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The screen flickered to life, the tell-tale crack and shake of a hand-held camera bringing a face into the light. A young woman with gold-red hair and grey, almost violet eyes, who looked more asleep than awake, filled up the screen.

“Well, hi.” She broke into a yawn, covering her mouth and sweeping her fringe back off her forehead. “So, it's five a.m., I'm Alanna Trebond, here with my brother Thom.”

She turned the camera to show her brother at the wheel, who looked just as tired as she did. He grunted in response and she turned the camera back to herself. “As you can see, we're both bright-eyed and... bushy-tailed... ready for the day ahead. Please note the sarcasm. But anyway, we are on our way to VidCon!”

“Well, we're on our way to the airport,” Thom interjected. The camera swivelled, and he smiled for a moment.

“Well, we're on our way to get coffee because you're about to crash the car if you don't get any caffeine in you,” she said. “Thom can't function without caffeine.”

“It's true. I'm a wreck.”

“Note that he's had three cups of tea this morning already.”

“But what she doesn't tell you is that she's had three cups of tea and a cup of instant coffee.” Thom's lips turned up a little.

Alanna tutted. “Moving on. As I mentioned, we're on our way to VidCon. As most of you know, we're not really important enough to have our own panel or performance time or anything, but you know, we'll be around. We'll only be there for the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth, but we'll be busking when we're not watching other people talk.”

Thom turned his head slightly as they came up to a red light. “Tell them about the thing.”

“The thing?” Thom raised his eyebrows. “Oh, the thing! Yes. Okay. So we'll be busking, as we usually do, and we have a pretty tried and tested setlist. We want to change it up a bit. So, the deal is this: if you're going to be at the Con, or if you have a friend or something there, tweet us--”

“Because we're totally cool like that.”

“So totally awesome. But yeah, tweet us with a song you want us to do within the next twelve hours, so we have enough time to learn it. And then, at the Con, come find us and tell us the song, and hopefully we'll have learned it, and you can sing it with us.”

“Or just watch us and know that we learned – or tried to learn – it just for you.”

“Just a sec, I need to move this camera.” There was another shuffle, the screen spinning until the camera was settled on the dashboard, including both of the twins in the shot. “Beautiful. Anyway. Get tweeting, I guess?”

Thom snorted. “You're so enthusiastic, Alanna.”

“Shut it, I'm tired.”

“We were up until eleven double checking tickets and accommodation, and we got up at four. Be glad we're narcissistic enough to want your validation.” Thom was smiling even through his scolding. He yawned and covered his mouth with one hand.

Alanna nodded along. “Be so glad. Send us money and caffeine. And chocolate. And a new loop pedal.”

“Also any children you can find. Preferably dead.”

“Thom, you're a horrible person.”

“I know.”

“He doesn't actually want dead children, so please don't kill anyone, or kidnap a body, or anything remotely illegal.”

“Does it count as kidnapping if they're already dead?” Thom asked as he pulled into a crowded parking lot. “Okay, we're getting caffeinated. Bye, guys, we'll see you soon!”

“Bye!” Alanna echoed. There was a click, and the screen went blank.


Take Me To Church – Hozier cover - Conté

June 13                                    by ContéOfficial


OFFICIAL ALBUM ANNOUNCEMENT

June 22                                   by ContéOfficial


“Welcome to California, the local time is eight thirteen a.m., and it's currently sixty-four degrees Fahrenheit outside. Thank you for travelling with us, we hope to see you again soon!”

It was only a three hour flight, and both slept through, but on the other side both Thom and Alanna were exhausted. Thom had made the decision to wait until their return to get his shot, for his vocal stability's sake, but he still felt the slow burn and itch of dysphoria build from his chest through his body. Three weeks and three days could not be all that different from three weeks, but there was a terror that couldn't quite be abated by logic.

“Straight to the hotel?” Alanna asked, shouldering their luggage. Thom grunted his agreement, half-heartedly reaching for his guitar case. “I've got it.” Alanna didn't look at him, eyes shifting from corner to corner of the space, as if scanning for a hostile presence. It had been months ago when the attack had happened, a similar scene, but she was determined to never let it happen again. Thom fought the urge to cross his arms over his chest as they went through the crowds, kept his fists clenched.

“I feel like most people think we're substantially more agreeable than we are,” Thom said. He kept his face soft, but stayed close to Alanna's side – and her biceps.

“I dunno, we're agreeable enough. We're just bitter, sarcastic millenials who aren't aware of their privilege. Haven't you heard?”

“How dare you? We're the societally aware upper class, we may as well be middle class.” They both laughed, a familiar joke breaking the tension and fear of a new city. They came to a stop at the taxi strip outside. Alanna yawned, Thom placing a hand on her shoulder, “Do you want to sleep once we're at the hotel?” he asked. “I can cope with arranging the music, if you organise transport later in the day.”

“Deal.” Thom hailed a taxi in silence, and helped Alanna unload their bags and guitars. The familiar tension in her shoulders and tiredness in her voice sparked something akin to protectiveness in him, and for all his apathy he wouldn't continue to allow her to do all the work for them. She seemed to have unlimited resources of energy, but it was often less 'energy' than 'stubbornness', although she would never admit to it.

He gave instructions to the driver and took his turn with the luggage as they went through the tedious process of getting into the hotel. Alanna only took the time to splash her face with water before collapsing on the bed, asleep.

Thom showered, arched his shoulders back and heard the crack of joints and muscles working themselves back into place. He began compiling a list of things that had to be done before the morning, and they both wanted to see the city. It had been a big decision to allow requests so close to the day for two who were so ardently perfectionists, but Alanna stated her faith in his capacity for arranging pieces for their voices, and they both knew (although for modesty's sake, may not admit it) that their harmonies were near to perfect after so long. They worked for it, of course, but they had begun singing together at five – fifteen years feigned natural talent.

He sat with his guitar, his phone, and a growing sense of pressure, on the edge of his bed. “Be nice to yourself,” Alanna mumbled from the other side of the room. “You promised.”

“Go back to sleep.” She grumbled for a moment, then did just as she was told.


 

@LIONSBand please please please do 'rather be' with cool harmonies and stuff?

@LIONSBand anything by adam lambert would be perfect for u two

@LIONSBand Dude Looks Like a Lady might be appropriate for Thom. :P

@LIONSBand uptown funk

@LIONSBand oops i did it again by britney spears
@LIONSBand Thom's voice would be perfect for 'Take Me To Church'.

@LIONSBand you've already played it before, but give me love by ed sheeran

@LIONSBand defying gravity from wicked!!!

@LIONSBand take me to church by hozier

@LIONSBand I Want to Break Free by Queen please???


LIONSBand tweeted: Thom here! Setlist confirmed. Couldn't do everything sorry, there are so many of you. See attached photo.

[setlist vidcon.jpg]


LIONSBand tweeted: Also, no-one believed me when I said Alanna sleeps like a loser/starfish. For your viewing pleasure.

[nerd.jpg]


LIONSBand tweeted: Thom fails to mention that he can fall asleep anywhere. In any position. Look at this arsehole, circa 2014.

[piano ft. actual two year old.jpg]


“Will Jon be coming to visit this Summer?” Thom asked, as he stabbed at a lettuce leaf. It was a sinner lettuce leaf, not cooperating with his fork. 

Alanna kept chewing, but shook her head. “He's got a new girlfriend. Thayet – do you remember her?”

“Oh yeah. Really pretty and slightly terrifying?”

“That's the one. But he's going to Canada with her to meet her grandparents, then coming back in time for Roald's campaign season. I mean, the central primaries in the major states. He can't give all of his time, and Roald doesn't want him to.”

Thom raised an eyebrow. “Isn't he playing the whole 'family centric, provide for all' card, though? Wouldn't having his son around help with that?”

“He wants Jon to appear competent without him. He's still determined that Jon will run once he's thirty-five.” Alanna kept her voice low and head slightly ducked. Even though they were rarely approached publicly, it still felt invasive. They had wanted the night to see the sights of Southern California, as their days would be dominated by the Convention. They had been in the state before, with their father, but that was hardly a cultural experience. They had spent most of their time in hotel rooms while he lectured at various universities.

“The day Jonathan is President is the day I move to Australia, change my name, and become an anarchist against the machine of America,” Thom said, deadpan. Alanna raised an incredulous brow. “Oh, and I'll adopt a small troupe of orphans and train them as assassins.”

“You don't hate him that much.”

“Are you sure?”

Alanna scoffed, “Anyway, Jon didn't see any point in staying in the country since he's not working, not needed by his father, and his cousin is touring too sporadically to plan properly with him.”

“His cousin?” Thom flitted through Jonathan's family tree in his head (only memorised for Alanna), but failed to find a first cousin. Several uncles, and estranged alcoholic second cousins, corrupted by politics, but no cousins.

“Roger, he's a musician. He uses 'Conté' as a performance-name.”

“The incredibly attractive one that we agreed is kissable?” Alanna choked on her food, coughing as she struggled to swallow. Her eyes watered, but she laughed nonetheless.

“I think 'kissable' was your term, brother dear. But yes, that's him. Apparently Roald asked him, very politely mind you, to change his stage name because of interference with the presidential campaign, and after a fifteen minute conversation Roald was prepared to advertise him at press conferences and use him as promotional material. He's pretty incredible, apparently. At just about everything.” She paused and refilled both their glasses. “He sounds annoying.”

Thom chuckled and nodded. “Yes, but he's kissable nonetheless.” He felt a small pool of discomfort grow in his stomach, shame and dissonance and want for something more than just his sister.

“Can't you find someone to kiss who isn't Jon's cousin? Seduce some poor fan under the guise of celebrity angst.” She touched his hand, drummed her fingertips over his knuckles.

“No thanks, I'd rather not kiss a potential kidnapper.”

“Oh, come on, like anyone in Jon's family is incapable of kidnap.”

“I'll toast to that.”


 

Coming Out

June 23                      by ContéVlog

Before my album is released, I just wanted to clarify something.


Alanna thrived in the heat, but Thom began to complain as soon as it hit sixty-five. They left the hotel at seven, having to get their authorisation badges for performance and set up in some corridor or other. There was an open mic, and some panels interested Alanna, but overall Thom's preference was to stay away from the major crowds and stay with his guitar.

Before nine, they had been approached fifteen individual times to sing, sign people's backpacks and wallets, or simply converse. Young women were the main constituents of their fans, but a transgender boy, reportedly barely fourteen, was talking in the hushed tone of someone trying to deepen their voice. “What's the crowd like here, compared to your usual busking community?”

Thom glanced at Alanna, who nodded for him to reply. “It's larger than usual. It's a different setting, though. When we busk, we're generally strangers, but here we're YouTubers. Our success busking was completely overwhelming, more-so really than our success as YouTubers.” He paused and thumbed out a bass-line on his guitar, almost unconsciously. “I mean, mildly attractive twins who can hold something like a tune are bound to gain some following, but as buskers we were just two annoying kids serenading strangers. That's the confidence booster for us, I think.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Alanna said, nodding. “We love it when people, like you, approach us and know who we are, and want to talk to us. It's pretty incredible. But in some ways it feels like you guys are more friends, or acquaintances, who have to listen to us, and when we busk we're going out on a limb.”

“Alanna talks about feminism a lot, and as a practitioner her self defence videos are pretty popular, so there are so many different points of appeal. People want to talk to me about gender – well, both of us, really.” Thom laughed a little. “So, that was a very long way of saying 'it's more personal, and nicer'.”

“Thank you so much.” The boy paused, as if not quite sure how to continue. “Would it be okay if--” He inhaled sharply. “Could I get a photo with you?”

“Yeah, of course. Both of us, or--”

“Just you. If that's okay.”

Thom passed his guitar to Alanna and set a hand on the boy's waist, smiling brightly for the photo. “Thank you for coming to talk to us, it's been lovely.”

“N-no, thank you so much for coming. And talking to me.” He hurried away, and Thom sighed heavily.

“Do you want to go to that panel? The feminist one? And I'll just do my solo set.”

Alanna nodded and ruffled his hair. “Thanks. Look after yourself, okay? There are security guards in the next room, and--”

“I know. Go away. You're ruining my vibe.” She scoffed and handed him his guitar.

“'Gay Broadway villain, coming soon to a convention near you'.”

“Fuck off.” He grinned while she walked away.


 

LIONSBand tweeted: Gay Broadway Villain and Bitter Disney Princess, coming soon to a doomed plane near you. Or,VidCon. You know, either way.

[selfie #9001.jpg]


The last C major of 'Stay With Me' rang out, and Thom took a long drink from his water bottle. He glanced to Alanna, who was standing to the side, talking seriously to a girl who wanted to be a police officer. He was starting to feel claustrophobic in the heat and his little corridor, still he adjusted his face into a smile as yet another person approached him. “Hi.”


“Hello,” he said. An impending sense of doom took him over, and he kept drinking.

“Um, my name's Sarah. I asked you to learn 'Take Me to Church', by Hozier, and it was on your setlist.”

He nodded with another put-on smile. “Yes, indeed it is. Do you want to sing it with me, or just watch?”

“Which key have you got it in?”

“Oh, person who knows music.” He went through the chords, as quickly as he could. “Up a semitone from the original, F minor. I arranged it for me – I'm a tenor - and potentially Alanna, who's a--”

“Mezzo soprano, I know.” She thought it over, and his dislike of her grew. He didn't know her at all, yet she annoyed him. A mix of self-entitlement and condescension was all it took for Thom to put substantially less effort into being nice.

“If I start, you can just come in if you feel comfortable to. Is that okay?'

She gave a curt nod. It was a fairly simple progression, nothing unusual, but he was getting to the point of dysphoria and agitation that he was nervous. Still, he wouldn't let it get to him, hit each high note and tolerated her sub-par harmonies. He could swear that Alanna was laughing at him, even as she leaned against the wall next to him. A small crowd was gathered, as it had with the rest of the day, and a few of them joined in at the chorus. That was a sweet something, and he relaxed a little.

As soon as he was done some of the crowd moved in, clapping and congratulating him. Sarah frowned. “I hope you liked it. I know it was a bit rough.” Feigned modesty was all the manners he could muster.

“Not bad. But your arrangement isn't as cohesive as Roger Conté's, let alone the original.”

“That's incredibly rude,” one girl said. Thom stepped back, and Alanna put a hand on the small of his back. “Honestly, that's so presumptuous of you, who do you think you are? You're not an authority here. 'Lions' are privileging us by being here, let alone by taking requests.”

“Hey, fuc-- leave him be,” Alanna said. Her 'teacher' tone was in effect, and the group stilled. “That was incredibly rude, and I'd thank you to leave my brother be. But I'll pass on your compliments to Roger next time I see him.” Thom bit his lower lip to hide his smile. “I'm sorry, I think I know you from somewhere,” she said to the girl who had come to their defence, “Have we met?”

She flushed a deep pink, and nodded. “I emailed you about three months ago about where self defence in the name of practicality and self defence in the name of fear cross over, and how intersectiona--”

“Kel Mindelan!”

Sarah stepped out of the crowd as Kel and Alanna shook hands, paused, and hugged one another. Thom excused himself, handed his guitar to Alanna, and vanished into the bathroom. He splashed his face with water until his hair was dripping wet and his temperature had dropped a little. There were only a few hours left, and he prayed that they would be slightly less eventful.


 

Showing comments on

                     Coming Out

                                               by ContéVlog

Karen George: Congratulations, Mr. Conté. We're all proud of you.

Alia Archer: nice one, knew it tbh.

Daniel XYZ: This is so disappointing. It's such a disgusting process, celebrities coming out publicly, for so many reasons. Homosexuality, despite all religion, is not a valid practice, and it's a trend. Conté is a talented vocalist, and it's a shame that he's going to be reduced to this for shock value. I'm honestly horrified. Young girls, and their prospective boyfriends, in particular are going to grow up thinking that 'LGBT' is a good thing that should be supported and promoted. Consider yourself one fan less.

ashley regine rose: AWWW REALLY? this is like double the competition now. back off boys and girls, he's mine.

Winona: If he's going to be gay he should just say it, not hide behind 'bisexuality'. It's one or the other, babe.

Katie Cat: hot as fuck tbh

Julie Mender: that's disgusting. lost a fan.

Show more


“Alanna.” Thom nudged his dozing sister, and she sat up with a start. They were seated on a couch in a little restaurant, both exhausted and starving as they waited for their food. They had only broken free of the crowds when Thom's nose had started bleeding with the heat, and Alanna insisted they leave. 


“Hm?”

“Is it okay if I post something that may have backlash?” He paused. “On my tumblr, not the band page.”

Alanna gnawed on her lower lip. “What is this 'something'? I mean, yes, but I'd like to know what I'm signing up for.”

“Roger Conté is the topic of the day, it seems. He came out this morning and I'm just really in the mood to argue with idiots.”

“Oh. Cool. Yeah, sure. Take them down.” Alanna downed a glass of juice and rubbed at her temples. “Is he gay? Bi? Jon never told me.”

“Bi, apparently.” He pulled out his phone with a long-suffering sigh. “But according to... Alexis Ash, 'bisexuality is just a cover-up for being gay, and trying to maintain some normality. Either that, or it's a publicity stunt before his album comes out'.” He scoffed, and Alanna choked on a laugh.

“The height of modern intellect. But really, Thom, are you sure you want to defend a Conté? It might ruin your rep.”

“It's irrelevant – he's just a relevant public figure, who is being treated in a manner that I can't approve of. Anyway, he's the only kissable one of them.”

Alanna clutched a hand to her heart, “And now he's admitted you've got a chance, Thom, is it wedding bells I hear?” He punched her arm. “Oh happy days, your dowry will not be wasted! Your mother and I are so proud.”

Their waiter came with their food, and both spared a quick 'thank you' before going back to their bickering. “Shut up, Miss 'I'm not ready to commit, but I'll come home to you whenever you need my comfort, Georgie'.”

“Do you call him 'Georgie' to his face?” Alanna snapped back. She ran her finger over her mashed potato and smeared it on Thom's cheek.

He gaped slightly. “We are not having a food fight about your boyfriend, in a restaurant.” Still, he slapped Alanna's cheek in faux-fondness, covering her face in tomato sauce.

“He's not-- oh, shut up, brother.”

They giggled their way through the exhaustion of the rest of the night, before getting back to the hotel and promptly collapsing on their beds, fast asleep.


thomtrebond.tumblr.com

24th June, 0500

Regarding Conté

 

*If you're under sixteen/eighteen, read on with the knowledge that this piece contains swearing and references to people being fucking arseholes.


 

“I hate everyone.” 

“Same.”

“We are never posting another video again.”

“Under any circumstances.”

“Our fans are insane.”

“We didn't ask for this, did we?”

“I'm moving to England. Or Denmark. Anywhere cold.”

“I really do hate everyone.” Alanna nodded and yawned, cracking her neck in the process. “We're never doing that again,” she said at last. “Want to come back next year?”

Thom laughed and pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.” Their plane had been delayed by two hours, and although neither were particularly fussed, they were exhausted. “Today was better than yesterday.”

“Yeah? Even with that transphobic fuckface?”

“Does your mother know you swear like that?” Alanna pulled a disgusted face. “Yeah, even with him. It was a bit quieter, and the... environment was better.”

“I didn't think so, funnily enough. I know you weren't feeling too well on Wednesday, but I thought people were more... cooperative. It was a nicer group.”

“You're just saying that because you got to meet Kel.”

“Would you blame me? She's incredible. She's fourteen, and she's already--” Thom's phone buzzed, and he fumbled to pull it out of his pocket. “--a black belt in chito ryu, socio-politically more aware than ninety-nine percent of the population, and has a life goal of setting up a society for education on domestic violence, and self-defence for women and racial minorities. She's a token child.”

8.23
From: Jonathan Conté
Thom, my cousin would like to know if I may give him your phone number to discuss an article you wrote. May I?


“If she weren't a minor I would say you're perfect for each other,” he said dryly. “A powerhouse couple.” Thom's stomach felt as if it were stuck in his pelvis, and full of small, vicious butterflies.

8.24
To: Jonathan Conté
You may.

8.26
From: Unknown number

Hi Thom, it's Roger. I'm sorry to contact you via Jon but I'm not a huge fan of social media. Thank you for your article re. my coming out. I know it wasn't justabout me, but it was kind, and has had a positive effect on me and through my fanbase. I also believe that it has taken some of the sting from the backlash, I'm sorry to say. I hope that you haven't been treated badly because of it.

However, I wanted to ask if you would be willing for me to publish part of your article as an official statement. I would credit you, of course, but your incisiveness would have a much stronger affect than my niceties. I was inclined to be less apologetic in coming out, but I am careful to represent my family well. Thank you for your time, I hope that VidCon was enjoyable.

Alanna was still talking rapid-fire on Kel and her work, and Thom kept only half his attention on her. He was momentarily unnerved, felt alarm bells ring from a smooth-talker; 'niceties' summarising Roger's fashion perfectly. There was no obligation in contact with him past politeness, he reminded himself, and the politics of the Conté family could be navigated. Alanna had proven that.

8.31
To: Roger Conté
Hey, Roger. It's not an issue, I appreciate the contact – social media can get tiring. I'm glad that you have no issue with the post; I only thought in hindsight that I should have asked your consent. I'm fairly used to bigoted people spouting nonsense, it's not a problem, particularly if it's drawn away some of the toxicity of the public away from you. You're welcome to quote it in whatever way you like. I expect that you have very high standards cast on you; it can't be easy to conform with them when you seem to have such an unapologetic view on LGBT+ issues (reading between the lines with phrases such as 'heteronormativity' floating around). So yes, please publish as you will, and I hope that your experience of coming out hasn't been too negative so far.

He rubbed his temples and covered his chest with an arm. Alanna had stopped talking somewhere along the way, and the tension in his shoulders felt like a threat. He really didn't like communication outside of face to face contact, read threats under apostrophes and words strung together with an artful style almost exclusive to the upper-class socialites. “Alanna?” She hummed. He turned to see her properly, and she too had her head against the wall, with her eyes shut. “Remember when we went to stay with Jonathan on his estate, two years ago, and Roald was so nervous about me being seen with Jon?”

“Yeah. It was stupid.”

“It was rational, considered. You know that.” She opened her eyes and sat up a little. “Our father was a professor of sociology and political anthropology, we both well know that it was justified.” She paused and nodded, let him speak. “I'm not one to particularly care if my goals and actions affect people or their politics, but do you believe it was irresponsible of me to write on this whole Roger thing? I just... we're not celebrities, but we feel the effects of celebrity, don't we? And I just...”

Alanna ran a hand through her hair and stifled a yawn. “You're scared hat you've endangered yourself, us, and the LGBT+ community as a whole, not just Roger. Right?” He gave a short nod. “Politics is not a safe game for queer people, nor is celebrity, and the Conté family is not only a family of politics, but of true celebrity.”

“I am a good spokesperson for queer issues, I know that. But I'm nervous. And the fact of the matter is that we both analyse people, extensively, yet there's still no decisive way of finding safety.”

“Let's get coffee.” Alanna stood, Thom groaning, but following suit. “What's he like? Is he threatening? I've very rarely seen you so focussed on a communique with someone in a non-academic context.”

“He's measured. Everything he said was manoeuvred and phrased into neutrality and politeness, in the way that says that he is both aware of the risks of his own existence, but confident in his capacity to manipulate society around him.”

“Don't you have that confidence?”

“I don't have friends, Alanna. I have confidence in my capacity, I could be a socialite and a man of pleasantry if I wished, as you could, too.”

She nodded with a wicked grin. “I'd be a great man of pleasantry.”

He snorted, “Fuck you.” Before she could continue, he pressed on, “I can handle formal interaction and academic contexts, but I don't think I have as much practical experience in handling potentially delicate situations as you do. Because, as I was saying, I don't have friends.”

“No, you have professors you're particularly fond of. And me.”

“And do you think it was unwise of me to open this door in writing that article?”

“I think every social interaction is a risk. I think it's never safe, even just having friends, and you are already at such high risk because of your media presence. The Conté family is strict, and honestly, arseholes in a lot of ways, but they're careful. They know what they're doing. If I disapprove, it's not my place to say, because you make your choices as an individual, even if we're unified. Considering Jon, I doubt there is anything more risky than your usual in what you've said about and to Roger.” She took a breath, hesitated. “But that wasn't your point, was it?”

They stopped in line for coffee, and Thom stuck his hands in his pockets. She raised an eyebrow. “I may write papers on anthropology, the human condition and interaction with ease, Alanna, but I have the natural social capacity of a monkey. The past two days have only reconfirmed that.”

They both broke into grins. “Or a cat. Definitely a cat, actually.” She meowed at him and he glared.

“Incapable of standard displays of affection, hedonistic, and ready to draw blood at any given time?”

“Precisely. And clearly in need of friends. Tell me again just how pretty Roger is.”

Thom rolled his eyes with a hot blush, and stepped forward to the counter, “Standard long black with three sugars, large caramel frapuccino, please.” The barista fumbled with the register, and Thom allowed himself a smirk. “You are a disgusting hipster, sister.”

“Shut up, monkey.”


 

8.43
From: Roger Conté
Look, honestly, as soon as I came out I knew that nothing said was going to be attached to consent, and in the grand scheme of things, you've done me a favour. I appreciate that, thank you. Please don't feel obligated to deal with my affairs though, if anyone speaks to you (as I'm sure they will), refer them to me. However, it is kind of you. I try to view the expectations cast on me as a positive thing; it's a sign of my privilege. It can be stifling – as I'm sure you understand, your family is a well-respected one, your father, an academic, in particular. I'm coping okay, thanks for your concern. It's mainly slurs and criticisms, and they're what I've prepared for. I haven't received any threats, etc. as I understand many have. Please do tell me if I can do something to thank you.

8.52
To: Roger Conté
I will look after myself as I can, but I would like to provide support to any other LGBT+ figures I can. I'm surprised that you know of my father, but yes. My sister and I are quite aware of the obligations of being well-respected. You are handling everything very well, if you don't mind me saying. You owe me nothing, but please don't allow a sense of obligation to prevent you from asking anything of me.

9.01
From: Roger Conté
Thom Trebond, are you implying a friendship?

9.02
To: Roger Conté
Roger Conté, does your reading between the lines say something more about my intent or yours?

9.02
To: Roger Conté
Past my sarcasm, yes, I suppose I am.


9.03
From: Roger Conté
Pleased to make your acquaintance, then. Hopefully someday I'll be able to meet you and not just hear of you and Alanna from my cousin.

9.05
To: Roger Conté
I'd like that. :)

 

 

Chapter Text

Alanna watched Thom as he slept. She generally could not sleep while airborne, too nauseous and anxious to drift off. Thom could sleep anywhere, she thought, though she knew it wasn't quite true. He was curled around himself, arms crossed over his chest and a frown painted on his skin. He was sunburned, although just a little, and she felt her face to check if she was, too. It was a hesitant gesture, after so many years of being so separate, so non-identical, she sometimes felt that she should reflect her twin's every expression and movement.

Alanna was not, in fact, burned, and glancing in the window she saw that she looked closer to ashen than burned. Her nausea did not suit her well. She wondered what Thom thought suited him – colours, expressions, fabrics. She never wanted to ask, never wanted to share too much, not to further link them. Despite her fights for him, despite loving him more than anything, she still felt a divide that didn't quite feel breachable – and she didn't want to. He was always the cautious one. She the brave. He, one whole inch taller, darker yet more gentle. Her, small and fiery, more ready to fight than to hide. Despite all difference, they were synchronised, far more so than most twins, and it felt dangerous to cross a line into being too similar, too familiar. They were separate, and they both knew it, but they were viewed as a unit, a singularity. That was more scary than being his opposite, somehow.


She touched his shoulder very gently, barely touched him, and he mumbled and slumped further down the seat.


 LIONSBand tweeted: Revisiting our 'rise to fame', here's Royals, once again. Thanks to Marissa for filming this, and thanks to all of you!
[link]


 KnightlyGinger tweeted: I've got to say you're all a bit exhausting! Thanks so much for coming out, everyone, it was an awesome few days.


HesitantGinger tweeted: I got sunburned for you lot. Be grateful.

[colour coordination.jpg]


RogerConte tweeted: Thanks @HesitantGinger, I appreciate your support. (Cough, you need to sing with me sometime.)


HesitantGinger tweeted: @RogerConte There's a very long story here, but let's sing 'Take Me To Church', and we'll consider it even.


verity3102x tweeted: #rogerconte #thomtrebond tbh im already shipping it.


Alanna woke at eight the following morning, despite the overwhelming urge to hibernate. Thom had gone back to his own house, despite getting home at four, but he had the privilege of a less structured study system, and a vastly different set of anxieties. She sat in the grass outside, watched the clouds shift, and tried to not think. Her nursemaid and the matriarchal influence in her life, Maude, had repeated to her from the age of six that despite her 'great talent and potential', none of it would ever be worth anything if she treated the world as if it were on fire. Alanna still wasn't entirely sure of Maude's intent in saying this, but she still adopted meditation quite young in the hopes that it would fulfil Maude's expectations.

Her cat, Faithful, jumped into her lap, disrupting her contemplations with a furious purr. “Did you miss me?” she asked, and he looked up at her (eyes almost more violet than her own) as if to say 'what do you think, idiot?'.

She shifted, rolled her shoulders back and Faithful settled himself on her shoulder as she got breakfast for the two of them. Her house was closer to immaculate in cleanliness than she ever would have expected from herself, and for a moment she felt the urge to throw her coffee grounds against the pastel blue walls.

Alanna's television was switched on, her guitar was tuned, and her cat was fed, before she settled down on the couch with her laptop and text books providing a fortress from the outside world. Faithful was perfectly comfortable spending days at a time outside, but he purred ferociously sitting on the cushions above her head, occasionally clawing at her hair just to let her know that he was still very much there.

Why criminology appealed to her she was only part sure. Her father was surely an influence, gender studies were an influence, yet she had no intention to pursue profiling, law, psychology, or law enforcement. She merely loved the study, felt that it was worth knowing. She glanced up at the television at exactly nine a.m., seeing a familiar set of faces and groaning at the headline.

                                                                               'The American Peacekeeper?!'

9.03
To: Jonathan Conté

I swear to all the deities above that if your father says 'peace' one more time on national television I will assassinate him myself.

9.04
From: Jonathan Conté
but Alanna dearest! he merely wishes to cease the foul warfare that takes place on our fair planet everyday.

9.04
From: Jonathan Conté
same tbh. i swear though if the media would stop emasculating him that would be awesome. 'ah yes, let's not kill people. That's a girly thing to say.'.

9.06
To: Jonathan Conté
Getting your preach on in the White House, love?

9.06
From: Jonathan Conté
You know me. Once i'm back from canada.

9.07
From: Jonathan Conté
i miss you, Alanna.

 9.08
To: Jonathan Conté
I miss you, too. But don't tell anyone, they'll revoke our mancards.  

9.08
From: Jonathan Conté
heavens forbid!!!!!!!!!!!!



“Alanna,” Thom let her name hang on the air. “Please go grocery shopping. For me. Your dearest brother.”

“No.”

“A 'yes' would be deeply appreciated.”

“You need to get your shot. You do my grocery shopping and yours.”

Thom chuckled and stared up at the ceiling. The galaxy covered the grey paint, blues and pinks and purples, but instead of all stars, the larger points of light made out Bach's first cello concerto, albeit in a rather disjointed manner. “But Alanna, I'm so oppressed and dysphoric, I can barely cope.”

“You are the singularly laziest person I've ever met. I've been studying since nine.”

“Yes, because we somehow managed to perfectly split our twin genetics so that you got all of the positive traits and I got none of them. Hence, you have to work for me.”

“Nice try. Get out of bed. Check your twitter feed. Listen to the 'Bare' soundtrack. Don't look at the politics of today. And do your grocery shopping. I'll get my own.”

“Disgusting, you're a horrible sibling.”

“It's true. Do we need to record anything today?”

“Post con vlog, and we wanted to do and arrangement of 'Youth', right?”

“Alright. I'll come around at six and then you can make me dinner for being your favourite sibling.”

“My only sibling.”

“Bye, Thom.”

“Bye, Alanna.”

Thom did as told, shifted himself out of bed, showered, and checked his twitter feed. The absolute chaos of the internet provided very little interest, but it fed his ego nonetheless. A quick glance at twitter and tumblr provided enough impetus to check Roger's tag without guilt or question. People were primarily supportive, but the vulgarity and violence set his heart pounding. He recalled Sam Smith coming out as gay and the hours he had spent pacing as more and more people forced themselves into the man's life. He couldn't stand it.

He'd taken up running to avoid the weight gain that so many trans men experienced coming onto testosterone, just as he'd turned sixteen, but it had become so habitual it was a form of stress management. He found that if he wore all black, scowled, and kept his earphones in, no-one would interact with him past a wave, which suited him just fine. It was a warm day, but he could manage. Since he'd had top surgery, dropped the binder, he'd been able to cope better with heat. After a particularly difficult Summer wearing a full-length triple-layered binder at fourteen he had become next to phobic of the heat. Being binder-free felt like being let out of prison. He tried hard not to think when he was running, and it usually worked, but there was a buzz between his ears of slur to slur to slur to insult to threat.

His coming out was worse. Of course it was. He was not just gay, but trans. People said things he couldn't have even imagined, and even though his fan-base was quite strong, the population of what felt like the entire internet took it upon itself to try to kill him with criticism. It didn't really effect him. He was scared, though. Justifiably so, apparently, as he and Alanna had been attacked getting off a plane at Washington in April. Thom got himself a fracture in his right arm and a cut down the side of his face, Alanna got several bruises, but more importantly three punches into the attackers' faces. It could have been worse, but it was so much worse than he had guessed.

It was fine. Of course it was, in the end. His voice kept getting stronger and his fanbase shifted from musical theatre fans to LGBT+ supporters and those who only became aware of him because of a brief headline of 'TREBOND TWINS ATTACKED IN WASHINGTON'.

