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Reaching Out for a Helping Hand

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Brian felt more and more pleased as he watched the grin blooming across Freddie’s face.

 

It was their first day back in the studio, following a weeklong break from recording. The whole thing had been stagnating as August approached, but while the small intermission had been timely, Brian and John had actually used the holiday to construct the bones of the track they were currently playing to their small audience. The song was John’s. Brian would have welcomed the week off, but when their bassist had quietly showed him some bits and pieces he had been working on at the end of their last session, the ball had well and truly begun rolling again.

 

He had expected Freddie to like the clean, cheery, finger-plucked chord progressions he and John had written. In the studio, it had taken them hours to get onto the classical guitars. John had lobbied for them from the beginning, but Brian had been less convinced when he’d first properly delved into the lyrics. They were dark, bitter—angry, even. However now he liked the contrast, the juxtaposing elements of lightness and dark. It was very John, and it being John’s song after all, Brian had conceded to the bulky body and nylon strings.

 

“Oh, I believed you

Went on my knees to you

How I trusted you

But you turned me down,”

 

As Brian sang, his eyes flickered over to Roger. He hadn’t been sure exactly how their quintessential rock n’ roll drummer was going to feel about the song. Apathy would have been good enough. Brian was instead discouraged to find Roger scowling. Staring at the ground. There was a forgotten cigarette spiralling smoke between his index and middle fingers.

 

It didn’t seem, Brian concluded, like it was going to go down well after all. But Freddie still looked goddamn enamoured. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if Roger were a bit ticked off by some Spanish guitars. As Brian opened his mouth to sing once more, he kept his eyes on Roger:

 

“But it’s dog eat dog in this rat race

And it leaves you bleeding lying flat on your face

Reaching out

For a helping hand.”

 

Roger’s eyes snapped up and Brian’s own were startled away for a moment, before he realised that Roger wasn’t looking at him at all, but at John, with a gaze that might have set their humble acoustics alight. Brian stole a quick glance at John, but the other guitarist was dutifully plucking away, eyes cast downwards. Roger, seemingly remembering his ciggie, lifted it for a drag with one shaky hand. Immediately, Brian felt uneasy.

 

He resolved to watch Freddie for what remained of the instrumental, whose closed-eyed smile and complementarily rhythmic hand gestures were much more pleasant feedback. Mike Stone tapped his foot behind him. It was only as their little performance began to draw to a close that Brian dared glance at Roger again.

 

“I had to swallow my pride

So naïve, you took me for a ride

But now I’m the one to decide

Who needs, well I don’t need

Who needs you?”

 

He was shocked. In the space of only a few seconds, Roger’s expression had faltered from burning and sullen to what seemed to resemble genuine pain. Completely baffled, Brian felt dread creeping in with the last few notes of the song.

 

However—and perhaps even more perplexing—upon the song’s end it was not Roger’s disapproving bark but applause from Freddie (and a little from Mike) that filled the room. Roger in fact did not pick up his gaze from the carpet. When Freddie bounded towards them and began to lavish with praise, Brian watched Roger slowly lurch his body forward off the stool and mutter something about air.

 

Something was very, very off, Brian concluded, as he heard the door click shut behind him amidst Freddie’s babble and John’s reserved laughter. Mike shot him a questioning glance, to which Brian could only frown and shrug, twisting to look at the door closed behind Roger’s retreat.

 

He hesitated for what was probably only a handful of seconds. Long enough for him to try to mentally figure out if his dread of following was enough to mitigate the social pressure he felt to do so (it wasn’t). As he dragged himself over to the nearest guitar stand, Freddie and John had begun to notice Roger’s disappearance. Freddie was frowning. “What—?”

 

“I’ll go see,” Brian said.

 

Admittedly, Brian had planned some firm words for Roger and his disappearing act, but they all fell away when he actually opened the door and saw the other man leaning against the wall adjacent. His palm pressed against his mouth and eyes tightly shut, Roger startled at Brian’s appearance. So he hadn’t stormed out properly, observed Brian. He hadn’t gone far. He must have intended to re enter the room at some point in the near future. Brian swallowed.

 

Instead of the snippy questions he had prepared, out came a query much more gentle. “Are you all right, Rog?”

 

Roger inhaled, removing his hand from his face. His eyes scanned the ground darkly. “Oh, fuck off. None of your business.”

 

Brian was taken aback by the bite of the response. After a few stunned seconds, he spluttered in retort, crossing his arms, “You know what, Roger, I think it kind of is my business. You clearly despised the song I helped John to write, so I think I need to know why. We are making an album, in case you’ve somehow forgotten.”

