey, Y/N?” Ronnie asks hesitantly while penciling in your eyebrows.

     “Yeah, what’s up?”

     “Do you like Tara?” she asks plainly. 

     Her question takes you off-guard. “I mean—yeah,” you stammer. “She’s our roommate and everything.”

     “Yeah, but…” Ronnie switches to your other brow. “Are you upset with her for some reason?”

     Well, yeah. Obviously, you’re a little upset with Tara. She’s been conspiring with Brian behind your back all week. Granted, you’ve done the same thing with John, so neither of you is a saint. But that just means you and Tara both have a reason to be ticked off with each other. 

     And Tara doesn’t even have the audacity to show her face at the flat this evening to get ready for the Queen gig. Honestly, you have no idea where she is right now. Not that you have any idea what you’re going to say to her once you meet face-to-face…

     “I promise, she didn’t put me up to saying this or anything,” Ronnie continues when you don’t reply right away. “It’s just that…all three of us used to get along so well, but things seem different now.”

     “Things are different,” you say quietly.

     “How?”

     “Ronnie,” you say her name pleadingly, “you told me you wanted to stay out of the drama.”

     “I know,” she says, blowing her wispy hair out of her eyes with a sigh. “I just wish there wasn’t any drama. I miss the way things used to be.”

     You miss it, too. Perhaps it was ignorance or naivety, but you and Tara used to get along decently well. In fact, you and Tara and Ronnie spent all of last semester getting along like three peas in a pod. You think about the roomies selfie Tara had posted on her Instagram, the one with you and Ronnie on the couch from a few weeks ago. Maybe Tara misses the way things used to be, too.

     But she went and started dating Brian without even so much as checking with you to make sure it was cool. Well, fake-dating. Either way, everything is different in your eyes now. You wonder if she’ll ever say her apologies to you. You wonder if you’ll ever get a chance to apologize to her, too.

     “I’m sorry you’re getting sucked into this, Ronnie,” you say genuinely. “It’s not fair to you.”

     “I just want us all to be friends again,” she says.

     “I really don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

     Your words spark something behind her eyes—anger. But it leaves as soon as it had come, and the makeover continues. Ronnie finishes up with your eyebrows and moves onto mascara. The mood is lightened a bit when you can’t stop flinching at the wand in her hand so close to your eye, and you both giggle a little. Next, she chooses a shade of mauve lipstick that perfectly complements your skin tone, and then she moves onto applying blush to your cheeks.

     “Hey…Y/N?” Ronnie asks again. Even more hesitantly this time.

     “Yeah?”

     “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” she says.

     You smile up at Ronnie a little bittersweetly. “That’s really sweet, Ron,” you say. “Thanks.”

     “I mean it. I hope you know that.”

     “Yeah, I do, I just…” You bite your cheek in hesitation. “I know you said you didn’t want to get involved with any…drama…”

     She frowns a little. “I just meant that I didn’t want to be literally involved. You can still talk to me, Y/N, if you want.”

     All you’d wanted a few minutes ago was to vent to Ronnie, but now that she’s offering her open ears, you feel nervous and hesitant. “I don’t really know what to say,” you tell her.

     Ronnie purses her lips, glancing down at your neck again. “Well… You can start by talking about that,” she says, tapping your neck where the hickey used to be. Still is. Whatever.

     “What about it?”

     “I’m just curious… How come you wanted to cover it up in the first place?”

     “I didn’t want…people to see,” you answer. 

     “But why?” Ronnie pries, leaning closer as she focuses on your blush. “I mean…it’s not really a secret anymore that you and John are dating, so I really don’t think anyone would mind it if you showed up—”

     “It wasn’t from John,” you blurt.

     Ronnie’s hand waivers over your eyebrow, and she stares at you. OopsWell, guess the cat’s out of the bag. A frown grows on her face as the meaning of your words sinks in. “Y/N,” she says slowly, in disbelief. “What—?”

     “Yeah.”

     “I don’t understand.” She keeps staring at you. “So it wasn’t John that gave you the hickey?”

     You shake your head. This was a bad idea. Maybe you’re going mad, but you see the tiniest shift in her expression—relief? 

     “Then who?”

     “See, that’s where it gets complicated,” you say meekly.

     “Who was it?” Ronnie asks again. “You can talk to me, Y/N.”

     You want to, so badly. But you’re frozen, torn between keeping your mouth shut and spilling everything. 

     She notices your hesitation and purses her lips when you don’t respond. “Well, I think you should tell him,” she says, her voice quiet yet heavy.

     “Tell who?”

     “John. He deserves to know that you’ve…that you’ve been with someone else.”

     Shit. Ronnie thinks you’ve been cheating on John. “No—I’m—hold on, that’s not—” You take a deep breath, starting over again. “I’m not cheating on John.”

     Ronnie’s nose flares just a little, betraying her suspicion. “You just said that you were.”

     “You don’t understand. It’s more complicated than that.”

     “It seems pretty simple to me—”

     “John and I aren’t even dating, Ronnie.”

     The words come out more harshly than you’d intended, and Ronnie leans away from you, shocked.

     “What?”

     “We never were,” you continue, your voice strangely thick. “We were just pretending to. It’s…it’s a lot to explain.”

     You’re expecting her to ask why, but she’s still stuck on the what. “You’re not…dating…John Deacon?”

     You shake your head.

     “This whole time? You were never really dating?” She doesn’t sound angry or upset. In fact, you’re having a hard time interpreting her tone.

     “It was faked,” you explain. “We wanted everyone to think we were, because…” You trail off, and Ronnie watches you expectantly. Guilt washes over you. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. You said you didn’t want to get involved.”

     “Yeah, in the stuff between you and Tara,” she says, “but this is different.”

     “Not really,” you say, your voice hollow.

     Ronnie’s eyes narrow. “What do you mean, not really?”

     You gulp. You have to tell her.

     “It was Brian,” you say, practically in a squeak.

     She doesn’t seem to understand what you mean at first, but then her eyes flit down to your neck, and the realization hits her. “Wh-what?”

     “But John doesn’t know,” you add.

     Ronnie just blinks.

     “I’m sorry, I know it’s a lot to process…” you say, scratching your head. You wonder if she regrets offering to help now.

     You can practically see the gears turning behind her eyes. “So…you didn’t cheat on John…but Brian cheated on Tara with you?”

     “Wh-what? No, no no no!” You shake your head rapidly. “Nobody cheated on anybody.”

     “I don’t understand,” she repeats. “Brian and Tara are dating.”

     “Tara hasn’t been telling you the truth, Ronnie.”

     Ronnie stills, your words sinking in. “What do you mean?”

     “I don’t know what she’s told you exactly,” you begin slowly, “but if you knew the truth about her and Brian, you’d understand what I mean. And you’d understand why I’m upset with her. She’s been lying to you, Ron. She lied to both of us. And…and so have I.”

     “Y/N,” Ronnie says, her voice low and warning, “please don’t say that. She’s one of my best friends, and so are you.”

     This is exactly what Ronnie wanted to stay out of—being pitted against her two roommates—and here you go, roping her back into this mess. You want to punch yourself. 

     “I’m sorry,” you tell her. “I didn’t mean—I just—”

     But before you can finish your sentence, the door to the flat opens. You hear the familiar jingle of Tara’s keychain. “I’m home!” she announces. “Y/N, are you there? We gotta go in five, or we’re gonna miss our train, and I don’t wanna be late!”

     “We’re in here,” you call out. You hear Tara waltzing into her room and sorting through her closet, presumably changing clothes.

     Ronnie looks back and forth between you and the bathroom door. She mouths, “Should I…?”

     You shake your head. “This is my problem to deal with, not yours,” you whisper. “I’ll sort things out tonight. I’m sorry, Ronnie.”

     You don’t really know why you apologized, but to your surprise, Ronnie smiles a melancholy smile and continues to brush on your blush. It wasn’t what you were expecting from her, but you’re grateful for the gesture.

     A few minutes later, as Ronnie is finishing up your makeup, Tara knocks on the door frame and peers in at the two of you.

     “There you two are!” she exclaims with a smile. She’s dressed for the club and ready to go, donning a lacy scarlet bralette, a shiny black miniskirt that hugs her curves perfectly, and strappy stiletto heels. A dramatic faux fur coat is draped over her arm. She looks you up and down. “You’re not dressed, lovely! What are you wearing? I’ll let you borrow another outfit if you want, as long as you don’t spill any Jungle Juice on it this time.”

     “That’s okay, I have an outfit laid out on my bed,” you say. Tara nods in approval. “I’m sorry about the dress again. Did they get the stain out at the dry cleaner?”

     Tara shrugs. “It’s still a little pink, but I’ll just consider it the new fashion trend.”

     She seems like she’s in high spirits today—which completely baffles you. Doesn’t she know that you know everything now, about the fake dating? Shouldn’t she be dropping the facade? You gnaw on the inside of your cheek, contemplating what to do next. It’s probably time for a heart-to-heart with Tara…time to be frank with each other about the respective fake-dating.

     “I was just getting Y/N ready for tonight,” Ronnie explains. If Ronnie’s confused about everything you’d just admitted to her, she’s doing a pretty good job of hiding it.

     Tara steps closer to examine as Ronnie adds a finishing touch to your face—a shimmery sort of powder to your cheekbones and the bridge of your nose. “Nice contouring work, Ron!” she compliments. “I didn’t know you could do makeup so well! You never wear any!”

     “Just another form of art she’s good at,” you add, nudging Ronnie.

     She just giggles and brushes the two of you off. Things feel strangely normal between the three of you right now. With a final spritz of setting spray, Ronnie hums in satisfaction. “There, all done.”

     You swivel to look at your reflection, and you look like a completely new person from earlier today. You hadn’t planned on getting all decked out tonight for the show—there just seems to be too much else to worry about—but you had to admit, you looked good.And you felt good about yourself. Ronnie had given you a mask of confidence to wear for the night, and lord knows you’ll need it.

     “Thank you so much,” you tell Ronnie. “You’re amazing!”

     “Pleeeease tell me you’ll come with us tonight, Ronnie!” Tara begs, tugging on Ronnie’s arm like a child. “You’ll be missing out!”

     “Isn’t it supposed to be a double date?” Ronnie asks, laughing—although you note that the sound is a little strained. “I don’t exactly want to be the fifth wheel.”

     Your stomach lurches. But Tara doesn’t even miss a beat. “Yeah, but only after the show’s over! You don’t wanna miss seeing Queen. Trust me! Y/N and I saw them rehearse on Wednesday and they were amazing, weren’t they, Y/N?”

     “Yeah, they were,” you laugh nervously. “But I—”

     “I miss all three of us hanging out,” Tara says with a pout of her plump lips. “I feel like we haven’t done anything fun together in a long time! Please, oh please come out with us tonight, Ron?”

