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damn, i wish i was your lover

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"Winter is coming," Peter announces as he returns to the bar laden with empty glasses, and Jaquie has a moment to think what before Meg appears out of the crowd, everyone parting seamlessly around her. Jaquie scowls.

"You're not funny," she tells Peter, and Peter says, "I'm hilarious," and Meg, having now reached the bar, says, "Yeah, no, you're not."

Jaquie nods at her, like see, Peter, and Meg smiles sunnily back. She reels off her order, clearly getting a round in for whoever she's with - Meg's been living in Wellington for a few months; there's a not negligible chance she now knows literally everyone who lives here - and Jaquie raises her eyebrows.

"I'll just bring it all over to you," she says, once Meg's handed over the money, and there's that smile again, there's the accompanying fluttering in Jaquie's chest.

Peter raises his eyebrows at her when Meg disappears back into the crowd. Jaquie just raises her eyebrows right back at him. The absolute last thing she wants to do is talk to him about maybe having an incredibly doomed crush on his incredibly straight friend. Either he understands this or he's just very aware of the crowd of people clamouring to be doused with alcohol, because he doesn't push it, just moves to serve the next person in line.

They close up together at the end of the night, chasing stragglers out, Peter with his signature charm and Jaquie by scowling at them until they hurriedly get to their feet. She takes Meg's table, which by now has shrunk down to just Meg, empty cocktail glass in one hand and her phone in the other.

Jaquie glares at her until she looks up, and keeps glaring until Meg gives a very drunken start and says, after a second, "Whoops."

"Whoops," Jaquie echoes, taking the glass from her. Meg doesn't seem to want to let go, and Jaquie has to peel her fingers off it one by one. Meg's hands are very soft. "If you leave right now, you won't be the very last person out."

"Right," Meg says, and doesn't move. Jaquie's suddenly worried she's going to have to clean up a pile of puke. They were doing so well.

"Are you... okay?" Jaquie asks, sort of warily. Peter is much better at this part of their job than she is, but she's perfected the art of grunting sort of sympathetically in almost the right places when people set themselves down in front of her at the bar and spill their sorrows at her.

"I'm fine," Meg goes, more a sigh than actual words, but she does get to her feet, only a little wobbly. Jaquie watches her carefully anyway, just in case she needs to steady her with an arm on her waist. Or shoulder. Shoulder is probably more appropriate, but far less effective. "The night hasn't exactly gone as planned, but when does it ever? Never, that is when."

She nods very sagely, like she's imparting some great wisdom, and Jaquie bites back a grin.

"We should have cut you off like three drinks ago," Jaquie says, and Meg smiles, small, and says, "Yeah, you probably should've."

Once they're done, Jaquie goes to fetch her coat. Peter, who has some sort of freakish resistance to the cold, is just wearing one of his uglier shirts and the bi-flag-coloured fingerless gloves that Balthazar knitted him for Christmas. When she comes out, locking up behind her, he's arguing with Meg, who is also leaning on him sort of heavily.

"You don't understand," she's saying, mournful.

Jaquie can hear the eye roll in his voice when he responds. "Yeah," he says, "it's not like I went through this too or anything."

"Put your sarcasm away," Meg says, straightening up to glare at him. It's not very effective, but she does notice Jaquie standing there, one eyebrow raised. "Oh, hey Jaquie."

Jaquie waves at them. Peter says, "Hey," and, "Meg won't let me walk her home."

"Vegan Fred has forbidden you coming within ten feet of him," Meg says automatically, like this is a conversation they've had a lot, but also like this isn't actually what they were talking about. Jaquie's not going to call them on it. Whatever Meg's upset about, it's clearly pretty personal, and they're friends, but Jaquie doesn't know her well enough for personal.

"Pretty sure he can't actually do that without a restraining order," Peter says, and, yeah, they've definitely had this chat before.

"Also it's in completely the opposite direction to your new flat," Meg reminds him, "because you're petty as fuck."

"Not true," Peter says, and Jaquie and Meg both say, "True," at the exact time, with near equal levels of disdain. Meg looks at Jaquie to grin at her, and Jaquie grins back, fluttering be damned.

"Your flat-warming is this Friday, right?" she says to Peter, who nods.

"You'd better be coming, Manders," he says, and she scoffs like duh. "Hey, you don't live that far from Vegan Fred's, right?"

Jaquie narrows her eyes at him. Peter smiles innocently back.

"Right," she says.

