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Titania and Oberon

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Roxanne learns the truth about Ronnie when they’re “playing doctors and nurses.”

They’ve done this sort of thing a few times over nineteen years of mutual acquaintance. Always interrupted by nervous parents before it could get too far: on the couch, in the wading pool during a summer barbecue, in the church basement during the Easter luncheon with both Edith Beeles. Never in the parking lot outside the Southampton train station after midnight on a Tuesday.

But, what the hell? Roxanne just spent the last eighteen months NOT graduating from a very prestigious finishing school and she’s dead the minute they get to her house anyway.

So, she lets her best girlfriend comfort her; squeezes her tiny waist, pulls her into her lap in the back of Aunt Rachel’s Chevy while Little Richard plays on the radio.

By the time she buries her face between her “practically sisters” A-cups, they’re both a little hot and bothered. She slides her hand up her friend‘s skirt and... doesn’t quite get as far as she was expecting to. There’s a barrier, and then there’s an iron grip on her wrist.

She stares into pale eyes, stunned.

Her fingers are wet. Ronnie sounds like her, smells like her. Has a glassy wet glare just like hers in spite of there being zero genetic material in common between Aunt Rachel‘s “niece“ and Aunt Maude‘s... Aunt Maude‘s...

“Honey…What are—?“

“What I am, Young Goddess,” her friend replies. “is more than you could ever guess or handle.“

“Okay,” she says, carefully; still balancing her friend on her lap. “Can I still call you, Ronnie?”

“My being is whole and unsullied!” Ronnie spits out. “I don’t need to draw the sword down and destroy it with such a ridiculous decision.”

“Solid,” she replies. “Can I still call you Ronnie?”

“You realize I can’t let you go now,” Ronnie says, tears flowing; florid even when flailing. “You know far too much.”

“Swell,” she replies. “I’m done for if we go back anyhow.”

“I’ll have to keep you. Forever. Whatever you thought life was going to be before is over. It will never be the same!” Like it’s a threat or a warning and not the only vow she’ll ever need.

“You promise?” she grins, drawing her stunned friend back into a tight embrace.

They get ice cream instead. And a cocktail. And, together, they plot their great escape.

 

Chapter Text

Their escape takes them to Lower Manhattan. Specifically, Chatham Street where a former paramour of Roxanne’s from Finch gets her an apprenticeship with a seamstress. Ronnie himself fast talks his way into an “assistanceship” with Shadow and Claus and all the other denizens of the new jazz and pop sound.

Whatever anyone else may think, the pronouns are not a solid commitment: Ronnie is perfect. Too perfect to cut down the middle or anywhere else. But the Brill Building has a certain “type” that they want in the mixing booth (and in the recording studio, and in the steno pool). A haircut is worth the price of admission and the reaped benefits are enough to land him and Roxanne a place that’s not a cot at the YWCA. They’d made their run for it in the dead of night, two suitcases and a guitar case between them on the train. Half of the clothes he’d packed were unusable now with cover of his new “persona.”

Roxanne, the goddess herself, just smiles and asks him to model her Edwardian revival designs of ruffled cravats and Merton velvet jackets. Often hand-delivered to the studio, occasionally altered in-person; his wardrobe and good mood quickly restored; doubled.

“What are you doing with a bulldagger like that, Z-Man?” one of the more gauche crewmen asks as his oldest friend adjusts his collar and pecks his cheek (all while making eyes at the girl singer from Queens).

“Living in sin, gentlemen,” he replies.

Roxie is solid and beautiful, inside and out. Unapologetically herself and always shielded. If he leans in close, perhaps some of it will rub off.

Synergy rules — in a rock n’ roll girl group world, fashion is king alongside the Wall of Sound. With interest in the radical vintage extended to both the fashion-forward vocalists and the producers that want a piece, they both find themselves in quick ascension as the new decade emerges and the new gender-neutral leather-and-lace flourishes.

A third of the way up the mountain, Roxanne has a radical idea.

It’s a test of sorts — to make sure that the papers they got for Ronnie are good (new name, an “F” swapped for an “M” in a crucial spot). There are practical reasons as well: a “divorced” will look less suspect on both of their resumes than “single.” And, as a bonus, now they each have a second form of ID.

“We can get library cards once when we hit L.A.”

The Bowery wedding (two witnesses, no rings, no waiting) is quickly followed by a Reno divorce. The desert air preps them for their California debut, as does the homebrew and the peyote their house mother generously shares with them while they wait for the ink to dry.

“Stay with me,” Ronnie whispers in the dark, pleads. If he’s left alone out there in the desert heat, his outer visage will melt away like snow.

