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The New Guy

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When Viola Cesario started their third day in the city, they only had one friend, Seward, who found them a room to rent. It was originally supposed to be a studio apartment for both Viola and Sebastian, but the brother’s plans had changed rather abruptly, and they couldn’t afford the place on their own. Seward actually knew a house where they could move into that same day, but he kept making calls and database searches instead.

“What’s wrong with the first room?” they questioned. “I can afford it.”

“Bad neighborhood,” he muttered pretending he needed to see the keyboard to type.

“I can’t afford a good neighborhood,” they reminded him.

“You’re not from here, you don’t know what that’s like,” he said and they had to agree with him on that. But everything else was either too expansive or two hours away from work. So they insisted in the first room, and Seward finally said what he was so worried about: “I can’t send a little girl to live with three guys.”

They didn’t even know what to disagree with first in his statement. “I’m not little, I’m eighteen,” Seward smiled condescendingly, but it didn’t stop them. “And I’m not a girl,” they reminded him, trying not to raise their voice on that matter.

“Which only moves you into an even more vulnerable position,” he observed.

“What if Cesario rents a room?” they offered.

“What do you mean?” he asked confused.

“Do you know any of those guys?” they asked while calculating how dangerous the idea was, but so was the hostel they had been living in for the past three days.

“Sure, they’re alright,” Seward answered the question. “One of them fixed a leak in my place, very chatty guy, ended up inviting me to a barbecue and all. I’m not saying I’m friends with them, but they’re ok.”

“You just have to tell them my name’s Cesario, and say he when you talk about me,” they suggested, trying to stay positive.

*

By the afternoon he had introduced them to the trio, who lived in shabby house from a time when it was normal to build four bedrooms and only one bathroom in a house. Curio was a big guy with thick black beard and huge muscles that made his soft, gentle voice a surprise. Valentine was tall, skinny, and sweaty, with eyes always open wide, which was a little disconcerting at first. Orsino was the shirtless, hairy man, who immediately started telling Seward a story Cesario couldn’t follow, he had taken one glance at their guitar case and started asking what kind of music Cesario played. He insisted they played something, until they gave in. He also offered them a beer. “We can’t let the singer run dry,” he said. Seward left Cesario, assuring they were in good company with their new roommates, who invited them to play games.
Cesario had never felt so much like one of the guys as they felt now, and it was actually an easy thing to do: since Seward had introduced them only as Cesario, the others didn’t have any reason to think they were anything but a dude. They had no need for worrying too much about voice or mannerisms, because the others already saw them as a guy, and that was why it was so different being introduced by someone else, no one felt the need for asking “are you a boy or a girl?” like so many did upon first meeting them, they simply accepted what Seward called them and did the same.

The four of them played games, and teased one another, and survived on chips for hours. Orsino was the kind of player who yelled at his character like its actions were independent from him. Valentine gave unsolicited advice when it wasn’t his turn. Curio had a nervous leg he bounced whenever he was sitting but especially when playing. Cesario would stick out his tongue for focus.

The new comer doubted they’d ever had this much fun without Sebastian. They had never felt like one of the guys in the company of those who knew them as Viola. There were very few who knew them as both, but those three were the first friends they made who only knew Cesario. It was a new and exciting feeling they had no name for but that touched and improved each little thing: the life important choosing of pizza toppings, the ill thought through acceptance to join the others in smoking something called "sunflower” in Orsino’s old-fashioned hookah, and the subsequent coughing fit, which had the boys laughing at them.

Suddenly they couldn’t breath and had to run to the bathroom. They pulled the flannel and the t-shirt off in a hurry, and then struggled to pull the binder off, which seemed to take ages. Finally they could breathe again. Enough that they realized they had to pull their clothes back on, to avoid further problems. But they were too aware there was nothing holding their chest now. They folded the binder and hid it in their pocket, at least they had pockets, you gotta be thankful for the small blessings.

Knocks on the door. “Are you alright in there?” someone asked while the others laughed loudly.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Just freaking out, thanks.

“Are you having a bad trip?” he insisted.

They opened the door immediately and stared dead serious at Orsino: “Why would I be tripping? What did I smoke?”

“Weed! What did you think?” he laughed at them.

“I don’t know! You guys said sunflower.”

“Yeah, each kind has a nickname,” he laughed some more.

They thought about it and decided they weren’t high. The others were laughing, while Cesario was very aware of each little thing happening around them. They calculated if the others could see anything different now the binder was off. They looked for any changes in the way the guys looked at them, doubt, confusion, something. They were suddenly sure the guys would see right through them.

“Are you ok, man?” Valentine asked, sprawled on the floor, cradling his head in his arms, not looking all that focused on Cesario anyway.

“Fine,” they promised. “I didn’t know that was weed.”

“Too bad, if I knew it was your first time, I’d have taken you to see the sunset.” It was hard to believe in his words when he was just lying there on the floor, but the sentiment was sweet.

“Come get your ass kicked,” said Curio, without even turning around, his leg bouncing to the intro of Mario Kart.

Cesario had no idea why the game felt so much more difficult than usual, so they persisted, but that didn’t really help. It was impossible to get the hang of it. And Curio was getting frustrated because there was no challenge. As if concentrating wasn’t difficult enough already, Valentine asked: “Hey, guys, where’s Orsino?”

“Oh, no!” Curio said in response.

“Oh, no, what?” asked Cesario, neglecting the game in his curiosity.

“This,” said Valentine referring to the song starting to come from another room.

“It’s a great song,” Cesario argued, recognizing Nights in White Satin.

“Maybe the first thousand times,” he said getting up and taking his turn against Curio.

But then the song stopped before the end. “That’s weird,” Curio said.

“I don’t like this song anymore,” Orsino announced coming back from his room.

The other guys made a sarcastic celebration of the news. “So you’re ready to go out and have some fun?” Curio asked, still not turning away from the game.

Orsino threw himself on the couch, and Cesario was amazed at how over dramatically he did it, they couldn’t contain a little giggle. “What’s the point?” the man said in an excessively pained voice. Cesario wanted to laugh, he sounded like a kid faking an injury. He went on: “Why does everybody keep telling me to go out? Please tell me, what’s so important out there?”

“You know, it’s where all the people are,” Cesario shrugged.

“And they go places and meet other people,” Valentine joined in explaining the obvious.

“You go out,” Orsino said annoyed by the subject. “I’ve already met one person today,” he pointed his hand at Cesario. “That’s enough socializing.”

*

The house smelled of food when Cesario woke up the next morning. They went to the kitchen to refill the water bottle and found Orsino busy, surrounded by ingredients diced in obsessive symmetry, stirring something in a pot. Cesario was just going to head back to their room, but the man saw them and wished a good morning. After responding to that, they couldn’t resist commenting: “Dude, I don’t know what you’re doing there, but it smells so good!”

Orsino laughed. “It’s just onions and olive oil, I haven’t even added garlic yet.”

“Whatever it is, it smells like real food.”

“I’m guessing you can’t cook?” Cesario shook their head. “You should learn, eating pizza everyday will get old fast. And you get to show off and hear people say how great your food is.”

They chuckled. “I thought you were going to say I should learn to cook because girls like it.” That’s what people used to tell Sebastian.

“They do,” Orsino agreed, nodding. “But I didn’t know if you’d care about that,” he smiled like he’d just told a joke and was fishing for their reaction.

Whatever the joke was, Cesario didn’t get it. And it was pretty obvious, because Orsino laughed at them. “What?” they asked frustrated.

He laughed some more. “Nothing,” he stifled the rest of his laughter.

They made a deal, he would share his food with Cesario if they played guitar while Orsino cooked. They decided it was a good trade, and went on to get their guitar, and do their part. They played Get Back, Come as You Are, Bigmouth Strikes Again, and after a second of doubt, I Will Survive. Orsino approved of every one of the songs, he gave the obligatory nervous laugh at the first few verses of the last song, but approved. Cesario asked him about his musical preferences, and got a long answer from Orsino. They were also invited to see his record collection. The man was vinyl enthusiast, and Cesario went through his long plays and compacts in great curiosity. And even though they hadn’t asked, his stories telling why he loved certain songs were kind of cute.

Orsino was a real chatterer and went from talking about music to talking about his job, or more precisely the weird things he’d seen entering people’s houses to do repairs: shrines made for celebrities, years of hoarding lying around, twelve cats wearing sweaters matching their patterns, a guy with an actual tinfoil hat and the craziest talk he’d ever heard, and more. Cesario thought those were funny and didn’t mind Orsino was doing most of the talking.

They ate together, played fighting games, and finally Cesario noticed: “Where are the guys?”

“Curio works sundays sometimes, and Valentine’s with his girlfriend.”

“Don’t you have girlfriend too?”

“I was close, but then she said something that made it impossible.”

“What?” they were very curious about whatever the girl could’ve said to make it so final.

“She said no,” he explained. And Cesario wasn’t expecting that answer, so they genuinely had a laughing fit. While Cesario was catching their breath, he added: “You don’t have to laugh so hard,” which only renewed their laughter.

“Sorry, man,” they wiped their tears. “I thought you were joking.”

“I kind of am,” he shrugged. “She never even answers. I kind of wish she’d block me, so I’d know for sure, but she just leaves me on seen and never sends a single word, not even an emoji, not even an unrelated photo.”

“What have you been sending? Please, don’t say nudes.” Cesario was half joking but if he said “yes” that conversation would end right there.

Orsino pulled his phone out, opened the chat and handed it to the boy a little too aggressively. “Does that look like a dick to you?”

It was poetry, Cesario realized. They’d probably like to receive poetry from an attractive guy like this one but at the same time, it wasn’t difficult to see it was a poor flirting strategy. And looking closer, it was kind of bland too, it went on and on in some kind of list talking about her eyes, lips, hair, and so on, and Cesario was bored pretty quickly. “This kind of thing only works when she’s already interested,” they told him, giving the phone back.

He didn’t take the comment well. “All girls like poetry,” he argued.

This time it was Cesario who didn’t take it well, so they jabbed at Orsino with an equally outrageous statement: “Straight guys hate poetry.”

“Who are you calling gay?” he said like he was about to fight the boy.

“I think you’re missing my point here,” Cesario told him, pretending they weren’t worried. “Isn’t it at all possible she doesn’t like poetry, even though she’s a girl?”

“Oh!” he said in disappointment. “Then I should definitely send her a dick pic.”

Cesario had never facepalmed so hard in their life. Still they tried: “That’s another thing that only works if she’s already interested. You should try it in person, I mean, you’re fun to be around, you should be hanging out with her, making her laugh.”

He went from angry to just plain miserable at their words, and accused: “You’re describing a one-way ticket to friendzone, kid. I bet you’ve never had a girlfriend. And you’re trying to tell me what to do?”

“You have zero chill, huh?”

Orsino made an angry frown, crossed his arms, and shut up. Cesario chuckled, shook their head, and pulled out their phone, sensing that conversation was over. As usual, Sebastian only posted selfies where he tried to look hot (and maybe he succeeded, he had a fair amount of likes). But he had also sent his twin a private message asking if they were ok, and saying their idea was insane and Seward was out of his mind for agreeing. They replied reminding him it was even more dangerous driving a truckload of explosives across the country, so maybe recklessness ran in the family. They playfully accused each other of being the worst, when Orsino decided to pick up from where he’d left off.

“You know what the problem is?”

Cesario put down their phone to look at him curiously and ask: “What?”

“I didn’t know what to say to her.” Cesario had trouble believing that. “I worked in her house for days and couldn’t think of a single thing to start a conversation.”

“What? You can’t talk to girls?” It was also hard to believe.

“No, it’s just with her,” he was quick to clarify, and sounded a little offended by the suggestion. “She’s so.... perfect.”

Cesario laughed. “Of course she is. People are always perfect until you get to know them.”

“I think you’re just a pessimist.”

*

They walked to the subway in Valentine’s company. There was a man playing guitar on the platform, and their friend stood close to him enjoying the music, so of course Cesario did the same. He finished his song before the train arrived, reminding his little audience all contributions were welcome. Cesario fished for a coin in his pocket, Valentine shook his head and laughed at his own financial problems saying: “Not this week.”

The man was still there with his guitar in the evening when Cesario got back. They wondered if he had stood there all day playing but they weren’t about to start a conversation with a complete stranger. Still they wondered how much he could’ve made. The man sure didn’t look as exhausted as Cesario felt.

They weren’t even sure they were alive by the time they started climbing their way up the narrow, uphill street where the house stood. “Can I get you something, rich boy?” a very tall kid asked them, in an antagonizing tone that sent adrenaline rushing through Cesario’s body and mind.

They saw the two other kids right behind the first, they weren’t armed, but all three had walkie-talkies and Cesario knew what that meant. “I live there,” they pointed to the end of the street.

“Where?” the boy pressed, sure he was being lied to.

“That old house right there,” they pointed, since the houses weren’t numbered.

“You live there alone?” the boy still didn’t believe them.

“I just rented a room. I moved in on saturday,” they explained going in panic.

“You did? Saturday was busy,” he laughed, and the other boys joined him. “What’s your name?”

“Cesario,” they blurted out as quickly as possible.

The boys introduced themselves by nicknames, and told them if they ever needed anything to come to them. “Go home, no one’s going to mess with you, we’re watching.” Cesario wasn’t comforted at all by the promise, still they thanked and said it was nice meeting them. They made the rest of the climb home in a flash, and before they found the steadiness to put the key to the hole, the boy shouted: “Tell Curio we say hi!”

Cesario entered the house still fearing for their life. Their hands were shaking, and they felt like crying but at the same time there was too much going on in their head. They just stood by the door, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It was only when Orsino walked to the kitchen that he noticed Cesario.

“Dude, what happened?” the look on his face told them they looked just as bad as they felt.

“I’m not sure. There were these kids, and I think they’re dealers or something, and they didn’t believe I live here, and I thought they were gonna kill me, and… and they told me to say hi to Curio?”

“Oh, they’re not dealers, they’re surveillance,” Orsino explained matter-of-factly. “Wait, did they beat you?”

“No.”

“So you’re ok?”

“No!”

Orsino laughed at their face. “You gotta toughen up, man. If that’s what you’re like on a good day, what are you doing when there’s a shooting?”

“You’re telling me this is normal?” Cesario knew it was true but didn’t want to believe it.

“What? Don’t rich people have a guy at the door asking where you’re going, and telling you which elevator you can use? What’s the difference?”

“It’s not the same!” Cesario protested, offended he had suggested organized crime using children was the same as having a shitty job.

“Hey, don’t yell at me. Go yell at the governor, at the secretary of public defense or something. If I were in charge we’d be having very different problems. But those guys are doing their jobs, same as everybody. Just get used to it.”

*

They sat on the couch eating noodles while Orsino and Valentine disputed to choose which video they’d play on the big screen next. They tried to watch some and forget about the earlier events, but their phone kept buzzing with a student who had doubts about the homework. Cesario answered her questions despite the bad timing and how they disliked her constant use of heart and kiss emojis.

They heard Valentine say their name, and left the chat to see what was going on. “He’s hogging the playlist, you know he is,” he accused Orsino. “You choose the next video, so he can’t complain.”

Cesario thought of a stand up comedian they used to laugh at with Sebastian, but as soon as they looked at the phone, there were three more messages from the same student, and one was entirely made of emojis. “God Dammit, I’m eating!” they yelled at the phone.

“Who’s bugging you? Just ignore them,” Orsino said, without waiting for an answer to the first question.

His suggestion sounded so much like an order, they put their phone down immediately, and explained: “It’s one of my students, she’s kind of making me do her homework for her.”

“Is she paying overtime?” Once more he didn’t care about the answer, and sounded very commanding when he suggested: “Stop working for free!”

“Okay?” they said, feeling bullied.

“No, no! Is she cute?” Valentine asked, and didn’t wait for an answer either: “Show us her pic.” He didn’t sound commanding like his friend, but Cesario thought no harm could come of that. As soon as Valentine saw the close up selfie of her profile, he let out a high pitched laugh, and pulled Orsino closer. “Man, you won’t believe this shit!”

He looked at the phone in doubt, one eyebrow raised in suspicion, in a second both his eyebrows shot up in surprise and he snatched the phone from Cesario, who was getting tired of holding it up, but got really offended by the invasion of their privacy (there were a whole bunch of photos of them in makeup and girly clothes in that phone). Orsino still stared in shock at the screen. “That’s Olivia!” he finally said. Cesario tried to get his phone back, but Orsino was much taller and stretched his arm, keeping the phone away from them, as leverage. “You’re her teacher?” he asked very seriously, but then a weird smile appeared on his face. “You’re her teacher?” he asked again in completely different tone.

“I am, but whatever you’re thinking, I’m not helping. Now give it back!” they said, wrestling Orsino’s arm with a lot of energy and still getting no closer to the phone.

He pretended he was going to give it back, just to raise his arm at the last second. “You think I’m some kind of serial killer or something? Why can’t you help a friend out?” Now he gave the phone back.

“You’re gonna haress my student, and I’m gonna lose that job,” Cesario spat out still angry that Orsino could keep the phone from them so easily.

“I’m not gonna do that. I just want you to talk me up to her. Make me look good.”

“No! I’m gonna lose my job. That’s inappropriate as fuck.”

“‘Inappropriate as fuck’”, Valentine echoed in amusement. “That’s exactly what HR would say,” and he laughed at his own joke.

“Just tell her about this friend you have who likes the same stuff as her,” Orsino insisted.

“You don’t even know what she likes, do you?” they challenged the man.

“You’ll tell me, I’ll learn all about it.”

Cesario huffed in frustration. “You know what? I’m too tired for this. Good night.”

“Better say yes, he’s not letting go,” Valentine said, shaking his head, almost singing his words.

They sought refuge in their bedroom, but didn’t fall asleep. All they could think of was how outrageous Orsino’s dumb idea was. Outrageous and sexist: how dare he assume the girl didn’t know who she wanted to hook up with? And it was so manipulative of him to give the phone back and accuse them of not helping a friend at the same time. What a jerk! No, they were not helping that asshole. He didn’t even ask nicely, he just assumed Cesario would do as he said. No, being hot didn’t give him the right to boss them around.

Oh, no! They weren’t supposed to think about roommates like that. Don’t worry, they reasoned with the feeling, it’s no big deal, yeah, he’s hot but he’s also a dumbass. It didn’t work so well against memory of shirtless Orsino welcoming them to the house. Cesario groaned in frustration trying to think of anything else, but being bombarded by images their brain had just come up with: shirtless Orsino edited into naked Orsino, and a whole slideshow of images involving the two of them. And to make it worse, those images gave them a familiar tingling sensation.

No, no, no! Anything else, they begged of their brain. For a little while the brain obeyed and came up with memories of every crush they’d ever had (even those who were actually into Sebastian). But they were stupid enough to consciously tell themself: you see? He’s not your type. Their rebellious brain however went right back to the slideshow.

They cried without tears against the pillow for a few seconds. Then they told the brain to shut up because it was time to sleep, and their mind went quiet for about thirty seconds, until they picked up Do I Wanna Know playing somewhere in the house. They both enjoyed and were annoyed by that song, usually, that is. Tonight, their main opinion was that playing that song late at night could only be Orsino’s idea. That ridiculous, immature, pretty, pretty hot man. And guess what? It was on repeat. They punched the wall out of frustration, but that made him turn up the volume.

Cesario took a moment to make sure the clothes they slept in were loose enough, and headed out to confront him. “Come on, man, some of us have to work tomorrow,” they complained as they went to the living room.

“It’s not even midnight,” he said very calmly, as he came from the kitchen with a coffee mug.

Part of Cesario’s brain was hung upon the amount of coffee he was going to drink that late, but it was a very small part. Mostly they concentrated very hard in pretending the man wasn’t wearing just a towel around his waist. It didn’t show more than usual, but the simple possibility it might made it impossible to focus on anything else. “Please, just turn on the music,” they asked, deciding it was better to go back to the bedroom before they did something stupid.

“Turn on?” Orsino highlighted their mistake.

“No, not turn on,” they corrected in embarrassed haste. “Not turn on. Turn down. I didn’t mean turn on. Down. Down.”

“Of course, of course,” he said between his chuckles, “I know what you mean.”

Cesario didn’t like the way he said that, like he was implying something else entirely and they didn’t know what exactly. But confronting the hot guy wearing a towel was just too much, and they were already at the door by then.

*

Cesario’s day also started with “oh, no!” when they realized what their interrupted dream was about, or more exactly who. This was even more stupid than pretending they were a man around people they lived with. A good way of reasoning with those ideas was keeping in mind there was a world of hot people out there they didn’t live with, people who weren’t obsessed with girls they’d never talked to, people who were actually available.

That resolve lasted until they got to the kitchen, where Orsino opened a huge smile upon seeing them and said: “Good morning, my friend,” with a suspicious amount of enthusiasm.

“That’s a lot of energy so early in the morning,” they accused, angry at being so moved by that obviously phony smile.

“Not a morning person, huh?” he kept smiling. “So much for hoping you’d be in a better mood in the morning.” Cesario realized he was trying to get them to smile back, and refused to. “I wanna talk business with you.”

“Business?” that wasn’t what they expected.

“Yes, business. Exchanging work for money.”

“You want me teach you how to play the guitar?” they guessed.

“No, I need you to find some excuse to talk about me to Olivia.”

“That again? I said no. That’s stupid! Leave me alone!” they said throwing at those words all the anger of finding themself jealous.

“Is twenty stupid?” He laid a bill on the countertop with annoying confidence.

“Stop that!” they whined.

He laughed, and raised his offer: “Fifty?”

Cesario hated being so tempted by money, but they needed it. “Fine,” they gave in begrudgingly.Orsino’s smile was so smug they just wanted to hit him on his stupid, hot face. “This feels like it should be illegal,” they complained.

“Then do it for free,” Orsino shrugged.

“No way!”

“You know what, Cesario? I think you’ve just become my best friend,” he slapped their shoulder with too much enthusiasm.

It didn’t hurt as much as being friendzoned. “I gotta go,” they said, not sure if they were sad, angry, or whatever. They left home with all those conflicting feelings battling within.

It came as surprise when an unpleasantly familiar voice shouted out: “Hey, Cesario!” it was the boy from last night, they recognized in fear. They looked around to find the kid standing on a rooftop, “Your backpack’s open,” he informed. They were so relieved, it probably showed when they thanked the boy, who gave a thumbs up in response.

Now they really had no idea how they felt.

Chapter Text

That evening, on the way home, they looked very carefully for the surveillance guys in order to avoid them, only to find two of them sitting with Curio in front of their house, cursing and laughing very loud. So there was no avoiding them? “Good evening, guys,” they said, trying to keep on their good side.

“Cesario,” the trio shouted with a lot of energy, as if they were best friends.

“Come play Fortnite with us,” Curio invited. “The guys are really kicking ass here.”

“I can’t, I forgot to buy more mobile data,” they excused themself, glad they at least didn’t have to lie.

The others laughed like Cesario had said something stupid, or maybe they were just laughing at how broke the new guy was. “Just use Toby’s wifi,” one of kids said, really sounding like he thought Cesario was dumb.

“Who’s Toby?” they asked, wondering why someone would let strangers use their wifi.

Now they were laughing so hard, Cesario was embarrassed, though they still didn’t know why his question was so laughable. “Toby’s the boss, you moron!” said the kid who thought Cesario was dumb.

“You know, the big boss,” the second kid explained, pointing to the highest spot on the hill, which wasn’t really visible from where they were standing, but Cesario wasn’t completely ignorant about that kind of thing, everyone knew the bosses never left the top of their hills.

Well, now they had no excuse, and they wanted the password for that free wifi, so they played Fortnite with them, trying not to think why those kids were so good at having one another’s backs. They were about to start yet another match, when the third kid showed up, the one who had warned Cesario about the unzipped backpack in the morning. “Why are you idiots here?” Cesario was about to explain again that they lived here, when they realized he meant his “co-workers”.

“Tie-dye,” they shouted, like they had when Cesario had arrived.

He hit both his friends on the head, and said: “Who the fuck is watching? You wanna die?” The others, just stood up and left, muttering their discontent. “Here you go, Curio,” he handed the man something small they made a point not to see. “Cesario,” he nodded.

“Thanks for the heads up this morning,” they smiled.

“Sure,” Tie-dye said, eyeing Cesario up and down, making a face like he didn’t care for what he saw. Cesario lost their smile pretty quickly. “Don’t forget,” he told Curio, “football thursday morning,” and left.

As soon as the kid was out of sight, Curio hit Cesario on the arm, and while they cursed and whined, the man said: “What the hell you’re doing?”

“What?” they had no idea what faux pas they had committed now, and just threw Curio a perplexed stare.

“Tie-dye’s gonna break your teeth if you smile at him like that in front of his friends,” he yelled.

“What? People can’t smile in this neighborhood?” Curio opened the door and pushed him inside. “Stop it!” Cesario complained, sick of Curio’s manhandling.

“You can smile all you like but if you’re gonna be all faggy around those guys, you know what’s coming to you.”

“What?” Cesario didn’t even know if they were supposed to be offended, or in fear for their own safety.

“What’s going on?” asked Valentine, from the couch, where he and Orsino were sitting, both looking curiously at the two.

“He has a crush on Tie-dye,” Curio accused like it was a crime. Both Orsino and Valentine made a face.

“No, I don’t,” Cesario protested. “I was just being polite.”

“No way! He was all like,” here Curio touched his clasped hands to his cheek, and made a high pitched voice, “oh, Tie-dye, thank you so much for blah, blah, blah,” batting his eyelashes and shaking his hips at the guys.

“I was not!” Cesario protested, but in their anger the voice came out so shrill, the others laughed even harder than before. They were too tired, hungry, and embarrassed to be cool about it. “Go to hell,” they said, heading to the bedroom. The guys only laughed harder at Cesario’s anger.

After a shower, they headed to the kitchen to feast on noodles. They felt so tired, they didn’t even realize what they were doing until Orsino walked in and looked at them funny. “Why don’t you come sit with us?”

Cesario was just standing there with their back against the wall, holding the plate in one hand. But then they thought about having to put up with more of their jokes, and they didn’t have the energy for that. “No, thanks.”

Orsino laughed. He went to the fridge, took out a bottle of soda, and offered Cesario some. He didn’t go back to the living room, however, he stood there giving Cesario that smug smile of his, like he was waiting for something. “So?” he prompted.

“What?” they really had no idea.

“What did you tell her about me?”

“Who?”

“Olivia, dammit!” he said too loud. “If you’re not gonna do it, I want my money back.” He put his hand out.

“Chill out. I don’t see her every day, but I’ll be with her tomorrow. I’ll do your dirty work, don’t worry.”

“Fine,” he said clearly displeased. Then he finished his soda, and his brows were furrowed like he was thinking very hard about something. “Listen, you don’t have to explain anything, but Tie-dye’s trash, you can do better,” and then he left.

*

All their students called them by the last name. Because they were free to be non-binary at work, some called them miss, some mister, and as long as they didn’t switch genders mid sentence, the teacher was fine with both. One class however had taken to calling them just Cesario, like it was a first name, and they preferred it that way. That class happened to be the one which Orsino’s crush was part of.

Olivia was the best student by far in her intermediate level French class. She was able to keep a simple conversation going, talking about her favorite movies (artsy stuff Cesario didn’t have much patience for, and the rest of the class had never even heard of). They chose that moment to say they’d never seen any of those movies but had a friend who was always telling them how amazing they were. She wasn’t impressed.

When the class was over, they ran to snack bar at the corner to have a sandwich. They only had half an hour before the next class started, so they had to make it quick. They were still standing in line to order, when a familiar feminine voice said: “Hello, again, Cesario.” It was Olivia.

“Hello, there, Olivia,” they smiled to her, who was always so cheerful towards them.

They got the sandwich and sat on one of the stools along the counter. They could hear Olivia placing her order and the boy on the other side of the counter shamelessly flirting with her. She was a traditional beauty, you could picture Olivia in a movie, or at least in a commercial. But traditional beauty wasn’t as common as movies would have you believe, and the girl stood out in that place even more than in class. Cesario wasn’t all that surprised when she came their way once she had her snack in hand.

“Do you mind if I seat here?” she asked.

“Not at all, go ahead.”

“I’m going crazy, I didn’t have time for lunch today.”

“Why not?” they asked, not all that interested, but it was still better than eating alone.

“One of the new students is really, really lost, and I’m a tutor, so I sat down with her and we went over some topics, but I already know she’s going to be a handful.”

“You tutor kids?” they asked, not quite able to imagine Olivia around children.

Olivia was actually a tutor at college. Cesario didn’t really get the long and complicated name of the subject, but they understood Olivia was a Psychology major student, and her tutoring took place in a lab full of brains in jars, something she enjoyed a lot for reasons beyond Cesario’s understanding. Then she started asking where Cesario was from, why they had moved to the city, if they had been to any of the famous places, and finally: “Have you been to the Bohemian Alley? It’s really great, they play all kinds of music imaginable.”

“I thought the Bohemian Alley was for tourists,” they confessed.

“No, it’s for people who enjoy the night. Saturday nights at the Elephant, I think you’ll like it.”

“So you go there often?” they asked, making a mental note to tell Orsino that.

“Only when I have good company,” she said, smiling and looking expectantly at them, but Cesario had to ignore that, because it was time to go back to work.

They left the bar together. “See you Monday,” Cesario said, smiling and nodding.

The girl kissed them on the cheek before Cesario was able to recognize her intentions. “See you Monday,” she nodded, already leaving.

They spent a great deal of the remaining afternoon trying to guess why Olivia had kissed them. Sure, they’d noticed it was a common greeting here in the city, friends kissed each other on the cheek, especially girls, but no matter how friendly they’d felt towards Olivia during their short interaction, they weren’t friends, and it didn’t feel like an appropriate way to say goodbye to a student. They also thought about it the whole commute back home, worrying it might get them in trouble.

Tonight they saw Tie-dye on a rooftop, three houses away from the corner, and made the climb up the street looking at their feet. By the time they made it home, Cesario had never been happier to be ignored.

As soon as they opened the door, the smell of food hit them, and their stomach grumbled painfully, reminded of what it missed. Cesario dragged their feet to the bedroom, then the bathroom, until they had to face the smell of real food and be content with an egg sandwich. Orsino was sitting on the couch in the living room, with his plate in hand. He turned to Cesario, smiling that phony smile of his, which definitely didn’t make their belly flutter, that was just hunger. “There’s my best friend!” he said, a little too enthusiastically in Cesario’s opinion but they already knew why. “How are you?”

“Very hungry. I’ll tell you all about her in a minute, just let me eat something first,” they promised, unable to give him the work smile they’d worn all day.

“You can help yourself to some curry chicken and potatoes, I made too much.”

“Thanks,” they said, actually smiling at the good news.

They sat on the other end of the couch and almost cried at how delicious those little cubes tasted. Orsino laughed at how furiously they ate. “I didn’t think you were that hungry. Don’t you have a break to eat between your classes?”

“Yeah, but that’s part of the story, just give me a second.” They finished their food, and sighed. Too bad it was over. “Thank you, this is the best meal I’ve ever had!”

“You know what? You can finish the whole pot if you want, I’ve had enough. Seriously,” he insisted when Cesario looked surprised.

They ran to the kitchen and had a second helping, already feeling much better than when they arrived. As they were finishing their food, Orsino said: “Can I ask you something?”

They didn’t understand why Orsino was acting so reluctantly now, when they both knew very well what he was going to ask. Cesario just shrugged and said: “Sure.”

“Are the surveillance guys still picking on you?”

It wasn’t a question they were expecting, and for a second they just stared at man, slightly confused. When they realized Orsino had actually asked a question concerning their well being, Cesario couldn’t keep from smiling. “Not today,” they told him. “I pretended not to see Tie-dye, and he pretended he didn’t see me. I think I’m making progress?”

“That’s good. Believe me, you don’t want his attention.”

“I don’t want his attention,” they managed to say calmly this time.

“You don’t?” he sounded skeptical.

“No!” Why Curio had to come up with that?

“Good. Then I’m a little less worried about you,” he waved his hand in a way that meant he wouldn’t talk about it anymore.

“You worry about me?” they asked the question more or less jokingly, not expecting Orsino to grimace and look away.

“Are you telling about Olivia, or not?”

Cesario didn’t mean to offend him, didn’t they always mess with each other like that? But they didn’t try to talk about that. Instead, they decided to mess with Orsino in a different way: “She likes old French movies like Truffaut, and Godard, and of course I told her I have a friend who’s always going on and on about how great those movies are. So I guess you have some movies you need to watch now. But she didn’t ask me to tell her all about you, so I don’t know if it went according to plan.”

“I did not think this through,” he facepalmed and shook his head. “I guess it’d have to be something more personal than movies,” he considered very seriously. “Was that all told her?”

“Well, I didn’t think you’d have the time to go to college, so I decided not to tell her you like Psychology too.”

“Fair enough,” Orsino both nodded and pouted.

“And since you’re not a Psychology major, I thought it would sound weird if I told her my friend loves brains in jars, like her.”

“Wait. What?”

Cesario laughed at his surprise, which was exactly the reaction they expected. “It’s something to with Psychology. She gets really excited talking about brains, and she’s probably pretty good at it, cause she tutors new students. So, I guess your sweetheart is a brainy girl.”

Orsino made a disgusted face at their poor attempt at a joke, then he smiled, and before Cesario had the time to understand what he was doing, he messed their hair up. “Thanks, man. So she’s a psychologist, huh? I could be her patient, what do you think?”

“She’s a student, I don’t think she has any patients,” Cesario told him, snickering a little bit, trying to imagine him spilling out his heart while the girl had to keep it professional. Which reminded them: “Oh, I also ran into her in snack bar after class. The guy who works there couldn’t shut up about how pretty she is, and you know what? She couldn’t care less. So I guess you have think of something more interesting than that if you want her to text you back.”

Once again he looked like he was thinking very hard about it. Cesario decided it was a good time to go to the kitchen and do the dishes, but Orsino grabbed their wrist and said: “Wait, help me think of something.”

“Just watch the movies, and find something in them to talk about,” they suggested, getting a little impatient about helping their “best friend” get the girl, but glad they were telling him the hard part first.

“Okay,” he let go, and got his phone. “What’s the name of that movie again?”

Cesario laughed, knowing Orsino was in for a treat. “Those are directors. Here, let me Google them for you.” And gave him the phone back.

They were by the sink, appalled at the mess Orsino had made while cooking, but still thinking it was a fair trade. Then he walked in, phone still in hand, a scared look on his face, and said: “Holy shit, that’s a long list. I think I have a marathon.”

Now they couldn’t help it, and laughed at him as cruelly as the boys had laughed at them when they didn’t know who Toby was. Orsino’s face was more confused than hurt, so they didn’t feel too bad about it. “Better get on with your homework then,” they said, holding in the rest of their laughter.

“I guess I do,” he nodded grimacing. “Next time, just find out her favorite food, and tell her I make the best you’ve ever had, okay? That’s much easier.”

“Next time?” Cesario said like it was a foreign concept. “Our contract was a one time thing.” They couldn’t help taking pleasure in making his life more difficult than it had to be. He was using them, after all, why shouldn’t they do the same?

Orsino looked pissed off, and they were really proud about it. “What?” he said grumpier than ever. “Is it more money you want?”

“Do you have anything better to offer?” Cesario smiled at him, not really meaning anything by that, but knowing very well he would jump to conclusions.

“So funny!” he narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “No, it’s either money or fixing that leak in your room before the next rain.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my bedroom. Cash is fine.”

“Your problem,” he shrugged, putting his hand in his pocket but then stopping. “Hold on, when are seeing her again?”

Damn, why he had to ask that? “Monday,” they admitted, knowing they weren’t going to get the money so soon.

“So we talk money on Monday. You wanna watch any of those movies with me?”

“No, thanks,” they laughed. “I’ve got lesson plans to make,” which was only an exaggeration of the truth. Their plans were make for the rest of the week, but it couldn’t hurt planning ahead, and it would give them time to work the topic of favorite foods into the lesson, so they wouldn’t sound completely random asking the class what they liked eating.

Sometime later Orsino knocked on their door to let them know: “That was the worst Mogli ever! What’s the problem with those people?” He sounded very offended but left before Cesario had the time to understand he meant L’enfant Sauvage.

*

They finally told Orsino that OIivia said she liked the Bohemian Alley the next morning. “Why didn’t you say so before? That’s a lot better than that weird movie,” he sounded like he was still angry at the movie.

“I’m sorry, it slipped my mind,” they lied, wishing they could wait longer and see him react to the whole nouvelle vague, hoping he would get that offended every time, but they always lost track of long lies, and already had a pretty big one to keep telling. “She said she likes Saturday nights at some place called the Elephant, but she didn’t tell me if she was going to be there this Saturday.”

“Then find out,” Orsino said impatiently. “Tell her you’re going, ask her if she’ll be there.”

“But I’m not going,” they told him, annoyed that he didn’t even say please. “And maybe she doesn’t want to tell a teacher her plans for the weekend?”

“Of course you’re going. As soon as you find out when she’ll be there, we’re both going. Don’t worry, I’ll treat. Payment in alcohol, how’s that?”

“I don’t think there’s enough alcohol in the world,” they told him, leaving.

When they left home, they didn’t see anyone on the rooftops, and went down the hill feeling a little safer. That was until they turned the corner and a policeman stopped them. “Hey, kid, come here,” he beckoned. They had never been stopped by a police officer before, and the stories they’d heard even before coming to the city made them more afraid of the police than of Tie-dye and the others. “Where you’re coming from?” the balding, middle-aged, pot-bellied policeman asked.

“Home. I’m going to work,” they explained.

“Open your backpack,” he commanded. That’s illegal, they thought, but the man was armed for war, and they weren’t about to argue with an armed man. So they opened the backpack and endured the man going through it. “Your ID?” he commanded.

“Just a second,” they asked, going for the wallet, their hands shaking nervously for no reason.

“No need to be nervous, I’m one of the good guys,” said the officer whose patch on his uniform read Malvolio.

Cesario laughed even more nervously, doubting very much the man’s statement, handing over their ID with trembling hands.

The man frowned and looked from the picture to them. “That’s you?” He sounded just like Tie-dye when they told him where they lived. They nodded. “Full name?” They answered, and he checked it on the card, nodding in agreement. “You’re a girl?” he didn’t seem fully convinced.

That’s what the doctor said, they wanted to answer. Instead, what came out was a defeated “Yes, sir.”

“Sorry about that, darling,” he gave them back the document. “You should let us know you’re a girl. At least smile a little,” he smiled like he thought he was charming.

“Of course, sir,” they gave him the most uncomfortable smile their face had ever produced.

“See? You’re much prettier now. Go ahead. Hope I didn’t make you late for work,” he said the last sentence to their back, as they made the fastest steps they could without running.

All they could think was how this exchange had been even worse than their first meeting with the surveillance team. Somehow, having to say yes to being a girl, and smiling on command was much more humiliating than thinking Tie-dye was going to kill them (which was terrifying, but not humiliating).

The only good news was that even the most annoying moments of their day weren’t as bad.

On the way home, they were surprised by their own wish to see the surveillance team and not the police. Their wish came true, and to make things even less difficult, it wasn’t Tie-dye standing at the corner. The kid was called Monkey by those who knew him, but Cesario didn’t call him anything when they wished him a good evening. “You met lieutenant Malvolio this morning, didn’t you?” he said like he thought that was funny.

“Wait a minute,” they said, raising their voice, angry at the memory, but Monkey didn’t react to that, loud angry voices were the rule, not the exception, in that neighborhood, “how do you know that? I didn’t see you anywhere.”

He laughed almost as hard as when he found out they didn’t know about Toby’s wifi. “My job is to see stuff, not to be seen, you retard. I was way up there,” he pointed at non-specific location. “But you’re easier to spot than those fucking worms.”

Cesario knew they stood out, they always had, but that wasn’t supposed to happen in the city, was it?. Instead, they focused on the slang the boy had used. “What’s ‘worms’?” they asked.

“Cops,” he said impatiently, like it should be obvious.

“Oh, alright. Good talking to you. I gotta go now.”

As soon as they got home, they were greeted by Valentine’s comment: “So, when it’s not Tie-dye, it’s Malvolio? You’re like a target. You seriously need some work done!”

“How the fuck does everybody know about that?” they asked, spilling some of their anger on him, even though Valentine was innocent.

“News travel fast around here,” he shrugged. “But seriously, you have some shitty luck. You should pay Father Lucas to cleanse you, or something.”

“It’ll be a cold day in hell before I give money to the church,” they said, meaning each word.

“I’m not talking about church, it’s witchcraft,” he sounded like he had no faith in the first but absolute certainty about the latter. “He did a work on Toby so he can’t be shot, that was two years ago, and just look at him. He’s bulletproof!”

They rolled their eyes and sighed. “You’re telling me you believe in magic?” They didn’t even wait for an answer, they just headed to the kitchen.

“When it’s from Father Lucas I do,” he insisted, following them. “He’s not like other people, you can feel it, there’s something about him.”

“I think it’s great that you have faith in whatever, but that’s not for me,” they refused as politely as possible under the circumstances, going about the making of their egg sandwich.

“You’re afraid of the drums, aren’t you?” he teased.

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Valentine threw him a look like he didn’t believe them, but didn’t say anything. He shrugged, and left the kitchen. Cesario joined him in the living room, but he was on his phone, and the house became silent enough they could hear their neighbors’ tvs and music (and some faint angry voices from the street).

The silence was boring, and they were too lazy to choose something to watch. Despite their dislike when it came to organized religion, there was this question they couldn’t get out of their head. “Hey, Valentine.” He looked up from his phone. “What was that you said about the drums? Why would I be afraid of them?”

Valentine laughed. “I thought it wasn’t for you.”

Now they had to admit his talk had made them curious. His stories were unfortunatelly interrupted by loud bangings at the front door, and Orsino calling their names desperately. Cesario jumped up startled, and looked at Valentine for instructions. “Again?” he whined, and stood up like he weighted tons. “Just tell him I’m coming,” he said, turning the opposite way.

Cesario opened the door, and couldn’t speak for a moment too long. A gagging awful smell hit them even before they saw Orsino was naked for the whole world to see it, washing himself with a hose and cursing furiously. They were too shocked for words. “Go get me some chlorine,” he commanded, “and some soap.”

Valentine had come back by then, with both items and a towel too. He made a face at the smell, and handed things to Cesario, running back to the house immediately. They made a conscious effort not to sneak a peek, but it wasn’t so hard since their eyes wanted to protect themselves from whatever was causing that god awful smell by shutting forcefully. They passed him the items, standing as far from him as possible, stretching their arm to avoid ending up smelling like that too. But when they passed him the towel, Orsino asked: “Can you hold onto that for a second?”

It didn’t occur to them, in the middle of their sensory overload, to hang the towel somewhere and flee the smell like Valentine had. And it was unheard to them people would wash themselves with chlorine solution. They had no idea what was going on. “Dude, what the actual fuck?” they finally managed.

“I just cleaned the mother of all septic tanks,” he explained, both proud and angry.

As great as Orsino’s discomfort at his first film by Truffaut, was Cesario’s when they got an answer to the question: “What’s a septic tank?”

Chapter Text

They woke up to the alarm, and soon heard a conversation going on in the house. Going from the bedroom to the bathroom they could hear an unknown voice say: “I heard you were in deep shit last night last night.” So they knew whoever that stranger was, they were talking to Orsino. When they left the bathroom however the stranger was standing in the living room, they both stared at one another curiously for a second.

“That’s a nice bracelet you’ve got there,” Cesario commented seeing it had the same colors as the non-binary pride flag

“Oh, thanks,” said the skinny visitor, who rocked both a goatee and a bright pink satin top with thin straps on the shoulders, whose shorts were too short for a man, and too long for a woman, and whose dyed green hair was braided in cornrows. “I’m Feste, nice to meet you.” They had a deep voice and a cheerful tone, both of which Cesario liked immediately, but they didn’t recognize the meaning behind Feste’s smile until they said: “Sorry for getting him out of bed so early, but I need the ground shaking with that bass, and if your boyfriend doesn’t lend his skills, I’m probably starting a fire.”

That was a lot of information, and they had no idea what most of it meant, but they were awake enough to correct Feste quickly: “I’m not his boyfriend, I live here. My name’s Cesario.”

“Oh?” Feste looked surprised, squinting and moving their had this way and that to look at Cesario from different angles. “My eyes played a trick on me, sorry about that,” they smiled, looking just too friendly, and Cesario didn’t know what to think about that.

“Don’t let him bully you, Cesario,” Orsino said from his bedroom.

“He says I’m bullying him into this. Can you believe it?” they laughed, and Cesario joined in because it was hard to imagine scrawny Feste bullying Orsino. “So how long have you been living here?”

“Stop bullying him, Feste!” Orsino said coming out of his bedroom with a huge toolbox in hand, and a huge roll of electric wire hanging on his left shoulder.

“It’s called flirting, but I guess you wouldn’t know what it looks like.”

Orsino laughed, and told Cesario: “Don’t encourage him.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Feste protested. “Encourage me all you like. You’re coming tonight, right?”

“Where?” they asked, looking more at Orsino than at Feste, and the latter noticed it.

“Just the most awesome dance party this place’s ever seen,” Feste said. “You should come. Who knows? My first guess may come true,” they winked.

Cesario felt their face burn, they knew Feste had first guessed they were Orsino’s girlfriend (they knew the look.)

“What’s that about?” Orsino asked and got no answer. “Is he bullying you, Cesario?” he gave Feste a fake hit on the shoulder. “Don’t bully my friend.”

“I don’t think you know what bullying looks like either,” Feste shook their head. “What I was getting at,” they told Orsino, “is if your friend here is really lucky, I myself could help him find the best of outcomes tonight. If he’s lucky, that is,” they added, now smiling at Cesario.

They could guess the implications behind that smile, and it was way too early in the morning for that. “I have to go get dressed,” they said, retreating to the bedroom.

“Ten thirty, tonight,” Feste shouted to make sure they’d be heard through the closed door, even though Cesario had no problem hearing the rest of their words, which were directed to Orsino: “You have to bring him tonight.”

“I’m not coming.”

“Of course you are.”

*

The beats could be heard all the way home, but only as they approached the building they could feel the trepidation under their soles, like Feste had promised. The outside was like a warm up party with food and liquor stands along the street, and people both young and old eating, drinking, meeting friends, practicing dance steps, flirting, and talking loudly to one another to be heard over the music.

They stood by one of the liquor stands and placed their orders. Orsino and Curio did cheap vodka shots and had energy drink, but Cesario didn’t join them. First because energy drinks were out of their budget, but also because the supersized cups of smoothies with vodka were very pretty and a real bargain. Sure they were pink, and Cesario should probably stay away from pink stuff when they had to pass for a man, but guys were drinking it, right? They looked around to make sure, and saw as many boys as girls with one of those cups in their hands. It was very sweet and icy, and they took a big sip trying to taste the alcohol in it, only to get a brain freeze.

“That’s a very manly drink you got there,” Orsino joked.

“Nothing says ‘I’m a grown up,’ like a pink drink with a straw,” Curio joined in.

“Who says I’m a grown up?” Cesario shrugged and took their phone out. “Come here,” they said to the others, “I want my brother to think I have friends.” And they stopped to take a selfie that included the drink, because Sebastian would probably be interested in it, as he was always asking for more details when they texted.

“You have a brother?” Orsino sounded surprised, and Cesario nodded “yes”, wondering what was so surprising about it. “You never said you have a brother,” he said, like he wanted to have a loud conversation about their families in that noisy street.

“You never asked,” they reminded him.

“Guys, it’s starting,” said Curio when the music changed.

Lots of people also reacted by going inside. The club wasn’t really a dance club but a gym, and a the dance floor was a sports court on weekdays. Everyone was given a tequila shot at the door and told it was on Toby. Inside, it was darker, the music was deafeningly loud, and the vibration from the many amplifiers felt like a little earthquake. There was a stage on the other end of the place, and on top of it was Feste, who wore combat boots and a camo jacket going with a silver sequined top and very short shorts. Cesario loved the look, which didn’t exactly reflect what everyone else was wearing, but made them feel better about being the only one in jeans and converse, not to mention they missed wearing shiny things while Feste was all accessories.

“Thank you all for coming,” they said on the mic, and people cheered. “Now that everyone’s here I’d like play some very personal music I wrote about my last break up.” They booed Feste, which made Cesario confused for second, until Feste laughed and said: “Just kidding, just kidding. Welcome to our twerk battle! You already know our beautiful contestants, give’em some love.” The crowd cheered loudly for the girls, who had lined up as Feste spoke.

Cesario was about to ask their friends if it was always like that, but their friends had disappeared in the crowd. They got on their tiptoes, trying to find the guys, but they weren’t tall enough to do that, and most guys were wearing the same black baseball cap as Curio. By then, Feste was dropping beats and the girls on stage were twerking, so they figured the guys were taking a closer look at the show, and decided to do the same.

The dancers caught their eye, and Cesario didn’t know if they were attracted or envious, but they couldn’t stop staring. They applauded enthusiastically when it was time to choose which one was the best, and became slightly disappointed when it was over. The music, however, improved a lot, so that was a good distraction. Now that people weren’t all packed up against the stage, they saw Curio doing some sort of choreography along with a few other guys as muscular as he was, all wearing very similar clothes. They watched from a distance trying to figure out how to dance like a man, though to be honest those beats made them want to move their body uncoordinatedly and they were already half dancing.

There were lots of couples making out against the wall, or right in the middle of the dance floor. Straight couples that reminded Cesario this wasn’t a safe place for someone like them to hook up with a stranger. They’d hoped tonight would be about hanging out with the guys, but Curio was bonding with the alpha males, and Orsino had disappeared, and could probably be found against a wall, they thought bitterly. To shake off the thought, they danced like a crazy person for a little bit, until they were so embarrassed that people could see them, the bitter thought was forgotten.

They had to pee but discovered there were no doors to the stalls in the men’s restroom, which was very annoying for someone with a secret to keep, so they decided to leave the club and use the disgusting chemical restroom outside, at least it had a door. They found Orsino doing tequila shots with the box office guys. “Cesario!” he shouted sounding very drunk. “You’re leaving? No!” he laid a heavy hand on their shoulder.

“I have to find a bathroom,” they said weaseling out of Orsino’s grip.

“It’s in there,” one of the guys informed, pointing the direction.

“I know, but I can’t go when there’s people watching, I need doors.”

The guys laughed, and only now Cesario noticed Orsino wasn’t the only one who was majorly drunk. When the laughter came to an end one of the box office guys said: “It’s true, you can’t take a decent shit when there’s people walking in and out,” which prompted the rest of the guys to debate the optimal conditions for taking a dump. But he wasn’t finished: “You can use that one,” he told them, pointing to a door with a “staff only” sign behind him.

“Thanks, man,” Cesario ran to the door before he changed his mind.

When they came back, Orsino announced Cesario was doing tequila shots with the rest of them. Though the way Orsino said it, without asking if they wanted to do shots, was annoying, a free drink was a free drink, so they didn’t object. They did two shots before Orsino got in his head he needed to buy cigarettes. He threw an arm around Cesario’s shoulders, and said: “We’re going on an adventure,” pulling his friend along.

It wasn’t much of an adventure, since all they did was walk to a liquor stand, where Orsino asked for two cigarettes and said Cesario should join him. Neither of them usually smoked but the recent tequila shots made them forget the good reasons for that. As they stood there silently smoking, they saw a police car park by. Two officers came out, one stood by the car, the second made a straight line to the club. It was lieutenant Malvolio, Cesario recognized.

“Yep, we’re leaving now,” Orsino said, grabbing Cesario by the arm and giving them a push start. “Let’s go,” he whispered nervously, taking long strides. Cesario only knew enough to shut up and follow, but they had no idea what they were running from. “Keep walking,” he said as they turned the corner.

“What just happened there?” Cesario asked as they walked away.

“Don’t look back,” Orsino said when Cesario was about to. “And don’t run.”

“Okay.” Cesario was scared by the sudden seriousness in his tone and face, but still didn’t understand why. “What happened back there?” they tried again.

“Nothing yet,” he said nervously.

“So why?” they asked breathlessly, taking the uphill alley home. They could hear the music stop suddenly, making the howling dogs in the distance very clear.

Orsino didn’t say anything until they were home, but first he tried calling Curio several times getting no answer. Then he explained cops weren’t supposed to go to the club and stop parties like they obviously had, which meant things might easily get ugly. They tried calling Curio again and again but still got no answer. There was only worried silence for what felt like a long time, then from the street came laughter and excited shouts.

