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In the Year of the Cat (Queen or Freddie Mercury Fanfic)

Chapter Text

Hi there.

My name is Julia Samuels.  When what I'm about to tell you happened, I was twenty years old and studying psychology at the university which I shall leave nameless for privacy reasons.  No university would dare champion a student willing to make so public a fool of herself AND oust them while doing so.

I was ordinary.  I want this to be perfectly clear.  I was as basic as a potato, and almost just as boring.  I followed the rules.  My grades were good.  I went to church.  I didn't drink.  I didn't partake in mind-altering substances.  My hair was its natural light brown; my eyes were as hazel as they have always been; I stood at an average five-five.  I was neither overweight nor underweight.  I tried to be nice to everyone, regardless of what I thought of them.  My family, with one (at that time) exception, lacked any interesting peccadilloes.  We were private people- and that's how we like it. 

I repeat, for the sake of emphasis, and it's as true now as it was then: ain't NOTHING special about me, and where I come from.

But I am a lightning rod.

Things happen to us, me and my family.  I don't know what it is.  But we are put places, the right places- or wrong places, depending on how you look at it- to say or do a certain thing and make a world of difference.  Not that I cause trouble.  I just wind up being a lot of trouble in the end, and I guess you could say that's about the same thing.  I have made a lot of enemies and few friends carrying on this hereditary responsibility of feather-ruffling and pot-stirring. 

But I wouldn't know any other kind of life.  It's always the same old thing: whenever opportunity knocks, even if it looks to get ugly from the beginning, there's no resisting that urge to fling open the door and shout "Lay it on me, man!"

All that said, there is absolutely no explaining what happened to me.  To him.  To us.

I wasn't prepared for it.  I know HE didn't see it coming. 

All I can tell you, at this point, is, if you take nothing away from my tale, know this: Be careful what you wish for.

Because I wasn't.  I was flip.  I was ignorant.  And I was heartless.

And look what a mess I made...

 

 

Chapter Text

Up and down, up and down, my eyes moved, shifting from my phone to the wall clock. A check of the news, then a look at the time. I drummed my fingers against the desk, half-listening to my teacher rattle off a few rules about the Spanish conditional subjunctive or some such stuff. Then back to news, then time. News, time. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Geez. How long before this class ended and we could get to the good stuff?

No sooner had I thought it than the minute hand struck the 12:50 mark. Next stop, psychology.

It was a muggy Monday afternoon at the university. Late November, yet it felt nothing like autumn. But that's what you get in a place like Texas. Nothing to expect but the unexpected.

Luckily, today was one of my short days. One more class - and my favorite one to boot - and I would be on the road again heading home.

"You say you love me," I sang under my breath, "and I hardly know your name..." I walked briskly out into the clammy air, careful not to let my flats tread into the ever-present muddy patches between me and the University Union halfway across the campus.

I reached the Union with five minutes to spare, but as I entered I still forced myself not to look at the vending machines with all their glorious crap on display. I hadn't eaten anything since seven, and I'm always hungry anyway; even suspicious-looking cinnamon rolls in greasy clear packages look appetizing with those sorts of stats.

My will won against my stomach for once,and I made straight for the Mycento Hall. One push of the double doors, a few hasty steps upward, and soon I was perched in my usual spot, my lone seat apart from the other two hundred students (give or take another hundred depending on whether or not an exam is scheduled), ready for lecture.

I took no notes. I didn't usually anyway. But this time, I found myself zoning in and out for most of the class. I had been doing that more and more lately, the nearer Christmas Break drew. I loved psychology, don't get me wrong. Nothing excited me more than learning about the inner workings of the mind, unearthing the deepest, most hidden crevices of the human soul.

Correction. No thing may have excited me like that. But I did not say no one.

We all have our own guilty pleasures. He was mine. And who is HE, you ask? My boyfriend? Puh-leeze. Never had one. I have had plenty of imaginary friends, few real ones. Same goes for significant others. That's what you get for being a lightning rod.

But I liked it like that. People are messy. I didn't mind being around them, but I didn't necessarily want to get involved with them and live in their lives. It's like a zoo. Study the animals, care for the animals, love the animals from a distance. I didn't want to get down in the hippopotamus pen and drink from their water hole just to able to say I was sharing in their experiences.

Hey, I like that. I think I'll use that.

But who was HE?

HE was a dead guy. A very complicated dead guy. And I've talked about him, laughed about him, thought about him, dreamed about him enough to the point I shouldn't have to say his name, although it's an exceptional name. An exceptional name for an exceptional man.

Such pressing thoughts as these floated in and out of my head.

And then I realized I was in some serious trouble.

While I daydreamed, my professor reminded us all of a big piece of our grade: research credits. This is where we pysch students must participate in research studies in order to have experience on both sides of the two-way mirror.

This wouldn't even matter, except I forgot to sign up for any study.

I pried open my laptop and searched the research credit website for a few online studies to do, but all of them were expired. And then, my professor spoke those fatal words, and my heart sank.

"Don't forget. You're supposed to have all ten credits in by tomorrow, like it said in the syllabus. They count as one full third of your final grade."

Bye-bye, 4.0 GPA.

But still, like an idiot resolved to make President's List for the third straight semester, I decided I would speak to the professor about it. So when class ended, I got up and marched to the front of the room. I knew it was ridiculous, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As I approached the stage, I noticed someone sitting next to where the professor stood. I could see it was an older man who, from a distance, vaguely reminded me of Phil Collins- bald-headed, squinting eyes, beak-like nose- and even in his reclining position I could tell that my five-foot-eight professor easily towered over him.

"...Just don't see how that's going to work, it borders on unethical," my professor was saying to him. "I mean, I hope it works, but there's no way the Board will let this thing of yours get any attention unless you find a way to test-"

The Phil Collins lookalike (the resemblance was even more striking now that I could really see his face, right down to that perpetual half-smile about the corners of his thin lips) nodded towards me, looking over my professor's shoulder. Slightly irritated, he turned to face me.

I went too quickly. The words just fell out of my mouth. "Mr.- um, Dr. Ledford, I am the biggest idiot who ever lived, I forgot completely about the research credits, and I didn't plan two backup reports just in case, and I'm really sorry, so is there any way I can make up the points by Wednesday?"

Dr. Ledford looked at me with the weariness of a college professor having heard one excuse too many. "I'm sorry, um, what's your-"

"Julia."

"Okay. Sorry, Julia, I can't help you. You've had over two months to take care of that. It was in the syllabus. All the research studies are closed?"

"All of them. There's a few two-parters, but that won't help if I sign up today."

"Yeah. That's too bad. I wish I could help you, but the syllabus said-"

"I know, I know, the syllabus said," I conceded sadly. "Thanks anyway."

Throughout this whole back and forth, Dr. Ledford's friend stared thoughtfully at me. I wasn't paying much attention; I turned on my heel and headed for the door.

Well, this was just great. I wasn't angry, I was just bummed. Maintaining a 4.0 average had been one of my primary goals since enrolling into college. I didn't care about being valedictorian, I just wanted to be a straight A student. Scholarships noticed things like that; my eventual Master's in Counseling or Therapy would not pay for itself. Student loans? Ha! I'd have to donate one of my kidneys to get the money to pay THAT back before I turned forty.

So low were my spirits now that when I walked past the vending machines, I tossed my self-control to the wind. I was starving, and my grades were about to tank. That four hundred fifty calorie cinnamon roll was MINE today. I reached with defiance into my pocket and rummaged around for some change.

"Pardon me," a tremulous, slow voice cut through my focus.

I whirled, automatically apologizing, "I'm sorry," and taking a step back, to see the strange little man standing before me.

A thoughtful glint lit his small eyes. "I could not help but overhear," he said haltingly, as though he was under the influence of some powerful narcotic. "You are in some sort of credit trouble?"

I blinked. "Um, yes, I uh, forgot to do the studies, that's all. It was completely my fault, I just forgot, that darn syllabus."

"How unfortunate."

"Yeah, tell me about it." By this point, the Phil Collins charm had worn off, and now I only saw a creepy old man that had for some reason followed me out of the Hall to speak to me about my academic situation. I turned back to the machine.

But he kept talking. "That's ten whole points in your grade, isn't it?"

I shook my head. "Twenty."

"Twenty whole points?"

"Two-zero." I made number signs with my hand. "Tomorrow, I'll have a C in Psychology and there's nothing I can do about it."

I had the coins in my hand, about to slide them into the machine. And then he said, "What if there WAS something you could do?"

"That would be wonderful," I replied, half-listening. "I'd do anything to fix it."

"Anything?"

Something in his voice changed, and it frightened me. I don't know why. Maybe I had a premonition of what was to come.

But instead of ignoring him, I turned and looked him directly in the eye. "Anything," I said firmly.

His less-than-beautiful face split into a warm grin. "Then, I may just have a solution for you, Miss-?"

"Oh, sorry. I'm Julia Samuels," I said, putting my hand forward.

Which he seized enthusiastically. "Charmed. I'm Dr. Steven J. Kurtzweil. You can call me Dr. K." This he punctuated with a friendly wink.

"So, a solution, eh?" I sighed, folding my arms. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

Chapter Text

"I'll give you all the details later," Dr. K replied. "Now, I must go. I must prepare the experiment."

"Don't I get at least some idea what I'm about to do?" I complained.

"It's worth twenty points," he said. "Perhaps more. I'm good friends with your professor. Is that sufficient enough?"

"I guess," I grumbled.

"Meet me in the Physical Sciences building in three hours," was all Dr. K would offer as explanation. "Oh, and don't eat anything till then. I'll need you as minimally massive as possible."

That last, I definitely didn't understand. Certainly didn't sound to me like any psychology study. Unless, of course, this mysterious Dr. K was one of those archaic barbarians, a follower of those psycho (not psych, but psycho) science pioneers who waterboarded their patients, sent powerful electric shocks through their bodies, and then locked them up in insane asylums when none of their treatments worked.

Good grief, I said to myself. I could be selling myself to a maniac, for twenty frickin' points. Is it worth it?

It couldn't be that bad, I tried to convince myself. Scientists aren't like they were in the old days. They have a code of ethics now. They wouldn't just mercilessly tamper with innocent young college kids for the fun of it.

I burst out laughing. Now, THAT was funny.

Whatever my doubts, however, I stuck around the campus another three hours. I found a little nook in the library, where I played my music full blast and did some homework, singing along with the exceptional dead guy as I went.

Okay, okay. I'll stop calling him that. But in those days, that's how I referred to him. I felt the need to constantly remind myself of how ridiculous I was being, obsessing for (by that point) seven years over a wild and crazy rock star who, if alive today, was old enough to be my grandfather.

That was my version of self-therapy: perpetually telling myself, "Freddie Mercury isn't alive anymore, get yourself a real boyfriend, you wouldn't be his type anyway."

Oops! Guess I let the cat out of the bag. But there it is. Of course, we've all got something, some little bitty neurosis causing mischief in the mind. Mine materialized as the dark, complicated man whom I spent seven years of my life studying just to get some raw hint of what made him tick. Is that weird? Don't answer the question, I'll only get mad.

I did indeed find all the members of Queen interesting. But there were degrees. Roger was on the bottom of my list.

I may have just made some people angry. Don't get me wrong, in his prime he was extremely pretty, but he always struck me as nothing more than a handsome face with fantastic rhythm, as someone without any real substance behind the blue eyes. And it would be a sin not to respect Brian May and the countless things he excels at- science, guitar, stereoscopy, astrophysics, songwriting- but I just could never get really excited about him. Maybe it's the badger thing. I don't know.

John came second. I loved how normal he was. He seemed very sweet and easy-going, but even he had hot buttons, and when he wrote hit songs, they were absolute grand slams. But the most fascinating and most deliciously mysterious bloke of them all, the Freddie himself, captured my imagination far more than the rest combined.

I was not in love with him. Do understand. People can be obsessed without being emotionally attached. I admired him, though, immensely. He opened the doors for many of the arty things I still enjoy in life, whether it's drawing or teaching myself the guitar. I'm not very good, but I enjoy them. I suppose I could even say he's what sent me into psychology.

Yes, I want to help people work out their problems, that goes without saying, but examining every word in every interview, heeding every little vocal inflection, watching his eyes go flat every time he walked onto the stage yet noting well how nicely they sparkled when he was off and relaxed- I knew that if I could just get the hand of the psychological tools, I could use those powers to at last complete the multifaceted person I believed him to be. Past all the secondhand accounts, past all the iffy facts, past all the fame-mongering retreads who milk their relationships with him every chance they can. I wanted to know who he really was inside.

And once that happened, I just knew in my heart of hearts, I would be freed of my obsession. But since he was gone for good, I had nearly resigned myself to the idea that the last seven years had been spent in a wild goose chase.

Freddie and I were crooning about our melancholy blues when I saw I had better pack it up and head toward Mr. K, and whatever lay waiting for me there. Shrugging, I turned off the music, but I kept singing under my breath while I trekked up the stairs.

It was cooler outside now than that afternoon, much more autumnal. With every step I started to wonder whether what kooky Dr. K had in store really would be worth the grade. My stomach began to churn, my hands to tremble. What was I about to get into here? That same feeling at the vending machine washed over me, but stronger. Turning tail and running, driving straight home and pulling the covers over my head sounded increasingly more practical. And I almost did.

Except as soon as I had made up my mind to do it, I had pushed the Physical Science building doors apart, and there was the gnome-like Dr. K, sitting before me, twiddling his thumbs.

"Ah, Julia! you've come!" He said. "Follow me, please."

"Wait, um," I stammered, "I'm not sure about this."

He studied me with marked disappointment. "Scared, already?"

He was appealing to my ego and desire to be brave and adventurous. But I asked, in a meek little voice, "Dr. K, just tell me one thing."

He stood, waiting.

"Will it hurt?"

Dr. K smiled that disarming smile again. "Of course not, you silly girl. You won't feel a thing. Now come along- if you dare!"

Half-reassured, I did as he commanded. He led me to the elevator, and we both got in. I watched him carefully, still partly waiting for him to break into "Sussudio" at any second.

He pushed the basement button, and held it down even after the doors closed. I looked over at the floor indicator, saw the basement initials flash, and then keep going.

My heart flipped. A secret floor?

Four levels below the basement, Dr. K let go of the button. The doors slid apart, revealing to us a bleak white hall just like in the floors above, except here there lived an unsettling silence. A chalky, chemical odor stifled the air. Our footsteps were the only sound, the clack-clack of our shoes leaving lonely echoes behind.

"This is where the dangerous deeds are done, I suppose?" I joked.

"A few," was the distracted reply. I didn't say anything else.

Further down, a very professional-looking scientist, right down to the proverbial lab coat, rounded the corner and was heading our way.

"This is our brave little volunteer?" he said.

Dr. K, nodded, and introduced me. The new scientist smiled politely. "Fantastic. Now, Julia, if you could please take a few minutes and fill these forms out for me. Purely routine stuff, informed consent, a rundown of your physical condition, a small questionnaire, a few forms of release..."

"Release from what?" I asked.

"In case something should happen to you while you are gone, we don't want to be held responsible."

Please, whatever you do, don't sugarcoat it, I can handle it, I muttered to myself.

But I took the forms and started doing as I was asked. And there were some crazy questions in there, too: "Are you good at hiding yourself away?" and "Do you keep secrets well?" and my favorite, "Do you ascribe to conspiracy theories of any sort?"

I answered them as best as I knew how. I filled these papers out as we continued to walk, when we stopped at two huge, industrial strength double doors.

Before we entered, Dr. K looked at me solemnly. "Now this is extremely important," he said. "Are you good at taking notes?"

"Yes, very," I lied. Then something Dr. Christopher (peering closer at his coat had determined his name) said hit me again. "Wait a minute. While I'm gone? Where am I going?

"Stop, stop, stop. Okay? Hold on. What is going on? What are you going to do to me? I'm not going anywhere until you tell me."

Dr. C sighed and glared at Dr. K. "Didn't you tell her anything?"

"Put yourself in my place," Dr. K protested, as much as anyone can who sounds like John Malkovich. "There is no way to explain it that doesn't sound crazy. She has to be shown, not told."

"Shown what?" I was getting very tired of asking the questions that nobody cared enough to answer.

But this time, Dr. K laid his hand against the steel-plated door, and, with a subtle wink, he whispered, "You are about to make history, my dear."

He pushed the doors open. What I saw sprawling about the hexagonal room within took my breath away.

Chapter Text

"Surely you can understand, why we'd really prefer you stay mum about this place's existence," Dr. K said casually. "Most of the students on campus who aren't med or dedicated psych students such as yourself know nothing about it."

I wasn't listening very closely. Too interested was I in the huge six-sided room. The walls shone in immaculate stainless steel glory on one side; on the other, LED screens glared with incomprehensible data. The light seemed to come from all directions and bounced off of everything, giving the room a distinctly mirror-like feel. People mingled busily about, tireless as worker bees, yet they were silent. No excited chatter, no droning of status reports or whatever, nothing. Seemed the computers were doing more talking than the people, what with the clicks and the taps and the beep-beeps coming from everywhere.

"What is this place?" I murmured.

"This," Dr. K said, "is where all the really magical stuff happens, so to speak."

"But this isn't even a science school. It's a liberal arts college!"

"All the better a location to put an experimental base underneath, no?"

It was then I noticed a huge depression in the middle of the floor. I drew as near as I could, to see the floor slope down around twenty feet in a cone shape, coming to a stop in the middle where stood what looked like some kind of cylindrical space pod from old sci-fi films.

"What's that down there?" I whispered.

He beamed proudly. "That's the little monster you'll very soon be making friends with," Dr. K said. "We call her the TRDS-14K2. For short, she's just-"

"Don't tell me," I interrupted. "Tardis!"

Dr. K stared at me. "What?"

"Tardis! You know, like in that Doctor Who... show... um. Never mind."

"Oh. Well, actually, we just call her T-Rod for short. I don't know why. We just do."

I looked up, and was startled to see a kind of observatory booth, where a few intense, sharply dressed men and women sat enclosed all in glass like a rectangular fishbowl. A couple of the faces I half-recognized from the news.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Those are some of our benefactors," Dr. K. answered. "Good Lord, you are full of questions!"

Oh, right, sorry, I forgot I'm supposed to be a mute little lab rat, I grumbled to myself. God, I wish I had been more on the ball and just signed up for those dumb studies- the normal, boring correlation ones, not an experiment, certainly not the kind you expect a superhero to walk out of.

He looked at his watch. "Here, we'd better get a move on, get you ready. We're going to start this thing up in five minutes. George doesn't like to wait."

He looked me over, and nodded. "It will do. It's a good thing you're wearing such nondescript clothes. You could fit in anywhere. No one will suspect."

I glanced down at my black turtleneck and jeans. "Um, thanks-?"

Dr. K led me over to a table and had me open my backpack. I thought maybe he would rummage through it, take some stuff out "to hold on to" perhaps, but instead he started stuffing things in, explaining each item as he went.

"Where you're going, there won't be any mobile signal, so your smart phone's IQ is going to drop a hundred points at least," he said. "In order to communicate with us, use this."

He handed me an old Nokia phone. It was a true relic, with a green monochromatic screen and the useless stubby antenna protruding from one side. The thing had to be about twenty years old. I stifled a smile.

Dr. K could read my thoughts as they showed on my face. "Go on and laugh, you are going to love that thing later. We've modified it so that for a certain amount of time -still not sure how long- we can reach you and we can keep each other up to date.

"And this," he went on, "is your official log. Whatever you can't fit into the verbal time window, write down here. You say you're a good note taker. Let's see how good. Everything you see, everything you do, everybody you talk to, goes in here. This is very important. Understand?"

I nodded, wondering what I would find at the end of this rainbow- and who it was wanted to know as well. I looked back up at the fishbowl.

"And for the last," Dr. K concluded, "your round-trip ticket."

He held up his hand. Between his fingers dangled a necklace, and from the end hung an oddly shaped pendant about the size of a quarter. There was a button on one side, though a subtle one, so that the necklace didn't seem like the distant relative of a Life Alert. Within the white wafer, a small LED light glowed a dull yellow. He placed it round my neck and told me not to take it off under any circumstances.

"See that color there?" Dr. K said. "That means it's inactive. It'll stay that way until you go. When it glows green, that means we're locked onto your signal and ready to bring you back in. When light is blue, we know where you are, and we can talk on the phone here, we just can't do anything about it. Red means you're out of range, and out of our sights."

"Green means go, blue means talk, red means I'm on my own. Simple enough. How long am I going to be- uh, out there?" I still hadn't the faintest what was about to happen.

"Not long," Dr. K assured me. "At least an hour. At most, two. In the notebook I gave you are specific instructions to follow once you're there. If my calculations are correct, you won't have to go too far."

All the same, I whipped out my smart phone to send a message to my family in case they might worry. But signal couldn't reach that far under the ground; the message failed every time I tried to send it. I'd have to wait till it was all over, I supposed.

Suddenly a PA system screeched to life. All activity in the room stopped. Dr. C's voice (who had slipped up into the fishbowl- I suppose he was the emcee of the experiment) crackled over the speakers. "All right, we might as well get started, this young woman's got to be home in Dallas before supper."

He waited as we politely chuckled before continuing, "Systems operational, team?"

"Operational and optimal, sir," someone called back.

"Perfect," Dr. C said. "Let's open her up."

Someone tapped around on a touch screen. It was quiet enough to hear their finger squishing against a panel. My body tensed. Dr. K patted my shoulder and smiled a You'll-do-great smile. And T-Rod hissed below as its dome-top hinged open.

Whoever designed this unconventional beast had been thoughtful enough to provide a stairway. When the machine was fully open, Dr. K gestured that it was time. I can't begin to describe how nervous I was. I couldn't move, my feet paralyzed with what-ifs and maybes as I stared back at that capsule into the unknown.

"We are waiting, Miss Samuels," Dr. C cajoled from above.

Only one thing could get me moving. So I did it. It was ridiculous, but there was no other way.

I began whistling "Killer Queen." The purposeful march tempo, the sashaying tune, that piercing voice in my head pulled me out of the swamp. I closed my eyes, and let the music play. I hoisted my backpack upon my shoulder. Down I went.

By the time the song finished, I'd seated myself comfortably in the hard chair at the bottom. I clenched my hands together in anticipation. Dear God, please get me out of this one piece, I prayed.

Someone threw a switch or something like that; the walls of the cylinder began to close around me. Everything seemed so far away, so high above the hole where I was trapped. Dr. K.'s face peering down was the last thing I saw, as the gap up top grew smaller and smaller, till all that was left was a pinprick of fluorescent light, and then nothing but the screens and scales within the capsule itself.

"Capsule is secured," crackled a voice. There was a speaker inside with me.

"Okay, let's do it. Fingers crossed, everybody," said someone else.

"You all right in there, Julia?" Dr. K called. "Push the red button on the console in front of you if there's anything else you have to say."

My palsied hand did as it was told. "I'm all right," I squeaked. Which wasn't true. I wanted to throw up.

But they didn't need to know that.

"Thanks again, Dr. K," I whispered. "I sure wasn't expecting this today."

From then on, I heard a barrage of foreboding announcements:

"Commencing coordinate installation."

"Location of touchdown locked."

"Chronological adjustments complete."

I shut my eyes. The humming sound I had instinctively ignored grew louder. It was about to happen. And I had no idea where I was going, or who would be there to greet me, or if this was all just some elegant trick they were all pulling on me.

Then, the final command:

"Dr. Christopher, execute."

I could almost see Igor throwing the switch. I screamed a little in my throat.

And then all was quiet.

I opened my eyes. The screens still glowed with their numbers and mumbo jumbo. I looked at my necklace. The light was yellow.

I reached for the button, my heart no longer in my mouth. "Did it work?"

And then, the speakers erupted into disappointed chatter.

"She's still here."

"You mean it didn't work like it-"

"Now, now, be sensible, this is the first human we've test-"

"Maybe we should try again."

"No, no, we've terrorized her enough." That was Dr. K, God bless him. "Let her go home. Come on. We need to make a few adjustments."

Not everybody felt too keen about the idea, but as the minutes passed and I sat enthroned in the claustrophobia-inducing little T-Rod, he convinced the important people at least that they needed to regroup, work out one more bug they hadn't expected.

"Okay, Julia, we'll let you go," Dr. C announced unhappily. "Lift the dome again."

I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. For no reason, I felt the need to pull out my smart phone again. "I still get my twenty points, right?"

"Absolutely," Dr. K said.

This had worn too hard on my nerves. I had to stare at a familiar face. I pulled up Google and typed the name of my obsession into the search box.

Suddenly all the screens around me went blank. I jerked up, startled. Then the one directly in front of my face took on the exact same look as my phone.

I frowned, squinted, but it was no hallucination. There was the Google search bar, there were the words "Freddie Mercury" within it. One by one, the rest of the screens also relighted, but they said different things.

Above and around, I heard concerned voices say something about the hatch being stuck, but I wasn't listening. One screen said, "Location." Another said, "Time."

Cool, I thought to myself. Screen mirroring. Funny little Bluetooth connections. NOW there's signal. How weird.

"Why isn't the computer responding?" someone outside exclaimed.

Time and location. Those must be filters for the web results, I decided. So for location, just for fun, I typed in his home address. Maybe there are pictures of him at home I haven't seen, unlikely though it is, I smiled.

"Something's happening to the coordinates!" The bedlam rose. "What's going on?"

Time? Like, what? The date of the picture? Ooh. Conundrum. Too many good pictures of him, and yet there were plenty of disturbing images that would only upset me further.

I pressed the drop-down arrow for previous searches and saw the date February 3, 1971. I did not remember ever searching for that date, but my brother had a way of hacking into my phone and searching for the craziest things. Freddie was pretty in '71, but I had a better idea.

1977. Yes. His absolute prime. Thirty years old and beautiful. Before fame completely consumed his soul (I thought). When he was still writing good songs. No better time than that.

So, I typed into the box: "July 1, 1977." The day I picked for no particular reason, maybe because 7-1 was on my mind. Wonder what Freddie was up to that day, I thought.

"Something's happening! Shut it down!"

I pressed Enter.

Then the room flashed, like a million cameras going off in my face simultaneously.

And the capsule went black.

Chapter Text

"What the heck was that?" I shouted. "Dr. K?"

No answer. In fact, no sound whatsoever. Utter silence.

I fumbled around blindly for the red button, the white light having borrowed my sight. But the comm link at my side was no longer there.

It took a moment for the spots to fade from my eyes. Once they did, I saw the screens still were black, and T-Rod apparently was down for the count. I was engulfed in darkness.

I wasn't even sitting in the chair anymore. I felt around to find I was kneeling against the floor and the walls had closed in tighter.

"Dr. K?" my voice quivered. "Anyone?"

My numb fingers slowly regained their touch (why were my senses so late in reacting?). I was kneeling against carpeting. There were fabrics hanging low over my head which I discovered when I tried standing up. My heart skipped a beat. Since when was there anything soft inside T-Rod? I ran my hands against the walls. The screens, too, had vanished, and the sterile cold chrome had roughened, so I seemed to be touching ordinary walls like those within a house.

To no one in particular, I whispered, "Where am I?"

I looked at my necklace, which was glowing red.

Oh. Crap.

T-Rod worked.

But they were trying to get me out! They said it had a few bugs to work out! What happened? Is this what would transpire if T-Rod malfunctioned?

And a little more importantly, WHERE WAS I?

I tried to calm myself down before I full-blown panicked. And at this rate, a meltdown wasn't too far away. Okay, think, Julia. Think. Use that noggin you're so proud of. You're obviously in a traditional building with traditional doors. Look for a knob!

"I'm going crazy. I swear I'm losing my mind," I muttered as first I felt around for cracks along the bottom. I found one and had to swallow my joyous cry. A few feet up was the brass knob. I turned it in triumph.

Something was pushed up against it- something heavy, like a trunk. Frustrated and confused, I threw my weight upon the door, forced it open, and fell out face forward in the process.

I got up and looked about. I was in a nicely decorated bedroom, the walls a soft jade green. The room was dim, the curtains drawn, a four-post bed standing beneath the window.

"I don't like this," I said aloud. "Not one bit. Dr. K, turn that light blue soon. Better yet, let's go green and get me out of here."

I took a step back and nearly tripped over the trunk again. Angrily, I drew my foot back to kick it.

And a split second before my foot connected with the case, three things occurred to me.

First, that I was not alone in the house, or apartment, or whatever the heck this was; as if from below I heard voices, male voices, speaking to one another in an unmistakable British lilt. Strange male voices, and I a strange young girl.

Second, that there was a little orange tabby cat sitting in the doorway, watching me with an expression that seemed to ask "What do you think you're doing?"

Third, that I saw the writing, the names, upon the trunk. The word itself, which began with a Q, would have been shock-inducing enough, if not for that instantly recognizable crest emblazoned on the trunk's front.

Too late I tried to stop my foot's collision with the trunk.

BAM!

The voices halted a moment.

I dove back into the closet. DR. K, HELP ME!

But the Nokia in my backpack (Thank God I still had my backpack with all my stuff) remained silent. I strained to make out the words the men now spoke.

"You hear something?" a low, calm voice said.

"No," responded a much higher, raspier voice. "Did you?"

"Thought I did. Like a thud. Came from upstairs."

"It's just your nerves, dear," said a posh third voice- one which chilled my body to the bone.

"Now I know I'm crazy," I tried to tell myself, but I was weak with confusion and hunger (it's true, if I go too long without food, I become dizzy and downright stupid, and too long for me often is only four hours- and it had been ten hours since breakfast), and wild with fear. God, this couldn't be real.

It was at this moment the throbbing red dot against my chest turned blue. I nearly fainted from relief. Clumsily I rooted about again for the Relic, and sure enough, it was ringing.

Bip-bip-bip-bip BEEP Bip-Bip-Bip BEEP Bip BEEP-

I pressed the green button on the phone (cutting short a poorly executed, bare-bones rendition of "In the Air Tonight"- no joke) and gasped, "Dr. K?"

I've never been happier to hear anything than I was when his quivery, slow voice answered, "Julia! You're okay!"

"Yes! Oh, yes!" I whispered. "Where am I?"

"I should think you'd know, you apparently sent yourself there," he replied. "Where you are, it's July 1, 1977 at about 11 at night, London time."

My mouth went dry. "You mean to say that-"

"Congratulations, Julia Samuels, you are the first human time traveler," he announced.

Dr. C didn't give me time to let that sink in. "But you didn't quite end up where we wanted, so you kinda botched it."

"What? But you guys were running the show back there!"

"Something went wrong, and you somehow got into the controls," he said. "Did you happen to be messing with your phone?"

"Yes. I did. I won't do it ever again as long as I live. Now please get me out of here!"

"That probably explains it. Signals crossed!"

"Again, I'm sorry. Bring me back!"

"We can't right now."

"Why not? We're talking, aren't we? Lock onto my signal!"

"You're slipping out of range, Julia," cried Dr. K, who did indeed sound to be shorting out. He said something else, but I couldn't hear it.

The door to the closet opened wider, and a young man peered in at me.

I snapped, "Do you mind?"

He stood there a second, then just like that he disappeared again, and I turned back to the phone. "What was that you said?"

"Bring...home yet... T-Rod... problem..."

"Well, then what am I supposed to do now?"

"...Stay hidden... take care till next-"

Then the Relic died, and told me I'd spent sixty seconds in the phone call. Stay hidden. Okay. I could do that. Easy.

Except I'd already blown my cover.

The young man had seen me! What an idiot I was! There was no question about me, the intruder, now!

I listened with baited breath, tried to ignore the cat now sitting on top of the trunk and staring at me through the closet doorway ("Scat!" I told it, knowing what cat dander does to my nose).

The high voice spoke. "What gives, John? You look like you've seen the dead."

The young man replied, in squeaky, nasal tones, "No, not quite."

"Not quite, eh?" That frightening third voice again. "Well, then, what did you see?"

A sigh. "Oh, nothing. I just wasn't expecting to see her, is all. Just startled me a bit."

"Yeah, Tiff does that, she'll just jump out of nowhere, sorry. I have cat acrobats."

"No, no, not the cat. The girl."

"The girl?"

"There's a girl upstairs in your closet."

Oh, God. I was dead. Loony and dead.

A long pause from the third voice. "What?"

"There's a girl up there. Didn't you know?"

Another long pause. Then, sudden thunder as four men ran up the stairs heading my way. I acted quickly. In five seconds I'd slid myself under the bed, becoming completely invisible by the time I saw the first foot come into view.

"In there," John (no, not Deacon, I refused to even entertain the idea that it could be John Deacon) said, as calmly as if he was reporting the weather.

A pair of white shoes picked their way daintily across the carpet and stood before the open closet. Their owner pushed some clothes around. Two other pairs of feet -one in clogs, the other in sneakers- followed into the bedroom.

"There's no one here, Deacy," said the third voice in its singsong style.

I shut my eyes. Deacy? Really? This was not happening. Except it was.

"What was that all about?" asked Mr. Clogs.

"John here saw a mirage, I think," he answered.

"I dunno, maybe I did," John conceded. "But no mirage I've ever seen looked up at me and said 'Do you mind?' before."

"There's a first time for everything," the high voice in sneakers teased.

I was holding my breath, partly so they wouldn't hear me, but also because the orange cat had slid under the bed and sidled right up to my face. That's the best thing about cats. They know instinctively who's allergic to them and proceed to make their lives miserable by coming close enough to get the eyes watering and the throat itching. So it was now.

"Shoo, shoo!" I mouthed at it, but all it did was meow contentedly. The men, however, didn't seem to notice and they walked back out laughing at poor John's expense. The last pair of feet to vanish were the white ones; they stood quietly facing the bed a couple of minutes, before slowly waltzing back to the lower floor.

I took a deep breath. That was close.

I listened in again, and frowned as I heard them all decide to call it a night, each of them tell the others "We'll work it all out at Wessex," before slipping out the door. Now there were only three voices. And now, just two. John and the posh fellow.

"Sorry about that back there," John was saying. "I just know I saw somebody. Heard someone talking. I dunno."

"Don't worry about it, dear," he replied. "Sometimes our heads play tricks. My God, that happens to me all the time. You're not crazy, don't worry. Now, me? That's another story. Say hi to Veronica for me."

"I will. See you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, John."

The door closed.

The world was quiet. Far too quiet. And the cat was still staring at me.

And in this weak moment of deafening silence, when so much as a foot falling upon a rug could be heard from any part of the flat, I half-sneezed before catching myself. But at first it seemed no use.

For here came the footsteps. Up, up, up they went. My heart pounded in my ears. I was too hungry to fear anymore, and too tired to scream. I just waited for him to lower the boom.

Before too long, the white shoes returned. The air thickened with anticipation. One foot tapped impatiently.

"Come on out, darling, I know you're here," he sang.

I didn't move. My throat was itching like crazy, but I stayed under.

"John saw you himself, you think you can hide from me?" he said wryly. "I'll find you, I will. Might as well turn yourself over now!"

At Daddy's command, the cat wormed its way back into the light and rubbed up against his legs.

"Not you, Oscar, the phantom!" He laughed. "A year I've lived here, I didn't know this flat was haunted."

He had a laugh that just rolled out effortlessly. He was just joking around now, laughing to himself. He didn't think there was anyone here, certainly no one hiding. Somehow it relaxed me, but I still couldn't move. What if he should find out the phantom actually lurked under the bed?

"Hello! What's all in this bag?" He bent down into the closet, reached for my backpack. "Let's have a lo-"

"DON'T TOUCH THAT!" I cried, before I could stop myself.

He whirled. "What the f---?"

"Sorry," I corrected myself. "Don't touch that, please."

In one smooth motion he dropped to his knees and lifted the bed skirt.

Chapter Text

 

I covered my face, saying, "Okay, you got me, you got me, you win.  Just please don't shout at me or call the cops, all right?  Because I really couldn't handle that right now."

He remained silent, then after a short eternity, he cleared his throat.  "Why don't you come out from under there?"

His voice, while still musical, gave signs of neither amusement nor anger.  And gray areas are the most frightening of all.

But to hide anymore was absolutely farcical.  Slowly, I started to push myself out from under the bed.  Dust had collected nicely within my nostrils, and dust wasn't any sweeter to me than cats; by now I'm sure I looked like a swollen-eyed tomato, a frail allergic reaction covered in gray dust fuzz.  What a great first impression to present to Freddie Mercury.

Despite my appearance, I was thinking much more clearly than before.  Thank God I'm at least wearing lipstick; some days I'm not so lucky.  I glanced down at my passport, its constant light beam giving me courage.  I must be strong, I told myself.  Mustn't let him think he has any power over me. 

I lifted my chin, sneezed, and looked Freddie directly in the eye.  Not an easy thing to do, I might add.  Have you ever seen him?  The 1977 version (or any version) of Freddie?  God, what a face.  Those high cheekbones, that aristocratic nose, that wicked chin.  And those eyes.  Those two black hole suns, drinking in everything with the briefest of glances.  If you stared too long into them, they drank you in as well.

"So John wasn't hallucinating after all," Freddie said.  "Well!  I've heard of fans going to extremes, but this is ridiculous."

I squinted because my eyes were starting to ache.  Stupid cats.  Blearily I asked, "What?"

"Fans like you, going overboard."

"Fans?"

"Look, I know you love us, really, darling, but don't you think that breaking into my flat's a little much?"

"Love you?  Ha.  I don't even know you," I said absently, rubbing my face.  I sneezed again. 

That seemed to jar him.  My words, not the sneeze.  "Don't know me?"

"Uh-uh."  And it was true, what I was telling him. I didn't know him in the sense of an acquaintance, or a friend.

"But- but you don't really expect me to believe that, do you?" Freddie asked. 

All of a sudden, I realized what was going on here.  There was a reason he was so taken aback.  Freddie wasn't talking about me not knowing him; he was looking at it in terms of, me not knowing who he was.  And in 1977, when Queen were rapidly cementing themselves as permanent fixtures in music history, the idea of someone not recognizing him was likely enough to send him to the moon!

An idea hit me.  Here was my out.  I would not tell him that I'd all but worshiped his music all my life.  No way would I ever hint that I knew anything about his public OR private persona. 

He's just a man, I told myself.  Let him think that's all I see.  I am an unlikely intruder into his private sanctum. Nothing more. No blushing, no bashful staring at his shoes. We are equals, perfect strangers. Zero charisma, and zero recognition.

So I nodded, "Yeah, I do. I don't know you from Adam. Nothing personal, I just..." I trailed off, and shrugged. "I don't know who you are.  Sorry.  I have an idea what you might be, though.  Are you an artist?"

"Sort of," he said, seeming to forget I was an intruder who could at any moment slit his throat for all he knew about me.  "I used to do a bit of painting, drawings, things like that in colle- no, stop, you're stalling and I know it.  Aren't you?"

"Possibly," I half-smiled, before my face contorted for the biggest sneeze yet.

I sniffed, feeling absolutely wretched.  Oh, how I hate cats.  Maybe he'll feel sorry for me and forget to be mad again.

"Are you all right?" Freddie asked.

I nodded, then savagely started rubbing my eyes.  "Ugh... I'm fine... it's just... dust..."

"Of course I believe you," he quipped.  He seized my hand.  "Here.  Take yourself in there, throw some cold water on your face.  Your mascara's starting to run, you'll look like a raccoon if you keep it up.  When you've gotten yourself under control, come downstairs, and we'll talk."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The first thing I did after closing the bathroom door was take out my contacts.  My eyes immediately stopped itching - a result I thought worth walking around half-blind the rest of the night (I'm very near-sighted).  Besides, it's much easier to lie when you can't look the person you're lying to directly in the eyes.

All that night I don't think it fully occurred to me I was really alone with Freddie Mercury.  Because if its full weight had indeed hit me, at that time, I probably would have thrown myself at his feet begging for a selfie (and I don't ever do selfies).  Maybe I was in some kind of shock, left over from my time teleport.  Perhaps I only half-accepted everything as real, the other half thoroughly convinced it was all some elaborate dream. 

Whatever the reason, I was unusually sharp as I dried my face, my brain slamming into calm, calculating psychologist mode.

I've told Freddie I don't recognize him.  Let's stick to that story.  I will also not know anything about Queen, be it their songs or the rest of the personnel.  I will say nothing about the future.  I will make myself as scarce as humanly possible after I explain myself to Freddie.  One wrong move and I'm jeopardizing my own future.  I'm not even supposed to be here with them, according to Dr. K.  Wonder where I was designated to arrive at first?  No matter.  I'm here now, but God willing not for long. 

For the sake of brevity, I made myself a mental list.  I call it Three Commandments for Time Travelers (patent pending):

1.  Be invisible.  Don't use your real name, don't draw attention to yourself, and don't photo-bomb (unless you're Forrest Gump, in which case do all three).

2.  Never talk about the future, especially the futures of specific people.  No one will believe you, even if you have proof. 

3.  Avoid people you know from your own life, and if it's absolutely necessary to interact with them, see Rules 1 and 2.

I remembered my family as I formulated Rule 3, and knew by now they must be starting to worry.  Alas and alack, the light was still red.  I turned it around and tucked it into my turtleneck so the light wasn't visible. 

"Hopefully I'll be back in range in a few minutes and they can zap me home," I said aloud.

I took a deep breath.  Right now, I had to deal with Freddie. 

So I opened the door, fresh-faced but dizzy tired, and found my way downstairs (two-story flat- very nice indeed).  Everything was a blur before my weak eyes, but even from a distance I could see another lump of brown fur curled up on the sofa- another lump that meowed and purred and tore furniture to shreds.  This place is a frickin' mine field, I told myself.

"Ah! There you are," Freddie crooned, emerging from the kitchen.

I waved.  I could barely see his face; I just had to trust that his eyes were still somewhere under that thick mess of black hair, set in the tan, taut skin of his face. 

"You look better," he remarked almost with approval.  "I truly thought you were about to explode earlier, you poor thing.  Do you have your story straight?"

"No," I  said.

"Good.  That will make this even more entertaining," he said.  "By the way, have you eaten?"

Food.  Oh, yeah.  Food.  I was ravenous.  I had five minutes to live.

"Yes, I have, thank you," I forced myself to say.

"Oh?  Well, I'm a bit peckish myself, so I hope you don't mind me eating in front of you."

He had a plate of cold boiled meat in one hand.  It looked blander than plain white rice.  And yet my stomach ached.  In the other, a glass of clear liquid.  Knowing Freddie, I was fairly sure it wasn't water.

"All right, you, have a seat," he said, sobering right up and ushering me into the dining room.  I sat at one end; he walked past four chairs and positioned himself at the other end.  I felt like I was sitting before the judgement seat of God, assuming there would be tall candlesticks between me and the Lord when that day came.

He noticed it, too.  "No, this isn't going to work," he muttered, and got up again to sit right next to me. 

"Okay, Eve, I'm all ears," Freddie said, situating himself. 

I frowned.  "Who's Eve?"

"You are, of course.  Isn't that your name? Evelyn Dubroc, Eve for short?  A very elegant name indeed."

"But that's not my name."

"It is, now.  The way I see it, if you don't know me from Adam, then I certainly don't know you from Eve."

"Where'd Dubroc come from?"

"Does it really matter, dear?"

I shook my head and fought back the impulse to smile and add that no, nothing really matters.  I couldn't help finding this just a little funny.  "So am I supposed to call you Adam?"

"No.  You are supposed to call me Fred.  Or Freddie, whichever one."

I put out my hand.  "How do you do, Freddie."

He put his forward as well.  "Now, do you mind telling me what you were doing hiding in my closet and practically giving poor John a heart attack?"

I saw no way to approach this but with pure honesty.  Except telling this rock star that I was from the future and the victim of a time travel mishap likely wouldn't go over so well.  So I copped out with "I don't know."

He scoffed.  "Why should I believe you?"

I reached into my psychology arsenal and pulled out a concession.  "I don't see why you should.  I'm a total stranger infringing upon your privacy.  But it's the honest-to-God truth.  And truth is stranger than fiction."

"How did you do it?  Nothing's broken so far as I can tell.  How did you come in?"

"Same way everyone does," I said.  "Through the bathroom window."

A smile started; this I knew because he covered his mouth a moment.  But Freddie still tried sounding serious.  "I highly doubt that."

"It's true, Freddie.  I don't know what I'm doing here, I don't know why I'm here, I don't even know where 'here' is."

"And you don't know who I am.  Which makes no sense at all!" he cried, driving a knife into the meat and sawing away.  I think he was more upset I didn't give him the respect due a star than that I'd trespassed upon his home.  "What else would make you come here?"

"Maybe I just wanted to cat burgle you," I suggested, then began to giggle.  "God knows, you have more cats than you can handle."

Freddie's mouth twitched again, and this time he let himself smile.  "Darling, that was awful."

Awful, but to my fried brain, extremely funny.  I kept giggling.  "I know, I'm tired, sorry.  But seriously.  Am I supposed to know who you are?"

He looked me over, then sighed.  "Maybe not.  You're American.  Let's put it this way.  Do you like rock and roll?"

"Just the old stuff.  I'm more of a jazz baby myself, a little Latin music now and again.  But I do like Beatles, Elvis, et cetera.  I'm not too crazy about the new rock music these days- a little too extreme, a little too overdone- oh, wait, are you that kind of a musician?" Man, I was dishing out some real whoppers tonight.

This seemed to go far in convincing him, but not necessarily in a good way.  His voice hardened with hurt pride. "I am."

"Oh, wow, I'm sorry.  And you must be pretty famous too.  I shouldn't have said that.  That's just my opinion.  I broke into your house, what could you possibly care what I think?"

Reminding him didn't help, from the way his face stiffened into that cold, marble mask he saved for the stage, the public eye.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  "Yes.  You did.  Why don't you leave before I decide to do something about that?"

Crap, crap, crap.  I thought quickly.  Psych studies, don't fail me now! Be smart!

But the best I could come up with was, in a small and extremely meek voice, "But I have nowhere to go."

And that's finally when it smacked me upside the head.  I was trapped.  My money was worthless, my ID kaput.  I had no passport.  I didn't exist yet.  I was an anomaly.  I was as helpless as a baby.  I didn't belong here screwing up things for everyone else.

And I was completely alone.  All the people who cared about me were forty years and an ocean away. 

"I have nowhere," I whispered again, more to myself than Freddie. "And I have no one."

It didn't occur to me I might seem like a drama queen trying to play on his sympathies.  The full weight of my situation hung upon me -plus my hunger and my sheer exhaustion (time travel, for future reference, takes an awful lot out of you, so when Dr. K says don't eat anything, don't listen, he's still never tried it so what does he know?)- and I sort of collapsed in on myself right there in front of him. 

"Now, Eve, you must have some place to go," he said, his voice softening again. 

"I wish.  How I wish I did." I shuddered.  There were tears on the way.  I felt them climb up my throat and tighten it.  "I don't know why this happened, but I'm sorry it did.  If you want to call the police, call them.  God knows I deserve it."

I got up and walked to the stairs. 

"Where are you going?" Freddie asked.

"I'll be right back," I hoped I was lying.  Dr. K, any time now would be GREAT.

I didn't have the energy to break down and cry.  Freddie didn't owe me his sympathy, I would not sit there and act like I wanted it.  I made one last dead wish that I was merely dreaming.  I dragged myself up to the green bedroom.  Surely I'd be back in range soon. 

I decided I would just lay there on the bed until I'd calmed down or until Dr. K brought me back.  The police wouldn't have to look very long to find me.

I picked up my backpack and climbed on top of the bed.  The light on my chest wasn't any less red than when the Relic cut off last time. 

Oscar, the orange cat, hopped up alongside me, and purred, pushing his head against mine.

My nose tickled.  "You sadist, you," I murmured.  But I ran my hand across his little head, rubbed behind his ears.  He saw this as an invitation to curl up right on top of my hair and have a snooze.

What a wonderful idea.  "Sleep.  Yes, I think I'll join you, little man.  Won't be too long now."

I closed my eyes and drifted off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When my eyes half-opened the next morning, I was cozily nestled between the smooth sheets.  The sun poured gently through cracks in the curtains.  I buried my face into the pillow, forgetting that some traces of what minimal makeup I wore were still smeared upon my eyes and lips, and breathed a sigh of endless relief.  Such a nightmare.  I almost believed it, too. 

I tried to decide which was a better idea- staying in bed until I absolutely had to get dressed for work, or dragging myself to the kitchen to fix a much-needed big breakfast.  Decisions, decisions.  I rubbed my nose and sniffed, glancing at my watch as I did.  And frowned.  Why did it say it was one in the morning?  It was far too bright outside to be so early.  Darn thing had to be broken.

I realized the walls had turned green overnight.  I sat up, shifting my feet and nudging against a warm mound there at the foot of the bed.  An orange furry head with pointy ears turned and two green feline eyes stared back at me.

"Aw, man," I muttered.  I patted my chest, felt the bump of the tracker under my shirt, and fell back against the bed.  "Well, I was hopeful."

Two hours, tops, Dr. K had assured me.  Just two hours, and here it was the next day! "Steven Kurzweil, you disappoint me, dearie," I said aloud.  "It's eight, now.  Man, I slept long.  This time warp stuff must take a greater toll than I realized."

Suddenly I remembered I'd fallen asleep with my backpack in my arms.  Mildly freaking, I looked at the side of the bed and found it sitting quietly there, undisturbed, next to my shoes.  I made sure nothing was missing, and found everything in its proper place.

I frowned, slightly perplexed.  But I hadn't taken off my shoes.  Or pulled back the covers.  Or intentionally set my backpack anywhere.  And I wasn't the kind to wake up in the middle of the night and do it without being able to remember later.

Who cares, I thought to myself.  What's important is, he let me stay here for the night.  Freddie might have tucked me in for all I know.  He didn't even report me.  How nice of him.  Not many people would do something like tha-HOLY MOSES! I'M IN 1977 WITH FREDDIE MERCURY AND I ACT LIKE I'M JUST CRASHING AT A FRIEND'S HOUSE BECAUSE I DRANK TOO MUCH THE NIGHT BEFORE!  WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?!?!  IT'S FREDDIE FREAKING MERCURY!!!!  F-R-E-D-D-I-E M-E-R-C-U-R-Y!!!

It took a few minutes for me to calm down.  But I would be lying if I said those few minutes didn't involve me jumping around, silently screaming my head off, and generally just bouncing off the walls in a strange mix of euphoria and anticipation and madness and pent-up energy. Come on.  It had to happen sooner or later.  People only take it well the whole time when the script and the director say so.  This is reality.

However, I did at last get hold of myself, partly due to the funny look Oscar was giving me, but mostly because I was still weary with hunger.  Jumping up and down excitedly wears thin pretty quick when that's the case.  I couldn't take it anymore.  I had to eat.

So I washed my face, dragged a brush through my hair (I needed a new hairstyle, this rather ambiguous one wasn't doing it for me anymore) and put my contacts back in.  I licked my lips as my imagination laid out a beautiful breakfast spread.  Fried eggs over-medium, with bacon and either English muffins or devastatingly rich, sugary French toast, and as a triumphant finish, fresh berries with whipped cream. 

I slid the Relic into my back jean pocket.  No way would I miss a call today.  And just before I descended into the living room, I stopped at the closed door across the hall.  Quietly I leaned forward, listening for any telltale sound.  But either Freddie didn't even breathe while he slept, or he'd already gone wherever, Wessex maybe.  I was pretty sure I was alone.  Wasting no more time, I rushed down the stairs, Oscar bounding along behind me.

The lower floor was taken up by the living room, a spacious, surprisingly tasteful area, not nearly as overdone as I had assumed was customary of Freddie.  In the middle loomed that infamous black grand piano on which he'd written, and would write, so many fantastic songs.  On the walls, crystal sparkled and paintings hung.

On instinct I drew back the curtains, letting light flood the room.  A rod iron stoop just outside the front window lay waiting for someone to walk out upon it with a cup of tea and breathe in the sweet morning air, content to watch the world go by without them for a while.

But first, breakfast.

I made straight for the kitchen and rummaged shamelessly through cupboards and cabinets till I found a glass, which I filled with water and drained.  Best glass of water I've ever had, bar none.

Then I went to business.  I couldn't find any coffee, so I started a pot of tea.  Teapots eluded me in those first days.  I didn't know what the heck I was doing, and Captain Google wasn't there to rescue me this time, but I did what I could.

Sadly, there wasn't any bacon, but I did find a dozen large eggs and a packet of sausages.  If rumors were to be believed, I likely wouldn't find any sliced bread for toast.  To my surprise, I indeed found no such loaf.  How silly can you get? I thought to myself.  As a child, was he frightened by a sandwich?

Still, I peeked around a little more, and came up with (O Joy and Rapture!) English muffins.  I was set.  I turned on the radio, and to my delight heard "The Things We Do For Love" by 10cc.  Snapping a green banana off the bunch hanging just above my head (to tide me over, of course), I went to work.

"Too many broken hearts have fallen in the ri-ver..." I sang to myself, "Too many lone-ly souls have drifted out to se-a..." as I cracked eggs and watched the sausage sizzle in the pan, but was still careful not to let it burn.  I almost felt normal.  Just another day, making breakfast for myself.  Just another morning at eight o'clock, alone in a strange man's house, who I knew but didn't know,  but that was okay since no one really knew him. 

And that was the difference.  Everyone knew who he was, but no one ever knew his heart.

And then the crazy idea struck.  I thought of how dumbfounded Freddie had been when I didn't recognize him at all, how his head had almost exploded.  No one, it seemed to me, ever got a good look at the actual man, because they were so blinded by the persona he wanted them to see- and therefore, the person they learned to expect. 

But I didn't know who he was, as far as he was concerned.  And that took away some of the pressure.  Didn't it?  At least it gave someone like me a greater chance.

For the first time, I saw my mistaken trip here for the opportunity it offered.  This is good stuff, I told myself.  For whatever time frame I have to stay here, why don't I make use of it?  Why don't I try my hand at him?   I've always wanted to. 

I bit into the banana.  But again, that was worst-case scenario- and assuming Freddie would let me stick around.  I shouldn't be worrying, I decided, but my confidence was weaker than last night's.  Dr. K would pick me up long before I could get any traction in that way.  I'd just have to take it one moment at a-

"Are you still here?" Freddie's nonchalant voice cut through. 

My blood flowed all the way down into my feet.  I turned, and there he was leaning against the door frame, arms folded.  With my contacts on, I could see everything, down to the curve of his large, contorted mouth.  But his eyes were much friendlier than earlier.  This gave me courage.

I smiled at him.  "Good morning."

"Hello," he said with a small wave.  He strode forward, surveying the goings-on with profound authority.  "I see you've made yourself at home."

I took another bite of banana.  "I'm sorry, Mr. Freddie.  I was dying."

"Apparently," he agreed.  How anyone could look so fresh boggled my mind.  Freddie was clean shaven, his hair fluffed to perfection.  Few people can make a simple T-shirt and slacks look stylish, especially if they are as short-waisted and long-limbed as Freddie.  But he managed. 

"You didn't report me," I said.  "Thank you."

"Yeah, well, don't get too complacent," he informed me.  "I might today."

"Why didn't you last night?"

"Now, really, Evie dear.  What was I supposed to do, with you looking so pathetic and so alone?  To kick you out in the dead of night?  What kind of monster do you take me for?"

"I don't know what I take you for," I said.  "All I know is, you were nice enough to let me stay- and you tucked me in, which was really very sweet-"

"Oh, I didn't do that.  That was Oscar."

"Really?  Took off my shoes and everything?  That's very impressive for a cat.  Just by looking at him, I never would have guessed he had opposable thumbs."

He nodded solemnly.  "Indeed.  It's one of his better kept secrets."

This smile I let show, but only briefly.  I turned back to breakfast and called over my shoulder, "So!  You hungry?"

"I could force a bite or two down, I think." 

"That's good.  Nothing worse than eating alone."

"I can think of a few things, actually-"

"Yeah, I bet you can.  Anyway, I'm making English muffins, and sausage-"

"You mean crumpets, don't you?" he interrupted me.

"What?"

"Those are called crumpets, Miss America."

Oh, of course. Because "English muffin" would sound silly.

"That, too. Anyway, uh, where was I?"

"Sausage."

"Oh, right. One more thing, how do you like your eggs?"

He looked at me with a funny gleam in his eyes- one I learned to look for in most conversations thereafter.  Because it was a warning of the abject, wonderful idiocy which would follow.

Freddie said, "Who wants to know?"

"Me."

He shook his head.  "I."

"You?"

"No, no, I was correcting you.  You said, 'me.'  That wasn't right.  You meant, I.  It is, 'I' want to know.  'I' is correct."

"I is correct?  Don't you mean, I 'am' correct?"

"No.  I is correct.  I is what is used in that context.  Who wants to know?  I do."

This discussion began seeming more and more like the script of a vaudeville act. "You?"

"Yes.  No!  You!"

"Me?"

"Yes.  But you mean I.  Not 'me.'"

"Oh."  I was confused, so I shrugged.  "Whatever."

Freddie rolled his eyes and sighed. "You killjoy Yanks."

Suddenly I realized he'd just been messing with me.  I'm really not that dense.  I learn.  This was a game I got much better at later. 

But for now I popped back, "You Limey Grammar Nazis.  How do you like your eggs?"

"Who wants to know?"

I held up my egg spatula like it was a bejeweled scepter.  "Eve Dubroc, Queen of the Kitchen!  That's who!"

(I was punchy.  Cut me some slack.)

"I like my eggs," Freddie answered, "like I like my women."

This was a road I didn't feel like treading.  "Okay.  Forget how you like them.  How do you want them?"

"How are you cooking yours?"

"Over medium.  Fried."

"That sounds great."

"I thought so, too."

"Don't you want to know how I like my women?"

"Not really.  No.  Thanks."

He nodded.  "That's fair."

"Good. Would you please do me a favor and pull the English muffins out of the ov-"

"Crumpets!"

"Okay, yeah, the crumpets, could you please get them out of the oven for me?  They look a little toasty and I don't want them to burn..."

 

 

Chapter Text

"I'm on to you, darling," he said at last.

I turned to look at him.  "How so?"

Freddie dabbed delicately at his lips with his napkin. "I know what you're doing.  Don't think I don't see it."

We were sitting across from each other in the kitchen, as the dining room seemed just a bit too pretentious for our purposes.  Both of us had just finished a lovely breakfast, if a fast one.  Freddie seemed to be in a hurry- perhaps because he was due at the studio and the boys were waiting for him.   It also meant we more or less ate in silence, which never became too awkward thanks to the constant hum of the radio.  I'd like to think Freddie enjoyed my cooking, considering how much he had to eventually put up with it.

I sipped my tea.  "That's as may be, I still don't know what you're hinting at."

"You're a very clever girl, making me breakfast and all."

"Must one be clever, to make breakfast?"

"It's the intent behind it.  Making yourself useful and thus indispensable to me."

I pretended to pout.  "I was hungry.  And anyway, it was the least I could do to thank you for being so kind last night."

"True, I was very nice," Freddie agreed.  "One of my best qualities, I think."

I rolled my eyes.  "Yup.  Right up there with your modesty."

"I might have been nicer to you, though," he said.  "I just found your story a little hard to swallow.  Still do, in fact.  But I could have been a little more understanding.  It's not every day I run into a madwoman."

The gleam returned, and the corners of his mouth twitched.  I could not let that swipe go unrecognized. 

"That's okay.  It's not every day I run into a fellow with such high illusions of grandeur."  I raised my cup of tea and grinned.  "Cheers."

"I can't help it if you're uninformed," he yawned luxuriously.  "But, yes, cheers."

Back chat, back chat, flashed through my head.  I made a mental note: Always has to have the last word.  And to myself I added, Challenge accepted.

I got up and picked up our plates to put them in the sink.  "I'll wash these in a minute."

Freddie slid his chair back noisily.  "So, has your head cleared enough so you can find your way back to- um, whatever planet you've descended from?" he asked.

I sighed.  "It would take a lot more than that to send me home."

"How do you mean?"

"Excuse me a moment," I said, then rushed up the stairs to the green bedroom I pulled a few things out of my backpack, and came back down.  I was flirting with screwing with the future, but hey, hadn't I already done that?

Freddie's hands were on his hips.  I asked, "I don't want to hold you up, do you have someplace you need to be?"

"My driver should be here in about five minutes, so I've got time," he said.

"Okay.  See this?"  I showed him the Relic. " This is my only means of communication with folks back where I come from."

"What is it?"

"It's a phone."

"This is a phone?"  Freddie took it in his hands, inspected it. Wow, I said to myself. If he thinks that's impressive, it's a good thing I haven't shown him my Android.

"Only problem is, it only works when this," I pulled my tracker out from under my shirt, which still pulsed bright red, "turns blue, or whenever I'm in range. And I still don't get exactly what that means.  Except that I'm not in range right now, which is awful, but it's out of my hands.

"To top it off, I have no funds whatsoever except those packed into this friendly plastic card, which is absolutely useless here. So I'm kind of in a pickle."

Freddie was now looking at me as if he was waiting for some kind of punchline. When none came, and he realized I was serious, he took a deep breath. "And I thought I was only kidding about you being from another planet."

"I'm not.  But let's just say, I'm- not from around here."

"Could you explain what that means, exactly?"

I shook my head.  "Again, it's complicated.  I don't understand it myself."

"So far the only thing I've understood is that you haven't any money.  I'd be happy to help there-"

"Freddie, no.  I'm not asking you for money.  The only thing I'd even think to ask is..." I trailed off.  Ask what?  What was I crashing into here?  Shut up, Julia- or Eve, or whoever the heck I am! 

He stood waiting.  "Go on."

I looked up at him.  "Um, alright.  Here goes.  I know this is a LOT to ask.  I have no right to- to request this of you.  But the only person I know here is you.  And this is the only place I am anywhere near familiar with.  So..."

Freddie filled in the blanks for me.  "You're wanting to stay here?"  He said evenly.

My hands were shaking; I hid them quickly behind my back.  God, this sounded so bad.  "I-I wouldn't take up much room.  You wouldn't have to deal with me very long anyhow.  If necessary I could just stay up in that green bedroom the whole time and you wouldn't have to see me, I'd be quiet as a mouse-"

"I wouldn't dream of locking you up like that, darling," he chuckled.  "Again, you must think I'm some sort of ogre."

"Oh, no.  I just don't want you to think I'm some kind of freeloader."  Without realizing it, I went into Donald Trump mode.  "If you let me stay, I'll earn my keep.  Believe me.  Whatever you need done, I'll do it.  I'll be so good.  That, I can tell you."

Freddie looked me up and down, decided I was for real (I guess).  Because he said at last, "How about this: a favor a day.  You can stay, certainly.  You seem an honest girl.  I'll give you a chance.  For every day you hang around, you owe me a favor.  I won't ask you to do anything impossible.  Errands, petty household chores, things like that.  How's that for a deal?"

He put out his hand, which I almost seized before I remembered the guy to whom I was talking.  "Wait.  One small wrinkle."

He groaned half-facetiously.  "Good Lord.  What is it?"

I hesitated, the words sticking in my throat.  Finally I forced them out, quietly: "No sexual favors, please."

Freddie's brows shot up.  "A rather pretentious wrinkle, that!"

"I know, I know.  It's stupid.  I'm sorry.  I just want the air cleared on that."  And that's it, I added privately.  I mean, look at me.  What would he want to mess with me for?  "Is that okay?"

He glanced down at the floor, his smile now a tad uncomfortable.  "No problem, Evie.  A shame, certainly, but that won't be a problem."

"Good," I said.  "Then we have a deal."

We shook hands.

"Congratulations, darling.  You are now an honorary member of the family," he announced.

There was a knock at the door.  "Are you ready, sir?"

"There's my chauffeur now.  Quick," Freddie said before calling at the front door, "Coming!"  He rushed back into the kitchen, banged around a few seconds, then hurried back.  A key dangled between the fingers of one hand.

"Here's the key to the flat," he said.  "Don't lose it, that's my spare.  And here," he continued, slapping an indefinite amount of money into my palm, "is your cue to go shopping."

I stared at him.  "Shopping?  No way!  I may not be here that long, you don't have to-"

"Eve, it's the middle of summer and you're standing there in a black turtleneck.  Go get something more suitable.  All you have to do is find a cab, and point wherever you want to go, and Boom!  You're off.  There should be enough there for you to get whatever you need."

My head was spinning; all I could do right then was nod numbly.  "Yes, sir."

"And for heaven's sake, don't call me sir.  I'll be back this evening.  Try not to get yourself into trouble."  Freddie patted my cheek and turned swiftly for the door.

Abruptly I recalled my manners.  "I don't know how to thank you for all this, Freddie," I gasped.

He glanced back, and smiled his warmest smile yet.  "Well," he said, "let's just say you're lucky you've got such big eyes."

And  without another word, he disappeared. 

I was now all alone in the flat, if you didn't count the two cats dozing on the sofa and the one STILL staring up at me.  I had to sit down for a moment and recalibrate.

"Did he just say I've got big eyes?" I asked aloud.  "They're not that big.  He's just being nice.  But that's not important right now."

I started putting together a plan for the day.  I'd throw my clothes into the washer and clean myself up, get dressed again, then head for - a place to find clothes.  Sounded simple enough, except I didn't know where to start.

A light switched on in my brain.  What was that place where Freddie had worked, pre-Queen?  Some kind of indoor market type thing-

"Oh yes!" I exclaimed.  "Kensington Market.  Sounds good to me."

With renewed confidence, I went back upstairs

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I arrive first at Wessex Studios today. Most of the time, this is a smart move, because Freddie's usually next to show. But for some reason, today he's delayed. And so, I have the great pleasure of walking in only seconds before Roger.

"Hello, Deacy," Roger rasps. "Run into any more ghost girls?"

I smile and shake my head. My gaze stays down so he doesn't see the "F--- you" in my eyes.

For the next few minutes I busy myself with tuning the bass. Roger starts banging away on the drums, practicing his latest song. "Fight From the Inside," I think he calls it. It's bass and drum heavy, so it gives me something interesting to do. So far, it's definitely his best. But then, that's not saying much when you've got tripe like "Tenement Funster" and "I'm in Love with My Car" padding your repertoire. I'm new to the songwriting business, too, but at least I've penned a hit.

Don't tell anyone I said that, though.

Brian's not too far behind Roger. In about ten minutes, he rushes through the door lugging along his 'Old Lady.' The pale face under that curly mop of hair looks unusually expressive.

"Guys, you'll never guess who's recording in the studio next door," he says.

Roger shrugs. "ELO?"

"No."

"Peter Gabriel? Wings?"

"No, and no."

"Then, who?"

"The Sex Pistols."

I'm tempted to ask what's so important about the Sex Pistols, but I know better. Because Brian isn't finished talking.

He sighs. "The shit's going to hit the fan when he finds out."

Of course, he means Freddie.

"So what? Freddie won't care. They've got to record somewhere too," Roger says.

"True. We can't all slip off to Freddie's closet to do our dirty work," Brian quips, coaxing a laugh or two from Roger.

I sigh. It's going to be a long day.

"You boys can stop picking on John now," Freddie's voice cuts in. He appears in the doorway a second later. "He's not as crazy as you thought."

We all exchange glances until Brian finally asks, "You mean, there was a girl in there after all?"

"I'm afraid so," Freddie says.

And naturally, we erupt with questions.

"What was she doing in there?" Brian asks.

"I don't know. She was under the bed when I found her."

"What's her name?" I say.

"Again, I don't know. I call her Eve."

"Is she pretty?" Roger wonders.

"Pretty?" Freddie's brows come together, and he sits down. "Oh, I'm not sure if pretty is exactly the right word..."

"Is she not pretty?" Roger persists.

"Well, I'll be honest with you," he sighs. "She's breathtaking."

"In a good way?"

"Is there a bad way to be breathtaking? She's beautiful. Her eyes are this big around, I'm not kidding." He makes a circle with his thumb and index finger.

That's not enough for our womanizing drummer. "What else?"

"Put your tongue back in your mouth, Roger. She looks like the younger sister of that one actress, what's her name, she was in that movie The Graduate..."

"Anne Bancroft?" I suggest.

"No, no! The other one. The one who played the girl who went, 'BEEENNN!'"

"Katharine Ross?"

"Is that her name? Oh. Then, yeah, she looks like her."

Roger grins. "What a shame we didn't get to see this Eve of yours."

By contrast, Brian visibly would prefer to drop this discussion of Freddie's exciting private life, and is opening his guitar case. "It's a bit scary to me. Sure hope that doesn't happen again. Sycophant fans like those can be dangerous."

"You're both wrong," Freddie says.

Brian looks up, frowning. You have to be some kind of brave, or else some kind of absolute idiot, to say Brian is wrong. Trust me.

Freddie continues, "She's not gone, for one; and for another, she'd never even heard of us, so she's not a fan at all."

Brian and Roger (and even the sound men who've just walked in) groan. "You believed her?" Brian says in disbelief. "This girl had tucked herself away in your closet and you believe her?"

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't."

"She sounds absolutely mad," Roger remarks.

"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about that." Freddie clears his throat. "But I see it this way. Fans to that extreme, who would consider, you know, doing something sneaky like that just to get close to one of us- I just don't feel like she's that kind of person. She's very practical. Fans who think breaking and entering is a good idea are not, by definition, practical. She says she doesn't know how she even wound up in my house."

"Practical, but crazy- not to mention expert lockpick?" Brian says dryly.

"And beautiful. Don't forget beautiful," Freddie corrects him. "To be sure, I've slept with worse."

I hate it when he says things like that.

"What's funny is, she doesn't even want that from me," he goes on. "She just wants shelter."

"You certain she doesn't know who you are?" Roger teases.

"F--- off, you sod. You're just jealous she didn't show up in YOUR closet."

"Bad luck," Brian comments as they laugh. He's now getting up, ready to start work on our songs. I'm with him; this Eve has only said three sharp words to me so far, yet I feel sorry for her.
I know where this is going.

And it begins. "Too bad," Roger goads. "Struck out before you even step up to bat, eh, Fred?"

Freddie turns. "Is that a challenge? I've got quite a reputation, you know."

Roger grins like a crocodile. "Could you change her mind, you think? I know I could."

"She's not your type."

"One hundred pounds says she's not yours, either."

I close my eyes in spite of myself. Don't do it, Fred, I beg him silently.

"You're on!" he cries. They shake on it.

"Lads! Are we going to get to business, or are you just here to talk trash?" Brian calls.

And all I can think is, Poor Eve. Poor crazy Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I held the floral patterned, button-down shirt up against me and looked at where it fell.  Hm.  Was this the late seventies' casual style?  I was trying to be open-minded, but open-minded and money-minded are two very contradictory ideas.  I liked the price; the look, not so much.  This was far too big in the waist anyway; I was a small in this style, easy. 

"Do you have any of these in a smaller size?"  I asked the washed-out woman running the stall.

"That's the smallest it gets," she said.  "But I dare say, it wasn't meant for your likes."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

She pointed at the banner across the front of the stand.  "These are men's shirts, love."

"Oh," I muttered, "Sorry."  Cheeks burning, I laid the shirt down and began edging away to whatever other stall where I had not yet completely embarrassed myself.

Want to know a secret?  I hate shopping.  I absolutely loathe it.  No, correction.  I hate shopping for clothes.  One hour in a department store, drowning in the paisleys and the polyesters and the overbright colors jumping out from every side, and I'm wiped out from visual overload.  And I'd been in shopping mode most of the day, starting the second I got out of the cab- along with apparently everyone else in the city (but then, it was a Saturday after all; this was before the Internet, people had to do something to pass the time back then).  True, there was plenty to see at Kensington Market, certainly countless other items I would have preferred to peruse instead of racks of clothes.  But I was on a mission.

As discreetly as I could, I checked the tracker, and sighed again.  My hands were empty; my venture, unsuccessful.  Could I go back now?

Then a stall advertising good, old-fashioned, regular t-shirts caught my eye.  Just what I had in mind!

Another woman, but younger and friendlier than the last, greeted me.  "My dear!  Aren't you suffocating in that thing?"  She gestured toward my turtleneck.

True, the place was warm, and warmer than I was used to as interiors go.  It's altogether possible Kensington Market didn't even have air conditioning yet.  But it wasn't all that bad.

I shook my head.  "This is nothing compared to Texas.  You can fry an egg on the shady part of the sidewalk, this time over there."

She showed me a few articles she had on display, many of them very "fetching" (now, THERE'S a word I'd heard a lot that day- a great word, though) and one or two I would actually have liked to purchase.  But I turned my attention instead to the plain t-shirts.  I wasn't about to sponge off Freddie's bank account for pretty things I might not ever get the chance to wear.

The lady watched me run through stacks of multicolored tees.  I chose a simple red solid and a white.  "This will do fine."

"Anything else?"

"Don't think so.  I'll keep it simple, like usual."

Finally she could stand it no longer and she asked me, "Tell me, how do you expect to catch yourself a man with an attitude like that?"

I laughed.  "Ma'am, I'm not here to catch men, I'm here to get through."

She gave me a knowing look.  "My dear, we're all here to catch men, whether we like it or not.  Oh, good.  You're not one of those women's libbers, I can tell because you let me say that without launching into a tirade.  But it's true, you know.  Question is, are you going to bait the hook?"

"Oh, ma'am, believe me, I would, except the little pond I'm swimming in right now is a little- shall we say, dangerous?  I mean, you could hang a bare, rusty hook over the surface, and he'd jump at it."

"Ah," she nodded, "then in that case, you're smart.  But remember, it's not a sin just to look good for yourself, too."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said.  "I'll just take these two for now, though."

I laughed silently as I handed her ten pounds (five pounds a shirt- a great deal!) and tucked the shirts in my bag.  What a way to give myself airs.  Freddie could have anyone he wanted.  If I were just another independent girl walking the streets of London, Tokyo, Rio, or any other tour stop, he wouldn't even look at me once, let alone twice.

As soon as I'd turned my back, above the hustle and bustle, I heard a high, tinny "Bip-bip-bip-bip BEEP-"

I nearly dropped everything.  I ran for the door, one hand on my back pocket struggling to pull out the Relic in time without making a scene.  I was unsuccessful; I accidentally rammed right into someone.  But I kept going, trying to ignore my darn cognitive dissonance (psychology buzz word, for you in the audience) as he yelled at me to watch where the hell I was going.

I worked it out of my pocket and pressed the green button.  "Dr. K!"

"Julia!  How are you holding up?"

"I'm okay.  What's taking you guys so long?  You said two hours, max!  It's been a whole frickin' day!  My family's probably called the police already."

"What?  I only talked to you ten minutes ago.  We've been trying to lock back onto your signal ever since!"

"Wrong.  It's been about eighteen hours since we last talked.  What's going on?"

"Ten minutes in eighteen hours?" Dr. K sounded shocked.  "Well, then it's a good thing you botched it."

"Damn," Dr. C said in the background.  "We didn't count on time relativity.  Minutes can seem like hours, hours like days, and days like minutes.  Should have known. I blame myself.  Still, maybe you can find him.  Are you in a place where you can find him?"

"Him, who?"

"That's ridiculous, Tim," Dr. K said to Dr. C.  "He died in '72.  She's in England in 1977.  She couldn't find Saul even if she wanted to."

I stopped.  Saul?  Dead in '72?  Those famous political suits in the fishbowl yesterday?  There arose only one name in my mind.

"Am I to understand," I said slowly, "that you people were wanting to send me to 1971 to talk to Saul Alinsky?"  I was drawing eyes from even across the street; I ducked into an alley.

"Well, no, not at all, we just, actually, um..." Dr. K hemmed and hawed, until finally he sighed.  "Yes."

"Are you kidding me?"

Dr. C scoffed, "What?  You don't know who he is anyway-"

"The hell I don't!  He was a world-class agitator!  You could have sent me to Thomas Edison!  Albert Einstein!  People who actually did this world some good!  Why him?  What for?  Saul Alinsky was a monster!"

"I told you she was bright," Dr. K murmured. 

"It was all in the first page of your journal, your log.  Did you even look at the instructions, Julia?" Now Dr. C sounded exasperated at me, which I found completely uncalled for.  They'd dropped the ball on this one, not me!

"No, sorry, I forgot, I'm a little busy trying to tiptoe my way through the day in another country without getting caught!"

"Dammit!  George is so through with us," Dr. C grumbled.

"Doesn't matter right now.  We have to get her out of there," Dr. K snapped. 

My kinda guy!  "Yes, and quick, you're shorting out again!" 

"Okay, Julia, we're obtaining your coordinates right now.  When the light's green, say 'Now', and push the button on my command."

I whipped out the tracker, now a flickering blue.  Come on, come on, you stupid little wafer, go green!

And it did.  My voice shaking, I shouted, "Now!"

"-Race yourse-!"  came Dr. K's choppy words.

I knelt on the cobblestones, backpack in my arms again.  My eyes squeezed shut.

Suddenly my body started vibrating, as if I was being tased without a taser.  It wasn't fun.  Just get it over with!  Do it!

Dr. K said, "Some-ng's wro-!"

"What?" I yelled into the Relic.

"-'S not ork-ng! Have to r-start T-Ro-"

The electricity was still coursing through my veins, and becoming rather painful now.  The light round my neck blazed green.  Dr. K was slipping out of range.  And I was getting electrocuted.

There was only one thing to do.  I pushed the button.

But no camera flashes, no sudden blindness, no transport. 

If nothing else, power stopped jabbing its electron-toothed blades into my spine, thankfully.  And one last coherent message from Dr. K: "We're restarting T-Rod, we should be good to go by your tomorrow and we'll bring you in.  Hang on in there a little longer!"

The Relic went silent, and the light turned red.

I leaned against the brick wall behind me, eyes closed.  I let out a heavy sigh through my nose.  Well, so much for that.  These guys have to be the worst scientists ever.

A policeman tapped his billy club against my arm. "Are you ill, madam?"

I glanced up into the flaring nostrils of the red, bulbous nose above my head.  He put out his hand to help me.

"I don't think so," I answered.  I took his hand and lifted myself to my feet, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.

"You were carrying on in a most peculiar fashion a moment ago,"  he continued.  "Perhaps you would like a ride home?"

I smiled as reassuringly as I could.  "I'm all right, really.  I was- um, just having a moment." 

"Very well," he coughed.  "Simply don't make moments such as those a habit, what? But I would be happy to escort you home if you wish."

"No, sir.  Thank you. I know my way back."  My smile only broadened as I remembered that I truly did have somewhere to go after all.  It wasn't home, but it was familiar, and it was friendly.  Right then, that was enough for me. 

I put my hand in the air and called to the string of stately black autos, "Taxi!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

At about seven o' clock, I set down the bowls of cat food and waited. Within half a minute all three of Freddie's cats bounded into the kitchen: first my orange, self-appointed new best friend, Oscar; the dark brown and lethargic Tom; and the pretty calico named Tiffany. At this point I had yet to learn Tom's name, but since I write this story many times the wiser, I can tell it to you now.

"Oh, sure," I remarked softly. "You get your lazy arses off the couch for chow time. All the rest of the day, you sleep. The flat could burn down around you, and you'd sleep amongst the ashes. But someone gets out the can opener? Stampede."

At that, Oscar looked up at me, and I swear to God he beamed a sneeze right into my eyes.

"AAA-CHOO!" I rubbed my nose. "Oh, Oscar. Why do you find my allergies funny?"

I wandered into the living room. I really hadn't done a lot of exploring around here. Did I mention the walls were a warm burnt orange? No? Well, there you go. Gold records hung where art and crystal apparently didn't reach. There was a television on one side -a dinky little box by today's standards. Nearby stood the all-encompassing entertainment center. I was tempted to see if there was an auxiliary jack for my smart phone anywhere in there, but common sense prevented me from that search. Just beside it was the same kind of intercom speaker I'd seen in the kitchen and in my bedroom (I was thinking of it as my bedroom now). I had pretty much ignored them until now. The actual receiver was fixed in the wall at the top of the stairs, complete with a microphone and a radio dial.

I turned it on, whispered, "Test? Test?"  My voice echoed all around me.

"Hello?" I said in a normal voice, and the walls boomed with the word. But I shut it off before I got too carried away. Mischievous notions were already seeping into my brain- but not the one which would actually transpire.  Not yet.

Inside the entertainment center, I found vinyls, 33s and 45s, in numbers so great my fingers tingled with excitement. I pulled out one of his Aretha Franklin records (and he had many)- Lady Soul, as I recall- and placed it on the turntable. Before long, "Chain of Fools" purred through the speakers and the flat was filled with her soulful magic.

"I should see what Dr. C was talking about," I said aloud. "Those instructions probably won't do me much good here, being for ol' Alinsky and all- but that journal will be a great place to record my, shall we say, Freddie observations?"

So I traipsed back up the stairs, dragging along my backpack.  Sprawling comfortably upon my bed, I laid the journal out before me and flipped to the first page.  I read:

"Congratulations, Whom It May Concern!  You survived the first part of the experiment- an experiment no one has ever attempted before.  The second part- which involves bringing you back - may be a stickier situation, but chances are, if you made it this far, it's all downhill from here on out.

"You have arrived in the year 1971-

"Wrong," I said aloud, interrupting myself.  "It's 1977, you only thought I was going to fall into the hands of Mr. Rules for Radicals.  Not so!  Ha ha."  I continued:

"You have arrived in the year 1971, if our calculations hold true.  Do not panic.  If you follow these simple instructions, you will keep yourself safe."

What followed were my Three Commandments (which I was keeping pretty well so far, if you can excuse me showing Freddie the Relic), only worded differently.  Keep a low profile, don't talk about where you come from, et cetera.  After that, the list of questions I was supposed to ask Mr. Alinsky.  I could show you those questions, and I would, but it was in the waiver I had to sign that the questions, answered or unanswered, remained classified.  From their perspective, I can certainly understand.

"Record everything in writing; this is what your journal is for," it concluded. "If you are discreet enough, take photos with your smart phone.  ABSOLUTELY DO NOT TAKE ANY VIDEOS WHATSOEVER.  And at all times, use caution.  Enjoy your experience, of course.  But above all, understand you do not belong, and will not belong, in the place to which you have been sent.  There can be no exception.  If you go, you must come back."

This long and rather redundant note ended with some stupid little greeting card blurb, like "Happy History-Making!" or something.  The rest of the hardcover journal was made up of one hundred blank sheets of lined paper.  Certainly, I decided, if they were going to go to all that trouble to send me anywhere, even if it was the wrong place, I ought to scrawl down a little something about what I'd been doing, as well as the man I did wind up with.

So I pulled out a black pen and started writing, downshifting into budding psychologist mode:

Day 1: Arrived in London 1977, July 1 in Freddie Mercury's house.  His closet, to be exact.  When he found me, he was very nice and let me sleep here.  Not sure how long hospitality will hold out, but grateful while it lasts.

N. F. O. [which stood for "Notable Freddie Observations"]: Freddie is very calm when something unexpected (like finding me in the closet) takes place.  Has deep sense of pride in Queen and the fame attached to it.  Was more than a little annoyed when I "failed to recognize" him.

Day 2: Made my host breakfast, went shopping.  Bought two t-shirts.  Fed his cats.  Whoopee doo.

N.F. O.: He must always have the last word.  Apparently very trusting of strangers, as he handed me five hundred pounds(!) and the key to his home and he doesn't even know my real name.  He calls me Eve Dubroc and he thinks I have big eyes.  I'm not really sure why.

I looked over my writing and yawned, underwhelmed.  Man, I sure know how to have a good time, I thought sarcastically.

According to the clock, it was only ten till eight.  I had no problem stashing myself away into a corner, being alone most of the time.  But I was feeling a little lonely for a friendly face- a REAL face, not just images I could pull up on my phone and stare at awkwardly for a few minutes.  So, naturally, I started thinking about Freddie.

"I wonder what he's doing right now," I said aloud. 

Two seconds later, the phone rang.  On instinct I slid off the bed, hurried downstairs (there was a phone in his room, but until he told me otherwise I was treating that part of the flat like it was quarantined), and picked it up.

"Margaret Thatcher's residence," I boomed in as low a voice as I could muster.

Clear, laughing tones came through on the other end.  "Hello, Eve!"

"Speak of the devil.  Hi, Freddie!"  I grinned.  "What's going on?"

"Glad you're still around.  I've got your first favor in order," he announced.  "If you could please grab two bottles of red wine, I don't care which, out of the pantry and bring them up here to Wessex, please?"

"Any glasses?"

"No, we've got those here.  Unless you want to bring one for you." 

His tongue sounded slightly thick in his mouth.  I stifled a snort and asked myself how many bottles of wine they'd already blown through.  "Anything else you need?"

"Just your sweet self and the wine."

"You got it!  What's the address?"

"Oh, don't worry about that, my driver's already en route to pick you up.  Should be there in two shakes.  Also!  You went shopping today, right?  Good girl.  Throw something new on and show us what you bought.  See you in a few!"

I hung up the phone.  Strange, I didn't feel euphoric or tongue-tied when talking to him.  I always thought I would, with Freddie's enormous image in mind. Maybe by pretending Freddie was just another guy, I was tricking some subconscious part of myself as well.  Ah, the power of  the mind.  But anyway!

I randomly grabbed a Cabernet and Pinot Noir.  I don't remember what brand, or what country, but they had both been bottled sometime in the 1940's.  I recall that much because it made me shake my head; there's no telling how much that wine cost, and there were two dozen more no younger in the pantry.

Of the red or white shirts I bought, I selected red.  I pulled it over my head and discovered a little too late that the tee, while looking chaste enough at the Market, was two sizes too small.  It hugged- no, squeezed in all the wrong places, certainly all the places I wanted hidden while anywhere near four young rockers (I trusted John most, but I couldn't take any chances).  The V-Neck collar looked especially strained, and my belly button showed.

From the bedroom doorway, Oscar stared with wide feline eyes.  He licked his chops.

"Oh, shut up," I said.  "I can't help the way it makes my fronts look.  But I gotta do at least something about this.  I look so trashy." 

And I did.  In a trice, I'd tied my black turtleneck round my exposed waist, forming a kind of sash.  There wasn't enough time to modify anything else; Freddie's chauffeur arrived too quickly.  One last dab of lipstick for good measure, and wine in hands, I flung open the door.

And almost screamed when I saw the well-dressed, six-foot-nine pillar of brawn standing outside the door.

"Miss Eve?" the man said. 

"That's me," I replied, recovering.

His voice wasn't the most amiable.  "I'm Rudy, Freddie's driver.  Come along."

Only in this surreal world of the past would I have allowed myself to follow this gorilla of a man into a gleaming, silver Rolls Royce.  London was, if possible, prettier at sunset than at straight up midday, and I couldn't even enjoy it. He made me extremely nervous. 

"Do you double as his bodyguard, too?" I asked.

"When necessary," Rudy answered. 

"Has it ever been necessary?"

"Yes."

I think that's all he said the whole twenty-five minute drive.

Needless to say, I was glad to see the old church building that was now Wessex Studio.  I clambered out of the car and adjusted my turtle-sash.  Heavy drum beats and the unmistakable wail of Brian's guitar escaped the church walls.

"I'll be here waiting," Rudy informed me, to which I replied that he wouldn't be waiting long.

I walked down the sidewalk, feeling slightly ridiculous in my outfit.  What would the Queen fellows think?  Some fashionista I was.  In spite of myself, however, I lifted my chin the way a stubbornly haughty Freddie would have done, and pushed the door open with all the confidence of a real queen.

"Who are you?" a hostile receptionist demanded. 

Inside, I shrank back, about to explain myself when another door opened and a head of dark, thick hair poked out. 

"There you are!" Freddie crooned, hands outstretched.  "And you've brought the wine.  Perfect!"

"As you wish, Master," I said, bowing low.  "Any other task thou wouldst have me perform?"

"Not tonight.  This will do quite nicely for now!" he said. 

"Great!  Then I'll just be heading back to the flat now-"

"Oh, no, not yet!  Come on in, the boys are anxious to meet you."

"You told your band about me?"  I stepped back.

"Why not?  If a girl shows up in your house unannounced, do you just ignore it?"

"Well, frankly, I don't know, I've never-"

"Exactly.  Come on!"

"Ha, ha, no, thanks.  They're busy, I can hear it.  And you," I added, "probably need to get back in there and corral them."

Freddie folded his arms.  "You're too much, darling.  Most girls, most people, would leap for a chance to get this close to us.  Maybe it's because you haven't seen us perform.  Or-"

"Hey, Fred, close the door!" a Londoner's voice chided- one I didn't recognize.  Freddie acted swiftly; he took me by the wine bottles and pulled me into the control room before I knew what was happening, closing the door behind us.

"Shifty," I muttered.  Freddie ignored me, and handed one of the bottles to a sound guy for him to open.  Something else to add to the NFO list: Does not open own wine bottle.

"What'ya think of that one?" called the drummer, setting his sticks down.

"We'll have to play it back in a second, come in and listen," Freddie said over the intercom.

Freddie looked back at me.  "Did you buy that shirt today?"

"Yes," I said.  "I'm regretting it now."

"It's just a tad tight, is all.  Show me tomorrow what else you got!"

"If I'm still here."

"Oh, that's right.  I forgot, I could still turn you in.  Thanks for reminding me."

"Not at all.  I really don't have to show you any more anyway.  I just bought this and another like it in white."

He blinked.  "That's all?"

It was here that the three others tramped into the control room.  "This song is getting so f---ing slow," Roger complained, whipping out a cigarette. "Brian, it gets slower every time, and I didn't write it like that.  It's not m-"

He cut himself off as his drowsy eyes glanced my way.  He looked at Freddie.  "Is this the Eve we're heard so much about?"

I forced myself not to react.  If I wasn't supposed to know Freddie, I couldn't recognize anyone else. 

"You're the guy with the sneakers," I said, too brightly.  When his brows knit, uncomprehending, I explained, "That's all I could see from under the bed.  You were wearing sneakers."

"So you remembered my voice," he said with a suave little grin, the cigarette between his pretty white teeth.  Roger was indeed very handsome, but with that high voice I found him incredibly hard to take seriously.

"Yours is a hard one to forget," I replied ambiguously before I realized how that might sound.  He took hold of my hand, then, so that I was convinced that he had heard it just that way. 

"Pleasure to meet you, Eve," he cooed, bending over my hand- perhaps to kiss it.

"That's Roger," Freddie cut in- rather hastily, I thought.  "He hits the drums, things like that."

"I play them," Roger corrected him, and let go of me to light his smoke.  I didn't mind.  He offered me a cigarette as well, but I shook my head.

"Whatever," Freddie said. "And that's Brian over there."

Brian was filling his glass of wine; he waved to me and grunted with supreme indifference. 

"Guy with Clogs," I said.  "Brian.  Got it."

John had been still fiddling around in the studio room.  After a moment he set his bass down and joined the rest.  His small eyes landed on me and widened in surprise.

"I suppose you know Deaks already," Roger quipped. 

"I'm John," he said, putting out his hand.  "John Deacon."

"Oh, yes, we're practically family," I replied.  "Sorry for snapping at you yesterday.  I was- distracted."

He smiled shyly and shrugged.  It was that moment I knew I would make this guy my best friend.  John had the kind of face that makes you just want to pour out your whole life story to him because you know he'd be polite enough to listen to the whole thing. And for that moment, I ached to explain my reason for being here, as improbable as it sounded, because at least he would act as though he believed me. 

"Wine?" A full glass crossed my peripheral vision.

"No, thank you.  I don't drink," I answered.

"Really?" Freddie sounded surprised.

"Yep.  Never touch it.  Makes me sleepy, wine does."

"What a shame."

"You don't drink, you don't smoke," Roger said thoughtfully.  "Next you'll be telling us you're a virgin."

Somebody laughed.  I smiled, now uncomfortable and not a little embarrassed.  "Anyway, um, I just came to bring the wine, it was nice meeting you fellas, I'll let you get back to work."

John nodded, something strange in his face, a look that was anything but happy.  I felt like he was trying to tell me something.

"I'll see you out, dear," Freddie offered.  He took my hand, led me out and I called my farewells behind me, two of which were answered.  Just before the door closed, I heard Roger's indiscreet voice exclaim, "God!  Did you get a load of that ra-"

My mind finished what I was lucky enough to miss.  Now I REALLY regret wearing this, I groaned inwardly.

When we were in the front room, Freddie took me aside.  "Did I miss something, or did you say you spent five hundred pounds on two of these?"  He fingered the sleeve of my shirt to emphasize.

"I did not."

"What did you spend on them?"

"Ten quid!"  I grinned, pleased with my use of British slang.  God, I'm so American it's not even funny.

"Okay. Ten quid.  What else did you find?"

"That's it, really.  I bought lunch while out, and paid for the cab.  And that adds up to... twenty, yeah, twenty pounds give or take. Thank you so much for-  Oh, yes!  Here's what's left."

I handed him four hundred eighty pounds. 

It took him a minute to find the words.  "What kind of world do you come from?"

"Don't tell me you expected me to go pick out a whole new wardrobe!  I could be gone tomorrow."  And according to Dr. K, that's exactly what would happen.

Freddie rubbed his eyes.  "Well, that settles it.  We'll have to fix you."

"What?"  That didn't sound too good.

"You obviously need someone to hold your hand wherever you go and help you think, so tomorrow, after my interview, you and I are going to take this-" he held up the money- "and thoroughly burn it on proper clothes.  None of this peasant t-shirt stuff.  Proper things."

"Are you serious?"

"I'm in most deadly earnest, my dear Eve.  You can't be Scottish every minute of your life.  That's a life well squandered."

"I was only trying to be considerate.  And I'm only half-Scottish, thank you."

"What's the other half?"  Freddie was very easily sidetracked.

"Italian.  My mother is from Tuscany."

Swirling his arms dramatically, he thundered in his stage voice, "So be Italian.  Make your mother proud!  You're with me, live a little!"

Quite unsuccessfully I fought against a sudden fit of laughter.  "I think you're tipsy, and I need to go, I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll have Rudy come get you at half-past one tomorrow, I should be finished talking to the old bugger by then.  Don't disappoint me!"  Before I could give another wishy-washy reply, he added, "Let's consider it your favor for the day."

All right, now I had to agree.  I nodded, though the idea of going back on another shopping spree left me rather cold.  But a favor's a favor, and I was basically his indentured servant.

"Excellent.  I'll see you at two-ish."  With that, he leaned forward and kissed the top of my head.

"Happy recordings!" I said, refusing to react to the kiss and slipped out the door.  I bet he does that to everyone.

As I got into the car, and we started heading back in the same deathlike silence, I couldn't help but notice the way my toes were wiggling in my shoes.  Curiouser and curiouser. 

I just need some sleep, I told myself.  I'll need it tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I didn't see Freddie the next morning; he was already gone by the time I woke, which was fairly late- around ten a.m.  Ah, the curse of the college student. So easy to fall into poor sleeping habits. I had the idea of using my Android as an alarm clock, and setting the buzz tone on the most obnoxious, 1970s-esque sound.  I couldn't oversleep every day.  I might miss something sensational.

I'd gone to bed late, fixing myself a light meal as soon as Rudy had carted me home and writing down all I'd seen at the studio down to the electric lamp's glare upon the consoles and the scent of cigarette smoke hanging heavy in the control room.   However, I left out Roger's assessment of my figure; I just didn't see how that could possibly contribute to science.  I played the heck out of Freddie's turntable until finally Oscar and I just retired to bed.

My light was red.  Briefly I checked the Relic.  No missed calls.  Perhaps Dr. K would zap me at the same time as yesterday.  I wasn't worried.  Even though K and C had given me no proof that they knew what they were doing, I still trusted them. 

As I stepped out of the shower, I heard someone knocking about downstairs.  Curious, I put on the only other change of clothes I had and hurried down to see a hardy-looking woman dusting the tables and pictures.

"Hello!" I said. 

She looked up, startled.  "Hello...?" 

"Sorry for scaring you.  I thought I was alone!"

"As did I," she replied in thick Yorkshire accents. 

I was feeling very outgoing towards anyone in Freddie's life.  To know a person's contacts is to know the person himself.  "What's your name?"

She told me her name was Eleanor Cottage, and that she preferred to be called Mrs. Cottage if we were to be particular. 

"I'm Jul- er, Eve.  Eve Dubroc.  I don't care what name you want to call me by.  Ms. Dubroc, or Eve, doesn't matter."

"I like the Ms. Dubroc meself," she mused.  That made sense; she worked for Freddie, so ours would be a professional relationship.  "You're a sweet one, Ms. Dubroc.  Don't usually get a hello from his, ah, friends.  Except maybe that one other girl, she's very polite too.  But no one else."

"That's their misfortune," I quipped.  "So, are you Freddie's, um, are you his housekeeper?"

"I am."

"What's that like?"

She shrugged.  "He pays well."

"Is he nice to you?"

"Mostly.  He's never been anything but a perfect gentleman, to be sure."

There was something she was holding out on.  And I wanted to find out what.  "How about his 'friends'?"

"Ms. Dubroc, I don't go around blabbering about people I work for- and certainly not about or to their lovers."

"Lovers?  Oh!   Oh, no, I'm not- I'm not sleeping with him.  He's just letting me live here."

Ms. Cottage gave me a doubtful once-over, which spurred me to add, "Look, I don't even know if he came back last night.  I think I'd know the answer to that if I was sharing his bed."

To which she conceded, "He likely didn't, if you ask me."  She looked like she was itching to get back to her cleaning, so I nodded and walked toward the kitchen.  I whistled at the thought of what she was hinting.  Freddie, you are something else.  I may fill up that journal without even trying.

On the cupboard was taped a little white note with frantic black cursive on the front, "Open me, please."

I laughed.  "Looks like he did make it home after all, Mrs. Cottage."

"Oh, yes?" she called.  "Well, that's good."

I opened the note as he'd so politely requested, and read silently. "Hi, Sleeping Beauty.  I forgot to report you again, sorry about that.  I'll get to it sometime, I suppose.  Don't forget, we are buying you clothes this afternoon.  One thirty, sharp, Rudy will come round and bring you up to John's house.  Not Deacon, you don't know this John yet, but don't worry, he won't bite.  Much.  Don't be late, for I have a simply monstrous temper!!  Love and kisses, F."

"He's too much," I exclaimed.  "Just too much."  Still, I branded the time into my head.  I did not want to find out just how much Freddie was joking when he said "monstrous."

"Ms. Cottage, have you eaten anything today?" I asked.

"Just an apple, Ms. Dubroc.  I never eat heavy before work."

"If I made breakfast, would you like some as well?  I always make too much food when I cook for myself."

"No thank you, dear.  That's very sweet for you to offer, but I'm alright."  And in a voice she thought I couldn't detect, she murmured, "No, you're not at all like his... friends."