 

Brian didn’t think he could get any more confused, but then Roger glanced up at him at the words, eyes glimmering with what seemed to be some sort of patchy hope. “Did you have a hand in the lyrics, then?”

 

Opening his mouth once, and then closing it again, Brian finally replied, “No. No, they were all John’s.”

 

A juddering exhale, and Roger rubbed his right eye with some force. “Right. Right.” And then, “Fuck.”

 

“Roger, could you just tell me what your issue with the song is?” Brian asked, exasperated.

 

“I told you, it’s not—”

 

“And I explained why is it most definitely my business, because it is the band’s business, and if you’re going to refuse to play something you should at least have the bloody courtesy to explain why—”

 

“Fucking fine!” Roger snapped, eyes locked onto Brian’s—trembling like rainstorms—hands clenched into fists and cheeks drained of all colour. “Fuck. The song is about me.”

 

Brian felt his face twist into something resembling incredulity. Speechless for only a few moments, he finally replied: “Roger, were you actually listening to the song?”

 

“Of course I bloody was,” Roger spat. He looked pained. Like he wanted to leave.

 

“Roger, it’s a song about… about heartbreak,” Brian pointed out, frustrated, “what on earth makes you think it’s about you?”

 

Roger didn’t say anything. He still seemed like he was about to bolt. He didn’t seem to be suddenly realising Brian was right. Brian felt his heartbeat lurch as pieces of the puzzle began to slot together, slowly, tentatively.

 

“I know what it’s about, Brian.” Roger rasped, clearly feeling the silence crawling across his skin at least as much as Brian could.

 

Brian was busy remembering things, things about those few days in that paper-strewn studio with John, bits between the quiet and the sweet acoustic twang. (“‘Rat race’, John?” Brian had teased, holding up the paper scratched with the lyrics in question, “Utilizing a Roger classic, are we?”) Now that he thought about it, the snort that had been John’s response had been tinged with perhaps just a little sardonicism.

 

He looked at Roger, who wasn’t looking back at him. Brian wasn’t sure he expected any more words from the other at this stage, and so he swallowed to say them himself.

 

“Rog… you and John—”

 

“Stop.”

 

The quiet was so violent Brian could feel it rattle in his ribcage. It felt like a long while before he spoke again.

 

“Roger… did you just, come out, to me?”

 

Roger turned his back to Brian. Brian could not longer see his face but his shoulders may have been shaking, just slightly. His head was reeling, desperately trying to make sense of everything that had been implied so far. Something stopped him from reaching out to touch Roger’s trembling upper arms, but he felt himself opening his mouth and the words coming out:

 

“Roger, it’s okay.” And then, when that was met only with silence, “It doesn’t bother me. It’s fine. I promise it’s fine.”

 

Finally, Roger reacted to Brian’s words, if only by leaning forward so his forehead rested against the wall, shoulders hunching. Brian inhaled sharply. He had no idea what else he was meant to say, fighting away swathes of probably unhelpful questions that were swimming inside his skull. All but one.

 

“And… well, John? He’s—?”

 

“He wanted you to know.” Roger seemed to be forcing out the words, “Both of you.” He meant Freddie. “That was the goddamn point of the—fuck! Fuck.” Brian could tell he was swiping away at his eyes, frantic.

 

In a soft voice, Brian pressed for more. Somewhere, he knew it probably wasn’t what Roger needed, but what Brian needed was to know. “The point of the what?”

 

Roger sniffed wetly, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes and cursing, over and over, under his breath. Brian’s hand hovered above Roger’s shoulder, before returning again to his side. “Do you want to… turn around, Rog?”

 

“Fuck, no.” Roger spluttered with humourless laughter.

 

“Look, Roger, I don’t care if you and John are…” Sleeping together? Dating? Brian tried to tease out clues from memories of the pair’s past interactions, from the lyrics of John’s song, but it was fruitless and the ever-expanding silence seemed to be enough to get the general idea across.

 

Roger threw his head back to stare up at the ceiling, forearm resting across his face. Then, as it dropped to his side, “The point of the song. He’s upset that I didn’t want you to… know.”

 

Oh. Brian’s eyes flickered over Roger’s vulnerable form from under furrowed brows. There’s an empty feeling that you can’t forget. Reaching out for a helping hand. He ran through line after line in his head, but he could only vaguely see the shape of the narrative Roger was attributing. “I don’t know… he might be upset about more than that, Rog.”

