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Ooh I Need Your Lovin' Tonight

Chapter Text

It is strange for John Deacon to be around his old bandmates once again.

He had felt comfortable and in the right place, the proper one, when they were together at a tavern, drinking and eating with the boys from Bohemian Rhapsody. But now that he is going back home after their meeting, returning to London, it is simultaneously as if everything has changed; and yet also ... nothing has.

He feels the burden of his grief as a weight that drags at his heels now, hindering him rather than sinking through his innards as it had every day in the past; since he spoke a bit to Rog and Brian, somehow the ache has expanded, left his body but still stubbornly remains a part of him. How can it not, when it has been with him for so many years? One reunion cannot change that; cannot alter time. Freddie is still gone, and every time he looks into Roger's eyes or at Brian's face, that realisation sucker-punches him in the gut anew, and right now he can hardly breathe from the force and the sheer weight of it.

"John," Gwilym Lee's gentle voice washes over him as he has leant forward in the passenger seat, hands grasping his thinning hair, "Are you alright? Do we --should I stop for a bit?"

Gwil is driving them back to London in the gathering dusk, with Joe, Rami, and Ben --in various states of sleepiness and stages of sleep-- piled up together in the back of his car.

John sucks in a heavy breath, feeling his chest tighten a bit. He can feel Gwil's eyes on him, warm and sweet and steady, and then the car coasts over onto the edge of the road for a moment. The driver unobtrusively turns on his flashers and twists to face the older man, putting out a hand and placing it on John's arm.

"I should've checked in with you before," Gwilym speaks quietly. "... everything that's happened today, I know it's been a lot. For you, being willing to do it, to meet with Roger and Brian, see them again, that's--" he lets out a breathless laugh of amazement. "It's honestly so brave of you, I think. Truly. Brave, and brilliant."

John blinks and raises his eyes to Gwil's, and sees gentility and respect and belief shining in them. And with that, the tightness constricting his chest starts to ever-so-slightly ease. "Thank you," he tells Gwil, so softly that he is not entirely certain the other hears. But Gwil does hear, and nods with a smile.

"Course," he says. "I mean it. I think you're...I really think you're amazing, John. Really. And I know that might seem like a, a bit much, but erm. I mean I'm just an actor, I play other people for a living, and I do love it. I love learning about the people I'm playing, and all that. But you and the rest of Queen, you got to be yourselves to do something you loved and your music is so special. It really resonates with--with the world." John recalls Ben saying something similar to that, and even though his stomach rolls in discomfiture at the compliment, he does sincerely appreciate it. And then Gwilym adds "...and that's really uplifting to me, as someone who's nothing like that." He chuckles a bit to himself: "I mean, take away the Brian May wig and I'm nobody."

John is surprised at the other man's words. He would never refer to Gwilym as 'nobody'. Even not having seen him in any other films (at least none that he knows of for certain), John knows that sentiment cannot be farther from the truth.

Deacon clears his throat. "I'm glad... I'm glad we could, that we can lift you up, Gwil," he replies. Swallowing hard, his grey-green gaze rises to focus on the other's blue eyes. They gleam in the shine of headlights that come and pass in the now almost full darkness. "But you aren't nobody. Trust me." I know nobody, I've BEEN nobody for the past twenty-odd years, and I've wanted it that way. But you... "You've helped me, Gwil. You all four have, immensely." John's voice trembles now with emotion, and his heart thuds painfully inside his chest. "And you're somebody to me, for that, and for other reasons. For so much else. You are intelligent, and kind, and caring. I see that." You're so much like Brian, he wants to say, but he knows that Gwilym is different, too; and that recognising his differences are important. Reaching out and patting Gwil's hand, John whispers "You're a good man, Gwilym Lee."

Before he can think better of it or wonder if he is overstepping, Gwilym gulps and takes John's hand in his own, giving it a tight thankful squeeze. "And so are you, John Richard Deacon." His eyes twinkle a bit as he uses the other man's full name, and John lets out a little laugh of appreciation and surprise.

John grips and holds onto Gwil's hand for a moment, finding that his rapid heartbeat has slowed and his anxieties have eased. "Thank you, Gwil. For everything."

Gwilym dips his head in acknowledgement of the thanks and smiles softly. "As I've said before, it's the least I can do for you. But you're welcome, of course." He puts pressure on John's fingers as the erstwhile bassist holds his tight, and decides to take a leap of absolute fucking madness: "...And we're friends," Gwil adds. "That's what friends are for, Deaks."

John stills and then blinks, a slow smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "...Roger always used to call me that," he murmurs. He thinks of his bubbly loquacious friend, and wonders if Rog will ever feel the same enough about him to use that nickname now. But "It's--good to hear it again." And he's glad it came from Gwil.

"Right, well, that's good. I'm glad," Gwil lets go of John's hand and shoots him a nod, breathing heavily at his own daring. His heart is thudding. John nods back and gives him a look of slight, fond amusement in return as the driver turns off his flashers and pulls back onto the road to London.

***

Gwil stops the car outside of John's house and looks over his shoulder, reaching a hand back and nudging Ben's leg. "Hey, budge up lads, we're here. Got to say goodnight to John."

John quietly exits the vehicle, assuring Gwil that isn't necessary, let them sleep, but Ben sucks in a breath and lifts his head up from where he had rested it atop Joe's shoulder as Joe slumps asleep in the center seat. Rami is awake now as well, eyes bright as he waves at John and lowers the window to shake his hand. "Good night, boys," John tells them quietly. "Thank you and godspeed."

"Cheers, John," Ben responds as he too shakes the older man's hand, John walking round the rear of the car to do so. "Let us know if you, er...need anything. Anything else, I mean." He feels like he's exuding arrogance in saying that and nearly winces, but John holds onto Ben's hand tightly and thanks him with sincerity shining in his gentle gaze. Hardy clears his throat and puts his hand on Joe's shoulder, shaking him after relinquishing John. "C'mon Joe, wake up real quick and say bye to John, mate."

Joe makes a squeaking sound and opens bleary eyes to see John leaning into the car, smiling at him. And without thinking or planning to do it, Mazzello reaches up and wraps the other in a hug, pressing himself close. John after an instant hugs him back and strokes his hair, pressing his lips to the top of the younger man's head as though Joe is a child, one of his own. Joe murmurs to him, still half-asleep, and John whispers back "Sleep well; sweet dreams, Joe. And know that I thank you for doing this, very much." He withdraws himself fully from the vehicle now and waves to all of the boys, giving Gwilym a quick hug as well where he stands outside his driver door, stretching a bit.

John turns and walks into his house as the boys drive away. He is more grateful for all that they have done for him than he feels his words can adequately convey.

***

John closes the front door behind him and leans against it for a moment, taking a breath. The house is mighty quiet, though that is not totally unusual; Ronnie often putters around dusting or doing a few dishes after she and he watch the sunset together. With a pang he realises he hadn't even called to say he would be home after sunset today. He knows that she is not the sort to mind, she would simply smile and stroke his cheek and say "there's always tomorrow, dear heart," but John feels guilty nevertheless. He had skipped out on quality time with his wife of forty-three years to meet with people he had not seen in twenty-five. He cannot help but feel a hot burst of shame, though he still remains grateful to Joe and the lads for orchestrating today's meeting. Various and sundry emotions are whirling and roiling about inside him.

He closes his eyes and shoves off the door at last, padding quietly into the house and calling "... Veronica? Where are you, love?"

She is not in the kitchen or the greatroom, and he is about to climb the stairs when he hears a rhythmic sound around the corner. It emanates from the bedroom of his youngest son.

He hears an achingly familiar voice, quietened on a track without its rhythm section. "Open up your mind and let me step insiiiiiide, rest your weary head and let your heart deciiiiide,"

And ba ba bum, BUM, bum ba-bum ba-bum comes the bass from his house, along with his son Cameron's quiet voice: "It's so easy, when you know the rules; it's so eeeeasy, when you fall in love, play the game--"

"Play the game," John intones quietly as he reaches Cameron's half-open bedroom door and leans against it. His son lifts his head up, startled, and his fingers falter on the instrument.

"H-hi Dad," Cameron swallows hard and clicks the 'pause' button on his computer from which Freddie Mercury's rich voice emanates, pulling a headphone away from his ear, where he had one covered and the other free to hear both the original song track and his own bass and voice. "...I didn't hear you come in."

John smiles as he shifts his shoulders slightly. "Certainly not, you were... jamming." Cameron ducks his head a bit shyly as he smiles up at his father, who gestures into the rest of the house. "...I just got back, and I haven't seen your mum."

"Oh. She went to the grocery, said we needed a few things," his son says, tapping a thumb against the bridge of his bass. "She's been gone, erm...about ten minutes?"

"So she'll be back soon," John nods. "Okay." He turns, and Cameron expects him to walk away as he has before, to distance himself from the music that was a part of him for so long, yet the existence of it without his dearest Freddie causes too much pain. Yet John's shoulders settle as he thinks of the words he had spoken and the embraces he shared today. He is stronger than his grief, for he has grown to be.

"That...was always one of Brian's favourite songs to play," he tells his son. "He said it let him think, and that it's important to have your head go before your hands." John chuckles then. "I have no idea what he was talking about, then --or now." He lets out a breath and comes to sit beside Cameron, a trifle hesitant. "Do you mind...if I played...just a bit?" Maybe his head will be able to handle what had happened this day if his hands can play.

Cameron's eyes widen as he hands over his bass instantly, hardly daring to believe his father spake so. Yet here they are, John settling the bass against his knees, reaching his knobbly fingers over top, long arms, still strong after all these years, stretched into the proper position. "...Maybe you can help me on, er, teach me the progression for this song?" suggests Cam timidly, almost joking because he is certain his father will not. Sure enough John stills and sits like a statue.

So his son is not prepared for John's next words at all.

John clears his throat and nods. "Okay, Cammie. I can...yes, I can do that." Just this bit, this once. His heart thumps as he strums the first note, and then memories take over as his fingers fret the strings, and he hears the crowds roaring and Freddie's voice calling 'All yours, Brian! Take it, Rog! Go Johnny go!' and it is not painful for him to remember. Not this time.

He sits and shows Cameron the progress of his fingers, saying "You've got to keep the strumming up; keep the sound going. I always used to... wet my fingertips, but you might not want...," He chuckles at Cam's automatic flinch of slight disgust at the suggestion. "Fair enough."

Such is the manner in which Veronica finds them, however; Cameron hears the key in the door and then the shuffling of grocery bags before Veronica calls and her son answers "In my room, Mum!" She comes to his door and stops, hand going to her mouth and tears filling her eyes as she sees her husband, dear sweet John, breaking his musical silence.

For years he had not only been down and sorrowful in word and expression, but he never did anything with music; wouldn't even go to see Cameron --or their son Luke, who also played-- in a concert. He supported them both, of course, and had taken both boys to bass lessons over the years, but never played or was around any playing. The first real time he had accepted its presence in his vicinity without sorrow was when Joe Mazzello played 'Under Pressure' after supper a fortnight ago. And now he is playing with his youngest here, fingers flying over the strings and features relaxed. He seems truly calm and free, and Veronica cannot stop the sob of relief that escapes her lips.

Instantly John stops playing and meets her eyes, reaching out to offer comfort. "Oh, love..."

She shakes her head with tears streaming down her cheeks even as she moves into the room to take his hand. "No, don't stop; I'm sorry, this is lovely. Really lovely." Cam jumps up and rolls his computer chair next to his father for her to sit down. She smiles at him, voice choked. "Thank you, sweetheart." Cam smiles anf heads out to the kitchen, giving his parents privacy and putting the newly-purchased groceries away. Wiping her eyes and squeezing her husband's hand as he strokes circles on her skin with his thumb, Veronica inquires "...What made you --start playing again?"

John ducks his head and smiles. "Well, Cameron asked me if I would," he replies quietly. "And...I saw and spoke to Brian and Roger today."

Chapter Text

There are a lot of things in his life that Brian May is grateful for. A lot of miracles, as he thinks of them. He had gotten to build something he loved to do something he adores, and he gets to play fabulous music with his best friend, and has reconnected with his other best friend now after such a long time, so he should be happy. Shouldn't he?

Even with John's snide words about the Wonderful Brian May continuing Queen and the Legacy of Freddie Mercury, which he shouldn't feel ashamed by; he should be PROUD of continuing their legacy, damn it--Freddie had wanted it that way!

But Fred is dead, as Roger always says so aptly, and John is still living, which is why his disapproval sticks in Brian's craw. Well, it's one reason. The others stem from years and years of opinions and resentment and love, built up around a duty to legacy that Bri undertook with a willful steadiness from the very beginning, and that John doesn't get because he never conceived of this as a job. Which isn't his fault, really; and Brian has always taken the bassist's disapproval hard, even if John never realised that. He cares what Deacy thinks, he has always cared what he thought--just as much as John cares. Or maybe he doesn't, maybe that is a facet of the resentment too. Oh, hang it all--Brian should be HAPPY about today! He should be jumping for joy instead of wallowing in the depths of his frustrated brain.

Bri glances over at Roger who is smoking a cigarette and hanging his arm out the open passenger window, his sunglasses obscuring his expression as the sun glints off his pale hair. And suddenly in Brian's mind's eye Rog is fresh-faced and young again, long golden locks blowing in the wind as he glances over at Brian, flashing those perfect white teeth in a grin. But if that were the case they would be going to a gig with John and Freddie in the back.... Bri sighs and runs one hand through his curls, shaking his head back and forth as he focuses out the windshield again. But he cannot halt the clenching feeling of longing that squeezes his chest in response to his thoughts.

Roger clenches his fist as he flicks ashes off the end of his cigarette. The wind along the car sends the grey ash spinning away into the light of the setting sun, and Rog finds himself wishing that his feelings could fly away like the ashes. He feels like he is burning as his cig is, despite the fact that he loved seeing Deacy again. God, how good it had felt to hold his friend in his arms, and to hear him laugh again after so long without seeing him. It was a gift, but will it last? Can it, after everything that has split them apart? Deaks is still so ... disgusted by them continuing to play, it seems. Even though it took Roger time to be ABLE to play. But of course he cannot say that, because shouting about it wouldn't help and Brian would chastise him for it, of course. Why wouldn't he? Fierce, irascible Roger, blowing his top as always. Yeah, right, sure.

He lets out a hiss of air between his teeth and takes a final drag on his smoke before flicking the last of it out the window. Running a hand through his short hair with an irritated jerk, Roger lets out a loud sound and flattens his right hand, extending it a bit towards Brian. "Right, out with it, Bri. I know you want to say something-- your ruddy big scientist mind is probably spinning."

Brian taps his fingers against the steering wheel rapidly and tips his head forward, curls swinging. "Why do you assume I've got something to say, Rog?"

Roger rolls his eyes. "Because I know you."

"Yes, well, you know what I'm going to say, then?"

"Obviously not, or I wouldn't have asked!"

"Roger--"

"Oh for God's sake, just TALK to me, Brian!" The drummer explodes. "I'm going mad, I keep thinking about seeing John again, and the time--all this time--I'm so glad, but I just can't..." He clenches both fists and slams them into the dash, making Brian tense as he hunches over the wheel. "Sorry," Roger whispers, closing his eyes as his jaw jumps and he twists his face away. "I'm still so fucking angry," he hisses. "And I just wondered...how you felt, how you feel; if you're angry too, or if I'm just being an arsehole." He looks over at his friend now, shooting him a fractured smile. "No; I already know that I'm an arsehole."

Brian feels as though his heart is breaking yet again, and he expects the pieces will blow away now, like ashes in the wind. His left hand trembles as he reaches out to take Roger's right, keeping the other on the steering wheel and watching the road, even though all he wants to do is look in Roger's face. Therefore he need say nothing. But he can't, not right now, and so he squeezes his hand instead and replies "Oh, Rogie... Yes, I'm angry, but my anger is mostly directed towards myself. And I resent that, I resent what John said, about us continuing after losing Fred. He has no idea. NO idea. But I hate, I hate feeling like that. Because I lost everything when I lost Freddie--we all did. I lost love, and I don't think..." Brian inhales sharply, shuddering violently as his long fingers tighten round Roger's hand. "Honestly, Rog, I don't know if we can get it back, the three of us. Not like it was."

Oh how much it wounds him to say these things, strikes Bri to his very core, but this is Roger. He must be truthful. He cannot lie to this man, his dearest living friend. Just as he could never lie to Freddie, for he always saw the truth. No matter how desperately Brian often tried to hide it in order to keep his friends, his family, from getting worried. But Fred could always find it out, and weasel it out of him in such a charming way Bri never got angry at him for it. Roger, on the other hand, poked and prodded and irritated him into explaining, just as he's done now. And John...he would simply look at Brian with those patient, sad, understanding eyes of his. Until the times they weren't understanding and he wrote some angry song-- Brian rolls his lips and tamps his feelings down. He has to be logical.

And logically, "...We should talk to John about this. The way we both feel. If we can."

Roger snorts. "If he will, you mean."

"Yes. That." Brian does glance over now, and Roger sighs, squeezing his fingers in a gesture of assurance.

"Fine, fine, you great pillock, I get it--we have to hear his side of the tale! We've got to get rid of our residual anger together, blah blah blah."

Bri almost chuckles out of fondness, as well as relief that Rog understands what he wants to do, but this is important so he remains solemn as he says "We've got to at least try, Rogie."

Squeezing his hand one more time, Roger releases it and throws his head back against the seat in mock-disgust. "Fine! I get it. Yes, we do, alright? I'll even promise not to throw hands this time."

Now Brian does grin at him in thankful relief as well as gratitude. "Good man."

"You're damn right I am."

***

"C'mon, mate, up you get."

Ben hauls Joe up and out of Gwil's car with Gwil assisting. He slings the shorter man's arm around his shoulders and holds onto Joe's wrist securely so as to keep the mostly-asleep idiot upright.