That confused me, but I tried not to think anything more of it save as one more blurb in the log.  At that moment, I had bigger eggs to fry. 

******************************************************************************************

Rudy was as good as Freddie had promised.  I had just gotten back to the flat after doing some grocery shopping for dinner that night (assuming Freddie would be joining me) when the doorbell rang, and the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant escorted me to the Rolls.

It had been a superbly lovely day so far.  The sky was bright blue, nary a cloud to be found.  Nearly everyone I'd spoken to had been the epitome of friendliness.  Everywhere I went, I was singing (timely songs, of course).  Under no circumstances would I let Rudy rain on my parade.

When the car door closed, and we sped off, I had a terrible idea.  I would annoy the heck out of my driver.  Chances were this wouldn't improve his attitude towards me, but I was still feeling so good, I didn't care.

"How are you feeling, Senor Rudy?"  I bubbled.

He grunted and shrugged. 

"Same as usual, I see.  Very well!  What have you been up to?"

There was no monosyllabic way out of that one.  "Acting as his bodyguard."

"It was necessary, huh?"

"Today."

"That's very interesting."  I rolled down the window, put out my hand into the wind.  He sighed through his nose.  Ah, the idiocy this poor man had to endure. 

My bad idea immediately became worse.  I began to sing.

"This one's for you, my little black rain cloud," I cried, and launched into "Bah-dum bi da dahh, Bah-dum bi da dahhh, Raindrops keep fallin' on my head..."

He closed his eyes a moment, subtly rolled his eyes.  But his right hand, the one he thought I couldn't see, was tapping against the steering wheel to the beat.  I kept singing.

Fortunately for Rudy, whose ears by now I'm sure were aching, we arrived at the New John's house in under six minutes.  That was probably because he was speeding twenty above the limit.  I wonder how often he had to put up with the same thing from Freddie himself.

Parking the car, we both got out and started walking up the steps.  As we approached the house, the door opened and a brisk young fellow with a distinctly British (but attractive) face hurried out.  His mouth was working furiously, and he gripped a tape recorder in one hand and a clipboard in the other.  I swallowed.  Something very intense had just gone down.

"Good day!" I said cheerily after him.

Without even looking back, he growled, "Bollocks!" and disappeared into a cab.

I blinked.  "What's his problem?"

I received no answer.  No direct answer, anyway.  Once we were let inside the house, we got enough of one as soon as we heard Freddie.  He wasn't visible yet, but oh, man, was he audible. I could show what all he screamed, but I'd have to market this book as one meant for mature audiences only.  He wasn't happy.

Rudy marched up to the closed door where Freddie was having his tantrum and knocked.  Immediately everything hushed.  The door whooshed open.  First, out came a gentleman with dark brown hair and a cautious expression in his eyes, as if anything he could possibly say had the risk of lighting another dynamite hissy fit. 

And then, out strolled Freddie.  I had held ice cubes that were warmer than his demeanor.  His eyes were on the floor, his mouth pressed in a tighter line than usual (what with his teeth, his mouth always looked a little tight).  His hands were firmly shoved into his jacket pockets (some nerve, lecturing me about "suitable" summer clothes and here he was dressed in a shiny leather jacket).  I got the impression that if I touched his shoulder, my fingers would blacken with frostbite. 

"I don't know what to tell you, Freddie," the man said in a thick Scottish brogue.  "I'm sorry."

Freddie didn't answer.  He pointed at the coat rack.  I watched in ever-growing amazement as Rudy picked up the scarf with hung there and placed it into his upturned palm.  Slinging it loosely round his neck, Freddie moved to the door, Rudy and I in tow.

Suddenly he turned, spoke coldly to the Scots.  "And for God's sake, do something about that f---ing cook of yours.  Whatever that was, it wasn't any f---ing salmon."

Until we got back in the car, that was all he said.  But apparently whatever venting he'd done to John (whose face I at last recognized as their John Reid's, their manager at this time) was anything but satisfactory.

I broke the silence as gently as I could.  "So, um... how did that go?"

He exploded.  "That Parsons prick!  So high and f---ing mighty, with his pen and paper.  That f---ing g--d--- NME!  Putting people in f---ing bags, thinking they know so f---ing much!  F--- the press!  God!  Who the f--- do they think they are?"

See what I mean?

"Freddie, we don't have to go shopping today, really-"

"No f---ing way. I need it.  Rudy, take us to the Square."

Rudy nodded, and Freddie fell silent again, cold as ever.

My buoyant mood now had millstones wrapped around it, dragging it down into the depths.  I tried to change the subject.

"So... that's John, huh?" I ventured.

He nodded.  "John Reid.  Our manager."

I twiddled my thumbs a little, then asked, "So what was the deal with the salmon?"

"It was f---ing horrendous, that's what."

I was already tiring of Freddie talking like a Tarantino script, but I kept trying.  "What was wrong with it?"

"Everything.  Even that prick hated it."

I nodded, staring out the window at a still very lovely day.  To myself I said, "Okay.  Salmon Man, John Reid.  And Sneakers Guy, that's Roger.  Then John Deacon, and then Mr. Clogs, Brian."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his mouth twitch.  I turned with interest.

"What?" I asked.

A smile spread quickly over his face, which he promptly covered.  "Nothing."

"Sorry, I was just trying to keep the names straight."

"I know, just... Mr. Clogs?  Really?"

"What's wrong with it?"

He snorted.  "Nothing, it just... it just makes him sound constipated or something."

I gaped at him.  "You are such a child."  But I found myself start to snicker as well, as I thought of Brian in a very uncomfortable situation, and the look on his imagined face finally had me burst out laughing. 

That gleam of yesterday morning had returned to his eyes, the mask slowly melting, and he winked.  Even Rudy sighed in the front seat, clearly in relief. 

Under mental N.F.O.'s, I marked this: Very bad influence on me- but in a good way.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

From just outside the dressing room, I heard Freddie huff impatiently. "Have you got it on, yet?"

"Patience, grasshopper," I called back.

"What?" he asked, his tone defensive. "Who's a grasshopper?"

Fortunately the reference I'd flippantly made wasn't anachronistic. I explained, "It's from a TV show called Kung Fu! The Chinese guy keeps saying it, that's all."

He relaxed. "Oh, okay. That's better."

"What did you think I was talking about?"

"Never mind."

But it didn't take a superbrain to decipher what he had assumed I meant. Freddie knew he was slim and leggy just as much as I knew it. Hastily I scrawled another NFO (yes, I had my backpack in there with me): Physically self-aware, but hides it.

It was utterly astonishing, how much he loved shopping. While I'd dragged my feet around Kensington Market, he flitted from store to store like a butterfly among fragrant flowers (in white platforms, no less), never seeming to get enough of dropping a hundred pounds everywhere we went. I could give a meticulous rundown of our shopping spree so far. But since shopping is not my pleasure point, I won't. So let me sum up about three and a half hours (so far) of clothes hunting in a few lines of dialogue:

"Ooo. I like this."

"How much?"

"A lot, you goose, or else I wouldn't have picked it-"

"No, I mean, how much is it?"

"Who wants to know?"

"I do. It's important."

"That's the wrong approach to take. I could buy up this whole place right now if I wanted to. And you'd look even more ravishing than you already are, in this."

"Absolutely not."

"You say that every time, and then you change your mind."

"I mean it this time."

"Evie, darling. The least you can do is try it on."

And that's how I'd already ended up with four halter tops, three vests and corresponding button downs, two pairs of capris, two pairs of bell-bottom jeans, three pairs of shorts, two skirts, five dresses fit for any occasion, a vast assortment of lingerie (now, on those, I did in fact try them on without his visual approval), and four sets of pajamas. Oh yes, and three pairs of shoes. The man was a spending maniac.

NFO: "No" is apparently Freddie-speak for "yes."

Now, I was testing a new tactic. Maybe if I didn't make the crucial error of showing Freddie how this jumpsuit looked on me, and just made him take my word for it, we could move on. Of course, he picked it out. It was the latest fashion- and Freddie was all about fashion. But if this sleeveless, fuchsia nightmare with the parachute bell-bottoms and wacky, plunging v-neck collar fit the bill for "modern" fashion, I'd happily resign myself to boring button down tops and khakis.

Quietly I wormed and wiggled into the jumpsuit, so I could at least say I'd put it on. My fears were confirmed; I don't know what women back in the late seventies were smoking, but it enabled them to dress like that and keep a straight face. For the first time in my life, I actually appreciated 2017 couture. Ours isn't much better, to be fair, but at least our jumpers don't have legs that flare out so wide at the bottom that they look like lampshades.

"Mm," was all I said.

"Let me see!" Freddie insisted.

"It doesn't fit," I lied. "Too big."

"But it's your exact size. Should fit you like a glove!"

"I guess not," I sighed. "Oh, well!"

"Come out and show me, if you please," he requested.

"Trust me, Freddie, it doesn't work."

Suddenly the curtain slid to one side and there he stood, studying me in my fuchsia glory. It was all I could do not to hit him.

He shook his head. "It's not the size. It's the color. I think the ivory would suit you better." And with that he drew the curtain again.

"Freddie, you're killing me, I don't need a jumpsuit!" I stepped out of the one-piece.

"But it's the latest craze."

Oh, how many times had he said THAT today, the pushy little Beau Brummel! "Look, thank you for all you're doing for me, but for heaven's sake, I'll never be able to wear all this!"

I just want to give you the option, dear," he crooned. "Hand me the one you've got, I'll get the one in ivory."

I crossed my arms, standing firm in nothing but a bra and my underwear. "I don't want a jumpsuit, Freddie. End of story."

The curtain snapped back. I squealed in surprise, and suddenly there was Freddie's face peering in at me. I fumbled for my clothes to hide myself, spluttering, "You cheeky inconsiderate little-"

"Darling, let me ask you this," he interrupted, not reacting to my red-faced, half-naked state. "In a crowd, would you rather stand out- or stick out?"

I blinked. "Couldn't I just fade into the background?"

"Not while I have any say about it. You'd rather stand out, right? Of course you would."

"Freddie, I'm not wearing any clothes! Get out!" I hissed, and threw the jumpsuit to him.

"You're not?" he pretended to be shocked. "Why, Eve, this is a new side of you. I'll go get the ivory." And he disappeared.

SO RUDE, I hollered within my head. I reached for my t-shirt and jeans.

"By the way-" Presto, it returned, the taut (now faintly smirking) face framed by curtain! "-You shouldn't have that bag in here, you know. Very suspicious."

"OUT OUT OUT!" I whisper-shouted. "AND TAKE THIS, TOO!" I tossed over my backpack. Laughing like a madman, he snatched that up as well and vanished. I might have remained frustrated, perhaps have become even more so as my embarrassment set in, but that rolling, contagious laugh stopped my ire before it really even began.

I waited a moment, holding my clothes to my chest, in case he decided to yet again spring back into view. But his footsteps died away, and I could get dressed in peace. Good God! Was nothing, not even privacy, sacred to him? And what was this magic he held, that I couldn't stay angry about something as shocking as busting in on me while I was undressed? So many questions, and so many more to come.

I pulled my shirt on over my head, and was straightening it when I heard a loud thud, as if someone tripped and fell on the hardwood floor.

"You okay?" I called. No answer. I shrugged and went back to business, thinking little of it.

When I was decent, I drew back the curtain and walked out to meet Freddie. Oddly enough, however, I didn't find him waiting there with Rudy by the dressing room entrance. So I walked around a little until at last I found the two of them at the checkout. Rudy was now guarding my backpack while Freddie forked over the cash.

"I'll take this, Rudy, thank you," I said.

Freddie glanced back at me and remarked dryly, "I rather liked what you were - or shall I say, weren't wearing earlier. You should do that more often. It'll be terribly catching."

I leaned in and whispered, "Don't you try to butter me up, Silver Tongue. Some perfect gentleman you are, barging in on a girl while she's dressing."

"Hush, and hold this, please," Freddie instructed, laying the cream-colored jumpsuit in my arms. The three of us strolled out to the car, and I stuffed the jumpsuit into the almost overflowing trunk.

He surveyed the pile of clothes there and nodded. "I think you're set for a while, don't you?"

"I'm so set I don't know what to do with myself," I said. "'Thank you' just seems so inadequate, but, um- thank you."

"Don't give it another thought, darling," he purred. "I love spending money. Might as well spend it on you!"

"You're very kind."

"No, not really. Just frivolous, but fabulously frivolous at that." He smiled. From the sweetness of that smile, I began to think maybe I wasn't such a burden on him after all.

I looked at the sky, forgetting it was summer here and the sun didn't go down by five. "What time is it?"

He shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. Rudy, what time is it?"

Rudy glanced at his watch. "Nearly six."

"Oh! I need to get back, start supper," I said.

Freddie put his hands in his pockets. "What are we having?"

"Roast chicken. Is that okay with you?"

"Sounds divine. Rudy, let's pick up a bottle of white wine before we start for home."

"Don't you have to go to the studio today?" I asked as I clambered back into the seat.

Freddie shook his head. "It's Sunday."

"Meaning...?"

"Meaning, it's a holy day of rest, so I can do whatever the f--- I damn well please! " he announced.

"'Holy' being the operative word, of course," I quipped.

"Naturally."

Rudy started the car, and we pulled away from the curb back into traffic.

I leaned back and sighed contentedly. Now was a good time to fish for psychological notes. "So, tell me about your band."

Freddie just looked at me, shook his head. "You don't even know what we're called?"

"Wasn't it something royalty-related? Like Queens, or something-"

"Just one Queen. But right."

That's for sure, I chuckled to myself. "How long have you guys been together?"

"About six years or so. We're rock and roll. I know that's not really your cup of tea, but to other people we're fairly big."

"Apparently." Everyone under forty who had seen us about in the streets that day stopped and stared, and a few fans who got past Rudy tiptoed up to Freddie and all but begged for his autograph.

"All those people following you around," I mused, turning into a therapist for a moment. "No privacy. Cameras in your face all the time. Does that ever get tiresome?"

He stretched his legs luxuriously. "I love it. I mean, there are times of course where I wish that I could, um- but nothing's perfect, you know what I mean? I'd rather be somebody than nobody."

"I'm just the opposite. I'll take my privacy and quiet little world. Keep the cameras."

He smirked, rolling his eyes. "Just words, dear. Deep down, everyone wants to be a star."

"White dwarf or blue supergiant?"

Freddie recoiled dramatically. "Oh, no! This is a cosmic universe-astronomy-science free zone! You want to talk like that, hide in Brian's closet next time!"

I laughed. Oh! Speaking of science, I said to myself. I should be getting that call from Dr. K pretty soon. I reached into my shirt and checked my tracker for the blue light.

But I saw no blue light. I frowned. There wasn't even a red light.

The tracker wasn't glowing at all.

"That's weird," I said aloud, my pulse quickening.

Freddie turned. "What?"

"The light's out," I said. I thought of the Relic. Maybe it was off, or had run out of power. I reached into my backpack, rummaged around for it. I looked again. Then I started pulling things out, ran my hand along the bottom. Double checked. Triple checked. Checked my pockets. My heart fluttered.

I couldn't find it.

"Oh no," I whispered. "Oh no, oh no, oh no."

Freddie looked concerned. "What's wrong, darling?"

"The Relic's gone."

"What?"

"That little phone I showed you! It's gone! Do you have it?"

"Who wants to know?"

"FREDDIE!"

"Sorry. No, I don't."

"Oh, God," I murmured, putting my face in my hands. Don't panic, Julia, don't panic, maybe you left it at his apartment- But I hadn't! I was certain of it. I remembered checking the Relic some time today, and setting it down-

Oh, crap. I might have left it in one of the dressing rooms!

"Freddie, we've got to go back," I stated.

"What?"

"I left it behind! I have to go find it!"

"Relax, it's just a phone."

"JUST A-" I cut myself off, tried to calm down, forced myself to remember that this was my fault, not his. I started again, my voice a squeak of emotion, "It is not just a phone, Freddie, it is my way back! This thing only works well enough to tell me if they have my signal; the Relic sends the signal!"

He waved at my panic attack like he would shoo away a fly. "This is simple. I'll buy you a new one."

I lost it. "Throwing money at a problem doesn't work, Freddie! That phone was my way home, without it I'm stuck here bothering you! I have to go get it because THOSE THINGS DON'T EXIST YET! YOU CAN'T JUST GO FIND ANO-"

"Darling, control yourself." Freddie's voice was stern. "Breathe."

He held my face in his hands. I closed my eyes and breathed.

When I'd settled down, he let go and continued, "Look. It's bound to be gone by now. Little technology bits like that don't last long when they're left alone. Someone probably has it."

"Are you saying I shouldn't even go look for it?" I stared at him in disbelief.

"I just don't think it's worth your while. In fact, I know it's not. Let's go home. For all you know, you might have left it somewhere there."

"But I had it with me today-"

"Are you sure?"

"I did!" I cried. And then my head played that age-old trick. As soon as I needed clarity in the cerebrum, it was as though some cloth slid across my mind's eye, and I could remember no moment where I checked the Relic while out today. It had become second nature to me, by now, just like when I used to look over the headlines in class; I did it absent-mindedly, without paying much attention. I couldn't recall the Relic and the stores together at the same time.

"Didn't I?" I murmured. My head ached from thinking so hard, trying to remember. I put my face into my hands, leaned against my knees. Frightened tears were coming. Breathe, stupid, I kept telling myself. Breathe, like he said. Do not cry in front of him. That won't make you sympathetic, that'll make you chick-y, and right now that won't help.

"Hey," he said softly as his smooth hand started rubbing a circle into my back, "don't cry. It's all right. Everything's all right."

"I'm not going to cry," I managed. And I didn't. Crying is the worst, and I'm absolutely hideous when I do. "I just can't remember."

"Dear, don't worry. I've had a lovely time with you today. Don't let's end it in tears. Whatever is the matter, it's all going to work out in the end."

"Easy for you to say," I whispered into my hands. "You're not trapped in the land of Yesteryear."

"What's that? Didn't hear you."

I sat up. "Nothing." I felt the blood slowly leave my cheeks, and my breathing leveled out again. "I'm okay. Just hope you don't mind me turning the flat upside down once we get back."

"Now, that's my Evie!" he sang, and threw his arms around my neck. As if from a distance, I noticed how my skin prickled at his touch. I didn't know what to make of the feeling, so I made nothing of it at all. To be nice, I put one arm round his waist and hugged back. Such a tactile character.

"As for me," Freddie went on, "I'm going to step out right after dinner, there's something I've got to go, um, talk with the boys about."

"Sounds good," I nodded, but I clenched my fists so tightly my knuckles turned pale. Freddie was probably right. At least, that's what I deeply hoped. I had to find the Relic. Or else I was stuck here for the rest of my life with no identity, and no family, and no purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It's fifteen past nine.  I smile to myself; the night is still young. 

I love Sundays, especially Sundays off tour.  There's just something so peaceful about them.  Maybe it's because we treat it as a holiday from each other.  Queen, I mean.  I love those guys, I suppose, but there are times when I would just prefer not to occupy the same room as they for even five minutes.

I'd spent all day with my family -went to church, walked about Hyde Park (such a beautiful day for a jolly stroll), played with my son Robert- but now, these heavenly twenty-four hours draw to a close, and at last arrives the moment I've been waiting for all week. 

I hear footsteps come down the hall.  It's my lovely Veronica, who's just left Robert's bedroom.  Robert's almost two years old in a couple of weeks; he gets bigger every time I see him.  Veronica's smiling, showing her dimples.  She nods.  The little nipper's finally asleep.

She saunters over oh, so seductively, and slips her arms around my waist.  I feel a shiver swoop down my spine.  Veronica's hands travel up my chest, begin unbuttoning my shirt.  I bend my head and kiss her, letting my own hands go astray upon her body.  She undoes the first three buttons, then stops, pulls away, drifts back toward our bedroom.  I'm caught by her sexy smile, beckoning me to follow.  Helplessly, I obey. 

Veronica disappears into the bedroom, but not before pulling her soft blouse over her head and tossing it carelessly on the floor by the doorway.  I am wasting no more time. 

I take one step forward.

BANG BANG BANG!

Someone's fist pounds heavily on the front door.

Now I'm torn.  There's someone at the door, but my wife is in the bedroom, and I'm more than just in the mood.  I rebel for once and take another step.

Then a voice seeps into my flat between knocks. "John, it's Fred!  Open up!"

Freddie!  Oh, shit.  Perfect timing, Fred.  Thanks a lot.  Still, suddenly I'm not quite so frisky as to ignore him.  At least it's not the other two.  With a heavy sigh, I call to Veronica, "One moment, love."

I trudge to the front door and fling it open.  I make no secret of my annoyance.  "What?"

Freddie hurries inside without asking to be invited.  "Hey, John, sorry for showing up unannounced like this.  But it's very important."

I look him over and I'm surprised at what I see.  He's pale, his eyes wide with some intense emotion- whether it's fear or anxiety I'm not particularly sure.  But there's guilt somewhere in the mix, unquestionably.  There's no mistaking the glint of guilt.

"What's going on?" I ask.  "Is it that Eve?"

"Sort of.  It's got to do with her."

I cough.  "No.  I'm not getting into this.  Sorry.  That's Roger's area."

"It's not what you think."

"Then what?"

"I need your help."

"My help?"

Freddie looks down, almost ashamed, like a small boy who is caught pulling a girl's pigtails at school.  I notice for the first time he has his hands behind his back.  He brings them into the light now, and I squint at what he's holding on his left hand.  It's odd little electronic pieces; there's a miniature circuit board, a keypad, a flat square battery of a kind I've never seen before- and a cracked green screen.  Just above this screen, the word "NOKIA" is stamped.

"What is all this?" I ask.

"It's, um- it's called a Relic.  She calls it that."

"That doesn't help."

"It's some sort of phone, all right?" he says, quick-tempered with nerves.

I take the jumbled bits.  "Never seen a phone like this."

"Well, yeah, it sort of broke, so-"

"How?"

Freddie's face flushes.  "That's not necessary, is it?"

"Yes, actually.  I gotta know how it was smashed up this way before we can go forward."

He sighs, bites his lip, then explains.  "We were out shopping, and her bag was open, and I saw it, so I pulled it out to look at it some more-"

"And you dropped it?"

"No.  Look at this thing.  I could drop it from an airplane window and there wouldn't be a scratch."

"Then, what?"

"It started making noise.  Little bip-bip sounds.  I was looking at it, and I didn't see where I was going.  I tripped over my own feet."

"Ooo," I say, wincing.  "And this went down first, huh?"

"Bam!  This hand was first to hit the floor.  Smashed to pieces, this clear part here cracked-"

"The screen?"

He snaps irritably, "Who cares?  Point is, it's f---ing broken and I need you to fix it for her- for us."  Then Freddie remembers what a jackass he's being, and he adds, "Please.  It means a lot to her.  Apparently it's like her Passport for something."

I try to give him a discouraging look.  "What did she say?"

"She doesn't know."

"You didn't tell her?"

"I said it was missing.  She's looking for it at my flat as we speak."

This is too much.  "Oh my God, Freddie-"

"Well, what would you do in my place?"

I forget to be careful, and talk to him like a friend.  "I dunno, but I wouldn't lie to her.  I know that much."

"I didn't want her angry at me.  I'd rather her have a mild breakdown than see me as a clumsy asshole." 

I stare at him, his lopsided logic defying my understanding.

Freddie doesn't appreciate being told he's taken the wrong approach.  He asks, "So can you fix it, you think?"

"I can't fix it tonight," I say.  I think of Veronica, who's waiting patiently fifteen feet away.

"You don't have to, so long as you fix it.  Can you?  You're my only hope."

I take a deep breath.  "Freddie, I'm not making any promises.  I've never seen anything like this in my life."

"But darling, you're an electrical genius!  You built your own amp, for God's sake.  This should be a breeze!"

"I'm going to try," I tell him.  To myself I marvel, This is new for me.  Never had to save your ass before. 

He smiles tightly.  "That's all anyone can ask."  For a minute it looks like he's going to go in for a hug, as he does with nearly everyone else, but instead he just puts his hands on my shoulders and stands there, as if he's leaning on me for support.  Maybe he is.

Suddenly he looks down at my collar.  His mouth curves suggestively, and he's Freddie again.  "Oh, dear, did I interrupt you two?"

He's staring at my open shirt.  I pull away, mortified.  "Oh, sod off."

Freddie laughs and starts for the door.  Before I can stop myself I ask, "So, is she your type?"

He glances back, and for the briefest of seconds his expression melts again.  He looks almost shy as he opens his mouth, then closes it, seemingly lost for words.  But he settles with a shrug and a wink.  Whatever message he's just sent has flown completely over my head.

Opening the door, Freddie waves and coos, "I'll let you two get back to work."  And he's gone.

I roll my eyes, and lay the phone bits on my desk.  I hardly know where to begin with this little monster.  I've never really tinkered with telephones, let alone cordless mini phones.  But Freddie is counting on me, and I'll die before I let him down.  I firmly believe he's the reason I'm in this band.  I owe him enormously.  I figure it's the least I can do.

"Is he gone?" Veronica's creamy voice floats in the air.

"Oh, he's gone," I reply.  I start walking her way.

"What did he want?"

"Nothing.  Just saying hello."  I'm in the bedroom, and there she is. 

Veronica holds out her hands.  "Come say hello to me."

I feel like the luckiest man in the world.  I seize her hands in mine and draw her soft white body up against me.  I love her so.

We kiss.  I gaze down into her sweet eyes and smile.  "Hello."

 

Chapter Text

I said I would turn Freddie's flat upside down.  Well, I did.  As soon as I'd cleaned up the kitchen (and the roast chicken was delicious, if I do say so myself, even Freddie proclaimed it excellent), I attacked the couch cushions, scoured the shelves, peered under the furniture.  I checked the cabinets, and even glanced into the freezer in case I'd been so dense as to store the Relic there for future freshness. 

The search halted for the night as I caught up with Day 3's happenings in my journal, and continued again early the next morning, because when your existence hangs in the balance of whether or not you find your phone, you don't sleep too soundly.

When Freddie came downstairs, I still hadn't given up.  I'd shoved myself behind the entertainment center to such a degree that the only visible parts of me were the bottom part of my striped pajamas and my bare feet. 

A shadow fell over me.  Squinting up, I found Freddie's silhouette looming in front of my light. 

"Good morning," he said. 

"Hi!  Did I wake you?"

"No, I just felt like getting up early.  Found the buried treasure yet?"

"Not yet, I started the tea, it should be boiling in a minute or two," I said, pointing at the kitchen. 

He folded his arms.  "Eve.  You're not wearing those slippers I bought you."

I rolled my eyes.  Is this important, Freddie?  Does this look like a good time?  "I don't wear slippers."

"You don't?"

"No.  I'd go barefoot everywhere if I could, even in public."

"Why didn't you say something?"

I tried to sit up, and failed.  "I did.  You just weren't listening."

He shifted out of the light's way and knelt down by my defenseless feet.  "You really should. Wear slippers, I mean.  They're great protection."

I knew as soon as I asked this, I was done for.  "From what?"

"From evil people who do this." 

Freddie ran his finger along the arch of my foot.  I couldn't stand it.  I'm not even ticklish anywhere else, but my feet, especially my arches, are my Achilles heel (no pun intended).  I kicked at him. 

"Well, at least we know your reflexes work," he said thoughtfully.  And kept tickling me.

"You dog!  Stop!  This is serious-" I gasped, waving my feet in the air so he couldn't touch them. 

He sighed, grabbed my left foot and did his worst.  "You have such a sexy way of flailing about.  How do you do it?"

"Oh!" was all I could splutter- not out of anger, but because I couldn't keep myself from laughing.  Then I realized I couldn't sit up and I cried, "Why don't you do something useful for once and help me out of here?"

"All right, all right."  Freddie stood and put his hand out.  I took it and he pulled me back upright.  I found that his hair was tousled, he hadn't shaved, and he wore nothing but a robe (or as the English say, a dressing gown) under which his bare chest was half-exposed.  He'd probably just rolled out of bed.  Still, I couldn't help thinking he looked cute this way.

"Thanks," I growled facetiously.

He beamed, saying, "Where would you be without me, darling?"

I made a big show of not wanting to answer that.  "I'll, ahem, go and make the tea now."

I rushed into the kitchen where the teapot shrieked like a banshee.  Freddie had shown me on Day 2 how to put together a proper cup of tea.  On this fourth day, though I had it down pretty pat, I missed my father's coffee back home.  Tea's great and all, but I'll stick to my cup of Joe with two sugar cubes and a spot of cream.

But tea in the morning was a small price to pay as opposed to sleeping on a park bench somewhere.  I switched on the radio, and heard Donna Summer doing what she did best, singing "I Feel Love" against Giorgio Moroder's trailblazing synth programs.  I'd forgotten we were in the apex of the disco era, and while most disco bores me to death, I loved this song.

"What would you like for breakfast?" I asked Freddie, who was taking the cups out of the cabinet.

 "I'm not too hungry this morning.  You can make me an omelet or something tomorrow."

"Assuming you let me stick around that long, right?"

"Right.  I may turn you in still, though I'm pretty sure you'd have a hard time getting all your clothes and stuff into the cell.  Maybe I can reserve a suite for you."  Face deadpan, but eyes otherwise, he plucked a ripe, yellow banana from the bunch.

"You and your bananas," I smiled, and sang under my breath, "Ooo, so good, it's so good..."

"You know this song?" Freddie asked.

"Oh, yes, I love Giorgio Moroder.  Not so much Donna Summer, but Moroder is the best." I said, then realized I could be giving myself away by spouting so much about so new a song.  I mustn't get careless.  I know it's been three full days now, but I need to stay in control. 

Freddie didn't notice, too busy was he stirring his tea.  He said through bites of banana, "It only came out a couple of days ago.  I heard it in the car coming back last night."

"Do you like it?"

"I love the beat, but on the whole it's a bit, um, repetitive for my taste," he said.  "I can't see myself writing a song like this."

Give it four years, Freddie, I thought.  You will.  Give it seven, you'll be working side by side with this guy.

He went on, "Funny, I never would have pegged you as a disco girl."

I shook my head.  "I'm not, really.  Disco girls dance.  I can't."

His eyes gleamed.  "Prove it."

"Oh, no.  I haven't had my tea yet."

"I'm sure you're a wonderful dancer.  You don't give yourself enough credit."

I shrugged.  "You going into the studio today?"

"I am.  How about you?"

"I'm continuing my quest for the Relic.  I'm going to go back to the stores and ask around, see if any Good Samaritans brought it to the front."

"So it didn't turn up?"

I shook my head.  "I've looked everywhere but your room, and I know beyond a doubt it's not there."

"Why wouldn't it be there?"

"Because it's the one place I haven't trespassed."

Freddie again looked shocked.  "Not once?"

"Not once.  It's your bedroom, I don't have the right."  To myself I added, I could walk in and see something that I really didn't want to see, so I'm just staying out of it.

I think he might have been a little disappointed.  "Don't you ever do anything risky, dear?"

"Not if I can help it.  I've got a life plan."

"Forget a life plan.  Life doesn't like plans.  You need a vice.  I'm going to find you one."

"You have my permission to give me a vice as soon as I find the Relic.  Deal?"

"What if you don't find it?"

"Oh, God, Freddie, don't say that, don't even think it," I murmured with a shudder.  The tracker round my neck was still dead.  My stomach flipped as I again considered the very real chance of the worst-case scenario.

Freddie put his hand, warm from holding the cup of tea, over mine.  "I'm sorry, Evie.  I didn't mean it like that.  I don't want to frighten you." 

"You don't have to.  I'm already frightened."  Behold, probably the most honest thing I'd said to Freddie yet.

"Darling," he purred, putting his arms around me once more.  His cheek was rough and scratchy against mine; I loved it.  The feeling, of course, not him.  I'm weird like that.  It could have been from anyone, just simple physical responses.  But it helped.

"It's all right," I said, pushing away from him a bit.  "Of course, I know what this is.  It's karma."

"How could this possibly be karma?"

"This is what I get for not going to church yesterday."

"There!  You see?  If you sin big a little more, God won't notice the small stuff quite so much and then things like this won't happen."  He snapped his fingers as if that explained everything.

I laughed, "I'm not sure that's how it works, Freddie-"

"Yeah, yeah, well that's how it ought to work, anyway.  But my God, we've got to get you to remember to break the rules.  I can't do it all for you, you know!"

****************************************************************************************

Day 4:  My favor du jour: I addressed and stamped and sent off formal invitations for some sort of party Freddie is hosting in a week or so.  I'm kind of a jack of all trades lately.  I almost feel useful.

Relic is still missing.  I've been everywhere twice in a row, it feels like.  Every time I've seen a department store, like Harrods or any of those other places, I get this impulse to run in there and ask if anybody's found a cell phone (as if anyone knows what that is). I may develop OCD because of this, and Dr. K, that will all be on you.  I've spent hours retracing my steps of yesterday.  I'm okay if after this is said and done, I never see another JCPenney or Macy's or anything like that as long as I live.  But I'm terrified I won't-

Sitting in the back of a cab, I furiously rubbed out the last five words, then continued, striving for optimism:

I can't give up.  There's still such things as miracles.  But I'm on borrowed time here, and I don't want to know what Freddie will do when he finally tires of me. 

N.F.O.s: He loves bananas.  At this stage, not crazy about synth programs.  This will change in a matter of years.  A very willing comforter when I get upset.  Complete logic-free zone, says things that make no sense whatsoever and somehow gets away with it.  And he smells like licorice.

I stopped, squinted at the last sentence I'd written.  It was true, Freddie did smell like licorice.  I'd discovered that when he hugged me that morning.  But why was that necessary to write down?  I didn't even like licorice.

But it's not too bad on him.  Not bad at all.  Mmmm.

"What am I saying?" I cried aloud. 

"Miss?" said the cabbie.

"Oh, sorry, nothing," I muttered, and tucked my journal into my backpack.  I was making one last stop before heading back to Freddie's flat.  I highly doubted I'd come away successful there, but I was leaving no stone unturned.

At last, the cab arrived.  "Wessex Studio," my driver announced. 

I thanked him and paid him his dues (and if you're wondering where I was getting all this money to do everything I was doing, Freddie was giving me a kind of an allowance for things like cab fare, which I found to be very awkward since I make my money, I don't like being given it; I didn't want Freddie to be my sugar daddy, but at this point I guess he sort of was). 

When I entered, however, I saw the studio was open, and from within all these excited voices were talking at once. I tiptoed to the doorway and very carefully peeked inside. 

"There's another one, Bri!" Roger's voice whistled.

"Perfect.  Grab him!" he shouted through the intercom.

Next thing I knew, Roger was barreling toward me.  "Hey, can we borrow you a mome-" he began, before he recognized me.  His eyes lit up.  "Eve!  Fantastic to see you!  Come with me."

"What's going on?"  I asked as he dragged me through the control room. 

"We need your feet," he said. 

"My feet?"

"And your hands." 

"Why not take all of me?" I sang- a very corny joke, I decided.  But Roger didn't immediately answer.  We were now standing in the recording area, along with about fifteen other people, most of whom were perched upon the drum risers. Others balanced upon boards.

Now Roger turned, grinned his wide white grin, and said, "If you're good, I will."

He looked like he intended to say (or do) more, but Brian interrupted.  "Okay, there's room for one more up here in the corner.  Come on, love.  Set your things down over there.  Good.  Now, if you'll just stand up here by this lovely lady, we'll be golden."

Brian had me stand next to that receptionist who'd been so terse with me when I stopped at Wessex with the wine.  I smiled at her, and she looked back at me as if I had two heads.  I sighed.  Life's too short, dearie.

"Are we taking pictures?" I asked aloud.  I saw John on the other end of the risers.  I waved.  For a minute he looked startled to see me, then waved back. 

Now Brian clapped his hands for attention.  "Right.  Now, let's go over this again.  Very simple.  When that light in the corner turns on, Roger's going to count off one, two, three, four.  And then, just follow me.  When you hear the buzzer, stop.  Are we clear?  Splendid.  Let's do it one time for practice."

Where's Freddie?  I wondered to myself.  I craned my neck, looking for him, till finally I spotted him in the recording booth.  What gives?  Why isn't he out here with the rest?  Four days I've been with this guy and I haven't even seen him in action yet. 

Roger's raspy voice snapped me back into focus.  "One, two, three, four!"

Everyone started stomping.  For one split second I was confused.  In the very next it all made sense.  And I nearly died of excitement.

Stomp-Stomp-Clap.

Stomp-Stomp-Clap.

Oh, God, YES! 

I don't ever use the word "stoked" the way my generation uses it.  I'd never had reason to till that moment.  Because man, I was so stoked, I squealed like a little girl. 

And everyone heard it.  Brian whirled, stopping the practice run, and all the faces turned to look at me.  But I was on another plane of consciousness.

That is, until the intercom crackled, and Freddie's voice filled the room.  "Hi, Eve."

My cheeks were on fire, but I still waved coquettishly.  A few people tittered.

"Dear, we're not putting vocals on this track yet, but thanks for the impromptu there," he said.

I gave him a thumbs up.  Brian rolled his eyes.  I don't think he ever cared too much for me.  But that's fine.  They still let me stay.

Taking a deep breath, Brian then said, "All right.  This is the real one.  No squeals, please."

"One, two, three, four!"

This time, I did it right.  I was about to bust apart at the seams, but I kept it together until they were satisfied with the cut, which was about nine takes later.  Bloody perfectionists.

But I was there.  And I can tell you now, with God as my witness, that every time you hear "We Will Rock You" and the thunder of fifteen pairs of feet booms through your stereo, two of those feet belong to me.  Two of those clapping hands are fastened to my wrists. 

Therein is my claim to fame: I was among the first to perform "We Will Rock You." 

And it was solely because of this unparalleled euphoria, what I did as soon as I got home...

 

 

Chapter Text

Look, I was excited, all right? It may not seem like anything to scream about to you, but let's remember please that in all the forty plus years since "We Will Rock You" came out, it's been on the lips of every sports enthusiast and the hearts of every competitive spirit, and the beat belongs to that song and that song only. And I was there. And so was Freddie. And so was John. And so were Mr. Clogs and Sneakers Guy- I mean, Brian and Roger (old habits die hard). And this is a story only I and fifteen other people can share.

When they finally let us go, I did a quick search through the control room. Of course, I came away empty-handed. Under any other circumstances I would have been terrified. But We Will Rock You weathered that storm and then some. I needed to get out of there, let off some steam.

I picked up my things and started out. Freddie caught me by the door, asked me if I wanted to stay and watch while he recorded the vocals.

In my heart I shouted "YES YES YES!" But I shook my head, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from spazzing. Remember. Be impressed, but no wild fanatic outbursts. Save it for later. "Thank you, though. When can I expect you home?"

"Oh, not for another four hours or so. So that gives you plenty of time to go crazy."

"I don't get crazy."

"Uh-huh," he said, none-too-convinced. "So you don't dance and you don't get crazy and God frowns when you don't go to church. Right. Anything else?"

"Yes. I have to go. I'll see you in a few hours." This time I was the one delivering the hug- a quick one, not too tight, but a hug all the same.

"What? No goodbye kiss for me?" Roger said, crossing his arms.

I rolled my eyes. "Here," I replied, and blew him a kiss. I knew that wasn't what he meant, but the stunned, I-must-be-losing-my-touch look on his face was well worth it. "Goodbye, John!"

"Bye," he called back. Sweet, sweet man.

I didn't say anything to Brian. I don't think he even noticed I'd left.

I hurried out for a cab, my feet barely touching the ground. By the time I'd come back to Freddie's flat, I was higher than the afternoon clouds. I ran inside and locked the door.

Silence. Oscar padded over and greeted me. Tiff gave me a cordial nod. Tom slept.

And I exploded.

"DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?" I shouted. "DID THAT JUST SERIOUSLY HAPPEN? OH MY GOD!" My voice rang against the walls, as if answering me that yes, that just happened.

I scooped Oscar up off the floor and didn't even sneeze. The adrenaline pumped too hard to accommodate my allergies today. I danced about the living room and into the kitchen. I'd never felt so absolutely high in my life.

I fixed myself a sandwich, gulped it down and called it an early dinner. I kept screaming at random intervals. I'm sure the neighbors were listening in, wondering what the heck a girl with Tourrette's was doing in Freddie's apartment.

Even Oscar seemed to ask, "Are you all right, Eve? Do I need to call somebody?"

Usually, after such a trip, I'd come down in a matter of minutes, but I only seemed to rise higher, like some overachieving hot air balloon. Some of it I believe was plain old anxiety; I hadn't forgotten I was trapped, perhaps with no way home. But mostly, of course, it was the fact that I was living every Queen fan's fantasy- and with the two slamming together, it was almost more than I could handle. I needed to release some of this energy. And fast. I was about to pop.

I sped to Freddie's record collection. I flipped through each one. While they were mostly all good albums (if you can excuse the Bad Company and Cabaret soundtrack), none of them were powerful enough to suit my purposes.

"Where's some good old 80's and 90's techno when you need it?" I cried. "Drums, man! Drums!"

All you millenials or Gen Y's or Gen Z's or whatever like me out there, who think you belong in the seventies because you were born too late and if only you could have been there when they were around and who needs the Internet and yadda yadda yadda, make no mistake. We are millenials. We can be nothing else. And we millenials love our iTunes and our workout mixes and our playlists from all decades. And right that moment I wanted some 90's goodness.

I recalled my phone. My smart phone, not the Relic. There were 90's dance tunes in my playlist. But Androids have little volume capacity by themselves, as we all know. Trying to get funky with a bare-bones Android speaker is like trying to get a suntan on an overcast day. I was in a sub-woofer mood. And this wasn't a sub-woofer era.

My eyes drifted to the staircase and alighted on the intercom. I grinned. Oh. Yes.

I rummaged through my backpack and drew out my smart phone. I turned the thing on and praised God that I still had half the battery juice left (I've never been very good at keeping up with my charger, but I actually brought it with me this time; I resolved to charge it that night). Quickly I hurried to the wall. There was a small shelf just underneath the microphone; it was as though they'd designed it just for me.

Leaning the phone against the mike, I tapped to my Music folder and found my 90's Playlist. I hit Shuffle and crossed my fingers.

The little progress bar started moving, but no sound was coming out. I had the thing on Mute! What a drag. I stopped the music again, turned the sound up full blast. And then, before it slipped my mind, I turned on every speaker in the flat, and set the volume dial as high as it would go.

I was about to become the bane of Freddie's neighbors' existences. I could be jeopardizing future musicians. I didn't care. I had a hunger to satisfy.

I pressed Play.

And the best, worst, most wonderful, most terrible song that could have played, burst around me. It started with "M-A-C-A," ended with "E-N-A," and had an "R" somewhere in the middle.

No I'm not kidding. It was the Macarena. I love that stupid song, always have. A clave Latin rhythm, electronic dance vibes, attitude. Just what I needed- and it's probably the one song I can dance to without utterly humiliating myself. But right then I wasn't even worried about that.

I whooped and started dancing around like I'd never danced before, swinging my hips and waving my arms. I would never dance this way in public- and stone cold sober. But there was no one around to watch me except the cats. And cats don't care. I felt free. I refused to think about the Relic, and chose to revel for the next four minutes in sweet, unchained denial.

"He was out of town," I lipsynced, widening my eyes, "and his two friends were soooo fine!"

Picture this, and see if it isn't the image of release: some barefoot college girl in khakis and a seventies' halter top blowing off steam by doing some wild, bohemian dance moves that bordered on suggestive. With the Macarena at full blast. All alone in Freddie Mercury's apartment.

Or so I thought.

"Hey, Macarena!" I shouted, louder every time. I reclined myself as alluringly as I could, tossed my head and lay back like I was inviting someone to ravage me right there on the carpet. Then I leapt back to my feet, sashayed over toward the piano and leaned up against it. I pretended the object of my seduction was sitting on the bench. I moved my hand in the air, as if stroking his imaginary face.

"I am not trying to seduce you," I purred to nobody.

I raced up the stairs, and realized I'd actually never slid down a banister before. The music emboldened me. I straddled the railing and let myself go. Toward the bottom, I did fall off, but I landed gracefully, much to my surprise. I hopped back to my feet, whirled past Freddie and shimmied on over to-

Wait a minute.

I turned around. My jaw dropped and my eyes were ready to escape their sockets. I don't know long he'd been watching me. From the way he was smiling, I'd say long enough.

The two of us just stood there a second. I should have scurried out of sight, curled up in a corner, and died. But I didn't. Instead, I kept up the act.

"Come join me, dance with me," I sang, throwing myself around no less than before.

I danced toward him while he laughed out loud and tried to copy my movements. I know I probably looked ridiculous, but Freddie wasn't much better. He did a few of his stage moves, strutted around me, finally put his arms around my waist from behind and we swayed in sync to the music. It wasn't exactly Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but you couldn't find two more blissful people than Freddie and I, dancing out of step but still together.

"I thought you didn't dance," he said as we moved back and forth.

"What?"

He tried again, shouting over the music, "I said, I thought you didn't dance!"

"I don't, usually."

Freddie smirked. "Oh, darling, you're so full of shit."

"Hey! Besides, I didn't say I didn't, I said I can't!"

"Then what are we doing right now? Knitting?"

"It's called a catharsis, Freddie. My soul was in need."

He rolled his eyes and huffed. "Leave it to you to make something cerebral out of this."

"And let's hear from you! What are you doing back so soon?"

"Why, I missed you. I can't keep away from you, of course."

"The Crap is strong with you, my friend. You said you weren't coming home for a few hours!"

"Did I? Well, you said you don't get crazy. Yet I've just caught you with your hand in the biscuit tin. Let's call it even. And what is this song? Is that Spanish?"

"Something you've never heard before," I said vaguely, and I added to myself, and probably never will again.

For the first time in four days, it occurred to me. My bubble popped, and I plunged back to Earth. I was dancing with a dead man.

I stopped moving, my body going stiff. Freddie felt the change. "What's wrong, dear?"

It was then that the Macarena ended, and a different, earlier 90's song began to play. Conga drums echoed from the walls. I went pale and broke away from Freddie. I bounded up the stairs two steps at a time, switched off the speakers, yanked my phone away from the mike, shut it off before the voice shattered Time as I knew it, as well as Freddie's good spirit.

"What's gotten into you, Eve?" he said, following me.

"Nothing, nothing." I hid my Android behind my back. Is it too late to hide behind the Three Commandments? I asked myself.

He cocked his head. "What have you got there?"

"Nothing."

"Is that where the music was coming from?"

"No."

"Rubbish! Let me see."

I shook my head. "My magic mirror is for me and me alone." Magic mirror? Oh, dang. Now he'll never let up about it!

"Magic mirror? You don't say! Let's show it who's fairest, yeah?" He put out his hand.

Freddie's phone rang. I closed my eyes in relief.

He growled in his throat. "Ugh. That'll be the boys. I said I was stepping out, just didn't say how far out. I'm on my way!" He shouted at the phone.

"I'm sure they heard you," I said dryly.

"As for you," Freddie turned to me, drawing himself up formidably. I thought for a moment he was going to force the Android from my hands. But he did the exact opposite. He leaned forward and kissed my cheek.

"You're awfully cute, my dear- especially when you think you're invisible," he said. "We must dance that dance again some time. What's it called?"

I blinked, and mixed my words up. I wasn't expecting the kiss. "'S called, um, the Mercurena."

"Mercurena? Oh, I like that. Like it was meant for me."

"Well actually, I meant- okay. Yeah. Sure. Now, be off with you. Don't keep the boys waiting."

He didn't. With a little wink, he spread his legs across the banister and slid down. Just before he walked out, he called, "Thanks a lot, Eve. I'm going to have the Mercurena stuck in my head all night."

"Don't mention it," I said. "Bye-bye."

When the door closed, I put the Android underneath my bureau. Didn't that just figure. Now while I searched and prayed for one phone to appear, I had to hide the other.

Later I added to the journal:

Day 4 (cont.): I provided percussion on We Will Rock You, and danced the Macarena with Freddie. He calls it the Mercurena. So cute.

I looked at that last line, almost erased it, but I kept it. Just a mild expression of opinion, right? Still, I took a decidedly more clinical approach in the next section:

N.F.O.s: Becoming progressively more tactile. I must be on my guard. Also need to keep the Android out of his reach. He knows about it now, and he's got a boundless curiosity. If I'm not careful, he'll find it. I don't know what all I've got on there, but right now it's things he doesn't need to know about. I'll decide later if that should change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, I didn't really have to wake up.  I'd been lying in bed eyes wide open almost all night, forcing myself to stay conscious.  So once again I ended up starting the day before the sun had even risen.  I was exhausted, but what was a little grogginess when I was keeping a clear head?

For when I'd finally set my journal down and put myself to bed, I sank immediately into a dream.  A strange, unsettling dream. 

 Through a mauve mist, I found myself walking.  I couldn't see where I was going; the fog before me was too thick.  Looking down, I saw my hands were tied.  I tried to break the cords, but they held me fast.  All I could do was keep walking blindly. 

Then I heard another set of footsteps, not my own, coming toward me.  I stopped, my feet suddenly fastened to the ground where I stood.  But the other person didn't.  He or she kept coming.  My heart pounded.  I wanted to cry out.  But my lips were sewn together in fear, and I could not make a sound.

Suddenly a faint silhouette appeared a few feet from where I stood.  The person stopped advancing, and reached a hand out to me.  I trembled.  I couldn't move away, and I couldn't take their hand.  I didn't even know which one was the right thing to do. 

I tossed about in my sleep, my eyelids fluttering as I struggled to escape the nightmare.  But it wasn't until the person's shadow snapped out of sight with the abrupt violence of a rubber band drawn too tight, that I had the voice to scream and a second later wake up.

Freddie hadn't come back by that point, luckily, so I wasn't a nuisance to anyone save Oscar sleeping at the foot of the bed.  I sat up, freaked and befuddled.  I wish I'd paid more attention to the Jung chapter in class, I said to myself, I could figure out what just happened to me!

I had stayed awake for the rest of the night, thinking maybe that would make the nightmare vanish forever.  Little did I know I would soon accept that dream as my routine nightly torture. 

Now at (ugh) six-thirty in the morning, I yawned my way through a hot shower.  Wrapping a towel round me, I crept out of the bathroom and decided my long, wet hair wasn't enough of a reason not to lay down on the bed again, even for just a few minutes.  Through hazy, half closed eyes I pushed the ajar door open and curled up on top of the sheets. 

On the other side of the bed, which had somehow become twice as large as mine, I heard a quiet little snore.  In slight panic, I said to myself, I smell licorice.

Very slowly, I turned and squinted.  There, against the pillow, just inches away from my face, was the vague outline of a hand.  As my weak eyes adjusted, I saw the clear cut of his profile, his mouth slightly open and relaxed.  The funniest little snoring sounds escaped his fine nose at random intervals.  My stomach wrung itself. 

God!  Why does this sort of stuff keep happening?

I had to beat it before Freddie knew I was here.  It was bad enough I'd made this mistake; I couldn't bear that smug little smirk this morning.  Without shaking the bed, I carefully slid one leg over the side, almost touched the floor when Freddie shifted in his sleep.  He moaned softly,and rolled onto his stomach.  I timed my movements to his.  In seconds I lifted myself off the bed.  But instead of rushing out, I stood watching him.

What is this sorcery?  I asked myself.  Freddie Mercury all alone in bed? 1977.  He was a different man.  Not too different, true, but here's a guy who, while certainly not making a habit of it, can sleep by himself and be rested in the morning.  In five years- no, one year, he'll get the shivers if he walks into an empty bedroom.  I'd love to find the reason for that change!

After my inner psychologist had vented a bit, however, I was left to look him over.  He slept topless, that much was clear.  I was uncertain about the bottom half, however, and at this stage I didn't really care to know so much.  But with every second I spent ogling this sleeping man, the most peculiar notions swept me.  I wanted to run my hand along the curve of his bare shoulders.  I wondered how his thick hair would feel should I dare run my fingers through it.  And this thought came out of nowhere, as thoughts often do: I wonder what would happen if I slipped under the covers without my towel-

I slapped myself across the face.  Bad brain!  I'd been spending far too long in this man's company.  God, why did I have to lose that Relic? 

Freddie took a deep breath and moaned again.  I smiled.  All the same, that's one handsome man.  No doubt about it. 

Downstairs, the front door closed.  Ah!  That must have been Freddie's sleeping buddy, I assumed.  Bye-bye, one-night-stand, don't let the screen door hit you.

Oh, yes!  I was making Freddie an omelet today.  I'd forgotten to see if I had everything.  I padded down the stairs toward the kitchen, humming under my breath. 

I turned the corner and bumped into the woman standing there.  She jumped back and I instinctively apologized, "I'm sorry, excuse me." 

"No, no, pardon m-" she began, when all of sudden both of us realized we weren't alone in the kitchen. 

I squinted.  Without my contacts, I could see little save that the woman was blonde and her hands were clasped against her middle. 

The woman cleared her throat.  "...And... who might you be?"

"I'm Eve," I said.  "Eve Dubroc."  I was getting more and more comfortable with my alter ego.

"An American," she murmured.  Her hands dropped limply.  "Is that your real name?"

"No, that's just the name he gave me."

She nodded.  "I thought so."

"And you?" 

"I'm a, um, I'm a friend of Freddie's."  I didn't need good eyesight to tell she was extremely uncomfortable.  Suddenly I remembered I wasn't wearing anything except a towel.  My face flushed.

"I'm terribly sorry about- this," I said quickly, gesturing at my attire, "I wasn't expecting to find anyone down here."

"Neither was I."  Her cool voice tightened.  "Maybe I've come at a bad time-"

"Oh, no!  Not at all.  Freddie's still sleeping, he should be up and about pretty soon though.  Would you like some tea?"

"I shouldn't have come so early."

I'll take that as a no.  "Please stay!  I'm sure he'll be very happy to see you.  Just let me go put something a little more decent on, and I'll tell him you're here."  I walked into the living room.  The blonde didn't move.

"You don't have to do that.  He wasn't expecting me.  I just haven't heard from him in a few days, and I thought I'd come around and make sure everything was all right."  She swallowed. 

Her voice finally rang a bell in my dull, sleepy brain.  I gradually put everything together.  My eyes widened.

"Miss Austin!" I cried.  "You're Mary Austin!"

As fuzzy as my vision was, I could see her jaw tense up.  "How would you know that?"

Good question!  How would I know that?  And how bad must this look, me in a towel and talking about how Freddie's still asleep to his girlfriend?  Damage control!  I whipped up the worst lie possible. 

"Oh, he's told me so much about you," I gushed.  "He talks about you all the time, he's very fond of you.  He was just saying to me yesterday how much he loves-"

"Well, actually, we're recently separated, but we're still very good friends.  I thought that's what he wanted."  Mary's voice began to tremble. 

This wasn't going well.  I can only imagine what was running through her head.  "Miss Austin, this isn't what it looks like, I'm just living with him.  I mean, I'm not sleeping with him, we're not lovers by any stretch, there's no attraction whatsoever.  I'm in trouble, he's a nice man, and he's giving me shelter.  I can go get him for you, if you'll just let me put some clothes on..."

Mary stood there for a second, then slowly nodded.  "I do need to talk with him about something.  But you needn't wake him.  I can just as easily call-"

"I insist!  It's you, he won't mind, right?" I said, and started up the stairs. I hadn't even ascended halfway when Freddie's bedroom door opened.  Gah!  No, Freddie!  You're too early!  Go back to bed! 

"Good morning, Evie," he boomed in his theatrical voice.  "How's my pretty little slave today?"

I cringed, and whirled.  He shuffled out in his robe, rubbing his eyes.  Shut up, you idiot!  I screamed in my mind.  I'm trying to save our faces here!

But he kept on talking. "It's so funny, I'm actually a little sore from last night!  We really should do that again, I had the best time, what about..."

Freddie trailed off.  Of the million things a person could imply from his words, few of them were good, none of them innocent.  I covered my face, grateful for once I couldn't see so I wasn't able to catch their mutual expressions as Freddie and Mary saw each other.

"Hi, Mary," he said after a few long seconds.  It was as though someone had tightened his vocal chords so that too loud a sound would snap the strings in half.

When I looked up, Mary had put her hands behind her back.  And in a quivering voice, she said at last, "Well.  This isn't exactly what I pictured when you told me you were- told me you had other interests."

"Darling, I can explain everything.  Eve and I are friends-"

"Freddie, there's no need to explain.  Of course you know I'm happy with whatever makes you happy."

"What?  No!  Mary, you've got this all wrong."

But she was already making for the exit.  Freddie hurried down the stairs, muttering "Splendid, just too f---ing splendid,"  and almost brushed right past me before he stopped.  He gave me a look that I can only describe as contemptuous.  His fists clenched, telling me he'd deal with me later,  and went back to chasing Mary, following her out the front door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Two minutes later, Freddie and Mary walked back into the flat.  I decided to make myself scarce; I ran upstairs.  On one hand, these two needed a little space.  But more personally, I wanted to postpone Freddie's wrath for as long as I was able.  I'd heard frightful rumors of his temper; even he said it was monstrous.  And from that withering look I'd received moments ago, I had effortlessly invoked it.  Lucky me.

First things first, I discarded my scandalous towel and put on the most chaste outfit I could find.  My heart ached in embarrassment enough for both Freddie and me.  Why would she just barge in like that? I thought.  No knock, no call-ahead, no nothing.  Just a key into the hole, click-clack, and she was in.  What if he'd been in a, um, tricky position?  How would he explain that? 

Maybe Mary's just a creature of habit.  I bet she used to live with him here.  I know they were close, right to the end.  My body numbed and prickled.  Good grief, I hope I haven't ruined their friendship! 

I put my contacts into my eyes and saw myself clearly for the first time that morning.  I sighed in relief.  Since I am loath to remove my mascara at night, charcoal smudges of Maybelline and regular fatigue circled my eyes.  I looked wan, even my lips a whiter shade of pale.  And my hair, still wet, was beginning to frizz as it dried unevenly.  Nah.  Mary had nothing to worry about.  I was having a bad face day.

Still, I hoped this wouldn't drive a rift between them.  After piecing my looks back together, I silently went to my bedroom where I left the door cracked.  I knelt down and strained my ears to catch anything they said.  But they both spoke at the same level and temperature- calm and tepid, like a stagnant lake.  There wasn't anything frosty uttered, there wasn't much warmth; neither voice rose in passion, or sank in tears.  And so they continued for another easy thirty minutes.  As eavesdropping goes, I grew rather bored with the whole thing before too long.

Still, all that time I was crouched beside the door, writing furiously in my log:

Day 5: I'm in trouble.  Freddie's girlfriend (former? current? who can say?) Mary dropped in after I'd just gotten out of the shower, and found me in a towel.  She assumed the worst.  And Freddie's trying to cover his tracks.  Not sure how successfully.  Either way, I may be getting a notice of eviction fairly soon.  I'm trying not to let that worry me, but my stomach feels like a hornet's nest.  It's odd, considering what she put up with him doing all his life, that she should be so moved by this.  Oh, well.  Again, she's a different girl.  We change as we get older. 

NFOs: Freddie seems very calm with her, but not necessarily in a good way.  Gray area type stuff.  I didn't know he was capable of it.  Gray areas are scary.  Hard to read.  He certainly doesn't go gray with me.  Wonder what that implies. 

I heard the word "goodbye."  The front door opened; Mary was leaving.  I closed my eyes and breathed.  I might as well just get this over with.

I tiptoed down the stairs- harder to do in wedges.  Quietly I waited till Freddie leaned in to kiss her goodbye (That's good, she believes him, mostly, or else I bet she wouldn't let him do that) and he closed the door. 

Freddie turned to face me.  His real expression, clearer now by contacts, unnerved me more than his first fuzzy one.  I dug my feet into the floor, nervously twirling the tracker round my finger.  I clenched my journal tightly in the other hand and bit my lip.  Here it came.

"Thanks, Eve," he snapped.  "Thanks for making my life twice as difficult.  Thanks a f---ing million."

I pretended not to understand anything that had just taken place.  I figured if plausible deniability had worked thus far, it wouldn't falter now.  "What happened?  Is she okay?"

"I don't know.  Why do you care?"

"She seemed nice."

Freddie shrugged.  "She's a very dear friend to me.  I think she understood."

"Wonderful.  I don't want her to be upset."

He scoffed, "Well, isn't that sweet.  Pardon me while I applaud your virtue.  What little there is."

"Hey, look, I wasn't the one with the flip lip.  You did more damage than I!  What did I do, anyway?"

"Oh, you mean besides tripping about my flat half-naked with only a slight bit of terrycloth obscuring your nether parts?  Besides that?"

I wanted to slap him, but I remained outwardly reasonable.  "I'd just got out of the shower!  And I was tired, I forgot to take clothes in there with me."

"You know, for someone as proud of your privacy as you are, you certainly don't mind running around undressed where someone could see you."

"Oh, for crying out loud-"

"And words are words.  Images are quite another."

My whole being fought against the wish to call out this bald-faced hypocrisy.  "Freddie, you were asleep.  You were flat on your stomach, asleep.  And I didn't know people just walked in and out of your apartment like it's some public restroom.  I thought I was safe."

His eyebrows shot up.  "Flat on my stomach?" he said.  I covered my mouth, but it was too late.

The black eyes narrowed to serpent slits, and his voice became disgustingly oily.  "And, my dear, pray tell me, how would you know so much about the way I sleep?"

"I- uh-  Wild guess?"

"Bullshit.  You went into my room.  And that-" he seized a lock of my damp hair "-explains the cool spot on my pillow."

"I didn't have my contacts in.  I'm going to go make some tea now."

I turned for the kitchen but he caught my wrist, held me there.  "You got in bed with me."

"It was an accident, I swear-"

That smirk.  Damn that cold, lewd smirk.  "My God, you are some kind of closet call girl, aren't you?" 

"Speak for yourself," I scoffed.  My pride was taking a beating and my self-control was wearing thin. 

"Don't give me those high and mighty airs, Eve.  No wonder Mary thought what she thought.  Is that what you're here for after all?  A little action?  For your information, you're hardly my speed.  Just thought I'd tell you."

That one hurt.  I thrust my hand from his grasp. 

My lips curled, and the voice I heard escape my throat dripped with scorn. "Don't flatter yourself.  Believe me, had I had my wits about me, I would have gone anywhere but your bedroom.  If you think I want any piece of you, you're sorely mistaken."

"F--- off!" he shouted, eyes hard.  "You think I'm so beneath you, there's the f---ing door, you have my express permission to use it now."

He didn't have to tell me twice.  I followed his pointing finger out and slammed the door.

***************************************************************************************

Okay, I screwed this up, I told myself.  It was the fifty thousandth time I'd said it since I marched out of Freddie's flat that morning.  I had my journal and a few extra pounds miraculously wedged between the pages.  My backpack and everything else in the world I owned still sat quietly in my green bedroom- unless Freddie had been so righteously indignant as to throw all my stuff out in the garbage.  That would teach me to cross him!

Aloud I said, "I get it.  I royally screwed this up.  Can I go home now?"

"Sh!" someone hissed.  Rebuffed, I shrank back into my corner, silent.  Unlike at the university, you actually had to be quiet at Kensington Central Library. 

As soon as I closed the door, I had bolted down the street.  After a moment I slowed down, and halted.  My sanity gradually made a comeback, but a little too late.  I was two blocks away from his flat.  And his key.  Common sense tugged me back, but my ego pulled me further down the road. 

This is where my pride won, and betrayed me; common sense would do me the same favor later on. 

So began an aimless day consisting mostly of me walking the streets of London with nowhere to go and nothing to do.  It wasn't long before I started wishing I'd never seen Dr. K's ugly face and that I'd just accepted that those twenty points were gone forever and ever, amen. 

When the blisters on my heels became unbearable, and I needed a mouse hole to crawl into, I found a nice big library and made myself a quiet niche in the most boring, dry section of the building- right beside the technology manuals and electronic books and all.  No one would ever find me.

I'd overstepped myself. I knew that. But Freddie was being so cruel! How was I supposed to look the other way? How was I supposed to keep my mouth shut? I expected better from everyone, why shouldn't I expect the same from him? 

"Because he's different," I whispered aloud.  "He's special.  The laws of physics and the laws of nature don't apply to him.  He said so.  Ha ha.  God, I hate him so much right now.  I mean I don't, but I do."

I sighed, with a frightened little shudder.  I felt so alone.  I missed my old life.  I missed walking past Eminem lookalikes with backwards caps and hip-hop blaring out of some invisible speaker within their backpacks.  I missed not owing anybody except my parents anything.  I missed my job.  I missed my old quiet life of routine and familiarity and future plans.  Was that even my life?  Or had I imagined it all?  2017 seemed so far away after nearly five days of this British seventies' madness.  What, if anything, was real anymore? 

"Guys, come on," I groaned.  "Dr. K, didn't you leave some kind of backup plan in case of royal screw-ups?"

I flipped through the journal, turned to the back, but I found no Troubleshooting manual.  Sarcastically I wondered if one of those countless forms I had to complete included a clause that stated, "I hereby release the aforementioned proctors of this experiment from any and all responsibility, including but not limited to bringing me back in one piece from whatever hellish gulag to which they may accidentally ship me."

I don't ever swear, unless I'm feeling it.  You know what I mean.  And right then, I was feeling it.

"Damn it all, if my life isn't positively effed," I said under my breath (and yes, I said, "eff", I had never been very good at cursing).  I couldn't help but notice the involuntary bounce in my voice, placing emphasis on odd syllables the way the British do.  The way Freddie did.

Then I realized that while I was indeed pining away for home, a part of me also pined away for the only real stronghold I had here.  And that made no sense.  Freddie was unpredictable, and cheeky, and insinuating.  And that morning, he'd acted a perfect louse.  But I clung to him as something I could understand enough to deal with.  To a small extent, as painful as it was to admit, I needed him.

I put my head between my knees.  Someone please shoot me.

I heard someone humming out of tune to themselves in the aisle one over from me.  Go away, I said in my head.  Visiting time is over.  I'm moping.

The hummer strode nearer, until finally he rounded the corner, his deep set eyes on the catalog card in his hand.  Incidentally he looked up, and his eyes widened with recognition.

As did mine.  With a leap to my feet, and new hope in my heart, I whispered, "Oh, John, am I glad to see you!"









 

Chapter Text

To my pleasant surprise, John didn't recoil from me, and willingly met my embrace.  "If it isn't Miss Houdini!  Fancy running into you here."

"Fancy running into you!" I exclaimed.

"SHHHH!"  said the Library Nazi.

 In a softer voice I asked, "What are you doing in the library?  You're not playing hooky, I hope?"

"No, no.  I've just stepped out for a bit, I'm going back right after I run this little errand," he told me.  Glancing back down at the catalog card, he began scanning the shelves for the designated decimal. 

"What are you looking for?" I whispered.

"Aha!  This, this, and this," he announced, taking several heavy, heady books. "Oh, and there's one more up there, would you mind holding these a second-"

John laid the books carefully in my arms as he stretched his arm to the very top shelf, pulling down the thickest book yet.  I looked at the titles of what I held.  One called itself The Art of Electronics.  Another, Advancements in Modern Technology: Its Ins and Outs, or something like that, I didn't set them down to memory.  But they were collections of diagrams for pieces of obsolete electrical hardware even for 1977.  

Too bad they don't have one called Finding Cell Phones for Dummies, I thought humorlessly.

"Do you read this stuff for fun?" I asked him. 

"Yeah," he muttered absently.

I wrinkled my nose.  "What for?"

"Hm?  Oh, no.  I read Asimov for fun, but this stuff?  No, no.  I'm just picking these up in case I need them."

"Got a project or something?"

John nodded.  "I've just recently been commissioned, you might say.  It's this funny little thing that-"  He cut himself off and looked at me a little strange. 

"What kind of thing?" I asked.

"Oh, it's nothing, just a, um- a broken, uh, amplifier.  See, I kind of have a knack for electronics, so I tend to be the one they go to for fixing things."

I nodded.  "Yes, you're extremely good with amps, you built one, right?"

John seemed taken aback.  "I did.  How did you know?"

I froze.  "Uh..." I was still tired, and walking around all day under a clear summer sun hadn't helped much.  My spontaneity was nonexistent, and therefore, I couldn't think up even the most basic fib.

But John didn't notice.  "I guess Freddie must have told you."

"Oh... yes.  He did."  Involuntarily my body went rigid. 

That, somehow, caught his eye.  He took the books from me, saying quietly, "And, I know this is none of my business, but is Freddie the reason you're holed up here?" 

"Now, why would you assume that?  I could just be reading for a few minutes before I run off again."

"You've got your shoes off."

"So?"

"So, you've been here a while.  A couple of hours at least."

"I don't see what that has to do with Freddie-"

"Because I got an earful as soon as he stormed into Wessex today."

I paused.  "Oh."

John stood there awkwardly a couple of seconds.  I don't know what my expression was, but it must have been something truly pitiful, because he said gently, "Did something happen?"

"No.  Nothing happened, and I don't want to bore you with it anyway."

He smiled- not the most beautiful smile, but a real one- and said, "Well, you look like you could use a little release.  Come on, let's check these stuffy old things out.  Are you peckish at all?"

I haven't even had breakfast, I said to myself.  But I'd been enough of a problem for one member of Queen, and one was too many.  "No, I'm fine.  Thank you."

He nodded silently and started for the front.  I didn't want to stay in the library any longer, so reluctantly I put my shoes (OW!) back on.  I hobbled behind him to the counter, where he checked out these bricks and I stood in ever-mounting pain.  John is so different from Freddie, I marveled.  He just takes my word for it.  It's good enough.  Freddie pushes, like he knows he knows better.  John is sweet.  But there's no challenge.  Freddie is a challenge.  I love a challenge.

As soon as I started thinking of him, I began getting riled up.  I was past the trauma, the upset.  And I was antsy from sitting around in a place unable to say a word without being reprimanded.  Now, I was in the anger stage.  And Freddie's also really mad at me for no REASON!

Teeth clenched, I walked with John out of the library.  He started humming again that same little song.  This time the tune rang a bell.  "Spread Your Wings," was it?  Indeed!  Now he was mouthing the first lines of the chorus.  But I was stewing too hard on my frustration to care.

John turned and looked at me, saw the dynamite in my eyes.  He didn't say a word, but he knew exactly what to do: he sat me down on a bench close by, put the books in his lap, and seated himself comfortably. 

"Five minutes," he said, like a talk show host.  "Go."

I went.  I ranted and raved, griped and groused.  Half the time, I didn't even realize what I was saying.  I'd never just unloaded on anyone like that before.  Usually I was the one whose ear was being talked off.  But I was on the couch today (or bench, if you want to be technical).  John sat there, said nothing the whole time, and let me.  His expression never changed. 

"He's like a big cat!  I swear!  A big black panther with claws.  He's perfectly angelic one minute, then the next he's going in for the kill!  How am I supposed to deal with that?  I'm allergic to cats, and people who act like them.  And anyway, it wasn't my fault and he blames me for the situation!  I'm sorry I embarrassed him, okay?  Now let's hear his apology.  But none comes!  What, is he going to melt if he says he was wrong?  And I'm stuck here, and I wish I wasn't, because I don't like bothering you guys, I know I'm a pain in the can and I'm not making News of the World move any faster."

Stuff like that.  On and on until finally I ran out of steam, and I quieted down.  Slowly, I took a deep breath.  I felt renewed.  I was still anxious, but at least I'd purged myself of the negative energy, the deeper feelings even the Macarena could not quell.

John looked at his watch.  "Three and forty two seconds," he informed me in nasal accents.  "Not bad.  He only beat you by six."

"Nice," I murmured.  "I can die a happy girl."  I rubbed my weeping heels and winced.  "Geez.  I did not wear very practical shoes today.  I didn't know I was gonna fly the Freddie coop."

"Where will you go now?"

I sighed.  "I don't know, John."

"Where were you, before you were in Freddie's closet?"

A shrug.  "I was at school."

"Where was that?"

"Ten thousand miles across the ocean, that's where, with the Relic in my hands and this thing glowing.  That's the only way I can leave here.  You wouldn't understand.  But that Relic.  I need it so."

At the mention of the Relic, John's face seemed to pinch.  But in a comforting voice, he still said, "I don't know much of what you're talking about, to be sure, but if anything, never lose hope.  It will come back to you one way or another."

I nodded, deciding I'd taken up enough of the bassist's time.  "What makes you so certain?"

He only smiled again.  He lifted the books off his lap.  "I just know.  Now, I really must be going, but will you at least give me the honor of taking you home?"

Aw, John!  I thought you were smart earlier!  If you can set a timer by Freddie, don't you know how the rest of this works? 

I said, "I've embarrassed him, not to mention I basically left.  I wouldn't be welcome."

"That's not the impression I got," John muttered.

"What?"

'Nothing.  But I do think you should give him another chance."

"I'd love to.  But he-"

"Look, Miss- I'm so sorry, what's your name again?"

I half answered him, and gave him the wrong name.  I was so out of it today.  "Sam..."

"Sam?"

"No, sorry!  Eve.  I'm Eve.  Eve Samuels.  I mean, Dubroc.  I mean..."

John laughed.  "I think I'd better get you home before you hurt yourself." 

He put his hand on my back and guided me toward a dark blue car parked along the sidewalk.  Unlike Freddie, who preferred being escorted everywhere, John apparently enjoyed driving his own car.  I didn't protest.  I couldn't come up with any better ideas, other than wandering around some more.  And in those shoes?  Never again.

In no time, we'd pulled up to Freddie's apartment.  Suddenly I remembered I didn't have a key, and he was at the studio even now.  But John didn't need to know that.

I reached for the door, but John stopped me once again.  "What I was going to say, Miss Sam Eve Du-Whatever-You-Said, is, don't worry about him."

"He's still mad at me."

John shook his head. "He sorts himself out in the end.  Always does."

I nodded.  "Thank you for being a sounding board for me today.  I needed that."

He smiled.  "Any time." 

"One last thing I ask of you.  Please don't tell him I'm back."

"I can do that." Then he drew himself up in his seat and tried to mimic Freddie's brash bombast.  "Now pull yourself together.  Don't ever think of yourself as trapped.  It's a big adventure."

I laughed out loud.  "You only say that because you're a free man.  I'm at his mercy!"

John opened his mouth, about to say something, when a light switched on behind his eyes.  "Hey," he said to himself.  "That's good.  That's very good."

"What did I say?"

He shook his head, but I could see the creative wheels turning.  "Nothing, nothing.  I've got to be heading back toward Wessex, now, Eve.  Good luck to you!"

"And you!" I called back.  Waving, John sped off down the road.  And I was left by the front stoop.

Just for fun, I tried the door.  Locked, as expected.  I rolled my eyes in frustration.  I glanced up at the rod iron balcony, where Freddie's room was placed.  I bit my finger and inspected the wall. 

"I sure hope I don't make a scene, but I have no other choice," I told myself.  And started climbing.

For those of you rolling your eyes and saying "Yeah, right," I had had a lot of practice climbing up onto the metal roof of my house on warm, clear nights.  I'd been living in the country a couple years prior to this, and as anyone can tell you, there's nothing prettier than the night sky minus light pollution. 

But the sun was still blaring fairly fierce; I scooted up the wall and clambered over the railing, ducking right under the the roof's shade. Despite all John's nice words, I didn't know what to expect when Freddie finally came home, but I was indeed home.  I didn't mind.  Sometimes you have to run away from it all before you realize what you are leaving. 

I was bushed already, and hungry.  I threw off my wedges and stretched out across the balcony, the sun washing over me, looking like a house cat lying on the patio waiting for someone to let her in for the night.  From the ground, no one could see me.  The sun beamed directly against my eyelids; I draped the journal over my face.  This felt so good. 

"Be gentle with me, Freddie," I whispered.  "Us kitty cats only go around nine times, you know."  And fell asleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

By the time I finally awoke, night had fallen hard and the sun was gone.  With a sigh I removed my journal from my eyes, to find the most beautiful spread of indigo sparsely flecked with bright, silvery white stars stretched above my head.  In the very middle shone the perfect white wafer that was the moon.  Evening had cooled the air, which made lounging outside much more pleasant.

I checked the balcony door handle, which of course was also locked.  Freddie hadn't come back yet; I peered into the windows and saw no lights in the hall.  I picked myself up off the balcony. 

Naturally, I started to fret, wondering how he would behave once finding me.  Freddie might indeed report me this time.  Or else, perhaps he'd think it indescribably comical that I should come crawling back to him, and therefore laugh me into oblivion. 

Worrying about what might be or might not be won't help, I told myself.  Worry eats holes in your stomach.  He might not be back for hours yet. 

I remembered for once that I actually wore a watch and squinted at it.  Nine forty-nine.  The night was just beginning in Freddie-land.  I stood to stretch my legs.

And the sleek Silver Shadow pulled up to the flat. 

Crap!  I ducked back down, watched through the bars as the car halted by Freddie's door.  Rudy hopped out of the front and hustled around to the back to open the passenger door.  Out stepped the man himself.  From my angle I couldn't read his face, but he looked like he was in a hurry to get inside.  Was he being followed?  I mean, by someone besides me.  But no other autos rounded the corner.

The front door didn't shut.  Odd.  Inside, the hall light flicked on.  He was running up the stairs; faintly I heard the thump-thump-thump of his feet ascending to my level.  Grabbing my journal, I swung myself over the balcony and more or less fell to the ground, unhurt.  I didn't want him to know I'd been up there that long.  Too late I remembered my shoes, but I'd kicked them to the side, and so weren't immediately in view from the window.

All of a sudden I felt at least three pairs of eyes boring into the back of my neck.  I turned to see three men (including Rudy) in the car, two of them whooping and shouting slurred, unintelligible things.  My jaw dropped.  No!  I'd been spotted! 

"Oi, Freddie!" the one with a face like a plum pudding called.  "Get out here!  'S a intruder!"

"Do something, man!"  The other guy poked Rudy's headrest. 

Rudy didn't move.  He just watched me to see what my next move would be.  And, since the flat door was indeed ajar, and Pudding Face was yelling at me to explain myself, I hotfooted up the steps and dove into the flat. 

No doubt that Pudding Face and/or the other guy - a good-looking black fellow with a loud, cackling laugh - would give me away once Freddie came back down.  All I could do right now was hide.  I crept into the dining room and ducked beside the table. 

His footsteps came down much slower than they had gone up.  I peeked over the top of the long table, waited till he walked into view.  At last he reached the foot of the stairs, and I could get a better look at him.  In spite of myself I smiled.  It was good to see him again.

Clearly Freddie hadn't found what he was looking for; angst that had shown on his face after the Tony Parsons interview sharpened his features again.  But it wasn't angry angst, there was no horrid chill.  No protective mask.  Just a very real sadness.  His eyes were lowered, his hand resting quietly on the railing. 

"Damn," he whispered.  "Bloody f---ing hell.  How stupid could-"

Then Pudding Face and Cackles burst through the door and shattered this introspective moment. "Are you okay, Fred?" Cackles asked breathlessly.

"Guys, I told you I'd be right back," Freddie said.  "I know you missed me but sometimes I just need to-"

"Quiet, we're not alone," Pudding Face ordered, his Irish brogue showing through.  I almost fell over.  Who was this guy, thinking he could order Freddie around like that?

Freddie turned to Cackles.  "What's he shitting himself about, Peter?"

Atta boy, Fred.  So Cackles is Peter?  Let's see, Peter, Peter... Oh, now I know!  It's that darn cat Straker!  That's why he looks familiar.  Who's Pudding Face though? 

"There's someone sneaked in here," Peter said. 

"Really?"  Freddie turned to Pudding Face for confirmation, his eyes wide- and, from where I saw, hopeful.

"Yeah, some UGLY little c---," Pudding Face said in a loud voice.  

I seethed, I don't know who you are, you Irish prick, but I hate you. 

Even Freddie looked horrified.  "The f--- was that?" 

"I can only tell the truth, Freddie dear."  He smiled a sick, reptilian smile.

Freddie scowled and turned back to Peter.  "Are you any more help?  What's she look like?"

Peter was impressed.  "Whoa.  How'd you know it was a she?"

"Fifty-fifty shot."

"Oh, well, she's got long brown hair, dressed stylishly.  And I think she was barefoot.  That's all I got."

"Really,"  he said softly.

"And she just dropped down out of nowhere," Peter went on.  "I think she was up on your balcony."

"Really."  Freddie's hands now were confidently planted on his hips.  He gazed through and past Pudding Face, his eyes glazing over. 

"Hadn't you better call the police?" Pudding Face suggested impatiently.  "She might be some renegade guerrilla journalist!  You know how hot those buggers are for a juicy tidbit.  They'll do anything!"

"She's no journalist," Freddie said to himself.

"Wait.  You know her?"

My host snapped back to reality, and crooned in that fancy tone we all know so well, the one he saved for his dandy friends, "My dear ladies, I shall deal with the girl myself.  You two go pick up David for me and I'll meet you at the club after I take care of her."

"Call the bobbies already!" Pudding Face demanded.  "Th' little p---y could be dangerous!"

Freddie whirled on him.  "F--- off, Paul!  I know what I'm doing!"

Paul!  Not the Paul?  Not Paul Prenter?  Not yet another (and perhaps even the very worst) lowlife that paved the way for Freddie's demise?  Ooo, now I was feeling it.  In my mind I screamed, Get out of here, you ugly bastard!  But Paul stood there and stared Freddie down, which made Freddie roll his eyes.

"I'll call them after I find her," he explained.  "How's that?"

"I'll help you look for her," Paul stated.

"No, my love, you're coming with me to get sweet Mr. Minsy!" Peter trilled in a very annoying falsetto.  "We mustn't keep the poor dear waiting!"  He took Paul's arm and led him outside before he could protest. 

Freddie walked over to close the door, when Paul shouted something at him.  "What?  Huh?  Oh, yes, I promise, I'm a man of my word."

"So am I," Paul hollered back.  Freddie thought this was a laugh riot, threw back his head and guffawed.  Yet in my ears, the words rang as ominously prophetic. 

Click.  The door closed.  Freddie stood by the threshold a couple of minutes, looking up the staircase.  I took shallower breaths so he wouldn't hear me.  After a moment he rubbed his shoulder, wincing.  I was reminded of those unfortunate comments he'd made about last night. 

I thought for sure he would begin tearing the place apart trying to find me again.  Paul and Peter (and David Minsy?) didn't seem like the kind who'd willingly wait.  Instead, he strolled out of view into the living room.  He's being strangely calm about this.  He knows I'm here.  Why doesn't he act on it?  Then it occurred to me, he was playing head games.  By not searching for me, he's defying expectation, inciting my curiosity, and therefore luring me out.  Genius! 

A couple minutes later, sweet piano music filled the flat.  What could I do but take the bait. 

As if in glass slippers did I delicately creep out of the dining room and peep in at Freddie, who sat slightly hunched over his black grand piano, hands flying over the keys.  He had his back to me, so I could watch him a little less carefully.  He was playing his stream of consciousness: he began with a heavenly chromatic scale reaching both ends of the piano, then crashed into the first few bars of "We Are the Champions," before tiring of that and playing some operatic aria that sounded like Verdi.  It went on from there.

Now's a good time; maybe I can slip up to my room without him noticing, I thought to myself.  I'm starving, and not emotionally prepared for any further confrontation.  And so I heel-toed it toward the steps, slowly walking up. 

And, of course, when I was about halfway to the second floor, Oscar popped up from the couch and saw me.  He scrambled toward me and meowed.  Distracted by the orange menace (not really, I loved that little guy), I lost my balance, tripped and knocked backward into the railing.  Thump.

Freddie didn't even pause playing as he said, very coolly, "So where have you been?"

I rocked back onto my feet.  Well.  That was anticlimactic.  But I'll play along.

I said, "Are you talking to me?"

"No, I'm talking to Tiffany.  Come here."

I had to check on my backpack, make sure he hadn't destroyed everything.  "Just a minute."

"No, now."

"Say please."

Freddie looked up, met my eyes.  "Now... please."

That was more like it.  I scooped Oscar up into my arms and came back down.  My allergies really had calmed down since the first day; his fur simply tickled my nose, where before a cat this close to my face would have started an endless sneeze attack.

I walked up to his side and stood quietly.  I listened as the music melted into a new song, one I'd never heard before.  It vaguely reminded me of "Jealousy" in the manner it progressed, but with a much more flowing, connected rhythm and not that one-one-two, generic brand drum beat that he excelled in during the 80s.  This instrumental piece was exquisite; I wondered why it never found its way onto an album.

Abruptly he stopped, spun himself around on the bench.  "So tell me, where have you been all day?"

I blinked.  "Um, I was... out."

"Where did you go?"

I half-smiled.  "Who wants to know?"

Freddie sighed through his nose, cementing the notion that now really wasn't a good time. 

"I just walked around," I said in all honesty.

"Mm," he nodded, and patted the space beside him on the bench.  "Have a seat."

I sat down, and he situated himself in front of the keys once more, but his eyes were on mine. 

"You don't seem very surprised to see me," I blurted.  Smooth move, Julia.  Played right into his hands.

"Well, I'm not, you know.  You were bound to come back.  You're very predictable like that."

"Oh, was I?" Again, that dig at my pride.  But I had had enough spats for one day.  For the most part, I let it go.

"Well, yeah.  You left all your things."  He pointed upstairs.

"I did.  Are you saying I should go get them?"

"No.  That is, unless you really do think I'm dirt under your feet."

"When did I ever say that?"

'You didn't.  I did.  Remember?  I said you should leave if you think that little of me."

"I don't think little of you at all.  I think you're wonderful."  The second sentence left my lips without my permission, but I couldn't take it back without looking like a jerk.

Freddie's face remained motionless, yet I saw the smile shining in his eyes.  "And, anyway, it would have been a shame if you didn't come back.  You see, I, um, I think I'm getting used to you being around.  Cooking for me, things like that."

"Oh yeah?" I felt myself blush.

"Yeah.  You've spoiled me rotten."

"Oh, no.  That damage was done long before I ever stumbled into the picture," I smiled.  "I am sorry about Mary though.  Did you guys work it out?"

He nodded.  "Yeah, we're all right."

Very gently, I pressed, "What did you tell her?"

"What, about you?  Oh, I simply backed up everything you said.  We're lucky you at least tell the truth."

Ha, yes, sometimes I surprise even myself, I remarked.

Freddie paused a moment, looked ready to say something, but he talked himself out of it and turned back to the piano.  He started playing, eyes focused on the ivories, but his mouth was twitching with unspoken words. 

Suddenly I recognized the song he was playing.  It was an older, rather melancholy tune of Elton John's, one of my very favorites.  "Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say..."

Freddie glanced at me.  I closed my mouth, embarrassed.  I didn't realize I'd started singing out in front of this rock god.

"It's all right.  Keep going," he purred.

My cheeks burned, but I did as I was told, though softly.  "I thought I knew/ but now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City..."

Now he was smiling like he meant it.  I don't think he expected me to hit the low C.  My voice became stronger.  "Until you've seen this trash can dream come true/ you stand at the edge, while people run you through..."

Suddenly two voices sang the next line together: "And I thank the Lord there's people out there like you-"  I turned, and he was grinning right at me.  We sang it again, this time pointing playfully at each other on "you."

We sang the whole five minutes of "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," harmonizing on the chorus ("Okay, take the top line, I'll do the low notes," Freddie directed), and trading lines on the next verses.  It startled me, how nicely Freddie's and my voices blended, till I recalled with delight the seven years I'd spent training myself on his songs.  Thank God, I have at least something to show for so long obsessing over him. 

Something happened during this song.  I can't put my finger on exactly when, or what the two of us were doing, but our relationship changed.  Whatever it was, by the end of the song, I'd accepted his unspoken apology for that morning, and our mutual angry shots were forgiven and forgotten.  Before I knew it, Freddie had stopped being just my wisecracking host with loose (to say the least) morals, was no longer just my obsession in a younger day.  We clicked, and a lasting rapport was formed.

When it was over, Freddie and I looked at each other and laughed happily.  "Not bad," he said.  "Next time we'll get the mandolin in there."

"If you got a guitar, I can muddle through," I offered.

"You play guitar?"

"I know how to play it.  I just can't play very well."

"Join the club, dear.  I know three chords." 

I started to get up from the bench when Freddie drew me back down. 

"I'm glad you're back," he said.

I looked down shyly.  "You mean it?"

"Of course I do," Freddie replied, and then I noticed the gleam.  "After all, I haven't eaten anything all day and you still owe me an omelet."

Ah, yes.  Leave it to Freddie.  What would he say next?  "I guess that means you aren't going to report me tonight either, huh?  Like you promised your friends?"

"Oh, don't worry about those old ladies, they can wait," he dismissed.  "I want food, and you probably haven't eaten either, have you?" I shook my head.  "My darling, you are so helpless when left on your own."

"I know, I know, I'm a danger to myself."

"You said it, not me."

I laughed, overjoyed that we were back in each other's good graces.  I threw my arms around his neck.  "Oh, Freddie, I don't deserve you."

In return, Freddie held me around my waist.  I pulled back and hesitated in moving any further.  I noticed how near our faces were; all I could see were those black, almond-shaped gems.  A new glimmer danced in them.  It disturbed me somewhat.  He lightly chuckled; I suddenly realized his face was moving closer, his head bending to my lips.  The eyes closed.

And despite the dizziness setting in, I leaned back and squirmed out of his grasp. 

"I, um, think I'd better get that omelet started."  My eyes lowered, I ran quickly for the kitchen so he didn't see how my body was trembling and therefore get the wrong idea.

"And I," Freddie answered deadpan from the other room, "am going to have a nice, tall, mind-f---ing drink and question my existence.  Care to join me?"

"I'm good.  Thanks, though."

He sighed.  "Right."

***************************************************************************

Day 5 (cont.)  We're on good terms again.  I guess today wasn't the day to bear a grudge.  I made us omelets like he wanted- special omelets fit for Freddie: heavy on the ham, super cheesy, and more than just a sprinkle of red pepper.  Halfway through our dinner, Pudding Prenter- I mean, Paul Pudding- I mean, Plum Paulter (okay, okay, I'm all punchy again, and I didn't even have a vodka like Freddie offered)- Mr. Prenter called Freddie and demanded he get his arse down there wherever they were.  I could be wrong, but Freddie didn't seem too excited to leave.  But he did. 
I'm just happy we're not fighting anymore.

NFOs: Freddie is acquiescent to Paul Prenter even now.  It's nothing like it will be, but Prenter is arranging his chess pieces, the smart little two-faced warthog.  (But again, I don't like Paul Prenter, so I guess that's a sort of bias I'm displaying which I give you people full permission to ignore.)  From what I can see, Peter Straker's not a big deal.  He's just annoying as heck.  But if only there was a way to covertly tell Freddie what an evil squirt he's got in his circle. I wish, I wish so badly.  Freddie's such a delight, for all his warts.  I wish.

I paused, read what I'd just written, arched my eyebrow, then decided it wasn't all that opinionated (HA!) and continued with just a little bit more:

Also: What is this magic of his?  What is this charm?  How does he do it?  It seems the longer I'm with Freddie, the more questions I have.  How can he even go through each day being as he is?  And what is this feeling I got, when he was holding me after the Elton song?  I know kisses are a matter of course for him, but why did the concept make my heart leap?  I have to be careful.  I must be careful.  And I want to tell him so much to be careful.  The world needs those beautiful eyes.  And that voice.  And his laugh, and his heart, and his-

I threw my pen across the room, suddenly aware of what I was saying.  Of course I didn't mean any of it. I was just tired.  That was it.  Don't forget, he's on and off.  Mean, then nice.  Mean, nice. It had been a long day.  Nothing more. 

I went to bed repeating these words over and over in my brain.

But a small, meek, unimposing voice somewhere deep inside myself told a different story.

 

Chapter Text

My eyes closed, and my subconscious sent me again to the mist.  Once more that shadow approached me, stood waiting for my move.  My hands were still bound together, but this time I moved closer to the shadow.  I wanted to know who I was dealing with. 

The shadow put its hand out to me.  I came ever closer, until the fog was clear enough that I could see its face.  And I wasn't altogether shocked to discover it was Freddie.  He kept holding out his hand, but I raised my tied wrists, and shook my head.  Without a word, he reached out his other hand, which held something.  He grinned condescendingly, and I gasped. 

It was the Relic.

On reflex I lunged for it, but he thrust his hand back behind him, leaving only his free hand outstretched.  The meaning was obvious: if you want out of here, come with me.

So, not as reluctantly as I might have yesterday, I put my hands out.  With his open hand, Freddie touched my wrists, and the cords fell away.  Then he seized my arm, and started shaking it violently.  I tried flapping my other hand at him, but he wouldn't stop.  Then I heard his voice, breathless and excited:

"Evie, wake up!  Hey!"

Slowly the swirling dreamscape evaporated and I was lying in bed, being jostled around.  But the voice was still there.  "Come on, darling!  It's important!"

I pried open my eyes to see another silhouette above me, but I knew who belonged to this one.  Freddie was sitting on my bed, shaking my shoulder.

"Wh-what's wrong?"  I stammered.

"Nothing, you silly, just get up!  We have work to do!"

"Hol' it, hol' it, what time...?"

"Oh, that doesn't matter, dear."

But I still reached for my Android, now fully charged and lying face-down on my nightstand.  I was too zonked to realize what might come of this, but I looked at the lit up screen.  "Freddie, it's three fourteen, are you mad?"

He was stunned.  "Hey it's that thing!  How'd it-?"

"Magic Mirror knows all," I mumbled.  I slid it under the covers.  "Go to bed, Freddie, I can smell the vodka."

"You're not getting up?" Freddie said.

"Not for another four hours.  Go back to your friends, they need you.  Bye bye."  I put my head under the pillow and pulled the sheets over it.

Which was a mistake.

Two seconds later, Freddie tore back the covers and threw away the pillow. 

I squealed, "You dog!"  (That I suppose was my stock response to anything he did that I wasn't ready for- so I said it a lot.) 

I sat up, scrambled to pull the covers back over me.  I was in my lacy, dark green nightgown Freddie picked out for me- one I had particularly protested because it was so sheer- and I figured he'd seen enough of me to last the rest of my life.  But again, I was outwitted.  As soon as I'd lifted from the bed, Freddie scooped me up round my waist and slung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.  As if he did this sort of thing every day at three fricking o' clock in the morning, he calmly marched us down the stairs while I slapped his backside. 

"Now, now, dear, don't get ahead of yourself," he cooed.  "We'll do spankings later, hm?"

I didn't have it in me to be politely embarrassed; I laughed tiredly.  "Why do I even bother."

"Good question.  Heave, ho!"  He threw me down onto the sofa and put out his hand to help me to my feet.  Ah, sweet Freddie.  So good at putting me in weird positions, then playing the cavalier gent to get me out of them.  I was awake now.

"Should I put the kettle on?"

"Just wait."

"Where'd your, ahem, buddies go?"

"Oh, they're still out."

"Minsy, too?"

"Minsy?  Who's Minsy?"

"David Minsy."

He blinked, his expression verging on paranoia.  "It's Minns.  And where'd you-"

"I was right there, Freddie!  Heard everything."

"Oh.  Well, uh, yeah, he's still there, with the others.  But I don't want to talk about them, you're distracting me.  Come come come!  Sit down."

I sat down on the bench where he pointed.  Freddie followed right next to me.  I squinted at him, and noticed he looked a little worn out.  Obviously he'd shot straight from the bar and whatever festivities it advertised, to do this.  His usually pristine clothes were wrinkled and moist.  He was full of energy, almost too much, but his darting eyes were red-rimmed and beads of perspiration lined his shiny forehead.  Freddie was high on something, clearly- perhaps he'd had a few lines for the road- but I dared not ask for sure.

He laid his large hands across the keys, and started playing.  "You're a jazz fiend.  I'm going to sing this, and you are going to tell me if it needs something."

"Freddie, I'm really tired-"

"That's an order!" he cried.

"Aye-aye, captain," I said.

"Right," he muttered.  And proceeded to play me some sultry jazz. 

I smiled to myself.  I loved this song.  Indeed, it was missing the dark chocolate rhythm section from the actual track I knew, but I swayed to the music, closing my eyes to take it all in.  He was playing it faster than what I was used to, but I liked it better this way.  In the album version, I'd always pictured Freddie lying across the top of the piano, Marilyn Monroe-style, caterwauling while 1940's gangsters with cigars in their mouths struck up the band around him.  It wasn't a pretty sight.  Funny, yes, but Freddie can't precisely pull off wearing a slinky black dress. 

"So what do you think?" he accosted me suddenly. 

"It's nice.  Needs drums and the bass, though."

"Well, obviously."

"Does it just end abruptly like that?"

"So far, it just fades out.  Does it need something?"

"Like what?"

"Anything!  Instruments, tempo-"

"Uh,... no?"

"Brian was complaining there was no guitar part for him.  Starchy old maid."

"It doesn't need it, though."

"Exactly!  I told him that, but Bri and Roger don't like it, say it's too smooth, too jazz, and John's kind of middle of the road for it.  And that's not good."

Again, I remembered the lounge lizard version on News of the World.  "Have you thought of maybe slowing it down?"

He looked at me.  "Why?"  Waspish much, Fred?

"Maybe it's too fast."

Freddie shrugged.  "I don't think so."

O-kaaay!  Moving on!  "Well, um, is it just that verse, then the chorus twice?"

"I haven't written the second verse yet.  I may not, I sort of like how short it is."

"A second verse might help pad it out, give it somewhere to go."

Freddie snorted in irritation.  "Well, dear, get right to writing one for me, why don't you."

I looked into his red eyes and smiled.  "Let me see, now- play the verse part again, please."

He did.  

"Okay, now let's do it again.  Could you hum the melody for me, too?  To get an idea of the flow."

Freddie hummed.  What he didn't know was I'd loved this song for years, and had toyed with the lyrics as I often do with songs I like.  I sang after him, and after a few rough runthroughs, this is what we came up with (including of course, the first verse and chorus, not printed here):

"The music has faded-

And I'm feelin' so jaded.

Nothin' to do but turn out the li-hight...

I'll be okay tomorrow,

But now, let me breathe my sorrow-

Don't wanna get too high tonight...

So come and get me;

Let me

Get in that lowdown feeling

Cause now my heart ain't got nowhere to go, [Freddie thought this line a bit hokey, but to sing it correctly sounded bookish, so he conceded]

So- don't expect me

To behave perfectly,

put on that summer smile.

I'm feelin' much more for that icy winter blast.

Don't try and stop me,

and I don't need anyone to pull me through.