"Meg," Peter says, still with that innocent smile, "you don't mind Jaquie walking you home, do you?"

"Jaquie is a much better gentleman than you," Meg agrees. Jaquie blinks, and then Meg's detached herself from Peter and attached herself to Jaquie's side instead, one arm linked loosely through Jaquie's. Jaquie loops her other arm around her, instinctive. Meg has goosebumps, despite her alcohol blanket, and Jaquie thumbs over them, smoothing out the skin.

"Get her home safe, yeah?" Peter says, and Jaquie gives him a mock salute with her free hand.

He waves them off, watching until they get around the corner. It's a bit awkward, because they haven't really hung out just the two of them, but also Jaquie is pretty much just making sure Meg doesn't fall over. It's not like they need to make small talk. Jaquie likes the quiet, honestly; it's refreshing after the chaos of the bar for the past few hours.

She gets Meg home in one piece, walks her right up to the door just to make sure she can get in. It'd be a shame to waste all that effort escorting Meg only for her to have forgotten her keys, you know? Meg spends long enough looking for them, muttering curses while she digs through her bag, that Jaquie has thought of three different and equally casual-sounding ways to invite Meg to crash on her sofa.

"Finally," Meg says, and fumbles her key in the lock. She stops, door partly open, and turns back to Jaquie, staring at her sort of intensely. For a minute, Jaquie is convinced with startling clarity that Meg is going to kiss her, but the minute passes and Meg pulls her into a hug. "Thanks for getting me home."

Jaquie pats her on the back. Of course Meg wasn't going to kiss her. "No problem," she says, and watches Meg stumble into the house before she turns away to leave.

*

Peter throws the best parties. It's some kind of law of the universe. Even that one with his old flatmates, when things were still weird and tense and awful, still rates higher than most of the parties Jaquie had been to before the start of last year when Peter moved to Wellington.

Jaquie gets pleasantly drunk on their generous supply of booze, does shots with Peter and Kit in the kitchen. The music is good, if eclectic, the product of most of a friendship group being deeply into very different kinds of music, but Jaquie can dance to it, and that's all she cares about. Meg seems to agree; they're the first on the sofa-cleared area of carpet obviously designated as the dance floor.

They dance close to each other for two songs, Meg laughing into Jaquie's ear, but Meg whirls to pull Balthazar up before Jaquie can try and- something. She doesn't know. She's not usually so bad at this, but Meg is straight, and Jaquie really needs to stop being so hung up over her when it's just so very, very doomed.

Jaquie dances with Kit, who's pretty good, and then Costa, who is terrible, and then Peter, who brackets her waist with his hands and just sort of sways, letting her lead him. He's drunk, but he's not wasted, and it was never really a problem, exactly, but Jaquie is glad to see him like this, anyway.

A few songs later, Paige loops an arm through Jaquie's, pulls her into the circle that's started forming, and says, "We're doing challenges."

She waggles her eyebrows, and Jaquie laughs at the reminder of Peter's old flat's shitty rules. Everyone else seems pretty amused too, even Freddie, whose cheeks are pink.

"I'm really sorry about that whole thing," she starts, and Peter waves a magnanimous hand.

"You and Ben are forgiven," he says, which Jaquie thinks is probably true. Peter's pretty bad at holding grudges, even when he's perfectly justified in doing so. "The resentment is tearing mine and Balthazar's fledgling relationship apart, though."

Balthazar clasps a hand to his chest, mournful, and Peter laughs into kissing him, doesn't move back when he breaks away.

Freddie takes the first challenge, has to do a shot and then a cartwheel, and Peter bursts out laughing when she just flops onto the prepared pillow on the ground.

"Vengeance, Donaldson," Freddie says, as she rights herself, and Peter, still laughing, says, "Hey, no, I pick truth."

"Okay," Freddie says, narrowing her eyes, "did you and Jaquie really sleep together?"

"Uh," Peter says, abruptly not laughing any more.

Jaquie makes a face.

Costa says, "I thought that was obvious, thematically speaking."

Everyone turns to look at him.

"No," he clarifies. "At least not during the play?"

"Never," Jaquie says, with an exaggerated shudder.

"Not that you're not hot," Peter says, and then, “No hetero,” and Jaquie says, automatic, “Full bi.”

They high-five without looking at each other, and Chelsey laughs, delighted. “That's right,” she says, “there aren't any straight people here, are there?”

