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That's so punk

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Painfully loud music thumped through Amanda's body and she knew she wouldn't be able to hear properly for a few days afterward. She didn't care; seeing a bunch of amazing interstate bands in her shithole college town would be worth it. She'd pushed her way to the front of the stage for the headline act, a punk outfit from Seattle, who's music pulled her in. The singer, a handsome Malaysian guy with a floppy mohawk, had so much frenetic energy it was contagious. The drummer hit his kit so hard Amanda thought the skins wouldn't survive the show, and the bass guitarist managed to drink a can of beer without missing a note.

It was the lead guitarist and part-time screamer she was drawn to though. Short white hair, dark beard, glasses and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, combined with a naturally cocky demeanour, had Amanda pushing through the pit to be nearer to him.

She loved a good mosh pit melee. It was one of the few places in her life that permitted and welcomed the kind of unbridled anger she kept inside. Amanda was having a great time until some asswipe copped a feel. She swore at him, making her mouth move wide enough to get the intent across over the loud music, and shoved him away. She tried to leave but he wouldn't let her go, pinching her butt so hard she knew it would bruise.

Amanda spun around and brought her elbow up fast to strike him across the face and followed it with a swift punch to the eye. He reeled back and Amanda moved in to shove his ribs against the front of the stage. He threw his arms out to try and stop the fall but was too drunk and instead just flopped his arms up onto the platform. The guitarist, smirking around his cigarette, stomped on the guy's hand with his heavy boots, slamming out the final chords of the song.

"If this guy has any friends, y'all might wanna come scoop him the fuck up," the guitarist drawled into his mic. The lead singer laughed.

Amanda looked at the guitarist, a little out of breath and buzzing from the adrenaline. He watched her over the top of his glasses as his band mates caught their breath between songs. A couple of guys dragged the attacker away and gave Amanda filthy looks; she stared them down, her chin thrust out angrily.

The band played the rest of their set without incident and Amanda stayed in the pit, losing herself in the music. When the live music was replaced by recording she went to the bar, raking long hair from her sweaty neck as she waited. It wasn't long before she was aware of someone standing beside her; she turned to find the white-haired guitarist.

"How's your hand?" He asked nonchalantly.

Amanda looked down at her throbbing knuckles and flexed them carefully. "Fine."

"You want some ice?"

"It's fine," Amanda shook her head.

He nodded. "Alright. Can I get you a drink?"

Before Amanda had a chance to respond, the energetic singer appeared between them with a grin. "Hey Martin, can you get me a beer? I'm dying. Oh hey!" He turned to Amanda with a huge smile. "It's badass girl! Nice work on that douche bag. You should buy her a drink. I would, but I left my wallet in the van." He shrugged. "I'm Vogle. You should come hang with us!" He gave a little wave before heading off.

Amanda looked at the guitarist with a single raised brow. "Martin? What kind of badass punk is named Martin?"

He half-smiled at that. "Me."

"Right." Amanda signalled the bartender and ordered. Martin paid.

They stood side by side for long moments, Amanda trying to get a read on the improbably named Martin. Eventually he broke the silence.

"You wanna grab a seat?" He asked.

Amanda smiled. "Listen, in the three sentences we've exchanged, you seem real nice, but I'm not super interested in being this town's one night stand for you. Thanks though."

"That's not what I-"

"It's nothing personal. Good luck with the rest of the tour, or whatever." She downed her drink in one go, smiled a little awkwardly, and went home. Attractive as he was, she wasn’t keen on being disposable company for anyone.

Martin watched her go and couldn't blame her. He didn't have a chance to explain that he wanted to know more about a girl who took down a guy over a foot taller than her, but where would it get him anyway? The band was leaving town in two days. He sighed and finished his drink.

*

Amanda trudged to class the next morning. As predicted her ears were a little tender, but the bruised knuckles were a surprise. She should probably have put ice on them and quit worrying about looking tough in front of some guy. She sighed, glancing at the college campus noticeboard out of habit. A huge crude flyer was stuck right in the middle. Amanda stared at it, deciphering the dancing letters.

ROWDY 3 NEEDS DRUMMER. AUDITIONS 7/2 TODAY 10AM THE DIVE

Her heart stopped. She was a drummer, a good one, and hadn't been in a band since she’d lived at home with her brother. Her fingers itched to hold drumsticks again. It was 9.30 by her watch; if she ran, she'd make it.

*

Amanda pushed open the bar doors in time to hear someone finishing up a set. They weren't amazing, but they sure weren't terrible. Her stomach clenched with nerves. The DIVE looked awful in full lighting and Amanda tried not to look too closely at the ground. Or the walls. Or the ceiling.

Lounging in front of the stage in various chairs was the headline band from last night, with one white-haired guitarist turning around to see who banged the door. He looked at her over the top of his glasses.

"You." Martin said by way of greeting.

"You." She shot back, not at all originally.

Martin left his chair and approached her. "How's your hand?"

"Still fine."

"Badass girl!" Vogle shouted. He waved.

"You can call me Amanda if you want." She hinted.

"You play?"

"Sure do. I'm here to audition."

Martin gave a sly half smile. "Let's see what you got, drummer girl."

Amanda easily jumped on stage and sat at the impressive kit. She tested the kick pedals and adjusted a few cymbal heights; she was shorter than the average man. After a moment she tapped out an easy beat to get the feel of the set up. It didn't take her long to warm up and get lost in the rhythm like she always did when she played. Echoing drums and crashing cymbals filled her head entirely.

After just a few seconds Martin found that he couldn't look away. Not only was Amanda a damn good drummer, her whole presence was mesmerizing. She hit and kicked with strength not often associated with her slight frame and made it look effortless.

The last of her beats rang out and she sat back with a happy exhale. She’d forgotten how much she loved making music.

Martin got on stage and plugged in a guitar. "Let's see if you can play with another person. You know ‘California über alles’?"

"Please." Amanda scoffed and started tapping out the beat from the punk anthem, staring Martin dead in the eye.

Martin inclined his head and kept playing. Amanda more than kept up, she met him in the music and they raged their way through it.

The song ended all too soon.

“How fast can you learn a song?” Vogle asked.

“Don’t get me wrong, your music is great,” Amanda began, “but the drum lines aren’t exactly overly complex for the most part. Besides, I learn fast. Really fast.” Truthfully Amanda could learn by watching and picked things up incredibly quickly. “Your opening song, from last night?” She played the beat easily. Martin started playing the guitar accompaniment and they smoothly kept time and made it through the song. Any portions that Amanda didn’t remember clearly she improvised without missing a beat.

When the song was over, Martin stared at her. “Holy shit. You’re good.”

"We gotta have you," Vogle said seriously. "You're magnetic. And there’s even a chance in hell you could actually learn the full set list. Cross?" Vogle turned to the bass player who nodded emphatically.

"Great! You're available to tour, right? We leave tomorrow and we’re booked for about four months." Vogle grinned.

"Tomorrow?" Amanda blinked. "Sure. Tomorrow."

"You know what tomorrow is?" Vogle asked with a cheeky grin. "The day after tonight. And tonight – we party."

"I need to settle a few things today," Amanda said thoughtfully. She pulled her hair over one shoulder and played with it as she mused. "Pack up my life, you know. Just a few things."

"Cool. We're staying at the motel across the street. Come by with your stuff at eight." Vogle said so matter-of-factly.

"You can use this kit," Martin nodded at the beast. "Our drummer screwed up his ankle so he can't use it anyway."

Amanda nodded gratefully. She'd had to sell her own kit, among other things, to pay rent a while back and there had never been enough money since to rebuild it. "It's beautiful," she smiled, "thanks." She left the sticks atop the snare and got to her feet. Her book bag was on the edge of the stage; she ripped out a paper scrap and wrote her number on it. "I'll see you at eight." She gave the paper to Martin and left without a backward glance.

As the door banged shut behind her, Vogle let out a sigh. "She's gonna be wild."

*

Amanda skipped every class. She spent the rest of the day stuffing things into a couple of bags, trying not to think of reasons to stay. She’d struggled to make friends and halfway through second the semester she still didn’t have a regular group to hang out with. Enrolling in sensible classes had sucked when all her heart wanted was music. Amanda hadn’t even bothered to decorate her dorm room beyond a picture of her and Todd on her nightstand that spent half the time facedown. She quit her shit café job and filed paperwork for leaving college.

It turned out packing up her life was almost depressingly easy.

*

At around eight Amanda strolled into the motel lot and briefly regretted not asking which room they’d be in before she spotted a huge black van with cases strapped to the roof. Music pumped out of the room the van was parked in front of. She took a deep breath and walked toward it, a backpack over one shoulder and huge duffel in one hand.

Amanda banged on the door, trying not to look nervous. Martin opened it quickly and he tried to play it cool like he wasn’t basically sitting by the door counting down til eight p.m. and hoping drummer girl was an on-time kind of person.

“Come on in,” Martin smiled, standing aside. “That all you got?”

“I travel light.” She shrugged and went inside.

The band had only been in town a couple nights but the room was hugely messy. The drummer with a busted foot sat on a couch running through chords on a guitar. The bassist, Cross, was losing a drinking game with Vogle.

“Manda!” Vogle shouted. “Come drink!” He poured enough shots for everyone, splashing booze across the tabletop. Amanda left her bags by the door and slammed back a shot. “This is Gripps, former drummer, now rhythm guitar.” Vogle raised his shot to Gripps and then Amanda. “Welcome to the Rowdy Three.”

Amanda drank the second shot Vogle poured for her. “I’ve really been looking for an excuse to drink daily. I think this is gonna work out.”

With a smile Martin drank his shot.

“Got any beer?” Amanda asked, sitting by Vogle at the table. Martin brought her a can and sat beside her.

“Poker?” Vogle suggested. “DIVE doesn’t open til ten.”

For a relatively average build Amanda kept up with the Rowdy Three’s drinking. They claimed one of the DIVE’s pool tables for themselves and played for ages, Amanda pretending to be comically bad until some stranger bet a stupid amount of money on a game of doubles.

“Psst,” Amanda hissed into Martin’s ear. They each held a drink while the opposing team took their first shot. “I can beat these guys with my eyes shut and a quart in my gut,” she whispered, her breath warm against his ear. Martin leaned into her under the pretence of trying to hear her better. “You better not let me down.” She leaned back to meet his eyes.

Martin looked over the top of his glasses. “Deal.”

They played reasonably well until the final shots and sunk them easily, winning over two hundred dollars – until the strangers refused to pay up.

“Come on man, we won fair and square,” Martin attempted to be reasonable but his anger was impossible to hide.

“If you didn’t want to lose money you probably shouldn’t have put on a bet,” Amanda suggested. The guy nearest her threw his drink at her. She immediately shoved him and Martin got between them, snarling at the stranger.

Amanda hauled Martin back by the collar of his jacket shouting, “this fucker is mine!” and proceeded to hook one leg behind the guy’s and push him again. He fell backwards with a crash. She kicked his butt, literally, knowing it would hurt but would probably avoid any serious injury. She crouched down, keeping an eye on her new band mates. Martin looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel and the others had surreptitiously picked up things to use as weapons.

“I’m pretty sure these guys would love to grind you to a pulp. I know I would and I can promise you, not one of us would lose any sleep over it. How about you pay up and fuck off with all your bones intact.” She grinned savagely.

“Crazy bitch,” the guy spat.

Amanda grabbed his ear and twisted it forcefully. He screamed. “Pay up. Fuck off. Live. How is this so hard for you?” She let go of his ear and he threw money at her before scurrying away. Amanda gathered up the cash with a smirk. “Ta-da!”

“Yeah Manda!” Vogle shouted, hugging her tightly. “I knew you were gonna be wild. I’ll get beers.” He took a bill with a smile and bounced to the bar.

“Is there like, a communal money pot or something for this?” Amanda asked Martin.

He shrugged. “We split everything evenly. We’ll cut you in the same. We talked about it earlier.”

“Cool. Hey, no hard feelings about last night, right?” Amanda asked lightly.

“Oh yeah, no. None at all.” Martin nodded.

“Cool. Don’t let me get in the way of any future nocturnal adventures or anything.”

“What’re you talkin’ about?”

“Well,” Amanda lowered her voice, “there’s a girl by the bar who has absolutely been eye-fucking you since we started playing against those guys.”

Martin had noticed the girl by the bar and frowned at Amanda. “She’s been staring at you.”

“No way.” Amanda laughed. “Look at those shoes. She is totally straight.”

“I bet you a beer she’s into you.” Martin challenged.

“You’re on.” Amanda pocketed the cash and approached the girl. She was short and cute in a fitted black dress and skull-patterned heels. “Hey,” Amanda greeted with a smile.

“Hey,” the girl smiled right back, lighting up two dimples. “I saw you kick that guy’s ass. So cool.”

“Thanks,” Amanda looked down bashfully. “He was trying to skip out on an honest bet. So, uh, I noticed you staring at my friend earlier.”

The girl laughed. “Uh, I wasn’t staring at him. He’s not my type.”

“Oh.” Amanda bit her lip. “I’m Amanda.”

“I’m Jamie.”

“Nice to meet you.” Amanda smiled.

Martin watched the encounter out of the corner of his eye as Cross set up another game of pool. Things seemed to be going well for Amanda.

Amanda made a lame joke and Jamie laughed appreciatively, putting a hand on Amanda’s arm. “So, do you go to school around here?” Jamie asked.

“I did. I’m about to go on tour with my band though. We leave tomorrow.” Amanda felt so incredibly punk as she said that and smiled.

Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Tomorrow, huh? That’s a shame. That still leaves tonight, I guess.” She stepped in close to Amanda and kissed her.

Warmth flooded Amanda as she returned the kiss, loving the softness of the woman’s mouth and body against her. Amanda held Jamie tightly as her hunger for the woman grew. Jamie returned Amanda’s fervour and pressed herself against Amanda.

“You want to get out of here?” Jamie asked, her eyes bright.

“Fuck yes. I just gotta tell my friends I’m leaving?”

“Sure.” Jamie smiled. “Let’s go.”

Amanda nodded, took her by the hand and walked by the pool table where the Rowdy Three still played. “Hey guys,” she said, trying to keep it cool, “I’m gonna head off, but I’ll see you back at the motel?”

The Rowdy Three nodded and smiled knowingly. Cross gave her a room key with a wink. “See you later.”

Amanda pocketed the key and left with Jamie on her arm.

The boys were still drinking on at DIVE a couple hours later when Amanda returned to cheers and some good-natured teasing.

“I thought you’d still be here,” she greeted a little sheepishly.

“We thought you wouldn’t be coming back til the morning.” Vogle smiled.

Amanda shrugged. “I don’t do sleepovers.”

The boys laughed and made room for her at the table.

*

Eventually the band staggered back to the motel and they all fell through the door amid shouts and laughter. Gripps and Cross collapsed onto one of the double beds and Vogle immediately lay down on the sofa and started snoring. Amanda stretched and kicked off her shoes before lying down on half of the remaining double bed. Her head swam just a little and she smiled.

“Mind if I share?” Martin asked quietly. He shrugged off his jacket and unlaced his boots without looking at her.

“Of course not,” Amanda smiled sleepily. “Sorry I bailed earlier.”

“Don’t be. She was cute.” Martin lay down beside her and left his glasses and wallet on the nightstand.

“Yeah she was.” Amanda laughed. “I’ve lived here for months and of course she’s the first girl I meet in this shithole.”

“Chicks dig chicks in bands.”

Amanda smiled. “How about dudes?”

“Huh?”

“I’m bi.” Amanda looked at him.

“Alright.”

Amanda raised an eyebrow. “That’s it? ‘Alright’? Talk about anticlimactic.”

“Sorry,” Martin chuckled, “was I supposed to freak out or something?”

“You should have immediately asked for a three way. That’s just, like, basic manners.”

“Right, next time I see someone hot I will assume you’re down to fuck with me and some stranger at the same time.”

“Finally some respect!” Amanda laughed quietly. “I’ll tell the guys in the morning. Are they as chill as you?”

“It’d be fucking awkward if they weren’t. Vogle’s bi too.”

“Yes, bi-buddies!” Amanda smiled. “What time do we have to be up tomorrow?”

“If you want to beat those nasty fuckers to the bathroom, you’re gonna want to get up at like, eight or something. We check out at ten and then get on the road.”

“When do we rehearse?” Amanda gasped. “I’m a hella quick study, don’t get me wrong, but we should probably, like, play together at some point right?”

Martin nodded. “We’ve got two whole days before the next show, that’s plenty of time.”

“I hope so.” Amanda smiled. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Share a bed with some guy you just met?” Martin joked.

“Please. I’m in college. Was in college. I dropped out to join some random band full of dudes I don’t even know to drive across country on tour.”

Martin chuckled. “We’ll look out for you.”

“I don’t need anyone to look after me.”

“Oh I know,” Martin said, “I’ve seen you face off with guys way bigger than you twice in two days.”

“‘Bigger than me’ is pretty much everyone.”

Martin smiled in agreement. “My point is, the band is like family. We stick together. That includes you now.”

Amanda smiled. “I can probably live with that.”

*

Amanda woke up before the guys and went straight to the bathroom with her backpack. By some miracle there was a single clean towel left and she used it gladly, stepping over the clothes and mess on the floor with a smile. When she emerged, slightly hungover and ready for burgers and coffee, she found Vogle puking into a bin and the others just waking up.

“Sorry!” Amanda said. “You should’ve told me to get out of the bathroom!”

Vogle waved her off, still heaving. Martin rolled out of bed with a groan and got a bottle of water from the tiny bar fridge. He drank half of it and gave the rest to Vogle, who took it without removing his head from the bin. Martin unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it on the floor and started undoing his belt. He paused, looked blearily at Amanda, grunted a possible apology, and went into the bathroom.

Amanda shook her head with a smile. She’d seen a collection of tattoos across Martin’s bare torso and wondered what they were and if they meant anything. Vogle’s retching distracted her and she looked at the poor guy clutching the bin. She dug around in her bag and came up with a little packet of pills.

“Here,” Amanda popped one out of the pack and put it in his hand.

“What is it?” Vogle mumbled, his voice echoing a little in the bin.

“It helps travel sickness nausea. I take it when I’m super hungover and it helps. If you can keep it down.” Amanda smiled.

Vogle finally looked up, pale and dazed, and put the pill in his mouth immediately. He swallowed it down with the water Martin gave him.

“Try and keep it in. It’ll take a few minutes to work.” Amanda smiled encouragingly.

Vogle nodded. He closed his eyes and lay back on the sofa, clutching the bin in both hands.

“Anybody else want some?” Amanda held the packet up. Cross and Gripps just laughed.

“He’s the worst puker,” Gripps said with a smile. He sat up and cracked his back.

“Wait til you see me get royally drunk,” Amanda went and sat on the edge of the bed she’d slept in, “some girl once tried to exorcise me at a frat party. My head didn’t quite spin around and around, but it came close.” She pulled her hair over one shoulder and slowly started to braid it.

Martin came out of the bathroom in time to see her carefully play with her hair, the strands easily brought together by her nimble fingers. “You missed a bit,” he mumbled as he passed her, still shirtless. Tattoos covered his back.

Looking at him with a smile, Amanda gathered up the errant locks and started the braid again. “Thanks. Who’s ready for breakfast?”

Vogle groaned. Cross went for the bathroom without a word and Gripps gestured to his moonboot foot.

“Looks like it’s you and me, kid,” Martin pulled on a fresh shirt and buttoned it up. He picked up the car keys from the table and his wallet and glasses from the nightstand.

“Fine,” Amanda finished her braid and put on her boots and jacket. “I know a great place near campus. They do burgers the size of my head.”

“At this hour?” Martin raised an eyebrow.

“Is there ever a morning where a whole bunch of college students aren’t in need of an epic burger for breakfast?”

Martin nodded. “Fair point. Let’s go.”

They climbed into the aging van, Amanda wincing just a little at the bright sunlight. “Is this thing roadworthy?” She asked, wincing again when she accidentally slammed the door.

“Mostly.” Martin lit a cigarette and started the van. Loud music immediately pumped through the speakers and Amanda flinched. She reached for the volume dial to turn it down.

“Ok, I might have been a bit enthusiastic before,” Amanda mumbled. “No loud noises until after food. Head left out of here.”

Martin chuckled and pulled a battered cigarette packet from his jeans pocket. “You want one?”

“Thanks.”

He passed her the lighter as he drove.

“Take the next right,” Amanda instructed as she smoked. “So you guys are from Seattle?”

Martin nodded. “We’ve been on the road for about a month though. Sometimes I miss my bed. The places we end up staying at are not the best.”

“The luxurious life of a band on tour, right?”

“Right.” Martin smiled.

“It’s just here,” Amanda pointed up ahead to a neon burger sign hanging out over the footpath.

Martin pulled the van over and climbed out. They ordered a massive amount of food and slumped in a booth to wait.

“Why is everything so bright?” Amanda rubbed her face.

“Don’t ask hard questions, drummer girl,” Martin replied with a sigh. “We’ve only got a few hours’ drive to the next shithole, thank Christ.”

Amanda smiled. “Do you have any of the band’s music on your phone or something? Maybe the set list? If I can listen to it for a few hours it’ll be way easier to pick up.”

“Sure do.” Martin nodded. “Do you want some sheet music or something? Gripps has most of it written down.”

“Nah,” Amanda replied quickly. “The passion of the song is easier to pick up when you can hear it properly.”

“So, are you some kind of prodigy? You played a song you heard once almost perfectly.”

“Something like that,” Amanda looked away. “I just, remember things? I dunno.”

Martin looked at her over the top of his glasses and sensed her discomfort. He changed tack. “So what did you study at college?”

“I.T.,” Amanda said with a smile.

“Really? Not music?”

Amanda shook her head. “I couldn’t convince myself that I could make a living from music.”

“I don’t know that I’d call this much of a living,” Martin admitted, “but it goes alright.”

“Do you guys have day jobs or anything?”

“Kind of.” Martin smiled. “Cross is a barber, Vogle works at a bar, and Gripps is a tattoo artist on the side.”

“Did he do any of yours?”

“A few.”

“What’s your side job?” Amanda asked, her attention to detail not at all impaired by her hangover.

“I run the bar Vogle works at.” Martin shrugged. “Did you have a job, or do your folks help you out?”

“My folks do not help.” Amanda replied darkly. “I’ve worked in cafes and bars over the last little while. I didn’t go to college straight out of school, so I had to find something to do.” She shrugged.

Their order was called and they collected the bags and left. Vogle had finally stopped hurling by the time they got back, and even managed to keep down a burger. He hugged Amanda tightly.

“Thank you so much.” He whispered. “Please let me buy you more of those magical pills.”

Amanda laughed and returned the hug. “By the way,” she said as she pulled away, “turns out we’re bi-buddies.”

“No way! I knew you were a badass,” Vogle grinned. “We gotta go to the next pride festival we pass. I can’t take these guys, no one hits on me when I’m surrounded by leather bears.”

Amanda smiled at the others who all shrugged. “I’m not surprised.”

The band eventually rolled up all of their junk from the room and loaded up the van. They drove out of town and Amanda tried not to think too much about how utterly impulsive this decision was.

Amanda sat in the back with Cross’s phone in her hands and her headphones on, listening to the Rowdy Three’s set list. She closed her eyes, repeated portions of certain tracks and occasionally mimed the beats as if she were sitting at a drum kit. The others mostly slept while Martin drove.

Chapter Text

The van came to a rumbling stop outside a motel that could have been the twin of the one they’d left that morning. Amanda climbed out of the van, stretching hugely as she walked. She got her phone out and snapped a picture of the motel’s sign, and one of the van parked slightly crookedly out front. She snuck a snap of the boys leaning against the van in various stages of tired/hungover and smiled.

“I gotta lie down.” Vogle groaned.

“You been lyin’ down the last few hours,” Gripps reminded him.

“Yeah, but I want a bed.” Vogle pouted.

“We’re heading to the venue in an hour,” Martin announced, “we gotta practice with our new drummer. Don’t get too comfortable.” He grinned evilly at the others.

True to his word, Martin had them all back in the van and driving a block to the venue to unload their equipment. The bar was another dive but had a decent sized stage for five people. Amanda hauled drum boxes with the guys, conscious of carrying her fair share of the work. She worked with Gripps to set up the kit and caught his sigh.

“I’m sorry about your foot.” Amanda offered. “How’d you hurt it?”

Gripps smiled. “Don’t be sorry, wasn’t your fault. I was drunk and tripped.” He shrugged. “You’re a better drummer than me anyway.”

“What? No way! You’re amazing.”

“I’m alright, and I’m better than the other guys which is why I was drummer in the first place, but seriously. You’re better.” Gripps grinned. “Take the compliment.”

Amanda blushed a little. “Thanks. That means a lot coming from someone as talented as you.”

“Hey.”

“Take the compliment.” Amanda returned with a smile. Gripps laughed.

With everything ready, Martin suggested a song name. Amanda scrolled through her recent memory and found it. She nodded, counted them in and the noise exploded.

After a few songs it was clear Amanda was some kind of savant. She kept amazing time and even in the very rare instance she didn’t remember the exact beat she was able to fill the gap with clever improvising. The guys were impressed.

“We never would have been able to pull this off with anyone else,” Cross said as they finished another song. “You saved our butts.”

Amanda looked down, pleased at the praise but a little awkward nonetheless. “Thanks.”

They practiced for a couple of hours until Amanda’s arms and shoulders started to hurt. She hadn’t drummed this hard in months and she relished the familiar burn in her muscles. She loved the noise, loved being behind the kit and controlling the epic drum line, loved hearing Vogle’s voice as he sang and screamed. On stage their chemistry was amazing and Amanda fit right in.

They finished up their practice and headed back to the hotel and it’s two and a half beds. Vogle collapsed on one of the beds and put a pillow over his face with a groan. Cross and Gripps filled the other and stretched out.

“I’m not sure you can handle your liquor,” Amanda laughed, relaxing into the couch and rubbing her shoulders.

“I’ll be fine.” Vogle mumbled. “Just leave me to die.”

“So no partying tonight?” Amanda asked.

“Now you hold on a minute,” Vogle protested.

Martin laughed and sat beside Amanda on the couch. “He’ll bounce back. He always does.” He watched Amanda make a face as she pressed into the muscle on her shoulder. “You alright?”

“I haven’t played that long, or that hard, in over a year.” Amanda smiled. “I’ll live, I’ll probably just hurt for a while til I get used to it.” She struggled to reach the muscles across her shoulder blades.

“You want some help?”

“If you can just get this bit,” Amanda turned around and pointed to the sinewy muscle just out of reach, “I’ll bring you beers for the rest of the day.”

“You owe me one from last night.” Martin reminded her, shifting slightly closer to hold her shoulder with one hand and gently press against the muscle with the other.

“Ow, Christ.” Amanda cursed, trying not to flinch away. Martin’s fingers found the exact knot of tension and Amanda bit her lip to keep from swearing. “Ok, that’s enough, just cut off my arms next time.” She slouched forward over the arm of the couch with a pained groan. “Are there any beers in the van?”

“A couple. I think there’s some whiskey left?”

“Great.” Amanda got the van keys. “You’re on ice duty. I don’t trust my arms to lift an ice bag right now.”

Martin left with a smile to find an ice machine, thinking about the feeling of Amanda’s muscled shoulders under his hands and the way she’d leaned over the arm of the couch. Her hair was still in the braid but a few waves had come free and he wondered, what the hell was he doing noticing that much about her?

Amanda had found a couple of glasses and already poured whiskey in them when Martin returned. Cross was beside her on the couch, laughing at something she’d said as he took a glass from her.

“Good timing,” Amanda held her glass out and smiled her thanks when Martin distributed ice.

“We’ve got to get to know you better,” Cross said, sipping his drink. “We’re basically gonna be living together for the next few months, so if you’ve got a criminal record, now’s the time to mention it.” He joked.

“No criminal record,” Amanda answered, smiling as Martin sat in the tattered armchair opposite the couch. “I did learn how to pick locks one summer but that was just for fun.”

The guys chuckled.

“I knew you were a badass the minute I saw you go for that guy,” Vogle mumbled from the bed. He sat up, his eyes a little bleary. “Let’s play ‘never have I ever’.”

Amanda laughed. “Are you serious?”

“Why not?” Gripps laughed. “I think there’s another bottle of something in my bag, hold on.” He retrieved a second bottle of whiskey from the bag beside him and put it on the coffee table with a smile. “You in?”

“Hell yeah.” Amanda grinned.

Gripps poured drinks for Vogle and Martin. “Never have I ever been arrested.” Everyone drank and the boys laughed.

“What’d you do?” Vogle asked Amanda, his eyes wide.

“I got caught smashing windows with a baseball bat,” Amanda shrugged with a smile. “My douchebag ex stole my Xbox when I dumped him and refused to give it back. Once I told the cops about the theft they let me go with a warning.” She shrugged. “How about you guys?”

Gripps smiled. “Public nuisance.”

“Public indecency.” Vogle grinned.

“Causing affray.” Martin shrugged. “Beat up one gang of Nazis and cops get their noses out joint.”

“That was a good night,” Cross smiled at the memory.

“My turn!” Vogle announced. “Never have I ever puked on myself.” Again everyone drank.

“Never have I ever puked on someone else while hooking up.” Amanda said, laughing, and took a drink. Vogle and Cross drank as well. Martin and Gripps were both amused and grossed out.

“How did that end up?” Gripps asked, looking at the three who had apparently vomited on paramours.

“We were sixteen and he was horny. It didn’t slow anything down.” Vogle said seriously.

“Turns out girls don’t really like it when you ralph on their bed,” Cross sighed dramatically, “she kicked my ass out.”

“How about you, Badass Girl?” Vogle turned to Amanda expectantly.

Amanda just laughed. “Uh, ok, so this is gross,” she warned, “like super gross. I used to hook up with this guy and he wasn’t great on, like, hygiene.”

Vogle put his hand over his mouth. “Oh no. Don’t say it.”

Amanda nodded. “We’d been drinking, a lot, and he whipped out his junk and tried to get my face down there and I swear I got within a foot of that unwashed shrimp and just barfed all over him.” Amanda got tears in her eyes as she laughed, remembering just how gross it had been.

Vogle dry heaved a little. “Why are straight dudes so gross.” He glared around at the other three while Amanda just laughed. “Like, just wash your dick. It’s not that hard.”

“Exactly!” Amanda said between laughs. “Ok, someone else’s turn.”

Martin cleared his throat. “Never have I ever had sex in public.” He drank, as did Vogle and Gripps.

Amanda paused. “Public like on a park bench, or public like in a car in a park?”

“Mm, public like on a park bench.”

“Bummer.” Amanda shrugged and didn’t touch her drink.

“Never have I ever,” Cross paused, “been so high I forgot my own name.”

Everyone drank and laughed.

“I was in homeroom and couldn’t answer attendance because I ate two brownies for breakfast.” Amanda laughed. “What a day.”

“Never have I ever given a lap dance.” Vogle laughed, taking a drink. No one else took a drink and he glared at Martin. “Excuse you.”

With a resigned sigh, Martin sipped his drink.

“Ok, now I need to know the backstory.” Amanda looked from Vogle to Martin, incredibly intrigued.

Martin glanced at Vogle. “It was a bet.”

The others laughed and Amanda joined them. “What kind of bet?” She asked. She tried not to think about Martin giving anyone a lap dance.

“The kind where this jackass bet I couldn’t get a free drink from the meanest bartender in Seattle.” Martin smirked. “I won, by the way.”

“At what cost, man?” Gripps laughed.

“And what’s your excuse?” Amanda turned to Vogle.

Vogle shrugged. “I was trying to impress a girl. It totally worked.”

“My turn.” Amanda smiled. “Never have I ever physically hurt myself trying to impress someone.” She drank, as did Cross and Vogle.

“I’ll bite. What did you do?” Vogle asked her, refilling his empty glass.

“I had a huge crush on this girl who was into skateboarding. I tried to learn so I could hang out at the skate park and look cool, but I mostly ended up falling over a lot and skinning my knees.” She sighed wistfully. “How about you nerds?”

Cross smiled. “Her name was Lea Carmichael and we were in sixth grade. She’d kissed a boy who broke into the stationary closet and got her a cute eraser. I tried to break into the closet and ended up getting hit in the face with the door when it fell off.” He laughed.

“Vogle?” Amanda turned to him.

“Well, it may have been the lap dance situation,” Vogle admitted, “I fell over and broke a coffee table.”

“And you still got laid?”

“Shit yeah I did.” Vogle grinned.

Amanda laughed. “Impressive.”

“Right? Who’s turn is it?” Vogle looked around.

“Never have I ever,” Martin paused, “gotten a tattoo when drunk.” All the boys drank and laughed.

“Oh my god, please tell me it was a matching tattoo,” Amanda looked around at them and they nodded. She gasped. “No way! What is it? You gotta show me.”

Vogle was first, pulling up the edge of his jacket sleeve to reveal a heavily shaded R3 on his wrist. Cross pulled the collar of his shirt down to show off the R3 on his collarbone and Gripps had it on his forearm. Martin put his glass down and leaned back, lifting his shirt up to display the R3 on his hip.

“So punk,” Amanda said with a sigh.

“We can get you your own drunk tattoo soon enough,” Gripps said with a smile, “I’ve got my gear with me and I’ve got some guest spots lined up over the tour.”

“I have always wanted a tramp stamp. Maybe it’s finally time to commit.” Amanda said with a straight face.

The guys laughed.

Chapter Text

The following night the band hung out at the bar listening to the opening acts with beers in hand. “These guys are pretty good,” Amanda said to Martin, leaning in close and shouting over the music.

He shrugged. “We’re better.”

Amanda smiled. His confidence was admirable but didn’t necessarily help her nerves. She finished her beer and played with her hair absently.

“You ok, drummer girl?”

“Yeah. I’ll be right back.” She smiled a little stiffly and headed for the bathroom.

Vogle moved closer to Martin. “What’s up with her?”

“Dunno.”

“Should I follow her?”

Martin shook his head. “I got it.” He put his beer down and followed, waiting near the bathroom door.

Amanda emerged a few minutes later. She was pale and her eyes were red.

“What’s goin’ on?” Martin asked.

“Just nervous,” Amanda shrugged, “I haven’t played in front of an audience for ages. And all these bands have been great. I just feel like such a fraud. What if I screw up?”

Martin smiled. “You’re a great drummer.”

Amanda rolled her eyes and looked away.

“Seriously. You’re crazy talented, way better than anyone we’ve seen tonight. You’re gonna do great.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.” Martin smiled again.

Amanda gave him a quick hug, wrapping her arms around his waist and holding him tight. Martin tentatively put his arms around her. “Thanks,” she whispered.

“Any time.”

Amanda gave him one last squeeze before she pulled away. “Let’s do this!” She bounced back to the others, leaving Martin to follow.

As he predicted, they killed the set. The audience went crazy and the mosh pit was phenomenal. Amanda occasionally glanced at the crowd and grinned, panting, her arms on fire as she played. Every now and again Martin looked at her and smiled, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Vogle didn’t stop moving around the stage the whole time and Cross and Gripps absolutely played to the crowd.

They finished up, basking in the cheers, before leaving their instruments on stage and waiting in the very cosy wings. Amanda and Vogle were both bouncing, totally buzzed on the energy of the performance.

“That was so amazing!” Amanda grabbed the lapels of Vogle’s jacket and shook him a little. He laughed.

“Told you so.” Martin said with a lazy smile.

“What do we do now?” Amanda asked, totally unable to keep still. In a lot of ways she was definitely one of nature’s percussionists.

“Wait for that.” Gripps said with a smile. The audience had started shouting ‘encore’, feet stomping the ground and hands clapping together in time.

“Oh my god, are you serious?” Amanda’s eyes were wide. “We do encores?”

“Sometimes.” Cross laughed.

“How about we open with ‘Maybe next time’, then ‘Never better’ and ‘Fucking Frankenstein’?” Martin thought quickly.

Amanda’s eyes went distant as she thought through the songs quickly. She nodded.

“‘Maybe next time’ opens with a drum solo.” Gripps looked at Amanda closely. “You can do this, right?”

Amanda swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. She nodded.

The audience erupted when Amanda went back on stage alone. She smiled a bit awkwardly and got behind the drums, taking a sip from the beer on the floor. Slowly she picked up the sticks, twirled one in her hand as she found the rhythm in her head for the song, and rolled out the slow beat.

The song started slow and full of tension and gradually built to a crashing wall of music. As the solo ended and the audience went wild, the rest of the band emerged and the cheers became deafening. They quickly launched into the rest of the song amid rapturous applause.

They finished the set for real and packed up their equipment, loading it onto the van before heading for the bar. Amanda and Vogle were still jumping around like little kids and it didn’t take long for a punk girl with a lip ring to approach Amanda and buy her a drink.

Martin was a little preoccupied by a corseted young woman who was applying her ample cleavage in his direction. Flirting was always fun and he loved the attention, but he didn’t miss the moment when Amanda left with the punk girl.

“You want to go somewhere?” The woman in front of him asked eventually.

“You don’t even know my name.” Martin pointed out.

“Does it matter?”

Martin shrugged. “I guess not.”

She laughed and put a hand on the back of his neck. “Definitely not.” She kissed him. “Come on, I know a place.” She took his hand and led him out of the bar. He didn’t look back.

*

It was almost two a.m. when Martin returned to the motel room. He saw Cross and Vogle sprawled across one bed and Amanda had the other to herself. He was too drunk to overthink anything and kicked off his boots to lie down heavily beside her.

Amanda woke with a snort. “The fuck?”

“It’s just me. Sorry.” Martin moved back.

“Don’t scare me like that.” Amanda relaxed back into bed. She yawned. “Have a good night?”

Martin nodded. “Not bad. You?”

She laughed quietly. “That girl was amazing, but she lived with her ex girlfriend. Super awkward. They were having a huge ass domestic when I left but at least it was after the good bits.”

“Uh, sorry? I guess? What do you say in this situation?”

“Condolences are appropriate.” Amanda chortled.

“Where’s Gripps?”

“Met a girl, left with her.” Amanda shrugged. “She was a solid 8/10 but I think he could have done better.” She yawned again. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

*

The next morning Martin woke up with a crippling hangover. His head pounded and his stomach rolled. He groaned.

“Suffer in silence, would you?” Amanda mumbled. She heard Vogle join in on the groaning. “Don’t start!” She said, covering her ears.

Vogle lurched to the bathroom and slammed the door. They could still hear him puking. Martin rolled out of bed and went out the motel door to hurl into the garden bed outside.

“Ugh.” Amanda buried her head in a pillow. “It’s too early for this much vomit.”

Cross was sound asleep. Amanda scowled at him and sighed. She climbed out of bed and got a glass of water and travel sickness pills and left them just inside the bathroom door for Vogle. He mumbled his thanks between retches. Amanda got another glass and more pills and cautiously approached the open room door.

Martin was bent over, hands braced on his knees, his torso contracting as he heaved. It didn’t take long to empty his guts and he spat the last of the bile from his mouth.

“You gonna live?” Amanda asked with a yawn. She held out the water and pills.

“I wish I wasn’t.” Martin rinsed his mouth out before swallowing a travel sickness tablet.

“We gotta be out of here at ten, right?” Amanda leaned against the doorframe.

Martin blanched and leaned over the garden bed, preparing to vomit again. The moment passed and he looked back at Amanda. “Yeah. Why.”

“It’s nine forty-five.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.” Amanda smiled and went back inside. “We got fifteen minutes to get out of here!” She yelled. “Let’s go!” She started throwing things into the van. “Can you even drive right now?” She asked Martin. He’d moved exactly one bag into the van and had to stand still with his eyes shut for a really long time.

“Nope.” Martin rubbed his eyes.

“Give me the keys.” Amanda held out her hand. Martin uneasily handed them over.

“Can you drive a van?”

“Of course I can. I can at least get us out of this parking lot and avoid a fine.” She smiled. “Plus, we gotta pick up Gripps. Wherever the hell he ended up.”

“I call shotgun.” Martin mumbled. He climbed into the front seat and put the window down. Amanda tried not to smile at his very pathetic state. Vogle exited the motel with a small plastic bin under one arm and climbed into the back of the van to lie down. Cross appeared to be sleepwalking, carrying the last of the bags to the van before climbing in beside Vogle and going back to sleep.

“Alright, you guys owe me.” Amanda shook her head with a smile as she got behind the wheel. “Someone call Gripps and find out where he’s at.” She pulled the van out of the lot with a lurch.

Martin stuck his head out of the window and took a few deep breaths.

“I didn’t even see you drink that much last night before you left.” Amanda remarked.

“That girl got me drunk at her place.” Martin said quietly.

“What a night.” Amanda smiled. “Where’s Gripps? Where am I driving to?”

Martin got his phone out and dialled. After a lot of one-word questions, Martin gave her directions and hung up. Pulling up out front of the apartment building they’d been directed to, Amanda honked the horn, making Martin and Vogle both flinch. Gripps staggered out, moonboot and all, and climbed into the van.

“What’s goin’ on?” Gripps looked around at the very pathetic band and Amanda driving.

“What’s going on is, these sadass motherfuckers owe me one hell of a favour.” Amanda laughed.

“Can we stop moving? Please?” Vogle asked plaintively. Everyone ignored him.

“Where are we staying tonight?” Amanda asked.

“The next town’s only a couple hours’ away.” Gripps said.

“Great. Someone get up a GPS and we’ll get going.” Amanda looked over at Martin, still with his head out the window like a puppy. A really hungover, sickly puppy. He set the address and gave her the phone without saying a word. “You are going to be great company today.” She laughed.

Amanda drove the whole way, taking a few breaks to let Martin and Vogle puke on the side of the road and the occasional stop for water and coffee. They made it to the next town alive and checked into the motel. Fortunately for everyone involved they didn’t have to play until the next night. The five of them crawled out of the van and collapsed in the room, setting the aircon to sixty degrees.

Sprawling across the queen bed Amanda yawned and tried to stretch her shoulders. She shucked off her boots and just as she was wishing she didn’t have to wear pants, she saw Vogle wearily strip down to his boxers.

“You alright Vogle?” She asked.

“Too tired for clothes.” He murmured, collapsing beside her.

“Normally he’d just get naked. We have all seen each other naked about a million times,” Cross explained, “there’s no such thing as dignity on tour. Or modesty.”

“Thank Christ. I’m already sick of living in jeans.” Amanda slid off her very worn in jeans with a happy sigh before lying back down on the bed. She was glad she’d worn boyleg knickers that looked more like tiny shorts than underwear. “Do not wake me up unless there’s pizza involved. Or cold beer. Whichever.” She yawned and pulled the sheet up over herself and fell asleep almost immediately.

Martin had turned away when he’d seen Amanda meant to take off her pants. He shed his shirt onto the floor and lay across the couch, passing out quickly.

*

When Martin woke up again it was dark. He groaned, his neck stiff, and slowly sat up. Amanda was sitting up in bed looking at her phone, a beer in one hand and the sheet over her bare legs. Vogle snored lightly beside her, and Cross and Gripps were nowhere to be seen.

“Feel human yet?” Amanda asked with a smile.

Martin smiled sheepishly. “Just about. I’m sorry. I don’t usually get that drunk when we’ve gotta be somewhere the next day.”

“No big deal, it worked out. You want a beer? Cross got some earlier.”

“No.” Martin sat back into the couch, rolling his shoulders. “Not for at least another eight hours. Where are they, anyway?”

“Getting food. I’m starving. Every time I tried to mention food today the two of you,” Amanda glanced down at Vogle, “went extra green. I’ve got missed meals to make up for.”

“Sorry, again.”

“I figure I’ll repay the favour sooner rather than later.”

“I owe you.” Martin nodded. He looked down and remembered he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He leaned down to grab it from the floor but the movement made his head swim. He sat back against the couch with his eyes closed, taking deep breaths.

“Keep those sudden moves to a minimum.” Amanda advised. She climbed out of bed and went to the fridge, still without pants on. “Neither of you got enough water today.” She handed Martin a cold bottle of water. “How’s your neck?”

Martin cracked his neck. “Ouch.”

“Here.” Amanda sat beside him and worked nimble fingers into the knotted muscle down Martin’s neck and shoulders. He withered under her touch as she pressed down on the sorest spots with disturbing accuracy.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Martin winced.

“I dated a massage therapist for a while, she taught me a few things.” She found another muscle knot and smiled when Martin hissed in pain.

Martin groaned a little and moved away. “Tapping out. Thanks drummer girl.” He stretched his neck and shoulders out.

“Now we’re even.” Amanda smiled and went back to bed.

Martin drank from the bottle deeply. “Thanks.”

Amanda shrugged. “I figure we take it in turns to help each other out.”

“Pretty much.” He glanced down at his shirt on the floor again. Amanda laughed.

“Don’t bother. I don’t have pants on, Vogle may as well be naked,” she shrugged, “you without a shirt on isn’t even the worst thing I’ve seen today. The sheer amount of puke might be the worst thing I’ve seen today.”

“What a compliment.”

“What can I say? I have a way with words.” Amanda smirked and changed the subject. “So, do you guys have apartments or something, back in Seattle?”

“Or something,” Martin nodded, slumping back down in the couch. “We’ve got a sort of converted warehouse.”

“Sort of converted? Do I want to know what that means?”

“The acoustics are great but the heating sucks. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious. I’m technically homeless at this point, and I wondered what the deal was for you guys.”

“We won’t leave you stranded,” Martin said seriously.

“What about when Gripps gets his boot off? You won’t need me anymore.” Unfortunately Amanda had had time to start to worry.

Vogle snorted and rolled over to put his arm around Amanda’s waist. “Please stay forever.” He mumbled, opening one eye to look up at her. “He likes guitar better than drums anyway.”

Amanda stared. “Are you for real?”

“Always.” Vogle grinned. “As long as you don’t kill any of us on tour, I sure as hell want you to stay.”

Amanda looked to Martin, her eyes wide. “Is he serious?”

“Yeah.” Martin smiled a little. “We’ll have to see how the tour goes but so far you’re amazing.”

“Ok,” Amanda tried not to grin, “I’ll keep the murdering to a minimum.”

“Can you write music?” Vogle asked.

“I can create, yeah,” Amanda nodded. Vogle opened his mouth to ask more questions just as Cross and Gripps returned with food.

Along with the pizza boxes was a bag of salad and Gripps put it in the middle of the coffee table meaningfully. “Y’all better eat something green or you’ll get scurvy.”

“You’re not my real mom,” Amanda retorted, lying down on her belly to help herself to a greasy slice.

“He’s Friend Mom,” Vogle laughed, “always tryin’ to make me eat nasty green shit.”

Chapter Text

True to her word, Amanda got blind drunk two stops later. They’d played a great set and Amanda had downed three shots at the bar immediately after they’d packed up the gear.

“My turn, bitches!” Amanda announced, taking a long mouthful of her beer. She and Vogle bounced off each other, playing a ridiculous game of truth or dare that mostly involved drinking or hitting on strangers while the others watched on and drank at a slightly more sensible pace.

It wasn’t long before Amanda was hanging off the arm of some college kid in torn jeans and a Rowdy Three shirt.

“I didn’t know there was a chick in this band,” he said for the third time. Amanda was too drunk already to notice.

“I’m new!” She laughed. “I like your shirt.” With an entirely unsubtle grin she grabbed the front of it and pulled him to her for a kiss. He happily obliged.

Cross raised an eyebrow at the shenanigans. He leaned over to Gripps. “Have you ever hooked up with someone wearing our merch?”

“Not yet.” Gripps sighed mockingly. “Maybe we should get some girls’ shirts made?”

They turned away as Amanda’s drunken kissing got more involved.

“Worth thinking about.” Cross nodded.

Amanda eventually left with the guy, going to his car in the lot.

“You wanna come back to my place?” He asked, getting his keys out of his pocket.

“You ever done it in car?” Amanda returned with a grin. She kissed him enthusiastically and pushed him against the side of his car. He reached around to grab her ass and groped her forcefully.

“Really?” The guy asked eventually.

“I don’t know you, I don’t know this town,” Amanda pointed out, “I’m sure as hell not leaving my friends behind, but I’m down for the backseat if you are.” She rubbed the front of his jeans and found he was hard already.

“Ok,” he nodded, leaning into her hand. He scrabbled to get the back door open and Amanda pulled him in with a laugh.

Martin had watched her go with a rueful smile and was surprised when she returned in around half an hour. He met her at the bar as she ordered another drink.

“Hey,” he greeted with a smile.

“Hey!” Amanda grinned. “What’d I miss?”

“Gripps tried to have a drinking competition with some girl. He lost but I don’t think he really minded. We won’t be seeing him til tomorrow.” Martin shrugged. “Didn’t know if we’d be seeing you again tonight.”

“As if I’m gonna go back to some strange guy’s place in a strange town when I’m already drunk. Some strange guy’s car, sure,” Amanda smiled, “especially when he knows all my friends are inside and would notice if I went missing, but I don’t plan on getting murdered while trying to get laid. No dick is worth that.”

Martin laughed. “Good to know.”

“Besides,” Amanda sipped her beer, “I’ve got a lot more getting drunk to do.” A song playing in the bar got Amanda’s interest and she squealed. “I love this!” She grabbed Vogle’s hand and dragged him to the dance floor. The two of them were a whirlwind of flailing arms and legs and slightly spilled beers.

Martin watched them from the bar before leaving to spend a little time in a storeroom with a bartender who finished her shift. He returned just in time to see Amanda and Cross staggering out the door.

“Where are they headed?” Martin asked Vogle, pulling the singer away from that evening’s company.

“She tapped out after the second power hurl,” Vogle laughed, “and Cross looked pretty done with the day. I’m not sure if I’ll make it back tonight but I’ll text in the morning if I need a ride.” Vogle winked and returned his attention to the gorgeous girl waiting behind him.

The motel of choice was barely a block from the bar but Amanda still had to stop for a quick vomit. Cross quickly moved to hold her hair out of the way as best he could, wincing a little at the forceful noise of her gagging. She coughed and spat a little before straightening up and wiping her mouth.

“Maybe remind me that mixing shotsh ish a bad plan?” Amanda swayed.

“I’ll try.” Cross almost kept a straight face.

They lurched in the motel door and Amanda fell into bed, face down, her hair everywhere. “I puked in my hair.” She mumbled.

“Hey, I tried.” Cross took off his jacket, only slightly unsteady on his feet.

“It was before,” Amanda sat up and looked at the wet strands mournfully. “It’s so gross. I have to wash it.” Immediately Amanda tried to take off her shirt and missed.

Cross laughed. “Leave it til the morning. You can’t even stand. If you had a shower right now you’d probably drown.”

“No way. If I wake up smelling vomit,” at that word, Amanda went quiet. With surprising speed she flew toward the bathroom, aiming for the little sink right by the toilet. She mostly made it, heaving up bile into the basin.

Cross gently guided her to sit on the closed toilet lid and leave her face over the sink until she was done. He turned on the tap, washing the foul liquid down, before dragging her hair into the basin and rinsing it under the running water.

Amanda rested her head on the ceramic edge as Cross’s hands worked through her heavy hair. He found some shampoo and conditioner and washed her long waves properly; when he started to massage her head Amanda sighed.

“How are you so good at this?” Amanda laughed.

“I’m a barber. My mom ran a salon and taught me everything she knew.” Cross shrugged. “How do you think those boys have fresh to death hair all the time? You tryin’ to tell me Martin’s the kind of man who can dye his own hair?”

Amanda gasped. “He’s not a natural blond?”

“If he’s a natural blond then I’m Lady Gaga.”

“Does that mean you can do my hair?”

“Hell yes. Let me start you on some layers. You got more hair than a sensible person needs.”

“Tell me about it.” Amanda sighed. “I want mermaid hair. Will it work?”

Cross hummed thoughtfully. “We’ll start small and see how your hair takes the colour.”

“Oh my god I’m gonna be a mermaid!” Amanda wriggled happily. “The band should totally have an Instagram. Then I could post about my hair and get random internet validation.”

“Instagram?”

“You know, people put up pictures of their breakfast and dogs and shit?”

Cross laughed. He rinsed the last of the product from Amanda’s hair and towel dried it a little. “I know what it is.”

“Well,” Amanda hiccupped, “with you guys being on tour and stuff, you should probably be promoting yourself a bit more. Be accesshible to your fans and junk. I could totally do it. Look!” She fumbled with her phone as she took it out of her pocket. With much swaying and drunken squinting, Amanda pulled up her photos and showed Cross the sneaky shots she’d been taking over the last two weeks.

There were motel signs, some of the more interesting and cinematic places they’d stopped to eat and refuel at, even some unknowing distant portraits of the guys. There were images of sound checks and instruments and artful arrangements of glasses and bottles.

“Huh,” Cross looked at her closely. He was a little tipsy, sure, but he recognised the beauty of her photographs. “These are good. Like, crazy good.”

Amanda grinned, sitting up straight with her clean damp hair over her shoulders. “You think?”

“Yeah,” Cross nodded. “Show the guys tomorrow.”

“Cool.” Amanda grinned. “Thanks for the hair thing.”

Cross returned her smile. “Any time.” He yawned. “Let’s get some sleep.” He helped her to the room and she fell into a bed with a sigh. Cross got her a bin and set it beside the bed before lying down next to her. “Goodnight.”

Amanda was already snoring.

*

A cup of steaming coffee was put on the nightstand beside Amanda’s head. She inhaled deeply and smiled before opening her eyes. “Is it any good?” She mumbled.

Gripps sat on the next bed with his own cup and shrugged. “So far it’s not total shit water.”

“What a review!” Amanda smiled. Her head pounded and the lights were very, very bright. She squinted as she slowly sat up, still in her clothes from the night before. Clean hair fell about her, it’s delicious smell wafting over her. “Oh my gosh!” She pulled at the clean strands. “Cross!”

He grunted beside her, still half asleep.

“You’re a life saver,” Amanda grinned before looking back at Gripps. “I know all your secrets! Your hair secrets anyway.” She sipped the coffee and was pleasantly surprised. “Where are the others?”

“Martin’s hunting for Vogle. I got myself back here but that little shit requires collecting.” Gripps said with a smile.

“Show him the pictures,” Cross murmured as he stretched. “Where’s my coffee, asshole?”

Gripps grinned and gave over another cup. “What pictures?”

A little shyly, Amanda handed over her phone. She moved slowly, waiting to see where the hangover would go. So far it seemed to be generalised seediness and a thumping head.

Gripps scrolled through the album, his eyebrows climbing his face as he looked. “Wow.”

“She reckons we should get an Instagram,” Cross said meaningfully.

The van rumbled into the lot signalling Martin and Vogle’s return. A clearly unwell Vogle slouched into the room followed by a grouchy Martin.

“I was drunk.” Amanda tried to shrug it off.

“So drunk.” Cross agreed. “But I think she’s right.”

“Right about what?” Martin said gruffly. He sat on the couch and glared at Vogle as he disappeared into the bathroom.

“Check these out,” Gripps handed over Amanda’s phone.

Martin took it in one hand, getting a cigarette out of his pocket with the other. He sat, flicking through the pictures, the unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. “Huh.”

“Amanda thinks we should get Instagram and connect with our fans, or whatever.” Cross nodded encouragingly.

“Yeah, like self-promotion,” Amanda tried to explain, “build a following, y’know?”

Martin grunted.

“How’s your hangover?” Gripps asked, seeing that Martin wasn’t going to be much of a conversationalist.

Amanda winced. “I’ve been better. I’ve also been worse.” She sipped the coffee and waited a long moment to see how the second mouthful would go. It stayed down and she sighed happily. “I think I ralphed everything up last night.”

“Don’t remind me,” Cross laughed, “how does one tiny ass girl puke so damn much?”

“Just lucky I guess.” Amanda shrugged with a grin.

“Y’all wanna do this Instagram thing?” Martin interrupted. He gave Amanda her phone back.

Cross and Gripps nodded. Amanda sat hopefully, watching the three of them.

“Do it.” Martin nodded at her and got to his feet.

“What about Vogle?” Amanda glanced at the bathroom door.

“He don’t get a say til he remembers where he left his damn phone.” Martin growled. He stalked out of the room to smoke outside.

Amanda tried not to laugh. “What was that about?”

Cross shrugged. “Vogle’s our baby brother who loses shit constantly. It drives Martin insane.”

“Don’t get Vogle to hold anything unless you’re ok to never see it again,” Gripps agreed. “Lighters, phones, keys, whatever. Don’t do it.”

Amanda laughed. “Noted.” She slowly put her feet on the floor, her aching head impeding her movements somewhat. She took a deep breath.

“You ok?” Cross looked at her apprehensively.

“Trying to decide what I need first: shower, food, or a cigarette.” Amanda paused. “Shower.” She lurched to the bathroom door, coffee in hand. “You gonna be long?” She asked through the door.

Vogle emerged sheepishly, his toothbrush in his mouth. “Sorry Manda.”

Amanda smiled and went in, sitting on the closed toilet lid as Vogle rinsed his mouth. “Check my jacket pocket. I’m pretty sure your phone’s in there.”

“Are you kidding?” Vogle asked desperately.

“You gave it to me at one point, I’m sure of it. Just check the pockets.”

“Oh my god, you’ve just saved my ass,” Vogle murmured, “I’ve already lost one phone this tour.”

“I hope you’re ok with the band starting an Instagram account.” Amanda smiled.

“Anything you want,” Vogle nodded emphatically, “you’re the best.” He hugged her tightly before leaving the room.

Amanda smiled to herself and ran a cold shower, sipping the coffee as she moved slowly through her morning routine. Going back into the room she saw Vogle with his phone in his hands and grinned. She ate a few painkillers and joined Martin outside. He wordlessly offered her his cigarette.

“Thanks,” Amanda took it and sat beside him on the metal bench. She squinted at the daylight. “Vogle found his phone.”

Martin grunted.

“What is with you?” Amanda asked lightly as she smoked.

“You left with Cross last night.”

“Yep. He washed my hair after I puked in it. I think I love him.”

Martin didn’t look at her.

“Ok, that was a joke,” Amanda nudged his shoulder.

“I should have been there.”

“You take the ‘big brother’ thing kind of seriously, don’t you?” Amanda asked, not really expecting an answer. She sipped her coffee. “You’re not obligated to look after me when I drink myself to hell and back. I’m a grown up, mostly, and I’m responsible for myself. Ok?”

Martin didn’t reply.

“I’m glad we had this talk,” Amanda said drily, giving him back his cigarette. “Can we have donuts for breakfast? I need sugar.”

“Hm,” Martin finally spoke, “we passed a Krispy Kreme on the way back from wherever the hell Vogle was.”

“Hell yes! I need a box, stat.”

“What happened to being an adult?”

“Uh, being an adult means I can do whatever the hell I want, and that includes donuts for breakfast.” Amanda replied haughtily.

“At least have a smoothie or something!” Gripps shouted from inside.

“If I want to give myself scurvy I’m gonna do it!” Amanda retorted.

Later that morning, one sticky hand full of donut and the other tapping away at her phone, Amanda made the Rowdy Three an Instagram account.

Chapter Text

A week and three cities later, the air con in the van died. Amanda swore a part of her soul died with it.

It gave a little sputter and a cough an hour outside of San Francisco and the van turned into an oven on wheels in minutes. The band gave a collective groan and put down the windows.

“Cross, get Riggins on the phone. See if he’s got any contacts in San Fran that can fix this.” Martin growled.

“At this hour?” Cross said sceptically. He did as Martin asked anyway.

“Riggins?” Amanda asked, climbing into the front seat to stick her head out of the window.

“Our manager.” Martin said shortly.

“Right.” Amanda nodded.

They drove into San Francisco, weaving through the early evening traffic, all of them in increasingly foul moods.

Unpacking at the venue was a welcome change of pace and Amanda was desperate for air conditioning. She practically skipped inside carrying a box of gear, Vogle close behind her. After sound check and a stop in at a nearby liquor store the band collapsed in the motel room with the air con set to sixty.

“Riggins said there’s a guy in San Luis Obispo that’ll fix it up,” Cross told them as he poured drinks for everyone.

“How far away is that?” Amanda asked tiredly.

Martin shrugged. “A bit over four hours away. It’s the next stop anyway.”

“Oh Jesus,” Amanda groaned. “That’s a tomorrow problem.” She slammed back her shot.

Later that night the Rowdy Three played a great set to a huge crowd. As the headline act their attention was in high demand after the show and they found themselves drinking with a few of the opening bands as well as local fans.

Total strangers telling Amanda how much they loved ‘her’ music was bizarre and she idly wondered if it would ever get less weird. Maybe one day if she ever actually wrote something that they played it might be less odd? Amanda didn’t often allow those kinds of daydreams for herself but after a lot of beer and high on the buzz of performing it was hard to stifle them.

Glancing around, Amanda saw Martin wearing his ‘polite arguing’ face in a discussion with another guitarist. It wasn’t actually terribly polite, but it was a step before actual anger. Amanda recognised it from the times someone tried to tell Martin he was wrong about something he knew, like sound guys at some of the less excellent venues trying to tell him how his own equipment worked.

“What’s so funny?”

Amanda turned to look at who asked. It was a singer from one of the opening bands, tall and cockily handsome in ripped jeans and an anarchist’s A shirt. He had wild fair hair and painted black fingernails. She took in his handsome punk look with a smile.

“Someone’s trying to tell him he’s wrong about something, and he knows, or at least thinks, he’s right.” Amanda shrugged.

“You know him pretty well.” The singer noted.

“He can be pretty easy to read.” Amanda shrugged. “I’m Amanda.”

“Drummer from The Rowdy Three,” the singer acknowledged with a smile, “I’m Oliver.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“And you. Can I get you a drink?”

“Beer, thanks.”

Oliver ordered and handed her a bottle. “You been to San Fran before?”

“Nope. It seems nice I guess? All three blocks of it I’ve seen anyway.”

“How long are you guys going to be in town?”

Amanda smiled. “Just tonight, then it’s off to San Luis Obispo and LA and,” she struggled to think, “I can’t even remember after that. Everything kind of blends together after a while.”