I'm causing a mild sensation

With this new occupation-

I'm gonna have to choose

to keep it going, lose

my self-composure,

and let them hold over: My...

Melancholy Blues."

Of course, Freddie and I didn't just unanimously agree on this line or that.  We actually got into it pretty hard at one point.  I wanted a line worded one way, but Freddie threw a fit and said it wouldn't work.  I responded by screaming louder, and adding, "You asked my opinion, so there it is!  What do you want from me?"  His energy was so contagious- even the negative energy.  Man, Freddie wasn't kidding when he said Queen was the "bitchiest" band ever.  However as the cocaine (or whatever fun stuff he'd enjoyed) gradually wore off, and the quick temper faded, he stopped seeing me as a music critic, and we wound up working together rather harmoniously.

It was six in the morning by the time we'd finished.  We both felt and looked like dog meat.  Still, Freddie wanted us to sing it through one more time, "but with style." The final chorus stayed the same of course; for fun, I harmonized with him on it. I must say, we sounded mighty fine.

At the end, he grinned, and nodded.  "That's fun. I'm not a lyrics person.  This helped a lot. Thank you, darling."

"Absolutely.  Just something to think about," I replied.

"Not just think about.  This is the song now."

And then I realized what a serious lulu of a mistake I'd just made. 

Oh, no.  "My Melancholy Blues" didn't have a second verse, never would have a second verse, and that was that!  I'd heard the darn song enough to know such to be undisputed truth.  And yet, and yet, there were the freshly cooked lyrics sitting there on the piano, in Freddie's and my handwriting!  What had I done?  What would this do to Time and its course? 

But I was too tired to do actually anything about it now.  I had all day tomorrow to talk him out of it.

"Why did you come all the way back here for my opinion?" I asked instead.

"Because I value it, that's why.  I love your tastes- in music.  You still need help in the clothes area."

I couldn't help feeling flattered, despite how left-handed the compliment was.  "Are you serious?" I said.

"Very.  I'm also something next to exhausted, so if you'll excuse me, dear," he kissed my hand, "I'm going to take it off to bed."

"That's a great idea," I whispered.  "Me too."  I rose.  Maybe I could catch a couple more hours before the sun came up.

Freddie looked at me funny, in such a way that reminded me of what I was wearing.  "You're welcome to come along, if you like."

My stomach fluttered.  "Oh.  I appreciate that, Freddie, really I do, but I've got a perfectly nice bed, so-"

"I know," he said, getting up.  "But it's awfully small compared to mine."

"Is it?" I stalled.  He was coming toward me.  I backed away.  "That's very, um, interesting."

"I," he said, following me up the stairs, "don't like to sleep alone."

"Funny, it's just fine with me.  Maybe you should go out and find somebody-"

"I don't want to," he purred.  "I'm all settled in for the night- or morning, shall we say."

We were very near my bedroom and the look in his eyes scared me to death, only because of the way it was making me quiver.  I suppose whatever magic powder had kept him up this long hadn't yet entirely diffused. 

"You," I managed, "are too much."

"Am I?" Before I could answer, his arms slipped around me and his face bent ever so close to mine.  The world tilted drunkenly before me.

He studied the fear in my eyes.  "Eve, darling, what are you afraid of?"

"Freddie,  you're not yourself," I whispered, looking away.  And he wasn't, or else he wouldn't be acting this way.  " I- I don't want this."

His voice sank into the deep, rough parts of his throat.  Oh, God, what a feeling it gave me.  "Then why haven't I heard that word yet?  That word you're so, so quick with?" 

"What word?" I whispered, frantically reaching for the knob. 

Freddie drew my face up to his.  "No." 

I did feel his lips press against mine, but it wasn't for long enough to constitute a real kiss.  I grabbed the knob, broke away from him, and slammed and locked the door.

"I'm not your speed, remember?" I shouted through the wall. 

I don't know what Freddie did after that, but it did involve him slamming his own door five minutes later and swearing profusely to himself so loudly the neighbors probably heard it.  But that morning, until about nine, he did indeed sleep alone.  Me?  I couldn't even close my eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I glance at Brian and wonder if he sees what I see.  I want him to look back at me, give me some kind of sign, but he doesn't.  He's watching Freddie with that same mix of admiration and annoyance he always favors him with.  Brian doesn't have an easily readable face.  Neither do I.  It's a gift, really.  No one ever knows what we're thinking, unless we come right out and say it.  Difference is, I never say it.

Freddie is holding court here in our manager's house, campaigning again for his little jazz-type song.  "...So I made it a little longer and I think it flows better now."  He plays it for us.  Though I like jazz as much as anyone, I don't know where this fits on a rock album.  Granted, this version is much improved, but it's lacking somewhere.

Brian huffs.  "But it's lounge jazz, Fred."

"And...?"

"I mean, it's one thing for us to do the vaudeville stuff, the "Leroy Brown" thing, "Good Company", that's different.  This is... I don't know, it's just not the same."

Freddie sneers, "Oh, right, sorry.  Only jazz with electric guitars and a genuine George Formby ukulele banjo is worth the trouble.  I completely forgot."

"No, I'm just saying, it's still a little too bare.  There's no rock aspect.  It doesn't, um, it doesn't kick."

"So now we're putting ourselves in boxes, eh, Brian?"

"I don't like it, either," Roger chimes in.

"Freddie, we're not jazz artists.  We're rockers.  Variety's good, but it has to be good variety."

Freddie arches his eyebrow.  "My, my, that's very clever.  Did you think that up yourself?"

Brian is losing it.  "Look, Fred, I don't know what's gotten stuck so far up your ass lately that you're being such a twat, but do us all a favor and pull it the f--- out."

He may not know, but I do.  Too well I remember how I was restringing my bass toward the start of yesterday.  I'd done it a million times before, but this new string proved especially troublesome.  It kept slipping.  Finally I'd wound it around the knob, and I tightened it to the proper pitch.

"Come on, come on," I was muttering to myself, gently turning the key, the string pulling ever more taut.  But I pulled too taut too fast, and the string snapped.  Freddie was charging in at the very same time.

"Bollocks!" I had said aloud.  "So close!"

"The story of my life," he muttered.

"Huh?" I said.  And the floodgates opened and I resigned myself to my forever status as a sounding board- except now I'm that for two people and not just one.

And I thought Freddie was in a foul mood yesterday.  He was practically drifting away on clouds of happiness compared to now.  Anything any of us has said to him today has either been ignored or met with sheer hostility.  And Roger isn't helping.  He's grinning from ear to ear.  Because he knows exactly what's wrong with Freddie, as do we all.  He's simply the only one who's rubbing his nose in it.

Freddie looks Roger's way.  "What's got you so tickled pink?"

"Nothing, man," he says.  "Just thinking of all the things I can do with one hundred pounds."

Freddie's eyes narrow.  "Really!  I haven't seen any success on your end."

Roger shrugs.  "Just means I need to up my game.  What's your excuse?  You're living with her!"

Ouch.  Freddie's fuming.  I watch his hands clench into fists.  There's a lone, empty wine glass sitting on the table.  He moves his arm.  Now it's smashed in a million tiny pieces by his feet. 

"That just cost us the price of an album," John Reid protests.

"I think you can afford that," Freddie replies.

"Wait, wait, wait."  Brian blinks, as though he's just now waking up.  "Is this about that f---ing girl?"

"Girl?" Reid frowns at Freddie, almost like he's been betrayed or something.  "What girl?"

Freddie shrugs.  "Long story, my dear."

I resist the urge to shake my head.  Brian is so out of the loop, only because he's chosen to be.  Freddie and Roger trade glances.  For Brian, this is the last straw for a very tense day.

"You guys are beyond belief!" Brian exclaims, and throws down his papers.  "I'm not sitting here to listen to you two row about some chick.  See you tomorrow."  He makes good on this threat (though a weak one; it is after all nearly half-past eight at night) by marching out of the house.

Maybe it's time I do the same.  I haven't seen Veronica or Robert all day.  I start moving around, collecting dishes.  But I'm listening.

"I bet she likes them blond," Roger muses aloud, clearly just to gig Freddie.  "I bet she likes her boys golden."

Freddie rolls his eyes, suddenly composed.  "Perhaps- but she also likes them fabulously handsome.  So we're tied, one and one."

"Sticks and stones.  Deep down, she wants me.  I'll just have to help her realize that."

"Yeah, okay," Freddie snorts.  He gets up and pushes in his chair.

Then Roger turns tempter once again.  "I'll wager one thousand pounds I can get to her even before tomorrow night ends."

Freddie groans.  "Ugh, Roger, give it a rest, would you?"

"Why?  Scared that I will?"

"Who's scared?  You can have her and have her, for all I care.  I just happen to know she'd never have you."

"Wishful thinking."

"Tell you what," Freddie says.  "I'll bring her around tomorrow.  We'll see for ourselves."

"Won't she be in the way, just sitting there?" Reid asks.  I wonder why he doesn't mind any of the other people Freddie brings round every now and then.

"Leave that to me.  I'll find a good reason for her to come.  She'll need one.  Always does."  Freddie scoffs to himself.

"Great.  Should be fun.  But my offer still stands, Freddie.  One thousand pounds."  Roger yawns like a hyena, and makes for the exit.  "Thanks for dinner, Reid."

John Reid nods at him, then to me he says, "Don't worry about the plates, I've got that.  Go home."

I take his words and run with them.  I think Freddie might stay a little longer at Reid's, as per usual.  But I've not walked five feet from the front door when it opens again and out comes the very bloke, still none too cheery.  He scans the sidewalk for his car, and swears as it hits him, he forgot to have the driver stick around- perhaps because he was thinking too hard on her.

I know how he is about public transportation.  So I call to him, "Need a ride, Freddie?"

Freddie turns, mulls the idea, then nods.  "If you're offering.  Thanks."

So we head down the sidewalk a way toward my car.  Discreetly I study his sulking face.  After a moment, I venture, "You all right?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" he says evasively.

Though I'm closer to Freddie than the others, it's not lost on me I'm risking that friendship. "Brian may have a point, you know."

"How?" he barks, temper rising. 

'Uh... the song.  It needs something.  It's good, it just-"

"That's not what you were going to say."

"What's wrong, Freddie?  Is it her?"

Freddie opens his mouth but hesitates, clears his throat.  "Let me show you what I have to deal with," he says.  "Do like me.  Right?"  He starts prancing along the sidewalk, saying, "So you're walking down the street, minding your own."

I watch on the corner as he glides past the borough houses, bouncing along on the balls of his feet. 

He looks back in exasperation.  "Well, don't just stand there!  Move, John!  Walk with me!  Like this!"

Walk like him, he says.  For that, I'd need a built-in pogo stick- and loads of self-esteem.  But I try.  I hold my arms out at my sides, my wrists limp, my hips awkwardly swinging.

Freddie looks back at me and frowns.  "What the f--- are you doing?"

"I'm doing what you asked me to!"

"I didn't-"

"You said walk like you, so I'm walking like you!"

Freddie stops, looks down at himself.  His mouth twitches, then he glances at me.  It's too dark to tell if he's blushing.  But I snort a little laugh anyway.

"Never mind, never mind," he says.  "I'm terribly out of sorts lately.  Tell you in a minute.  Where's your car?"

We clamber into my sensible sedan (the Dadmobile, Freddie just has to brand it, the old bugger) and speed toward his flat.

"What I was trying to say, before you had to go and make it all ridiculous," Freddie continues finally, "is, picture yourself in my place.  Walking along, minding your own business, lovely day, things like that when suddenly, you round the corner and there's this girl standing there not three feet away.  Just a beautiful girl, smiling, teasing you with her eyes.  And of course you put out your hand to her- and what happens?"

I pull to a stop.  "I dunno.  She takes your hand?"

Freddie shakes his head.  "You reach out- and touch glass.  It's the shop window.  And she's not for sale at any price."

I sit quietly.  I dare not assume what he's trying to say, and let him spell it out.

He sighs.  "I'm quite the windbag with you of late, I know.  But I can't talk about Eve with anyone else.  And what with you having the Relic and all, you're more or less in on it."

I shake my head.  "It must be awful for you."

He nods.  "I feel like I've totally blown it with her.  Roger may actually have a better chance at this rate."

"I dunno.  I'm no good at these things."

Freddie rolls his eyes.  "Oh, John.  You're so afraid to step on my toes."

I squint.  "What?"

"Talk to me, man!  For once, don't worry about what I think and f---ing step on my toes."

I pause, shoot him a wary look.  "You won't be angry?"

"I make no promises."

I huff.  "Then I'm not saying a word."

"Fine, fine!  Say whatever.  I promise I'll take it like a man."

This isn't my area.  I don't like involving myself in other people's sex lives, or love lives, or what have you.  But Freddie is once more asking for my help- worse still, my advice.  I don't know when I'll have this privilege again.

"I don't know what's gone down between you and Eve," I say carefully, "but regardless, maybe you should back off trying to- um, force yourself upon her.  Maybe she just needs to breathe."

"My God, John.  You act like we're an item on the rocks.  We haven't even left the harbor."

"Maybe it's too early.  Some girls take longer."

He rubs his eyes.  "It's been so long since I've had to.  Do this stuff, I mean.  Most times, they just, you know, run up at you, forcing their hotel keys into your hand while they're screaming their phone numbers."

"There you are.  Talk to her.  Get to know her, first, before you start trying to get into her knickers."  Over one hundred pounds, I scoff to myself.  God, Freddie, at least bet something a little higher next time.

"Then again, who's to say she's past it," Freddie murmurs to himself.  "She, doesn't seem a very, um..." He trails off, silently filling in the blanks.

By this point, we are pulling in front of Freddie's flat.  Somebody's certainly home.  The lights in the windows are all on, and I can hear faint guitar music floating in the humid breeze.  I don't answer him, because there's no way I can.  He has to work this out on his own.  It's not something one can just solder back together, like that silly device.

"How's the Relic coming along, by the way?" Freddie asks, opening the car door.

"Not too bad," I say.  "I think I may have it all pieced together by tomorrow."

"Excellent.  Thanks for the ride, John.  We'll see you tomorrow."

"We?"

"Eve is coming to the studio too."

And after all that maudlin jabberjaw about blowing it with her!  "Since when?"

"Really, John.  Have you no faith in me?"  He flashes me a dazzling smile- the first one I've seen today.

I have no idea now whether he's been toying with me the past few minutes or really taking in anything I said.  I honestly don't know what to do with him except take him as he is.  So I wave goodbye and let him skip up the steps. 

I don't live too far away from Freddie's flat, so I head straight for home and arrive in under ten minutes.  I make plans to catch up on the day with Veronica and then get right back to tinkering with Eve's Relic.

Robert's there to greet me in the arms of his mum.  When I walk into my flat, I kiss the top of his head and my wife's lips just a bit above.  He's ferociously gnawing some little piece of plastic he's found, which he keeps sucking on no matter how many times Veronica pushes his hands down from his curious mouth.

I'm more anxious than I realized to finish the Relic.  So very quickly my wife and I recap the day's goings-on and she leaves me to it.  I rush to my desk, inspect the pile of electronic parts, more coherent now since the day Freddie had brought them over. 

And I'm missing a piece.

My heart flutters.  I dive under my desk, run my hands along the floor.  I peer back behind it, under the furniture.  Under the loose, random papers I carelessly left there yesterday.  I can't find it.

And then, my heart sinks.  I dare not look.  It couldn't be.  But I still turn and look at my son.  My little son, who's still sucking on a tiny plastic square with a golden rectangle in its center, now resplendent in baby teeth marks.

I swallow.  Oh, no.

 

 

Chapter Text

The door bell rang. I licked my lips and ran over, fingers crossed. I'd been praying and praying for him to at last arrive. I couldn't take it anymore. To be absolutely certain, I closed one eye and peeked through the hole. My heart sang with joy. He was here! Flinging open the door, I found him standing there, an enormous smile on his face.

"At last!" I cried. "I've been waiting for this moment all day."

"Large pizza for Eve?" the delivery boy honked.

"Half pepperoni, and half black olives, green bell peppers, and mushrooms?" I said.

"That's it!" he announced. I slapped the money into his hand, said "Keep the change," and pulled my dinner into the flat. My mouth watered in anticipation. Keep your Starbucks, your Chipotle, and your McDonalds. My heart belongs to pizza.

I lifted the box lid, peered in at this perfect culinary creation. It wasn't exactly Papa John's, but this English variation certainly beat having no pizza at all. I dipped in and munched on a slice.

It had been an unusually quiet day. I didn't see Freddie before he left; when I had had enough of lying in bed, wide awake, I rose, got dressed and went for a walk outside. By the time I came back, he was gone. In the middle of the day, I took a nice long nap, which made up for what I lost the night before.

What with such a weird sleep schedule, however, my immune system was down. Mix that with living in a still very real allergy attack zone, and I caught myself a little cold. Most of this sixth day rang of sneezes and nose-blowing enough to get Tom restless and for Mrs. Cottage (for she came in that morning) to suggest several no-fail homeopathic remedies. At least Freddie didn't see most of that.

What I did in between time is really rather inconsequential, mostly I just puttered around the flat feeling droopy. I could go into detail, but unless you think the amount of food I gave the cats for breakfast matters, I won't.

In spite of how freaky things had become this morning, I got over it fairly quickly. After all, Freddie was high as a kite. What did I really expect? He wasn't himself. And there was no telling how I'd act if I was in his shoes. However, should he march into the flat that evening, without his pupils dilated, without looking like he'd just run a marathon, and pull the same stunt, I would not be so forgiving.

Still, I wondered when he would come back. I'd missed my official Freddie fix, that special morning kickoff. He was likely out with his friends again (using the word 'friend' very loosely, of course), but that was his business in which I had no right to meddle. I just pray he's in a good humor when he returns. I don't feel well, so I hope he at least acts like a human being.

I made my plate of pizza and sat down in front of the television. As I ate, I zapped around for something worth watching on the five channels available (that's right, kids, no Netflix!). I snatched the last three minutes of a Benny Hill rerun, which lasted only about as long as my dinner. There was some kind of BBC soap opera on one of the other channels; the rest I found was either news or just indescribably dull. I switched the TV off. Funny, how even forty years and two thousand channels later, there's never anything on.

Another clear summer night was falling upon London, this one even prettier than the last. I couldn't let it go to waste. I grabbed a scrap of paper and scrawled a quick note: If you need me, I'm on the balcony. Don't worry, I won't jump. I don't think I will anyway.

Putting the pizza box in the oven to keep warm, I hustled upstairs and barged into Freddie's room. Mercifully, it was empty. I opened the balcony doors, letting the fresh air invade Freddie's flat and soothe my susceptible sinuses.

In the corner by his personal closet sat a very lonely-looking acoustic guitar. Unlike only a few days before, I didn't resist the urge. "Don't mind if I do," I said happily, plucking the guitar from its stand and making straight for outside.

I balanced myself precariously upon the rail. Drawing the guitar across my lap, I tuned it and played softly, singing to myself as I stared out at the evening. Where I lived with my family, I had spent many a gentle, warm night on the roof of our house with my guitar staring up at the blanket of stars overhead. There in the heart of London, while the view was not quite as spectacular, I breathed this bit of familiarity. A few trees, and I was practically there.

As I continued, however, it hit me. Would I ever see my family again? Would I ever get back to the place I knew as my real home? I sniffed. One of these days, something I might do or say could end up being a bridge too far for my volatile friend. He's sweet, and I love him dearly, but-

Uh, ahem. Freudian slip there? Nah. Just a bad choice of mental words. Anyway. Start over.

He's sweet, and I think very highly of him (that's better), but he's a loose cannon, and I just don't think this arrangement of ours, where I'm living quite nicely for a measly non-sexual favor a day, will pan out too well. This morning was proof. Again, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt- but cocaine intensifies the inner feelings, I'm told. What does that say about how he feels?

I shook my head. Freddie was such a mess. I had always thought as much. Even so, he was a cute mess, a cheeky bundle of trouble. I just wish I could help him. I just wish he would let me help him.

Involuntarily, I began playing a song I hadn't thought about in years. It was a song that hadn't been written yet, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Queen; Kelly Clarkson sang it, of all things. But it was a very pretty song, and the longer I spent playing it, the more relevant it seemed. I didn't sing it; the guitar music was enchanting enough tonight, I didn't need to ruin it by adding my roughening voice.

I didn't see the black car pull up to the flat, nor did I hear the door open and close. I was off in my own little quiet world, full of peace and pizza, music in the air and stars in the sky.

Two tentative knocks on the wall. I turned my head. Freddie was leaning against the doorway, watching me. He waved -rather timidly, I thought.

I smiled. "What's shakin'?"

He looked me over, and returned the friendly grin. "Hey."

"You've probably already had dinner, but if not, there's pizza in the oven," I said.

"I did. Wait, you made pizza?"

"Me, make pizza? Today? I didn't even make my bed. It's delivery, but it's still darn good. You may not like mushrooms though, so..."

"Blech," Freddie gagged. "Mushrooms? I knew there was something wrong with you."

I laughed. "One of many things."

"You sound a little hoarse, dear."

"I think I'm just coming down with a little bitty cold. Nothing lethal."

"That's good." Freddie corrected himself, "I mean about not being lethal. Not about having a cold. Colds are dreadful."

I shrugged. "Could be worse." Could be AIDS, I added silently. A funny little pang shot through my heart. Why did I have to think that? I had an intense desire to reach out and take Freddie's hand and tell him everything, but I didn't. Now wasn't the time. I wondered if there ever would be such a time. It's hard enough to keep someone's demise a secret- but who in this world is brave enough to break the news themselves?

Freddie looked around. "So, um, is this a private concert or can anyone mosey in and watch?"

"Admission's free," I said. "Have a seat."

So he sat down cross-legged and leaned against the door, kept watching me. I stared out into nothing again, strumming away.

"You do this a lot?" he asked after a while.

"What?"

"Put yourself in a very dangerous position and play guitar."

"Sure. I used to do it all the time at home," I said. "Since this is the closest thing I have to a roof, I'll take it."

He cocked his head. "You miss home, don't you, darling?"

I nodded. "It's only natural I should."

"Where is your home?"

I pointed vaguely out off in the distance. "Somewhere out there."

"You don't want to tell me?"

"It's hard to explain. Because once I tell you, the next question would be how I wound up here. And that, you would never believe."

"What is it you miss?"

"Oh, everything," I smiled sadly. "The trees, my family, my animals, the too-early Christmas music-"

"In July?"

Whoops. Quick, think of an evasion! "It's always Christmas where I come from," I replied dreamily.

"You're kidding."

"Maybe..." I said.

After a moment Freddie reached up and tapped my elbow. I looked down, met the dark eyes straight on as he crooked his finger back and forth. He wanted me to sit right next to him.

"But I like it up here," I said.

"You're too far away" was his authoritative response. "Still, the view's better where I am."

"No, it isn't," I argued.

"Depends on what you're looking at," he smirked.

I sighed. "And it was such a beautiful night, too..."

Freddie threw his hands up defensively. "All right, all right, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that just came out, I'm sorry."

"What are you apologizing for? That wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other stuff you've said." I joked.

Freddie's face darkened, and he tucked himself up into a fetal position.

"Aw, geez," I sighed. What a child he can be.

Carefully I set the guitar down and moved over next to him. His mouth was taut, his gaze fixed downward. I didn't want to egg him further into a mood, but I couldn't decide how to handle him. I was studying rational methods for rational people in school. Freddie wasn't rational- and he didn't have a specific mental disorder listed nicely in our ever-thickening psychology bible, the DSM. He was just Freddie, just Mr. Spontaneous. And it dawned on me how completely beyond my weak power he really was.

So, I forced myself to improvise. "Well, I'm sitting here now. What shall I do next?"

"You can stop reminding me of what a f---ing asshole I've been, is what."

"I never said you were an-"

"But I was. Listen, I've, um, I've been less than a gentleman to you the past couple of days, and- and I'm sorry."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask "Who are you, and what have you done with Freddie?" but for once I kept my mouth shut. He looked into my eyes as he went on, "And I know you're a very good sport, putting up with my antics. Whatever I do that may seem, um, otherwise, don't think for a second I'm not aware. I can be pretty tough sometimes. I know that."

I understood about half of his rambling- he tended to do that when he was lost for words. But he meant it, whatever he'd just said. I nodded. "I accept your apology."

Hie brows shot up. "You do?"

"Am I that much a cold fish, Freddie? Of course I do. I know a sincere apology when I hear it."

He took a deep breath. "Well, I said it, so there it is. Won't you please go back to playing, I feel so terribly on edge it's not even funny."

I put the guitar in his hands. "You play."

"Absolutely not. You're better than I am."

"I look at it in terms of overall ability. You're a genius on the keys and yours is a golden voice. Maybe I know more guitar chords than you. That's no competition-"

"Do as I say, wench!" he thundered playfully.

Well, at least we're past the funk, I remarked to myself. "Fine," I muttered, and went back to plucking. "Requests?"

"Jimi Hendrix."

"Oh, God-"

"I'm kidding! I don't care, just no punk rock stuff."

"That's fair," I nodded, and jumped into a song by the Clash. "WHITE RIOT, I WANT TO RI-"

"GAH!" Freddie roared, lunging at me and the guitar. "MY EARS, THEY BLEED!"

I fell back with a half-laugh, half-shriek. I should have known better than that! He was trying to wrench the instrument from my hands but I clung to it, rolling over but keeping it over my head so nothing broke.

"Okay, here, here, take it!" I gasped, pushed the guitar into his hands but he didn't stop. Freddie kept grappling with me, so naturally I had to defend myself. The two of us wrestled like puppies up there on the balcony, and where guitar music had wafted now flowed inane laughter.

I was lying on my back and he was kneeling beside me. When he paused for a brief second, finally I grabbed the guitar again and held it across me, as if to say "Base!"

Both of us were breathing heavily with excitement, staring at each other, grinning like Cheshire cats. A little too late it dawned on me, how vulnerable I'd just made myself. But I didn't move. How is it I keep getting into this kind of predicament?

I expected him to make some sort of advancement, but he just sat there, eyes never leaving mine. My smile became forced; he kept staring, the way Oscar liked to do, except Oscar's eyes didn't glare like Freddie's. I sniffed and held the guitar closer. I noticed some kind of back and forth happening in his eyes. Freddie was thinking, remembering something.

He blinked. "The phone's ringing."

Then he stood up and, after helping me to my feet, went back inside.

And I burned with disappointment. Because that's what it was. I could lie and say I was coming down off another Freddie rush, but I was flat out disappointed. Why didn't he try to-

I brought the guitar in, and started thinking wholesome thoughts before I let myself finish. I didn't like where I might have been going. And had he tried, I wouldn't have let him, so it really didn't make much difference anyway.

"Oh, hello, darling!" Freddie said into the phone. "What's going on?"

I put the guitar into the corner, almost sat on his bed to listen but remembered my manners (what was left of them), and stayed standing.

"Hey, slow down, John, I can't unders-... Better," Freddie said. "Now what's happened to..."

Suddenly his face drained of color. "What did you say?" John's garbled voice repeated into Freddie's ear. "HE WHAT?"

After one more repetition, Freddie shouted, "HE F---ING SWALLOWED IT?!"

"Swallowed what?" I asked.

Freddie held up his finger, so I waited my turn. "Oh, my God, John, no... I mean, could it work without it?" Pause as John answered. "F---. Oh, f---."

John added one more thing which caused Freddie to grimace. "Spare me the details, darling. That's repulsive- but if it will still work, go for it. Whatever it takes. Thanks for telling me. Bye."

Freddie hung up and shook his head. "Unbelievable."

I was endlessly curious. "What happened?"

"Nothing, nothing, just... ugh." He rolled his eyes. "Anyway. You said there's still pizza?"

"Oh, so you're hungry now, eh?" I grinned.

"No, just suicidal," he replied with a wink. "Is it all mushrooms?"

"The other half is pepperoni."

"I can stomach that. Oh, by the way, dear, there's a bit of a problem with our song, it seems."

Despite how I'd meddled with time's course (sorry, Three Commandments!), I couldn't help feeling a little burst of pride when he said "our song." "What's wrong with it?"

"The boys still think it's missing something."

"Oh, that's a shame," I said as we walked back down the stairs. Somehow his arm found its way round my shoulders and rested there. I didn't react, nor did I mind. "Wish I knew what it needed."

"Isn't it lucky that I do?"

"Great! So what's it need?"

"You."

"I beg your pardon?"

"So just to let you know, I like to head up to the studio and get there round nine-thirty or ten, so if you could please plan to wake up accordingly, that would be smashing."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. What do you mean, me?"

"It needs another voice."

"Overdub it, then! That's what you like to do."

"Since when did you know anything about our music?"

"I do my homework, Freddie. I live with a musician. It's only fair I should learn about the kind."

"You goose. This album, we don't want to do that, there was so much of it the last two. Don't you know what the press will say if we make triplets out of our twin albums? Some is good, but not like before. And anyway," he opened the oven and pulled out the pizza, "a good bit of that song was written with your voice in mind."

"But I have a cold!" As if to make my point, I sneezed.

"No excuses, please. I've been sick as a dog and I still drag myself in for a take or two. It's my job!"

"It's not mine."

"But it's settled."

"I'll just sound awful, by tomorrow morning I'll have a bad case of laryngitis, I'm already starting to sound like Brenda Vaccaro tonight. I can't! Please understand."

Yeah. How well do you think that worked?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Looking back now, I wish I hadn't taken Day 6 so much for granted. It was a dull day, up until when Freddie came back and recharged the atmosphere. But about seventy-five percent of it was peaceful, quiet, and slow. Aside of my developing cold, I had a fairly easy time. I should have made the most of it, cherished it for its rare delicacy.

Because it also marked a turning point, in that after Day 6, I no longer enjoyed such smooth, tranquil days. Reality came in for a crash landing from Day 7 onward. So far, there had been no life-changing episodes; I had stayed for the most part in the background, being someone Freddie came home to after a wild time in the outside world, like another of his cats, happy to see him and have him absently scratch behind my ears. Even after Freddie returned last night to make sure we were still on good terms (for that's the only reason I can fathom he came back so early), he slipped back out for whatever naughty joy he loved reveling in.

But this disconnect between me and his whole world could not go on forever. I had been edging around the hippopotamus pen for nearly a week, nimbly avoiding any possible major effects of this experience.

And then Freddie sneaked up from behind and pushed me in.

But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself here. One thing at a time.

The next morning, my seventh day in Freddie-land, I woke up with exactly what I feared I would: laryngitis. To give you some idea of what that did to my voice, I encourage you to look up any given clip of Brenda Vaccaro in the 60's or 70's. My voice, though low enough by itself, dropped almost half an octave and rasped at odd places. I couldn't sing if my life depended on it.

Still, I smiled. The boys would never allow me like this. Freddie had no choice but to let it go now.

I took my smart phone into the bathroom with me for a little music while I cleaned myself up. All this talk about jazz had me in a Vince Guaraldi sort of mood; I listened to some good old "Linus and Lucy" while I scrubbed myself down. Yes, it was careless, but I figured at this point Freddie already knew the "Magic Mirror" existed, and he was asleep anyway, so he wouldn't mind. My, the ground I'd covered in only a week.

As I did, I wondered if I should tell Freddie of my recurring dream. In the latest version, not much had changed from the previous; the cords fell from my hands at Freddie's touch, and he started pulling me forward, further into the dark mauve fog. And that was all. But it was becoming more and more unsettling. Something huge and terrible just lay lurking beyond, and my dream-self was a breath away from coming face-to-face with it. It frightened me, and I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to tell Freddie.

Hey, wait a minute. I'm the psychologist here. He's supposed to tell me HIS dreams, not vice versa. What does he care about my feelings? Let's keep in touch with reality, shall we?

I had sense enough to take clothes in with me this time. I dressed and ran a comb through my hair. Just before I stepped out, however, I checked myself. It was morning. And about every other morning I'd been here, Freddie had pulled some kind of unexpected stunt. Tickling my feet, dragging me physically out of bed, making stupid comments about the "best time last night." Chances were, I was due for another surprise.

"Nope," I croaked aloud. "Not this time, old boy. I'm ready, yes I'm ready, for you."

So I slowly opened up and peeked both ways before crossing the hall. Freddie was stirring in his room; I heard him moan gently through his cracked door. I was safe for now. I tiptoed out.

"Morning, dear," he called in a creamy, drowsy voice that I immediately loved.

"Hi," I tried to call back.

"You ready for another fabulous day?"

"Absolutely," I replied, and foolishly stayed standing there listening.

"Mm. Good," he answered. He rustled around in bed, and stretched. "Mmmm-mm. Oh, by the way, do me a favor please and turn that camera off?"

'What camera?"

"Didn't you see it, darling?"

"See what?"

"The camera I had rigged up in the loo."

My spine prickled. "What?"

"Saw everything," he said. With a satisfied sigh, he added, "Very nice."

"WHAT?" I ran back into the bathroom, tripping over my own feet I turned heel so fast. Frantically I knocked around, looking for something, anything that remotely resembled a lens. I checked the shampoo bottle, the shower head, behind the toilet. And then I saw a flash and a click. I whirled.

Freddie was standing there without a shirt, his hair wild, pants unbuttoned. He was a mess. And he had an Instamatic Polaroid camera in his hands.

"Looking for this?" he said quietly.

And then, his uncontrollable laughter.

My face flushed crimson. I covered my eyes. He got me again.

"You actually bought that! OH!" He gasped. "Oh, it hurts! Ah-hahahaha!"

I started laughing too. "Why you- you-"

"Dog?" he suggested.

"Oh, you- YOU- YOU LITTLE SHIT!" I shouted, and doubled over.

Hearing me swear set him off all over again. "Darling, please! Remember the children!"

I shook my head, completely mortified but laughing anyway. "I hate you, I hate you so much right now I can't even tell you," I rasped between giggles.

"Yeah, yeah, just say cheese," he said, snapping another photo, which the camera at once spit out.

"All right, that does it," I announced, and turned on my own phone's camera. "Wait till your folks back home see you like THIS!" Before he could react I had his unkempt image saved to the memory card.

Now Freddie was caught off guard. "Huh? What?"

"That's right, two can play this game!"

"The Magic Mirror! Did you just snap me?"

"You better believe it!" I laughed evilly. I tapped my finger. "Just did it again. Make that weird face you were making before, that was priceless."

"All right, that's enough, that's enough, we'll carry on this battle a little later," he waved his hand. He picked up his second picture, which was just now coming into focus. He grinned. "You're red as a cherry, my dear."

"Wild or maraschino?"

"Details," he scoffed. "Come here and see."

I did, and cringed. In that little Polaroid square, I looked ready to explode. My face, bland without lipstick or mascara, was indeed three shades too pink. "God, what a fright I look."

Freddie put an arm around my shoulders and kissed my cheek. When I looked up at him to ask what that was for, he shrugged playfully. "I can't help it, darling, you're driving me crazy, and that new sexy voice of yours doesn't help an ounce."

"Sexy? I sound like a truck driver."

"A female truck driver in fishnets and tight little shorts, to be exact. Bra optional."

Thanks, Freddie, for that virtuous visual. "Uh-huh. Speaking of my voice, I think I'm not going to be able to-"

"Oh, no, not again. I'm in no mood for negativity! Think positive, darling. As your daily favor to me, let's keep the no's down to a minimum. Just try it on for size today, hm?"

"But I'm just trying to tell you that I can't-"

Freddie laid his finger against my lips. "Ah, ah, ah. Positive.  You're nervous, maybe, but don't be, they'll love it once you give it your, um, your special touch!"

I gave up trying to talk about it. Freddie was not only amorous, but stubbornly pushy, in the mornings. Something else for NFO list.

He looked back at the photo, then at me. "Ah. Such a pretty young thing you are."

I rolled my eyes and blew a raspberry.

He snickered. "And so gracious, too. Now let's have a look at this little doodad." He snatched at the Android but I moved my hand before he could grab it.

"Aw, Eve, come on, let me see it," he wheedled. "I heard the music this morning and it's so intriguing. So it takes pictures too? It could really be magic then! What else can it do? Oh, I'm just burning with questions about it."

I pressed the power button and coughed. "I don't think you're ready for this yet."

Freddie's eyes turned cold. "So I can't see your picture of me even though I showed you mine of you?"

I held out my hands in supplication. "Now, Freddie-"

The next thing I knew, both my hands were empty and Freddie had danced halfway down the stairs, well beyond my reach. "It's all right, dear, I didn't think you meant that. Now, how do I make it come alive?"

"You figure it out, smart guy," I rasped. "Here's a hint: the button's on the bottom."

"Oh? Okay, let's see here, um... Ah! There it is. That big one there?" Freddie pushed the button. The lock screen lit up his face, and his jaw dropped in awe.

"Penguins," he said. "You like penguins, I gather?"

"I do," I winked. "I love anything in a tuxedo."

"I'll keep that in mind," he purred. "So, um... now what do I do?"

"Enter the password."

"But I don't know the password." Freddie looked at me expectantly. When I didn't give him an inch, he said, "So what is it?"

"Now why would I tell you?"

"Because you're an angel and you don't keep secrets from me...?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Which part?"

"Both!" I grinned. "Like I said, I don't think you're quite ready for that yet. Mind handing it back, please?"

Freddie huffed, but conceded. "Might as well, I suppose, before the same thing happens as last t-"

"Same thing?" I frowned. "What?"

"Nothing, I was, um, thinking of something else." As if the thing was made of blown glass, Freddie laid my smart phone gingerly back onto my hand. "Just don't go flaunting that picture of me yet, all right? I at least want to see first what everyone else will later."

"Deal- though I dare say you're quite a picture all your own right now," I remarked.

Freddie shot me a sidelong smirk. "This one's just for you to see."

Liar, I said to myself. Aloud I said, "What a gift!"

"Of course," he took a suggestive step closer, "there's plenty more you haven't seen-"

"And I'd love to keep it that way for now," I said quickly. "It's ten till nine right now, so maybe you should-"

"Yes, of course, I'll do that," Freddie said, but a naughty smile curved about the corners of his mouth as he turned his back.

"What's that look for?"

"'For now,' eh?" he replied. "Encouraging."

"Oh, shut up." I shook my head weakly. "God. Do you do this to everyone you're with?"

"No. Don't you feel lucky?"

"Then why me?"

"Really, darling? Must I explain it to you?"

"If you don't mind."

"Simple. You need it."

"What?!"

"I knew from the moment I met you, you need it. You still do, and a lot of it at that. But we're definitely making progress. Now darling, I don't want to waste any more time, so I'll be right back-"

He closed his door behind him. Need it? I need nothing! I'm perfectly fine! He's the one what needs help! So there!

I almost marched into my room when I remembered Freddie had the hair dryer. Like a penitent child, I forced myself back to his door and knocked.

"Freddie, may I please borrow the hair dryer," I mumbled.

He chirped back, "Sorry, darling, that was far too polite, try again."

Again! Since when did I need this? I sighed loudly, but before I could repeat myself, the door clicked open and his arm appeared in the crack, hand clenching the dryer.

"Thank you, Your Highness," I said dryly, taking the tool and setting it on the floor. As if to further prove my point, I took hold of his hand and kissed it like it was the hand of royalty. I tried letting go, but he wouldn't. Freddie held on tight.Maybe I'd given him the wrong idea again. When I felt him slowly trying to pull me in, my worries were confirmed.

I still held my Android. Quietly, I searched my sound files for the infamous angry warning beep, then put it as close to where I figured his ear was. Volume went up full blast.

In a robotic, deep voice (which was not hard to do at present) I stated, "Five Seconds to Self Destruct." And played the sound.

It startled him all right, enough for me to slip out of his grasp. But he wasn't angry; if anything, Freddie only cried, "That's what I get for being nice to you?"

I smiled. "What can I say? You needed that."

"Good Lord," he sighed. "We'll be the death of each other, I swear."

I dashed back to my room and dried my hair, and applied some much needed makeup. But the entire time I spent waiting on Freddie, my face remained a fine shade of cherry, and the stupidest, happiest smile was on my face. He makes me so glad to - I don't know. Glad to be alive, I suppose. That's just his natural affect, though. Just his charisma. It's a gift; no one's certainly ever made me feel like that before.

It was a crazy kind of morning already. But the weird and the wonderful had only just begun. Only time would tell if I could survive the rest of the day and come out in one piece.

 

Chapter Text

Rudy arrived to pick us up at nine-thirty sharp. When I opened the door, he greeted me with a quick nod of the head and walked right in.

Rushing up to Freddie's room, Rudy knocked and asked if he was ready. As might be expected, Freddie wasn't quite prepared, seeing as he couldn't make up his mind what to wear that day. At least I wasn't the cause for delay; I had my backpack with me, holding a little money, my Android, and my notebook. If anything, I was overprepared. So I poured the driver a cup of tea, and we sat in silence and stared awkwardly at each other while we waited. Oscar hopped into my lap as I sat down. For once I was grateful; now I had something to do with my hands.

To my complete surprise, it was Rudy who spoke first. "May I ask a personal question?"

I shrugged, stroking Oscar's bright back. "Shoot."

"What are you to Freddie?"

"That's something you'd have to ask him."

"I mean, are you his friend, his relative- what?"

"I'm his long-lost fifth cousin, three times removed."

Rudy nodded, humoring me. "Really?"

"Why not?" I held up my smart phone. "Smile for me, Rudy."

He frowned, confused.

"Close enough." Click. And a stoic, frowning Rudy was saved to my gallery. This morning's escapade turned me into something of a shutterbug from then on. But I was very careful not to film anything. Dr. K had made such a big deal of shooting no videos in the log, I decided to just be safe and follow protocol. Why that mattered so much was beyond my tiny mind, but rules are rules.

Rudy looked at his watch. "I hope he hurries. Or else we'll be late picking up that other bloke."

"What other bloke?"

Before he could answer, Freddie skipped lightly down the stairs, tugging on the eternal leather jacket over his t-shirt. "Ah, Rudy, so good of you to wait up. I think we're set to go. Now, Eve, really! You don't even have your shoes on."

"That's easy to fix," I replied, and slid my feet into the waiting pair of sandals.

Rudy's eyebrows almost rose. "Your cousin coming along?"

"Yes, she and I are- wait. Cousin?" he said, smiling. "Did she say we're cousins?"

"Rudy, I was kidding," I laughed. Rising from the comfy chair, I flip-flopped toward Freddie. "We don't look the least bit alike."

"No, but you could be related, the way you two carry on," Rudy said. "You're quite similar in many ways."

"Us?" we said in unison.

"Well, sort of. In good ways, of course."

Freddie cuffed my chin gently. "Hear that, darling? We've got lots in common."

I snorted. "Name one thing."

His eyes darted toward the kitchen, then came back. "We like tea."

"True, but I prefer coffee."

"Why don't you tell me these things?"

"You never ask."

Rudy folded his arms. We were apparently proving his point.

Freddie shook his head. "Rudy, let me put it this way." He sidled up close to me. "If we were cousins, no matter how far removed, I wouldn't have any legal desire to, say, put my arms about her waist," -suddenly two large hands reached around from behind and clasped against my stomach- "press my cheek to hers," -Freddie leaned forward and nuzzled his nose against the side of my face- "and whisper into her ear-"

He paused, tilted his head so that his lips gently grazed my ear when he talked, and finished in that soft, arousing growl from yesterday, "And whisper into her ear how wildly I want to take off all her clothes and ravish her where she stands."

My eyes widened, my body wooden with shock. I looked back at him, forced myself not to react in any shape or form. It required much more effort than I thought it would, but I still managed to freeze. My knees felt like jelly. It was bound to happen sometime. Right? This kind of talk? He doesn't mean it. Right?

And just like that, he let go of me. To Rudy he said in his normal voice, "See, if we were in any way related, that would have been peculiar on a level even I couldn't overlook." He winked.

I raised my hand, struggling to keep my eyes from spinning. "Um, actually, I found that pretty darn strange-"

"Sh," Freddie hushed me. "Come along, the poor dear's been waiting long enough."

I took a moment to start thinking clearly again. Getting into the Rolls, I gradually drifted out of my haze and wondered who of Freddie's friends we would be collecting. Probably either Minsy or Pudding Face. I'll ask him which.

So as we started rolling down the road, I said, "Who are we picking up, Freddie?"

"Friend of mine," he said. "His name's Paul."

Rats! Prenter strikes again! "So no Minsy today? David's not coming?" I asked.

"His name is Minns."

"I know, but that's my nickname for him. It's just how I keep the names straight. It's better than Mr. Clogs, right?"

Freddie rolled his eyes, smiling. "David's gone on a long holiday with his mates. He'll be back in about a week or so."

"You miss him?"

"I suppose," Freddie said indifferently. Then, suddenly suspicious, he added, "What's David got to do with anything?"

"Just wondered," I said. "Naturally curious, I guess."

"Why about him?" I couldn't help but notice a note of defensiveness. What for? What was his problem?

So I gave him a stupid, fluffy answer and hoped he would swallow it. "I love his name. It's so cute."

I glanced out the window and mouthed my real reason: And according to numerous sources, he was also your lover right around now, and I wondered if you guys were still quasi together at the moment. That's all.

It seemed Freddie wasn't in the mood for awkward silences today; quite suddenly he started doing vocal exercises. His tongue fired off a rapid succession of "da-das" against the swerving, looping roller coaster that was his voice. After a little while he did a couple slide whistle impressions, and then looked at me as if I ought to follow suit.

"Come on, Evie! We're in this together," he cajoled.

I sighed, and tried to copy him. But this morning I just didn't have the chops. My cold stole the top octave and a half from my range, and all I could do was make some kind of hissing sound in my throat whenever I attempted going past an A4. Even in the lower register, my voice gave out and I at one point accidentally honked like a Canadian goose.

Freddie exclaimed, "Where'd that come from?"

"That's what I've been trying to tell you! My voice is kaput. I'm getting over a cold."

"Are you sure you didn't catch it on purpose?"

I coughed. "You're so sweet."

But he still wasn't convinced. "Sing a few lines."

I obeyed, and instead of my regular, clear alto, I heard Carol Channing. Well, wasn't this just too dandy. I had Brenda's speaking voice, and Carol's voice for- whatever that was she did, because I'm not sure it passed for singing.

"Hm," Freddie said. His brows knit together.

"Guess I'm just going to have to be a spectator," I replied. "I won't take up much room. Fact, once we get there, I could call a cab-"

"No, darling, you're stuck with me today. Otherwise you'll just hang around the flat. Am I right?"

He was right. Yesterday was evidence. I drew a heavy sigh.

"And this new sound of yours will work better than you think," Freddie went on, and might have said more but we were slowing to a stop. I looked out the window to see Paul Prenter locking the front door of his residence (I couldn't tell if it was a townhouse or just a garden variety apartment).

Freddie tapped my shoulder. "Do me a favor, dear, and slide up to the front with Rudy, would you?"

He wasn't kidding around. I got out of the car. Prenter was approaching as I walked around to the front seat. When our eyes met, he immediately stopped in his tracks and scowled with recognition. I waved.

Freddie hopped out when Paul planted himself there on the cobblestones. "Freddie, do you know who this is?" Paul said coldly.

"Of course I do," Freddie answered. "This is Eve."

"She's the one what snuck into your flat, Fred!" he snarled, as though I had suddenly turned into marble and lost all sentience.

Freddie ignored the sentence. "She's coming with us to Wessex."

"Why?"

"Because I want her to. My God, Paul, loosen up."

"So you are Paul," I smiled, drawing my lips back in a dazzling "Hello, I hate you" smile. "Such a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Prenter."

Prenter recalled his manners. "Charmed, I'm sure," he mumbled, and put out his hand for a nauseatingly limp-wristed handshake.

Freddie frowned. "How'd you know his last name?"

I smiled. "I pay attention," I said evasively, hoping Freddie wouldn't remember having never said Paul's last name around me. "I'll leave you boys to it." With that I parked myself in the passenger seat and shut the door. They got back into the Rolls and talked in low, insistent voices together all the way to the studio.

This temporary lull gave me a chance to update the log, since Rudy even now was not, nor would really ever be, a good chat partner. I had a whole morning still to account for anyhow. I whipped out my journal and wrote with total abandon:

Day 7 (A whole week! Sweet Lord, how much longer will you hold out on me? Where's that stupid Relic?): Started the day off with a bang. A bang like the sound, like a gun going off, not the other- oh, well, never mind. Freddie and I aren't there yet. And we won't be, we won't be, no way, God forbid. NEVER! What would Minsy think anyway, his boyfriend running around with the likes of me? Anyway, Freddie's found the smart phone and he knows how to turn it on, so I need to make sure he doesn't find out the password. And just before we left he put his arms around me and whispered some very naughty words and oh, it was so hot-

Frantically I raised my pen to scratch out the last line. In my hesitation, I had the chance to read the rest of what I'd written and I went white as eggshells. Had Rudy stored a scourging whip in the floorboards, I would have at once started using it on myself.

"Holy Moses!" I exclaimed aloud.

The car hushed. Freddie asked, "What now?"

I stammered, "Um, nothing, just, uh, lost my mind for a moment."

Paul muttered something under his breath. Instinctively I glanced behind at them. I couldn't hear what he said myself, but it sent Freddie into hysterical laughter as he covered his mouth to hide his ever-visible teeth. I still don't know if they were laughing about me. I hope not.

I looked the passage over again, and decided it would only damage the paper to make a bunch of chicken scratch marks over my neat though archaic cursive, so I left it, instead opting for more control going forward:

-And now I'm sitting in Freddie's car, with he and Paul Prenter, a.k.a. the pudding-faced Antichrist, right behind me. I'm going to apparently assist in recording "Melancholy Blues" with Freddie. Not sure how that will go since I've lost any voice I had. Paul hates me, it's obvious. I don't think too highly of him myself. I feel like I need to watch my back- mind my p's and q's, so to speak. He's dangerous. How do I tell Freddie? That's not something you just walk up and say to someone. "Hey, Freddie, I know I'm still busy playing dumb and I shouldn't know anything about Paul, but can you ditch this guy for me, I think he'll be your doom and stuff. Thanks." Yeah, that won't work.

NFOs: He gets very defensive where Minns is concerned. I cannot ask too many of the wrong questions, or else he clams up. Freddie was laughing at Prenter's joke and he covered his mouth. He's self-conscious about the teeth. Why doesn't he cover his mouth when he's laughing with me? I don't think I've seen him do it once when it's just the two of us. Funny. Maybe I don't make him self-conscious. I don't see why he ought to be anyway. He's such a beautiful man. Those eyes! It's all I can do not to just fall right into them. Last night I really wish he'd tried to ki-

Violently I slammed the journal shut. That was more than enough.

Fortunately, I wasn't really bothering anyone by making so much noise. We had arrived at the studio.

"...And when we hit the club tonight, I'll introduce you to him," Paul was informing Freddie. I watched my friend nod submissively as they hopped out of the car and walked toward Wessex.

I heard Rudy take a deep breath. I turned and caught the last second of Rudy shaking his head.

"You okay, Rudy?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm quite well," he said, straightening up. "Go on with them."

So I grabbed my backpack and started behind the two men, wondering how it was that the spawn of Satan himself and a sinfully handsome, Dracula lookalike could both stroll so easily into a church-turned-studio.

Freddie is a very lucky man, I found myself musing. Such a nice body.

This time, I didn't even bother repressing the thoughts. It wouldn't have been any use. Great. I'd officially crossed the line of admiration and found myself in new territory: physical attraction.

No, that was an understatement. I had always been physically attracted to him to some degree, thanks to his pretty eyes and the voice. Whatever Freddie's true affection (or lack thereof) for me happened to be, now my friendly feelings for him were peppered with something that had much more of a kick: lust. It had come so far, I had to acknowledge the feeling. I didn't want it, and I had every inclination to fight it, but for now, it existed and it was real.

And from the looks of my journal, it was only getting worse.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As we walked in, we could hear faint punk guitars crunching away in the other studio.

Freddie winced. "God, what is that rubbish?"

"Sex Pistols," the receptionist replied helpfully. "They're in there now."

"Say no more," Freddie sighed. "That's all we need."

"They signed on about the same time as you did," she explained, clearly in the Sex Pistols camp. Upon noticing me, she my old friend gave me an icy stare of welcome.

I smiled back with as much warmth as I could muster. "Good morning!" I tried to shout cheerily, but in my sandpaper voice I wound up screeching the words. I wanted to try again, and made a feeble attempt at clearing my throat, but whatever was holding my voice hostage back in there sent me instead into a coughing fit.

Freddie broke from Paul and asked, "Are you okay?"

I smiled between hacks. "Go on without me, save yourself, I'll only be in the way-"

"Good God. Evie, it's a cold you've got, and a very little one at that. You act like you've caught f---ing pneumonia."

"I'm all right," I croaked. "But seriously, Freddie, I can't do this."

"I'm certain we'd all be much happier if we let her go," Paul chimed in. I put my tongue between my teeth and bit.

Freddie held up his index finger at Paul, then replied, "Make up your mind, dear. Are you all right, or are you not? Because if you're all right, you can do this easy."

"Okay, I'm not all right."

"Wrong answer."

I pleaded, "Freddie, can't I just watch? I don't want to be recorded. I'm deathly afraid of tapes and people taping with tapes."

"Recorded?" Freddie frowned. "Darling, who said anything about recording?"

"But I-" I cut myself off. "But I thought that was the whole point!"

"Really, Eve. Did I ever say we would be recording you? I said we needed your voice. Doesn't necessarily mean we're going to lay down tracks with it."

"Oh!" I blinked, then slowly realized what Freddie was telling me. So the future wasn't about to be rewritten! Sure, "Melancholy Blues" still had the forbidden second verse now, but that too could be handled with finesse. My body relaxed. "Whew! I thought you meant me actually singing into the can for future use."

Freddie laughed. "You silly girl. I just never knew I could add vain to your list."

"Aw, man, now we have to listen to you say stuff like that. I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions, okay? Should have remembered what happens every single time you assume- though I dare say you're already an ass so it wouldn't make much difference for you."

"Ah! Now we're complete." With a little snicker, Freddie started counting off on his fingers. "Eve in a nutshell: a vain, beautiful, stubborn smart-aleck."

Projecting again, are we, Freddie?

"Someone mention me?" Roger piped as he entered the building.

"Don't know." He glanced at me. "Evie, did I say 'delinquent'?"

Roger gave Freddie the V-sign, the one that doesn't mean "peace." What a clever comeback, I remarked to myself.

Roger's eyes rested on me, and he at once changed his attitude. "Well, hello, Eve, fancy you coming round here!" His little mouth curved into its perfect smile while his eyes tried to sparkle.

"Hullo, Sneakers- uh, Roger, right?"

"Right as rain, baby," he cooed, taking my hands. "How long do we get to keep you?"

"All day," Freddie replied.

"Perfect," said Roger. "A bit too short, but we can work with that."

"She's here strictly on a business basis," Freddie explained hastily, when Paul poked his shoulder and all but goaded him into the control room, leaving Roger and myself virtually alone. Unless you count Jane Frost at the front, which made three. Every molecule that composed me ached to follow Freddie. I'd never been by myself with Roger before, and for some reason, it made me very nervous. Not in the exciting sort of manner that Freddie sparked in me (and the feelings he stirred were indeed exciting; it was nice to have reached the point where I could admit as much), but just good old-fashioned unease.

"Well? Shall we go in?" I suggested.

"I plan to," Roger grinned.

I did my best to look unimpressed. Good grief. Any more sleazy-cheesy and this guy could be Austin Powers. The kid keeps trying, I have to give him that.

Somehow I hadn't the heart to tell him I'd never been too turned on by pretty blond boys, and that I was much more taken with the dark-eyed Persian prince now not-so-subtlely watching the two of us as we walked in. Two sound engineers were hunched over the console. And John Deacon sat on the corner sofa with his bass guitar in his lap, a stack of neatly handwritten lyrics at his side. I waved hello, and he winked back.

Interested, I glanced at his lyrics. At the top were the words "Spread Your Wings," everything written in black pen except for three lines in the chorus, which John had scrawled in light gray pencil: "Pull yourself together/ Cos you know you should do better/ That's because you're a free man."

I had to smile.

"Business, eh?" Roger repeated, picking his teeth. "What sort of business?"

I pointed at Freddie. "Ask him. I don't know."

Roger looked his way, and Freddie shrugged, saying, "We'll see. If the need arises, then we'll find out."

"Oh. That kind of business," Roger nodded sagely. He turned to me. "Wanna see the studio?"

"I already have. I was here a few days ago."

"But we had to move everything to put people on the risers. Now it's all set up. I'd love to show you my drums."

"I'd like that," I said politely.

"You'll be disappointed," Freddie mumbled. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Freddie's mouth twitch. I stifled a terribly immature grin. Damn you, Freddie. I've got it coming from both sides now. So much for what was left of my innocence.

To John, I said, keeping my face deadpan, "So did everything smooth out okay?"

"Smooth out?" John squinted.

"Smooth out whatever it was you called about last night."

"Oh." John's gaze dropped to his shoes. "That."

Freddie joined me. "Oh, yes. So? Did you get it working- I mean, worked out?"

"Not yet," John said quietly. "I'll tell you later."

Roger grabbed his sticks, announcing "I never know what you two are so on about lately," then strode into the recording room, mussing one of the sound guys' hair as he passed.

"Brian on his way?" Freddie asked the air.

The sound guy whose hair Roger had spared replied, "He called, said he was running a bit behind. He says to start without him."

"Oh, we don't need his permission for that," Freddie quipped. "How far behind is he anyway? Did he say?"

"Not long. A quarter to half hour."

"That's just enough time."

"For what?" Roger chirped over the intercom.

At that, Freddie stood up and clapped his hands. "Everyone, everyone, your attention if you please."

Roger set down his sticks on the snare drum and leaned back; John folded his hands, ready to listen; the sound guys turned their chairs around to face us.

In a finger's snap, Freddie slid his showman's mask across his features. "While Brian is taking his time in arriving," he said, holding down the intercom button so Roger could hear, "I thought we might make use of our own by putting that new album song in motion."

"Oh, Freddie, are you still pushing for that jazz shit?" Roger whined.

Freddie's eyes narrowed. "Why don't you wait and let me finish before you make a f---ing ass out of yourself in front of the lady?"

Too late, I thought to myself.

"Speaking of whom," he continued, taking my hand and bringing me to the center, "this is the elusive Eve Dubroc. She has, um, agreed to help me show you darlings what the finished piece will sound like once it's recorded."

"Freddie, I've already said, I don't want any part of that stupid song," Roger protested. "No way am I going to play some Sinatra-y, rat-a-tat-tat jazz thing. We're not the-"

Why don't you just give us a listen, hm?" Freddie smiled and drew me into the room where Roger sat fuming in his drummer's nest. John followed, a small smile creeping across his lips.

Freddie situated himself upon the piano bench and cracked his knuckles. "Got the words, dear?"

I darted back into the control room for my journal. Since I hadn't been alert enough to ransack the flat for loose pieces of paper, I had written down the final version of the song in my log. I flipped to the right page, tore out the page, and discovered to my dismay that I had written a section of my notes on the back side, which included an in-depth description of Freddie's untoward behavior that morning and a few choice NFOs- certainly nothing I wanted him to see. If Freddie found out I'd been analyzing his every move, recording it in the name of science...

"Found them yet?" Freddie called impatiently.

"Two seconds!" I'll just make sure he doesn't turn it over.

So I hurried back in and carefully placed the lyrics on the sheet music holder. "Good girl," he said.

I bent down to his ear and whispered one more time, "Again, I hope I don't have to tell you that I can't sing today-"

"Darling, what was the favor I asked for?" he said.

"No no's. Or at least as few as possible."

"Right." He leaned forward, and placed his arm around my neck so I couldn't go anywhere when the tips of our noses touched. "So," he closed his eyes and puckered his lips so that they just barely grazed mine as he finished, "shhh."

CRASH!

We turned around, pulling away. Roger sat there with a drum stick poised over the crash cymbal- a warning.

"Strictly business, remember, Fred?" Roger said.

"Yeah, Fred." I smiled. "Strictly business."

"Exactly," Freddie agreed. "So you, Rog, do away with the jackal smile, it looks like it hurts-" and turning back to me- "and you, my dear, believe. Just believe."

With a chuckle, Freddie looked pointedly at the sound guys, said "Now, Ratty," and started playing the piano as though nothing had happened. I cleared my throat, pretending his little tease had had no effect (although my heart was beating in double time). On reflex I looked through the control room window. The sound guys didn't seem to have noticed, but even from this distance I saw Paul's face contort, ever so slightly. His eyes narrowed as they focused in on me. Then Freddie began to sing, and I snapped out of it and awaited my cue.

At last it was time for my verse, and with a precautionary grimace I went for it. "The music has faded," I rasped, "And I'm feelin' so jad-ed..."

Freddie started ad-libbing underneath the words, which gave me a little more moxie. I sounded rougher than normal, but it wasn't anything we couldn't adjust. The third chorus harmonies we had worked out earlier, where I sang the higher part, we just sang in unison. Where before we definitely had a better blend, now our voices were different enough in quality where it still sounded good, like Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger.

One we finished, Roger's arms were still folded, but his expression was much less obstinate. John was nodding, convinced. Something was happening outside the control room, however; one of the sound guys got up to see what was the matter.

"Now, you boys know what to do," Freddie began to say, when a very unsavory-looking character with spiky hair stumbled into the control room. He was scrawny but troublesome, shoving back the sound guys when they tried to kick him out. Frightened, I put my hands on Freddie's shoulders. But for some reason not one member of Queen looked too concerned. Roger rolled his eyes and decided to light up a smoke. John moved toward the window to get a closer look.

Freddie remarked, "You know, with all that money he's made, you would think he could afford clothes without holes in them."

Through the intercom we could hear the kid (and he was a kid, he couldn't have been much older than me at all) demanding to know what had happened to his f---ing mates and who were these ugly c---s in here taking up his studio.

"Who's that?" I whispered.

"A f--ing nuisance, that's who," Freddie muttered. "Stay here, please. I'll handle him."

Kissing the fingers of my left hand, he got up and strolled unafraid toward the vagabond intruder. Roger hesitated, then scrambled out of his nest after him. John and I traded a glance.

"So who is that?" I asked again.

"There are those," John said, "who call him Sid."

My eyes bugged out of my face. "Oh my gosh, oh no! It's this! I REMEMBER THIS!" With an excited scream, I flew into the control room with John in tow. No way was I missing any bit of this exchange.

Sid Vicious was still blathering in colorful language when I froze in the doorway, all ears. Just looking at him made me want to go take a shower. Freddie's back was straight, his hands planted on his hips. Go get him, Fred!

"What're you lookin' at, y' f---in' pansy?" Sid accosted him in sloppy English.

It stunned me, how calmly Freddie took that. I couldn't see his face, but even his voice bore no anger as he almost laughingly replied, "Darling, you don't want me to answer that. I might be honest."

"Aren't you that Freddie Mercury guy?"

"I am he."

"What y' doing round here?" he snarled, advancing menacingly. "Why aren't you out bringing ballet to the masses like you said?"

"Wait a minute," Freddie said, "aren't you Simon Ferocious or something?" As he spoke, he took Sid by the shoulder and pushed him towards the exit. "Believe me, dear, we're doing our best."

"Get your f---ing hands off-"

"Take it easy, Stanley. Your boys can be found next door." With that, Freddie more or less threw the scamp out and closed the door behind him.

Without thinking, I broke out in applause, inside reaching a high almost as euphoric as the "We Will Rock You" reaction. Freddie turned and immediately took a deep bow, saying "Thank you, thank you," his face shining with pride. It really was that short of a back and forth, but the most memorable moments are often the most fleeting ones.

Roger clapped him on the back. "Nice going, Fred," he said. Paul sat there brooding, throughout this whole time having not moved, his eyes still flaring coldly at me.

John tapped me on the shoulder. Toning down my grin, I whirled and bounced up and down on the balls of my feet. "Yes?"

He leaned forward and whispered, "What did you mean, when you said, 'I remember this'?"

I frowned. "What?"

"Just now. You acted like you were expecting all that. Like you'd been through all this before."

Oops.

In my dizzy happiness I struggled to form a thoughtful lie. "Uh, um... Just a slip of the tongue."

"Yeah. Like knowing that I'd built my own amp?"

"Freddie told me."

"What kind of-" He stopped and pulled me back into the studio so we could talk in a little more privacy. But still John whispered, "Why would he tell you that?"

"I don't know, it just came up one day. What does this have to do with now?"

"Because I think there's more to you than, uh, than you've let on. Intentionally, anyway."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because of that weird little-"

"Weird little what?"

"Uh- weird little, um, way you have of just not being surprised at anything. You get excited, true, but it's a sort of anticipating excitement."

My heart fluttered. Was John on to me? But how?

"You just seem to know things are going to happen before they do," John said. "How do you do it? I mean, maybe that's just your way, but it borders on frightful sometimes."

"How?" I repeated. The truth melted sourly on my tongue, and I grimaced swallowing it back. I could not say those terrible words: "I'm from the future, I know next to everything about Queen, and Freddie's days are eons shorter than yours."

I didn't want to tell John, not if I couldn't tell Freddie. I looked back through the window at him, smiling at the way he slouched against Ratty's chair as he listened to some song playing back. He's so slim, I thought to myself. I love that nose. I love that heavy brow. God, if only I could tell him.

John put two fingers under my chin and drew me back around facing him. "How do you do it, Eve?"

"Well," I sighed, with a surrendering shrug, "I'm a psych- a psychic."

At this John burst out laughing, showing the space between his teeth.

"No, really!" I said, marking this as number twenty-six on my list of Whoppers.

John stopped. "Really? A psychic?"

"No, not really, but it's as close as I can come to the actual truth without being considered a loony."

"Oh, who knows, maybe you are and you don't realize it. Go on, let's hear a prediction. Foretell the future!"

I closed my eyes a moment, smiling. "I predict that in a matter of seconds Brian is going to storm in and say 'Melancholy Blues' has potential."

John chuckled, "That IS a far cry from-"

SLAM!

Brian rushed into the control room, the Red Special in his hand. John's jaw dropped, as did mine. I was just kidding!

"That's amazing!" he exclaimed.

"Now, now," I downplayed. "That was pure fluke. If Brian changes his mind, that will be a miracle."

And from Brian's expression, he didn't look like he had the patience for another of Freddie's sales pitches. Freddie either didn't notice or didn't care; even from all the way out here in the church recording room, I could see behind his eyes a new series of cajoles brewing. I ran back in, hoping maybe I could help out in some way. Not that I felt I could, but I was ever optimistic.

"And the traffic was terrible, so I'm sorry," Brian was apologizing. "What did I miss?"

Freddie grinned. "So glad you asked." He rubbed his hands together.

Brian looked over at me, perplexed. "Why is she here?"

"His idea," I said, pointing at Freddie.

"You're so loyal," Freddie smirked. "Ratty, would you mind playing that track back for us?"

"Wait, you recorded that?" I cried. "But you said-"

"I said, it didn't necessarily mean we would record you, but on this occasion, we did. That's all. Wasn't so bad, was it?"

"You are such a tricky snake," I sighed, but the smile was still etched into my face.

"And you need to listen a little more carefully. Ratty?"

Everyone fell silent. Ratty pushed the proper button and threw the right switches, and suddenly Freddie's and my voices, though plagued with ambient noise from John setting down the bass guitar and Roger coughing at random intervals, resounded in the control room. For the first few seconds, I went hot with embarrassment, but when we started singing together, my nerves became a little less raw. Brian's face remained motionless, and Freddie winked when he caught me staring at him. I hadn't meant to; I couldn't help admiring his body, not when there was so much to be admired.

As our makeshift recording ended, we turned to Brian for his input. He sighed. "I still don't like it."

Freddie nodded, and said, "Well, we'd still have to throw in the percussion and the bass, but-"

"I said it before, Freddie, I'll say it again. It's not rock and roll. It's not even in the same postal code as rock and roll."

You think this is bad, man, wait till Hot Space, I thought to myself.

"And I don't know what she's supposed to lend to it," Brian continued, gesturing toward me. "She doesn't add a thing except give it a little more character."

I still glow whenever I think of that line. Whenever I feel down, even now, I seriously do think to myself, "Brian said I gave that song character." Isn't that ridiculous? But it's true.

"Oh, but Brian, dear, come on-" Freddie began.

"I mean, yes, record it, but I don't see it anywhere near News of the World," Brian stated. "Maybe we can make it a B-side to one of the singles."

Freddie's eyes flashed. I could hear the retorts coming even before he spoke them.

"You're right," I said quietly.

Every head turned. Freddie glared at me, accusations of treachery now developing about his lips.

"What?" Brian said.

"Um... uh, I mean, I'm just blowing smoke here, but you may be right, it still needs something."

Freddie closed his eyes. It was unclear if I was winning Brian, but undoubtedly I was losing Freddie. And I wanted to keep Freddie more. I talked faster. "The tone and tempo of this song is such that you probably could afford a little more zip to give it a rock edge, if that's what you're wanting. I don't think it needs it per se, but I like smooth rock-less jazz and I'm not the astronomy genius guitar god, so what do I know?"

I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.

Very slowly, then, Brian said, "Well, I suppose I'd still need to hear it with the rhythm section..."

I blinked. Was I hearing right?

Freddie rolled his eyes. "Well, naturally, dear. We mustn't jump to conclusions so soon! Roger and John would be happy to demonstrate. Wouldn't you?"

John nodded. Roger muttered, looking at me, "I guess."

"There! You see? Come come come, let's get to it dears, Brian still needs a little help," Freddie said, but not before taking my hand and squeezing it as he drew me back into the studio for some more inevitable recording shenanigans. I was not about to die.

John nodded at me and winked, mouthing the word, "Impressive."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Needless to say, with Roger's and John's sonic volcano thrust into the song, Brian came a long way toward giving "Melancholy Blues" a chance. But there was a catch; there had to be a guitar solo or to the B-side dungeon with it.

And Freddie turned to me and with a big satisfied grin asked, "I dunno, Evie, what do you think?"

Brian muttered something under his breath. But Freddie didn't miss much; he turned and said, "Sorry, Brian, didn't catch that."

"Nothing."

"Oh, do tell. We're all mad to know what you said."

Brian shook his head. "I just said, 'Oh my God, it's Yoko.'"

I widened my eyes, putting a hand against my neck as if clutching at a string of pearls. "I just know you weren't referring to me."

"Darling, really, what a thing to say!" Freddie put in. "Evie's the exact opposite of Yoko, I practically had to drag her over here- and you know, I think she'd die before publicly disguising herself as a bag."

"You don't know," I protested.

Freddie just shot me a sidelong You've-got-to-be-kidding-me look.

"She's Okoy," Roger joked. "That's what she is!"

"I'll take that," I said, then added in what was supposed to be a whispery Yoko Ono impression, "But I really believe, you know, that this song needs a guitar part as well, for, you know, John," I laid my hand against Freddie's cheek, "sometimes we must dance together, you know, before we can hear the sweet music that plays within us and without us."

Freddie blinked. "So, yes?"

"Of course, my dear walrus, now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back in bed to protest the war."

Even Brian laughed at that. I consider that yet another feather in my cap; not only did Brian say I gave something character, he also laughed at something I said.

Of course, the Queen fellows didn't solely work on "My Melancholy Blues" that day. Since "Blues" was such a simple song (when compared with about ninety-five percent of the band's repertoire, that is), they basically completed the rough cut before lunchtime.

I don't remember what the place where we ate was called, but all seven of us (Queen, Paul, John Reid who arrived a bit later than the rest of us, and myself) went in our respective cars. Freddie sat in the back seat with Paul again, and when we arrived and sat at our table, Paul carefully positioned himself between the two of us. The old Pudding Face clearly couldn't afford to let me corrupt his eventual disciple, not when his promising hedonist lifestyle was just about to bloom.

John Reid took the chair at Freddie's right; there was no way I was getting close to him now. And as soon as I considered moving over next to Deacy, Brian sat next to him. And I knew that even after this morning, I rubbed Brian the wrong way. Luckily, Roger plopped down on my other side, so I was flanked by both a wolf and a vicious snake. It was only a matter of time to see who would strike first.

I think lunch is only worth the mention because, again, I was starving (you'd think I would learn to eat something before any adventures by now), and therefore my judgment was weak. I know that seemed like a constant state for me, but I couldn't help my raging metabolism. If anything, my ability to look like a complete idiot reached new heights that day.

The waiter came by and started taking our drink orders. Quickly I looked over the options. Coffee. They had coffee. Oh, and orange juice. Mm. Coffee could wait. I needed a long tall glass of OJ right away. A couple of people ordered cocktails, a glass of wine. They could have them. I wanted OJ.

"And for you, ma'am?" the waiter said to me.

Freddie spoke up before me. "Dear, she's on my tab, just to let you know."

John Reid protested, "Freddie, I have this-"

"Well, I've got her, and no questions asked," he announced, and pointed at Paul. "So is this fellow."

"Thank you," I called across Paul.

"Your order, love?"

I still had Freddie's voice ringing in my ears while I said, as I licked my lips, "I need some serious BJ."

All the air sucked out of the room. Too late my mistake (I decided it was a mistake; but any proper psychiatrist would have called it a major Freudian slip) dawned on me. There wasn't one man at that table who hadn't heard what I said. Everyone turned a little pink. Their faces were all pinched with the laughs they were stifling. Roger covered his mouth.

The blood rushed up into my cheeks as quietly I corrected, "I mean, OJ."

Our waiter's face looked like a ripe tomato, but he kept his cool as he finished taking our orders.

Only after the waiter ran away from us did Freddie at last sigh and say loudly, "Good Plan B, darling. I don't think the other comes by the glass."

Everyone lost it. I covered my face, wishing I could liquefy and trickle down into a storm drain. Even Brian and Paul, the stoics of the troop, shared a chortle. Still I laughed, though mortified.

It didn't end there either, as I innocently ordered a dish of bangers and mash, a traditional British treat. Under any other circumstances, nobody at the table would have batted an eye. But I'd set the precedent, and again the men laughed and poked fun, as they decided I wasn't the stuck-up nun they'd taken me for. I didn't want to look like some sex-obsessed vixen in sheep's clothing, but I must say everyone's attitude toward me (aside of Freddie, he knew me already) drastically relaxed. I was speaking their language. Unintentionally, but I was doing it nonetheless.

Handsome Roger as well quit trying so hard to be shocking, started behaving a little more normally. I'd even go so far as to say he was friendly. And so, in my naive way, I let my guard down a bit.

"So tell me, Okoy," Roger said after a while, using my new nickname, "how did you get in that closet?"

I laughed. "Would you believe me if I told you, 'I don't know'?"

"I would not," he smiled. "Will you at least say where you're from?"

I didn't live with Roger, so I could make myself into whatever I wanted. "I'm from Seattle," I lied.

"How did you wind up here? But then, I guess you're not going to tell me that either."

I swooped my arms in the air (there was no doubt of Freddie's influence on me now), announcing, "I was a thief in the night, and I came like the Day of the Lord."

"Actually, she's magic," John Deacon said quietly.

Roger's eyes widened. "You're a witch?"

"No!" I said.

"I mean, she's psychic," John corrected himself. He gave me a knowing half-smile.

Roger chuckled. "Same thing. So do you read palms?"

"For a price," I sang.

"I'll pay you back tonight," Roger said ambiguously so I could only speculate on his intent, and pushed his upturned hand at me.

"I like my money up front," I replied dryly. "If you're paying tonight, then you get the palm reading tonight."

Roger didn't look too discouraged. "When can I see you tonight, then?"

"She'll be out with me this evening, Rog," Freddie interrupted.

I craned my neck to look at Freddie. "I will?"

Paul turned to Freddie, disgusted. "What?"

Roger's eyes lit up. "Where?"

Brian savagely stabbed at his salad, clearly uninterested in the conversation.

Deacy stirred his tea and listened.

John Reid kept eating.

Freddie looked back at me and said, "Won't you, darling?"

I stammered, "Uh, I mean, if it's no problem for your friends-"

"Of course not!" Paul ground his teeth, but Freddie ignored him, continuing, "And anyone else who wants to join us, you are welcome to. We'll be at the Heatwave tonight."

Roger smiled. "I'll be there."

It was John Reid, though, who forced the boys back on track again, and they set aside talk of play for the more pressing matters of work.

When we returned to the studio, we were six instead of seven. Paul had taken a cab back to his home, assuring Freddie he wouldn't forget about the club.

"Are we finished with Melancholy Blues for today?" I asked Freddie as we walked back in.

"As far as I know," he answered, "we've got other things to-"

"Good!" I cried, then ran to the piano to get the lyrics off the stand.

Freddie glided in behind me. "Hey, hey, what are you doing?"

"We, uh, don't need this anymore, so I'm putting it back," I explained, sticking the ripped words into my journal.

"Dear God," he said aloud. "First, how you so much as got here, then the Magic Mirror, now the words for our song. So secretive, dear. Whatever for?"

"I never said I wouldn't show you what the Magic Mirror can do, I just said you weren't ready for it yet."

"Mm-hm. I know what 'yet' means. It means 'never.' You are too much." Freddie turned from me, brows knit in would-be concentration.

The rest of the afternoon, I spent curled up on the studio sofa, out of everyone's way, while I filled up my phone with priceless photographs of the studio and the men hard at work. I took more shots of Freddie, snapping him whenever his chiseled face turned in profile, than anyone else there. When no one was looking, I jotted down the occasional note. Does nobody think I'm a reporter? I asked myself. Or am I too bumbling?

Mostly, I was treated to lengthy jam sessions on Brian's and Freddie's ends, plus quite a few petty rows between the three prima donnas. I did hear, though, a very early demo take of Brian's "It's Late," and it was all I could do not to break out singing it when he played that first little blues riff. As well, during a moment of lull, Freddie started playing that beautiful instrumental piece, the one that reminded me of "Jealousy." Why doesn't he put the thing to words? It's gorgeous.

Whatever my initial desire to talk Freddie out of the second verse entirely vanished by the end of the session. Sticking my nose into the works by helping persuade Brian ensured that I too had skin in the game, and "My Melancholy Blues" officially became my personal pride and joy. Granted, I had only contributed a verse and my voice, but I had geeked out like crazy over merely being one of fifteen pairs of feet on those drum risers. This called for at least three more Macarena (or shall we say, Mercurena) moments.

But it seemed that these emotion explosions had already been booked without my knowledge. The Heatwave, eh? I wasn't a clubber. Oh, well, it was out of my hands anyway. No no's. I was without choice. And disco clubs would likely be a lot more fun than EDM raves from my world.

Rudy carted the two of us home in a hurry. For it was indeed fairly late by the time the boys called it a day, and Freddie wanted to freshen up before yet another night on the town. Since he had to fill the car up with petrol, he left us on our own and said he'd be right back to pick us up.

"Where we're going, you'll get to wear your jumpsuit," Freddie announced, opening the front door. "And after all your silly talk about not needing it!"

"I'm not wearing that thing," I informed him as I walked in, "And you can't make me."

He let me stroll up the stairs a way before shouting, "Oh, CAN'T I?"

Freddie charged the stairway. With a scream I scrambled for my room but he was too fast for me. He seized me round my waist and locked his arms. I couldn't worm out of his grasp.

"Need I remind you, darling, of what you promised me today?" he purred.

"Uncle," I rasped.

"That's better," Freddie said, and let go.

I rolled my eyes. "What excuse will you have tomorrow, when you have to think up another favor? Because it has to be different from today."

"That's too far into the future," he dismissed, "I live in the now. And now, I want you to put on the jumpsuit." He punctuated the sentence with a hard slap across my bottom.

"Cheeky," I muttered. But I did as he asked. I went into my room and changed clothes, slipping into the ivory one-piece with the wide pant legs. I was just about to strap on my very fashionable platform heels when the phone rang.

I padded down the stairs to the phone and picked it up. At the very same instant, there was a hollow click and Freddie also lifted his bedroom receiver. He and the other person began talking immediately; they clearly had no idea I was also on the line. It was rude to so blatantly eavesdrop, so I lowered the phone to hang up only to hear Freddie say "Mary."

Mary? Ooo. This I had to hear. I picked the phone back up.

"...Glad you called," Freddie was saying, although his voice didn't necessarily sound too thrilled in itself. "Doing all right?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "Very. How are you and your... friend?"

"We're- I'm fine, and I think she's okay," he replied. "Hey, listen, I'll be out tonight with my mates, if you'd like to come along, I'd love to see you."

"I'd like that. When are you going?"

"I'm thinking of heading out in about half an hour or so, and uh, it would be splendid if you came too, it'll be a great time."

"Wait." Mary's voice cooled again. "Is your... little helper going to be there too?"

I felt my insides writhe. Mary, I'm not after your Freddie! I may be physically attracted to him, but I'm not here to take your place!

Freddie replied, now uncomfortable, "Well, I mean, um..."

"That means yes," Mary said with a sigh.

"Darling, I told you there's nothing between me and that girl, she just lives here."

"Then why can't you leave her at the flat?"

POW! That came right out of nowhere, socking me in the teeth.

"Mary, she doesn't want anything from me, and I'll see to it she doesn't get in the way. Are you still coming?"

Long pause. "Well, I don't know... there's a lot of things I have to do tonight..."

"Do them later!"

"I have to go. Perhaps another time, Freddie."

I closed my eyes, for a brief moment asking God what was He thinking, letting me loose on these poor people who obviously loathed me.

Freddie said quietly, "Oh. Oh, okay. But you're still on for the dinner party?"

"Of course," she said. "I'll definitely see you then- and maybe some time later in between."

"I hope so."

"So do I."

"Have a good night, darling."

"You too, Freddie."

Click.

I stood there with the phone still clenched in my hand. My bottom lip began to tremble. I was ruining everything. I hadn't meant to do it. I hadn't meant to come here at all. It was clear to me what was going on. Mary hated me and I was unraveling Freddie's relationship with her and I wasn't even trying. And she was so important to him. How dare I.

Freddie came down the stairs, his head bowed a bit. When he saw me, he said with a glued-on smile, "That was just some telephone salesman, I told him to take his wares and such and stick them up h-"

His eyes fell upon the phone still in my hand, now droning one single tone. The mask fell away again.

Very quietly he said, "I, um,... I guess you heard all that."

"I don't have to go, Freddie," I croaked. Even as dead as I sounded, my voice quivered.

"I want you to."

"No, you don't. You want to be nice. You don't have to be nice. I'll stay here. I'm so sorry."

He took a step closer, put his hands out toward me.

I walked into the kitchen, my nose beginning to cramp. I wanted to cry. "Go with your friends, I'm nothing but a pain in the ass, just go. Please."

"Evie-"

"I don't want to screw up your life!" I exploded. "I don't want to be your Yoko! Go get Mary already! I'm no fun, you said so yourself. I'm not your speed-"

All of a sudden he gripped me by the arms and shook me as he talked. "Eve, shut the f--- up and listen to me," Freddie hissed. "First, stop throwing those words in my face. I didn't mean them, and I thought we'd discussed that whole thing yesterday. Second, you are anything but a problem for me."

"Liar," I whispered.

"You're only anything close to a problem when you say things like that," he said.

"Not true. Your friends don't like me and that's a problem. Paul looks at me like he wants to put a bullet through my head."

"My friends are crazy," he said. "F--- 'em."

I covered my half-smile. "What about Mary?"

"Mary, Mary," Freddie sighed. "Don't worry about Mary, she's just- darling, don't cry," he cooed.

"I'm not crying."

"You're this close. Your balloon's about to pop. Here." Freddie put his arms around me and held me close. "Can I tell you something?"

"What?"

With a gentle hand, he brushed away a single tear sliding down my face. "You were wonderful today. Couldn't have done it without you."

I shook my head. "Okay, now you're really pouring on the baloney-"

"I am not! Brian wasn't budging, and then you slipped in and changed his mind. Do you have any idea how tough a nut he is?"

"You could have cracked him just as well without me. Perhaps better."

Freddie looked into my eyes. "Do you believe anything I say to you?"

"I believe that there's nothing between us," I said. "That, I believe."

"Well, that actually wasn't true, you know."

"Good frickin' grief. I rest my case."

"What I mean is, we are friends after all- aren't we? At least give me that."

I shrugged. In the back of my mind I resurrected Rudy's question, and I said, "A friend is all I want to be for you. I don't want to cause trouble."

"Oh, but you're more than just my quirky friend." Oh, really! I'M quirky! "You're my... my little stray kitten."

I grinned. "I'm a feral beast. Cool."

"It's just the way you came to me, dear. It's so surreal. Like you just appeared in my closet one fine day, and you're sweet and frustrating and unbelievably fun - and don't you dare say those words about my speed ever again."

"I'm a stray kitten," I repeated quietly. "That makes you the spoiled house cat."

He smiled, bent towards my face. "Does the stray kitten like this pampered pussy?"

"Most of the time," I whispered huskily.

"I'll take that," he said, closing his eyes.

BRRIIIIIIIING!

Freddie looked up. "F---," he muttered.

I laughed. "I should go put my shoes on- you're in high demand today." Pulling away I started for the stairs.

But Freddie grabbed my hand and drew me back. "Oh, no, not this time," he said.

Very gently, then, he kissed me. It was a single kiss, nothing too involved, but it was indeed the first official kiss I shared with Freddie. And I just stood there taking it. I didn't even close my eyes. But my heart went into overdrive, and the room seemed to lean to one side; that, I couldn't control.

When Freddie pulled away and saw no visible reaction, I could swear I saw his jaw clench. In a shivering, but not exactly angry, voice he said, "You are too, too much."

"How do you mean?" I said spryly.

"Good God. Go put your shoes on, Yoko. We're leaving fairly soon." And, rather stiffly I thought, he marched over to the phone to answer it.

 

Chapter Text

Delayed reactions are either very helpful, or very damaging, I still can't decide which.  I consider them fantastic emotional protection, but if they happen too often or take too long, waiting until you find solitude to release them, other people might start wondering if you have any feelings in the first place.  However you choose to see delayed reactions, I had one as soon as Freddie's back was turned.

He kissed me, I said to myself.  Oh, my gosh, he kissed me.  On the lips.  Freddie kissed me on the lips.

I hurried back to my room, supposedly to put on my stilts- I mean, shoes.  But as soon as I closed the door, I felt my limbs go numb, and a wave of tenderness washed over me.  Again, it was a very innocent little kiss, but at that time, I was still quite new to the whole canoodling thing, and proper kisses meant a great deal. 

With a dizzy smile, I nuzzled my head against the door frame.  I laid my hand over my lips and softly laughed to myself.  I'm glad he doesn't see me this way, I told myself.  It's bad enough I desire him in silence; if he knew how twitterpated I am right now, I'd never hear the end of it.

Still, I flipped to a new page in my journal, and scrawled down another NFO: Freddie tastes like cinnamon vodka.  I found this out because he kissed me.  He smells like licorice and tastes like cinnamon vodka.  I just want to eat him up.  The question is, would I use a fork or a spoon?  Or is he a dish better suited for the fingers?

Nice work, Julia, real scientific, I said to myself, not only to be sarcastic but also to remind myself that my name was in fact Julia, and not Eve, no matter how many times Freddie kept calling me that.

I rubbed my eyes.  This feeling only escalated each time I came near him, and multiplied by five with his every affectionate caress.  There was only one surefire cure for my worsening disease: leaving him.  But this bird could not fly; my wings were clipped but good.  And anyway, the idea of just up and deserting him seemed more unappealing the longer I was with him.  Don't misunderstand me, I still wanted desperately to go home.  But that didn't mean I wanted to leave Freddie; for all his moodiness and often quick temper, he was very dear to me.  He had such a way about him...

A hard fist rapped at the door.  "Are you quite through?"

"Coming!"  Thanks for disturbing my reverie, I griped. Carelessly I opened the door only to be ambushed yet again.

Click!  BZZZ. 

Freddie lowered his camera.  "So let's get going, then."

"Are we still having camera wars?"

"Why?  Giving up so soon?"

"Why would I when I'm so far ahead?"

"What's the score?"

"Forty-one to three."

"How'd that happen?"

"You need film, all I need is memory space," I told him, brandishing my Android like a samurai sword.  "Your kung fu is not strong.  But I can't take a chance on leaving it anywhere tonight, so I'll go without.  I don't have any service anyway."  I tossed it on the bed.

"Service?"

"Phone service.  Cell signal.  You know."

But of course, he didn't know.  "Phone?  You can call people on it too?" 

I waved my hand the way he often did.  "Goodness me, Freddie, so many questions."

"Who can you call?"

"Nobody right now.  The phone that works is gone."

"This one's broken, too?"

"Too?" My brows furrowed.  "What do you mean, too?"

Freddie looked confused.  "You said broken."

'No, I said it was gone, not broken."

He shrugged.  "Sorry, dear, must have misheard you."

My face fell.  "God.  You got my hopes up, I thought maybe you knew where the Relic wa- hold on.  Tell me honestly, for the sake of my sanity." I took him by the arms.  "You don't have the Relic, broken or otherwise, do you?"

Freddie looked me deep in the eyes and held up his right hand.  "I swear to God, I do not have the Relic."

Rudy knocked on the door.  Freddie tried to turn and receive him, but I still held on and asked one more question- and a very unfair one at that.  "You wouldn't lie to me, would you, Freddie?"

"Of course not," he said.  "Would you lie to me?"

The word melted sourly on my tongue, but I still spat it out: "Never."

He smiled and hugged me.  "I didn't think so."

Oh, dear God, I am in so deep... 

**********************************************************************************************

When we arrived at the club called the Heatwave, as might be expected, the usual suspects were clustered around Freddie: Peter Straker, Paul Prenter, and Rudy Barnes his driver. Since we'd picked up Paul, like before (Doesn't this guy have his own transportation? I mean, come on), I hadn't gotten one word in edgewise with Freddie. As more of his friends, old and new, collected, I was progressively pushed to the back of the crowd, further away from the dark-eyed gem they surrounded, as if they were protecting him from me.

I started seeing a pattern before too long; when you are the only female in a crowd of seven or eight, you notice these things pretty early. I feel like Black Widow from the Avengers, except without the super duper ninja moves- or the sex appeal, I said to myself.  I'm the token chick.

The Heatwave at once seemed pretty shady, and therefore downright cool, because it was one of those clubs with a not-so-obvious entrance.  The four of us got out of the Rolls and Rudy surrendered the steering wheel to a valet parking attendant, but I couldn't see a door or a club sign anywhere.  As Paul and Rudy fastened themselves to Freddie's side, we walked around to the side of the building.  There, in the shadows of the alley, an enormous slab of a metal door.  At the top was a small peep window which slid open when Freddie knocked.

"Password?" A gruff voice demanded.

Freddie purred, "Play it again, Sam."

The window slammed shut, and the deadbolt door swung open.  The three men strolled in with me straggling along behind.  As the bouncer closed it up again as soon as I'd cleared the threshold, I felt my stomach churn.  The stairs before us led down under the storefront building.  Risky business, I remarked to myself, trying not to worry.  But the last time I'd visited a secret underground room, my whole life turned inside out.  I wasn't all that secure in how this evening would go down.

We came to another door, our crowd of four now increased to five since Peter Straker thought it would be cute to hide in the shadows and scare us when we neared the actual club entrance.  Without much further ado, we entered the Heatwave.

Dry ice billowed all over the crowded dance floor, the garish lights turning the smoke different colors to the beat of the music.  Despite the mirrorball and spotlights hanging from the high rafters, the place was dim, and I couldn't clearly pick out even the features of Rudy's face, who was nearest me.  Still, I wanted to make a good impression.  As nervous as I was, I lifted my chin and took long strides, my pant legs sweeping out with each step.  I couldn't look like some awkward groupie; tonight, I was one of the boys, here for a good time.  Whatever that meant.

Freddie and his posse made straight for the bar.  "The most expensive shit you've got, in the biggest glasses you've got," he ordered.

"And what are you having, Freddie love?" Peter teased as the bartender poured three nauseatingly tall glasses of Russian liquor. 

"Just a coffee for me," I said to the bartender.  "Sugar if you got it, please."

"This is a club, not a tea house," he grumbled. 

"I don't drink," I explained, as if he cared.

As people recognized Freddie, they fell over themselves trying to get near to him.  Rudy did his part to provide him a little room to breathe, but he couldn't do everything.  They pressed all around him, squeezing me to the edge, and ultimately I was pushed out completely.  Freddie looked up and around, finally realizing I'd vanished.  I shrugged, then turned to make my own way to the dance floor- I loved Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" which was the tune pulsating through the club at the moment- when someone grabbed my hand.

Wildly I turned to see Freddie.  He'd pushed his way through the amassing crowd to draw me back toward the bar, and now had his arm fastened around my waist. 

He grinned.  "Where were you going?"

"What?"

"WHERE WERE YOU GOING?"

"I was gonna go dance!"

"Can I come too?"

This he asked as three people almost simultaneously started tugging on his arm begging for a spin.  "You have your hands full!"

"Is that a no?"

"Sounded like one to me," Paul put in, patting his pockets as if in search for his keys. 

"Come on, darling, it's not the Mercurena, but it'll do."  He winked.

Paul protested, "I thought you wanted to do a little bl-"

"Afterwards, dear!  We just got here.  Watch our drinks, would you?" Freddie crooned, and kissed my cheek.  "Shall we?"

It was with these words I let him lead me out on the hazy floor.  I didn't know the first thing about disco dancing- real disco dancing, not the silly parody version everybody knows how to do- which became painfully obvious very soon.  Freddie was no John Travolta, but he was worlds better than me, and he showed me what to do.  At least I could blend in.

Eventually Gibb's peppy voice melted into a gentle ABBA tune.  Before I could say anything about getting off the dance floor, Freddie whispered, "One more."

"But what about Paul?"

"Paul's an ass."

We laughed, and I nodded, "Yes, he is, thank you."  We danced our second- and last (that I remember)- dance of the evening.

"I wanna know/ What's the name of the game?" Ms. Lyngstad was asking over the speakers as he put his arms around my waist and pressed his cheek against mine.  I slid one arm round his neck, the other slipped down his back.  I let my fingers play in the thick fringe of black hair hanging just over the edge of his collar.  I'd never touched him so intimately before.  And as small as the gesture seemed, it was electric.

I felt my body relax as we danced, as if I was melting into him.  I wasn't sure if it was imagination or not, but I swear that about a minute in, I felt him nibble at my ear lobe.  I closed my eyes, trying and failing to suppress the new rush of feelings surging in my chest. 

Freddie was right, nothing could ever compare to that embarrassing but, in retrospect, surreal moment in his flat.  But moving with him in that hot, smoky room, feeling his elastic body sway and brush up against mine while countless pairs of eyes (including Paul's) leered at me in envy- in that special two minutes of my life, there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be. 

I wish I had kissed him back, I thought to myself.  I wish I could tell him.  He's so awful- and wonderful, and divine, and why don't I kiss him now?

As soon as I made up my mind to do just that, a brown hand clapped down on Freddie's shoulder and he turned around.  Peter Straker had some guy at his side that he absolutely had to introduce to Freddie,this was Jack, he was a very best friend of his, played with him in that one episode of Centre Play a year ago, he was absolutely in love with Freddie's charisma and stage presence, and before I knew it I lost my dancing partner.

Feeling like a used piece of chewing gum, I meandered off the dance floor.  I needed that coffee now.  Before I'd even reached the bar, my cynicism kicked back into action.  Well, that was sweet of him, I said to myself.  He danced with me now to get it over with, so he could at least say that he danced with me tonight.  Saving the fun stuff for last.  Smart man.  So considerate of the children.

Paul watched me come back, and seeing I was without Freddie, began scanning the club for a sign of tousled dark hair.

"He's with Straker," I said.  "Rudy's probably already-"

"Right," Paul muttered, and sticking his hand in his pocket, pushed away from the bar without even a thank-you.  I was alone now.  Oh well.  It was nice while it lasted.

"Your coffee," the bartender muttered, sliding a shallow mug toward me.

Greedily I pulled it over and searched about for a sugar cradle- the ones with the pink, yellow, and blue packets all denoting which carcinogenic sweeteners they contained- but alas, I was in a club after all. No such luck. I craned my neck, looking for the bartender, but he too had disappeared.

That's when I noticed, where Paul had been reclining, a clear packet of a white crystalline substance. Thanks, Charlie, or whatever your name is. I opened it to stick my finger in and taste it. I wanted to make sure this wasn't aspartame or saccharin. I don't do artificial sweeteners. But I started getting such odd looks from the people beside me, I just decided to go with the flow and dump a portion of the packet in. One night of saccharin wouldn't hurt me.

I took a stirring straw and swirled the sugar in the cup until it dissolved, then I took a sip. I tasted no sugar, in fact found the coffee to be stronger and more bitter than I liked. I poured in some more, watching the crystals rain down into the mug, and stirred, a little less thoroughly. I took a bigger swig, but tasted no sweeter difference. I poured in about another teaspoon, and found the coffee even more chalky than before.

"What kind of sugar is this?" I said to myself. I opened the last one, tapped some of the stuff into my palm and peered closer. Looked pretty ordinary to me. But I had three other senses to choose from, and I picked the worst one.

I lifted the crystals to my nose and took a sniff.

"YOW!" I cried, jerking back. I almost spilled my coffee rubbing my nose, which was now on fire. Remind me to never do that again!

But as the seconds passed, my nose numbed, similar to what the tip of my tongue was doing. I blinked one, two, three, four times. Somehow, everything was clearer before my eyes. I felt much more awake, my energy making a welcome rebound. In my amazement, I brought the coffee back to my lips and swallowed.

Hm. Not so bad now. I guess it's an acquired taste. I want to go dance again. I gotta move. Move, move, move. I slurped some more of the coffee. It seemed as though everyone was moving a little faster than before. I smiled, watching them, ready to spring off the bar back into the crowd of dancing people to the tune of the "Lido Shuffle."

"Yo!" A raspy voice said beside me. "Okoy!"

"Well, well! If it isn't Rrrroger!" I rolled the r's in his name. I must say, he looked especially dashing that evening. "Come to say hello to little ol' me?"

"No one but you," Roger smiled, then cheekily planted a little kiss upon my forehead.

"Aw, you naughty tease, you're embarrassing me!" I laughed. "Wanna dance?"

"In a minute," he said. "First, let's see about that palm reading I've heard so much about."

"Got the money?" I whispered.

"I'll pay any price."

"I take bids."

"Two hundred."

"Too low. Try again."

"Two hundred and one."

"I'm yours," I joked, then laughed a hyper, crazed laugh that wasn't my own. As from a distance, I asked myself, Okay, what did I just put into my system?

As if I didn't know.