A fierce protectiveness that was previously limited to Alanna had spread, just a little, to the rest of the LGBT+ community. It had surprised him. He'd always known discrimination was bad, that others had it worse. But he'd never felt the need to defend others. Roger wasn't the first, but somehow it felt more intimate, more personal. It was terrifying.

Thom looped back to his home just as it hit two o'clock. Another shower only led to him staring at himself with more curiousity than aggression. He was starkly sunburned, but still pale. His nose and eyes were small, not disproportionately so, just enough that it was noticeable. His lips were pink, well-formed. There was clear stubble forming a beard. He was male – he knew that. He sometimes wondered how others viewed his appearance. He looked far different from Alanna mid-hormone therapy, yet neither of them could look at each other as if they weren't near-to genetically identical. Alanna had the advantage of being a tad more extroverted, holding strong relationships. She'd had boyfriends, and girlfriends, let alone friends.

He refused to read anything to do with his appearance, he couldn't stand the risk of further dysphoria being forced on him. He was sure that his colours were more prominent than the dissonance between perception and reality of his gender. His hair drew the most eyes. His own eyes were the result of what was surely inbreeding some generations back, entirely grey but for small streaks of blue. They did look almost purple, as much as he hated to admit it.

He didn't need to be attractive. He didn't want to be. He just wanted to pass as male, be enough to be appreciated. Alanna was pretty. Stocky and a bit plain, but pretty. He wasn't handsome. He wasn't pretty though, either. Maybe that was for the best. He could just be plain.

He towelled himself down, examined the scars on his chest. They were healing well, pink and a tad raised. He was lucky that his breasts had been small, key-hole scars were all that remained. He let out an exasperated sigh and pulled his shirt on.

His phone buzzed on his bedside table, almost making him jump. He had three texts, and bit his lip in a futile fight against his anxiety.

1.30

From: REMINDER
Thom Trebond, you have an appointment at the TransHealth clinic at 3.30 today. Please call this number if you need to reschedule.

1.43
From: Roger Conté
You can't tease, Thom, I do need to know the story behind 'Take Me to Church' being your song choice. Not that I'm protesting, merely curious.

2.18
From: Jonathan Conté
my cousin thinks you're hilarious. idk who he's been twitter stalking but i somehow feel it's not you.

2.19
From: Jonathan Conté
You've never spoken about Thom, only Alanna – however, I thought you said that Alanna was the witty one.' don't break my cousin's poor fragile heart, thom.

2.19
From: Jonathan Conté
'Jonathan, I swear I will try to drown you in the swimming pool again if you pass this on'. isn't he a charmer?

Thom sat down on the edge of his bed and stared up at the galaxy above him. Jonathan had the habit of talking to him even when he didn't respond – and certainly didn't want to be spoken to. He knew that Jon disliked him, and Jon knew that Thom disliked him. They tolerated each other, for Alanna's sake. Thom felt that if he tried to be nice Jon would only find him more distasteful, yet still thought that texting and multimedia were the means to any ends – which included driving Thom mad.

2.20
To: Jonathan Conté
Out of the two of you, you're surely the most charming, Jon. I mean honestly, your complimentary manner, your respect for people's space, boundaries and requests... I'm swooning as we speak.

He didn't want to text Roger back too quickly, he wanted to think it through. Alanna was perfectly clear in her faith in him, and her belief that he should develop external relationships, but he wasn't. He was perfectly happy isolating himself. He had what he needed, he had the skills he wanted. But he wanted to speak to Roger, he wanted to know him.

He felt buzz after buzz of Jon's texts, but he focussed his attention on responding to Roger.

2.23
To: Roger Conté
It's not that interesting, don't get your hopes up.

 

2.24
To: Roger Conté
So for VidCon Alanna and I took requests for songs at ridiculously short notice. I was requested to do 'Take Me to Church', and so did – I made an arrangement one semitone up from the original, with obvious harmonies if Alanna wished to join me. It was pretty close to the original, but heavier on the bassline and a little faster.

2.25
To: Roger Conté
Now, the girl who requested it came up near to the end of the day, incredibly rude, performed subpar harmonies with me, then informed me that it wasn't great, and nowhere near to the quality of the original, and 'let alone as cohesive as Conté's'. It was just rather rude and I'm incredibly vain, so I'm perfectly willing to use your offer of singing with me as a flip-off for her. Sorry, my intentions entirely unpure. Your arrangement is much nicer though, I'll admit.
Please drown Jonathan in the pool if you get the chance. Life would be much easier for everyone.

He didn't know quite how his anxiety had gotten so bad, but his heart raced anyway. He found his anxiety in general, but particularly his social anxiety, worsened the further apart he got his shot – he was fine usually, but he was four days past schedule. Whether it was because of an actual physiological cause or just being a creature of habit, he didn't know.

Thom fumbled his way through everyday life. He could absorb himself in academics and in music, but it was a recent skill in living alone that he could schedule his housework and replenishing of groceries. He considered getting a cat, but when he came into the pet store and saw the vast quantities of little creatures that had just as many needs as he did, he backed out quickly. Bringing Alanna's cat treats was enough.


2.39
From: Roger Conté
No, that's entirely interesting. Also despicably rude, but oh well. We can't actually 'eat the rude' now, can we? It would be lovely to sing that song with you. I hadn't listened to you or Alanna before, you're both very skilled. You're the primary instrumentalist in most of your music, aren't you?
I will most certainly be drowning Jon in the pool. My apologies.

2.46
To: Roger Conté
There's are lines I won't cross morally, and that includes eating the rude – if only because I'm more rude than I should be. You're not obligated to sing with me, but thank you – if it's convenient at some point it would be excellent. Congratulations on your album, by the way.
Yes, I am. Alanna plays guitar, flute, and cello. I play everything else (as well as the aforementioned) unless we need someone on drums or horns, in which case we hire someone.
No need for an apology, especially if it leads to some form of pain on Jon's part.

2.50
From: Roger Conté
Thank you. I'm excited, it's been a long-time coming.
That's quite an impressive set. I assume that you were trained at the academy attached to the Corus School?
I'll strangle him as soon as he gets back from Canada, I assure you.


3.42
To: Roger Conté
Yes, as well as in a preliminary fashion at various schools as children. You?
Excellent.

3.46
From: Roger Conté
I studied at Corus, but that was mainly instrumental. Theory and vocals were independent study and private tutoring.

3.48
To: Roger Conté
How is the war on bisexuality going for you, by the way?

3.50
From: Roger Conté
'It's a shame his parents are dead to tell him it's a phase.'

3.50
From: Roger Conté
'Honestly with a face like his it's not surprising that he'd fuck anything.'

3.51
From: Roger Conté
There's an article on how I contracted HIV from Gary (who is Jon's cousin, although on the other side, so mine by proxy, and engaged) and coming out as bi is just a lead up to an announcement. I think it's beautifully constructed.

3.52
From: Roger Conté
And my personal favourites: 'fuck faggets takign over music' and 'someone bash his dick in before its 2 late'.

3.54
To: Roger Conté
Excuse me, I just fell over in the middle of a grocery aisle, and I'm not sure if it was prompted by laughter or astonishment.

3.55
To: Roger Conté
I think my favourite when I came out was 'but you already look like a guy? y r u overcomplicating ur life?' Note that I had been on testosterone for about two and a half years at that point.

3.56
To: Roger Conté
Are you okay with it all?

3.59
From: Roger Conté
I'm finding it pretty hilarious, honestly. I care about people, or I'd like to think I do, but I have never brought myself to care about others' opinions. It's a little disconcerting, that's all. Just enough humour to get me through three days of travelling. I'm doing a series of 'secret' shows, going from East to West through the Southern states, and my crew seem to be writing a roleplay on all of the people that are going to call me a sinner, and how each of them will protect my honour.

4.03
To: Roger Conté
That's quite endearing, actually. Enjoy Texas. Let me know if they bring back rotten tomatoes and raw potatoes for those of us who sin.

4.19
From: Roger Conté
Absolutely. I've found the highlight of the day, I think. There's an article on all of the LGBT people surrounding my uncle and conspiracies led by underground workers in Russia. To be fair, it's parody, but still the list is impressive – very extensive.

4.40
To: Roger Conté
Do I get a mention?

4.46

From: Roger Conté

It was something along the lines of 'Thom Trebond, making the White House uncomfortable and the press even more invasive/confused since 2012.'


4.59
To: Roger Conté
Ha, life goals achieved.


Alanna studied through to one thirty, then felt an agitated rush. The assessment wasn't due until September, she was learning nothing new, in the long-term it did nothing. She made herself lunch, ate as slowly as she could, then sighed and decided it was time to call George. She was tired of playing out their distance, avoiding the fact that she missed him.


“Hey.” She smiled and felt a gentle warmth flood through her.

“Hi, George. Are you at work?”

“Shift starts at five, I'm free as a bird. Does this mean you're talking to me now?”

“If you want to be spoken to.”

Faithful jumped up onto the kitchen bench and meowed loudly.

“I think it's the cat that I want to speak to. Hi, Faithful.” The cat let out another long meow and began to purr. “Yes, Alanna. I want to be spoken to.” Alanna touched his head, running her fingers down his spine.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Faithful bit her finger, and she poked his stomach with the one nail she kept long. She felt she deserved it when he latched onto her arm with both claws and teeth.

“When and where, love?”

She knocked Faithful off the bench carefully, and he continued to yowl his protest. “That coffee place you like. The Dancing Bird?”

“The Dancing Dove. I can be there in half an hour.”

“I'll show up early. Get dirty looks from people thinking I've been stood up.”

Am I coming in to save the day, or laugh at your awkward smiling when the barkeep hits on you again?”

“Whatever you like.”

Bring the cat.”

“You wish.”

“See you, Alanna.”

Alanna swore as soon as she heard the dialtone. “Faithful, why do I like people?” She crouched down and petted his head. “I'm sorry I knocked you over. You make much more sense than most.” She picked him up and kissed his fur. “Are you going to judge me if I put on a dress?”

He meowed. “Yeah, you're justified.”


She showed up ten minutes early, as promised, wearing an olive green sundress and with her hair as stylised as it could be, considering its length. She felt silly, yet recited to herself what Thayet had said to her the day after she and Jonathan had gotten together.

'Alanna, the day that I learned that my high heels are combat boots and satin and silk make excellent weapons was the same day that I took up martial arts. To be strong in yourself, you have to accept all of yourself. And that includes the bits that want to be pretty, and the bits that want to wear combat boots. Then blend together your prettiness and your combat boots, and that's when you will be beautiful. To yourself. Then it's your choice.'

Of course Thayet was a walking, talking goddess, but she was an unrelenting feminist, and a powerful individual – a powerful woman. Alanna trusted her quite implicitly.

“Hey, darlin'.” George was so tall. She somehow always forgot. “You look nice.”

He sat across from her with an ease she envied. “So do you.”

He grinned, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. “It's been a while.”

“Yeah.” She didn't quite know what to say, and offered her hand to him. His fingers slotted in with hers like keys and locks, and she felt guilt drown everything else out.

“I've missed you.”

“I've missed you, too.” He kissed her knuckles and examined the ring on her thumb, emblazoned with a bright lion. “One of the baristas hit on me.”

“Do I need to fight for your love?” Before she could respond he put her hand down. “I really should touch up that ring. Jon commissioned it at short notice, but it's no excuse for low quality.”

“I like my ring.”


“I'm better at detail work now.” He ran his thumb over the rough pads of her fingers and up against her veins. She pulled away, very slightly. “Sorry.”

“It's okay. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. For everything.”

“You don't have to be. I get it. I'm a twenty-five year old, black high school drop out who does metalwork for a living. I get it.”

“No, you don't! That's not it at all, George. What the fuck? Do I really--”

The waiter guilty of hitting on her came back with a vaguely perturbed look on his face. “Can I help you two today?”

George spoke, gave her the chance to breathe. “Chai tea, please. Large.” He glanced at her. “And a hot chocolate for this one.”

“Nothing to eat?”

“No, I think we're good. Thanks.”

Alanna fought tears and gripped his hand. “Would I judge someone, anyone in that way? Is that what you think of me?”

“If anyone were justified in it, it would be you.” His face was moulded into a blank mask, and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't read him.

“But it's not the case. It's not, George.”

“I can't keep playing guesswork with you, love.” Her heart clenched, because God he knew how to make things hurt. “You gotta tell me what's going on. One minute you seem happy next I haven't seen you in a month and I hear you're screwing the guy from the music shop. Can't say it didn't hurt pretty fuckin' bad. You can sleep with whoever you want but I like to know where I stand with you.”

“I don't want to be with anyone else. At all. Just you, George.”

“Then what happened?”

“You make me feel vulnerable, George, that's what happened. Jon can toss me to the damned wolves and Thom can lock me out for months and I still don't feel-- vulnerable. Or scared. Not like with you. I want to be with you, I think about you all the time. And you're my best friend. And I'm sorry, and I don't know what to say to make this better.”

George shrugged and leaned back, hands behind his head. Her hand felt empty and cold. “Is that all there is?”

“I don't know, George. What do you want to hear?”

“Jon's partner. Thayet. She had nothing to do with it?”

Her eyes burned and she bit the skin of her mouth away until there was blood between her teeth. “It hurt, George. I can't say I wasn't being self-pitying and wanting to hide from the fact that no matter how much he loves me he could never have considered me... worthy. But you knew that. It's passed now, George. It hurt, it's passed.”

This still hurts, 'Lanna. I know I've never been the most formal guy, but I was pretty sure we were... together.”

“I wasn't sure,” she said, voice small. The waiter returned with their drinks, and she tried to swallow out her feelings immediately.

He nodded and let out a long held breath. “Then we're okay, I think.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I think so. What do you think?”

“I think so.”

“We got to do it proper this time. I don't want... I can't do this again, Alanna. You need to talk to me. Trust me. I'm not goin' to hurt you, nor go anywhere.”

“I won't, either.” George took a long drink from his cup and looked at her like he was dissecting her bit by bit.

“I've missed you, little lioness.” Alanna gave him a shaky smile, amazed by her own relief. “Can I touch up your ring? Please, I'm embarrassed.”

She chuckled and nodded, “Just because you asked so nicely.”


4.45

Alanna Trebond is in a relationship with George Cooper

                                       Thom Trebond: Wow, what a surprise, I never would have guessed!

                                      Thom Trebond: I mean honestly, I thought you two were Purely Platonic friends, pals being pals, buddies, bros. Never would I have thought that you are, in fact, head over heels, disgustingly romantically involved!

                                     Thom Trebond: Someone alert the authorities, this is breaking news!

                                                              Jonathan Conté: I told my dad, does he count?
                                                             Jonathan Conté: He says congrats by the way, Alanna.

                                                                                       Thom Trebond: Tell him to win the election, else no, his congratulations are not worthy.

                                                                                                                 Jonathan Conté: You motivate him everyday, Thom.


Alanna let herself in, and was greeted by the overwhelming smell of pasta sauce and Thom blasting 'Take Me to Church' through the house. She dropped her bag on the couch and watched him from the doorway as he sang and cooked. After the second repeat of the song, the novelty of her brother fulfilling several rom-com stereotypes he would have sworn hatred of wore off and she coughed loudly. “I could have cut in with a killer harmony, but I'm hungry,” she announced. He splattered tomato sauce on himself, turned the music off, turned it to full volume, turned it down, then turned it off again, all the while swearing ferociously. 


“Hi, Alanna.” He yanked his shirt off his head and threw it in the sink, turned off the stove, and tried to catch his breath.

Her eyes and a twitch in her lips betrayed her laughter, and she giggled through, “Hi, Thom.”


“How's your boyfriend?” he asked. He ran hot water over the shirt, and swore once more. “Prepare your answer, I'll be right back.”

She turned the stove back on, put on the pasta, and stirred the sauce as he first went to the laundry and scrubbed the sauce off, put it in the machine, then stomped up stairs with an annoyed vigour to get a new one. “Okay, yes, how is your boyfriend?” He pushed her away from the stove and took over. “Get the garlic bread.”

“Purely platonic, a mere pal, apparently,” she said dryly. Thom laughed brighter than she had heard in weeks. “He's good. He's really good.”

“You cleared everything up?”

She frowned as she got out plates and presented them to him. “There was nothing wrong in the first place.” He met her eyes with a cocked eyebrow.

“I'm distant, not oblivious, Alanna.”

“Yes, fine, everything's fine. I cried and he stole my ring.”

“Stole it?” Thom gave her a full plate and snapped his fingers at the dining table. She sat herself down and watched him skip between movement and movement until he was seated, too.

“He's decided that it needs to be touched up.”

“Well, that's fair enough.” He placed his phone on the table. “Pick a song.”

They ended up listening to Florence and the Machine, but in silence as they ate. “Do you still want to do an arrangement of 'Youth'?” Thom asked. “I didn't think to ask what you were thinking instrumentally, anyway, so I learned the guitar part.”

“Actually, can we look at something else? D'you know 'Key and Lock', by Savannah Jeffreys?”

“I don't think so.” He pushed his plate to the side and took his phone into his hands. “No 'Youth'? If this is workable, I mean.”

“It's up to you. If you think you can contribute something to this one, it would be nice. But we've talked about 'Youth' before.”

“This one?” he asked, absent minded as the song drifted through his speakers.

“Yep.”

“Yeah, we can do this. What were you thinking though?”

“Lower harmony in the chorus, maybe with a recorded harmony on top. If you want to do a violin part, that could be good.”

Thom nodded and stood. “Finish eating. Repeat it when it turns off.” He went through to their music room, sat at the piano. Within minutes he was playing it through perfectly. “Can we bring it up two semitones?” he yelled out to her.

She came and sat beside him on the piano stool to hum the melody. “No, it'll be too high.”

“No it won't. Give me the phone.” He fumbled for a moment, still playing the left-hand part, and turned the song off. “Just a sec, listen.” He shifted it up and refound his rhythm, “My hand fits in yours like a key and a lock--”

He nudged her and she took over. “I'll meet you after school at three o'clock.”

“See, it's fine,” he said, as she kept singing. Within an hour they had put together a coherent piece, harmonies, violin, and piano part all recorded.

“Keep going,” he ordered as he started the track once more. She nodded, but as she came through the chorus he began singing over her.

“If you're in love, then you're the lucky ones--” She grinned and they continued in that fashion, melding the two songs together, Alanna modifying the track as required and Thom working through the instrumental lines to their voices, because they weren't the same, they weren't two sides of a coin. But they were good together. They knew that.


LIONSBand tweeted: New song tomorrow! Or later today, more appropriately.

[key-and-lock-youth-preview.mp4]


@LIONSBand: SCREAMING

@LIONSBand: omg you haven't done a mash up since wherever you will go/hallelujah this is heaven

@LIONSBand: i'm from new zealand and i'm staying up for this. Omg.


LIONSBand tweeted: So here's our latest mashup: Youth, by Daughter, and Key and Lock, by Savannah Jeffreys. Hope you like it!


LIONSBand tweeted: Marriage equality has been legalised in all fifty states. About damn time.


HesitantGinger tweeted: Well, at least I can get married now. ??? idk about the appeal, but I'm glad for all the couples now getting hitched.


KnightlyGinger tweeted: Ignore @HesitantGinger, he cried.


RogerConte tweeted: History has been made today. Congratulations to all the couples now able to marry in all fifty states.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

10.18
To: Jonathan Conté
May I call you, or are you busy?

10.19
From: Jonathan Conté
just one sec. is alanna okay?

10.20
To: Jonathan Conté
She's fine. It's just me.


Thom was seated at the piano, running through scales when his phone rang. “How can I help you, my man?” Jon had the type of voice that for all intents and purposes was incredibly calming, fully capable of command. For Thom it was merely irritating.


He struck a dissonant E minor. “I was just wondering if I could get some advice regarding Gary and Raoul's upcoming nuptials. I've just received my invitation.”

Invitations are not something you're not familiar with?

“No. Nor are weddings. I imagine this will be a rather formal affair?”

The whole shebang. What do you want to know? Alanna and I''ll be there, but you like having stuff under control, I know.” Thom bristled. He did not know. What a vast simplification of a broad problem.

Still, he grounded himself and answered as calmly as he could, with the thought that Gary and Raoul were nice. Not really his friends, but they were good people. “A non-online version of the dress code, the people that will be there, appropriate interactions with the grooms and their surrounds, what sort of gift to bring, which celebrations I should be there for, how many days I should book in a hotel, and should I be hiring a really hot actor to play my date lest I be looked upon as a peasant? I assume you and Alanna are in the wedding parties?”

Whoa, tiger. Okay, starting at the top. Get a pen or something, some of this is important. Thanks for checking with me and not the internet. This is a pretty big deal, particularly for Gary. Now, the thing is that this is a love-prompted marriage, but it's also a field-day for the press. This is the first marriage between a gay couple in the inner-political family, the guest list has been limited to those trusted to make a good impression. So...

A quarter of an hour later, Thom had compressed the etiquette of being a 'rebellious youngster' at what sounded like a celebration of conformity into twenty-three dot-points, and felt thoroughly scandalised when Jon concluded on, “Basically, be polite, punctual, as pleasant and straight as possible, and put to use the etiquette your father was so fond of.”


“I feel there is a plethora of ironic jokes and thesis statements in saying to be straight at a gay wedding.” Thom touched the keys softly enough to barely make a sound, but found himself running through songs he hadn't played in years. It was almost disorienting; they were songs he was sure he would have forgotten.

I know, right? It's just a thing of 'be gay, but not too gay'. If you want to bring a male date, that's fine, it's just like, be incredibly chaste.

“That answers my question. I'm hiring a hot actor and we're making out in the pews.”

Jon groaned. “Please, no, Gary and Raoul will cry.

“Fine, fine. No hot actor." Thom paused very slightly, and stopped playing. "Thank you, though, Jon, I do appreciate it. I know we're not close, and--”

Jon cut him off. “Aren't we?”.

“No.”

Why not?” He could just hear the Cheshire grin in Jon's voice.

“You dislike me, and I find you irritating.”

For such well-raised children, you and Alanna are just rude. I don't dislike you, Thom. You dislike me. I find you irritating. I want to be closer to you, if only for Alanna's sake, completely disregarding any personal interest I have in you, yet every time I attempt to get to know you or speak to you, you rebuff me. So, don't hang up, let's talk about this. Now.

“Fine. What do you find irritating?”

You're self-isolating, which makes others vastly uncomfortable. You don't interact with anyone if you have any choice, and it's just really rude, you've hurt and offended a substantial number of people in the time that I've known you." Thom wasn't exactly surprised to hear Jon speak like that, but he stilled entirely, and braced himself, because despite all of his kindness, Jon knew how to cause pain.

"Instead of using your vast capacity for communication and interaction to do some good in the world, you limit yourself to taking in the information you want and keeping it. You're an incredible musician and you advocate well for people online, and fuck knows I think that's more important than speaking on a podium. But Thom, you don't view anyone else as quite human." Thom bit his lip and felt a small flutter in his chest, an urge to interrupt taking him over. "You distance yourself so much that, even when you speak on LGBT+ issues, you're treating life as a hypothetical that only matters because you live in it. Long story short, you're self-centred and rude. Your turn.” It was true, but it hurt enough that Thom was fully prepared to fire back as hard as he could.

“You're a self-satisfied politician-in-the-making, who overextends himself in the thought that you can actually save the world. You treat people as disposable in your grand concept of 'humanity'. You act as if you are the final authority on any given issue.”

He paused and breathed and tried not to get too angry with the fact that Jon was still always framing himself like a hero, like he could do no wrong. They weren't friends, he didn't have to be kind. “And when you dumped Alanna, she cried for three weeks. I don't mean sniffling and eating ice-cream in her underwear while watching romantic comedies, I mean chest aching, throat raw, skin dry, couldn't sleep, choosing not to eat. And after that you acted as if she were the villain, all the while maintaining the image of her being your best friend. Smiling and joking and ignoring the fact that you broke her heart. She wore baggy clothes for a year and hid all of the mirrors in our house because she felt like her body wasn't a part of her any more, like you'd taken it, like you owned her. You sleep with anyone that takes your fancy yet put yourself on a high-horse about 'really' knowing people, hence excusing yourself. You invalidate people's truth because you've decided that your cause is more worthy." He breathed for the first time, and felt a little bit of regret. Not really for himself, but for Alanna. And he knew that that must have hurt Jon, but the man had asked for it. Asked for the truth. "And your pop culture references are horrific," he added in, just for good measure.

There were twenty-three seconds of silence, only maintained by both of them breathing. “Right then. Can we fix this?

Thom's stomach dropped a little, and the guilt that had been planted blossomed. “Why do you want to?”

Because it would make Alanna happy. I want that for her, Thom, always. She deserves more than I could ever give." Jon's voice cracked on her name, and Thom clenched his fingers in on themselves. He was not cruel, just honest. Honesty can not, rationally, hurt anyone if they were in control. "But also because you need some fucking friends, and I think that you and I could be good friends. You seem like you could be cool. Why don't you want to fix it?” But oh, it hurt.

“I don't need friends! And if you hurt her again I need to be able to punch you without giving a shit about you.”

Which implies that you see a potential for a friendship, the fact that you could give a shit! I'm never hurting her like that ever again, Thom." Jon let his name come into its fullness, fill up the space between them. "You can kill me if I do, I wouldn't care. Fuck, I'd kill myself. But if that's all that's keeping you from fucking growing up and developing a friendship, then you're being childish." He resisted the temptation to scream. "And I know Alanna wouldn't approve of you limiting yourself out of some misogynistic possessive-protective thing.

“It's not-- look, you wouldn't understand. You had two loving parents and everyone in the world looks out for you. We never had anything like that. We look after each other.” His argument sounded weak, but fuck it if he was going to give in to Jonathan.

And she can look after herself. She loves you, dude, if she needs you she'll tell you, or you'll know. But you can't use her as an excuse for you being entirely asocial. Be cautious, be wary, be protective, but stop victimising yourself – and her. I've seen you be happy, Thom, it does happen. You just don't let it.

“Yeah. It's pointless. Happiness is just an excuse for a lack of productivity. 'I'm going to take a day off pursuing something that matters so I can be happy'.”

Don't feed me that. You have feelings, Thom, and you get lonely as much as anyone else."

"No, I–"

"I want to be your friend. As would Raoul, and Gary, and George, as does Roger. He doesn't make friends easily. He pretends that happiness is an isolated concept from other people, too."

"So what?"

"So can't you just... try out not being such a wuss?”

Thom snorted loudly. “Wow, your pitch for friendship surely is an effective one. Calling me a wuss.” He fully considered hanging up.

I have never met anyone so isolated – by choice, at that." He stood up and started pacing, trying to swallow his pride, to think of Alanna, and her happiness in his own. "You bullshit your way through any social event, because you're scared of having feelings.”

“See, this is what I was talking about.”

Thom. I've seen you cry. I've seen you jealous. I've seen you protective. And I've seen you happy, and it's something you liked. Can't you just try out my hypothesis that having more people in your day-to-day life will improve your life quality?” Thom didn't respond. He was sick of Jon's bullshit, but there was a modicum of truth in what he said. If he could take it from himself, procrastinate and hide, then he could damn well take it from Jon. "Thom?"

Thom swallowed, hard. “A scientific exploration in which you make assumptions and I attempt to fulfil them in the hopes that they're effective?”

Jon let out a breathless little laugh. “If you want to put it like that. Friends, Thom. Friends.” He sounded joyous, and oh fuck, maybe this was why Alanna was a little bit in love with him. Oh fuck.

“Fine, friends. Are we going to get coffee and paint each other's nails?” he asked, and expected to hear Jon laugh once more.

Yes. I'm back in September.” He had not expected that.

“I was jokin--”

Bye, Thom! See you in a few months. Text me.

Thom stared at his carpet in absolute astonishment. He was shocked beyond his own belief to see tears fall from his eyes to the floor. He wiped at them furiously, and tried to blank out the relief and the joy. Just let it hurt. If only for vindictiveness's sake.


9.47
From: Jonathan Conté
i love you, alanna

9.47
From: Jonathan Conté
i love you so much

9.47
From: Jonathan Conté
i love you so much it sort of hurts a little bit and i owe you my life and everything that i am

9.52
To: Jonathan Conté
I love you, too, Jon. Why are you drunk? It's not even noon.

9.53
From: Jonathan Conté
i'm not drunk i just love you and you're my best friend.

9.54
To: Jonathan Conté
What do you want? Why are you blackmailing me with affection?

9.55
From: Jonathan Conté
i just really really love you

9.57
To: Jonathan Conté
k.


9.56
To: Thayet Wilima
Is Jon drunk?

10.03
From: Thayet Wilima
No, he just looks sort of sad – potentially high. He was on the phone with your brother about half an hour ago. They were talking about weddings. I sort of zoned out.

10.04
To: Thayet Wilima
Right. If he's high, give him a banana, it'll make him feel slightly more grounded. If he's sad, then ask him something about the flaws of the Constitution. Alternatively put on Adele.

10.10
From: Thayet Wilima
You're a bit of a lifesaver. He had started crying like hell, then I asked him about self-defence laws. He's talking my ear off, but you know, at least he's not crying.

10.11
To: Thayet Wilima
Try the banana.

10.12
From: Thayet Wilima
Thanks, babe. I'll see you in a few weeks. :)


10.05

To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Don't make Jon cry. I know he can be an arse, but whatever it is it's not helping by making him upset. Fuck Thom just don't be an arse. Particularly if you're doing that misogynistic protective act of 'I'll kill you if you touch her' because I won't stand for it.

10.08
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
No, no, we're friends now. We yelled at each other. Now we're friends. Be happy for us.

10.10
To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
what the fuck
what the fuck
??????????

10.11
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Yeah, we realised that we hate each other and aired our differences, then we decided to be grown ups and be nice to each other. We're getting coffee when he comes to visit.

10.12
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Also any protective act is to do with the fact that you're a self-sacrificing over-worker who doesn't look after herself. I starkly recall you threatening to push one of my peers off a cliff, and you've never even met her.

10.15
To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Sorry I called you a misogynist. Don't make Jon cry. Congrats on having a whole TWO friends.


10.15
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Got it. Don't be passive aggressive.


10.35
To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
'We guilt tripped each other for a while. I'm going to paint his nails though. ' -Jon
'No, go back to the guilt-tripping.' -Me
'Nah, it's fine, we're being responsible adults. We both love you. We both think we're both irritating. I think I'll seduce him or something. It'll be good.' -Jon

I hung up on him. What the everloving fuck.

10.37
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Come now, sister, don't oppress us just because we're going to have nice nails.


10.37

To: Jonathan Conté
If you get a violet or blue polish, I'll get a nice gold. One without tacky bits of glitter. Shimmery, maybe?


10.43
From: Jonathan Conté
WHAT, NO????!!!! the tacky bits of glitter are the best!! they're the whole point.

10.45
To: Jonathan Conté
Fine, I'll get nail glitter as well. In red, silver, gold, green and blue. Just to cover all grounds (is this how friends work?).


10.45
From: Jonathan Conté
babe <3 <3 <3 <3 (baaabe <3)


Thom Trebond : Jonathan Conté has requested to list you as 'In a Relationship'. 


Accept/Deny


11.32
To: Jonathan Conté
Nice try. Seduction techniques 0/10.


George was a good kisser. Alanna had kissed a good six people in her life, four of them more than once, and was quite determined that George was the best of them. Maybe it was coincidence, as he was the one kissing her at that moment, but she was still rather sure that he was the best. He was gentle, but he was there - entirely present. "Your new song," he said, his nose brushing hers, "was really lovely." 


She smiled and kissed him again, shutting the door behind her with her foot. "Thanks."

"You and Thom are really talented." She ignored him, and took his hand. Together they drifted into the kitchen, where Faithful woke from his doze with a long wail. He took five long bounds and jumped, dug his claws into George's thigh in a very feline embrace.

George's eyes widened, but he removed the cat from his leg and lifted him so they were face to face. "Hey, Faithful. Howya doing?" Faithful purred and rubbed his cheek against George's. "This is the only reason I talk to you," he said to Alanna. "You've got one cute cat."

"Fair enough, honestly. Coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks."

George sat with Faithful on the edge of her kitchen bench, allowing the cat to sit on his shoulders - eventually he fell down the front of George's shirt, and was indignant in his stillness on George's lap from that point on.

Alanna didn't like the domesticity of their scene. She always felt that domesticity, like long-term relationships, would take something out of its constituents. Emotional vulnerability was one thing, but in the long-term, in such an absolute fashion, could only lead to pain. If you give someone part of your heart, or of yourself, any bad things that happen consequently can't be questioned, she thought. George was the only person who could even make her consider 'settling down'. Even Jon couldn't have, in the end. They would have hated each other.

George was warm. His hands felt like they fit hers. She still didn't want to give herself away to him.



"Thom's really talented," she said. They were curled around each other on her couch, 'Doctor Who' playing in the background. George moved with a type of liquid nature that seemed out of place, considering how close to sleep he had been. He paused the program with a most peculiar look on his face.

She didn't want to be looking at him, and kept her head down against his chest. He played with the light curls on the back of her neck. "As are you."

"Yes," she said, with little thought. His hands drifted over the top of her spine and massaged her shoulders. "But I think that he might... care substantially more than I do." She winced.

"About... you? As twins?" Alanna sat up quickly, only just avoiding hitting George's chin with her head. He just stroked the hair from her forehead, and she realised that she hadn't felt brave enough to tell anyone before.

"No! God no. About music. I just..."

"It's not your passion." George pulled her closer, just lightly enough that she could resist if she wanted. She didn't. Her forehead fell to his shoulder, and she could feel the worn cotton like it was a sedative. "And it is his."

"It is his," she echoed. "He keeps trying to... focus himself on anthropology, says he'll do something in politics. He's deluding himself, though, and he knows it. In the back of his head. Music is his start point and his end point. He's talented in other areas, fuck, he could do whatever he wanted in terms of academics without... thinking. But he won't." She could hear George's heartbeat. It sort of hurt, that he was close. She couldn't quite tell why. Thom was close - but she didn't feel vulnerable with Thom. "He'll try to be 'logical', but the only logical thing for him is to pursue something that he can actually... feel joy with. And I feel like shit, because I can't be there with him in that. He likes being able to argue politics and flash his degree at people, but that's a game for him. It doesn't mean anything."


