“HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY DANCER!”
“What the hell is that?” Freddie muttered to John, since the noise seemed to be emanating from within his own flat.
“COUNT THE HEADLIGHTS ON THE HIGHWAY!”
“Dunno,” John shrugged, sloppily urging Freddie to get his key in the hole.
“LAY ME DOWN IN SHEETS OF LINEN!”
“Seriously,” Freddie said, finally getting the key in place and shoving the door open with the full force of his right shoulder. It’s not like Elton John punctuated with what could have been sobs was exactly that odd to be coming from his flat, but still, Freddie had thought Roger was home alone.
“YOU HAD A BUSY DAY TODAY!”
Besides, “Sounds like,” John hiccuped in the middle of his sentence, “Brian.”
“Hm,” Freddie indicated his assent. Roger had been feeling under the weather so Freddie had taken John out on the lash just the two of them for a change. Apparently Roger hadn’t been spending the evening in quite as much solitude as he’d planned.
Freddie and John rounded the corner toward the flat’s cramped loo to find Brian with his head in the toilet bowl and Roger sitting on the rim of the bath giving his hair encouraging strokes from the relatively safe distance.
“What do we have here?” Freddie all but slurred.
“Hold me closer, tiny dancer,” Brian sang with melancholy into the porcelain by way of response.
“Tiny dahncer,” Roger repeated exaggeratedly; Brian hadn’t said it quite like that, even if he infamously didn’t shake his accent even when singing, even when very, very pissed.
“Tiny dancer,” Brian mocked back at him in a put-on American accent.
“That is how he says it in the song,” John interjected.
“Pedant,” Brian mumbled, looking like he might be sick, presumably, again.
“Are you okay, Brian?” Freddie asked genuinely, leaning down to rub his back while he waited or an answer. Brian just moaned into the toilet bowl. It looked like he’d been sick but it also looked a bit like he’d been crying. Freddie looked to Roger for the debrief.
“He’s just told Chrissie about New Orleans,” Roger said, choosing for Brian’s sake only to mouth the last two words.
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Brian said, and punctuated it with a spluttering cough.
“Looks like she took it well,” John said. Freddie tried to elbow him in the side but in his inebriated state missed and hit his funny bone on a towel rack. Roger barked out a single, bitter laugh and hoped Freddie’s “Ow, fuck!” wasn’t indicative of something more serious. Brian just seemed to think it was depressing.
“Careful, Fred,” he said dejectedly.
“Jesus Christ,” said John.
“Jesus freaks,” Brian slurred and sang in equal parts, the word association apparently setting him off again, “out in the streets.”
“Christ, not this again,” Roger said, sounding exasperated but looking more relieved to not have to rehash Brian’s marital problems anymore.
So, “Handing tickets out for God,” Freddie added with an emerging smile.
“Turning back, she just laughs,” John egged Brian on, nudging him with his foot, “The boulevard is not that bad.”
Brian looked up at John, his eyes rimmed with red and his skin sickly, even paler than usual. Then he looked to Fred, the only one regarding him with anything resembling sympathy, and thought he saw a glint of something in his eye.
“PIANO MAN,” they both belted in unison, earning a single hearty laugh from Roger and a grin from John, “HE MAKES HIS STAND.”
“IN THE AUDITORIUM,” the other two joined in, trying and failing to appear reluctant. For a few bars they sang with the kind of passion that only drunk people doing karaoke can display until they noticed at the chorus that Brian was crying into the toilet bowl again.
“Oh, darling,” Freddie said, sitting down beside him and laying Brian’s head on his shoulder.
“Please believe me,” Roger said under his breath as he hoisted himself down from the rim of the tub to sit on the floor and lean against it.
“Do you want to talk about it?” John asked from where was still leaning against the door frame.
“I’m a shit husband,” Brian explained. John looked over to Roger and shrugged as if to say, yeah, and?
“Relax,” Roger mouthed at Deaky, “Why don’t we try and put it out of your mind for now, eh? We can hash it out again in the morning, figure out what you’re gonna say to her.”
“Mmhm,” Brian said, leaning heavily against Freddie.
“You coddle him,” Freddie told Roger, half joking.
“You’re one to talk.”
“All right, all right, I know,” Freddie said softly. “Brian, darling, are you sorry for what you did?”
“I don’t know.”
John rolled his eyes. Freddie swatted at his knee.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t apologize just yet. If you don’t mean it,” Freddie suggested.
“I want to mean it!” Brian said, his face contorting like he was about to cry again.
“I know, I know.”
“Maybe you should tell her the truth,” John said, “Sometimes relationships are hard. But no one ever made a lie better by lying again.”