Leaning down with a nod and smile for Rami, Ben glances to Gwilym with a "Cheers," before bidding them both good night and helping Joe get to the front door of Ben's flat.

Joe sags heavily against him as the blond digs his keys out of the pocket of his coat. He nearly drops them when his friend's cold nose and lips settle against the side of his neck, and Joe's breath tickles Ben's skin as he mumbles "Y' smell nice. And you're skin's super soft." Ben's cheeks flame at that and he swallows, doing his best to ignore the swooping sensation in his abdomen as he finally manages to unlock the door. He pulls Joe up by the sides to halt this--well, what he is pretty sure is nothing but Mazzello being incredibly sleep-drunk and continuing to take their flirtiness in jest really far.

Ben has always figured this was a joke that started because he's supposedly such a heartthrob, and he's gone along because it's nice, and fun, and clearly Joe finds it hilarious. There's nothing else other than flirty banter between them. Naught but Ben's current feeling, whatever it is... But Joe is practically asleep on his feet, so Ben shakes himself free of said feeling and says "Thanks mate," before he instantaneously cocks things up by adding "Let's get you in bed, yeah?"

Joe is basically asleep now, but manages to utter "...Sure, Benny. Lead th' way."

What? Ben forces out a chuckle as he pulls Joe into his arms to keep him from falling flat on his face onto the floor. "Slow down, Casanova," he teases. "I'll be taking the couch." He brings Joe into his room and lays his friend flat on the bed, crouching to unlace and remove Joe's trainers for him.

Slapping ineffectually at Ben's arms as if he means to grab one, Joe utters "Y' can join, don't wanna steal your bed...plus it's huge. C'mon," he wheedles, at last managing to catch hold of Ben's wrist. "Stay, please." He begs.

Getting this meeting together for the three remaining members of Queen is an enormous relief to him, having demanded the best of his faculties, but at the same time now that it's over and has been done he feels cold and empty, alone. Joe had put himself into this, thrown himself into this crazy plan, to help John in his grief because Joe understands. Though his own father's death occurred so much more recently, from what he knows of John and Brian and Roger their grief has not abated in the slightest. He doubts that it will, and that hurts; it also hurts and frightens him that he has absolutely no idea what is going to happen now, how much the renewal of contact has helped (if it did). And now that this is out of Joe's hands, so to speak, he feels a void opening inside of him. A void that isn't just exhaustion.

"...I don't want to be alone," Joe whispers faintly, unsure if he can even be heard. His eyes are enormous and swimming with fear and with sorrow. He puts those feelings out into the world at this moment the way he does everything else, with complete candor. Ben admires the courage that takes. He has always been much less of a sharer.

And Ben does hear what his friend says; he blinks hard and bites his lower lip with emotion. "Alright," he replies. "'Course, buddy. I'll stay." Joe relaxes and his eyes brighten just a bit as he settles into the pillows. Ben strips off his shirt and trousers, crawling under the covers and pulling them up over Joe as well as himself. Reaching out and patting Joe's side with one hand as he moves close beside him, he adds "I've gotcha, Joe. You're not alone." You won't ever have to be. I promise.

Chapter Text

Veronica Deacon beams at her husband when he tells her of his meeting with Brian May and Roger Taylor after more than twenty years without any contact at all. She continues to smile as she inquires whether or not he wants to speak to them again, and if it would be all right for her to invite them for tea. "...Or would that be too much too fast, my love? I don't want any of this to overwhelm you. It's --certainly a lot. But oh, I'm so glad!"

John appreciates his wife's concerns as well as her real happiness. In truth he is unsure if speaking more will do anything other than reopen old wounds and cause them to bleed afresh, but he cannot get past the fact that he had been able to play again after seeing the two of them. Besides, he is sure his former bandmates must have some words for him --he KNOWS that Roger will; and if Brian has bottled up even half of what John has during the past two decades, he will certainly have some things to say. So "It might be hard, Ronnie," he tells his wife truthfully, "...but we can invite them for tea if you'd like to."

She peers closely at his face. "You are all right with this, then? Having tea with Roger and Brian is something you'd like to do?"

"...Yes, it is," John replies.

His wife presses her hands together before stroking his cheek lovingly. He leans into her touch. "Oh my dearest, I am so glad. So glad these men have come back and you've been able to let them re-enter your life. I've seen how hard so much still is for you, and..." Her hand and voice trembles a bit as she loses her next words. Yet her sweet husband understands. He takes her hand in his and lifts it to his lips, kissing the tips of her fingers.

"I know, Veronica. And thank you for seeing and always being able to make me live, my dearest love. In all this, our life, you've strengthened me more than you can know." He smiles at her. "--It just took Joe Mazzello to give me that last extra little push."

Veronica laughs, wiping her eyes. "Aha, I thought so! Well, at the very least I suspected something. Good on Joe."

"Yes," John's tone is affectionate and quietly thankful. "Joe has done a lot for me, and I owe Cameron perhaps most of all for convincing me to meet him in the first place. How can I thank him properly for that?"

"--Just tell Robert, Mike, and Luke that I'm your favourite son. Let it slip out, like," suggests Cameron's sly voice from where he now enters the room, grinning at his parents. "I just heard that last bit," he says as Veronica tilts her face and gives him a look to check whether or not he was eavesdropping. "Joe pushed you to do what, Dad?"

John's eyes begin to dance as he wraps an arm around his wife, who giggles. "Well, my most favourite son, you might want to sit down for this."

***

"Tea??? We've been shut out of his life for twenty-three years and now he wants us to his house for tea!" Roger, of course, is not amused.

Brian tries to placate him. "Well what were you expecting, Rog? A candlelit dinner with champagne?"

"Oh sod off, Brian, you bloody well know what I expected!"

Right. "...You expected this meeting to be it, didn't you?" He voices his own fear.

"Well, yeah! I mean, I could have made a phone call, or a few, I suppose, but..." The shorter man's high voice shoots up even higher as he flaps one hand around. "It's been so many years, I figured he just wanted to see us for a bit, like it was a stunt, he got asked to do it, y'know. And then poof! So long and farewell for another twenty years."

Brian's eyes crinkle at the edges as he studies Roger closely, his gentle voice quiet. "Come on, Rog, do you really think Deacy would pull something like that, meeting up with us, as a stunt?"

Roger glowers at the tall man, his lips working as he lowers his head for a bit to stare at the ground. He kicks at it and admits sullenly "...No. I just wanted to prepare myself for the inevitable; him withdrawing yet again." His eyes snap back up to catch Brian's, their cerulean depths swimming with pain. His voice is thin, almost plaintive as his lips tremble and he adds "...I can't take losing John a second time." I can't. It would bloody well kill me.

Brian's heartbeat stutters in empathetic sorrow and he goes over to Roger, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Oh, Rogie," he murmurs. Settling his shoulders the guitarist makes a decision. "You won't lose him. I promise. We'll talk, and work things out as much as, as best we can. But you are not going to lose anyone. You have me." And Brian vows to get Deacy to understand that he's needed by Roger. "...if John doesn't want to stay in touch with me, fine. But he still loves you, I'm sure of that."

Roger clears his throat and blinks hard, reaching up and giving Brian's hand a pat. Then he tightly grips it as he registers what all the other had been saying: "HANG on, Brian--what the fuck are you going on about? John loves you too."

Bri lets out a slight, bitter chuckle, his self-loathing in evidence. "...I don't know, the way he spoke to me; the way we left things...."

"No. Brian." Roger turns to him and grabs Brian's shoulders, shaking them. "If I've got to believe he still loves me, you've got to believe too. We're a family, and family doesn't bloody stop existing --or caring-- just because we haven't talked to each other!" His voice is rising. "So don't you dare say Deaks doesn't love you. Don't you believe it. Hell, I'll ASK him. If you want. Or even if you don't." Bri laughs again, wetly this time; without bitterness, only disbelieving affection. Roger shakes his head at him and pulls Brian close in a secure embrace. Damn his ridiculous notions. "You can be incredibly fucking thick sometimes, you know that?" Roger mutters.

Brian's body shakes in a little, light laugh even as he swallows tears. "Yes, I believe I might've been told that a few times. By you."

Roger smirks. "Well it's a comfort to know some things haven't changed. Even though you are utterly ridiculous, Bri."

Brian rolls his eyes. "Yeah, alright. Fine, Rog. We're going, though, yes?"

Roger pulls back and claps Brian's shoulders. "Yes, fine, we're going."

Brian puts a warning finger in the air. "No fighting this time.'

"No fighting."

"I mean it."

"For the love of-- so do I, Brian!"

Brian holds Roger's gaze to gauge his sincerity, and then relaxes with relief as the drummer stares in a candid manner back at him. "That's good. I never can tell with you, honestly--you're so very feisty."

"Oh, piss off."

***

"Mmph. Oh, my god." Joe groans as he awakens in someone else's bed, and scrubs his hand over his eyes and down both cheeks. He knows that he'd been super out of it at the end of the night last night from absolute exhaustion. Hopefully he hadn't done anything TOO dumb or damning. Except for ending up in this bed, obviously... "You've gotta be kidding me," he grumbles to himself and rolls over to prelude getting up. That's when he comes face-to-face with Ben. A very shirtless Ben. Oh, shit. "Uh, hey."

"Hi buddy," Ben looks over with a smile, one arm folded underneath his blond head, his hair sticking up in all directions. He's happy to see Joe no longer looking pitiful, though it also appears as if his brain is trying to catch up with and connect all the dots from last night. Which is highly amusing.

"You--are you good?" Joe inquires now.

"Yeah," and Ben means it. "Yeah, I'm great."

"Great," Joe clears his throat, feeling awkward, though he doesn't even know WHY. Jeez, snap out of it, Joe. "So, what happened last night?"

"Ooh, man. It was a wild time, mate," Ben tells him, eyes twinkling. "I learned some things about you that I never knew before." And then since Joe is squirming because he clearly doesn't remember, Ben takes pity on the guy and adds "...You basically fell asleep on me so I carried you in here, and then you made me sleep in the bed with you." He smiles. "Honestly, I couldn't say no." Because you begged me, told me you didn't want to be alone. Ben isn't going to bring that up right now, though, because it'd come off as teasing, and he can tell that plea had been a serious thing. He will ask his friend about it later. Biting his lower lip and slapping Joe lightly on the side, he sits up and asks "So. What d'you want for breakfast? I can poach a mean egg, or fry one if you'd prefer." His mate sits up as well, now, and has his phone in his hand, staring intently at it--almost frowning. "Joe? What is it, mate?"

Joe gulps and looks up as Ben nudges his cheek against his shoulder before leaning in with a hand splayed across his lower back. "...I just got a text from Brian," the darker-haired man says. "Apparently he and Roger are going to talk to John again-- he and Veronica invited them for tea later this week."

Ben lifts his head and sucks in a breath of excitement. "Mate, that's awesome! Bloody brilliant, and it's all happening because of what you did." He grins and reaches out, moving his hand up and adding the other to rub Joe's shoulders in congratulation. Dipping his face against the nape of Mazzello's neck, Hardy murmurs "You should be proud."

Joe brightens up after a brief moment of bafflement. "Yeah. Yeah, I should be, shouldn't I? This really is awesome!" He bounces up and down, grabbing Ben by the hand. He is so incredibly relieved. May not remember much from his state of sleep-drunkenness last night, but Joe is sure that he had been worried about what was going to happen next. Seeing the text message detailing the band's chosen move, however, and 'Cheers - Bri' at the end of it makes him breathe easy. He also realises that he is starving. "Okay, yeah, let's make some breakfast, Ben!"

Hardy smiles fondly at his friend's exuberant excitement. He is more than happy to oblige; anything for Joe. "Alright, mate. Let's do it."

Chapter Text

John isn’t sure about this. Of course he wants to see his best friends again, he had made certain to be prepared—well, he believes he is prepared, at the very least—these are probably just day-of jitters. He had gone out to buy biscuits whilst Veronica tidied up the room wherein they will be having their cuppa, because he had needed something to do and his wife shooed him out the door.

Now he is standing in line for the register at the grocery clutching five different varieties of biscuit, because he wondered about flavours, and thought about Brian being a vegetarian so he had to check in the ingredients to make sure there was no pork fat in any of these (John had found out about that being an ingredient in marshmallows when one of his grandchildren did a school project on nutrition and he made a decision not to have marshmallows in the house in case for some reason Bri wanted hot chocolate). And then he feels badly for suggesting Cameron might not want to stay round the entire time during tea today, because John has absolutely no idea how things are going to go.

Even though his son had said "Of course I understand that, Dad. I can go and visit Luke after saying hello, no problem," John still feels badly about it. So upon getting back to the house, he holds out Cameron’s favourite flavour of biscuits like a peace offering. His son shakes his head. "Oh, Dad," and gives John a tight hug. "…it’s gonna be fine," he adds. "I really believe that. I can feel it." Clapping his father on the back, he smiles widely and retreats before taking the packet. "But hey, I won’t say no to some cookies." Tries to approximate an American accent and fails miserably, causing his father to chuckle.

As John enters the tearoom and comes up beside his wife, she looks him up and down, taking in the number of biscuit boxes in his bag. "Are you quite certain you got enough?" Veronica asks drily before adding "Kettle’s on, and Brian called while you were gone to assure that today they are actually going to be on time." Ronnie smiles and reaches out to John, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze. "Are you ready?"

Heaving out a breath almost heavy enough to be a sigh, John rests the bag of biscuits on the table before lacing his fingers with his wife’s. "…Ready as I’ll ever be, my love."

Veronica leans up and brushes her lips against his cheek. "Good." John turns and dips his head to kiss her back, catching her cheek in his free hand and locking their lips together.

And with that, Cameron dramatically shudders and groans in the background as the kettle whistles and the doorbell rings.

***

Brian smooths down his curls as Roger clears his throat and bounces up and down a bit on the porch beside him. The tall guitarist shoots his friend a tremulous smile, and Roger rolls his eyes before Bri speaks. "I know, Brian. I need to be nice, right? No fist fights."

"No fist fights," Brian agrees. He fiddles with the tie he’d worn, for some reason; worn with a collared shirt like he’s going to make some record deal for god's sake. Roger is wearing one of his loud shirts—well, alright, he has gained a slightly more muted palette over the years, but it’s still basically him wearing a Hawaiian shirt, looking like some grandfather who cannot accept the fact that he is not retired on a beach someplace, next to Brian who feels incredibly awkward and overdressed. He had gotten Veronica some long-stemmed roses, his family always had roses, and gave roses; and he doesn’t think a copy of his photography book on Queen would be the most tactful of gestures. He presses his lips together and grips the flowers tighter than he realises, until he feels Roger’s hand on his, loosening his fingers.

"Brian, loosen up, mate. Take a breath. It’s gonna be fine; relax." Rogie’s blue eyes gaze steadily into his. "Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine."

Brian gulps, raising his eyebrows. "Oh, really? You believe me now, do you?"

Roger snorts. "Hell no, I just don’t want you passing out on this porch."

"…I wouldn’t like that either," comes a new, much younger voice from the door, which is now open. An open face with something about it that reminds both men of nineteen-year-old John grins out at them. The sight makes Bri's heart hiccup painfully. "Can’t have a pair of rock legends stranded outside, passing out. Hi, I’m Cameron." He puts out his hand to shake Brian’s and then Roger’s.

Bri swallows and feels himself anchored in place and in the moment by Cameron’s eyes and voice and fingers. "Hello, Cameron. I feel like I know you, but it’s good to see you in person." I remember when you were born, John told us about you, and again during the making of our final album, but he also does not want to be the ancient friend who says that, when obviously Cameron wouldn’t be able to recall that memory. Besides, there were some issues during the recording of that album that he does not like to recall.

But the guitarist is flattered and surprised when the young man responds "Same here; I’ve always thought of you as my uncle Brian, just from our phone calls and all." He looks a trifle bashful but then grins at Roger, shaking his hand as well. "And I haven’t done too badly if I’ve got a legendary drummer and guitarist as honourary uncles, who are HERE…just, this is great." He laughs and steps back from the door, eagerly beckoning to them. "C’mon in, Mum just got the kettle, I think. And Dad— hey, Dad, erm,"

“—Brian and Roger are here, I believe I heard,” comes John’s amused tone. He appears around the corner and looks up to lock eyes with Brian, who stands awkwardly clutching the bouquet of roses against his chest with one hand, the other now clenched into a fist at his side.

Roger elbows Brian and then leans forward with his hand out to shake John’s after the other man does not move. “Hullo John. Afternoon.”

“Roger,” John takes his friend’s hand and shakes it gratefully, gaze flickering back to Brian as Rog tilts his head, eyes sparking. “Thanks for coming.”

“Cheers,” Rog says, and he and John both turn to look at Brian now.

The heat of their combined gaze serves to shake Bri from his frozen silence, and he bobs his head, shoulders up a bit as he holds out the flowers and then withdraws them to shake John’s hand as well, cheeks flaming. “Hi John,” his voice is low and as gentle-sounding as ever, but there is a hesitancy in his stance and his eyes that cuts John to his core even as he too feels some hesitancy. But he finds that he wants to make Brian comfortable, even after—especially after what he had said upon their first meeting.

So “Brian, it’s good to see you,” he says, and adds “Those are lovely roses.”

“Oh. Yes, well. Thanks,” Brian bumbles out. “They—I brought them for you and Veronica, because since we’re drinking tea, I thought…well I didn’t think a bottle of alcohol would be appropriate.” Roger now snorted. “Rog, of course, disagreed.”

“Damn right I did,” the drummer adds. “If we’re getting back together to talk, booze is the PERFECT host gift. But can’t tell Bri anything, of course.” He rolls his eyes and John cannot help the smile that comes to his face.

“Don’t I know it.”

Brian blinks. “Oh, I didn’t realise this was going to start off a pick on Brian conversation, or I would have worn my clogs.”