"Maybe he's not ready to admit that to himself. He's twenty, not fifty. He has time."

"But I think he'd freak out, if I... drew back." George was technically right, but Thom was fragile, sometimes. He needed someone there, in the moment, with him. Twitter just wouldn't cut it for him, all he had was her. He was tough and stubborn and self-isolating, but he was human.

"Do you want to stop doing music?"

"No. No, I don't. I love it. But it's not my passion, I don't want to pursue it. I won't find a career that I can be content with in music. It's... the self-defence stuff. The social justice. That's what makes me happy."

"And he wants you to be happy. Despite not being fifty, he's a big boy. He can look after himself - even if it's without you. Not being a twin act may be disappointing, but he's talented, and it's not like you'd be dumping him." She snorted, the muscles in his neck tensed as he laughed. "You just want to pursue something else in a more prominent way."

"I don't want to hurt him."

"Do you love him?"

"Of course. Yes."

"Will you stand by him, as his sister?"

"Yes."

"He doesn't need protecting. You can be your own person, without looking after him." It should have sounded patronising, but George had a habit of stating things already thought, just so they would make a little more sense.

"I am my own person," she said. George was cool charm and wit, but never superficial. He was never superficial. He was just with other people, in any given moment. He was more with her. Maybe even always. He thought about her as an individual, as a part of the bigger picture. His own bigger picture.

"God knows I know it. I just mean that you can stand, on your own, and he can, too. It doesn't mean you've abandoned each other, doesn't mean you can't spend time, doesn't mean you can't keep doin' music. And none of this means you have to go up to him and say 'I'm dumping you'." He paused and curled her hair around his fingers. "Or... sing a number from 'Chicago' until he cries. Just be honest. And take your time." Her laugh felt more like a sob than it should have, but she smiled as she shook on his shoulder.

"Okay," she whispered.

Alanna was quiet for a minute, and George put the show back on. She stayed still, and didn't even think of moving away from him, even when his arms enclosed her. "In about six months, or a year, or something, I'm going to tell you I love you," she said. His hand was still in her hair, but shaking. She smiled. "And I want you to know that I'll mean it. But you're my best friend. And I want to be with you."


"Okay." She leaned up and kissed him.

"Maybe 'okay' will be our--" He hit her over the head with a cushion.


to: Kel Mindelan

from: Alanna Trebond

re. Self Defence in the Name of Self Defence

Hey, Kel,

I'd just like to reiterate how incredible it was to meet you at VidCon. It's such an honour that you see me as an inspiration - which is exactly why I'm contacting you. I feel, at twenty, like fourteen year old me would have her arse kicked on sexism and gender politics grounds. You have an understanding of gender, self defence, martial arts, and intersectionality that is actually going to change the world. I want to be part of that.

You spoke about setting up a centre, and eventually an organisation for education and training for minorities in self defence. I am of the age, and I have the funding, resources, contacts, and time to accommodate for that. If you (and your parents) are willing and able, I would like to work on such a project with you. Your concepts and knowledge are so important, and I don't want to disregard the fact that this was your idea first. You of course don't have to, but I had to ask.

I hope you're well. :)
Alanna.




12.05
From: Roger Conté
May I ask what transitioning as a vocalist was like?

12.07
To: Roger Conté
What would you like to know?

12.08
From: Roger Conté
Whatever you're willing to tell.

12.09
To: Roger Conté
It may be easier to call you. May I?

Thom's phone rang shrill, startling him despite his music and lights both being on. "Hi, Roger." He fumbled to turn off the speakers and fought down butterflies.

"Hey, Thom. How are you tonight?"

"I'm well, thank you. And you?"

"I'm well. Absolutely sick of touring, but your company is keeping me at least a little sane, albeit virtually." Roger's voice was even better when natural, not recorded, not scripted. Thom felt thick sand filter into his stomach for no sensible reason.

"I'm glad to be of assistance." Roger laughed, and it crackled through the phone. "Where are you now?"

"We're coming into Arizona now. Sand, everywhere. The occasional tree."

"Sounds enticing." He made his way upstairs, turning lights off as he went. It was late. Probably impractically late, but it wasn't like he had to go anywhere.

"Oh yes. Every time we stop for fuel or food my body-guard has been getting to as high ground as possible and yelling as loudly as he can to see how far it can echo."

"Destination?"

"Flagstaff. It's a large enough venue for the travel to be worth it."

"It's easier than flying?"

"Too much equipment, too big a crew, financially irresponsible. I'm not famous enough for venues to provide staff, nor to validate catching a plane filled with instruments every two days." Thom lay down cross-ways on his bed, once again stared at the ceiling. "I assure you, I wish it was different."

"I'm sorry." There was a short pause, and Thom could just hear Roger's breath. "And sorry again, I got off track. What would you like to know?" He didn't want Roger to be a creepy invasive fetishiser, but he didn't seem like that. Thom's gauge for bullshit was fairly well tuned, and so far Roger's level of bullshit was just that he seemed far too nice. He could just hang up, if necessary. It would be a shame, Roger's voice was drug-like, but he had no proper choice. He had standards for the few social endeavours he pursued, and he would not let them fall.

"I was just curious about your range, in particular. I haven't heard of many trans vocalists before. You're clearly a tenor, but your range is expansive - and strong. Is that... normal?" Cautious. Not shy, just polite.

"Well, I don't think there's a clear line of 'normal'. HRT - hormone replacement therapy - is too new in terms of effectiveness, and there are too few trans people recording their transitions in terms of vocals. It's harder for transgender women, particularly those who start once they're through with puberty." Roger hummed acknowledgement. "I was lucky, I started just before I turned seventeen. I also have the privilege of having been trained for all of my life, in both classical and contemporary vocals. I was a very strong soprano, high C - C6, to low F - F3."

Roger whistled. "Almost three octaves."

"
Yeah. My teachers all urged me to pursue opera or classical musical theatre because of my larynx and my control. Really not my cup of tea. Personally I just feel I'm very stubborn, physical predisposition be damned. My range was bound to change, anyway. But yes, after forging my father's signature a few dozen times I got in with an endocrinologist and a psychiatrist specialising in transition, and despite having never treated a transgender vocalist before, their opinion was that I should start on a very low dose. I was rather impatient, but it paid off. Do you know much about HRT?"

"No, I'm sorry to say."

"Basically it is a rather stark process, in most. Even a quarter of an hour after the t-shot or gel you'll be able to feel differences internally, and every week counts in term of voice. The physical is a bit slower - muscle shifting, bone structure, etc.. I started at the lowest possible dose, and stayed there for the first three months. I basically hired out my singing teacher - despite being in the middle of the SATs and in the middle of a long-distance degree, and I worked with her an hour every day, even if it was just on speech, until I'd passed the six month mark, at which point we went back to normal timing. I got a shot every three weeks, and each two weeks my voice would generally shift down a full semitone. Towards the end of each cycle it would get a little higher again. There were some very awkward voice breaks. If reincarnation is a thing, I'm dying before I go through another puberty, I swear. I ran scales between classes just trying to get a hold of it, because my larynx got much longer and thicker. I mean, did you have voice breaks in puberty?"

"Oh god, I went from 'choir-boy' levels of boy soprano to baritenor. Yes." Thom's eyes had closed, and he settled back onto his cushions. He didn't really need to think. It was just history. He wanted to monitor his words, make himself sound a little more soft, but he couldn't bring himself to. He doubted Roger would appreciate it, anyway. Just because he was someone new didn't mean that Thom needed to change his entire behavioural pattern, no matter how attractive said new person was.

"It was pretty similar to most pubescent and adolescent boys' experience, as far as I can tell. The one thing that really worried me was keeping my tone, and my power. Trans men, typically, take on a very distinct tone, almost like we still have some of the pubescent raspiness of a kid whose voice is still breaking. The seminal aspect was continuing to sing. I had lost an octave and a half, and only gained one, between three and eight months in. After a year and a half my range stabilised and developed further. My range sits from A#3 to D#5, including my falsetto. My higher register is light, and I switch into mixed above the A, falsetto from the C."

"Did you ever feel like you couldn't sing? Or like you'd lost it entirely?" Roger's voice was scratchy, and Thom smiled. He turned on his side, and examined his bookshelf. It was rather bland, in the grand scheme of things. Most of his academic texts were in his study, and he didn't hold much of a passion for romance or crime. History, classics, music theory, the occasional fantasy novel.

"In between the second month and twelfth month, yeah," he admitted. "My tone was really bad. It was thin and inconsistent, and even though I had pitch control I didn't have much of a pitch to control."

"You were depressed?"

Thom, somehow, wasn't surprised that Roger had known that. However, he was surprised that he didn't care. "Yeah. Yeah, it was pretty bad. I'm a good instrumentalist, but I'm a vocalist, first and foremost. I'm stubborn. I persisted. I still have trouble with my tone. But I'm working on it."

"So you've maintained close to a three octave range, to what is basically post-transition. Wow."

"You sound a tad disbelieving."

"It's hard to believe."

Thom smirked and sat up, rolling his shoulders back, stretching his free hand. "Just a moment, let me warm up."

"You don't have to--"

"That was a challenge, if ever I've heard one." He made his way downstairs, turning the lights on as he went.

"Well." Roger was about to feign innocence, but seemed to swallow his own words.

"Don't pretend, Roger," he said, fumbling with the tap and glass. He wasn't nervous. Not really. He simply intended to perform at maximum capacity. "Do you want to listen to me warm up, or should I hang up and call you back?" His piano keys felt cool and perfect.

"I'll join in, if you'd feel more comfortable."

"Go ahead."


"Eat your words, Conté."


"Gladly. Wow. You're quite something."

"You kept up."

"I'm not used to having to. Where did you put 'Take Me to Church', range-wise?"

"Are we arranging a number at one in morning?"

"Why not?"

"One up. Yours was two down?"

"Yeah. Let's try in the original - it will work for two male vocalists."

"How awake are you?"

"Enough. And you?"

"Enough."

"What are your preferences for harmonies?"

"I'm not fussed, as long as you don't try to cram too many in."

"And is the D# your absolute highest?"

"The highest that's practical. Why?"

"Oh, never mind. It wouldn't work in this song - if you could hold the F we could go a three octave unison."

"That would actually be incredible. Pointless. But incredible. I'll work on it. But yes, not for this song."

Roger's laugh was thick, it felt like it could overwhelm him, and Thom realised with a shiver that this was infatuation. A crush. Not just 'I sort of want to set your body in marble and then touch your cheekbones', or 'I want to lick your abs', or 'please hold that note for three hours straight so I can memorise it' but a person. A real person. Someone he cared about and liked and butterflies hurt.

Roger had said something, and Thom had entirely missed it. "--but switching the genre may be impractical considering how iconic the song is."

"We don't have to switch the genre, per se, but changing the chord voicings around a little - maybe something tying in the rock influences? Bring in a driving bassline, have a cello counterpoint towards the end of some phrases, dead-note the guitar and bass on the pre-chorus."

"Oh, I like you. Yes. That sounds perfect."


HesitantGinger tweeted: And @RogerConte 's quote of the night is... 'but his harmonies are shit and I wouldn't trust him in the White House.'

JonathanConte tweeted: @HesitantGinger @RogerConte </3 tag me next time.

RogerConte tweeted: @HesitantGinger 's QOTN: 'My sexual and romantic orientations are both caught up in E minor chord voicings.'

JonathanConte tweeted: @HesitantGinger @RogerConte There's no way that's about me and I'm sort of offended.


Phone call ended at: 03.34, July 15

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Thom woke to his door banging open and hitting the wall. Of course, he didn't realise that was what woke him until he remembered that dragons were not real, and The Beatles were not, in fact, dragons.

He kept his eyes closed. From the light filtering through his blinds, it was at least noon, and from the banging on his staircase Alanna was still a horrible person. "Thom, it's two in the afternoon." She flicked the lights on, and he glared up at a galaxy of classical music.

She sat on the edge of his bed and he turned his gaze to her. "I was up late." She rolled her eyes and pinched the tip of his nose.

"Doing what?"

Thom yawned and sat up. He very pointedly checked his phone and took a long drink from his glass of water before saying, "Arranging a number with Roger. We got rather into it and didn't hang up until three thirty."

"That sounds like your idea of a perfect date." Alanna took it upon herself to pick through his wardrobe and toss clothes back at him. He caught each one, but aside from that didn't move. She had a love bite on the peak of her shoulder, and he felt entirely unmockable.

"Shut up, sister, we were singing. I was recording the instrume--"

"Three thirty in the morning, Thom. You like sleep." He nodded and got to his feet. He faced his mirror like an opponent, but not quite so venomously as he looked at Alanna. He looked sleep deprived, and his hair desperately needed washing.

"I got eleven hours."

"The most impractical hours."

"They're perfect hours," he retorted. He examined the shadows under his eyes.

"You're so smitten with this guy, it's gross." He didn't comment, just pulled his t-shirt off and pursed his lips. "Oh my god, are you actually smitten? Thom!"

"I need to shower."

"Yes, you do, but you have a crush."

He basically ran into the bathroom, her laugh mocking him all the way.


Alanna had made him breakfast, but he was tempted to ignore it considering how self-satisfied she looked. "He's really really pretty, isn't he, Thom? I bet you've written his name in love hearts in your journal." Thom threw a salt shaker at her, which she caught effortlessly.


"Your hickeys are showing," he said, stuffing his mouth full of burned bacon in the hopes that she might leave him alone.

"I'm proud of my sex life, but does this mean you might actually get one?"

"It was a phone call." Thom threw the pepper shaker at her while she wasn't looking (eyes closed with her laughter), and it hit her chest with a satisfying thud. However, as she just kept giggling, the satisfaction was only momentary.

"How long were you on the phone?" He ate his toast and ignored her. "Did he serenade you? Did you talk about the politics of today and realise that you're soul-mates? Did he cure you of your misanthropy? Did you cure his?" He looked around for something else to throw at her, and at the conclusion that he would either cause too much pain or too little, merely flipped her off.

"We talked about transitioning as a vocalist, then sang for three hours straight with intermittent conversation on Jonathan, pop culture and the relevance of it societally, and I may have flirted, but so badly it probably just came off as being socially inept. That's it!"

"You're quite good at social contact, Thom, it just terrifies and exhausts you." He rolled his eyes. She hooked her phone into the speakers, Keane taking over the house. "What's Roger like?" Thom mulled it over for quite a time. He found it peculiar that he had never even met the man. Perhaps his blushing was tied to something more like a celebrity crush - yet he had never experienced one of those, either.

"Had your fun now?"


Alanna chuckled and ran a hand through his hair. He smiled, just a little. "Not quite yet, you're still blushing." Thom jerked away from her and slapped her treacherous hands. She cackled, wicked witch she was.

He got to his feet and placed his hands on his hips, glaring down at Alanna. "And you're still looking at me like I've admitted that sometimes I like to think of dead babies while wanking. I didn't mock you this much when you had crushes!" He paced around the kitchen with his shoulders firmly back. He didn't like this whole 'feelings' thing, and he was tired. Still, he felt warmth in a most peculiar fashion, one he could only liken to the feeling of a really satisfying key change half way through a song. It was so different from the fierce affection that he felt when he looked at Alanna.

"I didn't have crushes! I had Jon."

"You once expressed that Raoul was a 'giant cat', and that his 'eyes are really beautiful', and you constantly wanted to play with his hair. That's a crush."

Alanna sulked, switching songs in entire dissatisfaction. "Not really."

"You drew his face onto one of the school napkins and got three days of detention," he reminded her. "It smeared your permanent record, yet again."

She started to tidy the kitchen, pretending to not notice how little Thom had eaten. There was a thin line between him not eating because her cooking was generally so poor, and because his head was so heavily in some academic or emotional cloud that he couldn't eat. "Oh my god. I forgot about that." She decided to buy him chocolate. Chocolate made everything better. He looked at her expectantly, and she remembered she had lost her train of thought. "Yeah, okay. You did mock me!"

Thom raised an eyebrow and set up the dishwasher, a tad appalled at how messy he had let the place get. Domestic work was a skill-set not quite complete, despite being a far better cook than Alanna. She had that look on her face that said she was scheming something louder than an actual battle plan could have. "No, I didn't. I asked why you liked him, because he wasn't even attractive. Which I retracted, two years ago, when I realised that people have the capacity to be attractive."

She snorted. "You implied disapproval."

"I did disapprove. I mean honestly. You had friends, that was bad enough, let alone a boyfriend. And it just didn't make sense. Even then Gary and Raoul had been giving each other longing gazes."

"They really were. I have the impression that they've been as close to in love as they could be since they were six, when they met, and--"

Thom's phone buzzed on the tabletop, making the ceramic shake slightly. She took it before he could dry his hands and unlocked it while he yelped his protests. "'May I suggest adding an extra beat to the cello line before the chorus? Thank you for speaking with me last night. It was nice'." Thom grabbed it back from her, with an identical scowl to the one she held moments before. "Jon says he doesn't talk to people past cordiality." She was torturing him, her eyes glinting with sickening smile. "Three early-morning hours, inappropriate jokes, according to twitter. Sounds serious."

Thom cradled his phone to his chest. "Fuck off. I'm talented. I'm excellent. My vocals are to die for. That's all."

"While all this is true--" He cuffed her over the ear. "Thom, you've never had a crush before. Have you?"

He groaned. "No. It hurts. I hate it." He kept his eyes off her, scraping food into the bin, and opening the window. He hadn't been outside in several days, wind was a surprise. Thom stuck his head out the window, breath heavy.

"Aw. Baby brother."

"I'm older than you." He turned back to her, with a little more of a smile. "I killed someone before you were even born."

Alanna snorted and disconnected her phone, foot bouncing up and down. "You know using that line as a diversionary shock tactic only worked until we were seven."

"But that means I have to come up with something new. Kill someone new, I don't know, Alanna, I need to shock you with something."

Alanna ignored him. "Have you got butterflies and everything?"

Thom nodded. "And the sand feeling." He looked nervous, like he was saying something odd, and Alanna felt fondness flood her. "Do you get that feeling? Like massive amounts of sand just slowly pouring into your stomach."

"That's just hardcore butterflies. I think it goes flies, butterflies, sand, wasps, hornets. Then sharks," she said, nodding all the while.

"When did you get sharks?" A look of distaste had settled on Thom's face.

"When Jon started joking about kissing me. I almost threw up, actually. I mean, it hasn't happened since then, but just a warning."

"'Don't throw up in partner's mouth'. Cool, thanks, wouldn't have guessed that one." Alanna smacked him, and when he slapped back they made a mutual, non-verbal agreement to not start yet another slap-war. They never ended well for anyone.

There was peaceful silence for a little while, while Thom texted Roger. Alanna had that same scheming look on her face. Her degree wasn't engaging, music wasn't the same any more. Thom was constant, and she could help him. He was struggling. After the attack his self-esteem had fell back to pre-testosterone levels of severity, and he seemed even more indecisive about his own self-identity than ever.

"You know I thought I was aromantic and asexual, for ages," Thom said, breaking her concentration.

"Yeah, I know. I think it was tied up in self esteem stuff."

"Really? I think it's because I perceived most people as... unworthy."

Alanna hummed. "Partially, I suppose. However, you always said no-one would want to be around you. You wanted to go off an live in... Iceland, I think it was." He ducked his head and nodded. "It wasn't just self-esteem, but that was part of it. Are you... how are you... feeling?"

"Alanna. I will slap you. It's a mere infatuation. I'm not re-evaluating myself as a human being."

"You've made friends with Jon," she pointed out. "It's timing is--"

"Just bad timing."

"Your ice is melting, Elsa, be careful."

"Oh my god. Let it the fuck go, Alanna!"


LIONSBand tweeted: We gave in. We hate ourselves. Here's our cover of 'Do You Want to Build a Snowman?'

[Link]


HesitantGinger retweeted LIONSBand: [link] I don't know whether to say 'at least make us a meme', or 'make us a meme and I'll never forgive you'. 


Thayet kept her phone in her pocket at all times, and the only times she didn't automatically pick up were when she was in a meeting, or asleep - and even then she often did anyway. Alanna knew this well, despite only having known her a year, didn't like to abuse the privilege of knowing her and knowing her commitment. Despite this she fought to remind herself that Thayet was her friend, and they cared deeply for each other - communication should be an option for both of them. She realised that she hadn't quite included herself in that 'both'.


"Hey, babe."

Alanna felt her muscles loosen a little, warmth filling her. Thayet was a token of all that was good and true in the world. "Hey, Thayet. How are you?"

"I'm really well, thank you." Alanna could hear the smile in her voice. "Oh, before you say what needs to be said, I just wanted to check that it's okay for Jon and I to stop in for a few weeks in August and September. We'll stay in a hotel, but he misses you - as do I."

'Why am I scared of being inadequate?' Alanna asked herself. She was good at the things she did in her life. She adored her friends, they adored her. She breathed in and pushed the thought process out, smiling. "Of course. You're always welcome."

"I know he wants to spend some time with Thom, too." Alanna's eyebrows automatically raised. Thom had mentioned something about time with Jon, but nothing solid. "You and he spend too much time together. He gets that look that you do of 'I've got a plan', and he can't think of anything else." Thayet's voice was full of laughter, the heady voice others applied in attempts to come across as charismatic natural with her.

"And that's on Thom? That can't be good."

"I'm quite concerned. However, Jon's learned how to paint nails, so I can't say I'm not benefiting." Alanna pictured Jon collecting nail polishing and fumbling only to end up with deep red fingers, and laughed. "Sorry, that was entirely off-topic. How are you doing?"

Alanna swallowed sudden butterflies. "I'm good. I mean... I'm considering dropping out of uni. Or deferring."

"I... that was sudden."

"Not really. I'm not learning anything." A small lie, she told herself. It was nothing of use.

"Do you know what you'll do?"

"Sort of. I... do you have time?"

"Yep."

"I'm starting an NGO for women who want to learn self-defence, globally. Or... that's the plan. I mean, a generalised feminist ideology, education on domestic abuse and saying 'no' for younger women - kids." She could hear Thayet's breathing, and felt her nerves grow. It wasn't stupid. It was an excellent idea. She could make it work. "But self-defence lessons, including verbal self-defence, including in the workplace, including teaching men respect. I've been in communique with the daughter of the Ambassador to Japan, Keladry Mindelan. It was her idea. There's already a thousand and one organisations with 'no means no' in their tag-line, but no-one talks about what it means to say 'no', and what to do if you can't. She's fourteen, but she wants to be involved - her father is on board with her participation, they're excited at the concept of her being part of a philanthropic organisation she could co-own or inherit in the future. Her mother is a civil lawyer, and she's willing to help. My connection to Jonathan and his experience with public relations, a bachelors in sociology, Thom's anthropology and my father's legacy, and more importantly his money means that I can... make this work."

Thayet was silent for a long while. "Just a second." There was a sound of rapid footsteps on wood. "Buri! Buri, come 'ere!"

A new voice entered, dulled out. "What can I do for you, majesty?"

Thayet's voice, too, was dulled. Alanna could imagine the two of them standing side by side, Thayet holding the phone between them. "Stop moping, that's what you can do. Alanna, can you recap all of that for Buri? Is that okay?" Alanna recited the plan for Buri, who was quiet until she was passionate, always strong.


"See? Go back to America, Buri," Thayet said. "Isn't it exactly what you were looking for?"

A long silence, then a yelp. "Don't pinch me! My only experience is in the martial arts themselves, Alanna, not politics. I didn't even graduate high-school."

Alanna shook her head, frustrated by the casual self-deprecation that she knew so well. "Buri, I've seen you fight, you're superb. I'd love to get you on board. I mean, it's going to take... a while. Years, even. Sponsors, spokespeople, an actual plan, setting up events, setting up an esteem... but you can be involved wherever you want." She paused, thought on something Thayet had said, about Buri and the responsibility and guilt inflicted on her and her young self-esteem. "It would be an honour, actually."

She heard a little intake of breath. "Alanna, I'm a little bit in love with you."

She grinned. "I'm a little bit in love with you, too." That was true.

"I'm kicking you out, Buri, I don't need you to depress yourself stuck to my side. Go see Alanna. Jon and I will be coming in a few weeks anyway."

"You need--"

"I don't need a bodyguard, babydoll. Come on, it's perfect."

Alanna cut in, those infuriating nerves joined by excitement in her stomach. "Come on, Buri. Please. I don't want any more men involved before I get some women on hand - and a diverse range, at that. This needs to be a team effort. I want you on my team. I want both of you, but you can provide things that neither Thayet or I can provide."

"Because I'm brown and poor?"

Alanna winced, but that was the truth of the matter. "Yes - but also because you were explicitly trained in defence. And you've seen one of the most severe types of domestic violence first-hand. You're very no-nonsense."

"I'm a little bit in love with you," Buri repeated. Buri's voice was higher than Thayet's, Alanna realised, but the growl she applied made it seem much lower. It couldn't be good for her vocal cords.

"I'm in love with you, Buri, there's nothing little about it." Overt affection wasn't quite her thing, but the two times she had met Buri she had felt a close tie to her, an automatic spark of humour and trust. "Come on, you can stay at my place and we can rant about losing our platonic significant others then save the world."

Thayet sighed. "You two are so sad. Neither Jon or I are that great."

"True," said Alanna

"True," said Buri.

They all laughed, and Alanna could hear Thayet tutting. "Look, book plane tickets, and I'll meet you at the airport," she said.

"Will I actually be of use?"

"Yes! Fuck yes! For fucking fuck's sake, Buri, yes, you will, we've established mutual love, come help me."

Thayet and Buri dissolved into laughter again, and Alanna thought that Buri may have been crying. Perhaps that was emotional projection. "Am I a matchmaker? Do you have a partner, Alanna?" Thayet asked, ever diplomatic.

Alanna felt warmth fill her up, from head to stomach, as she thought of George, full of laughter and flowing thought and gentleness. "Yes. I'm sorry."

In a mocking tone, Thayet began, "Buri, do you--?"

"Fuck off."
Alanna snorted.

"Isn't she charming? You two will work something out."


"We'll ship Kel in, too, if she's permitted. Make it a feminist party. Bruise each other."

Thayet hummed as Buri chuckled. "Don't make me jealous now."

Alanna could see metaphorical lights popping up before her eyes as the idea of Buri getting off a plane to work on her NGO hit her with the reality of possibilities. "And I'll see if Veralidaine and Onua want to be involved. Onua is older than us, and Daine is a trans woman of colour - they're both invested in the fight against domestic violence." Thayet was making little whimpering sounds as Buri continued to giggle nervously, excitedly.

"Now you're torturing her, Alanna," Buri said.

"Oh, I know. I'll see if we can get Lianne in on it, too." Alanna heard Jon yelling out to Thayet, and she smiled for his antics. "Thayet, tell Jon to call me. I miss his stupid voice."

"I do nothing for you any more, Trebond."

Buri waited until Thayet had stopped whimpering to say. "She's sulking. I'll text you."

"Okay. See you, loves."

"See you. Thank you so much, Alanna."

"Any time."

"See you, traitor."

"Bye, Thayet."


Pulled - The Addams Family Musical - Thom Trebond

July 17 by HesitantGinger


6.10
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Gaaaaaaaaaaay.

6.13
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Very observant.

6.15
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

6.15
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

He's got you pulled in a new direction and you think you like it, huh?

6.16
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
It's a really nice song. What did you think of it?

6.17
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
You handled the key changes fairly well but you had a note that wasn't quite 'right' in the second verse, but that may just be the way you applied vibrato. You know me, I prefer things more clear-cut.

I reiterate: gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

6.18
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Thanks, I'll look at it.
Is my behaviour really so changed?

6.19
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Yes. You have a CRUSH Thom, a CRUSH.

6.20
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
I'm aware, I've admitted this.

6.23
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
How is he?

6.24
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
He's good. Complaining about his drummer wanting to use a back-beat in every song.

My behaviour isn't THAT changed.

6.26
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
You bought new clothes, for the first time since you were nineteen.

6.27
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Because most of my clothes are torn and I deserve nice things in life.

6.31
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
You have:

bought new clothes of high quality

started listening to peppy and upbeat music, which is so out of character for you that I thought you had been possessed

started cooking more

used twitter less and actually USED UP your phone credit

extended your morning run and started doing the stretches I have told you to

gone back to playing guitar just as much as piano

cut your hair

6.34
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
You have put far too much effort into this. I'm ignoring you.

6.35
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
It's all true.

6.45
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Oh come on we're twins, aren't we supposed to talk about boys? Adolescence was no fun, you're spoiling my fun.

6.52
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Spoil-sport.

6.54
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
All of those things constitute as self-care.

6.54
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Would it be so bad for me to want to look different? I pass now, I can do what I want with my body.

6.55
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
And would it be so bad to want to look vaguely attractive?

6.57
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

No, Thom. It wouldn't. You look very nice, I'm sure Roger would 10/10 approve.

7.00
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Wow, Alanna, thank you for your holistic response to the situation. Post a selfie on instagram and I will, too, and I swear I'll get more likes than you.

7.01
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
And you call me petty!

7.01
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
You're on.


Alanna had made a check-list of eighteen things she needed to do within two weeks, and having done groceries, bought an inordinate amount of chocolate for Thom, spoken to Buri (flying in on Friday), spoken to Onua and Daine (flying in on the Monday after and Wednesday, respectively), recalculated her financial plan for the next two years, and spoken to the deans of her universities, long-distance and in person, she was left with eleven, only two of which she was dreading. Even with VidCon, the attack in Washington, everything with George, she felt she had been lazy for too long.

Myles's house was like something out of a fairy-tale, all deep red brick and vines framing the windows. His library was larger than his bedroom, and it was the 'entrance hall' to his space. His housemaid brought her to his study, which hosted a portrait of she, Thom, Jonathan, Alex, Raoul, and Gary sitting around him holding the trophy for the international debate competition.

She was warm. So warm, it filled her up from toe to head. She tried to think of herself as a stubborn, emotionally withdrawn person with complete control, but she felt so deeply, and she loved Myles and her friends so, so much. 'I really should have picked up on the whole feelings thing when I was crying my way through adolescence,' she thought.

Miles was sitting at his desk with a glass of brandy in hand, brow furrowed at some ancient Latin text. "Professor Olau?"

"Alanna!" He just avoided spilling his brandy as he got to his feet. He enveloped her in his arms, and as always he smelled of very old paper and very expensive alcohol. He stepped back a little and cupped her face in his hands. "Good god, child, it's been too long. Your hair has grown." He tilted her head from side to side, and she grinned at him. "You don't have to call me Professor any more, you know. You are my next of kin."

She shook her head and his hands fell to her shoulders. "It just feels disrespectful." She followed his eyes as he traced her head to toe, as if for injury. He smiled in that knowing way of his at the sight of her in a dress.

"It's nice to see you out of black," he said. She smiled and pulled back a little to examine him in turn. He seemed to have stopped aging at fifty-five ('thanks to all the wine'), despite his sixty-three years.

"How are you?"

"I'm well. I'm very tired. But I'm well. What can I do for you today?" He ushered her towards the desk, fumbling to bring her a chair.

She didn't sit, she knew his time was pressured. In all truth she had just wanted to see him, if only for a few moments. "I, um... a few things."

He nodded with the knowing look of a man who could just about read minds. "Sit. Would you like a drink? Fruit juice? Vodka? Water? Beer? Soda? Brandy? Wine?"

Alanna laughed and shook her head, although she knew full well he would probably give her all of them at once if she asked. "No, I'm okay." She sat and almost tore her dress as she fumbled with flaring it around her legs. "Thank you." He examined her for a long while, taking intermittent sips of brandy. She held his gaze although there was no challenge to do so.

"What's troubling you?" he asked at last.

"Well, not so much 'troubling' as... making me think. It's not something I do enough."

He chortled. "While I believe you are highly intelligent, beyond almost anyone I have ever met--" She blushed. "--you are very impulsive on occasion. What has captured your brilliant mind?"

"I have begun the process of setting up a non-governmental organisation against the roots of domestic violence." From there she reiterated all that she had planned before, presented him with her timeline, her plans, her personnel, and showed him all of the paperwork she thought she might need.

His brow was heavily furrowed by the time she was done, and he had been taking notes the entire time. "You have done incredibly well," he said, and her cheeks tinted deep red.

"Only thanks to your guidance, Sir."

"Alanna." That was a strict tone if Alanna had ever heard one, one she had rarely heard from him.

"Yes, Sir?"

A stern-set mouth and jutted jaw melted into a smile, as if he had been hiding a marvelous joke, and said, "Please call me 'Myles'."

She exhaled, glad to not be reprimanded. "Okay," she whispered.

"Now, we need to start on funding, because while I appreciate that you are wealthy I don't like the concept of investment into an NGO that isn't grounded by financial insurance..." She grinned.

 

 

Chapter Text

Thom sat with his legs parted, overtly masculine, still a compulsive motion in public. He brought them a little closer together as soon as he realised, and stared at the paper on his lap. Despite no real interest in medicine he did wish that he had the skill-set to interpret medical reports. "My blood's okay then?" he asked, cautious as he was.

"Perfect, but for your iron. Any surgery involving blood-loss should really be preceded by iron being stable. I would suggest packing in some spinach and red meat, and it will clear it right up - you shouldn't need supplements, but you have another check up in October." Doctor Rosethorn flipped through his file with a furrowed brow. She was in a constant state of appraisal, and she of course knew too much of him.

Thom had been seeing her for years, but somehow she had only gotten more anxious as he aged. She was the one who treated his bruised ribs, damaged from binding, gave him the paperwork to start taking testosterone, lied for him to bypass his father's negligence. He felt she should be less anxious, but he supposed that he was a long-term object of study. She wanted him to do well.

"Are you still exercising regularly?" she asked.

He nodded. "I've been running for about half an hour every morning, and my sister has given me some basic strength training exercises." She pointed to the scales, with her eyes still on his papers.

