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The Shrike's Glorious Thorne

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The cool amber liquid was starting to help salve the thudding in her veins that always came post-performance. The flashing lights and screaming compounded onto the already complicated harmonies Marie sang into the microphone. Percussion was the one thing that came easy as breathing. Rhythm and blues influenced bands were like that; the beat vibrated into your soul, no matter what instrument was in your hands. Touring with Hozier was much larger scale than the bands Marie had always played in growing up, but if she closed her eyes it felt very much the same. Still, in the wake of playing a sold out show to thousands of people her nerves were shot and her pulse took nearly two hours to slow down. Rachel had told her that her first big shows were like that, too. The comedown after a show is always restless, and it takes awhile to adjust.

Despite the near vibration of everyone else on the bus, Andrew seemed to have mostly come down from where he sat. He usually crashed pretty quickly after shows, since he met with all the people who waited outside the venue. He seemed to truly love talking to each person, but clearly by the time he boarded the bus most of his adrenalyn had worn off while the rest of the band could barely stay contained. This is how the drinking after shows had begun. The idea wasn’t to get so trashed you’d feel off the next day, just to get enough energy out with mild shenanigans thinly veiled as bonding experiences. Andrew was good natured enough to play along most nights, although a bit quieter than the rest of the band. He mostly just sat, drink in hand, to laugh along with whatever Alex or Suzanne usually tried to instigate.

“Marie,” Alex singsonged, waving his hand slightly, “come back to us, love, it’s your turn.”

Marie blinked out of her reverie instantly and shrugged it off with a chuckle. She took a long sip of her drink, prompting ‘boo’s from the rest of the band. She considered herself an open book so she didn’t expect to be significantly drunk by the end of tonight’s game of truth or drink, but she didn’t want to admit that she hadn’t heard the actual question she was supposed to answer. They continued around the circle, everyone else saying a number and prompting laughter. Marie’s best guess was ‘how many people have you done some specific sex act with,’ given the responses.

“Alright alright, my turn,” said Austin, sloshing his drink slightly. “What is one sexual thing that you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t?”

This prompted drunken giggling and shouting for a moment before Alex shushed everyone, having dedicated himself ringmaster of the evening apparently.

“Airplane sex, mate. I’m trying to join the mile high club, but the bathrooms are too fucking small,” Alex announced, which spawned drunken murmurs of agreement.

Cormac spoke up next. “I dunno, maybe a threesome? Not quite sure how the logistics of that work,” he said, which prompted three others to all shout over each other the exact mechanics of a threesome.

“I’d like to try being a domme,” said Suzanne once the ruckus died down, “Like full leather outfit and whips.”

“Nice,” Marie and Rachel nodded in agreement.

Two people drank to ‘boo’s, and then Rachel, who was leaning slightly against Marie from where they sat on the steps, spoke up.

“I’ve never had sex with a woman, would like to try that,” at which point everyone’s eyes swung to Marie, the resident bisexual of the touring group. She rolled her eyes slightly and refused to respond. Rachel was a beautiful woman, but Marie had done the straight girl thing. It never worked out well for anyone. Instead, she raised her glass.

“I’m kinda a fan of wearing a strap on during sex with women, so I’ve always wanted to try it with a man. So, I’m gonna say pegging is my answer,” as Marie said the last bit she happened to lock eyes with Andrew, who was sitting on the couch next to her. She hadn’t meant to see his reaction, but now that she had it was impossible to look away. She watched him draw in a breath and Marie could see his pupils expand just slightly. His tongue flicked into view just briefly to wet his lips. All involuntary reactions, but he still hadn’t looked away. Andrew made no attempt at all to hide his clear interest, to the point where Marie felt his gaze like a physical presence. His darkening eyes remained locked on Marie’s as Cody answered the question. Neither of them caught a word of whatever he said, too encompassed with the sudden electricity the crackled between them.

“Andy my boy, your turn,” called Alex, forcing the rest of the world into the space between them. Instead of giving an answer, Andrew raised his glass to his lips and took a slow sip without ever breaking eye contact with Marie. Ignoring the chorus of ‘boo’s this prompted, Marie took a slightly shaky breath, realizing that she hadn’t done so for a moment.

Finally, their heady eye contact ended as Cody stood up from his space on the couch. He announced that he really needed to sleep and so did ‘the rest of you assholes’. Rachel and Cormac reluctantly agreed and wandered back to the bunks with him.