 

Roger barked out another spurt of laughter, void of amusement. “Yeah. No doubt.” Finally, he spun around to face Brian once more. His cheeks and eyes had become blotchy red with the tears and rage. He didn’t meet Brian’s confused gaze.

 

Brian flicked through the emotions he had quietly read into John’s lyrics throughout the week he had spent thinking about them. Used. Cheated. Betrayed. “Do you think you should… talk to him?”

 

“No,” said Roger.

 

“No?”

 

“Brian, were you actually listening to the song?” Roger sneered, mocking. And then, by way of explanation, “He doesn’t want anything to do with me. That’s the whole idea. Say, I don’t suppose he ever mentioned a drum part while you were tinkering with the, the fucking acoustics, did he?”

 

He hadn’t. “I’m sending him out here,” said Brian, turning to push the door open once more, pausing only at Roger’s shrill protesting ‘wait’. He turned back to face the other.

 

Roger had one hand itching nervously at his collarbone inside his shirt. “You can’t tell anyone. About us. Or, uh, about… me.” He still wouldn’t look at Brian.

 

Brian didn’t hesitate. “Of course I won’t.”

 

“Not even Freddie.”

 

He did pause then, but only for a moment. “I promise. Not even Freddie.”

 

When Brian re-entered, Mike was at the mixing console and Freddie had lit a cigarette. Both looked up at his entrance, but Brian immediately made his way towards John, who was still sitting with the guitar in his lap.

 

“What’s wrong?” said Freddie, but Brian dismissed him with a hand and leaned towards John so as to be able to speak quietly.

 

“Go out there and talk to him,” he whispered.

 

John immediately pulled away. Surprised, and his eyes flickering with questions. “Did he…” he trailed off, glancing over at the other two occupants of the room.

 

“He told me… what the song was about.” Brian explained.

 

John didn’t stop to ask what Brian thought, or how much Roger had actually divulged. He simply nodded, handing the guitar to Brian, and walked out.

 

Now in the room with only Freddie and Mike, Brian felt as though he had just found the eye of the storm. His heart was thundering. He had no idea how he had managed to keep his cool out there with Roger, but the weight of the news was finally upon him, making his head spin. Trying to feign nonchalance, he lowered himself onto the stool John had been occupying. Faced the others, who waited expectantly.

 

He opened his mouth, blindly expecting some terribly clever excuse, but all that tumbled out was, “Roger appears to be in a spectacularly bad mood this morning.”

 

Mike scoffed. Freddie’s eyes narrowed, and Brian immediately knew he wasn’t buying it. He wasn’t sure what had given it away: if it was the crummy explanation, or the volume of his heartbeat, which he was half convinced could be heard from where Freddie stood a couple of metres away.

 

“Would anyone like a coffee?” Brian proffered. Swallowing.

 

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On the other side of the door, Roger and John were locked in an embrace. John was not a voluntary participant. Really, Roger had locked John in an embrace.

 

If John was going to be honest with himself, the situation was sickening microcosm of the last two years, of their relationship. John didn’t enjoy being honest with himself when it came to Roger, but there was no stopping it now that he had torn his own heart out to bleed in front of the other.

 

Right at the beginning, Roger had stolen his eyes. Blinded, John could see only gold-spun tresses, Aegean irises. And it seemed to be by witchcraft that he had then hijacked John’s mind. Endlessly it replayed the smoke drafting from Roger’s lips, the swagger of his step, the rasp of his throat and his sunburst grin. His easy sexuality: he fucked the girls, and the boys, well—he let the boys hit on him, said nothing. It was a surprise to John the day he had robbed John of his hands, even more surprising the way he had writhed under their ministrations. Whining. Sometime in the months that had followed, when Roger had knocked John’s door down with roses and proper proposition, it had seemed like a gift. In retrospect, John knew Roger had not given but taken, taken something from him that he could not even put a name to.

 

What John didn’t know was at what point exactly Roger Taylor had thieved his tongue.

 

Maybe it had been the day John had confessed that he had almost told Freddie, the angry quiver of Roger’s voice down the line. Or the night he had pulled out of John, told his confused lover that he couldn’t stop remembering their run in with football fans at the pub. Or perhaps it had been some time after John had moved into Roger’s big new house, the day he’d been made to hide his things before Clare came to stay. Midnight in the hotel room where he’d been moved to tears at the thought that he could be so illicit.

 

It was the day after, while John was reinstating himself in his own home, pulling down boxes that had been hastily filled with his electrical projects, that the first line had came to him. Where is that helping hand?

