When Myka and Billie get the band started --for real, when they’ve got more people interested than the Siska kid who basically hero-worships Billie—they have a very serious discussion about the direction they want to take the music and the way they want to come across.
“We’re not a fucking bubblegum pop princess band, and if anyone calls us cute I’m kicking them in the nuts,” Myka says flatly.
“Our ideas transcend gender boundaries. Breaking out of the minutia of day-to-day life isn’t about the social confines of gender,” says Billie.
And that’s that.
Six months later Myka kind of wants to ask Billie what part of the gender boundaries she’s transgressing when she’s draped over the back of a van trying to look cool in her fuck-off boots and fishnets and tiny black dress, smoking and gazing at Midtown Gabe Saporta from under her eyelashes, but she figures that as long as Pete likes them and they aren’t a big name they’re safe. And besides, she reassures herself, Billie tends to go through phases. The first time they’d met the other girl had been sporting a shaved head and a whole variety of piercings. By the time they’d moved in together she’d been wandering around in long skirts and carrying around appropriately battered copies of Jane Austen novels. This too, she thinks dryly, shall pass. She just sort of wishes that it could pass with a little less Gabe Saporta. The dude is not actually as awesome in person as she’d wanted to believe, and he brings out the pretentious ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ attitude in Billie to the extent where Myka spends most days wanting to punch her in the face.
She’s also pretty sure Billie and Gabe are sleeping together, which is one of those things that inevitably ends in disaster and always ends with the drama and blame landing on the girl, which is exactly the sort of attention they’re trying to avoid. Plus, she really doesn’t want to have to play an entire album of pining breakup songs.
So they get bigger. They’re not Fall Out Boy big, but that’ll come with time. They’re constantly on the road, touring, and she spends at least half an hour each week on the phone with her parents, playing video games on silent while they try to gently suggest that it’s time for her to come home and start college or that being a tomboy is fine and they love her anyway but doesn’t she maybe want to find a boyfriend who isn’t in a band? Someone she can settle down with, when the time comes? She bitches about these calls the first few weeks they happen but then Billie snaps at her, “At least your parents care enough to call you.” Myka shuts up after that.
Billie spends most of her time on the phone with Gabe or leaning over Tom’s shoulder while he shows her his photographs, so Myka starts hanging out with Sisky by default. He’s a good kid, still painfully young, but he’s got a weird, off-beat way of seeing the world that rings more chords with her than the artsy deep thoughts that Billie and Tom and Butcher spout off on a regular basis. Myka’s not a deep thinker. She’s not stupid, she just likes to deal with reality and fact –it’s why she made captain of the debate team in high school, she can defend her opinion to the death with points that consist of more than ‘it’s artistically poignant, you wouldn’t understand!’ (hi, Billie).
So she helps Siska practice bass and she dares him to stupid shit when they’re drunk and she beats his ass at poker purely because she can. And then she sees the headline on some no-name music news sight: Baby Bassist turns Academy Guitarist into Real Girl?. Which… just. What the actual fuck? She knew shit like this was inevitable, but she’d figured they’d come after Billie and Tom long before they’d even consider her and Sisky. And also, what is this ‘real girl’ bullshit? No, Myka doesn’t wear skirts and dresses and smoky eye makeup like Billie, but she’s no less of a girl in her jeans and t-shirts, thank you very fucking much.
She shows Sisky the article and he cackles and tries to convince her that they should print it out for posterity. She slams the laptop on his hand and that night he has to play with bright green Hulk band-aids on three of his fingers. She feels very slightly vindicated. After the show she and Sisky tell the others about the article, just in case they get hit with questions about it during interviews. Billie actually looks upset, and retreats into her bunk with her phone. Half an hour later she’s making choked off noises that are either giggles or whimpers and swearing at whoever is on the other end of the phone. Myka pokes her head in, eyebrows arched. Billie’s got her laptop open on her stomach, and she’s got one hand over her mouth, eyes wide. Myka can hear the faint sound of Gabe’s voice, tinny through the cell phone pressed to Billie’s ear. Billie holds up her free hand.
