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Athena

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It had never been your intention to start something with a man you worked alongside. After all, being a road tour manager was tough enough; you handled finances, oversaw transportation and accommodations, and ensured that every person involved with a band’s show – road crew, catering staff, lighting and sound techs, musicians – was where they should be, every moment of every day. Really, you were a miracle worker, who was up with the sun, and went to bed when you were certain that every issue had been dealt with for the day.

There was no room in your schedule for a relationship; it was all booked up with a thousand other issues that needed handling. Was equipment loaded before departure? Had the road crew been paid their per diem, and were all union-associated trades working the hours they were allotted? Had everyone’s visas been approved in time for the next leg of an international tour? With all this on your plate, you had still somehow managed to find yourself waking up each morning next to the bassist of the band whose tour were managing – The Who.

It was 6:00am when the hotel concierge called up to your room with the wake-up call you’d requested the night before, just as you did at every hotel you stayed in. With John Entwistle’s heavy arm slung over your chest, you struggled to sit up and reach for the wailing telephone. It continued to ring, waking John, who released a long, sleepy groan. His free hand snatched up the receiver, and John held it to his face and growled, “Fuck off, d’you know what time it is?” to the surprised staff member on the other end of the line.

“John, no!” you cried, grabbing it from his hand. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” you yelped, pressing the phone to your ear. “Thank you for the wake-up. Seriously, my sincerest apologies, my partner was so out of line.” The reception desk promptly hung up, and you smacked the sleepy man beside you in the shoulder with the phone’s receiver.

“Fucking ‘ell!” he growled, “What was that for?” John squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face into his pillow, annoyed to have had his sleep interrupted.

“That was my alarm clock, you arse,” you scolded, reaching over him to return the corded phone to its cradle. “If you don’t want to get up when I do, sleep in your own hotel room; we’re paying for it, you might as well use it.” Mustering up as much strength as you had this early in the morning, you tried to slip out from beneath the weight of the bassist’s arm, but he held fast.

“Don’t leave yet,” he croaked; somehow, his sleep-laden voice early in the morning was even lower than his regular speaking voice. “S’too cold without you, love.” With a heavy sigh, you folded your arms across your chest and flopped back down onto your back. John smiled and pulled you closer, content to hold you even if you were going to be a grouch about it.

“You know I’ve got to shower and get ready if we’re all going to be out of here on time, right?” you asked, trying to keep your tone even. John kissed your bare shoulder, pretending that you didn’t sound cross with him. “There’s no way Pete and Roger are getting up if I’m not hammering on their doors in an hour, and I won’t be doing that in my pyjamas.” The short, silk nightgown you had on wasn’t particularly appropriate to wear outside your own room, no matter what John might say about it.

“M’not getting up in an hour,” John protested. “D’you know what time we came back from the pub last night?” Your head lolled towards him, and he chuckled when he saw the stink-eye you were giving him.

“John Entwistle,” you snorted, “Are you asking if I heard you, absolutely drunk off your head, stumble into my room no more than three hours ago?” He bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut, attempting to stifle another bout of laughter. You, however, found it less funny. In fact, at the time, you’d sat straight up in bed, believing that a robber or potential rapist had gained entry to your hotel room. Instead, John had used the key card you’d foolishly given him upon checking into the hotel, and had tripped over the cord to your blow dryer on his way in. You had found him sprawled out on the floor, and had to strip him out of his concert get-up to tuck him in for the night.

“I love you,” he murmured, rubbing his stubbled jaw along your arm. It tickled your skin, and you squirmed in his grasp.

“You’ve got a funny way of showing it,” you complained, shaking your head. “If I kiss you, will you let me get up for the day?” Your grey-haired lover nodded enthusiastically, puckering his lips as though he were a fish. As serious as John seemed to his audiences onstage, where he stood as proud and still as an old oak, he was nothing but an adorable dork in the mornings. “You’re ridiculous,” you laughed, giving his cheeks a squeeze to make him relax his lips enough for a real kiss. Your annoyance was washed away almost immediately by the fondness you felt for the man. “And I love you, too.”

