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Here the Volunteers

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Roger Meddows Taylor goes with the flow. Well, that's the way he would describe himself as a person, if he was ever asked. Though he stands up to help those he loves and gets fiercely protective over them. Loyalty is the most important aspect of a life, at least to him. But people have to earn his loyalty and his trust. You don't get it free and are then allowed to be a rat bastard afterwards. Family doesn't get a free pass on being terrible. Yet if they are terrible nonetheless, what can you do?

What Roger does is, he gets through that terror, he deals with it. One of the ways was by singing-- when he was a kid there was a children's choir that met and practised in order to sing during church services and for other sorts of things. Bless his mum, she asked the choir director to give her Roger a go, keep him out of the house. And though he'd scoffed and rolled his eyes, worry for her and his sister underneath the distaste (mostly feigned, because he actually enjoyed singing along with the radio. Has one in his room to listen to on nights when his father rages) he'd tried out for the choir.

The choral director spent time teaching proper breathing techniques. "Proper breath, opening the lungs entirely only happens when you breathe from the abdomen, boys, the diaphragm." Patting their own stomach area, just below the ribs, the director had the boys lie flat on the floor to open their lungs and breathe that way. Breathing exercises were utilised as well, including standing and sitting down during the course of the ditty "My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea; my Bonnie lies over the ocean, so bring back my Bonnie to me...." Over time it was discovered that Roger had one of the highest voices anyone in that chorus had ever heard.

Roger's voice remained high, too-- when most of the other boys got older, their voices cracked and changed, deepened exponentially. Roger's remained high and sweet, only growing a trifle gravelly when he sang, which added emotional grit to his words. He was given solos by the director and received admiration from the congregation. As well as some ire from the other boys. A few made disparaging comments on his abilities. "Only reason you'd sing that high is if you were a GIRL," One of the older boys sneered.

"Let's see, huh? Lookit that face." He tries to grab Roger's full cheek, but Rog ducks, blue eyes flashing, long blond hair whacking one of the boys who had clustered close behind him, as some children do when they sense weakness, or a fight.

Another boy pushes at the centre of Roger's back between his shoulder blades. "What're you gonna do, little girl? Cry?"

"Aww he's actually gonna cry!" One of the others sees Roger's hands trembling as his eyes glitter with what they think are tears. Big mistake.

"I'll show you who's gonna cry--" he rams his head up and back, smashing into the face of the boy behind him, jabbing an elbow into the kid's abdomen. He wheezes and his hand leaves Roger's back. The short blond leaps at the first boy who'd spoken, tackling him to the floor.

Others are shouting and converging on the pair. Roger is rolling over and over, the older boy larger and heavier though Roger gets in a good shot with a fist. Several adults come running, including the head of the choir, to pull everyone off, as a couple others had begun kicking at Roger's sides. He is pulled upright by the scruff of his neck, and feels a twinge of pride and satisfaction as the older boy dabs at a now-split lip.

That proud satisfaction diminishes as he is given a tongue-lashing. Choir boys don't fight, do not start fights nor finish them. That is not charitable. Roger doesn't bother trying to say the reason he fought, only glowers at the floor, his sides already beginning to smart. Nothing worse than pain he's felt before, but this stings more because Roger knows he does not deserve to be treated this way.

He decides to quit the choir after that. Gets a bit old for it, he's out of primary school and feels he ought to expand his horizons. That's the way Roger spins the tale to his mum, at least. Better not to worry her, and he can hide the bruises under his clothes. For a fortnight, they ache when he breathes too deep, but Roger is used to hurts like that. But he won't deal with them if he doesn't have to. Doesn't need the church choir; he's gotten what he needed from it, learned how to sing.

Besides, hymns and shite like that just--they aren't really HIM.

Chapter Text

Roger had been bitten by the music bug. After he left choir and his family moved to Truro, in Cornwall, from Kings Lynn, he got accepted into a secondary school where he got into playing the ukulele with a group of lads. Since it was a small instrument with four strings instead of six, he figured it would be the easiest to learn. "And the only one y' can hold since you're so short, mate," one of his schoolfellows teased.

Maybe, but that didn't mean he could play well. So Roger, ever colourful in his language choices, even as a youngster, told the other boy to bugger off. He learned phrases such as that from his father. The only sort of language he did not use, an anomaly for the time, were the ubiquitous slurs "fag", "pouf'", or "fairy" to snarl at men. Those words never sat right with Roger; particularly since his own fine features and long fair hair, not to mention his high voice and his penchant to wear bright hues and floral patterns in dress exhorted some people to use those words in a cruel manner to describe him. Roger never could understand why something like that made people so angry. He is the first to acknowledge the attractiveness of a girl, yet has seen attractive boys too, and been told he is one of them. His claim to fame, however, became the fact that he was the shortest boy in the class with the largest amount of game--could get with any girl in school or out. What can he say? He's incredibly outgoing and appreciative of the human body.

Roger's fascinations leant him expertise in the sciences. To his own surprise, he received some of the highest marks of the school and his schooling career in science classes-- particularly Biology and Anatomy. When he was not out practising with the band he'd gotten together, Roger could be found poring over his biology textbook, looking in the back at all of the anatomically correct diagrams. He became particularly fascinated by the diagrams of teeth and the mouth. Something about the orderly ranks of white and the possibility of decay fascinated Roger. So often in the mouth, as with people overall, the outside looks pristine when there is rot within. But teeth, one can learn to fix. He's not so sure about people. But Rog flashes his own teeth in a huge engaging smile and pushes the dark thoughts away.

He did learn a bit of guitar as he buckled down, and the ukulele group disbanded. What a relief; they had been awful. For his twelfth Christmas, Roger was given a set of drums. Three years later he started using them in earnest when the first official schooltime band he was a part of, a trio, needed a drummer. And drumkits weren't the simplest things to rent. Weren't exactly cheap to go out and purchase on a whim, either. "I've got a set," Roger said. "Can learn to play."

And so he did; working diligently along to hard-hitting tracks. He especially enjoyed adding drums to the guitar work of Jimi Hendrix, of whom he was a fan. Roger worked as hard on the drums as he had memorising diagrams of human biological processes. Roger and his mate were asked to leave their trio to join another band, which had four members already. Roger met the lead singer and guitarist, and joined with his friend to create a sextet. Roger didn't mention he could sing. Never came up as a question, really, he was there to play drums. Besides, "Drummer gets all the girls anyway," Roger waggled his eyebrows and flicked his tongue out at the rest of the band cheekily, eliciting a chorus of groans and caustic remarks shouting him down. Though no one could deny Roger's magnetism. Girls flocked to him, and he them.

Playing in school events, for friends and private parties around town, Roger knew that he loved doing this, playing music for people. Firstly it got him out and about, but that was only a piece of the puzzle. Part of the equation. Everything about it felt freeing and was loads of fun. Even after all his bandmates went their separate ways on to work or Uni after secondary was over, Roger knew that playing music was and needed to remain a part of his life.

He felt it in his bones.

***

First year of University--Roger had chosen Imperial College for its biology and dentistry programs--put the focus on classes. Prerequisites to get into the biology program, and once he got in start of second year, Bio itself.

Roger looks into the school of dentistry, but keeps his drumkit in his student flat, practising every evening, learning how to muffle the cymbal crashes so as not to incur the wrath of his neighbors in the science building. Last thing he needs is an angry chemist blowing up his drums.

Fall semester of '68 is when he sees the advert up in the Student Union: 'Drummer wanted for a student band. Must have prior experience and musical aspirations. If interested, contact T. Staffell or B. May' and then a pair of phone numbers.

Roger takes but a second to read over the ad before he scrabbles in his satchel for paper and pen to jot down the names and numbers. Pen clenched between his teeth, lacking paper, Roger contemplates before ripping down the flyer and stuffing it haphazardly into the back pocket of his trousers.

He is incredibly up for this.

Roger gets in touch with Staffell, first name of Tim, next morning before his Anatomy lab. Tim is a boisterous, friendly-sounding bloke, both excited and willing to accommodate for Roger having, and wanting, to use his own personal drum set for his audition. "'Course you'll need your sound," he speaks agreeably over the phone once Roger explains the situation to him. "Brimi will definitely understand that. He's our guitarist--persnickety and perfectionistic as all get-out about his sound and playing, but that's why we love him." Fond exasperation in his tone turns to straight-up business: "So want us to come to your place round four, then? I'll be driving from Ealing. Go to art school," Tim adds by way of explanation. "But Bri is at Imperial too, and he's never late so he'll definitely arrive first. Feel free to invite him in, or just let him wait for me."

"Get him used to the waiting parts of music life, eh?" Roger asks. "What's he studying then?"

"Astronomy."

"Ah, then he should be used to waiting and not doing anything. Won't be any stars out."

Tim guffaws. "Right, right. I'll tell him; certain he'll find something to do til I get there. We'll see you soon, Roger. Cheers."

"Cheers," Roger responds before they both hang up. He's got class and then a bit of time to ready himself for his audition. How fast Tim suggested a time lets Roger know this band is truly serious, despite its name being Smile. Smile. Bit ironic, that name; it's oddly apropos of a dental student to try out for such a group. Hopefully that fact will bring him luck. Roger adjusts his drumkit before gathering up his books and notes for class.

Hopefully.

Chapter Text

This so-called Smile band seems to be on the ball. Roger greatly admires that.

Of course, there is such a thing as being a little TOO on the ball. Roger played a bit of football as a child; rugby too. Rugby was fantastic because everyone was in the scrum and out for blood, hitting hard. Football was a bit different--if some arsehole got too close too fast and started throwing knees or elbows at you, playing dirty, you decked him. Especially if he was on the ball. No place for that sort of shite, yet it was all-too-possible to be blindsided.

Which is a bit how Roger feels when his audition occurs.

He is rushing headlong back to his flat after class, head low as he clutches books and notes against his chest, hair flying in the stiff breeze that has just come up, damned English autumns--papers start to fly and Roger swears explosively. Head still bowed, he runs directly into someone tall and lanky, bony. Long hands automatically catch Roger by the shoulders to keep him upright, and the blond man looks up into a pair of hazel eyes set in a thin face that's surrounded by a mass of midnight curls. "Easy," a sweet tenor voice says to him.

"Cheers," Roger grunts as he steps back, wondering if the tall bloke expects an apology from Roger for running into him. If so, hell no-- if anything, this git ought to say that he is sorry for taking up the bloody sidewalk! "...what in the hell were you standing in the centre of the boulevard for?!" He demands.

Having stepped back now that Roger is once again standing fully upright, appearing irascible, bright blue eyes flashing and soft cheeks going red, the tall man flushes a bit and his eyes lower in apparent shame. "I'm sorry, I get lost in my head sometimes, and of course I ended up in the way." His shoulders droop as he steps to one side.

Roger's eyes widen and his irritation dissipates. Christ, the bloke feels awful over a mild inconvenience because of him "Wait-- ah, it's alright, I ought to've been watching where I was going." Tucking papers between the pages of his textbook, Roger frees a hand as a peace offering and introduction. "Name's Roger," he speaks briskly. "What're you doing out in middle of the avenue anyway?"

Taking the offered hand and shaking it, a trifle hesitant, nevertheless the tall fellow relaxes a bit. "Brian," he returns. "I'm Brian. I'm erm, waiting to visit someone in this building."

"Yeah?" Roger cocks a brow. "You been standing out here all alone for that?"

Brian nods. "Yes, but it's alright, I've got my things over here--" he indicates what appears to be parcels behind the low concrete wall alongside the entrance to the flats.

"Oh, so you can keep your stuff out of the walking path but not yourself?" Roger cracks with a smile to let Brian know he is only messing.

Brian actually rolls his eyes "Yeah, apparently it was necessary that I run into you."

Roger stares and then throws back his head with a shout of laughter. Several students turn to stare at the pair. "Right, c'mon then," the blond beckons. "Since ya ran into me, it's only fair I sit out here. I've got no bloody place to be; supposed to meet someone too." He tosses his books down on the concrete wall and plops beside them with a groan, roughing up his hair. He looks up at Brian expectantly, and the other shuffles, looming awkwardly. Roger sighs. "Mate, I've been in a biology lab for four ruddy hours staring at a fetal pig carcass. I could do with a conversation that doesn't start with 'So once you label the swine's gastrointestinal tract--'" Brian's eyes bulge a bit. "Trust me, you'd be doing me a favour."

Brian sighs, a slight crease forming between his brows, but he bends his long legs to sit down after looking into Roger's guileless eyes, peering past the man's irascible beginning to spy someone who seems worth getting to know. Despite the deceased fetal pig. "So," he rests elbows upon knees, lacing his fingers together. "... You're in a biology lab, carrying five textbooks, and live in the science dormitory. Guessing you aren't a physics major."

Roger snorts. "No, I'm a bloody astronomer-- searching the skies for alien life forms because there's SOMETHING else out there, I just know it!" Something dims in Brian's eyes, he blinks, and Roger continues "... I'm here for medicine. Dentistry, if we're being specific. What about you?"

Leveling a hard stare at the shorter man, "Astronomy," Brian returns. "Astrophysics, actually, with a focus on interplanetary dust." He shifts his shoulders. "My work isn't nearly so bombastic or exciting as searching out aliens, but I make do."

Roger's hooded eyes widen. Well done on that stupid joke, lad. Shit. "Well I'm sure looking for dust between planets is about like finding cavities in teeth," he tosses off in haste. "'Cept with cavities ya can always pull the teeth out. As a last resort, of course." Roger flaps an expansive hand. "I dunno about your dust."

Brian almost has to laugh at the analogy, though he understands what Roger is doing with it. Attempting to apologise. Shifting to face him, Brian pushes back a few of his own unruly curls, coughing. "I can... tell you a bit about it, if you like."

Roger shrugs. Honestly he'll listen to anything that isn't about bodily processes right about now. And there is something soothing about this man's voice, it's light and gentle. "Sure, go on."

***

That is how he winds up listening to what is basically a verbal dissertation on the cosmos. Brian is incredibly passionate about all this, and Rog has to nod along to most of it because he doesn't understand what the man is on about. He has to admit to himself that it's nice to hear so much passion, though. He doesn't feel nearly so strongly about space, doesn't know much about it at all. Can't name constellations or anything, but he likes watching how animated and no longer bashful Brian appears when talking about it. And Roger must admit, even the shite he doesn't understand sounds interesting when Brian talks about it.

Bashfulness comes back after Brian winds down, glancing at Roger who is nodding at him, light eyes and fair hair gleaming in the sunlight. His hair looks so sleek and soft, almost glowing in places of lighter blond. Nothing like Brian's own abysmal midnight tangle, and Brian automatically reaches out after he ceases speaking as the wind had come up and brushed a bit of hair across Roger's face. He flinches, jerking his fingers back when Roger cocks an eyebrow and catches him in the act.

Roger lifts his brows and says "Something catch your eye?" Cheekily.

Brian flushes and swallows. "I'm sorry," he starts to say. "I shouldn't--"

"What, look?" Roger laughs. "Mate, I am so used to being a distraction, you have no idea. Or maybe you do with those sky-high legs of yours." Brian's blush becomes one of pleased embarrassment now.

"It's just...your hair," he murmurs, lowering his eyes, opening and closing his long hands awkwardly. "It looks so soft." He is impressed by hair that seems so easy to style, so elegant. Curls are an incredibly different story.

Roger grins. "Y'wanna cop a feel, then?" He leans over and starts laughing at the shocked, nearly scandalised expression on Brian's face as the taller man jerks backward. "I'm not gonna BITE you, Brian, you've got permission to touch my hair." The guy seems so bashful, so hesitant; Roger wants to put him at ease, the way he'd been when speaking of astronomy. He holds very still as Brian swallows again, holding his gaze as he extends trembling fingers and then rests the weight of his hand to Roger's head, automatically curving his hand down to not only touch the tresses but stroke them. And oh, they are so soft.

Roger closes his eyes for a moment, the gentle hesitant pressure of Brian's grip feels lovely. He opens his eyes as the other takes his hand away and feels a clench inside him, a fleeting feeling, there and gone--he wishes Brian had held on a bit longer. But he flashes a smile at the taller man and says cheekily "So, does this mean I get to touch YOUR hair now?"

Brian stares down at him and Roger's stomach twists. He wonders if he ought to lay off a bit, he'd only just met this man, for cripes sake-- but then Brian smiles and leans his head forward, black curls falling to frame his face. "I'll see if I can get myself down to your level," he says, and Roger gasps.

"Oho, aren't you a cheeky bastard!" He bares his teeth and as Brian lowers his head, sticks both hands into the fuzzy curls and playfully roughs them up.

Brian smiles, skin crinkling at the outer corners of his hazel eyes, their depths brightening as his mouth opens and long teeth catch on the flesh of his bottom lip in a smile. It transforms his face from a solemn, bashful yet cheeky stranger into someone Roger nearly aches to know. He straightens up and carefully pats down his hair, smoothing the curls as best he can. Seemingly bashful that Roger had touched him; embarrassed, even. Ashamed at his own lack of attractiveness in comparison.

It's a few moments later when a thin man with shoulder-length straight brown hair jogs up to them. "Ah, you're already here, of course; as I was sure you would be." He speaks to Brian as the tall man rises and then looks at Roger. "Tim Staffell," The newcomer introduces himself.

"Roger. Taylor. I'm the drummer, that, er." he blunders out, blinking in confusion before shaking Staffell by the hand and whipping his head to stare at Brian. "Hang on, who's he then?"

"Our guitarist," Tim smiles, clapping the tall man on the shoulder. "Brian May." Brian inclines his head to Roger with another smile.

Roger's eyes bulge as he stares at both of them. All he can think to say is, "Then who the fuck is Brimi?!"

Chapter Text

Roger leads the two men into the dormitory and up to his flat, noting that Brian hauls up an A30 vox amplifier and a guitar case--those were the parcels he'd indicated behind the low concrete wall.

Roger feels a bit duped, though Brian hadn't seemed to know who he was either, which is gratifying, at least a bit. Tim seems to find all of this hilarious, explaining Brimi is a long-standing nickname; he and Staffell go WAAAY back. To a band before Smile, even. Why Tim hadn't referred first to the guitarist as Brian, Roger has no clue.

Soon as they enter his flat, Roger invites the band to set up and tosses his textbooks and notes on his table before going right to his drumkit and crouching to adjust it. Tilting the bass drum, cinching the bolts holding his cymbals, testing the pedals. Pops up, hair flying as he scoops up and flips his sticks. Flicking his tongue out and winking, Roger slings one leg over his stool and starts a rapid drumbeat.

Tim lets out a laugh of appreciation as well as surprise and shares a glance with Brian, who shoots him a nod and a slight smile as he takes as much care with his amp and guitar--a shiny red one that looks a bit different from Strats and Gibsons--as the blond had taken with his drums.

Brian brings himself in, layering a riff over Roger's swift beat, impressed at his initiative. Roger rattles the cymbals and then strikes down, a clash that he muffles with a sharply-lowered elbow and a quiet vocalised squawk. Tim comes in to sing, crooning a slow song about knowing what he's doing, and instantaneously Roger slows his drums down, matching the singer's rhythm as Brian smoothly works his riff in time. They try several more tunes, Bri and Tim in step and Roger working right with. He speeds up at several points, but corrects himself; and in one instance the increased speed was actually helpful to the song, bequeathing upon it a jaunty quality.

After several more moments, and songs, Brian's fingers skate off his strings and Tim ceases singing. They look back at Roger, whose chest is heaving, sweat shining on his skin. He'd put all of himself into the performance, and his eyes are alight, glittering. He looks from one man to the other as they appear to communicate silently. Brian widens his eyes and waves his fingers as he rests one elbow on the top of his guitar. Tim nods sharply and the tall guitarist expels a breath before pivoting to face Roger head-on.

"So, Roger Taylor, you want to join our band?" Roger nods slowly, swallowing as his heart begins to slow down as well.

When Brian says nothing else he spits "Of course I do, I'm ready to work-- if you're gonna tell me I'm in or out, tell me! What's taking so bloody long?"

Tim laughs again, and Brian's teeth catch on his lip in another smile. "I like him."

"Me too."

Extending a hand in turn, the band members shake hands with their new drummer. "Welcome aboard, then. You're a part of Smile." Roger does just that as he pumps their hands enthusiastically. This is going to be fantastic.

***

The band gets together after classes and before; Brian's astronomy labs last hours, but happen at night, and Roger's bio classes are often in the middle of the afternoon, as are Tim's art sessions at Ealing. So they rehearse in the mornings and through suppertime. Tim goes out to eat, or brings a friend or two to rehearsal --to boost morale, he says, and to have a good time. Both blokes he brings the most often are also musicians, and can offer constructive criticism as well as support. Brian isn't the biggest fan of the criticism, and is shy about the support, but Roger soaks it all up. He curses at criticism, as often he is the first to get irked at himself.

Roger and Brian talk more about their respective classes before rehearsals; as despite the fact that Smile is currently only doing pub gigs for other university students on the weekends, they are as serious about their music as their flyer said. Rog is just as serious. And Tim and his friends aren't often on time, never mind early, which Roger can tell that the guitarist grows irritated with. He doesn't say anything, simply takes longer to tune his guitar on the days Tim arrives especially late.

Brian comes into rehearsal one afternoon with an extra spring in his step. Tim has yet to arrive and Roger, who'd been setting up his kit, lifts a stick in salute to the guitarist for showing up on time. He then sighs "Alright, out with it, what'd you learn about today, Bri?" He can tell the other is itching to talk about whatever it is, and they've got a bit of time since Staffell is coming over from a long art lab at Ealing, likely chatting with everyone on his way out.

Brian puts down his guitar case and waves his arms about, hair bouncing in all his excitement. "Black holes, Rog! It's currently a theoretical concept, but singularities could exist at the centres of galaxies such as ours, not to mention the Universe, possessing the power to draw everything around them inward."

Roger nods, standing up and crossing his arms. Holding his drumsticks loosely in one hand, "We've got that sort of shite on Earth too, you know," he says sagely.

Brian almost whacks his shin on the side of the drum kit. He did not expect a response like that. "What?"

"...The human pupil is also a black hole, Brian. It's literally black, because it's a hole in the centre of your eye. And it gets bigger and smaller based on light, when the muscles around it contract."

Brian stares, blinking rapidly. All he can think to say is "... that's --honestly terrifying, Roger."

"Alright, well, what about YOUR black holes then?" Roger scoffs.

"What about them?"

Roger flaps one arm around in exasperated confusion. "Why, how are they theoretically pulling everything in?"

"Oh! It's because their gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light escapes."

"See!"

"See what?"

"That's scary as shit! We're just minding our own business, all the while getting potentially dragged into this big black THING that's got such strong suction not even light comes back out!"

Brian stares, and then realisation crosses his face as he sees the shocked horror in Roger's eyes at the thought of the inexorable gravitational drag potential of black holes. "...Huh. I suppose it is. I just find it fascinating."

Roger snorts, rolling his eyes in fondness. "Of course you do."

***

As the band goes round to various pubs and plays at student functions, Brian notices more and more how different he is. How he stands out: he's the giant guitarist with flyaway hair.

Brian remembers his fafher telling him to be respectable, he's got to keep short hair. His mother always tried to help him tame his curls. Brian feels slightly ill at the thought of cutting his hair, losing the comforting weight on his shoulders, the warmth round his neck and ears. Can't do anything about his gangly limbs either. But he can do something about the curls. So he straightens his hair. To blend in, be a part of the band--Tim and Roger both have straight hair, it's good to possess some uniformity; his father would appreciate that, at least. He's got to look right.

So Brian has it done one afternoon; doesn't tell the others, goes in to a salon alone.

Tim shrugs and smiles at the change; he knows how Brian is, and figures this is just another manifestation of his perfectionism. Roger, however, is another story. He almost has a coronary. “What the fuck happened to you?!” he shouts as he arrives at their performance area to set up before a gig. Brian blinks, startled at the vehemence of this bright man, now running at him and grasping a strand of his hair. "What the bloody hell did you do to your hair?"

"I... straightened it," Brian stammers, eyes wide. "D'you not like it?"

Roger stares at him. "I dunno what was wrong with your hair before, Brian." He relinquishes the strand and studies the fluffy blackness as it hangs partially obscuring the other's face. "...But now you look like a fucking feather duster."

Brian flinches, hurt. He hadn't expected that. Sure, Roger is loud and cheeky and speaks his mind, but Brian feels a sick curl of envy in his stomach as he looks into the shorter man's big blue eyes. Roger is gorgeous. He's probably never felt insecure about a single aspect of his looks in his entire life, and here he is telling Brian--who is already so unattractive in comparison, come on; legs going everywhere, nose too large, eyes sunken under his forehead, and the hair. Rowdy and unmanageable and a bloody mess, it frizzes up, it won't stay flat, so he had straightened it. He wants to look at least passable, if not good. --And here Roger is, essentially telling Brian he hadn't even managed that.

"Of course, I'll never look as good as you, so why even make the attempt, eh?" he utters, turning and hauling his guitar out of her case, ducking his head, straightened hair flopping into his eyes. Brian hunches with shoulders high and stiff as he begins to tune his instrument with those long deft hands. Roger hates that. He hates when the other closes himself off, and he hates even more that Brian doesn't think he's bloody good enough or attractive enough or anything. He hadn't meant to hurt Bri's feelings.

"What the fuck, Brian, come on," the blond reaches out and touches the taller man's tense shoulder, turning him back to face Rog. Brian ducks his head, not looking at him. Roger's stomach twists. He steps closer and throws caution to the winds, carding his hands through the straightened tresses of the guitarist. Brian jerks in surprise, recalling the first time Roger touched his hair. "Bri, your curls are perfect for a rocker, alright--" So why in hell would you get RID of them? He wants to ask, but he knows. Clearly Brian feels insecure. Damn him. Pushing his fingers through the thick, heavy hanks, Roger watches Brian's eyes automatically close as the drummer reaches his scalp.

With a strong grip on his bandmate's head, Roger swallows. "You've got beautiful hair." His voice cracks. "It's warm and soft and so bloody thick, and those curls…" licking his lips and lifting his eyes to Brian's as the hazel orbs open again, Roger breathes, continuing "They're tight and full and they hang perfectly, mate. I dunno why you think they aren't great; Hell, Robert fucking Plant would kill for hair like yours." Brian blinks, shakes his head. No, that can't be; the lead singer of Led Zeppelin has looser curly locks, much more manageable. Besides-- Brian's thoughts are interrupted as swallowing hard, Roger adds softly "And so would I. You haven't got to change to impress anyone. Brian, you--" fingers catching on the other's hair with a tug that makes the guitarist wince as Roger relinquishes his hold and mutters, high voice nigh inaudible now, not only referring to Brian's hair: "I dunno how the fuck you can't see just how impressive, how bloody wonderful you are."

With that the drummer shoves away to ready his kit, leaving Brian with arms awkwardly outstretched, as he had wanted to give Roger a hug or press his hand, something. To say thank you, even as he cannot believe that Roger, beautiful fine-boned soft haired Roger Taylor likes HIS look.

How about that.

Chapter Text

Roger is always having parties in his room in the science dormitory. Or going to other rooms, or bars and clubs to party. He's in it for the lights and the fun, to engage in the full university experience--and it's a good way to blow off steam after hours and hours of biology labs; plus, he enjoys being around people. Particularly women.

Staffell knows some people who enjoy a good party, and who can rustle up one; case in point, his friend Freddie, a fellow art student at Ealing, in design classes with Tim. He's into music as well, and is one of the two mates brought along to band rehearsals sometimes. So Roger knows who he is; an avid follower of the band, who brings Tim and whoever else he can find to any of Roger's get-togethers.

This time he officially introduces himself with a wave and a "quite the ensemble you've got there, darling," as he's brought up to the blond. He reaches out and tugs at Roger's clothes. "I would add a bit to this, myself. Where'd you get it?"

"Kensington," Rog said of his new floral jacket. He grins in satisfaction as this other man's deep brown eyes widen. "Bloody steal too. When I'm good, I'm good." Offering his hand and an enormous, teeth-flashing smile, the drummer introduces himself. "I'm Roger. I'm, ah--"

"You're the drummer from Tim's band, the one who sings so high and sweet, and makes all of those lovely adverts!" The other enthuses, eyes and face lighting up even more. "I know; you blow smoke about criticism too." Literally, for Roger has begun to go everywhere in connection to music with a cigarette in his mouth. Part of the rockstar experience, he believes.

Freddie's lips curve up now in a smile, their fullness lifting first time enough for Roger to get a glimpse of teeth, and his dentist's eye catches note they are unique, unusual. And this bloke is obviously self-conscious about them. But his smile is beautiful. "I'm absolutely enamored to finally, officially meet you. Tim has said--"

"--all sorts of awful things," Staffell interjects with a laugh. "Roger, this is Freddie Bulsara. Sits with me in art, loves music, as you've prob'ly figured since he comes so often to our gigs. But he's also a singer, if you can believe it!" Raising his eyebrows, Tim dramatically mimes the sight of bucked teeth, jerking his thumb sideways at the man. A close friend, Roger would guess, though by the way Freddie's face falls as he catches sight of Tim's antics, they obviously aren't close enough for Tim to know he ought not tease like that. Tim does that with Brian as well, though sometimes Roger catches a look, a tensing, a wince from Brian and has the thought maybe Staffell ought not tease that way, but he does anyhow.

So Roger continues to smile and presses Freddie's hand. "Well all I've heard about you is that you're the life of parties," he tells the man. Freddie's eyes light up again as the drummer continues "Honest opinion. What d'you think of this one?" He spins, Freddie going with him, beaming.

"Honestly, darling?" Freddie's eyes twinkle. "Well you'd have more action from horny flies on a dead dog. We need lights, and music! And oh, all the good things. Best things." He pats Roger's shoulder. "I'll get some; just you wait and see."