     Poor Ronnie. She glances back and forth between you and Tara uncomfortably. She doesn’t say anything, but you can tell by the look on her face that she’s internally grappling with what you told her about Tara lying. You regret saying anything at all to Ronnie. 

     “Oh, I have an idea,” Tara continues, completely oblivious. “We could set you up with Roger Taylor, the drummer! Y’know, the cute one! That way you could come on the date with us! We’ll make it a triple date. And rumor has it that Roger’s back in the market for a girlfr—”

     “That’s okay, Tara,” Ronnie says uneasily but kindly. “I appreciate it, but…” She glances at you. “I think I’ll stay in tonight. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the band perform in the future.”

     Tara whines but nods. “Aw, alright.” She glances at you, and her face perks up. “In any case…we’re going to be late!”

     Tara hoists you up by your arms and drags you out of the bathroom and into your bedroom. You’re too dismayed by the fact that she’s acting completely normal right now. This is weird.

     “Tara, I—”

     “This is what you’re wearing?” she exclaims, scoffing at the plain black dress draped over your comforter. “Nuh uh. We’re going to a rock concert, not a funeral, dear.”

     “It’s just a pub,” you protest lightly.

     But Tara doesn’t listen. She opens the doors of your closet dramatically and searches for something more suitable. “Why don’t you try…this…” —she tears your army-green suede miniskirt off the hanger and tosses it behind her back in your direction— “…and this…” —a black spaghetti strap tank— “…and go find your pushup bra and a pair of tights! And a jacket. It’s cold as hell out.”

     She’s in a hurry to leave for Soho, but you’re more concerned with other things. You need to tell Tara what’s happened…tell her everything you know. And you need to figure out what she knows, too. Did Brian tell her that you and John are fake dating, too?

     But… Maybe it’s best if you apologize first. And despite your anger toward her, you really do feel bad for everything that’s happened between the two of you.

     Apologize first. Maybe, just maybe…you and Tara can find some solidarity together in the situation you’ve both dug yourselves into. Maybe you can find an ally in Tara.

     So you slip in a word while she’s digging around your shoe stash. “Hey, Tara, I think we should talk about tonight. Well, about everything.”

     Tara turns to face you, blue eyes wide and bright. You’d been expecting to see disdain or annoyance or even apathy on her face, but to your surprise, she looks remorseful.

     “Okay… Do you still want to go on the double date?” she asks cautiously.

     “Well, to be frank, I’m not fully sure why it’s happening anymore,” you say honestly. 

     “What do you mean? We’ve been planning this all week.” She quirks her head to the side in confusion. Is she still playing the game? 

     “Did you talk to Brian?” you ask.

     “What do you mean? Today?” She turns to your full-length mirror and fluffs up her already-teased hair. “Brian didn’t tell me anything. Just that he’s excited that I’m coming to the show!”

     Yep, she’s still playing. That means Brian never told her that she could stop pretending. “Tara—”

     “Let’s talk on the way! We’re gonna be late! We have to get to the station!

     You don’t get another chance to ask her about Brian, because she chucks a pair of heeled booties at you from your closet and skitters out of the room to grab something she missed. Sighing, you strip and change as quickly as possible into the outfit Tara chose. After lacing up the booties and examining yourself in the mirror, you have to admit, the combination of the tank top and suede skirt actually suits you. 

     “Y/N!” Tara calls. “Tube leaves in six minutes! We have to go!”

     You grabbed a fleece-lined bomber jacket and your purse and meet Tara at the door. You can barely keep up with Tara as she takes off down the stairwell—in her stilettos, of all things—and out onto the street. You shiver as the cold air bites at your skin. It’s still snowing today, and piles of it have accumulated in muddy heaps along the sides of the road. At least the Roundabout House will be warm.

     “I need to know what Brian told you,” you say with a shiver as you follow her down the sidewalk.

     “I told you, he didn’t say anything,” Tara replies, her heels clicking on the snowy sidewalk. As soon as the Gloucester Road Station sign comes into view, she walks even faster. “I mean, the last thing he texted me was that he was excited for the show. He let me paint his fingernails last night!”

     “Look, Tara, you don’t have to do that anymore,” you say patiently, before nearly slipping on a frozen-over puddle of black ice on the sidewalk. 

     “What?” she says. You and she reach the steps to the underground and begin your descent. 

     “About you and Brian,” you say, trying to get her to understand. “I know everything, okay? He told me.”

     Tara turns her head to beam at you. “Wait, did Brian say something about me? About us? What did he say?”

     Christ. “No, Tara, I’m trying to tell you that I know what’s—”

     The loudspeakers of the underground boom with a prerecorded voice, cutting you off with an announcement about a code blue. You sigh in exasperation. Tara squints at the underground maps on the wall and takes off to the left toward the correct line. You struggle to keep up.

     “Tara, listen to me,” you say as soon as you and her reach the platform. “You don’t have to keep up the act. Didn’t Brian talk to you?”

     “There’s no act,” Tara says, seemingly candid in her tone. “And yeah, actually we did talk. I know I said that he was acting all weird and stuff yesterday, but he apologized for everything over dinner. I think he really likes me, Y/N. Like, really really likes me.” Her eyes sparkle. “I think he might ask me to be his girlfriend tonight.”

     Let it go, girl! “Listen, we can be honest with each other now. I want to apologize to you,” you say genuinely. “For not telling you the truth, for getting upset with you. I think we should talk about Br—”

     You want to continue, but Tara interrupts you. “No, Y/N! No, it’s totally okay. You don’t even need to apologize. I completely understand why you were upset. I should have been more open with you.” Tara takes a deep breath, steadying herself. “I want to apologize, too, Y/N.”

     A sinking feeling manifests in your chests, a feeling you’re unable to pinpoint the cause of.

     “I’m so sorry I didn’t talk to you first about dating Brian,” she continues, shifting her weight back and forth on her feet. “I just sort of assumed that you’d be okay with it, and I was wrong. He’s your best friend, so I should have asked you first before going out with him. I was…I was a bad friend to you.”

     She hangs her head a little, and you want to laugh out of sheer bewilderment. This is not what you were expecting her to apologize for. You’d been expecting something more along the lines of, “I’m so sorry for fake dating your best friend to help him make you jealous.” Or something. But she still hasn’t dropped the act.

     “Tara, stop,” you say, your voice full of concern. “I know everything. Brian told me today. So you don’t have to pretend to be dating anymore.”

     But acknowledgment doesn’t flood her expression the way you’d been expecting. Instead, her perfect brows stitch together in confusion. And the sinking feeling in your stomach grows larger—because you had been perfectly clear with her, and for some reason, she’s still not understanding. 

     “I don’t know what you’re talking, Y/N,” she says gravely, looking you dead in the eyes. “We’re not pretending anything.”

     “You…” The distant sound of an approaching train fills the tunnel. You can’t breathe.

      “What we have is real. Brian really likes me. He told me,” Tara continues, her voice growing in anger. “Pretending to date? Why would you even say something like that?”

     Holy shit.

     “I’m just trying to apologize before our big night tonight. Are you…” Tara’s eyes grow shiny, and her mouth falls open. “Are you trying to get us to break up? Is that why you said that?”

     “No, I—”

     “I know you’re pissed off that he’s dating me, it’s not a mystery,” she says shakily. “But I really can’t believe you would say something like that to me, Y/N…”

     “That’s not… I thought you were…”

     “I’ve never felt this way about any guy, ever,” Tara beseeches, and you’re stunned when you realize her sapphire eyes are sparkling with wet tears now. “Especially after Monday. He makes me so happy. And he makes me want to change who I am, to be somebody he’s proud to be with. But I can’t even get his best friend’s approval, my own flatmate’s approval, and I…” She sniffs. “And I just really hoped that you’d accept my apology. Because I really, really want this double date to work out tonight. Tonight was just supposed to be fun, and…and I just really wanna show him that I’d be a good girlfriend.”

     Your vision tunnels as you watch a single tear slide down her porcelain cheek. 

     Oh my god.

     Tara doesn’t know.

     You’re floored, so floored that you say nothing in response as the train approaches the platform. Tara sniffs loudly, turns toward the opening doors, and steps onto the train without another word. You follow her dazedly, feeling like your knees might give out at any minute. You take a seat beside Tara as the other passengers load the train.

     This whole time… This whole time, she’s…

     “Tara,” you whisper her name. But she just stiffens and sniffs again, turning her face away from yours. 

     Realizations begin popping off in your brain like firecrackers as the train lurches forward and begins moving again. Tara doesn’t know. She thinks she and Brian are really dating. She doesn’t know about you and Brian, or about John…

     But it doesn’t make sense. You rack your brain, trying to remember the words Brian had used this afternoon when he confessed to you… “I’m not really dating Tara,” he’d said. “I lied about it, lied about her. I’ve just been pretending to date her.”

     Holy shit. This whole time, you’d been completely misunderstanding the meaning of his words. You’d only assumed he meant that Tara was playing the game, too, the way John was helping you.

     You’d been wrong, so wrong. 

     This whole time…you’d been thinking Tara was out to get you, dating your best friend without even barely asking for permission…and then you thought you were so smart in realizing that it was fake dating Brian, in a ploy to make you jealous. But no. You’ve never been so misled about a person.

     Tara actually likes Brian. For real. Really, really likes Brian. She wasn’t dating him to make you jealous… She was dating him because she wanted him to be her boyfriend. She was never even aware of Brian’s game.

     Which means that Brian used Tara. Exploited her. Played her like a pawn.

     Tara never meant to make you jealous…that was Brian alone. This whole time, she was just a patsy. 

     And she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know she’s being used. She still thinks that Brian likes her. She still thinks she has a shot at becoming his girlfriend.

     You’ll be damned. That’s why the double date is still happening. She still thinks it’s a real double date. Brian has been letting her believe this whole time that it’s real.

     All along, you always thought Tara would be the one to eat Brian alive, with her seductions and her charm. But it ended up being the other way around.

     She has to know. Oh, god, she needs to know. You look over at Tara, but she’s still looking away, silently wiping away her tears. How are you going to tell her the truth? Especially here, on a public subway, just hours away from the double date she’s been looking forward to all week?

     Jesus. It’s not your responsibility to tell her. This is Brian’s problem. He’s the one that needs to tell her the truth about what he’s been doing to her.

     You whip your phone out of your purse and open your text conversation with Brian, growing more and more furious with him by the second. He led her on. He used her.This whole damn time, he’s been letting Tara believe that she actually has a shot with him. But he’s just been using her.

     But it just doesn’t seem right. Would Brian really do something that malicious to someone…pretend to date them without telling them that the feeling wasn’t mutual?

     Brian’s a good man. You can’t imagine he would ever do that. But the evidence is staring at you right in the face.