Curio arrived breathing hard like he’d been running and laughing at the same time. And he wasn’t alone, Feste came behind him, also laughing and covered in sweat. It took the pair a while to control their breaths and their laughter, which sounded more nervous than amused. Curio placed both his hands on Feste’s shoulders and declared in a parody of awe: “Dude, you’re my hero!” And to Orsino and Cesario: “You guys have got to see this.” He pulled out his phone and showed them a video he had recorded in the club minutes earlier.

The officer was telling Feste to come down from the stage, while Feste made conciliatory gestures in a farce of negotiation, when it looked like they had come to an agreement, Feste jumped off the stage in a somersault and already landed bouncing sideways in what was a clear invitation for the policeman to try and catch them. Feste pretended to play football with an imaginary ball, confusing the officer. They looked left and ran right, looked right and ran left, their imaginary ball so tangible, when they kicked it aimed at Malvolio’s face, he flinched. That’s when Feste made an escape towards the camera, running with open arms like they’d just scored a goal.

Now they were all laughing nervously. “I can’t believe this actually happened,” Orsino told Feste. “You’re insane! A genius, but completely insane!”

“Oh, that? I do it all the time,” Feste laughed.

Cesario couldn’t help feeling pleased that the man who had treated them in that demeaning way had been humiliated in video, it felt like a revenge of sorts. And having the one who’d done it standing right before them was even better. They were impressed. “That was brilliant, dude,” they told Feste.

“I know, but thanks,” they said looking really proud. They shouted energetically for no reason. “Wow! How I’m gonna sleep after that? You guys have weed?” Cesario shook their head, Orsino pointed to Curio, who was busy sharing the video with everyone he knew. “Hey, Curio, how about some weed for your hero?”

He rolled a joint that looked like a cigar, and before they were half way through it, Feste was the only one who still had the energy to keep smoking. “Do you even get high?” said Cesario, who couldn’t understand the adrenaline rush Feste was trying to get rid of.

“It was kind of a crazy night, you know,” they shrugged, “my brain’s still a little confused.”

“As long as you’re so alert, why don’t you play the guitar for us?” Orsino suggested.

“Because I’m not a cartoon,” they answered. “You think I have a guitar in my pocket? I have chocolate, you guys want some?”

“I do,” Cesario accepted, perking up at the prospect of chocolate.

“Cesario has a guitar,” Orsino insisted.

“Stop offering other people’s guitars,” Cesario complained, jealous of their instrument.

“Oh, come on, I’m giving you chocolate,” Feste pretended to be offended. “I’ll be a lady with your guitar, I promise.”

Cesario was convinced and let Feste use it. Nobody was expecting the first song to be Roulette by System of a Down but they were too high to say anything. Orsino cocked his head to the side in interest, like he was listening to it for the first time, Curio bounced his leg, and Cesario was both flattered and uncomfortable that Feste sang the chorus looking directly at them and smiling. When the song was over there was silence, and Feste wanted applause even if the audience was too wasted to clap hands, so they played a very difficult tango, going faster and faster, until Cesario couldn’t hold their amazement any longer and paid a compliment: “Holy shit, that’s awesome!”

“Finally,” said Feste, ending the song. “You guys could say something, you know,” they told Curio and Orsino. They both applauded without energy, which offended the artist, who turned to Cesario: “I guess it’s just you and me. Any requests?” Their mind went blank and they shrugged. Feste played Sympathy for the Devil, which got more enthusiastic applause from the guys. “Ah, that’s more like it!” they said, finally satisfied, putting down the guitar.

“Oh, come on, play some more,” Orsino asked.

“I don’t play for zombies, that’s against my principles.”

But Feste wasn’t tired, all they wanted was the attention, and after some persistence they played Come Together, and What a Little Moonlight Can Do (altering the lyrics so it said “you can’t resist me.”) They finally decided to call it a night, and go to bed. Feste crashed on their couch after insisting Curio lended them something to sleep in, saying they wanted to look cute in an oversized t-shirt. Cesario, who knew the feeling too well, said: “Mood,” only to be stared at by the guys. There was no unsaying that, so they just embraced the weird: “Wow, look at the time!” and left.

They checked their phone before bed, and saw Sebastian had sent a text. He commented their picture: “Your friends are hot. I bet you like the one on the left. What’s in your hand?”

How did he know? Was he joking? Was it so obvious? Better assume Sebastian had just been lucky in his guess and ignore it. They explained the drink instead.

*

They woke up to guitar music the next morning. It was a great way of waking up, except they soon realized someone was playing their guitar. Suddenly, the delight from the good music became anxiety about their most valuable possession. They left the room, remembering it was probably Feste, but didn’t find them in the living room, the music came from outside. Cesario opened the door to find them standing by the step, playing and telling a story about a frog who wanted to go to a party only birds could go to. Feste’s audience were a bunch of children who looked entranced by the performance. There was no way Cesario would interrupt that, they just stood there and listened to the story, maybe not quite as impressed as the children by it, but the story teller’s many talents were impressive in a different way.

Twenty-four hours ago Cesario only knew Feste’s wardrobe was interesting, since then, however, they’d seen their skills making music, hosting a twerk competition, defying the authorities, and now they saw Feste even had a good heart. Only when the story was over they noticed Cesario was there. By then the children were commenting what they liked about the story.

“Do you guys know Cesario?” they asked.

“No!” the children said in unison.

“Cesario’s the one who let me use his guitar. Say thanks to Cesario.”

“Thanks, Cesario,” the kids said all together. One in particular asked: “Are you a girl, Cesario?”

“No, I’m not,” they said smiling, trying to hide the discomfort one little question could put them through.

“All right, all right, show’s over,” Feste said suddenly cranky, trying to shoo the children off like they were pigeons. “Go home. I’m done with you, little monsters. Get lost.”

Cesario was confused: “Why do you have to call them that? They’re just kids.”

Feste handed them the guitar: “I’m in for the fun but when they start with the questions--” they frowned. “I’m not here for the questions. And of course I was next.”

“Okay,” they nodded, finding it easy to see the reason.

“Hey, you wanna grab something to eat in the street market?” Feste suggested, sounding excited about the prospect.

Cesario didn’t know the street market, and decided they wanted to see it. They walked down the alley, into the street, and found themselves in it. The market was crowded, noisy, and smelled of spices and fried goods. Different song played at the same time coming from stands selling second hand electronics, car parts, fruits, vegetables, fish, sausage, homemade sweets, handmade hippie jewelry, toys, liquor, stinky tan leather items, beauty products, and much more. Feste found a cheese bread stand, and that was their breakfast.

“Well, now we can start drinking,” Feste announced, full of energy and good humor.

“Are you kidding? It’s morning,” Cesario unnecessarily pointed at the sky.

Feste laughed: “It’s saturday. And if you’re gonna keep up with me, you’re gonna need a drink, little boy,” they winked.

Cesario was once again between flattered and embarrassed by Feste’s smile and persistent gaze. The words “little boy” still echoing in their ears with that dirty ring Feste had managed to give them. “Yeah, let’s have a drink,” they said, getting in motion immediately to escape the desire to find out what Feste would do if they returned the gaze and smile.

As soon as Feste stepped in the bar, they were greeted by the patrons who had seen their video and loved it, they payed compliments, trash talked lieutenant Malvolio, commented Feste’s moves, and asked them to do the mimic football, which they refused: “I’m too sober for that.”

Cesario thought they were going to have a beer, but Feste ordered two cognacs, raised their glass, and looked expectantly at their friend. “I can’t drink this,” Cesario told them.

“Just take a deep breath after swallowing,” Feste advised and then demonstrated.

It still tasted like death to Cesario, but they went along with it anyway, enduring the burning sensation on their tongue and in their throat and stomach. Only then Feste ordered a beer, and it soothed the cognac’s aftertaste so well, Cesario didn’t worry they might get drunker than they could handle.

Three old men invited Feste and Cesario to their table, telling both to help themselves to some fried fish. They wanted to discuss how pissed Toby probably was that Malvolio had ended the party, and wonder what he would do about that. One said Toby would get some of his boys to get back at Malvolio personally when he was off duty and far away from his turf so they couldn’t link it to him. Another thought Toby had enough cops on his side that they’d get rid of Malvolio themselves. The third man considered it more like Toby to do something big and public just to show he couldn’t be stopped.

“It’s hard to say but he’s doing something about it, you know, he’s a politician,” said Feste like it was some inside joke, and the old men laughed, so Cesario could only figure it was.

Cesario didn’t have much to say to those strangers, no matter how welcoming they were and felt uncomfortable about it. Fortunately Feste also got restless, and said goodbye to them, leaving the table and inviting Cesario to shoot pool.

It was better than hanging out with strangers but there was a comical imbalance of skills going on. While Feste played like it was the easiest thing in the world, Cesario was happy when their ball hit anything (now they regretted not trying harder when Sebastian attempted to teach them.) They lost amazingly quickly, and Feste insisted on another match, saying: “I didn’t even feel it.” So Cesario agreed to another humbling defeat. At least the beer let them laugh about it.

They both left the bar, back to the street market, and navigated through the crowd to the square, where a very informal string quartet played old music under the shade of an almond tree, music so old and popular it sounded familiar even if it wasn’t the listeners’ style. It wasn’t long before a big guy wearing a golden chain around his neck approached Feste, gave them a bro handshake, and said something too low for anyone else to hear it.

“Hey,” Feste said really close to Cesario’s ear, using the music as an excuse, “I have to see Toby now. You wanna meet him?”

“I don’t think so,” they laughed nervously and shook their head.

“Are you afraid?” they sounded skeptical. “It’s ok, trouble has to climb all the way up the hill before it gets there, safer than here,” they shrugged.

Cesario knew they should say no, but they were having fun going here and there with Feste, and it wasn’t like they had anything better to do. So they ignored that inner voice saying don’t go, and tagged along.

Chapter Text

They went uphill on a motorcycle Feste borrowed from the guy who’d told them the news. There, on the top of the hill, was a mansion surrounded by tall walls. Cesario had never been to that part of the neighborhood but they’d heard people talk and one thing was for sure: surveillance around these parts was heavily armed, especially the ones by the gate, who Feste greeted with familiarity and good humor. Cesario might’ve drunk more than usual but not enough to ignore the disturbing sight of those guys so casually handling their weapons while smoking a joint that smelled weird.

Feste acted like it was the most natural thing in the world, so Cesario followed the lead. The driveway was packed with much more expensive motorcycles than the one Feste had borrowed. They didn’t enter the house, but went around it to find a huge swimming pool with one man in it. On the deck, under a parasol, was a woman working with a laptop. The smell of barbecue was in the air, and Cesario found a third person by the grill in an open kitchen clearly designed solely for barbecues by the swimming pool.

“Well, hello, hello, hello,” said Feste almost singing.

“You damn faggot, where the hell were you?” said the man in the pool looking angry with his eyebrows pressed together, even though he was smiling. “I sent that video of yours to everyone I know,” he laughed.

“I’ve noticed that,” Feste smiled proudly. “This is Cesario, he likes my bracelet, so we’re best friends now.”

“Nice to meet you,” he put out his hand and Cesario shook it, and the man threatened to pull Cesario into the pool but just laughed and let them go. “I’m Toby, ever heard about me?”

“Sure,” Cesario nodded uncomfortably, trying to come up with something good, “thanks for the wifi.”

Toby looked very pleased, and the woman behind the computer huffed: “There we go!” not bothering to look up.

“You’re very welcome for the wifi, you see, I try to make this a good place for the people who live here, I want what’s best for everyone here, I’m not a criminal, I’m a politician.”

Cesario wasn’t about to disagree with a man whose pistol sat right next to his beer. But now they couldn’t find the words to continue the conversation, all they knew was that they couldn’t look Toby in the eye and say “seriously, that’s your excuse?” Fortunately, that was the moment the guy by the grill decided to approach them with a tray of grilled beef.

The man hugged Feste with his free hand, then brought it to their hair, Feste rolled their eyes. “I wish my hair was as this cool,” said the man.

“Do you really?” Feste stared at them with crossed arms for a second.

“Sure, and that I had your talent for music,” he said smiling.

“You can’t teach talent, Andrew, one day I picked up that guitar and music just poured out of it,” they said, looking at Cesario and shaking their head, looking impatient.

Andrew pointed to his tray, telling them to help themselves, but when Cesario tried to refuse it, Toby was very persistent, saying it was really good stuff and they had to try it. “I don’t let people go hungry in my house, kid, now help yourself.”

“Why you’re not eating, Toby?” the woman on the computer reprimanded.

“I need that space for drinking,” he said.

She finally rose her head to look angrily at him. “How many times do I have to tell you to eat first?”

“Oops, too late,” he laughed. He then turned to Cesario: “Why don’t you help yourself to a beer right there?” he pointed to a freezer. “Oh, and could you bring me one?”

“Mee too,” said Feste, sitting on the deck to talk to Toby more comfortably.

Cesario didn’t mind, at least it was something to do when they felt so out of place, it was actually a shame there wasn’t more to do. Andrew, who was back by the grill, served a plate and asked them to take it to Maria. Cesario balanced the plate on their fists, which were occupied by three beer bottles. “Here you are,” they said, sliding the plate on the table, keeping a firm hold on the bottles.

“Thanks, sweetie,” she said without looking up from what Cesario noticed was a spreadsheet.

They went on to give Toby and Feste their beers, and ask: “Can I sit here?” They weren’t sure if there was a private conversation going on or if those two were only messing around, but they only knew Feste, so that’s where they were sitting.

“Toby says tonight we’re having a party here,” Feste let them in on the talk.

“See if Malvolio can stop this one,” Toby said in a mix of anger and excitement. “It’s gonna be huge, you’ll see. So the boys will get your equipment here, and we’re gonna need that friend of yours I like to make sure nothing explodes this time,” he told Feste.

“Sure, we can get him. Are you sure you can make this happen so fast?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Maria said, taking the time to look up and smile confidently at Feste.

“So that’s what you’re doing while we dream on the event?” Feste asked smiling back fondly.

“That’s all you have you have to do for now,” she assured.

“That I can do marvelously.” Feste stood up. “More beer?”

Now Toby was looking at Cesario, who had no idea what to say. “So how old are you? You’re in school?”

“I’m a teacher.”

“Teacher? Well, you look like a good kid, why you’re with Feste?”

Maria laughed. “Really, Toby? You’re giving him life advice, is that it?”

“What? I’m pretty successful, don’t you think?” She just laughed more. “And part of it has to do with the good companies I keep,” he told Cesario, pointing at Maria as an example of what he meant.

“I have to agree with that one,” she said, “I really am the secret of his success.”

“The dumb need the smart,” Toby agreed, nodding, still talking to Cesario. “This was a match made in heaven,” he said, pointing to Maria and then himself.

“Then why the fuck don’t you marry me?” she said going back to work.

“Yeah, Toby, why the fuck don’t you marry her? I could officiate it,” said Feste, coming back with more beer.

“If you steal the attention on my wedding day, I’ll murder you myself,” Maria said matter-of-factly, not even raising her head from her work.

“If you do it publicly, you’ll get all the attention back and then more,” Feste advised.

She just chuckled, and Toby laughed loudly. Cesario felt really uncomfortable with the murder jokes among people who lived like that. They just drank some more. Feste looked from Toby to Maria while asking: “So you don’t need me right now?”

“We need the good company,” said Toby.

“Not right now, but I know how easily your plans change, so stick around, ok?” said Maria.

“I’m not missing this for the world,” Feste informed, smiling fantastically in anticipation. “I just wanna show Cesario around.”

“Sure,” she shrugged.

“Make yourself at home, kid, no need to be shy,” Toby said already taking pride in everything he was about to indirectly show off.

“Come on,” Feste said as they pulled Cesario to their feet. Once they were up, Feste didn’t let go, intertwining the fingers of both their hands, and leading Cesario towards the house.

The wide glass doors were open but Feste crossed the doorway hand first, claiming they had hit their head on that thing too many times to trust it. “You live here?” Cesario asked confused.

“Sure, a little bit. Toby and Maria have adopted me for now, and I’m making the best of my Cinderella moment.” They crossed a living room that surprised Cesario for looking so normal, remarkably wealthy but other than that… shouldn’t a gangster’s house have some reminder it was dangerous? But the exact opposite happened when Feste opened a door and said: “Check this out.”

It was a music studio and it was all theirs. Feste showed off their many musical abilities, first with the guitar, which was new and perfectly tuned and sounded beautiful when Feste strummed. They offered it to Cesario, and went on to the drums. They went on to the bass later, and they both took turns singing. It kept them entertained for a while. They played until their hands ached and they needed a break.

“Come,” said Feste, once again taking Cesario’s hand, and leading the way.

The first time, Cesario told themself the hand holding was exclusively Feste’s doing. But now it was happening again and they were doing nothing to stop it. Truth be told, it felt nice. And they realized they liked Feste, which was surprising it had taken so long to see: why else they would’ve followed them to such a place? Cesario smiled at both their realization and how long it took.

Feste kept leading the way upstairs, and brought them to their bedroom. “This is my room,” they said to fill the silence while Cesario made a decision. Feste left them at the door, and went in, got their battered, black acoustic guitar and started singing a weird song about a woman who’s more awesome than the devil and doesn’t give a shit about expectations. Cesario stopped thinking and just followed the music into the room.

Feste was sitting on the bed, so Cesario sat next to them and listened, the name Maria came up in the chorus. When the song was over, they had to ask: “Did you write that song for Maria?”

“No, it’s an old song, I just like crazy lyrics. You wanna hear one of my songs?”

“Of course,” Cesario nodded enthusiastically.

They hadn’t seen Feste smile like that so far. Not the smug smile they gave last night when they made the others beg for another song. Not the flirtatious smile they had given Cesario all day, either. The difference was in the eyes: they sparkled with honest joy. “It’s called ‘O, Mistress Mine’.” Feste played a cheerful melody and sang about enjoying love in the present because times passes and the future is uncertain.

“It’s beautiful,” Cesario said, “I love it.”

“You do?” Feste had a hard time pretending they weren’t flattered by the comment. “Some people think it’s kind of a downer.”

“It won’t get people dancing, I guess, but it doesn’t have to. Beautiful things serve a different purpose.”

Feste chuckled, stood up, and put the guitar down. “And what’s the purpose?” they asked, walking to the door and closing it.

“Making life worth living.” Feste nodded and made the way back to the bed. There was no stalling it, Cesario realized. If this was going to happen, they had to know in advance. “I have a secret,” they managed to say before getting too anxious to speak. The smug smile back on Feste’s face worried them: “You know?”

“I have a pretty good hunch, after all, you like my bracelet, right?” they shrugged. “Yeah, I think I know. I happen to like all flavors of people, if that helps.”

Cesario chuckled at Feste’s phrasing, and asked: “Can you keep my secret?”

“What’s one more? I’ll keep your secret, don’t worry.” They sat close to Cesario, approached slowly to give them a peck on the lips, then withdrew to study their reaction.

Feste’s lips didn’t go lonely for long, they were soon met by those of Cesario, who decided it was a risk worth taking.

*

“Hey, Feste you’re in there?” asked a man, who knocked loudly and continuously on the door.

Feste and Cesario woke up in a start. They smiled at each other, both thinking of the earlier events, and would have turned back to just that if the guy on the other side of the door wasn’t so persistent. “What do you want?” Feste shouted annoyed, still refusing to get up from the bed.

“Your equipment’s here. Maria said you have to get it going.”

“Tell her I’ll be right there,” they said, finally standing up but looking confusedly from the door to Cesario, then taking their hand and pulling them out of bed: “You’re coming with me.” They left the room after a not so quick shower.

As the sun disappeared, leaving on the sky shades of red and purple, they saw Feste’s equipment waiting on the back porch, as far from the swimming pool as possible. The house had become busy with people coming and going in preparation for the party, and Feste looked pleased by the agitation, then turned to Cesario: “Can you call Orsino for me? I haven’t seen my phone in a while.”

Cesario patted their pockets, and felt a twinge of panic when they couldn’t find it. They immediately started retracing their steps in their mind, until they realized: “I left it home.”

“Alright, let’s get him in person.”

They took one of Toby’s bikes and made it to Cesario’s in no time. Orsino was in the living room, playing an fps game and shouting at his own character. “Hey, man, you have a minute?” Cesario asked.

Orsino paused his game. As he turned, he asked: “Where have you been all day?” Then he saw Feste and his voice became noticeably less cheerful. “Oh, hi, man.” And back to Cesario: “Your phone’s been buzzing all day,” he pointed to the coffee table.

They went for the phone while Feste told Orsino what was needed of him. Sebastian had send many landscape photos of canyons, waterfalls, endless fields of green seen from above, a hawk diving, and they were all breathtaking but none compared to the photo of sleeping man with the caption “I need to tell you about Antonio one of these days.”

“What about Antonio?” they texted back, knowing in their heart there was only one reason Sebastian would take a picture of a sleeping man.

“Are there naked people here?” Feste asked, one arm around Cesario’s shoulder, taking an intrusive look at the picture. “Oh!” they were disappointed. “Who’s that?”

Cesario laughed at their disappointment, they knew it was silly to feel so euphoric just because Feste had shown any interest in their life, but they were too happy to care. “I think my brother’s in love.”

“Is this your brother?”

“No, this is Sebastian,” they showed a picture.

“He looks like you.”

“We’re twins.” There was this uncomfortable feeling that was explained when they lifted their eyes from the screen to find Orsino staring at them with a strange look on his face. “What?”

“How come you tell Feste all about your brother, but never told me?”

Cesario exchanged a confused look with Feste who just shrugged. “Alright, ask me something.”

“What’s it like to have a twin?” Orsino asked.

Cesario sighed and rolled their eyes at that. Feste could read a lot in that facial expression, and started laughing, seeing just how tired of the same old question Cesario was. Orsino, on the other hand, looked expectantly at them. He wanted an answer to his unanswerable question, so Cesario made their best to keep a straight face when saying: “One is good and the other’s evil, of course.” And the face probably wasn’t too bad, because now Orsino looked confused.

Feste’s laugh broke the spell, letting Orsino know he was being mocked. He joined in laughing at himself. When he went to his bedroom to get his tool box, it occurred to Cesario: “How we’re gonna fit three people on a bike?”

“You have to go get dressed, right?” Cesario nodded, waiting for the idea. “I was thinking I’d leave you here to get ready, and come back for you later.”

“Oh! Okay,” Cesario agreed, a little disappointed, but able to see how it was probably more practical.

Feste studied their face. “You think I’m gonna forget to come back for you? I’m not that stupid, don’t worry.”

*

Three hours later, Cesario was fully ready, sitting on the living room couch, waiting for Feste, texting Orsino, but he wasn’t checking his phone. All they had as distraction were Sebastian’s texts, saying he was having a great time crossing the country with Antonio, the man he’d met his first night in the city, who had offered Sebastian a job assisting him with driving his truckload of explosives across the country. They were pretty sure the offer had more to do with Sebastian’s charisma than any skills he had. A week ago they had been a lot more worried about Sebastian’s decision than now. Not because their opinion about that shady business had changed, but because come to think of it, their brother enjoyed the thrill of danger just a little too much. He would’ve probably been working for Toby by now if he were here.

They made a video call for a while. Seeing his smirking face, and listening to his voice got them choked up. It felt like forever since they’d last hugged their brother or shared a laugh with him. He called them Cesario charging his voice with his discontent in calling them so. “It’s alright, there’s no one here,” they told him.

Being called Viola felt strange after so long, but it also felt right coming from Sebastian. He turned the phone so they could see Antonio driving. “Say hi to Viola,” he asked the driver. The man smiled and waved without taking his eyes from the road.

“Hey, Antonio, is my brother doing any work or is he only taking pictures?”

The man chuckled. “Two hundred selfies a day. They all look the same,” he teased, always looking at the road.

“He’s exaggerating,” Sebastian said in his own defense, bringing the camera back to him.

“Is he? I think it sounds about right.”

They could hear Antonio laughing. The conversation lasted until someone called Cesario outside, honking a horn, and they said goodbye to the guys. There was a guy outside on a bike wearing a neon vest which informed he transported people from the base to the top of the hill. “Are you Cesario? I’m taking you to Toby’s.”

They were slightly disappointed. “Feste told you to come?”

“Orsino,” he corrected.

Now they were more than slightly disappointed. Had Feste forgotten? Had they asked Orsino to get them a bike? They hoped so, but it was a flimsy hope. They knew so little about Feste, actually, and wanted to have a little faith in them, but instead Maria’s words kept coming back to them: “I know how easily your plans change,” she’d said, and now Cesario couldn’t stop thinking she was probably right.

The suspicion, however, was short lived. When they got there, the young man acted like Cesario paying for the service was an absurd idea, which they thought was weird but didn’t question. The house was full, brightly lit, and the music was loud. Cesario didn’t know most of them, but had seen many of those faces in the club the night before.

They went around the house, like earlier, and found Feste on the back porch, surrounded by their equipment and completely focused on it. When they saw Cesario standing there, a delighted smile took over their face, and threw their arms around them. “Thank goodness, you made it. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go get you. Things are going crazy here.”

As if to illustrate what Feste had just said, Andrew came out of the house with a plate in hand and passed it to the DJ. It wasn’t food. Feste pulled a metal straw from their pocket, and made a huge line. Cesario was uncomfortable seeing that, and even more when Feste tried to pass them the plate. It was no surprise when they laughed at the refusal, though they wished at least Feste wouldn’t be so persistent. But then they gave Andrew the plate back, and told Cesario: “I have something better for you.”

For a second they feared Feste was talking about drugs, but they produced a white havana hat with a black strap around it, which had been on top of a speaker, and placed it on Cesario’s head. “How do I look?” they asked, since there was no mirror.

“Like mothers will tell their daughters to stay away from you,” Feste winked.

Cesario had to laugh at that. They very much doubted it was true, but they were flattered anyway. And that only made them think how unreasonable it was that Feste could make them so giddy, and how great it was that someone could do that with so little effort. Just being around them made everything better. They didn’t even pay attention to the party, it wasn’t important. Sometimes they were handed food and drinks, sometimes recreational drugs. Feste refused the first, Cesario the latter, and they both drank most of what was served.

After a while, Maria stopped by to remind Feste of Toby’s speech after the fireworks. She then got Cesario talking about their life like a good hostess, and ended up pulling them from Feste saying: “You shouldn’t be stuck here all night just because he is. Come have a drink with me at least.”

Feste smiled like they knew something Cesario didn’t, and waved goodbye. Maria had a guiding hand on their shoulder, and said hello to someone every few steps they took. She asked how they’d met Feste, and when she found out where they lived she said: “Good for you, I really like those boys. They’re nothing like the ones I’ve got around here, all slackers.” She sighed, then she laughed. “But you can’t choose who you love, you know what I mean?”

“No, you can’t,” Cesario agreed, as they walked with Maria past groups of dancing people around the swimming pool, which was lit up in green and full of people, some dressed, some topless.

“I think they’re having a good time, what do you think?” Maria said after taking a look around.

“I think so. It’s a great party. Just look at them, they’re having a great time,” Cesario pointed at a group who’d made a circle and took turns doing dance steps in the middle.

“Yeah, it’s going pretty well,” Maria agreed with a pleased smile on her face.

The outdoors kitchen was now a buffet and open bar. Maria walked Cesario through it, telling them to help themself to whatever they liked. Cesario had been served things to eat when they were with Feste, and hadn’t given it a second thought, but now he looked at all that food in the same place and realized it was the exact kind of food you eat in kid’s parties, half of it was candy. “This is heaven!”

“I’m glad you like it,” she laughed. “If it was up to Toby they’d still be burning those steaks.”

Cesario got closer and had a good laugh seeing there were rolled up joints on the table alongside with the candy. They decided it was a good mix, and took one as well as some sweets, placing it behind the ear like the rest of the boys. Maria offered them a drink, and showed them the options. She had whisky with ice, Cesario a beer. They said “cheers”, and sipped their drinks.

Maria was in that spot for about a minute before some guy with the same plate as earlier found her. She pulled a pink, plastic straw out of her bra, did a line, and offered Cesario. Unlike Feste and Andrew, she was very graceful about the refusal, and just passed it on to someone else. She finished her drink, placed a hand on Cesario’s shoulder, and spoke close to their ear: “I think you and Feste look cute together.”

“Thanks,” they said, not even noticing their giggling.

“Now all we need is find someone for Andrew,” she said shaking her head, implying it was a hard task. “You need another drink?” Cesario shook their head. “I have to check on those fireworks, excuse me.”

Cesario just stood there for a second, looking around, appreciating the scenery. That’s how they spotted Orsino sitting alone on low, wide brick wall where the terrain sloped, smoking and watching the party. As they approached, he smiled and waved. “Why you’re sitting here by yourself?”

“I’m enjoying the view,” he pointed to the party.

“It’s a pretty good view,” Cesario said, sitting on the wall too.

“So… you and Feste?”

“Yeah,” they confirmed, staring at their own feet.

“I didn’t think he meant it when he was hitting on you,” he said, shaking his head. “Well, you’re a big upgrade for him, that’s for sure.”

“Upgrade?” Cesario didn’t like the sound of that.

“I’ve never seen him with a likable person before,” he shrugged.

Before they could decide if they should ask about it, they heard an explosion. Cesario looked around, startled, trying to find out what was going on, and saw everyone looking and pointing up. Golden fireworks lit the sky, followed by green, red, silver, and blue. They laughed their fear away, allowing themself to be seduced by the sight. The first ones hadn’t completely faded when new lights bloomed in different colors leaving loud cracks behind.

All around them people laughed, applauded, and howled at the sky in reaction to the fireworks. Orsino was one of the howlers, Cesario noticed. It was an exciting thing to be part of, and ended all too soon. “I love fireworks, don’t you?” said Orsino, smiling like a little boy.

“It’s beautiful! I wish there was more.”

“Me too,” he said, looking at Cesario in a way they didn’t understand, and then his hand came towards their face, and touched their ear, it was less than a second but their whole body went rigid. “Can we fire this one up?” He held the joint Cesario had placed behind their ear.

They laughed, relieved. For a second they’d thought Orsino meant to kiss them. “Sure, but I don’t have a lighter.”

“That’s not a problem,” he said, pulling one from his pocket.

The music was turned down and Toby’s voice was enhanced, thanking all for coming, wishing they were having a good time. Everyone cheered. “As you all know, last night the cops shut down the party in our club just because they felt like it.”The crowd booed, and Toby waited for it to die down before he went on: “I think everyone saw how it went with Feste.” He gave the crowd a moment to laugh. “But they fined our good friend Fabian, who owns the club. And we need our club, right?” They cheered. “So everybody has to do their part. And this is what we’re gonna do: you guys buy weed this week, and I’m using that money to reopen our club.” They cheered even harder. “Now that you know the deal, get the word out, tell your friends it’s for a good cause. And fuck the police,” he finished.

People were howling and applauding even harder than at the fireworks, they whistled and chanted “Toby,” shaking his hand, and patting him on the back as he passed them, making his way to the bottles.

When they finished smoking, Orsino laid back on top of the wall they sat on, resting his head on Cesario’s thigh. “This is the best party I’ve been to in a long time. Thanks for keeping me company.”

“No problem,” said Cesario, looking for a place to rest their hand that wasn’t Orsino. “Where are the guys, anyway?”

“Curio’s working, and Valentine will find himself very single if he comes to a party like this.” Cesario laughed, shaking their head. “So it’s just the two of us.”

They didn’t like the way Orsino’s words stirred something inside them, something they couldn’t afford to dwell on right now. “I’m hungry,” they said, “let’s get some of that candy.”

He laughed, and sat up. “Let’s go.”

They feasted on gummy, marshmallows, and chocolate, but Cesario almost couldn’t contain their laugh at Orsino with a lollipop in his mouth, it only wasn’t funnier because there were others doing the same. He didn’t notice their smile, though. He stared at the topless girls in the swimming pool, taking small steps in that direction.

“Why don’t you join them?” Cesario teased.

“What for?” he crossed his arms uncomfortably.

“I think you know.”

“I don’t want a girl everyone else has already banged,” he shrugged.

Cesario rolled their eyes impatiently. “So you’re looking for a girl who can’t tell if you’re not good?”

Orsino looked really offended for a second, but hid it in his frown. “I don’t want to think about all the guys she’s been with before me.”

“So you think about guys when you’re with a girl?” Cesario teased, unable to resist.

“You’re just trying to piss me off, aren’t you?” His tough guy attitude ruined by the lollipop in his mouth.

Cesario smiled, satisfied they’d managed to annoy him as much as his words had them. They didn’t say anything, just kept that pleased smile on their face, watching the mix of anger, doubt, and embarrassment his face was unable to conceal. The staring contest was lost by Orsino, who shook his head, and went to get a beer.

He didn’t come back. He approached a group and started talking to those people, ignoring Cesario, left alone, looking for something else to do. They went back to Feste, feeling slightly guilty for what they’d said, but not that much because his words deserved a nasty answer. Feste laughed so hard at the story, there were tears in their eyes by the end. As a conclusion they said: “Someone had to tell him sooner or later, it’s taking too long for him to figure out on his own.”

Cesario had only meant to annoy Orsino a little, but Feste’s words made them realize there really was something pretty suspicious about his behavior, and now they felt really guilty about what they’d said. Despite Feste’s conclusion, if there was a closet he needed to come out of, it could only happen in his own time.

“How about I leave a playlist here, and we sneak out?” Feste suggested. Cesario just smile and followed them into the bedroom.

Chapter Text

Sunday was a short day. Cesario woke up in Feste’s bed, listening to them singing in the shower. It was late, they saw on the phone. Sebastian had sent them a picture of a disgusting poem about backsplashes written on a bathroom stall, and the caption: “So much wisdom where you least expect.”

Cesario laughed more at Sebastian’s sense of humor than the poem itself. And since Feste was leaving the bathroom at that exact moment, they shared the “wisdom” with them, and the laughs that followed. They forgot about the phone quickly, and found a better way to have fun in bed together. It was only interrupted by hunger. Feste went out in a mission to hoard the party’s leftovers, and Cesario took that time to have a shower.

Their clothes were crumpled on the floor, dirty and sweaty, so they took the liberty of borrowing some of Feste’s. All their t-shirts were really tight so there was no avoiding the sweaty binder. They were also both surprised and relieved Feste owned a few pair of ordinary boy shorts, sure the pattern was flowery, but men wore flowery shorts around there, so it should be no big deal.

Since Feste didn’t return from their mission, Cesario left the room and went looking for them. They were in the kitchen, talking to Maria about the success last night had been. “Good morning,” they said, but then remembered how late it was. “I mean, good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon,” Maria replied, looking at Cesario in a mix of surprise and approval. “Look who’s still here. Is Feste being a good host?”

“Sorry, I was coming right back,” Feste said before Cesario had the chance to say anything. Then they took a closer look, and said: “I’d never wear those shorts with that t-shirt.”

“Do I look weird?” Cesario asked, looking down, trying to see what was wrong.

“Quit it, Feste!” said Maria impatiently. “You look fine,” she assured, “he’s only saying that because he doesn’t like looking like a boy.”

“Oh, okay, then,” Cesario shrugged in relief.

The microwave beeped, and Feste served them with reheated pizza, which according to Maria they had forgotten about at some point last night, so there was still a lot of food untouched in their original containers. It wasn’t a healthy breakfast, but it sure was tasty. Maria also volunteered the information that Toby’s charity project was going really well, she expected their goal to be reached by wednesday.

They ate together in the kitchen, and to make it better Feste got the acoustic guitar in the studio, and played a few songs. Then they passed it on to Cesario, saying it was their turn. They had no objections to that, and helped making that good moment last a little longer.

Finally, Maria decided she was going to take a nap, leaving them alone. Cesario and Feste went back to the bedroom, but not for a nap. They eventually took one, however, and it was dark when they woke up.

Feste took them home and stayed for a while, hanging out with the rest of the guys, who were playing fighting games against each other. Cesario thought about asking Feste to spend the night, but didn’t go through with it: they didn’t even have a proper bed to share, only a narrow mattress thrown over some pallets which were already there when they rented the room. The rest of the guys would probably be uncomfortable, too, since they never brought their dates home, but that was more of a secondary problem, one they might not have considered if they had a good enough bedroom to offer. So they said good night to Feste much earlier than they wanted to.

“Can I come see you tomorrow night?” Feste asked after kissing them outside like it was no big deal.

“Of course,” Cesario said, already excited about it but still looking everywhere to make sure they weren’t displaying affection too publicly.

Feste noticed what they were worried about, and assured: “It’s okay, I told you, Toby and Maria have adopted me, I could kiss you in the middle of the street and they’d still have to suck it up. I’m their fucking princess.”

Cesario laughed. “Maybe you are, but I’m just a lowly commoner, whose teeth Tie-dye’s gonna break if I smile too much.”

“You’re serious? I’ll have that creep in a ditch if he said that to you.”

They’d never seen Feste angry before, and the change so intense, they got scared for Tie-dye. “No, he never said that,” they cleared up in haste. “It’s a joke.” Feste gave them a sideways glance, like they weren’t sure. “I swear, he just looked at me funny, it was Curio who told me to stop smiling at him.”

Feste laughed. They kissed again and Cesario went back inside. They were greeted by a sarcastic chorus of “ooh,” made by Curio and Valentine in their girliest voices. “Cesario loves Feste,” they sang like little kids.

“Grow up,” they said, too content to actually care.

“Man, I have to stop working saturday nights,” Curio complained to no one in particular. “All the action went down last night!”

“You can’t be that surprised Feste wasted no time marking his territory,” Valentine said, shaking his head. Cesario was slightly worried about those words, but they didn’t have the time to form a question.

“No!” said Curio. “I’m talking about what’s her name.” He turned to Orsino: “What is her name, bro?” Valentine looked interested, so Cesario knew they weren’t the only one. “I swear it was the twerk queen in person, here, in this shitty living room, and guess whose bedroom she came out of?” The answer was obvious, he was already looking at Orsino, who simply stood up and left. “You!” Curio shouted at Orsino, as he left. “You’re my new hero!”

“Twerk queen? Really?” Valentine looked confused. “I’d never shut up about it! What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know,” Curio shrugged. “It’s Orsino, he’s probably planned his whole life with Twerk Queen by now.”

“We’ll have to pay to get stuff fixed if he moves out,” Valentine said, sounding worried. A second later both he and Curio were laughing at that.

Cesario realized they weren’t actually a part of that conversation and left. They knew they had better things to worry about when their head hit the pillow, but they couldn’t get rid of the feeling Orsino’s hook up was an attempt to prove something. And that was all the fuel their overactive brain needed to start picturing events in their head they didn’t want to think about. Thinking they may have contributed to such events, made it even worse.

What’s wrong with me, they wondered. What did they care who Orsino shared his bed with? But they did, and hated it. Why their feelings for Feste didn’t overcome their pointless crush on Orsino? But frustration didn’t change how they felt, except for making it harder to fall asleep.

*

Olivia entered the classroom a few minutes early and started a conversation with Cesario. Since it was in French, they encouraged it, even though she was asking about their weekend and being very informal about it. Actually, Cesario felt really funny being addressed formally by students who were clearly older than them. They told her about going to parties and meeting new people without getting into details, then looked at her like it was a challenge and asked about her weekend. She did struggle with vocabulary, but her grammar was nearly beyond reproach, which unfortunately wasn’t the rule for Cesario’s students.

Olivia talked about going out for drinks with her college friends and being so bored she decided to stay home, studying and watching movies for the rest of the weekend. She talked about rewatching her favorites instead of going for something new. When she said she couldn’t make herself watch L'enfant Sauvage again because it was so sad, Cesario just spoke without thinking: “One of my friends thought it was like The Jungle Book when he decided to watch it. Oh, was he disappointed!” Olivia had a good laugh at that, and the few students who had arrived by now looked envious at her ability to laugh at something in French when they still struggled with every sentence.

Class started and Cesario realized Orsino had never paid them to find out Olivia’s favorite food, but it was now part of their class plan, so they went along with it. Her favorite food didn’t have a french name, and she enjoyed practicing, so she took some time describing the food, even though everyone knew what she was talking about. Her classmates didn’t resent her for it, on the contrary, the more she spoke the less they would have to.

After class, Olivia stayed behind and told Cesario she had something for them. Those words made them immediately worried, and they studied Olivia’s movements very carefully. She went for her backpack and produced a plastic container. She opened it and a mouthwatering smell hit Cesario. “Food in that snack bar downstairs is terrible,” she said. “You deserve better. Go ahead,” she encouraged, holding the container in an offer. Cesario took a sandwich wrapped in a paper napkin, wondering how something so simple could smell so good. “Do you mind if I eat here with you?” she asked, helping herself to the other sandwich.

Cesario had learned by now that the “no eating in the classroom” rule wasn’t reinforced, and really meant “clean after yourself,” that was not what worried them. The idea it might encourage Olivia’s possible teacher crush was more complicated. Even more because they knew too well how better they used to do on a subject when they had any kind of crush on the teacher. Also, in hindsight, half the time the crush was more on the subject, and the actual person behind the teacher figure didn’t matter at all.

Because of their doubts, they kept a polite distance the whole time. Olivia telling how she had seasoned the roasted beef in their sandwiches, Cesario nodding, and wondering what nut meg was. “I heard someone calling you miss Cesario,” Olivia commented.

They thought they knew what she was trying to ask. “Miss, mister, I hate them equally,” they confessed. “Make me feel so old.”

Olivia chuckled. “Sure, but I was wondering, what’s your first name?”

“Viola,” they said, deciding it was no big deal, but adding: “but it’s Cesario in class, alright?”

“Alright,” she agreed like it made no difference for her. Then she said to herself: “Viola.” And to her teacher: “Like a guitar?”

They laughed. People’s usual response was some variation of “so you’re a girl,” Olivia was the first person ever to apply non-binary logic to their first name. They nodded, pretending Olivia’s guess was right, when most likely mom and dad had a flower in mind when they chose the name.

It was a small moment of epiphany, because they had for so long felt like that name was too feminine, and along came Olivia reminding them people didn’t all picture the same thing when one says Viola. And much like a misguided teacher crush, the love for that realization borrowed Olivia’s form in Viola’s mind. It wasn’t instantaneous, but when their mind was idle, commuting back home, Olivia crossed it, and the idea of her was more comforting than it was supposed to.

As they started the walk home, however, Feste’s promise to come visit when they got back from work became more and more urgent to them. Surveillance greeted them politely, saying “good evening, Cesario,” which they responded to accordingly but didn’t even take a second to think how “good evening” was an excessive amount of manners coming from those guys, who usually reserved manners for old ladies. All they could think about was their memories of the day before with Feste.

They ran straight to the shower, hoping Feste wouldn’t take long. They tried to be patient, when they were done getting dressed but still had no news from Feste. They sat in the living room, where Orsino was watching some superhero movie and having pasta. Cesario wasn’t surprised this time when Orsino offered them food, but still was grateful. They sat, eating, delighting in Orsino’s homemade sauce, when they noticed the movie, and tried to have with Orsino a conversation they usually had with Sebastian: “I know Thor is objectively hotter, but I’m not sure I’d choose him over Loki.”

“Loki’s a shapeshifter, everybody wants to tap shapeshifting ass.”

Cesario laughed. “Shapeshifting is the best power.”

“No way. Mind control. Think of the possibilities.”

“I’d use it to get free stuff,” they said, ignoring the creepy possibilities the best they could.

“Sure, that too,” Orsino laughed.

Cesario decided not to say anything about it. “Do you have Feste’s number?” they asked Orsino when the movie was over.

“I have a number but Feste can’t keep a phone, I doubt this is still his.” It wasn’t. There was some silence after that, which Orsino ended up breaking with a suggestion: “I could call a bike to take you there.”

But they didn’t think it was a good idea. If Feste didn’t keep their promise, they either couldn’t or didn’t want to, in both cases it was no use forcing their presence on them. His words however reminded them of a question they hadn’t asked Orsino yet: “Why did you send a bike for me saturday night?”

“Because you needed to get there?” Orsino both sounded and looked very defensive saying that.

“I did. But why you? Why not Feste?” they said, breaking, unable to keep faking cool. “They don’t care, do they?”

“Whoa!” Orsino was surprised, perhaps even worried. “Are we reversing roles?” he played the part uncomfortably. “Are you the one with no chill now? I suck at cool.” Cesario wanted to laugh at that one, but not right now. “I called that bike because I knew I stole your ride. You want my guess why I did it before Feste?” he gave them no time to speak. “Because I finished my part first, that’s all.”

“I’m not so sure they’d have remembered me if I didn’t show up.”

They wanted reassurance, but Orsino just stared at his feet for a while. Cesario was beginning to withdraw into their own darkness when he said: “You don’t set time and date with Feste, he just shows up in ungodly hours to make a mess. He’ll turn up sooner or later, with a weird story that’s probably true. It’s what he does, it has nothing to do with you.”

“Sure,” Cesario said bitterly, going to the bedroom.

They had no news from Feste that night, and no energy to reply to Sebastian. They tossed in bed miserably for a while, then finally fell asleep.

*

Tuesday went by in a blur, but as soon as they got home, Orsino announced: “He’s here, let’s go.”

“What’s going on?” Cesario asked, looking at the guys in the living room.

Orsino was standing there looking anxious, urging the others to leave the couch. “We’re having a Death Wish burger,” he announced.

Cesario had seen the ads for the burger and it was good not to be completely ignorant about local stuff for once. It was a ridiculously tall burger with layers and layers of unhealthy food. “You know you’re probably going to die, right? You can’t even sue, it’s right there on the name,” Cesario said, trying to sound interested, but unable to share his excitement.

“I don’t think you understand, we’re all eating a Death Wish burger tonight,” he said in an epic voice, “you’re dying with the rest of us, you ready?”

“I can’t, I’m broke,” they said, turning to the bedroom.

“I didn’t ask if you have money, I asked if you’re ready.”

Cesario’s stomach was convinced. The rest of their being didn’t really want to carry itself through it, but no matter how long you ignore it, the stomach always wins in the end. So they followed the guys down the alley, to the burger place a few blocks away.

It took them a while to be affected by their friends’ much better mood. At first they only felt tired and wondered if coming along was a mistake, but the guys’ silly stories were funny enough to make them feel better, even if still far from well. When they were served one giant burger, Cesario’s stomach rumbled in anticipation. They took pictures and counted the layers of beef, cheese, bacon,sliced sausages, onion rings, french fries, tomato slices, chicken, and fried eggs.

“It’s so disgusting!” said Valentine shaking his head.

“I know!” Curio agreed, but his eyes were shining and he smiled like a little boy.

“I think we can die for real if we eat that,” Orsino looked doubtful.

“I’ll eat it,” Cesario volunteered.

“Not so fast,” said Curio.

“We’re all eating,” Orsino reminded them.

It really was a job for four, but they all felt like they had slain a dragon together, celebrating their victory on the way home. Now Cesario was glad they’d come along. Later, they regretted eating so much crap, when they had a stomach ache that disturbed their sleep several times, which was still better than whoever kept running to the bathroom all night.

*

Orsino was standing in the kitchen, a mug on his hand, and a look of discontent on his face. “Hey, did you get sick too?” he asked.

“Just a stomach ache,” they moaned tiredly. “You?”

“Big stomach ache,” he said before taking a big gulp from his mug. “You want some?”

Cesario noticed there was no coffee smell in the air. “What’s that?”

“You know that thorny bush by the entrance?” he poured them some. “That’s medicine.”

“How do you know it’s the right one?” they asked, but didn’t wait for an answer and started drinking.

“I know it’s right for me because grandma was never wrong.” Cesario couldn’t tell if he was serious, but Orsino added this: “There’s only one way to find out if it’s right for you.”

Cesario was less than reassured by his words, but it turned out it was the right medicine for them as well. It worried them for the next half hour. But they got a text from Orsino on their way to work saying he was better, and asking if it had worked on them. Only then, they noticed it had.

“I cured you,” he texted. “What’s Olivia’s favorite food? Find out in return.”

Cesario wondered if he knew the word please. It looked like he didn’t. “So you poison me, give the cure, and now I owe you?”

“I paid for that damn poison. It should count for something.”

“Why don’t you cook for Twerk Queen?”

“Me and her is like you and Tie-dye.”

“That’s Curio’s bullshit.”

“Exactly.”

They texted Orsino all they could remember from Olivia’s detailed description, and got an answer that gave them something to believe in for the rest of the day: “That’s what we’re having for dinner.”

*

Olivia stayed after class again, this time to make sure she understood her homework. She didn’t really have any doubts, but she didn’t play dumb either, she confirmed what she already knew and that was it. But she wasn’t finished. “I brought you some of the chocolate brownie I made last night.” She placed it on the desk. “This is one of my good containers, don’t lose it,” she warned.

Cesario had never heard those words from a young person before, so they laughed. “I’ll give it back next monday,” they promised. “By the way, my friend’s making baozi tonight, what was the one you told me about, again?”

“Egg yolks and vegetables,” she said, but it was something else that caught her attention: “Do you live with your friend?” she put a lot of stress on that last word.

“It’s actually four of us. All I can afford in the city, unfortunately.”

“Oh, right. See you monday, then. Unless I see you saturday at the Elephant.” She didn’t wait for an answer.

*

As soon as they walked in, they heard Orsino’s angry voice coming from the kitchen. “Son of a bitch! No!” They ran and found him by the sink, holding a piece of dough in his hand from which yellow liquid oozed. The kitchen was a mess, dirty pots and containers piled up, egg shells on the floor, spilled flour on the counter, and the fridge door open.

“What’s going on?” they asked, fixing the latter problem.

Orsino stared at them with desperate wide eyes for a whole, very uncomfortable, second before saying: “These eggs are trying to fuck with me, and I’m not gonna let them.”

“Okay,” they said, stepping back. The look in his eyes was just too intense for their liking. They retreated to the bedroom.

A few minutes later, Orsino knocked on the door and came in looking defeated. “They keep breaking, I can’t do this.”

“It’s alright, you can take a break and try again,” they said, using the words their favorite teacher had told them countless times. They got the guitar, and started warming up: “Have a seat. And sing along, it helps.” They did it as joke, and Orsino only recognized it when they sang the chorus: “Always look on the bright side of life.” And that was all it took: he was laughing.

“The others are really good,” he said when the song was over. “Except for the ones she likes. But you like pork, right? Tell me what you think,” he beckoned them back to the kitchen.

Cesario was yet to try food cooked by him that they didn’t like. If he could make eggplant taste good, there was no way he could screw up pork or dough. And that raised the question: “What’s so difficult about the other one?”

“The egg yolks, I keep breaking or dropping them, a real mess.”

Cesario had noticed the mess, it was hard not to. But it was even harder not to see the amount of effort he put in the recipe. “I think you have to admit it was huge success for a first time.” Orsino frowned and pouted, unable to see it that way. “I have chocolate brownie, want some?”

They went back for the container in the backpack and brought it to the kitchen, where they cut the piece in half. After one byte, Orsino said: “Mine’s better,” then he proceeded to eat the rest of it. “Was this from a student? Like ‘I got you this apple, mr C.’” Cesario laughed. “Do they do that?”

“I get gum, sometimes chocolate. The day I get an apple, I’ll be surprised.”

Orsino nodded. He examined the empty container, and said: “You have to give this back.”

Cesario laughed and brought their hands to their face. “It’s Olivia’s,” they told him.

He looked confused at first, then he smiled. “I guess I’ll have to send her something, what do you think? ”

“Is your brownie really better than hers? You could make a competition. I’ll be the judge.”

“I’ll think about it,” Orsino said between his chuckles.

Their moment of peace was disturbed by knocks on the front door. “Cesario?” Feste called.

Chapter Text

Feste stood on the doorstep, and their grin widened upon seeing who answered. Their arms encircled Cesario’s neck before they said anything. They didn’t return the hug. Still Feste went in for a quick kiss, which sent a thrill through Cesario that worked much against their resolve to stay angry. “It’s so good to see you,” they said, letting go.

“You’re two days late,” Cesario accused.

Feste laughed. “I wanna tell you what happened.” They looked excited about the story: their grin widening the more they spoke, and their eyes sparkling. “It was crazy! Great story too: a funeral, a dwarf, a brothel, and a business offer.”

“Did you just say brothel?”

“Oh, sorry, I mean ‘nightclub,’” you could hear the air quotes, “gotta keep on the safe side, right?” Cesario stared at them, and considered just leaving. “What? I was singing.”

“In a whore house?” They would’ve left, but now they wanted the story. How could they not, when the set up was so absurd?