“I’m your huckleberry, Z-Man,” she smiles, teasingly. “Just try and get rid of me.”

Chapter Text

The impact of East coast pop and the British Invasion crash landing in California is large enough and loud enough to ruin surf rock’s party. At least until the few skilled revenants find a way to adapt.

Ronnie and Roxanne adapt just fine. Though their similar dark hair and broad smiles tend to confuse people.

“Roxanne? What is your last name?” Honey asks, giggling and still smelling like pool water.

“It’s Barzell.” No ring to keep. She’d kept the name instead.

“... are you sisters?” She asks, big Bambi eyes full of sincerity, so high Roxanne can’t help but laugh.

“We used to be!” she replies, helping the slipping strap on her new friend’s bathing suit.

“We still are,” Ronnie replies, passing the drummer an ice cream. And a cocktail. The dish of choice for radiant stars and lovely flowers in transition.

--

Only Roxanne can veto Ronnie and only Ronnie can veto Roxanne. Though they both have a 50:50 shot of making that same mistake twice before each of them comes crawling back to the other, tail between their legs.

‘That boy was nothing like Federico García Lorca.’

‘And that girl looked looked nothing less than the charmless offspring of Mary Pickford and James Whale’s Frankenstein. Only worse.’ 

They’re both too romantic and Roxanne knows it. California isn’t exactly the Bowery but nor is it Paris in the Twenties. Martin and Lewis have been divorced for more than a decade and their mothers still swoon over Johnnie Ray and Liberace. She may not have gotten very far at Finch, but she paid attention just long enough in history class to know the age of man wasn’t quite that cyclical. They were both going to need all the protection they could get from zealous cops and jealous husbands. 

It’s a pact, a vow much like that first one. Ronnie calls it his “lover’s privilege” to shock the more persistent girls into flight. Roxanne doesn’t have a name for when she does it. Probably because, even after five years in L.A., Ronnie’s had to use it far more than she has.

It’s part of how she manages to shock herself when she corners him about the guest list for the next show. After Susan Lake’s appearance with her young niece in tow, that first show kickstarting the West Coast debut of the femme garage rock trio Ronnie re-christened as The Carrie Nations. Prohibition Chicagoland meets east coast subversion under the warm California sun.

It’s a magical, mystical combination and even Roxanne can’t help being taken in.

But if they’re both going to be wading in, hand-in-hand or otherwise, she’s going to need to clear the waters of anyone with designs on seeing them drown.

“These two. Aryan features, Russian fingers? Kick ‘em loose.”

Ronnie looks almost shocked; shocked, haughty, and a little bit pained just under the surface. 

“Pray tell? Give me one good reason.”

“I’ll give you two: her…” she points to Kelly’s name near the top of the list. Official management role or no, Kelly is still Ronnie’s artist. Protecting her personal and professional relationships from Ashley’s sledgehammer is going to save them all a lot of trouble in the future.

“…and you,” she finishes, her finger landing on Ronnie’s chin, before stealing up into dark locks. “He’s a churlish peasant. And you can do better.”

There’s a glint of a fond exasperation in grey-blue eyes as he strikes his pen through both Ashley and Lance’s names.

“The goddess reigns supreme,” He sighs, almost wistful.

“Look on the bright side, sweetheart. You’ll have that much extra time to spend with your lead girl’s ‘manager.’”

 

Chapter Text

Getting undressed, for Ronnie, is a medical procedure. From the age of five onward, he always has to take a pill beforehand. To drone out equal parts’ medical commentary and pedestrian prabble.

Dressing for the goddess is the exception — as Roxanne has been the exception in all things for most of his life. His “almost elder sister!” supplanted The Great Rachel early on, helping him try on clothes and school uniforms in countless waiting rooms in countless Suffolk County department stores. She continues to facilitate his entire wardrobe: shirts, waistcoats, trousers; taking his measurements weekly to watch for any physical changes. After a decade in each other’s pockets, her acumen regarding his physical form could match any doctor’s (with half the bedside manner).

“You’ve lost a few inches here,” she smiles, patting his hips

“And I seem to have gained them up here,” he replies, fingers gesturing towards his bound breasts. An unfamiliar scent wafts under his nose as she leans in. “Do I detect a hint of Jean Nate, Max Factor foundation and… sandalwood incense?”

“You don’t miss a trick. Casey was in her earlier. I took her measurements for a new dress.”

“And?”

“Nothing else right now.”

He never faces the mirror when Roxanne measures him, never meets her eyes. But the glimpse he catches of her Mona Lisa smile in the reflection of a darkened window is enough.