"And you're still posting music online?" Thom looked up at her as he unlaced his shoes and took off his belt. He was strangely aware of his own body, even of the little scar on the inside of his arm from the surgery to repair the bone.

"Of course I am. One hundred and twenty-seven." Rosethorn jotted the number down on her notepad and scrutinised each of his body parts in turn.

"That hasn't been too high stress? You haven't received any threats of violence or... pressure?"

Thom shrugged. "Threats are fine, I ignore them. They've dulled down now. If you mean pressure to... improve myself or over-exert myself, then no. I'm very well loved online, and most of the pressure on me is from myself." She opened her mouth to speak again, but he cut her off. "I'm still in uni, which is going well. I've managed to only attend one of every ten lectures for the past months, which suits me fine. I'm still topping my class."

"Still arguing with teachers?"

He grinned. "Always." She seemed pleased, but he could never quite tell with her. "Alanna and I are still close. She's... wanting to branch away from music and go into self-defence," he admitted. "She's worried that it will upset me that she doesn't want to pursue what I do - although she would never admit it."

"And have you developed any more relationships?"

He told her about befriending Jonathan, which made her grin, and about his contact with Roger, and she gave him a knowing look that made him blush. "I'm going to dinner with Alanna and George tonight," he concluded. "George is Alanna's boyfriend. He's a metal-worker."

"That will be good - do be nice to him. Now, Thom, for once I actually have another patient waiting--"

"Another trans person?" he asked. Despite the potential to meet other trans people online, or join social groups, he felt that it took too much effort for an unclear pay-off. The idea of another person in the next room over, someone just like him, maybe a trans guy, maybe a musician, was exhilarating. Meeting Alanna's friend Daine had been close to magic, let alone a trans man.

"At a transgender health clinic?" Rosethorn's eyes sparkled. "Wow, very perceptive, Thom." He scoffed, red-cheeked. It was primarily a research clinic. "Yes, a young transgender boy. You can't speak to him, he's under sixteen. But before we finish, I do need to ask if you're quite sure about this operation." He held back a sigh. "You can draw out, at any time, but fertility isn't something to be taken lightly. No, don't interrupt. I understand wanting to get rid of any 'female' parts, and you've had this plan for years, but the fact is that you're very different now, at twenty-one, than you were at sixteen and seventeen. If you think there's any chance you might want to bear children... I think you should explore it, even if it's just having your eggs frozen. I know it's not something you think you want, but I don't want you being distraught in fifteen years time that you can't have children of your own."

Thom did up his shoe laces, kept his eyes on the floor, said what he had said one hundred times over: "I don't want children of my own, Doctor. I don't want children. My own life is more than enough for me, and not having a uterus and all the risks associated with raised androgens and testosterone with a uterus--" She winced. "--is far more important to me that a potential version of myself decades in the future who wants a child."

"Please think on it." He knew he wouldn't, but he nodded and shook her hand.


Alanna was surrounded by piles of textbooks and history books, curled up on George's couch. They had been shopping for most of the day, for books and gemstones, and getting the excessive amounts of paperwork from the local Council to start a formal organisation. George was in front of the stove, humming off-key to the radio.

"George, how did you start your group?" Alanna asked, peering up from under her pile of books. George froze, Katy Perry's voice taking over the apartment. She sighed. "Oh come on, love, I'm not going to call it a 'gang'. And I'm not stupid."

He wiped his hands clean, meticulous and slow. His brow was furrowed, his muscles were tight, tension like knots visible in his neck. "I know you're not... I just... 'group.'" George tried to laugh, but he was too tense for it to sound anything but strained. He came and sat opposite her on the edge of his coffee-table, legs stretched out, cheeks a little flushed. "Hm. Okay. It was Little and me, at first. Ma was in the middle of her breast cancer, I was sixteen. She was dying, I couldn't find a job, she wasn't granted welfare - I wonder why," he said, sarcasm in every note. He tugged on his thick curls and indicated his dark skin at her questioning look.

Alanna moved her books to the floor, and pulled him onto the couch beside her. He kept his distance, though, and remained tense. She put a hand between his shoulder blades and he smiled, kissed her cheek. "So... Little mentioned some fucked, corrupt cop attached to his father, and said it would be easy to knick some cash. So... well, long-story short, I got the money. Ma got proper treatment. We saw the outrage in that administrative circle and so we repeated the task a few times, started renting a flat each, and... well, his friends and my friends were curious. I'm good with liars. I always know when there's something more than what they're saying, so we got some proper people we trust." He took three deep breaths and met her gaze. His eyes had settled back to their cool standard, gold and green threads of light on brown spreading out from his pupils."Set it up from there."

She pushed his hair back from his eyes, and kissed the tip of his nose. She tried to keep her voice soft, joking, and said,  "And when did you become the crime lord you are today?"

George got to his feet and went back to the stove, motion back to fluidity. "Well..." He mulled it over. Alanna didn't know how he had gotten the impression that she would judge him, thought herself better than him, but it was an ongoing issue that managed to break her heart. If anything, she felt unworthy of him. "I finally got my own computer, that helped," he said at last. "I developed a cypher with my cousin Rispah, who is a mathematics genius. I... you're going to laugh."

It was so matter-of-fact that Alanna didn't even question saying, "Yes."

He winced, but his eyes were crinkled up to his temples. "We called it 'the Robin Hood Initiative'."

The laughter swelled in her stomach, and though she tried to hold it back the sweet innocence of such a silly name warmed her. What a ridiculous family, she thought as tears trickled down her cheeks and her stomach muscles ached.

George was watching her with a cocked eyebrow, an incredulous look on his face that hid a grin. "You did say I would laugh," she said through her last giggles.

He let out a long huff of breath. "We think of it as a redistribution of funds." He took the lid off his pot. "Come here, taste this."

Alanna groaned, but did as told. She was tired, but she would do a great many things for George's cooking. "And why do they call you 'highness'?" she asked. "More salt."

"You think salt needs more salt." She stuck her tongue out at him.

"Well, apart from that it's perfect, highness." George kissed her head, and (obligingly) tipped a little more salt in.

"They call me the King of the Thieves." He held back the pride from his voice, but only just.

He kept stirring his rice as she swore at him, and the 'ridiculous nature of the upstanding criminals of society'. She boosted herself up onto his bench, and was at least close to on eye-level with him as she grumbled. He distracted her with another spoonful of food, which he refused to add more salt to.

George filled her in on the nature of his organisation, and what it meant to be a leader. She remained seated on the kitchen bench as they argued about who was more charismatic out of the two of them, and whether 'crime' was a social construct alone or merged with an inherent moral dissonance, and if so, was George the criminal of human morality, or were those he stole from?

That was what Thom entered to, a bottle of wine in one hand and his phone in the other. He ignored their conversation as they ignored him until he had sent a long series of text messages. At that, he tucked the phone into his pocket, placed the wine down next to Alanna, and coughed loudly.

"Good evening," he said, "I brought wine." George didn't turn away from the stove, but he was smiling. Alanna went to ruffle Thom's hair, but he slapped her hand before it reached him. In turn she jabbed his nose with a fingernail.

"Thank you, Thom." He glanced back to see Thom. His face was a little flushed, and he was dressed far more nicely than George had ever seen him. He was wearing a buttoned shirt, a deep navy, that hugged his hips and sides, showed off how slim he was while adding breadth to his shoulders. His jeans were clearly new, too. "How are you?" he asked, as he continued to examine Thom's new attire. His hair was different, his shoulders back, and there was a glimmer of something proud in his eyes that had been gone for months - since his arm was broken, in fact. George, so used to hiding his emotions, knew he didn't have to, but he was aware that he had a hundred questions to ask that he was sure wouldn't be answered.

"I'm good," Thom said. His phone buzzed against his thigh, and his hand flinched towards it, but he focussed himself on George. "And you?"

"Good, good. Food isn't ready yet, sorry, but sit down." George indicated the couch, and as the twins settled themselves he poured them each a glass of wine. "Alanna tells me you have a boyfriend."

"Alanna's a filthy liar," Thom snapped. The woman in question smirked, sipping her wine. His phone buzzed twice more in rapid succession, and his cheeks got hot and red again.

"Who is texting you then, Thom?" Alanna asked, and watched George splay himself across his old armchair, legs off the edge.

Hiding his red face, Thom did open his phone (each text, of course, from Roger), and snapped right back at her. "Your mother, fuck off." George chuckled. Even bickering they grinned at each other. They could match each others' rhythms so well. Even if they weren't near-to identical they had a dynamic like heart rate and blood pressure as soon as they shared a space.

"Roger is very attractive," he chimed in. Thom looked up at him, his chin tilted up, jaw set just a little differently than Alanna's. He was really quite pretty. Not feminine, not quite, but not handsome in the usual way. His hair and eye colour alone made him attractive. Of course, George had never found him personally attractive, as he found Alanna, but it would be silly to deny their resemblance. "And he looks like he'd be really nice, too, but..."

Thom filled in the words for him. "He's a bit of an arse, really. He hides it well, but he's manipulative. Shallow." His eyes were back on his phone, though Alanna was just twitching to take it from him.

"It's good that you know it," said George.

Thom just scoffed. "I'm infatuated, not stupid."

"But I mean, he looks like he'd give really good head, even if he's a bit of an arse."

Thom's cheeks turned crimson, and Alanna kicked George's knee with a half-smile. "Thank you, George, I appreciate your insight." Alanna pulled the phone out of Thom's hand and shoved it down the front of her shirt. He cried out indignantly, but went back to the slow sips of his wine. He limited himself to one standard drink a week (always cautious), due to his liver and being on testosterone, so savoured it when he did drink.

"I'm just putting it out there."

Alanna paused in her chuckling to ask, "Are you queer, George?"

The three of them stilled, in silence for two long seconds. "I-- yes, of course I am." George's eyes had widened, the very image of bewilderment.

"Since when?" Alanna got to her feet, a hand on her hip. He tugged her down onto his lap so that she was on eye level with him, and Thom averted his gaze, but kept listening.

"Birth, probably," he said. He pushed her fringe back out of her eyes, but she looked on with indignation.

"I didn't know that!"

George rolled his eyes and shuffled around so that she was more comfortable, settled over his knees. "Well, I don't think most women enjoy being told about how much you like men mid-relationship."

"I'd be down for that," Alanna said.  

"So are you bi?" Thom asked, braving a look up at them. They were far too cute for a pair of rather stubborn, very powerful individuals, and it made his stomach churn with sibling-disgust.  

"I like the label 'queer'. It's broad enough to not limit. I'm primarily male-attracted--"

Thom made a high pitched noise, caught between a yell and a snort. "And you went for her anyway!" He poked at his own face before gesticulating towards hers. "That's just rude."

"Sorry, darlin', you aren't my type." Both twins raised their eyebrows, a very much identical look of distaste on their faces. "Well... interpersonally." Alanna's brows relaxed, but Thom just huffed again and crossed his arms. "As I was saying, primarily male-attracted. I got a four point five on the Kinsey scale, but I don't put much stock in it."

Alanna shook her head and kissed him swiftly. "We're both queer. That's so nice." She kissed him again, and he hummed through a smile.

"Your rice is burning," said Thom, examining his fingernails.

"No, it's not," George said, just as Thom's phone vibrated in Alanna's shirt. She yelped and almost threw the thing across the room. There was a scuffle as Thom grabbed it from her and clutched it to his chest protectively. George was laughing at the both of them, and Alanna settled back against his rumbling chest. Thom's nose was buried back in his phone. "But yeah, let me know how Roger is in bed."

Thom's hands were shaking, and even past his phone his face and his ears were bright red. "Why are you so invested in this?" His voice shook, too. Alanna was shaking with barely restrained giggles.

"He's hot, Thom!"

"I-- we're not even--"

"Aw, you're such a virgin."

"I hate the both of you."

Despite Thom's hatred and intermittent bouts of bickering about Roger and whether or not he would be 'a giver or a taker' they did have a nice evening. Alanna got rather drunk and told Thom about how much she loved him, and even if she became a vigilante against domestic violence he hoped that he would let her harmonise with him. He sighed, nodded, and stroked her hair as she sung the entire soundtrack of High School Musical. George, of course, analysed them quite thoroughly, then posted photographs to facebook.


7 .00
To: Roger Conté
I thought you might appreciate an email that I was just sent by one of my peers. I've forwarded it to you, but here's the highlight: 'A truly functioning communist society would make both euthanasia and universal lobotomy necessities'.

7.03
From: Roger Conté
My dear Thom, you may have the most peculiar life I've ever known. What was that in response to?

7.08
To: Roger Conté
I argued with one of my lecturers about euthanasia and extending life expectancies - she, claiming that the prolonging of life is only reasonable considering the developing technology, and death is to be avoided at all costs blah blah blah, me arguing that death is not the worst fate one can suffer, and often a life of severe chronic illness or the effects of age are far crueller than death. If a life is prolonged for the sake of a prolonged life it is a waste of thought, energy, and space. I don't quite remember bringing up communism but apparently I did. He's agreeing with me, albeit incompetently and without tact.

9.39
From: Roger Conté
As said: weirdest life I've ever known. We're going to have to disagree on that, though. Prolonging (workable) adult life and decreasing the number of births would mean a more functional society.
But hey, I'm coming into Idaho next week. Do you want to record 'Take Me To Church'?

9.50
To: Roger Conté
And meet. Meeting would be nice. Some promised arguments on ethics. Yes, of course. I'd love that.

10.03
From: Roger Conté
Cool. :)


Buri kissed Alanna when she got off the plane, and it was all Alanna could do to pull her into a hug. She knew as well as Buri did that were circumstances different, with George, with Thayet, with Jon, they would likely be together.They worked well together regardless, a neat balance of similarity and difference, propping each other up. "Thank you for coming," Alanna said at last.

Buri looked tearful, despite her rough demeanour, and she tossed her braids back over her shoulders with a sniff. "Thank you for... letting me."

Alanna didn't know what to say, and shrugged. "Come on, we have a world to change." Arms around each other, each with a suitcase in hand, they went back to Alanna's car and promptly began a scattered conversation about the days ahead of them and ten years ahead of them, and Alanna fell back from the moment of mourning for the hypothetical relationship she may have had with Buri to present tense. She thought over their similarities - the one that jumped to mind was that while they were both bisexual Buri would never enter a long-term relationship with a man, as a political statement, whereas Alanna felt her political statements could be best made with the right person, whoever that may be, beside her. There were too many battlefields for her to fight in all at once. She could take them one by one - even if one of them was paperwork.


KnightlyGinger tweeted: Hey friends, I'm stepping back from music for an indefinite amount of time to work on a new project. That doesn't mean I'm giving it up [1/4]


KnightlyGinger tweeted: entirely but I'm working on something that means a hell of a lot to me. I will still work with @HesitantGinger when he needs me for  [2/4]

KnightlyGinger tweeted: @LIONSBand and he of course will keep posting music (incessantly), but don't expect music from me any time soon. Self defence videos will now [3/4]

KnightlyGinger tweeted: be once monthly, not fortnightly. Annoying tweets will likely be just as frequent. Thank you all for your support. <3 [4/4]


02.00
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Were those tweets physically painful to write?


02.03
To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
Yes.


02.05
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
List the reasons before they grow into poison and you start crying.

02.20
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)

1. I don't like feeling that I owe anyone, even my fanbase, anything. However I have a crushing sense of responsibility and I feel that I am letting them down.
2. I'm scared I'm misplacing my efforts for a variety of reasons, notably that this organisation may not succeed.
3. I don't want to give up music, and I know I'm not, but twitter has this weird sense of finality to it.
4. Buri and I have had a weird few hours in which we have revisited every emotion we've ever felt towards each other. Oh, and she kissed me when she got off the plane. We both know I'm with George and that's pretty final but we don't quite know how to talk to each other yet.
5. I'm scared of change and this is a big one.
6. I love you a lot and I think I'm letting you down and limiting you.
7. I love you a lot and you have bigger and better things to be pursuing than a youtube channel with me. And you can do all of them on your own.
8. They were very sweetly phrased and I am not very sweet.


02.21
To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
And you don't have to respond to any of that.

02.26
From: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
1. I fully recommend following my lead and not giving a shit about anyone but me and you.
2. You're Alanna Trebond, Lioness and Knight of the Realm of Corus, you can do anything.
3. I'll show up in your bathroom while you're showering and sing the entirety of RENT until you join in if I think you haven't sung recently. You know I will.
4. Kissing you was wrong of her. Keep it professional. And get George in.
5. Refer to point 3.
6. Fuck off.
7. Fuck off.
8. They weren't that sweet, your rep's not gone.
9. I love you.

02.29
To: Thom Trebond (ICE 1)
1. I failed with that as soon as I met Jon. There's no going back.
3. Thanks.
4. I know. George is coming over after work tonight. I already told him she kissed me. He said he understood.
8. They hurt, Thom. There was a loveheart and everything.
9. I love you. You should come over before Daine and Numair get here.


 

Veralidaine and Numair showed up the next day, to Alanna and Buri standing in front of a wall covered in post-it notes. Both of them looked sleep deprived, and there was a strong smell of fancy coffee mixed with the bitter stench of instant coffee.

Numair quickly established that the notes on the wall were colour coded: names were pink, each marked with purpose - funding, promotion, potential legal representatives, designers, public relations workers, icons, and those killed or severely affected in domestic violence situations.  Blue were goals. Yellow were potential dates for the openings of defence centres, and offices. Orange were stumbling blocks. Purple were campaign possibilities.

In all honesty Numair had just come off a production of 'Les Miserables' and Daine was taking a gap year before going into university, they wanted a break. Both of them knew the importance of Alanna's cause, and were ready to commit themselves to it, but Numair's power was in his voice, in the way he spoke to people on a stage (or occasionally through social media), his charisma. He didn't know how much use he could be, but he would be it, and he would do whatever Daine needed of him.

She was uncertain about what she wanted to do with her life, but Alanna was like a glowing icon of what it meant to be a well-rounded, powerful woman - and she had never once questioned that Daine was a woman. She was only two years older than Daine, but Alanna represented something true: pride in her womanhood, but more importantly, pride in herself. She had seen Alanna's vulnerability as time went on, brief flashes of fear, but Alannafought. She was a warrior with a woman's pride flag on her shield, and Daine would kill for that type of pride.

The two of them stood in the doorway to the living room watching the two women shuffling around the post-it notes. Behind them was a massive pile of books, and when Alanna took a red pen to the wall itself, the books yelled, "Alanna!"

"Oh fucking shit and fuck."

The pile of books sighed and fell apart before their eyes. Thom's head peaked out from behind the books, and it was he that noticed Daine and Numair. "You have visitors, Alanna." He pushed the books away from him, one by one, and stood. He didn't look quite as sleep deprived as the other two, but there were ink smudges on his face and he looked disenchanted with the books around him, let alone everything else.

"Daine, Numair!" Alanna embraced both of them, red pen still in hand. "How are you both? Thank you for coming."

"I-I'm good," Numair said. "We let ourselves in. I hope that's okay."

"Of course it is. How are you, Daine?"

Daine's cheeks got a little red and she was shaky. "I'm good. Thank you for having us."

Thom stepped out from the books and hugged each of them with a traditional Broadway kiss on each cheek for Numair, and a shy little bob of the head for Daine. She still made him nervous, even though he knew that he made her nervous, too. "Thank you for coming."

"Thom, I saw your cover of 'Pulled', it was incredible. Every time you sing something from a show I want to whisk you away to New York with me," Numair said. "We could do a wonderful Les Mis, I'm just putting that out there."

As Buri was introduced to Daine, Numair and Thom occupied the couch and began talking, rapid-fire, about their musical lives. Alanna sighed, and continued writing on the wall.


Once George and his cousin Rispah had arrived over the next days it was apparent that Alanna's house was too small. Numair and Thom had gone back to Thom's house to his piano and surround speakers, leaving Buri and Alanna in the middle of a heated phone conference with an education officer about appropriate self defence for ten to sixteen year olds, and Daine going through their post-it notes with a silver pen (differentiating from Alanna's red in its corrective purposes). She wasn't always proud but she was quite confident in her analytical skills, particularly when it came to being realistic.

Somewhere between Alanna knocking over her coffee machine in showing Buri a throw and Daine spraining her wrist when she fell over some books Alanna decided that they had to relocate to Thom's place, which was substantially larger than her own, and had whiteboards. She didn't have whiteboards!

So, two days, two all-nighters, four calls with four lawyers, three calls with local councils, two calls with Jon, and five take-out orders later they agreed to a recess from the whole affair. They took turns in Thom's shower ('didn't you book hotel rooms?' he asked to no response), and he and Alanna made a proper breakfast, rather than leftovers. He pushed her to the side of the kitchen, out of earshot of Daine and Numair (feeding each other fruit salad), much to her indignation. "What?" she asked.

"Don't snap at me. You've brought five people into my house uninvited," he snapped. He poked her forehead, and she scowled.

"You have more space than me. It's important to--"

"It's an important cause, yes, yes, that's fine, don't try to guilt trip me." Alanna lowered her eyes in a sweet mockery of guilt. "This is a nice thing! I'm telling you a nice thing because we're siblings! Even when we're working! And I don't have friends so you have to listen to me."

Her eyes sparkled, maybe with sleep deprivation, but maybe because of the rambling and blush on his cheeks. She flailed her hands to hurry up as he rambled, sparing a glance to Daine and Numair, who were entirely oblivious to them.

"Roger's coming into Idaho on Thursday." His whisper was cut off by the choke of his excitement. Alanna giggled.

"You're meeting up with him?"

He nodded vigorously. "Yeah, we're going to... do music. And argue ethics. He's been referencing me on social media, and we've texted each other everyday, and we-- I think we're--"

"Flirting?" she offered as he stumbled through his words. She hugged him just to silence him, stroking his hair. They were uncomfortably cramped up against the cupboard, but he let his body and tension fall against her.

"No, but-- almost flirting. Half-flirting." Thom was shaking, and she kept giggling. She had forgotten all about Roger as soon as Buri had arrived, and she realised that her head-over-heels brother had indeed had his head buried in his phone for the past days whenever he wasn't working.

"'Half-flirting' is flirting, Thom," she told him in a solemn tone. Thom could see Daine and Numair stealing glances towards them, and pulled himself away with a dignified sniff.  

"I'm probably misreading it all, anyway." Alanna shook her head. "But I... I'm really excited to meet him."

"You are so ridiculous." He raised an eyebrow, and went back to cutting fruit and making porridge. "I'm really glad he's coming, Thom. And he is very attractive," she admitted, and stole a strawberry.

He dropped his knife and yanked his phone out of his jeans to present her with a photograph of him. "He sent this to me this morning as a 'look how horrid I look without coffee in me' photo, and--" Thom poked at the picture of Roger's face, as if offended.

"So pretty." Alanna nodded and took the phone from Thom, scrolling through his messages. He didn't bother protesting, knew she would win out in the end. "He is flirting with you. I'm about eighty percent sure."

"To be fair, you are incompetent when it comes to flirting," he reminded her.

"Thank you, Thom, that's kind of you." She kept scrolling. "However, I think that references to Sondheim's 'Losing My Mind' and texts from all hours of the day do imply a little bit more than just friendly attachment."

Daine had vanished while the twins weren't looking, and Numair had come to join them. He coughed and asked, "Are you talking about Roger?" Thom's cheeks went impossibly red. He hated having people in his house. Numair was likely his favourite person in the house, though, and they had worked on several good songs before the rest of them came along, so he fought the urge to snap at him. "He's a nice guy, I like him. We sang together at a tribute concert at the White House a few years ago. Can I have some more strawberries?" Thom scowled and handed a box over to him. "Your voices would be perfect together, now that I think of it."

"My voice is perfect with everyone's," Thom grumbled. He fumbled with his phone when Alanna gave it back to him to turn on some music, but not before double checking that she hadn't done anything embarrassing. It seemed unlikely, however she somehow managed to surprise him, occasionally. But no, she had made a copy of one of Roger's selfies and drawn on devil horns and a French moustache. She grinned at him. He slapped her hand reaching for another strawberry.

"Yes, it is, but he's--"

Thom cut him off, "Let's stop talking about Roger and talk about the sickening sexual assault rates in this country."

"Wow, you're cheery."

Thom stabbed an apple. "Always."


That day was spent on edge, by everyone. Something about seven highly-motivated people being in a house together, with no true 'adult' supervision led to sleepless nights and raised voices and hoarse throats, even in the friendly moments. Thom had taken his guitar up to his bedroom only to be snapped at for bothering the group. Even if it wasn't his house, he would have kept playing, but just because it was he played louder, and wrote an accompanying vocal line on the fly.

While within an hour people were laughing about it he was on the edge of kicking them all out, and yelling at Alanna, he looked at her and his heart ached. She was fighting. She was always a fighter, in a classroom, with their father, with enemies, with friends. She fought. She threw herself into everything she did, which led to varied levels of over-exertion, but always one level. Alanna was fighting for her cause, her productivity, and in a silent sort of way, against Buriram. There was a crackling tension between them, and while Numair put it down to them being too similar but too different, Thom know it was far more complex than that, and from the way George kept his arm neatly around Alanna's shoulders, they knew it, too.

Everywhere was couples. Thom sat with Rispah when he could, George's good-humoured thirty-something cousin, who knew so much about mathematics and computer sciences that she was kicked out of all of her classes for 'bullying the teachers'. They bonded, needless to say. It turned out that she had a bit of a crush on Roger, and that became both a bonding point and an impetus for Thom to ignore her. That was one of the moments that Buri broke, by falling from the rhythm of conversation with a little too much pain in her voice, a little too loudly.

"But-- it defeats the whole learning experience. It needs to be a safe spacefor girls." Thom, Rispah, and George stilled entirely, each in a different way. George leaned forward but his eyes honed themselves on a broader view of the room. His hand, resting on Alanna's knee, stilled in its rotations. Rispah leaned back, her hands curled into fists on her lap ('what even happened to their family?' Thom asked himself), eyes locked onto her key players: Alanna and Buri. Thom froze entirely, but for his roving eyes.

Daine and Numair both had pens in hand, and while Numair kept writing with a furrowed brow, Daine was looking at Buri like she'd never seen tears before, though Thom well-knew that she had.

"Well, maybe we should look at different aspects of the organi--" Alanna said, voice drawn back into cautiousness.

"But this needs to be a unified effort, else it will become a male-dominated space, and unsafe for women, which is against the whole point," Buri said, quite promptly. She glared at Alanna, and was met in kind.

"No, because it needs to be an overall safe-space. In an optimal environment anyone needs to develop the understanding and skills of--" Alanna tried to keep her voice steady, but Thom could see the red rising up the back of her neck and ears.

"Men don't need those skills. Men need to be told to sit down and shut up when women need to learn, need to speak, to be heard." While Thom would usually be thinking through all of the potential ways he could win out in this argument, what Alanna would say, what Buri would say, he was too tired and too aware of the gendered nature of the discussion.

"We can't expect men to learn a skill-set of respect without being taught." George's hand went back to it's slow motion on Alanna’s thigh, but she pushed him off. Thom sighed, and considered making a run for it with his violin, but it was too late. The room seemed too still to check his phone, let alone move. "While in several generations time it would be nice to think that we'll all be born with an inherent skill-set of respect, of basic decency, society hasn't given most of us the education, the socialisation, to develop one! It has to be taught, even if it's non-optimal."

"While I respect the need for men to be given equal opportunity to women, the fact is that men have all the opportunity, the opportunity to educate themselves, women have no opportunity provided to us, from day one, and as soon as men are included in seminars tailor-made to stop the forced subservience of women, we will have lost." Alanna raised an eyebrow, something akin to a grimace on her face. "Yes, I know what 'subservient' means, don't give me that look."

"Buri, you can't honestly believe that. Toxic masculinity--"

"Doesn't have such a high death or rape rate as the fact that four in every five women is sexually assaulted or degraded at some point in her life, arguably five of every five, and three women a day are murdered by a former or current intimate partner." Buri got to her feet, hands on the edge of the table. Alanna paralleled her immediately.

Numair finally looked up, as if he had just been broken from a deep sleep. "Okay, both of you--"

Buri whipped around to face him with fire in her eyes. "Don't you fucking dare, you're proving my point exactly." She looked back to Alanna, gesticulating wildly at Numair. "Even having him and George here makes this space the wrong one for setting up an anti-misogynistic organisation. I refuse to be spoken down to and a topic that's not yours to speak on, Numair."

Alanna paused for a moment, and Thom felt an impending sense of doom set in his stomach. Alanna pausing was somehow more dangerous than working incessantly. "And I note that you don't mention Thom." Alanna said, voice low. He resisted the urge to slap her.

"Don't pick fights--" he began, only for Buri to cut him off. He didn't want to slap her, but yelling seemed just fine.

"No, I don't, because Thom actually gets the bullshit of being shoved to the side, objectified, taken advantage of, looked down on, ordered around, from birth, let alone mid and post puberty, so yes, he joins the girls' team--" He felt his heart race, and it was more like his brain and his emotions fell to the earth before him than his stomach. "--and Daine should stay out of that."

"Don't group me with women, Buri, I'm not at all okay with that." His voice was gravelly, raw, and she didn't look at him.

"Don't call Daine--"  Numair began, but Buri spoke over him,

"Numair and George never will. And don't pull the racism card, I'm just as dark as you two, and you're still both not women, so you fundamentally do not understand sexism."

"Buri, come on. I agree with you, but we all need to--" Rispah tried, she really did, but Buri and Alanna were like magnets and electricity, fire and air, there was no way to get a word in edgewise.

"How dare you? You come into Thom's space - my space - and misgender him, with an assumption of authority based on excluding men, who need just as much education as women." Thom got to his feet and grabbed Alanna, digging his fingers into her palm, only to be pushed backwards. George put a hand on Thom's shoulder, which he shoved off. He walked to the door and threw it open, and the only people who paid attention were the ones he didn't want.

"Oh, shut up, Alanna, this isn't about Thom," Buri said. Well, at least he agreed with that."And it certainly isn't about pandering to men. I respect your sentiment of justice, but what we need is equality. Then comes justice. Men don't need anything just yet. They go to the back of the fucking priority line right now." Her voice was too loud, too strong, and though he didn't think it was possible the two women looked ready to throw punches. It was too much.

"You talk about people talking down to you and somehow manage to talk down to everyone who--"

"Alanna, Buri, get the fuck out of my house!" he yelled.

No-one moved for a long while.

Numair was half reaching for Daine, whose jaw was set and eyes over-bright, but she shook her head, the first to leave. Buri laughed a brief, disbelieving laugh and left right behind her.

George put an arm around Alanna and she pushed him off, glaring at Thom as if it were somehowhis fault that she was misusing him and his home. "I mean it, get out of my house right now, I'm not okay with this taking place here any more." Alanna, too, looked like slapping him, but she picked up her bag and stormed out, crackling like lightning.

Rispah kissed the top of George's head and left with a nod to Thom, who scowled. Her passivity did nothing.

"I'm going home. Do you want to come?" George asked Numair, with his eyes on Thom, as if to apologise for staying back. Thom nodded tersely in recognition and began to tidy the house, switching on all of the lights, shoving things indiscriminately into the trash.

Numair nodded and began to collect his and Daine's things. "Thank you."

"Are you okay, Thom?" George put a hand on his shoulder, and he fought his urge to flinch away again.

"I'm fine. I'm just tired. While I appreciate all of you, and all of your points of view, this is my home, and I refuse to be misgendered and used as ammunition in an argument that I shouldn't even be involved in." George nodded and patted his back. "Thanks, George. Stay away from Alanna for a few hours." He laughed and ran a hand over his eyes, nodding vigorously.

Numair stacked all of the used dishes into the sink. "I might book a conference room once everyone has made nice again," he said. "Business shouldn't take place in anyone's home."

Thom refused to look at either of them. He was too vulnerable, felt too much like the girl of the room in one of the first situations he had actually been in with exclusively other men. "It might take a while to 'make nice'," he said through the lump in his throat.

Together Numair and George opened all the windows and put the fans on, despite not having asked him, and stacked all of the paper's into subject order as Numair spoke. "Onua will be here tomorrow, she'll knock all of us together. Should we... I don't know, step back? All three of us?"

Numair and George did step back, in front of him, both looking guilty. They had just put him in charge, and his heart-rate slowed a little.

He rubbed his temples and nodded with a heavy exhalation. "I think that while you, George, provide valuable insight into actually speaking to a community, and you, Numair, have excellent concepts, it may be best until they've actually locked their ideology in place." He looked around his house, which had only ever had two people in it before, looking dishevelled and in heavy need of vacuuming. He should never have allowed them into his home at such short notice when he was so uncomfortable with it, when they had so little of a 'plan'. It was an important enterprise, but not in his home. "We don't quite have a place yet. And I'd still like you to leave."


12.08
From: Roger Conté
Hey, call me when convenient.


Once George and Numair were gone he slumped down against the wall with his face in his hands. He and Alanna didn't fight, really. They squabbled, they bickered, they occasionally disagreed, but she never used him, she was never not his support person. He just wanted a distraction, something to draw him out of his chest and his own head.

He tuned his violin with the utmost care. He hadn't played enough, despite the violin, a Gliga Vasile, being his most treasured possession, his preference instrumentally. Piano was easier to work around for vocals, and beautiful and challenging and pure, but nothing quite compared to the pressure through his chin, his collarbone, his shoulder, the slide and burn of the strings on calloused fingertips. While Paganini was in his reach, and he did love to brag on his concertos, Vivaldi was his one true love of string composers.

Alanna never could quite understand his love of Vivaldi, nor of the violin, no matter how competent she was with strings. Vivaldi was his. He felt protective over the centuries-dead man, over the open crescendos, the fearless opening bars, the fall into soft notes balanced on the tips of quick fingers, the moments of silence between movements to the break into the next, the way the rain fell in Winter and the fires raged in Summer.