“I didn’t just up and decided ‘what’s the weirdest way I can finish my night?’ No. Let me tell you what happened.” Cesario crossed their arms and kept staring at Feste with one eyebrow raised. “So, monday afternoon I got my guitar and went to the bar, to start fresh, you know. So I sat there and had a beer, and I was playing some, when my friend Nick walks in. You have to meet Nick, he’s an actor, hilarious, just not on stage. Oh, yeah, the story. So Nick and I decide to visit old Robin. Now, he was our teacher, me and Nick’s, but not a school teacher, he taught us music, and how to drink. We get to his usual bar, and there are all those old men there. Old Robin’s pretty old himself, but he’s usually surrounded by people like me and Nick, you know, his fans. And more and more old men were arriving. It turns out Bandolin Mike died monday morning. Ever heard of Bandolin Mike?” They nodded. “So me and Nick are the only people below seventy around, and all those old guys played with Bandolin Mike at some point, and they’re all telling stories about him and his songs, and then they started playing. Man, it was awesome! Very educational too. The ones who still play can’t play more than two songs without painkillers, but the quality of the two songs is something else. But they can’t sing anymore, not one of them. So that’s what Nick and I did the whole night.”

“Is this Bandolin Mike the one I’m thinking?” Cesario had to ask.

“Seventies, early eighties musician? That’s the one. I met him once as kid, but I had no idea. He said ‘let’s see what that no good’s teaching you,’ he meant Robin. I think he liked it, he didn’t say anything to me, but he turned to Robin and said ‘you’re lucky he’s good, cause you’re a terrible teacher.’” They laughed fondly at the memory.

“So Robin Goodfellow was your teacher?” Cesario put the pieces together. “That man’s a legend!”

“He’s always gonna be my teacher. I used to sit in the corner, busting my fingers on my old guitar and he’d give me pointers on his way to the bar, and promise he would play with me tomorrow on his way back. Then he got me to sit with him in the bar, and I practiced while he drank, you can figure out the rest.”

“I don’t think I have enough imagination. So you were drinking with the gods of yore, what happened?”

“We went to Bandolin Mike’s funeral the next afternoon, and you wouldn’t believe the kind of people who showed up. So all these famous performers Robin used to play for invited him for drinks, and he says ‘I’m taking my bodyguards with me,’ so we get in some car, and they drive us to this fancy place that turns out to be Bandolin Mike’s favorite ‘nightclub,’” they gave a lot of emphasis to the last word. “And now the dwarf enters the story,” they announced it like a great feature.

Cesario sighed, shook their head, and sat on the step waiting for the rest of the tale. They just wanted to be angry at Feste, but that absurd story had their curiosity by now, and they wanted to hear the end of it. “So you’re telling me about the time you were in a brothel with a dwarf?”

“A dwarf named Scarlet,” Feste added, sitting next to them. “He was shaking hands with the famous people, then he asked me ‘and who are you?’ and Robin goes ‘that’s my son and heir,’ I swear to god he said that! So Scarlet tells me to show what I can do, and it was just me and this shitty guitar, but you bet your ass I rocked. And now those guys want to buy me drinks and talk to me. So now I have this party invitation slash job interview friday night, and a dj gig saturday night in a rich kids club, pretty great, huh?”

“I thought it was just you and your guitar? When did dj come up?”

“Like I said, we got to talk for a while, I showed them my music. Who would’ve thought funerals were so great for networking?” Cesario chuckled. “Then Scarlet turns to me and says ‘you look familiar, is this you?’ It was my video, the one Curio shot? Famous people have seen my video. All those sempais were noticing me!” Cesario laughed. “Then Nick got in his head we had to see the sunrise on the beach, and no matter how many times Robin said you can’t force that on an elderly citizen, guess what we ended up doing? Yeah. In the end, we left Robin in the same bar stool we found him to begin with, and that was that.”

“Am I supposed to believe that?”

Feste shrugged. “That’s up to you. I promise you I’m not lying. I’d never tell a lie this convoluted and involve so many people in it.”

“You’re telling me I should know you’re not lying because you’re a good liar?”

“It’s a good story but a little too much effort for a lie,” they shrugged. “Lies are supposed to be simpler than the truth.”

“The truth is it’s getting late and I wake up early tomorrow,” Cesario told them, but didn’t move.

“True. But it’s also true you stayed and listened to my story.”

“So?”

“So you must be at least a little happy to see me too.”

“Maybe a little, but now I have to go,” they stood up.

“Please.” Feste got to their feet, and held them by the arm. They didn’t say anything else, but kissed Cesario with persuasion, holding them against the closed door, pressing their bodies together, making it last just in case it wasn’t as convincing an argument as they wished.

Everything else in Cesario’s mind became unimportant in comparison to the passionate desire the kiss awakened. They pulled Feste even closer, kissed them even more deeply, and had to admit they wanted more. “Come,” they said, dragging Feste to the bedroom.

*

They spent the day regretting their lack of will. They should’ve made Feste feel sorry for ditching them, instead of listening to baser desires. And of course Feste left in the middle of the night. Their guitar stayed behind, as a reminder.

They wished Feste would come again tonight, preferably earlier, but they remembered Orsino saying they showed up in ungodly hours to make a mess. But the mess was made. Realistically, there wasn’t a good chance they’d see Feste that soon, but they couldn’t fight the persistent hope that kept coming to mind. Cesario was sure hope would set them up for disappointment, which could only make things worse. Reason was no match for hope, however.

“Cesario!” the surveillance guys shouted a lot louder than usual. “Cesario’s here!”

“Hey, guys, what’s up?” they waved.

“Too much traffic?” Monkey asked, and the others laughed at his question.

“I don’t know, I take the subway,” they said, wondering where this small talk was coming from.

“Oh, alright. Have fun,” he said, going back to watching.

Cesario shrugged it off, and made the climb. Halfway through they stopped at the weird sight of a bunch of children standing in two lines, and they’d have to pass between those lines. They looked up, and saw that Feste was their leader. All those eager smiles were obviously up to something.

Cesario took the next steps carefully, then noticed something all the kids had in their hands. Squirt guns. “Don’t!” they warned.

“Now!” Feste shouted.

Cesario flinched but nothing splashed. They looked, and found themself surrounded by soap bubbles. The kids kept shooting bubbles from their plastic guns, laughing and marveling at the atmosphere they had created. That’s how Feste approached them, surrounded by bubbles and minions. “Ready for our date?” And to the children: “Good job, guys! Now get the hell out of here.”

“What date?” Cesario questioned.

“The one you agreed to before I left last night?”

“You sneaked out!” they reminded Feste.

“Were you sleeping? You said yes, your eyes were open.”

“How am I supposed to remember what I said in my sleep?”

“How am I supposed to know you’re asleep when your eyes are open?” They both laughed at their lack of an answer. “So? What will it be?”

“I don’t know, but whatever you have in mind, I think I need a shower first.”

“I can wait,” Feste said, accompanying them into the house.

*

They had dinner in a restaurant surrounded by woods, on the top of a hill, where they saw the city lights from above. Feste called the staff by their first names, and waved at a pair of musicians playing the flute and guitar on a stage no one would look at on account of the wide windows showing the great view the place was known for. Feste would point at the view and say which parts of the city they were looking at. Cesario had to believe them, their sense of direction wasn’t so good they could tell for themself where they were.

Of course Feste wouldn’t call it night so simply. They drove to an old, well-preserved mansion, which stood behind an iron spike fence that extended around most of the quarter. Several other cars were parked there and the gate was open.

The first floor was one wide room, furnished with the antiques one might expect from a building with that design. The old-fashioned armchairs were turned to a stage where a comedian played a funny character. “Is this a comedy show?” Cesario asked as they both settled on the same cushioned, wooden armchair.

“More like an open mic night,” Feste corrected.

Cesario took a quick look around. It was a little dark, most lights pointing to the stage, but they could see where the smell of smoke was coming from, the apparently floating embers throwing more shadow than light on the smokers faces. What they knew of Feste, including last night’s story, and now this place, made Cesario conclude Feste had a preference for places where ignoring the law was the law.

When the character was done, someone else took to the stage and recited a poem. After that there was music. Cesario shouldn’t be surprised Feste didn’t simply watch what went on a stage, they had to be part of it. So of course Feste got on the stage and offered them a sad song that would’ve made Cesario cry if it lasted any longer. Then they turned to the audience and said: “Too sad, right? Well, if Cesario will join me up here, we’ll play something happier. Cesario?” They just waved their finger, saying no. “Come on, these good people deserve a song to give them back the will to live the first one took away.” Some people laughed. “Stop pretending you’re shy, and give me a hand, maybe two.”

They gave in, and joined Feste, who handed them a guitar and told them to play My Baby Just Cares for Me, which they had played at some point during the weekend but Cesario didn’t think it counted as a rehearsal. But it was good enough for Feste, who balanced their lack of practice with dancing, so the audience was distracted. When they were over, people applauded. And while the singer loved it, Cesario suspected it was more directed at Feste’s dancing than their music.

They didn’t stick around much longer after that. There was a hotel room waiting for them, so that’s where they headed to. Cesario put down the backpack they’d been instructed to pack, since they weren’t going back home tonight. Feste kicked off their shoes, and said: “Before anything happens, there’s one thing I just have to do.”

Cesario looked at them in curiosity, wondering what it was. Feste ran to the bed, jumped on to it, they somersaulted in the air landed on their feet, and kept bouncing up and down. “Does it pass the test?” they asked while undressing.

“You should try,” Feste suggested, still going up and down, now taking their top off and tossing it. When they made it to the bed, however, Feste already had something different in mind.

*

Cesario was tired but happy all day friday. They didn’t get much sleep, but what did it matter when much better stuff was happening? The lingering effect of the previous night’s was enough to get them through work with a smile on their face. A smile that was commented on by their co-workers because it was so persistent. They didn’t reveal the story behind it, but didn’t deny when one of them suggested it looked like they’d had a great night.

Feste wanted Cesario to go with them to the party/job interview they’d been invited to. According to them, that was the way for suburban musicians: they held parties in their backyards where the guests played and sang, and invited more musicians. “It’s like a Gatsby kind of thing, just not great,” they said.

Feste was right about the kind of party they went to. There was no one at the gate, they just let themselves in, certain it was the right place because of the music. They went around the house to the backyard, which was one huge outdoors kitchen made for barbecues, in the center of which there was table for twenty people, all of them singing and playing various string or drums instruments, around that bigger table, smaller ones were spreaded, fitting four or five each. Beyond the canopy of wooden columns and maroon roof tiles, there was a lawn and then a swimming pool, around the property walls, tall fruit trees stood, making for a private little world the neighbors couldn’t peek at, though they probably could hear it more clearly than they cared for.

The host sat at the head of the big table, and sang with his guests. He waved to Feste and Cesario when they arrived but didn’t bother with them any further. He was a mainstream folk singer, Cesario recognized and was impressed. The guests around him, by the big table, weren’t as famous, but anyone who loved music would know them at least by name. Feste pointed them out and named them, making Cesario more and more impressed.

A man waved Feste to his table, where only two people sat, with two more chairs available. Feste shook the man’s hand, greeting him like an old friend. He introduced the man sitting by him as his “good friend,” and even before that Cesario had the feeling they were a couple. To make things even more interesting, Feste said: “This is my good friend, Cesario.” Emphasis on “my.”

The man who waved Feste called himself Dodo, his partner was Harry. They both shook Cesario’s hand, and started a friendly conversation with them. They had a bottle of whisky on their table and invited the newcomers to drink. Cesario only had vague memories of the rest of the night.

*

They woke up the next afternoon, Feste still asleep next to them. Cesario didn’t feel exactly rested, but they couldn’t go back to sleep. They checked their phone and a rush of fear ran through them when they saw thirty unread messages from Sebastian. But they were only comments to the photos they’d sent him last night. They didn’t even remember sending him those. They didn’t even remember taking those. And a video too.

Sebastian’s texts read: “Where are you? Who are those people? Is that Tambourine Joe? Are you in his house? How?” Then he commented a selfie of them with Feste: “Is there anything you want to tell me?” And on the video: “You look wasted! Seriously, how did you get there?” After that it was just hello and question marks for the next eight hours.

They had to see the video before answering, so they took the phone to the bathroom in order not to bother Feste. Sebastian was right: they looked remarkably drunk, but that wasn’t the surprising part. Cesario was playing the guitar, while Feste sang and Tambourine Joe kept time clapping hands. Before the video ended, you could see Joe pat Feste on the back.

Cesario had many questions and no one to ask them. Who recorded the video? When they had gotten so drunk? How they had ended up playing for the host?

“Hello,” they wrote back to Sebastian, “I’m not sure how it happened. There are a few things about last night I don’t remember.” And to answer his other question: “That’s Feste, I’ll tell you about them sometime.”

Sebastian decided it meant he should video call them immediately. And say hello very loudly. Their head hurt. “Man, you look like shit,” he laughed. “Are you ok?”

“No.” He laughed even more. “Can we talk later?”

“No, wait, who’s that Feste? Is that a look alike or is that really Tambourine Joe? What else is going in your life that you’re not telling me?” There was an unusual amount of seriousness in the last question that surprised Cesario.

“Ok, so that guy really is Tambourine Joe. And Feste’s the person I’m seeing. Happy?”

“I don’t know. Are you?”

“I’ll be, as soon as my head stops aching.”

“Sure. You know what they say is good for that?”

“Never stop drinking?” Someone had given them that advice last night, they couldn’t remember who.

“Or never start,” Sebastian completed.

*

Cesario and Feste stayed in bed most of the day. Later, as it got dark outside, Feste started complaining they hated schedules after answering to a call on their new phone. “I have that gig in Bohemian Alley tonight. I just wanna sleep.”

“Is it the Elephant?” Cesario asked, remembering Olivia’s words.

“Yeah. You’re coming, right?”

Cesario laughed, trying to imagine it. That’s when inspiration hit them: “We have to take Orsino.”

“Like you can get that guy to have fun. Why Orsino?”

“Because he said he’s paying for my drinks.”

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?” They just smiled and nodded in response. “Ok, I’m in. What is it?”

Chapter Text

In that narrow street they stood, every business was either a club or theme bar, and music became a confusing potpourri made of different styles played too close together. It looked like many people couldn’t decide what they preferred, because the street was full of little groups of people like theirs, and a few bigger groups too.

The Elephant had a sign on its door with the drawing of a pink elephant with humanoid traits wearing a top hat, and sliding down a rainbow. “One point for this place,” Cesario said, pointing at the it.

“I was told the music gets pretty good too,” Feste said, shrugging but not entirely able to keep a straight face.

“And I was told I’m not paying for drinks tonight,” Cesario reminded Orsino, who followed them silently, like he was already regretting coming.

“Sure,” Orsino agreed, in another one word sentence, like he had been doing the whole way.

“Did someone force you to come or something?” Feste snapped at him, sick of his act.

“My worst enemy forced me to come,” he answered, and it was his longest sentence since they had left home.

“Hey!” Cesario protested, after all, they were the one who made him go out.

“I don’t think he meant you,” Feste shook their head and held back some laughter as they spoke.
“It’s not you,” Orsino confirmed, trying to keep a neutral face.

Once they finished climbing up the stairs to the dance floor, they took in the space and headed to the bar. Feste introduced themself to the bartender, and as soon they had a drink in hand, they left to assume their position as dj.

“There’s no one here,” Orsino complained.

“Of course not, it’s too early.” Cesario shrugged. “Let’s see how it goes when Feste gets started.”

People arrived slowly. After a few beers, Cesario got bored of standing by the bar, and invited Orsino to dance, giving his shoulder a little push of encouragement. “How do you even dance to that?” he protested, not moving.

“Come with me to find out.” They didn’t really expect it to work, but surprisingly, Orsino followed.

Cesario did some goofy moves just to help Orsino loosen up a little. He laughed, and mimicked everything. It didn’t last long though. He waved his hand as if to say it was enough. “I can’t do that, it’s too dumb,” he gave up.

“A little more,” Cesario insisted. “I didn’t even feel it.”

Orsino’s head tilted a little to his left, and he narrowed his eyes. “Is that makeup?” he pointed at Cesario’s face.

“Me? Wearing makeup?” they faked outrage. “Can you really call a little eyeliner makeup?” they added, pretending to think aloud.

“So yeah?”

Cesario smiled sheepishly, hands before their body, palms up. “You caught me.”

“It’s weird,” he declared.

“I think it’s cute,” Cesario disagreed, trying not to show how pissed they were at his unsolicited comment on their looks.

“I think you weren’t bullied enough in school.”

“I’m being bullied right now, and it’s not stopping me.” They shot him an annoyed look they hoped would warn him to stop.

“It’s not bullying if we’re friends,” Orsino argued, smiling so smugly he obviously thought there were no flaws to his statement.

“If we’re such goods friends why can’t you be supportive?”

His smile disappeared. He tried to work an answer but all he came up with was: “Oh, come on!” A protest, that failed to get across whatever he was trying to say. “Let’s do shots,” he shrugged and turned back to the bar.

“No shots for me,” Cesario decided, following him. “I don’t want to repeat last night.”

“What happened?”

“All I know is the video I have in my phone.”

“Is it funny?” Orsino asked, suddenly looking very interested.

“My drunk face is pretty funny, but it’s not embarrassing, if that’s what you mean.” Taking from his disappointed face, that was exactly what he expected.

Drinking relaxed Orsino enough that he was the one who invited Cesario to dance this time. But not so much that their dancing could be anything other than funny, it reminded Cesario of dancing with Sebastian, something that always made their friends back home laugh endlessly. At least, no one in the Elephant cared enough to laugh at Cesario and Orsino, so they continued doing the world’s least sexy dancing. And even so, every now and then Orsino would start laughing self consciously.

They didn’t notice the girl who came their way with purpose, followed by two of her friends. “Hello, Cesario, good to see you here,” said Olivia, standing right next to them.

“Oh, hello!” They smiled back and lost their ability to think for a second: Olivia always wore her dresses well, but they were never so revealing. She was taller than they were in her high heels, her cleavage made them wonder how the picture went from there, same as the long legs on display. Cesario couldn’t get over how hot she looked. Their whole body was suddenly charged with electricity when she kissed them on both cheeks. “It’s good to see you too,” they finally managed to say.

“Isn’t this place great? ” she went on, one hand still on Cesario’s arm. “I didn’t think you were coming.” She leaned slightly closer.

Cesario decided it was better to make it clear they were taken. “I had to come, I mean, Feste really wanted me to.” They pointed at the general direction Feste was, but the lights kept them from seeing the dj clearly. “And it’s far from the weirdest place I’ve followed them to.”

Olivia laughed and removed her hand from their arm. “Who’s your friend?” she asked, looking at Orsino. Cesario made the introductions and the girl looked like she had no idea she’d met him before. He didn’t remind her of that, which Cesario thought was best, it would probably do him no good if Olivia knew he was the same guy who sent her boring poems (and there was no way she could link him to his Ice Bear profile picture.)

Olivia introduced her friends to Cesario and Orsino. The girls were really friendly and their questions gave Cesario the feeling they had heard a thing or two about Olivia’s French teacher already. So of course they brought Feste up every other sentence.

As they talked, they slowly moved away from the dance floor, closer to a wall. The girls wanted to dance, and asked Olivia to go with them. “I’ll get another drink,” she told her friends. “What about you guys?” she asked both Cesario and Orsino.

“Sure,” said Orsino, finally looking happy.

Olivia looked at Cesario, waiting for their answer. They just nodded and followed the two to the bar. Now the place was getting more crowded, it took them a while to get their drinks. "I’m having one of those,” Olivia pointed at the group who’d just been served drinks topped with blue flames.

“That looks cool,” Cesario said, observing the group with the flaming drinks to see how long the fire lasted. It was less than a minute.

“I’m in,” Orsino decided, with enthusiasm. “What about you?” he asked his friend.

Now, a few drinks later, Cesario didn’t remember their own decision of staying away from anything stronger than beer. So of course they were in for the weird looking drink. They had their phone ready and made a short video of their fiery drink and Olivia’s. Orsino covered his face, making it clear he didn’t want to the camera on him. They touched glasses, saying “cheers”, and found out the drink didn’t taste as nicely as it looked. They laughed at each other’s disgusted faces. “What were you expecting?” Orsino said. “It’s what hellfire tastes like.”

Olivia shrugged, and abandoned her drink. “Let’s dance instead?” she suggested, leaning closer to Cesario, who escaped with a very obvious excuse: “I have to go to the bathroom.” They hoped Orsino took the chance to make a move on her.

The Elephant deserved another point for not having gendered bathrooms. And one more for being the kind of place girls wearing cat ears would go to. They danced with one of them for a little while, and a few other people, whose looks weren’t as remarkable. They caught a glimpse of Orsino and Olivia dancing, and became just a little too interested. There was intention to their dancing, the best intentions, one might say observing their body language. Cesario wondered what they were whispering to each other, and whether it would work.

It was impossible to ignore the thought saying it was none of their business, so Cesario focused on dancing. Feste’s music only got better, even though Cesario’s opinion was probably biased, the club was a lot more crowded now than an hour ago, and people were dancing, making out, and buying drinks, which looked like a profitable night at the Elephant.

Cesario got tired of dancing at some point, and found a corner where it looked safe to sit on the floor, because none of the few seats were available. They checked their phone, and saw Sebastian’s photo: he was standing next to the statue of a rooster three times his size, it was brightly colored, and was very reflexive. He wrote: “The story behind this piece of art is one morning this town woke up and the rooster was here, nobody knows where it came from, but they kept it. I think it says a lot about this people.”

“I think it says a lot about you,” they replied, before sending him the video of the burning drinks.

He replied in a few minutes: “You’re really living the life in the city, aren’t you? Who’s she?”

“That’s Olivia. My friend is trying to hook up with her.”

“Why aren’t you? She’s hot.”

“Because I’m with Feste. And some other stuff too.”

“What’s Feste like?” he asked.

Cesario had some trouble coming up with a description for Feste that felt right, and finally wrote: “A little shocking at first, but really fun and sweet.”

“Sounds like trouble,” Sebastian commented, adding a happy devil emoji to it.

“They sound great, actually,” Cesario corrected, linking one of Feste’s songs to the text. “What about Antonio?”

“He acts all tough, but he’s really sensitive once you get to know him. He’s always telling me stories. There’s a whole lot of nothing out here, so his stories help me keep sane.”

They wondered if a lot of nothing could be dangerous. “Are you being careful out there?”

“Probably not, Antonio always asks if I’m trying to get myself killed. Don’t worry about it, he’s very good talking me out of my worst ideas. But I still think you two are just pussies. Sometimes you need a good selfie with an alligator.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“I didn’t do it. But I still think it would’ve worked. It was smaller than me.”

“Please, don’t get yourself killed,” they asked, aware it was useless worrying about Sebastian, but not feeling any less anxious.

“I won’t. You’re showing me those places in person when I’m back.”

A hand on Cesario’s shoulder brought them back to the real world with a start. “Why you’re sitting here?” Orsino offered a hand to help them up.

“I didn’t find a better place to sit. I thought you were with Olivia.”

“I was, but she left with her friends. Let’s get something to drink,” he placed his arm over Cesario’s shoulders.

“How did it go with Olivia?” they insisted curiously.

“We were dancing real close together, and then her friends show up, one is completely drunk, the other says they have to go. So she kissed me and told me to get her number from you.” He laughed and looked like he didn’t entirely believe what had just happened.

“That’s great!” Cesario said, though they didn’t really mean it. But that was just a stupid, however persistent fantasy, and it would be easier to let it die once Orsino was officially in a relationship. “You may need a new number to text her from now on.”

Orsino laughed. “I know,” he said, nodding and looking the best they’d ever seen him .

Some of the bar stools were finally free, so they sat there for a while, Cesario having soda, Orsino beer. Slowly, the club was getting emptier and the remaining people were losing their energy. “Are you happy now?” Cesario asked, comparing his present face to what he looked like earlier. The answer was laughter.

A few drinks later, the only sofa in the club became available, so they moved there. Cesario sat and Orsino laid back with his head on their lap and his legs hanging off, too long to fit the couch. “This always happens when we party,” Orsino noted, sounding very amused by his own observation.

“What happens?” Cesario didn’t know what he meant.

“This,” he insisted, making a gesture that encompassed both of them.

“Not always, just two out of three times.”

“Good enough, there’s room for surprise.” He sat up, still very close to Cesario, his arm around them again. “I have a confession to make,” he said, his face inches from Cesario’s. “I was wrong,” he went on, looking persistently at their eyes. “That black stuff on your eyes looks good. What’s it called?”

Cesario laughed, relieved now they knew what Orsino was looking at. “Eyeliner,” they said, still uncomfortable with all the touching.

“Do you think I’d look hot with eyeliner?”

First they laughed, only then they admitted: “I think so.” Orsino held their face in his hands, examining the makeup, making Cesario even more uncomfortable. “Let go,” they protested.

“I wanna see how you did it. Close your eyes.”

Having their eyes closed only made the feel of Orsino’s hands more unnerving, but Cesario was convinced this feeling was a product of absurd fantasies, they didn’t think there was any real reason to feel like that. They were proved wrong when Orsino kissed them. Cesario had imagined it more times than they cared to admit it, but it happened so unexpectedly they had no reaction.

Orsino backed away a few inches, his warm eyes meeting Cesario’s still shocked stare. “Very cute,” he whispered, caressing Cesario’s cheeks with his thumbs. His second kiss was more predictable, but they didn’t stop it. Kissing Orsino was something they were too curious about to pass on. They gave into his lips and tongue, eager to find out what they felt like against their own. They liked his kiss, his smell, his hands felt great in their hair, and even better feeling them up, they enjoyed every delicious bit of it.

Then it was over, and Orsino stood three feet away looking worried. “I’m sorry,” he said, his palms open before him saying it was an honest mistake, but also telling Cesario to stay away. “I’m drunk,” he explained. Cesario wasn’t convinced, but it made no difference, they didn’t have the chance to say anything, Orsino just left.

They sat alone in that couch as the club got more empty, hating how much they’d enjoyed it. Why it had to be so hot? Why couldn’t Orsino be a bad kisser, or smell wrong, or something? It would’ve made things much simpler. But no, of course he felt just perfect. Things were never simple. And there was the question of how they were supposed to be around each other after that. Were they just going to pretend it never happened? Thinking about it was making them panicky. Cesario closed their eyes, concentrated on breathing, and ended up nodding off.

“Hello, there,” Feste woke them up, placing a hand on their shoulder gently. “Have you been sitting here all night?” they worried.

“No, I had fun. I danced with a cat girl,” they said, getting up.

“Cat girls are hot, but it’s always revolution this, and Karl Marx that, I’m sorry but I’m too shallow for that shit,” Feste said, taking Cesario’s hand and guiding them away from the Elephant.

Chapter Text

He knew he should’ve stayed home. Sure, the idea of meeting Olivia again, in a situation where hitting on her might work, convinced him to follow Cesario and Feste to that club with a damn rainbow on its door. This better be worth it, he told himself.

The club was empty, and Olivia wasn’t there. He should’ve known. At least Cesario was there to cheer him up. One thing he hated about clubs was drinking alone while all his friends disappeared with the complete strangers they picked up. This wasn’t gonna happen tonight. Cesario obviously didn’t care for girls, he was dating Feste (for some reason), he wasn’t gonna hook up with anyone. Unfortunately, that didn’t save him from all kinds of trouble: his friend wanted to dance.

“How do you even dance to that?” he objected. There was a simple reason why he didn’t want to dance with another guy, specially in a gay club, but Cesario wouldn’t understand not wanting people to think you’re gay. And Orsino didn’t want to wake up whatever evil spirit inhabited his friend, like he had the week before, to the point Cesario twisted his words to say Orsino was gay.

So he decided to dance as badly as possible to prove his point. Maybe that would convince his friend without offending him. He was relieved to find out Cesario didn’t want to dance in the ridiculous fashion some of the other people were doing, with all the grinding and the shimmying. He didn’t want to think too much about those boys wearing glitter and dancing with one another. He focused on Cesario, whose silly moves were manly next to that.

A few minutes later, Orsino decided it was enough, only to feel awkward when his friend asked: “A little more, I didn’t even feel it.” He tried dismissing whatever it was by laughing and dancing a little more, as asked. Why not? If that was what Cesario wanted. After all, he actually was his best friend, despite the short acquaintance.

The problem with focusing on Cesario was noticing the little things he’d never paid much attention to: how delicate his features were, how smooth face was, how soft his lips looked. He caught himself thinking that, and couldn’t understand why. Until he noticed the reason Cesario looked so girly: “Are you wearing makeup?”

He was. And he wasn’t happy Orsino brought it up. So he didn’t say anything else about it, and danced with Cesario some more to make things ok again. They were doing that when, as promised, Olivia showed up. He had already made his peace with the idea she wouldn’t, but this was better. He had time to check her out in detail while she talked to Cesario. It was no surprise she looked hot, but it was a little surprising that even his friend seemed to think so.

“I didn’t think you were coming,” she said, leaning into Cesario, clearly flirting with him, but his friend acted like he didn’t notice it. He just talked to her casually, ignoring the hand she had on his arm. Olivia realized she would go nowhere with Cesario, and finally looked his way. “Who’s your friend?” Cesario introduced them. Olivia didn’t remember meeting him before, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least he got another chance to make a good first impression.

“So you’re Cesario’s student,” he said to make conversation.

“The youngest teacher I’ve ever had,” she said.

“Is he younger than you?”

“I’m twenty.” She asked him how old he was, and whether he’d been to the Elephant before. Finally she said: “I’m getting another drink. What about you guys?” She included both him and Cesario in her question.

They both accompanied her to the bar, and while waiting for service, she decided she wanted to try the drinks topped by blue flames they saw some people order. It didn’t look like something people should be drinking, but she was really excited about it, so why not? He encouraged Cesario to get one too, but he should’ve known Cesario, who was always photographing his food, would obviously want to make a video of his fiery drink. Even if Olivia liked the idea, and didn’t mind featuring his video, Orsino didn’t want reminders that he, a grown man, was seen with that stupid drink in hand.

It was no surprise it tasted terribly. Blue flames didn’t exactly say “drink me” in his opinion, but he was a simple man, what did he know about fashionable drinks served in fancy clubs? He drank it anyway since he had already paid for it, but never again. Olivia gave up on her drink, and once again made a move on Cesario, inviting him to dance.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” he said, throwing Orsino a look that said it was up to him now. Well, if everything else went wrong, at least he knew for sure Cesario was a true friend.

“Who’s this Feste Cesario was talking about?” Olivia asked, before he had the chance to say anything.

“Feste’s the dj,” he explained. And since she was so curious, he added: “Cesario’s boyfriend.” She looked disappointed. Maybe this was his chance. “Wanna dance?” He had the terrible feeling she was evaluating him right there, but she said yes, so it was all worth it.

Dancing with a girl was a different story. He was more than happy to put his hands on her waist, and have hers around his neck; more than happy to have her grinding against him, even if it meant he would have to put some distance between them until his blood went back to his head.

“You’re Cesario’s roommate, right?” Orsino confirmed. “Are you the one who was making baozi the other day?”

He laughed first and feigned innocence later. “How do you know?”

They kept talking but about nothing important. All that mattered was being with her, looking back at her beautiful, sparkly eyes, dancing so close to her he could drown in the scent of her hair. A perfect moment ruined by her friends’ interrupting. One of the girls couldn’t stop laughing and repeating: “I thought it was a tic tac.” Olivia and the other one tried talking to her, but it was impossible.

Olivia had a conflicted look on her face when she said: “I have to make sure she’s ok.” She didn’t move, she kept looking at him letting on she didn’t want to leave. Orsino was trying to work some words together, but his thoughts weren’t exactly coherent at the moment. And then she kissed him. It was only one kiss, but a real one, inviting him to wonder about the possibilities beyond it. But it was only one. “You can get my number from Cesario,” she said, leaving with her friends.

He stood there for a while, frozen, trying to convince himself it was all real. Olivia had kissed him. She had told him to get her number from Cesario. It happened. Where was Cesario, by the way? He got himself a beer and looked around. All the time, he kept replaying the memory of Olivia’s kiss in his head.

Orsino looked at the dancing people, and looked at the ones standing by the wall. He looked at the people sitting on the couch, but didn’t find him. He didn’t think he would find Cesario in the bathroom, but kept looking when he came back. Maybe he’d used up all his luck tonight and lost his friend. Or maybe it was that figure sitting in a dark corner, only visible because of the light from his phone.

Orsino appreciated that for once it wasn’t him sitting alone while his friends got lucky. He knew well how it felt. So he helped his friend to get up, and offered to buy him a drink. And to be honest he would probably have agreed to buy him anything after Cesario had helped him with Olivia, which Orsino told him all about, since he was curious.

They sat by the bar, having drinks, and his friend, the genius that he was, reminded him he would need a new number to text Olivia from now on. Good thing he had Cesario, because he hadn’t considered that on his own. Orsino was so happy, sitting in a club, he hardly recognized himself. It was all thanks to Cesario.

It was because of Cesario he had a chance with the girl of his dreams. And because of him, for the first time, he wasn’t alone and miserable in a club. On the contrary: he was having beers with his best friend, and probably was the happiest person in there. All thanks to Cesario. Things with Olivia never looked better, but were still uncertain. With Cesario, he knew for sure: his friend wanted him to be happy. And he was.

It was getting late, people were leaving, so they had the couch for themselves. Before Orsino noticed what he was doing, he laid his head on Cesario’s lap, which didn’t seem to bother his friend at all. And once again, Orsino noticed his pretty face, so delicate, so cute. Why that black line around his eye made him look so good? Maybe it was the Elephant’s atmosphere.

Whatever it was, he sat up and whispered his confession to Cesario: “Do you think I’d look hot with eyeliner on?”

Cesario laughed, but admitted: “I think so.” Those words stirred something within Orsino, and he was suddenly aware he could smell his friend, and liked it. He didn’t think about it, he took Cesario’s face between his hands, and said he was looking at the makeup. He knew he had to kiss him, even if he suspected no good could come from this.

At first, Cesario didn’t react, he just sat there, like a statue being kissed. But when he did react, it was amazing. He put his arms around Orsino’s neck, pulling him closer as his body slid down the couch. Their lips fit together perfectly, their tongues longed for one another, trying hard and in earnest to make the bridge that would turn them into one.

Cesario was even softer than he expected. When he caressed his face, when he ran his hands down his torso, when he kissed his neck, there was no reminder he wasn’t kissing a girl. But when Orsino felt his hands on him, the spell was broken. Suddenly, he was reminded of what he was doing.

He backed away, knowing there would be consequences to his stupid actions. The first being that Cesario would think he was gay. His friend just stared in confusion. Who could blame him? He couldn’t stand to look at him any longer. “I’m sorry,” Orsino said, trying to find some excuse, but only coming up with: “I’m drunk.” It was a lame excuse, and he could see it didn’t convince Cesario, but it was all he had. So he left.

He wanted to walk it off, but he didn’t want to get mugged or killed walking the city at four in the morning, so he settled for the next best thing: sitting in a bar and getting drunk. He listened to another drunk man’s story just so he didn’t have to think about his own. When the stranger left, however, Orsino found himself alone with his thoughts.

He took his phone to look for some distraction, yet ended up making a search to find out if you could be straight and have a crush on a man at the same time, which brought him to discussion forums, but he didn’t feel like reading long, personal testimonies, and that brought him to memes. The more he looked at memes about “the closet,” the more worried he became.

Orsino looked outside, and saw it was day, or very close to it. Walking didn’t help. It left him to deal with his thoughts. He needed help. He needed someone he could talk to. Cesario would’ve been his first choice, but he couldn’t talk to him about that. So who he was left with?

There was someone. One who could’ve told anyone his secrets but didn’t. So he called her. Twice. When she made an unintelligible sound on the other side, he started speaking: “Titania, do you think I’m gay?”

“I’m sleeping, Sino,” she complained.

“I’m sorry, it’s really important. You know me, you think I’m gay?”

“How would I know?” she moaned unhappily.

“Because we went out.” He could hear her exasperated sigh. “So?”

“If you wanna come over and talk, that’s ok, but I’m not having this conversation over the phone. Are you coming or not?” She sounded angry, but she was making the offer.

“I’m coming, I’m on my way.”

“Can you bring me some coffee?”

“Of course.” He bought her a whole breakfast just to make sure she would forgive him for waking her up.

Titania had been his girlfriend for three months when they were fifteen, long before she was queen of twerk and webcams. They hadn’t interacted much since, but then Toby’s party happened, giving her another secret of his she didn’t tell anyone. And now this. He’d better get her the best breakfast there was.

They sat in her kitchen. She yawned, looking nothing like a queen. “So what’s that you were telling me on the phone? You’re gay?” The word was like a stab.

“I don’t know. I kissed a dude,” he admitted, secretly hoping he would drop dead and not have to have this conversation.

Titania looked a little stunned. “You did? Why?”

“Because… uh-- Shit! I can’t say this,” he panicked.

“You didn’t get me out of bed at six in the morning to change your mind,” she said, more pissed than ever, and he didn’t want to make Titania angry. “Now spit it out. Why did you kiss this guy?”

“Because I like him so much!” he yelled, angry at himself, digging his fingers on his arms anxiously. And since he was being ridiculous already, he could confess in full: “And because he smells good.” Titania laughed for a long time. He wanted to tell her to go fuck herself, and leave, but there was no one else he could stand to have this conversation with. So he waited for her to finish. “What do you think?”

“Is this why you couldn’t get it up last week? Thank goodness, I thought it was me.” Orsino didn’t find those words to be of any help, so he kept waiting for her to say something useful. “You’re not sure?” He shook his head to say no. “If you like him, if you think he smells good, why you’re not sure?”

“Because I like girls,” he said, expecting it to be obvious.

“That would make you bissexual,” she said with a shrug, sounding very sure of what she was saying.

Orsino expected more, he stared at her, waiting for some kind of explanation, while she stared back, clearly saying it was his turn. “Bissexual?” She nodded. “That can’t be right. Men aren’t bissexual, that’s a girl’s thing.” But he didn’t have a better explanation. “You really think I’m bissexual?”

“How should I know? You looked like you were having fun when we did it, I thought you were straight. But then again, if you’re bi and not gay, what happened the other night?”

Orsino wanted a lightning bolt to smite him right then and there, but he had no such luck. He sighed, mortified he was about to admit this: “I was thinking about Cesario.” Titania didn’t laugh, so he continued. “He said I think about guys when I’m with girls, and I couldn’t get that out of my head.” Now she laughed. It still hurt, but it could be worse.

“Isn’t Cesario Feste’s boyfriend?” He confirmed. “Tough luck!” she sympathized.

“It gets worse. I live with him, he’s my friend.”

“What a mess, Sino!” she laughed at his troubles. “You have to apologize.”

“I said I was sorry,” he told her, pretty sure that was not what she meant.

“No, you have to do some damage control. You know what will help getting your friend to be cool with it? Come out to him.”

“Are you insane?”

“What? You’re just gonna hook up with him without ever coming out?”

“But he’s with Feste.”

“Yes, he’s with Feste,” she agreed, placing a lot of emphasis on the name. “You come out to Cesario, say you’re sorry, stay friends, and just wait for Feste to fuck up. It never takes long.”

“But they’re doing really fine.”

“Then I suggest you go practice with a different twink in the meantime. What do you use your phone for, anyway?”

“I can’t do that, Titania. I can’t.” To his own horror, he started crying. She dragged her chair over, gave him a hug, and said: “Of course you can. But maybe you should sleep it off first?”

“You’re right.” He felt like shit, sleep would fix that, he hoped. “I’m sorry for getting you out of bed so early. I’ll leave you alone now.”

“Let me know how it goes.” He nodded. “You know, I’ve always wanted a gay best friend.”

“I’m bissexual,” he corrected. Saying it felt weird. Talking had made him feel less desperate, but he still wasn’t sure.

Chapter Text

They arrived at Toby’s in the middle of the afternoon. Security at the gate looked bored, watching the distance with droopy eyes, handling automatic weapons as casually as always. Passing through them still made Cesario uncomfortable and they suspected it always would. Feste, on the other hand, knew everyone’s names, and the guys talked to them about football and their families for a little while. Then they went in.

There was no one outside today, so they entered the living room, and found Toby and Andrew watching football on the tv. “Feste!” they shouted in celebration of their arrival. Then they noticed Feste wasn’t alone. “Feste and… Sweetie?” said Toby, who couldn’t remember their name.

“Cesario,” they corrected, then turned to Feste: “Who’s Sweetie?”

“That’s your nickname,” they said, containing their laughter.

“But you don’t call me that,” Cesario argued.

“No, that’s what Maria calls you,” they explained.

Cesario still had trouble understanding what they were talking about, but from the couch came Andrew’s best impersonation of Maria: “Feste’s on a date with Sweetie, leave them alone.”

“And what you guys wanted to ruin my date for?” Feste asked, placing their hands on their hips.

“New shipping just arrived,” Toby said with a smile that made promises. “We have to make sure it’s good stuff.”

“Shit!” Feste perked up at the prospect.

“Yeah, but Maria laid out the rules, and we can’t have dessert if we don’t eat our food,” Andrew complained.

“Food’s on its way,” Toby promised. Then to Cesario and Feste: “You guys are just gonna stand there? Come on,” he beckoned them to the couch.

Cesario knew they’d have to choose between staying and watching Feste getting wasted with those people, or going home and possibly facing Orsino. Neither option appealed to them. But they didn’t have to decide just yet.

“I’m not watching football,” Feste said, guiding Cesario to the studio.

“Fag!” Toby and Andrew declared.

Feste made Cesario hold a tambourine, and a guitar, and took the cajon and an egg shaker. “Now they’ll have to be fags with us,” they said very seriously, going back to the living room. They handed Toby and Andrew the egg shaker and the headless tambourine, muted the game, and said it was time to warm up. “How about Reggae?” they asked Cesario.

They played the guitar, Feste the cajon, and everybody sang. Toby and Andrew’s contributions to the music were far from good, but they were having more fun now than watching the game. So they kept playing and singing until a boy came in bringing their food.

“Hey, Feste, go get Maria,” Toby said as he started digging into the fried chicken. “Help yourself, Sweetie,” he told Cesario, who facepalmed at the nickname.

“It’s Cesario,” they reminded him, sure it would go nowhere.

“But Sweetie is funnier,” Toby insisted, going for another chicken piece.

“That’s because you look like a girl,” Andrew explained unnecessarily.

“Yeah, I know,” Cesario said, taking a deep breath, in order not to lose their patience.

“You’re girly, Feste’s girly,” Andrew went on, “how does that work?”

“It works, don’t worry about it,” they muttered, having a real hard time keeping their cool.

“Just curious,” Andrew dismissed it, shrugging.

“You’d have to be more charming than that,” they said before an angry snort.

Toby laughed hard at that while Andrew looked from him to Cesario, hoping someone would repeat and perhaps explain the joke. “How curious are you, Andrew?” he asked with a sly smile on his face. “Enough to try it?”

“It’s a scientific curiosity,” he protested.

“Gotta love that gay science,” Cesario commented.

“That sounds like a conversation I wanna be part of,” Feste said, coming back to the living room in Maria’s company.

“Hi, Sweetie, good to see you again,” she told them, and the others laughed, knowing Cesario wasn’t happy with the nickname.

When they were done eating, Feste went for the guitar to play and sing All of Me, making eyes at Cesario, which was all Toby and Andrew needed to throw some more slurs at them. “Could you two stop ruining it?” Maria scolded them, and it worked, surprising Cesario and making Feste sing the rest of the song with a smug smile on their face.

Soon after, they started doing lines right there on the coffee table, and Toby turned to Cesario: “You don’t do that, do you?” They shook their head. “I knew it. You’re a good kid, Sweetie, don’t let Feste influence you.”

Instead of laughing at a drug dealer telling them to stay away from drugs while doing coke, Cesario focused on the nickname: “Are you guys just gonna call me Sweetie now?”

“Yes,” they all said at the same time.

“Not you too,” Cesario asked Feste in defeat.

“Please, let me call you that. You hate it so much,” they said it like delightful news. The others were laughing.

“Do you want me to hate you?”

“I wouldn’t ask if I did.” They winked at Cesario, who just rolled their eyes.

They thought about going home, but Feste was only growing more enthused, throwing that new found energy on the guitar, which made for a show that was too good to walk away from. The others were also in a similar mood as Feste, and they joined the music both singing and playing. Cesario didn’t want to leave now.

Between songs, Feste had beer and did lines. Two hours later, they were still playing and singing without showing any signs of being tired. Cesario, however, didn’t share their never ending energy. They had to work the next day. Even if going home, where they would most likely see Orsino, didn’t feel like a great prospect. Cesario didn’t have the energy to sing or play anymore, they just sat there, listening to Feste’s music, Maria’s stories, and Toby’s offers of more beer, weed, or something to eat. Andrew only cared about the music, and shook the headless tambourine, accompanying it, though a little too slowly.

When they said they had to go, Feste protested, and Maria joined them. Toby, on the other hand, had a much simpler solution: “You could work for me instead. I mean, you’re a teacher, I pay better than that.”

Cesario laughed in horror. “I don’t think I have it in me. We’re not all bulletproof, you know,” they said, thinking about a story Valentine had told them.

Toby was amused. “That’s not how it works,” he said. “It’s more like they don’t get the chance to shoot at me in the first place. One time this guy’s gun just jams, he’s trying to fire it but it’s Wile E. Coyote time. Midnight swoops in and bang.”

“I miss Midnight,” Maria said nodding emphatically.

“Fucker saved my life, I miss him too,” Toby laughed, and finished another beer.

“He was always yelling at me,” Andrew whined.

“He was keeping you alive,” Maria reminded him sternly.

Cesario was half curious, half afraid of the answer: “What happened to him?”

They all laughed. Toby shrugged and said: “Got out.” Maria shook her head as if it was a great pity, and added: “He had to pay his way out. Got out alive and broke, and no one ever heard of him again. I hope he’s alright.”

“He’s great at staying alive,” Feste considered.

“I could never be like Midnight, so I guess I just have to go to work tomorrow,” Cesario told them. “Good night, everyone.”

Feste walked them home, looking like they could go up and down the hill all night without getting tired. As soon as they entered the house, Curio, who was playing video games with Valentine, paused the game, and turned around to face them with a very proud smile on his face. “Hey, guys, so good to see you,” he greeted them cheerfully. “You guys had a great weekend?” Valentine rolled his eyes impatiently.

“Sure,” Cesario said, confused as to why Curio kept smiling at them like that.

“How was your weekend, Curio?” Feste asked, expecting something good in answer.

“Really, really great,” he said, his whole face smiling, while his hands said “me and two.”

Feste laughed. “Really?” Curio nodded and gave them thumbs up. “Curio’s a Chad,” they announced.

“You already knew that,” Curio said, unable to stop smiling.

“I always knew,” Feste said, giving him a congratulatory pat on the back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” They pulled Cesario to the bedroom.

*

After Feste left, Cesario prepared for the next day, and before going to bed, they asked the guys, who were still in the living room: “Where’s Orsino?”

Valentine laughed. “You took him to a club, it’s gonna be months before he recovers from that.”

“How you even got him to go out?” Curio was impressed.

Cesario shrugged. “I asked him, and he said yes.”

They didn’t see Orsino that night, or the next morning. They found, however, a plastic container on the kitchen counter with a post-it on it that said “Olivia’s”, which could be no one else’s doing. Cesario was thankful, they had completely forgotten about it.

They gave it back to her before class. Once again, Olivia arrived a few minutes earlier. “Good afternoon,” she said in French, in her usual cheerful manner, going for a chair by the window. “How are you today?” Cesario said they were well and returned the question. “I’m great, thanks for asking. So, you like the Elephant?”

“I did,” they admitted. “Where are all those beautiful people on weekdays?”

Olivia laughed. “That’s a very good question. My guess is they’re at work right now.” She opened her homework book and went on to finish the lesson due that day, saying nothing else until her classmates arrived, and class started.

She stayed after class to complain about irregular verbs, make sure she had them right in her homework, and finally ask: “Did you give him my number?”

“What?” Cesario was in the middle of checking her conjugation, their brain was too busy to give her words meaning.

“I had to leave in a hurry, I told your friend to get my number from you. Did he ask you?” She looked away before the answer, embarrassed.

“Sure. He’s got your number,” they told her, keeping their eyes on the paper at all times.

*

They didn’t see Orsino that night, either. Or Feste, but this time they at least texted to say they had partied until noon, and would sleep for the next fifteen to twenty hours.

Sebastian, on the other hand, had been sitting in a repair shop in the middle of nowhere since the early afternoon, and kept texting them in a log of his boredom. Cesario glossed over but didn’t actually read his explanation of the repair the truck needed. He wrote it was a simple one, but the rest of the words he used didn’t make things any clearer to Cesario, who only had a vague idea what they meant.

They waited all afternoon for the part they needed to be delivered there, because that’s how distant the nearest town was. And the repair itself hadn’t even started. Sebastian and Antonio had nowhere to go. He had already climbed a tree to take a selfie that showed just how isolated they were. He’d gotten Antonio to take pictures of him doing JoJo poses, and some where it looked like he was carrying boulders on his back, or flying.

Then, he sent a picture of a romance novel with a cheesy cover, and the caption: “I found this in the trash, and I hope it’s so bad it’s good.” And he would send pictures of whatever page he was reading where something ridiculous happened, asking if they agreed a description, or a character’s actions could only have been written by an alien who has at best a vague idea of human behaviour. Sebastian had to make his reading last, because he was going nowhere at the moment, so his opinions were detailed, and some made absolutely no sense.

Cesario enjoyed going through Sebastian’s self-imposed book report. He was really offended at how boring it was, and how he could only relate to minor characters he made up backstories for. Cesario commented: “You win, bro. I was never so bored I wrote fanfic to a book I don’t like.”

“It’s too dark to read now,” he replied. “But maybe tomorrow I’ll get to the end of it.”

“I’m on the edge of my seat,” they mocked. “Will Maggie and Bryce get together, or won’t they? It’s too much suspense for me.”

“I wish more stuff happened. How about a subplot, right?”

“How about a plot?”

*

They didn’t see Orsino the next morning either. It was uncomfortable knowing he was avoiding them on purpose. Not that Cesario knew what they were going to say when the two of them met again, but Orsino going out of his way to keep from seeing them was a bit insulting.

Feste, who didn’t bother with words like tuesday, decided it was date night. They played the guitar in a bar strategically placed across from the subway station, where they saw Cesario arrive, and joined them on their walk home. “There’s this place I wanna take you to, but it has to be tonight. You’re in? Dinner and a show?”

“What kind of show happens on a tuesday?

“The experimental kind.” That was all the information they gave Cesario.

After dinner they went to a comedy club that didn’t look that popular, but then again, it was tuesday, Cesario couldn’t tell for sure. Feste was very critical of the two first numbers, when the third got on stage, they said: “That’s my friend Nick. I helped him rehearse for this. It’s pure genius. ”

Nick was a young man whose chubby cheeks made him look childish, an impression reinforced by the wide grin on his face and innocent look in his eyes. He tripped before getting to the microphone, and looked genuinely embarrassed. He stuttered and laughed self consciously. Cesario had the feeling this wasn’t going to work so well for him. His act consisted of telling the audience he was an actor, but it was hard to find a job because he was too good, which he said without a hint of irony, almost like he expected the audience to agree. Nick told a story about an audition where he was asked what part he was trying for and he tried to convince them he could play all, and he went on to give them a small sample of how he played the hero in love, the broken-hearted heroine, the vilain, before which he reminded the audience it was all make-believe and not to beat him on account of how loathsome the character was. And that wasn’t all.

He played the extra who has one line, and even the lion. Each one was a caricature, and not a good one for that matter, and you could see that innocent look on his face, convinced people were laughing with, and not at him. Which made the audience’s uncomfortable laughter even harder to contain. But he looked so genuinely proud, like he had just received a standing ovation, and that was what got to Cesario, and they laughed unwillingly at cringe.

He built up a lot of expectation about his lion impression, which was the worst of all but became funny because he was so convinced it was perfect, saying they probably didn’t want him to be the lion because people would run away from the theater in panic. And went on to say: “Anyway, I didn’t get any of the parts I auditioned for on that one, but just last week I was playing the part of Wall, I mean, I didn’t have any lines, but no wall has ever been this unmoved for standing in the way of lovers.”

When it was over, Cesario turned to Feste, and said: “This is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, I hope it was on purpose. I wish I had it in video. Sebastian would love it.”

Feste laughed. “That really is the best lion he can do. Come, let’s say hi to Nick.”

Cesario wasn’t surprised Feste knew everyone in the club. They talked briefly to the people they passed by saying hello and making jokes Cesario didn’t completely understand, because they referred to past events. When they found Nick, Feste pulled him into a hug and said: “I don’t think you understand how great that was.”

