"Hotel room achievement unlocked!" Morgana crows, fists raised in triumph, as Mithian approaches their table.
Gwen gets up to give Mithian a hug before they sit down. "We're staying at the Citadel this year, right in the middle of everything. It'll be so much easier."
"You guys are gonna have an awesome time," Mithian says, easily suppressing her instinctual grimace.
"Crash with us," says Morgana. "The beds are huge and the sheets are dreamlike, and Gwen spends half her time putting out fires and the other half having passionate arguments about aspect ratios."
"Vidders don't actually..." Gwen starts, at the same time Mithian's saying, "You know I love your company..." Neither of them really expect to get to finish their sentences.
"And yet you reject my advances, as always."
Mithian shakes her head fondly. "Never you, my dear. Only the loss of so much money, and so much sleep!"
"Don't forget privacy and health!" says Gwen.
"Your rejection of con culture wounds my heart," says Morgana. "You never would have met us if it weren't for Albi-Con. Gwen and I would never have met. Are you really so opposed to gay relationships, Mithian?" Gwen giggles here and punches Morgana in the arm. "And on top of all that you're rejecting Gwen's cultural heritage."
"Except even my dad says it's gotten too big and commercial for him the last couple years."
There's an easiness between them that Mithian can almost sink into, that she never would have expected before they met. She remembers those days, when her mental image of Bellicent, one of her favorite writers, was the picture of Helena Bonham Carter in her LJ icon -- if it was a shock with most of her fandom friends to meet them in real life and discover how little they looked like Harry or Draco or whoever, with Morgana she was surprised and a little terrified at what a plausible Bellatrix she really did make.
She remembers how Bell used to lay out her positions on Snape and Harry and adverbs and noncon and Dreamwidth and everything in between in clear, forceful arguments that made no concessions to the other side. And Mithian, like the vast majority of Bell's LJ friends, would comment to say she was absolutely right, or else not comment at all. (If she disagreed she tended to work out her feelings in long email discussions with Helen, or just talking to herself on her way to class.)
It would never have occurred to her to tell Bellicent she was wrong... as Gwen now does cheerfully every fifteen seconds or so. Mithian loves Morgana, loves her work, and considers her a true friend. But she doesn't know if she could stand to be around her if they didn't also have Gwen.
Discussion of the con breaks off when the server comes to ask for their orders, and then, as she does every time they get together, Morgana asks, "So, what are you making these days."
Mithian shrugs. "The deadline for heroesareus is coming up next week, so obviously I'm regretting having signed up, vowing never to do another exchange..."
"Exchanges are the worst," Gwen agrees. "I don't know why I keep running them. So stressful for everyone involved."
"Exchanges are amazing," says Morgana. "Almost all my best fics have been for exchanges."
"Well, I appreciate the fact that at least with the ones you run there are other options besides writing fic," Mithian tells Gwen. "Did you see the Furiosa art that pixiedust made me last year? I mean, how could anyone not want to include that kind of work?"
"I did see the Imperator Furiosa masturbation art, since I was the mod, and also because you made me look at it every time we chatted or talked for the next six months."
"And because it was awesome," Mithian insists.
"And because it was awesome," Gwen agrees. "As was your podfic."
Mithian's face flushes, partly because she was proud of that podfic, partly because it was one of the dirtiest things she'd ever recorded, partly because she knows Gwen doesn't usually listen to podfic. The idea of Gwen consuming smut in that way for the sake of the fest and/or their friendship is... awkward, and heady, embarrassing, sexy, touching. Like her feelings about podfic in general, really, and the idea that some people actually listen to her reading porn.
"Well, it was great to get to do that. I sometimes really think I should give up on fests that don't allow podfic though. Leave writing to people like Morgana who really enjoy it and are good at it.
It sounds like fishing for more compliments and it probably is, deep down, but she can't help it. Writing was never easy but in the last few years it seems every assignment's harder to finish than the last. Besides that, she seldom feels so needy as when she watches Gwen and Morgana together.
Morgana fixes her stare on Mithian and declares, "Your fics are shining jewels."
Gwen nods. "You really are talented."
"Thank you," Mithian whispers.
"I feel your pain though. I used to force myself to participate in fic exchanges because it seemed like the only way to be part of things, but it was always such a struggle. And then, you know, the polite thank yous for my thoughtful character studies, from recipients who were clearly expecting buttsex."
"The minimum's just a thousand words though, right?" says Morgana with some confusion. "That's like, three paragraphs."
"And because you're both writing for it we can't actually talk about it anyway," says Gwen. "So, what's making you happy, fandom-wise? What about podfic?"
