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The Perfect Gentleman

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You had seen the ad and bookmarked it months ago.

Alone on Thanksgiving? Want to piss off your whole family? with a location of literally anywhere. don’t ask how. You’d thought it was a joke, but you kept reading out of morbid curiosity (and certainly not because you were interested. No way.)


 

I'm a skeleton monster, I have no permanent residence and frontline my own band, traveling in a shitty, beat-up van painted like zombie Jesus flipping a double bird. I can play whatever age between 20 and 35. (i don’t have wrinkles. I’m a skeleton.)

If you'd like to have me as your strictly platonic date for Thanksgiving, but have me pretend to be in a very long or serious relationship with you, to torment your family, I'm game. I’m comfortable with any gender, any scene.

 

I can do these things, at your request:

Openly hit on other female (or male, if you'd prefer. I'm not picky) guests, while you act like you don't notice.

Start instigative discussions about politics and/or religion.

Propose to you in front of everyone. (with an actual ring, my shitty old class ring, or even a ring pop, up to you. I can procur any of those pretty quick.)

Pretend to be really drunk as the evening goes on (sorry, I don't drink, but i used to. a lot. too much in fact. I know the drill).

Start an actual, physical fight with a family member, either inside or on the front lawn for all the neighbors to see (don't be concerned on my behalf, I can't get hurt. I've tried. I'll be sure not to kill anyone, but be aware there might be nightmares involved afterward.)

I require no pay but the free meal I will receive as a guest!

 

DO NOT CONTACT ME WITH UNSOLICITED SERVICES OR ACTIONS.


Your reason for looking at it now, wistfully....

You glanced at the invite on your desk.

It couldn’t hurt to ask.

You sent an email, and the following day you got a phone call. The first thing you noticed was how nice his voice was. Oh no. He sounds hot.

"Hello, I’m guessing you’re the one who messaged me?"

"Uh...... y-yeah."

Smooth.

There was a pause. "So....?"

"Oh! Sorry. Um… so i know it’s… well past thanksgiving… but my brother is getting married.”

"So you need a plus one?"

"Yeah! Uhm, yeah." You paused. "There’s a few problems."

"Shoot ‘em."

"Shoot them?"

"Tell me the problems."

Shit. You were dying here. "So, for one... it’s going to be on Valentine’s Day. Will that be a problem?"

"Nope. No plans, no one to make them for."

"Oh! That’s… good?"

"What else?"

"My family… well, they always kind of… I won’t sugar-coat it. They’re racist assholes. Before monsters came up, they were bad, but now they're even worse."

"So you’re asking me if I’m willing to terrify bigots and risk getting shot?"

"Exactly."

"Sounds like a good night. Will it put you in danger?"

"It shouldn’t. They’ll have to behave themselves because all my brother’s soon-to-be wife’s rich family are gonna be there."

"They racist too?"

"They’re neutral. Whatever that means in this situation."

"Heh. So… got a question."

"Yeah?"

“You want me to be the perfect gentleman, or do you want what was in the ad? Because if you’re right, it might piss them off more if they have to be the bad guy."

"As long as you can steal my sister-in-law’s thunder. I hate her guts, and my brother is a piece of shit. They’re perfect for each other. I was thinking you could take all the attention away from her, or maybe beat the fuck out of my brother."

He chuckled. "They’re really that bad?"

“They're forcing me to go to their shitty wedding when I could be doing literally anything else. She hates me too and yet needs me to participate in the wedding so numbers will be even.

"She's making me wear the ugliest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen, and she got it multiple sizes too big, saying she miscalculated my weight, and joked if I ate just a bit more I could fit it and save her the hassle of ordering a new one."

"Holy shit." He was laughing. "I’m totally in, this is gonna make my week."

From there, the conversation turned to what would be expected of him. True to his request on the ad, you didn’t ask how he’d show up at your door from seven time zones away with a van that most likely had terrible mileage. It didn’t matter, did it? As long as he helped you with this.

“Do you have something to wear, since you’ll be playing the perfect gentleman?”

“I’ll probably show up in my street clothes and get changed while I’m there. The van isn’t the cleanest, if I’m honest. I’ll put down something in the passenger seat so what you’re wearing doesn’t--”

“I’m not wearing that trash.” You scoffed. “I’m going in my street clothes too, unless I go get myself something nice to wear.”

“You should go do that. Hear me out, if you do, let me know where you’re going, and I’ll meet you there. It’ll look weird if we go, pretending to be in a serious relationship and have obviously never met before. Sound good?"

“Um. Okay. You’re really devoted to this, aren’t you?”

“I like a challenge, and this seems like it’ll be worthwhile."

“A plate of food at a rich wedding.” You said, remembering the ad.

“This is gonna be more entertainment than I could have ever wished for. I’m honestly more delighted in the idea of pissing off racists and maybe scaring the hell out of them if they try to hurt me.”

“Would it be rude to ask questions?”

“Yeah, but I’ll tell you later. That way you don’t freak out if it happens. Well… so you don’t freak out as badly.”

“That’s not ominous at all.”

“Digging the sarcasm.” He said. “Hey, by the way, is your entire area bigoted, or is it just your family?”

“I honestly don’t know about everyone. I keep to myself as much as I can. Monsters don’t really come out here. Not much here for them but assholes and…. Assholes.”

“That’s a lot of variety, I must say.” He teased. You found yourself giggling.

“Hey, um… Weird question, but you said in the ad that you frontline a band?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m actually kinda interested in it?”

“I’ll send you a link to our pages with email later, if I don’t forget.”

“Great! I’ll start constructing a story on how we met.”

“I’ll clean the van up a bit and grab you a few monster special brews. You might need them after the wedding.”

"You know, this might be the best Valentine’s date I’ve ever had, and it’s not even romantic.”

You couldn’t have known, but that made two of you.

“Hah, well.” He paused. You could hear the smile in his voice. “Well, here’s hoping next year’s better for you, huh?”

You had chill bumps.

 

When at last he sent the email (you had to remind him), you sat down with a cup of peppermint tea and prepared yourself for however good or awful this would be.

His voice was definitely lovely when he talked, but that wouldn’t mean he could hold a tune to save his life, right?

On the stage was a bear monster, dwarfing the platform. Didn’t he say he was a skeleton?!

"Welcome to my Airship!" The man boomed, and you affirmed it was definitely someone else.

The bear was dressed as a steampunk captain, with an eyepatch and everything. You thought it was just decoration until you saw a network of scars fanning over the entire right side of his face. It was prominent enough you could see it, even with low resolution.

You looked at the notes. This was from yesterday. It took place at Gentem’s Airship, in-- you didn’t recognize the town’s name. Not that it sounded foreign, but it didn’t sound real.

"Topside Town" was definitely as uninspired as they came.

The band filed onto stage after Gentem left it, and you saw him now. He was wearing tattered acid-washed jeans and a black tanktop. He carried an electric guitar painted silver, shimmering with some kind of holographic paint.

He had cracks in his skull, or maybe something more pronounced. It added an extra layer to his almost intimidating appearance. He smiled roguishly at everyone.

Behind him, there was a small man the color of ochre, perhaps as tall as his waist. He settled behind an impressive drum set, twirling glow-in-the-dark sticks in his fingers.

There was a girl monster behind a keyboard, her skin bathed in a dark crimson glow, her hair brilliant white and plaited down to her waist. Her face was shaped boxily, reminding you of a type of dog or perhaps a cat. The video resolution left much to be desired.

On bass, there was a human man who looked like a body builder. His neck was wider than the bass, you joked to yourself. He was shorter than the frontliner by a foot and a half, roughly.

At first, you thought the crowd was yelling "Sing!" But after skimming the band info, you found it was because he went by Strings.

Strings, Fennel, Gixie Gold, and Trevor. One of these things was not like the other.

"You guys ready?" Strings asked, and chuckled as the uproar returned. "Got an old favorite here for ya."

Get on with it, bonehead. You thought. The suspense was killing you.

Trevor started slapping the hell out of that bass and apparently that was enough to clue everyone in the audience in to what song it was. You could assume that based on the sudden shift in volume. The tiny cafe’s patrons were on their feet, tables had been moved, and everyone was very much alive.

The other band members started in on their instruments, and you nodded in appreciation. You were still waiting for when his voice would come into play. And then, you realized too late that you weren’t ready when it did.

"You can call me your thrill-seeker. You can call me your desperate chaos but there’s one thing I’ll never be." Damn, though, he was intense. You were transfixed, sinking into the mire of the song.

"I’ll never be yours, you can’t drag me down, and one day you’ll see." Fennel went apeshit on those drums, and Tremor and Strings threw a fist to the air as the crowd yelled with them, "NOT! MY! LIE!" Strings yelled in approval and everyone threw themselves into the chorus.

"Tell a lie twice, it’s still a lie. Tell it again. You’re just a lie. But you’re. Not. My. Lie." The crowd and the other members screamed, "GOODBYE!" and again, "You’re not my lie, GOODBYE!"

The phrase "Not my lie" was continually belted by the audience, keeping time as the chorus gave way to another verse, this time accompanied by Gixie on backup vocals.

"You can call me a bastard. Call me the reason you can’t sleep at night but there’s one thing I’ll never be. I’m not a quitter, you can’t beat me down, and now you’ll fucking see!" Gixie had a high voice, and she let out a vocal cry as the crowd once again screamed its favorite phrase.

"Tell a lie twice, it’s still a lie. Tell it again, or just let it die. It won’t matter. GOODBYE! Now or ever, GOODBYE!"

As if to punctuate, everyone said it again, Goodbye, goodbye.

Strings sounded something akin to breathless as the song began to close. It sounded sexy, and you didn’t realize you’d been holding your breath. "You’re not my lie. Goodbye. Now or ever. Goodbye. Just let it die this time. It won’t matter. Goodbye."

You sat back for a moment, finally remembering where you were and what you were doing. Holy shit, though.

You had to remind yourself to breathe.

 

You hit replay.

Chapter Text

You were nervously waiting by your door for the bell to ring or for him to knock. It was your day off, and you were meeting a stranger from the internet with the intent to go shopping.

You were going to be getting into a strange monster-man’s Zombie-Jesus van and going shopping for formal clothes.

You were antsy, but not because you were concerned he’d hurt you. You were afraid you’d fuck this up somehow. A faux pas, an idiotic remark, a stammer too many….

You had been listening to his music non-stop for the last week in anticipation of meeting him, and now you tapped your foot and hummed one of the songs as you continued to stress over this meeting.

When at last he arrived, you opened the door to find him smiling almost as nervously. He was taller than you’d expected. He topped you by a few inches, and you gulped as you stared up at him.

SAY SOMETHING! You cried internally.

DON’T SAY ANYTHING! You screamed within as you opened your mouth.

“I-oh-fuck-I….” I think I love you.

He cracked up. “Sorry.” He stepped back a bit so he wasn’t so close. “Uh… So I’m Strings.”

His voice! You replied with a sharp stammer of your name and stood there stiffly. You clutched your hands behind your back to keep him from seeing they were shaking.

“Sorry… uh… I guess it’s a little… scary.” He said.

“No, no…. Not at all hahahahh…” You bit your tongue to keep from explaining. But-- “You’re just… very intense. Even more so in person.” The way you breathed the words made him stare at you a bit.

You were definitely blushing. “ANYWay.” Your voice had cracked. “Fuck. Um. Anyway. Let’s… go. To places.”

“Alright. Let’s do that. You’ll give me directions, won’t you? Not really familiar with the area.”

“Didn’t have trouble getting here, did you?”

He chuckled. “Nothing a good meal won’t fix.”

“I might know a place.”

“If your place doesn’t want me there, I have a place in mind, if you’re up for it. That’s for later, though. Let’s hit the pavement.”

You went through a drive through, to avoid being refused service immediately, on the off-chance. He was surprised you were handling everything so well. Maybe you were just nervous for some other reason.

He was a bit surprised that that girl you were talking about kept giving you shit about your weight. You showed him a picture and he almost spat his soda. She looked terrible. Like bad plastic surgery and a failed attempt at being a barbie.

“You know, I can’t help but remember that song Californication.” He muttered, and sang under his breath, “Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging.”

You laughed. “You’re going to be a riot there. Or incite one. I’m for either.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to something so much in my life.” He admitted. “But, to be fair, last time I got a response to that ad, it was from someone who was like ‘I have food if you just want to hang out and eat.’ So I brought Fennel and Gixie, and that’s how we met Trevor.” He paused. “Sorry, uh…”

“I know who they are. I did my research.” You giggled. Maybe a bit too much research.

“Scare me with that.” He said. “Here I am, totally unprepared.”

“Ask me anything.” You offered, and then kicked yourself for seeming too eager.

“Fuck, now you’ve put me on the spot.” Both of you laughed. You made comfortable small talk on the way to the local outlet mall. You didn’t expect to find anything exceedingly nice there, but it was a starting place. Hell, you were only wearing it once, after all.