John’s brows rise as he looks down at the other’s feet. “…Why aren’t you wearing clogs?”

Brian shifts his dark shoes, actually shined a bit, and again tugs at his collar. “Well, I wanted to—”

“Look presentable?” Roger cracks. Brian stares at him, and the shorter man lifts both of his hands. “Hey, all of us were thinking it.”

“I wasn’t,” Cameron calls over. “I’m cool with your clogs, Uncle Brian—they’re your signature look.”

Brian straightens up as if proud. “There. See, Rogie? Someone appreciates my taste.”

“Ahh, he’s still young, he’ll learn,” Roger’s husky tone hums sardonically.

John agrees and then, “Do you want to sit down? We …probably shouldn’t stand in the foyer the entire time.”

Veronica’s voice floats over to the four of them: “…You can, but then John will need to wax the floor later.” She comes out of the kitchen with a tray on which a kettle and several teacups rest, along with boxes of teabags, honey, milk, and a sugar bowl. Wiping her hands against her shirt, she comes over with a smile for them both.

She goes to Roger first, and he gives her a kiss on the cheek. “Veronica,” he says. “You’re looking well. Fantastic, actually.”

“You too, of course,” She smiles, giving him a hug. Then turning to the taller man, she holds out a hand, face softening. “Brian.”

He swallows and takes her hand with a shy smile. “Hi, Veronica. These are for you,” he holds out the flowers to her, and she gasps a bit.

“Oh, they’re lovely! Thank you. I’ll get a vase for them right away.” As she takes the bouquet she reaches up and gives him a hug too, and he relaxes into her embrace, patting her back. “It’s so good to see you both.”

John watches his wife with warm eyes as she lets go of Brian and pats him on the arm. “I’ll be right back, my love.” He nods and extends his arm to invite his old friends into the sitting room proper. “Please, sit,” Ronnie waves for them to do so and then looks at Cameron with a question in her eyes. “Do you have someplace to be, Cammie?”

Cameron, who’d been basking in the sight of his dad standing with his old bandmates again, jumps. “Oh! Yeah, I do—told Luke I’d get a late dinner with him,” he tells his father. Beaming at Brian and Roger, he adds “It was really good to see you both and meet you, officially. Gosh, this is awesome.” He bounces a bit and then shuffles and goes to get his coat and his bass case, as he plans to take it to Luke’s. “I, but yeah. I’ll be back, Dad. Bye Mum!”

“See you later, sweetheart!” She calls back to him from the kitchen where she is pouring water into a vase for the flowers.

John goes over and opens the door for Cam. “Alright, tell Luke we said hello,” he says to his youngest. “And have fun.”

“I will,” Cameron promises with another smile. “You too.” His expression makes his father pat him on the shoulder fondly. “Later Dad.”

“Bye son.” As the door closes behind Cameron after he waves to all of them, Roger and Brian share a glance that John turns and catches sight of. “What?” he asks.

“Oh, nothing,” Roger shrugs, finally sitting down—well, more like plopping onto the couch, stretching his arms across the back and spreading his legs.

“…It’s good to see you interacting with your son,” Brian adds quietly, sitting down too, in a manner far more sedate, crossing one ankle over his opposite knee as he sits across from Roger in an armchair. “It’s nice. He’s lovely.”

“Well since I was gone for the formative years of my eldest four kids, I took a lot of care with the younger ones.” John doesn’t intend for the words to come out clipped, but he feels as though they do. Roger sucks in a breath through his nose and Brian’s shoulders heave. Shit. The erstwhile bassist quickly continues “But, well. Yes, he’s pretty wonderful, due mostly to Ronnie’s influence, I think. Tea?”

“Yes, please,” Brian accepts John’s offer softly, his shoulders hunched and long hands picking up and holding one teacup as if it is something living, a wild animal like a bird that could fly away if he makes the wrong move. He’s already figuring he ought to tread lightly based upon what John just said. Comfort had settled him in, but perhaps it had done so too quickly, and he ought to remain on his toes. He glances at Rog, who grunts in affirmation and leans forward casually, holding out his own cup. Brian envies that ease, manufactured or not; he hadn’t worn his sunglasses today, so the expression in Rog's eyes and face leads the guitarist to believe his relaxation is real; which is bloody ironic, since he had been the one swearing up and down about how ridiculous this was.

“Yeah, tea with one and three-seventh sugars, please.” John snorts and lets out a giggle of amusement. “Ah, ya like that?” Roger giggles as well. “Thought you might.” John hands Brian his tea before settling onto the couch beside Roger, and Bri sips silently, bending his face forward into the rising steam as John passes the sugar bowl to the drummer.

“You can scoop your own sugar,” he says, and they’re laughing again together as if no time has passed at all. Bri closes his eyes and his cup clatters against its saucer as a jolt of loneliness and jealousy, ugly jealousy shoots through him, making him feel cold with shame.

He only wishes he could have it that easy with Deacy; but for him it’s never been. Not since the early days when John always surprised him by learning every bass riff he asked for, or new instrument—he recalls joking that Deacon would need to play a double-bass for ‘39’ and John had said okay and came into the studio three days after with it learnt completely. Not since he’d sworn he would look after the youngest member of the band when he saw how tough interviews were for him. Not since he sat beside John when they were shooting the video for ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and they could look at one another and know what the other was thinking; mostly about the ridiculousness of it and how content they were to just watch Roger and Freddie in their exuberance and vivacity.

Brian has never been able to just tell Deacy how impressive he is, was; how much he truly admires him, even in his own perfectionism and how much he hated the bassist’s love affair with disco—but he loved seeing John smile. He admired the way Freddie could build him up and help him shine, whereas Brian’s gloomy words always seemed to bring a cloud down over the bassist’s gentle head. And Roger—he listens to the drummer’s peals of laughter now, bright and clear as a bell as he talks to John about something along the lines of how well he has done for himself—he could relate to Deaks so well from the beginning. Maybe because they were both young, and John felt that same undeniable magnetism that everyone around Roger feels. Everybody is drawn to him, Brian included. There is just something about the man that is so, well, bright. Even today. Perhaps it is his exuberance and candor; perhaps it is because he is not shy AT ALL and has never been. The amount of times Rog stripped half-naked in their dressing rooms to strut around and make faces cannot be counted. Whatever it is, Brian wishes he had even a speck of that brightness now. Just for a moment, so he can be brave enough, become strong enough to blurt out to John how he feels about him, and Queen, and what it means for them to be sitting together in the same room again.

He looks up to find Roger and John both studying him. Oh, Christ. How long have they been doing that for? "What?" his lips tremble and he gulps more tea.

Roger glances at John and then back to Brian. "Uh, nothing, mate; thought you were going to say something. You just came out with 'Listen, I've got to tell you' and then shut up like you'd swallowed your own bloody tongue."

"What? I-no." Brian does his best to make a disgusted face, to turn the conversation. "That's a revolting idea, Roger."

"Oh, piss off, Dr 'take your little brother swimming with a brick' May," Roger retorts.

"...Doctor?" John inquires. He focuses closer on Brian. "You went back to school?"

Brian bites his lip. "Yes, I did. Thought I should be respectable, finish my doctorate on interplanetary dust to make my father proud." He lets out a bitter laugh as he sweeps his curls back and puts down his almost-empty teacup. "Too bad it was too little too late."

"No," John's soft voice demurs. "That's impressive, Brian. And I'm certain he knows. Congratulations."

Brian dips his head. "...Thanks," he says. And before he can stop himself, adds "But that's what's impressive, right? The doctorate, the degree. Not music, not continuing Queen. No; those things are just," Brian wrinkles his nose and raises his lips, long fingers fluttering in the air as if flicking detritus away from him. "Just incidental. Just hobbies."

Roger huffs out a breath again and John looks down. The drummer reaches over to touch his shoulder, glaring across at Brian, ready to mouth something, but then exploding aloud "What the fuck, mate? I thought you told ME not to start a fight, and here you are-"

"No, it's alright, Roger," John's voice is soft as his eyes rise. "I can take it." He looks up at Brian and adds "Yes, okay, I hear what you're saying about the music, Brian. But I TOLD you why I can't be a part of it, can't continue the legacy, and I thought you'd be able to respect that."

"Oh, I can respect it," Brian raps out, drawing his shoulders in and lifting his chin upright. "I respect it all the livelong day, John. We both do. We don't talk about you or credit you because that is what you wanted. You asked us, and we obliged." He clenches his fists, breathing heavily even as he tries to calm himself down. Deep breaths, Brian. Come on. Be reasonable here. But he's got to say it: "No, what I DON'T bloody respect is the fact that you think it's wrong for us, wrong of me, to continue Fred's legacy in the first place! You disapprove, that's fine, but don't look at it like we're garbage, like we're money-mongering, or trying to replace...." His voice shakes and his eyes fill with tears as he raises one hand to shield his eyes. "Freddie's gone, he's dead. Rog always points that out, and it hurts so bloody much. I...can't breathe, sometimes. On stage and off. But you know what? I push through it." He lowers his hand and leans forward, eyes blazing as they catch and hold John's. "I do that because I love him. It took me a long time to be able to, an excruciatingly long time." He recalls the therapy, and the self-loathing, and the thought of ending it all. But he hadn't. He is still here. All three of them are still here. "...And you do your own thing, because you love Freddie and miss him in a different way, and that is fine." Brian sucks in a huge breath, nearly coughing. "Just- don't condemn us, condemn me, for sticking around and playing on." His voice breaks now, and he finishes in a pleading tone "...Don't do that. Please."

There is silence, incredible, heavy silence broken only by Brian's nearly-inaudible sobs. His body shakes and he covers his face with both hands, hating this weakness, hating himself. God, he's such an idiot. He shouldn't have snapped like that; John doesn't need or want to hear any of it, and he's probably gone and ostracised himself again, maybe from John AND Roger this time, as the drummer had stared at him with those bright eyes huge in apparent betrayal. He wonders about Veronica, and feels horrible that she had to hear these things. Thank goodness he waited to blow up until Cameron had gone. That is one small blessing. No one should ever have to be spoken to in the way he just spoke to John in front of their children. A sharp feeling of shame pierces the guitarist's guts and he doubles over, nearly overbalancing himself.

But he is caught by hands, warm hands. Roger's. And then another pair of arms is circling his back to keep him upright. Is that...? Brian cracks his eyes open to see Deacy's hangdog features breadths from his own, those deep sorrowful eyes full of tears and pain, and he can't bear the fact that he had caused said pain. "Oh, John-"

But Deacon shakes his head furiously and grabs hold of Brian. "I'm sorry," he chokes out. "...I'm sorry, Brian. I have my hang-ups and my grief, and I've taken, been taking it out on you, on you both." He glances over at Roger, who is holding tightly to Brian's other hand, his features taut and eyes blinking hard. "I was- I felt so...useless, when Fred died." John's shoulders start to shake and Brian reaches out automatically to rub them, earning himself a heartbroken flicker that is almost a smile. It breaks Bri's heart. "Y-you both were helping him. You recorded so much with him, Brian, and he asked you if his voice was okay, I remember, and you always reassured... and Rog, you were on your way to see him the day he went. But I- I couldn't do that, any of it!" His voice rises and cracks as his teeth clench. "I was a coward, an absolute coward, and a horrible friend, and...and that's part of what--" His voice crumbles and squeaks and disappears completely into an onslaught of violent sobs as he buries his face against the side of Brian's leg, shaking wildly and whimpering "I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry...."

Oh, John. Instantly, Brian turns to him, moving from his seat in the chair onto his knees on the floor and wrapping both arms around the other's shoulders. Roger immediately shuffles over too and presses his cheek against Deacy's hair, fingers stroking the back of his neck as his own eyes glaze with tears. How horrible, the way John has been feeling. He never knew. Neither of them did, though they should have fucking suspected it, if they hadn't been such tossers- Rog closes his eyes and turns his head, pressing his lips to John's hair, over and over, rubbing him gently as he shakes and Brian clutches him tight. The guitarist's left arm shifts out to encircle Roger's back, and even though all of them will likely require aid standing back up the longer they remain here, they stay locked in an embrace together on the Deacons' sitting room floor.

Chapter Text

It takes quite a bit of time for John to cease sobbing. Veronica has chosen to stay away and let them work things out, perhaps; or maybe she has work to do around the house. Brian isn't sure, but can feel his knees growing stiff and a trifle sore, and Roger is shifting a bit in his embrace, moving his weight from one side to the other, likely to keep his lower extremities from falling asleep.

Eventually John's head rises from where it had fallen to rest against Brian's shoulder and his grip loosens abruptly. The guitarist realises that John had been holding onto him, clutching fistfuls of his jacket, yet he hadn't felt it. Bri aches to feel it, he longs to keep Deacy physically close in a hug, for that is the only way he knows to express how much he cares for him in a way that John cannot mistake. But Deaks sniffs and withdraws. His lips wobble and his eyes are so dark and empty in a defeated sort of sorrow that follows his deluge of tears. Brian's grip tightens automatically around his shoulders, and suddenly Roger's hand appears, running over John's hair before wiping away the tracks of tears from his cheeks. John's eyes close and he sighs, nudging his face into Roger's touch, and Brian can hardly keep himself from trembling from the wish, the NEED he feels to comfort John like that or in some other way. He presses his lips together and dips his face a bit, trying desperately to find appropriate words.

But Roger beats him to it. "...John, you aren't alone, mate. In feeling like a shitty friend. I mean, alright, yeah, I was on my way to see Fred the day he died, but I never fucking GOT there. I got a phone call telling me not to bother coming, that he was gone, and I-I listened!" His high husk rises almost into a shriek and Brian jerks in surprise at the forcefulness of it. Even though he really ought not to get startled anymore with anything involving Roger.

Deacy has lifted his hand to hold the drummer's where it still rests against his face. Roger looks around wildly, at him and then at Brian, cheeks flushed and lips baring over his teeth. He withdraws his opposite arm from where he had wrapped it around Brian's lower back and jabs his fingers at his own chest, curling them into a furious fist. "I let somebody convince me not to say goodbye to Freddie. Not to hold him in my arms a final time, to say I loved him, and...and to be there for him, with him in the end." Roger's entire torso is trembling as he strikes himself in the chest once for emphasis. "Your grief's because you never tried, but I--I FAILED!" His voice has broken now and is horribly, devastatingly quiet. "...I failed him and all of us. I could--I ought to've said bye to Fred for all of us." He chokes and bows his head, all of his body now shuddering.

Brian's eyes fill with tears again and he withdraws his arms from around John at last. "Rogie...," he murmurs and as his dear friend looks up at him, John tightening his grip around Roger's hand as if he could be a lifeline, all Brian can articulate is the painfully, stupidly inadequate "...I'm so sorry."

Roger scoffs. "Sorry?? What have you got to be sorry for, Brian?!"

The guitarist's heart thuds. He feels helpless. There is so much that he is sorry for; it would take a day and a night at the very least even to BEGIN listing everything. But right here, right now "I'm sorry that I didn't help you," Bri glances at John. "--Either of you. I could have gone in, or asked--"

"Brian, shut up," Roger hisses, jabbing his index finger into Bri's chest. The guitarist flinches like he had been stabbed. "None of this is your ruddy fault OR your responsibility."

"But it is," Bri croaks, his eyes fractured. Does Roger truly not know? "I swore to myself that I'd take care of you. Of ALL of you, not just Freddie." And look at this, at what's happened to us. I fucking failed. Brian reaches out as if to touch Roger and halts, his hand freezing in the air, fingers far from steady as he whispers "I love you, Rogie."

Roger gulps and then grabs Brian in an embrace tight enough to knock the wind out of him. Brian lets out a single breathless sob, lips ghosting across Roger's forehead and his short hair as that high voice mumbles into Bri's chest and neck: "You know I feel the same about you, Brian." John says nothing, but he continues holding onto Roger's hand; his arm, now, as Rog has laced both his hands together around Brian's back. John leans his forehead into the side of Brian's right shoulder.

Bri shifts in an attempt to make John a trifle more comfortable and realises "...We should probably, erm."

"Shift this onto the couch?" John makes the inquiring suggestion. Brian nods.

Roger's voice, still muffled against the shirt and chest of the tallest, grumbles "Okay, but I dunno if I can get up, mates. My fucking knees. Damn, I hate being old!" His tone sounds so plaintive and whiny, precisely as it had during various and sundry band arguments during sound checks years ago, that suddenly they are all laughing together. After relinquishing his hold on Roger, Brian leans back and grabs onto the seat of the armchair wherein he'd sat and hauls himself up. Bri stretches out his legs and looks down into Roger's bright blue eyes that shine in what appears to be betrayal the very instant he moves. Roger's gaze narrows as Bri offers him a hand up. "Fuck off, I can do it myself." The guitarist obliges and Rog groans as he shuffles about to reach the coffee/tea table, stubbornly gripping its edge to glacially pull himself once more into a standing position.

Brian now offers his hand to Deacy, who accepts it gratefully, gracing the other man with a gentle smile. As he holds onto Bri's hand whilst standing and turning to check on the state of their tea--pretty much stone-cold by now--for the first time Brian feels really, truly that the three of them are going to be all right.

As the guitarist's strong fingers grasp onto his, John feels secure. His griefs are not dragging behind him now, no; he can carry them with Brian and Roger's help, just as he hopes that he can assist them in carrying theirs.

As Roger stretches and shakes out his legs with a grimace, mumbling "Not a fucking word," to Brian as the other chuckles whilst wiping his eyes, John remembers.

"Did either of you want any biscuits? I purchased, er, multiple types." Rog and Bri glance at one another in surprise as John goes over and withdraws the four remaining biscuit boxes from the grocery bag, placing them all on the table in a somewhat sheepish manner.

"Well. ...He wasn't joking about them all," Brian says.