     Grinding your teeth, you text him: Care to explain why Tara still thinks you’re into her?!

     Oh god. Loose ends. Brian told you in the library that he hadn’t tied up all his loose ends yet. Tara is his loose end.

     Brian responds rather quickly: I promise, it’s not what it seems 

     What the fuck? You send him a succession of texts:

     She has no idea what’s going on

     Why didn’t you tell her??

     I can’t believe you would do this to someone

     Why are you leading her on like this???

     Brian replies: It’s complicated, a lot happened this week. I can’t explain it all right now. Just please tell me you didn’t tell her everything? I was going to talk to her later

     You resist the urge to scream on this godforsaken tube as you reply: When???

     Brian says, After the double date

     He’s seriously going to string her along the entire fucking double date? Brian, you asshole! 

     God, Tara…poor Tara. She doesn’t fucking deserve this. For the first time possibly ever, you feel sympathy for your boy-crazy flatmate. And remorse. You’ve been treating her so awfully all week, under the assumption that she’s been teaming up with Brian against you. But Tara’s done nothing wrong. She just got caught up in this mess, a mess that you created. And she’s about to get her heart broken because of it.

     You’ve got to tell her now, tell her before you reach the club, tell her before the show. Tell her before she spends the rest of the night waiting for a romance that will never happen.

     You’re about to open your mouth to talk to her, but Brian texts you again: Please tell me she doesn’t know yet?? 

     Fucking hell. You say: No. She doesn’t. But if you don’t tell her right away, I’m doing it.

     Don’t Y/N, Brian replies. I need to do it myself 

     I can’t fucking believe this right now, you type.

     But to your surprise, Brian replies in all caps: YOU DON’T KNOW THE WHOLE STORY.

     Jesus. You stare at your phone screen, flabbergasted. There’s clearly more than meets the eye here. What don’t you know? A tendril of fear wraps around your throat. Does Brian actually like Tara? What if he’s…conflicted? Between you and her? The idea of Brian wanting to be with Tara is something you’ve feared all along. Could that be it? Can you truly believe everything he said to you in the library earlier today?

     Brian she thinks you’re going to ask her to be your girlfriend tonight, you type. Are you?

     Nohe replies. You breathe a small sigh of relief.

     I’m done being out of the loop, Brian, you text him. Tell me.

     I’ll tell you later.

     Tell me NOW. You’re not waiting any longer.

     He reads the text, but he doesn’t reply. You stuff your phone back into your purse angrily.

     “This is Piccadilly Circus,” the overhead voice announces at the same time. The train reaches the platform and shudders to a halt. Tara jumps up to exit the subway, and you follow her onto the platform and up the escalator. The station is bustling with people, from businessmen making their way home to tourists wielding their phone cameras to beggars holding out cups to collect coins. But they might as well be ghosts to you right now.

     “Tara,” you rasp as you stand behind her on the long escalator to the top of the station. She turns around and looks down at you, her expression unreadable. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you upset.”

     You don’t offer any further explanation, and she doesn’t ask for one. Her eyes soften and she dips her head, letting it fall onto your shoulder. You stand there for a while, baffled by her behavior, as the escalator makes its ascent to the brisk evening air outside. 

     “This isn’t fair to you,” you whisper.

     You don’t know what she’s making of your words—what she could possibly be thinking—but she just waves you off and stands up straight again. She opens her mouth to say something, closes it, and then says, “Let’s just go have fun tonight and try to forget about it,” she says.

     And it rips your heart out. Tonight will be anything but fun.

———

( Quick Author’s Note:  this chapter is a long one, so if you need to be somewhere soon or you would like to take a break before the shit goes down, I would advice breaking here! —Blake)

     It doesn’t take long for you and Tara to go from freezing cold in the winter air to sweating bullets in the basement venue. There are a decent number of people here tonight at the Roundabout House—maybe a fifty or sixty, which is more than you’ve ever seen at a Queen show. 

     You look around at the crowd, spotting a few familiar faces from your classes and from other gigs. They congregate by the stage in clusters, holding drinks and laughing. The pub is nowhere near its maximum capacity, and yet, the number of bodies in the same area makes the air around you feel exhaustingly sticky. Combined with a thick cloud of assorted smoke wafting below the arched red brick ceiling, the atmosphere of the club is hazy and claustrophobic.

     Tara makes for the bar at the back of the venue first, where the crowd is lighter, and you and her sit at two vacant barstools to order your drinks. Your body screams at you not to drink tonight—especially after your escapades with Roger last night—but you cast the mental warning away.

     Tara is uncharacteristically quiet, and she has every right to be. You don’t offer any words yourself. But not long after you receive your rum and Coke and Tara her Cosmopolitan, you feel a tap on your shoulder.

     “Hey, Y/N!”

     Turning around, you notice it’s Jim Hutton—John’s RA.

     “Jim!” You smile and lean in for a quick hug, his mustache tickling your neck. Truth be told, you’d completely forgotten that you’d invited Jim to the show tonight on Freddie’s behalf. And as Jim introduces himself to Tara beside you, you suddenly remember you never told Freddie about it. You haven’t talked to Freddie even once since your fight yesterday. 

     “Mind if I stick around with you ladies for the night?” Jim asks. 

     “Of course not!” Tara says, delighted. You can tell that Jim is offering Tara a welcome diversion from the strange tension between you and her. “But only if you’re game for pushing your way to the front row with us!”

     You nearly choke on your drink. You don’t feel mentally prepared to presume a position at the front row… The pub is already so small and intimate, and if you stood at the very front, there would be no way to hide from Brian’s fleeting gazes…or the gazes of all four of the boys, to be honest. The idea makes you want to shrink and disappear.

     “You sure?” you ask Tara. “I mean, everyone’s already crowding around by the stage…”

     “Ye of little faith,” Tara laughs, only she’s not joking.

     Sure enough, after you all order another round of drinks, Tara beckons for you and Jim to follow her into the crowd of fans. You trade a skeptical look with Jim, but you both follow Tara into the standing room. You protest halfheartedly again, but that doesn’t stop Tara from her stone-hard resolve to get to the front. Holding your arm in a vice-like grip, she nudges her way past the crowd with no inhibitions. You grasp onto Jim’s hand behind you to keep him up, and you try your hardest to ignore the death glares as Tara drags you along with her, shouting, “Pardon us, coming through, VIP guests coming through!”

     Finally, you reach the very front row with Tara and Jim with only minimal injuries from jabbing elbows and heavy feet. It’s small and precariously close to the stage, and you have the laughable notion that Freddie might accidentally drop off the front ledge if he struts about too much. All of the instruments and amps are already set up onstage, and you recognize Brian’s Red Special and John’s Rickenbacker.

     The lights dim, and the smoke machines begin blowing billows of hazy fog onto the stage. The crowd of uni kids starts to break away from their drinks and chatter, bustling with anticipation as they turn to give the stage their full attention. You’re continually blown away by the number of people who are here to see Queen, formerly Smile…your friends’ weird, experimental student rock band. It seems as if the size of the crowd tonight has doubled since you last went to one of their shows, late last semester.

     And out they come. Freddie comes first, as usual. He’s wearing something eye-catching, as usual, flamboyant but still somehow reserved, in a way that indicates that he would probably prefer to wear something even flashier if he could. But the all-white outfit still manages to take your breath away; a delicately embroidered sweater that looks like it’s from the women’s section, skin-tight satin pants, and snow-white Chuck Taylors. He’s lithe and graceful, like an androgenous deity who feeds off of venerating eyes.

     “Hello, all you beautiful people, good to see everybody again,” Freddie says into the microphone almost nervously as the rest of the band make their way out. 

     Brian emerges next. Dressed in black trousers and a half-buttoned black shirt, in a way that perfectly contrasts Freddie’s all-white, Brian looks nearly the same as he always looks…save for a number of adornments you’ve never seen him wearing before. A studded necklace on his exposed collarbones. Something dark on his bottom eyelashes. New rings on his nimble fingers. And chipped red fingernail polish on his left hand.

     Tara sees it too, at the exact same time you see it. She squeals with excitement. “He kept the polish on!” she says.

     The crowd’s cheers amplify when Roger comes out, twirling his drumsticks and donning his usual sunglasses-cigarette-smirk combo. You click your tongue in disapproval at the cigarette. So much for breaking his smoking habit. His dirty blonde hair is gelled back and perfectly mussed, and he’s wearing a blush-colored biker jacket, a striped shirt, leather pants, and shiny chukka boots. Basically, the quintessential rock star. Jailhouse rocker with a twist.

     And then there’s John…wearing jeans and a plain T-shirt. You can’t help but laugh in sympathy. He looks so Deaky. After that whole band argument about attire after Tuesday’s rehearsal…Freddie must have thrown a hissy fit backstageYou wonder if John is nervous at all; he doesn’t look nervous, not one bit. In fact, he looks almost smug as he slings his bass strap across his back.

     “We’d like to introduce you to our new bassist for the evening…” Freddie gestures grandly to John. “Give it up for John Deacon!”

     The crowd applauds and you peer up at John as you clap with everyone else. He smiles and nods in acknowledgment when suddenly, his eyes fall to yours on the front row. His lips part, and so do yours, and your vision tunnels. A thousand emotions fill your chest.

     But the emotions wash away as Freddie resumes his introductions. “You all remember Brian May, our lead guitarist… And, uh, Roger, of course, the biggest member of them all!”

     “Hi, Roger!” a girl calls from behind you, and Roger smirks provocatively. You scoff.

     “And of course, I’m Freddie,” the singer drawls with a dramatic flick of his wrist. “Freddie Mercury.”

     Mercury? That’s a new one.

     And then they’re off; the band launches into their first song of the evening, Keep Yourself Alive, a crowd favorite. The tune is loud and thrashing and catchy and addicting, and the band puts on an electrifying spectacle. Tara’s thrashing her head side to side as she sings along, and Jim starts moving to the beat too, and all of a sudden, you can’t keep yourself from dancing either. 

     Song after song, the energy of the crowd grows. It becomes increasingly difficult to remember why you’d been so stressed out. The memories of your horrible week begin to fade, if only for this moment. Suddenly, you’re able to forget all your Tara troubles and Brian troubles and John troubles and Freddie troubles, and just appreciate the music. It’s the best feeling in the world.

     You don’t remember ever seeing the band mesh so well together the way they are tonight. It’s John, you realize. John’s got a stage presence you’ve never seen on any of the band’s other trial bassists. He holds his own, melding to Roger’s tempo perfectly, matching Brian’s energy with each song, and providing a stable backbone to Freddie’s antics. Your heart races with pride as you watch him jump onto Rog’s podium and move his hips to the beat with the start of Liar. Roger flashes John a smile of encouragement. He’s a natural, just like you always expected. This is what you’d always wanted for him.