“So can I ask you about one of your songs?” You gently brought it up, as it seemed something that would be difficult to talk about. You just had to know, though.

“Oh. Oh, boy.”

“Is that a no?”

“Go ahead, but be careful not to ask a question you don’t want answered.”

You paused for a moment. “What’s the story behind ‘Drop in the Bucket’?”

He smiled. “That’s quite a long story. Let me stop the van first. Don’t wanna run anyone over.”

You chuckled nervously.

“Remember how I said there was something that would freak you out? It’s that story. So, I mentioned Gentem, you saw him in a couple of the recordings on our pages. Well, you noticed that he’s got some scarring in the general area of his entire fucking face?” He chuckled.

“Uh… yeah?”

“Well, a while back, he and I went on a product run for the Airship and these guys cornered us. He tried to handle it peacefully, but they had steel baseball bats and we were a bit outnumbered. He got one to the face. Almost killed him.” he paused. “But I was there, and I’m a lot less of a pacifist. They hit me a few times while I wrested the bats away from them, and… by the time I did that, I was…?” He stopped.

“I don’t know how to explain it. The doctor says I’m an anomaly. When I get hurt, no matter how badly, I can’t die, and it won’t hurt my actual form. I don’t know if I’ll age or if I’m going to be able to die naturally. It’s weird. But when I get hurt badly, I kinda… turn to black liquid for a while? And I can control it?” He flexed his fingers over the wheel a bit, to keep from gripping it too hard.

“But it has this amazing ability to scare the absolute shit out of people. It’s like… one of the guys-- they were apprehended by the way, and tried for assault. They tried to get us for using magic but we didn’t, and there was proof-- one of the guys, though, when he was tried said that I used some kind of judgement on him, made him feel like his skin was crawling all down his neck and back, like he was going to turn inside out.” He laughed. “I can attest to that. He vomited up a fuckton of stuff when it happened.”

You laughed nervously and looked at him. “So you legitimately can’t die?”

“Yep. And anyone who tries regrets it in some way or other. Makes me perfect for the job, right?”

“Is it…. unpleasant?”

“What? Being hurt? Hell yeah, it is. But I can take it.” He looked off in the distance. “To be fair, for a while I couldn’t. That’s why I drank. It was… really a blow, yknow? Couldn’t die, felt like a freak, and it hurt so fuckin bad for a while. I just didn’t want to sleep, so I’d drink till I blacked out. But everyone sat me down and Gentem helped me, like he always does.” He sighed. “I got out of the drink and back into the music, used it as a… healthier way to cope.”

Holy shit.

“Now come on, this place isn’t open all day, is it? Human businesses are weird like that.”

“How does it work for monsters?” You asked as you both got out of the van. Only now did you realize just how clean the van had smelled in comparison to the parking lot.

“Well, there are lots of monsters who either don’t sleep or can only really handle day or night. Yknow, living in a mountain kinda makes sunlight painful for some of us. Takes some time to get used to, and there are some who just can’t. So, we cater to all kinds. Plus, the world doesn’t stop at night. You want to buy a cheesecake at two in the morning, you can go do it. Fuckin eat that cheesecake.”

You couldn’t help but laugh.

When you were in the store, you could sense him looking around to see if he was going to cause any problems. Not out of fear for himself, you were sure. Maybe he just figured he was an unofficial representative of monsterkind, this far away from home. Maybe he figured it could cause problems not just for him, but for you as well.

He was starting to have second thoughts about this. What if, after this ordeal, someone attacked you for associating with him? Could he pass for a halloween costume?

No, he decided. No he probably couldn’t.

On top of that, he was trying to figure out how to say this place was going to be hopeless. He didn’t feel like it was his place to say so, being a guy with no skin and next to no effort put into his daily appearance… but…

“I just gotta say this, but please don’t buy any of this shit. I can take you somewhere better.”

“Agreed.” You said, and he sighed in relief. “Where do you have in mind?”

“How opposed are you to going Topside?”

You looked at him like he sprouted an extra arm and was deep-throating his own fist. “Uhhhh, Strings, I’d love to, but that’s a long drive and I have work tomorrow.”

“I can get us there in literally an instant.” He said. “It’s easier to show than tell. If you want to go, I can take you to four places right off the bat with better options. And prices at that!”

“Really?”

“Well, maybe not me, but I can call Gixie or Fennel up and they know where the best shit is.”

You laughed. “Okay then. Let’s get back to the van.”

“Not necessary, here.” He said. “Don’t move for a minute, or it’ll make you dizzy.”

“O---” Mid-word, you found yourself in another place, as if flipping a light switch. “....kay.”

“Yeah, it’s worse if you’re walking and not used to it.”

“Thanks for the warning.” You said, momentarily disoriented as you looked around. “Where the hell are we?”

“Uh…” He coughed. “Sorry, we’re at my house.”

“Why are we at your house?”

Across the room, there was a muffled cry against the carpet. “AND WHY ARE YA SO LOUD!”

“Fennel, put some pants on.”

“I’m hungover, I’m not movin mah ass for the stars themselves.” Fennel said, turning his head so he didn’t have to enunciate or be as loud.

“Guess I’m calling Gixie.” Strings muttered despairingly.

“She’s out with Trevor.” Fennel said flatly.

“Guess I’m not calling Gixie.”

“Get Gentem.” Fennel suggested.

“The Airship exists.” Strings reminded.

“He can take a break. Just tell him you got a date.”

“I can’t tell him about this. He’ll get disappointed that it’s…” He looked at you, you looked at him. “I mean…” He rubbed the back of his neck, the scraping noise resulting making the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It sounded painful. “Hell… This is the closest thing to a date I’ve had since Gixie and I split… uh…”

You gave him an encouraging smile. “Look, you can tell him it didn’t work out afterward, if you don’t want to tell him I need you for wedding crashing purposes. Would he be that disappointed?”

“I mean, I guess not. As long as I don’t drink.”

You nodded and grinned. “Just tell him I’m a fan from out of town and needed someone to go with and thought ‘why the hell not try?’ or do you think he’d buy that?”

“Hehhh Strings doing something nice for someone. That’s rich.” Fennel grumbled.

“Shut up.” Strings said.

“See how mean he is to me, friend?” He whined. “Strings, be a pal and put me on the couch or bed. Or the toilet. That’d be even better.”

“For fuck’s sake.” Strings laughed. “I’ll punt you there. Cover your nards.”

“I’M UP!” Fennel yelped, and physically rolled on his side, out of the way.

Strings looked at you sheepishly. "I wasn't really going to kick him."

"I believe you. He seems like a bit of a drama queen."

"FYI, FRIEND, I AM ENTIRELY A DRAMA QUEEN WITH SEVEN TIMES THE SASS PER ASS."

"What does that even mean?" You whispered to him.

"Just go with it." Louder, he said, "Fen. Get some sleep while I'm gone and text me if you need me to pick anything up for you while I'm out!"

"Fuck off then, ya bony turd." Sweetly, he added, "And nice to meet ya, friend. Hope to see y'gain."

 

The Airship was bigger in person-- and so was Gentem. His fur was going grey in areas, looking frosted, but you could tell it had been dark brown, bordering on black before. His remaining eye was almost gold in color, and holy shit he was just too huge.

It was overwhelming-- especially since his greeting was a very enthusiastic hug that led to your feet dangling in the air. He didn't squish you, but you were keenly aware how easily he could. It made you dizzy, especially from how... absolutely sweet he was.

"So tell me, how'd you meet my Strings?" He was trying hard to not boom, sounding almost as if he were stage-whispering. It gave him a friendly, if slightly conspiratorial, tone, and it was immediately quite endearing.

It occurred to you that Strings had been adopted by this kindly man at some point.

"I found the band and... I guess for a lack of a better phrase, I fell in love with the music." You at least didn't have to lie about this part so much. "I listen to the music frequently. His voice makes me feel calmer... and so... I kinda took a chance and messaged him? And it... worked?"

Gentem looked at Strings, brow raised in question.

"Needs someone to go to a wedding with." He said flatly, avoiding the look.

You tried to bail him out as best you could. "I'm uncomfortable around my family and Strings is very confident and... I thought it would rub off on me."

"It sounds fun." Strings supplemented, slightly defensive. Oh, god, this was precious.

"You're going for the food, aren't you?" Gentem's voice was flat. "Or will you be handing out business cards for the band?"

"Not this crowd, I won't. Not exactly a diverse area. I'm gonna be on my best behavior, see if I can change how people look at us."

Gentem looked impressed and then incredibly suspicious. "What are you wearing, then?"

"See, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. We're both shopping for something nice to wear. Thought you could get us somewhere nice. Gixie's busy and Fennel's hungover."

"I... see..." Gentem rubbed at his chin. "Let me just..." He went about making a sign. "I'm glad you came in before we open. I'll just put this sign up so I'm not missed much."

Opening late today! Check back at noon! (Breakfast under the bell!)

"What does that mean?" You asked as the three of you stepped out and began walking down the business strip.

"I keep fresh goods out at night, and those who can't come by during my waking hours can still purchase during the night by ringing the bell and paying the machine. I made it myself last summer." He said it proudly. "Since I'll be gone during the breakfast rush, I'll be setting things under the bell, so my regulars can use the machines. Do it all the time when I go out for supplies."

"They won't mind?"

"I'll have a story about Strings, they'll be fine."

Strings made an inelegant noise and turned his attention to you again as you walked. "Gentem here is the biggest gossip. He provides all the news and hype for our band. Pretty sure that little fan club floating around is just him and seven thousand clone accounts."

"And I'm pretty sure one day you'll find someone who won't abide your self-depreciation." Gentem remarked. "And I hope they kick your ass."

"I'd have to have one for them to kick." He retorted.

You couldn't help but look and then you noticed Gentem saw you oogling String's (technically lack-of) ass. His face broke into a grin but he said nothing of it. Instead, "I don't suppose you're a clone account, are you?"

"That would be awkward." You said.

"See, Strings? You have actual fans that scream for you when you sing."

You looked up at Gentem. He looked down at you and winked. Quietly, just to you, he muttered, "Though, I expect you're the kind who gets breathless instead, aren't you?"

You might have choked.

"What are you saying over there?" Strings asked. Gentem picked him up under his armpits and held him up in the air, not breaking stride.

"I SAID I LOVE MY UGLY SON!" He cried out, and the both of them laughed.

"Fuck, put me down before someone sees, Gentem!"

"NO EVERYONE MUST SEE."

You were laughing so hard you had to stop walking. Gentem finally put Strings down and hoisted you up to sit on his shoulders. This was terrifying. He was so tall and broad you didn't feel like you were on someone's shoulders.

"At least now I have two awkward children." Gentem pouted. "And one of them can ride on my shoulders without whining to be let down the whole time."

Strings rolled the pips of light in his sockets at Gentem and grinned up at you. "How's the weather up there?"

You were tempted to spit at him and say it was raining.

 

You were probably spending too much money, but Gentem had assured you not only did it look amazing on you, but that he couldn't get the shop owner to go any lower on it and it would be worth the price, all things considered. You agreed, not wanting to insult the detailed labor that had gone into it, the lightweight brocade fabric you'd never seen before, woven of a material you'd never felt.

You honestly felt like maybe you were paying too little for it, especially with how it made you look. You felt bold, excited, and gorgeous. You'd have to grab a few of the business cards and do an online review or something.

"Hell, while we're at it--" You began, but Gentem thrust a pair of shoes at you.

"Sorry, child, I read your mind." He said, and winked. "Put those on and hurry out. Strings is trying on another suit. Ahhhh, I love this. One day, I'll be marrying him off and. Oh, it's too much." He breathed a deep sigh. "OH! That reminds me. I must call my little Nica, immediately. I'll be right back."

You were tugging the shoes on when Strings came out. "Where's Gentem?" He asked, and got a good look at you as you stood up.

You looked at him and blinked stupidly.

He's a skeleton in a suit. Your brain tried to remind you. You should not find this attractive.

"You... look very..." He breathed, and you looked up at him to see how his eyes lidded. "Lovely."

God. Damn. What was he doing with his voice?

He loved the way you blushed. It gave him a thrill. It made his body remember it hadn't been touched in quite a while.

But right now, you... holy shit.

He was tempted to ask if you wanted to make the wedding performance more realistic by getting into each other's personal space. After all, there's a distance between people that doesn't go away until they're intimately involved, and god, it would be so sweet to see that register on the face of those racists, that you were sexually involved with this monster...

Consequences, he reminded himself. There are consequences for that kind of stuff. You might be prepared for social ostracization... but...

You weren't only blushing now. You were looking him over with fascination, coming closer to straighten the wrinkles and fix his tie. You tugged it a bit and he almost leaned down. You mapped the surface of the suit with your fingers, and he watched, transfixed.

Had it been too long for him, or was he really enjoying this too much?

“Heh…” He cleared his throat-- as if that would clear his head. “He, uh… wants us to match, I guess.”