***

Brian arrives at the party after class, as Roger had told him he ought to come; and when he arrives he finds him, Freddie and Roger both, sprawled across Roger's couch which is rocking with loud music. The drummer's eyes are wide as saucers, pupils dilated, enormous, dark. Brian weaves his way between people and over to him, having heard Rog's bright peals of laughter from across the room, but the sound of them was a stranger, more slurred-sounding one than usual. Too bright. Something was certainly off, and now he knows what. A strong smell wafts from the air around Roger, almost smokelike, but not nicotine. A...mustier smell. Like a skunk, almost. Not exactly pleasant.

Brian nods to Roger's companion. "Hullo Fred." He knows Freddie already, has talked with him extensively before, both with Tim and without. Even contemplates introducing him to a friend, a girl he's dated a bit. Mary Austin. Brian was pretty sure Freddie would like her. But not positive; he can tell Freddie clearly likes Roger, though--enough to get him all giggly and up, and for Brian to have to worry about getting him back down. "--Has it occurred to you this man might not have ever done anything like this before?" Brian crouches to study Roger worriedly, lifting a hand to his cheek and watching his eyes. Roger beams and giggles, tipping forward and wrapping both arms around Brian.

"Heeeey Bri. Brian, Brian Brian Brian May! maaaaaay you come 'n get me, huh? Are you gonna talk about space?" Roger beams and tosses his head back, his body going with. Brian reaches out and grabs onto him. "Oi, everyone! My good friend Brimi' gonna be talking about space…spaces, empty spaces. What are we living for?" Bleary blue eyes rove round the room and then land back on Brian. "What d'you think, Bri? Mmm?"

Brian is almost at a loss. Freddie is beaming beatifically at Roger, who is currently stoned out of his mind. Tim is almost certainly off necking with some girl somewhere, as the party has extended to other rooms along the hall. Roger is about to be either doing that, which could lead to someone taking advantage of him, or getting absolutely piss-drunk, which could very well lead to the same conclusion. And no one here appears concerned about either of those possibilities. Either because they're high too, which is the case with Freddie, because he's way too kind and gentle-hearted to truly not care about Roger. Or, well. They seem already to get on. Brian envies that. Is almost jealous of it.

Of course a person could've gone off, long away like Tim, who well… he's the most easy going bloke Brian has ever met. To a fault, sometimes. Bri is glad Rog and Freddie have planted themselves. It's simpler, really all right, he decides now as Roger grunts and flops forward, hair falling into his eyes. Brian is here, he can help. Is already doing so, as Roger would fall if Brian hadn't spread one hand across his shorter bandmate's chest and kept him upright. The tall man hauls Roger into his long arms, forcibly leaning the blond against him. "On you get, up you get, Rogie, you're coming with me." He freezes as Roger stands staring at him, heart pounding as he wonders why the other man would stop like that. Is he going to pass out?

But all Rog does is whisper into Brian's ear, arms wrapping around him, breath tickling the other's skin as he fights to be heard over the music with his high sweet voice: "Rogie, eh?" Brian blushes scarlet. He'd given Roger a nickname just then without even realising it. Wants to apologise instantly. He shouldn't have presumed-- Yet in a strangely sober tone of voice, Roger says "I like it. I'll be your Rogie." His voice shakes with the emotional certainty, and then his legs buckle as he clutches at Brian for support. "Oh, shit, Bri--"

"I've got you," Brian catches him, hauls Roger upright again, hand cinched around his waist now. "Let me get you someplace to sit. You're gonna be alright." Something crumples in Roger's face when Brian says that. Something breaks behind his eyes, and he whips his head around.

"How d'you know?" His voice is suddenly haunted, cracking. Terrified. Brian has never seen Roger afraid, hadn't even considered the man able to feel fear, he's so bloody strong, way more so than Brian; but Roger's heart is beating fast and he's gasping for air. "How can you say that, when he's--he's after Mum and Clare, oh god!" Roger whimpers, turns, clutches at Brian. "Don't let him find me, please don't let him find me here…,"

Let who find his friend? Brian doesn't know. "Who, Roger?" He inquires gently. Wonders if Roger's thinking of some monster, or perhaps a professor who'd like his head on a plate. Something his muzzy drug-affected mind has conjured.

So he is utterly astounded and horrified to hear Roger whisper "...my father…, no, Da! Don't!" His voice is choked. "Don't hurt her!" His breaths are quickening, coming in gasps and gulps and aborted high shrieks. "Me, hit me!"

Oh god, oh hell. Brian has to get Roger somewhere quiet for certain now--he is hyperventilating, shouting. Freddie's eyes are bleary still, but he is coherent enough to find a paper bag for Brian, lacking booze within, and Bri hands it to Roger, gets him to squeeze the opening and put it over his mouth and nose. "Deep breaths, Roger," the guitarist soothes, hand cupped round the nape of Roger's neck, rubbing circles on his skin under his hair. Roger gulps and gasps and does manage to take deep breaths eventually. His heart begins to slow. So does Brian's. "Good lad," he whispers fervently once Rog starts breathing normally again.

The drummer's paranoia too has subsided, though he's shivering and has tears in his eyes. Feels weepy, and Brian putting a warm arm round his shoulder, Freddie kissing his cheek, and even Tim shouting out "Oi! Is all the drink gone? Ya taking Roger out on a stretcher, Brian??" makes him feel so much gratitude, so much love. He sobs once aloud, and Brian takes him into the conjoined bathroom, shuts and locks the door.

"Can't do that," Roger said.

"Can't do what?" Brian asks sharply as he helps the blond slide down the wall to sit.

"--lock th' door like that. People 're gonna be coming in, and yelling, and banging on 't."

"Well I don't give a fuck," Brian snaps, roughing up and then flattening his curls, dropping with a thump to sit beside the blond man. "They can wait, yell and bang all they want. I need time with my friend to figure out if he's doing alright. ARE you doing alright, Rog?" Brian asks gently now, hazel eyes trained on his mate's still bleary big blue ones.

Roger swallows. "I--" he presses his forehead to his knees, grasping handfuls of his own thick hair. God, Bri is so smart. And sweet, decent. Such a good mate, a good person, and Rog has just blurted out things he'd sworn he'd never say to anyone, never admit or speak of. But he's done it to Brian here and now, because Bri was the only one listening out there, the one to understand. "I can't, what he did to me, to Clare, to our mother… god, Bri, I never should've said anything, I didn't mean t' --" he stops for a moment, high voice a croak.

Brian gets a chill. A truly horrible chill. He feels sick. That Roger's first instinct is to say he shouldn't have spoken, to be ashamed-- "No, it's alright. What you were saying-- Roger, it was your father? Did he--did he ...abuse you?"

Roger snorts. "There, that's a loaded word. He came after me, which helped--was good for both'a them. Clare an' Mum." He starts rocking a little, back and forth, forward, back. Eyes shut tight, voice muffled. Tears squeezing out from the cracks of his eyelids. "I got 'im to come after me."

Brian gasps, his own eyes wet, his heart pounding. "Oh, god, Roger--" Putting a hand on Roger's shoulder, Brian doesn't hesitate to pull him into an embrace. At the instant of his touch, Brian feels how strongly this has affected his friend. How it's still affecting him to this very day. "I'm so sorry," he whispers, voice trembling. "You're so brave to have dealt with that. Dear, strong…," he holds his friend tightly, unable to articulate anything more in all of his feelings. Brian simply keeps hanging on.

Hearing what his friend DOES say, Roger falls apart, a low keening wail escaping his throat. He buries his head in his tall friend's chest, hearing Brian's heartbeat and feeling him huddling close, stroking Roger's hair with those magic fingers. Murmuring endearments and keeping him safe. Profoundly, perfectly safe. It's at this point, really, that Roger realises with a shock of clarity he and Brian are truly friends now. And hopefully far, far into the future they shall remain so.

Chapter Text

The morning after that particular party has Roger waking up with cotton mouth and his stomach feeling abysmally empty, as if its very sides are stuck together. He rolls over with a groan and opens bleary eyes to see...well, he expects to see cups and cigarette butts and other party paraphernalia and refuse strewn about, as well as the potentiality of people passed out. He knows he was pretty worse for wear by the end, though doesn't recall precisely what was done or said; only remembers chatting with Freddie, and then smoking, and then Brian….

Hearing a small sound from the connecting kitchenette Roger lifts his head, scrubbing a hand across his tangled hair and down his face. Here comes Brian, hair in typical black curls again, thank goodness--Roger doesn't think he could handle the sight of feather-duster Brian in his current state. As it is, Bri shuffles carefully over to him in socks, a steaming mug in one hand and a plate of toast in the other. "Morning, Roger. Made you tea," he says quietly. "And toast. Figure those would be the easiest on your stomach, as opposed to those beans you've also got in your cupboard." He kneels and places the plate on the low table in front of the couch Roger had been sleeping on.

Roger groans and sits up, a blanket falling off his shoulders, and he realises it had been tucked around him whilst reaching for the mug. "Morning, Brian," he mumbles. "...Didja stay here ...all night with me?" The blond takes a sip of tea and closes his eyes. "Ahhh, that's bloody good stuff. Cheers."

Still on his knees beside the sofa, Brian shuffles, a trifle uncomfortable. But his voice is serious as he responds with a small smile over the tea "Glad you like it and yes, I did. Cleaned up a bit, and. Well I wanted to be around in case… just in case you needed me." Biting his lip, Brian lifts his eyes, as he had lowered them just a little. "D'you remember anything that happened last night? Erm, anything you said?"

Something in Brian's tone gives Roger pause. His blue eyes flicker back and forth as he strives mightily to remember anything… "Freddie and I said we oughta start a clothing stall," he recalls aloud. "An' we both like Hendrix-- you should talk to Fred about him, Bri. Got lotsa interesting points on music. And then we ...we smoked a joint. You showed up, and." Roger shivers as he recalls feeling afraid, though he doesn't know of what. Whom. Or rather, he has his suspicions but god how he hopes they're wrong. Eyes bulging, begging silently as he looks at Brian, Roger gulps. "Please tell me it wasn't anything--" awful, embarrassing. Roger isn't the sort of man to care about those concepts typically, but he has the sneaking suspicion he broke his own rule during this party, admitted the single aspect of his life that qualifies as both things. "Oh, god, Brian…,"

Roger puts his teacup down, or rather, his friend takes it from him before squeezing his hands. "It's alright, Rogie," Brian soothes. "Really. I just want to know if-- whether or not you're okay."

Roger's lips tremble and his head falls into Brian's shoulder as he reaches out and snatches at the other man, pulling him into a hug. Brian startles a bit, but his arms automatically rise and wrap around the drummer's back securely. Roger presses his stocky warm body against the other man's lean cool one and breathes. Actually, he is. "I--yeah," he croaks to Brian whilst hanging on. Because of you. "I'm okay." The blond withdraws a bit and smiles brightly at his friend. "Thanks, mate."

"Course," Brian nods back, hazel eyes crinkling in relief before his tone becomes business-like: "Now are you gonna finish your tea and eat your toast or not?"

Roger rolls his eyes and sighs. Typical Brian. "Yes Bri, I will, alright?"

Brian claps Roger on the shoulder as he stands. "Good."

***

Things shift for them after that. For one thing, Roger talks to Brian more about how he's feeling, mostly because Brian asks him and he figures hell, he already blurted out the most horrific aspects of his life, may as well talk a bit more. Plus Bri seems honestly to want to know. To help, even. Like he thinks listening will do something for Roger.

Which it does, actually. Rog has always needed to be strong, to hold things in, to fight off feelings. And, well, he gets into physical fights to let people know he isn't going to get pushed around. Isn't going to let people talk shite. Or if they do, they'll hear about it immediately after. But he finds listening, allowing someone to listen, letting them in--it does help. Immensely. He is grateful to Brian for that.

Brian listens and Freddie speaks. He'd come to their next gig after that get-together and looked at Roger with those big deep brown eyes of his.

"Roger, dear," he begins.

Roger beams and grabs Freddie in an exuberant embrace. "Freddie, mate, I've been thinking about that fashion stall you were talking about. I want to do it."

Freddie's eyes brighten and he gasps. "Truly?"

"Yeah, I could use some extra cash, and I'm sure you can too, Mister Graphics Student." Freddie laughs, and the two instantly put their heads together, giggling and chattering like schoolgirls. Tim smiles, and Brian smiles, and then the guitarist sighs.

"Let's go then, we've got work to do, yeah?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Roger rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue cheekily as he squeezes Freddie's hand and comes over to his drum set, settling himself behind, ready and willing to work.

Chapter Text

"We needed a Mitchell, Moon, Baker drummer for the band and thank goodness we found you," Brian tells Roger during a rehearsal.

"Well, that's what BRIMI here said that we needed, and I went along," Tim cracks. "He can be persuasive when he wants to be." Brian's eyes narrow a bit as he opens his guitar case and takes his Red Special out, placing her beside the pad of paper he's currently writing ideas on and bending over it.

"I'm sure," Roger snorts, watching Brian's now-hunched back fondly as he bends, pushing back unruly curls with long fingers, scribbling something down.

Tim leans over to whisper to the drummer. "Persnickety, more like-- I just do as he says."

Roger's brows rise. "Not what you wanna do? That's a bit hinky, innit? Have you ever told him?"

"Well," Tim shrugs and shoots the stocky blond a smile. "Now I've got you round to disagree with him, I c'n relax."

"Ohh," Roger jerks his chin in a sharp nod. "Rest easy, like. Wow, that's real big 'a ya, Tim. Noble." He has never spoken to the man in more sardonic fashion, but Tim only smiles.

"Cheers," Staffell says with a wink and Roger rolls his eyes.

They've been doing pubs and small functions for a while now, and all three of them are itching for something more. It is very apparent to Roger that he and Brian want to play faster stuff, more of the new rock 'n roll sound, while Tim still writes go-with-the-flow, easy compositions. Which is fine, just... well. Brian clearly has something to say as he stands up straight and calls "Right. Band meeting." Roger obediently comes close, twirling one of his drumsticks. Their band meetings typically turn into jam sessions or hashings out of ideas, but this time Brian says "Just added a bit to 'Doing All Right' for you, Rog. Think we need a drum solo to speed it up a bit. Or a lot. Right now there's too much Dylan, not enough Hendrix."

Roger nods. He can't help brightening at this, but Tim is not so impressed. "Are you sure you can handle more Hendrix, mate?" the singer asks with an edge to his voice. "This is my song too, you know. And far as I'm concerned, 'Brimi' works for idolisation, not imitation."

Brian looks up from beneath his curly fringe, eyes flickering, hands stilling, face colouring. Ouch. "Yes, I know it's yours, Tim," he speaks softly, shifting his shoulders and ducking his head before continuing "We really ought to try taking it up a bit, though. This isn't schmaltz, it's rock 'n roll."

Roger nods, agreeing with Brian for once. He agrees on multiple things here, actually--increasing the tempo, for one. Putting pep in the song's step, so to speak. But Tim isn't up for it, as is clear when his usually easygoing expression hardens and he raps out "You mean that this isn't YOUR type of rock 'n roll, Brimi. But rock itself was birthed from the blues. This song shows that."

"Oh come off it, this isn't blues, Tim. The way you sing it gets so muddy it's fucking brown!"

Roger's hooded eyes widen and he whistles as an echo booms hollowly after Brian's frustrated shout. Can hardly stop a burst of surprised laughter from exiting his lips. Hearing something that he himself would say as a matter of course come from Brian's lips is impressive and mad. The drummer's eyes dance with his suppressed mirthfulness until he sees Staffell's stance: jaw tight, shoulders tense. Not certain what the singer plans to do or say, Roger shifts between him and Brian, hands out towards each of their chests as he attempts to smooth things over. "Oi Brian, I think you may've gone a wee bit far there, mate."

"Well I think, that last I checked, this wasn't YOUR band, princess," Tim snaps. "You don't make the bloody decisions for all of us! And we're not in the big time anyhow, this is piddly shite--student gigs! Loosen up!"

Roger's breath hisses out at that. For himself he knows how that feels, devaluing their work and place. Tim is angry and that is why, but those words hit Roger hard, hurting him. He can only imagine what they are doing to Brian, whose eyes are shooting sparks. "But we can get to the big time," he shoots back. "If each one of us does our part--"

"Oh yeah? What's that, are Roger and I just supposed to follow you and your lead?!" Easygoing Tim has lost it a bit. His face is red. Brian lifts his chin, a stubborn streak of pride stiffens his spine even as his shoulders hunch and tighten, long fingers clenching under the onslaught.

"I know enough to understand what not to play, Tim," he says. "Rock music is changing. People don't gravitate to the slower sounds as much. They want Robert Plant, Mick Jagger. Not Buddy Holly or Marvin Gaye."

"Buddy Holly's gone, mate," Roger puts in hurriedly. "We don't want to go that way, and Bri's speaking especially of the younger crowd, right Bri?" His long blond hair whips as he's clutched at Brian's shirt, giving him a warning look, asking to back off in a nonverbal fashion.

"Yes," Brian answers gently with a rapid nod, black curls bouncing. It's an attempt to soften, but the damage has been done.

Tim whirls around and stalks off, snarling over his shoulder "Maybe shouldn't play the bloody song at all then! And clearly you don't want me to sing!"

"Oh fuck," Roger mutters as the door slams.

"Wait," Brian begs, hazel eyes softening more, saddening. "Tim--!" But even his long legs cannot catch up in time. "Ah, damn."

"Well that was a load of bollocks, Brian," Roger snaps. "Way to go. We need to work!"

"I know," Brian groans, fingers splayed across the closed door.

"We've got a gig tonight,"

"I know!" The guitarist squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose.

"--And unless you can work some bloody magic or know how to time-travel back about ten minutes, we probably haven't got a sodding lead singer."

"I KNOW, Roger, alright?!" Brian roars. "And it's all my fault!" He is gasping, spinning, eyes now open wide and horrified.

Roger sighs heavily. Bri's going to beat himself up forever about this. Husk growing gentle, he adds "For fuck's sake, Brian, I agreed with you."

Brian is not soothed. "But I said--"

"--You said your piece, perhaps not in the best way, but it's over, so don't be so dramatic, darling," A new voice floats over from the side door of the space. Freddie. He'd gotten in late, but must have arrived in time to hear... Brian's face goes dark red in shame. No one else should hear their band spats, and he shouldn't have lost his temper like that anyway. But Freddie's brown eyes are sparkling sweetly and his lips twitch a little as he touches the tall guitarist's arm and adds "Tim already covered all the necessary dramatics by flying out glowering like anything. He'll cool down," the art student assures after a small sound from Brian. "I promise. We artistes can be temperamental." He shoots a swift smile from Brian to Roger. "...whether it'll happen and he will return in time for your set tonight is another question." Different matter entirely.

Roger shrugs at Brian, scratching at his head. "If I have to, I can sing," he offers. And then as Brian stares at him, the drummer's eyes light up. "Hang on, I've got a better idea. Tim said you were a singer, Freddie, and you know all the songs we do; you've seen our shows enough."

Freddie bows his head in acknowledgement of that. "It's true," he says, lips folding over his teeth.

Brian looks at Roger with eyebrows raised. "Rogie, what are you doing?"

"Well, Tim's stormed off so we need him. Less you want to call and cancel, or better yet, sing lead."

Brian draws himself upright and stares down his shorter friend. Neither of those options appeal to him at all. "No I do not."

"Right, well, it's settled then. And Freddie's a friend so Tim can't get too pissed off about it."

"...I wouldn't be so sure," Brian grumbles, rubbing at his curls and patting them down with nerves. "But-- okay, let's hear you, Freddie."

The lithe sable-haired man smiles, fingers lacing together as he stretches and sings, pure and strong and clear, the lyrics of the song they'd just now been speaking of-- in a slightly faster tempo: "I know what I'm doooooin', gotta feelin' -- I should be doing all riiiight!" He lifts one arm, twirling his wrist and extending fingers. Bright and warm and clear as a bell, Freddie's voice fills the room and the entire space echoes his tone back beautifully.

Roger beams as he and Brian come in automatically on the harmony: "Doin' alright!"

"Yeah!" Roger crows. "Brilliant!"

Brian's worry lines smooth just a bit as he lets out an awed chuckle after Roger's exuberant shriek. "I think this can work for tonight, Rog," he tells the drummer. "And I'll apologise to Tim." Roger nods and pats his taller friend's shoulder.

"Whaddaya say, Freddie? Will you save our arses today?"

Freddie makes a show of considering. "Mmm I suppose," he says. "Though if I was your lead singer full time you'd really see what I can do."

Roger and Brian glance at each other. Noted. "Right, Fred. We owe you," the guitarist speaks fervently.

"You most certainly do, darling." Freddie grins again and Roger cackles as he leans into him before Freddie winks in saucy fashion at Brian. "And I shall certainly collect my due."

Roger flicks his tongue at Bri, who remains serious, eyes flickering towards the door. The drummer sighs. "He's not in the mood. Come on Fred, let's get fixed up for tonight." He nods at the adjoining washroom, tiny in the drafty space, as he links arms with the artist. Freddie's eyes light up.

"Makeup?"

"Sure, why not? I still have that stuff you brought over last week. Might even be able to convince Bri to wear some. Once he stops brooding."

"Lovely," Whispers Freddie, his eyes tracing the guitarist's lean features shadowed beneath that thick hair as he tunes his Red Special and continues glancing at the door. Hoping for Tim's return, probably; and Freddie's chest clenches. If the other man does return tonight, he loses this chance. Feels awful for the thought, the wish for Tim to stay away and pout the whole of tonight so that he may sing with Roger and Brian instead; already their harmonies feel like a kind of magic. Freddie doesn't want to lose it just yet.

Freddie is comforted though as he walks with Roger and Brian lifts his face to smile at him with those limpid, expressive eyes of his showing true thankfulness. Worry too, and sorrow, and Freddie longs to brighten those eyes; remove the buried sorrows from them. On impulse, he reaches out and caresses Brian's cheek. "It will be alright, Brian dear," he murmurs.

"We've just been waitin' for the sun," Roger quips. "And tonight, Fred's it. So lose the brood, Bri, come on!"

Chapter Text

Freddie is brave to do this, to sing with them, Brian reasons. Taking the reins, even for a single night, by singing lead-- it takes a special sort. Tim does that by being easygoing, giving the audience a sound like a friend they're listening to. Brian admires that, for Tim doesn't seem to suffer from nerves much at all. Roger does not either, at least not in the way that Brian does, shrinking in, eyes flickering, lips pressing together as he moves in fits and starts. No, Rog bounces about and swears even more than usual, rolls his neck and shakes out his arms in order to loosen up.

He is doing that right now as Freddie exits the washroom and takes Brian's breath with hm. Bri has always admired Freddie's unique facial features from afar, the way his cheeks curve in and mouth bows out like some sort of sculpture - one created from life, though; not anatomically perfect like a Da Vinci, but physically striking. He reminds Brian of a star cluster, where a pocket of space shifts and the gravitational fields of the bodies in that pocket shift too, into glowing traces of gas and dust, gloriously mysterious patterns that can only be seen with the use of special photography. Whereas Roger is a supernova, bright and glowing and explosive in his power. Both of them look wonderful, particularly at the moment; Fred with his artist's eye had put orange-red eye shadow on Roger's lids, his full cheeks are rouged and lashes look especially full as well. Freddie has a darker colour, purplish blue, on his own lids--and he used what Brian believes is an eye pencil to elongate his lashes and accentuate the outer corners of his eyes with black kohl.

"Your turn, Brian darling," Freddie coos, and Bri automatically shakes his head, demurs. Certain he will not look as striking by half, or at all.

But Roger sighs "Oh come off it, Bri, let Fred use his skills on you. You're the one who goes gaga if we don't look uniform!"

It is Brian's turn to sigh. Roger has him. So he bends, sits upon a table and lifts his eyes to the ceiling as Freddie instructs him to do so. Feels the slight, cool scritch-scratching of bristles on his eyelashes. "Mascara," Freddie explains softly. "You've got the perfect complexion to make it noticeable," he adds. "Lovely."

Brian feels giddy, a warmth bubbles up from his toes to his head, causing his cheeks to flush. Freddie's words are gentle and honest, without a bit of irony or teasing. "Thank you, Fred," the guitarist whispers.

Freddie beams. "It's truly my pleasure, Brian," he says. "And oh, your cheeks are lovely when you blush. Let's get the contours of them, hmm?" He opens and pats rouge along the guitarist's sharp cheekbones with his fingers. "Let's colour those eyelids." Cups the guitarist's face and murmurs "Will you close your sweet eyes for me?"

Brian obliges, flushing again, and he gasps at the feather-light touch of a tiny brush crossing to and fro over his eyelids with delicate strokes. As if a fairy is dancing lightly. Pinpricks of light trickle and trail across the darkness before his eyes, looking like shooting stars spinning and whirling in myriad configurations.

"All through," Freddie announces with a light caress of his face. Brian blinks and tears prick his eyes as he opens them to the sight of Freddie staring sweetly.

Roger leans over and whistles. "Damn, Bri, you look fucking fantastic!" The drummer bursts out.

"All due to Freddie's skill," Brian lowers his head and extends a hand. "He's a true artist."

"--A painting is only as good as the materials one has to work with, darling," Freddie returns. "That, and knowing what to do with them. You have such lovely long features."

"Striking," Roger says. "Like I've told you, rock star. You look like a bloody statue, Bri."

"--Of an aloof, unwavering Rock God," Freddie enthuses as he begins putting the makeup away. "Which is glorious, truly."

Brian flushes dark red, and when Fred's fingers close around the eye shadow packet, the guitarist's fingers twitch. The artist notices and presses the shadow into Brian's hand with a smile. "Plenty more where that came from, so do take it," he murmurs. Brian begins to protest, but Roger distracts him by bringing over a glass.

Brian hardly recognises himself.

His long pale face is accented by light pink rouge, and the bright sea-green that shades his eyelids, the colour that felt so lovely going on, it makes him look again as he blinks, reminds him of some mysterious dragon. His lashes look long and full and feathery, and Brian almost can't stop fluttering them. He keeps on blinking until Roger laughs and gives him a nudge. "Alright, we get it, you look good. Now can we get on to our gig before the news of Tim storming out gets there? I'd really like to actually work tonight." Brian flushes in shame this time and opens his mouth to apologise for being a narcissist for starters, but the drummer grabs his arm. "Shut the fuck up, Brian, you look good. Damn good. We all do, thanks to Freddie!" He grabs onto Freddie's hand with his free one. "This man's a bloody genius." It is Freddie's turn to flush and again Roger laughs. These two are such easy marks for compliments, yet never believe the words. It's sad, really. He hugs Fred around the shoulders and clasps Brian's waist with affection. "Right then," The blond bounces. "Let's get on, it's time to rock and roll!"

***

They get some looks and shouts at first onstage in the pub: "Where's Tim? Who's the Paki?!"

But "We've got a substitute lead today," Brian speaks up, gesturing to Freddie with an open palm, welcoming as best he can. "Good mate of Tim's, and we're happy to have him help us out. This is Freddie Bulsara." Roger whoops as Brian adds "--and you lot already know Roger, biggest member of them all." Closes his eyes and shakes his head at that. Can't believe he'd let Rog talk him into saying it. Roger winks at him. "And oh, I'm Brian. We're Smile. Cheers."

"Greetings to all of you beautiful people out there," Freddie purrs, pulling up his mic stand, lips twisting as he yanks the pole from out of its base. Roger and Brian glance at each other.

"Ready, Freddie?" the blond utters, husky tone uncertain for the first time since asking the other man to sing for them. Yet his concern dissolves as the artist grins.

"Let's do it," and suddenly he is no longer Freddie, sweet shy cheeky graphics student in awe of Judy Garland and Jimi Hendrix--no, now he is bombastic charming Fred, androgynous and elegant. Almost fey-like; their boisterous fairy king. He knows the songs too, and Roger helps him with timing and harmony.

Brian comes in singing as well, but is mostly back playing, in awe of Freddie. He is doing a great deal for them tonight, which makes a twinge stab through Brian's chest at how effusive the applause is (after the initial slurs and snubs) because he loves it. Fred had done so well, yet Brian made this performance possible because of his own irascible ideas, his own stubbornness. Perfectionism, alright, yes. There is that too. It is just that the music world is changing, and Bri knows with every fibre of his being that he wants to be a part of that world. Thus their band needs to stay current, to try out new styles in rock and roll. To stay true to the spirit of rock, which is expanding. No use for slow blues to send you to sleep or disco hits with a bouncy dance beat--no, people want to yell and bang their heads and rock out! Surely Tim can understand that, understand Brian--they have known each other long enough. Right?

Brian sighs, flattening his curls. He bows and waves in response to the applause at the conclusion of the set, and begins packing up his Lady. Hearing a shout of raucous laughter he turns to glance at the place where Roger stands, loosening up the bolt on his cymbals, putting his bass drum into its box. His teeth gleam and his eyes sparkle as he nudges Freddie, who's leaning beside him. So sure and bright Rog is; able not only to accept change but embrace it. To act like it was the plan all along for Freddie to step in when Tim stormed out. And he even understands where Brian is coming from. "Ah, y'know how it goes," he tells people. "Ickle Timmykins'll be back. We just wanted to try Freddie out, and what about him, eh?" With a beaming smile that brightens his entire face and makes his eyes glow, the drummer pulls Freddie to him in an exuberant embrace. "He's top, isn't he?"

Fans he is speaking to agree, a few in particular gazing upon Rog adoringly. Brian masks a snort as he can tell the vehement agreement on their parts is far more for Roger's benefit than Freddie's. Rog winks as he keeps holding on to Fred, whose cheeks have heated up and whose lips tremble atop his teeth in a shy appreciative way. "Ta, Roger darling," he murmurs. And then a trifle stronger, a la that fairy king again: "So happy to have come to your rescue."

Roger chuckles, raises an expressive eyebrow. "Oho, you're saying you're our knight in shining armour, eh?"

Freddie waves offhandedly. "Something like that. I always fancied myself more...royal."

"Right," Rog returns easily. "Fair enough."

