Sound check is going pretty well, until suddenly it isn't.
The sound guy actually seems to know what he's doing, slinging cables with a competence Max just isn't used to in the shitty venues they've been playing. It's their first leg on tour with Walrus, and it's a luxury to ride punk legend Flint's coattails into the kind of venue that actually charges admission. She indulges in a brief moment of optimism that's dashed by the look in Jack's eyes as he sidles up to her after her mic test and holds his phone out to her.
She very nearly smashes the damn thing.
"You are fucking with me," Anne says when they finally, after twenty more minutes of dithering over mic levels and monitor placement, retreat to the closet that passes for a green room in the Wrack. It's painted black and at least two decades of stickers from punk acts cover very nearly every available surface. It used to make Max feel fierce to see Crossbone's logo among them, but today, now, it makes her feel exhausted.
"I would never fuck with you, my dear. And I quote, "Punk Princess Eleanor Guthrie, lead singer of Urca Gold has something even more precious in her hold" who the fuck approved that headline? Oh. of course, Thank you, NME."
Flint and Silver stumble out of the bathroom together, Silver wrapping the cord on a set of clippers. Flint is newly shorn, dusting stray red hair from his shoulders onto the stained floor. He hurls himself into a chair, catching Max's eye as he leans down to haul his boots back on. Max stares levelly back, refusing to be intimidated, and he softens a bit, quirking a smile.
"I see you saw twitter," Silver says, setting his crutch aside and unselfconsciously stowing the clippers in his suitcase like it's normal for a manager to shave the talent in a grungy room one step up from a back alley.
"It isn't a surprise, not really," Max says, stretching out on the questionably-upholstered green plaid couch. She takes a mournful swig of lukewarm Glacier Mountain, the taste of plastic not improved by the stale scent of sweat and spilled beer that permeates the room. God, she is tired. "They've been together for months, and Eleanor always did want children."
"She waited." Anne's voice has gone that scary flat that usually means Max is going to be pulling her out of a bar fight at 2am. "She waited til tonight to slip the news."
"You know, I would say that's too cruel, but then again, this is Eleanor," Jack says, settling uncharacteristically on Max's other side, his awkward long limbs almost diffident against her. He's got the NME gossip page up and is flicking through the rest of the article. "Ah yes, her agent says that she waited to break it for the prodigal daughter's triumphant return." He pauses, flicking further down. "My god, the comments are even more obnoxious than usual. Makes one almost feel sorry for her."
Max breathes a sigh and buries her face in Anne's sweaty hair. Anne shifts on the vinyl couch, clutching Max's wrist in her slightly pointy, viselike attempt at comfort. "She's fucking with you. With us. Booking a fucking free pop-up show the next venue down from us, social media, big news. It's bullshit." She kisses Max's knuckles. "Let's fuck it all the way up. Show them what we're made of."
Max hates how much she loves when Anne is a bastard.
Five minutes to stage time, the first opening act is a real thrasher and the kids have a good pit going. Max forgets everything, staring across backstage at Anne's feral grin reflecting in the flashing lights. She can feel her blood pound, breaking against her ribs to the frenetic bash of the kick drum and bass.
A hand snakes around her wrist, pulling her back flush against a familiar form, gone a bit softer than her body remembers. Max closes her eyes, sucks in a deep breath and levels herself before spinning and shoving Eleanor up against the speaker stacks. It wobbles frighteningly and she's glad she's got earplugs in.
The song bashes to an end, and in the sudden, almost painful silence, she closes her eyes and bites Eleanor's lower lip. Her fingers twist in the back of the chic gold dress before diving into her loose blonde chignon and twisting viciously at the root.
A breath, two, and the closing song of the opening act strikes up, nearly indistinguishable from the last one. Eleanor's lips curve softly under Max's teeth, thinning into that snarling smile Max missed so much. Her stomach churns and she pulls back.
"The fuck are you doing here?" Max screams into her face.
Eleanor doesn't dignify that with a reply, just arches a perfect eyebrow and waves a hand at the stage. Max smoothes her hands down the front of Eleanor's dress, almost reverently, and Eleanor huffs and looks away for a moment before grabbing Max by the elbow and propelling her back to the green room.
"You get three minutes. Fucking what do you want?"
The green room smells like Jack's illicit pre-show cloves, and Max suddenly worries about secondhand smoke--is that a thing at this point in a pregnancy? Why the fuck is she in a fucking position to care?
"I've got a proposition for you, Max."
Max snorts. "I think we're past that,"
Eleanor rolls her eyes. "You hang out with Jack too much. I'm surprised you aren't experimenting more with mixed necklines," she says, taking the opportunity to give Max an appreciative once-over.
Max straightens her spine, going for every inch her small frame will allow. "Am I talking to you or your big stick, Eleanor?"
