Three things happen at the beginning of summer in rapid succession:
a) The realization Shilo has been putting off for as long as humanly possible, involving the fact that while she may like her field (natural sciences; it is interesting), she really has no desire to make a living doing it, finally bubbles to the surface so violently she really can't ignore it anymore.
b) She gets her degree.
c) A text shows up in her phone involving someone she graduated with, a cousin in a band based in her hometown, and an opening for a drummer.
Touring is kind of frightening.
She's not worried about the music -- the three weeks before they left are blurred in her memory as one continuous practice, and she's happy to say she did as well as she hoped she would -- but she's never been one for crowds, or attention, or stages.
One might wonder what the fuck she's doing in a band.
She does, too.
The fact that she's ten years younger than 75% of the rest of the band never really comes up, and when it does it's thankfully not in any malicious way. Marni seems to have decided to take Shilo under her wing, so to speak, and apparently Nathan goes along with that (to be fair, Nathan does seem to like her on his own, which goes a long way toward reassuring her that he's not just putting up with her because of his wife). Mag sort of does the same, but she and Mag are sort of similar to begin with. Sometimes when she's sitting awake on the bus in the middle of the night Mag will come out and they'll talk for a while about what ends up being nothing, in the end.
She hopes this lasts. It's nice to have friends. (Real friends.)
Whenever she thinks about the people in her band, she very carefully skirts the subject of James entirely, because in her mind James is a giant teeming mass of uncertainty and strangeness wrapped up in dyed hair and big stompy boots.
It's not that they don't get along, to be fair; she loves spending time with him when they're just sitting around, and he loves shouting at the characters in movies just as much as she does. But it's so easy to sit down with him and then look up and it's two hours later and somehow she's leaned up against his side with his arm around her shoulders and she didn't even notice.
It's too easy. It freaks her out.
And half of the time it seems like she's just his little sister, anyway; everyone else calls her Shilo, but he calls her Bug -- at first he'd called her Bug-ologist, but apparently that had been too many syllables. Or just Kid, like "hey, kid, what's up?"
They're only four years apart.
Nathan doesn't even call her kid, and he's the oldest of all of them.
When he finds her she's sitting on the venue's roof, legs dangling off the edge and head tipped back to stare at the sky, just barely starting to think about getting dark. "Hey, kid," she hears from somewhere behind her, and she rolls her eyes a little.
"Hey yourself," she says.
"Why the roof?"
"It's stifling down there," she says, sighing without meaning to. She starts tracking a cloud on its slow trip across the sky. "Couldn't you feel it? I just -- it felt like the walls were closing in on me. And it's nice up here."
"Maybe for you," he says, and it's funny but it feels like she can hear him scowling. "I hate heights."
"You know," she says, trying not to let her grin leak into her voice, "I read somewhere that being afraid of heights comes from being worried that if you get up to an edge, somewhere, you won't be able to stop yourself jumping. And I know I have better self-control than that." She kicks her legs a little for emphasis, and smiles when she hears him walking closer.
"Tough talk, kid," he says, and when she turns he's sitting down crosslegged with his back to the edge, looking carefully at the little building the stairs lead out from. "Who've you been talking to?"
"Everybody. Nobody." She shrugs, pulls her legs up and scoots back a little so they can look at each other but she can still see off the building. "What are you doing up here, if you have such a bad relationship with heights?"
"Well, I'd looked everywhere else." When she raises her eyebrows, he rolls his eyes a little. "Mag and Marni are doing their thing, and Nathan is trying not to sulk, and my conversation partner," and here he fixes her with what's probably supposed to be a glare, "had fucked off somewhere. What else was I supposed to do?"
There's a piece inside of her that warms up significantly when he says that, but she is steadfastly ignoring it. She opts, instead, to ask something she's been meaning to for quite a while now. "I -- what's the deal with them, by the way? I mean, not to be intrusive, it's just sort of confusing."
He grins at her. "It's confusing to me, kid, and I've been with them since the beginning. But as far as I can tell, this is their deal: Mag and Marni have been best friends since they were teenagers. Marni and Nathan are married -- don't look at me like that, I'm just going over all of our facts -- and if you hadn't noticed, Nathan kind of follows her around like a puppy."
That's a frighteningly apt description, actually, but instead of commenting on it she just gestures at him to go on.
"So Marni is all Mag has, basically. Marni is all Nathan has, basically. And since there aren't two of her --"
"Oh," she says, and blinks. "And they've always ..."
"Yeah, pretty much." He shrugs again, pulls off his stupid black beanie and runs a hand through his hair. "But it seems to work for them, I guess."
"Yeah," she says, and nods, and lets silence fall. The cloud she'd been watching is too far away for her to pay any attention to without craning her neck, so she focuses on a new one. It looks, she decides, a little like a dragon that's about to start dancing.
It feels like he's watching her. Probably, though, she's just paranoid and slightly awkward. Or, well, to be fair, she knows she's slightly awkward. But that's more than likely all it is.