Roger snorts and rolls his eyes. "Oh, really? Ya think, Brian? How astute." The drummer ducks away from Brian's good-natured shove and checks out the choices, selecting one. John opens the packet for him. "Cheers, John." And then Roger turns and shoves a biscuit into Brian's mouth. "Got one for ya, and you're welcome." Bri chews and swallows the biscuit before gulping down the remainder of his cold tea. Roger takes more biscuits for himself and shoves them into his mouth as John goes into the kitchen to reheat the teakettle.

There is a series of knocks and then someone opens the front door.

***

A boisterous voice accompanying a large man enters the front of the house. "Mum! Dad! Both the kids have school things tonight so'm on my own. I was in the neighbourhood and saw it was close to supper, so I wondered if ya wanted to go--" he stops as he takes a look at Brian and Roger sitting together on the sitting room couch. "Aaaand you are not my parents. What in the hell are you doing in their house? If this is a robbery, you're doing an absolutely shite job."

Roger jerks his chin up at that and stands, puffing his chest out as Brian tries to calm him. "WHAT? I know exactly how to conduct a fucking robbery, young man! And besides that, don't you recognise us?"

Michael squints. "Why, am I supposed to? Oh hi, Da!" John has come hustling into the sitting room again as he hears raised voices. "I was making sure these tossers--"

"Who in the hell are you calling tossers?!" Roger shouts, and Brian stands, putting one hand on his friend's shoulder and the other on his chest.

"Roger, sit down."

"I won't, Brian! That was fucking disrespectful!"

Michael's expression shifts as he hears the names, and grows knowing, yet does not lose any of its suspicion as he crosses to stand beside his dad. "Well. I would say it's a bit more disrespectful to leave my dad out in the cold all these years because he didn't want to join in on your rock 'n roll royalty parade." Roger blinks at that, his mouth opening and closing.

"Michael," John puts a gentle hand on his son's arm. "It's alright. I've talked to Rog and Brian, and we understand each other now." He shifts his eyes over to his erstwhile bandmates, shooting them a nonverbal apology. "Don't be rude."

Michael turns to look at his father directly, hand going over John's. "Are you SURE, Dad? I know how kind you are, you've let people walk all over you before." He glowers over at Brian in particular. "My father was a ruddy saint for sticking with you so long."

Brian inclines his head in agreement, feeling a clench around his heart. "Don't I know it." Michael has no words to reply to that.

John's fingers tighten against his son's skin and a bit of steel now slips into his tone. "Michael. That is enough. I said we are fine. Now, what were you here to say to me and your mum?"

The second-oldest Deacon son studies his father for a moment longer, and then his face relaxes as he pats his arm. "Alright, Dad. Glad you're fine." John lets go of him and jerks his head, to which Michael sighs and rocks on his heels a bit, turning to face Brian and Roger again. "Er, I'm sorry for jumping on you like that. Just- trying to protect my dad. You understand." He looks at them both in real contrition borne from how settled (and disapproving) his father seems, and after a moment and Brian's nod of encouragement, Roger also starts to soften.

"I get it," he admits. "...My son would do the same. Well, at least one of them. And you don't want to mess with my daughter. She's a spitfire." He rolls his shoulders with a little chuckle and holds out a hand to shake Michael's, high voice a bit rough now. "Call a truce? I'm Roger Taylor."

"Michael Deacon." John's son reaches across the table to shake Roger's hand.

Hesitantly, Brian offers his own, head bowing. "And I'm Brian May."

Michael clears his throat awkwardly. "It's a pleasure. I..." He settles his shoulders and continues whilst shaking Bri's hand "Things have been rough for my dad over the years, and we've all said things. Hope you understand."

It is a roundabout apology for the tenor of his comment about John sticking with them, with Brian for so long, and the guitarist inclines his head graciously, voice gentle. "I do understand, yes." And I feel the same, he almost adds. John WAS a saint for dealing with me. But this is not a pity party last he heard. Things are getting better. They've got to be.

Now Michael is adding to his father "Well, I was coming to see if you and Mum wanted to go out for supper, but it seems like you had plans." He looks around. "Where is Mum, anyway?"

John's eyes crinkle. "I just saw her out in the garden, digging out dead sticks when I reheated the kettle," he says. He looks from Michael to his old band mates and offers "...but since it is nearing supper time, I don't know if you would mind if the lads came with us? If you want to of course, Brian. Rog."

Again Brian and Roger share a look with one another and Brian says "That is fine with us if it's fine with Michael."

"It had better be fine with Michael," Roger quips with a slight edge to his voice, and everyone is frozen for the half-second before Michael guffaws.

"Alright, I like you," he says to Roger. "Yes, that's fine by me. More the merrier." Nodding to both of them, he adds "I'll go and check in with Mum."

As he walks through the kitchen and out of the door to the backyard, Roger and Brian watch after him and John moves to stand beside them. "He's a pistol, that one," murmurs Brian. "It was almost like I was seeing double, Rog."

John laughs. "Yes, Mike has always been a handful. I don't know where he gets his ways; he is much more vocal than I or Veronica." Leaning into Brian, the father adds "...I hope you didn't take offence."

"No," Brian speaks up quietly. "He was looking out for you, and... he wasn't incorrect in a way. You deserve to be canonised for putting up with me. Us."

"Oh, please."

"...We just have to prepare ourselves for his continued interactions with Rog," Brian twinkles. John rubs one hand across his face and sighs.

"What are you talking about? I'm a bloody angel," Roger retorts with raised eyebrows and a cheeky smile.

It is Brian and John who share a look this time. "An angel. Right."

Chapter Text

Joe Mazzello will never learn.

He gets so excited about something. Anything. Everything, and then he arrives at an insane plan because of said excitement. And the thing is that his friends are all just crazy enough to either help him out or simply go along with it.

Okay, the Queen reunion meet-and-greet plan had actually somehow worked, astoundingly. Joe STILL remains blown away by that fact and has to pinch himself. But now he has another plan in mind: a boss-ass karaoke session.

"No, Joe," Ben groans through his fingers as he holds his phone away from his face. He can totally hear Joe bouncing up and down in excitement. "--I already missed out on 'Purple Rain', alright? Why in the hell do you think that needs to be repeated?"

"Uh, duh, because you missed it!" Joe responds as if it's painfully obvious. "And I mean, Cardboard Ben is my soulmate because I can't have you all to myself, Benny. I know you gotta spread the love, but the heart wants what the heart wants." Ben huffs out a fond laugh. And then Joe adds "...and Gwil's on board with it!"

"--Gwil gets onboard with anything and everything you say so that he isn't missing out," Ben says. There is shuffling and the sound of a voice in the background on his phone and Joe hears Ben speak clearly to someone who isn't him: "-Don't even try to deny it. You know I'm right," and then his phone starts buzzing in his hand as Joe requests FaceTime. Oh boy. "Now you've done it." Ben hits 'Accept'. "Hi, Joe."

Joe's messy brown hair and his pasty forehead takes up the majority of Ben's phone screen. "Hey Ben. Did I hear somebody else on this line?"

Ben's eyes widen in elaborate innocence and his gaze shifts to one side as a rich voice speaks up in a Welsh accent: "--What you heard was Ben being a dirty, dirty bastard and spreading rumours about me." A dark-haired individual with twinkling bright eyes scoots into frame beside Ben and smiles, slinging an arm over Hardy's neck and shoulder. "Jealous, Joe?"

"Wow." Joe smacks his lips loudly and sniffs before saying "...Well I was GOING to defend your virtue, Gwilym Lee, but I see you have none. I can't believe you're cheating on me aGAIN," Joe shakes his head at Ben.

The blond smiles and leans in. "Oh c'mon, Joe, you know my heart belongs to you, mate." Joe grunts and shifts, the camera picking up some of his surroundings. "...Are you still in bed, buddy?" Ben inquires, eyes dancing with suppressed amusement.

Gwilym tuts. "Seriously? You lazy--"

"Whoa now hold on," Joe stops him. "For your information, GWILYM, it is nine o'clock in the morning on a Sunday for me, so yes, I am still in bed. Problem?"

"Yeah," Ben responds smoothly. "It's that I'm not there with you."

"Wow," mutters Gwil, rolling his eyes and biting down on a legitimately impressed smile. "-Why don't you say things like that to me, Ben?" The shorter Brit bats his eyelashes and smiles coyly.

Gwil lets out a dramatic sigh as he looks back at Joe, who blows a kiss to Ben and grins triumphantly. "That's my Benny. You are now forgiven for hanging out with Gwil without me. Gwil, I will forgive you only if you get Ben in on this idea."

Gwilym squints and juts out his chin. Idea? What-- "Oh! Yeah, you really ought to get in on this karaoke session we've been planning, mate. It's going to be fantastic."

"Tell him the best part," Joe begs, legitimately bouncing on his bed and beaming in ecstasy. "Pleeeeeaase!"

"Okay," Gwil grins and shifts his face towards Ben's. "We want Rami in on this too, and then we're going to have a private karaoke session, and Joe wants to invite Brian and Roger and John to join us. It'll be like--"

"--A reunion," Joe enthuses, finishing the explanation himself because he is so excited. "Y'know, since they're together again and we're all friends, c'mon baby, let's get together and have an absolutely fabulous time! -What?" Joe is watching Ben's face and notices his eyes slightly lower as he bites down on his lip. Gwilym focuses closely on Ben as well and both wait for him to speak.

Ben's green gaze flickers back and forth between his friends' faces. Their excitement is infectious, and yet-- "D'you think they'd go for it?" He asks quietly. "I mean, Joe, you know John pretty well now, so maybe he would. You can get him to, I suppose. Dunno. And Brian, well I bet he'd be up for it, but. What about Roger?" Ben shifts one shoulder, trying to figure out the best manner in which to articulate what he wants to say. It's not that he considers this to be a BAD idea, he is simply unsure whether or not the band will go for it, and he does not want Joe to be disappointed or hurt. Especially since he is doing this to make sure other people are not alone in their grief, and with him clearly missing his dad.... "I guess I, we'll have to see how it's gonna go. I just don't want this to not work out, Joe. I know how disappointed you'd be."

Gwil's eyes grow gentle as he recognises what Ben is saying and why. Reaching around and putting one long arm across Hardy's shoulders, the taller man squeezes Ben to his side, his facial expression soft as he gazes back at Joe. Joe, who even in all of his verve also understands what Ben is saying. "Ah, Ben. I can always count on you to be the sensible one. Can't believe that you're the baby!"

"Oh shut up," Ben utters, a slight blush tinting his cheeks. "...but, alright, I'm with ya, mate. If everyone's onboard. Can't just say no out of hand, right?" He glances over at Gwil with a lopsided smile. "What's that thing? Gotta opt for--"

"Opt for happiness," Gwil finishes, nodding. "Yes, exactly."

Joe laughs. "O-kay, I've got no idea what you guys are smoking over there in London but I need some!" And then growing a (trifle) serious he adds "I'm gonna tell Rami about this over dinner tonight and then you will definitely be hearing stuff over the group chat."

"Oho, dinner, hm?" Gwil raises a brow, nudging Ben with one elbow. "You hear that, Ben? What is this, Joe?"

Ben blinks and rolls his lips. "I heard, yeah," he says equably. "But I'm not the jealous type, mate."

"Oooh!" Gwil and Joe both grin and waggle their eyebrows.

"That's good to hear," Joe says, and then "Rami's comin' over and I'm gonna try to make him some Italian. Super stereotypical, I know."

"Okay, I am even less inclined to be jealous now that I know you're the one who'll be cooking," Ben teases. "...but I'm sure you won't burn everything to a crisp this time, right Joe?"

"I am hanging up on you," Joe clutches his chest, faux-offended. "You wound me, Benjamin. I don't need this."

"You love it, though, mate," Gwilym replies, leaning in with a smile as Ben does.

Joe's face softens. "Yes I do." They spend a lengthy moment gazing at one another until Joe lets out one of his patented screeches and crows "Alright, gotta officially start the day! I will holla atchu boys latah." He flips them a jaunty salute.

Ben rolls his eyes as Gwilym guffaws. "Oh my god. Bye Joe."

"Ta ta for now, my dearest Benny," is Joe's answer as they end the call. Stretching luxuriously, Hardy rolls over onto his back as Gwilym pushes himself up with one hand on the far side of Ben's chest.

"Do you want to grab some food?" Gwil asks. "Late dinner for us."

"Sure, mate. Why not?" Ben rolls upright and picks up his coat. "Besides, we've got to talk some more about this cardboard me thing. I dunno whether or not I ought to be concerned."

Gwilym laughs uproariously as they exit the flat.

***

Joe does not understand why the boys assume he cannot cook as the result of a single, isolated incident-- he is a baller chef for sure. He's got his mozzarella and parsley and ricotta cheese, with basil and spinach and eggs to boot--and once he can figure out how to recreate his family's special spaghetti sauce this dish will be GOLDEN because you've got to have that meat along with the tomatoes for the perfect red sauce. He has also made sure he remembered to take his Lactaid pills on account of the dairy, and begins whisking eggs as he boils lasagne noodles and starts on the spaghetti sauce--in separate pots, of course. Anyone who is even remotely Italian in the traditional sense would more than likely shit a brick due to the mixing of genres, so to speak; but Joe has been blessed with the amazing ability not to give a hoot or a holler. The most Italian person he reliably relates to is Sophia from The Golden Girls. And he doesn't care what anybody says, that woman knows her stuff!

Joe remembers to strain out the water once his noodles have gotten tender, and his sauce is bubbling nicely as the doorbell rings. Unfortunately he doesn't hear it, because he turned up his music while cooking and from his speakers 'Tie Your Mother Down' is currently blasting. Gwil had been right; it is quite a rocking tune.

... I don't give a light, gonna make out all right
I've got a sweetheart hand to put a stop to all that!

Joe headbangs with the guitar slide and nearly jumps out of his skin at the sound of banging on his door. What the hell? For a second he forgets what is going on and wonders if one of his neighbors has a problem with Queen. If that's the case, well they will soon have a problem with HIM. "Alexa, turn down the music," he calls.

"Okay, Joe my beau," her smooth electronic voice replies.

As the volume dramatically decreases, he hears another voice outside: "Joe, it's Rami!"

"Rami, hey!" Joe wipes his hands on a kitchen towel and vaults across the half-wall out of his kitchen and past his couch to open the door of his apartment and admit his friend. "Sorry I didn't hear you-- Gwilly was right, this is quite a track!" He pulls Rami inside and gives him an enormous hug that is returned with a tight squeeze around Joe's shoulders on Rami's end.

"I brought wine," Rami says with a smile, shifting a bit after they relinquish the hug; he's a bit awkward, as ever. "Didn't know what you were making, since you told me it was a surprise. So I hope a white works." He holds out a bottle.

Joe beams. "We will make it work, because with you, Rami Malek, everything will be all right." He looks into Rami's face, hands on his shoulders. "It's so good to see you, my friend. How've you been?" He lets go of Rami to physically accept the wine, beckoning for the other man to come in and get comfortable. "Sit wherever you want, pop a squat," Joe offers as he walks back across the floor and places the bottle atop the kitchen counter.

"Thank you," Rami speaks softly, gaze wide and warm as he shrugs out of his coat and unwraps his scarf, holding on to them briefly before Joe, now standing at the stove, waves over his shoulder for Rami to lay 'em down anywhere. "I'm well, Joe," Rami answers as he hangs his coat (with the scarf folded inside one sleeve) carefully upon the back of one tall chair beside his friend's kitchen table. "I'm relieved the award season is over for now. It was incredibly amazing and humbling, but so so stressful."

"Mm-hm," Joe bobs his head in understanding. He had loved every second of it, glitz and glam and loud excitement, cameras flashing everywhere, but he knows that Rami is a quieter, shyer soul by nature. He has a ball at the glitzy events too, and cleans up hella nice, but also requires time to himself to recharge. "... I'm so happy that you've been getting all these honours, buddy. No one deserves them more." Mazzello scoops up a bit of his red sauce onto a spoon and tastes it, smacking his lips and groaning before refilling the spoon and bringing it over to Rami, the palm of his opposite hand cupped underneath. "Try this for me."

Obediently Rami leans forward in the chair he had sat down upon, daintily sipping the sauce from Joe's spoon. "Ooh," his lips pucker in appreciation. "Oh that is good, Joe."

"Awesome, thanks. It's my family's recipe for spaghetti sauce and it took me about three hours to remember how to make." He grins, turning and bending down to retrieve a lasagne pan from out of one cupboard. "But! Now that I remember how to make it, it works great in lasagna too."

Rami rubs his hands together. "I'm so excited," he says. "is there anything I can do?"

"Just serenade me with your magical voice," Joe responds. "And I mean, you can also sprinkle some garlic powder on bread slices in a minute, if you really want." Rami nods agreeably. "--I was also gonna make a salad," Joe said "but then I remembered that I don't eat healthy food, hehe." Rami chuckles. "I mean, if you want a salad--," he amends quickly.

"No, Joe, garlic bread and lasagna are absolutely fine," Rami assures him. "Wonderful, actually. I can't believe you'd be willing to do all this, just to cook for ME. I'm flattered." He also does not know how he deserves this incredible, never-ending kindness from Joe. It's amazing.

"You should be," Joe jokes before adding "no, seriously, Rami, it's my pleasure to cook for you. Plus I've gotta tell you about an awesome idea that I've talked about with Gwil."

"...And Ben, right?" Rami taps his index finger against his lips knowingly.

"Okay, yeah, I talked with Ben too," Joe admits. "But he didn't get dinner." He layers noodles, cheese, sauce, spinach, more noodles, and more cheese into the lasagne pan. "This is just something I do for you."

"Oh," Rami dips his head in a slow nod, brows rising and eyes widening even more. "I see. Well I appreciate it immensely." Recalling the presence of the beverage he had brought over, Rami stands and walks around beside Joe. "Where are your wineglasses, by the way?"