“Well, Meg,” Paige says, smiling at her. “Our token straight friend.”

Chelsey's face lights up. “I have a challenge for you,” she says, drawing out the you, grinning right at Meg. “Kiss the prettiest girl in the room.”

“What if the prettiest girl in the room doesn't want to kiss her?” Freddie asks, and Jaquie sees Kit squeeze her hand, murmur something in her ear.

“The prettiest girl in the room who wants to be kissed,” Chelsey amends.

Meg's cheeks are red, but she's laughing along with the teasing, good-humoured. She surveys the circle of people for a minute, and Jaquie feels her heart start to pound. It's not going to happen, it's not going to happen, but then Meg's eyes stop on Jaquie and narrow thoughtfully. Jaquie tried to swallow, can't. Meg knee-walks over to her, stopping a respectable distance away, clasping her hands in front of herself.

"Jaquie?" she says, and Jaquie's never heard Meg Winter sound uncertain before.

Jaquie shrugs, but Meg doesn't seem satisfied, keeps just watching her. The circle's gone quiet, and Jaquie is going to make Chelsey eat actual dirt when this is done.

"Yeah," she says, scratchy.

Meg nods. Her eyes dart down to Jaquie's lips. Jaquie feels fourteen all over again, all heady rush at kissing a girl for the first time, and deeply resents it.

"Go on," she says, the challenge clear in her voice, and Meg narrows her eyes. In the next second, her mouth is on Jaquie's, sloppy and fierce like she's got something to prove, and a cheer goes up among the rest of the party. It's not a great kiss, until Jaquie grips Meg's shoulder to keep her balance and Meg wraps an arm around Jaquie's waist to pull her in closer.

Meg, Jaquie thinks, a little dazed, is a very good kisser.

And then Meg's pulling back, looking triumphant and flushed and, oh god, her mouth's red where Jaquie had been biting it, her hair messy where Jaquie had wound her fingers into it. Jaquie sits back on her heels, ignoring the strange sense of loss in her hands, mouth, and determinedly doesn't look at Meg as she returns to her place in the circle.

And it's such a cliché, down to the prettiest girl in the room, but the party moves on as it had done before, utterly unchanged, like Meg had never even kissed Jaquie.

Jaquie isn't disappointed. She doesn't want to be Meg Winter's gay experience anyway.

*

"We need to talk about how you're not allowed to Team Love Gods me and Meg," Jaquie tells Peter the next time they're hanging out just the two of them, "especially if you film it and put it on the internet."

They're out at one of Peter's favourite clubs, and Peter has followed Jaquie out to the smoker's area. Peter doesn't smoke, and to be honest, neither does Jaquie, but it's a good excuse to get some air when the club gets too loud, when she wants a break from yelling to make herself heard.

"Non-consensual filming is more Ben's area," Peter says, and then he breaks into a grin. “So we're talking about this now.”

Jaquie glares at him. “Promise me, Pete,” she says, but it comes out more plaintive than fierce, like she intended.

Peter holds up his hands, suddenly serious. “I promise.”

Jaquie nods, turning away to exhale smoke. Peter watches her carefully.

“You really like her,” he says, “don't you?”

Jaquie groans, long and low, and faceplants into his shoulder. Peter's arms come up around her in a hug, his hands stroking gentle over her back.

“Is it bad,” he says, after a second, “that I'm kind of enjoying being the one emotionally supporting you for once?”

“You're a dick,” Jaquie tells him, but she's also relaxed enough to hug Peter back, his distraction slowly loosening the knots her stomach had worked itself into. She hates this whole feelings crap when she's the one being kicked in the ass by it.

“How are things with Balthazar?” she asks, after a minute. “I figured I didn't need to ask since you still seem disgustingly happy and you're not that good an actor.”

"Hey," Peter says, no heat to his voice at all. "I'll get Costa to fight you for my honour."

“Go for it,” Jaquie says, just as lazy. “I'd fucking wreck him.”

“You would,” Peter says, and he sounds so fond that Jaquie squeezes him, burrows her head into his neck. “Things have been pretty amazing, honestly. I can't believe it took us so long to get our collective shit together. We could've been doing this for ages.”

“You're welcome,” Jaquie says, startling a laugh out of Peter.

“What am I thanking you for, exactly?”

Jaquie's right,” she reminds him, in her Jaquenetta voice, “we all die.”

“Oh, of course,” Peter says, smiling, “how could I forget? We'll name our firstborn after you.”