Roger and I found ourselves a little bar table (well actually, Roger just walked up to an occupied table and said, "Can I have this?" and the table was cleared seconds later). Just a couple places down from us, I noticed Freddie and his buddies drinking themselves into wild incoherence. Of course, I had no right to pass judgment on them as I was; with every sip of my crazy Joe, I came closer to La La Land.

(At this time, the cocaine hadn't fully taken effect. I hadn't yet finished my cane-strong coffee, and coke takes longer to kick when swallowed. But it was coming soon.)

Setting his own shot of gin down, he put his elbow on the table and turned his palm up.

"You have very calm hands for a drummer," I remarked, ignoring how my own were starting to shake.

"You have no idea," Roger whispered with a slow smile. "Do you need to meditate or anything before you start?"

"Nope, I'll just get right to it, if you don't mind," I said, taking his hand in mine and peering into the lines I found there. "I see you're a tough man, unafraid of hard work. You have a habit of doing things over and over again until you get it right, no matter how it hurts."

"How'd you do that?" Roger asked.

I pointed at a rough little white spot on his thumb. "Callouses, dear."

We laughed, and I realized I was enjoying myself with the blondie. Freddie wasn't the only guy here who could have a little fun.  True, I was high and I could only go higher, but I wasn't hanging around waiting on Freddie to give me a second glance. Girls of all shapes and sizes were congregating around him, leaning over his shoulder, hanging over the back of his chair. This is so cool, I thought to myself. I've never had the undivided attention of two people in such high demand like this before. But I wanna go dance. I'm tired of sitting here, and I don't like the way they're all staring at us. I'll make it quick.

"So what's the future look like?" Roger coaxed.

"Ahh! Yes! Let me see... Ooo, I see..." I actually had to think about this one. I knew less outside information about Roger than anyone else in the band, so I kept it generic.

"I see in this line here," I droned, tracing his thumb, "a grand slam hit, penned by you..."

"Really?" Roger's eyes lit up. "When?"

"It will be your first hit song... and all shall salute it..."

"When will I write it? Is it now? What?"

"The masses shall go... ga ga..."

"When?!"

I looked up. "I'm a palm reader. I'm not specific unless the spirits decide to be, too." My eyes drifted to Freddie's table for a split second, to see Freddie was killing himself trying get a good look at what was happening over by us.  His brows were knit together- but with what emotion was impossible to tell in the dim atmosphere.

"So you don't know?" he huffed. 

"Soon!  It will happen.  Be patient, and keep doing what you're good at."

"Playing the drums and singing and writing songs?"

"Playing the drums- and uh, yeah, all that other stuff too," I added quickly before I hurt his pride.

"Oh, Roger, let me do it next!" the girls started to say. "Me next!" "No, me!" "I saw him first!"

"Almost done, my dears," I said, draining the dregs of my Coca Joe-la. I figured the stuff had done enough damage already, I might as well just go all the way. (Not smart, kids, this was me being stupid, do NOT try this at home.)

"Yow! Okay. Now, in the crook of this pinky finger here, I see..."

Roger leaned in, eyes as wide as a curious little boy's.  I think he actually buys it, somewhat.  Let's freak him out, shall we?

"I see a baby."

The round blue eyes squinted, confused.  "A baby?"

"Yes, indeed!  A lovely little boy and- oh, what's this?"  I took a look at his ring finger.  I squinted hard, pretending to see something too faint to make out, then I gasped with joy.  "Another baby!  Let's see, any more you got hiding in there?"

I went through the same process until I had made it clear that Roger would father a child for every finger on his hand.  And Roger tried to smile.

"Oh, my goodness, Roger, you lucky thing!  A family man!  Aren't you happy?"

"You're not a real psychic, are you?" he said at last.

"Of course not!"

And Roger, young runaround Roger, breathed a sigh of relief.  "Whew!  I didn't think you were, just- I want to be sure, you know?"

"Me, a real psychic.  Yeah.  Please.  I can't even time stoplights right.  But I will say this: don't be surprised if it actually turns out you have five known offspring."

Roger just laughed- but I couldn't help detecting the tiniest note of nervousness there, so I said, trying to be consoling, "Oh, don't worry, Rog.  John's ahead of you, he'll have six."

"Six f---ing kids!"

"Yup.  Six effing kids.  But he'll love 'em.  And you will love yours too."

Roger sat back.  "How big will Brian's family be?"

I didn't know off the top of my head.  "Uh... big enough?"

Roger scratched the side of his nose.  "I thought so."

I said in a witchy, horror movie voice, "The spirits don't tell me everything, only what I need to know.  And I know that one day you will have a family.  Who knows when, but it will happen.  NOW!"  I clapped my hands and shouted, "Anybody else before I close up shop?  My rates are low, my ability unparalleled, and-"

I cut myself off when a large, smooth hand thrust itself under my nose.  I didn't need to ask who it belonged to.  Roger rolled his eyes, grinning his little grin, and coughed.

"Am I too late, Gypsy Rose Lee?" Freddie asked.  Paul gripped his forearm as if he wanted desperately to yank Freddie back to the guys, which I found extremely creepy.

I drummed my fingers against the table.  "For what?"  Someone who looked like they worked there passed the table, and I called, "Hey, may I please have some more coffee?  Thank you."

"Will the spirits reveal my future to you?" he said, smiling.

I sang, just as I had to Roger, "For a price." 

Freddie leaned in toward me, so close I could smell everything he'd been drinking.  "Darling, you live with me."

"An excellent point!  Have a seat," I shouted, pointing at the stool at my left.  The waiter came around, poured me a fresh (and clean, thank God) cup of coffee as Freddie sat down, and he laid his hand in mine which I turned over. 

I stared into the palm of his hand.  I've always thought he had beautiful hands, especially when they would fly over the piano keys, making that mystical music with that touch only he could claim.  They were expressive hands, creative, and strong.  In my synthetic clarity, I stroked his fingers with precision, noted how slender they were, how delicate.  I was silent.  Out the corner of my eye I saw Paul's hand hover a moment over my coffee, but I paid no attention.  I liked Freddie's hands better than anything Pudding Face decided to do.

"Go on!" Roger said.  "Tell him how many kids he's gonna have!"

Freddie laughed.  "I had my heart set on twelve."

I giggled, looking up at him.  "I almost think one of yours would be too many."

"Stop stalling, dear!" he chided me.  "My future is in my hand!  What am I paying you for anyway?"

With a grin, my gaze dropped down into his palm.

And I screamed.

I don't know the exact reason why I screamed.  I think was a bunch of things together.  The sneaky cocaine, yes, was making me increasingly paranoid and at last was really starting to set in.  And one of the blue lights over our table suddenly flashed and burned out, leaving us in a hellish red miasma.  But more importantly, it was the remembrance of Freddie's real future, his not-so-distant future, of which I was reminded as soon as I looked again at his hand.

It was the hand of a skeleton. 

Of course it wasn't really a skin-less hand I was looking at, but the lights hit it just so, and my eyes were tricking so, that I saw white, skinny bone, smooth ivory where there should have been soft flesh.  I glanced up into Freddie's gaping, frightened face, but in the glaring red light his features were lost and I came face to face with a hollow-cheeked, sunken-eyed zombie.

It was too much.  I screamed again and jumped down from the table.  Freddie tried catching me but this time I was too fast.  Tears blinding me, I raced toward the restroom.  Men's or Women's, I had no idea.  It was private, and I needed it.

The door swung closed behind me. I didn't even close the stall as I placed my hands on both sides of the toilet bowl seat.  With a violent shudder, I retched.  Quiet tears slid down my nose.  I wasn't thinking straight anymore, I wasn't reacting rationally.  How could I?  Let's even forget all the cocaine swimming around in my blood at the moment.  All I could picture was his bony hand, every phalange and metacarpal etched out in perfect detail.  What a brutal reminder.  And that emaciated face.  Oh, God. 

He's going to die, I said to myself deliriously.  He's going to die.  Oh, dear God, no.  Please. 

I had to tell him somehow.  There was no other way, or else I would be giving him the go-ahead to jump off into death itself.  I just needed to find the right entree.  Was there even one?  Sweet Lord, why me?  Of all the lightning rods you could have picked, why me?

The bathroom door creaked, and someone quietly walked toward my stall.  I lifted my head, my flushed cheeks turning even redder as the stall door pushed open.

"I'm sorry, Freddie, I didn't mean to do that," I managed.  "Just freaked, I guess."

The raspy voice replied, "It's Roger.  Freddie's still out there."

For some reason, that made it easier.  I turned and stood on wobbly legs.  My jumpsuit was still in good shape, or as good as it ever was anyway.  Roger slid a hand against my back, and started rubbing it.

"You do realize you're in the Men's room, right?" he said.

"Am I going to be arrested?" I croaked.

"No, no, I just thought you might like to know, in case a guy walks in on us or something," Roger said.  "You okay?"

"Yes.  Yes, I'm all right.  How's Freddie?"

"He's a bit shaken, for sure."  Roger handed me my coffee.  How nice of him to bring it along.  "Drink some of this.  You want some water?"

I took a long, greedy sip.  The coffee was still bitter, and now had a strange, sludgy texture as it slid down my throat.  Maybe this place just had really disgusting coffee.  "Water, please."

So he stuck an empty glass (his own, I'll bet) under the tap, handed it to me.  The water honestly wasn't that much better, but I still drank it.  He perched himself on the counter, and since it looked comfortably casual, I did the same.

"What do you mean, shaken?" I asked.

"He's just, oh, I don't know.  Just a little freaked out from that display."

"It had nothing to do with him," I lied.

"He thinks it does."

"He's wrong."

"You'd have to tell him that.  He's pretty upset."

That's why Freddie's not the one sitting here rubbing my back and making me feel better, I thought to myself.  I've got him in another mood.  Wonderful.

"Did you see something?" Roger asked.  "That made you scream, I mean."

I shook my head.  "No, I just had a moment."

He asked, "Can you really see things, Eve?  Like in the future?"

I looked him over suspiciously, unsure of where he was going.  I sniffed, and said in all honesty, "I can, up to a point."

"What's that like?"

"It's hell."

"I guess it would be," Roger chuckled softly.  "My God.  Such theories."

I squinted, my fears gradually subsiding.  That was Roger's method: distracting people out of their woes.  "About what?"

"You!  We've all got one.  How you got here, who you are, et cetera."

"Really? What's yours?"

"I think you're a fan who won't admit she's a fan.  Brian's kind of in the same mindset as I am."

Imagine that, I snarked to myself.

"Freddie and John have weirder theories," he smiled. "Freddie especially.  I love him to death, but sometimes, sometimes he's just a little too wacked."

I nodded, unwilling to ask any more questions.  My fingers kept jittering, and I was ready to go back out and apologize to Freddie, maybe steal a few more dances, minus the cane.

"You okay?" Roger said again, trying I suppose to be sympathetic.  He was leaning in closer than before.

"Getting there," I said.  I became keenly aware of how Roger was now rubbing my back.  "You don't have to stay in here, Rog.  I'll be out in a minute."

"I want to make sure everything is settled in your head," he explained. 

"It is."

He kissed my forehead, and I was distinctly underwhelmed.  I thought he would stop there, it being simply a friendly gesture, but he didn't.  Roger's hand drifted up to my neck, entwining his fingers in my hair.  He began nuzzling the side of my face, kissing my cheek at random intervals.

"Roger," I said quietly, "what are you doing?"

Very soft, then, he whispered, "I want you."

"You do?" I said, watching as his other arm slipped tightly around my middle.  "I'm very flattered."

"I know you want me, too," he breathed heavily against my neck. 

"That's news to me," I started to whisper when all of a sudden my lips were stopped by his.  Roger put his mouth on mine- and that's really the only way to describe it because it didn't feel anything like a kiss- no pucker action, no lips at all, just mouth.

"What are you trying to do?" I asked him almost calmly. 

"I am going to make love to you right here."

"In the bathroom?"

He groaned, which I took for a yes.

"Why?"

Zonked away, Roger Taylor trying to seduce me in a dirty little nightclub lavatory, and still talking like a scientist. Oh, me.

His hand started drifting upward.  "Stop talking, love, just let it happen."

When he started fondling my bosom I decided to cut the act short.  I hopped off the counter and looked as coolly as I could at Roger.  I wasn't even heaving. 

He came at me again, though, wrapping his arms around me and pinning me against the wall.  "Stop playing games, you beautiful thing."  He buried his face in my neck, nipping and kissing wherever his lips fell. 

But I smiled.  For a stroke of genius had just hit me- and if Roger had any sense of decency, I'd just concocted the easiest out in the world.  At least, it seemed like genius then.  For it wasn't long before I regretted ever thinking the notion up.

"Roger," I whispered in a lusty voice, "what would Dom say?"

The drummer paused, faced me.  "Huh?"

"You know, Dominique?  Your girlfriend? What would she think if she saw you like this?"

"She'd understand."

"Would she?" I said thoughtfully.

"Yeah, she has her share of boys anyway whenever she's away.  But I don't wanna talk about her, how'd you know her name?"

I didn't answer.  "Just checking.  She may not care.  And that's fine."

Roger smiled and bent for my lips, this time with a little pucker at the corners of his mouth.

And I said it: "Of course, I know my husband wouldn't feel that way..."

The blue eyes snapped open.  "Husband?"

"Oh, yes.  My husband, Mark.  He's the jealous type, and if he found me standing like this, with you, he'd be liable to smash your face in."

"You're married?" Roger said disbelievingly.  "So where's your ring?"

"We got married in a whirlwind in Vegas," I lied through my teeth.  "Nearly forgot the rings, and the one I picked wound up being too big anyway.  I don't wear it.  But everyone back home knows I'm married.  They saw me coming with my six-foot-eight husband, and they'd say-"

"Six foot eight?" he repeated.

"Six foot eight, two fifty on the scale.  And a nasty, nasty habit of his, he would always tend to show up right when the other men were getting frisky, so he's broken a few jaws in his time.  And always in the weirdest places, at the weirdest times, he could walk in even now-"

"You're married," Roger said, then snorted.  "I don't believe you.  Does Freddie know?"

"Why wouldn't I tell him?"  I shook him off me and stumbled to the door.  "Thank you for the kind words though, Rog.  I'm very grateful for you."

"Er, don't mention it," he mumbled., blinking as if trying to figure out what just happened.

I skipped out into the dim smokiness of the club, my hands shaking, my eyes darting.  I looked down at the smoke rising menacingly above and around.  I wasn't giving one thought to the past few minutes with Roger, not even when he rushed past me toward the bar tables. Freddie's back was to me, but I wasn't surprised. He'll get over it, I told myself, just like John said.

I was losing my clarity, my heart pumping hard. I had to dance, I had too much energy inside begging to be cut loose. So many sensations swirled in my body, and none of them felt good. Still, my feet carried me to the dance floor, the bright colors now throbbing to the tune of "Sky High."

Perfect, I said to myself. That's exactly what I am right now.

Behold, the last coherent thought I had that night.

The smoke turned a dark mauve color, the same that I saw in my nightmares. A shaggy-haired fellow grinned and waved his hand at me. He had small eyes. I always looked at the eyes. They're the windows to the s...

After that, for the rest of the night, I draw a blank.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As the heavy door closes behind us, I notice Veronica is still smiling to herself. 

"I simply let you say the password, and your whole night is made," I say.  "To think, for the last three and a half years, I've been doing it the hard way."

"Hush, you cheeky bastard," she giggles, putting her arm in mine. 

I have never been to the Heatwave before.  God knows, I've heard enough about it from more well-traveled clubbers like Freddie and Roger, but it's a place no one ever talks about in public.  There's an edge of secrecy, and if the rumors are to be believed, as far as drugs and all sorts of other taboo things are concerned, it's well-deserved.  The Heatwave is one of those places where the stars go to indulge.  But Freddie's invited me, and I can't just hobnob about and leave my sport of a wife at home. 

I suppose we'll only stay for a couple of drinks, say hello to Freddie, then head back home.  True, it's ten past eleven, and Robert's fast asleep with a sitter keeping watch, but Veronica doesn't like leaving him alone for too long.  What strait-laced, upright parents we are becoming.  Though I dare say I haven't changed all that much.  I guess I was born to be the responsible one of the group. 

Well, the more responsible one, anyway.

The actual entrance is not so closely guarded, and we walk right in.  I'm a little unimpressed at first, it's just like any other club around London these days.  Veronica coughs, the smoke of the dry ice tickling her throat.  We order our cocktails, and with a little toast to my lady, I down it the moment it arrives.

"You said the boys would be here?" Veronica asks, raising her voice to be heard over the throbbing music.

"Can't say for certain if they'll all show.  Probably not.  I know Freddie's somewhere around here, and I'll wager he brought that funny little sprite of his."

"Sprite?"

"The girl who was in his closet."

She frowns.  "Whose closet?  Freddie's?"

"Didn't I tell you?"

"Don't think so.  If you did, I don't remember."

"Remember that little thing Robert swallowed-"

"OH!  Yes!  So she's the one?  That thing's hers?"

"The Relic?  Yes, it's hers."

"What's it for?"

"Dunno.  I just hope it can do whatever it's supposed to once I put it back together."

Robert has since returned the golden thing he had swallowed, if you catch my drift.  I'm letting it dry out fully before I reassemble the device.  Will it work?  Well, I'll be honest.  My hopes aren't too high, but I still can't afford not to try.

"Where are they, anyway?" I ask aloud, squinting through the fog, searching for Eve, Freddie, or both.  I expect Eve to be somewhere round the edge, hugging the wall, but I can't see her.  A few more minutes of searching and I catch sight of a crowded bar table.  When the man I recognize to be Freddie's friend Peter Straker moves aside, I see Freddie standing under a dark red light, hunched over his glass.  Someone must have told an incredibly funny story, because quite suddenly he throws his head back and laughs hysterically, looks back behind him, then laughs even harder.

Veronica spots him as well.  "There he is!  Where's his girl?"

I shrug, then the two of us worm our way through the crowd to get to Freddie.  The closer we come, the more messed up I realize he is.  He can't keep still, and he's clearly ready for a little fun from the way he keeps putting his hands all over his friends standing there, planting kisses on any and every cheek.  I've seen him in the mood before, and acting on it, but this time- I don't know, it just looks like he's trying too hard.

"Hey, Fred!" I clap him on the back.

He whirls, and with a loud shout says, "Daaaar-liiiing!  So good to see you!  And you've brought the missus!  Hello, hello!" 

Freddie throws his arms around me, then draws back.  He reeks of vodka.  And even in the crimson lighting, I can see faint white crust under his nose.  I don't even want to know how much he's had.

"Where's the girl?" I ask.

"She's... she's with Roger," Freddie slurs, waving his hand at something behind him which puts him slightly off balance.  His driver/bodyguard seizes his shoulder before he can slide to the floor.  He is so drunk.

"So Roger's here, too?" I say.  "Where?"

"He's with Eve, I jus' told you," he answers irritably.  "Don't you ever f---ing listen?"

Before this can escalate, as it most likely is about to, his new friend Paul intercedes, saying, "He's asking where the two of them are, if they're in the same place."

Freddie grunts, and pointing behind him again.  "In there."

I peer over his shoulder and see he's referring to the Men's WC.  "But that's the Men's room.  What are they both doing in-"

"They're making g--d--- sure I owe him a hundred f---ing pounds," Freddie snarls.  "You got any more questions?"

My jaw drops.  "You mean, they're-"

"Since nine-thirty.  They went in and di'n't come out.  Don't go see, we don't wanna disturb them.  Sex is a very private thing, and Eve deserves her f---ing privacy."  He punctuates this by slamming whatever is left in his glass, and raising his hand for another.  "Care for a line or two?"

But I just cannot believe this of Miss Houdini.  I'm no Casanova, but I watched her this afternoon with Roger at lunch.  If you ask me, she barely tolerated him; she'd been civil, even friendly, yet there had been no spark, no mutual connection, like I saw between her and Freddie. 

So I venture, "Are you sure she didn't come out of there?  Did you go see for y-"

Freddie shouts, "Stop f---ing talking about it!  Who gives a f--- what she does?  We're grown-ups, aren't we?  The bitch can do what she likes.  I 'll do what I want 'cause I don't care.  So what if she likes Rog better?  The f--- do I care?  They can do what they want."

"Who can?" In a finger's snap, Roger appears at the table.  And Freddie's bloodshot eyes nearly pop out of his face.  But in typical Freddie fashion, he masks the surprise, even as wasted as he is. 

He lowers his lids to look blase, and he says quite smoothly, in all truth, "So, how was Eve?"

"Oh, she was fan-tastic," Roger says, making a circle with his thumb and forefinger in an "okay" gesture.  But the look on his face doesn't match.

"Never would have picked her for a tart," Freddie mumbles.  "I was wrong.  Even nuns take off their clothes every now and then."  He crooks his finger at Rudy.  "I owe you a hundred, don't I?"

"What?  No, you don't."

"Yes, you won fair and square."

"What are they talking about?" Veronica whispers to me.

It's rather embarrassing to tell her, because it sounds so bad, but I bite the bullet.  "Freddie and Roger made a bet."

"On Eve?"

I nod, then hold a finger to my lips.  She shakes her head, disgusted. 

"Well, if you really just want to give me the money, you can," Roger shrugs.  "But for God's sake, Fred.  You could have at least told me she was married."

"Yeah, okay, Rudy, give him the-" Freddie cuts himself off.  He closes his open hand, turns back to face our drummer.  "What did you say?"

"I didn't do anything to her, Freddie."

Freddie blinks, and his mouth twitches with excitement.  I notice now he's standing a little straighter, a little steadier.  "But- uh, but you two were in there for hours!"

"Are you taking the piss?  We weren't in there five minutes!"

"I must not have seen..." Freddie trails off.  He clasps his hands, eyes widening.  He opens his mouth, but no words come out.  All he does is laugh, but this time, it's like he means it.

"I'm glad you think it's funny," Roger scowls.  "Did you know she's married?"

"Oh, I was so worr- huh?" Freddie stops.  "Did you say, married?"

"She said she told you she's married.  Did she?"

One split second is all it takes for Freddie to recover.  But I see it; and there's no doubt that this is the first Freddie's heard of Eve being somebody's wife.

"Of course, she told me," Freddie said offhandedly.  "What a bore.  I thought everybody knew.  That's what I meant when I said she wasn't your type. She told me Day One."

"Really?" Roger crosses his arms.  "So what's her husband look like?"

"Well, you know, she doesn't really talk about him, but she has said he's a tough fellow."

"Eve doesn't talk about her own husband?"

Freddie rolls his eyes.  "She's a different sort of person, remember?  I know little things about him, basic stuff-"

"What's his name?" Roger demands, a "gotcha" smile in the works.

Everyone looks at Freddie, ready for the next aloof reply, but Freddie is flummoxed this time.  "Um... oh, f---.  I mean, she did tell me.  I'm just awful with names, and  what's more I'm pissed out of my mind, so, uh... Steve?"

I cringe.  Eve and Steve.  That wasn't even clever!

Roger smirks.  "I thought as much.  The bet still stands.  And we're still in the running."

"Look, Rog," Freddie suddenly exclaims, "why don't you just leave her alone?  If she says she's married, why can't we just leave it at that?"

"Because she isn't married.  It's obvious," Roger says simply, staring out at the dance floor.  "No ring, and married women wear their rings even if they don't fit."

Veronica looks at her hand.  "That's true, we do."

Freddie is grasping at straws.  "Can't we just call it off?"

"You afraid you'll lose?" But it's Paul who chimes in with this, not Roger.  A sly smile crosses his unfriendly face, and Freddie's pride is again dragged onto center stage.

"Not at all," Freddie simpers.  "But supposing she is married?"

"No way.  It would take the marriage license itself to convince me of that," Roger states.  His brows pop up as he watches whatever is happening out under the mirrorball.

"I'll make her show it to me, and I'll show it to you," Freddie replies.  "And then won't you feel like an asshole."

"No, I think I'll win this one," Roger says absently.  "She's not married."

"You don't know."

"True, but if she is, she certainly doesn't dance like it."

Freddie frowns.  All of us who are interested (meaning us Deacons, Freddie, and Rudy) follow Roger's gaze.  There she is at the very center, in a white jumpsuit, bouncing up and down like mad with her arms in the air, and a smile so big and so frightening we can see it from all the way back here in the dark.  There's one fellow in particular who has her attention, and she's flirting, and flirting hard.

I can scarcely believe this wild, unchained maniac is the same polite, smiling girl what visited Wessex this morning.  I turn to Freddie to ask what happened when I see he's left the table.  I just barely catch him disappear into the moving throng.  Rudy moves to go in after him but I volunteer my services.  Somehow I feel I'm a party to this.  I ask Veronica to excuse me a moment, and I follow.

Freddie's not amused.  Far from it.  He looks ready to bend this little minx over his knee and give her a few good wallops.  It's a sea of people we're pushing through, and for a moment we lose sight of her, till we hear a high-pitched, rasping scream:

"'RASPBERRY BERET'!  WE WANNA HEAR 'RASPBERRY BERET'!"

"Oh, God," Freddie murmurs.  We follow the sound of her voice as she keeps yelling about wanting music from somebody called Prince until at last we're within grabbing reach.  She's laughing, her back is turned towards us, and a man that all of Queen admires greatly is necking her.

Freddie's boiling angry- and I don't know why.  But Freddie's Freddie, and there doesn't always have to be a why.  He grabs her arm and violently yanks her away from Rod Stewart.

"Hey, man, what's the big idea?  I saw her first!" he protests.

Freddie ignores Rod, and instead starts accosting Eve.  "What the f--- do you think you're doing?"

"I'm having a good time, thas' what I'm doing," she yells back. "You got a problem with that?"

"What are you dancing like that for?"

"Well!  Since when did you become such a mean ol' fuddy-duddy, Freddie?" The way the last three words fumble out of her klutzy mouth sends her into a fit of giggling.  "Fuddy-deddie-fruddy-Freddie-duddy-feddie..."

I notice her eyes are practically spinning in her head, and her breathing is much faster than normal.  "Are you feeling well, Eve?"

"We're fine, we're fine," she slurs.  I lay my hand against her forehead.  She's burning up.  I tell Freddie this, and that's enough for him. 

He takes her hand.  "Come on, we're getting you out of here."

"I'm staying," she informs him unsteadily.  "Can't stop, can't stop."

Now people are trying to insinuate themselves between Freddie and Eve, and not just to dance with Freddie.  Rod pulls Eve back over to him, saying to my friend, "Take your square ass elsewhere, honey."

And Eve puts her arms around her dance partner.  "Hey, Rod," she giggles in her loud, throaty voice, "do you think I'm sexy?"

"Let me tell you all about it," he growls, and her smile only grows wider.

Freddie shuts his eyes, takes a deep breath.  He's still drunk, but now he's focused, because now it's necessary. 

"John, I'm about to be the adult here," he whispers to me.  "Don't hold it against me, hm?"

"Go for it, be the bad guy," I urge.  "It's past time you took your turn anyhow."

"That's Mister Bad Guy to you," he hisses back, with a hint of humor.  But the humor vanishes in the very next instant as all of a sudden he reaches down and grabs Eve round the legs.  She lets out a startled little scream, and suddenly she's jackknifed over his shoulder.  But she's not going down without a fight. 

"Put me down, you fancy bastard!" she cries, kicking and beating at his back.  "Oh!  You dog!"

Rod chimes in, "Put her down!" and starts pulling her hands in an attempt to get her out of his grasp. Freddie whirls and shoves him into a spectator (and by now, everybody is watching).

Rod doesn't let this go unchallenged.  He draws back his fist and throws a wild punch, striking Freddie in the lip.  Horrified, Eve slaps Rod.  Rod shoves me.  I shove somebody I thought was Rod and they slap me.  Somebody hits Rod and knocks into Freddie, and the place descends into utter chaos and everyone's on their way to fighting everyone else.

When there's an opportunity, Freddie puts Eve back on the floor and simply says, "We're going."

She's much more unsteady than earlier, but she obeys, and somehow the three of us manage to get off the dance floor without much more than a bruise or two (with the exception of Freddie; Rod hit him rather hard, and now his bottom lip has begun to bleed). 

Roger's jaw drops.  "You all right?"

"I'm fine," Freddie dabs at his lip, squints at the red spot it leaves on his fingers.  "And thank you so much for all your help back there, Roger.  I mean really.  Rudy, could you go get the car?"

"We don't have to leave yet, Freddie," Eve gasps.  "I'm all right, I swear, I-"

Suddenly she bends almost completely in half and runs for the ladies' loo.  Freddie follows close behind in case she shouldn't make it there.  They disappear into the WC.  Without realizing it, I walk right behind them.  When the door closes, I follow them anyway.  But as I open the door, and walk over to the stall where they are, I hear Eve gag and hurl up whatever nasty stuff she'd accidentally gotten into.  Poor thing.  Immediately I back away.  I'm not supposed to be in here anyway.

She gags again, and retches a dry heave.  And then, there's Freddie's voice, calm and soothing, saying, "It's okay, it's okay.  You're all right.  Just take a deep breath.  Good girl.  Take it easy."

I marvel to myself as I step out.  Freddie isn't in much better shape than Eve, and he's still trying to take care of her.  I smile to myself.  In its own funny way, that's very sweet.

Veronica taps my shoulder.  "Are you all right, John?"

"I'm fine," I say.  I point at the closed ladies' restroom door.  "It's them I'm worried about."

"Do you want to see them home?" Veronica asks.

"Love, they'll be fine.  I know it."

"Why don't you let me take the car home, and you can ride back to Freddie's with them and make sure of it."

"Ron, you don't have to do-"

"It's going to grate on you all night if you don't," she tells me.  "I know you.  And besides, I owe you a little favor, after what I let Robert get into yesterday."

I sigh.  "Are you sure it's all right?"

She kisses me gently.  "I'll see you later.  I'll wait up for you, so don't stay too long."  It's with that and a shared "I love you" that my wife vanishes out the door, leaving me and Freddie's friends here in the Heatwave.  Should be an interesting drive back.

**************************************************************************************

It's just four riding back in the Rolls tonight.  Rudy, Freddie, Eve, and myself.  I'm in the front seat, rubbernecking all the way as I keep my eyes constantly fixed on the two wasted people in the back.  Peter wanted to stay at the club, and Paul was too miffed at Freddie to come back.  Roger?  I don't know his excuse.  Surely he had a good one.

Rudy doesn't say anything, and I'm practically a mute anyway.  The radio is off.  So everything those two behind me murmur is perfectly audible from where I am.  But there's very little spoken, Eve can barely sit up straight, let alone carry on a conversation, right now.  She is even laying across the back seat, her head in Freddie's lap, eyes closed, hands holding her stomach.  He is gently stroking her hair.

"She's still feverish," Freddie says at one point.

"That's something she'll have to sleep off," Rudy says.  "We're almost there."

Eve's eyes open a crack. "Is 'No No's' Day over yet?"

"Almost, darling," Freddie purrs.  "Go back to sleep."

"Hooray." Her eyes close, and she doesn't say anything else until we get to Freddie's home. 

"Married," Freddie says to himself with a smile. "How odd.  I didn't even know angels got married."

She's out like a light by the time we pull up to the door.  Instead of waking her, Freddie leans over, lifts her up out of the seat, and carries her inside. 

"Is there anything I can do, Fred?" I ask.  I bring her a glass of water -the poor girl's clearly dehydrated- and try to get some of the liquid down her parched throat.  The bleeding on Freddie's lip has stopped, but the bruising has only begun.  It's a tender spot, and will stay tender for another few days.

Freddie walks up the stairs, still cradling Eve in his arms, his movements still a bit unstable.  I walk behind him to sort of spot for him.  The last thing I know he wants to do is send Eve down for a tumble.

"You can help me get her out of this thing," Freddie answers at last.  After he places her carefully on the bed, he roots around her drawers for a nightgown or pajamas.  I take hold of the zipper when he says, "No, wait.  I'll get her out of the jumpsuit.  You find her something to wear."

So we switch places.  I grab the first thing I see- a pink satin teddy- and we start, very delicately, very clinically, taking off Eve's clothes.

We've slipped her arms out of the tank part when she awakens and chuckles, "You naughty boys, hit me when I'm down..." but she offers no resistance.  Instead, she cooperates, lifting her leg when I ask, and sitting up as best she can when Freddie coaxes her to. 

It's actually a moment or two before we get to dressing her again.  Freddie stands there, gazing at Eve, so vulnerable in nothing but her bra and her knickers.  It's not a lustful look he's giving her.  There's desire, obviously, but I know for a fact he's not going to pounce the way he might with, say, someone else.  It's a wistful desire.

"Look at her, John," he whispers.  "She's just a baby."

I know exactly what he means.  Not to say she isn't well-developed, because she is.  Very much so.  It's her face.  She looks so young, like a child.  I wonder just how young this fragile little pixie of his happens to be. Certainly no older than twenty-one. 

Freddie sighs.  "Okay, darling, sit up again, one more time."

With a groan, Eve does her best.  I hold her arms up over her head while Freddie pulls the short little gown over them.

She watches him as he does this, her eyes sleepily studying him while he straightens the skirt over her thighs.  "Your eyes are so pretty," she murmurs.

Freddie pauses, looking up at her.  "Uh," he says, clearly unprepared for that.  "Thank you."

Eve blinks slowly.  "You have such a beautiful face."

He smiles, getting in the swing of her words.  "So do you."

"Why are you so sweet?"  She reaches out a hand and puts it against his cheek.  "Why are you so kind to me?"

Freddie doesn't answer her.  He just sits there beside her a moment with this soft look on his face.  After a moment he, too, lifts his hand to touch her lips.  She closes her eyes with a small smile.  It's a lovely moment between them, and I'm just standing here awkwardly staring as it happens.  I wonder if I should leave the room, but my feet remain stationary.

"I think," Freddie slowly whispers, "you need to get some sleep."

Eve's smile broadens a little.  "Ol' fuddy-duddy," she whispers, but lays down and draws back her legs so that he can pull the covers over them. 

"Good night, John," she calls to me.  "Thank you."

"Good night," I answer.

Freddie sits down on her bedside, then leans toward her and kisses both her cheeks.  "You're an awful lot of trouble," he scolds her quietly.

"I'm sorry," she whispers.

He leans in one more time and touches her forehead with his lips, staying there a few seconds before pulling away. 

"I'm not," he says.  "Good night, my stray kitten."

"Good night, Freddie."

He gets up and turns out the light.  The two of us walk back downstairs, and Freddie offers me a drink before I go.

"No, I'm all right.  I need to be heading back," I say.

"Rudy will take you.  Thanks for everything, John.  Couldn't have done it without you."

I worry he's going to bring up the Relic, but instead Freddie keeps gazing up toward her bedroom.  He has other things on his mind.  Suddenly he looks down and shakes his head. 

"What is it?" I ask.

"Nothing.  Here, I'll walk you out."

So we stroll back out into the warm night.  The Rolls awaits to whisk me home.  I'm quite tired myself.  So much has happened today I can barely remember everything.

"You know what's sad?" Freddie says suddenly as I climb into the car.

"No," I reply.  "What?"

He chuckles, but it's a mirthless chuckle.  "I'd bet my life that tomorrow she'll wake up, and won't remember anything tonight."

I say nothing, just look at him, as is my habit with everything, practically.

Freddie shrugs.  "Oh well.  I won't keep you any longer.  Good night.  Give Veronica a kiss for me."

 

 

Chapter Text

I don't think I was entirely honest when I said I couldn't remember any of that night.  I do recall an intense dizziness, and feeling like someone was slowly turning the dial higher and higher on my internal thermostat.  And somewhere in the swirling fog I remember something light falling away from me, like clothes.  But the other ninety-nine percent either gave itself over to my unconscious mind, buried in its deepest cavern and never to be unearthed until a time when it was least helpful, or evaporated altogether. 

What I did recall, clear as crystal, was the nightmare.  Shortly after I slipped out of sentience, seconds afterward it seemed, the dry ice smoke began billowing forth from all directions, this time a darker magenta, rising and thickening until Freddie magically appeared before me and led me through the fog once more.  But we hadn't traveled more than twenty feet when the earth began to quake violently.  A deafening roar as the ground beneath us split open.  The jolt threw me off my feet, projecting us forward.  Luckily for me, I had enough land before me to keep me from falling into the rift.

But Freddie didn't. 

He hit the ground and rolled toward the cliff.  Desperately he scratched at the dry earth trying to get a grip on anything.  I shouted and reached out for him, but still he tumbled till he went right over the edge- and then the nightmare ceased.  Just quit right there, as though someone took White Out and smeared it all over my mind's eye.  From then on, I was absolutely senseless.

But I didn't want to think about last night.  Last night could go hang itself, as could this next morning.  All I wanted to do was lay in bed and vegetate.  I hadn't the energy even to think.  Oscar lay at the foot of the bed -at least, I assumed it was Oscar since only he liked sleeping with me.  I was face down into the pillow and I didn't feel like making sure.  My eyelids hung heavier than lead weights; I had no desire to force them open.  It was like coming out of general anesthesia, times two.

My ears were first to kick back in working order.  Gradually I started hearing Freddie's voice coming from his bedroom.  He spoke softly, as if to someone right next to him.  Ah, I thought dimly.  Guess he got lucky last night.  Well, good for him.

As he talked, however, the conversation sounded distinctly one-sided. After a moment, I realized he was on the phone. 

"...Course not, Rod.  No hard feelings," I heard him say, then laugh.  "Yeah, we were both pretty out of our heads."

Who's Rod? I asked myself.  Maybe Stewart?  Was he there last night?  Maybe?  Oh, wow.  Wonder what happened.  Summoning up all my strength, I tried to roll over, but the nauseating soreness in my limbs put the kibosh on that right away. 

Freddie hung up, then padded into my bedroom.  I didn't know what to do, so I pretended to still be asleep.  When all else fails, plausible deniability.

Which was much harder to maintain when he yawned, pulled back the sheets a little, and slipped in next to me.  My insides started working themselves into knots.  Freddie, what are you doing? 

That was bad enough.  But the knots only tightened when he snuggled right up against me and his warm, bare legs wrapped around mine.  He put one hand on my waist and with the other brushed my hair away from his face.

We're spooning, I noted.  Then in the very next moment I asked myself, Why? 

I was surprised at myself, reacting so coolly.  After all, it wasn't every day a man slid into bed and spooned with me.  With a pit in my stomach, I wondered if we'd been like this all night.  I stiffened with speculation.

"Good morning, Eve," he whispered. 

"Hmm?" I mumbled.  "What?"

"You're awake."

"I am, now."

"And you were, before."

I opened my eyes, still facing the wall.  "How'd you know?"

"I felt it," he said. 

"Maybe you're paranoid," I said, smiling into the pillow.

"Maybe I just know you."

"Maybe."  I closed my eyes again.  "What time is it?"

He reached across me a moment, then drew back.  "Nine-thirty-four.  That's what your Magic Mirror says anyway."

Nice.  Not even noon yet.  I don't have to move for hours.  "You'll be late."

"That's okay.  My record's pretty clean."

I couldn't stand it any longer.  "Would you mind telling me what you're doing?"

"I'm laying next to you."

"Next to me.  Ha.  You're practically on top of me."

"No, that's last night you're thinking of."

WHOOSH!  Despite my soreness, I bolted upright, my heart beating twice as fast, praying it was a joke.  When I looked at Freddie, though, my hopes sank.  Again, he was bare-chested, his eyes were squinting in pain, even thought the lights were out and the window closed, and his five o'clock shadow was anything but gone.  He rolled over on his back, folded his arms over his chest.  Despite his bedraggled appearance, he looked very pleased with himself. 

Dear God, I spoke too soon, please tell me I wasn't the one he got lucky with!

Still, I dared not assume.  "You're not serious, are you?"

"Never."

"I mean, about us."

His brows rose aloofly.  "Us?"

"Yeah, us, you know- um- and how we, ah-"

"Darling, stop stuttering.  What's wrong?"

I swallowed.  Was there even a way to put this nicely?  "Freddie, did we sleep together?"

"Who wants to know?"

His nonchalance rubbed salt into the opening wound, but I answered, "I do.  Badly."

He smiled.  "Why, yes.  We did." 

I'd never experienced what I've heard called "blank horror."  But if it means what I think it does, this qualified.  I covered my mouth.  "Oh," was all I could say.  "Oh... oh, no..."

"Oh, yes," Freddie said.  "It happened.  I tell you, best sleep I've had in a week."

Immediately, terrified, angry questions started cooking in my head.  Oh, Freddie, how could you?  Why would you sleep with a girl clearly beyond sentience?  You know better than that!  Don't you?  What makes you think I would have allowed it had I had my head together?  When have I ever let on I wanted it?  We agreed from the very start!  Why?

But before I could ask any of them, Freddie continued.  "Yeah, you were having some kind of nightmare, and you started crying out, it woke me.  I got up and lay here next to you to try to settle you down.  As soon as I slipped in, you calmed down, and it was so cozy in here I just went to sleep myself."

I sat there, dumbfounded.  "You mean, that's it?"

"Of course.  What did you-" His eyes widened in fake surprise.  "Oh!  Sorry, were you asking if we had sex?"

"Um-"

"We slept together, dear, and that's it."

"So we didn't, uh-"

He rolled his eyes.  "I'll say it for you: no, we didn't do IT."

For my own sake, I took him at his word.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  "Oh, thank God." 

"But I mean, there was this one point when you started getting a little freaky and you kind of threw yourself at me-"

I bopped him over the head with my pillow.  Freddie wasn't fooling me this time; there was no mistaking that bouncy tone he used for jesting and jesting alone. 

"So we're playing rough today, eh?" he cried.  In one smooth motion he rose with his pillow in his hand and swatted it at my face.  I hit back, and popped him right in the mouth.

"OW!" Freddie dropped his pillow, slapped a hand against his jaw. 

I began to laugh until I realized he wasn't pretending.  "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, nothing," he mumbled through his hand.

"Liar.  Let me see."  I switched on the nightstand lamp, which burned my eyes and his.  I still had my contacts in from last night; despite the dry plastic feeling behind my lids, I was able to get a good look at him.  Redness rimmed his bloodshot eyes, and his hair was sticking up in all directions. 

"You look awful," I said, but to myself I was thinking, Oh, Freddie, you make a hangover look so sexy, my God, what gives you the right to be this frickin' beautiful? 

"Thanks," he murmured.

"Don't mention it.  Now let me see."

"No.  You just insulted me.  Go awa-"

"Oh, shut up and show me."

I pulled his hands from his mouth and found a big purplish bruise under his bottom lip.  I gasped.  "How did that happen?  Did I do that?"

"Not directly."

"Was I aiming at somebody else and just h-"

"No, darling, that was Rod."

"Rod who?"

"The guy you were making friends with last n- You mean to tell me you don't know who Rod Stewart is, either?"

"I don't know names!" I lied.  Rod Stewart liked me?  Whoa!  What a night!

He just shook his head.  "Do you know anything?"

"What did he hit you for?"

"He didn't like that I was trying to get you home, and made things a bit difficult."

"Looks like he cut you a little, too.  Did you put some ice on it?"

Freddie huffed in irritation.  "I had my hands full, dear, wasn't really thinking about my lip."

"Hands full?  With what?"

"You."

"Me?"

"You mean, 'I'?"

"Not today!" I cried.

"Whatever.  Yeah, you were a goner, so John and I brought you home and I carried you up to your room-"

"You carried me?"  My voice grew soft.

"Yes, and-"

"Thank you."

The red-black eyes glowed.  "And, uh, we changed your clothes, and sent you to sleep.  Voila."

"Oh, Freddie, you didn't have to do that-"

"No, we didn't.  But we did.  Now go make me breakfast, I need a cup of tea so badly I can't see straight."

"Yes, sir!"  A little too zealously I swung myself over the side of the bed.  Oscar hopped off as well, but without the sudden leg cramps and achy muscles that assailed me as soon as I stood up.  Before I could head down to the kitchen, though, Freddie stopped me again.

"Eve?"

Rolling my eyes, I turned.  "Yes?"

"Are you, um- are you really married?"

"Do you want to tea or do you want to get personal?"

"Please answer me."

I laughed.  "Of course not."

"Then why did you tell Roger that?"

I walked back in and sat down on the bed, but Freddie started making noises about how far away I was, so I scooted closer and closer until finally I was lying down on the bed beside him again. 

"I had to get him off me somehow, Freddie,"  I finally answered him.  "And the line I typically use to turn undesirable guys off probably wouldn't work so well here."

"What line is that?"

"'I voted for Trump.'" 

"What is a Trump?"

"Give it ten years, you'll find out."

'Did you actually vote for it?"

"It's a him.  And yes, I did."

Freddie shrugged.  "So you didn't want Roger?"

"Not really. He's awful cute, don't get me wrong.  But he's-"

"Not your type?" he offered.

"Well, no, I guess not.  And certainly not enough to do it in the restroom.  That's filthy."

"You like it familiar and comfortable in a bed, right?"

"Yes, I d- Oh, for God's sake, Freddie, really?  How should I know?"

Freddie grinned, his hangover by no means standing in the way of his sexual innuendos.  "Just thought I'd ask." 

He sighed, then went on, "Well, we're going to have to figure something out because I backed you up, told him you are. Married, I mean.  We two of us have to get our stories straight.  What did you say his name was?"

"Mark, I think.  Yes."

"Mark.  Not too bad, although I think Daniel is a good name too."

"I love Daniel.  I think I'll name one of my kids that."

"Daniel Dubroc.  That's got a lovely ring to it."

"No, I'll be married by the time I have any kids, so he'd have my husband's last name."

Freddie looked me over.  "You've got it all planned out, don't you?"

I nodded.  "I love plans.  They keep things organized."

"Yeah, but Life has a funny way of being disorganized, so to sort of keep things seeming, um, neat and sort of cleaned up, people tend to throw the hairy bits out as they go."

"Not if you've got a Life plan."

"Oh, really?  Did your life plan include this past week?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Would you ever tell your husband, whoever he is, that you slapped Rod Stewart?"

"Did I?  See, I don't even believe that, why would he?"

Freddie went on, "Or that he isn't the only one who's seen you without your clothes on?"

My blood ran cold.  "Oh, no.  You saw-"

"Yes!  We saw eeev-erything."

"WE?"

"Well, John was helping me, so uh- yes, the two of us."

Good God, is there nothing you don't know about me now?  "Then how am I supposed to believe that we didn't-"

"Darling, how many times do I have to say it?  Last night, we did not f---.  Okay?"

I winced at the word and how ugly it made the act sound, but I asked, "You promise?"

"On my life."

I nodded.  "Okay, it's just, you saw me without my clothes on, and now I'm so embarrassed, because God knows how I behaved last night, because I don't."

"You were bad," he said softly.  "You were a very bad girl last night."

"You're not helping."

"That's the idea."  He put his hand on the back of my neck and pulled me down toward him, and before I knew what was happening he kissed me. 

My weakened, hungover mind was clouding, but still I found the clarity to draw back a little and say, "That doesn't hurt your lip, but the pillow did?"

Freddie's voice hardened.  "Don't you ever stop talking?" 

"I-"

He kissed me again, this time a little less innocently.  Fire leapt from his half-parted lips, and it went straight to my head.  My eyes fluttered closed.  I felt myself kissing him back, my hands caressing his stubbly face. 

Suddenly Freddie rolled over, moving me along with him so that now I was on my back and his body pressed heavily against mine.  His lips slid away from my own and traveled down to my jawline, going down, down until they fell upon my neck, where the kisses turned to gentle bites.  I struggled frantically to pull myself together but he wouldn't stop long enough to give me the chance.  Oh, such feelings stirring inside.  A far cry from Roger, for sure.

Freddie's breathing changed, the normal soft sighs becoming hot, deep, and labored as he started sucking- not just biting, sucking- on my neck.  This was getting out of control.  I tried to make myself push him away but it was as though I had no power over the rest of me.  Silently I pleaded, Freddie, please don't start moaning, if you start moaning I won't be able to handle it and then we'll both be in tro-

DING-DONG!

Saved by the bell.

With this distraction, I found my strength again.  "Someone's at the door!" I hollered, pushing him off me.  I forced myself not to look at him as I flew to the closet and threw on my robe. 

I was just about to hustle downstairs when a pillow soared through the air and struck me in the head.  Freddie was sitting up, his eyes tired but flat with a chilly mask.

"Hey, you little tease, just thought I'd mention," he growled coldly.  "You might want to do something about your neck."

"Why?"

"Trust me."

I darted into the bathroom and inspected.  He was right.  There were little red marks all over both sides of my throat.  Thanks, Freddie, for turning my neck into a pizza.  I thought of asking to borrow a scarf, but the door bell rang again, and if I took too long in answering someone might get the wrong idea.

"And I am not a tease!" I shouted across the hall.

"You're so wild to answer the door, so f---ing answer it!"

I sighed.  "So rude.  I'm going to put cyanide in your tea."

"Arsenic works better, try that."

Just another peaceful morning in the Mercury household, I quipped to myself.  Thinking it would save time, I slid down the banister.  I pulled my robe collar up around my neck to hide my very first hickeys (oh, I've always hated that word) and flung the door open to see Roger standing there.

His head was down, eyes focused on the car keys he was twirling around on his finger.  He didn't know it was me who had answered.  That's the only reason why he said what he said:

"Hey, Fred, so what's the score after last night?  Be honest."

"Hmm?" I squinted.

"Do I owe you, or did she play coy with you too?"

Very slowly, his words sank into my brain.  "I beg your pardon?"

He looked up, then, and eyes widened.  "Oh, uh, hi there, Eve.  Uh, I was, um, talking about the score in a, er- there was a football match on, and we made a bet, one hundred pounds, against each other- but it wasn't even really a bet, it was more like a, um..."

"Okay, I know what you mean," I nodded, but I'm not stupid.  "Did she play coy with you too?" he said.  If ever was a sum-up, there was one.  A bet?  On she- aka, me?  One hundred pounds? 

What was going on here?

 

Chapter Text

 

"Is Freddie there, though?" Roger asked.

"He is, he's just- preoccupied," I said, gritting my teeth together.  "I was about to make breakfast, would you care to join us?"

"Oh, no, I won't stay that long."

"Cup of tea?"

"I'm fine, really- unless there's any BJ in the fridge, in which case..." Roger snickered.

I forced a smile.  "The only BJ allowed around here is BJ Thomas, and he's absent.  But if you want OJ, there's maybe one more glass full left.  It's all yours."

"Nah, I'm just teasing."

"Come on in.  I'll go get him for you." 

Roger strolled in, and as he did, I absently I let go of my collar.  He must have seen have seen the marks of my own personal vampire, because he muttered to himself, with trademark indiscretion, "Hm.  He just might at that."

My cheeks burned.  I made myself a glass of water (my legs ached horribly and my lips were dry) then climbed back upstairs.  "Be right back," I said.

As I trekked up the stairs, however, my knees began to tremble.  "One hundred pounds."  The words reverberated within my skull.  I lifted a hand to my splotchy throat.  Shame shot through my veins.  I had let Freddie go further with me than I had let any other boy ever try for.  So all his little gestures, the escalating affection, his mesmerizing charm- all a ploy.  All tactics.

For a measly one hundred pounds.

Freddie spent more than that on a bottle of wine. 

So I was not only a stray kitten, but a CHEAP one at that! 

My trust in him shattered.  My face froze; I would not give him the satisfaction of tears.  My fists clenched.  Such a fool, such a naive fool.  What did I really expect of Mr. High-Flying-No-Strings-Sex?  The selfsame fellow who said that women, like modern paintings, were such that "you can't enjoy them if you try to understand them." 

Well, at least I knew for a fact what I was dealing with.  The game was up, and how.

Freddie would not make a fool out of me.  I would not let him.  I made up my mind.  The kisses stopped there.  The embraces stopped there.  The necking, especially, stopped there.  We were friends, and friends only, if even that.  And I seriously doubted if I could so much as think of him as a friend now.

Because quite frankly, in that moment, I wanted to absolutely kill him.

When I came back to my room, I found my bed empty.  Across the hall I heard the sound of running water; he'd pushed himself into the shower.  His bedroom door was open, so I let myself in.  I was not too surprised to find the bathroom door slightly ajar as well.

NFO: Freddie doesn't like closing doors unless he's slamming them to make a point.  Symptom of claustrophobia or monophobia perhaps?

One thing about it: knowing about the bet and how Freddie apparently saw me gave me back my analytical prowess, cleared up my perspective.  It's impossible to see anything as it truly is through a soft focus lens anyway.

So I knocked on the bathroom door.  "Freddie?"

No answer.

"Freddie, Roger's here, he wants to talk to you."

No answer.

I blame cocaine withdrawal (Never again, no way, no how, easily one of the stupidest things I have ever let myself do, don't you dare put cocaine in your coffee, it's disgusting)  and the bad judgment that comes with it for the dumb mistake I made next: I pushed the door open. 

"Are you even in here?" I called.

But the shower stall stood empty, the curtain still drawn back.  The water was hot, steam fogging up the mirrors and the tile.

Someone behind me tapped my left shoulder.  I turned to the left to see, and saw nobody there.  But on my right side, a cool breeze flew past me.  Age old trick.  I should have known. 

As I turned back to the front, there Freddie stood, no more well-groomed than when I last saw him.  His dressing gown was drawn loosely around him, the belt untied.  He leaned casually against the door frame, still irritated.

"What?" he demanded.

"Roger's downstairs, he wants a word with you."  My voice was frosty.

Freddie looked me up and down -with what intent, I couldn't, and wouldn't, decipher- and requested, "Can you take a message, I'm not in the best shape if you'll notice."

"I noticed."

Freddie shifted off the doorway and reached his arms up in a stretch.  I don't know why my eyes roved below his waist, but what I saw there as he stretched made them widen in shock.  I tried not to gasp, but I couldn't help a sudden sharp breath.  Freddie wasn't wearing any underclothes.  He looked down as well, following my gaze which had stayed there longer than it should ever have. 

"Oops," he murmured, glancing back up at me.  The twisted smirk returned.  "Well, I mean, aside of that, I'm not in the best- you know."

I took a deep breath through my nose.  And he just kept talking, making me more and more uncomfortable.  "What's wrong?  You didn't mind so much while you were sleeping.  I sleep in the buff, you know.  I highly recommend it.  If you had any funny feelings last night, it was probably me."

I felt my left hand clench and unclench as I weighed the pros and cons of slapping it squarely across those high cheekbones.  Civility won out.  But, I still had my sanity- and the upper hand.  It was these two which prevented me from a complete breakdown.

My face went rigid as I stated, "Roger's only here about a matter of one hundred pounds.  Some kind of bet, it seems.  Do you know anything about that, Freddie?"

He quit smirking in a trice.  "I, uh..."

"Yes, thought you might.  Though I dare say it's none of my business, where could I possibly fit into a bet between you two anyway?" I grinned, but my eyes were hard- and, as I was told later, quite frightening.

"I'll be right down," Freddie said, now pale.  "And look, Evie, I can explain-"

"Good, I'd love to see you try," I said before turning around and heading for the door.  Then, unable to help myself, I looked back at him and said, "And Freddie, please, put some shorts on, or something.  You look a little cold."

As angry as I was with Freddie, I still couldn't block my anarchic physical responses to him.  My hands shook, and an image of Freddie's body I didn't expect to have today wouldn't leave my head.  From out of nowhere this thought shot through me as I began my descent, The man is blessed, oh boy, is he blessed.

The slap I intended for Freddie I gave myself.  GOD!  Freddie was using me this whole time and I am still so desperately attracted!

I ran my hands over my defiled neck.  I had never felt so foolish, so utterly stupid, in my life.  Still I took solace in the knowledge that neither Freddie nor Roger had won me.  Nor would they, I decided.  I was not a prize to compete for, I was not a spoil to boast about.  And I was not a racehorse to put money on. 

Freddie, I may be physically attracted to you, I stewed silently.  I may think you are the sexiest man I've ever had the misfortune to let kiss me.  I may want you without wanting to want you.  But this one action says more about you than speech upon speech of explanation.  And from where I stand right here, right now, you've blown it.  Congratulations.

I went downstairs where Roger awaited. 

 

 

Chapter Text

I brushed past the handsome blond as I entered the kitchen.  Roger asked me for a light, which I gave to him. 

"He should be down in about five minutes," I made myself say.  "So, what are you guys doing in the studio today?"

Roger took a drag on his cigarette.  "Basically same stuff.  We may work on one of my songs this time around."

"Oh, what a shame."

Roger's brows furrowed.  "Huh?"

"Er, I mean, what a shame I won't be there to see it."

"Will you not be coming back this morning?"

I shook my head.  "The cats need me.  Speaking of which, I ought to feed them, I bet they're starving.  Oh, and tea.  We need tea.  Very important."

That was the best excuse I could come up with for turning away from him and facing the wall.  With trembling hands I gripped the counter top.  I was already losing control.  Blindly I fumbled around for the teapot, hot salty tears threatening to surface.  My nose began to cramp, and my throat to tighten.  Only two intelligible, coarse thoughts were swimming in my brain now: Damn your eyes, Freddie, and Only one hundred frickin' pounds

It never occurred to me to think I might be reacting a little too violently for the way I claimed to feel.  For someone who supposedly only wanted Freddie for his unique looks and slight build (I never was one for the Schwarzenegger types), I certainly took it hard.  But in my daze, I forgot to notice that maybe, just maybe, something sweeter, stronger, and a whole lot messier was beginning to bloom.  Perhaps if I'd paid attention, things might have turned out differently- and I might have saved myself a great deal of heartache.

But now, I prayed for strength.  I couldn't let Freddie see how this affected me.  I set the full teapot on the stove and turned on the heat underneath it.  In the back of my head I told myself I needed to keep busy, what with idle hands being the devil's plaything and all that.  Thirsting for distraction, I flicked on the radio. 

And what should I hear but Rod Stewart urging his sweetie: "Tonight's the night/ It's gonna be alright-"

I adjusted the dial, found another clear signal: "-Touching you, so warm and tender/ Lord, I feel such a sweet surrender-"

My jaw tensed.  Not helping, Andy.  "Why do there have to be so many frickin' songs about sex?" I asked aloud.

Roger took a puff.  "Do you want me to answer that, or...?"

"No, actually," I muttered.  I made one last station change and heard the worst song that could possibly have played:

"Paper roses, paper roses,

Oh, how real those roses seem to be.

But they're only imitation,

Like your imitation love fo-"

Click.

Screw you, Marie Osmond.

"So Okoy," Roger teased.  "Where'd you get those love-bites?"

"Love-bites?" I managed.  "What are you talking about?"

The blond came close to me.  "There," he said, pointing at various places on my neck, "there, there, and there.  Love-bites."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah.  Where'd you get them?"

"I don't know," I lied.

"Are you sure of that?" Roger was smiling. 

"As sure as anything.  Why?"

"So it wasn't your husband?"

"How should I know?  I can't account for anything that happened last night. It might have been."

Roger sighed.  "Eve, why don't you come clean about it.  You're not married, are you?"

Why is Roger interrogating me?  "Why is it important?"

"I just want to know why you'd lie about having a husband."

I was already in a hole, and for some reason I didn't want to hurt Roger's feelings even though he was just as guilty as Freddie, so I kept digging.  "I didn't lie.  I just don't have a ring."

"Where is your husband, then?"

"He's at home, worrying about me."

"Why didn't he come with you?  Why are you here all alone?"

Feebly I changed the subject.  "How is Dominique, Rog?"

"Yes, Roger, how is your lovely Dom?" Freddie's voice rang from the stairway.  I turned back around, making sure my chin was lifted and my jaw squared.  In seconds, he'd raced into the kitchen, now fully clothed in rude (but still decent- I guess) shorts and a tank, and stood against the counter beside me.

"She's all right," the drummer replied.  "I talked to her this morning."

Freddie nodded, folding his arms.  "Now what's so important that we couldn't discuss later?"

"Uh, could we talk about this in private?" Roger said.  I could almost feel his eyes graze the back of my neck.  "It's, um... just about-"

"One hundred pounds for a football match, for or against," I said quietly.  "Big whoop.  What's so special about football?"

Freddie glanced at me, but I refused to look back.

"Last I heard, the score was tied, Roger," Freddie answered. 

Roger shrugged.  "That's fair."  I saw a tiny little smile creep up one side of his mouth; it was much more subtle than his usual one, but we saw it.

"What's so funny?" Freddie asked.

Roger blinked.  "No, I'm just thinking, it's rather odd."

"What is?"

With a callused hand, he stroked the especially red spot on my right side, as if I was some 4H animal in a livestock show.  "Very odd indeed, Eve. These love-bites you let him give you and yet you've got a man waiting at home.  But you seem to me, rather the faithful, monogamous type."

"Who'd you say gave her love bites?" Freddie asked.  Why are you guys talking about my neck?  Why is this important?

Roger cocked his head.  "You did, didn't you?"

Freddie squinted.  "No, I didn't."

Roger made a face of complete disbelief.  I wanted to do the same, but I couldn't chance blowing my cover.  I rolled my eyes saying, "If you guys are just going to talk about the blemishes on my neck, I'll feed the cats and go clean up.  Leave you to it."

The boys, though, were ignoring me.  "Well then, who did?" Roger asked.

"You saw it yourself.  Rod did it."

"Rod?" Roger exclaimed. 

"Yeah, Rod Stewart.  He and Eve were having quite the time out there, dancing, flirting, things like that."

Roger bent closer and peered at my skin.  "Rod did that?"

"Eve probably doesn't remember," Freddie admitted.  "Do you, dear?"

I shook my head, returning attention to the cats' food bowls. 

"Well, I do.  And I remember how she was last night.  Someone spiked her coffee, I think.  Married or not, the poor dear was not herself."

I looked up from the can opener I was twisting ever so slowly. What are you playing at, Freddie?

"I'm inclined to believe 'not', myself," Roger quipped.

"Well, I'm inclined to believe whatever she tells me is true."

Roger half-smiled. "Pop quiz: what's her husband's name?"

Freddie rolled his eyes. "Mark."

"Last night, you said Steve."

"So?  I made a mistake.  Eve, his name is Mark, right?"

I nodded.

"There.  Seriously, man. Can you give the whole married thing a break?"

"Freddie, come on! Eve's just funning with us. She's-"

"You calling me a liar?" I asked.

"Not a liar, precisely, just- look.  If you weren't interested, Eve, you could have just said so."

Freddie scoffed.  "Roger, really.  Eve's too much of a lady.  Last night's frivolities aside, she's too sweet a girl to just insult a fellow to his face."

His pleasant tone of voice was deceiving.  Only he and I knew those words were double-edged- and that's exactly how I took them.  "I'll be out of here in two shakes, and you can cut it out and talk like normal people-"

"No, stay." 

I shook my head, and bent to give the cats their breakfast.  Slowly I lifted back upright, my muscles aching.  Like a woman three times my age I shuffled toward the living room when Freddie spoke again, this time much more gently. 

"Please stay."

I'm a sucker for good manners, even from unpredictable, beautiful, scoundrel, no-good panthers like Freddie.  I stayed.

Freddie went on, "As I was saying, so really the only alternative we have is to just accept she's married- and leave it at that."

Roger shrugged.  "Like I said, I'd need to see the license before I accept that."

"That's your problem."

I nodded, then blurted without thinking, "Anyway, we'd have to go all the way to Vegas to get a copy of that."

Me and my big mouth. 

"What's that you say?" Freddie asked.  I should have looked at him as I answered.  I might have detected the wheels turning behind his eyes.

"Nothing, just- it would be quite an undertaking to get a copy of Mark's and my marriage license, seeing as we got married in Las Vegas.  But since it's of absolutely no consequence-"

"Couldn't you just send off for it?" Roger said.

"Are you kidding me?"

But he wasn't.  "Can't you do that over there?  Just send in a request, and get it through the mail or something?"

I stared at him, my head becoming a psychologist's for a moment and diagnosing like wildfire.  I stood between two rock star egos big enough to crush me.  This wasn't for money; these guys spent money like nobody's business.  Ego, pride: that's what this was about.  It defied all rational explanation.  I don't think even Sigmund Freud could handle this.  Roger was a ladies' man, with blue eyes that got women into the bedroom before he even walked up and asked them their names.  Girls didn't tell him no; it just wasn't done.  But I told him no.  Roger couldn't accept that I had rebuffed him.  He wanted proof. There had to be a reason I didn't want him.  So I gave him one.

Yet it was somehow a blow to think that I, Julia/Eve Samuels/Dubroc, had tied the knot with someone indubitably less attractive than him, and even if I were given a chance to "cheat," I held my own.  Therefore, Roger couldn't accept that I didn't want him, but he also could not accept that I was "married."  It made no sense; no matter how many times I turned the kaleidoscope, the design it made still looked unforgivably lopsided.

And Freddie?  I didn't know what his beef was.  What did he care?  What did I matter?

To answer Roger, I shook my head.  "My father's in law," I explained.  "He told me once that you have to actually be in the county where you get married if you want to go get a copy of the license."

"Hm," Freddie hummed aloud.  I think even he wanted me to see he was thinking.  But I denied him a reaction.

"So," Roger said, "you can't just send for it?"

"Nope.  Sorry.  There are rules even in Las Vegas.  Not many, but they exist."  I dusted off my hands.  Since I couldn't skip off to the shower, I decided to start working on food.  A Moonstruck breakfast sounded excellent: sauteed red bell peppers I'd bought a few days ago, with eggs fried in toast. 

"Are you staying for breakfast or what, Sneakers?" I said.

"Actually," Freddie cut in, "Roger was just leaving-"

"What are you making?" Roger interrupted.

I announced the menu to the two men on either side of me.  Roger apparently decided my cooking was better than a solely nicotine breakfast, so he rubbed his hands in anticipation and said, "Sounds perfect." 

I pulled the veg out of the fridge, then looked around for a suitable knife.  "How many eggs, boys?"

"Two," Roger said.

I looked at Freddie.  "And what about you?"

He shrugged and was silent.

"I'll make you two, then, and you can make up your mind what to do with them later."  It was then the tea started to whistle, and as I went to tend to it, I asked anyone who would listen, "And would someone please get out the sliced bread for me?"  I emphasized "sliced" by stretching the word twice as long. 

Mini-rebellion.  How sweet it is.

"You bought sliced bread?" Roger laughed, looking at Freddie. "Did you know about that?"

"It was a weak moment," I sighed.  "I can't resist plain white pre-sliced bread, there's too much America in me.  You will forgive me, won't you, Fred?"

Freddie stood there, stone-faced, and didn't say whether he would.  And masked he stayed, all through breakfast, as he quietly ate half what was in front of him.  Despite already being a chain smoker, Roger gobbled up every bite as well as the conversation.  I had forgotten how long-winded Roger actually was.  The interviews I'd seen previously attested to that.

But I didn't have much of an appetite either, to my surprise.  But I shouldn't have been shocked.  Awkwardly sitting across from a very quiet Freddie is enough to hush the stomach. 
So really, I suppose, I'd only made breakfast for Roger- and I thought he was a pill. 

Without realizing it, I sleepily let out a wide yawn while Roger was talking about something.  Quickly I struggled to cover my mouth, but Freddie caught me.  Our eyes locked onto each others, my hand still cupped over my lips.  I saw his mouth twitch. 

Roger paused, looked at the two of us.  "What?  What'd I say?"

Freddie snorted a laugh, and it sounded so ridiculous coming out of him I burst out laughing.  I was still nowhere near happy with him.  But funny is funny, and I needed to take all the distraction I could get.  The tension in the room lessened dramatically.  And even Freddie visibly loosened up.

"What?  No seriously, what?" Roger asked.

"Nothing," I chortled.  "Nothing, you didn't do it."

"Hmmm."  Freddie again sighed aloud, leaning back in his chair.  He looked up over my head, apparently deep in thought.  After a moment, at last he spoke.

"Vegas," he mused.  "Sounds like a perfect day trip to me.  What do you think, Eve?"

"Oh, yes, definitely," I murmured, picking up my plate and putting it in the sink. 

"When do you want to go?"

"Whenever you want, dearie," I replied dryly.

"How's today?"

I assumed (DANGER! DANGER!) that Freddie was simply being a weird kind of snarky,  so I snarked back, "Well, aside of the album you guys have to work on, and the fact that Las Vegas is practically on the other side of the world, yeah, sure, let's pick up and go right now."

"You two," Roger muttered.  "I can't keep up with all your inside jokes..."  He looked at his watch, then leapt up from the table.  "I'd better get going.  Are you coming in today, Freddie?"

Freddie shrugged, lifting his plate for me to pick up.  "Might.  Probably won't.  I have to run an errand."

"How long should that take?"

"Long enough.  It's okay, Roger, you can do what you need to.  I won't always be there to hold your hand, you know."

 That sent a twinge through my stomach.  I dropped the plate in the sink, making a loud CLANG. 

Freddie looked up.  "Butterfingers, dear?"

I shook my head, my ears ringing with the last flip thing he had said.  "I won't always be there..."  Abruptly I remembered the skeleton hand from last night.  Why did he have to remind me?  Still, I waved goodbye to Roger ("Tell Mark I said hi," he said), my face blank, but my heart never ceasing its spin. 

I stayed in the kitchen, washing the dishes while Freddie saw Roger out.  I laid a towel across the counter and let the rinsed pieces drain.  I wasn't looking forward to being alone with Freddie, not when I had nothing to say to him that didn't bear a tinge of bitter sarcasm.

Only after I finished drying the plates and putting them away did I realize Freddie was watching me from the doorway.  I glanced at him, then shut the cabinet.

"All done?" he asked.

"Uh, yes," I replied.

"Good."  Freddie started talking to me in an excited voice, as if none of this morning had ever happened.  "So get yourself together, we haven't much time."

"What's the hurry?"

"If we're lucky, maybe we can get there and back in a day."

I frowned.  "Get where?"

"Las Vegas, you goose.  Where else?"

I rolled my eyes, thinking he was kidding.  "Right."

"Well, don't just stand there, start packing!  Make yourself presentable!  Good Lord, Eve, do something!"

Slowly it began to dawn on me that he wasn't joking around.  "Are you serious?"

"Roger wants proof.  Let's bring him proof."

My jaw dropped.  "But I'm not married!  I told you!"

"Details."

"That's kind of an important one, Freddie," I cried.

"We just need a license, everything else will fall into place.  Come on, get moving!"

"I'm not going anywhere!" Ah, how wonderful, I could again tell him "no."  "Who cares what Roger thinks?"

"I do.  That is, I care what he thinks about you.  Whatever else he thinks, can go f--- itself."

My eyes narrowed.  "Is this another bet?"

Zing!  Freddie grimaced.  "No, darling, listen-"

But the flow was tapped, and my high-running emotions were released.  "Look, Freddie, I know all you care about is that one hundred pounds you bet on my virginity, but I'm having no more of this."

That one hurt, too.  "Eve, I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have done that, it was a lapse of concentration-"

"Yeah, I'll bet.  You guys can take this little charade and stick it.  I'm done."

"I know!  So am I!  Darling, please.  That's why we have to get to the States, get this worked out."

Again, his reasoning defied every law of physics.  "You're certifiable, Freddie!  You are one hundred percent, absolutely, positively out of your coconut."  I started up the stairs. 

Freddie seized my arms.  "Listen to me, you little tart.  Do you want Roger to stop breathing down your neck about this?"

His eyes frightened me down into a squeak.  "Yes."

"Then we're going."

I squirmed out of his grasp and folded my arms.  "No, we're not."

I marched up to my room and closed the door only for Freddie to open it up again, plop right down on the bed and cross his legs. 

"Give me one good reason why we shouldn't," he said.

"There's millions."

"Like?"

"Because you hurt me terribly and I hate your guts right now," was poised and ready for launch on my tongue, but I thought better of it.  I was still here by Freddie's good grace, and eviction was just a word away.

So I said, "Because it's stupid!"

"Weak.  Next!"

"My God.  What about the band?"

"What about them?  It's just a day or two."

"But they need you!"

"Not that much.  Next!"

I spluttered, "But it's- It's not practical!"

"Really, dear?  When have I ever cared about practicality?"

"You should."

"Well, I don't."  He yawned.  "Darling, you've yet to convince me otherwise.  Come on!  It'll be fun!"

"Freddie, you don't just make up a person to marry under Nevada law!"

"You don't have to be married to anyone real, just have some guy stand in and say his name is Mark Something-Or-Other- oh, dear, yes.  What's Mark's last name going to be?"

"Zuckerberg," I quipped under my breath.

"Oh, that's awful.  I love it.  Mark Zuckerberg."

I put my face in my hands and tried not to laugh. This can't really be happening.

Aloud I said, "I can't be Mrs. Mark Zuckerberg, okay?  I want to marry someone real somewhere down the road."

"You don't have to be!  While we're there, we'll just pick up annulment papers and as soon as Roger gets a look at the license, you can sign the things and ship 'em off to get the marriage dissolved."  He slapped his thighs.  "Coo coo ka choo."

"You sound like you've given this a lot of thought."

"What do you think I was doing during breakfast?"

"AHA!"  I shouted, making Freddie jump a little.  I'd just had a brainstorm.  "I couldn't go to Las Vegas even if I wanted to.  You know why?"

Freddie laid back, straightened his legs.  "I'm crazy to know."

"I have no ID!" I proclaimed.  "I don't exist!  No valid license!  No Social!  No nothing!  You need a Passport to cross the ocean, get into America, but I - Don't- Have one!  BOOM!" I pumped my fist in the air, thinking that was the end of it.

But this was Freddie Mercury I was talking to.  And all he did was close his eyes and smile.

Which unnerved me.  "So, um, I'll put up with Roger's jibes, thank you.  I'm tougher than I look."

Freddie looked into my eyes, and laughed diabolically. 

"What's so funny?"

"You are, my dear."

"Oh, well, thank you very much."

"Not at all."  He sighed.  "Well, if we can't get you in by legal means, I guess we'll just have to smuggle you in."

My heart sank.  "How?"

"Turn around."

I did.  And the blood went to my feet.  He was pointing at the 1 by .5 by .5 meter trunk I had kicked in frustration the very first night I was here. While too small for someone like Freddie, it was nonetheless big enough to comfortably enclose a girl of average height providing she was tucked into a fetal position.  I was average height- and a girl.

I filled in the rest of the blanks myself.

I looked back at Freddie, whose smile only grew wider.  I started vehemently shaking my head.  "Oh, no.  No, no, no no no no no no NO!"

While I was still telling him "No" over and over, he opened the trunk and said, "At least try it on for size."

He made me curl up inside it and found that I fit rather nicely, like a shoe in a shoebox. "Great, now we just need to pack and be off. Let's be ready and have you in there in forty-five minutes, all right?"

Before I could answer, he traipsed into his bedroom. Freddie picked up the phone and called Mary to ask her to watch over the cats, as he had to leave the country for a little while.

I kicked the trunk again. What good was the word "no" if every time it was used, Freddie went miraculously deaf? I huffed, walked into the bathroom with a change of clothes, and showered. I was tired of this.

Freddie was still on the phone, but not with Mary, when I dressed and walked back out, picked up my backpack, trudged down the stairs, and opened the door, about to leave. I had had enough of the idiocy, enough of being used, enough of being chewed on, both figuratively and literally. My patience was at an end.

Look, I'll turn myself in, I said to myself. Take me to jail, lock me up. Throw away the key. At least I'll be alone. I can't take this anymore.

Just before I walked out into the overcast day, I heard a soft meow behind me. I turned, and there was Oscar, staring up at me like always. Once he had my attention, he padded closer and nuzzled his head against my legs, looking up at me almost affectionately- which, for a cat, is saying something. I smiled, bending down to rub his back. The orange tabby purred, arching up against the palm of my hand as I stroked his fur.

"I'm in a house full of wildcats," I said aloud as I tapped Oscar's nose. "Any sane person would have left days ago. Why am I still here?"

"Evie?" Freddie called. "Darling? Where are you?"

I rolled my eyes. "Down here," I replied. To Oscar I whispered lightly, "You distracted me, you little fink. Now I can't sneak off. You guys planned this, didn't you?"

Freddie appeared at the top of the stairs. "What are you doing down there? We have less than half an hour and your hair's still wet."

I shrugged in defeat. "Shoot me."

"I'd rather not. I'm fond of this carpeting."

"I'll say this one more time," I told him. "This isn't important. I'm not important. The album is. Queen is. Why don't you take Mary to Vegas, have her pretend to be Eve Dubroc and you pretend to be Mark Zuckerberg, don't you know that would make her year?"

"Yeah, but I didn't bet on Mary."

"Exactly. You-"

"I what?"

"Never mind." In my head, though, I finished, You have respect for her. I'm just me. You don't give a damn about me.

"Freddie," I said, getting up off my knees, "I've got just one question for you."

He planted his hands on his hips, tapping his foot. Sitting still and talking on the telephone had given him the jitters. "Well, go on."

"Is this absolutely necessary?" I asked. "Do we have to do this?"

"That's two questions."

I blinked. "Would you mind answering at least one of them please?"

Freddie waltzed down the stairs a way, and folded his arms. "Darling, it's not a have-to, certainly, but I consider it an ought-to."

"What are you trying to prove?"

He ignored that question too. After a moment, Freddie said, "Look. I'll make a pact with you. You do this for me, come with me to Vegas, not only will I promise not to report you, I won't ask any more favors of you ever again."

I looked him over. "The favor to end all favors, eh?"

"You could say that."

"And Roger will back off?"

Freddie held up his right hand. "I'll make sure of it."

I rubbed my eyes, forgetting I had cat dander all over my fingers. "Very well," I sighed. "Travel by trunk. There are worse things, I suppose."

"Indeed, such as you leaving-"

"The front door open. I know, sorry." I walked over and closed the door and locked it.

When I looked back up at him, I noticed the oddest expression on his face. His features were a little stiff, and his eyes narrowed. Freddie let out a deep breath through his nose.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

With an annoyed little cough, Freddie put his hand on the rail and snapped, "Just start packing so we can f---ing go. Jesus." He turned then and hustled toward his bedroom, slamming the door.

Good Lord, the man's practically bipolar.

Oscar was now walking tight circles around me, his tail curling around my shins. Even though he started my throat to itching and my eyes to watering, this little guy was so cute. I couldn't resist petting him.

Maybe that's the answer, I wondered. Like I do Oscar, I find Freddie cute (or in his actual case, sexy) and so, though I know neither of them are good for me, I stick around and put up with them. I'm not trapped here, and yet I stay. Because... he's cute. Cute, but mean and manipulating. Yeah. That's just great. What happened to my standards?

"There's only two things keeping me here, Oscar," I told the little tabby. "You, and his cheekbones. That's it. I can't stand the rest of him."

To all the cats, I said, "See you later, my children, got to go pack. I'm being smuggled into Las Vegas to fake a marriage to Mark Zuckerberg."

In spite of myself, I burst out laughing. And people thought Freddie sneaking Princess Diana into a gay bar was off the wall...

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

My fingers ticked against my thighs to the rhythm of the music I had softly pumping into my ears. I was listening to my movie soundtrack playlist, the best I could come up with to salve my quickly developing claustrophobia. The "Pink Panther Theme" had played three times already in the shuffle. But it fit so nicely with my current situation, I had to hear it again when it came around the fourth time.

I had my head almost stuck between my stiffening knees by this point. I shifted my legs with what space I had. And it wasn't much. The trunk smelled of dust, leather, and old book paper. The air inside it was indescribably hot and stuffy, the little holes in the top I had cut for myself doing little to fix that. My shoulders ached from hunching over so long. I paused the music a moment, peered at the time.

I groaned. I'd only spent an hour in this godforsaken box? Lies! I'd been in this trunk for ages! I was born in here!

It was getting harder and harder not to beat against the side and call for help, but I didn't know if the muffled voices I heard just above the lid were friendly. A lot of good a panic attack would do me in the middle of a customs line.

Okay, I feel an existential crisis coming on, I said to myself. Who am I? I'm Julia Samuels. Not Eve Dubroc, Julia Samuels. Remember that. I'm a psych student from 2017. Where am I? I'm in an elevator stuck between heaven and hell, though right now I feel a little closer to the lower levels. It's the year 1977 where I am at present. And the guy I'm living with seems hell-bent on stealing my sanity from me even though that's almost all I have left. How did I get here again? Why am I in this dumb box about to get shipped to Las Vegas? Oh, yeah. Because, Freddie. Of course. How could I forget.

The trunk fell from some ledge, couldn't have been five feet off the ground. But with the one-hundred-fifteen pound female bulk it held, it toppled over and plunged heavily to the ground. I hit my head against the side of the trunk, barely stifling an "Oof."

"Careful!" I heard Freddie's voice, laced with nerves, a short distance away. "I've got some very delicate stuff in there."

Two men took either end of the trunk and with a grunt lifted me up. They started hauling me up a stairway; I felt myself lean forward into my legs, brutalizing my back further. Eight hours more of this. I want to die.

"Just put it up in there with us. Yes, that's nice. Perfect." Freddie sounded anything but calm. Maybe he'd give us away even before I had the chance to. Oh, the NFOs I was racking up. Hopefully I'd remember all of them for later official recording.

A few minutes later, I was set heavily down, and one of the two men asked, "What's all packed in there? Cinder blocks?"

"Something more precious than diamonds, my dear," Freddie cooed.

"A lot heavier, too," the other fellow remarked. "I do believe I strained a muscle."

I snorted. Wimps. Freddie slung me over his shoulder that one time and didn't even bat an eyelash.

They started pushing the trunk across the floor. Someone opened a sliding door and the two movers shoved me in. With a couple more gripes each, Tweedledee and Tweedledum walked out. I noticed several other voices as I was pushed along- all English, but none I automatically recognized. Not that I expected to know anyone on a public airplane, I just blandly wondered.

But it was odd, the way I was being taken to the luggage area of the plane. It seemed like they were carrying me down the aisle right in front of all the passengers. Weird plane. Was this how they worked way back in the 70's? Somehow I didn't quite believe that.

A fist tapped lightly against the trunk top. "How's it going in there?" Freddie whispered.

"Freddie! What are you doing back here?"

"Checking on you," he replied. "How do you feel?"

"Is there a chiropractor in the house?" I joked weakly.

Freddie snickered. "Just a few more minutes, darling. I promise."

"Who do you think you're fooling? I'm stuck in here another eight hours at least!"

That was how long it took to reach the JFK International from London's Heathrow Airport, where I assumed we were sitting now. According to Freddie, we would fly across the Atlantic, stop briefly in New York City for fuel, then make the rest of the trip nonstop to Las Vegas. I hoped I could sneak one little break in between time to stretch. I didn't want to go through the rest of my life as a deformed human pretzel just because Freddie had a funny idea.

"What makes you think that?"

"That's what you told me. Shoo! You shouldn't be back here anyway!"

"Oh," Freddie said, "I know what you mean now. Ooo, won't you be surprised."

"Freddie, I'm too achy for surprises, tell me what's goi-"

"Sh!" The clip-clop of platform soles was approaching us. Without realizing it Freddie put his hand over my air holes.

A few seconds of silence, when a deeper, less refined voice said something and Freddie collapsed into relieved laughter. "Sharon, my dear, you scared the shit out of me!"

"Sharon" made a clever comeback I couldn't quite make out, but Freddie's rejoinder was "Oh, but you know better than that, you've certainly seen it enough," and he said it in such a way that I honestly had no problem not catching what the first part was.

"Are those two muppets off the plane yet, darling?" Freddie asked. "Oh, good. Can you distract the ladies for me a m- oh, well, I suppose Straker's ahead of you there. Never mind. Give me a second, be right out."

Wait, wait, wait. Peter Straker's coming too? What is this?

I heard Freddie fiddle with a door, then he tiptoed back over to me. "Alright, Evie, let's get you out of there."

"But you didn't pay for a ticket for two, did you?"

"I didn't pay for any tickets."

"What? But how-"

"Do you want out?"

"Yes."

"Then enough with the questions. God, I can scarcely hear myself think."

But I squeezed in one more. "What about my papers and stuff?"

"Darling, just trust me, okay?"

Trust YOU. That's a laugh, I grumbled. "Sure, now would you please let me out if you're really offering?"

"Actually, no. I'm just here to get your hopes up. Gotcha." He got up off his knees and moved away.

"Where are you-"

"You said I should shoo, so, I'm shooing. See you in eight hours."

I was locked in a hot, cramped trunk, and Freddie the carefree cavalier was playing head games- and I still hadn't entirely recovered from stringing out the night before. I abruptly no longer cared about getting caught. I was just angry now.

"Let me out of here, damn you!" I shouted.

"That's better," Freddie quipped, walking back.

Did he just want to hear me swear? What's so great about that?

From within my imperfect darkness I heard a little rattling on the side as he worked at the lock. All of a sudden the trunk was flooded with light. Slowly I put my hands on either side of the open trunk. I stood on shaky, weak knees that buckled a little. Freddie caught my elbows before I dropped down again, leading me over to the bed. I fell back against the white shag bedspread, stretching my limbs luxuriously and cracking my neck.

"Prettiest girl I've ever seen come in a box," Freddie sang.

"Thanks," I said as I rolled over on my stomach.

He leaned down and rubbed my shoulders. "Wasn't so bad, was it?"

"You try folding yourself in there for an hour, and then we'll talk," I whispered, forgetting to be indignant at his touch. I went face down into the covers. What wonderful hands he had. They knew exactly where the soreness collected-

I lifted my head and frowned. A bed in the luggage area? Such a nice one too, a queen sized mattress with a lit lamp and nightstand on either side. And the elaborate psychedelic wallpaper it was pushed against didn't seem like a standard plane commodity. I sat up.

"Is this the plane?" I asked.

"No," Freddie said, pleasure warming his voice. "This is the bedroom on the plane."

Before I could say anything, he sauntered around to the door and opened it. My jaw dropped.

Freddie grinned. "That's the plane."

I slid off the bed and wobbled out, unable to believe my eyes. I was staring down a carpeted corridor that looked like the inside of the Enterprise. Plush couches lined one wall of the plane, broken only by what looked like an electric piano and a full bar. On the other side, comfy chairs that belonged in a bachelor pad stood, one of which occupied by none other than Peter Straker, who was naughtily chatting up a young woman dressed like a flight attendant. In the air I detected the faint but ever-lingering odor of marijuana, mingling with a fresher one of cigarettes, one of which was resting in the hand of the one and only Paul Prenter, who appeared from behind the divider.

In spite of Mr. Little Black Rain Cloud leering at me once more, I felt myself get a little excited. Freddie put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, "Surprise."

I turned to him with a widening smile. "How did you get a hold of this thing?"

"Very easily, in fact. It was just sitting here, looking rather lonely, in need of a party to shuttle somewhere. And since we're quite the party, I decided we couldn't possibly spring for anything less."

"We're taking this plane all the way to Vegas?" My suddenly high-pitched voice (thank God, my laryngitis was finally leaving my throat) gave away my mounting energy.

"We've got her for about sixty hours starting now, in case we should be, um, delayed, of course," Freddie winked.

Straker looked at me, wide-eyed. "Freddie, is she what you've snuck on here in that case?"

"She?" "Sharon" exclaimed from one of the chairs, which had its back to me. An oddly clad man with shaggy hair sticking out of his newsboy cap rose from it and turned. And I wanted to faint.

"Bad luck," Peter drawled. "I thought maybe it was something a little less scandalous, like champagne or blow." He laughed at his own joke.

"Don't you worry about that, love," "Sharon" said. "There's plenty of both."

"Are-" I swallowed, trying to keep myself under control. "Are all you guys coming along?"

"Us and a few others, they should be along in a moment," Freddie said. "Should have told you, dear, sorry. But I did say it was a party. You don't just charter the Starship and fly solo."

The Starship. That was Led Zeppelin's tour plane in the early to mid-70's, a notorious orgy hub. I made a mental note not to touch any of the doors or walls without sanitizing my hands immediately afterward.

"So which of Freddie's little dears might you be?" Sharon lowered his sunglasses to the bridge of his nose and came closer.

"This is Eve," Freddie crooned. "Eve, this is Sharon, also known as Elton."

With a blank face, I put out my hand, let him pump it up and down. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road guy," I said slowly, to myself saying, Don't fangirl. Don't fangirl. No autographs, don't be impressed, I know you're tired, but don't lose it.

Elton John smiled, giving me a fine view of the gap in his front teeth. "That's me."

Freddie rolled his eyes. "Oh, right, you recognize him."

"That's the only album I know!" I lied.

"That's good enough," Elton chuckled. "Are you here to keep us entertained, Miss Eve?"

I balked. "Entertained? Uh-"

"I'm about to explain all that," Freddie cut in quickly, "I just need everybody to pay attention, are those friends of yours on board yet, Straker?"

As he spoke, two strangers stepped on board with a carry-on suitcase each, which they put up onto the overhead shelves. "Everyone's here now," Peter announced, standing.

"Splendid," Freddie said. He took my hand and led me to the middle of the plane, where everyone could see.

"Alright, dear ladies, have a look this way, thank you," Freddie stated. All the heads, even those of the two stewardesses, turned toward us.

"I've told you where we're going, but I haven't told you why," Freddie began.

"It's Vegas, there's no need for why," Peter murmured slyly.

"Oh, but there is. Ours is a mission."

Elton walked toward the bar. "I'm still listening."

Freddie continued, "Here, we have Miss Eve Dubroc, a damsel in distress, and we good knights of the Round Table are here to help her. Her fiance, Mark Zuckerberg, awaits her in Las Vegas, and it's up to us to get her there."

I bit my lip when he said my "fiance's" name, trying not to laugh. That so far was indeed the most surreal part of this developing fiasco. Deep down I knew things would only get more surreal once we lifted off.

He went on, "I don't have to tell you it's Vegas, and that we're also going for a good time. Still, Eve is not our entertainment, she is our guest of honor. Treat her like one. There's plenty of fun what's here and waiting for us."

"You got it, Freddie," Peter laughed. "As long as I get to be Sir Galahad."

"F---, Straker, that's what I was going to say," Elton joked.

Don't worry, Sir Elton, you'll be a real knight before long. Patience.

Everyone agreed in one form or another, trading jokes about taking knight names. I couldn't help feeling a little grateful to Freddie for clearing the air on that. True, I was on a plane full of guys who were much more attracted to the Y-chromosome, but on a private party plane, anything goes. I dub thee Sir Lancelot, Freddie.

"Then I suppose we're ready, eh, girls?" Freddie turned to the stewardesses.

They grinned flirtatiously and winked. "Whenever you are," the more rubenesque one crowed. We all gave the thumbs up, and they sauntered toward the front to notify the pilot.

"Hey, wait. Where's Rudy?" I asked.

It was then the intercom crackled to life, and a familiar gruff voice spoke. Speak of the devil. "Hello, this is your pilot Rudy Barnes speaking, strap yourselves down. Liftoff in five."

"Rudy's flying this thing?" I gasped.

"Quite the jack of all trades, isn't he? We're lucky to have him. Got the funniest looks when I said I wanted this one. They tried talking me out of it. Silly things."

The engines roared to life, then. A few seconds later the wheels began turning under us as the Starship rolled toward the takeoff lane. We all moved to the front of the plane, where a few airplane seats still remained, and buckled ourselves in. Freddie sat down next to me, planting a kiss on my cheek as he did so.

Suddenly a really bad joke hit me. I had to. I mused aloud, "Such a shame Mary couldn't come."

Freddie's brows shot up. "Why's that?"

"Because then we could honestly say that among others, Peter, Paul, and Mary left on a jet plane."

Freddie closed his eyes and hung his head, chortling. "Oh, that was putrid."

"I know." My face turned bright red and I laughed into my hand. I was getting so excited. "Our mission, should we choose to accept it-"

"I think we're committed now, darling," Freddie said.

But I went on, "-Is to illegally get a girl across the Atlantic into Sin City and come back with a fake marriage license."

One of the strange men sitting in front of us, the one I would come to know as John (Yet another John! Too many English Johns!) Holmes, smiled. "What could possibly go wrong?"

I had an idea. I whipped out the Magic Mirror one more time, and noodled around the movie playlist for THE song.

"What are you doing?" Freddie asked.

"It's not official yet. We need this." I looked behind me to see Elton John loftily sipping a cocktail, and Paul and Peter across the aisle snickering about something. It wasn't time yet. We needed to start the liftoff before I could play this. Only then.

A couple more minutes, and the plane started rocketing across the runway. It was time.

Everyone began to laugh, the only one thinking to ask where the music was coming from being Paul. "What the f--- is that?" he cried.

But I was staring out the window as Heathrow whirled past, not listening to anything but the music. I gave a loud whoop, so completely jazzed and completely unprepared for what lay ahead of us. Before too long, the Starship lifted off the ground, and we began to tilt into the air.

"Let's do this!" I shouted. A couple of people whooped back in response.

"Are you ever going to show me how that thing works?" Freddie hissed into my ear.

"Not yet," I sang. "I've got sixty hours to think it over."

"Of course you do," Freddie muttered, but with a smile at the corners of his mouth.

The airport grew smaller and smaller as we soared into the atmosphere. So began another life-changing adventure.

So began Mission: Implausible.

 

 

Chapter Text

Day 8: Well, how do I put this. I guess bluntly is the only way. I woke up in bed next to Freddie, but he promised me (whatever that means) we didn't do "it". Apparently he made a bet with Mr. Roger Taylor to see which of the two could get to me first, so he and I are not on very good terms, he just doesn't know it yet. I'm on a private jet plane called the Starship. Freddie's decided we need to go to Las Vegas because I made the mistake of saying I was something I'm not. We've been on the plane for about five hours now, three more to go until we stop at New York.

This jet has everything. There's a kitchen in which the stewardesses, Lucy and Belinda (but who are currently going by Lulu and Belle because someone, I think either Straker or John Holmes, Elton's PA- yes, I said Elton, and I do mean Elton John, and no, I'm not high, not right now- told them those names suited them better), have prepared some very nice munchies for us. Lulu's the one I like; she's a little more strait-laced than her partner, and she's a good old-fashioned American.  Who'd have thought. 

But more about the plane.  There's a shower room, a bedroom, a TV, a fully stocked bar, and an electric Hammond organ right next to it (makes things very convenient for our musical party people). And there's a fireplace. I don't know why a plane needs a fireplace, but we have a fireplace. Whatever.

Rudy's actually not flying the plane by himself, he was just joshing around (I didn't know he had it in him to josh). Our pilot's name is Kelly. Rudy does have a pilot's license, though, so he's acting as copilot. I guess it's Captain Kelly and First Officer Barnes. They've just switched now; Rudy's taken over for -

From behind the cockpit door I heard another one of Peter's loud cackles. Even over the grinding of the engines, he was audible. I was sitting behind the two flyboys, Rudy and the captain. I'd been going back and forth between the passenger area and the cockpit, finding refuge with Freddie's silent driver whenever things in the back started becoming a little odd. Keep in mind what was stocked aboard the Starship, add in the alcohol, cocaine (courtesy of Paul and Jack Kristenhoffer, Peter's friend), two very able and willing floozy stewardesses, and the wild passengers themselves- and I'll let you decide what "odd" means.

Right now, though, the passengers had relatively settled down. The three divas- Peter, Elton, and Freddie- had been tipsily caterwauling at the Hammond organ for the last half hour, each trying to outdo the other two. I hadn't minded for the first fifteen minutes, in fact enjoyed the star-studded serenade. Several times Elton waved his hand, taking requests on a first come, first serve basis. Which, since Lulu was in and out of her station and Belle was in the back bedroom "serving" Kristenhoffer and Paul was keeping an unwavering eye on Freddie, meant I monopolized the market.

"O-Bla-Di!" I would request, and Elton would crash right into it, and laughingly the boys would sing the Beatles' story of Desmond and Molly. It was so contagious, I had to sing along. I once tried sidling up next to the trio to at least be closer to the action. But Pudding Face rose from his seat almost immediately and wormed between me and the rest of them. I don't know why he saw me as such a threat to Freddie, even then when I was anything but his biggest fan.

And then there was the matter of that darn Straker. Don't get me wrong, Peter had a beautiful, rich tenor voice. A true, underappreciated talent. The only problem was, he seemed convinced that he was a flat first soprano. He started freestyle warbling in his falsetto; then, not to be outshone, Freddie let rip, turning his own higher notes on full blast; and Elton decided to throw both of them for a loop and did his best bullfrog bass before joining them in the screech fest. Peter Straker did not equal Montserrat Caballe- but rather than tell him that, I just slipped off to the cockpit for the seventh time, and caught up on my journal. I had already written what I remembered from yesterday, now I simply had to catch up on today's happenings and a few NFOs for the flavor.

NFOs: When in the company of his friends, Freddie is a very different person than he is with me or even the band. He's more than a loose cannon- he's, he's just loose. He's flubber. Anything and everything, that's the way he rolls. His friends don't provide much of a moral support, moral center, to be sure- and if they did, it is very likely Freddie would not wish to have them as friends. Moral centers bore him. I bore him. Yet he expects everyone here to treat me like a lady, and I appreciate that, but what does he care what they do to me? He keeps picking on me about how I go around barefoot all the time, yet the first thing he did once we could get up and walk around the plane was take his shoes off. Bare feet for me, but not for thee. He's so inconsistent and so moody. It drives me crazy.

Also: I don't think Freddie's so much as looked at me since the drinks started flowing. Not that I want him to, but I can't help noticing. I suppose it's true, then. I'm a tool. Even so, this is an awful lot of trouble to go through to convince Roger. Does he want out of the bet that badly? Or am I just a good enough excuse to go party across the pond? See, there's no way I can believe now. I have no choice but to question him. I don't know what to do.

I found myself humming that Kelly Clarkson song again. I could have played the song from my phone, but one, it was at half power and I was trying to save the juice for an emergency, and two, it wasn't in my playlist. Funny how that song popped into my head every time I was in limbo about Freddie. I'm not even a fan of hers, but that song fit him so perfectly, and so neatly matched my mixed up feelings about him.

(What song was it? Oh, but that's not for another few days. Believe me, it becomes very important later on, even more important than the Mercurena, which is saying something. You'll see. Stay tuned.)

"Why do you keep running in here?" Rudy murmured, turning to look at me. "You've got the whole jet but you want the cockpit."

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was bothering you," I said, quickly getting up.

"You're not," Rudy answered. "I just wondered why you'd spend almost all your time up here, when Freddie and the rest are all having a time back there."

"It's the view," I sighed. "It's peaceful up here. Just the sky, just you and Captain Kelly, nobody's doing anything nasty, nobody's being loud. It's just nice."

"Oh." Rudy turned back to the controls, facing the clear blue in front of us. "You can stay. I just don't know why you would. It's a lovely pl-"

Suddenly we heard a loud grating, rattling sound. It came from the direction of the engines. Rudy's brows knit with concern, and in very British glibness he said to himself, "That doesn't sound quite right."