"Suppose that makes me the fire-breathing dragon, then," Brian snaps his guitar case shut harder than he means to. All turn to look at him as he pushes a hand roughly through his curls, trying to smile though his tone is heavy. "In all this talk of knights and royals, it's only logical that I'm the dragon." Since I burnt the fucking band up.

Roger's eyes snap to Brian's, narrowing and then softening as he steps towards him. "C'mon, Bri--"

"No," Brian shakes his head. Tries to soften his voice, to smile. "It's fine, Rogie. This dragon has some pillaging and roasting to atone for, anyway." Squeezing the shorter man's shoulder with lengthy fingers, Brian says "I'll see you later, yes? Thank you for everything tonight, Freddie." On impulse, the guitarist leans down and pecks the singer's cheek. His eyes shine as he utters "You were absolutely astounding."

"As were you, Brian," Freddie replies, receiving a soft, thankful, but disbelieving smile as the giant man ducks his head down and carries his guitar with him to the exit.

"Cheers, Fred," he responds as he goes.

Roger looks after his mate with a crease between his brows, lips pressed flat together and eyes sparking. It's the closest he gets to a frown in company. At the expression in Freddie's eyes and the shifting of others around him, the drummer forces another smile and claps his hands, shaking off worry. Bri is gonna be all right, he will talk to his friend later. "Well. Now that things have gotten all dramatic, who's up for some drinking? You're on my tab, Freddie, c'mon."

Chapter Text

Some time later Roger lets himself into the science building student flats, cheeks and body warm from the drinking and carousing he had done. He retains the feeling of Freddie's lips upon his cheek and some female fans' touch, well, other places.

Letting out a contented sigh, the drummer stretches himself as he closes the door to his room and spots a lanky form hunched, sitting in shadow on the settee. He emits a slightly louder sound, almost a laugh. "Well I have returned, and apparently so has the dragon!" Roger extends both arms in grandiose fashion, swaying.

He had a spare key made for Brian to get into his room because Bri's roommates are physicists who stay up until all hours debating gravitational laws and whatnot. Brian may also be up, but he is quiet and does his work alone. Unless he's working up a new guitar riff, in which case he definitely relocates to Roger's room in the sophomore section of the flats because everyone in that vicinity is a little more forgiving of noise, as they're not putting their noses to the grindstones of theses. Yet. Besides, Roger's neighbors are used to hearing sounds of loud swearing and crashing cymbals from his room. As well as other noises. Roger does not host dorm parties for nothing, and though he often goes home with the women with whom he interacts, at times they come home with him.

No one is here but Brian on this night, however, and he doesn't even scoff or roll his eyes at Roger's comments. Turning his face away from the window, the shine of moonlight glows silver-white upon his cheeks, illuminating shining tracks tracing down and outlining their hollowness. Brian blinks and shakes his head, lowering it with shame that Roger has returned in time to see him like this. He'd planned to get himself together on his own and leave with no one the wiser. Bollocks to THAT plan now.

"Oh, Bri," swaying a bit again, the blond man sobers up as he strides swiftly across his floor, going to his knees before his friend, eyes rising to Brian's face as he claps one warm hand upon his mate's knobbly knee. "--what happened? Did Tim tell you to stuff it?"

Brian chokes, swiping at his cheeks with the sides and backs of his hands. Trying to wipe away tears and smile in reassurance that everything's all right. "No, erm. Well he told me I was a stubborn arsehole,"

"...which is true," the drummer interjects.

Now Brian sighs and rolls his bleary eyes. "Right, yes, thank you, Rog." He sniffles and blinks, eyes rising to trail across the shadowed ceiling. "But I--what've I done, what did I do to us? Freddie was-- he was brilliant, wonderful, and now Tim's coming back. I, we..." He croaks, shuddering "--we took something, we got something from Fred today. We USED him, Rogie, for his power and his voice, and it was absolutely amazing, but what kind of people are we to do that to him? To give him something such as that and then take it, practically snatch it away?" Brian is shaking, whimpering now. "What kind of friends?"

"Brian." Roger is blinking, trying to focus. Shit, he isn't sober enough for this. He puts his hand to Brian's neck and curls his fingers round, pulls Bri close as he rubs his mate's knee. Murmurs "Oi, mate, listen. Fred knew what he was doin', alright? He knows what we asked, an' isn't a part of the band, but he did us a solid tonight. An' I agree, Fred's fucking fantastic, Bri. But if Tim's okay, he's our singer, so." Roger rubs Brian's neck and relinquishes his hold. Brian clenches his hands and cries out, falling forward into Roger, who spreads both arms to barely catch him as he wobbles back on his bum. "Whoa, what the fuck, Brian? Now what's wrong?" His warm hands grip Brian's shoulders.

Brian bites his lip and blurts "I'm a horrible friend to both of them, Roger. Because Freddie shouldn't stay, you're right, Tim's our singer, but god Fred's voice is so good and pure and our harmonies are so tight together I wish--I wish he were a part of the band." The lean man's eyes are haunted. "But that's cruel and patently unfair to both of them, to give Freddie a chance like this and take it away, yet want him back, even though we have Tim--" Brian expels a wrenching sob. "Here I am, such an arsehole," he chokes, yanking at his curls with self-disgusted rage. Tim was right.

Suddenly Roger's warm hands are clasping Brian's wrists and the drummer is jerking his mate's arms out, away from his body. He pushes himself between Brian's bent knees, pressing close and staring into his tall friend's eyes. "Shut the fuck up, Brian," Rog growls. "You aren't an arsehole for having conflicting feelings, alright? I've got 'em too, and I'm way more of an arse in how I express mine, you fucking know that." Brian lets out a watery chuckle as his friend continues fiercely "So just shut up a bloody second and try not to hate yourself so much, yeah?" The blond man's high husk wobbles in his own emotions as he lifts his chin, still gazing at Brian, holding his dear friend tight.

Drink has loosened Roger's tongue, lowered his emotional inhibitions and he swallows, mutters "...I hate it when you talk about yourself like this, Brian. I can't fucking stand it. You're great, alright?" Tossing his soft hair, Roger shakes Brian's shoulders. "You're stubborn and infuriating and smart as fuck. And kind, most of the time. Practically all the time." He cups Brian's face affectionately and his lips tremble as he releases Bri's cheek to wrap his arms around his waist and bury his face in Brian's neck. "You're a bloody good mate, Bri," Roger's words are mumbled into Brian's skin, but definitely distinct enough to hear. "So quit fucking blubbering, hug me back, and I'll brew us a pot of tea, you numpty."

Brian chuckles at the other man's vehemence and wraps his arms around him, pressing his face into Roger's shoulder gratefully. "...Thank you, Rog."

Clutching Brian tighter, the shorter man snaps "Oh sod off, you're fucking welcome."

***

Things get on, back mostly to usual. Tim and Brian skirt around each other. But at least they're civil, and Roger has launched his little clothing business in Kensington Market, so whenever things get too ridiculous or awkward for the band and his particular brand of forceful vocal pyrotechnics are unnecessary, the drummer makes his escape to the stall. Plus, he and Freddie can always try out stirring, strident vocal harmonies together-- between helping their customers find and try on clothes.

"Hit this one, Rog," from behind their coat racks Freddie would call. "Aaaah," and Roger would beam and pull out his descant to layer it above his friend's rich tenor vocal. People stop sometimes and stare, but Roger doesn't pay them any mind; and in the moments of fun neither does Freddie.

It is freeing to be oneself without condemnation, without causing bafflement or concern, or judgement from the people in one's life. Roger accepts Freddie, gives him license to be himself, and that means so much.

Brian takes pictures of the pair of them when he comes to their stall, in awe of the people they attract, the friends they make. Girls come round to chat with Roger and with Freddie, and the saucy warmth of their various presences (with Roger in particular) give Freddie more confidence to be naughty as well, which Roger loves. It's fucking brilliant for them to accept each other in every aspect that they are coming to know. And in public too, because the pair of them get cheeky with each other. About bloody time, the drummer inwardly declares. He flicks his eyes to Brian and grins. Eyes snapping when the other smiles softly back before ducking his head, hiding behind his camera again. Roger lets out an explosive sigh.

Now all he and Freddie have to do is bequeath some of that ease and love onto this stubborn insecure guitarist they care for.

Chapter Text

Roger gets a chance to show Brian he cares soon enough.

An all-hallow's eve party occurs at Imperial--well in the true spirit of the season, several do--and Brian decides to go out dressed as a princess, recalling Tim's crack at him during their row. After deciding, he remains somewhat bashful about the idea and unsure whether his initial reasoning for such a choice in costume makes him petty.

Upon eventually hearing of the costume choice, Tim begins to tease his bandmate mercilessly: "What did ya say you wanted to dress as, Brian?" He asks after rehearsal a week or so before Halloween. "Go on, tell Roger just how odd you are!"

Roger's blue eyes widen as he looks from the singer to the guitarist, who is flushing with what appears to be shame. Ordinary circumstances would have Roger teasing Brian about his oddness too, but something about this specific situation has stayed the drummer's automatic sarcastic cheeky impulse. "What're you going as, Bri?" He inquires.

Brian ducks his head and replies, inaudible, "A princess."

"What?" Rog asks.

"I want to go as a princess!" Brian explodes. Tim starts laughing. "But see, I can't, it's too odd, I'll go in and…"

"What's wrong with being a bloody princess?" Roger demands, staring hard at Staffell. "I think that's a top idea." That shuts Tim up before Roger sighs at Brian and adds as the other opens his mouth "Shut it with your worries on oddness, Bri, I'll do a couples costume with you." He sees how upset Brian is honestly feeling, and glowers over at Tim. How does the man not recognise that Bri is legitimately upset by his teasing? It's the same with Freddie. He and Brian are both a mite sensitive sometimes. Roger teases too, but he knows when someone is not okay with it. Most of the time. And his words contain no cruel underlying sentiments, as here Tim's words seem to. Maybe it's a buried result of their differing musical viewpoints, Roger doesn't know; but it's bothersome nonetheless, and thus he is going to protect Bri.

Brian now becomes flustered and confused-- is this a romantic proposition Roger is suggesting? "No. I mean I'm going to be the other half of your fucking costume, that way you can do it without worrying, alright?" Roger's gears are already turning as he thinks on a fringed green coat and tight lime trousers he and Fred have at their stall in Kensington.

"So... Are you going to be a knight or something like that?"

Roger bares his teeth in an impish grin. "Something like that."

***

Roger shows up to Brian's dorm room on the appointed evening, "You ready to roll, Bri?" Dressed as a fire breathing dragon. Roger wears enough makeup to tint his face a mottled shade, his skin is shaded so he has scales and flaring nostrils. Rog also knows enough about clothes to have sewn himself a tail and some wings (on those clothes he'd thought about, with Freddie's help). He folds his arms and cocks his brows at Tim, who had come to assist Brian--even in all their disagreements, they've known each other quite a long time. Upon seeing Roger, the Smile singer is not laughing anymore.

"Brian! Your ... fellow costumer is here!" Staffell calls, having no idea how else to refer to Roger. The blond smirks as Tim steps back to let him in.

"Right, I'm coming," Bri's gentle tone precedes his appearance, and Roger is lost for words when his friend walks through the door.

Brian ducks his face bashfully as he comes out. The dress he wears is just wide cut enough to show the pale expanse of most of his shoulders, but it also covers the hair on his chest and swoops flatteringly, skirt draping perfectly over his long legs. It's a dark color, a velvety navy blue, which perfectly sets off Brian's long pale hands and the sparkling silver costume tiara perched atop his black curls. Freddie had to've helped him with all that... or perhaps Bri has skills in fashion Roger hadn't previously known about.

Roger licks his lips, eyes wide. "...Damn Bri, you're gonna be the belle of the fucking ball. Let me just--" he trots over to Bri's mirror where he keeps the bit of eye makeup Freddie had given him to try if he wanted after their gig together, and takes out some mascara Brian had purchased himself. Shaking it, the blond uncaps the brush and tells Brian to tilt his head down. He carefully coats Brian's lashes, and then gets a tiny bit of blue shadow on his pinkie, saying "Close your eyes," and swiping color across Brian's lids before stepping back and nodding in satisfaction. "There. You'll break everyone's heart tonight."

Brian blinks and reopens his eyes. "Roger," he says. "Don't tease."

Roger swallows. "I'm not teasing, I'm dead serious, Bri. Here, have a look if you don't believe me," because of course Brian is about to deny that complimentary statement; to swear it's patently untrue. He turns his friend sharply to face the mirror, putting his hands on Brian's waist to shift and keep him there. "Look." Leaning into his tall friend's side as Brian's eyes widen and he sucks in a sharp breath of delighted surprise, Roger says smugly "See? What'd I tell ya? You're absolutely fucking gorgeous."

Roger, fashionista extraordinaire, who also knows exactly how to look good, is telling Brian he's fucking gorgeous. Brian flushes. "That means a lot, Rog. Thank you."

Roger nods to him, eyes soft. "'Course, Brian." He knows how bloody insecure Bri is about his looks, and he's going to help his friend recognise those positive attributes he possesses howsoever he can. He tugs impatiently at Brian's arm. "Now c'mon, let's get to this bloody thing! Later Tim," he calls back whilst pulling Brian out of the flat, Bri's long fingers skittering over the table for his key and wallet.

When they are actually at the party, in all of the hubbub Roger starts screeching "Sometimes I feel like a dragon on fireeee!"

"Oh my god, Roger, are you possessed?"

"Sometimes I wanna burn down this crazy town!" He leaps onto Brian's back and yells "Alright back off, the princess is giving me a piggyback, or is it a dragonback ride?" And starts laughing. Brian laughs too as he catches hold of Roger's legs where they wrap round the folds of his dress. He is so grateful for his friend's zany acceptance; with Roger, Brian realises he has never had to look back or fear being himself, and he hopes that his good friend knows just how grateful Brian is for that.

Grinning brightly up at Brian after completing his dragonback ride, Roger flicks his tongue and beams, a smile suffusing his entire face with radiance, lighting up his eyes. He can tell he had helped Brian's confidence this night and is right glad of it.

Chapter Text

Roger Taylor wants all of his mates to know exactly how amazing they are. Because the costume of course isn't enough. Not for Brian, to prove to him that he is attractive--giant stubborn insecure bastard that he is. Freddie is so sweet and eager to please, and Tim so easy-going, both are far easier to get to believe (or at the very least accept) his compliments. Far easier than Brian.

Brian is downright impossible.

One day --or evening, rather-- Roger shouts his thoughts at the guitarist. He comes down to a gathering; Smile had been asked to perform at an official university function, their biggest gig yet, and they all had worked hard to look and sound good. Sound wouldn't be a problem; they are gelling. Tim had either gotten over his pique at last or Brian and Roger work so well together that any roughness is immediately smoothed out.

Whatever is happening, they are thankful for it.

As for looks, well Roger in particular was really excited about this, what they were to do. This gig could really get them noticed. He could tell Brian was excited too; his friend even ironed a long black coat with gathered bits at the shoulders for the occasion, and put on a bit of eye makeup without Roger having to remind him. The sleek black jacket caught the sleeves of his billowing white shirt beneath. Its sleeves were folded over just so, and Bri's uppermost button was open, as well as the second. Enough to remain tasteful but look relaxed. His shoes were buffed to a shine and trousers creased perfectly. Black curls perfectly set off by the high crisp white collar of his button-down, and his lengthy hands have never appeared so elegant as they had tonight--when he curled his fingers round and held fast to the sleek shining bulk of his beloved red special, or practically caresses the banister of the stairs as he descends after their gigging is done.

Roger, already down the stairs with drink in hand, raises his eyes to spot Brian and cannot stop the words that exit his throat. "Brian May, you're bloody sexy!"

There's a hiss, an intake of breath, clinking and chatting stops. And someone snorts, another person laughs. Brian flushes at their clear disagreement, even as he appreciates Roger's attempt to boost his morale and confidence, to make him feel good.

However Roger doesn't leave it alone, grin and wave and go off with Brian or to talk with someone. No, he empties his glass, zeroes in on the people who had laughed and snarls: "Oi! Heard you laugh just now. Heard or saw something funny, did ya?" They continue to chuckle, eyes flickering to Brian before widening at Roger's fury as he adds "Right then. First of all, fuck you, and second you're really asking for it, mate."

"For what?"

"An introduction from my fist to your face." He glowers from one to the other. "Both of your faces."

"Roger," Brian strides over and says in his gentle way, doing his best to placate his friend, "Please don't pound the piss out of these folks for having the eyes to see--"

"What, Brian? See what?! If you fucking say 'the truth'-- do you think I'm fucking LYING to you?"

"...Not intentionally, no."

"'Not intentionally', what the fuck does tHAT mean, Bri?" Roger hisses in his rising fury.

“Perhaps your emotions are clouding your judgment when it comes to my physical attractiveness. Or lack thereof.”

Roger stares, and then he laughs. He throws his head back and says "Brian, mate, for fuck's sake, you're saying that to ME? Honestly? People, they see only my looks when they say how attractive I am. It doesn't mean anything much in comparison, because they don't know a thing about me. Not a fucking thing." His mirth dies and the expression on his face grows pointed, serious. Voice beginning low and then rising "--but I do know you, so I know how bloody attractive you are physically AND for who you are inside!" He strides up to Brian and prods his chest with strong fingertips.

Roger's high husk chokes off and he clears his throat, blinking hard. Curls his fingers around the cloth of Brian's shirt and bunches it, shaking his tall friend slightly. He croaks out "--how the fuck can I get you to see that?"

Brian shrugs, his own hazel gaze helpless and pained because he sees and hears himself causing Roger pain. He bends his head and folds long fingers over the drummer's, rubbing circles on Roger's warm skin. "I... don't know that you can, Rog," he says softly, truthfully.

Roger expels an explosive sigh of frustration.

“It’s not your responsibility anyway, Roger,” Brian offers, trying to be comforting, to ease the burden Roger has placed upon himself. It only serves to frustrate his friend more.

Relinquishing Brian's shirt and smoothing it out, the drummer shoves away. Shutting down the mobility of his features as best he can. Up and down bobs his adams apple. "Alright then, fine. Well." The shorter blond sniffs, wipes his eyes, steps back. "Right, I'll just--go and get another drink." His voice is wavering as he tries to smile, striving not to make a scene. Too bloody late now. Looking back at the man he finds impossibly attractive, not to mention impossible, the diminutive drummer does his best to quip "You want one to ease your--" ridiculous "--sorrow?" Grumbling into his own chest he adds "I'll be fucking drowning mine," before shoving off towards the bar in the next room, not bothering to wait for an answer. He knows Brian's pick of poison, anyhow.

***

Brian stares, gulps as he watches his friend's bright head bobbing and weaving between other people, who part before Roger as though he were Moses crossing the Red Sea. Probably has something to do with the expression on his face; his bright eyes appear to shoot ten thousand volts.

It's not til an advance from a lovely young lady is refused by Rog and he doesn't even respond to someone's compliment of "good show" that Brian is unfrozen. Propelling himself after Roger, the guitarist practically runs across the room. Attempting to appear as sedate as possible, though if nothing else, Brian is sure his eyes are wild. Something in his head tells him that if he lets Roger go now, leave the guitarist's sight at this moment, he may never come back, as ridiculous and melodramatic as that might seem. What if Rog is tired of him? Of Brian not accepting or believing, not seeing Roger's point of view about him. Why wouldn't Roger snap, be frustrated enough to decide if Brian doesn't believe him, or care, why should Roger care?

Slowing down even as his heart has begun hammering madly, Brian moves past people and between them, murmuring "Sorry, excuse me," when they don't move. He follows Roger to the room next door, as the place they are holds a dance hall, meeting rooms, and a low-litten bar wherein Roger has disappeared. Ducking underneath the door, the guitarist feels his heart thump, rising into his throat as he loses sight of Roger now, hearing the murmuring and music within said bar, seeing the grey haze of smoke that rises and makes the golden lamps with forty-watt bulbs appear even dimmer than they are as the lights smear in space, stretching and blurring. Blurring, he realises, because his eyes are full of tears.

He feels a hard shoulder ram bodily into his side and stumbles, and as his head lowers he sees Roger, tucked back in a corner, head down. Fingers tapping on the bar as he's handed a drink, which he knocks back before mumbling something to the bartender. The ambient noise causes Brian not to catch everything, but words he does hear are "stubborn bastard" and "best mate" and they tear at his heart. His legs wobble as he hears and comes up across from his friend. Those hooded cornflower eyes snap up to catch his.

"Oh, look, here he is," Roger snaps, and as the bartender turns Brian buckles, hand shaking and barely catching his weight against the wood of the bar. His vision goes fuzzy for a moment and all he can do is gasp his friend's name, a plea not to do this, not to leave him-- and then Brian's eyes are clearing to feel warm hands gripping his sides and to spot Rog's worried eyes staring into his own. "Whoa, Brian, here I am," the drummer's brows are creased. "I'm not going anywhere, mate. Have a drink." He slings a glass round and up to Brian's lips as it had just been plonked down on the bar beside him.

Brian flushes, feels ashamed even as he does as he is bid and drinks. Roger's warm hand lifts from the side of his waist to cup around the back of his neck, other hand holding the drink. Alcohol burns at Brian's throat, a sharper stronger taste than the sorts he typically imbibes, yet it's one Rog knows he likes. Tears burn his eyes and sluice down his thin cheeks. "I'm sorry," he gasps, still trembling in Roger's arms after the alcohol is gone. "I'm so sorry, Rogie. I shouldn't-- I should listen to you, you always say such lovely things about me, I...,"

"Shh, Brian," the drummer soothes, rubbing the nape of Brian's neck, warm fingers attempting to raise the temperature of his best mate's frigid skin. "Yeah, you really ought to listen 'cause I know what I'm on about, but don't freak out over it, yeah? Just c'mon. Siddown." He pulls out a stool and sits next to Brian, hand shifting from his neck to his shoulder and holding tight. "It's alright, you're gonna be all right."

Brian's eyes rise, appearing as mossy stones at the bottom of a rushing river due to tears. "Y-you don't..." He croaks out, sniffling. "You don't hate me, Rog? Hate that I don't listen to you, or--or believe you?"

"Christ, Brian," the drummer shoves his opposite hand through his own hair, spiking it up and smashing it down. "Of course not! Why would I hate that? It frustrates the hell out of me, sure," he allows as Brian whimpers. "But I know this is how you are, and I'm not going to stop trying to help you fucking see that you're better, beautiful, worth far more than you think." He grips Brian's shoulder and stares into his face fiercely. "...Okay?"

The guitarist gulps, heartbeat finally starting to slow. His chest doesn't hurt now. "Okay," he whispers as he looks in his friend's eyes. Loyal, focused, determined. The most beautiful eyes he's ever seen, in the face of one of the most wonderful men. "Thank you, Roger," he chokes, knowing those words are stupidly, ridiculously inadequate for all that Roger has done and continues to do.

Rolling those eyes, again their owner sighs-- in fond exasperation this time as he can tell what the other is thinking. But that's a conversation for another time in the future, when he tries to help Bri accept himself and his own feelings. Again. "You're fucking welcome, Bri."

Chapter Text

Experimenting with various new styles of rock is a magical feeling indeed. Even when your friend tells you something you didn't want to hear.

"... Y'know Lennon didn't actually write 'Hey Jude', don't ya, Bri?" Roger asks slowly during a jam session wherein they begin gushing about the Beatles. "Pretty sure it was McCartney."

"No," Brian sputters. "Jude is John's son."

"Yeah, it's a song for John's son FROM Paul because John was being a dick and marrying Yoko. Jude was her stepson, remember? And Paul wanted to comfort the kid in case he thought he was being abandoned by his father." Roger's face darkens. "A bloke can relate," he mutters. Must be nice for someone else to care when your father is an arsehole. His face closes, hardens before the drummer beams brightly--a little TOO brightly--and tells the guitarist to pay up. "I swear, Bri, it isn't Lennon's song!"

Brian scoffs. "Well I hope we meet Paul one day and I can ask him."

Roger winks. "We could, you know. Stranger things have happened."

Stranger things like, as though on cue, Tim comes barrelling into the room for rehearsal, and something in his face puts the pair on alert. They'd gotten praised in the Imperial paper as quite a promising student band, and that had given Brian hope--as well as an impetus to try even more new things. Roger had agreed. "We've got to get experimental," he said.

Now, though, they wonder what that's done. Tim is all fluttery, and on time for rehearsal for once, without bringing anybody, which is strange. They'll say this for Tim, he's a social butterfly.

"Erm. Hi Tim," says Brian now a trifle hesitantly. Tim nods to him, and smiles a little as Rog lifts and twirls a drumstick in salute. But his smile seems somehow... flat. Maybe Brian should leave it alone, but he doesn't. Asks instead "Are you doing alright?"

"Fine," the singer bobs his head a bit. "...Just a little tired, is all."

"Exams getting to you?" Roger blurts without preamble. Their tests are coming, some already on, before the winter break for Christmas and whatnot. Which is great. He feels Brian stiffen next to him even as Tim groans.

"God, don't remind me."

"Call me Roger," the drummer cracks cheekily, and Tim's eyes bulge after a moment. Brian snickers behind his hand. "Now," the blond shakes out his hair, "Are we doing this gig or not?" They've got one in a pub again, but this one isn't catered solely to campus or students, and after the success of that big function they'd been asked to, there is hope. There's gotta be.

Staffell doesn't seem to think so.

The performance was perfectly adequate; there are a few little things they can tweak, according to Brian, but such is always the case. No sense in not improving though there was a good bit of enthusiasm.

"No," Tim says desperately as they begin loading Roger's van after. "Come on, Brian, who are we fooling? Besides ourselves? That was fine. Just fine! Not great, not the big time. We're just gonna be a student band that gets all 'experimental'--" he puts the word in scare quotes "--until we graduate, and then we'll end up an ex-band."

"So, what are you saying then?" Roger demands, putting down his bass drum and crossing his arms. "Y' wanna quit, Tim? Because if you want out, just say it!"

Brian raises his eyebrows, leans forward and looks at his friend from underneath his curly fringe. His heart bumps. "Well, Tim, do you?" He asks quietly, long hands clenching.

"I--" The singer seems to be at a loss. He runs a hand through his hair feverishly. "--I'm a graphics student, alright?" He eventually bursts out. "I need gigs that pay in actual money, not just food and beer. I need something with potential." Brian sucks in air, winces as Roger lets out a sharp sound.

"What, you think we haven't got potential, then?"

"Tim," Brian's eyes are pained.

Tim shakes his head. "No, we haven't. Not enough."

"We're going to make it," Brian's features are intense as he looks from Tim to Roger on the singer's other side, curls swinging. Roger nods. Damn right. "We are, some day, one day soon."

Tim sighs. "I'm sorry, mates, but I can't wait on somedays."

Roger rolls his eyes. This is ridiculous. "Come on, Tim--"

"--I've been offered another gig," Tim says suddenly. "With a new group. Humpy Bong."

Roger and Brian stare at each other. "Is this a joke?" Asks Brian. "You're joking."

"You've GOT to be joking," Roger agrees. "I mean, Humpy Bong?" His lips start to twitch.

But Tim explodes. "No, I'm not, and I don't joke where it counts! You lot can't handle my jokes! Don't think I don't see you rising to the defense, Rog," he says. "It's ridiculous. And you," to Brian. "We've known each other so long, but we don't have anything in common. Not anymore."

Brian has gone still. "I-- suppose we don't," he says.

"I wish you luck," Tim says. "I do. Just--not with me." He offers a hand, and both of the others stare at it. "Maybe one day you will understand."

"Oh I understand," Roger grumbles after Brian does shake Tim's hand, his throat bobbing, eyes wet. The drummer kicks at the air in frustration as the singer walks away. "...I understand he just fucked us sideways. And not in a nice way." He tries to speak lightly, though furious.

But all Brian does is murmur "Was-- was he right? About our potential?" Or lack of it? No. He cannot be.

It helps that Roger groans "No, Brian, of course not! The man's got the music tastes of a blooming dinosaur!"

Brian's lips twitch now but his eyes are worried. "Well, Rogie, what are we going to do?"

Chapter Text

What are they going to do?

Brian follows Roger's golden head with his eyes as the drummer slams open their van's rear doors and lunges over the runner and in, lifting his bass drum into the bed and watching it slam against the wall and then tip down onto his foot. He snarls an epithet and kicks at the box, not taking into account care necessary for, to take of the drum, and that more than anything worries Brian. His friend is particular about and precious of his kit, has been since day one; so for Roger to drop a drum, to swear and kick at it-- "Rog," Brian breathes out in a broken whisper, hazel eyes wide and haunted beneath the shadows of his midnight hair as he watches that vibrant soul burning with anger, with furious unencumbered rage. The sight is like to break the guitarist's heart. "Roger," Brian speaks again. Pleading. "Please, don't--"

"Don't what?" The blond snarls. "WHAT, Brian? This is my instrument, and what bloody good is it now? Because what the fuck are we going to do, Bri? We can't be Smile anymore. Tim put that name on the bill, the bastard." Roger shakes out and lights a cigarette from his pack, blowing a thick stream of smoke sideways. Away from Brian. As much as he can, anyhow - the drummer jerks his fingers through his hair as the wind blows it and the smoke back into his face. Roger bares his teeth and grimaces, coughs. Kicks at the spare tire of the van. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, bloody piss on a fucking ROPE! We're buggered, Bri - what's a band without a lead singer?!"

Brian's eyes bulge, his pale skin blanches even paler. "I-I thought you said we were going to be fine, Roger. Don't you, do you not believe that after all?"