“Right?” Oliver nodded. He looked over to Martin getting in the last word in the discussion/argument and raised an eyebrow at Amanda. “Does that mean he won?”

“Usually yes,” Amanda laughed a little. A beautiful girl approached Martin then, easily getting his attention and keeping it. Amanda watched his posture change and saw him respond to her advances. “Aw, he makes friends so easily.”

“So, you guys are just friends?” Oliver asked.

Amanda gave him a long look. “If you seriously think any girl in a band is only there for sex, then you and I can quit talking right now.”

“Woah, no,” Oliver shook his head, “no way. I just saw your chemistry on stage and wondered. That’s all. I didn’t want to step on any toes.”

“Right.” Amanda shrugged. “Just friends, no toes to step on.”

The conversation went on, Oliver being surprisingly good company and genuinely making Amanda laugh. She left with him, going to his van in the lot, where he proceeded to bruise her neck with a series of tingling bites before they had sex on the backseat. Much to Amanda’s surprise, Oliver was something of a cuddler, opting to hold her close when they were finished instead of immediately getting dressed and leaving.

“Is this ok?” Oliver asked quietly, sensing her discomfort.

“Yeah,” Amanda laughed a little, “just unexpected, I guess.”

“I wish you were here for more than one night.”

Amanda shrugged. “It is what it is.”

“I guess.” Oliver smiled. “You’re pretty great.”

“Thanks,” Amanda sat up. “Listen, I should probably get back.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” She kissed him. “Thanks for tonight. This is the most fun I’ve had in a while.”

“Fun?” Oliver countered. He kissed her with a smile.

Amanda nodded. “Fun. Definitely.”

“If we’re ever in the same town again, maybe we could have some more fun?”

“I don’t know where I’m going to be in a week, let alone anything more permanent,” Amanda pointed out. She reached for her clothes and got dressed. “But sure,” she relented, “get in touch. I’ll give you my number.”

Oliver grinned and handed his phone over. “Cool.”

“Cool.” Amanda kissed him one last time. “See you back inside?” Oliver nodded and Amanda left.

*

Amanda woke up the next morning in a foul mood, running low on clean clothes and snapping at the boys over meaningless little things. They took the hint and gave her space. Her hair tie broke as she attempted to pull her hair back and it somehow warranted an emphatic curse and kicking of her bag. The place they tried for coffee turned out to serve garbage water instead of caffeine, and Amanda gave her cup to Vogle with a frustrated sigh. A dull ache started in her guts and she ate painkillers like they were candy.

She sat in the front passenger seat in the tiniest cut off shorts imaginable with her tank top rolled up and tucked underneath the edge of her bra. Her hair was pulled up into a messy bun on top of her head, baring the hickeys on her neck shamelessly, and she pathetically fanned herself with a flyer from a few shows ago. The windows were down and they were going full speed down the freeway but the relentless sun made it feel like she was dying in the desert. She sighed heavily for the hundredth time in an hour.

Beside her, Martin had abandoned shirts entirely and even wore ripped shorts that finished above the knee. In the back Vogle was lying down in his boxers and both Cross and Gripps were down to shorts alone. No one wore shoes.

Somehow Martin had a cigarette in his mouth and the smoke blew around the van in the wind. Normally Amanda would have taken it from him to share, but the smell was making her nauseous.

“Can you not?” Amanda snapped at one point, her stomach definitely unhappy. She glared at Martin.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“The cigarette. Can you just – not?”

Martin opened his mouth to snap right back before noticing Amanda was somehow pale in the stifling heat. He frowned, clearly annoyed, but stubbed out the cigarette anyway. He growled a little in protest.

“Pass me another beer.” Amanda asked pathetically, reaching her hand into the back. Cross handed her a cold bottle from the stash. She cracked the top, took a long gulp, and then rested the bottle between her thighs with a gasp.

Martin laughed. “Why do you do that?”

“Because it is fucking cold and for just a second so is the rest of me.” She said a little harshly and sighed before pressing the cold glass to her neck and stomach. “We can get this fixed, right?”

“Riggins said he knows a guy in San Luis Obispo who can patch it up.” Martin reassured her, yet again. “We’ll be there in a few hours.”

“Tonight’s going to be a big show, isn’t it?” Amanda asked quietly. She stared out the window.

“Yeah!” Vogle chimed in, somehow mustering up some energy in the sweating heat. “It’s gonna be awesome.”

“You still get nervous?” Cross asked.

Amanda shrugged. “A bit. I’m still relatively new to this.” She slumped forward and winced.

“What’s up?” Martin glanced at her. “That’s only your second beer, don’t tell me you feel sick already.”

“Not quite,” Amanda mumbled. She dug through her bag and popped a couple more painkillers. “Jesus.” She curled up a little.

Martin frowned.

Amanda sat bolt upright in her seat. “Pull over.”

“What?”

Pull over!” Amanda had a hand on the door to open it before Martin had even slowed down. He slammed on the breaks and skidded off the highway into the emergency stopping lane.

Amanda tumbled from the van, smashed her beer on the ground, and staggered half a step before heaving spectacularly.

“Jesus Christ,” Cross went a little pale. The sounds coming from the petite drummer were horrifying.

After a good ten minutes of near constant and powerful retching, Amanda was finally quiet.

“Do you need a priest?” Gripps asked eventually.

“Water.” Came the hoarse reply.

Martin grabbed his water bottle and got out of the van, approaching cautiously. He found Amanda sitting with her head on her knees next to a huge and rapidly drying puddle. He gave her the bottle.

Taking it with a slightly trembling hand, Amanda rinsed her mouth before drinking a little. The rest she dumped over her face and head with a sigh.

“Are you ok?” Martin asked awkwardly. He’d seen Amanda hungover as shit but there was always a spark of humour even then, an ability to laugh at her own poor choices. She looked actually sick.

“Award for the dumbest question goes to?” Amanda took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

“You’re not,” Martin looked down at her body, adding one plus one together and coming up with forty-two, “you’re not pregnant or anything, are you?”

Amanda laughed darkly. “The exact opposite, I promise you.”

It took Martin a moment to catch on. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Help me up?” Amanda reached a hand up. Martin lifted her carefully. “I need to lie down.” She opened the back door of the van and climbed in, lying down on the floor on top of bags and jackets. She curled up beside Vogle, who patted her hair carefully.

Digging around in the permanent layers of junk, Cross came up with an empty bucket and handed it to Amanda. She cradled it in one arm. Gripps sat by her and pulled a bottle of nail polish out of his pocket and started to apply the neon green colour to her nails.

Martin closed the door and got back behind the wheel.

By the time they drove into San Luis Obispo and found the venue for the night, Amanda hadn’t spoken for hours. Martin cut the engine and the guys put on shirts and shoes, and in Vogle’s case, pants, and piled out of the van to start unloading gear. Amanda slowly moved to help but stopped when Martin put his hand on her shoulder.

“What’s goin’ on, drummer girl?” He looked at her over the top of his glasses, clearly concerned.

“I’m just in a lot of pain.” Amanda said with a thin smile.

“Do you need a doctor or something?”

Amanda shook her head. “I’ll be fine. I need something to eat though. Can we get a snack after we set up?”

“I’ll get you somethin’. Wait here.” Martin pulled on his shirt and boots and made a beeline for the convenience store on the corner. He came back with a purple sports drink and a couple of Amanda’s favourite candy bars.

Amanda guzzled the drink and tore into a candy bar, taking a break only to swallow more painkillers. “Thanks,” she said eventually.

“Are you goin’ to be ok to play tonight?”

“I’ll play if it kills me.” Amanda looked him in the eye with an intimidating amount of determination. “Can I just wait here for a second? I’ll be in for the sound check.”

“Are you sure this is just, girl stuff? You got me worried.”

Amanda snorted. “It’s just my uterus contracting and impacting other organs around it. No big deal.”

Martin looked at her closely. “You look like the worst kind of hungover.”

“Imagine the big muscle down the front of your thigh is cramping. Constantly. You can’t stretch it out, you can’t make the pain stop, its just constant involuntary twitching and constant pain. You’re still trying to walk and talk and be normal when all you can think about is pain because your entire existence focuses in on that point of your body and all your brain can do is scream at you.”

“No thanks.” Martin shook his head. “Sounds shit.”

So shit. That’s where I’m at right now. I just need a minute, ok? I’ll be in soon.”

“Ok. Take as long as you need.” Martin left her the keys and went to help the boys with their gear. Amanda curled up in the back, feeling just a little better with some sugar in her system. She hoped the food would help her digest the painkillers properly.

Eventually Amanda put on her shoes and pulled her top down from her bra to cover her torso properly. The late afternoon air was starting to cool and she relished the breeze across her sticky skin. The cramping in her guts had eased slightly and she remembered to stuff more pills and a tampon in her pockets before locking the van. Carrying the sports drink, Amanda entered the venue.

Going into the bar proper, a security guard tried to stop her. He looked her up and down and gestured for her to leave.

“I’m in the band,” Amanda tried to explain.

“Honey, you’re clearly a groupie.” The guy rolled his eyes.

“I’m the best drummer you’ll ever see and if you don’t let me in right now I’m going to kick your ass.” Amanda retorted. Her temper was worn thin by pain and exhaustion.

“Is there a problem?” Cross came up behind the guard right as Amanda balled her empty fist.

“This groupie was trying to get an early crack at you fellas,” the guard smirked.

Cross glared down at the guard. “She’s our drummer, asshole. She’s practically my little sister. You give her shit again and I’ll fuckin’ end what’s left of you after she gutterstomps your ass.”

The guard paled. Cross was a huge man and wasn’t afraid to use that to his advantage. Amanda sneered at the guard as she walked by and Cross put his arm around her shoulder.

“You ok?” He asked as they walked toward the stage.

Amanda leaned against him. “Thanks Cross.”

“Anytime.” Cross gave her shoulders a light squeeze as they approached the stage where the others were setting up. Martin had seen the whole exchange and looked ropeable.

Amanda looked at the height of the platform. Ordinarily she’d just vault onto it but that was no longer an option. “Can you give me a boost?”

“Sure.” Cross crouched and made a step in his hands for her. She braced her hands on his shoulders, stepped into his hands and was easily raised up to the stage so only a small climb was required to get up properly.

“Thanks,” Amanda smiled, sweating just a little. She went to sit behind the kit and picked up the sticks.

The sound check went smoothly and Amanda was relieved to find she could still play even though every movement took extra effort. She gave the shitty security guard the finger as they left.

Once they checked into the slightly-nicer-than-normal motel, Amanda immediately lay down on the couch in the foetal position with a groan.

“Can I get you anything?” Vogle asked, sitting in front of the couch to look at Amanda at eye level.

“I’d love a cold beer.” Amanda smiled. Gripps passed her an icy bottle and she sighed happily.

“Are you going to be ok?” Vogle asked, all concern and worry.

“I’ll be fine in a day or two.” Amanda reassured him. “Its just part of the whole ‘having a uterus’ thing. Every so often it tries to kill me.”

“Ouch.” Vogle frowned.

“And then some. At least I haven’t fainted this time. After the show I can take some opiates but they make me totally high. I can’t play like that so I’ll just tough it out til after and then I’m tapping out of reality. What I would give for a joint right now.” Amanda sipped her drink. “I shotgun half a bed.”

The boys all nodded in agreement.

They got to the venue later than usual, Amanda insisting she was going to be fine but the others could see she was still pale and quiet. At the bar she sat by the pool table and watched, but when it came time to play she pushed through the pain and delivered her usual incredible performance. The adrenalin helped.

After their set was over and they packed up, Amanda supervising more than helping, she offered to take the van back to the motel so the guys could party without interruption.

“I’ll take you back,” Martin said instead, “you look like you’re ready to pass out.”

Amanda didn’t have enough left to fight him. She just nodded and got into the passenger seat.

“See you boys later.” Martin waved as the others went back into the bar. “You want anything else to eat?”

Amanda shook her head. “I just want to lie down. I feel worse than before.”

Martin drove carefully to the motel and opened the room door. Amanda staggered in, went straight to the bathroom, slammed the door behind her, and vomited. After a few minutes she opened the door a crack.

“Can you pass me my bag?”

Martin wordlessly handed over the requested item and sat against the headboard with a beer to watch some mindless late night TV. He kicked off his shoes and settled in.

Ten minutes later Amanda emerged in actual pyjamas, a matching navy blue shorts and singlet set, and crawled into the bed Martin sat on, dumping her bag on the floor beside her.

“Nice pjs.” Martin smiled good-naturedly.

“Sometimes a girl just has to have clean cute pyjamas when her internal organs are trying to rip her apart from the inside.” Amanda retorted. She was too tired to be self-conscious about the thin fabric or the panda pattern on her shorts. “Remind me to get a hot water bottle someday. Anything good on?”

“Nah.” He glanced at her. “You want a drink?”

“Just a sip,” Amanda put her hand out for Martin’s beer and he handed it over with a smile. Amanda grabbed some more tablets out of her bag and swallowed them down. She gave the bottle back and sighed. “Sorry I’ve been so awful the last couple days.”

“You call that awful?” Martin chuckled. “You’ve got a ways to go before you get on the boys’ level of awful. Try talkin’ to Vogle when his hair won’t sit right.”

Amanda smiled. “You don’t have to stay. I’ve lived through this a few hundred times before.”

Martin shrugged. “Maybe there’ll be a good movie on cable.”

“Sure.” Amanda looked up at him and nodded. “Let’s check it out.”

Amanda fell asleep less than fifteen minutes into the action movie they’d agreed on. Martin turned the volume down so the many, many explosions and gun battles wouldn’t wake her; she was normally a fairly light sleeper. He slowly got out of bed to take off his shirt and belt and noticed she didn’t stir at all. The opiates had knocked her out cold.

Easing back into bed, under the covers, Martin glanced at Amanda’s sleeping face. She finally looked relaxed and he realised how much pain she must have been in. He made a mental note to get her that hot water bottle and started to think about where they’d be the next time it happened. He wondered if he should try and get her a joint to help with, well, whatever was going on, and sent Vogle a quick text. If there was anything to be done to make her feel better, he’d do it.

For about a minute Martin tried to convince himself that this was the standard level of friendship and therefore friendly concern that he had for the guys but it didn’t stick. The quiet moment spent entertaining the future with Amanda in it was gentling the lid off a Pandora’s box and he couldn’t bring himself to stop. He wanted to be around her all the time and it scared him. Martin wasn’t sure he was willing to mess with the delicate balance of friendship and band chemistry they seemed to have achieved.

Eventually Martin fell asleep beside Amanda, the delightful scent of her drifting across the bed to settle firmly in his memory.

*

The band was scheduled to stay in San Luis Obispo for a second night, giving Martin the opportunity to head out early to get the van’s aircon fixed. Amanda slept through his departure as well as the early morning activities of the others. When Martin returned an hour later, he found the guys sitting outside the room, looking worried.

“What’s wrong?” Martin asked immediately.

“She’s still asleep.” Vogle whispered.

Cross nodded. “She’s never slept this long.”

Martin went in the room just in time to see Amanda roll over and stretch in bed; sleepily she opened her eyes and smiled when she saw him.

“Hey,” Amanda yawned. “What time is it?”

“Nearly eleven.” Martin smiled. “How are you feeling?”

Amanda sighed and relaxed against the pillows. “Mmm, not great but definitely less pukey. Hungry.”

“Get dressed and we’ll get some food. The van’s in the shop for the rest of the day so we’re gonna have to get around on foot.”

“You should google someplace close by to eat.” Amanda slowly sat up and pulled her hair over one shoulder.

Martin cast a quick look at the bruises down the side of her neck before looking away.

“They always seem like a good idea at the time,” Amanda rolled her eyes with a smile, “but I forget how nasty they look after.”

“Maybe try them someplace less obvious,” Martin suggested, trying to smile.

“In this heat, nowhere is less obvious. Besides, trying to tell my drunk ass anything is a plan doomed to failure.” Amanda rolled her shoulders and twisted her back before heading into the bathroom to get dressed.

Martin tried not to memorise the way she looked so adorable in pyjamas and busied himself with looking for places to eat. He ushered the others back inside and got them all searching as well. Amanda quickly emerged in cut off shorts and a tank top and braided her hair over one shoulder.

“So where are we going?” Amanda asked, just about back to her normal bouncing self. She got her pills out of her bag. “By the way, I plan on being high all day long. Don’t let me walk into traffic.”

“Manda, we’re in California.” Vogle pulled a handful of rolled joints from his pocket with a grin. “We’re all gonna be high all day.”

Amanda grinned. “No way!” She took one, putting it in her mouth immediately and sitting beside Martin. “Fuck yes. Who’s got a light?”

Martin pulled a lighter from his pocket and flicked the wheel, leaning forward to light Amanda’s joint. She inhaled deeply and blew the thick smoke upwards with a slight cough. Smiling, she took another long drag and held the joint out. Martin took it and smoked with a lazy smile before passing it along.

It wasn’t long before they were all a little stoned. Amanda stretched her arms above her head with a happy sigh, her top riding up as she moved. “It’s so nice to not be in pain.”

“Does it hurt like that all the time?” Gripps asked.

Amanda nodded. “Every couple of weeks. You could say it happens periodically.” She giggled at her own joke while the guys just rolled their eyes and groaned. “Come on, that was funny.”

“If you say so, drummer girl,” Martin mumbled with a grin.

“Can we get something to eat?” Amanda asked. “I still haven’t had breakfast.” She put on a pair of comically large sunglasses and got to her feet.

The others followed her lead, heading out into the hot day in search of food and completely without a plan.

It was the most fun Amanda had had in a long time. The five of them explored the parts of the city they could walk to, ate a ridiculous amount of food, and laughed so much Amanda worried she might vomit. Gripps and his moonboot spent part of the afternoon being pushed around in a shopping cart before Amanda decided it was way too much fun to miss out on and jumped in across his lap.

They took cheesy tourist photos at self-important locations, even managing a truly awful selfie in front of the motel in the afternoon. Vogle was blurry, clearly unable to be still even when high. Cross and Gripps laughed behind him, Amanda was beside him with a lot of her arm in the picture, and Martin was on her other side with his arm around her shoulders and his usual lazy smile in place.

Amanda finally found the guts to tell her brother what she was doing, and sent him the picture. Hey Todd! Made some new friends. We’re in California. We’ll be coming through LA if you want to catch up.

Todd had called twice in half an hour after receiving the picture and text and Amanda ignored him. She was still a little high and didn’t want her overly concerned brother to ruin the day.

Later that night, as the band ate huge pizzas in the room, Amanda’s phone buzzed yet again and she rolled her eyes, declining the call, but not before Gripps saw the caller ID.

“Who’s Todd? He keeps calling you.” Gripps made an unpleasant face.

Amanda sighed. “My brother.”

“You have a brother?” Gripps asked. “You never mentioned him before.”

“We’re not close. Not anymore.”

Cross looked at her closely. “So why’s he calling you all of a sudden?”

Amanda looked a little embarrassed. “I kind of only just told him today that I left Montana. I might have sent him the picture of us all outside the motel?”

The guys laughed.

“So the first he hears about you dropping out of college is a picture with a bunch of stoned punks outside some seedy motel a couple of states away from where he thought you were?” Martin laughed. “You really wanted to mess with him.”

“He deserves it.” Amanda insisted. “The last band I was in fell apart because of him. He stole from his friends and lied about it and lied to our parents. I was the only one who knew the truth and no one believed me.” She shrugged.

“Your brother sounds like an asshole.” Vogle said bluntly.

“He is.” Amanda nodded. “I did say we’d be in LA. Not sure if I want to see him or if I want to torture him.”

Cross grinned. “Why not both?”

Chapter Text

The Rowdy Three made it to LA with functioning air con and only minor squabbling about music choices. With hesitant encouragement from the guys, Amanda told Todd to meet her at the bar they’d be playing the following night. Standing with the band waiting for their drinks, two on either side of her, Amanda ordered a beer and took a gulp just as Todd found her. He looked at the four musicians, each their own brand of terrifying in ripped jeans and leather and unfriendly expressions, and his eyes widened noticeably.

“Amanda?” Todd greeted nervously.

“Hey Todd.” Amanda didn’t even smile. “How’ve you been?”

Todd stared. “What are you doing here? Can I talk to you?” He reached out to grab her arm.

Amanda flinched away as each of the guys glared. “These are my friends Martin, Cross, Gripps and Vogle.” She introduced them. She could have sworn Martin growled a little.

Todd kept staring. “Can we talk?”

“Sure. I joined a new band.”

Todd was struggling to find words. “When did this happen?”

“A few weeks ago.”

“Amanda, please talk to me.” Todd tried.

“After everything you’ve done, you should be thrilled to be in the same room as me.” Amanda reminded him.

Todd had the face of someone who was perpetually being kicked in the guts. “I know. I’m sorry. But what are you doing here? Do Mom and Dad know?”

“I joined a band, or did you miss that part?” Amanda replied sharply. “These guys needed a drummer and I’m pretty good, so I’m filling in for the tour. And no, Mom and Dad don’t know.”

“You have to tell them.”

“The last time I tried to tell them the truth, it really didn’t go very well. Remember?”

Todd looked incredibly uncomfortable. “You know they didn’t really want you to leave-”

“They said I was no longer welcome. I had to sell my entire kit just to get enough money to eat, not to mention my camera from Nanna. What I had in my bags that day is still all I own in the world. You can tell them what you want but I won’t be speaking to them any time soon.”

Martin definitely growled. Suddenly Amanda’s flippant comment about ‘travelling light’ the night she joined them had a whole new undertone that he didn’t like at all.

With wide frightened eyes, Todd glanced at the mightily intimidating Martin. He opened his mouth to speak and was interrupted by a tall skinny man in a bright green jacket bounding up to the group. The stranger seemed totally oblivious to the tension and grinned.

“Hi!” He greeted, looking at Amanda and the band. “I’m Dirk. You must be Amanda! I’ve heard so much about you! It’s really excellent to meet you, finally. Todd said you lived in Montana?”

“I did. I left. Who are you?” Amanda smiled in spite of herself; something about Dirk was contagious.

“I’m Dirk. Todd’s boyfriend.” Dirk looked at Todd, the smile sliding from his face. “He didn’t tell you about me, did he.”

“We don’t talk much.”

“Remember how I was telling you about the band I screwed over?” Todd said to Dirk. “Amanda was in that band.”

“Oh,” Dirk looked at her sympathetically before glaring at Todd. “Your own sister? Really?”

“And then he lied to our parents and made them think that I was the problem.” Amanda reminded Todd, who looked like he wanted to die. She glanced at her friends and saw them all ready to beat Todd to a pulp. It was incredibly comforting.

“I’ve changed, Amanda,” Todd tried, “I’m not like that anymore.”

“Good for you! I was still homeless because of you. I lost all my friends because of you. I’m glad someone has managed to like you as a person,” she glanced at Dirk, “but that isn’t going to be me anytime soon. Sorry. I’m not as ready to do this as I thought.” Amanda looked to Martin and the guys. “Get me out of here?” Without a word the guys drew around her and walked her out.

The band headed toward their motel. It was long minutes before Amanda trusted herself enough to speak without crying. “I’m sorry. I’m just not feeling a party tonight. You guys can definitely go on without me.”

“No way!” Vogle said emphatically. “Screw that guy. Let’s have our own party.” He bounced to the liquor store up ahead and emerged with a couple of bottles of vodka. Cross went into the nearby corner store and came out with a paper bag.

“We stick together,” Martin reminded her, slinging an arm around her shoulders.

Gripps ruffled her hair. “Always.”

“You guys are the best.” Amanda smiled, wrapping her arm around Martin’s waist as they walked.

They put on music in the motel room and poured large glasses of vodka. Amanda sat on the couch with a glass and rolled her shoulders, trying to shake some of the tension from her body.

“Need a hand?” Martin asked, sitting by her.

“Thanks,” Amanda pulled her hair to one side and tapped the top of her shoulder. “It’s killing me.”

The tank top she wore meant Martin could ease his fingers under the edge of the neckline to massage her bare skin. He did so carefully, kneading the muscle between her neck and shoulder.

“Your brother seems like a real asshole.” Martin said quietly.

Amanda nodded. “Yeah.”

“You want us to go scare him? Maybe beat him up a little?”

Amanda laughed. “Tempting as that is, I kind of just want to forget he exists.”

“Alright. You gonna be ok?”

“Yeah.” Amanda pulled away from his hands to turn and smile at him.

“I got you something,” Cross interrupted with a smile. He opened the paper bag from the corner store and pulled out a few boxes of hair dye. There was a bleaching kit and a box of the most beautiful turquoise colour Amanda had ever seen. Her eyes nearly fell out of her head.

“No. Way.” Amanda gaped. “Holy shit!”

“What’s this?” Martin looked from Cross to Amanda and back.

“I want mermaid hair and Cross is going to make the magic happen.” Amanda explained, grinning hugely.

“We’re going to start to make the magic happen,” Cross reminded her. “I’m only doing the underneath. We got to make sure your hair can take it and that the colour’s gonna stick.”

“That’s so cool!” Vogle sighed with just a little jealousy.

Cross made Amanda wear a towel around her shoulders and sit in the bathroom while he expertly separated her hair and applied the first layer of bleach. Amanda could barely sit still. The colour lightened easily and against his better judgement, Cross put the turquoise in over the top. Fortunately it stuck and stuck well, giving Amanda vivid green flashes of hair through her otherwise dark waves. She couldn’t stop playing with it and grinning.

“I love it.” Amanda said for the hundredth time.

“It’s so cool,” Vogle repeated. Gripps and Martin nodded in agreement.

Amanda looked around at all of them making such an effort to cheer her up. “You guys are a way better band than my last one.” She got her phone out and took a quick photo before they could move, capturing their natural state before they had a chance to pose. They laughed.

“You wanna jam?” Martin asked with a smile.

“I thought you’d never ask,” Amanda grinned. “I can’t play the kit in here though, we’ll get kicked out for sure.”

Martin shrugged. “Hit whatever you like. Make some notes on sheet music and we’ll give it a try the next time we’re set up.”

Amanda looked away uncomfortably.

“What?” Martin searched her face. “What is it?”

“The real reason I didn’t study music at college? I can’t read or write music. I’m dyslexic.” Amanda’s mouth twisted as she spoke. “I never had to learn in school coz I’m good enough to sight-learn, but that shit don’t fly at college.”

“That would make it hard,” Martin nodded his understanding. “Sheet music is pretty fucked. Can you play guitar?”

“I can play just about anything.”

He smiled. “Let’s just play a while and see what we can do. If you think of anything you want to write, we’ll help you get it down. Easy.”

They got a bunch of guitars and played, Amanda joining them sometimes and other times just watching and listening with Vogle by her side. Between Martin, Cross and Gripps the music was a great distraction. Amanda let the sound roll over her and push her brother from her thoughts.

Martin and Cross repeated a riff and something about it stuck in Amanda’s head. “That one,” she said, picking up the guitar near her and mimicking it easily. Once she had the rhythm in her head Amanda closed her eyes, hearing the beat that fit around it. She tapped her knees and her feet as she thought.

“What are you thinking?” Gripps asked. He pulled some paper out of a bag and found a pencil.

Opening her eyes Amanda saw the paper and shook her head. “I can’t write music, remember?”

“I can,” Gripps smiled kindly, “and I can help you get your ideas down for later.”

“I won’t be able to read it.” Amanda said weakly.

“We’ll help.” Cross ruffled her new beginner-mermaid hair.

They played into the night, the guys taking notes as Amanda thought of music to try later. Eventually she curled up on the couch and closed her eyes, falling asleep to laughter and music.

*

The sound of a buzzing phone eventually woke Amanda the next morning and she sat up blearily. No one else stirred. Looking around for the offending phone, Amanda saw it was Martin’s. With a groan, knowing he slept like the dead, she got up and shook his shoulder.

“Martin, your phone’s ringing.” Amanda said groggily. “Wake up.”

Slowly Martin opened his eyes and saw her standing over him. Without glasses, without his usual distant stare or sly smile, he looked strangely peaceful. He smiled warmly. “Hey.”

Amanda grunted, pushing down the warm feeling that the smile elicited. “Your phone’s ringing.”

“Right.” Martin sat up and reached for the phone, answering with a sleepy “what?”

Amanda went to her bag and dug out a day old donut before sitting back on the couch, surreptitiously watching Martin on the phone. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and Amanda tried to figure out some of his tattoos. She definitely wasn’t admiring the shape of his arms, and certainly wasn’t entertaining the idea of what those arms might feel like around her.

What?” Martin growled. “For fuck’s sake.” He lay back down with a huff. “Whatever. So we’re here a couple more days?” Martin rubbed his eyes. “Fine.” He ended the call with a terse sigh.

“Everything ok?” Amanda dared to ask.

“Our next show got cancelled. The venue folded.”

Amanda nodded slowly, not understanding.

“Riggins cancelled the next motel, so we’re stuck here another two nights and then it’s a full day’s drive to Tucson.”

“Wait, did you say two more nights?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Can we go to Disney?”

Martin sat up again and stared. “What?”

“Please? It’s like, not even an hour from here.” Amanda smiled hopefully. “We can go hard today and tonight and then just sleep all day tomorrow.”

“Did you say Disney?” Vogle murmured, waking up slowly.

Amanda left the boys to discuss the day ahead and went outside for a cigarette. She checked her own phone and found a new text from Oliver, the singer from San Francisco.

We’re on our way to Arizona and got a last minute gig in LA tonight… opening for you guys again. Want to catch up at the show?

Amanda smiled slowly. What better way to push a certain band mate from her thoughts? That sounds like fun.

Vogle burst out the door, grinning hugely. “We’re going to motherfucking Disney!”

“Awesome!” Amanda grinned, clutching her phone.

“Right? What’s up? You seem weird.”

“Remember one of the opening bands in San Francisco, Dump Barbie? They got pulled in to open for us again tonight.”

Vogle leaned against the doorframe, deep in thought. “Dump Barbie… Did they have the hot blond singer or the funny looking red head?”

“Hot blond.” Amanda answered too quickly and Vogle nodded knowingly.

“Right.” Vogle grinned. “It’s going to be a great day. Be careful though.”

“Of what?”

“Martin doesn’t like it when plans change, and he doesn’t really like theme parks. At all.”

“So why is he coming to Disney?”

Vogle grinned. “Coz he won’t let any of us drive. Come on!”

*

“If y’all don’t stop that noise I am turning this van around and no one will go to Disney!”

The back of the van was sullenly quiet.

Amanda threw an M&M at the back of Martin’s head. He growled and glared at her in the rear view mirror. She shrugged innocently.

“I didn’t do it.” Amanda fixed him with a wide-eyed stare. Unfortunately the boys gave her away.

“If it was any of us, he would have killed us by now,” Vogle whispered. He took the candy bag from her.

“No he wouldn’t,” Amanda whispered back.

“I’d’ve left your bloated corpse on the side of the road and not looked back.” Martin said firmly.

Vogle nodded seriously. Amanda stifled a laugh, stole the candy bag back and climbed into the front seat amid whispered protestations from the others. When Martin was in a foul mood it was usually best to let it run its course but Amanda was sometimes too much of a badass for her own good.

Amanda shoved the candy under Martin’s nose. “You want some?”

He growled.

“Suit yourself,” Amanda shrugged and shoved a handful in her mouth. “Hey Martin?” she mumbled around the chocolate.

What.”

“Do I have anything in my teeth?” Amanda grinned as Martin turned to look at her, her teeth smeared with chocolate and candy shell.

In spite of himself Martin chuckled. Amanda swallowed the candy and laughed, offering the bag over again and Martin took a few pieces to eat.

In the back, Cross, Gripps and Vogle looked at each other in awe.

“Is your head far enough out of your ass that you can listen to some music?” Amanda asked, munching away on the candy.

Martin glanced at her, still grumpy.

“Great! I think you guys will really dig this,” Amanda pulled the aux cable out of its resting place and plugged in her phone. She scrolled through the choices before making a selection. As the opening notes flooded the van she grinned.

The boys groaned.

It was Ariana Grande’s ‘Break free’. Amanda sang along perfectly, knowing all the words and getting most of the notes. Martin lost his surly expression once he saw how much fun Amanda was having at his expense; he finally started to bop along, ringed fingers tapping the wheel. In the back Vogle crooned along where he could while Cross and Gripps were miming being violently ill. Amanda laughed.

Martin looked at Amanda for a long moment. Her hair bounced as she danced and hints of the green showed through; something about the morning light made it glow. She clutched the bag of candy in one hand, her face a picture as she sang along to the pop anthem. Amanda opened her eyes after striving for a particularly high note and saw Martin staring. Her instinct was to smile.

“What?” Amanda asked, pulling her hair over one shoulder.

“Nothin’.” Martin looked back to the road. Shit.

It was unquestionably the most fun day for Vogle and Amanda. They ran from ride to ride, dragging the others on everything from the teacups to rollercoasters. They ate bags of candy and Amanda insisted everyone get matching novelty headbands for a group photo. She took dozens of other photos over the day, trying not to laugh too hard at Martin’s general grumpy demeanour. The Rowdy Three’s overall appearance as a very punk band assured them a lot of strange looks and a lot of personal space.

After lunch they strolled by the entrance of It’s A Small World. Amanda grinned evilly.

“No way.” Martin flat out refused. “I will never be stoned enough to go in there.”

“Ok,” Amanda rolled her eyes, “how about another go on Big Thunder Mountain?”

Martin sighed deeply. “Fine.”

“You didn’t have to come,” Amanda reminded him as they trailed after the other three. “I can drive the van just fine.”

Martin hmphed.

“I just don’t understand how you can be miserable at Disney. It’s Disney. I know you’re not dead inside, so what’s the problem?”

“I don’t like the tackiness of it.”

Amanda laughed. “Yeah, but that’s part of the fun.” She grinned. “Come on. Just pretend like you’re having a good time? We’ve gotta be back in town in time for the gig tonight anyway, so we don’t even have to stay for the fireworks.”

“You want to get there that early?” Martin glanced at her. She was smiling again, but this time it was a little different.

“One of the bands from San Francisco is opening for us again. Some sort of last minute line up change.” Amanda tried to shrug nonchalantly. “Remember Dump Barbie? The singer let me know they’d be around tonight. It might be fun to catch up before the show.”

Martin grunted. “Was he the one who, uh,” he gestured vaguely to his neck.

“Yeah.” Amanda blushed a little.

“You like this guy?”

“I dunno,” Amanda shrugged, “we had fun. It might be nice to have fun again. Reliable fun is hard to come by.”

“Alright.”

“Is that ok?”

“You don’t need my permission.”

Amanda smiled. “No, I really don’t, but you seem off today. You’re my friend, and if I’ve done something to upset you then as your friend I’d want to know.”

Martin took a moment to consider his answer. “I don’t like it when things that are organised don’t get done.”

“Like you mentally prepare yourself for how something’s going to be, but then someone else changes the whole dynamic entirely and you’re not ready for things to go differently?” Amanda mused. “I get that.”

Martin stared.

“What now?” Amanda asked. “You spend a lot of time looking at me funny.”

“Do not.”

“Do, too.” Amanda stuck her tongue out. “I’m a little sister, I can do this all day.”

“Has your brother been in touch?” Martin changed tack, gladly moving the conversation away from any way he might or might not be looking at her.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “He’s tried. Dirk added me on Facebook and sends some weird ass messages. He also started following our Instagram and likes every single picture I post. Oh, speaking of which,” Amanda got her phone out and picked a group picture in front of the castle, “I’m gonna share this. I look amazing and the light is perfect.”

“I look angry.”

“That’s what you look like most of the time. Even at Disney.”

Martin huffed a small laugh. “Go for it.”

Chapter Text

The Rowdy Three arrived at the bar in time for the first band of the night. Ordering beers and claiming a booth for themselves, they sat down to relive the best parts of the day with Amanda providing accompanying photo evidence. They’d had time to sink a couple of beers each before Oliver and the rest of his band showed up. He made his way over to The Rowdy Three and his face lit up when he saw Amanda. Her band mates didn’t miss Oliver’s expression and none of them were particularly happy about it.

“Hey,” Oliver greeted with a smile.

“Hey,” Amanda smiled right back, “fancy running into you here.”

“Cali’s a small state. You want to dance? Or start a circle pit?”

“Hell yes,” Amanda got out of the booth with a smile, still holding her beer, and they headed into the crowd.

Oliver smiled and reached out to brush her multi-coloured hair over her shoulder. “This is new.”

“I’m going to be a mermaid,” Amanda confessed, “this is just stage one.”

Oliver laughed and pulled her closer to the stage. He noted the fading marks on her neck and pretended to look embarrassed. “Oh wow, was that from me?”

“You know it was,” Amanda said in his ear, “I haven’t found anyone new who likes to fuck like that in the last few days.”

Oliver smiled and pulled her in for a kiss. “Good.”

Amanda ignored the way he smiled at her remark. They hung out til Dump Barbie started their set and Amanda went back to her own band, the four of them still in the booth.

“What’s the deal?” Gripps asked her directly, glancing to Oliver on stage.

Amanda shrugged. “He’s fun.”

“I’ll bet,” Cross watched the frontman play to the crowd as he sang. Some girls in the pit were getting a bit handsy and Oliver obviously loved it.

Martin looked from the flirty singer and back to Amanda. “That don’t bother you?”

“He doesn’t belong to me, and I sure as hell don’t belong to him.” Amanda shrugged again.

“How do you not have feelings?” Vogle asked.

“I have feelings, just not for dudes I meet in bars. Especially not dudes in bands.” Amanda laughed and totally missed the look that flashed across Martin’s face.

The Rowdy Three were due on stage after Dump Barbie, and when their paths crossed in the band-only area Amanda found herself being pulled into Oliver’s arms. He kissed her soundly, his skin tacky with sweat.

“Take it easy,” Amanda said with an awkward smile, pulling away. She could feel her band looking their way and couldn’t fight the self-consciousness that rose in her chest.

“Sorry,” Oliver stepped away, “I’ll see you after your set?”

Amanda smiled. “Yeah. Come find me.”

One way Amanda had found to deal with playing a larger crowd was to focus on the band and not look out. It was easier when she just saw her friends living in the moment, the sound filling her head and pushing everything else back. In the end The Rowdy Three played their set flawlessly and gave an encore. Amanda was a happy sweaty mess when she left the stage, she and Vogle bouncing as they packed up their gear and headed for the bar. Oliver found her and handed her a cold beer.

“You guys were amazing,” Oliver said with a smile. “Your energy on stage is just incredible.”

The guys nodded their thanks as they got their own drinks. Amanda let Oliver put his arm around her as they talked and it wasn’t long before they left together.

“We’ve been put up in a hotel around the corner,” Oliver said hopefully.

“A hotel? Fancy.” Amanda smiled.

“You want to check it out?”

Amanda kissed him. “Sure.”

The hotel was only slightly nicer than the motels Amanda had been in so far, but the small empty room was a pleasant detail. Having sex in a bed was almost a novelty.

Afterwards, Oliver surprised her again with the oddly intimate post-sex cuddle.

“I have this room to myself.” Oliver said quietly. “By the time we booked there were only a few rooms left, and none of them were big enough to fit us all. So, you could stay til morning. If you wanted to.” He stroked his fingers down Amanda’s naked back, making her shiver.

“Mm, I don’t know,” Amanda said slowly. “I don’t do sleepovers.”

Oliver kissed her. “Maybe think of it more like a nap?”

“I just don’t know if it’s a good idea.”

“We’re just sleeping.”

“It’s not the sleeping, it’s more about the waking.” Amanda looked at him, resting her chin on his chest. “Waking up next to someone is a whole different ball game.”

“Would that be so bad?”

“We’re both in bands and we’re both touring with no concept of a permanent address.”

“So let’s take what we can, while we can.” Oliver’s hands made their way down to her ass.

“You just want morning sex, don’t you.”

Oliver grinned. “It would be an excellent perk.”

Amanda laughed. “I’ll see what I can do. No guarantees.” She kissed Oliver and curled up in his arms.

“Goodnight,” Oliver said quietly, settling into the bedding.

“Goodnight.”

Oliver was asleep in minutes. Amanda waited for sleep to come, but it never did. The quiet room felt wrong after weeks of sharing with multiple people and his cologne irritated her nose. Oliver rolled over and away from Amanda and even the way the mattress shifted felt wrong.

After half an hour Amanda crept out of bed and got dressed. She left a note on hotel stationary by his cell.

Couldn’t sleep. Call me the next time your plans change x

Amanda found she was the second one back to their motel. Martin sat out front with a cigarette, staring into space.

“Hey there,” she greeted, a little surprised.

“Hey.”

“Got a spare?”

Martin gave her a cigarette and lighter.

“Thanks.” Amanda sat beside him to smoke. “Wasn’t expecting to see you here. Didn’t make any new friends?”

Martin shrugged. “Why do you ask?”

“You’re just back earlier than usual, that’s all.”

“You’re later than usual.”

Amanda frowned. “I sent you guys a text, I let you know where I was and that I was heading back. Safety first and all that.”

“I thought you didn’t do sleepovers.” Martin still wouldn’t look at her.

“I don’t. That’s why I’m back here. What is this? What’s your problem?”

“Long distance dating, in a band, is a recipe for disaster.”

Amanda laughed. “Woah, who said anything about dating? I’ve seen him twice. It might be nice to see him again, but so what? It’s none of your business.”

“Do you know anything about guys in bands? They’re just looking for the next fuck in the next town.”

“Just like you.” Amanda shot back. “Who’s to say I’m not the one looking for the next fuck? He asked me to stay the night and I couldn’t. For all you know, I’m the one breaking his heart in this scenario.”

“You can’t trust him.”

“We slept together, it’s not like we’re opening a joint checking account. Jesus. Do you even know him, or are you just trying to control an unanticipated situation? I know you don’t like it when things change but this has less than nothing to do with you.”

Martin sighed, frustrated. “I don’t want you to get hurt by some hack musician in a shit band.”

“Holy shit,” Amanda rolled her eyes, “I have never mentioned the girls that take you home. I haven’t given you shit about any of them, not the one that got you so drunk you couldn’t drive the next day, or the one that stole your shirt as some kind of creepy memento. Not one. Why the hell is it suddenly ok for you to talk to me like this?”

“I know what kind of guy he is. He doesn’t care about you!”

“I don’t need him to! I’m not looking for a boyfriend or a girlfriend or romance or any of that shit with anyone, but you know what? Even if I was it is none of your business.” She stormed off across the lot, flicking her cigarette to the ground.

Martin watched her, furious and anxious in equal measure. He went after her quickly. “This is LA, not some hick town in backwoods Montana. You can’t just go wandering off in the middle of the night!”

“Go to hell,” Amana said over her shoulder.

“LA ain’t far from it.” Martin insisted.

“When you’re done being a complete asshole I might listen to you,” Amanda mused sarcastically, “but until then you can leave me the hell alone.”

“Amanda, wait. Just come back to the room and I’ll leave you alone.”

Amanda whirled to face him. “You will leave me alone either way. I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends!”

“Friends don’t speak to each other the way you just spoke to me. What the hell.” Amanda looked confused and hurt as she met his eyes. “The way you and the guys go sleeping with new people in just about every city, I never thought you’d be one to judge me for my choices.”

“I’m not-”

“You’re just trying to tell me who I can and can’t see?” Amanda interrupted. “You’ve got to be kidding. I do what I want, when I want, with whoever I want. And none of that has anything to do with you.”

“I know.” Martin looked away. “I thought if you’re seeing this guy more than once then you might like him and guys like that aren’t made for liking people. They’re made for using people.”

“Just like you.” Amanda repeated. “Why do you think I turned you down the night we met? I can read you, and all those guys just like you, like a book. It’s big and simple and has lots of dirty pictures. I’m not interested in being anyone’s plaything. It’s me that does the playing.”

Martin felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “I just don’t want you to get hurt. You’re my friend. I care about you.”

“I absolutely do not need overzealous friends trying to interfere in my sex life.”

“I’m,” Martin took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”

“Damn straight.” Amanda headed back to the motel with Martin on her heels. She was still angry. “Helping each other when we’re sick or tired is one thing but this big brother deal has its limits. I sure as hell wouldn’t be putting up with this shit from Todd and I’m not gonna take it from you. I deserve better from my friends.”

Martin wondered if Amanda had ever considered writing lyrics. Her words wounded with such precision that he couldn’t find anything with which to attempt a response.

They walked back to the room in silence. Amanda left the bathroom light on and curled up on the sofa still in her clothes. She turned her back on the room, and Martin, and finally went to sleep.

Martin lay awake for some time, stretched out across half a bed, replaying the events of the evening and the argument over and over in his head. He felt sick. So much for not ruining their friendship with his bullshit.

*

The next morning, Amanda was gone before the others woke up. Need some time out. I’ll be back later – A

*

Amanda was in two minds about LA. The sheer amount of shady activities happening on just about every corner was definitely a little intimidating but there were so many amazing things to see besides. Her phone’s camera got one hell of a work out, snapping shot after shot after shot of the city and its people. She did a little shopping, ate some questionable street food, and tried to get into tourist mode to explore the city. While she was attempting to enjoy the self-imposed solitude messages kept buzzing through.

U ok?

Where u at? Lunch?

Bring home donuts!

Amanda half smiled, half rolled her eyes, and let Cross, Gripps and Vogle know that she was fine. Martin remained silent.

Missed you this morning – Oliver

Reading the text, Amanda wanted to groan. I said no guarantees remember? Have fun in Arizona :)

A selfie came through of Oliver in an overloaded van with his head out the window. If you ever get sick of those punks come find me x

What was there to say? He was definitely hot and Amanda bit her lip a little, remembering the way his mouth felt along her freshly bruised neck and shoulders… and back… and the way his muscle-hardened body had felt against her for an impressive amount of time.

Last night Amanda might have considered his offer. Martin’s overprotective bullshit had her nose well out of joint and she was still mad at him about it. She didn’t like being told what to do by anyone. Whatever potentially well-intended concern was behind it, it mostly just felt like being condescended to. In the midst of it all Amanda felt guilty and wasn’t fully prepared to examine why.

As if thinking about him made him appear, a text from Martin came through at last.

I’m sorry.

Good.

We’re heading to some taco place for an eating challenge. Wanna come?

Amanda paused. She sighed. Fine. Come get me? She texted through her location.

See you soon. Still sorry.

As tempting as it was to text back some sarcasm, Amanda resisted. She got a coffee at a nearby stand instead and waited, taking a few street portraits to pass the time. The van rolled up about ten minutes later and the back door slid open. Amanda climbed in with a small smile and the guys shouted a greeting.

“Where’d you go?” Vogle asked, pulling her into a hug as Martin drove into traffic.

“I just wanted to see a bit of LA and you guys were out cold.” Amanda shrugged, avoiding looking at Martin.

“Does it have anything to do with Martin being a total ass?” Gripps asked bluntly.

“A little.” Amanda nodded.

“He told us what he said. He’s an ass.” Cross glared at Martin.

“Really?” Amanda raised her eyebrows. “He told you everything?”

“I am right here, y’know.” Martin said eventually.

“You don’t get to talk til Manda says you can.” Vogle said smugly. Martin growled but didn’t speak again.

Unbeknownst to Vogle, Amanda felt a small thrill at controlling Martin’s behaviour. She tried to ignore it. “Listen, guys,” Amanda started, “I really appreciate the way you’ve made room for me in all this,” she gestured, “and I swear you’re like family, but just so we’re clear? Who I spend time with isn’t your business until I make it your business. Ok?”

“Well, yeah,” Cross agreed, “obviously.” He glared at Martin again.

“We’re not as dumb as him.” Gripps gestured to the scowling blond.

Vogle grinned. “Let’s get tacos!”

The eating challenge consisted of a terrifyingly huge burrito that weighed over four pounds. Cross bought one of the challenge burritos and sat down like a man on a mission. Amanda documented the whole thing on her phone, laughing and cheering along with the rest of The Rowdy Three.

Somehow he finished it, and a beer, amid much cheering from the band, winning the highly desirable prize of a shitty tee shirt. Amanda ordered herself a much smaller plate of food and sat down, leaving her phone on the table as she ate.

“Why don’t you have a real camera?” Vogle asked, watching her scroll through the day’s photos.

Amanda shrugged. “I had one, once, but I sold it to pay bills. As well as my kit, that took me years to put together,” she sighed a little bitterly, “and my good laptop.”

“That sucks.”

“Yep. Having somewhere to live with running water was kind of a necessity though.”

Martin opened his mouth to speak but Vogle cut him off. “You’re not allowed to talk, remember?”

Amanda laughed at Martin’s growl of protest. “You gotta work for forgiveness, and even then, I don’t forget easily.” She met Martin’s eyes properly for the first time that day. “I won’t accept being spoken to like that ever again.”

Martin nodded. He got out his phone and tapped out a quick message.

Amanda’s phone buzzed and she read the text. I know. I fucked up. “Yeah you did. Don’t do it again, or I’ll swap out your shampoo for surprise colour hair dye and deny all knowledge.”

Martin smiled just a little.

“You can talk now.”

“Thanks.”

At last Amanda relented a little. She almost smiled in Martin’s direction.

*

That night The Rowdy Three managed to agree on a movie to watch while they ate takeout in their room. Cross declined all food, still groaning on occasion and rubbing his swollen belly. Amanda ducked outside for a cigarette as the movie’s opening credits and explosions filled the air.

She sat on the little bench, her knees tucked up to her chest, smoking lazily and staring out into the lot. A few quiet moments passed before Martin joined her, letting the room door click shut behind him.

“Can I sit with you?”

“Sure.” Amanda shuffled over needlessly and held out the cigarette to share. He took it comfortably, perching beside her. “You’re not going to grovel some more, are you?”

“Should I?”

“Maybe. I haven’t decided.”

Martin smiled around the cigarette. “You like telling people what to do, don’t you.”

“Why do you think I like controlling the time of the music?” Amanda took the cigarette back.

“I’m not surprised. Are we still friends?”

Amanda sighed. “Yeah. Do you get that’s why I was so mad?”

“Yeah. I do.” Martin nodded.

“Good. One chance is all you get. Don’t waste it.” Amanda said seriously. She gave Martin the cigarette back and got to her feet. With a quick grin she mussed his perfect hair and danced out of range before he could so much as growl. She went back inside, laughing, leaving Martin to his thoughts.

Chapter Text

The next day The Rowdy Three celebrated surviving the long drive from LA to Tucson by getting drunk at a bar near the motel. They ordered beers and shots and listened to local bands, Amanda enjoying the hint of anonymity they had before playing a gig. She knew there was always something striking about the four guys and the way they filled a space, but what Amanda didn’t realise was that she shared that presence with them.

After being cooped up in the van all day Amanda couldn’t stop moving, throwing herself around the dance floor with Vogle and occasionally surfacing to head for the bar. As the evening went on she saw Martin politely decline a couple of invitations from beautiful women. Amanda frowned, perplexed.

“Are you feeling ok?” Amanda asked Martin at the bar. “You’ve ignored two girls in a row. Do you need a doctor?”

“I don’t have the energy to figure someone out right now,” Martin admitted, “I just want to sleep for twelve hours.” He rubbed his eyes behind his glasses.

“What do you mean, ‘figure someone out’?”

Martin smiled. “At least half the fun is makin’ someone else come and I am too damn tired to be any good.”

“Right,” Amanda laughed and hoped the poor light would hide her blush, “why did you come out then? You should have just, you know, gotten some sleep.”

“I wanted to hang out with my friends.”

Amanda bumped him with her shoulder. “Uh huh. I need a cigarette. You got a light?”

“I gave you a lighter this mornin’. You’re as bad as Vogle.”

“No way. I know exactly where that lighter is – in my jeans pocket. Dresses don’t usually have pockets.” Amanda pointed out. Her new black dress was definitely without pockets but it fit beautifully.

“C’mon then.” Martin walked with her outside and they sat at a nearby bus stop bench. He pulled out his lighter and gave it to Amanda.

“Got a cigarette?”

“Seriously?” Martin laughed and gave her the packet.

“Still no pockets,” Amanda pointed out, taking a cigarette and lighting it with a smile.

Martin yawned and rolled his shoulders. “We’re ok, right?”

“Yeah. Why do you ask?”

“Since when do you notice how many girls try and talk to me?”

Amanda looked away and tried not to be awkward. “I notice things about my friends.”

“Ok.” Martin took Amanda’s cigarette from her out of habit. He took a drag before he spoke again. Something shifted. “You blew off some college kid tonight.”

“He looked like he’d struggle finding a whole boob let alone anything more delicate.” Amanda laughed and Martin chuckled with her. “I do not have time to be teaching boys the basics when we’re only in town for forty-eight hours. I spend my time wisely.”

“So spend it with me.”

Amanda stared. “What?”

Martin was sitting close by her on the metal seat and he leaned in slowly, giving her plenty of time to move or speak. Amanda watched him instead, heart racing, stomach fluttering, waiting for his mouth to press against hers. When he finally kissed her Amanda closed her eyes.

There was a long moment where Amanda sat totally still, committing everything to memory; the taste of smoke, the surprising softness of his beard, the gentle sensation of his breath exhaling through his nose against her face as they kissed. She entertained the beautiful daydream that it would somehow be simple before reality came crashing back down.

Slowly Martin pulled away. Amanda didn’t follow him.

“That’s why you were so mad about Oliver,” Amanda said quietly. The hint of intimacy in that gentle kiss terrified her and she desperately sought an escape. Her paranoia provided one easily. “Were you ever my friend or were you just trying to sleep with me?”

“What? No,” Martin sat back, confused. This was not how he thought the conversation would go. “I mean, yeah, about Oliver, a bit, but,” he baulked. “I did not set out to be your friend with the sole intention of sleepin’ with you.”

“Was this just some kind of long game after I turned you down in Montana?”

“No. No way. Even in Montana I just wanted to talk to you. I watched you, tiny beautiful person that you are, deck some asshole and not back down when his friends showed up. I wanted to know you.”

“With the end goal of sleeping with me.”

“No! Jesus. This band has been my life for almost ten years. I’m not going to ruin either the band, or our friendship, just for sex. I wanted to know all about the kind of girl that throws herself into a mosh pit at a punk show on her own.” Martin looked at her over the top of his glasses. “I still do. Sometimes I think maybe you want to know me, but then other times I ain’t so sure.”

Amanda sat back against the seat and looked away. “Why should I believe you? You’re just another cocky guy in a band looking to get laid.”

“How can you say that?”

“Easily! You’ve hooked up in every town we’ve stopped in, and that in and of itself isn’t a problem, until you’re trying to tell me you want to ‘get to know me’, which I can only assume means that there are actual feelings involved.”

Martin reached the end of his patience and gave up, feeling sick and stupid. “I overstepped. I’m sorry. If you can pretend this conversation never happened then so can I.” He got to his feet and turned to leave.

“You want to give me my cigarette back?” Amanda asked, trying to inject the lightness and fun that had always permeated their conversations before.

Martin left the packet and lighter on the bench. “I’ll see you later.” He strolled off into the night, the smoke curling around him.

“The fuck.” Amanda stared after him. She was torn. Should she storm after him to shout at him, any details to be confirmed in the heat of the moment, or rage into the bar and demand the boys tell her everything they knew about this surprising development?

Was it really a surprise though? Amanda thought over recent conversations and situations in light of Martin’s apparent intentions. There were moments when he looked at her and made her feel all nervous and warm, but was that his fault or hers? Were there times that she looked at him that way, and if there was (there definitely was) was it in response? Or was there a chance that she looked at him in a more than friendly way of her own accord?

There was no point in analysing her own behaviour until Amanda could be sure of Martin’s. Putting herself in such a vulnerable position was almost her worst nightmare.

“Everything ok?” Gripps asked, surprising Amanda enough that she flinched.

“Hey,” she smiled a little, “yeah, fine.”

Gripps wandered over and sat beside her, picking up the cigarettes and taking one. “Where’s Martin? I thought he came out here.”

“He did.” Amanda nodded. “He went back to the motel. Said he was tired.”

“Right. He say anything else?”

Amanda looked at him sharply.

Gripps chuckled, blowing smoke out of his nose. “I’ve known that asshole since college. Somethin’s got his panties in a bunch.”

Amanda sat silently.

“He thought you’d never talk to him again after LA.”

“Yeah, well, it came close.”

Gripps laughed again. “I don’t blame you. He was way out of line.” Looking at Amanda sidelong, he continued, “you scared him.”

“Me? Scaring that guy?” Amanda scoffed. “He was just pissy that I slept with someone, that’s all.”

“Close,” Gripps smiled, “but maybe you should ask Martin about that.”

Amanda sighed. “How can I trust him?”

Gripps shrugged.

“Helpful.” Amanda rolled her eyes with a very small smile.

An hour later Amanda headed back to the motel and found Martin snoring lightly in one of the two beds. He’d taken off his shirt and shoes but kept his jeans on; they’d slid down his hips to expose the waistband of his boxers. Amanda stood inside the doorway and stared, watching his chest rise and fall, looking at the curve of muscle and flesh of his arms resting above his head. Somehow his glasses were still on his face and his phone was resting on his chest. Amanda sighed, knowing that would suck to wake up to, and quietly approached. After all, friends helped each other. Right?

Carefully she picked up the phone. The screen was unlocked and showed the last conversation of texts between them; he’d started typing but all he had so far was ‘I’. Amanda frowned before finally locking the screen and putting it on the stand. With gentle hands Amanda pulled the glasses from Martin’s face and set them by his phone.

In his sleep Martin rubbed his eyes and rolled over with a sigh. Amanda looked at the artwork across his skin and smiled at his bed-messed hair. Why did he have to complicate things?

Sighing, Amanda changed into pjs and got into the second bed. The thought of being near him after whatever the hell that conversation had been was too much. Amanda wasn’t mad, as such, but the emotional bombshell was distinctly outside of the realm of shit she was prepared to deal with. Of course Martin was nice to look at, and Amanda enjoyed attention from aesthetically pleasing people, but feelings – and their associated weaknesses – were to be avoided at all costs. She sighed again.

Amanda curled up to look at Martin across the distance one last time before she fell asleep.

*

The bed beneath Amanda bounced as a body flung itself down beside her the next morning.

“Laundry day!”

Amanda woke with a grumble. A blanket was over her and she didn’t remember having that when she fell asleep. She pulled it around her shoulders tightly. “Are you,” she peered at Vogle, “are you not hungover right now?”

“It’s a miracle.” Vogle grinned. “Come on, the sooner we go the sooner we can start drinking.”

Amanda smiled and stretched. She liked doing her own laundry and the boys took turns to do theirs in a huge jumble, meaning that hanging out at the laundrette every so often had turned into a rare treat of almost quiet one-on-one time. “Let me get dressed.” Amanda smiled and climbed out of bed. She glanced around the room, spotting Cross and Gripps slowly waking up and saw the back of Martin’s head outside smoking a cigarette. Amanda frowned a little before cloistering herself away in the bathroom to prepare for the day. She told herself the time away from Martin would be a good thing.

Unfortunately Martin insisted on driving them to the laundrette and with bags of laundry to get through Amanda couldn’t really justify refusing. The ride was oddly quiet and over quickly, Martin reminding them to text when they were ready to be picked up.

Vogle poked his tongue out. “Like I’d be walking for blocks with all this shit.” He hoisted the bags out of the back of the van with Amanda’s help and didn’t look back, dragging them into the little laundrette to get started.

“What did he do this time?” Vogle asked. He shoved smelly jeans and lord only knew what else into a huge washer.

Amanda was slightly kinder to her laundry, taking care with her new dress and some nice undergarments she’d decided to spoil herself with. “What do you mean?”

“Martin. What did he do? I thought you guys sorted out the mess from LA.” Vogle slammed coins into the washer and sat on the empty machine next to it, kicking his heels against the metal front.

Amanda sighed. “We did. I think?” She set her washer to go before perching beside Vogle. “He just,” she raked her fingers through her hair, frustrated. “He just says stuff that I really wish he wouldn’t.”

“Like what? You want me to stomp his ass?”

“I dunno.” Amanda shrugged. “Like he wants to get to know me, and spend time with me, but how am I supposed to believe that when he’s busy getting laid in every town?”

“And you’re not?”

“Yeah, but I’m not trying to tell someone that I might have feelings for them.”

“Don’t you?”

Amanda looked at Vogle sharply. “Excuse me?”

“Didn’t you notice something of a resemblance between that Dump Barbie guy and Martin?”

“Martin does not own the patent on torn jeans and blond hair.”

Vogle smiled slyly. “I was more talking about their whole smug, cool-as-shit vibe. Probably the biggest difference between them was that Dump Barbie guy made a move.”

“His name is Oliver, and he’s not the first person I’ve slept with since joining the band.” Amanda pointed out.

“No,” Vogle conceded, “but he’s the first one whose name you bothered to remember.”

“So? He was cute, and funny, and the sex was a solid eight out of ten. If we were in the same town for more than a night it might have gone somewhere, but we’re not, so it didn’t. I swear you guys spend more time thinking about Oliver than I do.”

Vogle shrugged. “Maybe try talking to Martin about it?”

“No way. I just want everything to go back to how it was.” Amanda sighed. “Riding around in a van full of assholes, seeing some weird ass things across the country, playing awesome music and having attachment-free sex with strangers. It was almost the perfect deal.”

“If you don’t want anything to change then it doesn’t have to.”

“It’s not that easy. If he keeps hooking up, I’ll know that everything he said was a lie and I won’t respect him or trust him ever again, but if he doesn’t, then I’ll feel bad that he’s clearly hanging out for something I can’t give.”

“Can’t, or won’t?”

Amanda smiled a little sadly. “Guys like him are all the same. I figured that out a long time ago and literally nothing has happened since to change my mind.”

Vogle patted her shoulder. “I think maybe he deserves just a little more credit. He takes you seriously. In the meantime,” he pulled a slightly battered joint from his pocket, “let’s get high and laugh at dryers.”

The pair snuck to the alleyway by the laundrette to share the joint and spent the next little while being uncommonly amused by laundry.