“Alright, get some rest then, dickheads,” called Alex, tossing his legs over the side of his chair to strike up a conversation with Austin and Suzanne.

“You don’t have to sit up there,” Andrew caught Marie’s attention with a low voice. He indicated the spot between them that Cody had vacated and looked up at Marie through his eyelashes. Marie swallowed quietly as she felt the little calm she had achieved since the show leave her entirely.

Obviously, Andrew was upsettingly attractive. He was also famous and kind of her boss at this point. Marie wanted nothing more than to strap it on for those pretty eyes, but the odds of this being a good idea were not in her favor. Of course, Marie had never passed up the opportunity for a bad idea with a great story, and her luck hadn’t run out yet. She stood slowly from her position on the stairs and moved to the couch, sitting down just slightly closer to Andrew than she normally would have. The alcohol she had consumed gave her zero chill but plenty of confidence, which really is how all life altering decisions should be made.

Marie tossed her hair back over her shoulder to look up at Andrew’s face. She had still never quite gotten over how goddamn tall he was; it had to be inconvenient to live like that. She opened her mouth to ask a benign question about the show or how the meet up had gone, but before she could say anything Andrew laid his arm across the back of the couch and leaned closer.

“So pegging, yeah?” He said just above a whisper, clearly not interested in having the conversation picked up on by Alex, Aaron, and Suzanne. He arched an eyebrow slightly, but his eyes flicked back and forth, searching for a sign in Marie’s eyes to drop the subject. She startled for a moment, really not expecting him to be that forward right off the bat. He’d always come off just this side of shy and always very respectful. But given that the subject had more or less already been breached, there was no use in wasting time pretending that they both weren’t practically shaking out of their skins picturing it. Drawing in a quiet breath, Marie leaned in just slightly.

“What about it?” She asked quietly, tilting her head slightly in a challenge. Andrew held her gaze and they entered a momentary standoff. A nonverbal challenge daring the other to back down with a joke or indication that they weren’t one hundred percent into whatever this energy was between them. Finally, Andrew dropped his eyes to Marie’s lips for just a moment and when he looked back up, his pupils had dilated to cover most of his iris. A forfeit if she’d ever seen one. You fold so quickly Byrne, this is gonna be fun.

“I don’t suppose you brought a harness with you,” Andrew’s voice came slightly breathy.

“What on tour? Not exactly an essential,” Marie huffed through laughter. Andrew’s eyes crinkled in an answering smile.

“I beg to differ,” he responded cheekily, moving his arm from the sofa to rest on Marie’s shoulders. She snorted inelegantly and took a long sip from her drink, which had started to grow warm.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not like that’s something you want to try for the first time on a moving bus,” Marie responded. Andrew made a show of looking unconvinced, which caused Marie to laugh again and knock into his shoulder. He grinned down at her, brushing the hair back from her face. Marie couldn’t help but feel lit up inside; he had such a warmth and gentleness in the way he touched her, even though this was just lust-driven flirting. Even in outright hedonism, there was a sense of genuine respect and affection in the way he treated her that she rarely experienced with men. It caught her off guard more than she was willing to admit.

“Time for bed then,” Suzanne announced with a finality not to be ignored. She stood up and hauled a groaning Alex out of his seat and ushered him and Austin back to the bunks. As they passed, Marie could’ve sworn she caught a wink from Suzanne. Marie flushed slightly and made a mental note to buy Suzanne a drink at some point in the future. Or maybe bake her cookies. Whatever sends the best “thank you for helping me seduce a hot celebrity into letting me strap it on” message.

If Andrew noticed Suzanne’s subtle wingwomaning, he didn’t let on.

“‘Night, everyone,” he said, nodding in their direction.

“G’night, y’all,” Marie drawled.

“Y’aaalll,” Alex attempted to imitate Marie’s accent, as he always did whenever it came through particularly strong. Marie laughed every time because no matter how many times Alex tried to speak in a southern American accent, his Irish brogue refused to let his mouth widen the right way. Sometimes they’d go back and forth, with Marie attempting an Irish accent and Alex garbling southern-isms until the entire band was in stitches.

Alex disappeared into the bunks with a final grin, leaving Marie and Andrew alone on the couch.