“Thanks for coming.” He let go of Feste and made a worried face. “I think they like it, but I feel so cheap.”

“Are you kidding? You think anyone can do that?” they encouraged their friend. Then they made the introductions: “This is Cesario, I told you about them.”

Nick didn’t have the same innocent looks off stage, making no effort to hide he was checking Cesario out. “Let me guess, they played Handsome Devil and you fell for it.”

“Something like that,” they agreed, immediately imagining Feste singing that song just for them, and having to shake off thought, because it was the kind they could daydream about endlessly.

They had a beer with Nick, who told Feste old Robin was asking for them. “He wants you to drop by thursday, he says he wants to show you off to his enemies.”

“He did?” Feste was delighted at the news.

“What does that mean?” Cesario asked in confusion.

“I don’t know who Robin’s enemies are, but I’m gonna find out,” Feste announced.

“You’re gonna disappear again, aren’t you?” they asked, a lot less excited about it.

“I can’t say for sure, but it’s a possibility, yes.”

*

Olivia didn’t go to class on wednesday, and everyone noticed it, because it wasn’t like her, and because it meant her classmates would have to speak more often, since she wasn’t there to be the first to answer any question. Cesario wondered what happened, but one missed class would probably do no harm, specially to her.

Feste was waiting for them again, playing Simon Says with the kids in the street, telling them to do impossible things like licking their elbows or repeating difficult words they said too fast and the kids were too young to pronounce correctly. Upon seeing Cesario was there, watching them, they told the oldest child to take their place, and left the game.

“What do you want to do tonight?” they asked Cesario.

“I don’t know, but I know I’m hungry.”

“Why don’t we stay in your house, and order some food. We could play Journey to the Savage Planet.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll have much peace and quiet at home,” they said, but Cesario actually didn’t want to be in the same room as Orsino without being able to say anything about saturday night.

“But there’s no one there,” they insisted.

“No one? That’s weird. Orsino’s usually home by now.”

“He’s not,” Feste shrugged. “I called at the door earlier, to see if he wanted to hang out.”

“As long as we’re alone,” Cesario returned Feste’s shrug.

Valentine arrived at ten, interrupting a make out session that was getting a little too intense for the living room. “Aw, come on!” he complained. “Can’t you use the bedroom? I don’t wanna see that!”

Feste immediately pulled their hands out of Cesario’s clothes, and they both looked anxiously at Valentine, hoping he hadn’t seen anything that might need explanations. The staring contest confused the new comer, who was already uncomfortable having arrived home to that scene. “What?” he finally said, annoyed by their persistent gaze.

The guilty silence lasted a little too long, but Feste found their usual smug smile and asked: “Aren’t you gonna tell us about our Lord and Saviour?”

Valentine laughed. “Sure. What did he say? Uh, rich people are a problem? No, wait, that wasn’t it. It was throw stones at giants, not women. I think that’s the moral. And the end of the world will be a bad mushroom trip,” he said, making his way to his bedroom.

“That was close,” Cesario said, sighing in relief. Feste was still amused by Valentine’s words. “He really knows his Bible,” they commented.

“Let’s do what he asked, and go to my bedroom.”

*

Curio was lying on the couch when they got home thursday evening. There was medicine on the coffee table, and he had a bandage around his right hand. “What happened to you?”

“I killed a possum,” he said miserably.

“Why?” Cesario was so horrified by that answer, they didn’t notice it explained nothing.

“I went to check this noise I heard, and I didn’t see it, so I got too close and it bit me. You can feel the teeth breaking through you. I panicked. I killed it.”

“You have to go to the hospital,” they said, even more horrified after the description of what it felt like to be bitten.

“I was there for four hours,” he told them in an exhausted voice. “It turns out you’re not supposed to kill things that bite you, because then you don’t know if it was sick.” He touched his forehead at the memory. “So many shots. So many!”

Cesario felt bad for him, and offered to make noodles for him too. When they got back to the living room, they noticed Curio was watching Avatar the Last Airbender, and having a great time. Since they had nothing else to do, and Feste wasn’t going to show up anyway, Cesario stayed for a while.

“I love that show,” they said. “I used to watch it with my brother.”

“You have to watch cartoons when you’re sick, that’s how you get better,” Curio explained. “So far, it’s really good.”

When Valentine arrived, Curio repeated his story, but didn’t get sympathy, only laughter. When he finally calmed down, he noticed something: “Where’s Orsino?” Nobody knew. He looked worried when he said: “I didn’t see him last night.”

“I haven’t seen him all week,” Cesario said.

“You guys are terrible friends,” Curio said, going for his phone. He called, but had no answer.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry it’s so late,” Orsino apologized as soon as she opened the door. “I really need to tell someone.”

“Sure, sure,” Titania said, shrugging and leading him inside the white and blue tiled kitchen, which felt too small when two were standing at the same time. “Still better than sunday. At least I wasn’t sleeping.” She pointed him to the same chair he’d sat sunday morning, while telling her his problems.

“Does your grandma know I’m here?” he asked, worried about his presence being a problem. Not that he was afraid of Big Titania, as people called the old lady, but it couldn’t hurt to stay away from the only one who got her heart broken when he and Titania didn’t last. He suspected that was the reason she would hire anyone but him when something needed fixing in her salon. So maybe he should help her, and not show up in her home in the middle of the night, but it was too late for that.

“You’re still afraid of her?” Titania laughed. “She can’t hear a thing, and she thinks I don’t know. Some of the girls think she’s pissed at them, because she won’t look at them when they call, but I think she reads lips or something, when she looks at you, she knows what you’re saying. So, she won’t wake up just because we’re talking. You’re safe. So, what’s that you wanna tell me? Did you tell your roommate you like him?” she asked, turning the coffee maker on.

“No,” Orsino shook his head, ashamed, and looked down. “To be honest, I haven’t even seen him all week.”

“How do you avoid seeing someone you live with?” Titania asked, sitting on the chair opposite to his.

“I got home late, or not at all,” he shrugged. “Can I tell you what I was doing?” Titania looked interested. “I got that app you talked about, and found myself a hookup.”

“Tell me all about it,” Titania encouraged. “No, wait, show me a pic.” She looked at the young man on the screen of Orsino’s phone, and made a confused face.

“What?” Orsino worried, afraid she would comment something mean.

“He kinda looks like you. I thought you liked them baby faced and girly.” She gave the phone back, and went to get them coffee.

“I don’t know if I have a type,” he said to her back. “I don’t want to hook up with someone who looks like him.”

“Why not?” She handed him a coffee mug, no sugar. “Hey, let’s move to the couch.”

“How will I stop thinking about him, if I choose a guy who looks like him?” he said, sitting down. Titania put her feet on his lap, looking at him to make sure it was alright. He just smiled, and nodded. She always did that, and he didn’t mind, never had. Orsino rested his free hand on her ankles, holding his coffee mug with the other hand.

“So, was it good?” Titania wanted to know.

Orsino couldn’t keep a smile from coming to his face even before saying: “Really good!” He chuckled, then sighed. “But he wasn’t who I wanted.”

“That can be a problem,” Titania nodded. “But I’ll say again what I said before: Feste and your sweetheart won’t be a thing for long. He was flirting with me, for god’s sake.”

"Cesario was hitting on you?" Orsino asked, shocked.

"No, Feste," Titania corrected

“He flirts with everybody,” Orsino dismissed it.

“But he was trying very hard to convince me he likes women too.”

Orsino was surprised. “Really? Feste likes girls?” Then he remembered all he read during his research on the internet. “That’s what they’re gonna say about me, isn’t it? When I come out? They’re gonna say I’m gay, aren’t they? I’ll have to convince women I’m not, same as Feste."

“I don't think you'll have too much trouble convincing them. And also, people always have something to say no matter what you do,” Titania reminded him in a comforting tone.

“True,” he agreed after finishing his coffee. He placed the mug on the coffee table, and sat back, trying to remember what else he wanted to tell her. “I’ve been going crazy since I started looking into this,” he said, while playing with her toes. “I haven’t done much work this week. I mean, I did fine on monday, but on tuesday I only got through the morning, and I was already going insane with thinking, when this guy who’s close by dms me, same thing the next day, and didn’t work at all today.”

“Why? Were you with a guy all this time?” Titania sounded both surprised and interested.

“No. They’re just hookups, I don’t even remember their names,” he confessed.

“Just look at you being all casual,” she mocked, “I’m so proud!” Orsino laughed. “So you’re all about strangers and one night stands now?”

“I don’t know, they just happened.”

“They didn’t just happen, but ok,” Titania laughed quietly. Then her tone became suddenly serious: “Are you happier now?”

He let go of her feet, realizing he hadn’t reflected on it so far. “I don’t know. I haven’t really stopped to think about what I’m doing. I’m just, you know, keeping myself busy.” He shrugged, trying to convince himself it was no big deal, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling there was more to it. “I don’t wanna think about it. Can’t I just keep moving on to the next thing and never make a big deal of things?”

“It’s called living in the present, silly. But some things are a big deal, you can’t just ignore them. Still better than making a big deal of everything, though,” she said in an accusatory tone, staring firmly at him. Orsino laughed, guilty. “I should’ve known all the drama meant something.” He felt even more guilty at that one.

“Was it the drama alone?” That was surprising information. “I always thought there was another guy.”

It was Titania who laughed this time. “Of course it wasn’t just the drama,” she said, the “you idiot” he heard was just implied. “But it didn’t help. I have my own drama, you know.”

“We could take turns,” he suggested for the sake of argument.

“Is that what you tell them?” she mocked.

“That’s personal!” he feigned offense.

“So yes?”

“Just go ahead and tell me about your dramas,” Orsino said instead.

“But I thought there was more. Is your story over?” She sounded a little disappointed.

“No. Just the part about the guys.”

“Is there a part about girls?” Titania asked, sounding like she doubted it.

“Only one girl,” he corrected.

Titania laughed again, and shook her head. “You’re doing all you can to make up for the lost time, aren’t you?”

“Well, what would you do?”

“I’m not criticizing, it’s just an observation. I wouldn’t waste time to begin with. But we’re talking about you. So, you still like girls?”

Orsino chuckled before saying: “If it’s possible, I like them more now.”

“You’ll have to explain that one to me.”

“I don’t know how. I think it’s because now I’m…” he trailed off. It wasn’t a bad thing, but he didn’t know how to put it to words.

“You’re what?” Titania insisted.

“I’m free,” he told her, suspecting it wouldn’t clear things up, but unsure how else to explain it.

“Free? What do you mean?”

“Remember what I asked you last time I was here? If you thought I’m gay?” She nodded. “Not just that. If liking Cesario made gay.”

“I remember,” Titania confirmed. “What does that have to do with being free?”

“I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that-- Why it’s so hard to find the words?” he complained, once more struggling to make his point.

“Keep trying, I believe in you,” Titania encouraged, in a tone he didn’t know whether it was serious or mocking.

“When I like someone, it’s because of that person, it’s not because I must like all men or women in the world.”

“Or non-binary people,” Titania added.

“What’s that?”

“You better google it, I don’t know how to explain. It’s like there’s men and women, and there’s everything else.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Then you should learn about it, it might be useful now you’re free.”

“Ok, I’ll look it up. Hey, you know what? Guess where I went on a date?” Titania shrugged, meaning she didn’t plan on guessing. “The botanical garden? Remember?” She started laughing immediately. “You remember.”

“I thought plant museum was our special place,” she pretended to be jealous.

“Sure,” Orsino shook his head. “You, me, and all Junior class, very special,” Orsino chuckled, thinking about the intense make out session he and Titania had had in that place seven years earlier. “It’s not that crowded without a field trip going on. I mean, we were practically alone, we made out by the pond, the one with all the water lilies, remember?”

“Of course I remember. That was always the best field trip. Making out by the pond, huh? That sounds suspiciously romantic. Who took you there?”

“Her name’s Olivia.”

“Ooh, this one has a name!” Titania teased him, making a fake excited voice and poking at him with her toes. Orsino pretended to be very annoyed by it, just to humor her. “What makes her so special?”

“I’ve been trying to get her to notice me for a while. What I forgot to tell you last time is that I went to that club because she was there. We danced, we kissed, it was great.”

“You dance?” Titania stared at him, trying to catch him lying. “In public?”

“I had a few beers first.”

“You’ll have to dance with me sometime, I’m having trouble believing this.”

“We used to dance right here in this living room,” he protested.

“But never in public,” she reminded him.

“I didn’t drink when I was fifteen.”

“Liar,” was all she said to that.

Orsino laughed in embarrassment. “It wasn’t very convincing, was it?”

“I was there,” she reminded him. “Tell your girlfriend that, and tell me if she buys it.”

“I don’t know if she’s my girlfriend. We only went on one date, but it was kind of a long one. It started yesterday.”

“That sounds good. What did you do?”

“You know,” Orsino smiled proudly.

“The whole time?” she challenged.

“Ok, not the whole time. We went to the movies. We went on one of those city tours, and pretended we were tourists. And there was this bonfire on the beach just now with her college friends.”

“That sounds like fun,” Titania approved. She stood up. “Let’s get something to eat.” They went back to the kitchen. “I have roast beef, and I have ice-cream, which do you want?”

“Ice-cream,” he said, surprised Titania even had to ask. Well, it had been a long time, maybe she thought he’d changed. Whatever it was, she was being way cooler than he deserved, he should do something good for her. Then he had an idea: “I have to cook for you one of these days. I can cook now, you know,” Orsino informed proudly.

“I didn’t know that. Is it good?”

“I think so. Cesario likes it.”

“Oh, my god, you cook for your crush, that’s so sweet!” she mocked. “You’re so adorable, Sino!” He just stared grumpily at her, giving Titania reason to laugh. “I’m just messing with you. Stop being a baby, and eat your ice-cream.”

“Are you telling me your drama now?” he asked, to change the subject.

“Sure, you’ll like this one. So, there was that twerk battle the night before Toby’s party, and I won.” Orsino nodded. “And since then those jealous bitches are just plain avoiding me, so I’ve been hanging out more with the Salon girls, especially Maya, she’s so sweet. The other night I went home with her. We get her little boy to sleep, have some wine, bad mouth our exes, and end up doing everything. Ok, everything is a little much, but we did some good stuff. And then the next morning it was a kiss on the cheek and ‘I have so much fun with you… bye.’ Is she telling herself that’s what girls do when they’re drunk? Does she want a friends with benefits kind of thing? I need answers.”

“It’s good to know I’m not the only who has no idea what he’s doing.” Orsino realized it was true as he said it.

“Oh, I know what I’m doing, I just can’t answer for the others.”

Chapter Text

Feste stared at their sleepy reflection, thinking they could probably go back to bed for two more hours, but Nick had already called, and would soon be waiting for them in Snout’s bar, across from the subway station. Feste wondered if they should wear something special for old Robin’s enemies. What would offend them the most? They didn’t know, but they suspected if Robin had called them his enemies, he probably wouldn’t mind if they showed up in a dress, it was Feste themself who didn’t feel like wearing one. Hopefully, the results to their visit to the salon the day before would be outrageous enough.

They’d gotten their hair and nails done at Big Titania’s salon the day before. Feste just loved Big Titania’s vintage gossips that involved the same circles old Robin had run in back in their time, plus all the struggles of being a hot, independent woman fifty years ago.

And there was, of course, Big Titania’s granddaughter, who had all the current gossip. She ran to their arms and kissed them three times, “for good luck,” she always said, something she learned from her grandma. Three was also the number of times Titania mentioned how cute Cesario was, so they raised a newly trimmed and shaped eyebrow, and asked: “Should I be worried that you think he’s so cute?”

She laughed loudly and shook her head. “Cute for you,” she corrected herself, still laughing. “Where did you two go last night?”

“My friend Nick was doing stand up comedy, we went to see him.”

“Oh, yeah, the actor, you told me about him. So you guys had fun?” she insisted.

“Of course we did. What do you think happens on a date with me?” Even though it was obvious she’d never make an exception for them, Feste still checked on her resolve every now and then. “You should’ve said yes when you had the chance.”

She laughed even more. “You mean you’re taken for good? Oh, how am I ever gonna get over it?”

“You know, it’s one thing if you don’t wanna go out with me, but you don’t have to be mean about it,” Feste complained, not entirely sure if they were joking or being serious about it. Titania decided they were joking, and patted their cheek condescendingly. “Darling, I don’t need that hit to my self esteem.”

“I’m not that much hotter than you,” Feste consoled her, going with the joke. Titania’s laugh was so hard she had to take a moment to steady herself. “Seriously, Feste, what makes you think you can handle this?” Her gesture indicated her gym cultivated body.

“What makes you think I can’t?” they challenged, crossing their arms over their chest, and staring at her in defiance. “You’re gay?” she said, like she was reminding them of something obvious, staring back at Feste, looking like she was very interested in the direction their talk had taken.

“So it’s not that you have anything against me, you just think I have something against you? Tania, baby, we should’ve had this talk years ago. My tastes are really versatile,” they informed, still looking in her eyes.

“Is that so?” she sounded skeptical, but never broke eye contact. “I would never have guessed.”

“You see? You shouldn’t guess other people’s preferences, that deprives you of a lot of fun. But hey, run after your hairy mouthbreathers, if that’s what makes you happy. But don’t fool yourself, I’m a lot better than those oversharing exes of yours.”

Titania looked worried for a second: “Oh, my god, what are they saying now?” “They think they’re saying ‘I rock, I did Titania,’ but what they’re really saying is ‘I’m vanilla and proud of it,’” Feste explained.

“Shit!” She shook her head, and rolled her eyes. “I better go with your take, I don’t think I’m gonna like theirs.”

Feste laughed at her doubts. “Don’t worry, no one’s questioning your talents. Except for me, of course.” Titania hit the back of their head softly. “The audacity of this bitch!”

“I’m sorry but they don’t sound like they know what a good time is, and that makes me think maybe you don’t either.” Feste knew nothing they said would change Titania’s mind about going on a date with them, but at least they could annoy her with that talk.

“Girl, you have no idea what’s my body count, I’ve had all kinds of times,” she said, thoroughly annoyed. “And it’s not always with the weight lifters, sometimes I pick them up at pilates class.”

Feste gave her a thumbs up in approval. “I should’ve stayed in that class. I thought that was a rumor, though,” they said. She shrugged, a sly smile on her lips. “Talking about rumors,” they changed the subject, “I heard the weirdest thing the other day. Are you seeing Orsino again?”

Titania tried not laughing about it, which only made it worse. She shook her head and facepalmed slowly and deliberately. “Of course not. He’s all issues.”

“Hairy, mouth breathing, and complicated? Good thing you don’t like that, right?” Feste insisted, just to tease her.

“Honestly? I wouldn’t mind a piece of him on the side, but I can’t be with a bigger diva than me.”

“Really? Not gonna lie, it may put a premature end to our love story. I’m obviously the bigger diva.” “You sure are,” Titania admitted. “But I think our love story was over long before that.”

“I was just kidding, our love’s immortal,” they teased a little more.

“Immortal,” she scoffed. “Sure, it’ll endure wind, weather, and boyfriends.”

“Wait a minute! Who’s your boyfriend?” Feste asked, surprised such news hadn’t found their ears earlier.

“I meant your boyfriend,” she clarified.

Feste was able to conceal their shock when they realized they were so deep in their flirting with Titania, they had completely forgotten the rest of the world was even a thing. Now they felt secretly guilty about it, but no way they would give Titania the pleasure of seeing that.

They’d left the salon with perfectly shaped eyebrows, newly braided pink hair, and matching nails. Feste was never able to keep their nails pretty for long, but they had managed to avoid ruining them so far, which meant they could look their most shocking for Robin’s enemies, even if they felt like wearing pants today. They put some makeup on, a white turtleneck with short sleeves, a purple satin vest, black skinny jeans, the bright white sports sneakers Maria had gifted them (and everyone in her payroll), and the havana hat Robin had given them before their first paying gig. They slung their guitar case over the shoulder, and left.

As they made their way down the hill, a kid approached them. “Why you’re wearing a grandpa hat?” Feste just shrugged in answer, and took it off to examine what was so grandfatherly about it. They didn’t see it. A damn good hat, that’s what it was. “What happened to your hair?”

“Had it dyed, do you like it?”

“No, it’s pink,” the kid said in disgust.

“You don’t like pink?” they pretended to be horrified by the news.

“No, pink’s for dumb girls.”

“Well, I’m a little dumb,” they said, not even a little bit in the mood for lecturing the baby devil.

“But you’re not a girl,” the kid insisted.

“No? What am I?”

“You have a beard,” the little one pointed at their face. Feste just nodded in agreement. “Girls don’t have beards.”

“Oh, yeah, what about that girl everybody calls Mustache?”

The kid made a confused face, and just stood there, glued to that place, thinking about it. Feste thought that was it for their talk, but the little sprinter caught up, and insisted: “Your shoes are for boys.”

“No, they’re for soldiers,” they corrected, not sure why they bothered.

“Can girls be soldiers?” the little monster asked.

“Army soldiers or Toby’s soldiers?” Feste asked, just to have some insight on the kid’s thinking.

“Toby’s,” the future soldier said, like it should be obvious, and Feste was being dense on purpose.

“Girls can work for Toby, don’t you know Maria?”

“Soldier,” the tiny brat corrected.

“Of course they can be soldiers, but then you have to stand in the sun all day, and someone could shoot you.”

“I like the sun,” said the kid, too young to believe they could get shot.

“Good for you, I like the sound of the guitar.”

The kid looked curiously at their guitar case. “I like music, too.”

“Better than the sound of gunshots, isn’t it?”

The kid laughed at the absurdity of Feste’s comparison. “Of course.”

“Then I’ll play something for you,” they said, suddenly stopping in the middle of the alley to get the guitar. “What would you like to hear?” The kid shrugged. “Ok, this song’s called Diarrea.” The child started laughing immediately. It was a short song all kids used to sing when Feste was in elementary school. The kid loved it. “Now go and sing it to your friends,” they said, getting the guitar back in its case.

“I don’t have any friends.”

Feste was hit by an inexplicable wave of discomfort, and looked the kid in the eyes. “Why not?”

“They beat me,” the kid mumbled looking away.

“Fuck!” said Feste, who didn’t want to empathize with the annoying brat who didn’t like their hair, but it was too late now.

“Don’t swear, I’m only eight,” the kid said very seriously.

“Please, I know what you sound like when you play football,” Feste accused, making the kid look guilty. “I know, and don’t care, so you can take it easy on me, too, right?”

“Right,” the kid nodded.

“Listen,” Feste placed a hand on the kid’s shoulder, “I have something to do now, but if you want, I’ll teach you a magic trick next time, ok?”

“I wanna learn magic. Teach me now!”

“I don’t have the time. Here,” Feste pulled a sweet from behind the kid’s ear, and gave it to the wide eyed child. “Bye.”

Nick was waiting at the bar. He knew Feste too well to ask what took them so long, but he noticed the kid following. “You have a fan,” he pointed out.

Feste thought the kid had stayed behind, and turned around to see they were wrong. “You’re still here? Go play.”

“No, you play,” said Feste’s tiny stalker, pointing to the guitar.

Nick laughed loudly at that one, and said: “I agree. Something weird, please.”

“Yes, please,” the pinky sized human cheered.

“Yes, please,” Tom joined in from behind the counter, looking amused by the only interaction happening inside.

“Since there are so many requests.” Feste shrugged, sat down, and got ready to play. “It’s called The Wind And The Rain.” They played it.

When the song was over, Nick applauded enthusiastically, while the kid looked confused, and Tom Snout, the bartender, said: “What the hell was that? Sing it again.”

“That’ll be one beer, any beer’s fine,” Feste said, smiling.

“Do you think I just give stuff away like that?” Tom crossed his arms, and stared at Feste, who just rolled their eyes at him. Then he turned to the kid: “Hey, Willow, where’s your mom?” The kid shrugged. Tom shook his head. “Have a seat.” He pointed to one of the stools by the counter, and once Willow had managed to climb it, he presented the kid with a sandwich that looked nothing like an item of the bar’s menu. His lunch, Feste guessed.

“You sure have a golden heart, Snout,” Feste commented. “You deserve a better song. Ask for anything.”

“No, sing that weird thing again. I wanna make sure I understand it.”

Feste was more than happy to do an encore, their lyrics weren’t nearly as popular as their beats, so it was a rare thing for someone to ask for that song. Even if Tom didn’t exactly like it, he was interested, he listened for the second time, paying a lot of attention. “So it was all a dream?” he asked when it was over.

Feste just shrugged.

“It doesn’t rain everyday,” Willow commented.

“Everyday, it rains somewhere,” Pete argued.

Feste turned to Nick. “Can we go?”

*

They shouted for Robin at the gate, making a lot of noise as they always did. He walked to the gate in his usual manner, like he was dancing to a never ending tune only he could hear. He wore a white linen suit, a striped shirt, and a havana hat with a red stripe around it. “He’s dressed for business,” Nick observed.

“Gotta look on point for your enemies,” Feste concluded.

“Yes, you do,” said Robin, finally getting to the gate. He walked out, looked Feste up and down, and said: “You get it.” Then he looked at Nick, who wore flowery shorts and white flip flops, and made a face. “You, not so much.”

“Maybe it’s you who don’t get it, ever thought about that?” Nick said, a little angrier than necessary.

“I have thought about that, actually,” Robin told him, his index finger raised for emphasis. “And no, it’s not me. Not this time, at least.”

“Where are we going?” Nick asked, after a calming, deep breath.

“The Backroom,” he said, taking shotgun in Nick’s car.

Feste and Nick exchanged a worried look: the Backroom had been Robin’s original bar, where all rejects would gather and make the music of their generation, which happened somewhere around forty and fifty years ago. “Why you wanna take us to that dead bar?” Feste asked. “You know what century this is, right?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m old, so I must be senile. Hilarious,” Robin sneered. “No, it’s the anniversary, those fuckers are all gonna be there, I can’t let them think I’m dead. I have to show them I can still dance. And you two, as my... heirs,” he chose the word staring at Feste from the rearview mirror, “will be all the more educated after a History lesson.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Nick said, making a face. “I ran from school, and I’ll run away from you too if you start teaching me History.”

“I never made you learn useless stuff. Have some faith,” Robin said, with an edge to his too calm voice that Feste picked up on immediately, and started wondering what the old man was up to.

During the day, Bohemian Alley was a slow place, and the only bars working were devoted to music from Robin’s generation and older, back when poor people could afford living there. Robin hated gentrified Bohemian Alley, and complained about it the whole climb up the narrow street. “They only kept the name,” he lamented, catching his breath at the door, before Nick slided it open for him. Robin straightened up, let go of Feste’s arm, and entered the bar followed by his pupils.

The old men inside turned to look at the new arrivals. “You still fit that thing, Puck?” shouted an old man wearing a polo shirt, sitting by the counter. That got a laugh from the rest of the bar. “Not all of us went soft and lazy with old age,” he said, walking up to the man.

“I was soft and lazy long before I was old,” the man said, standing up and hugging Robin. “Cobweb, I thought you were dead,” he told the man, sitting next to him. “Any day now, you’ll see,” Cobweb said, like it was a great prospect. Feste and Nick looked at each other, both uncomfortable with the joke.

“These are my children,” Robin told him, pointing at his pupils.

Cobweb shook hands with both. “This one could be yours,” he said, admiring Feste’s looks. “He has your sense of fashion. Nice hat,” he said directly to Feste, who thanked him, while thinking of an old photo of a disturbingly young Robin wearing only feathers, and wondering if Cobweb meant that sense of fashion.

“Not ‘he,’ Cobweb, ‘they,’” Robin corrected, to Feste’s shock. The same man who called them “it” every once in a while suddenly knew their pronouns?

But Cobweb didn’t get it. He pointed at Nick. “No, this one doesn’t dress like you.”

Robin laughed, shaking his head. He looked at Feste with an apology in his eyes, but they just shrugged, too used to being called “he” to care. Even if the stranger had used their pronouns, it would never have compared to Robin’s acknowledgement.

The three of them sat with Cobweb by the counter, and did a shot. As soon as the liquor settled, they each ordered a beer and sipped quietly on them, with their backs turned to the counter, looking for familiar faces. Nick nudged at Feste, and pointed to the stage. The only musicians on the clock were closer to their age, but their repertoire was older than Robin. “You know Frank?” he pointed at the flutist.

“I’ve seen him around. You know him?”

Nick nodded. “We were in a play together.” His tone suggested the memory wasn’t exactly pleasant.

Their talk was interrupted by the approach of a smartly dressed man in his twenties, who looked at the same time friendly and aloof. Feste checked him out in detail when he stood before Robin.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said in a baritone that gave Feste the good kind of chills. Robin looked at the young man’s face as though there was something incomprehensible about it. “My name’s Oberon III, you’re Robin Goodfellow, right?”

“You’re his grandson?” Robin inferred, his face going from confusion to curiosity in seconds. “Nice to meet you.”

“My grandfather sent me here to invite you to sit with us at our table,” the young man said, enunciating every word clearly, looking confident. “Sure.” Robin stood up, and had a smug smile on his face. “These are my bodyguards, they go where I go,” he pointed to his pupils.

“Of course,” Oberon III agreed, nodding, smiling, and being so charming, Feste wanted to stare at him. He turned to them: “Let’s all sit together and get to know each other.” He beckoned them towards the table, and guided Robin with a friendly hand on his shoulder.

Feste had heard about some guy named Oberon from Big Titania years ago, and would’ve forgotten all about it by now, if Robin hadn’t refused to even hear their questions, let alone answer them. They knew there was something else to that story, but they didn’t know what. According to Big Titania, no man had been more desired than Oberon, and of course she was no exception, but the man was trouble, and everyone knew it, so she’d kept away from him, or so she said. But what about Robin?

“That guy’s hot,” Nick whispered, convincing Feste to check out Oberon III’s behind. And it was a nice view, but they were still wondering at Robin’s motivations. “Was his grandpa at Bandolin Mike’s Funeral?”

Nick looked carefully at the old man, who stood up, and held his arms open for their mentor. “I think he’s one of the fancy ones, you know, that they said all those nice things about, in that little man’s club, you remember?” Feste didn’t remember the little man’s club very well after so long, but they did remember Robin and his friends bad mouthing some of the people who’d showed up. “I’m getting the feeling ‘enemy’ wasn’t the word he was looking for,” they said, so low only Nick could hear.

A waiter brought him a chair, and Robin sat next to his old friend at the head of the long table, where many old man were sitting and talking. By the time he waved them over, Oberon had a hand on the back of his neck, and Feste made their assumptions. “These are my heirs,” he told Oberon, and named them.

The old man shook their hands with his left, refusing to let go of Robin. First Nick, then he held Feste’s hand longer than necessary, smiling at them. “You play?” “I do,” they nodded, uncomfortable with the staring, “Robin taught me.”

“You know a little more than what I taught you,” their mentor said, very generously.

“Good music?” Oberon asked, smiling at Robin like he was his favorite sight in creation. “I wouldn’t know, it’s computer music,” he said, stopping his shrug midaction to keep Oberon’s hand where it was.

The old man still held Feste’s hand, and now something changed in his eyes, they wanted to pull their hand free and put some distance between the two of them, but he went on speaking. “Electronic?” They nodded. He looked across the room, and shouted: “Boy!”

“I’m here,” said his grandson, who had been standing behind his chair all along.

“Oh! Good. Feste here makes electronic music,” he said, passing Feste’s hand on to him.

Oberon III shook their hand, and smiled embarrassedly at Feste for a second. He proceeded to guide them and Nick to some empty chairs. When they sat down, the young man asked questions about both of them, keeping them talking, saying only enough about himself to confirm what his clothes and manners had already hinted at: the world he lived in had a very small intersection with Feste and Nick’s, and music and beer were part of it.

At some point, he actually started asking Feste about their music. They ordered more beer, and told him all about it. A few bottles and a lot of talking later, Oberon said he was convinced, and now had to listen to their stuff. He excused himself, and left the bar.

“Dude’s cute but that was weird,” Nick said, still looking at the direction Oberon had disappeared.Feste nodded in agreement. “It probably runs in the family.” They both turned back to the table, then looked at Robin sitting with Oberon, and Nick came to his conclusion: “So Robin and that guy were a thing, right?”

“That’s what it looks like. But I don’t get it, he gives me creeps,” Feste confessed, finishing another bottle.

“I think it’s pretty simple: Robin likes them intimidating, I mean, who doesn’t?”

“I don’t think you’re ok, Nick.”

“When someone finally agrees to be intimidating to me and no one else, I’ll be more than ok, thank you very much.” Feste laughed, not sure what to say to that.

They followed Nick to say hi to Frank, when the musicians took a break. They both told Feste about the disastrous play in which they had worked together. The talk happened right by the stage, so it wasn’t hard to see what had inspired Robin, when he waved them over, and asked them to play something original.

Feste checked with the musicians if that was alright, and got ready. “The Wind and the Rain,” Nick suggested, but they didn’t feel like playing it for a third time, and went for a different one.

They sang Hey, Robin, which got applause from the very critical audience right from the start, and some laughter, but not because it was so good, they took it as their cue to repeat “Hey, Robin,” like they had something to tell him.

When the song was over, Feste finally looked at their teacher to see his reaction, but he was busy, responding to his friends’ teasing. Oberon gave them a thumbs up, and asked for another song the same way one asks for another beer in a noisy room. Feste nodded, and maybe it was just to escape the old man’s stare, but before they could really think about it, they started singing Come Away Death.

The singer didn’t notice how silent the room had become until the song was over. Suddenly, they were made aware of the effect their song had had on the audience. The prolonged silence made everyone uncomfortable, particularly the one standing on the stage alone. That was not how it was supposed to go.

Cobweb solved the problem by shouting for the whole room to hear: “Fuck that, you all better cry when I die!” Everyone laughed, and Feste took that moment to leave the stage. It was better to accept they couldn’t always win.

“Damn, that song’s dark,” Nick commented. “In hindsight, it may have been in poor taste,” they admitted.

“Should’ve gone with The Wind and the Rain.”

They focused very hard on the conversation, to forget the most recent embarrassment. “I’m glad you like it, but you’re the only one,” they told Nick, who had an idea to share: “I wanna make a bit about it, there’s this guy Jake at the club, and everyone loves his bit 7 Ages of Men, I want to do one with your song to respond to his.”

“I don’t think people will laugh.”

“Of course they will. They’ll be expecting a middle aged guy next, but I’ll turn into a woman, that always gets a laugh.”

*

Oberon III came back to the bar with purpose. He told Nick he needed a moment with Feste, and started telling them he liked the music, giving it adjectives Feste would never have thought of. He started asking where they usually played, and Feste at first thought they had a fan, but then Oberon said: “I’m looking for new artists for the alternative tent in an electronic festival I’m involved in. Ever heard of Faerie Experience?”

Feste just nodded and gave him a closed mouth smile, but internally they were shaken. A festival of that size, no matter how alternative the tent, would certainly be better than the Elephant, where gathering a hundred people presented a fire hazard. “I mean, you’d still have to audition, but I really like the music. You have my vote already.”

“Just to make things clear, this isn’t the kind of gig where I have to pay you to work for you, is it?”

Oberon shook his head. “No, we want to keep it professional, and we can’t yell at you if you’re not getting paid, can we?”

“No way! You won’t be yelling for free, are you?”

“Exactly,” Oberon agreed, smiling with all the humanity his grandfather lacked. He sat back, and placed an arm around Feste’s shoulders. “You know, I thought this place was going to be a waste of my time, good thing I was wrong.”

*

They left the bar in the evening, driving behind Oberon’s car to a penthouse in a fancy condo. The place was obviously huge, and they didn’t see where the two old men disappeared to, but they didn’t care. Oberon III led the way to his office, poured some scotch for himself and his guests, turned his computer on, opened a drawer, and pulled out a mirror he placed facing up on his desk with a rock hard piece of coke on top of it. “You two go ahead. And leave some for me.”

They couldn’t see what the young man was looking up on his computer, Nick was busy working the rock to dust, so Feste took the time to text Cesario, saying they were still with Robin and Nick. Finally, Oberon looked away from the screen, and told them: “I’m trying to get some people to listen to your stuff, and tell me what they think. Also, when is your next gig? I want to see it.”

“Tomorrow night, I’ll be in Illyria, and saturday at the Elephant.”

“Illyria hill, huh? Is it safe?”

“I don’t know how to answer that,” Feste shrugged. “It’s usually like any other place. Maybe you’ll see something you’re not used to seeing around here, and most of the time that’s it. But sometimes it’s not.”

Nick did a line, and handed the mirror to the host, who passed it to Feste, saying: “Guests first.” When he saw Feste’s line, he added: “That’s too much, do half, and see how it feels,” he advised.

“I like to start big,” they informed, but followed his instructions just to humour the host. “Toby’s is better,” they told him, before snorting the second half.

“Is it? You’ll have to get me some so I believe in you,” he said, and Feste knew that tone, they used it often, it meant “I’m kidding, unless you’re not.”

“It is better,” Feste assured. “But only straight from Toby. Yours is better than the retail quality.”

“If you can get me something purer, I can pay the price.”

“Whenever you want,” Feste promised, shrugging to convey it was no big deal.

“Let’s finish this one first,” he said with a smile, and did a line. He finished his neat scotch next, and poured everyone some more. “You can help yourselves to some more, you don’t have to wait for me.” Nick followed his advice.

*

At night, they went with Nick to the comedy club where he had a gig. Nick’s hands were shaking from all the coke, and everyone could tell he was way past drunk, but no one in there told him to go home, so Feste and Oberon found themselves a table, and got comfortable to watch the show. Nick was third, just like in audition night.

At first, Nick’s high looked too obvious, but as soon as he started using it to emphasize the eagerness and wide eyed innocence of his stage persona, it worked just fine, the only thing weird was how impatient he looked when he gave the audience a moment to laugh. Also, he was breathing very loudly against the mic, half the people laughed because they knew what Nick was on, the other half laughed at it, thinking it was to highlight how bad an actor he actually was.

“This is so bad, it’s good,” Oberon said, applauding enthusiastically. “If that was on purpose, its pure genius.”

He was ready to leave, when the next comedian was announced. It was that Jake guy Nick had mentioned. They made Oberon stay and watch 7 Ages of Men. Feste thought it was both funny and dark, coming to the conclusion Nick was delusional, The Wind and The Rain was nothing like that.

As soon as they freed Nick from his coworkers, who were teasing him for being so wasted, Oberon took them to an exclusive club that was beyond rich kids level, it was a rich grownups club, and he got them a VIP table, where no one bothered them when they did lines in plain sight. One bottle of vodka later, they went back to Oberon’s.

He showed Nick to a guest bedroom, then guided Feste to his own. “You could sleep here,” Oberon offered. Only now Feste noticed he’d had his arm around their shoulders for a while. Before they could think too much about it, they were kissed to persuasion.

*

Feste woke up around noon, when Nick shook them up, saying Robin wanted to go home. “So this is where you spent the night,” he said, stretching on his back next to them. “Lucky bastard! That’s what I get for not dressing up.” Feste rolled on their side and tried to go back to sleep. Nick shook them even harder. “Come on, Robin’s been up for hours, he’s getting cranky.”

They didn’t make too much of an effort to really wake up, sleeping in the car would do just fine. In the living room, they found Robin and Oberon III sitting together, having breakfast. Upon seeing them, the old man laughed. “You look like you had a drop too many, just a drop, though,” he said, charging his voice with sarcasm. Feste didn’t even have the energy to tell him to leave them alone.

“Coffee?” young Oberon offered. They whispered a thanks as best as they could manage, and prayed to the hangover gods this was what they needed.

At the moment, Feste hated the sound of everyone’s voice, but they still picked up on the exchange between Robin and their host’s grandson. The young man wanted Robin to stay, saying his grandfather would be up soon, and he would be disappointed if everyone had just left.

“I’m sure he’s counting on me to sneak out,” Robin told him, with a sly smile. “But if you want me to stay,” he said, shrugging, and emphasizing “you.”

“I do, I really do,” the young man said. Then he turned to Feste: “So, how’s that coffee working out for you?”

“It’ll do, just give it time,” they told him, feeling the first stirrings of their spirit.

They sat and had breakfast with the others, their mind still unfocused, and found themself fascinated by Robin’s technique of orange peeling, which left him with a long winding string of orange peel. Nick picked it up and played with it. “Just look at that,” he said, still dangling it in the air. “How do you do it?”

“First you do it, then you do it well, then you do it fast,” Robin said, shrugging, because that’s what he always said about any skills (along with “you do it wrong until you do it right”). Oberon wasn’t in on the joke, but Feste and Nick had heard that pearl of wisdom too many times, not to laugh at it by this point.

“Fake it till you make it,” Nick translated.

Laughing helped Feste feel better. They yawned, and stretched their muscles, standing up, and pacing about the room to accelerate the process of waking up. “I could go for a beer,” they decided.

“Finally!” said Robin, whose hours in the bar usually started at ten in the morning. “I thought you kids wanted to go to church or something.” They laughed.

The beach was literally across the street, and they sat under a parasol, watching the waves, getting dazzled by the bright sunlight reflected on the sand. Most of their words commented on the day and the sea. Oberon’s arm found its way around Feste’s shoulders again, so they enjoyed it, along with some cold beer.

After his second bottle, Oberon asked: “Remember you were telling me about your dealer’s coke, last night?” A question that had Feste texting Maria to ask if she had the stuff, letting her know they were asking for a rich guy.

She answered within minutes, telling them to come over and get it. Oberon agreed, saying they should go immediately. They discussed it over another bottle, and after that, the four of them drove to Illyria.

Oberon couldn’t park right in front of the bar, so they had to walk back for a block before they sat down and had cheap beer (the only kind Tom Snout sold), before going to Maria. Feste was getting ready to leave them waiting and go, when Willow showed up, asking them for magic lessons, as promised. Well, a promise was a promise, especially when the promised one managed to make Feste feel guilty so effortlessly.

They waved a bike over, and sent Nick instead. Feste sat Willow down, showing over and over how to conceal a sweet in their hand, and pretend it was behind someone else’s ear all along. The kid had a real hard time doing it, and practiced it on Pete, while they drank some more with Robin and Oberon. Both staring a lot when Titania came over to greet Feste. She kissed them three times as usual, and they invited her for a glass, just to prove to the others they were in fact friends with that goddess.

Robin had a funny look on his face when he greeted her, calling her honey and introducing himself. Titania, who loved teasing men who had no chance with her, found a golden opportunity on Robin, stroking his face and hands, making those interested eyes, Feste knew were just for show, when he started talking about his youth.

Oberon stared at her shamelessly, but she was having too much fun watching Robin go out of his way trying to charm her. Feste didn’t care that Oberon looked so interested, sure, they’d had some fun together, but neither one had expected it to be anything more than just fun. On a more pressing matter, they had agreed to teach Willow the trick, and the eight-year-old needed all the assistance they could give. Which only left Feste a small part of their brain to notice their surroundings.

Willow had finally got the hang of it, when a flash of light warned them. Feste only had to use their peripheral vision to see the police car. “We’re in trouble,” they whispered to Robin, their back still turned to the street, pretending they hadn’t noticed the car yet.

Robin facepalmed, and agreed: “We’re in trouble.”

“What’s the matter?” Titania asked, turning her attention back to Feste.

“They’ll get Nick,” they told her.

“The boy’s an actor, it’ll ruin his career,” Robin lied.

At first Feste didn’t understand why Robin said that, but within seconds Titania’s facial expression changed, and she decided: “I can distract one.”

“Good! Go,” they said, giving her an encouraging push. There was still a second police officer and Feste could only stare at Robin, hoping some great idea would come to them before Nick did, while Oberon watched their panic with the all the distancing only a rich motherfucker such as himself could afford to show. Feste low-key hated him at the moment.

But before any plan could be conceived, Feste saw little Willow had gone to the officer, and was showing him the magic trick. And it was working. The man looked incredibly bored, but he was looking. And that dumbass Malvolio believed with all his heart Titania wanted to “hold his gun.” There was no one to stop the bike carrying Nick downhill. He looked about to have a heart attack, but the boy driving him was pure poker face, and slowly passed the cops, turning left, going where Oberon’s car was parked.

“Go to your car, we’ll be right there,” they told Oberon.

Feste paid Tom for the beers, offered Robin their arm, and he played the helpless old man marvelously. This unfortunately was a character that took more than five minutes to climb down the bar’s steps and get to the car. But at least it worked.

Titania caught up to them minutes before they made it to the car. “Alright, what’s going on?” she demanded to know.

“Come along to find out,” Robin said, smiling at her like he had a chance.

Feste was beyond amazed when Titania said: “Like you can get rid of me.”

There was one more surprise waiting for them in the car: Willow was on the backseat with Nick, waiting. “What the hell? When did you pass us?” The kid did the same finger snapping Toby’s men used when they meant “a long time ago,” and it looked so out of place in an eight-year-old, everyone started laughing. “You can’t come with us, I’m sorry.”

“But we’re friends!” the little devil argued.

“But you’re eight,” Feste reminded Willow. They really felt they owed the kid something, so they gave Willow their pockett change and said: “Buy yourself some candy,” and sent the little thug away .

Titania sat next to Nick, flirting with him from the first second, still believing what Robin had said about Nick having an acting career. Oberon, who drove the car, was still eyeing Titania in silent approval with some help from the rearview mirror. The girl never asked where they were going, practically throwing herself onto Nick. And everyone else, Oberon included, did all they could not to spoil it for him.

By the time they got back to the penthouse, old Oberon was up, and the sour face he directed to his grandson sweetened immediately when he laid eyes on Robin. He looked at Titania with the same puzzled expression Robin had. “You look familiar,” he told her, and it sounded more or less like an accusation.

Titania, just like Feste knew she would, used her powers on old Oberon. She cocked her head to the side, smiling at him, batting her long eyelashes. “You look too fancy for Illyria,” she said, pretending to admire his designer clothes as an excuse to touch him. “It must have been somewhere else.” The old man looked smug, and the others were watching her all too interested. Feste wanted to burst with laughter, but they didn’t want to break the spell. “Maybe you saw me on Tinder. Would you swipe left or right for me?” she asked, doing a little twirl so the old man got the full picture.

Even if he hadn’t been speechless, Robin started laughing, before he had the time to say anything, which annoyed Titania, because laughter was not the right way to react to her charms. But it wasn’t directed at her. “Right or left, Oberon?” he repeated, before laughing some more.

“Don’t be ridiculous, she’s talking about that thing they have on their phones,” the old man replied, clearly annoyed that Robin was making fun of him. “I’m not,” was all the explanation he gave, leaving whatever he meant in the air.

Feste knew it had to be some kind of inside joke between the two old men, but it didn’t make any sense. They exchanged a look with Nick, just to confirm he didn’t know what their teacher was talking about either.

But Oberon knew what Robin meant. “Boy, show him that guitar of yours,” he told his grandson. And to his visitors: “Let’s have a seat.”

Young Oberon came back from his room, and handed Robin his acoustic guitar. He tried playing a chord, but before he got any sound out of it, he realized: “Oh! I can’t do this.” And returned it to its owner, who explained: “I’m left handed.”

“You see,” old Oberon told Robin, “it’s a world where a young man can just be left handed and he doesn’t have to be fixed.”

“Peak of civilization,” Feste said, shrugging.

Robin was mildly amused by the comment, but his focus was still on Oberon III and his guitar. “Show us what you can do with a lefty guitar,” he asked. But before he could play anything, Robin took one look at how he held the guitar, stared at old Oberon dead serious, and asked: “You sent him to a conservatory?” There was heavy judgement in his tone.

“There’s nothing wrong with formal education,” Oberon shrugged. “Where else was he supposed to learn? In the bar with you?”

“Yes!” said Nick, jumping to Robin’s side, at the same time Feste asked: “Why not?”

The old man smiled, pleasantly surprised his friend had such backup. “It looks like it worked out fine for you,” he said to Feste, who just smiled and shrugged, to break eye contact gently. But Oberon wasn’t having it, he went on with his explanation as if Feste had been the one who asked about it: “You see, the boy has a father, I wasn’t the one who made him learn classical music.” Feste nodded, since the man was looking them in the eye as he spoke. “I’m the one who thinks he was right to leave it behind.” Then he turned to his grandson: “Go ahead.”

He didn’t play a classical piece, he played I’ll See You in My Dreams, making his small audience get bouncy, and at one point getting an “alright, kid,” from Robin, which made Feste slightly jealous even though it was deserved. But when the song was over, all of them applauded the guitarist.

Old Oberon surprised Feste by displaying some human emotion. “Very good,” he said, nodding, and smiling at his grandson, about to burst with pride. Then he turned to Robin, and his smile became smug. “Not too bad for the conservatory, huh?”

“Not bad at all,” Robin had no problem admitting. He addressed the young man: “Seriously, not bad at all. But I think it’s for the best you left that country club. Living, changing music, that’s what you need, not rules.” Feste had to stifle a laugh. They’d grown up on Robin’s advice, but still thought he was a terrible influence on anyone who had a chance of being well adjusted. Oberon III just nodded politely. “It wasn’t a conservatory, it was a left handed tutor,” he explained.

He put down his guitar, and stood up. “Beer anyone? Hey, Nick, can you help me get them?” Feste was surprised he asked Nick and not them. They also noticed he whispered something to Nick, who nodded in response. Old Oberon, on the other hand, wanted to show Robin the old pictures of the Backroom he’d dug up. So the two of them left.

Nick brought Titania a beer, and whispered something that made her leave the room with him. It was only Oberon and Feste. They threw him an awkward smile, and a shrug that was more an attempt to escape the discomfort than to convey any meaning.

Oberon picked up his guitar, played a few chords, then looked at Feste, already amused by the thought he was about to share: “You know, you and I might end up becoming cousins.”

Feste laughed, wondering what Robin would think about that. He had called them his child, so the joke wasn’t too far off, as long as the two old men were together, that is. And Feste suspected Robin and Oberon would burn bright and fast, or whatever the equivalent for old people was. He had refused to hear an ignorant question about Oberon years ago, and hadn’t spoken to him at Bandolin Mike’s funeral, but had flown right into his arms as soon as they saw each other that afternoon. Feste was confident in their guess: something had gone awfully wrong between those two in the past, and their fling would be over as soon as that grudge resurfaced. Until then, they’d enjoy Oberon’s hospitality to the fullest.

Chapter Text

Cesario stared at the ceiling, bored, they only had one text from Feste, saying they were still with Nick and Robin, while Sebastian had stopped answering an hour ago, and just ignored their questions. They stayed in bed, until a low “Hello,” coming from the living room, brought them back to reality.

“Where is everybody?” Orsino asked loudly, clearly addressing everybody, unless he was asking the house. “I have pizza,” he sang.

Cesario didn’t want to look like they were only there for the pizza, which they weren’t, but the truth wasn’t that simple, either, that they could explain why they had to see Orsino. “Curio’s asleep,” they told him, so he would lower his voice, but they didn’t really care about what was best for Curio, they just couldn’t think of anything else to tell him that wasn’t uncomfortable. Even the silence as he stared back was uncomfortable.

“Want some? Pizza,” he added, nodding emphatically.

They did want pizza, but this was just too weird, they had to say something or leave, and they weren’t sure what to say. Orsino and Cesario didn’t move. They stood with the whole room between them, struggling to make any conversation. All they managed was “Hi.”

“I…” Orsino’s voice trailed in doubt. “I messed up.” They just kept staring at Orsino, agreeing with his statement but not convinced it was their job to decide what messing up meant to him. “I’m sorry about saturday. It was wrong to get you involved in my problems. Here, let’s have some pizza.” He sat on the couch, placed the pizza box on the coffee table, and kept looking at Cesario intently.

They sat on the other end of the couch, leaving as much room as possible between them and Orsino, who relaxed a little, and got himself a slice of pizza. Cesario followed his lead, and made small talk by saying they liked it and asking Orsino where he’d got it. The small talk didn’t do more than tell them they could be in the same room and keep things to the minimum amount of awkwardness, but at the moment, that was great news.

Then Orsino said “Hmm…” for a long time, which caught Cesario’s attention. They looked at him, waiting for what he had to say. “Can I tell you something?” They nodded. Orsino looked embarrassed, but everything was going so uncomfortably at the moment, Cesario didn’t think it was directly related to what he was going to say next: “You know how I… acted really weird last saturday?” They nodded, getting anxious at the topic. “I was trying to figure out why, and…” he trailed off again. Cesario stared at him expectantly. “I’m bissexual,” he blurted out, studying their reaction very closely.

“So am I,” they told him, not quite sure if there was anything else they were supposed to say.

“It took me long enough to see it, and I’m sorry I made it your problem. Are you mad at me? Is Feste mad at me?”

