Maxxie's finger slid down the call back list as his eyes scanned for his name, and then he paused, going back up to the list of vocalists. Under the column header, he thought he'd seen a familiar name and was almost positive he'd misread it. When he found that he hadn't made a mistake, and that Tony Stonem was the leader singer, Maxxie blinked, and shook his head. He'd have to see how this went.
The first day of practice meant getting to know everybody in the cast, and when Maxxie came into a new production, he liked to spend some time doing that. As he looked around the theater, he saw several people on stage, and more in the rows.
Someone's voice rose, lilting over the scales, and then going rebelliously outside them, and into a piece from the score.
Maxxie grinned when he heard it, he recognized the voice, and was also familiar with the indignant noises of someone else trying to rein in a free spirit that came followed. He came down the center aisle, grinning the entire way.
The dark haired figure turned around, and Maxxie was treated to one of Tony's more brilliant smiles, the one he liked, that meant Tony was honestly happy about something.
Tony bounded across the stage, and caught Maxxie in a hug on the second step. "Maxxie, how have you been?"
Maxxie returned the embrace, clinging on tightly for a second, and hoping Tony would know what he meant. "Good, never thought I'd see you in London."
Tony shrugged. "Been out of university for awhile, wanted to take some time to do some other things. How about you?"
"Your dad let you get out of school and do your dancing instead?"
"Not a chance, your parents got over you wanting to be Elvis?"
They smiled at each other, until somebody cleared their throat. "Stonem, if you're through hitting on our principal dancer, would you mind continuing with rehearsal?"
"Sorry, Beth," Tony said, and climbed back up the steps. "We'll catch up later," he said to Maxxie over his shoulder.
"Definitely," Maxxie said, and went to find his spot, glancing back at Tony again as he went.
The rest of the cast had worked on other shows together and they all sat together during the break, but they invited Maxxie along. He saw that Tony wasn't coming, and asked Beth why.
"Oh him, he isn't going to lower himself to hang out with us today."
Maxxie stared at her. That didn't sound like Tony, he had liked to be the one controlling all of the action, and this seemed like the perfect chance to do that.
"I'm kidding. He just doesn't always have time for the rest of them, they're still in that stage where they think everything is going to turn golden as soon as they hit the stage, and Tony knows better. Usually he likes to wind them up and keeps them from spinning out too far."
"But not lately?"
"No, a couple times a week he stays after, runs through his lines with Gina, she's Maura's understudy."
"Does he know something everybody else doesn't?"
"Probably, he's really good at figuring out who's ready to take leads. If they can survive working with him even when he's in a mood then they can handle a lot. I should give him some credit for casting, except then he'd be able to after whoever he wanted at any time."
Maxxie blinked. "Should you let him loose on them?"
Beth raised an eyebrow. "If they can't handle some brutal criticism then these guys are going to be slaughtered at their first review. So I say it's better that they find out now what they can take."
"That's sort of mercenary," Maxxie said.
"I told you, I leave that to Tony."
"Is that an official part of his job or just something off the books?"
"He does it for free. Sometimes I think he almost likes pushing people around as much as being on stage and being adored."
This was something that most people didn't notice about Tony unless they watched him at work for awhile, and then they were either scared off or wanted to fix him, so Maxxie was alert. "That's not a problem?"
Beth shrugged. "So far it's been helpful, and what actor isn't a bit of a bastard anyhow?" She glanced at her clipboard. "Anyway, Maxxie, I'll need to have you to have the first routine down by Saturday, so be ready to stay late the next couple of days."
"No problem," Maxxie said.
On his way out of the theater, Maxxie waved at the sound technician and then headed back to the flat he was sharing with four other aspiring dancers. He stepped over leg warmers, tap shoes and dirty laundry on his way to his room, and winced. Somehow this had seemed like a cheap alternative to staying in the same flat as his ex boyfriend, but he was looking for something else just as soon as he could afford it.
Rehearsals went long that week, but Maxxie always liked this stage, the cast was getting to know each other and the material, and so long as there weren't any clashes in personality things usually went well. He saw Tony in passing but didn't get a chance to talk to him again.