 

He had hardly spoken to Roger during the week off, despite slipping into the same bed as him every night. He couldn’t spend every day in the studio with Brian, but in the vast mansion there was always a room to hide in. On Sunday night Roger hadn’t come home till 3 o’clock in the morning, lifting the covers gently, entirely sober. John had fought back tears and dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

 

Now, he was dizzy. Winding himself up about the fact Roger stood here entrapping John in his arms even after he had broken free. He wriggled backwards, persisting until Roger loosened his grip enough for John to step back to see his face.

 

For the first time, he saw the tears.

 

Roger’s cheeks were wet with them, and the moment his eyes met John’s he began to cough uncontrollably, letting go of John to wipe his face on his sleeves. Then, and shakily, he said, “I told him. Y-you fucking happy?”

 

John didn’t let any of the terror, upset, or outrage he felt, bile-like in his oesophagus, show on his face. “No.” he replied.

 

The look that twisted Roger’s features, brows deep with anger, eyes swimming with fear, made John’s stomach turn. He swiped his wrist under his nose roughly, sniffing. “How many more people would you like me to tell then, John? Shall I release a, a statement! A statement to the fucking press?”

 

“Roger—”

 

“Would that be satisfactory? Do you need the slurs to turn into punches? Is that what it’ll take?”

 

John didn’t meet Roger’s burning gaze. “By ‘no’,” he said quietly, “all I meant was no, I’m not happy.”

 

Roger was silent for a while, staring at the floor. John could see his lower lip fluttering until he lifted his hand to press against his mouth, covering it.

 

Part of John was weirdly happy. Pleased that Roger had known, in essence, what the problem was. That clearly he had turned over similar anxieties in his head to the ones John had. But that small happiness, the small hope had been quickly dashed, shattered. John trained his gaze down too and imagined they were both looking at it, in shards on the floor.

 

“I just—” said John, just as Roger said “I’m s—”

 

They plunged into silence again. Roger shut his eyes, and so John continued.

 

“I just can’t… live like I am. It’s not sustainable. I can’t… leave the house at a different time to you every morning just so Freddie and Brian don’t get suspicious. I can’t hide upstairs every time someone knocks on the door.”

 

Roger didn’t open his eyes, but he did nod, once. The back of his head rested against the wall. John took a breath, “It’s ridiculous. And frankly, it’s… humiliating.”

 

The nodding coming from Roger provided some uneasy comfort. He shifted in place, finally opening his eyes and gingerly wiping his hands on his jeans. Then, prefaced with a large breath, “Do… do you want to move out?”

 

“No…” said John immediately, but the way the word trailed off made Roger’s face fall.

 

“I’m so sorry, John. I’m so, so sorry. I can… tell my family if you want. You don’t have to hide. Uhm,” Roger was nervously running a hand through his hair, staring at the ground again, words coming faster and faster. “I’m really sorry. You know, I. I love you, right?”

 

John swallowed. His mind rattled with the realisation that maybe, just maybe, John had Roger all locked up too.

 

It was a dangerous thought. He stared into those trembling baby blues and saw a man trying desperately to enjoy being tied, trapped in a room without a key. An angel with clipped wings. Did John not too employ his own insidious form of witchcraft? Why else had Roger stayed all this time?

 

“I can’t lose you, John.”

 

John felt vaguely horrified. What had they done to each other? All the sex and the sentiment, the songs and the spells.

 

“Neither of us are happy, Rog,” John heard himself say.

 

He felt his own heart shatter at Roger’s face. Fuck. He looked torn up, cheeks red and glass shards in his eyes. And, in the smallest voice John had ever heard:

 

“I’m… happy.”

 

It was almost hilarious. John was almost going to say the words, draw back and deal the coup de grace. But then he didn’t—not quite. Instead, suddenly panicked, he grabbed Roger’s shoulders, in a flurry pressing their bodies together and wrapping his arms around the other tightly. He strained to pick up Roger’s heartbeat. Thought about how scared he had been only a few seconds ago that he’d never, ever feel it again.

 

“John?” asked Roger, quietly.

 

“Let’s… take a break.” John felt so young. “I’ll stay somewhere else tonight. But I’ll be back,” he added, when he felt Roger tense in his arms.

 

John’s heart sank only a little when Roger eventually pulled away. He sniffed, running a hand through his hair. “You’d better get back in there. I’ll… be in, in a bit.”

 

With some difficulty, John did get back in there. Light-headed, he made his way over to Brian.