*

Amanda hated the silent dream that played through like a broken filmstrip. The scene she moved through slowly, like a penny in wet cement, was bright and clear and agonising. Martin reached for her, his ring-laden fingers running through her hair, and then in the blink of an eye she was stroking his bearded cheek and sitting across his lap and couldn’t remember how she got there. She kept trying to kiss him but something always went wrong; she’d miss and get his cheek and a mouthful of beard, or he’d move and she’d graze his shoulder, or she’d fall off his lap entirely only to find herself right back there a second later.

Eventually tearing herself awake, Amanda found her heart was pounding and there was an uncomfortable throbbing in her panties. She stuffed the pillow over her face in frustration and hoped she hadn’t been moaning in her sleep. Rolling over she looked to Martin in the next bed and scowled. She was undeniably irritated but couldn’t solely pin the blame on him. It wasn’t as if one conversation about feelings had made them appear but giving them oxygen had absolutely not helped Amanda’s efforts to bury them deep.

Stop it. He’s a friend. He’s a musician for fuck’s sake. They are all the same, even when you don’t want them to be. Just stop.

Amanda rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

*

It took Amanda a full forty-eight hours to realise Martin was actively avoiding her. She’d decided to quit giving him the silent treatment after about a day, realising with unusual maturity that freezing him out was unlikely to solve anything. After talking with Vogle, and the weird dream that she really tried not to think about, Amanda resolved to keep on with friendship as normal.

Martin had no such plans.

Packing up the room the morning after their show, Martin barely glanced at her. He didn’t wait for her to get in the front seat before picking music to listen to and didn’t offer her a cigarette. With a frown Amanda climbed in the back with the boys and decided to try and nap. For some reason she hadn’t been sleeping well.

When they arrived at the next motel the five of them sat around the coffee table with a deck of cards, settling in for an afternoon of poker before the sound check. Martin didn’t sit by her and Amanda realised that it felt weird to have him so far away. He was polite as they all played cards but the attentiveness Amanda had grown used to was gone.

At the grubby punk bar they were playing Amanda finally decided to ignore Martin right back. She threw herself into the mosh pit for the opening acts, emerging only for beer.

Cross and Gripps watched her cautiously. Mosh pits in punk bars were invariably full of giant angry dudes and none of The Rowdy Three had forgotten the night they’d met Amanda. Knowing she could absolutely handle herself didn’t make them any less watchful.

“What did you do now asshole?” Gripps asked Martin.

Martin sighed through his nose as he glanced at Amanda. “Nothing.”

“My ass.” Gripps retorted. “She looks like she’s ready to split heads.”

“I misread the situation. Ok? I’m tryin’ to give her space.”

Cross rolled his eyes hugely. “You trying to tell me you don’t see the way she looks at you? Coz we do.”

Martin shook his head. “She don’t look at me any way. Except when I’m in her way.”

“Whatever man.” Cross sipped his beer. “Just don’t take forever. She deserves better than that.”

“You’ve only known her for a few weeks,” Martin pointed out.

“So have you.” Cross grinned.

Chapter Text

Martin remained consistently and politely distant. Amanda hated it, veering from irritated at his faux civility to furious at his silence to miserable at the unexpected loneliness, and trying not to feel anything at all.

Losing herself in yet another mosh pit days later, Amanda let the angry music fill her head and drown out her thoughts. If she dwelled too long on being ignored by someone she cared about, and she’d reluctantly realised just how much she cared about him, it made her miserable.

Dudes in mosh pits were tiresomely predictable. After being hit on for the second time by the same guy Amanda decided to just leave. Going back to the motel alone to watch a movie was an infinitely better option than dealing with some punk fuckboy who wouldn’t take no for answer.

Amanda found Vogle by the bar and was saying her goodbyes when the punk from the mosh pit approached her again.

“Oh what’s this, your boyfriend?” The guy asked rudely.

Vogle gave the guy a classic stare down. “You know this guy?” He said to Amanda.

“Only enough to tell him to fuck off and he didn’t take the hint.” Amanda replied.

“I just want to buy you a drink, it’s no big deal.” The guy tried.

“Not interested.”

The guy scoffed, “come on, it’s just a drink.” He tried to grab her around the waist and Amanda immediately shoved him away.

“Fuck off!” Amanda shouted. Vogle shifted forward on his feet. Just as Amanda was about to lay into the unwanted suitor, Martin pulled sharply on the guy’s jacket and hauled him backwards.

“What the hell?” The guy shouted as he stumbled.

“She said no.” Martin growled. Cross and Gripps were close behind him and they all glared at the unfortunate soul.

“How many boyfriends do you have, slut?” The guy laughed.

Martin swung at him and hit his jaw solidly. The guy reeled for a second before launching himself at Martin with a shout, landing a lucky punch on Martin’s face before falling prey to The Rowdy Three. Somehow the jerk had friends who jumped into the melee but security broke it up before anyone was seriously hurt. Martin spat a mouthful of blood at the initial asshole and growled before they were escorted from the bar.

“Are you serious?” Amanda shouted at the guys as they walked back to the motel. “You’re lucky they didn’t call the cops. What a fucking unnecessary display of bullshit.”

“We get into fights,” Cross shrugged, “sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes not. Today there was a reason. It’s no big deal.”

“I don’t need you guys fighting anyone on my behalf. I can take care of myself.”

“Yeah, and we’re helping.” Vogle grinned. He was getting a black eye already.

Amanda sighed. “You’re not helping. Put some ice on your eye.”

“Yes Manda.” Vogle hung his head.

The guys traipsed into the room, Martin last in line, and Amanda caught the back of his jacket.

“Oh no you don’t. What the fuck.” Amanda pulled Martin outside and closed the room door on the others. She faced him head on in the first bout of eye contact in almost a week. “What in the actual fuck.”

“What?” Martin snapped. There was blood at the corner of his mouth and a trickle ran out of his nose. He wiped it across his face without flinching.

“Really? You’re really going to pretend that you didn’t escalate that whole fucking thing way beyond the point of necessity?”

Martin sighed shortly. “Some guys don’t get the hint. I knew you were leaving and I didn’t want him following you.”

“So beating someone up was the logical answer?”

“Sorry I didn’t want some asshole to follow you home!”

“What the fuck?” Amanda yelled.

“I just told you-”

“No, I mean, what the fuck Martin.” Amanda glared. “You barely talk to me for a week and now you’re literally punching dudes because of me?”

“What’re you talkin’ about, drummer girl?”

Amanda frowned at the nickname he hadn’t used in forever. It stung. “Don’t. Don’t you dare. You know what I’m talking about.”

Martin turned away a little and was unable to meet her eyes. He rubbed the back of his neck, the fight going out of him, and sighed. “Maybe I don’t want to be the guy you thought I was.”

“Why? Why all of a sudden did you decide to care? You didn’t realise you caught feelings until you saw me with someone else, is that it?”

“It’s not like that.”

“Then what is it? Coz this is some bullshit! I feel like we’re not even friends anymore and it sucks.”

“I didn’t mean for that to happen.” Martin sat on the bench outside the room and rested his elbows on spread knees.

“Then what was the goal here? Drop the almost bomb of you might have feelings and then run away? You’re really not helping the ‘friends with the goal of sex’ angle.”

“I didn’t mean to say anythin’ at all! And I didn’t have some kind of fuckin’ epiphany when that skinny kid showed up.” He sighed and looked at her. “Remember when you were sick and it was just you and me at the motel? When we watched a movie and you fell asleep?”

“What about it?”

Martin shrugged. “That was it.”

“That was what?” Amanda asked, definitely reaching the end of her temper.

“I started thinking of life after the tour. Of life with you after the tour.”

Amanda waited for something to start making sense.

“Once I started thinkin’ about it, I couldn’t stop, and I figured out I didn’t want to stop.” Martin looked at her over the top of his glasses. “I like it when you’re around. I want to be around you. All the time.”

“So why have you barely spoken to me in a week?” Amanda retorted.

Martin leaned back against the seat. “Our last conversation about this was such a disaster that I thought I should leave you alone.”

“Or maybe Vogle let a few things slip?” Amanda challenged.

“Nope.”

“Bullshit. You really expect me to believe you guys keep secrets from each other? You can practically read each other’s minds anyway.”

Martin smiled a little. “He thought he was helping.”

“Uh-huh.” Amanda folded her arms across her chest and looked away. A part of her knew that when she was speaking to Vogle in the laundrette that day, it would get back to Martin.

“I’m not that guy,” Martin insisted, “the guy who only cares about chasing girls and getting drunk. I mean, I’m a bit that guy, but not when I care about someone. I care about you.”

Amanda wasn’t sure that she wanted to hear it. “Can you even comprehend that I have literally no evidence of that? One whole week of no random sex is not exactly convincing.”

“It’s a bit more’n that but I gotta start somewhere.”

“Is that what this is? A start?”

“I hope so.” Martin tried a very small smile.

“Listen,” Amanda began, “I don’t want you to feel like you’ve gotta pass some bullshit test or whatever and then I’ll magically decide I have, like, feelings, for you. It doesn’t work like that.”

Martin nodded. “I know. I know you don’t trust me when I’m telling you things so maybe the next step is tryin’ to prove it. If you want me to.”

“I don’t,” Amanda looked away, her heart racing. “I don’t know what I want.”

Martin wasn’t sure if he could read a lie on her face or if he was hoping too hard for a different answer.

Amanda looked back at him nervously. “Let’s say you try out this ‘next step’ thing. Can you remember how to be my friend at the same time? Or are you that shit at multitasking?”

“Hey, I can sing and play guitar at the same time,” Martin joked, “I can multitask.”

“Mm, I don’t know about that. You mostly just scream.” Amanda quipped. “Seriously though, I don’t need space from you. I need my friends – all four of you. I need fun and music and probably a salad every now and again. If you tell Gripps I said that I will deny everything.”

Martin laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Can things go back to how they were?”

“Yeah.” Martin nodded. He pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and offered Amanda one. She approached him and took it with a wary smile.

Inside the room Vogle sat with his ear pressed against the door. “They’ve quit shouting. That’s a good sign, right?”

“Can you see outside?” Gripps asked from his spot on the couch.

Cross tried a subtle glance out the window and shook his head. “Nothin’.”

Vogle slumped against the door. “I hate it when they fight.”

“It’s better than the bullshit silence.” Cross pointed out.

Outside, Amanda sat beside Martin on the bench. “Is your nose broken? I’m not sure it should be bleeding like that.”

“Nah. I can still breathe so it ain’t too bad.”

“Hold still.” Amanda got her phone out and lined up the shot. She put her fingers under Martin’s chin to tilt his face toward the motel room light. Snapping a few close ups of his slightly bleeding nose Amanda sighed. “I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

“It was worth it.”

Amanda raised her eyebrows as Martin handed over a lighter.

“If that’s what it took to be friends again,” Martin shrugged, “no regrets.”

“Are you two about done?” Cross called out. “I’m pourin’ shots.”

“Is it that nasty cheap shit?” Amanda replied.

There was a pause. “Maybe.”

Amanda laughed. “Count me in.”

*

Enjoying a relatively quiet night in Salt Lake City, having been banned from the best punk bar thanks to their most recent brawl, The Rowdy Three were pouring drinks when Martin’s phone rang.

“Riggins, what’s up,” Martin answered, going outside and away from the loud music they were listening to. He lit a cigarette as he spoke.

Glancing out through the window Amanda saw Martin frozen, the cigarette in his mouth unmoving. She frowned and tried to push down the butterflies in her belly. She desperately hoped that nothing was about to disturb the world she’d come to love.

Martin walked back in slowly, cigarette still in his mouth.

“You better put that out, this is a non-smoking room,” Gripps pointed out.

“We got a slot at Soundwave.” Martin said quietly. A grin spread across his face.

The room went quiet for a second before all the guys started to shout at once.

“Holy shit! Holy shit!” Vogle immediately bounced around the room grinning like a madman. Cross and Gripps weren’t far behind, and Amanda just sat on the couch looking a bit confused.

“Cool, I guess?” Amanda laughed. Martin looked up something on his phone and showed it to Amanda before sitting close by her and picking up a drink. Amanda scrolled through the article and watched the clip at the end. The butterflies in her stomach multiplied.

Soundwave was an east coast music festival drawing crowds of tens of thousands. She recognised almost all the bands that had been announced already and the sheer size of the previous events was intimidating.

“Holy shit.” Amanda said quietly, smiling at Martin.

“Right?” Martin finished his drink in one mouthful. “Holy shit.”

“Holy shit!” Amanda leapt up and bounced around the room with the others.

Martin laughed. “We’ve got an interview tomorrow too. Last minute, part of the Soundwave deal.”

“Oh my god,” Amanda stared at him. “You guys are going to be, like, properly famous.”

“We’ve been over this,” Cross said with a smile, “you’re our drummer girl. We’re keeping you as long as you want to stay.”

“Please stay forever.” Vogle grinned and gave her a tight hug.

Amanda looked over his shoulder at Martin, still on the couch with a cigarette, smiling at her in the way he did that made her heart race a little bit. Martin nodded. “We want you to stay.”

“If you insist,” Amanda said eventually. Vogle squeezed her tightly before letting her go. “I need a cigarette.” She grabbed the packet from the table and left.

Sitting on the bench outside Amanda waited for Martin to join her. She tucked her knees up to her chest to get more comfortable as he sat beside her, handing over a lighter.

“Do you want to stay? With the band?” Martin asked quietly.

“More than anything,” Amanda grinned. “This is the kind of shit every musician dreams of. Walking into a great band with great people, touring, getting slots at major festivals?” She couldn’t stop smiling. “I just don’t know what I did to deserve it? Like, I haven’t contributed anything much, not really.”

“That ain’t true,” Martin shook his head. “You bein’ our amazin’ drummer means we can use another guitarist. We sent Riggins some footage of a few shows, with you playing, and it’s only been since then that we got the festival slot. Besides,” Martin blew smoke above their heads, “from the sounds of what happened with your last band, and your parents and everything, you deserve some good things.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah.”

Amanda grinned again. She glanced up at Martin and nudged him with her elbow. “Thanks.”

*

The Rowdy Three formed in Seattle almost ten years ago. Originally a three piece ensemble with Martin, Cross and Gripps, they recruited Vogle to sing for them six years ago, and recently found themselves a new drummer on the road after Gripps broke his ankle. Hettie Andrews sat down with the five members of The Rowdy Three in Salt Lake City and quizzed them on a few things, starting with the name.

Hettie Andrews: So how did you come up with your name, The Rowdy Three? And why didn’t you change it when you got more members?

(The band laughs)

Cross: Martin and Gripps and I went to college together. A lecturer called us rowdy all the time, mostly coz we couldn’t sit still and may have organised a few illegal shows, and it just kind of stuck.

Gripps: It turned into a bit of a joke when Vogle joined, and by the time Amanda came along we already had merch and shit made, so it was too much effort to change (laughs).

HA: Amanda, you’re the newest member. Can you tell us how you joined up?

Amanda: (laughs) Sure. I went to their gig in my college town in Montana, and then the next morning saw a flyer that they needed a new drummer. I hated college and liked music, so, (shrugs) I auditioned.

Vogel: She killed it! (laughs) She learned our whole set in one afternoon and we performed two days later.

HA: Wow, that’s pretty impressive. So you’re a prodigy?

A: I just remember things.

HA: How long have you been on the road at this point? (The band laughs and kind of groans)

C: Just over two months. We’re over halfway through the tour.

HA: Do you miss home?

V: I miss my own bed!

C: I miss the pizza joint near our place in Seattle. They get the sauce just right.

HA: Tell me, what’s your song writing process like?

G: Depends on the day. (Laughs)

C: Sometimes we start with the music, usually me and Martin just messing around, but sometimes Vogle writes some lyrics for us to fit music to.

HA: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on tour? (Everyone laughs)

V: Some skinheads tried to crash a gig early on. We got into a nasty ass brawl that night.

C: We got arrested but our manager put up bail for us. He’s a good dude.

HA: Amanda, you weren’t there for that?

A: I wish. I’ve got some brawling to catch up on.

V: There was the time in Montana when Amanda and Martin won a game of pool against some randoms and the guy wouldn’t pay up, so she knocked him on his ass. (Laughs)

C: Or the time a few days ago when some guy wouldn’t leave Amanda alone. We got into it and now we’re all banned from the best punk bar in the city.

HA: You’ve just been announced to play at Soundwave in a few months. How did that come about?

G: It’s all because of Amanda. She’s a killer drummer and she’s exactly what we needed to fill out the sound.

HA: Amanda, I’ve got to ask. What’s it like to tour with a band you’ve only just met?

A: Joining the band has been the best decision of my life. These guys are like family. Just don’t try and use the bathroom after them in the morning.

*

A few days later Amanda was woken from her nap when the rumbling of the van stopped. “Are we there already?” She mumbled, stretching out in the back of the van.

“Nah, just stopping for gas,” Cross yawned. “You want anything?”

“Bathroom.” Amanda pushed her hair out of her face and climbed out of the van, Vogle close behind.

The gas station was weirdly middle-of-nowhere, and with it’s busted sign and empty lot it looked more than a bit creepy. Amanda immediately started taking pictures. She turned to snap a sneaky shot of Martin pumping gas while he checked out their surrounds. He was wearing his most torn pair of jeans that exposed a significant amount of skin down his thighs and over his knees; Amanda tried not to let her eyes linger across his exposed flesh and mostly failed.

Finishing the gas, Martin leaned into the van for his wallet, the movement making his shirt rise up and expose a little midriff. He turned to find Amanda staring. She quickly went inside the gas station, her mermaid hair swinging behind her.

Given the sheer number of questionable roadside bathrooms Amanda had seen over the last few weeks she almost regretted not documenting them in all their horror. This one was no exception. The toilet paper dispenser was rigged to release a single square at a time and the floor was covered in discarded scraps from previous users’ failed attempts. Amanda tried not to look too closely at the bowl, or think about the likelihood of a terrifying amount of bacteria floating around the room. Finishing up as quickly as possible, she washed her hands in the basin and left without a backward glance, hoping she hadn’t just contracted hepatitis. Even the boys couldn’t leave a bathroom in such a foul state.

Vogle wandered the shelves, picking up bags of chips and candy, while Martin waited by the counter. The teenage attendant looked at the punks apprehensively.

“Any requests?” Martin asked her.

Amanda assessed Vogle’s haul and shook her head. “He took care of everything.” She strolled toward the cashier and saw a bunch of tourist pamphlets on the counter top. They advertised everything from mazes to historical re-enactments to ghost towns. Amanda picked up one of each with a smile as Martin paid.

They walked outside and Amanda climbed into the front seat. “I know what might be fun. Ghost towns!” With a grin Amanda unfurled the poorly produced pamphlet to show the boys in the back. “This map says there’s one just an hour away! Can we check it out? Please?”

Vogle agreed emphatically, passing a bag of chips to Amanda and smiling. Cross shrugged and Gripps didn’t look convinced. Amanda turned her attention to the slightly smirking Martin as he turned the engine over and drove out of the lot.

“Please? I’ve never seen a real ghost town before. I bet I could get some great pictures.” Amanda looked at Martin, her eyes wide and her lower lip pushed forward a little. If forced to assess her behaviour, Amanda would have described it as a mid-range flirt manoeuvre.

Martin looked at her pretend pout for all of for half a second before giving in. It wasn’t the first time he’d given into her without a fight and he certainly hoped it wouldn’t be the last. “Tell me which exit to take.” He hid a smile as Amanda crowed in victory.

“Y’all gonna get us killed,” Gripps warned, “no good will come of poking around a damn ghost town. This is some ‘white folks in a horror movie’ level bullshit and the black guy always dies first.”

“I’ll protect you,” Amanda promised with a grin. She took a fistful of chips before passing the bag to Martin. “If it’s shit I’ll, I dunno, run wingman for you for a week or something.”

Gripps was not mollified.

An hour or so later the van pulled up at the ghost town. It was really a collection of empty, collapsing buildings on an otherwise unoccupied stretch of single road. The surrounding valley was shaded in autumnal browns and the air was decidedly crisp. Amanda’s booted feet crunched fallen leaves as she walked around the buildings, poking her head inside and taking loads of pictures. Gripps refused to get out of the van while Cross waited right by the door, ready for a quick getaway, both of them muttering about ghosts. Vogle bounded from one structure to the next and Martin kept a watchful eye on the bouncy singer and thoughtful drummer.

“You think this was the schoolhouse?” Amanda held up the tourist pamphlet. The images were grainy and strangely angled and no building really matched the ones featured in the pamphlet. “Or was it that one?” She turned, holding the map sideways.

Martin squinted at the paper and looked around at what remained of the town. “Could be the brothel.”

“No look, the brothel has a porch.” Amanda pointed out.

“Maybe it fell down? This whole place looks like a good sneeze would finish it.”

“Let’s go inside.” Amanda grinned and headed for the possible schoolhouse. She walked right by the sign asking people to refrain from that exact activity.

Everything creaked, from the door when she opened it to the floorboards beneath her feet to the air through the cracks in the walls. It was darker inside and noticeably cooler. Shards of furniture littered the floor and the distinct odour of weed danced on the air. Martin stalked through the main room, shafts of light playing across his strong features as he looked around.

“Don’t move.” Amanda said suddenly.

Martin froze. “What.”

Getting her phone up, Amanda lined up the portrait and got a few shots. “The light’s hitting you just right. Stay put.” She moved a little, tried a different angle, but liked the first one better. She showed him. “See?”

“Jesus,” Martin smiled a little self-consciously. “Dramatic much?”

“It’s not my fault your default expression is ‘moody’,” Amanda smirked. “Besides, your cheekbones were made for being photographed.” As soon as the words left her mouth Amanda could feel her face go red. What had sounded like a 5/10 flirty comment in her head had come out at 11. She went into the next room hurriedly, vowing never to attempt to flirt ever again after the two attempts of the day. It only led to disaster and embarrassment.

Martin followed, trying not to smile. “You think I have nice cheekbones?”

“You know you do.” Amanda carefully trod through the space, careful of the debris scattered across the floor.

“Maybe, but it’s nice that you think so.”

Amanda absently played with a chunk of her hair and changed the subject. “It looks like I owe Gripps some wingman time. This whole ghost town thing is kind of a let down.”

“It’s not so bad,” Martin tried, “this is quite a nice, uh,” he nudged a shitty homemade bong with the toe of his boot, “a nice place.”

Amanda laughed. “Let’s get out of here before it comes down around our ears. I’d hate for Gripps to be that right.”

“He ain’t great at humble,” Martin agreed. He went to the door leading back to the first room.

“That’s rich coming from you.”

Martin shrugged. “I know my strengths.”

“Ok,” Amanda walked by him back to the first room, “so what are your weaknesses?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your weaknesses. What are you bad at?”

“Sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

Amanda rolled her eyes. “Ha, ha.”

Martin smirked a little. “What am I bad at.” He mused. “I’m bad at laundry. I’m bad at backing down, especially when I’m right. I’m bad at stopping a TV show after one episode.” He glanced at her. “I’m bad at secrets.”

A tense silence stretched between them.

“How about you?” Martin flipped the question back to her.

Amanda should have expected it. “I’m bad at cooking.” She admitted. “Let’s see, I’m also bad at scrabble and sharing Oreos and trusting people.”

Martin paused. “Any reason why?”

“His name was Max.” Amanda said with a tight smile. “I snuck into a bar with a fake ID and he was in the band that night. I was seventeen.”

“You were seventeen and he would have been at least twenty-one. Let me guess: he was an asshole.”

“Total asshole. He lied constantly, cheated on me constantly, stole from me.” Amanda sighed. “I just kept believing him. Kept wanting what he said to be the truth. Now if I want something bad enough I can’t trust myself to know the difference between truth and lies.”

Martin couldn’t decide if he wanted to try and hug her or chase down that asshole and beat him halfway to death. The two urges almost drowned out the seed of despair planted by Amanda’s surprising honesty.

Before Martin had a chance to say anything, a strong gust blew against the building and made the whole thing shake and whistle.

“Don’t let me die in here,” Amanda laughed as she made tracks toward the exit. Getting back into the daylight Amanda looked around with a sigh. “Ok, I regret everything about this day.”

Martin looked at her, a long delicious glance with a slight smile that warmed Amanda from her head to her toes. It was the same way he looked at her when they played on stage, and across pool tables, and over boxes of greasy takeout in motel rooms. Letting herself see it, allowing herself to recognise and understand what was happening, Amanda realised what she’d been ignoring for weeks. Usually he looked away but right now there was an invitation in his gaze, one she wasn’t quite ready to accept.

“Everything?” Martin asked.

“Maybe only almost everything.” Amanda looked away, smiling just a little.

“Can we go before we all die? Please?” Gripps yelled out the car window.

Amanda laughed, bumping Martin’s shoulder as she walked by him to get to the van.

Chapter Text

Days later Amanda woke with a slight hangover and squinted against the sunlight. She groaned. “Which of you assholes left the damn curtains open?”

“I need to see what I’m doing over here.” Gripps said, sounding oddly awake. The tone in his voice was enough to make Amanda sit up and glare at him. She saw him sitting on the floor beneath the open window with a sketchpad and pens sprawled across the coffee table.

Amanda moved her legs off the edge of the bed and the snoring mass of man beside her grumbled. Martin rolled toward where she’d been and laid facedown, one arm beneath his head and the other reaching for her in his sleep. His bare tattooed back was on show and Amanda rarely caught a good look at the art across his skin in decent light. She stared.

“That one on his right shoulder?” Gripps said, watching from the corner of his eye. “That’s mine.”

Looking to the artwork in question Amanda smiled. It was a grinning horned mask with a veil draped over it. “What is it?”

“Oni mask. They’re tricksters of the spirit world. Sometimes, anyway.”

“Why would he want a tattoo of a trickster?”

“He ain’t that deep,” Gripps laughed, “he just thought it looked cool. Same with the dragon thing over his hip but don’t ask what’s below the belt.”

Amanda laughed. She rubbed her eyes and got out of bed to sit on the couch, looking over Gripps’ shoulder as he worked from his spot on the floor. His sketchpad was full to the corners; the stunning full colour images were punctuated with line art scribbles to neatly eradicate all white space.

“See anything you like?” Gripps asked, finishing off the petals on a delicate flower. It was purple and beautiful, its colours softly pale on the edges and deepening to a rich violet in the centre.

“That’s awesome.” Amanda pointed at the flower.

Gripps looked at her as he capped his pens. “I got some work lined up this afternoon at a tattoo shop in town. If you can pay for the materials I’ll put it on you after hours.”

“Really?” Amanda stared at the flower. It had all her favourite shades of purple and everything. “Where should I get it?”

Turning to face Amanda, Gripps looked at her limbs, assessing their suitability with slightly pursed lips. Sitting on the couch in her underpants and tee shirt left a lot of limb on display. “You ever thought about your ribs?”

“Won’t that hurt?”

“They all hurt.”

Amanda stared at the flower again. She smiled. “Ok. Let’s do it. But what are you doing up so early?”

“Someone left the curtain open.”

“Was it Vogle? I’ll kick his ass I swear to god.”

“Get in line.” Gripps smiled.

Amanda stretched her shoulders out with a groan. “I need a shower. I’m sweating tequila.”

“Oh, is that what that smell is?”

“Fuck you.” Amanda laughed, shoving his shoulder as she got to her feet. She picked up her bag and went into the bathroom, stepping over piles of dirty jocks and jeans to reach the shower. She turned the water on hard and climbed in with a grateful sigh.

After less than a minute someone was banging on the door. “You gonna be long?” Vogle shouted over the noise.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “What kind of emergency is it?”

“Number three.”

“Jesus Christ!” Amanda shut off the taps immediately and flew out of the shower, barely remembering to wrap a towel around herself and grab her bag as she fell out of the bathroom.

Vogle shoved past her and slammed the door.

Amanda sighed. “You’re lucky I’m not bleeding on everything right now or we’d both be fucked!” She shouted through the door.

“Good mornin’ to you too.” Martin mumbled, squinting at the daylight.

“Hmph.” Amanda folded her arms across her chest. Water dripped down her body to dampen the carpet. “Damnit.”

“What did he say it was?” Martin asked. He kept an eye open to look at Amanda by the bathroom door. Amanda in a towel was a nice sight to wake up to and he tried not to smile.

“Three. He better not be lying.”

There were a lot of bodily explosions happening within. Martin groaned and put the pillow over his head.

“Ok, I don’t think he was lying.” Amanda looked down at her towel dress. “Guys, avert your gaze please.”

Martin stayed under the pillow, Gripps turned around and Cross grunted without moving from the bed. Amanda had gotten a lot faster at the bathroom routine since joining the band and was mostly dried and dressed in seconds. She gave the guys the all clear as she zipped up her shorts.

Cross rolled upright and looked around the room. “Vogle’s in there, ain’t he.”

“Yeah. Sorry buddy.” Amanda shrugged.

“Fuck.” Cross looked at Amanda closely. “If he doesn’t destroy the room I should touch up your colour.”

Martin made a questioning grumble from beneath the pillow.

“And yours.” Cross rolled his eyes. “Vain bastard.”

Martin launched the pillow at Cross with a grunt, hitting the barber squarely in the face, before flopping back down onto the bed.

“Guess what?” Amanda sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her hair, surreptitiously admiring Martin’s shirtless form.

Martin opened one eye to look at her. “What.”

“I’m going to get a tattoo today.”

“Really?”

Amanda nodded, grinning. “Wanna see?”

“Sure.” Martin slowly sat up and put on his glasses to see the sketchpad Gripps was holding. “Nice. Where’s it gonna go?”

“Gripps suggested my ribs.”

Martin winced and glanced down at the tattoos across his own ribs. “Alright. That’ll be fun.”

“Don’t scare her,” Gripps warned. “You’ll be fine. Martin’s a wimp.”

Vogle emerged from the bathroom and collapsed back into bed with a sigh. “I’m gonna die.”

“Half a bottle of tequila was a bad idea. I told you.” Cross laughed as he went into the bathroom. “Jesus Christ! It smells like Satan’s asshole in here.” He coughed and closed the door.

“You’re welcome.” Vogle retorted weakly.

Martin got out of bed and went to the little fridge for water, leaving a bottle beside Vogle and taking one for himself. Drinking half of it Martin passed the rest to Amanda before pulling on a pair of jeans over his boxers. He lay back down across the foot of the bed with a sigh.

“I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to wait for four other people to use the bathroom before me in the mornin’.” Martin grumbled.

“Oh please. At least if times get desperate you can pee outside.” Amanda rolled her eyes. She lazily braided her hair over one shoulder. “You never did finish telling me what your place is like.”

Martin half-smiled. “To start we got two bathrooms. Two clean bathrooms.”

“I’d hope four grown ass men can clean a bathroom.”

“What makes you think we’d live in filth?”

Amanda looked around the very lived in motel room. There were clothes all over the floor and empty bottles and takeout containers everywhere. She raised her eyebrows.

“That’s fair.” Martin chuckled. He sat up to stretch, catching a lingering look from Amanda as he moved. “At home we ain’t so bad. When we’re gettin’ sleep and not hungover six days a week it’s easier. Besides, whose pants are those?” Martin pointed to a pair of Amanda’s crumpled jeans on the floor, making her smile sheepishly. “Our kitchen is pretty great, and there’s enough room for all our instruments and shit everywhere. We got a spare bedroom, too.”

Amanda met his eyes apprehensively. He’d said they wouldn’t leave her stranded but was this tantamount to an offer?

“Alright y’all,” Cross announced as he emerged from the bathroom. “Get in line.”

Amanda pushed difficult thoughts to the back of her mind. She picked music to listen to and Martin went first, sitting on a dining chair clad only in jeans while Cross swiftly applied the bleach to his head. Amanda sat next to Martin while his hair cooked, hardly squirming at all as Cross put the green dye through her hair.

Vogle was eventually propped up on the closed toilet lid for Cross to tidy up his floppy faux hawk. Gripps sat patiently while Cross shaved his hair close to the skin and tidied up his edges. Once Martin’s hair bleaching was done Cross trimmed his hair and beard, the pair of them moving through the routine in comfortable silence.

Amanda watched the whole process without taking a single picture. For once, she didn’t want to share everything with their rapidly growing Instagram fan base. It was nice to have the moment to themselves.

“I’m starving.” Amanda announced eventually. “I need some grease to soak up all that tequila.”

“Breakfast?” Cross asked before he looked at the time. “Lunch?”

“Lunch.” Martin decided. He pulled a shirt on at last and Amanda tried not to pout.

“Bring me something back?” Vogle asked, lying down again and closing his eyes. “If I move too much I might actually die.”

“Dramatic little shit,” Gripps smiled and ruffled Vogle’s hair. Vogle groaned.

The others got ready and left, piling into the van.

“The guys at the shop reckon there’s good burgers next door. I gotta be there in an hour anyway.” Gripps suggested.

“Done. Who’s got the maps?” Martin asked as he started the van. He put a cigarette in his mouth and passed the packet to Amanda as she sat beside him in the front.

“I got your maps,” Amanda got a cigarette out of the packet and put it between her lips. She set the directions and took the lighter from Martin once he was done.

In the back, Cross and Gripps exchanged a long, weary look at the familiar routine.

Greasy burgers helped everyone’s hangovers and it wasn’t long before Gripps left them at the diner to go tattoo.

“Are you nervous?” Cross asked Amanda from across the booth.

“About what?”

“Your first tattoo.”

Amanda shrugged. “A little.”

“Don’t be. It’s not as bad as people try and make out.” Cross smiled encouragingly. “It just feels like a dozen tiny needles scratching your skin for a really long time.”

“That’s super helpful, thanks.”

Cross grinned. “Any time.”

“What’re we going to do this afternoon?” Amanda looked at the other two, playing with her fresh green hair.

Martin shrugged. “Take Vogle some food. Hang out.”

“Hang out.” Amanda mused. She got out her phone. “Wanna see a movie?”

Martin shrugged again. “Find something good, sure.”

“Nothing with subtitles.” Cross supplied.

“I’m dyslexic. I can’t keep up with that shit.” Amanda reminded him with a smile. “I can look this up while you order for Vogle.”

Martin took the hint and shuffled out of the booth with a smile.

“Is it hard? Being dyslexic?” Cross asked.

Amanda smiled. “I don’t know what it’s like any other way. Like, what’s it like to be tall? To be able to reach things without climbing on a chair? I just can’t begin to imagine it coz it’s never been me and it never will.” She shrugged.

“Being tall isn’t all that great. I don’t fit real well on a plane and sometimes I hit my head on things.”

“At least you can sit on a bar stool without literally climbing it like a goat up a mountain.”

Martin sat beside her in time to hear the goat comparison. He raised his eyebrows. “Do I wanna know?”

“Probably not.” Amanda grinned and looked back at her phone. “Ok, there’s some angsty superhero bullshit or,” she paused, “spy disaster movie. Everything else is either kids or romcoms, and I’m not feeling either of those right now.”

“Thank Christ,” Cross replied immediately. “You know how weird it is going into a movie theatre, looking like we do, for a kids movie?”

Amanda raised her eyebrows. “Mm-hmm. And when was the last time that happened?”

At that, Martin chuckled. “Vogle and Gripps wanted to see ‘Finding Dory’. If looks could kill we’d’ve been shot before we got to the snack bar. I’ve never been so intimidated by a bunch of moms in all my life.”

“You never met my aunts.” Cross shot back with a grin.

“We need to borrow someone’s kid before we try that again.”

Amanda looked at Martin. “You know anyone with kids?”

“Couple of my bartenders, one of my bouncers,” Martin shrugged.

Fighting to keep a grin off her face Amanda took a moment to imagine the boys babysitting a kid long enough to get into a movie theatre. It was a struggle. “I literally never imagined any of you in the same room as someone under the age of twenty-one.”

Cross scoffed at Amanda. “I bet I’m better with kids than you.”

“I don’t doubt that. I don’t do well with kids – they’re way too weird. I once had a little cousin tell me that she hoped I would die because then she’d get all my Barbies.”

“You had Barbies?” Martin asked with a smile.

“Sure did. They mostly played elaborate games of ritual sacrifice and polyamory – I only had one Ken doll til I had the great idea of cutting off another Barbie’s hair so she could be Ken’s best friend and everyone else’s husband.” Amanda laughed as she remembered, “sometimes she was also Ken’s husband, which possibly explains a lot about me.”

Cross frowned. “That sounds complicated.”

“Yeah, girls generally don’t play with dolls like everyone seems to think they do.” Amanda shrugged. “So, have we picked a movie?”

“Spy action or whatever it was.” Cross said. Martin nodded in agreement.

“Great! Let’s get Vogle’s sorry ass out of bed.” Amanda grinned.

They took a bag of takeout to the saddest hungover singer in town and scooped his ass into the van. Amanda sat in the back and fed Vogle fries as they drove. Even Cross was patient with Vogle, helping him out of the van and into the theatre without walking into anyone. Vogle was left sitting on a bench while Cross got tickets and Amanda and Martin went for the snacks.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have brought him?” Amanda glanced at the hungover Vogle. He had his head in his hands.

Martin looked at Vogle and growled a little. “He’ll be fine. He wrecks himself that damn regular you’d think his liver’d be tryin’ to crawl out of his body by now.”

“Like you don’t drink just as much as he does.” Amanda poked Martin’s shoulder playfully. He staggered back, pretending to be wounded, clutching his arm.

“I can handle my liquor. That kid just don’t know his limits. Or he ignores ‘em. I can’t figure out which.”

“We can’t all be as wise as you, O Drinking Master.”

Martin smiled wryly. “I’m glad you ain’t as hungover as him that much. You’re not so fun when you’re sick.”

“As if feeling sorry for myself isn’t a fun time for everyone.” Amanda grinned before ordering buckets of popcorn, a sack of candy and a blue slushie the size of her head. Cradling the plastic drink cup Amanda glared at Martin. “I’m not sharing this, so if you want your own drink you’d better order.”

Loaded up with snacks Amanda smiled fondly at Vogle, still clearly unwell, as Cross dragged him into the theatre. Martin just shook his head as they followed.

The four of them sat at the back, Vogle on one end stretched out along the empty seats. Cross sat beside him, propping his feet up on the seat in front. He sighed with a smile when Vogle snuggled into his side. Next in the line was Martin, sprawling in his seat, and Amanda sat beside him. She curled up in her chair and hooked her legs over the armrest to lean against Martin. She put up with the armrest digging into her back for less than ten minutes before pushing it up and out of the way.

Settling in against Martin’s side, Amanda smiled; in the darkness of a movie theatre she could pretend the situation was simple. It was nice – more than nice – to rest against him. After a while Amanda felt Martin shifting in his seat and she sat back up to give him some room. Martin had other plans, gently tugging her shirt to pull her back against him, the angle he’d moved to being much more comfortable. A minute later, Martin’s ringed fingers snuck their way into the bag of candy Amanda held.

“Oh I see how it is,” Amanda whispered, turning her head a little to look at him. “You just wanted snacks.”

“Nah.” Martin smiled. “I want your drink too.”

Amanda rolled her eyes and shared the slushie.

“It tastes like sugar.”

“Yeah, that’s the whole point.”

“Ugh, I feel like I need to clean my teeth.”

“No one said you had to have any,” Amanda pointed out. She took the drink back and Martin laughed. Amanda rested her head against Martin’s shoulder.

Martin barely noticed the movie going on in front of him. He was way too distracted by the smell of Amanda’s freshly dyed hair and the warmth of her against his side. Picking at Amanda’s movie snacks meant she pretended to be mad at him and Martin found her mock crankiness entirely adorable. He wondered if it’d be weird to put his arm around her and found a moment to laugh at himself; he couldn’t remember the last time he was so nervous around a girl.

The movie wound up with the good guy winning and Martin fought to keep from growling when Amanda sat up and away from him. She ran her fingers through her hair and stretched, looking at the guys with a smile.

“How long til we can go to the shop?”

Martin pulled out his phone to check the time. “We should be good to go.”

“Oh my god,” Amanda’s eyes widened. She felt herself getting nauseously anxious.

“You still wanna do this?” Martin looked at her closely.

“Yep. Just nervous.” Amanda shrugged. “Should we go?”

Martin nodded and they headed out of the theatre. Vogle was able to walk unaided and gave Amanda a quick hug.

“You’ll be fine,” Vogle said quietly, trying to smile. “It’s not as bad as everyone says.”

Piling into the van they headed for the shop. Amanda was oddly quiet the whole way.

“Do you want us to stay?” Cross asked when they pulled up.

“Yeah.” Amanda nodded. “Definitely.”

“You should really eat somethin’ before you go in.” Martin suggested.

“I’m too excited to eat.” Amanda bounced a little in her seat. “Let’s go!” She leapt out of the van and the others followed.

The shop was a huge airy room with black and white check tiles across the floor. Framed art and flash sheets covered the walls and workstations were neatly lined up along two sides of the room. A waiting area, not unlike at a doctor’s office, was under the street-facing window and the boys threw themselves into the waiting couches. It smelled of latex and cleaning products.

“You ready?” Gripps asked with a smile. He was sitting at a workstation, completely at home in the tattoo shop.

“Yes!” Amanda nodded emphatically.

Gripps picked up a paper stencil. “Tuck your shirt up into your bra and we’ll get this on you.”

Bouncing excitedly Amanda did as she was told, rolling the fabric up easily and securing the hem under her bra. Holding her arm out from her body Amanda held as still as possible while Gripps lined up the stencil on her skin.

“Check the placement in the mirror,” Gripps pushed her toward a full-length mirror in the studio. He was in professional mode, observing how the stencil moved on Amanda’s skin as she walked, tilting his head to check different angles.

Amanda stood in front of it, staring at the proposed lifelong decision, before nodding. “Yep. Done.”

“Cool. This shouldn’t take more’n a couple hours.” Gripps smiled as he got his colours ready. “Lie down and think of England.”

Amanda rolled her eyes. She got as comfortable as possible on the bed and waited. The guys filled the room with chatter and noise like they usually did, Vogle finally perking up enough to participate in life once again.

“Try not to breathe and if you need a break just tell me. First line, here we go.” Gripps started up his machine and pressed the gun to Amanda’s skin. She grunted a little at the sensation and winced once the pain set in. The buzzing of the tattoo gun filled her ears.

It was exactly like Cross had described but somehow he hadn’t managed to capture the feeling of raw, broken skin being repeatedly brutalised and filled with ink. Amanda could have sworn she felt each individual needle carving into her bones. Her stomach clenched and she was glad she hadn’t eaten anything substantial. She closed her eyes tight to try and block out the pain.

“You alright, drummer girl?”

Amanda opened her eyes to see Martin right in front of her. “Fine. Peachy keen.” She said through gritted teeth.

“You need a break?”

“If I stop I’m afraid I’ll never want to start again.”

Martin half-smiled. “You need some water?”

“Vodka?”

“Not til after.”

“Fun ruiner.”

“We’re over halfway,” Gripps announced, wiping the excess blood and ink from the tattoo as he paused.

Amanda winced. “Awesome.” She felt nauseous from pain and quickly lost track of time. The boys took turns to hold her hand, swapping out when she just about broke fingers from the pressure. Every now and again she volunteered a particularly colourful string of curses and at one point forced back tears.

Watching her closely Martin cleared his throat. It was his turn to hold her hand and he could feel his bones creaking. “You need a break?” He asked pointedly.

“Nearly done, I promise.” Gripps reassured everyone. “Just a few more minutes.”

“Kill me.” Amanda groaned.

True to his word Gripps finally sat back and set the tattoo gun down. He splashed fluid across the fresh tattoo and wiped it yet again. “Done! You lived! You can’t move yet though.”

Amanda unclenched her jaw, and her stomach, and her hands, and relaxed against the bed with a sigh. Martin took his hand back slowly and tried to flex some feeling back into it; he hadn’t quite imagined Amanda breaking his fingers the first time she held his hand. Gripps took a quick picture and then spread lotion across her broken skin. He carefully pressed cling wrap over the artwork, taping it in place.

“You’re free to go. I’ve got aftercare shit back at the motel and I’ll give you a hand with it while it heals.” Gripps took off his gloves. “Go on, take a look.”

With a surprised gasp of pain, Amanda eased herself up to a sitting position and waited for the shocky feeling to fade. Slowly she got to her feet and went to the mirror. Turning this way and that, she grinned. Even with blood seeping out from its soft petals the flower was beautiful.

“I love it!” Amanda felt a wave of nausea roll over her. “I think I’m gonna hurl.”

Martin brought a wheeled chair to her quickly and helped her to sit while Gripps picked up a handy plastic bucket to give to her.

“Head between your knees,” Gripps instructed, “did you eat before you got here?”

“No she did not.” Vogle shook his head.

Amanda bent over her knees as much as she could without serious pain from her new tattoo. She took a few deep breaths and waited for the sickly feeling to pass. A can of soda appeared at the edge of her vision and she took it gratefully, gulping it down.

The bell over the door chimed and Amanda heard someone walking in. She was far too busy trying not to vomit from shock and embarrassment to look over.

“Hey buddy,” Gripps greeted, “good timing. We’re all done.”

“Nice! You guys want to get some beers?” The newcomer invited.

“Hell yes.” Amanda replied emphatically. The sickness was fading and she sat up with a sigh. “Can we get something to eat?”

“You like burgers or pizza?”

Amanda looked at the stranger, a solidly built guy in his thirties with more tattoos than blank skin. “Both. Who’re you?”

“Manda, this is Scott. He owns the shop. Scott, this is our new drummer, Amanda.” Gripps made the introductions easily.

“Great to meet you.” Scott smiled. “You want burgers, next door is the best around.”

“That was breakfast.” Amanda retorted.

“Pizza it is then.” Scott nodded. “There’s a bar a couple blocks away that does great pizza and beer by the jug.”

“I’m in.” Vogle shrugged.

Martin drove them to the bar Scott knew and they sat in a booth, Amanda carefully sandwiched between Cross and Gripps. Martin and Scott put a few jugs of beer on the table and Vogle was already bouncing around the dance floor.

“So no one’s killed anybody huh?” Scott asked, pouring glasses of beer. He passed the first one to Amanda and she took it with a cautious smile.

“It’s a miracle Vogle ain’t dead,” Cross laughed, “either from natural causes or misadventure.”

Scott laughed. “How about you?” He asked Amanda directly. “You tried to kill any of them yet?”

“No way!” Amanda laughed. “If I kill someone I get kicked out of the band.”

“Is that right?”

“As tempting as it might be to slaughter the asshole that left the curtains open this morning,” Amanda glared at Vogle as he danced, “it wouldn’t be worth it. The band is too much fun.”

“These guys are alright,” Scott looked around the table with a smile, “as far as bands go. I heard you’re going to be at Soundwave?”

Cross grinned. “Thanks to Amanda. It’s going to be fucking awesome.”

“I haven’t done anything,” Amanda protested weakly. The others drowned her out easily and laughed. “I still get nervous when we play anywhere bigger than a basement, for fuck’s sake.”

“You’re doin’ fine,” Martin smiled.

“You’re just saying that coz you don’t want me to flake on a gig.”

“Well, yeah,” Martin laughed, “that’s a given.”

“You been playing long?” Scott asked Amanda.

Despite feeling slightly uncomfortable under his stare, Amanda played nice. She didn’t want to be rude to a friend of the guys. “Since I was a kid. I can play almost anything but drums are my favourite.”

“You don’t see many chick drummers.”

“Anything other than pop music isn’t too friendly to women,” Amanda pointed out, “it’s not always easy being the only woman in the room, or the only woman in the band.” She shrugged. “Sometimes it’s lonely.”

“We’re not that bad, right?” Gripps asked, pretending to be hurt.

Amanda laughed. “Of course not, but sometimes I miss being friends with girls.”

“Vogle ain’t close enough for you?” Scott asked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He’s gay. Isn’t that the same thing?”

“He’s bi. There’s a difference.” Cross frowned at Scott.

“Bi dudes, and gay dudes for that matter, aren’t ‘the same’ as girls.” Amanda recoiled a little.

“Right, sorry,” Scott shrugged, clearly unaffected by the conversation. “So who’s your favourite band?” He nodded toward Amanda with a smile.

The conversation moved on, though none of the band really forgot Scott’s comments. Pizzas were brought to their table and after a while Cross got bored with the tattooist’s bullshit and joined Vogle on the dancefloor. Nothing seemed to stop Scott from trying to flirt with Amanda and she barely responded politely, eventually excusing herself to go to the bathroom.

On her way back to the table Amanda stopped by the bar for another beer. Scott approached and leaned beside her. “You wanna get out of here?”

“Excuse me?” Amanda turned to look at him.

“Do you,” Scott took a half step closer to her, “want to get out of here?”

Martin saw the tattooist make his move. He was surprised it had taken this long. Leaving his beer Martin headed outside; he really didn’t want to see them leave together.

“No. Thank you.” Amanda stepped backward.

Scott raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Really?”

“Really. No thanks.” Amanda picked up her beer and headed to the dance floor.

Scott followed her. “Come on,” he tried, “you know you want to.” He smiled, trying to convince her.

“Look, you’re clearly friends with the guys, somehow, so I’m exercising some pretty decent restraint by not kicking your ass.” Amanda said firmly. “I’ve knocked guys out for less. The answer is no and will always be no. Got it?” She didn’t wait for a reply before shoving through people to get to Vogle and Cross.

“You ok?” Cross shouted above the music.

Amanda nodded and rolled her eyes. “Guy trouble.”

“What’d he do?”

“What?” Amanda got closer to Cross to hear him better.

“Martin. What’d he do?”

“Nothing? What are you talking about?”

Cross looked back to the booth where Gripps sat with his arm around a friendly girl. Martin was nowhere to be seen. “He’s gone.”

Amanda quickly put two and two together; Scott had been coming on strong despite her barely civil responses and there was no way Martin would have missed Scott’s invitation. Her eyes widened. “Shit.” She turned and shoved her way out of the crowd, abandoning her drink on a table as she rushed outside.

There were a few people around but Amanda couldn’t see any surly blond punks lurking nearby. Her heart raced as she headed for the van parked across the street. She tried not to run.

There, leaning against the van and hidden from view, was Martin. He was staring off into the distance with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

“Hey.” Amanda tried to keep her breathing even.

“Manda? What’re you doin’ out here? I thought,” Martin stopped mid-sentence and looked away.

“You thought some ignorant dude with shitty tattoos was going to sweep me off my feet? Please.” Amanda laughed, half-giddy with relief. “Give me some credit. You got a spare?”

Martin allowed a very small smile and passed her the packet. “You lose another one?” He asked, holding out a lighter.

Putting a cigarette between her lips Amanda smiled. “Nope, it’s in my jacket pocket back at the motel. I wasn’t really prepared to be out at night but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” She lit her cigarette and shivered. The adrenaline was wearing off and the temperature had really dropped once the sun went down.

“Here,” Martin held his cigarette in his mouth and shed his heavy jacket, holding it out to her.

“Won’t you be cold?”

“Nah. Go on.”

Amanda looked at it longingly. She shivered again and reached for the jacket, easily swallowing her pride to be comfortable. Shrugging into the jacket Amanda found it was way too big, the sleeves reaching to her fingertips, but it was warm and smelled like Martin. She pulled the front of it closed with a happy sigh.

“Better?” Martin asked with a smile.

“Thanks,” Amanda nodded. She walked slowly along the edge of the kerb, balancing with her arms out and her cigarette in her mouth.

There was a moment of comfortable silence before Martin spoke again. “How’s your tattoo?”

Amanda grinned. “Sore.” She stopped her balancing act and lifted the edge of her shirt. Blood had pooled at the bottom of the cling wrap and she made a face. “Gross!”

“Yeah, be careful when you take that off. Maybe wait til you’re in the shower or somethin’.”

“Wow that’s gross. Ugh.”

Martin smiled. “Try having that on your ass.”

“So it’s true,” Amanda grinned, “Gripps hinted at some ass art. It hurts enough bending over, how the hell did you sit down?”

“Carefully.”

“So what is it? An ex girlfriend’s name? Your mom’s name? Show me.”

Martin finished his cigarette and looked away, trying not to grin. “A dragon tail. It’s not my whole ass, just, a bit.” He lifted up the edge of his shirt to point out the dragon’s snake-like body along his ribs and its tail disappearing beneath his waistband. “I’m not showin’ you the rest of it in public. A man’s gotta have some secrets.”

“Wait, I thought you were bad at secrets.”

“That don’t mean I gotta get half-naked in the middle of the street just to try and impress a girl.”

Amanda laughed and blushed. “Ass tattoos do not impress me, FYI.”

“Looks like I’m shit out of luck.”

Amanda finished her cigarette and looked away. She kept on balancing along the kerb’s edge but the beers she’d had made her wobble; she lost her footing. Lurching off the edge Amanda fell into Martin with a squeak.

Catching her easily Martin helped her steady herself. “Don’t go breakin’ a foot now.”

“I’m fine.” Amanda blushed some more at the closeness of him, his hands on her waist and hers coming to rest on his arms. She didn’t know what they were but something had very nearly gone wrong and she felt sick at the thought of it. “I was never going to leave with him.”

“What?”

Amanda looked up into his bright blue eyes.

Without thinking Martin went to bring her closer, wanting no space between them whatsoever, totally forgetting about the fresh tattoo on Amanda’s side. She flinched away with a hiss of pain.

“Ouch,” Amanda winced.

“Shit, sorry-”

“Manda? You out here?” Vogle shouted from across the street.

And just like that, the moment was gone.

Amanda pulled away from Martin and looked at him for a second before she turned to go. “Right here!”

Gripps and Vogle were loitering by the bar’s door and were relieved to see her. Neither mentioned the large jacket she had mysteriously acquired.

“Sorry about Scott,” Gripps shrugged, “he hits on anything with tits.”

“Well now I feel really special.” Amanda retorted. “What happened to your lady friend?”

“She was tryin’ to make some other guy jealous.”

“Cross?” Amanda guessed and Gripps laughed.

“Yeah. They just left.”

“I’m ready for bed,” Vogle yawned, “can we go?”

Amanda nodded. “I’m so ready. Will this hurt less tomorrow?” She pointed at her ribs.

“Probably not. Where’s Martin?” Gripps asked. They headed for the van as Martin strolled around the side of it.

“We callin’ it a night?” Martin asked. The others nodded and they climbed into the van to head back to the motel.

Vogle immediately stripped down to his boxers and collapsed into bed. Gripps limped to the same bed and shed his regular boot and shirt to lie down while Martin slumped into the couch.

“How do I deal with this?” Amanda asked the room, lifting her shirt to view the bloody mess along her side. After a moment she took off Martin’s jacket and hung it over a chair, her fingers tracing over the worn leather.

“Take it off in the shower but don’t get it too wet,” Gripps yawned, “put this shit on it and try not to lie on it.” He pulled a little pot of cream from his bag nearby and handed it over.

“Oh Jesus. I did not think this through.” Amanda groaned. She took the cream and picked up her bag to go into the bathroom.

Stripping off and turning on the water, Amanda tried not to think about The Moment. She hadn’t wanted Martin to think she’d be leaving with some cocky jerk and tried not to think too hard about why.

Rolling her eyes at her own behaviour Amanda sighed; Martin was still Exhibit A of Who Not To Fall For, even if he hadn’t so much as looked at another girl in weeks. Plus there was no way for Amanda to maintain the usual defences she immediately put up whenever she caught feelings. There was no way to keep him at a distance and no way to protect herself. It raised the more pressing question: did she even want to keep him away?

Pain was an excellent distraction. Amanda focused on her tattoo, slowly pulling the tape and cling wrap away from her skin and watching the blood drip down her side. She gently splashed water across the tattoo and gasped in pain. The skin was raised and hot to the touch and incredibly sore. After a moment Amanda decided it was as clean as it was going to get and she climbed out carefully.

“How do I dry this?” She shouted through the door.

“Just pat it real gentle.” Martin replied. She swore she could hear a laugh in his voice and tried not to smile in response.

Amanda was glad she saved patting it dry til last. Blood spotted the towel and she felt tears burn her eyes from the pain. Dressing in boyleg knickers and a tank top Amanda rolled the shirt up and tied it under her boobs. The thought of fabric touching the tattoo was too much. She opened the pot of cream and attempted to put the substance on her broken skin. Looking at the tattoo and the blood and trying to rub cream over it was too much. Amanda felt nauseous all over again.

“Everythin’ ok?” Martin asked. He was right outside the door.

“This is so gross. And sore.” Amanda opened the door to look at him. “I can’t do it. I’m gonna puke.”

Martin smiled. “You want some help?”

“I want to pass out.”

“If you don’t look after it, it won’t heal right and you’ll have to get it touched up.”

“Damnit.” Amanda sighed. “I can’t look at it and touch it, it makes me feel sick.”

“Come on. If you let me help then you can lie down and you won’t have to look.”

Amanda sighed again and headed for the spare bed, lying down on her un-tattooed side and curling up. She held out the cream and closed her eyes.

Sitting in front of her on the bed’s edge, Martin took the tub and carefully applied the cool substance. Amanda hissed and her face scrunched up. She was in too much pain to dwell on the gentle sensation of Martin’s fingertips on her skin.

“I’m never doing this again.” Amanda grumbled.

“You say that now,” Gripps said with a smile, “but this shit is addictive. Trust me.”

“I hate you.” Amanda announced. Martin finished with the cream and went to wash his hands.

“You’re welcome.” Gripps was smug.

Amanda attempted to relax but her ribs burned. She squirmed, trying to get comfortable with no success.

“You gonna live?” Martin asked. He took off his shirt and let it drop on the floor as he walked to the other side of Amanda’s bed. Sitting on the edge he took off his boots.

“Shots would help. What’ve we got?”

“Hm,” Martin sat back thoughtfully, “there might be some vodka?”

“Gimme.”

“You really wanna be hungover and sore at the same time?” Gripps asked wisely.

Amanda groaned. “I really hate you. Fine, I won’t get drunk. That just means I’ll be that much more alert to hate you tomorrow.”

“Sweet dreams,” Gripps laughed and Vogle joined in. “Get the light?”

Martin kicked off his jeans and turned out the room light, stretching out carefully so as not to disturb Amanda beside him. He stared at the ceiling.

The Moment outside the bar played through Martin’s mind. What was it she’d said after he caught her? I was never going to leave with him. Hearing that had given him a flicker of hope and he could have kicked himself for forgetting about the fresh tattoo. What might have happened if he hadn’t hurt Amanda? How the hell was she so far away but so damn close at the same? Did she even want to be around him? Curled up against him in a movie theatre, Martin thought so, and when he stopped her from falling Amanda certainly looked at him in a way that got his heart racing. But most of the time she seemed – well, distant. Martin couldn’t figure her out.

Glancing at Amanda, already asleep with her back to him, Martin sighed. He didn’t need to solve every mystery immediately but a solid clue about what the hell was going on might be nice.

Chapter Text

Being woken up by a buzzing phone was Amanda’s least favourite thing. As soon as she tried to stretch she was reminded of the burning along her ribs and immediately winced. Carefully sitting up Amanda looked for the offending phone and saw it was Martin’s on the table next to him.

“Why is it always yours, asshole?” She mumbled. Leaning across Martin, Amanda reached for the buzzing cell.

Martin stirred at the movement on the mattress and blearily opened an eye. He saw Amanda leaning across him, her knees on one side of his ribs and her hands on the other, her shirt riding up to show off the tattoo – and a perfect profile view of her ass.

The surprise shocked Martin and his morning wood into complete wakefulness.

“Uh, Manda?” Martin asked quietly.

“It’s Cross,” Amanda mumbled, leaning back with Martin’s cell in her hands. She answered the call. “You know what time it is, asshole?” She sat with her legs tucked under her, still very close to Martin.

Martin was exceedingly glad he was under the sheet but still rolled away from her as she spoke.

“You what? You’ve got to be kidding.” Amanda laughed. “Hold on.” She put her hand on Martin’s shoulder. “Cross needs a ride. Here.” She dropped the phone in front of him and climbed out of bed.

Martin picked up the cell. “Text me the address, I’ll be there soon.” He hung up and waited for the bathroom door to click shut before lunging for his jeans, rushing to get dressed before Amanda came back. Thinking of cold showers did little to help, especially when he could still feel the heat from her hand on his shoulder.

By the time Amanda came out of the bathroom, her top tied up away from her tattoo once again, Martin was fully dressed and lacing up his shoes.

“Going somewhere?” Amanda asked. She got herself a bottle of water from the fridge before climbing back into bed.

Cold showers, freezing showers, fuckin’ icy showers. “Cross sounded pretty ready to get outta there. I’ll bring back coffee.” Martin didn’t look at her before he left.

“Suit yourself.” Amanda muttered. She tried not to be hurt.

Gripps groaned as the rumble of the van woke him up. “Comin’ or goin’?”

“Going to get Cross and coffee,” Amanda answered.

“Good. Put some shit on your tattoo.”

“I don’t wanna touch it,” Amanda whined, “its so painful.”

Gripps rolled upright and looked at her with a sleepily stern expression. “Hold still and I’ll do it.”

“Yes please.” Amanda lay back down with her tattoo on show. Gripps limped over to her and sat on the bed before carefully applying the cream. Amanda frowned. “Thanks.”

“Try not to let it dry out, the scabs’ll crack and the colour goes all fucked.” Gripps advised, ruffling her hair with a smile. He flopped back on the bed to lie down beside Amanda’s legs. “Sorry again about Scott last night. I forget that so many dudes are such players.”

“I don’t.” Amanda replied. She wriggled around in the bed to lie on her belly closer to Gripps’ face.

Looking at her closely Gripps narrowed his eyes. “I kinda thought you’d be into him, to be honest.”

“Why?”

“He fits the profile. Disposable, good looking, into you.” Gripps shrugged.

“Am I that transparent?”

“Sometimes.”

“I dunno,” Amanda looked away, “I just wasn’t feeling it.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“What?”

Gripps met her eyes, smiling a little sadly. “What are you so afraid of?”

A long moment passed before Amanda could answer. “Letting someone hurt me.”

“That’s life kiddo. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it don’t, but nothing good will ever happen if you’re too scared to take a chance.”

Amanda raised an eyebrow. “I got into a van with a bunch of strangers to drive across the country. That’s a pretty decent chance to take.”