Roger expels a disgusted sound, his cigarette tip lighted and clenched between his teeth as he shakes his head at his friend. "For pity's sake, Brian, I just--" We can't make it as this band, obviously, since Tim Staffell's a fucking wankstain. However, saying that aloud will only hurt Brian, so "Just gimme a minute, alright? This, I..." Roger's hands are shaking, cig trembling as his lips do. Eyes are flashing, throat is bobbing. This work means so much to him, it's so fun and rewarding, and yet now all is up in the air. Whether or not they can continue... Roger knows he can do this, he can drum; but doesn't feel comfortable singing lead, and knows Brian certainly does not. Even without either one of them explicitly saying so, Rog knows. He has begun shaking. It's like leaving church choir all over again, except this time not only is the situation fucking unfair, but Roger cannot frame it as a positive occurrence. He cannot pretend he doesn't mind. Eyes widening, filling with tears that he fights back valiantly, Roger croaks "--I don't want to lose this. I-I can't, Bri. Can't bear it." Closing his eyes and ducking his head, Rog turns away. This is all I've ever wanted, the only bloody consistent good that I've fucking had, and I'm scared to lose it, he wants, intends to admit. He cannot bear to lose the band, lose music. This is his life! But no, he doesn't, can't say it. Fuck that; can't show weakness. He has to be strong.

But this is Brian.

"Oh, Roger." Long legs extending to haul himself into the van as well, stepping up to Roger, Brian ducks his head, curls still brushing the ceiling. Extending both arms, the guitarist pulls his shorter friend into his chest, pressing one cheek onto Roger's soft head of hair. He wants to reassure his mate that they will be alright, but their situation is weighing on him too. Whether or not they can make it is unclear without a lead singer. Brian holds onto Roger, stroking his friend's hair firmly, feeling Rog trembling in his arms. Shifting his other hand to rub up and down Roger's back, Brian feels the other man bury his face into his shoulder as he shudders. "I've got you," the guitarist whispers. "I'll look after you, I promise." Brian promises himself as well.

Roger chokes on a sound that transforms from sardonic to appreciative in the space of seconds. He settles deeper into Brian's arms and eventually lifts his own to embrace his thin friend, wrapping both of them around Brian's waist as he ceases shaking at last. "Cheers, Brian," Roger grunts into his mate's chest. And then, "Y'know what this calls for?" he pulls back a bit and looks into Bri's face. Brian sighs.

"Let me think," the guitarist makes a show of pondering. "Drinking?"

"You know it, mate!" Roger nudges him with an elbow, sucking in a breath and hastily swiping at his full cheeks before settling his shoulders and stepping back completely from Brian, dropping to the ground outside the van. "Come on."

Brian steps down in a fashion far more sedate, after tipping Roger's drum box upright and cinching it in place. He reminds his friend to lock up, shaking his head in fond exasperation as Roger makes a face at him.

"I'm not a child, Brian!"

"Yeah? Could've fooled me."

"Oh, piss off."

Roger does lock up the van, however, and both men briefly wonder how Tim will be getting home since he legitimately walked away after the gig. Brian is worried, but "Not our problem," Roger grouses. "He's out, remember? Told us that and chose to ditch right then, so he'll hafta find his own way home." Brian lets out a sharp sound. "What? He could've waited, came back with us tonight and told us his decision tomorrow morning, but nooo, he wanted a bloody scene. All the drama, so. Let's oblige him." Roger shrugs and snorts. "Hell, let him WALK home."

"You can't mean that, Rog," Brian now protested as they walk.

At the stricken look on his enormous friend's face, Roger rolls his eyes and relents. "I don't, come off it, Bri! I'm just-- royally, properly pissed. He screwed us, I hope you know!"

Brian bites his lip, ducks his head. Heavy curls shading his face as his lengthy hands tremble. He wishes he was still holding onto Roger, or his guitar - Red is always able to soothe him. "I know, Rogie," he speaks softly, eyes glittering under his hair with a hardening tone. "But he is still my friend, an old friend. And he's been yours too, so we ought to show a little care and respect, I think."

"Oh, right. Like he showed us?" Roger's tone of voice is scathing. But Brian's features are sincere as he opens a side door to the pub they've walked up to, along a row of buildings where people trail in.

"He waited til after the gig to tell us he was leaving, Roger," Brian says. "Could've walked out before and left us in the lurch, but he didn't. Showed us that much respect, so I think we ought to afford him the same." Ducking his head under the lintel of the door leading into a bright boisterous room, the guitarist tries to hide the wobbliness in his tone as he raises his voice to combat the increasing noise around them. "Please."

Roger softens as he heads towards the bar to get them drinks, patting his friend's arm. "Ah, Brian. Fine, I c'n take back my wish for him to get hit by a blooming bus if it means that much to you." He is rewarded with a shocked gasp and smiles. "I was JOKING, Bri, c'mon! He's my mate too. I'm just miffed, you know me."

"I do," Brian's shoulders relax as he watches Roger lean across the bar to order them a round. He nudges his friend in the ribs playfully. "--Even though I often wish otherwise."

"Ooh, saucy. You're on thin ice, mate," Roger growls, eyes sparkling. "Oi, but if Tim HAD scarpered before the gig, I could've sung lead, you know."

Brian snorts. "Oh, really? You didn't even offer!"

"But I would've done if we needed, that's all I'm saying!" Roger's high voice goes into a whine, which makes the other chuckle. "Oh, sod off. I'm a trained singer."

Brian's eyebrows knit together as Roger hands over his first drink. The guitarist taps his lips with the fingers of his free hand as he thanks Rog and the barkeep. "...I have wondered that," he admitted as they turned to find a booth. "Hearing your clean harmonies, and watching you--you form your words differently than I do, and erm. Never seem to run out of air."

"Breath," Roger says, making eyes at a trio of ladies he's just spotted as the two of them pass to find a place to sit. Brian inclines his head to them.

"What?" The guitarist cocks his head, ducking it closer to his friend's lips. His features are bright and open. It's quite endearing, how inquisitive he is, really. How much he loves to learn.

"In the music world, well. Singing, your air is called your breath, and there are ways to keep your tone and sound going. I can teach you, if you like," Roger offers.

Oh, right. "Breath," Brian repeats as at last they find a space to sit down, sliding into the wooden booth behind a heavy table, his dark brows rise and his eyes crinkle. "Really, you'd teach me, Rog?"

The drummer shrugs and plops across from him. "Course, what else are we gonna do? May have to be our own lead singer for awhile." He reaches out and taps his glass against Brian's, nodding with a grin. "Cheers."

"Cheers," Brian says, and at the thought of singing in front of everyone, without another voice leading his own, Bri goes cold and gulps his alcohol to numb the fear of being awful, getting them laughed offstage. That'd ruin the band more completely than Tim leaving. People left bands all the time and the bands kept going. Well, Buddy Holly left the Crickets and he got a solo career while theirs fizzled. Bad example, Brian, come on. Find a better one. But he can't and he feels frigid now, his hands are shaking and the darkness is closing in....

"Brian," Roger's warm hand wraps around his cold one and holds on. "I've got you, mate. I'm with you. And I'll be there to help if you cock up." The guitarist shudders, more at his friend's word choice or the idea itself, he isn't sure, but Rog continues "...and if that happens we'll just keep on. Everybody makes bloody mistakes, Brian. Even you with your stubborn perfectionistic arse." Brian's eyes bulge as he looks into his friend's and Roger grins at him wickedly, letting go his hand. "Oh shut up, you know it's true. Now sit tight and I'll get us some more drinks. We need them." He swings himself out of their booth and stands, eyes travelling across the room's expanse. They could use a couple of girls too, and if he can get Brian drunk enough to move out of his default prudish polite setting, they'll catch glimpses of a cheeky saucy man beneath the intellect and perfectionism. And Roger wants Brian, he wants them both, to have a good time. He wants to halt their worries, at least for the rest of tonight.

They could really use that.

***

Brian's cheeks are rose-red and he's tapping his fingers upon the glass Roger has handed him. It's his fourth drink, well, second beer after two shots of something that went right to his head, exploding "Like the expanding universe," he calls, off and explaining excitedly when one of the attentive ladies, found again and coaxed over to their booth expertly by Rog, asked what he means, and if he'll explain it to her. Lifting Brian's free hand, she presses light kisses to his fingertips.

"I've never had a science teacher who gets me so..." she licks at his fingers, taking them briefly into her mouth. Brian gasps and jerks, eyes wide. "...excited. Go on," she whispers, breath warm upon his skin as she withdraws just enough to hold his hand and rub the skin of it with her fingers and thumb, lips pressing now to Brian's knuckles and the back of his hand.

"Alright. Oh--the universe is said to have begun w-with a bang. Though in modern circles, it's thought--ah--to've been more of an explosion, an expansion that's still happening today, albeit at a much slower pace."

Leave it to Brian to nerd out even more when drunk, Roger thinks in amusement. His listener's attentions have travelled up the length of his arm and to his chest. Now she parts the cloth of his shirt to stroke Brian's smooth skin. "I'm listening," she murmurs. "So the universe is already big and just growing even bigger, hm?" Her other hand traces down Bri's side to squeeze his thigh, and the guitarist gulps.

"Yes."

Roger snorts with laughter from his corner of the booth, where he sits sprawled out between two women who have left off their own attentions to him in order to study their friend's interactions with Brian. They make bets, one girl monopolising, the other listening.

"...Twenty quid he loses his train of thought when she kisses his neck."

"Bollocks to that, sweetheart. Actually no, you're on-- I'll up it to twenty-five."

"I say he starts flirting back. I mean, he's already talking about the Big Bang, isn't he?"

"Haha, yeah!"

"...Is that not considered flirting for a scientist?" The girl who hadn't spoken yet asks.

"Astrophysicist, actually," Brian interjects, having heard and become cognizant of this last.

"You sure you aren't on your way to becoming a chemist, Brian? You two've got amazing chemistry," Roger cracks.

The girls dissolve into peals of laughter as Brian groans and drops his tousled head onto the table. "Roger, that was terrible. Even for you." Roger flicks his tongue out at his tall friend, entire face alight with laughter as Brian lifts up his face and continues his space spiel. The betting mounts as his listener mounts him, climbing into his lap and carding her fingers through his hair as she alternates kisses with questions. Brian gazes into her eyes adoringly, appreciating the interest and attentions.

"Maeve is so drunk," her friend whispers to Roger. This girl's name is Sherri, with an i as she was very clear upon when initially introducing herself. Dawn, the third and quietest woman in the group, nestles next to Roger's opposite side as Sherri's blonde-haired head bobs when Roger turns to her, chuckling in response to her information about Maeve.

"--So is Brian, so it works out," the drummer purrs. "So, what are you into, Sherri with an i?" His tone of voice is cheeky but his eyes hold real interest.

The blonde girl smacks her lips and shoves at him. "You CAN just call me Sherri now, Roger."

His face splits into a beaming smile and his eyes light up as his expression does. "Nah," he quips. And then when she lets out a scoffing sound, the drummer leans in and presses a gentle kiss to her cheek. "I love th' spelling of your name. It's unique."

Sherri's fluffy head dips and when Rog laughingly pushes back some of her hair, asking if she's all right, his eyes dancing, Sherri turns and grabs onto the lapels of his open shirt. Drawing the drummer to her, she kisses him full on the mouth.

Dawn, as yet the woman who has spoken and done least, looks on impressed and with some stupefaction, seeming a trifle timid. Almost scandalised. After Roger and Sherri break apart, Rog's face transforming from a dazed expression to one self-satisfied, he shifts and his free arm drops around Dawn's shoulders. "Hi," he speaks gently. "Dawn, right?" She nods. "That was probably a bit much for you, you alright love?" He dips his feathery blond head close to hers to listen, as her voice is whisper-soft.

"Yes, erm." Dawn clears her throat and attempts to speak louder, trying to ignore the sounds of Brian and Maeve across the table. "I am alright, yes. Just don't do this sort of thing much," she hastily amends her admittance with "I mean I, get out sometimes, just not..."

"Not much, and not like this," Roger's lips curve into a slow smile as he listens and leans back. "That's alright. Here you are out with your friends," Sherri beams across at Dawn and reaches over, squeezing her friend's hand. Dawn squeezes back gratefully. "Fun night?" Roger asks.

Dawn shifts slightly and does her best to smile at him. "It's been pretty nice so far," she responds.

"Well we can always make it better," Roger tells her, and waves for another round of shots, on him. Taps his glass to hers. "To a fun night," he says, and smiles as she timidly returns his grin with a small smile, tapping their glasses.

"Cheers."

***

The night progresses with Brian informing Maeve all about the cosmos (and making out a good bit with her too) as Roger goes out onto the floor, dancing with an exuberant Sherri and blushing Dawn. The latter of whom has a few serious moves that she hides until gently coaxed by her friend and pulled to a darker portion of the dance floor by Roger. He shows off his own abysmal dance moves to her, hopping and pounding on his leg with one fist, twisting around. "Am I that bad?" he asks, and she blushes.

"Well you aren't GOOD," Sherri tosses off. "You move about as well as my uncle, and he lost a leg in the war." Roger throws back his head and laughs.

"Thank you for your brutal honesty, Sherri with an i. Whaddaya say, Dawn? You got any pointers for me?"

"Maybe..." she spins her stocky frame and points one toe, tapping the floor next to his to show him a starting position. "Try not to move quite as much?" Her voice squeaks at the end as if she's asking a question, and then as Roger continues listening, she adds "Just, erm, try to move less. A bit, side to side."

"Be smooth," Sherri says, lifting her arms and gliding between the pair of them, her bright hair bouncing.

Roger winks. "Should I try that then, Dawn?" Sherri had ended her movement with a pert little leap and a shimmy. Roger tries his best to imitate, but the beaming smile, there and gone like a flash of lightning, and outright giggle that bursts from Dawn's lips tells him there is still a lot to be desired in his dancing. "Still rubbish, huh?" She shakes her head, trying not to be unkind, Roger can tell. It warms his heart. "Will you show me then?" And he sees her body speak in a way her mouth does not. She takes him by both hands and moves in a manner that almost seems sacred, as if he is allowed to be a Lord of the Dance and she is the Mistress of it.

They do not go home together, and yet Roger doesn't mind, for he shares something on that dance floor that was as intimate in its own way as making love, as Brian's experience with a woman curled up in his lap, getting off on his discourse about the stars.

Chapter Text

Yet after the conclusion of their evening in the bar, Brian is embarrassed. He apologises even more drunk than sober. "I monopolised the night," he laments, weaving on his feet a bit. "I'm sorry. No one wanted t' hear any'a that, Rog."

The blond grins, wrapping an arm around his unsteady friend. "Dunno, mate, I thought it was alright. And I could tell that Maeve was interested. VERY interested." Roger raises his brows and grins at the flush rising on Brian's neck, warring with a visible spot where his curls now shift and slide away from his collar as the two of them walk on. Stumble, more like, as Brian flushes completely scarlet and Roger guffaws at him. "Brian, mate, calm down. I'm not just messing, I mean it. Good for you on finding a girl who loves to listen to your astro-babble. As a matter of fact, I don't mind it, and I didn't make out awful either," he adds with a wink. Brian rolls his eyes as Rog pays the last of their bill and tugs his tall friend out into the night, voice growing serious. "But this means with our knowledge and--other qualities--we're doing all right." His smile returns as he cheekily continues "--We're a dynamic duo now!"

Brian groans and drops his head, feeling his stomach lurch as he braces himself in the doorway for a moment. "Ohh, but I couldn't even have a normal, rational conversation, Rog." He slurs, hiccoughs. "Simply had to talk about Space."

It is Roger's turn to roll his eyes with fondness as he helps Brian across the threshold into the night. "Come off it, that IS a normal conversation for you. I know, we all know, you're a gigantic nerd." Brian flushes yet again and nearly falls forward onto his face, but his shorter friend catches him with his own body. "Whoa, Bri. Steady on, mate. I gotcha." The lean man shivers, long hand catching hold of his friend's shoulder, other briefly clutching at Roger's head, fingers threading through his hair. Moving back to the van, Brian feels a pull, a tightness to release, and shifts. Roger winks. "You've had a good night, haven't ya, Brimi?"

"Oh, so have you," Brian demurs.

"Uh-huh, but you got to snog a girl who was digging on space as much as she obviously dug you!" Roger crows.

The guitarist ducks his head. "We're doing all right, aren't we, Rogie?"

The intensity present in Brian's tone and his use of Roger's nickname cause the drummer to grow serious again. "Yeah, we are." Patting his tall friend on the arm and leaning past him to unlock the door of the van, Roger adds because he cannot help himself "Like I said. I was right, wasn't I? C'mon, you can say it, Brian. 'Roger, you were right.' I'm listening, go on."

It is a testament to Brian's level of intoxication for how sharply and swiftly he tells his friend to fuck off.

Roger bursts out laughing and starts hauling Brian into the van, one lolling arm, one lanky leg at a time. "Fuck, Bri, c'mon and help me," he groans.

"Sorry," the other mumbles. "Figure y' got this, you're doing all right. You know what you're dooooin'," he suddenly starts singing, loud and pure and clear in the frosty late night/early morning air: "Gotta feelin' you should be dooooin' all right, Rog!"

"Shhh!" Roger hisses in shock and amusement, glancing around as his drunken friend sags into him. "Ugh, Brian, keep your voice down." He hears a chuckle and wonders if it's Bri, but then another presence melts from the darkness.

"It seems as though you could perhaps use some assistance," a familiar sultry-sounding voice purrs.

"Yes!" Roger yelps with relief. "Hi Fred, thank fuck." Black hair and shining dark brown eyes come into view as a thin frame with broad shoulders appears at Roger's elbow and graceful hands haul Brian's long arm around those shoulders. Roger jumps into the front seat of the van as Freddie now holds Brian against him and pushes gently at his other side.

"Fred," Brian sighs, lashes fluttering open as his eyes had closed briefly. The depths of his eyes are sorrowful again suddenly as he chokes up. "Didja hear, Tim's out, Freddie."

"Oh, Brimi," Freddie's gaze softens even more as he glances from Brian up to Roger, whose jaw clenches. "I'm so sorry."

"'S alright," Roger speaks up. "We're gonna be fine."

"Only if we--" Brian sags into Freddie's side heavily. "Ohhh dear."

"I've got you, love." Freddie lifts Brian into the seat, cinching the seatbelt around the man's thin frame and making certain his guitar is placed properly and snug. Brian's eyes hold Freddie's with unspoken emotion in them.

The art student pats the guitarist's cheek and looks at Roger again, who asks him "D'you need a ride, Fred?"

Freddie hesitates and looks from Roger's bright generous eyes to Brian's thin lips pressing together as he raises those deep soulful eyes under his fluffy fringe. "Okay, if, only if you don't mind. I wouldn't want to make any trouble, as I imagine dear Brian needs his rest." He and Roger both study Bri, who has slouched already.

"Oh!" Brian jerks upright again, eyes blinking blearily, owlish. "'M fine."

Roger snickers. "Right, Brian. No, it's fine, Fred. Hop in."

Patting Brian's thin cheek with his features crinkled in affection, Freddie coos "Of course you're fine, Brian darling. And I'll come with you to keep you so." He climbs into the bucket seat between them and closes the door as Roger shuts his own and sits down. "You're much more than fine, the both of you," Freddie continues. "That's why I adore you."

A little bashful after speaking so, Freddie ducks his reddening face away, but Roger only beams and swoops in, kissing him on the cheek. Brian's fingers tremble as he presses them against his own lips before wrapping one arm around Freddie. "Oh, thank you, Fred," he whispers as Rog shoots a fond glance at them both before starting the van. He's glad he had ceased drinking before dancing, and was on a hydration regimen the remainder of the night. Which is why he can still drive. He offers to drop Freddie back off at Ealing, but the graphics student declines. He doesn't want any extra fuss.

"I'm perfectly fine doing the walk of shame tomorrow morning, Roger love. I'm looking to move off school-grounds soon anyway," he says.

"Oh, really?" The drummer's curiosity is piqued.

***

Never much for campus life, apart from hosting madcap dormitory parties, Roger has grown increasingly enamoured with the idea of having his own place. "Even if we pay pittance and it's shite, we have our jobs at the stall, and dentists can make a pretty penny," he tells Freddie as they've continued to discuss the possibilities, after hauling Brian inside and dealing with his raging hangover the following morning ("Toast and tea, coming right up!" Roger crowed). Now it is later, growing ever closer to spring semester, and Rog is restless. With a glance at Brian he adds sotto voce "May want to consider bringing Brian in on this deal, as he can actually cook."

Freddie cocks his head. "Hmm. Is this your way of selling yourself --selling the both of you-- to me, Blondie?" he rubs Roger's hair affectionately. "Because if so I have to tell you, I'm leaning far more towards our Brian as a flatmate at this point."

Both glance again at Brian, whose lips are pursed and forehead wrinkled in thought as he mouths something out before ducking his head over a notebook, tousled hair falling forward across his face as he scratches out some idea in his spidery elegant scrawl. Roger huffs out a fond chuckle. "Yeah, Fred, but you need me for a flatmate if you want any excitement in your life. Sure, Bri can cook--and clean too when he gets out of his mind long enough--but I'll be the reason you meet people!"

Freddie makes a show of pondering hard, his full lips stretching into a smile.

"You'll never have a day of pure unencumbered quiet or solitude if you spend any amount of time with Rog," Brian pipes up. "I hope you know that."

Roger scoffs. "Uh, excuse the hell out of ME, Brian May, but most people actually enjoy the art of conversation!"

"Yes, when they haven't got something pressing to do...and art, Roger, isn't exactly your forte."

"How dare you!"

As Freddie listens to their fond bickering a warmth fills his entire frame. Yes, he decides. This arrangement can work. He claps his hands. "Darlings, I've made the decision to have both of you live with me if you wish." Brian and Roger stop arguing to look at each other, and Freddie feels his heart thump heavily once, twice. What if they were only teasing, and they think this is a terrible idea? He's never known what it's like to live with friends--

And then Brian smiles, puts his gentle long hand on Freddie's shoulder. Roger laughs, his whole face alight as he wraps his arms around both of their backs.

"Alright Fred."

"This is gonna be fucking amazing!"

Chapter Text

Procuring a cheap flat off campus but near to both Imperial and Ealing is less difficult than actually LIVING in said flat. Freddie found most of their furniture and accessories such as tablecloths and curtains he sewed from extra swathes in his and Roger's Kensington stall. Same with napkins, thus nothing matches and they hope no one coming over cares. Well, Brian does.

Roger is overjoyed to find a slightly wobbly table of heavy dark wood, chucked outside beside a bin from either a frat house or other apartments. He sees it when walking with Brian back from class one afternoon, and his thoughts of going for a pint are superceded by "We've gotta get this back, Bri-- it's perfect!"

"For what? Splinters? A hernia, to carry it up the stairs?" Brian deadpans. "Please don't tell me you think we need this thing, Rog…"

But that is precisely what Roger is about to do. "C'mon, it's perfect! We need a better spot to sit and eat than that bloody end table, you're always bashing your blooming elbows into me or Fred--don't mope about it, it's alright, but now we'll have an actual kitchen table! Besides, you can spread out all'a your books and shite across it when you're studying." And the coup de grace: "Y'know Fred would love it for tea and everything. He'd swear it's elegant." Roger looks at Brian with eyes twinkling and knows with that comment he has him. Brian can't say no to Fred.

The tallest sighs heavily through his nose and shakes his head, dropping his books atop the table and walking round to bend over and then lift one side. "I suppose we can carry it," he returns reluctantly, and rolls his eyes as Rog has already run to the other side and chucked his books to pick up the table as well. "Let's go then."

Everything is grand for Roger as he realises he has to walk backwards with Brian informing him which way to go. The good news is, Bri is gargantuan enough to see where his friend needs to go. The bad news is that it takes more than a few minutes to get there, and all of them are comprised of Roger swearing --at Brian, the table, the cobblestone street, and practically everything else.

Worst is when they actually reach the door to their complex.

"Fuck, Brian, this thing won't turn sideways!"

"Well it's not going to fit through the door like that, Roger."

"I fucking know!"

"Put it on an angle. An angle --which means you actually need to tilt the bloody thing."

"No shite, Brian-- oi just wait a second while I forget what a bloody angle is. I passed primary school maths, fucking Christ."

"This was YOUR idea," the tallest groans as he clenches the table's edge in long fingers. "I said--"

"I know what you fucking said, but I want to have a nice place to come back to, first time in my life! Is that alright?!"

Brian freezes at that, and two workmen who seem to be on their lunch break across the way have either heard all Roger's shouting or seen the predicament the two young men are in. Whatever it is, they offer their assistance, and tools, so the table legs are unscrewed and two workers are rebuilding it after hauling up narrow stairs and into a dingy little flat.

Brian offers to make the pair coffee as payment, as the tea things have been dubbed by Freddie for use during "special occasions, loves". (And besides, the workers had shared a cigarette and "fags go better wi' coffee" they say.) With a pair of smiles for Brian and Rog, a "best wishes boys", one worker then pats Brian on the shoulder and whispers "By doin' this, you're already givin' this boy a good home. Lookit him." Brian lifts his eyes to Roger, who is laughing with the other workman as they shift the table and talk about where to find chairs. Rog says he can always steal some.

After the burly pair leaves, Brian has some moments to think on Roger's words about having a nice place, good home, and he swallows, deep gaze trying to catch his mate's. "Hey, Rog--"

The blond groans. "Come off it, Brian, I don't need to have a pity party psycho-babble session. 'M fine, alright?" He nods as though convincing himself. "This is good, I'll just be on the lookout for good chairs to grab." He smiles, but Bri is not put off from his previous course of action. He swallows and steps up to his friend and puts a hand on the shorter man's shoulder, rubbing softly.

Roger sighs but leans into Brian's side, and then the door opens wide as Freddie's exuberant voice trills "I'm home, my darlings! Where are you?"

Catching each other's eyes, both Brian and Roger's faces split into genuine grins. "In the kitchen, Freddie!" Returns their unified call.

***

The three men get into a routine.

Freddie adores the table, finds a lacquer to deepen and richen its colour, and no one knows where Roger does find chairs, but he procures some, as well as little velvety green pillows to place on them "So your arse doesn't fall asleep on the wood, Brian". Because true to form and Roger's thought, Bri often ends up at the table well into the nights and mornings, scribbling notes and information for his thesis. Fred brings him tea or coffee, and Roger drops off fish and chips sometimes (when he has extra after a date, because that is the only supper he can consistently, reliably afford).

It is probably for the best that there are no gigs for them at present, that they don't have an official band, because classes are getting tough. Well at least they are for Rog and Brian. Freddie's degree is nearly through, and not nearly so strenuous, so he does everything he can, with all his free time, for his boys.

Brian is their resident chef, and finds as many ways as possible to use the meagre amount of ingredients they can afford to make filling meals. They eat a good amount of pasta, fish fingers, and bean dishes. As the months of their cohabitation pass, he thinks on going home for Christmas.

He knows about Roger's family, and his friend had laughed aloud the one time Brian hesitantly brought up going home for the holidays. Freddie is far quieter about his family, but "They don't celebrate Christmas, right Fred?" Roger blurts out one night. They'd just eaten supper, a pan of vegetarian lasagna, and were murmuring contentedly over the benefits of a home-cooked meal. They'd gotten on to top times for home-cooked meals, and mentioned the holidays.

Brian nearly drops the container of leftovers he holds. "Rogie," he says severely, but Roger waves an arm irritably at him.

"Oh piss off, Bri, I'm asking a question." His bright blue eyes lock on Freddie's brown ones. "He hasn't got to answer it; can tell me to fuck off." Cocking an eyebrow, Roger adds "D'you want me to fuck off, Fred?"

Freddie shakes his head, lowers his eyes as his lips twitch. "No, you're alright, Roger dear." Lifting his eyes again, he continues "Our--well my parents' faith doesn't go for Christmas, but I've always loved the season. We celebrated at boarding school, I remember. Put candles in the windows, decorated a gigantic tree. Though there were various things going on under the mistletoe…," his voice lowers into silence and his fingers tremble. Roger's face goes soft in concern and hard in understanding, and Brian's heart cries out to, for both of them.

Without any more thought, the tallest blurts out: "How would you both like to come round to my folks' for Christmas this year? I--we'd love to have you."

Roger and Freddie both stare in shock that turns into matching broad smiles.

Chapter Text

Bri called his mum as soon as he could to explain the situations of Rog and Freddie over the holidays, and to see if they can come along to his folks'. "They haven't got a place and they're my mates, Mum," he says. "They do so much for me, I just--"

"Is this house a charitable organisation?" His father calls, hearing the last phrase.

Brian swallows. "No, Da, it's just that I want to repay some of their kindnesses. I'm trying to take care of those I call my own, the way you taught me," he speaks this last quieter. Luckily Rog and Freddie are out right now working their stall; they have been pulling longer hours at the market of late. Brian tries to keep food for them when they come home-- which turned into a flaming brick one night in the oven. Bri was mortified, Freddie only concerned that he'd made such lovely food and they weren't able to eat it; meanwhile Roger, of course, found the entire occurrence hysterical. Anyhow "--Freddie and Roger are good company, and I would like to bring them home for Christmas."

There is silence, and Ruth May looks to her husband before saying "That should be all right, Brian. It'll be lovely, actually. I'll make up the spare room."

"There's two of them, what about the other, where shall he sleep?" Harold asks his son.

Brian doesn't want to start anything by saying that Roger and Freddie are perfectly happy sharing a bed, so he cuts in "I'll sleep on the couch and give Roger my room."

"Oh, darling, that sofa is far too short--" begins his mum.

"Well he invited them, so he's got to put company first. As I've said." Harold May speaks shortly, sharp, but Brian hears a hint of approval in his tone. He hopes he does, and that it isn't wishful thinking.

Does ask "Is there anything we can bring? Extra linens or something? I don't want to put you out, Mum."

"Well then perhaps you should have thought of that--" begins his father, but Ruth says not to worry, they will make do.

"I'm so excited to meet your friends, honey lamb. I love you."

"Love you too Mum," Brian says. Clearing his throat, tone wobbling just a little "--and you, Da."

His father emits an affirmative sound before they hang up.

***

Roger is the most effusively excited about the fortnight break and going to Brian's parents', meanwhile Freddie is shy and sweetly continues asking if there's anything he can bring - "I know how you love flowers, darling, but it is midwinter so I may have to find something else for your mum as a hostess gift."