--

Ronnie doesn’t know if he wants to veto Casey. He’s never been overly zealous with his lover’s privilege (whatever Roxanne might think) but he’s wary of anyone he can’t immediately get a read on.

Of the three women from Calumet City, she is the least amiable to his person and his praise. The least receptive to any sort of affection it seems, save from her bandmates and Young Harris. She’s the last to arrive at every interview and promotion for the Carrie Nations and she leaves every party early. It doesn’t seem to matter who the host is, so he carefully swallows any budding resentment. And yet, she’s never been late for a live engagement, showing no nerves or hesitation. On stage, bass in hand, mid-song, she lights up a room. Off-stage, there’s a sorrow in her gaze that mystifies...

He too is intrigued. Roxanne was right (as usual). This caravan of free spirits from the dingier waters of the Heartland was well worth exchanging a sullen rent boy and a black widow spider.

Alas, cracking the mystery of Miss Anderson will involve expert, objective consultation.

The font of information, while attractive, is immediately distressing. Kelly is his playmate; the closest thing Ronnie’s had to a best girlfriend since he and Roxanne were small. Together, they can revel in the ecstasy and absurdity of their surroundings. But talking to her about anything real and substantial seems futile.

Petronella lingers closer to the earth, always centered and real if a bit lonely (before she takes up with Emerson, the law student with the charming smile). The young drummer takes pride in Not Checking Out apart from the occasional, discrete smoke in the back of a tour bus. Her domestic affairs are also the most stable which raises unfortunate blind spots. If anything is queerly amiss, it has managed to slip under her radar.

That leaves Ronnie with one remaining option.

“She’s shy, Barzell,” Harris tells him, visibly annoyed. “It’s not like it’s a crime.”

“Nor am I her accuser. I don’t seek to condemn, only to understand.”

“Casey’s... not exactly square with her family. Okay? Nothing to do with the band or his job.”

The senator’s daughter. And his namesake, no less. Of course. The sensation of a thousand veils being lifted is almost heady.

“Many hundreds of lost souls have found their way out here. Orphans, runaways,” he says. He stops short of the word ‘freaks.’ He’s heard it too often himself. He’s sure Miss Anderson has as well. “Surely she knows this is friendly territory?”

“Friendly or not, she has a hard time trusting it. And she’s not the only one.”

Ronnie eyes Harris’ tight shoulders, the sharp angles he had folded themselves into on the settee. Family, meant to provide succor and support, often supplied the child’s first betrayals.

“I see now. Trust takes time and considerate action.”

“And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know if you noticed tonight, given the swell of the crowd here... but a few key players were stricken from the call sheet.”

Harris scans the room, including the familiar spot on the sofa, where Ronnie currently sits. It takes a moment for his words to sink in; surprise (and relief) palpable when they do.

“The goddess reigns. I’ve known Roxanne all my life. She divorced me six weeks after we were married, which should give you an idea about her judge of character. Miss Anderson can trust her. So can you.”

Something in big brown eyes tells him message received.

“Okay. I‘ll go with it for now,” he nods, relaxed as he retrieves his drink from the coffee table. “You know how I can tell you’re serious?”

“I’m rarely anything but serious. How?”

“That’s the fewest syllables I’ve heard you use in one sentence.”

The smirk is warm and so Ronnie lets this small impertinence pass... a little lighter now that he has his answer. The vetting process is at an end (though he’s long since forgotten who is vetting for whom).

Chapter Text

Roxanne is vetting Harris but not from the start. 

His connection to Kelly falters too easily, salt-burned and faded in the California sun. And it takes her just a little too long to realize it’s the lead singer’s fault and not their manager’s. Swaying her attentions from party boys with busy mouths and open purses is one thing but keeping her away from the rest of what Los Angeles nightlife has to offer is beyond even Ronnie’s scope. Hip to the new strange and eager to wander.

“She didn’t mean to hurt him,” Casey says, distracted briefly as Roxane adjusts the sleeves on her gown. The Grammys aren’t going to know what hit them by the time Roxanne Barzell is finished with the Carrie Nations.

“I’m sure she didn’t. It’s another byproduct of being 22 in Los Angeles. People grow up, grow apart, figure out who they are and what they want. For some people it takes a little longer…”

The hand that appears on her wrist is warm, soft, shifting Roxanne’s gaze upward to the bassist on her pedestal.

“You and Z-Man stayed together. Even after your divorce.”

“Well, ‘together’ is a multifaceted word,” she says. “We have a whole mutual admiration society going on. Have since we were kids. When one of us needed to run, the other one was there. And vice versa.”