“He’s a genius. I love him.” You said, chuckling a bit. “I told him what colors my sister-in-law was going for, and said I wanted to directly contrast. He didn’t even prod, he just winked at me and set me up. And holy shit.”

Holy shit is right. He sighed. He’d been breathing in your scent, hadn’t he? Gixie was right, he was losing his touch. He needed to step out of that little bubble he'd put around himself. Needed to get back in the game. He also, however, wanted sex to mean something. He had other ways to cope.

This was a war he was determined to win-- but what constituted coping?!

It’s just nerves. It’s just desperation.

Your eyes are so nice though.

Again he cleared his throat. “Uh… where’d Gentem go?”

“Said he was calling someone. Can’t remember a name, but he called them his little something.”

“That’s gotta be either Ali or Nica… or… well, no that could be just about anyone. Was there any more context?”

“He said he’d be marrying you off? I think?”

You watched his face turn to one of horror before darkening in what you discovered had to be blush. Lowly, he growled, “Nica.”

You were so damn curious, but questions were dangerous.

Gentem returned. “Ah! You both look so lovely together. Here, get in closer.” He pulled out his cellphone and you snorted when you saw how tiny it was in his massive hands. “I’m going to take a picture, please compose yourself, child.”

“I’m going to kill her.” Strings muttered in a sing-song voice. “I’m going to kill her so hard.”

“Strings! Quit gritting your teeth!”

A defeated sigh and a flash of light later, and you were left alone once again to your own devices.

Luckily for him, the moment was gone.

“I’m sorry about all this.” He felt compelled to say it.

You looked up at him, shocked. “What?”

“Uh… they’re all a bit…”

“It’s cool. They really care about you. And, I know I don’t know you very well, but… after all the shit that’s happened to you, you don’t need to apologize for having people around you who make you happy.” You almost said you wished you could be a frequent visitor here. The town was beautiful, colorful, and full to the brim of kind people and intentions.

It helped that it seemed like so much fun to hang out with them.

He grinned a bit and looked down. “Think so?”

“Definitely.”

The two of you were still standing pretty close from the picture, and so when you turned to each other, there was that closeness, that warmth of two bodies sharing a bubble of space… there was that tense feeling that made the sound of breathing magnify as the silence drug on.

There was some serious chemistry going here, and you were both feeling it.

“So…” You licked your lips, your mouth dry. His gaze fell on your mouth for the briefest moment, and you felt your heart tickle your throat. “We’ve… found clothes, then…”

I want to undress you in the dressing room and gag you with this tie.

Thank the stars he didn’t say that out loud.

“They’re good clothes.” He said instead, and felt like smacking the shit out of himself.

That dark spark in his eyes when he’d looked at you, though. It made you ache. The shopping trip would be over, then, wouldn’t it? How could you extend it? You wanted to see him look like that more. No, you wanted him to look at you like that more.

“There anything fun to do around here?”

He blinked at you for a moment, opened his mouth and then closed it with an audible click. For a moment, you thought you’d offended him. You would never know how close he’d been to inviting you back to his room. Fennel would have been a mood killer, though.

Was that all that stopped him?

“Yeah… uh. Wanna try a monster arcade?”

“Fuck. Yes.”

Something told him he’d have to work harder to keep acting the perfect gentleman.

Chapter Text

"Nica, it’s happening. It’s HAPPENING!"

"Gentem, please calm down. Is there any room for error?"

"Nica, it was literal. They're going to a wedding."

"Oh. Oh!"

"I KNOW ISN’T IT SO EXCITING!!”

"Oh, god, Gentem. If… if it was literal..."

"I don’t like that tone."

"Hey, come over to the shop. I’m gonna be looking into this as much as I can, and they need time alone anyway. Let them--"

"Way ahead of you. I threw a paper airplane at Strings’ head that says I have to get back to the store. It’s not a lie because I didn't say what store." He sounded so very proud of himself.

"You’re terrible but I love you." She said, giggling.

"Be right there, sweetheart. I'll be bringing you a new coat, too." His grip on the bag tightened, crinkling it a bit. “I’d say it’s your color, but every color is!” He wasn’t only so happy because of Strings’ date or Nica’s prophecy-- it was just a beautiful day to spoil these adorable tiny creatures he loved so much.

"Gentem, quit spending money on me."

"LET ME DOTE ON MY CHILDREN!"

"You’re worse than her highness."

"So I’m told." Once again, he was very proud.

 

"Gentem abandoned us." Strings told you, crumpling a piece of paper. "So let’s change clothes and get going."

When the two of you went to purchase your items, the lady behind the counter just shook her head. Gentem had already bought it all.

Strings shook his head. "Okay, fine then." He turned his attention to you and you felt your face heat. You still weren't sure why he was having so much of an effect on you.

"So now what?" You asked when neither of you made to move.

"I'm going to set these dress clothes in my apartment real quick, and then we’re going to the arcade." He answered.

"Then... why aren’t we walking?" You looked around as the din of an arcade replaced the quiet store. "I’m guessing it’s one of those things you don’t naturally get used to." You were hardly audible.

"Sorry." He replied sheepishly.

"No, it’s awesome. And convenient. But wow."

He laughed and gestured around. He meant to say something as he gestured but words failed him. He couldn't recall ever being this much of a dork around someone. Then again you were here, comfortable around him, and you even knew mostly what you were getting into. Of course, that didn't mean you wanted him, but even with how you’d interacted with Gentem (and Fennel, for the moments you’d seen him), he wished he could keep you around.

Who knew? It’s how they met--

"Trevor!" Strings noticed the weird neck tattoo covering his friend’s nape and yelled to him. He didn’t hear, but Gixie did. She smacked him on the back of the head gently, and he turned and waved enthusiastically.

The two of them joined you and Strings. "What are you out here for?" Trevor asked, mockingly sour. Strings laughed-- and Trevor noticed you. "Oh shit, Gix. He’s on a date."

"No fucking way." She said incredulously. "Wait… this is the ad person. Oh my god it’s Trevor number two!”

"Am I being replaced?" Trevor asked, wobbling his stubbled chin but cracking a smile unintentionally.

Introductions were made, and you quickly realized that there was an eerie bond between Gixie and Trevor. Not in that they were obviously in love, but more like they would kill anyone who messed with the other.

Gixie was almost sugary sweet in disposition, but she dressed like a succubus in a faux leather miniskirt and strange boots to cover her very inhuman feet. She wore a wealth of bracelets, but a single ring on her left hand. She also seemed to enjoy wearing the choker on her neck because she kept touching the d-ring on it as if expecting it to have moved somehow.

You noted now that you saw her in person that she wore a spike-studded strip of leather braided into her hair. "Keeps people from grabbing it." She explained when you asked. "At least, unless I ask them to nicely." With such an adorable voice, it was difficult to reconcile her with her words.

Trevor was just as wide and imposing as he appeared in the videos-- but shorter. Turns out, he performs the songs in platform boots so he doesn’t look so short. Sure, he still topped Fennel, but Fennel was just under four and a half feet tall.

Now, though, Trevor was in a comfortable pair of abused converse with cute paintings on the toes. You stared for a moment before realizing the doodles were all from video games. Trevor sported black skinny jeans paired with a white muscle tank and black suspenders.

From the angle you were standing, you could see under the tank’s edge. Trevor had healing scar tissue on his chest. You remembered a post on the official website that a gig had to be rescheduled about a month ago for Trevor to heal completely after his mastectomy.

Trevor pulled you aside after a few moments of small talk. “Hey, human to human, here.” He said, grinning lopsidedly at you. “You need any help around town, let me know, okay? I had a crash course in all this stuff, so I know how… baffling it is. Hell, I’ll grab our friend Alison, too. She knows all the hot places to hang out.”

You agreed to get in touch with him should you need help, and then he became serious, his face morphing into something stoic. “So. Just thought I’d throw this out there… but I’m sure you know that between Gix and I, you hurt Strings, you’re in trouble.”

His face softened a bit. “I’m not too worried about him getting into trouble with the ad stuff. I’ve seen him get hurt, I know he’ll be fine… physically. Just try to keep that from happening. He’s not immune to damage here, y’know?” He put a hand over his heart to make his point clear.

“Platonic date or not, have fun with him, have fun with us… but remember that he’s our priority.”

You grinned. “I understand. Trust me, I don’t want to see him-- or any of you-- hurt. I’m glad to see he has friends who love him like that. The big brother act especially is heartwarming.”

The boy blushed. “Yeah… Thanks for not taking it personally.”

“You want to show me around? Show me the best game you know I’ve never played before.”

There was an abrupt 180 in his mood. It was as if a switch had been flipped and he was a sign that read Oh, yes, this is my true calling. “whAT KIND OF GAMES DO YOU USUALLY LIKE?!”

 

Gixie stood in line at the concessions with Strings. “Good to see you’re taking my advice, I just didn’t expect it to be a craigslist ad-respondant.”

“I’m not desperate.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“This is platonic.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t.”

“What do you want from me?” He turned to look at her. “Look, Gix, we’ve been through this, right?”

“I’m not upset, Strings.” She was laughing incredulously. “And as far as I’m concerned, yes we’ve been through it a million times and we don’t need to revisit it. I’m happy, you’re happy, and everyone’s still okay around each other. There’s no jealousy, no resentment, no hidden emotions or rumors. We’re adults who can talk about that shit when we need to.”

“Right. So tell me what it is you want me to say right now.”

“I want you to tell me you’ll be okay going there. And you know I don’t mean physically.”

“God, between you and Gentem, you make up for lost time with parents.”

“I’m well aware. Don’t change the subject.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

“Okay… so, also… you gonna break that poor kid’s heart?”

“Not planning on it.”

“Good. I getting a good vibe. Also, I bet Trevor the other half of my sandwich that you’ll get laid tonight.”

“I’m surprised.”

“No you’re not.”

The two of them bickered like siblings for the rest of the line’s endurance.

 

When Strings found you and Trevor next, Trevor was introducing you to all the monster-made arcade machines (most of which sported MTT branding and/or product placement). He provided the coinage for you to try out Cooking Metta, which was simply a knockoff of Cooking Mama featuring the oversexuallized and overrated (according to Fennel) robot star.

Gixie and you seemed to get along really well, much to Strings’ relief. In fact, he’d not seen anyone dislike you.

A dark part of his mind, a curious part, made him think to message Nica, to get her take on all of this. Nica was prone to visions of the future. Not always clear, but almost invariably true. But ever since Strings had his little breakdown, asking Nica if he would ever die, if this, if that, if what-- he decided it would be better to not know. It made him respect her a lot more, knowing that he could never live with the strain of not knowing, or-- even worse-- knowing something will happen that can’t be changed.

 

Gixie had taken you aside at some point and very quietly shared some choice information. “He’s fascinated with your mouth.” She said, without preamble.

“Uh?” Your words had deserted you, as any normal person’s would if they were suddenly thrown this information out of nowhere.

Gixie went on, unhindered. “I can tell because he keeps staring at it. If he had lips, he’d be chewing them. Gotta admit, though, I can see it.” The sultry lilt to her light voice caught you off guard again, and so you could only respond--

“Uh?” You stared at Gixie, saw her grin devilishly. She patted your cheek and gave you a sweet look.

“Sorry, I just wanted to let you know. It makes it more interesting to watch.”

For some reason, you felt like you would rather die than get on her bad side.

 

When you came back to where you could see Strings, though, her words came back to you and you found yourself smirking inadvertently. You tried to look away to hide it, but it just wouldn’t go away. Hell, you’d had a feeling he wanted you (perhaps?) but if Gixie was right… Now you knew what it was that kept his gaze.

It just happened to be the part of you that you currently couldn’t make act natural.

Quit smirking. QUIT IT! HE’S GONNA THINK YOU WANT THE D!

Wait… does he have the D? Do I WANT the D?

Your smirk reminded you that you very well might.

 

Trevor and Gixie went to go finish some errands and come back, leaving you and Strings to explore the arcade together. Strings admitted that he wasn’t very good at these games, but he’d play them if you wanted to kick his ass at them.

Apparently he was hustling. The two of you played a Street Fighter clone featuring “Royal Guards V.S. Robots!” Either the Mettaton character was unbalanced, or you really sucked at it. He gave you a turn with Mettaton, and you still weren’t sure which it was.

Luckily, there was an actual Street Fighter game, too, and at that point you discovered the only way to beat Strings was by luck and button mashing. He was laughing his ass off the entire time.

“Fuck you, man, we’re gonna have to play Marvel VS Capcom sometime.” You grumbled.

“Sounds fun.” He sounded slightly bored. He casually then pointed at a shoot-’em-up game. “Wanna try that one?”

You stared at it. HOUSE OF THE UNDEAD: THREEEEEEE “That?”

“Don’t knock it till you try it. C’mon.”

“Uhh, I’ll just watch you.”