And no matter how often Brian swears it's fine, don't have to break your back to bring anything, "she knows you're a poor university student Fred, just like me", his friend still smiles and promises he will think of something.

"I can't have your parents remaining unaware of how much I adore you, Brian my love. This visit will be about me thanking them."

"For having you and Roger round? It's no trouble, Freddie, really," Brian protests, pushing a hand through his curls. "I've already promised Mum I'd help--"

"No, you misunderstand me, dear." Freddie steps up to his tall friend and takes both of Brian's hands, squeezing his fingers affectionately. "I want to thank your parents for you."

It takes a second for Brian to register what Fred is on about, and the instant he does he tries to hide his cherry-red face.

"Oh, Brian," Freddie's lips curve into a gentle smile as the other man's curly head drops to hide against his shoulder. "Please don't be embarrassed, I just want your family to know I appreciate you and esteem you, so much." He strokes his fingers through Brian's tousled curls, patting them down to lay properly for his friend. "People rarely hear something wonderful about their child, and some might not believe it…," his lips twitch and dark eyes fill with sorrow as Brian lifts his face to peek at Fred. After he expels a shaky breath and blinks, Freddie's smile comes back. "But they still deserve to know. Just as you deserve to know how wonderful you are."

Brian's voice is creaky and soft as he wraps his arms around Freddie and holds on tight, rubbing one hand up and down his friend's back. "Thank you, Fred. And-- ditto, you know," he pulls back with a hand holding Freddie's waist. "I need to meet your parents and tell them what a generous and thoughtful man they raised."

Something dims in Freddie's face at that, and he sucks on his teeth a bit. More in spite of how I was raised, he thinks, but sweet Brian isn't to know that, of course. So he buries his head back in Bri's chest and murmurs his thanks.

***

Roger seems gung-ho and onboard with no trouble in the world over the holiday visit, at least until one night when Brian returns to the flat before Fred.

He expected Roger to still be out too, was sure he'd found a girl somewhere; and when he lets himself into the flat and hears Roger's voice, Brian stops dead, not wanting to interrupt anything. (He had unwittingly done so before, and sights he never once wanted nor intended to see had been seared upon his mind, sucking out coherent thought to replace it with --well, suffice to say Bri knows more about Rog and what gives his friend pleasure than he'd ever intended to know.) Freddie's conquests, such as they are and wherever they occur, aren't in their flat, for which Brian is immensely thankful. He personally is too entrenched in studies to do more than what he'd done that night with Maeve upon the cessation of Smile. Met a nice girl named Mary but their personalities mesh more as mates than anything else. He's contemplated setting her up with Freddie, if either of them would be interested in that type of thing. Figures he ought to wait until after Christmas though. Besides, who is he to presume he knows Freddie's type, or Mary's, for that matter? He just can tell hers isn't him.

If Roger has a type, it's any woman who knows how to have fun. Brian enters to hear him on the phone with one now, he's sure; and sighs heavily, certain they will rack up payments for long distance.

And then he hears sniffling.

"...No, I know you don't want me there for a reason, Mum, I understand." Roger's voice is quiet, husk more gravelly and gentle than Brian has ever heard it as he tiptoes around the corner and peers into the kitchen from the hall. Roger is sitting on the counter, one leg hanging down, swinging a bit. His body is facing away from Brian. "--Are you and Clare alright? You know you can come, I'll leave our spare key. Freddie and Brian won't mind, we're all leaving anyhow, yeah." He stops, blond head bobbing, pieces of hair falling over his face as his voice cracks. "Yeah, I know. I just-- I feel like shite, not being there to help you deal with him." There's a silence before Roger adds "I know that, Mum, but you shouldn't have to LIVE with that bastard--!"

Roger's voice is rising as he pounds on the countertop. Movement causes the rotary phone to fall off its edge and hit the floor, and Roger lunges to grab it. "Fuck, are you still there?" His voice is high, a thready whimper. "I'm sorry, god, I'm so--" stops speaking, and Brian hears rhythmic thumps as Roger hits a staccato beat with one fist upon his thigh. "Right," he murmurs. "Got it. Merry Christmas, Mum, to you and Clare both. Tell the munchkin I said hullo." He listens and laughs through tears that Brian sees shining in his eyes and glazing his full soft cheeks. "Yeah, I love you too, so much. Love you both. Kisses," he purses his lips and croaks out a goodbye before holding the phone in the air a moment and shuddering.

Brian clears his throat and moves his leg to make a noise, and Roger's head shoots up as he clangs the phone back into its cradle and swipes hurriedly at his cheeks. "Rog," Brian says softly.

"Uh, hey," Roger croaks out. "I was-- just cutting some onions, Bri. Figured I'd try stew or something for a late supper. You hungry?" He puts the phone back and dusts off his hands.

Brian makes a show of gazing around the kitchen, seeing absolutely no sign of cooking in any form or fashion, let alone onions. "I… don't see any onions out, Rogie," he says carefully, curling both hands around the back of a chair and pressing his lips together.

"Right," Roger is nodding. "And that's why I lost it, 'cause we don't have any onions, which is just--" he waves a helpless hand. "--bollocks, you know?"

"Roger," Brian relinquishes the chair and steps closer, ducking his face a little. "I heard. If you, if you need to stay here, or go home for Christmas, you won't offend me. Honestly, I--" he is cut off by Roger's head shaking frantically.

"No, Bri, that's not-- I don't-- agh, shut the fuck up," the blond manages. "I want to come home with you, more than anything. I know it'll be amazing fun. I just-- with my mum and sister, I have to make sure they're alright." Roger lifts his eyes, and they look more than broken, they seem fractured, and Brian's heart lurches painfully within his chest at the sight. "You get that, yeah? I… I've gotta keep them safe, well," all the time, but especially "over Christmas."

Brian freezes, remembering the little he knows about Roger's father, coming after him instead of his sister and his mum...god, Brian feels so stupid. Of course that's what Rog is on about, he'd been talking to his mother on the phone, even offering their flat. Of course.

"Rogie, I--" Brian doesn't know what to say, but his arms move of their own accord and he reaches out to Roger, who runs into Brian's chest and buries his head in Bri's shirt as if it's the most natural thing in the world, as if he belongs there.

Wrapping himself tightly around Roger, Brian makes it his mission then and there to give his mate the best holiday possible. Roger deserves it, and Freddie does too. Brian cares for them both so very much, and he and his family have love to spare.

Chapter Text

Freddie finishes his exams days before Roger and Brian, and knows that Brian has told his parents they will be on their way on Christmas Eve. Roger works on his van and Fred ensures clothes are washed for exam time and their vacation. Brian cooks food that gives them several days of leftovers, but barely eats any of the meals he makes. He ends up with his cheek stuck to the surface of the table or pillowed upon a textbook far more often than he falls asleep in bed.

Roger, even as he strides through the flat swearing and throwing things in stress over examinations, has moments to laugh and ruffle the curly hair of his mate. "It'll be bloody fantastic once we get a band going again rather than this," he spits one afternoon.

Freddie smiles as Brian presses his fingertips to the bridge of his nose, pressing down his hair with the other hand. "You forget, Rogie, that we don't have a singer."

Roger rolls his eyes and jerks his head at Freddie.

"I DID say that if I was your lead singer, you'd see what I can do," Freddie twirls one wrist and extends his hand, drama in the popping of his hip and the curl of his lips.

Even in his exhaustion Brian smiles. Roger laughs aloud and nudges Freddie. First, they have to get through this year, or session of Uni at the very least. After which the blond registers with a snarl of "Bloody lateral incisors!" He smacks a book off the table and Brian hisses. Nice incisors, which only serves to send Roger into a fervor of studying.

Hours later, Brian is nodding off at the kitchen table and Roger is on the floor, head pillowed upon his arms, mouth agape. Freddie pulls a blanket from the back of the couch and tenderly tucks it around Roger's body and Brian's legs.

The art student is heading out, tiptoeing past his flatmates as Roger snorts and rolls over, nuzzling his soft cheek against Brian's legs, bare and pale in the moonlight. His penchant for wearing short shorts and tight t-shirts around the flat is well-known enough to his mates that Fred had found a shirt with a smiling sun upon it and Roger swore the garment was perfect for Brian. Perfectly framed in this light, Bri appears serene and still. Like some long-faced marble statue. Freddie longs to capture him in charcoal. Roger too, as that sweet round face shines in the light of the moon. He promises himself to capture his boys later and quietly lets himself out of the flat.

Brian is floating in Space in his head, dreaming of passing through and around the Universe--seeing neutron stars, witnessing their creation and destruction, birth and death; the storm on the surface of Jupiter that is as large as the Earth itself. Sights so astounding they put him in mind of pieces of music that represent the Cosmos. Brian imagines the wail of his guitar along with Roger's steady drum beat and high harmonising falsetto, overlayed with the rich texturing of Freddie's crystal-clear voice. He could cry at its beauty.

...And then it is gone, because with a shock Brian recalls there is no sound in Space.

He wakes with a start, a gasp, arms and torso flying forward to ram his solar plexus against the edge of the table. He lets out another gasp and recoils, feeling the hardness of wood at his back. His cheek sticks and then a loud thump precedes the falling of a book, as pages on the lifetimes of stars had been stuck to his cheek.

Brian feels warmth shift away from his feet and hears a small sound. Blinking away the last scraps of sleepiness and imagined remnants of stars, the student of astrophysics ducks his head to spot Roger curled up like a cat beside Bri's feet, having huddled close in slumber, underneath a blanket Freddie surely had put there. Where is Fred now? Nowhere Brian can ascertain with a look; he'd gone out, perhaps, and Brian feels bogged down. Heavy, suddenly, with all of this work weighing on him, as he realises that in his dream, it was the music that lent joy and life and wonder to the dark expanse of Space and all he was seeing.

What does that mean? Brian has an inkling; more than that, a sneaking suspicion as he had talked to Freddie a bit about careers recently; asked what could he do, really--? but the astrophysics student cuts off that thought and shakes off the musings that are sure to take him down a rabbit hole of wondering darkly. He focuses instead on what he can do in this particular moment: crouch and scoop Roger carefully into his arms, blanket and all. He stands and gets his bearings before carrying his friend to bed.

Roger grumbles and nestles his rumpled golden head on Brian's shirt, lengthy locks a tangle. One warm arm curls around Brian's shoulder as the taller man hitches Rog higher in his arms, striding down the hall. He goes first into the washroom because almost-a-dentist Rog would kill him if teeth were not brushed. Setting Roger down on the counter as if he were a child, Brian lathers his friend's toothbrush with paste. "Open wide, Rog," he murmurs. After an endless moment the blond does, blinking grouchily during the duration of an expansive yawn. Which is more than enough of an invitation for Bri to grab him by the chin and put the brush in Rog's mouth to scrub his teeth before telling him to spit.

Roger does and shoves himself down off the counter an instant later, only to topple forward in his weary state and fall face-first into Brian's chest. He grunts half in apology, half in annoyance as the taller fellow steadies him and takes Roger into his room, turning down the sheets on his bed for him as Rog unceremoniously drops his trousers and tosses his shirt away before flopping down with a muffled, almost inaudible "Thanks Bri."

Brian shakes his head with a fond chuckle as he pulls a sheet and then the blanket over Roger, pulling the end around his mate's shoulders and tucking stray bits of long hair behind Rog's ears. His fingertips remain on the curve of Roger's earlobe and then the nape of his neck as he hears something mumbled inaudibly. Leans down and presses his lips to the other's full cheek without thinking about it "Ah-- g' night, Rog," Brian whispers, flushing and bumbling a bit before getting his long legs to work and propel his body out the door.

Lifting his head a bit and shaking it in exasperation after Brian as he leaves, Roger decides in the haze before renewing his slumber --he has got to get a Christmas gift for Brian that shows how Roger feels since Bri freaks and gets embarrassed and doesn't stay 'round to hear the words.

Which is one reason they decide to stay around until Christmas Eve.

***

Roger had planned a party, which is the other reason. Well, Freddie planned it--it will take place at their Kensington stall as a celebration of not only the special day itself but the cessation of school for that year. Exams had ended at last. The three mates would be driving to Brian's parents' afterwards, so this gathering kick-starts the holiday season. "With a bang, darling!" Freddie cries as he blows up a balloon and it pops. Well, Roger pops one behind him and cackles.

Blowing up bushels of red and green balloons isn't enough; they require an immense amount of alcohol to fuel them. Freddie also had the idea to bake biscuits --"In honour of the season," he said-- cinnamon and sugar covered snickerdoodles. He and Rog pooled part of their pay to buy ingredients; Roger started saving most of his in order to procure a pair of deep blue silk pyjamas with stars for Brian. He'd told Fred about the idea after watching Brian lay out in his little shorts and paper-thin shirt, shivering under books.

Of course they haven't got a pair of pyjamas like those in their stall, hell no, so Freddie suggested searching in specialty shops. Roger even goes into Biba, though he can't afford more than a tenth of what they sell, and got an odd look in the men's section when he asked for something "One point eight seven metres high. Got any outfits like that? I need a present. For my mate." Several salesgirls are giggling at him until one with fair skin and dark-blonde hair comes over.

"Funny, that's the height of a guy I've been seeing. You'll need the tall section, come on." She leads him over to the proper shelves and asks "Anything in particular? Colours, patterns?"

"Stars," Roger blurts out whilst waving a hand. "Planets and galaxies and that. Want to find some night wear," he smirks a bit. "Me mate's an enormous nerd."

A thoughtful expression crosses this girl's face. "Really? Bloke I've been seeing likes the stars too. Too shy to go on about them much though." Roger chuckles. Two space nerds almost two metres tall? What are the odds? She helps him find a pair, actually, dark navy with swirls of purple and green; there are white and gold stitched stars and silver piping at the seams. Price is rather steep. Of course.

Roger pushes back his hair and shakes out his arms. "Look, this, ah. I have about half of the money now--" he pulls crumpled bills from his pockets and smooths them out as best he can. "C'n get the rest to you by Christmas Eve. I work in Kensington, the market, selling clothes second-hand." He explains. Probably shouldn't be admitting that to a reputable clothes salesperson, but she appears unfazed. Even interested.

"Really?" She asks.

"Yeah, come on if you like. Our stuff is reasonably priced. Affordable for us working stiffs, ya know." She smiles.

"Thank you, I'll make a note. Of both things." She pauses. "I didn't get your name."

"Oh!" He beams, teeth bared in a smile that lights up his whole face as he puts out his hand to her. "Right. I'm Roger Taylor," he introduces himself.

Clasping his hand, "It's a pleasure, Roger," she replies. "My name's Mary. Mary Austin."

"Lovely to meet you, Mary."

***

So the boys get ready for their party, not wanting to put the May family out by staying with them for an entire fortnight, and Freddie wheedles at Brian to help him bake biscuits because "--they aren't simply for our party, darling. If you won't allow me to purchase something for your parents, I shall just have to make it myself, and so-- Ta-da!" He pulls out ingredients with a flourish.

Brian closes his eyes. "That's honestly not necessary, Fred."

"Oh shut it, Brian, we need Christmas biscuits," Roger cuts in. "Especially since we'll be drinking! C'mon, let Fred do this! Oh," he chucks a handful of flour at his friend and it gets into Brian's hair, which begets a race around the kitchen with Rog doing his level best to stay away from Brian "No, don't get after--augh, hitting your hair was an accident! Bloody hell, Bri!"

"Darlings, do mind the mixing bowl," Freddie chastises with fond amusement as he spins out of the way of Brian who stretches his long arms around Roger's middle to hoist him in the air. Roger shrieks.

"Fuck off, put me down--alright, alright, I'm incredibly sorry for tainting your glorious hair, leggo," the shorter man whines.

"I could use some help rolling out biscuits," Freddie says, and Brian relinquishes Roger immediately to assist. The blond mouths his thanks and scoops up some sugar, eating some and dusting himself with it.

"There, Bri, now we're even," he grumbles, and then Brian proceeds to tell him that isn't flour so they aren't even in the slightest.

("Flour is softer and gets smeared, pressed into your clothes!"

"Oh bloody hell, it washes out!")

Eventually they do both help Freddie finish baking and Brian is exhorted to come to the party as well: "You've been dragging arse lately, this'll be good for you!" Roger in particular wants Bri to feel comfortable in his and Freddie's market stall. It is a regular hangout for the pair of them, of course, but Brian has only come around once or twice. It'd be a fantastic way for his friend to meet folks. Particularly girls. Brian protests that he's been seeing someone, but apart from drunken shenanigans with Maeve that single solitary evening, Roger has zero evidence of his mate having a good time.

Thus Roger drags him on, and Freddie in his special way of making the person he's talking to feel as though they are the most important individual in the world, tells Brian: "We'd love for you to come spend the evening celebrating with us. I would adore it, and this will be a joyous occasion!"

"Thank God it's Christmas, eh?" Brian intones.

"Yes, thank God it's Christmas." Something in Roger's face changes and Brian reaches out, pulling his shorter friend into his side.

"Oh come now, my dears," Freddie coos. He skips up to them both, kissing first Roger's cheek and then Brian's, tugging them along. "We are celebrating here first this lovely night and then shall be treated to wonderful hospitality from the family May, so let us show some more enthusiasm--" he whoops as they've made it to Kensington walking, and rushes down to their area with biscuit plate in hand. Roger and Brian light up with awe and appreciation of his exuberance. Roger shrugs and Brian smiles. How they adore his ways, whirling mad though he and they may be. "Hey hey hey hey hey!!!"

Chapter Text

The trio of flatmates enter the stall area and Brian immediately goes back for a second passel of biscuits. Just before he returns, "Mary!" Roger crows as into the area arrives the blonde salesgirl who'd been so kind and seemed so fun. She holds a wrapped soft-looking parcel in her arms. He waves a drink around, having instantly poured one for himself. "Glad you could make it, wasn't sure ya would with the job and all!"

"Roger," she smiles, holds up the parcel. "As promised, I brought you this."

Freddie is watching her in her fluffy coat, his eyes wide as she leans close to his mate conspiratorially and whispers "The present, for your mate?"

"Ah!" Roger coughs, having gulped his drink. "Shit, yeah. Sorry, let me get your--" He hustles around behind their cash register and crouches to open the lock box underneath. Mary's eyes take in the stall, all the clothes and decorations and that lean lithe figure moving around everywhere as others arrive, with deep brown eyes and hair of sable.

"This is nice," she tells Rog. "You said it's run by you, and, erm--"

"Freddie there," Roger waves at the other who comes to face Mary now with a sweet smile. "Mary, this is Fred. Freddie, I met Mary in Biba buying something for--"

"Brian," Mary gasps, and Roger narrows his eyes.

"Right, Brian. Hang on, how'd you know his name when I'm certain that I never said...?"

"No, I, Brian." Mary nods at the opposite end of the little stall where their tallest friend has just appeared with his long arms up, carrying biscuits. "That's, he's the boy I've been seeing."

"Wha--Brian?!" Roger lets out a bark of surprised laughter as Brian strides up to them. Bri is also a bit surprised to see Mary, but does his best not to show it.

"Hullo, Mary," he speaks, tone warm even as he feels a trifle awkward.

"Hi Brian," her response is almost a squeak as Roger yanks the parcel away from her and presses thirty quid into her hand. "So these are the friends you've told me about."

"I--yes," Brian nods. "Clearly you know Roger, and now you've met Freddie. I thought the two of you might get on."

The way Mary's eyes light on Freddie let Brian know that he was right. She looks to him and he smiles, and squeezing her arm, Brian nudges Mary towards Fred. As she begins chatting with him, the tall man feels a nudge to his own midriff. "Here," Roger's high voice intones as he passes Bri a drink. Perceptive Rog. Clearly, though he hadn't before realised Mary was a girl Brian had been seeing (so private is Brian it is a miracle Rog was ever witness to ANY feminine encounters he had. Poor Brian on the other hand...) Roger smirks and then grows serious, sober as he recognises a bit of the way his friend is surely feeling. Brian's expression currently telegraphs regret and a little sadness, along with understanding at once. "You need a drink, Brian. Just the one, ya can still drive later, mate. Get the rest of the biscuits and pack our clothes and head on to your parents' house after. C'mon, Bri," he wheedles. "It'll help you and after all this is a party." Clinking his own glass against Brian's, Roger cries "Cheers!"

Brian taps his glass to Roger's. "Right. Cheers," he replies quietly before gazing first into the depths of his cup after drinking from it, and then over at Mary and Freddie, who are getting on like a house afire, though that has always been a metaphor he doesn't have a taste for. Why must it be about destruction? Fred and Mary are getting on like a guitar does with music, or a drink with a glass. Gulping the remainder of his drink, Bri coughs, pressing the back of his hand against his lips. Eyes starting to water "My god, Roger, what was in there?"

"Enough rum to intoxicate an entire bloody boat full of sailors, as they say." The blond winks. "You oughta loosen up a little, Bri. I'm tryin' ta get ya to relax!"

Brian cocks an eyebrow. "Really, Rog? I suppose you want me to go round like you do. How many drinks do you plan to have tonight?" Roger has already finished his first and pours his second.

"Enough," Roger grins and jogs over to Fred and Mary, beaming. The gold of his hair and Mary's pale complexion alongside Freddie's darker one arrests Brian and causes him to fumble for the camera he's got around his neck. He had put it on to capture happiness, as he always does the times he comes to Kensington. He takes a photo of the trio and a shot of whiskey Roger presses into his hand.

"Why do I ever let you hand me things?" he sputters and croaks after drinking. "Ugh, you're trying to kill me, Rog!"

"Nah Bri, I'm trying to help you LIVE!"

Freddie smiles at Brian sweetly, reaching out and rubbing his tall friend's arm. Brian's midnight hair covers his eyes as he ducks his face low, appreciative of Freddie's gently empathetic and observant nature. Mary gazes up at him as well, leaning in with a smile and something in her eyes that causes agony to flare in his before he swallows it down. "Let me get a shot of you and Freddie, Rog." Freddie nudges Roger, whose mouth has dropped open in an exuberant laugh as he looks up and Brian snaps another picture. Looking it over with a smile, Brian decides to get a copy made for each of his friends, perhaps to hang one in their flat. And then he notices the mistletoe above Freddie; well hanging between him and Freddie, honestly, which is what Rog had been laughing at.

"Well go on then!" Roger bursts out. "Gimme your camera, Bri. Finish your drink, Freddie." Fred smiles and swallows his rum punch as Roger tugs the camera strap over Brian's hair.

"Rog, I don't think," Brian started.

"Ah ah, Bri. Rules are rules."

Brian swallows, looking down into Freddie's warm brown eyes. "Alright." Freddie smiles sweetly, bashful as Brian ducks down his head to accommodate his friend's shorter stature. Freddie reaches up and runs his fingers through Brian's curls before pressing his lips to his friend's forehead. Brian closes his eyes and feels tears threaten at the gentle touch of Freddie's lips, so sweet and loving. His hands rise and long fingers flutter briefly before catching Freddie's broad shoulders and as the shorter man withdraws a bit, pulling him into a tight hug.

"Happy Christmas, Fred," he whispers.

Squeezing Brian in return, "Happy Christmas, Brian dear," Freddie murmurs. They relinquish one another after Roger elaborately gags.

"Eugh, that was sickeningly sweet," the blond says. Freddie winks over at him as Brian flushes and steps back. Mary comes up, having gone to look about the stall some more. Her eyes are shining.

"You've got a magnificent collection of clothes here, Freddie," she breathes. "It's a labour of love to collect them; Roger wasn't kidding."

"No I wasn't," Roger grins broadly.

"Thank you, Mary," Freddie grows intent. "Though none of this, not one of our pieces is as magnificent as you are." And then Freddie, shy gentle Freddie, clasps Mary smartly around the waist and presses his lips to hers, bowing her backwards in an embrace worthy of Bogey and Bergman. Roger whistles as Brian's eyes widen and Mary gasps. Yet soon as Freddie relinquishes her she grins wickedly and tugs him in again.

"Well if you're going to do that, now it's my turn." Her kiss is even more passionate than his, if possible. Whilst his movements were romantic and elegant, hers are almost frantic. As their embrace continues, Brian feels Roger's arm wrap around his waist and squeeze his side.

***

The party ends after all the alcohol has been consumed hours later and the balloons are popped. Roger nearly forgets to grab his gift for Brian, but he manages to do so, tipsily trying to tug Freddie away afterwards. Freddie, who doesn't want to let go of Mary's hand and makes her promise to see him again after the holidays. "Please, Mary, I would be absolutely devastated if this were to be the last time we saw each other." Saucy now, "I'm going to be a legend, you know." The way he says it, full of braggadocio but not truly bragging, makes Mary smile as she reaches out and touches his cheek.

"Oh I have absolutely no doubts about that, Freddie," she whispers. "You're going to do such great things." They'd talked so much, and the real belief and awe in her voice makes him flush and kiss her palm before saying thank you.

"I shall call you, or you can call me, darling-- whatever works!" Freddie calls this as Brian wraps him in his coat and Roger begins gathering the rest of their things.

"Okay!" Mary's eyes are alight. Roger pumps his fist at her and looks to Brian, who inclines his head with a nod. On impulse she hugs him and utters "Happy Christmas, Brian. I really hope it's lovely."

"Thank you, Mary," Brian speaks feelingly and Freddie asks if they might drop her anywhere, Roger insisting instantly that it's no trouble. Brian feels his heart sink a bit even as he feels warm due to Freddie's sincerity. He leans out of the van that they'd walked back to, Roger shoving him into a seat.

"We'll drop you anywhere you like, just name it!"

"We have to get to my parents' at a reasonable hour, Fred."

"Bit bloody late for that, but we're ridin' down the road in a machine of a dream!" Roger puts in and Brian rolls his eyes, smiling.

Mary smiles too. "Thank you for that incredibly sweet offer, Freddie, but I brought my own car."

Hers is just outside the market, and so they get out of their vehicle to walk Mary to hers, before a slightly weaving Roger takes a much-less-steady Freddie half onto his back. It's a lucky thing that Brian has been tasked to drive home.

Brian, who saw the instant connection Mary had with Freddie upon her introduction to him, and though he'd orchestrated them meeting by said introduction (at least in a sense), it's a bit --strange to see someone you dated click instantly with your friend. This is indicative of failures on his part, clearly. Though it's fine; it’s not that Mary wasn’t interested in dating, it’s that she wasn’t interested in dating HIM. There are so many ways he does not, cannot measure up to Freddie; perhaps, if he was more fashionable or charismatic or talented, he would have better luck in love. Because though Fred is shy, he's sweet and has such charisma and charm. Not to mention generosity and impeccable taste.

"So, Fred, you and Mary got on famously, yeah?" Brian speaks slowly as he drives out of the city in Roger's clunker of a van. (A perfectly good van, sod off, Roger always retorts when Brian or anyone else makes disparaging comments). Freddie flops his face towards his tall friend and smiles from the passenger seat.

"Oh certainly, darling, and it's all thanks to you for introducing us. She already knows you're wonderful, perhaps that will keep her interest, as I am your friend."

Brian's thumbs tap out a staccato beat upon the edges of the steering wheel. He shakes his head. "Come on, Fred, you're amazing and talented. Of course she's got an interest, and it'll keep whether she knows me or not."

Freddie's eyes widen. "Brian, how could I possibly be her type of person when you are so wonderful?"

"Clearly she finds you more so, which I completely understand." Brian darts a glance at Freddie, his lithe form lounging in the seat, that fashionable outfit and his fluffy soft hair. Freddie's lips purse, but he understands what Brian is doing, how he is feeling due to his own feelings--how can he possibly be enough? He wants to assure Bri that he's wonderful, and Brian wants more than anything to do the same for him.

Roger, butting into the conversation by swinging his head and torso forward from his seat in the back of the van: "Oh shut up, you're both a bloody good catch!" He cries. Roger's eyes are enormous as he whips his blond tresses back and forth, staring from Brian to Fred. "I could thump both of you for being such gits, honestly." They both think so bloody poorly of themselves, still. Even after all the work Roger has been doing. "Why the fuck don't you see yourselves the way I--well I don't see well enough," he cracks. "Can't, but I know you, and you bloody well better start believing when someone says how wonderful you are, for fuck's sake." He throws up his arms in frustration. How they can both so easily build each other up whilst tearing themselves down is beyond him.

Roger shoves his fingers through his hair now and growls "You may look blurry around the edges but I know you're great, so stop talking shite about yourselves. Just shut the fuck up." Honestly, how can they truly not see or know-- "Are you proud of ANYTHING you can do?" He asks, glowering at both of them again and snapping "Right, that's it. You're both going to think of one thing, one BLOODY THING you like about yourselves and you're going to say it out loud. Right now." An excellent idea, he decides smugly, crossing his arms over his chest. Especially since he came up with it.

Brian shuffles his feet on the floor of the vehicle and bows his head, extending one arm for Freddie to speak his piece first. Freddie sucks in his cheeks, not knowing what to say. "I, well I can tell when an outfit looks good, or what it needs in order to be improved," Freddie says softly at last.

Roger nods vigourously. "Damn right you can, Freddie! It's fucking amazing, I don't even know how to work something on an outfit sometimes, but you always make it work."

"You've got an artist's eye, Freddie," Brian says quietly. "You appreciate beauty."

"And recognise greatness," Roger adds.

Freddie flushes, pleased. "Thank you, darlings," he says. And then, "--why else do you think I love being around you so?" He touches Brian's face and reaching back, takes and squeezes Roger's hand.

"Because of my amazing personality," Roger cracks as Brian freezes, registering that Freddie believes he and Roger both are examples of beauty and greatness.

Generous Freddie with his sincere compliments. Brian now flushes, pressing his lips to the hand Freddie rests on his cheek, in immense gratitude. "...Thank you, Fred."

As Freddie smiles and pats Brian's face affectionately before relinquishing him, Roger turns deliberately with a rising brow. "It's your turn, Brian. Don't think I bloody forgot about you."