“It was worth it, right?”

“Definitely.”

“So,” Gripps said slowly, “maybe the next step will be worth it, too.”

Amanda felt her face go warm; she wasn’t at all prepared to discuss such meaningful shit before a coffee. She rolled onto her back with a sigh and stared at the ceiling.

“I’ve said my bit and that’ll be the end of that from me. But think about it.”

“Easy for you to say.” Amanda mumbled. “You’ve all been friends forever. You know each other so well it’s ridiculous.”

“There’s not a lot to know.” Gripps smiled.

Amanda nudged him with her elbow. “You know what I mean.” She sighed again. Anxiety gripped her belly.

“Just think about it.” Gripps repeated. “I need a shower.” He limped into the bathroom and closed the door.

Amanda covered her face with her hands.

When Martin eventually returned with Cross and coffee, Amanda was sitting on the couch. She was dressed in jeans with holes in the knees and a loose tee shirt. No matter how she sat the fabric touched her skin and she couldn’t keep from grimacing.

“I need a favour,” Amanda asked as Martin set the coffees down on the coffee table.

“Sure,” Martin still didn’t look at her, “what’s up.”

Amanda frowned but continued. “Can we stop in at a mall on the way out of town? I need new shirts.”

Martin nodded. He started to pack up some of the mess from the room. “Sure thing.”

Ignoring his weird shit Amanda helped herself to coffee.

*

The mall of choice was on the edge of town but still decently sized. Amanda turned to look at the van’s occupants and tried to smile.

“I’ll be super fast, I promise. Does anyone want to come in?” She looked around hopefully.

Vogle nodded. “Let’s get you something pretty.”

“I need shirts, not a ball gown,” Amanda reminded him as they climbed out of the van and headed inside.

While Amanda had a mission Vogle had the attention span of a puppy and dragged her from store to store almost faster than she could blink.

“Honestly, I just want some shirts with really big armpit holes,” Amanda protested.

With an impatient sigh Vogle found a few of the requested items and shoved them into her arms. “Come on, try them.”

Amanda held them up against herself, stretched the armpit holes down, and shrugged. “Close enough.” Looking sideways at Vogle, Amanda found a hint of courage. “What’s up with Martin this morning?”

“Nothing I know of.” Vogle shrugged.

Amanda sighed.

“Did you do something?”

“No.” Amanda answered quickly. “I don’t think so?”

Vogle shrugged. “He can be moody. Don’t sweat, whatever it is he’ll get over it. If he can’t stay mad at me for longer than half a day, you’ll be fine. What about this?” He held up a shirt with a grinning cat on it.

“For me or you?”

“Me, obviously.”

“In that case, definitely.” Amanda grinned. She paid for her shirts, picked up a couple of little crop bras and immediately went into a restroom to get changed. The crop bra was clearly visible in the giant armpit holes but at least her tattoo was considerably less irritated. With a relieved sigh she re-joined Vogle and they wandered through the food court on their way out.

“I’m starving.” Amanda realised, smelling cooking food. “Call the boys, see if they want anything. I’m getting a breakfast burrito.”

Taking extensive requests from the others, Amanda and Vogle ended up taking a tour of the food court and carried a few bags of takeout back to the van.

“Nice shirt,” Cross said when Amanda got in the front seat. She gave out the food and settled in with her burrito. “You know your bra is hanging out, right?”

“Apparently it’s a look,” Amanda smiled, “and it’s damn comfortable.”

Martin had glanced at her new fashion and immediately regretted it. Her bra was indeed hanging out the sides and he could see her whole torso around the strips of fabric that allegedly constituted a shirt. Cold showers, cold showers, cold showers.

“Here,” Amanda unwrapped the edge of a breakfast muffin and handed it over to Martin, “breakfast is served.”

“Thanks.” Martin took it without meeting her eyes.

Glancing briefly at the boys in the backseat, Amanda asked Martin quietly, “is everything ok?”

“Yeah. Fine.” Martin started the engine and stuck the muffin in his mouth as he drove.

“Whatever.” Amanda put on some Bikini Kill and turned to look out the window at the dwindling suburban vista.

Hours later the van pulled into another motel lot and ejected a bunch of crabby punks. Having checked in Martin immediately got a beer and a cigarette and sat at the quaint outdoor setting in front of their room. Fully intending on letting Martin live his own grumpy life, Amanda documented the ugly motel and the battered van parked out front. She managed a stealthy shot of Martin as he stared into the distance, smoking his cigarette with a vengeance.

Rolling her eyes Amanda joined the others in the room, taking photos of the shots being poured and the sticky playing cards as a round of poker began. Martin stayed outside like a sullen smoking cloud. Amanda won the fifth hand in a row and tapped out; she glared out the window and couldn’t take the grouching silence any more. The boys watched her go and let her have at it. They knew better than to get in Martin’s way when he was clearly in a foul mood.

Amanda joined Martin with a beer, feeling oddly belligerent. She sat without waiting for an invitation. “Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or what?”

“What do you mean?”

“You blazed out of the room this morning and you’ve barely said two words since.”

With a very slight growl, Martin finally looked at her. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, I guess,” Amanda shrugged, “did I do something?”

Martin looked away as he smoked. “No.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

Amanda was sceptical. “Last chance. Speak now or forever shut your mouth.”

“You didn’t do anythin’ wrong.” Martin smiled at last. He took a deep breath before speaking quietly. “I woke up with your ass in my face.”

“And your response was to not talk to me all day?” Amanda challenged. Her cheeks went a little pink.

“My response was a bit more physical than that.”

“Physical?”

Martin looked at her over the top of his glasses for a long moment.

“Oh my god.” Amanda laughed as she realised what must’ve happened. She looked away. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, it ain’t your fault. Just give me some warnin’ next time.”

“I’ll try.” Amanda kept laughing and held a hand out for his cigarette.

Martin handed it over with an indulgent smile and caught the tired look on her face. He’d been too busy being embarrassed all day to notice Amanda was clearly not ok. The self-flagellation began. “Everythin’ alright?”

“It’s really hard to sleep when your whole side feels like it’s on fire,” Amanda admitted, “I’m really hoping getting drunk is going to help.”

“We don’t have to play til tomorrow. You wanna go out or stay in?” Martin took the cigarette back.

“Isn’t that usually a group decision?”

Martin shrugged. “I’ll ask ‘em too.”

“I’m wiped. Beers and shitty movies sound pretty amazing, to be honest, but if you guys want to go out, sure.” Amanda sighed. “How are we going to keep this up for another,” she reeled, “I don’t even know how long.”

“About six weeks. The Soundwave slot added a few days.”

“It’s a little overwhelming.”

“Maybe a quiet kinda night’ll help?” Martin clumsily tried to reassure her.

Amanda sat back with her drink. “Yeah maybe. I might even pass out before midnight.”

“It’s a long time to be on the move.”

“It’s a long time to share a room with four other people.” Amanda corrected. “Between Cross’s snoring, Gripps talking in his sleep – do you know how weird it is to hear German in the middle of the night? – and Vogle doing the wake-up vomit call, it’s a miracle I’m getting any sleep.”

Martin laughed. “No complaints about me?”

“You don’t snore too loud I guess but you hog the covers like you’re in the arctic or something. The number of nights I wake up with a single corner and you’re wrapped up like a pig in a blanket?” Amanda shook her head.

“Sorry? I guess?” Martin laughed again.

“Oh, I steal ‘em right back. You don’t even wake up.” Amanda paused thoughtfully. “At least your feet are never cold.”

“I kick you in my sleep?” Martin was horrified.

Amanda laughed. “No, but you’ve got legs for days and you’re a slow stretch kind of guy. You nudge me in your sleep. And then there’s – never mind.”

“Oh god, what?”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing.”

Martin was clearly concerned. “What is it?”

“It’s just,” Amanda smiled, “ok, so, you do this thing sometimes.”

What thing?

“You stretch out and – and kind of – pat me?”

Martin just about felt his soul leave his body. His face certainly paled enough. “Pat you?

“Yeah.” Amanda laughed. “It’s like, your hand comes creeping out and bumps me, does a little,” she demonstrated a pat on his exposed forearm, “and then you curl back up like nothing ever happened.”

“Jesus, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Coz its in your sleep and there’s nothing you can do about it?” Amanda shrugged. “It’s better than an accidental punch to the face. That’s happened more often than I thought it would. Not from you.” She smiled at Martin’s renewed horror. “Some previous acquaintances of mine would twitch in their sleep and I’d get a slap to the face. There’s a lot of reasons I don’t do sleepovers and that was one of them.”

“That’s fucked.”

“It’s a hell of a way to wake up.”

“Ass in the face is definitely better.”

Amanda laughed, blushing again.

Martin smiled as he watched her. After a moment he glanced over his shoulder. “You losers wanna go out or stay in?” He shouted.

The lacklustre mumbled replies were a clue.

“Looks like we’re in.” Martin smiled.

Vogle appeared in the doorway. “Shots?” He asked wearily.

“Nah,” Amanda yawned, “I’m good for now.”

“Me too.” Vogle sighed. He sat on Amanda’s lap and sipped her drink. She looked at the back of his head and smiled.

“What’s up?” Amanda asked.

Vogle sighed. “Half-way blues.”

“We’re over half-way.” Martin reminded him.

“Whatever. Tour blues.”

“Why so blue?” Amanda teased.

Vogle leaned back against her, his legs stretched out in front of him. “It’s so hard to pick up dudes in these towns and I miss men.” He sighed.

Amanda tried not to laugh. “So, you don’t have tour blues, you have ‘want some dick’ blues. It’s not really the same thing, is it?”

“I’m so depressed.” Vogle sighed again.

“Would a drinking game help?” Amanda tried.

“Maybe.”

“Pick a super explosion-y action movie. Whenever something blows up, you take a drink. Whenever someone dies, you take a drink. Whenever there’s a terrible pun or shitty line, take a drink.” Amanda grinned.

Vogle thought for a moment. “I pick ‘Die Hard’!”

“We’re gonna die.” Martin said at last, stubbing out his cigarette.

“Don’t be such a chicken,” Amanda joked. She slapped the side of Vogle’s thigh. “Come on, sad ass, let’s get this party started.”

They went into the room and Amanda explained the rules to Cross and Gripps, the latter promptly agreeing with Martin’s morbid assessment as the former poured himself a giant drink. The room lacked a sofa so Amanda parked herself in the middle of a bed with her laptop to set it up. Gripps, Cross and Martin all leaned against the headboard and Vogle threw himself across them like a puppy.

“Y’all are not as small as you think you are.” Amanda announced. She carefully followed Vogle’s example and sprawled across the guys with some strategic pillows to avoid knees to the head. The opening credits rolled and the drinking started.

Sinking a few drinks before the movie was even halfway done, Amanda called a time out. “I need a cigarette. And some water. Anyone else?” Amanda scrambled off the body pile, kicking a few people in the process, and only stumbled a little on her way to the fridge. She picked up a packet of cigarettes and sat outside. Martin quickly joined her, handing over a lighter as he sat with his drink.

Amanda lit her cigarette and inhaled deeply. Something had been plaguing her and, fuelled by Dutch courage, she cleared her throat. “Listen, I need to tell you something.”

Martin felt his heart skip. Her tone was oddly serious. “What is it?”

Amanda looked away, her eyes distant. She took another long drag on the cigarette and blew the smoke above their heads.

“You’re scaring me here. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Amanda tried to smile, “it’s just. It’s my birthday next week. I’ve spent the last couple being miserable and shitty and,” she broke off with a sigh, “I don’t want to do that again.”

Martin heaved a sigh of relief. “Your birthday.”

“Yeah. I’ll be twenty-four.”

“Ok.” Martin nodded. He got his phone out and scrolled through a couple of screens. “When next week?”

“In eight days.”

“We’ll be in Texas by then,” Martin mused as he read through the itinerary, “in Austin.”

Amanda smiled. “Cool. Austin.” She sipped her water. “I don’t want to make a big deal of it, or anything, ok? I just want to have a fun time and maybe a donut or two. Or three.”

Martin chuckled at her.

“What?”

“You’re gonna turn into a donut.”

“Am not.”

Martin laughed again. “You wanna tell the guys?”

“Yeah, for sure, but I don’t want it to be a big deal. It’s just a day that I want to be kind of nice, that’s all.”

“No big deal.” Martin nodded, immediately thinking about what they should do.

“Stop it, right now.” Amanda warned with a smile.

“Stop what?”

“I can see you thinking it. Stop.”

Martin sipped his beer. “Can’t make any promises.”

Chapter Text

Really, Amanda should have known better.

On the morning of her birthday, waking up in their Austin motel with a slight hangover from the previous night’s gig, Amanda rolled over and saw a box of donuts on the nightstand. It definitely hadn’t been there when she passed out the night before. She looked to the other half of the bed and found it was empty; sleepily she sat up and saw Martin dressed and sitting on the couch.

“Happy birthday drummer girl.” Martin said quietly.

Amanda stretched and didn’t quite resist the urge to scratch lightly at her healing tattoo. “Thanks. When did you get up? How did I sleep through that?” She helped herself to a jelly donut and bit into happily.

“I can be stealthy,” Martin said with a little mock defensiveness.

“If you say so.”

Martin smiled. “What do you want to do today?”

“Mm,” Amanda shrugged, finishing her breakfast donut. “Hang out? Eat a bunch of delicious food?”

“Food?” Cross mumbled. He rolled over in the second bed and sat up, ruffling his hair into an exciting new messy arrangement. “I like food.”

“Breakfast?” Amanda smiled.

“Breakfast.” Martin nodded. He looked down at his phone as Amanda climbed out of bed and went straight to the bathroom.

Amanda stood in the doorway with her bag in one hand and announced, “I am not leaving this bathroom for anyone this morning. I don’t care if you’re about to piss your pants. I’m not leaving until I’m done.” With a grin she slammed the door. She took her time, shaving her legs and washing her hair and putting some effort into her makeup. Picking out a pair of cut offs and a tank top with massive armpit holes, Amanda got dressed and put cream on her tattoo. Now that the scabs were falling off in gross chunks and the pain was a distant memory it was that much easier to touch.

When Amanda finally breezed out of the bathroom, Vogle rushed by her to get in. Flinging up the toilet seat he didn’t bother closing the door to pee. He let out a long sigh.

“Not sorry,” Amanda smiled and helped herself to another donut.

“Happy birthday!” Gripps grinned as he got out of bed.

“Happy birthday,” Cross mumbled, and Vogle echoed the sentiment from the bathroom.

The band eventually rolled out of the motel room and found a pancake place for breakfast. Amanda ordered a stack of pancakes and ice cream as big as her head and was struggling to finish them. Eventually she sat back, defeated, resting her hands on her slightly swollen belly.

“I should have stopped at six.” Amanda groaned.

Vogle picked at the edge of her plate with a grin. She pushed it at him.

“I hope you’re not too full to move,” Cross said, looking at the others knowingly.

“Oh god. What.” Amanda looked around the table. The guys were all smiling in a highly concerning way.

“We got somethin’ planned.” Gripps said nonchalantly.

Amanda looked at Martin, the obvious ringleader, and scowled.

“If you don’t love it, we don’t have to stay.” Martin grinned. “You’re gonna love it.”

Amanda couldn’t stay mad, especially when she found out the surprise.

The van pulled into the parking lot of Peter Pan Mini-Golf.

“Oh. My. God!” Amanda bounced in her seat before turning to look at the guys. “Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack!” Vogle leaned forward.

“Let’s go!” Cross shouted, kicking open the van door and jumping out. Vogle and Gripps followed, carrying a cooler between them.

Amanda looked across the seat at Martin, smiling. She was delighted by the thoughtfulness of a bunch of punks, one in particular, that she’d only known for a few weeks. Instinctively Amanda tried to push the dreaded feelings down but they kept bubbling back up. Eventually she looked away from Martin’s vivid eyes, breaking the moment.

“I hope you’re ready to lose. I’m a mini-golf prodigy.” Amanda informed him.

“We’ll see about that. C’mon.”

With short clubs and neon golf balls in hand The Rowdy Three assembled at the first hole. Amanda noticed the cooler and took a peek inside to find it fully stocked with her favourite beer. She took one out and opened it with a grin.

“Are you telling me I can daytime drink while playing mini-golf?” Amanda whispered.

Martin nodded, getting a beer for himself. “Pretty great birthday present right?”

“Right.” Amanda gulped her beer. “Get ready to lose, boys!”

It turned out that Amanda was frighteningly competitive when it came to mini-golf. Martin caught her in several sabotage attempts, ranging from ‘accidentally’ dropping her golf club across the green to a casual kick to the shins. When it was Martin’s turn to putt, which was hilarious to see and Amanda couldn’t help but document it, she wasn’t even planning to disrupt his efforts. A well-timed stretch that ended with her resting the golf club across her shoulders, her wrists holding it in place at either end, was more than enough.

Once he tore his eyes away from her Martin could barely remember his own name, let alone how to time the shot to get through the clown’s mouth. He fumbled it utterly and Amanda laughed.

“Wow, what a shot,” Amanda praised with palpable sarcasm. The beers she’d rapidly drunk didn’t seem to affect her mini-golf game at all. She won the mini tournament even though most of her deliberate sabotaging had been thwarted. Amanda’s accidental sabotaging, on the other hand, had succeeded in getting Martin the worst score.

“Where to next?” Amanda asked the guys as they headed out of mini-golf.

“Wherever you want.” Vogle said with a smile.

Martin put his arm around her shoulders. “It’s your birthday, so you get to decide.”

“You mean you didn’t plan the whole day?” Amanda looked up at Martin with a healthy dose of scepticism. He was a control freak and she didn’t quite believe that he hadn’t thought up a detailed itinerary. The damn feelings kept coming up, definitely helped by the way Martin kept his arm around her. Amanda contemplated putting her arm around his waist. He was so warm and his closeness set her heart pounding.

“We had some ideas,” Martin admitted. He pulled away to get cigarettes out of his pocket and passed them to Amanda.

Amanda recovered from the sudden distance and helped herself to a cigarette. “If you happened to have a plan then I guess we could do that.”

Martin grinned.

The next stop was a retro games bar full of arcade games and pinball machines, as well as board games and a selection of TVs set up with old school consoles. Amanda and Vogle were bouncing with excitement.

“Do you think they have Mario Kart on SNES?” Amanda asked, looking around. The bar wasn’t too crowded for mid-afternoon on a weekday and Amanda hoped to have her pick of the games.

“You are not old enough to have grown up with a SNES,” Cross said, confused.

“My brother and I got a hand-me-down one from some cousins one Christmas.” Amanda shrugged and tried not to think about Todd. He’d tried calling twice and Dirk had sent a flurry of Facebook messages. His penchant for emojis was kind of endearing, which left Amanda conflicted about not replying.

“You want a drink?” Martin asked. He held out a drinks menu.

Every single cocktail name was a terrible game-related pun. Amanda took a picture of the list while laughing. “Uh,” she stared at the ingredients lists for a minute, frowning at the irritating font, before deciding on one. “This is basically a peanut butter milkshake, right?”

Glancing over the menu Martin nodded. “With half a bottle of Baileys.”

“Perfect.” Amanda nodded.

“Manda! Found a SNES!” Vogle shouted from across the bar. Amanda headed straight for him.

A few hours and delicious cocktails later Amanda struggled with the controls of the older arcade consoles. The concept of using a single toggle and two buttons to control a fighting persona was making her head explode. She lost again, to Martin this time, and laughed as the losing cut scene played out.

“Ugh this is so ridiculous! I give up.” Amanda retreated, a little unsteady on her feet.

“You can’t be good at everything,” Martin pointed out.

“You’re just jealous coz you suck at mini-golf.”

“I ain’t that bad without distractions.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I didn’t even kick you.”

Martin leaned on the edge of the arcade machine and looked over the top of his glasses. “You tryin’ to tell me you weren’t workin’ your best angles around that golf course?”

With a smile Amanda sipped her milkshake cocktail. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Havin’ a fun day?” Martin changed the subject. He frowned when he saw her expression sour.

“I was. What the fuck is he doing here?” Amanda stared.

Following her line of sight Martin growled. Todd stood by the bar, looking around the growing crowds. Beside him was Dirk in a distinctive blue jacket.

“Do you want to go?” Martin asked quietly, ready to whisk her away from the asshole brother in a heartbeat.

“I don’t, I don’t know,” Amanda stammered. She didn’t have time to make a decision; Dirk spotted her and waved, his face lighting up. He poked Todd’s shoulder and pointed toward Amanda and Martin. Waving again Dirk headed straight for them.

“Happy birthday!” Dirk greeted cheerily. He carried a martini glass and a brown paper bag.

“Thanks,” Amanda mumbled. “What are you doing here?” She glared at Todd.

“Happy birthday sis.” Todd tried to smile. He nervously gripped his beer with both hands. “I just wanted to get the chance to wish you a happy birthday. That’s all.”

“We got you a present.” Dirk grinned. He held the bag up.

Amanda gaped. “You really shouldn’t have. I don’t want anything from you, Todd.”

Dirk was crushed and tried not to show it. “Think of it as being more from me, then. It was mostly my idea to make the trip down here.”

Todd cleared his throat and gave Dirk a look.

“It was entirely my idea to make the trip.” Dirk admitted. “I thought perhaps a gesture of apology might get things going in the right direction.”

“I’ll never not be sorry for what I did.” Todd said.

Amanda just stared.

“Please accept the gift?” Dirk wheedled. “My arm’s getting sore here.”

Rolling her eyes Amanda put down her drink and took the bag. “I don’t know how to forgive you, Todd. So quit asking.”

“Honestly I’d settle for a conversation without arguing.”

Dirk interrupted, “please open your present! I can’t wait any longer.”

“Hold on,” Amanda smiled at him and looked in the bag. There were three boxes inside and she pulled one out to read the packaging. Her eyes widened. She looked at Todd and Dirk for a moment before remembering how to speak. “I can’t accept this.”

“Yes you can. It’s a few years’ worth of presents and one hell of an apology.” Todd nodded.

“What is it?” Martin asked, looking from Amanda to her brother and back again.

“It’s about three thousand dollars’ worth of camera and lenses.” Amanda held the box tightly. “Seriously, I can’t take this. This is insane.”

Todd tried smiling. “I’m not trying to buy your forgiveness or anything, don’t worry. I was going to just try and mail them to you but I don’t have your address, and then Dirk suggested a holiday.” Todd looked up at his boyfriend with a smile.

With slightly trembling hands Amanda turned the box over before putting it back in the bag. “I need a minute.” She turned and left.

Martin stayed where he was to glare at Todd and Dirk. The couple tried not to be visibly intimidated.

Amanda quickly returned, grabbed Martin by the hand, and dragged him after her. She didn’t let him go until they were outside. The cool air hit her and she sighed.

“You sure you don’t want me to beat him up?” Martin asked quietly. He stood close to Amanda, trying to figure her out.

“I call dibs on the first shot,” Amanda said with a humourless smile. “What the fuck.” She leaned against the wall and sighed, still holding the bag.

Martin handed her a cigarette and leaned next to her. “Family’s hard. I don’t got that much, other than the boys. Times like now I’m glad about it.”

“No long running feuds with anyone?”

Martin smiled and leaned in to light Amanda’s cigarette. “What makes you think I’d be feudin’ with anybody?”

“That sentence alone would remove any doubt that you’re from the south. You have an accent. You know that, right? You might try and hide it but it’s always there.”

“My dad’s family are from around here. Sorta. More up the hills.” Martin lit his own cigarette and took a long drag. “We don’t talk.”

“Any reason why?”

“My mom’s part Cree and my dad’s from a bunch of hideous racists.”

Amanda raised her eyebrows. “That must’ve made things fucking awkward.”

“And then some.”

“So you’re part Cree?”

Martin nodded. “Makes it hard to talk to half your family when they think you’re subhuman.”

“Family is the worst.”

“At least Todd loves you.” Martin looked at the bag. “And appears to be generous.”

“This is nuts,” Amanda said, the cigarette between her lips, “seriously, I can’t accept this.”

“I can see how bad you want it. Why not take it?”

“I don’t want him to think everything is perfect again.”

Martin smiled. “He don’t look that dumb.”

“You say that now,” Amanda smiled back. She looked at the bag in her hand and bit her lip. She wanted to unbox the camera so badly; it looked beautiful.

“You wanna stay?”

“I guess. We’re having fun, right?”

“Right.”

“I’m done letting him ruin things for me. He’s not about to ruin my birthday, too.” Amanda squared her shoulders. “Can I put this in the van?”

Martin nodded and stubbed out his cigarette as they headed for the beast around the corner. Opening the back door to deposit the bag, Martin pulled out another package and handed it over.

“What’s this?” Amanda dropped her cigarette butt and took the parcel in both hands.

“It ain’t a camera,” Martin warned her, “but it didn’t feel right not gettin’ you somethin’.”

Amanda looked up into his eyes and felt all warm and shivery under his gaze. After a long moment she returned her attention to the present in her hands and tore open the wrapping. Inside was a leather jacket with something written across the back. Unfurling it to read it, Amanda grinned.

“‘Tequila’,” Amanda laughed, “I love it.” She put it on and looked down admiringly. The sleeves were a little long but it was warm and had studs along the collar. “Thank you.” Amanda excitedly put her arms around Martin’s neck.

Martin carefully returned the hug, keeping his hands low on her waist. He loved the way her hair tickled his face. “Happy birthday.”

Pulling away just enough to look at him, Amanda met his eyes. There it was, that familiarly warm and electrifying look, waiting to see what she’d do next. Amanda’s gaze darted down to his mouth and back up to his eyes. She leaned in slowly and pressed her lips against his for a delicious moment before moving back.

Martin stared at Amanda for a second, hardly daring to believe his luck. He smiled slowly and bent down to kiss her again. Amanda was soft and warm against him and he held her tightly, easing a hand under her new jacket to stroke her back.

The kiss quickly deepened, making Amanda’s heart pound as Martin pressed his mouth and tongue against hers, and his beard was just as soft as she remembered. Martin’s hand on her back sent waves of heat through her body and she tightened her grip around his neck. Amanda rose up on her toes to be closer to him and lost her balance in her enthusiasm. Martin held her steady but she pulled away laughing nonetheless.

“Did you just swoon?” Martin asked, trying not to laugh.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “I’ve been drinking for, like, six hours. Cut me some slack.”

“Only if you ask nicely.” Martin moved his hand inside the holes of her shirt to bring her to him.

“And what are you gonna do if I don’t?” Amanda whispered.

Martin growled a little as he kissed her again, trying not to think about the implications of her question. Amanda gasped; it was a small sound full of need and her grip around his neck got tighter. At that moment Martin pulled away to look at her.

“What’s wrong?” Amanda stared at him, looking from his eyes to his beautiful mouth and back again. “I thought you wanted this.”

“I do.” Martin tried not to think about just how badly he wanted her. He had to know how she felt and was desperate to hear her say it. “Do you?”

Amanda felt the words rising up her throat but was still too afraid to speak. It was easier when she could just go on instinct and listen to her body without having to think or explain. Later she could blame anything on being caught up in the moment and have yet more excuses to avoid facing the truth.

“Manda?”

Why did he have to be so serious when all she could let herself want, was lightness? “I want another milkshake.”

Martin sighed as he watched her pull up the walls between them. For half a second he wondered how long he’d indulge her bullshit before realising it was likely to be a damn long time. I am so screwed. “Fine. Milkshake it is.”

With a grateful smile Amanda put her hand on his chest for a moment before turning away to head back toward the bar. Martin closed up the van and followed her, ruefully checking her out as she walked away.

Amanda glanced back over her shoulder and saw his eyes lift from her ass back to her face. She grinned. Flirting was easier from a distance; she stopped, turned to face him, and put a hand on her hip as she posed. When Martin got close enough to touch her Amanda skipped away, swinging her hips in no uncertain terms.

“Why do I get the feelin’ that the bulk of our time together is spent with you runnin’ and me tryin’ to catch up?” Martin asked, getting close to her again.

“Because I don’t have to think when I’m running away,” Amanda grinned, propelled by a few hours of alcohol consumption, “and I don’t have to explain anything or worry about anything. All there is, is some hottie in the rear view. And hotties in the rear view don’t scare me.”

“What’s so scary ‘bout me?”

Amanda stopped and stared at him. “I can’t push you away.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I can’t just freeze you out or ignore you. I can’t leave town. I can’t cut and run like I normally do coz you’re my friend. The guys are my friends and I love this band.”

“So if you met me anywhere else, you’d just leave my ass straight up?”

“I did leave your ass straight up,” Amanda laughed, “then you needed a drummer and here we are.” She shrugged.

“Here we are. Here’s my sorry ass fallin’ for a girl who won’t give me the time of day.”

“The time of day isn’t the problem,” Amanda whispered conspiratorially. “It’s waking up the next day that’s the problem.”

Martin smirked. “Like you ain’t been wakin’ up next to me the last few weeks already? You gotta realise it’s been you and me in a bed together every night since,” he thought back, “after that fight in Salt Lake City. And more’n a few nights before that.”

Amanda’s heart raced. “That’s different.”

“How?”

“Because when the tour is over I can still walk away and you won’t have had the chance to hurt me.”

“You seem real convinced I’m gonna be an asshole to you.”

“Everyone else has been.”

“Goddamnit, Manda, I am not some shitty ex!” Martin snapped. “I am a goddamn person independent of your past. I’m startin’ to wonder how long it’s gonna take before you see me and not some cryptid mess of past bullshit.”

“I’m trying! I told you that there’s not some magic way to make this happen!” Amanda shouted. “Remember?”

“Oh I remember alright. That don’t make it any easier to stand right in front of you and know that you can’t even see me. Do you want this? Can you even admit to yourself that maybe that’s why you’re so scared, coz you want me just as bad as I want you?”

Amanda stared.

“You think you’re the only one who’s scared?” Martin continued, his voice low. “I haven’t let myself care about anyone like this in a damn long time, coz lettin’ anyone in is terrifying. How many times do I gotta bare my damn soul before you hear a word of it? And what if, after everything, you just plain old don’t want me at all?” Martin searched her face and didn’t find what he was looking for. He sighed. “I can’t do this. I can’t.” Martin turned away.

Panic surged in Amanda’s chest as she watched Martin leave. She couldn’t find enough courage to be honest with herself, let alone with him, but Amanda couldn’t stand the thought of losing him.

“Wait!” Amanda ran to catch him, pulling him by the jacket to face her. She stared into his eyes, still too afraid to speak.

Martin looked over the top of his glasses. “What do you want from me?”

“I don’t know-”

“Then forget it.” Martin shook her off.

“I want you, damnit!” Amanda put a hand on the nape of his neck, her heart racing. “Wanting you is easy. Too easy.”

Martin’s gaze softened as he looked at Amanda. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with easy.”

“That’s about where the easy runs out. Anything after this is a mess.”

Martin carefully put his hands on Amanda’s waist. “I don’t care.”

“I do. A bit.” Amanda tentatively wrapped her arms around his neck again. “This doesn’t come easily for me.”

“Me, neither,” Martin admitted, “but I can’t keep on pretendin’ like there’s nothin’ here. It,” he looked down, “it hurts too much.”

Amanda’s heart pounded in her ears. “Can we maybe accept that there’s, like, a level of attraction here? And maybe just not worry about what comes after? For now?”

“A level of attraction?” Martin looked at her and raised his eyebrows. For a long moment he dared to hope and was buoyed by it. “If you tell me you ain’t daydreamin’ about me naked then I’m clearly doin’ somethin’ wrong.”

Amanda laughed. Those exact daydreams had crossed her mind more than once but Martin certainly didn’t need to know he was right. The way she looked at him in that moment gave him a clue anyway.

“What’s involved in ‘acceptin’ a level of attraction’?” Martin asked, half-smiling as he considered the situation.

“What’s mostly involved is, me admitting I’m attracted to you. That I want you. And that I don’t want you to walk away.” Amanda said quietly. “That’s about all I can manage right now.”

It wasn’t quite the declaration Martin might have hoped for but he’d seen the fear creep back into her eyes. He was more than impressed that she’d managed to get that much out before clamming right up again. “Alright. You plan on doin’ anythin’ about this attraction?” Martin’s grip on her waist tightened slightly.

“I’ll let you know?”

“You do that.” Martin smiled.

“Right.” Amanda nodded. “How about that milkshake?”

“Anythin’ you want.”

Amanda grinned and dragged Martin back inside. She was almost relieved but a faint undercurrent of terror washed over her; there was no going back. Martin’s admission wasn’t much of a security blanket in the uncharted territory of Having Feelings but she clung to it anyway.

They went to the bar for more drinks before returning to the band near a console station. Dirk and Todd were awkwardly waiting nearby; the guys had not been overly welcoming but hadn’t deliberately run them off.

When Todd saw Amanda again he smiled, relieved. “You want to play Mario Kart?” He asked hopefully.

Amanda sipped her alcoholic milkshake. “Sure.”

Martin glared at her brother before leaning in close to Amanda. “We’ll be right here if you need anything.”

“Thanks,” Amanda smiled up at him, the long look between them making Todd and Dirk uncomfortable. The guys just ignored them.

“I’ll get the SNES set up,” Todd babbled and moved away to the station. He wasn’t prepared to see his sister with a guy as terrifying as Martin, but at least her decision to abandon college made sense. He said as much to Amanda when she finally joined him on an old couch in front of the SNES.

“Jesus Christ,” Amanda rolled her eyes, “I joined the band because I hated college, not to try and bone some dude. I could’ve had that ass without even leaving town.” She took the first controller and picked the course without waiting for input from her brother.

“I don’t need details!” Todd said quickly.

“Good, coz you’re not getting any.”

“He seems nice?” Dirk tried, clearly lying. He sat beside them with another cocktail.

Amanda rolled her eyes as the Mario Kart race began. “No offence, Dirk, but I don’t even know you. I’m not about to discuss my private life with you.”

“Don’t take it personally, babe,” Todd said kindly; he’d seen Dirk’s face fall. “She wouldn’t have talked about it with me even when we were talking.”

“Damn straight.” Amanda lay in wait for Todd’s character to come into view before shooting him off the track with a smile. She glanced at Dirk, an unusually sunny personality who somehow found her brother to be a decent human, and couldn’t contain the curiosity. “How did you two happen?”

Asking the question was absolutely worth it to see the look of mild panic across Todd’s face while Dirk looked positively thrilled. “I’m a private detective and Todd was tangentially connected to a case. We just clicked.”

“A private detective? In that jacket?” Amanda looked at him incredulously. “Is that how you found me?”

“Amanda, your tour schedule is easily available online. Plus you check in to venues on Instagram when you post. How do you think fans always find you?” Dirk said with a knowing smile. He looked over to the band and Amanda followed his gaze; as usual, the guys were surrounded.

For a moment Amanda just stared at Martin, watching him joking around with Vogle and some stranger. Sensing her eyes on him Martin looked over, half a smile on his face, making Amanda blush and return her focus to the game at hand. Despite the serious lack of attention she won the race, and quickly set up another one.

“So Todd, what are you doing for work at the moment? Or are you still grifting?”

Todd felt his cheeks warm in embarrassment. “I work with Dirk.”

“What?”

“I take care of paperwork and stuff.”

“Oh love, you do far more than just paperwork, though it’s true he does the bulk of it because I just can’t stand that stuff.” Dirk explained. “Your brother has a gift for solving puzzles and such. The business has really taken off since we started working together.”

“And how long has that been?”

Dirk looked contemplative while Todd seemed ready to crawl into a hole and die. “Coming up to a year?”

Amanda nodded slowly. She couldn’t be mad that Todd hadn’t bothered to tell her about Dirk when they weren’t even talking, but she was still a little sad to know she’d missed this. Todd had never brought a boy home before and Amanda was glad he’d finally found one that he apparently wanted to stick around. Her brother wasn’t an easy person to love.

Winning another race and finishing her milkshake, Amanda looked over to the band and frowned for a second when she couldn’t see Martin. A ringed hand put a glass of water and another milkshake down beside her; Amanda looked over her shoulder to see the punk in question. She smiled.

“Thanks,” Amanda sipped the milkshake happily.

“That water ain’t for display.” Martin said meaningfully before heading back to join their friends.

“You can’t seriously be with him.” Todd stared after the punk.

“I don’t know what I am with him, but I do know it’s none of your business.”

Todd wouldn’t quit. “He’d have to be my age at least. And you know guys in bands, Amanda.”

“His name is Martin,” Amanda said defensively, “and he’s not some dirtbag loser.” The words fell from her mouth before she realised what she was saying. “He’s actually a decent person.”

“He’d better be.” Todd said threateningly.

“What’re you gonna do, glare at him from your five foot six vantage point?” Amanda laughed.

Todd bristled.

“It’s really not your business, Todd.” Amanda won the race easily, again, and put the controller down. “Thanks for the camera. And thanks for coming to see me.” She looked at her brother closely. “I’ll be back on the west coast in a few weeks. I’ll be in touch, ok?”

“Ok.” Todd smiled back. For just a second he looked like a weight had been lifted.

“Mom and Dad would like him. If you haven’t taken him home already, you totally should.” Amanda advised. She smiled at Dirk, picked up her milkshake and went to perch beside Martin on the couch.

Despite Martin’s best efforts Amanda did not drink enough water. She was way too interested in sugary milkshake cocktails and downed them with impressive, if not slightly concerning, speed. Just before midnight Amanda disappeared into the bathroom and was gone for a worrying amount of time. Martin tried waiting outside but couldn’t handle the suspense. He cautiously pushed the door open.

“Manda?”

There was no answer. He looked under the stall door and saw her boots; she was sitting by the toilet.

“Manda, you ok?” Martin knocked on the door. She still didn’t respond. “You got five seconds before I cause property damage.”

“Ugh,” Amanda groaned.

Martin sighed in relief. “You ok?”

Ugh.”

“You wanna open the door?”

There was the sound of scrabbling with the latch and the door swung inward. Amanda was pale and clammy and incredibly drunk.

“You ready to go home?” Martin asked.

“’M homeless,” Amanda corrected with a smile.

Martin knelt in front of her. “You want to go to sleep?”

“I wanna stop the world spinning.”

“I dunno if I can help with that.” Martin admitted. “Come on, drummer girl.” He put an arm under Amanda’s shoulders to help her stand up. She staggered against him. “Did you hurl?”

“Couple times. Missed my hair though!”

“That’s my girl.”

Amanda laughed. “I’m your girl. Sounds nice.”

“Nice?” Martin opened the door with his foot to help shuffle Amanda out of the bathroom. He couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face as he contemplated the possibility that Amanda might want to be his girl.

Amanda nodded, her head lolling just a bit on her neck. “You’re nice. You don’t want people to know it but it’s true. Look!”

“At what?”

“You. Your fine ass picking up my drunk ass,” Amanda giggled, actually giggled, “see? Nice.”

“Ok,” Martin smiled in spite of himself, “let’s get outta here.” He caught Cross’s eye across the room and raised an eyebrow. Cross shook his head, as did the others. “Looks like it’s just you and me. C’mon.”

They made it to the van without incident, Amanda even remembering how to walk a little on her own. She slithered into the passenger seat and put the window all the way down to get as much air as possible.

Putting the van in gear and heading back to the motel, Martin kept a watchful eye on her. “You hungry?”

Amanda shook her head. “Sleepy. So drunk. Tomorrow’s gonna suck.”

“Probably.” Martin grinned.

“I swear I never used to get hungover.”

“It gets worse as you get older.”

“More bullshit to look forward to.” Amanda sighed dramatically.

They arrived back at the motel and Martin helped Amanda get inside. She batted him off, insisting she could manage on her own. Left unaided Amanda promptly tripped over her own feet and nearly took out a table on her way down.

“Come on,” Martin smiled and put a hand under her elbow, “bed is this way.”

“I gotta clean my teeth,” Amanda pushed Martin away to stumble into the bathroom. She could barely stand and it took an amusingly long time to brush her teeth. Martin waited in the doorframe, concerned that if Amanda fell over she might not get up again.

“Better?” Martin asked as Amanda wobbled by him.

“A bit. I wanna shower, I’m all sweaty,” Amanda insisted drunkenly. She shrugged out of her new jacket and pulled off her shirt. It took two attempts.

“You gonna shower with your shoes on?”

Amanda made a face at him and fell backwards onto a bed. She swam into a sitting position and attempted to pull her boots off without bothering with such details as loosening the laces. Martin laughed.

“Help!” Amanda cried dramatically. “I’m trapped! Trapped in my shoes!” She flung herself back onto the bed with a sigh.

“Hold still,” Martin knelt in front of her to unlace the boots.

Amanda rolled upright again and looked down at him between her knees. “You look good down there.”

With eyebrows raised dangerously high Martin met her eyes. His heart stopped beating. “Excuse me?” He eased one boot off and made quick work of the other.

“You look good, on your knees, between my legs.” Maintaining drunken eye contact Amanda unbuttoned her shorts. She wobbled to her feet and pushed the shorts down and off before falling back to sit once again. There was more giggling.

“Take it easy,” Martin suggested.

Amanda grabbed Martin’s jacket lapels and pulled him toward her roughly. “No.”

“Life just ain’t fair.” Martin sighed, looking down at her very nearly naked body.

“What’s not fair?” Amanda brought Martin closer to her. She put her knees either side of his chest, smiling when he brought his hands to rest on her bare thighs.

“You’re drunk.”

“Very drunk.” Amanda nodded. She flopped backwards onto the bed with her arms out wide. “So what?”

Martin leaned back, removing his hands from her skin. Trying to ignore the blood rushing through his veins Martin took a moment to choose his words. “This ain’t a good idea.”

Amanda was uncharacteristically silent.

“Manda?” Martin climbed up onto the bed to look at her. She was snoring softly. He smiled and gently lifted her to lie properly in bed before moving the covers up. Martin set a bucket on the floor near her.

Taking an icy shower and dressing in boxers and jeans, Martin climbed into bed beside her, falling asleep quickly.

*

Amanda was immediately aware of pain.

Her head pounded mercilessly. Her stomach rolled. She groaned.

Once Amanda adjusted to the incredibly physical sickness that signalled a truly significant hangover, she dimly became aware of something else almost as worrying.

Beneath the sheet, Amanda was basically naked.

There were no pants and no shirt involved. Fortunately she still had her crop bra and panties on and, strangely, socks, but that was it. Panic flooded her stomach with an unnecessary amount of adrenaline. Combined with the putrid hangover Amanda felt acid bubbling up her throat. She rolled over to try and aim any puke off the bed, hanging her head over the side and taking deep breaths. The bed shifted and suddenly there were hands in her hair, pulling it back and away from her face.

Fortunately the vomit never came. Amanda sighed and rolled back to see who hand his fingers through her hair and saw Martin, unguarded and half-smiling. He was quite close and didn’t move away.

“How you feelin’?” Martin asked quietly, his voice rough with sleep.

“Foul. The nudity is a surprise.” Amanda closed her eyes as another wave of nausea rolled over her. “Why am I naked?”

“You don’t remember?”

Amanda scrunched up her face. “Oh god. What did I do?”

“You gave a pretty decent stripper impersonation.”

“Oh Jesus.”

Martin laughed. “Nah, I’m kiddin’. You just wanted to get into bed.”

“Are you sure?” Amanda opened one eye a crack to look at Martin. He was smiling way too much for some ungodly hour. Memories were trying to be heard through the fog of alcohol; she’d told him she was into him, damnit. And there was something about Martin on his knees? Oh god, did she say something incredibly suggestive about being on his knees in front of her? And she was trying to remember hands… His hands on her legs? Peeking under the sheets Amanda saw her panties were definitely still on and she didn’t feel the satisfaction or pleasant ache that came with drunken sex.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Amanda groaned and closed her eyes. “Milkshakes? Oh Jesus.” Her stomach churned again and she rolled back to the bed’s edge. Martin’s hands were still in her hair, keeping it out of her way.

“Aim for the bucket.” Martin advised.

“Don’t tell me how to live,” Amanda groaned right before she puked. Judging by the splashing sound she found the bucket.

Martin watched her back convulse as she hurled. Fortunately there was only a couple of heaves before Amanda was out of material. She spat out the last of the bile and rolled onto her back with a sigh.

“You done?” Martin asked.

“For now. Kill me.”

Martin tried not to laugh. He extracted his hands from Amanda’s hair to push it away from her face and stared at her. Eventually he stretched out with a sigh and as sick as she was, Amanda couldn’t keep her eyes off him. He rolled out of bed and brought her back a bottle of water. “You want some magic pills?”

“Please.”

Looking around Martin unearthed her bag and passed it over. Amanda tried to sit up and immediately lay back down, taking deep breaths. She took the bag and dug out a fistful of pills, swallowing them easily.

“Oh god, why did you let me drink so much?” Amanda groaned.

“Uh, I believe your exact words were, ‘tryin’ to tell my drunk ass anything is a bad idea’.”

“Who asked you.” Amanda made a face. “We’re leaving today, right?”

“Yep. You got about an hour before we head out.”

“I can die before then, right?”

“Nope. We need our drummer.” Martin grinned. “You want anythin’?”

“The sweet release of death.”

Martin laughed. “Anythin’ a bit more earthly?”

“Coffee? Black. No sugar.” Amanda paused. “Cake donut.”

“Got it.” Martin pulled on a shirt and found his glasses.

“A breakfast muffin. With bacon.” Amanda added, looking at him hopefully. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was a mess and Martin still thought she was beautiful.

“You want anything else, I got my phone.” Martin stared at her for a moment before finally turning to leave.

Amanda curled up in bed, trying to decide which element of the last twenty-four hours warranted the most embarrassment. Was it drunkenly making out with Martin? Amanda smiled in spite of herself. She liked the way he kissed and didn’t mind the beard as much as she had expected. Was it doing everything possible to avoid acknowledging her feelings, and then delivering a pretty half-assed confession to at least finding him attractive? Was it the near certain moment that she drunkenly propositioned him with a terrible line? Or was it waking up vomiting and knowing that the first time Martin’s hands played with her hair, was when he was holding it away from said vomit?

After long uncomfortable moments of reflection, Amanda decided the vomiting was the low point. She groaned and tried to sit up. Her head swam considerably but her stomach presented only a minor protest. With another groan she stood up, shakily collected her bucket, and headed for the bathroom to empty it. The movement was apparently too much for her body and the world spun; Amanda barely kept hold of the bucket as she leaned against the doorframe.

Moving slowly Amanda dealt with her mess. She washed her face and cleaned her teeth before crawling back into bed.

Cross woke up next, groaning as he lurched into the bathroom, his racket waking Gripps. Somehow Amanda hadn’t noticed the sight at the foot of her bed. Vogle was sprawled out face down on the floor, a few couch pillows underneath various parts of his body in what looked like a most uncomfortable arrangement. He was also very naked.

“Martin’s out getting food if anyone wants anything,” Amanda announced. Her throat was sore from puking and she sighed. “Wake me up when he gets back.”

Gripps immediately reached for his phone. Vogle groaned.

Amanda awoke to find a coffee, donut box and bag of McDonalds next to her head. She smiled. “Best post-birthday present ever.” Sitting up slowly Amanda sipped the coffee carefully and sighed. “Is Vogle dressed yet? I’m not ready to see that much of him at this hour.”

“You’re one to talk,” Martin pointed out, deliberately avoiding looking at her.

Amanda glanced down. “Oh shit. Sorry!” She pulled up the sheet to tuck under her armpits. Looking around Amanda saw the others were already moving things into the van, slowly and with much complaining, like disgruntled zombies. “Did I, maybe say something, last night? Something I shouldn’t have?”

“When?” Martin asked, taking a seat beside her.

“Maybe when we got back here? Something about,” Amanda closed her eyes, “something a bit suggestive?”

Martin laughed. “Somethin’ a lot suggestive. Definitely.”

“Oh fuck.” Amanda kept her eyes shut.

“We didn’t.”

“Oh my god,” Amanda laughed and looked at him, “you’re not helping.”

Martin looked across the room briefly and saw all the guys outside. Taking his chance he leaned in, bringing his mouth close to her ear. “You said I looked good between your legs.” Martin decided on a little payback and pressed his lips against Amanda’s neck.

Amanda’s breath caught in her throat before she laughed. Despite her incredible hangover she felt a faint throbbing in her panties. “No. No way.”

Martin smiled and grazed his teeth down Amanda’s neck, making her gasp just a bit, before leaning back. “Yep. That ain’t the sort of shit you forget.”

“Oh god.”

“We agreed on a level of mutual attraction, remember?”

“I remember.” Amanda looked at him contemplatively. Would hungover sex be the best or worst idea? Amanda decided she must still be drunk to be thinking about it. She bit her lip. “I definitely remember.”

Martin half-smiled at her. “Good. Much as it kills me to say it,” he glanced down at the sheet barely covering her bra, “and it really kills me to say it, now ain’t the time.”

“The time for what?”

“What I can see you thinkin’.”

Amanda sat forward, deliberately letting the sheet slip. “Fine. Can you pass me my shirt?”

Martin growled before finding her shirt on the floor. He handed it over and watched Amanda put down her coffee. She dropped the sheet entirely and smiled as Martin finally turned away. She decided that messing with him was fun.

Trying to keep the laughing to a minimum Amanda put her shirt on and got out of bed on wobbly legs. “I take it we’re leaving?”

“As soon as you get some pants on,” Vogle laughed, coming back in the room.

“No time for a shower?”

“You got five minutes.” Martin decreed.

Amanda staggered to the bathroom, stripping off as she went through the door. The fastest shower known to mankind left her feeling slightly less like an unwashed armpit and she dug clothes out of her bag that had been left behind. A dress was the easiest option and she pulled it over her head. Amanda hurried out of the bathroom with her bag on her shoulder.

Drinking the rest of her coffee in a couple of burning mouthfuls, Amanda grabbed her piles of food and headed out the motel room door. The rest of the band was loitering around the van with cigarettes and coffee cups.

“Ready?” Vogle asked with a grin.

“For death.” Amanda sighed. Her throat felt dry and she coughed a little. “Let’s go.”

Over the course of the day Cross developed a persistent cough. Vogle eventually put on a flu mask and strapped one across Cross’s face as well. He thereafter avoided Cross entirely and chowed down on vitamin tablets and hot tea.

“What’s the deal here?” Amanda looked at Vogle drinking his third cup of rest stop tea.

“If your singer gets sick, you’re in trouble.” Vogle said. His voice was muffled behind the mask and he only pulled it down long enough to drink.

“It was bound to happen sooner or later.” Cross coughed.

“Someone always gets sick. Hopefully we won’t all get it.” Gripps offered with a shrug.

Chapter Text

As if Gripps’ words tempted the universe, Amanda woke up two mornings later with a painfully sore throat and aching joints. Lying beside her in bed Martin saw her recoil from him with a pained expression. He tried not to be offended.

“No, it’s not,” Amanda smiled tiredly, “my throat really hurts. I don’t want you to get this.”

Martin recovered with a small smile. “I’m willin’ to take the risk.”

In the next bed, Cross coughed bodily. It was a miracle he didn’t expel a lung. Both Amanda and Martin grimaced.

“You sure about that?” Amanda asked softly. “That sounds nasty.”

“Y’all are not that quiet,” Cross rasped. “I know I’m dyin’. Just tell my mom I’m sorry for smashing Aunt Irma’s vase when I was ten.”

“You want a doctor?” Martin asked.

“Let me die in peace.”

“Coffee?” Martin tried.

“Please lord.” Cross moaned pathetically.

Martin smiled. “How about you?”

“Always ready for coffee.” Amanda’s throat itched as she spoke. “You mind if I wait here?”

“Course not.” Martin carefully got out of bed. “I gotta find Vogle anyway. Who knows how long that could take.” He put on his glasses to better look for some clothes.

Amanda stayed in bed, already hating the ache in her joints. She snuggled back into the bedding to watch Martin get dressed; if she looked at him from a certain angle she could pretend they had the room to themselves. With a smile Amanda realised she must be sick to be contemplating such nonsense.

“What’re you grinnin’ at, drummer girl?” Martin sat right by her on the bed’s edge to put his boots on.

Amanda shook her head with a smile. “Nothing.”

“I’ll bet.”

“I’m already dying, y’all are that keen to send me on my way with this flirty bullshit?” Cross moaned.

“Do you want coffee or don’t you?” Martin replied, trying not to smile too much while Amanda was busy trying to disappear into the bedding. He picked up his wallet and keys. “Anyone hungry?”

“Double bacon burger.” Gripps mumbled, facedown in bed beside Cross.

“Got it. Anyone else?”

Both Cross and Amanda shook their heads.

Martin raised an eyebrow. “Not even a cake donut?”

“Just coffee.”

“I’ll be back with a priest.” Martin promised and left.

“Damnit Cross,” Amanda sighed, “why couldn’t you keep your plague to yourself?”

Gripps hmphed his agreement. He sat up, and stretched, and coughed.

“You too?” Amanda asked with a smile.

Gripps glared at her. “I don’t get sick.”

“Really? Coz you look like hell.” Amanda got out of bed slowly and pulled her laptop out of her bag. She loaded up a movie and climbed into bed between Gripps and Cross, settling under the blankets and putting the computer on her lap. “We’re watching ’10 things I hate about you’. No complaints allowed.”

Between the three of them there wasn’t enough energy to complain about anything.

Martin came back almost an hour later with a very shamefaced Vogle, a tray of coffees and a sack of takeout and drugstore goods, to find Amanda dozing between Cross and Gripps.

“Better check she’s got a will,” Gripps said quietly, “she’s been out cold for half an hour. His cough didn’t even wake her.” He glared at Cross who glared right back. The pair of them started coughing and the phlegm-laden barks filled the room.

“Jesus,” Martin rolled his eyes, “good thing there’s a decent drugstore in town.” He unloaded the cough syrup and cold pills and tissues on the bed. “What’s on?”

“’10 things I hate about you’,” Cross said, and coughed. Martin pushed the cough syrup at him.

Gripps rolled out of bed with a groan and picked up a coffee for himself and drained it in a few desperate mouthfuls. He stood in his jeans and rumpled shirt, staring at the empty cup, slightly dazed. “My head says ‘cigarette’, but my throat says no.”

“Listen to your throat,” Vogle encouraged. He handed out flu masks.

“It’s a bit late for this, don’t you think?” Gripps held up the mask wearily. He coughed again.

Vogle threw drugs at everyone to avoid physically touching them. “Get back into bed.” He instructed Gripps, who wearily nodded and laid back down. Amanda woke up as Gripps shuffled around in the blankets and she sat up slowly.

“Huh?” Amanda saw Martin and smiled. “Coffee?”

“You’re like a zombie for coffee, you know that?” Martin asked. He took off his shoes to sit on the very edge of the bed, leaving the cups on the nightstand.

“Is that a yes or a no?”

“Definite yes.”

Amanda climbed over Gripps and wedged herself between him and Martin. She reached for a paper cup with a weary smile before leaning back against the bed head. “Maybe I should make nice with my brother before this kills me. I feel worse than I did when you left.”

“Nah, torture that fucker in the afterlife.” Martin nodded.

“Solid plan.” Amanda sipped her coffee and sighed. “Wanna watch a movie?”

“Sure. You wanna stick with this?”

“I don’t care. Too tired to give a shit.” Amanda yawned.

Vogle pushed Martin over and climbed into bed beside him, draping himself over the taller man’s legs. “I vote this one, Heath Ledger is dreamy.”

Amanda made the movie play again and snuggled into the dogpile of Rowdy boys. She drank her coffee and rested her head against Martin’s shoulder and tucked her feet under Gripps’ warm body. Once Amanda was done with coffee she pulled Martin’s arm around her, laid down properly, and quickly fell back asleep, happily surrounded by dozing warmth.

*

Forcing themselves to play their shows took all the available energy from Cross, Gripps and Amanda for almost a week. If the three of them weren’t sleeping they were coughing and Amanda in particular struggled to shake the rattle from her chest.

When Cross and Gripps were finally kicking the worst of it Amanda had started to sleep propped up on pillows to keep from choking during the night. Martin eventually dragged her to a doctor.

“I’m fine, honestly,” Amanda protested as they drove. Her argument was easily thwarted by her own chest spasms sending her into a coughing fit. “Damnit.” She said hoarsely. “I feel fine, energy wise, and my bones don’t hurt anymore. This will go away on its own I’m sure of it.”

Martin raised his eyebrows in extreme cynicism. “You sound like a broken damn squeaky toy all night long.”

“How would you know? You have to set three alarms to wake up.”

Martin paused awkwardly. “It’s been hard to sleep surrounded by sick people. Healthy people don’t need to sleep sittin’ up just to get enough air.” He didn’t mention the crackle of her lungs was the single most terrifying noise he’d ever heard in his life.

Amanda sighed and immediately coughed. “Fine. I’d like to be able to sleep normally, I guess.” She coughed some more. “I just want to point out that I haven’t coughed until I puke so, really, it’s not that bad.”

It turned out to be a chronic chest infection that the doctor insisted was on its way to pneumonia. Amanda scowled, her frown deepening when the doctor told her to give up smoking. They got antibiotics and headed back to the motel, Amanda quietly fuming the whole way.

“I haven’t had a cigarette in well over a week thanks very much.” Amanda insisted. She coughed.

“Maybe now’s a good time to quit?” Martin suggested.

“Says you. You’d have a smoke in your mouth right now if I wasn’t sick, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but you are sick.”

“I can quit smoking whenever I want. I’ve quit a few times before. I just so happen to enjoy it.” Amanda coughed and struggled for air for a moment. “I’d love one right now to be honest.”

“You can barely breathe.”

“You’re not my real mom,” Amanda stuck her tongue out and Martin laughed. “Can we get donuts? I’m hungry.”

“Anythin’ you want.”

Amanda waited in the car while Martin went into a local donut store, a cute non-franchise place with kitsch décor and a hand-painted sign. She wished she was well enough to go inside and get a few pictures but despite her protestations to the contrary, she still felt awful. The cough was so tiring and she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since she got sick. She was just about getting washboard abs from the amount of time spent coughing. Amanda rolled down the window and got pictures of the shop from the outside, watching Martin through the window as he bought a box of sugary goodness.

Climbing back into the van Martin gave her the box to hold. “If you got any teeth left by the time you’re thirty it’ll be a miracle.”

Amanda laughed and it quickly turned into another coughing fit. “If I live until thirty it’ll be a miracle.” She groaned as her lungs rattled.

“Glad we went to the doctor?”

“Maybe. Thank you.” Amanda mumbled. She picked out a jelly donut and bit into it. “Holy shit,” she said with a mouthful, “this is phenomenal.”

Martin glanced at her and smiled at the jelly and sugar all over her cheeks. “You got a little somethin’ on your face.”

“Where?” Amanda smiled, wiping at the jelly but missing the sugar powder entirely.

With a small laugh Martin reached over and brushed the crumbs from Amanda’s cheek. “There,” he said quietly. With a slight smile Martin leaned in and kissed her, just for a moment, before pulling away. “I’m real glad you ain’t dyin’.”

Amanda smiled again, fighting the urge to lick her lips where he’d kissed her. She noticed his accent got stronger when he was tired or preoccupied and tried not to think about just how adorable it was. “Me too.”

Back at the motel Martin announced Amanda’s diagnosis and the others joined in on the chorus of ‘I told you so’. Amanda ignored them with a smile. They all got their usual beers and liquor but when Amanda reached for a glass, Martin moved it out of reach.

“You ain’t supposed to be drinkin’ when you’re on antibiotics.” Martin reminded her. He gave her a bottle of orange juice instead.

“I have nothing to live for.” Amanda lamented. He was right but he didn’t need to know that. She looked distastefully at the juice. “You know this is going to rot my teeth faster than a donut or two.”

Gripps gave her a bottle of multivitamins. “At least you won’t die of scurvy.”

Amanda chuckled and immediately started coughing hugely. “Quit it, I swear to god.” She gasped, trying to control her convulsing lungs.

*

In the small hours of the morning, propped up on a stack of pillows, Amanda woke up coughing. The struggle for air sent her into instant panic and she sat up, wheezing and gasping desperately, tears in her eyes. She couldn’t get enough air and clawed frantically at the bedding as she choked.

Suddenly Martin was there beside her, awake and alert. “Hey, Manda, you’re ok. I got you. You’re ok.” He moved to sit in front of her and tried to meet her eyes.

“Can’t breathe,” Amanda rasped, tears streaming down her face, “I can’t breathe.”

“Yes you can,” Martin said calmly, “you’re doin’ fine. I’m right here.” He carefully put his hand on her knee beneath the sheet.

Amanda stared at Martin, his face half-illuminated by the streetlights coming through the crappy curtains. He was totally unfazed about Amanda’s imminent death via choking.

“I think you’re havin’ a panic attack,” Martin said with deliberate slowness, “your breathin’ was just fine before you woke up. I promise. You’re ok.”

Nodding, Amanda closed her eyes and tried to control her breathing as much as possible. It took a few long moments for the panic to fade and Amanda gripped Martin’s hand on her leg. Eventually her heart rate slowed. She sat back against the pillows and sighed, enjoying the fact that her throat was no longer closed up tight but forgetting about the very real phlegm in her lungs.

The coughing started anew, this time in earnest, and Amanda struggled to catch her breath all over again. She sat forward and started to retch from the violent tremors. Martin dove off the edge of the bed and brought up a plastic bin just in time for Amanda to vomit into it.

After a few heaves and a lot more coughing Amanda sat back again, careful not to breathe too deeply. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Well that was gross.”

Martin tried not to smile. “At least you didn’t miss the bucket.”

“Flatterer.” Amanda smiled tiredly, her eyes closed. The others hadn’t stirred and Amanda was jealous of their ability to remain unconscious. “How are they still asleep?”

“Habit. Eventually you learn to sleep through anythin’.”

Amanda nodded. After a moment she sat up and moved to get out of bed.

“Woah, where do you think you’re goin’?”

“I need to clean my teeth. And deal with this.” Amanda took the bucket and sat on the edge of the bed. She stifled another cough and fought back the tears gathering in her eyes. Crying would only make the coughing a hundred times worse; plus she wasn’t sure the shreds of her dignity could handle it.