     Halfway through Son and Daughter, out of your periphery, you get the sense that there’s a pair of eyes on you. Blinking, you look around the stage…only to see Brian staring right at you. 

     “I… Want… You…” Freddie and Roger sing. Brian doesn’t break his gaze into your eyes. He smiles, just a little bit. Your breath catches in your throat.

     And then you notice Tara beside you. She’s waving excitedly at Brian…she thinks he’s staring at her. His gaze shifts to the right to look at her. And his eyes turn forlorn as the smile falls off his face.

     Tara blinks, a frown forming on her brow as she watches Brian’s face change as he looks at her. He’s not smiling at her, and she realizes it.

     “…To be a woman!”

     And then, the moment is over as soon as it began, and Brian shifts his eyes away from Tara before launching back into his riffs. You inhale sharply, dazed. Tara goes still, gazing vacantly at Brian, realization flooding her features.

     “Tara,” you say, but the sound of your voice doesn’t carry over the cacophony of the band. She doesn’t look at you, just presses her mouth into a hard line. 

     Brian has to tell Tara the truth. If Tara doesn’t hear it as soon as possible, she’ll end up making a fool out of herself. And for as much as you’ve disliked Tara in the past…you couldn’t bear to see her heart get broken in front of everyone.

     You can only pray that Brian will let her off easy. And quickly.

     The show ends with a bang—literally a bang, with a prolonged drum solo from Roger and a series of power chords from Brian that has the crowd screaming. With one final explosion of noise, the lights dim and everyone applauds. “Thank you, thank you, dears!” Freddie says hoarsely, blowing a final kiss to the audience as if it were five hundred people and not just fifty. “Good night, everybody!” 

     The lights come back on, and everyone begins to exit. You realize that whatever funk Tara had been in a few songs ago is now gone, and she’s gone back to normal. If she’s anything, it’s resilient, you think. “Let’s try to get backstage,” she says excitedly as she tugs at you and Jim’s shirts. “You’re cool with that, right, Jim?”

     “Sure,” Jim says.

     You follow Tara to the side of the room and down a narrow hallway leading to the quaint backstage area. Queen isn’t big enough to have their own stage crew yet, but Roger’s employed a few of his friends to help with carrying all the equipment offstage. Tara seems to know the stagehands, and she smiles and chats with a couple of them about classes and homework. 

     Jim chats with you in the meantime. “We really worked up a sweat dancing in that crowd, didn’t we?”

     “Yeah,” you agree, fanning yourself with your hand. Your back feels sticky with sweat. “You’re a good dancer!”

     Jim laughs. “Your boyfriend John’s a nice lad. He’s the new bassist for the band so?”

     “Yeah—well, if all went well, he will be,” you say with a small smile. “Thanks for coming out tonight, Jim. I’m sure it’ll mean a lot to both John and Freddie that you’re here.”

     Jim beams. “About Freddie… Does he, uh, know that I’m here to see him?”

     “No, I’m sorry,” you frown. “I didn’t get the chance to. It’ll be a pleasant surprise, I’m sure.”

     “Hey, guys!” Tara beckons for you and Jim to follow her. “This way! They’re in here!”

     She leads you and Jim to the band’s dressing room before you can say another word and bursts through the door.

     “Helloooo, boys!” she says dramatically.

     The dressing room is smaller than most, but large enough room for a couch, a makeup bench, and a large wall-length mirror. Brian crouches by his guitar case against the wall, running a cloth over the fretboard. Roger’s sitting at the couch against the back wall, and—Christ, it’s been five minutes since the show ended and he’s already got a random girl on his arm, giggling drunkenly as he tells some story in her ear.

       Freddie is standing by the mirrors at the back of the room, dabbing at his sweaty brow, glowing with post-show satisfaction. Sitting beside him on the bench is a guy who looks like a student whom you’ve never seen before. He has short, choppy blonde hair and shifty eyes shrouded by thick bushy eyebrows. And he has his arm around Freddie’s narrow waist.

     Freddie glances up upon your entrance. “Oh, more friends!” he says loudly. “Come in, come in! This is my new friend Paul Prenter, here! Paul, these are my friends Tara, and—”

     Freddie’s eyes land on Jim. He goes silent. 

     Oh, shit.

     “Oh, hey, Jim,” Paul says in disbelief. 

     “Hello, Paul,” Jim says, his voice thick. “Fancy seeing both of my residents at the same pub, huh?”

     That’s Paul, you realize. John’s asshole roommate Paul.

     Jim looks back and forth between Freddie and Paul. Maybe it’s your imagination, but Paul seems to squeeze Freddie’s side even more tightly…almost possessively. Realization hits Jim; you can see it in his expression, and you can practically hear his heart breaking.

     “Nice to meet you, Paul,” Tara says. You can’t find it in you to greet the guy. Not when you can feel Freddie’s fiery, heartbroken glare boring a hole into your head.

     “You too,” Paul says in a thick Irish accent, just like Jim’s. He glances up at Freddie. “Fred, darlin’, how did you and Jim meet, then?”

     Freddie answers meekly, “He was my Bio tutor Freshman year.”

     “Oh, were you, now, Jim?” Paul asks.

     “That’s right,” Jim replies. He meets Freddie’s gaze for half a second before adding, “Well, it was nice to see you lads. I think I’ll be heading back to the dorms. RA duty in an hour, you know? Cheers, everyone.”

     Jim makes his departure the dressing room without another word, and Freddie looks after him longingly. You sigh, letting the breath puff your cheeks out. Well, thatwas a disaster. How were you supposed to know Freddie would be with somebody else tonight? And Jim’s fucking resident, of all people. Nevertheless, you feel guilty. You consider running after Jim to apologize, but you don’t want to make a scene…or make anything worse for Freddie.

     Freddie. He glares at the floor now, and the flare of his nostrils is the only indication of his emotions. You feel awful, so awful. Jim Hutton was all he’d been talking about for the past few months, and you know he’d been pining after Jim since long before he confessed it to you. You had a responsibility to tell Freddie that Jim was coming, and you failed to meet that responsibility. 

     But there’s nothing to do right now. And you’ve got bigger fish to fry tonight.

     After Jim departs, Tara saunters over to Brian and throws her arms around his shoulders. She plants a fat kiss on his cheek and sidles up next to him, which simultaneously makes your blood boil with irrational jealousy and your stomach twist with guilt. You look around for John, but you realize he hasn’t been here this whole time. 

     “Where’s John?”

     “He’s helping with the equipment,” Roger answers, and the girl on his arm titters. Of course John is helping with the equipment while everyone else lounges around. That’s just John; if there’s an opportunity to help out, he’s already off doing it.

     “Say, Brian,” Paul says. “John mentioned you and he are going on some kind of double date tonight.”

     “Mmm,” Brian mumbles.

     “Mind if Fred and I join? Sounds like a good time.”

     What the hell, man? You glare at Paul and look to Freddie for support, but Freddie still looks too shell-shocked to speak. You draw your eyes to look at Paul, sizing him up. He reminds you of a snake, the way his narrow eyes dart to and from across the room. His eyes land on you, and you look away quickly.

     “You’re asking if you and Freddie can come on our double date?” Brian asks in disbelief.

     “A date?” the girl beside Roger chirps. “I wanna go!”

     No, no, no. The last thing you need is four additional people on what is already doomed to be a shitshow of a double date. But before you can retort, Tara pipes up. “Sorry, guys. I think it’s just gonna be us four. Maybe next time we can all go out together!”

     Paul surrenders and goes back to his conversation with Freddie. The girl next to Roger takes another swig of her drink and hiccups while Roger scrolls through his phone disinterestedly. Tara resumes her cuddling up against Brian, who seems much more interested in polishing the strings on his guitar than he is in paying attention to her. You grind your teeth, about to plop yourself down on the ground against the wall, when Tara cranes her head back toward you and chirps, “Y/N! Why don’t you go fetch your boy so we can get this show on the road? The night’s not getting any younger!”

     You nod curtly, seething at the way Brian still studies the strings of his guitar so intently. But then, as if he reads your mind, he looks up and meets your gaze just as Tara looks away.

     “Tell her,” you mouth at Brian, shooting daggers with your eyes.

     He gives you a sideway glower, but his expression is anxious. “I can’t,” he mouths back, shaking his head almost imperceptibly. But then Tara nestles her chin into his neck, and he tears his eyes away from you.

     Fine. You huff and push your way out the dressing room doors. It angers you beyond belief that he’s doing this to Tara. You don’t know if you’re going to be able to last the whole fucking double date without bursting out, “Brian’s been leading you on this whole time!!!”

     But that anxious look in Brian’s expression…is there something else you don’t know? What’s keeping him from breaking it off with Tara?

     You don’t see John anywhere backstage, but you spot a few of Roger’s friends pushing a cart of amps down a ramp from the stage. “Do you know where John is?” you ask them.

     “The bass player?” says one of the guys. “Yeah, he’s outside by the band van helping us load everything up. Want us to take you to him?”

     Roger’s friends lead the way to an elevator, which leads up to the main story from the basement. You follow them as they roll the amp cart outside the back doors and into the snowy car lot. Yellow streetlights cast a pallid glow on the shimmering snow in the sky, and you pull your jacket back on. The sweat on your skin from dancing makes you shiver in the freezing air.

     The two guys lead you to the band van parked outside. You see John crouching inside the back of the van, tethering down some amps. You decide to hang back while the guys roll the cart over to John and help him hoist it onto the van.

     “That’s the last of ‘em,” one of them says once they finish. “Need any more help, mate?”

     “Nah, I think I’ve got the rest,” John says and pats the guys on the back. “Thanks for your help!”

     They depart back inside, and John finally looks at you. You notice that he’s pulled a knit sweater over his slender frame, and his nose is delightfully pink. “Hey,” you greet him, your teeth chattering.

     “What are you doing out here?” he says, looking you up and down. He opens an arm and gestures for you to come closer. Slowly, hesitantly, you do. Immediately, he envelops you in his arms, using his body to shield you from the wintery gusts. 

     “Wanted to find you,” you murmur against his chest, pressing your face into his warmth despite yourself. You hadn’t come out here with the intent to hug him, but right now, you’d rather be doing nothing else. Every time John hugs you, you’re reminded of how much you needed it without realizing it. He smells so good, and being this close to him after what happened this morning makes you want to never pull away.

     This morning. You’d nearly forgotten that you and John spent the morning together. The memory sends a flush across your skin, despite the snow. Only twelve hours ago, you and John had been in your bed, embracing each other, skin against skin…

     You shudder. John notices and hugs you tighter. The cognitive dissonance you’re experiencing—between staying here hugging him and pulling away out of guilt—makes your head spin.

     John pulls away just enough to see your face, but he keeps his long arms wrapped around the small of your back. You gaze up at him, and the halo of flurries floating around his head makes him look like an angel. “You’re still sweaty,” he chuckles, touching your damp neck. “Was that you who I saw dancing in the front?”