“I’d be there,” Casey replies. “If you needed to run.”

Her breath catches in her throat. Unnerving, the pursuer being pursued. She can’t bring herself to mind.

“At the risk of sounding… impetuous,” she hesitates. “Would Harris be there for… someone apart from Kelly?”

“Matchmaking?” she asks wryly, more amused than Roxanne’s seen her without a joint or a drink in her hand. Sobriety and sunlight. It's quite becoming.

“Just exploring possibilities. Ronnie’s been very open lately.”

That gets a laugh, and the hand at her wrist moves up to her shoulder.

“I haven’t known him as long as you’ve known Z-Man,” she says. “I’ve never heard him say one way or the other. But I also haven’t heard him say ‘no’ to much.”

--

Her decision is sealed after the next party. The party after the break-up with Kelly, when Lance shows up despite his invitation being withdrawn indefinitely.

The fight is his fault, no question, but goading Harris into the first punch alerts Randy, the heavyweight champ (and champion instigator). The boxer is soon followed by Casey, then, finally Ronnie, watching with interest from the sidelines.

50:50 chance. Goddamn it.

It’s premeditated, designed to put Harris in a bad spot – and he’s in one for the first few blows. The stakes of the fight abruptly shift when Casey moves to intervene and takes an elbow to the face. Whether it’s Randy’s or Lance’s, whether it was an accident or not, Roxanne can’t tell – she’s seeing red. Casey falling to the carpet brings Pet into the fray, jumping on Randy’s back and trapping his neck in half nelson, then an armbar as the champ hits the carpet. Roxanne charges into the mix right behind, hurling her drink into Lance’s face with the rest of the glass right behind it.

Finishing school has never been a more appropriate term for the kind of education she got. By the time the former pretty boy sails through the window into the prickly hedge out front, he is quite beyond finished.

“Roxanne?”

She nearly misses the soft inquiry over heaving breaths. She turns slowly to meet half a dozen shocked gazes. Casey’s are bleary and Ronnie’s are stunned. She realizes who said it immediately, and it’s him that she directs her next words to.

Party’s. Over.”

“Yes,” he echoes. Tail between his legs.

--

Of course, the party’s not quite “over,” as such. Merely converted to a private triage unit. Harris has the beginnings of a black eye and his lip is split. Casey’s broken nose oozes blood sluggishly until Kelly resets it, provoking a fierce wail that echoes in the gothic chamber of Ronnie’s bedroom. Roxanne kneels on the floor, mopping her face with a damp cloth. Their gracious host takes the taller man’s hand, leading him to the bathroom off the master suite.

“Should you be doing it that way?” he asks, tilting his head back skeptically.

“Trust me, Young Harris,” he replies, dabbing the surrounding area with iodine. “I got my first aid badge three times.”

“Four times, Ronnie,” she corrects.

“Ah yes. I forgot that year in Daisies. Thank you, goddess!”

“Daisies and clover,” she replies with a smirk.

“I always had the best cookie sales in the troop. The sweet men of New Holland Drive never knew what hit them.”

Roxanne holds off from talking about how she still looked better in the blue sash and pleated skirt. Casey’s nose is no longer bleeding, but she can’t help fussing and leaning in to take a closer look, a grateful (still warm) hand draped on her hip.

“Man, I don’t dig you two at all!” Pet laughs, adjusting the ice pack on her bruised fingers. The gears visibly turn in Ronnie’s expressions as he susses out the context: ‘dig’ in the sense of “perceive” rather than “like.”

“Few do, my sweet pet. The goddess and I have our own little language. Like twins and prisoners of war.“

Ronnie sews up Harris’ lip with delicate fingers and minimal stitches.

“I don’t really want to go home right now,” Casey says, more wary than woozy. It sends a sharp twinge through Roxanne’s chest.

“You could come to my studio?” she offers.

“Is there room enough for all of us?”

Roxanne glances back at the rogue’s gallery of bruised and bleeding musicians crowded together on the sofa. All but her dearest companion, who lingers close to Harris, perched on the arm of the sofa.

“Not really. Ronnie, my dear? Slumber party?”

Her oldest friend’s face lights up.

“We can have brunch in the morning! Otto! Make up the playroom!”

--

To the surprise of the guests, the playroom is a screening room, outfitted with cots instead of chairs. Pajamas and favorite blankets only. Silk sleep masks for those who can’t bear light. Black and white movies for those who can. 

Harris and Casey are awake just long enough to get comfortable with Kelly and Pet each hovering nearby, in and out of sleep. Roxanne sits up braced against the cot frame with her head on Ronnie’s shoulder as they sit, transfixed by The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex.