* * * * *

Out in public, you and John kept things strictly professional. He was a musician, more than 10 years your senior, and you were the tour manager who kept him and his bandmates in line. He always returned to his own hotel room before anyone else got up in the morning, and could rarely be seen within spitting distance of you during the rest of the day. It was important that on a tour such as this, the relationship be kept quiet; your job depended on it.

Once or twice in the beginning, you’d spotted John chatting up a groupie after a show – you hadn’t been exclusive at the time, so you did your best to contain your jealousy. Now, though, John had sworn off casual flings, even if Pete and Roger were still regularly partaking in the benefits of the rock and roll lifestyle. When he made excuses to his friends for turning a girl down, you always felt a flutter in your chest; he wanted to be in your bed at the end of the night, even if it meant waking up to the blaring sound of the telephone early the next morning.

* * * * *

While catering prepared breakfast for the stage and road crew later that morning, you sat at a table alone, going over the day’s to-do list as you did each and every morning. There were a few calls you’d need to make before the buses pulled out of the hotel lot, and you didn’t have much time to do it. While you chattered over the phone with the manager of the venue you were due to arrive at in less than 6 hours, John himself appeared at your table and delivered a plate laden with your favourites: a ham and cheese omelette, breakfast potatoes, a slice of rye bread, assorted fruit, (except cantaloupe, which you hated), and a Styrofoam cup of ‘hummingbird’ coffee, sweetened to the point of saturation.

“Thank you,” you mouthed, continuing to scribble down what the man on the other end of the line was saying about the parking situation. John nodded and continued on to his own table, ignoring the curious glances of his bandmates. It had been very thoughtful, but the gesture was confusing; since when did he acknowledge you in front of others?

“Yes, thanks again, Gerald,” you said appreciatively, winding up your call. “Bye for now.” After hanging up the phone, you swivelled your body in your chair, turning towards the group of men at the table behind you, who were shovelling down their breakfast as if it might cure their hangovers.

“Tomato sauce?” John offered through a mouthful of bacon, tilting his head towards the glass bottle in Pete’s hand. You shook your head, but smiled politely at him in thanks for his thoughtfulness. This was the first time you could recall him ever speaking to you in front of his mates, and right away, you were certain that they would find out about your quiet relationship sooner rather than later.

“Are you gentlemen set for the day?” you inquired, glancing between Pete, Roger, and Kenney Jones, the drummer replacing the late Keith Moon for the tour. “Anything I can get for you?” Sharing your attention with John’s friends would make things seem less suspicious, you hoped.

“You’ll be travelling with us now?” Roger asked, phrasing his question rhetorically. He’d seen John set a plate down in front of you, and made the assumption (correctly) that the bassist had made a friend of you; friends of the band travelled with the band, whether they were groupies, roadies, or management staff.

“She will be,” John confirmed, despite having had no such discussion with you. Pete nodded in affirmation, approving of whatever his friend saw fit.

“Oh, I hadn’t heard anything about tha—ouch!” Kenney grunted, having been kicked in the shin by Pete beneath the table. “Of course, it only makes sense,” he nodded weakly. John stood up from the table, nodded in your direction, and went find a roadie to retrieve your bags from your room, so they could be loaded onto the musicians’ bus. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed the exchange, which was a relief to you – but what on earth was John doing? This wasn’t part of the deal at all.

“20 minutes to departure, folks,” you hollered, raising your voice so it would reach every corner of the room. “As usual, roll call is to be completed and returned to me by 9:30 at the latest.” You grabbed the breakfast-loaded paper plate John had brought for you, tossed back your sickly-sweet coffee, and marched out to the command post, where you would direct the flow of traffic. Your cheeks flamed red, both embarrassed and annoyed by the exchange that had just occurred. Instead of running through your list of priorities as you typically did at this point, your mind was stuck on John; what was he playing at?

* * * * *

Once you’d informed the driver of the management bus that you would apparently be joining the band for the day, you stepped onto the band’s bus, arms laden with roll call sheets from every vehicle that travelled on the tour. It was vital that no one be left behind, unless it had been otherwise arranged. You managed a tight ship, and had an eye for detail that ensured smooth transitions for all parties involved. Now that the caravan of buses and cargo trucks were on the move again, you had a number of things to go over before the next stop. However, your spot on the management bus, where you typically did your paperwork and any accounting that needed doing for the day, was taken by Kenney, who had fallen asleep across the entire sofa.