Brian's shoulders drop a bit. He'd honestly been hoping Roger had. Sucking in a breath, he taps his fingers to his lips and says, staring studiously out of the windshield, "Well, I...do know I'm intelligent, but can't even finish what I've begun intelligence-wise, quitting my degree in astrophysics--"

Freddie gasps. "You're sure on that at this point, Brian?"

Brian swallows. He'd been thinking, and "Yes, I--"

Roger pounces on Brian's words and interrupts him with a shout of negation. "Not good enough, you're still talking shite, Brian. We can talk about that later! Think of something you love about yourself withOUT strings attached. Or at the very least something you like," he sighs because he knows Bri well enough to be pretty fucking positive Brian won't be able to think of something he loves about himself. Stubborn insecure bastard.

Freddie smiles at Brian encouragingly.

Brian blinks and keeps pondering, a crease forming between his brows as he articulates at last, having travelled through the countryside under the pale opal moon as he pulls onto his parents' drive "Well... I know a bit about music. As in the roots of rock and roll, and that."

"You're a musical encyclopedia, darling," Freddie coos.

"--You knew exactly which bits of my sound you needed, wanted to be like Mitchell, Moon, and Baker when you tried me out," Roger pipes up. "Which was bloody fucking fantastic. And you know every guitar lick Hendrix ever played."

Brian opens his mouth to say something, and then forces himself to stop, as he'd been about to say, Certainly, surely other people know more than I. There is always something else to learn. But "Thank you," he whispers instead, curls shadowing his lowered facial features as he puts the van in park and they all climb out. "Again, boys. Thanks so much."

"Of course," Freddie walks round to wrap his arms around Brian and Roger joins in.

"We can't have you thinking less of yourself all the fucking time, Brian," the drummer adds.

Brian's lips tremble and his eyes fill with tears as he wraps his long arms around this pair of dear men, hugging them tightly. He loves them so much for so many reasons, and the fact that they love him and believe these positive things, maybe... Well, it goes a long way towards helping him believe such things are true. Or at least that it's possible for him to actually appreciate himself for who he is.

Roger has not been able to understand how sedate, how reticent Brian is at times-- how it is such a treat, a rare one, to see him smile, particularly during a set in public. He has always been so solemn-looking from the beginning (it still is a shock whenever he grins, the expression is like a shooting star, there and gone in an instant) which is a mystery to Roger. Bri acts such so much of the time except when he talks about space. Yet as soon as Brian takes a breath, curling his hands around his friends' shoulders and then the little bag he'd brought before rapping smartly on the front door, the exuberant blond realises precisely how.

***

They walk in up the drive past flat fields of heather and see the sharpness of snow on the moor under the moonlight, and there are Christmas lights on a tree visible inside. Yet none outdoors. The three men reach the door and Brian knocks. It takes a little before pulling open the door is a willowy little woman with Brian's soft eyes and curling hair. "Brian," those eyes brighten as he greets her and her face smooths out, losing lines of worry. "Oh, I'm so glad you're here." He wraps his arms round her in a hug that she returns, kissing his cheek before cupping it, both of them, and adding sternly "You are too thin, my love."

He ducks his face sheepishly as Roger snorted. "Well, yes, that's a distinct possibility. Sorry, Mum, I--"

"Is that Brian?" A sharp male tone barks from the living room, and Bri stiffens, head coming up as his mother leans back and returns

"Yes it is, my love. He's here now with his friends." She turns to and takes in Freddie and Roger now, saying how lovely it is to meet them both. Freddie takes both of her hands and tells her likewise, he has been wanting to come, and thanks her for allowing him, and for Brian --as he'd promised to do.

The tallest young man flushes just as Roger gives his mum a hug and kisses her on the cheek. A stockier, shorter man with a square jaw and blunt face comes around the wall into the hallway. Poking his head around first and saying Brian knows about keeping people waiting, or at least he should: "What have I taught you? Ought to apologise to your mother, she stayed up this long, this late on Christmas Eve to wait for your arrival."

Brian's cheeks flame darkly as Roger stares at his friend's father. No greeting, no 'swell to see you, son, how's Uni?' just a lecture on being considerate for the man who goes out of his way on behalf of absolutely everyone. That's rich. Roger's chin rises as Brian opens his mouth, eyes pained. He's sure Bri will apologise; needlessly, as far as Roger is concerned, so "Mister May, that's my fault. I'm Roger," he comes over to Brian's father and puts out a hand. "Roger Taylor. Fred and I had a get-together at our place of work, and Brian was being hospitable. We're the ones who lost all track 'a time there." He smiles, a baring of teeth and flashing of bright eyes. "It is Christmas Eve."

Sizing Roger up, it takes a moment for Harold May to shake his hand. The fluffy blond hair and tight pants and sparkling eyes--perhaps Rog should have buttoned up his shirt some more, or ditched the fluffy jacket, but ah well. Too late now. Yet the blunt-faced sharp-eyed man does do so, eventually, and replies "That's good on you, Roger, your loyalty to my son is admirable--but I have taught Brian right from wrong." His voice snaps as he adds "And as such he knows not to keep people needlessly waiting."

Great, well fuck you too, Roger adds a lack of listening to his impression of his friend's father. Harold's grip is firm but short upon Roger's hand, and he is taking a gander now at Freddie, who is so shy, not at all his frolicking fey self as he'd just been a bit ago whilst talking with Brian's mother. He is introduced before Harold sniffs "Pleasure," and tells his wife "Let us go to bed, my love. We've waited up enough, Brian knows what else needs doing." He looks from Freddie now to Rog. "--I trust you both will be comfortable here."

Roger swallows a scathing remark as Freddie speaks up "Yes, of course, and thank you so much for inviting us," in his turn, heading off a diatribe from Roger. Dearest Freddie. "We didn't want you to go to any trouble."

"Oh, no trouble, it was fine," Ruth May speaks quietly as her husband glowers at his son pointedly. Brian wilts.

"Of course. Thank you so much for having us, Dad, Mum, I know we're putting you out," Brian says, which is bullshit, snarls Roger inwardly. Bri shouldn't feel like that, he's their son! Their only bloody child! Ruth pats his cheek as she passes with her husband's arm around her, steering.

"Lovely to meet you," calls Freddie after them as the pair heads down the hall.

"Goodnight," says Roger.

"Goodnight, happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas. Wow," the blond hisses as Brian's parents' door closes after them, almost slamming. "You didn't say --about your father, holy fuck, Bri."

"He's got his way of doing things," Brian says, bowing his head. "I really should have gotten us here earlier." Fumbling "here, let me get your coats off, and make up the beds. Freddie--"

"--I'm certain your mother has done that already, darling," Freddie soothes, shrugging blithely from out of his coat and taking it to the closet Brian has opened, hanging it up for him. Patting his cheek. "She seems more than capable."

"She's top," Roger agrees. He had hugged Ruth just before Bri's father's verbal fireworks had begun, and she'd thanked him so much for coming, said that she knows he has done a lot for Brian. "Your dad--"

"--Seems a good man if a bit of a steely one, Brimi darling," Freddie coos with a soft curving grin as Brian ushers them down the hall through the kitchen towards his room and the spare room. Fumbling for the light, and "Oh!" Freddie gasps as a sweet round-faced dark grey-black cat with a white blaze on her chest and mouth as well as little white paws vacates Brian's bed, lifting her head and padding towards them inquisitively. "And just who is this beautiful girl?"

"This is my Pixie," says Bri, face soft and voice sweeter than his mates have ever heard it. He swoops her up in his long hands and cradles the feline to his chest after she pads over, purring instantly. Brian beams as Freddie coos, bending over to stroke this lovely little creature as she cuddles close in Brian's arms. It's as if she has lifted a weight off of him as he adds "she's a... well, a true love of mine."

"Oh, most certainly," replies Freddie, beaming all over his face. "Who could say no to those eyes?" His voice is high and sweet as Brian's has gone, and Roger watches their pair of dark heads bent low. Sees how gentle and gooey Bri is with this cat. How they both are, but Bri in particular is grinning like a fool, face soft and loving. So different from how pinched and unhappy he had been when talking to, well mostly listening--to his father.

Roger can instantly tell how much it means to Brian for Freddie to love his dear pet, the manner in which Freddie strokes her soft head and croons endearments. It's magical, the expression on Brian's face; how his shoulders relax and he seems a different person. Which makes Roger that much more determined to make Brian as happy as he possibly can; so that he might feel as content with himself as he is in this moment, with his cat, all the time. Roger sees the light in Brian's eyes, and how it had dimmed, nearly winked out with his father just now. Rog is going to take care of his friend in order to keep Brian's light shining.

He's going to take care of them both, he decides as he sees Freddie's expansive yawn, watches him curl into Brian's lean side. Brian's long arm wraps round and he speaks softly, as sweet as he is to the cat, "On you get, Fred. Off to bed. You too, Rog."

They've walked into the hall betwixt the rooms by this point, and Brian hands Pixie to Freddie. She continues her purr as he scratches her head. Brian turns down the sheets and gathers towels, pointing out the single washroom and saying he hopes he's done enough, he's just so glad they're here.

"Stoppit, you're fine, Brian," Roger growls at him, grabbing Bri's arm. "This is great. Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas, my sweet boys," Freddie puts Pixie down and she meows in protest before he promises to continue giving her pets after hugging his mates. He wraps his arms around Brian and Rog, voice thickening a little. "It's such a privilege to know you."

Roger leans his head in Fred's side as Brian's arm shakes and his lips also do. "Happy Christmas Fred, Rog," he tells them both, accepting, near sagging into the embrace Roger helps tug him in. His gentle voice cracks. Roger leans against him, Freddie cinching one arm around Brian's thin waist tighter than before. "I'm-- I am so glad, so grateful you're both" my mates, my brothers. That you put up with me without fuss. He smiles, eyes melancholy but attempting positivity. Certainly showing his gratitude: "...that you are both here."

Chapter Text

Brian goes into first his own room and then the guest room, checking to ensure the beds are turned down for his mates and that Freddie and Roger have everything they will need. After which he takes up a blanket, the biggest he can find in the hall closet. He grabs a pillow and walks out to the living room. Heads to the little couch in front of the Christmas tree, plopping down upon it and curling his gangly legs up best he can, as the sofa is much too short for him to stretch out completely. Gazing at the tree, smelling its clean pine scent and sighting the enormous coloured lights, globular and so bright; so different from other lights he has seen around. Other places he's been and seen, families use solely white bulbs, but those are so-- they seem so distant and cold. Remind Brian of the stars, whilst colours are reminiscent of interplanetary dust and the gases around as well as part of the composition of nebulae. Those are what he truly loves.

He simply is no longer certain that he loves it all, the stars and space, enough.

Staring into the lights and the shine of ornaments among them, Brian ponders on tradition and on his own abilities. Is it worth this? Is he worth his ability to go to school for astrophysics, to receive a doctorate in such an exciting field on the forefront of scientific breakthrough and theory, at least in his mind—in order to open doors for himself? To receive and to take advantage of opportunities his father did not have? Take care, focus, and know right from wrong. Prove yourself, boy. Brian clenches his fingers together and swallows hard. He aches, yearning for his awe of space to intermix with the joy and the power, the amazing agency of creating music.

Lights are blurring before his eyes as Brian recalls the dream he cannot shake, that he had of himself, Freddie, and Roger performing in Space. He cannot get it out of his mind, twas the music of the spheres, created by the three of them. Brian feels the pull to perform with Rog and Fred even more than the pull he’s always felt to learn about the Cosmos, and his stomach lurches with the feeling of magic and of awe, serenity he has not felt for months in the course of his astrophysics work. He curls up on the couch, skin frigid, arms and legs akimbo.

Brian hears a shuffling then, and a soft “Oi, Freddie, he’s out here,” before a warm and solid weight drops onto the sofa beside him, vaulting over the back to land with a bounce. Roger’s soft locks of bright hair fill Brian’s vision, brushing against his face and neck, making him snort and blink as he shifts himself to stretch one arm out so that Rog can nestle in. He presses his fingers to his nose and draws them down his face, attempting to brush dry his now-dampened cheeks. Feels Roger lean into his side before another pair of warm arms wrap around to gently deposit a silky soft weight into Brian’s lap. Pixie. Freddie places Brian’s dear cat on his legs before pressing a kiss to Bri’s cheek and coming around the couch to sit on his opposite side, snuggling up, burrowing close under Brian’s arm.

Brian feels cold and yet the freezing feeling is halted by Pixie as her warmth is plopped down. She meows and nuzzles her head into his abdomen, butting against his hand. Soft skin presses to Brian’s skin and warm weight curls around his back as feathery softness and bright gold tickles his shoulder. Roger leans his head on Brian and rests his weight there, stretching out like a rumpled cat. Bri’s body shakes now in response to the feeling of Freddie’s closeness and Roger’s warmth.

Freddie is big on snuggling close and bequeathing all sorts of physical affection upon his friends, and seems to always have been. Brian learnt that fact early on and became used to it, especially since Roger is also an incredibly physical being. And truth be told, it is a comfort—more than a comfort because Fred is such a warm person, caring and gentle and generous. Makes Brian feel gladdened simply to be near him, and ache to be even closer in some ways. He respects Freddie’s naturally shy and quiet nature offstage, yet also gets the sense that Freddie talks to Roger far more freely… or perhaps they are somehow able to understand one another without words. Brian feels the sharp pang of that green-eyed monster, jealousy, and is disgusted with himself for it. But it is Roger’s gift to gab, to be open and candid, yet he also has a head to listen when other people speak. “Despite my hearing going from the drums,” he always laughs at himself. Yet those facets of Rog’s bright personality are so incredibly impressive, particularly for someone who feels he has to think on and measure carefully every single word.

Right now Brian figures that he ought to speak, but his head and heart are whirling and too full for words. So he strokes his cat and leans into the embraces of his two best mates on this cold December night.

***

“It’s going to be all right, Brimi dear,” Freddie murmurs as Brian’s shoulders shake in little spurts now. He cuddles even closer, wrapping his fingers around Bri’s arm and rubbing the skin gently. Roger clears his throat and nudges his chin into Brian’s chest. They are both so warm and caring in different ways, and it makes Brian start to cry again.

Loyal and vehement and fierce is Rog, and quiet gentle Freddie can always soothe that fire. Brian appreciates them both so much, and yet feels awful because he cannot possibly repay all that his mates are doing for him and have done. He doesn’t even know that things will be all right; how can he? “I don’t know that, Fred,” Brian moans. “Besides, how can—how can things possibly work out alright when I’m supposed to go to school, to finish this degree, and all I want, I’d much rather go on the road with you. For music. That is, to be part of a band with you both. That’s what I truly want, but it’s…” Brian presses his lips together, expelling a sharp breath and ducking his head, shaking it.

Roger’s light head lifts now. His eyes are flinty. “It’s what?" He snaps. "Impossible? Wrong-headed? Stupid and irresponsible? If you’re worrying about what your dear old dad will say, I can tell him to go—”

“Roger,” Freddie remonstrates, reaching across Brian to prod the drummer and halt his testy words. “Don’t be so bitchy about this, Blondie.”

“No, he’s right,” Brian sniffs and breathes out again heavily. “My—my dad never got to go to university, which is part of this. He worked, and he’s worked so hard for me to get where I am. So tirelessly! Mum has too. If I don’t finish, I’m quitting, I’m devaluing what he and Mum have both done for me, I’m not able to do what he didn’t get to, because I’d be throwing it all away!“ Brian’s hands have clenched involuntarily in the fur of Pixie’s back and her tail swishes back and forth as she hisses a little. “Oh my little darling, I’m so sorry,” Bri moans, unclenching his hands and lifting Pixie up to bury his face in her fur for a moment. She calms, and that, in turn, calms him. A bit.

Roger whips his head round and snarls “Oh, bollocks, Brian! Are you happy? What makes you bloody happy?” His bright blue eyes are serious as he fastens them on his mate’s dark gaze when Brian peeks around Pixie.

Brian hesitates, thinks. “I—playing,” he responds, whispering, curls falling into his face as he dips his head downward, lowering Pixie as he continues stroking her fur. “I was, I am happy. When playing with you, Rog, with both of you after Tim…”

“Shot off the first time, bloody wanker,” grumbles Roger, but his smile is sweet and lights up his entire face as he replies “That was amazing for me too, mate. So don’t be a strop, if you’re happy, you’ve got to do what makes you happy. Fathers want happiness for their kids, most of them.” His blue gaze catches Freddie’s as the other man makes a noise.

Freddie’s dark eyes are warm and lovingly fastened on Brian as he blurts out “Well then, let’s do this thing, Brian my darling! You are my Hendrix, and Roger is our Mitchell. Besides, you remember what I said about being your lead singer, don’t you?” He puts this arch query to the pair and Roger bursts into laughter.

Out of his own whirlpool of worry Brian also manages a chuckle. “I remember, Fred.”

“Yeah, Freddie, we both do. You’ve definitely reminded us enough.” Roger’s eyes twinkle with cheek and Freddie pushes his lips out, lifting his fists and rotating them in a mock boxing stance before he beams and spreads both arms.

“So what are we waiting for? If we don’t try this, we’ll regret it for all the remaining days of our bloody lives, boys!”

“Yeah!” Roger whoops and Brian smacks him, clapping a hand over Roger’s mouth as Pixie leaps off his lap in surprise.

“Shh!” Brian lunges up to slap his hand across Roger's mouth, keeping it there until the drummer waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Sorry, Bri,” the blond whispers after Brian rolls his eyes and lets him go. “But seriously, mate, I'm here for you. We both are in this with you now, and that means we’re bloody well going to support ya, alright?”

Freddie smiles and wraps his arms around Brian, Roger doing the same. “Couldn’t have said it better myself, love.”

Brian nestles himself between his mates and wraps his long arms around them both, so grateful, more than words can say, for them and their affection. He does not know how he deserves this, or how it is going to go, but before he can grow morose again and retreat into his head, “Presents!” Roger squawks. “C’mon, mates, it’s Christmas!”

“…It’s half-past two in the morning, Rog.”

“So what? It’s Christmas Day!”

“You’re right, it is.”

Brian sighs as Roger leaps off the couch and adds “Which means it’s time for presents, and I am REALLY EXCITED about that!” Roger goes silent as Pixie yowls and Freddie shoots up, grasping his arm.

“Roger dear, the parents.”

“Oops, sorry Bri. Thanks Freddie.” Roger apologises again before staring with wide eyes at Brian’s cat. He jerks away when she swishes her tail before he turns and bustles into Brian’s room, flinging his jacket away from the spot over his gifts for Freddie and Bri, whereupon he’d tossed it in case they peeked.

In a manner far more serene and sedate, Freddie glides into the guest room and returns with a large flat parcel and a tiny box. Both of the presents Roger returns with are vaguely round and squishy, and Brian gets off the couch and goes into his bag for his own gifts—a heavy rectangular package and a small oblong. “Who’s first?” he asks.

Roger rolls his eyes and bounces up and down a little before pushing his smaller squishy present at Freddie. “I’ll go,” he says. “Found this and thought of you, Fred.”

It is a glove, sparkly and beaded, dark and mysterious in colour and adorned with sequins and beads. Seems a bit the way Freddie had onstage, Brian thinks reflexively as Fred smiles and pulls the glove on, flexing his hand and rolling his wrist so it catches the Christmas lights and sparkles. And Freddie would wear only one glove, that is unique as he is. He leans across and grabs Roger in a hug. “Thank you, this is fabulous,” he says.

“As are you,” Roger winks.

Freddie laughs and smacks his lips, extending an index finger and stroking it down Roger’s full cheek before spinning round to scoop up the tiny box he had brought. “And this is for you,” he tells the drummer, hand lifted, cupping Roger's face with such easy affection. It makes Brian’s heart ache. “Happy Christmas, Pretty Boy.”

Roger grins and flushes a little. He seems almost shy, a rarity for him. Actually it never happens. Ducking his head, Roger's fingers eagerly rip open the wrapping paper to reveal a miniscule box, inside which a delicate silver chain rests, long enough to loop twice around his neck, resting on his breastbone and lower.

“I thought it would accentuate your warm skin perfectly, since you do love flaunting your chest.” Roger laughs and nods.

“Damn right I do!” He shakes his soft hair back and loops the necklace over his head, tugging it down and on. “Thanks, Fred.” Cool silver drops to hang upon his chest, and he unbuttons his nightshirt all the way for good measure. “Right then, how’s it look?” inquires Rog.

It is Brian who is the first to nod and reply, as Freddie does not seem to have words. “You look fantastic, Rog. Fred certainly knew what he was doing. Well done, Fred.” Roger grins and nudges Freddie.

“Hear hear,” The blond says. “Well Fred, whaddaya think?”

Freddie swallows and gulps air. “I think you look—smashing, and I’m …I’m overjoyed you like it,” he blurts, teeth flashing in a lovely smile and eyes so dark, pupils enormous. Both others want to keep him smiling like that, but Brian has no illusions that his gift is as perfectly suited to Freddie as Roger’s is.

Bri picks up the rectangular parcel he had brought. “Here you are, Fred,” he says softly as he hands it over. “This is just a little something. For all your drawing and writing, I thought—”

“Oi, shut it Brian, let Fred open the thing before you start explaining!”

Freddie pats Brian’s hands as he takes the parcel and opens its patterned paper. It is a darkly embossed journal, with pages thick enough to hold “Paint, I think,” Brian offers. “And they’re unlined, so. Since you’re always coming up with lyrics, I thought you could have a place to write your songs. And keep your designs, I mean, oh!” He would say more, but the wind gets knocked out of him as Freddie dives into his chest for a hug.

“Thank you, Bri,” Freddie murmurs into his neck as he holds Brian tight. “I shall treasure this as I treasure you. Now,” Brian’s cheeks are aflame from the compliment as Freddie releases him and picks up his flat parcel. “Speaking of pictures,” he hands the package to Brian and exhorts him to “Be careful opening this, do.” Roger begins bouncing up and down in his seat.

“My god, Rogie,” Brian breathes. “Calm down! Is this what it’s like to have a younger brother?” he grumbles the last query with a fond but exasperated roll of the eyes.

Roger shoves Brian’s thin shoulder with teeth bared in excitement. “Damn right, we’re brothers and I’m fucking excited, Bri, it’s Christmas!!”

“How many bloody times are you going to remind me that it’s Christmas?” Brian sighs in exasperation, but leans into Roger with gratitude nonetheless. He sees Rog as a brother too. And Freddie.... Ripping off the wrapping paper, moving carefully as he pulls it off the side, Brian finds a canvas. Thick paint stands up in swirls and ridges of navy blue, black, dark green, and purple with accents of glowing silver and white and gold.

“Acrylic, chalk and pastel,” Freddie said and Brian’s breath is caught as in the centre, shining as if with varnish and lacquer as though she could come right off the canvas into his arms, is his beloved guitar. The Red Special, rollers and fireplace wood and knitting needles, and fretting her silvered strings, thin as spider-silk, are Brian’s nimble fingers.

His hands, which have always seemed too long and thin, ungainly and knobbly and pale to him—they exhibit grace in Fred’s painting, a deftness and beauty that astounds Brian. Is this truly what Freddie sees? Or is his artist’s eye overtaking truth? “This is you, Brian,” Freddie speaks up as though he heard his friend’s very thought, the self-deprecation Bri cannot seem to shake, the depression that settles in, a weight upon his shoulders, particularly this time of year. Yet it is mitigated by these dear men, his friends, and now by Freddie’s work and his voice and eyes as he continues “This is the way you appear to me whenever you’re playing your red special. I’ve sat and watched, and every movement, every note is magical.”

“That’s it, Brian,” Roger adds as he looks at the picture over Brian’s shoulder. “This is why you’re meant to play with us. If Fred can capture your purpose, your essence, your sheer bloody grace— I mean, you can’t ignore that, for fuck’s sake. We’ve GOT to play.” Roger picks up his present for Brian and plops it down on the other man’s lean lap. “And you can still look at your ruddy stars.”

Brian’s eyebrows draw together as he begins to open Roger’s parcel after gently placing his painting, reverently, against the couch. He expels a breath that is almost a gasp as he unfolds the shimmery silk in which galaxies glow, silver and gold stars burn alongside stitched colourful planets, gathered onto an expanse so much smaller than their counterparts in the sky. Yet Brian’s delight is writ as large as if they were so. “Oh, Roger,” he breathes, holding the pyjamas out and then clutching them against his chest convulsively “I love this. I love it! Thank you. I ought to put them on,” he beams.

Brian’s mistiness, how bloody HAPPY he is, makes Roger get a lump in his throat and he blinks rapidly. “Great, they better fucking fit. Are you going to wear them all bloody day?"

"Of course!"

Roger sighs in fondness and rolls slightly teary eyes, hoping Brian doesn't see the emotion. His own family was never much for presents, so Bri loving even the simplest things is really wonderful. "Why am I not surprised?" He grumbles, soft husk impossibly fond.

Brian rises and comes over to Roger where he’d stood up in all the excitement and says softly "Thank you, Rog." His friend nods sharply, looking away, and now Brian does notice the tears. Instantly concerned, he puts a hand on the drummer’s shoulder. "Roger, are you alright?"

Roger sniffles and his jaw jumps. "Just--" his voice creaks. "Just happy, is all. Damn it Brian," he growls as those sensitive hazel eyes don't leave his face. "Fuck off." Without further ado he shoots out his arms and rams his face into Brian's chest, burying himself in the new pyjamas, wrapping both arms around his lanky, excitable, worried, nerdy friend whom he loves so much. "You're bloody wonderful," he murmurs into the soft silk. Voice breaking, "I'm glad you like your present.”

"I don't like it, I LOVE it!" Bri enthuses.

I love you, the drummer aches to say, but the words stick in his throat and linger there even after he swallows, like a too-hot bite of food that will not cool down. He is just so chuffed that Brian likes his gift.

Brian strokes Roger’s hair before shifting back and saying “This is for you,” giving Roger the last gift. The drummer coughs, smiling as he opens up a pair of white cloth wristbands. For when he drums. And if that is not indelible proof that they are meant to play and keep playing together, Roger doesn’t know what is.

Chapter Text

Sunrise Christmas morning shows the three friends fast asleep together on the couch, a puddle of arms and legs and feet, bodies layered and intertwined. Brian had put on his new pyjamas before dropping off, and ended up after that with Roger's face smashed into his front, Freddie lying draped over his back, body pressed against Brian's and the fingers of his right hand laced with Bri's.

Brian's long left arm is draped around Roger's torso and shoulders. Roger's stocky body is curled and shifted forward, belly down, face buried in Bri's chest as he snores loudly. Bri's legs are bent a bit, knees hanging off the front of the couch into space as Freddie's press into the backs of his. The way Rog's body is curled makes him an excellent body pillow for Brian. In fact his bum makes quite a soft pillow underneath Brian's head, along with Brian's own hair, falling frizzily around his face in a midnight tangle. Into the room his father traipses, settling into the shabby armchair, newspaper in hand and readers perched on his nose.

Ruth brings her husband coffee, and Harold studies his slumbering son over the lip of his mug before sniffing hard and clearing his throat loudly.

Brian jerks awake at the sound and "Bloody fuck!" Roger yelps as his mate's movement sends his body slamming to the floor. "Ow, thanks, Brian --g' morning to you too."

Roger rubs his towdry head of hair irritably as Bri offers him a hand up with eyes large and contrite, and Freddie yawns and stretches like a cat, luxuriously. "A lovely morning to you, darlings, and a happy Christm--oh!" His deep expressive eyes catch Harold May's sharp glance and Freddie flushes. "To you as well, er." Fred bumbles a bit, or a lot. He is not the best with parents.

Brian's mum rescues him by re-entering the room with more cups of coffee and her son unbends his legs to stand and greet her --and his father-- with a softly-uttered "Happy Christmas" of his own. Avoiding his father's stare and the seeming disapproval within, Brian stoops and picks up Pixie, who has stood and stretched, padding over to him from her pillow.

Though Harold's gaze remains sharp and seemingly questioning, Freddie is off the couch and asking Ruth if she'd like assistance making breakfast and Brian is taking Pixie outside for a bit. So answering that unspoken question falls to Roger, who winks and rumples up his blond hair, tossing off "Joined Bri looking at the tree an' stayed out here. There's been nights we all sleep better together at Uni, Mister May. You know your son doesn't sleep well, right? Sometimes we hafta help him out, Freddie and I. Last night was one of those nights." Rog grins and bounces to his feet, ducking down and grabbing a shirt, Brian's, discarded yestereve--as he'd tossed off his own nightshirt at some point--and tugs the large garment slowly, deliberately over his head before grabbing his fluffy overcoat and shrugging into it. "Now, you have some lights somewhere to string up outside? Saw how dark the place was coming in last night and figured I can help get 'em up, along with Brian. Whaddya say?"

In the face of Roger's forceful exuberance, Brian's father grumbles "Have a box, moved it to the potting shed and left it since my son wasn't home to help--"

"Right, well he is now, and has us to help, so cheers," the young blond interjects as he tugs on thick socks and slides his feet into his shoes. "Oi, Bri!" He yells as he goes to the door and opens it, sticking his head out. "Point me t' your potting shed and then go get dressed. We're rigging outdoor lights, mate."

Brian's features are pale in the cold; all but the tip of his nose, which is bright red. He sniffles a bit and bobs his head. "Okay, Rog." Nodding to the left of the house, back a bit from the garage. A small slatted-wood shed stands with snow piled up to its door and heaps on the sill of its single small window. "I'll be right back. Pixie, c'mon puss," he waves a hand and ushers her inside, her long dark tail appearing like a streak of soot as she pads swiftly and lightly across the snow. "I'll be back, Rog," Bri says again. "Dad likes things..."

"His certain way, yeah, I remember. Starting to get that myself." Roger steps out the door and claps a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Relax, Brimi, I'm just gonna go find the box. He says you're supposed to help him do this, so I'll help too. It's Christmas."

Bri rolls his eyes. "How many times are you going to remind me of that, Rogie?"

"As many as it takes to getcha to be bloody happy about it!" Roger crows, beaming and flicking his tongue cheekily at his tall friend before leaping off the little porch and tromping through the snow towards the potting shed. Brian shakes his head fondly and smiles just a bit as he retreats inside.