Maxxie was running through one of the combinations with Mark and Dinah, trying to get their timing down when he realized that there was someone else in the theater. He rolled out of a crouch, spun to the center of the stage, and came to a stop to find Tony leaning on a seat in the audience. Seeing him, Maxxie had a moment of deja vu, and when he got to his feet, he wasn't sure that Tony was even seeing him.
He hopped off the stage and wandered up the aisle to where Tony was standing and smiled. "Hey, Tony, what did you think of that?"
Tony shook off whatever he'd been thinking and his mouth turned up slightly. "Not bad."
"It was pretty damn good, and you know it," Maxxie said with a grin.
"You've done better," Tony said.
"I liked that one you did with those two friends of yours that couldn't keep their hands off each other except when they were dancing."
That took Maxxie by surprise. "You never said anything when I took you to practice to me."
"I was trying to concentrate too hard."
"Is that what it was?"
"How should I know?"
Maxxie rolled his eyes. "It happened to you, Tony, I think you'd be the one to have some idea of what was going on."
"Not when I was all messed up. It was hard enough to deal with myself, everybody else was too much."
"They didn't know how to handle it."
"Your mum and dad weren't so bad at it, though."
"They're pretty laid back," Maxxie said. His mother hadn't taken to Tony when Maxxie brought him home before his accident, and then afterwards, she had watched him closely, maybe to see if he was faking any of it. The first time she had warmed had been when they had been sitting on the steps, and Tony had jumped at a noise and reached out for Maxxie's hand without looking. After that, she had made sure that Tony had a place set at the table and an extra pillow stayed in Maxxie's room.
"Better than that," Tony said, which from him, was high praise.
"My mum rang last night, and she actually wondered if I'd seen you."
"What did you tell her?"
"That we were in the show together. She told me that you're supposed to come 'round soon."
"I haven't been back in a year or so," Tony said.
"Not much reason to. My parents got divorced, and Effy's off with her boyfriends for the summer."
Maxxie shook his head. "Sorry? Boyfriends?"
"Yeah, they're either both dating her or each other, they can't make up their minds,s so apparently they're all waiting until they figure it out before they make it official."
"How are they going to do that?"
"Effy has no idea, but I told her to ring me if she needs ideas." Tony grinned.
"Would that really be a good idea? I mean, you messing around in her life?"
"They've already screwed up once, I told them I'd settle it for them if they can't figure it out soon."
Even though he had never met the kids, and probably never would, Maxxie hoped that they got their minds made up quickly, because Tony had a intense look about him, and that never meant something good when he was aiming at someone who wasn't doing what he wanted.
"I don't think Effy wants you breaking her boyfriends."
"It saves her the trouble," Tony said.
Maxxie considered that, and thought that maybe, for the Stonems, that was what passed for a loving gesture between them, and if it did, there was a small bit of insight into how they related to each other as well as the rest of the world.
"What did Effy say when you offered to help?"
"Just that if they took too much longer she was going to stop at my place in a couple weeks and have me get to know them." Tony showed his teeth, and Maxxie knew it wasn't a smile that meant anything good.
"Do the boys know what might happen?"
"Effy has dropped all the hints she's going to, if they don't catch up, it's their own fault."
Some things didn't change, and Tony and Effy's devotion had been an unchanging constant for years. Even though it wasn't easily understood from the outside, Maxxie was glad that it was the same as it had always been. From there, Maxxie felt like he was on terms he recognized, and when there was time for it, looked for Tony more often.
They went back to Maxxie's flat after rehearsal, tired, but still wound up. Tony flopped down on the couch, and Maxxie followed suit. After a couple minutes he frowned.
"You want to go out and get a drink?" Maxxie asked.
Maxxie was about to ask again, when he turned his head when he saw that Tony's eyes were closed and he was breathing too slowly for him to be awake. He lay back, curling closer to Tony and relaxing, reminded of all the times when Tony hadn't been able to or wanted to find his way home and had spent the night at Maxxie's instead. He closed his eyes and when he woke up, Tony had pressed his face into Maxxie's shoulder and was breathing softly and deeply. It hadn't been on his mind when they lay down, but Maxxie realized he'd suggested they come back to his place so that Tony didn't get some weird idea that Maxxie was looking to get into anything with him.
"Hey," Tony said, rubbing his eyes as he lifted himself on one elbow and smiled at Maxxie.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep on you," Maxxie said uncomfortably.