     “Yeah,” you admit with a shy little smile that seems to make his whole day.

     “You look amazing, by the way,” he murmurs. “But you must be cold out here.”

     “Yeah, but you’re warm.” You press the side of your face against his chest again. Your heart seems to falter and jumpstart when John’s fingers start rubbing your back in little circles, that trademark gesture of his that you’ve grown to love so much.

     “I missed you,” John admits. The rumble of his chest against your cheek is so lovely. You squeeze his torso a little tighter in lieu of a response, before stepping away and looking into his eyes. You want to spill everything to him, tell him everything you’d discovered about Tara. 

     Instead, you say, “You did so great tonight, John. I’m so proud of you.”

     He smiles—that smile that could resurrect dead kittens—and flutters his lashes. You notice little snowflakes are sticking to them. “You really think so?”

     Briefly, you think of your arrangement with Freddie—the arrangement to keep John in the band no matter what Brian said. Freddie wanted to ensure John’s position in the band almost as badly as you did. He was going to collude with Roger, or throw a fit if Brian dissented, until Brian had no choice but to give in and let John stay in the band. You wonder if Freddie still feels that way, after everything that’s happened. 

     “Of course,” you murmur. “You killed it up there.”

     John gazes at you silently for a few moments before a shudder overtakes your body. “You look freezing,” he says again with a chuckle. “You didn’t have to come out here. I was about to come back inside.”

     “I wanted to talk to you away from everyone else,” you explain, crossing your arms over your chest. You need to let John know what’s going on with Tara and the double date. 

     “Do you wanna talk here?” John offers, gesturing to the band van. “It’s not any warmer, but at least we won’t get snowed on.” 

     John opens the side door of the van, hoists himself up, and offers you a hand. You take it, climbing into the middle section. The van is spacious, despite the set of amps taking up the space where the back seats would be. You’ve hung out here in the band van many times with Brian and Roger—and later Fred—just sitting on the floor with your legs dangling off the back, talking about music and college and life. Those memories are some of your favorite pastimes. 

     After John closes the side door, closing the van off from the elements, you immediately feel much warmer. The band van is quiet and dark, but you can still see John’s face clearly in the light of the streetlight outside. John settles in beside you on the bench seat, heaving a big sigh before looking at you intently.

     “You okay?” he asks, his voice soft and yet loud in the closed-off space. And within that simple question lies a thousand meanings. You don’t know which meaning it is. Is it, are you still cold? Or, how are you doing today? Or is it, how do you feel now that we’ve made love in your bedroom and professed our feelings to each other?

     “I’m okay,” you answer. You don’t really know if you mean it or not. “Are you?”

     “I’m okay, too,” he answers simply. You twiddle your thumbs awkwardly, not sure how to bring up what you wanted to say.

      “So… What’s going on with your flatmate being here?” you ask instead.

     John rolls his eyes at the mention of Paul. “He wanted to tag along with me to the gig,” John says irately. “Then I saw him with Freddie backstage, so I guess I see now why he wanted to come.”

     “Is this a…new development?”

     “Think so,” John huffs. You can tell he disapproves of his roommate’s newfound relationship with Freddie.

     “You were right, though. He’s kind of a dick.”

     “No kidding. He’s always playing loud music or bringing people over when I’m trying to sleep or study. And he never cleans our loo.”

     You laugh humorlessly. “He wanted to join our double date, but Tara told him no,” you grumble. John turns to look up at you, his expression growing serious.

     “The double date is still happening tonight, right?” he murmurs. You gaze at him, your heart hammering. 

     “I think so,” you whisper.

     “I meant what I said before, Y/N,” John says, his voice suddenly heavy with a new emotion. “I’m really looking forward to tonight, to being together with you…even if just for a night.”

     “I…” John’s eagerness to be with you is overwhelming. And what’s even more overwhelming is how painfully aware you’ve become of his proximity to you in this band van.

     “Can I tell you something, Y/N?” John asks timidly. You nod, feeling meek. He’s sitting so close that his leg is brushing up against yours now. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since this morning. I know it was hard for you, for both of us, but… I meant every word I said.”

     “John,” you whisper. You don’t know if your heart can take another round of confessions. But he pays you no heed.

     “I meant it when I said that I’m in love with you,” John says, ducking his chin to look at you right in the eyes. He’s so close now, and sparks—those sparks that are becoming so familiar now—are flying yet again. “I meant it when I said that I want to be with you, no matter what happens. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to be with you.”

     The breath you’d been holding leaves you shakily. You’ve completely forgotten what you came out here to tell him. “R-really?”

     “Yes,” he replies, so fervently that it makes your toes curl. His hand finds yours, and your fingers must be like ice to him, because his skin burns against yours like a furnace. And his other hand…your mouth parts as his other hand rests on your waist. “Y/N…?”

     “Yes?” you say, your voice barely a whisper. John’s face is so close to yours now, and he rests his forehead against yours. You’re barely conscious of how much your breathing rate has increased.

     “Can I…can I kiss you?”

     Such a simple, innocent request. Especially compared to all the naughty things you and John have done before. And yet…his question sends tingles down your whole body. 

     You didn’t come out here to kiss John Deacon. And yet, because you have absolutely no self-control in his moment, you find yourself breathing out your answer: “Yes.”

     John leans into you slowly, as if this were his first time to kiss you, and he allows his breath to fan out over your face. Your body is a live wire, white-hot with anticipation. His lips, soft and warm, brush against yours in a feather-light touch that makes you feel like exploding. 

     He’s not your boyfriend, he’s not your boyfriend…don’t do this…

     It’s too much; you can’t take the anticipation anymore. You don’t care about the implications. You find yourself leaning into John, the feeling of your lips pressing more and more against his setting off all kinds of explosions and alarms. But you don’t care anymore. You don’t care that you came out here to talk to him about this evening, to tell him what you learned about Tara, to tell him what Brian’s been doing to her—

     Brian.

     You pull away from John with a sharp inhale. Fuck. Shit. John’s eyes flutter open, his brows drawing together, his lips still parted.

     “John, I’m sorry,” you say sheepishly. 

     “It’s okay,” he whispers. “It’s okay.”

     “I want to, but I shouldn’t,” you admit, suddenly out of breath. You realize you’d been holding it. “Not when I’m still so confused, so…torn.” You glance at John pitifully. “If I kiss you again, I want it to be…with my whole heart. Not just half.”

     You know your words sting John, but he nods understandingly anyway. “You still need time. I know. I shouldn’t have…” He draws a hand to his mouth unconsciously, letting his fingers brush over his lips. “…I shouldn’t have done that.”

     “Don’t be sorry.” You rub your neck and look away, your mind reeling. “I’m just so confused.”

     “About what?” he asks softly.

     “About you. About Brian and Tara. About Freddie.” You heave a deep breath. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

     “Tonight, you mean?” he asks. You nod. “The double date?”

     Suddenly, you feel so anxious that you might faint. “Things are different now,” you say. “Things have changed.”

     “What do you mean?” 

     So much has happened. You look at John in concern. “It has to do with Tara. She thinks that she and Brian are really dating.”

     John looks confused. “Well, aren’t they?”

     You sit up straighter and take a deep breath, gathering your thoughts. You have to catch John up on a lot. “I’m gonna have to explain it from the beginning,” you say. When he nods, you continue. “On Wednesday, I…came to the realization that Brian and Tara might have been pulling the same stunt that you and I are pulling.”

     “Fake dating,” John gapes.

     You nod. “Right. I was so sure that’s what they were doing. There was so much evidence…and I realized just how much of what they were doing was Brian trying to make me jealous. The red scarf on Brian’s wrist…the photo Tara posted to Facebook…getting really in my face about flirting…”

     “Okay,” John prompts, eager to hear where you are going with this.

     “I was so sure that it was fake dating, that Brian and Tara were working together like you and I worked together. But it didn’t make sense, because Brian took me stargazing on Tuesday, and he was still pretending to date Tara. And so when I saw Brian this afternoon, he confirmed it, and—”

     You cut yourself off abruptly, and John just stares. Shit shit shit. You didn’t think this through. Telling John what you figured out about Tara means telling him what happened between you and Brian this afternoon in the library. 

     “And…what?” John prompts.

     I suppose I could just leave out the unimportant details.

     “Brian met up with me in the library,” you explain, trying your best to keep your voice steady. “I…sort confessed something to him over the phone when I was drunk last night.”

     “What did you confess?” John breathes.

     Uuuuuuuuh. You squeeze your eyes shut in a grimace. “I sort of told him that I’ve been in love with him ever since Freshman year,” you croak. “I don’t remember saying it, but…he insisted that’s what I said. And he wanted to know if it was true.”

     John watches you, an unspoken question clear as day on his face. What did you tell him?

     You rub your neck. “I said it was. And…he told me he was pretending to date Tara. And I told him I was pretending to date you, only it wasn’t really pretending anymore.”

     “You told Brian that?”

     You nod. 

     “What happened?” John asks. You know he can tell there’s a hole in your narrative. But god, you do not want to go into detail. You really, really don’t.

     “The point is,” you continue, “Brian said he was pretending to date Tara. And I assumed that meant that she was, y’know, aware of this. But as it turns out, she’s not. She has absolutely no idea that Brian’s just using her to make me jealous.”

     John doesn’t ask any more questions; he just stares at your hand rubbing your neck. His silence makes you nervous, so you keep talking.

     “That’s what I wanted to come out here to talk to you about. The double date’s still happening, because Tara still thinks she has a chance with Brian. She has no idea. She thinks that he’s gonna ask her to be his girlfriend. And he’s not, he told me. I don’t know why Brian’s still stringing her along like this. It’s so unfair to her. But I don’t know how we’re going to last the whole double date knowing that he’s—”

     “What’s on your neck?” John asks. It’s just a murmur, his voice quiet yet firm. And yet it stills you, a silent chill running down your spine. 

     “What?”

     “Your neck,” he repeats. “You’ve been rubbing it a lot.”

     You can’t think as John brings his hand up and gently tugs your fingers away from your neck, revealing the skin there…illuminated by the yellow steetlight shining through the windows of the band van. 

     Brian’s hickey. All the sweating from dancing in the pub…and you’d been subconsciously rubbing away the makeup all night.

     John’s eyes narrow with confusion as they fixate on your neck. Your lips part with a soft gasp, your body absolutely frozen. Seconds pass, excruciating seconds, before John trails his eyes up to meet yours, his mouth open.

     “John,” you say quickly, pitifully.

     He blinks. You watch as his face changes with realization. You can see the exact moment he realizes that the hickey isn’t his own doing.

     “You and Brian…” he murmurs. You gulp as another shudder threatens to shoot down your spine.