***

Freddie beams at Brian as he ducks out of the spare room, into which he'd run to pull on an outfit after helping Brian's mum with food. He wears a fuzzy colourful jumper that makes his warm smile even warmer as he squeezes Brian's arm when he passes. Bri presses his hand and Ruth smiles at her son's lithe friend as he inclines his head to her gracefully.

Brian returns to the kitchen after hauling trousers and a jumper of his own on, tying a knitted red scarf around his neck, and flipping up his coat collar. "Alright Mum?" He inquires quietly, dark head bending over her light one.

"Yes, Bria, Freddie and I got the bird in the oven, so he'll surely be ready by half-past three."

"I asked your mother about steaming some vegetables, Brian, since you--"

"--That sounds fantastic, Mum. Great, I, er. We'd best help Roger with the lights now, right? Come on, Freddie." Ruth blinks and nods, her smile holding as much confusion as do Freddie's eyes; at least until Brian tugs him out of doors and whispers "They don't know, Fred. About me being vegetarian, I mean. It's... a recent development. I, I don't want to upset tradition," he blurts, onyx curls falling into his eyes as he ducks his head and shakes it, biting his lip, hunkering down.

Freddie's heart aches for his friend, and he understands the attempt to honour traditions though one is going through seemingly drastic change. "I understand, love," he reaches out and pushes his fingers through Brian's curls. "Truly. And I won't say a thing, not if you don't wish me to. But Brian, dear, change is as inevitable as your stars growing and dying, as the Earth rotates around the sun, yes?" Freddie's lips curve upward in a sweet gentle smile as Brian raises his face. "And it's benefiting your health and thoughts about yourself and your impact on the world in this case. Which I find truly wonderful." Freddie moves his hand to tug at a lock of Brian's hair, and the other man's heart thumps in painful gladness and gratitude for this positive thinking man, his friend.

As Brian opens his mouth to thank him, a soft ball of snow explodes right in the centre of Brian's face, followed directly by a whoop. "Hell yes! Gotcha, Bri! I found the light box too, uh oh," Brian has shaken the snow out of his hair and eyes and charges past Freddie towards the voice and the snowball's beginning.

Roger is across the yard, he'd crawled to and been crouching beside a snow-encrusted bush, having set the lights box on the ground next to the garage. Brian leans down and smartly scoops up some snow to chuck at Roger, who is scrambling away as Freddie laughs at him. The snow slams squarely into the side of Roger's head, mixing gold with white and dripping to soak his coat collar. "Yeeow, Bri, no fair!" The drummer shrieks and flings more snow, catching Freddie with some now as he had also moved to join in the battle, creating globes of ice and slush that are the perfect consistency to take one's breath away. "Whoah, wait, come on we've got to put up the lights now, leave me be!" Roger bellows at both Brian and Freddie.

"YOU were the one who started this!" Brian roars, snow clenched in his chapped hands as he flings it and catches Rog full in the front, face and neck as he is running. The strength with which he threw sends the shorter man flying backwards into a snowbank beside the fence. Brian's entire demeanor changes as he runs to Rog, dropping to his knees beside him. "Rogie, are you alright? Oh my god,"

"Mph. 'M fine, Brian," Roger spits out snow, hauling himself up into his elbows. "Jus' got the wind ...knocked outta me. That was a damn good throw," he sits up all the way and flings powdery whiteness onto Brian's head, letting out a cheeky shout of laughter. "I mess up your hair, mate?"

Brian rolls his eyes as Fred lets out a bright peal of laughter as well, and he shakes snow out of his hair as Freddie pulls Roger to his feet. "It's fine," he grumbles as Rog and Fred both completely crack up, hanging onto one another and howling. "Alright, all right, I see you've gotten your air back then, Rog." Bri strides over to the box and pulls strands of colourful bulbs free. Shoves them towards Roger. "Now make yourself useful and hang some lights, will you?"

With his height he hauls the light strings up to start hooking them on the gutters of the house. Freddie and Rog try climbing atop one another's shoulders-- "To equal you in some form or fashion, Brian," Freddie gently teases--and eventually looping strings of lights extend around the entirety of the Mays' roof. After which they are called back inside to ready themselves for food and presents.

***

Brian's father has finished his coffee and tucked his paper away. Lights a pipe and puffs on it instead, billows of smoke dissipating as the three young men come in, bringing a blast of frigid air and several clumps of snow with them on boots and jackets. Along with shining eyes and bright faces. Harold does not miss the joy in his son's features as he kisses Ruth on the cheek and tells her "We rigged up all the lights, Mum."

"They look bloody brilliant!" Roger cries, beaming at both Freddie and Brian. The latter shoots him a severe look that is ignored.

"...And Blondie here still looks astounding even after his bell was rung with a snowball," Freddie announces, which gets him a sharp elbow to the side.

"Nobody needs to know that, bloody hell, Fred!" But Roger bares his teeth in an admiring grin. "First time Brian's ever gotten something over on me. Wait, scratch that--second, after Mary."

"...Who is this Mary?" Brian's mother asks as her son tenses and shuts his eyes.

"Oops," Roger whispers.

Harold sits upright and removes his pipe from his mouth. "Yes, Brian. Who, in fact, is Mary? We haven't heard her name before."

"She's--a friend, Dad," Brian swallows. "A good friend. I've, we introduced her to Freddie, and Roger met her on his own, not knowing she knew, erm. Was seeing me first. That's it."

"I didn't even know that Brian talked to girls," Roger puts in, he thinks helpfully.

Ruth nods at the explanations as Harold zeroes in: "Seeing her first, were you? Thought you'd peddle her around a little?"

Roger's eyes bulge and Freddie's sweet face is murderous. Brian wants to sink through the floor. "Mary is not to be 'peddled'," Freddie says hotly, and

"I didn't do that, no," Brian cuts in, speaking as fiercely as he can. "I simply thought she'd be suited to Freddie, and he to her. So I introduced them."

"--And he was right, they got on famously," Roger cackles, bringing the mood back up. "All thanks to mistletoe and Matchmaker May!"

"Well, I didn't really..." Brian begins to demure as his father still looks slightly sour, but his mum says that's wonderful and tells them to come eat a spot of tea, as the turkey won't be ready for a while.

"We've got gifts to get to when everyone is through stuffing," Harold calls. Roger and Freddie share a satirical glance as Brian's hand slows on a ladle.

"No, honey lamb, get your food," his mother murmurs.

"A man has to be strong, to buckle down," Harold adds.

"...And to shovel shit?" Brian mutters, which makes his mother gasp and Roger guffaw.

Freddie presses his lips together and puts a hand on Brian's arm. Bri sags into the touch gratefully. "Thanks Fred."

"Just grin and bear it as you've got to, Brian dear," his friend is close enough to whisper into Brian's hair. "Rog and I are here to help you."

Sure enough, Roger has now asked Harold what his sports teams are.

"You rugby or football?"

"I'm more a cricket man." Harold leans back in his seat and smiles.

Roger lifts his brows. "Ah! Refined sport, that." The blond makes a face unobtrusively at Brian over Harold's head. Brian presses his lips together to stop a smile as Freddie nudges his shoulder as if to say, See?

All carry their plates and bowls to sit as Roger continues "Now, rugby's a right pisser of a game, great to watch and get all your aggression out. 'S a stellar outlet for rages."

"Is that something your father taught you, Roger?" Asks Ruth.

Breaths and a silence. It's an inocuous enough query, without any harm intended, but Brian wishes he could erase his mother's words, as well-intentioned and innocently curious as they were. Roger's fingers tremble and something in his face dims, but he shoots Ruth a smile and replies with tone just a smidgen more gravelly: "No, my old man does things a bit differently."

Ruth nods.

That would be the end of it, but Harold now inquires "Well what have your fathers taught you boys? Brian thinks I'm hard, I'm sure. But how am I compared to your fathers?"

Roger, having taken a bite after speaking, ceases chewing and Freddie freezes with a fork at his lips. Brian cuts in "Da, please, let's not--"

"No, no. You need to listen to this," Harold says. "What it means when I am strict on you, how I compare with other fathers. Oh, don't give me that wounded pup look. We can talk about this like men, can't we? Sorry sweetheart," he looks to his wife, who nods silently, her hands curl around the edges of her plate. Her husband lifts his glass to her slightly before focusing his gaze again on Roger and Freddie.

It is Freddie who speaks up first. Freddie, ever reticent about his childhood and his parents, save to make a joking offhand comment once or twice, says "My father follows precepts of faith to focus on good thoughts, good words, good deeds. As a child I was not always... receptive to his lessons. My father sent me away to boarding school in India in order to make a good boy of me."

"Which he did for the best," Harold responds. Freddie sucks in his cheeks, attempting a polite smile.

"Yes, perhaps. Though my sister Kash remained here."

"Did boarding school help you, grant you discipline and sense of self?" Ruth asks. "I've always admired the idea of boarding schools. We sent Brian to an all-boys school here, but never had the money to send him..."

"Good," Freddie bursts out sharply before amending "...I learned many things there, yes, but there is a lot to be said about keeping one's schooling closer to home. Your son has done amazing for himself here." Freddie beams at his tall friend, who flushes bashfully.

"I know what my son has done," Harold returns in a firm tone. "And what he still has yet to do."

Brian seems to shrink now, to deflate, and Freddie does too. Ruth's eyes flit from her husband to her son, and Roger clears his throat, sitting up straighter. "My father taught me about how not to act when you're drunk and the best ways to hold your own in a fight."

Harold blinks at those words. "And that's certainly helped you with,"

"It's taught me how to take care of people," Rog responds stoutly. "How to stand up for my mates and help people who need." His jaw jumps a little at the end of that sentence as his bright eyes stare into Harold's. Their eye contact doesn't end til Brian's father looks away and Roger blinks.

Brian speaks up then: "You can see why Rog wants to be a dentist, right Dad? To help people with their teeth." He reaches out and rubs the shorter man's nearer shoulder when Roger shoots him a look.

Harold nods slowly now. "I see. Good fathers, then." He looks from Roger back to Freddie. "For the both of you."

Brian stiffens, chest clenching in agony. He wishes he could get his mates out of this room, this conversation. Wishes his parents, particularly his father, didn't have such a need to ask and demand answers to such questions. Wishes the information he takes isn't so obviously wrong-headed because he doesn't know the truth. But Roger, solid and loyal and strong, manages a sharp little smile. "Cheers, yeah. To dads." Lifting his glass as Freddie also does, with a heaviness in voice and manner that Brian's father is not to understand. "To parents."

***

Of course it is too much to hope something could be over after a single awkward conversation. Or a duo of them.

Brian opens a parcel containing several starched white collared shirts and black slacks, respectable attire for an astrophysicist. As well as a sport coat too, his mother hands him another parcel, a vest. Waistcoat. "It's gathered a bit, so'll keep snug. Brian?" Her son's hands are shaking, clutching the clothing as he folds his body down and in, like a jack-in-the-box being stowed or perhaps far more akin to a marionette that has lost its strings.

"Oh, Mum," he gasps. "They're--this is all so lovely, truly. But I--" his eyes fly helplessly to Freddie, whose gaze mirrors his in its wrenching sorrow. Sweet empathetic Fred. Roger stands up and says they probably ought to check on the food, which makes Ruth start and nod. She glances back at her son worriedly as Roger gives Brian an intent look before offering his arm to go with her to check on the turkey. Harold's sharp eyes rest on Brian, demanding an answer before his voice does.

"What is the meaning of this?! Men don't weep and wail over clothes!"

"Harold," Ruth says, coming back over to wrap her arm around her son as he carefully puts the presents down, shaking and wiping his eyes. "He's sensitive; has always been. What is it, honey lamb?" She croons to him but Brian shakes his head. He cannot bear to spoil supper on Christmas Day.

Yet as his mother rubs his back and encourages him to let it all out whilst his father squints suspiciously in the background, Brian finds his mind coming up with and clutching at particular words and phrases:

Tried to be a son and daughter all rolled into one. You said you'd equal any man for having your fun... Didn't you feel surprised to find the cap just didn't fit?

It doesn't fit, this cap I've got, Brian realises as he breathes deeply and accepts plates from Freddie to carry to and set the table as Roger hauls in the soup and the potato tureens, green bean casserole and at long last, the bird. Crisp and brown and greasy and dead as his parents come in and drinks are poured. All sit and bow their heads, and Brian feels a tightness cinch around his head and chest. He feels as though he cannot breathe until Roger nudges his arm, grips his hand underneath the edge of the tablecloth, and Brian meets Freddie's eyes.

And from the corner of his eye he spots Pixie, flicking her tail in the air as she softly pads away.

Brian knows for certain then he must follow her example.

Chapter Text

Roger, seeing some of Brian's secondary school photos, is incensed by how much older, and so incredibly attractive, his mate looks. The Christmas vacation ends a bit awkwardly, though, after Brian finally manages to tell his parents that he doesn't want to go to Uni for astrophysics anymore. His heart is in music.

"Get out," his father said. Brian flinches like he'd been struck in response, and his mum tries to perform her quiet form of placating, but it is too much, the damage is done, and she goes along with Harold. "If everything we've done isn't worth enough to you, then you ought not even be here anymore."

"You--" Roger actually lunges forward then, to say or do no one knows what, except Brian, who grabs his friend's coat and calls him off with a sob.

"Rogie, don't. It isn't worth it. I love you," Brian tells his parents, voice small but steady even as something appears to shatter inside his eyes. "I love you both, so much. And I'm so sorry," he starts to cry in earnest then as Freddie wraps himself around him and Roger has ceased his headlong rush to hold on as well. Brian needs him. He needs them both. "...I hope someday, one day you'll forgive me."

Ruth presses a hand to her lips and then reaches out, but her husband takes her arm and says they three need to go. "But take this," he snarls, shoving what appears to be a thin photo album into Brian's hands. "Maybe then you'll remember who you are." Opening the door, he waits for them to go, Brian staggering back as if the weight of the book and his father's words is too much. He cannot even kneel to pet Pixie, so it is a blessing perhaps that she doesn't come close, making herself scarce instead, as he should. Bri stumbles.

Freddie steadies him and nods to Ruth, thanking her for her lovely hospitality. Roger thanks her too with a sharp smile as both of them turn and physically support Brian with their arms as he exits the house. "I hope you know what you've just done to your son," the blond growls back at them, and Ruth's face blanches beside Harold's scowl as he closes the door.

Brian clutches that little photograph album, a binder of sorts, and doesn't let go of it the entire ride back in Roger's van. His face is stark white, seeming almost frozen, and Freddie sits in the back next to him, murmuring endearments and holding on.

Roger keeps looking in the rearview mirror worriedly, and finally raps out, "Alright, what's so bloody important about that book?"

Brian doesn't speak, simply turning it and opening to a page showing him in grade school days, having done a project for science. His fingers shakily trace across subsequent photographs. There are various pictures of his accomplishments as a child, in school and at home; gangly little Bri hunkered up by the radio "...listening to 'The Sky at Night', his favourite astronomical program," Freddie reports in a murmur as that is written as a caption below the photo. Likely by Bri's mother. Another picture shows the first time he peered into a telescope, has him in school plays, broadening his horizons: "You look lovely as a lady, darling," Freddie adds.

And then there is a picture of Brian in his secondary school uniform that nearly makes Roger crash the van. "How old were you there?" He demands.

"... Sixteen," Brian whispers. Roger explodes. He'd held it in thus far for Brian, but now he's got to let loose about SOMEthing.

"What in the fuck, when I was sixteen, people thought I was bloody twelve! Do you realise what you could've done for yourself looking like that, mate?"

Brian is blinking and oblivious as he finally speaks aloud "...I don't understand, I just-- I had short hair then, Rog."

Roger makes a disgusted sound and grumbles "...if I could get girls while looking like a bloody preteen, look what you could've done, bloody hell."

Realisation crosses Brian's face and he flushes beet-red. "Rogie, I...you clearly had as much confidence then as you do now. It's no wonder girls liked and still like you, the way you are. I dunno how to talk to them, Rog. Especially then, I went to an all boys school."

Roger's brows lift as he turns the wheel, turning off the M29 and heading into the city. "Oh, you poor bastard."

Brian ducks his head, shuffles his feet. He doesn't offer much else in the way of words until after Roger parks and they all traipse back up to the flat. Home sweet home. Freddie takes a look in the cabinets and swears he must instantly go out and get something--they simply must have a lovely meal first night back--and Roger nods, pulling out crumpled banknotes and handing them over, murmuring something to Fred as Brian stands, still and silent. Freddie pats Roger's face and kisses Brian's cheek on his way back out, and the brush of his lips makes Brian move, drop his bag to the floor and collapse into a seat, tossing the book of photos on the table and putting his face in his hands.

"I envy you, Rog." Brian confesses now through his fingers. "How in the world do you know what to say, to girls, to anyone? It feels as though you could walk up to anyone in the world and start a conversation, tell them off, say whatever you need or like." Roger blows out air and waves him off. "I mean it, you're so... you're captivating."

“And you think you aren’t?” Roger demands, though he already knows the answer.

Brian blinks again and then stares, eyes huge as he drops his hands. "Of course not, no. Look at me," he spreads his arms outward. "I'm too tall and gangly and awkward and I can't even stand up to my parents, besides. Not like--"

“Oh for fuck's sake, how about you shut up and stop comparing yourself to me for one bloody moment!”

Brian opens his mouth wordlessly as Roger glowers at him.

Roger paces back and forth in the kitchen where they are, rubbing his forehead in frustration before flinging his hand down. "Brian," he says suddenly. "Do I know anything about space? Do I even LIKE space? Hell no, I gave absolutely zero fucks when we first learned about the space race in school. Yeah, yeah, it's monumental, I get it," he heads off his friend's imminent excited retort with flapping hands. "Shut up. Point is I gave no thought to the bloody stars until I met you." Roger's voice grows soft now, his eyes widen as he looks up at Brian. "...You talked about your field and you were so bloody interested. Your voice gets so hushed and quick and your eyes go all moony as you wave your hands everywhere and talk about space dust and shite, about anything and everything you care about. And you always want to listen and hear about other people's passions--" Roger shakes his head once, reaching out and prodding Brian's chest with his fingers. "That's your kind of magic, Bri. Your passion makes you fucking special in a world where so many blokes like me wouldn't've ever thought to look past themselves and up at the sky if it wasn't for you. You give people wonder, Bri. You show 'em what that looks like, you let them into your heart and your passion. You let me in, and that's bloody fucking captivating."

Brian sits frozen. "I... I never knew, Rogie," he whispers.

Roger rolls his eyes fondly. "Well now you do. You're welcome."

"...that you were so totally unimpressed by the space race!" His friend finishes.

Roger's eyes bulge. "Oh, dear Christ. Did you hear anything I said after that?!" He grabs Brian's shirtfront and drags him upright, shaking him slightly. Not too hard, just in typical exasperation over typical Bri. "Mate, come on, you could've walked into a gentleman's club and seen what all the fuss was about, looking like you did! You could've, well it wouldn't matter if you drank, but you could've had an actual job before passing your A levels and gotten some money saved up! Then your dad couldn't bloody say all that shite to you…," as Brian flinches Roger changes the subject hurriedly "Not to mention all the girls who'd go for an older fellow. You probably wouldn't even have to talk to them, just flash that damned smile and they'd come running."

Brian is bright red now and shaking his head as he literally begins to back away a bit under the onslaught. Roger grabs on to him. “Oh fuck no you don’t, Brian, you’re going to listen to me!”

Brian tries to put up his hands, voice trembling. "Rogie, I'm not--"

"Christ, you are, you are, you are, Bri!" Roger grips him tight and stares into his eyes. "You ARE amazing, you ARE kind, you are so bloody talented it makes me want to thump you sometimes, but I don't. I won't."

Brian has backed into the wall by now, and Roger presses himself against his friend as Bri cannot get away at this point. He relinquishes one of Brian's arms, onto which he had grabbed, and pushes his fingers through Bri's hair. "Your hair is beautiful, like I've said before--you have these perfect bloody curls, and your eyes can make girls swoon, trust me. Plus your bloody voice, my god. And these!" He drags Brian's hand up between their faces. "Look at your hands, see your hands. See YOURSELF, you ridiculous stubborn bastard." Roger shakes his head, leans it into Brian's chest for a moment as though in defeat as Brian's expression doesn't change. He mumbles "...if I was a girl I'd be all over you. If they aren't, they don't fucking know what sort of man they're missing." How could, how dare Brian not understand, Roger thinks.

But if one thinks poorly of himself for so long, especially after going through with a choice loved ones do not understand, it’s a struggle to stop; to retrain one's brain to not automatically think the worst of oneself. And it'd be narcissistic of Brian to have self confidence, he doesn’t deserve to be proud of himself. He just decided to quit working for a doctorate, after all. And yet Roger is here saying such lovely things. Brian knows he has to do something, respond somehow. He appreciates Rog so much.

Roger feels Brian's hands rise to touch his back and his hair, hesitantly. Even after everything Roger has just said, he's so hesitant to give him a hug or otherwise physically respond. It's fucking ridiculous-- and Roger sighs out the heaviest breath possible. He whips his head up and growls "Brian--" as with one hand he presses Brian's to his hair and with the other he grabs the back of his friend's neck and tugs him down into a desperate kiss. To show him what he means, if he won't listen to any fucking words.

Roger's lips are firm and warm and strong and giving, they press to Brian's and fill him up with warmth and light and joy as his heart bumps and after he initially freezes at Roger's kiss, his fingers slowly curl into and clutch at Roger's hair. Roger's whole body presses against him, hand cupping round the back of his neck and keeping him close and safe. And then Brian hears a sound and feels wet tracks on his cheeks. He wonders if he's starting to cry and hasn't realised it, but upon blinking his eyes he registers that the tears are Roger's.

Roger is shaking and holding on and crying but he keeps kissing Brian anyway, keeps trying to prove to him all the things he said are true. Even if Brian won't believe it, which is breaking Roger's heart. Though he will never say that, he'll growl obscenity-laced compliments at Brian forever instead.

Brian makes a sound now, like a whimper, and it clearly isn't one of pleasure, even though he's fisted his hand in Roger's hair and holds his friend against him. Roger moves his head back and hears Freddie return as Brian says with agony in his eyes "I'm sorry. This is, I'm so awful, I wanted you--you both to have a lovely family Christmas and then I... I cocked it all up, Rog."

Roger's brows lift at Brian's use of one of his typical turns of phrase, but he cannot be cheeky about it in this moment, not when Brian is hurting so much. He looks to Fred for help.

"Oh, darling," Freddie coos, putting grocery bags down and running over to join Brian and Roger's embrace. "It was so lovely of you to have us round, truly."

Brian sobs. "Yeah, it was," Roger agrees, rubbing Brian's back and then with the hand still curved around his friend's neck, he gently traces circles with his thumb. "Besides, it's not a REAL family Christmas without some stupid questions and shouting. Hell, it's a bloody good Christmas if that's all there is!"

Brian's sob catches and he raises hjs hands to his mouth in horror. "Oh, god, Roger--"

Roger rolls his eyes. "Oh, shut the fuck up, Brian, I was just trying to lighten the mood! You'll be alright, mate."

"We will all be all right," Freddie adds. "Now is anyone for helping me cook? I've gotten a fabulous smorgasbord for our first night back!"

Brian wipes his eyes and Roger beams, nudging him. "Well c'mon, Bri."

"Alright," Brian's smile is wobbly but his heart is full of gratitude and love for these two men. Even if he does not believe in himself, in the both of them he believes wholeheartedly.

Chapter Text

The three friends get on back into their routine, a bit. Roger readies himself for his next year of Uni, starting in January, and Brian begins finalising all of the necessary paperwork to end his doctorate instead of finishing.

He glances at the phone a good deal, as well as over his paper work, and Roger and Fred try to give him all the encouragement they can; Freddie brings Brian cups of tea and plates of sandwiches: "You've got to keep your strength up, darling".

Roger kneads Bri's shoulders or comes in with a mission to make him laugh. Tries to drag his mate to bars, where he's been meeting with various blokes "--because we need a bloody bassist in this band we're gonna be having, you know!"

They're all mulling over names for the group, as Smile is no longer a good fit. Holds too much of before, and besides, isn't near bombastic enough for Freddie with his particular taste. "I'll think of something fabulous for us, my loves," he promises.

Brian offers up a thin little smile. He knows Fred is going to do everything he can, everything they need, and so will Roger. He himself tries so hard, works so desperately to be stoic and focused on the here and now rather than the past. To believe things will be okay. He doesn't want to get upset or cry over his choices, his parents, because if he started he is sure he'd never stop.

Yet he also doesn't feel able-- he knows he isn't being a help. Cannot give Rog a straight answer on any of the bassists he's brought by.

Roger sees life, what happened tearing at his friend. He's got to do something about it, to help. So he corners Brian and tells him about his own childhood for the first time. About his father, and his mum, and Clare. And what happened, what he tried to do for them. To prove to Brian that he is not alone.

Brian breaks down because of how truly awful that is, and responds with a sentiment Roger knows he ought to've expected: "Rogie, I didn't know, I--god, I'm such a-- this makes my problems so fucking small...."

Roger blinks as Brian swears, as those long fingers curl into a fist, and he wants to shake him. "No Brian, that's just it! They're NOT small, you're--you are dealing with hell like I got st-- the way I did, and it's still bad, still awful for us both, it's just different. Suffering is not a fucking competition! You're going through shite right now, and so have I. But we're both gonna survive it, all right? I promise."

"But I'm not worth it," Brian says, his whole body going still. "I'm not worth that promise, Roger. I'm not worth my parents' love, or yours. I'm… I'm needy, and pathetic, and I can't do anything right, anything I'm supposed to, at least. I know people care for me, I know Freddie does, and you do, but I don’t deserve it. I take advantage of the people in my life, Rog. Like you. I know you won’t believe any of this, and I know I don’t have it in me to make you see that I take far more than I give. That's why my parents made me leave, cut me from their life. They put everything forward for me to finish school, especially when--after my father couldn't. And now I'm ditching, dropping out. No wonder they...they have stopped loving me. I don't--I don't deserve it."

Roger's breath hitches, stops. His eyes bulge. Brian's voice is steady as he speaks. His eyes, usually expressing some sort of agony or sorrow when he's emotional like this, are flat. Which means he is absolutely certain of the bollocks he is spouting. He completely believes it. Oh, god, no. Roger feels agony flare in and tear through his chest. He'd taken off his sunglasses and his hands are shaking as he puts them down and steps closer to Brian to see him. "Fuck, Brian, no. You're not your father, and that's not-- that can't bloody be true. I say for a fact it's not true in our relationship. It's not." You don't take too much, you GIVE me so much, and I love you. Say it, say something to help him, come on, Roger.

"It is," Brian returns, voice choked and small. "And I'm so sorry."

Roger shakes his head in stubborn fury. "I fucking reject that apology because it isn't fucking true." Not to me.

"But I know myself better than anyone else ever will; and I know what I'm like, Rogie. That's the truth."

"Well good for you, but that isn't MY truth, Brian. You give as much as you get with me, alright? Accept that bloody truth, or at least try!" Roger's teeth are bared, his eyes are snapping up at Brian, who sighs.

Eventually Bri responds "Alright, I… I can at least respect how you feel about this. About me. Even if it's not true."

"Of course it's fucking true," Roger hisses. He has started to breathe hard, whirling away from Brian, fists clenching in his hair. "Christ, Brian, what the fuck!"

Brian dips his head towards Roger, eyes full of honest concern as his best mate shuts his own. "Are you okay, Rog?"

The drummer snorts. What kind of a question is that? Eyes still closed, he spits "Fuck no. Not particularly."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"I would say don't fucking believe all that shite you just spouted about yourself but clearly I can't make you do that!" Roger's bright gaze returns as his eyes shoot open and he whirls back around.

"Fair enough," Brian twists his fingers together as Roger focuses sharply on his face. As sharp as he can without his glasses.

"Are YOU okay, you stubborn bastard?"

Brian nods rapidly, voice flat. "Fine. More concerned about you. I feel like such an arse for upsetting you, Roger."

"Oh for Christ's sake!" Roger snarls out. "You aren't an arse, damn it!"

He is so upset, and Brian feels as uncertain as if he's walking across rotten ice on the little pond in back of his parents' house, when it hasn't been quite cold enough yet to freeze all the way through. He doesn't know what to say that can or will actually comfort Roger in this moment rather than ticking him off more.

The shorter blond is clenching and unclenching his fists and glowering now, shoulders and torso heaving. "Brian, if you start to fucking hate yourself even more for making me so upset, I'm gonna kick your arse!" He seethes. Brian flinches, eyes piteous and pained. Roger rolls eyes that are beginning to smart with emotion and groans. "Dammit, Bri, you know I won't, but just don't bloody hate yourself over how I reacted, I can't stand it."

"Erm, sorry," Brian ventures.

Roger explodes.

"FUCK your 'sorry'! Don't you dare! You feel how you feel and you apparently can't help that, so just--just don't apologise. Don't do it." Roger is gasping, his eyes full of tears as he reaches out, snatches at Brian's shirt. The taller man flinches as the drummer shakes him weakly and buries his head in Brian's chest. "Just--why the fuck do you believe that, god." Before Brian says anything else Roger shakes his head, soft hair brushing against Bri's shirt and skin. "Fuck it, I don't care why." Ramming his head against his friend's chest and croaking huskily, Roger adds "I just wish you'd stop." He wraps his arms around his friend, eyes swimming as he looks up into Brian's, and then buries his face in his tall friend's torso again.

Roger does care why Brian believes these things about himself, he cares so much, but he also feels absolutely bloody helpless in the face of Brian's feelings. And he hates it.

Voice wrecked and broken, Roger utters words he has been feeling for ages now, but hadn't thus far forced past his lips. But Bri needs to hear them. "I love you, Brian," Roger croaks, looking into the other man's face and doing what he never does. He begs. "Please. Stop. Stop this shite."