The rattling continued for about half a minute before fading away again. To my surprise, the boys had hushed; they heard it too. Just out of curiosity, I stepped back into the passenger area to see what they were doing.

Peter seemed unfazed as he made yet another trip to the bar; I couldn't see Elton's expression due to his tinted glasses, but he came off as comfortably numb as well. The stewardesses emerged from their respective locations, Belle of course draped heavily over Kristenhoffer, all three laughing. Paul Prenter was Paul Prenter. But Freddie looked pale, his hands clenched tightly in his lap as he sat cross-legged on the wall bench.

"What was that?" Freddie said when I came out, his voice tight. "Sounded like the engine."

I shrugged. "Maybe it was."

He scoffed, "You don't know?"

"No."

"We're going to crash, obviously, or else they'd tell us," Peter sang, lifting his glass. "Here's to our memory."

"Shut up, you twat," Freddie muttered. He clenched his hands harder.

I drew nearer with growing interest. What's this? Is Freddie afraid of flying? "It was just a little rattle, Freddie, nothing to worry about," I said.

"How do you know?"

"I'm guessing, but it's a good guess-"

"Well, for all the time you've spent up there, you ought to be an expert by now. Is it that they don't talk to each other or you just don't listen?"

"If you feel so strongly about it, why don't you ask them yourself?" I retorted, then went back to the cockpit. I am not in the mood for another tiff, dear sir.

I closed the door behind me and held the knob, made sure Freddie wasn't lurking behind me to yank it open and drag me back in so we could squabble with a clearly one-sided audience. I sat myself in my seat, but I drew the buckle over my lap just in case and fastened it. One of the worst things about Rudy is also one of the best: he doesn't say much. That's good enough for me. I think I'll just stay up here the rest of the trip.

So I did. I sat there, legs stretched out in front of me, my hand fiddling absently with my tracker which still hung dead but faithful round my neck. The party kept on behind me. Freddie eventually worked out of his little tantrum, according to the sound of his laughter through the door after ten minutes or so.

He's impossible. How I had been so arrogant as to think I, an amateur stripling not even out of university, could get a good look at his soul, is beyond me. I'm right back where I started.

And then, in careless frustration, I opened my journal and wrote a miscellaneous comment in the margins right under the "NFO" tab:

What a waste of time. What a waste of life.

I swear, with God as my witness, that I wasn't talking about Freddie.  I was referring to myself, and my future, and how I was stuck forever (Hello, Reality, it's about time you showed up) in a world where I didn't legally exist. I should have clarified- or at least written it anywhere but there.

But anyway.

After a little while, I dozed off, the airplane noise lulling me to sleep. I figured this late in the day, I would go free, and have no scary earthquake dreams. But even at thirty thousand feet, I wasn't safe from the nightmare. On the contrary, it was easily the most vivid, most horrifying version yet.

Again, in the swirling magenta, it started with Freddie and me together, but a few things had altered. A few important things. Now neither of us were wearing any clothes, every aspect of Freddie's form etched out in perfect detail- and instead of holding my wrists and leading me through the fog, now he led me along only part of the way before roughly pulling me down onto the hard, rocky ground and pinning my shoulders down against the dry earth. He licked his lips, began to sigh. This was enough to make me start thrashing about, both in my dream and in real time, but I couldn't wake myself up.

And then he was on top of me. The earth split in half all around us, and I started shouting in fear and in protest but he paid no heed. One last time I cried out before his face leaned in closer than before, and I stared into the coals-not their usual ebony glow but a flat, cold, horrible red- that drooped closed as his lips met mine before further desecrating my neck, and his hands, his beautiful hands were everywhere. Over and over the caresses came- long, sinful, and rough, as though he knew he could possibly be hurting me and didn't care- and his body pressed even closer upon mine until I could barely breathe; but now I wasn't fighting any longer and my arms had slipped tightly around his damp, heaving chest, and he came coarsely open-mouthed to me, this time for my breast.

It was then the rift split us apart- by some great magic, considering our positions, but it happened. And just before he flew over the cliff, so did the Relic, which had been laying by my side. I'd been so distracted by his savage foreplay I hadn't even noticed the Relic was right there, waiting for me to take it. Over they both sailed, in opposite directions, and just as I reached out-

"Eve?" Someone put their hand on my knee.

"GAAAAH!" I screamed, eyes snapping open. I tried leaping out of my seat but the fastened belt took the wind out of those sails immediately. With an attempt at calm I unbuckled the belt, but I was still completely freaked. What was that? What the EFFING HELL was that?

This thought darted through my brain at lightning speed: Wish fulfillment. 

I visibly cringed, then covered my face.  But, strangely enough, I didn't bother to convince myself otherwise.  I couldn't help my physicality.  That wasn't my area.

Captain Kelly was back at the helm.  Rudy was staring at me with a Well-she's-finally-flipped look. Maybe I had. "We're about to land," he managed.

"Yes!" I punched the air with both fists, then let them fall into my lap again.  "That means I go back in the box, doesn't it?"

Rudy shrugged.  "Or you could just stay on the plane and not get off."

"That's an idea," I remarked.  "I think I'd rather do that."

But still, I put my hand on the cockpit door, prayed I wouldn't see anything horrible on the other side, then opened it.

Freddie was gazing at Lulu, who was, for some reason, out of her blue stewardess uniform.  Instead, she wore one of my vest/ button down combos and my old blue jeans, smiling dazzlingly at him.  What's she doing in my clothes?

Freddie turned and put out his hand to receive me.  In the other hand he held cut up pieces of a Polaroid.  Well, at least he was in a better mood now.  "Ah, Evie!  You're back.  Dear, will you do something for me?"

I answered, "That depends."

"Lulu's trying on your clothes to see if they fit, won't you go in the bedroom there and put on hers?"

I blinked.  "Why?  Are we playing dress-up or something?"

"Sort of.  Now go on."

I didn't move.  This sounded so fishy.  But I knew how far a flat "no" would get me, so I said, "I ought to be getting back into my trunk-"

"First, the uniform, darling.  Thank you."

Obediently, then, I marched into the now unoccupied bedroom, edging my way around the rumpled bed and daintily slipping out of my clothes.  Placing my shirt and skirt on the very foot of the bed (ugh, I didn't want to know), I stepped into Lulu's stewardess attire.  All I needed to do was pin my hair up and I'd look like a PanAm trainee.

I emerged.  "Okay, I'm wearing it, now will someone please tell me what this is all about?"

"Everyone, sit back down and brace yourselves, we're landing in t-minus two minutes," Captain Kelly said over the intercom.  Immediately Lulu took a window seat and buckled up.

"Would you look at that, Sharon," Freddie crooned, sauntering towards the seats.  "She and Eve are practically the same size."

"Fascinating," Elton replied dryly before dragging on a cigarette. "They could be twins."

I laughed.  Lulu had deep-set gray eyes and short, Dorothy Hamill-styled red hair framing her heart-shaped face.  She and I looked nothing alike, not while my long brown locks, square jaw, and hazel bug eyes had anything to say about it.

When I started to take my seat across the aisle from Freddie, who was sitting next to Peter, he cried, "My dear, what do you think you're doing?"

"Oh, right, sorry, back to the box-"

"What box?"

"The box I came in on."

"You're not getting back in there, the customs people will find you."

I huffed.  "Why didn't this occur to you before?"

"The vodka, of course.  But that doesn't matter now.  You belong up there with Belle!"

"Say wh-"

"No questions, just do it!"

I did it.  I sat next to rosy-cheeked Belle and strapped myself down, feeling more and more confused by the second.  As I passed Freddie, he pushed a leather-bound booklet into my hand.  Only after I was secured did I inspect it.  The item was dark green, with a seal emblazoned in gold stamped on its front.  The words above and below this seal read, "Passport: United States of America."

"And, uh, darling, almost forgot: don't forget to say your name is Lucy."

"What?!" I cried, and might have said more but the plane touched down too quickly. The ground rolled noisily beneath the wheels, gradually slowing as we trundled along.  The engine again started making some strange, almost wheezing noises, but since we were on the ground nobody paid any attention.

I looked at the inside to find the name scrawled there as being Lucy Leppert, but the image beside the name was my own.  But it wasn't just any picture; it was the very same picture Freddie had taken yesterday in the bathroom- the one where I looked so ugly and so frazzled.  Therefore, it was the perfect Passport ID picture, which he had cropped and used to painstakingly cover Lucy's. 

He was sneaking me into the States disguised as a stewardess.  The hits just kept on coming.

The plane itself pulled to a stop.  Amid playful "yays" I asked, "What's Lulu going to do?"

She responded, "Oh, I'm going home to Connecticut.  There's an umbrella and a towel and a spot on the beach all with my name on them.  I'll take the Passport back right before I leave."

My heart fluttered.  "Freddie, this is so illegal!"

"It's only illegal if you get caught," Peter chimed in.  I could almost hear the wink. 

"And we won't get caught," Freddie said.  "Besides, we're just passing through.  This is all a 'just in case' thing."

"I'm afraid it's more than that," Rudy announced, exiting the cockpit as we unbuckled. 

Jack and John traded glances.  "What do you mean?" Freddie asked.

"I don't think we're going to want to be stuck another straight four hours aboard this big tin can.  Before lifting back off, that is."

Elton looked aghast.  "Four hours?"

An annoyed grumbling arose from the sparsely filled passenger seats.  "Why the f--- can't we just fill up and go?" Freddie demanded.

"The captain's worried about the plane.  He's going to have someone look at the engine while we're here, make sure nothing's wrong.  Apparently the process takes anywhere from two to four hours, if a man does the job right."

"Four hours," Freddie repeated, letting Rudy's words soak in.  He weighed the pros and cons of following Captain Kelly's words, or just letting hubris take hold and flying out anyway, perhaps into death. 

He sighed.  "Well, that settles it.  Sorry, Eve, scratch the 'just in case,' yes, we're getting off for a while. That means you too."

"Must I?"

"We have four hours to kill in New York City, and you want to sit around on a f---ing jet you've been sitting around on all day?"

"Well, when you put it THAT way..."

And so we all piled off the plane, I with a change of clothes in my arms.  I'd never get past customs, I just knew.  This was so silly. Two people with the name Lucy Leppert on the same plane were bound to make people suspicious. 

But still, by now I knew better than to underestimate Freddie.

 

Chapter Text

I don't think I have to tell you that our entire entourage made it out of JFK International without one of us being stopped, carted off by airport security for questioning, and tried for unauthorized entry into the States. Otherwise this chapter would be called something like "Yeah, Freddie Was Wrong This Time" or "It's No Fun Being an Illegal Alien" (thank you, Genesis- yes, that's an actual song, look it up). But as you can see, the title has nothing to do with the airport, or customs, or the inconvenience of United States law enforcement. So yes, we pulled it off.

Here's the short version:

We'd barely stepped off the plane when off in the distance here came two customs officials, marching in lock step across the runway.

"What, is our cover blown already?" I whispered.

"No, this is normal, they do this with private planes," Elton whispered back.

The officials boarded the Starship before looking at our Passports, in fact didn't even look at us as they passed. I had the gall to wonder if we'd taken all these precautions for nothing.

"You can come back up here, you know," said the paunchy one in a rather strident Brooklyn voice. I'd grown so accustomed to Freddie's silky smooth British accent that the sound of a New Yorker's voice hit my ears as rather unfamiliar. It was about half-past three in the afternoon and the sun was brutal; since we were so invited, and we apparently didn't have to go through the public customs line, we went back inside the plane.

Again I whispered, "What are they-"

"Snooping around for naughty stuff, of course. Shh," Peter hissed sharply. I sniffed. Jerk. I wasn't even talking to you.

Despite all the careless references to "blow" I'd heard over the past eight hours, the gentleman finished searching after two minutes and gave us a clean bill of health. I looked down at my shoes and tried not to bite my lip. Listlessly I straightened Lucy's blue pencil skirt over my legs. Wonder where they put it.

The younger, leaner fellow approached us now and asked to see our Passports. Peter went first. Nervously I opened Lulu's Passport, ran my finger over the picture and prayed he wouldn't see anything unusual.

When he finally came around to me, with a steady hand I passed my "papers" over. He looked me over, then down at Lucy Leppert's Passport. His brows rose. I swallowed, preparing for the worst.

"Looks good," he said aloud, and handed it back. I tried not to take a deep sigh of relief. Whoa.

Someone tapped my shoulder when he wasn't looking and subtly put out their hand. I placed the Passport into Freddie's palm, who passed it back to Lulu so she could peel away my picture and reveal her own.

This would be the biggest challenge. Two Lucys. It would have to be close.

The official inspected Freddie's, then Rudy's, Jack's, Paul's, and John's.

Then the customs agent took a look at Elton's Passport, and his eyes became wide with recognition.

"Oh, my God," he gasped. "Elton John! Oh, my G- this is- this is unbelievable!"

Ladies and gentlemen, our hard-faced, businesslike customs agent Jake Freeling melted into an Elton John fanboy right before our very eyes. I wondered if Freddie felt gypped, not being recognized by yet another American- and a New Yorker at that. When I turned to see, I saw that clever smirk about his lips. He winked at me, and I realized he'd been counting on this.

NFO: Not so spontaneous as to be unable to craft an impressively complicated plan. This guy is smarter than he gives himself credit for.

Officer Freeling couldn't contain himself. "I have all your albums, I've seen all your Garden concerts, I was there last time you came! Did you see me? I-"

"May I have the Passport back, love?" Elton murmured.

"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. But as I was saying, I was in the second row, I gotta say, that song 'Daniel' just gets me every time, and when you did it that night-"

Lucy stuck her Passport in front of Freeling, who glanced at it and nodded impatiently, "Yes, you're fine, you're fine. Here." He passed it back. "But, say, I know you get this a lot, but could I please have your autograph?"

So Elton John asked somebody for a scrap of paper, which he promptly signed. Don't lose that, Mr. Freeling. It'll go for at least five hundred bucks on eBay.

Belinda (Belle) went last without trouble, as Freeling continued frothing at the mouth. And before I knew it, the customs/immigration guys filed on down the ramp ("What's the matter with you?" we heard the paunchy one say to Freeling, who barely touched the ground with each step) and headed back to their stations. Simple as that.

I blinked. It just felt too easy. But there we were, nudging and high-fiving each other. This was before TSA, after all. No screenings, no full body pat-downs, not even for us international delinquents. My, how things have just turned upside down the past twenty years. It was a simpler time.

But I was just happy not to get caught. Lucy and I hugged and laughed, and we quickly changed clothes again so she could hurry back to Connecticut and I could prepare myself for whatever madcap craziness awaited us in the Big Apple.

*********************************************************************************************

It was truly mind-blowing, rushing down the road alongside cars that were forty plus years old where I came from. And when the pre-Trump New York skyline loomed before us as we rode into Manhattan, I felt a twinge of homesickness. Ah, America. New York wasn't Dallas, but it was closer to home than London.

But the most ethereal feelings only struck when I laid eyes on the huge, magnificent twin towers reaching higher into the air than any other building, planted firmly in the place we now call Ground Zero. I gasped and covered my mouth, knowing I would have to stop there today just to make sure my eyes were telling the truth.

All seven of us (Jack Kristenhoffer went off on his own; apparently he was only going as far as New York City to talk with some big shot Broadway director about a show) were shuttled by limo into Times Square. We had the option of a police escort, but Freddie and Elton both waved it off, saying the police would only "make a scene" and the whole purpose of this trip was to be kept as secret as possible. So today, we were all just typical Manhattan tourists.

First move was to get pounds exchanged for dollars, which luckily only took about fifteen minutes. That gave us about three hours and thirty minutes to go wild before we had to be back at the airport. We all agreed to meet back in front of the currency exchange at seven o' clock sharp, so we could all ride back together.

"I know this fantastic place," Elton was saying as we walked out of the tiny exchange agency. "I found it when I was here a few weeks or so ago. Best French cuisine in the world, bar none."

It sounded like a brilliant idea to everyone except John Holmes, who was hungrily eyeing the nearby X-rated theaters that popped up between every other building. The men laughed and made jokes about "Randy John," effectively winning over the poor (but, yes, randy) fellow by saying "We'll head there later, all right?"

So the guys piled into the limo's back seat, facing each other. And I was just about to reach for the front door handle to slip in next to the chauffeur, when the car pulled away from the curb and into traffic.

I blinked. Wait, what?

I ran along the sidewalk shouting "Hey, wait! You-" But they kept driving through the congested streets, totally deaf to my cries.

I stood there, alone.

"They left me," I exclaimed, then shouted louder, "He left me!"

I suppose they thought I would be in the way, I thought to myself. The anxiety returned, but in greater waves than on the Starship. They'll be back at seven, right? Right. So for the next three and a half hours, I'm all alone. Freddie left me here. I can't believe this. You bastard.

But I remembered, he really didn't owe me his protection-or his attention. That didn't keep me from fuming with anger. It never feels good to be deserted- and to be deserted in the middle of the 1970's Times Square doesn't help.

Times Square is not what it used to be. Thank God. Back then, especially in the mid to late 70's, the bright shining pearl of Manhattan had reached its true nadir. There were homeless on the streets, panhandlers on the corners, prostitutes on the sidewalk. Porn shops filled the old theaters, X-rated movies advertised themselves shamelessly. No matter where I looked, sex, poverty, and debauchery lurked.

But Freddie wasn't there to make decisions for me now. It was all down to me. I was partially glad, mostly hurt. I knew he didn't care for me, but did he really have to make it so blatantly obvious yet again?

I still had my backpack with me- I never went anywhere anymore without it. I found myself a glass telephone booth (sweet nostalgia) and rummaged around to see if I had anything of use.

God favors the foolish. And I am foolish. When I reached into an old, forgotten flap, my fingers grazed against a cottony kind of paper. My heart leaped as I drew out a few crumpled one dollar bills. I had seen the money passed between my compa- er, deserters; while twenties and tens had indeed evolved through the decades, the Washingtons had not changed a bit save the teeny-tiny mint date by his head that nobody looked at.

I counted my money. I had twelve dollars. In the seventies, that could last all day. I was going to be all right. I just hope those jerk-offs remember to come get me. Or else I'm screwed.

So I exited the telephone booth with a new spring in my step, bought a hot dog from the vendor nearby, who asked for one dollar. Not too bad a feast for one dollar.

As I turned from the hot dog man, I had a strange notion that I was being watched. But I kept walking, refusing to look behind me. My stomach knotted further, and the half-eaten hot dog suddenly was no longer appetizing.

I sighed aloud, trying to keep my mind on other, more important things. There's got to be something I can do around here. It's New York, for crying out loud. I have eleven dollars left. Is there anything that doesn't involve sexual pleasure for less than five?

I answered my own question in the next minute. As I rounded the corner, turning on Broadway itself, I found a theater. Over its entrance the marquis showed the title of a film. My fears shrank. They didn't vanish, but they did lessen some. My eyes widened as I stared at the title. I took a few running steps then stopped abruptly in my tracks again. Oh, my gosh, it couldn't be. But it is after all 1977, did it really just come ou-

Someone rammed into me from behind. "Oof!"

I turned and automatically apologized, "Oh, I'm sor-" Then I looked up into the tan, gaunt face with the hooded eyes and elegant nose and sharp chin.

I blinked. "Freddie?"

"Hullo," he sang, favoring me with a brilliant smile and bowing theatrically.

My mouth went dry. Once again, he'd caught me utterly off guard. "W-what are you doing here?"

"I'm following you, goose. Hope you don't mind."

"But I thought you went off with your friends- did they leave you behind too?"

"No."

"Are they here?"

Freddie shrugged. "God knows where they went off to. I don't care."

"But- but- you were in the limo! I saw you get in!"

"I also got out."

"When?"

"When I saw you running after us, of course!"

"You mean you made them stop?"

"No."

"Then-"

"Darling, if I have to spell it out for you, I will. We were pulling away, you started running, I saw you, tried to stop the car, nobody listened, so I just opened the door and hopped out. And I've been following you this whole time. Aren't you lucky."

I stared at him, then covered my face. "Oh, no. It's happening again."

Freddie's smile faltered. "What?"

I huffed. "Freddie, you don't have to babysit me, okay? Why didn't you go off with your friends, I can handle myself for three hours. I'm sorry."

His eyes turned cold. "No, I'm sorry."

"Why?"

"Look, darling, if you just don't want me around, f---ing come out and say so." With that, he whirled and stomped the other way.

"Wait!" I said before I could stop myself. He stopped and turned around. "I don't- um, I don't not want you around, I just wasn't expecting you to pop up behind me like some jack-in-the-box."

"Eve, you've been avoiding me ever since we got on the plane. Eight f---ing hours, I barely saw you. Every chance you got, you'd trip on up front so you wouldn't have to burden yourself with the sight of me-"

"No, no, that had nothing to do with you, I didn't want to spoil the fun," I answered. "You know what a rotten goody two-shoes I am."

"Then why so many cold looks? Why the cold shoulder? Why do you keep edging away from me- see, you're doing it now!"

I stood still, realizing I was indeed backing away from him, holding my hot dog close to me as if he was about to reach out and grab it. "I just don't want to get in the way! You don't have to pretend to like me, Freddie, I know the truth now, so treat me accordingly."

Liar. It mattered two minutes ago. But he doesn't need to know that.

But these words seemed to actually bite into Freddie. His dark eyes dimmed, his mouth tightened. Silently he reached out and put his hands on my shoulders.

"Did it ever occur to you I might actually enjoy spending time with you?" he said softly.

I felt myself melting as I looked into his face. Already the mask was slipping. "Well, um- no, it hadn't. Especially not since-"

"Listen to me," he cut in. I was quiet. "I started regretting ever taking that bet almost immediately after the fact. I'm doing this to get myself out of it. I want him to leave off. Both of us. And if this is what it takes, then here we are.

"I am so sorry. I never should have been so careless. You deserve better- better than an idiot tart like me. I know. And that's why- all I'm asking is for your forgiveness."

I don't know how long I stood there, letting him hold me, gazing into those dear eyes. My anger faded, and a wish to grant him complete absolution overcame me. People were staring, but I didn't notice. The rest of the world slunk away, and we two stood alone on the sidewalk in the busiest city in America. The power this man had over me was astonishing- and it still had only begun.

Suddenly I smiled, feeling like chains had fallen from my wrists. "Yes, I forgive you... you jackass."

Freddie laughed and put his arms around me. "That's more like it!"

I too wrapped my arms around his back, careful not to let the mustard from the hot dog get on his shirt. That was wrath I had no wish to incur, certainly not now.

He pulled away, eyes shining into mine. "Thank you, angel. I don't like us being on the outs."

That was the first but by no means the last time he called me "angel," and I had yet to know what he really meant in saying it.

In seconds we were back to normal. "So! Let me see what there is to do round here," he thundered. "Stick with me, honey, I know this place like the back of my hand."

"But you don't know where your friends went?"

"I don't care. That's the difference. I'm not in a French food mood anyhow. So, um-" Suddenly Freddie stopped, patted his hip and back pockets. His eyes bugged out. Lifting his foot, he looked about to take off his shoes when he stopped and shook his head.

I watched this whole performance, confused. "What is it?"

He turned to me and smiled a bit unpleasantly. "Bloody f---ing hell."

"What's wrong?"

Freddie stood still a moment, then collapsed into laughter. "Rudy," he managed, "he's got all the money."

"What?"

"I gave the money to him to hold on to! I'm flat broke, dear." He laughed, but he sounded a little anxious all the same.

I patted his shoulder. "We'll survive."

"On what?" he snapped.

"We got eleven dollars, calm down." I flashed the wad of ones in front of him.

He stared in awe. "Where-?"

"I just had them."

"Just happened to have money on you. Right."

"I did! Not much, but it's something."

"Great. We can buy a cab ride."

"Don't be so glum, Mr. Big Spender. We can do a lot with eleven dollars."

"Like what?"

"Oh, that." I pointed at the theater I'd gotten so excited about.

Freddie squinted at the lettering over our heads. "That's an odd title."

"It's supposed to be really good. Sci-fi fantasy thing. No sex, though, sorry."

He shot me a little sidelong glance. "Thanks for telling me, now I won't be disappointed."

"Wanna see it?"

"Hey, I'm game if you are. Anyway, you've got the money, so you call the shots."

"I guess I do. Wow, this is weird." I smiled at him. "You'll see, you can have the best of times on less than twenty bucks."

'I thought the best things in life were free."

"They are."

"Good. Then this is no charge." Freddie bent toward me then and kissed my lips. "Sorry, just needed that."

I laughed, my cheeks turning pink. "Come on, you silly man." So, throwing away my food, I put my arm in his and we strolled toward the Loews Astor Theater, knowing I would never see Star Wars the same way again.

Chapter Text

"Shit."

This I mutter under my breath.  I'm feeling more than a little pessimistic as I look at the little golden chip.  It's all cleaned off now, and dry, but still hardly in fair shape.  The scratches and teeth marks are still there.  It looks like someone put it under an army tank and drove back and forth over it a couple of times.  Of all the things my kid had to swallow, he chose this.

Pardon the cloudy disposition.  I've been in a rather poor mood since this morning.  Freddie didn't come in the studio at all today, so it was just us three: Brian, Roger, and myself. 

Since Brian the Bossy Boots (oh, did I say that out loud? I'm terribly sorry) is basically top banana when Freddie is absent, we wound up doing mostly what he wanted to do.  Roger of course sounded his usual protests about the speed of the songs (Brian tends to slow songs down while Roger prefers to speed them up; it is a constant uphill battle between these two, even though they are so obviously thick as thieves), but Brian generally got his way.

We didn't really accomplish much, though.  Brian's very cerebral, thinks things through too much; he's painstakingly thorough with his songs.  So we actually did mostly technical things today, like expanding the stomps we recorded for "We Will Rock You," Brian using some heady physics formula to decide how many times we ought to overlay the man-made thunder and get a convincing arena sound to it. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, there are really two central minds in this band -Freddie and Brian- and several times it's happened that we wind up breaking down into two teams: Brian and Roger vs. Freddie and myself.  And these two minds couldn't be any more different, especially in the way they work.  Freddie's very much a perfectionist in his own right, but he moves quickly so as to not lose interest in the song- which happens very fast. Trust me.

But don't misunderstand.  Roger and I are not yes men.  None of us are.  Typically, meaning about seventy-five percent of the time, all four of our voices ring equally loud, and we all fight tooth and nail when it means something to us as individual people.

I lean back in my chair and stretch my arms out behind me. I've been dwelling on this project of mine all day. I wish Freddie had come in even for just the last hour.  According to Roger, he had some kind of errand to run today.  I don't know what kind of errand takes all day to run.  If you ask me, Freddie hadn't any "errands" to run at all; I think both he and Eve simply took a while getting over last night. 

My mind wanders back to last night's goings-on, from that almost-fistfight at the Heatwave to that tender, unguarded moment between plastered Freddie and his strung-out "stray kitten."  What a funny thing to call someone.  Stray kitten.  But somehow, it does suit her. 

There was something happening.  I had seen the looks in their eyes.  Only a blind fool could have overlooked it.  It seemed real to me, not that I'm any expert.  But there was a feeling, an aura, that vaguely reminded me of the way Freddie used to look at Mary whenever the rest of Queen came over to their old one-room flat, or when she would on occasion drop by the studio to visit us. 

Was that only a couple of years ago?  My God!  So much has changed! 

But Eve is so different from Mary, I realize.  True, they're both sweet, with gentle smiles and soft low voices.  But Eve isn't as calm, nor is she quite as accommodating.  Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily.  I don't suppose that "accommodating" is even really the proper word.  Eve just doesn't take any crap.

Of course.  That's the difference.  Eve bites back.  She calls his bluff.  I don't know the extent of Freddie's and Mary's relationship, all I know is what I happen to see in passing.  But I'm fairly sure Mary put up with some interesting stuff, and likely still does.  Eve isn't the kind to tolerate even a fraction of it.  I wonder if it's this challenge what draws Freddie to Eve, or acts as a buffer between them.

I shrug to myself and rub my eyes.  Veronica walks in and puts her arms around me from behind.  "Why don't you leave this for tonight, you just got home and it's late," she whispers.

 

"I just have to put this damn thing back together," I tell her.  "I'll see if it works tomorrow morning."

Veronica nods and massages my shoulders.  "How are you going to do that?"

"I don't have the first clue."

"Can I get you anything?"

"The hair of the dog that bit me."

She laughs.  "Beer or gin?"

"Whatever's colder."

"That'll be beer.  Just a moment."  She disappears into the kitchen.

I sigh and look back down at this mess Freddie called the Relic.  Poor Robert.  He didn't know any better.  The little nipper's scarcely two, how could he?

Veronica sets the bottle of beer down on the desk. With a hearty swig, I breathe deeply and begin rebuilding the monster.  I slide the chip into a little slot, fit the big square battery over it.   The screen is still cracked, but there's little I can do about that; I can't exactly go find a replacement.  The case pieces that split right in half I've soldered together, so as I snap things more and more into place, it winds up looking like a miniature Frankenstein's creature complete with stitches. 

Before too long the device is reassembled, and it sits there in front of me.  The cover is over the keypad- it's a sliding thing that pops down if you push a button on the side- a feature which startled me the first time I did it.  The word 'NOKIA' is the only part I find anywhere familiar.  Before now, I was pretty sure it was some kind of phone; the keypad gave that much away.  But it's so small, and there's no cord.  Yet it is Eve's "Passport," Freddie said.  How the hell is this supposed to work?

So many buttons, so little explanation about what they're for.  Just to do it, I press the green button just below the screen.  Nothing happens.  Near the antenna is another little circle- a red one with a line right down its middle.  I press it, and absently hold it down while I look up, finally noticing the heavenly aroma coming from the kitchen.

"What's for dinner, love?" I call.

"It's a surprise," she calls back.  "But here's a hint: it's neither cheese, nor toast."

"Very funny."

I get up from the desk and pick up my beer.  I'm just about to check on Robert when I see the screen has changed.  I peer closer.  Above the repeated word "NOKIA," the black, fuzzy image of a large hand reaching out to a smaller, child's hand, reminiscent of that Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo, is now spread across the green background.  I sit back down, heart racing.

"It's on," I say incredulously.  "It's working."

The hands vanish, and a blank screen appears with a bar rising two thirds of the way up on one side.  "No Signal" is the message across the screen top.  It's working.  Really working.  Robert didn't kill it!

"This thing is indestructible!"  I put my hands in the air and cry, "WOO-HOO!"

"What's all the hullabaloo?" Veronica calls.

"It's alive!" I cry, doing a very bad Young Frankenstein impression; I sound much more like Marty Feldman than I do Gene Wilder.  "IT'S ALIIIIIVE!"

Then the screen goes blank again.

"What!  No, come back, come- oh, dear," I say to myself.  I hold it in my hands and push a random button.  The screen graphics return; I suppose the thing was just saving power.  I breathe a sigh of relief.

Veronica walks over.  "I assume it's working?"

I nod enthusiastically.  "It's working, all right.  God knows what it's meant for, but I think it's doing it."

"Daddy!" Robert toddles over, seeing me step away from the desk.  He raises his little arms, and I hoist him up onto my hip and tousle his hair.

"Dinner's just about ready," Veronica says with a smile.

"Hear that?  We're about to eat, let's go help Mum," I tell the little boy in my arms.  He's eyeing the bottle of beer in my other hand.  He reaches out for it.

"No, sweetheart, too young," Veronica tells him. 

"I dunno, Ron, he's getting so big, he'll be driving in about a month." 

Veronica rolls her eyes.  "Not even two and you want to teach him to drink and drive."

"Boy's got to learn some time.  But this stuff may be too much.  Let's make his a light."

"Oh, you," she laughs.

With a contented little squeal Robert reaches over my shoulder.  "What, Robbie?  Now what do you see?"  I say.

"Candy!"  'Candy' is his word for anything he likes and wants to put in his mouth.  I follow his pointing finger.  He's looking down at the desk; he wants the Relic.

I shake my head.  "Oh, no, you don't.  We're not going through all that again!"  I laugh.  This may work out alright after all.  Thank God.

************************************************************************************************

It's about one a.m. in the morning, and everyone is asleep.  But my eyes won't close and stay.  Something is keeping me awake tonight and I can't put my finger on it.

I had tried calling Freddie's apartment to share the good news, but it was Mary who answered.  She was checking on the cats one last time before turning in; I'd just caught her before she walked out the door.

"I'd love to take a message and forward it," she had said, "except I don't know where he's gone."

"Didn't he say?"

"Not really.  Just that he's out of the country."  Mary wouldn't tell me any more, and I didn't push.  But I still wonder where he went.  He clearly took Eve along.  I chuckle to myself.  Maybe they confessed their love to each other this morning, and in a fit of unbridled and incoherent passion ran off and eloped to Vegas.

Ha.  Freddie.  Married.  Not likely.

Suddenly I hear something odd in the study where my desk is. I rise from my wife's side and tug on my dressing gown.

As I leave the bedroom, the sound becomes clear.  It's a tinny, high-pitched whine, little popcorn notes snapping through the air. 

Bip-bip-bip-bip-BEEP-bip-bip-bip-BEEP-bip-BEEP-BEEP...

The synthesizer melody is coming from the Relic.  I walk over, squinting wearily at the thing.  I reach down to pick it up, accidentally squeezing the side button in the process.  The Relic pops open, but the music still plays.  On the screen it tells me, "Incoming Call: T-Rod HQ."

I'm uncertain of what to do.  Really I just want the music to stop, it's that bothersome.  I push the big green button again, and it stops.  I smile, and decide to maybe turn off the device so that we all can get some sleep tonight.

But now there's a crackling, slow voice: "...Hello?  Hello?"

It is some kind of phone!  I lift it to my ear, then, frowning, ready to ask what all this is about.  "Hello?" I begin.

"J!  It's K!" announces the cautious, but still excited voice on the other end.  Behind him some twenty other voices shout in triumph.

Someone else says, a little further out of earshot, "We were starting to lose hope!  How are you holding up over there?"

"What?" I ask. 

"Julia?  Is that you?" the one called K says after a long pause.

Julia?  Who's Julia?  I ask myself.  "May I ask who's just rung me here?"

"...Oh," says the halting, American K.  "You're not Julia."

"No.  My name is John.  John Deacon.  Who are you?"

"John Deacon?"  The second voice gasps.  "The bass player?"

"Uh, yeah- that's me."

The poor K clearly doesn't know how to deal with this.  "My- uh... well, this is unexpected..."

The other voice takes over.  "How did you get a hold of this phone?"

"Wa- was I not supposed to?"

"Where's Julia?" He demands.

"Who's Julia?  This phone belongs to a girl named Eve."

"Eve?" K says.  "What's she look like?"

"I dunno, brown hair, hazel eyes, five-five-"

"Is she kind of quiet?  Shy?"

"No, not really.  What's her full name?"

K began, "Julia Samue-"

"Shut, Steve!" the second voice barks.  "We can't give away everything!"

Samuels?  Immediately I think back a couple of days.  Yes.  There in front of the library.  That's what she had accidentally said her last name was, before correcting herself and  telling me it was Dubroc. 

"I know Miss Samuels!" I declare, before hushing again and whispering, "Now who are you people?"

"None of your business, just te- u- --ere Julia i-!"

"You're cutting out!  Who is she?  What's she here for?"

"W-'ll call tomor-, fi-- Jul-, she ne- t- c- home!"

"What?"

"Fi- -er!"

"I'm not doing anything of the sort till you tell me what all this is about!"

"We-" And the line went dead.

I set down the Relic, but I'm still staring at it, waiting for it to go off again.  They said they'd call tomorrow.  I don't doubt them.  Very slowly, I sit back down behind my desk.  I'm not really sure what's just happened.

Julia Samuels.  So that's her real name.  A pretty name, but that's not important right now.  What does matter is that chorus of voices on the other end.  She needs to come home, I believe they tried to say.  Where was home, Eve- I mean, Julia?  She never would say honestly.  And what was this thing I held, this otherworldly Relic?  This Relic with Michelangelo hands as the first thing you see on screen?  I had laughed when Freddie told me what he thought Eve was.  I had laughed when she said she was psychic.  No, not psychic, but perhaps something else.  Her arrival here was no accident.  I knew that beyond a doubt now.  So what was she here for? 

Miss Julia, I say to myself, it seems you have a little explaining to do.  At this point, I'll believe anything.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a strain keeping silent as we rode back up the escalator. Freddie's head was down, my sunglasses hiding his eyes, and a worn-looking baseball cap covering his hair. Our lips sealed, I stood glued next to him, our hands tightly gripping each other's. We were doing anything to keep low profiles; we were surrounded by teenagers tittering to themselves about R2-D2 and Princess Leia, and two hours ago we had learned the hard way that a love of space fantasy is somehow correlated with a mad love for rock music like Queen.

And at the concession stand, of all places. Not even in the ticket line (which wasn't too short since the showing we were coming for started at 4:15; the line started really forming after we took our place), or when we sat down:

The minute I ordered a small popcorn for Freddie and a box of M&M's for myself, we were caught. We received our treats, and Freddie made one fatal mistake.

He opened his mouth and said, "Thank you very much."

That voice, the accent, and those teeth. We never had a chance.

The cashier shouted, "OMIGOD! YOU'RE FREDDIE MERCURY!!!!"

And that was it. People swarmed around him, begging for autographs and telling him in loud voices just how much they loved him, they were his biggest fans, and what the heck was "Bohemian Rhapsody" about anyway. Almost running, he and I ducked into the Men's restroom and waited in a locked stall till the coast was clear.

"You okay?" I asked.

Freddie nodded, relatively unfazed.

"That must happen a lot."

"Sort of. It's just, usually I'm not so vulnerable." He smiled. "And usually I like it."

"Not now?"

"Not today, no. I'm just a bloke who wants a nice little date with his lady."

I smiled. "But I've been told even blokes want to be stars, deep down. No exceptions."

"You don't forget anything I say, do you?"

We emerged a few minutes later, tiptoeing into the theater itself, and found two seats in the very back. The trailers were already running; we just missed the end of a trailer for Orca the Killer Whale ("Ooo," Freddie whispered as Bo Derek flashed up on the screen, and I rolled my eyes) and sat through one for Close Encounters of the Third Kind ("Richard Dreyfuss, my love," I sighed, which earned a patronizing snicker from Freddie) and The Goodbye Girl, which also starred Richard Dreyfuss. I sighed again and grinned like a fool.

Freddie leaned over and hissed into my ear, "You think he's cute?"

"Kind of."

He winced. "Why?" he whispered. I didn't answer, and instead just smiled and shook my head. Freddie folded his arms and pouted- not too hard, though, and not for too long. For Star Wars began immediately afterward.

The song goes that Jaws (which, curiously enough, also stars Richard Dreyfuss...) was never his scene, and he didn't like Star Wars. That wasn't the impression I got at all. As soon as the opening title music started rolling, a little smile crossed Freddie's face, and stayed there in varying degrees for two hours. Needless to say, he got a big kick out of Darth Vader ("I want an outfit just like that," he whispered, "The cape and everything"), and was tickled beyond words that Sir Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan.

But he seemed most affected, not surprisingly, by the music. "What a rip-off," he whispered (he did a lot of whispering throughout the film). "This has Wagner written all over it. Can you tell?"

Now that he mentioned it, he was right; the opening titles themselves had the stuff of Der Walkure about them. Though I'd seen this film at least two hundred times before, I was now expecting large women with golden braids and Viking hats to come flying through on horseback alongside the X-wings. And though the menacing Lord Vader was clearly his favorite character (shocker), he cheered like everyone else when Luke used the Force and blew up the big mean Death Star. Just goes to show, I said to myself. Even Freddie Mercury has a soft spot for good triumphing over evil, no matter how cliche is the struggle. We're only human. Happy endings are the best.

And they are the best. It's such a horrid shame that they aren't the norm.

As soon as "Written and Directed by George Lucas" popped up on the screen we started getting ourselves ready to leave. I had to disguise him; the nerd herd- er, I mean, young people in the audience- would be looking for him. So we found an old red ball cap emblazoned with a "B" that had been kicked under the seat, and my odd round sunglasses I'd forgotten I had all this time. Freddie walked directly behind me, the brim pulled far over the shades, slinging my backpack over his shoulder. The bruise on his lip, still quite prominent, took away from his habitual tightness in the mouth. Only someone specifically looking for Freddie in a crowd would have been able to spot him; in this peculiar outfit he blended quite nicely, I thought.

"We need to get you a purse or something, dear," he muttered into my ear. "You're better than this old ratty thing."

We boarded the escalator to reach street level (Loews was an entirely underground one-screen theater), and it looked like we were going to slip out a little more smoothly than we'd slipped in. We said nothing, although I wanted to join the people around us in extolling the virtues of this brand new cultural phenomenon, and I wasn't even really a Star Wars fan.

But Freddie was wearing the wrong hat.

As we rose to the top, and we left the theater, the real trouble began. We had barely rounded the corner when some tough guy who looked like one of the Wayans Brothers called out to us.

"Hey, man, you still pullin' for those Red Sux?" he jeered. Too late I realized what the B meant. Oh, dear. We were Boston Red Soxers in Yankee City.

Freddie halted and bit his lip, so ready with a juicy comeback, but he held it in. He smirked and kept walking. But now Tough Guy and a small group of trouble-making hyenas were following us.

"We gonna nail your asses this season," the guy said, this time with a chorus of "yeahs" backing him up.

"That so?" I heard him say.

"Better believe it, jackass. You're gonna feel pretty dumb wearing that hat 'fore long."

Freddie stopped and lifted his head. He was not about to let that slide. I couldn't see his eyes for the hat and my sunglasses, but his mouth twitched, and he sighed through his nose. Uh-oh. These guys had better run for cover.

"So!" he boomed at last. "You don't like my hat, eh?"

"It's the sign of an ass-hat loser!" Tough Guy said.

"Yan-kees! Yan-kees!" they chanted.

Sports fanatics. There's a place for them, there has to be. (Just kidding. These guys were just jerks looking for trouble, Freddie could have been wearing a suit and tie and they'd jeer at his preppiness).

I could almost hear Freddie rolling his eyes. This would be way too easy. Very quietly, then, very subtly, he transformed.

Wrenching away the sunglasses, Freddie revealed his face, the flat and untouchable expression of the showman. But his eyes were flashing as he reached forcefully into my backpack's open flap and grabbed a black pen.

"Hey, wait," one of the mindless cronies gasped, "aren't you that guy? The weird guy with the 'Mama I killed a man' song?"

Freddie didn't answer. He was too busy scrawling his name across the brim of the hat, which he held up high over his head. "Who wants it now?" he cried.

By now most of them had recognized him. And their whole attitude changed. They rushed up at us, but not to attack; they only wanted to be closer to him to say they'd been this close to a rock star. And the two guys who were still lost simply followed their friends. No matter what the reason, every one of them wanted the autographed hat. In just two seconds they were putty in his hands.

"Think fast, darlings!" With a lofty toss, the cap sailed into the air and down the street. Like dogs after a stick, the goons turned on their heel and reflexively started for it.

Freddie grabbed my hand in this split second hesitation. With quiet authority he commanded, "Run."

I don't know who got the hat. We were long gone before it even hit the sidewalk.

It was like something out of a movie, the two of us running hand in hand, laughing like winded morons, while people on the street dove out of our way for fear we might run them over. I ran out of steam well before he did; Freddie looked primed to keep up the pace another three blocks, and here I was, bent over and wheezing after thirty seconds of sprinting.

"Thank God, I've still got the old school stamina," he said, playfully thumping his chest.

I forced out a laugh. "You're crazy."

"Yes, but you love it."

I grinned, and nodded. "Yes. Yes, I guess I do. So where to?"

"Depends on how much is left."

I checked my pockets. "We got two dollars and fifty-four cents."

"How'd that happen?"

"The tickets cost a dollar fifty each, but the food and drink doesn't. What time is it?"

"I don't know, you're the one with the Magic Mirror."

"It's in the bag. And it's off." Fortunately there was a clock across the street. Squinting against the sun's glare on the glass, I made out the time. "Six forty-five. And we're supposed to be back in front of that currency thing at seven, right?"

Freddie nodded, but he didn't look too enthused. "I'm not standing round here and waiting for them either."

"But what if they head over at seven and don't see us here?"

"Then they can come look for us."

"Oh, Freddie-"

"Besides, I know French restaurants. They take their time. What's more, Sharon has a way of getting distracted."

"Are you seriously going to make Elton and Peter and everybody wait? They're your friends, I thought!"

"They are. That's not the point. Now, let's see- I haven't been over in Central Park in ages-"

"Freddie, we need to stick around," I insisted. Now that I had the money, I also had the power. How nicely that all works. "It's the Starship we need to think of as well. And what about Vegas?"

"Oho! Look who's suddenly in a hurry to get to Sin City!"

"I'm just saying-"

"Hang on, Evie. Why don't we settle this like adults?"

"How do we do that?"

"Let me see a nickel or something, if you please."

I sighed. What was the use. I pulled a tarnished copper penny out of my pocket and laid it into his palm. Freddie took the coin and balanced it precariously upon his thumb. "Right. We'll flip once. No second go's."

"You are so stubborn."

"Yes, I am. I should think you might have learned to expect it by now. Ready?"

With another sigh, I nodded. Freddie blew lightly across the penny, then leaned back, instructing me, "Call it."

"Heads, we stay; tails, I follow you."

"I like how you put that, darling. Tails!" he cried, and flipped the little brown circle into the air. He caught it as it came crashing down and covered it with his hand. "You said, heads?"

I nodded. Freddie smiled and uncovered the coin. We took a look.

***************************************************************************************

"Hot town, summer in the city," I was singing under my breath as Freddie and I hustled across the street. Thank God, the sun was at last sinking behind the skyscrapers; the summer heat reflecting off the concrete jungle was starting to get to me. As soon as we stepped into the oasis that is Central Park, the air cooled. Through the trees we could see the sky turning soft oranges and lavenders while the sun within it began to set.

"That's better," I sighed. "I was getting fried."

But deep down I was worried. It was at least ten minutes past seven by now, and I couldn't help believing that the others were out looking for us. I couldn't decide if Freddie was just having too much fun to stop, or just a naturally inconsiderate narcissist, or both. But I had a feeling it was the third choice.

"This is nothing," Freddie remarked. "Where I grew up, it was hot year round, almost."

"No winter?"

"Mm-mm. Never saw snow till I moved to England. I thought Judgment Day had arrived," he joked.

I put my hands behind my back. "Where are you from?" I asked, as if I didn't have his birthplace hardwired into my memory. "I mean, from where did you move to London."

Freddie slid his arm round my shoulders as we walked. "Guess."

"Aw, nuts. I hate guessing."

"I'll give you three. Go."

"Um... uh- Australia?"

"Are you kidding?"

"I guess so. Erm... New Zealand?"

"Now you're getting colder. Here, I'll give you a hint: it's in Africa."

It was getting harder and harder to play dumb; but the name of his home island remained silent on my tongue. Instead I said, "South... Africa?"

"No, dear, give up?" I nodded, and he announced, rather proudly I thought, "Zanzibar!"

My eyes widened with interest. "Really?"

"Well, my family was technically from India, I suppose, geographically speaking, but my father worked in the Royal Court in Zanzibar when I came along, so I consider that my, um- you know, not my home, really, because England is my home, but-"

"I know what you mean," I said. "So you're Indian."

"No, I'm Persian. I come from a Persian sort of area in India. We're called Parsis."

"Oh, I see. So what was Zanzibar like?"

"I was rather small in those days, but it was beautiful. We were quite literally on the beach, as I remember, where we lived. White sandy beach, crystal blue ocean. Absolute paradise. A lot of happy days spent there."

Freddie's eyes sparkled as he reminisced. His features seemed to relax as gentle, perhaps nearly forgotten memories returned to him. This coming from a man who had waved away at talk of his past with indifferent words like "Oh, that's so mundane." Clearly he didn't honestly feel that way. I smiled, watching closely. This was a side of him I had never witnessed, and I was enchanted.

"Why'd you move?" I asked.

"There was the whole Revolution. The government was overthrown and things just got too dangerous for us to stay. And we weren't about to spend the rest of our lives in India, so we came to the UK. Best decision my parents ever made."

I noticed he wasn't saying anything about the biggest chunk of his childhood: his days at that Panchgani boarding school which consumed about ten years of his young life. I wondered why not, but to ask about it would give me away.

"What about you?" he asked. "Oh, that's right. You won't tell me."

And I couldn't. That would be too vile a violation of the Three Commandments. Besides, telling Mr. Well-Traveled Zanzibari I was from Dallas, Texas would seem so anticlimactic. "You wouldn't know where it was anyway," I lied. "It's a tiny little place."

"You don't tell me anything," he grumbled.

"That's not true and you know it."

"Okay, fine. You won't tell me anything under your own steam. I have to pull it all out of you by force."

"Well, I'm just not sure if you'd be interested. Do you want me to just prattle on about myself?"

"No, but my God, Eve. You haven't even told me your real name!"

"You never asked."

Freddie shook his head. "A whole week this has gone on, and I still know nothing about you- no, that's not true either. I know a little. I know you prefer coffee over tea, and you have a most disturbing fetish for Richard Dreyfuss-"

I burst out laughing. "I do not! I just like him, that's all."

He smirked, sliding back into smarmy mode. "You said you found him attractive."

"I do."

"That's your kind of man? Prematurely gray, curly hair, glasses, stands two inches shorter than you-"

"He does not!"

"Frizzy beard and a squeaky voice? The disheveled professor look?"

"Right on."

"My God. I thought you had more self-respect."

"I love his intensity- how high strung he is. Looks- and voices- aren't everything, you know."

But Freddie was snickering. "Good Lord. Well, that puts things in perspective- gives me an insight into how deep your sexual frustration must go, if that's your ideal-"

He cut himself off, but I'd already heard the shot. My lips clamped together in a hard line and I nodded. "Thanks, Freddie," I said quietly. "Good to know that's what you think."

I turned and meandered away from him, letting him think I was angry. But I honestly wasn't shocked to hear him suggest I was sexually frustrated. It's hard to get mad, really mad, at the truth when you yourself accept it to be truth. And thanks to Freddie's conditioning over the past week, these words I once would have considered outrageous, I now swallowed and conceded without much of a struggle.

But regardless, what a catty thing to say. And how mortifying for a man I found much more appealing than Richard Dreyfuss to be the one to say it to my face. For God's sake, Freddie. Pick a personality and stick to it. This is exhausting.

I walked along through the dry, tall grass. For the first time I noticed the noise of a huge invisible crowd of people. I couldn't see much beyond this huge, tranquil pond in front of me. The green grass near the water's edge looked cool and inviting; I sat down near the smooth wet stones, breathing deeply. Just to do it, I took off my shoes and set them down by my side. Freddie hates it when I'm barefoot.

Footsteps approached from behind. A shadow fell across me a moment before Freddie too seated himself upon the ground. I greeted him with a nod, I kept staring out across the pond, listening to the murmur of the crowd.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "That was rude."

I looked at him. "What was?"

"The, um- the comment I made about, er-"

"Me being sexually frustrated?"

"Yes." He sighed. "That came out wrong."

"Came out wrong?" I squinted. "Is there a right way to talk about sexual frustration?"

"That wasn't what I meant. I was referring to- not that, necessarily, I meant as far as everything is concerned. That includes the, um, the foreplay."

I had to laugh. "Foreplay? Kisses and whatnot?" Freddie nodded sheepishly. "Well, for your information, I'm not. Frustrated, that is."

On instinct Freddie let out a little sarcastic laugh, before catching himself.

I cocked my head. "You don't believe me?"

"Well, as a matter of fact... no."

"Why not?"

He exploded, "Because- Good Lord, Eve, sometimes I swear you act like God just plucked you from his garden on high, planted you in my closet, and boom, there you are, a fresh-faced child, only hatched yesterday, as naive as they come! You're- you're so good. And I tell you, it freaks me out a little."

I stared at him. Suddenly I realized maybe I wasn't nearly so sexually frustrated as the man sitting next to me. But you're Freddie Mercury. You can have anyone you want. What's the matter with you?

I fought back a smile. "What does this have to do with-"

"Let's start with the basics. I have to know. Be honest," he interrupted me. "Before all this happened- before you showed up in my closet- had you ever been kissed?"

"Uh, yeah. Plenty of times."

Freddie eyed me suspiciously. "I'm talking lips, not any other part of the face. Mutual mouth on mouth kiss."

"Again, yes. What's your point?"

"How many times?"

I hesitated. "Plenty."

"Do you have a rough figure?"

I pretended to count on my fingers, taking a nice long time in thinking it over. Then I replied in all honesty, "Two."

Freddie blinked. "Twice?"

"Yes, and they were distinctly underwhelming experiences. The second time, it was New Year's, and everybody was kissing everybody, so some random guy gave me a smooch in passing. The first time..." I trailed off, and hung my head as I remembered.

"What? What happened?" Freddie laid his hand over mine, his eyes wide and curious.

I lay back in the grass. "It was so lame. Oh, it was so lame. We were playing ping-pong in some outdoor city park, and I beat him, and he said, 'Here's your reward-'"

Freddie broke down laughing. "Say no more, oh God, that's just clumsy."

"Yeah. So I'm admittedly still fairly green on the subject, although you and Roger have done a lot to bring me up to speed, so thank you. Roger's a terrible kisser, by the way."

Freddie lay back next to me. "I'll take your word for it, dear."

"And before you ask any more questions, yes, I'm a virgin."

"Oh, I knew that much. Believe me."

"What is going ON over there?" I exclaimed, sitting back up. "Come on, let's go see!" I couldn't stand not knowing any longer. I scrambled to my feet, pulling Freddie up along with me and ran across the grass to the bridge about fifty feet away. From our angle we could see a sizable throng gathered around a huge stage that was set up where the ice rink was supposed to be. Signs that said "Dr Pepper Music Festival" marked the event boundaries.

The musician of the night was being introduced- a fellow named John Sebastian, which reasonably excited the mellow crowd. He launched right into the music, "What a day for a daydream/ what a day for a daydreamin' boy..."

I closed my eyes, swaying to the music. Such a friendly, lazy little song, one of my mother's favorites in fact. For just a moment, with the warm breeze blowing through the evening, the stillness of the pond, even the ambient pandemonium of New York traffic- when I closed my eyes, I was home again, give or take four decades. But even now, I was gradually coming to terms with it all. If I hadn't found the Relic yet, then I never would. Still, what a gift it would have been to see my family. It all seemed so distant. So out of reach. My real life had become the dream; and my dream was now the real life. It was a lonely feeling; in spite of the outside temperature, I shivered.

I felt Freddie's arm slip around my waist, turn me around and away from the music. I opened my eyes to see him take my other hand, and before I knew it we were gently dancing to the music. The dark eyes bored into my soul, glowing with some nameless emotion. All the walking and running around today, plus a good case of jet-lag, had worn us both down, and it was finally hitting us. Exhausted, I leaned in against Freddie's chest and shut my eyes again. He was so warm. Slowly my arms wrapped around him and held him closer to me. So much for no embraces ever ever again. My willpower is kaput. Good grief. How does he do it?

"So you weren't impressed with Roger," Freddie whispered. "What about me?"

"What about you?" I mumbled, half-smiling. "Kiss-wise, you mean?"

"Mm-hm."

"Oh, you're much worse," I teased, adding, "Worse because you're better."

The smile was clear in his voice. "I can live with that."

Mr. Sebastian had reached the break, where he whistled the melody of the song. As I had any time before, I joined him, looking up over Freddie shoulder to see a few couples in the audience dancing just like we were.

"You whistle, too?" Freddie quipped. "Is there nothing you can't do, darling?"

I sighed, and said, "Now, see, this is what I'm talking about. You can be so charming when you want to be, Freddie. Why you gotta be so rude the rest of the time?"

"I have to keep you on your toes somehow."

Before I could reply, he kissed me again. After a moment, he drew away and said, "Nine."

"Nine what?"

"Nine kisses. That's your score so far."

"You made that up."

"That's better than two, isn't it? I'm going to get you caught up with society. The average I believe for your sort of age bracket [I began to laugh] is forty-two, so we have a ways to go, but we can at least get a head start."

"You're insane," I managed before his lips met mine and stopped my words.

"Ten," he mumbled with a smile. Freddie's hand drifted to the back of my neck and softly held on as he kept kissing me, each time becoming a little less playful, his voice getting lower and more hoarse. I felt him leaning against me so that the small of my back was pressed against the bridge wall.

He pulled away after one particularly intense caress, and muttered breathlessly, "Sorry, lost count, where are we?"

So English.

Before I could answer (as if I even could; my head was spinning so fast I couldn't even put together a proper mental sentence), Freddie leaned in one more time, his mouth half-open-

"HEY!"

The word pierced my cloudy mind. Freddie looked up, and rolled his eyes, almost disappointed.

"Loves, we've been all over for you!" Peter shouted at us, running down toward the pond with Rudy lumbering along behind. "we've been worried sick- thought you'd been eaten or something!"

Freddie and I broke away, but he seized my hand. Peter was still babbling on too fervently to notice. "It's seven-twenty, for the love of God! We tried coming back for you when you jumped out of the limo, Freddie, but you simply vanished. Where'd you go?"

"Long story. Where's everyone else?"

"We split up at either ends of the Park. We just need to go collect the others. They're not too far away, come along, my ducks. The plane's all set. We called the airport half an hour ago, so as soon as we climb aboard we're off for Vegas."

With that we rushed off, but not before I whispered to Freddie, "By the way, I ought to just tell you- Mr. Dreyfuss has nothing on you."

He beamed. "Why didn't you say so?"

"You never asked. Oh, and twenty-three."

The atmosphere rang with John Sebastian's "Welcome Back" and Freddie's singing laughter.

 

Chapter Text

Thankfully, the rest of our troupe, namely Elton, Paul, and John Holmes, had only just begun to scour their side of the Park, so we found them relatively soon.  And I do mean, relatively.  Manhattan traffic had reached a nauseating level by this point in the evening; had half of us walked and the other half ridden to Central Park's north side, the riders would only have beaten the walkers by maybe ten minutes. 

But there they were, just the same, clustered together on the forked path, in a heated argument about which direction they ought to go first.  Well, Elton, ever the cool cucumber, was generally just standing back and watching; John and Paul were the ones really going at it.  When they saw Freddie and me, their gripes turned to chuckles, as we were apparently quite windblown.  "Street urchins," I think someone called us.  ("Stray cats, he means," I mouthed to Freddie.)

Elton in those days wasn't all that unique in his physical appearance, and to the average Joe was only as recognizable as his costumes.  As we came closer I saw he had removed his cap and all-important glasses ("That was a f---ing stupid thing to do," he remarked later, "I couldn't bloody see the tip of my own nose, let alone you two runaways!"), so that he came off as just some random guy who needed to see a barber some time in the next week. 

The price of fame, I said to myself.  They almost have to have secret identities just to be able to walk down the street without being whispered about or stared at.  I couldn't live like that for money.

"For God's sake, Fred, do you want the world to know we're here or not?" Elton chided. "We were two steps away from calling the coppers."

"This chap here was about to absolutely flip, weren't you, Paul?" John laughed.

 Paul said nothing, but he didn't have to; the look in his eyes when they landed on me suggested he now would prefer to kill me much more slowly and painfully then with a simple, quick gunshot into the cranium.  I just smiled.

 

Nice.  Paul's upset.  I don't care.  Burn, baby, burn. I don't mind screwing things up for ol' Pudding Face. It's Mary I worry about.  Oh, what would she think, Freddie kissing me like that?  I know they're not "together" anymore, but still... And David Minsy -I mean, Minns.  What would he- oh, goodness...

Nobody appeared to be excessively annoyed that Freddie and I made them wait; they'd enjoyed a fantastic meal, and their faces were rosy and jovial with excellent wine. Only Paul Prenter looked like he felt violently cheated.

"We're nearly an hour overdue," Rudy reminded us all.  That was our cue to head back and start piling into the Cadillac limousine.  So we miscreants did that very thing.  You would think a group as large as ours would draw attention, but the music festival itself had siphoned a majority of Central Park's visitors.  We were safe.

"So much for a day trip," Freddie said to me.  "We'll have to get hotel rooms when we get to Vegas.  I'm whacked."

"This sure would have been easier if we just waited," I hummed.

Freddie folded his arms.  "Do you wish we had?"

I shook my head. 

"Well, then, there you are."

"But I'm just saying, we probably could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble if we stuck aroun-"

"Oh, would you huuuush." Freddie covered my mouth and began pushing me toward the front seat when he stopped.  "Wait, no.  There's no reason you should be so far away."

"But there's no room back there!"  The rest of the fellows had staked out their seats by this point.

"Look!"  Freddie slid in next to Elton, then patted his thigh.  "See?  Lots of room.  Come on!  Don't keep us waiting."  He waved his hand.

With another roll of my eyes (the action was becoming almost as involuntary as breath itself), I clambered in and sat in Freddie's lap.  He slipped his hands around my waist as if they were the seat belt.  Peter snickered and said something along the lines of "I'll make room for you next time, Evie."

The chauffeur, who spoke with a thick Russian accent, asked us, "So we go straight to JFK, or do you have 'nother stop to make?"

All the guys were raring to sail out of the Big Apple, and said so.  Las Vegas lay in wait for them, like a grown-up's Disneyland.  But I remembered that bittersweet sight as we had crossed over into Manhattan.  The unmistakable skyline, yet so drastically different from the one with which I'd grown up.  I had to see them for myself.

Quietly I piped up, "Will we be passing through the financial district on our way?"

The chauffeur shook his head.  "Is not en route.  You want to head there too?"

I looked at Freddie.  "Freddie, would that be all right with you?"

"What do you want to do down there?  Too late for trading, I think."

"I want to see the World Trade Center."

"What for?  They're just really tall buildings.  There's lots of those-"

"Freddie, please," I pleaded softly.  "I need to see them.  It's- it's important."

He opened his mouth, perhaps to convince me this wasn't nearly as important as I was making it out to be.  I tried to look sincere, for what it was worth; since Freddie was less than gung-ho for the idea, I knew it would be an uphill battle.  But he gazed into my eyes and saw something else- something that made his own soften inside.  A concerned little crease formed between his brows.  I felt my heart quicken and my insides flutter.  I'd never seen this look before.

"It'll just be for two minutes, I promise," I said. 

"Y-yes, of course," Freddie stammered, struggling to re-apply the mask.  "We can do that.  You don't ever ask much, we can at least do this.  Just a drive-by, right?"

I nodded.  Everyone groaned, grumbling about the time and the distance, but Freddie ignored them.  He was the emcee, this was his idea- and therefore he was the final authority on where we went as a group.  Freddie gave our chauffeur the word.

It took forever, I admit, to crawl down to the Wall Street area.  But once we turned the corner, and the Twin Towers loomed before us in their awesome entirety, my whole body seemed to go numb.  We rolled closer, the World Trade Center complex consuming a mind-boggling chunk of the city.  I stared, transfixed, my heart pounding. 

I'm going to do it.  I have to.  If it's good enough for Freddie, it's good enough for me.

"Okay, there they are," John Holmes sniffed, "big buildings, big business, big money, big f---ing deal.  Now can we-"

I opened the door of the moving limo and ran toward the Twin Towers.

"Oh, come on!" I heard them cry.  "Not again!"

I really didn't run very far, or fast.  Traffic was moving slower than I was.  I stopped at the North Tower which was nearest to the street.  I leaned back and squinted up, following this steel wall's rise up, up into the air, so high up I couldn't see precisely where it ended.  I had no idea they were that big.  In the old photographs the Twin Towers dominated everything around them, but it was when I came right up close to them I truly realized their enormity.  Thousands of people must have been in those buildings at that very moment, even as late as it was.

I had fuzzy memories of that day, being only four years old at the time.  But as young as I was, I was conscious that something horrible had gone down- and the horrors of that September morning's attack all Americans now acknowledged as the day the Earth turned inside out, became a place of fear, as the ugliness of evil was exhibited on full display.  A lump formed in my throat. 

My God.  All those people.  There's so much evil in the world.  Oh, sweet Jesus, why?

I came closer.  With trembling hands I touched the concrete wall in front of me.  I shivered.  Over three thousand people.  Gone.  And they didn't know.  But I did.  The most helpless feeling enveloped me.  I knew what was going to happen- I knew something that could save three thousand plus people.  And there was nothing I could do.  Who would believe some drifter, no-name girl with a crazy story about an airplane hijacking and these indestructible behemoths going down like Jenga blocks in twenty-four years? 

"Eve?" Freddie's voice cautiously penetrated my mind.

I turned toward him and tried unsuccessfully to swallow the tightness.  Freddie's arm slipped around my shoulder.  The limo still sat stuck in the sea of cars; he'd jumped out right after me.  Freddie squinted up the side of the Tower, as I had done a moment ago, then looked at me quizzically. 

In a careful, quiet voice, he murmured, "Eve, what do you see?"

His absolute lack of doubt, of disbelief, as he asked me this, struck me.  Could I tell him?  Would he believe me?  What on Earth would make him believe me?  I looked into his eyes to see that same open, gentle look.  He wanted to know.  He wanted to share the pain.  Did I dare give him that chance?

I see dead people, I thought to myself.  But it was the second part of this thought that killed me, and made it clear I still wasn't strong enough:

And you're one of them.

I had been fairly good at choking back tears around Freddie, as I didn't know how he'd handle me.  I feared he would be impatient, perhaps unsympathetic.  Besides, my face became so unpleasant when I cried; my nose reddened, my eyes puffed, my whole person just turned into a sniveling, splotchy mess, and that was the last thing I wanted Freddie to have to look at.  But this was the straw that broke my camel's back.  I began to weep. 

He acted quickly.  Freddie wrapped his arms around me and pulled me against his chest.  I held him close and buried my face into his shoulder, my tears making water spots on his shirt. 

I shuddered and said in a tight, emotional voice, "I'm- I'm sorry, I'm making them wait-"

"Shh," he whispered.  "Let them.  We're not moving from this spot until you've let it all out."

"But-"

"Cry, my angel.  Just cry."  He pressed his lips against the top of my head.

He was so sweet in this moment I couldn't stand it.  I fauceted.  Tears of exhaustion, tears of pain, tears of anger, tears of helplessness.  All the fragile moments of the past week- I poured them out while he held me. I was so powerless, so weak; only eight (or was it nine?  I had yet to figure out the adjustments for time zone change) days ago I had believed myself such a strong-willed wizard of the mind.  Freddie showed me otherwise. 

I'm not sure how long we stood there, but it was a short enough time to bring the limo close enough to us so that when Freddie was convinced I had sufficiently purged myself, all we had to do was walk a few feet and get back in.

When the fellows saw me in all my flushed, tear-streaked glory, an awkward silence settled over them.  Every playful scold about us making them wait yet again died in their throats.  I sat quietly on Freddie's knee, hands folded.  No one said a word for quite a long time.

"Sorry about that, guys," I finally broke the silence. 

Elton half-smiled.  "Have you finished jumping out of cars for a while?"

I nodded.  "We're on the highway, so yes."

Someone chuckled, but did it too softly for me to tell who.  Again, the silence fell.  The Russian drove on, and we twiddled our thumbs, hardly in a Las Vegas state of mind, least of all me.

And then, without warning, Freddie started singing.

"Hey, Jude," he began, his a cappella voice clear and soft, "Don't make it bad... Take a sad song/ and make it better..."

I felt a smile start.  His hand round my waist began keeping time as he continued, "Remember to let her into your heart/ Then you can sta-art/ To make it Better."

Before I could stop myself I joined him on the second verse.  "Hey Jude, don't be afraid/ You were made to/ go out and get her."

Elton, having put his trademark glasses back on, smiled and began singing along.  Peter offered his own rendition of the harmonies, and Rudy, ever the beat keeper, was tapping his foot against the floorboards.  I felt myself calming down, our smiles and energy making welcome comebacks.  Paul sat there like a stump, forcing a lizard grin.  But nobody paid any attention.

"Remember, to let her under your skin/ then you'll begi-in/ to make it Better, better, better..." we sang at last, getting more and more obnoxious with each "better" until we were all screaming at the top of our lungs at the "YEAH!" which feeds into the "nah nah" part.  We kept those up at the same loud volume until we reached the airport.  It didn't bother our Russian friend one bit; he was just as loud as us.  And from then on, I had the feeling that Peter and Elton had accepted me. 

Even today, I still can't hear "Hey Jude" without remembering Peter's shrill impromptus or Elton's slightly nasal voice instead of Paul McCartney's.  And most of all, the sound of Freddie's clear tenor vibrating right next to my ear.  It remains one of my favorite life memories.

As we stepped out of the limousine, I kissed Freddie's cheek and whispered, "Don't you ever get tired of constantly saving the day?"

He didn't answer me.  With a little wink, Freddie grabbed my hand.  "Come along!"

What I didn't know is that now Freddie was watching me, even closer than before.  I'd let something show there in front of the Twin Towers, and now he was looking for it.  Only time would reveal just what I'd been so foolish to let him see.

The occasion will arise, I told myself was we headed for the Starship. And if in the next twenty-four hours it doesn't, I'll tell him anyway. He may hate me for it. But I must tell him. I must.

 

 

Chapter Text

Back in the company of his friends, Freddie seemed to remember who he was: the pushy, party-hard professional with charm and finesse enough to share. That other guy, the sweet, goofy average Joe I'd run around New York City with, he left behind in the limo.  I didn't try and conjure that person again; if he came back, it would be in private.  I didn't want to embarrass Freddie in front of Elton John- which meant I'd have to wait before asking him what was his favorite part of Star Wars

And the two of us would have to get well out of earshot of these high-profile clowns before I could tell Freddie anything important.

In minutes we boarded the Starship, with a new captain at the helm. This time, there was a designated co-pilot, leaving Rudy off the hook.  I remember neither of their names, I'm sorry to say, but they were great people.  You'll see why in a bit.  Since Rudy could no longer be my excuse to remove myself from the festivities (and to be honest, I didn't really want to this time around), I happily stayed in the passenger section.

The engines started up with a smooth, sexy purr, no rattle or telltale noise to speak of whatsoever.  Before long, we'd taken to the night skies, and we were free to move about the plush cabin.  Freddie slipped into the bathroom to splash a little water on his face.  Belle, our sole stewardess, disappeared to fix Freddie and myself something to eat; all we'd had was a little theater junk food.  Elton sat down behind the organ and started noodling around on the keys; and everyone else generally made a raid on the bar. 

"Have a drink, Eve!" Peter offered.  "What's your pleasure?"

"I don't, but thank you anyway," I shook my head.

"Rubbish!  It'll help to calm you down, you got so upset earlier."

"I'm feeling much better now.  No, thanks."

Peter sighed and put his hands on his hips.  "How do you expect to have a good time when your answer to everything is 'No, thanks'?"

I half-smiled.  "Freddie, have you been talking to Peter?"

Freddie crossed his legs and twiddled his thumbs in an attempt to appear innocent, looking in every direction except mine. 

"You're a big help.  Anyway," I joked, "I'm much too young."

Freddie turned serious.  "Hang on.  How young?"

"Don't look so scared.  I'm two weeks away from twenty."

The dark eyes widened.  "Well, f---.  I was way off."

"How old did you think I was?"

"Five years my junior, if that?"

"And you are...?"

"Thirty-one in September."

"Whoa," I teased him, "you're so old."

"I wear my age well though, don't you think?  But you- My God, you're practically still a child!" 

Oh, you hypocrite.  Mary was nineteen when you started dating her.

"Practically, but not technically," Peter said slyly.  "C'mon, Eves.  You can't be this uptight in Vegas, they'll have you tarred and feathered!  Call it practice."

"Uncle, uncle," I sighed.  "Okay, I'll have whatever you're having."

Famous last words. 

He poured two tall glasses of straight vodka with a couple of small ice cubes for decoration.  Sliding one into my hand, Peter toasted and threw his own back, swallowing it all impressively.  I took one sip of mine, and found to my surprise that I didn't hate it.  It was tasteless at first, but it burned with a friendly fire as it slid down my throat.  This was no place for lightweights; in one gulp I drained my glass.

"That's the girl!" Peter cheered.  I coughed a little, but I'd found favor with the Jamaican.  Right now, that was plenty of encouragement. 

Freddie looked on in disbelief.  "You mean, that's it?  No extra cajoling?  Just boom, and it's down?"

"What can I do, Freddie," Peter smiled.  "I have the magic touch."

"Well, well.  Evie, you didn't tell me you liked your boys black."

Oh my gosh, Freddie, you did not just say that! 

Still I smirked.  "There's a lot I haven't told you, dearie.  Anyway, you like your girlies blonde, Mr. Bo Derek."

"I don't mind making exceptions.  Certainly you'd do me the same favor?"

"Mind your own business."

Freddie couldn't think of a good comeback, so he stuck his tongue out at me.  Ooh, good one.

But in all honesty, I had indeed begun taking a liking to the man, though a solely friendly liking.  He was similar to Freddie in many ways, but I was extremely attracted to Freddie, whereas I simply liked Straker.

Peter laughed.  "Can't say I blame her."

I leaned forward and planted a friendly little kiss on Peter's cheek and tossed a wink Freddie's way, but felt rather surprised at myself.  Cocaine made me hyper and careless; vodka made me cheeky and careless.  Though careless was a dangerous thing to be, I much preferred "cheeky" to uncontrollably hyper.

"Don't forget, Straker," Freddie warned.  "She's to be married.  Don't let's get too friendly with the lady.  It's, um- it's not proper Round Table etiquette."

"The one we should be worrying about is you, Lance," Elton quipped. 

Freddie feigned surprise.  "Me?"

Elton smirked.  "For the sake of her fiance, don't make Eve your Elaine!"

"Elaine?" I squinted.  "Don't you mean Guinevere?"

"Not at all.  I mean Elaine.  Elaine and Lancelot.  From the T. H. White story, remember?  Better be careful, love.  That's a dangerous combination."

I sat down, interested.  "I don't know that story, what happens?"

But Freddie was grinning.  "Tell you later, dear.  It's hardly a chaste enough subject to be discussed at the Round Table."

"Look what I found!" John Holmes crowed.  He was standing on tiptoes peering into the overhead luggage shelves. Reaching up, he pulled down a stack of boxes.  "Trivial Pursuit," said one.  "Group Therapy," said another.  But as soon as I saw the red box on the bottom, I knew where these last two hours of our trip were going. 

"Is that Scrabble I see?"  Paul said almost cheerfully, throwing back a little scotch and water. 

Freddie whirled, competition sparkling in his eyes.  "I'll play.  Who's joining us?"

"I will!" Peter set the game down on one of the tables.  "Sharon, you up for it?"

Elton grinned.  "I'll play the winner."

"I'm no match for you, Freddie," Paul said when the question was popped at him.

Freddie glanced my way.  "How about you, Evie?"

"I would, except I'd beat you so badly you'd never get over it," I smirked.

His eyes narrowed, and he took two menacing steps toward me.  "Was that a challenge, Miss Dubroc?"

"You tell me."  I fluttered my eyelashes. 

He laughed haughtily.  "Don't worry, little girl, I'll go easy on you."

"There's no need," I said defiantly.  "Unless, of course, I need to make the same adjustment for you, old man."

John Holmes laughed.  "I think war's just been declared." 

"Set it up!" Freddie thundered with a sweep of his arm.  "We'll see who's bluffing who!"

The vodka, already going to my head, made me fearless.  I corrected him, "Whom, Freddie.  Who's bluffing whom."

"Whatever!  Come on!"

After pouring myself another vodka, a shorter one without ice, Peter, Freddie, John Holmes, and myself crowded round the table.  I loved Scrabble, and being such a bookworm, I was actually quite good at it.  But I'd never felt competitive about the game till now.  It was so silly, Freddie getting all worked up about a board game- but it was even sillier that I let his spirit rub off on me.  Still, the vodka and this contest for bragging rights did a great deal to distract me from New York and the tragedy with which I associated it.

Soon enough, everybody was watching.  Rudy was peering over my head at my tiles, and Elton glanced casually over Freddie's shoulder.  I wanted to take a few pictures with the Android, but I preferred that only two people, namely Rudy and Freddie, know I had such a device.

I soon found out I was playing against the unofficial Scrabble world champion, and I was in over my head.  Freddie had Scrabble down to an art.  Typically he stuck to two or three letter words, but he arranged them so strategically that he not only hit the point jackpot every other turn, but he wound up blocking the board for everyone else.  I almost got a little upset at first, because I couldn't understand how I kept making all these long, five to six letter words and then Freddie came along and caught a score twice that of mine by playing a single tile.

One of Freddie's pet peeves was when someone would look over his shoulder, see a possible word, and suggest it to him.  It frosted him to no end.  Paul learned that quickly.

At one instance, Paul whispered, pointing at his row of tiles, "Hey, you got this one here, and that one, if you put them in that corner over there you could get a triple let-"

Freddie slowly looked up at him with a How-stupid-do-you-think-I-am expression, his lips twitching irritably over his teeth, and Paul defended himself, "I was just trying to help!"

"You are not helping, you are cheesing me off," Freddie said through gritted teeth.  "Won't you sit down?"

"Sorry," Paul said with a little bow.

Then the captain's voice screeched over the PA system.  "In a few minutes, we'll be hitting a rather rough air pocket, so be prepared to brace yourselves.  It's going to be a bumpy ride."

Freddie was too entrenched in the game to notice.  "Oh, hey, I've got it," he announced with a naughty smirk, and laid down his tiles, creating his longest word yet. "Okay, that's three for C, plus one for the O, four; C, another three, makes seven, and with the K and S, which is six points together, so thirteen- plus the double word score, makes twenty-six!  Great."

I covered my eyes, then tallied his points.  "King Arthur's Knights, ha!" I muttered.  "More like the Suicide Squad."

"The who?" Peter looked up, brows knit under his dark brown curls.

"Uh, never mind."  Whoops.  That was a little too untimely of a reference, but now it was too late.  I blame the vodka.  Only the Grey Goose could have made me draw such a stupid parallel.

"Did you say Suicide Squad?" he repeated. 

"Er, yes."

"Never heard of that. What is it?"

So I told him.  "You're not missing much.  It's a story about a bunch of crazy bad guys who are called in to destroy an even worse bad guy- which, I guess, makes them the good guys, but they're still rotten people inside."

Peter nodded, humoring me.  "Makes sense, I suppose."

"They have really sensational names, too- code names," I murmured.  "For example, if you were in the Squad, Rudy, because you're so reliable and tough, we'd probably call you Fail-Safe." Rudy nodded, accepting his title with quiet, dignified indifference.

"And Sharon [I never thought I'd be so comfortable around Elton to call him Sharon, but it happened], you'd probably go by the name Rocket Man or something."

"No he wouldn't, he'd be Sharon," Freddie laughed.

Elton John shrugged.  "Whatever.  Better than Four Eyes."

"Obviously," John Holmes muttered with a grin.  "I suppose I'd just be Randy John, right?"

I nodded.  "Now, Straker would be, um..."  Since I had Elton John songs on the brain, I thought of the one Freddie and I sang together that night.  "Too easy.  Peter, you'd be the Mad Hatter."

"As opposed to the Mona Lisa, of course," Freddie hummed, drumming his fingers against the table.  "Are you going to play, dear, or-?"

"Oh, yes, yes- sorry, I was just trying to decide who you'd be," I said, then stared at my tiles. We were close to the end of the game, so there was nothing to draw from anymore and all we had to work with were the tiles we had already drawn.  I had four left- something like T, N, V, and U.  There was an obvious choice, especially after the word Freddie had just put down, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I shook my head.  "No mercy, eh, Freddie?"

"You said not to go easy on you," he sang.  "Are you going to pass again?"

"No, hold on.  I just don't know if I should make this word.  It's so awful."

"Awful?  Oh, then by all means.  Let's have it."

"But I can't!"

"Then you'll pass?"

"No!  Okay, okay, here it comes." I looked up, whispered "God forgive me," then, building off the top C in the word Freddie just played, I lined the tiles up. 

Everyone went silent and stared at this word, this word that I had played- I, of all people.  I could scarcely believe it myself.  Freddie stared, flabbergasted, at the obscene word now branching off his, then looked back up at me.

"Triple word score," I said meekly. 

And that contagious, almost evil laugh just began rolling out of Freddie.  All the guys joined him.  Elton actually slapped me on the back.  With a dramatic flair Freddie reached across the table, took my hand in his, and kissed it.  And then I did something terrible: I started laughing too.

  When we get to Vegas, I am finding a church and I am going to confession.  No questions asked.

"That was worth the whole game right there," Freddie said.  "Your turn, Straker?"

At that moment the plane shook, as though we were in a car driving over a badly paved country road.

"On second thought, maybe we'd better strap down," Freddie said hastily.  "Come back to this in a minute."

So we abandoned the almost-full board and fastened our seat belts.  For no particular reason- perhaps out of force of habit- I grabbed my Android as I passed my backpack and turned it on. 

Freddie came and sat beside me again.  "You are too much, Evie!" he hissed into my ear.  "Where on Earth did that word come from?"

"Don't play righteously indignant with me," I said.  "As if you don't use the word yourself!"

"I just never thought I'd see the day you'd use it, let alone play it," Freddie marveled.  "Sweet and innocent on the outside, but, oh, what an edge you've got on the inside!"

The plane shook again.  Freddie looked freaked for a moment, then calmed as I answered him, "You do realize you're responsible for that 'edge,' right? Ever since I got here, you've worked at wearing me down."

"Perhaps, but I do it with the best of intentions."

"Oh, really?"

"Are you having fun?"

"Absolutely."

"That's all I want. You just need to take the risk. I may be forcing you to take it, but for the most part I haven't steered you wrong, have I?"

"Even if I say no?"

"Especially if you say no. That only makes whatever it is all the more vital."

I glanced out the window. It was pitch dark, save for the red and white lights on the wing.

I freak you out because I'm "good"; man, you're the naughtiest person I've ever spent time with, and you scare me to death.   You are eroding my will, Freddie, to make it align with yours- and doing a pretty good job of it. That's the scariest part of all.

"It's like you're the Joker trying to make me into your own personal Harley Quinn," I said aloud. 

"You mean, harlequin," Freddie began, when the plane shuddered one more time.  His large hands clenched over each other, turning the tips of his fingers red.  "Is it me, or are those getting worse?"

'It's just turbulence.  And no, I mean Harley Quinn."

"Evie, my lush little lush, it's pronounced har-luh-quin.  Not har-lee-quin."

"Mr. Grammar Nazi, I'm not talking about your diamond-leotard-catsuit thing, okay?  I'm talking about a very famous femme fatale- oh, wait, sorry.  Yeah.  Too soon.  She was a nineties thing, sorry."

Freddie eyed the half-full glass still in my hand.  With a haughtily arched brow, he very pointedly took it away from me.

"Perhaps," Freddie remarked, "you'd better stay dry after all.  You can't handle it."

"Was that a challenge, Mr. J?" I said (having tipsily decided that Freddie was indeed the Clown Prince of Crime- which slipped him quite nicely into the "Squad"; all I can say is, Freddie was absolutely right- I don't hold my liquor well). 

Freddie raised my glass in a silent toast.  As he lifted the glass to his lips and drained it, I couldn't help notice how much quieter the cabin sounded.  The engine noise had reduced, by almost too much.  For a moment the Starship leaned slightly but still noticeably to one side before making a subtle adjustment.  We endured one more turbulence shock while the overhead lights flickered.

Peter said, perhaps a bit too nonchalantly, "Should we be concerned?"

But the fellow sitting by the aisle next to me saw this as no laughing matter. "What the f--- was that?" he demanded.  To say he sounded a little nervous would be an understatement.

The Captain's voice came back over the speakers, as if to answer Freddie.  And it wasn't the best news.

"Ladies and gentlemen, again, we're sorry for the turbulence. We've just l-" He said more, but the menacing air pocket wasn't nearly through with us.  We jostled about a little more, and immediately afterward we heard the distinct whirring of the engine propellers wind down and stop.  All that remained was the sound of the air sweeping across the wings. 

"...Uh, make that both the engines," corrected the captain, "but we're doing our best to get them back on.  Please do not panic.  If in the event we do not succeed in restarting them, we will take steps for an emergency landing in the Utah area."

Elton said with admirable calm, "Did he say we've lost engine power?"

The lights in the cabin flickered a moment, then dimmed.  A rock plunged into my stomach.  No engines, and we were flying through the tail end of some serious turbulence.  Already we could feel the cabin pressure change.  My ears began to pop.  There was a little time before we dropped to an altitude where we had to land.  Belle rushed to the front, somehow kept her balance as the plane shook one more time (hard enough to finally send the Scrabble board to the floor, tiles flying in all directions behind us) and she instructed us on what to do should the oxygen masks pop out in front of our faces. 

"Ground Control to Major Tom," Peter started trilling to himself.  "Ground Control to-"

"STRAKER!" We all shouted in frightened, ragged voices. 

Well, everyone except Freddie.  He sat there as still as a statue, his head back against the cushion, his eyes closed, his mouth pressed in a tight line, his hands gripping the armrests for dear life.  He was holding everything in like usual, but only a compete idiot could have missed what was really going on.  The rest of us were scared, no doubt about it; but this man was petrified.

In a very quiet, strained voice, he suddenly spoke.  "This is one way to go, I suppose."

I gulped.  I thought of my new friends, of high and low profiles aboard this plane.  Before I came along, there was no record of any such joyride to Vegas.  Had I screwed Freddie over prematurely?  Had I ruined them all so fast?  Were we about to plunge to our deaths?  Dear God, please protect us. Get us through this.  It's too soon.

In a strange moment of coherence, I remembered my Android.  According to the great scientific genius of time travel, Robert Zemeckis (ha), if this Vegas trip had altered time at all, I'd be able to find proof in a picture, or a song, or a film.  Quickly I tapped the password then zoomed straight to my Music.  I looked through the playlists and saw nothing missing.  All my 80's Queen songs were still there; every post-1977 Elton John song remained.  I relaxed.  If it was good enough for Marty McFly, it was good enough for me.

"What are you doing?" Freddie demanded when he caught me staring at the smart phone.

I looked up at him.  "Wha-"

His voice quivered, even in a whisper.  "Shouldn't you be praying or something?  Isn't that your f---ing job?"

"I am!  Why don't you try it sometime?"

Freddie seemed to come unhinged all of a sudden.  His voice rose.  "How can you stand to be so smooth?  Is this what you wanted, you and your boss?  You want us to go down?  Is that what you f---ing came for?  Is that what you want me to-"

I took hold of his hand.  "Freddie, get a grip!  We're not gonna die!"

"How do you know?"

"Because I know!  Now take it easy.  We're not going to crash.  They're gonna fix it."

"Did that thing tell you so?"

"Does that matter?  Control yourself, please, because if you flip out, then I'm gonna flip out, and there's absolutely no reason for anyone to flip out because you don't go down like this.  Okay?"

He opened his mouth to say something else crazy, but I stopped him.  "No.  Don't talk.  Just breathe." 

Freddie breathed.  His rapid, panicked short gasps gradually subsided.  He closed his eyes.  He looked just as terrified as ever, but at least he'd stopped going berserk.  It felt so odd, me taking charge.  So many times, that had been Freddie's duty.

My ears popped again.  My heart raced.

And as abruptly as they'd quit, the engines struck up an unmistakable whir.

The lights brightened in the cabin.  The noise became steady, and the pressure returned to normal.  Everyone raised a relieved "Hooray!"

Freddie closed his eyes again and fell back against the seat.  He took a deep breath and lowered his head, but he didn't let go of my hands, clenching them so tightly I was starting the lose feeling in my fingers.  Gently I pried him off. 

Peter sang quietly under his breath, "For here are we sitting in a tin can-"

"Really?"  Elton cried. 

"I'm sorry, man, I've got it stuck in my head now."

We didn't have any further trouble for the last little bit of the flight, but we all stayed in our seats just to be on the safe side.  As overjoyed as we were, we were too frazzled to take any more chances with the Starship.

Freddie said absolutely nothing for the rest of the trip- or the night itself, for that matter.  Several times I caught him staring at me with a careful, but confused, look in his eyes.  Whenever I met his gaze, he would focus back on the seats in front of us. 

There's nothing really special about the way we touched down, or how we exited the plane.  All I know is, this was the final flight of the Starship, made clear in the discussions we heard over the hot intercom between the flight crew; words like "ground her" and "way too close" could hardly mean anything else.

But I did take it upon myself, along with Rudy, to clean up the Scrabble mess.  My knees weak, I wobbled to the back of the plane.

"Let's just say you won, Freddie," I called to him. 

He didn't answer.

I knelt to put the tiles back into their little bag, only to see a word- well, two words, honestly- still sitting relatively intact on the board.  Since the board itself had fallen from the table, the fact that anything had stayed together was a miracle.  But the words I saw, and quickly mussed before Rudy came to help, startled me.  

They were the remnants of Peter's contribution, "Tiller," and John Holmes's point-heavy starter, "hambone."  But "bone" was gone, scattered upon the floor, along with the vowels in Peter's word.

All that remained was the phrase, the eerie phrase: "Tll hm."

Tell him.

I hadn't the energy to be spooked.

"I'm working on it!  Okay?" I sighed, my stomach wrenching.  "Just meet me halfway and bring me the opportunity, if you please."

God answers prayers.  I know that for a fact. 

I just didn't think He'd answer mine so quickly...

 

Chapter Text

"Well, I can safely say, that was a hell of a ride," Peter remarked, stifling a yawn. "Hopefully we won't have to do it again."

The five of us were standing in the lobby of the Sahara Hotel and Casino. Elton John and Mr. Holmes had split from the group and chose another place of lodging- Caesar's Palace or the International. One of those; I remember Elton having a hard time deciding between the two.

Having unloaded our luggage (Freddie and I had combined our things into one suitcase), we had ridden down to the Strip. I was crashing hard by this point, to the degree that I wasn't really taking in much of the glitter sparkling in this desert oasis. While I would have been content to spend the night in some twenty-dollar motel, Freddie of course had higher standards- but this evening, not so high as to be picky. He was tired, too. We pulled into the first casino I said "Oh, wow" at- namely, the Sahara.

The concierge recognized Freddie right off, but before he could launch into fan mode, Freddie put a finger to his lips. Luckily, this gentleman was no Officer Freeling. He nodded and formed an "okay" sign with his fingers. It was nearly ten o'clock and Las Vegas had only just begun to wake up; to cry "Freddie Mercury" in a crowded resort lobby would not have made things any easier.

Peter, Paul, and Rudy checked in after us, so I don't know how they set their rooms up. As for us, Freddie requested a tower room with two beds. When I realized we were going to spend the night together, again I fretted I would be hampering his fun. Supposing he should desire more than a kiss good night this evening? Regardless of what I wanted to do to him deep down inside, I was hardly the one who could deliver- and I'm pretty sure there's nothing particularly kinky about having sex while five feet away lies a girl who is trying to get some sleep, and is most likely covering her ears to shut out the moans and groans and the winded exclamations about how masterful the moves are.

I leaned up and whispered quickly, "Freddie, don't worry about me, I can figure some-"

Freddie turned with a weary look in his eyes. Okay, I'll shut up now. Sorry.

Once we were all squared away, Freddie gave Rudy a few last-minute instructions. "...If you would please be ready for my call by around nine-thirty, that would be great," I overheard him say.

We said goodnight to the three other fellows. Rudy smiled when I told him I'd see him in the morning. I'd never seen him smile before. Peter even gave me a little hug; I was beginning to get the impression he felt rather friendly towards me as well.

Or maybe we were all just happy to be alive after that godforsaken flight.

With the bellboy coming up behind us, Freddie and I took the elevator to the twelfth floor. We went a few steps down a hallway that could have inspired The Shining, then Freddie unlocked our room. His silence was beginning to chafe at me. I couldn't tell if it was mild shock or severe embarrassment, but either way it was making me very uncomfortable.

However, he wasn't quiet for much longer. One look at our accommodations decided that. It was a comfortable, nice-sized room, for sure, with red and gold wallpaper, heavy curtains flanking a balcony that overlooked the Las Vegas Strip, with a little kitchen table setup by the window where we could have tea (and coffee, GOOD coffee) tomorrow morning. Against the wall stood an armoire which I found out later concealed a box television; on the desk sat a brochure with the number for the front desk, the room service menu, and a binder full of suggestions for fun and frolic in Sin City.

But the room lacked one very important detail.

"What the- That f---ing twat!" he shouted. "I said, TWO! Not ONE!"

I cringed. He could be quite loud when he wanted to be. But there it was: one king-sized bed and a sofa sitting there as nicely as you please. Honestly, I didn't care. I was absolutely whipped. Jet-lag is nobody's friend; my only wish was to slip into my pajamas and crawl into bed. Taking the time to make a big deal out of one and a half beds sounded incredibly unappealing.

"Well," I ventured cheerfully, "I guess the sofa could be the second bed-"

"But that's not what I f---ing asked for! That g--d--- idiot Yank."

I swallowed a reminder that I was a Yank myself. "Freddie, it's okay, I can take the sofa."

But compromise struck a sour note with Freddie. He wanted that concierge's blood, and he wanted it now. "The hell you will. Where's the phone? I'll fix this."

"Freddie, stop."

He whirled and looked at me. I blinked. I hadn't meant to sound so firm; if I had, I probably would have overdone it, and I too would have earned Freddie's ire. But he, though still quite miffed, was listening.

"Please," I added. In supplication, I took his hand. "It's only for one night, right? I like sleeping on the sofa anyway."

Freddie huffed. "I didn't bring you all the way out here to make you sleep on a sofa."

"I'm just telling you, it's not a big deal. I do not mind. I promise."

Freddie rubbed his eyes, shoulders sagging, and let out a deep sigh through his nose. To my knowledge, I don't think Freddie took a single moment to rest since we had awakened after the Heatwave episode. Obviously he didn't really want to go through the rigmarole of changing rooms because of a bed mix-up; he looked more exhausted than I felt.

"All right," he muttered. "If it's really going to be such a hassle, you take the bed, and I'll make do with-"

"No way!"

"Yes way. You will not sleep on the sofa."

"But-"

"No buts. If we're keeping this room, you're taking the bed."

"I don't want the bed!"

"You don't want the bed," he repeated. "Well, why didn't you say so earlier? We could have just stayed in the airport and slept there, saved ourselves some time and money."

"Oh, come on, that's absurd."

"Who needs a hotel? Let's just sleep outside-"

"Good God! Why don't we just frickin' share the bed and be done with it?" I blurted.

Freddie's brows rose. Oh, dang. I hadn't meant for it to sound that way. But I couldn't hem and haw out of this now. The question was posed.

And it had caught him completely off guard. He forgot to be smug, and instead was reduced to bashful stammering. "You, um," he said, almost shyly, "you- wouldn't mind too much?"

My mouth went dry. That wasn't a superstar's response; that wasn't typical Freddie Mercury. Typical Farrokh Bulsara, perhaps, but certainly not Freddie. I had nothing to work with. I cleared my throat, the blood rushing up into my cheeks. "I mean, we've already done that, more or less, haven't we? Slept next to each other, I mean."

"I suppose we have," he purred.

I could hardly believe we were having this conversation. "And um, uh, yeah. So, would that be okay with you? I know you might have, uh, wanted to go find somebody to, uh, enjoy, but it was just an idea."

"Why would I do that?"

"I don't know. I'm just saying."

"I'm ready to go to sleep, if it's all the same to you. So personally, I'd rather stick around tonight."

"Oh, good. Great. Well, then, perfect. I just need you to promise me-"

"I won't touch you," Freddie murmured- a bit sadly, I thought. "I promise."

"Wow," I said. "You really do know me."

"I know that look," he whispered.

"What look?"

"The 'Hands Off' look."

"What look is that?"

"The one where your eyes get as big as golf balls- and your cheeks turn red- and you can't string three sound words together without stuttering about." He sighed again. "My dearest Evie. What are you afraid of? What are you, of all people, afraid of?"

Me, of all people? What's he mean?

"Are you feeling all right?" I asked him.

"You are truly the artful dodger," Freddie muttered, his eyes hardening in frustration. "I'm clearly still not getting anywhere, so let's just cut this out tonight."

Before I could reply, there was a knock at the door. "Bellboy! Got your stuff!"

"Cut this out," we did. Till we slipped between the sheets, Freddie had nothing else to say to me. He was nice enough to let me get dressed, brush my teeth and whatnot first, but when I opened the door to let him take his turn he pushed past me without a word, eyes lowered, his body rigid. I wondered if he was regretting this trip now. Maybe he wishes he'd stayed on with the band; there's so much they probably accomplished today, and he wasn't there to offer his all-important opinion.

After setting my contacts on the nightstand, I plugged the Android into the wall behind the comfy chair and shut it down. Stepping carefully, I felt my way over to the window to draw the curtains. Just outside, the Sahara sign was lit, but my weak eyes only made out a hazy blob of lettering.

"Good night, Desert World," I whispered. "See you for real in the morning."

I drew back the covers and lay down, waiting for Freddie. I turned out the lamp on my side. Quietly I listened to him knock about in the next room. The longer he took, the faster my stomach began to turn.

The bathroom door opened. I looked up. He strolled into my hazy view, casually pulling his shirt off over his head. Without realizing it I bit my lip. I couldn't even see his face and he was making me shake.

Freddie folded the shirt up and set it aside. Thankfully, he had decided to forego his habit of sleeping in the nude and kept the pair of shorts on. Then he turned his eyes upon me. For many minutes he just stood and stared, and it was left up to my imagination what his expression might be. What was there to stare at, anyway? Just me without makeup, in my very self-conscious, button-down striped pajamas. Nothing too engrossing, for sure.

Then he crept over to his side of the bed. I watched him stretch out under the covers, then reach over and turn off the light on his side. Now the room was completely black. Freddie rustled around a bit more, let out a little contented "hmm..." as he situated himself. What cute little sounds he made; I rolled over onto my back, but kept my head turned and facing away from him in an effort not to let him see me smiling so broadly. At last he found his spot, and stopped moving.

The silence was enough to choke an elephant. Not three inches away I could feel the warmth of his body; this big king size bed and he still lay so close to me, so close I could detect that delicious scent of licorice which hung about him.

"Good night, Freddie," I said at last. My eyes having adjusted to the dark, I looked back at him, more than half-hoping for a gentle kiss - or at least a returned "Sweet dreams" or something like that.

In the dark I saw his eyes were still open and focused on the ceiling. He was lying on his back, his lips relaxed, his upturned hand laying limp against his pillow. Freddie turned his head after a moment. Our eyes met; this I knew even as dark as the room was.