“That is literally all I've ever wanted,” Jaquie says, dry as a bone, and Peter's smile softens.

“You are right, you know,” he says. “We'll all be dead soon, so we may as well ask out the person we like.”

Jaquie puts her abandoned cigarette back in her mouth and glares at him. “I've changed my mind,” she says, “we're not talking about this.”

Peter gives a little nod like as you wish, and after she's stubbed out her cigarette, she takes his hand as they go back inside.

*

~~ PAIGE'S SECRET BIRTHDAY SCRAPBOOK ~~

Chelsey Long

ALL RIGHT FOLKS

making this official so we can keep track of everything and I don't have to keep explaining things

you get a page (HAH) each and it can have whatever you like on it

but if you're not nice about her I will fucking obliterate you

glitter is cool! glitter is encouraged!

be as crafty as your sweet little hearts desire

ummmmm I think that's it but if you have questions, that's what this is for :)

*

Meg Winter

so.......... I............ don't know paige at all.................

Jaquie Manders

wanna get together and work on our pages?

Meg Winter

:*

ur a babe

*

Jaquie goes to Meg's, because Vegan Fred apparently has a ton of arts and crafts supplies. Jaquie doesn't know Vegan Fred very well outside of the few times they've met and the many times Peter has bitched about him, but Jaquie is not at all surprised by this.

Meg's the one to answer the door, and she pulls Jaquie into a quick hug, says, “You're a lifesaver,” and, “Thanks for coming over,” and Jaquie smiles back at her.

Meg leads her to the room she's taken over, where she's spread out craft supplies and a bunch of A3 pages, already decorated with elaborate borders.

“Glitter,” Jaquie observes, “I approve.”

Meg grins, and Jaquie has a distinct moment of remembering exactly what it felt like to have that mouth on hers. An awkward moment passes, and then Meg gestures at the ground, and Jaquie nods, folds herself up in front of one of the sheets of paper, taking out the plastic wallet pictures she'd gone to the library to print off earlier.

“So,” Meg says, “how do you know Paige and Chelsey?”

"We went to school together," Jaquie says, and Meg grins. Jaquie smiles back, all awkwardness forgotten. "Like you and Peter, yeah. We were all in the drama club, and by that I mean me and Chelsey battled each other for supporting roles and Paige always did the music. We didn't actually properly become friends til Paige set up the LGBTQA club, but we've been close ever since."

“Oh, cool,” Meg says, and then, "I didn't know you were bi," all casual, but she gives Jaquie this sidelong look as she does so that makes Jaquie's skin prickle.

"Just because I don't go around telling the internet about my sexuality," she says, "doesn't mean it's not a thing."

Meg's cheeks go pink and she stares kind of intently down at the pictures she's gluing to the page. “Yeah,” she says, “about that.”

"Yeah?" Jaquie prompts, when Meg doesn't say anything.

"There is a slight possibility," Meg says, all in a rush, "that I might not be as straight as previously assumed. Like, at all. In any shape or form."

“Oh,” Jaquie says. She busies herself with the pot of sequins, sticking them to her fingers and letting them flutter to the ground. “That happens.” She makes a face. “Sorry, I'm probably not the best person for you to have a sexuality crisis at. I sort of came out of the womb knowing I was bi.”

“All right for some,” Meg says, and there's a laugh in her voice, and when Jaquie looks up at her, the tension's gone out of her. “But it's cool. Been there, done that, gonna make Peter make t-shirts.”

Jaquie laughs, and Meg smiles, and Jaquie's still thinking about kissing her, what the fuck. She clears her throat.

“Sorry I went along with everyone calling you straight,” she offers.

Meg shrugs. “At least it meant I got to kiss you,” she says.

Jaquie blinks. Jaquie blinks again. Meg's still looking at her, gaze unwavering, lower lip caught between her teeth. She looks more real than Jaquie's ever seen her.

“What?” Jaquie says, more a breath than words.

“Stop me if I've got this wrong,” Meg says, “but,” and kisses her. It's less frantic before, Meg's mouth soft on Jaquie's, and Meg's hand has found its way to the back of Jaquie's neck, not pressing, but holding close.

“Uh,” Jaquie says, moving back. Meg's face instantly shutters; Jaquie sees the moment her cool-girl face comes right the way back up. “No, just- we should probably move the glitter so we don't end up with it literally everywhere?”

“Oh,” Meg says, “of course,” and laughs back into Jaquie's mouth.