"Don't be vulgar. Woodes knows I'm here, of course. He's glad-handing with the fans now so I could slip away to… talk." Her face is flushed, the sheen of the stage reflecting off her matte foundation. The fluorescent light in the green room isn't flattering, really, but even washed out she's glowing with her post-show high.
"Talk," Max says, voice flat.
"I know you've got this tour for Flint. Up and down the coast, yeah? It's a nice step for your outfit. You're doing all your own merch and promo, aren't you?" Eleanor's voice is high and syrupy. Max resists the urge to spin on her doc martens and get the fuck back to her stage.
"Sign with us and we'll take over your media presence on this tour. We can get you some side gigs, sponsored, I've got contacts with Rolling Stone, some guest spots on the big stations in each city, use this moment, Max. You're not getting younger--you need to make something of yourself now."
"You'd book Crossbone for an interview with Rolling Stone?"
Eleanor's face betrays her exasperation for just a moment before she recovers. "You know we can't do that, Max. The optics just… look. You are the talent, you've got the fan base, Crossbone is a nice small-time stepping stone gig but… no, Max. We'll need to scrub your image and take you solo. Your voice is wasted here."
"I'm not leaving Anne," Max says flatly. "You and your sellout boyfriend and your perfect breeder life can get the fuck out of here." She feels her voice go steady even as her pulse races. Eleanor looks sad, if unsurprised, and suddenly Max is really fucking done. "We'll make it or we won't, but either way we're going on our terms."
Jack chooses that moment to burst into the green room, "--the fuck are you, Max, there's a cock-up with the monitor…" he trails off as he takes in Eleanor's expensive, shimmering dress and fucked up hair just a step too close to Max. He stops, looking to Max for a cue.
"Get out," she says, and stares at Jack's cuban heels as Eleanor sweeps through the door.
"Shall I get Anne?" he asks, voice kinder than she is really used to, trading barbs and snark across the van and brassy with his joking but not really opinions.
"No, just… cover for me on setup. I have a twitter war to wage," she says, grinning at him. She never thought she'd find a kindred spirit in a man, but the light of devious pettiness in Jack's eyes is the true answer to her own.
He nods and they exchange a fistbump.
She has twenty minutes before their set. Plenty of time. She fires up her twitter client.
By their third show, Flint has gotten in on the twitter war. Eleanor's personal assistant is not up to the task of keeping her account on the high road, and Max and Flint fill her mentions with goading gifs of drag queens, links to queer youth center fund drives, and snarky memes excoriating bullshit gender reveal parties. Eleanor's verified account dutifully retweets the youth center ones, drawing followers to Max and Flint's accounts for the epic hetero snark thread RPs they keep tagging Eleanor in.
Silver rolls his eyes at them but Max sees him quietly boost the threads, too.
The fans fill the pit to bursting, more and more kids in experimentally-gendered punk rock outfits and makeup, more and more of them screaming along to Crossbone's lyrics as well as Walrus's. Jack gets into it, too, kneeling at Max's feet and bowing his head over his bass during "Fuck You Pay Me", one night even leaning forward to kiss her boot to the uproarious screams coming out of the pit. The third time he does it, Flint comes striding out onstage in the middle of their set, legs bracketing Jack's head and pressing him into Max's hip as Flint joins her mic for some backing growls.
Fan videos of the shows are consistently hitting several thousand views. Anne scoffs, suggesting it's likely just kids titillated by the stage gay, but when they reach New York City, Max gets an interview with the Village Voice's arts section.
"Let's do it," Max says as they step out of a surprisingly decent, if expensive, diner. "It's time to throw open the curtain and say fuck you to selling out."
Anne stares at Max, chewing her cheek and taking a long moment to consider. "Yeah, alright. Not in the Voice, though. We do it our way, yeah?"
They sit in the stuffy van in the hotel parking lot. Something about the moment feels intimate, like they should be somewhere that's wholly theirs to film themselves for twitter. They're crammed into the back of the van, and Anne tousles Jack's hair just to piss him off while Max turns the van on and figures out the lighting. She settles nervously on the bucket backseat of the van between Jack and Anne, their solid warmth a comforting presence. She takes a deep breath and hits record.
"This post has been a while coming, and now that it's finally time, I find myself giddy with relief. It's a strange thing, to be in a band so valued for its radical honesty, its joyful inclusiveness and openness, and to have been silent on something integral to our lives all this time. A few weeks ago, someone from my past asked me to leave my band, to set aside my ideals and commitment to the art and the experiences we have so fiercely built, and join her in selling out. I couldn't do it, I won't do it, and here's the thing. Fuck it," Max says, and leans up to kiss Anne deeply.