Mithian can't help but smile. "Funny you should ask, I've got my eye on a fic of Morgana's."
"Oh, really?" Morgana's eyes widen in delight. "Which, wait, the Sam/Steve?"
"Mmm, maybe someday. That's a little more than I feel like taking on right now."
"The Hunger Games one?" Gwen guesses.
Mithian shakes her head. "The Natasha/Maria you posted last month."
Gwen practically moans, "That fic."
"That one was special," Morgana agrees after a little pause.
"Because of the gender," says Gwen in a low tone, drawing out the last word in a way that reminds Mithian of the way she sometimes types online, with five extra letters at the end.
"I think it could be... I mean the porn is gorgeous, obviously, but I think it could be a good opportunity to try out some things as far as vocal acting and just. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it."
"I love it when you do my fics, Mithian. I can't wait for this."
"What about you, Gwen?" Mithian says, barely able to stand Morgana's warm smile.
"Ugh, I'm making a con. Isn't that enough?"
"She's making a brilliant multifandom vid that will change fandom's attitude toward nice girls forever," says Morgana. "As our love affair has changed mine."
Gwen smirks. "She couldn't stand nice girls before she met me."
Mithian always knew how to appreciate them. She notices Gwen's kindness to the waitress even as she's sending back their pizza because it has the sauce Morgana can't eat. She notices the little ways Morgana has softened, online and off, in the four years since they got together. She's also seen Gwen's voice grow steadier and stronger, seen her straighten her spine and stand up taller whenever someone questions her right to be where she is.
How would Mithian be different today if, instead of spending so much of that fateful weekend in the hotel room taking deep breaths, she'd flirted and flaunted like Morgana? What if she'd stayed another hour at the music circle? What if she'd gone back to con the next year, or finished filling out that OKCupid profile, or gone to more than one queer girls dance back in school? Who would she be if she weren't herself?
But she is Mithian, and she has work in the morning, a fic deadline coming up next weekend, and a podfic she might not be able to resist starting before then.
After dinner Mithian drops Gwen and Morgana off at their apartment and heads to the freeway. It's late and traffic is light, and somehow that makes the long drive even scarier than usual, the few cars around so unpredictable, the Camelot University radio station playing dreamy ten-minute instrumentals until it starts to turn to static. She wishes she could listen to podfic but she didn't get her phone set up at the start and now she's afraid to take her eyes off the road for a second. She's sleepy, wired, replaying bits of conversation in her head and wondering if Gwen and Morgana ever get the chance to do that anymore, if their thoughts are all taken up with each other's company.
"I'm good," she tells the quiet car. "One-thousand-word minimum, three paragraphs. Just three paragraphs of precious jewels."
Caradoc starts barking as she pulls into the driveway and jumps on her as she opens the door. She hugs him and talks to him until he starts to settle down.
"Who did you see? Your lesbian friends in Camelot?"
"Yes, Dad. Their names are Gwen and Morgana."
"Yeah," he grunts.
"Good night," says Mithian. She feeds Caradoc and goes to read Twitter long enough to settle herself before bed.
She does hold off on starting the recording until the exchange fic is finished, so she gets to enjoy it more, no other obligations weighing on her. Morgana's made a few wording choices that trip her up, especially toward the beginning, but once she gets going it feels just right, her speech flowing slow and sexy and slightly twisted as movie Natasha's for most of the narration. She has to stop and try a few different things before finding a deeper voice of her own for his story's particular version of Maria Hill. A week later she's halfway through the editing and has been brainstorming with Morgana and Gwen and Helen in separate chat windows when Helen comes up with the perfect song to go with the podfic. That's when Mithian realizes that this one really is going to be special, and she shouldn't settle for her one of her own usual half-assed graphics for the cover.
She's had friends make covers for her before, even once got a podfic cover from a stranger, over a year after she'd posted the podfic. What she's never done is ask someone to draw for her.
She goes to look at the gift pixiedust made her for the Mad Max fest Gwen put on last year. Furiosa, alone in a truck, her bio arm holding up a gun and her eyes watching out for an ambush while her robotic arm pushes a rod against her clit. Her belt's undone and her pants are open on her upper thighs, like she might pull them up again and go back to fighting at a moment's notice. Mithian's looked at the image a hundred times but there's always something that surprises her. Tonight it's the warmth she can sense on Furiosa's cheeks, and on her thighs.
Mithian's had a glass of wine and she's feeling warm and reckless, and instead of getting out her vibe she opens pixiedust's Twitter page and clicks on the private message button.