“Fuck that, pick up the gun, I’ve already put change in it. It’s fun.”

“Thought you didn’t play these.”

“Not in a long time, but this one was always my favorite.”

It should be noted that the biggest difference between monster and human arcade games is graphics. And we’re not talking “Oh look, those graphics are scary good!” The first time a zombie jumped out at you and Strings had to shoot it, you damn near fell over from the shock. This was borderline virtual reality!

Now very aware that this game didn’t mess around, you were shooting with about as much heart as he was-- but with less joyful glee. Strings was laughing maniacally as he shot, occasionally side-mouthing to you in a playfully monotonous voice. “Headshot.”

It made you laugh. The two of you probably spent five dollars playing that game over the course of the next half hour, and toward the end you were both laughing too hard to play. “Quit kill-stealing, or I’ll shoot you!” You said, smirking at him.

“Hit me with your best shot. I should be fine, with your accuracy.” He retorted.

Both of you dropped your guns in the resulting laughing fit.

There was a blue-furred bunny hosting a frozen bar in the rear of the arcade. Apparently, his brand had become popular enough that (with help from Mettaton) he’d opened this arcade and offered his treats in the back. He seemed sweet, if exhausted.

The icee-- er, “Nicee”-- was definitely worth the price. At the rate you were going, the money Gentem saved you by buying the clothes for you would be going to this arcade and eating and drinking all these treats. On top of that, it was monster food, so when you downed it, expecting brainfreeze, it was like an immediate kick in the crotch with energy. Your mouth and esophagus tingled like you’d just coated them in poprocks.

Dangerous-feeling, but not actually painful. Strings was laughing at your expressions as they changed a million times in those two minutes of drinking and recovering from the treat.

Thoroughly energized, you and he hit the dance floor-- or, well, the two of you stood in line for a few minutes to play what appeared to be MTT Brand DDR, called DBG. Strings assured you there were some good songs on it, some of them weren’t even by Mettaton. In fact, apparently the brunt of the songs were chosen by the Royal Scientist and the Former Captain of the Royal Guard.

Your curiosity was accompanied by an assumption that this would be terrible.

“Okay, okay, so hear me out. Let’s do the hardest song on here as a warmup.” He said, and you realized that the game was entirely decked out with vocaloid songs covered by Mettaton. Sweet Jesus.

You, however, were higher than life on the energy you’d just gotten from your first (over)dose of monster food, and so you grinned at him. “Bring it on.”

Regardless, the song was fun, and your flailing attracted a sizable crowd. Strings seemed to be trying hard to do it right, but you were literally just having a high-speed fly-apart on the little dais. You weren’t even breathing heavily when it was over, but you had burnt a good deal of it off. You felt human again.

“God, it never gets old. You should have seen Trevor have his first monster food. He bought a fucking mini fridge, stocked it with that stuff, carried it on his back like a backpack, and hung out at the gym for the entire day. Fennel hid in the empty fridge, and when Trevor’s energy wore off, he put the fridge back on his back and crawled home, thinking the food gave him super strength, too.”

“Oh my god.” You were shaking, jittery, but also laughing your ass off.

“No, that’s not the best part. Fennel fell out halfway home and Trevor didn’t even notice him. He was so fucking tired. So Fennel had to carry him the rest of the way home!”

“Holy shit.”

“And let me tell you something. Fennel, packing an unconscious human a bit bigger than him-- and a mini fridge it was just perfect. I really wish I had been there myself. A friend of mine, owns a bar, he got me surveillance footage though, so.”

“I want to see it.” You said.

“I told Fennel it could end up on the internet if it got into the wrong hands.”

You chuckled. “Gixie, right?”

He shook his head. “Gentem.”

“No way.”

“Gentem and Fennel have been good friends for like… seventy some-odd years now. And Gentem is a gossip king.”

“Holy shit, that’s hilarious. I can’t imagine Gentem doing something like that. It seems… mean.”

“He does shit like that all the time in fact he’s doing it right this moment. You hear that? That’s the sound of him ditching us because he wants something to happen.”

“But…. Gixie and Trevor…?”

“Gixie’s phone went off literally five minutes before they left. It was Gentem’s ringtone.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. One day I’ll ask why all her ringtones are Rob Zombie songs, though. Dragula doesn’t fit Gentem.”

You cracked up and pointed back at the DBG machine. “Wanna go again?”

“Hell yeah. Let’s do one that won’t make you look like you’re panicking after being lit on fire.”

“That bad?”

“Hilariously, yes.”

This time around, you actually tried to do the dance steps, and found it much easier, and much more fun-- especially considering Strings sucked at this. How on earth could someone who was musically inclined have no fucking regards for rhythm?

Afterwards, one of the onlookers challenged you to a song, and you agreed. What was the worst that could happen?

 

Strings stood back and watched you and your opponent exchange a handshake before-- OH GOD NO.

It wasn’t that he hated this song, it was just… He looked around to make sure there were no children in the vicinity to read the subtitles on the screen. He figured that you couldn't possibly dance while reading along-- if you did, you were sure to fuck up. He migrated to the side to watch your face as you stared at the screen in front of you, biting your lip with concentration, brow knitted.

He didn’t even really care if you won or lost, this was fun to watch in either case. No wonder everyone was crowding the two of you. He didn’t want to admit that he was glancing at your ass, but holy shit, you were getting into it.

He needed help.

You know what is definitely better than standing here, mouth agape, staring at this person and thinking about inviting them back to my place to shower? He asked himself, turning away forcefully. Getting this person who I definitely should not project on a drink, because holy shit they’re just… gonna start…. Getting dehydrated. Fuck. Quit. Quit thinking about drenching them in cold water. Stop.

The mental image of you, soaked, your clothes clinging impossibly tighter to you, all but transparent… the way you’d gasp at the sudden change in temperature.

Fuck, he felt like an idiot. This was honestly a first for him, taking a situation that would not honestly be outright sexual and turning it into a fantasy.

As long as he didn’t get a boner, he was good, right?

 

After you dosed yourself with monster energy again (only without downing it all at once, thankfully), the two of you headed deeper into the arcade.

The din of ski ball machines and basketball shoot games was overwhelming, as were the swarm of kids as they sprinted around. A group of young children were huddled at a single machine as a child with no arms played the motorcycle racing game, using their tail as counterbalance when needed. The other children were cheering them on.

Strings led you past, and he parked you next to the ski ball furthest from the nearest kid. “C’mon, you’re all hyped up, so let’s test your arm.”

You snickered. “Whatever. I’ll beat you at this, too.”

He covered his chest in mock hurt. “Probably.”

You hadn’t expected that to be his reaction and giggled again, glancing away.

He really loved that little grin, and how you tried so hard to hide it from him. He also loved that smirk-- which you were now wearing. He glanced up from your mouth to meet your eyes, aware he hadn’t heard what you’d said. “Hm?”

“I said we can make it more fun.”


“Oh?” His grin returned. “You want me to try to beat you? That’s just not in my nature.”

“Unless it’s a shooting game?”

“Just that one. That one’s fun.”

“If you didn’t think this was fun, why suggest it?”

“It’s fun, just… more fun to watch.”

You stared at him. “What? Why is it fun to watch?”

“Just play.”

You maintained eye contact with him as you grabbed one of the balls. “We’re both going to play. Whoever scores higher gets to decide the rest of the night.”

He hitched a brow. “You wanted out of here, just had to say.”

“Never said that.” To be honest, you just didn’t want to leave at all.

“I’ll bite.” He said.

You nodded, satisfied, and began trying to play-- but every single shot either landed in the 100 or 200 point bins.

He watched your face morph into embarrassment at first, suspicion next, and finally into aggravation. “What the hell?” You asked at last. “No matter where I aim, it goes to the same holes!”

He tried but couldn’t help but crack up. “Nice wording.” He said. “Only so many holes you can go in, though. At least you didn’t miss them entirely.”

“God, you’re a pervert.” You laughed along. “But seriously. What the fuck.”

“Try again, then.” He said. “Unless that’s your final score.”

You hissed in disapproval. “I’ll try one more time but I’m fairly certain it’s broken. Or something. Something’s fucked up over here.”

Again, Strings messed around with your shots to the point where none of them even made it to the holes at all. “Damn.” He chuckled. “You suck at this.”

You growled at him, but you pointed to the basketball game. “Let me try that one instead. Surely it can’t be…”

You didn’t get much better results. Now you were getting embarrassed.

“How about this.” He said. “If you can manage to miss every single shot-- yknow, like you’ve been doing-- I’ll take you to this really nice little place. Good music, good food, dark atmosphere. Less kids. The works.”

You wouldn’t normally think much of this, but you’d been becoming hyper aware of him for the past few minutes, and now it felt like he was right behind you, and he was whispering this close to your ear.

Pride be damned. “Deal.”

You made every shot.

He was laughing his ass off. It sunk in. “You fucking asshole, you did this.”

“Yep.” He said. “Unfair advantage, sorry.”

You huffed at him. “So you just… didn’t want to go, then?”

He grinned. “Didn’t say that. And you did just score maximum points on that, so that means you can decide what we do next.”

“You haven’t played, though.”

“No but you humored me through my little game and haven’t tried to kill me for it.” He said. “You have a good sense of humor.”

You knew you were blushing. You were somewhere between telling him to Fuck off, or saying Thank you. “Thank off.” You muttered.

“What?”

You bit your cheek.

“So what do you want to do next?” He asked.

“Take me.”

The lights of his eyes disappeared and he just stood there.

“Out. To the other place. Take me there.” You quickly added, your face on fire.

He grinned, blinking his eyes back on. “Heh… Heheh… Had me going there for a second.” He was glad he had been too shocked to respond initially.

 

Based on the speed of the day thus far, you had expected to encounter someone else at this place he’d talked about-- but upon arriving you felt that maybe the pattern would end here. This wasn’t a quaint little restaurant, this was a dark cove emanating magic and music and an overall sultry feeling that made you glance back at him.

He shrugged. “Welcome to Lily’s.” He said. “We perform here often. Pays well.”

The lights inside were, for lack of a better term, magical. They must have been some kind of modified blacklight-- and you realized you could see through monsters in here, with this light. About a dozen souls, stark white in the darkness, interacting with one another.

This… seemed like an intimate little setup.

“Uhh, is this… a thing?”

“Oh, uh. Kind of?” He had forgotten you were new to this. You’d been taking everything in stride so well, it felt like he knew you forever. Come to think of it, he didn’t know you at all, did he?

He kind of wanted to fix that, but not as badly as he wanted to see you step into those lights. Human souls were strange, like little glitches in the monster matrix-- at least, that’s how he saw it. And under these lights, the exposure of the soul would refract and cast some beautiful shadow over everything around it. He was eager to see you backlit with your own aura.

It was definitely the most PG way of seeing you naked he could get, he thought to himself, jokingly.

At this point, he’d given in to the knowledge that he definitely wanted to do non-PG things with you. Lots of things. If you were down for it, that is.

He just couldn’t let himself develop feelings deeper than friendship. This was nice, but there was no way anything deeper would work. You were a fan, had a racist family and lived in a racist town. He was a danger to you and honestly your walks of life were too different, too wildly separate, that he couldn’t honestly see it working for more than a casual fling.

He couldn’t get his hopes up, especially not knowing what this meant to you. For all he knew, if you were attracted to him, it might just be the taboo of fucking a monster that appealed to you. He didn’t want to believe that, but considering it wouldn’t be the first time he’d encountered that situation...

But here he was, getting ahead of himself again.

Lily’s cousin Starlet came and seated the two of you in a booth in the corner of the room, giving Strings an ill-hidden wink as she sauntered off. “Play nice, you two.” She said over her shoulder.

“I swear, if Gentem’s already posted about this, I’m going to kill him.” He grumbled, and you laughed at how he was blushing.

The food was decent, but the energy it gave you was different than the Nicee that you’d had earlier. Whereas that energy made you hyper, focused, and aware, this made the sounds around you tingle your skin, made your chest feel light and heavy with each change of the beat, made you want to throw yourself into what felt like a cascading river of music, so close to you.

The two of you were both hazed by the energy, edged on by the still-simmering tension between the two of you.

At some point, you got up to walk out closer to the speakers. The pulsations of music were washing over you and it felt amazing. The others on the dancefloor didn’t mind you at all, and you cast shadows and light on everything around you as your soul flared under the lights, making you a vivid silhouette dancing in the darkness, bathing the area in vibrance.

Strings got up and hurried after you, hoping his soul didn’t freak anyone out, if anyone even noticed. He called to you, and you turned. The music was changing and now you looked up at him, and god did you love the way he said your name. The music was picking up again and buzzing you from the inside out.

He watched the colors reflect in your eyes, the way your smile spread, the way your fingers unerringly clutched his shirt, pulling him closer.

You didn’t feel like part of a stream now, but a current, from the moment you touched him. You bit at your lip and fought the intense feeling flooding your soul. He was mesmerized by you, and it was heady, setting your every nerve alight as you pressed your body to him and danced. And just as his touch had ignited you…

It certainly wasn’t a bad thing to feel your body against his.