"Oh yeah--upper cupboard on the left. Cork popper's in the drawer down there." Joe nods his head at the counter next to the stove. He finishes layering the second portion of sauce and final additions of noodles and cheese before putting the lasagna into the oven at three hundred seventy-five degrees for an hour. "All RIGHT now, it's wine time!" He crows as Rami opens the bottle and gets two glasses. "Fill 'er up."

Rami does and shakes garlic powder onto the slices of bread that his friend indicated earlier. He is ready to pick up the bowls and pots in which Joe had prepared the food in order to wash them, but Mazzello smoothly blocks his way.

"Rami, pick up your glass of wine and go sit down, okay? You're my guest, and besides, I'm gonna do all of my dishes at once later so none of them feel left out." He shoots his buddy a smile and links his arm with Rami's to guide him to the couch. What Joe just articulated is zany enough that Rami does as he is bid without retort or complaint. Score one for Joe on the get-Rami-to-relax board. Not that he's keeping a tally or anything; his friend just deserves to be taken care of since he's so good at caring for everybody else in his life.

They sit and talk and share wine, and Joe outlines his idea for an amazing karaoke session/reunion for everyone in the Queen-BoRhap family. That is what he has begun considering them to be, a family. Rami is nodding along, excited that Joe is excited. "If you can make it work, I'll gladly be a part of this," he says. "Even if I'm just in the back recording it for all of us to remember forever."

"Oh no Rami, you will be singing, trust me!" Joe swallows the last of his wine and winks. Leaning in towards his friend "Aah, I'm so psyched that you're onboard with this, pal! Ben was worried about Roger maybe saying no and that I'd be disappointed."

"Well," Rami offers up a soft smile, patting Joe's hand. "We'll just have to offer the idea to him in a way that he will say yes to, then."

"Exactly!"

Chapter Text

It isn't an immediate once-a-week visit with John or something that Roger and Brian get to. Sure, they had gotten their griefs and hang-ups out into the open, and supper with Michael and Veronica along went rather well, considering (Surprisingly --or not surprisingly-- to everyone, Mike and Rog hit it off after their initial clash and Veronica joked to John that their second son now has a new best friend. John murmurs that he hopes it goes better for him). So there is gallows humour of a sort. John still feels a trifle uneasy around Brian; it seems there is something else he needs to say, or perhaps they both do.

It is when Bri is out for drinks with Roger at an out-of-the-way little bar some time later that the drummer knocks back some liquor and says, turning in his seat to face his friend: "You and John need to sort some things out, mate. So I invited him to come out with us tonight. He told me he's on his way."

Brian chokes on his own drink. "You what?! Oh my god, Rogie--"

Holding up both of his hands, Roger fixes Brian with a laser like stare from his bright blue eyes. "Don't get in a row with me, mate. You know that you need this as much as he does. I can't keep looking at the two of you tiptoeing around each other or I'm gonna go stark raving mad! Don't say it," he adds as Brian cocks an eyebrow and opens his mouth. "Don't do it, Brian. It kills me to see you like this, you know. Beating yourself up, like." His high husk catches a bit at that and he swallows hard. "... Before, when-- after Fred died, I couldn't help you with it, with what all was going on with you." And he still feels badly about that. He wishes he could have done more, so much more for Brian. His tone grows fierce and sure and quiet: "But I know I can help you now. John's still here, mate. Just--try to talk to him, at least?" He waggles and raises his eyebrows a bit, batting his eyelashes to lighten the mood as he leans in and looks up at Brian. "For me?"

The guitarist sighs heavily, one hand running through his curls jerkily. Oh, Roger. "...You know, I hate it when you do that to me," he complains, taking another sip of beer.

Roger grins. "Because you can't say no?"

"Because I can't say no," Brian confirms. "It's sickening."

"I love you too, Bri."

If Rog actually got John to come over here, and Bri is really going to talk, he will need another drink. He debates whether or not to order something stronger than beer, and thinks about what his wife would say to him. So he orders Rog another shot of what he'd just drunk and gets himself one to dump into his newest beer.

"A boilermaker," Roger whistles. "Well alright then, Brian."

The guitarist pulls the glass closer to him and turns it in his hands. "...You started this," he says. There is an edge to his voice that he regrets, but Roger only shakes his head fondly, bless him. Sipping his newest drink and eyeing Brian's concoction, the shorter man catches sight of John and lifts a hand to him as he moves unobtrusively through the thinning crowd to where they sit at the rear of this miniscule establishment.

John swallows and bobs his head, eyes crinkling at the edges as they meet Roger's. He is gratified and astounded at how simple it had been to get back into their peaceful easy feeling of the two of them being around each other. Roger had called him up tonight as if it was no big deal, even though John heard the slightest strain in his voice when he mentioned Brian. Worries about that stubborn man remain always, clearly. Bri's sorrowful gentle eyes lift to John's briefly as he sits now, reaching across the table to shake hands with Roger before situating the collar of his heavy coat and adding "...Hullo Brian."

"Hi John."

Deacon's lips flatten and he looks down at the grain of the table itself, tracing it with a finger and then smiling at the server who comes by to "get this man whatever he wants," says Roger. "Are you hungry, mate?"

"Not very," John shifts his chair forward with a smile as he smacks his lips a bit while replying. "Erm, well I ate supper with Veronica before I came."

Roger winks saucy as ever. "Of course you did."

John blushes as Brian knocks his knuckles against the table wood. "Rog!" He remonstrates.

"What?" Roger deliberately crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the booth, crafting elaborate innocence; his white hair a stark contrast to the cloth booth and dark wood of the walls.

Bri lets out an exasperated groan. "Oh, nothing." He's never going to stop insinuating something raunchy, so why even try...? Brian laces his fingers together as he leans forward on his elbows. "So, erm. How're things, John?" He wants to kick himself and closes his eyes at the creaky way he had initiated this bloody small talk. At the slight sound and movement to one side of him, Brian figures that Roger agrees with his personal assessment.

But bless John, he inclines his head as if happy Bri had asked. "Things are good. All of the grandkids have moved to a new year in school at this point," he says. "... They're growing up so fast. I still remember so vividly when Michael turned thirteen; now both of his children have reached that age...,"

"And they're handfuls, right?" Rog laughs.

"Though maybe not for you so much since you dealt with perpetually-teenage Rog for twenty years," Brian quips smoothly with the quirk of a grin slightly lifting his lips.

Roger's eyes widen and he shoves at the taller man's closer arm. "Hey! Finish your drink and piss off."

John lets out a laugh, a bright sound that lifts Brian's heart. Their server comes back with his drink and the erstwhile bassist thanks her quietly before sipping and adding "...And my two youngest sons are gigging a bit, quite a bit now, which is-- fascinating." He shifts in his chair. Brian smiles a little, inviting him to continue with a small gesture because he knows John has something else to say. "It's... hard to see, to watch, sometimes." the youngest man confesses. All the time, at all. He does not look at his former bandmates directly as he speaks thus, instead focusing on the contents of his drink as though it can tell him the secrets of the universe; or at least what to do about his feelings in regards to his sons on this score. "I'm so proud of them both, of course, truly. And they seem to--have a better handle on the --job, as you'd call it, Brian, than I ever did. A knack for it." Which is a good thing, and yet...he worries. Of course he worries, he is their father, but his own experiences colour so much as well, still.

Brian reaches over on impulse and covers John's right hand with his left. Though his children haven't gone into playing music, he knows that Roger's have; and more than anything he is aware of the incessant worrying that comes with being a parent. And in his case, being a father who brought his children down so often; first when divorcing their mother, and then during the midst, in the years of his depression. Bri's fingers tremble as they curl around John's, and the other man catches Bri's glance with his own deep gaze. Those intelligent, observant eyes are still so sharp as Deaks' mind is. And that had been intimidating to Brian, for John did not often speak out about his feelings or thoughts; not like Freddie who would gently do so when prompted, or Roger, who needed absolutely no prodding--he would practically give himself the invitation. And Brian himself has a hard time, still, but when exhorted to he does speak up.

John's palm flips under Brian's and his fingers lace with the other man's long ones, squeezing as he recognises Bri's nonverbal expression of solidarity. He knows that Brian worries too, and that even without speaking he understands in some capacity what John is going through. And vice versa, John hopes. At least a bit.

John thinks of Brian's anguished words over tea, and he cannot stop. The things he said and what he had left out about everything that happened; along with the particular manner in which Roger mentioned him needing to talk, at the very least wanting a chance... John's been aware of Bri's melancholy nature since the beginning and he understands it some as a serious sort of person himself.

He recalls how difficult Brian had things when he contracted hepatitis in the band's early days, and how hard he had worked, excruciatingly so, to do his guitar work only to be told it wasn't strong enough. God, John still recalls the stricken, devastated expression on his face. Life had departed Brian's eyes and he was broken, but he had slowly healed in time; only to be broken again with losing Chrissie from his life, and then the death of his father and Freddie each occurred so soon, one after the other. Studying Brian now, even in the decency and steadiness of his expressions and his movements, John notices a brokenness in Bri's eyes, as though they are panes of glass that shattered and were repaired, but there remain hairline cracks that other people may not see.

John does see, however.

***

A couple of drinks later, (for Brian the rest of his boilermaker, John a second drink, and after Roger downs a few more shots) all three men have moved to sit in the booth together, draping and tossing their coats across the chair that John began the evening in.

Roger has leaned his head and shoulders against Brian's chest, waving his arms around as he tells some story about a wanker who criticised the film Bohemian Rhapsody, (just like critics had done to their music over the years, and still do) and how Rog had to set people straight in the press; "--What I don't bloody understand is what they thought the fucking movie was going to be like. It's Hollywood, so it's meant to be a source of entertainment! If you can't see that, then I have no patience for you. Go watch a fucking nature documentary if you want to go on a bloody fact-finding mission, but do that and you'll be bored out of your mind!" Brian's chest shakes underneath his friend's head with the force of his chuckles.

"...You know, I think YOU ought to be a film critic, Roger," John tips his head round Brian's side, the guitarist's arm carefully lowering to settle around his shoulders as he adds "Or a critic of the critics. That would be the most uplifting analysis," His voice practically sparks in its dryness and Brian's chuckles turn into full laughs as Rog shoots an incredulous stare at the other.

"--He already spoke his mind about a few actors and all the turnover in this film, didn't you, Rog?" Brian shifts his friend's head to a more comfortable position.

John's eyebrows rise. "Oh, really?"

Roger grunts. "Well, what did the press expect? They asked about the progression of actors, and about Sasha Baron Cohen playing Fred so I told 'em the fucking truth. He didn't take our Freddie seriously, and Rami does."

"He ALWAYS did from the very beginning," adds Brian.

"He certainly was incredible," agrees John. "I...could hardly take my eyes off him during the film. He WAS Freddie for those two and a half hours, and Joe..." John shakes his head, still baffled by the fact that the young man could embody him so well even before meeting. Brian rubs his hand up and down John's side, smiling down at him.

"He got you, didn't he, mate?" Roger asks. John swallows and nods.

"Yes."

"Gwil is more like me than I'M like me!" Bri says, his eyes crinkling at the outermost edges. "And Ben is a heartbreaker, so of course that helped him with playing you, Roger."

Rog sticks his tongue out and waggles it in the air, causing Deacy to let out a loud laugh. "Plus he's as much of a smoker as I was. Poor laddie," Roger chuckles, high voice scratchy.

"Joe has his back, he'll save his life," Brian assures, half-jokingly but is also serious. "They are us before the storms," he murmurs. "Before the ravages of life. I hope...I hope they don't...." His voice chokes off and he shuts his eyes at that. All jokes are put aside. Brian knows just how close he and his boys were, and after everything that has happened to and between them--how he hopes the BoRhap lads are forced to deal with nothing near as drastic in life at all.

Roger turns his head and lifts himself up to lean himself into Brian's side, John doing the same on the other. "Hey, mate, come on. They're going to be alright," Roger says gently. He glances across at John for help.

John bobs his head and swallows. "Yes, Brian. And they have us, so hopefully they won't-- repeat the majority of our mistakes." He leans against Brian, adding "but it's decent of you to worry about them so much, Bri. It's more than decent, it's... extraordinary." Brian cares so very much and that is one of the characteristics John admires most about him. More than that. "I love that about you, Brian," intones John. "Always have, through everything. You care so much." And I love that, I love you. Come on, John. "You--I hope you know how much people care about you," he adds. "How much...how much I do."

Brian's heart is thudding, pounding in his chest and there is a roaring like the ocean in his ears, but he is anchored in place by John's words and Roger's warmth, and he looks into his friends' sweet eyes and feels, really feels the depth and the strength of their love. Thank everything Roger called John and had gotten them all here together in order to talk tonight.

Chapter Text

If someone had told Gwilym Lee that one of his best mates was not only going to try, and succeed! in getting members of a legendary rock band speaking to one another--but that mate was also going to bring him and other people in on a karaoke jam session for and with the members of said band, well. Gwil would probably tell that person very politely not to put him on, please; or he would straightaway admit himself into a psychiatric office for tests.

But no. Not only is this real, but Joe Mazzello had laid out the idea to John Deacon over the phone and the man had not only thought about it, pondered, but he said he would put up the money for a karaoke machine himself. What in the bloody hell?! So now it is time for the boys to lay out the idea to Brian and Roger.

Gwilym had officially asked Joe and Rami to come and stay, make this a real visit, like, since the last time(s) they have been in London they were either running round going to interviews or possibly doing just a bit of sightseeing before grabbing a bite to eat and getting back. Not to mention Ben had been on his new serial doing work. But he is off now for a real break, and Joe will stay at his flat, with Rami at Gwil's, for about a fortnight. They plan for the time frame of the idea to fall someplace in the centre of their visit so if one day doesn't work, they can reschedule.

First Rog and Brian have to go for it, though.

And that is not currently happening. Perhaps Roger is having a bad day, or some criticism pissed him off again. Whatever it is, he is listening to Joe's spiel and not having any of it.

They had chosen to meet for dinner, well, lunch as Joe and Rami say; Brian and Roger and John too. It is absolutely mad and wonderful to see the three men entering a place together with ease; well, at least with some semblance of relaxation. That semblance is almost instantly gone the second Joe starts outlining his thoughts on karaoke. He figured he ought to speak his idea directly this time, get it out into the open. Brian, fingers tapping against his lips and with his head tilted, is listening. John is sitting by with a slight smile, and Roger is standing up and striding back and forth, movements growing jerkier the more Mazzello speaks.

"It can be a private session, just the seven of us," he wheedles. "It would be so awesome to see you guys performing." He leaves out the words together again, but the sentiment remains; it hangs in the air nonetheless, like an invisible cloud of smoke. Ben, standing in the corner a little behind Joe, wishes he were smoking at this point, in this moment. There is tension in the room that can be cut with a knife. He's glad he has already said his hellos and made small talk.

"You have GOT to be joking, Joe," Roger says flatly, whirling round before anyone else has the chance to speak. "...No sodding way!"

"Roger--" Brian starts to say.

"No, Bri, this is ridiculous! It's worse than those rotten musicals we did scenes in. This isn't even our music. I'm not some bloody monkey in a ring who's gonna perform just like that," he snaps his fingers and Joe winces like the sound was a gunshot.

"I... thought it would be fun...," Joe tries, tone a trifle shaky for the briefest instant.

"Karaoke is supposed to be fun, Rog," utters John quietly.

"Oh, so you're saying YOU are alright with this??" Roger snaps, whirling on John. "Oh now that takes the bloody cake, John. Mr. I-Can't-Possibly-Perform-Without-Freddie Deacon. Wow. Classy, mate."

John's eyes flicker downward. "...Is that your problem, then?" He inquires, voice still quiet. "That this isn't classy? Because I don't think of it like that; I think of it as a nice time happening some night --at my house, perhaps-- with friends. And I didn't say I'd be performing, just that I think it might be fun."

"Oh," Roger is nodding. "Well that's alright then, of course." His tone is acerbic as he spins to look at Brian. "Tell me you're not honestly considering--" but the expression in the guitarist's eyes has him sighing sharply. "Great. Oh, joy. I look like the arsehole here; I'm the bad guy." The shortest member of the band shakes his head disgustedly and stalks outside, muttering about needing a ruddy smoke.

John looks after him and Brian goes right to Joe, whose face has dimmed, its ever-present brightness snuffed out, and if Roger was anybody else, Ben would instantly throw hands with him for making Joe look like that. Rami's hand is on Joe's back, and Gwil's arm wraps round his shoulders as Brian speaks softly, ever-gentle, saying Joe's thought of suggesting this was lovely, don't worry about Rog, he gets this way about some things but he'll cool off with a bit of time. John is nodding as he stands by as well.

Ben stares at the little tableau, at Joe slowly becoming comforted by Brian's kind words, and the blond takes his lower lip in his teeth before making a decision. Clearing his throat and jerking his thumb towards the door Roger exited, he locks eyes with Joe and then Gwilym, who happens to glance up. "I'm gonna go talk to him," says Ben. "And I could use a smoke as well, so." Gwil nods at him, eyes telegraphing a wish for luck, and Hardy swallows as he runs a hand through his hair and departs the room after Roger.

***

Ben finds him leaning against the brick wall of the little place they found to eat. Another hole in the wall that had been chosen for John's sake. Ben clears his throat to announce his presence as Roger is staring off into the distance, which includes some tugboats going up the Thames. He doesn't appear to notice the younger man's proximity until Ben taps out a cigarette from his pack and puts it between his lips, cupping his hands around the end as he flicks on his lighter.

"...Balls out," Roger's high voice mutters as he continues to stare over the buildings to the water. Ben jumps a bit, almost burning his fingers.

"'Scuse me?" He asks. Had Roger actually just said...?