“Will this do?” John’s voice caught your attention. He’d cleared a workspace for you at a pullout table beside the window, where he usually sat and hacked out his songs on tour. You set down your personal bag and the binder that contained your life’s work, and settled down across from John. Today, he was dressed comfortably in a pair of dark trousers and a collared button-up, whose sleeves were casually rolled up to his elbows. His spider necklace hung at the base of his throat, a constant companion of his on tour.

“Have you got enough space to do your own work, if I’m sitting here?” you asked stiffly, opening your binder up and covering more than half the table. John shrugged apathetically; all he wanted to do was be close to you, it seemed.

“I’ll manage,” he rumbled softly. “If I need a space, I’ll go sit with Pete in the back.”

“Not likely,” Pete called out, his large nose stuck in some book about eastern spiritualism. His socked feet were propped up on his own table, preventing anyone else from joining him. “Glad to have you here, though, Y/N. John’s such a grouch when you aren’t around.” You raised an eyebrow and met John’s eye; he averted his gaze sheepishly, pretending to admire the scenery of the dusty Midwest, which you knew he detested. Clearly, he’d shared with his friends about the nature of your relationship.

“I’m going to use the toilet,” you said quietly, encouraging John with a tilt of your head to follow. Knowing how open the men were with each other, you didn’t think any of them would bat an eye if he accompanied you. You left the door slightly ajar, and as you’d anticipated, John slipped in behind you a minute later. The space was quite small, which meant that the two of you had to stand close, almost pressed against each, other to fit into the room.

“Are you crazy?” you whispered urgently, grasping John’s wrists to keep him from settling them on your waist, or elsewhere. “I thought we wanted to keep this quiet.”

“Well, yeah,” John nodded, slipping his hands free from the hold you’d locked them in. He reached up and cupped your face, resting his forehead against yours. “But I don’t want to hide anymore, Y/N. I want to be near you.” His blue eyes twinkled, forcing you to remember the night he had managed to bewitch you into his arms for the first time. You saw through his attempt to avoid the issue and sidestepped it before he could take things any further.

“That’s all well and good, John,” you said patiently, “but you’re a man, and are part of the fucking band. You get taken seriously whether you’re smart, or as dumb as a bloody doornail.” His heavy brow creased at the centre, confirming your belief that he didn’t understand. You grabbed the front of his shirt and kissed him hard, knowing that what you said next would likely not be received well.

“John, you darling, darling man,” you sighed gently, “We live in a time where women have to be tough to gain the respect of the people around them. If the road crew think we’re sleeping together, they’ll walk all over me. I won’t be Y/N L/N anymore, I’ll be ‘That girl who’s fucking John Entwistle,’ which isn’t what qualifies me for this job. I’m damn good at what I do. I love you, you know I do…”

“You love me, but…” he murmured, slowly realizing the predicament you were in. Wanting to see if you could be persuaded to change your mind, he looped his index fingers through your belt loops and tugged you against him, meeting your lips harshly with his own. Your fingers raked up into his greying hair, and you held him close, not ever wanting to let go. He was the first person in ages who had been understanding of your career, and been willing to give a relationship a go; the idea of ending things hurt more than you thought was possible.

John was funny and kind and thoughtful, generous to the point of ridiculousness, and it would kill you to walk away from him – you really did love the man. It seemed to you, though, that for the time being, creating some distance might be the best choice. When he finally released you, your skin stung where his coarse stubble had scraped across your chin.

“I told you I’d break your heart,” you whispered, tucking your head against his chest. “It was never going to be what you wanted.” John hushed you with a low growl, refusing to accept that you wanted to take a break.

“You don’t get to walk away so easily, love,” he said decidedly. “I’ll tell the boys it was just a fling, you go back to the management bus, and we pretend this never happened.” You pulled back and looked him in the eyes; it couldn’t possibly be that simple.