 

“Could I stay at yours tonight?” he asked. He hadn’t expected his voice to be shaking.

 

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Roger was so fucking alone.

 

Sure, he’d been lonely the past week. With John gone half the time and out of his sight the other half, he had been totally isolated. Spent a lot of time rolling his eyes at daytime television. Listening to records he’d already heard hundreds of times. Flipping through books, reading the same sentences over and over. Yes, he had been lonely. But he hadn’t quite been alone.

 

Every night he had still slipped into bed next to John. Roger’s eyesight was not good, but even just seeing the blurry form cocooned under the covers in the dark made his heart leap at John’s loveliness. Maybe it should have scared him how deep he had fallen, but instead he listened to John’s steady breathing and felt warmth and contentedness pulse through his body. They had to get through this, whatever it was, because Roger was madly in love with this man and he was sure, at some point at least, he had been madly in love with Roger too.

 

Now Roger was actually alone. Not just lonely. And the hope he had held that things would right themselves had dramatically slipped away.

 

The television screen was bleary with his sleeplessness. A quick glance at the clock told Roger it was about half past ten. He slid down the couch, just a little.

 

He didn’t want to get into bed.

 

When he’d parted with John after they had finished at the studio, he hadn’t really considered what the evening would be like without him. He had seen him so infrequently in the past week that it seemed as though nothing would seem unusual at all. But Roger had not thought about how it would feel to turn off the lights and shuffle into bed and lie there, sensing nobody beside him. He thought about every other bedroom in the house, but felt a lump in his throat as he imagined winding the corridors, opening doors and doors and doors. Roger might have had a taste for the more ostentatious, but he hadn’t bought this enormous house thinking he alone could fill the rooms. He had bought it thinking of John, John and then…

 

The things he wanted with John were ridiculous. Roger stopped, feeling his face warm and heartbeat flutter. He was so goddamn done for. And he didn’t want to get into bed.

 

Instead, he stood and turned off the television. Paused to think, but only briefly. Made his way over to grab his car keys from a bowl on the coffee table.

 

All the way to Brian’s place, Roger blasted love songs and swiped handfuls of the city lights to put in his pockets. Turned words over in his head, tumbling them until they were polished like stones and then discarding them. God, he may have been a lyricist but he was no wordsmith. He chewed on his bottom lip and braked at the lights.

 

Brian was. He was a relatively brilliant wordsmith. If only Roger had any faith that Brian could even comprehend what Roger was attempting to express with language, he could drill him for advice when he answered the door.

 

I’m sorry. I only hide you because I love you. John deserved to be adored publicly. Hand held on the street. Forehead pecked in the studio. On stage in front of thousands, when Roger most wanted to grab and kiss him, all dolled up and those long, gorgeous fingers sliding everywhere, body throbbing with Roger’s beat.

 

The light turned green and Roger’s car lurched forward. That wasn’t the world they lived in. He had to keep John a secret to keep John at all.

 

Unless he had already lost John anyway. Roger pulled over to the side of the road. The silence that descended once the engine had been turned off was enough to make him choke. Quickly, before he could change his mind and drive off again, he opened the door and tumbled out into the chill of the night air.

 

He hadn’t figured out what he was going to say to Brian yet, so as he knocked on the door he thought desperately. He was still without a solid explanation by the time Brian opened the door, in a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms and looking only slightly miffed to see Roger standing there.

 

“Rog?” Brian blinked, one hand on the doorframe. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Yes, hello to you too.”

 

“It’s eleven o’clock at night, Roger,” Brian folded his arms, the cold air hitting them.

 

“Yeah. Uhm,” Roger scuffed his shoe absently, “I’ve… come to take John home.”

 

Silence. Brian frowned, confused. “Oh. Did he call you?”

 

Roger awkwardly ran a hand through his hair, kind of wishing he’d taken the time to run a comb through it in retrospect. “No.”

 

Brian only looked more perplexed, but the entranceway was cooling down quick and he pushed the door open fully to let Roger in.

 

“He’s still up,” Brian said, as Roger wiped his shoes on the mat and began unlacing them, “if you wanted to speak with him?” Roger’s stomach was twisting enough that ‘want’ was not really the right term anymore, but he nodded all the same.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, if he… wants to speak with me, that is.”

 

He could hear Brian pulling the door closed and manoeuvring the doormat back into place. As he began to move away he called back to Roger, “Would you like a drink?”

 

“Whiskey.”

 

“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Brian, socks padding on the carpeted floor.