"On the day after the Queen's silver jubilee," the drummer continued, like these words follow his phrase without question "going down that same river right there, some wanking punk group sang a song about her fascist regime and got banned from London forever." He snorts in derision. "... The Sex Pistols. Freddie always had a distaste for them, because they hated us. 'Why waste your hate when you've got such egos?' He asked." Roger shakes his head and lets out a sharp bark of laughter. "Freddie always played anything and everything, but he made certain it was real. Dunno if those bastards really thought Her Majesty was a fascist; huh. I never asked." Roger scuffs one shoe in the dirt. "But that was brave of 'em. Balls-out brave, either that or bloody stupid. Still. Sold a lot of records, apparently." He shudders in disgust and looks over at Ben, who remains still, listening. "Now me, I want my music to be real, to mean something. I don't just listen to playback and sing; that's bollocks." Roger stops, and huffs, and Ben takes a drag on his own cigarette before offering the drummer one. "Cheers," Rog says as Ben nods to and lights it for him.

"...So you're saying karaoke is bollocks then," the young man remarks. "'Cause it's fake." Roger's brows go up as he takes a drag, and Ben sees it, the surprise in the older man's expression. His mouth lifts in a cockeyed smile in response. "Hey, I'm not an idiot either, ya know. Like you, I'm more'n just a pretty face."

Hah. Roger nods, letting out a puff of smoke from between his teeth and lips. "Touche, Ben." His voice is gravelly as he adds "And yeah, you're right; I think it's bollocks."

Ben lets out a huff of breath and then as Roger's eyes flick up to his, seeming almost accusatory as though the younger man is laughing at him, Hardy admits "...Yeah, I'm not much for karaoke either, mate. I don't--I don't sing. Not if I don't have to." A slight smirk graces Roger's face and Ben rolls his eyes. "Yeah yeah, I know, I sang for the movie and on those posts we made, but. I dunno, that's a bit different." He waves a hand and puffs on his cigarette. "Point is, though, that this'd be fun, well. Fun for all the other lads, and I love-- I really have a good time with them, with all of you. And you wouldn't have to sing or anything either, not if you didn't want to, Roger. So unless you've got some moral objection to karaoke--"

Roger snorts and finishes his own cigarette; he had been puffing on it heavily whilst Ben was speaking, and now tosses it down. "Look," he lets smoke hiss out between his teeth along with his breath "...I know what Joe's doing, and his heart is in the right place, but. It just, it's not the bloody same." His husky voice has started trembling a bit before growing strident. He's clearly still aggrieved. "If John were to get up there, and god knows Joe can probably get him to do it," Ben nods with a rueful chuckle. He knows how persuasive Joe can be very well. "--and if Bri got up too, then they'd ask me to join, and it--it would be too much like--" his voice breaks off into a croak and Ben automatically reaches out as if to pat his arm or take his hand but stops himself. This isn't Rami or Gwil or Joe; this is Roger motherfuckin' Taylor, and it isn't his place to touch him when he's hurting...even though with a lurch in the pit of Ben's stomach, he knows why. Even before Roger says it, he knows what made him snap when they were inside: "It'd be like a gig, a gig we can never have again, not together. And I don't want to fucking deal with that, Ben. I don't." Those bright blue eyes catch the other's greener ones as a bit of wind ruffles his white hair, and Roger harrumphs. "There, lad. That's it." I can't deal with it. Go on, tell me I'm being ridiculous, call me a fucking coward. Go ahead.

But all Ben does is nod, his expression open and empathetic and serious. "Well that's alright, mate. I'd imagine that would be...just. Really hard." Ben feels a lump lodge in and fill his throat as he thinks about and imagines just how hard it would be to lose something so precious as what Queen had together, and with Freddie; and if John does this but isn't coming back to the band.... And he isn't, well that--dealing with the possibility, even for a bit, would rightly suck. Before he can stop himself, Ben blurts out: "So if you want to just sit in a corner and get piss-drunk, I'll definitely join you." He freezes in horror, fingers feeling numb on the stub of his still-lit cigarette after voicing that, but after a moment Roger laughs, throwing back his head.

"Thank you, mate. I appreciate that," the drummer reaches out and takes hold of Ben's shoulder as he guffaws. Ben chortles as well, with relief. Honestly he still remains unclear at times on how Roger will respond to any given situation. But maybe, since he reacted well to Ben's suggestion, Ben wonders if there could be a miniscule amount of hope after all. And he is sure that Rog is going to receive an earful from Brian at some point--warranted or not.

Chapter Text

Ben and Roger stand outside to finish the last of their smokes before "Ready to go back in, Roger?" The younger man inquires softly.

The drummer squares his shoulders. "Yeah, let's do this."

All of the others' faces rise when Ben holds open the door for Roger, and if this was one of those teen high school drama movies everyone would cease speaking at once and the gorgeous protagonist would grow instantly self-conscious. Roger Taylor is too strong and confident for that, however. He goes over to Joe, sticking his hand out to shake. "Joe, I shouldn't've lost my temper like that. I was being a right prick." Brian snorted.

Joe smiles, shifting from foot to foot and rubbing a hand across his hair. It hurts to see him exhibit discomfiture, but he shrugs it off as he shakes the other's hand. "And I shouldn't have just thrown my idea out like that," he replies. "You totally don't have to do it or like it at all, Roger. I understand." He doesn't, though; doesn't know the underlying reason, the nuance. Joe is simply nice. So incredibly nice.

Rog nods, his eyes catching Brian's as the other man stares hard at him from over Joe's shoulder. "Okay," the drummer clears his throat and relinquishes Joe's hand before adding "Let's, let's eat, yeah? That's why we're here." He really does not want to continue discussing this now--he is already well-aware that Brian is going to bring it up to him again, either right after this excursion or tonight, for certain. Roger knows he's not going to be a picnic to talk to about it, either. He is irascible, loud, and vehemently angry incredibly often, not only in regards to this--and he gets that. Knows full-well what a trial he can be.

But the others go along with him for right now, they all get food and sit. Roger finds himself seated between Rami on his left and John on his right side. Ben sits across from him at the table with Joe and Gwil to his right and Brian on his left. Their table is outside round the rear of this sandwich shop with another view of the Thames. Its swollen muddy waters never rest, no matter how sluggishly they appear to meander along.

John's eyes are caught by Roger's gaze and follow it to the river to murmur "Endless, innit? Been here for decades, centuries, and it'll keep right on going."

"Even with all the trash and mud and shite, yeah," Roger drinks from his (non-alcoholic) beverage and wonders what John is getting at, if anything.

Deacon chews and swallows a bite of his sandwich before shifting and locking his eyes on Roger's and blotting his lips with a napkin. "...Yes. Just like us, Rog. After everything that has happened to us, we're still here." He nods toward the Bohemian Rhapsody boys as Joe says something to Brian and Gwil is laughing, Rami leaning his body forward to add his own quip to whatever had been said. Ben's eyes are cast down as his cheeks crinkle into fullness from his nearly-silent amusement. "--And so are they," Deacy adds, his entire face suffused with warmth and affection. "I just...I want to do something for them, since they've done so much for me. For us all."

Roger's shoulders drop and settle as he realises what John is saying. "And this karaoke thing, you're saying THAT'S the something you wanna do?" John nods eagerly at his friend with a hopeful look in his eyes and Roger shuts his.

Oh, bollocks.

***

The two sets of boys part ways after eating with promises to keep in touch about this karaoke thing on the one hand (Roger will come round, promise both John and Brian); and whether or not they will get together for drinking (as Roger mutters to Ben, saying that is looking more and more like an excellent idea for the pair of them).

The BoRhap boys walk together down from the eating establishment towards the river, as Ben had mentioned Roger's comment about the boats on the Thames, and Joe had posted pictures --from months and months ago, now-- of he and Benny walking Bankside and seeing the buildings of Shoreditch and the theatre way where Shakespeare and his fellow players hung out. Rami's eyes had bulged and he whispered "...Can we visit the Globe?"

And Gwil had stared at him with his heart in his eyes as Ben said "Sure, mate; it ought to be open, and if there's a show going on we can at least peek inside."

"So we couldn't get tickets?"

"Not this late, no. People purchase years in advance," Gwilym groans. "Oh, I've been aching to get in and see a show, just one! Once in my life I want to watch a Shakespeare production at the Globe Theatre, and then I can die happy."

"...AND after we sing karaoke with Queen, that's when you can," Rami amends the statement with a smile.

"Oh yeah, 'course, that goes without saying," grins Gwil.

Ben smiles as well and shoots a glance over at Joe, who has not said anything thus far about more than his previously-posted pictures. He isn't even hamming for more pics right now to take and post on Instagram. Ben's stomach sinks and he chews on the inside of his cheek. The thought of Joe's disappointment and its reality strikes him and sinks into the depths of his gut as he thinks about what he had said to Joe about being a bit worried on how Roger would take the idea to do karaoke. Oh, no. No no. Shit, he was such an idiot!

Ben thinks about Joe in his bed, recalling the way his friend had looked up at him with bleary tearful eyes before whimpering that he didn't want to be alone. Fuck. Ben hadn't talked about that to him, as he was not certain how much Joe recalled about that night, he'd been utterly knackered. But Ben should have mentioned it. Joe's grief is still so fresh; his dad has hardly been gone a year, but he has seemed so strong and put-together and he's been dealing so well with everything. Ben shakes his head, inwardly chastising himself. No matter how old Joe is, or what things look like on the outside, or how happy and positive he always seems, he has got to be hurting within, and this certainly is not helping. Not when he put so mich into helping John and the band with their own immense grief. Ben has to talk to him. Now, today. He cannot put this off or forget about it. His friend's emotional state is too important.

"Joe," Ben moves closer to him and quietly clears his throat, reaching out to ghost over the back of Joe's nearer hand with his fingers. "Mate, are you alright?" he asks.

Joe sniffs and clears his throat, glancing up. "Oh, yeah, Ben. I'm great." His voice is flat, not jazzed up as it has always before been when asked this question around any of them, by anyone. Joe was always great. But now he's not.

"D'you..." Ben swallows hard. "Do you need--want to talk about it? I can say I'm tired, and take you back to the flat. I don't mind."

For a second he thinks Joe might actually agree to that, to leave with him, and a gulf opens in Ben's chest and abdomen, swallowing his heart. Joe has never NEVER called it a night before eleven pm, and he's never left before anybody. But with a slight heave of breath and a bounce on the balls of his feet, the darker-haired man glances over at Rami and Gwil, who are now both enthralled by some special street marker that holds historical significance, and his eyes brighten just a little. "No, it's cool," he assures. "I'll stay for a while, we've gotta see the Globe, right?" Hazel eyes rising to and holding Ben's now, Joe lifts and flexes his fingers and drags them across Ben's before lacing their hands together for a brief but tight squeeze. Ben's stomach does a backflip and the chasm in his chest slowly, painstakingly starts closing. "...But thanks for the offer, Benny." He smiles now, for real, and Ben smiles back with relief. There is the light in Joe's eyes. He makes to let go of the other's hand now that he can tell Joe is doing okay, but Joe doesn't relinquish or loosen his grip; he slips his palm around to clasp Ben's instead, fingers folding over and rubbing tiny circles on top of the blond's skin. It is so soft. Ben swallows hard, but he does not let go either.

Their hands remain entwined all the way to the entrance of the Globe.

It is certainly amazing, stunning and beautiful in parts--the simplicity of that wooden O, the painted firmament above the stage, the wooden pillars painstakingly painted to look like stone. The sense of history, of such a story, of words penned by a guy who was the son of a glover, a glove maker, who came to the big city from a small town and was taken under the wings of some top-notch local talent and given the chance to soar. And soar he had until he chose to stop; to hang it up and leave playwriting, his extraordinary gift in it, behind once he had done enough.

The story of William Shakespeare never before seemed so apropos or hard-hitting as it feels right now, and Joe feels a lurching sensation in his throat as tears prick and burn his eyes. He crouches beside the door to the stage, below which would stand the groundlings, everyone too poor to sit in an actual seat; and he realises pretty much EVERYONE became a groundling at a rock concert--like for Queen, people stood. They stomped and clapped and screamed and roared through the stuffiness of the past to hear the beauty of music and to celebrate life and joy and love; and suddenly it hits Joe that does not happen, not in the same way, not without Freddie and John there as a part of Queen anymore. It hits him so hard that he cannot breathe and somehow he knows.

He knows why Roger had refused to do karaoke outright. Because it wasn't a performance, not a real Queen performance with Freddie or with John. And if John were to sing with Brian and Roger--oh, how could Joe have been so stupid? What would that amount to? It would be a cheat, a sidestep from their music. Running away from the legacy but singing along to some tinny computerised track. Oh, my god. Oh no. Joe feels sick to his stomach as he squeezes his eyes shut. What had he done by asking? What the hell had he been thinking? Roger probably hates him for doing it, for making the suggestion; and honestly Joe hates himself a bit right about now.

He doesn't quite hear what all is happening, because there's a roaring in his ears, and the sound of his heart hammering, and then he feels arms wrap around him, long ones. Gwilym. And a soothing voice saying they're going to get him back to the car--Rami. And then a warm hand is clutching his and touching his face and Joe hears a deep rough "C'mon mate, don't lose it on me now. Let's at least get you home." Ben. Ben is holding on to him. Ben has got his back. They all have.

Now they are in the car, and here is Gwil saying "C'mon Joe, strap up, mate," and Rami's looking back at him lovingly from the front seat.

"Safety first, it's important."

And then Ben is climbing into the back beside him, his warm hands reaching around Joe to pull down the belt and cinch it round. "...Is that too tight?" Ben asks him now, green eyes inches from Joe's face, and Ben looks steady. So worried, but steady. "Okay," as Joe shakes his head, it's fine; Ben nods, biting his lip. "Alright then. Don't worry, Joe. It's gonna be fine, this is all gonna be fine." He sniffles and faces forward, and in the fading afternoon sunlight, and somehow through all of the crap whirling around in Joe's hyperactive but also sluggish brain currently, he wonders why Ben is crying. Because he swears that he sees the tracks of tears on his friend's round cheeks. He hears Ben let out a sob, and then the car has stopped and they're getting him up and everyone is going into Ben's room, his house--no, it's an apartment, Joe, come on--and sitting round him on a couch, or maybe it's a bed.

Rami's all cuddled up close now with his dark soft head tucked under Joe's chin, and Gwil is stretched out, lanky legs and body underneath Joe's, pulling him back and down to rest against the tallest's chest. And Ben, Ben is...Joe wonders where that warmth has gone to, and then he sees Ben walk in, shuffle over with a quartet of mugs that he sets on a low table, and then he looks at Joe and rubs his hair before kneeling, sitting beside him, leaning against his legs with his head on Joe's lap. And Joe feels his awareness, already distant, slipping away into darkness; but it is a safe darkness, and it's warm, and his friends are there with him to stay, and to guide him back up out of the dark and into the light --when he is ready for it and can get back up.

***

Joe didn't realise he had dropped off to sleep, but it is some time later when he wakes on the couch, covered in a blanket but alone. Well, not completely alone-- Ben remains beside him, stretched out and practically lying on his face.

Joe blinks and shifts, and instantly Ben opens his eyes--his left hand had been holding onto Joe's arm and its grip tightens as he now moves. "Hey, buddy," Ben's voice is hoarse and quiet from sleep, but he blinks rapidly and sucks in a breath to stretch a bit and wake himself up. "... How're you feeling?"

Joe clears his throat and scrubs a hand across his face, coughing. "I--I'm okay. Yeah."

Ben cocks his head, lips a little parted as his eyes hold Joe's. "Y'wanna try saying that again with more conviction, mate?"

Joe smiles. "Fair. Where's--where are Rami and Gwil? I remember 'em being here."

"Well Rami had to make sure his bags got dropped at Gwil's place, since he had them sent over from the airport-- 's what he told me he wanted to try this time. Dunno why; maybe he just got excited because it was Heathrow and you know...,"

"Freddie," they speak --and nod-- at the same time.

Ben chuckles. "Yeah, and Gwil's all focused on being a good host or something, so he said he would get everything together for you today. Tomorrow, whatever. I figure that means something like an enormous breakfast and then going on the Eye or to spend the day at a theme park or something." Ben snorts in amusement. "He knows you."

"No animal theme parks, pleeeease!" Joe begs dramatically, perking up a bit. "Or reptiles--I just can't go through that again." He shudders and Ben shakes his head, laughing.

"You're such an idiot. But alright. No living creature theme parks, promise." Now sitting upright next to Joe, Ben reaches out and runs a hand over his back, up and down and up and down again. Mazzello sucks in air and falls into Ben's side, making the other extend his arm to wrap it around him, holding tight.

"Thank you, Ben," Joe whispers as his lips start to tremble, and Ben knows that thanks isn't just for the parks. He leans into Joe, turning his head and resting it atop his friend's, muscular arms keeping the other man close with all his strength.

"Of course, mate. Happy to help."

Chapter Text

Joe looks at his friend and his face crumples, head and torso falling against Ben's chest and side. "...I miss my dad, Benny. God, I miss him so much." His words are muffled by Ben's clothes but remain understandable: "...and doing this, because of how much the movie, me --us-- making it, and Queen--what the guys mean to me, to us, and to everyone, it's--it's helped me, you know?"

Ben swallows and blinks, tucking his friend against him and wrapping his arms securely all the way round Joe's back, holding him as close as he can. "I know," he utters, husky deep voice an emotional croak. "...I know it has. And I also know that you doing this --it's helped Queen too. Brian, Roger, and John. It has," Hardy insists as he holds Joe back from him, hands gripping his friend's shoulders when Joe's face twists. "Roger told me he knows that your heart's in the right place on this, and if I have to physically drag him over and get him to swear he doesn't have a problem with you for suggesting it, then I will."