They felt slightly guilty at the second question. “I’m not mad at you. I was worried about you, actually. Good thing you’re figuring stuff out.”

“I guess. My head hasn’t stopped spinning since I started thinking about it, but everyone says thinking about it is the right thing to do. I mean, everyone that matters,” he amended quickly, waving his hand at Cesario as an example, although they’d said nothing.

“You’ll get used to it,” Cesario said, wondering when they had gone from trying to figure things out, to making it up as they went along. “So now I can talk about hot guys with you?” they said to lighten the mood.

“It’s not gonna be the first time,” he reminded them, going along with the lighter tone.

*

When they got home, on Friday evening, Curio was leaving the shower. They were tired and looking down, so the first thing they saw was the lack of a towel around his waist. “Oh!” they shouted, startled, looking up to see who it belonged to. “What the hell!” they complained.

“Don’t be a baby,” Curio said, going to his room.

Cesario took a shower, and in the absence of news from Feste, decided to put on their comfy clothes and stay home. Curio, however, was sitting in the living room, ready to go out. “You’re not going?” he asked, sounding confused. “Where?” “Fabian’s. Feste’s playing tonight.”

“I didn’t know that,” they told Curio, wondering why Feste hadn’t texted them about it. “Go get ready, we have time,” he said, unaware of Cesario’s doubts. They did, all the while thinking it was typical of Feste, which wasn’t reassuring at all.

Curio wasn’t in a hurry to go inside, so Cesario followed his lead, deciding there was no reason they should go running to Feste, and had a pink vodka smoothie. As a warm up exercise, Curio showed some dance steps he’d been practicing with his friends from football. “That’s a lot of twerking,” Cesario observed, laughing. “They won’t be able to resist it,” the dancer said, with smug confidence that was only partially performatic.

Cesario tagged along when Curio found some of his football friends, and joined them. They looked familiar, but no names came to mind. Which didn’t stop one from saying: “I know you, your name’s Sweetie, right?” Curio guffawed uncontrollably when he heard it. “It’s Cesario,” they corrected over his laughter.

“Sweetie?” Curio asked, confused, when he caught his breath. “That’s what I heard,” Curio’s friend shrugged. “Maria calls me that,” they explained.

“Sweetie and his pink drink,” Curio said, before laughing some more. And now his friends were all calling them Sweetie, and having a good laugh at their expense. Cesario had to shrug off the embarrassment, and take another sip of their pink drink through a straw as the tough guys laughed.

Because they were in the spotlight, something had to be said: “So you guys all dance like Curio when you play football?” “Only when we win,” one said. “I dance a lot better than those guys,” another told them, and went on to show off his skills. The others booed him, turning against the show off friend, which brought Cesario out of the spotlight among them.

And when another one defended the air hump as the best victory dance, they all ganged up against him. It was always someone’s turn. That wasn’t the kind of group Cesario wanted to be part of, but they could have some mindless fun with them for now.

They tried dancing like the guys once they were inside the club. The others had a lot more practice, but trying was fun, and kept them from thinking about going upstage to ask Feste why they hadn’t said anything about being there. At some point, Cesario was led by the rest of the group in the approach of some girls nearby. They played the part, and danced with one of them for a little bit.

By the time the song was over, one of the newly made pairings had already left the group, and another was making out right there, in front of them. Cesario was dancing to the first few beats of the next song with the same girl, when she asked: “You’re Feste’s boyfriend, right?” They nodded. She smiled embarrassedly, and said: “I like your friend.” She was looking at one of Curio’s football friends. He wasn’t their friend, but maybe something could be done about it.

“Let’s dance with them,” they decided, guiding the girl closer to the other couple, where she could make eye contact with her intended, and it was easy to switch partners for the next song. The second dance partner, however, was looking at Cesario in a funny way they didn’t like: they could see the signs of that well known question taking form in her head. So they left at the first opportunity.

Cesario went to the bar, and took their sweet time choosing between beer and soda. They went for the latter, and were about to crack it open, when a friendly but heavy hand landed on their shoulder. “Hey, Sweetie, can I have that straw?” It was one of Toby’s soldiers, but his name escaped them completely. “What?” “I need a straw, they won't give me one if I buy a beer.”

“You drink beer with a straw?” they asked, wondering if people did that. “What? No!” the soldier answered, even more confused by the idea. There was a moment of silent exchange of looks between them, when Cesario realized they probably didn’t want to know what he wanted the straw for. “Here,” they handed it over.

“Thanks, man,” the soldier said, finally happy. “Want some weed?” he offered what he was smoking. “Sure.” Cesario shrugged, and took it. “You can keep it, thanks again,” he said, leaving.
They found a spot by the wall where no one was making out, and stood there for a while, smoking, and drinking soda. The moment the weed started working was very obvious, because suddenly Feste’s lack of communication was a lot less annoying, and Cesario just wanted to be with them.

They tried crossing the dance floor to get to Feste, but Curio stopped them midway. “Dude, dude, dude,” he said very urgently, with his hand on their shoulder, “you have to check that out!” He pointed somewhere in the crowd, looking excited about whatever it was, but Cesario couldn’t find it. “What?” they asked. Curio kept pointing, until they saw Orsino dancing with a girl. “Oh!”

“Miracles happen,” he said, laughing. Cesario was about to do the same, when they realized: “That’s Olivia!” “The one he keeps texting?” Curio asked, and laughed even harder when he got a nod confirming it. When he got his breath back, and his laughter under control, he said: “I’m so proud!” and cracked up again, this time, taking with him Cesario, who was high and prone to laugh, anyway.

Once more, they decided to get to Feste, and took a look around to find the best route to the stage. What they saw, however, was a man making a video on his phone. He didn’t look like the kind of guy you’d see in that neighborhood: his clothes were too expensive, his hair was too well kept. He looked at Cesario and smiled a smile Curio would’ve strongly advised against. They smiled back, too high not to.

When he approached, Cesario noticed the man was tall, and broad-shouldered. Probably the most handsome guy they’d ever seen. “Hi, I’m Oberon.” They were too intimidated by his looks to say anything other than their name, but he just went on speaking: “This place is very interesting, don’t you think?” They just nodded. “It’s my first time here. What’s this club’s name?”

“Fabian’s?” Cesario said, not entirely sure. And finally they managed to put their thoughts together. The guy looked really out of place in that club, and he didn’t seem worried about that at all. “Are you Olivia’s friend?” they asked him, because there was no one else around who looked like they could be with Oberon.

The man didn’t answer. He took his phone out of his pocket, and told Cesario to take a selfie with him. They did. “Do you like this kind of music?” the rich guy asked them. “Yeah, you don’t?” they inferred from his question.

“I do, but sometimes I like music no one else does,” he explained. “I think a lot of people like it,” Cesario told him, waving their hand at the crowd of dancing people. “I guess you’re right. Would you like to dance?”

They meant to go to Feste, but of course they wanted a dance with the hottest guy they’d ever seen, especially because the idea came from him, and being wanted by hot people was flattering. So Cesario danced with him for some time.

They still couldn’t get over a guy like that being in Fabian’s club/gym, so they asked: “How did you find this place?" “I came with Feste, the dj,” he told them. Cesario didn’t like the answer, but kept in mind Feste made friends everywhere. “You’re Feste’s friend?” “We only met yesterday, but I really like them.”

The words hit Cesario, who stopped dancing. “You’re Feste’s date?” they asked, foolishly hoping he would clear things up. Without a care in the world, Oberon said: “The inconvenience of dating the dj is that I can’t dance with them.” Cesario pretended to laugh at his wit, and excused themself almost immediately, not at all in a clubbing mood anymore.

At home, they called Sebastian three times before he answered. They had to talk to someone or go mad. There wasn’t much Sebastian could do, but he listened as his twin told him how they’d found out Feste was seeing someone else, and how embarrassed they felt for having trusted them, when every sign said Feste would end up doing just that.

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about,” he said, his voice angry, but they knew him well enough to tell he was angry at the news, “when we like someone, we hope for the best. It’s what you’re supposed to do. You know what you’re not supposed to do? What they did. I wanna punch them so bad!”

His words got a weak, little chuckle from his twin, who then sighed and told him: “I wanna punch them too. I know you can probably do it better, but I’d rather do it myself.” “Go for the soft parts,” Sebastian advised, and that got a slightly less weak chuckle in response.

Talking to him was comforting, but not so much they didn’t cry in bed, or didn’t feel like an idiot for trusting Feste. At that point, all Cesario wanted was to fall asleep, and escape the feeling of complete failure. All they managed, however, was to drift off to a shallow slumber, still too busy with unconscious thinking to be of much rest.

The house was empty when they gave up on sleep early the next morning. There was nothing they wanted to do. Existing was a chore, so were personal care and the need to eat. Playing the guitar was not. It was simply what they did. But it didn’t usually make them feel so miserable. Their mind kept coming back to Feste cheating on them with a guy so hot there was no competition. They hated their next thought so much, they couldn’t stand it, and left the house, trying to get distracted by anything other than the idea that Feste had cheated on them with a real man for obvious reasons.

Fortunately, the street market was chaotic enough to do the trick for some time. Although they had first been there with Feste, the noise, the crowd bumping shoulders with them, not to mention the smell grounded them in the present most efficiently. So Cesario could pass by the many stands, looking idly at the products for sale, able not to think about much. And that’s how they found themself before a stand with all kinds of recreational drugs on display.

Surprised, they looked up to see who was selling it in the main street (that kind of stand was usually found higher up the hill). “Hey, Sweetie,” said the salesman, in an upbeat mood. “Buy some weed?”

Usually, they would’ve said no, but when they thought about what to do for the rest of the day, getting knocked out by weed and sleeping through the weekend sounded like a great idea. “How much for the rolled up ones?” they asked, unable to roll for themself or put Orsino’s hookah to use. The man shrugged. “I’ll put it on Feste’s tab, don’t worry. Where is he, anyway?”

“Probably Waterfront,” they said, thinking their rich, new boyfriend looked like he had come from the wealthiest part of town. “Just let me pay for it, ok?” The man shrugged again. “Three each, four for ten,” he told them. Cesario was surprised, they thought it would be more expensive.

Back home, they smoked and watched videos in the living room tv. Sebastian texted them to see how they were doing, and Cesario texted him back so he could relax and be assured he’d done his brotherly duty. They didn’t tell him their plans of getting high, and sleeping through the weekend, which wouldn’t help convincing him they were actually fine, considering the circumstances.

Curio came out of his bedroom yawning, and stretching. “What a great way to start the day!” he said, with his hand out, so Cesario would pass him the joint. “You disappeared last night,” he said. “Orsino and his girlfriend wanted to hang out. That girl’s the classiest drunk I’ve ever seen.” He laughed at the memory. “She gave me a whole lecture on how Toby’s soldiers like their weapons so much because they secretly want cock, but she said it very classy, like a lady.” He laughed again. “What happened?” he asked before another drag. Cesario was quiet for too long. “What did Feste do?”

The worst part of Curio’s guess being so precise was how much dumber they felt for putting any trust on Feste. Cesario hated having to admit the humiliating truth, but they would have to get used to it. At least Curio sounded like he cared. “Feste had a date, and it wasn’t me. I wasn’t in a fun mood after that.”

“That sucks. Even Feste should know better.” He gave them back the joint, though there wasn’t much left of it by now, and went on to get ready for the day.

Cesario fell asleep on the living room couch, and stayed there all afternoon. By evening, when they woke up, their back and arms aching from the nap on the uneven couch, the plan of remaining unconscious through the weekend didn’t feel like such a great idea anymore. They felt trapped in the house, and wanted to go out and see people. They checked their phone, looking for something to do. Some guys from work were meeting in a bar called Crazy Tombolo, and they decided to join them.

The bar itself was a reformed fisherman’s house through which they had to pass to get access to the long stretch of sand, along which many luau torches were lit. A stage had been set next to the house, where a band played surf music. Cesario spotted their friends sitting around one of the many square tables along the sand stretch, and went to them.

Cesario and their co-workers gossiped, told jokes, and shared a cocktail served in a watermelon with a tap in it. They took selfies and left their shoes by the table to dance on the sand. Everything was working well against thinking about certain people, but Cesario was about to be reminded there were others who could very easily put an end to their peace of mind.

They were dancing with another teacher, when someone else approached, and placed a hand on Cesario’s shoulder. “What you’re doing here, man?” Orsino said, with a big smile on his face. They laughed, surprised to see him. “Me? What are you doing here?” Their co-worker excused himself, saying he was going to get another drink, leaving the two of them to talk.

“I’m here with Olivia and her college friends,” he explained. “Where were you last night? Curio said you guys went to Fabian’s together, but I didn’t see you there.”

“I saw you dancing with Olivia,” they said, instead of answering his question. And to avoid thinking about the reasons they didn’t want to discuss the previous night, Cesario said: “Dance with me.”

Orsino’s dance was just a collection of silly moves, but it was good enough to distract Cesario from their problems for as long as it lasted. When the song was over, Orsino invited them to have a beer, and sit with him for a little bit, with Olivia and her friends. A part of Cesario feared it was going to be unbearable to watch Orsino and Olivia together for any length of time, but still they said yes.

Olivia hugged and kissed them, pleasantly surprised to see them. She introduced Cesario to her friends, who said hello and went on with the discussion they were having. A few seconds trying to pick up on the subject, made clear why Orsino wanted their company: although he looked more than happy with Olivia sitting on his lap, the discussion only made sense for the psychology majors involved in it. Cesario shared a sympathetic look with their friend, who shook his head discreetly.

When Olivia emerged from the discussion with her friends, she told Cesario to pull their chair closer so she wouldn’t have to shout, and proceeded to tell them how much fun she’d had at Fabian’s. “You made a good impression on Curio,” they told her, “he was talking about you this morning.”

“Well, now you have to tell me what he said,” Olivia asked, nudging playfully at Cesario’s leg with her bare toes. The tale gave her the need to clarify she had said weapons were phallic symbols, but the conclusion that it meant the soldiers literally wanted cock was Curio’s, not hers.
Cesario had more than one beer with Orsino, who looked lost when Olivia went back to the heated discussion her friends were having (which Cesario guessed was about sex, but the words they used were too strange to be sure). The more incomprehensible the argument got, the more they shared the feeling of being an outsider with Orsino.

“Cool place, isn’t it?” Cesario had to agree. “Have you seen this?” He picked up a laminated menu from the table and pointed to the bottom of the page, where Cesario read: “Oceans are rising. Crazy Tombolo’s days are numbered. Enjoy while you can.”

“Isn’t that a cheerful message?” they handed the menu back to Orsino, who looked like he actually thought it was funny. “Well, it is true,” he said, shrugging, and setting the menu back on the table.

Somehow, the college kids discussion ended up with everyone losing their patience, and deciding to go dancing. So Olivia jumped up from Orsino’s lap, saying she wanted to dance, and pulling him to his feet. “Who’s gonna dance with Cesario?” he asked her, pointing vaguely at her friends. Olivia, however, quickly pushed his pointing hand down, and answered his question like it should be obvious: “We are.” She grabbed Cesario’s arm, and pulled them along. “Let’s go,” said Orsino, in full agreement, with a guiding hand on Cesario’s shoulder.

“Guys, I don’t like being the third wheel,” they protested, confused by that invitation. “Who said anything about third wheels?” Olivia dismissed their reserve. “We’ll be like Harry, Ron and Hermione.” “Or The Three Stooges,” Orsino offered as an alternative.

“I’ve got it: Luke and Leia and Han.” “Am I Luke?” Cesario asked. “You’re definitely not Han,” Orsino said, straightening his posture and looking smug. The trio laughed. “I’d kick ass if I led a rebellion,” Olivia said, like she loved the idea.

Cesario still felt like a loser for making their friends feel like they had to dance with them and keep them company, but Orsino and Olivia’s company was fun, and neither of them looked inconvenienced at all for having Cesario around. So they figured they could tag along for a little while, before finding something else to do.

They danced for some time, until a breathless Olivia suggested they took a walk to the end of the sand bar. She held hands with Orsino, and had an arm around Cesario’s waist, as though preventing any protests on their part. So they accompanied the couple in their walk, despite feeling a little weird about it.

Olivia kept mentioning how beautiful the place was, and how much of a loser one of her friends had proven to be. Cesario didn’t understand the connection between the two subjects, until she explained everyone in her group had paid said friend to buy them weed, but he never did. “That I can help with,” they told her, pulling part of that morning’s purchase out of a pocket.

“Oh, my god, I love you!” she said, hugging Cesario too tightly for comfort, and kissing them on the cheek. Surprisingly enough, Orsino looked amused by that exchange. “Here, let me light it,” he offered.

So the trio walked to the end of the sand bar, where they sat down and watched the crashing waves. Part of what they talked about was still pop culture trios, and Cesario joined the game offering another for their consideration: “Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup.” Orsino didn’t like it, so he suggested: “Grizzly, Panda, and Ice Bear.” “I call Panda,” Olivia said quickly. “I guess that makes me Grizzly,” Cesario said, exchanging a knowing look with Orsino, who started laughing.

Being very susceptible to laughter, Olivia and Cesario joined him, though they weren’t laughing at the same things. At some point they just laughed at each other for not being able to stop, which only made it last longer.

When the laughing stopped, the happy couple started kissing, so Cesario decided it was time to leave quietly. “Hey, where you’re going?” Olivia protested, holding them in place by the arm. “I’m giving you two some privacy,” they said, thinking it should be obvious. They tried prying Olivia’s fingers from them, but she swatted at Cesario’s hand and commanded: “Stay put.” And to Orsino: “We’re making them feel abandoned.” He just laughed. “What should we do?”

There was something weird about her question, but Cesario would’ve easily dismissed it as them being stoned, if Orsino hadn’t looked just as confused. “What do you mean?” “We should ask them to join us,” she explained. Orsino laughed at the absurdity of her suggestion.

“Not funny,” Cesario said, going back to trying to free themself from Olivia. “I wasn’t joking,” she said, leaning towards them to kiss them lightly on the lips. And that was enough to make Cesario’s stomach flutter and their breath catch, erasing any previous thought. “You look so shocked!” she commented, watching their reaction in amusement.

They looked at Orsino in hopes he had a solution for whatever was going on, but all they saw in his face was curiosity. So they looked at Olivia again, trying to prove to themself that was actually not happening (it had to be some kind of big misunderstanding, people didn’t just invite third parties to their make out sessions in real life, did they?) “I think you think you need some persuasion,” Olivia said between giggles, leaning into them again.

There really was persuasion to her kiss. She straddled Cesario’s legs, with her hands on the back of their neck, as she sucked on their bottom lip and ran the tip of her tongue over it. Their lips parted, tongue searching for Olivia’s, and their encounter was all the convincing Cesario needed.

With their eyes closed, they only found out Orsino had come closer, when he said: “I’m getting kind of lonely here.” “Three way kiss?” Olivia suggested, pulling him closer, still on top of Cesario, who hadn’t been consulted about that decision, but was far from saying no to it.

The kiss was nothing Cesario had tried before. They kissed both sets of lips, and their tongue was met by both of theirs. Olivia's hand was splayed against their chest, Orsino’s in their hair, and their own hands found place on Olivia’s thigh, and Orsino’s shoulder. It was the kind of kiss that didn’t end itself naturally, it only got more intense. To them point Cesario was eased to their back, on the sand, on the receiving end of both Orsino and Olivia’s attentions.

There was this small voice on the back of their head, saying they’d get in an awkward situation if things got any hotter, but it was really hard to care about that when there was so much going on. There was Olivia's mouth on their neck, and Orsino’s tongue in a dance with their own. All they wanted was more.

Suddenly, Olivia made a weird sound, and crawled away a few steps, retching on the sand, turning the moment into something else completely. Orsino knelt next to her, holding her hair out of the way. “Was it the tequila?” he asked, sounding worried. “Yeah!” she said miserably, not ready to get up yet.

“Maybe we should get you some soda,” Cesario suggested. Olivia followed their advice as soon as she felt well enough to stand up and wash her hands and face with sea water. “We should probably get you home,” Orsino said, pulling his phone out, after getting Olivia back to her friends’ table. “I don’t want to go home,” she said, sounding tired. “‘I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,’” she added, to everyone’s amusement.

Now they were back to civilization and slightly sobered up by the end of the experience, Cesario realized it was probably for the best that they hadn’t gone ahead with the idea. Feeling as relieved as frustrated, they parted ways with Orsino and Olivia. And spent a long time trying to find their shoes in the sand.

Chapter Text

They’d sent Sebastian pictures from Crazy Tombolo, but on the ride back home, they wrote him: “I have no idea what I’m doing anymore.” No context, just that. They didn’t know how to go on from there, and Sebastian was away from his phone at the moment, so Cesario forgot about it.

They barely had left the car, when they heard a loud voice coming from higher ground, shout: “Crazy night, am I right, Sweetie?” Cesario couldn’t see where the guy was hiding, but answered in all honesty: “You have no idea,” and kept going.

They slept until noon, and woke up to a bunch of question marks from Sebastian. So they told him about the previous night’s events, which he found hilarious, but had no advice to give. Well, he did have one piece of advice, but nothing they hadn’t already considered: “You should let them know what they’re in for.” Although he was probably right, their brother was making his calculations based on the idea they’d be up for it a second time, which Cesario wasn’t so sure they were.

When they left the bedroom, the smell of food denounced Orsino’s presence. Cesario seriously considered hiding from him, but the need for water and food was greater than their embarrassment, so they entered the kitchen, and said hello.

“Hey, man,” he greeted them, smiling, like he was too happy to see Cesario to be uncomfortable. “How you’re doing? Hangover?” His cheerful tone, and friendly smile came as a surprise. He looked so happy, they didn’t have the heart to disturb it with their discomfort. “No, I’m fine. I thought you’d be with Olivia,” they said, instead.

“I took her home, and made sure she was alright, but she’s gonna need some time to recover, and her roommates don’t want some guy hanging around,” he explained. Cesario just nodded, failing to ignore their thoughts about the previous night. “I’m making zucchini, do you like it? There’s enough for two.”

“No, I don’t like zucchini,” they told Orsino, who looked slightly disappointed in the answer, which made them add: “but I don’t like eggplant either, except when you make it.” The cook recovered his pleased smile, and asked: “How about you get that guitar of yours?” They nodded in agreement.

“What would you like to hear?” Cesario asked, when they came back with the guitar. “Surprise me,” he said, which his friend took like a challenge. So they played Never Gonna Give You Up, feeling they had won the challenge already, because Orsino couldn’t stop laughing.

They moved on to playing other songs, while their friend was busy cooking, and for a moment even forgot the rest of the world. They were brought back to reality first by Orsino’s stare, and immediately after that by the realization they were singing Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love). They froze.

“Don’t stop,” Orsino protested. “I love that song. I have it on vinyl, I didn’t know you could play it on the guitar.” “You can play anything on the guitar,” Cesario said, happy to go with any subject that would distract them from what they’d done. “It may not sound very well, but you can play any song.”

“Just keep playing,” he asked. “I forgot how it goes,” they explained, and it wasn’t a lie, but they’d had no problems remembering the lyrics in the past. “Something else, then,” he insisted.

Any song would be better than the last one, Cesario thought, as they picked a harmless song. They didn’t freeze this time, but in the middle of Satisfy My Soul they started thinking the lyrics weren’t all that safe. Maybe a different genre, they decided. But they found themself plagued by some kind of theme, singing Ask. They had to stare at the wall just to stand going through with the song.

It was time to put that guitar down. Orsino didn’t protest this time, so Cesario figured their music had succeeded in making him uncomfortable as well. Instead of music to fill the silence, Orsino told them about a house he’d worked in during the week, where a kid had flushed down dozens of marbles, causing very expensive damages to the bathroom, and kept going to him and asking if he’d found them. “Did you?” Cesario asked. “Of course,” Orsino shrugged. “I just wasn’t allowed to give them back to him.”

“So how many are we talking about?” they asked. “Fifty-six,” he said, looking impressed. “Fifty-six?” Cesario echoed, wondering why Orsino had gone through the trouble of counting them. But his next words were even stranger: “Thirty-five babies, two tom bowlers, the rest was green glass.”

Cesario started laughing. “You know marbles names?” “What? Didn’t you play marbles as a kid?” “Not enough to know that.”

“I used to play all the time, and I was very good at it. I bet I still am. Let’s find out,” he said going to his bedroom and coming back with a can full of marbles. He shot one that stopped in the other end of the living room. “Hit me,” he dared.

“So you found these in a pile of shit, and brought them home?” Cesario asked, instead of playing. “Of course not, those are mine.”

Cesario was laughing at him for still keeping his toys, when they shot one marble that went nowhere near where they aimed. And so, they tried hitting each other’s marble with their own, both discovering it was more difficult than they remembered it. They were kneeling in the corridor, when Curio opened his bedroom, and found them.

“What the hell?” he said, still sleepy. Then he understood what was going on, and grinned. “Can I play?”

A few minutes later, they decided they had to go outside to play properly. They moved their game to the square, where the ground was level. Little by little, their game attracted the attention of some other people who also believed themselves too old for marbles, including the surveillance team, and the old men who played checkers.

The only addition to the match no one would have expected was the smoldering hot girl all guys stopped playing to watch pass by. Cesario knew her as the Twerk Queen. She didn’t pretend not to notice them staring. She looked at them and wished them a good afternoon, getting a ton of eager responses, but also causing some discomfort.

For a second, Cesario thought she was smiling at them. She came their way with purpose, making them wonder why. And then she kissed Orsino’s cheeks. “Look who’s outside, playing with the other kids,” she teased him. “I could bet good money you’re the one who started this,” she said, pointing at the marbles. He just shrugged, and smiled sheepishly. The girl saw the can by his feet. “I knew it.” She picked a marble for herself, and announced she was playing, which was met with laughter by some, but Cesario didn’t miss Orsino’s sudden interest: he knew something the others didn’t, and it became clear what it was when she hit two out of the game in a row.

In the end, Tie-dye hit Orsino, but missed Titania, who finished him. As Tie-dye was teased by the rest of the guys, especially his friends, the winner waved goodbye, and left. After that, Cesario went home with Orsino and Curio, who kept asking what was going on between his friend and Titania, but didn’t believe when he said they were friends. Cesario, too, had some trouble believing in Orsino’s answer, but didn’t think Curio’s persistent questions were the way to go about it. He insisted so much, the man came close to losing his patience. “You know I’m dating Olivia. I wouldn’t cheat on her.”

Cesario wasn’t sure which part of his discourse bothered them the most, the reminder of his relationship with Olivia, or the one that said some people did cheat. People like the one texting Cesario to come to Toby’s and listen to their new song, which they ignored.

Sometime later, Feste sent another text: “You have time for marbles, but not for me?” Which angered Cesario enough to write them back. “Show Oberon your new song.” They tried forgetting the rich guy’s name, but since they hadn’t, it was time to use that piece of information to their advantage. Feste didn’t text after that.

Valentine arrived early in the evening, and the four of them played games, and had pizza for dinner. They had literally just gone to bed, when someone knocked on their door. “Hey, Cesario, come check this out,” Valentine said. So they left the bedroom, and before their friend had to say anything else, they heard Feste’s music coming from outside. “Please, make him stop.”

Cesario huffed, exhausted already, and dragged their feet to the door. Feste kept playing the guitar, and singing, when the door was opened. Andrew stood next to them keeping a too fast tempo on the tambourine. Cesario stared at them with their arms crossed, unamused. And it wasn’t just anger this time. It was something that didn’t falter, no matter how funny it should’ve been in theory that Feste was singing The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get. But Cesario wasn’t interested in anything from Feste at the moment.

“Go home,” they asked, without the energy to have any kind of conversation with Feste, who asked: “Come with me, let’s have some fun.”

“I don’t have time for this, I’m going back to bed.” “Wait, I have another song for you!” This time they didn’t sing, they just played gipsy jazz like some kind of wizard, in a show of virtuosismo Cesario couldn’t just walk away from, although they wanted to.

No matter how good the music, though, they still had nothing to tell Feste, especially standing there, where Andrew and Valentine could hear them (and probably the neighbors, too). As soon as the song was over, they insisted: “Go home.”

It didn’t look like Feste would do as told, so they went back inside, and closed the door. “Cesario!” Feste shouted, much louder than necessary. When they got no answer, they kept calling at the top of their lungs, and banging on the door, which brought Orsino and Curio out of their rooms to see what was going on.

Cesario, who stood with their back to the door, looked apologetically at the guys, at a loss for words, even angrier at Feste for embarrassing them like that. “Make him shut up, will you?” Curio asked, rolling his eyes. Outside, Feste kept calling.

“I’m sorry, guys, I don’t know what to do.”

“Just let him in,” said Orsino, who looked almost as annoyed as they were. “Something else,” Cesario asked, since he was making suggestions.

“What’s going on?” he asked, frowning. “I don’t wanna see Feste, that’s what’s going on,” they answered, too angry and embarrassed at past and present to be cool. “He cheated,” Curio shared what he knew.

“The right way to get rid of serenaders is by throwing water on them,” Orsino said, shrugging, looking a little too amused by the idea. “I’m not doing that,” Cesario refused.

“Please, do something,” Valentine, whose bedroom window faced the front of the house, asked.

Cesario opened the door again. “Go home, Feste, people want to sleep.” But that only made the musician give their guitar to Andrew, and run to the door. “Let me in, let’s talk.” Before Cesario could close the door, Feste forced it enough to let themself in. “Why you’re doing this?”

“Get out!” they shouted, instead. “No,” Feste refused. “I miss you, I wanna be with you.” That was the moment the rest of the guys decided to go back to their rooms.

Cesario sighed. “I don’t have the energy for this. I have to work in the morning. The guys want to sleep. Just go, alright?” Feste still refused. They sat cross legged on the floor, like a peaceful protester, and demanded: “First, tell me what’s going on.”

“You took your boyfriend to Fabian’s, remember?” Cesario didn’t just hate spelling it out, they hated there was no avoiding this talk, when it felt like the worst time and place for it.

Feste looked surprised. “Is that what this is about? You’re jealous?” They started laughing.

Cesario was furious, and Feste was the perfect height to be kicked in the face, sitting on the floor. “Go for the soft parts,” Sebastian had said. But not “go for the head,” like they wanted. If they kicked Feste’s ass, they surely would regret it later, but at the moment Cesario really considered doing so. Oh, who were they kidding? They couldn’t even wrestle a remote out of Sebastian’s hand, trying to kick Feste’s ass would’ve made them laugh even harder.

“It’s not funny,” they told them, instead of resorting to violence, or leaving, like they were thinking about. “It’s a little funny,” Feste disagreed. “You’re so angry at nothing.” Those words opened Cesario’s eyes to the fact they didn’t even plan on apologizing. “Nothing?” they repeated in disbelief, giving Feste the opportunity to make their argument.

“If you’re angry because I wasn’t around, then you’re angry at things I didn’t do, and that’s nothing.” “It’s not about you disappearing, it’s about you taking that guy to a place everyone knows we’re together.”

Feste insisted on arguing, standing up. “Being jealous of a boyfriend I don’t have, is being jealous of nothing.”

“Why did you take that guy to Fabian’s? I didn’t want to know, much less see.” “Oberon had to see how people react to my music, he’s getting me a gig at Faerie Experience,” Feste explained, with a shrug that once more reminded Cesario they were getting no apologies.

“I guess I wasn’t as important at the time.” Their voice rose as they said the words.

“Are you serious?” Feste asked, finally beginning to see the reality of the situation. Cesario stared at them, waiting for the information to sink in, and the question to find its answer. “Oh, come on! You know I like you.” They placed both their hands on Cesario’s shoulders for emphasis. “Why do you have to be like that? I’m here now. Why can’t we just have a good time together?”

“I don’t want to have a good time. I didn’t even want to let you in,” they said, pushing Feste’s hands from them. “Because of Oberon?” they questioned, as if there was something absurd about it, that Cesario failed to notice. “Because you don’t care,” they corrected. “Of course I care,” Feste objected.

“Who do you care about? Not me. You didn’t care how I’d feel when you took him there, and I don’t think you cared what I wanted when you decided you had to come here so late.”

“It’s not that late,” Feste made light of their words. “It’s only ten past midnight,” they said, checking their phone theatrically.

“It’s way too late, Feste.” Those were the words that brought an angry look to the listener’s face. “No, it’s not,” they said, advancing towards Cesario, kissing them before they could say anything.

The kiss did cause a reaction, but angry as they were at the moment, Cesario only resented it, as they pushed Feste away. “Get out!”

Their hurt, confused face almost convinced Cesario they’d been too hard. Almost. They watched silently as Feste left the house, then locked the door, and went back to their bedroom. Unfortunately, after what happened, whatever sleep they could get was too little.

*

 

They made their way to the subway station even more distractedly than their usual, the next morning, yawning, and rubbing their sleepy eyes. “Too early for trouble,” said Valentine, who walked with them, bringing Cesario’s attention to the police car parked by the base of the hill.

Before they could articulate any thought, Andrew walked out of Snout’s bar. “I need to talk to you, Sweetie,” he said, too loudly, slurring his words, sniffing his runny nose. He smelled of alcohol and sweat, and held Cesario by the arm. “I have to go to work,” they said, trying to free their arm from Andrew, while Valentine threw a confused look at both of them.

“No, we need to talk now!” he said, very drunk, tightening his grip on Cesario’s arm. “Let go,” they complained to no avail. “Come on, man, you’ll make us late for work,” Valentine said, in an attempt to change Andrew’s mind.

“You can go. It’s him I need to talk to,” the drunk man said, pushing them towards the bar, under Cesario’s protests. Valentine followed. “No, we take the train together, just talk to him later.”

“Oh, come on, Andrew,” the bartender complained from behind the counter. “I thought you were leaving.”

“Nobody’s leaving!” Andrew shouted, furiously. And pulled a pistol from under his shirt. The three other people in the bar gasped, to his delight. “Oh, now you’re listening!”

“Please, Andrew, we have a deal,” the bartender tried to negotiate.

“I’m keeping my part, do you see me shooting?” he said, pointing his pistol at the poor man, who just cowered at the sight. Then he moved on to Valentine, who was already pale, and looked ready to faint being faced by a madman’s gun. “I said go to work, but did you listen? No! No one ever listens until you pull out the guns.” And then he turned to Cesario. “And you,” he shouted, droplets flying from his mouth, his hand shakier than ever, “you made Feste cry.”

“What?” they said, still flinching. They couldn’t believe that was about Feste. “You ruined the night. He was all sad and shit. It’s your fault,” he accused. And then he simply stopped pointing the gun at them. “That was mean!”

“But… Why do you care?” Cesario asked, trying desperately to find the words that would get them out of the situation, but getting confused about what situation that was.

“Because I was the one who had to listen to him crying about you, ok?” said Andrew, still angry, but gesticulating with his free hand, which was slightly less troubling than it had been a minute ago.

Convinced his anger was winding down, Cesario tried negotiating with him. “How can I make it up to you?”

“Well,” Andrew looked like he hadn’t planned the conversation ahead, “since it was Feste you hurt, maybe you should apologize to him.”

Like hell they would, but that wasn’t the time to say so. “I will,” Cesario promised. “You don’t need that gun.”

“This?” Andrew waved his hand carelessly, but at least he didn’t point it at anyone. “It was just so you’d listen, I was never gonna shoot it.” Immediately after saying so, he accidentally fired the weapon at the ceiling.

Everybody screamed and dove to the floor, trying to take cover, including Andrew, who dropped the gun, frightened by the shot, which probably saved his life, because the police arrived within seconds, and would most likely have shot anyone holding a gun. They didn’t even have time to think about getting up, the police got to the bar, their guns out, telling them not to move.

“What happened here?” Malvolio asked, when his partner had checked no one else was in the bar except for the four lying on the floor.

“It was an accident,” Andrew said, sounding too agitated to lie still, or not incriminating himself. “Is this yours?” the officer asked him, picking up the abandoned gun. “Yes, but I didn’t mean to shoot it, I know the rules.”

“Search him,” Malvolio told his partner. And to Snout: “What happened here?”

“What he said,” the bartender answered nervously, “it was an accident.” His answer reminded Cesario if they told the police Andrew was pointing his gun at them, they’d be a snitch. But Andrew had confessed to something big, and Snout couldn’t deny it when Malvolio insisted on that: “So this gun is his?”

“I don’t know who the owner is,” the frightened man tried to evade the question. “But it was in his hand when this accident happened, right?” Snout couldn’t deny that, Andrew himself had admitted to that much. “It was,” he confirmed.

“What about those two?” Malvolio pointed at Cesario and Valentine. “They’ve just got here,” said Snout, like they hadn’t been involved in the event.

“Get up,” the officer commanded both of them. There was a certain look of recognition in his face when he chose Cesario to ask: “You’re together?” His finger pointed at Valentine and back to them. Cesario nodded excessively, having a hard time putting words together. “What are you two doing here?”

They followed Snout’s example, and softened the truth. “We’re on our way to work, we just came over to say hello.” Malvolio didn’t look like he cared about the answer. He looked like he was doing math in his head, and his calculations were around Andrew. “Go on, then, get to work,” the lieutenant told them both.

Cesario and Valentine ran to the subway station, leaving that madness behind. Once on the platform, waiting for the train, they looked at each other, amazed at the direction the morning had taken without any warning. “It’s not even eight-thirty yet,” Valentine commented.

His words were so ordinary, yet they felt so absurd after the morning’s events, Cesario started laughing uncontrollably, something that ended up infecting their friend. There was more relief than amusement in their shared laughter, but it was all they could do to get over that scare.

The rest of the day was drowned in the strange side effects of the morning’s adrenaline rush. They were jumpy when they got to work late and explained why, still laughing nervously about it, and then for some time they were distracted, not really there. Until, in the afternoon, came the news that made them anxious: Olivia had decided to attend classes in a different campus, and would no longer be their student. Cesario was confused about her decision. After the events of Saturday night, they expected Olivia to be the first to arrive on monday. Was she embarrassed? Had she decided it was better if she didn’t have to look at them again? Cesario didn’t know the reasons behind her decision, but their thoughts were full of guilt.

And to their puzzlement, Feste called later, between classes, as they sat looking at nothing, and feeling something wasn’t right. They would’ve ignored the call, but figured Feste had heard what happened, and wanted to make sure they were ok. So they talked to Feste, who gave them the news: “Andrew was arrested.” Cesario wasn’t surprised. “Everyone wants to get back at Malvolio.” They knew Toby and his guys wouldn’t care that Andrew was in the wrong, so they didn’t say anything. “Anyway,” Feste went on, “Maria wanted me to tell you they know it’s not your fault, Snout told us what happened, the real story, don’t worry about it.”

“Ok, thanks,” said Cesario, who hadn’t even considered that possibility, but realized it was a very real one, as Feste spoke.

“Listen,” they said, after some silence, “I’m sorry about that, I never asked Andrew to talk to you, or anything.”

“I know you didn’t.” Feste would never send a messenger who would say they’d been crying.

When they got home, a very little kid was sitting by their doorstep, and jumped up upon seeing them. “Hi, Cesario,” the kid said, looking excited. “Hello, what’s your name?” they asked, looking around, trying to find Feste, because that kid could only be one of their minions.

“I’m Willow. I wanna show you a magic trick,” the kid said. “Sit.” Cesario humored the cute little kid, and sat on the doorstep, waiting to be amused. “I think there’s something behind your ear,” Willow said, producing a small candy that looked just right to be concealed by a little hand.

“Very good,” Cesario said, smiling, trying to keep in mind it was rather impressive for a small child.

“Oh, I think there’s another,” the kid said, so theatrically Cesario almost cracked up, ruining the kid’s show. Willow approached again, and made another candy appear. And then, to Cesario’s actual surprise, kept pulling more and more, throwing them carelessly about, making it seem each one came out of their ear. “So many, don’t you ever use a q-tip?” Willow said, making them laugh. “What’s this?” the kid went on, with an unnatural intonation that was funny in itself, and started pulling tape gum, apparently out of Cesario’s ear, and the tape was so long, they were both laughing before it was all out.

“That’s all I got,” the kid said, when the laughter died down. “It’s great,” they told Willow, a lot more honestly this time. “Thanks for the show.”

“Do you like it? Can I tell him you laughed?” the cute little thing asked excitedly. “Tell who?” Cesario asked, but they already knew the answer.

“No one,” Willow said, realizing the slip, and running away. “Bye!” The candy was left behind, telling Cesario that was no ordinary kid.

“Thank you,” they texted Feste. Maybe they did care.

Chapter Text

When Feste woke up that afternoon, the very air of the house felt different. Toby was yelling at someone on his phone. Maria was on her phone, too, trying to get someone out of jail, or so they figured from her side of the conversation. They had to go to the soldiers to find out what was going on. The boys filled them in on Andrew’s arrest, and the reasons behind it.

Feste needed to know more about it, so they took a bike and rode to the base of the hill, where Monkey was sitting on a low rooftop. He had probably gathered all the information about it by now. After all, he was never half hearted about gossip. So they climbed the wall, and sat with him on the rooftop to hear his take on the morning events.

Monkey told them all he’d heard from Tie-dye and Big Hair, and from Snout. The more Feste heard about it, the angrier he became with Andrew. “How can anyone be so stupid?” they were perplexed. “Why the hell he waved his gun at Cesario? That fucking idiot!”

At first they thought Monkey was laughing at their anger, but then he said: “I heard he was defending your honor.” The boy laughed some more. “So, were you really crying all night because Sweetie dumped you?” He didn’t wait for an answer to go back to laughing.

Feste grimaced. “Ha ha,” they said, crossing their arms, which only made Monkey laugh harder. “So Andrew just confessed?”

“You know he can’t shut up,” Monkey said, when he stopped laughing.

Later they stopped by Snout to hear it from him, but there wasn’t much else to it, the consequences were likely to be much worse than the cause. As they drank a beer and listened to Snout’s account of the events, Willow found them. “What’s that in your ear?” the kid said, and proceeded to show how much improvement had been achieved over the weekend.

“That’s very good,” they said, taking the candy, and eating it, before Willow had to protest. “Ready to try something bigger?” the kid nodded excitedly. Feste did the trick using Snout’s pen, which was lying on the counter, but their apprentice wasn’t impressed. “What’s the difference?”

“It’s more difficult,” Feste explained. “But candy’s more fun than a pen,” Willow argued, visibly disgusted by the idea of a trick as boring as making a pen appear.

“Fine,” said Feste, standing up, acting exhausted for the theatrics. “We’ll be right back, Tom, I’m taking my glass with me, but I won’t be long,” they told Snout. And to Willow: “Let’s get some school supplies for our lesson.”

“School?” the little devil whined. “Trust me,” they said, guiding the kid to a candy shop. And because Feste wasn’t so grown up they weren’t tempted by candy every once in a while, they both left the shop with a lot more than strictly necessary for the trick.

Back in Snout’s bar, Feste taught Willow how to hold lollipops without showing them, and how making jokes about it improved the show. They were watching and encouraging Willow’s efforts, when Maria called them, making Feste responsible for letting Cesario and Valentine know it was safe to come home.

Making the best of their mission, Feste called Cesario with the excuse they were following Maria’s orders. The distant, short answers Cesario gave them sounded a lot like anger to Feste, but even when they apologized for Andrew, Cesario still spoke in a monotone. By the time they ended the call, Feste felt restless.

They needed to be somewhere, they needed to do something. It just wasn’t clear what. They texted Valentine, telling him what they’d told Cesario, except for the apology. It didn’t keep them busy for long. So, as they watched Willow’s skills develop, Feste realized what the problem was: Cesario was having a terrible day, and now they knew it, caring about anything else was impossible.

If they went on a date, maybe that would get Cesario’s mind off the stressful events. They’d probably like to go to a quiet place, where they wouldn’t have to think about the strange neighborhood they lived in. But when Feste thought about the previous night, they couldn’t help but think maybe Cesario didn’t want to be with them. Being told off was bad enough once, and they weren’t ready to risk a second. There was nothing Feste could do to make Cesario feel better, if they didn’t want them around. Or was there?

They made a deal with Willow, who would be paid to make Cesario laugh. They rehearsed for the rest of the afternoon in Snout’s bar, practicing on his patrons, who thought Willow was cute. Feste didn’t know what gave them that impression, maybe the kid was a better illusionist than they realized.

They left Willow by Cesario’s doorstep when Monkey gave the sign. “Do it like we rehearsed, ok?” The kid nodded. “And don’t tell him I paid you to do this.” “But you didn’t pay me,” Willow reminded them.

“Fine, don’t tell him I’m paying you as soon as I hear you made him laugh,” Feste corrected the instruction. The kid nodded again. “See you later.”

They left with Cesario in mind, hoping they would enjoy the show. It was much more important of a concern than Andrew’s drunk shenanigans. When they got back to Toby’s, however, the boys started calling them Lady Feste, and laughing at their own joke. “You guys know you can’t offend me with ‘lady’, right?” they reminded the others. They just laughed even harder. One of them said: “You should check your phone.”

They didn’t even have to ask what to look for: someone had drawn them as a damsel in distress and Andrew as a knight, defending them from Malvolio. And the picture was being shared everywhere. It was kind of funny, but not even close to what had really happened. But when they commented that to the boys, all they said was “Who cares?” And having everyone thinking they had something going on with Andrew was perhaps the most embarrassing situation they’d ever been in.

Toby and Maria were off their phones, but they were angry and tired. Toby was pacing the living room and kitchen aimlessly, and drinking. Maria stood by the kitchen counter, eating aggressively. “News from Andrew?” they asked, wondering if there was more than just the arrest troubling the two of them.

“Balthasar’s taking care of it,” Maria said, shrugging. “But it’s gonna take a while, and a lot of money.”

“Is that why he’s so angry?” Feste pointed at Toby, who was cursing continously, as he kicked the air and punched walls. “He’s angry at Duke for saying Malvolio was right.”

Feste nodded, they’d heard many stories about Toby’s negotiations with the chief of police Duke, extra official agreements that kept Toby and his men in Illyria, and the police out. “I thought Duke didn’t like Malvolio either,” Feste said, confused about why they couldn’t find a solution.

“He says they need a real good excuse, they can’t just get rid of him for no reason,” she explained. “And Andrew didn’t help, either. He had everywhere else to have his fit, but he did it where Malvolio could see him. I mean, he’s right, Andrew fucked up.”

“But Malvolio didn’t take him because of that,” said Toby, his voice angry. “He did it to provoke me, and he’s not getting away with it. He’ll pay for it. I promise. He thinks he can fuck with me? He’s gonna learn his lesson the hard way!” He slammed his fist down the kitchen counter.

“What are you gonna do?” Feste asked him, trying to sound more curious than worried, which was actually their dominant emotion upon hearing Toby’s words.

“Send some boys after him,” Toby said, with a shrug, like his plan hadn’t been made beyond the decision that it had to be bad. “Get him when he’s far from here and his guard’s down.”

“No,” Maria told him in all seriousness, holding his wrist, and looking him in the eye. “If you do that, they’ll know it was you, and use that to start a war, please, don’t fall for it. That’s what they want.”

Toby’s anger faltered as she pleaded and locked eyes with him. Without his anger, the man was just miserable. “I have to do something,” he reminded Maria, but his voice was much more subdued. “If Malvolio gets away with it, I’ll look weak.”

“We’ll have our revenge,” she promised. “But we have to get it some other way than by force.” “Like what?” Toby asked, impatient at his own inability to understand what she meant. “Laughter,” Maria said, raising her index finger, looking suddenly inspired. “If we can’t get rid of him, we’ll make him regret being here.”

“I like that,” Feste said. “What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know yet. You have experience making fun of Malvolio, what should we do?”

Toby looked interested, his eyes going from Maria to Feste and back again. They really preferred some kind of vengeance that wouldn’t result in war with the police, so it was time to comb their brain after a good prank that would sate Toby’s thirst for revenge without engaging the rest of the police force (hopefully, they’d laugh at Malvolio as well.)

“It has to be something embarrassing,” they began, “even better if someone gets it in video, like last time.”

“But how we’re making something like that happen again?” Toby wondered.

“I don’t think we can just make it happen again,” Feste considered. “We didn’t plan it last time.”

“And It wasn’t embarrassing enough,” Maria reminded them. “We need to dig up some dirt on Malvolio.”

“Dirt?” Toby laughed. “The reason Duke’s men don’t like him, is because they have nothing they can use against him.”

“Maybe we can’t find anything illegal, but everyone has the right to be as ridiculous as they want, right?” Maria said. Both Feste and Toby nodded, wondering at the meaning of her words.

Although they didn’t have a plan yet, the idea of getting revenge through laughter worked for the moment in getting Toby’s mind away from his most dangerous ideas, which was a small relief, in Feste’s opinion. The three of them were drinking whisky and trying to come up with something, when a soldier came to the door and asked: “Hey, Feste, do you know this kid?” It was Willow.

“What are you doing here?” they asked, resenting the sudden worry they felt in seeing the kid all alone and far from home. “I made him laugh,” Willow said, proudly, “now you have to pay me.”

“Fine,” Feste said, giving the kid the amount they had agreed on. “But you shouldn’t be here, you have to go home.” Willow shrugged.

Maria, however, was another one of those who thought the kid was cute, and started asking Willow questions. Feste could see their apprentice was annoyed by that, and dodged Maria’s questions doing the magic trick for her amusement.

“Why you’re sad?” the one trick magician asked Toby, as he applauded half-heartedly. He chuckled, mildly surprised the kid would pick up on that. “I’m not sad. I’m angry because Malvolio arrested Andrew.” Willow nodded, and turned to Feste: “Which one is Malvolio?”

“Remember the other day when you showed the trick to that cop? Malvolio is the other one.”

“The one who likes Titania? He didn’t want to see my magic trick,” Willow said, unaware how those words would influence both Feste and Maria’s ideas. Their eyes met, and they both could guess at the other’s machinations.

*

When Feste woke up, they found Titania and Maya in the house, doing Maria’s hair and nails, and joined them for some educational morning gossip. It wasn’t as refreshing as usual, however, since they were part of the topics discussed. Thanks to the disturbing popularity of the Lady Feste/Sir Andrew drawing that had been going around, they had to deny rumors of a secret affair between them.

And because Feste’s love life was suddenly a popular topic, Titania commented: “I hear you and Cesario broke up. Is that true, or just part of the rumors?” Feste shrugged, not wanting to commit to an answer, sure, things looked bad now, but Cesario had texted to thank for the laugh, so there was still hope. “There’s a rumor going on that you did,” she insisted.

From her smile, Feste could tell what she was talking about. “You mean the one that I cried all night because he dumped me? That’s so the story works better, never happened. I was also nowhere near when Malvolio took Andrew away, I was sleeping safe and sound in here.”

“So he didn’t break up with you for taking Oberon to Fabian’s?” Titania insisted.

“I have no idea where you heard such a thing. Why you’re always so interested in Cesario, anyway? I find it suspicious.”

Titania laughed, and Maya muttered under her breath: “So defensive!” Feste just rolled their eyes, frustrated, because she was right, but they didn’t want to admit it.

“Don’t worry, I have my eye on something much juicier than Sweetie,” she said, making her love life sound very interesting, and eliciting questions from Maria, which Feste interrupted by saying: “Let me guess: Oberon III?”

“Well, thanks for spoiling the story,” she said, not angry at all. “Yeah, we’ve been chatting, and all, but we haven’t gone on a date yet.”

“Who’s this Oberon you’re talking about?” Maria asked.

“The rich guy I took to Fabian’s,” Feste said.

Maria went on to ask many questions about Titania and Oberon, sounding very supportive and saying Titania should invite Oberon to Fabian’s next friday, because they were planning a huge party to spite Malvolio. Feste pretended Maria hadn’t come up with that on the spot, and played along. They actually thought seeing Oberon with Titania might convince Cesario to take them back more easily.

At some point, while Titania was still talking about Oberon’s charms, Maria deviated from the topic a little. “This Oberon sounds like a real catch. I’m glad I don’t have to worry you might go for Malvolio after all.”

Titania laughed hard at the idea. “Malvolio?” she said with undisguised disdain. “I hear he likes you,” Maria said. “That’s his problem, not mine.”

“Who could blame him?” Feste said. “You were acting all sweet on him the other day. I don’t know many who could resist.” The girls laughed. “Tell us the truth, did he send you nudes?”

“Ew! I’d block him at ‘hello.’” She looked so disgusted by the idea, it was funny. And Feste could see Maria’s plan refining itself behind her smile.

As soon as the girls left, they turned to her. “I know you’re planning something, tell me what it is.”

“A trap, isn’t it obvious?” she said. But it wasn’t that obvious to Feste. “Walk me through it.”