"Hey, I don't suppose you read the Natasha/Maria fic that Bellicent posted awhile back?"
She's staring at Furiosa's half-open mouth when she hears the ping of a reply a few minutes later. "I haven't, but it sounds like something I might be into. Got a link?"
Mithian copies the URL and bites her lip, takes another sip of wine, and writes, "I'm working on a podfic of it."
pixiedust writes back within seconds. "That DEFINITELY sounds like something I'd be into! Your voice and those ladies and the kinks I'm seeing in the tags? Yes please!"
And a minute after that, "Will probably hold off on reading it so I can hear it from you first."
"I was actually wondering if you might be interested in making some cover art."
In the quiet Mithian takes another look at Furiosa's lips and then writes, "I've never asked an artist to do that before, but the story did make me think of you, and your work is always so beautiful."
She waits for another one of pixie's quick replies. While it doesn't come she catches up on what everyone else has been saying on Twitter: Helen freaking out about Audacity, Gwen freaking out about Albi-Con, Freya freaking out about her boss, Vivian freaking out about Abbie Mills
So more or less the usual, except that there's usually a lot more back and forth between Vivian and pixiedust. Sometimes the two of them take over her whole timeline, and it's odd to Mithian, how boisterous and raunchy and personal that relationship is, even though both their accounts are public. She knows so much more about both of them -- what they look like, where they live, what they study and which professors they least respect, and what Vee thinks of the guys she has sex with -- than they will probably ever know about her.
But right now pixiedust (she wonders if Elena is her real name) is quiet.
Mithian writes, "Sorry if that was a bit presumptuous! it’s totally okay if you don’t want to, or you're busy or whatever. I can def make a cover with a photo like I usually do. Just an idea <3 <3"
Then pixiedust's reply comes at once, "I would LOVE to."
They start emailing after that, and quickly enough they find each other on gchat, and find they have enough to talk about beyond podfic and cover art that they find each other there every night.
It's so cool that you're friends with Bellicent.
And that she's friends with you!
I hadn't really realized, since she's not on Twitter.
Oh yeah well
I've been friends with Gwen for longer because we live near each other but
I've been reading Bell's stuff for...
Like since I was a teenage lurker
Well that was like three years ago for me.
Gwen and I went to a local meetup, God, like ten years ago?
I always wondered how she got the username Gwen everywhere.
I only ever managed to grab Elena on Dreamwidth.
Yeah, she was an early adopter with... life, basically.
Or fandom anyway
As in, her parents took her there dressed as Gizmo from Gremlins when she was a baby
I've seen pictures but I'm not allowed to share them.
I don't actually know what that means but
Ugh I keep forgetting how young you are
Wait I'm googling
I need to see these Gwen pictures
Oh man they are great but they're secret
Anyway she's all grown up now, doesn't usually cosplay actually, but she's on the comcon and is pretty much in charge of the whole fanworks track
That sounds intense
I feel like everything about cons is too intense for me but
yeah, she somehow thrives on getting people to work together, it's fabulous.
And this one year she convinced me to go, and it was the same year Bellicent came down-- actually to be part of one of the fanfic panels, and then, you know
That's so beautiful
Coming up on four years ago now, I wouldn't have realized but they always celebrate their anniversary by the con.
Bell moved here like a year later.
And I feel really lucky to know them.
I mean not just because they're BNFs or because they're such cool talented people but like
Are you talking about Albil-Con in Camelot is that where you live?
They're actually two of my best friends in the area. More in meatspace than in fandom these days because
Yeah. Or, I live like an hour outside the city.
Ummmm Vivian's been trying to convince me to go she has a room
ARE YOU GOING
We can meet up!
Hey would you consider doing a multivoice podfic with me?
Whoops one-track-mind, I mean um, no, I hadn't planned to go but
YOU HAVE TO GO SO WE CAN
AHHHHHHHHH I GOTTA GO TALK TO VEE
The circle by Elena's name goes gray. And after a few seconds of confusion Mithian laughs, because she knows now that disappearing is something Elena does. And understanding that means they're friends now, or close enough that they don't need to freak out about each other's freakouts.
They meet for lunch at a downtown restaurant that would normally be closed on a Saturday but stays open on con weekend. Elena and Vivian and Gwen and Morgana and her brother Arthur and his boyfriend whose name Mithian didn't catch and Lamia (who nobody really likes, according to Morgana's texts, and who isn't into fanworks but who tagged along to flirt with Arthur because she doesn't get that that's not gonna work), and Sophia and Mary and Sefa and Morgause. And Mithian, the only one who's not attending the con. She's also the only one there on time, and sips a cherry Coke while she waits for the others for half an hour.