     “I…” You don’t even know what to say. There’s absolutely nothing you can say to him.

     John’s brow furrows as the pieces begin to come together. He studies the mark on your neck again. “When?” he demands, his gray eyes locking on yours again and darting rapidly over your face.

     “Please,” you breathe, although you’re not sure what you’re pleading. For him to let you explain? There’s nothing to explain. For him to understand? He seems to be understanding as clear as day.

     “When?” he repeats, loud and insistent. You flinch.

     “Today,” you gasp. “This afternoon.”

     “But you said you were in the library…” 

     “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” you say quickly in defense. You’re referring to the hickey, but you chose the wrong words. Anger flashes over John’s face, anger and…and heartbreak.

     “You and Brian met up in the library?” he asks, but it comes out as more of a harsh statement. “How did you…?”

     He thinks you and Brian hooked up. “We didn’t, we—that’s not what happened,” you stammer.

     A new realization must have crossed John’s mind, because his eyes grow wide with—panic? “Where?” he asks, sounding almost strangled.

     “John, wait, we didn’t—”

     “Where in the library, Y/N?” His eyes bore into yours, desperate and wet. You feel like choking, because you know what you say next is going to shatter his heart.

     “The Nest,” you admit, your voice just a croak.

     It’s as if your words severed the power cord in John’s mind. His mouth snaps shut as his eyes glaze over, completely wiped of all the emotions that were just there. With a determined set of his jaw, his face goes completely blank…almost bored. The only thing that betrays him is the single tear that falls from the corner of his eye. It’s the most terrifying expression you’ve ever seen from John Deacon. 

     You suck in an inhale, breaking the silence, as you desperately grab for his hand. “John,” you plead, leaning closer to him.

     “No,” John says, his voice dry as a barren desert. “It’s over.”

     John wrenches his hand from your grasp and pulls at the latch handle on the van door. A sudden hit of cold winter air rushes in the van as he opens the door and steps out into the car lot, leaving you alone. 

     What?

     His words sink in, slowly and yet surely. It’s over. You feel like dying, at once frozen in place and yet bristling with the need to scream. But you break out of your stupor and fumble with the handle on your door, your fingers stiff and shaky. At last, you push the door open and step onto the pavement, and then your feet are flying, racing to catch up with John across the car lot. 

     “John!” you cry out. He’s already almost to the door. The falling snow stings your eyes as you run, and your feet threaten to slip out from under you on the slick asphalt, but you don’t care. “John, wait! John!”

     You’ve finally caught up to him when you realize he’s stopped in place, facing away from you directly beneath the floodlight of the building’s back doors. Gasping for cold air that burns your throat, you make a desperate grab for his arm. 

     “John, please, listen to me,” you whimper, tugging at his arm. He doesn’t turn. “It isn’t what you think. It wasn’t supposed to happen there, I promise.” Nothing. “John, please look at me!”

     At last, he turns. His eyes are red with fury and from the bite of snowy air. “Didn’t you hear me?!” he yells, the sound of his anguish echoing off the surrounding brick buildings. You cringe and step away from him. “It’s over! I’m done! We’re done!”

     He speaks the last statement in a seething hiss that seers itself into your mind. Your knees feel like buckling. “What?”

     “We’re done, Y/N,” he says in a snarl, his hot breath fogging in the air, and you can see his quivering hands are in fists. 

     “But… But you told me…” I’ll give you all the time in the world. I’ll wait forever, if you want me to. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to be with you.

     “You betrayed me,” he rasps. Another tear falls down his face, and you realize now how earnest his eyes look beneath his anger. “You went to the Nest. You took himthere. And you…and you…”

     John’s voice trails off in a croak, and he rapidly shakes his head as if to clear some vile thought, as if he wants to convince himself it’s not true. His words confuse you, but you feel sick to your stomach. There is nothing you can say to John in this moment to make him understand the truth behind your actions. 

     “That was our place,” he continues, his voice cracking. “Not his.”

     You feel dazed, your mind reeling. The Nest… You realize now how much that secret study spot meant to John. How could you have been so daft, so fucking clueless…? You never once thought about how much it would break John’s heart to bring Brian to the Nest. And now he thinks you and Brian hooked up there.

     You realize now why he’s reacting this way…because in John’s mind, you’ve desecrated the Nest, like graffiti on a temple.

     You’ve ruined everything. You had been so scared of being betrayed by everybody else…that you didn’t even recognize it when you became the betrayer.

     “I’m so sorry,” you keen, and it takes all your strength not to succumb to the quake in your knees and drop to the snowy asphalt. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

     “You didn’t mean to hurt me?” John repeats, stepping closer to you. “You say that every damn time as if it actually means something to you.” He shakes his head, and you can hear his breath shaking. “But you don’t care, do you? You never have.”

     “No, John,” you cry. “You’re wrong—”

     “No,” he snaps, cutting you off. “You only ever cared about yourself.” He sucks a breath in through his teeth and looks away from you. You can see the tendon in his jaw tensing. “And I was a fool for ever thinking I could help you. I was a fool for ever thinking you’d choose me.”

     “Please, just give me tonight,” you beg. “Just give me tonight to think about everything, and I—”

     “No, Y/N!” John yells in exasperation, but his voice is strained with tears. “No more. I told you. We’re done.”

     “But John…”

     “I’m done waiting for you to choose.” John starts slowly backing up toward the building, his face twisted with emotion.

     “But I love you.” The words hurt coming out of your throat, but you mean each and every one. 

     But they’re the wrong words. “You don’t love me!” he yells again. He doesn’t even give you a chance to process before he adds, “I know you think you do, but you don’t! You never have!”

     “That is not true—”

     “The only thing you love about me is that I was the easy choice.” He levels his gaze with yours. “I was easy, and I was convenient. And I would have done anything for you.”

     You can practically hear your heart shriveling up in your chest. He couldn’t be more wrong. You want to tell him that he couldn’t be more wrong. But your breath leaves in a strangled sob, stealing your words.

     “Ever since the start, I was the easy choice for you,” John spits. “John from Government, who owes you a favor. John from Government, who’s convenientlyauditioning for Brian’s band.” He gasps for breath, looking completely torn up inside. “Did all those afternoons we spent together in the Nest mean nothing to you?”

     “No—”

     “But that was just convenient too, wasn’t it?” John’s words make you want to shrivel up and die. “The Nest. You never cared about it the way I did.”

     You’re crumbling.

     “It was still always going to be Brian,” John says decidedly. He wraps his hand around the door handle, squeezing so hard his knuckles turn white. “You made up your mind a long time ago. You may not realize it, but I finally have. I finally got the fucking memo.”

     “No,” you plead, willing your legs to step toward him, but you can’t move. “I need time, John, please.”

     But John just shakes his head. “Your time is up, Y/N. It’s over. You had the choice…but I’m making the choice for you now.”

     And without another word to you, John pulls the door open and steps inside the building, leaving you alone in the car lot.

     You’re frozen for a long time, as if the ice on the ground has crawled its way up your legs and locked them in place. You can’t even find the energy to breathe; it’s as if your body has ceased to function. When you finally draw in a choked gasp of an inhale and oxygen rushes dizzyingly through your body again, it snaps you out of your daze.

     You lunge for the cold metal handle and yank the door open. The warmth of the building should be welcome, but you barely register it. You whip your head left and right, trying to determine which way John went, and you have a premonition that he went back down to the basement where the other band members are. You dash to the elevator down the hallway and slam your fist against the down button, but it’s taking too damn long. Panicking, you look around at the other doors—and you see one labeled “stairwell.”

     Running as fast as you can down the stairs, you finally reach the basement story a minute later and throw open the bottom door. You emerge beside the standing room of the pub, where you and Tara and Jim had danced to Queen’s music seemingly a whole lifetime ago. The venue has all but cleared out, with a few stragglers lounging by the bar finishing off their beers. You ignore them and take off for the backstage area, your heart pounding in your chest. 

     The sound of voices fill the hallways—loud, arguing voices. With a jolt of dread, you realize they’re coming from the boys’ dressing room. 

     “…you joking? You’re joking, aren’t you?” you hear from Roger’s gravelly voice.

     “Well, of course he is, darling!” Freddie laughs. “Tell him you’re joking, Deaky.”

     “I’m not,” John says in a grunt. “I’m dead serious. It’s not for me.”

     “You’re not joining the band?” Brian questions. Your stomach lurches as you approach the door.

     “John, don’t be cheeky,” Freddie says, although he sounds less convinced by his own chuckle this time. “You passed the audition, you got the spot!”

     Brian makes a sound of disapproval. “We haven’t even discussed this yet, Fred! He’s still on trial!”

     “Oh, would you just shut it, Brian?” Freddie flouts. “He played the bloody gig, and he was great, mind you, not that it comes as a surprise, and he deserves a spot in the band!”

     “I second that,” Roger chimes in.

     “Oh, we’re back on this again,” Brian groans.

     “Would you all please just shut up and listen to me?” John barks, and the room goes silent. You reach the doorway, your head hammering with anxiety as you peer inside. John is standing in the middle of the dressing room, all eyes on him. Tara peers from around Brian’s back, and Paul Prenter sits on the couch next to Roger and the girl, who’s fallen asleep on the drummer’s lap.

     “What’s going on?” you croak. Brian, Roger, and Freddie look at you, but John doesn’t even turn around as he replies.

     “I’m not joining the band. And that’s final.”

     “John, you can’t quit now,” Roger insists. “You’re the best we’ve ever had.”

     “You’ll find someone else,” John grumbles, crossing the room to gather his bass guitar and case.

     “No, Deaky!” Freddie jumps to his feet and glides over to John, wringing his hands nervously. “Roger’s right, we’ll never find anyone as good as you.”

     “I’ve made up my mind.” John latches his case and slings it over his back.

     “But why?”

     “I told you, it’s not for me.”

     All eyes watch John as he strides toward the door, his mouth set in a hard line. You’re blocking the way out, but you don’t move for him to pass.

     “Excuse me,” John says coldly, and he’s looking at you like you’re see-through…as if you’re just some stranger he’s never even met.

     “John, don’t do this,” you plead. He’s turning down the spot. He’s leaving. It shatters whatever’s left of your heart to think that he’s just going to walk out like this…the opportunity of a lifetime…

     “Look what you fucking did, Brian,” Freddie spits, gesturing to John as he glowers at the lead guitarist. “This is your fault.”

     “My fault?” Brian hisses. “I didn’t want this!”

     “You pushed away our best bass player!” Freddie shrieks. “We might as well kick you out of the fucking band, since we’re never going to be as perfect as you’re expecting us to—”

     “Nobody’s kicking anybody out of the band,” Roger placates. “John, mate, we’re begging you not to leave. You and I made a bloody good rhythm section tonight. And we’re not gonna find someone who plays Liar like you do.”