“I got it. You should stay put.”

“I can look after myself.”

“I know you can but let me help. That’s a hell of a way to wake up and I know you’re tired.” Martin argued. “Just clean your teeth and get back in bed. I got it.”

Amanda looked at him for a moment. “Fine.”

“You sure you ain’t dyin’?” Martin rested his hand against her forehead to check her temperature. “That’s the least amount of fight you’ve put up in a while.”

“Do not make me laugh,” Amanda warned, smiling, “or I might not live to see sunrise.” She gave the bucket to Martin as she staggered out of bed. “Thank you.”

Martin smiled. “Any time.” He followed Amanda into the bathroom and emptied the bucket while she scrubbed her teeth with a vengeance.

“Oh Jesus,” Amanda winced at her reflection, “I might not live to see the sun anyway.” She washed the dried tears from her face and sighed. “Sorry I woke you.”

“I was already up.” Martin shrugged, leaning against the doorframe. Amanda finally realised he wasn’t wearing a shirt and smiled.

“Still not sleeping great?”

Martin looked down. “Maybe.”

“I’m glad it worked out.” Amanda paused for a moment. Her heart was still thudding in her chest her stomach ached from the panic and the coughing. She was shaking.

“Hey, are you ok?”

Amanda shook her head. After a moment’s hesitation she closed the distance between them and put her arms around his waist. Blinking back tears she pressed her face into his shoulder. “That was fucking terrifying.”

Martin easily wrapped her in his arms. “And then some.”

A long moment passed and neither of them moved away. Amanda got her tears under control before she spoke again. “I’m sick of being sick. Thanks for taking me to the doctor.”

“No problem. I’m sick of hearin’ that damn cough.” Martin smiled. Truthfully he was exhausted. It turned out that worrying about someone, not to mention waking up every hour or so to check that that someone was still alive, took its toll. His jaw cracked as he yawned.

“Thanks a bunch.” Amanda retorted. “What time is it?”

“Nearly five.”

Amanda sighed but still didn’t move. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to get back to sleep.”

“Me neither.” Martin tentatively stroked her back. “Coffee?”

“Coffee and sunrise watching?”

“Sure,” Martin smiled, “I haven’t seen this side of a sunrise in a while.”

“I’d better put some clothes on, I guess.” Amanda pulled away and Martin reluctantly let her go. She went back into the room and zipped on a hoodie and replaced her pj shorts with yesterday’s jeans.

Martin found a shirt and jacket and put on his glasses. “Ready?”

Amanda smiled as she slipped on her boots and pulled her camera strap over her head before following Martin out the door.

They stopped in at a twenty-four-hour diner with only slightly terrible coffee and bought two giant cups to go. Heading up to the town’s lookout Martin parked the van between suburban SUVs. The pair watched early morning joggers heading off into the surrounding woods while judging the hell out of said joggers.

“They’re all insane,” Amanda observed. She kicked off her shoes to sit with her knees tucked up to her chest. She sipped her coffee and looked out the windscreen at the lightening sky.

Martin nodded his agreement. “Ever feel a little out of place?” He asked as a few wannabe athletes gave the beaten up van suspicious looks.

“Only most of the time,” Amanda said before coughing, “but not so much lately.”

“Yeah?”

Amanda nodded. “Yeah. It’s nice.”

“Nice?”

Amanda bit back the chuckle before her lungs attempted to escape her body again. “It’s nice.” She sipped the average coffee and watched the sky change colours. “What’s your favourite colour?” She set her coffee down and brought up the camera, adjusting the many settings for an optimal shot of the landscape.

Martin looked at her with a smile. “What are you, five?”

“I like purple.” Amanda ignored him, loving the way the sunrise was lighting the sky with soft purples. It matched parts of her tattoo. She took a few pictures out of the open window with a smile.

“I figured. How’s your flower going?”

Amanda let her camera rest on her belly before lifting the hoodie and shirt up to reveal the beautiful tattoo. She twisted a little to look at it and smiled. “It’s pretty much done.”

Martin looked at the delicate artwork that graced her side. “Looks good.”

“I’m glad I’ve stopped sticking to things. That was gross.”

“I left a perfect print of a few of my back ones on sheets,” Martin admitted with a smile, “that was gross. And painful.”

“How can you reach them to put cream on them and stuff? You can’t hyperextend.”

“Living with three of your best friends has its perks.”

“Sounds like it.” Amanda smiled a little sadly and lowered her top. “I’ve never lived with friends. I’ve never really had friends I liked that much.”

“What about your old band?”

Amanda sighed. “They were Todd’s friends first, and then they ditched me after the whole incident.”

There was a pause. “What happened? What did he do, exactly? You’ve never really gone into it.”

“Todd stole the band’s gear, everything except my drum kit, and hocked it. Because I was the only one who didn’t have their shit stolen, everyone thought it was me. I figured out the truth but I couldn’t prove anything and no one believed me. My parents hated that I’d do that to my own brother,” Amanda sneered, “and he let them believe it all. They said they couldn’t understand how I turned out to be such a terrible person and that I was no longer welcome. So I packed up my things, sold my kit, and left.”

Martin scowled. “I’m surprised you ever talked to him again.”

“Me too.”

“Joke’s on them.” Martin sipped his coffee. “You’re better off with us.”

“I like to think so.”

“I know so.”

Amanda looked at Martin from the corner of her eye. She smiled and shuffled over on the bench seat until Martin took the hint and lifted his arm. Amanda tucked herself into his side, resting her head against his shoulder.

With Amanda pressed against him, her hair tickling his nose and smelling delicious, Martin smiled. Waking up before dawn was totally worth it.

*

Martin grumbled and rolled away from the hand insistently shaking his shoulder. “Fuck off, Vogle. Get your own damn coffee.”

“Try again, jerk.”

“You can fuck off, too.” Martin smirked, refusing to open his eyes. “If you ain’t gettin’ back in here to be a little spoon I don’t wanna know.”

Amanda rolled her eyes and willed back the pink that flushed her cheeks. “We gotta go, come on. You slept through all three of your alarms. I didn’t, by the way.”

“Five more minutes.”

“We don’t have five more minutes.” Amanda clambered onto the bed and knelt right behind Martin’s exposed back. She frowned when her thighs touched his skin. “You feel really warm.”

“I run hot.”

“No, like, hotter than normal.”

Martin smiled sleepily. “I never thought I was at my best first thing in the mornin’ but I’ll take the compliment.”

“Ha, ha.” Amanda rolled her eyes and put her hand across Martin’s forehead. “Hey, are you ok? I think you’ve got a fever.”

With a long sigh Martin eventually rolled over to face Amanda and opened his eyes. “I’m fine, just tired.”

“Mm, not convinced. Hey Cross?”

Cross slung a bag over his shoulder and headed over to Amanda. “What’s up?”

“Does he look sick to you?”

“Uh,” Cross leaned in close and took in Martin’s paler than usual skin and glassy eyes, “I mean, he’s been worse, but he don’t look quite right.”

“I’m right here, man.” Martin pretended to be offended.

Cross shrugged. “You look like shit. Is that better?”

“Asshole.”

“Love you too.” Cross grinned and went to pack up some of their junk into the van.

“I’m serious,” Amanda poked Martin’s shoulder, “are you sick?”

Opening his mouth to reply, Martin was cut off by a short bout of coughing. Once he quit coughing he was absolutely disgusted and scowled. “I ain’t sick.”

“Yeah, ok,” Amanda said mockingly, before coughing briefly herself, “you sound as good as me.”

Martin rubbed his face tiredly. The more he tried to wake up the more he found everything kind of ached, including his throat. His skin prickled against the sheets and he groaned. “Why did you have to wake me up?”

“Because it’s time to get out of here. Much as I’d have loved to sleep for another six hours we’ve got some exciting new shithole town to get to for tonight’s show.”

“Fuck.”

“Not with this cough, I’d die before we got halfway done.”

Martin laughed, hard, and Amanda was a little proud of the flush that she could see rising up his neck. It was all fun and games til Martin started to cough instead. “I’m gonna get you for that.”

“For what?” Vogle bounced in, flu mask in place, and stared at Martin still in bed. “Are you dying?”

“It’s startin’ to feel that way.”

Vogle flinched back and left the room quickly.

With a grunt Martin sat up. It took way more effort than it should have and he leaned against Amanda with a yawn. His arms flopped either side of her in the laziest attempt at hug in the history of hugging. “Just carry me to the van.”

“Oh sure, I can totally deadlift two hundred pounds.”

“Really?”

“No. I struggle to open heavy doors.”

“Oh yeah.” Martin practically nuzzled into Amanda’s shoulder, smiling at the smell of fresh soap and a clean shirt. He sighed against her skin and Amanda laughed. “What’s so funny?”

“Uh, clingy mess is my thing. It’s weird when you do it.”

“Fine.” Martin flung himself away from her and back onto the bed. “My skin hurts anyway.”

“Same. It’s fun, right?”

Martin groaned. After a few well-placed pokes to the guts from one Amanda Brotzman, Martin batted her hand away and rolled out of bed. The world spun for a moment and he swayed. Amanda immediately got to her feet and held his shoulder steady.

“Take it slow, ok?”

“Couldn’t move fast if I tried, drummer girl.”

Amanda smiled. “You want me to drive today? I’m pretty sure Cross is still drunk, Gripps has his boot, and I don’t know that Vogle has the attention span for driving.”

“You up to it?”

“I can stand up without falling over and I got to sleep lying flat on my back last night. I feel like, eighty per cent human. I got this better than you today.”

Martin nodded. “Done. I’ll be right out.”

“I left your bag in the bathroom.”

“You’re a dream.” Martin cupped the back of Amanda’s head and kissed her cheek before taking a second to rest his face against hers. He sighed and moved away before anyone could see them and headed for the bathroom.

Amanda smiled to herself, bemused at Martin’s sudden apparent neediness, as she gave the room one last check for any stray possessions. Deciding it was empty, she picked up the keys from the table and went outside, wishing she could have a cigarette. Her lungs chose that moment to expel some phlegm as a pointed reminder about her (hopefully temporary) no smoking status. Amanda climbed into the driver’s seat as she coughed and adjusted the seat and the mirrors to suit her much shorter frame.

“Oh shit, is he gonna make it?” Cross asked from the back.

“I hope so,” Amanda joked, turning around with a smile, “Vogle, you wanna ride shotgun?”

Vogle scrambled over the junk in the back to climb up to the front seat. “Get me away from the plague!”

Martin slouched out of the room, his bag in one hand, and practically fell into the open side door of the van. He arranged himself on the pile of bags and clothes and promptly fell back asleep.

“Check his pulse every now and again, would you?” Amanda asked as she backed the van out of the lot. “Vogle, get some maps happening. Who wants coffee?”

*

Rousing Martin just enough to get him out of the van and into the next seedy motel, Amanda struggled to stay on her feet. It was only a four-hour drive, including food and bathroom breaks, but she had way overestimated her recovery. It was only her third day on antibiotics and she was shattered.

The room’s TV had cable and Gripps and Cross sank into the first of two queen beds with the remote. Vogle took himself off on an exploratory walk with his flu mask firmly in place having refused to share more plague-laden air than he absolutely needed to. Amanda left Martin in the second bed and had a hot shower, sleepily going through the routine of caring for her tattoo, before getting dressed and collapsing into bed beside Martin. He was already snoring and she wasn’t far behind. In her sleep, Amanda curled up against Martin’s too-hot back, seeking out his feverish warmth like a missile.

Gripps got out of bed to get drinks for him and Cross, but paused when he glanced at Amanda and Martin and smiled at her snuggled up to Martin’s back. Putting the drinks down Gripps pulled the blankets up over Amanda properly.

“She ok?” Cross asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Gripps tucked the blanket around her, “just out in the cold.”

Cross grunted his thanks for the drink and took a sip. “Twenty bucks says they don’t figure their shit out before the end of the tour.”

“That’s a little harsh.”

“Look at ‘em.” Cross laughed over at the pair curled up together. Amanda had her face pressed against Martin’s shoulder. “You just know they’re gonna wake up and pretend like none of this ever happened.”

“Ok, that’s a bet I would take.” Gripps laughed and got back into bed. “You really think she’ll stick around?”

“I hope so. She feels like, I dunno. Like family. I’d miss her if she wasn’t here.”

“Me, too.”

The pair of them looked over at the couple with a mix of fondness and definite exasperation.

“What was it like when she wasn’t around?” Cross mused.

“I don’t even remember.”

Cross smiled. “If she wants to stay I say we keep her, even if Martin doesn’t get his shit together.”

“Deal.” Gripps tipped his beer against Cross’s.

*

A few hours after Amanda and Martin had woken up in a tangled mess of feverish limbs, and had definitely pretended like it never happened, she leaned heavily against the sticky bar. Her arms were full of lead and she could feel her lungs crackling with every other breath. The bass of the opening band thumped in time with her headache.

“If this is how I go, bury me with my guitar.” Martin announced miserably as he approached. He slouched against the bar with a groan.

“No funerals til I get a drink or three.”

Martin looked along the bar and raised his eyebrows. “You’re the most beautiful woman here. How have you not been served?”

“I’m not his type.” Amanda shrugged and tried not to grin. “Use those pretty eyes of yours and get me a jager bomb, would you?”

Martin glanced sideways at her. “You think my eyes are pretty?”

Overcome by a moment of seriousness, Amanda nodded. “They’re the most beautiful blue.” She stared at him and found Martin staring right back.

“What can I get you?”

Amanda turned to the bartender who absolutely only had eyes for Martin. She couldn’t blame the guy, really.

“Two jager bombs and two vodka red bulls.” Martin cracked a smile at the bartender and got a winning grin in return. Four glasses were quickly prepared and placed in front of them and Martin handed over a few bills.

“You guys are playing tonight, right?” The bartender flirted, handing back way too much change for four potent drinks.

Martin nodded. “Yeah. We’re up later.”

“Maybe I’ll see you after my shift?”

Amanda’s stomach lurched. All of a sudden she was a teenager again, being toyed with by someone she cared about, all for the sake of pandering to ego. All she wanted in that moment was for the earth to open up and swallow her whole so that she might escape the growing misery in her heart.

“I’m not available, sorry.” Martin was kind about it. Amanda snapped back to reality and looked at him sharply. “Our singer though, that guy?” Martin pointed at Vogle in the middle of the dance floor. “He likes a guy in a muscle shirt.”

“I doubt his eyes are as gorgeous as yours,” the bartender said good-naturedly, “but thanks for the tip.”

Martin nodded and picked up the drinks. He walked back to the table Gripps was leaning against and put the drinks down, pushing a jager bomb toward Amanda when she stood beside him. Gripps noted the total lack of drinks for himself and headed to the bar with much eye rolling.

“Cheers,” Amanda said quietly and downed the bomb.

Martin followed suit and then picked up a vodka red bull. He tried to meet Amanda’s eyes but found she wouldn’t look at him. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Nothing.”

“Manda,” Martin sighed, “I am too tired and too damn old for playin’ this game right now. Please? Pity my sick ass and tell me straight.”

“Are you?”

“Am I what?”

“Straight?”

Martin looked more out of his depth than a kitten in the ocean. “If my inclinations are some kind of deal breaker then you are some kind of hypocrite.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Amanda sipped her drink and attempted to pull some thoughts together. “I’m curious, that’s all.”

“I’m straight,” Martin said eventually, “I’ve checked. When you’re done deflecting do you wanna tell me what’s really goin’ on?”

Amanda finished her drink and fidgeted with the empty glass. “I’m not the most confident person around.”

“Remember before how I asked you to pity my sick ass? Would you pity my sick ass a bit more?”

“Max would always flirt with other girls in front of me. He wanted to see what I’d do to them and how much I would do for him to stop it happening again. Nothing ever worked.”

“I wasn’t flirtin’ with that guy. I was just tryin’ to be polite.”

“See, logically, I know that.” Amanda tried to smile. “My gut on the other hand is trying to tell me that I need to fight people and beg you to stop talking to anyone else.”

Martin nodded slowly. “I ain’t that kinda guy. I wanna make you happy, not miserable. I meant it when I said I’m too old for bullshit. I know what I want and I ain’t gonna play no games.”

“No games?”

“Not one. It’s a waste of time and energy and I don’t got shit to burn right now.”

Amanda absorbed the sentiment and tried to take it to heart. She changed the subject before her head exploded from thinking too hard. “Being sick sucks. How long does it take jager to work?”

“Too long.”

“Even the thought of trying uppers right now is too exhausting. I’m a wreck.”

Martin chuckled. “I can’t play when I’m high.”

“Me neither, but anything’s gotta be better than this. I can hardly move. This set is gonna suck.”

“Just get through it and then we can sleep.”

“I just wanna be little spoon.” Amanda sighed and rubbed at her face.

“Baby you can be whatever you want.” Martin found the energy to grin. “Another drink?”

Amanda laughed as her cheeks warmed. “Water. Two drinks in five minutes is probably not the best idea on antibiotics.”

“Shit I forgot about that.” Martin was immediately concerned. “Are you gonna be ok?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Says the woman who rocked a chest infection for too long.”

“And I’m still fine. Kind of.” Amanda stifled a cough.

“Kind of is still pretty ambitious.”

Amanda poked her tongue out just as Gripps returned.

“I got you a water,” Gripps handed her a full bottle, “since someone is more interested in getting you drunk than healthy.”

Martin snorted into his drink.

“Thanks, Gripps,” Amanda wrapped her arm around Gripps’ waist in a loose hug. “I’m glad someone’s looking out for me.”

Gripps looked smugly at Martin as he enveloped the tiny drummer in a proper hug. “Who’s the favourite now?”

“You really wanna play that game?” Martin challenged with a smile. “I’ll get you jelly donuts for every meal and I’ll let you have the bathroom before me every mornin’.”

Amanda pursed her lips thoughtfully and poked Gripps in the side without bothering to disengage from the hug. “What’s your counteroffer?”

“I’ll get you fancy multivitamins and I’ll watch the whole of Brooklyn 99 without complaining once.”

“Woah!” Amanda pulled away with a grin. “Seriously?”

“Seriously what?” Vogle asked, bouncing up just in time.

“Gripps is gonna watch B99 with me! And not complain!”

“Why would he complain? It’s a great show.” Vogle looked around.

“Oh I know.” Amanda grinned. “They’re competing to be my favourite.”

Vogle laughed. “And Gripps just won?”

“For now.” Amanda nodded in mock-seriousness. Martin wore a look of pretend-pissed off and Amanda poked her tongue out at him again.

“Hey Vogle,” Martin caught the singer’s attention, “the guy at the bar in the muscle shirt is available, if you’re interested.”

Vogle immediately turned toward the bar and appraised the guy in question. He stared. “Huh. Does anyone want a drink?” Without waiting for an answer he wandered off.

“How long til we’re on?” Amanda asked.

Martin checked his phone. “Shit. Uh, an hour.” He frowned as he scrolled through his phone. “Shit. Somethin’s up at the bar, I gotta make a phone call. I’ll be right back.” Martin was already dialling as he walked away through the crowds.

“The bar?” Amanda looked at Gripps, confused.

“The bar he runs? His side job? Remember?”

“Right.”

Gripps sipped his drink. “Hopefully it’s nothing too serious. He gets real crabby when he can’t be there to fix everything himself.”

As Amanda was about to reply a couple of guys came to the table to talk music, having recognised both her and Gripps from the band’s Instagram account. The strangers launched into a long-winded conversation about guitar specs and music theory and Amanda tuned out super quickly.

“Hey, Gripps, I’ll be right back.” Amanda interrupted briefly.

“You gonna be alright?”

“Yeah, fine, I just need some air.” Amanda smiled encouragingly and wandered off. She followed the path that Martin had taken and found him pacing outside, rapidly smoking a cigarette and growling into the phone.

As Amanda got closer Martin snarled a closing remark into his phone before hanging up and flicking his cigarette to the ground. He stomped it out angrily and immediately got another one out of his pocket and lit it. He coughed and took off his glasses to rub his wrist against his eyes.

“Martin?”

With a start Martin turned and saw Amanda. He squinted for a second before trying to smile. He put his glasses back on.

“Are you ok?”

Martin smiled sarcastically. “Peachy fuckin’ keen. One of my bartenders started a brawl and then quit, and broke my head of security’s nose and gave her a concussion in the process. Oh, and he caused a bunch of damage before he went. Fuckin’ Friedkin. Never should have hired that jerk.”

“That’s some shit.”

“Now I gotta worry about my people from the other side of the country. We’re already down two people with me and Vogle bein’ out here, now they’re screwed.” Martin groaned, coughed, and kept smoking.

“Uh, just an idea here, but maybe now’s not the best time to smoke so compulsively?” Amanda suggested. “Not trying to tell you what to do, or anything, but you sound like shit.”

Martin gave her a long look.

“Hey, you can be concerned about my welfare but I can’t be concerned about yours?”

“Fine.” Martin growled and stubbed out the cigarette. He sighed.

“Did you leave a head of staff behind? Like, an assistant manager or something?”

“Kind of.”

“Let me guess,” Amanda began with a smile, “you don’t like giving up that much control so you left some poor bartender with half the authority they’d need to get anything done?”

“Maybe.”

“Call this poor sucker, get them to find a ring-in or two - everyone knows someone who’s worked in a bar - and have everyone else on extra shifts where you can. It’s only for a couple of weeks and I’ll bet you’ve got students who would kill for the extra hours. Sweeten the deal with a bribe, maybe a party where the liquor’s on you, or free pizza dinners for a week or something, and they’ll be putty in your hands.”

Martin stared at Amanda until she blushed.

“What?”

“That was mostly the plan except for the bribe part. How did you know that?”

“I’ve worked my share of bars under some ok managers. Trust me, a bribe goes a long way when you have to ask favours of people.” Amanda shrugged.

Martin finally smiled. “You worked in bars, huh?”

“And cafes, and restaurants, and even a strip joint for a while, behind the bar, but the pressure to dance was a bit more than I was willing to put up with.”

“You any good?”

“At dancing? Uh, yeah, you’ve seen me pick up with these moves.” Amanda pointed at herself in a highly self-mocking gesture.

“I meant workin’ a bar.”

“Of course.” Amanda smiled playfully. “I can make a Long Island that’ll have you falling off your seat before you finish it. I can do a couple of neat bottle opener tricks and when it comes to pouring and serving I’m practically ambidextrous.”

Martin looked at her thoughtfully. “You want a job?”

“You want me to work with you?” Amanda didn’t quite believe her ears.

“Why not?” Martin tried to play it a little cool. “I know you’re reliable and you work hard.”

Amanda’s heart raced. She was on the edge of a precipice and didn’t know if anything would catch her when she fell. “You’re assuming I’m coming back to Seattle with you.”

“I want you to. No matter what we are, or aren’t, I want you to come to Seattle when the tour’s over.”

“I need to think about it, ok?” Amanda said quietly. “I want to, but I need to think about it.”

Martin couldn’t help the disappointment that flooded him and did his best to keep it from his face. “Yeah, whatever you need.”

“Cool.” Amanda nodded. “I don’t want to make it weird or anything.”

“Hey,” Martin took Amanda’s hand and pulled her closer to him, “I’m still lookin’ forward to leavin’ here with you tonight.”

“Yeah?”

Martin leaned into Amanda and buried his face in her shoulder. “Yeah. I feel like shit but holdin’ on to you makes me feel better.”

“I’m glad something works.” Amanda murmured and knew her face was bright red; she couldn’t remember the last time someone said something like that about her. She smiled when Martin’s breath tickled her neck. “We should get back.”

Martin all but whined into her neck before standing upright. “Fine. Maybe another red bull will help.”

“It’s worth a shot.”

“Really?”

“No. Come on.” Amanda had her arm around Martin’s waist as they headed back inside the bar.

After the gig, and packing up, Amanda and Martin were the first ones back to the shitty motel. Wearily taking off boots and belts the pair fell into bed, easily getting tangled in one another’s limbs and falling asleep totally entwined.

Chapter Text

Sitting around gross motel room number seven hundred and twelve, Amanda sighed and coughed. She mentally prepared herself for yet another coughing fit and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t happen. With a grin Amanda looked around at the guys sprawled across the room.

“Did you see that?”

Martin passed over a cold beer with a smile before sitting by Amanda on the couch. “Looks like you might live after all.”

“Please say that means you can come dancing again,” Vogle begged, “I’m so bored of dancing by myself.”

“Hey!” Cross sat back, pretending to be offended.

Vogle rolled his eyes. “I love you, but you dance like my dad. I can’t be seen with you when I’m trying to pick up.”

Amanda laughed and stifled a cough.

“Take it easy, you don’t want to burn out too fast.” Gripps advised.

“I do what I want.”

“I know you do, you shitty little punk,” Gripps laughed, “I just don’t want you to choke to death anytime soon.”

“Aw, so thoughtful.” Amanda laughed when Gripps reached over the table to ruffle her hair. “I’m still super bummed that I’m the only one who got so sick. Even Martin is better before me!”

“Life’s not fair.” Cross shrugged.

“That’s super helpful, thanks.”

Gripps laughed. “Eat more salad?”

“Uh, he eats about as much salad as your average wolf.” Amanda poked indignantly toward smirking Martin.

“Luck of the draw?” Vogle tried.

Amanda pouted and tried to twist the top off her beer. “Uh, who got pry-off bottles?”

“I wanted to feel a little fancy.” Cross said defensively. “Try out some craft shit instead of the usual piss water.”

Martin pulled a bottle opener from his back pocket and held it out. “You want to show off your moves?”

“Bottles please!” Amanda rounded up three beers, held them tightly in one hand, and twirled the bottle opener for a second before slamming the pry-off lids up in rapid succession. The tin lids flew across the room and Amanda grinned. She put the beers down and spun the opener before holding it back out for Martin to take amid rapturous applause.

“I never knew you worked a bar!” Vogle’s eyes were bright.

“Where else is gonna hire someone with no other qualifications and a short fuse?” Amanda said with a smile.

“How short a fuse?” Vogle asked.

Amanda took a sip of her beer before answering. “Look at me, I’m five three and scrawny. No one takes me seriously and I get sick of guys being total dicks when I’m just trying to do my job.”

“You’d get along with Farah.” Vogle decided.

“Who’s that?”

“Head of security,” Martin explained, “the one that got hurt when Friedkin pulled that stunt last week. She don’t take shit from nobody.”

“Including you.” Vogle laughed.

“Including me.” Martin grinned.

Amanda raised her eyebrows. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Martin couldn’t help it; he clung to the hope implied in Amanda’s choice of words. He looked at her for too long, smiling as she joked with Vogle and watching the way her eyes closed when she laughed especially hard. The moment was somewhat ruined by a spasmodic cough ripping through Amanda’s chest and she sat forward with her hands over her mouth.

“Take it easy, drummer girl,” Martin advised, reaching out for her. “You good?”

“Fine.” Amanda rasped and batted him away. She swallowed some beer to help get the cough under control before sitting back in the couch with a weary sigh. “Damnit. I thought I was cured.”

“So close.” Martin checked his phone. “Last drinks, y’all. We gotta get to the bar.”

Cross rolled his eyes. “You put the ‘dick’ in dictator.”

“Was that,” Amanda stared at Cross, “was that a ‘Bring it on’ reference?”

“So what?” Cross said dismissively. “I got a lot of girl cousins, alright?”

Amanda grinned. “We are so watching that together.”

“Watching what?” Martin looked between the two with great suspicion.

“Only the best cheerleading movie with an underlying message of ‘cultural appropriation is bad’ ever made.” Cross said.

Martin shuddered. “Can’t wait.”

Martin forcibly rounded up the band and shoved them out of the motel. Aiming them toward the bar he wandered a short distance behind with a cigarette in his mouth, keeping a watchful eye on any escape attempts or serious moments of inattention with regard to oncoming traffic.

Amanda and Vogle were laughing about something while dancing down the street. Cross and Gripps almost kept up with them, laughing along with whatever joke was going on. Amanda looked over her shoulder and caught Martin’s eye.

“What exactly are you doing back there?” Amanda called out.

Martin stubbed out his cigarette and caught up. “Keepin’ my smoke to myself.”

“Selfish much?”

“Keepin’ an eye on your health, thank you very much.” Martin gave Amanda a full-on ‘I told you so’ look when she coughed. “You’re welcome.”

The bar was almost indistinguishable from the dozens of other venues the band had seen over the last few weeks. Amanda took a handful of pictures, including dorky selfies with the guys and the first round of drinks. She posted them and smiled as the likes climbed immediately. Crowds grew quickly and the Rowdy Three settled in to hear the opening bands before it was their turn.

Cheers erupted when they walked out on stage and picked up their instruments. Amanda watched Martin, smiling to see him check over the band to make sure everything was in order. Vogle had no such concerns and picked up the mic.

“We are the Rowdy Three! Thanks for coming out.” Vogle turned to Amanda and she counted them in.

The set went by in a loud sweaty blur. Amanda kept her focus on the music and ground her teeth as her strength faded. The last song finished and the band left the stage to wait in the wings. Amanda swayed on her feet.

Gripps put his arm around Amanda’s waist. “Hey, you ok there punk?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Amanda leaned into him anyway. “Just need a breather.” The crowd was shouting for an encore and she tried to smile. “Let’s do it!”

“You sure?” Cross asked, clearly concerned.

Amanda nodded. “I’ve got three more songs in me before I die.”

“Three songs it is.” Martin decided.

They headed back on stage for their encore, played three songs, and packed it in for real. While the guys lugged boxes and instruments out, Amanda crouched in the wings, trying to catch her breath. Her hands wouldn’t quit shaking and her mouth was so dry it burned. Air pressed in on her like a weighted blanket and her heart rate climbed. It didn’t feel like a regular panic attack but something was definitely off.

Vogle staggered by with a box of gear and immediately dropped it. “Hey, Manda, what’s up?”

“I need air.” Amanda croaked.

“Go on, we’ll meet you out front. Take a break.” Vogle helped her to stand and pulled a crumpled water bottle from his pocket. “Take this.” Pushing it into her hands Vogle nudged her along. Amanda nodded numbly and headed for the door.

Outside, in comparably fresh air and thin crowds, Amanda sighed with relief. The coughing that accompanied the sigh was a bit more full-bodied than she was expecting, and she quickly sat on the curb. Guzzling water helped her sore mouth and the trembling in her hands finally started to ease.

Resting her head on her knees, Amanda decided to stay exactly where she was for just a little longer. Gripps was right; Amanda had pushed herself way too hard and she didn’t want to hear another lecture about salad and taking care of herself.

In a bout of dangerous honesty Amanda realised she was avoiding Martin too. The sheer amount of clinginess, from both sides, over the last week or so had been exactly what a sickly Amanda needed. She’d loved the attentiveness when she was feeling sorry for herself, and Martin-turned-needy-as-shit was just about the funniest thing Amanda could think of. Now that he was better, and she was nearly better, Amanda actually had time and energy to think about what it meant to be all over each other all the time. Her stomach churned and she knew she couldn’t ignore it forever. Damned if she wasn’t going to try though.

In her pocket, Amanda’s phone buzzed. She pulled it out and saw a Facebook message from Dirk. It was a picture of a cat sleeping on top of a plaid shirt in a cardboard box, accompanied by the message Say hello to your niece Princess Nibbles!

Amanda smiled. After a moment’s hesitation, she called her brother.

“Amanda? What’s wrong?”

“You got a cat?” Amanda laughed.

Todd sighed. “Dirk found her. I’ve been trying to tell him for the last four hours that we can’t keep her.”

“She’s made a nest on your shirt, Todd! She loves you! And her name is Princess Nibbles.” Dirk shouted in the background.

“She’s got teeth like a freaking shark.” Todd muttered.

“Oh my god,” Amanda laughed some more, “if the ten minutes I’ve spent in your company recently has taught me anything, it’s that you’re going to do whatever the sunshine man tells you to.”

“Maybe, but you don’t have to tell him that.”

Amanda could hear the smile in her brother’s voice. With a pang she realised how much she’d missed him.

“Seriously Amanda, are you ok?”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’ve literally never called me before unless you were in serious trouble, and I’m way too far to be able to give you a ride somewhere.”

“Ok, yeah,” Amanda admitted quietly, “the message about your first-born kind of threw me.”

Todd laughed a little. “Are you sure you’re ok?”

“Yeah.” Amanda paused. “Can I talk to you about something?”

“Anything. You know that. Is it that Martin guy? Did he hurt you?”

“No! No, nothing like that. The guys are great.” Amanda paused again. “You remember Max, right?”

“Did he find you? Where are you, I’ll be on the next flight-”

“He’s not here,” Amanda interrupted. “But, remember how fucked up I was after that?”

Todd paused. “Yeah. I remember.”

“How do I,” Amanda sighed, “how do I forget about it?”

“I don’t know,” Todd said honestly. “You know that what happened wasn’t your fault, Amanda. Max’s actions are his responsibility, not yours. None of it was your fault.”

Amanda’s eyes burned with tears. “I know. I don’t want his bullshit to dictate the rest of my life, but I can’t,” she sighed again, “I can’t forget about him. I think I like someone but I can’t stop thinking, what if he’s just like Max?”

“Amanda, in the ten minutes I’ve spent in your company recently,” Todd smiled, “Martin did more nice things for you than ever Max did. Plus I saw the way he looked at you, which is something no brother should ever have to see.”

“You’re one to talk. You two are nauseating.”

“I don’t know how to forget about Max, but Amanda? You know I’m a piece of shit with eyes. I hate myself more than you could ever hate me for what I did. If I can find someone who loves me anyway, and if I can let myself love him back, then I think anything’s possible.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And I think if you don’t give him a chance it’ll hurt more than anything that might go wrong.”

Amanda hmphed.

“And if Martin comes close to hurting you I’ll be on the next flight to kick his ass.”

At that, Amanda laughed. It felt better than she thought it would to have her brother on her side again. “Thanks asshole.”

“Anytime. I love you sis.”

Amanda smiled. “I know. I’ve gotta go. It’s late.”

“Keep me posted, ok? And you know I’m always here for you.”

“Yeah. Tell Dirk I said hi?”

“I will. Bye Amanda.”

“Bye.” Amanda hung up and stared at the phone in her hands. Another Facebook message from Dirk came through and Amanda opened it.

He hasn’t stopped grinning. Thank you <3 p.s. please come and visit! Princess Nibbles is very friendly and needs to meet her Aunty Amanda. And Uncle Martin <3

Amanda closed the message, her heart racing. She wished she could have a cigarette to calm herself but there was no way her lungs were ready for that. She sighed instead. Her phone buzzed with an incoming call and she answered it quickly. “Martin, hey.”

“You alright?”

“Yeah. I’m just outside.”

Martin hung up.

Amanda counted: three, two, one-

Heavy footfalls signalled Martin’s arrival. “You alright?” He repeated, standing close by.

“You know, you’re kind of predictable.”

“Is that a yes or no?” Martin smiled slightly.

“I’m avoiding Gripps in ‘I told you so’ mode,” Amanda answered with partial honesty, “I’m wrecked.”

“I’ll walk you back?”

“You don’t have to. Stay, have fun. I’ll be fine.”

Martin looked over the top of his glasses. “I’m still recoverin’ from that plague if it’s all the same to you. Plus I’ve been drivin’ a few hundred miles in the last few days. Sometimes I don’t want to be drinkin’ til dawn.”

“Mm-hmm.” Amanda smiled, glad of the company no matter what the excuse.

Martin held out a hand to help her up. “And sometimes I want to be around you. Just you.”

Amanda let him pull her up and stood slightly too close. Her brother’s advice echoed in her head and she felt inclined to trust it. She found herself wanting to trust it. Smiling, Amanda tried a subtle bit of flirting. “Only sometimes?”

“As much as possible.” Martin corrected.

Amanda nudged him with her shoulder. So far, so good. “Let’s get out of here.”

It was a mercifully short walk back to the motel. Amanda collapsed into bed, wearily taking off her shoes and leaving them by the bed. She undid her jeans but couldn’t be bothered taking them off.

“We’ve got tomorrow to sleep, right?” Amanda yawned.

“We got a late checkout, at midday or somethin’.” Martin caught her yawn. He kicked off his shoes and unbuttoned his shirt to drop it onto the floor. His glasses, wallet and phone got left on the nightstand.

“Great. C’mere.” Amanda looked to the bed beside her and Martin fell into it with a smile.

“Where else would I be?”

Amanda shifted a little, uncomfortable at his easy assumptions.

“I gotta ask – why do you hate sleepovers so much? We’ve been doin’ this for months. If you were gonna turn into a frog or somethin’ it woulda happened by now.”

“Sleepovers give you a sneak peak into some kind of future daydream.” Amanda shrugged. “It makes people think, maybe it could be like this forever.”

“Would that be so bad?”

“It never stays that perfect. Shit always falls apart.”

“I’m callin’ bullshit.” Martin said firmly. “If you really believed that, you wouldn’t be here with me right now. You wouldn’t keep smilin’ every time you see me first thing in the morning. You wouldn’t stare at me when you think I’m not paying attention.”

Amanda blushed. “So I like looking at you, that’s no secret.”

“It’s not.” Martin agreed with a smile. “I think you like this life with me, too.”

“Maybe. Maybe I’m afraid of letting myself like this and then everything will change when the tour’s over.”

“You ever think maybe it’ll be better?” Martin suggested. The optimism felt a little weird but he wanted to believe it. He wanted Amanda to believe it, too. “No more sharin’ a room and single damn bathroom with four dudes? Several of which are downright foul? No more shitty takeout for every meal? Consistently good coffee?”

Amanda looked sad. “No more seeing you every day.”

“Why d’you think that?” Martin shuffled closer to her and put his arm around her, moving slowly. “You know the guys want you to come back with us.” He forced himself through the hint of panic that touched him but he couldn’t back away. He braced for the rejection. “I want you to come back with me.”

Amanda couldn’t answer him just yet but had a good idea of how to change the subject. “Remember how I said I’d let you know if I planned to do anything about the whole, mutual attraction thing?”

“I remember.”

“Ok, well, I’m letting you know.” Amanda moved to kiss Martin, easing closer to him as her mouth moved against his. With a happy sigh she realised how much she’d missed kissing him in the time she’d been sick. Pulling him close as the kiss deepened, Amanda’s heart beat faster. Her exhaustion all but forgotten she propped her leg over Martin’s hip and rolled to be on top of him.

The movement made Martin laugh a little and he looked up at her. His hands found their way to her hips and down her thighs as she leaned down to kiss him some more. Slowly Amanda pulled away and shifted her kisses to Martin’s neck, biting skin near the edge of his beard. With a growl Martin reached up to thread his fingers through Amanda’s hair and brought her face back to his. He kissed her roughly and she returned his enthusiasm, gasping against him.

Amanda’s shortness of breath proved to be her undoing; she pushed herself away hurriedly as she coughed. Sitting on the edge of the bed she fought to keep from choking. It wasn’t as life threatening a noise as it had been a few days ago but it was still a mood-killer. By the time she recovered Amanda was trying not to laugh.

“Sorry,” Amanda wheezed, grinning, “I’ll stop dying any second now.”

Martin laughed outright, rubbing his face. “It’s a sign. Life ain’t fair.”

“Wait,” Amanda stared at him, “that sounds familiar.”

Martin kept laughing. “On your birthday,” he admitted, “in your bra and panties, lookin’ at me like – like you are now – and you were just so drunk? I may have said somethin’ about the uncaring nature of the universe.”

“If I hadn’t passed out then I would’ve just passed out on you later anyway. Or had a serious case of whiskey clit.”

“Can we not talk about what’s in your pants right now?”

“We’d have enough conversation starters in your pants.”

Martin groaned pathetically.

“I’m sorry,” Amanda laughed a bit but managed to keep from coughing. “It’s not a picnic for me either. The minute I can breathe without expelling an organ, you’ll be the first to know.”

Martin smiled, reaching for her. “Quit givin’ me the eyes, woman.”

“What eyes?” Amanda batted her lashes at him coyly.

Those ones. The ‘mentally undressing’ ones.” Martin pulled her back down to the bed and into his arms.

Amanda moved to be able to look into Martin’s eyes and smirked. “No promises.” She put her hand on his cheek and stroked his short beard. After a moment Amanda moved in closer to kiss him, keeping her hand on his cheek.

With a sigh Martin slid his hand to her waist. Amanda was so warm against him, her mouth was so soft, and Martin really tried to keep from thinking too far ahead. As Amanda pressed into his body Martin moved his hand up her back; he was glad that there was no space between them. Finally.

Exhaustion dragged at her once again and Amanda pulled away. She rested her forehead against Martin’s and bit her lip. “I’m so tired.”

“I know.” Martin smiled, kissing her briefly. “You look like hell.”

“You really know how to make a girl feel special.”

“Hey, I never said you weren’t beautiful.” Martin kissed her again. “Coz you are.”

Amanda smiled and closed her eyes. “That’s more like it.” She buried down into the bedding, tucking her head beneath Martin’s chin and nuzzling his chest with her nose. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Martin had his arm over Amanda’s side and held her close. She was asleep in seconds.

*

Waking up was the worst. Amanda was briefly ecstatic to find Martin’s arm around her until the panic hit. She’d escalated things the night before and there was no going back; she was terrified and it was entirely her own fault. There was no more hiding, from herself or from Martin. Amanda’s stomach churned and her throat closed up. Trying to control her unreliable breathing, she rolled away and sat on the edge of the bed.

Martin grumbled in his sleep and reached for her. When his slumbering hand came up empty he opened an eye to squint in her direction. “S’wrong?” He asked gruffly.

“Nothing.” Amanda lied. She picked up her phone and went straight to the bathroom. Scummy motel bathrooms provided the only possible chance at privacy. Sitting on the closed toilet lid, hugging herself tightly, Amanda tried to reason with herself.

Todd it’s not working. What do I do? I’m hiding in a bathroom. Amanda typed out the message lightning fast.

Take deep breaths. Ground yourself. Are you hydrated? Drink some water.

Amanda did as her brother said, drinking straight from the tap. After a moment she checked the time. What are you doing up?

Waiting to hear from you. You feeling better?

No. Amanda squeezed her phone tightly in her hands.

Have you eaten?

No.

Get some sugar in your system. Keep breathing calmly. You got this. Todd sent through a picture of the cat. Princess Nibbles believes in you. I can’t believe I’m letting him keep the cat.

Amanda closed her eyes and focussed on her breathing. It scared her how quickly she fell back into old habits. Todd had talked her down from many ledges in the panic-stricken Max era, and here she was again, desperate for the lifeline only Todd could provide. Having been so totally independent – some might say isolated – for so long, Amanda had forgotten what it was like to need someone in her corner. Needing her brother was the safer choice but she found herself needing others, too, and it was frightening.

Long moments passed and Amanda’s heart rate eventually slowed. Maybe having no means of escaping the situation wasn’t the end of the world… She sent another message to Todd. Give the cat a hug from me.

It’s not worth my life. Love you x

You too.

Washing her face one last time Amanda tried to hold onto the relative calm. She unlocked the door and went back into the room, smiling as Cross pushed by her for the bathroom. Gripps was nowhere to be seen and Vogle was naked again, fortunately face down, in the second bed.

“C’mere,” Martin growled softly. His eyes were closed and he hadn’t moved.

Glancing at the miraculously unconscious Vogle, Amanda slowly climbed back into bed. She curled up with her back against Martin’s chest and did her best to keep the anxiety at bay. Part of Amanda was happy to bask in the warmth of his body, particularly when he put his arm around her middle, but the rest was busy overthinking the shit out of everything in light of her manoeuvres last night. What the hell had made her think that making out was a good idea?

Martin propped himself up on one elbow to try and get a look at Amanda’s face. Something had changed but damned if he knew what it was. It was way too early to be thinking this hard.

“You hungry?” Martin tried. Donuts would be bound to cheer her up.

“Starving.”

“Let’s get you somethin’.” Martin paused to dabble in some overthinking of his own. Would a morning kiss be a thing they did now? Amanda’s hand stroked the back of his arm around her, so that was a good sign, but she didn’t seem inclined to look at him. Martin settled for one last squeeze and caught the smile that flashed across her face. With a smile of his own Martin planted a lingering kiss on Amanda’s neck before climbing out of bed. Was that a little squeak of disappointment at the distance? Martin glanced at her to check and saw her pout. He stifled a sigh of relief.

“I feel like waffles.” Amanda said around a yawn. With some physical distance it was easier to cope with her internal monologue and some of the tension left her body.

“Waffles?” Martin pulled on a shirt. “Waffles it is.”

“Mm waffles.” Vogle muttered. He turned his head to look blearily at Amanda for a moment before looking down at his nudity. “Have you seen my pants?”

Amanda laughed. She sat up and threw the first pair of jeans she could find, hitting Vogle in the face. “Where’s Gripps?”

“Found the cutest girl in the place,” Vogle sighed, “said he’d text if he needed a ride.”

Martin buttoned up his shirt and banged on the bathroom door. “You gonna be long?”

Something unintelligible was muttered from within and Amanda laughed. “That does not sound promising.”

“Fantastic. Can you pass my phone?”

Amanda laughed again and rolled over to grab the cell. “You got a message.”

Martin took his phone from Amanda as Cross left the bathroom and made one hell of a face when the smell hit him. “Fuck you, man.”

Cross shrugged, clearly not giving one single fuck, and threw himself back into bed with a sigh.

“Unless you want a full show, you might want to shut your eyes.” Vogle warned.

Cross laughed. “There’s no surprises anymore.”

“I’m ok to have some mystery.” Amanda covered her eyes. A moment later she heard a fly zipping up.

“Does this town even have waffles?” Vogle asked.

“Do not joke with me. I need waffles.”

After some serious internet searching and packing up the room, the Rowdy Three climbed into the van to look for Gripps. Once he had been successfully found they headed for the waffle place on the way out of town. Amanda ordered a huge stack, with ice cream, and finished the whole lot.

“That was freaking massive!” Vogle looked at her empty plate.

“You start in on me about what I eat and I will cut you while you sleep.” Amanda said it so calmly, which made the threat all the more terrifying.

Vogle sat back with his hands up. “I’m impressed, that’s all.”

“I could really go a nap.” Amanda yawned.

“We got a couple hours in the van,” Martin looked at her closely, “definitely time for some sleep.”

“Great!” Amanda yawned again. “Let’s go.”

*

Amanda slept the whole way, only waking up when the van engine cut out. Being the last one out of the van she took her time stretching, sneaking some pictures of the boys as they decompressed. Amanda got closer to the bar’s old-fashioned ticket entry window for a few photos and read the posters around it. One in particular caught her eye.

“Uh, guys? We have a problem.”

“What’s up, drummer girl?”

Amanda tried not to smile at Martin’s nickname for her. “You might want to take a look at the dress code.”

NO FACE OR NECK TATTOOS.

“Did they mention anything about the dress code beforehand?” Amanda asked.

“The fuck?” Gripps laughed.

“What kind of punk bar has a ban on face and neck tattoos?” Cross rolled his eyes.

Amanda looked closely at both Martin’s and Cross’s neck tattoos. “What do we do about this?”

Vogle was frantically using his phone. “If the Facebook page is anything to go by, they take it pretty seriously.”

“They’d seriously turn away the headline act over a fucking dress code?” Cross groaned.

“I have a plan. Wait here.” Amanda grinned and crossed the busy street, heading for a drug store. She came back a few minutes later to find the back of the van open and Vogle, Cross and Gripps carrying gear inside.

“What’s your plan?” Martin asked, sitting on the back ledge of the van.

“I think yours might be hidden enough if you put your collar up, but Cross is gonna need these.” Amanda held up a packet of giant plasters and tossed it on the van’s floor. “Hold still though. I gotta check the collar thing will work.” Amanda grinned and approached Martin, standing in between his spread knees and reaching for his shirt collar.

“Better check, I guess,” Martin played along.

Amanda flipped the collar’s edge up, her fingers tracing along the back of Martin’s neck, before arranging the fabric to cover the ink below his beard. She rested her hands on his shoulders, assessing the situation.

“How’s it lookin’?” Martin put a hand on Amanda’s waist.

“Pretty good,” Amanda grinned, leaning in close. A burst of sound made Amanda flinch and she moved away. Before Martin could pull her back Cross and Vogle reappeared.

“Hey Cross,” Amanda retrieved the plasters, “you think these’ll work?”

“It’s gonna look like someone tried to shank me.”

“Yeah, but we’ll be able to play the gig.”

Cross sighed. “Fine.” He stood still as Amanda applied a comically large plaster across the side of his neck.

“Uh, what about his eye?” Vogle pointed out.

Amanda raised her brows. “I said I had a plan, and I have a plan.” Digging through the van junk Amanda pulled out her backpack. After a moment of rustling through the hastily packed contents she found her makeup bag and a black eyeliner pencil. “Sit.”

“You gotta be kidding.”

“Nope. Sit.”

Cross rolled his eyes and perched beside Martin. With a triumphant smile Amanda carefully traced over the circle around Cross’s eye. He remained sceptical.

Gripps shrugged. “Just looks like a shitty attempt at stage makeup.”

“It’s that or not be able to play at all.” Amanda pointed out acidly.

“Looks good.” Vogle gave a thumbs up.

Amanda hmphed and put her things away.

The sound check was sprinkled with bickering and Amanda tried to take out her frustrations on the drum kit. It didn’t work and she longed for a cigarette and a drink. It didn’t help that the sound tech guy was ruder than Amanda was used to – and after about two months of the touring routine that was really saying something. She glared at him.

“Honey, you want to hit that bass for me?” He asked with sickly sweetness.

“I want to hit your face with my first.” Amanda muttered. She kicked the bass drum hard. The entire band glared at the tech.

“Nice.” The guy grinned. “The middle tom? That’s the one right by you there.”

Amanda rolled her eyes hugely and smashed the drum in question.

The sound check guy nodded and somehow made it mega sleazy. “You really know your stuff.”

“Oh yeah?” Amanda pointed at Martin. “His mic needs to be louder, and the foldback is uneven, and you haven’t got the guitars at the right levels yet. In fact, I could do it faster. Condescend to me again and I’ll shove this drumstick so far up your ass you’ll be able to taste it. Got it?”

The guy snorted. “Sure.”

“Watch it, buddy,” Cross warned him, “she plays with us for a reason.”

“If someone’s sitting behind a kit, chances are they can play it. Have some goddamn respect.” Amanda advised.

The sound check guy was a bit quieter after that. Martin and the guys didn’t quit glaring.

Finally the sound check was done and Amanda quickly got to her feet. She made it just a few steps before realising her ears were ringing and sparkling lights danced before her eyes. Her hands were hot and tingly and her head pounded. Blinking furiously did nothing to clear her vision.

Everything went white.

Chapter Text

Cool hands rested on Amanda’s forehead. She groaned at the hot and cold waves crashing over her body that made her tremble as she tried to wake up. Her back hurt and she realised she was lying down; the rough planks of the stage pressed against her exposed skin. Piecing together the last few minutes of her life quickly proved impossible.

“Manda, shit, are you ok?”

“Bucket. Need a bucket.” Amanda mumbled through numb lips and tried to move onto her side. Her body was not obeying her at all and someone had to help her roll over. “Gonna hurl.” Amanda couldn’t open her eyes.

“Get somethin’!”

Amanda heard scrabbling and felt plastic against her cheek just in time. Once her stomach was empty Amanda tried to look around.

“Manda?”

“What happened?” Amanda asked. The light hurt her eyes and her head ached.

“You fainted.” Martin cupped her cheek in one hand.

“Jesus.” Amanda sighed. “Help me up?”

Martin and Vogle helped Amanda up slowly.

“Can we get out of here?” Amanda rubbed the back of her head. “Ow.”

“I couldn’t get to you in time to catch you.” Martin said quietly.

“It’s fine. I need a drink.”

Amanda lay down in the back of the van for the one-block-drive to the motel. With four grimy punks vying for the position of helper she was practically carried into the room and deposited on a bed.

“I’m fine, I promise.” Amanda rubbed her eyes. She was definitely lying. Fainting always left her feeling weak and shaky and super cranky about it.

“You fainted?” Gripps reminded her.

“I still need a drink.” Amanda looked around pointedly. “Do we have any vodka?”

“Boys, go get supplies.” Martin instructed. The other three took the hint and cleared out with a few grumbles.

With a small grunt of effort Amanda sat upright to find a frowning Martin staring at her. “What?”

“Are you ok?”

“I’ll be better once I can clean my teeth.”

Martin fetched her backpack. “Maybe take it slow. I don’t want you to pass out again.”

“Now that I know it’s a thing I’ll be more careful. I promise.” Amanda went into the bathroom to scrub her mouth clean. She collapsed back onto the bed and looked at Martin when he sat by her. “Do you think they’ll be gone for long?”

“Why?”

Without quite looking at Martin, Amanda righted herself and slowly climbed into his arms. She propped her legs over his and rested her head against his shoulder, pulling his arm around her waist.

Martin let Amanda arrange herself all over him and pulled her in close. Watching her pass out was terrifying; one minute she was up, the next she went over like a tree. It was the longest few seconds of Martin’s life. With a sigh he rested his chin atop her head. He was totally torn between being happy as hell that she was initiating the contact and wanted to be in his space – and being confused as hell at her warmth then frost then warmth again. “You done?”

“Yep.” Amanda relaxed into him. “Fainting is gross.”

“You’re givin’ me whiplash here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Last night you couldn’t keep your hands off me, this mornin’ you couldn’t get away from me fast enough, then you’re back in my arms, then you’re not talking at all, and now you’re seriously doin’ this?”

Amanda sat back a little to glare at Martin. “I know you’re a control freak but you can’t control me, ok?”

“I’m not tryin’ to! I thought things were goin’ fine, better than fine after last night, and then - I don’t even know what this is, other than bullshit. I just want to know what the hell is happenin’ here!”

“I don’t know, ok? I’m trying, the best way I know how, and sometimes that just isn’t going to be enough.” Amanda pulled away from Martin to sit against the headboard, knees tucked up to her chest, and was immediately angry. Frustrated tears welled in her eyes and she shouted at herself to stop it.

“No, wait, I,” Martin stared, the guilt rising like bile, “I didn’t mean to. Shit.” He began to reach for her but halted when he saw her eyes; if looks were weapons he’d be a dead man. “I just want to know what’s goin’ on with – with this.” With us. Is there an ‘us’? Did I just fuck it up? FUCK.

“I don’t know!” Amanda retorted. She raked her fingers through her hair, hugely irritated. “I don’t know. Ok? I thought maybe I was ready for this but I don’t know.” Digging through her bag Amanda found her phone, purse and cigarettes. “I just need to not be around you right now.”

Martin’s heart stopped in his chest. “Manda, wait.”

“I can’t right now.” Amanda left the room.

Martin felt sick. He wanted to go after Amanda and at least have the argument she was clearly spoiling for; if she was shouting at him at least that counted as talking to him. What in the hell just happened? Martin swore that all he’d done was ask a question. Was it the wrong one? Was it going to be an answer he didn’t want to know? He entertained himself by imagining a few hundred worst-case scenarios, smoking angrily outside the room while waiting for anyone to come back.

*

Amanda ran out of steam after a couple of blocks. She’d made it to a park that was empty except for a pair of teenagers clearly ditching school. Ignoring them, Amanda went to the swing set and lit a cigarette. It made her cough but she didn’t care.

Slowly Amanda kicked her feet along the ground for a pretty half-assed attempt at swinging. She smoked sporadically, stifling the cough, staring at nothing. Storming out had seemed like a really great idea but Amanda couldn’t quite remember why she’d been so damn mad in the first place. Oh yeah – Martin accused her of blowing hot and cold and then tried to control her.

Shivering at some truly horrific memories, Amanda fought back against growing nausea. No one controlled her, certainly no punk fuckboy she’d known for all of five minutes, no matter how much she liked him. The hot and cold thing he might have had a point on but no way in hell was Amanda about to be controlled by anyone. She sighed. It was never going to work with Martin if he thought he could tell her what to do. The prospect of losing everything was almost as terrifying as the idea that she might lose herself again.

“This seat taken?”

Amanda looked up with a jolt. She managed half a smile. “Go for it.”

Cross sat down in the second swing, his long legs scraping along the ground. “You wanna talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Kay.” Cross swung beside her lazily. He was content with the silence and waited her out.

“Ugh, fine.” Amanda rolled her eyes. “What do you wanna know?”

“Martin says you stormed out.”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“None of your business.” Amanda snapped.

“Hey.” Cross quit swinging and looked at her seriously. “We’re family, remember?”

“Yeah, you boys look out for each other. I know.”

“And you too, you little shit.” Cross reached out to yank on her hair gently. “If something’s up and you don’t wanna talk to the usual asshole, I thought maybe you might wanna talk to me.” A long moment stretched between them. Once again Cross just waited, watching with kind eyes and an oddly quiet smile.

Amanda couldn’t look at him. Miserable as it was to think about, it had been an uncomfortably long time since someone was that worried about what was going on in her head. All the boys had shown that they cared, in their own way, and it was scary. Amanda felt herself pushing back instinctively even as she wanted nothing more than to belong. “I don’t know.”

Cross pulled a silver flask out of his jacket pocket. “I brought a bribe.”

“Oh?” Amanda took it from him with a smile. She unstoppered the flask and took a sip. “Nice.”

“Right? So, you wanna talk or you wanna drink in some park and set a great example?” Cross glanced at the teenagers.

Amanda sighed. “I don’t like being told what to do. By anyone.”

“And our resident control freak struggles with that?”

“I dunno. I guess.”

Cross frowned. “What happened?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I think it does. It matters to you, at least. And that counts.”

Amanda paused. “Martin was mad at me for something and I said he can’t tell me what to do. He said he wasn’t trying to but I think he was lying.”

“How’d you know he was lying?”

“Everybody lies.”

Cross nodded thoughtfully. “Ok, I get what you mean, but that boy can’t lie.”

“Sure.”

“I’m serious,” Cross laughed, “he can’t lie for shit. Not to us, not to his friends, never to a girl. Why was he mad at you?”

Amanda’s cheeks warmed. “No reason.”

“Wait, he was mad at you first?”

“Maybe?”

“So you exploded at him?”

Amanda looked away. “Maybe.”

Cross gave her a long look. “You know you don’t have a leg to stand on here, right?”

Taking a long drink from the flask Amanda sighed. “Just call me stumpy.”

Cross laughed and took the flask back. “You blow up at your friends often?”

“What can I say, I’m just a human disaster.”

“At least you’re a disaster with good hair.”

“Thanks a bunch.”

Cross grinned. “Feel better?”

“For now.”

“Ready to head back? We got your favourite beer.” Cross attempted to cajole her.

Amanda put her head in her hands. “Sure.”

“C’mon,” Cross got to his feet and pulled Amanda after him, “you gotta make right with a certain asshole.”

“Hey, who says I’m in the wrong here?”

Cross gave her one hell of a look. “You wanna try and tell me you’re proud of how you treated him?”

Amanda bristled. “No, but that’s not your business.”

“For the hundredth time, we’re family.” Cross slung his arm around her shoulders. “That makes it my business.”

“You’re lucky you’re pretty.” Amanda grumbled and stubbed out her cigarette.

Cross just laughed and ruffled her hair.

“I’ve been on my own for a while,” Amanda said slowly, “I’m not used to having multiple people in my business all the time.”

“We interfere because we care.” Cross said loftily. “You’ll get used to it.”

They strolled back to the motel and Amanda lingered outside, awkwardly playing with her hair. Cross went inside and pushed Martin out the door before closing it firmly. Vogle pressed his ear up against the door anyway.

Martin glared at Amanda. As tempted as she was to glare right back, white-hot guilt flashed through her and she lowered her accusatory gaze.

“I might owe you an apology.” Amanda muttered.

The as yet undelivered apology made Martin’s eyebrows climb. “Still givin’ me whiplash, drummer girl.”

Amanda scowled. “I might be a little highly strung right now, ok? I’m tired, and homesick for something I don’t actually have, and I am like, so not used to this.”

“Used to what goddamnit!”

“Used to – to this! To someone being in my business. To several someones being in my business.” Amanda glanced toward the closed door. “I’m not used to having to answer to anyone but me.”

Martin stared. “I do not know what is happenin’. I hate it.”

“What’s happening,” Amanda took a deep breath, “what’s happening is that I’m adjusting. Ok? And I’m.” She paused.

“You’re what? Stubborn? Painful? Hungry?”

“I’m sorry.”

Martin stared some more. The anger ebbed out of him as he watched Amanda; she was busy looking at her feet and fidgeting with her jacket sleeves. “You’re homesick?”

Amanda almost flinched. “Maybe.”

“You miss your brother?”

“Sometimes.”

“You miss your folks?”

Amanda’s eyes stung. “No.”

“Liar.”

Amanda sniffed and tried to smile.

“Travel always makes you miss home.”

“I got nothing to miss.” Amanda shrugged and bit her lip.

Martin stepped closer as his heart softened. “A bunch of punks might be able to stand-in for family til they make right with you.”

“But what if?” Amanda finally looked at him. “What if this all falls to spectacular shit and then I have no one all over again?”

“I don’t want it to fall apart.”

“Me neither. But it always does.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.” Martin tried to keep his frustration in check. “If we don’t want it to fall apart then it won’t but if you ain’t even gonna try?”

“It’s not that.”

“You sure about that? Coz this looks a hell of a lot like you not tryin’.”

Amanda gasped when Martin’s words hit the mark. “How would you know?”

“How would I know?” Martin shot back. “You never tell me a damn thing that matters. You just wait til it blows up, til it’s do or die, then you remember what’s important.”

“Coz you never give me a chance! You push and push and push til I’m backed up in a corner with no way out except exploding.”

“You never give anythin’! How do I get a damn word from you without askin’ a dozen times? Tell me that. Tell me how to deal with you, please.”

Amanda scowled hugely; her heart pounded and her hands balled into fists as tried to control the raging fear in her head.

“I mean it.” Martin said, softer this time. “Just tell me what to do. What you want. Whatever, I don’t care, just talk to me.”