"I think I was the one who was using you for a pillow."
Maxxie couldn't tell whether Tony was laughing at him or just thought it was a funny state of affairs, but he knew that with Tony, limits had to be clearly defined, if only so that he would know when he was ignoring them. "I didn't ask you back here for anything else, you know that, yeah?"
"Maxxie, I'm not even awake and you're dumping me?" Tony grinned. "We have to do more than sleep together for that to stick."
"Tony, I'm being serious." Maxxie said and scrambled up. It was easier to glare disapprovingly from a distance, and Maxxie folded his arms over his chest defensively. "You got it?"
"Jesus, Maxxie, nothing happened."
Maxxie nodded. "And that's how it's going to stay, understand?"
"Yeah. Good thing I didn't get invested in this, otherwise I'd be very disappointed in you, Maxxie. Not being open to trying new things."
"Like you wanted to in Russia? I told you then, I'm not a hobby."
"Okay, Maxxie, relax, I'm not going to jump you." Tony rolled out of bed. "Can I get a shower before I head out?"
"Yeah, it's through there," Maxxie said and pointed. He hurried to get dressed and then began searching for something to eat.
When Tony came into the kitchen, he was drying his hair with a towel and only wearing his jeans. He dropped his shoes carefully beside the doorway and came closer, his feet soft on the floor.
Maxxie had found several kinds of food and was feeling like a bad host and smiled at him. "Do you want some breakfast?"
"Cereal is fine." Tony surveyed the rest of the flat and shook his head as he took in the half finished paintings and general messiness. "Do you live with a tribe of unemployed artists?"
Maxxie shrugged. "They're between projects at the moment."
"For how long?"
"Six months." Maxxie took in Tony's skeptical look and sighed. "Look, they're very passionate and they don't want anyone to dismiss them because of their style."
"Which is what?"
"I doubt that they've done more than hear the word," Tony said.
"At least they're trying to be honest about what they like."
"Yeah,that excuses everything." Tony lifted a canvas that had been turned toward the wall. "Including using every flat surface for their art."
"I know it's not perfect, but it's cheap." Maxxie poured a bowl of cereal for Tony and handed it over. "Don't know if you want milk, it's in the fridge."
"It's fine like this," Tony said and began eating the cereal dry.
"Are you working up to something, Tony, or is this just about making fun of where I live?"
"A little bit of both." Tony chewed unhurriedly and Maxxie rolled his eyes.
"Let me know when you've made a decision."
When Tony had finished eating, he rinsed the bowl out and set it to dry on the counter. He smiled, and Maxxie knew that whatever objections somebody else might have used to restrain themselves from going on, Tony didn't care about them and would say what he wanted anyway, and waited for some outrageous statement, which didn't come then. Later, Maxxie told himself that Tony liked to plan for everything, and that he shouldn't have taken it for granted that not saying a word that morning meant there wasn't going to be trouble.
When he got back late that night, the lights were on inside the flat and when he opened the door, Tony was standing in the main room, several boxes surrounding him.
"What?" Even for Tony, who operated on another level than the rest of the world, that was random, and Maxxie stared at him.
"How much stuff do you actually have in this pit?"
"Just what's in my room, and a few things in the kitchen, why?"
"We'll need a couple of boxes."
"For what?" Maxxie stared at Tony, who was nodding in satisfaction without explaining what he was going on about. "Tony, have you gone mental? How did you get in, and what do you think you're doing?"
"Gibson let me in."
One of the flat mates Maxxie barely ever saw and it figured that he would be around long enough to give Maxxie trouble. "Okay, but what are you doing here?"
"I'm going to help you get out of this dump."
"Where will I go? This supposed dump is close to the theater and almost everything about it is perfect."
Tony handed Maxxie a box. "Get moving, I don't want to have to lug a bunch of boxes through London in the middle of the night."
"I'm not going to do what you tell me just because you got some crazy idea. What's going on?"
"You're coming with me."
"Yeah, I've got plenty of room at my place, and you'd only have to share space with me."
"Right now I'm not sure whether that's such a good idea."
"Maxxie, you can't stay here. Gibson said that they're going to be doing free form art all night long, and that after that we could stay for the spiritual cleansing they've got planned."