“First we have some fun catfishing Malvolio. I mean, Titania has a lot of material out there we can use, let’s see if he falls for it.”

Feste smiled. “What about the big party at Fabian’s?”

Maria smiled back deviously, and said: “A public place full of people with cameras? Let’s hope the good lieutenant doesn’t embarrass himself, right?”

So they spent the next hours finding Malvolio’s number, something Maria’s contacts had access to, and creating a fake account with Titania’s picture for the profile. And so they both started sending him flirtatious texts, until he finally answered. And that was when the real fun started.

Chapter Text

“It is hypocrisy against the devil:
They that mean virtuously, and yet do so,
The devil their virtue tempts, and they tempt heaven.” (Othello, act IV, scene I)

Cesario and Orsino didn’t talk about what had happened on the beach that saturday night, and although Cesario thought they should, whenever the two of them were alone, it never felt like the right time to bring it up. On Monday evening, all talk was about the events at Snout’s, which they had to narrate alone, because Valentine decided not to come home, and stay at his girlfriend's. There was no moment during that talk that made Cesario think it was a good time to discuss their drunk make out session.

Feste texted them on Tuesday evening, asking if they were ok, and sharing some ridiculous cartoon of Andrew wearing a medieval armour, and Feste a princess dress, and there was Malvolio, looking like a villain. Cesario didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean, and made no comment. They didn’t want to engage in conversation with Feste, even though they appreciated their concern. That was the reason they kept to themself the thought that Feste only liked the drawing because the artist had given them boobs in it.

They worried they might run into Feste on their way home, that they might happen to be playing with the kids in front of their house, like they’d done before, but no such thing took place. Cesario got home to an empty house, and found out through text they’d be alone: Curio had a night shift, Valentine still refused to come home (despite everyone telling him it was safe), and Orsino was out with Olivia.

Calling Feste suddenly felt like a good idea. But fortunately Sebastian chose that time to text, asking how they were doing. Cesario realized they hadn’t told him about their latest misadventure, which resulted in a long video call in Antonio’s company. The call had the power of making the rest of the world cease to matter for as long as it lasted, and for a little more than an hour, only the telling of ridiculous but true stories, and getting some more in response was important.

By the time they said goodbye to Sebastian and Antonio, calling Feste had gone from a good idea, to an idea with too many flaws they couldn’t simply ignore. Sure, the house was quiet and lonely, but the memory of Feste laughing at them wasn’t something they were ready to forget.

Cesario didn’t bother with checking the weather forecast, and ignored the uncommonly windy morning they woke up to. So they were surprised when a storm came in the afternoon, the clouds darkening the sky, the wind shaking the trees outside, and loud thunders cracking, making Cesario jump, startled by the noise. The pouring rain soon flooded the streets.

During the last class of the day, the power went off, making studying impossible, but they couldn’t leave because the streets were underwater. It was hours until the rain stopped, and the streets were transitable again. The blackout went on, and both staff and students left the school in groups, splitting rides, or keeping each other company as they waited for their buses.

Cesario made it home not long before midnight, feeling so exhausted they just wanted to drop on their bed and be done with that awful day. Orsino and Curio were in the living room, on their phones, and both looked relieved in seeing their friend arrive safely

“You’re finally home!” Curio said, blowing smoke. “How bad is it out there?”

“It’s dark everywhere. And wet,” they said, too tired to give a better answer, but Curio was high enough to find those words funny.

“Valentine said there’s a shitload of people evacuated to the kids’ school,” he said. “He’s home?” Cesario asked, since they hadn’t seen him in a while. “He was with Big Titania, helping those guys.”

“I don’t know how bad it is, but he looked like hell when he got here,” Orsino added to the story.

“At least the rain stopped,” Cesario said, shrugging, not even trying to imagine what Valentine had been through. “Not for long,” Orsino told them. “The news says there’s more rain coming tonight.” “More?” it was hard to believe it was possible.

“Good news is, no work tomorrow,” Curio said in a cheerful note.

“Seriously?” They suddenly perked up at the prospect of a day off. Orsino nodded, mildly amused by the change in Cesario’s mood. “It’s true,” he confirmed, “it’s on the news and everything. But they didn’t even mention when the power will be back.”

“That sucks,” they said. Curio nodded. He was done smoking, and wished them a good night, before going to bed. Cesario turned their flashlight on, and went to the bedroom, only to find it underwater as well. Water continuously leaked from the ceiling, landing right in the middle of their bed, soaking it beyond any hope they had of sleeping comfortably.

Cesario was too tired to react accordingly, and held on to the door frame, beginning to cry in frustration, but not going through with it for lack of energy. They cursed, and kicked the drenched mattress, before making sure their guitar was safe, and picking some blissfully dry clothes to sleep in.

“Anything wrong?” Orsino asked, when he saw them coming back. “It’s raining in my bedroom,” Cesario explained. “I forgot about that,” Orsino said, sounding worried. “I should’ve offered to fix it, I’m sorry.”

But as he said those words, Cesario remembered he actually had made the offer, back when he was willing to pay to find out stuff about Olivia. Orsino left the couch to see the damage for himself, and cursed when he did. He stood there, watching the water drip directly from the light bulb, and facepalmed.

“A minute of silence for your bed,” he said, placing a compassionate hand on their shoulder. “Minute’s over,” he added seconds later, and went on to move Cesario’s mattress from under the leak, and find a bucket to contain the water.

Cesario, who had a lot going on at the moment, and therefore hadn’t been able to think about a solution for the problem, felt guilty when they saw Orsino was doing their work. When he came back with a mop, Cesario tried to take it from him and dry their own bedroom. “I got it, don’t worry,” he said, leaving no room for discussion.

So they had a shower and put on some dry clothes. They made some noodles by candlelight, and ate them in the living room, where Orsino stood by the window, watching the rain, that was back, as promised. The wind blew furiously outside, and every now and then, a lightning would make everything visible again for a flash.

The thunders were back, and Cesario flinched more and more whenever a loud one announced itself. When he noticed that, Orsino came over, standing behind the back of the couch. “Are you afraid of thunders?” he asked, sounding more curious than amused, to Cesario’s relief.

They nodded, embarrassed to admit as much, but they’d been disturbed by thunders for eighteen years, and had developed a sense of humor about it at that point. “There was one so loud this afternoon, I just froze, in the middle of a lesson. My students thought it was really funny.” Orsino laughed, agreeing with the students.

“Are you sleeping on the couch?” he asked, moving towards the bedrooms. “It’s dry,” Cesario said, shrugging, trying not to think how sore they’d be after sleeping a whole night there. Orsino nodded, and left. He came back a minute later with a pillow and a blanket. “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” Cesario said, surprised Orsino was being so thoughtful. He shrugged. “Good night.” They answered his good night, and he left. The next thunder was faint, but they still felt some relief when Orsino came back from his room once more. “That couch is too small, just come to bed with me.”

“What?” Cesario wasn’t sure all the noise from outside didn’t trick them into hearing those words.

Orsino stared at them for a second or two, then burst into uncomfortable laughter. Cesario did the same. “Seriously, you can sleep there, if you want,” he said, once the laughter was over. Cesario thought no good could come of that, and was about to decline the offer, when another loud thunder made them shake, and reconsider their answer. So they left the couch, and followed Orsino, carrying the pillow and blanket back to where they’d come from.

They hesitated again once in his bedroom, thinking the situation didn’t look good. They really wanted to sleep somewhere more comfortable than the couch, but they also didn’t want to leave any room for misunderstanding. “When you say I can sleep here, do you really mean sleep, or is there some double meaning I’m failing to see here?”

Orsino laughed, and went to bed. “No, no double meanings, just sleep,” he assured them. And because Cesario was still very doubtful when they got to bed, he laughed some more, and made a comment they didn’t understand if he meant it as a joke or seriously: “Don’t worry, I know: no means no.” He just laughed harder at their confusion. At least he didn’t know what Cesario was thinking, because it would probably make sleeping impossible if he knew they would probably not say “no.”

For some time, Cesario just lay there, their back turned to Orsino, who was on his phone, as they tried to ignore his smell, which was everywhere. They closed their eyes and concentrated on the sounds coming from outside, not their nose.

When the next loud thunder crashed, Cesario shuddered, and was comforted by Orsino’s hand on their shoulder. “Are you ok?” he asked. “Yeah,” they said, embarrassed they couldn’t act grownup about a storm. “Thank you,” they added, holding his hand in place for a second, before letting go. Cesario was glad when he didn’t move his hand from their shoulder. It was comforting, but at the same time, it was Orsino touching them, in bed. And that gave them ideas, very dumb ideas.

Fortunately, the next thunder wiped any thought from Cesario, reducing them to a cowardly, curled up creature, holding on to Orsino’s hand, pulling him closer to them. He chuckled, and adjusted his body to the new position, closer to Cesario’s, his arm around them. “If anyone walks in now, they’ll never believe the real explanation for this,” he joked, getting a weak chuckle in response.

Cesario was secretly embarrassed for enjoying the situation so much. But they couldn’t help it. They felt so safe with his arm around them, lying in an Orsino scented bed. They suspected they’d never fall asleep in his company, but they could still try to get some rest after such a long day.

The wind and the rain made a continuous noise, which Cesario listened to, trying to relax, and they were almost fully asleep, when the sound of a crash, as loud as if it had been in the bedroom, made them jump up. “What was that?” they asked, scared, and disoriented.

“It’s the wind,” mumbled Orsino, who no longer had his arm around them, they noticed.

Cesario rolled to their right, facing Orsino, who slept on his back, with his mouth slightly open. Their eyes had grown used to the dark by now, and they studied his profile, instead of trying to fall asleep again. Looking at him like that, however, was all they needed to have their mind invaded by fantasies of the silliest kind. Being aware those fantasies were ridiculous didn’t stop them from making vivid images in their mind, it didn’t even convince Cesario to stop staring. They kept silently admiring the man’s features.

The next thunder sent Cesario to him without thinking. One arm held on to him, the other covered their head, uselessly attempting to protect them. Orsino freed the arm on top of which Cesario had gotten, and spoke in a sleepy voice: “It’s gonna be over soon.” His now free arm went around Cesario, in a hug that was probably meant to be comforting, but only made them feel hot.

It was too much! They had tried so hard doing everything right just to end up with Orsino holding them in bed. They had tried resisting him, but that was more than they could ignore. Kissing him was the best solution against Cesario’s silly fantasies, there was no need for those now.

Orsino kissed them back, holding Cesario in both his arms, and pulling them to his top. They didn’t have to think about it, they kissed him in every way they felt like, and ran their hands over his shirtless body. Though they knew they should’ve told Orsino first, there was no way Cesario was going to interrupt something so good to start an awkward conversation.

“Take it off,” he said, with his fingers pulling down on the waistband of their shorts.

Cesario moved from straddling him in order to take their clothes off. They expected some immediate reaction from Orsino, but it didn’t come, it was too dark. It didn’t take long, however, for him to feel what he couldn’t see. They could feel his hand search for something that wasn’t there, and hesitate. “I should have told you sooner,” they said, feeling more anxious with every second Orsino kept quiet. Not just anxious, as the silence stretched, they had to admit they were scared. Cesario had hoped the right moment would come along to tell Orsino what he needed to know, and now the truth was out when they were the most vulnerable.

“Yeah, you should have,” he agreed, and though Cesario couldn’t see his face, he sounded very amused by the discovery, which was a relief. They went back to kissing, and only thought about that much later, in the quiet satisfaction they enjoyed together. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” Orsino murmured. He kept playing with Cesario’s hair, with their head resting on his shoulder, the fingers of his other hand intertwined with theirs.

“Not really, just the one,” they told him. “A pretty big one,” Orsino remarked, still sounding amused.

They tried not to think about the many ways things could’ve gone wrong. But maybe because Orsino had reacted so well to the news, Cesario could admit they had chosen the most dangerous way imaginable to come out to him. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, before all this happened.”

He chuckled for a little bit, shook his head, and said: “You can tell me now. I mean, you could tell me why.” And that started a long conversation, in which Cesario did most of the talking. They told Orsino their first name, and preferred pronouns, as well as their reason for asking Seward to introduce them as a man. They told him about Sebastian, and how the two of them had never entirely fit in their hometown, and had been making plans for leaving that place as soon as they were old enough. Orsino listened.

When Cesario couldn’t think of anything else to say, they returned to their carefree silence, content in being held. “I feel like I should’ve noticed something sooner,” Orsino said. They felt strangely proud in hearing he’d never suspected anything. But a worry they couldn’t put to words started nagging them, and they had to talk about it, even though they didn’t know where to start.

“I’m not a girl,” they told him, which wasn’t the heart of what they meant, but those were the words that came out, so now they had to work from there.

“Ok,” Orsino said, sounding like it made no difference for him. But Cesario still felt like there was more they wanted to tell him, except it was so much, they didn’t know how to go on. The silence between them didn’t feel like the content kind anymore. It was Orsino who ended it. “How does that work? I mean, what’s… your gender?” he said the words like they weren’t entirely familiar to him.

“It changes.” It was the only short answer they had for his question, and Cesario didn’t know if he would care for the long answer.

“How does that work?” he insisted. The answer to that question was only the beginning of a much longer talk that served a much less specific purpose, which however vague, was more urgent than sleep.

Chapter Text

There were more drawings of Lady Feste/Sir Andrew going on wednesday morning when some of them met at Fabian’s to play football, and the boys were talking about them, teasing Feste, saying they all thought the two of them would make a great couple. They had to let the guys get it out of their systems, in hopes the joke would wear itself out, there was no fighting it. But there were more people doing those drawings, which meant it would get worse before it got better

The game itself was the same as usual, they played the offense with Curio so well for the first few minutes, the other team was onto them for the rest of the game. After that, they all occupied the closest bar, and enjoyed a few beers. It was a nice way to start the day, and Feste was probably not the only one who thought nothing would go wrong after such a great start.

Some of them decided to go to the woods on the west side of the hill, for no reason, the guys wanted a good scenery to look at while they got high, and thought it was a perfect idea. Feste joined them, of course. So there were five of them entering the small path into the woods, sharing stories of people who had died there.

Smoking, and coming up with absurd ideas to where the track would lead them was a much safer choice than actually exploring the darkening path. The wind started blowing a lot harder, and it didn’t stop. In the end, they left the woods because the sound of the wind shaking the trees made everyone paranoid.

They passed through the campsite on their way down, where the shacks made of whatever material their owners could get their hands on were challenged by the unusually furious wind, and Feste hoped that against all chances, the little houses would stand the force of nature another day.

As they followed the uneven, stone steps of the stairs that went down the west side of the hill, Feste and the guys could hear the wind slamming doors and rattling the windows of the masonry houses they passed by. The sky kept getting darker, and by the time they made it to the base of the hill, the first thunders could be heard. Feste decided it was better to go back to Toby’s, and stay indoors. They said goodbye to the guys, and navigated the steep alleys that would take them there the fastest.

Seeing Willow hanging out with Toby’s soldiers filled them with worry, and they didn’t care very much for it, which contributed to making them sound so annoyed when asking: “What are you doing here?” Those guys were no company for a little kid, they’d be teaching Willow how to shoot in no time.

“You’re Lady Feste, they told me everything,” the little devil said, before bursting into laughter.

“Thank you so much, guys,” they said, ironically of course. The boys just laughed at their displeasure. “It’s going to rain, you should go home,” they told Willow.

“My house is shaking, I don’t want to stay there,” the kid explained. “Do you wanna watch lighting bolts with us?”

“No, let’s watch cartoons, inside,” Feste decided, pulling the kid by the hand, without waiting for a yes. Luckly, Willow didn’t fight it. So the two of them entered the living room, and Feste asked Toby if they could watch a kid’s shows, which he was about to laugh at, until he noticed Willow, and handed the kid the remote. “Go ahead,” he said, getting up from the couch, and beckoning the kid to take his seat, right in front of the screen.

He, then, invited Feste into the kitchen, where they opened a beer. “It’s gonna rain a lot today,” he said, looking for something in the fridge. “I hope it’s not too bad.” Feste shrugged, they hoped for the same, of course, and didn’t trust that hope at all, but didn’t want to voice out their worst fears either, lest they came true, which they sooner or later would. Then Toby looked away from the fridge, to Feste, obviously troubled with some doubt. “What do kids eat?”

They laughed. It wasn’t where they thought Toby would go next in his talk, though Toby did have a thing for feeding everyone who entered his house, and no one had ever complained, Feste least of all. So they helped him to find food for Willow. “Maria was telling me about the prank you’re pulling on Malvolio. I don’t see how that’s better than kicking his ass.”

“But you will,” they promised, despite not being so sure, actually. Helping Maria write the texts had been fun, and they were grateful she’d been able to convince Toby not to act with his head still hot, but they knew she didn’t share the full extent of her plans, so it was impossible to say more than they already had.

Fortunately, Toby didn’t press them for details, he asked for some music, instead, so Feste got their guitar from the studio, and played for him, as they both watched the pouring rain. Willow decided the music was more interesting than cartoons, and came closer to them, sitting on the floor, and watching Feste’s hands move.

“Here,” they handed the kid the egg shaker. “Help me make some music.” Once Willow began, Feste was satisfied in finding the kid had rhythm. Outside, the rain was getting harder, and the day, darker, but shelter and music were enough to make the three of them immune to it. Until the news found them, that is.

Beast, one of Toby’s longest serving soldiers, barged into the room breathless, unarmed, wet, and with an urgent look in his eyes. “We need the boys at the campsite,” he said, staring desperately at Toby, who jumped up.

“What’s going on?” he asked as his hand immediately went for his gun.

“The wind’s taken down a tree, it fell on some of the shacks, and the water will take the rest if it rains much longer. I think there’s people under there.” Toby cursed, and left the house to give the orders to the boys, who were sitting by his porch, and Beast went with him.

“Was it my house?” Willow asked, sounding truly scared.

Feste was about to say maybe, when Maria came down the stairs in a hurry, shouting for Toby. They both pointed her to the outside, and she ran that way. “I think she heard the news,” Feste remarked.

Willow almost smiled, but worry won over it. “What about my house?” the kid asked, sounding so upset Feste could feel it in their stomach. “Ok, I’m going to find out what happened, and then I’ll tell you, alright?” Willow didn’t say anything, but obviously disliked the idea. “I’ll be faster alone,” they explained. “But you have to wait for me here, so I can find you. Do you understand?”

The kid held them, instead, with teary eyes. Feste was used to children invading their personal space, but that was different. Willow was turning to them for comfort, and that was something they weren’t sure they could give. They weren’t even sure they’d ever wanted to comfort anyone before that very moment. Willow needed a grownup, and they weren’t it. Feste wanted to disentangle from the kid’s hold, and put some distance between them, so they didn’t have to feel so bad just because Willow was upset. But they also wanted to be better than that.

Feste placed their hands on the kid’s shoulders. “It’s gonna be alright,” they lied. “Just stay here, ok? I’m gonna help those guys out there, and as soon as I know something, I’ll come back to tell you. Promise you’ll wait for me here.”

The kid let go of Feste, and nodded in agreement. “I promise.” They didn’t take two steps before the sad little thing stopped them again, holding their hand. “Feste?” Willow stared at them in fear. “What about my mom?”

Feste finally understood why the kid was so worried. They felt Willow’s fear running through them like it was their own. “Was she home?” The kid just nodded, too frightened to speak.

Willow stayed behind with Maria, and Feste joined Toby and the boys on their way down to the campsite, near the woods. It was the middle of the afternoon, but it was dark, and the wind seemed intent on making the way more difficult. The campsite was chaos. Most of the shacks Feste had prayed for had been reduced to a confusing pile of rubble, which many had already begun digging up. People cried and screamed saying there were people trapped under the destroyed houses. Some tried to move the fallen tree, others dug around it.

Feste wasted no time joining the diggers. They had to work fast, because the rain was washing the mud downhill, and there was a good deal of it between the woods and the campsite. A landslide, something likely to happen with so much rain, would bury those people beyond help. The only silver lining was the soldiers, who kept coming, joining the task.

Everything was covered in mud, and it was hard to see what they were touching. Feste lifted wooden planks, pieces of cardboard heavy with mud, the rusty hood of a car, where they cut their fingers, and then they touched something soft, which made their stomach turn immediately. It was too muddy to see, but there was no mistaking it. “Here!” they shouted, and three diggers came to help.

The water kept invading Feste’s eyes, and they kept ignoring it, as they ignored the painful way the wind blew into their left ear, and the stinging pain in their bleeding fingers. The sound of other trees creaking and threatening to break and fall on their heads was something else they needed to ignore. The shouts all around them were muddled and confused, and Feste’s only certainty was they had to dig.

As the person became more visible, Feste could see someone skinny, and as the rain washed some of the mud from that person’s face, they could swear it looked like theirs. As the person was placed on a makeshift stretcher, and taken downhill, Feste got on their knees and vomited.

“Come on, get up,” said Toby, giving their shoulder an encouraging hit. Feste stood up, and took a deep breath. “You did good. Now help those people get their stuff to the school. When you’re down there,” he went on, giving Feste his pocket money, which was a lot, “make sure there’s food and water. See what else they need, and tell Maria about it.”

Feste simply nodded, and did as told. They helped loading wheelbarrows with people’s belongings, and helped carrying some stuff downhill, including a small kid, who sat on their shoulders. The way down was slippery and the water ran downhill in a stream so powerful every step had to be taken carefully.

They had to focus, but couldn’t stop thinking about what it had felt like when their hand first touched the one they’d helped digging up. Trying to ground themself in the present
Feste started singing: “I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I'll be with you again, in a trice,
Like to the old vice,
Your need to sustain.” It was the weirdest song they could think of, and they sang It at the top of their lungs. Feste could hardly see the people looking at them funny, they had to squint just so they could see their next step, and the storm drowned most of Feste’s singing. However, they could still hear some people laugh in reaction, especially the kid on their shoulders.

“Who with dagger of lath
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries, aha, to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad.
Adieu, good man devil.”

The group made it to the school building, where the local people took shelter in such events as the one they were going through. Feste stopped with the singing, dropped the kid more or less carefully, and put down the bag they had carried. They took a look around. People kept coming, wet, muddy people, and they all shared that frightened look.

Feste saw some of the guys bring stuff in and leave immediately, and figured they should do the same. They left the building, and started making the way back, trying to think of anything that would keep the image of the dug up person out of their mind. That’s when they were reminded of the mission Toby had given them.

“Food and water,” they said, out loud, to no one.

Snout’s bar was closer than the closest grocery store, so they walked in, and ordered gin. “What’s going on?” the man asked, eyeing Feste in a way that made them wonder what they looked like. “Hell’s going on,” they said before drinking. “Another,” they asked, unable to feel anything in the first shot. They told Snout what had happened at the campsite, and what they’d seen, shocking the bartender, who was only now being informed about that.

They had another drink, before carrying on with the mission. It wasn’t like usual grocery shopping. Feste told the manager what they wanted, and had to keep level headed enough to discuss what exactly they were buying and how much. Thinking was hard, and they delegated that part of the job to the man, who took it with surprise, and no small amount of doubt, but did the job anyway.

The rain stopped for a little while, as Feste and two of the store’s employees pushed shopping carts through the flooded street. As they finally got to the school building again, they saw Big Titania, and went to her immediately. “Toby told me to get food and water.” They pointed at their own cart, and the two boys in uniform that followed. She thanked the heavens, and pointed the three of them to the kitchen, where they unloaded the goods, and Feste recognized the volunteers as members of Big Titania’s “family” (people who saw her as the leader of their marginalized religion).

They welcomed Feste as usual, making high praises of their help, even after Feste explained the donation came from Toby. They also gave them a job opening cans, which they did until told to stop. When they left the kitchen sitting on a corner for a little while felt like a great idea. They leaned back against the wall, and closed their eyes.

Someone touched their shoulder, but Feste didn’t feel like reacting. “Poor darling!” They could recognize Big Titania’s voice anywhere. “We’re not done yet, snap out of it,” she commanded, all seriousness, no anger. Feste looked at her. The old lady smiled at them. She brought Feste back to the kitchen, and told one of her girls to give them some food.

Feste wasn’t about to argue with Big Titania, so they sat down and ate. She sat next to them when they were finished, and said: “Tell Maria I’ve called my children, they’re bringing whatever help they can, but she will be of great help right now. Will you let her know I’m here?”

“I will,” Feste said, getting up, overcome by the irresistible desire of making that old witch proud.

Before leaving, however, they were reminded of the one who would be waiting for them. Feste took Big Titania’s hand, staring at her intently. “Have you seen Willow’s mom?” She looked at the others questioningly but no one knew who they were talking about. “If anyone asks, Willow’s with Maria.”

As they went uphill, under the merciless rain that had picked up again, trying not to think about the many dumb ways they could die from the foul water streaming down the alleyways, making their path all the more difficult, Feste realized Big Titania didn’t need them to give Maria any messages, she was just sending them home. Well, they weren’t going to complain. There wasn’t much else they could help with. All they wanted was to sleep.

“Where’s my mom?” Willow asked, as soon as they entered the house. “I don’t know,” they admitted, hating themself for it. The kid cried loudly, making their head ache. It was too much. Feste dropped to the floor, and stayed there, feeling a kind of exhaustion they couldn’t handle.
Maria, who told them she had already talked to Big Titania and sent help, tried in vain to comfort Willow, who refused to be comforted. It was a while before Feste was bothered enough by the wet clothes to get up and walk to the shower. They set the water as hot as they could stand, and stayed there for a long time.

They found Willow and Maria drinking hot chocolate, and joined the two. It wasn’t chocolate they needed, but what would make things better wasn’t clear. They recited a rhyming story to Willow, but it was actually an attempt to calm down. The kid fell asleep, using Feste’s lap as a pillow, so they decided to stay still for a while, as hard as the task became whenever they focused on it.

Maria had her phone and radio with her, so she kept them informed of all developments outside. People had successfully evacuated the campsite before the very foreseeable landslide happened. “Did they dig up everyone?” Feste asked her, unable to shake off the memory of the nauseating dread of not knowing if the person they’d found was dead or alive.

Feste woke up when Toby and some soldiers came home, making a lot of noise. Willow sat up, startled, but after looking around and deciding nothing out of the ordinary was happening, went back to sleep.

“Get that kid to bed, Feste, we need to confer,” Toby commanded.

They couldn’t think of anything to say to that, tired as they were, so they just carried Willow upstairs, and went back to the conference. Toby and the guys had no patience for self care, they each had a liquor bottle in hand, and snorted from the coffee table without bothering with lines.

“A song, Feste!” Toby ordered when they were back.

They nodded, got the guitar, and settled down next to Beast, who offered them his bottle. So Feste took a generous swig, and sang one of Toby’s favorites: a mashup of Let a Soldier Drink and Wild Rover. When the song was over, Toby stood up with his bottle raised in his hand. “Gentlemen,” he made a pause for dramatic effect, “you guys did great.” They cheered him for that. Toby, however, became less loud. “Today was fucked up, huh?” He took a drink, and lowered his hand, but he wasn’t finished. “I know you didn’t become soldiers for that, but you all know some days are worse than others. So let’s be grateful we made it, and drink to it.” And so they did.

Feste sang a few more songs about drinking, and the guys laughed, but between laughs their exhaustion was visible. Soon everyone was just sitting there, drinking silently, snorting coke loudly, and staring at nothing. One by one, they left, and Feste fell asleep on the couch, still sitting.

They woke up to Willow shaking and calling them. “Wake up!” the kid commanded. “What?” they asked, covering their eyes with an arm. “You have to help me find my mom.” Willow sounded about to start crying again, so Feste decided it was better to get up, and help the kid as promised.

Taking from what the sky looked like, they hadn’t got more than two hours of sleep, but it didn’t matter. They picked up one of the bottles abandoned on the floor, had a swig, and finally took a good look at the kid, who looked exactly like someone who couldn’t be bothered about personal hygiene. “Go wash your face, you wanna scare your mom?”

“Why everything is so big here? I can’t reach anything,” Willow complained, and then came up with a solution: “You have to lift me.”

Feste cursed, drank some more, and picked up the kid like a package they carried under their arm. Willow laughed, to Feste’s relief. They brought the little monster to the bathroom sink, holding it up to wash its goblin face. They proceeded to use a fork to give the kid’s hair its usual mushroom cap shape. When it was done, Feste took a step back and admired their work. “Ok, you look cared for,” they decided. “Wanna eat something?”

“Can I have cookies? Maria said you guys have cookies,” the kid said, sounding so excited about it, Feste was confused. But then again, cookies were probably a luxury in Willow’s life.

After a breakfast of chocolate cookies and coffee, they left the house to a bright day that looked nothing like the previous one. For a second, it was like the storm had been a bad dream. But everywhere its consequences were visible. The streets were muddy, covered in trash the flood had carried, and busy with people fixing the damages their houses had suffered.

The way down was slippery and Willow clung to Feste’s hand to avoid any accidents. Taking careful steps slowed them down, so the kid decided to talk to pass the time. “Why don’t you have a gun, Feste? All soldiers have guns.”

“I’m not a real soldier, I’m just Toby’s friend,” they explained. “Music is my weapon.”

“You hit people with your guitar?” the kid asked, trying to make sense of their words. Feste laughed. “No, I love my guitar. I love all guitars, I’d never do that. And the problem with hitting people is that they’re mostly bigger than me. So I have to use music. People like music, even when they don’t like me, so we don’t have to fight.”

Willow frowned, and said nothing else for the rest of the way. When they stopped in front of the school, the kid hesitated. “What if she’s not here?” the little thing worried. Feste was afraid of that too, and didn’t know how to give Willow more hope than they had. “If we can’t find her, we’ll keep looking.” It was a very vague answer, but it seemed to reassure the kid for now.

As they entered the building, Feste looked around for a familiar face who could help them find Willow’s mom. They were still unsure about where to start, when they saw Titania guiding some guys carrying boxes into the building. “This way,” she told them, and then she saw Feste. “Oh, you’re here. Can you help unloading the truck?”

“Sure.” They turned around, which Willow disapproved of. “But we have to find my mom.” Feste didn’t stop because of this argument, and Willow followed, so they explained their reasoning: “It’ll take a minute to carry a box, and it will help people.”

“How do you know a box will help people?” the kid asked, looking and sounding confused, getting in line with Feste.

“It’s not the box, it’s what’s in it. I bet it’s clothes,” they guessed. “Yes, it is,” said the cheerful man, who handed them a box, looked at Willow for a second, and gave the kid a smaller one. “There, give us a hand, you too.”

They followed the others into a classroom, where some people were already lined up, waiting for them. “Let’s ask them,” Feste suggested, when they had finished their sidequest. “What’s her name?” “Barbara.”

So they asked the people in line, who suggested they checked the cafeteria. There, they asked everyone about Barbara, and a guy who actually knew Willow told them to check at the old gas station, because she was friends with the people who lived there.

They walked a few blocks to a gas station that had been out of business for years, and taken over by squatters, who were occasionally kicked out, but always came back. The glass doors to the old convenience store had been replaced by wooden planks, one of which Feste moved to the side. “Hello? It’s Feste,” they announced to the dark room.

“Down on your luck?” asked a contemptuous voice, which Feste didn’t know where it came from exactly. They weren’t surprised the stranger thought Feste had to be going through a rough patch to be there, everyone else in that place certainly was. “Is Barbara here? Willow’s looking for her.”

A disheveled, thin woman, with eyes too big for her face suddenly appeared in front of Feste, who couldn’t hide their surprise, and took a hasty step back, accidentally pushing Willow, who stood right behind them. When she grabbed the kid in a desperate hug, Feste knew their job was done.

They started leaving, as Willow started an account of the previous day’s events. Barbara, however, caught up with them, and thanked Feste for taking care of her little girl. "No problem, Willow’s a great kid.” As they left, Feste realized they actually meant those words.

Chapter Text

Maria was showing something on her computer to Toby, when Feste got home. “Hey guys, what’s up?” Even though he looked at the screen like he was trying to read a foreign language, Toby was the one who told them: “This genius, right here, has just come up with the solution for our problems.”

“It’s called a Google search,” Maria said, rolling up her eyes.

Feste was quick to turn it into a joke. “One solution to all our problems? Sounds suspicious. Are we joining a cult?”

Maria rolled her eyes even more. “The problem with landslides,” she clarified, guiding Feste to stand in front of the screen next to Toby.

They only looked at the pictures. “So a wall? If it’s so simple, why didn’t they build one long ago?” “They who?” Maria’s rhetorical question reminded Feste there had never been anyone who cared about Illyria and its people before Toby came along with his boys and his “we are politicians” speech.

“It’s a lot of money, baby,” Toby said, scrolling through the page, giving up on reading it. “Of course it is. But it’s a lot of people to employ, too, and if we hire our own people, where do you think they’ll spend the money? It’s simple economics,” Maria explained, shrugging again.

“So you’re saying we’ll get our money back in the long run?” Toby asked, sounding confused.

“No. I never said we’re paying for it. But we can raise funds,” she went on. Then to Feste: “You’re friends with famous people, you think you can get them to help? Not with money, with publicity.”

“What do you have in mind?”

Maria wanted to organize a fundraiser, a much more ambitious project than the previous one, which had been a simple question of paying Fabian’s fines and reopening the club. This time she was thinking of an urban music festival, so Feste’s contacts were vital for it to be a success.

They had one week to make it happen, so Feste started small, inviting the local kids for a rap battle, and the guys who played at the square on saturday mornings. Which reminded them that maybe old Robin could make an appearance.

Obviously Robin never remembered to charge the phone they’d given him, so Feste borrowed one of Toby’s bikes, and went to check on the old man. He didn’t answer when they stopped by his house, and he wasn’t in his usual bar, where no one had seen him in days. They started worrying, and called Nick, who just laughed, and said: “I’d check with Oberon.”

And so they did. Unlike Nick, Oberon III wasn’t used to getting actual phone calls from them, which was probably why he sounded so confused. “Feste?” he asked, instead of saying hello. “Have you seen Robin?” The question was too important to be delayed with manners.

Oberon laughed. “Actually, you’re interrupting a very heated rant on The Girl of Ipanema,” he said, to Feste’s relief. “Why don’t you come over?” And so they did. Not for the rant, they had listened to it a few times over the years, and despite being very educational, it was old news. But they wanted to talk to their teacher, and it always worked better in person.

When they got there, Robin and both Oberons were in the living room. The old man put his guitar down, and stood up to give Feste a hug. “Miss me already?” he teased. “I’m here to prove The Girl from Ipanema is actually good,” they said, going with Robin’s tone, but it was too much for either of them, they just started laughing at the very idea.

“Good to see you,” Robin added, going back to his seat, and picking up his guitar (not the one he took to bars, Feste noticed, but the one that never left his house under any amount of begging), and went on to play one of his own songs, which he rarely did.

“You’re looking good, Robin,” they said, taking a seat next to Oberon III. Not only was Feste's teacher wearing a bathrobe made of purple silk, but he was very well shaved, and his hair looked gray rather than yellow. The old man smiled, but said nothing, and kept playing.

“What have you been up to?” Oberon senior asked, smiling at Feste like he knew the kind of things they were usually involved in. They guessed Robin had been telling stories, and answered his question: “Last night’s rain hit hard in Illyria, so I had to help some,” they said, being reminded of the most disturbing part of that help, and wincing at the thought.

“Heavy rain is never good in those places,” Robin commented, leaving the guitar aside. “How bad was it?”

“Could’ve been worse, I guess.” Feste shook their head, trying not to think too much about it. “But there’s a whole bunch of people who lost their houses. It’s a mess,” they concluded.

There was some silence after their news, which Robin broke with an assumption: “You need a place to stay?”

“No, I’m still living with Toby and Maria. But we’re doing this fundraiser, and I was thinking maybe you and your friends could show up, maybe play something? You know, lend it some credibility.”

“Of course I can do that, I just don’t see how that’s gonna help things.” But Oberon disagreed: “Getting the boys back together for a good cause sounds like a great plan. We’ll make a day of it.” “A day? We need to rehearse.” And that began a secondary conversation between the two old men.

Oberon III asked more details about the fundraiser, and Feste told him what little they had planned so far, hoping the argument between Robin and the host would be over soon, but those two were simply having too much fun with that. So they followed Oberon III to his office.

“You know, I had no idea why Titania said she was busy because of the rain until you told us what happened,” he commented, taking his seat behind the desk, and going for his computer. “So she was helping those people?”

“More than me, for sure. Her grandma’s kind of the head of all charity work that goes around in Illyria.”

“So she’s gonna be involved in this fundraiser you’re talking about?” He served them both some scotch, and smiled when Feste nodded a “yes” to his question. “I think I know some people who could help out of the kindness of their hearts… and clout. Let’s see what we can find.”

Feste doubted even Titania was worth so much trouble, but they weren’t about to refuse help, especially the kind of help that would make Toby and Maria grateful for having them around (which was vital to maintain the pampered lifestyle they had at the moment). Oberon III spent the next hour messaging people, and making sure the event got all the visibility he could give it. Feste was really impressed at the kind of favors people would grant him. Some agreed to sing or play for free, some promised donations of food, bottled water, or clothes. And he got many people to promote the event.

They texted Maria about it, and she informed Big Titania’s people were volunteering to help at the festival, which Feste knew Oberon was counting on, and let him know about it. The young man smiled, and ran his hand through his hair: “Instant karma.”

Things were looking pretty good, when they heard old Oberon call out. “Boy?” Feste knew he meant his grandson, but still hated that. “Coming!” the young man answered with a resigned twitch to his lips. Feste followed.

In the living-room, the old man announced: “We’re going to Dodo’s, you kids want to come?” “Hell, yeah!” Feste said, though the question was mostly directed at his grandson, who chuckled at their enthusiasm.

“Of course,” Oberon III agreed.

Dodo and Harry, who had missed the Backroom’s anniversary, were clearly surprised to see Robin and Oberon together, but the surprise didn’t last longer than Robin’s explanation that the two of them were “cacthing up.”

They were both very nice to Feste, mentioning the last time they’d seen each other, saying how well they’d played. But in the middle of that, Harry asked: “How’s that charming friend of yours? Cesario, is it?”

Before Feste could answer him with “It’s complicated,” Robin stared at them and crossed his arms. “Who is Harry talking about? Why he knows him and I don’t?” Everyone else laughed, but Feste knew Robin well enough to tell his jealousy wasn’t performatic.

“There’s nothing to know,” they said, urgently. “If you had been to Joe’s, you would’ve met them. It might be too late now.” Robin still stared at them. “I promise, if I ever go steady with anyone, you’ll get to pass judgement on their character, don’t worry.” The others laughed even harder, but Robin nodded, looking them in the eye very seriously, and Feste knew he would hold them to that promise.

Robin, then, started telling Dodo about the event Feste was putting together, and told them to explain the rest of it. They told him what had happened in Illyria, and their plans. Oberon III, who already felt like a part of the crew, went on to list all they had managed to organize so far.

“You could try Joe,” Harry told Dodo, who nodded, but looked in doubt. “It does sound like his kind of thing.” He considered it for a little while, and finally decided: “Let’s see what he has to say.”

Of course, Tambourine Joe was a busy man, and only promised to get back to Dodo with an answer, nothing else. But he agreed to tweet about the event, and some of his millions of followers lived in the city, which gave it more visibility within minutes than Oberon’s hours of contacting people.

When they told Maria about all that had been arranged for the festival, she was delighted, saying it was perfect, and calling them a genius. Feste enjoyed some pride in that compliment, and put the phone away when Robin and Dodo started playing.

Now, that’s why they’d been so eager to come, not for Dodo’s contacts, but to listen to those two playing together. Between songs, Feste pointed at the duo, and said: “I wanna be just like you when I grow up.”

Robin smiled, nudged at Dodo with his elbow, and shared his idea: “You know, it’s not like Peaseblossom is gonna complain, why don’t we let Feste take his place?”

Dodo eyed Feste up and down, and shrugged. “I hope Mustardseed is rolling in his grave,” he added, shaking his head. And to Feste: “Show what you got.”

On one hand, there was a sense of pride in getting that level of trust from Robin, which meant they played, rehearsing to do the same on the day of the festival, which meant they had to show up and rehearse, all through the week. On the other hand, however, they wished they hadn’t said anything, because Robin turned to them after the rehearsal, and asked: “Do you have a white linen suit?”

“I’m not dressing like you!” they were quick to inform him.

“It’s not dressing like me, it’s keeping with the tradition.”

“‘Tradition is peer pressure from dead people,’” they quoted, to Robin, who had no idea what a meme was.

“It’s going to look like we just picked up anyone to fill in,” the old man argued.

“But I don’t want to wear a suit!” Feste whined. “I look terrible in boy’s clothes.”

“Men’s clothes,” Robin corrected, while the others laughed.

“Even worse!”

“Enough of that,” Oberon senior commanded, sounding annoyed. Both Feste and Robin stared at him, making clear he hadn’t been invited to the discussion but it didn’t intimidate him. “I know just the person to solve this problem, trust me.”

So Feste ended up getting their measurements taken at eleven in the evening, and their first tailored suit happened to be a stylized version of the classic linen suit that had become a symbol of Bohemian Alley in its prime.

*

On monday, Tambourine Joe showed up in Illyria, giving Feste nothing but an hour’s notice. He got there with his own crew to record him doing charity, which Feste knew Big Titania would condemn as soon as he turned his back, but he had one whole truck packed up with food and water, so the criticism just had to wait.

Maria sent some of the boys to help unload, and some more to make sure everyone was in their best behaviour. Big Titania also got some of her people to lend a hand. The crew took shots of the truck being unloaded, of Feste greeting Joe, and showing him around. But then his eyes found Titania, and from then on, Joe and his crew followed her around.

Feste could still be seen in the final video published in Joe’s official Twitter account the next day, but it was only for a second, and not even a consecutive second. Feste wasn’t too offended about it, however. After all, lots of people followed Joe’s example, and that meant more donations, and more attention for the event.

*

Friday was all about preparing for the next day, when the festival would take place. Feste and Oberon guided the team to Illyria, to set up a real stage at Fabian’s. It didn’t take long for Titania to find out about it, using it as an excuse to see Oberon, which of course was what he wanted. Along with her, came some people to help unload the equipment.

All day people called them about the event, some to confirm their presences, some to cancel. Some wanted to discuss donations, and Feste simply handed Titania the phone in those situations. There was a lot of excitement in those preparations, but also the constant fear that nothing would work out, and it would be a disaster. Balancing those feelings was exhausting, and Feste couldn’t wait to get some rest.

Maria, however, followed them around the house, going on and on about the next day. Even when Feste went to the bedroom, and fell on their bed, she sat on the edge of the mattress, and kept talking. Before they could decide whether they should just fall asleep as she spoke, Maria said something that had their full attention: “I think it may be the perfect day for Lieutenant Malvolio to find out Titania’s not the one texting him.”

“I forgot about that!” they said, sitting up. “You kept texting him?”

“Not just texting. I had to become Titania’s patron to make this good.” Feste couldn’t contain that laugh. “Now you have to show me what he said,” they demanded.

Maria handed them the phone, and for a moment they were distracted by the quality material Titania put out there, but then they noticed some texts in which “Titania” told Malvolio she was all about mature men, but at the same time she liked men with blond hair, and added: “It doesn’t have to be natural blond.” To which Malvolio responded: “Do you think I’ll look good with blond hair?”

Feste started laughing right then and there, it was too good, but there was more. “Titania” was telling him how she would love to see him at Fabian’s saturday night, saying she’d welcome being spared of the clueless, little boys that pestered her on such events.

“This can easily get out of hand,” Feste told her, slightly worried about Titania. But Maria just shrugged and promised the boys would keep an eye on her and swoop in if Malvolio touched her. So they kept scrolling through that A+ material, and the disgusting stuff Malvolio promised to do to her, and found a few more requests from “Titania”. She asked him to wear something that showed off his strong arms, and when he agreed to it, added: “Those boys think they’re so hot when they take their shirts off in the club, I can’t wait to see a real man do it.”

Feste had another fit of laughter, while Maria just watched it, very proud of herself. They went on reading, and found a particularly great moment when “Titania” asked if he was allowed to use his handcuffs on her when he was off-duty, which Malvolio responded to with a blushing emoji, and the words: “I’ll bring them.”

“But I need to know I can trust you,” she wrote, about to make his life more difficult. “I need to know for sure that you like me as much as I like you. If you’re not ready to say to the whole world we’re together, you better tell me now.”

Feste wasn’t surprised Malvolio would promise anything as long as he thought he would get to do some kinky stuff with Titania. But they didn’t expect Maria to suggest he got a tattoo. “That’s so evil! I love it,” they hugged Maria, who reminded them there was more.

“A tattoo of your name?” Malvolio asked. “No, that’s so trashy.” Disgusted emoji. “How about something deep?” Her suggestion was: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” “That’s very deep, I like it. You’re so beautiful, and so smart,” Malvolio answered.

Feste laughed some more. “That’s gonna hurt a lot more than just ‘Titania.’” Maria nodded. “You have to tell everyone to have their phones ready,” they thought out loud, imagining the scene.

“If I get the word out too soon, Titania might hear about it. Tomorrow night we’ll tell people we’ll give a prize for the best video of the event, or something.” Feste loved the idea.

*

Saturday was a long day that started way earlier than Feste would’ve liked. They put on the nice clothes Oberon senior had gifted them, made sure they had their phone, and headed to Fabian’s, where they met with some of Big Titania’s people, and Oberon’s crew. There was a smaller stage in the square, for the daytime presentations, starting with the guys who always played there on saturday mornings.

Nick got there early, eager to participate. He brought some canned goods, gave them to the volunteers collecting donations, and started telling Feste he was ready to try his number for The Wind and The Rain that afternoon.

“I don’t know,” said the author of the song. “Wind and rain got us in this mess, in the first place. Don’t you think that’s a little distasteful?”

Nick performatically placed a hand on their forehead. “Are you feeling well? Did you just say distasteful?” Feste rolled their eyes at him, but Nick wasn’t finished: “I think this leadership position they put you is clouding your vision. No one knows better than them that the rain rains everyday.”

“‘Raineth,’” Feste corrected, but Nick just shrugged. Later that evening, to Feste’s great relief, the crowd would actually deem Nick’s performance funny, no one too hung upon the mention of wind and rain, all too busy laughing.

*

Around the time Robin got there with both Oberons, the square was as crowded as the club on a great Friday night. Feste thought about the time Titania had said Oberon senior was too fancy for Illyria, and she was right, the old man looked ready for the country club, maybe a regatta, but not rubbing elbows with the working class. They quickly made eye-contact with Tie-dye, and hostensively gestured towards the new arrivals and themself, making clear they were guests, and should be treated accordingly. Tie-dye nodded, and gave them a thumbs up.

They couldn’t, however, stay with them for long. Feste kept getting texts and calls from people whose instruments broke at the last minute, others who couldn’t find the address, and those with questions about the kind of donations they were looking for. Dodo and Harry were among the ones having trouble getting there, so they had to borrow a bike, and guide them to Illyria.

By the time Feste got back, with Dodo and Harry in tow, Titania had already found Oberon, and was sitting with them, talking about the charity work the event would raise funds for. Feste agreed she should work hard selling the event to Oberon senior, after all, they knew for a fact he could do a sweet donation if he felt inclined to, and it would do no harm if the hottest girl around was the one to tell him all about it.

Feste called for applause to the quartet, and introduced Robin and Dodo. They were really excited about playing with their teacher on a stage for all those people. Nick, who was so easily impressed, watched the trio with wide eyes. Robin even invited him to the stage to sing the last song.

Only when they had finished, Feste noticed that the crowd had aged a lot. Not because the show was boring, but because their music catered to an older audience than Feste and Nick. Those people applauded with a lot of enthusiasm, which was of course one thing the four of them loved too much not to do an encore.

Dodo and Nick left the stage, and Feste read the announcements they were told to, which included the times for the next musical attractions, as well as advertising the stands that didn’t get a spot on the main street.

When they were ready to leave, however, Feste noticed Robin hadn’t left the stage, he stood at the top of the stairs, not moving. “Wanna play some more?” they asked, one hand going to his elbow just in case. “I'm gonna pull a magic trick here," the old man told them, "and for that to work, you're gonna have to do something for me no questions asked."

Feste wanted nothing more than to ask questions, but they'd do that later. "What's my part?"

"Get Oberon's kid, the girl and Nick somewhere else, and don't worry if you can't find us."

"Magic trick, huh?" Feste said, nodding in concurrence. They noticed, of course, the quick, worried way Robin glanced at Dodo, who was being hugged and kissed by Big Titania. Jumping up to conclusions was easy after that.

Feste ran to the table, and started telling Oberon III he needed to come and see some great stuff in the upper alleys. It wasn’t hard to find something that caught his attention, because they knew Oberon III was very much a tourist in Illyria. Within minutes, they found a capoeira circle which they knew would get his interest.

As expected, Oberon started making a video immediately, and watched the game for long enough to give Feste the chance to cut in line and play some. Nick joined too, in his usual style, always low, always grounded. It was efficient, but Feste was the opposite, touching the ground as little as possible, enjoying too much the illusion of a short flight to play like Nick.

They went on to show Oberon some drinks he would never find in the fancy clubs he was used to going tô. He tried those in a mix of fear and curiosity. They couldn’t find the older half of the group, when they got back to the main street, but there was much to see and do, and Feste was confident no one would mess with their guests (no matter how much Oberon senior looked like fair game for pick pocketing).

*

Once Fabian's club was open, it didn't take long for the place to get crowded. Oberon had promoted the event, and many of his friends had found him. Nick was particularly excited about this one guy called Peter Quince, a director Feste had never heard of but their friend had. And after Nick and they did The Wind And The Rain, Peter Quince was very excited about him too.

Feste was convinced they could've won the rap battle if the host was allowed to participate but they weren't, so the world would never know. During the battle, they got a text from Maria, reminding them to announce there would be a prize for the best video made in the event. They did that, and reminded the boys to keep an eye on Malvolio in case he showed up, and have their phones ready too.

Before Feste took over the club’s music for good, there was a band made of some hipster friends of Oberon, who had rather long beards and whose music sounded nostalgic for The Beatles. After that, a rapper, who had been inspired by Tambourine Joe’s video and volunteered.

Finally, Feste had the stage all to themself, and played the song that opened every twerk battle. They'd never seen the club so packed up. It was the best! As the girls approached the stage, Feste beckoned them to come up. There were of course some new contestants, a few of them wearing designer clothes and looking more fit for ballet than twerking. And they guessed pretty soon the boys would be comparing guns for the chance of impressing a rich girl.

They let the girls introduce themselves one by one, leaving Titania for the last so she could remind everyone of the charity they were raising funds for. She was already a favorite without that, and her association to a good cause only gave the crowd more reason to root for her. Titania got more cheers and howling than any other, which was no surprise, but it was always fun to get to that result.

When the contest was finished, people spread more evenly over the club, and Feste was able to see Big Hair waving at them and pointing. It was Malvolio. They started laughing, fortunately they weren't so noticeable behind the equipment.

Chapter Text

Titania went home to change for the evening. She put on her tight black shorts, and a red and gold strapless top that matched her belly-button ring’s colors. Maya waited for her, looking at an old photo her grandma kept next to the living room TV. “I always thought you kinda looked like your grandma, but you look a lot like him.”

She didn’t like the comparison, it implied she’d look like her grandmother when she got old, and Titania had absolutely no intention of getting old, ever. But her looks had never been compared to the grandfather she had never met. So she grabbed hold of the photograph she had seen so many times, and looked at it from a new perspective. She saw with no small amount of fascination where her lips and cheekbones had come from, but as her eyes strayed from the man in focus, she noticed the people in the background.

“Isn’t this Feste’s… Robin?” she asked, pointing at a man with a guitar in hand, who had the same Monalisa smile as the old man.

“Who?” Maya asked, confused.

“The one who played the guitar earlier today.” Her friend shrugged, meaning she had no idea what she was talking about. “I think he’s related to Feste, or something. Oh, look, this is the one who was playing the flute.” Maya wasn’t interested in the turn the conversation had taken, so she asked Titania if she was ready to go.

As they walked to Fabian’s, she was so excited about the way things were going with Oberon, she couldn’t shut up about it, but her friend obviously failed to see why. “He looks like he’s got money,” Maya commented, nodding her head in approval. “You have to make sure it’s not just looks, though.”

“It’s not,” Titania told her, shaking her head a little. “But that’s not even the good part. I mean, he helped Feste put this event together, he got all of his friends to make donations. He cares. And I don’t know if you noticed it, but he’s so hot!”

“It's hard not to notice, when you won’t stop talking about it,” her friend teased.