“It’s like a basket of kittens back there,” Ronnie observes.

“Indeed.”

“Vagabonds and roses plucked from the center of this novice nation and repatriated here. It’s amazing they’re not still covered with dust from the road.”

“Not just amazing – magical,” Roxanne replies. It had taken them long enough to shake it off, from the suburbs to the bowery, from the bowery to the desert. “I like them a lot. All of them. Not just Casey.”

“I find myself… quite attached as well.”

“I know. Let’s try to keep it together, huh? For as long as we can?”

There’s a melancholy in Ronnie’s eyes as he watches the screen.

“Sometimes I dream of a massacre.”

“Well, that’s a trip. Am I in those dreams?”

“You have a starring role, goddess. Quite explosive.” There’s a mourning in the crisp edges of his voice, so many daggers turned inward.

She understands, of course. And rather than running, she draws him closer. 

“You were my first love. And I’ve got news for you: you’re the great love. We only made it because I loved you and you loved me. No one else is going to do that.”

“Perhaps not.”

“I don’t care how many ghosts are hanging out in your closet whispering murderous plots, Ronnie. You’re not Hamlet.”

That gets a genuine laugh from him, edged with tears.

“That’s probably for the best,” Ronnie sniffs. “You would make a terrible Ophelia.”

“Okay, so new pact: I won’t wade into any rivers if you don’t go hiring any theater groups to act out your father’s murder.”

“Your father was murdered?” Kelly wonders aloud sleepily.

Roxanne laughs.

“Only by society, Mary Shelley. Fill your ears with silver and go back to sleep.”

“Yes, Count Dracula.”

“Yes, Mooooom,” Petronella echoes, making Roxanne laugh even harder.

“Well. I think I know what our second feature of the evening will be. Otto! A Midsummer Night’s Dream! This instant!”

Chapter Text

Ronnie tries to keep it together. He mounts a considerable effort to keep it together.

Because he promised, because the band deserves it, and because the girls and Young Harris could not be cleaved from each other now with an antique broadsword (even the one currently mounted over his bed in the master bedroom).

It helps that he knows his strengths. The “Z-Man” magic lies in the studio magic of collaborating with the artists and craftsmen. And so, he recommits himself to the sound that was his first craft, expanding and ruminating on the new batch of songs with Kelly and Pet, occasionally rousing a dry smile from Casey.

Touring is another animal and for that, mitigation is needed. 

“I’m their manager, Barzell!”

“Yes, Young Harris. I heard you the first dozen times you told me that.”

“If you heard me, why did you hire a crew and a tour manager without consulting me?!”

“Because the longest itinerary you have managed heretofore for the latest pop sensation was a whistle stop tour of the Sun Belt’s finest greasy spoons and public houses. You’ve stayed with them through all of this – that’s very admirable. You are also a neophyte with much to learn about running a regional or national tour for a group that requires a security team, stage equipment, lighting, effects, and things that won’t fit into the back of a minibus.”

“So what? You want to fire me?”

It’s not my job to fire you!” his voice breaks. “What I need is for you to listen. Everyone learns to walk before they run. I apprenticed with people in the business that had experience. As did Roxanne, and as will you. They need you and they want you there. And if you are going to be there, this is what I need you to do.”

Studio time is his time, the road is up to the goddesses and their manager. But going where they can get their pretty faces out front on the crest of such an explosive scene takes expertise and adaptability.

Harris, to his relief, complies.

He complies and, ultimately, thrives. Ronnie mixes the tracks for the group’s second album and their apprenticed manager escorts them from city to city, leaving a trail of rave reviews and sold-out shows in their wake.

He declines conventional reports from the war front. He doesn’t need to be accused of any more interference. But he still receives the occasional phone call and Western Union note from Roxanne letting him know “All Is Well.” 

--

All is well. Until the D.C. show near the end of the tour, after the Grammy win. Ronnie himself had missed the ceremony – too busy at the mixing board – and so he makes an effort. It’s the one hole in his schedule where he is able to leave the studio and fly across the country, drawing his usual entourage of local and national press even as the winter chill forces them to blend with the raincoat crowd at the stage door. Ronnie stands with Harris in the wings, shoulder to shoulder, watching their band do their stuff.

A sinister silhouette turns up in the crowd, close to front of the stage, lingering as the girls take their bows and rush off (a pained look on their faces; Miss Anderson’s most of all). The stagehands disappear in a puff of smoke and whispers. Soon followed by the theater’s stage manager and all four members of the security team, whose vocals soon elevate to a firm rumble, overtaking the audience as they exit the theater.