Joe sniffs and lifts a long-fingered hand to swipe at his eyes. "Really, you'd do that? And he said--he did--"

"Yeah, I would. And he did." Ben smiles encouragingly. "Hell, if I have to entice him with top-shelf liquor, I will get him to that karaoke session, mate. Even if he doesn't sing, which I'm not raring to do either...,"

Joe focuses on those words and his expression changes to one of squinty intensity. "Whoa now, hang ON, Ben--you're not gonna leave me hanging!"

"No, 'course not," Ben shifts a trifle uncomfortable, though he is happy to see the sparkle returning to Joe's eyes. "I just--might not sing, is all."

Joe clears his throat and points at his friend. "Oh we will see about that!"

***

"You're going, Rog, and that's final."

"Last time I checked you aren't my bleeding mother, Brian."

"Well I don't care," Brian draws his shoulders straight and lifts his chin, staring hard at the other man, his voice sharper than usual. "You're going. Joe has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into doing this... karaoke session, and I respect him, so we're going."

"Oh, hang it all, Bri--I respect him too! And I haven't said that I wasn't going to go; not now." Roger crosses his arms, chin rising in challenge as his eyes flash. "I just--I don't want to sing, not --just the three of us again. Can't do it, Brian." The shorter man presses his lips together and nods sharply. "Those are my terms, take 'em or leave 'em, mate. Least I'm going, alright?" He had thought about it, and Ben's understanding had helped; it really is too hard, and he wants Brian to understand that without him pushing any more. Brian's searching gaze travels across Roger's face now, and Roger digs one toe into the ground, fists stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. "I can't do that, Brian. I can't bloody sing again, it's not..." not the same, it will never be the same; John isn't back in the band, and we still don't have Freddie. Roger's throat works but he cannot bring himself to articulate all of that, instead asking "Can we just leave it, please?"

The tall guitarist had been prepared to say something else, to make an argument for the sake of the boys, but he is arrested by Roger's "please", and Brian listens to his dear friend's plea. Of course he will gladly try to talk this out with Rog, because they do disagree on so much and yet he wants to understand his friend's stance on things-- but now he listens. "... Alright, Rogie," Brian says. "I'll suss out when this thing is happening. And I think you ought to apologise to Joe--he's worried you despise him for making this suggestion in the first place."

Roger blinks and jerks his head, taken aback. "What? No, of course not! This is all me, me and my hang up."

Brian snorts. "Good thing you know that, but you ought to tell HIM."

"...Right."

***

John Deacon has been searching around for an acceptable karaoke machine, and asks some of his children to help him. "--I need to ensure this thing will work. I can modify it a bit if need be, though," he says during family supper after telling everyone about Joe's karaoke plan.

Michael snorts. "...I still can't believe that is happening, Dad, and that you want to do it. Are you gonna sing?"

Joe shifts a bit in his chair, clearing his throat. "Well, er--"

"You've got to sing, Grampa!" Cries his youngest granddaughter. "Sing the bird song, you know."

The bird song. Laura smiles and strokes her daughter's hair as John expels a surprised chuckle. "...I can't believe you remember me singing that."

"We all do, Dad," Laura says. "You always sang us to sleep with it, remember? Told us to follow our dreams, spread our wings and fly away."

"Just not to fly too far, so that you can always find your way back home," John whispers with a lump in his throat as Veronica reaches across the table and takes his hand. He smiles tremulous for a moment, first at her and then at his daughter and granddaughter. "Okay. Maybe I can sing the bird song for you, sweetheart. I just dunno what will happen with Roger," John clears his throat and relinquishes his wife's hand. "He went a bit--"

"Let me guess, he was Roger, so he yelled somethin' about how ridiculous of an idea karaoke is, I'm sure."

"Well. Yes, actually."

"You ought to mess with him a little, Dad, just take the mick out. If he won't have fun on his own, gotta force him to enjoy it." Michael suggests with a wicked twinkle in his eye.

John's entire face brightens up with laughter. "...I have a feeling Rog will be enjoying the refreshments most, but. What did you have in mind?"

His son glances at his own children and sister with a shit-eating grin on his face. "Well...I think there's already quite a joke going that you can maximise on. Since my darling daughter's been on Instagram," his daughter flushes and her brother makes a face at her, to which she responds with a shove. "Hey hey, none of that. I've been subjected--er, given a good bit of information about one cardboard Ben..."

Chapter Text

John purchases a karaoke machine, and on the appointed day of their session, Joe and Rami and Gwil and Ben arrive a bit early to help set the machine up--and because Joe is still quite nervous about Roger and whether or not he will actually be coming with Brian. John does his best to soothe, and Gwil and Rami bring in snack food as Ben hauls in some cases of drinks, an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth as he lifts his sunglasses away from his eyes to rest them atop his head. "Let's get this party started!" he says. Joe grins at the exuberance that Ben exhibits, likely for his benefit. Good ol' Benny.

John beckons for Rami and Gwil to put their snacks on the table as Veronica enters with a smile and assistance to ensure that nothing is forgotten-- "Joe wants his snack front-and-centre," Gwil laughs.

"I brought cheese puffs," Joe says. "Well, I got Gwilym to buy 'em."

"Cheese puffs? Really, mate? What are you, twelve?" Ben says, cigarette bouncing up and down as he puts down his case of booze.

"Hey, everybody likes cheese puffs!"

"Oh, yeah? Who else?"

"I do," says Rami gently.

Gwil raises his hand. "So do I."

Joe puffs out his chest, preening. "See?"

"...Why did I even bother asking, I don't know," utters Ben.

"I will even eat them," comes a new voice. Brian. Roger has walked in behind him, peering round the side of the taller man. "Oh, Laura let us in," Bri says to John, whose forehead has crinkled a bit.

"I'm sorry I didn't come to the door--" he starts, but Bri waves a hand with a gentle smile and pats him reassuringly on the shoulder.

"No worries, John. We erm, also brought some drinks. Well, Roger did."

"Couldn't let Brian bring any more flowers," Roger pipes up, taking off his sunglasses and waving them around. "There's no bloody room or purpose for 'em. Hello John." He shakes John's hand and then gives him a hug when Deacy smiles at him, eyes crinkling and face lighting up as he thanks Roger for coming. "Yeah, yeah, alright."

The drummer shakes hands, and Brian receives hugs--particularly from Gwil--before it gets awkward for Roger and Joe. Well, particularly for Joe, whose heart begins speeding up as he bursts out "Roger, I'm glad you came, and I wanted to say I'm sorry for suggesting this, I didn't think about what it meant for you, with certain things, and oh god I never wanted to make you feel obligated to come or anything; this is--"

"Joe," Roger coughs and lifts a placating hand. "Take a breath, mate." Joe stops speaking and does his best. John has moved over to stand beside him, and Gwilym has reached out and begins rubbing soothing circles on Joe's back. "When I said I looked like an arsehole about this, well, it's 'cause I was one, yeah? I know that you're doing this because, well, like everything you've done, it comes from a good place. From your big heart." The drummer's eyes flick to John, and Brian standing beside him. "Freddie would tell you to rock on, darling, and erm--I do too." He puts out a hand now to shake Joe's, shoulders settling as he breathes, voice soft and contrite, more so than they have thus far heard it to be. "I'm sorry for how I reacted to this," he says. "Can you--I hope you'll accept my apology."

Joe looks at the other man's offered hand as his heartbeat slows, and then he smiles. "I can do better than that," he responds, and before anyone else knows what is happening, Mazzello has launched himself at Roger and wraps his arms around him in a hug. Roger's eyes grow large for an instant and then they crinkle, almost closing as he chuckles and wraps his arms around Joe to hug him in return, patting him a few times on the back.

"Ahem. Now then," Roger intones after he and Joe withdraw from their embrace, his voice sounding a wee bit scratchy from emotion "--What's going on? Are we doing this karaoke thing, or did I come for nothing? I need a drink," he adds.

"Yes yes, of course we're doing this! We must," Rami beams with a flourish worthy of Freddie. John beckons to them all, telling them to bring whatever snacks they want--and the drinks--on through, and leads everyone to a room at the back of his house, a bonus area. Joe's heart warms to see John's amplifier plugged up to an actual karaoke machine, whoa!

"This has a port to connect to a computer as well, so we can type in our chosen song," John informs them all. "My two youngest sons helped me find this." His head lowers, a trifle self-conscious. "So, erm. What do you think?"

"I think this is amazing, John," Gwilym breathes, his bright eyes enormous as he takes in the sight of the entire space, standing in awe at the size of it and the fact that John has invited them all here; he has asked them to come--to sing and to stay, and perhaps he will join in. This is brilliant. Gwil grips Rami's and Joe's arms involuntarily as he thinks about how stupendous, how momentous this occasion is.

John's cheeks flush with ever-present awkward modesty before he sees Ben bringing in drink cases and Roger following him, calling "Oi, John! You mind if I start making drinks for everyone?" There is a bar on the left-hand side of the room with a small refrigerator to hold chilled materials, and there are several glass decanters and various vessels for drinks. John looks up and nods.

"Okay, yes. There should be some mixers back there as well."

"Got it." Roger bends over to search mixers out, and Ben assists him, putting the box he had brought down.

"I've ordered pizza," Veronica calls, sticking her head in. "...Laura says she's going out to grab it in twenty minutes."

"Cheers," Ben says, and goes over to thank her softly with a smile. She pats him on the cheek and assures it is her pleasure.

Meanwhile Joe has pulled out a laptop and is getting some help from Rami and Gwilym to plug it in. "No, that's not the right wire, Joe--look it's not the charging cable, there's a separate place for that."

"Oh, since when did you become an electrical engineer, Rami?" Joe kids.

"...Since I can recognise the difference between a laptop charger and an HDMI cable," Rami returns smoothly, and Gwilym laughs, throwing his head back and almost crashing into Brian, who has meandered over, putting his glasses on to watch the three men work on turning on this machine. He is utterly fascinated.

Finally, they plug in the proper port and get the machine to work; flashing lights travel up and down its sides as Joe squints at the screen, fingers tapping over the keys as he searches out the absolute best first song. Roger hands a drink to John and then to Brian as Ben mixes a few for Rami, Gwil, Joe, and himself. His head comes up as he hears Joe let out an ecstatic squawk. "Oh, yes, this is IT! Heeeere we go, boys!" Joe hits 'Enter' and pulls out the microphones attached to the machine as Gwil makes sure the amplifier is turned to the proper sound level. Beating drums begin blaring out of the speakers.

"Are you ready, Gwil?" Joe asks in time to the music.

"Uh-huh," Gwil nods eagerly as he steps onstage--which is basically a section of clear floor with a couple chairs alongside it.

"Rami?" Joe continues, and with his adorable smile, up Rami goes. "...Ben?" Joe locks eyes with Hardy across the room, and then reaches out for his backup plan, that cardboard cut-out he's practically been having an affair with.

Roger, sitting next to Ben beside the bar, lifts his glass and glances at the younger man, giving him a once-over, eyebrow rising at the look on Ben's face, a sort of longing trepidation. The drummer smiles and pours a shot, sliding it over. The younger blond looks at him, picks up the shot and drains it before settling his shoulders and nodding. He steels himself and strides up to the stage, coming up to Joe and crowding close, slinging one arm around him and the other around Gwil, pushing Cardy B unceremoniously out of the way. Joe beams.

"All RIGHT fellas, let's gooooo!" Joe screeches.

Sweet's boisterous guitar strumming blares out and Joe and Gwilym begin singing together, loudly (and terribly): "Ah it's been getting so hard, living with the things you do to me. Uh-huh,"

Ain't THAT the ruddy truth, Ben thinks. His chin dips and his lashes flutter as he licks his lips to come in on the second lyric, feeling self-conscious. He looks up gratefully as Rami leans in and joins him. "Yeah, it's been gettin' so strange I'd like to tell you everything I see..." Both back up and bop their heads to the beat.

Of course Ben expects Joe to use his screech to sing everything up to and including the chorus, because it's a weird-ass falsetto and therefore lends itself pretty much perfectly to such screeching, so suffice to say he nearly falls to the floor in shock as RAMI bursts out "There's a man in the back who is ready to crack and his eyes are as red as the sun!"

"--And the girl in the corner, let no one ignore her 'cause she thinks SHE'S the passionate one!" Gwil adds.

"Ohhhh yeaaaah!" NOW Joe uses his screech.

"It was like lightning!" Rami sings.

"...Everybody was frightening!" says Ben.

"But the music was soothing, and they all started grooving..." Gwil has begun grinning like an absolute fool.

"Yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah!!!" All four lads lean close together and yell that bit in unison, their positions reminiscent of the film scene where they sang 'BoRhap' in the studio.

Brian and John are laughing in delight where they sit in the back of the room, John's head bouncing along to the beat as Roger passes in front of the stage, conducting with a finger and passing another drink up to Ben, who drains it.

Bri and John applaud at the end of the piece and the boys bow, Ben's cheeks flaming as he dips his head and Joe gives him a smacking kiss on the cheek whilst enthusing "Thanks for getting up here, I am SO proud of you!"

Rami and Gwil instantly hustle over to scroll down the screen for more songs, and Ben lets out a sigh and a "thanks mate, and yeah, of course," to Joe, clapping him on the back before sitting down again.

Rami's eyes light up as he indicates something and nods at Gwil, who tips his face down toward him with a "Ooh, that's ambitious," and then as Rami purses his lips, seemingly unsure, the taller man puts a hand on his back reassuringly. "But I'm up for it. Let's do it." Glancing over at Brian, Roger, and John, he raises his voice a bit and adds "Hope you're alright with us on your song," and then he clicks the button to begin.

A familiar guitar slide begins and Joe perks up as Rami catches his eye, walking over to the microphone and using his lower register to sing: "Gotcha rushing headlong...."

Brian and John (and Roger, though he subsequently denies doing so) sing along with the "hoop diddy diddy, whoop diddy do's" as Rami whirls round with Gwil, utilising some of his Freddie-esque antics.

***

Veronica, Laura, Michael, and the grandkids come in with pizza after that. Drinks continue to be made, filled, and passed around.

Brian moves to sit next to Roger. "C'mon, Rog, I heard you singing along, why don't you get up and do a song?"

"No, Brian, I wasn't. I said I was coming here to drink booze, and that's it." Roger lifts his glass in a mock salute.

"...And for the companionship, right?"

"Ah, of course, the companionship," Roger growls and makes a rude gesture.

"Roger!"

"No no, go on, I'm having quite a good time sitting here, I promise. Don't need anything else." He lifts up a piece of pizza and takes an elaborate bite out of it, flashing a cheeky grin, cheeks ballooning out as he chews. Brian sighs in resignation and glances across at John, who beckons Joe over and murmurs something close to the younger man's ear. Joe lets out a shout of laughter and tells John that he's excellent before inputting something into the computer. "... What's that?" Roger's eyes narrow as he looks around. "What's excellent?" Joe has picked up Cardboard Ben again and actual Ben rolls his eyes as John turns away and picks up something off a table behind the karaoke machine.

"For the record, Roger, I'm sorry about this," Ben intones as he comes over. "I told Joe not to do it, go easy on you."

"What--" and then Roger hears an incredibly distinct heavy riff emanating from the speakers. "Hang on, is that--?"

"Hendrix," Brian says.

And then Roger loses every thought in his head as John turns wearing one of those cardboard party masks, like the ones people who can't be bothered wear for Halloween parties. This one is Roger's face, from his shorter, spiked-up hair days, the look from the eighties. "What in the bloody fuck?!"

"There must be some kinda way outta here," sings Joe, his approximation of Ben's voice pretty on point, honestly, as he holds Cardboard Ben up to the microphone.

"--Said the joker to the thief," John's vocal impression of Roger's voice, on the other hand, is high and squeaky and TERRIBLE. Terrible, especially on such an amazing Hendrix composition. "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief."

"Did you know about this, Brian?" Roger snaps.

Brian, his fingers trembling before his lips as he tries unsuccessfully to bite back his mirth, entire body shaking with laughter, does not answer until the drummer pokes him in the side harder than strictly necessary. "Ow! Come on, Rog, they want you to join in the fun."

"...I think the only way this disgrace is going to end is if you actually go up there and sing something, Roger," Ben sighs, rubbing his fingers across his forehead in resignation. "And I mean, you helped me this way, so..." He stands and goes over to pick up a decanter in order to pour Roger a shot.

"Uh-unh," Roger shakes his head. "Get that whole bottle over here." Ben's eyes widen as he lets out a soft whistle. Rog tilts his head back as he gulps from the bottle the younger man hands to him, shoving it at Brian afterwards and standing, taking Ben's arm. Both move in unison onto the stage and into Joe's and John's way.

"'No need to get excited,' the thief he kindly spoke; there are many here among us, who feel that life is but a joke, yeah!"

Ben and Roger glance at one another and then into Joe and John's faces, Rog reaching out and pulling off John's mask with some sense of irony as he sings the words: "But you and I, we've been through that; and this is not a phase. So let us not talk falsely, now--the hour's getting late, hey!" Joe jumps slightly at their combined intensity and volume and John shuffles as if to hastily exit the stage. Roger flips his cardboard face away before shaking his head and putting an arm around Deaks' shoulders. Ben allows his cardboard self to remain, this time, and they all sing together: "All along the watchtower...,"

After the song is over, Roger stares hard at both John and Joe, and then he cannot help but chuckle. "Well played," he says. "You got me. That's something Freddie would do."

"I know," John grins, a trifle awkward for the initial moment after speaking, at least til he notices the glint in Roger's eye. "Heh. You're welcome," he adds cheekily.

To keep the momentum going, Joe tugs on Ben's arm to keep him on stage with him for the next song. Ben swallows hard as a synth beat begins. Joe whips his head first away and then back to face Ben as he croons: "I wasn't jealous before we met; now every woman I see is a potential threat."

Ben grins; voice deep as he lifts his gaze and leans in closer to Joe. "Now I'm possessive, it isn't nice--" Joe shakes his head and wags his finger in kidding reproof. "You had me sayin' that smoking was my only vice," Hardy smirks.