Before they entered the club, Titania noticed Orsino buying drinks, and came over to say hello. He looked happy to see her, or rather just happy in general, which made her instantly curious, even more so when he was handed two pink smoothies, a drink he had always refused on principle. “Those aren’t for you, are they?”

His immediate reaction was laughter, a good sign. He looked like he was laughing out of embarrassment as much as pride. Once more, Titania sensed some genuine happiness about him. “For some reason, Cesario loves this shit,” he explained, shaking his head in disapproval, but smiling like it was the most endearing trait a person could have.

“How are things between you two?” she pried, shamelessly.

He laughed again. “Why don’t you come say hello?”

Before they got to Cesario however, Oberon found her: “There you are!” he said, coming over, and checking her out, not even pretending he wasn’t bewitched. “You look beautiful!”

“I’ll catch up with you guys later, ok?” she told Orsino, who didn’t hide very well the fact he was checking her boyfriend out. Although Orsino had come out to her, she wasn’t used to seeing that, and started laughing. He did the same. On that note, they parted ways.

She followed Oberon inside, Maya tagging along, and they watched the rapper that came before the twerk battle. The guy had some cool rhymes, and it didn’t take long for her to want to dance to them. Oberon danced with her, and it was like they were the only two people in the world. That was the thing about him, after all: when she was around Oberon, nothing else really mattered.

“You look so hot in those clothes,” he whispered in her ear, as she grinded against him. Titania giggled. Well, that was the whole point of her outfit, but it was always nice to hear the whole production had the desired effect. Soon, he gave up on dancing and started kissing her right in the middle of the dance floor, like a teenager.

She didn’t want to stop, but if they kept going, they might end up forgetting they were in public. So she put some distance between Oberon and herself, so they could catch their breaths, and slow down a little.

He left her with Maya, to ask Feste something, promising he would be right back. Titania agreed, and joined Nick, who was hanging by the bar with Oberon’s friend, Peter Quince. Before she and Maya had done their first tequila shot, she noticed how Nick looked at his new acquaintance in the same way he had looked at her not long ago. And while she and Nick were far from right for each other, maybe he was right for Oberon’s geeky friend. At least they both sounded impressively engaged in the conversation they were having, though neither she or Maya had the slightest idea what the two were talking about. Fortunately the girls from the salon came over to have some drinks, so they hung out with them, instead.

Oberon came back right before Feste announced the twerk battle, so Titania pulled him towards the stage. "This is going to be fun! You've never seen me dance, have you?"

He shook his head, and pulled his phone out. "No, but I'm ready."

Titania was curious. "Are you making a video?"

"Feste said the best video gets a prize, and I know the best video needs you in it."

She went upstage to dance with the other girls, some of them were in Illyria for the first time, and Titania could tell they were new to twerking. Feste let the new girls present themselves first, leaving her for the last, but at least he asked her about the charity. And Titania felt like a celebrity getting on a stage and telling those people they were all responsible for each other. Pretending she was the princess of Illyria had always been a part of her daydreams, and charity work was a very princessy thing to be involved in. So she threw all the power of her fantasy into her little speech, and as usual it worked better because of that touch.

Finally, it was time to dance, which she did with pleasure. Titania loved dancing, and she loved the reaction people had to it. She took both admiration and envy as compliments, and enjoyed herself. There was no greater feeling than moving in compass with the beats, but the applause was a close second place. Feste called for an individual round of applause to each contestant, deciding who had won the battle by popular acclaim, as usual. Titania received louder cheers than the others, and that settled another victory.

She was still riding that high, when she got down from the stage, and found Oberon waiting for her, with a big smile on his face. What a smile! She wanted to drag him somewhere, and do everything to him. As they moved through the dance floor, however, there was another round of applause directed to Titania, more spontaneous, and limited to those who stood closest, like Maya and the girls, as well as some of the new faces. She wasn’t expecting that, and could only laugh in surprise. Oberon joined the others in the applause. What else could she do other than enjoy it?

As usual, Feste saved his best music for when the battle was over, and Titania felt like dancing to that. She beckoned everyone around to do the same, and they did. She had some fun going from dancing with Oberon to dancing with one friend and then another, until she found herself with a partner so unexpected, she froze.

Before her stood Lieutenant Malvolio, but he looked very weird: his thin hair was dyed blond, he wore a sleeveless t-shirt, and a gold chain around his neck. The most surprising part, however, was the smug look on his face, like he was too focused on whatever he was trying to do to realize how ridiculous his appearance was.

Her only reaction was to stare in shock. She should probably say something, but when the air reached her throat, she was still too stunned to speak, and whatever faint sound she managed to make meant nothing, and was immediately drowned by the music.

“Time to dance with a real man,” the officer said, to the girl’s horror.

She didn’t like the sound of that, no one who said such things to her had ever been anything but trouble, and to make matters worse, that one was a cop. Titania smiled uncomfortably, afraid of him, wondering if Malvolio would let her go if she humored him and danced with him for a little bit, like she had danced with her friends. She doubted that, but she also doubted he would be a good sport if she flat out said no. She would have to lose him with some kind of distraction, and so she danced halfheartedly, trying to come up with something to free herself from that man.

It wasn’t long before he said: “Check this out,” and pulled his t-shirt off, acting like he was sure Titania wanted to see his hairy pot-belly. The fact that now his holster and gun were visible only made her feel even more apprehensive. His chest had been shaved around what looked like a new tattoo. “What do you think?” he asked, removing the cling wrap that covered it.

His tattoo was still swollen, red, and covered in unguent. Titania was disgusted by it, but she still read it out loud: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Someone behind her giggled. She had no idea what it was supposed to mean, but she didn’t like the way Malvolio appeared to be expecting something from her that wasn’t a simple acknowledgement of his tattoo.

Titania took a step back, still giving her most uncomfortable smile to the policeman, when Oberon came to her side. “Do you want to get a drink?” he asked, ignoring Malvolio completely. “Sure,” she nodded, taking his arm, hoping the man would let her go.

He didn’t. “Not so fast, boy,” he said, placing a deterrent hand on Oberon’s shoulder. “We’re in the middle of something here.” Malvolio pushed him away, and turned to Titania: “Now, where were we?”

She held her open palms in front of her in a sign of refusal, among other things. “I don’t want to dance, but thanks for asking,” she said, taking another step back, hoping that had been clear enough for him. But there was no such luck.

He held her by the arm. “You can stop testing me now. I did my part, I think I deserve some recompense.” As he spoke, Malvolio leaned in closer and closer, until she had to get away from him in all urgency, which wasn’t easy, because he kept pulling her by the arm. She jerked herself free, and Oberon came between them. “You heard her, she doesn’t want to dance with you. Just move on.”

“Mind your own business,” Malvolio said, shoving him away so forcefully, Oberon fell.

Titania was paralyzed for a moment. She noticed the people in the club had made a circle around them, watching the absurd scene she had been dragged into. They just stood there, staring, some with their phones in hand, but doing nothing to help. Before Malvolio got to her, however, Jinx stepped in. “Is there a problem?” he asked Malvolio, with all the confidence only the tallest, burliest man in Illyria could have.

The cop looked intimidated, but not for long enough. He smiled. “Not at all.” Jinx just stared at him. That’s when Titania noticed some soldiers coming their way, and the music being turned down. She could hear every word Malvolio told the soldier: “She asked me to be here, so here I am.”

“Is that true?” he asked her, sounding worried it might be.

“No,” she shouted, offended that Jinx thought she would ever have anything with a goddamn cop.

Malvolio looked hurt by her answer, which Titania was confused by. She’d met her share of men deluded into thinking she liked them back, but those were people she’d meet and interact with o a certain frequency. She had talked to Malvolio once. Was he completely insane? Maybe he was, because he suddenly straightened up, ignored the towering man between them, and said: “Don’t worry, darling. I’m ready to tell everyone I love you. You hear?” he shouted to the whole club, and by that point there was no more music, so everyone really was watching Malvolio. “I love Titania!”

She wanted to disappear. She didn’t want to get dragged into that ridiculous scene, but that was already happening, and all she could do was attempt to be less of an espectacle than Malvolio. After a deep breath, she reminded him: “I don’t know you.” Her words made the club explode with howling laughter.

Malvolio’s confidence took a serious hit, and he suddenly went for his phone. The many soldiers around him misinterpreted his movement, and Malvolio found himself surrounded by guns pointed at him. He stopped, and stared at the boys. “What? You’re going to shoot me?” he teased, knowing very well they weren’t stupid enough to start another war against the police. “It’s my phone,” he told them, with the smug smile of someone who would never have allowed that, if their places were reversed.

Here and there, people whispered nicknames for him. “Worm,” they muttered. “Maggot,” another one said. “Pig,” shouted someone from afar. But Malvolio was unmoved. He got his phone, and stared at the soldiers until they lowered their weapons.

“If you don’t know me, then what’s this?” he asked Titania, handing her his phone, open to a chat with her face on it.

It was a different picture from her real account, and it didn’t take much scrolling to see that someone had sent her nudes to him. She was mortified, and deleted them immediately. “Who sent this?” She was too outraged to realize he didn’t know either. “This is not my account!”

Titania took her own phone out of her pocket, and showed Malvolio and everyone who cared to see that those texts hadn’t come from her. “I don’t even like texting with these nails. Everyone knows I send voice messages.”

Titania gave him his phone back. She could see how betrayed Malvolio felt, but she was too angry that someone had sent him her nudes to take any pleasure in his humiliation. The others, however, couldn’t stop laughing and teasing Malvolio until he was escorted out by the soldiers.

Oberon came to her asking if she was alright, and so did Maya. “I need a drink.” They walked her to the bar, where she had two drinks while people kept coming to her to ask if she was alright and mean comments about Malvolio.

Orsino was among those. He and Cesario assured Oberon everyone sooner or later had to put up with Malvolio, and he had done the right thing by not making it worse. A girl who looked like one of Oberon’s friends, asked her: “Does that man think he’s in a relationship with you?” So Titania explained what little she knew about the whole thing, which amounted to the catfish using her pictures.

She had hardly finished the explanation, when Maya said: “Look what they just shared in the group chat.” Titania saw the screenshots of the catfish’s instructions to Malvolio. Fortunately, it didn’t include her pictures.

“Who’s that from?” Maya didn’t know.

“‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,’” the other girl read out loud, making a face. “Did he really get that tattooed?” Titania nodded. “I don’t know, ‘thrust’, ‘greatness’, I don’t think that’s supposed to be inspirational.” And now that she mentioned it, Titania had to agree she thought there was something off about that sentence when she first read it.

Chapter Text

Videos of Titania turning down Malvolio became the main topic of every group chat in Illyria within a few minutes. They were turned into memes within the next hour. Feste was really proud of their part in it. Both Maria and Toby sent them congratulatory texts as soon as the videos started popping up. But they weren't entirely satisfied with the way the night was going.

By the time they got off the stage, Nick had left, and so had Oberon, obviously in Titania’s company. Feste had seen Cesario around earlier, but couldn’t find them either. So they had to be content with the fact that some of those first timers wanted to talk to them and buy them drinks.

They got home in time to watch the sunrise from the top of the hill. Toby was sitting there with the boys, and they were all talking about Malvolio, laughing, and doing their best impressions of Titania’s “I don’t know you.”

Toby hugged them. “Those videos?” He did a chef’s kiss.

Feste laughed, despite their exhaustion. “Huge success,” they agreed, too tired to form a complete sentence, and yawned.

Toby let go of them. But then the boys checked their phones again, only to laugh loudly, and stop Feste from going inside, showing them a four-panel comic of Titania and Malvolio by an anonymous artist. Feste was glad Maria’s non-lethal revenge was such a success, but they didn’t stay long with Toby and the guys. It was late, and they wanted to go to bed.

By the time they woke up, Toby and Maria were clearly having a celebration of some kind. They were drinking and dancing, and they couldn’t stop giggling. Feste only meant to cross the room and leave, but the two of them invited them to see something with a certain urgency.

Maria showed a video in her laptop, but Feste had seen that video the whole night, and wasn’t impressed about it anymore. “He doesn’t see it,” Maria told Toby, and they both laughed. “Check the comments.”

Feste did as told, and realized for the first time that they were on Twitter, which was, like most social media, a big no no for Maria. “It got out?” They shouldn’t be so surprised, the event itself had been advertised there. But Maria, who was known for punishing the boys for posting selfies with their guns, didn’t look bothered at all.

“Just look at what they’re saying.”

The tone of the comments wasn’t what Feste expected at all. People weren’t making fun of Malvolio’s looks, they were discussing him carrying a gun when he was off-duty, and his overall behaviour towards Titania. Feste had to go back to the video, and look for the moment you could see Malvolio was armed, and finally found it. They checked the numbers, and saw it was getting a lot of attention.

“Can you use that against him?” they asked Maria.

The couple laughed. “It’s a lot of negative attention,” Maria shrugged. “Let’s hope Duke gets annoyed at Malvolio this time,” Toby added.

Feste left the room feeling hopeful, and sat by the swimming pool, to go through their phone. In the group chats, people were still sharing pictures and videos of the event, as well as a few others sharing artwork made about Titania and Malvolio. On Twitter, Oberon had shared a video of Feste playing with Robin and Dodo, and most of the comments were about the more famous members of the trio, but some of them asked who Feste was, or simply said nice things about them, which was their favorite reading.

They also had a few private messages from people who wanted them to play at their events. Some just wanted to invite them to their parties, and the best one in that batch was Tambourine Joe’s personal invitation to his house, next friday night. They knew how those things worked, Joe hardly ever had to invite new people to his house, they would get there on their own. But an invitation from Joe himself? That was a whole other level. They took a screenshot of it and sent it to Nick. He would be happy for them.

Nick replied by saying he somehow had made it to the mountains in his car. When Feste asked why he had even tried in the first place, Nick sent them some emojis laughing in embarrassment, and then his answer: “Oberon’s friend, Peter Quince, kept telling me about this little town where ufo sightings are frequent, and one thing led to the other, so now we’re here.”

“You went looking for ufos together the day you met? He must be your soulmate!”

“We’re working on our own sci-fi screenplay, and it’s going great.”

Feste laughed and shook their head. It looked like Nick had found someone whose weirdness complemented his own. They were happy for him, of course, but it only reminded them that the hope of running into Cesario during the festival had gone nowhere. Feste had caught a glimpse of them during the main event of the night, but not when they left the stage.

Maybe they should just knock on Cesario’s door, and talk to them. It had been long enough, they surely had forgiven Feste by that point. So they went out. The boys at the gate were still talking about Malvolio, laughing at what they described as the rich kids biting his head off on Twitter. Feste joined them for a little while, but after smoking a joint or two, they suddenly remembered what they actually meant to do.

They left the guys, and made the way downhill. Feste was almost there when one of the kids playing outside tagged them, saying “You’re it,” and the others started screaming at their approach. So they had to show those little monsters what twenty-one years of tag experience meant, and chased them around, herding the unsuspecting screamers to a dead end.

Feste was hardly recovered from all the running, when their phone started ringing. Oberon was going to hang out with some of the people behind the event he wanted Feste to play at, and he thought they should come along. That changed their plans entirely.

Oberon was still in Titania’s company when they met. Feste got in his car, and they headed to a seafront maisonette, where a small get together was happening. There was a lot of scotch being drunk in that place, and Feste didn’t want to feel left out, so they drank their share.

Feste was introduced by Oberon to some of his friends as “the one I told you about,” which they supposed was a good thing. He was eager to introduce them to his friend Theseus. “He’s the big money behind the Faerie Experience,” Oberon whispered, as they walked towards him. Feste shuddered, trying to imagine what someone like Oberon considered big money.

Theseus, however, didn’t pay them much attention. He was busy throwing longing glances at a tall woman across the room. “Is that Hippolyta? The Hippolyta?” Titania asked, in awe. “That’s her,” he confirmed. “Oh, my god! She’s so cool! I’ve been following her for years” she told Oberon.

“Let’s say hello to her,” he suggested. Titania let out a nervous laugh, and nodded. “Ok, let’s go.”

“Wait, you guys are just going to walk to her and say hello?” Theseus asked, as if there was something absurd about the idea. “Of course,” Oberon said, with a shrug. “I’m going with you,” he decided, like it took him a lot of courage to do so.

Feste had to use all their will power not to laugh in Theseus’s face. They knew they were supposed to suck up to Theseus, after all, he was the big name behind Faerie Experience, but it was so obviously not the time for that. Instead, Feste left those three talking to Hippolyta, and decided to find a drink for themself.

They sat with a group who was singing along to an old song one of them played on the guitar. When the song was over, another one of the kids got the guitar, playing a different old song the others sang to. It worked like that for a while, until the guitar got in the hands of the guy sitting next to Feste. He started playing Bach.

The group protested. “Just play Wonderwall, Lysander!”

“Wait, this is really good,” he insisted, playing on.

The others cheered very loudly when he was done, making sure to let him know it was because it was over, not because they liked it. “Oh, come on! I just want to make it more of a challenge,” he defended himself.

Feste took the guitar from him. “I’ll take your challenge,” they said, and decided to show off a little by playing Assanhado. Feste knew the song even in their sleep, it was one Robin had taught them long ago, and therefore played it with ease. Despite the lack of lyrics and the profusion of chords, the bouncy song was much more well received than Bach, and Feste also played a lot more confidently than Lysander, who stared at them with murder in his eyes. They suspected, when they passed on the guitar, that it was time to find another drink.

There was a bottle of scotch practically unattended, on a small wooden table, removed from the rest of the crowd. A guy sat alone, so focused on rolling up a joint, he didn’t even look up at Feste. “I’m taking some of this scotch, if that’s ok,” Feste told him. “Sure,” he said, still not looking up.

Feste put a generous amount of drink in the glass, and noticed the guy had made no progress at all in his task. “Do you need help?” they offered, slightly impatient at how difficult he made it look. The man finally looked up at Feste. His eyes were huge and his teeth were gritted. “You’re just going to rip that paper,” they said, recognizing those traits immediately. “Here, let me do it.”

“Thanks,” said the man, stretching out a shaky hand to give Feste the stuff. “I feel like I’ve been here forever trying to do that, and just can’t remember how. I swear I do it all the time, and it’s easy, but Theseus was all like, ‘just a drop, it’s cool,’ and now I can’t remember how to fucking roll a joint. It’s unbelievable!” Feste laughed at how fast the guy could speak, and laughed even harder when he started repeating “unbelievable,” over and over, as if the word sounded funny.

“Here.” They handed him the joint, and got their laughter under control. The guy started going through his pockets, making that, too, look like a harder process than it had to be. Feste offered him their own lighter to make things easier.

The guy took a few drags, and offered it to Feste. “That song you played on Lysander’s guitar? Was that jazz? It hits you like,” he threw his head back and forth, in a whiplash, “and then it goes,” he moved his arm like a snake, his hand going up and down, as the snake’s head.

Feste laughed again. “I know a milion songs that are more like a snake than that one.”

“You don’t know a milion songs,” he said, shaking his head. “Wanna bet?” The guy looked confused. “I bet I know a milion songs,” they insisted. The guy creased his forehead. “You don’t know a milion songs,” he insisted.

“If you’re so sure, let’s make a bet. I’ll play a milion songs, and you'll keep count, whoever gives up first, loses.”

The man finally understood the absurdity of Feste’s proposition, and started laughing. “No, I don’t want to bet,” he shook his head. He stood up. “I want to go to the beach. You want to come?”

Feste shrugged, and took a walk with their new friend, whose name was Phil. They trudged over the fine sand, talking about music and how high Phil was, exchanging stories in a little competition to see which one could tell the most embarrassing drunk story featuring themselves. It wasn’t clear who won, but it was nighttime when Feste realized how long they’d been outside with Phil.

"My glass is empty, I need a refill.” They didn’t ask him to come along, but he followed, anyway.

Their conversation went back to the subject of music, when they walked by Lysander, who was playing, of all songs in the whole wide world, The Girl From Ipanema. Feste facepalmed, and shook their head. “You don’t like that song?”

Feste themself was surprised that they could repeat Robin’s words like their own, but it was all they could think whenever that song was playing. It was a result of years of listening to their teacher react exactly the same way, if anyone even mentioned The Girl From Ipanema.

Just as surprising was the fact that Phil looked interested in the subject. And asked follow up questions. They kept talking as the party winded down, and people started leaving. Until Titania came over to tell Feste it was time to go. “Are you coming?”

"Sure," they said, standing up.

“It was nice talking to you,” Phil said, offering his hand for Feste to shake, which they did, but very awkwardly. It wasn’t the slap of hands the guys did in Illyria, it was an actual handshake. They almost laughed.

Once they all got in the car, and drove away, Oberon started laughing without any apparent reason. “How did you make friends with Phil?” he asked Feste. “Was I not supposed to?” they asked, unable to guess on Oberon's tone any further than to say it was sarcasm.

He laughed and shook his head. “Probably the best person you could make friends with. Phil is even more difficult to impress than Theseus. If he tells Theseus you're good, you're automatically in.” Feste didn’t know what to think of it. They were too drunk to think.

The hangover of the following morning was a four out of ten, if Feste decided to be dramatic about it, which they weren't going to. They could soldier through that, all they needed was some water. As soon as they opened the bedroom door, the music got to Feste’s ears like a caress. They crossed the hallway already sure Robin was playing in the living-room.

“Good morning,” they said. Robin nodded, smiled at them,and kept playing. Feste brought a bottle of water from the kitchen back to the living-room, and sat with the old man. “Good to see you,” he said, once the song was over, putting his guitar down. “How was the party?”

Feste shrugged. "It wasn't much of a party."

“The boy said you had to meet those people.”

They nodded, and drank another glass of water. “Oberon says I made friends with the most difficult one, so I guess that’s a good thing?” They weren't sure about that, and when their teacher laughed, they doubted it even more.

“Difficult people!” he laughed some more. “And what are we?”

“I’m not difficult!” Feste fake whined, making Robin laugh even more.

He picked his guitar up again, and played another song. One about people with annoying habits. Feste chuckled. He started singing with his raspy, tired voice, so Feste came to the rescue, changing the lyrics here and there to include one of their own annoying habits, and one of Robin’s.

Feeling better after singing wasn’t anything new. They asked the old man for the guitar, and played the same song as the night before, while Robin bounced his head left and right. “That’s what I’m talking about!” the teacher said, giving them a thumbs up, that filled Feste with pride.

“The guy thought it was jazz,” Feste suddenly remembered.

Robin rolled up his eyes, and shook his head. “Well, at least you know the difference, right?” he demanded, so impatiently, Feste had to laugh at his annoyance. “Of course! You taught me, remember?”

“I know what I told you, but I don’t know what you listen to.”

Feste decided to annoy him some more. “Do you want to test me? Like an exam? I’ll do it. Ask me anything,” they dared him, with a smug smile on their lips.

“Don’t you test me," Robin told Feste, staring at them through narrowed eyes. "If I meant to embarrass you, I would let you go out there and figure things out on your own. I ask because I care.”

“You care because you'll look bad, if your student doesn’t know their stuff.”

Robin laughed. “Yes, mostly that." Feste laughed with him, and picked the guitar up again.

One song later, Robin decided: “I think it’s time we have a beer.”

Feste shrugged, and accompanied the old man outside. “Anyone ever plays music in this place?” they asked, as the two of them took their ocean facing seats.

“I don’t think so.”

“Haven’t you found a better place yet?”

The old man chuckled. “I've been busy.
All that rehearsing and going on stage. Who would’ve thought? I used to think things would stop happening at some point. Not in general, just to me, you know?”

Feste had no idea what he was talking about. “We should keep going with our trio,” they said, instead. “You, me, and Dodo. Come on! We sound great together.”

Robin laughed. “A recipe for disaster, that’s what it sounds like. Better leave it casual.”

He was probably right. Each of their rehearse sessions the week before had been made longer than necessary on account of Robin and Dodo disagreeing when it came to drinking while playing. Just thinking about it, made Feste see how “recipe for disaster” wasn’t a bad way to describe it.

“Talking about disaster, when are you going to tell me what happened after we played? Why did you have to make anyone disappear?"

Robin looked away and shook his head, but there was a smile he couldn’t fight off his lips. “It was the best for everyone involved, believe me.”

“No, I don’t believe in you. Now convince me,” Feste insisted.

“Fine, but it’s nothing you don’t already know. I was trying to keep Oberon away from Titania. For years, whenever they meet, it’s a big scene, and nobody needs that.”

“So, what’s the story with the three of you?”

“Can’t you guess, Feste? You’re smart, you don’t need me to spell it out for you.” Robin was impatient about that topic, but didn't stop Feste. “Sure, but was it like a throuple?”

“A what?”

“A couple of three.”

Robin snorted, and shook his head. “No. Well, once, but it was on a twelfth night, so it doesn’t count.”

“What’s a twelfth night?”

“People don’t do that anymore, but we used to celebrate it in the Backroom. It was great.” He sighed.

“What happened?” Feste asked. "Customs change,” the old man shrugged. “No, what happened to the three of you?”

“I’ll give the short version, and you'll stop asking about it. Deal?” Feste nodded.

“I was about your age when I met Oberon, and this happened a few years after that. His father was very rich, obviously.” Feste nodded again. “Well, Oberon was almost forty, he had never worked a day in his life, never got married, and would spend all his time and money in the Backroom, and the other bars. Of course his father threatened to disown him if he didn’t go straight, so he did. One day he just...” Robin’s voice faltered at the end of that last sentence, so he used his hands to sign “leave,” and went for his glass, draining it, rather desperately. He shrugged, and his lips twitched. “That’s why Titania married Jackass-- Nico, his name was Nico,” Robin corrected himself, and shook his head.

“But you still saw him after that, didn't you?” Feste guessed.

“Sure. He showed up for a big party a few years later, and got in a fight with Nico over Titania, I can’t remember how it ended. It became a thing. Whenever they were both in the same room, something bad happened.”

“What about you? You guys never fought?” Robin shrugged. “Titania had more reason to be upset. I knew from the start he wasn’t going to marry me.” He let out a fake laugh.

“You know what? You two should get married now.”

Robin shook his head. “Sure.”

“I mean it. Imagine how awesome!” His laugh was less dark that time. “No weddings.”

Feste signaled the waiter for another beer, and sat there with the old man for another hour, talking about everything else, until they both agreed it was enough, and parted ways.

Back in Illyria, Malvolio was still being discussed everywhere, but there was another, more recent piece of news that Monkey had the pleasure of telling them first: “Andrew is being released.”

Feste hoped there would be a big party in celebration, and started making their way uphill.

They didn’t go very far before Big Titania waved them over. They walked to her. “I have to ask you something.” Feste took a deep breath, afraid of where that was going. “I’ve been hearing the name Oberon a lot lately. Especially from my granddaughter. And this looks a lot like something I’ve seen before. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"I guess I do," they admitted.

"Do you think I have reason to be worried?” Feste shrugged. They really had no idea, which didn't satisfy Big Titania. “Tell me, what’s this Oberon kid like? Is he a spoiled papa’s boy?”

Feste couldn’t contain a little chuckle. “Of course he is, but he’s alright. You saw what he did for the festival, that was all to impress Titania.”

“Yes, I’ve seen that before.” The old lady remained unimpressed.

“Robin told me a story, you know, about when he was young… he’s not like that. The grandson, I mean. He makes things happen. And from what Robin told me, his grandfather didn’t do anything. I like the grandson a lot better. The old man? For all I know, he’s a vampire.”

Big Titania chuckled and shook her head. “And doesn't he have the feeling he’s already seen this story play out?”

“That’s not something he would tell me. But he doesn’t seem to intrude in his grandson’s love life. I don’t know, maybe things will be different this time?” One could hope, at least.

The old lady nodded, not really convinced, saying, before she left: “Tell Robin I loved seeing him play again.”

Chapter Text

Curio got home by sunrise, dragging his tired self uphill, sick of being on his feet. He could smell Orsino’s coffee even before opening the door, and it was one the best aromas in the world, so he forgot about going to bed for a second. When he entered the kitchen, however, both Orsino and Cesario stared at him so much, he was confused. “What?”

“Nothing,” Cesario said, going to the sink to wash his cup.

“Good morning to you, too,” Orsino said, going back to his coffee.

Curio shrugged. Orsino wasn’t going to shame him into being polite after a night shift. “It’s good night for me, actually.” He got himself some coffee, and left for his bedroom.

Were those two acting suspicious? Yes, but he was too tired to be bothered with that. And he would’ve probably let it be forgotten, if he hadn’t run into more of the same later.

Orsino got home around five, as usual, and joined Curio playing video games. Sometime later, Cesario got home. He said hello, and went straight to the kitchen, something they all did from time to time. The strange part was Orsino pausing the game and telling Curio: “I’ll be right back.” He wasn’t lying, he came back within seconds, but by that point Curio had already begun suspecting Orsino and Cesario had a secret.

He didn’t address his suspicion, though. He beat Orsino at the game twice before Cesario took his place. He never knew what to expect playing against him. Sometimes he would beat Cesario in twenty seconds, other times he lost even faster than that. And then there were those long, close fights, of which it was impossible to predict the outcome. All their matches were of the third kind at the moment, so Curio was kind of disappointed when Cesario didn’t want a fourth match.

He went to Orsino, who was making dinner in the kitchen. “Guess what? My brother will be here in a few weeks. I want to take him to the Elephant.” Curio wasn’t interested enough to eavesdrop on that conversation, so he just went through his phone for a while. He could hear Cesario playing his guitar, and singing for some time.

When he went to have some water, however, he entered the kitchen to find Orsino spoon feeding Cesario whatever he was cooking. He laughed at the scene, and the two of them turned to him, looking guilty, so he laughed even harder. “Now that I have to take a picture, I don’t have my phone with me!” he complained, still laughing at them. Orsino put down the spoon, and took another. “Now you try it,” he told Curio, offering him some.

Curio wasn’t about to let another man spoon feed him anything, so he took the spoon from him to try the food. It tasted great. So great, he wanted more, and Orsino had to yell at him not to use the same spoon again.

“You sound like my mom!” he complained, frustrated that he couldn’t find another clean spoon and had to wash the used one.

“Maybe that’s because we both have to deal with you?” Curio ignored the accusation, unlike Cesario, who chuckled at Orsino’s unfunny comment, when he wasn’t even high to excuse it. Suspicious behaviour.

He had some water and left them alone. Cesario went back to his singing. Curio went back to his phone. He laughed at some gifs Valentine sent him to describe how badly the meeting that kept him from going home was going. There was the standard drooling in his sleep guy, shaking prison bars guy, a few creepy smiles, each more disturbing than the other, and one that contrasted his ordinary looks to his chaotic thoughts. Curio didn’t know where he always found those funny things, but Valentine had a real talent for describing his mood in crazy gifs. He himself had no such talent, and sent him some laughing emojis, wondering where his friend got those cool the funny stuff he would always send him.

He ate with Orsino and Cesario, watched some music videos, and smoked some weed as dessert. That’s when Curio asked for their help to send funny stuff to Valentine. They were in the middle of doing that, when Cesario showed Orsino something on his phone, and said: “Look what Olivia sent me.”

At first, Curio didn’t understand why Cesario would chat with Orsino’s girlfriend, but then he remembered Cesario was her teacher, and figured that was why. He was ready to go back to thinking about actually important stuff, when those two started being weird again.

"That's funny," Orsino said, looking at Cesario's phone. "What about this one?"

"That's cute. Why didn't you send it to me?" Cesario fake-whined, playfully poking his finger at Orsino to annoy him. That by itself was a little weird, but not alarming. The confusing part was Orsino's reaction: he giggled, and grabbed Cesario's wrist to stop him, which made him use his other hand. Orsino stopped it as well. They stared at each other for a moment, and looked about to kiss. Curio was very weirded out by that, and felt like they had forgotten he was there. Maybe he should leave. Orsino let go of Cesario, but the two kept giggling at one another, and ignoring him.

"You guys are acting weird," he said, as he stood up to leave. “No, we’re not!” Cesario protested, just like someone who wasn’t acting suspicious would. Curio simply stared at him, waiting for him to realize on his own how guilty the denial actually sounded. Cesario looked away. But Orsino laughed. “Don’t we always act weird?”

Although he had a point, Curio was already convinced those two were hiding something. But he still wasn’t convinced it was worth finding out what. And if his friends had put more effort into keeping their secret from then on, Curio wouldn’t have had to think about whatever was happening around him. But of course Orsino and Cesario only became more obvious.

Curio wasn’t even trying to find out what was going on with them, but they sucked at hiding stuff. Which meant that a few days later, when he came home from work, right before sunrise, he saw some big evidence of what their secret was: Cesario was leaving Orsino’s bedroom.

Cesario didn't even notice him, standing in the living-room, too tired to decide between going straight to bed or taking a shower first. He just ran to the bathroom, so now Curio didn’t have to decide anything, he had to go to bed. In the afternoon, he woke up from an annoying dream in which he could never get out of work, and made some coffee. He was reminded of the morning events, as he got ready to hit the gym.

Had Cesario really been in Orsino’s bedroom? Maybe he had imagined things. Or maybe the two of them were sleeping together. And maybe there was a perfectly innocent explanation for what he’d seen. But whatever the case, it didn’t make much of a difference in Curio’s life. Unless he got to tease Orsino for it.

He revisited the subject when Valentine came home. “Give me your honest opinion. Say that two of your friends are secretly dating each other, you have the right to make fun of them for it, isn’t that so?”

“Who exactly are we talking about?” Valentine asked, immediately interested. “Guess,” Curio challenged him. He just shook his head. “I don’t know. Give me a hint.”

Curio was terrible at giving hints, so he already knew he was going to embarrass himself in the attempt, but it was either that, or giving away the answer: “They both live here.”

Valentine laughed. “You could’ve made it more difficult!” He laughed some more. “Orsino and Cesario?Really?” Curio confirmed it, and he laughed even harder for a while. “It all makes sense now.” He dried his tears. “How did you find out?”

Curio told him what he’d seen, and the weird way they were acting around each other. Valentine laughed a lot all the while. “Yeah, I think you and I are allowed to laugh.” He thought about something for a second, and added: “We should trick them into telling us.”

Curio liked the idea. “How do we do that?”

“Easy, ask one something he wouldn’t know about the other unless they’re together.” The idea was intriguing, but vague. “Like what?” he insisted.

Valentine rolled up his eyes, losing his patience. “Leave that to me.”

A few days later, early in the evening, on his way back from the gym, he saw Valentine and Orsino sitting by a table outside Snout’s bar. “We were waiting for you. Come have a beer with us,” Valentine said when he was passing by. So he accepted the invitation. When he was about to pull up a chair, his friend added: "As long as you're standing up, why don't you get us our next round?"

Curio shook his head. "Fine." When he came back, he noticed the ashtray on the table, which made him wonder: "How long have you guys been here?"

Valentine shrugged. "I don't know, we were waiting for you. How long have you been in the gym?"

Curio shook his head, he'd been at the gym for over two hours. Valentine and Orsino had to be drunker than they looked, if that was the case. "Cheers," he said, raising his glass, and they did the same.

When Orsino wasn’t looking, Valentine smiled at Curio in a way that said he should pay attention, because he was about to make fun of Orsino. Instead, he asked: “Guys, how do you stop snoring? My girlfriend keeps saying I snore.”

“I don’t know,” Curio said, failing to see what was funny about that. “I think you see a doctor,” Orsino said, also uninterested.

“See a doctor? Come on, it’s not that bad. My ex would snore sometimes, it’s no big deal.”

“That's because girls don’t snore as loud as guys,” Curio told him, accepting that was the conversation they were having.

“Is that true? What do you think, Orsino? Men snore louder?” He thought about it for a second. “I think so.” “Who is louder: you or Cesario?” Valentine asked him, and Curio finally saw what he was doing.

Orsino, however, didn’t see it. “He doesn’t snore,” he said, oblivious to what that knowledge implied.

Valentine looked at him, checking if Curio had heard the same, he gave him a nod, confirming it. His friend opened a smug grin that lasted just a second, and turned to Orsino again: “Cesario will be here soon, right? Let’s have another round while we wait.”

While Orsino went to the bar to get more beer, Valentine gave him a proud smile. “How does he know that Cesario doesn’t snore?” He scratched his chin, and made an exaggeratedly confused face that Curio laughed at.

“Play along,” he said, before Orsino came back.

When their friend returned with more beer, Valentine began: “Settle this for us, Orsino. Who’s your best friend, me or Curio?”

“Of course it’s me,” he said, playing along, even though he had no idea where Valentine was going with that.

“I’m sorry, but we go way back!” Valentine argued. “But I’m more likable,” Curio insisted, following his lead. They both stared at Orsino, who shook his head. “You two are each other’s best friend.”

“Then who is yours?” Valentine insisted. “Cesario.” He shrugged, like it should be obvious.

“Cesario?” Valentine overplayed his surprised tone, which was hilarious. “Curio, did you know that?” He shrugged, unable to tell what answer he was supposed to give. “I think he’s making this up so he doesn’t have to answer.”

They both stared at Orsino again, and he laughed. “What? You want me to prove it?”

“Yes, prove it. When is his birthday?” Valentine tested him. “Six months from now,” Orsino said, without hesitation.

“What he prefers: dogs or cats?” “He doesn’t care about pets.”

“Right handed or left handed?” “Right.”

“Big spoon or little spoon?” “It varies,” Orsino said, so casually, Curio guffawed beyond any chance of stopping himself. Valentine followed, laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. The best part was Orsino’s face: he still hadn’t figured out what he’d said.

“Alright, alright,” Valentine pretended to give in, showing his palms to tell them to calm down. “Fine, I believe you. Just one last question.” Orsino nodded. “How much longer do you plan on hiding things from us?”

He froze, glass in hand, half-way to his mouth, that hung open. Curio and Valentine didn’t resist, and laughed at him again. “What are you talking about?” he said, but it was too late to pretend he was innocent. So late, it only made them laugh harder.

“Just admit it!” Curio yelled at him, impatient with his act.

“Your best friend is your boyfriend,” Valentine spelled it out.

“How do you know that?” he asked, as surprised as if he and Cesario had been trying very hard to keep things secret. So, Curio told him each time he and Cesario had made a slip over the past few days, making sure to exaggerate every small detail for comedic purposes.

By the time Cesario got there, Curio's belly hurt from laughing so hard, and there wasn’t much teasing left in him, or Valentine. "They know,” Orsino told him, as soon as he got there. Cesario looked worried. “About what?” he played dumb, which was just ridiculous at that point. “About us,” Orsino said to end the charade.

Cesario looked at Valentine and then at Curio with a worried expression. “Hey, best luck for you two!” he said, raising his glass in a toast. “To Orsino and Cesario,” said Valentine, following his lead. They all drank to that.

Curio thought there were no more secrets to be revealed. Over the next few days he had to get used to the fact that Orsino and Cesario acted like a couple in his presence, now they weren't hiding their relationship. Not in the sense that they couldn't keep their hands off each other, which was a relief, but in the sense that they were always making plans or having arguments around the house, and Curio had nowhere to run.

Because anyone who could hear and think would've picked up on that, Curio soon realized something interesting about those two. One night, Orsino didn't want to go to the movies, and Cesario insisted, saying Olivia was really excited about it.

Curio noticed there was something he didn't understand going on, but he didn't say anything that time. He didn't say anything the next time he heard the name Olivia coming from them, either. But one morning he got home in a bad mood, around the time Cesario was leaving for work, and heard when Orsino told him: "Olivia wants to check this place she found on-line, we'll tell you if it's any good."

Curio didn't resist this time. "Are you guys dating the same girl?"

There was silence for a moment, which got uncomfortable too fast. He watched as those two exchanged a meaningful look. "Yep," Orsino admitted, not quite meeting Curio's eyes.

"We're also looking for a new place," Cesario told him.

"Wait, you guys are moving out?" Curio didn't like the news. Now he would have to find not one, but two new housemates.

Orsino shrugged. "If we ever find a place we all agree on."

Cesario rolled their eyes at him. "I have to go to work."

Curio went to bed, already worried about who was going to keep the house functioning once Orsino wasn't there to make repairs anymore.

Chapter Text

They had a party to celebrate Andrew’s release, of course. Feste took care of the beats, Toby was in charge of the guest list, and Maria arranged everything else, as usual. By the time Andrew got to Toby’s, late in the afternoon, accompanied by Balthazar, his lawyer, there was steak being grilled, music playing, topless girls in the swimming pool, whisky and beer for everyone.

“Hey, everyone,” Toby shouted, getting up on a chair. “Our guest of honor is here. A big round of applause for Andrew.” Everyone cheered and clapped hands on command. Andrew opened a big smile, waving at them. When the cheering died down, Toby went on: “And let’s not forget Balthazar here, who always gets us out, sooner or later. Show him some love.” They cheered for him. From atop his chair, Toby called: “Andrew, come here, I need to give you a hug. Guys, now Andrew is here, we can really get this party started. Beast, hand over the plate. Feste, music!”

They each did their part, and the party went on. Feste only got hold of the plate when Andrew himself came over to say hello, carrying it wherever he went, which really made him the most sought after person in the place.

“Welcome back, man,” Feste said, giving him a hug. “It’s good to be back.” “What? You didn’t like your vacation?”

Andrew laughed, and then shrugged. “The guys were ok, but the food was shit.”

Feste laughed. “I’ll use that in a song.”

He handed them the plate, and while Feste did a line, said: “People were telling me this weird story about you and I being a couple.” His voice raised in the end, like a question.

Feste had to turn their face quickly, lest they would start laughing directly onto the plate and ruin everyone else’s fun. “I thought people would let it die! So much stuff went down since. Did they show you the cartoons?” Andrew shook his head. “No? That’s my favorite part. Let me find one.”

Andrew was worried about the wrong kind of thing: finding out who had started the trend, and if people believed that was true. Feste shrugged. “Who knows? But don’t you think I make for a hot princess?” They showed him the cartoon again.

“That’s a weird armor I’m wearing,” Andrew observed. “Why is it shaped like that?”

Feste had never paid attention to the rest of the art before, and looked at it to conclude: “You’re a spaniard.” That’s when Feste realized: “You’re Don Quijote!” They couldn’t control the new round of laughter.

Andrew just pressed his eyebrows together, looking confused. “Who?”

Feste didn’t bother with explanations. “You see? This person doesn’t think it’s true.” Andrew's forehead wrinkled even more, as he narrowed his eyes. “Never mind,” they said, noticing some girls coming towards Andrew (or the plate), and made a final line.

By eleven o’clock, Toby asked Feste if they had the mic ready for a big announcement he wanted to make at midnight. They assured him whenever he needed it, it would be ready. A minute begofe midnight, Toby was there. Feste stopped the music, and gave him the mic.

“Good night, everyone. Thank you all for coming. I have a few words I’d like to tell you. Where’s Andrew?” He waved from the swimming pool. “Andrew, now it’s past midnight, so your release was yesterday. Today is about something else.” There was silence from everyone. Toby looked at the crowd. “Where’s Maria?”

She had the plate in her hand, and a straw up one nostril when she noticed everyone was looking at her.

“I’m making a big speech here, and you don’t listen?” Toby complained, sounding just a little too offended for it to be honest.

“You’re always making some big speech.”

He looked away for a moment. “Is that true?” he mumbled, and the mic picked it up, making people laugh. “The speech!” Feste reminded him, in a loud whisper.

“Yeah! Yeah! We’re getting off topic here. So… Maria… will you marry me?” People cheered and howled. All she did was stare at him. “I’m serious!” said Toby, who knew what her looks meant.

Her face became one huge smile. “Yes! Of course!” she shouted, hugging whoever was closest. The people cheered even louder, and Toby went to her.

Feste selected an upbeat song to go with the celebration, and the party went on until sunrise.

They checked their phone in the afternoon, still in bed, to discover that Oberon was looking for them. He had met with the other organizers of Faerie Experience, and they had agreed Feste was in. All they needed to do to make it official was to sign the contract. Feste didn’t like bureaucracy, and didn’t know why those guys needed a contract for a one time gig, but they remembered Oberon saying they liked keeping things professional, and figured that was it.

“Should I come over?” they texted. Oberon didn’t read it immediately, so Feste left the phone there, and went to the bathroom to get ready for the day.

When they came out, they put on black tights, a plaid skirt, and black t-shirt with short sleeves, which they shortened even more by folding them, so the entirety of their arms showed. The look asked for some make-up, so Feste was taking care of that, when their phone buzzed.

Oberon’s reply read: “I don’t have the contract, that’s with Phil. Come over whenever you feel like.” And there was Phil’s contact, so Feste texted him. He gave them an address, so Feste put on their combat boots, and left the room. Before they got outside, however, they met Maria.

“Look, it’s an engaged woman!” they said to no one.

A smile came to her face immediately. “Look what this engaged woman got,” she told them, showing off her brand-new diamond ring. Feste was impressed. That talk about Maria’s wedding reminded them of an old request: “Will you let me officiate your marriage? I promise I won’t try to outshine you.”

“Don’t be silly!” She waved a dismissive hand in the air. “I was thinking of asking Big Titania to do it. Toby and I both like her. But after what I did, I don’t think I have the nerve to ask.”

Feste bounced their head right and left considering the idea. “Now that you mention it, Big Titania does sound like a more respectable choice. Does she know it was you?”

Maria shrugged. “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, or Toby. Things never stay secret.”

“Why don’t you pay someone to take the blame?” Feste threw the idea out there for Maria’s consideration.

“I don’t like it. I may have to do that, but I don’t like it.”

“Well, I could try to find out how mad Titania really is about it. If it’s not too bad, then you can come clean about it,” they suggested.

Maria considered it. “Ok, let’s try that. If it doesn’t work, you could take the blame for me.”

“Oh, come on, not me! Can’t we blame it on someone else? How about one of those kids who make gifs and cartoons?”

“Don’t be so low, Feste. I can’t trust any of those kids not to babble when Titania gets mad at them.”

“And you trust me?” they scoffed.

“I wouldn’t choose a bridesmaid I don’t trust.”

She waited for Feste to realize what she had just said with a smug smile on her lips. “Me?” She confirmed it with a nod. “Thanks!” Feste hugged her. “This is going to be the best wedding ever!”

*

When Feste borrowed one of Toby’s bikes, and set out to find the address Phil had sent them, they didn’t realize it was the same beach house they’d been to a few days earlier. There, they found Phil sitting alone on the porch, ignoring a beautiful sunset in favor of the book in his hand.

“Yo, Phil.” The guy looked up, and put his book down when he saw Feste, standing up next, and walking towards them.

“Good afternoon,” he said in a calm voice, that was nothing like the last time they’d seen him. “Let’s go inside, and get those papers signed. Feste nodded, and followed him into the house.

“I didn’t realize this place was yours. I thought it was Theseus’ for some reason,” Feste commented to fill the silence.

“It is Theseus’, I’m just staying here until we’re done with the Faerie business,” Phil explained.

They got to the living-room, where the contract waited for Feste on the coffee table. Phil went through the papers with them, explaining what it said, and showing Feste where to sign.

When that was done with, Phil changed the subject. “I want to ask you something. I was listening to your music the other day, and I got to this.” He hit play during a five second guitar solo in the middle of an electronic remix they’d done for a friend’s funk song. “Why isn’t this its own song?”

Feste laughed. “It is.” There was a guitar hanging on the wall, so they took it. “Let me show you.” They had to tune in the guitar, which delayed the demonstration. “Just a moment.” When it was finally done, they started playing. At first, Phil looked curious, but a minute or so into the song, he opened a big smile and started bouncing his head. Feste rather enjoyed being responsible for the change in his demeanor . “Love in Idleness, by Robin Goodfellow,” they informed, putting the guitar down.

“It’s great. Why haven’t I heard this before?”

Feste snickered at the hint of outrage they could detect in his voice. “Copyright issues,” they told him, certain he wouldn’t care for the long version of the story.

He looked up the song. “Is this the one?” Feste nodded. It was an almost fifty year-old recording, and it showed, which bothered Phil. “This was taken from a vinyl,” he observed. “Why isn’t there a remastered version?”

“Copyright issues,” Feste repeated. Phil kept looking at them with his brow creased in doubt. “You look like you want to know the story behind it,” Feste observed, already amused just by thinking about it. Phil just nodded, saying nothing. “Fine, fine, here’s some ancient gossip. So, there was this trio made of Robin, Dodo, and Mustardseed. Now, I never met this Mustardseed, but he was the rhythmic guitar, and I took his place last week when we played. So, I only know the version of the story that Robin told me, but the guy went mainstream, and took the credit for all the work in most partnerships he had been in before he got famous. They had more than one fight about that. According to Robin, it was really about honor, not royalties. I’m not entirely sure what that’s an euphemism for, but I do know they put Peaseblossom in his place, but I never met him, either. I think what they did was they kicked his ass, and never took the legal route. And that’s why there isn’t a remastered version of Love in Idleness.” Phil stared at them, with his brow still furrowed, and his mouth slightly open, which made Feste realize they’d been talking for too long. “Hum, can I have some water?”

“Sure.” Phil composed his face, and led the way to the kitchen. “You said you played with these guys?”

Feste told him about the music festival in Illyria, in the kitchen, and when they were done telling him about it, he asked another question: “How do you know those guys?” The answer to that question invited another, and then another. A mood that was only intensified when they started blazing. They smoked and talked for a long time.

It was nighttime when Feste started feeling too tired to go on with the conversation. “I’m so hungry,” Phil complained, while going through his phone. Feste didn’t notice what he was doing, until Phil stood up, and told them to come along. “Our car is here.”

“Car? Where are we going?” they asked, standing up. “Eating,” Phil said, with a shrug, leading the way outside.

Once they were in the car, Phil became quiet and serious again, which Feste suspected was because he didn’t want the driver to hear their conversation, for whatever reason. “Where are we eating?”

“Athens,” Phil said. “That far?” Feste asked, misunderstanding it on purpose. It took the guy a second. “No, Athens, the restaurant.”

“And what kind of food do they serve in Athens, the restaurant?”

Phil gave them a smug grin. “The best kind of food: free.”

Feste laughed. “Man, I already like that place.”

Athens was a small place with subtle lighting and an indoor garden. The kind of place in which the staff had to dress up. The best dressed one even came to their table to act all obliging to Phil. When the two of them were alone again, Feste asked: “Does your family own this place?”

Phil laughed. “My family? No. He’s a friend, the owner, I mean. Anyway, what do you want to drink?”

They were both very drunk by the time they got back to Phil’s, and ended up sleeping on the same bed.

When they woke up, in the afternoon, Phil had the idea that the ocean would help cure their hangover. So the two of them took a swim.

Feste figured it was time to leave after they had a shower to get rid of the salt. But they found Phil in the kitchen, cooking for both of them, which convinced Feste to stay and eat with him.

“Can you play that song again?” he asked, when they had finished their food.

Feste played Love in Idleness again, and when the song was over they were right back at the same conversation as the night before, which mostly revolved around their relationship with Robin and how he had decided to make them his pupil.

Feste and Phil kept talking into the night, and when the two of them realized how late it was, he suggested: “We should do something.” So they took him to the comedy club where Nick would present that night.

After the show, they hung out with Nick for a little, and he was still in the company of Peter Quince, with whom he had the weirdest talks that not even Feste could follow, and that was saying a lot, considering how well they knew each other. The four of them had drinks for about an hour and then parted ways.

“I choose our next stop,” Phil said, as he got them a car.

The place was a hybrid of bookstore and burger joint, that Feste thought tried a little too hard to look underground in a wealthy neighborhood, but the burgers were really fine, and they found out in the end that it was another one of those places where Phil ate for free. “You’re full of connections, aren’t you?” they observed.

Phil shrugged. “Don’t you have friends that don’t charge you for what they do?”

Now that he mentioned it, they realized it wasn’t so different from their own experience. “Well, there’s Toby and Maria, real patrons of the art, those two.” They told him a little about the parties in Illyria, which got Phil curious, so he started asking many follow-up questions, and they unsurprisingly led him to the conclusion: “I want to go to one of those parties.”

They ended the second night like they had the first, on Phil’s bed, but only for sleep. He woke them up at the end of the next morning, to say he had to leave for a meeting. Feste decided to go back to Illyria, before Maria started making wedding plans without them.

There was a lot of bustle going on in the mainstreet, so Feste went to Monkey to see what was going on.

“Hardware for Maria’s wall, they’re all helping to get it up there,” the boy explained. Feste nodded, glad to see things were happening. “Have you heard? Malvolio was officially removed to another precinct. Duke called Toby and everything.”

Feste loved the news. “Toby must be so happy! I hope the next guy is more easy-going.”

They decided it was a good time to check on Titania. Fortunately, it was a slow hour in the salon, so it was simply a matter of getting Titania to do their nails, which always involved a lot of talking.They brought up Malvolio’s removal, and commented: “I know you must be pissed at what happened. But at least we don’t have to deal with him anymore.”