That's when he lifted himself up onto his elbow and leaned over me, laying his hand softly against the side of my face. His breathing sounded so odd; it wasn't heavy and sensual, exactly, but it seemed uncomfortable, as though there was something wrapped around his lungs restricting every inhale and exhale. I smiled at him, unsure of what else to do. His hand slid down and touched my lips. I never knew my mouth was so sensitive, but just the soft caress of his electric fingertips sent such a thrill through my limbs. I began kissing the fingers still stroking my face. Freddie had promised to keep his hands off, and yet here I was, egging him on.

Fingers are nice, Freddie, but I want your lips- for starters, anyway, said someone in my head that definitely was not me.

Now he leaned closer in, pressing his forehead against mine. His eyes closed. I let out a little involuntary sigh, and nuzzled my nose against his in a sort of Eskimo kiss. I wondered just how much further I was going to let this continue.

Then I felt something pressing against my hip. I assumed it was his leg, but I wasn't really paying attention until suddenly his eyes snapped open again. Freddie's jaw clenched, and he tore his hand away.

"You f---ing tease!" he snarled.

Before I realized what was happening, Freddie had thrown back the covers and leaped out of the bed.

"F--- this!" he cried hoarsely.

"What?" I asked. "What is it?"

He gave no reply. Instead, Freddie snatched up his pillow, tore the duvet off the bed. Without another word, moving very stiffly, he stormed out of sight. Still carrying the comforter and the pillow, he marched into the bathroom and slammed the door.

I was so confused. What did I do? And what's he doing?

After a few more minutes of rustling around, he turned out the bathroom light, but he didn't come out. I heard one more "F---" escape, and all was again still. Suddenly I knew what was happening. And I covered my mouth.

Seriously, Freddie? What are you trying to prove by sleeping in the bathtub?

But two could play this game. I climbed out of the bed, a lot less grand now that Freddie had literally taken all the blankets, and laid down on the sofa. I fluffed my pillow and sprawled out across the cushion. My body was too long for it, so I curled up in an almost fetal position. So we went from both in the bed to neither, all because Freddie started touching my face. My cheeks flushing, I realized what I had been feeling a moment ago.

NFO: It apparently takes almost nothing to arouse him.

We're tired, I told myself, and we had a bad experience on the plane- especially Freddie. We'll be better tomorrow. I hope.

My eyes closed, and I drifted away. Ah, yes, it's you again, magenta mist. Okay, let's get the dream over with...

***********************************************************************************************

My eyes opened after a good hard sleep. I felt rested and ready for another day of conning my way through life. Not to say I didn't have my earthquake dream, because I did. But I'd been through it so often, it had become less and less the stuff of nightmares. Now I was interested to see what would happen next. In case my little depictions of my fog dream are beginning to rub you raw, feel free to skip it. For those of you who don't mind, here it comes:

The first part, where Freddie was preparing to absolutely have his way with me, hadn't altered any. But now I found the scene incredibly hot, while on the Starship I had been mortified at myself for dreaming something like that up (Mr. Mercury, look what you've done to me). Then he and the Relic flew over the edge, like before. But then, everything around me paused, and the phone and Freddie hung suspended in mid-air.

The Relic was much closer to me than Freddie was; the shock hadn't projected it quite as far. On the other side, Freddie was holding his hand out to me. Surprisingly, I saw no fear in his eyes even though the chances of me catching him so far out were slim, if not nonexistent. As a matter of fact, he was smiling, inviting me to join him tumbling into the bottomless pit below.

I had a choice.

But before I could make it, I woke up.

Really, what a foolish dream this was becoming. The Relic was gone! It made no sense to keep dreaming about it like it was still a factor. But I also couldn't see myself jumping in with Freddie only to plunge to my death or whatever lay waiting at the bottom.

Nevertheless, the dream was grossly insignificant. It was the real-life Freddie I had to contend with now.

Half-blindness only possessed so much charm; I popped my contacts back in, smiling as everything resharpened, then padded over to the bathroom door. Through the cracks I could see the light was on. I hoped poor Freddie had slept well. This notorious sex maniac, this fey rock god, this beautiful, gifted mess of a man, reduced to something only mere commoners did when absolutely necessary. He had the world at his feet, but he chose to sleep in a bathtub (just thinking about it even now makes me giggle). He really didn't have to do all this to himself, and yet he did it.

I raised my fist to the door, but thought better of knocking immediately afterward. I couldn't bear if he was in a foul mood, for I was the only one around he could take it out on. And I was growing so tired of the inconsistency of our relationship. I liked steady fellows, predictable people, like John Deacon. You at least knew what to expect. Yes, challenging people excited me, but in small amounts. Nine days straight I'd been with Freddie. He wore me out- yet not exactly in a bad way. We were friends one minute, then arch-enemies the next, then absolute best friends in the very next- only to decide we actually hated each other until the next moment when we decided we couldn't stand to be apart any longer.

"He's magic and myth," I heard myself singing. "As strong as what I believe..."

The clock on the nightstand said it was twenty minutes after six. We're up so early! I guess maybe neither of us is comfortable enough to sleep in. We're here in Vegas for one thing anyway. The earlier we get this show on the road, the better.

Drawing back the curtains, I was met with the most breathtaking sunrise I'd ever seen. The palm trees made lovely silhouettes against the scarlet horizon. In the distance, beyond the scattered twenty story casinos, the great red ball of the sun was just peeping over the rocky hills, casting the warm colors across the sky and spilling a few across the sandy ground, putting the neon glare of Las Vegas to shame.

Throwing on my dressing gown, I strolled out onto the balcony, leaving the door open. Spreading my arms out, I laughingly sang at the top of my lungs: "Naaaaaaaaaants ingonyaaaaa-ma baghiti babaaaaaa..."

I had no idea the West was this beautiful. But then again, until I'd crash-landed in 1977 I'd never been east of D.C. or west of San Antonio. I'd seen so much, and it was all thanks to that volatile madman in the next room. Freddie had really outdone himself for me. What for? Why me? What was it about me that made him keep me so close? Was it a self-test? A bet? A-

"Was that a call to prayer or something?"

Speak of the devil. I turned to see a robe-clad Freddie standing behind me.

My own face turned as red as the rising sun. "Oh, you heard that?"

"Yeah, me and the rest of Nevada," he said, coming further out onto the balcony. And it was all I could do not to smile. Not that I didn't want to be friendly. I just knew that if I let myself smile, a fit of laughter would soon follow. In typical Freddie fashion, he was trying to look thoroughly unflappable, which only made the image funnier. He had apparently just finished lathering up to shave when I broke out into the first part of "Circle of Life"; and suave is impossible to be when one is sporting a beard of white foam swirls.

"Good morning," I said. "Look at that sunrise, isn't it divine?"

He nodded. "I saw you slept on the sofa."

"I did." I realized he was totally oblivious to the shaving cream; he'd already forgotten about it. But I couldn't decide whether it would embarrass him more if I mentioned it, than if I didn't, and let him find out on his own.

Freddie folded his arms. "So that bed just sat there empty all night?"

"I guess so," I shrugged.

"So. Pig. Headed."

Oh, really? And you're not? Maybe he could stand to find out under his own steam. Certainly he didn't need me telling him this stuff, me being so stubborn and all...

"Well, I figured since you went to sleep in the bathtub, I could go out of my way to make myself uncomfortable as well. Did you sleep okay, by the way?"

"Not too bad, actually. I may have stumbled on something there. It could be the next trend, who knows." The dark circles under his eyes told a different story, however. Despite the offhand comments, Freddie didn't seem any more relaxed than he had been last night. He put his hands on the rail and slouched. We stood awkwardly side by side, watching the sun come up.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" he replied.

"I don't know, just- you got so upset on the plane-"

"I was out of control!" Freddie burst.

"Ah, yes. You are the control freak after all," I teased- but I picked a bad time to be playful.

"Control freak? Really?" Freddie was getting wound up again. "Put yourself in my place. Mortality's never stared me in the face like that- but maybe once before, and that was ages ago. But not like this. My life- your life- everyone's lives in jeopardy because of some loose bolts in the engines. We could have died and it would have been my fault!"

I squinted. "Your fault? What?"

"I pushed for that plane, dear. This whole trip- my idea! If we went down, ultimately, on whose shoulders would the blame fall? Mine! And had you died, your blood would have been on my hands-"

"But Freddie, we didn't go down! Nobody died! We're all r-"

"But we might have!"

"But we didn't! Okay? I told you we wouldn't. Everybody's in one piece, nobody's hurt. Now, please, just take it easy. No more panic attacks."

Freddie sighed and stared down at the brightening ground below. A little ways off shone a crystal Olympics-sized swimming pool, itself surrounded by a soft green lawn, sunning chairs, and umbrellas. It looked like paradise- and would stay that way until the baking sun rose to its highest at noon. That's where I'm headed- as soon as I get this guy under control. I wished I knew what would make Freddie calm down- and didn't involve the nether parts.

Then the "aha" moment struck.

I took a deep breath and said very casually, "Do you know what I've wanted to do to you ever since I got here?"

Out the corner of my eye, very slowly, I saw his head turn to face me. "I beg your pardon?"

"Ever since I met you, there's something I've wanted to do," I replied mysteriously. "Shall I show you what it is?"

"Uh..." Freddie hadn't expected this. I can't tell you how fulfilling it is to throw Freddie Mercury a curveball. I felt like I'd outwitted King Solomon.

"I mean, if you're not curious, that's fine, I was just-"

"Show me."

There it was, that old, unabashed authority! It was a start; I took it gladly.

"Put your head down," I instructed, cracking my knuckles.

"What are you going to-"

"It's a surprise."

Freddie smirked (Good, good! We're smirking now, we're making progress) and lowered his head, so that I could see the faint double crown hidden under the thick black hair.

"Don't hit me, please," he murmured.

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm just going to scratch you."

Before he could reply, I put my hands in his hair and began to massage his head. Freddie put his hand on the railing and held on. He gave no sign he wasn't enjoying it, so I kept on, letting my fingernails rake gently against his scalp. I wasn't pulling things out of thin air; this was something I'd wanted to do for seven whole years. I'd always thought Freddie had fabulous hair, and I would have given a lot to know what it felt like to put my hands in it and mess it all up.

"Tell me when you want me to stop," I whispered.

"That'll be in another half-hour, just so you understand."

I laughed. "Do you feel better?"

"Some," he said, and smiled. "You know, now that you mention it, there's something I've wanted to do to you as well."

"No kidding."

"Don't be smart. It's not what you think."

"Then-"

"I want to ask you a question."

"Oh, yes?"

He nodded. "Can I lift my head up now?"

"Of course, of course, here." I took my hands out of his soft black locks. Any improvement in Freddie's mood was good news. I'd answer any question he could throw at me if it meant a full recovery from this funk.

"You ready?" he asked, leaning back against the railing.

"Shoot," I declared.

"Right." He took a deep breath and looked into my eyes. "So who are you?"

"What?"

"Who are you, Eve? Who are you really?"

I frowned. "What do you mean?"

He wasn't smiling anymore. "Tell me the truth. Where do you come from? Why are you really here with me? Who- no, there's a better way to put it- What are you?"

My insides fluttered. "What am I? Freddie, I'm just a girl-"

"Bullshit." There was no savagery in his voice; only determination. He was on a roll now. He started walking toward me. "Just a girl, my ass. How did you know we wouldn't crash? You just looked at your Magic Mirror and sat back, no fear, nothing."

"I don't-"

"How do you just show up in somebody's flat without fiddling with the lock or breaking a window? Why did you say we wouldn't go down 'like this'? If you don't know shit about me like you said you didn't, why- why would you be so sure?"

"Freddie-"

His voice was getting louder. Not even the shaving cream could detract from his rising power. "What did you see in the Towers that made you cry? What did you see in my hand that made you scream? What's going to happen?"

Feebly I tried one last time. "Listen to me, it was pure coin-"

"Don't LIE! Tell me! Who the f--- are you, Eve?"

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I stood there, speechless.  Here was the opportunity I'd asked for- and now that it had presented itself, I didn't know where to even start.  Intelligent words had betrayed me.  All I could come up with was "Uh..."

Freddie put his hands on his hips, jaw set.  "I can wait.  Take your time."

Another minute passed, which was all the time he was willing to let me take.  His patience was waning fast.   His mouth worked in irritation; his eyes began to flash dangerously.  Freddie might have looked quite intimidating if not for the suds or the warm, dry breeze playing sweetly with his hair.

Still, to keep another explosion at bay, I at last spoke, "I think we should sit down."

We walked back into the dim room, then.  I sat down on the side of the bed, shabby without its pillows or proper covers.  Freddie closed the balcony door behind him, shutting out the sunrise which was now turning the sky a soft, pinky lavender, and plopped down beside me.

"All right.   Who are you and why are you here?" he said again, but much less aggressively.

"Maybe we should call for some tea first-"

"In a minute.  No more stalling.  Who- are- you?"

I swallowed.  "Who- who do you think I am?"

"Oh, Good Lord," Freddie rolled his eyes.

"I only ask so I can get an idea of where your head is.  I want to know how best to put it for you, if there's even a way to do that."

Freddie rubbed the side of his nose.  "First, the real story.  You know who I am, don't you?"

"Well, yeah.  It's been about nine days, I think I ought to-"

"I mean, right from the very beginning.  You always did.  Why else would your boss send you to me?"

Boss?  Who is my "boss"?  Why does he keep referring to my boss?  "It was an accident." 

"Ah, yes.  I've heard that before."

"But it's true!"

Freddie looked at me, then sighed, his expression softening.  "All right, let's try a different angle."  He seized my hand- tightly, so I couldn't pull away even if I wanted to.  "Why did you start crying there in front of the World Trade Center?"

"I... Because..."  The truth shall set you free, the saying goes.  Just the opposite; I was feeling more cornered, and more chained down, than I'd ever been in my life.  This went so radically against my Three Commandments, especially the second one, "Never talk about the future."  Already I'd taken liberties with careless out-of-time references; if I defied this crucial rule so blatantly, there would be no point to adhere to the rest any longer.

"Come on, Eve," he pushed.  "We don't have all morning."

"Freddie, this isn't just something I can spit out on demand! It's- it's hard! Don't you understand?"

He blinked.  Something in my voice had touched him.  Even in the first lights of the morning, Freddie's eyes suddenly were full of sympathy.

"Is it that bad?" he said in a small voice.

I shook my head.  "It doesn't matter.  You wouldn't believe a word I say."

"Darling, you would be surprised what I would, and do, believe right now."  Freddie tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear.  "Talk to me."

For a moment I was silent, lost in the dark caverns of his eyes.  Somewhere deep inside them, I found the strength to begin.  Bye-bye, Three Commandments.  So much for protecting the course of time.

"There's going to be an attack," I managed.

"An attack?  In New York?"  When I nodded, he said,  "What's-"

"Terrorists are going to hijack four separate planes.  Two are going to hit the Twin Towers, send them crashing down.  And people are going to die."

Freddie looked appalled.  "Why didn't you tell somebody?  When will this-"

"In about twenty-four years."

He just sat there, dumbstruck. 

I sighed.  "Think I'm crazy yet?"

 Freddie didn't answer.  "How- how many people, uh-"

"About three thousand."

Freddie swallowed.  "That's so horrible.  No wonder you-" Suddenly he cut himself off.  "Wait a minute.  Then why-"  His eyes bugged, and his face went whiter than the shaving cream.  "Oh, God."

"What is it?"

Freddie could scarcely get the words out.  "Were you trying to tell me something?"

"I don't follow y-"

"Is that how I'm going to die?  Is that what you were telling me in your oh, so roundabout fashion yesterday?"

I put my hand on his shoulder.  "Of course not!  You-" I started to say, but I couldn't go any further.  From out of nowhere, cruel words attacked my brain, finishing where I had left off: You don't die like that.  You die slowly.  You die alone. You die unfulfilled.

"Sweet Jesus," I said aloud, covering my mouth while in my head I screamed, Stop it!  JUST STOP IT! 

I closed my eyes, squeezed the lids together as if to squash such terrible thoughts.  Such a short time ago, I had been so cavalier, so detached, as to ponder his life and all its warts without batting an eyelash.  Back when he was little more than an "exceptional dead guy," a distant dream worthy of admiration but not of any real affection.  Oh, how quickly things had changed.  As frustrating, as mean as he could be at times, he meant so much more now- more than I realized even in this moment.  This big cat, this panther with deadly sharp claws, purring his way into my heart- that is, whatever was left of it that he hadn't yet shredded to bits.

Freddie watched me closely.  Then in a very soft voice, he said, "You know something."

"Know something?" I said.  Why was he taking all this so calmly?

"You know something about me," he repeated, "don't you?"

I know everything about you, I thought to myself.  I know too much.

"Supposing I did," I replied.  "Who's to say you'd believe it?"

"You've been right so far."

"About one thing!  The plane!  And it's entirely possible I could have just been trying to make you feel-"

"Good God, Eve, make up your mind!  Do you want me to believe you or don't you?  This little back-and-forth mambo thing is getting a little confusing."

My gaze lowered, studying his jawline and the slope of his narrow shoulders. Freddie placed two fingers under my chin and drew me back up to face him.  

"You saw something in my hand," he said quietly, yet in his words rippled definite fear.  "Don't try and pass it off as, um, as a part of your high.  You saw something, and it wasn't good.  What's going to happen?"

"I don't know what's going to happen!" I cried. 

"Yes you do.  It made you scream."

"It was the concept that made me scream, not the- not the certainty!"

"The concept?"

A light switched on in my head.  I'd stumbled upon a strategy, and a minimally risky one at that. I could tell him in such a way that wouldn't scar him for life, yet I wouldn't be necessarily lying to him.

"When I looked at your hand- I saw two things," I said.  "I saw what's going to happen- and I saw what might happen.  They both frightened me."

"Okay, so, what's going to happen?"  He asked this as if he would believe whatever I told him to be the undisputed truth.  Why?  Why would he trust me?  I'm just a girl, and one he's called mad at that.

But to hold out on him helped neither of us.  It was time.

I took his hand and ran my fingers along his smooth palm.  I spoke slowly, looking into his eyes.  "In a few years, there will be a- a plague.  A plague of weakness."

His brows knit together, forming that concerned expression again.  "Go on." 

"I say weakness, because it ruins the body's defenses.  Makes one susceptible to pretty much anything.  I don't know all the symptoms, but I know that.  And there's two big ways people catch it.  One way is through needles, like drug needles."

"What's the second?"

I closed my eyes a moment. 

"Eve?"

His voice warned me; I made myself keep going.  "No-holds-barred sex.  Everybody doing everything with everybody."

Freddie was silent.  I went on, "And, uh, it's going to throw the world for a loop.  No one will be expecting it.  And the sad part is, it wouldn't even be as big a problem if people would just-"

"What does it have to do with me?" he interrupted.

He didn't mince words, did he?

"Well, that's where the 'might happen' comes in," I explained.  I sat quietly and let him think about it for himself.

At last he said, "Are you saying I'm going to-"

"I'm saying, you might!  I don't know for sure."  Okay, now I'm lying. 

Freddie scoffed, "So you don't know?"

"No!  That's what I just said-"

"Then why tell me if you don't even know?"

"Because I don't want anything bad to happen to you, you dork!" I blurted.

Freddie stared at me, his face in seconds wiped of all the irritability he'd been displaying almost nonstop since last night.  He put his other hand over mine, so that it lay between both of his, and leaned forward.

"Evie," he whispered, "did you just say you cared about me?"

"Good grief.  Of course I care about you, Freddie," I said.  "You drive me up the wall sometimes- make that a lot of the time- but I don't want you to get hurt.  If something happened to you I'd never forgive myself."

There was a new light dancing in his eyes.  "You don't need to worry, my dear.  I can take care of myself."

"Yes, I know you can, but that's just the kind of 'not me' attitude that makes a person vulnerable.  What's more, I mean, knowing you..." I trailed off, flailing my hands helplessly.

He frowned.  "Knowing me?  What are you talking about?"

I sighed.  "You're a sex fiend.  Okay?"

Freddie shrank back, suddenly tongue-in-cheek.  "Why, whatever gave you that impression?"

"Oh, please-"

"For your information, I have gone without for the past nine, almost ten days and look, I'm still standing.  My hands don't shake.  See?  Steady as a rock.  Sex fiend.  I mean, really!"

I blinked.  "You're kidding me, right?"

'Which part?"

"Am I to understand that you've been celibate for the past nine days?"

"Aren't you impressed?"

What do you want, a cookie?  Nine days without making love, big whoop.  I've never had sex, and you don't see me bragging about it! 

I decided it wouldn't serve me much to ask why he was "going without."  It wasn't any of my business, not even if Freddie wanted to make it my business.  But I did say, "That explains last night, then-"

"Forget last night, I was terribly rude and a bit on the emotional side for reasons you well know- although I do have to say you are driving me crazy yourself."

"Me.  Ha.  You're funny."  However, once more, I'd chosen a poor time to be sarcastic. 

Freddie rose, and spoke sharply, "Darling, you're this beautiful creature with the eyes of a dove and a voice like silk and a body that I can't stop thinking about, and you have the gall to sit there and make fun of me for wanting you?"

I swallowed, struggling to digest his words and not look spellbound in the process.  Yet all I could manage to think was, Freddie wants me. He's not kidding either.  Oh, wow.

I began, "I'm not making fun of you-"

"What would your boss say, if he knew how mercilessly you tease me?" Freddie interrupted again.  "Are you trying to trip me up?  That's so unfair."

"There it is again!  Who is my boss?  I've never said anything about my boss."

"Your boss," Freddie said again, as if I was just supposed to know who he meant.  Then, rolling his eyes, he pointed at the ceiling.  "The Lord Above.  God Almighty.  The Man Upstairs.  Your Boss!"

I sat there, feeling as though I'd accidentally skipped a crucial chapter in a mystery novel.  "What are you trying to say?"

"Is my soul being audited or something?  Did He send you down to get the skinny on me, because that's how it f---ing feels sometimes.  I mean, that journal or whatever it is you keep, the Magic Mirror-"

"Is that what you think I am?" I asked.  "You think I'm some sort of heaven-sent tax collector?"

"I think you're an angel.  I don't know what kind.  But an angel, certainly."

I couldn't decide whether to laugh or ask him if he needed to see a professional psychiatrist; some amateur like me had no right handling this stick of dynamite.  "Are you serious?"

"Am I right?"

He thinks I'm an angel.  I don't believe this.  And I thought I had an inflamed imagination!  "Freddie, come on, you know better than that.  That doesn't even make any sense!"

"Neither does, you just magically appearing in my closet, or knowing ahead of time that we aren't going to crash- or warning me that there's some kind of social disease about to strike.  So, really, I think it's as reasonable a theory as any."

Opening my mouth, I almost rebuffed him with numerous examples of how wrong he was.  But no such words left my lips.  Instead I asked, "If I'm an angel, then why can't I get back to heaven?"

"The Relic, remember?  You're stuck.  Your wings, shall we say, are broken."

"What does God want with phone technology?"

"I don't know, you tell me."

"And- and look, I'm not perfect!  I screw up-"

"Whoever thinks angels are perfect needs to meet Beelzebub.  Or was that too long before your time?"

In surrender I let my hands drop into my lap. Freddie had his mind made up, it seemed.  And it was too early in the morning to start a heated debate over whether or not I was an angel.  Unbelievable.

"So, let's have the truth, darling," Freddie said.  "What's the message?"

"If I was sent to tell anybody anything, it was to tell you that you have, have, have to be careful, be smart, be safe, when it comes to being intimate with a lover."

"How do you suggest I do that?"

"For one, just- oh, and I have to say this, and please don't be angry at me for mentioning it, but- about Paul."

Freddie was confused.  "Paul?  Paul Prenter?  What about him?"

I covered my face a moment, then cleared my throat.  "Just- be careful about him.  I'm not saying, don't be his friend, because I'm sure that guy could use all the friends he can get.  But just be wary of him; he makes me nervous."

"Did the Magic Mirror say he's bad news?"

"He doesn't have to be- as long as you just keep your head about you.  Have fun, yes, have all the fun in the world, but please- you have, have, have to be careful."

"So let me see if I've got this straight: don't get sick, and watch out for Paul.  Sounds simple enough."

"And don't be a suicidal hedonist and eff everything within a three mile radius.  Start there."

Freddie burst out laughing.  "Look, darling, my sex drive is massive, but it's not demented!  I already told you, I've been a good boy lately."

"That's as may be, you need to keep being a good boy- or else I'm coming after you with the flaming sword of justice and the Tommy gun of righteousness, or something like that."

"When I have you with me, I have no trouble being good," he said with a playful wink. 

"Uh-huh.  You still need lessons in good.  And a lot of them."

"I'm willing to learn," Freddie smiled.  "Would you be willing to show me?"

"You wouldn't let me get a word in edge-wise.  You'd be too busy trying to teach me how to be bad."

"Okay, let's make a bargain.  I teach you how to be bad first, then you teach me how to be good.  Deal?"

I smiled and stood.  "I don't want to know your definition of 'bad'- or how far I'd have to go before you decided I qualified."  I gave him a friendly pat and unwittingly touched his chest, which was bare under the robe. 

"You're an angel, darling, not a saint," Freddie said softly, touching my cheek.  "Who said you had to follow the same rules as us mortals?"

"You tempter, you," I said, stepping a little away from him. "You don't fool me an ounce."

However, to myself, I actually agreed with him, That's true, there was that one movie about Michael the archangel...

Still, I thought to myself, it was already a fruitful morning.  I slid away from reality for a moment.  If nothing else, Freddie was back in good spirits again; we'd had our little talk, and no one was any worse for the wear. True, now he was convinced (unless he was being tongue-in-cheek again, which was just as, if not more, likely) that I was some celestial being trapped on Earth, but I'd warned him of the future. In a roundabout manner, perhaps, but how well do you suppose he would have taken it had I looked him in the eyes and said, "Freddie, in fourteen years you're going to die of AIDS"? If he didn't start crying, I would have. And then Freddie would have hated me, I would have wanted to kill myself, and no one would have learned anything beneficial to themselves...

The sound of Freddie's tightened breathing brought me back to Earth.  I saw the look on Freddie's face, noticed the jaw clench.   With a start I realized I still had my hand on his bare skin- and was slowly, absent-mindedly rubbing it back and forth so that my fingers were sliding through the black chest hair in an unmistakably sensual manner.

Without a word I lifted my hand away from his body, although now my palms were sweating.  I'd just sent the wrong signal.  Oh, crap.  What was about to happen?  I somehow managed to pull an oblivious mask over my face, and turned from Freddie.

The orange sun had risen well above the horizon by now, and was now only slightly hidden by the hotel towers on the Strip.  To me, that meant it was high time to get a little coffee and tea going.

I picked up the room service menu and waved it around, asking, "You ready for breakfast, Prince of-"

Freddie plucked the menu from my fingers and set it back down. Before I could ask what that was all about, he took me by the arms and pulled me close to him.

"What is it?" I asked.  "Not hungry yet?"

But his expression suggested he was indeed quite hungry- just not for food.  Freddie's mask of composure was wearing ever thinner; he seemed barely able to contain himself.  My heart pounded.

"Eve, listen," he whispered, his eyes wide.  "This is a purely hypothetical scenario, of course, I was just wondering."

"Of course," I said softly.  "What was the question?"

"Supposing I should ask you- very politely, of course, very properly- to make love to me.  What would you do?"

"Well," I whispered, looking anywhere but his eyes.  "If I was curious, I'd probably ask you what you meant by that."

'By what?"  Freddie said.  "By 'making love'?" 

"Yes, that."

"Would you be curious?"

I smiled and said for him, "Freddie, what do you mean by 'make love'?"

"You know what I mean," he growled. 

"Do I?"

"Stop f---ing around and answer me: what would you do?"

"Um, I'd probably ask, just to clarify:" I leaned in, as if to kiss him, and purred as seductively as possible- "'Would that be plus or minus the shaving cream, Santa Claus?'"

Freddie frowned.  "What? Sha-"  Instinctively he put a hand to his still lathered face, and went absolutely red.  I'd never seen him look so mortified.

"OH MY GOD!" he shouted, running for the bathroom and slamming the door.  In spite of myself, I began to laugh.  I couldn't help it, he'd just overreacted so hilariously.

My laughter only made him more furious.  "YOU COULD HAVE F---ING SAID SOMETHING EARLIER," he shouted through the door, "INSTEAD OF JUST MAKING A FOOL OUT OF ME!"

"Oh, Freddie, calm down," I said through settling chuckles.  I walked over and knocked at the bathroom door.

"GO THE F--- AWAY!" he snarled.

Rolling my eyes, I simply opened the bathroom door to catch Freddie, now robe-less, throwing water on his face and toweling himself dry.  He still hadn't shaved; dark stubble sprouted around his full lips and along his jaw.  Murder returned to his eyes as he cast them upon me, erasing my mirth when they met mine.

"Freddie, I didn't mean any harm," I said.  "I-"

"You could have said something," he snapped.  "That would have been nice."

"You looked so cute," I tried to explain.  "I'd never seen you like that, you seemed so human."

"What do you know about human, Little Miss Perfect F---ing Angel," Freddie muttered.  "You and your good little world where everything is the same and no surprises and nobody ever does anything wrong-"

"Oh, please don't get into another snit, I honestly thought it was cute," I said, this time with a little apologetic smile. 

He whirled away from me and faced the mirror.  He shrugged as he looked himself over.  "Whatever, I'll skip it today," he said to himself.  "I'll go about looking like a lumberjack, but who's going to know?"

He drummed his fingers on the counter, his face still a fine shade of watermelon.  Poor Freddie, he was so embarrassed.  So many times, Freddie had gone out of his way to push me out of my comfort zone, and he expected me to take it like a man; one mention of the shaving cream and he cratered.  So thin-skinned sometimes.  Good Lord.

When he glanced my way again, I reached up and took his stubbly face in my hands.  "Baby, I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to emb-"

His voice was flat.  "What did you just call me?"

Gulp. 

Ooh, smart, Julia.  Real smart.  That is my name, isn't it?  Julia?  Maybe it is, I don't know.

I took one step back.  "I- I don't know-"

Before I could go further he took hold of my elbow.  "'Cos it sounded a lot like you just called me 'baby.'"

"Oh," was all I said.  Whatever else I planned to say died when our eyes locked onto each other's.  Freddie's embarrassed anger once more shriveled up and dissolved.  What I looked upon now was his now sharply whetted appetite- his insatiable passion, the raging fire going unappeased for more than nine days. 

Nine days too many.

I watched his tongue dart out, sensuously slide across his lips.  In my head, I heard a voice shout, Get out of there, get out, get out, and against my own desires I began to pull away.

But he struck too quickly.

His iron grip clamped down on my arms, rendered me motionless.  He made no pretense of gentleness; Freddie pushed me up against the bathroom wall, almost knocking my head against the towel rack.  But I barely felt it; how could I, when now he was pinning me against the wall with his whole body, his arms snaking tightly around my back and his half-open lips shamelessly attacking mine.  It was a wonder I remembered to breathe.

"Kiss me," he growled between kisses.  "Do it."

I made one feeble attempt to stop him.  "Freddie," I gasped, weakly pushing his shoulders, "F- Freddie, please-"

"Shut up and f---ing kiss me," he ordered.

I felt my will sliding away from me.  Desperately I struggled to get it back.  No...stop...  My arms slipped around his neck.  Stop!  My eyes closed.  Oh, God, please, make... Freddie began to moan in time with his heavy breathing.Make him stop... Oh...

I gave back kiss for kiss.  My head spun faster.  I clutched the sides of his face, the stubble on his gaunt cheeks rough against the palms of my hands.  And as soon as I did, I felt something new- something much more moist than just his lips.  My blood ran cold when I realized.  Freddie was forcing his tongue into my mouth. 

His hands slipped back to the front, reached for the buttons of my pajama top.  Still kissing me, he seized my collar, took hold of both sides as if he was going to rip my shirt wide open.  Just as he was about to try and find out how I looked without a bra-

BAM-BAM-BAM.

Someone was knocking at the door.

My eyes opened.  So did Freddie's. 

Now we heard a voice.  "Loves!  Are you up yet?"

"Yes, Peter, we're up, just a minute," I called back. 

Freddie didn't move, hands still clenching my collar.  So I said, "Are we going to keep Straker waiting?"

I watched his sanity slowly return, the mania in his eyes receding.  Freddie looked down at me- and I was in fact me again, not the brainless bundle of surrender I was headed for becoming- and sighed.  "How many times has this happened?"

"Three?"

"Three times, Peter's cut in on us?"

"I think that's right.  Once at the club, once at Central Park-"

"And now."

"Yup.  And now."

Freddie and I looked at each other, and for no reason at all shouted, just like on the plane, "STRAKER!" then burst out laughing.  It felt good to be us again. 

To myself, though, I said, That was way too close.  Exciting, certainly. Fabulous, yes.  But way.  Too.  Close.  And Peter may not be around to save me next time.  Don't let it happen again.

I sighed, then pushed him off me.  "Come on, you so-and-so, let's get him."

"Did you count?" he asked casually, meaning the kiss "score."

"Oh, no, I didn't, did you?"

"I think you're at forty now.  Two more, and we can break the average."

"Huzzah, huzzah."

Before I could open the door, though, Freddie checked me.  "You never did answer me, what would you do?"

I cocked my head.  "If you asked me to make love to you?"

"Mm."

"Simple.  I'd pray that Peter Straker was looking for you nearby."

Freddie laughed and rolled his eyes.  "Good God."

"Ask a silly question," I shrugged. "By the way, how are we gonna work the license thing?"

"What?"

"The reason we're here, Freddie!  The bet!  The license!  You know!"

"Oh!  Oh, yeah, that.  We'll work that out in a bit, when the others get up.  The more minds at work, the better.  Straker probably hasn't had breakfast yet.  Would you please grab the phone for us, angel, and get room service on the line?"

"Right-o, my prince."

Freddie didn't verbally react to my new name for him, but he did glance my direction and give me a long, pleased once-over before he received his friend.  It had stemmed from a smorgasbord of partially suitable names that all had one thing in common- Prince of Darkness, Clown Prince of Crime, the Persian Prince, and of course, best of all, Prince Charming.  What with so many princes in mind, it only made sense that he should be one, too.

And with all that's happened this morning, I marveled to myself, dialing room service, Freddie still doesn't know who I really am. Thankfully.

 

Chapter Text

"Hey, Fred, just had this idea for the backing track on 'Ragtime Pian-'" Peter began to say as he sauntered into the room.  But he trailed off once he saw the bed, which looked like we had had a very serious romp upon it.

Shooting a look of surprise at Freddie, he said a little sheepishly, "I can come back in a few minutes..."

Freddie rolled his eyes.  "It's not what it looks like."

Peter held up his hands.  "Hey, each to his own, man, I just seem to remember she's engaged to-"

Before Straker could finish, Freddie pushed the bathroom door open and pointed at his bed-tub. 

"You be the judge," was all Freddie had to say.

Room service picked up at last, and I asked them for some tea and coffee.  Freddie and Peter fed me their desired breakfasts, which I relayed to the attendant, and followed theirs up with mine.

After saying good morning to Peter, I excused myself and slipped into the bathroom to get cleaned up. Pushing the pillow and such out of the bathtub (and making absolute certain the door was locked), I showered in peace. As the warm streams of water rained down upon me, I naturally began daydreaming, playing back in my head the scene Peter had crashed. I closed my eyes, reliving how those last few kisses had made me feel. His arms... That tongue... Oh, God...

Shame on me. Think of the other people in his life, I reminded myself. What would Mary say? Or Minsy? Or whoever it is he's officially with right now?

But even that didn't make much sense. If he was in a relationship with Minsy at the moment (that's who I thought he was with, anyway, I couldn't keep track of all his lovers), why did he want me? Why should he be sexually attracted to me, a girl- and one who wouldn't know what to do should he even get that far? Not that he would. He may come close, but that can't happen. That would make things so awkward, and I don't want to be a link in a chain of loveless sex partners. If I can only choose between friendship and a hot, heavy one-night-stand, I'd rather just be his friend. Problem is, that's not what he wants.

I had no illusions about the phrase "make love." Freddie wasn't saying he was in love with me, because on Freddie's lips, those two words only meant sex. Listen to "Get Down, Make Love" and see what I mean. There's no love there, no sweetness, no kindness, no desire for any long-term relations. It's just raw, unadulterated lust. Call me old-fashioned, but I wanted more than that from a man.

All the same, that didn't mean I couldn't be tempted.

"Again, I can't tell how glad I am you're helping produce the album, Fred," Straker was saying as I stepped out. Freddie had since donned a t-shirt, and was stirring his steaming cup of tea.  He glanced up and smiled, pointing theatrically at the coffee pot.

"Are you a singer too, Peter?" I asked, making a beeline for the coffee.

"Sort of.  I'm a kind of stage actor mostly.  Musicals, you know."

"He was in Hair," Freddie said enthusiastically, "weren't you, dear?"

"You were?"  I feigned surprise.  "That's so cool!"

Straker nodded, lighting a cigarette.  "I played Hud."

"Did you have a song?"

"But of course!  Mine was 'Coloured Spade.'"

I tried not to react. "Did you, uh- did you say 'Coloured Spade'?  Not sure I remember that one."

Peter needed no further invitation.  He stood and planted his legs into the floor.  Throwing his head around, he launched into the song, which, if you look up the lyrics, is nothing but a long list of racial slurs and derogatory names for black people (written to poke fun at stupid prejudices, that is all).  I sat there stunned and a little nervous, while Freddie clapped along to the beat.  What could I do but join him.  Such a politically incorrect world compared to mine.  So much has changed in forty years.

"So you guys are both working on albums," I said once the song (which Peter sang quite handsomely for an a capella rendition) was finished.  "I hope this little trip hasn't cut into too much studio time for either of you."

"Darling, we've got two more months at least," Freddie said dismissively.  "I needed a little time away anyhow.  To clear my head, you know, so I can focus better later."

"Now, Freddie, there's just one thing I don't quite get," Peter said, sitting back down to butter his toast.  "She's getting married, but she roomed with you- and last night I found you in more than just a friendly embrace.  Won't Mr. Zuckerberg have a bone to pick with that?"

Freddie wrapped his arm around my shoulders, and shrugged.  "Well, I suppose we can tell you what's really going down.  We may need your help."

Straker leaned forward.  "I'm listening."

"I'm trying to weasel out of a bet with Roger.  We have to get a marriage license- an official one- for Eve.  She told him she's married.  He doesn't believe her."

I continued for him, "So I'm getting 'married' so we get the license, and as soon as Roger sees it, we're getting it annulled.  You can annul by mail, but licenses are another story."

Peter blinked.  "That has to be one of the most unwieldy plot lines I've ever heard.  None of the band knows about this?"

"Not one.  Mary doesn't even know," Freddie replied.

"Whoa, that's what I call a secret."

"Yes, and we'd love it if you kept mum about it yourself."

"So how are you going to work this?"

"Ay, there's the rub.  I'd rather discuss it with Rudy -our dear Fail-Safe- when he comes downstairs to the water.  Eve wants to get some sun, so we're talking officially down there.  Oh, yes, that reminds me."  Freddie reached into the nightstand drawer, pulled out a little money, and slapped it into my hand.

"What's this for?" I asked.

"Go get yourself a suit, we'll join you in a little while."

"A suit?  Like a bathing suit?"

"People tend to tan best in those, yes."

"It's too early for a proper tan, Freddie."

"She's got a point, you know," Straker chimed in.  "Besides, proper tans usually mean no bathing suit at all."

"I hadn't thought of that!  Did you have a little skinny-dipping in mind, darling?"

I shook my head.  "I'm not even going to acknowledge that question."

"I saw this delicious little two-piece in the shop near the lobby," Peter said. "Fire engine red, halter top, looked like it was made out of rose petals. Would look fantastic on this one."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Straker," Freddie scoffed. "Eve wouldn't be caught dead in something so scandalous."

"Oh yes?"

"Yes.  Evie's quite conservative, she'll likely go for the most, um- modest, yes, most Victorian, sort of conservative model they have.  You know, where the skirt comes down to the knee and the bust is completely hidden-"

"You, sir, just kill me," I sighed, but in the back of my mind I said, He's daring me. This is reverse psychology at its zenith. No fair, Freddie! You can't turn my own weapons against me like this!

But knowing better than to fight him, I slid the money into my pocket with my room key.  "Okay, then, I guess I'm buying a bathing suit."

"Two inches above the knee is all I ask, darling," Freddie said dryly.  "Anything longer defeats the purpose."

"I'll keep that in mind," I replied, sipping my coffee.  Challenge accepted. 

**********************************************************************************

I dressed- or more accurately, undressed- as quickly as possible. Freddie was not a man to keep waiting. He could spend forever and a day preparing himself- but take one minute too long in getting ready, and watch the furniture fly. (I'm just kidding, I never saw him throw any furniture, just pillows, and most notably a large porcelain vase- but that was sometime later, and had nothing to do with me being slow. I don't even know why I brought this up now. Anyway...)

I guess Freddie brought a bathing suit as well, I mused to myself. He thinks of everything. All I know is, it better not be a Speedo, or else I won't be able to look at much of anyt-

I slapped myself. "YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME, ME!"

So shouting, I sighed, pulled off the cover-up dress I'd worn on the elevator ride down, and adjusted my bathing suit. And no, it wasn't the Victorian nightmare Freddie claimed I'd go for.  Far from it.

It was a tiny, lemon-yellow bikini. Even by 2017 standards, it pushed the boundaries; it was strapless, revealing, and so tight and with so much stuff in the cups that I looked much more well-endowed than I actually was.  The suit screamed a lot of adjectives, for sure- but "conservative" wasn't among them.  All I did was sigh. 

Damn you, Freddie.  Just when I make up my mind to always adhere to the superego, you come along and breathe life into my id.  And I let you.  Why do I let you?

But the look on his face once he saw me coming would be priceless- and well worth it.  Smiling, I applied another coat of red to my lips and fluttered my eyelashes.  Go big or go home, I decided.  When I felt sufficiently risque, I stepped out of the ladies' dressing room and strode toward the pool.

The boys weren't down yet.  But it was a fantastically bright morning, the air hot and dry all around, and the early birds who weren't recuperating from hangovers had swarmed to the water's edge.  There was a sunning chair just waiting for me, backed by a row of palm trees that were good enough not to cast their shadows over it.  I stretched out and fitted my round sunglasses over my eyes, lazily watching the men in and out of the pool, their bad seventies' haircuts much improved by the water.  A group of young people just one or two years older than me were passing a beach ball back and forth over in the shallower end.  I sat up and looked on, passively rooting for the tubby guy with the red afro. That kid could serve.

Wonder what's taking the fellas so long?  Time's a-wasting!

"What is it?" a deep rumbling voice asked from the water's edge.  I glanced down to see a man in his early thirties leaning against the side of the pool.  Water droplets flecked his muscular arms and his rather impressive handlebar mustache, under which he was smiling.

"Oh nothing, I'm just watching the kids over there," I pointed and smiled back.  Facetiously I sighed, "I remember those days..."

He nodded.  "What's your name?"

"I'm Eve Dubroc.  And yours?"

"Call me Sam."

"Hello, Sam." 

"You all alone up here, Eve?"  His very Western accent was a little jarring after over a week of Freddie's posh English. 

"No, I'm meeting some, uh- some friends."

"So am I.  Got a buddy who's shooting a TV movie here in Vegas, thought I'd come up and see him."

I had the feeling I'd seen him somewhere before, in a cowboy hat and boots.  "Are you an actor, too?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"I thought so, I know I've seen you before."

Sam and I talked another five minutes like this, just making small conversation, when he hoisted himself up onto the edge and asked, "So what do you do?"

And I honestly had no idea what to say.  What did I do?  I tagged along.  I was a millstone wrapped around the neck of another.  To some extent, Freddie was my sugar daddy, and he wasn't even getting any sex out of it.  Just as I had feared when I lost the Relic, so had I lost my purpose. 

I said,  "Once I was studying to be a therapist, now I - I don't know what I'm doing."

Sam nodded.  "We've all been there."

"No, I mean, I really don't know.  I don't even have a job.  I just- I just am.  I follow this one musician around, he takes care of me, but we're not even lovers.  Friends, yes, but there's this- this wall between us.  I wish there wasn't, but it's got to be there for things to happen like they're supposed to.  And I know that's too much information, but John Deacon's not here for me to vent at him, so I'm venting a little at you.  I'm sorry."

He patted the top of my foot, which hung over the sun chair.  "Sounds like a pretty good set-up.  How'd you land it?"

I shrugged.  "Sort of crashed into it on accident."

Sam chuckled.  "Musician, huh?  What's he play?"

"The piano.  And he sings.  Very beautifully, I might add."

"Anybody I might know?"

"Freddie Mercury."

"Who?"

I smiled tightly.  "I won't tell him you said that."

At that moment a hotel attendant rushed up and said, "Mr. Elliott, phone call for you."

Sam nodded his farewell and shook my hand.  "Pleasure talking to you, Miss Eve."

"It was nice talking to you too," I replied.  "I needed it."

With that he walked away, wrapped a towel round his waist and followed the attendant.  Quietly I watched the muscles in his back bunch and relax as he moved.  Sam (Sam Elliott! NO WAY!  WOW!  What was he doing at the Sahara of all places?  Who even cares why?  He was there!) had planted a seed in my mind.  I was stuck here permanently, it seemed, so it made no sense for me to keep sponging off of Freddie.  I couldn't do much on my own, true; but I ought to indeed start exercising a little independence and find myself a job.

I felt a hand descend upon my bare shoulder.  "I suppose you're finished talking to the Marlboro Man?"

Turning, I saw Freddie standing there, svelte in a pair of tight black swimming trunks- not a Speedo, but still relatively short and clingy.  His eyes were hidden by a new pair of sunglasses (his disguise du jour, I guess) but I could almost see the green in his voice. 

"Just waiting on you guys," I said.  "Where are the others?"

"They'll be down in about two minutes or so," he said.  "I wanted to check on you, make sure you weren't in any sort of trouble."

"I wasn't."

"No, you had your nice handlebar-lip cowboy keeping you company," he sniffed.

"Since when did you have anything against handlebar mustaches?" I asked.

"I don't know.  You like them so much, maybe I should grow one."

"Nah, why don't you wait on the mustache.  You're too young."

"Too young?"

"Freddie, this conversation is rapidly deteriorating, let's get to the planning already."

"Come on, then," he grumbled, holding out a hand for me to take it.  As I stood, I saw Freddie look me up and down.  Very quietly, his jaw clenched.

"Is this Victorian enough for you?" I asked spryly. 

Freddie swallowed, then shook his head.  "It's not fair," he complained.  "It's just not fair!"

"Fair's in September, my prince," I sang, with far too much satisfaction in my voice.  I should have saved it for later.  A little too late I remembered how close I was to the water.

One more long look, as he took me all in.  I saw the telltale smirk curling his mouth.  But nine days with Freddie had me trained.  I knew what was coming. 

He charged at me.  But right in the nick of time I leaped out of his path.  Freddie ran out of room to stop himself and he plunged ungracefully into the pool.

When he didn't immediately come back to the top I began fretting.  What if he'd hit his head?  As the seconds passed, still no Freddie.  I freaked.  Oh, no.  I hadn't meant to hurt him!  Terrified, I knelt down close to the surface and squinted. 

That's when his dark form rocketed back up from the bottom and with a wild yell he burst into the air, reached up, grabbed my arms.  I let out a surprised scream that was immediately hushed as he pulled me down into the deep end.  "You dog!" I tried to yell, but sounded much more garbled underwater.  Freddie had too many tricks up his sleeve, and yet I was dumb enough to think I could expect them all. 

He still held my arms, but his strong, muscular legs somehow wrapped themselves around my waist so that as we descended I couldn't slip out of his grasp and head back for air.  My eyes were closed for fear my contacts would be washed away, my lips sealed shut to hold whatever little oxygen I had managed to catch.  Freddie wasn't trying to drown me, was he?

I felt his thumbs gently rub against my eyelids.  He wanted me to open them.  I shook my head, gestured wildly in an attempt to tell him about my contacts.  But he had an answer for that too.  Freddie then briefly pressed his large hands against my breasts. 

My eyes snapped open and I squirmed, for I was running out of air and Freddie was going too far.  But he took hold of my panicky arm movements and pinned them behind my back.  To my surprise, he didn't try to kiss me.  All he wanted was for me to look into his eyes.  So, forced into submission, I did. 

And as badly as I needed to breathe, I felt myself grow calm when I looked at him.  His shaggy dark hair floated so nicely in the water, forming an ever-moving halo; his dark brown eyes burned with an intense and beautiful fire, and I would have marveled at how long and black were his lashes, but neither Freddie nor I was part fish, and we had to breathe.  Like before, Freddie unfastened himself from me and sped us back to the surface.  With a tremendous splash we bobbed into the air, coughing and gasping, our once graceful tresses now plastered against our skulls.

"What the flying f--- did you do that to me for?!" I wheezed, then realized what wretched profanity I'd just hollered.

Freddie grinned and kissed one of the fading red spots on my neck.  "For that," he whispered.

"Just to make me swear," I said.  "I refuse to believe that."

"Not that so much as, it peeled back another layer."

"You make no sense.  I don't have layers.  You do."

"You know what your problem is?"

"What?"

"Everything you think is wrong with me is also everything that I know is wrong with you.  Just switched."

I blinked, brushing his wet hair off his forehead.  "Again, you make no-"

"Really, you two, can you cool it for five minutes?"

That last was Elton's voice. 

What was Elton doing here?  He was staying at Caesar's, or the International!  But I peered up and there he was, arms folded, glasses off, his blue eyes looking very disappointed in Freddie.  But the two of us would not be shamed; our heads high, we took long strides up the steps, breathing deeply.  Everyone was there, all of our cadre was watching us, Peter with his hands on his hips, lips pursed in an attempt to fight back a laugh.

Freddie ran his fingers through his hair, combing it all back and making him look uncharacteristically sleek, and snapped back into default "offhand and pompous" mode.  "What are you buggers looking at?  We need to put our heads together here, we don't have a plan of action and we have to be back in the air heading home by about eight o'clock this evening.  Come on, silly things, get with it!"

I sighed inwardly.  I like you when it's just the two of us, I thought to myself, even if when we are alone, you're your most dangerous.  Because that's when my feelings for you multiply.  Damn you, Freddie.  I wish you weren't so beautiful.

We all sat down and started planning this final leg of our secret mission.  And then, we would fly back to Queen, back to the cats, back to studio all-nighters.  Perhaps I now halfway considered the UK my home country, and Freddie, my safe haven.  But Sam was right.  I had to start finding my own way.  As beautiful and crazy and generous as Freddie was, I couldn't ride his party train forever.  


Chapter Text

"Sleepin' on the sidewalk/ Rollin' down the road," Brian sings into the microphone.  From where Roger, the sound guys, and I sit in the control room, he looks just as easygoing as he sounds.  This is a better take than the one before it; Brian's voice is one that needs to warm up a bit.

I have to say, this is probably the fastest any song of his has come together.  We had completed the backing track in a single take, moving along so smoothly that I practically forgot we were recording and let my mind slip away a moment.  For a brief second my focus shifted from "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" to the ticking time bomb that is the Relic, sitting quietly (so far) on the sofa in the control room.  I flubbed the bass line at a few places and didn't even notice.  Fortunately, neither did anyone else when we played it back.  All the same, hopefully we'll get a chance to rerecord it once Freddie returns.  I don't like little slip-ups any more than the rest of Queen.

It's Brian's vocals that are going to take longer.  I can feel it.  He's almost as shy about singing as I am- and I don't sing.  (But trust me, there's a reason for that.)  I can completely understand.  Our front man's a hard act to follow.  Yet even I know Freddie's voice wouldn't work in this almost Bad Company, bluesy sort of song. 

"And Ah sure do wanna go home," he finishes at last in his mock American accent.  It's rather exaggerated, but still reminds me of Freddie's mysterious pet.  As American as Eve- I mean, Julia- may be, she doesn't talk like that.  I wonder where she comes from- where her "home" is.  Again I glance at the Relic.  It won't be much longer before I can find out. 

After the final prerecorded cymbal crash, Brian pulls off the headphones, which made a funny dent in his trademark mop of curls. 

"That one was better," Roger pipes. 

"Let me see," Brian replies through the intercom.  He comes back in and we play the whole thing back.  When it finishes, he nods, satisfied.  "Great.  Just need to record the harmonies."

"Shouldn't we wait for Freddie for that?" Mike, our producing assistant, asks.

Roger shrugs.  "Maybe we should."

But Brian doesn't look too keen on the idea.  "I mean, we could, but it would be nice if we finished the whole thing today, so we could start playing with the production side of it."

I realize what's going on.  This is a tit-for-tat thing.  A song completely of Brian's creation, with no theatrical Mercury trimmings, in exchange for Freddie's own thoroughly un-rock and roll "My Melancholy Blues."

"Then why should there have to be a guitar solo in a song where the guitar wouldn't work?" I mumble.

Brian looks up.  "What?"

Oh, perfect.  Now I have to explain.  "On that jazz song they wrote-"

"They?  Oh, yeah, that girl.  Yoko Revisited."

"You mean, Okoy," Roger corrects him.  He looks a little uncomfortable at the mention of Julia.  I can't help smiling to myself just a bit.

"Whatever.  You were saying, John?"

"I mean, I, uh- I don't really think they should have to include a guitar part, I'm not sure it would work right," I say cautiously.

"But it's already there," Brian protests.

"Well, maybe we just need to redo it, God knows it's simple enough," I suggest.

Roger rolls his eyes.  He's no more crazy about that song than Brian.  "This is such a lot of trouble for a stupid jazz thing.  If it wasn't for Okoy, I'd still say no to it."

"It would sound a lot better if we just slowed it down," Brian says.  "It would still be pretty camp, but at least it would be a little easier on the ears."

As if to prove each of our points, we change out the tapes and play "Melancholy Blues" back.  Listening to it now, it's painfully obvious.  The guitar is unnecessary, and moreover the song seems just a bit on the bare side because of its speed and the lack of harmony.  Julia wasn't feeling well that day, so there are no high harmonies to back Freddie up.  Another take wouldn't hurt, and anyway this is only the rough first cut so no one's tinkered with it yet.

"Slow it down," Brian nods. 

"It needs her harmonies," I think aloud.

"I still don't like it," Roger grumbles.  "But whatever.  I guess that's-"

Bip-bi-bip BEEP BEEP Bip-bi-bip BEEP BEEP Bip-bi-bip BEEP BE-

"What the hell?" Roger asks.  But as soon as the tinny "Ride of the Valkyries" begins, I'm already scooping up the Relic and running out of the control room to answer it.

(Yes, I changed the little song it plays.  That first thing was so very annoying I had to change it.  Fortunately the Relic gives the option of about twenty others, and it was a toss-up between the one called "Simpsons" and the Valkyrie melody.  Yes, I played around with the thing before I went back to bed that night.  And yes, I said "Simpsons," whatever that has to do with anything.  Oh, stop laughing.  If you were me, you would play with it, too!)

When I'm in the clear, I answer the phone.  Again the men on the other end are expecting someone else to answer. 

"Is that you now, Julia?" K asks hopefully.

"No, still John.  How are you?"

"Where's Julia?" the other one demands. 

"She's gone off somewhere!" I answer.

"Where?  Tell us now!" My God. Would it kill K's friend to be polite?

'"I dunno.  It's a secret.  He didn't tell anyone."

"He, who?"

"Her kidnapper," I mutter sarcastically.

"What?  Julia's been kidnapped?"  K is horrified.

I just stand there.  They don't really believe me, do they?  "Uh..."

"That would explain why the tracker's not online," K mutters.  "She's too far away."

The other guy is more to the point.  "Who kidnapped her?  Do you know?"

"Oh, certainly," I say, suddenly feeling mischievous.  "I helped him, you see."

"You what?"

"That's right," I begin, when I recall Freddie's theory that Julia is some weird kind of angel (granted, he told me this in the Rolls after the club soiree, and he was still quite solidly hammered, but I can't take any chances).  I immediately begin rethinking my strategy.  If it turns out he's right, I will not be in very good shape after this- and my very Catholic wife will not be pleased.

"Then who did it?" the other fellow asks.

"Before I answer that- and I will," I reply, "I want you to tell me who you are."

"We can't do that," K says haltingly, even though I can hear in his voice he would like to.

"Then I can't tell you who she's with- and where she's gone," I say firmly.  "Goodbye."

"WAIT!  Understand, this is an extremely secret procedure," K tries to explain.  "We can't just-"

"Hold it, hold it, Steve, I've got an idea," the other guy says.  He calls behind him loudly, "Anybody got a phone?  Okay, good, quick, look her up on Google."

I don't understand anything he's just said.  "What's Google?"

the other guy is still focused on the person with the phone, and he's growing angry.  "What do you mean, you don't like Google?"  I hear a strange rush of air- like a crowd gasping in horror.  "Use Bing, then!  Jesus!"

Bing?  Google?  Such strange, childish words, they're using.  I hope I'm not talking to asylum inmates.

"The clock is ticking, Tim, we've only got another minute left!"  K says.

"Try 1977 Julia Samuels- and throw John Deacon in the search box too," Tim orders.

"Wait a minute!  Why me?"

"We're trying to find anything on the Web that has to do with Julia and you-"

"She's not going by Julia!  I told you!  Everyone here thinks her name is Eve!  Eve Dubroc!"

"Dubroc?" K says, suddenly calm.  "Did you say, Dubroc?"

I'm getting a little frustrated, and so is the rest of Queen.  Roger pokes his head out of the control room and says, "Deacy, what are you doing out there?"

"Can you not see I'm on the phone?" I snap much too rudely. 

Roger holds up his hands and backs out of sight.  "Well, excuse me."

I turn back to the Relic and confirm, "Yes, Dubroc.  It's a name he gave her."

"Eve Dubroc," K repeats.  The wheels are turning.  He's remembering something.  "I know that name..."

"Huh?" Now I'm feeling left out.  "Look, if you want to know her whereabouts, just f---ing tell me who you are-"

"Wasn't that her name?" K's lost in a reverie.  "God, that was so long ago.  Forty years, I think.  Don't remember the guy.  But she- God, I nearly forgot about that.  Yow, how the time fli--."

They're starting to cut out again.  "Hello?" I shout.

"What are you t--king ab---, Ste-?" Tim says impatiently.

"Dubr--, that was i-, I wa- witn--- at her wed-"

"What did you say?" My blood chills.  I dare not assume.

"Maybe that's w--- Good L- no wond- she -ook so famil-"

"You know whe- sh- -s?" Tim is incredulous and choppy.

"Couldn't be sa-  --rson, --at wa- all th- w--- Vegas..."

The one clearly uttered word rattles me.  Vegas?  I automatically start tying things together.

"Would you people just tell me what the f--- is going on?" I holler.

But it's at that exact moment the connection is lost.

However I'm still hung up on the last thing I heard K say.

Vegas?

VEGAS?

"John, are you all right?" Brian's voice barely awakens me.

I slowly turn to face our guitarist.  I struggle to calm my features, now screwed up and distorted in shock.  And I had only been kidding last night about Vegas!  That couldn't be what they were there for, was it?  No, there was another reason!  Had to be! 

"I'm coming," I mumble.  "I'm fine."  There was nothing I could say to them anyway.

But the word keeps reverberating in my head.  Vegas?  And how would he know about Miss Dubroc/ Julia/ whatever her name is?

God, I am so confused....

 

Chapter Text

As might be expected, the plan-out really didn't take too much time, which was just how Freddie liked it. This gave the seven of us the chance to sit down, face-to-face, and work out how today would transpire. Who was splitting up with whom, by what time did they need to be at the airport (John and Rudy were assigned to plane ticket arranging; seeing as the Starship wasn't going back up in the air, we needed to figure out a more public Plan B), and things to that effect.

"And this time, let's stick to the deadline, shall we, Fred?" Elton said dryly, and Freddie gave him a thumbs up and a wink.

We made an interesting sight there by the poolside- the original Suicide Squad tightly (and just a tad uncomfortably) encircling one of the round tables like some sort of King Arthur parody. We would have made quite a cool-looking album cover: Peter in sunglasses, lounging in his chair, hands behind his head; Elton, smoking, occasionally being interrupted by the smattering of fans who approached him, which he handled gracefully enough; "Randy John" meticulously writing things down so as not to forget; Rudy leaning forward, hands folded on the table, making notes on his own mental notepad; Paul, also dragging on a cigarette, listening intently but not so intently as to stop throwing suspicious glances our way- "our" referring of course to Freddie and myself, slowly drying out in the morning sun, me wishing I'd brought my journal so I could write the plan down myself.

Not that I was really even paying much attention. Freddie kept distracting me in two big ways. The first, obviously, because of how drop-dead gorgeous he looked with his hair curling as it sun-dried, his unshaven face, and the way the water droplets glittered on his tan skin. It took great self-composure not to let my hand touch his chest again, or let my fingers get tangled up in that mess of dark hair.

And apparently, he thought I was worth caressing as well, which brings me to the second distraction.

Whenever Freddie would talk, everything was fine. I could focus, because he was focused. But as soon as Straker or Rudy or somebody besides himself (including me) opened their mouths, a film would slide over Freddie's eyes and he went into auto-pilot. Outwardly, that is. On the inside, he was busy playing a rapidly escalating game of "Can I Help You?"

Within seconds of his eyes going flat, I would feel a hand grip my bare knee. I would clench my teeth, do my best not to visibly react, because that's what he was trying to evoke- a reaction. The first few times he did this, I simply lifted his hand off my knee and put it back in his lap, shooting him an irritated glance. But he learned quickly; when he did it next, he held my hand down over my other knee, so that should I try to stop him again I'd make a scene. So I stopped reacting altogether.

When I sat there like a stone for a few moments, his smooth hand would began rubbing my lower thigh back and forth. My eyes would drift down toward my lap, and I would cross my legs, moving out of his range. It was indeed a reaction, but not the one he was looking for. So, very subtly, he would scoot a little closer and slide his hand under my raised thigh and again rub back and forth, squeezing harder until I could stand it no more and I spouted the magic phrase: "Can I help you?"

But even there, I couldn't win. Not only would I disrupt the group, but Freddie would draw back and look completely oblivious to my outburst. And there was no way could I explain to these guys what was going on, so I would wind up looking like a complete idiot yet again. Mutely, then, I had to endure Freddie's teasing touch.

"Back in the air by eight," Peter mused. "That doesn't give us much time to paint the town, does it?"

"Just means there's very little time to waste, so we'd better make the best of it," Freddie explained.

Elton took a puff, smoke escaping his lungs in little wisps as he spoke. "So tell me about this Zuckerberg fellow."

He asked it so nonchalantly and without a very good segue, so I didn't realize at first that he was addressing me. "Oh! Uh- well, what about him?"

"He's your fiance! Where's he from? What's he do?"

Crap. I didn't think the boys, especially Sharon, would be interested. Now I had to make stuff up. "Well, um- he's Canadian, actually- I met him on a vacation up in Alberta..."

"Alberta?" Freddie repeated, resting his chin in his hand. "How ripping. Never been there, what's it like?"

"It's beautiful," I replied, internally fumbling for a plausible story. "I was on one of the lakes up there, canoeing about and so was he, we crossed paths, and I guess you could say it was love at first sight. As for what Mark does... oh, how do I put this... he's in communications."

Freddie's eyes gleamed. "He's also half-Eskimo, right, darling?"

"Yes, that's right, and- what?"

"Isn't that what you told me?"

The look on his face confirmed that he was simply hell-bent on messing me up today. What did I do to deserve this, Freddie? Is this payback for not telling you about the shaving cream? But once again, I rose to the challenge.

"No," I said. "He's a quarter Eskimo. His mom is half-Inuit, half Canadian, and she married a German Jewish immigrant."

"That's a jumbled gene pool," Rudy remarked, genuinely interested.

"Oh yes. She taught him all the best Eskimo love songs, he's got a great voice. I think you'd like him."

Peter smiled. "Eskimos sing? I thought they just fished and rubbed noses."

"You know, it's just that kind of stereotyping prejudice that makes life so hard for the igloo people," I said dryly.

"Oh, dear me, I don't want to offend the man. Don't tell him I said that, I'm used to my chest without a harpoon scar."

Freddie just grinned and shook his head.

"When's he going to meet you?" Peter asked.

"At six," I said spontaneously.

"I'll be collecting him for her actually," Freddie said. "I'll be his personal escort. Imagine the surprise on his face when he sees this scruffy-looking tart coming his way-"

"I'd like to come along," I offered. "I haven't seen him in forever."

"We've already discussed this, angel," Freddie said just a tad impatiently. "You're picking up the license. Besides, don't you know it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding?"

"That's true," I hummed. "Just don't want you to get too sidetracked. Are you going alone?"

"I am. Don't worry. I'm tougher than I look."

"That's hardly like you," Elton quipped. "It couldn't be you've got yet another bird in the hand waiting round the corner?"

"I smell trouble," Peter laughed. "Remember, Freddie, he's her fiance!"

"Right, that's good, that's enough," Freddie waved his hands.

"That reminds me," Paul muttered quietly. "I think it's rather odd, you not bringing David, knowing how close you said you two were-"

"David is off on holiday," Freddie said dismissively, "rather like we are now. Anyway, so-"

"Or Liza," Paul continued, then gave me something I thought I'd never witness in my lifetime: an intentional smile. "Have you met his Liza, Miss Dubroc?"

"Liza? Who's she?" I asked.

And everyone started laughing- everyone except Freddie.

"She?" Peter chuckled, "Dear Eves, Liza's a-"

Freddie's eyes hardened. "Could we save this for later, darlings?"

"Why? I'm interested, who's Liza?" I tried to look as doe-eyed and innocent as possible. But the name Liza did ring a bell. It was clearly another nickname; Freddie was indeed so fond of giving people nicknames. But for whom?

"We're getting off topic. We'll never get anywhere if we don't iron this out." To Elton he said, "So what's your plan of action, Sharon?"

I thought maybe the "Liza scare" would have cooled Freddie's jets, but it seemed to only ignite them again- and hotter. As Elton took his turn, Freddie put his hand gently on my bare waist and let it rove across my belly button around to the other side. How is he doing this without the others noticing?

I felt my very flesh crawl at his touch, his fingertips leaving trails of heat behind. He sighed quietly- as did I, unwittingly, but not so quietly as he. Taking that as a cue to progress even further, Freddie took my hand and slowly pulled it toward his lap-

"NO," I wanted to yell indignantly, but it came out as more of a breathless squeak. But I did jerk away violently, drawing more unwanted attention to myself.

"What's wrong?" John Holmes asked.

"I -uh- I saw a bee," I muttered. "Stinging things, you know. Hate them."

"Oh," he nodded.

I was feeling a little shaky. "Could you guys excuse me for a moment, please?" I said, pushing in my chair and running for my towel. "I need to get dressed anyway, don't want to make anyone wait, see you in a minute."

I knew by getting up and going back to our room, I ran the risk of Freddie following me. But I wrapped myself in my towel and made for the dressing room to put my cover-up back on, ignoring the occasional stranger's stare as I passed. Gadzooks. What a stupid idea, letting pride take hold again. I really should have gone the other way, bought the black one-piece that would have disappointed Freddie but protected me from being squeezed and caressed under the table.

As I had expected, Freddie glided along just behind me; I knew his step by heart. I whirled on him as soon as we were out of earshot and demanded, "What was that back there?"

Freddie shook his head. "Evie, you don't want to hear about Liza, and I don't want to talk about hi-"

"Forget Liza! I'm talking about you and those big paws of yours."

"Paws?" Freddie scoffed with a little sarcastic smile. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Elton's right, can you cool it for five minutes? Despite what you think, I don't want-"

"Oh, yes, you do want."

"And you decided that, how?"

"Look at what you're f---ing wearing, Eve! Tease, tease, tease! Every chance you get, you just- I mean, you and that towel a few days ago, you in this thing now, you letting it all hang out and I'm supposed to stand there with my hands tied? What would the Boss say?"

Never mind the Boss, what would my parents say? They raised me better than this.

"Whatever happened before was unintentional- and this, this is me taking you up on a challenge."

"Challenge?"

"You were practically daring me to-"

"Really, darling, are we that immature? Are we still in the age of 'double-dog dares'? I thought angels were bigger than that."

My eyes narrowed, my teeth grinding in frustration. "All right," I managed, "you tell me how I should have handled the situation, and I'll tell you what you would have done."

"You should've -uh, I don't know, just skipped the whole thing and bought nothing at all, if that's-"

"Bought nothing at all? How well would that have gone over?" I then acted out his response, intentionally overdoing the accent, "Evie, darling, I said, go buy a bathing suit, and there you are, just standing in those street clothes, com-plete-ly ignored me, that's so rude. Oh, but then perhaps you couldn't decide? That must be it. Oh my dear, you're such a helpless little thing, aren't you!"

Freddie blinked. "Is that how I sound to you?"

"Not really. Sort of. A little. Not that that's a bad thing-"

"My God, you make me sound like the- the meddling, pushy mother-in-law in all the old Hollywood films."

I shrugged. "Well...sometimes..."

"I get it," he growled, running a hand restlessly through his hair. "F---."

Is it just me, or are these mini temper tantrums happening more often the longer I'm here?

"But that's not how you always are! Good Lord, that's only one side of you- and it's kind of cute anyway, so there."

"Cute," he sighed, rolling his eyes. "You at least give me that. I'm cute. Well, thank you so very much, my dear." Freddie turned, mumbling something else that I didn't catch.

"Say what?"

"I said, you're nicer when you're strung out."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're more generous with your feelings- assuming you actually even have any." Freddie slung his towel across his shoulders and stalked away.

"Where are you going?"

"Back to the other old ladies, naturally," he said. "I won't be too far behind, so hurry it up."

"It's only nine-thirty, we've got all d-"

"Just go put some clothes on," he called over his shoulder. "And try not to be so f---ing sexy while you're at it. We have Mark to consider, after all."

I couldn't help the grin and blush. "I'll put on the most non-sexy thing I can find."

"Good luck," he mumbled.

"What was that?"

"I didn't say anything, now off with you, my dear ice sculpture."

So I was off with me back to the hotel room, my head now aflurry with speculation as to what Freddie meant about me being generous with my feelings. What had I said to him at the club? What had I done?

And what did he mean, I didn't have feelings? I did! I was just very careful about what I chose to show, especially to him. Could it be I was too careful?

One can never be too careful when it comes to Freddie Mercury, I said to myself. Besides, what does he care how I feel about him? He may want me, and I may want him, but only in a physical sense. Every time Freddie touches me, another little piece of my brain turns to mush. Was it only four days ago I didn't even let him kiss me? Four days, just four days, and now look at him, putting his hands all over me and I'm just sitting there and taking it. Of course, I can't mention any of this to him, I'll just get the same old "You need it" routine. I need to start searching for a new path- and for now, if anything, I should be more careful.

Anyway, what about last night? He saw me break down and openly weep. Did ice sculptures cry? They melted, perhaps, but did they cry? Such an inconsistent little man I was living with. It was enough to drive someone out of their head.

"Mark Zuckerberg, my Part-Eskimo Canadian fiance," I muttered to myself, dashing into the bathroom to dress in case Freddie should barge in at the wrong time. "You can't make this stuff up." I need to update the journal, haven't written anything since yesterday afternoon.

Once I had my proper underclothes back on, I pulled on my blue jeans from 2017, but I'd again forgotten to grab a top. On the suitcase just outside the bathroom door lay the red t-shirt Freddie had been wearing last night; I grabbed that and, after lifting it to my nose to inhale that delicious scent (still licorice, but a little muskier than usual after all the running around we did yesterday), put it on for the time being until I could don something else. It was rather tight on him, but hung a little more loosely on me. Add that to my messy damp hair, and you had the definition of "non-sexy."

We would be checking out as soon as Freddie came back and got himself together, so I started repacking. I jackknifed over the comfy chair in the corner, reaching for my Android. Maybe we could do a little roulette or slot machine action before I fraudulently obtained marriage license.

I was drying my hair and still in his shirt when Freddie came back.

"Hallo!" I called.

Freddie poked his head into the bathroom, and I smiled. He said something that I couldn't hear over the roar of the blow dryer.

I turned it off. "What?"

"Eve, what did I say?"

"I don't know, that's why I turned this off-"

"No, that's what I said."

"What?"

"What did I say?"

"I don't know!"

Freddie looked at me as if he didn't know whether to get huffy yet again or give up. "My God, it's like talking to a chair sometimes."

"Um... okay..." I looked blank.

With a sigh, Freddie took his towel and rubbed his head vigorously. "My point was, what are you doing in my clothes?"

"It was the first thing I saw."

"What did I say about the sexy connotations?"

I stared at him. "You cannot possibly be aroused by this get-up."

"No, not aroused. I'm interested. You'd know if I was aroused."

I rolled my eyes, and with a little wince of disgust (although deep down, the image now forming in my head I found anything but revolting) was about to turn the dryer back on when Freddie gently took it out of my hand.

"That's not what I meant," Freddie said. "I mean, you haven't seen me aroused, really aroused, yet."

"Last night-"

"My dear, that wasn't arousal. That was interest."

"And this morning?"

"Again, that was mere interest. But we were on our way to arousal. There's levels to, um- my process, shall we say."

"Oh, really?" I said, but I felt myself shaking again. I hope he isn't planning on a demonstration. Good grief, why does it keep coming back to this?

"There's interest, which you know about," Freddie went on. "Had we gotten any more involved this morning, yes, I would have been aroused. And when I'm aroused," he placed the tip of his finger on my bottom lip, "let's just say you can't stop me. Nothing can."

"I guess you've made a study of this?" I asked this as I realized how much closer Freddie had come to me.

"And the further it goes," he ignored me, his tone deceptively clinical, "you can't stop yourself, either- even if you wanted to."

I just looked up at him, wondering if he was going to attempt a reprise of this morning. Good boy, indeed. I don't think he heard a word I said. Oh, Freddie, what will we do with you...

"But anyway," he said with a shrug, leaning back. "You probably should put on something else. Unless, of course, we're playing opposites today, and you're wearing my clothes and I'm wearing yours. There's that one dress of yours I think might fit me-"

"How well do you think you can win over a guy to pretend to get married if you're running around wearing a dress?"

"You underestimate me, darling," he said. "Although I dare say you're much sexier in my t-shirt than I could ever be in a dress. You naughty thing, taking advantage of my weaknesses."

"I wouldn't have put this on if I had known it would get you all desirous again," I answered, my American accent momentarily sliding south into a Texas drawl; I pronounced "desirous" as "dezar-uss". "It's just a t-shirt, for crying-"

"What was that?" Freddie's brows rose. "Dezarruss?"

Oh, great. "I meant, des-eye-russ!"

"Yeah, but I heard a very distinct dez-arrrr-uss," Freddie stretched out the word to last three full seconds.

"I meant to say-"

"Well, honey chile, of course I knew what you're tryin' t'say," Freddie purred in the worst Southern accent I'd ever heard- even worse than Alan Rickman's in Die Hard. "What kinda little ol' fool do you take me for, sugar-baby?"

He could play the piano, he could sing, he wrote songs, he could paint, he could draw, he had designed his own costumes, and he was a wizard with the Scrabble board- but the man couldn't do accents.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, well, you talk like a British version of Marvin the Martian, so I'll take the Steel Magnolia thing, thanks."

"Good God, heaven help the man who does have to put his hand to that license and sign 'Mark Zuckerberg.'" Freddie rummaged around in the suitcase, found a change of clothes and pushed me out of the bathroom to get dressed. "We haven't much time, put on some real clothes or something!"

So I did. Once I was ready I tiptoed back toward the closed bathroom, where Freddie had begun humming to himself. To myself I smiled. It was once more the melody for "Jealousy." Rather early for him to be cooking that song up, I thought; "Jealousy" was a song featured on Jazz, the album following News of the World.

I called through the door, "How am I supposed to get the license again?"

"We've gone over this, darling," Freddie said in an impatient singsong voice.

"You didn't explain it very clearly."

"Use your imagination!"

"I'd really rather you be there to help-"

"You won't be alone! Straker will be with you. He volunteered! Two heads are better than one, I always say."

"Freddie, where are you really going? Is it to see Liza?"

"Liza doesn't live here! They're back in London."

"Then what are you playing at, man?"

"I have a few things to do- not the least of which finding a guy who will fit the description of a big, tough, Canadian German Eskimo that can sing."

"Seriously?"

"Would I lie to you, angel?"

"You're crazy," I muttered.

"I'll do it, though," Freddie declared.

"There aren't many Eskimos in Vegas, I don't think-"

"It'll all work out." Freddie opened the door a crack and peered out. "Trust me. I'll have our Mr. Z by six in the restaurant down below, the one with the Moroccan decor and such. You won't make us wait, will you?"

"Of course not, I'm dying to see who you get." Meet-up by six, "marriage" by seven, all seven of us in the air by eight. This would be close.

"Well, whoever our mystery Mark is, he's already earned my envy," Freddie said, poking his head out a little further. He touched my cheek.

"How's that?" I said.

"He gets to kiss you, and you'd basically be his pseudo-wife for a certain number of days until the annulment papers come in from the mail and everything goes poof."

"It won't be a real marriage, Freddie. You know that. There won't be anything consummated, there won't be anything promised. Eve isn't even my real name. It's like we're getting married just so he can get his green card or something."

"You'll still have to say 'I do,'" Freddie pointed out. 'You can do that much, right?"

Before I could reply, he placed his hand under my chin, smiled, and pulled my face forward to his.

But I said, raising a hand to touch his mouth, "Ah, ah, ah. We have Mark- and Liza- to consider, after all."

When I said "Liza," Freddie eyes narrowed and he shut the door in my face. "What a f---ing wonderful world."

There was nothing to do but roll my eyes. "I can't win with you," I sang, bopping my head to a variation of one of several Queen songs I wasn't all that crazy about, yet fit in this moment.

To myself I finished the line, subconsciously, but I can't win without you...

 

Chapter Text

"Sir, I must insist," Rudy said for easily the twelfth time in the past ten minutes.  

"You can insist as much as you like, darling," Freddie replied coolly, "but I'm afraid I just haven't the time to listen."  

The elevator doors slid open and the five of us -Peter, Freddie, Paul, Rudy, and I- piled out into the lobby once more.  Elton and his assistant were out doing God-knows-what.  Thanks to Freddie and his hands, I'd missed everything Sharon said he had planned to do, and I really didn't care enough to ask even for curiosity's sake.  We had officially checked out, our bags were packed, and the bed was nicely made up; nobody who might walk into our room now would ever guess the bed was the only thing that wasn't slept in.

"It's my job to protect you, sir-"

"Rudy, what have I told you about calling me 'sir'?"

"Sorry.  Freddie, you pay me to look after you, and you going off like this-"

"Oh, Rudy, stop having kittens."  Freddie playfully flexed his muscles.  "I can handle myself for today.  No one shall suspect."

I smiled.  Rudy was truly concerned for his employer.  I guess to some extent Rudy really was his personal assistant, and a good one, too.  Why didn't anybody talk about him?  I'd honestly never heard of any Rudy Barnes in the books or the interviews done in the mid to late 70's.  Freddie always made it sound like Peter Freestone, aka "Phoebe," was the first.  So strange.  Something must happen later on to cause a problem.  Huh. 

"You know where we're meeting, right?" Freddie went on, talking to all of us.

Paul, who was with Rudy, nodded.  "At the airport, seven thirty."

"And we, at six, at the Sahara restaurant- to meet up with you and Mr. Z," Peter declared.

"Ah, you're so good," Freddie said with a rapturous sigh.

"Remind me again, Freddie, why the two of us can't be there?" Paul asked suspiciously.

"Do you want to be witnesses at the wedding?"

"Not particularly."

"Okay, so don't worry about it.  Peter and I should do quite nicely, I think.  As soon as we get all squared away, we'll head straight for you.  And if you don't see me by seven-thirty, go ahead and get on the plane; that goes for you too, Straker."

"And me as well?" I asked.

"Dear, don't be so silly.  You have to wait for your fiance, and he'll be with me.  I'll get him to you, just wait and see, but if I'm delayed, do be good enough and wait."  Freddie winked.  Something that closely resembled ulterior motives flashed in his eyes.  I forced myself not to ask any further questions.

Rudy sighed and nodded. 

Peter looked much more excited, though.  "Very well.  I suppose we'd better go our separate ways then.  Only so many hours in the day."

With that, we started bidding our mutual farewells.  Rudy again smiled as he shook my hand, this smile a bit bigger (Rudy likes me!  I don't annoy him anymore!  Hurray!); Paul was just as limp-wristed as ever, his eyes listlessly wandering anywhere but mine.

I put my hand out for Freddie, who took it, and instead of shaking it, pulled me in for a tight hug, pressing his body close into mine.

"Let's not forget the Z-Man," I whispered, but my arms wrapped just as tightly around him as his did me.

"Ah, yes, good point," he mumbled, then leaned toward my face.  Very theatrically I laid a finger against his lips.

"Careful now," I said.  "Mark's territory."

I saw the frustration reenter his eyes, but his voice remained bouncy and carefree.  "Darling, come on.  The next time I see you, you'll be a married woman.  Are you really going to deny me one last kiss?"

"But Mark's a very jealous-"

"Besides, he's an Eskimo.  All he'll want is your nose anyway- though it's a very cute little nub of one at that."

I couldn't help smiling.  "Oh, all ri-"

His mouth stopped my words yet again, and he held me there for a number of seconds in a very chaste, tongue-less kiss. 

"Would you two get a room, please," Peter snickered as Freddie slowly pulled away from me.  Paul merely watched in silence, hands locked behind his back.  Rudy looked around as if he didn't notice.  Forty-one, I tallied to myself.

"You know what to look for, right?" I said in a much huskier voice than I had wanted.

Freddie didn't look too clear-headed himself.  "Uh- no, actually.  I know where to look, just not what.  Yes.  What am I looking for, darling?"

I paused a moment, then grinned slyly.  "A tall fellow with curly brown hair who looks like a cross between Richard Dreyfuss and Sam Elliott-"

"Oh, f--- you, Eve," Freddie said, pushing me away.

"Well, that's what he looks like!" I explained.  "I think you're the only person in the world who can kiss someone and five seconds later say 'Eff you,' and nobody gets mad."

"Just go get the license, you trollop," he muttered mirthlessly. 

Nobody gets mad, except you maybe.  He was rapidly losing his patience with me- and I wasn't helping myself by letting him.  The outburst didn't faze anyone else, however.  Soon enough, Paul and Rudy got into their cab and sped away. 

Freddie hailed his, but just before he clambered in, he shot me one last look.  I smiled cautiously and waved, and instead of a caustic little glare, I received a wink.  In confusion I watched him mouth two silent words: Trust me.  Then he disappeared into the bright yellow Dodge and he rolled out of sight, leaving me alone with the one and only Peter Straker.

Trust you. What choice do I have, Freddie? I said to myself.  I have to.  Right now, you're all I've got.

"So Freddie told me you volunteered," I said to Straker.

"I did," Peter replied.  "Shouldn't be too much of a hang-up, getting the license, right?"

"Yeah, about that."

"Oh.  Will it?"

"See, I don't have any proof of identity.  Any legal proof, that is."

Straker nodded sagely.  Nothing threw this cat off; that was one place where Freddie and he diverged.  "Then we need to decide how we're doing this.  Any ideas?"

"Not so far, Hattie."

"Hattie?  Oh, right, the code names.  Mad Hatter.  Oh, this will be so much fun."  Peter rubbed his hands together mischievously.

I arched my brow.  "Something tells me you've got one, though."

"It's in its development stages, but I think it's got a chance.  But we'd better go now.  The earlier, the better."  Peter scouted and found another taxi across the street, giving me the bare-bones outline of the plan as we hustled over to it.

My eyes were bigger than melons by the time he'd summed it up fully.  "That's so far-fetched.  You really believe that's going to fly, Hattie?"

"Of course not, Harley.  That's the thrill of it."

"Big he- Wait.  Harley?"

"If you're calling me Mad Hatter, I'm calling you Harley Quinn."

My throat went dry.  "Oh, dear God-"

"Isn't that the 'code name' you two decided upon?"

"Were you eavesdropping on us yesterday?"

"Always."

"Yes, that was the name I said, but I didn't mean it as a code name!"

"I think it suits you, actually.  Quite a saucy title indeed for a saucy girl."

"Saucy?" I swallowed. It's like I've set myself up to fail.

"In the best sense, of course."

I shook my head.  So I'm Yoko, a stray kitten, an angel with broken wings, AND the very first Harley Quinn.  Per-fect.  But I said aloud, "Oh, all right, today I'll let it slide.  Harley Quinn, though.  I sure hope not."

So we did indeed execute his plan, making a few changes here and there as we went, but we had a heck of a time carrying it all out.  But surely you want to just skip all that stuff and start hearing about Mr. Zuckerberg, you couldn't possibly be inter-

Oh, wait.  You are?  You want to know how we did it- and who we got to help us?

I suppose I should tell that story.  It ties everything else together better.  Okay, let's see.  I'll try to keep it brief- and write with a straight face: 

The original plan was to nab the license early in the day, but the bureau was packed with impatient lovers, young and old, at eleven in the morning.  Peter made the executive decision to come back later- after a little careless fun at the casinos and whatnot. By five or so, he reasoned, the bureau would have calmed down some.  It was Saturday in Vegas after all; the hot time to get legalities out of the way was as early as possible.  There was too much else to do once the sun went down.

So at five, we came back- in very different states of mind than this morning.  Peter was at least four cocktails tipsier- and I was three hundred thirty-three dollars richer.  We had had a pretty darn good time. Not as good a time as if Freddie had been there too- and I did miss him, he made everything so much more of an adventure- but we did all right.  I'd tell you what went on those past six hours, but I choose instead to plead the fifth; what happens in Vegas... you know.  (Nothing naughty went on between us, okay, just don't even go there, if you please...)

Peter Straker was a stage actor- and a serious hambone of an actor at that.  Every clip I've seen of him, he's mugging the shot, stealing the show, making all the eyes focus on him to the best of his ability, even when he's not supposed to be the star performer at that moment.  There's a reason he and Freddie got along so well; like attracts like, and therefore, hams attract hams.  I found this out the hard way- and it almost got us in trouble.

"I'm not so sure about this," I whispered as the taxi pulled up to the Clark County Marriage Bureau, which was surrounded by wedding chapels on every corner.  I could almost feel their eyes through the windows, watching us, praying we would be the next to strike.

"Come now, Harley.  Weak knees so soon?"

"No, I'm just nervous," I whispered.

"Just follow me.  You know what to do."

"Follow you.  Right.  That's what I do best.  I follow."

Paying the cabbie, we started up the steps when Peter said, "Wait.  We need an antagonist."

"What?"

"We need proof.  The third man.  Otherwise we'll look like two mad cuckoos trying to cause a problem.  We need somebody to be the bad guy."

"Oh, you're right.  Rats, Paul would be perfect for that!  And he's gone with Rudy.  Could we recruit a stranger, you think?"

"Don't see why not.  Flash a little bread their way, anyone will come running."

"Ain't that the truth."  I noticed a beaten-up old pickup truck pulling into the relatively deserted self-service gas station on the corner across from us. 

I nudged my compadre.  "How about that guy?" I said.

Peter watched the driver door open and the dusty young man who stepped out from behind it.  Even from across the street, with his face half-hidden under a ball cap, he looked rough and tumble.  Perfect "Tennessee Williams" material, as Straker had described.  Just what we were looking for.

So, very smoothly and inconspicuously, he and I ran across the street shouting "HEY YOU!  YOU IN THE HAT!  HEY!"

The poor guy looked up from lighting his cigarette at these two punchy weirdos charging for him.  On instinct he took a step back against his dirty old truck.

"Mister, hey, I know this sounds crazy," I said breathlessly, "but could you help us out?"

"We'll pay you," Peter added.

The fellow rubbed his smooth face (he at least shaved; everything else was going to pot but his cheeks were clean and fuzz-free) and said, "Uh... Who are you?"

"My name is Eve," I answered carelessly, "and this is Peter.  And we need your help."

"Oh... okay..." The guy spoke very slowly, almost lethargically.  The smoke burning off his cigarette gave off an all-too-familiar odor, and I realized why.  "I'm Steve."

We shook his hand.

"So what are you gonna do?" he asked

We told him, filling in every zany detail so he knew exactly what he was getting into.  His doped-up eyes didn't so much as flinch.  "So what's in it for me?"

"How much would it take?" Peter said.

"Well, I could pretty much use anything.  I'm between jobs- and college is kicking my ass."

Peter offered him a decent sum, and Steve's eyes lit up.  "I can go for that."

"You're in college?" I looked him up and down.

"Yup.  I'm regretting it now.  There's so many people getting into computers, they say I may not find a job so easy.  It's not hard stuff, I'm just... I don't know..."

I do.  You're distracted.  By pot.  But I couldn't say that.

Peter touched my arm and drew me away from Steve a moment.  "You sure you want to use this bloke?  He's so out of it."

"That's the point.  He has the creepy, slow John Malkovich voice, it'll be perf-"  I cut myself off.

"Malkovich?"  Straker frowned, uncomprehending.  I frowned too, but for a different reason.  Steve did indeed have that slow, soft Malkovich cadence- partly because he was smoking his weed, but suddenly I had the notion that even minus the marijuana, he would speak this way.  I was immediately reminded of the man who'd gotten me into this whole convoluted mess.  He spoke just as slowly and indifferently as-

The gas pump dinged, and Steve pulled the nozzle out of the truck.  He readjusted his hat a moment, the joint clenched between his teeth, and revealed already thinning blond hair above small eyes and a hooked nose.  My flesh prickled and went ice cold.  I knew that face.  It was a much younger face than I remembered, but it was his face. 

Oh, we had to use him.  And now.  Right now.  Oh, God, yes.  We had no other choice.

"We're wasting time, let's do this already," I said quickly, reaching into my pocket. 

"I've got him," Peter said.  "We'll pay you your dues afterward, all right, Mr.-?"

"Steve, I said.  Steve Kurzweil."

I was getting hyper with excitement, and couldn't help but ask, "You don't mind if I slip up and call you K, do you?"

Peter looked at me, and I shrugged.  "Well, even Steve deserves a code name, right?" To Steve I said, "Is that okay with you?"

"Uh... no.  Actually that's outta sight.  Go for it.  K.  Yeah.  Call me K.  So what do you need me to do again?"

*************************************************************************************************

"Are we ready, Harley?"

"When you are, Hattie."

"Let's do this.  I'm right behind you, just give me the signal.  Go!"

I burst into the Bureau, wearing a face that was edged with fear and nerves.  We had to play the parts right, or else all would fall through.

(By the way: Kids, do not try this at home.)

There was no line, just as Peter predicted, so I sailed right up to the counter and I said, slathering on a little extra West Texas in my accent, "Hello, honey, I'm here to pick up a marriage license extra quick if you could, please."

"Oh, all right, sure, where's the lucky groom?"

"He'll be in in a minute," I began, and the woman handed me a form to fill out plus another for Straker, I suppose.  It was simple stuff, but then, this was the easy part.  The waters were about to get a lot choppier as soon as I turned the forms back in to her.

I filled out the second form using a fake Social and that fateful name, "Mark Zuckerberg."  When it asked for a middle name, just to gig Freddie, I put "Richard."  I wondered if the real Mark Zuckerberg, the millenial CEO of Facebook, would suffer any because of this crazy little jaunt.

Probably not, I dismissed to myself.  I bet the guy hasn't even been born yet.

I glanced back at the door.  Even now, I knew Straker was hunched down under the frosted glass window, ear to the slab, listening for the keyword.  Okay, here goes.

"Here we are," I sang, faking a little nervous laugh. 

"Thank you," said the lady.  "Now, all we need are your ID's-"

"Now, how long is this going to take exactly?" I interrupted her.  "Sorry, I'd just really like to know.  We haven't much time."

"Oh.  Well, once we run things through and such, we should be able to issue the license in a little under ten minutes," she said.

"Ten minutes.  Oh, I hope that'll be enough time.  Mark and I are both in such a dreadful hurry."

The woman cocked her head, concerned.  "Is everything all-"

Instantly Peter burst through the door.  "Eves, honey," he cried a little too emphatically, "we're in trouble."

"He's here?" I gasped.

"Just saw his truck.  Pulling round the corner now!"  He grabbed my arms with such dramatic force I expected his next line to be "Oh, the Humanity!"

"Is there a problem?" the woman asked.

I opened my mouth to say my line but Peter decided it was his turn instead.  He slammed his hands down on the counter and said breathlessly, "He thinks he can stop us.  But he can't, he won't!"

The lady blinked and looked Straker up and down.  "This is your fiance, Miss... Miss Dubroc?"

I nodded frantically.  "My true love, yes, my Mark.  They don't understand our love!  My family, that is."

"Who's in the truck?"

Straker spat, "Her old beau, Angus.  [Angus?  You said Anthony before!  Stop messing up the script!]  He can't take that she's in love with me and he'll do anything to keep us from getting married."

The woman eyed the two of us.  "Am I on Candid Camera?"

"You think we're fooling around?" Peter thundered, face contorting in passion of stage proportions.  "Don't you know what kinda world this is?  A hateful, ugly world that doesn't see love as anything more than skin-deep?  Love is colorblind, people aren't.  But Eve and me, we're standing up to the hate and we'll show them.  We'll show them what real love is, but we can only do that if you let us go now!  Angus is probably halfway in by this point!"

The woman looked a little overwhelmed by the speech.  I knew how she felt; we hadn't rehearsed that last bit.  Whoa, you're good, Peter.

So good, in fact, she forgot to ask us again for some ID.  "Well, uh, then, in that case, I'd better-"

"Oh, yes, do, and quickly!  Angus has a violent temper!" I cried. 

"Do I need to call the police?"

"Oh, no, no no!" We both waved our hands.  "Not unless he starts throwing punches around," Straker added.  The woman shrank back in horror, then hurried off.

I glared at him when her back was turned.  "Punches?" I mouthed.

"We ought to make him a little frightening, don't we?" Straker hissed back.

Another couple came through the door while we stood waiting, watching her work as fast as possible as she processed the information from the forms which we had signed.  In no time, it seemed, she returned with the license.  There were the names- Evelyn Christine Dubroc (Christine I chose out of laziness; that was my actual middle name) and Mark Richard Zuckerberg- printed in all caps across the license, with appropriate blanks left for the date, the witnesses, and the minister himself. 

"Now, just one more thing, and you're all set," she said, pushing the license quickly into my hand.

"What's that?" Straker asked.

"Thirty dollars, please."  She held out her open hand to us, awaiting the cold hard cash.

"Oh, Mark," I sighed in loud ecstasy, while Straker handed over the money, "we did it!"

And right on cue, Steve burst through the door, startling the folks behind us.  "WHAT- GOES -ON, HERE?" he shouted, his methodical speaking making him all the more formidable somehow, despite his rather shambling appearance.

"You're too late!" I cried, waving the license in the air. 

"Love conquers all!" Straker shouted.  "Hallelujah!"  And I'm not altogether convinced that wasn't a line from one of his shows.

The officer on duty looked up and started for Steve when Peter shook his head.  "Familial woes only, sir.  He wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Oh, yeah?" Steve clenched a fist. 

Now was a good time to split, so Straker and I headed for the exit with Steve in "hot pursuit."  As soon as we'd reached the truck, we all of us burst out laughing.  Straker and I high-fived, and Steve grinned like the fool on the hill.

"Mission accomplished, Harley!" Straker cried.  "Lookit, isn't that beautiful?  Official as anything, and in seven minutes flat."

"That was some fancy footwork there, Hattie.  I knew you were an actor, but I didn't know you were- you know-"

"Well, I do what I can.  God, that was thrilling!  We were this close the whole time to absolute trouble!"

Steve cleared his throat, and we remembered his money.  I reached into my pocket; Straker had paid for the license, the least I could do was pay Steve.  "Sorry, K, that was how much again?"

Handing him his money, Peter and I were about to hightail it for the Sahara when Steve spoke up.  "So what are you guys doing now?"

"Oh, we have to be somewhere on the Strip, I'm meeting my fiance, my real fiance, there."

Steve didn't look ready to give up the adventure just yet.  "You need a ride?  There's room for two in the cabin- and there's always the truckbed."

Peter and I traded glances.  "One second," I said, then we turned away from the future scientist to speak privately.

"Question, Eves," Peter said.  "What's so special about this guy?"

"Nothing," I said quickly. 

"Then why'd you get so excited over him?"

"I don't know.  But I don't see why we shouldn't trust him any further.  He'd be cheaper than a cab. for one thing.  For another, we've already trusted him with some serious fraud, and he is basically in on the whole plot now.  Besides, we might need a getaway vehicle later."  I winked.

"I'm just telling you now: Freddie will not be caught dead in that truck."

"Would you?"

"I don't care that much."

"Then what's the problem?  We'll be taking taxis anyhow to the wedding place or wherever, right?  Freddie won't have to touch the old thing."

"I heard that," Steve called. "Do not put down the Mother Ship, if you please."

Straker eventually agreed, providing K took the truck and washed it before we went anywhere near the Sahara. The dings and the dents couldn't be helped, perhaps, but the dust and grime were easy to fix. I knew it could possibly be dangerous keeping the younger K close. All the same, it felt natural- and he was convenient. He wouldn't remember me, not with Mary Jane helping to cloud the senses.

So we climbed up into the cabin of the truck. With a pop and a wheeze, K's rustbucket of a vehicle came back to life. To myself I wondered how Freddie could possibly top the past six hours just by conjuring a fake Mark Zuckerberg.

I don't know if he can, I chuckled to myself. But to draw to conclusions about Freddie and his Zuckerberg choice now was foolish.

Especially since he would indeed exceed all my expectations, and once again grant me a beautifully unforgettable experience...

 

Chapter Text

We pulled back up to the Sahara.  Despite the rolled down windows, I was almost choking from the pungent marijuana odor that had heavily permeated the cabin.  No wonder he'll screw the T-Rod experiment up so badly, I thought to myself, forgetting a moment I'd had more of a hand in that than he.  I don't care what any Tommy Chong disciple says, this stuff takes a toll.  God, what a stench.  

"I smell like Woodstock," Straker whispered to me as we hopped out of Steve's truck.

I nodded.  "Me too.  Wish we hadn't checked out yet, or I'd go freshen up."  Rudy had our suitcase as well, but I still had my backpack, and with it a few necessities. 