“Well, ehm, I suppose we ought to turn in for the night as well. I’m exhausted,” Andrew stretched as he spoke. His hair fell back and exposed the side of his neck as he groaned slightly. Shit, thought Marie, biting her lip, it should be illegal to be that sexy and not have a clue.

Andrew turned to look at her, cataloguing her dark eyes and bitten lips, clearly pleased with himself. Or maybe he does.

“Yeah, aight. It’s only, what, seventeen hours til the next show,” Marie finally responded, trying to keep some semblance of control.

“Tomorrow night is also a hotel night,” Andrew murmured quietly, leaning in close enough for Marie to completely forget the amount of chill she was pretending to have.

“Yeah?” She breathed, searching his eyes for what exactly the fuck was going on. Six months ago I was in my bedroom in New Orleans listening to his man’s music on my shitty speakers while I tried to figure out how many hours I needed to pick up to make next month’s rent.

“Yeah,” Andrew replied with a grin, leaning the rest of the way forward, but stopping just short of brushing his lips against Marie’s. And now he’s going to kiss me. How is this my life?

“Is this okay?” He whispered, his breath washing over Marie’s face. Instead of answering, she tilted her head and captured his lips.

Trying to match his energy, she kept the kiss soft, just carefully placed brushes of lips. He quickly upped the ante, sucking on her bottom lip and placing his hand on the side of her neck. Marie was not to be outdone and quickly slid a hand into his hair as she bit his lip softly and then smoothed it with her tongue. Andrew hummed in the back of his throat and pulled her closer. On a whim, Marie tangled her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck and grasped just firmly enough for him to feel it. Andrew released her lip from between his teeth and gasped into her mouth.

“Yeah?” Marie breathed, resting her forehead against his. He nodded, eyes still closed. Marie couldn’t help but smirk slightly. Totally called it, she thought, no way this man doesn’t have a hair pulling kink.

She pulled him back in, tugging gently at his hair as she ravaged his mouth. He groaned quietly and wrapped his arms around her waist, hauling her closer. He started to pull her onto his lap when she put a hand on his chest to stop him.

“Sorry,” he said instantly, pulling back with a worried expression to search her eyes for any sign of discomfort.

“No, no, it’s okay, honey,” Marie assured him instantly, “I just think this bus isn’t the best place for this.”

Andrew breathed a quick sigh of relief and cupped her cheek in his large hand. His fingertips sat at her hairline and the palm of his hand cupped her jawline perfectly. Marie would be lying if she said she hadn’t caught herself staring at his long elegant fingers with more than a shade of lust before. Had she known what they felt like on her skin, she definitely would’ve shot her shot long before now.

“You’re right, love,” he breathed, leaning his forehead against hers, “Hotel night tomorrow.” He sounded more like he was trying to convince himself of this. Marie smiled.

“Tomorrow,” she repeated. She tilted her head up to kiss him once more, this time chaste and sweet. A goodnight, no really, kiss. Andrew sighed as she broke it and stroked her cheek once before leaning away. He stood up slowly and a little stiffly, a pop or two coming from his joints.

“Oof,” he muttered hearing them, “that’s never a good sign.” Marie laughed quietly.

“Hey now, no laughing at an old man,” Andrew faux-chastised and reached down to help Marie off the couch. As she stood up an even louder crack sounded from her hip.

“Jesus Christ,” she muttered, causing Andrew to chuckle.

“Touring does that to you,” he said tossing an arm over her shoulders, “Shall I walk you home, my dear?”

“Alright,” Marie laughed. Andrew walked with her the ten feet or so to her bunk before gesturing grandly to it.

“Here you are, home safe and sound,” he whispered, not wanting to wake any of the band members already asleep.

“Thank you, kind sir,” Marie gave a half curtsey, prompting a chuckle from Andrew. He took her face in his hands again and pressed a quick kiss to her lips.

“Goodnight,” he whispered as he released her face.

“Goodnight,” she replied, already pulling back the curtain to climb into her bunk. He gave her one last smile before disappearing back to his bed.

Marie was still smiling to herself as she ducked into her bunk and pulled the curtain closed. At five foot seven she could just barely sit up straight without her head brushing the bunk above her. She quickly stripped off her bra and shirt before pulling the oversized t-shirt she wore to sleep from the bag at the end of the bed. She pulled it on and wriggled out of her pants and underwear and kicked those to the end of the bed. Touring had a tendency to leave you feeling gross and prioritizing sleep over any semblance of organization or dignity. At least tomorrow night is a hotel night. Having an actual shower makes putting clean clothes on feel worthwhile.