“Hang on, hang on, Gabanti, Myka’s here. Hey, hey Myka, did you know that we’re having kinky, angry lesbian sex? Every night? And possibly you’re abusing me because you’re a man-hating angry lesbian and I’m a confused, delicate flower.”
“Are you high?” Myka asks flatly. Gabe says something on the other end of the phone and Billie gives up, curling on her side and gasping with laughter. Myka reaches in and rescues the laptop before it hits the ground.
“The internet is not a reliable resource for anything,” Billie says once she’s got her laughter under control. She reaches out a hand and wraps it around Myka’s wrist, looking up at her earnestly. “you and Sisky are friends, and fuck what the tabloids are going to say about it, ok? That’s what we’re about, right? Transcending the boundaries?” It’s clear she thinks this is supposed to have some deep, soul-to-soul connection meaning to Myka, but last time Myka checked she was pretty sure they were all about making rock music, and their politics have never seemed all that transgressive, so she just nods along and disentangles herself from Billie’s spider fingers.
The next day Sisky posts something to his blog about how he and Myka aren’t dating, just really good friends, etc. etc. The fans seem pretty agreeable for the most part, and Myka would consider the incident forgotten if Billie didn’t go around for the next two weeks cackling and exclaiming that she is an delicate flower to anyone who will listen.
So. Panic at the motherfucking Disco happens, which is almost enough to make Billie and Myka give up on the whole band thing entirely. She doesn’t know what Pete was thinking, sticking them on the same tour right when Panic was taking off. The early tours had been fine – fun even, the Panic kids are cute—but when they’d finally settled into their stride and were ready to take the world by storm, it sure as fuck doesn’t look good for them to do so by overtaking an established band that just happens to be two fifths female. Myka puts a band-wide ban on googling themselves, and they all sit down one morning and come up with a fucking party line for interviewers who ask the inevitable questions about the relation between their gender and their success.
It’s actually a little weird during interviews, and it takes Myka a while to pin down why. Usually Billie and Sisky do most of the talking, but more and more Billie’s been shunting off the awkward gender questions to Myka, the ‘what’s it like being a girl in a male-dominated space?’ and ‘How do you feel about the people who are calling Panic a “real” band as opposed to your “girl group”?’. Billie used to love answering this shit, overwhelming the interviewers with fiercely defiant and stunningly articulate statements about equality and the importance of the music over everything else. Now she just sort of waves the questions in Myka’s direction or brushes them off with a patronizing little curl of her lip and a few thinly veiled disdainful comments.
So yeah, that’s weird, but it’s nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to things that are getting progressively more and more fucked up with the band. The Tom thing is coming to a head, and even though six out of seven days Billie and Myka aren’t speaking to each other, Myka’s pretty sure they’re still going to wind up on the same side in the long run. And she’s right, of course. It’s better that they get The Butcher to tell him, she figures, because he’s probably the only one left who can actually look at Tom with something resembling friendship.
The internet gets a hold of the story right away and goes fucking nuts, which they’ve all predicted. Unsurprisingly, everyone’s assuming sex was involved, though they can’t seem to decide if Tom was sleeping with Billie or Myka or both of them. Which is kind of ridiculous, because sleeping with one’s band members would be a really stupid fucking move, and also seriously, no one has caught on to how Billie’s been bouncing between Christine and Gabe for like three goddamn years now. Myka’s been waiting for that to blow up in their faces for what feels like ever, but aside from a few really weird pages on livejournal about Billie and Gabe that she didn’t really want to look too closely at, nobody’s commented on how Gabe and Billie cuddle and practically molest each other in public and post adoring comments about each other on their respective blogs, nor has anyone found it questionable that Billie’s ‘really good friend’ Christine hangs out with them on tour like, all the fucking time, or that when they go back to Chicago Billie pretty much lives at her apartment.