"I haven't, you're welcome to use my room," Peter offered.

"I think I will, thanks."

"Anything else I can do for you guys?" Steve asked hopefully.

"No, K," Straker said.  "You've been of invaluable help to us, though.  Thank you."

And Steve almost looked a little disappointed as he bid us goodbye.  As he was shaking my hand, though, he pulled out a crumpled bit of paper and wrote down a phone number.

"If there's anything else I can do for you, just let me know," he said quietly, handing me the scrap.  "The university's only a few blocks that way, so I'm real close."  K pointed in a vague direction.

"Thanks, K," I smiled, if nothing else grateful for this familiar face- this reminder of my past life still yet to be lived.  "If we need another ride, believe me, you're the first person I'm calling." 

"And if we're freshening up, we'd better do it now," Peter added, tugging me toward the casino entrance.  "Freddie's meeting us in a half-hour."

"Right."  So I waved farewell to K, watching as the now-sparkling clean pickup rolled down the street.  Somehow, maybe it was just a minor premonition, but I had a feeling this wouldn't be our final encounter with young Dr. K.  In the meantime, I was more interested in peeling off the pot smell.  Cigarette smoke, I could handle, and even liked.  Pot smoke was another story altogether- and Freddie would notice.  My fake fiance might ignore it, but Freddie without a doubt would say something.  I figured if I was getting quasi-married tonight, I ought to at least make an extra effort.  I had brought a nice dress along; hopefully it hadn't acted like a sponge too and soaked up the smoke.

I shook my head, still unable to fully accept what was happening.  In Vegas with Freddie for a fake marriage to someone I'd never met before.  No white dress, no ring, no bouquet, but a license, a bridegroom, and witnesses.  All to get out of a one hundred pound bet.  In-sane. 

And yet, so much fun... 

*****************************************************************************************

"He said six, right?"

"That's what I heard."

"Okay.  So it wasn't just me."

My chin rested in my hand, the fingers of my other hand drumming against the table, eyes roving restlessly over the Arabic decor in the House of Lords, the fine Sahara steakhouse.  A smiling portrait of Peter Lawford loomed over us, flanked on either side by his Rat Pack buddies Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.  I was wearing my maroon wraparound dress, which K's bad habits had indeed spared and Straker was sweet enough to compliment.  He looked quite dapper himself, wearing a smart, gray suit and dark red button down.  My hair was pinned up and my lipstick refreshed, and I would have felt much prettier if I wasn't worrying so much about Freddie.

Straker sighed and glanced at his watch again.  "Maybe he's just running a little behind."

"Forty-five minutes is a 'little behind'?" I muttered.

"He'll probably call the casino at any minute and let us know what's-"

"He should have done that half an hour ago.  Freddie's more punctual than this. I don't like it.  Rudy should have ignored his little rebellion and gone with him anyway."

"Freddie's fine, Eve.  Don't worry."

Too late for that.  I was more than nervous by now; my foot tapped anxiously, my heart fluttering, the short glass of vodka in front of me doing little to calm me down.

"It could be, he's still looking for the right bloke," Straker suggested.

"What does he care?  All he has to do is grab somebody off the street, it's going to be blown to bits as soon as Roger sees the damn license anyway."

"Eve, it's, uh, I don't think you understand," Peter said. 

"Oh, yeah?"

"He wants this to be perfect- wants to do this right."

"What for?  I mean, I know he's a heck of a perfectionist-"

"Freddie wants to do you justice," he said, with a strange look in his eyes.  "It means a lot to him- as do you.  But I'm sure you already know that."

I frowned.  "What are you saying?"

Straker grinned.  "He's right; you are stubborn."

"Is that what he told you?" I said dryly.  "Well, you have my permission to relay this message back to him: so is he."  I lifted my half-full glass and took a little sip.  I had picked up so many bad habits in the past nine or ten days it wasn't even funny.  (I was only drinking because I was nervous; thankfully, this habit didn't stick.)

Straker watched me.  "Freddie's quite taken with you, you know."

I hesitated.  "Why do you say tha-"

"Because he said so."

"Oh, did he?" I sat back against the plush booth, feeling heat collect in my cheeks.  "Using those exact words, I suppose?"

"No, he, uh, said something a little more emphatic than that, but I really shouldn't be the one to tell you verbatim."

"Freddie and I are physically attracted to each other, granted," I said.  "And I would go so far as to call myself a friend of his.  But that's all."

"He doesn't think so," Peter put in, taking out another cigarette.

"So what does he think?"

"He told me you two have a great deal in common- including but not limited to rather hard-headedness."

I was starting to get defensive.  "I am nothing like him.  He's nothing like me."

Straker smirked.  "I rest my case."

"Whatever," I sighed, pretending not to care.  With that I lifted my glass to my lips and proceeded to drain it.

Freddie's friend struck a match, lit the cigarette between his fingers. And then, he said it:

"I think he's falling for you."

I choked mid-swallow and immediately started hacking.  "Wh- What the-" I gasped.  Straker slapped my back, chuckling until I finally got myself under control.

"And you decided that, how?" I demanded with one more little cough.

"I mean, I think it's fairly obvious myself," Peter said.  "I see the way he looks at you.  He absolutely lit up when you walked into the room this morning.  And no matter what time of day it is, I always seem to catch you two in the throes of passion."

"So he didn't tell you this directly?"

"Well, no."

I nodded.  "I didn't think so."

Peter protested, "But that's not how he does things when it-"

"I can't speak for Freddie," I interrupted flatly, my legs crossing underneath me.  "But as far as I am concerned, we are friends, he's very, very kind to me, and I just so happen to find him, uh, extremely attractive.  But again, that- is-all."  I cleared my throat.  "You see, that's how I do things."

"You say that to me," Straker smirked.  "Would you say that to him?"

"Hattie," I groaned, but didn't answer.  Honestly, I didn't know what I'd say to him.  I wondered if Freddie had put Straker up to such statements to see if they'd get a rise out of me.  I guess he's just going to have to be disappointed again. 

That was, assuming we'd even see Freddie again.  Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes after we'd shared this awkward little exchange, our dear friend was still missing.  The clock was ticking, and Straker would have to be on the plane pretty soon along with the other fellows.  And Freddie- anything could have happened to him.  At this point I didn't care anymore about the license or much anything else, just so long as Freddie returned in one piece.

Peter started noticing how late it was as well.  Stifling a yawn, he remarked aloud, "Good Lord.  You'd better get a move on, Freddie dear.  This plane won't wait for us like the Starship did."

It was at that moment a starched and pressed casino employee approached our table.  "Excuse me, there's a phone call waiting for a, um..."

"How'd you know it was us?" Straker asked.

"Well, if you'll pardon the indiscretion, he said it would be the salt and pepper couple," he replied.  "And you're the only one I saw, so I more or less assumed..."

That sounds like Freddie, all right, I thought to myself, fighting back a snicker.  But had there still been any doubts, what the attendant said next annihilated them once and for all.

"The call was for a... here, I wrote it down... ah yes!  A Miss Kitty Cute-Ass-"

Straker burst out in a fit of his loud cackling laughter.  I blushed even harder than before, and broke down right alongside my partner in crime.  I can be wearing a lovely dress, made up perfectly, not a hair out of place- and with one line Freddie makes me feel like a burlesque stripper.

But I managed to say, "Well, Hattie, what are you waiting for?  Go talk to him-"

"Oh, no!  He wants you.  I pay attention."

"You sure about that?"

"Undoubtedly.  He said Miss Cute-Ass instead of Mister Cute-Ass."

"You people, I swear," I chortled in spite of myself.  "Okay, Hattie, be right back."

As I slipped out of the booth, I noticed Straker grinning at me, like he'd just made some subliminal point.

"What?" I asked.

"You both do love your nicknames, don't you- Harley?" he said smugly.

The employee's voice had carried across to nearby tables, so that as I moved by them I saw well-dressed men and women chuckling to themselves, eyes on me.  Defiantly I faced forward and lifted my chin.  I'll get you for this, Freddie- and I'll get you good.

But as I strolled into the lobby to the phone booths, I realized Straker was right; Freddie wasn't the only one who assigned people pet names.  Maybe we really do have more in common than I thought.  God, that's a frightful notion.  I wonder where it ends.  If it does.

I walked up to the phone booth and lifted the receiver to my ear.  It was times like these that made me appreciate modern technology.

A click, and then my heart swelled in relief at the sound of his smooth, lilting voice- followed immediately by another flush of annoyance.

"Hello? Is this Miss Cute-Ass?"

"I can't believe you," I groaned. "You made him say that in front of a full restaurant of people!"

"Did you laugh?"

"No," I lied, putting my hand over my mouth as if to hide the smile.

"You are such a rotten liar, my dear; it works so well to my advantage," he sang. Even over the phone I could tell Freddie was energized, full of that stage power no amount of complaining would bring him out of.

"Where are you two?" I cried, bringing him back to the more relevant matter. "You were supposed to be here an hour ago!"

"Oh, right," Freddie said. All of a sudden he sounded uncomfortable.

My voice flattened. "Freddie, did you forget?"

"I did not forget!  The idea! I just got a little tied up in my other things, and uh, our rendezvous sort of fell by the wayside-"

"So you forgot."  I wouldn't have been so grumpy had Straker and I not spent over an hour waiting for he and Mr. Z.  Not that I was hungry, because we'd shared a little appetizer thing that we both decided was excellent, but I didn't like just sitting around, waiting for something to happen when there was so much we had to do before eight, and now so little time in which to do it.

"Darling, saying I forgot doesn't fix anything.  It so happens I've already taken steps to correct my, um, mistake.  Got the license?"

"I do.  Please at least tell me you found the would-be Mark Zuckerberg."

"Oh, yes!  He's a fine specimen indeed."

"Did you actually find an Eskimo?"

"In the desert?  Come on.  No, but he'll do just fine for our purposes."

"What did you have to pay this poor man?"

"Well, that's the beauty of it, darling.  He's agreed to it, no charge."

"None?"

"None whatsoever."

"Is he there?  Can I talk to him?  I bet he thinks you're crazy-"

"He should already be there!"

"Here? With us?"  I squinted.  "Why aren't you with him?"

"I told you, I got a little tied up in certain things, so he's going to meet you there at Caesar's Palace, and I'll meet you at the chap-"

"Caesar's?  Freddie, we're at the Sahara!"

The line went dramatically silent.  At last, a sheepish: "Oh.  Yeah."

Did you get into Steve's stash, Freddie? 

But instead of flipping out, Freddie simply sighed and said aloofly, "Well, I suppose you'll just have to get a cab and meet him there, then."

"But- but- you're not really just going to leave me alone with the guy?"

"Not really, he's meeting you in the Circus Maximus, there'll be lots of people in there."

"What's that?"

"The auditorium at the Palace.  There's a show tonight- his favorite, Tom Jones, I believe he said-"

"We don't have time to see Tom Jones!" I had raised my voice; people all across the lobby were staring at me, but I scarcely noticed.  "We have to get home- and if you're not there how will I know what to look for?"

"Darling, Mark is harmless.  A passionate man, certainly, but he won't bite too hard, I'll see to that.  Either way, I'll be there to protect you soon enough.  Be at the Palace by seven forty-five.  Mark knows what to do."

"We're going to miss our plane," I said lamely.

"That's all right, we can always catch another.  Circus Maximus, seven forty-five.  And don't be late, or else I'll hear about it and I'll-"

"You'll what?"

"I'll call you up some other time while you're out in public and ask for a Miss Sexy Big-Ti-"

"Oh, good grief."

Freddie laughed.  "Right, dear, I'm going to have to go- oh!  One more thing.  He said he'd be in the very center, so that should help you find him."

Fantastic.  That really narrows it down.  "Anything else I should look for?"

"You'll know him when you see him," Freddie said cryptically. 

But I sighed.  If he wasn't offering any pertinent info now, he wouldn't do it in another five seconds.  "Okay.  You're the boss.  I'll see you at the final rendezvous then."

"Splendid.  I can't wait to hear how you and Straker went about getting the papers and things."

"I'm dying to know what you've been doing the past six hours myself."

"See you in a little while!  Give Peter a kiss goodbye for me!"

With a huff, I started to hang up the phone when Freddie spoke up one last time.  "Oh, and Evie?"

"What now?"

"Remember the Mercurena?"

"Yeah?"

"Good."

"What about it?"

His voice changed all of a sudden.  Very slyly, in a hushed tone, he said, "Just go with it."

"Go with what?"

"No more questions.  Don't think, just do.  You'll see."

Click.

That last line had me suspicious.  I didn't like how he'd said it; there were too many strings attached to that tone.  Aloud I said, "What are you up to, Freddie?"  

Nevertheless, like an obedient puppy, I trotted back to Straker and told him the news.  Once again, he wasn't at all surprised, albeit a bit disappointed that he wouldn't get to meet Mr. Zuckerberg.  It was getting late and he had to head for the airport; apparently Peter had something going on that coming Monday and he couldn't afford to miss it.

"But this weekend has been thoroughly fantastic," Peter said.  "Hope everything works out with Mr. Z.  We really have to do this again, it's been mad in the best sense possible."

"Thanks for being such a sport, Straker," I said.  "And by the way, your timing is perfect.  Just thought I'd say that."

"Will you be there at his party in a few days?"

"Party?  Oh, the dinner party he's throwing?"  I remembered the invitations he'd had me address and send off a week or so ago.

"I hope you'll still be around for that.  We'll need a little of you to spice it up."

"Freddie -and you- are spice enough."

"Nice save," Straker chuckled, then bent to kiss my forehead.  I returned the kiss to his cheek.

"Good luck, Harley," he said. 

"You too, Hattie."

He turned, about to walk away when he asked me one final question.  "You've never actually seen him live, have you?  Performing, I mean."

I shook my head.  "Never."  I wondered what that had to do with anything.

Straker nodded, said, "Hm," then with a little wave turned away.

And within moments I was alone again, with twenty minutes to get to Caesar's Palace.  I needed a ride, but I also wanted to save my money.

A light switched on in my brain.  That left one single option.  A risky one, but wasn't anything in this world a little risky?  I hardly knew what it meant to play safe anymore anyway.

I went back to the phone booth and rang the number on the scrap of paper.  After a few rings, he picked up.  I could hear the smile in his voice.  "Hello?"

"Hey, K, it's Eve. I'm calling in that favor..."

****************************************************************************************************

I hopped out of the truck bed, no worse for the wear, with only a thin layer of road dust on my dress.  At least I didn't smell like the inside of a bong.  Brushing it off, I asked Steve to circle around and to pick me and the fellow up when he saw us emerge.

Whistling "Tequila Sunrise" (which was the song Steve had just had playing on his car stereo; he was a big fan of Southern rock judging by what had been blaring out the windows ever since I climbed into the back of the truck), I walked past the flamboyant fountains straight for the entrance into Circus Maximus at Caesar's Palace.

As soon as I was inside, I fixed my hair; the dry Las Vegas wind had not been kind to my carefully pinned bun.  There were posters everywhere advertising the coming acts-  the current one,  indeed, being Tom Jones.

I walked up to the will call booth and asked if there had been any calls for reserved tickets in the past ten minutes.  The man there nodded, then asked for the name. 

"Um," I said cautiously, for I didn't know if Freddie had played any more tricks, "is there one that begins with ...'Kitty'?"

"Mm-no."

"Angel?"

"Uh-uh."

"Dubroc?"

"Ah, yes, there's one for Eve Dubroc right here.  Are you she, madam?"

I nodded wearily.  I can't keep up with all my names.

I paid for the ticket, trying not to freak out too much when he said the front row seat was only forty dollars.  Front row seat for Tom Jones at Caesar's Frickin' Palace and the ticket cost just over forty dollars.  In my world, you paid at least fifty dollars for nosebleed seats to watch "Weird Al" Yankovic bound across the Winspear stage. (Don't ask me how I know...)

Without much further ado, I walked into the venue, craning my neck to see who was filling the center seats.  I saw a wide range of folks, mostly middle-aged people in suits and dresses.  The occasional young person dotted the rapidly filling amphitheater.  I wasn't too shocked.  This wasn't exactly a show aimed your young, rebellious, teenage demographic- but then, neither was Queen.  I've always felt that Queen was just a little more sophisticated than typical rock music, and I'd always been drawn to things well outside my target zone anyway.  Older music, older movies, older men.  But not too old, of course, as far as being attracted to men went.  I drew the line at fifteen years.  Perhaps even older worked for some ladies, but anything further than that smelled of "trophy wife"-ism to me.

Aren't I lucky that Freddie fits right within the bracket-

Before I could finish that wayward thought I reminded myself yet again of all the people who belonged to Freddie at this stage.  Mary.  David.  Liza(?).  The, ahem, flirtations aside, I had no right to him, not when so many others saw him first.  As soon as I got back to London, I had a life to build from the bottom up- a life I could not allow to interfere with Freddie's unless I wanted to screw things over for everyone who came after.

Naturally, my thoughts drifted again to what Peter had told me.  "I think he's falling for you."  For some reason, thinking about it now brought such a lightness to my head.  Supposing Peter was right?

'Well, he isn't," I said defiantly.  "There's nothing of the sort.  We just want each other.  That's all."

Before you write me off as a cold fish with a heart of stone, please understand.  I was, and am, very capable of deep affection.  I was quite capable, trust me, of complete, mad, almost possessive, love.  And if I was not careful, I knew, I could very easily lose my head in very little time.  That's why I was constantly talking myself out of acknowledging the most obvious feelings.  I was wary of affection, especially anything coming from Freddie, because if I allowed myself to believe it was anything more than Freddie's natural affect enhanced by sex withdrawal, I'd find myself plunging down the rabbit hole with no chance of getting my sanity back.

But anyway.

My eyes continued to scan in vain.  I wish he'd given me some sort of defining characteristic, I'm out on a limb here.  Mark could be anybody.

Behind me, on the stage, I could hear musicians rustling in the dark, situating themselves with their instruments, tuning haphazardly.  It was an enormous stage with undulating red velvet curtains hanging from the ceiling, hiding the muted chaos going on backstage.  It was enough room to accommodate a whole orchestra and still leave enough room for Tom Jones's "killer" dance moves.

I slung my backpack off my shoulder and checked my Magic M- I mean, my Android smart phone for the time.  It was already five minutes past eight, and the house was nearly full.  If Tom Jones didn't have an opening act, he would be making an appearance very soon.  And I still couldn't find Mark. 

Suddenly the curtain split, revealing a very confused looking big band set-up complete with horns, saxes, and upright basses.  The lights went up over them, then went out again, then flashed, then went out.  The audience looked on, unsure of whether to clap for the start of the show, or jeer at the tech team's incompetence.

Then all the lights in the house went out, plunging the place in darkness.  And a voice screeched over the loudspeaker.

"We apologize for the delay, Tom Jones will be a few minutes behind schedule," it said.  "In the meantime, please enjoy this... uh...  our special opening guest-"

The microphone cut out there.  Some serious technical difficulties were happening here at the Circus Maximus.  A few happy campers in the back began to boo.  I squinted against the darkness.  I couldn't see any singer.  What was happening?

This is such a complete waste of time, I muttered to myself. How am I supposed to find the designated perfect stranger in a crowd when I don't have the first clue what he looks like - assuming I can even see him in this darkness? Perhaps I had been abandoned for real this time. But again, this was a lot of kerfuffle to just abandon someone.

The lights at the feet of the band came on again.  I was so close I could still see the confusion on their faces.  The clarinet player looked especially put out, and one of the alto saxers shrugged passively.

Without much further ado, the conductor tapped them to attention and the band began to play. 

(I'm inserting this version of the song since it is the closest thing I could find to this Vegas, Rat Pack-esque arrangement, I suggest you just let it play.  Nothing special to see, keep reading.  Ignore the voices, they are who you think they are, just pretend the voice is another, starting at 0:42.)

A lonesome muted horn floated forth, piercing the empty air.  The crowd murmured with interest.  Gradually a sea of strings slipped in underneath the horn.  The stage lights overhead came back on, but stayed dim to maintain the strange magic settling over everything.  My back was turned, my face still toward the shadowy people behind me. 

The audience's murmur rose in volume; a couple of confused people clapped.  At last curiosity got the best of me and I looked at the stage to see the silhouette of a curly-haired man slightly hunched over, standing with his legs slightly apart in a power stance, hands wrapped tightly around the microphone stand in front of him.

It was here the hidden emcee's voice came back and awkwardly stated: "Please welcome, ah- Mark Zuckerberg."

My eyes widened as the audience politely clapped.  My fiance is the opening act?

The spotlight shone directly upon Mark's poofy brown curls- not Brian May poofy, more like Napoleon Dynamite poofy.  His face was turned towards his white, stilt-like platform shoes, but he was clearly wearing sunglasses.  He was dressed in all things seventies, and not necessarily tasteful seventies at that.  His wide-collared button down glowed an iridescent orange, and his trousers were a deep red wine hue.

The upright bass took over, plucking a sultry, sexy beat.  Mark lifted one hand from the stand and snapped his fingers to the rhythm.  The crowd cheered; they knew this song, as did I.  Mark lifted his head, showing that he sported star-shaped sunglasses and a serious handlebar mustache; and his shirt was half-open to reveal a mat of thick black hair underneath that didn't match the hair on his head-

My heart did a back flip.  Oh no. It can't be.  It can't.

And then he started to sing in a chocolate, baritone voice: "Never know how much I love you/ never know how much I care/ when you put your arms around me/ I get a fever that's so hard to bear/ You give me fever-"

I covered my mouth.  I knew that vibrato anywhere.

  OH MY GOD!

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE?!?!" I screamed in complete surprise.  I didn't care if I blew my cover or his, I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

i saw him zero in on me even behind the glasses.  The scream only seemed to egg him on further.  The full lips split into a knowing grin, the teeth well-obscured by the exaggerated fake mustache.  His right leg began to twitch out of time with the beat.  "Fever," he breathed in a forced American accent, throwing his head and shoulders back with the music, "in the mornin'/ Fever all through the night..."

He slid the microphone off its stand and began to move freely about the stage.  At one point he became borderline suggestive, swinging his snake hips and putting his hand almost too close to his crotch, but nobody took offense.  On the contrary, all the women screamed with delight.   The crowd was loving every bit of it; already they were eating out of his hand.

And I was still trying to get past the outfit! 

"Everybo-dy's/ got the fe-ver," he growled, "That is some-thin' you all know-" He reached down toward the audience, and everyone swarmed up to meet him.  Somehow Freddie -or should I say "Mark"- had turned these jaded, strait-laced adults into salivating fanboys and fangirls in less than two minutes while wearing a ridiculous disguise.  I forgot to fangirl myself, at least outwardly; my heart was beating too hard, my eyes too wide, my smile too big.  I was so proud I couldn't stand it.

My God, I'm running around with a grown up Ferris Bueller.

The instruments took over for a few bars which allowed him to hop down amongst us mortals and absolutely drive us out of our heads further.  He began teasing the people in the front row.  "Romeo loved Juliet," he purred, "And Juliet, she felt the same."  In time with the words he slipped his arms around one woman and came so close she was sure he would kiss her, then broke away as soon as he sang "Thou givest fever."  At least, I think that was the line, by now people were screaming so loudly I could barely hear him. For a moment I closed my eyes.

And that's when he seized my hand and yanked me violently away from my seat.  I just barely remembered to grab my bag.

Before I knew it I was brushed right up against him and he was singing the next verse about Captain Smith and Pocahontas.  I looked up at him, and he lowered his silly shades, revealing those perfect eyes, and he winked.  Go with it, he said. Think Mercurena.  Okay, you got it.

He danced us back up onto the stage, still leaving no space between our bodies.  People were really screaming now, as the piano played a few filler notes. 

"Mark" kissed my hand and held it up.  "You like my fiance?" he asked everyone over the music.  They hollered their approval.

"That's too bad," he said back, letting a little British accent seep through, "because she likes me."  And again, everyone cheered, poor Tom Jones having been long forgotten.

I turned at him, suddenly realizing what this meant.  If he was Mark, then...  But I couldn't let it sink in just yet, the song had to finish and we had to get out of here.

"Now you've listened to my story," he breathed, coming a little closer to backstage with every sway. "Here's the point that I have made-" Then he stuck the microphone right under my nose and made me sing the next line: "Cats were born to give chicks fever-" and we sang together quite fittingly- "In Fahrenheit or Centigrade, they give you fever..."

By now my head was spinning out of control.  And the voluptuous, brassy horns pulsing behind us didn't help.  In this moment, under the hot spotlights, I was completely ensnared by this madman who had likely moved heaven and earth to arrange this stupid little performance.  The surreal feel of this whole trip climaxed here as Freddie closed out the song, "What a lovely way to burn/ what a lovely way to burn..."

Everyone was screaming, begging for more as we disappeared behind the velvet curtain and "Mark" led me down a stairway backstage.

We were right in front of Tom Jones's greenroom when I pulled him to a quick stop and turned him around to face me. 

The disguised crazy man smiled and folded his arms.  "So you're Eve, eh?" he said with an attempt at the Canadian accent.

I threw my arms around him and laughed.  "You're nuts!"  I whispered.  "YOU'RE SO WONDERFULLY NUTS!"

"Come on, dear, no time for this now," he hissed, breaking away, speaking in his normal voice.  "We have an appointment in fifteen and have to go before the hordes find us."

"Yes, my prince," I sang.  I didn't know why he was being so standoffish so soon, but I was far too elevated to care too much. 

He pushed his glasses further up his nose.  "Got the getaway vehicle, I hope?"

I grinned.  "I do."

"Then lead the way, Miss Cute-Ass-"

"How about you stop calling me that now?" I whispered.

"I think it suits you awfully well myself."

"All right, then, Freddie, you leave me no choice."  Don't you worry.  Dr. K's got a perfect ride for us.  For you.

"What have you got up your sleeve?"

I kissed his rough cheek.  "Go with it."

Freddie's mouth twitched under his fake mustache.  "Can we do a little better than that?"

I began tugging away.  "I thought there wasn't much time-"

"Enough time for this!"

Then he pulled me close again and  we shared a single kiss, our energized hearts beating rapidly against each other's.  A door opened behind me and someone walked up to us, but we didn't break apart.  I guess we had more time than Freddie suggested. 

"Hey, man," someone with a deep voice tapped Freddie's shoulder, "were you the one they were screaming over out there?"

"Mm-hm," Freddie hummed, very slowly pulling away from me, making no secret of his annoyance that we were being interrupted yet again- even if that interrupter was Tom Jones himself. In my head I shouted, STRAKER! (It became a running thing, an inside joke that I still use today; whenever someone interrupts something important, that's what I'll say.)

"You'll be a hard act to follow, you will," Tom chuckled.  "This is one night I can't afford to be shonky.  Thanks for volunteering!"

Freddie and I waved back as he slipped past us, then looked at each other.  "Where were we?" I asked.

"Running for our lives."

"Oh, yeah."

And we started running again. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I wondered why Freddie would worry about the "hordes" when as far as anyone here was concerned, he was only a charismatic unknown with a very poor fashion sense. Force of habit, I guess, I said to myself as we plowed through the lobby. I'm glad this isn't Japan or I would have been trampled by now. You can't fool the Japanese when it comes to Queen.

We hurried outside, the sky much darker than when I had entered the Circus Maximus. As soon as we cleared the door Freddie pulled us over to the side. "These f---ing things are killing me," he muttered. "I can barely run."

I glanced over to see him take off the vertigo-inducing platforms, and my "fiance" stood before me in his sock feet. And I grinned.

"What?" he said, but there was a little laugh in his voice.

"Nothing, just, if you ever say anything to me about running around barefoot again-"

"I will pay dearly, yes, yes, of course, whatever. Where's the cab?"

"Well, you see, I didn't take a cab."

"What? But you said you had one."

"I said I had a car, not a cab. It's not even really a car, per se- ah, here he comes! He's coming up the drive now."

From behind the fountain Steve's battered old "Mother Ship" rolled into view. Even behind his Sam Elliott 'stache, I could see the blood leave Freddie's cheeks. He took off the glasses in disbelief.

"I do hope you don't mean that old thing," Freddie hissed.

I looked at him. "What old thing?"

"That decrepit rust bucket what's slowing down right in front of us!"

Steve's windows were open, and Freddie's voice had risen with emotion. Even over the loud blaring of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," Steve heard him.

He stuck his head out the window, thin hair fluttering in the breeze. "Better tell your man to watch it," Steve warned me.

"Meet Steve, Mark," I said. "He's our ride."

But just as Peter had predicted, Freddie wrinkled his nose in pompous disgust. "Not today, not tomorrow, not in two years, not in a million."

"You don't respect the Mother Ship, her captain doesn't respect you," Steve said flatly.

"That's fine by me. Where's a taxi?"

"Freddie, don't be like that, he's a friend of mine," I whispered. "Please make an exception."

"A friend? This bloke?"

"At least, we will be, eventually."

"Will be?"

"It's complicated. But we haven't much time! Come on! It'll be fun!" I hopped in the bed of the truck, and held out my hand to Freddie.

"I'm taking a cab," Freddie said defiantly, standing firm in his socks. And I sighed. Who was I kidding? He was still in fancy-pants performer mode, I realized. It would be a few minutes until he started acting like a human being again.

To his human side I tried to appeal. "My prince, I let you lock me in a traveler's trunk. A TRUNK. For over an hour. Can you stomach a ten minute ride?"

Freddie hesitated, mouth twitching. For an instant I thought I had him.

But then he replied, "That's different."

"Oh, come on-"

"It's an entirely different situation-"

"It is not!"

"Yes it is, now stop arguing and let's get a f---ing cab."

I'M arguing! Good Lord! You hypocrite!

I sat in awe of this rare moment. The roles had reversed. He was being the stubborn, stuck-up one, even so soon after the crazy "Fever" number; and I was the voice of spontaneity, urging him to take a chance, to take the fall. We really are alike- just about different things. Oh, God, this is frightening!

But that was a matter of speculation I was saving for later. For now, I would fight fire with fire; if the way he handled me in these scenarios worked for him, so would it too work for me. I risked his wrath, but it was only fair to reciprocate. About two hundred feet away from us, a caravan of young people pulled up to the Caesar's Palace entrance- more college kids ready to make the most of summer vacation. Target rock and roll audience. And I had an idea.

I looked at him, my eyelids drooping indifferently. "You're not going to get in the truck?"

"No."

"You're not?"

"No way."

"Are you sure about that?"

"I just said I won't! Now come down from there!"

"I will," I yawned. Kneeling in a ladylike fashion, I leaned over the edge and crooked my finger. "I just need to tell you something important."

Freddie drew closer. And as unceremoniously as you please, I tore off the mustache and the wig. His eyes widened in shock, but before he could say anything I played the fangirl for him at last.

"OMIGODOMIGODOMIGOD! FREDDIE MERCURY'S HERE! EVERYBODY LOOK! IT'S THE MAMA JUST KILLED A MAN GUY! THE SOMEBODY TO LOVE SINGER! QUICK! QUICK! GET HIM!"

And just as I'd hoped, folks came running. I don't think Queen had ever played Vegas before this point, but the young people nearby recognized him anyway- as did everyone else within earshot. "Mama, just killed a man": universally renowned words even then. The doors of the Circus Maximus opened, people on the sidewalk turned, the valet parking attendants grinned. Here came the hordes.

"Oh, you BITCH!" Freddie shouted.

I ignored him. "K, get ready for takeoff," I shouted to our driver.

They were getting closer, and Freddie was getting nervous. "You get out of that f---ing truck right now!"

I held out my hand to him again, whisper-shouting over the insane "Free Bird" guitar solo, "Come with me if you want to live- or else just don't want to sign autographs!"

And this time, against his ego, against his better judgment, Freddie begrudgingly took my hand and clambered into the back beside me, throwing his shoes in first and almost hitting me (unintentionally, I'm sure). He ducked down behind the truck bed walls; no way would he be sighted in such a hideous costume.

"Why do I let you do this to me?" he grumbled.

"I ask that exact same question every day. Let's go!" I called to my former and future K, who swerved the truck around and started heading toward the road. The people stopped running, deciding I'd only been pulling their legs.

As we sailed past the lobby, I saw two men, one in another pair of outlandish tinted glasses and the other, a gentleman with narrow, slippery hands clutching some sort of small package, walking toward a limousine.

"Bye, Sharon!" I cried. When they saw me, Randy John immediately waved his arms around. He was trying to flag us down. So I shouted, "Hey, K, stop a minute." With a quick foot to the brakes, we jerked to a stop.

Freddie started to sit up when I told him, "No, not yet, it's Sharon!"

"F---," he said, sinking back down again. "Don't say-"

"I won't, don't worry!"

"Eve! Where's your fiance?" Elton cried, somehow passing over the fact that I was in the back of a pickup truck wearing a nice dress with my hair falling down around my face.

"He's with me!" I answered. To prove me right, Freddie raised only his hand up and waved playfully. That was my first hint maybe he wasn't as ticked as he let on.

"Oh! Mark, Freddie wanted me to get this to you," John Holmes said, holding out the parcel. "Said you needed it."

"I'll take it," I offered, reaching over the side so he wouldn't see the orange-clad "disco dude" lying beside me. Two arms reached up and nabbed it out of my hands, and he tucked it out of sight.

"Thanks!" came the muffled reply.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It's a surprise," Elton's assistant winked. Another surprise? Good grief, Freddie, how many spring traps have you set up for me?

"Thanks, guys," I said, grinning, "I had the best time with you."

"Pleasure was mine," Elton replied with a bow. "Now go get married to your Eskimo."

"Quarter Eskimo!" I corrected him.

"Whatever. Good luck!"

With that, the truck lurched forward, and I waved good bye. That was the last I saw of Elton John and his assistant.

Now we pulled into traffic, heading for the chapel.

After a moment, Freddie picked himself up and sat against the back windshield. His disguise, the wig and all, still lay on the floor of the truck bed beside the package, so he just looked like himself.

"You all right?" I asked.

"When we get home, I'm going to kill you," he informed me.

"You're all right," I laughed. The night was dark around us, the neon lights rushing past in reverse. The dry July wind blew cooler tonight, and the moon had begun its ascent. I waved foolishly to the cars behind us. I was still higher than the stars, but Freddie hadn't stopped sulking. Fortunately, that changed quickly enough.

Steve decided that he'd heard enough Lynyrd Skynyrd for one day, and switched to his cassette player. "Mama Told Me Not to Come" by Three Dog Night now escaped the open windows. I started to wave my arms around and sing along. Freddie's arms were still folded, but he glanced over at me. What a fool I must look to him. I don't care. I'm so happy right now, the only thing that could make it twice as good is if Freddie felt just the same.

"Freddie, put your hands in the air," I said between lyrics, reaching my arms over my head and letting the wind thread between my fingers. After a moment, he put his hands up. I watched him wiggle his own tapered fingers against the current. And something in his hard expression changed. Maybe his jaw relaxed, maybe his movements weren't so rigid anymore, I don't know. It was too dark to decide for certain. But there was a difference.

"How's that feel?" I asked him.

"My dear, you are so easily amused," he murmured.

"Then why do you still have your hands in the wind?"

Freddie didn't answer that question.

 

"It feels free," he finally answered. "That's how it feels."

I patted his knee. "That's a nice way to put it."

"I thought so, too." He sighed. "I tell you, it's a feeling I'm not used to."

That's an odd thing for you to say. "Is it a good feeling?"

Freddie looked at me, and even in the half-light I could see his smile. "It's not bad. Not bad at all."

When the third chorus rolled around, it was two voices, not just one, singing and ad-libbing with Cory Wells at the top of their lungs. That was the sign: this snit was over.

Before the song had even ended, we pulled up to the chosen chapel, which was just as gaudy and unromantic as the rest of Vegas. It was shaped like the proverbial "little white church," and it was far enough off the beaten path that no one really had anything to worry about as far as being spotted was concerned. Freddie and I quickly started putting "Mark Zuckerberg" back together again before K hopped out of the truck and saw us. I stuck the mustache back onto his lip, and he adjusted his fake brown curls.

Freddie had just barely slid the glasses over his eyes when the door to the chapel burst open. A familiar tower of a fellow ran out.

Freddie's jaw dropped. "Rudy! What the-"

"I got worried," Rudy explained.

"I said I'd be all right!"

"I know, but that's my job, I'm your bodyguard, for God's sake. And anyway, you need two witnesses, so here I am. Are you Mark? Where's Peter?"

I'd never heard Rudy say so much at one time. Perhaps he's much more loquacious once you get to know him.

"He went to the airport- like he was supposed to," Freddie grumbled. "So much for a plan."

Rudy finally studied the truck and was aghast. "You came in that?"

"Eve's got friends, apparently," Freddie said. "And one of them drove us here. Where do you find these people, darling? I mean really. Rudy, when's our flight?"

"In about an hour, at nine thirty."

"How long did it take you get here?"

"Fifteen minutes."

"We can do that. This time, we have to make it. Everything will have to be on the fly though. Let's do this quick."

As for the second witness, as might be expected, we asked Steve if he would do the honors. He was just barely twenty-three, which made him a legal adult- and he'd been game for everything else so far, so why not?

"Far out," he agreed. "I got nothing else to do, sure. Man, this is the craziest Saturday night ever."

You have no idea, I said to myself.

One of the chapel employees came out and ushered us in, as if we might decide at any minute to take our five second vows somewhere else. They pushed the guest book at us, asked Freddie and me to sign it.

I took the pen in my hand, began to sign. Freddie looked on, interested. "Wow," he said.

I glanced up. "What?"

"I didn't know you were left-handed."

With a shrug I smiled. There's a lot you don't know about me, Freddie.

I did most of the talking; neither Freddie nor I wanted to chance people recognizing his accent- and his attempts at anything other than his elegant, colonial British came off as too comical.

"We just want to say the vows, we don't need pictures or anything," I said. "Just a very quick thing, is that okay?"

The minister shrugged with a used-car salesman grin. "It's your wedding, ma'am. Would you at least like a certain song while you're saying the vows?"

Before I could say a word, Freddie nodded. Clearly he had a little ditty in mind. I shrugged, said "You pick," and Freddie went over to the selection of 45s they offered. The minister left the room for a moment. My stomach suddenly began to churn as it finally hit me, what was about to happen.

Freddie seemed completely unaffected himself. "This place needs a little updating," he remarked softly. "The most current song they have is this." He held up "The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies.

"Is that the one you want?" I asked.

"Do you like it?"

"I think it's terribly romantic," I replied.

"Great. Then we'll use that," he said brightly.

"Where are you from, Mr. Z?" Steve asked.

"Canada," Freddie lied.

"Oh. Nice."

As fake as this was, I was still saying "I do." It wasn't real for Freddie, it wasn't real for me. I wouldn't have had these butterflies had Freddie done what he said he would do and found some Joe to play the part. But he hadn't. It wasn't some random guy and me. It was US, though using different names- a personal label, the only thing that kept this silly exercise from turning into a real marriage.

What's in a name? Everything. That's what. And still my heart was fluttering.

The minister came out with a tray of rings and asked us to choose. My knees seemed to get weaker as I stared at the bands. Very cheaply made rings, fake gold, fake silver, it was obvious. Fake as the license in my hot little hand. Paper roses, paper roses...

But they were still rings.

I slid one on I thought was pretty -a thin, simple band of faux rose gold. To my surprise it fit perfectly.

"I always like to ask," the minister said to me as I admired the ring on my hand. "How did you two meet?"

"By accident," I began to say. "I just randomly-"

"No such thing as accidents," Steve mumbled from the pew behind me.

I turned to look at him. A future scientist who believes in Fate? "You really think so, K?"

Steve nodded. "There's nothing that happens that isn't supposed to happen," he said cryptically. "Otherwise, it wouldn't happen."

Ooo, deep, I thought to myself, in no mood for philosophical introspection. Will you still feel that way, K, when you help to develop a time machine? This whole stupid thing wasn't meant to happen! And look! It's happening! Riddle me that!

"He's right, you know." Freddie came up alongside me and took my hand. "There's no standing in the way of destiny."

The minister asked again, "So how'd you two get together, then?"

"Oh we've always been together," I said dismissively, trying to be blase. "It was a match made in heaven, you might say."

"In other words, she forgot," Freddie laughed lightly. "As did I."

He looked us over. "Funny couple."

The needle dropped onto the 45, and that sweet, slow love song began to play. For some reason that set my spine to prickling.

"Will it hurt?" I asked as the minister opened up his Bible.

"No more than necessary," he chuckled.

In my head a final stream of negations flowed: It's fake. My name is not Eve. His name is not Mark. We are not in love. We are friends. And we have to get back to England in half an hour. None of this real. It's like a bad dream. This was never meant to be. This is just to show Roger up. We are not actually doing anything that means anything.

Freddie squeezed my hand and took a deep breath. "When you're ready, darling," he whispered.

I nodded. "Okay, let's do this. Go."

***********************************************************************************************

We ran out of the chapel with thirty minutes to get to the airport and onto the plane. I was holding the signed, live license as tightly as possible without crumpling it, and both Freddie and I were trying unsuccessfully to dodge the rice being thrown over our heads. Ah, tradition.

"Don't let it blow away!" Freddie kept saying, as if I had any desire to go through all this rigmarole again. I had had a lot of fun the past two days, but I was tired. And so was he.

The vows went smoothly enough, and it was clear nobody on our end was taking this seriously. In fact, when the "I dos" had choked out of us and it was time to seal it with a kiss, Freddie leaned in and rubbed noses with me.

When the minister looked on, certain of our insanity, I shrugged and explained, "He's an Eskimo."

The minister signed and dated the license, and there was our evidence. Eve Dubroc was married to Mark Zuckerberg- two people who did not exist, at least not yet. But now Freddie had his proof, and now he could get back to work.

Mission accomplished.

Rudy climbed into his cab, our one piece of luggage in hand. And to everybody's shock, Freddie whirled to face Steve and said, "Do you know where the airport is?"

"Uh, sure, yeah-"

"Good, can you do us one more favor and give us a lift to McCarran International?"

"Fr- uh, Mark, there's a cab right there!" I said.

"Yes, but there's a truck right here- and it's a beautiful night," he answered.

I took his glasses off to make sure it was still Freddie under that disguise, because that hardly sounded like him. But the dark eyes behind the star lenses shone in earnest.

"I'm up for it if you are," I shrugged.

Steve decided he could squeeze in one more ride for the two of us, especially since Freddie was offering money this time. But Rudy was still all but nonplussed.

"Darling, it's fine," Freddie crooned. "We're going to the same place anyway, so what's the issue?"

Rudy thought better of pushing, and started to close the door when Freddie stopped him and pulled out the suitcase one more time. He drew out a random change of clothes, spoke a final time to Rudy, saying things I couldn't catch. And once he bid his driver farewell, this time it was Freddie who climbed into the truckbed and held out his hand to me.

I stared at him. "Are you feeling well?"

"No, it was that Eskimo kiss, just went right to my head," he quipped. "Come along, dear. We have a plane to catch."

And the next thing I knew, we were swooping down the highway with that blanket of night spread over us, now dusted heavily with twinkling stars.

Opening my backpack, I stuck the license between the pages of my journal to keep it from getting wrinkled or ripped. I looked at the small brown parcel by Freddie's side. "What's in the package, Freddie?"

"I'll show you when we get to the airport, for now help me out of these horrid things."

"Help you undress?"

"I just need to change. I am not going anywhere else looking like this- certainly not back home, spend twelve hours on a plane sitting there begging for people to stare."

So Freddie changed clothes with me helping him where necessary, while Steve's truck did at least fifty-five down the highway. My pinned up hair now looked like a bird's nest, but I hardly compared with Freddie as he struggled out of his trousers and ripped off his shirt, throwing both over the side of the moving truck to show how much he enjoyed that get-up.

K could see the goings-on in the rearview mirror. He called while we were at a stop, "Look, I know love burns hot, but could you guys maybe save the honey for the honeymoon?"

Freddie just laughed. Before we were on the road too long, however, he had shed his disguise completely and donned his other clothes, and we reclined ourselves comfortably in the truckbed, staring out at the night rushing behind us. I let Freddie slip his arms round my waist and pull me in close, so that he had his back to the cabin and I was leaning in against his chest.

"Bella luna," I whispered aloud in an Italian accent. And it was a gorgeous moon hanging over our heads. Steve's music wasn't playing so loudly now, his soft Southern rock now a mere hum of ambient noise under the rumbling of his truck.

"If you had wanted to take the cab with Rudy, that would have been fine," I said.

"I didn't want to take the cab," Freddie replied.

"Why not?"

"This is more fun."

"Seriously?"

"Why not? I'm easy with anything-"

"Here comes the crap." I covered my head, pretended to inch away.

"What are you doing?"

"I don't want to get struck by lightning."

He snickered. "Darling, sometimes it takes me a minute to get used to the idea. And now, I'm used to it. Forget limousines. I think I'll ride up to every concert in the back of a truck. I'll look like I've been holding my head out an airplane window, but I'll feel good."

"I thought I was the easily amused one."

"I said you are. I didn't say I'm not."

Shaking my head, I said, "You can be such a twerp sometimes."

He snickered. "I love you too, Eve."

I rolled my eyes, as he'd spoken in the same sarcastic tone as before. My feet tapped against the truck floor to the beat of the music.

Freddie laid his cheek against mine. Involuntarily I closed my eyes, twiddled with the ring on my finger, a small part of me sad that its symbolism for us was lost.

"Can I just tell you that these past few days, I've had the time of my life?" I said quietly. "That song you sang for me was the perfect ending."

"Thank you, dear." His voice was soft as well. "It's been the same for me."

"Oh, you-"

"If you're about to assume I'm full of shit and I don't mean what I've just said, I'd really prefer you keep it to yourself, because I happen to mean it. Every word."

We sat quietly again for a moment, when Freddie broke the silence. "You know," he mused, "if it wasn't for you, I would have spent all day in the studio rowing with the boys, fighting over some little thing that seems much less important in retrospect- and spent all night in a club somewhere getting f---ed."

I nodded. "Sounds like fun."

"Liar."

"Yes, I'm lying. Each to his own."

"I like this better."

"You what?"

"I said, I like this better." He sighed. "It doesn't take so much effort. All I need- all I need is you."

Flatterer. And yet, in spite of my cynicism, my heart skipped a beat.

All of a sudden I realized what I'd just done to Freddie. He was completely out of control, thoroughly out of his element. So many times he had forced his world upon me, sending me to places I didn't think existed, both physical and emotional. Now he was getting a taste of my life- my old, simpler, pre-T-Rod life. I'm not a country girl by any stretch, though I may have lived outside the urban sprawl, but I loved moments like these, when the world is beautiful and for a fleeting instant nothing is wrong. Moments when it feels like there's nothing tugging at you, no promises to keep, no deadlines to meet, and all you have to do is be. This was such a moment.

And he loved it. And so did I.

"Evie?" he spoke again.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry for calling you a bitch."

I smiled. "I'd say it's okay, but it's not. So instead, I'll say, 'I forgive you.'"

"That's even better."

I looked down, noticed the way his hands had slipped lower and were now practically between my legs. He had already removed the little ring he picked- I didn't know what he'd done with it. Deep down I knew I ought to lift both hands out of my lap and place them at his sides, but I didn't.

 

Rather, I said, "Can I see your palm?"

"Why?"

"I want to read it, didn't get a chance to that night." I added, "I promise I won't scream."

I lifted his hand, then, and turned it over. I really did love his hands. They were works of art all their own. For a moment I squinted against the dark, stared into the faint lines and creases I found there.

"What do you see?" he asked.

I thought briefly of what I told him that morning. The plague of weakness that, as far as I knew, still ensnared him. I heard K's grave words one more time: "There's nothing that happens that isn't supposed to happen."

But I was here, changing everything. Was that supposed to happen? Was that the real, divine reason I was here? To provide him the second chance? To make that change? It didn't make much sense, but who can explain anything about the mystery of Life, with all its twists and turns and loop-de-loops. Right now, that was enough reason for me.

At last, I answered him. "I see... a long, happy life full of love, friends, and family."

Freddie sounded concerned. "Why didn't you say anything about success?"

I looked up, confused. "I thought that was success."

Freddie opened his mouth, then closed it again. There was no way to explain what he meant without looking like a cold, calculating famemongerer. I knew that. Therein lies the big difference between us, I thought to myself. He isn't content with the simple things- only because he doesn't give them a try. Happy is a choice, my friend. And from what I remember, it wasn't yours.

Thinking such things hurt my heart again. I had intended to turn back around, let him stew on that little tidbit about success for a while. Instead I lifted his palm to my lips, and kissed it. Closing my eyes, I kissed it again. Now I let my lips caress his fingers, one by one. Freddie was merely sitting there, letting it happen.I was lost in a free, unguarded moment. I didn't know what I was doing, I was just doing it.

I felt Freddie pull the last few pins out of my bun. My hair fell loosely down about my shoulders, in which he gently tangled his fingers. My heart began racing.

He nuzzled the side of my face, put his arm around me. I released his hand, wrapped my arms around his back. I turned my body in to his, sitting up on my knees. Freddie leaned forward, laid me down against the floor of the truck so that we were completely hidden. Not even Steve could see us.

Mary, I tried to remind myself. David. Liza. Insert generic and therefore applicable name here. And still I let him lay there, practically on top of me, his hands gently running along my curves. His eyes were aflame; and except for my own hands clenching in his mussed hair and sliding up and down his back, I was paralyzed.

But he didn't kiss me. I ached to ask what he was waiting for, regardless of how foolish that would make me look. He answered my question anyway.

"I would love to just take you right here, right now," he whispered, struggling to swallow. "Oh, my angel, you have no idea how much I want to take you- to tell you-"

"Tell me? Tell me what?"

Freddie kept talking. "But if I try, we're going to to be interrupted."

"You don't know."

"Yes, I do."

"How?"

"Because your Boss is watching." He pointed. "And because, there's the airport."

I looked up, and found we were pulling up alongside the loading zone at McCarran. Like good tin soldiers, Freddie and I sat up then, pretended like nothing had happened, although my heart was about to bust out of my chest. Rudy pulled up in his cab right behind us, hurried out. I grabbed my backpack, smoothed my dress, ignored how weak my knees were as Freddie helped me down.

"Are you going to be comfortable in that? It'll be about ten hours, all told," Freddie said, meaning my dress.

"I'm fine," I managed.

K jumped out of the truck, and squinted. "What happened to your mustache, Mark?"

Freddie nodded, ignoring the question. "Right, thanks for the rides, K. You're a good sport." He handed him his money.

Steve's eyes bugged. "This is too much-"

"It's enough. Get yourself a new car. It's past time the Mother Ship was decommissioned."

"I think I'll put this toward school, actually. Oh my God."

"Whatever. It's yours now," Freddie said a little impatiently.

Steve blinked. "I'm either high, or confused. Maybe it's both."

I turned to Steve and hugged his neck. "Thank you, K. We couldn't have done it without you."

"It was fun, thanks for letting me be a part of- whatever this was."

Freddie waved his hand. "Come on, Eve, we have to go!"

"Two seconds," I called back, then said to Steve, "You know, had you ever considered a double major?"

"Double major?" K squinted, patting his pockets for another joint. "I can barely keep up with a single-"

"You're a smart cookie," I said. "Too smart for that stuff. Anyway, computers and physics go well together, I'm told."

"They do?"

"If they don't now, they will," I smiled. "And you want to be ahead of the curve."

"Don't know, that's a lot of money."

I tapped the wad of cash in K's hand. "That oughtta get you started."

A hand came down upon my shoulder. I nodded and turned away, but not before I said, "Think about it, K. I need to get those twenty points somehow."

"Twenty points?"

"Two-zero," I said, and winked. "I'm counting on you."

And with that, Freddie, Rudy and I hustled into the airport, and left K standing there feeling utterly perplexed. What he would do with his life now was completely up to him.

"Got the annulment papers?" Freddie suddenly asked Rudy.

"Right here." He patted the suitcase.

"Good. As soon as Roger gets a good look at the license, we'll ship them off. The less time I spend 'married', the better," he laughed, placing quotation marks around "married" with his fingers.

And it was so strange, the way my throat constricted when he said that. I had no way of knowing if this smooth operator, or the person he was when we were alone, was the real Freddie. Maybe they both were. Maybe neither. Who could say?

It must be very freeing, I noted to myself, to be so cool that you can approach everything as if it's a game, and treat everyone as a tool to win that game. Very freeing indeed.

But personally, I preferred my kind of free.

 

Chapter Text

It wasn't a nonstop flight we were taking. Just like before, we were stopping at JFK to rush onto the next British Airways jet that would take us straight to Heathrow. Right now, we were back in the air, first class passengers aboard a Trans World Airlines 747. This isn't the Starship, but it sure beats riding coach.

I had my nose stuck in a January issue of Time magazine, laughing silently to myself at the cover story. "Global cooling" was the environmental worry of the decade, and the author of the article was sounding the horns of judgment upon we humans for hearkening forth the second Ice Age, which was due to arrive in the next two or three decades. Little did he know that in that same amount of time the message would flip, and become "global warming." Still our fault, though.

"Always something," I said aloud.

Freddie glanced up. "Hm?"

"Oh, nothing, just reading this story," I explained. "We're apparently all going to freeze to death before long."

"Bloody ozone," he said absently, turning back to his pencil and paper.

We hadn't said much to each other since getting out of K's truck. Freddie saved his conversation for Mary, whom he called to let her know he was on his way back (and to say a quick hello to the cats).

"Two more seconds, dear, I need to make another call," he had said.

"Call whom?"

"Just want to page Straker and Paul, they must have landed by now."

Freddie timed this perfectly; they had apparently just come in off the tarmac, about to board their plane back home. The phone call didn't take much time, Freddie just wanted to make sure his two friends were all right. As he hung up, I saw him roll his eyes.

"Now you've got Peter doing it," he muttered to me.

"Doing what?"

"He asked how Harley Quinn had liked her fiance," he chuckled.

"That's his name for me."

"It's harlequin, not Harley Quinn."

"Just go with it, Mr. J," I sang.

"Bad habits do spread so quickly," he sighed.

I bore his abrupt distance as well as I could, but I was finding it harder and harder to shift alongside him. Freddie was a chameleon, with a face for every hour of every day. I had only one face, and only one protective mask, which was wearing ever thinner with unbroken use.

For the past half hour Freddie had been hard at work sketching something, and I didn't want to distract him. I would have updated the NFOs and activities by now, but he was using my hardback journal as a desk; it seemed the tray table just wasn't doing the trick. I kept my eyes moving from the magazine pages to his steady pencil traces, making sure he didn't pry the journal open and see whatever potentially unkind things I had noted as recently as yesterday. Once I let myself stare too long at his handsome face, long enough to make him feel the pressure of my gaze. He looked up, and I turned away, my cheeks burning.

I understood it this way: Freddie wanted my body, and I wanted his. That much had been crystal clear since we had worked on "My Melancholy Blues" in the wee hours of the sixth morning- and that seemed to be about it from what I could tell (or admit, at this time). The brief spells of intimacy we had shared, wherein something always seemed to get in the way, were invariably followed by a drastic cool-down on Freddie's part. And he and I had not kept up one single conversation that lasted longer than five minutes.

Even now after ten days, he was so hard to read- but Freddie wasn't the kind to narrate his true feelings aloud to almost anyone. And since I wasn't calm and quiet Mary Austin, I felt it safe to say he still wouldn't make an exception for me.

Watching the lights of Las Vegas disappear behind the clouds reminded me that the party was over. The entire experience truly had been one for the books, and to Freddie I was and always will be grateful. Nevertheless, I needed to examine my options once we landed on British soil-

Hey, wait a minute. I couldn't go back without a Passport! And there was no trunk to stow away in this time. Here was the wrinkle! Oh, no! I was toast! But then, perhaps Freddie had a plan for this too. It was still too early to freak out, we weren't leaving America for another hour. Freddie's got this. I needn't worry.

Forcing myself not to fret, I continued to muse. I still had no ID, and most employers expected applicants to prove their official existences- legal authorization to work, so to speak. I had none.

I closed the magazine and put it back into the bin. What was it a person could do for a living without ID, without a Social or anything like that? True, now I had a marriage license, but that little document was already headed for the shredder, and the ink was barely dry.

That was the thing no one ever bothered to mention in the films. Going back or forward in Time, and then staying there, always seemed so hassle-free. Not so! In real life, you need to show you are who you say you are. You are dead in the water unless you have the papers to prove you're not. Not that that's a bad thing, that's just the way it is. But there had to be exceptions.

I sat there with my hands folded. Off the top of my head I could think of only one thing: I could be a nun and therefore have to convert to Catholicism or the Anglican church. To my knowledge there aren't too many Baptist convents.

Oh, right. I can just see me now. The new Maria von Trapp. I snickered to myself.

Again, Freddie looked up. "Sorry," I whispered, covering my mouth.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"I was just, um- thinking," I murmured.

"About what?"

"Nothing, sorry, I didn't mean to laugh out loud like that. I was just thinking about my options."

"Options?" He frowned.

"You know, for, uh- for what I'm going to do with my life now."

"Oh yes?" Freddie put the pencil back into my bag and started tucking away his drawings.

I waved my hands, "No no no, don't do that, I-"

"Don't be silly, I'm not making much progress anyhow," he answered. "Just trying to come up with ideas."

"Oh yeah? What for?"

"Costumes and things. For the tour after the album."

Oh, yeah, that's right. He's a rock star. I actually almost forgot.

"Well, don't let me distract you-"

"You're not distracting me." He handed me back the journal, a mischievous smile curving his mouth. "Not like that, anyway."

"Still, I'm sorry-"

"Don't be. Come on, talk to me."

"Uh-uh. I've distracted you enough." With that I opened up my journal. Taking that same pencil in hand, I was poised to write. I had a whole day and a half to account for after all. As soon as the tip hit the paper a hand swooped in and shut the journal. I looked at Freddie, half-irritated.

He just leaned back and crossed his legs. "I'm all ears- and teeth."

I fought down surprise at this joke he'd made at his own expense. "What does that mean?"

"Darling, really. You've got eyes, haven't you? Now tell me what's on your mind."

NFO: Not above a little self-deprecating humor.

"Well," I shrugged, "I was just thinking about what I'm going to have to do with myself since the Relic still hasn't turned up."

"Oh, yes," Freddie nodded, pursing his lips. "The Relic." His eyes seemed to cloud for a minute, then cleared again. I pretended not to notice.

"Yeah. I'm going to have to figure out a game plan. I have to get myself a job, for one thing."

"You can work for me," Freddie offered brightly.

I shook my head, grinning. "Thank you, but I'm already in debt up to my nose to you."

Freddie groaned, "Darling-"

"You know what I mean. I need a real job. Thing is, again, I don't have ID."

Freddie must have misheard me, because he said, "So you need ideas?"

"I have one."

"Go on."

"I could be a nun."

"Of course, your head would go there."

"I think it's a very good idea if worst comes to worst."

"You could do that. But then I couldn't come visit you, they'd never let me in. I have the air of iniquity hanging too heavy about me." Freddie's eyes gleamed.

So that's what that is. Iniquity smells like licorice. Good to know.

"Oh, let's see," he went on. "Hypothetically, I suppose, you could become a streetwalker."

"What?!"

"Hypothetically, dear! Doesn't mean you have to, it's just a possibility."

"Okay, then. That's two! Two ideas in the hole. Nun and prostitute."

He nodded sagely and said, "Or you can join the circus."

"And do what?"

"Be a snake charmer perhaps. Wear some slinky little number and sway about with a python round your waist. I'd pay a lot to see that."

"Okay, that's good too. So three! Three ideas for future careers. Nun, prostitute, snake charmer-"

"Mud wrestler-"

"I'm kind of seeing a pattern here, I don't know about you. But yes, FOUR! Nun, prostitute, snake charmer- what were the other ones?"

"Mud wrestler, stripper, fan dancer- Wait, I'll come in again!" Freddie laughed.

I stared at him, a grin spreading across my face. "Was that a Monty Python reference?"

"Nobody expects a Monty Python reference!"

"Or the Spanish Inquisition."

"Or a dead parrot."

"No, no, he was just stunned."

And in this single exchange I forgot again about weighing options for my new future, quit thinking about the Relic, and instead joined Freddie in spouting off Monty Python lines like the two closet nerds we were. Rudy looked up from his newspaper, watched us laughing. It was only his attention that made us realize maybe we were being a bit disruptive.

"Since when were you such a Flying Circus fan?" I asked in a softer voice.

"Since it came along. I love them."

"Did you see the Holy Grail?"

"I did, but honestly, I liked the sort of variety facet of the show better."

"Me too. Besides, it ended so stupidly. The film, I mean."

"I thought it was funny!"

"It was obvious. They ran out of money before they could end it properly so they just stopped and had the police come and arrest everybody."

"And that's funny."

"No, it's just British. I mean, the organ music was great, but I felt so cheated at the end. So anticlimactic."

"My dear, such a shame you can't find it in yourself to appreciate true humor," Freddie yawned. "You Yanks are so difficult to please. If there's no resolution, you want nothing to do with it."

"Oh, you dandy old snob. Acting all high and mighty when you know you love the Marx Brothers too, who are anything but highbrow. Now you're distracting me. I have to get writing here, get my head together-"

"No indeed, I'm far too enthralled. I just found out how much you love Monty Python and that endears you to me more than you realize. You've got me curious. I now intend to learn all about you."

"What's there to learn? You think I'm an angel or something like that. Angels are dull and boring."

"But you're not."

I rolled my eyes. "Bull. Please go back to work, far be it from me to slow you down." I opened the journal again, pressing down on either side in case he should try to shut the book once more. And he didn't. Instead, he simply pulled the thing out of my hands altogether and sat back against it with an air of triumph.

"Pushy, pushy," I muttered.

"Write after we change planes," he sang.

We were changing planes in another two hours, by which point I would be too tired for anything but sleep. And I wasn't feeling like writing much anymore anyway. So talk we did.

Somehow, Freddie and I jabbered on about everything and nothing, about the band, about the new album, about what made us happy and unhappy, and about "heaven," where he allegedly assumed I came from, in which I was able to freely talk about my "angel family," for the whole two hours we had. I at first tried stepping carefully, to make sure I didn't ask him the same questions any journalist would ask. As the minutes passed, however, I let myself relax and said what I wanted. I knew where the tender spots were -seven years of study and over a week of firsthand experience taught me where those lurked- so I managed to avoid most of them. I let him tell his naughty little stories and laughed and blushed where appropriate, as I popped peanuts into my mouth and he contented himself with a glass of red wine.

And we did this, quite miraculously, without interruption. I mean, unless you count the couple of times someone walked up and asked for his autograph. And a couple of times we dragged Rudy into the fray to settle a facetious dispute about this or that. But that was really all. By the time a miniature version of the New York glow reappeared outside my window, I felt like I'd known this man for ten years as opposed to a mere ten days.

Okay, fine, I conceded to myself. So we can keep up a nice long talk! So what? We're friends after all, why shouldn't we?

Good grief. Can you say, "denial"?

We landed, and Freddie and I stood to stretch our legs. I reached into the overhead shelf to grab my backpack, stuffed the journal back in. Freddie was watching my every move, a funny light in his eyes.

"You're still wearing your ring, I see," he noted.

"And you couldn't get yours off fast enough," I replied, smiling. Freddie just shrugged and let Rudy walk in front of him, so that he was sandwiched between me and his bodyguard/driver as we filed off the plane.

Freddie leaned forward and whispered, "Hey, Eve, can you tell me something?"

I shrugged. "Sure."

"What's your name?"

"You just said it. I'm-"

"I mean your real name, dear."

I looked back at him slyly. "Who wants to know?"

"This dreadfully nosy tart does, that's who."

"Eve Dubr- I mean, Eve Zuckerberg not enough anymore?"

"No. That's the name I gave you in a careless moment. I want to know what your family calls you."

"Why?"

"Darling, would it kill you not to ask a question every time you open your mouth?"

"I want to know. What do you care what my real name is?"

"I'd just like to be a little more in the loop. Call you by a more intimate name."

"My family's not the best place to go. They call me different things, too."

"Julie Christie" is what my dad liked calling me, thanks to my real name being Julia Christine, and the fact that the actress Julie Christie was one of my dad's first crushes. My mother was more fond of the nickname "Goose" herself- and Freddie already called me that. The one brother I have did not even bother to call me by first name, and instead settled for a shorter version of the middle one: "Chris."

"I'd settle for your real first name."

"I can't tell you."

"Good Lord. Why not?"

"Because!"

"Oh, well, I'm convinced now. Is it like some kind of rule, you can't use your angel name?"

I began to laugh.

"I mean it! What's it going to hurt? Can't I at least guess?"

I grinned. "You can try."

"Right!" He rubbed his hands together, brows furrowing. "Hmm..."

"You get three. After that, no more guesses."

"Oh, f---, always a string. Then you had better give me a hint. A good hint."

"It's in a Beatles song."

"Thanks a lot. After all, there's only four thousand names in Beatles songs."

"That's all you get. Take it or leave it."

"All right, fine. Let me think it over, I want to make these count."

We were in luck; there was a flight out to London in another thirty minutes. All we had to do was buy the tickets- and (GAH!) provide the proper identification to do so. Again the pit formed in my stomach. Stay calm, I told myself nervously. Freddie knows what he's doing. Doesn't he?

But as Rudy grabbed our one bag, Freddie still gave no indication of what I was supposed to do now. We approached the ticket line, taking our place behind seven other people. Rudy and Freddie produced their Passports, and I stood there like an idiot, wondering if maybe something had indeed slipped through the cracks.

(By the way, I have to say, weren't the seventies a cool time to be alive? True, it was the era of Nixon's Watergate and Carter's "malaise," years complete with the very inconvenient 1979 oil crisis still yet to transpire. But there was no TSA or anything, and you didn't have to be early to the airport, you could almost be late and still make the skies by running for the tarmac- it was wonderful... Okay, I just had to throw that in there, carry on.)

I was a nervous wreck by the time we approached the desk. Rudy spoke for Freddie, "Three for the 12:15 flight to London, please."

She nodded. "Passports?"

Two of three were spread out before her. Freddie took my shoulder gently and tugged me toward the front. "She's with me."

The woman stamped the boys' papers, then looked at me expectantly. "Do you have your Passport, ma'am?"

I stammered, "Uh- one second."

Hands shaking, I reached into my backpack, pretended to rummage around although I knew I wouldn't find anything.

Freddie's brows came together. "Don't you have it, darling?"

"Not that I can see." My voice quavered violently. "Uh..."

I was holding up the line, I knew I was, but I still checked every flap. Stupid things, they put way too many small spaces in these bags, they're just crazy for you to misplace something, they make it too easy. Not that I had anything to lose in the first place...

When I'd convinced myself I was out of luck, I stood, about to hold out my hands in supplication when Freddie's brows rose.

"Oh!" He snapped his fingers and chuckled apologetically. "That's right, how silly of me." He reached into his inside jacket pocket. I watched numbly as he drew out a third Passport and put it in my palm.

"You gave it to me for safe keeping, remember?" he said. I stood and stared at him. Freddie nudged me a little. Stiffly I turned to hand her the Passport. She opened it to reveal the picture he'd taken of me just before we went to the Heatwave, but with my bedroom replaced with a dull beige background.

She looked up at me. "Ms. Evelyn Dubroc?"

My dry throat swallowed and I whispered, "That's me."

The woman stamped the Passport, handed us our tickets, gave us back our papers, and said "Bon voyage."

And I fainted.

The next thing I knew, I was slouching in a plush chair, with Freddie slapping gently at my wrist. I opened my eyes, and he kissed my forehead. We were on another plane, this one a bit more spacious than the last.

"I'm so impressed, my dear," Freddie said. "That was a wonderful imitation of a marionette when one cuts its strings."

I looked at him. "How long did you work on that one?"

"From the moment you hit the floor."

"That's pretty good," I muttered, chuckling. "Where are we?"

"We've already landed in London," Rudy quipped. "I'm afraid you suffered a mild concussion, so you've been out for about twelve hours now. The ambulance is on its way."

"Rudy!" I smiled. "You're being sarcastic!"

And Rudy almost blushed with pleasure. He does like me! Oh, it's so wonderful to be accepted.

"Actually, we're just waiting to take off, which should be in another five minutes or so," Freddie explained. He smiled almost shyly. "Were you, um- were you surprised?"

"Surprised?" I said. "Man, I almost had a heart attack." I fumbled for my Passport again and stared at it. There was my new name, and my new fake birthday, and my new fake address. It looked so authentic, much more so than the slapdash version we'd gotten away with via Freeling.

"So, um," he said, "now you don't have to be a nun."

"Thank you. Oh, thank you." I squinted in disbelief. "How did you do it, Freddie?"

"Oh, I didn't."

"Then-"

"It turns out that Randy John knew a fellow who forges official documents and lives in- I forgot the name of the town, some tiny little place outside Vegas- he coincidentally mentioned it on the way here, so I asked if he could have a Passport made overnight, and he said-"

So that's what was in the package! "How does that even come up?"

"It just did, I don't know."

"It couldn't be that you asked-"

"Of course not, don't be ridiculous, why would I do that?"

"Why would you do any of this stuff, Freddie?" I asked. "Why have you been so generous with your time, with your money, with everything?"

"I told you I'm a frivolous man. You should know that well enough by now."

"That's as may be," I said, "there's still no explaining why you didn't report me the very first night I came here. I could have been anyone, Freddie. Anyone! I could have been a thief, a serial killer-"

"Are you?" Freddie said evasively.

"No, but-"

"Then what's the problem?"

"Why didn't you leave me to the police?" I asked. "That would have been the easy way out."

 

"And miss out on a party? Oh!" Freddie's eyes widened suddenly. "Damn!"

"What?"

"The party, I almost completely forgot, it's two days off and I haven't made any sort of preparations at all."

"The dinner party?"

"The very same. Damn, damn, damn! Nothing's ready- I don't even have a cook right now."

"I can cook," I offered.

"Cook what?"

"I don't know. I can do pretty much anything if I have the recipe."

"Well, if you're offering, let's figure that out now before we forget anything else."

"We?"

"Yes, we. You and I. The flying trapeze team. We make a very good one, you know."

"Trapeze?"

 

"You know, the people on the bars, swinging to and fro, catching, throwing, keeping each other in line, but one never letting the other fall too far-"

"And that's us?" I smiled.

"Wouldn't you agree? Is it Anna?"

"Anna?"

"Is that your real name?" Freddie's train of thought currently resembled a pinball machine.

I shook my head. "Nope. You've got two more."

"Bollocks. Okay, back to work."

I didn't stop to wonder why Freddie kept dancing around the reason why he didn't report me. My thinking cap was pulled on too tight, and I couldn't freely navigate to other previous subjects. But we did fall silent after working it all out, let ourselves relax against the seats and doze off. One can only talk for so long, and for the past two plus hours, that's all we'd been doing.

Okay, so we can talk about silly things and work together on serious things. Big deal. We're compatible, sort of. Not very. But some. Maybe Peter was right after all. But -but not THAT right!

I think back to the way I approached our relationship at this time, and I sigh. It's funny, what you take advantage of. it's incredible, what you can talk yourself out of, if you try hard enough. It's truly astounding, how blind someone can be simply because they make the conscious choice to close their eyes.

Had I done the opposite, left my eyes and mind -and, really, heart- open, I would have saved myself a great deal of time- and a great deal of pain.

I should have known better, is all I can say.

 

Chapter Text

My eyes open, and I sigh.  Everyone's still asleep.  I'd love to know what time it is, other than time for everyone else to be up.  The lights are dim in the cabin, and the girl beside me is out cold.  Poor thing's knackered.  Across the aisle, Rudy's eyes are also closed, mouth slightly open as he snores.  For the first time I totally realize just what a whirlwind the past two days have been.

Quietly I reach across her and lift the visor over the window to see it's pitch dark except at the very edge of the horizon, where the sky is turning from black to a kind of violet.  I shrug.  I don't mind flying, I really don't.  I've spent far too many hours aboard planes to be frightened of them. What I do mind is being tossed around like beans in a maraca- and then someone dropping the maraca.  That upsets me.  But that would upset anyone.  Show me one instance where the beans are happy that the maraca slips from someone's hand and crashes to the floor-

Why am I talking about maracas?  Sorry, dear.  I'm getting sidetracked.  I had a little something to drink before dropping off, but I don't suppose that's a very sound excuse.  Anyway.

By this time we must be more than halfway across the Atlantic.  My fingers impatiently drum against my knees.  I could be still working on that costume design I'd started the first leg of our return trip, but to do that means turning on the lights, and I don't want to wake my sleepy stray kitten. 

The same goes for scrawling possible lyrics to a song I've recently been mulling.  It's a pretty thing, if I do say so myself, in the vein of a love song.  But I still can't decide if it's going to be a happy or sad one.  I've written both kinds, and the sad ones always seem easier to write.  Maybe I'm just a naturally tragic person.  Who knows.  I don't feel sad lately, though.  It's very likely this will end up being a little more playful as a result, assuming this song even comes into fruition.  Most don't.  We shall see.  It's "Champions" that deserves more of my attention anyway.

A sudden urge to run up and down the aisle just to stretch my legs hits me, but I don't act on it.  Though we may be sitting in first class, I'm certainly not alone, and despite what so many believe, I'm not that thoughtless.  I think of trying to go back to sleep, but I'm not exhausted anymore. I don't need much, and what I do need I've already had. I sigh again, becoming more decidedly bored by the second.

Eve shifts in her sleep, turning her head away from me.  I notice a thin black cord trailing from her ear to something by her side.  Squinting, I see it's the Magic Mirror.  Ooo. 

In a trice, nosiness is no longer a sin.  I gently slip the thing away from her hip and cradle it between my fingers.  I slip a cautious look her way.  She sighs deeply, letting out a little moan.  I try not to let the sound get to me- and fail.  A bit less curious than before, I pull my eyes away from her and focus back on the Mirror.

It reminds me vaguely of a smaller monolith from that indescribably dull film 2001.  I remember someone talked me into going to see it when it was released- it might have been Brian, for all I know, it certainly is his style, but I can't remember for certain.  Difference is, this thing has a little red light that flashes randomly at the top, and an odd-looking smiling face beside the letters "LG".  Wonder what they stand for.  "Looking Glass," maybe.  It is after all the Magic Mirror.  That's probably it. 

I press the button like she showed me, and there's the image of the penguins.  Just below, it says, "Enter password."

Bugger.  I'd forgotten this part.  "Who wants to know?" I mutter under my breath. 

But the screen doesn't change.  It wants a password, nicely showing an image of a keyboard right underneath.  I have no idea what to do next.  Do I guess?  Do I touch the little letters on the screen?  I'm feeling less intelligent the longer I sit here this way.  So I decide to just go for it.

I touch the letter "s," and "s" appears in the box.  It gives me the oddest little thrill when it happens.  But that's not how I want to start my password.  I press a little arrow pointing left, assuming it's the eraser, and the letter presently disappears.  This is so exciting- almost embarrassingly so.  

But I still haven't the faintest what the word could be.  "Penguins," perhaps?  I try to touch the "p", but the letter "o" appears instead.  I erase it, then try again.  But it still thinks I want "o."  This happens two more times, and I'm about to get more than a little miffed when finally it stops messing with me and shows the letter I want.  I type the rest of the word with no further trouble.  

I suppose "Done" is the thing to touch when I'm through?  That's improper grammar.  I'm no dictionary, but they could at least say "Finished" or something like that.  "Done" sounds so unglamorous, to say the least.

But when I do tap the word, the screen says "Try again."

Rolling my eyes, I obey.  Just for fun I type in my own name, and get the same message.  "Try again."  I try Roger's name next.  The same response- and for some reason I am relieved.  I then start using any word I even remotely associate with Eve; "jazz," "Queen," "God," "angel," and then finally, with a groan, "Richard Dreyfuss" (I still don't get it- nor do I get why it matters so much).  None of them work.  I am rapidly losing interest.

I wish I knew what Eve's real name was; perhaps that's the password.  It's in a Beatles song, as is every other girl's name in the world.  Michelle?  Rita?  Sadie?  Julia?  Magill?  Lill? Nancy?  Lizzy?  Mary Jane?  Sally?  Eleanor?  It's too many to choose from.  

I pick one at random and type it in: "Julia."  I don't know why I chose that one exactly, though I love the song.  One of my favorites by Lennon.  It's simple, sweet, and rather mysterious- like her. 

"Try again."

F---.  

Then I recall what she said the last time I was fiddling with it: "I love anything in a tuxedo."

Tuxedo.  Hm.  Perhaps that's it after all.  It's worth a go.  Just as likely as anything else.  I type it into the box.

And the penguins vanish.  I punch the air in victory.  I'm so clever sometimes.

In the next split second my jaw drops.

The penguins have given way to a screen dotted with little pictures.  And the image behind it- a field of golden daffodils- is moving.  Like a wind I can't feel is rustling them together, making them dance gently before my eyes.  This sort of thing only happens on television, and yet here I sit with this unbelievable device in my hands. 

I'm wild to explore, see what these pictures mean.  I just don't know where to start.

The screen fades a little.  When I tap it again, it brightens.  That might get a little bothersome, but we'll wait until that happens.  The four color pinwheel circle thing on the bottom looks interesting, so I touch that.

Then this silly word pops up in big colorful letters with yet another box underneath it.  My patience has run out on the word boxes, and I don't care to know what "Google" means, probably something ridiculous, so I press another backwards arrow and it takes me back to where I was before.

Some of the pictures have captions underneath telling me what they are.  And they don't help much.  "YouTube," says one.  "Instagram," says another.  "InfoWars," "Amazon," and "Email," all in that order, run across the top.  I can't make heads or tails of any of it, save Amazon- but even there, I hardly know what a shopping trolley has to do with a river.  Is this the language they use where Eve comes from?  I'll take English, thank you. 

Then I see another image in the corner that says "Amazon Music."  That, I understand.  What does a girl like Eve listen to?  I press it.  Hopefully it's not all Gregorian chants and Ave Marias.

I'm being tart.  I'm sorry.  I know her better than that.  The Mercurena, after all, is anything but pure- especially the way she was dancing to it.  I just wish- I mean, I'm just so frustrated lately.  I'm having fun, of course, but there are times I want to tear all my hair out and scream.  F---ing shop window.  Will the glass ever shatter?

I just realized, I haven't spoken to Joe in days.  He probably thinks I've forgotten about him.  And he wouldn't be wrong.  I should call him when we land. 

So anyway, I touch the Amazon Music button, or whatever you call it.  A new dark blue backdrop appears, and a list forms.  On the top, the word "Albums" is highlighted.  The first thing I see on top is "The Beatles: The White Album."  My brows knit.  How does that even work?  I touch it, and there's an entire listing of the tracks.  Everything.  Wow.

There's a little triangle pointing in the opposite direction of the erase button, but I like the winding arrows better, so I touch that.  "Yer Blues" appears on the screen but I can't hear anything.  I remember the cord leading to her ear, and mildly freak out.  With deft fingers I pull the thing out of her ear before it awakens her and stick it in mine.  Now John Lennon is screaming about how lonely he is in my right ear.  It's a bit too loud for this time of night, so I hold it away from my head a ways. 

I go back to the selection and the music keeps playing.  There's a lot of things I don't recognize, and there's more leading down, but I don't know how to move the screen that direction. I try dragging the tip of my finger up. It moves. Again, I get the giddy feeling in my head. I could stay and listen to the Beatles, but I'd rather keep looking.

I don't see any of our songs in the mix.  Not a shock.  Disappointing as always, but not a shock.  I suppose we're too bawdy for her innocent ears.  The Boss allows "Helter Skelter" but He doesn't tolerate "Bohemian Rhapsody."  Explain that to me. 

Oh, right.  Maybe the Beelzebub thing got in the way.  Whatever.

I see something called Faith, by a fellow named George Michael.  I'm honestly not surprised by the title, but I'm intrigued nonetheless.  I touch it, and four songs appear.  Seems wholesome enough.  "Faith," "Father Figure," "I Want Your Sex," "One-"

Wait a tic.

My finger drifts to the third thing.  As the seconds pass, and the song really starts, a slow grin crosses my face.  In the corner are the words "X-Ray Lyrics" and I touch it.  Now I can actually see what this guy is singing.  I cover my mouth and begin to laugh. 

Evie, Evie, Evie.  What a little rebel.  This is the same girl who wants me to cool down every time I get hot for her- which is often- and yet she listens to music that speaks for my feelings.  You would think she'd understand, but she doesn't.  Or maybe she does, and she just likes watching me squirm.  Either way, ARGH!

When this delicious bit of lasciviousness ends, I bounce back to the music list and press the mix-up button again.  If this is the tip of the iceberg, I can't wait to see what lies beneath the surface.

Two and a half hours later, I'm still listening to her music.  People around me are starting to wake up, but Eve isn't one of them, so I keep the overhead lights off.  I've practically mastered the device by now, and found several new singers and groups to look into later.  I'm not staring at the thing like before though; to stare at it too long kind of hurts my eyes, the light is so bright and everything else around me is so dark. 

The Magic Mirror has a flashlight, which I have turned on and am using to light my drawings.  I've yet to find the camera part of it, but it's around there somewhere.  I can sneak a few pictures of Eve later once I get her to tell me where it is.

Now a new song plays, again something I've never heard before. It's sweeter than much of what I've heard so far, rather like an early Jackson 5 Motown type thing, except the image shows three young, blond boys who are obviously not from the Jackson family. I can't understand a word they're saying, and I've since turned off the lyrics. It's very silly, repetitive, and sounds like they're scatting the whole thing. Again, maybe this is a heaven-language song. I wonder what "MMMBop" means.  Maybe if I listen to it again, I'll find out.  I play it once more.  It really is a stupid little song.  Still, if nothing else, it makes me smile.

What's that you say?  Do I really think Eve's an angel? Oh, gosh.  Frankly, I don't know. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if she was, and I wouldn't be disappointed if she wasn't, if you can understand that. I'm keeping an open mind.

I put my pencil down and look at what I've sketched on the page.  This has potential.  It's another catsuit, but this one has long sleeves unlike the one I used for the last tour.  The slit in front however takes just as deep a dive- and since it's basically just a body sock, the view will be just as scenic.  And, uh, I'll let you decide what that means.  

Anyway, like the last, it's very Nijinsky- and before you assume I'm in some kind of Nijinsky-Baryshnikov rut, with the leotards and the ballet slippers and things like that, understand I was planning on straying from the tights altogether on the next tour.  It's Eve's fault, really.  She put the idea in my head in the first place.  I'll have to show this to Zelda in a couple of days, see what she thinks.  She has a wonderful flair for fashion.  

Which is more than I can say for Eve. My God.  I don't know what to do with her sometimes. She won't wear jewelry except for that cheap little ring and that ugly necklace she's so fond of, and she has to be reminded to wear shoes.  I wear more makeup than she does, I'm certain of it. If I didn't buy her all those clothes, she'd still be marching day to day in those two horrible tees and one pair of jeans. And she'd like it. 

 Not to say she doesn't put herself together nicely. I'd forgotten to tell her how beautiful she looks tonight, even after two windy open-air rides aboard the ricketiest jalopy ever. She looks beautiful all of the time.  But it's a very casual sort of beauty.  Effortless. 

I glance at Eve again, who has shifted back to face me.  Her brows gently knit and relax as she dreams. I can't help but smile.  Her diary is still sitting across her thighs. I think it's her diary. That's what she says it is. It could be something far more serious, but I'm not going to snoop around and find out for certain. That's unforgivably nosy.

It's a good question, really, why I didn't report her.  It flummoxes me a bit myself. 

Eve's actually not the first stranger to crash my place.  A couple of years ago, actually, on tour in Seattle.  It was the last night of our Sheer Heart Attack Tour in North America.  I walked into my hotel room that night to find some little whore had broken in and was in the process of stealing my jewels.  I rather took matters into my own hands- I dragged the slut out by her hair, made her give everything back, and threw her out on her arse.  True story.

And I made the mistake of deciding that would never happen again.  How was I to know that in two years' time, a new, completely different girl would enter my life in a similar way?

I really was going to do it, have them come cart her off. But I didn't.

I'd only be half-kidding if I blamed the cats. 

I had my hand on the phone and I called for her to come back down.  When she didn't, I checked on her to find her curled up on top of the bed in the guest bedroom- and Oscar dozing away on her hair.  I tried shooing him away so I could wake her up, but he wouldn't move.  Not that I tried my very hardest, but that cat just lay there, staring at me as if to ask if we could keep her.  So I decided to let her stay asleep until the police arrived. 

I took her bag from her arms to check it, expecting a repeat theft, but there was nothing of mine inside.  I set in on the floor, then noticed she was laying on the bed with shoes on.  That happens to be a pet peeve of mine, as I always assume the dirt and dust on one's soles will get on the covers, so I took off her shoes and put them by the bag.  My resolve by this point was shrinking fast.  I patted her shoulder before walking out to call the police at last, and then I studied her a little more closely.  And even asleep, she looked scared.  She looked so very helpless, there with her shoes off and the little orange cat nestled up against her. 

By that point I knew she wasn't going anywhere that night but under the covers she was laying on.  My heart- yes, I have one- melts for the down-and-outs in the world.  At least I could help this one, let her stay the night.

Little did either of us know the one night would become ten or so days- or that I would learn to see her as more than just some helpless little outcast in need of a friend. 

"MMMBop" ends and shifts to something called "She Will Be Loved."  This is that band called Maroon 5- I can tell by the voice, which I like.  It's in my range, but not as strong.  These chaps need to be discovered.  There's a lot of talent out there which goes unnoticed.

Idly I wonder what she would do should John be able to fix the Relic.  She doesn't seem too upset that it's gone, and she's coming to terms with setting up house down here.  True, a Passport can't buy someone a house, or even a job necessarily, but it's a start.  Hopefully I'll never have to tell her I broke the damn thing.  That would be nice.

I've worn her down quite a lot, and I can proudly say I probably know her better than most people.  But the wall she's built around her feelings is so high, and so wide.  She's a practical creature, those big eyes belying her cunning.  She says what she needs to to help herself.  I know this because I do that too, and I can recognize it in other people.  Who knows how she really feels.

I shake my head.  I am attracted to this girl, and I don't know why.  She's lovely, of course.  And sharp.  But that's not why I keep taking her along.  That's not why I'm starting to hope the Relic is out of even Deacy's capable hands. 

I roll my eyes and sigh.  What a fight it's been!  We're both trying to stay one step ahead of the other, struggling constantly for the upper hand.  I've tried to take John's words to heart, and put them into practice.  Yet as much as I've learned about her, that distance remains.  She won't even f---ing tell me her name!  If we're not sparring, we're squabbling- even if it's playful squabbles. There's no getting closer.  The few times I think we might, there's always, always a disturbance.

Perhaps I just need to go for broke.  Perhaps I ought to throw caution to the wind at last and explain everything.  Then again, maybe not.  It's a dangerous idea, especially if it actually turns out she doesn't-

Oh, dear. Eve's awake, and I've been caught red-handed.  Let's put that mask back on.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I was a little nervous about falling asleep on the plane; I have a tendency to talk in my sleep, and I didn't want first class (or more specifically, Freddie) to know I had lustful, magenta dreams every night.  I thought maybe if I had my music softly humming into my ear, I might distract my brain from that same old earthquake.  It seemed to work; for the few hours I spent unconscious I dreamed no dreams.  That I can remember, anyway.

It was music that awakened me as well- but a different kind.  Someone was softly singing a cappella to themselves.  And it was a song nobody in 1977 should have known. 

"Dah de dah, spending ev-er-y daaay, dah dah di dah dah in the pouring rain..."

Before I even opened my eyes I reached for my Android at my side.  It was gone.  I looked, now wide awake.  Oh, there it is. 

It was in Freddie's hand, one of the earbuds nestled in his right ear, as he held the Android's LED flashlight over his sketching paper (Where'd he get that anyway?  Did he make a stop somewhere at an art store in Vegas?  Who knows) and the screen facing him showed a Matisse-inspired image of a Lady Godiva figure holding a Pandora's box, under which read the words "Maroon 5: She Will Be Loved."

I freaked.

"HEY!" I whisper-shouted.  There were other people sleeping after all.

Freddie glanced at me.  He blinked once, then his face split into a nonchalant grin- almost too nonchalant.  "Good morning."

"What do you think you're doing?" I hissed.

He looked blank.  "I'm working." 

"How'd you hack into-"

"The password, of course."

"I never told you the password!"

"Oh but you did, unintentionally.  I'm not a complete dunce, you know."

When I reached for the phone, he held his hand out into the aisle.  "Darling, where are your manners?"

So we've gone from "too polite" to "where are your manners."  This man, I swear.  "Will you kindly hand that Magic Mirror of mine back to me?"

"Only if you show me where the camera is."

My insides writhed.  "What all have you seen?"

"Not too much, just the music, really, and that speech bubble thing at the bottom."

"You went through my texts?" I tried not to scream.  I didn't send anything via text I wouldn't want serving as a New York Times headline, but I still couldn't believe Freddie had been so blatantly inconsiderate.  I thought he was better than this.

"Not really, I left it alone, I just tapped it and a bunch of numbers appeared.  Looked a bit unexciting so I didn't stay there.  Most everything else didn't work.  I tried opening up this thing called In-sta-grahm, but it couldn't, said it wasn't connected to Wee-Fee."

"You mean, Wi-Fi?"

"I'll say it however I like, Miss Har-Lee-Quin.  How do I, um- connect it?"

"You can't.  There's no Wi-Fi here."

"What is Wi-Fi anyway?"

"I'll tell you when you're older.  Please give it back."

"What are you so worried about?"  Freddie's eyes gleamed.  "What dirty little secrets have you hoarded up in here?"

"Nothing."

"I mean, besides those soft porn songs you've got-"

"Soft porn?"

"I Want Your Sex?  Really, dear? Is that, um, standard bill of fare for the Choir Invisible?"

My cheeks burned.  "I don't know what you're talking about," I lied lamely.

Freddie held up his finger at me, and paused the music.  I watched him skillfully navigate my Amazon downloads, thankful that whatever Queen I had stored on my phone was tucked away in the general Music folder.  It would seem he hadn't found that yet.  I had all my Queen and Freddie Mercury tracks downloaded long before I'd installed the Amazon app, which contained mostly random songs that struck my fancy. 

And wasn't it just my luck that the most beautiful, most talented, and most wonderful man I had ever had the privilege to be near, had hacked into my phone and listened to one of my other guilty pleasures, "I Want Your Sex" by the late great George Michael, with an oily grin upon his lips, as I became that much less innocent and that much more common, in his eyes.  "I Want Your Sex", of course, wasn't even all that graphic by comparison with some of the stuff I've heard on the radio lately, but Freddie was looking for anything, and he'd struck gold.

He turned it on and smiled.  It was the smugness of that smile that put me over the edge.  I forgot to be a good sport this time around.  I was still tired, and therefore my filter was nonexistent.  My now very red face hardened.

"Please give it back," I said through gritted teeth.

Freddie looked me over and did so at last.  Quickly I turned off the music, yanked the earbud out his ear and tucked both my phone and my journal back into my bag.  

"Aren't you going to show me the camera?" he said softly- rather cautiously, in fact.

"I'm not showing you anything else," I hissed.

Freddie sighed, "Oh, Evie, really-"

"I said I would show you how that thing works in my own time, but apparently my own time isn't worth the waiting for so you do it yourself.  And most of the time it's not so bad, but for God's sake, Freddie!"

"I didn't mean to embarrass you-"

"Oh, sure, that's why you decided you'd show me what juicy little items you discovered, something else to hold over my head as evidence against my goody-goody uptight character.  I hope you're glad you found it, I hope it proved what you wanted it to prove.  Good God."

Still fuming, I folded my arms and stared out the window.  Leave it to Freddie to push the envelope.  So much for my privacy about anything. 

Freddie shook his head.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a finger reach over and tap my knee.  Slowly I turned to face him again.  To my surprise, contrition filled his dark eyes.  It was so hard to be mad and look him in the eyes when that vulnerable glow lit them.

"Angel, I swear I didn't intend to upset you," he whispered.  "I don't know what that was.  You -you just caught me off guard and I acted rashly.  I'm sorry."

I sighed.  Already I felt a little mean for speaking so sharply to him, and now I wanted to apologize. Anyway, how is this any different from me scouring books and web pages for any and all sordid details about his private life?  Do I really have any right to get upset about this?  I'm just as guilty as he- perhaps even more so.

"I told you I'd show you when I was ready," I whispered.  "Can you at least attempt to be patient?"

Freddie began to say, "I have been very pat-"

"What?"

"Never mind.  Just please don't be angry with me.  We've had a wonderfully productive couple of days, and I don't want them to end in a fight."

"Productive?"

"Weren't they? Look at all we accomplished: we smuggled you into another country, we saw a ridiculous film-"

"I thought you enjoyed it!"

"Oh I did, but it was still ridiculous.  And uh, we almost died in a plane crash, we faked a marriage license, and tomorrow we are going to make Roger look very silly once he lays eyes on it."

I laughed, forgetting he'd shamelessly gone through some very private stuff.  "Don't forget, you also opened for Tom Jones- and had a fake Passport made."

"Oh yes," Freddie nodded with a little chuckle.  "My God.  You know, honestly, I don't know how we haven't been caught yet.  We keep, you know, just pushing it further and further."

"You're magic," I said simply.  "But we can't take advantage of karma just yet, anything can happen.  The hardest part is going to be not talking about it."

"Not for me," he replied.  "I keep secrets better than anyone."

"That, you do," I quipped.  "Mission Implausible.  Perhaps the greatest heist the world will never know."

"We know," Freddie corrected me.  "Me and you.  And Rudy of course.  And Sharon and the other ladies know about half the story.  And that's world enough."

"You think you'll ever tell Roger?"

"I don't know.  Probably not.  He's my friend, you know, and we've made friendly bets often enough, but I think he just went a little overboard on this one."

I stared at Freddie.  "He did?"

"Of course."

"Freddie, Roger probably doesn't even care-"

"But I do.  Are you going to show me that camera now?"

"Only if you show me what you were drawing."

"Done," he agreed.  "I was going to show you anyway.  Here."

Freddie shuffled the stack of loose papers together and passed them to me.  He then asked me my opinion, my honest opinion.

"What do you think of that one?" he said, pointing at a very short, sleeveless little one piece that looked tight even without a man inside it to prove how tight.

"It's so naughty," I murmured with a smile.

"That's the intent, my dear," Freddie simpered.  

"What color were you thinking?"

"I don't know.  I usually go for black or white with these things, but I might want to step beyond that, try something new.  It's just an idea.  It's the other one I really like.  The one underneath it."

I tucked the top drawing under the bottom and looked at the second one.  He explained, "Now, this one, I was thinking, again, with the colors and things, maybe a black and white kind of diamond pattern, or maybe some sort of multi-colored kind of motley, with red and green, I don't know for certain.  Kind of a court jester sort of look." Freddie shot me a sidelong glance.  "A harlequin, so to speak."

I nodded, then did a double take.  "Harlequin?" I whispered, pronouncing it correctly.

"By George, she's got it!" Freddie sang.

"No, no, seriously.  Did you- did you just think this up?"

Freddie blinked.  "Yes, while you were asleep."

"So," I said slowly, "you didn't have this in mind before?"

"Can you blame me?  All this talk about harlequins and Harley Quinns, it got me thinking."

I gaped at the picture.  My stomach was doing cartwheels.  This was a costume he wore at numerous concerts during the News of the World tour.  It was one of his most famous.  Surely he would have thought of this without me saying anything.  Surely I've had nothing to do with it.  That would be impossible. 

Freddie looked at my expression.  "You don't like it?"

"Oh, Freddie, don't be silly, it's brilliant," I managed.  "I love it."

"You don't sound like you love it."

"But I do.  What shoes would you wear with this, though?"

"Ballet slippers, of course."

"Of course," I laughed.  "All you're doing is proving his point, you know."

"Whose?"

"Sid Vicious."

"Oh, that little unwashed scamp?  Be serious.  I'm not proving his point, I'm proving mine.  Ballet for the masses and all that."

"Well, if that's your point, then good.  I think you'd look fabulous in it myself- drive everyone mad for you."

Freddie swept his hands in the air.  "But I already do."

"One second," I said.  I had to make sure of something; I pulled out my phone again and swiped right to my Music file- the general one, not the one Freddie had rummaged through. 

He looked over my shoulder as I did this.  "Hey, I didn't know you could do that."

"What?" I asked.

"This."  Freddie made the sideswipe motion with his finger.  "There's more that way?"

"Yes, and it's stuff you are not allowed to see," I said, lifting the small stack out of my lap, "so take these and give me one second and I'll show you the camera."

I sifted through the Music, expecting to see a change- any kind of change at all.  But nothing had.  The Queen songs were still there, all of them.  Nothing was out of place.  I checked the Gallery too.  I didn't have many pictures of him, as I relied on social media feeds for that.  But thoise that I did have downloaded were all there.  Everything was the same.

Maybe Robert Zemeckis was wrong.  Things never happen like they do in the films.  I got here without a flux compacitor, or whatever, and I wasn't moving 88 miles per hour.  The guy did Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for crying out loud.  He doesn't know everything. 

Maybe I've just gotten trapped in a parallel universe, or- maybe everything changes when I get back- if I get back.  That reminds me, I need to find a job-

"Are you here, dear?"  Freddie interrupted my thoughts.

"Oh, yes, sorry, I'm awake," I said quickly.  I tapped my way to the camera and showed him what to do. 

(And if you want to see the rest of this scene, let me know, and I might put together an outside piece extending this and the Magic Mirror sequence.  But only if you're interested.  Otherwise, we shall continue...)

*******************************************************************************************

The windows of the car were wide open, and Freddie had his hand stuck out the window.  I could only look on and smile. 

At the London airport he had made a phone call to Liza, a much longer one than those he'd made at JFK.  From what I could tell, Liza wasn't too happy at being ignored, and was making sure Freddie knew about it.  When he finally hung up the phone, he looked a little down, almost guilty.  This mood shift had carried through into Freddie's car and part of the way home.  It was a quarter past two already, yet it felt like it shouldn't have been any time past nine in the morning.

Time zones, jet lag, and Roger when he sings: these are a few of my least favorite things.  (I apologize, I just have The Sound of Music on the brain...)

"Oh, that's right, it's Sunday," Freddie remarked suddenly.  "Nice.  I don't have to be me till tomorrow."

There he goes again, with the cryptic little comments.

"Why wouldn't you want to be you?" I asked casually.  "You seem nice enough."

Freddie looked into my eyes.  "Would you want to be me?"

"That's different."