     Roger’s words seem to impact John—he swallows hard—but it’s not enough. “This is my choice,” John insists, turning his head to address the room. “It’s not because of Brian. It’s not because of any of you.” He turns back to face you. “I’ll be leaving now.”

     You don’t protest as he steps around you and sidles his way to the doorframe. Freddie seems to think his luck hasn’t run out entirely yet, because he scrambles to John’s side again. “Deaky, Deaky, wait, please. Don’t leave. I’ll let you wear anything you want onstage, I’m sorry I ever got upset about the T-shirt.”

     John stops long enough to put his hand on Freddie’s shoulder endearingly. “I’ve made up my mind, Fred. Don’t worry, I’ll still be around to play you at table tennis again.”

     You gape as John steps through the open door, slowly, almost like he’s regretting this. But his face is stone-cold.

     “Why?” you ask, your voice strangled, and he stops. “Why is it not for you?”

     “It’s a waste of my time,” John says dejectedly. He turns looks around the room at everyone one final time—including you. “Sorry for wasting yours.”

     And he’s gone without another word. Freddie lets out a shaky breath beside you and slumps against the wall next to the door. You can’t stop from staring at the open door, all the words he’d just spoken echoing through your mind. John turned down the spot.

     “Not to worry, lads,” Paul Prenter says. “I’m sure you’ll find another bass player. City’s chock-full of ‘em.”

     “Do you mind pissing off?” Brian growls at Paul. 

     “Oh, now he says something,” Roger gripes. “Brian, you really didn’t have anything to fucking say to John back there?”

     “What was I supposed to say? The guy had his mind made up, you heard him!”

     “Fred was right!” Roger says, growing angrier and angrier by the minute. He stands, letting the drunk girl’s head fall to the couch cushion as he sizes up Brian. “You pushed him away! If there’s anyone in this room to blame, it’s you!”

     “No,” you moan. You’re surprised that anyone heard you at all, but they all turn to look at you. “This is my fault.”

     “Y/N, sweetheart, don’t say that,” Roger says, softer now.

     “What happened?” Freddie asks urgently. There’s concern and sympathy in his eyes, which you weren’t expecting either. Not from Freddie, not since the fight you two had.

     “He said it’s over,” you tell Freddie. “He said we’re done.”

     Freddie cocks his head to the side, but Brian bristles from the side of the room. They are the only two who knew you were only fake-dating John…but only Brian knows the truth of your feelings for John. 

     “He broke up with you?” Tara gasps from beside Brian.

     “Oh, fuck,” Roger mutters under his breath. 

     You don’t know what to say. You keep looking back and forth between the door and Brian…because Brian’s expression startles you. He looks hopeful.

     He doesn’t understand.

     “I have to go follow him,” you say, your voice warbled, and you dart out the door. You head toward the same staircase and find him. John’s probably already too far, but you’ll…fuck, you don’t know what you’re going to do. You’ll catch the tube to his dorm, you’ll call him a thousand times, you’ll…you’ll…

     It’s hopeless. Wretched tears sting your eyes again. But you don’t stop walking.

     You hear Tara distantly from the dressing room, “Brian, wait! Where are you going?” You turn to see Brian sprinting out of the dressing room. He halts on his heels when he sees you’ve stopped to stare at him.

     “Let him go, Y/N,” Brian urges you. He looks so ardent as he starts striding down the hallway toward you. You’re too stunned to move as he grasps both your hands and squeezes them tightly, pleading to you with his eyes.

     “Brian,” you whisper. This is not what you wanted. This is not what you wanted at all.

     “He’s gone,” Brian presses, squeezing your hands even tighter that they begin to hurt. “Let him go. Don’t go after him.”

     “I have to,” you say in a sob. But Brian doesn’t let go.

     “Choose me,” he says. “Choose me, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to show you that I was the right choice.”

     “I don’t have a choice anymore,” you say, almost a wail. “He made the choice for me. He left. I need to find him, Brian. I need to talk to him, to bring him back.”

     Your words finally sink in with Brian. He loosens his grip on your hands, but inexplicably, you don’t want to pull away now. You just want to bury your head in Brian’s chest and cry.

     “Okay,” Brian says calmly. “Okay. You’re right. You should go find him.” He looks so concerned for you. “I’m so sorry, Y/N.”

     “Why?” Why are you sorry? Aren’t you happy?

     But Brian doesn’t look happy—he looks remorseful, for you. “I’m sorry he left you,” he says genuinely. “I’m sorry he broke your heart. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how you must feel. I’m sorry for giving you an ultimatum earlier today. You don’t deserve that.”

     You can’t hold back anymore. Your face crumples, and tears spill from your eyes freely now, all the events of the evening finally catching up with you. Brian pulls you in by the hands and wraps his arms around you. Sobs wrack your body, and with each one, he pulls you closer.

     “You need to go find John, love,” Brian says, rubbing your back. You can barely believe he’s encouraging you to leave, but when you pull back and look into his eyes, you see he’s genuine. As if he’s had a complete change of heart, seeing you break down and cry like this. It must have hit a nerve in him…brought him back to the reality of the situation you’re facing. He really wants me to go.

     “What about you?” you sniff. 

     Brian smiles a little. “I’ll wait for you,” he murmurs. “I’ll always wait for you.”

    You remember what John had told you in contrast… I’m done waiting for you to choose. John wouldn’t wait for you any longer. 

     But Brian will?

    “Is everything alright?” says a voice from across the hall. 

     Tara emerges from the dressing room and spots you and Brian. She hurries down the hallway, and Brian quickly pulls away from your embrace. Tara doesn’t seem to think anything of it, though—a hug between best friends, perhaps—and she immediately wraps her arms around you in a hug of her own.

     “I’m so sorry about John,” she says softly. “Did he really break up with you?”

     You can’t find your voice, but you just nod against Tara’s shoulder. She coos and hugs you tighter. You look up at Brian and share a look with him. Tell her, you mouth to him, although you aren’t demanding and harsh this time, just urgent. Brian takes an anxious breath…but at last, he nods. 

     You pull away from Tara and look in her eyes to say, “Thank you. I’m sorry the double date got ruined tonight, Tara.”

     “It’s okay.” She shakes her head with a smile. “It’s not your fault. Do you want to go home?”

     You nod, looking between her and Brian expectantly. You have no idea what Brian’s about to tell Tara. Is he just going to break things off with her? Or is going to admit everything…?

     “Tara, do you mind if I have a word with you?” Brian asks softly. She looks up at him with nothing but endearment in her twinkling blue eyes. It makes you want to cry for her.

     You leave Brian and Tara with the intent to leave the venue and wait for Tara outside, but…there’s something you need to do first, before you leave. You walk back toward the dressing room.

(Another quick Author’s Note: Pssst, it’s me again. You’re at another good breaking point if you need it—and I recommend it! Go get some water! Go pee if you haven’t in a while! Buckle up once you’re ready again…because even more shit’s about to go down… —Blake) 

     Everyone is still there, sitting around in awkward silence. They look up upon your entrance. You immediately go over to Freddie, who’s sitting at the makeup bench again. Ignoring Paul beside him and Roger listening from the couch, you take a deep breath and look into Freddie’s eyes earnestly.

     “Freddie,” you begin, “I’m so sorry for getting angry at you on Thursday. I shouldn’t have lashed out at you like that. I shouldn’t have blamed all my problems on you, and… I shouldn’t have put you in a position where you had to lie for me. I feel horrible for what I did. You’re one of my best friends in the whole world, and I am so lucky to even know you. And it’s okay if you don’t accept my apology, but I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry and I love you.”

     Freddie just stares at you, mouth agape. When he doesn’t reply for a few seconds, you add, “And I also wanted to say that you performed beautifully tonight. You’re an amazing singer. And you look absolutely beautiful. And I like the new stage name.”

     Tears spring into Freddie’s eyes. “Well, you should have started with that!!!”

     He leaps onto his feet and envelops you in a bone-crushing hug. You smile, despite all your tears from the evening, and hug him back. It feels so good to have Freddie back, your closest confidant, your life coach, your partner in crime.

     Before he pulls away, he whispers in your ear, “Are you and John okay?” 

     You just shake your head. 

     “You and Brian?”

     No. You shake your head again. You don’t expect Freddie to understand in full—you never admitted to him your feelings about John—but he squeezes you tightly in sympathy anyway. “I’ll tell you later,” you say, “for real.”

      Freddie gives you a kiss on each cheek before pulling away. “Apology accepted, dear.” He smiles grandly before adding, “and it’s not a stage name, by the way. I had it changed legally.”

     “Mercury?” you say. “Why?”

     Freddie just shrugs and says, “It’s just perfectly bohemian!” But you get the sense that there’s a backstory here he’s not telling quite yet.

     “Y/N, are you okay?” Roger asks you. He stands up from the couch and stuffs his hands in his pockets. “You said that you and John…”

     You nod. “He said it’s over,” you whisper. There’s more behind your words than Roger will understand, but he strides over to you and hugs you anyway. He smells like sweat and cigarettes, but you’re okay with that, and you hug him back gratefully.

     “I’ll give him a piece of my mind,” Roger murmurs.

     “Who, John?” You chuckle at his words. “You don’t need to be upset with him. This is between us.”

     “But he hurt you.” Roger says the words like a big brother, protective of his little sister. “He should apologize.”

     “John has nothing to apologize for. I should be the one to apologize to him.” Roger’s right—John broke your heart. But what Roger doesn’t know is that it was your fault. “Don’t worry about me, Rog. I’ll be okay.” 

     You pull away from Roger and smile gratefully. “I’m going to go find him and convince him to stay in the band,” you explain to everyone. “I’ll talk to him.”

     “Talk some sense into that boy,” Freddie says.

     “Tell him we want him and only him,” Roger adds. 

     You nod and zip up your jacket, ready to get going. But before you can decide to do anything more, the dressing room door bursts open.

     It’s Tara. She storms into the dressing room, a torrent of mascara-stained tears streaming down her face. She’s closely followed by a desperate, worried-looking Brian. 

     “Tara, please wait, I can explain—” he begins, but she cuts him off.

     “Did this mean nothing to you?!” she screeches, gesturing to the space between her and him. “…Did I mean nothing to you?”

     Oh fuck. 

     “No, wait, that’s not what I said!” Brian insists, but she turns back around on her heel and searches the room for her belongings. “Tara, please. I’m so sorry.”

     “For what?” she cries, no care at all to the whole room of spectators. “For taking everything I had to offer you and just throwing it away?!” She faces Brian again, her face crumbling. “For leading me on this whole week when there’s really been someone else the whole time?!”

     “Holy shit,” Roger mutters.

     He told her. Jesus, you can’t believe it, but he told her the truth. But he didn’t tell her it was me…

     “I’m so sorry,” Brian says earnestly. “I never meant to hurt you.”