Anne snorts in agreement, caressing Max's cheek as she breaks the kiss. "This band," she says, chapped lips rough against Max's mouth, "this woman, and that man." She turns to look at Max's phone, eyes tight. "I ain't one for talking about this shit, but here's the thing. We're fucked up dreamers and we found each other, and nothing, not money or fame or some bullshit like that's gonna tear us up. We'll make art, and fight, and fuck, and laugh, and don't give a shit what any fancy producers or arts pages or dickheads on twitter have to say about that." She grabs Jack, pulling him awkwardly across Max by the lapels of his jacket, kissing him like she's registering some kind of complaint.
Jack pipes up, "for once, I don't really have much to add. Any man lucky enough to share a stage, a van, a life with these two incredible women should probably not go on about it too much or risk cursing his good fortune."
Max shoulders him back out of the viewscreen, grinning wildly. "That's it, really. We're Crossbone, and we're living our love openly. We can't wait to share our music with you, and hope we have the continued support of the fans whose joy in our art has made all the difference to this band. Thank you." She hits stop, and falls back against the couch with a sigh.
Jack smiles, his eyes flicking between Max and Anne, and Anne captures Max's face in her strong hands and kisses the hell out of her before turning to Jack and doing the same. "Sure you don't want to smack the hell out of Jack before you post? Always helps me with my nerves," Anne offers, grabbing a fistful of his hair and tugging his head back, exposing the long column of his throat.
Max smiles, trailing a lacquered fingertip down that pale neck before dropping a gentle kiss to his Adam's apple. "Tempting, but I'd rather not work up a sweat. Besides, we all know how long it takes him to put together his ensemble, and we have a date with a reporter in half an hour." She pushes both of them in the direction of the hotel.
Max uploads the video, not even watching it before posting it to the band's twitter while Anne steps in the shower. The first retweets and exclamations from the diehard twitter junkie contingent of fans are just coming in when Anne emerges, hair wrapped in one tiny hotel bath towel. She flops on the bed, curling damply around Max to peer over her shoulder at the feed, before firmly removing the phone from Max's hand and bearing her to the bed to distract her until it's time for the reporter to come.
The reporter, a disarmingly sweet blond man with a Midwestern accent, is ten minutes late. He has a surprisingly strong grip, well-manicured nails painted a subtle matte grey. "Michael," he says, and his warm smile broadens at Jack, who manages not to blush.
Max waits patiently through the exchange of pleasantries, answering introductory questions about the band's new material, their plans to enter Flint's studio in the fall and record a sophomore album with his producer. Michael turns frequently to Jack, erroneously assuming that the most loudly dressed and gregarious of them is the one in charge. It's clear he didn't refresh twitter before meeting up with them, which Max can't really fault.
"Jack, you must have been fielding this question a lot, especially on twitter. Is there any truth to the rumors that you and Walrus frontman Flint are… involved, or is this just yet another crass attempt by an alternative band to appropriate queerness for added publicity?"
Jack smiles broadly. "I don't think one can truly appropriate one's own identity, surely, though of course there are ways to wield it falsely. No, while Flint and I have become dear friends on this tour, I'm afraid my heart belongs to another." He looks expectantly at Anne, who bares her teeth and drops a proprietary hand on his shoulder. Michael's eyebrows raise.
"To clarify, Jack, you and Crossbone drummer Anne are romantically involved? This is likely to be quite a disappointment to the young men who've been showing up to your shows in black eyeliner and gold lame jackets."
"Look, cut the charade and clue the boy in," Anne says, pulling her phone out of a pocket and ruining all of Jack's fun toying with the guy. "Yeah, we fuck, and we love, him and me and her and me, and it's not anyone's business except we kind of think it matters to be real about it all. We get really fucking annoyed at each other, we get on stage and we play our fucking souls out. It's our lives, not a fucking publicity stunt."
Jack wraps a calming arm around her shoulder, "yes, the stage games are about mutual play and expression. None of our activities, on or off stage, are meant to capitalize on anyone's truth."
Michael, nonplussed, hits 'play' on the video post. When it finishes playing, he looks at the three of them weakly. "This… isn't quite the interview I expected. Um. Are congratulations in order?"
Max smiles regally. "Thank you. We think."
The article is more of an afterthought, really, and the buzz on twitter gives way to a dozen thinkpieces on entertainment sites. It irks Anne that some shithead gets paid to write about their sex lives, but most of the pieces are relatively positive, and a few even link to resources on polyamory that Max didn't even know existed.
Flint lays off the stage queer for a few shows, twitching a smile at them from offstage and dragging Max on for an encore after Walrus's set, letting her belt out a punk cover of "Je ne regrette rien", and he even looks a bit misty-eyed the first time they play it together.
When the tour ends they hole up in Max's walk up apartment. Anne ostentatiously unplugs the modem and confiscates everyone's phones, banishing the internet so they can write, and rest, and enjoy one another without anyone's opinions clouding things.
As she follows Anne into the bedroom after their first night spent writing music, the sun just beginning to glare through the eastern windows, Jack half-naked and snoring gently on the couch, Max thinks, yeah, okay. This.