“You bunch of assholes are the closest thing I have to a home right now and I am, like, beyond terrified about losing this. Ok? What if what happens here,” Amanda gestured between them, “ruins everything? I want this but I’m so scared I can’t stand it.”

“And yellin’ at me helps that how?” Martin yelled. He paused and ducked his head as the irony sunk in. “I’m sorry.”

“Go to hell.” Amanda said quietly.

“Only if I can bring the family.”

“You know you’re not as funny as you think you are, right?”

“Right.” Martin shrugged. “I’m funnier.”

Amanda rolled her eyes and squeaked when Martin pulled her in for a tight hug. She turned her head so that her ear rested against his heart.

“Asshole.” Amanda mumbled.

Martin hmphed. “Hey.”

“What?”

“You wanna call your brother?”

“What the hell for?” Amanda retorted instantly. “I’m still mad at him.”

“Liar.”

“Says who?”

“Says me.” Martin pulled away and tentatively cupped her cheek in one hand. “I see the messages that come up from him and I know you reply. I don’t think you’re as mad as you want to be.”

“Can you stay out of my head please?”

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em. You want a minute?”

“In a minute.” Amanda closed her eyes and moved back into Martin’s arms. “I’m not good at this, ok? I can’t know if this is going to get better.”

Martin rested his cheek against Amanda’s hair. “I’m real good at lashin’ out. I’m sorry.”

“Why do you always put it all on me? Like you’ve got everything figured out and you get, like, bored of waiting for me.”

“I don’t mean to,” Martin said slowly, “I’m sorry. I promise you, I don’t got a thing figured out except.” He paused.

“Except what?”

Martin cleared his throat. “You know what.”

“Do I?”

“Are you – are you flirtin’ with me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Amanda pulled away with a smile. She pulled her phone from her pocket. “I need a minute. Ok?”

“No problem. I’ll put your beers in the fridge.” Martin turned to the door.

“Thanks. Hey Martin?”

“Yeah?”

“For the record, I’ve been trying. I just don’t do so well with feelings and shit.” Amanda strolled away to avoid any chance at a reply. Staring at her phone for a long moment, she finally called her brother.

Todd answered on the second ring. “What’s wrong?”

“Turns out I’m having a bad day.” Amanda gulped as the tears bubbled up.

“What happened? Who do I have to come down there and fight? Just point me at ‘em.”

“No one,” Amanda sniffed, “maybe me. I dunno.”

“I’ll bring the cat, she’ll fuck shit up.”

Amanda laughed damply. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course you can.”

“If I ever need someplace to stay, can I like, come chill with you guys?”

“What? Yes! Yes of course, we’d love to have you here. You can have our spare room, I’ll paint it purple and get new curtains – wait. You’re not going back to Montana?”

“No way. Besides, the guys are from Seattle.”

Todd paused. “So, you’re not heading for Seattle?”

“I don’t know. I want to. I mean – they want me to stay.”

“But?”

Amanda sighed. “But I need to know there’s a choice, that I’m not just choosing them because the only other option is homelessness. I need to know that I can decide this for myself.”

“I would love to have you here. Any time. For any reason.” Todd said seriously. “Hey, switch on FaceTime.”

“No way, I look like shit.”

“Wait til you see my moustache.”

“What? No way!” Amanda immediately turned on FaceTime and was immediately disappointed. “I’ve seen grandmothers with better moustaches than that.”

Todd grinned and awkwardly held up a black mewling kitten. “Just think, when you come and stay, you can share with the devil herself!” Said cat wriggled and took a swipe at Todd. He cursed and put her down.

“I like her already.” Amanda decided.

“Is that Amanda? Hi! Hi Amanda!” Dirk appeared on the edge of screen and waved. “I like your hair, it’s very bright.”

“Thanks,” Amanda looked down shyly.

“Amanda might come and stay with us sometime.” Todd said with a smile.

“Excellent! So when are you coming to visit?” Dirk asked brightly.

“Babe, Amanda might come stay a bit more permanently.”

Dirk gasped. “Fantastic! Oh!” He gripped Todd’s shoulder. “She could work with us! Amanda, would you be open to wearing a wig and false teeth?”

“Wait, what for?” Todd looked to his boyfriend.

“For going undercover, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Amanda laughed.

Dirk’s face absolutely lit up. “I’ve always wanted a sister. Can I have yours?”

“Why not.” Todd shrugged with a smile. “I’m pretty sure she likes you better than me.”

“I like the cat better than you, asshole.” Amanda grinned.

“Isn’t she precious?” Dirk collected Princess Nibbles in his arms and cooed at her adorably while Todd maintained a healthy distance. Glancing back to the phone in his partner’s hands, Dirk frowned a little. “Amanda, is everything alright?”

“Yeah, fine,” Amanda nodded, “I’m still kinda sick and getting an early night is kinda impossible around here.”

“You’re sick? What happened?”

“Just a cold. It’s no big deal, I promise, but we don’t really get a lot of time off. You know?”

Dirk peered at her. “You should get some proper rest. Maybe if you came and lived with us you’d get good sleep! And Todd can make you pancakes for breakfast. They’re delicious.”

Amanda laughed. “Thanks guys. Hey, do you want to come to Soundwave?”

“What’s a soundwave?” Dirk asked.

“It’s this festival in a couple of weeks on the east coast. We’re playing a stage. It might be cool if you guys were there.”

Todd smiled in disbelief. “Yeah, we’ll be there.”

“Ok.” Amanda nodded. “Ok. I should go. We’ve got a gig tonight, and I, uh.”

“What is it?”

“I got really mad for no good reason and embarrassed myself. I wanna try and smooth things over.” Amanda said grudgingly.

“You? Getting mad at someone?” Todd laughed. “I’m sure they deserved it.”

“Maybe a little.”

“Talk soon?” Todd asked, looking more hopeful than Amanda had seen in a really long time.

“Yeah. Soon.”

“Bye Amanda!” Dirk waved and made Princess Nibbles lift a paw to wave as well.

Amanda laughed and ended the call. She wandered back toward the motel and sat on the curb outside, pulling her birthday jacket around her and wishing she’d thought to bring her good camera. Using her cell phone camera as a poor stand in, Amanda lined up the bottom step of the van at the top of the frame and smiled as she watched the shadows playing underneath and behind the vehicle.

With a sigh Amanda wondered if she’d ever not be afraid of losing everything. It was definitely easier when there was nothing to lose. Damn lonely, sure, but at least there wasn’t a faint aura of fear colouring her whole life.

“Hey,” Vogle shouted from the doorway, “you gonna stay out there all afternoon? These beers ain’t gonna drink themselves.”

“I’m busy wallowing in self-pity, duh.”

Vogle came wandering over and sat beside her. He waited for a whole ten seconds in total quiet before he cracked. “This is boring.”

“I know.”

“Wanna dance?”

Amanda smiled tightly. “I dunno.”

“Come on, sitting out here isn’t gonna help. It’s only gonna make your ass cold.”

Amanda laughed. “Maybe having a cold ass is all part of the pity-party outfit?”

“Pity parties suck. Get your shit together, girl, let’s go.” Vogle got to his feet and held a hand out to Amanda.

“I feel stupid.”

“And now I look stupid,” Vogle grinned, wiggling his fingers, “we practically match.”

Amanda rolled her eyes and took the offered hand. Vogle hauled her up, gave a quick hug, and dragged her back into the room. The atmosphere inside wasn’t exactly tense but it wasn’t super friendly either. Amanda hated that she’d backed herself right into this corner.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a bitch.” Amanda announced. She couldn’t bring herself to look at anyone.

“You ain’t that bad,” Cross smiled, “you’re just a dramatic little shit sometimes.”

“Like him,” Gripps nodded at grinning Vogle, “and we tolerate him just fine. You have the added bonus of smelling a hell of a lot nicer.”

Amanda wiped her eyes and smiled.

“As long as you’re ok, we’re ok.” Gripps continued. “Are you one of those people that gets all outta whack when you don’t eat right?”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Maybe donuts and beer are not quite meeting your nutritional needs?”

Amanda opened her mouth to deliver a snappy retort but stopped herself. “Um.”

“Um what?” Martin asked. He looked at her suspiciously.

“Uh,” Amanda looked at Gripps and winced, “hold on.” She went to the bathroom and did a few things that had all the boys confused. Amanda leaned into the mirror and pulled the skin beneath her eye down, before grinning and appearing to check out her teeth. She appeared to think hard for a moment before her shoulders drooped. “Shit. Shit.”

“Everything ok?” Vogle asked slowly.

Amanda helped herself to a cool beer and sat on the couch between Gripps and Cross. She sighed. “Amongst my many exciting and varied health concerns is a predisposition to anaemia.”

Vogle frowned. “Anna-what-ia?”

“It’s a blood thing, isn’t it?” Cross asked.

Amanda nodded. “It’s a thing that happens when I don’t look after myself properly.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Gripps demanded.

Martin set his beer down. “What happens? What does it do?”

“Well,” Amanda stared very, very intently at her beer and her voice got smaller and smaller as she spoke, “I get tired, out of breath. Dizzy. Maybe a bit more irritable than usual.”

“How do you fix it?” Martin asked with a straight face.

Amanda shrugged. “Supplements, usually. A shot from the doctor if it’s really bad.”

“Supplements? Like from a drugstore?”

“Yeah.”

Martin got to his feet and picked up his wallet and keys. “Tell me what I’m gettin’.”

“Huh?”

“You need somethin’ from a drugstore, so I’m goin’ to a drugstore. Tell me what it’s called, or whatever.” Martin explained.

“It’ll be easier if I just come with you.” Amanda decided. “Maybe we should bring back dinner?”

“Pizza?” Cross suggested immediately. Gripps nodded his agreement.

Vogle nodded. “Third-ed.”

“Pizza it is.” Martin declared. “Let’s go.”

Amanda followed Martin to the van and climbed in. “If I’m sick does that mean I get to pick the music?”

“Please, no pop. I’m feelin’ a little delicate right now.”

“You’re about as delicate as a freight train,” Amanda scoffed, putting on some classic Nirvana before checking the maps. “Take a left at the next lights, then it’s a couple blocks down.”

“Yes ma’am.” Martin followed the directions smoothly.

Amanda sat back and rubbed at her eyes. “I know it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

“What?” Martin glanced at her. “I swear to god I ain’t never been so confused by a person in all my life.”

Amanda blushed. “I haven’t had to explain myself to other people for like, years. Sometimes I leave off the start of sentences? I guess?”

“Uh huh.”

“Anyway, what I was saying was, being extra cranky coz I forgot to eat iron-rich foods isn’t a free pass to be an asshole.”

“No, it ain’t.”

Amanda pursed her lips. “Thanks so much for being so understanding.”

“Hey, you were an asshole. So was I, but you win today’s prize.” Martin joked.

“And what’s the prize?”

“Winner has to cook the loser breakfast.”

“Wow, ok,” Amanda laughed, “that’s not a prize you want. I can barely make toast without setting the kitchen on fire.”

Martin laughed with her. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. My repertoire consists of ramen, mac and cheese, soup in a can, and nachos.”

“No wonder you got problems with nutrition, Jesus.”

“Whatever. I mean, I hate cooking, but this whole ‘eating nothing but takeout’ thing is getting kinda old. I was actually craving my mom’s vegetable casserole the other day. I am too young for this kind of existential crisis.”

“I know what you mean.” Martin said with feeling. “I just wanna make somethin’ properly, from scratch, with flavour and maybe less salt than the nearest ocean.”

“You can cook?” Amanda tried to hide her surprise.

“I got a few skills.” Martin pulled into the drug store lot and killed the engine. “You want me to come in or?”

Amanda laughed. “I’m getting vitamins, not a pap test. Do what you want.”

Martin conceded the point and followed Amanda inside, trailing behind her as she collected handfuls of vitamin bottles and bags of candy in equal measure. He eyed the candy suspiciously. “Weren’t we just talkin’ about nutrition?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want jelly beans for an entree.”

Martin wisely didn’t make further comment as they left the drug store. “I saw a pizza place on the way down, you wanna check its reviews?”

“Definitely. Life’s too short for shit pizza.” Amanda ate candy and searched her phone while Martin turned the van out of the lot. She sighed. “Even good pizza is getting tired. I miss real food.”

They ordered pizzas and collected them, Amanda holding the boxes between her feet on the floor for the drive back to the motel. A comfortable silence lasted for all of ten seconds.

Martin cleared his throat. “Why don’t we go out for breakfast?”

“Uh, we always go out for breakfast.”

“Ok, why don’t you and me go out for breakfast.”

“You and me?”

“Yeah. Just us. Like a date, maybe. If you want.”

Amanda held her breath. She stared at Martin’s profile as he drove and saw his hands gripping the steering wheel tighter than usual. That tiny hint that he might be nervous made Amanda decide to be a little brave.

“A date.” Amanda repeated. “Ok. Yeah. A date.”

Martin grinned. “Cool.”

“Cool.” Amanda nodded. Being brave was worth it to see the look on his face. “When?”

“Uh,” Martin looked a little shifty and Amanda laughed.

“Uh what?”

“That was part two of the plan. I didn’t think I’d make it to part one, to be honest.”

“You didn’t think I’d say yes?”

“I didn’t think I’d find the balls to ask.”

Amanda laughed outright.

“What?” Martin pretended to be injured. “You make me nervous. And you confuse the hell out of me. Why exactly am I into you?”

“I dunno.” Amanda swallowed her laughter and the cough she could feel trying to escape.

Martin grinned. “Because you make me nervous. Because you’re who you are, all the time, and you don’t give a shit about pretendin’ to be anythin’ else for anyone.”

Amanda blushed and looked out the window. “How do you know?”

“We’ve been livin’ out of a van for months. Virtually no personal space, no breaks from each other, no breaks from the routine. You can’t keep up some kind of front for that long in this kind of lifestyle.”

“But I lost it today.”

Martin shrugged. “And I’ve lost it more’n once. So have the others. It happens, we get over it, we move on. Seriously.” Martin glanced at her. “It says a lot about a person when you see how they deal with losin’ it.”

“Still, I’m sorry.”

Martin smiled as he parked the van in front of their room. “Me too.” He leaned closer to Amanda and brushed some wild hair back from her face. Looking into her eyes Martin frowned a little. “Is this ok?” He sat back, dropping his hand. “Sorry, I just-”

Amanda cut him off with a brief kiss and then sat back, waiting. Martin grinned and she grabbed his jacket lapels to hold him close before kissing him again. His beard smelled less like cigarettes than she was used to but the softness was just the same. A tiny gasp escaped Amanda when Martin put his hands on her hips and went to bring her closer. Amanda’s knees knocked the pizza boxes and she broke away with a laugh.

“Come on, the guys will be wondering where dinner is.” Amanda suggested with a wicked glint in her eye.

Martin growled. “Fine.”

“It won’t be like this forever.”

“Ain’t that the sort of thing that scares you?”

Amanda nodded slowly and smiled. “Maybe it’ll be better.”

The sound that escaped Martin’s mouth was somewhere between a laugh and a groan. “Of course you get the hang of optimism at a damn inconvenient time.”

“Why inconvenient?”

Martin leaned in close again and cradled her head in his hands. “Because when you talk like that I want to kiss you for days, not sit around a shitty room eating shitty food waiting to play some shitty bar.”

“You get off to the thought of me being optimistic?”

“Among other things.” Martin grinned and placed a surprisingly tender kiss to Amanda’s lips. “C’mon drummer girl.”

Amanda stared after Martin as he climbed out of the van. The incessant throbbing between her thighs was bound to go away eventually but she still cursed him for having that kind of effect on her.

Opening the passenger door Martin picked up the pizza boxes from the floor. “You good?”

Amanda nodded, trying not to look too out of breath. “Yeah. Fine.” Meeting Martin’s eyes Amanda knew there was no going back. She wanted him to keep looking at her with that warmth in his eyes. Already Amanda wanted to close the distance between them but the thought of being that open made her a little queasy.

“You’d tell me if you weren’t, right?”

Amanda opened her mouth but was interrupted by Vogle barging out of the motel room.

“What are you doing, making the damn pizzas?” Vogle cried, rushing forward to take a box from Martin’s grasp. He turned on his heel with a touch more drama than was really required and stalked back into the room.

“I’d tell you.” Amanda realised. She smiled.

Chapter Text

A few days and two shows later, having packed up and snuck away early to desperately try and catch up on sleep, Amanda unfortunately found herself wide awake in bed while Martin snored quietly beside her. His snoring wasn’t keeping her up, nor was the ridiculously firm mattress beneath her or the faintly musty smell of the room. Even though Amanda’s eyes burned from exhaustion relentless trains of thought barrelled through her head and seemed totally intent on eradicating any chance of sleep. She sighed.

Time and again Martin had shown that he wasn’t about to give up on anything no matter what - or who’s - bullshit was going on. She wanted to trust him so badly and was just about out of excuses for why she shouldn’t. Martin had real friends who were also good people, and he’d played nice with Todd even though Amanda suspected he’d been fantasizing about kicking her brother’s teeth in. He had a job, and a life that wasn’t entirely full of red flags and emotional debris and ‘crazy ex-girlfriends’ that Amanda now recognised as a colossal warning sign. He didn’t need fixing or saving and wasn’t looking for that in her. Which raised a bigger question…

Amanda gently roused Martin by shaking his bare shoulder. “Hey, Martin. Wake up.”

“Hnnng.” Martin groaned. He rolled over and flopped an arm across Amanda to pull her in close.

Amanda squeaked and continued her irritating campaign. “Wake up.”

“Shh,” Martin whispered, “jus’ be a spoon. Go to sleep.”

“I need to ask you something.”

Martin opened one eye to scowl. “S’better be good.”

“Do you want to be with me?”

Opening both eyes, Martin gave Amanda a sleepily withering glare. “I ain’t tryna spoon nobody else.”

“Yeah, but, do you want to actually be with me? Is that what this is?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” Martin yawned. “You can’t just wake someone up and dump a crisis of faith on ‘em.”

“Why do you want to be with me?”

Martin squinted, confused as ever. “Didn’t we talk about this already? Because you’re you.”

“That doesn’t explain anything.” Amanda said accusatorily. “I mean, I think you’re funny and fun and your level of honesty just existing as a person is fucking admirable and a super attractive quality, by the way, plus your face is kinda nice to look at. Like, I can think of all these reasons why I want to be with you and you can’t think of any that you want to be with me? Do you even want to be with me or is it all about getting into my pants? Am I just gonna be another conquest for you?”

“Woah, hold on a second,” Martin tried to soothe clearly rattled Amanda, “I just woke up. Give me a second to remember what way is up, alright?” He tried to get some words in order. “You ain’t no conquest. I ain’t about to lie to you, gettin’ into your pants would be awesome, but I want more’n that. If you want it.” He yawned. “You’re like magic. Magic that smells good.”

Amanda couldn’t help herself and laughed when Martin moved in close and buried his nose in her curls. “What does that mean?”

“Means you’re fun and brave and you smell good.”

“That’s it? I smell nice?”

Martin sighed. “I thought we talked about this already. I said nice things in the van. Didn’t I? Right before the kissing?” Martin nuzzled into Amanda’s neck, nipping her softly. “Can there be more kissing?”

“Oh my god.” Amanda pulled away and sat on the edge of the bed. “It is just about sex.”

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” Martin groaned and clumsily followed Amanda to sit behind her, clinging onto her like an oversized, dozing, deadweight sloth. “You ain’t like anyone I ever met. You’re irritatin’, and confusin’, and adorable as hell.” Martin yawned yet again. “You don’t change for nobody and you seem to like me how I am. I think. It’s hard to tell in the dark without my glasses.”

“Of course I like you the way you are.”

Martin smiled and tucked his chin into the crook of Amanda’s shoulder. “We’re off to a good start.”

“Huh?”

“Datin’ people who want to change you is a bad time.” Martin settled into the sleepy hug, looping his arms around Amanda’s middle. He stretched his legs out either side of hers and grinned at being able to touch her so easily. “Tried it. Bad time.”

“Who’d want to change you?”

“Girls who think music’s a dead end, managin’ a bar’s a dead end, girls who think my friends are annoyin’ or take up too much of my time.”

Amanda relaxed a bit as she thought about it, her hands eventually resting atop Martin’s. “But music is who you are. So are the guys. They make up a really big part of you. Why would someone want to be with you but not want the bits that make you, y’know, you?

“You tell me, drummer girl.” Martin sighed. “Anyone ever try and change you?”

“It’s hard to say.”

Martin grunted and deliberately tickled her neck with his beard.

Amanda smiled. “I haven’t really tried dating anyone in a few years. There were times when people wanted more from me than I could give and I usually just let it die. Or ran. I haven’t liked someone who’s liked me back since Max and that’s probably not the best guideline.”

At the mention of the infamous ex, Martin growled. “Is he gonna be a problem?”

Amanda took a deep breath and plunged headlong into the truth. “He gaslighted me for years. Looking back there was a bunch of other shady shit. That doesn’t happen to you and leave you fine and dandy.”

“Where were your parents when all this was goin’ on? Where was Todd? How did they let it happen?”

“I didn’t tell them anything and then it was only Todd that knew. He figured it out coz some of his friends knew Max. Todd even found Max’s ex-girlfriend and tried to get her to talk to me but I wrote her off. Max just told me that she was crazy and making everything up and it did not occur to me why that was shady. All I could see was a cute guy in a band and I just had to be good enough to make him stay.”

Martin growled. He tightened his arms around her. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“Me, too.” Amanda settled against Martin and sighed. “Do you think you can forgive me for waking you up?”

“I guess.”

“Sorry. My head’s a bit too everywhere sometimes.”

“Does that mean you ain’t gonna sleep some more?”

“I’m going to try.”

Martin hmphed and easily pulled Amanda back down onto the bed with him. She laughed and wriggled in his arms as he scratched her face with his beard. Amanda squirmed away and pinned him down; looking at him, the smile slid from her face.

“Shit, sorry,” Martin immediately went slack beneath her grip and lay still. She was so full of energy all the time that it was easy to forget just how small she was. “I’m sorry.”

A small smile appeared on Amanda’s face. “Don’t be. I don’t have any hangups about physicality, and honestly?” Amanda bit her lip. “Sometimes I like it a little rough.”

Martin cleared his throat and tried to keep his lust in check. “Then what was that?” He brushed the side of her face. “You went real quiet. It ain’t your natural state.”

“It’s not.”

“Are you ok?”

Amanda laid her head on Martin’s chest. “Yeah. I just wish that.” She paused.

Martin waited, his hand coming to rest on the small of her back.

“I didn’t want to be like this. Like, a mess of a person who can’t deal.”

“Hey, you’re doin’ fine. More’n fine. It’s a lot to come back from and I ain’t in no rush.” Martin slowly brought his arms around Amanda in a comforting hug. “We got time.”

“That’s not fair.”

“What?”

Amanda shifted to look at Martin and glared playfully. “Quit being so nice.”

“Nah. In case you didn’t get around to figurin’ it out yet, I’ll do whatever you want me to. I’ll feed you donuts for breakfast everyday and cook for you every night and, and I’ll show you the best record store in Seattle, and get you the best coffee, and whatever else you might want.”

The grin on Amanda’s face almost made Martin feel a bit less like a dorky teenager. “Seriously?”

Martin smiled sheepishly as Amanda leaned down to kiss him briefly and he knew better than to chase her when she moved away. Instead he stared with no small sense of wonder.

“Goodnight.” Amanda curled into his side.

Kissing her hair Martin smiled. “G’night.”

*

As small as Amanda was, she still made an impression when she tossed and turned on a mattress, especially when she stole more blanket with each huffy roll.

“I’mma wrap you up like a pig in a blanket if you don’t quit your wrigglin’.” Martin mumbled, face down and without as much blanket as he’d like.

“Can you wrap Cross tight enough that he never snores again?” Amanda shot back.

A particularly loud snort echoed. Cross was clearly choking on argumentative chainsaws in his sleep.

Amanda sat up and hefted her pillow. “I’m gonna kill him. Would you come visit me in jail?”

With a grunt Martin yanked the pillow from her hands. He cuddled it to his chest and rolled over, taking blankets with him with a grumble.

“Fuck you.”

“Gimme a minute.”

Amanda shoved his shoulder with a smile, which broadened into a proper grin when she heard his snort of laughter. She threw herself back into the bed with a loud sigh, before resuming the tossing and turning with extra emphasis.

“I will turn you into a burrito I swear to god.”

“I’m not great at subbing.”

Martin choked a bit. “You ain’t gon’ sleep no more are ya?”

“Nope. You sound like you’re straight off the plane from Texas first thing in the morning, did you know that?”

“You want coffee? Coz you’re goin’ the wrong way about it, drummer girl.”

Amanda paused. “How about breakfast?”

“Mm?”

“Someone promised someone a date.”

“That I did.” Martin groaned as he sat up and looked around the room. Cross and Gripps were in the second bed and Vogle was nowhere to be seen. “You wanna go now?”

Cross snored particularly loudly yet again, coughing around the hideous noise.

“Yep. Just let me smother this jerk and I’m good.”

“No murder, remember?”

Amanda sighed and climbed out of bed. “Fine. There’d better be coffees by the bowl for breakfast.”

Martin just grunted at her as he moved around the room, stepping over piles of bags and empty cans. He scowled as he got dressed and sat back down to tie up his boots. “Goddamn those boys are foul.”

“Uh, I don’t see you cleaning up after them.”

“I ain’t their mama to pick up their shit. I just want my own space back.” Martin glanced at Amanda and couldn’t help himself. “I could share a little. If someone wanted to.”

“Uh-huh,” Amanda replied absently as she performed a sniff test on a shirt. It passed and she bundled up a few things and disappeared into the bathroom. Leave the panic attack til after coffee, you goddamn human disaster. Amanda sent a good morning message to Todd as she brushed her hair and got dressed. That last phrase from Martin hovered at the back of her mind and Amanda gritted her teeth and didn’t want to deal with it. Not yet.

If this was about to be a date, Amanda wanted to try and look slightly nicer than usual. The fact that Martin and the others had already seen her in a fun variety of drunk and disorderly moments, including spectacular digestive expulsions, was entirely beside the point. She tried the fishtail braid Cross had been trying to teach her to show off the turquoise flashes in her hair, pulling it over one shoulder and leaving a few wisps loose. It wasn’t perfect but Martin wasn’t about to critique a braid in detail.

Amanda crept out of the bathroom and found Martin dressed and yawning on the edge of the bed. He held up the keys in silent question. Amanda nodded and they snuck out and climbed in the van.

“What do you feel like to eat?” Martin asked, turning the engine over.

“Coffee.”

“Coffee ain’t a food.”

Amanda sighed. “I dunno. Something kinda real?”

“As opposed to?”

“I guess not candy. Or something super sweet.”

Martin glanced at her. “You ain’t sick again are ya?”

“Ha, ha,” Amanda rolled her eyes, “I thought the whole point of going out without the guys was to have some real food?”

“We drove past some mom and pop joint last night, how about it?”

“Deal.”

Martin grinned and put the van in gear.

The mom and pop joint turned out to be a Mum and Dad Australian-style diner. Amanda stared at the garishly decorated window, smothered in koalas and wattle and pineapple decals, and slowly brought up her phone to take a picture.

“Why the hell do I never bring my actual camera when I need it?”

Martin smiled as he watched her. “We can swing by on the way out of town for more pictures?”

“Yes please. If this place is terrible, I blame you.”

“There’ll be a Denny’s somewhere if it’s that bad. Let’s find out.”

They went inside and the decoration got worse. Corks were strung along the walls and perfectly good Stetson hats were mounted on boards like trophies, surrounding what Amanda dearly hoped was a fake crocodile head. Fake wattles and huge stems of green leaves were in vases on every table. Tacky synth pop echoed throughout the place and was a strange accompaniment to the chatter of the few occupied booths.

“I wonder if they have kangaroo here.” Amanda mused.

“G’day guys, take a seat and I’ll be with you in two shakes!” A young man in a Stetson and green and gold apron shouted as he dashed by.

“What measurement of time is ‘two shakes’ exactly?” Amanda asked as they slid into a booth.

“That accent was terrifyin’.” Martin gave Amanda a menu from the holder on the edge of the booth. The koala motif continued; a tiny toy koala in a cork hat perched at the head of their table. Martin grimaced.

Amanda nodded her agreement as she scoured the menu. “There’s no kangaroo.”

“You gonna live?”

Amanda sighed dramatically. “Maybe. Jesus, I don’t even know what some of this stuff is.” She laughed and got out her phone to google, but not without taking a picture of Martin opposite her in the booth. She grinned. “I’m really excited to drink coffee out of a mug.”

“It’s the little things.”

“I’m really excited to drink coffee in bed, out of a mug, someday in the future.” Amanda nodded eagerly. “And maybe one day, when it’s raining out, I can stay in bed all day drinking coffee and hot chocolate instead of sitting in a damp van with a bunch of damp punks driving for hours.”

“It ain’t that bad, right?”

Amanda searched his face, suspecting he might be genuinely worried. “Of course it’s not. But staying in bed in the rain is one of my favourite things.”

Martin smiled. “What are some others?”

“Why do you wanna know?”

“Two reasons: one, we’re on a date, so we’re supposed to do the whole ‘get to know you’ game. Two, I can’t make it rain on command, so I gotta find other things that you like and try and make those happen on command. If you’re only into weather events I’m pretty screwed.”

Amanda laughed outright, blushing a little at the ‘on a date’ part. “Ok, other favourites. Uh, music, obviously,” she paused, “I love action movies? And sometimes a really good book.”

“I can work with that.” Martin smiled.

Amanda stared for a moment, letting herself enjoy the way he looked at her. “Your turn.” She said at last, only to be interrupted by the waiter.

“What can I get you?” The young guy asked in a strange accent.

“Large cappuccino and eggs benedict with extra bacon.” Amanda said without hesitation.

“And you, mate?” The server turned his attention to slightly bewildered Martin.

“Large black coffee and the big breakfast.”

The waiter took their order and left with a “cheers, mate!”

Amanda looked at Martin, seriously concerned. “What was that?”

“I think it was supposed to be an Australian accent?”

“Yikes.” Amanda looked around, spying some tiny koala toys lurking around the condiment collection. “Anyway.” She smiled. “Where were we?”

“Favourite things.”

“Right, your favourite things! Go.”

Martin smiled a little. “Music, obviously. Going to gigs. Binging TV shows. Sleepin’ in.”

“Oh my god, how great is it going to be to properly sleep in, like have nothing to do and nowhere to go.” Amanda propped her chin on her hands as she daydreamed.

“Pretty great.” Martin couldn’t help but immediately contemplate such a scenario with Amanda right there beside him in bed, curled up against him. Her hair would tickle his nose and smell delicious and there’d definitely be morning kisses, among other things.

“What?”

“Nothin’.” Martin was saved by the delivery of two huge mugs of coffee by the fake accent-wielding waiter.

Amanda gave him a funny look before wrapping her hands around the hot mug. “Please God of Coffee, don’t let this be shit.” She took a cautious sip, emptied about four sugar packets into the mug and tried again, grinning the second time around. “Fuck yes.”

“Meets your standards?”

“Having drunk some of this country’s worst coffee over the last few weeks, it’s amazing how far my standards have dropped.”

Martin sipped his coffee and raised his brows in pleasant surprise. “I hope you’re still talkin’ about coffee.”

“Oh definitely.” Amanda said with mocking sincerity. She sat back with her mug. “So, you grew up in Texas somewhere?”

“Yeah. Not much to see in the town I’m from unless you like lookin’ at people who might be too closely related to be breedin’.”

Amanda snorted. “No thanks. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Nope, unless you count a van full of assholes.”

“I think they count.” Amanda smiled into her coffee.

“How about you? Did you grow up in, uh,” Martin trailed off, looking deeply uncomfortable.

“Are you serious? You don’t even remember the name of the town you picked me up in?”

“I didn’t know there’d be a test afterwards.”

Amanda laughed. “It’s fine, I’m not from Montana anyway. I ended up there by accident when I got on the wrong bus but I figured I had nowhere better to be, so I stayed. I grew up in Wyoming, near-ish Yellowstone.”

“How’d you get on the wrong bus?”

“I panicked. I’d just been kicked out of home, all my friends hated me, and it turned out my brother was actual scum. The usual. Any bus looked good.” Amanda looked away.

The moment was interrupted by the delivery of huge plates of food with more awkward accent attempts by the waiter. “Can I get you guys anything else?”

“No.” Martin said, his face cold. It worked; the waiter scurried away.

“You should tip him nicely,” Amanda said with a quiet smile.

Martin hmphed before inhaling his breakfast. Amanda attacked her pile of eggs and bacon with similar enthusiasm, the pair of them chatting around the food.

“If all Australians eat like this, no wonder they’re fatter than us.” Amanda sat back and burped. “Thank god, more room for coffee.” She finished the mug but held onto it. “Can we get some to go?”

Martin nodded. “We should take some back for the guys.”

“Maybe they’ll forgive us for leaving them behind?”

“Bet you they don’t even notice we left ‘em on purpose.”

“What do we tell them?” Amanda asked, suddenly serious.

“About what?”

“We literally snuck out to go on a date. That’s not something normal band mates do?”

“Ok,” Martin conceded with a sly smile, “maybe it ain’t.”

“So, what do we say?”

Martin shrugged. “We could just, see what happens before stressin’ out about anythin’?”

“See what happens.”

“Yep.”

“What do you want to happen here, exactly?” Amanda instantly regretted her huge breakfast as adrenalin hit her system and made her nauseous.

“I’d like to kiss you some more.”

“Beyond making out.”

There was a long moment where Martin just looked at her. He wanted to share a bed with her and not just for sex, though that would hopefully be very much involved; he wanted to keep waking up next to her. He wanted to show her all his favourite bands and make her his favourite food, and write music together and play gigs together and laugh at bad jokes and just be.

What he said was, “I never got around to sayin’ it, in so many words, but I want to be with you.”

“Ok.” Amanda nodded, unsmiling. She wanted to hurl and cry at the same time as those words sunk in and she found herself wanting it too. “That’s kind of a big deal.”

“It don’t have to be.”

“How am I supposed to avoid sleepovers when we’re essentially living together right now?”

“It’s a bit late for that.” Martin joked.

Amanda didn’t laugh.

“Hey,” Martin reached across the table and carefully took Amanda’s hand, cursing his pitiful attempt at humour yet again. “Why do you wanna avoid me?”

“It’s nothing personal,” Amanda began, “but the thought of being around someone so much? It’s scary. It doesn’t give me a choice whether I’m letting you in or not. I need to make the choice for myself.”

“There’s always choice. Always.” Martin said quickly. “You want space from me, say the word. You want to sleep on a couch or you want me to sleep on a couch just say so. I won’t be offended.” He met her gaze and held it. “I think I might understand a bit why choice is important to you and I’ll do whatever it takes to respect that.”

Amanda looked at their joined hands and smoothed her fingers across Martin’s knuckles, feeling the crease of skin and tracing the bones beneath. Touching him like this, quietly, carefully, in broad daylight without the buzz of alcohol or the clinginess of sickness, was new. Amanda fought her habitual fear of human contact and refused to entertain any of the regular avoidance techniques. No. Not anymore.

In rare calm moments after too much to drink or not enough sleep Amanda wondered what it might be like to trust someone enough to let them in. Sitting opposite Martin she admitted to herself that she wanted it to be him.

Eventually Amanda spoke. “This is a big deal for me. Like, a really big deal. You are exactly the type of guy I have deliberately avoided getting attached to since forever.”

“I get it. I’m not askin’ you to elope, or anything,” Martin tried, “I just want to spend time with you. Only you.”

Amanda’s mouth twisted. “But in secret. If you don’t want the guys to know.”

“I told you I’m bad at secrets. If you and I were to try this,” Martin’s heart lurched a little, “I wouldn’t want to keep it a secret. I don’t even know if I could.”

In spite of herself, Amanda smiled. “Can we take it slow?”

“Of course.” Martin replied without hesitation.

“Like, glacial kind of slow?”

“Anythin’ you want.”

Amanda bit her lip. “Ok. I want to spend time with you.” Admitting it aloud was harder than she’d thought it would be, but was worth it to see his face just about light up. “But definitely only you, ok? No side action.” Her heart pounded; years ago, trying to set boundaries had been disastrous, ending in fighting and tears and -

“Definitely not.”

Amanda stared. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Agreein’ not to mess around is pretty basic level stuff.”

“Right.” Amanda squared her shoulders. “And if I want to be alone I can just… say so. And you’ll leave me alone. Right?”

Martin nodded.

“Ok. And if I want you around?”

“Just say so.”

“Is this, like, healthy communication?”

“I think so? You tell me what you want, and maybe sometimes I tell you what I want, and then we’re just kinda nice about it?”

Amanda grinned. “I think I like it.”

“It seems pretty great so far.” Martin agreed.

There was a long moment that Amanda spent staring. The sick nausea in her gut was fading and she found something like actual happiness was taking its place. It was weird. Nice, but weird. Quit while you’re ahead, girl. “We should get going.”

Martin smiled. “Sure.”

They ordered a tray of coffees to go and headed back to the motel, the atmosphere in the van being lighter than Amanda could remember in a little while. She sat annoyingly close to Martin and loved that he didn’t mind. It was hard to stop looking at him and he smiled every time. Once they pulled into the motel lot Amanda’s nerves got the better of her and she began to withdraw, shrinking in on herself and looking out the window.

Martin frowned. “What is it? Are you worried about the guys still? Don’t be-” He stopped when he saw Amanda set the coffee tray on the dash. She moved slowly, turning in her seat and reaching for him, and he stayed perfectly still.

Amanda put her hand on the nape of Martin’s neck and leaned in to press her lips against his. He tasted like coffee and as the kiss slowly deepened, Martin reached around to hold Amanda’s waist and pull her close. Being wrapped up in his arms and trying to touch all of him at once was almost too much for her and there were too many clothes in the way. Amanda needed skin against her and wanted to rip Martin’s shirt open – at that point she pulled away.

“Is this ok?” Amanda asked quietly.

Martin tried not to laugh. “I think we have established that any and all kissing is just fine by me.” He grinned, his heart racing, and pulled Amanda back in to kiss her, pushing up her shirt to brush calloused fingertips across her skin. His touch made Amanda shiver happily and she briefly considered moving to sit on his lap. That thought made her shift away from Martin’s mouth but she stayed in his arms; straddling one’s super hot band mate in the front seat of a van before ten a.m. wasn’t exactly the look Amanda was going for, even if it was the one burning thought at the front of her mind.

“The coffees are getting cold.” Amanda suggested.

With a low growl Martin kissed Amanda’s neck, right below her ear, and she sighed and held him tightly.

“That’s low.” Amanda whispered. The light touch of lips against skin was not enough and she quickly damned any consequences to hell. “Is that all you got?” Amanda dared him.

Martin chuckled, his mouth against her skin, not letting up on the kissing at all and introducing serious biting to the situation. Amanda gasped at the electric sting on her throat and rush of heat through her body, aching for more of everything. Martin finished bruising her neck and looked at her with a wicked grin. “The coffees are definitely getting cold.”

Staring at him, her whole body definitely responding to his touch, Amanda shook her head with a smile. “I’ll get you for that.”

“Promise?”

Amanda leaned in close, her lips brushing Martin’s ear as she whispered, “I promise.” Reaching one hand up to grab his hair Amanda held him fast as she kissed his neck while her other hand stroked his thigh. Martin dropped his head back against the seat and swallowed, hard, and Amanda chose that moment to pull away. Sliding back along the bench seat and flashing a flirty as hell grin, going so far as to lick her lip, Amanda grabbed the coffee tray and left the van.

Leaning back against the seat Martin tried to collect himself. He tried in vain to think of cold showers and not of the ridiculously soft lips that had worked the flesh of his neck until other flesh was very, very interested in current events. Running fingers through his hair to try and avoid any awkward questions, Martin finally followed Amanda into the room and arrived in time to hear her explaining their absence.

“You guys were dead to the world and I was hungry.” Amanda shrugged. “We brought you back amazing coffee.” She gestured reverentially to the tray on the low table and removed up her cup. Perching on the arm of the couch she smiled knowingly as Cross grumbled but reached for a cup each anyway. He immediately quizzed Martin about breakfast when he sat on the edge of one of the beds.

Gripps hobbled over from the bed he’d slept in and as he passed Amanda, he looked closely at the side of her neck. The look he gave her was one of shocked disbelief.

“What?” Amanda asked a little self-consciously.

“I hope you know what you’re doing.” Gripps said quietly.

“What are you talking about?”

“You disappear last night and you show up this morning with those?” Gripps glanced at her undoubtedly marked neck. “We love you like a sister, but if you hurt him,” he looked quickly at the oblivious Martin, “all bets are off.”

“It’s not like that,” Amanda tried to explain but Gripps wasn’t interested. He collected his coffee and sat on the couch, resolutely cold toward her.

Amanda cradled her paper coffee cup as her head swam. Of all the responses she had tried to anticipate, this was not among them, and her friend being angry at her made her eyes sting with tears. Finding time to properly talk to either Gripps or Martin about it all would be in short supply; they were driving out of town within the hour and there was the small problem of finding their wayward singer. Amanda wanted to be a lot more confident in the situation before announcing anything to the room so that was clearly not a viable option. Once again Amanda found herself backed into a corner entirely of her own making and couldn’t see a way out. She casually unlaced her braid and let her hair fall over her shoulders and neck as her face burned.

In an almost practiced sequence of events the band packed up all their junk from the room and piled into the van. Amanda sat in the front beside Martin, settling in with some jellybeans and her camera ready for interesting photo opportunities while they hunted for Vogle.

Chapter Text

Vogle was found leaning against a dumpster in an alley behind a hotel. He didn’t flinch when the van pulled up, not even when Martin blasted the horn.

Amanda winced. “This doesn’t look good.”

Cross and Gripps sighed heavily and moved to get out of the van.

“If he’s got puke on his shoes, leave ‘em behind. I ain’t sittin’ in here with that stink all damn day.” Martin growled.

Amanda watched as Cross and Gripps slowly approached Vogle, talking too softly to be heard over the van’s engine. With careful fingers Cross tilted Vogel’s face up - and Amanda’s blood went cold. Vogle was pale and shadows smudged his eyes and a blooming bruise coloured his cheek.

“What the fuck!” Amanda shouted and leapt out of the van. She ran to Vogle with Martin close behind. “Vogle what the fuck?”

“You been out here all night?” Martin asked quietly. He pulled Vogle into a hug. “Why didn’t you call?”

Vogle shook his head against Martin’s shoulder. “Ran into someone I knew, then we ran into some people we didn’t know. I couldn’t let him face them alone. He brought me here, took care of me.” Vogle sighed. “Didn’t want him to see me like this.”

“Like what? Human?” Gripps said softly.

“Like busted. Feelings are for suckers.”

Amanda eyed him closely. “Someone you knew? Someone you like?”

Martin pulled away and looked at the bruising. “So you’re just gonna run out on this guy?”

“Uh, he doesn’t do relationships, so yeah, I’mma run. Let’s go.”

“That what you want?” Gripps asked.

“Yep. Coffee and food and leaving. Not necessarily in that order.”

Martin, Cross and Gripps all exchanged a look before Cross put his arm around Vogle’s narrow shoulders. “C’mon punk,” he brought Vogle in close, “let’s be your getaway.”

Vogle took a deep breath. “Guys. I am invoking cuddle time.”

Gripps got in close and made a show of sniffing Vogle. “Only coz you smell like you actually bathed this morning.”

“The hotel had a damn hot tub, hell yeah I bathed.”

Amanda gasped. “Oh god, a hot tub? Wait, what’s cuddle time?”

Cross and Gripps laughed as they climbed into the back of the van and Vogle followed them in. “I love cuddles and these boys oblige me when I’m being a sadass. You want in?”

“All day cuddles?” Amanda asked.

“All day.”

Amanda grinned as warmth flooded her. “I want in.”

They climbed in the van and Amanda settled in beside Vogle, trying to ignore Gripps ignoring her. Martin watched them in the rear view and smiled as he started the van up again. There was no conversation and pumping music filled the van. Amanda found herself dozing, lulled by the van’s rumble and the warmth of Vogle in her arms and his freshly washed scent in her nose. Cross stretched out behind her and Gripps played littlest spoon in front of Vogle.

The first stop of the day saw Vogle, Cross and Gripps stumbling into a shitty roadside diner for yet more coffee. Amanda and Martin trailed behind and despite being full up with warm and fuzzies Amanda was concerned at the tension in Martin’s shoulders.

“We haven’t been driving all that long, you ok?”

“We? It’s my ass at the wheel.” Martin reminded her.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You’ve been quiet since we picked up Vogle.”

“It’s nothin’.”

“You gonna make me roll my eyes so hard I hurt myself?”

“Whatever keeps you sane.”

Amanda shoved Martin’s shoulder. “I think I got a bit of a read on you, Mister Strong and Silent Type. Something’s got you shaken up.” She glanced over to the other three slouched in a booth. “Is it about Vogle?”

“Nope.”

“Wow. You really can’t lie, I’ve seen five year olds do better.”

Martin slowed his pace and Amanda loitered with him just inside the door. He sighed and saw the worry in her eyes. “It don’t matter.”

“Ok, but if you change your mind?”

With a very small smile Martin got a little closer to Amanda but couldn’t quite meet her eyes. “I shoulda known somethin’ was up. With Vogle.”

“Something how? He disappears kinda regularly. Usually you just get mad at him about it and check he didn’t lose anything.”

“I get mad coz I worry he’s gonna end up in a ditch somewhere.”

“Then you’d have to go back to singing.”

Martin didn’t even try to smile.

“That was a joke? Ok, my comedy routine might need work. Anyway, my point is, deal with your guilt.”

“Guilt?”

Amanda poked Martin’s shoulder. “Yes, your guilt. I’ve seen this before. He’s a grown ass man, just like I am a grown ass woman, and we can look after ourselves.”

“It ain’t just that. He’s my friend. My family. I shoulda known he was hung up on somebody.”

“Hey, you can’t read his mind. If he doesn’t tell you, how were you supposed to know?”

Martin didn’t say anything.

“Can you let your guilt eat you alive while the rest of us eat burgers?”

“I guess.”

“Great! Come on.” Amanda pulled Martin along by his jacket sleeve and they slid into the booth.

Martin managed a smile as Amanda checked over the menu. He sat close to her and sighed with relief when she didn’t move away. Every time he saw Vogle’s bruised face a fresh pang of guilt hit him. Maybe he’d been too wrapped up in Amanda, the sudden and delightful new centre of his world, to remember that his friends might need him.

Unfortunately for Amanda she was directly opposite Gripps and his ongoing cold shoulder was unmistakeable and incredibly depressing. In further unfortunate news for Amanda, Martin didn’t seem to notice. Martin asked her something, getting her attention entirely, and most of her angst was forgotten when she met his bright eyes and saw the warmth in them.

After burgers and bathroom breaks the cuddle puddle resumed in the back of the van as they headed for Charlotte, North Carolina. Gripps continued to ignore Amanda but she didn’t think anyone else had noticed. She sure as hell had been trying her best not to think about it. Instead Amanda thought back to that morning after breakfast and was swamped by excited belly butterflies at the memory of Martin all over her, his mouth all but burning her as they kissed, her entire being aflame and screaming for more, only to have that fire thoroughly doused when she saw the disappointment on Gripps’ face whenever he looked at her.

The dive motel of the day looked transplanted directly from the tackiest of eighties film sets, but at least the neon sign worked and there was minimal trash in the lot. The salmon pink colour of the building was only slightly disturbing. Amanda had her camera in her hands and rapidly snapped away, grinning at the badly beaten up van beneath the cheery sign and the grouchy punks scattered across the shot. Catching a glimpse of Gripps, who refused to look her way, Amanda’s smile faltered.

“Hey, everythin’ ok?” Martin asked quietly.

“Yeah, it’s just-”

Vogle staggered up to Martin and collapsed into him. “Are you gonna check in? I’m about to piss myself.”

“Yeah. I got it.” Martin half shrugged an apology at Amanda and went to find the front desk.

“So, what are we gonna do this afternoon?” Amanda asked.

Vogle shifted awkwardly. “I dunno. Jam? It’s been a while? If I don’t piss my pants.”

Martin came strolling back and handed out room keys, not bothering to give one to Vogle and opening the door for him instead. Stepping inside Martin surveyed the room and grinned, totally ignoring Vogle as he charged toward the bathroom.

“What is it?” Amanda headed in, camera in hand, and couldn’t quite spot anything out of the ordinary aside from the sea foam green walls and carpet. She winced. “I know you don’t like green this much.”

“Look.” Martin’s tone was one of wonder as he surveyed a kitchenette.

Gripps and Cross came inside, saw the kitchenette, and were just as smitten. Amanda couldn’t figure it out. The oven unit looked older than her and there was only a square foot of scummy laminate countertop beside it. A dining table was tucked into the kitchenette and none of the chairs matched.

“I’ll look for a grocer.” Gripps said in a hushed voice.

Cross inspected the meagre cupboards. “There’s proper pans and everything!”

Amanda took a seat on the couch and was just about ready to give up on solving the boys’ mysterious behaviour when Vogle emerged from the bathroom and put her out of her misery.

“Oh fantastic. They’re going to cook!” Vogle announced as he slumped onto Amanda’s lap like a sleepy cat.

With a smile Amanda tousled Vogle’s hair. “Wait, they can all cook?”

“Yeah they can, but now they’re gonna argue for the next hour or two about what to make. Let’s get the sound check done already so I can start drinking.”

Amanda laughed as the predicted arguing began. “Do you cook much?” She asked the singer as they got back into the van.

“My mom made damn sure of it, but I need at least a dozen spices and sauces to make anything worth my while and it just ain’t possible on the road. When we get back home to Seattle I’ll make you the best food you’ve ever had in your life.”

Amanda grinned, loving the way he said when we get back home. That assumption and the promise in it finally made her smile fully and not a shred of fear could be found. “I’d like that.”

The sound check was punctuated with tense and seemingly unending debates on dinner options and Amanda tried not to laugh too hard at the seriousness with which the guys were discussing food. It was endearing, watching them argue the merits of this dish versus that one, Martin reluctantly conceding some practical points even though Amanda could see it pained him.

“Please, leave me at the motel,” Vogle begged as they left the bar, “I can’t take it anymore.”

“I’ll stick with you. This is getting a bit more intense than I thought it would.” Amanda muttered. The pair was left at the motel with barely a backward glance as the others piled into the van, still debating. “Wow. Is it always like that?”

“Not that bad. At home we kinda take turns but this is the first kitchen we’ve seen since you joined. They get carried away.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that vibe.”

Vogle poured a couple of drinks and picked music to play from his phone. “They’re just tryin’ to impress you.”

“Uh, why?”

“If they make a good enough impression then maybe you’ll wanna stay. I can see Martin ain’t getting his shit together so it’s clearly up to the rest of us.”

Amanda’s cheeks warmed as she laughed.

“I’m serious! Look at you, all stick and bones. Boys don’t like girls that are too skinny.”

“You sound like someone’s grandma.”

“Yeah, mine.” Vogle laughed. “She’d feed you til you exploded and still tell you you’re too thin.” Casting a sly glance at Amanda, he continued, “according to my grandma, food is love. I think they’re trying to tell you something.”

Amanda interrupted before Vogle could say anything else. “So who’s the guy?”

“Pfft, I dunno what you’re talking about.”

“You got a black eye for someone. He’s gotta be just a bit special, right?”

Vogle was uncharacteristically quiet. He stared into his vodka and sighed. “I dunno.”

Amanda leaned back into the arm of the couch, watching Vogle closely. “Does he not think you’re special, or something? In which case he is clearly trash.”

“It’s not that.” Vogle sipped his drink. “It’s complicated.”

“Babe, judging by how long those nerds spent just arguing about dinner, I’m guessing they’re gonna be gone a while. Catch me up.”

“We met at the bar like, over a year ago. He’s tall and cute and damn if he doesn’t have the nicest ass.” Vogle tried to smile. “Kyle doesn’t do commitment. He travels for work coz he’s in sales or something and has a guy on speed dial for every city. I’m the Seattle call.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I didn’t realise he’d be there last night - he usually only goes to capital cities - but there he was, gorgeous as ever, and he didn’t have anyone on speed dial in that place.”

“What a compliment.” Amanda neglected to mention that Kyle definitely sounded like trash but her face didn’t hide much.

Vogle snorted and couldn’t look at her. “We were dancing, went to leave, and these guys hustled us at the door. Kyle works out and can bench press my entire body-”

“Do I wanna know how you know that?”

“Probably not. Anyway, Kyle’s not a small guy but he can’t fight. I didn’t want him to get hurt by a couple of pissy dudes so I threw the first punch to keep them off him. It worked.”

Amanda smiled. “You’re a regular hero.”

“I got a pity lay out of it, so it wasn’t all bad.”

“You don’t look like someone who just got laid.”

Vogle shrugged.

“Hold up,” Amanda looked thoughtful, “so this Kyle guy is randomly in the same not-capital city as you, which we were only in for one night, by the way, which you did not tell him about, and he takes you home to some fancy ass hotel to patch you up?”

“So?”

“So do you hear from him much when he’s not in Seattle?”

“What do you mean?”

Amanda rolled her eyes. “I mean, does he text you? Call you? Like your Instagram pictures?”

“Sometimes.”

“How often?”

“Couple of messages a week, a call every now and then. He doesn’t have Instagram.”

“What kind of messages?” Amanda asked astutely. “Like, just texts or are there pictures? If so, are clothes involved or is it just a lot of skin?”

Vogle laughed and a little colour flushed his cheeks. “Uh, both?”

“Both? Ok,” Amanda joined in on the laughter before prodding some more, “and how much time does he spend in Seattle?”

“It used to be like once every few weeks, but it’s been every couple of weeks for a while, I guess.”

Amanda smirked. “Ok, so he messages you a bunch and some of those messages might be a bit sexy, he’s in town ‘for work’ every couple of weeks, and just showed up in last night’s shithole town? Sure.”

“Sure what?”

“Sounds like Mister Doesn’t-Do-Commitment spends a lot of time on you. And money if he’s traveling into Seattle every few weeks. And he sends texts that aren’t just full of naked, like, does he ask about your day? Does he just say ‘hi’ because he can?”

Vogle frowned. “But he doesn’t even like sleepovers. He usually leaves during the night.”

A wave of guilt washed over Amanda. She hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how her past lovers had felt about her general lack of emotional availability and the ‘no sleepover’ rule; looking at Vogle’s slightly sad face she regretted how she’d treated those people. “That’s why you left him this morning?”

“Yeah. Wanted to respect his wishes.”

“Maybe he should respect yours?”

“I like the time I have with him.”

“But you want more?”

Vogle shrugged and looked very, very young. “I dunno. Maybe.”

“Maybe you should tell him?”

“Excuse me? You and Martin have been sidestepping around each other for months and you’re trying to give me relationship advice?” Vogle joked.

“Uh, actually-” Amanda was noisily interrupted by Martin, Cross and Gripps staggering through the door with bags of groceries.

“We had to rethink a few things,” Cross announced, dumping bags on the table, “but it’s gonna work out.”

“Thank goodness!” Amanda exclaimed with a smile and a hint of sarcastic relief. “I’m starving. Did you get any snacks?”

Martin smiled and pulled a packet of Amanda’s favourite cookies from the haul. He handed it to her and she grinned, fighting the temptation to kiss him right then and there. The prolonged eye contact was interrupted by Gripps rattling pans and Martin quickly moved to take over.

The three of them were chopping and peeling and preparing food in clearly practiced routine. Vogle went and helped, cleaning around them as they went. Amanda changed the music and sat at the table with her cookies, chewing away and smiling at the happily cooking punks, taking a few pictures of the oddly domestic scene.

Martin approached to take a cookie and found half the packet gone. He looked at Amanda over the top of his glasses.

“I told you, I’m bad at sharing Oreos.” She grinned. “Plus I’m having a hungry day. How long til dinner?”

“A while. Shit’s gotta cook through.”

Amanda groaned. “Thank Christ you got cookies.”

“You’re welcome.” Martin took an Oreo with a smile and went back to cooking.

Keeping out of the production line, Amanda poured drinks for everyone and deftly placed them near each amateur chef without getting in the way. Cross glanced at her as he peeled potatoes with disturbing speed, his eyebrows raised questioningly.

“I worked in cafes and restaurants, including kitchen hand type stuff every now and again.” Amanda shrugged. “I know how to move around a bunch of big angry dudes in a small space without touching anything. Let me know when you want a top up.”

There was laughing and shouting and the occasional thrown bit of produce in the little kitchenette, the guys clearly totally at home. Amanda envied them a little, right up until Vogle lobbed a piece of potato skin at her. It landed in her hair and she grimaced before digging it out to flick back at him.

Martin washed his hands and finished up with his prep section and glanced at Amanda. “I need a cigarette.”

“Wait for me.” Amanda picked up her drink and followed Martin outside. She sat on the curb edge, stretching her legs out, and Martin sat beside her. He pulled two cigarettes from the battered packet and passed one over. Amanda took it with a smile, placing it between her lips and waiting for him to light it while basking in the intensity of his stare.

“Thanks,” Amanda said eventually. She was keenly aware of the bare windows of their motel room and the unobstructed view the others would have. She sighed.

“You get anythin’ out of Vogle while we were gone?”

“I don’t know that I can betray his trust.”

“He sold you out for a warm beer.”

Amanda laughed. “I knew it! So what’s your offer?”

“Cold beer?”

“Sold. Ok, the guy’s name is Kyle. He travels for work, has Vogle on speed dial for his Seattle trips, doesn’t like commitment or sleepovers.”

“So, he’s you.”

“Yeah, thanks.” The barb hit home and Amanda couldn’t keep the hurt from her face.

Martin winced. “My comedy routine needs some work I guess. I didn’t mean it like that.” He shifted but hesitated to move any closer. Goddamnit keep your damn mouth shut boy. Martin was briefly adrift in a miserable sea of ‘why the fuck do I think I’m funny she’s gonna leave my ass for sure’ until Amanda spoke.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s kinda true.” Amanda smiled ruefully. “Speaking of which, I don’t suppose there’s any chance we’ll get to hang out much?”

Martin recovered, readjusting for a future where somehow Amanda didn’t abandon his unfunny ass. “We’re together almost all of the time.”

“I mean, just us.”

“We’ll find time.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love those guys, but,” Amanda looked back to him and bit her lip, “I want to figure this out.”

Martin peeked over the top of his glasses. “Figure what out?”

“I’m not the biggest fan of over the top displays of affection in front of other people, but it might be nice to feel comfortable enough to, like, hold your hand or something?” Amanda said awkwardly. “That sort of thing, those kinds of boundaries, they take time to figure out.”

“I get it. Maybe after tonight’s gig we can ditch the guys and figure a few things out.”

Amanda tried not to grin. “Subtle.”

Martin smiled as smoke blew around them. “That’s me, drummer girl. Subtle as can be.”

“So many words to think of that are definitely not subtle.” Amanda laughed.

“Ouch.”

“You know I’m right.”

“You’re a bossy little shit, ain’t ya.”

“Maybe.”

Martin thought about it for a moment before realising… something. Something that made his pulse quicken. “You uh, maybe wanna boss me around?”

Amanda’s cheeks went pink and she refused to answer.

“Ok.” Martin nodded as he looked out across the lot, definitely not seeing a thing. “I could be into that.”

“Huh.” Amanda barely made a sound as she stared straight ahead, her cigarette all but forgotten in her hand. A million and one scenarios featuring her being bossy and Martin being wholly into it made her heart skip a million miles an hour.

“So, what exactly-”

“You got a lighter?” Vogle barrelled out of the room and plonked himself between them, an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Amanda couldn’t decide if she wanted to kill Vogle or hug him.

With a weary sigh Martin handed over his lighter and very pointedly held his hand out when Vogle was done with it.

Eventually they all headed back inside and played low stakes drinking games until dinner was declared ready. The five of them sat around the table, passing plates and dishes and bad jokes, making do with mismatched cutlery and not enough serving spoons.

Looking around the table Amanda realised this was the closest she’d been to something like a family dinner in years. Right as she thought she might actually cry from happiness, she caught another disappointed look from Gripps, and got dangerously close to just straight up crying.

“Leave room for dessert,” Cross advised as Amanda topped up her plate, “that apple pie ain’t gonna eat itself.”

“I got this. It’s a hungry day so I could just about eat a horse.” Amanda grinned and got to work.

The second helping of apple pie turned out to be a mistake.

Amanda slumped forward, groaning and cursing, resting her head in her hands.

“Are we gonna have to roll you to the bar?” Cross laughed at her as he cleared the table.

“Leave it, I’ll get the dishes. I just need to lie down first.” Amanda protested weakly and dragged herself into bed where she promptly fell asleep.

Hours later she woke up to the sounds of music and laughter. The guys were sitting outside with cigarettes and drinks, leaving Amanda alone in the darkened room. The kitchen was clean and the last couple of cookies were on the nightstand beside her.

Martin came into the room quietly and smiled when he saw her. “You’re up.”

“Only just.” Amanda yawned. “What time is it?”

“Nearly nine. We gotta go soon.”

“Shit! You shouldn’t have let me sleep so long!” Amanda rolled out of bed and went to her bag, digging through it for a clean shirt and jeans.

“You didn’t wake up when we were cleaning the kitchen, so we figured you needed the sleep.” Martin shrugged. He stayed by the door watching her.

“I told you I’d clean! That’s the deal, isn’t it? Whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean?” Amanda panicked.

“Take it easy, it’s just dishes.”

“Easy for you to say, Gripps isn’t mad at you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You gonna be ready soon?” Cross asked as he walked through the door.

Amanda nodded. “Give me five minutes.”

*

The bar was packed. Noise and bodies pressed in on Amanda and she stuck close to the guys as they got drinks and had all of thirty seconds to themselves before making friends. Sensing that neither Amanda nor Vogle were feeling super social, Martin lead them to a pool table and set up a game. Amanda ducked off to the bathroom and saw something like her worst nightmare when she came back. Martin was lining up a shot, the cue steady in his hands, while some girl leaned against the table and aimed her eyes and tits at him in equal measure.