 

Roger yanked off his other shoe and kicked the pair vaguely together against the wall. Then he paused. Glancing to his left, he could see the door to the living room, the light from the television blinking. Dread felt heavy, like mercury in his fingertips. He took one step forward. Then another.

 

John was in the living room, and he glanced up as Roger entered. His legs were curled up on the couch and he was toying with the strings on his sweatpants with one hand. Sleepy, with red eyes and mussed hair. Roger fell in love again twenty times in the few steps from the door to the other couch.

 

“Hi there,” he said, wincing at the grate of his voice. Leaning against the arm of the couch, he thumbed his keys. The loud hum of the electric kettle could be heard from the kitchen.

 

John didn’t look shocked, having presumably registered Roger’s presence from the commotion in the entranceway. “Hello,” he said, dropping the sweatpants strings and letting his eyes ghost over Roger. Roger looked away, slipping the keys into the pocket of his jacket. Waited for the question.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

Roger paused. “Did you hear me talking at the door?”

 

“Yes.”

 

A smile quirked at Roger’s lips. “God. Then why did you need to ask?”

 

Roger could see the smile in John’s eyes, even though his mouth didn’t curve. “Why have you come to take me home, Roger?”

 

Inhaling, Roger slowly shrugged his jacket off of his shoulders. He was stalling. His face felt very hot. That could be attributed only partly to the warmth of the room and his state of dress. The longer he waited, though, and the more John looked expectantly at him, the more his heartbeat became akin to thunder. Finally, he opened his mouth and the unpolished words tumbled out.

 

“John, maybe you don’t need me, but… I do need you.”

 

The kettle had stopped. Distantly, Roger could hear the shuffle of Brian moving about the kitchen. He tried to ignore the buckling of his stomach.

 

“And I’m sorry if I behaved like I didn’t. It… makes me ill to think you ever thought I didn’t care about what you had to say. And you’re right,” said Roger, pausing to look down at his hands, vision swimming slightly, “it is a dog-eat-dog world. We can’t… survive it alone. So, uhm,” he stopped.

 

He had looked at John for the first time and it was clear some veneer had been broken. His expression was soft. Roger took a shaky breath and, forcing himself to lock his eyes with John’s, to not look away this time, “I can be your helping hand. I’m sorry there was ever a time when I wasn’t. I just—”

 

But the other was already heaving himself off the couch, making quick work of the few strides between them. Before Roger could even realise what was happening he had an armful of John, hands fisting the back of his shirt, hair tickling his neck. He couldn’t even help but melt, hand scrabbling to card through John’s hair, breathing out a small ‘oh’ at the force of the embrace.

 

He felt John inhale deeply. “I’m sorry about the song. For… making you feel like you had to tell.”

 

“It’s really, really okay,” Roger said breathily, enjoying the expanse of his palm against John’s back.

 

“It’s not,” said John, pulling away suddenly so he could see Roger’s face. Roger felt so naked under his solemn gaze that his cheeks began to warm again. “I don’t… I really don’t know why I gave you an ultimatum, when. I just, god, I want to give you so many chances.”

 

Roger let out a burst of laughter, and John smiled, taking both of Roger’s hands in his. “Fuck,” Roger grinned, glancing down to where they rested on his thighs. Unable to help himself any longer, he leaned forward to press a kiss to John’s mouth, and then one on his nose, until he was kissing him all over his face and John was laughing, properly laughing.

 

The slight rattle of ceramic startled Roger and he whipped his head around to see Brian standing in the doorway. He looked perhaps a little uncomfortable, but he did offer the pair a smile as he made his way into the room, moving to set the tray down on the table.

 

Roger felt every atom in his body vibrate with flight-or-fight responses that urged him to push John away, but instead he kept their hands clasped and forced his eyes to meet hazel-green.

 

“So your talk went well, Rog?” Brian finally said as he took his mug from the tray. John smiled at Roger, and he smiled back, letting go of John’s hands.

 

“You could say that,” Roger said, lightly touching John’s forearm as he moved from where he was perched on the armrest to slide onto the couch itself. He took the mug Brian offered him.

 

It was going to be difficult. It was going to be so, so difficult. Roger watched John thank Brian quietly for his own drink, grinning that small grin, and felt the delicious ache of his heart in his chest.

 

Yes, it was going to be difficult. But John sat down next to him and took Roger’s free hand in his, and Brian smiled a smile much less forced than the one in the doorway and then Roger couldn’t help but grin too. He was struck by how much he was looking forward to the rest of his life. How much he was looking forward to holding John’s hand, every step of the way.

 

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