"But now it isn't true, now everything is new," they sing in unison. Joe flings himself into a dramatic kneeling position at Ben's feet for "Now all I've learned has overturned, I beg of you!" Gwil and Rami both let out peals of raucous laughter as Ben kneels in front of Joe as well, holding out his right hand and cupping it in the air beside his friend's face. "Don't go wasting your emotion, lay all your love on me." Both slowly rise to stand again, and of course Joe starts to dance. Ben beams widely.

"Don't go sharing your devotion, just lay all your love on me...!"

Of course Gwil says they ought to get a room as he waves them off after with a smile big enough to split his face in two. Rami murmurs about young love, and then to continue chugging the ABBA train, who should go up next to sing but John Deacon.

He smiles at Joe and Ben as they head off laughing with their arms around each other; so much like he and Roger-- and then freeze in place as John sings, quiet: "Super trouper beams are gonna blind me. But I won't feel blue, like I always do, 'cause somewhere in the crowd there's you." John swallows hard and smiles back at his wife, who has sat down with Laura and the grandchildren a short distance from Roger and Brian. Her eyes are shining as she presses her palms together in front of her lips, gazing at him in adoration.

Brian and Rog stare askance at one another, the drummer surruptitiously lifting his alcohol glass and mumbling "...Have I had enough booze to start hallucinating? What's in here?"

Brian lets out a breath, eyes locked on Deacy. "No, mate, you're just seeing..." Brian's face trembles with pride and shock and sorrow. Oh, he wishes that Freddie was here, or that he was brave enough to stand and go up there to support John.

He gulps and Roger, even intoxicated as he is, pulls Bri around the shoulders to lean into him for comfort. "I know, mate. This is a fucking miracle."

"I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Glasgow;" John's voice is on pitch, and though it had run a little wide --well, flat-- and low sometimes in the past, that is not the case here and now.

"...Fucking Glasgow," Roger mutters. He remembers going on tour in Scotland. The alcohol was great, but the atmosphere was not--he cannot count how many pubs he was run out of over the years for fighting.

"Shh!" Brian says to him, even as his own eyes are twinkling. He's pretty certain that he knows what Roger is thinking.

"All I do is eat and sleep and sing, wishing every show was the last show...," Something catches in John's voice there, almost sounding like a sob, and Ben and Joe glance at each other from where they had stopped to stand and listen; they look to the screen with song lyrics scrolling across, and instantly reconvene onstage over John's shoulders, but not too close. They don't want to smother the man, particularly when he's coming out of his shell like this and doing a magnificent job of it.

"--Wishing every show was the last show," the two Bohemian Rhapsody lads murmur, Ben nodding at John when the older man glances back.

"Right on; keep going, mate."

John smiles as he feels Joe's hand pat his opposite shoulder and in exuberance he enthuses "Yeah, you've got this! Awesome song."

The erstwhile bassist's entire face is alight as he continues. "So imagine I was glad to hear you're coming,"

"So glad to hear you're coming," Ben and Joe sing, attempting to emulate the male vocalists of ABBA and spectacularly failing.

"Suddenly I feel all right," and John does. He is really, truly enjoying this, and he feels so much lighter than he was used. More free, and for that he is incredibly grateful.

"And suddenly it's gonna be,"

"...And it's gonna be so different when I'm on the stage tonight..."

Joe turns the computer screen enough so that everyone else can see it and all of them join in with John for the chorus.

"Tonight the super trouper lights are gonna find me, shining like the sun (sup-pa-pa troup-pa-pa)! Smiling, having fun (sup-pa-pa troup-pa-pa), feeling like a number one! Tonight the super trouper beams are gonna blind me, but I won't feel blue, (sup-pa-pa troup-pa-pa) like I always do (sup-pa-pa troup-pa-pa) Cause somewhere in the crowd there's you."

John dips his face with a smile, flashing the gap in his teeth, and then the lyrics begin to hit hard, particularly for the three members of Queen: "Facing twenty thousand of your friends, how can anyone be so lonely? Part of a success that never ends; still I'm thinking about you only." Oh, god, Freddie. This sounds like Freddie; what he said in the wee hours sometimes, mentioned to the three of them on various occasions, but rarely, and to each one separately, on their own; when he said that all he wanted was love but that he felt so alone.

Brian thinks about sitting for hours upon hours with Fred going over the lyrics to 'It's A Hard Life' and how that...that song in particular exemplified his dear friend's struggles in a way that Bri is forever grateful that he got to learn of. Yet it still pains him that he had not helped; he hadn't said something, anything, to prove to Freddie that he WAS loved, so much. How have they gotten on? He still misses him, all the time. Every single day; and he knows that Roger does too, along with John. Bri puts his face in his hands, but lifts it a little as he hears this song's next lyric:

"...There are moments when I think I'm going crazy,"

"I think I'm going crazy," continue Ben and Joe, backing John up.

"But it's gonna be alright." John's tone is strident here, like he believes that. Good on John.

"You'll soon be changing everything."

"Everything will be so different when I'm on the stage tonight." And that's it, right there. That is what had sustained Freddie, what had done for them all--when on the stages, performing, the four of them baring their souls and putting their hearts out, opening up with their music, Freddie was --they ALL were, and had been, and astoundingly still are-- beloved.

Chapter Text

Brian, sitting in the centre, somewhat near the back of the room, smiles broadly and claps for John and the boys, before standing up. "C'mon, Rog, I could use your help with '39."

"Oh, no," Roger shakes his head with a groan. "No, Brian, I'm not--I can't hit that falsetto anymore, mate." He lets out a slightly uncomfortable laugh. Bri nods and looks down. Right. Neither one of them is as young as they used to be.

Gwilym wipes his lips and steps forward with a polite clearing of his throat. "I, erm, I dunno if I can get that high, but I'll try singing with you, Brian. If you like."

Brian cocks his face and smiles, turning and reaching out a hand, gesturing to Gwil. "See? Gwilym here is a gentleman. Come on then, Gwil." They go up together to key into the karaoke machine.

"Well bully for him," Roger grouses, but without any real ire as yet again he witnesses the kindness and consideration of Gwilym Lee.

Brian sits on a stool beside the karaoke microphone, one that Gwil pulled over for him before hitting the play button and coming to stand next to Brian. John, still sitting nearby, picks up a plastic container that held a non-alcoholic mixture, possibly lemonade. It is empty now, though, and to everyone's amazement, John begins striking the side of the plastic with the heel of his hand, emitting a sound akin to a cross between a bass drum and the fretting of a double-bass. Brian looks over at him, recalling Deacy's generosity during the initial recording of this particular song. He had tossed off jokingly "Oh, John, you ought to learn the double bass for this one, mate."

And John had nodded and said "Okay," coming into the studio a few short days later with the part and new instrument learnt completely. Brian had never really thanked him for that; he sits here and with a shock like a stabbing burst of static electricity, he gets the direct realisation--one his mind had been skirting around for many years--that he took John for granted sometimes. A lot of times.

Bri swallows and blinks back regretful tears as he sings: "In the year of thirty-nine assembled here the volunteers in the days when lands were few..."

"Here the ship sailed out into the blue and sunny morn; the sweetest sight ever seen." Gwilym leans in to sing that bit before deferring back to Brian.

"...And the night followed day, and the storytellers say, that the score brave souls inside," Brian's eyes catch and hold John's during the latter portion of the lyric, hoping against hope that Deacy can recognise and take Bri's meaning and appreciation for him.

John nods back at Brian, his entire face brightening up with a smile. Roger strolls over and stands beside him as John hands the bottle over. "--For many a lonely day sailed across the milky seas, ne'er looked back, never feared, never cried!" Rog lifts the bottle over his head and thumps it with a loud whoop that makes everybody laugh.

With that, the three members of Queen join together and sing the chorus, Gwilym doing his damnedest to harmonise with them and assist on the higher notes: "Don't you hear my call, though you're many years away? Don't you hear me calling you? Write your letters in the sand for the day I take your hand, in the land that our grandchildren knew!"

***

After '39 concludes, Joe begins murmuring to Rami (well, as much as Joe can murmur) and Rami is covering his eyes and groaning "Please, no. Oh my god, Joe, why are you trying to subject me to this bullshit?"

"Aw come on, Rami," Joe wheedles. "You know they're great, you KNOW it! Besides, this song totally captures the beautiful closeness of our relationship."

Rami lowers his hand from his face and skewers Joe with an incredulous stare, smacking his lips. "What--are you insinuating I might've done wrong in my life, but you're still--"

"... Leaving my life in your hands?" Joe grins. "Why yes, I am. C'mon we've known each other long enough, join me!"

"So we can rule the galaxy together?" Rami teases. "Fine; I'll sing this utterly ridiculous song with you."

"Yesss!" Joe pumps his fist "You're the best!" He flings his arms around Rami before practically skipping over to the karaoke machine. Rami smiles after him, fondly shaking his head as he follows.

Ben is sitting to the side of the stage, leaning forward a bit with his hands on his knees and his fingers laced together underneath his chin, propping it up. He has ceased imbibing alcohol now and sits with one knee bouncing, a smile curling his lips as he watches Joe and Rami performing. Even though ugh, the Backstreet Boys are so gross; Ben's an 'NSYNC fan all the way. Poor misguided soul that Joe is.... Gwilym comes over carrying an extra slice of pizza and sits beside him as Ben shakes his head with a low chuckle. "Oh, thanks, mate." He notices and takes the slice of pie Gwil offers, rolling it up and taking a bite.

"Sure," Gwil smiles, sparkly blue eyes fastened on his friend. "How're you doing, mate? Feeling alright?"

"Yeah, thanks." Ben nods, taking another bite of the pizza and then a sip of water from the glass he'd poured for himself. "Joe's having a ball, isn't he?" His green gaze brightens in mirth as he watches his friend croon to Rami in vintage Nick Carter fashion.

Gwil's entire face grows joyous. "Yeah, he is." Nudging his shoulder into Ben's as he shifts closer to him, "How disgusted are you about him choosing a Backstreet song, though?"

"Ugh. You have NO idea," Ben moans, flopping his face down and then bursting into laughter as Gwilym rubs his shoulder, laughing too.

"Hey, you wanna sing something later?" Inquires Gwil. "The two of us?"

Ben raises his head. "...We aren't gonna start up a battle of the bands by pulling up 'NSYNC, are we? I mean I love 'em, but dunno if I can do that."

"Oh, no, not at all," Gwil returns swiftly."No, I wouldn't be caught dead. I was thinking of something by the B-52's, or the Proclaimers, maybe."

The Proclaimers? Ben perks up. "Yeah, alright, Gwil. I can do that."

"Cool." Gwil beams at him widely. "I'm chuffed."

Ben smiles back and then catches sight of Roger, Brian, and John. Nudging his face against the side of the other's shoulder, "How d'you think they're doing?" He asks.

With his arm slung round Ben's back, Gwil turns his head for a glance at the three erstwhile bandmates. Brian is handing Rog a glass of water as John withdraws a bottle of alcohol from the drummer's side of the table, facial features crinkled in an affectionate laugh as Roger's high voice spits something that is almost certainly irascible. John does not appear perturbed by the tenor of Roger's words; he simply pats him on the arm before smiling at Brian. Bri's features tremble and sadden in response to John's smile, and Gwilym notices the bud of pain that blossoms in the guitarist's eyes even as he shifts closer to John and does his best to smile back.

"Well I think they're working to get things sorted out," Gwil whispers. "Between them, there's sure to be a fair bit of baggage, you know?"

"Yeah, 'course," Ben nods vehemently, thinking about some of the sentiments Roger had admitted to him as he watches the drummer waving his hands about in the air now. "But I do think they're doing all right on it, yeah?" He bites his lip and ducks his chin, unsure.

"Yeah," nods Gwil. "I certainly hope so." He smiles and pulls Ben against him, grateful that the two of them are here together hoping for Queen's reconciliation. And he is grateful for being with Ben besides; he is a good mate. He's good for them all. Gwil shifts himself to clap for Joe and Rami and Ben wolf-whistles at the conclusion of their song.

"--Please save me," Rami flops down on the opposite side of Gwil, instantly falling into the long torso of the tallest man as Gwilym lifts his free arm to accommodate him.

"You alright, mate?" Ben leans around Gwilym to put a hand on Rami's knee in sympathy. "Singing a song like that one is the pits, innit?" Gwil laughs as the left-hand edge of Rami's lip lifts in a smirk. Joe loops his arms over Ben's shoulders and leans against his back, long hands linking in front of the blond man's chest. Ben pats Joe on the arm as Mazzello rests his chin atop Ben's hair. "Oh my god, you're sweating. That's gross." Wrinkling up his face in half-real, half-mock horror, Ben tries to pull away only to have Joe cinch his arms tighter around his chest. He presses a kiss onto the crown of Hardy's head.

"Are you gonna be able to forgive me for bringing my Backstreet obsession into tonight's festivities, Ben? Please," Joe leans his face down beside Ben's, pushing his lower lip into a pout as he bats his eyelashes. Ben shakes his head but cannot stop a grin from spreading across his face. "Pleeeease, Benny! I couldn't bear it."

"I'll forgive you," Ben replies breezily "If you admit that JT is an amazing performer." Joe's expression drops and his hands jerk. Ben lets out a breathy exclamation. "Oh come on, you can't even admit that? Seriously, Joe??"

Joe lets out a heavy breath and relinquishes his hold on Ben, shaking his head with eyes shut tight. "No. No, I can't do it. I can't betray Nick or any of the other guys like that."

"Look at him, he's actually, legitimately sweating right now!" Gwilym crows at Rami, who is still leaning against his side. Rami rolls his eyes. "... He's had a good solo career though, JT has. Yeah?" Gwil tries to help.

"Ehhh he's-- been very well-represented," Joe allows. "He's gotten a lot of opportunities, I'll give him that."

"I'll take it." Ben grins again, in satisfaction this time, as he stands. "Here, Joe, siddown and hydrate for a bit, mate. There ya go. You ready, Gwil?" Hardy looks over to him and Gwilym nods, leaning into Rami briefly again before unbending his limbs and standing.

"Right then. Here we go."

Joe's eyes bug out in horror. "No Justin Timberlake, Benny--oh my god, I can't." Turning his head to search out some solidarity, he pleads "Gwil, c'mon Gwilly...," Ben smirks and Gwil waggles his eyebrows. Joe groans and flings his head back, covering his face.

And then a funky guitar and bass combination begins. Rami starts giggling. "Ah, yes! This song is so good."

Joe purses his lips and cracks one eye open as he lowers his hands from his face, sitting back up to see Ben and Gwilym grinning at each other.

"When I wake up--yeah I know I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be the man that wakes up next to you."

"When I go out, yeah I know I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you," Gwil has begun marching in place, holding out the microphone to Ben, who leans in to sing along, his earring sparkling in the light as he moves.

"... Aaaand I would walk five hundred miles and I would walk five hundred more, just to be the man who walks a thousand miles to fall down at your door!"

"Da da de-lat dah!" Joe flings both arms up in the air as Rami tilts his head back to shout-sing along with Gwil and Ben. "Da da lat dah, deedle lat deedle lat de de da da dah,"

"Da da lat dah!" Ben and Gwilym sway together now, arms slung around one another and heads tipped, their temples resting together as they clutch onto a single microphone. Roger, Brian, John, Veronica, and all of the kids and grandkids join in. It's just that sort of song.

***

"Okay," Joe says after Gwil and Ben take bows, both of them flushed and grinning, "...but if karaoke doesn't call for the 'Hammer to Fall' then I have no idea what we're even doing." He catches Brian's eye and then Roger's, John's, and Gwil's as he and Ben pause onstage. "You up for this, guys?"

Brian glances at Roger and John, and it is the latter who puts his hand on Brian's shoulder and bobs his head at Joe, beaming. "Okay," he says, tone of voice quiet but sure. "Let's do it."

Roger bites down on a grin but can't help banging his hands against John's shoulders as if they are his drumset. "Atta boy, Johnny! Let's go!" Brian's eyes are wide as he looks at the drummer with a surprised smile, and Roger shrugs. "What? I can get excited, I've been here awhile." He looks over to where Michael and Laura and everyone else are crowded at the back of the room. "Well c'mon then, you're singing too! The more the merrier, isn't that your motto, Joe?"

"... it's one of them," replies Mazzello with a grin, and he types in the song as there are conversations and shuffling until everyone is somewhere that they can hopefully see the song lyrics if necessary. "Are we ready? Here we go."

And with a mighty, meaty guitar riff, everybody sings from the beginning:

"Here we stand or here we fall; history won't care at all. Make the bed, light the light--yeah! Lady Mercy won't be home tonight! We won't waste no time at all, don't hear the bell but you answer the call; it comes to you as to us all, yeah! Now it's time for the hammer to fall!"

Brian is standing next to--between--John and Roger, and he sees both of their faces, lit up as they sing the words, his words. This song means so much, and so much more now that he sees all of these people here, connected by it and by their love for each other and for Queen. He sees Gwil, dear Gwil, eyes closed as he takes in the sounds of the words and guitar, his arm around Ben's shoulders as that gentle quiet boy thrusts his fist fiercely into the air. Rami is whirling in all of his decency and passion and Joe, boisterous, fantastically stubborn, feisty Joe beams at Queen in all of their glory as his eyes meet Brian's and he nods. They have done this, they all have. Together. And it is the loveliest vision and circumstance that Brian has ever seen. He reaches out for Roger and to John, and Deacy looks up at him and burrows against Bri's side and shoulder as Roger takes his opposite hand. And Brian swears that somehow, for an instant, it is as if Freddie is with them, adding his voice to theirs:

"... We just wanna scream it louder and louder and louder-- WHAT THE HELL WE FIGHTING FOR? Just surrender and it won't hurt at all! Y'just got time to say your prayers; now it's time for the hammer to, hammer to fall!"