 

When the energy wore off, it was hard to tell.

It was at some point where the music flowed through the two of you like a current where you realized just how good it felt to be so close to him. The feeling of his bones pressed against your skin, his hands on your hips-- it made you think of another context for it, and you had to break away.

You retreated to a quieter, darker corner to compose yourself.

Oh, shit. Had this been too much? He went looking for you. He had to apologize, see if you were upset.

At last he found you, and you met his gaze only to blush darkly and press yourself further into the shadows of the corner.

“Did I upset you?” He asked softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for…”

“N-no.” You said. “Sorry, I just… got overwhelmed.”

He was standing close to you, and in the shadows, all you could see was the pips of light in his sockets. “Do you need to leave?”

“No…” You didn’t want the date to end. You were having way too much fun, and it would be impossible to just tell him you didn’t care where the rest of the night took you as long as it didn’t end.

He leaned in closer. Again, you could feel the warmth exuding from him, and you hummed a bit in response.

"Are you having fun?" He was much closer, his body a breath away from yours. His voice was quieter, close to your ear.

Your breath, and heart, caught and he chuckled.

“Are you always so quiet?" He whispered, coming even closer, and you moved the infinitesimal amount to let your bodies touch again. The echo of that feeling from earlier made you stammer.

"J-just when I don’t know how to say something."

He laughed. "Just say it. Can’t be that bad. Not gonna judge you."

"I..." You trailed off, unable to say it. With your bodies touching, now, it brought back the mind-hazing feelings you’d attempted to escape. "I swear this isn’t normal." You said, blushing and turning away.

"What isn't?" He’d gone still and tried to force himself to relax. Dating a skeleton? Is that it? He didn’t want to admit that it was a sore spot. He’d been a fetish, a taboo before. He wanted to believe you were better than that.

"I… This is just… really heavy. I’m really attracted to you and..." You swallowed your breath. "I wasn’t expecting it to be this much."

God, me either. He had relaxed again.

You continued. "I… kinda wish the date didn’t have to be… platonic." You looked up at him then, shyly, but with a look about you that made him grin wickedly.

He bit his tongue to keep from saying the wrong thing. Was there a wrong thing to say? Yes, definitely. Keep calm, Strings, you got this! “Bear with me and it doesn't… have to be.”

“Bear with you?” You cast a furtive glance at his mouth and then back to his eyes.

“There are things I’d rather wait on for now… but… I’d love to take you home with me.” He didn’t mean to sound so vehement on that. Rather than come off as desperate, though, it only went to show you that he was just as bothered as you were.

In the dark corner, no one noticed the sudden absence of two people.

 

Gentem called attention to the group amassed in his closed shop. “Okay, so, does everyone understand the plan?”

“As long as you’re footing the bill, big guy.” Fennel grumbled. “I’m a bit short of funds.”

Alison snorted. “You’re short in more ways than that.”

“Fuck off.”

“I meant brains, but stature works too.” She retorted.

“I ship it.” Trevor mumbled, and Gixie and Nica laughed.

“So the colors are set, and I’m having everyone’s custom made to complement theirs. Unless…” Gentem’s grin twisted in a way no one had seen-- except Fennel, who began laughing.

“Unless?” Gixie’s face lit up.

“We could all crash in our casual clothes and turn a five star evening into a chaotic fuckfest.”

Nica looked at Trevor. “Did he just…?”

“That was the weirdest thing.” Trevor nodded. “I could have sworn bear-dad just swore.”

Fennel chuckled. “You don’t know ‘im very well, then. Let bear-daddy curse.”

“Sweet Jesus, never say that again.” Alison said.

Gentem cleared his throat. “So. We will not bring this up to Strings. I booked the band not an hour away from there, so it’ll be on our way. And we’re just dragging Nica and Alison along because it’s more fun that way.” He gestured at them. “You two have been promoted to groupies.”

Alison snickered. Nica shrugged. “That’s a demotion, for me, isn’t it?”

Trevor squeezed Gixie’s hand. “So… how likely is this to be dangerous?”

“Strength in numbers. One monster, regardless of indestructibility, is easier to take down than three or four humans, an indestructable monster, one who is two to three times larger than most humans, one who looks like a demon and wears spikes hidden on her, one who when you can see her, she looks terrifying if she wants to… and Fennel.”

“I’m scary!” He cried.

“Be ready, everyone. Fittings will be tomorrow. We will go in street clothes, and even if we don’t wear the fancy things there, we’ll wear them at the gig. I already have people making fan art of Strings in that suit on the fan page. Gixie, you’re going to be a doll.”

“Gentem, your gay is showing.” Fennel said.

“Shut up, you’re one to talk.” Alison punched him in the shoulder, but had to bend down to do so.

“I’m involved in this conversation.” Nica said, staring into the camera like she was on the Office. As if anyone knew where she was looking.

Chapter Text

Strings saw the note on the table and felt a bit weirded out but also thankful.

Strings,
Gentem called me over to hang out with him, Nica, and Ali. I’ll catch you tomorrow. Have fun getting boned-- or thinking about boning someone. Please don’t stain the couch or something. Go get laid, you sorry fuck.
With some kind of misguided affection,
Flinnelilin

Fennel liked to sign things with some garbled bullshit in cursive. As long as it started with an F and ended in an n, he got by with it when signing receipts.

Strings didn’t care so much about the note as what this likely meant. “Nica…” Strings growled it. She was meddling-- he wouldn’t mind if it weren’t so fucking obvious!

“Strings?” Your voice reminded him that you had retreated to the bathroom.

“Yeah?”

“Um… So…” You sounded unsure. He stood in his bedroom, staring at the bathroom door.

“What’s up?”

He heard you take a deep breath and then you opened the door, clad only in--

“Ah, shit.” He breathed. Had you been wearing this little underneath all day? Had you anticipated this? Wanted this?

Play it cool, Strings!

You smiled at him. He came closer.

You stood there for a moment, unsure of yourself. It had been a busy day and evening, after all. Did you smell sweaty? Did you look okay in this? Did he think you had planned on jumping him based on what little you were wearing now?

Nothing he thought of sounded right to him. He was honestly lost for words. Again. Again!

This was going too fast. He stopped short of you and held his breath for a moment. There was a reason he’d backed off the dating scene. If it didn't mean anything to him, it was just fucking for the sake of it-- or to feed his cravings for intimacy and pleasure.

That really wasn’t fair to you, he reminded himself.

God but… he stared at you, visibly torn.

"What’s wrong?"

He realized he was making you nervous with his internal debate.

"Nothing’s wrong." He said, grinning roguishly. When in doubt, resort to your stage-persona. He thought, only slightly bitter.

You smiled back and came closer. "So… you said there were limits?"

He mentally sighed in relief. "Yes."

"I understand." You said.

"Thank you." He felt better with that little barrier to keep him from slipping. He could stick to this. He could do it. "Main event stuff is off the table for now. But don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you until you beg me to stop."

Your expression excited him. His fingers slid up your bared arms, a barely-there caress that made you shiver.

"I..." you paused and finally urged yourself into continuing. "I hope I can return the favor?"

If he hadn’t been struggling to not fuck the breath out of you, he might have been more touched about the carefully posed underlying questions. Am I capable of getting you off? Do you have anything for me to please? Are my advances even wanted?

And so, he could answer all those questions at once. He chuckled darkly, leaning in closer. His index finger curled under your chin. He wanted to see your face. Your fingers caught in his shirt, and he noticed them shake a bit at the sound of his voice. "Of course." His voice was low, smooth, soothing. He almost missed the tiny whimper that left you. If your parted lips hadn't been so close…

He closed the distance, and the hesitation quickly began to melt away. What started out as a simple kiss became a struggle to find a way to get each other naked without breaking off contact for more than to catch your breath.

His hands squeezed at your hips, and then he slipped his fingers under the band of your underwear, tugging it down. For some reason, these hands were able to guide them all the way to your ankles without him crouching.

You didn’t care. You were tugging at his shirt in aggravation, at the buckle to his belt, at everything, all to very little effect. He snickered against your mouth, but didn’t move to help you undress him.

When the kiss finally ended, you breathlessly sought his gaze. “Wh… What can I do?”

He grinned. “Mmmm, the bed is a good starting place. Lay down, get comfortable.”

You didn’t want to move that far away. “You’re… still clothed?”

“Better that way, right?” Nothing more sexy than a scuffed up science-class prop, he mused. He looked better in clothes. More human.

He might also be embarrassed that you could realize you were about to fuck a monster and get cold feet.

You just figured it was one of the limits. “If that’s what you need.” You said, settling on the bed and looking at him anxiously. “Is this good?” You asked, feeling more shy by the moment.

He hummed agreement. “Now you gotta relax, ok?”

You chuckled nervously.

“Just… Heh… if my voice is so calming like you said…” His fingers traced down where your sternum was. “Just listen to me.” He was aware he was playing dirty now, but the grin he wore was no longer a product of the stage. He felt confident and desirable, watching you shiver as you visibly ached for his touch-- for his voice.

He leaned down and kissed your hipbone, reveling in the sharp gasp you emitted as his tongue met your skin. He hummed against you, and he pressed another kiss a little further south, and your body anticipated his next moves.

He parted your quivering thighs. You had been rubbing them together, desperate for friction. He continued to kiss, nip, and lick a path to his target. When he arrived there, he didn’t give you time to prepare, time to catch your breath. His tongue, serpentine and glowing in the room’s darkness, lapped across your slit. He chuckled as you yelped.

I need to take my time. He reminded himself. I don’t want it to look like I just want it over... God, but the way you tasted made him groan against you. It had been so long since he’d been able to do anything, and you were quickly proving to be more than he could have asked.

It took palpable effort, but he gentled his touches, and summoned spectral hands to touch you, the chill making you shiver as you tried to wrap your mind around this new development. The unknown, the constant surprises, it was exciting, and the cold gave the pleasure an extra edge.

His spectral fingers instantly beaded your nipples at a touch, and the sweeping caresses across your body took away the ticklishness you’d been fearing might make you accidentally kick him.

He continued to slowly stimulate you, and then you felt his tongue, hot in contrast to the hands, snake over your entrance and the serpentine tip flicker inside teasingly. It felt surreal, it felt deliciously strange, and you didn’t realize you’d put your hand on the back of his head in an attempt to ground yourself and maybe get him to do it again.

Another pair of hands clasped yours, fingers threaded with yours, and put them up by your head. You clutched them helplessly as he rewarded your enthusiasm by delving into you again, further, making you gasp. How long was his goddamn tongue?!

A frigid finger carefully circled your clit while he continued to effectively fuck you with his tongue. He held your quaking thighs open with his hands, otherwise you might try to crush his skull. He could tell you were getting close, and holy shit it felt great to hear you lose your restraint.

At that point he found your g-spot, and the reaction was… well...

It was certainly a good thing Fennel was out.

You were squeezing his hands, only capable of whimpering his name-- and he growled against you, lashing that sensitive spot.

“I’m…!”

He redoubled his efforts, felt you freeze in that blissful tension for a moment before it shattered and you writhed, your body clutching around his tongue. He chuckled against you, letting his spectral hands dissipate.

You were panting, trying to prop yourself up on your elbows to look at him as he slowly disengaged himself from you, causing your body to shudder pleasantly with aftershocks, overstimulated.

You couldn’t really speak for a moment, too taken aback by the look in his eyes as he stared up at you. There was something primal and devastating about him, and you would be lying if you said you didn’t want more-- okay, you were tired, but holy shit you didn’t want to stop.

You made yourself sit up, and he remained kneeling there. He let go of your thighs and pressed a kiss to the inside of one before smirking back up at you. “Everything okay?” He asked.

“Your turn.” You said, voice raspy from overuse.

He chuckled. “You don’t have to.” His eyes lidded. “I got more out of that than you know.”

You saw a bulge straining at his pants and your mouth went dry. Had it already been dry? You weren’t sure at the moment. You were still partially not here. You looked back to his face. You tried to speak but failed-- and so you tried again.

“May I, please?”

Manners, my secret weakness. He thought.

“If you really want to.” He said.

You nodded, and patted the bed next to you. “Are you… comfortable getting undressed?”

“Are you comfortable with me getting undressed?”

You stared at him. “Wh-why wouldn’t I be?”

He chuckled and reached over his shoulder to pull the shirt over his back.

You had prepared yourself, but he was really just a skeleton. With bones. And a few scratches. His bones were thicker, broader than a human’s, which lent to a less fragile look.

He was actually… kind of… fascinating to look at.

With how he was watching you, you realized he was waiting for you to change your mind. You just stared up at him and giggled. "The pants, too. If you don’t mind."

He seemed relieved, and took his belt off. You waited as patiently as you could. Would he have a human dick? Was that presumptuous? Would it be something otherworldly?