“Mr. Manager, should we confer with the guards?”

“I know who it is.” Harris replies, grim-faced.  

“…the senator?” Ronnie asks. No doubt, taking a brief jaunt from the lame duck session. And, also no doubt, the reason Roxanne had asked him to come. “What are his intentions?”

“Nothing good.”

“Leave him to me.”

--

The conversation outside the theater is, unsurprisingly, brief. And not much of a conversation.

Senator Anderson is a dull man with an air of being deliberately obtuse; a grey smear that smells vaguely of Brylcreem and old linen. Reminiscent of the goddess’ paterfamilias and the assembly line of doctors and specialists Rachel traversed the coast to meet with, who always examined Ronnie like a lab specimen. He is less than impressed and less than polite. Standing as close to him as he does is probably discomfiting enough but the rose-colored silhouette of his favorite bassist in his periphery only presses Ronnie to go further...

He thanks the good Senator for bringing such a talented soul to this earth. Such happiness her work begets to people “and from such sorrow, too.”

It’s not a leap. She’d fled the theater without a coat to try and escape this man and failed. Tripped up by an overeager press corps who are also flittering closer to the fray…

“Sorrow and darkness. I know all about it – it’s where I came from, too. It’s hard when the person obliged to love and protect you shirks their duties so miserably—"

The brightness of the explosion behind his eyes is soon eclipsed by the brightness of several flashbulbs going off. His lovely audience, finishing the job he started. The pavement smells like rain, and then it smells like pennies.

“Not your night, is it pussycat?” he murmurs, mostly to himself. A pair of arms hoists him up and the world goes dark.

--

“Your nose isn’t broken. You’re very, very lucky,” Roxanne says, adjusting the cold compress under his eye as she mops the blood from his chin. Most of it had missed his face entirely and splashed across the front of his shirt (an original, white cotton with a grey satin sheen, Nehru collar and mother of pearl buttons. Roxanne had practically sewed him into before the show).

“Evidently all those years with the bullyboys in Washington didn’t lend much weight to the Senator’s punch,” he quips, wincing at the chill. “Call it penance, Titania. For my… indiscretion?”

“I’ll call it what it is, thank you,” she replies. “Bad parenting.”

He smiles, ignoring the spark of pain that shoots up the left slide of his face.

“Also, bad politics.”

“From now on, you leave the punches to me. All right?”

“The goddess reigns supreme.”

--

Harris loans him a shirt (dark blue, ebony accents), which Ronnie declines to change into while Harris is there.

“You want me to turn my back?”

Will you? Is the question.”

Harris surprises him by doing just that, without a knowing smirk or a resentful sulk. The sight is rare enough to stun him for a split second before he hurriedly opens the buttons, rolling up sleeves and testing the tension at the front. He’s hit the dreaded B-cup threshold, officially. Medical intervention will take some time, but the compression garments Roxanne recently fitted him for are holding together nicely.

“We might want to get ahead of the press on this,” he says, sliding his arms through the sleeves.
“I want to keep the girls out of it.”

“I do, too. But only Miss Anderson has the filial authority to dismiss it as a ‘family matter.’”

A pause, heavy in the air.

“I don’t think she’s in quite the condition for that yet.”

“She might surprise you. On balance, we should both be asking her this.”

“It might be nice if we could agree on possible options beforehand.”

“Young Harris, asking for professional expertise? Is it a holiday?”

“Asking as a friend,” he replies, soberly. “Both hers and yours, I hope.”

Ronnie finishes the last button (third from the grotesquely large collar). Chances a glance at the back of the taller man’s squared shoulders in the mirror.

“My friendship was always on the table. You can turn around now.”

Harris’ eyes are soft as he does an about face, moon dog eyes glittering with concern.

“Your nose is still bleeding.”

“There’s gauze and a goddess where we’re going after this. I can have your shirt dry-cleaned.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“…I knew that.” He did not know that. He had no idea spilling blood moved the needle in Harris’ fine eyes (and heart). “He doesn’t approve of her, I take it?”

“Never has.”

“And he was here to underline that point on her turf?” his tone spikes as the anger in his chest burns hotter. “Which part so disgusts him? Being a musician? Being fair and free? Or just buyers’ remorse at birthing a freak like me and Roxanne?”

“A freak like us,” Harris corrects. “All of us. Did you think Porter Hall imagined the stuff about shacking up in the minibus?”

Ronnie stares, feeling the world tilt on its axis for a long moment.

“The heartland has much to teach us.”

“And here I was going to start calling you Clark Kent,” Harris smiles.

“I hail from the east.”