Marie slid under the blanket and as soon as her head hit the pillow, the exhaustion took her straight to sleep.

 


 

The crack of her elbow into the wall of the bus woke Marie up. Fucking potholes I swear to god. She groaned and rolled over, but another pothole nearly threw her from the bunk. A chorus of grunts and muttering sounded from the bunks. Something that sounded faintly like an apology from the bus driver floated from the front of the bus. Marie considered just settling back into her bunk, but she already had that up-and-awake feeling that wasn’t going to be dissuaded. From the faint light in her bunk that filtered through the curtain, she gathered that the sun had already risen. Marie figured she might as well do the same.

She sat up and stretched her legs, trying to shake feeling into them before climbing out of the bunk. Another particularly rough pothole caused her to hit her head on the bunk above her. Grumbling, she reached down to her bag and yanked out a pair of underwear, hoping they were clean but feeling gross enough from the road that it didn’t really matter all that much anymore. God I can’t wait for a shower, she thought as she tugged the underwear on under her long t shirt.

She climbed out of her bunk dressed like that. She’d given up on being fully dressed constantly on the bus about three weeks previously when she realized that absolutely no one else bothered. It was difficult to change clothes in the bunks and the one bathroom in the back was barely wide enough to turn around in. The guys tended to be shirtless in the mornings or right after shows, and the women on the bus had all been in their bras for the six days the air conditioning broke on the way through Florida and Georgia in early June. Everyone was road gross so nobody cared. The bus driver intermittently sprayed febreze into the vents and everybody pretended that it helped.

Marie wandered down to find Cody already pouring himself a cup of coffee from the giant french press and setting up another kettle full of water to heat up. Seeing Marie walk down the steps, he silently picked up another paper cup and poured her a coffee as well.

“Thanks,” murmured Marie as she took the cup. Cody just nodded, eyes bleary and cleared not prepared to interact with anyone yet.

Marie wandered over to the power strip where an inadvisable number of cell phones were plugged in the night before. She untangled her phone from the electrical hazard and settled into the couch with her coffee, swiping it open to assure her father again that she was not dead on the side of the road somewhere.

After catching up family and friends, she finished her coffee and poured herself another cup. She settled back into the couch to check her social media only to be bombarded by all the horrible things happening in the world. That’s for third cup of coffee Marie, thank you, she thought, closing out of the apps. She put her phone next to her on the couch and looked out the windows instead as she sipped her coffee.

Thoughts of last night came rushing to her head and started to make her dizzy. The anxiety of being constantly around people on the road and now the uncertainty of what was happening with her and Andrew tightened in her stomach. Marie closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. Years of practice for shows and just life in general had given Marie a fairly reliable system. At sixteen, she had learned a technique from a counselor who found her on the brink of a panic attack in her high school hallway. When her thoughts swirled like this and she struggled to make sense and control them, she was always reminded of the woman’s calm voice talking her through it.

The counselor had told her to picture a calm creek or softly babbling brook. Marie would sit cross-legged and try to feel the grass beneath her as the stream in front of her tripped and tumbled over smooth rocks. Once she felt she had a good sense of how the creek flowed, she imagined that fall leaves were occasionally floating by. As other thoughts popped into her head, she imagined pulling them from her temple and placing them on a leaf, allowing them to float downstream. If the same thought persisted, she kept placing them on the leaves and allowing it to leave her. Any thought was always gently acknowledged and very purposely not judged before being given over to the stream. Once her thoughts slowed down, the leaves could drift by unburdened until another thought popped up. The most important and helpful part of this meditative exercise was not to judge herself for the thoughts she was having or attempting to control the direction of her thoughts. It was in trying to thought-police herself that she felt out of control and spiraled into a true panic attack. Soon enough, she found that her leaves were les burdened and her breathing felt less restricted. Eyes still closed, she brought her now lukewarm coffee to her lips.