God, but this was exciting. His pants, free of the belt, would have barely hung upon his hips if not for the press of his erection. You were mystified.

He couldn't help but laugh at how intently you were staring at his crotch.

His laughter startled you for a moment, but you took matters into your own hands. You reached out and grabbed his belt loops, tugging him to you. He stumbled in your direction, and you parted your thighs to let him stand between them as you sat on the edge of the bed.

You looped your feet behind his legs and looked up at him mischievously. “If you’re going to tease me, I’ll just have to work harder for it, won’t I?”

God, what the hell did I just say?! You felt your face light on fire. Fuck it, it worked.

It certainly did. He stared down at you, just as captivated as you had been. If manners were sexy, this was devastating. He loved your confidence-- it made him feel less intimidating.

You returned your attention to his crotch, letting your finger trace the bulge there. He shifted his weight on his feet.

Oh, so NOW he gets impatient.

You chuckled to yourself and unfastened his pants. As soon as his erection sprung free-- since he didn’t seem to wear underwear-- his pants fell from around his hips and puddled across your knees where you’d looped them behind his legs.

He watched you as you studied him, as you took him into your hand. The feeling of mostly-raw magic against your skin made you shiver, and you smiled. You were less intimidated and more eager to learn what drove him crazy. You wondered if you’d be able to make his legs give.

That required muscles, didn’t it? Nevermind.

You wondered if he chose a human-style dick to make you less likely to get freaked out, or if that was legitimately what formed regardless. In any case, you mused, this was going to be--

Holy shit.

All you’d done was press a kiss to it and-- What the hell?! You tried again, for good measure. Yes, it definitely had a more noticeable feeling against your mouth than it did your hand. Monster food was one thing, but monster magic… you were starting to wonder if this was going to be addictive.

Incensed, you decided, to hell with it and licked along the underside of his shaft. He hissed in appreciation, and you had to stifle your own groan as the sensation ignited your nerves.

Briefly, you wondered what this would feel like inside you.

You pressed the tip to your lips and noticed he seemed to be restraining himself. You half-wanted him not to, but the feeling as you let him slip past, into your mouth, made you wonder if you’d survive him if he lost control.

You swirled your tongue around the tip and pressed further down the shaft, pulling back to look up at him, feeding off his reactions, off the power over him he was giving you.

God but he was struggling. When you met his gaze, he saw that wicked expression that was only warning he’d get that he was going to need to hold on.

His hands fell to your shoulders to brace himself, but when you began to bob your head upon his length it did little to ground him, especially with the intensity added by the vibrations of your voice.

Hell, he realized he was pent up enough that his magic might be stinging you, but he couldn't rein it in at this point. It required an amount of focus he could not--

"Ffff!" Whatever the hell you were doing--

You pulled off and looked up with concern. "Bad?"

"More." He panted. "Please don’t stop."

Okay. Apparently he isn’t averse to the occasional use of teeth. You noted, and went back to your task with renewed gusto.

You couldn’t help but stop every once in awhile to look up at him. His reactions were delicious, the concentrated expression, the harsh intake of breath, the curious way he’d stare down at you when you’d stop.

You couldn't help but to tease him. It was immensely satisfying-- but he’d behaved well enough, you thought.

You put unbroken attention toward his pleasure, rewarded immediately with a groan. He was close, you could just feel it. You weren't sure what to expect, but you weren't backing out now.

At some point his hand ended up knotted in your hair and he choked your name, you guessed as an attempt to warn you.

You paid him no mind this time and continued, until he growled, his grip tightening in your hair. You surprisingly didn’t even gag when he unintentionally thrust into your throat as he came.

At some point you had begun grappling his thighs as you worked him-- and now you realized you were attempting to dig your nails in, shaking from the overload of energy, similar to a mild electrical sting in the back of your throat.

He was panting, and when you pulled away, you felt him attempt to disentangle his hand from your hair.

The energy had made you lightheaded and giddy, and so when you glanced up to meet his eyes you started giggling a bit.

His face cracked into a smile as well. High on the euphoria, he almost felt like collapsing but you were still holding him up with your legs.

He managed to extricate his hand from your hair and you guided him onto the bed beside you.

"That… was different." You managed.

He merely sighed heavily with contention.

After a pause, his arms went around your waist and you laid down next to him. "Mmmn, a good different, right?"

"That was definitely one of the hottest things..." You trailed off, your shyness returning.

He couldn't help but chuckle.

You managed to speak again. "Um… how was...?"

"You… were great." Shit, he could say more than that, couldn't he? He struggled to think of something, anything to say… "Do you want to spend the night?"

"If… if you want me to, I’d love to." He heard the smile in your voice. "I’m calling in tomorrow. Fuck them."

He hummed. "Maybe in the morning."

You giggled a bit but felt yourself beginning to drift off. You’d honestly love another go with him, especially with the curiosity of how it would feel…

"If you’re up for it." You whispered, but he was already asleep, clutching you to him. You followed shortly thereafter, feeling safe and somewhat bewildered that the night had gone this way.

 

You woke up in your own bed, the wedding clothes Gentem bought hanging on your bedroom door.

There was a note on the bedside table.

Sorry for intruding, but I didn't want to leave you alone at my place and Fennel come poking around at you. You want to hang out again, let me know.
I had a lot of fun, can’t wait for the wedding.
Strings.

Had last night happened? You looked around and at yourself.

Yep. It had happened. You were dressed, yes, but disheveled enough to know he’d dressed you in the small hours of the night to get you home.

God but you could still feel the places he’d kissed, and feel the buzz of his magic against your mouth.

You ended up going into work anyway, but there was a glow about you and your tiny, satisfied smirk that drew attention.

 

You couldn't wait for the wedding either.

Chapter Text

The two of you didn't text or contact each other after that. You were terrified to. How the fuck would you follow up what happened? Just text and say “Hey, you up for round two? What are we?”

Instead you found yourself texting Trevor almost incessantly. And of course, that led to you getting everyone else’s numbers too.

Well, to be honest, of course Trevor gave you Gixie’s and Alison’s number. However, Fennel hijacked Alison’s phone and after a very confusing conversation with who you couldn’t quite convince yourself was Alison, you got Fennel’s number-- who gave you Gentem’s. And between all of them, there was no peace.

What really startled you was the oft-mentioned but never-met psychic, Nica. She turned out to be hilarious and endearing in what interactions you had with her.

No one even gave her your number. She just called you out of the blue one day, and said "Hey this is random but don’t park in your usual spot at work. Someone dropped a bottle and didn't clean it up. Uh, unless this is a metaphor… in which case, look for a new job soon."

Nica didn’t text or call much, but when she did it was usually at three in the morning, and entirely too cryptic for your liking. Other than that, she was an absolute joy. She was more well-versed in memes than Gentem and Fennel.

You expected it to be draining to have so much interaction, so many friends vying for your attention at once, but it made the days blur together until you were stuck staring at your calendar wondering how the weeks had passed so quickly. The wedding was soon. Too soon.

Shit. You needed to get in touch with Strings.

It didn’t help that you felt ticklish just thinking of him, or that you still sometimes caught yourself staring into space, biting your tingling lips, memories popping up unbidden as time gnawed at you, reminding you that the longer you waited to talk, the more awkward and less pleasant it would be.

Nica chose to text you on one such occasion. “Just fucking do it.” She said.

Fuck it, I think I will. You decided. Hell, if it went wrong, you’d blame the prophet.

 

Fennel had been keeping Strings posted on your daily conversations. Mercilessly.

Strings didn’t know your routine. He didn’t know anything other than what he gleaned from the (amazing) day you spent together and whatever his friends were spewing at him. He wanted to text you, wanted to get in on your company.

Hell, he couldn't quit thinking about you. He found himself staring into space often, and the thought of your smile, your laugh, or the memory of how you breathed his name after you were satisfied

The silence wore on between you though, and despite everyone saying he could make the first move, frankly he was terrified to.

You did ask how he was often, though. That made him feel better.

 

There had been a tune in his head lately, so he was hammering it out with the acoustic Gentem had given him, which Strings had named Ursa.

It was a peaceful song, really. A good one. But the words in his head…

"Do you ever look in the mirror and it’s not you you see, ‘cause everything changed. It all changed so quickly. Do you ever look in the mirror and say it’s not me. He’s more than I could be. You’ve made me love me."

He went over that little chorus again and again, cementing it in his mind so he could build off it-- holy shit where was his phone? He should be recording this…

Shit. Now that he quit playing, he could hear his ringtone going off. Perfect timing. Where was that little fucker?

He was hunting for it, praying it didn’t stop ringing yet.

It quit just as he realized where it was, diving into the laundry hamper for the pants he’d worn the day before.

He had expected it to be Gentem or Fennel-- maybe even Nica-- but when he finally saw who had been calling, he inhaled sharply to belt out "Aaaaaaaaawwwww FUck!"

He redialed you and sat down on the floor next to the laundry, waiting tensely for your response.

You answered and he immediately spoke. "I am so damn sorry, I didn't know where my phone was, what’s up?"

If he had skin he would have forcibly bitten his lip off, cringing as hard as he was.

After a very tense moment, he heard you breathe a laugh, and your smile was audible when you finally spoke.

“Good to hear from you, Strings."

Fuck, but it shouldn’t have felt so good to hear your voice. To hear his name.

Shit. That was feelings.

"Good to hear from you too." He responded. "So what’s up? Wanna grab something to eat and figure out the plan? When is it?"

He hoisted himself up off the floor and sought out the calendar. Fennel had covered it in about three dozen little sticky tabs, each labeled with how often you had asked about him to any of them, color-coded by who you’d asked.

Goddammit, Fennel.

Shows how often I look at the calendar, I guess. He mused, trying to peek at what date it was without too many little tabs getting knocked to the floor.

"Three days from now." You said. "I looked at the date and almost died. I’m sorry it took so long for me to call..."

"Sorry I didn’t either… I uh… didn't know what to say."

"Same here." You admitted. "I thought about it a lot… I just…"

God, me too.

"Okay, so. The plan. We need a plan. So…" You made a valiant attempt to change the subject. He let you. "How about… you… show up here a couple hours before, I’ll brief you on everything relevant, we can grab a bite on the way there..."

"And we’re getting dressed there, right?"

"Y-yeah." Quit thinking about that night! You begged yourself.

He chuckled. "It’s a date then."

"Holy fuck a Valentine’s Date." You marveled, exaggerating your voice in an effort to make him laugh again. It made you tingle a bit to hear and-- he didn't disappoint.

The words left his mouth before he could overthink them. "Y’know, after all this is said and done, feel free to keep in touch. You made a great impression on everyone here."

He could hear your blush as you stammered in response. He pressed on. "Just think about it. Lots of things to show you around here. I’d love to see you down here more."

He was out to give you a heart attack, apparently. "I… y-yes that would be…" you cleared your throat. "Yeah. I’d like that."

 

After that, it was like the floodgates had opened. You were still hesitant to text him, but now you were close to understanding he was nervous too. And he wanted to hear from you.

You texted about work, about your family members and other people he’d be meeting. He texted about fans who he’d met, escapades with Fennel-- and some with the others, but mostly Fennel.

Dreams, music, philosophy. Comedy, movies, more music. It went on and on, and the last three days flew by in a haze of everyone else giggling over the two of you.

There was an ongoing bet between Alison and Fennel, and another between Gixie and Trevor. Nica just sat back, thoroughly amused.

So, without fanfare, Strings sat in front of your house in his van at six in the morning-- your time. He was very accustomed to not sleeping for long periods of time. He wasn’t even anxious right now. He was actually pretty excited, all things considered. This was going to be fun, and he was going to put on a damn good performance.

Hell, maybe he’d somehow impress you in the process.

I need to quit thinking that shit.

On the way to the wedding, the two of you jammed the fuck out to bands you’d never heard of but Strings had been working with. All of them were little indie bands, most of them revitalizing the punk genre with monsters headlining or ghostwriting.

Punk’s not dead, just buried under a mountain, one song stated.

Upon arriving, you expected a reaction. The parking was hell, but to your satisfaction, you saw two of your cousins were sneering. You remarked to Strings to be careful of slashed tires.

You would be lying if you said you weren’t looking forward to seeing him in that tux again. You remembered how he looked at you when you were dressed up, too, and it made you even more eager.

Both of you were noticed going into the bathrooms to change. Your brother was one of the onlookers, and he cringed so hard that his face almost turned inside out.

It gave you a lovely feeling of danger, satisfaction, and justice. This prick had showed you up and made you feel inferior every step of the way-- and now that he found a girl desperate enough for him, you were here to ruin it like he ruined everything since your childhood.

God, this was a heady experience.

Leaving the bathroom, you stumbled almost literally into Strings. He offered his arm and walked you back out--

"Excuse me, but where are the clothes I Gave you?" Mona asked as you exited.