“And if the road crew catch wind of this?” you asked.

“It’s the talk of the town when an old bloke like me gets the girl, innit?” John smirked. He was only 38, but he had lived hard and fast over the years. He looked closer to 50, his hair grey with bits of black peppered throughout, and his voice brought lower by two decades worth of cigarettes. The age difference was significant, and you feared that others would judge you for it, on top of the fact that the two of you worked together.

“If someone asks or makes a comment, we say it never happened,” he said firmly. “We’ll know the truth, and that’s what matters – not the opinions of some nosy stagehand who thinks you’re with me for money.”

“I promise it’s never been about your money, or status,” you told him. “It’s always just been you.” John shook his head; he’d never doubted your intentions. You were paid well enough to run the shit-show that was The Who’s North American tour – you didn’t need him for financial stability.

“Well then, if the road crew starts to whisper, I’ll spread a story that I asked you to come on the bus because I liked you, but you turned me down,” John proposed. “It’ll give them all something to chat shit about, you’ll get to be the strong woman who said no to this entitled old bastard, and we still get to wake up together.”

“The road crew respects you…don’t you want them to?”

“I love you,” he answered, as though this trumped everything else. “They’ll believe it, because they’ve watched me whore around for the better part of two decades, and they’ll continue to hold you in high esteem for your impeccable morals.”

“And the boys?” you asked sceptically. “Are they going to let something slip when they’re drunk?”

“I’ll tell them this was a one-time thing,” John shrugged. “S’been typical enough of me in the past. They don’t give a fuck, so long as I’m not shagging one of their girls.” As logical as John’s invented story seemed, something still felt off - you just couldn’t quite put a finger on what. He was trying so hard to keep you, but it just wasn’t enough. This job was everything to you; you’d shed blood, sweat and tears to hang onto it.

“You think we can keep this quiet, even after the shit you pulled at breakfast?” you challenged.

“Look at Pete,” John said. “He’s been a functioning alcoholic for a decade, and he’s somehow managed to keep that behind closed doors, even when he’s piss-drunk onstage.” You scowled at him for choosing that as his example; you both knew very well that Pete’s drinking had become an issue with the band and at home. Functional was a matter of opinion.

“Bad choice of words, I know,” John apologized, scratching the side of his nose. “Just trust me, love. We’ll be fine.” His hands grasped your arms and held you firmly. He was almost pleading with you at this point; John knew his attempt to convince you hadn’t satisfied your fears.

“I want to, please believe me,” you whispered sadly. Tears began to well up in your eyes, but you tried hard not to let them fall; you were a strong woman, and crying might make you seem the opposite. “But right now, I think it’s best if we don’t…see each other for a while.” John’s blue eyes went dark, and he clenched his teeth so hard you thought he might pull a muscle in his jaw.

“You’re serious,” he said finally, releasing his hold on you. “We’re done?”

“We’re done,” you confirmed, your voice barely more than a whisper. “Please, excuse me, I need to go.” You managed to push past him, and hurried back to the table he’d settled you at. All of your papers were still there, untouched from where you’d left them a few minutes before. John remained in the toilet for a few more minutes, but when he emerged, he took a seat beside Pete. His bandmate looked up, annoyed at being interrupted as he read, but said nothing when he saw the look of frustration and sadness on the bassist’s face. There was nothing to tell.

“How far to the next stop?” you asked the driver of the motorcoach. His concentrated expression morphed into one of amusement as he glanced over the shoulder of his seat at you.

“Won’t be stopping until we’ve reached the venue, ma’am,” he replied coolly. “It’s been less than a half hour since we left the hotel. Is there something I can help you with?”

Without responding, you returned to your seat and launched yourself into the paperwork you had waiting for you. Hopefully, you thought, it would distract you from the emptiness you felt at having ended things with John after nearly 3 months.

From the back of the bus, John watched you fill out and sign permit applications. He was angry with you, but more so with himself. All he’d think about for the remainder of the day was what he could do to mend things – after all, it had been months since he’d slept alone at night, and he wasn’t about to subject himself to that reality without trying first to change your mind.