Maya, who was sitting by, waiting for a client to show up, rolled up her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t think you’re upset enough about this,” she told her friend, clearly in reference to some earlier conversation Feste had missed.

“I was,” Titania told her, and Feste could infer from her tone, she wasn’t explaining that to Maya for the first time. “I wanted to find who started this. But now…”

“What happened?” Feste was curious.

Before Titania even answered, Maya, who already knew what her friend was going to say, was already rolling her eyes up again. “You know how that video was all over Twitter the other day? Do you have any idea how many new subscribers that got me? I’m not mad anymore. If only that happened every time I have to put up with some crazy guy!”

Maria was very relieved when Feste reported to her what they’d heard. The two of them spent the next few hours looking up wedding dresses. It was a difficult quest. By the time Feste got a text from Oberon, asking if they were going to Tambourine Joe’s party that night, the dress hunting had only decided on what was an absolute no, and hardly touched the maybes. Maria, however, said she would keep them informed.

The party at Joe’s was the same as usual: people playing and singing around the big table, and some more sitting by the small ones. Feste had considered inviting Cesario, because they’d had fun last time, but they postponed the task of calling them, already suspecting a no, but what they got in response was a little more elaborate than a simple no: Cesario's new relationship status was interesting, to say the least. And that meant they arrived at the party alone.

They looked around, wondering if Oberon was there, or maybe Dodo, and found an unexpected sight: Dodo and Harry were sitting with Robin and Oberon Senior.

Feste walked up to them and was invited to sit, after some hugs. “I thought your grandson would come,” they told Oberon senior, escaping the hand the old man brought to one of their braids.

“He is, but he said he has to pick up a friend first.”

Feste nodded in understanding, figuring he was bringing Titania along. “You’re the last person I expected to see here,” they told Robin.

The old man gave them a twitch of his lips that didn’t really pass for a smile. “I agree with every word you just said, kid.” And shook his head.

“I see you brought your baby,” Feste pointed out Robin’s guitar, which was sitting there. “Are you here for business?” They checked him out again to make sure he wasn’t wearing his white linen suit. No, Robin wore a simple navy-blue and white striped t-shirt that fit him surprisingly well, and a new corduroy.

The rest of the table chuckled at their question, so their assumption was probably way off. “I’m here attending to countless requests,” Robin said, in grumpy evasion, as he sometimes did. “By which he means one,” Dodo said, eyeing Oberon for a moment. Feste chuckled.

Robin interrupted Feste’s nodding to add: “Also, Joe’s recording tonight, so we,” he pointed to himself and Dodo, “agreed to celebrate that Mustardseed won’t see a cent no matter what we play.” Feste laughed, and nodded with even more concurrance than before.

“It’s not the only reason,” Oberon senior said, with a note of disapproval in his voice. “Tell Feste why you’re really here.”

They would have laughed at Robin’s grimace, but his words implied they had something to do with the answer, so Feste simply stared at their teacher expectantly. Robin sighed, and rolled up his eyes. “The word out there is that Joe wants to record with you tonight.” He sounded particularly annoyed at having to explain that, to the point that he didn’t notice how worried Feste got at the news, and just went on. His next sentence came out a lot more angry than its content: “My pupil is not going mainstream without my witnessing.”

The other three laughed, and applauded Robin sarcastically. “You know what this is? Emotional maturity,” Dodo made fun of Robin to Harry, who wasted no time continuing it: “Yes, sometimes he even sounds like an adult.”

They all laughed, except for Feste, who was still processing the news. “Wait, wait, wait.” They grabbed their teacher’s wrist. “Record? But we didn’t rehearse.”

Robin scoffed. “Joe’s more about quantity than quality.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s how you make the kid feel better,” Harry said, throwing Robin an angry look. And then to Feste: “Don’t worry, you did great last time. Just try not to get as drunk.”

“Thanks, Harry,” Feste said, pouring themself some whisky.

Robin dragged them along to the big table, when Joe invited him and Dodo. He told the host Feste was an official member of the trio, and their music would sound off without them.

“Perfect,” he said, before giving Feste that fake hand-kissing he did to women, that they had absolutely no idea how to respond to, and started giggling. “I was going to ask you to join us, anyway. I like what you did in Illyria.”

“Thanks,” they said, having a hard time keeping their drink down.

“Now, take a seat.” Feste obeyed, taking their good guitar out of the case.

“We did rehearse, didn’t we?” Robin reminded them, in a voice that was beyond performance jitters. “Why you’re looking so stiff? I know you’re nervous, but this is not the time to hope no one pays attention to you.” Feste nodded, aware that Robin was right. “Let’s have some fun.” And so they did.

They took a break after a few songs. “Can you get me a real drink?” Robin asked them.

By “real drink” he meant hard liquor, not beer, Feste already knew that. So they found some whisky for the two of them, and returned to their seat. “Cheers," they said. "To you," Robin drank.

Feste hadn't even put their glass down yet, when Robin, without any warning, started leaning over them, in an unusual invasion of their personal space, that made Feste back away. Finally, they realized Robin wanted to shake hands with the singer who had just taken the chair next to Feste. “Hello, darling. Robin Goodfellow, big fan.”

Feste forgot how to breathe when they realized it was a performer they had grown up listening to, and whom they had admired for years. They wanted to reprimand Robin for being so familiar to her, but to their surprise, despite Kay C’s tough looks and deep singing voice, she giggled like a little girl. “It’s the other way around,” she told him. All the while Feste was dying of jealousy.

Robin made them switch chairs with him, so he would sit next to Kay. They wanted very much to be included in the conversation, but the two of them were too busy discussing the song they’d do together. Feste, who refused to get over the fact they were being ignored, didn’t even have to think consciously about it, they started playing. The song also came to them without deliberation. It was already in their mind after having played it recently.

Love in Idleness got a reaction from its author. But not a positive one. “That’s too busy for idleness," he said, clearly offended at the misrepresentation of his song. "Keep it mellow.”

“My mind is very busy in idleness,” they replied, insisting on the faster tempo. Feste didn’t look up, but they could guess their teacher was shaking his head at the answer.

He waited until they were done to tell them: “It doesn’t serve its intended purpose when you play it like that.” “It kind of does,” Kay C defended them.

“No, no, no, I’m not saying it doesn’t sound good. I’m saying it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.”

“Which is?” she asked, very curious.

Robin smiled. “Seduction,” he said simply, but his hands were a lot more eloquent now his “real drink” was over. And to Feste: “You can’t rush seduction. I have never played that song looking at someone’s eyes and didn’t get laid. I’m serious, that one never failed me.”

“It didn’t work for me,” Feste shared, before realizing what Robin was so obviously going to say. “That’s because you’re playing it wrong. Don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m offering you gold here.”

Before Feste could roll their eyes at Robin again, Joe was back to the head of the table, saying intermission was over. Kay C sang with him, and they played. Robin’s solo made them want to stop playing, and just listen to him, but they kept going for the sake of the show. Everyone cheered him on, and applauded loudly when the song was over.

Robin took a bow, and told Joe: “Feste will take it from here.” And the host agreed, beckoning them over. They played a few songs, and when Joe asked them to sing with him, another took their place, playing the guitar.

When they left the table, feeling somewhat lost, Oberon III came over, and walked them to the smaller table. There, they saw he had brought Titania along, as expected, and also a face they didn’t expect: Phil’s.

He waited until the old men had said their well-meaning compliments to Feste’s performance, and shook their hand. “You did great,” he said. “Why don’t you have that kind of thing on your page?”

Feste laughed at the idea. “Because no one cares.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” he disagreed. Feste shrugged at a loss for words.

When Phil said he was going to step outside to have a smoke, Feste went with him. “I was talking to your teacher while you were playing,” he said, as the two of them crossed the gate. “He’s very interesting.”

“Well, I think so,” Feste agreed.

“He said I should play as your partner while I can, because you’re about to get very popular.”

Feste shook their head, amused. It sounded like Robin was trying to sell them to him, and they weren’t about to object. “What do you play?” they asked instead.

“I don’t. But he gave me that advice anyway.” They both laughed.

As they got high, the two of them talked about things to do, when the party was over. They went back inside for a while, where Feste was surprised to find Kay C sitting at their table, laughing at whatever those guys were telling her.

"There you are," she said, when Feste got there. "Can I have your number?"

"Sure," they said, and typed it on the phone she handed them.

"Are you free on tuesday? You could come rehearse with me."

"Of course," they agreed, nodding emphatically, stunned at the invitation.

"Great, I'll see you soon." She kissed Feste's cheek, and waved goodbye to the rest of the table.

The guys applauded Feste and started making predictions about their future as a mainstream artist, which was in part fun, but mostly it was disturbing, because they couldn't differentiate what was exaggeration and what was actually likely to happen at some point. So they poured some alcohol over those doubts, and felt a lot better.

When Phil went out for another smoke, Feste followed, and the two of them decided not to go back to the party. Instead they found a fast-food place, where they spent a good part of an hour doing art with ketchup and fries on their plates instead of eating.

Feste went home with Phil. They watched a horror movie together, making fun of it the entire time. It was almost morning when the credits rolled up. “One more before we call it a night,” Phil suggested, rolling another joint. Feste nodded, and picked up their guitar to make the process more pleasant.

As they strummed a few warm-up chords, Love in Idleness came back to their mind, which should be no surprise, after all, Phil had liked it so much. They were reminded of Robin’s words, and tried to keep it mellow. Their friend lifted his head from his work. “It sounds different tonight,” he observed.

“Robin said I was playing it wrong,” Feste explained, without stopping. That’s when the rest of their teacher’s words came back to them. As they played in a mellow tempo, looking back at Phil, who watched intently, Feste was reminded that the purpose of playing the song in that fashion was seduction.

Sure, they could stop making eye-contact with Phil, they could go back to playing the song at a faster tempo, but they just kept going. Neither one looked away. Beginning to enjoy the slower rhythm, Feste had no control over the smile that grew upon their face. Phil managed to roll the joint without looking at it, and his whole frame bounced subtly to the music, as he returned Feste’s smile.

“I like it better this way,” he said, once the song was over.

Yes, but are you seduced? Feste thought to themself. “Robin said I wasn’t playing it idle enough,” they told him instead.

Phil shrugged. “Makes sense.” After a moment of awkward silence, he looked away, and lit up the joint. He took a few drags, and passed it on to Feste without looking at their eyes. “You know what we should do?” He still didn’t look at Feste when he asked.

“What?” Phil looked at them with a smile that suggested something fun was on his mind. “What?” they asked again, when he kept smiling and said nothing.

“I’m going to kiss you now, ok?”

“Ok,” they agreed, amused that he was announcing it like that.

Their kiss had a spark that kept it going for much longer than most first kisses. They didn’t sleep together that night. They stayed awake, in each other’s company, instead.

For the next two weeks, Feste was back and forth from Illyria to Phil's, and sometimes rehearsing with Kay C and her band. By the end of those two weeks, Feste wished they had more time with Phil, but he had to follow Theseus to the south and help him with a club he was opening in a border city. He invited Feste to come along, and they would have, under different circumstances, but they had business to see to, not to mention Maria wedding.

Chapter Text

Sebastian should’ve known he was going to get in trouble showing up to Viola’s place to surprise them. But he was bored. And he also didn’t like the way Antonio implied he wouldn’t know how to behave in a place like Illyria, so he had to prove him wrong. But it was weird that Antonio couldn’t go with him. That's what he usually did when he thought Sebastian was doing something he shouldn't. This time, however, he said he’d got in a fight once with some guys there a few years ago, and didn't think showing up in Illyria was a good idea.

“I’m sure they forgot about it by now,” he tried.

“I’d rather not risk it. Just call Viola, and tell them to meet us somewhere else. We’ll go to the beach, it’s a nicer view, anyway,” Antonio insisted, in the other direction.

“But I wanna see Viola’s face when I just show up at their place.”

Antonio still looked at him like it was a terrible idea, but just said: “Be careful.”

“I will be,” he promised.

Seward had texted him a map, explaining how to get to Viola’s, and reminded him the houses had no numbers. Sebastian was confident he could make it. But he didn’t expect so many alleys would go up from the main street, so he had to make sure he got the right one, and kept checking on his phone.

“Hey, Sweetie,” a voice called from above Sebastian’s head. He looked up to find a guy sitting on a rooftop, and smiling at him with heavy lidded, red eyes.

“How you’re doing?” Sebastian replied, trying to pretend he wasn’t wondering where the guy had come from.

“Aren’t you going to party tonight?” Sebastian shrugged. “Want some hash?” The guy offered him the huge joint he was blazing. He saw no harm in that, and accepted it.

Sebastian had miscalculated how strong the stuff was, used to the shitty kind he had to go through so much trouble to get back in his hometown. He was very high when two loud guys, wearing matching, sparkling white sneakers came down from an alley towards what looked like his direction. “Hey, Sweetie,” they both said, nodding to him. “Hey, Monkey,” one of them spoke to the guy who had offered Sebastian a smoke, “things are getting crazy up there, we’re just gonna chill out here for a little bit, ok?”

“Sure. Pass on the hash, Sweetie,” he told Sebastian. And to his friends: “What’s going on up there?” One of the guys snorted. “Feste’s going insane.” The other one just nodded along. “It’s all 'the flowers' this, and 'don’t touch it' that, and now he’s just threatening to kill everybody.”

Monkey laughed, and Sebastian was really confused. “I should go,” he said. “See you at the party,” the guy named Monkey told him.

He didn’t know what party the guy was talking about, but he was pretty sure that was the right alley to get to Viola’s. So he looked at his phone again, and was checking the map, just to be sure before he went any further. He had only taken two steps, when he heard the guys calling him back. “Hey, Sweetie, hold on.”

Sebastian thought it weird that those guys would call him that and not ask his name, but he was too high to manage a complaint. The two guys wearing matching sneakers ran to him. “Feste needs you up there.”

“What?” Sebastian just stared at him in confusion.

“He says he’ll make it worth your time,” the guy went on, as the other stopped a biker who was coming downhill. “Take Sweetie to Feste,” he told the biker, who wore a t-shirt with a tuxedo motif on it.

“No, wait, I have to see Viola, I can’t just--” Sebastian’s protests were interrupted by the guy telling him: “Yeah, yeah, tell that to Feste.” He gave Sebastian’s shoulder a push, directing him towards the bike.

He hopped on, mostly to get rid of the guy. “What’s going on?” Sebastian asked the man on the bike. “Someone bailed on him, I guess.” The answer explained nothing, and he was so high that even though he wanted to focus, the wind in his ears during the bike ride was too distracting. By the time the guy stopped the bike, Sebastian couldn’t remember why they were there in the first place. “There you are,” the guy said, and as soon as Sebastian hopped off, he left.

There was a mansion in front of him, taller than the walls around it. Before those walls, some guys were having tequila shots, and making toasts. One of them locked eyes with Sebastian, and beckoned him over. “Come do a shot with us.”

Once he was there, Sebastian noticed they all had automatic weapons, and that was enough to make him terrified. Antonio was right. He’d been in that place for only a few minutes, and already things didn’t look good. But he tried to act cool, so when the guys handed him a drink, he drank it.

“You should go inside. Feste’s about to have a fit,” one of the guys advised him.

“You’re not exactly making me crazy about going in.” The others laughed, to Sebastian’s delight. “Seriously, I have no idea what’s going on.”

“It looks like everything is going on,” one said. “And not very well, by the sound of it,” another one completed. Sebastian remained confused, but the guys insisted: “You better go.” And Sebastian wasn’t about to argue with armed people.

He crossed the gate and climbed up some stone steps that took him to the front door of the mansion, which was open, so he went inside. There was no one in the room, but he could hear people somewhere further in, so he crossed the hallway, and found a staircase that let him see the room it led down to. That was where all the voices were coming from.

The room was full of well dressed people preparing for something. Sebastian had no idea what he was doing there. He just wanted to leave, but there were those armed guys outside, so he stood there, wondering if he would be noticed. The answer was yes.

A skinny woman wearing a purple dress that matched her hair and nails, walked up to him. She grabbed him by the hand, and started steering him away. “Finally!” she said, in a baritone voice that threw him off-balance. “Look, we don’t have much time. I know you didn’t get to rehearse or anything, but this is an emergency. My guitar guy bailed on me at the last minute. I can’t play and make sure things run smoothly at the same time. So I need you to do me a solid here. I know you don’t have any reason to do me favors, but I’ll pay whatever. Just go there, and play with the guys, all right?”

Sebastian had no time to speak. She had dragged him though a backyard full of chairs wearing white coverings, all facing a flower arch that screamed "wedding". At least now he knew one thing that was going on. The woman shoved him on a chair, and handed him a guitar.

“Thank you,” she said, before he could say anything.

“No, wait, I can’t play the guitar,” he explained.

“Don’t fuck with me, Cesario!” she roared at him. “I’m this close to losing my cool!”

Sebastian was scared by the fury in her eyes, and went quiet. He exchanged a look with the guy who had a flute, and the one with an ukulele. “I haven’t played in ages,” he confessed. “I only know, like, five songs.” They made a face.

“Feste must be really desperate,” the flute guy muttered. Sebastian had to agree.

He tried to read the music sheet, but if he hadn’t played in over a year, he hadn’t studied music since he was fourteen. It was a real struggle.

“You’re here,” said a man standing before him. Sebastian looked up to find a guy smiling a lot at him. “Yeah?” he said, wondering at the over friendly smile. “Where’s Olivia?” the man asked.

“I don’t even know why I’m here.”

The guy looked worried. “Then who’s going to get Olivia here?”

“Why you're asking me?”

“For god’s sake!” the man complained, turning around and leaving.

*

Antonio couldn’t stay behind. He tried, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that Sebastian might get himself in trouble and need help.

He went to Illyria, and found the place a lot quieter than he remembered it. Antonio hoped Sebastian was right, maybe no one in Illyria remembered his face. After all, he had a beard now. He took a leisure stroll along the main street, trying to see who was on lookout, but he didn’t see any familiar faces. It was a relief in the sense that no one around knew who he was, either, but it also meant he was going to have to look more closely to find Sebastian.

Texting him was proving useless, the same for calls, so he tried a more traditional method. The sign outside the bar said Snout’s, but there was no proof the man behind the counter went by that name. He ordered a beer, and asked the man for his name. “The name’s Tom. Anything else I can get you?”

“Actually, maybe you can help me. Do you know Cesario?” He had a picture on his phone. The man nodded. “Do you know where he lives?” Tom made a face like he had sucked on lime, and shook his head. Antonio wasn’t entirely convinced. Someone who worked in such a privileged spot, probably knew everything that went on in Illyria. “I’m not really looking for Cesario, you see. My friend Sebastian is their twin brother, and he came here to see them, but now he’s not answering his phone, and I need to talk to him.”

Tom nodded again. “I think I know someone who can help.” He went to the door, and shouted to the street: “Yo, Big Hair!” A tall kid with bleached hair in cornrows, and amber eyes came to the bartender. “Antonio here is looking for Cesario’s twin brother.”

“Sweetie has a brother?” the kid said, surprised. He eyed Antonio up and down. “What do you want from him?”

Antonio had to concentrate hard in order not to lose his patience. “I work with him, and need to ask him to help me with something.”

“Fine, I’ll walk you there,” Big Hair said, sounding mildly inconvenienced by it. Antonio paid for the beer and followed the boy. “It’s right around the corner,” he said, as they left the bar.

“Why do they call you Big Hair?” Antonio asked, to fill the silence.

The kid huffed. “It’s Feste’s fault. When the fucker gives you a nickname, it sticks.” Antonio nodded. “Sure.” He had no idea who the guy was talking about in particular, but everyone knew someone like that.

“That one, with the thorny bush, over there,” Big Hair pointed out.

“Thanks, man.”

Antonio made the last few steps to the house, and knocked on the door. A skinny fellow with big eyes answered it. “Is Cesario home?”

“You just missed him. He went to the wedding,” he said, pointing uphill.

He didn’t know about any wedding, but it shouldn’t be difficult to find it. “How do I get there?”

“Just get a bike. They’re wearing tuxedo t-shirts today,” the man added, like it was the height of humor. Antonio thanked him, and left.

A few steps uphill, and a fat guy wearing a gold chain around his neck, came to him. “Coke?” he offered. “No, thanks.” “Weed? Hash?” Antonio kept walking, but the guy just followed him, insisting. “I got poppers, I got E, just tell me what you like.”

“I'm just trying to get to the wedding.”

“Running a little late. You're the bride?” the guy teased. "I don't know if I should tell you that on your wedding day, but you're the uggliest woman I've ever seen."

Antonio had to laugh. He hadn't set foot in Illyria in over two years, but it sounded like that kind of joke was still trending around there. He kept going, and the guy went after him.

“If you're looking for Midnight, you're not going to find him.” When he heard those words, he turned around, worried, to make sure he hadn’t imagined it. The fat man was smiling. The alley was so narrow where they stood, the guy’s frame blocked the way.

Nowhere to run, he realized. That’s when Antonio felt the cold, blood curdling sensation of a gun touching the back of his head.

*

Orsino was more than a little annoyed that Cesario didn’t bother with thinking how Olivia would get to the hilltop. He understood that Feste had yanked them there before they were ready, which was enerving, he knew from experience, but it was no excuse to leave Olivia alone, waiting on the main street. When he got there, however, he saw Olivia across the street, accompanied by Cesario, who was ready for the party.

His head hurt for a second. It made no sense. He had just seen them at Toby’s. How come they got there first? “I thought we were meeting up there,” Cesario said, after the two of them had crossed the street.

“What’s going on?” Olivia asked him, noticing his confusion.

“Didn’t I just see you there? How did you get here so fast?”

“What are you talking about?” Cesario looked confused.

“I asked you ‘where’s Olivia?’ you said ‘why you're asking me?’ Didn’t Feste make you play at the ceremony?”

“Are you high?”

Orsino crossed his arms, angry at the accusation. “I know I saw you at Toby’s. I spoke to you. How did you get here so fast?”

“I wasn’t at Toby’s,” Cesario denied, their confusion also turning into anger. Until, that is, a thought whose shadow could be seen in their eyes, crossed their mind. “Is Sebastian here?”

“Why would your brother be at Toby’s?” Olivia asked.

“Because he’s an idiot!” they shouted, while waving a bike over. They hopped on it in a hurry, leaving them behind.

“Didn't they say we were meeting Sebastian tomorrow?” Olivia asked him. Orsino shrugged. “I’m just relieved it wasn’t a glitch in the Matrix.”

They each got on a bike, and were taken to the hilltop, where they arrived in time to see Cesario loudly excusing themself and pushing their way through the narrow gate, which was easy to defend for the same reason it was inconvenient in a party: it only fit one at a time.

It took them a few minutes to get inside with the rest of the crowd, but Orsino could hear very clearly Cesario shouting for their brother. They were in time to see Feste yell at both twins: “No more drama!” They guided Sebastian away, with a hand on his shoulder.

“We should keep him company,” Olivia decided, pulling him along by the hand. “Sebastian will sit with us,” she told Feste.

“Yeah, I’ll sit with them,” he said, taking the opportunity to escape Feste's grip. "Do I know you?" he asked the two of them, once Feste was out of earshot.

They introduced themselves. “I’m sorry about the mix-up earlier, I didn’t even think you might be here, I thought you were Cesario,” Orsino added.

“I am a Cesario, just not the one you thought.” Orsino, who believed “Cesario” was a first name, didn’t understand what he meant, but Olivia nodded.

They took their seats while they could, as the place got even more full. Cesario played with the other musicians, and Orsino would never have guessed they hadn’t rehearsed.

Big Titania took her place under the flower arch. Toby was next. There was even a cute, little kid in a tux, spreading petals along the aisle. There was a lot of whistling, and laughing, when Feste and Andrew walked the aisle together, but that was the reaction they were going for. Soon after, a new song began, and Maria made her entrance.

*

Cold sweat formed on his brow. He stopped his hands in the air. "I'm not going to try anything," he promised.

"You better not," said the man behind him.

"You thought we wouldn't know your face?" said the one in front of him.

"I don't want any trouble," he said, but what really went through his mind was that he couldn't believe that's how he was going to die.

Both men laughed at him. "You're trying to crash Toby's wedding, but you don't want trouble?" the guy behind him said, his tone making clear he thought it was a terrible lie.

"Look," Antonio resumed, concentrating on keeping his voice under control, "I'm not here to crash his wedding. I just need to find my friends and then I'll leave. I really don't want any trouble."

"Then you should've stayed away."

Antonio couldn't run, and in that terrain, he couldn't fight, either. But he wasn't going to just let it happen. So he had to bullshit his way out of that.

"Come on, today is not about old grudges. Just let me go, I'll be out of here in no time."

His hopes jumped up when the guy in front of him looked at the one behind him, and said: "Maria is not going to thank us, if we cause trouble today."

But Antonio's hopes only lasted until the guy behind him argued: "So? Let's just take him to the woods. No one needs to know."

When he heard that, he knew he was going to die either way. He had to think of something fast. If they were taking him to the woods, there would be a chance to escape.

"Take him to the woods? You think I'm going through all this trouble?" the guy in front of him argued. There was hope again.

"What? It's going to be fun," the one behind Antonio insisted, and It sounded like he meant it.

"Stop talking shit. You sound crazy!" the one in front of him said. "I'm getting Beast here." He pulled out his radio, and called.

"Hey! Put that down!" the creep behind him protested. "We're doing this my way!"

"Your way is crazy! Hey, Beast," he spoke to his radio.

That's when the angry guy behind him lost it, and pushed Antonio out of the way to attack his own friend. He ran.

He ran uphill, through a labyrinth of narrow alleys. He kept going up even after losing them. He wasn't sure they had actually chased him, or stayed behind fighting each other, but he knew no one was following him at that point. He had to keep going, that was all.

His head was dizzy, so he rested his back against the wall, and brushed the sweat off his forehead. He had to leave that place. But not without Sebastian. So started moving uphill again, sure that Sebastian would be wherever his twin was. Who else he might find there, it didn't matter.

*

They left the guitar on the chair, and ran to Olivia and Orsino, and to Sebastian, as soon as the last song was over. Feste had already started with their music by the time they managed to navigate through the crowd and get to them. It was like people had multiplied suddenly when the waiters showed up, serving champagne.

Now they knew Sebastian wasn’t going to ruin Maria’s wedding, Cesario hugged their twin instead of pushing him out of the way. “I thought you said you’d arrive tomorrow.”

“I wanted to surprise you, things just got a little out of hand,” Sebastian explained, still in their arms.

Orsino got them four glasses from a waiter, and handed them over. “We should make a toast,” Olivia suggested. “To Toby and Maria,” Orsino said, automatically. “And to meeting Sebastian,” she added.

“And to Viola, who rescued me,” Sebastian reminded them.

They were about to drink, when Orsino asked: “Who’s Viola?” The question surprised them so much, that they had to laugh, and then raise their hand, as in a roll call. “But I like being called Cesario,” they told him, so Orsino wouldn’t start calling them that.

Their little private toast was nothing compared to the many speeches made in honor of the bride and groom. Feste was the first, talking about how they wanted to officiate the wedding but Maria wouldn’t let them. Cesario chuckled, reminded of that occasion.

That's when a stranger with a very worried face placed a hand on their shoulder. "There you are." He sighed, as if relieved, but Cesario just backed off in confusion.

Sebastian cleared things up by saying "Antonio, you're here!" and rushing to his side. "This is Antonio," he told his twin.

"We have to go," he told Sebastian, his tone urgent.

"Don't go yet," Cesario asked, "I know this place is a little weird, but the party has just started."

"No, I really have to go," Antonio insisted, without ever relaxing.

"Why? What's going on?" Sebastian asked him.

"No time to explain. We have to go."

"But where are you two going?" Cesario asked, disappointed their time together was being cut short.

"Anywhere else. You guys want to come?"

Cesario looked at Olivia and Orsino, hoping they would be ok with leaving the party to follow Sebastian and Antonio anywhere other than Illyria, for some reason. Orsino shrugged, Olivia looked a little disappointed for a second, but then followed Orsino in his shrug, suggesting: "How about Bohemian Alley?"

They navigated the crowd to get to the gate. "Leaving already?" one of the soldiers commented. Cesario just smiled in response.

"That's him!" Tie-dye said, coming towards the group.

"Fuck!" Antonio cursed.

"What's going on?" Orsino asked him.

But Antonio didn't have the time to say anything. Tie-dye walked up to him, and pointed his gun at him.

The group went silent with shock, but the soldiers were immune to it. "What the fuck are you doing, Tie-dye?"

Cesario knew they had no way to stop Tie-dye, but they hoped there was someone else with enough persuasion to do so. They took a few steps backwards, and when no one noticed it, they kept going, until they were back in the party.

It wasn't hard to spot Feste, so Cesario ran to them and dragged them out, explaining only that they needed help with Tie-dye. As soon as they were both outside, Feste saw what the problem was, and ran to the center of it.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" they shouted at the guy. Tie-dye had no time to answer. "Do you want to ruin everyone's night? Maria's going to kill you herself."

His confidence faltered for a second, but he recomposed his face, holding onto anger. "This is the guy who broke Midnight's nose!" he accused.

The soldiers laughed. "Was that you?" one asked directly to Antonio, who nodded, confirming it.

"So what?" Feste shouted some more, unconvinced by his argument. "You want to take revenge for him? That's not how this works."

"Lady Feste has a point there," one of the soldiers commented, looking directly at Tie-dye.

"Shut up!" he yelled at the man, who didn't have any patience for that.

"Who you're telling to shut up?" He pointed his automatic rifle to Tie-dye, whose pistol looked like a toy next to that.

"Not you, too!" Feste yelled. "Put those guns down!" But they didn't listen, and kept staring at each other.

"Are you two out of your minds?" a deep voice boomed from the gate. Everyone turned to find Beast looking beyond pissed. "Put those down now!"

Cesario was scared, and Beast wasn't even talking to him. The guys put their weapons down, looking guilty, but not sorry.

"What's going on here?"

"That's a very good question," Toby said, loudly, coming out of the house.

"What's happening out here that's more interesting than my wedding?" Maria asked, coming right behind Toby, looking furious.

Tie-dye went to them, and accused Antonio once more. They looked at him, and Cesario, who stood close by, took the opportunity to plead: “Please don’t hurt him, he’s our friend.”

“There’s two of you?” asked Andrew, who had come outside after them, like most of the party. That prompted the others to look their way again, finally noticing it.

“Yeah, yeah, they’re twins!” Feste said impatiently. “Can we put an end to this hostage situation? We have a wedding reception to get on with.”

“I don’t know why it started in the first place,” Toby said.

“This guy broke Midnight’s nose at Fabian’s,” Tie-dye repeated the accusation.

“What’s your deal with Midnight, anyway?” Toby addressed Antonio, walking up to him.

“The guy sold me a fucked up gun. It didn’t fire. I could have died.” Toby’s nod suggested he saw Antonio’s point. “He said he wouldn’t give me my money back, I just did what anyone would do.”

“Oh! I remember that. It was the gun that didn't fire at you,” Andrew reminded Toby, like he thought it was hilarious.

Maria wasn’t in such a good mood. “How is that our problem?” she yelled at the Tie-dye, who was quickly growing less confident.

“We take our people’s side, don’t we?” he tried to argue.

“Not when they screw people over!” Maria yelled at him, in exasperation.

“And Midnight isn’t one of us anymore,” Toby reminded him.

“You know what? You’re on lookout duty for the rest of the night. Get out!” Maria told him. “I’m so sorry about this,” she told Antonio.

“Here, have some champagne,” Toby added, handing him two glasses he took from a waiter that stood by, watching the scene like everyone else. "Now let's go back to the party!" he addressed the crowd, who cheered.

The guests followed Toby back inside, except for the five of them. They were all more than ready to leave Illyria.

Chapter Text

Over the past month Feste had been invited for rehearsals with Kay C, until they finally recorded. They had a few gigs with Dodo’s friends, and worked as DJ at some exclusive parties held by Oberon III’s friends. They hosted twerk battles at Fabian’s, and found an ukulele for Willow, when the kid started pestering them with the desire to play the guitar. What they hadn’t done, however, was to see or talk to Phil.

It was annoying that they still thought about him after so long. Every now and then Feste would find themself having a conversation with Phil in their head. They didn’t know what to do about that. It was something that had never happened to them before. And they were angry at it, but at the same time, too embarrassed that it was happening in the first place.

At first, they thought going out with some new people would make the memory of Phil less important, but it didn’t. They could hardly remember what those hook-ups looked like.

They kept busy in order to avoid the thought. Feste drank, and played music. They drank more, and played with music; and drank even more, until not even music could play them. Focusing had never been exactly easy for Feste, but that subject was usually the exception, so they practiced, and they listened to brand new artists and to obscurely old ones, trying to come up with something new. Or maybe not new, but fun.

Feste started messing around with Robin’s Love in Idleness, doing a fully electronic version of it, and spent hours in the studio, working on the idea. There was the problem of Robin’s advice: according to him, playing the song too fast defeated its purpose. So Feste decided to have a few seconds of the original song playing here and there, over the electronic version, letting the metallic sound of the strings become one with the beats before fading.

Andrew came to check on them whenever he got bored, so Feste turned those interruptions into an opportunity to steal Andrew’s food or drink, or whatever he was having, which meant they didn’t have to leave the studio. Andrew would listen to whatever Feste had to show, and asked them questions.

“Are you playing this one in that festival you told me about?”

Feste shrugged. “It’s not ready yet. I’m not sure it’ll be ready in time. Do you think they’ll like it at Fabian’s?” Andrew nodded. “Then I’ll play it there, when it’s finished. Let’s see how the crowd reacts.”

“How do you know when it’s finished?”

Another shrug. “I don’t,” they confessed. “But I know this one needs some polishing.”

He left, and Feste kept working on the song. They didn’t have their phone on them, or any kind of distraction other than more music, so they had no idea how long they’d been inside. But that was a thought that only got to Feste’s head after the next visitor arrived.

At first, they thought it was Andrew again, and didn’t look up from the laptop, but then a tiny hand grabbed Feste’s arm. It was of course Willow. “What are you doing?”

“What am I doing? What are you doing here?” The kid simply showed them the ukulele as a reminder. “Didn’t we agree I’d teach you at Snout’s?”

“You weren’t there,” Willow reminded them, very seriously.

“Alright. I’m sorry, ok? I was busy with my music, I didn’t realize it was today.”

“It was yesterday!” the little monster told them, clearly exasperated.

The new information worried Feste. “How long have I been doing this?” Willow didn’t have an answer. “I should probably have some water.”

“And soap,” the kid added, much to Feste’s shame.

To deal with the embarrassment of being told they literally stank, they asked: “Have you been practicing?”

“Of course. Beast said he’ll pay me five bucks if I play Metallica. Can you teach me Metallica?”

Feste laughed at Willow, for not realizing Beast was just messing around, but also at Beast, who was going to have a big surprise. “Sure,” they said, steering Willow into the kitchen, where they shared some cookies first.

After that, they told the kid to play for them. Willow had had four lessons so far, and hadn’t given up yet, so Feste kept their part of the deal, giving the kid some instructions. They left Willow in the kitchen, practicing, and had a shower.

When they came back, the kid was teaching Andrew how to play. He stopped trying as soon as he saw Feste, giving the ukulele back to Willow. “You’re finally out of that room!” he said, throwing his hands up, like it was great news. “I was looking for someone to have a drink with me.”

“Let’s go to Snout’s,” Feste decided.

Willow practiced on the ukulele, showing Tom the progress made so far, while Feste intervened whenever necessary, and had a few bottles of beer with Andrew, at the same time. Later, they took the ukulele from Willow, and played it for long enough that people coming back from work stopped by Snout's to listen and drink beer, which started a spontaneous party at the corner bar, that evening.

Feste woke up around noon, and went back to the song they had been working on. They gave it a few finishing touches and then listened to it a few times, just to be sure. The song was done. But was it worth anyone's time? Why wouldn't they listen to the original instead? Feste needed an audience.

They left the studio, and played it for Toby, Maria, and Andrew to give their opinions. Andrew started bouncing to the beat within seconds, Toby smiled and nodded here and there, as if agreeing with the song, with his arm around Maria, who looked like she wasn't sure about it.

“It sounds familiar,” she said, when it was over. So they explained it was one of Robin’s old songs. “Is he ok with you using his song like that?”

Feste shrugged. “He let me use it once.” But just saying those words was enough to make them realize they couldn’t simply assume Robin would give them his permission to use the song like that. “I’d better ask him.” Maria nodded.

They borrowed a bike from Toby, and found Robin in Oberon senior’s company, as expected. When Feste explained the situation to them, their teacher just twitched his lips, trying to smile but failing miserably.

“I have no taste for that kind of music,” he reminded them, “but I’ll listen to your song. Show us what you’ve got.”

Feste hit play, and made a conscious effort not to stare at the old men while they were listening. But they could see Robin making a face like he had to focus very hard to understand it. Oberon senior didn't look like he was listening to the song at all, playing distractedly with Robin's hair.

“Too busy for idleness,” Robin said, not for the first time.

Oberon senior, however, had an argument for that: “That genre is supposed to sound busy,” he told Robin. “I’m sure my grandson will like it," he said, directly to Feste. "I myself always had a weak spot for that song.” As he said those words, he started opening a smile, which he directed towards Robin.

Feste felt deeply frustrated, when they had to endure two old men flirting with each other, before they could all go back to the topic. “Do I have your permission to use the song like that?”

“Love in Business?” Robin suggested. “What?” Feste had no idea what he meant. “You’re going to need a new name. It’s not idleness.”

“So I can use it?” they insisted.

“Sure. Just buy me a present if you ever make any money with it.”

“Deal.”

“Love in A Hurry,” Oberon suggested.

“I’ve got it: Love in Urgency,” Robin said, smiling proudly at the idea. “I like it,” Oberon agreed.

“Love in Urgency it is,” Feste decided.

Feste stayed for a few drinks with the two of them, and when Oberon excused himself, their teacher took the conversation to another direction: “Have you tried playing Love in Idleness like it’s supposed to be?”

“Sure,” they nodded, unable to fight a smile off their face, thinking about that time.

“How did that work out for you?” Robin asked, smiling like he already knew the answer.

Feste laughed. “Just like you said it would,” they admitted.

“And what exactly are you trying to achieve with this new version?”

“I don’t know, I just couldn’t get it out of my head any other way.”

“Sure. But why was it there in the first place?” Feste didn’t understand the question. “Is there anyone inspiring your work?”

The very idea was laughable, and they didn’t hold back. “That’s not how it works for me,” they explained, shaking their head. “I just have the sounds playing in my head, and I need to get them out.”

Robin nodded. “Having a muse is fun,” he insisted.

"You never told me Love in Idleness had side-effects," they finally mustered the courage to say.

"What do you mean?"

"You said it would get me laid, but you never told me I would get stuck with it in my head."

"Are you still talking about the song?" Robin checked. Feste shook their head no. "I see. You don't look all that happy about it," their teacher observed, a little too amused in Feste's opinion.

"That's not how this is supposed to happen. People should get me stuck in their heads, not the other way around."

Robin chuckled. "What are you doing about it?"

"That song," they told him, with a shrug.

"Aren't you going to do anything more… direct?" Robin suggested.

Feste shrugged. "He's too far away for anything more direct."

They changed the subject, when Oberon senior came back. Feste stayed there for a few hours, until they could show the song to Oberon III, who thought Feste should try it at Faerie Experience. They considered his suggestion on the way home.

Feste spent a great deal of the next day in the salon, getting pretty for the big event, and catching up on whatever new gossip they had. It was a long time until their hair was braided with red, blue, and purple extensions, so they heard about everyone’s families, and petty enemies, sometimes volunteering information just so they could learn more about one story or another.

Maya had done half their head, when Titania got started on their nails. “You’re riding the bus Oberon hired, right?” she asked, as soon as she began removing their old polish.

“What do you mean I'm riding the bus? Aren't you?”

"No, I'm leaving with him tomorrow night. He has to be there to oversee the preparations." Feste nodded. "But there will be familiar faces riding with you,” Titania reminded them. As soon as she said that, a funny smile took over her face, and Feste knew she hadn’t told them the best part yet. “Guess who?”

Feste had no idea, and just shrugged. “Maya?” they took a guess. “I wish. Some of us have kids to look after,” the girl said, never stopping the work on Feste’s hair.

Titania laughed and shook her head. “It’s Orsino.”

“Oh.” They would never have guessed right. That was not a name that crossed Feste’s mind when they thought of friends who might go to Faerie. "I haven't seen him since he and Cesario moved out. You guys still hang out?" Titania nodded. "What's the girl's name again?"

"Olivia," she told them, with a smile that made Feste wonder what she was thinking of. "Can you imagine it? Whose side do you take when the other two are fighting?"

"That's not even close to what I was imagining," Maya let them know. "I'm still stuck in the basics of it." The three of them shared a laugh.

"They're living in a nice place, and all, so I guess it's a better deal than two, when it comes to money," Titania went on telling them.

"Doesn't it cancel things out?" Feste wondered. "I mean, three people make more money, but they spend more."

Titania shrugged. "All I know is that their house is cute. They have a backyard, and all. Orsino has this gardener side, so he's planting violets in it."

Feste chuckled. "And they're all honeymooning in Faerie?"

Titania confirmed it. They saw no harm in riding the bus with the trio, and figured they wouldn't see much of them during the festival anyway. When she finished their hands and feet, Maya still had work to do. It was another hour and a half, before Feste left the salon as the person with the coolest hair in all Illyria.

*

The bus ride to the country-side was fun. There were Oberon’s friends, whom they had already met, and a bunch of musicians like Feste, who would play in the alternative stages. As promised by Titania, Cesario and Orsino were there accompanied by Olivia. Feste waved at them, who waved back. But the truth was that the trio wasn't as interesting as the sight of the other musicians. So Feste talked to them for most of the wait, until everyone was there.

Once they got inside the bus, Lysander, Oberon’s show off friend, who had a guitar, called them over to (guess what?) show off the song he was playing. His friends and girlfriend were begging him to play Bob Marley instead, but he insisted on showing off his overly complicated stuff. Feste read the audience, and knew what to do. They waited patiently until Lysander was done, and nodded emphatically. “That’s a funny warm-up exercise. Now, play us some Bob Marley.”

Lysander’s friends agreed with the second part, whether or not they agreed with the first. They went back to asking Lysander to play what they wanted. He gave Feste a sullen look, which they responded with a smug smile, as the boy complied to his friends’ request.

Before they even arrived, they could see the field where the huge festival tents had been set, and some small ones scattered around. The camping site, where people who would be staying for the three days of the festival were setting their tiny tents, was also visible, and it was already bigger than Feste had anticipated. Enough to give them a first round of jitters that kept them quiet for the remainder of the ride.

Once the bus came to a stop, they were in a trailer park lot, where each musician was assigned a trailer and given the key to it. Feste was impressed. Sure, they got one of the tiny, unimpressive ones, while there were shiny RVs parked right next to them. But they had sort of expected to have to figure out the sleeping arrangements on their own, and that was better.

Oberon found them some time later. He accompanied Feste when it was time to check the stage, and make sure everything was in order. His presence certainly contributed to the forthcoming manners of the staff. Feste really appreciated how quickly those guys understood everything they were asking for. The ground was shaking with the bass in no time, and every sound was loud and clear. They never wanted to go back to playing at clubs.

They took a nap in their trailer until early in the evening, when Titania knocked on their door asking if they wanted to watch the first main attraction with her.

"Looking good," they said, noticing Titania was wearing a plastic flower tiara, butterfly wings and lots of glitter around her eyes.

She laughed. "What did you get?" Feste didn't understand the question. "In your treat bag?" she insisted. When they still didn't know what she was talking about, Titania went through the trailer, and found it on top of the mini bar in no time. "Let's see what you got."

She opened the white plastic bag and started pulling items out of it, and handing them to Feste. There was a Faerie t-shirt they ignored in favor of a purple flower tiara, and translucent wings, which they thought were not as cute as Titania's orange and black ones. Although things weren’t perfect, Feste wouldn't say no to the opportunity of being a fairy.

Titania helped them put on their accessories, before they both joined the festival. On their way to the stage, they saw lots of people wearing flower tiaras and plastic ivy vines (which they turned into boas), red devil horns, unicorn tiaras and various types of wings. It was definitely not the real world anymore.

Lysander and Hermia passed them by, running through the crowd hand in hand, which they didn’t think much about, but then, a few seconds later, they saw Demetrius running in the same direction, and not long after that, Helena.

“You think they’re alright?” Feste asked Titania, more out of amusement than concern.

“I think they’ve got the spirit of the festival.”

Under the main tent, there were all kinds of neon lights and laser cannons, there were bubbles being blown in all directions, and petals made of paper falling on them.

They found Cesario, who had made their ivy vines into a crown, accompanied by Olivia and Orsino, whose wings matched Feste's hair, but his tiara flowers were pink. Feste and Titania hung out with them for a little while, but they planned on getting as close to the stage as possible, so when the show started, they left the trio behind.

After the show, in the backstage area, they found Oberon in Theseus' company. Hippolyta was there too, and Feste wondered how the guy had managed that. But mostly they wondered where Phil was. No matter how annoying it was to be constantly thinking about him, Feste didn’t have the power to make the thought go away, so they were a little distracted when Oberon steered them in some direction. Suddenly, Feste was shaking hands with the DJ whom they had just seen on stage. It was enough to bring them back to reality.

There were some real jitters before Feste’s turn on the alternative stage a few hours later. Until then, they had stuck to light drinking, but it was time to get down to business, and have a real drink, like Robin always said. Feste drowned the butterflies in their stomach in vodka, and because the sound check earlier had run so smoothly, they got on stage exactly on the scheduled time, which had to be a new achievement in their career.

The audience wasn’t nearly as big as that of the main stages, but it was bigger than they were used to. And more importantly: they were reacting to their music with a lot of enthusiasm. Moving that many people was a great feeling, and with every beat Feste forgot themself a little more, focusing exclusively on the music. It was the best feeling ever.

They could see Titania, as close to the stage as possible, and next to her, Helena and Hermia, but not their boyfriends. Here and there, they spotted some more familiar faces: other DJs, Cesario, Orsino and Olivia, as well as people they didn’t know but whose looks were so remarkable Feste remembered each time they’d laid eyes on them over the last few hours.

They had debated internally whether or not to try Love in Urgency with that audience. They wanted to, but at the same time, they didn’t know for sure. Very few people had listened to it so far, and Feste had never been very good at predicting whether their songs were going to get people dancing or crying, so they hesitated. Not playing it, however, made it impossible to think about anything else. Even as they tried to enjoy the sight of so many people dancing to their music, Feste wondered if they would react as excitedly to their newest song.

The moment when Feste had to either play Love in Urgency, or end the show with the song they’d originally planned was there. They went with the one they wanted, afraid to look up and see how people were reacting. Almost two minutes into the song, Feste’s curiosity won over their fear, and they looked. There was dancing, hands in the air, there were those who kept bouncing up and down, those who howled, but the most interesting reaction was without a doubt that almost half of Feste’s audience was making out. They laughed in surprise. That had to be a good reaction.

It was all over in a few minutes. Half the audience applauded when Feste took a bow, people like Titania, for example. The other half, like Helena and Hermia, right there, had to let go of each other first, and took a little longer to start clapping hands.

As soon as they got backstage, a surprise waited for Feste. Like magic (maybe brought by the song, although Robin would say they didn’t play it right for the song to cause the desired effect), there stood Phil, with a smile on his lips, and a sparkle in his eyes. He ran to Feste, wrapping them in his arms, and kissing their cheek. “It was great! You were great!” He held them even tighter. “The whole thing was great, but that last one? I love it!”

“I made it for you,” they quickly lied, just to score some extra points with Phil.

He started laughing, and let go of his embrace. “I bet that’s what you tell everyone you wanna get into bed with.”

“Is it working?”

“No, it’s not gonna work on me,” Phil waved his index finger, pointing it at Feste. “And you know why? Because my bed is much better than yours.”

Feste played along. “I doubt that. Have you seen my trailer? It’s fancy stuff.”

“Mine is still better than yours. I’ll prove it. Let me show it to you.” He guided Feste with a hand on the small of their back.

Phil wasn’t lying, his accommodations were the kind someone who wasn’t working in any way in the event could only get with a title like Theseus’s best friend. It was one of the big, shiny motorhomes that made Feste’s trailer immediately lame by comparison. “You really got the main attraction treatment going on for you, huh?” they observed.

“It’s about who you know.”

“Isn’t it always?”

Phil hadn’t lied about the quality of his bed either. It passed with flying colors all the endurance tests they put it to. Very pleased with that, the two of them simply stayed there, enjoying each other’s company. There was no other place Feste wanted to be.

“I wondered if I’d see you here,” Feste confessed without prompting.

“I told you I wouldn’t miss it,” Phil reminded them.

“But I didn’t know if you meant it.”

“Of course I did. Your music is like magic, I can’t stay away.”

That was a nice thing to hear, in general, but it wasn’t exactly what they wanted from Phil. Feste would have prefered it, if he liked them more than their music. But at the same time, they didn’t want to focus on the imperfections, they wanted to enjoy the fact that Phil was there at all. So they suggested: “How about catching the sunrise show?” And that’s what they did.

As the two of them made the walk towards the main stage area, Feste noticed a couple they didn’t think existed: Lysander and Demetrius. “Wait, are they together?”

Phil shrugged. “I never knew who dated who with those four.”

They saw Cesario with Orsino and Olivia, dancing in funny ways. Cesario waved at them, and then the other two did the same. Feste waved back, and kept moving with Phil in search of their own spot.

After the concert, they went backstage to have drinks with Theseus, who was raining praises on the main stage artists, but excused himself from them to come hug Phil. “Tell me you’ve found something good.”

“I found Feste here.”

“I thought you already knew Feste.” Theseus looked at them, as if expecting some confirmation. It was Phil who spoke, however: “It’s not the same. Sometimes what works out in a club doesn’t work for a bigger crowd. But you know what? I think Miranda is going to want Feste in her event.”

“Who’s Miranda?” they asked, while Theseus looked at them in a new way, now that he had heard Phil’s opinion.

“She’s putting together an electronic music festival on her dad’s private island,” Phil explained.

“If you think they’ve got it…” Theseus shrugged. He went on to introduce Feste and Phil to the musicians he’d been talking to, which led to a drink, and then another, and to the telling of many stories.

It was a long time before Feste and Phil were alone again, in his RV, and even longer until they discussed their plans for the near future. Phil was the first to speak: “I was thinking, when this is over, you should come to Miranda’s with me. I’m sure after she meets you, she’ll agree with me that you’re perfect for The Tempest Fest.”

“Tempest Fest,” they tried out the name, and even liked the sound of it. “Maybe The Wind and The Rain needs an electronic version,” they said, as the thought crossed their mind.

Phil chuckled and pulled Feste into his kiss. “See? You already have the song to go with the theme. You really are perfect.” That idea was too absurd for Feste not to laugh, so they weren’t expecting it, when Phil said: “No wonder I missed you so much.”

“You did?”

“You sound so surprised. Can’t you tell by the way I haven’t let you go?”

Listening to him as he said that, felt good. Too good to be put to words, so Feste simply kissed him. One kiss called for another, and that was enough to keep the two of them in bed for a while longer.

“I think I really made that song for you,” Feste confessed, unprompted, a truth they had just noticed, breaking a silence they didn’t remember ever starting.

“Then you should name it after me,” Phil said, sounding like he was daring Feste to do it.

“Too late. Robin got to name it.”

Phil chuckled. “Then you’ll name the next one after me.”

“The next one is going to be The Wind and The Rain. Keep up,” Feste said, just to mess with him.

“The one after that, then. I’m not in a hurry.”

Feste appreciated Phil’s last sentence more than they wanted to, something about those words made them hopeful. Maybe he was just saying that for the sake of the moment, not planning to follow through once the festival was over. Or maybe it meant he wanted to be with Feste for longer than that, for as long as it took.

But that was a subject for the future, they decided, shaking their head in order to clear it from those questions. “What are you thinking about?” Phil asked.

“I’ll tell you later. I’m not in a hurry, either.”

Because neither of them was in a hurry, they left the bed and got ready to enjoy the last night of Faerie Experience. They watched the concerts, and danced with friends and strangers alike. Everyone was possessed with the spirit of the Festival, as Titania had described it, and the only thing each person around wanted was the same: a good time. And that was exactly what they had.

On the next day, Feste didn’t go with their friends into the bus that would take them home. They got in Phil's car, instead, embarking on a trip that would take them the farthest they’d ever been from Illyria.