He was lucky to be a vocalist: he could not tire of the Four Seasons as so many violinists had. He could still feel the reverberations of centuries old beauty, alongside the vibrations down into his torso to his legs and feet, in his perfectly silent sanctuary of music. It was enough, the clean white walls, the perfect carpet, the way the notes moved.

Thom still cried that night, hot, heavy tears on his cheeks and lips. Something had broken. With Alanna? Because of Jon? Because of Roger? Because of the people in his home? All four? With himself, even, he felt there was something wrong, or at least, something foreign coiling in him. Everything felt hyper-sensitive, his emotions were sharp stabs through his body. He double-checked all of the paperwork - his last testosterone shot was the same as it always was, down to the preservative, so it couldn't be that. His body felt raw in the same way his first testosterone shots had prompted. He was aware of his movements, his freckles, the deposits of fat on his stomach and thighs, the bits of skin pulling away from his callouses, the slope of his nose between his eyes.

Doctor Rosethorn had been amazed to find that he wasn't showing signs of post-traumatic stress after the attack in Washington, but he remembered that he never was good at talking about his feelings. He might have cut something off. Maybe it was time for it to come back. He didn't like it though. Looking back at his twitter, his text messages, his essays, there was a shift in his language, particularly his emotive language, from January to February, and again since VidCon. He hated it. It was bullshit. The burning of his tears and the tremble in his heart-rate as Idina Menzel's voice soared through his speakers cancelled each other out, and he fell asleep tired and drained, but at least he slept.

The next morning he woke just as tired, and even more vexed, but he went for his run and took his shower, and went back to his violin. His touch softened, movements became less jerky on its strings. He played until his fingers were sore, with the firm knowledge that he had learned this on
his own, and he could apply the same principal to the rest of his life, Alanna be damned.


HesitantGinger tweeted: New song today! I don't know what to call it so I'm just going with 'Ballad to Antonio Vivaldi'.

 

Chapter Text

Ballad to Antonio Vivaldi/Callouses - Thom Trebond

July 23rd by HesitantGinger


The shrill ringing of his phone brought Thom out of the reverie of a series of essays that, while he had started reading them for Alanna, enchanted him with the prose of a novel, and the cold history of the development of the American legal system. He had moved his spare key so that Alanna couldn't find it, and had turned her number to 'silent' on his phone. There were only so many people who called him besides her, and he only just managed to not spill his coffee in reaching for his phone. It was, indeed, Roger, and he remembered-- "Shit! I didn't respond to your text. I'm sorry." 

"That's a lovely opening line." Roger's laugh was vibrant, and Thom's cheeks went back to their strawberry pink. "But no, it's okay. You sound busy, so I just wanted to ask you if you would be willing to be an opening act for the two shows in Idaho."

Thom had been hoping that Roger would ask him just that, but he hadn't wanted to get his hopes too high. "That would be... really cool, actually. Thank you."

"I'll get my agent to send through a contract. It's pretty simple, but a precaution I've been told never to take risks with." Thom nodded to himself and jotted down on a piece of scrap paper to differentiate between his and Alanna's tax file and social security numbers. His stomach churned - he was still listed as female on most of his papers. The hysterectomy would leave him viable to be marked as 'male', at last, but it felt too late.

He shook himself out of it. "Of course. What should I prepare?"

"A fifteen minute set, preferably original songs."

Again, he jotted down a list of songs he could use, reminding himself to look at Roger's setlist. "Done. Thanks, man."

"A pleasure. Thank you."

He bit the inside of his mouth, and said, "It'll be... good to meet you." Such a simple statement left his heart racing, but he had wanted to say a hell of a lot more. It was so fucking illogical. He had never met the man, didn't really know him, but the affection he felt was flooding through him, to the way he thought and played and went about his day.

"You, too," Roger said, and his voice was softer, dropped just a little. He chuckled before he said, "I'm still holding out on a promise for a conversation on the ethics of cannibalism."

Thom laughed, and his throat unclenched. "I don't like to think that there are 'winners' in conversations, but after three years with a lecturer who did all of his major projects on cannibalism, I think that I can hold up my end. Why did you mention cannibalism initially?" he asked. It had been a very odd sort of conversation starter.

"Oh, you referenced Hannibal Lecter on twitter. That line of 'eat the rude' was one of my uncle's catchphrases when Jon and I were growing up. I... appreciated it, on the show, despite not being particularly invested in it."

Thom snorted in an entirely undignified way. "Oh, that makes so much sense for Roald."

"He's impeccable, in terms of manners, and enforced the same on those around him." There was a level of whine in Roger's voice, that spoke of time sent to a naughty corner, bed without dessert, slapped hands, harsher words than a child could understand. Roger's parents were dead, Thom remembered. Roald was the head of his childhood household.

"To be fair, I think it's familial," Thom said, just before his pause became awkward. "Jon can be an arse, but he's always polite about it."

"True. I-- oh!" There was a scuffle and echoing voices. "I have to go, we haven't done the tech run yet. I'll text you," he said, words tenser, more clipped than they were before. Thom wondered if their conversation had been private before.

"Okay. I hope the show goes well."

Roger paused, and Thom imagined (for he knew there was no way he could know) that he was smiling. "Thanks. See you."



The Special Two - Missy Higgins cover - Alanna Trebond
July 24 by KnightlyGinger

I guess I lied about new music, but this'll be the last for a long while.


Alanna was slouching over the edge of the front desk of the hotel Kel's parents had considered most appropriate, and though she wasn't 'glowering', per se, the staff looked disconcerted nonetheless. She was in charge of triple checking everything, and while she thought children were over policed, she took the trust that Kel's parents had put in her seriously.

George had his back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest. He tugged absent-mindedly at a curl that kept falling into his eyes. It was too damned hot for long hair, he decided.

Alanna let out an irritated sigh. The desk worker paused in her typing long enough to glare. "If you just talked to him--" George started.

"He's not answering his phone." He raised an eyebrow, and she jutted her chin. "I don't want to give him the satisfaction of begging; I hurt him, but I was justified, and he knows it." That stubborn chin of hers shook slightly, and George touched her shoulder.

"No, he doesn't." He pushed her hair back from her forehead. "And you know it. You used him as ammunition in a way that wasn't even relevant. You could have brought up your father hitting him, but you used his minority status instead."

"I posted a song to say 'sorry'!"

George coughed and straightened his back, "'Blaine, I sang you a song to express my apology'," he said in a lofty tone.

"'Regrets'," Alanna murmured, voice small.

"What?"

"The line. It's 'regrets', not 'apology'."

George snorted. "Way to divert, darlin'." She chuckled and kissed his knuckles on her shoulder. "Just talk to him. Harass him or he'll never leave the house again, and he's pale enough already." She nodded and looked at him, really looked, and went a deep red at the look on his face, the kind of soft and unbreakable devotion that poems were written about.

She was beyond relieved when the clerk said, "So, an unlisted booking for two weeks under the name Keladry Mindelan, access to Ilane and Piers Mindelan, and Alanna Trebond. Her room's just under two security cameras, and everything but the bar is open to her. You get called if she's not back every night by midnight, unless you inform us otherwise."

"Great, thank you." Details about key cards and booking times were exchanged, the clerk made a vaguely perturbed comment about how odd all of their names were, and Alanna text Ilane and Piers with a flutter of excitement in her chest. She couldn't quite believe that they had trusted her with their child, but they knew the Conté family and of her father, and from her conversations with both of them, Kel spoke about her incessantly. It was as terrifying as it was flattering. She still didn't feel quite 'role model' worthy.

It was too hot, really, to have George's arm around her, but she couldn't bring herself to push him off. He knew her too well, too intimately, and she couldn't cope with the way that he scared her and comforted her. Unlike Jon, who felt like slotting back into a puzzle piece, George was foreign and beautiful and just perfect enough, crime lord or not.

She was so lost in thought that she didn't notice the man approaching them, furrowed brow and hands slightly forward as if in a peace offering. George's fingers curled into her waist, face perfectly blank. "Excuse me, miss." That was a bad start, in her books. She eyed the man. Thirties or early forties, blonde curls, cargo shorts and t-shirt. She or George could take him in a fight, but he wasn't aggressive - that bothered her even more, he might be asking for her time or her thoughts, effort. "Miss, I'm so sorry, but is he bothering you?"

George almost laughed. She could feel it, it was the vindictive, horrified-but-not-surprised laugh that had long ago become his response to racism. "You're disgusting," she said. "Oh my god, is it because he's a foot taller than me, because his eyes are hazel, or because his shirt's white? What's your reasoning?" She almost felt bad for the man as he spluttered. Almost. "Try questioning your racist ideologies and looking at crime rates relating to race, and apologise to him."

His apology came out like splinters, he was red-faced with rage and shame, and she was vindictively pleased when George lowered his head and fluttered his eyelashes, said nothing. She tugged his hand and they turned the other way. He broke down giggling. "It's good to know I have you to defend my honour."

"I'm going to kick someone's arse," she said determinedly. "How dare he?"

"There's smoke coming out of your ears." He tried to keep a straight face, but his lip was quirking. She kicked his ankle and he cackled. "Let's get milkshakes and talk about Thom." She groaned, but nodded, and kissed his shoulder all the same.


Conté

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

This article is about the model and singer Roger Conté. For the former President of the United States see Jason Conté Sr., for the presidential candidate see Roald Conté, for the former Minister of Foreign Affairs see Jason Conté Jr., for the social media icon and son of Roald Conté, Jonathan Conté, youth worker and fashion designer Lianne Conté, and past politicians of the same name see Conté Family.

Roger Jason Elias Conté (born 17th February 1990, age 25), better known by his mononymous stage name Conté, is an American model, singer and songwriter.

He was born and raised in Washington DC, by uncle Roald Conté alongside cousin Jonathan Conté, and has been touring since 2014. He has a substantial fan-following on YouTube, and has released three EPs since 2010. Three songs, notably 'Tainted' (2013), came to number one on American music charts. His first album, Conté, is due for release on the 23rd of October, 2015. The first single 'Portrait' (July 5th) currently holds the number one spot on American, British, and Australian charts.

He received his bachelor's degree in Political Sciences from Yale University in 2010, and achieved the highest mark of his graduating year. He is openly bisexual.

Early life

Conté was born on the 17th of February, 1990, to Jason and Joanna (nee Fletcher) Conté. His mother died during the birthing process, due to blood clotting. His father took his own life (see: Suicide of Jason Conté) when Roger was three years old, citing the grief of losing his wife in his suicide note. Roald, his father's brother, adopted him, alongside wife Lianne. Their son, Jonathan, was born soon after Roger's adoption, and they were raised as brothers in the Conté mansion in Washington DC.



Thom felt too guilty to continue reading. He had once heard Jonathan say to Gary 'friends don't read friend's Wikipedia pages', and he felt that it was for fair reason. He liked information, liked knowing things. He didn't understand hiding accessible information. But he couldn't bring himself to scroll down any further.

However, out of curiousity, he examined his own - 'his' was shared with Alanna. Somehow that seemed brutally offensive - they also cited her as the older twin, entirely falsely, and referenced him at various points with his old name. He edited it himself, but didn't have the energy to make his own page.

He spent the rest of the day ignoring Alanna's texts and perfecting a set-list for Roger's show. He didn't want to stress too much, but fifteen minutes had to be refined - his own hour, two hours, could be loose, not fit together. Those fifteen minutes had to be right. He didn't know what was appropriate. Roger's setlists were highly varied, (or so hours on YouTube told him) big ballads and upbeat pop numbers alike. He felt like his songwriting was still like a framework - which was ridiculous, because his compositions were incredible, his lyrics were decent, but he felt there was too much movement, style-wise. He didn't like the confinement that genres could force on artists, but he knew he wasn't marketable just yet.

The brief discussions he had undertaken with agents, managers, even booking venues, they wanted him to have something apart from string instruments in alternative pop/rock to be his trademark. They wanted him to have love songs.

He didn't 'do' love songs. He didn't have a love interest to be singing about, and unlike Sara Bareilles he had no irony left in him. He had an angsty break-up song written on Alanna's behalf, more anger than love, and 'Too Far', a hypothetical exploration of being in love with someone. He was never fond of it, but it made his fans incredibly happy.

Roger opened with 'Priorities' or 'Golden' most of the time. Upbeat, a tad existential, turning to love songs directed to someone of ambiguous gender, floating from there. If he matched the fragile passion of 'Golden', even if Roger went with 'Priorities', he would be showing a great craftmanship on stage.

He was scribbling on a piece of tattered paper, a list forming:

1. Skin
2. Rooftop
3. Force of Hand
4.

Outgoing call: Roger Conté

"Thom, hi--"

"Roger, what's wrong with this song?"

"It's too low. Bring it up a tone, and the chorus will soar rather than fall flat."

"Cool, thanks."

Call ended

"Fuck." Thom dropped his capo.

Outgoing call: Roger Conté

"Sorry, that was rude." He didn't think Roger minded 'rude', not really, not from him, but he felt a spark of guilt all the same.

Roger chuckled, "A bit."

Thom felt his cheeks go red, and thought about Alanna - how dare she share his face? - and just how marked her blushing was. "I trust you won't eat me for it." He tried to mimic Roger's tone, the implied laughter when he wasn't laughing. He was so caught up in that laugh that he didn't quite realise the innuendo until it was too late, and he was chuckling shyly, too.

"I suppose I can make an exception to the rule." He said it like it was a deep hardship, but Thom could hear his smile. He didn't know that could happen.

"How are you?"

"I'm well, thank you. What's that song called?" Wasn't it rude to not ask how someone was in turn? Was there a hand-book of rudeness? Thom needed it, if there was. But no, he was sick of acting like someone else, like someone who cared about such things.

His tongue almost stumbled saying, "'Too Far'."

"'Closer than too far'... it's pretty, I like it. You should call it 'Closer Than Far', though. Or... 'Closer Than Too Far Away', but that's a bit of a mouthful."

"Coming from the man who brought us 'I Told You We Were Magicians'."

He could hear people in the background laughing, and thought about those massive tour buses. He didn't think he could deal with that many people living with him. Roger scoffed. "It flows better. Are you playing 'Closer Than Far' as my opening?"

"Yes. Thanks for naming my song. Does this D-minor fit?" He played the chord barred, glared at his capo on the floor. "And I know this fight is a loss to begin with..."

"It fits, but maybe... touch the bass F before switching to the G. Did you write it to parallel 'Golden'?"

Thom's stomach turned and his cheeks were so hot. "You wish. I wrote it years ago. But... I'm reworking it with the awareness of both 'Golden' and 'Priorities'."

"It's good. The lyrics are... very..."

"Naive, childish, bad. Yes, I know." He hadn't meant to play it to Roger, it just happened.

"They're naive, yes. Some of the rhymes are childish. Send the words and a recording to me?"

"Yeah, sure." There was a beat of silence, and he felt like Roger's voice was caught, reverberating in his ears.

"Hey, let's make a deal." Thom hummed. "I'll write a song for your voice, write one for mine."

Thom let there be silence. Sometimes Jon said things that were perfectly innocuous, but couldn't be denied. Roald did it sometimes, too. It was like their words were reaching, and claiming whoever they spoke to. Apparently, it was genetic. "This is a test of worth," he said. He knew it was true.

"You..." Was that anger? Frustration? Amusement?

"Don't care for subtlety," Thom finished for him.

Again the other man laughed like it was the only thing he wanted to do. "Well, yes, it is."

"Well, at least you're honest. Challenge accepted. Time limit?"

"We'll both have songs ready for each other when we meet."

Thom liked this challenge. "You've become my tool of procrastination with essays, thank you."

"Honestly I'm sort of amazed that I even graduated. I did everything the night before it was due." It was a lie, Thom was sure of it, at least in part. Picking liar from truth-teller was the only decent skill his father had taught him.

"And you came top of your year group."

"Top of any year group in three years," Roger corrected him gently, but there was a clear edge of pride. There should have been - even Thom hadn't succeeded that highly.

"You're the ultimate procrastination success story."

"True. You kno--"

"Sorry, someone's at the door - I'll call you tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Have a good night."

"You, too."



Thom's door made impressively loud crashing noises. He couldn't say it was a drawing attraction of the building, but it sure did contribute to his appreciation of the place. "Fuck off, Alanna." Her name sounded really nice with a banging door. They went hand in hand, really, discord and Alanna.

"Stop being a brat and talk to me." He had his back to the door, but he stayed there. He didn't like fighting with Alanna, every time it felt like he was seeing in double vision and he couldn't pick out what was real. That was over-attachment with a neglectful parent, he supposed.

"What an inspired line."

"Your petulant brattiness is about as inspired as a rewrite of Hamlet, let me in, Thom." He sighed and opened the door. He knew that she was sick of the comparison, but she was a Joan of Arc, small and righteous and looking on the verge of bursting into flames most of the time. The sun behind her golden hair didn't help. She shoved past him. "Thank you." She stormed through to the kitchen, where a bag of chocolate still lay. "Have you eaten at all in the past week?"

He scowled and boosted himself up on the edge of the kitchen counter. Alanna was making use of his coffee machine. It was fair enough, considering how rarely he used it, but it was still annoying. "You know I have. I think you have something to say."

"Have you eaten a vegetable, at all?"

"I ate broccoli the other night, as you'll recall."

"Meat?"

"No."

"Protein?"

"I ate seed bread with peanut butter. You were saying?"

"Peanut butter and bread are not adequate protein sources." The only person he knew more stubborn than himself was Alanna. At least he had learned the art of raising an eyebrow. He was considering learning make-up things just to emphasise his eyebrows, as Alanna and Daine did. "Fine! Fine, Thom, I'm sorry."

"What for?" he asked, and she almost broke the mug slamming it down on the counter.

"For using your home without content, and misusing your minority status in an argument that had nothing to do with said minority status." She looked ready to swallow her tongue.

"Did you rehearse that or just echo George?"

"Fuck off, Thom, can't you just-- get over it?"

"No!" He swung himself over to the other side of the counter, dropped to his feet, drew his shoulders back. When she had shoes on he wasn't really taller than her, but he liked to pretend. "It was wrong! What happened to your self-righteous, Gryffindor bullshit?" Sometimes their arguments ran on autopilot. He was fully aware that he was three quarters of the way to forgiving her, but he wanted the satisfaction of winning, or more, of her not winning.

Alanna stepped out of his way. "Shove your sass up your arse, Thom, I'm sorry. I was angry. I had a point." She was rifling through his fridge with distaste, the tension in her arms giving away that it was more of a distraction than a real search for milk.

"I was not part of that point, nor should Daine have been. Daine's inclusion should have been sign for the conversation to stop, not for me to be made ammunition in a half-lust half-competitive bullshit storm!"

"'Bullshit storm', what a genius you are." He scoffed. "Thom! I've said 'sorry'! I'll buy you more chocolate, will that help?"

The coffee machine started beeping. He glared at it, in the abstract hope that it would shut up. "I haven't eaten any of the chocolate, so no. 'Sorry' isn't good enough until you acknowledge that it was wrong."

"I'm sorry that you're hurt!" She slammed the fridge shut, milk in hand. She somehow managed to make it look like a mighty weapon, a statement of power. He was too used to it to care and took it from her with a heavy exhalation. It was out of date by a week.

"You're shit at this," he said lightly, and threw the milk in the bin. She groaned, and stared at him until he met her gaze.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, okay?"

There was a long silence, interrupted only with the coffee machine beeping. "You're not a Gryffindor," Thom said, and that was all he could muster. "You're too committed to the end product. That's a Slytherin trait."

"I'd say I'm a Hufflepuff, but--"

"Hard working and loyal, sure, but Hufflepuff just isn't dramatic enough. You're either Slytherin or Gryffindor." He tossed her a frozen box of milk and switched off the coffee machine. "You've got ambition and determination, and courage and bravery. They cross over too much."

"I look better in red and gold," she said, "so I'll stick with that." They went through Thom's fridge, throwing out everything that had passed its use-by date, then Alanna took great satisfaction in buying him dinner.

(They decided that Thom was a Slytherin or a Ravenclaw, and that Alanna was anything but a Ravenclaw. It took several hours, with no real conclusion.)


0 6.08
From: Roger Conté
Make the bridge acapella, or hit the wood of the guitar on the beat.


07.13
From: Roger Conté
Replace 'and if you'll comply I swear I will try my best to make this work out right' with
'if you'll take my hand I swear I will fight to be with you, be with me tonight'
You're taking out the force of 'comply' and putting it to a less aggressive use. 'Work out right' is as we discussed, childish.

10 .03
To: Roger Conté

I think it's a sign of trust that I've given you Too Far, tbqh. Thanks. It has such an odd history for me that I've been unable to modify it for good, no matter how many times I try.


11
.31
From: Roger Conté
'tbqh'. The first abbreviation you use with me and it's got an extra word in it.

11.32
To: Roger Conté
I of course have to set myself apart from the masses. Thoughts?
[too far / closer than far.mp3]

12.11
From: Roger Conté
Much, much better. Bass and drums? You don't drum, do you?

12.12
To: Roger Conté
No, I don't. I'll hire someone.

 



RogerConte tweeted: I'm sure this counts as blackmail of some sort but @HesitantGinger has a song coming out called 'Closer Than Far', you'll all love it.

@RogerConte He ships it almost as much as we do, lbr
@RogerConte WHAT TYPE OF BLACKMAIL WHAT?
@RogerConte omg long-distance relationship song? omg omg omg

@RogerConte ...does he mean 'Too Far'? Which Thom posted two years ago? Conte, you're officially a fake fan.


12 .14
To: Roger Conté
You're so obnoxious even I am impressed.

12.15
From: Roger Conté

<3 <3
You can use my drummer if you'd like.

Thom made a face that Alanna would have labelled as his 'scheming' face, but he would (more accurately) call it his 'considering how to exercise the hypotheticals of knowledge and possibility' face, but he did respect that it was a tad wordy. He didn't like the pink tinge that dominated his cheeks when he talked to Roger. He didn't like butterflies. He didn't like his stuttering heart. In the same stroke, he liked the way he felt awake when he talked to Roger. The pink and the fluttering bodily sensations were powerless pains, but the way he felt when Roger said his name or praised him, or just spoke about something they both knew, it was like a new part of his brain waking up.

He'd watched romcoms, seen every season of Glee, heard every tacky love song and even some untacky ones, read most of Shakespeare's collected works, was rather fond of Jane Eyre, but he never understood - judged the lovers, most of the time, and their irrational decisions. He could put himself in a vaguely romantic headspace when he needed to cover a love song, sure, but it wasn't the same as knowing. No-one ever told him about feeling tapped in, like an excellent lecture but with feelings. Maybe it was friendship, maybe. He didn't think so.

God, the people online were already shipping he and Roger and they'd never met. It repulsed him, the invasion, but on the other hand he couldn't unthink Alanna grumbling about flirting and that Roger was flirting with him. Did he even want to be flirted with, if it meant his racing heart kept racing and he stumbled in his speech? Particularly by someone like Roger, just as deeply fragmented and manipulative as he was whole and brilliant?

12.19
To: Roger Conté
That's a few weeks away and I'm impatient, but thanks.

12.20
From: Roger Conté
It's next week.

12.21
To: Roger Conté
Fuck.

12.23

To: Roger Conté
Sorry, I was entirely aware of that, I'm just bad with the concept of time.

12.37
From: Roger Conté
All good. It'll be good to meet you. I'm astonished by how many times we almost-did but just-didn't.

12.39
To: Roger Conté
It's bizarre, right? What would you do if I called the song 'Too Far'? 'Closer than far' as a lyric only appears twice, it seems disingenuous.

12.42
From: Roger Conté
'Closer than too far away' = clunky

'Too Far' = gives no idea of what the song is about

'Closer Than Far' = delicate with an implication of a love song

12.43
To: Roger Conté
I'll think on it. And yes, using your drummer would be good. Thanks. I'm going to sleep, but I'll talk to you later.

12.43
From: Roger Conté

Have a good night. :)


Outgoing call: Alanna Trebond


"Thom, what's wrong?"

"It's not that late. I just wanted you to know that your cover of 'The Special Two' was flawed and I loved it."

"Fuck off, Thom."

"Fuck yourself, Alanna."

 

Call ended


When George woke it was with Faithful on his chest and a significant lack of Alanna. Faithful was warm and his chest was rumbling, violet eyes half-closed. There was sunlight through the blinds, but only just. Alanna's side of the bed was cold. He knew she'd be nearby, he just liked waking up to her. Liked seeing her half-asleep, hair a mess and voice scratchy with the remnants of dreams. "Where's your lady, Faithful?" Faithful said nothing, but there was a yell of 'fucking hell!' from out the window. 


The cat fell from George's chest with an indignant meow, but he didn't have time to scratch the man as he had already shoved aside the blinds, opened the window, and dropped and rolled to the ground outside. "Why the fuck can he do that like it's normal?" A small headrush disoriented George, but that was certainly Buri's voice. And indeed, once his head stopped spinning, Alanna and Buri stood side-by-side in tank tops and sweat, both out of breath.

"Poverty, institutionalised racism, a moral compass. The latter leading to a life of questionable legality," Alanna said. She smiled at George, and she almost looked shy. Buri looked tense, but she smiled anyway. "Sorry, love, I didn't want to wake you unnecessarily."

"How long have you been down here?" he asked.

"Two hours?" Alanna asked Buri, who nodded and hummed. "You didn't break anything, then?" There was laughter in her voice as she pointed to her window.

"No, but I think I owe Faithful an apology and some fish." Alanna snorted and embraced him quickly, sweaty as she was. He kissed her hair. She had made it clear things were okay with Buri, and the other woman had already gone back to stretching. "I'm going to go make breakfast." He paused for a moment. "And coffee."

"We'll be in in just a minute. I'd love coffee."

"Alanna's teaching me this throw--!"

"Oh yeah, George, help me demonstrate!"

George told himself to accept the oncoming pain without protest.



Buri was in the shower upstairs, George chopping potatoes while Alanna scrolled through her twitter feed. "So... what happened with Buri?" Alanna cocked an eyebrow without raising her head. "Come on, I think I'm allowed to know."

"She showed up at five at the front door in training gear and we pummelled each other for a while. Now we're fine."

"And?"

"'And' nothing. There's only so much that either of us could say, so all we said was that we're going to realign our mission statement once Keladry is here, and next time we'll negotiate on more than an hour's sleep." George handed her a steaming mug of coffee, but she put it straight on the table. "I'm keeping you, okay?" Alanna said. She tangled her fingers through his hair, and pulled him down to kiss him. His hands framed her face and neck neatly, his callouses made her skin tingle. She smiled against his cheeks as she said, "But you really need to work on your reflexes, you're so out of shape." He groaned and went back to making breakfast as she cackled.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

07.13
To: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

Why 'The Special Two'?

07.30
From: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

You've always wanted me to do that song.

07.31
To: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

No, ---I--- always wanted to do that song. How dare you imply that I'm NOT the fuck up sibling?

07.34
From: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

Oh. I fucked up hence was the fuck up sibling? Plus she's an incredible woman. Women artists are sort of my thing as you'll recall.

07.38
To: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

Yes, I recall. Please note that I am the fuck up sibling.

07.42
From: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

Can't we both be the fuck up sibling? I don't want the responsibility of not being the fuck up.

07.45
To: ICE 1 - Alanna Trebond

No.


Incoming call: Roger Conté

"Roger, it's three in the morning. Are you okay?" The galaxy on his ceiling cast a soft light over his room, but the light still felt too strong. He wanted to sleep. He had stayed up late with an assignment the night before, then stayed up even later that night with score in front of him at the piano. He had found that he couldn’t listen to music much, he needed to write and keep writing until he had no choice but to sleep.

"Shit, it's three? I'm so sorry, I'll--" Thom knew, though he didn't know how, that Roger well-knew the time. He breathed through his teeth, and balanced his butterflies and his annoyance. He sat up against the headboard and rested his phone on his knee, and he could just see himself in the mirror on the other side of the room. He didn’t like himself very much.

His response was awkwardly delayed, and he knew it, but it was almost four. "No, it's okay. What's wrong?"

Roger’s breath stuttered, and his voice fell in both pitch and volume. What a terrifyingly close voice he had. "Nothing, I just-- wanted to tell you that someone in the audience asked me to play one of your songs tonight." Thom’s brow furrowed.

"Really? I'm not as famous as you. Which one?"

Roger chuckled. He could hear the vestige of a party or the some-such in the background, and the idea that he could be someone’s half-drunk call made him dizzy. "'Five a.m.'."

"That's... odd."

"I'm sorry in advance if I got any of the lyrics wrong."

Thom fought a yawn, but his smile hurt his cheeks. "You actually knew it?"

"I... yeah. I bought all of your singles when we started talking. 'Five a.m.' is sort of my shower song." Thom was still pissed at being woken, but god, that voice could render him into a blushing mess whether at three p.m. or three a.m.. “I hope that’s okay.

"I-- sorry, yeah, of course. I was just surprised. Thank you.” He paused to gather his thoughts. A losing battle. “Really, thank you. I'll be interested to see what you did with it."

"Not much. Guitar, a tone down. I do love the song." Thom yawned, embarrassingly loudly, and Roger chuckled. "Sleep well, Thom."

He settled himself back under his blankets. "Sleep well, Roger."

 

3.59
From: Roger Conté

Your Idaho-boy accent is stronger when you’re tired. Sorry again, but can’t say I regret it.

8.03
To: Roger Conté

You fuck right off, East Coaster.

8.06
From: Roger Conté

Don’t worry, it’s cute.

8.08
To: Roger Conté

Well yours isn’t, don’t fight dirty.

8.10
From: Roger Conté

<3 <3


 Alanna was awake at six the day that Kel was to arrive. George had raised an eyebrow at her when she asked ‘Should I put child gates on the stairs? Do I need to cover the knives?’. While she did neither, she did almost everything but. She was beyond aware that Kel was competent, and unprecedented in her maturity, but she’d never had anyone in her care, let alone someone who was still, legally, a child. She didn’t understand how this girl could mean so much to her. She was incredible, yes, and she adored Alanna, yes, but there were lots of girls like that. Maybe it was the ways that she was different to Alanna, yet they were a united front. Raised with the beliefs that Alanna defiled and then fought for – the intersectional feminism that was functional directly and in the long term. Kel breathed in impurity and breathed out liberation, and all the while she stayed gentle.

Maybe Alanna just liked her, but she had an overwhelming capacity for reading into things. She looked at Thom sometimes and wondered how he managed to remain passive. Sure, he was altruistic, and in theory an activist, but he didn’t care for focusing on social justice. How he progressed that way alongside her, especially as a trans man, she didn’t know. She wasn’t sure she wanted Kel and Thom to meet – which was ridiculous, of course they would, and of course it would be a good thing, but it felt like an overlap of clashing colours, like they couldn’t quite exist in the same universe.  

She didn’t know if George should be there when Kel first came over. The mess of the meeting at Thom’s house made the concept of having anything to do with this damned organisation in a home terrifying. She and Buri did make it up, but everything felt vulnerable – breakable. Everything was new and she really had no idea what she was doing. Ilane had asked in a perfectly well-meaning email who their solicitor was. She promptly acquired one, and said solicitor confirmed that Alanna had no idea what she was doing. Kel was the core of everything.

And so, Alanna, sipping at a frapuccino and checking her watch everything thirteen seconds or so, stood waiting for Kel’s plane. She had sorted all of the schematics and notes and plans into folders, made copies of everything, and distributed them to all involved – including Onua, who had arrived the day before - as well as keeping three in the room which she’d booked out indefinitely at some obnoxious highrise building. She so wanted Kel to approve.

Kel was dressed in an olive green dress, the same colour as her backpack. She was so bloody tall. She looked drowsy, but Alanna noted that the size of both her eyes and eyelashes gave her that tendency. Alanna didn’t want to make a fuss of herself, didn’t know if she should hug her. Kel gave her a shy smile, but said nothing as she came to her side.

“Hi, how was your trip?” Alanna was tripping over her tongue.

“Good, thank you.” Kel didn’t look awkward. In fact, she looked perfectly calm and grounded, and Alanna had no idea what to do with that. She gesticulated vaguely at the baggage pick-up, and they walked together in silence. She gave Kel the opportunity to stop her, but was pleased to be able to take her bag for her. Something she could do.

They walked well together. Alanna wasn’t sure if Kel was slowing herself down to keep pace with Alanna’s tiny blood legs or not, but they kept good time. “So, we’ve booked out a room in some fancy office building, but when it’s not all of us my house is base of operations.”

“Who makes up ‘we’? Sorry, I should know, but--”

“Oh! No, no, I should have told you. Well, my right hand woman is Buriram Tourakam, who… well, you might have heard of her.” Kel gave a small nod, but Alanna chose to clarify anyway. In Kel’s shoes she would probably pretend to know. “Her family was from Myanmar, and served the Wilima family, which leads to our next member, Thayet Wilima, the daughter of Kalasin Wilima, who was… coerced into a marriage with an American gang member, and famously killed herself publicly fifteen years ago. Buri’s family sacrificed themselves to give Kalasin the opportunity to make her death mean something, rather being just another covered up gang suicide.” She kept a close eye on Kel – her brow was wrinkled, but she didn’t seem distressed. Just meditative. “It’s a miracle that both of the girls survived. Thayet’s in Canada with her paternal grandparents, who are, surprisingly, not evil and actually quite endearing in that ‘doddering old people’ way. We’ve only got her through phone, but she’s still very much present. You’ll really like Buri. If you’re intimidated by Thayet just remember that all she wants in life is a pet monkey.” She elbowed Kel, smiled up at her. It still helped her, really. Kel did grin. “There’s my brother, Thom.” She didn’t bother with an explanation, and she was both horrified and amused to see Kel’s cheeks go pink. “Onua Chamtong, trained as a cop, promptly gave it up to work in security for women’s shelters and the such. She already likes you, and you’ll like her. She’s an incredible woman. Veralidaine Sarrasri, an immigration rights advocate, and a trans woman noteworthy in law reform.” She paused, “Your Dad knows her, I think.” 

“Yeah,” said Kel. “I’ve seen her before. She’s cool.”