“The truth is was got me here in the first place,” Brian said.
“Well, not quite,” even Freddie had to concede.
“Fuck,” Brian said, “I know.”
“It’s all right, mate,” Roger said, “She’ll come round.”
“Will she?” Brian said. Roger gave him a slightly pleading look, begging him not to make him lie.
“Dunno, Bri,” Roger ended up saying, “Anything could happen.”
“Yeah, anything,” John said.
“Deaky, darling, if you’re just going to be a nuisance, I’m going to have to take you home.”
“Promise?” John said with a quirk of his eyebrows.
Freddie made eyes at Roger and nodded his head toward Brian, silently asking whether or not he could handle him on his own for the night. Roger nodded sagely and scooted to take Freddie’s place at Brian’s side, smiling warmly at Freddie and blowing a kiss to John as they turned to leave. Sure, Freddie lived in the flat with Roger, too, but maybe he’d make an evening of staying at John’s. Besides, Veronica adored him and would probably love nothing more than to have a cup of tea with him the next morning, Roger figured, as he heard Freddie fumbling with their front lock once more.
Once they were gone, Roger rotated so his back was to the toilet bowl, like he’d be facing Brian if he moved a few inches toward him. He took Brian’s cheek in his hand and gently guided him to meet his eyes.
“You’re so clever, Brian," he said, somehow feeling something between pity and admiration, "Why do you do such stupid things?” He asked so earnestly, even though he knew Brian didn’t know the answer.
“I don’t know,” he managed to mumble out, his voice shaking, his eyes leaking silent tears. Roger sighed.
“I know,” he said, and he let them sit there in silence for a few minutes as Brian contemplated his strength of character.
“I try so hard to be a good person,” Brian finally said.
“I mean, I genuinely care about the earth, you know, the planet, and everybody on it.”
“But I fucking hurt the ones closest to me, just constantly.”
“Chrissie, my dad, even bloody Pixie’s dead.”
“There is no way that was your fault,” Roger said. Brian hiccuped.
“Maybe not,” he eventually conceded.
“And you don’t hurt me,” Roger added after a few more moments.
“Rog, we fight literally constantly.”
“You think that means you’ve hurt me? You couldn’t hurt me if you tried. Brian, I’d rather have to fight with you every day about some stupid riff or run or harmony or fucking harp solo than face never seeing you again. Okay? So don’t fucking think about it.”
Brian didn’t say anything. He didn’t speak for another five minutes. But he didn’t cry anymore either.
“I love you, you know,” Brian said finally, halfway to lucidity.
“I know,” Roger said again, “I love you, too.”
“Promise you’ll never leave me?” Brian said. Roger couldn’t help thinking it was almost pathetic. But he also couldn’t help thinking it must be something special to be so completely vulnerable in front of someone else, to ask them that, the question you’re always thinking every second you’re with someone you don’t ever want to lose. So he answered.
“Of course, Brian. I promise,” Roger said.
“Really?” Brian asked pleadingly, his eyes searching Roger’s face for any signs of dishonesty.
“Really,” he said, “You’re my best friend.”
“I’m your best friend?” Brian said with genuine incredulity.
“‘Course you are," Roger said, holding his eye contact for a moment before looking away and back at the wall in front of him. "Yeah, you’re a shit husband and yeah, Chrissie might leave you. Let’s be honest, she has every right. But I won’t, okay? Neither will Fred or Deaky,” Roger added with a reassuring pat on Brian’s shoulder.
“Yeah, okay, Deaky might,” Roger said, grinning, “But he’d never leave Freddie!”
“No, suppose he wouldn’t,” Brian said, the faintest shadow of a smile starting to cross his lips. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Fuck me, I’m bloody exhausted,” he said on his exhale.
“Let’s get you to bed, all right?” Roger’s hand slid across Brian’s bony spine as he stood, then extended a hand to hoist up his friend. Roger hummed as he led Brian back to his room, coaxing him out of his sick and beer stained clothes and under the covers.
“Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, the seamstress for the band.” Roger, having now given up his bed, curled up at its foot with his back against the wall and kept singing softly as Brian drifted off, his furrowed brow giving way to contented sleep, his hair fanned out in a frizzy halo on Roger’s pillow.
“Pretty eyes, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man. Ballerina, you must have seen her, dancing in the sand.”
Eventually, Roger was asleep, too, with his knees tucked into his chest and his head leant back against the wall. And despite the horrible crick in his neck, he’d wake with an inexplicably contented feeling, not quite remembering the song he’d been hearing in his dream.