The internet has also apparently forgotten that Tom has a girlfriend, and Myka’s actually feeling pretty shitty for Danielle until she catches wind of ‘Team Myka Carden is an asshole’. Fuck that noise, there’s a goddamn reason Myka doesn’t have an online presence and avoiding shit like this is it.
And then Billie takes off the Los Angeles and everything goes to hell in a hand basket. She calls Myka after three days of radio silence and Myka’s just glad enough that she’s alive to save the yelling for when they’re in the same city.
“Every fucking thing I write is going to be taken as if it’s about Tom,” Billie says without preamble. Myka tucks the phone between her ear and shoulder and turns down the TV.
“Really no. At least not much. But the fans aren’t going to see it that way. I write songs about or directed to a male pronoun, which is the only kind I can write, being female, and everyone is going to default to motherfucking Tom Conrad.”
Myka… doesn’t really know what to say, because Billie’s right and they both know it.
“I hate this,” Billie snarls down the phone line. “I fucking—society makes me so fucking angry.”
It takes Billie eight days to come back. Myka picks her up from the airport, because Billie can’t run away when they’re trapped in a car together and Myka has a lot of feelings she needs to express. Loudly, and possibly violently, and Billie needs to shut the fuck up and take it for once in her life. Billie wanders into baggage claim looking like she’s about to throw up. She’s huddled in an oversized hoodie and stupid skinny jeans and no make-up or earrings. And ok, Myka is, everyone’s opinions to the contrary, straight, but Billie’s wearing a fucking ugly scarf and she can’t help but notice, when her gaze tracks down from the monstrosity, well, it goes straight down. It probably says something really unfortunate that Myka’s first thought is that Billie’s traded her boobs to some sort of demon for magical writing abilities.
“So I just walked off that plane without half of the lyrics I wrote this week,” Billie says, first thing. Her voice is even, but Myka knows how to read the signs and all signs point to panic attack. Myka sighs, and puts all thoughts of magically disappearing boobs and satisfying screaming matches out of her head.
Billie’s come back from LA with an album of gender-neutral songs, a prescription for anti-depressants, and the name of a new guitarist recommended by Butch. When Sisky asks her what she’d done while she was away she just shrugs awkwardly.
“Wrote. Freaked out, calmed down. Went to movies and coffee shops and all the places where no one knew my name.”
Myka rolls her eyes because seriously, they do not actually live in a well-scripted novel, but she holds her tongue because Billie looks, for just a second, sharply, gut-wrenchingly sad.
Myka gets distracted from Billie’s issues by the arrival of Michael Guy, and her absolute glee at the fact that her prediction of a year prior that they’d get to play together has come true. She picks him up from the airport, too, and there’s only a tiny part of her that entertains a detailed fantasy of pinning him down in her backseat and molesting him. There’s one awkward moment when they’re talking about the band and Michael’s sort of babbling shyly and says something like “Bill mentioned in his e-mail that you wanted a more raw sound—“ and Myka laughs affectionately at his verbal fumble, but then it happens a couple more times and she makes a point of talking about Billie and her “artistic vision” and Michael looks confused, but he catches on quickly. It’s a bit weird, but fair enough. Billie isn’t exactly the most traditionally feminine name on its own, she supposes a mix-up is understandable. She’d thought Billie had met with Michael in LA, but it’s entirely possible she’s getting her facts mixed up.
Myka very seriously considers sending Walker a thank you letter, because Michael Guy is basically all kinds of fucking awesome wrapped up in a gentle, attractive Australian package. He’s also engaged, which Myka spends far too much time having to remind her friends, family, and various interviewers. They go to dinner eventually, her, Michael, and Naomi, and Myka spends a really uncomfortable three minutes in the ladies room swearing up and down to the other woman that she has no designs on her husband-to-be. It’s the first time she’s seriously felt like making a feminist ‘fuck you all and your assumptions’ public statement, and it leaves her feeling a little bit older and a lot angrier.