Amanda stopped and stared. Memories rolled over her and they tasted like salt tears and bitterness. He’s not Max. He’s not Max. Please don’t be like Max.

Martin played his shot without looking at the girl. He stepped back, making room for Vogle, and looked up. The minute his eyes fell on Amanda he grinned and she couldn’t help but return the smile. Martin’s complete inattention didn’t deter his latest fan even as he stood very close to Amanda and handed over the pool cue. He only had eyes for Amanda, to the point where Vogle was rolling his own eyes hugely.

“You’re up,” Martin smiled, “try not to kick my ass too soon.”

“I wish I knew how to play pool,” the fan tried, fluttering long lashes at Martin.

Vogle sighed. “He’s a terrible teacher.”

“I’m a great student.”

Martin caught the look on Amanda’s face and appeared to notice the fan for the first time. He glanced back to Amanda and realisation dawned. “Shit. Listen, I ain’t interested.”

“Huh?” The girl looked genuinely confused.

“I ain’t available. Sorry.” Martin was cold and literally turned his back to her. She huffed and finally took the hint and left. “Are you ok?” He leaned in close to Amanda.

Vogle took one last look at them and headed for the bar.

“Yeah, fine.”

Martin snorted. “Liar.”

Amanda tried her best smile but it just came out kind of glassy. “It’s fine. I mean, look at you, you’re gonna get hit on. Whatever, its no big deal. I mean it’s not like you’re my property or anything.”

“You forgot that weird diner already? I’m yours, drummer girl.” Martin said it so easily. “I told you I ain’t gonna play no games with you. Or anybody else.”

Amanda made her choice and hoped it was the right one. She pushed her residual doubts down deep, burying them under the look in Martin’s eyes and the memory of his kisses on her lips.

“Are you gonna play or what?” Vogle asked, returning with a handful of drinks.

“Yeah,” Amanda laughed and turned her attention to the pool table, nudging Martin out of the way with a swing of her hip. “I’m gonna kick your ass.”

The winning margin wasn’t as large as Amanda had expected and she blamed Martin’s distractions for her lapses in judgement. It wasn’t fair of someone to lean against the table and look at her just so; it was enough to send the cue tip skittering off the side of a ball and utterly fumble the shot. In an almost perfect mirror of Amanda’s own mini golf sabotage, Martin stretched his arms above his head to deliberately make his shirt ride up. Amanda saw the exposed flesh and tattoos and just about licked her lip before remembering herself. She made the shot, barely, and only won by one point.

“Not so fun when someone does it you, huh?” Martin asked with a dangerous grin.

“I still have no idea what you’re talking about.” Amanda said with over-the-top false innocence. “Word of advice though? If you don’t want me to forget how to count a beat, maybe leave your shirt on.”

Martin laughed. “We’re up. C’mon.”

The Rowdy Three tumbled on stage to huge applause and Amanda settled herself behind the kit. Martin checked the band as he pulled the guitar strap over his head and Vogle took the microphone from the stand.

“We are the Rowdy Three! Yes there’s five of us! Thanks for coming out.” Vogle grinned at Amanda. She counted them in and the music exploded around her.

The set was fast and loud and left Amanda a happy sweaty mess. Sickness was a thing of the past as she played the whole set without a single cough, and could walk without feeling like fainting afterwards. Actually feeling well enough to party after playing put a spring in Amanda’s step as they packed up.

A beer in hand and Vogle beside her, Amanda waded onto the dance floor and laughed as they bounced off one another. When a gorgeous girl started body rolling in Vogle’s general direction Amanda tapped out and started making her way off the dance floor. She spotted Martin, half-watching her and half-chatting with some random people, and headed right for him.

“Hey,” Amanda smiled with a little more shyness than she’d anticipated.

“Manda, hey,” Martin’s face lit up, “how you feelin’?”

“I’m fine. I was just gonna beg a cigarette off you? I left mine in the van.”

Martin nodded and pulled the packet from his jeans. “Lighter’s inside.”

“Thanks. I’ll give it back soon?”

“Soon? Yeah.” Martin nodded and watched Amanda head outside. He gave it a minute or two and followed, finding her perched on a garden bed’s edge talking with a couple of other young women around her age. He was reluctant to interrupt but couldn’t decide if lurking nearby was better or worse. Being so awkward was a relatively new phenomenon and while Martin didn’t enjoy it, he could at least laugh at himself.

Amanda saved him from making a decision. When she saw him she grinned and the girls around her followed her gaze, grinning too. “You know our lead guitarist, right?” Amanda introduced him.

“Hey.” Martin smiled politely as he approached before looking to Amanda. “You got my smokes?”

“Sorry, yeah,” Amanda went through the group and handed the pack back over. There were far more lingering touches than was really needed for such a simple transaction.

“No problem. I’ll see y’all later.” Martin nodded and wandered off, pretty sure he could feel Amanda’s eyes burning a hole in the ass of his jeans. He relived the precious moments in the van that morning as he smoked; remembering Amanda in his arms was better than any dream he’d ever had and he worried that it wasn’t real somehow.

Amanda found Martin a minute later in a secluded corner of the bar’s patio and went right for him. With a tentative smile she approached him and grinned properly when he leaned in to kiss her. Already Martin’s warmth and lips and tongue were familiar to Amanda and she sighed against him, wrapping her arms around his waist. Shuffling closer meant Amanda’s boots nudged at Martin’s and she broke away with a laugh.

“Sorry,” Amanda smiled, looking from Martin’s eyes to his mouth and back again, “I got kind of carried away.”

Martin grinned and leaned back against the wall, pulling Amanda to him. “Don’t be.” Twining his fingers through her hair Martin leaned down to kiss her again. The softness of Amanda was agonisingly delicious and Martin couldn’t help the low growl that rumbled in his chest.

Amanda gasped in response and kissed Martin fiercely. She slid her hands over his hips and barely hesitated before reaching one hand down to squeeze his ass. Martin rolled his hips into Amanda but then abruptly pulled away from her. Her lips were pink and her eyes were wide as she stared at him, her hands suddenly nowhere near his ass.

“I’m sorry, was that – was that not ok?” Amanda asked breathlessly.

“Oh god, no, yes,” Martin rambled, his face too close and his nose bumping hers, “definitely ok. Forever ok.” He kissed Amanda again, desperate for her to touch him literally anywhere. With one hand in her hair Martin hungrily kissed down her neck and swiftly added to the bruises from that morning.

Amanda leaned into him heavily and bit her lip to keep from moaning. Somewhere at the back of her mind Amanda tried to remember that they were in a public-ish space and she probably shouldn’t try and climb Martin like a tree, no matter how badly she wanted to feel him beneath her. Pressing into Martin’s body did absolutely nothing to sate her need for friction and she moaned anyway.

That small noise was like fire under Martin’s skin and he sucked one hell of a hickey onto the side of Amanda’s neck while grabbing her ass tightly. Amanda’s hands found their way to his hair and ran her fingers through it, making Martin shiver with pleasure. He pulled away from her neck and tried to remember how to speak.

“You wanna get outta here?” Martin asked, nervous as ever. Terrified as he was that he’d misread the whole situation, he couldn’t just stand there and wish they were somewhere else without letting her know.

“Yeah.”

“Seriously?”

Amanda grinned and grabbed his ass. “Seriously. The real question is, what next?”

“Uh, what do you mean?”

“Well,” Amanda looked down to where their bodies pressed together and bit her lip, “the motel is out. I do not want to be interrupted.”

Martin let out a long breath and squeezed Amanda’s hips. “Right.”

“The corner of some bar’s patio is out. Similar reasons.”

“Van’s out. Band rule, no foolin’ around in the van.”

“Good rule. No one wants to cruise around in a van that smells like someone else had sex in it. So what does that leave?”

Martin desperately tried to think but there just wasn’t enough blood going to his brain. “Uh, bathroom? With a lock on the door?”

“There’s one backstage, right?”

“Yeah. It’s not a regular stall and I don’t think many people use it.”

“Let’s go.”

Martin cupped Amanda’s cheek in one hand. “Really?”

With a grin Amanda brought her lips to his ear. “I want you. Ok? I want you now.”

“I want you too.” Martin kissed her again before pulling away properly. “Let’s go.” He took her hand and they went through shadowy hallways to the backstage bathroom.

*

Cross finished his beer and looked to Gripps beside him. “I’ll be right back. Do not hit on the blonde, she’s been giving me looks.”

Gripps rolled his eyes. “You know she ain’t my type. Get outta here.”

With a friendly punch Cross left the bar and headed for the bathroom. One of the very few perks of playing a bar was getting to use the staff only bathroom, which occasionally was less foul than the general bathrooms. Of course when he tried the door when it was locked. Cross sighed and leaned against the wall to wait.

In the staff only area the general music was a little quieter, which meant that Cross could hear a lot more than he cared to from the bathroom. Was that – yep that was definitely a sexy moan. Cross rolled his eyes. Of course some musician had a girl in there. Random musician or no, Cross had to go. There was another moan, louder this time, and Cross lifted a hand to bang on the door, but the voices within spoke and he froze.

“Oh god, Martin, please.”

“Shh already.”

The muffled laughter made Cross’s cheeks burn and he couldn’t move as anger raged. How dare he? How dare that punk motherfucker bring some girl back here when Amanda was probably out there waiting for him to get his shit together? Long moments passed as Cross remained frozen in shock. A particularly loud cry broke through his fuming thoughts and spurred him into action.

Cross snarled and banged on the door. “Come on asshole, I know you’re in there.”

Much as he tried Cross couldn’t hear the muffled conversation that went on inside the bathroom. When Martin finally opened the door, keeping his body between Cross and the rest of the room, he at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

“Seriously?” Cross challenged immediately.

“Look, it’s not-”

“What the fuck, man. You really doing this?”

“Hey,” Martin interrupted, “you can cuss me out all you want but can you give the girl some privacy?”

Cross glowered. “I’ll see you out front in five minutes.”

He stomped away from backstage and used the regular bathroom before storming out to the front of the bar. Martin leaned against the wall with a cigarette and Cross barely stopped himself from swinging a fist.

“What the fuck, man? How could you do that?” Cross shouted.

“It’s not what you think.”

“Not what I think? I know what I heard. What the fuck! Amanda’s crazy about you, you asshole, even if she may not know how to say it.” Cross shoved Martin’s shoulder. “She’s only got eyes for you and this is how you repay the favour? By banging some random groupie in the fucking bathroom?”

Martin looked away, cigarette in his mouth.

“You think none of us have seen how you look at her? You’ve been staring after her like a damn lovesick teenager! What the hell do you think you’re doing? Jesus, you couldn’t even do up your shirt right.” Cross sighed and Martin immediately began to fix his shirt. “If you don’t tell Amanda, I will. She deserves better than this. I have never been so fucking ashamed to call you my brother.”

“I’ll talk to her.” Martin promised. His neck was flushed red.

“If she leaves us I am more than tempted to go with her. You are not who I thought you were.” Cross shook his head, sick to the gut with disappointment in his friend, and went back inside.

Cross couldn’t stay in the bar and risk running into Amanda. He left with the blonde woman and stayed gone until an hour before dawn. Easing open the motel room door he looked to the bed Amanda shared with Martin and tasted bile in his mouth. Amanda was stretched out on her side and Martin curled into her, the tuft of his hair nestled underneath her chin. Cross wanted to drag Martin out of that comfortable bed by his ankle and kick him til next week. That fuckass jerk didn’t deserve to look so happy.

*

Slow stretching arms nudged Amanda and she scrunched up her face. She rolled over toward the searching limbs and smiled when they wrapped around her and Martin nuzzled into her neck sleepily. Memories of the previous night made him brave enough to press a kiss to Amanda’s throat.

“You bite me any more and people are gonna think you tried to strangle me.”

“You into that?”

Amanda stifled a laugh and moved to whisper, “we can talk about it later.”

Martin growled and shuffled closer to wrap his legs around her.

“After coffee?”

“That a hint?” Martin sleepily tried to think. “You need a minute?”

“Yeah.” Amanda whispered. She ran her fingers through Martin’s hair and down the back of his neck, smiling as he shivered at her touch.

“No problem. Coffee it is.” Martin moved away with a smile and climbed out of bed. All he wanted was to lie in bed and be all wrapped up in Amanda but he wasn’t about to go back on his word. She needed space so space she was gonna get. “Have you seen my glasses?”

“Bathroom?”

Martin found them by the sink and smiled. With jeans zipped up, shirt buttoned and boots on, Martin looked at Amanda properly. She smiled and beckoned him closer. Obeying with a smirk, Martin leaned down for a brief kiss before picking up his keys and heading out the door.

Amanda rolled into Martin’s pillow and sighed. There was minimal morning panic and minimal panic generally, which was a pleasant surprise, but she still needed to actually process everything. Remembering what had happened a whole – Amanda squinted at the clock on the nightstand – seven hours ago, she actually grinned. She knew her neck would be a mess of bruises; there was no way that that amount of delicious pain would leave her unmarked. Some of them at least were below the neckline.

Stuffing her face into the pillow Amanda remembered the frenzied unbuckling of belts, kicking off of her shoes, the slightly awkward but mostly funny pulling off of jeans, rough kisses and gasping and touching, so much touching, finally, and she could not stop grinning. The shape of Martin’s body beneath her hands had been glorious, and he’d held onto her for dear life and the look on his face – while Amanda knew that a guitarist’s music-playing-face was basically their sex face it was always a little surprising when it turned out to be true – she couldn’t wait to see it again. Of course at that precise moment, or roughly five seconds afterward, when they were both shuddering with aftershocks and doing that dopey smiling thing while trying to catch their breath, someone had banged on the door.

“Come on asshole, I know you’re in there.”

“Shit! That’s Cross.” Amanda hissed, ready to die of embarrassment.

“Shit.” Martin seconded. “We should go.”

“You think?” Amanda tried for sarcasm but those pesky post-orgasm endorphins just made her laugh instead.

Martin was dressed in seconds; he had had the advantage of keeping his boots and jeans on. He opened the door while Amanda was pulling her panties and jeans up and she heard parts of the conversation that mostly involved Cross yelling.

“That’s so sweet!” Amanda whispered after Martin closed the door.

“We could just tell him now?”

“No way. I wanna be a little classier than ‘coming out of a bathroom’.”

“You didn’t have a problem coming in a bathroom.”

“Not the point.”

A particularly hideous choking snort from the second bed brought Amanda back to the present, which unfortunately involved Cross snoring. Half-sitting up in bed to see who was there, the morning apparently also involved Vogle in a pair of y-fronts on the couch and Gripps fully clothed beside Cross. Begging Martin to go out for coffee had left Amanda alone in a room of people who were either super mad at her or super mad at Martin.

Massive tactical error aside, at least while everyone else was unconscious Amanda had first dibs on the bathroom and wasn’t about to waste the opportunity; some mornings the prospect of gagging while trying to shower was just too much. She trod carefully across piles of jeans and jocks to the shower and turned the water on hard. As the hot water stung her skin Amanda actually wished Martin was there and almost gasped at the swamping panic. He’s made to hurt you, all people do is hurt, it’s just going to be a mess and everything’s going to fall to shit so what’s the point? Cut and run girl.

Making the choice to be close to him was one thing but the badly formed instincts were not fucking off as quickly as Amanda would have liked. She hadn’t seriously expected to be magically fixed just by trying, and she pushed panic back and back and back, forcing bubbling fear down and spreading happy memories on top. Remembering how Martin had touched and held her and looked at her, like she was something wonderful, helped soothe her uncertainty. Amanda focussed on the memories, cutting off as much negativity as she could, doing her damn best to replace each dire prediction with something nicer, with about an eighty per cent success rate. Wallowing under cooling water wouldn’t solve anything and Amanda shut off the taps with a sigh.

Drying off in front of the vanity mirror Amanda caught a glimpse at the mess of bruising across her neck and couldn’t help but laugh at herself. No amount of foundation was ever going to cover the purples and reds that stained her pale skin. The toothpaste trick was highly unlikely to help but Amanda rubbed the paste on anyway, wiping it off once the tingling had faded, just in time for someone to knock on the door.

“Manda, I’m gonna explode. You gonna be long?” Vogle asked plaintively.

Amanda opened the door with a smile. “All yours.”

Vogle sighed in relief before noticing Amanda’s neck. He winced. “You better not let Martin see those.” He shook his head and went into the bathroom, closing the door on her.

Trying not to be too pissed at his unspoken assumption Amanda sat back in bed with her phone. She didn’t look up as Gripps and Cross grumbled to wakefulness, taking turns in the bathroom after Vogle and being monosyllabic with one another.

“Where’s coffee?” Cross asked around a yawn.

Amanda checked her phone. “On its way, Martin left like, ten minutes ago.”

Gripps looked her way and pursed his lips. “Just as well. Has he seen you this morning?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Are you kidding? It looks like someone tried to garrotte you.”

“That’s my business. Remember how I said that what I do is my business until I make it yours? Still true.” Amanda shot back.

Gripps glared at her. Cross looked strangely guilty and Vogle was looking around the room, clearly confused and a little poorly, looking extra forlorn in his undies.

“What the hell is going on?” Vogle looked from Gripps to Amanda. “Don’t tell me you guys are fighting?”

“Ah, no, Gripps just has the absolutely wrong idea about some things.” Amanda said, absently pulling her hair over one shoulder to braid it out of the way.

“I just let her know that she better be careful with Martin, that’s all.” Gripps retorted.

“And I told him it’s not his business.”

Vogle looked between them again. “You know you’re in the same room right? Like, you don’t need to talk about each other like you’re not even here.”

Gripps snorted. “Look, when it comes to Martin, it’s our business. We’re family.”

“He’s not in the clear, here.” Cross interrupted. “Amanda, I’m so sorry, but,” he looked down, “Martin was with someone last night. Someone else. I found them in the bathroom.”

Vogle gasped and stared at Amanda and then back to Cross. “He did what?

“Wait, where do you think she’s been?” Gripps pointed. “Hickeys like that don’t come from nowhere!”

Amanda’s cheeks went very, very pink.

“So is that the game you two are playing now?” Cross asked sadly. “Revenge hook-ups or whatever? I never thought he’d do that to you.”

“He didn’t! Actually he did, but not what you think he did. Sort of.” Amanda fumbled, her tongue like lead in her mouth as her heart thudded loudly.

A room full of confused faces stared.

“I know Martin was with someone last night because it was me. Ok?”

The confusion didn’t seem to get any better.

Amanda sighed and looked at her feet while her cheeks burned. “We left together the other night and he did this,” she pointed to her neck, “and last night he added to it. When we were in the bathroom. Together. Ok?”

Realisation dawned. Gripps grinned. “So you weren’t fooling around on Martin?”

“Definitely not.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You never gave me a chance.” Amanda was defensive. “You went straight from accusing me to ignoring me.”

Gripps’s face fell. He moved to sit by Amanda and pull her into a tight hug. “I’m sorry. I was so mad at you for doing that to yourself, after everything, that it didn’t occur to me that I might be wrong.”

Amanda tucked herself into Gripps’s warmth and hmphed.

Vogle looked at her with narrowed eyes. “I thought you didn’t get feelings for guys in bands.”

“I tried.” Amanda said emphatically. “I really did.”

“And you didn’t say anything last night because?” Cross asked.

Amanda blushed yet again. “Because getting caught in a restroom is embarrassing? And feelings are for suckers and I don’t really want to talk about it?”

“Too bad, we’re gonna talk about it. Some of it.” Vogle amended. “I don’t wanna know all of it. He’s my brother. Some of that you can definitely keep to yourself. Probably most of it to be totally honest.”

“Then why did you wanna talk about it?”

“Coz you made me talk about it!” Vogle laughed. Gripps and Cross stared questioningly and Vogle slumped. “There’s a – a thing. With a guy.”

“What kind of thing?” Cross asked immediately. “The kind of thing where I have to kick someone’s ass?”

“No.”

“Don’t be too quick to turn ‘em down,” Amanda pointed out, snuggling into Gripps and very glad to see the attention veer away from her, “Kyle does not sound like the best guy.”

“Kyle?” Gripps asked.

Vogle slumped further. “He’s nice, he just doesn’t do relationships. Or sleepovers.”

“So, he’s Manda?”

“Fuck you, honestly,” Amanda laughed at Gripps and moved away enough to shove his shoulder. “I have my reasons. Kyle might too, or he might just be a jerk.”

“How about those reasons?” Gripps asked.

“Working on it.” Amanda took a deep breath. “Definitely working on it. And I’m not going to hurt him if I can help it.”

Cross grinned. “And if he hurts you, I’ll kick his ass.”

“Who’s gettin’ a beat down?” Martin asked, walking through the door with a coffee tray in hand and a cigarette in his mouth. He stopped and looked at the tableau before him. All the guys all looked at him with knowing smiles and Amanda shrugged a little. A red flush of mild embarrassment crept up Martin’s neck.

“You, asshole.” Cross said eventually and laughed. “Why didn’t you say anything? You just let me cuss you out like that? I nearly goddamn punched you!” He got up to get a coffee and shoved Martin’s shoulder.

Martin looked up at Cross, who easily had a couple inches on him, and shrugged. “It didn’t seem like a good idea?”

“I didn’t want him to.” Amanda corrected, shooting a meaningful look at Martin.

“Smoke?” Martin asked Amanda directly.

“Please.” Amanda grabbed a coffee and followed Martin out the door, ignoring the smugness from the rest of them.

Perching on the wrought iron bench outside their room, Martin passed Amanda a cigarette and lit it for her. Amanda sat cross-legged and annoyingly close, her leg resting on Martin’s, and she smiled when he stretched his arm along the back of the bench behind her.

“So this is a thing, right?” Amanda asked. She picked at a hole in her jeans without quite looking at him.

“I want it to be.”

“Right.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah! Definitely. I just… I’m not super confident? So like, constant reassurance is totally fine. Just letting you know.”

Martin nodded thoughtfully. “What kind of constant reassurance are we talkin’ about here? Like, forty texts a day? Lickin’ your face every chance I get?”

“I’m not that into face-licking.”

“Really? Coz I distinctly remember watchin’ some guy lick a big ol’ stripe up your whole face-”

Amanda laughed. “That was not my finest moment, ok?”

“Damn. That was gonna be easy.”

“No, I mean like,” Amanda took a drag and tried to find some words, “just be nice? Like treat me the same way all the time?”

“You mean you’re not into bullshit two-faced fuckery? Weird.” Martin pressed a kiss to her cheek and then paused. “Can I kiss you sometimes?”

“I know you’re pretty into it, you’ve mentioned it before.”

“But are you? I ain’t about to go outta my way to make you uncomfortable.”

Amanda remembered moments from last night that were very comfortable indeed and started to grin. “You can kiss me.”

“You sure? I remember when that singer guy tried to plant one on you. You were not into it.”

“That was different. That was just kinda embarrassing.”

“Why’s it different?”

“Because I-” Amanda cut herself off and her face went red for the hundredth time. She stubbed out her cigarette and couldn’t see a way of avoiding the trap she’d just laid for herself. “Because I didn’t want you to see me with him.”

Martin raised his eyebrows and waited for Amanda to continue.

“I was using him to try and forget about you. You witnessing any of that was not part of the plan.”

Martin couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. “You what?”

“Oh don’t look so damn sure of yourself all the time!” Amanda laughed, poking Martin’s side and making him twitch away. “Wait. Are you ticklish?”

“No. I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“You sure?” Amanda tried to poke Martin again and he flinched back. “Oh my god, you totally are!” With a devilish grin Amanda savaged Martin’s ribs until he was pressed into the bench and laughing helplessly. His cigarette had fallen to the ground, forgotten beneath their boots as they laughed and squirmed.

Martin grabbed one of Amanda’s hands to end the onslaught but she twisted away and ducked inside his reach to kiss him, taking him entirely by surprise. After a stunned second Martin reacted, kissing Amanda back and putting his arms around her.

The flirty, playful side of Amanda was something that intrigued him intensely and he couldn’t wait to see more of it. Martin couldn’t wait to see more of her; a frenzied fifteen minutes in a bathroom was hardly enough. He half-wondered if there would ever be enough. Every inch of Amanda was so soft and she smelled like candy. Martin remembered her lips against his skin and the way her breath puffed against his neck when she’d been trying not to make too much noise – he wanted that again, immediately, and growled low in his throat.

At the sound Amanda clung to him and internally cursed the awkward seated position they’d found themselves in. She settled for locking her grip around Martin’s neck and trying to press herself against him as much as possible.

The noise of the room door opening wasn’t enough for Amanda and Martin to break apart but the meaningful throat clearing did the trick. Cross held a bottle in one hand and grinned at their embarrassment. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m real glad you two ain’t fighting out here, but y’all can finish that up,” he gestured between them, “later. This whiskey needs a team effort.”

Chapter Text

For almost five whole days, everything was beautiful.

Then the paranoia began with a late night, or technically, very early morning phone call. Amanda jolted awake. Sitting up with a painfully racing heart, she looked over to Martin’s phone on the nightstand beside him. Martin was comatose and only the faint snoring indicated he was actually alive. The clock on the nightstand told Amanda they’d only been asleep for two hours after their gig.

Groaning, Amanda shoved his shoulder. Her sleep-addled brain scrambled for words. “Your phone. Is ringing. Make it stop.”

Martin snorted and rolled over.

“Fuck’s sake.” Amanda leaned over him and picked up the phone to see who was calling. “What kind of name is that?”

With a cough Martin woke up and immediately had his arms around Amanda. “S’wrong darlin’?”

“Your phone.” Amanda repeated and dropped it on the bed beside his head.

“Shit.”

“Yeah. Make it stop.”

“Shit.” Martin uncurled and looked at the screen blearily. “Shit. What?” He answered and got out of bed, stumbled across the room and went outside.

Amanda was suddenly wide awake. She rolled over, looked to the poorly covered window and watched Martin slouch against the side of the building. Who the hell would be calling him at this time of morning?

It took less than twenty seconds for the whispers of paranoia to tickle Amanda’s ear. Her thoughts whirled out of control, treading well-worn neural pathways of worry and fear. Amanda stared at Martin’s silhouette. He laughed at something and ended the call shortly after.

Martin came back inside and fell into bed, all but slamming his phone on the nightstand. He sighed hugely and attempted to wrap himself around Amanda once more.

“Who was that?” Amanda asked.

“Work.” Martin yawned. “Is anyone else back?”

“You didn’t think to check?”

“Darlin’ it’s dark and I ain’t got my glasses on. It’s a miracle I made it out the door without accident’ly killin’ myself.”

“Whatever. It’s a full house.”

Martin grumbled, burying down into the bed. “One day.”

“One day what?”

“One day,” Martin began, tracing languid circles across Amanda’s exposed arms and shoulders, “we’ll be able to do what we want.” He shifted just enough to plant a lingering kiss on Amanda’s jaw.

“Mm-hmm.” Amanda felt Martin settle around her. It seemed like mere seconds later he was back asleep, lightly snoring, his mouth open just a little. Amanda watched him sleep, her eyes following the play of shadows across his face and bare shoulders that blurred the lines between tattoos and unadorned flesh.

It wasn’t fair. Amanda had wanted - had actually let herself want - time. Time with Martin, time to get used to this, time to maybe be a bit less afraid of everything. Turned out, time had run out. Four a.m. phone calls were for one thing and one thing only. How Martin could get back in bed with her and hold her like this after he’d obviously been propositioned was a terrifying mystery. If he could do this as easily as falling asleep, what else was he capable of?

Try as she might, Amanda couldn’t convince herself to move away. She wanted to steal all the precious time she could before she found out the brutal truth. A couple of tears dribbled down the side of her face and Amanda sniffed.

“Shh, darlin’,” Martin mumbled in his sleep, pulling her closer, “s’just a dream.”

Amanda bit down on her lip to keep from crying. Eventually she fell asleep, right around sunrise, only to wake up a few hours later with swollen eyelids and a headache.

*

Something about driving through boring, straight, monotonous stretches of road made time pass strangely. Amanda’s phone told her only five minutes had passed since she last checked, but she could have sworn it felt like an hour, minimum. The vaguely irritated energy in the van didn’t help either. It was as if the boys were feeding off each other’s bad mood. Martin’s phone dinging away like a demented timer didn’t help. Every so often Amanda could get a glimpse of the message preview and saw that same woman’s name with snippets of text.

Can’t wait til ur back.

Need a hand Sunday? ;)

I need way more beers for that.

After a few hours, Amanda had developed a Pavlovian response. Every ding of the text alert made her stomach flip. She flinched.

“Does that thing not have a silent mode?”

Martin glanced at her while texting one-handed. “Yeah.”

“Maybe you should use it?”

“Right.” Martin put it on silent and dropped the phone in his lap. The messages kept coming anyway.

By the time they arrived at the next motel, Amanda was itching to be away from all of them. Clearly Martin was actually just fucking flaunting it now and Amanda couldn’t stand it. Her skin was bursting full of rage and hurt and how dare he try and touch her?

“Oh my god do you have to be everywhere?” Amanda hissed. She shoved passed Martin in the doorway without looking at him.

“What are you talkin’ about?” Martin stared at her, confused as hell. “It’s a small room, where the hell else am I s’posed to go?”

“I dunno! Just – away! Jesus, I just want five minutes without having to look at a single cranky punk!”

“Cranky? Oh Drummer that is rich comin’ from you. You’ve been bitin’ off heads all freakin’ day!”

“And whose fault is that?”

Martin rolled his eyes hugely. “You gotta be kiddin’. Your shitty mood is on you. Ain’t nobody else responsible for that.”

“Really? Are you seriously trying to tell me Bartine hasn’t been texting you six hundred times a day?”

“What?”

“Bartine! I saw her name on your phone.”

Martin went real cold and slow. “You went through my phone?”

“That’s not the point here. We’re talking about you.” Amanda scowled.

“You don’t do that. You don’t snoop in each other’s phones, Manda, Jesus!”

“You’ve got something to hide, don’t you?”

Martin stared. “How could I hide anythin’? I don’t do that shit and you know that but you don’t go through someone’s phone.”

“Why?”

“Because it ain’t yours!”

“Because Bartine keeps texting you and you’re hiding it from me!”

“Hiding what? Bartine works for me-”

“Oh, she works for you, does she? And what am I, huh? What am I? You know what, I don’t want to know. You two can have each other. I’m sure you’d be just perfect together.” Amanda held the rage close to keep tears from welling in her eyes. “I wish I’d never met you.” She turned on her heel and left, striding through the lot and away from the motel.

Martin was beyond confused and more than a little annoyed. “She works at the bar you irritatin’ human being!”

*

Amanda sat on the toilet seat, her knees pulled up to her chest, and tried to cry quietly. Her pathetic sobs echoed anyway and snot streamed down her face. How could she have been so stupid? Of course he wasn’t any different than Max or a dozen other dirtbags she’d known since. Of course he had a girl on the side. Of course she wasn’t ever enough for someone she’d let herself care about. The regret that filled her was bitter and nauseating. Amanda just wanted to pack her bags, find a bus out of town, and drink until feelings stopped. Maybe it was time to visit Todd after all.

The door to the public restroom opened and Amanda sniffed, trying to stop the sobbing for a few minutes. A second later a phone screen was shoved under the stall door with a picture on the screen.

“The fuck?” Amanda asked thickly.

“This is Bart.”

“Vogle?”

“Hey sweets! This is Bart.” Vogle repeated.

Amanda looked at the screen and wanted to puke. “Cool, so he likes unwashed hippies. I hope she gives him crabs.”

Vogle sighed. He took back the phone and changed the picture, shoving the phone back under the door. “This is Bart, and me and Martin, at the bar. Where she works with us.”

“He’s been seeing her this whole time? I’m the other woman?” Amanda started crying again.

“No you dickhead, she’s been calling because he left her in charge while we’ve been gone. She’s trying to sort out covers and temps ‘til we get back. Bart’s great, but she’s not his type. He likes girls that brush their hair every once in a while so I think you’re in with a shot.”

Amanda didn’t say anything.

“How many missed calls have you got?” Vogle took his phone back and sat by the stall. He snuck a beer under the door.

Taking the beer Amanda checked her phone. “Six.” Her phone started buzzing in her hand. “Make that seven.”

“You wanna answer it?”

“No.” Amanda took a sip. “I know what I saw and I didn’t even have to go through his phone. He’s got message preview on.”

“Really? He’s not the best at technology but - really? You didn’t go through his messages or anything?”

“Really.” Amanda took a long mouthful. “I didn’t want to cross that line. I know it’s a line you don’t come back from.”

“You thought he was cheating on you and you still didn’t sink that low?”

“Nope.”

“Hey,” Vogle sounded like he was smiling, “that’s pretty cool of you.”

“And look where it got me. It’s over whether I crossed that line or not.” The last few words got a bit garbled when Amanda started crying again.

“Hey hey hey, come on,” Vogle tried, “you can’t quit that easy. He ain’t cheating, and Bart’s not the other woman. Martin runs a business and he needs Bart’s help to do it from across the country.”

“Then why didn’t he say so?”

“Uh, did you give him a chance to?”

Amanda pulled a wad of paper off the roll to wipe her face and didn’t bother replying.

“You nerds belong together.” Amanda cried some more. “That was supposed to make you feel better!”

“Even if he’s not cheating on me I still fucked it up.” Amanda wailed. Her eyes hurt and there was snot everywhere.

“You know he’s waiting at the room for you to come back. He’s probably feeling just as sick as you right now.”

“How do you know I feel sick?”

Vogle chuckled. “You were crying so loud I could hear you outside. That kinda sad makes you feel like shit pretty damn quick.” Amanda managed a very small smile. Vogle laughed. “I just got an idea.”

“Oh yeah? How suspicious should I be right now?”

“Depends. Let’s go out tonight. You and me. Leave those losers behind and party hard. There’s a queer bar a few blocks away, maybe a drag show would make you feel better?”

“I do love a good drag show. Maybe it could be fun.”

“Sometimes I just want to dance to Britney Spears without straight guys waiting for a chance to beat me up after, y’know?”

“Yeah. I do.” Amanda wiped her face again and sighed. She unlocked the stall door and went to the sink to wash some of the dried tears off her face, carefully avoiding looking at the mirror.

“C’mere.” Vogle got to his feet and gave Amanda a hug. “Let’s get drunk and dance til we can’t walk.”

“Solid plan.”

“Right? I’m just gonna tell Martin to quit calling you. That buzzing is super annoying.”

“At least it’s not your ass that’s about to vibrate into another dimension.”

“That’s a second date kind of activity, thanks very much.”

*

The drag show was just as fantastic as Amanda had hoped. The queens were intimidating and gorgeous and Amanda and Vogle pushed their way to the front of the crowd for the best view. Glitter settled on their hair like a queer baptismal font as they danced. There was just something about being in a gay bar that was soothing, beyond the amazingly bad music and shirtless buff boys behind the bar.

Despite all the fun and distractions, Amanda’s heart was heavy. She’d screwed up, badly, and was almost too afraid to fix it. Ending it was probably safest, even though it was the very last thing she wanted.

“You’re thinking about him again. Quit it. We’re here to have fun, not be a sad guy to Cher’s greatest hits!”

Amanda tried to smile. “I can’t help it. I fucked it all up.”

“Not as bad as you’d think. He’s crazy about you!” Vogle laughed. “Just talk to him. Tomorrow. Drunk Manda does not have Sober Manda’s best interests at heart.”

“Drunk Vogle is not looking out for Sober Vogle right now.” Amanda looked pointedly at the shots on the bar, courtesy of a cute dark guy on Vogle’s arm.

“Drunk Vogle doesn’t give a shit.” Vogle downed a shot and grinned. A new song started and he gasped. “Come on, I love this song!”

“You love every song!” Amanda laughed, drank the shot, and followed Vogle and his new friend onto the dance floor.

That last shot was the nail in Amanda’s coffin, tipping her over the edge into sad drunk and she wanted to go home and cry some more. Vogle caught the change in her mood and promptly escorted her outside with an arm around her.

They stumbled along together for a while before Amanda broke the silence. “I’m sorry, I just wanna sleep. Do you think Martin will still be up?”

“Probably.” Vogle shrugged. “He’s called me a few times tonight.”

“Ugh why can’t he just leave us alone!”

“The thing is, you and me confuse him.”

“What? Why?”

“We’re young enough that he feels responsible for us, but he is actually aware that we’re adults, but when we do dumb shit it makes him think that we can’t look after ourselves as well as he can. Us being out and drunk without him is probably his worst nightmare. He probably thinks we’re gonna get arrested or something.”

“Oh yeah, coz he would never get on the wrong side of the law.”

“Oh he totally would, and does, but it’s different for him - from his perspective obviously.”

Amanda snorted. “Obviously! Look, I don’t need patronizing.”

“Oh I know. Deep down I think Martin knows it too but he’s stubborn. It comes from a place of, y’know. Caring. It’s how he cares.”

“Cares? If he really cared he would’ve…” Amanda stared off into the distance.

“Exactly.”

“Exactly what?”

You don’t even know what you want. How’s Martin supposed to figure it out?”

“What I want is someone not to cheat on me!”

Vogle sighed. “He didn’t. Look, I’m sure if you ask him, he’ll show you every message between him and Bart, which I would bet my left testicle are about work and maybe he asked about her dog.”

“Martin knows how hard it is for me to trust people.”

“So?”

Amanda blustered. “So he should have-”

“Should have what?

“Not kept secrets from me!”

“Sweets, it’s work.”

“So why didn’t he mention it?”

“Uh, he did? When he had to sort everything out after Friedkin screwed him over? Plus he probably doesn’t want to talk about his day job. I know I don’t.”

Amanda glowered and removed herself from the companionable walking hug.

“Face it, you had the wrong info and made some bad choices. You can make it right if you want to.”

Amanda sighed and leaned against a convenient brick wall. “What if I don’t want to?”

Vogle tripped over his own feet and stared at her, his eyes wide in shock. “You’re not serious?”

“I dunno. It’s just easier if we don’t. Then the band stays together and I’m not some punk Yoko, but honestly she deserved better anyway. I don’t think I deserve better or anything, like, I’m pretty sure Martin’s going to be the best thing that ever happens to me-”

“Then what the hell are you talking about?”

“If it hurts this bad now then how bad is it going to hurt in another month? In a year?”

“How do you know that’s going to happen anyway?”

Amanda shrugged. Explaining her complete lack of trust in anything good was just too hard to do after drinking so much, and someone as loving as Vogle was never going to understand.

“Y’know, part of Martin’s ‘gotta be the boss’ thing comes from him being afraid.” Vogle looked at her blearily as he fumbled with words. “Like, he’s scared I’m gonna get hurt when I disappear on my own. He’s scared something bad is gonna happen to me and coz he wasn’t there to help it’ll totally be his fault. He’s wrong, but he loves me.” Vogle shrugged. “Love makes you do strange things.” Amanda snorted. “Like panic. And cry. And be mean to people you love coz you’re scared.” At that, Amanda’s stomach dropped. “He’s scared of losing you.”

“Then why doesn’t he say so?”

“Did you give him a chance to?” Vogle grinned at Amanda’s total silence. “Give him a chance to. K? You can’t go quitting on something you didn’t even try yet. You can’t keep getting mad if you don’t let him try first. That’s just rude.”

“Shh you,” Amanda poked her tongue out, “quit trying to set me up with your brother.”

“Forget setting you up, I’m tryin to keep you sane while you figure your shit out.”

“Ugh, forget sane, I just wanna not think for a while.”

Vogle grinned. “Well that’s easy. Truth or dare?”

“Truth - no wait, dare!”

“I dare you to lick that wall.”

Amanda laughed. “If I get hepatitis I’m gonna blame you.” With a grimace she approached the wall and braced her hands on it. She very slowly leaned in and barely licked the wall before recoiling. “Tastes like communicable diseases. Your turn!”

“Dare.”

“I dare you to climb the wall.”

Vogle grinned and immediately launched himself at the shoulder-height wall and scrabbled up the flat surface. By some miracle he made it to the top and sat there proudly, grinning. “Dare me to walk on it?”

Amanda shook her head. “I saw how much you drank. It’s a miracle you can walk at all let alone walk on that ledge.”

“Fine! I accept.” Vogle got to his feet incredibly unsteadily and flung his arms out wide. He took tottering steps along the wall as he laughed.

“Take it easy up there.” Amanda suggested as she walked alongside him on the much safer ground. “You don’t-”

Vogle stumbled and spun his arms wildly. He wobbled. He lost his balance and pitched forward off the wall with a shout. Something cracked. Amanda’s heart stopped.

“Vogle?”

Vogle curled up on the ground with a groan, “I messed up.”

Amanda rushed to him and tried to look at his face. “Oh shit, what happened?”

“Something’s not right. I feel like I’m gonna hurl.”

“Oh my god, oh my god,” Amanda pulled Vogle’s shoulder back enough to catch a glimpse of his arm that was already hugely swollen. “Oh shit!”

“What?”

“Don’t look-”

Vogle was already uncurling to look at his messed up arm. He paled and threw up where he lay. Amanda hit proper panic. She fumbled desperately through her pockets for her phone and called the one person she hoped wouldn’t abandon her.

Martin answered on the first ring. “Manda-”

“Vogle’s hurt!”

“Shit. Where are you?”

“I,” Amanda looked around and choked back the first sob, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“What’s the last place you were at?”

“Uh, last place,” Amanda repeated, looking at Vogle and coming up totally blank. Glitter shone on his face and Amanda gasped. “Gay bar.”

“Right. Cross, get in here!” Doors slammed in the background. “Gripps, google gay bars.”

“But we left, we’re not there, I don’t know where-”

“Take a breath,” Martin said quietly, “tell me what you can see.”

“What I can see. Ok.” Amanda tried not to stare at Vogle, who’d finished puking and was biting down on his lip trying not to cry. “There’s a wall, he fell off the wall, oh my god, Martin, it’s so fucked up.”

“Ok ok, stay calm, so there’s a wall. What’s it a wall of? Can you see behind the wall?”

Amanda sprung to her feet. “A church! There’s a church!”

“Gotcha. We’re close. Is Vogle - is he breathing?”

“Yeah, but there’s something really wrong.” Amanda looked at Vogle’s arm again and fought the retch that rose in her throat. The rumble of the van heralded its approach and relief washed over Amanda when she saw the beat up vehicle speeding toward them.

The van pulled up with a screech and Martin left it running as he ran out, Cross and Gripps on his heels. Martin went straight to Vogle and knelt on the ground. “What happened, buddy?” he asked softly.

“Fell. It hurts. Don’t look at it.” Vogle hissed through clenched teeth.

Martin caught a glimpse of the injury and the blood drained from his face. He cleared his throat to tell a massive lie. “It ain’t so bad. Let’s get you to a doctor.”

“Don’t wanna move. Hurts.”

“You can’t lie here. C’mon. Sooner you get up the sooner it gets better.” Martin’s hardened voice was at odds with his wounded face. “You want Cross to carry you?”

Vogle nodded. His eyes were squeezed shut.

With a quick nod Martin stood back to make room. Cross lifted Vogle as carefully as he could but every single movement made Vogle scream.

“C’mon, Manda, we gotta go.” Gripps put his arm around Amanda to try and lead her to the van. She shook her head.

“I can’t-”

“Now ain’t the time. He needs us. We gotta move.”

Amanda let Gripps take her to the van for the wild ride to the hospital. Every bump on the road made Vogle cry out, and every noise was a twisting knife in Amanda’s heart. The woman behind the desk took one look at Vogle in Cross’s arms and was immediately on the phone giving orders. Vogle was put on a gurney and wheeled away with Martin in tow, leaving Cross, Gripps and Amanda to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

*

Fluorescent lights did a shit job of actually lighting the hallway. Everything was a washed out, sickly grey. Amanda stared at the cracked tiles and her eyes burned. The cup of coffee in her hands was stone cold and tasted like garbage anyway but she held onto it for dear life. Sitting in that hall, the plastic seat digging into her legs, cold coffee in hand and irritatingly loud clock above her, Amanda was painfully aware of just how lonely she was.

Purposeful footsteps made Amanda look up. Martin was coming down the hall, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses, looking more tired than Amanda had seen before. When he looked at her Amanda couldn’t identify the expression behind his eyes.

“Where’s Gripps and Cross?” Martin asked quietly.

“Coffee.”

Martin nodded and glanced up the hall in time to see the guys approaching with two paper cups each. He grunted a thanks at the cup Gripps handed over, and dug keys out of his pocket. “Go on home. He’s gonna be a while.”

“We’ll wait.” Cross shrugged and sat beside Amanda. He swapped out her old coffee with a fresh one and put an arm around her shoulders in a brief hug.

“There ain’t no point. Take her home and get some sleep.”

“I can make my own choices thanks.” Amanda replied immediately.

“She ain’t a sack of potatoes to be carried around,” Gripps looked at Martin with a frown, “and if we all wanna stay, we’ll stay.”

Martin all but snarled. He couldn’t look at Amanda.

Cross cleared his throat. “Is Vogle ok?”

“Broken wrist.” Martin answered shortly. He sipped his coffee and made a face. “Needs a cast and an overnight stay.”

Amanda started to cry again. She put her coffee down and buried her face in her hands. Gripps looked at the unmoving Martin in disbelief before shaking his head and sitting on Amanda’s other side, pulling her into a hug. She clung to him and sobbed into his shoulder.

“It ain’t your fault, Manda.” Gripps said quietly.

Amanda pulled away, got up and walked off down the hall, still crying.

“You just gonna let her go off like that?” Cross asked sharply. “Vogle can make his own dumbass decisions.”

“It’s not about that.” Martin said.

“It ain’t your fault either.” Gripps pointed out. “They’re fine. A broken wrist ain’t the end of the world for a singer. Vogle bounces like a rubber ball.” With a sigh Gripps got to his feet and pulled Martin into a careful hug. Martin rested his head on Gripps’s shoulder for a long moment. “I know it ain’t me you want in your arms right now,” Gripps said as he pulled away, “so go make up already.”

“Go say sorry.” Cross suggested.

“I didn’t do anythin’.”

Cross rolled his eyes. “Don’t matter. Pride ain’t gonna love you like she will. Get outta here.”

Martin sighed again and followed the direction Amanda left in.

Gripps sat beside Cross and sipped his foul coffee. “Jesus Christ on crackers.”

“You ever met two more stubborn people?”

“Nope.”

Cross snorted. “It’s like they wanna be miserable.”

“As miserable as this fuckin’ coffee. Look up some decent breakfast options, would ya? I can’t start the day with this shit in my mouth.”

“It’s nearly four a.m. buddy.”

“Exactly. Nearly time for breakfast.”

“Sure,” Cross laughed, “breakfast.”

*

Of course Amanda still wasn’t answering her damn phone. Martin growled at the message bank and hung up. Hospitals were massive, how in the hell was he supposed to find a pissy drummer who didn’t seem to want to be found?

If he kept the anger burning, there wasn’t time to contemplate what lay beneath and Martin wanted to keep it that way. It was - looking at his phone, he winced - almost four in the morning. He hadn’t slept, he’d watched Amanda’s beautiful face twist in rage and pain when she looked at him, and he wanted to be angry at her. If he was angry then it didn’t hurt like the worst thing he’d ever felt in his life.

Coming around the edge of yet another hall Martin saw her. On the floor leaning against the wall, her knees pulled up and her arms and head atop her knees, Amanda looked like she was trying to disappear. She didn’t look up when Martin stopped in front of her. His heart stuttered in his chest.

“Drummer?”

Amanda sobbed and still didn’t look up.

Oh god, now she was crying because of him. Every time Martin thought it couldn’t get worse, there it went and got all kinds of worse. Comforting words didn’t magically arrive in his head as the anger melted away and just left him sad and a bit empty. Martin sighed and sat beside her on the ground.

“Manda, I’m sorry.” Martin tried.

Amanda cried harder.

Martin wanted to die. “I don’t know what to do here. I don’t know what happened. I just.” He took off his glasses to rub his eyes. “I just want us to be ok. I need us to be ok.”

“Oh, you need it, do you?” Amanda challenged, finally looking at him. Her makeup was a disaster, black smudges smeared across her eyes and down her cheeks, and her nose and lips were red.

“What do you want me to say, here? Huh? What do you want me to say? What’s the right answer that’s gonna make this ok again?”

Amanda’s face crumpled. “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault, all of it. I’m sorry.”

After a second of stunned silence Martin put his arm around Amanda and brought her close. She tucked herself into his arms, swung her legs across his, and cried.

“I’ll pack my things in the morning,” Amanda whispered after a while.

“It is mornin’.” Martin smiled for a second before his blood went cold. “Wait. What? What are you talkin’ about?”

“I ruined everything, and then I broke Vogle’s arm. I can’t stay. I just ruin everything for everyone. I’m useless and nothing and it’s better if I just go.”

Martin froze. “No it ain’t. You didn’t. You didn’t ruin anythin’. I don’t,” he struggled to think through rising panic, “I don’t want you to go. Ever.”

“But I was awful to you. For no reason.”

“The only problem here is that you went through my phone, but I mean, we can talk about that, about why you did it. I don’t want this to be the end, Manda.”

“I didn’t go through your phone.”

“Then how’d you know Bart was messagin’ me?”

“You have message preview on.”

“Huh?”

Amanda took out her phone and typed a quick message and sent it.

Martin looked at his phone screen and saw the first couple of lines of the text. “Oh. Right.”

“All I could see was shit like ‘I need you here on’ whatever day, and dates and times, and smiley faces, and ‘can’t wait til you get back’. What would you think if you saw that shit on my phone from someone else?”

“Point taken.” Martin paused. “If we’re talkin’ about bein’ jealous here, uh,” he cleared his throat, “you know some of the comments on Instagram get pretty uncomfortable right? I mean, uncomfortable for me. I don’t like readin’ what strange guys wanna do to you.”

Amanda snorted. “Me neither. I block every seedy motherfucker that lurks that shit on our account.”

Martin tightened his arms around Amanda as things settled into place. “Lemme see if I got this right. You got mad, but it turns out the reason you got mad was my staff tryin’ to run my bar for me, then I was mad about the phone thing, but now I know that I was wrong on that. Where does that leave the score?”

“Even zeros?”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Right up until I broke Vogle’s arm.”

“What happened? I know it wasn’t your fault, so don’t try and spin me that shit.”

Amanda sighed and settled against Martin’s shoulder. “We left the bar coz I was doing sad guy drunk and I just wanted to sleep. Vogle wanted to cheer me up so we played truth or dare.”

“Oh lord.”

“I didn’t dare him to flip off the wall or anything! I only dared him to climb the damn thing but he got clever and walked on it. Briefly. It’s still my fault.”

“Listen close sugar,” Martin began, trying to push his own guilt down long enough to get the point across, “Vogle will find ways to be reckless. It ain’t your fault. I shoulda been there to keep an eye on him, but that ain’t your job.”

“Sugar?”

“Is that… is that ok?” A red flush crept up Martin’s neck.

“I don’t know how I feel about a brand new pet name in the middle of an argument. It’s an unfair advantage.”

“Unfair?”

Amanda nodded. “You going and being all cute and shit doesn’t help me stay mad at you. Back to my point - I’m really not sure it’s your job to keep an eye on Vogle.”

“Someone’s gotta look out for him. He ain’t so good at doin’ it for himself.”

“You love him.”

“Course I do. I want to keep him safe coz if somethin’ happens to him, or any of you, it hurts me. I don’t like that.” Martin kissed Amanda’s hair. “Does that help any?”

“I dunno. Don’t you think it’ll just be easier if we quit while we’re ahead?”

“Nope. I don’t wanna quit. If you do, I can’t stop you, but I want this. Even with whatever crazy of the week comes our way.”

Amanda shifted to look into Martin’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

Cautiously, Amanda moved in to kiss him. Relief made her eyes sting with yet more tears and she never wanted to let go.

After a moment Martin pulled back. “You taste like salt.”

“I’ve been crying for a few hours. Gimme a break.”

“Are we ok? Are you ok?”

“I think so.”

“You’re not mad about Bart?”

“Honestly? A little. But that’s not your fault.”

Martin frowned. “What does that mean? You know I ain’t good at this riddle bullshit.”

“I get this thing where I fixate on something shit and it takes a little while to let go. I think I’ve explained it before? Like, logically I’m pretty sure I don’t need to worry about Bart, but my shitty dark soul is gonna take a while to put it away. You know?”

“No,” Martin replied honestly, “but I trust you.”

Amanda put her hand on Martin’s cheek and ran a thumb across his beard. He looked tired, and sad, and a flash of guilt went through her. If Martin was trying to tell her that Vogle getting hurt wasn’t her fault, then he must be blaming himself. Amanda squared her shoulders. Time to be a good girlfriend for once. “Hey.”

“Mm?”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

Martin scoffed. “Course it was.”

With a frown Amanda saw that he really meant it. “You didn’t dare Vogle to climb that wall.”

“If you weren’t mad at me, you two never woulda gone out alone.”

Amanda’s pride rankled; she was still angry but holding that grudge helped exactly no one and for once Martin needed something from her. Give and take, Amanda reminded herself. There’s two people in this so act like it. “That doesn’t matter. It happened and had nothing to do with you, or with the ‘you and me’ thing.” Martin didn’t reply. “We’re really having a competition about whose fault it is that Vogle got hurt? Seriously?”

“I win.”

“Oh my god,” Amanda laughed and tucked her face into Martin’s neck, “this is ridiculous.”

Martin laughed too and not just at the tickle of her breath against his skin. “If you say so, sugar.”

“I do. And I’m right - this isn’t your fault.”

Opening his mouth to reply, Martin caught a look from a passing nurse and grinned. “My fault or yours, we should probably get off the floor.”

Amanda tightened her arms around Martin’s neck. “I don’t wanna. I’m still kinda drunk and I’m so tired.”

“We can’t sleep here. Someone’ll try and admit us.”

“Fine. Does Vogle have a room yet?”

“Yeah. You wanna see him?”

Amanda nodded and they wearily got to their feet. Walking through halls, Martin’s arm around Amanda’s shoulders, she sighed.

“What’s up?” Martin asked quietly.

“Just wondering how you felt about make up sex at some point?”

“Is that a trick question?”

*

When Vogle woke up he winced. Bright light streamed in, and of course the drapes around his bed were wide open to the morning sun. Shifting to look around the bed, he saw Martin and Amanda slumped against the wall, sleeping, with Martin slouching low enough to rest his head on Amanda’s shoulder.

“I hope you two losers made up,” Vogle mumbled with a smile.

Martin sat up with a cough and a grimace. “Huh?”

“Did you two losers,” Vogle repeated very slowly, “make up?”

“How’s your arm?” Martin ignored him.

“Can’t feel a thing. Do I get to take these drugs home?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Awesome. Is Manda ok?”

At the mention of her name, Amanda slowly woke up. She rubbed her eyes, smearing yet more makeup across her face, and beamed when she saw Vogle awake. “Hey!”

“Hey!”

“How’s your arm?” Amanda slowly stood up and creaked as she moved.

“Can’t feel it. These drugs are awesome.” Vogle grinned. “What happened?”

“You broke your wrist and have a cast for 6 weeks.” Martin said.

Vogle nodded slowly. “Huh. No wonder it hurt.” He licked his mouth like a puppy trying to eat peanut butter. “Gross.”

“Yeah, you puked,” Amanda explained.

“Can I have a toothbrush?”

Gripps appeared in the doorway and grinned. “You’re up!” Cross was right behind him and they both grinned hugely. “Guys!” Vogle threw his good arm out wide. “I missed you!”

“How high are you?” Cross asked. He tousled Vogle’s hair and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Fuckin’ sky high man. I don’t want to remember that shit. At all.”

Amanda smoothed Vogle’s hair back down. The image of Vogle’s busted arm filled her mind and she wanted to cry. Martin groaned like an old man and got to his feet, stretching his back with audible pops, and hugged Amanda from behind. He tucked his chin over her shoulder and wrapped arms around her middle and sighed.

“Hey,” Vogle grinned dopily, “nice.”

“Shut up.” Amanda blushed.

“Nah. Where’s the fun in that? Martin why’s your face all shiny?”

“Shiny?”

Amanda wriggled enough that she could glance at Martin’s cheek. Sure enough, flecks of glitter shone in his beard.

“Wow,” Cross looked closely at Amanda’s glitter and make-up smeared face, “I wonder where that came from? Truly, a mystery.”

Gripps laughed. “Hey man, you want us to go pack up the room?”

Martin sighed again. “I hate these one night stopovers. Don’t worry, I got it. I’ll come get y’all when he checks out.” He was totally reluctant to let Amanda go, but things had to get done.

“I’ll help. Can we stop in at Denny’s or something?” Amanda yawned. “I’m starving.”

“Can you bring back enough to share?” Cross asked. “The cafeteria food is gross and there’s nothing else nearby.”

“Done.” Martin squeezed Amanda’s middle. “Let’s go.”

“I can’t walk with you attached to me.”

“You ain’t tryin’ hard enough.” Martin grumbled as he turned them around.

Amanda laughed as she tried to walk out with Martin shuffling behind her hanging on like grim death. They got out into the hall and Martin finally let her go, only for her to turn right around and plant a serious kiss on his smiling mouth.

Vogle, Cross and Gripps laughed at the foolishness and started making obnoxious slurping noises until Amanda and Martin broke apart. Amanda grinned and flipped them off before taking Martin’s hand in hers and leading the way down the hall.

*

Climbing into the van Martin yawned so wide his jaw cracked. Amanda winced.

“We didn’t think this through. Should you even be driving?”

Martin snorted as he turned the ignition and drove out of the hospital lot. “You’re still drunk, so yeah, I’m drivin’.”

“Ok, legally, maybe. God I’m hungry. And tired. I feel like shit.”

“Your face is a disaster.”

“Fuck you.”

“Make it quick. I’m wrecked.”

Amanda laughed as her stomach flipped. “What happened to no fooling around in the van?”

“Who said anythin’ about the van?”

“But the guys - are at the hospital.” Amanda bit her lip. “We gotta pack up the room first.”

“We are not the kinda people who worry about foldin’ their clothes.”

“Are you being serious right now?”

Martin smirked. “Hey, you mentioned make up sex.”

Amanda grinned in response and moved closer to Martin as he drove. “I know how to make this quick.”

“Get naked?”

“Not in the van.” Amanda put a hand on Martin’s thigh and squeezed. She tilted her head to kiss his neck, nudging his collar aside to reach more skin.

Martin gripped the steering wheel with both hands and did his damn best to focus on the road. If Amanda’s hand went much higher up his leg there’d be serious trouble; blood was already rushing away from his brain and he needed to remember directions. Amanda nipped his neck and the air left his lungs in a rush.

“Hey,” Amanda whispered between kisses, “I need your hand for a second.”

“That ain’t a good idea,” Martin said but did not even bother attempting to resist Amanda’s hand pulling one of his from the wheel. She planted his hand firmly on her thigh - really, really far up her thigh - and resumed her agonisingly slow kissing along his neck. As her teeth grazed his neck again Amanda snuck her hand under the edge of Martin’s shirt to stroke his skin.

“I think you’ll find I am full of good ideas,” Amanda purred in his ear. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost, Jesus,” Martin eased his hand as far up Amanda’s thigh as possible before getting to fly of her jeans. With a wicked grin he brushed his fingers against the zip and made Amanda’s kisses falter as she shivered.

“I meant the motel.”

“Sure ya did.”

“Your dirty talk needs work.”

“You into that?” Martin raised an eyebrow and somehow kept his eyes, and most of his mind, on the road. He grinned.

“What’s so funny?”

“I like this,” Martin said plainly. “I like when you’re honest with me. I like it when you’re bossy too, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re like this with me?” He glanced at her. “It’s just us, no bullshit. Minimum bullshit anyway. I like it.”

“I like you, you giant dork,” Amanda laughed, “and I’m still sorry for being such an ass. Let me make it up to you?” Her hand moved down his belly to dangerous territory.

Martin choked back a groan. “You don’t have to.”

“You don’t want me to? Coz I think that might be a lie.” Amanda pointedly looked down with a smirk.

“Want’s got nothin’ to do with it for the minute.” Martin swallowed. “Not everybody digs make up sex. I don’t want you feel,” he paused as Amanda’s teeth bit into his neck, sending waves of tingling lust across him as if he needed the help, “I don’t want you to feel like it’s the only way to make up after we fight.”

Amanda placed a soft kiss right beneath his ear before she spoke. “I know it’s not the only way. It’s not even my preferred way to be honest, but it feels right, right now, to be with you. Plus sex helps my hangovers.” Her mouth went right back to those damnable neck kisses and that damn hand - Martin groaned.

“Nearly there.”

“You had better hold out, babe.”

“I meant the motel.”

Amanda looked out the window as Martin turned into the motel lot. “Huh. How about that.”

Killing the engine Martin didn’t hesitate. He shifted and kissed Amanda full on the mouth, hungry for the taste of her, cradling her head and trying to touch her entire body at once. Amanda moaned and the sound made Martin shiver in her arms. A fresh burst of lust hit her; having that kind of effect on someone was intoxicating. Pulling away from her mouth, Martin kissed her neck and grunted in surprise when Amanda reached for his belt.

“Get inside,” Amanda ordered even as her hips rolled into him.

“The motel or?”

Amanda laughed. “You’re such a goddamn comedian. Motel first, me second. Go.” She pushed him away playfully and rushed out of the van.

Martin barely remembered to lock the van behind him as he followed Amanda inside. She’d already kicked off her shoes and was missing her shirt by the time Martin closed the front door.

“You gonna leave any of the fun bits for me?” Martin asked as he kicked off his own shoes.

“We’re on borrowed time. Your undressing kink is gonna have to wait for another day.”

“Why you gotta call me out like that?” Martin laughed as Amanda rolled her eyes with a grin. He shed his clothes in record time and pulled her onto the still-made bed, grinning when she pushed him down and arranged her knees either side of his hips.

“Your poker face is so fucking bad,” Amanda laughed before she kissed him messily, too turned on to care about finesse, and reached down between them.

Martin stopped kissing and grabbed her arm. “What about protection?”