After some initial hugs and squeals and compliments for Elena's Holzman costume -- which fits her perfectly in every sense, even the sense where the boxy uniform doesn't fit her tiny frame at all -- Elena and Mithian end up nearly at opposite corners of a large table. Morgana, Arthur, and Vivian do most of the talking while Mithian and some of the others do their best to keep up. Gwen is texting furiously while Elena looks at her phone more aimlessly, and at one point she disengages from everyone completely to start sketching.
Mithian's waited a half hour at the restaurant and an hours drive plus parking and twelve years in fandom and, well, all her life for this, and the food is overpriced and average and the hour is passing like a dozen other meetups and meals where she might as well have stayed home with Dad and Caradoc and the Internet, for all anyone else cares, and then Gwen's pulling her away from from the table and leaning in close.
"I can't believe I have to manage this too. Fans are ridiculous and you have no idea what's good for you."
"I don't know what you mean," Mithian mumbles.
"I have to get back. Morgana is taking care of my bill, obviously, but listen. You are not allowed to let her go."
"I'm not allowed in the Citadel without -- "
"Mithian, I love you, but I'm serious, get your act together."
"I haven't done anything -- "
Gwen gives her a tight hug and walks out, and when Mithian looks back at the table she realizes Vivian's having a similarly intense conversation with Elena, whose mouth is hanging open. Mithian walks over to their corner.
"Do you two need to go back soon too?" she asks.
"I do, but Elena doesn't," Vivian says firmly.
"What?" says Elena.
Mithian gets herself to say, "I know you came along way for the con, but I'd be sad if we didn't get to hang out at least a little. Want to stay here after we finish up, or maybe go to a coffee shop or for a walk or --"
"Oh!" Elena says. "That would be awesome! I mean I'm having a good time hanging out with Vivan but --"
"I can be intense, I get it," Vivian says. "El, sweetie, you'll text me if you need anything, right?"
"We should switch places anyway," says Vivian, and abruptly goes to sit in Mithian's chair, causing only a little bit of a stir for the rest of the table.
Mithian sits down next to Elena and quietly, "What are you drawing?"
"Oh, I was sketching you, 'cause you're so pretty."
"I should have figured, because of your voice, but I'd never seen any pictures. I knew you wouldn't really just like Katniss, or like Jennifer Lawrence -- who's also gorgeous, obviously, but in a different way, I mean --"
"Yeah," says Mithian, "if all you have to go on is someone's LJ icon, that's who you imagine you're talking to. I know how that goes."
"You're softer than her though."
"Um, thank you."
"Is that creepy? I don't mean to be creepy."
"No," says Mithian. "That's very kind."
Mithian had seen pictures of Elena before, but she's having some some trouble herself, reconciling the relative flatness of the girl in front of her with the bubbliness of their conversations online. Somehow it makes her feel even more tender toward Elena than before.
"I hope this isn't creepy." Elena says, and opens up her sketchpad, and Mithian sees herself, only instead of conversing awkwardly at a hightop table she's standing on a hilltop, aiming a bow and arrow at a hawk in the distance.
"Do you date?" Elena asks. "I couldn't tell from what you said on Twitter, like I knew your were gay but I thought maybe you were already married or something."
Mithian huffs out a laugh. "No, not married, nowhere close to that. Um, I haven't dated much. I live in a pretty small town and I... I haven't."
Elena nods. "I wanted to ask but I was afraid, since I didn't really know you, before." She sighs. "Gawant's a small school, in a small town. Lots of queer girls, for sure! Just about everybody's at least a little gay there, but I guess I haven't... either. Found my place, maybe. I'd rather go online and talk to you or Vee than any of the girls in my dorm."
"And Vivian's straight, so. You and I should date, I think."
Mithian stares ahead, tense and guarded, and eventually registers that Arthur and Sophia are arguing about The Force Awakens and nobody' paying any attention to her and Elena. Well, Vivian might be listening, but carefully pretending not to.
"I think you're right," Mithian says, deciding to ignore the fact that they live in different cities and are different ages and temperaments and the rest. "It's worth a try."
They hold hands under the table for the rest of the meal, and then Mithian takes Elena on a tour of downtown.
At dinner time Morgana texts to ask if she's still in the area and wants to meet up again.
"Let's tell them no," says Elena, also looking at her phone -- presumably a message from Vivian. "We'll say we're busy making a multivoice podfic."
Mithian laughs and agrees.