     “Monday night,” she says through a sob. “Did Monday night mean anything to you? Or was I just another notch on your belt?”

     Your mouth falls open. They had sex?????????

     “Of course it meant something to me! I…” Brian puts his hands out placatingly. “I’m sorry, Tara.”

     “I gave you everything that night,” Tara sobs. “Everything. You were my first. You knew you were my first, and you don’t care.

     Her words sink in. Holy shit…was Tara…?

     “I’m so sorry,” Brian repeats. “But I didn’t want to hurt you more than I already have.”

     “Well, you did,” Tara bites. Sniffling loudly, she pulls on her faux fur coat over her scarlet bralette and loops her shoulder through the straps of her purse. Your mind is reeling at her words. Was Tara implying that before Monday night, she had never…?

     “You should have told me there was someone else,” Tara says, straightening her coat. “You should have told me a long time ago.”

     “I tried to tell you,” Brian insists. “But I couldn’t—”

     “Who is it?” Tara demands through her tears. “I deserve to know. Who is it?”

     Brian tenses up, gulping once. And he makes the mistake of letting his eyes drift over to you, just for a split second.

     No, Brian, no…

     Slowly, Tara turns around and looks right at you. Her mouth falls open. 

     “Tara…wait…” you say, but it’s no use. She glances back and forth between you and Brian, realization washing over her features slowly and then all at once.

     “Y/N…?”

     You will yourself to do something, to say anything, but you’re frozen in place as Tara puts the pieces together. 

     “It was you…?” she asks you, her voice dazed.

     “I’m so sorry,” you breathe, but the sound doesn’t come out.

     Tara’s eyes change as she realizes something. You recognize anger. “You’re the one that told him the rumor, aren’t you?” she says to you, her voice both shocked and scathing.

     Fuck fuck fuck. It wasn’t you, but… But you had plans to tell Brian. Through Freddie.

     “Wait, no, Tara—”

     “I knew it was you who brought it back,” Tara snaps. “You wanted to get Brian to break up with me, didn’t you?”

     Everything is crumbling. “I’m so sorry, Tara.”

     “You don’t even know the truth about that rumor, do you, Y/N?” Tara continues, fresh tears falling down her cheek. “You have no idea how long I’ve been trying to get people to stop spreading it. I just…” 

     A sob escapes her lips. Your heart breaks. “Of all people,” she gasps, “I never thought it would be you who brought it back.”

     You can’t speak; your voice is caught in the lump in your throat. Tara tries and fails to wipe her tears away as she turns and leaves the dressing room. And then she’s gone.

     The room is filled with stunned silence. Brian lets his head fall as he stares at the ground, looking bewildered. You want to disappear. You’ve never felt so horribly, awfully guilty before in your life. Just when you were thinking Tara wasn’t half bad, that you might be able to mend things with her…you ruined everything. You’d had it ruined for a long time. 

     Freddie’s the first to speak. “Did Tara just say that she was a virgin?” 

     Brian kicks at the ground softly. “She didn’t tell me until…until it was too late. I didn’t know.”

     Holy fuck. Tara was a virgin. Brian took Tara’s virginity.

     “You didn’t know?” Freddie gapes. “How did you not know?”

     “She didn’t tell me,” Brian repeats, frustrated.

     “I think you’d be able to tell,” Freddie continues. 

     “Would you just let it be, Fred?” Brian barks. “This is not your business.”

     “Well, you two sure as hell made it our business when you came waltzing in here screaming at each other in front of everyone…”

     Everything makes so much sense now… That’s why Tara has been so attached to Brian. That’s why Brian was so afraid to break up with her. He knew it would break her heart.

     Tara was a virgin. She never had sex with any of those guys she was with. It doesn’t make sense, though…? She’d always talked with you and Ronnie about how much she liked sex, how many guys she got with every month. You’d always thought Tara was the queen of casual sex. But she had been lying to you and Ronnie this whole time. Why did she lie to us?

     You’re so lost in your own thoughts that you don’t notice the steam coming from Roger’s ears until it’s too late.

     “What the actual fuck, Brian.” Roger suddenly lurches toward Brian, balling his hands into fists and getting up in Brian’s face.

     Brian blinks and tries to step back, but Roger keeps advancing. “What—?”

     “First, you lose us our best bass player,” Roger spits. “And then, we find out that you led Tara on for the whole fucking week?” Roger is seething, stepping closer and closer to Brian. He’s a whole head shorter than Brian, but in this moment, he seems ten feet tall.

     “I had to, I—”

     “You took someone’s fucking virginity and then broke up with them in front of everybody?!”

     “We were out in the hall!”

     “Calm down, Roger,” Freddie warns. You step toward Roger, but you’re unsure what to do.

     “I can’t fucking believe you,” Roger spits. “I am so fed up watching you jerk everyone around. You had something good, and you fucking threw it away, you arrogant, selfish, ungrateful son of a bitch.”

     Roger’s fist flies through the air. Before you realize, it collides with Brian’s face with a loud thump. Instinctually, you and Freddie both rush forward and grasp Roger’s arms, trying to hold him back. Brian staggers back, clutching his face.

     “Roger, Jesus Christ,” Freddie shouts. Roger tries weakly to shrug you and Freddie off, but the fight drains out of him. Brian is doubled over, holding his nose, and there’s—fuck, there’s blood. It’s all over his shirt and the ground.

     “Rog, what the hell?!” you scold. You let go of Roger’s arm and rush to Brian’s side. He’s wincing in pain, his eyes watering, and his nose is gushing with scarlet blood.

     “Shit, Brian,” you say, your hands flying everywhere but not sure what to do. “Is it broken?”

     “No,” Brian moans. You look around rapidly, your eyes landing on Paul.

     “You,” you hiss. “Make yourself useful and go find a towel or something absorbent. Go.”

     Paul slinks off out of the dressing room, and you help Brian carefully over to the couch. The drunk girl curled up there barely stirs as you sit Brian down at the edge of the couch. Paul returns with a handful of paper towels, and you hold them under Brian’s nose and instruct him to lean forward. He moans and lets the paper towels catch the blood while you rub his back reassuringly.

     Meanwhile, Freddie and Roger are arguing.

     “He fucking deserved it,” Roger says, his hands quaking again.

     “You’re right, dear, but don’t you think he’s had enough? Hey. Hey.” Freddie grasps Roger’s shoulders. “Go stand outside in the snow for a bit to clear your head, okay?”

     “But—”

     “Go, Roger.” 

     Roger huffs and storms out of the room. You have no idea why Roger was so angry at Brian. Not that Brian hadn’t done anything wrong, but…why did Roger get so furious when it didn’t directly involve him? What exactly pissed him off so badly that he felt like throwing a punch at Brian’s nose? Whatever it was, you get the sense that Roger’s been stewing in his anger toward for a long time now.

     Freddie puffs his cheeks out and turns to face you and Brian on the couch. “I’m sorry, but you probably deserved that,” Freddie says pompously.

     Brian groans in response. “I know.” You continue rubbing Brian’s back as he bleeds. Someone’s going to have to help Brian get home. And it’s sure as hell not going to be his flatmate Roger. 

     “Can you get him home?” you ask Freddie. But he just glances in Paul’s direction, who doesn’t say anything. Freddie looks back to you and grimaces a little.

     “I promised Paul we’d go out tonight,” Freddie sighs, and he looks like the last thing he wants to do tonight is go out with Paul. But you don’t push it.

     Brian makes a noise, and you realize he’s trying to say your name around the handful of bloodied paper towels. “Y/N,” he says again.

     You lean forward in concern. “What is it?”

     Brian peers up at you with bloodshot hazel eyes that speak a thousand words. “Will you take me home? Please?”

 

✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:* ✧・゚:*  

 

A/N: Well…………………How are you holding up? I apologize for any extreme emotions this may have caused! I hope you guys see now why this story has meant so much to me this whole time. All the little details, all the litlle nuances, all the plot holes and confusion and characterization I’d created in the past 10 chapters leading up to this climax…I hope they have all fallen into place. Please note that this is not the end of the story, and things may still be more than meets the eye. The actual ~ending~ of this story may still be unexpected after this chapter! I like to keep y’all on the balls of your feet. I’m only assuming you’re here, reading the footnotes of my 11th chapter of this basket case of a fanfic, because you sort of like the drama and being on the balls of your feet all the time ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ♡ 

~~~

Did it come as a surprise to you that Tara didn’t know about Brian? What about…Tara being a virgin? Big twist, huh? Were you expecting that one? Did you anticipate John’s behavior in this chapter…that the thing that finally tips John over the edge is learning that Y/N and Brian were in the Nest? Why do you think John wants to quit the band? Why do you think Roger got so angry at Brian at the end of the chapter? Will Y/N help Brian home? What do you think is going to happen? Where do you think John might have gone to when he left?

And lastly…

Whose team are you on now? Vote here on the new poll!!

I discontinued the last poll, but here are the results from that one. 398 responses! Holy cow!!! And we were almost evenly split between the two teams, with John pulling in the lead. How does this chapter change your vote? (heads up: there are more than two options in this poll!!!!)

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*please only vote once

**Voting will have no bearing on the planned outcome of the series. I am just curious where everyone stands hehe

FUN FACT: According to queenlive.ca, this is the description of the actual Queen show on 2 July, 1971: 

     “This is bassist John Deacon’s first show with the band. Alongside Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Freddie Mercury, this would be Queen’s lineup for the next 20 years. Before the show, Freddie and John get into an argument over attire. Freddie has his big ideas about appearance, while John wants to wear jeans and a t-shirt. It wouldn’t be long before John would give in and the band would start forging an image of their own.”

So you see now where I got the inspiration for the scene in this chapter where Reader sees John’s wearing just a T-shirt and jeans for the Queen concert!!! Lol

I hope you’re enjoying my fanfiction Matters of the Heart! It is thanks to the terrific support of you, my readers, who reblog my fanfics with your honest thoughts and genuine reviews, that I am inspired to continue writing. Without these comments, I lose motivation. I write fanfiction for free (although I accept donations if you feel so inclined to provide); my only request for payment is a genuine expression of your thoughts ◡̈ So if you decide to write a full-out review, or add your reactions // emotions in the comments or tags, or even if it’s just a “wow!” or just a keyboard smash, know that any and all feedback is welcomed with unfettered gratitude and with Blake squealing in excitement behind her computer screen. Thank you in advance!

Please reblog this with your comments, or just reply, or send me an ask or something PLEASE i am desperate to know what you think

BONUS PICS:

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I am big emo

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Shoutout to @slutty-lovergirl for bringing this gem to my attention…Brian and John backstage…Brian’s glare!! Oh fuck!! Big MOTH vibes!

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i AM EVEN MORE BIG EMO