“Borrowed time, babe. I’m clean and on the pill. You?”

“Clean. No pill.”

“Ha, ha, so funny,” Amanda kissed him again, “try and hold on or I’ll have to kill you.”

“Whatever you want, sugar.” Martin grinned.

Chapter Text

Dragging in a box of gear into the latest - the last - nameless shitty bar of the tour, Amanda was almost sad. It was a routine, a tired one for sure, but the routine of a few months with a bunch of guys who were now as close as family would be hard to leave behind. They were closer than family by now. The future was a little unclear and though that wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to Amanda, this time she was nervous. She wasn’t even totally sure about what she wanted to happen next, beyond staying in the band. Thinking about it too hard inevitably made adrenaline flood Amanda’s stomach and her heart started beating too fast. In the wings of the stage Amanda paused.

Vogel strolled by, carrying exactly one cable in his good hand, and grinned at her. “You ready to never do this again?”

“Almost.”

“Only almost?”

Amanda shrugged and put her case on the stage, glad for the distraction. “I think I’m gonna miss this?”

“You’ll recover pretty quick. I swear salad has never looked so good.”

“Ok, maybe some fibre in my diet might be a good thing. But like,” Amanda sighed. She took in the scuffed stage, and inevitably sticky dance floor, and the handful of venue staff setting up for the night ahead, and nodded. “I’m going to miss this. Parts of this. I was just about over the stage nerves thing.”

“Too tired to be scared?”

“Probably.”

“Soundwave will be a piece of cake.”

Amanda’s belly rumbled. “Cake? God I’m starving.”

“Starving?” Cross asked as he carried guitars in. “Lunch was hours ago.”

“Exactly, thank you. I cannot believe Soundwave is next week.” A tiny voice in Amanda’s head finally drove through and her stomach dropped a hundred feet. Next week. That’ll make it - no. Shit. SHIT. Amanda dug her phone out of her pocket and checked her calendar. Through rising panic she reached for a flimsy excuse. “Uh, I have a missed call from Todd. I better check this. I’ll be right back.”

Amanda got her purse and ran for the drugstore.

*

It wasn’t the first stick Amanda had ever peed on but her biggest mistake at this point, other than the not-bleeding obvious, was doing it in the bar’s bathroom while the guys kept setting up.

“Manda come on, we gotta get started!” Gripps banged on the door.

Checking the timer Amanda bit her lip. There was still minutes to go before she’d have an answer. “Just a sec.”

“Manda, my boot foot ain’t gonna cut it on those pedals. C’mon. I told you to eat a salad every now and again, I’m pretty sure whatever trouble you got in there could be helped along by a goddamn vegetable.”

A vegetable is not going to help this. Sound check clearly wasn’t about to wait. Amanda wrapped the stick in some paper and shoved it in her pocket. Throwing herself into work was her only hope of getting through the next few minutes. The trouble with being in the almost permanent company of a bunch of people was the ‘almost permanent’ part of the equation. Amanda was not mentally present for the sound check and barely found the energy to glare at the shitty tech guy.

Martin frowned; he could just about see Amanda’s thoughts wandering far away from the moment. His insecurities kicked in and he kept watching her, trying to look for hints or clues about what had changed in the last ten minutes. He hadn’t made any shit jokes, had definitely stood up for her when the tech got mouthy, and had kissed her cheek on the way in. Was that it? But she said kissing was fine? Or was it only fine when they weren’t getting ready for a show? Shit.

The check wrapped up and Martin waited by the kit for Amanda. “Wanna get somethin’ to drink for tonight?”

“Uh, sure.” Amanda forced a smile.

Martin forced his own smile and buried his panic deep. Why couldn’t she smile at him? What had he done? “We passed a liquor store a block down. Wanna walk?”

Another smile forced itself across Amanda’s face. “Sure.”

“We’ll see y’all back at the motel.” Martin waved goodbye at the others and draped his arm across Amanda’s shoulder. She didn’t shove him away so maybe the whole thing was repairable. Maybe.

As they walked the block to the store, the little stick weighed a ton in Amanda’s pocket. What if it came up yes? What then? She was only a few days late. It was probably going to be no. Between PCOS and the pill it was almost definitely a no - except antibiotics made the pill less effective. She’d finished the course days ago but was she still taking them when they’d been sleeping together? Shit. But there was condoms too - mostly. Mostly. Goddamnit why couldn’t she control herself? The pill would cover it though - unless it got puked up when she was hungover. She felt fine though, like not even remotely sick or retaining water or whatever else happened to pregnant people. It was basically going to come up negative. Almost definitely. So why couldn’t she look at it? Martin took her hand in his as they meandered and Amanda squeezed his fingers.

“Where do you sit on the uh… the family thing?” Amanda asked.

“Family thing? Todd? I’ll punch him if you ask me to. But if you wanna play nice I’ll try that.”

“No, not Todd.”

“Your folks? I’ll sit through whatever awkward family event you want, sugar.”

Amanda’s stomach churned. “Not my parents.”

“You got a surprise sibling you ain’t told me about?”

“Kids,” Amanda blurted. “Would you ever-?”

Martin went quiet. His eyes were distant, looking out across the busy street without seeing anything. His hand didn’t leave Amanda’s but he stopped walking, pulling her to a stop beside him.

Looking up, Amanda found a lot more sadness in Martin than she was expecting. “What’s wrong?”

“I told you I don’t get on with my dad.”

“Yeah. I remember.”

Martin searched her face. “It ain’t simple. It ain’t so simple as, I hate my dad. I wish it was.” He looked down. “I went into care a couple times. More’n a couple. Bounced around, bounced home sometimes. Never for long. I, uh,” Martin cleared his throat. “One of the places I was at liked to hurt us. I hurt ‘em back, and it was my last chance, and I... and they sent me to juvie.”

Amanda reeled. “What?”

“It was self defence and I got a short sentence and my records are sealed. I got real lucky.”

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Martin looked away and clenched his jaw. “I don’t like to think on times I was beaten and starved by people who were supposed to look after me. Is that so much to ask?”

“No, of course not, that’s not what I meant,” Amanda scrambled even as her heart cracked for the boy he’d been and the pain he must have known. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ain’t your fault. Things were bad for a long time. I grew up without a family. Without knowin’ my family. They didn’t want anythin’ to do with me, coz of who my mom was, and my dad,” Martin sighed, “my dad found meth and forgot I existed. All I ever learned from him is what I don’t want to be. I don’t know the first thing about how families are meant to work.”

“But the guys? You guys are family.”

“They’re my brothers. I ain’t have to raise ‘em,” Martin pointed out. “I worked damn hard to try and understand people and not just be afraid of ‘em, and I got real lucky with my friends and my mentors in college. I can almost figure out how to be real for somebody I-” he cut himself off. “Somebody I care about. But so far I can’t see how to be real for somebody I made.”

Amanda nodded, absorbing and thinking. “That seems pretty understandable, after everything.”

“Do you? Want kids? Is this about to be some kind of deal breaker? Coz I could be open to it.” For you. Martin’s heart pounded.

“No! No dealbreaker!” Amanda panicked. “Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about… that.”

“Then what is it?” Martin cupped her cheek in his hand. “Somethin’s up. I can read people and some of that comes from growin’ up the way I did, always lookin’ out for the next explosion from somebody.”

“I’m not gonna explode.”

“I know. It’s more like the little signs that somethin’ ain’t right with you? They ain’t so little to me. Right now you’re like, level four not ok.”

Amanda snorted. “That’s impressive.”

“Is it?”

“I have a pregnancy test in my pocket. Level four seems pretty chill for what I’m feeling right now.”

Martin stared. “A what?”

“A stick I peed on coz my period is late.”

“How late? We only started sleeping together like… a couple weeks ago? Am I the uh… the only candidate here?”

Excuse me?

Martin all but held his hands up in surrender. Angry Drummer was a sight to behold and damnit he just wanted to hold her. “I just meant like, how late? Coz we ain’t been sleepin’ together that long and I don’t expect you to be livin’ a nun-like existence before you and I ever happened.” Amanda dialled down her fury and took a deep breath as Martin continued, “Coz it’s ok if it ain’t just me in the mix. I know you knew people before but it’s me now, and whatever it might be,” Martin floundered, “whatever it might be, I’m here now. If you want me to be.”

“That made almost no sense.”

“If it ain’t me that got you into this it’ll be me stickin’ around. If you want.”

Amanda’s cheeks went pink and she fought back tears. It took a minute to get her traitorous emotions back under control before she could speak. “There’s no one else in the mix. Just you.”

“Ok.” Martin took a breath. “It’s only been a couple weeks. How… possible is this?”

Amanda wanted to puke. Shit, maybe I actually am pregnant. “I have PCOS so that puts a kink in the plan but theoretically-”

“PC what?”

“Polycystic ovary syndrome. My ovaries grow cysts and it fucking hurts and makes me sick. Remember in California, when the air con was busted and I was really sick? I was also mega hungover and all that just makes everything worse, and like, the pill helps sometimes but it doesn’t cure everything, y’know? PCOS lowers fertility generally but I’ve heard of ‘miracle babies’ conceived totally naturally and then I took antibiotics and then I sometimes ralph when I’m hungover and I’m late and-”

“Hey,” Martin said quietly, “it’s ok.” He pulled Amanda close and hugged her tightly. “Whatever that stick says, it’s ok.” He could have cried with relief right there on the sidewalk. While the situation might technically be his fault he hadn’t actually done anything to directly fuck things up.

“What do you want it to say?”

“I don’t know.”

Amanda sighed into Martin’s shoulder. “Me, neither. I think that’s the answer.”

“How’d you figure?”

“Kids are supposed to be a hard yes. Like, you think ‘hell yeah’ when the idea crosses your mind. I am not a hard yes on this like, at all. If I’m going to make a person then I really want to want that. Ambivalence isn’t gonna cut it.” Amanda sighed again. “I can’t be ambivalent about someone’s life. That isn’t right for me.”

Martin kissed the top of Amanda’s head. “That’s a good way to look at it.”

“If it says yes?”

“We’ll figure out whatever you want to figure out.” Martin smiled as Amanda reached for her pocket. “Maybe don’t check your pee stick in the middle of the street.”

“Fine. This is gonna be the fastest liquor store experience of your life coz I wanna hurl. Do not even suggest it!” Amanda smiled, actually smiled, as she gripped the lapels of Martin’s shirt.

“Surely between the pill and your ovary thing and condoms - mostly condoms,” Martin corrected himself, “and we are gonna be a lot more careful on that front in future, it’s gonna be no.”

“Let’s hurry the hell up and find out.” Amanda dragged Martin down the street and they went through the liquor store in a complete whirlwind. The first bottle of whiskey Amanda could reach went with the beers Martin grabbed out of the fridge. They didn’t check a single label before paying and rushing out.

“Are you gonna be ok to check it at the motel?” Martin asked.

“Yep. I need to know.”

“Ok. We’ll be ok.”

Amanda glanced at him and smiled. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For not freaking out. Especially when I’m freaking out.” Amanda shrugged. “For not immediately trying to tell me what you want me to do about it. To be totally honest I’ve never actually told anyone who’s given me cause to pee on a stick that it happened, but I knew people who had bad experiences with the whole thing, so, thank you for not being a dick.”

“Honestly I’m just relieved I didn’t do anythin’. I mean, I obviously did somethin’,” Martin conceded with a lopsided smile, “but I thought it was my fault you weren’t ok. It kinda is but not. Y’know?”

“Are you always this eloquent?”

“Course I am.” Martin grinned.

Amanda rolled her eyes as they crossed the lot of the motel. “Here, hold this.” She gave Martin the whiskey and went straight to the bathroom, closing the door with a slam.

Sitting on the edge of the bath Amanda pulled the paper-wrapped stick from her pocket. She held it, heart racing and stomach rolling, hoping for a no but trying to prepare for a yes. Amanda froze. Whatever the answer was, she couldn’t choose it. This was totally and one hundred per cent outside of her control and the urge to puke was just getting stronger.

“Darlin’?”

Amanda’s resolve promptly collapsed at the sound of Martin’s concern. She swallowed a small sob. “Just a second.”

“You alright?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I come in?”

I’ve done this by myself before. I can do this by myself again. Amanda sniffed. But I don’t want to. “Yeah.”

Martin slowly opened the door and crept in, making sure to close it firmly behind him. He waited by the door with zero idea what to do next. “I never done this before.”

“You never knew a girl that… that did this?” Amanda waved the stick, still in its paper.

“Not that I know of.” Martin paused. “None that ever told me. Have you? Done this before?”

“Yeah. Twice. I’m not always the fastest learner, obviously.”

“Right.”

Amanda tried to smile. “Yeah.”

“So.” Martin was so far out of his depth he’d left shore behind miles ago. “Are you gonna look at thing? Coz I ain’t gettin’ any younger and my heart can’t take this kinda stress for too long.”

“All those years on the road finally catching up with you?”

“You’ve heard my back in the mornin’.”

“Rice crispies ain’t got nothing on you.”

Martin smiled widely. “If you’re pickin’ on me you must be ok.” Amanda almost started crying and Martin panicked. “No, sugar, c’mon. We’ll just look at what it says and… go from there.” Martin crouched in front of Amanda and put his hands on her knees. “It’s gonna be ok.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Amanda squared her shoulders. “Ok.” She unwrapped the paper and stared at the little display window on the stick. She took a wavering breath in. Tears dribbled down her face.

“What’s it say?” Martin whispered, ready for the ass to fall out of his world and not really caring as long as they stayed together.

“Negative.” Amanda flipped the stick over to show the minus sign. “I swear to god I will never have unprotected sex ever again.”

Martin grinned and rose up to kiss Amanda, his knees weak with relief. After a moment he pulled back and tried to wipe some of her tears away. “You ok?

“Better than ok.” Amanda brought Martin close for more kisses, the pair of them easily getting carried away for long moments before Martin pulled away.

“My knees are killin’ me here.”

Amanda raised her eyebrows. “Oh, you mean being on your knees on a hard floor is uncomfortable? How about that.”

“Hey, I ain’t askin’ you to get on your knees.”

“Just remember this moment in case you ever get the urge.”

Martin grinned and sat on the ground, looking up at Amanda. “Don’t you go talkin’ about urges, sugar. Urges are what got us here in the first place.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Definitely not, but I’d really like to not repeat that heart attack moment any time soon, if it’s all the same to you.”

Amanda pouted and shifted from the edge of the bath to straddle Martin’s lap. “Fine,” she said quietly, “we don’t have to repeat the heart attack moment, but maybe the bit that led to the heart attack could do with another attempt?”

“Attempt? If memory serves there was a resounding success rate.”

“I think you might be right.” Amanda brought her mouth close to Martin’s ear to whisper, “I wish we were not on a bathroom floor right now.”

“I can see dust bunnies lookin’ at me from behind the toilet.”

With a resigned sigh Amanda sat back. “And that’s my lady boner gone. I need a drink.”

“Let’s get you one.”

Amanda got to her feet and threw the test in the bin before helping Martin up off the floor. He grumbled and pulled Amanda close for one last kiss before opening the door. Gripps, Cross and Vogel couldn’t decide whether to be concerned or to make fun of them and the atmosphere was odd.

“Everything ok?” Cross asked eventually.

Amanda nodded. “Minor existential crisis, no big deal. Who wants shots?” She grinned at the small cheer that went up and helped Martin pour drinks. The buzzing of her phone in her pocket provided minor distraction and Amanda pulled it out to check the screen.

“You gonna answer that?” Martin asked.

“I don’t answer unknown numbers.” Amanda put the phone facedown on the table and ignored it. “Where were we?”

*

Amanda was drunk with relief. The energy at the bar was off the charts and she bounced around the place like a loose cannon, from the moshpit to the bar and back again, grinning the whole time. At one point she ended up beside Gripps at the bar and he laughed at her as she danced to the music.

“What’s so funny?”

Gripps shook his head. “Nothing. Just think, this could’ve been the last night for us all to be together.”

“I’m glad it’s not.”

“Me too. One more week, one more show, then it’s the long ass drive home.” Gripps leaned back against the bar with a happy sigh.

“Home.” Amanda’s stomach dropped as the implications presented themselves. What happens to me?

“Home. With us, I hope.”

“With you?”

Gripps nodded. “You know we want you to stay with us. Has he mentioned anything at all?” He asked, looking meaningfully at Martin talking to some guys further along the bar.

“No.” The wind went out Amanda’s sails and she stared at Martin. “I think he’s tried to bring it up but I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“What if he doesn’t want me to?”

Gripps tried not to laugh. “Honey, have you seen the way he looks at you? It is downright embarrassing for us innocent bystanders.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Right.” Gripps couldn’t quite keep the roll from his eyes. Clearly those two losers weren’t about to figure anything out without help. “Hey, I think Vogel needs some help out there, that guy won’t give him the time of day.”

Chasing the distraction Amanda bounced back into the crowd.

By the time they were due on stage Amanda had mostly recovered her good mood, helped largely by her ability to ignore shit situations. She jumped out on stage with the guys, grinning at the screams from the crowd, settling down behind the kit with her sticks in hand and fresh beer by her side.

Vogel picked up the mic with a yell and looped the cord around his cast-free hand, strutting across the stage. “Hey hey hey, we are the Rowdy motherfucking Three!” The crowd roared and Amanda laughed. “We can’t count for shit! Thanks for coming out!” With a flourish Vogel pointed to Amanda and she smirked as she counted them in.

There was barely pause for breath during the frenetic set and certainly no time to dwell on it being the last official show of the tour. Time flew almost as fast as Amanda’s hands and feet across cymbals and drums.

After two encores and a whole lot of deafening cheers, Amanda huddled in the wings with the guys, fighting tears of relief and exhaustion as Martin held her close. She pressed her face against his chest and breathed in deep. Vogel wriggled in under her arm and Cross and Gripps leaned against them, the five of them oddly quiet against the roar of the crowd.

Amanda took a deep breath in and scrunched up her nose. Four sweaty dudes in exceedingly close proximity was a lot to take in. “You stink.”

“Who?” Vogel asked in a small voice.

“All of you.” Amanda sniffled a little but made no effort to move. “What do we do now?”

Martin sighed. “Drink. Sleep. We’ve got two nights here before we head on up to Philly.”

“First I think we gotta pack up,” Cross said.

Gripps grumbled, “why you gotta ruin it, man?”

There was a unified moment of sighing before the huddle reluctantly split apart. They worked together to clear the stage and load up the van before carrying on with the after show drinking. Amanda and Vogel threw themselves around the mosh pit, laughing and spilling drinks, and Martin couldn’t do much at all but stare at Amanda and smile.

“You useless asshole,” Gripps announced with a smile.

“The hell you say?”

“You,” Gripps prodded Martin’s shoulder, “useless asshole. You haven’t tried to talk to Amanda about coming back to Seattle? I guess the way you’re looking at her right now doesn’t have a lot to do with talking but come on. You’re really gonna leave her hanging?”

Martin was glad that the poor light hid the red flush creeping up his neck. “Of course not.”

“I spoke to her a couple hours ago and she’s got no idea what she’s gonna do next. I sure as hell don’t want her to leave us, so what’s your plan?”

“Plan?”

“You gotta have a plan or I’m gonna break your foot right here.”

Martin gulped. “I got a plan.”

“Care to share?”

“Nope.”

Gripps looked at his friend slyly. “That plan got anything to do with the second room key I saw in your wallet?”

“Shut up.”

“Nah,” Gripps smirked, “you’re both family. Figure it out or we’re just gonna invite her back without your input, coz I just don’t know if I can trust you to not fuck this up for everyone.”

“I got it,” Martin insisted.

“You better.”

Martin returned his gaze to Amanda and caught her eye. He grinned reflexively and Gripps just sighed as he watched Amanda fight her way out of the pit to stand with them. She shyly took Martin’s hand in hers and lit up when Martin smiled at her.

“I gotta go to the bathroom before y’all beat me to it,” Gripps joked and laughed at the pink that coloured Amanda’s cheeks.

“Shut up, man,” Martin said without any real anger, making Gripps laugh even harder as he walked away.

Amanda managed a laugh and looked up at Martin. “We’re never going to live that down, are we?”

“Probably not.”

“Great.”

Martin suppressed a spike of fear before asking, “you don’t… you don’t regret it or anythin’ do you?”

“No way. Besides, the bathroom was my idea. You don’t get to take credit for that.”

“Speakin’ of which,” Martin murmured, pulling Amanda close, “I got another idea.”

“What kind of an idea?”

Martin paused, stuck for words. He’d practiced this conversation in his head over the last few days and every carefully rehearsed line completely evaporated thanks to a surprising amount of anxiety. For a long moment all he could do was look at Amanda, and he brought his hand up to cup her cheek.

“Hey, are you ok?” Amanda asked. “Did I do something?”

“No, nothin’ like that. I just,” Martin flashed a smile, “I thought maybe... that you might wanna try out a room with just the two of us?”

Amanda’s heart leapt and a smile spread across her face. “Try it out?”

“I want you to come back with me.”

“To a room that’s not with the guys?”

Martin was, once again, out of his depth. “Yeah, that, but Seattle. Seattle too. I want you to come back to Seattle - to my place - with me.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Your place in Seattle?” Amanda blinked slowly. “I don’t know.”

Martin faltered. “What?”

“Can we go outside? I need some air.” Amanda took Martin’s hand and dragged him out into the cool night air. She bought herself precious few seconds to think. Leaning back against the alley wall and pulling Martin close, Amanda spent a moment staring up at him. “You know I fantasized about you asking me that?”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I thought it’d be the easiest fix and it was like, romantic and shit, but like.” Amanda held onto Martin’s jacket lapels. “I don’t know.”

“What does that mean?” Martin asked quietly. He couldn’t read her and his throat started to close up. So this is what it feels like when shit falls apart. I liked it better when I thought I was gonna be a dad.

“I don’t know.” Amanda tried to smile. “Romantic shit like this just doesn’t happen to girls like me. I don’t get happy endings. I’m still,” she bit her lip, “I’m still waiting for the part where this goes to shit and you decide you never want to see me again.”

“That’s never gonna happen,” Martin said quickly.

“How can you know?”

“Because thinkin’ about you not being here?” Martin blinked rapidly and shook his head. “I can’t think of anythin’ worse.”

Amanda’s eyes burned. Something about making a grown ass man almost cry just hit her right in the gut. “But your place. What does that mean?”

“I want you to live with me. Move in with me. Or maybe,” Martin scrounged for a compromise that might appeal. “You could just stay at my place for a while? Til you get used to Seattle, or me, or whatever. Whatever you want, we’ll do it however you want.”

“But what you want is important too.”

“I’ll take any version of tomorrow that has you in it.”

Amanda nearly cried. “Ok but what you actually want is to… live with me?”

“Yeah, but if you don’t?”

“I don’t know what I want.” Amanda looked away and bit her lip. “That was a lie.”

“You are so confusin’ to me.”

“And you still want… all that… stuff with me?”

“More than anythin’. All I ever ask is that you’re honest with me. And yourself.”

Amanda nodded. “That’s fair.”

“So?”

“So.” Amanda found a spot on Martin’s jacket to stare at. It was easier than meeting the gaze of a man who just wouldn’t stop caring about her.

“What do you want from me?” Martin asked softly.

So much had changed since the last time he’d asked her that. Amanda took a deep breath. “I want you. I want to come back to Seattle. But I don’t know about living together? It’s so fast. I want this,” Amanda cleared her throat and tried to keep her voice steady, “I want this to work. I don’t know if living together straight away is the best way to stay together. At the moment.”

Martin flew between bleak misery and embarrassment and some actual elation at the last few minutes. Some steps forward, some steps back, a shitload of honesty… he blinked away tears and smiled. “Ok. Same city is a good start.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hell yeah. You just admitted that you want this to work,” Martin pointed out with a sly grin. “I’m callin’ that a major step forward. You’ve never said that before.”

“Shut up,” Amanda mumbled with a smile before realising something. “I don’t suppose you know anyone with a spare room? I’m going to need somewhere to stay.”

“We’ve got one, y’know. It’s mostly an office but it fits a bed and gets nice light. Or,” Martin fumbled, “I’m pretty sure someone at work would know someone?”

“An office?”

“I run a business, remember? That means paperwork. But it can go somewhere else if you want the room.”

Amanda nodded slowly. “Maybe for a bit? Til I can get my own place sorted out?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I think so.”

Martin grinned. “Ok. Remind me to make some calls in the mornin’.”

“Calls?”

“We got subletters in right now, I can ask ‘em to put a bed in the office so it’s there for you when we get back. And I can ask around about a room if you want?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Amanda sighed with relief. “Ok. Not gonna be homeless. Or away from you.” She nodded as she spoke. “Ok.”

“Ok.”

“Are you ok?”

Martin nodded. “You’re comin’ to Seattle. I’m definitely ok.”

“Yeah?”

Martin chuckled and leaned closer to Amanda, softly pressing his lips against hers and wrapping his arms around her. Amanda’s hands looped behind his neck and she sighed against his mouth. When Amanda decided to run her fingernails down Martin’s neck he shivered and pulled away.

“Sorry,” Amanda whispered immediately, “sorry. I just - I remembered you liked it.”

“And you like gettin’ me all worked up in public,” Martin whispered. “I’m onto you.”

“Can you be on top of me already?”

Martin barely suppressed a growl. “Remember when you wanted to take it slow?”

”Past Me was a chicken. Present Me is… less scared.”

Martin grinned. “You wanna get outta here?”

“Where to? As much as I want to say my dignity can’t handle getting sprung in a bathroom again, let’s be real, I’ll take whatever I can get.”

“I got another room at the motel.”

“Are you serious right now?”

Martin nodded smugly. “Dead serious.” The tiny little sigh that escaped Amanda’s lips, right next to Martin’s ear, sent a spark through him and rapidly reduced the comfort of his boxers.

“Let’s go before I climb you right here,” Amanda whispered.

Martin nodded and pulled away to take her hand, holding on tight for the walk back to the motel. Their room was right next to where the others would be staying but was a lot smaller, holding only one queen bed instead of two. Amanda took it all in quickly once Martin let them in.

“Do you want to get your stuff and-”

Amanda cut him off by pushing Martin against the closed door. She grinned and scratched her nails down his neck. “It can wait. One thing that can’t though - do you happen to have something on you?”

Martin shivered at the sensation of Amanda’s nails dragging across his skin. He managed to nod. “Back pocket.”

“This one?” Amanda eased her hand into his back pocket, squeezing his ass on the way, and raised her eyebrows when her fingers brushed against foil packaging. “How many did you bring?”

“Well, there’s tomorrow mornin’ to think of.”

“That’s optimistic.”

“I like to think of it as being practical.”

Amanda rolled her eyes and brought Martin’s face toward hers, capturing his mouth with her own. For some reason that Amanda couldn’t fathom, Martin was attempting softness, his fingertips feather-light on her skin, his mouth pliant, and Amanda couldn’t stand it. She pulled away and looked at him oddly.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’, why?”

Amanda frowned. “You’re different than,” she paused and her cheeks flushed, “the other times.”

“There’s no rush this time. For the first time.” Martin slowly pushed Amanda’s jacket from her shoulders and started kissing down the side of her neck. “I thought maybe we could take our time, for once?”

“Really?” Amanda murmured, clearly not convinced.

Martin pushed Amanda’s shirt higher as his kisses wandered lower toward her shoulder. “Can we try it my way? If you don’t like it, we’ll go back to your way.”

“What does it matter to you?” Amanda held onto Martin’s shoulders as her knees weakened just a bit. “Isn’t the end the goal?”

“There’s a bit more to it than that,” Martin disagreed. He leaned back to pull Amanda’s shirt up over her head and dropped it to the ground.

“More to it?”

“This ain’t some bathroom quickie. You ain’t just a hookup. I got a bit of an idea about what kinda angles you like,” he smirked as Amanda leaned into him, “but I need to know more.”

“What kind of more?”

“Everything.”

*

With a grumbling stretch, Martin reached across the sheets. He’d fallen asleep with Amanda in his arms, deliciously spent and already looking forward to waking up with her; the privacy was one hell of an aphrodisiac and he definitely didn’t need any help on that front. His slumbering brain slowly realised that he couldn’t find Amanda and the bed wasn’t all that big. He finally opened an eye and saw the rumpled sheets completely missing one tiny love of his life.

Neatly ignoring his own admission, Martin sat up. Her boots were still on the floor and he saw her shirt on the end of the bed. The bathroom door was closed and Martin immediately began to worry. “Darlin’?”

“One second.”

Martin took a breath and searched for some calm. When Amanda came out of the bathroom in tiny panties and his shirt, he grinned, nerves almost entirely forgotten. “Mornin’.”

“So, funny story! I’m definitely not pregnant.”

“I thought the test proved that already?”

“It did, but there’s nothing like bleeding on everything you love to confirm it.”

Martin very deliberately maintained eye contact. “So don’t look at the bed?”

“The bed’s fine,” Amanda grinned, “but my panties did not survive.” She climbed back into bed and tucked herself into Martin’s arms. “So I’m not super into sex on the first day, even when the pain is only like a five out of ten, but if you ask real nice there might be something else I can do for you.”

“Something else?”

“Lazy strip tease, some grinding,” Amanda shrugged nonchlantly.

“How lazy are we talkin’ here?” Martin grinned as Amanda shifted to straddle him.

“I was just gonna unbutton my shirt real slow.”

“Whose shirt?”

Amanda laughed and slowly worked at the bottom button. Her phone buzzing on the stand interrupted her and she glanced at the screen to see Vogel calling. “Hold that thought.”

“Thought? Last night you told me I wasn’t allowed to touch myself, is that still in effect?”

Amanda laughed and scrambled for her phone. “What?”

“Judging by the blessed silence in there I’m guessing you’re not busy. Breakfast?”

“Blessed silence?”

Vogel laughed. “Everyone’s stamina is very impressive and surely you’ve worked up an appetite by now?”

Amanda’s face went red while she gave Martin a decidedly dirty look. “Meet you out front in ten.” She hung up and frowned at her phone before locking it again and throwing it aside.

“Ten?”

“If I let you undress me would that get it down to six?”

Martin grinned and reached for her shirt.

*

Domesticity settled around Amanda and she didn’t even hate it. When they arrived in Philadelphia a couple of days later, Martin surprised her again with their own room (with thicker walls). On the morning of Soundwave, Amanda woke up before Martin and took a few moments to watch him sleep. Somehow sleeping face down with his face half-mushed into the pillow was his preferred position and he had an arm stretched out toward Amanda. The parts of his face that she could see looked different somehow... less guarded or something. She tried to figure out what had changed in the last few weeks, beyond fantastically frequent sex.

Amanda grinned as she realised there was only a very tiny, small bit of her that was scared. A small part she could live with, though hopefully it would eventually go away. Maybe that was the difference for Martin, too. There was a plan for the future, their future, and he knew the possible outcomes, and he said he was happy with all of them. He liked to be in control after all, for reasons that Amanda had a slightly better understanding of, and being honest about what they both wanted easily helped him with that… and helped her with her trust bullshit.

“You starin’ at me?”

Amanda grinned. “You’re very pretty.”

Martin hmphed, a smile curving the side of his mouth that Amanda could see. “Lemme put my glasses on and we’ll see who’s pretty.”

“You’ll just be taking them off in a minute or two anyway.”

“Is that right?”

“I am usually right.”

Martin sighed out of his nose and clumsily shuffled closer to wrap Amanda in his arms. “Do I wanna know what the time is?”

“Nope.” Amanda laughed at Martin’s pout. She wriggled closer and kissed him softly. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Yes your breath stinks.”

Amanda laughed and retaliated by deliberately breathing right in Martin’s face, making him laugh. “I was gonna ask, why do you wear a bandaid?” She reached up to run her finger across the fabric on Martin’s nose.

“Keeps my glasses on.”

“Huh?”

Martin smiled and reached out for his glasses. “See this?” He held them up and touched the nosepad. “If I spend too much time lookin’ down, or move fast, or get sweaty, they slip right off my face. Drives me nuts.”

“So like, on stage?”

“They’re gone before I can blink. We ain’t gone more’n three days without playin’ a show so, I keep the bandaid on.” Martin shrugged self-consciously and put his glasses back on the table.

Amanda smiled a little bashfully. “I think it’s cute.”

“Cute?”

“Big tough punk guy’s glasses keep falling off. It’s cute. Can you even see me without them on?”

Martin laughed. “It’s mostly long distance that sucks. When you’re right here?” Martin leaned in for a long kiss, savouring the fact that she definitely was right there, before moving away. “I can see you just fine.”

Smiling, Amanda lifted her hand and gently scratched her fingers through Martin’s beard. He practically purred. She stared, totally enamoured by him, and could not think of a single reason why she’d pushed him away for so long. Feelings bubbled up and they were warm, and made her grin stupidly almost all the time, and Amanda thought of a really big word that was losing its frightening edge.

Martin peered at her. He’d seen the shift, had seen her gorgeous dark eyes soften, and wanted to chase whatever had led her down that path. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing,” Amanda smiled.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Martin let his hands wander downward along the curve of her body. “You know you can talk to me. About anythin’ you want.”

“I know, and I’ve been meaning to tell you…”

Martin frowned, pulling Amanda closer. “What is it, darlin’?”

“Your breath stinks.”

Martin roared laughing and immediately proceeded to smother Amanda’s face in messy kisses and as much open mouth breathing as possible. Her indignant squawks and cackling laughter filled the air and Martin couldn’t remember ever being so damn happy.

*

A few hours later Amanda found herself sitting in front of a plate of pancakes and fruit, the latter half of the equation helpfully suggested by Gripps, and she couldn’t bring herself to lift her fork.

“You gotta have something,” Gripps said quietly.

“I can’t. I feel sick.”

“Sick coz you didn’t eat at all or sick coz you didn’t eat a vegetable for a week?”

“There’s gonna be thousands of people there.”

Gripps smiled kindly and put his arm around Amanda’s shoulders. “You are a hell of a drummer, and a goddamn talented human being all round. You’re gonna smash the shit outta that kit and you’re gonna do great.”

“I wanna puke and shit myself.”

“Please do not do that.”

Amanda laughed weakly. “I’ll try.”

“If you gotta go, do it before the others get back. I am not mentally prepared to witness whatever drama llama bullshit that might inspire between you two.” Gripps laughed at Amanda’s indignant glare. “I spent too long watchin’ you two be useless, I refuse to go back to square one!”

“Uh, same, don’t worry,” Amanda said. “I almost wish we didn’t have a break between shows.”

“I know. Just eat a little somethin’ ok? You’ll be surprised at how much it’ll help.”

With a resigned sigh, Amanda scooped a spoonful of syrup into her mouth. Catching the disapproving pout from Gripps, she laughed. “Fine, fine, a piece of fruit it is.” Amanda found a way to passive-aggressively eat a slice of strawberry.

Cross returned to the booth and slouched into a seat with a sigh. “Still nothing?” He looked at Amanda’s untouched plate. “Should we try the spoon-is-an-airplane game?”

Amanda scrunched up her face. “Get bent.”

“Get some breakfast down and we’ll leave it be.” Gripps grinned. He shuffled away along the seat to give Amanda room.

Nothing had ever looked more unappetising in her life but Amanda tried. The pancakes were heavy in her mouth as she tried to get as much down as possible. She’d managed to force down almost half the plate of food before Martin and Vogel came back from their mysterious errands with grins all round. They slid into the booth with palpable smugness.

“You manage to eat somethin’?” Martin asked, sitting close by Amanda.

“A little.”

“Are you gonna faint on stage?” Vogel asked. “Coz that’s not really the vibe we’re going

for.”

Amanda stuck her tongue out. “I’ll be fine, I’m just a nervous wreck.”

“Would a jelly donut sweeten the deal?”

Amanda looked at Martin closely. “You said there wasn’t a donut place nearby.”

“There wasn’t.”

“Then how-?”

“I got connections.”

Vogel snorted. “Internet connections maybe. There’s some French bakery a million miles away that does a fancy version of a jelly donut.”

Amanda placed a kiss on Martin’s cheek as she took the brown paper bag from his hands. She took a bite and sighed happily. “This jelly is bonkers!”

“I worry about your blood pressure,” Gripps said.

“I worry about how you ever made friends with salad,” Amanda retorted. The guys laughed, even Gripps, and Amanda finished her donut in record time.

Martin put his arm around Amanda, practically catching her happiness like a cold. “You ready?”

“Nope. Let’s go.”

*

Crowds ordinarily didn’t bother Amanda all that much, but Soundwave was an exception. She found herself surrounded by the guys, huddling in the middle, and holding Martin’s hand tightly. The gorgeous morning in bed with him was somehow a hundred years ago. All she wanted to do was to disappear, but instead she was being jostled already and the festival wasn’t even busy yet.

“Did Todd say he’d be here yet?” Vogel asked. He scanned the crowd as they wandered along.

Amanda checked her phone and ignored more missed calls. “Uh, yeah, kind of. He said ‘near the face painting, dear god, Dirk’s getting a shark, what have I done’. Off to a good start.”

“Let’s hope he comes through with some coordinates or something,” Cross said with a smile.

“Is there anywhere we can go that’s like, not busy?” Amanda asked. She couldn’t keep the plaintive tone from her voice and hated that she sounded like a five year old.

“These are like magic!” Vogel waggled his pass and lanyard under Amanda’s nose. They all wore one, mostly tucked under jackets or shirts. “They’ll take us to a whole other dimension!”

Cross laughed. “A dimension of comfort and shade.”

“Where’s your sunscreen?” Gripps looked at the palest of the band most pointedly. Martin’s nose was turning pink already.

“Wait, shade? Where?” Amanda looked around at the sea of merch tents and stages.

“VIP areas, there’s one up ahead.” Cross pointed to an archway between tents guarded by burly men in black.

Amanda fought not to run to the promised shade and lack of crowds. The band headed for the archway and Amanda noticed a few double-takes from people they passed. They made her skin itch.

The archway was, indeed, magical. Almost as soon as they passed through, it was significantly more peaceful. Amanda heaved a sigh of relief and leaned into Martin, relaxing just a fraction. He squeezed her hand in response. Heading for an empty corner of the tent Amanda spied a bucket of chilled water bottles, surrounded by beanbags, and she smiled. They collapsed into the beanbags and Amanda dove for a water.

Gripps pulled a folded map from his pocket and spread it on the ground between them all. “Who wants to see what?”

“We gotta meet back here at two, ready to head to the stage for three,” Martin said.

“We know, boss.” Vogel rolled his eyes with a smile.

“If you think you’re goin’ anywhere on your own, after what happened last time,” Martin pointed to Vogel’s cast, “you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Uh, I wasn’t alone, thanks a bunch.”

“An accomplice don’t count,” Martin said with a smile.

“Just coz you hate fun,” Vogel retorted.

It was Amanda’s turn to roll her eyes. “Well, I really wanna see Divine Ruination.”

The debating began. Music tastes were eclectic at best, with a lot of crossover but rarely a unanimous agreement. When Martin pulled a pen from one of his many pockets, Amanda almost died of cute overload. He was making notes on the map, keeping track of where everyone was going to be, looking as serious as ever.

Martin caught Amanda’s gaze and was immensely distracted by the warmth he found there. “What?”

“Nothing.”

Cross sighed heavily and tapped the map. “So this is the final draft? We got phones and everything for last minute changes.”

“That’s it,” Martin agreed.

Amanda smiled and checked the newly devised schedule before checking the time on her phone. “Gripps, let’s go. I want a good spot for Divine Ruination.”

“See you back here after?” Martin asked.

“Deal.” Amanda leaned in for a quick kiss.

“Are you gonna be ok?”

Amanda nodded. “Now that I know there’s an escape route, I’ll be fine. And now I want a beer.” She looked at the map and frowned. “Is the face painting on there?”

“Not following.”

“Todd mentioned Dirk was getting his face painted. If it’s on the way to the stage we’re going to?”

Gripps assessed the map and nodded. “If we walk fast, we’ll make it work. You can drink and walk at the same time right?”

“I think I can manage.” Amanda’s phone buzzed and she saw the same unknown number from the last few days.

Martin caught the look on her face. “Who is that?”

“I don’t know.” Amanda answered the call. “Quit calling asshole!” She hung up, only for the same number to immediately call back.

“You want us to yell down the phone? Scare ‘em off?” Vogel asked.

Martin watched Amanda, who was apparently frozen. “Darlin’?”

“Make it stop.” Amanda handed her phone over, almost afraid to touch it.

With a quick nod Martin took the phone and wanted to crush it in his hands. He answered the call as his blood boiled. “Fuck off-” He paused and blinked slowly. A moment of stunned silence passed before he put the phone on speaker.

“Amanda? Who are you? What is this? Amanda!”

“Todd?” Amanda said softly. “Todd!”

“Amanda!” Todd’s voice was distorted through the speaker. “Amanda are you ok?”

“I’m fine. Why didn’t you just text from your normal phone? Or tell me you got a new number?”

“This isn’t my number-”

“Then whose phone is it?”

“It’s a long story. Who was that?”

“Martin. Trying to scare off whoever’s been calling me the last few weeks.”

“Weeks? Shit.”

“Todd, what is going on?”

“Can you come meet us? We’re at the face painting stand by the orange stage.”

Amanda sighed heavily. “We were coming to find you anyway. You could have just waited instead of giving me a heart attack!”

“Sorry, Amanda, I know what you must have thought… I’m sorry. Meet us at the face painting?”

“We’re on our way.” Amanda leaned over and ended the call.

Martin carefully handed Amanda her phone. He’d seen her relief when she’d realised the caller was Todd. “What you must have thought?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Ok.” Martin respected boundaries, as much as it pained him to not be able to help. “You want us to come with you?”

“No, it’s fine. I don’t want you guys to miss your shows. I’ll stick with Gripps and I’ll be fine. I promise.” Amanda smiled her best reassuring smile and got to her feet. “I definitely need a beer.”

Gripps stood and put an arm around her shoulders. “Beer it is. If we’re quick, we might only have to line up for an hour.”

“You mean these don’t work on beer lines?” Amanda waved her VIP pass hopefully. Gripps shook his head and she sighed hugely. “Fine. See you losers later.”

The pair of them left the shaded tent and went back into the crowds. Gripps pulled a little bottle of sunscreen from his pocket and handed it to Amanda. She couldn’t stop a small laugh and took the bottle from him.

“You could use some of this too,” Amanda pointed out. She dabbed the cream on her nose and cheeks before rubbing it in. “Melanin doesn’t stop sunburn.”

“True,” Gripps said, rubbing a little cream across his cheeks, “but I won’t look like a fresh cooked lobster for a week. I know you’re vain enough to still wanna be pretty every day for your man.”

“I am not ready to do full ugly,” Amanda laughed. “I don’t want to scare him off.”

“I would bet my record collection that scaring him off is impossible.”

“How sweet is your record collection?”

“Pretty darn,” Gripps said with a smile. “You sure you’re ok? That whole phone thing shook you up.”

“Yeah,” Amanda said unconvincingly. “It’s just a thing. Years ago I knew this guy, we dated, he was a complete shitstain of a person. Anyway, when I broke it off, he’d… call. A lot. At all hours, from different numbers. It got freaky. Eventually I changed my number - a few times - and made it really hard to find me on social media. Left town without a backward glance…” she trailed off. “I thought for a minute maybe he found me.”

“Shit. No wonder you were freaked.”

“Yeah. I haven’t told Martin about it… at least, not the whole thing. I will, don’t worry, I just haven’t thought about that guy in a while. I haven’t thought about him finding me again coz it was so long since the last time, and I just didn’t want to remember.”

“That’s totally fair. That’s also a super fucked situation.”

Amanda nodded. “Definitely. But now I want to know who was calling me and how Todd ended up with that phone. If it was him… I don’t want Martin here.”

“He wouldn’t think less of you for your past, you know that.”

“I think I actually do know that, which is kind of weird and nice,” Amanda smiled. “It’s more… if it is this guy, I don’t want Martin to get himself in trouble.”

Gripps nodded thoughtfully as they walked. “Probably a good idea. Lead guitar getting arrested is gonna throw the whole gig off.”

Amanda gave a small laugh. “You don’t say?” Looking up ahead she caught sight of the face-painting tent and pointed, for Gripps’ benefit. “I hope they’re nearby.”

“Me too.” Gripps looked around the crowds.

With a tug on his jacket Amanda pulled Gripps after her and headed for Todd. His patched denim jacket made him stand out in the mostly black clothed crowd, but not as much as Dirk. His yellow leather jacket was a beacon of ridiculousness and Amanda couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face as she approached. When she saw Dirk’s face the laughter was instantaneous; painted across the side of his face was a grinning shark.

“Wow, Dirk,” Amanda laughed, “I love your shark.”

“Isn’t it fantastic?” Dirk beamed. He looked at Gripps and became politely puzzled. “Excuse me, I didn’t quite catch your name earlier?”

“Gripps,” he supplied with a frosty smile.

“Of course,” Dirk said politely.

Todd stared at his sister. “Amanda, hey, are you ok?”

“What is going on? Is that the phone?”

Todd nodded. “It’s part of a case. Why are they calling you?”

“Who does it belong to?” Amanda asked with deliberate slowness.

“We were hired by a woman to find out if her boyfriend was cheating on her. This is his phone, but we only… found it today,” Dirk said.

Todd hmphed. “Found? You stole it.”

“He carelessly left it unattended.”

“In his jacket pocket in a diner.”

Anyway,” Dirk looked back to Amanda, “this is his and he has your number. There’s texts and calls but no saved names, and nothing older than two weeks, which is odd. And so interesting!”

“Let me see that.” Amanda put her hand out expectantly.

Dirk paused. “Why?”

“Whoever’s phone that is, he might think he’s cleared his phone history, but he probably hasn’t done it properly. I know a few tricks to recover data,” Amanda explained. “I don’t have the number saved in my phone, so I don’t think I know this person, but I can probably find out who he called and texted.” Dirk happily handed it over while Todd sputtered. Amanda went through the phone and smirked. “Gotcha.”

“Are you serious?”

“No one is as good at this as they think,” Amanda shrugged. Her smugness faded. “Oh shit. I did know this guy.”

Gripps asked tensely, “who is it?”

“Oliver,” Amanda sighed. “These were the texts he sent me. You said he has a girlfriend? Goddamnit. Wait a second.” She stared at her brother. “You said you only found this today? That means Oliver is here somewhere?”

Todd nodded. “We had plans to come here before we got the case, I swear. Our client had planned to surprise her boyfriend – Oliver – on his trip and got suspicious about his reaction, and then hired us, and it just kind of lined up.”

“Everything is connected,” Dirk said conspiratorially. “Nothing is also connected.”

Gripps snorted. “As a philosophy, that seems needlessly complicated.”

“I didn’t say it made sense.”

“Evidently,” Amanda said.

Todd cleared his throat. “So, you didn’t know Oliver had a girlfriend?”

“Of course I didn’t,” Amanda snapped. “I would never do that to someone. Knowingly.”

“That’s what I thought,” Todd said, relieved. “Well, now we know definitively: Oliver cheated.”

“And probably still is,” Amanda sighed. “No one tries to scrub their phone when they’ve got nothing to hide.”

“How awful,” Dirk said softly. He seemed genuinely wounded.

“People suck.” Amanda and Todd said in unison and smiled at one another.

Dirk beamed at the siblings. “You two are definitely related.”

Amanda ignored him. “Is she here? The girlfriend?”

“Why?”

“I dunno. Maybe I should talk to her? Try and explain it’s not her fault?”

Todd shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know that that’s such a great idea.”

He didn’t get any further before a young woman approached them. She was pretty in a punk festival kind of way, with long hair and a heavy fringe and a penchant for tight jeans. From behind, Amanda supposed she and her would have looked the same. Her stomach sank. Clearly, Oliver had a type.

“There you are,” the stranger greeted Todd and Dirk, “did you find her?”

“I’m the her,” Amanda said quietly.

“Oh god,” the stranger looked Amanda up and down and Amanda saw the sadness in her eyes.

“Amanda, this is Stacey. Stacey, this is Amanda, someone Oliver… knew.”

“Biblically, I assume,” Stacey said with more than a hint of snark. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“I’m sorry. I had no idea he had a girlfriend, if I’d known, I never would have-”

“Bullshit.”

“I’m serious! I’ve been where you are right now, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I would never have gone near him if I’d known,” Amanda said sadly. “I deleted his number so I wouldn’t know if it was him calling me or not, but either way, I’d never answer it, definitely not now.”

“Why do girls like you think its ok to sleep with other people’s boyfriends?”

“I didn’t know he had a girlfriend! He never said anything and I’m not from LA so I have no clue about the scene there, ok? I’m really sorry, more than sorry, but if he’s cheating on you, then that’s something that he needs to figure out. You yelling at the other girls he lied to isn’t going to stop him doing it. I can promise you that much.”

“Go to hell.”

“It feels like it right now, doesn’t it?” Amanda asked astutely. “It probably did the time before, and it will the next time. There’ll be a next time, with some other girl from some other band, and none of it will be your fault.”

Stacey stared for a moment before gathering herself enough to speak. “How would you know?”

“I’ve been there,” Amanda shrugged. “I caught him, forgave him, worked so hard to make sure he’d never do it again, and then caught him again, forgave him… it just goes around and around and you never stop feeling sick.”

“And you still did that to someone else?”

“I told you, I didn’t know. I swear. Something I do know? None of what he does is your fault. None of it.” Amanda met Stacey’s eyes squarely.

Stacey blinked furiously and looked away. “Whatever. Here.” She gave Todd an envelope. “It’s the rest of your fee.” She snatched the phone and left without looking back.

“Well, that was…” Dirk paused awkwardly. “Something. Popcorn?” He held up a crumpled packet.

“No thanks,” Amanda tried to smile and desperately wanted a change of subject. “So, are you guys having fun?”

“So much!” Dirk said quickly. “Though the appeal of lukewarm beer will never be fully understood.”

“We haven’t found anywhere that has Pimm’s and he’s pissy about it,” Todd explained.

“Pimm’s?” Gripps asked thoughtfully. “Try the ‘international’ tent over by the main stages.”

Dirk’s eyes lit up. “Really? They might have some?”

Gripps shrugged. “Maybe. Pretty sure it’s a lot of German imported beer and some sake but it can’t hurt to try.”

“Great. Are you nervous?” Todd looked at Amanda. “Don’t be. You’ll kill it up there, you always do.”

“I’m so excited to see you play!” Dirk encouraged. “Do you think there’ll be a mosh pit?”

“No!” Todd and Amanda shouted at once. Dirk swiftly went from excited to wounded and Amanda immediately felt bad for yelling. Gripps was trying not to laugh.

“Honey, no,” Todd said. “Mosh pits at punk shows are not your thing.”

“How would you know?”

Todd wisely didn’t sigh exasperatedly. “Remember when we were in the line at Wal-Mart and that kid kept spilling their drink on you and you had to shower four times to get the smell of sweet tea off your skin?”

“Yes?”

“Mosh pits are about a thousand times worse, but with beer.”

Dirk was horrified. “Right.”

“Right,” Todd smiled. “We can support the band without having to be in the pit. We’re really happy for you,” he looked at Gripps and smiled, “for you guys. This is a big deal and you all deserve it. Your songs are great.”

“You listened to us?” Gripps asked.

“We bought everything we could find online!” Dirk grinned and opened the front of his jacket to reveal a ‘Rowdy 3’ logo shirt.

“We want to support you. You guys,” Todd corrected, looking at Gripps again.

Amanda’s heart softened and she hugged Todd, laughing a bit at his evident surprise before squeaking at the strength of his arms around her. “Thanks, Todd.”

“Sorry about the case thing,” Todd said after a moment. “I didn’t mean to bring work to this.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Amanda said as she pulled away. “Listen, we’re heading to see Divine Ruination. You wanna come?”

“Of course!” Dirk replied instantly. Amanda looked to Todd with her eyebrows raised.

“We’ll walk with you that way,” Todd compromised, and they headed off toward the stage.

Amanda and Gripps bade farewell to Todd and Dirk to fight their way into the crowd, smiling at the promises from Dirk that they’d be up front and centre for the Rowdy Three’s set. Amanda and Gripps lasted a good few songs of Divine Ruination before tapping out to prevent further serious injury. As they walked back to the VIP base, Gripps put his arm back around Amanda. “You ok?”

“Not really. I keep thinking about Stacey. How could I do that to her?”

“You didn’t know. How could you know?”

“Did you guys know?”

Gripps shook his head. “We ain’t that deep in the LA scene. It’s a bit too LA, y’know?” Amanda laughed a little before Gripps continued, “You didn’t know. You told her the truth and that’s probably all you can do. If she ain’t ready to hear it, that’s not on you.”

“I just told her what I wish someone had told me.”

“Huh?”

“That ex who did the weird calling thing was also a serial cheater. It messed me up.”

“Made you not wanna trust people?”

“Yeah. He was a singer in a band.”

Gripps snorted. “No wonder you kept our boy at arm’s length as long as you did.”

“I tried really hard to not be shit about it.”

“Eventually.”

Amanda smiled guiltily. “Yeah, eventually, but I got there.”

Gripps grinned as they strolled back into the tent. “Just so you know, Oliver just made the beatdown list.”

“Yeah he did. What a dick,” Amanda sighed.

“Who made the list?” Martin asked quickly. He got to his feet, looking between Gripps and Amanda, tension lining his entire body.

“Oliver,” Gripps repeated. He sank down into beanbags and immediately helped himself to Vogel’s fries.

Martin’s lip curled. “Where is he?”

“Here somewhere, but I don’t wanna know.” Amanda stepped into Martin’s arms.

“What happened?”

Amanda sighed again and tucked her head under Martin’s chin. “Apparently, Oliver has a girlfriend that he neglected to mention. She hired Todd and Dirk to find out about his secrets and they found me.”

“I knew he was an asshole.”

“Uh, no, you knew you were jealous. It’s not the same thing.”

Martin huffed with a smile. “Still. He comes near you and I’ll hold him down so you can kick his ribs.”

“Solid plan.”

“Are you ok?”

“I feel like shit.”

Martin held her close. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“If I wasn’t being a selfish asshole, I never would have slept with him.”

“Hey!” Vogel interrupted from around ankle height. “You can sleep with whoever you want, for whatever reason you want. The onus is on him to not cheat on his girlfriend.”

The others murmured their agreement. Amanda tried to smile. “Thanks guys.”

Vogel opened his mouth to say something else but saw his phone light up. Immediately he huddled over the screen suspiciously.

“What is it with weird phone stuff today?” Amanda asked pointedly.

“Nothing,” Vogel replied, way too quickly to allay suspicion. The others muffled an assortment of disbelieving snorts.

“I swear I saw a ‘k’ on your screen, buddy,” Cross observed. “Anything you want to share with the rest of the class?”

“I might have a date after our set, maybe,” Vogel said. “Maybe Kyle flew into town on a last-minute business trip-”

“Maybe he’s a bad liar,” Amanda corrected before singing, “Vogel’s got a date, Vogel’s got a date!”

“Can that be enough about my love life?” Vogel begged, his cheeks pink. “We’ve got a show to play!”

“Don’t remind me.”

“At least we’re not one of the very first bands up, that’s always a tough slot,” Martin pointed out.

Conceding the point, Amanda let herself be swept along in the stream of the festival. They went to see bands, split up to see others, ate greasy food and drank warm beer, before retreating back to the VIP tent to wait.

Amanda couldn’t decide if they waited an eternity or five minutes before a stagehand came and found them. She and Vogel bounced on their toes, jittery and excited, as the group walked through the crowds. They all flashed their passes at security to get backstage and prepare for their slot. Amanda wanted to hurl and kept moving to try and distract herself.

“You wouldn’t be the first person to puke back here,” Cross said when he caught sight of her face. He pointed to a splash stain down the side of the stairs up to the stage.

“Was it beer or nerves?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah it matters. Drunk puking is way cooler than ‘too nervous to function’ puking.”

“Let’s try for no puking,” Martin suggested. “I don’t got any gum and I still wanna kiss you.”

Vogel rolled his eyes. “Now I’m gonna puke.”

“Rowdy Three, you’re up!” The stagehand shouted. She held out a fistful of earplugs for each of them to take as they walked by her. “Break a leg!”

“Oh shit.” Amanda stared at the guys. “This is it.”

Martin grinned. “C’mon boys. Let’s show Drummer how we have fun!”

Amanda couldn’t fight her answering smile and raced Vogel up the stairs onto the stage. She tucked the bright rubber into her ears and was still almost deafened by cheers from the crowd. Bright stage lights meant she couldn’t see the edge of the seething masses and she heaved a sigh of relief.

“Hey Philly! How you doin’?” Vogel shouted into the mic. He grinned at the answering roar and took the mic from the stand. “We are the Rowdy Three! We suck at math! Let’s go!”

Hard heavy beats flowed through Amanda and onto the drums and she shouted with effort as her hands and feet flew. She bounced on the seat as she moved, feeling the songs deep in her bones as they played together. Every beat was just right, every note from the guitars and every melody from Vogel’s throat came together in a wall of fast loud music. Amanda soared, riding the sound like the best possible high.

Between songs were cheers loud enough to hurt, and Amanda couldn’t stop the nervous bubbling laughter whenever she heard them. Martin grinned at her, checking in like always, and Amanda knew her eyes were doing the wicked flirty thing that drove him nuts. He howled and had to turn away and Amanda thought she might explode with happiness.

Nerves all but gone and well and truly high on the rush of performing, Amanda lost track of time and the set was over before she could blink. Cheers roared in her ears and her face hurt from smiling and catching sight of Martin’s triumphant grin, she thought, this is love, isn’t it.

Amanda came out from behind the drum kit and was immediately picked up and spun around by Gripps. Cross swung her up in a piggyback to carry her off stage, the others hot on their heels. They stumbled down the stairs in a haze of adrenalin and laughter and hugs and Amanda was fit to burst out of her skin. It was hard for her to be still at the best of times and after a show like that Amanda highly doubted she’d ever be calm again.

Long pale arms wrapped around her belly from behind and Amanda turned to find Martin staring at her, his eyes so deliciously intense, and a whole different kind of adrenalin flooded her belly. Words were too hard, as usual, so she kissed him instead… only to find that when she pulled away, maybe the words weren’t so difficult after all.

“I love you,” Amanda said softly. Martin heard her and froze, staring. Amanda beat back her fear and tried again. “I love you. It’s ok if you don’t love me back right away, I know it’s a lot, but I just… I love you.”

Martin grinned. “I love you too. So much.” He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her sweetly. When he pulled away his eyes were bright and he couldn’t stop smiling.

Amanda grinned as the others jostled them and a group hug swallowed them up. The stagehand was desperately trying to usher them out of the wings and Gripps finally joined her efforts to herd them outside where cool air waited. Amanda took deep breaths and relished the burn in her lungs.

“That’s it,” Cross said eventually, grinning. “That’s the tour. Done.”

“Done. Did it!” Vogel shouted triumphantly.

Amanda looked at Martin and smiled. “Did it.”

*

Five weeks later

Sitting up in bed, surrounded by papers and pens, Martin read the latest expense report and dearly wanted to turn the page. Reading one-handed was decidedly inefficient, but he wasn’t about to disturb Amanda. She’d made a spot for herself on his right shoulder and was dozing serenely, her book resting on his chest, and Martin just couldn’t bring himself to move her. Instead he attempted to flick the page, hoping gravity and physics might be on his side. They were not. His movement made Amanda stir and he froze.

“Fnng?” Amanda mumbled. She resettled herself on Martin’s shoulder. “What’re you doing?”

“Sorry darlin’, just trying to turn the page.”

Amanda grumbled and reached up to bat at the paperwork like a petulant cat. “Helping.”

“Not helping,” Martin corrected with a laugh.

“Why’re you working anyway? It’s our day off. Supposed to be our day off.”

“Businesses don’t run themselves.”

“Do you have to do it in bed?”

“You know, I had a whole office to do this in once, til someone needed a bedroom.”

Amanda started to sit up. “If you want to use your bed as a desk then I’d better let you get back to work.”

Martin immediately abandoned reports to put his arms around Amanda and bring her close. “No ma’am.” He kissed her neck, deliberately tickling her sensitive skin with his beard and laughing when Amanda squeaked in feigned protest.

“I’m serious, if you want to get work done, then I’ll leave you be. I don’t wanna lose my job coz the boss can’t run his business.”

Martin ceased the tickling with a final kiss. “Give me ten minutes to wrap these up and I’m all yours.”

“Fine,” Amanda smiled. “I think I might have a way to fix the office situation?”

“Is that right?”

“Me in the office was kind of always supposed to be temporary, one way or another, right?”

Martin nodded slowly, unease trickling into his gut. “It’s important to you to have your own space.”

Amanda nodded. “Right. It was. It is, but I think my space is your space, too. I want it to be, anyway. If you do. Do you?”

“Are you askin’… you want to move in? With me?”

“Officially, yeah.”

Martin grinned. “I like it when you make the first move.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Oh definitely,” Martin couldn’t help but smirk. “I want my office back.”

Amanda pulled away laughing. “Oh, I see how it is. Is that all you want?”

“Not even close,” Martin refuted. He pushed the papers off the bed and pulled her toward him. “You wanna go shopping later today?”

“What for?”

“We’re gonna need another dresser in here. There’s no way all your stuff is gonna fit in with mine.”

“Yeah I dunno what happened, it was like I moved into the warehouse and my bags just… exploded and all of a sudden I can fill two wardrobes on my own? Weird.”

“Yeah, weird,” Martin played along.

“It’s almost like I’m not living in fear of having to pack up my life and run,” Amanda said softly.

“Speaking of packing,” Martin said slowly, “when do you want to move your stuff in?”

Amanda made a point of looking around the room at her clothes on the floor, her makeup on the dresser, and some of her photos hanging on the wall.

Martin took the hint. “When do you wanna move the rest of your stuff in?”

“Later. I think we’re going to be busy this morning.”

“Busy? Since when?”

Amanda laughed. “Since now, you dork.” She lifted his glasses off his face and carefully put them on the nightstand. Martin smiled, catching on at last, and leaned in for a kiss.