“We’ve also got her husband, Numair Salmalin, who… well, he’s a brilliant advocate but he’s primarily a musical theatre actor. I’m not sure if he’s… committed to it apart from supporting us.” She grinned as they got into an elevator. “He’s a good boy, knows when it’s not his place to speak. As is my partner, George, who keeps me level-headed.”

Kel’s lip twitched. “Is he the one who made a pun about you being described as a ‘tomboy’, when the whole point is that you are neither Thom or a boy?”

She chuckled and nodded, hoisting Kel’s suitcase up over her shoulder. It was almost as tall as she was. “That’s him. He’s a bit of a loser, I’ll warn you.”

When they finally got back to Alanna’s house, after dropping off Kel’s bags at the hotel, and an intermittently awkward car trip, Kel came to the firm conclusion that whether or not George was a loser, he was beautiful nonetheless. Alanna wondered how his ego didn’t explode with Kel, Daine (who was married) and god-knows who else infatuated with him, but she found it endearing nonetheless, Kel barely managing to avert her gaze from his most charming smile.

“Oh! Before I forget, I got you something.” She took a rectangular box from her windowsill and presented it to Kel. She murmured a thank you as she pushed aside the tissue paper. An olive green shirt, the same as her dress, with the words ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ printed on the front. She looked up with a curious kind of awe in her eyes.“It’s all ethically sourced, all proceeds to a chain of women’s homes,” Alanna said with a smile. “I saw your protestations on twitter a while ago,” she admitted.

“Thank you.” Kel hugged it to her chest. She wasn’t quite smiling, but there was a dusting of colour over her cheeks.

“Well, uh, Buri, Daine, and Onua are waiting for us, I just thought you should see my house. You ready?”

“Yeah.”


 12.10
To: Roger Conté

If I give up sociology/being an academic arsehole at the end of this year do you think it’s worth pursuing music further?

12.32
From: Roger Conté

Why did I read that in the tone of a particularly existential tumblr post?

12.36
To: Roger Conté

I AM a particularly existential tumblr post. Also please don’t take that question seriously I’m just freaking the fuck out in true tumblr fashion.

12.37
From: Roger Conté

In the little time I’ve known you I’ve been impressed by your intelligence and comprehensive analysis of thought in and of itself, let alone anything else. Quite honestly, though, I feel that you’ve got what you can out of guided education. I sure had by the end of my first degree, let alone a second. Even in music I think that getting a degree would drive you mad. I think you’re more than capable of pursuing music full time.

And here you’ve gone and told me not to take it seriously.

12.38
To: Roger Conté

Now I’m just embarrassed.

12.40
From: Roger Conté

Don’t be. What happened?

12.42
To: Roger Conté

Nothing in particular. I got a new loop pedal and realised I pretty much don’t give a shit about academics without it just being cramping as many concepts in as close a space as possible with unnecessarily rare words for the sake of vanity or pettiness.

12.44
From: Roger Conté

Isn’t that what most academia is?

I’m a relatively successful artist and I still have arguments and competition (thanks to you, I admit), and not without academic merit, either.

12.45
From: Roger Conté

And I can’t imagine you ever not discussing social justice.

12.50
To: Roger Conté

Well, thank you, Roger. You’ve been my tumblr sounding board for today, congratulations, as a prize you get the knowledge that you’ve cleaned up some of the convoluted mess in my brain.

12.56
From: Roger Conté

An elegant prize. My band says ‘hi’ by the way. On that note I have to go but I’ve got to talk to you about this guitarist I just found out about, so I’ll text you soon.

01.00
To: Roger Conté

Hi to your band, and break a leg.


“What do you think?”

Buri, Daine, Onua, and Alanna had their eyes on Kel (t-shirt donned over her dress). She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about it, and she wasn’t sure if she was being asked for an honest opinion. To be fair, though, she was in a room with four women who probably hadn’t told a lie to save someone’s feelings in their lives.

Her stomach hurt. Alanna looked at her so softly, so openly. Alanna wasn’t soft or open, that was quite obvious. “This isn’t… what we talked about.” Stillness. Daine and Onua gestured for her to continue, but Alanna and Buri matched each other in focus of gaze. “We started talking about how self defence is weaponised as a phrase – minorities don’t want to access it, even when they can, because it frames them as taking on a violent standpoint in life.” Onua made a soft noise in her throat, nodded. It was comforting. “We went ‘how do we create a centre for self-defence that is accessible, that incorporates education while not making it an aggressive system?’. And then we went ‘well, actually, this is inherently about aggression, but people don’t want to be seen as receptive to it’. This… maybe that’s only starting point, but this is so… much.”

She pulled some of the pages towards her and scanned them. “This and this here - contradictory. I feel like there have been far more people around the table than the five of us, and it means it’s the invert of what we talked about. There are too many people.” She looked at the highlighted words, refused to meet anyone’s eyes, only looked straight ahead when she looked up. “This is a revolution laid out in a ten step plan. What we talked about was… the moments of a revolution laid out in individual affected. That’s all there ever is, the downtrodden, the small. It’s all very well to get up on a podium and make speeches, but that doesn’t matter when street violence against minority groups is getting worse, more frequent, more fatal – more excusable, in some ways.” She braved a glance to Daine who nodded. “The podiums don’t mean anything without the… what’s that phrase? Um… green--?” She did not look at Alanna.

“Grassroots,” said Onua.

“Yeah.” She looked at her hands, curled together. Words she didn’t know scattered the pages, and she was sure that she recognised Thom’s handwriting scribbled in the borders. Alanna’s writing was clear in bright red.

Onua, Buri and Daine were looking to Alanna, who was looking at Kel with a look too complex to analyse. “Do you like any of it?” she asked at last.

Kel met Alanna’s gaze. There was no anger or accusation there, just questions. Kel adored her even more in that second. “A lot of it – almost all of it, but it’s just-- there is no grassroots level here at all. There’s nothing that is getting on the level of the downtrodden who don’t have the opportunities we’ve been given, or have fought for, and saying ‘here’s what can be done, here are your stepping stones’.” She shuffled the papers absent mindedly. “All we can provide as outsiders are stepping stones, and we have none here.”

“I like her,” Onua said. “This one’s good.” Kel beamed at Onua, who seemed to see how scared she was. A conspiratorial wink felt like a blessing.

“Well let’s--” Alanna jumped to her feet, collected all of the paper on the desk and shoved it into a cupboard. “--shelve that. We can return to it later.” Buri got to her feet. She had invested in a roll of brown butcher’s paper, and in one smooth motion rolled it over the length of the table. Everyone laughed at her self-satisfied expression. “You’ve been waiting to do that, haven’t you?”

“Oh yes.” She tossed a packet of pens at Kel, who caught it perfectly. “Draw in green, just for serendipity’s sake.”

And so they started again.


“Lioness, I think we’re done for the day,” said Buri, with a gentle cuff over the back of her head. It had gotten dark so quickly.

Alanna looked ready to argue, but smiled instead. “Fine. I’m starving, anyway.”

“Dinner,” said Daine, almost reverently. “How ya doin’, Kel?”

“Good.” Her smile was broad enough to hurt.

“Are you happy with what we’ve done today?” Alanna asked her as she locked things in cupboards and rolled up the brown paper, now coated from corner to corner. “Honestly, I mean.”

“I’m very happy.”

“What does everyone want for dinner?” Buri asked as she helped Daine into her coat – Daine managed to look only slightly indignant balanced with her pleasure. She was still angry with Buri. “We can’t go back to Alanna’s, I don’t want food poisoning.”

“Don’t be fucking rude, you little shit.”

Daine clasped a hand over her mouth with a gasp. “Are you allowed to swear in front of Kel?”

Bright red, Alanna stuttered, “Oh fuck-- shit-- sorry, Kel, I--”

“Fuck off, Alanna,” said Kel, as lightly as she could.

There was a harmony of ‘ooh’s. “Baby has claws!”

Kel found Onua’s arm around her waist. “Come on, protector of the small. What do you want for dinner?”



Mouth full of bread, Buri looked at Onua sharply. “Something you said.”


“I’ve said a great many things, swallow your food.”

Daine giggled, a tiny bit tipsy. Kel had been near to silent for most of the night, watching and smiling.

Buri did as she was told, for once. “You said something to Kel earlier tonight. You called her… protector of the small?” Alanna suddenly looked very engaged, her knife and fork placed carelessly on the tablecloth.

“Yeah.”

“That sounds like a cool organisation. ‘Protector of the Small’.”

There are silences of agreement, of something clicking into place, and this was one of them. “What do you think, Protector of the Small?” Onua asked Kel, who was struggling not to feel embarrassed.

“I like it a lot,” she admitted.

In turn each woman raised her glass and proffered it to Kel. “To the Protector of the Small!”

“The woman and the organisation,” said Alanna. Kel hid her expression by going back to eating while the others clink ed their glasses.


 04.00
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

How’s it going?
08.16
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Really really good. Kel is brilliant. I think we’re going to institute a ‘no men’ policy until later though

 12.03
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

That’s great. Also fair enough.
12.30
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Why are you still awake?

12.33
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Why are you?

 12.40
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

You’re such a douche. I’m watching horrible rom coms with George.

 12.41
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

I’m composing, leave me be. Give George my best.

12.43
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

And if you’re not fucking careful you’ll DEcompose. Are you eating?
George snorted and sends the same.
12.50
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Now that was just a bad joke. Goodnight, loser.
12.51
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

Goodnight, loser.


01.12
To: Roger Conté

Major or minor?

 01.14
From: Roger Conté

Major.

 01.30
To: Roger Conté

Instrumental or bridge?

 01.32
From: Roger Conté

Instrumental.

 01.40
From: Roger Conté

Sharp or flat?

 01.41
To: Roger Conté

Sharp.

 01.45
From: Roger Conté

Acapella or acoustic?

 01.48
To: Roger Conté

Acapella.

 02.30
From: Roger Conté

Do you want to hear it?

 2.40
To: Roger Conté

No. Do you?

 01.40
From: Roger Conté

No.


Alanna wasn’t as observant as people thought she was, but she put the effort of observance into Keladry Mindelan. She still didn’t know Kel, but everything about her shaped a woman Alanna wanted to see change the world. “Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice cracked, they hadn’t spoken in a while.

Kel’s voice was scratchy, too, so much of their talking her voice. “Huh?” She turned to the side on Alanna’s couch. It had been a long day, and her eyes were heavy with tiredness. She refused Alanna’s offer to take her back to the hotel, of course.

“Are you okay?”

A soft noise escaped Kel’s throat, and she smiled. “Yes, more than. Why?”

Alanna curled up on her side of the couch, knees up. Her hands were covered in a rainbow of ink. “You… when we first met at VidCon, you seemed more…” she struggled to find the right word, “enthused,” which was entirely the wrong word, but Kel seemed to make do.

She hugged her knees to her chest. “I think you met my brother, Conal.” Alanna hummed. “He said he hadn’t seen me so openly enthusiastic since I was in kindergarten. I just...” She went bright red and pushed her face into her knees. The older woman didn’t quite know what to do, and so just watched. “Argh, I’ve never admitted a crush to anyone but I feel like this is worse than that.” Kel laughed into her knees, and a smile fell to Alanna’s face. She’d never admitted a crush to anyone, more stumbled vaguely into a romantic pursuit. A twinge of discomfort poisoned her stomach. “I don’t know what I’d be without you, Alanna,” Kel mumbled, peeking out at Alanna from behind her hands from behind her knees. “I… I saw your first video when I was eight, and I was being bullied because I wanted to play ‘boy’s sports’, and learn to fight. Of course I learned with my brothers, and I was good, but I wasn’t allowed to get better, because every teacher I went to didn’t want me to succeed like they wanted the boys to, although my parents were supportive. So I learned from you instead.”

Alanna winced. “Oh god.”

Kel, to her credit, nodded, head reappearing from behind her knees and hands. “You just… I disagree with some of your earlier videos, at least now. But you gave me a very young female role model who wanted to be strong regardless of gender. And as you’ve aged you’ve brought the fact that you’re a woman to the forefront. You’re… I’m not an emotive person. But you’re… really important to me.”

Alanna really, really, did not know what to say. “That does sound tougher than admitting a crush.” Kel giggled, her shoulders untensing. “Can I hug you?”

“Yeah.”

Alanna clambered over the couch to wrap her arms around Kel, stroking her hair gently. “Thanks,” she whispered on her ear. She let go, but stayed close, forcing herself to keep eye contact. “I watched all of your videos after that tweet. You’re incredible, Kel.” This was certainly, had to be worse than admitting a crush. It brought a thrill of butterflies and anxiety to her stomach. They both laughed for no precise ‘reason’, more for the sake of making sound. “And now, we’ve crossed well past the border line of ‘feelings’ territory and we’re both wildly uncomfortable, so let’s scour the media for intersectionality.”

Alanna put an arm around Kel’s shoulders anyway. She had very little chill in her, and Kel seemed to have just enough to ground the both of them. George, of course, fucked up the entire situation by photographing them watching ‘Hit the Floor’ with the caption ‘Netflix and chill’ programmed into Alanna’s phone. He made up for it by making hot chocolate and curling up at Alanna’s side – Kel’s heart fluttered when he asked them both whether he could do so.

Alanna pretended to ignore the tension in George’s neck and the shadows under his eyes as he texted ‘his people’. That was all they were, to her, but he looked a wreck – not something George often did. Kel stumbled up to bed at midnight, and Alanna’s heart ached with affection when she called the hotel to explain Kel’s absence. George was deeply asleep on her shoulder, hadn’t moved at all with Kel’s leaving or the phone call or Alanna’s slow untangling from him. “George. George, love.” He mumbled something illegible and tugged her closer. She pushed him back and shook his shoulder. He looked up at her through drowsy eyes. “Let’s get to bed, love.”

“You called me ‘love’, lioness,” George said as he fumbled to his feet, hands in hers.

She pinched the tip of his nose. “And if you mock me it will never happen again.” She got onto the tips of her toes and kissed him gently. He smiled onto her mouth.

“Evil woman.” Their path up to Alanna’s bedroom was oddly slow, switching off lights, neatening couch cushions, of all things. They both bothered with pyjamas, but only because of Kel. George was also quite fond of Alanna’s pink, frilled nightshirt, that no-one could actually remember acquiring for her. Her love for it evolved from defiant irony to begrudging, fluffy affection.

George was usually awake well past when she was, on his phone or head in a notebook, but his head fell to her chest, arms lay resigned over her torso and behind her head. “What’s going on, George?” She stroked back his curls. He used to keep his hair in dreads, and she wasn’t quite sure whether he had let his hair grow out deliberately after shaving it, or just couldn’t be bothered to do anything with it. He reshuffled them entirely, in one soft motion they were face to face.

“Can I tell you another time?” he whispered. She stroked his cheek, and his hand on her back mimicked hers.

Will you tell me?”

He chuckled, a deep, warm sound. He kissed her nose. “You untrustful thing. Yes.” He tugged her close. “Goodnig--”

“What happened to your eye?” she blurted out.

She flushed red, with such an obvious answer, which he promptly provided. “It met an over enthusiastic fist.” He didn’t allow her to glare, merely dragged his thumb over her wrinkled brow. “Sleep, lioness. I love you.” She kissed the side of his hand.

“Sleep well, love.”

Chapter Text

Thom got odd looks in the grocery store. He didn’t give a fuck. He had been pacing back and forth down the gluten free aisle for almost fifteen minutes, and it was eleven at night. Somehow all of his anxiety about Roger coming had manifested in a rush, as he looked around at things made of almond meal and rice instead of flour. He was sure Roger would be coming to his house at some point, but didn’t know if he would have to cook or if they would eat at all. Roger had briefly mentioned that he was gluten free, and considering that he was a pretty, skinny pop icon it was quite possible gluten did nothing but displace him in the global zeitgeist. Just in case, though.

He had cleaned his house. Standing in his bedroom, topless and beardless, he glared at himself in the mirror. He was the same stocky, undefined body he always had been, but scarred. Freckles where the sun had never touched skin. A thin line of hair below his bellybutton. Scars an inch under each of his nipples, a scar down the crook of his elbow from the metal plates. The mirror had become the conduit to all of his doubt, and Roger was the cathexis. He was the prompt to everything that had changed in Thom’s life, no matter how much he denied it.

He wanted to be wanted, and it burned . It hurt so deeply he felt like he could barely breathe. Adolescence gave him no friendships, let alone relationships, and his butterflies were trying to catch up. He felt like a child , and he wasn’t even sure if he’d felt like a child when he was a child. He hadn’t liked people. He’d liked Alanna. He liked his piano and his music. He liked himself, in the abstract, not that there was much depth to a ‘him’.

He tore down the galaxy from the ceiling and thought over every person and post that had ever said ‘don’t change yourself for the perception of others’, but he questioned whether people changed themselves for anything but perception of others. The paint was a warm grey. It was fine. Bach and the galaxy existed outside of his ceiling, and he’d always known it was a childish thing to own. Glowing stars on a ceiling.

He didn’t expect Roger to come into his room. There was no reason for him to do so, but tearing down the galaxy felt like a statement of intent towards change. He hated it, and the lack of light jarred him. He went downstairs, back to his piano. Roger’s song, not yet named, was sitting in three drafts on the stool. Three different keys, eight verses.

He fell asleep on his couch with a pen in hand.

He woke up with ink on his chest and up his arms and realised he didn’t know who he was.


Thom didn’t bother knocking, or even fully opening the door, just letting it slam behind him. "Alanna I got up at four in the morning and ate two blocks of chocolate and now I have acne and I'm sleep deprived and I’m freaking out." Alanna didn’t get up from the table. She appraised him, and he could feel the demand of ‘say please if you want something’ swelling under her tongue.

"I liked you so much more when you were asocial,” she said at last. His heart dropped. "Oh my god, I'm kidding, sit the fuck down." She stood and took him by the arm, gently shoving him onto her couch. His breathing was unsteady. The look on his face scared her.

"I need coffee,” he said after a minute’s silence, Alanna still crouched at his feet.

She shook her head, stood up. Thom didn’t look at her. "No, you do not, it will make you jittery, then you will crash, and risk more acne." She knew that. She didn’t know the way that Thom wasn’t looking at her, the detached look on his face. " Two blocks?" she asked, incredulous.

A spark flashed in his eyes. "I was nervous. You bought it!"

Alanna knew that tone, and she tutted. "To be consumed over a long period of time!" She sighed, exasperated. "Go shower. I know you showered last night, go shower, and use the green bottle on your face." He looked a little more like himself again, eyes on her. "Is that what you're wearing?"

"No."

 

"Good."


Thom wasn’t breathing properly when he got out of the shower. Alanna sat him down on the couch, hands on his shoulders. The sleeves of her shirt brushed over the sides of his face, and he flinched from it. "Breathe." A harsh, ugly sound came from his throat. His chest wasn’t moving, he gulped but couldn’t swallow. Alanna dropped to her knees in front of him again and placed her hands on his knees, as she always did. He couldn’t move, but for his shoulders shaking violently. "Thom, if you're actually having a panic attack about this you need to not go." Hot, stinging tears trickled down his cheeks. Alanna squeezed his right knee, grasped his shoulder. "Thom. Thom, babe, look at me. I need you to look at me."

His chest seemed to convulse, he gasped. He looked down at her. She forgot sometimes, how purple their eyes were. Tears made them brighter.

"I've never gone for coffee with anyone,” he whispered.

She rubbed circles into his shoulder. She hadn’t seen him like that in years. "I know. I know." She sat with him for a moment, then got up to get him a glass of water. She forced him to drink. His chest was still jolting, inconstant in its motion. "Deep breaths." She snapped her fingers, sixty beats per minute. She made her breath audible, until he was breathing in time. "Good. You haven't got a binder on, have you?" It was a nervous habit Thom had almost forgotten about. For months and months after surgery he couldn’t bear not having his binder on. He panicked without it, he wanted it then, but he shook his head.

Alanna sighed. "I'm making tea."

He didn’t move until she placed a mug in his hands and sat beside him. "It's been a long time since that happened." His voice was rough. Alanna leaned against him, and he put his free arm around her. They used to lean on each other, without hesitance. He didn’t know when it had changed, but his chest rattled with a deep breath of relief.


"Is it about him, or is it about you, and your previously non-existent social life?" Alanna asked. Sometimes Thom was the grown up one of the two of them, the one who understood paperwork and formalwear, but there he sat, cold and shaking. She didn’t know what to do.

He drank half the cup in one long gulp. His tone of voice stuttered and smoothed as he spoke. "Both. Mainly me, though."

"It's in an open, public space. You can leave at any time. You know your boundaries, you can enforce them." A jolting nod. "You'll be okay, Thom. It's hard, but you'll be okay. Just... fuck, I don't want to say 'be yourself', but... say what you think. Don't change yourself for him.” He tensed further, and she wondered what he’d done. It wasn’t the time to ask. “Be polite – in the sense of reservation. Ease off on the politeness after a little while."

"I know what to do. In theory ."

"All you can do is do it, then." She detached herself from him and took the empty mug from his hands. He was perfectly still as she pulled a small container of concealer and a small brush from her shirt pocket. "Tilt your head up. Try not to get water on this if you wash your face, it'll fade and smudge. You look fine, though." He nodded. "How much sleep did you get?"

"Two hours, maybe." His hands had curled into fists, shame in the tension of his arms. She touched his knuckles. He never thought someone was on his side, forgot he was human. Maybe that was the problem.

"You'll be okay. Kel will be here soon, but you can read on the couch or something if you want."

He groaned and pushed his hair back. "No, I'll... I'll go home."

"Have you eaten?"

"No."

"Eat.” She paused. “And send me a photo of your outfit at least half an hour before you leave."

He chuckled and nodded. His eyes were starting to look like his again, the look on his face less foreign. "You spent so long suppressing your feelings about clothes and aesthetics that you've come out the other side a judgemental critic."

Her middle finger was shoved in his face. "It's useful, you can't deny it." With silence and stillness for just a second, Thom’s breath hitched again. She grabbed his shoulder, a harsh reminder of his body. "You need to breathe , Thom. It's the only way anyone gets through anything.”

"I'm sick of being told to breathe."

"I know, but this isn't some hippy bullshit, you are literally stopping yourself breathing. You need to breathe.” She tried to find a bargaining chip. “Or you’ll hurt your voice. Look, I'm only a few minutes away. If he's an arsehole you don't have to tolerate it. You shouldn't. Get up and leave. If you're worried about him with trans stuff, get up and leave. If you're getting too tired to cope you can say that, you owe him nothing, you owe society nothing."

"You're good at this.” He was almost begrudging, but not quite.

"I just jumped into this whole social thing at fourteen instead of twenty-one." The sun was getting high enough for it to filter through her blinds, dying the white walls golden. Their hair glimmered. "You hate not knowing what to do. You know so much though, and that's all talking is. Things you know exchanged with what someone else knows, batted back and forth." He looked almost humorously confused, and she put an arm around him once more, pulled him close. "And it might go really well. You've texted, you've had calls. It's just like that. But the same stands if it's going really well: you're allowed to do what is best for you. You'll be okay, Thom. You two get along really well - that could transfer over to now." He nodded, head on her shoulder. They sat like that for a while.

Alanna didn’t like sitting still. Nor did Thom, really, except when he was hurting. But it was nice. The room got warmer, and Faithful came and sat at Thom’s feet, only to promptly fall asleep.

When Thom began to drop off she jostled him and swore at him, an effective mix. He grumbled something inflammatory. “Thom, is this a date?" she asked hesitantly.

He shook his head, his hair tickling her nose. She sneezed, Faithful yowling his protests. "I don't think so. We're just... meeting."

Alanna coughed, then sang: "'The morning ends, I think about you, I'm with my friends, I think about you'. Sondheim, Thom, Sondheim's 'Losing My Mind'." Thom hid his face in his hands, pulling away from her. His cheeks were bright red.

"I don't know him. I don't know if I like him. If he thinks it's a date, well... we'll see, I suppose."

Her stomach churned. "Look after yourself,” she said. It was all she could reasonably do, there was nothing that marked Roger as dangerous, as bad. It was just a twisting dissonance about the man he was. She wanted to grab Thom by the shoulder and tell him to stay put, not to meet Roger. She didn’t know why. But she couldn’t.

Thom laughed weakly, stood up and stretched. "I always do, you know that." Faithful meowed up at him until he picked him up and kissed the top of his head. The cat purred and headbutted his chin. It had taken so long for them to like each other, and it was still a begrudging love on both sides.

"You don't.” Her phone was in her hand, but she watched him anyway. "You’re a self-destructive over-worker without proper social defence mechanisms.”

“Wow, thanks--”

The doorbell rang.

“That'll be Kel. Do you want to go out the back?"

"No, I'll... I'll meet her.” He put Faithful down on the couch. The cat pawed at him half-heartedly, but Alanna looked fiercely uncomfortable. Her back was too straight. “But you don’t want me to.” She opened her mouth twice, her jaw making more noise than any words. He sighed heavily. “Yeah, okay.” His eyes had been dry, but they burned again.

“Thom--”

He shrugged and tucked his wallet, fallen on the couch, back into his pocket. It meant avoiding Alanna’s gaze. “No, I get it.” He didn’t, but he decided he didn’t care. “Thanks for--” He waved his hand vaguely, and left. He didn’t wait to hear Alanna greet Kel.


Thom jolted when someone spoke his name. He still felt half-asleep. He got to his feet, met by a false smile and inquisitive eyes. "Roger will be just a second." The man was only a little taller than Thom, and an automatic feeling of distrust filled him when they made eye contact.

They made small talk. Apparently the man was called Alex, and he was Roger’s ‘bodyguard/PA/whatever Roger needs’. The hotel lobby was uncomfortably hot, and Thom hadn’t known what to expect – it only got worse, the more time went on. He hated waiting. He knew it was rude, glancing at the corridor that led to the suites, but he wasn’t there for Alex. He didn’t know what he was there for at all.

His chest hurt. He missed the warmth of infatuation, he was too tired to feel it, though it burned in muted excitement. The anxious pound of his heart and hitch of his breath made his crush seem villainous, not beautiful.

His name was said very differently, the second time. Thom forgot Alex had ever existed, that anything did.

Roger was so impeccably beautiful.

Thom’s mouth felt hot and sticky, but he still took the required steps to meet Roger, smile. "Roger, hi."

Roger had to stand back to be able to look at Thom properly, he was so tall. He had dressed more casually than Thom expected, navy t-shirt and black jeans. The shirt was too big, and sloped off his shoulder. “I... it's nice to meet you." It wasn’t clear who proffered their hand first, but they shook hands, Roger’s fingers long enough to wrap around his wrist.

He averted his gaze and laughed. "It's nice to meet you."

Roger’s laugh was deep and flowing, no clear line between it and his words. "You've met Alex?" Thom looked at Alex, though it was hard to take his eyes off of Roger.  He looked uncomfortable. Thom felt strangely vindicated.

"Yes, it seems we were already distantly acquainted."

Alex smiled at Roger like he was perfect, and it was thoroughly disconcerting, watching Roger’s face not change at all between the two of them as Alex spoke. He was fiercely protective of Roger, even though his face and voice were blank. He seemed to want to plan Roger’s movements minute to minute, which Roger laughed away with grace.

"Thom, please just call the police if something happens, no matter how small. I’m not taking any risks with his safety, and I’d rather be with him at all times, but the Conté name can clear up anything." Thom was at Roger’s side, hands shaking, but he nodded and mumbled something affirmative.

"Don't be so fractious,” Roger said, on the verge of annoyance.

Alex looked appropriately reprimanded. "See you this evening." He gave a half salute and stuck his hands in his pockets before walking away, scowling in his body language if not his face.

Thom was overtly aware of the pain of breathing.


The next three hours were spent huddled in the corner of a little cafe with flushed faces. No-one dared reprimand them when they sang (albeit as quietly as they could), but there had been some annoyed looks, so relocating to Thom's house had seemed a natural progression. He fumbled with the keys, and he could feel Roger’s eyes on the back of his hands. There were still ink stains on his fingers, he couldn’t scrub them off.

“Well, welcome to my house,” he said. There was nothing of the sort that he’d ever had to say before. “Bathroom’s upstairs on the left, kitchen’s straight ahead, piano is slightly closer and straight ahead.”

“That’s the important thing.” Roger was warm and he walked so close. Thom wanted to memorise the curve of his shoulders and the callouses of his hands, wanted to freeze his voice in an echo chamber of amber to reverberate again and again. His stomach hurt. “Is this my song?”

“Yeah, um-- be careful--” It was too late, the three scores scattered to the ground. They both swore, collecting pages. They ended up on the piano stool, pages out of order. “There are three separate songs, based around the same motif.”

“You don’t think that’s cheating?” There was laughter in Roger’s eyes.

Thom cocked an eyebrow. “I didn’t know there were rules.” He presented the first to Roger. There were scratched words and changes between lines. “They’re all the same chorus, same instrumentation. Just different verses, different keys. Nothing too monstrous.”

“’Faust’,” murmured Roger. “Interesting.” He met Thom’s gaze and his lip quirked. “Which one should I start with?”

“That one.” Thom stood back, at the end of the piano. “Keep the pulse loose until the chorus.”

Roger’s hands flexed over the piano, Conté family ring on his left middle finger, glinting slightly. He hummed the melody, thumbed through the pages. “ If you give me your fixation I swear I’ll be gentle. Turn the page on, the light on, the papercuts are bleeding, and I’ll never let it go, I’ll never let this go. There’s nothing like apathy to heal something broken, and I’ve been broken open. Don’t let this go, don’t let this go.

Roger handled the leap with grace, high note into stacatto piano notes under his falsetto and his belts. “Pretty,” he said. “I like it.”

Thom frowned. “You are so vastly underwhelmed I’m disappointed in myself.” The other man shook his head, thumbing through the pages once more.

“I’m not underwhelmed by your writing, I just feel it’s not hard enough.” He paused, and met Thom’s eyes with laughter in his eyes. “I was expecting to be in tears.”

Thom cocked an eyebrow. “Now I’m concerned about my song.” A hah, more exhalation than laughter escaped Roger’s lips. “Okay, try this one.” The next score was examined. “It’s higher.”

Roger’s voice was as near to perfect as a human voice could be, Thom felt more connected to his voice than he felt to the person It was odd, because he adored Roger, too, he could feel it. It ached. He was still dizzy with just meeting him, rather sure the lack of sleep was all that was keeping him going – running on autopilot. “This one’s more you,” Roger said. He had allowed for a beat of silence when he finished.

“Is that a good thing?”

“Well, I like you.” Roger was so deliberate in his gaze, in his smiles. There was so much weight behind the words, like they were pre-destined. Thom didn’t even notice him taking the last score from his hands. “I’ll try this one, out of curiousity if nothing else.”

Thom barely heard it. He could feel his heartbeat. “The first one is a pop ballad, the second one is the closing number of act one of a musical, and this is a folk story song,” Roger said, laughter in his voice.

“Am I worthy?” He tried to be conspiratorial. He also wasn’t sure if it worked, particularly as Roger responded with absolute sincerity,

“More than.” Roger fumbled with his messenger bag, and presented Thom with a neatly bound score, preserved in a plastic sleeve. “Here.”

“’Butterflies of Chaos Theory’. Sounds like fun.” Thom flipped through it, hummed a vague outline of the melody. He remained, leaning on the side of the piano. “ A beaten wing brings a hurricane, and I’m not sure where you lie. If my heart races do you feel the earth shake? If my hands shake would you take them? Haven’t you heard the stories about tsunamis? Your voice quakes, half asleep, and I’m a breaking wave. This is not what we planned, poison heat, so don’t let me burn any more. Don’t let me burn. ” The rest of the song was blurred, stumbling over some of the notes. Sight reading, acapella, was harder than with piano or guitar. No mistake could be covered.

Roger watched him, almost unblinking. It wasn’t the colour of his eyes, calamitous blue, or how handsome he was, but the way that he looked at Thom that made him blush. “What do you think?”

“Plain. Lovely, but plain.” He kept as straight a face as possible while Roger gaped, then let himself fall into laughter.

“You little shit .”

He couldn’t quite stop laughing, the look on Roger’s face. “I like it. It’s good, Roger. I was just expecting… a lot of melisma, honestly.”

“That’s my voice, not yours.” He looked slighted, but on firmer footing. “Come on, let’s do ‘Take Me to Church’.”

“Oh! Cool, okay, here--”

Roger was always smiling. Even when expressing something calling for anything but a smile, his lips quirked up, and it was almost like a throne. The curves of his mouth built his empire, just as much as the folds of his vocals held it steady, and Thom found it beautifully serendipitous. 

He really was sleep deprived.


“Are you saying you didn’t even attend class through your two senior years, and you still did what you did?” Roger took up most of the couch, arms spread over its length. Thom sat in the corner feeling comfortably small, cup of tea in hand.

“Well… maybe seventy percent of the time I went to class. Sometimes I couldn’t use Alanna as an excuse, that was the main stumbling block. My teachers barely realised I was on T until just before our exams.”

“In Corus that is an achievement.”

They didn’t say anything, for a little while. Thom was tiring, he was struggling to stay awake, let alone alert. He pinched his thigh, hard. “Hey, what Alex said about calling the police if anything happened. Has that been your life, post-coming out? Expecting violence?”

Roger looked intently into his mug. Thom still didn’t know if he liked Roger’s games of niceties, prettier truths, pretty lies. He wasn’t even sure if he was reading him right. “Hm, sort of.” He turned the mug in his hands. “I have guards, I have Alex. The Conté family has people online twenty-four seven looking for threats of violence and riots planned, I’m included in that. Most of what I have experienced is via twitter, not really the end of the world, and quite frankly I don’t give a fuck what’s thought of me.”

Thom scoffed. “That’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told me.”

“I don’t give a fuck what’s thought of my sexuality,” Roger amended. Also not true, but Thom supposed it was theoretically possible.

“A little better.”

“Anyway. I don’t want fear to cripple me. I’d rather take risks, and stick with the moral choice of coming out, than hiding from anything.”

“I’m the opposite.”

“What--?”