She doesn’t remember to mock Billie about the boobs for lyrics deal with the Devil until one night when Billie shows up at the door of her apartment in her pyjamas waving a notebook in her face and talking a mile a minute about the flow of the words without the commas, and when Myka glances down to check all anatomy appears present and accounted for under the old t-shirt that she’s pretty sure had once belonged to Nick Scimeca. Then she just feels like a creeper staring at Billie’s chest, and tries to put it out of her mind. And yet she finds herself snatching glances out of the corner of her eyes, on the cramped tour bus, from behind Billie on stage, in the gas station convenience stores while Billie and Siska have pointed arguments about baseball over the candy bars. Sometimes they’re there under the v-neck t-shirts and lacey tunics (Billie almost never wears dresses or skirts anymore) and sometimes not. Myka’s on the verge of writing her own fucking Nancy Drew book about Billie and her Schrödinger’s breasts.
At one of the endless series of gas stations, Myka’s buying cigarettes while Billie hunts around for Reese’s Pieces (which are apparently different from Reese's cups). The kid behind the counter hands over the cigarettes and hesitates over the cash register.
“Your boyfriend paying separately?”
Myka blinks. ‘What?”
He jerks his head in Billie’s general direction. Myka glances back just in time to catch Billie turning around, grinning and holding up a box.
“Oh,” the kid mutters. “Uh, girlfriend?”
Myka tries not to burst out laughing as Billie comes closer. “Um, neither,” she parrots back at the kid. Billie’s smile freezes, then gets even bigger, and she practically fucking bounces over to the counter to drop her candy on top of Myka’s cigarettes and water before catching site of Toney outside and hurrying for the door, mouthing a pre-emptive “thank you” at Myka before she vanishes. Myka offers the kid a helpless little smile like ‘crazy girl likes her peanut butter, I don’t even know, dude’, but he just stares back, bored.
“Billie’s having feelings again,” Butcher informs her, swinging their hotel room door shut behind him. Myka presses her face deeper into her pillow. “I’m very asleep, fuck off.”
“And I am very high,” Butcher giggles. “That doesn’t change the fact that Billie is having an emotional crisis.”
“Somebody call Christine.”
“It’s kind of immediate.”
Myka rolls over. “I hate my life, and I hate Billie Beckett.” She stretches an arm out off the side of the bed, wiggling her fingers. “Give me that.”
“Dude, this is mine.”
“And we’ve still got a decent stash, you can get more. If I have to deal with Billie I also have to have assistance staying calm.”
“You’re a harsh mistress, Carden.” He hands over the half-smoked joint, and Myka lies on her back and smokes the entire thing. Slowly.
They’re hotel-sharing with the Cobras that night, but Victoria’s not in the room she’s sharing with Billie when Myka trudges in. For a moment, it appears, neither is Billie. And then Myka swings the door to the bathroom open and groans.
“Oh for Christ’s sake, what are you, Anne of Green Gables?”
Billie meets Myka’s gaze in the mirror and pointedly snaps shut the cheap scissors on another lock of shoulder-length hair, letting it fall to join its comrades on the dingy floor tile. “I’ll have you know I’ve never dyed my hair, black or otherwise.”
“Because Courtney pinned you down while I threw out the bottle,” Myka retorts immediately. “Embrace your former gothness, Beckett, it’s the only way to make peace with it. Just like you’re apparently now making peace with your butch lesbian identity? What the fuck, dude?”
Billie flinches. “I’m not butch. Or a lesbian, for that matter.”
“Oh good,” Myka says flatly. “I wouldn’t want Gabe’s dick to go neglected.”
“You can fuck off if you’re going to be a bitch about this,” Billie snaps.
Myka stares at the jagged, lopsided inch-long mess that is becoming Billie’s new haircut. “Jesus fuck, give me those. I know you think you can do anything, but nobody can actually cut their own hair. You couldn’t have at least waited until we meet up with Panic and gotten Urie to do it?”