"I'll shut my door."
"It's a synonym, Maxxie, and the only thing that's going to happen tonight is a bunch of kids are going to pile in here and have a really loud orgy, and probably get kicked out of the building for noise and damages. You want to be gone before that."
"I don't know what's wrong with you, Tony that you think I wouldn't mind you coming in and taking over like this."
"I knew you'd hate it, but come on, Maxxie, staying with me has got to be better than the alternative," Tony said and offered the box to Maxxie again.
"I am going to pay rent," Maxxie said.
"And don't think that this means you can push me around whenever you like."
"These were special circumstances," Tony said.
"I mean it, Tony," Maxxie said and gave him a hard look.
"Sure, now let's get you out of here."
As much as Maxxie didn't want to admit it, Tony's flat was enormous and it seemed like the idea of him moving had been a good one, but he only nodded cautiously when Tony pointed his room out and reserved judgment until he was sure of what was going to happen as a result of this little maneuver.
In the next few days, Tony didn't gloat aloud about how well everything had worked out, but Maxxie did catch him nodding in approval when he saw Maxxie unpacking a box of pans in the kitchen.
"That is so gay," Tony said, leaning in the doorway.
"Saucepans are gay?" Maxxie asked.
"No, that you like to cook."
"I like to eat good food so I've been teaching myself to cook."
"Are you a decent cook?" Tony asked.
"I'm learning." Maxxie narrowed his eyes. "I saw a couple recipe books on the shelf by the sink, do you know what they're for?"
"Yeah, they're guidelines for making meals."
"Smartass," Maxxie said. "Do you use them or are they another facade?"
"What do you think Effy and I ate when our parents were out?"
The phrasing was vague, and Maxxie remembered the precarious balance that he'd seen in the Stonem house, and the way that Tony's accident had tipped everything off the edge. If Tony and Effy hadn't had more than a nebulous understanding of how to prepare food, they might have starved. "Are you any good?"
"No, I am an excellent cook," Tony said and pushed off the doorway to amble forward and examine Maxxie's cookware. He picked up a pan and put it away. "We can take turns cooking, if you want."
"That would be fine."
Maxxie handed pans to Tony and together they got everything put away very quickly.
It took awhile, but Maxxie realized that not only was Tony's flat almost too big for a single person, but he didn't take advantage of the room and bring people home all that much, or ever. At the after-party with the rest of the cast, Maxxie leaned against he bar and watched no less than three girls try and entice Tony into dancing with them. When they didn't have any luck, a couple of guys took a turn. Somehow it was funny and sad as Tony fended off without a problem, but Maxxie didn't remember him being so aloof.
"Is something the matter?" Maxxie asked. When Tony slid up beside him to order another drink.
"What do you mean?"
Maxxie nodded at the hopefuls still hanging around.
"See something you like?" Tony shrugged. "Go for it, have fun."
"What's up with you?"
"I'm not in the mood."
Having seen Tony after the choir concert where he publicly broke up with Michelle by making out with Abigale, Maxxie had trouble believing him. After a show, a good one, which this had been, it was hard to stay still. This hadn't been the most amazing show Maxxie had ever been a part of, but he could feel that tomorrow's performance would be even better. He was still wound up and he'd only done a couple dance numbers.
"Are you sure you didn't break something while you were at uni?" Maxxie asked.
"Everything works fine, I told you, I'm not interested."
"Weird," Maxxie said and caught the eye of a guy across the room. "Well, see you later, don't wait up." He clapped Tony on the back and took off into the crowd.
He didn't come home that night, but when he stumbled in the next morning, he was grinning and struggling to keep his eyes open even though it was almost noon.
"Did you have fun?" Tony asked. He was sitting at the kitchen table, eating toast, and not looking at all like he'd stayed up late entertaining somebody or had been worried about Maxxie.
"Yeah, I did." Maxxie had never apologized for being himself, and he didn't feel guilty that he'd had a good time the night before.
"Cool." Tony went back to his breakfast as if that was all he had to say, but Maxxie felt like he was missing a whole conversations just from the way that Tony stared at him for a second. He didn't bring it up again, but as he sat down across the table from him, Maxxie wondered what Tony hadn't said.