"It didn't fit, remember? And it was hideous. So I gave it to Goodwill and got something classier. Do you like it? I know you do. Hey, sorry, we should go meet and greet, shouldn’t we?" You smiled and walked past her, dragging Strings with you.

He was trying so hard to not laugh until he had some sort of aneurysm. Could he get those? He was about to find out.

Under your breath, you spoke to him. "The difference between Mona and a velociraptor is one is a clever girl and the other is my sister-in-law."

Yep, he couldn't hold it in anymore.

 

Five minutes was all it took for Strings to charm the hell out of a group of strangers in front of an empty stage.

Mona’s grandmother, an aging and entirely hilarious Catholic lady, shared between generous sips of wine (which she proudly admitted to taking from the open bar before it opened) that the entertainment had cancelled on them due to Mona’s attitude.

You tried your best to keep a straight face. Every time the lady-- Tricia, she kept telling you-- took a look around, she followed it up with "Lord, give me strength or cardiac arrest." Before taking a generous sip.

Hell, too bad Mona didn’t take after this woman. That would have been a wedding you would have enjoyed.

In any case, it came out that Strings was a musician. Tricia cocked her head and grinned. "I’m suddenly parched for something virgin. Let’s go get some of that shitty punch my daughter made from her ugly mother-in-law’s recipe."

God, maybe you were related to her secretly. The bitterness was uncanny.

She politely drug you both toward the buffet table where she promptly lost you as she rushed off to meet someone else. You shrugged and perused the buffet table.

A familiar voice made you almost inhale one of the finger foods.

Strings was standing at your side, slack-jawed, staring at the scene beyond the table.

"Yes, my sweet, lovely son was invited here, so we came to support him! He frontlines a little band, I just manage it. Here beside me are fliers for our concert tonight. It’s not but maybe seven miles from here, if anyone wants to hear him sing. He’s my angelic, darling son, and his voice has been described as inspiring, electric, startlingly lovely, and capable of depth and emotion."

"Gentem?" Strings waded through the crowd that was forming around him. "Why are you here?"

Gentem was holding an acoustic guitar in his massive hands. He waved the tiny pick delicately at Strings. "Hush, son." He smiled at the crowd and held the guitar like a ukelele. "Anyway here’s Wonderwall."

You looked back toward the stage and made a noise of amused distress. You tugged Strings’ sleeve and he tore his attention away from Gentem’s performance.

Alison was adjusting the microphone stand to its lowest height. She studied it carefully. Trevor stood behind her, tuning his bass.

Gixie threw an unfolded chair at Alison, who managed to catch it. She arranged it in front of the mic and stooped over to check the sound. It was off. She shrugged.

Fennel jumped upon the chair and yelled, "THAT’S ALRIGHT I’M TOO FECKIN LOUD ANYHOW!"

Strings noticed a slight visual disturbance over near the wiring and sound equipment and groaned. Nica was undoubtedly scheming with the equipment.

You caught sight of Mona who was staring bug-eyed at the stage. You cracked up and rubbed your hands together like a fly. This was perfect. Nothing could go wrong.

"You. I should have known you would fuck this up somehow."

His voice was heavy like his fists when you were kids. He stood imposingly in front of you now.

Strings saw this man and immediately wanted to make him eat his own testicles without complementary ketchup.

You could remember the days your brother was good. That was because they were few and far between. Strings could see the expression you wore-- the fear there--and before he consciously thought it, he was between you and your brother.

It was as if Freddie had just noticed Strings. His face clenched at first in disgust-- but as Strings stood straighter, Freddie looked up and tried to school his expression before it turned to outright fear.

For a long tense moment you stood a bit to the left of Strings, watching the two men make the world’s most intense and hilarious eye contact.

Your brother was obviously about to shit himself. Strings was trying not to laugh or spit, one or the other, you couldn’t tell.

You tried to break the silence that had cropped up. “Wow… Freddie, this is the first time I’ve ever heard you quiet. This is Strings.”

He finally looked at you again. "You disgust me." He said, and turned to walk away too stiffly. He looked over his shoulder at Strings, and was visibly relieved he wasn’t being followed.

"Huh. Usually he goes the ‘Mom and Dad never loved you’ route." You remarked.

Strings sighed. "Am I really that scary looking or is he that much of a coward?"

"No one ever stands up to him. The way he sees this, it’s his world and we owe him for the privilege of his company."

"So…"

"He’s worried your metaphorical dick is bigger than his."

He laughed and you remembered that maybe discussing Strings’ dick, even metaphorically, might be a bad idea.

He couldn't tell you just how much fun this was-- even with his family around to escalate the situation.

From the stage, the screech of mic static reminded Strings that his little mismatched band-family always managed to outdo him.

Trevor had his bass, and that telltale tune began. dum dum dum… dadumdumdumdadum… dadadum dum dum… dadumdumdumdadum.

"No fucking way." Strings looked around for kids and was relieved to see there were none there.

Fennel struck a pose on top of the chair. "HYA! Another one busts a nut. Another one busts a nut. And another one cums and another one goes. Another one busts a nut. Hey! Imma fuck you too, another one busts a nUT!"

There was actually laughter going around. Actual laughter. But you saw Mona’s face turn red, down to her scalp under that bleach-blonde hair.

Everyone seemed to enjoy Fennel’s take on Another One Bites The Dust… and then Gixie and Trevor went in on a song and it was all over.

"Now that she’s back in the atmosphere with drops of Jennifer in her hair heyheyyyeya." Trevor sang.

"She sweats like Summer and cums like Rain, reminds me to go buy some chains, heyheyyyyeaahaa." Gixie joined in. Of course, with the chains.

"Oh good lord." A lady behind you muttered. Sounded like your aunt.

Fennel joined in. "Since her return from her stay on the moon, she probes like Jean and fucks like June, heyheyyeeyaaa hhheeyyyeyyaya."

You chortled and Strings had to offer you support so you didn't fall. You couldn’t breathe.

"So tell me, did you shoot across the room? Did she take all your Milky Way and was her hair all faded? Did the curtains match the drapes and Tell me, did she fall on your shooting star? Did you have to help her walk to her car and did you miss me while you were off fucking around out there?"

The three of them took it in turns and came in for a beautiful harmony on the last line and it was enough to both destroy you and half the onlookers and also to inspire awe that they could sing this with a straight face.

After the song was over, Gix and Trevor stayed up there to make incidental music while Fennel made comedy gold.

"Ah, and what’s this?" He reached behind him. "Gah! Gimme a moment while I pull this next joke outta ma ass." He produced a sizable trophy.

 golf trophy with an award plat that reads "Congratulations! You Swing Both Ways!"

"I NOW PROUDLY PRESENT THIS TROPHY TO MY DEAR FRIEND, STRINGS."

Of course Nica had also rigged some kind of lighting. He was under a spotlight. With you on his arm.

"RECIPIENT OF THE SWITCH AWARD!" Fennel added.

"Here, here!" Gixie cried, clapping politely. Some people even followed her example. Confusion was rampant.

One of the older ladies called up to Fennel. "Excuse me, dear, what does the award mean?"

Gixie, in her sugary tone, used her microphone, the echo fully up. In the dead silent room, "It means he’ll screw anything."

You facepalmed. "Thanks, Gixie!" You yelled.

Trevor mock-shoved Gixie. She giggled. "You’re the best he’s had." He added.

Gixie huffed. After a moment, she shrugged. "Probably. Not my business though."

Fennel said, "GET YER DAMN AWARD BEFORE I PUT IT IN YER EYE SOCKET!"

Alison raised her hand. "Fen, we all know you’re the true recipient of the award!"

"Do we, now?" He asked.

Gentem tried to silence her. "You switch between Gen and I often enough, don't you?"

Oh, ok then.

The room was silent except for nervous giggles.

Gentem loudly cleared his throat. "I SWEAR I WILL PLAY ANY SONG YOU WANT IF WE CAN QUIT ALIENATING THE AUDIENCE."

Mona’s grandmother, Tricia, patted his arm. "This is more entertainment than I’ve had since I was a little girl. Please, alienate them.”

 

Mona asked you to sit with everyone else so she didn’t have to look at you, uneven progression be damned.

You were absolutely fine with that.

This all went absolutely normal until, in the process of walking down the aisle, Mona tripped over Nica’s invisible tail. She flew ass over tea kettle and landed at Freddie’s feet.

He cracked up. She shot up and punched him in the cod in the process. He wasn’t laughing anymore.

The pastor on the other hand was red in the face from the effort of not laughing. You could tell by how much his voice wavered while he did his little spiel. Either that or he was pretending to be a ghost.

Mona’s recording of this wedding would be hilarious. You’d have to buy a copy. It’d be in HD, too, you knew. Hell, you’d buy Gentem a copy while you were at it.

Speaking of Gentem. He was sitting next to Strings, and on his other side was a little girl of maybe five. Your baby cousin Magnolia-- Maggie for short-- spent the entire ceremony staring up at Gentem in wonder.

He noticed her halfway through and made a noise like someone discovering an adorable kitten or puppy for the first time as it graces you with it’s love.

Your phone went off. Gentem snapchatted you. "I DIDNT KNOW HUMANS CAME IN FENNEL SIZE"

"That’s Maggie. She seems to like you." You replied.

"GOD THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE SHES SO CUTE I WANT ONE"

 

Gentem led his little ducky around all through the reception. She even asked to dance with him and insisted on riding on his shoulders at multiple points of the day.

You saw an entirely different side of Fennel around Maggie. He acted about as fatherly as Gentem. It was strange to see this rough-and-tumble, abrasively loud man as a sweeter, softer version of himself.

Alison elbowed you softly in the ribs. "Thanks. Now they both have baby fever."

"I’m sorry?"

"Don’t be. It’s… been a few months since i last tried to get them to consider bonding. Maybe they’ll agree this time."

She watched the two men with an air of affection and contentment. "I mean..." she smiled at you. "Tell me they wouldn't make great dads."

Fennel looked over at her then, smiling. "Fite me, dearling."

Trevor was talking with Mona, you noticed. You went to save him, since at this point you could tell she’d been heavy on the champagne.

Trevor looked fucking pissed, whatever she said. Gixie got to them before you could. You stood behind Trevor and Gixie propped her elbow on Trevor’s shoulder, looming over Mona even with her relaxed posture. The three of you stared at Mona.

Absently, Gixie spoke. "Nica… do you mind telling girlie her fortune?"

Directly over Mona’s shoulder, you saw the shifting that gave away Nica’s presence. "Your future is nothing but plastic, but not the kinds anyone wants."

Mona, to her credit, didn't flinch or move a bit. Gixie smiled. "See? Your future and your personality match so well. If only your makeup and skin tone did."

You managed not to die laughing-- because you noticed Fennel onstage with Freddie. You were worried until you noticed Strings observing carefully.

"Nah, no. If she’s not squirming you’re not doing it right! Take it from me, the recipient of the Switch award." Fennel didn’t even seem to be trying to irritate Freddie-- if you didn’t know better, you’d say he was trying to be helpful.

Freddie was very drunk. Drunker than Mona. He laughed at Fennel. "I doubt your credentials. I don't think a dollar whore would sit on your ugly face. Plus, who cares if she’s writhing. It’s just to get her wet enough to fuck."

"Oh gross." You groaned.

Trevor patted Mona on the back. "Tough luck, hun. Grounds for annulment, amiright?"

Mona took another deep drink from her champagne flute. She turned to Gixie. "How do you braid your hair like that?"

"Trevor taught me."

"I admit it’s pretty. Looks like a professional wig."

"It stands up to pulling much better than a wig. I assure you." Gixie cooed. "Come on, sweeties. Let her brew on her failed marriage of one day." She drug you and Trevor away.

When Nica next appeared, she was mostly visible. She had chains and rhinestones connected to her horns, draped in an intricate and gorgeous web. She was wearing a brand new coat that you recognized as one Gentem had been studying at the store your outfits had come from.

Speaking of that, Fennel and Nica were both wearing those colors. In fact, when did they change into formal clothes? Holy shit they matched you!

Gentem was wearing the colors too, you noted. The brocade tapestry he was sporting looked beautiful on him, especially with his fur. He even had another top hat to match. He took his kerchief and gave it to Maggie so she could match too. She loved it.

Gixie and Trevor exited the same bathroom adjusting each other’s suits. Alison caught up with Gentem in hers too.

"Holy shit." You breathed.

"I’ll say." Tricia chuckled. "You bunch match and have better composition than this shitshow she ‘organized'. Maybe she’ll hire you to plan her next seven weddings."

"Can you be my grandmother?" You asked.

The stage got set up, Fennel on drums, Trevor on bass, Gixie on her keys, and Gentem on guitar. Nica took the microphone.

"Okay, let’s crank this shit up to eleven-- out of a possible five if-anyone-gets-that-reference-i-love-you!"

And then… Nica unveiled her singing voice to mixed reactions. She wasn’t the best, but she had lots of heart. And she was obviously playing it up. It was honestly fun and enjoyable, especially since you could see her work the stage.