Billie pauses, which is enough time for Myka to yank the scissors out of her hand. “Brendon knows how to cut hair. Political correctness aside, I am stunningly unsurprised.”
Myka gets Billie’s hair even, if nothing else, and then she goes back to her room and makes herself comfortable on top of Butcher where he’s staring up at the cracked plaster of the ceiling and refuses to move even when he starts to express serious concerns about his ribs.
Later that night when they’re getting ready to go on, the Cobras barge into their dressing room – drunken, obnoxious, and brightly coloured, as they do everything. Victoria is the first to notice Billie’s hair, which the rest of their band has been really good about not mentioning. “Holy shit, Beckett! What’d you do to your pretty hair?”
Gabe spins around and pounces on Billie, knocking her onto the sofa. “Oh my God, Bills. Did you lose a bet?”
“I felt like a fucking change, get off,” Billie mutters, shoving an elbow into Gabe’s stomach. He rolls to the side and because they’re both skinny fuckers he just winds up lying alongside Billie instead of falling off the couch onto the floor like he so richly deserves.
“Oh man, you need a suit and tie to go with that look,” Alex says from behind his beer bottle. “Possibly some Birkenstocks and a cat.”
“Fuck you all,” Billie says clearly. Victoria comes close to run fingers through the shorn strands and Billie steals her half empty water bottle which Myka knows for a fact does not contain water.
“Was this because of all the tom bullshit?” she asks. “Because you know you can still be hardcore and awesome as a real girl. You don’t have to man it up just because some assholes on the internet are scared of a little girl power.”
Myka gets what Victoria’s trying to do, she really does, but that’s because Myka and Victoria spend a fucking lot of time hanging out and drinking when Billie and Gabe are off together, and Myka gets how Victoria’s brain works. Myka also has the unfortunate honour of knowing exactly how Becketts work and so it’s no surprise when Billie just hunches even further in on herself, hiding her face in Gabe’s collarbones.
“Hey, it’ll grow back,” Gabe says, rubbing her shoulders.
“Hey,” Nate pipes up from where he’s exchanging money for the Alex and Ryland Longing Gazes bet with Sisky. “Now everybody knows who wears the pants in your relationship.”
Billie flips him off without looking. Myka decides it’s never too early to open the vodka.
A few minutes later Myka’s just coming back in from a cigarette break and she passes Billie and Ryland having a hushed, slightly drunken conversation in the hall. Billie sees her coming and straightens up, hand coming up in an automatic movement to brush her hair back before she remembers and drops it, blushing. Ryland grins, and flips his credit card through his fingers. “It looks good, Bill,” he says lightly.
Billie glances up, then grins. “Well, you know. It was the only way to make sure Guy Ripley wouldn’t steal a lock of it when I’m sleeping.”
Myka rolls out of her bunk at a perfectly respectable three PM and finds Gabe Saporta chilling at the kitchen table. He’s in the process of pouring something from a flask into his Starbucks cup and he’s got dark circles under his eyes and a tenser bandage around his wrist.
“Aren’t you supposed to be… not here?” Myka asks, still blurry from sleep.
Gabe grins and it’s painfully fake. “You’re touring with motherfucking Kiss, how could I miss it?”
“Don’t you have a real job now?” she asks, poking through the fridge for a pop. “You know, appealing to your cult of thirteen-year-olds and party girls?”
“I came to see Bill,” he snaps. Myka nods.
“Yeah. Because you really seem in a fit state to be helping anybody.”
He takes a gulp of “coffee” and slams the paper cup down hard. “Not like the rest of you are doing anything. Where’s the rest of your band, Carden?”
And… well yeah, because Myka doesn’t actually know or care where the others have fucked off to. She still stays up late most nights talking to Sisky, but during the day he seems happy enough to hang off the Butcher’s coattails, and Myka and Bill are busy trying to write enough quality material to keep the goddamn band afloat. Which would be a lot easier if Bill wasn’t always on the phone getting into shouting matches with Christine, or locking herself away in her bunk with her laptop and refusing to eat or talk about whatever’s going on. So yeah, maybe it’s a good thing Gabe’s here.
