Martin fiddled with his pint of cider, tracing a drop of condensation up and down the glass he was holding. He was not entirely sure what he was supposed to expect from that evening. Tim, his coworker at Leitner Publishing Ltd., had invited him after raving about this gig for weeks now, excited like a golden retriever puppy. (Tim often resembled a golden retriever puppy, Martin thought. He was always happy to see anyone, always eager to please. Just nice to be around, really.) But apart from promising him that he’d enjoy it and that Tim was even going to buy the first round of drinks, he’d not told Martin anything about the band that was going to be playing in the pub that evening. So that’s how he came to be here, idly playing with his drink as Tim kept an eye out for his girlfriend. Another upshot of coming out that evening: Sasha was going to be there and it had been too long since they’d seen each other.
“Hello, stranger,” the woman in question greeted him about ten minutes later, throwing her arms around Martin’s shoulders in a firm hug and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Sash’,” Martin smiled, hugging her in return. “Tim’s been keeping you from me.”
“How very rude of him. I’m such a delight, I should be shared with the world!” she dropped into the chair Tim had kept for her and the man’s arms went around her shoulder as she accepted the gin and tonic that had already been waiting for her on the table.
“You are a delight,” Tim agreed after kissing her hello. “But you know me. I don’t tend to share my snacks,” he laughed as Sasha swatted him in the chest. “What? You are a snack, Sash’.”
“Now we all know that’s not true,” Martin replied dryly at the same time as Tim complimented her. Martin surprised himself at making a quip about Sasha and Tim’s adventurous lovelife. It wasn’t any of his business, really. And he wasn’t judging them or anything awful like that. They were happy together, and that was what mattered. Before he could regret his words and blush, however, the other two burst out laughing.
“He’s got us there, babe,” Sasha pointed out, winking at Martin as she took a sip of her drink.
They chatted idly for a while, catching each other up on their work days (Sasha worked at King’s College library) and anything else that had happened since they’d last met. “So who’s playing again tonight?” she asked eventually.
“They’re called The Mechanisms,” Tim replied. “We’ve featured them in last month’s issue. Lee was super impressed and the article made them sound amazing, so that’s why we’re here,” he explained. Lee Kipple was one of their reporters working in the music editorial department that Tim managed. Martin hadn’t read the last issue and only knew Lee from company parties, really, but he knew Tim respected his opinion.
“Oh, is it that Steampunk Space Pirate thing?” Sasha asked. “I think I skimmed Lee’s article.”
“Immortal Steampunk Space Pirates,” Tim corrected gleefully. “What more could you want from a band?”
Martin grinned into his pint. Steampunk Space Pirates. Well, that would explain the rather eccentric outfits of the people around him — he counted at least six top hats and even more goggles in the small room. Clearly these were an established fanbase. It probably also explained the rather unorthodox array of instruments that had been set up on the stage over the last half hour. Guitar, bass, all well enough, fiddle and an accordion weren’t unheard of either for folk music, some tuba type brass instrument Martin didn’t recognise, but then “Is that a mandolin??”
“Sure is,” Tim agreed, growing excited as he checked his watch. “Listen, they’re bound to start any minute, so I’ll grab us another round of drinks.” he said, getting up. He dropped a kiss to Sasha’s head and patted Martin on the shoulder as he pushed through the tightly packed tables.
“Well, this is going to be interesting.” Sasha chuckled, as she and Martin watched a group of seven people file onto the stage. They were dressed in lots of leather, brass, waistcoats, what you’d expect from a Steampunk band, as far as Martin knew. His eyes were drawn to the person who stepped up to center stage, adjusting the microphone’s height to come down to their face. He had to grin a bit. Shorty. he thought without any malice.
“That’s Jon Sims, the frontm-... the lead singer,” Tim said as he returned to their table, setting another round of drinks down. “They play the role of narrator usually,” he continued, sitting back down next to Sasha, as the band on stage tuned and checked their set-up. “The Mechanisms do these plot driven stories within their albums, kind of like a musical. The set they’re playing tonight is inspired by norse mythology.”
“Huh,” Martin replied, taking this in. He liked musicals and storytelling and enjoyed myths and fairytales. He also appreciated retro and steampunk aesthetics. Tim had probably been correct in predicting that he’d like this band. Martin also extended his Short.-mental note with the information of Tim using ‘they’ for the lead. The lead then cleared their throat and the pub around them fell silent.
Hot. Was the first thought that shot through Martin’s head as the low timbred, gentle voice washed over him and Martin found himself extending his mental note with a heart-eye emoji.
“Good evening, everyone,” Martin’s eyes were glued to Jon who surveyed the room with dark, serious eyes rimmed with eyeliner that extended up to their forehead and temples in an intricate design against their dark skin, framing their intense gaze in a flattering way. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. We are the Mechanisms and it’s a pleasure to be here. Make sure to tip the bar staff generously and to drink responsibly.” The last sentence was followed by a wink into the crowd, but Martin could have sworn, hoped? that they’d made eye contact just then.
Fuck. Get a grip, you idiot, Martin told himself firmly. He- They’re a performer. They wink at fans. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just for show. They probably can’t even see you against the spotlights. Stop crushing on a band member you know nothing about. You’re not thirteen anymore.
“The Bifrost Incident,” Jon’s low voice pulled Martin out of his own thoughts again, gripping his full attention. “Any school child could tell you about it...” deep, melancholy notes from the violin joined Jon’s words, setting a dark and mysterious mood as the scene was set and the evening truly began.