Thom cut Roger’s question off, “I found out about violent hate crimes the hard way.”

“DC, right?” He put his cup down on the coffee table and turned himself in, facing Thom directly.

“DC,” Thom echoed. He tilted his arm towards Roger, almost unconsciously, and the scar gradiating down from his elbow seemed deeper in tone than usual, white sleeve and white skin.

Roger’s hands were harsh with callouses, not just on his fingertips but his palms. They were strong hands, lifting amplifiers and hauling rope. The signature callouses of a guitar player were almost ticklish, applied so lightly. It didn’t hurt. The arm twinged, sometimes, but it didn’t hurt. Roger touching it certainly didn’t, but Thom still couldn’t take breath. “Well, just another reason I shouldn’t go to Jonathan’s social events,” he said shakily.

“I’m so sorry.” The pressure increased for just a second, then his hand was gone.

Thom drew in breath, knew it sounded like it wasn’t fine, but-- “No, it’s fine.”

Roger stayed closer than before. “Causing scandal in your calamities fashion.” That was conspiratorial, and his mind raced to catch up. He felt minutes behind the conversation.

“Was that a Whitlam reference?”

Roger scoffed. “Of course it was.” He downed the rest of his tea, and Thom’s cheeks hurt with grinning.

“Oh god, it’s slightly unrelated, but have you read ‘De Profundis’, by Oscar Wild--?”

“What kind of a question is that?”


01.00

From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
How’s Roger?

04.45
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Good .

04.50
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Can I pick some of my books up from your place?

04.51
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Sure.

04.54
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Are you and Roger there?

04.55
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Yup.


Alanna let herself in. Thom stood with his arms crossed at the door to the living room. “Are you pissed at me?” she demanded.


He didn’t miss a beat, cocking an eyebrow. “The real question is ‘are you pissed at you’? Sometimes when people are hurting they project their low self esteem onto their loved-ones--”

“You’re an arse.” She shoved past him – he barely tried to stop her, was slow in turning around.

“Which books did you want?”

She saw Roger on the couch, clearly absorbed in one of Thom’s scores. “Um, mainly novels--” she said slowly. He cut her off,

“In the study.” She glared at him. He sighed and gestured vaguely to the couch. “This is Roger. Roger, my sister Alanna.” Roger looked up as if he hadn’t been paying close attention to them. He smiled and raised a hand, but made no move to stand.

“A pleasure.”

Alanna was bristling. Thom wasn’t looking at her. He was ashamed and hurt and he wanted Alanna out of his house. “Likewise,” she said at last.

“Thom’s told me about your NGO, congratulations. It sounds inspiring.”

“Well, we’re still scaffolding, really.” She spoke carefully, measured, like she was refraining from snapping. She bumped her elbow to Thom’s side. “Your study, you said?”

“Yeah. Don’t take anything of mine, I’ll know,” he said, though he knew she wouldn’t. They weren’t ‘readers’ in that way.

She was already half way up the stairs when she yelled down, “You’re such a fucking Disney villain.”

He fought a smile. “Thank you, dear,” Thom shouted back.

Roger seemed curious more than anything, and put down his pile of paper. “I’ve always wanted to be a Disney villain,” he said after a moment. “Dr. Facillier was my aesthetic icon for years.” A laugh broke from Thom’s throat. He sat back down with his feet under him, and he realised he felt comfortable with Roger. He had been talking, Thom had zoned out-- “Thinking on it, you’ve even got the purple eyes.” He looked down, self conscious. They weren’t purple, and he didn’t want Roger looking at him that way. He couldn’t think straight. “I thought it was a myth. They’re not contacts?” There was a gentle wonder in Roger’s voice, and Thom forced his head clear.

“I can’t be bothered to wear my reading glasses, do you really think I have the stamina to put contact lenses in every single day?” he asked, deliberately snide. “They’re my eyes. Alanna’s, too, as you’ll see when she comes back down.” He braved a look into Roger’s eyes. “Yours aren’t exactly the most natural shade of blue.”

He laughed, those unnatural blue eyes crinkling in the corners. “Not quite, no.”

Thom asked something that had been bothering him for days. “Why ‘Orange’? Why not blue or gold or silver?”

“Orange is mine .” His words were tart. “Not Jon’s, not the family’s. Mine . The first suit I wore was orange, my mother designed it for me before I was born. I wore orange in my first photoshoot. People don’t use orange, excepting Ed Sheeran’s ‘Plus’. I wanted something that was mine.” Thom nodded. He understood the issue. “Why ‘Lions’?” Roger asked, after he had stopped looking like he could bite.

“Because George, Alanna’s partner, and Jon started calling her ‘Lioness’ at the same time, having never met, for entirely different reasons. Within the same twenty-four hours, quite literally.” Roger raised an eyebrow, appropriately surprised. “The rearing lion became her sign, they made a ring for her. I was just tugged along for the ride.”

Alanna dropped the pile of books in between them on the couch. “Plus when your hair is long you look like you have a mane. Especially when your beard’s out of control.” He scowled up at her, and she ruffled his hair.

“That so wasn’t part of the decision.”

She shrugged. “Still.” She looked at Roger while Thom shuffled through the books she had brought down. She couldn’t find a valid reason to hate the man, not with the little she knew, but she hated everything about him from his perfectly tied back hair to his shiny red shoes.

Thom was oblivious. “Why were they here?” he asked, thumbing through the pages.

Alanna pulled her eyes off Roger. “Good question. Jon must have book four, or maybe Raoul...”

“No no, Francis. Remember? He used them with his sophomores.”

“I didn’t know you paid attention to Francis.”

“Neither did I.” She snorted and ruffled his hair again, roughly, and he slapped her hand. Roger was chuckling far too much. “Fuck off, loser.”

“See you soon?” She felt guilty, and he relished in it. He waited a moment to respond, let her hurt.

“Yeah, sure. See you.”

Alanna coughed and gathered up the books, sparing Roger a forced smile. He, of course, beamed. “Nice meeting you.”

She had to swallow several expletives. “You, too.” Thom went back to speaking to Roger before she was out the door, and was quite self-satisfied about the whole affair.


It was eight, and Roger was sitting on his kitchen bench while he glared into his pantry. “You have Coeliac?” Roger asked. Thom didn’t look at him to hide his blush. The gluten free products were all shoved in haphazardly, clearly new additions.


“No, but you do.” He tried to sound casual as he pulled out a packet of pasta.

“So you do care.” Thom turned around, and Roger yet again made him blush just by the way he was looking at him. He shrugged.

“And here I was trying to remain cool and aloof.”

“You’re cool.” Thom scoffed. “The ‘aloof’ needs some work.” Roger crossed his legs, and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Thom bumped into the pantry door in an attempt to step back. Breathing was hard enough. He tried to laugh it off.


“I’m an accommodating host, what can I say?” He busied himself with ingredients. He needed to sleep. They’d achieved so much, and he’d had a good time, but he was tired, and he was struggling to keep talking.


“Well, if you’re in an accommodating mood, may I ask a favour?” Thom wanted to say ‘no’. The day was big enough.


“You may.”


“Can I borrow your kitchen tomorrow morning?” Thom paused. He couldn’t have predicted that. He bit his tongue and nodded slowly. 


“Um… sure.” He turned his head to see Roger looking a little abashed, and his stomach felt warm. He was rather sure friends weren’t supposed to blush this much, but he was struck by the fact that he had a friend. Asking favours, joking, light touches. It was different, face to face.


Time was lagging, and he just caught Roger’s indignant, “Do you know when I last got to make breakfast not in a microwave?”


“Well, feel free to avail yourself of my kitchen,” he said, trying to sound more awake.


“Thanks.”


“Sure.” Roger let him cook, and the silence was comforting. It was probably rude to be so quiet, but he didn’t give a shit. Just moving around pots and pans was cacophonous enough. Roger was probably scrolling through twitter or the somesuch.


They talked about musicals as they ate, Roger still on the bench, Thom leaning on the fridge. Their ‘goodnight’ was on the doorstep, Roger waiting for a cab. The wind was cool, and it was sort of beautiful. Roger definitely was. Even half-asleep Thom knew that. “So, we’ll film tomorrow, and you’ll... make breakfast.” Roger chuckled and pushed his fringe back from his cheek. It was wavy when it wasn’t tied up. The lights of the houses across the road were all blurry, the air smelled of summer, and it was surreal and bright.


“And if there’s time you can meet my band.” Thom had forgotten about the prospect of meeting other people. It was horrid. He managed a forced smile. 


“Sounds good.” The cab pulled up at the kerb, and he felt a very odd mix of relief and longing. Roger, standing at the bottom of the steps, looked up at him and smiled like he was the only person in the world. He smiled back, and felt just the same.


“It’s good to meet you, Thom.”


“You, too, Roger.”

 

Chapter Text

HesitantGinger tweeted: Burning questions? Vaguely heated inquiries? I sure have a treat for you. #askconteandthom is the place, until noon is the time.

RogerConte tweeted: @HesitantGinger and I are taking questions! Use #askconteandthom and keep an eye on Thom’s YouTube.


The screen was black, but for a line of light in the centre, expanding ‘til two blurry figures were shown.

"If we switched heights you could announce me and I could just bounce up, jack-in-a-box, and no-one would see a thing."  

“You little shit. You've started your first video with me by insulting me." Thom gestured rather rudely towards Roger Conté’s  face as he spoke,and following his fingertip the title grew,

 

Q + A, feat. Conté

 

Roger was leaning back, laughing. Thom’s arms were crossed and his eyebrows raised, with his laptop balanced on his knees. “You can’t say it’s not true.” Roger wore a soft lilac jumper, long sleeved and sloping off his shoulder. Thom wore all black, and they looked like two sides of a coin, light to dark, dark to light.

"So, welcome to my fifth official Q and A, with Roger – AKA Conté - who has come into my home and automatically started insulting me."

Roger’s look of innocence was a caricature, made for the camera. "Hey, I brought gin, you can't be angry at me."

"True, he did bring gin." Thom reached over the arm of the couch and took an excessively large bottle of gin. "Just in case something like last time--" The screen filled up with twitter posts, each surfacing with a little pop! The questions were all focused on his sex life, surgery, some on the colour of his pubic hair, and all frankly invasive. "--happens again, and I actually need to drink to forget."

"Hopefully we won't get that far. But a few hours ago we sent out a request on twitter and tumblr for you all to send us questions, and tag them with 'askConteandThom', and so now we'll do our best to respond to as many of them as possible." Thom tried not to smile at Roger's charismatic facade of sweetness. He even looked younger, as if getting to the level of most of Thom's audience.

Thom pushed the laptop towards Roger, so it balanced on both their laps. He cradled the bottle of gin close to his chest. "Alright... you get first pick."

Roger's eyebrows scrunched together as he leaned in. "Okay... 'how was your day been so far?'"

"My day has been good, so far. We had pancakes for breakfast, which automatically makes for a stand out day. They were really good pancakes.”

“Thank you,” Roger said. “Yes, it's been a good day. We've been recording some songs and arguing about what it means to be a pop musician."

"Spoiler warning: Roger is one of them." Roger elbowed Thom in the side, but he was grinning. "And if your questions are as creatively rude as last time, we might get incredibly drunk on gin, so I'm sure that will be an experience."

“I mean, getting drunk on gin could be an... experience,” Roger said, gently nudging Thom. Thom promptly glowered at him and said,

“You’re a clever man, Mr. Conté, but I’m hesitant to believe you in this.”

"Optimism, Thom!" Thom ducked his head before the moment of them looking at one another and not the camera stretched too far.

"Overrated.” The next question fell to the screen. “Okay... 'how do you deal with people who hate you?'"

Roger chuckled, shaking his head. "Generally I ignore them. I mean, there's a difference between criticism and hating someone, I listen to criticism, but if someone hates me they are really not worth my time."

Thom shook his head, too, but quite differently from Roger. Roger’s vaguely disappointed dismissal of the affair was met with Thom’s quiet, burning hurt. There was a glint in his eye. "Hm, no, now that's too logical for me. I get really bitter, write angry songs about them, then get really popular from my bitter songs. Thanks, guys, nice try."

"That's good, too. I mean, Taylor Swift’s made a career out of it." Roger's hand rested for a moment on Thom's leg as he pulled the laptop closer. "'Why are gingers better than other people?'" Roger's hand stayed just brushing his leg.

Thom’s cheeks were a little red as he shrugged. "How could we not be? We're genetically superior.”

"Or you're just really really pretty." Thom ducked his head again, laughing a little. He’d never been so animated in one of his videos, and even with Alanna hadn’t really sat so close.

"Aw. Well, I'm sticking with the genetic superiority theory, but yes, that, too.” As he scrolled through the tag Roger’s eyes traced the lines of his face, lips slightly open in their smile. “'How did you meet each other?'" They shared a look. "Well, I wrote that article about you coming out, and so you got my number from Jon."

"We only met in person yesterday, but yeah, Thom's article was the pivot point."

"I kept him amused while travelling through the deserts of the South. Oh god, tell them about the conspiracy theory article?"

“What--? Oh!” Roger launched into an in depth explanation of the queer affairs of the Conté family, voices and all. Thom put a hand on his arm to stop a mimicry of Jon, only to perform it himself, even more mocking than Roger would have been. He received a vaguely appalled, vaguely approving look for it.

“’Have you seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer? If so, which character would you be?’”

“I’d be Spike.”

“You’d be Glory on a good day.”

Ouch. Who would you be?”

“Oz.”

“You’d be Willow on a good day.”

“I’m a Willow aiming to be an Oz, and you’re a fashion-victim God with great hair aiming for a lovable bastard with crap hair?”

“It’ll do. Is Alanna a Buffy?”

“She hates everyone far too much for that. Maybe. But if she’s Buffy I’m Dawn and I just can’t deal with that. I love Dawn, but I’ve done puberty twice now and hers was something else.”

“You’ve suffered so much.”

Thom looked him dead in the eye. “Yes.”

It continued like that for five minutes, silly banter to a handful of serious questions, until Roger indicated one question. It popped up on the screen. “What's this about?"

so thom, u have a tall pretty baritenor. hint hint.

Thom’s lips parted slightly, then he smiled. "At some point or other I got rather upset about not being in the musical Bare, and sent out some screams into the void. I knew it was going to come back to haunt me."

Roger cocked a brow. "What's Bare?"

Thom’s eyes widened, his lips parted slightly. He was silent for a long moment. "Oh, Roger ."

"I've never heard you sound so sad,” Roger said, leaning down a little so he was closer to Thom’s eye-level.

Thom nodded, and spoke quickly, "It's a ground-breaking musical composed by the late Damon Intrabartolo, written by Jon Hartmere Junior. It's about two high-achieving gay boys at a Catholic boarding school, in their Senior year, and-- you know what? Can we just watch it?" He gesticulated wildly the whole time, a rare display of excitement. Roger was biting his lower lip, holding back laughter - whether at Thom’s enthusiasm or the situation as a whole it wasn’t clear - shoulders shaking a little all the same.

"Sounds good."

The screen cut to black, then returned, the light hitting them on a different angle, a little more golden. Roger’s lilac jumper discarded, revealing a royal blue t-shirt. He looked deep in thought. Thom had his knees to his chest, sitting on an angle to face Roger. He looked vaguely vindictive. "Okay, so we're back. Roger, thoughts?"

Roger took his time responding, turning the ring on his middle finger. The Conté sapphire glinted in the afternoon light. "I... don't know how I hadn't heard of it before. I'm..."

"In pain?" Thom smiled.

"Something like that."

"Do you need the gin?"

"I... yes."

Thom leaned over Roger to get him the bottle of gin, uncapped it with a loud pop!, and handed it to him without a glass or method of dilution. Roger glanced at him, and downed two large mouthfuls. The screen cut to black for a moment again, and then Roger was cradling the gin against his chest. He hadn’t drunk any more of it, but still looked down at it fondly.

"Which was your favourite song?" Thom asked, laughter in his voice.

Roger hummed quietly. "'No Voice' was beautifully composed, as was 'Epiphany'. I don't think I can deal with confronting 'Once Upon a Time' or 'Role of a Lifetime' right now."

Thom nodded and pulled his laptop back onto his lap. "Understood. I think he needs a while to recover; no Bare covers today. Okay, next question. Roger, what's it like being at an intersection between pop culture and politics?"

He put the gin to the side, straightened his back. "They're sort of the same.” He bit his lip. “And I mean that in the most respectful manner possible, to both pop culture icons and politicians. I mean, one is viewed as unworthy or to the side of 'reality', but the fact is that in everyday life people are more likely to tune in when they hear Adele's voice than a politician's.” He laughed a little, and Thom nodded. “I think my uncle finds it difficult, sometimes, having me as an active member of the family alongside being a musician in the public eye. There are elements of so called 'tackiness' in every pop musician's career, issues of sexualisation, the tie-in with fashion and make-up, my own sexuality... it implies very little, but anything is ammunition in the political environment.” He paused and scowled, just a moment of harshness. “And it’s just the same in the music industry. I'm not too bothered with it, but I try to be respectful to both industries."

"And tying in with that: 'what's it like going from modelling to music professionally?'"

"A lot less fake smiling, more recognition in public. Freedom with colour schemes.” Roger angled the laptop towards him, but didn’t really move it, so he was leaning in close against Thom. Their arms were pressed together. “Okay, what is it like performing on your own when you're usually with Alanna?" He barely moved away at all; he probably felt Thom’s intake of breath in the half-inch between them. It was a tad exasperated, but his smile was fond.

"People think we're very codependent because we got popular together, but we do have quite separate lives. To answer the question, it’s fine. It's a different experience, just as performing solo is for anyone used to ensemble work."

Roger nodded. “Understandable,” he said. “Okay, now...” The question popped up on the screen as he spoke it. “What’s your favourite song of the year so far?”

Thom groaned and stretched his arms out above his head. “I’m so shit at these questions.” When his arm fell to the back of the couch it balanced neatly behind Roger’s head, disrupting his hair a little. “Um… you know what, let’s go with ‘Take Me to Church’.”

“Yeah, probably ‘Take Me to Church’, in terms of Top Forty.”

“Which is a convenient way to wind this up, because we've got a cover of 'Take Me to Church' on my channel, and Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' on Roger’s.” They faced each other fully for just a moment, both smiling broadly, before Thom turned back to the camera. “Thank you all for watching, and thank you for joining me, Roger Conté." He moved just a little closer, just an angle’s change, as he spoke, eyes shining as Roger grinned in turn.

"A pleasure, thank you so much for having me."


@HesitantGinger your FALSETTO in tmtc is fucking SINFUL

 

@RogerConte Take me now, tbh????

#HesitantGinger #RogerConte y’all are talking about TMTC, but GYBR ??? oh my god my gay heart

 

@RogerConte @HesitantGinger I… didn’t know how gay I was until seeing your ‘Take Me to Church’.

HesitantGinger: That’s the goal, honestly.


Playing a cello and a guitar at the same time was not really, well, e ver intended to be, but Thom’s efforts were valiant. He switched instrument to instrument as the looped chords played back through his speakers. Roger chuckled on the couch. He was sprawled over it like he owned it, laptop on his knees. “D’you want a hand there?”

“Have you picked up the strumming pattern?”

Roger recited it perfectly, pushing the laptop to the side. Thom was torn between frustration and adoration, with Roger looking down at him, hair in his eyes and slight smirk on his face. He sighed and fumbled with the cello, almost tripping as he attempted to lay it down on the piano stool.The guitar strap had been tied around his neck, too long for him, and he fumbled aimlessly with it, the other man watching. Roger hummed, clearly frustrated with Thom’s slow process, and slid his hands to Thom’s shoulders and chest, on the knotted strap of the guitar to take it from him. Thom flinched backwards, wrapping his arms around himself even as the guitar - now in Roger’s hands - hit the side of his head.

Roger’s confusion wasn’t voiced, but he put the guitar down carefully, silently. Thom flushed with shame. “I-- sorry. Don’t touch me there.” He tried to unclench his arm from his chest. He couldn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Roger said, though he sounded more intrigued than apologetic. He stayed still, didn’t move on. It was a clear request for explanation. Thom hated him so much.

“It’s dysphoria. You know the word?” Talking hurt. His throat ached.

“Yeah.”

Thom moved the cello to the couch, and sat down on the piano stool, pointedly not meeting Roger’s gaze as he spoke. “It’s been bad recently, and my chest is a... sore spot.”

“Sorry,” Roger repeated, abandoning the silence of his curiousity. “Can you explain your dysphoria to me? Or… how medically transitioning changes that?” He didn’t wait for Thom to answer. “I understand in theory, but… as phonetically ironic as it may be, the concept is dissonant to me.”

Thom sighed heavily and ran his hands through his hair. He was silent for a long time, the pain of gripping his hair grounding him. He didn’t owe Roger this. He wanted to give it to him, but it ached. He didn’t want to talk about dysphoria, he didn’t want to tell Roger anything while the phantom touch on his chest continued to ache.

Roger used silence so, so beautifully. Thom broke.

"Just, um... sit with me. Here.” Roger was warm against his side. He sat so close that Thom could feel his breathing. “Pick a chord that you like. Not a triad. Develop that as your One into... a four chord progression." Roger’s C nine evolved into a pretty pattern, alternating blocked chords and arpeggios. Thom let him play it through twice. He wanted to lean on Roger, but he couldn’t. He fought it. "Now... make it as dissonant as you can. Make it sting your ears," he ordered. Roger’s brow furrowed, but slowly he did so. It wasn’t natural for him. Thom hadn’t realised before how very pleasing all of Roger’s chord progressions were, even when they were violent. It made it easier to strengthen his voice as he said, "That's your chords now, that's what you've got to work with. Build up the rest of a song using that." Roger did as told. Again, Thom let him play the progression through twice. “In theory this is a nice enough song. The Five chord, in particular, would be perfectly nice executed properly, but that’s not the case. You have four dissonant chords that lead nowhere but dissonance, so no matter how technically competent your playing is, you will always be tainted by that dissonance. Now, um... may I?" His hands covered Roger’s, for just a moment, and their sides pressed closer. He took over, played the progression once, then began to change them, note by note. "So, starting testosterone for me was like... reshuffling the notes into a consonant sound, bit by bit.” They were back to Roger’s original four chords. “It makes composition a hell of a lot easier." He tried to laugh, but it was more like a breath.

"It's a good metaphor," Roger said quietly. He covered one of Thom’s hands on the piano with his own, ending the progression back at Five. His hand was so much larger than Thom’s, the knuckles so perfectly pronounced, the skin of his fingertips worn into callouses. "Thank you, Thom." His eyes were steady, and Thom’s breath hitched. Panic swelled in his stomach, his chest, joining the butterflies and warmth. He lowered his head.

"Sure." He was glad Roger read him well, removed his hand.

"Do you want to go out? I mean... we should get really, really drunk."

Say no, say no, say no, he chanted to himself. He didn’t want to. He couldn’t get drunk, he couldn’t drink. But Roger was smiling so softly, and he didn’t stand a chance. "I... sure."


Alex was a creep. Thom didn’t know how he knew, but he did. There was nothing wrong with him, but as Thom sat at the bar he considered that he had never felt so uncomfortable. He was stirring the umbrella around his glass of lemonade slowly, methodically. Alex was drinking water from a bottle that he’d tucked into his jacket.

Thom felt out of place to the point where he couldn’t think about people. He analysed the music instead, that place which he always returned to. Most of it was practically the same, it became boring very quickly. He didn’t dance. Roger had changed at the hotel, showing more skin than Thom thought he even had, his hair down, his eyes lined. He looked like he belonged in amongst the throng of bodies.

Alex spoke for the first time since they’d come in. "He tries to 'dress down' and it doesn't work. Makes it worse, actually."

"'It'?" Thom asked.

"The attention he's paid. He could wear a potato sack and everyone in this club would want to fuck him."

He looked at Alex. Alex did not look at him. "Do you?"

"No. Do you?" Alex looked at him.  

Thom turned away, blushing from his chest up to the tips of his ears. He tried to stop his heart beating, if only for a second. "We'll see." It was the best he could do. Alex knew. That was clear. He sipped on his lemonade, looking back to Roger. He was dancing with a large, well-muscled man, shaved head and tattoos. He hated to stereotype, but still nudged Alex with his elbow.

Alex followed his gaze. His smile disconcerted Thom. "He's dancing with his bassist, it's okay. Not a stranger.” Despite all plans Thom had not met any of Roger’s band. Roger had been so impatient to get to the club that he simply told Alex to tell them to be there. Thom was sure that they should be rehearsing right now.

Alex seemed to read his silence. “That's Wes. Over there is Gillian, he's second guitar. Michaela is first guitar, she's here somewhere. Andy's piano, and Bella's drums, but I don't think they came."

"And your crew?" Thom asked. The song changed.

"They're in their own sleeper. They don't like to come out with him, they do their own thing most of the time. The more people there are, the more attention is on him. It amazes me that he's not recognised more than he is. Everyone wants to look at him, no-one realises who he is." Thom wondered if Alex had lied, when he said that he didn’t want to fuck Roger. It was more than that, he thought, looking at Alex looking at Roger. It was intense, even if it wasn’t sexual.

"How poetic,” he said dryly. “I'm sure that will change once the album's out."

Alex hummed, taking out his water bottle once more. Thom thought it was self-centred to think that he needed a private drink, but he supposed that the bodyguard to a Conté should be more cautious than most. "He's cramming in as much freedom as he can. His manager wants him to calm down, step back. We all get sick of the sleepers though."

"I can imagine. Which countries have you been to, now?" Small talk was not natural. He didn’t care if Alex knew that he wasn’t comfortable.

"New Zealand and Australia, most recently. Canada, England several times, Germany, France, Japan… I think that's it. He's taking a break mid next year, but then straight back to international touring." Thom didn’t bother answering. He glared at his lemonade, and considered that the song playing would be far better suited by a deeper bass line. It wasn’t tinny, per se, but it didn’t seem appropriate to the context. People still seemed to be dancing. "Oh,” said Alex, in a dead tone.

Thom looked around quickly, but Alex hadn’t gotten to his feet, so he didn’t either.

He had never understood the expression of a heart dropping before.

Roger was on the far wall, kissing another man. His hands were knotted in the man’s hair, and travelling down his waist to his arse. Thom felt like he was going to throw up.

"Gillian?" he asked, trying to keep his voice straight. He tried to amuse himself by thinking how badly he’d failed at being straight in the past. It didn’t work.

Alex nodded. "Seemingly so." He tucked his water bottle into his jacket, and got to his feet. "I'm going to get a little closer to them, keep them out of trouble. Nice chat."

Thom buried his face in his hands, just for a moment. He turned back to the bar. He was not an easy crier, and he felt no tears. He wished he did, though. He would rather the humiliation of public sobs than the dull, throbbing pain in his chest.

He started as the bartender spoke to him. "I'm sure at least thirty people here would be willing to dance with you, and at least ten to fuck you if you put yourself on the floor." He knew it was supposed to be kind, but it felt more like a threat. Still, he tried to smile.

"Thanks."

The man cracked the lid of another can of lemonade. "Boyfriend?" he asked, gesticulating vaguely in Roger’s direction. Thom wanted to scream.

"No, just a friend,” he said. That felt disingenuous, too. He didn’t even know Roger. He just wanted those hands, to drown in his voice. His glass was refilled, another cherry skewered on another umbrella. "Thanks,” he whispered.

He tried to focus on the song, recapture his train of thought. The bass could be deeper, it would suit the environment more, but the throng of people moved as if in a deliberate syncopation. The vocalist had the typical pop-punk tone, a high tenor. It was distorted in the remix, of course, but Thom found the tone, the accent, interesting. He tried to re-remix the song in his head. His instinct was of course cellos, the deeper bassline.

He finally caught the hook line.

 

If you had a day, would you give me a moment?

Would you allow our play to leave no bone unbroken?

 

He spared a glance at Roger and Gillian, tangled against the wall, tipped the bartender, and left.


03.08

To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

I feel like you don’t want me to meet Kel because I’m the side of you that you’re ashamed of.

I’m sick of being angry at you, and I’m sick of being the bad one.

 

Incoming call: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)

I love you, eternally, and forever, without limit. I could not be more proud of you, Thom. I hate you sometimes and you hate me sometimes and some of the worst parts of me I see reflected in you. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you with my entire being.” Thom let out a choked sob. “Thom? Babe, what’s happening?”

“When did you start calling me ‘babe’?”

“It’s easier to infantilise you with affection than a significant other. Also platonic and familial petnames are underrated as a form of affection.” There were no tears. Just breathlessness. “You are not the bad one, Thom. Neither of us are. ” Thom didn’t speak. He could hear Faithful purring in the background. “Thom, what’s happened?”

“I woke you up.”

“Nah. Someone broke George’s arm, I’m waiting for him to fall asleep from the pain killers before I do.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’ll be fine. I’ll explain another time. Thom. Tell me what happened.”

“I’ll explain another time.”

“You’re an arsehole. Can you get to sleep?”

“Yeah.”

“I love you, Thom Trebond. Don’t… we’ll talk soon, okay?”

“Okay.”


Thom missed the galaxy on his ceiling. He stayed under the blankets well past noon, doing nothing in particular. He felt so entirely lost he could barely breathe. He ignored Alanna’s texts. Alex texted him to say Roger would be at his place by three, and he didn’t know how to tell Alex and Roger both to fuck off.

There was nothing that defined him. He liked music. He was good at it – brilliant, really. He loved Alanna. He liked praise. He didn’t know what there was, past that . He had felt for just a day like he could wrap his identity around his infatuation with Roger fucking Conté, and he understood, abruptly, violently, how people got lost in love, in romance, in sex. Roger owed him nothing. He owed Roger nothing. It didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. It didn’t mean he couldn’t still distantly feel Roger’s hand over his and the piano beneath them.

He answered the door in his pyjamas. He’d showered when he got home, and he’d brushed his teeth that morning, but he hadn’t combed his hair or anything past that.

“Hey.” Roger was wearing violet and grey again. Of course he was.

"Hey." The silence rang out. They were standing at the door to the living room, not quite settled. "Sorry I left last night, I was tired." It was technically true.

Roger shook his head and went past the doorway, leaning against the piano as he spoke. "No, it's fine. You got home okay?" His concern seemed rote, more than anything. 

"Yeah." Again, silence. Roger didn’t need to look down at him when they were standing so far apart. It made it a little easier to talk to him plainly. "Are you and Gillian together?" he blurted out.

Roger’s face fell, a mix of confusion, and – for just a second – something akin to pity. "No. No, not at all. It's just one of those things - convenient, you know?"

Thom did not, in fact, know. "Yeah, totally." He looked down at his hands. “So, um, we should work on whatever we’re doing for your shows. I’ll run through my solo numbers, then… ‘Take Me to Church’, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, and--”

“I wrote a number. Based on the motif of ‘Butterflies of Chaos Theory’, but with a full instrumentation and for two voices.”

“Right, okay.” Thom began to unpack instruments as he and Roger talked. Roger didn’t allow his smile or pleasantries to falter, but there were little changes in their interactions. Thom slowly fell back into an ease with him, but he tried to brace himself, distance himself from the man laughing at his piano.


Alanna came by at five to find the two of them side by side on the couch, both with their legs crossed under them, laptops in hand. Roger smiled up at her briefly, Thom gesticulated vaguely in her direction. "What are you two... doing?"

"Proving a point,” Thom mumbled. "Essays."

She waited for further elaboration, and when it didn’t come, prompted, "What are your essays about?"

"Interplay between use of social media and success,” Roger said, only just taking his eyes off the screen to glance at her.

"Also cultural violence,” Thom added.

Roger stretched out his hands and made eye contact with Alanna for just a moment. "And we're editing each others' cannibalism essays." His eyes were back down, fingers on the keys.

She looked at them in utter amazement, to the instruments scattered around, sheet music lying over the floor, Thom still in his pyjamas. "I--"

Thom cut her off. "We're both rusty. Peer editing is never bad. And my cannibalism essay is in French, so that stretches both of us."

"I--"

"Give me ten minutes. There's food in the kitchen."

She sighed, exasperated, but did as told. She made herself tea and tried not to think about George. Her heart ached just with the idea of him. Buri and Kel were spending the day at an aquatics centre, and so she had sat with George and his ‘privy council’, George in his sling and rainbow of bruises, and tried not to scream with her anger. It was more dangerous than a gang, almost, because they were the intersection between vigilantes and true criminals. George, beautiful George, was so moral and so intelligent, and somehow it meant that the truly criminal side of things happened anyway.

She snapped at Thom as soon as they came into the kitchen. "Was French really necessary?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Yes. I've not practised." He stole a sip of her tea.

"And I'm fluent, slightly more proficient than Thom,” Roger said as he took an apple from the fridge. Alanna hated every single inch of him. She hated him even more for how many inches made him up.

"Huh,” she managed to get out.

"Did you take French?" he asked, pretty smile and fluttering eyelashes.

"No, German. We began language studies at eight."

Thom was making himself a cup of tea as he spoke. "We were given different subjects so we couldn't make any more trouble, and so between us we would cope in different countries. Tea, Roger?” Roger nodded, and Thom continued. “Alanna was given German because she was supposedly the more masculine one, and I was the soft, fluffy, feminine one." His smirk was almost vicious.

Roger did something that, in any other person, would have been considered an undignified snort. "That's... really?"

Thom rolled his eyes and nodded. "Really.Let's just say I fucked over our teachers and carers. I'm not actually transgender at all, I'm just rebelling against childhood expectations,” he said hurriedly, his hands punctuating his words and his earnest expression. He tossed Alanna a bar of chocolate. She both loved and hated that he knew precisely what she needed. "I've also got conversational Italian, and Latin theory,” he said to Roger, and indicated for Alanna to continue.

"And I've got Latin theory and conversational Portuguese. And of course we've both got a bit of French and German."

Roger swallowed a mouthful of apple. "French, fair Latin, and conversational Portuguese. Did you get Professor Sheering?" he asked. His ‘thank you’ to Thom for his cup of tea was conveyed in a wink, and Thom went red. He busied himself in the cupboard.