“Metropolis is in the east. At least it was the last time I was reading comic books.”

“True.”

“To answer your question: he’s a throwback. ‘Wanted Casey to grow up to be another debutante piece of arm candy for the Junior Chamber of Commerce, going to the same hairdresser as her mother; touting how the older generation defeated the Nazis while wearing Coco Chanel. That was never in the plans and she made sure he knew it. He’s never forgiven her.”

Harris nods.

“Well as far as dealing with the press goes, I’m more than happy to take the fall as a ‘hip’ generational elder defending his young ingenue--”

“I’d tell you to be less dramatic but that was actually kind of sweet.”

Maybe it’s being called ‘sweet’ that causes something to short circuit. But the words that tumble out of his mouth next, unimpeded, are much louder than they need to be.

“I don’t how else to convince you that I care! I don’t know how to convince her that I care! This isn’t a put-on, it’s just me. I’m fumbling in the dark here, Harris. Put the lights on. Please.”

“She’s convinced. That fight was real. It scared her. 'Scared me, too. You got him properly furious in front of cameras. That man prides himself on his emotional restraint. Getting him to drop the mask in front of people… None of us has ever seen that. Casey will probably throw you a birthday party.”

“…And did it convince you?”

“I don’t need convincing. You’ve stuck with us for this long.”

“It’s no hardship.”

“Sounds like we have at least two options figured out.”

“Shall we run them by Miss Anderson?”

“If you know which room Roxanne is staying in,” he replies, a spark of mirth in those fathomless dark eyes.

Ronnie holds his arm aloft.

“Take my arm, Young Harris. I’ll be sure not to lead you astray.”

To Ronnie’s surprise, he does.

Chapter Text

It takes longer for Roxanne to dig up a box of gauze than it does for Ronnie to decide that his own conversation with his bassist can wait. She leaves him in Harris' capable hands and focuses on making sure they're all able to get to a quiet space uninterrupted.

Pet and Kelly take turns propping their band mate up as they all navigate from the tour bus to the hotel, across the dark lot and down a darker back corridor, the overheads flickering. But they eventually let go and Roxanne finds herself seated on a bed in a secluded suite, her arms around a beautiful girl... very much not in the way she's dreamed of this last year.

Casey cries on Roxanne’s chest, damp silk smelling vaguely of sandalwood and mixing with the citrus styling wax still in her teased hair. She holds her tight, letting the anguish pour out in waves and ebbs.

"I hate him," she bites out, standing up and pacing around the room now. "I hate him so much. There was no reason..."

"No. None at all," she murmurs. Though she has her suspicions...

Fortunately, Casey gets there herself before she has to suggest it out loud.

"Fuck. There was a reason -- the son of a bitch. He wanted to rub it in my face! How much he still doesn't approve! The Grammy, the friends, the success, the freedom to be myself... none of it matters. Because at the end of the day, I still have his name and he's still the one who’s respectable. Bastard!"

She’s not sure what to do. She and Ronnie hadnt been sad to leave home. The difference in leaving rather than being left... though Ronnie would probably always feel left behind by someone, used by someone. As a guinea pig, a youthful mirror, a mixing board, a reluctant Svengali.

Roxanne always left first, before Ronnie.

And Casey.

"So, who wants to be respectable?" she asks, quietly.

"...not me," she replies, abrupt and fierce. 

Casey makes it back to the bed in two long strides. She plants a knee on either side of Roxanne's lap and she can barely register the strong thighs on either side of her before the younger woman is kissing her; coming on strong, calloused fingers reaching for her brooch, the lace collar. Roxanne sucks in another breath, feeling oddly handcuffed as Casey tears through her buttons, pushing the silk off her shoulders and down her arms, grabbing for her bra clasp...

"Casey--" she blurts out, freeing one hand to squeeze her waist. 

“I want to make love,” she says, staring down at her; absolutely clear.

“Did you take a doll tonight?”

“That’s a messed-up question!"

"Is it?"

"I didn’t take any. I didn’t want to take any. If you were paying attention the whole tour, you'd know I haven’t had a drink in three months. I don’t want to sleep through my life anymore. I want you to take me and make me feel it. If I’m a freak, I want the whole thing!”

Roxanne leans in and up, slanting her mouth across puffy, stress-bitten lips, soothing and gentle… like she’s done it a hundred times before. The bassist moans, wrapping one arm across her shoulders and stealing her hands up to unpin Roxanne’s hair before shoving her down on the bed. Casey shoves her face between her breasts, savoring the sweat around her curves before taking a nipple between her lips, almost nursing. Roxanne gasps as a bolt of arousal hits the deepest part of her. Her skirt is long, as usual, and weighted for the winter weather but somehow her girl finds the hooks at the side and the buttons at the front, rucking the linen down, pulling and dragging until it's crumpled on the floor, along with everything that was underneath it.