"We’re no strangers to love. You know the rules and sO DO I. I know exactly what you’re thinking ohhh. I could have chosen any other song, yeah. IIIIIII just wanna tell you how I’m feeling. Gotta make you understand."

You were giggling at the altered lyrics even now. "NEVER GONNA HIT THESE NOTES, NEVER GONNA SOUND THAT GOOOOD, NEVER GONNA SING LIKE THIS FOR A CROWD, THIS IS JUST MY SHOWER SONG, YOU’LL NEVER HEAR ME SING ALOOOONG, NEVER GONNA SING A SONG IN FRONT OF YOU!"

Scattered applause and cheers egged Nica on.

"I don’t know a fucking one of you, I’m scared as hell but too hyped up to say it. Oh, i guess i said it anyway-- i know this game so i’ll fuckin play it. Aaaaaand if you ask me how i’m feeling… uh, i’ll say i'm doing ok but this is actually really scary and i don't know what I’m do-NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP NEVER GONNA LET YOU DOWN."

She was a natural. You and Tricia went back to the punch bowl to enjoy the show with some surprisingly decent punch.

You managed to not yell when Freddie grabbed your hair. You could smell the cloying stench of alcohol and the sourness of vomit.

"You think you’re fuckin funny, huh. Fuckginghh. Ffffffunny." He barked a short laugh in your face, sending spit all over you. "I always fuggin hated you. Fuggin ruin everything. With your bullshit."

"Says the goddamn prodigal son. I’d tell you to go eat a pie, but if I learned a thing today, it’s that you can’t even do that right."

"You’re a fucking disgrace!"

"And you aren’t? Look at yourself, fuckwit. You are the personification of a steaming pile of shit. Now I'm not the only one who can see it."

Strings interfered, once again pressing between the two of you. His fingers pressed into Freddie’s wrist until he released your hair.

"And you." Freddie growled at Strings. "You bring all this trash into my turf and take over my big day and fuck my--"

You reached over and punched Freddie in the mouth. That hurt. Fuck his ugly mouth with a cactus… his teeth might have cut your knuckles.

"They’re not trash, this isn’t your turf, and my sex life and relationship status is none of your fucking business." You spat.

You didn't have the pleasure of seeing Strings’ pupils turn to hearts as you shook your fist off.

Freddie came up fighting, but lunged for Strings. Distantly, you heard Fennel take the mic. "SOMEONE PROPEL ME AT THAT ARSEWAD OVER THERE. I WILL MAKE HIM THE KING OF BACKWARDS KNEES. GENTEM, TOSS ME, AIM FOR HIS LEGS."

Strings laughed and shoved Freddie effortlessly off of him, causing him to collide with the buffet table and go through it.

"Damn. The turkey looked good, too." He remarked.

Freddie didn’t get back up. He just lay there in the ruin of food and life and didn't speak again.

It seemed like the best idea.

Mona had left already. Apparently-- and this was addressed over the loudspeaker by her mother-- she didn’t like that no one was on her side.

“We’ve been having a great time, haven’t we?" She said, and everyone either laughed or cheered. "I reminded Mona this likely won’t be her last wedding. She has a good six more in her, we all know this."

Tricia joined in. "We toiled over this damn disaster, it’s our treat to watch it burn. Thank you to everyone who showed up, especially our uninvited entertainment."

"Thank you for your hospitality!" Gentem boomed.

"Mona likes to forget that our family has never been about elitism, and that’s all this desperate display was. The entertainment and wait staff both quit because of her attitude." Mona’s mother went on.

Tricia again slurred into the mic. "Not to sound like a grumpy old twat but if I’d known my business would make my family grow to be full of entitled little twats, I’d have become like a hamster and ate my young. I wouldn't have wasted so much money on this christ-forsaken wedding. I could have gone to Vegas, Penny."

"I know, mom."

"At least I got you, though." Tricia said, and the resulting hug led to the conversation ending.

You noticed Trevor and Gixie talking up one of Mona’s cuter cousins. Trevor caught you looking and winked ostensibly. "Ho, don’t do it." You mouthed.

Alison tapped Strings on the shoulder. "What now?" He turned expecting another brawl but visibly relaxed when it was just her. "What’s up?"

"We have a gig not too far away. I’ll text you the address. In the meantime..." Her eyes darted to you. "Maybe you two should go catch up? In private?"

Fennel grabbed your hand and just as quickly let go of it, disappearing back into the crowd. There was something around your wrist. A brace that said Backstage.

Confusion writ clearly on your face, you looked around and found Strings. "Ready to ditch?"

"Holy shit, yes."

"Let’s go."

"Where?"

"Where do you want to go?"

You paused. "How about… my place?"

"I’ll have Trevor and Gixie take care of the van." He said and looped an arm around your waist to steady the both of you as the crowd and noise subsided instantly.

On your doorstep, he looked at you, you looked at him, and suddenly he was kissing you. In your shock, you just stood there for a moment before you let yourself melt against him.

He drew back, breathless. "I missed you."

You tugged at the lapels of his suit jacket, bringing him closer. "I missed you too. This was..."

"The best fucking date ever."

You laughed. "I liked our last one, too..."

He sighed, leaning his forehead against yours.

A nice moment of peace dragged on until you remembered you were clinging to a monster celebrity in front of your house in a racist community.

Fuck them.

"Wanna come in? If you’ve got a show later, I’ve got coffee. And tea. Do you like peppermint? It’s very calming."

 

***

 

Your hands were shaking as you unlocked your door.

As soon as you were both inside the house, though…

"What applied to our first date, does it apply here?"

"What?"

"Because I want to peel that suit off of you and ride you."

He let out a startled laugh. And then after a pause. "Holy shit, you’re serious."

"Is that a no?"

He just stared for a moment and then hands manifested and began stripping him, undoing buttons, while he used his hands to get started undressing you.

"Fuck no it’s not a no." He said. "I thought you actually wanted to make tea."

"Tea later." You breathed, kissing him as you continued to undress.

There was a trail of clothes on the ground leading to your bedroom. With your underwear around your ankles, you almost tripped, but Strings caught you and hefted you over his shoulder. You expected it to hurt but were surprised again when you didn't even feel his bones dig into you.

You didn’t have time for questions anyway. One arm held you over his shoulder, and his other hand grabbed your underwear and tossed them. He chuckled when they settled on the oscillating fan in the corner of the room.

Shit this is escalating quickly. What was he about to do, spear you into the bed?

He steadied himself and made himself think. Considering that he was, again, very pent up, his energy might be too intense for him to lead without you getting overwhelmed or uncomfortable.

"How do you wanna do this?" He asked. Fuck, as much as he wanted to toss you on the bed and set upon you like a beast, he didn’t want to hurt you.

For someone he’d only been talking to for a month or two, he had an absurd amount of feelings right now. The anticipation of this moment had truthfully been haunting him for weeks.

"As long as you’re comfortable." You were breathless as he set you down on the bed. Your voice wobbled upon impact with the mattress and you laughed, flopping onto your back and looking up at him, smiling.

God, you were too much.

"I’m more worried about you." He said.

"Strings, I want you."

He swallowed, though if he thought about it he’d wonder why he did it.

You sat up, reached for his hands, and tugged him onto the bed, laying back to pull him over you. He loomed there, uncertain for a moment, and you flipped the both of you over, sitting astride his thighs.

His erection hadn’t been there a few moments ago, had it? It was there now, and holy shit you were ready.

You reached for it and shivered when the contact sent a resonating chill through you. He hissed, his head pressing into the pillow behind him. His hands fisted in the pillow, his arms crossing over his face.

Was he that sensitive or was he holding back?

Fuck, but you weren’t willing to slow down right now. He wasn't the only one thinking about this moment for weeks in advance.

You crawled further up and held your breath as you attempted to line yourself up and prepare for the unavoidable sensation of his magic against your most sensitive areas. You were shaking still.

You were also quietly whimpering as his hands smoothly trailed down your sides to rest on your hips as you finally began to ease down on him.

HOly fuck. You couldn’t breathe, and just about collapsed on him. He held you steady until you acclimated. He felt like laughing. It was just the tip, but the energy was likely doing unheard of things to you. Obviously good things, but he honestly couldn’t guess how you felt.

You felt amazing. It was a heady feeling, the magic and emotion tackling you with no barrier or way to dull it. You didn't want to dull it. Was this how he felt all the time?

No, no it wasn’t.

You were aware enough now that you remembered what you were doing, or… who you were doing. You eased further down on him, drawing a groan from him. This spurred you on and you rose to fall a little further upon him. His hips jutted to meet yours despite obvious intent not to do so.

Fuck but the feeling of him in you made you feel alive, and so it quickly devolved into reckless riding. A pair of spectral hands cradled your shoulder blades as you arched.

"Hhhhhhhhhha fuck." He sighed, his voice a dark purr as you slowed down and looked at him. His fingers dug into your hips, raking down your thighs as he met your movements.

You wanted more. You wanted him to pound you into the mattress. He looked up at you curiously as you leaned down to kiss him. Breathily, you asked him to take control.

You didn't have to ask twice, you learned. The extra hands essentially rearranged you on the bed as he got into position between your legs. You were on your knees, still gasping from the empty feeling.

Cold fingers on your clit made you jolt and arch, and then you whined when you felt his cock against your opening again.

The spectral hand quickly learned a rhythm that made you pant as he worked his way in and out of you as slowly as he could bear.

You bit the pillow to quiet yourself but it did so little good. Two cold hands grasped your hips, pulling you back to meet his thrusts, and you were seeing stars as he increased his pace.

Your climax was rearing like a fucking tsunami and all you could do was hold on and pray you’d survive it. You tried to tell him you were close but you realized at that point you were already screaming for him.

"Come on, sweetheart." He groaned, keeping the rhythm, but you felt him stammer a bit and knew he was holding off for you.

"I’m!" You put forth a valiant effort to respond but that was when you felt him begin to lose control. Every nerve ending instantly lit and you almost blacked out from the force of your orgasm. The feeling was prolonged by the sudden rush of magic as he came as well, thrusting in with a gasp.

You felt like you could hear colors and taste sounds for a moment.

 

You weren’t sure how long the two of you sat there catching your breath and snapping back to consciousness. You felt your smile crack upon your face and you felt thrumming in his ribcage as he rested behind you. He kissed your shoulder and you giggled from the feeling.

Your arms and legs gave out but you didn't fall. He sighed against your skin and you felt him handle you gently, letting you down onto the bed. He collapsed roughly next to you, and you both laughed.

You rolled over to look at him and he grinned and looked away. "Shy?" You asked, voice husky. It made his chest tingle.

"Kinda." He admitted. "Just.. really happy. Still not sure it’s real.”

Your hand rested on his sternum, where even now there was a noticeable feeling. You wanted to get closer but… "When… did you have to meet up with everyone?" You felt your stomach sink at the idea of him leaving.

"I guess when you get dressed. You’re coming too, if you… heh, aren't too tired."

You realized you were still wearing that brace. You paused awkwardly. "Oh, yeah."

He chuckled and pulled you closer. You felt him kiss your hair and you wondered if you were going to choke on your heart since it jumped into your throat.

 

***

 

All the caffeine in the world didn’t prepare you for the show, nor the proposition to join the road crew. Gentem said he’d been toying with the idea of going on a large-scale tour with the other bands, but hadn’t been confident.

You rushed to remind him you had an apartment and a job-- and Nica patted your shoulder. “Come work at my store in Topside. Bunk with Trevor or Gixie. This town is not going to be kind to you. We both know this. Strings would likely be happy to help you move, as well. We will, too.”

This was a lot to take in.

Strings had been panicking, secretly. He didn’t know about Gentem and Nica’s plan to take you away from the humans. He was worried you would get hurt because of him, or that you’d resent them for changing your life. He was scared you wouldn’t want to talk to or see him again.

So, overhearing you talking with Trevor and Gixie about staying with them, he was ecstatic.

When you told him you were part of the road crew…

“What will you be doing?” He asked. “I mean, not that I don’t think you can handle it…”

“Gentem is going to be teaching me how to manage the immediate aspects of the band, that way he can manage the bigger parts from the Airship. Apparently, the biggest reason you guys haven't toured is because he's worried about leaving the business alone for too long.”

Strings was silent. “You… he’s… making you the manager.”

“Yyyyes.” You observed his expression with a bit of confusion. "I mean, either that or learn how to manage the Airship, but he's not ready to let go of that yet, and honestly, I think this will be more thrilling. I get to see my favorite band up close and personal and... I mean, it's a way to travel, right?"

“And… that’s… okay with you? You’re okay with being cooped up with all of us? Long bus rides with Fennel. Trevor and Gixie snoring. Me always playing the same six songs on the guitar…” He shrugged. “Long bus rides with Fennel.”

This had all started with a craig's list ad, you remembered.

You laughed. “I think I can handle that.”