After a few minutes, he jams his beanie back on his head, stands, and reaches a hand down. "C'mon, Bug, we should probably get in. Makeup, the daily are-you-sure-you-haven't-had-a-psychotic-break check, that stuff's not going to wait on us."
She grabs his hand and levers herself up, follows him down off the roof and back into the venue. Little sister, she thinks again. Looks like she's everybody's adopted family. That thought should probably make her happier than it does.
Life goes on.
Tour ends, and Shilo goes home wishing it could go on for a thousand years.
She also has a reminder to make plans with everyone for food at some point sitting in her inbox. It's not like they live hundreds of miles away from each other or anything, after all.
They start making arrangements for their next tour -- something about management deciding they need another stint on the road with the five of them together before it's a good idea to toss them into a studio and hope something that isn't total shit comes out, which Shilo supposes makes sense, but she's been messing around with her kit for the last few weeks and she'd sort of been hoping to actually dosomething with some of it.
But whatever. Maybe they'll start in on the next album while they're on the road.
She gets a text at 2:41 in the morning, one day, and is in no way surprised when she checks her phone and sees it's from James. When she selects the message, it says Are you prepared for a fucking trainwreck?
"What?" she asks nobody in particular. She replies with ?, and gets a response back in less than a minute.
You know who we're touring with next, yeah?
Yeah, I saw earlier. So? The band in question is Blame Not My Cheeks, and she's heard of them but can't think of any reason they'd be any worse than any other band.
If I call will it disturb the house?
... well that can't be good. No, she sends back, and thirty seconds later her phone rings. "What the hell?" she answers, and hears a faint sound that's probably him snorting at her.
"Sorry, this was way the fuck too long for a text message. Okay, so the band is three siblings, and their father is this guy named Rotti Largo, and they all have a really unhealthy relationship with each other so he's always with them when they're on tour."
"Nathan's Marni's first husband, but she's been engaged once before. She left the guy at the altar. His name was Rotti Largo."
For a second she's so surprised she cannot think of anything to say.
"Yeah, basically," he says into the quiet. "Clusterfuck of an idea, I don't know who thought this would ever be a good idea."
"Is it -- possible, at all, that he's gotten past it?"
She takes the noise James makes to mean no.
Saying that tour is tense is something of an understatement. Leaving aside the fact that Rotti Largo is terrifying, Nathan seems to be attempting not to have a nervous breakdown, Mag gets twitchy and pointedly leaves the room whenever the subject gets brought up, and Marni either doesn't realize anything is wrong or is deliberately ignoring it, possibly in the hope that if she doesn't pay any attention to the problem it'll just go away.
Shilo spends a lot of time in her bunk. She gets a lot of reading done, rewatches a lot of movies she'd loved when she was a kid. When she's done with that she starts hunting around for TV recommendations, and once she's found a reliable download site she starts the time she's doing something related to performing, eating, or sleeping.
It manages to keep her separated from the drama, but she also starts to feel as though she's going insane.
When she asks James what he's doing with his time, thinking maybe he'll have a decent suggestion, he tells her he's been spending a lot of it with Amber Sweet.
She sings for Blame Not My Cheeks. When Shilo raises an eyebrow at him, he laughs and makes some joke about intermarrying royal families, and she scowls and walks away, and tells herself very firmly that the only reason she's so hurt is that he's being such a traitor, and that that's all it is.
About a week later there's a knock on the outside of her bunk and then James is drawing the curtain back just enough that he can see her. "Can I come in?"
"... sure," she says, and tries not to let the surprise show on her face too much as they shift around and get comfortable. "You want an earbud?"
"What are you watching?" he asks, peering at the screen.
"Oh!" Shilo rolls her eyes at herself and moves the laptop so it's half on her lap and half on his. "Criminal Minds, I'm a third of the way through the third season."
"Thanks," he says, and then, "hell, just unplug them, it's not like any of them --" and here he jerks his head in the direction of the rest of the bus -- "are going to care. Or even notice, really."
She shrugs, and nods, and pulls the earbuds out, and over the course of the episode they end up settled against each other. He smells like fabric softener.
When Shilo wakes up she's laid out on a couch backstage, her head on Mag's lap. She shakes her head, trying to clear it, and Mag smiles down at her before calling the others over.
"Jesus, Bug," James says, and she wonders for a second why he changed back into normal clothes but left his stage makeup on until she realizes that no, he's just that pale right now. What the hell?
"What ... happened?" For some reason her mouth isn't cooperating, and she feels so tired, but she has a feeling they'd all yell at her if she went back to sleep, so she keeps her eyes open as best she can.
"You passed out, Shilo," Nathan says. He looks angry, but she has to be imagining that. "When was the last time you ate?"
"Nathan!" Marni says, making a face, but Nathan just shushes her.
"Um," Shilo says, and tries to think. "I had a sandwich backstage after sound check. Peanut butter and jelly."
"Do you remember the last thing you drank?"
"Some water. It tasted sort of weird, but that brand always tastes weird. I wouldn't have grabbed that bottle, but I was. Really thirsty. Felt like my mouth was made of cotton."