"Oh my god, Casey--"

"Mmmmm..." she hums, mouthing at her ribs and belly, moving downward...

Roxanne lifts her knee under her girl's arm, gently guiding her back up, until they're parallel on the bed, face to face. 

"It's my job to undress you," she demurs, pushing at the spaghetti straps of her dress until her own dress is rucked down around her waist. Casey laughs as she stands up on her knees on the mattress to push it all the way off, along with her tights and underwear. Roxanne takes advantage of the sudden movement to lightly tackle her, giggling as momentum brings them both back down onto the tangle of linens. 

"Hang on, let me look at you for a bit," she sighs, stroking her waist and hip, the curve of her breast... all of the beautiful skin that had first grabbed her attention under a stunning décolleté...

"Haven't you seen me enough in your workshop?" Casey asks, playfully.

"Miss Anderson," Roxanne intones, provoking another giggle. "In my workshop, I am a professional. If I weren't, we would have made it on the drafting table that first night."

"...oh, I wouldn't have minded that at all," she sighs, gasping a little as Roxanne moves between her legs. 

"Did Harris or the girls ever do this?” She can't imagine the soft puppy-eyed manager taking the leap or Casey enjoying it much if he did so... but she's been surprised before.

“Kelly did,” she pants, followed by a breathless giggle. “The bus broke down in Iowa City last year. Someone at the university had some blotter acid. I just... let it happen. Felt good. My head was in Pet’s lap. She just stroked my hair and face while Kelly ... 'experimented.'”

The melancholy in that word is personally upsetting. Roxanne pushes it aside, pulling Casey's leg up to her hip.

“I don’t experiment." She had left full-scale research behind quite some time ago, before L.A., before Finch even.

“Lucky me. I'm--" she hesitates, a flush that might be shame mixed in with arousal. "I'm not… I come really, really fast and then I’m not good for much else.”

A pillow princess. Roxanne wants to sing.

"Lucky me," she grins, feeling the wolf inside her come to life as she moves down her body.

Delicate folds, salty, heady. The crisp pelt against her face carries the smell of the night air as well as the cold sterility from the green room at the Club, from backstage; warm grass and cold freon. She pulls her leg over her shoulder and squeezes the skinned knee where she hit the asphalt -- cradling Ronnie as he passed out.

She worships her gorgeous girl‘s body, clambering on top of her to let her own slick folds grind and rub against Casey’s, guiding long fingers down to the top of her public bone, sloping down to push those calloused bassist finger tips against clitoris, pushing this way and that until she’s screaming.

As she comes down, Casey pops them into her mouth, eyelashes fluttering.

"...when we’ve had a better night, I'm going to sit on your face until I come. And I won't let you get off until I do."

Those beautiful eyes look at her like she’s a goddess.

"Oh fuck, yes..."

--

Roxanne hasn’t slept like this much since the move to the west coast: sharing a bed with another person, skin to skin, muscles sore from the night before. It's a heady feeling and she's content to lay in bed for what seems like hours, stroking thick brown hair off Casey's forehead while she lays collapsed on her chest, out like a light.

She barely looks up when there's a gentle tap at the door... but if it's morning, Ronnie will have a fit if she doesn't answer and/or change his bandages. She slides out from under her girl and into her underwear and blouse from the night before

Expecting Ronnie, she's a little shocked when she opens the door to find Harris, jacket zipped over a t-shirt and jeans.

“Oh!" she smiles, startled but recovering quickly. "Um.. Good morning.”

“...I was going to just check in on Casey," he replies, an easy smile spreading across his own face. "But I guess I should probably wait until after breakfast?”

“...maybe," she replies, tugging the hem of her blouse down. "Where’s breakfast?”

“Emerald City. It's a cafe about two blocks from here. Looks like an old beatnik place. The sign out front says they have an espresso machine.”

“Far out. What time are we all congregating?”

“I was thinking we could all meet up at 11? Checkout is at noon and our last gig of the tour is probably going to be ’delayed.’”

“Definitely get Ronnie down there. He’s never met a macchiato he didn’t like," she pauses, locking eyes with him. "If you get a dash of cinnamon on the foam for him, he might propose.”

"Really?“ Harris smiles, with interest. And suddenly Roxanne feels her own vetting process has reached an appropriate conclusion. Go go go. 

"Well, it worked for me anyway," she laughs. "See you in a few.”