"For first year, yes, then Professor Wesley,” said Alanna, trying not to growl at Roger. She hated him so much , and he was just the icing on a horrible day.

"What a horrible man."

Alanna rolled her shoulder back, took a mouthful of tea. She shook her head. "No, I liked him. He was down to Earth."

"Despicably rude, though."

"I would rather rude than slimy like Sheering." Roger cocked a brow at her aggression. "Thom, in that subject line, took Italian,” she said hurriedly. She didn’t want to force her conflicts on Thom.

"I faked stupidity as to have no attention paid to me, then perfected my assessment tasks and exams. My teachers all hated me.” He grinned and put an arm around his sister’s waist. “I blamed Alanna."

"To be fair, I blamed you whenever I fucked up,” she admitted, in turn putting her arm around his shoulders. She bet that Roger was just itching to post a photo of the wonder-twins to instagram, with that slimy fucking attitude of his.

“To be entirely fair though, it was probably my fault.” He paused. “Actually, no, you blamed me after pushing a guy down a staircase.”

“But then Jon took responsibility--”

“But you still didn’t get in trouble, Ms. ‘I wasn’t even in that wing’!” 

They bickered for a while, and drank each other in. Roger became superfluous, a pretty prop. He seemed content with it, though, watching them. The twins had a brilliant way of forgiving one another. They were each others’ oases, and even at their most tumultuous moments or worst fights, they didn’t quiet give up on each other. They couldn’t, really.


Alanna took vindictive relish in Thom ignoring Roger for her.


rogerconte posted to vine:

 

"So, formally, putting it on the record: Alanna and Thom Trebond, if you were to meet Fred and George Weasley, what would you do?"

" Fight them, " they said in unison.

 

Chapter Text

Because I am so smart and went 'hey Basil, we need to delete the placeholder chapter saying we're on hiatus, yeah?', I've deleted all of your amazingly kind comments. I was rubbing my greedy, arthritics hands together ready to reply to things I'd seen in my email account, and they weren't there! So I'm very sorry, it was the opposite of my intent. 

(@ao3 pls don't delete me for this not being a chapter. Disclaimer: Basil has not edited this, all spelling errors are my own and entirely my own and should be called out as such.)

So, uh, I shan't reply to all of you directly unless you've asked a question, but thank you all so much for your support. I can't speak for Basil but the 'good luck's and 'congratulations' mean the absolute world, and I appreciate it so so much. To answer the main implied things: testosterone is going well. It's annoying at times, frustrating, slower than I'd like - but marvellous. I really couldn't be happier with it - though, for transparency's sake, my vocal transition isn't going quite so well as Thom's! Funny story, though, I met a young trans man who fit Thom's pre-Testosterone vocal profile perfectly (classically trained lyric soprano, very strong larynx, fixated on his voice while transitioning), and his voice now, four years into T, is heartbreakingly beautiful - he sounds almost exactly what I imagined Thom to sound like. So hey, at least my technical vocal calculations were sort of right? (Basil is not transitioning in case there was some unclarity there.) However, the academic year for both of us went stressfully, but well all the same. We haven't got our marks back but Basil writes far, far more critical edits than they did pre-exam period, so I think that's a good sign.


(If you'd like to be removed from this please just let me know. I wasn't sure how better to manage this situation.)

Erif_of_Taloma

lulla_lunekjaer

aedifica

isnt_it_pretty

argentum477

You're all absolutely amazing, thanks so much.

and to tempetepapillion:

Thank you so much for that comment, and I'm so glad that this fic has had a positive affect on you. And while it shouldn't be surprising, because Tamora Pierce is amazing, it's really nice to hear a cisgender heterosexual boy enjoying POTS so much! As a writer giving people insight into others' experiences is paramount to me, particularly LGBT+ and women's ones. I'm not woman-identifying, but I do my best to portray women as well as I can as a queer trans man. On the discussion of portraying women: Kel. Thank you for reading on even though she isn't the main character. I've always wanted to write more on her, but I've never felt I can write her properly! She's so complex and so entirely the opposite of what I usually write - but I do enjoy writing her, and there will be more in future. In the meantime for Kel fic, if you haven't already read them I'd really recommend:

'The Sensible Ones' by LittleMissGriff, which is Alanna and Kel being hilarious badarses;

'Legacy', by Margo_Kim;

'Intervals', by mari4242;

'Talking Treason', by Ankhiale, which is Thom and Kel and angst, a very good mix, and part of a beautiful series called 'What a Flicker Brings' (I reread this series often, and just... am blown away every time.);

The entire 'Miss Atomic Bomb' series by chash, mainly Alanna, but an amazing portrayal of most Tortall characters (some stuff about Daine and Numair is iffy but like, same with many of the major couples in the canon universes), including my babe Thom (who finally gets a nice boyfriend). It's very queer, and very woman-centric, if you'd like to continue reading along those lines.

Chapter Text

Alanna and Thom both liked Gillian. He had an even filthier vocabulary of swear-words  than Alanna, and he made George chuckle with his anecdotes about foster care and Julliard and the ways they went hand in hand. Thom tried not to look at the hickey just below his hem-line. He didn’t want to hate him.

Most of the band was in Thom’s living room, not something he particularly appreciated, but they seemed to work in formation, compressed space. Alanna and George were in the kitchen, talking quietly. He didn’t quite know why they were there, but he appreciated it nonetheless. The strangers in his house made him feel more vulnerable than he liked. Again, he stayed in his pyjamas, and it simplified the whole process. None of the band seemed to have personalities, per se, just archetypes. They stayed under Roger’s subtle control.

They considered trading out Thom with Michaela or Gillian on guitar, or Andy on piano, but it was too much of a headache. He was happier having his solo numbers and duets, leaving it at that. Roger annotated sheet music so frequently that they had to instate a ‘pencils only’ rule, and Thom learned quickly not to take edits as a stab at his pride. Roger wanted everything to be so pristine it could have driven Thom mad. Roger left little room for unattractive dissonance, silences that weren’t choreographed, a strumming pattern that wasn’t the same every time.

When they stopped for lunch they went into the backyard with their pizza, again Alanna and George seeming out of place, but still determined to remain. Alanna murmured in Thom’s ear that she’d have to leave at three, but that she wanted George to stay. He could hear in her voice that he wasn’t supposed to ask ‘why?’.

Roger didn’t eat much, spending time responding to tweets and taking far too many numbers of photos. He took one photo of George, and was glared at so viciously that he put his hands up in surrender. He still didn’t delete it.

It was warm, and the grass was vibrant green. It was picturesque. Thom couldn’t look at the sky, it was too bright, so instead looked at the trees in the next block over. They were pretty. The light that filtered downwards cast patterns on the ground, and Roger’s pale skin seemed to move with the leaves. Thom couldn’t stop looking at him.

“What will you be wearing, Thomas?” asked Bella, through a mouthful of pizza.

“I’m not a Thomas,” he said, quite legitimately taken aback. “I’m a Thom.”

“What a concept,” said Alanna. He flipped her off. She mouthed ‘Thomas’ at him, earning a swift punch to the shoulder.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, “I hadn’t thought about it.”

Andy and Gillian chuckled. “I’m surprised that His Highness hasn’t spoken to you about it already.”

“He has a dress code.”

Thom raised an eyebrow at Roger. He shrugged, leaning back on his hands. “If we aren’t colour coordinated how can we play in the same key?” he asked, all wide, earnest eyes.

“If everyone wears black then you’re always colour coordinated,” Thom replied. At that moment he was, however, wearing green. He decided to ignore this.

“I like him,” said Wes. “He’s got my philosophy.”

“It’s a flawed philosophy,” Roger informed him. He untied his hair, slipped the band over his wrist. “But yes, that is something we’ll need to work out. I want to see you in a properly tailored suit.”

Alanna snorted water out of her nose. George kissed her cheek and looked so thoroughly smitten that Thom almost wanted to throw up. “Thanks, Alanna. I appreciate your faith.” She stuck her tongue out while trying to suppress her coughs. The band was laughing at her were laughing at her, so in sync it felt rehearsed. I have a suit,” he informed Roger. “I had it tailored for Gary and Raoul’s wedding.”

Roger shook his head and started typing frantically, even as he spoke. “Absolutely not. Listen, if this lot are in black and burned umber and I’m in orange and black, you can wear like… a nice muted purple, maybe a mauve, and it’ll work.” He glanced at Thom, and flitted his fingers up through from the roots of Thom’s hair to its tips, examining the colour. Thom laughed helplessly.

“Assessment, doctor?”

Roger paused. “You’ll do.”

Thom scoffed just as Alanna did. “ Thanks .”

“Gil, can you see him in the… the Alan Taylor jacket with the red panel, but in lilac?”

Gillian hummed, and finished his mouthful carefully. “Yeah, but a closed in front. The… what was it, lace? Wouldn’t suit him the whole way ‘round, particularly if you wear the black and orange Gucci.” Roger nodded, continuing to type. Fluidly, he lay down across the grass, his head falling neatly in Thom’s lap.

Thom was glad he was sunburned.

He didn’t want to breathe, lest he disrupt Roger. Roger was treating it like it was nothing. Thom kept his legs inhumanly still, felt each and every turn of Roger’s neck as he flipped through page after page of reference photos.

He tuned back into the conversation only when Gillian spoke his name. “Thom, what’s your waist measurement?”

“How the fuck--?”

“Around twenty-eight,” Alanna said. “His hip-waist ratio isn’t standard sizing, let alone his height, so have fun working on a time limit.” George was kissing the side of her neck. It wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t anything scandalous. It was gentle and casual, and her hand on his waist looked like it belonged there.

“What’s his hip?” Roger asked. Thom could feel the vibrations of his speech in his legs. It was bizarre and beautiful. He tried to focus on Alanna, but there was a strand of hair out of place with the rest, displaced over Roger’s ear.

“Uh, twenty-nine I think?” he heard Alanna say. He looked at her. She was smiling, all too knowingly. He swallowed.

“Why do you know this?”

“Because you’re useless,” she said promptly.

Roger snorted. “Sibling arguments are universal, it seems.”

“You don’t have any siblings.”

“I have Jon,” he said, pausing in his typing. He looked up at Thom. He wanted to run his thumb over Roger’s brow, take all the tension he saw away from him. He wanted to feel the crease between his lips and his nose, see if he would bleed upon touching his cheekbones, his chin. “He’s enough.” He looked back at his phone. “We’ll take your measurements properly in a bit.”

“I get no say in this, do I?” Thom asked. He didn’t like most of the things flashing over Roger’s screen.

“You can say when the measuring tape feels too tight.”

“No,” Bella provided. “Welcome to life on Roger’s stage. I don’t think I picked anything currently in my wardrobe. He even bought me a bra, once.”

“It has drums on it, it was your birthday,” Roger said, playing offended.

“Still.”

Gillian, Wes and Michaela talked, and George napped at Alanna’s side. Alanna watched Thom and Roger.

Thom carefully tucked the renegade strand of hair behind Roger’s ear. Roger’s lips turned up into a smile, and Thom took that as prompt enough to run his fingers through his hair. It was incredibly soft, no split-ends, no changes in texture. In the summer light it seemed more brown than black, even an illusion of red. Thom tried to imagine Roger with his own hair, and bit the inside of his lip as not to laugh. He saw Andy take a photograph from the corner of his eye. He wondered how he looked, if he looked as stupid and clumsy as he felt, if his fingers were as broad as they seemed in Roger’s hair.

Alanna photographed them, too. He felt so naked, with her watching. He supposed that was how she felt with Kel: both Roger and Kel were such entirely separate aspects of the twins’ lives. Roger didn’t belong with Alanna. Thom didn’t belong with Kel.

“So...” Roger’s voice was a little scratchy, from the overuse of his voice in rehearsal to the contrast of silence. “Imagine this as the back of a blazer, but a similar colour to your eyes – a little darker, maybe. At the front it would look like this, with trousers like these with a different finish, and these shoes.” He flicked between the images carefully, keeping his head still as to not disrupt Thom’s hands.

“The extent of my understanding of clothes is limited to the fact that I like the colour black and little else,” Thom admitted. It was a simplification, but the words Roger and Gillian had thrown around meant nothing to him, and they knew it. “It sounds nice, though.”

“Cool. Well, my designer will send the draft to a tailor he knows in the inner-city. It should be here on Wednesday.”

Thom’s most vicious swearing was a mere echo of Alanna’s, but it still made the band cackle. “Fucking-- ah shit.

“Welcome to celebrity, baby,” said Bella, laughing still. “You’ll get used to it after a while. I mean… no, you won’t, but you won’t be quite so shocked.”

“We should get back to practice, yeah?” said Andy.

It was a neat process, each of them taking rubbish inside and putting the backyard back precisely as it was. Roger did nothing, taking his time standing up. He offered his hand to Thom. His fingertips fell over Thom’s pulse, and he hoped that Roger couldn’t feel it.

The other man didn’t let go of his wrist as he pushed Thom’s hair back from his forehead, smoothing it behind his ear. He didn’t say anything, just gave him a one-sided smile and went back inside.

“Thom,” said Alanna. He turned back to her. George was still asleep. Thom didn’t want to know what was happening with George. He could see enough of it, and it terrified him. “I need to head off. You’ll keep an eye on George?” The man didn’t even stir. If his chest wasn’t rising and falling Thom could have believed he was dead.

“I… yeah, of course.” Alanna wouldn’t ask it of him if there was a danger to it. “He can sleep in my room, if he wants to… not be out here.”

“That would be… good. Thanks.” She drifted a hand over the side of George’s bruised neck. "Being in a room with Roger is exhausting." She tried to smile, but it didn’t work. Thom had no idea how she was juggling all that she was.

"Yes, but so is being in a room with Jon,” he said, trying to lift her mood. She just scowled.

"It's genetic, yes, they're both very charismatic and good, but with Jon he doesn't try to pull the spotlight, he just sort of... glows, and you want to look at him and listen to him because he's charismatic and beautiful and pure and good. And disgustingly pretty.” She paused for breath. “With Roger it's the pretty thing and wanting everyone to love him. I bet he's manipulative as fuck."

"Like Roald isn't manipulative as fuck,” Thom said. He didn’t disagree with Alanna, not at all, but it wasn’t like the other Contés were any different. It just manifested differently.

"Roald is a teddy bear." George turned a little on his side, further revealing the bruising on his neck. Someone had tried to strangle him. They’d very nearly succeeded.

Trying to keep talking was hard, with George there. "He's still manipulative as fuck. I think you and Jon have unresolved issues,” he added, though he knew it not to be true. One day Alanna and Jon would be the standard for friendship, and world peace would be achieved. He was envious.

Alanna argued exactly as he knew she would, he could almost tune it out. He looked at his feet, at his pyjama pants. It was easier than looking at George. "They're fully resolved. We're in love with each other, platonically, and occasionally we talk about it, so that the rest of the time we can bicker and save the world." He could hear the smile in her voice. There was a fraying thread on the knee of his pants. Roger’s head had been there, his hands had been tangled in Roger’s hair. His stomach turned. "We’re not talking about Jon! How do you not have a headache from Roger’s fucking-- attention seeking, charismatic bullshit? The same bullshit that got me in trouble with Jon in the first place?"

"He's not that bad. If you just go with it it's fine. I'm also more extroverted than you." He looked up at her. Her brow was furrowed and she was biting the inside of her lip, distorting the contour of her skin. "Don't deny it, I'm just more bitter and think people are worthless."

"And I'm righteous and love everyone but hate talking to them, yes, I know." She sighed, went back to petting George’s hair. He leaned in to her, ever so gently. Thom couldn’t imagine being in so much pain, or being so drugged up, that he could sleep like that.

"Why do you dislike him so?" he asked. The heat was making him drowsy. His words slurred.

"I don't trust him,” Alanna said, clearly, plainly. Nothing tainted her words. "And you adore him."

He shrugged and tried to think straight, to not fixate on the way light had changed the shades of Roger’s hair. "I haven't had friends before, Alanna, it's not... surprising." He still didn’t feel that ‘friends’ was a good word for it, nor had he stopped feeling like he was going to vomit every time he thought about Roger and Gillian together.

Alanna retracted her hand from George, and knotted her fingers together in her lap. She mulled her words over before speaking them. "You're infatuated. "

He knew it was true. Still, he shrugged. "I'm just... learning, and enjoying myself. I'm allowed to do that.” He thought of Roger’s hands on his wrist, his cheek. “And he likes me."

Alanna groaned. "He does." She rubbed the heels of her hands into her eyes as she spoke, but Thom could just picture her expression. "Oh god, he does. I'm not ready for you to have a boyfriend." She looked imploring.

He didn’t know if he was ready to have a boyfriend either. "Let's not jump too far ahead."

"Your proteans are giving me a headache." He doubted that that was even close the cause of her headache. She touched George like he was a flower petal, a leaf, something so beautiful and breakable that there was no moral choice but to be gentle. She was reverent in her affections.

"Fuck off with your pseudo-science body language,” he said, trying to laugh. When she glared at him he realised that this was a grave mistake.

"He tilts his chin downwards whenever he looks at you, and if you're on eye level lowers his lids slightly, both of these to imply the proximity of intimacy. You, on the other hand, tilt your head to the side and quirk the left side of your mouth, as someone in on a private joke might, familiarity making interaction more likely to progress romantically faster. He touches your elbow or upper arm if you join a conversation, and you bump his shoulder in turn, both of these in silence – silent physical interaction, too, showing care without words or activation of certain aspects of the brain. You let your shirt collar fall if he’s standing or sitting in front of you if you're wearing a t-shirt, to show your collarbones, which is a typical and inherently sexual motion, whether intended or not, meant to give view to your bones."

Thom hid his blushing face in his hands. "How are you so bad with your own relationships?" The words were so muffled that they probably sounded like something else entirely, but Alanna understood.

"It’s harder to think about myself." She looked down at George. “George. George, love.” Her hand on his cheek was a little firmer. He groaned. “Wake up for just a minute, love, there’s a bed upstairs.”

He looked grey. Thom wasn’t sure if that was blood loss or pain or exhaustion or all three, but it was terrifying, in George. Alanna took George upstairs and hugged Thom quickly. “I’m running late. I’ll pick him up later tonight. Don’t let him leave, okay?”

“Okay.” He kissed her forehead. “He’ll be okay.”

“Of course he will,” she said. She said it like she believed it.

He sighed heavily before rejoining the others. “Sorry, sibling talk...” he said. Roger raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure if that was disapproval or curiosity, but he didn’t focus on it. His sunburned skin felt even hotter whenever Roger met his gaze, or touched his elbow, let their hands brush, put a hand on his shoulder. All of the aforementioned became more and more frequent, and Thom barely questioned it later that night when everyone else was gone (George in Alanna’s arms, the others to the hotel) and Roger yet again put his head in his lap. He wasn’t used to his own body, let alone anyone else’s, but it was terrifying and addictive. He was leaning against the couch, Roger with him. They talked about presentations of gender and listened to Simon and Garfunkel. He plaited Roger’s hair loosely. He and Alanna used to plait their hair everyday, and had mastered imitating each other. Sometimes he thought the only thing he missed about pre-transition was the perfect alibi of a truly identical twin.

“Are you looking forward to performing?” Roger asked him. His eyes were closed. Thom was methodically unworking each plait only to retie it.

“Yeah,” he said. He tried to find the right words to express his experience, the not quite ‘looking forward’, but ‘positive inevitability’. He was tongue-tied. “How large is the venue?” he asked instead.

“One thousand two hundred, I think.”

“Huh,” Thom whispered. A thrill of excited fear flared through him.

“Have you ever played in front of that many people before?”

“I performed at Corus, and on TV for a couple of… Christmas concerts, stuff like that. I guess not.”

“You’ll be good.” Roger hummed along to ‘Canticle’ for a moment, then asked, “When did you perform at Corus?”

“End of year stuff, mainly. For assessment tasks. Did you?”

“Of course I did. I’m sort of surprised you never saw me.”

“I attended three assemblies in my entire time at Corus. Sorry.” He ended the plait, and ran his fingers through lock by lock to undo it. He was sure Roger would tell him if he didn’t like it. The repetition, the softness, was calming him.

“You missed the epic saga of my voice breaking,” Roger said with a little laugh. “Probably for the best.” He opened his eyes, smiled up at Thom.

“Whereas my voice breaking is documented forever on the internet.”

“It was more gradual than a cisgender boys’, I think?”

“Oh yeah, definitely. I still had some very, very awkward moments.” The CD came to an end. “You can hook your phone up to the bluetooth, if you want,” he said.

“No, I should head back to the hotel.” Thom tried not to let his disappointment show. “Get to the end of this braid and tie it up? I’ll have curls tomorrow, it’ll be great.” Thom chuckled and set back to work, not so loosely this time. Roger offered him a hair-tie. He fumbled with it, but when Roger sat up it was with a neat plait, fringe still falling in his eyes and driving Thom mad.

He pulled Thom to his feet. Thom ducked his head, pretending to yawn. “I have a medical appointment tomorrow, but you can come by after that, if you want. Or we could go look at the venue.”

Roger scowled at him. “No, no, you ruin it if you see the venue too early. When’s your appointment?” He did his boots back up as he spoke. Thom realised that he’d grown accustomed to Roger’s presence on his couch over only days.

“Noon.”

Roger tucked his fringe back, clipped it back with a bobby pin. Thom almost loathed him for it. “I’ll come at two?” Thom nodded. Roger drifted towards the door, turned with a brilliant smile. “Goodnight, Thom.”

“Goodnight, Roger.”

He hid his face in his hands, stomach churning with butterflies and heart leaping. Crushes were the worst .


HesitantGinger tweeted: Guess who can’t sleep? It’s this guy. So, I have three three am gifts for you.

 

HesitantGinger tweeted: [link] I recorded this ages ago, never posted it. Timing.

 

HesitantGinger tweeted: ‘Duet partners’ are fake and unnecessary. I filmed this a while ago. [link]

 

HesitantGinger tweeted: [link] I wrote and recorded this tonight in my pjyamas. Have fun gifing my bed-head, tumblr.

 


Asleep – The Smiths – Thom Trebond Cover

 

Sing me to sleep

Oh, sing me to sleep

I’m tired and I

I want to go to bed

 

The Word of Your Body – Spring Awakening – Thom Trebond Cover

 

Oh, I’m gonna be wounded

Oh, I’m gonna be your wound

Oh, I’m gonna bruise you

Oh, you’re gonna be my bruise

 

Ready – Thom Trebond

 

I’m not ready to be ready

Triple-time, I’ll run for you

If you’ll run for me


HesitantGinger tweeted: Whoever said I wasn’t a nice person totez needs to reassess.

jonathanconte tweeted: @HesitantGinger who could ever think you’re not nice?

HesitantGinger tweeted: @jonathanconte Go the fuck to sleep, Jonathan.

jonathanconte tweeted: @HesitantGinger, my kind, considerate friend. so kind and considerate of you.


“You, Thom, are still iron deficient,” Doctor Rosethorn said, tapping him on the head with her clipboard. “However, your vitamin C and D levels have risen.”

“I’ve gone outside more,” he said, glaring at his hands. He hadn’t slept until six, up at nine.

“Well, that’s something. I’m going to give you a prescription for an iron supplement, and you need to take it. I know you don’t like pills, but that’s too bad.” He groaned. “I am not letting you have that surgery iron deficient with a potential bleeding disorder, not when your mother had aplastic anaemia.” He groaned again. “For such an overachiever you are very complacent.”

His head snapped up. It sort of hurt. “I’ve been telling you this since I was fifteen! The only reason I am not entirely lazy is Alanna dragging me out of bed.”

“How is she?”

“Stressed. But fine.”

She used silence to make him uncomfortable. She knew how to look at him to make him squirm. “Are you second-guessing the hysterectomy?” She tried to hide her laughter when Thom swore at her, long and vulgar. “This is why you need the iron.”

Fine.


12.47
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
The doctor is bullying me into taking iron supplements. I hate pills. Can’t your health people fix it? Exercises or something?

 

1.37
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
To be fair the last time someone in our family with anaemia had their uterus poked at it didn’t go very well for her.  And no.

 

1.39
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Ouch.

 

1.42
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
George would like me to add that with the way you were looking at Roger yesterday you should get used to swallowing anyway.

 

1.45
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
I already hit him, but I hope you like dropped your phone or fell over or something.

 

1.56
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
I’m going to kill both of you.

 

1.57
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
What did you do?

 

2.01
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Knocked over a shelf of library books.

 

2.02
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
You just won me ten bucks. Thanks.

 

2.03
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Go fuck yourself.

 

2.05
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
<3 <3 <3

 

2.10
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Can George and I come by again?

 

2.11
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
How dangerous is it?

 

2.13
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
His people will keep lookouts. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.

 

2.16
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
This is really serious.

 

2.16
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Yeah.

 

2.17
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Can he get out of it? Whatever it is?

 

2.18
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
He’s trying. That’s half the problem. Can we come? You’ll be safe, and he’s safer at yours than mine, even. I’d ask Miles but he’s got duty of care civil responsibility etc.

 

2.19
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Of course. If you get me killed I’m fucking haunting you, though.

 

2.20
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Like dearest god-mama?

 

2.21
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Worse, I promise.

 

2.25
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Deal. See you in like an hour or two? We’re with Kel and POTS. She’s better with the lawyer than I am tbh, and I think she and Buri are soulmates.

 

2.28
To: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
I hope you know you sound like a drug ring.

 

2.30
From: Alanna Trebond (ICE 1)
Well, you look like a stoner, so who’s really at fault here?


Thom felt stronger after his shot – clearer. He was never sure if it was psychosomatic or not, considering how long he’d been on it, but it pleased him nonetheless. He was at the piano singing when Roger let himself in, wearing metallic gold pants and a deep red crop top. Thom wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to be intrigued, weirded out or turned on, so found himself stuck neatly in the middle of them. Roger’s curls were going to drive him mad. Roger sat silently beside him, watched him play. He clapped when Thom finished. “What was that?”

“’Ten a.m., Gare du Nord’, by Keaton Henson.” Thom went back to the progression, fingers just brushing the keys. “My arrangement, anyway. It’s originally played on an electric guitar, or a twelve-string acoustic.” Roger played the bass notes to Thom’s high, and he realised that no matter what the song was they were tumbling, quick and together, inevitable and beautiful, towards something. “Can you play a twelve-string?” he asked.

“Yeah. You?”

“I’ve never tried. Every time I look at a new instrument my hands start to hurt.” He laughed, though it was true. He wondered if Roger’s knuckles would have been so prominent if not for their vigorous (mis)use.

“Well, your old age will be full of arthritis anyway, I’m sure, as will mine, so we may as well go down with a bang.” Roger nudged one of Thom’s hands up an octave. His nails were freshly painted glossy black. “Let’s...” He lifted each of Thom’s fingers into place, though they both knew it would have been quicker just to order him in place.

Thom desperately wanted to kiss him. He didn’t know what it would be like. He couldn’t remember his first kiss. He was drunk at the time, after all. There was nothing logical about kissing. It was terrifying, the wish to be held, to be grounded. Roger’s eyelashes fanned out, long across his cheeks. His lips were perfectly smooth and unbitten.Thom forced himself to pay attention to the chord. “Then go… to the sixth.”

He tried not to let his shuddering exhale be heard as Roger let go of his hand, back at the lower octaves.


“We’re not finishing this today.”

 

“Yes, we are. We’re just taking a break. I wanted to show you something; where’s your Fender?”


“If you break my strings, Roger Conté, I swear to god you’re restringing it.”

“Have some faith!”

“In you? No.”

“You wound me.”

“You’re beyond wounding.”

“You’re relentless.”

“Thanks.”


Roger’s crop top and high-waisted pants showed off his hipbones and his ribs and so much skin, yet somehow it was his hands that were distracting Thom from the music. “I feel like incorporating another B string will strengthen the sound,” Roger was saying.

“Are you sure it won’t take any of the clarity away?” he said, only just quickly enough. Roger was tapping his nails against what had become the B string.

“To the contrary.” He swung around on the stool, keeping careful hands on the guitar. “So… imagine this as the cello line.” He played it lightly, and Thom committed it to memory. That, he could do. “The drum line as it was...” They continued like that until Roger seated himself on the arm of the couch and played the song through for him. ‘Iris’ was a musical phenomenon, and for the first time since he had spoken to Roger, Thom found that he hadn’t done it justice, at all. He couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong.

Roger put the guitar to the side as Thom watched him in silence. He looked content, but not quite on the line of self-satisfaction that he so often stood on, planting flags and looking so goddamned pretty . Thom considered him thoroughly, and sat down on the couch. Roger crossed his legs under him, faced Thom. He said nothing as Thom gnawed away on the skin of his inner lip.

Thom mimicked Roger's pose, legs under him, hands crossed. Thom pursed his lips for a moment, and spoke: "Look, the thing with Johnny Rzeznik is that he isn't a superb vocalist. He can be pitchy, his tone and technique are questionable, even without his smoking habit." Pause. Breath. "But I'd take him over Josh Groban any day, because I can feel his music. He's feeling something. Or at least he's tricking the world into thinking he is. Right now, you're not." He dropped his head a little, so he didn't have to look Roger in the eye. The mid-afternoon light drifted into the room like paint, dying everything gold. "I can't feel it, Roger.” He forced himself to look up, if only for a second. He was rushing his words, he knew, but he had to explain . “And I know I'm not emotionally adept, fuck, I’m not emotionally competent , but this is something I know.” He gestured around the room, the four guitars, the cello, the piano, boxes upon boxes of sheet music. He was sure of what he said. It was still easier to hide his face, look down. “And the beauty of your voice, and the intricacy and power of your arrangement is irrelevant. Because 'Iris' is about being so vulnerable that you can hardly believe you're not broken, not dead already, but..." He was going too far. He could feel the words flooding under his tongue, push at his soft palate, harass his teeth. Thom liked the truth when it wasn’t about feelings. They burst from his lips gently, vulnerably, reverently. "But being so in love, so madly, insanely in love, that you can fight. For him.” He quickly added, “Her. That person. You believe that they can... they can feel you somehow. And they'll know you."

Thom’s cheeks were too hot, his air too thin. He could feel Roger’s eyes on him. He’d never spoken like that before in his life. He almost expected a scolding, to be told off, but looking up, Roger's skin was as flushed as his own, and he was biting his lip like only models were trained to, just as contemplative and intent as ever.

The quiet was soft and heady, and Thom couldn't quite calibrate his breath to his body, the air was too thin to breathe. "God, you're something," Roger whispered. Thom laughed, and it hurt his throat, mouth too dry. Roger shifted forward in one fluid motion, and pushed the strand of Thom’s hair that brushed his cheek back behind his ear. Thom was shaking, and Roger's thumb stroked his cheek gently.

He was sure he must be asleep, at least half asleep, somehow dreaming. He set a hand on Roger’s waist, as much to make it real as to pull Roger close.

The door opened, and Alanna and George's laughter snapped them out of it. Roger basically fell back into his previous recline on the arm of the couch, an easy grin on his face. Thom's mouth was sticky, but he started talking as naturally as he could. Time was lagging a little, and he could still feel a phantom hand running through his hair.

"It's a cliché, sure, but it's clichéd for a reason. Just the same as 'Wonderwall'. 'Wonderwall' is a beautiful song, and it captures so much more than a lot of the indie, underground, 'no-one has ever heard this, so clearly it's superior' songs. And I've never heard either of those songs covered successfully. Ever. They're iconic for a reason."

George’s bruises had only gotten darker. He was wearing green, and it at least made his irises brighter, detracted from the bruising. "Is he giving you the 'Wonderwall' rant?" Alanna asked, carefully helping George into the armchair. George gave her an exasperated, adoring look.

Roger nodded. "Yep. George, I meant to ask the other day, but it was a large crowd… what happened?”

Alanna could have been armed with both a sword and a gun and not looked so terrifying. Roger didn’t seem to notice. Thom knew that he did. What a life to lead, to not be afraid of Alanna Trebond.

George pulled Alanna down into his lap, though it must have caused him pain. “I’m a member of my university’s black student union. I guess I was a tad too black one day, went downhill from there.” He was the best liar Thom had ever met. Alanna was probably hiding her face in his neck as to not give anything away. He stroked her hair. They had gone from distant to inseparable, and George’s vulnerability only strengthened it.

Alanna repositioned herself, legs over the edge of the chair.

“That’s appalling, I’m so sorry.” Roger was almost as good at George. He, of course, suspected the lie. “Police, or-- sorry, I’m being invasive. Which university are you at?”

“Just the local one. I’m in my final year of a computer sciences degree.” Rispah was a comp-sci teacher, Thom recalled. George was a superb actor. The reality of his bruises, his breaks, hadn’t quite hit Thom before. He knew George was in something heavy, and if he wasn’t the leader of a gang or a group or a something, he was high up. He didn’t want Alanna in that. He didn’t want himself, his home, in that.

Roger and George chatted away, and Thom went back to the piano, returning to what they’d been working on before. From the way Alanna was looking at George, so vulnerable and so protective, he never, ever wanted to kiss anyone.


Thom was sitting at Roger’s feet, guitar in hands. Roger was running his fingers through Thom’s hair absentmindedly, in a heated text conversation with his manager. “I’m heading off,” said Alanna, seemingly abruptly. It was exactly fifteen minutes before the hour.

Roger looked up from his phone, a rare pause in his texting. “May I ask why George isn’t coming with you?”

“One of our board members won’t accept men in the space,” Alanna said as she did up her shoes. She looked at Roger with barely-concealed suspicion. “George, you’ll just sleep upstairs, yeah?” she asked. He had just come out of the kitchen, holding three cups of coffee.

“I’m not an invalid,” he reminded her gently, putting the coffee down.

“I know, but you’re in pain.” She leaned up on the tips of her toes to kiss him. “Thom, bully him. I’m sure you can figure out something.” He grunted vaguely in acknowledgement, downing a mouthful of coffee. That had been the rest of his day since about four: a vague grunt, fuelled only by caffeine and adrenaline.