After a few more moments of this quiet meditation, someone else wandered from the bunks. Marie didn’t open her eyes, knowing that no one on the bus would bother her or particularly care that she was sitting on the couch in only a t shirt looking like a buddhist guru from a children’s cartoon, minus saying “ohmmm.” She heard the sound of another cup of coffee being poured and the couch dip slightly as someone sat down, far enough away to avoid disturbing her. Marie began grounding herself as she came out of the thought exercise. She had found that if she just opened her eyes to end it she tended to drop straight back into being anxious. Instead, she listened carefully to every sound around her: the road, the bus’ engine, the sound of shuffling near the back of the bus. Then she concentrated on the feeling of the couch beneath her, the slight warmth of the coffee cup in her hands, the faint taste of coffee still in her mouth. Once she felt completely present where she sat, she took a deep breath and slowly opened her eyes. She blinked a few time to readjust to the light, as the sun had risen higher in the time she’d spent by the brook. She tilted her head to crack her neck and rolled her shoulders, sighing and feeling much more at home in her body.

Marie turned to greet whoever her couch companion was, unfolding her legs from underneath her. She was greeted, or blessed or than anything, with a veritable cloud of brown curls lit up auburn in the early morning sun. Her heart picked up speed slightly, though her anxiety stayed quelled for the most part.

Andrew gave her a crooked and sheepish smile.

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you,” he said gesturing to indicate whatever it was that he’d walked in on.

“Oh no, you’re fine, I was just wrapped up anyways,” Marie said with a bright smile. She was grateful she’d had the time to ground herself fully before facing Andrew. She felt her stomach flutter, but it was the pleasant feeling of anticipation instead of an all-encompassing anxiety.

“If you don’t mind me asking, are you meditating?” He asked, a curious lilt to his voice.

“Not exactly,” Marie explained, “it’s a visualization exercise I do to keep my anxiety in check. I have a little too much ADD to do real meditation,” she finished with a grin.

“Ah, that’s really interesting, ehm, maybe you could teach it to me sometime,” Andrew said with a quick grin as he reached out for the now empty cup in her hand. She handed it over with a nod and he got up to refill both of their cups. Marie considered saying something about the night before or even the possibility of that night, as Cody had wandered back to his bunk at some point. But before she could think of what to say, Alex practically fell out of his bunk in only his boxers and stumbled down the stairs.

“Aw thanks, Andy, whatta lad,” he muttered blearily, taking the cup Andrew had just filled and downing half of it in one go. Andrew gave him a blank look for a moment as he poured the other cup before sighing.

“You’re welcome,” Andrew said flatly, Alex not at all noticing as he sat on the couch nearly on top of Marie, tossing an arm over the back.

“Goodmorning, love, how’d you sleep?” Alex asked, taking another long pull from the cup of coffee that had been Andrew’s. Marie glanced over to see Andrew’s face and couldn’t contain her laughter. She had almost certainly never said the word “flabbergasted” out loud before, but it was the perfect description of Andrew’s face.

“That bad, eh?” Alex said sympathetically, rubbing her shoulder, seemingly unaware of Andrew’s state. “The potholes are the bain of us all.” Marie schooled her face into a serious expression and nodded thoughtfully, causing Andrew to chuckle quietly. He clearly had given up on getting his coffee cup back and poured himself another. He walked over to hand Marie her cup with a wink before grabbing his phone to settle in with his coffee. Alex launched into a story from a few nights back that had likely been embellished and Marie smiled. She didn’t particularly care if it wasn’t true as long as it was a good story. She took a sip of her third cup and settled in.

 


 

Once in that night’s venue and fully dressed for the show, Marie left the dressing room area to find the drum tech for a final check of her equipment. Just as she turned down the hall, Andrew appeared from his dressing room, acoustic in hand. He spotted her immediately in the dim light and gestured for her to come closer with a conspiratorial grin. A nervous energy nothing like stage fright set Marie’s nerves alight, but she followed him as a backed into his dressing room again. He pressed her to the wall just inside the door jam of the room to capture her lips heatedly with his own.

Marie was utterly lost in the kiss for a long moment, as Andrew wrapped his arm not clutching the neck of his guitar tight around her waist. She sunk her teeth into the plushness of his bottom lip just as the sound of footsteps and pre-show chatter came clattering down the hallway. Andrew yanked away with noise of frustration that did nothing to quell the pounding in Marie’s veins.

“Stay here until they pass,” he all but growled before stepping out from behind the door frame.

The group all cheered upon seeing him and immediately swept him into joining them for the customary pre-show drink. Marie stayed hidden from sight until they had disappeared around the corner. She groaned and pushed herself off the spot she had half-melted into the wall.

I absolutely need a pre-show drink.