“I’ll --I will try,” Brian whispers, for a second frozen, but those words and that sentiment propel his arms and body forward and he embraces his determined, loyal, and impossibly loving friend. Brian loves Roger far too much to not at least attempt to love himself. "I promise I'll try."

Roger, head and shoulders and entire body shaking with sobs, buries himself in Brian's arms. All he can articulate for the moment, though it isn't near enough --he's bound and determined to help his friend-- for now all he manages to whimper is "...thank fucking god."

"I love you," Brian says into his friend's hair, and Roger's arms tighten around him. Thank fuck for that.

Tossing back his light hair and looking fiercely into his mate's face as the other's full-body shakes slowly abate, the drummer says "I know because of how you are that I'm beating a dead horse right now, but damn it, Bri, you need to fucking learn how to love yourself."

Chapter Text

Brian grows ever more focused on songwriting and working in other ways. He can't be in the flat not doing anything now that he's set in (and physically sent in) his decision to depart the astrophysics program. So he uses one of his science notebooks to write songs --lyrics that are focused on keeping himself going, keeping him alive. He focuses so intently, pacing round the living room and tapping his pen against the paper and sometimes against his lips, twirling and tugging on his hair, nearly in tears from frustration at times-- he doesn't always notice when either of his flatmates come in.

Freddie typically smiles and disappears either into his room or out again, but when Roger comes back (if he's alone) he drops onto the couch, flopping and stretching out underneath a blanket. Brian scratches out the end of a verse and sighs in frustration on a particular occasion. He spits out "Shit!" And is greeted with a chuckle and

"Wash your mouth out, Brian, I can't bloody believe you'd say such a word," Bri turns and sees Roger lounging on the corner of the sofa, eyes twinkling wickedly with mirth. He flushes to the roots of his hair and drops onto the couch as well, spinning his notebook around in his hands.

"It's these bloody lyrics, Rog," Brian groans and puts his face in his hands. "They just don't work."

"Lemme see," the drummer leans over with a grunt and plucks the book from his friend's fingers, squinting at the elegant penmanship and all the scratched out lines and blots. "'I was told a million times of all the struggles in my way, thought to grow a little wiser, little better every day'. Solid, alright. 'But if I walked a million rivers' -- why are you walking them, Brian? Wouldn't you row or something?"

"See, that's it," Brian now lamented. "But if I rowed a million rivers and I walked a million miles, I don't think that would work."

"It isn't the most rip-roaring word choice, you're right." Roger pinches his lips between thumb and first finger, tapping his pinkie against his own full cheek. "Maybe..." His eyes brighten and he lifts his fingers from his lips, snapping them. "I've got it! Switch them, and change walked, here." He reaches out and takes Bri's pen, which the guitarist had tucked into his curls just above one ear. Sticking the lid between his teeth, Roger pulls the pen open and bends over. "You going to blow a gasket if I write on your paper?" The other shrugs, but his shrugging is almost a wince. Roger chuckles and circles 'walked', drawing a line through it along with an arrow up from the second bit to the verse about a million rivers. He writes the word 'crossed' down instead. "Have to spell rowed, R-O-W-E-D as rode, R-O-D-E --if you're married to that word. And to the notion of American measurements," he grumbles. "I mean, really, Brian? Miles?"

"But if I crossed a million rivers and I rode a million miles, I'd still be where I started, bread and butter for a smile," ignoring Roger's muttered comment, Brian sings. Roger's head comes up as he hears Brian's sweet baritone, and he gets the sound of a drumbeat in his head as the other continues "Keep yourself alive, keep yourself alive. All you people, keep yourselves alive! And then I've got--" Bri leans over and picks up his guitar, pulling her into his lap and strumming a strong beat that makes Rog nod rapidly along.

"Bloody hell, I've got to get drums on that, hang on," he bounces up and leaps over the arm of the couch, lunging and crashing into his cymbal stand. "Fuck!" But he gets to his stool and grabs his sticks, spinning them once before starting in on the drumbeat he'd heard in his head, matching up with Brian's guitar.

Brian feels his heart soaring as he hears Roger's drums, biting his lower lip and looking back at Rog, he tweaks his tuning and continues. "That's really good, Rog."

"I know," the blond grins, flicking his tongue out with a laugh before adding "...thanks to you, mate. What's the rest of it?"

Brian begins humming the next verse, and Freddie comes bounding into the flat, slamming their front door open and crowing over the sound of the song he'd started hearing in the hall. Roger beckons furiously to him with a curled wrist and rising brows, mouthing excitedly. Fred comes right over to have a peek at Brian's lyrics and curves a hand around his shoulder, leaning against his friend's lean arm.

"Oh," he speaks softly in awe and delight. "This looks wonderful, Brian."

Brian doesn't know how to respond verbally; he gets a lump in his throat. But he keeps on playing for, and with, his friends.

...Takin' all your time and money, honey, you'll survive. Keep yourself alive!

Chapter Text

The three flatmates work on Brian's song, roaring into several more choruses and giving Roger a drum solo, until the sun is glowing red-gold up through the window of the flat, shining on the table behind them. Brian still sits upon the back of the couch, long legs dangling down. Roger looks up from his drums and whistles, which makes Bri nearly lose his balance. "Christ, look sun's going down--time for supper, eh? And drinks! We need drinks, Brian's got a song, Fred's finished his degree, it's a new year at midnight--"

"--Oh! I've got to go, I'm meant to meet Mary," Freddie leaps up, catching the time, and he grabs Brian's hands, kissing both of his cheeks. "That song was fabulous, Brimi. Truly."

Roger nods rapidly as Brian flushes and murmurs his thanks. The drummer goes to the fridge and pulls out beers before shaking his head and hauling down their liquor from the cabinet. "Ta, bloody brilliant, mate," growls the blond, pouring shots and holding them out to Brian and Fred, the latter of whom says he'll trade the shot glass for Roger's keys, and the drummer sighs. "So responsible, for once. Fine, Freddie!" He gulps Fred's booze, jumps to where his coat haphazardly hangs, and withdraws the van keys, putting his closed fist over Freddie's hand. "Take care of her," he says to his friend. "She's the machine of a dream."

Brian snorts. "Nightmare, more like. Be careful in case she doesn't start, Fred."

"Oi!" Roger glowers as Freddie clasps his hand with a soft smile. "You may be a genius, but just watch your fucking mouth when you talk about my baby!"

Brian rolls his eyes as Freddie promises to guard the van with his very life in dramatic Freddie fashion, and kisses Roger goodbye as the drummer at last drops the keys into his waiting hand. The guitarist strides to him and puts an arm around Rog. "Well," he intones, clinking his shot glass against Roger's. "Food, then? Cheers."

Roger looks up as Brian drinks, throat pulling as he swallows the shot and coughs right after, which makes the drummer smile as he then gulps his own. "Yeah," he takes Brian's glass and refills it for him. "Think we've got something… how you feel about pasta?"

Brian's brows shoot up. "Are you cooking?" He staggers a bit as Rog hands his drink back, free hand pressed against his lean chest. "I'm shocked."

"Sod off," Roger grumbles. "I can cook."

He nearly burns the pasta and then the flat down half an hour later, after taking the pot and slinging it at the window in frustration. Brian stops him and turns the gas down, stirring their homemade white sauce carefully. Roger's expression softens as he watches, and refills their drinks. Bri ends up having beer with his meal, figuring they ought to get off shots, as Roger drank his second one and thus has had four. Roger whines but Brian puts the liquor away back up high in its cabinet, and the other registers, reluctantly, that his mate is attempting to look after him.

Roger thinks on that, and decides to craft a response in thanks. He rips out a piece of paper from one of his own notebooks and finds a pen. He's got to draft a homemade certificate for Brian with a declaration on, Roger decides-- which he scrawls in red ink: “Brian Harold May, certified professional Rog handler”.

It’s a hard job to be able (and willing) to handle him, but someone's got to do it, and Bri has got to be the most important someone. He's done without any fuss since the day they met--catching Rog when he nearly fell, hauling him out of a party, listening to his wrath... Roger lifts his head and blinks rapidly, feeling a prickling behind his eyes, but he swallows and stands, beaming with affection and swaying just a bit as he presents Brian with the piece of paper. He sways forward and uses his pen to tap Brian on each shoulder and then the top of his head, as if knighting his dear indulgent friend. Brian's hands instantly go to Roger's waist as he sways, and Rog is holding up his paper as his body is now pressed to Brian's. "'Ere," he slurs a bit, putting the paper in Brian's face. "This is f' you."

Brian lifts one hand and takes the paper as the other remains at Rog's waist. He had thought for a moment his friend had thought of a song in his own turn, which was why he'd begun furiously scribbling something down, but no. Instead Brian sees an attempt to spell his name with "cetrified preofessinal Roger handler" after. Half the words on the homemade certificate are misspelled or scrawled in such disarray that they may as well be, but it’s the thought that counts, drunken one though it is.

Brian's eyes brighten as he smiles slightly and strokes Roger's hair. He's got to get some water, Brian knows; and to sit back down. Gently taking hold of Roger's waist again, Brian leads him to a chair and guides him into it whilst quietly thanking him for the gift.

“Y' welcome,” Roger slurs out, bleary eyes catching Brian's. “You deserve it, Bri.”

Brian blinks rapidly, a couple of tears dropping from his eyes and sliding down his long nose as so many emotions roil within, wild and whirling. All he can do is respond "So do you, for handling me," in a whisper.

Roger grunts and Brian is certain he's going to snap something even more vehement than usual in his current intoxicated state, but instead Roger's eyes bulge and he makes a wrenching noise. Brian knows what that means, and he jogs over to the loo and opens wide the door. Roger charges through into the miniscule bathroom and hauls up the toilet seat before expelling the pasta he'd eaten therein "--How much drink did you have, Rogie?" Brian's fingers pull his mate's long hair back and hold the locks in a bunch at the nape of his neck. "Too much," he answers the question himself. "Especially over something miniscule like a song I wrote."

Roger spits and glowers. "It's a ruddy good song, shut up."

Brian shakes his head and puts Rog's hair behind his ears, rubbing his back and then saying "Hang on, and stay still-- I'm getting you some water."

Roger groans and braces his legs apart, obediently remaining in place, leaning his back into the wall opposite the toilet. "Ughhh make th' room stop spinning, Briiiian," he whines, thumps one fist against the wall and then bows to the porcelain god, as they say.

Roger ends up back on the couch some time later with a wet washcloth on his forehead and a blanket tucked around his legs, both courtesy of Brian. "Drink this," he wraps Roger's fingers around a large glass. "It's water." He sits down right beside Roger, moving his mate's feet and shuffling a bit. He would be happy to have Rog cuddle up, he's puked and brushed his teeth but obviously still feels ill: "You got a head start on the new year's festivities, eh Rog?"

The blond groans softly and pulls a face, drinking from the glass before carefully placing it on the coffee table and withdrawing his legs from beside Brian. Before the guitarist can be worried, think Rog is pulling away from him, doesn't want or need his help or even his presence, Roger sighs and shifts over, leaning his soft head heavily on Brian's chest and shoulder. "Yeah, yeah. Shuddup and lemme cuddle, you tosser."

Brian blinks rapidly and says "Rogie, you--"

"Piss off, Bri, I know you want to. And if you're about to apologise for it, fucking don't."

Brian trembles, shoulders falling as he nods against Roger's head. The blond wraps his arm around Brian's lean chest. Brian feels like he's so bony and cold and not comfortable to cuddle against, but Roger shifts his shoulders and nuzzles into his front, lifting his face then to press against Brian's neck. "Thanks, Bri," he murmurs so softly.

The warmth of Roger, his high sweet voice, soft hair tickling the side of Brian's neck, makes it difficult for the guitarist not to physically respond. He gulps and hides his face, carefully stretching out his legs and wrapping both arms around the other's back, pulling him closer. "Of, of course, Rog," he whispers. "It's really nothing, though. You do so much for me--"

Roger lifts a hand and claps it over his friend's mouth. "Shut the fuck up," he hisses, looking into Brian's eyes. "You don't-- you do so bloody much, when I haven't got--" Roger stops and breathes and closes his eyes. Shakes his head, clenching his teeth a bit. His hand rises to rub circles in the skin of Brian's neck. "Not important. You just do a lot of shite you don't recognise, and it means a lot." Roger blinks and swallows. "It means a helluva lot, Brian." He shifts his hand off Brian's mouth and swallows hard, caressing his cheek and tracing his lips with a finger; but he does the latter so swiftly before ducking his head again that Brian hardly registers what his friend has done, and when he does he figures it's simply another manifestation of drunkenness from Rog.

The tenor of Roger's tone and the look in his eyes before he'd ducked his head again cause Brian to hold him closer without giving in to his instinct to negate any of his friend's words. He bows his dark head over Roger's bright one, and wonders if he can do something more to help. Something about the new year, where they are, what Roger says in his feelings... "I'm glad," Brian murmurs. And I'll keep on, I'm staying. I won't leave you. As they stay curled together on the couch, sun having gone down hours ago now, Brian gazes out at the brightness of the stars in the endless blue-black expanse as the clock strikes midnight. It is New Year's Day. Bri strokes Roger's hair and presses his lips to it. "Happy new year, Rog."

Roger stirs a bit, having nearly fallen asleep with his cheek pillowed atop Brian's cool chest as he listens to his breath and heartbeat. "Cheers, Bri," he mumbles in response, and then "'S hope it's a good one, yeah?"

Brian nods, smiling as Roger looks into his face. "I hope, definitely."

Chapter Text

"Someone here for you, Rog," Brian's brows go up as he hears Fred speaking in his exuberant way in the hall. Roger whips his head around, surprised enough to lose the glower he'd been sporting, seems like for weeks now. After his drunkenness new year's eve he'd gotten snippy, growling about needing to lock down a bassist and for Freddie to hurry up and pick a bloody band name, damn it--or at least give them some fucking ideas.

He snaps at almost everything, and Brian can tell Roger is as tight as one of his guitar strings. If not physically, then mentally, emotionally. Something he understands, and he doesn't want his friend to throw himself away. He figures from words Rog said, sentiments he'd let slip, that the little drummer is lonely; and he worries about his family.

So after one of Rog's calls from home, Brian gets Freddie to help him return the call, redial with their set. He hopes their idea can be a comfort.

What happens as a result is more, or at least exponentially different, than what he had bargained for.

***

"Well well, if it isn't the munchkin!" Roger crows as Freddie opens the flat door late one afternoon to admit a lovely young lady he says had been waiting out in the hall.

"Oh YOU'RE one to talk, Roger Meddows Taylor," the girl, with his same shade of blond hair, stomps through the entryway and adds "Thanks for answering your phone!"

Roger whips his head round. It hadn't been ringing, and now he knows why--somehow the handset had gotten knocked off the hook slightly. He leaps and readjusts the handset on the cradle, staring at her. Why, how is she here?

Brian stands by the door, only child confusion writ large upon his face as he hears Roger expel a loud sound, like a shout of laughter, as the blond drummer leaps up and nearly crushes the girl to him in an affectionate embrace.

"Three-naming me instantly, I see. How are ya, kid?"

"Really? Both things I told you to quit calling me in the space of moments!" She shoves at him but presses her face into his shoulder to hide a smile as he keeps hanging on to her, refusing to let go.

"Ah, you know you love it." He rubs her hair in an affectionate manner and she makes a face --of real or mock rage, Brian cannot immediately ascertain. Her eyes are glittering, and Brian recognises his friend so clearly reflected in them that he doesn't even need to hear her voice again, never mind have Roger crow and spin, with one arm around her shoulders "I'm the most fantastic big brother ever, c'mon!" Before looking to Brian and Fred as he introduces her "Lads, this is Clare, my baby sister."

She utters cheekily "Big brother? What are they teaching you in Bio, lies?"

"The cheek!" Roger gasps and Freddie laughs loudly.

"I feel for you immensely, Clare," the tallest says, inclining his fuzzy dark head as he officially introduces himself. "Lovely to meet you. I'm Brian. I've heard about you." And they had spoken to each other on the phone.

"Anything good?" She asks. "I doubt it, not from Roger," the younger sibling scoffs and rolls her eyes dramatically.

Brian starts to chuckle a little as he dips his head in a nod, black curls brushing the top of her light head as she looks up. "Surprisingly for Rogie, yes."

"Ooh, so he's Rogie t' you, huh?" Her eyes twinkle wickedly and Brian freezes, instantly worried that he shouldn't have presumed to give Roger a nickname like that, perhaps such personal things are reserved for siblings alone-- but Clare squeezes his arm as her face softens, which cuts off his wild and whirling descent into his head. "Thanks for looking out for him, Brian," her eyes follow her older brother as he picks up her bags and moves them farther into the flat. ("Guess you're sticking round a bit, eh kid?") "Til you get rid of me," she tells him. And then to Brian, sotto voce "--Mum and I never could watch out for Roger. He doesn't let us."

"Because he's so focused on looking out for you," Brian inclines his head in a bow. "He told me he did that, and I'm, well. I understand. I mean, I think so, I can't pretend to fully," he bumbles out hurriedly. "It's just that I--"

Clare nods, her.open facial expression seeming sad, but she speaks warmly. "Ta, I get it. When we two talk, I can tell that Rog is doing well, better than he's ever been before. And now I know why--he's got you watching out for him."

"Freddie does just as much, if not more than, I-- I mean, he watches out too," Brian says, stumbling over his words lamely.

Clare nods, eyes twinkling as she watches Roger and Fred, dark and light now together, yin and yang. "I can see that as well, yeah. You've really helped him, Brian. I can tell." She puts one hand on his arm and adds "Even when he doesn't say much to acknowledge it. The fact you called is enough to know. I just... wanted to say thank you. It means a lot to him, and to us. My mum and me."

Brian's lips tremble; his eyes fill. Clare's eyes hold sorrow for an instant more before starting to twinkle again.

"It's probably also a good thing you're tall enough to toss him over your shoulder if he's being difficult, yeah?"

Brian laughs. “It comes in handy sometimes.”

"Cheers," she smiles and nods at Freddie now, who has come up and offered to let her stay in his room whilst she's here.

"Since we know one another so well already," he winks in a jaunty and saucy way.

"--Fuck all knows what he's said to you," Roger utters.

"Nothing TOO incriminating, darling!" Freddie trills, "I promise." Roger flicks out his tongue at his friend. Clare rolls her eyes at both of them as Roger drops his arm from around her shoulders and cheekily puts up her fists. Brian can tell that she has a sensible head on her shoulders. Surprising as she'd grown up with Roger--but perhaps, he thinks in amusement, it's a defence. Clare probably learnt about dealing with the ridiculousness of Rog very early in her life.

Brian does catch her glance at her brother with immense affection as he squeezes her arm and relinquishes her, asking what she's actually doing here. "How're things going at home? How's Mum?"

Brian and Freddie move away --"We'd best let the siblings speak," Freddie takes Clare's things into the bedroom and Brian checks on what they have in the kitchen to eat. He is so glad she had agreed to come and visit when he explained to her over the phone how her older brother was feeling. Bri worried he had overstepped, not knowing the way interactions worked when one has a sibling, but as Roger affectionately shoves Clare's face and she pushes at his chest, before the drummer looks up and locks eyes with the guitarist across their living room, he sees Roger's gratitude and emotion.

He is damn thankful his sister is here, and he knows her coming is Brian's doing.

Chapter Text

Brian finds enough vegetables in their larder to make a wilted greens salad, but of course he worries that isn't enough. Freddie, in his warm exuberant way of wanting to make their guest feel comfortable, asks Clare what she'd like to eat. "I'm not picky," she says with a smirk. "I've had to live with Roger."

"Oi!" Rog loudly protests that comment, but both Freddie and Brian are laughing, the latter with incredulity at the easy teasing banter of siblings, and the former in doting reminiscence of his own sister Kash. "There's a fish and chips place we always get from," the drummer adds.

"And by 'we' you mean you on all your escapades," Clare responds. Roger's eyes bulge and Brian's mouth drops open. "Hey, I may be younger than him but I know what's going on--have done since he was about fifteen and had me make myself scarce so he could sneak into the house with, what was her name--?"

"Alright, let's not profane the air or Bri's innocent ears." Brian is red as a ripe tomato as he tries to speak up.

"--No, I simply understand, Clare. I've, er. Walked in on Roger before so I hope you truly were able to make yourself scarce."

Clare's brows lift and her eyes widen and soften. "Oh you poor thing."

"Alright now we've got in our points about Roger's shenanigans, can we actually go get some bloody fish? I'm starving!" Roger cries. "An' maybe you can hear us play some songs if you stop with all this nonsense, Clare."

Eyes dancing with mirth as she pokes her tongue out at her brother "Who says I want to hear? Well, I can certainly listen to Freddie and Brian, but why you? I know what YOU sound like, dear brother." She bumps him in the side with her shoulder as they all gather coats and coinpurses and keys. "A little angel."

Clare ducks expertly as Roger aims a mock shove at her. "You cheeky little minx, I ought not pay for your supper!"

"--But I will," Brian is laughing as he situates the high collar of his long coat around his fluffy curls. "She got you with that comment, Roger."

Bri is startled into almost stumbling as the young woman lunges at and throws her arms around him, proclaiming "This is my better big brother now. I'll bet he can even get things off top shelves for me."

"Oh that is a low blow," Freddie says with a dramatic whirl to open the door. "You may have to leave."

Roger is grumbling "Don't let her talk you into anything nutty, Brian, stay strong. She's gonna bat her eyes at you and everything."

***

There is no need for top-shelf reaches yet as they all traipse back from the clamouring atmosphere of the little fish and chip shop, hearing the hiss of frying fish on the griddle and practically feeling the scent of all the grease settle into their clothes and hair.

Chips are thick and long, fat, "the perfect sort," Freddie announces as they all share an extra basket, having bought large platters rather than individual bundles tonight. "--In everything." Roger crows over that remark and Brian ducks his head after hissing at Fred that there's a young lady present. Freddie waves a hand "Oh, surely she knows!"

Clare licks her fingers after finishing the crunchy fried fish, and her eyes sparkle under streetlights as they head back, feeling a crisp wind that brings a few drops of rain before the later deluge sure to come as come on, they're in London.

Clare glances up at Brian, who walks with hands in his pockets beside her, but crooked out one elbow before they began to walk. "You'll get grease on your coat," Clare protested once she realised he meant for her to hang on to him.

"It's dark, and I can wash it," is all he said, and now Clare feels grateful for his gentle looming presence, particularly as the wind picks up. Something about Brian is soothing, instantly noticeable in comparison to naughty Freddie and her firecracker of a brother, both of whom have decided to dance across the deserted street.

"My eyes, they burn," she groans as Roger dances across the way, bounding and bending and thumping a fist on his thigh, and then Brian adds, deadpan:

"Careful, Rog, or old bill will nab you for indecent exposure." Clare and Freddie both begin laughing so hard they have to clutch on to something, Fred a lamppost and Clare to Brian as Roger looks affronted.

"Excuse you, no one said you were any great dancer either, Brian!"

"No, but I also don't subject other people to my dancing," Brian's voice hitches a bit at the look on Roger's face, so Clare squeezes his arm to let him know her brother doesn't mind the teasing. She can tell he is actually impressed, but it's abundantly clear to her that Brian is uncertain about his own words. Sweet sensitive Bri, she thinks as Roger comes jauntily over to them and claps his tall friend on the arm.

"You're a maestro, Brian, I never knew you had that much cheek in you." Eyes shifting to Clare, "Clearly my sister brings out the worst in people." Winks Roger.

"I think you mean the best," she comes right back at him, "--and don't you forget it."

With a laugh Roger reaches out and rubs Clare's hair affectionately, fingers caressing the side of her face. "Right," he replies. "What would I do without you?"

Roger's eyes flick from Clare to Freddie to Brian as he says that, and though his tone remains light there is a depth to it, a real question and thankfulness to have them all here. He knows he won't, he can't throw any of these relationships away too soon.

Chapter Text

A downpour begins before the group reaches the building and they make it back up to the flat, running and gasping as rain fills the sky and the street with its flood. Roger shakes water out of his hair and drops catch and spin away like diamonds out of the gold. He and Freddie come squealing in like a pair of drenched kittens, shoes skittering across the floor, shrieking and shucking out of their jackets to toss both garments atop the counter "--Mind the puddles,"

"We'll have to go down to laundry soon, or risk trailing disgusting rain-filled clothing all across the flat, my darlings."

Freddie bustles off to get towels for them as Roger pulls off Brian's jacket for him, forcibly, because Bri is soaked as he'd shucked off his jacket and held it over Clare, she had ducked and hung on to him in abrupt wind and driving rain. Reaches for the shirt beneath as it has stuck to his friend's pale skin. He's drenched so as the cloth is nearly see-through. Clare accepts the fluffy blanket Freddie tosses her, and is grateful to be small, thus Brian was able to easily cover her as they fled inside and as such she is practically dry. She feels horrible for the tallest man, however, as she watches her brother prod and poke his way at Brian to get him warm.

"Take that ruddy thing off and get dry or you'll catch a fucking chill, you numpty!" Roger helps Brian unbutton his shirt and throws a towel over his friend's head and now-bare shoulders, rubbing his curls vigorously to get them dry and then wrapping the edges of the towel around Brian's neck so it hangs like a superhero cape. "Right then, we have to get our blood pumping again somehow." Roger raises his brows and flicks his tongue at Freddie, who has gathered a passel of blankets for them all and whose full lips stretch into a cheeky smile in response to Roger's expressions.

Rainwater pings off the windows and the roof, providing a sort of pumping beat that accompanies their movements. "Roger," Brian remonstrates with a shudder from the cold, only to have the drummer shove a guitar into his hands before loping over to his drumset.

"Well now that's happened Clare's getting regaled, there's no choice in the matter. Don't stop us now," he cracks, blond locks flying as he strikes his sticks one against the other. "One, two, one two three four!"

Roger goes right into Brian's song, the one they'd worked up together on New Year's Eve. Bri had half expected Roger to forget his drum part, as he hadn't written all of it out; or at least, the guitarist didn't think he had.

Freddie sashays back into the room wearing a silken robe and instantly commences singing.

"Take off!

I was told a million times of all the troubles in my way, mind you grow a little wiser
Little better every day. But if I crossed a million rivers and I rode a million miles, then I'd still be where I started, bread and butter for a smile...,"

Clare sits on the couch, watching the three sing and play. She bobs her head and leg in time to the beat, eyes alight as Freddie's voice croons

"Well I sold a million mirrors in a shopping alley way, but I never saw my face in any window any day. Now they say your folks are telling you to be a super star, but I tell you just be satisfied, stay right where you are!"

It is now that Roger and Brian both come in, perfectly in time with Freddie to harmonise on what Roger's little sister assumes is the song's chorus. And at Roger's kicking drumbeat and his falsetto, she has never been prouder, and whoops to show that appreciation.

Keep yourself alive, yeah
Keep yourself alive
Ooh, it'll take you all your time and money
Honey you'll survive
Ow!

The next bit is so intricate, lots of consonants and syllables about loving lots of women, "in a belladonic haze" and eating just as many dinners brought in on silver trays. But apparently that doesn't give everything needed for one's body and one's soul; growing a little bigger-- ha, that should definitely be a goal for Roger, Clare chuckles to herself. But she is bouncing and dancing and singing right along on the latter choruses, totally into the song and the energy of its performers.

But I'll still be where I started-- same as when I started--

"You're like-- I can't explain it, but it's magical," she gasps after they finish singing the song, her hands feel numb and look bright red from clapping. "You lot seem to be some sort of, I dunno, rock music royalty, that's what you sounded like. It was fantastic, honestly, great." She cuts her eyes at Roger, who stands in shock that is slowly giving way to her brother looking smug. "And no, I can't even talk shite about his playing, you've gone and gotten so good, Rog," Clare hisses. Flinging up her hands "There's no way you won't keep people satisfied if you keep working together like that! And that song is an original, wow." She shakes her head, blue eyes enormous. "That was, well, you've got something special, boys." Staring them down, in quintessential Roger fashion, so much that Brian asks if his parents might have cloned him, "...Just try not to fuck it up, yeah?"

"Yeah," there are gulps, mostly from Brian. "We just need a bassist."

"And a name."

"On the latter front, darlings, I believe I have got one," comments Freddie, beaming. "And you gave me the final push for it, Clare."

Her eyes grow even wider, if that is possible. "Really? Me?"

The singer winks. "Don't give her a swelled head, Freddie," Roger grumbles. "She's already conceited as it is." He wiggles his tongue and laughs as Clare punches him in the arm. "Ow!"

"Right, well, you have a name, go on Fred," Brian sweeps a hand out, gesturing for his friend to speak.

"Thank you, Brian darling. Well, I've always thought I could be royalty, and Clare's words on our power just now confirm this. We are all three fabulous members of the musical monarchy, and therefore we simply must call ourselves Queen. Or, 'Her Majesty, Queen' if we must sound formal on occasion."

Brian and Roger look at each other. Clare clasps her hands together.

"That's amazing."

"... Certainly one word for it."

"It's really something, Fred."

"It is, isn't it?" The singer beamed, flinging his arms around each of his dear friends, his flatmates, his band brothers. "We can be whatever we want ourselves to be. Queen is outlandish, it's outrageous,"

"... it's insane," Roger mutters, getting a shove.

"Yet it's nothing else but what we are, and will be," the confidence and excitement with which Freddie speaks is contagious as he swings both men around, kissing each one on the cheek. "What of it, dears? Are we not Queen?"

Brian and Roger share a second glance, so much in their eyes; Brian's crinkling as Roger raises his brows. They look back at Fred, who stands in suspense; and Clare, who with her arms crossed over her chest, already knows the answer.

Brian then extends his lengthy arms and gathers both his friends and bandmates in, Roger instantly throwing his arms round Brian in his turn and Freddie cuddling close on Bri's opposite side, standing on tiptoes to press his lips once more to the tallest man's cheek.

"'Course we are, Fred."

They now possess both an occupation and a name.

There is simply the matter of ascension....