Bill comes in from outside, face flushed from the wind, hand wrapped tightly around her fancy new iPhone. She slams the door behind her and stands perfectly still but for the steady vibration of her entire body, barely noticeable but there if you’re looking. Myka can tell she’s resisting the urge to throw the phone across the room.
“So, you know,” she says after a minute. “That was me and Christine breaking up.”
Myka rolls her eyes. “In other rare news, it’s Tuesday.”
“Fuck you, fuck you, Carden,” Bill snaps out, short and choppy and Jesus fucking Christ, Myka’s shown Saporta the ‘how to handle Becketts’ print out, and she’s even underlined the ‘no espresso or cocaine’ section. Twice.
“What’d you guys argue about?” Gabe asks.
Bill carefully sets the phone down on the table and starts trying to pace in the tiny kitchen. “I—A lot of stuff. The usual. You know, nothing new.” She pauses, then spins on them, eyes fierce. “I’m not a fucking guy.”
Myka blinks rapidly, because what? “Thanks for, um, clarifying that,” she snipes dryly.
Gabe tilts his head, presses his fingers to his lips. “Nah,” he agrees slowly. “But you’re not a girl, either.”
Bill’s hands start shaking for real. “Fuck you, you can’t label me without my permission. I can’t—“
“Tell me I’m wrong,” Gabe shoots back, a little meanly.
“I—“ Bill turns away, shoulders hunching. Her hair’s grown out again, just brushing her shoulders, and she lets it fall forward to hide her face. She brings her fists up, rubbing furiously at her eyes. “What the fuck am I supposed to do, Gabriel? It’s not as if I can aim to pass when nobody understands what I want to pass for. I’m a fucking ”celebrity, people notice when I—I can’t just—“
Myka has the slightly hysterical urge to laugh, to reassure Bill that she won’t have to be worrying about being a celebrity for long if the next fucking album isn’t perfect. Gabe grins.
“Believe me. You act like you know what you’re doing and nobody’s gonna question it. Just be who you are, don’t start worrying about what the rest of the world says.”
“Fucking hypocrite,” Bill snaps so that Myka doesn’t have to. She turns back to face him, eyeliner smudged all to hell around her wide eyes. “Should we talk about you, Gabe?”
“Nope,” he says, and pushes himself to his feet. “I’ll catch you at the after-party,” he says shortly. And Myka kind of wants to throw up because she knows that Bill and Gabe are still going to fuck later on, even after barely speaking for six months.
When he’s gone Bill sinks into his empty seat, then pops back up again, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Myka blows out a breath. “Ok. So… we’re going to play the show, and you’re gonna go do whatever with Gabe. And I’m going to do some research. And then you can talk at me until you’ve said every last fucking thing you need to say, and then we’re going to go on a shopping trip, or to get you a hair cut or make-up or whatever the fuck you need. And then we’re going to write some fucking music for our awesome fucking band, cool?”
Bill blinks. Myka notices, incongruously, that it’s a ‘no boobs’ day. “Myka Carden, are you giving me blanket permission to talk about my feelings?”
Myka glares. “And I’ll even listen. And then I’m really hoping you can deal with whatever this is and actually start being productive. Also possibly you should look for new significant others, but I’ll take what I can get.”
Bill presses her fingers to her lips, then nods. “Ok. We’ll start with that, yeah.”
Myka relaxes. Bill grins. Myka tenses up again.
“You know, Myka Carden? I have a feeling that this next album’s gonna be the one.”
Myka rolls her eyes. “You say that about every album, Beckett. Now go be somewhere that isn’t our bus so you can run off all the chemicals without driving me crazy.”
She actually goes, long denim clad legs taking the steps two at a time. Myka watches through the window as Bill descends on a group of unsuspecting techs, and grins. Yeah, she thinks, maybe Bill’s right.