"No, darling, it really isn't."

"I don't really think about it like that.  I'm content to be myself."

"Mm.  Must be nice."

"Now what's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know.  I just feel a little odd at the moment."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"It's really nothing- nothing new, that is."

"Liza?"

"It's in that, um- it's in that area.  I'm all right, genuinely.  He'll get over it."

"Liza's a he?"

Freddie's eyes widened a bit, as thought he realized he'd just given too much away.  But  immediately after his face relaxed again.  "Uh, yeah.  Liza's a man."

I wasn't surprised to hear that.  But something in his voice kept me from asking any more questions.  Freddie and his moods- they were enough to make a girl go grey.  I just wanted him to feel better, but I didn't quite know how to go about it.

I was sitting next to the most complicated man who ever lived.  Even now, he was such a mystery.  Was that his charm- this cloud of enigma he chose to cast over himself?  That distance I was learning to hate- was that the appeal?  Or was it merely a defense mechanism, protection against the pain of heartbreak?  All the days I'd spent with him, and I was still no closer to finding the answer.

I looked at him, studying his face, and murmured, "I wonder."

"Wonder what?"

"I wonder what really goes on in that clever brain- what thoughts fly back and forth behind those beautiful eyes of yours."

Freddie blushed -he actually blushed- and looked down, grinning shyly.  A moment later he glanced back up.

"Why don't you ask me what I'm thinking?" he whispered, leaning in.

My brow arched.  "Will you tell me?"

"All you have to do is ask."

"Maybe I will- later," I whispered, "when we're alone."

"Tonight?" he purred.

"Maybe."

"Yes or no.  There is no maybe."  As I opened my mouth he added, "There's no no, either."

I smiled.  What a silly man.  "Then I guess, yes."

It was at that moment that Rudy, in a fit of uncharacteristic impishness, turned up the radio at full blast.  Electric Light Orchestra's "Do Ya" had just started- a fairly new song at the time.  Apparently Rudy didn't have to be the stalwart cone of silence till Monday either.  Our eardrums practically burst with the overdriven guitars.

But instead of getting miffed, Freddie laughed, "Oh, keep it there, darling, we're not home yet!"

And for four more sweet minutes, we were two of seven international con artists taking on Las Vegas with the help of Tom Jones and a stoner chauffeur.  Freddie and I sang at the top of our lungs, trading song lines, and generally just being obnoxious. 

Even after the song had ended, Freddie was still talking music industry language, already getting back in the swing of work.  "You know, they wouldn't be anything as big as they are if it wasn't for their producer, that guy's a genius.  What's his name again?"

"How should I know?"

"Oh, yes, that's right, you are the rock and roll ignoramus."

I pushed him playfully, and he pushed back, and we were still gently tussling when we pulled up to his Kensington flat.  Rudy grabbed our suitcase and we piled out of the car, feeling tired but happy.  What a wonderful friend to have.  Crazy, and volatile- but completely marvelous.

"I," I announced, "am going to have a nap and then, I'm going to church, there has to be some kind of Mass or service happening somewhere, and I'm going to go job-hunting.  See who's hiring.  And then I'm going back to sleep.  What are you going to do?"

Freddie smirked.  "You, if you'll let me."

I rolled my eyes.  "Geez.  I walked into that one, didn't I?"

We were about to stroll in when Freddie abruptly put the star-shaped glasses back on and slapped my hand as it reached to poke the key into the lock.

"Darling, you just got married," Freddie scolded me. 

I blinked.  "So you slapped my hand?"

"So, someone needs to carry you over the threshold."

I smiled and put my arms out to Rudy.  "Come on, then, I don't weigh much."

"Not Rudy!" Freddie exclaimed.  "You didn't marry him!"

"I didn't marry you, either," I declared.  "So, since that elusive Mark is not here, and I am exclusively in the company of good friends, I will only accept a piggy back ride."

Freddie then proceeded to open the door and let it swing open.  He turned his back to me and leaned forward.  "All right, angel.  All aboard."

So I jumped onto his back.  "Oof!  Right, let's go.  One, two, three!"  And with that, Freddie marched into the flat with me latched on from behind, his hands under my knees, keeping us steady.  Rudy followed.

Oscar sat up on the sofa and saw us.  Immediately, like a little green-eyed lapdog, he hopped down and strolled right underfoot.  Tiffany and Tom were right behind.  They loved their daddy so much.  This would have been sweet and cute, except all three of them were trying to rub against his legs at once, and he was already top-heavy.  Freddie lost his balance.

Freddie cried out, and we toppled to the floor, me still on top of his back.  The cats got up in our faces, circled us as if to make sure we were okay.  And we were.  I'd never laughed so hard in my life.

"Oh," I sighed at last, "it's good to be home."

Freddie's chuckles calmed down a bit, and he looked up at me.  "Home, eh?"

"Well, I mean, temporary home, of course."

He smiled, and looked about to say something. 

But then a shadow fell over us- in the shape of a woman.

I was first to look, and my heart fluttered.  Oh no. 

Freddie followed my gaze.  His face stiffened, eyes growing wide.

Mary simply stood there.  She didn't say a word. 

This looked so bad, and seemed to get worse with every second.

So I acted as quickly as possible.

I swept to my feet, rolling off of Freddie's back.  "Hi, Mary." 

Freddie slowly sat up, still staring at her.  "Hello."

She smiled the most fake, painful smile I'd ever seen.  "Did you have a good time?"

I answered for him.  "Yeah, it was fine, now I'm going to leave, let you guys talk or whatever it is you do, I have to go, uh- job-hunting, yes."

Mary began, "No, don't go on my-"

"Oh yes, Freddie's been dying to see you this whole time, I don't intend to be the third wheel," I said, "so I'll see you later, guys, bye-bye."

Freddie was watching me, though, as I plowed through the door.  My heart was beating so fast, louder than the door as it crashed closed behind me. 

And as I hailed myself a taxi and began my quest, the thoughts flew like wildfire: Crap, crap, crap, CRAP!  Mary, you have the most frustrating timing!  Can we just walk in and not have to deal with a jealous ex-girlfriend?  I saw it!  She feels threatened by me!  She doesn't feel threatened by the guys, because they're guys- but ME?  She can't stand me, I can see it!  I could see her eyes this time.  They were hurt!  They were shocked!  They were sad!  She hasn't one thing to worry about!  Freddie trusts in her more than he'll ever trust in me.  She knows him.  I don't!  He loves her, he always will!  What the freak is she so worried about?

And even to my blindsided mind, I could hear it, the tone in my internal voice. 

Maybe Mary wasn't the only jealous one.

This was getting a little scary.  And there was no way he could ever know.  I made up my mind.  Maybe getting closer wasn't such a good idea after all.  I'd fix this.

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Tube doors opened.  "High Street, Kensington," announced a stuffy, recorded voice.

Here was my stop.  Heavily I picked myself up off the seat, squeezing between the people holding onto the straps overhead.  "Stand clear of the door," said the same voice, and the doors slid shut behind me. 

The station was rather trashed, and reminded me of the New York subway minus the homeless fellows banging on cardboard boxes.  I rushed up to street level, but not before I inspected the random posters taped on the white tile walls, looking for job advertisements.

Getting a job here in Great Britain was going to be harder than I realized.  Living in Texas, I had never had to deal with something that, in the seventies, absolutely ruled the UK: the unions.  I hoped I could talk to Freddie about it tonight, see if he knew how one could join them- or, more ideally, get around them.  I didn't feel like spending any more money, so I decided I would trek my way from the Tube station to Freddie's flat on foot.  I was tired, but not that tired.  Surely it wouldn't be that far.

An hour and a half later I rounded the final corner.  I was literally dragging my feet, worn out, the sleep I'd enjoyed on the plane still far from sufficient to refresh me after the breakneck pace of the last two and a half days. 

I hoped I wouldn't be crashing a little soiree between Freddie and any of his given friends.  Seeing Mary had somehow sucked all the Vegas buoyancy right out of me.  She was another reminder that Freddie was not mine to keep, nor would he ever be.  Had "Liza," or David, been our greeter, I would have felt about the same, but with a little sadness dusted around the edges instead of jealousy.  It wouldn't have been a nicer feeling that I had now, but it wouldn't have been worse. 

I didn't want to be jealous.  I knew better than to be jealous, especially considering what I had known for years.  That is, Freddie belonged to no one.  Maintaining his "freedom" was far too important, especially at this point in his life. 

Far be it from me to wedge myself between anyone and my pr- I mean, THE prince. 

Unlike in Vegas, where I could afford to be the wild child right along with his pals, once again I likely would take on the role of his mute pet.  I had to respect Freddie's busy Queen world, and all the drama and craziness that came with it.  At least, until I knew where I was going with my life.  As much fun as I was having, I didn't like that I still was, in actual fact, completely dependent on Freddie.

I unlocked the front door and walked in to see the lights dim and the cats all snoozing on the sofa.  Listlessly I stroked Oscar's fur as I passed, ignoring how his back arched up against my palm- something that usually delighted me.

Except for the cats, the flat was empty- and I was sick to death of my maroon dress.  I fed my feline friends their dinner, and with one last burst of energy I dragged myself into the bathroom to clean up. 

I still wore my tracker faithfully, no matter what.  But now, for the first time since I slung it round my neck ten days ago, I took it off.  Absently I rubbed the round spot between my collar bones, where it had spent so much time.  I suppose a small part of me still had fingers crossed and hopes high that a miracle would happen, and the Relic would fall back into my grasp.

Now, if Dr. K and his superteam had been smart, he would have put the tracker in a needle, inserted it into my arm or something- and used a Bluetooth earpiece instead of a Nokia.  Oh, well.  This was after all T-Rod's maiden voyage.  Original versions are never as sophisticated as their successors. 

With a resigned little shrug I cleaned up, put on some pajamas, then curled up on top of the bed.  I quietly threaded my tracker between my fingers.  I thought again of my family, wondered what they would do if it was indeed my fate to never return home.  The world at large wouldn't mind- I cast a small shadow upon the earth, even for a lightning rod - but there were many people I loved whom I might never see again. 

Strange, I wasn't as broken up about it as I could have been.  I loved my family.  And I missed my small circle of friends from school and work.  But I had been here ten whole days; by now I should have had some kind of meltdown.  Curious.  The man who was trying so hard to unravel me, was at the same time keeping me together. 

God, hope, and Freddie.  My three pillars of strength.

Just the thought of Freddie made me smile.  He wasn't mine, I wasn't his.  And I could still very well be on borrowed time.  But I was glad to know him as well as I did. 

Glad.  What a weak word.  Blessed is closer. 

In my first complete, utter silence since the day of the Heatwave, I felt myself drift away.  And asleep I stayed for about two hours, but I must not have slipped too deeply into unconsciousness.  My eyes opened to the sound of heaven floating softly from below.

I sat up, listened closer. Someone was at Freddie's piano.  Still clutching my tracker, I rose, walked into the hall and down the stairs a way.  When I saw him, for some reason it felt as though my heart literally lifted a bit in my chest.  Freddie was home at last.

He had his back to me, lost in the music.  It wasn't a rock song he was playing; perhaps he had been practicing them before I woke up, but certainly not now.  Instead, it was a classical piece, the second movement from Beethoven's Pathetique sonata.  If you've never heard it, I implore you to fix that right away.  Even if you don't like classical music, Freddie did, so do it for Freddie.

I thought it odd, that he was sitting there alone.  Where were his friends?  Why wasn't he out with Liza, Minsy, Straker, or whoever the heck he preferred to hobnob with on Sundays?  Surely he'd seen enough of me this weekend. 

Then again, Freddie did say he wanted to talk- or at least for me to "ask what he was thinking."  I wondered what I was in for, but one thing was for certain.  I couldn't let him sway me again. I would treat him as a good friend while suppressing the obvious attraction.  There were too many other people in his world who saw me as a threat, from Mary down to Paul.  I could not be that threat. 

But what beautiful music he made.  I stood there, entranced, watching him play, every note vibrating gently across my spine. 

Freddie played one sour chord.  "F---," he cried, breaking the spell.

I began to laugh, then caught myself.  But he had heard me.  He whirled around on the bench, saw me standing halfway up the staircase.  I waved shyly.

Freddie's lips curled in a smile so warm I could feel it from where I stood more than twenty feet away.  "What's new, pussycat?"

I smiled back, hoping my eyes didn't look too soft.  "Hello." 

"Have you been here this whole time?"

"Certainly since before you got back.  I was asleep."

"I had no idea.  You just blow in and out of here without a sound."

Freddie waved his hand, gesturing for me to walk on over.  So I came closer, and stayed standing.  He went back to playing piano for a little while.  

"Beethoven, huh?" I said.

"I'm a little rusty, as you can probably tell," Freddie murmured. "Haven't played that since boarding school." 

My eyebrows rose.  "You went to boarding school?"  

He nodded.  "In India.  Went there for ten years.  Didn't I tell you?"

"No."  So he's talking about it now?  Interesting.  He held back about the place in Panchgani before.  

"That's where I learned to play- what little I can play-"

"Oh, would you stop, you're such a talent and you know it."

Freddie leaned his head back against me and closed his eyes: a silent thank-you.  But he didn't say much else about it, and I didn't want to press.  Freddie struck a few idle chords that followed the same progression as the Beethoven piece, but screwed up again.  As if to erase the mistake, his hands flowed over the keys in a cascading, chromatic waterfall, letting the sound ring a moment or two before setting to practicing songs for the new album.  He hummed quietly to himself- what song, I couldn't quite decipher.

I cleared my throat.  "So how was Mary?" I asked cheerfully.

His back stiffened, and he took his hands off the ivories.  "She's fine."

"That's good.  What'd you guys do after I left?"

"We talked, had tea, that's about all."  Freddie turned to face me.  "Darling, you really didn't have to run off like that."

"I wanted to give you guys some alone time.  You hadn't seen her in days!" I crooned.

"It wasn't necessary."

"I thought it was.  Imagine what she might have thought, the two of us sprawled on the floor together like that!"

"Yes," Freddie murmured.  "Imagine."

I continued, ignoring his tone.  "Did you go see Liza?"

Freddie's eyes narrowed.  "What?"

"Liza!  Did you go see him?"

"For a - for a while."  He was sounding more and more uncomfortable.

"I bet you were glad to see him.  I know Liza was dying to see you, that's how it sounded on the phone. My goodness, Freddie, how do you keep up wi-"

"Okay, two things," Freddie interrupted.  His voice was cutting.  "First, stop calling him Liza.  It sounds so f---ing queer when you say it."

"Then what is his real name?"

"It's... It's Joe.  Okay?  His name is Joe."

I processed the information with the efficiency of a computer: Joe. I only know one Freddie-related Joe.  That's Joe Fanelli. Fanelli rhymes with Minnelli. Freddie loves Liza Minnelli. Liza Fanelli. Liza is Joe Fanelli. Of course he is.

Freddie went on, "Two, I'd rather not talk about my day, it was altogether mundane, I didn't come home tonight to talk to you about Mary and Joe.  All right?"

Ah, yes, things are indeed back to normal, I quipped to myself.  To Freddie I nodded, saying, "Okay, so what did you come home to talk about?"

"I want to know where you ran off to," he said quietly. 

"I told you, I did all the things I said I was going to do.  I job searched, then got churched."

Freddie's face seemed to relax; he let himself smile a little.  "Did you confess your sins properly?"

"I'm not Catholic, but I think I did okay," I nodded.  "I still haven't said my three Hail Marys yet.  Will you help me with that later?"

"I'll do anything you ask," he purred, and kissed the hand resting on his shoulder before noticing the tracker wound between its fingers.

His brows furrowed. "Why do you still even have that thing, dear?"

"Just in case," I shrugged.  "It makes a great rosary too."

"But it's gone, isn't it? The Relic?" Freddie said.

"Anything can happen," I replied. "Never say never."

"Mm."  He began playing the piano part of "We Are the Champions."  "So did you find anything?  A job, I mean."

"There were a few openings, but they were all union jobs."

"Ugh, dreadful things.  Trade jobs, huh?"

"Yep.  How do I get into a union?"

"It'd take more than a Passport."

"That's what I thought."  I sighed.  "Maybe I could wait until a place opens up at Kensington Market.  That's what you did."

"You could," Freddie said doubtfully, and looked up at me.  "But darling, you really don't have to bother with any of this, you know."

"That's true," I said.  "I can still go join a convent."

"Again, you could- though I'd hate to see a girl like you go to waste."

"Go to waste?"

Freddie rolled his eyes.  "Don't you know what they'd do to you?  First they'd make you cut off all your hair.  And then they'd put you in a little dark room with an ugly black habit and a Bible and, uh, some rosary beads, and tell you to be happy with the nothing you have.  Say goodbye to life altogether."

"At least I'll have a purpose.  Everybody needs one."

"Am I not purpose enough?"

"What does that mean?"

Freddie huffed.  "Nothing.  Never mind."

"Besides, life as a nun isn't that cloistered.  Nuns can have fun, too.  They go out and do all sorts of things.  They have to get those pictures for the calendars and the greeting cards somewhere."

"You weren't meant to be a nun," Freddie muttered.  "You don't have the body for it."

I shot Freddie a downward glance.  "Say what?"

But he didn't explain.  Instead, Freddie rose from the piano bench and stood before me.  He took my hands in his.  His behavior startled me.  This was different from yesterday morning, somehow I could tell; this wasn't about sex.  He stared deep into my eyes a moment as I tried not to blush, the black diamonds searching for some nameless emotion.  What's gotten into you, Freddie?

"There's something we need to discuss," he whispered.

"We do?" I asked, my voice involuntarily small.

"Come on," he said, nodding his head.  "Up on the balcony."

"The balcony?"

Freddie didn't reply.  He simply took my hand and led me toward the stairs.

"Can I fix you anything to eat first?" I asked.  "If you didn't have dinner already, I could throw something together for you real quick-"

"No thank you, I had dinner with Joe tonight."

Right.  So you ate at Joe's.  I stifled a nervous laugh, which instead came out as a snort. 

Freddie whirled on me, and for a moment I thought he would slap my face.  "You're not taking me very seriously tonight, are you?"

"Yes, I am," I answered.  "You're just being so touchy.  Could you stand to relax just a little?"

"I'm fine, now come on, upstairs," he commanded.

So to the balcony we marched.  Just before we did, Freddie took the phone off the hook, and dead-bolted the front door.

"What are you doing?" I asked. 

"There'll be no interruptions tonight," he declared.  "Remind me later, darling, I need to call John."

"What's going on with John?"

"Apparently he called on Friday, had some big news or something.  Ought to find out what's so important.  That's all."  His mouth twitched anxiously.

"Oh," I said. "By the way, I think Jeff Lynne produced it."

"What?"

"I went into a record shop for a few minutes today.  Saw a 45 of 'Do Ya.'  Jeff Lynne produced the album that has 'Do Ya' on it."

"So?"

"So the guy you said that ELO wouldn't be anywhere without- is the guy who heads ELO."

Freddie blinked.  "I knew that."

"Riiiight."

Freddie laughed.  Music made him feel better, even when it regarded his competition.  "I really didn't mean they wouldn't be anything, I was just being flip.  He's an incredibly talented chap.  We used to be a bit jealous of them, you know, when we were just starting out- well, I was, anyway- I suppose that was a bit of leftover green showing through.  ELO and Led Zeppelin. Those two especially."

"Now, the engineer, though," I said, "is a guy named Mack."

"Well, of course.  Engineer is actually what I meant to say-"

"Oh, good grief," I smiled. By now we were out under the overcast night sky- it had been cloudy all day, the weather seeming to remember finally that this was Great Britain, whose climate isn't all that different from wet and rainy Seattle.  Despite the jokes, I could see Freddie was on pins and needles.  Whatever he had to say must have been important.

Freddie saw me giving him a good hard stare.  "What?" he asked.

I shook my head.  "I'm just trying to reconcile this person with the guy I saw on stage yesterday," I explained.

He shrugged.  "It's just me."

"Yes, but which you?"

 Freddie didn't answer me, went straight into it.  "Darling, what would you do if - um... the Relic happened to show back up?"

"What would I do?"

"Yes."

What kind of question is that?  I'd leave, of course!  But to my surprise, that wasn't the answer to fly from my lips.  Something in his eyes made me instead say, "I... Why do you ask?"

"I want to know."

"It doesn't matter what I would do, I can't do it," I said evasively.  "It's gone."

"Yes, but if you were to, uh- be given that second chance," Freddie persisted.  "Doesn't even matter if it involves the Relic, if you could go back, would you?"

"Well, I mean- uh-" I spluttered.  "I mean, Freddie, I couldn't stay with you anyway-"

"Why not?" he demanded.

I stared at him, unable to believe my ears.  "What are you saying?"

Freddie drummed his fingers against the rail, and attempted to explain.  All he did was confuse me further.  "I- I mean you wouldn't have to go find work somewhere, I could take care of you.  You could stay with me.  I wouldn't mind.  Not at all."

My throat suddenly felt very dry, as crazy thoughts burned in my head.  Control, I told myself.  Control.  In my head I repeated the list of names like a mantra.  

"You're welcome to stay," he whispered, his voice growing gentle again.  Freddie took my hand, the one which still wore the wedding ring, and squeezed it tightly in both of his. Too late I realized I'd made a foolish choice in choosing my short pink nightgown to wear to bed.

"For how much longer?" I heard myself ask.

He took a step closer.  "As long as you like."

That hypnotic, smooth voice was sliding through the cracks in my concentration, his dark eyes melting my resolve.  I couldn't help being attracted to him, but I indeed had the power to resist.  Why did he have to make it so hard?  I put my other hand on his shoulder, intending to push away, but my muscles couldn't find the strength.  

Freddie let go of my hand to put his arm slowly around me.  "What do you say?  Do you think your Boss would mind too much if I kept you?"

I swallowed, looked down.  "That's a very- very, very sweet offer-"

"Not sweet," he murmured, pressing his forehead against mine.  His other arm slipped around my waist.  "It's selfish."

"Selfish?"

"Naturally."  He kissed my cheek.  "I'm only thinking of how happy you make me- and how wonderful things are in my life whenever I'm close to you."

My head began to spin.  I opened my mouth to speak, but no words would come out. And even if they had, they wouldn't have gone far. 

"Do I," he whispered, "make you happy?"

My eyes wide and uncertain, all I could do was nod.

"Would you want to stay?"

"I don't know," I squeaked.

His eyes sparkled dangerously.  "Here.  Let me help you decide."

Freddie's lips found my own again and kissed them. Why did he have to be so much stronger than me? Why did he have to be so desirable?

He pressed me up against the terrace door- not as violently as yesterday morning, but with definite purpose.  "Forty-three," he whispered.  "You're above average."

"Now what?" I managed.

Freddie's eyes glowed even in the dark.  "Now, I catch you up on everything else."

Oh, God.  I should have known by now. "There'll be no interruptions tonight," he'd said. The butterflies returned, flying in frenzied little circles.  Frantically I tried to repeat the names in my head.  Mary.  Joe.  David.  And these are just the current people.  I could dip into the eighties and spend all night ticking them off.  Mary.  Joe.  David.  Mary. Joe. David.

But it was no use.  He kissed me again, fingering one of the thin straps that held my nightgown in place.  I felt his hand slide both the straps off my shoulders. Control, I told myself again- but in a much, much weaker voice. He started gently nuzzling his nose into my neck. 

I bit my lip.  What are you doing?  Freddie, please!

"Put your arms around me," he growled. I was astonished to see how quickly I obeyed him.  My arms went around him and pulled him close. 

Is this all he wants me to stay for?  So he can sleep with me as much as he wants before he gets tired of me?  At last it occurred to me.  I wanted to push him off me right then and there, but I didn't.

I murmured, "I can't think straight."

"That's good," he whispered.  "You're not supposed to think at all."

"Freddie, please-"

"What are you afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid-"

"Then shut up and enjoy yourself."

I had lied just now. Truth be told, I was scared to death. God, send me a miracle. Make Peter Straker climb up the wall or something, I'm in trouble here.  Real trouble.

He wouldn't give me a chance.  If it had been anything close innocent before, it stopped being innocent soon enough.  Freddie put his hand under my thigh and held my leg up against his hip while he leaned his body even further into mine, pressed so close in I could feel the change happening. 

"Your legs are so long," he muttered before leaning in and kissing me with those full, intoxicating lips- then opening his mouth for a more passionate, more lustful caress.  My brain felt like soup.  His hand slid across my thigh and up into my short skirt.  I gasped, which made Freddie chuckle a little.  He was probably thinking, "Oh, you silly little virgin, you think that's good, I'm just getting started."

This was going way too fast for me.  It wasn't right, it didn't feel right.  On reflex I reached down to pull his hand off my bottom, using the hand which still had the tracker wrapped around it.  My eyes opened just a little- not much, for Freddie's kisses were not things you could just snap yourself out of.  I wrapped my hand around his arm, noting the strange, soft red aura that now circled the tracker pendant, and started to-

My heart nearly stopped. 

My eyes.  They had to be playing tricks.

Oh, my God.

"Freddie," I hissed. 

With an annoyed moan Freddie answered.  "Mmm... What?"

"...Look."

I held up my hand.  Freddie and I looked.

It was the tracker.  For a solid week, the light inside had been dark and dead.  The Relic, its source of power, had not been there to keep the bulb burning.  Was it distance?  Was it broken?  Was it both, that had kept this thing a symbol of hopelessness?  Who knew.

But it was glowing now.  Glowing crimson red.

"Oh, my God," I whispered.  "OH MY GOD!"

"Oh," was all Freddie said.  He let go.

And I broke away from him, danced wildly into the bedroom. Freddie followed me and simply watched, his breathing calming down again.

I couldn't contain my joy.  "YES YES YES!  Do you know what this means?  It means it's close!  It means it's close by, really close by, and it's working!  There's still a chance!  It's not over yet!  WOO-HOO!"

"It's working," Freddie repeated.

"And if I can find it, somehow, somewhere- oh!  How wonderful!  That means I can go, and I can stop bothering you and your friends, and I can move on with my life and you with yours and we can pretend this whole thing never happened!  It's a miracle, I tell you!  A frickin' miracle!  Thank God!"

I jumped around and whooped for another few seconds, lost in my euphoria, until I realized I was celebrating alone.  I turned to see Freddie standing there in the shadows, completely unexcited.

"Well?" I demanded.  "Say something!"

Freddie walked in and turned on the lamp on the nightstand.  Now I could see his face.  He wasn't even smiling.  I marched up close to him, confused.  Certainly he ought to be excited for my sake!

"Aren't you happy for me?" I coaxed.

"Happy?" Freddie said again.  "Oh, yes.  I'm very happy for you.  I'm so, so happy.  I'm so happy I can't control myself." 

I blinked.  His expression disturbed me.  "Are you okay?"

"Of course I'm okay, I just told you happy I am.  I'm ecstatic.  I'm invigorated.  I'm bouncing off the f---ing walls.  Can't you tell?"

I folded my arms.  "There's no need to be sarcastic."

His voice sharpened, and rose in volume as he answered, "Who's being sarcastic?  I mean every word.  I mean, I can't fully express to you the warm, fuzzy feeling it puts in my heart to see how mad you are to get away from me.  I'm glad you hate me so much.  It really makes me feel wonderful, I tell you."

"What?  No!  Freddie- look, I am so grateful to you for putting up with me, and for doing so much, I wish there was a way to pay you back for everything-"

"Pay me back, my God," Freddie scoffed, walking out of the bedroom and into the hall.

"I wish I could!" I said, following him out.  How could I have been so blind, oh, I was so stupid that night, especially here.  "And anyway, it's only a chance, it's not like the Relic's back in my hand, it's just a better chance than I had before-"

"And apparently that's enough to get you all hot and bothered."  He mimicked, "Oh, hurray, hurray, my chances of leaving just got five percent higher, that's so great, that's five more percent I don't have to spend more with that motherf----r!"

"Freddie, now you're just being ridiculous," I snapped.  "What about your friends?  They wouldn't be too happy if I stuck around."

But this happened to be the wrong thing to say.  His fist slammed down on the stairway railing, his face hard. 

He shouted, "You know, it completely amazes me, how much more respect you have for the people around me, than you have for me.  You care more about what they think, how they feel, but me?  F--- the way I feel.  F--- what I think.  And f--- what I want."

And then, in the heat of the moment, I said it.

"I know what you want.  All you want to do is f--- me.  That's all you want from anyone."

All the air sucked out of the room.  I expected Freddie to fly into a rage at that, but he didn't.  He just stood there at the top of the stairs, eyes wide with shock.  The hurt was written plainly on his contorted, angry face.  His silence terrified me.

He put his hands on his hips, and nodded.  "Well.  The truth comes out at last."

I waved my hands, my voice shaking, "Freddie, I didn't mean that-"

"Oh, darling, yes, you did.  You meant it with every fiber of your being."  His voice was flat.

My lips were dry, I could think of nothing to say.  Because he was right.  In that instant, I had meant it.  Freddie brushed past me, walking down the stairs toward the front door.  He moved stiffly.  I followed him.

My heart pounded.  "Freddie, I'm sorry-"

He turned, his eyes frosty with pain and anger. 

"No, you're not.  Sorry is a feeling.  And you don't feel.  Anything."

And he walked out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

I was alone with the cats again.  The tracker glowed with life and promise.  I had a better chance than ever before.  All I needed to do was keep my eyes open.  It could be anywhere.

But I wasn't thinking about the Relic anymore.  I wasn't thinking at all.  I could only picture his expression, burned into the back of my eyelids.  I'd never seen such pain.  My words had cut into him, my friend.  I had hurt him, made him angry, my dear volatile friend.  I wanted to die.

I carried myself over to the sofa, sat down, but the tears, strangely, wouldn't come.

Perhaps they were saving up for later.  That's the only explanation I can fathom.  And not much later, either... Just waiting for another day to pass...

 

 

Chapter Text

I was lost in a troubled sleep when Freddie came back, so I wasn't awake to see what kind of state he was in, or even to find out where he had gone in the first place.  Not that he would tell me. 

That night I was thrust back into the same recurring dream, but this version drastically differed from its predecessors.  The first half, I knew to expect, with Freddie leading me, then pulling me down, putting his hands all over my naked body, earthquake, et cetera, et cetera.  As before, Freddie hung suspended in mid-air, hanging over the rift, hand still extended to me, still smiling, still inviting me to fall with him.  And the Relic, too, awaited my choice- but now it was well within reach.  All I had to do was raise my hand up and grab it.  Had this been the dream a week ago, the choice would have been made in a split second.  But even now, I couldn't make up my mind.

Then I heard a "Psst!"

I turned toward the source of the sound.  Freddie was looking straight at me, the fingers of his outstretched hand twitching with impatience. 

"Are you going to choose or what?" he hissed playfully.  "I can't just hang around all day, you know, I have a fall to take."

I blinked.  "So you're talking to me now?"

He shrugged.  "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because you're mad at me."

Freddie cocked his head.  "Why would I be mad?"

"Because I wasn't very nice to you."

Freddie shook his head.  "I don't think that's it."

"How do you know?  You're not real, you're a dream."

"I'm a figment of your subconscious," Freddie said mysteriously.  "I know much more than you realize."

"But the real Freddie is mad at me."

Freddie shook his head again, this time with a roll of his eyes.  "Oh, you pretty little idiot.  He's not angry, he's hurt."

"Okay, I stand corrected.  I'm sorry I told him the truth, and I already apologized to him, but he won't acc-"

"That's not why he's hurt," Freddie whispered.  "That's not the whole reason, anyway."

"What are you saying?"

"Darling, you're so clever most of the time, why do you have to keep being so stupid about this?"

"I don't like your tone."

"What are you afraid of?"

"Nothing!"

"If that's true, you should already have made your choice by now."

Before I could respond, someone pressed "Play" on the dream remote control, and Freddie and the Relic both plunged into the gaping canyon.  Screaming "No!" I ran to the edge to watch them fall-

But then my Android's alarm went off at eight a.m., and my eyes opened to reality.  Memories of this dream faded faster than those of the previous- but maybe that was because of the music I had set as my alarm.  The "Seinfeld Theme" is indeed one very distracting little song. 

(And selecting this tune happened to be perhaps the biggest mistake I could have made.  While it's a very bouncy, unconcerned little tune, it also seems to be associated with extreme bad luck, I've noticed.  This is not to say that what happened this eleventh day is a direct result of a peppy bass synth track- but today would soon become the worst twenty-four hours of my life, and I had never awakened to the Seinfeld Theme before.  Let's just say it kind of set the tone.  So, Jerry Seinfeld, what happened to me that day is partially your fault- not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Trying not to read too much into the latest installment, I rose from bed and drew my robe around me.  Freddie's bedroom door was closed, so he hadn't spent the night anywhere.  I just couldn't understand why he kept going to bed alone.  I hoped it wasn't because of me. 

I almost knocked on his door to apologize again, but I thought better of it.  Something told me I was in for the silent treatment, which was much worse than a spontaneous fit of fury.  So I left him alone, let him do what he was doing.  I popped my contacts in and rushed downstairs to start some tea and breakfast.

It was about half an hour later that a clean-shaven Freddie descended, dressed in a yellow and white polo shirt and jeans, and entered the kitchen.  He had shed every last vestige of my traveling friend, and he was once again one hundred percent Freddie Mercury.  Thank God, the tea was ready by then.

"Good morning," I ventured.

I received no response whatsoever, not even a passing glance.  He just walked in and poured himself a cup of tea.  The energy which naturally emanated from him was frightfully cold and remote.  I felt little thorns pricking my heart.  Freddie, I am so sorry...

But I forced myself to shrug and fixed myself a cup as well.  I said one last thing, "Would you like some breakfast?"

Freddie was halfway through draining his very hot cup of tea when I asked this.  Rudy was already there at the door; I heard him knock.  Freddie finished his tea quickly, perhaps burning his tongue in the process (NFO: High tolerance for pain), placed the fine china into the sink, and walked out the front door.

Without one word.

All of a sudden, I was angry.  How could I possibly explain myself and beg his forgiveness if he didn't have at least the decency to hear me out?  I forgave him so much, and so quickly, compared to this.  But he couldn't do me the same courtesy?

I slammed the egg spatula against the counter and shouted, "Well, f--- you, then!"

It was a little disturbing, how free I was becoming with a word I once considered the ultimate taboo.  But I was feeling it then, and it was somehow therapeutic to say, so I said it again, just as loudly.  "F--- YOU, FREDDIE!"

Suddenly I heard the front door close again, and I heard footsteps.  Coming back toward the kitchen.  And the cats didn't wear shoes that thumped against carpeting.  My stomach writhed.  Freddie walked back into view.  I swallowed.

Crap.

As if nothing had happened, he marched to the counter, and grabbed the star-shaped glasses that lay waiting there.  He fitted them over his eyes, then looked right at me.  I lifted my chin defiantly and folded my arms.  I could swear I saw the corners of his mouth twitch.

In a soft, chilly voice, he replied, "No, no, Eve.  F--- you."

Then for the second time Freddie glided out, the door shutting much harder this time around.  Even when he was angry, perhaps even still hurt, he couldn't bear to let me have the last word.  Good grief. 

Having cussed my way out of rage,  I remembered the reason he was acting this way.  I had looked at it in the bathroom as I put my contacts in this morning.  It was a triune creature, a being with three names which I knew by heart: Me, Myself, and I.  Not to mention that I had, in effect, said "F--- you" to his face only hours after telling him what I had been thinking all along. The hole in which I was standing only seemed to deepen.  At least it had sort of killed the silent treatment.

Pangs of guilt hit me as I thought on last night.  I never intended to hurt Freddie.  It hadn't been a nice thing to say, under any circumstances.  But my delivery could not have been more clinical.  I hadn't raised my voice, I hadn't been overtly snippy in tone.  I had merely stated it, as though I was reading off the latest weather report.  But it had affected Freddie so deeply.  Why?  He knew it was true.  As recently as two days ago I had called him a sex fiend, no less.  And he laughed!  What was the issue now?

Oscar sidled up to me and mewed, slinking in between my legs.  I smiled sadly and picked him up, ruffling his bright fur.  "Oh, who knows," I said aloud, and punctuated this with a sneeze.

The kitties were hungry for breakfast; Tom and Tiff padded into the kitchen and looked up expectantly at me.

"Your daddy's crazy, did you know that?" I told them.

Oscar's eyes closed, and he purred happily as I scratched behind his ears.  Yes, he knew that, but he still loved him, like the others did.  Why wouldn't they?  Freddie was a kindred spirit, more feline than human in many ways.  But when he was human... when he was vulnerable... there was no one more beautiful than he.

As much as I tried to stop thinking about last night, I couldn't.  I could not disregard that raw emotion in his eyes.  No boy, no man, had ever looked at me that way before.  There was more going on here than I was willing to concede.  I knew how I felt, but I could not accept the idea that Freddie might have those same feelings for me- and more.  To do that would invite far too much trouble.  And I'd caused enough trouble in one man's life without even going out of my way to bring it about.

Besides, I said to myself, I'm not his type.  I'm far too provincial. And I'm a girl.  And I'm not Mary.  Three big points against me.  There's no way.

The red light on my chest gave me hope.  And any hope at all, I greatly appreciated.  God willing, Freddie wouldn't have to deal with me for much longer- and I wouldn't have to overstay my welcome. 

After eating breakfast, then giving the cats theirs, I hustled upstairs to dress.  The dinner party was tomorrow, and so far, I was cooking.  Unless of course, Freddie changed his mind and enlisted Joe's help instead, as Joe was indeed an accomplished chef.  In the meantime, I was still on K.P. and buying the supplies was my responsibility.  The list of food and whatnot was scrawled in my journal; I pulled it out.

I opened the journal too quickly, and the two loose pages inside fluttered to the floor: the new lyrics for "My Melancholy Blues," and our marr- I beg your pardon.  My marriage license to a fictitious person named Mark Zuckerberg.  Freddie left so fast he had forgotten to bring the license with him.  For a moment I toyed with the idea of bringing the license to Wessex, and save him a trip later.  I would have liked to see Deacy as well, he was so nice to me.  But in the end I chose not to.  I'd let Freddie fix his bet with Roger in his own way, on his own time.  And he didn't need me screwing up his morning further by making an appearance.

A bit absently, I folded them in half around each other, and tucked them both back between the pages, then ripped out the list.  It was a short list, thankfully.  Most everything we already had here.  The shorter the trip, the better.

**********************************************************************************

Cradling a bulging paper sack in each arm, I tumbled out of the taxi, mumbling the words to "Shattered" under my breath.  Well, almost.  The only words I knew were "Shadoobie, shat-tered."  But that was enough to get stuck in the head.

"Madam," the cabbie called after me.  I turned.  "Your change?"

"Just keep it," I called back to the rhythm of the song.  "Shat-tered.  Now, good day.  Shat-tered, shat-tered."

"Good day!" he said back with a little laugh, then drove off.  I walked down the sidewalk a little before I reached Freddie's door, still singing.

"Can I help you with that?" a woman said close behind me.

I shook my head.  "I'm okay, shat-tered.  But thank you, shat-tered sha- OOF!"

I didn't see the crack in the pavement, and the block jutting up from the ground just enough for my foot to catch on it.  I tripped and fell, dropping the groceries.

"Rats!" I muttered.  "That was the wrong song to sing."  Hoping nothing was indeed shattered, I immediately started putting groceries back in the bags.

Two other hands began assisting me.  I didn't look up right away to see who belonged to them, I was just grateful for the help.  Fortunately, the only casualties were a couple of bruised apples and one cracked egg.  Once everything was collected, I rose to my feet.

I began, "Thanks so m- AAAH!"

Oh, great.  This just keeps getting better.

Mary dusted off her hands and looked at me, unfazed by my scream of surprise.  "Hello, Eve."

"Hi," I said, trying to recover.  "Thanks for helping me, I'll just, um-"

"Oh, please, allow me," she offered.  Before I could speak, Mary bent over and took one of the bags in her arms.  I shrugged, knowing I couldn't tell her to put it down.  I haven't really said much about how she looked.  She was about my size, in terms of height and weight, with pretty, wide-set eyes and long blonde hair that curled at the ends.  A lovely woman, to be sure. 

Very awkwardly then, I picked up the other bag, and we marched to the front door.  I reached into my pocket for the keys, but Mary was ahead of me.  Key in hand, she poked it into the lock and opened the door. 

"After you," she said in her cool, mild voice. 

"Again, thank you," I managed.  She followed me into Freddie's flat, shutting the door behind us.  Not only did she help me unpack the groceries, but she knew where everything belonged, and was familiar with every little nook and cranny in the flat.  And the longer she helped me, the more obvious it became that she wanted me to realize this.

I started to put something away, I don't know what, maybe it was a box of candlesticks or wafer crackers, I can't really remember- and Mary shook her head. 

"No, dear, that's wrong, I know where it goes," she said- and to my oversensitive ears, it sounded like she placed just a little too much emphasis on "I"- and took the box from me, placing it in a cupboard directly across the room, under the counter.

I do not like having things taken out of my hands.  Even when Freddie did it, it did not make me happy.  I bit my tongue hard, while in my head, the thoughts smoldered: Look, I get it, he was yours first- and he still is.  Okay? I am not a threat to you.  I do not want to be a threat.  I'm Team Mary- always have been!  Don't you understand? 

Once all the groceries were put away, I said again, "Thank you so much, Mary, that was a big help."

She nodded.  "Of course, dear.  It was my pleasure." 

Her gray-green eyes said otherwise, however.

"What brings you here today, anyway?" I asked.

"Oh, Freddie asked me to come by," she explained.  "Apparently he left something here, some kind of document-"

"Oh, yes, the license!" I exclaimed, then when Mary's brows knit in confusion, I immediately downshifted into damage control mode.  "Uh, my license to- work here.  In Britain."

She blinked, her face unreadable.  "Your visa?"

"Y-Yes, my visa," I stuttered, fumbling for anything and everything. "He and Roger- they've been so, er, so nice, they're trying to hook me up with a job- with the unions.  The teachers' union, I think.  Because once I have a job, I can support myself and I won't have to impose on poor Freddie any longer.  I fully intend to leave soon."  For her sake, I repeated, "Very soon."

"And they need your visa?"

"Yes, you see, Roger's got connections, he knows this one guy who knows someone who works in the teachers' union, and apparently there's an opening, but they want to make sure I'm legal, so to speak."  I took a deep breath.  Hey, not bad for three seconds.

She nodded, apparently swallowing it.  "So where is it?"

"It's in that book there," I said casually, pointing at the dark green journal on the table.  "You know, I could take it to him right now if he nee-"

"Oh, no, I'll do it, I'd love to," Mary said.  "Freddie called me, after all, so I really should go ahead and-"

"Of course, of course," I nodded.  That's right, darling.  He called YOU.  I KNOW!!!  "Just give me a chance to put it in an envelope or something, please?"

"Certainly," she said. 

For no other reason except to be polite, I asked her, "And, uh, would you like some tea before you go?  It's just about that time."

As soon as the words left my lips, I prayed she would turn me down.  I was almost positive she would.  Alas: "You know, that would be lovely.  Thank you."

"It's my pleasure," I said quietly.  Dammit!

I busted out the teapot again, feeling Mary's gaze follow me about the kitchen.  Placing the full teapot on the stove, I turned on the fire under it, and hoped God would make the heat come extra quick- and the water, extra willing to take it in.  As Mary watched me, her lips stayed rather pursed.  The feeling is mutual, love, I thought to myself dryly.

"There's actually something I wanted to talk to you about anyway," she said after a moment. 

I felt my shoulders hunch up a little, and I turned to face her.  "Oh, yes?" 

Mary nodded, and waved her hand for me to follow her into the parlor.  "In here, please."

Her eyes, I thought to myself.  They don't change.  Her face muscles move, but her expression, the look in her eyes, is constant.  It's- flat.  Even yesterday, I could tell she was in pain, but it was basically the same look.  She has flat eyes.  Pretty, but flat. 

She sat down and patted the cushion at her side, forcing a smile.  I did as she asked, drawing my lips back in a grin that did not reflect my feelings.  Tiffany hopped up onto the sofa with us, nestling herself comfortably in Mary's lap.  Oscar padded over too, but instead of getting up into my face like usual, he stayed on the floor and lay down right on my feet.  Tom didn't move from his spot in the comfy chair.  Lazy thing.

Who says animals aren't political, I said to myself glibly.  Look at this.  Even they take sides.

"I was just curious," she began, stroking Tiffany's fur.  "How did you two- run into each other?"

"By accident," I replied.  "He didn't seek me out, if that's what you mean."

She nodded.  "By accident."

"It's a long story, Freddie would probably be better at telling you."

"He did tell me," Mary said.  "It simply doesn't make any sense."

I shrugged.  "No, it really doesn't.  But it happened."

"And how long have you been- living here?"

"About eleven days now."  I stared off into space a moment.  "He's very generous."

"Yes," she murmured.  "Very.  Sometimes to a fault."

I glanced at Mary, wondering what she meant by that exactly.  But again, her face was a blank slate.  Not even a mask, like Freddie's dark, fiery eyes required.  Just a perfect vacuum, from which there was nothing to be gleaned.

"Maybe so," I agreed.  "I wouldn't know, I don't know him like you do."

She shrugged modestly.  "It's nice that he tells me things.  I'm glad he trusts me.  I don't know why he does- and sometimes I wish he wouldn't.  It can be so hard on occasion."

"I'm sure," I nodded. 

"He feels safe with me, I suppose," she mused.  "It's a blessing and a curse, you know.  And in this case," she added, "it's a curse."

"Why would it be a curse?"

"Because he told me he's in love."

"He is?" I gasped, and clapped my hands together with sloppily overdone joy- while my stomach did a somersault inside me.  Don't assume.  Don't  you dare assume.  "Oh, how nice!  It's so marvelous to be in love."

"It can be," Mary nodded.  "It can also be hell."

"That's fantastic!  Anyone I know?"

"Oh, yes, you know them well."

"Oh, perfect!  Do they know how he feels?"

"Evidently not."

"Oh, then can I tell them?  Or is it a secret?"

"It's no secret now."

"Yay!  Maybe I can relay the message, see how they rea-"

"You don't need to."

I frowned.  "Why not?"

"Because it's you."

"What's me?"

"Freddie's in love with you."

I burst into hysterical, yet totally mirthless, laughter, knowing that she had to be kidding.  Mary didn't seem like the kind to tell jokes, or even really laugh at them, but she had to be making an exception here.  Had to!  I laughed so hard my ribs ached, and my eyes watered.  Oh, this lady was a riot!  Freddie in love!  With ME!

At last I pulled myself back together, dabbing at the corners of my eyes, and looked at Mary.  Her face was like stone, hands folded in her lap.  The words "humor" and "joke" could be found nowhere in this picture. 

"I'm not sure you realize this," Mary said tightly, "but I wasn't kidding."

I blinked, taking a deep breath.  "How can you be so sure that-"

"Because he told me so himself," she cut me off.  Her patience with me had waned quite a bit.

The bottom seemed to fall out of the world.  "When?"

"Yesterday," she replied.  "Yesterday afternoon.  He was terribly upset that you ran off like that.  And while we were having tea, he just point blank informed me that he- well, that he was in love."

I stared at Mary, all of my senses feeling as though they had spontaneously shut down.  Stiffly I rose from the sofa as I realized the high-pitched scream I was hearing was not coming from inside me, but from the kitchen.

"I'd better go make the tea," I mumbled, and all but sprinted into the kitchen where the teapot was wailing for attention with Oscar tagging along at my heels.

I didn't believe it.  I would not believe it.  It simply was not true.  And besides, what business was it of Mary's to come telling me how Freddie felt?  If he felt like that, why wasn't he the one to tell me?  There.  Just went to show how untrue her words were. Such a terrible trick she was pulling on me, telling me such a dreadful lie!

Mary tiptoed into the kitchen.  "Eve?"

"What are you doing?" I exploded, whirling on her.  "Do you think I want him to- feel that way?  Do you think I want that?"

"My dear, please calm down-"

"Then stop this!  He does not love me!  He loves-"

Mary put her hand on my arm to steady me.  "I didn't say he loved you."

I opened my mouth, then closed it.  I stood there, confused, before finally I found the words, "But- but you just said-"

"I said he was in love.  There's a difference."

"Yeah?" I whispered, leaning wearily against the counter.

She only nodded.

I slid the teapot off the hot eye, and rubbed my face.  "Okay.  You speak Freddie, so enlighten me.  What did he mean?"

"Freddie," she said with a sigh, "is a very emotional man.  Passions run so high in him, it's really quite astounding.  He falls in love faster than anyone I've ever seen- and falls out of love just as quickly.  Do you understand?  I mean, you must have seen it.  Ten or so days-"

"I know what you mean," I whispered.  "Go on."

"You're an American.  When you think of love, you think, domestic things.  You think, marriage, devotion, commitment."

"Don't the English value those things, too?"

"Of course we do," Mary said, this time with a twinge of sadness in her voice, but her eyes, again, didn't change.  "But that's not the sort of thing that Freddie... um..."

I nodded, my throat beginning to feel tight.  I turned toward the cups of hot water, and placed a tea bag in each to steep a minute.  "Freddie shuns the domestic."

"Exactly," she said.  "And what's more... well, perhaps you already know this, but-"

"But what?" I asked, handing her the tea.

She gazed into her cup as the tea leaves colored the water.  "Did you know that Freddie is gay?"

Ooo, big surprise there, I thought to myself sarcastically.  "He's not gay," I muttered.  "He's bi."

"Trust me," she said gravely.  "He's much more gay than he may have wanted to admit to you quite yet."

"So he's gay, but he's in love with me.  Dear, I wish you'd make up your mind."

"I'm getting there," she said irritably.  "I know who he is inside, I know where his heart lies.  That's who he is, and if it makes him happy, that's all I can ask for.  It's just..."

"What?"

"You're confusing him, I think.  He's confused again.  He doesn't know what he wants.  He wants to live as he's been living, but he also wants you."

I rubbed my eyes.  "Did he tell you it was okay to tell me about his sexuality, Mary, or is this you just grabbing the reins and going for it?"

"I want to make it as clear as I can, you became so incensed earlier," she explained.  "See, to be honest, I don't think he's even in love with you as a person, exactly."

I had never imagined Mary being this way, speaking as callously as she was now.  I thought she was kind, I thought she was gentle.  And perhaps with other people, Freddie included, she was, but not with me.  I was a threat, and now, things were getting personal.  And that last one hurt. 

Still, I forced a quip, "Oh, no?  Then what's he in love with me as, then?  A kangaroo?"

"That's not what I mean.  Freddie's infatuated with your mystery, I think, as much as anything else.   He adores newness.  There's nothing he enjoys more than opening up a wrapped gift to see what's inside.  He's in love with what he doesn't know- and the fact that you won't let him know."

"That's rather childish, isn't it?" I said aloud.

"But that's what I'm saying.  He does have a childlike way about him.  He loves a challenge, it's true.  And you, clearly, are a worthy challenge for him to keep on trying for you this way." She looked me up and down.  "I don't blame him, honestly.  You're a lovely girl."

"That's great, but I can't let this go on.  This is bad."

Mary nodded.  "Right."

I brought my tea to my lips, forgetting the sugar and cream.  "So how do I get him to fall out of love, then?"

"Simple.  Sleep with him."

I stopped mid-swallow, but I didn't choke this time. My eyes bugged.   "What did you say?"

"He wants to do away with your mystery, so let him.  Sleep with him."

Mary said this so offhandedly, I wanted to cry.  I walked away from her a little, whispering, "I don't believe this."

"You do realize that's why he's kept you near for as long as he has?"

"What?"

"Think about it."

But I had already thought about it; Mary was only confirming my fears.  Was that why he'd become so upset?  Because he realized I was on to him?  Or was he simply angry that, for the umpteenth time, a potentially passionate moment had been disrupted, and I was to blame?  It wasn't my fault he had been doing without sex the past week and a half- assuming that was even true.  Again, the question had to be asked, why did this matter so much? 

And why- why- was this conversation hurting me so badly?

My face contorted in such a way that advertised a soon appearance of tears.  Mary walked up behind me and put her arm around my shoulders.

"Eve," she whispered.  "You- you're not in love with him yourself, are-"

"No," I said quickly.  "Not at all.  He's my friend."  At least, I thought he was. 

Mary blinked.  "That's it?"

"That's it," I said through gritted teeth.  I looked back up at her.  "But- you say sleeping with him will- fix things?"

"I think it will," she told me.  "Dear, I'm not trying to be cruel, this is simply how he works.  Freddie's a wonderful man, and he gives so much of himself.  But in order to -um, I suppose, connect, and help him, even as a friend, you have to give at least a little of yourself, too."

To truly understand a hippo, one must be a hippo, I thought to myself bitterly.  This is a little different from what university taught me.  Freddie-Logic trumps all here in Freddie Land.

Mary took one final sip of her tea, and said, "Anyway, I just wanted you to know."

"Thank you," I whispered automatically.

"I really ought to be going, Freddie's waiting on me. I just need the license, and I'll be off."

"Yes, yes, take it.  Go right ahead," I bobbed my head up and down.  My composure was wearing so thin now.

"But weren't you going to-"

"It's over there, please, just take it," I said, by now just wanting her to leave.  I didn't care anymore. 

"Oh, all right.  Thank you."  Mary walked over and rustled about behind me.  "I hope I didn't upset you."

"Oh, no, not at all," I managed.  "You're - you're just trying to help, I know."

"That's all I want," she replied.  From behind she put her hand on my elbow and squeezed.  "Goodbye, Eve- and good luck."

I turned, somehow pulling my face into a dry, steady smile.  "Same to you, Mary."

She smiled back- Mary was indeed so pretty, and she would stay pretty even as she got older- then walked out of the kitchen and into the living room.  Within a few seconds, I heard the front door open and shut.  And two tears, one from each eye, trickled down my cheeks.  Those were all the tears I would allow myself right now.

To this day, I don't claim to know Mary's true motivation in coming and telling me all this.  I don't believe it was malicious, perhaps she really was trying to help me.  It's altogether possible she was trying to remove me from the picture faster, I don't deny that.  And really, I don't blame her.  Mary loved Freddie.  And I believe that she still does, even now.  I wasn't present during the time they spent as lovers, and what few moments I witnessed between them as good friends are hardly enough to draw any conclusions.  I only know what I saw and what I heard.

But right that moment, I felt like I had been stuck and roasted on a spit, unable to cry out and release my feelings thanks to the apple shoved down my throat.  And I was honestly considering her words.

Sleep with him, I said to myself numbly.  This is just like Yoko telling May Pang to be John's mistress.  Good God.  Oh, Good God!  What have I gotten myself into?

But she had a point.  I was a wrapped gift box, with a tag that said "Do Not Open Until Married."  And there I was, just sitting there, and Freddie, with that lingering residue of immaturity, couldn't bear the suspense. 

But wouldn't that cancel whatever was letting me stay here while I got my life together?  If I took away that allure, that mystery, Freddie would no longer wonder, would no longer desire.  Appetite appeased, he'd let go, drop me like a good habit. 

I shook my head.  No, it worked both ways.  He might get tired of waiting, impatient man that he was.  He was already becoming so testy with me.  It was a race now, between his impatience and my surrender.  And, to quote a song I've learned to love, "Every way I go, I'm bound to lose."

My tight throat constricted further.  Already I knew what I was about to do.  I'd been so strong this whole time- and God had been so wonderful to save me on so many occasions.  But Mary, I realized, was right.  I would have to give a little.  I would have to give myself.  This was not the way I wanted to make love for the first time, but in this world, in this place, with that man, I didn't see any other option.

"Oh, God, help me," I croaked, "Get me out of here fast!"

I put my face in my hands and ran up the stairs.  I had to pull myself together before Freddie came back.  And then there was the whole matter of preparing myself for tonight.  That sheer, dark green nightgown certainly had made an impression a little while ago.  And should I wear lots of makeup, or none?  And what kind of perfume would set him off the best?  So many questions, so many, many important matters to settle.

In my daze, I failed to notice that the journal no longer sat on the table.

 

Chapter Text

Bip bi bip BEEP BEEP Bip bi bip BEEP BEEP-

Ah!  It's about time they called.  I waited all day yesterday, keeping the Relic close by the whole time.  I even brought it along when we took Robert to see his grandparents yesterday afternoon.  We didn't get back into town till late.  Bloody London Bridge traffic.

The Relic sits just within arm's reach, on the kitchen counter.  I reach over, and push the button on the side.  It pops open, revealing the keypad.  I love that.  It makes me feel a little like a spy about to receive a secret assignment from MI6.  

"Hello?" K's voice crackles through once I press the answer button.

"It's Deacon," I murmur playfully.  "John Deacon."  I'm in a wonderful mood this morning.

The one called Tim sounds just as irascible as ever.  "Is Julia nearby?"

I hesitate.  "Uh... why?"

"Is it those funny people again?" Veronica asks, sitting at the table with her tea.

"The same," I reply.  "Be right back."

Once I'm in my study, I snatch up the list of questions that I made out yesterday.  These chaps have a lot of explaining to do.  

"I heard a woman's voice," K cries, "was that her?"

"No, that was my wife," I reply.

"Yesterday her tracker came back online," Tim says.  "She must be close!"

I dunno, probably, is what I think to myself, but over the phone I bluster, "That she is, guv.  So near it would make your head swim."

"Then why do you still have this phone?  Get it back to her!"

"Hold on a moment," I say.  "Not so fast.  First I want answers."

"Answers?"

"I know where she is, and you do not.  And we only have a minute or so before we cut out, so we need to make this time count!"

"It's none of your concern-"

"It is if I say it is.  Let me put it this way: either you cooperate, sweethearts, or you ain't seein' Doll Face ever again!" Hey, not a bad Bogart impression at all.  Nasal voices aren't always so bad.

And, just as I had hoped would happen, K buckles.  "All right, all right!  What do you want to know?"

That was easy.

"Who are you people?  Who is Julia?  Why did you send her down here?"

"Let me answer that, Steve, you talk too much," Tim steps in.  "Now, then, Mr. Deacon.  You want to know about Julia?"

"First tell me who you are- and please be honest.  Are you spies or something?"

"Actually, yes," Tim sighs.  "We're a new secret anti-Communism program that EMI and the BBC started up in order to protect, um- Western music from subliminal Marxist messages- and we've had reports that you guys, Queen, are spreading Soviet propaganda."

"What?" I begin to laugh.  "Soviet propaganda?  What kind of-"

"It's no laughing matter," Tim interrupts.  K tries to cut in but he is rebuffed.  "There's been talk that your own 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is actually a modern communist manifesto."

I'm roaring now.  This is too much.  "What decade are you living in?  The fifties?"

But this is Tim's story and he's sticking to it.  "Laugh if you want, all you're doing is making it worse for yourself."

"And Julia is your woman in the field, Mr. McCarthy?"

"She sure is!  You've seen her with her journal, haven't you?  Taking notes, observing you in your natural habitat?"

There, though, the evidence sticks a little.  Julia does have a journal, and all the time she was with us on Thursday, she was writing in it, and holding up some black thing, almost like a portable voice recorder, perhaps, or one of those ridiculously small cameras from the Bond films. 

Still, I laugh it off.  "Well, if that's why she's here, I'll wager she's been greatly disappointed, I don't think there's anything Soviet about the songs she's heard from us."

"Well, what's she heard?"

"Oh, God, I dunno.  A little jazz song, and we did some of Roger's 'Fight From the Inside'-"

"AH-HA!  Bingo!  That has U.S.S.R. written all over it."

Roger the Communist.  Uh, no.  "Um, I think you're a little too excited, we're not Russian tools-" 

"Oh, please, it's always the Russians," Tim snarls.  "Everyone knows that.  The election, the chemical attack, the emails-"

Chemical attack?  "Wha-?"

"Jesus, this is so stupid."  K's clearly had just about enough.  Weary truth resounds in his halting voice.  "Look, John, it's like this.  Brace yourself.  We are scientists, and this was a first test of our-"

"STEVE!"

"Oh, shut up, Tim!  She's been gone too long and we need her back!  Her family will start asking questions, and then we'll be discovered, and the media will go wild!  No- the WORLD will go wild!  Literally!  And that's exactly what George told us not to do!"

"What are you on about?"  I try to interject.

"Besides," K keeps ranting, "he won't remember, he's so far into the past he'll forget.  Forty years, it'll be!  There's not a chance in-"

"Forty years?"  For some reason, there's a twinge in my stomach. 

"Yes, forty years, Julia was supposed to go back and meet someone else but she flubbed it- and she wound up with you guys.  I can't explain it, maybe T-Rod's got a glitch in the system, but she's there and we need to bring her back!"

"Forty years?" I repeat.  Now my head hurts, too.

"That's where she's from, Mr. Deacon," K says breathlessly.  "Forty years from where you are now."

"Your first story was better," I say.  But I can't shake the twinge.  There's something wrong here.  Something very, very wrong.  "But whoever you are, this Relic- it's Julia's way home, right?"

"Partly.  The tracker and the- what did you call the phone?"

"The Relic.  Julia calls it that."

"You need t- ge- to her-"

Shit!  They're cutting out.  "Okay, I will, I will!"

"Soo- -s possib-!"

"Straight away!  But- oh!  One more thing!"

"Wh-?"

"What was the thing about Vegas?"

"Veg- oh, jus- noth-   married-"

"Marriage?  Whose?"

"Eve-"

Click.

I stand there a moment and rub my eyes.  My head feels like putty.  Forty years?  Scientists?  Am I to understand that Julia is not an angel, like Freddie speculates, but a -time traveler?  

So Julia, if those loons are to be believed, is from the future?

Too many science fiction books, John, I tell myself.  Wake up, get a hold of yourself.  Asimov's playing tricks on you.

Suddenly I want to believe their first barmy story about the Anti-Communist thing.  At least that, I can sort of accept.  For this is so far-fetched, so completely beyond comprehension.  Time travel isn't possible!  It's a dream, a dream of desperate men who spend their lives looking behind them, wishing they could have fixed that one little mistake they made somewhere along the way.  But what happens, happens, and life goes on.  Time travel can never be!

And yet- isn't that what they said to Edison when he spoke of harnessing electricity for practical use?  And the Wright Brothers, when they schemed to take to the skies in a flying machine?  And people across the ages, who fantasized about touching the stars, walking upon the moon, building computers that can do more than twice the work of Man in half the time- all ideas that once were considered pure imagination, pure science fiction, and dismissed as impossible- all ideas that now are mundane and commonplace. 

In an age when we can split an atom and thereby lay waste to an entire city, is there such a thing anymore as impossible?

Wow.  That was rather profound.  Sometimes I surprise myself.  Ha.

But I know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Julia needs this back.  And fast.  I look at the Relic's monochrome screen, which shows the power level down to about half now.  And there's nothing here that can recharge its battery.  Once this thing dies, it dies. 

I rub my face, walking out of the den.  "What time is it, love?" I call to Veronica.

"About nine" is her reply.

"That means it's five in Tokyo.  Good enough for me."  I open the liquor cabinet and pull out my gin.  I've got a splitting headache and I haven't even reached the studio yet. 

"Banzai," I say to myself, and drain the glass.  Hopefully the afternoon will be better than this morning.  It couldn't possibly get any more perplexing. 

Or could it?

In my infinite wisdom, I leave the Relic at home, partly because I assume Freddie won't be back just yet, partly because I don't want to bother the other boys with its tinny Wagner ringtone, but mostly because I simply forget to bring it along. One glass of gin actually became three, in rapid succession, and I'm feeling quite elevated once more.  I hope no one notices.

The minute I walk in, I remember, because of who's already there, but it's too late to do anything about it.  Brushing past Crystal, who's stepping out for a moment, I see Freddie's already waist-deep in work, and John Harris is sitting there alongside him to help when the bells and whistles of Wessex's equipment become too overwhelming.  Freddie's no techie, but he tries.

"Oi!  Freddie, you're back," I say.

He turns and looks at me, forcing a smile.  "Hey, Deaks.  What'd I miss?"

There's a funny look in his eyes- a subtle warning that I must step carefully.  "Not much, really, just technical things- and we recorded that blues-type song of Brian's-"

"Yeah, I know, I was just listening to it," he says.  "It's nice."

"Could you, uh," I say cautiously, "hear any flubs on the bass part?"

"Flubs?"

"Never mind."  Splendid.  If Freddie couldn't hear any of my mistakes, then no one would.  John Harris gets up and leaves the room a moment, off to get some bit of tape or something, so it's just Freddie and myself.

He rises from his chair, walking toward me.  "So," he murmurs softly.  "You fixed the Relic, I suppose."

"Yeah!" I nod.  "Nothing to it."  I wonder, should I tell him I've been speaking to Julia's superiors?  Or would that only make things more complicated? 

"Do you have it?" he asks.

"No, I left it behind, I didn't think you'd be back already.  Where'd you go?"

"Just ran an errand," he says briefly.

You call Vegas an errand?  I think to myself.  "Did you take Julia?"

Freddie's eyes widen, and too late I realize my slip of the tongue.  "Who's Julia?"

"Uh..." I stand there like a moron, my throat dry.  Well, so much for that.

He hesitates a moment, thinks to himself, then says, "Is that Eve's real name?"

"Well, yes, actually," I answer.

"How do you know?"

"The Relic.  I got to talk to the people she, um..."

"Her Boss?"

"Sort of, maybe, I don't know, they're certainly above her, though."

He nods, his expression melting a little.  "I suspected that might be her name.  It was a tie between that and Penny.  But she looks much more like a Julia.  Her eyes, you know- and her lips..."

What do lips have to do with a name?  But he's obviously not thinking about names.   Odd, that he doesn't ask me who she is- who those people are.  He's simply not curious.  Maybe that's for the best; now doesn't seem like a good time to tell him that Julia is an alleged time traveler from the future- and I can't believe I just said that and meant it.

Freddie's drifting away, reflecting on something.  Reflecting on her.  My God, he is distracted by that girl.  He's usually so much more focused than this, no matter what's happening in his private world. 

I try to pull him back down to Earth.  "So she didn't tell you?  Her name, I mean."

"No.  She didn't.  What else is new."  He sits back down, looking much more unhappy then perhaps he would have liked for me to notice. 

"You all right?" I ask, expecting a non-answer- which is not what I get.

"I'm fine, I suppose.  I just- the past twenty-four hours have not been the best."  He speaks more to himself than to me, so for a moment I just stand there. 

"How is the stray kitten, anyway?" I venture.

Freddie shrugs.  "She's herself.  She made me breakfast this mor-"

I don't notice the way he cuts himself off, and how much further his face falls.  "What did she make?"

He looks down at his lap, then at the door, then back down.  "I don't know."

Right, maybe I should let this go.  I start for my bass guitar, which is sitting there waiting for me.  I call over my shoulder, "It's good you're back, though, we missed you.  Things were far too quiet around here the past few days-"

"She's so ready to get out of here, John," Freddie suddenly blurts. 

I turn to see Freddie staring at me, looking altogether helpless.  It's an odd air for him, I don't like it. 

"That's only natural," I say with a shrug.  "She's got a family too, very likely."

"She does," he nods, his voice almost bitter.  "A nice friendly gingerbread family, complete with a gingerbread dog, and they all live together in their tight little gingerbread house."

There's a rustling outside the studio door.  Freddie throws a furtive glance at it a moment, then when no one steps inside, he continues.  "Thing is, she's not gingerbread."

I cock my head.  "But her family is?"

"Eve- I mean, Julia doesn't know any different,  because I mean- you long for what you're used to, and living with me- it's probably still terribly jarring, my manner of life, compared to hers, but- but it's not just that, you know, it's something else too."

He's begun to ramble.  Now I'm really listening.  Sarcastic quips aside, he trips pretty hard over his words when it means something. This must genuinely mean something.

"What?" I coax.

"She thinks she is gingerbread- or she wants to think she's gingerbread, OR she wants me to think that she thinks she is gingerbread, just like she wants me to think that she thinks that I think she's a noose around my neck."

I blink, a little dizzy.  I've had too much to drink too early, and that was too many "thinks" at one time to keep up with.  "I caught 'noose'."

Freddie huffs in frustration, rolling his eyes.  "What's the use, she's so set in her mind."

"About what?" 

"Everything.  I know it's true.  God, she's terrified.  Even now, after our trip, after everything, she's so f---ing scared."

"Of what?"  I pick up my bass and seat myself in the control room.  It's here Freddie says something odd, that he doesn't get the chance to explain.

"Either the little minx I know is in her- or the absolute monster she sees in me." 

I'm bent over my guitar, about to start tuning it.  My thumb plucks the E string, and it sounds a little sharp.  Taking the knob in my fingers, I start to loosen it, when I feel two eyes boring holes into the top of my head.  I glance up to see Freddie looking directly at me.  His face is blank, but there's something very serious going on behind his eyes.

Quietly, he says, "I'm not a monster, John.  I'm really not.  Why can't she accept that?"

I've been asked awkward questions before, but this leaves them all behind.  Of course he isn't a monster, but how do you even say that and sound sincere- and say it to him?  I open my mouth, about to answer if I even can, when the door flings open - and Freddie's disposition does a complete turnabout.  I'm saved by Brian.

"There you are," Brian greets him.  "We actually got a good head start on a few things- recorded a chief bit of 'Sleeping on the Sidewalk' on Saturday."

"I know, you darlings have been so productive," Freddie replies.  "I'll try my best to catch up.  Also, that other thing, kind of followed Sleeping-?"

"That's the 'Feelings Feelings'-"

"Oh, right, right, right!  You mentioned that about a week ago, yes, that needs vocals, maybe a little more guitar in some places, we'll see if that song will take off.  My God, Brian, you've just been on a blues tear lately, I love it.  I want to get to 'Spread Your Wings' today, too.  We can't let that slip through the cracks, it's too nice.  Sound good to you, John?"

I nod, grinning.  Seems to me like Freddie's already caught up and we haven't even done anything collectively yet today. 

"Well, look who decided to make an appearance!"  Roger coos, striding in as cockily as ever. "Where've you been, old man?"

"Had a little errand to run," Freddie says, sweeping his hand in a lofty circle.  Now there's a sly grin spread across his face.  The rather pleading, lonely expression has vanished.  Yes, indeed, he's back in action.

"God, Freddie, you look like you know where the bodies are buried," Roger remarks.

"It's not where, darling," he says.  "It's who."

Roger takes his drumsticks out of their pouch, snickering.  John Harris comes back, muttering to himself, with two extra spools of tape in his hands, likely asking himself "Where the f--- is Mike?"  Crystal also walks in and starts fiddling with Roger's drum set.

"But in all seriousness," Freddie hums, "I've got a rather rude surprise in store for you, perhaps you'd better sit down."

"What's that?"

"Sit down first!  I won't have you fainting dead away on the floor."

So Roger plops down in the chair beside him, leans back, and puts his feet lazily up on the counter.  "All right, I'm in position, let's have it."

Freddie claps his hands once.  "Right!  So, you know how adamant you were about how my little friend isn't married?"

Brian groans, "If you two are going to start that again-"

"It's so quick, darling, two seconds and I'm finished!" Freddie dismisses him.

"Yeah?"  Roger nods.  "Go on."

"Well, it would seem," Freddie croons, "that she actually does have the paperwork to prove it."

"And how'd you go abo-" Roger cuts himself off.  "Hold on, do you mean to tell me you went all the way to-"

"We did!" Freddie replies.  "There and back in one weekend.  And we have it."

"The license?" Roger's brows shoot up.  He obviously never counted on Freddie being so hardcore over something apparently so trivial.  As for me, my suspicions are confirmed.  They went to Vegas- but how'd they get a marriage license?  Did they forge it?  Or-

Or is there a secret within the secret?  It's too dangerous to ask for certain.  So I don't.  But still, how would Julia's K know anything about that?  Was that what she was supposed to do?  Get Freddie to Las Vegas?  Answer one question, two more stand in its place.  Why do I bother.  Freddie's a myriad of secrets all wrapped up in a single flesh and blood package, and Julia is just the same.  And here I am, stuck in the middle, burdened with bits and pieces that are leaked to me and me only.

"The license!" Freddie repeats.  "And I- oh, f---.  Left it at home."

"Convenient," Roger sniggers, rising from the chair and putting his arms up for a stretch.

Freddie shrugs it off and gets up too.  "I'll just have her bring it by.  One moment."  So Freddie slips out of the control room to reach the phone outside.  The rest of us get going with work, tuning things, jamming quietly to ourselves.  It's about ten minutes before Freddie reappears.

"So's Okoy going to pay a call on us?" Roger asks. 

"No, she didn't answer.  She's probably busy."  Freddie's mouth twitches, and for a split second I can see that flash of guilt spark across his features.  "Mary's bringing it over."

That's nice, I like Mary.  We all do.  Still, I'm growing rather fond of the stray kitten, and the slightest disappointment flares up in me.  No matter.  Mary's a sweet girl, even if things seem a little strained between her and Freddie lately.  But that's none of my business.

About an hour and a half later, while we're working on Brian's "Feelings Feelings," the control room door opens and Mary steps in.  All of us are in the studio proper, about to do our ninth take on the song.

"Take 9," Freddie announces.  Mike starts the tapes, and Roger counts off.  Away we go, this time with Mary watching.  Freddie sees her and waves, and she waves back with a smile.  She's got something like a book in her hands, but that's all I see, and I've dried out considerably since earlier so I'm concentrating almost exclusively upon the bass line now, closing my eyes and jerking my head back and forth to the beat.

When we finish, Mike stops the tapes from rolling.  Freddie makes a few rather unintelligible comments about what could be fixed about this or that.  Brian looks visibly confused as he talks.  Freddie really is not the best at explaining things, the thoughts fly so quick in his head that his tongue can't get them out fast enough to sound intelligent.  Often he relies on "ba-dum-dah-tssh's" for the drum critiques and either "nyah nyahs" or "blingablings" for tips about the guitars.  But we know not to laugh.  We know it well.

Then Freddie slips out of the studio into the control room, takes Mary's hands in his, and kisses her cheek.  He leaves the door open so we can hear a bit of the conversation. 

"...In there, I think," Mary says, pointing at the book.  "She said it was."

"So J- Eve was there?" Freddie asks, confused.

"Yes, we had a nice visit," she replies. 

"Hm," Freddie says. 

"Anything else you need me to do?"

"Oh, no, dear, thank you."

"Then I'll see you tomorrow."  She smiles.

"Ah yes!  I will, it's going to be fun.  Thank you again, darling, you're lovely," Freddie says, and kisses her lips this time, putting his arms around her.  When he pulls away, Mary looks intently at his face, which I can't see since his back is turned toward the window.  After a moment, she turns, head lowered, and walks out. 

Freddie wastes no time.  "So!  Here it is, hot off the presses," he calls to us, marching back in.  He opens the book and pulls out a folded piece of lined white paper that has handwriting all over it.  Freddie's not looking to see, though, and hands it to Roger.

"Read it and weep," Freddie says triumphantly.

Roger turns the folded paper over in his hands.  He wrinkles his nose.  "Freddie, these are song lyrics."

"Huh?"  Freddie looks and sees.  "Oh, Roger, you silly ass, open it up!  it's wrapped around!"

"Ohhh..." Roger opens the folded paper up, handing the "Melancholy Blues" lyrics to Freddie, and there it is.  After a few minutes of Roger reading silently to himself, he puts his hands up in concession.

"All right, man, you win," Roger laughs.  "The bet's off.  It's official.  Your little girlie is free.  Was it worth it?"

"Every mile, every penny," Freddie winks, then looks down at the lyrics, idly turning them over.  "If you had just believed us the first..."  He trails off. 

"Witnesses: Steven J. Kurzweil, and Rudolph C. Barnes," Roger reads aloud, then muses to himself, "Who's Steven?"

A light goes off in my brain, and suddenly everything fits together.  Steve, also known as "K", who knew about the Vegas trip, and knew Eve Dubroc by name.  They are the same person.  My blood goes cold.  Forty years ago, he said that one time.  Forty years ago, he had been present at the wedding.  He was a witness forty years ago, but this had only happened last weekend!

My stomach churns, and the world suddenly becomes much more alien than it was this morning.  I believe it now.  It's still such a mystery, then hows and the whys, but I believe it.  And my friend needs to know just who is living with him.

I look at Freddie, but he doesn't look back.  He's still staring at the paper in his hands.  His face is pale, his eyes wide with shock.  His jaw clenches.  Very slowly I see his lips move, forming three words.

That... little... bitch...

I gulp.  What's he reading?  Does he already know?

Slowly, then, he looks up, crushing the paper in his fists and throwing it down.  His eyes, burning fiercely, drift to the book itself, which is sitting on the piano.  Freddie glides towards it and flips it open, the pages naturally falling to the last line written.  Brian's chatting quietly with Roger by the drums, Mike's talking to the sound guys in the recording booth.  All of a sudden-

BROONG BROONG BROONG BROOOOOOOOONG!!!

Freddie slams his fists down incoherently onto the keys.  Everyone looks up, startled.  We stare at Freddie's arched back, his shoulders moving up and down heavily with his breathing.

Slowly, then, he lifts his head, and turns, the blood now flushing his cheeks.  His jaw is still set, and his fists clenched, but his eyes are flat, the way they are on stage.  For some reason, my thoughts float to Julia.  What did he just read?

"Sorry, darlings," he murmurs.  "Let's get back to it.  Let's do another take, shall we?"

Take 10 is much better than the one before it, but Freddie sounds rougher, a little distracted, and angry.  The journal sits open on the piano, which he casually flips to the first page.  By the end of the day, he will have finished the whole thing.

And as busy as we become, I still think of Julia, keeping her in the back of my mind.  I stand here on the sidelines, biting my nails, involuntarily caught up.  My hands are tied, I can't involve myself unless they drag me into it- and something tells me I will be. I know what that look said.  I know what it means.

It means, Man the lifeboats, Julia.

 

Chapter Text

I sat before the mirror in Freddie's bathroom, the medicine cabinet pulled open.  There I had found a motley collection of makeup products, various stage cosmetics that found their way home with him such as foundation (which I couldn't use, Freddie's skin was much more olive than mine), eyeliner, even blush.  There were other things in the cabinet, like aspirin and a bottle of sleeping pills that I pondered abusing, but decided against it.

 Still other, more relevant items lined the shelves, but I just pushed them to the back.  I knew what was going down tonight, I didn't need a half-used tube of lubricant staring me in the face to remind me. 

The clock had struck eight outside, and dinner was in the oven. I knew it was highly unlikely Freddie would bother coming home for dinner, but I had started a little something anyway. A futile effort, but an effort nonetheless. It had been raining since about three in the afternoon, the temperature at a constant seventy-five. The very definition of an English summer. Though not a hot night, it was certainly a wet one. I shivered, my skin feeling as clammy as it had all day.

"That's right, pleased to meet you- I still won't tell you my name," Vanity heaved through my phone's speaker.  I had been forcing myself to listen to "Nasty Girl" by Vanity 6 on repeat for the past couple of hours in order to get in the mood.  So far, there hadn't been much progress. 

I had been wrestling passionately with my emotions, forcing myself not to break down and cry, even though that was the only thing I wanted to do. I was petrified, I was miserable, I was hurt.  No, not just hurt, I was bleeding; my heart was dying the death of a thousand cuts.  That's how it felt.

I'm going to disappoint him, I kept saying to myself.  I won't be able to please him.  I don't know how.  He'll be disappointed and then I will be nothing to him.  Just like that.  Because as much as I care for him as a friend, as fond as I am of him in ways besides the physical, I am just a body to him.  Oh, why couldn't we have just stayed friends?

Did I really have the right to be so shocked? Was it my heart's privilege to be in such agony? I had known this of Freddie all along. All of this aligned perfectly with his noncommittal attitude from at least late 1977 onward till the mid-1980s, a.k.a. the Prenter Period. Yet now it stung me horribly as I was reminded he truly saw me as just another link in the chain.  Freddie's Chain of Fools.  It hurt to think such things about him- but I had no choice.  They were true.

Maybe I should just run, I mused.  

"Yeah," I scoffed aloud.  "Run where?  Catch the British equivalent of a Greyhound and get off where?  And do what?" 

I tried to be clinical.  To up and run was not a thoughtful thing to do.  Besides, Freddie wouldn't immediately abandon me.  He still needed me to cook tomorrow.  And anyway, I had to offer something in return for his goodness.  Freddie had been so good to me, regardless of the motive behind it. 

I don't have much to give, I said to myself.  Just my virginity.  Hopefully that would be enough.

I nodded, swallowed, then bent over the toilet and threw up. 

It was all well and fine to tell myself these things.  But it didn't keep the tears from sticking in my throat, or my stomach from violently churning.  This was not how I had wanted it to happen.  It would be so cold, so dispassionate, no matter how hot he might get, or how hard he might thrust.  How could it be called making love, when there wasn't any love in his heart for me?

Oh, God. Don't just stand there, do something.

And He did.  It took me months to realize that's what happened, but He did.

But right then, with Vanity moaning the explicit lyrics (explicit for the eighties, anyway; leave it to Prince to push the envelope), I could only see as far as this evening.  I wiped my mouth and brushed my teeth, then finally set to work on my face. 

It took ten whole minutes and two more repetitions of the song, but I did finish putting myself together.  I put my red lipstick down, then looked into the mirror.  I didn't recognize the face I saw in it.  There was black eyeliner edging my lids, making my bug eyes pop even more, and the lashes were heavily fringed with mascara.  I hadn't put on a lot of rouge, just enough to take the sallowness out of my complexion. As for my hair, I had already taken care of that; it was straightened and sleek, the loose, glossy tresses falling down my back.  I never took this much care with my makeup, and I never wore this much in general.  But tonight, I had to make exceptions.

I knew what my parents would say if they saw me like this.  They'd say I looked like my mother's cousin, probably the most wayward member of her upstanding Roman Catholic family.  I had never been around her much, but according to everyone, she and I looked a great deal alike except she was blond, and still trying to rock the 1980's Sheena Easton look in 2017.  And that concerned my parents, who feared my actions might resemble hers just as our faces resembled each others'.  So I had been raised to consider any comparison to Cousin Roxie to be the greatest criticism imaginable.  I don't know what she did, but it must have been something truly damning.

Still, whatever unforgivable sin my cousin had committed, it couldn't have been any worse than this.

There was a look in my eyes I had seen before in other people, but never on my own face.  It was more than unhappiness- it was hopelessness.  Tonight I was a hopeless, unhappy prostitute.  I hope I at least make him happy.  Oh, how low I've sunk in a week and a half.  What I'd give for my old backbone.

This was not the attitude I could have if I was to let Freddie enjoyably seduce me.  I got up and walked  downstairs to the fridge, where he kept the chilled vodka.  I needed a little something to relax my extremely raw nerves.

In other words, I intended to get very drunk.

I'm such a lightweight.  After one double shot, I was tipsy; after two, I was laughing at the way someone kept leaning the room on me, and I couldn't walk in a straight line.  But I felt much less apprehensive.  And that was good enough.

I was pulling the food out of the oven and trying to control my hiccups when the front door knob rattled, and clicked open.  Home so soon, Freddie?  It was only nine-thirty!

Too early, honey pie, I slurred to myself.  We're not ready.  Come back in half an hour and there will be candles and sexy music and I'll be in that nightgown you like so much. 

The door shut.  Freddie didn't say anything, and I heard no footsteps coming further into the flat.  That gave me time to adjust my actions, in case I was doing something that might possibly be a turn-off for him.  Oscar bounded into the kitchen and stared at me.  If he was trying to tell me something, the message was lost in transit- and anyway, I'd find out what he meant soon enough.

Freddie likely was still angry with me from last night, but that was a chance I'd have to take.  My eyelids drooped aloofly.  Despite the fact I couldn't stand up straight without holding onto the counter, or that my stomach still felt like a bubbling witch's cauldron, I would be as offhand, and as emotionally untouchable, as he.  No tears.  If one cried, it gave the other control.

I had to get out of my jeans.  Since he seemed to still be in the front room by the door, I made to sneak back up the stairs and slip into, as they used to say in the old films, "something a bit more comfortable."  I crept as delicately as I could, bouncing unsteadily on the balls of my bare feet. 

But then a very cold, very dead, voice stopped me in my tracks.  

"Sit down."

Instinctively I turned, my heart sinking.  Freddie was standing there, both hands behind his back.  The lights weren't on overhead, so the shadows hid his face.  He swayed gently back and forth, like I did.

"I'll be right back," I muttered.  I took one step towards the stairs.

"Sit down now."  His voice rose a bit.

Which I ignored.  "One second," I whispered, darting a few feet.

CRAASHHH!

I whirled, the blood pounding in my head.  One of the large vases that had lined the shelves now lay in shards upon the floor.  Freddie's hand was clenched into a tight, deadly fist. 

He offered one final warning.  "I'm not asking you again, Julia."

JULIA? 

He knows my name?!  But how-?

And then his other hand moved into view, and I saw what he held in it- and I realized tonight would end very differently from what I had expected.  My hardback journal, with all its analysis and opinion, good, bad, and ugly, rested in his left hand. 

Oh, no.

He didn't just know my name.  Freddie knew everything.  

He's going to kill me.  I'm dead.  He hates me and I'm dead.  I'm dead where I stand.  So dead.  DEAD.

But now, I was docile.  Like a lamb being led to the slaughter, I came back into the parlor and seated myself on the sofa against the wall. 

"I made dinner," I whispered pointlessly. 

Freddie didn't answer.  He lifted his free hand and switched on the lights.  Now I could see his face.  His features were stony, his eyes shards of black ice that chilled my blood.  Slowly he stalked my way, moving like a panther ready to pounce at any second- but there was an unsteadiness about him, and I realized he, too, was drunk.  He opened the journal up to a random page, held it out in front of him.  

"You know, I had forgotten, just how much you can learn from a book."  His voice was quietly menacing.  "There's so much to be taken in from a single word, one sentence.  The words don't lie, they just stare you in the eyes and say themselves."

I opened my mouth.  "Fre-"

"I did not give you permission to speak."  His voice was double-edged, the blade of his tongue sliding dangerously across my throat.  I shivered and fell silent.

Freddie moved closer.  "As I was saying, it's really enlightening, what can jump out at you from a page."  He held up the journal.  "Take this book, for instance."

He paused, let me stew in the suspense.  I felt my sanity slip further and further away as the silence continued.  I shut my eyes.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you, Julia."

My eyes opened up again.  WHY DOESN'T HE JUST KILL ME AND GET IT OVER WITH? STOP DRAGGING IT OUT! JUST DO IT!

"Take this thing," he went on.  "Why, I never expected to learn so much about myself.  Just take any line in here, and there's just so much.  Like here, this one part, where is it- ah!"  He flipped through the pages and found whatever the part was.  And he read it to me.

"Complete logic free zone, says things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever and somehow gets away with it.  Yes, very nice, good to know I'm so incoherent.  Oh, what else, what else?"  He flipped to another page discussing the towel fiasco.  "There it is.  It's odd, considering what she -Mary, that is- put up with him doing all his life, that she should be so moved by this. So what exactly does that mean?  What is the torture I burden poor Mary with? And how would you know about the rest of my life anyway, when you didn't even know who I was in the first place?"

I didn't answer.

"You've known who I was all this time, haven't you?"

I bit my lip and lowered my chin.

He took hold of my face and jerked me back up.  "Haven't you?"

"Yes," I squeaked, my voice trembling.  "Yes, I have."

Freddie blinked.  "So you lied to me."

"I'm sorry," I whispered.  "I-"

"My dear, it's a little late for 'I'm sorry' at this stage, don't you think?"

"But I am!  I didn't like having to lie, I didn't have a choice, please, I'm sorry."

But Freddie was not in a forgiving mood.  He closed the journal and threw it on the coffee table.  "Pray tell, my dear, where do the lies end and the truths start?"

This coming from a man who pretended for a living- a man who basically lived a lie until the lie caught up with him.  I felt myself bristle, and my voice hardened, "Hey, hey, that is not a fair question-"

"Seems to me the only honesty I've seen out of you works its way into the pages of this diary thing.  And you are, indeed, shall we say, brutally honest, whether it comes to the - what was it you called Paul?  Let me see, I can't rem- oh, yes, the Pudding-Faced Antichrist, wasn't that it?  Tart.  Quite tart.  And  what did you mean, he'll be my doom?  Or is that you just making your marvelous little assumptions again?"

He was tearing me apart inside, and he'd only just begun.  I rose to my feet, my hands clasped almost pleadingly.  "Freddie, please, that was the first week, I had so much to lea-"

Freddie seized my elbows and whispered, "Did I say you could stand up?"

My throat tightening, I shook my head.

"Then F---ING SIT DOWN, BITCH!" he yelled in my face.

My knees turned into gelatin, and I fell back against the sofa.  Freddie was being such a beast, it made me sick to my stomach.  Vodka overload was no excuse for this.  He was just being mean to be mean.  Was this vicious creature his true self- the monster left over when all other facades and manipulative characters were brushed aside?  Don't cry.  Whatever you do, don't cry. 

His voice leveled once more.  "But you were certainly your most honest about me.  And in some ways, yes, you hit the nail on the head.  Moral centers do bore me, as do you.  Every time you open your mouth I want to scream, you're so dull.  How I managed to put up with your ridiculous American-ness for this long, I'll never know."

I began to visibly shudder.  His voice was so cool, like steel.

"But my favorite line, in this whole f---ing thing, has to be the last.  Short and sweet, to the point.  Ties everything together so nicely."  he cleared his throat and recited the last ten words I had scrawled in the notebook.  "What a waste of time, what a waste of life.  So perfect.  I think I'll have them put that on my headstone."

I went even whiter. The words flew, my voice shaking, "Freddie, I wasn't talking about you, I swear to God, I wrote that in the wrong place, I meant myself, I was talking about myself!  Please! I-"

"Oh, speaking of yourself," Freddie continued, willfully deaf to my apologies, "as much as I leaned about me, I think I learned much more about you than you might have wanted anyone to learn.  As much as you despise my soul, you can't seem to get enough of my body."

"Oh, shut up," I snapped.  "I don't-"

"You just can't help yourself, can you?  First impulse, always always, is to lie.  But there's the proof in black and white.  You want me.  You want me like mad.  Some of those entries, God, the page is practically dripping wet-"

"SHUT UP!" I screamed.

"Admit it, darling, I want to hear you say it.  Say you want me.  It's so much easier if you just admit it."

"GO TO HELL!"

"First you answer me, bitch.  Do you want me?"

I turned away, the tears more imminent than ever.  Suddenly he yanked me to my feet, forced me to look into his cold, cold eyes.  And he hissed, "Answer me."

And against my will, the words puffed softly from my lips.  "Yes... Yes, I want you, you bastard."

Freddie let go of me, and shrugged aloofly.  "Well, of course you do, dear.  What else is new?"

That did it.  Despite the fact that I had been planning all day to give myself up to him, there was no way I was going to follow through now.  That would be far too easy a victory for him.  My face froze, like his.  I walked away from Freddie, forcing my back to straighten and my shoulders to square.  My backpack was sitting on the floor near the front door; I headed for it.

"Where are you going?" he called indolently, but I didn't answer.  I was perfectly silent, hoisting the bag up onto my shoulder.  My old flats were in my room, I'd have to traipse up the stairs to get them.  I didn't know where I would go from here, but I didn't mind exactly where as long as it was nowhere near "here."

When I reappeared to walk down the stairs, the corners of his mouth twitched.  "Leaving so soon?"

Again, I said nothing.  After a few seconds, he walked toward the bottle of vodka I had left on the coffee table, and spoke again with a chuckle under his words.  "You'll be back."

I bit my lip, and swore to myself I would never set foot in his flat ever again.  My hand was on the knob.

He took a swig straight from the bottle.  "Where's your Passport, Julia?"

My skin prickled.  Oh, Good God. 

On instinct I swung my bag back off my shoulder and peered into the three main flaps.  My forged United States Passport wasn't there. 

Out of my peripheral I saw Freddie march toward the stairs.  I dropped everything and sped to the second floor.  He too broke into a run.  I broke all records getting up those stairs, literally jumping three steps at a time, nearly tripping over my own feet but catching myself just before I toppled.  I burst into the green room, saw the Passport there on the nightstand.  I put out my hand, my fingers barely grazing the leather bound document when another larger hand slid in just a hair faster and slammed down over it.

"Sorry, dear," he murmured, clenching the Passport in his fist.  "I'm afraid it's just not that easy."

My fists clenched, on the inside screaming and raging against the futility of all this.  "I hate you."

Freddie almost reacted to that; I saw his eyes widen the tiniest bit, but then he froze over again.  "You do not.  You can't feel hate.  You can't feel at all.  You just think.  And assume.  And analyze.  Your heart pumps cold blood, there's no love or hate to warm it."

"Please, just let me have the Passport, and you'll never see me again-"

"I don't think you understand.  You belong to me, Julia.  I own you.  All this time, ever since the first night, you've been in my debt.  There's nothing I can't make you do for me.  No, more than that.  There's nothing I can't have anyone do for me.  And you're no different.  There's nothing special about you.  You're just like anyone else, except you're colder- and more beautiful.  Such a waste."

His words continued to vivisect my heart into even smaller pieces.  I managed, "Fine!  Fine!  I'll pay you, I still have a little money I won in Vegas, you can have it all-"

"Darling, do I look like I want your pocket change?"

I heard myself ask this question, and immediately wanted to jump off a ledge, because I already knew the answer.  "Then what do you want?"

"I crave the very thing you crave," he whispered.  His finger traced the curve of my face.  "A nice, long, serious f---."

I took a step back, shaking my head.  "There's no w-"

"It's what you want too, don't try and say otherwise," he hissed.  "I'll please you, you might please me, and you will be free to go.  Is that so awful?"

"Oh, God, I hate you," I said again.  "You're a monster and I hate you!"

Again, that made a chink in his armor.  But he kept talking.  "Darling, we're wasting the night, if we're going to f---, let's begin.  All you need is a lesson, and the right teacher.  Step One: Arouse."

Before I could pull away, Freddie seized both my hands.  "You want to see me aroused," he hissed, "so arouse me."

Freddie put my hands on him then.  He let out a muffled groan, and my insides entangled themselves.  I tried to jerk my hands away but he was too strong.  He backed himself up against the bedroom wall, drawing me over with him.  And then, he started to move my hands up and down.

"Spread your palms out a litt- ohhh, yes," he sighed.  "Like that..."

I could feel the difference already.  My eyes were squeezed shut, my teeth clamped down on my bottom lip.  And the sickest part was, I didn't know how to feel.  I should have been repulsed, I should have screamed and with the aid of an adrenaline rush come up swinging and gouged out his eyes and maybe even knocked out one of those extra teeth- but I wasn't repulsed.  Even worse, the longer he stood there making me stroke him, the more I... liked it. 

Freddie moaned in a voice that appealed to me more than it should have, "My dear... you do learn so... so very quickly..."

I opened my eyes and looked down.  He wasn't holding my hands there any more, and the most triumphant look was in his eyes.  No doubt now that he was aroused.  At once I drew away, breathing hard. 

"Oh, dear, now you've done it," he whispered rather heavily.  "And a good job of it too.  Very nice, I didn't even tell you to knead your ha-"

I covered my ears and screamed, tried to dart out of the bedroom, but again, he was too fast.  He yanked me back toward him before I went any distance at all.

"Not yet," he hissed.  "You got me like this, you have to fix it now."

I watched in horror as his smooth, deft hands undid the button of his now quite strained-looking jeans.  There it was.  And I wanted to be sick.  But you would never have known it from the way I breathed, "Oh, my God..." 

"See, you really are no different," he whispered.  "On your knees, please."

My face turned green.  "I will do no such thing!" I shouted with one last flare of willpower, and it might have been more effective had I not ended the sentence with the absolute worst thing possible.

I licked my lips.  I didn't mean to.  I swear.  But I did.

And Freddie saw it.  "What are you waiting for?" he growled.  "You're only torturing yourself, you know.  Go to it."

I looked up into his eyes, and said flatly, "No."

"Get on your knees right now or I will find someone who will!" he snarled.  Some of the chill had left his voice, and replaced with a touch of unbridled insanity.

"Aw gee, that will be my loss, then, bye bye," I whispered, then turned on my heel.

And Freddie lost it.

He grabbed me by my hair and pulled my head back so fast had he been any more emphatic he could have snapped my neck.  I fell to the floor, then Freddie pulled me back up in such a way that now I was kneeling and he held my head right next to it.  I shut my eyes and covered my mouth.

"Do it!" he ordered.  "DO IT!"

And all I could shout was "No!  NO! NOOOO!" 

Now Freddie was screaming, every ounce of cool and composure gone with the wind.  "Jesus!  Why are you so f---ing surprised?  I'm a monster!  That's what you think I am!  Don't you?   You think I'm a monster?  You won't accept anything less than that, and I dare not disappoint you.  It's a monster you want, then a monster I'll be.  Are you happy now?  Does this support your f---ing hypothesis?!?!?!"

"Freddie, please," I gasped through my hand.  Tears were streaming down my face, making tracks of black eyeliner across my cheeks.  I didn't want to cry, but I couldn't contain it anymore.  "Please... I'm sorry... for everything I ever said, or did, or wrote, or dared to think within my own f---ing head, just please... let me go..."

"Not until you-" Freddie's voice halted, and seemed to catch.  A new shiver vibrated under his words as he went on, "First you- pay me back.  F--- it, stop crying."

I didn't reply, instead just knelt there and drowned in my own sobs. 

"Stop crying!"  His voice thickened, and his hands began to shake.  But still he managed to shout, "S-STOP IT!"

And then something happened inside of me.  I don't know what, for a moment maybe I too just snapped, and the cool, refreshing caress of sheer madness washed over my shell-shocked mind.  I opened my eyes, looked up into the dark ones glaring above me.  My fists clenched.

I felt my knees lift me back onto my feet.  With a loud, unhinged roar, I rose up at him and hit him with everything I had.  Twice.  Once for each sharp cheekbone.  I don't know why I didn't take the easy blow- I mean, it was right there- but I didn't.  I slapped him so hard I sprained the ring finger on my left hand, and he was thrust off balance.  Down he went, landing in a rather compromising position, but I didn't have it in me to laugh.  I just wanted out- and away from him.

"YOU MONSTER!" I screamed one last time, then ran down the stairs, grabbing my backpack and flying out the front door, ignoring the last thing I heard Freddie raggedly shout before the door closed. 

"Julia, wai-"

Click-clack.

And then all I could hear was the drum of a heavy downpour tapping against the sidewalks and on top of my head, the splash of my already waterlogged flats slapping furiously through the puddles- and the crash of what was left of my heart shattering into a million million fragments.