Nathan turns a very dark look on Marni, and then very obviously clears his face before turning back to Shilo. "Okay. We're going to go see if we can figure out what happened, all right? You just stay here and rest."
After Nathan and Marni are gone, Shilo cranes her neck so she can look at James, who's sitting on the floor in front of the couch and holding her hand. "What was that about?"
"Nathan thinks you were poisoned," Mag says, startling Shilo enough that she jumps. "Marni doesn't believe it, but I wouldn't put it past Rotti either." She pauses. "Also, you may hate that brand, but that's the one Marni drinks if she has a choice."
"I -- oh."
"Yeah," Mag says, and starts stroking her head gently. James squeezes her hand and offers her a halfhearted smile, and she tries to return it before closing her eyes. Maybe they'll let her sleep.
Rotti had been somewhere else all day; all three of his children had been with him; the waters were provided by the venue, and as far as she remembers the one she'd grabbed had been sealed.
Despite Nathan's protests, there's nothing any of them can do.
The next year or so is sort of a blur in Shilo's mind; she only remembers bits and pieces. They got Rotti for it, she knows; there'd been a very heavily-guarded funeral; Nathan went crazy and then bought himself a giant house in the middle of Montana and stopped returning anyone's calls or emails.
Shilo slept a lot.
And then one day she wakes up and stares at the ceiling for a few minutes before closing her eyes, sighing, and deciding that it's time to get along with life.
She gets a job in a museum. She gets an apartment closer to her job than she ever would've thought possible; her parents, she knows, would have let her stay for as long as she wanted, but it was time.
She gets a cat, a tabby she found in a shelter and absolutely fell in love with. She names her Marni.
A few of her coworkers asked her if she'd been in that band, a year or two ago, the one with the weird name, the one that fell apart when the rhythm guitarist got murdered. She laughs, tells them she gets that a lot, and then they laugh and it doesn't come up again.
She still has James's number in her phone, James's email in her address book.
She loses track of how many times she opens up a text, a blank email, or just stares at his number and thinks about pressing the call button before calling herself an idiot and closing her phone, going to a different webpage.
He wouldn't care, anyway.
It's Wednesday afternoon, and she's halfway through her coffee when someone she has a passing acquaintance with comes rushing into the breakroom and makes a beeline straight for her.
"The bassist for The Necromerchant's Debt is out in the lobby, and he wants to see you," the guy says, and fixes her with a Look.
"... me? Did he ask for me by name?" She puts down her coffee, worried that her suddenly shaking hands are going to make it spill over.
"Yes. And he described you. And," he says, and the Look gets stronger, "he mentioned that you used to drum for his band. You're such a goddamned liar."
"Yeah, whatever," Shilo says, and rolls her eyes.
When she gets out to the lobby he's looking somewhere else, so she can take him in for a second without giving anything away. His hair's all one color, now, and he's wearing a ridiculous beanie but he's also wearing shoes that don't look like they died half a year ago or could be used to beat someone to death.
She takes a deep breath, and then walks up to him just as he's turning around. A huge smile spreads over his face when he sees her, and she wills herself not to blush. She is not a fucking blushing person.
"Hey," she says.
"Hey," he says.
"What's up?" she says, somewhat awkwardly, mostly to fill the silence that had descended in which they both just looked at each other like crazy people.
"Oh, you know," he says, and lifts one shoulder up in an incredibly noncommittal shrug. "I heard that you were working here, thought I'd drop by and see how things were going."
"Oh. Well. They're going fine, thanks. I have a cat," she adds, and immediately wonders why she felt like sharing that with him. "You?"
He smiles, though, and then shrugs again. "Pretty much the same. No cat, though."
"Ah," she says, and has no idea what to say next. After what feels like an hour, she goes with "Um. I sort of have to -- get back to work, so."
"Oh, yeah, right. It was good to see you, though," he says, and lifts the corners of his mouth up slightly.
"Yeah, definitely," she says, and then turns and starts walking away.
"That was -- that was a lie," she hears before she's gone ten steps. "About why I showed up."
When she turns back he's looking at the ground. "What?"
"I've come in here ten times in the last two months, trying to get up the courage to ask for you. It's a really nice place, by the way," he adds, and she smiles despite herself. "I just -- I don't know."
She takes a few steps closer. "Do you know how many times I've thought about calling you? Or texts I've thought about sending you?"
"If it's half as many as mine, I'm guessing a lot," he says, and lifts his head up enough he can look at her again. "A lot?"
"Twice a lot," she says, and she thinks she might be grinning now, thinks about reaching forward and grabbing his hand.
"Yeah?" he asks, and now he's reaching forward and grabbing her hand.
"Yeah," she says, and squeezes a little. "I -- listen, my break's almost over, but I'm off in two hours. Do you want to get dinner, or -- we could get takeout and watch a movie, or something. You could meet my cat."
"I think I would really like that," he says, grinning, before lifting her hand up and kissing the back lightly. "Until then, mam'selle?"
She nods, and impulsively leans up on her tiptoes and kisses his cheek before turning and heading back to her job. Until then.