'I’ve missed you' were the words that were written on Roger's arm. They had been there since he could remember, and they had never faded, never faltered, never left.
He knew from a young age that it didn’t make sense, at least not logically. For someone to have missed him he had to know them, so how could it be their first words?
He found out later it was something genetic, an anomaly. Most people's words were the first ones their soulmates would say to them. He went to school with ten variations of 'Hello', seven 'I don't think we've met before's and one 'For the love of God why is the potting shed on fire.'
The latter was bullied profusely. Still, he found his love after a freak accident with a lawn mower and a shed. They had all found their loves.
All except Roger. He'd dated - perhaps if those words weren't his first they'd be somewhere else. Near the beginning. But no such luck. He had never seen them even close to fade. No one missed him apparently. So he gave up.
Not that he didn’t have fun, he was a world renowned musician on tour half the time. He watched as Brian and John found their soulmates, watched as they became unmarked and settled and became reasonably happy. He watched as Freddie - who didn’t seem to have a mark at all (a common if unfortunate condition) fell in and out of relationships.
He watched as Queen rose and fell, as their lives seemed to become a sickening Punch and Judy show.
Freddie wasn't well, it wasn't going to be long probably until the end. But still the older man tapped the bed beside him.
"Blondie," he smiled weakly, but it was still enough to make Roger smile back, "Come here. Keep me company tonight, tomorrow we can watch some Christmas films."
"It's November, Fred, I'm not watching Christmas anything," Roger smiled, settling beside him, holding him as close as he dared. "You feeling better then?"
"Perhaps. Let me get some sleep, darling. Just be closeby." Freddie held his hand slightly, closing his eyes, "I've missed you."
It wasn't his soulmate's first words.
It was his soulmate's last.
And now every last word was gone from him.
It had been weeks since the funeral now. Roger was getting used to life without the words on his arm.
He wasn't getting used to life without him.
Christmas had come and gone, John had fallen away slightly now, staying close to his wife and kids, popping up every now and then to comment on the ideas for the tribute concert or a tribute album of some sort. Nothing was set in stone yet, and as far as Roger was concerned the world had moved on. The story was over and only the vultures came to pick at the remains. What was left of the remains.
What was left of him.
Brian was a different issue, something that needed an eye kept on him. Just for now, for the rough patch. And Roger did it, knowing what Freddie would say. What he'd do rather; fussing over them all to make sure they were eating and sleeping and not worrying. So Roger took over.
He was at Brian's that night, the older man making no attempt to move from the couch while he pottered about the kitchen trying to find some food of any description.
He shut the cupboard angrily, fully intending to have a go at Brian for the lack of everything in his house. But something made him pause. Some strange burning pain made him stare wide-eyed at his arm as the words started to fade into existence.
"Hello again darling."
He'd had to take a breather. It was times like this he wished he still smoked, that at least would settle him. Wouldn't make him feel better though.
He thought it would be Motherlove that set him off, but strangely he'd been okay. He'd been there when Freddie recorded what he could, him and John had gone through the track to finish it off a few years later and he hadn't felt much.
He’d forced himself to listen to it at Brian’s house the night the word’s appeared. He’d driven both Brian and himself to tears with the news that night. The words HAD to mean something. They had to.
But four years later nothing had happened, perhaps just a blip.
He tried to remember the first time he’d met Freddie, thirty odd years ago. Had those been his first words to him? Roger didn’t think so. He didn’t remember Freddie having the confidence back then. Not to have gone up to a stranger and called them ‘darling’ and pretend they’d already met.
Brian had put it more simply, it was something he must’ve said at some point, just another unlucky rare gene. Roger had shrugged at the time, not feeling anything still.
But then they'd got Brian to finish Motherlove off and suddenly he was suffocating. Roger thought he'd heard all the different ways all of them could sing by now, that in those last few decades he'd definitely heard Brian's gentle voice hardly ever sound hard or rough.
But now it was broken.
And Roger felt it like a punch in the gut. It was how all of them felt but didn't dare say, not now.
He walked forward a little, settling himself on the bench by the lake. He’d sat there before, cold beer in hand listening to Freddie talk shit about whoever happened to have trifled with him that week, cutting him off with jokes until the older man was laughing. He’d known exactly what to say then.
It was difficult to tell what would happen now, they couldn't keep going like this. It was bad enough at home, the empty house seemed to be dotted with photos and trinkets and pieces of HIM: but in the studio? That was painful. They couldn't be around eachother now, not without expecting the door to open and brown eyes to peep round, a warm voice claiming he'd slept in knowing full well he didn't set his alarm until after the recording had started.
The other two seemed to have taken it so much worse, that's what people told him, and he agreed. Roger didn't feel anything for years. He closed his eyes, letting himself breath in the scent of the pine trees that hugged the lake, feeling the warm sun on his face, making him too warm in his winter jacket.
He heard the seagulls too, the waves lapping slightly. Waves a lake shouldn't have.
Sunshine a January night couldn't have.
His eyes shot open to find himself sitting on the edge of a shallow peer, fishing boats lining the horizon and the studio nowhere to be seen.
It didn't even look like Europe. Or the nineties.
It looked like somewhere eastern in the forties. And now the words on his arm were bolder than ever.
"Hello again, darling."
Roger glanced around him again, squinting in the bright sunlight. There were a lot of people working, some rushing about on the walk way and no one seemed to notice him.
He set off, not really sure where to, but he wasn't sitting on the peer getting burnt any longer. He had to ask someone where he was, that was as far as his plan went. See if he could find a phone to call someone too if possible.
Roger surprised himself how little he panicked in that moment.
As he walked he tried to pull the collar up over his neck, trying to stop the sunburn from getting worse, but he wasn't wearing a collar.
Roger looked down, seeing a linen striped shirt and trousers, shoes tied into his belt. He'd never worn anything like this, never even seen anything like it. Well, that was a lie, he had: long ago in Freddie's mum's house, on the desk of the bureau - some relatives all dressed like him.
He also felt a hell of a lot younger than he had in years.
But that didn't mean anything?
"Mr Taylor," Roger spun on the spot, not immediately seeing the small woman in front of him, "Did you enjoy your stroll? The car is ready for you now."
"I eh… yes?" Roger blinked at her, did he know her? Did she know him? Well clearly she knew him. "Where's the car headed? Eh… I mean… where's the next stop?"
"You'll get the ferry to Dar es Salaam, I should think you'll be lodged there," she replied, leading him back towards the walk way, "Bomi has arranged for your journey back to London to be a comfortable one."
"Bomi? As in Bulsara?" Roger asked, gears starting to turn in his head.
"Of course," she paused for him to put his shoes on, looking down the road to a large house, white against the other beige buildings. Reminded him of a Mediterranean cottage. "I think Kash has been drawing you a little picture, just to say goodbye. Lord knows where Farrokh is."
What sort of a dream was this? Not only did he feel conscious, he knew what a dream was, he could perfectly remember the definition of a dream he’d once read in a book, he could trace his movements and felt more awake now than he had in years.
If it was a dream, why had it started here? Talking to his dead soulmate’s mum in a country he’d never been to, in a time he was only just born in.
Nonetheless, his feet followed the short woman up the road, feeling like he was walking through a photograph, one too colourful and bright for him to process it.
Brian had had a thing for collecting photographs, Roger recalled him pandering around with a camera throughout their tours and adventures. Well, they were all guilty of snapping away like buggery, but their guitarist was actually good at it.
Roger had always had copies made, especially of the good ones, the picture of him and Fred tended to float around his house making him sad. Sadder now he knew what those times had meant.
Might one day mean, he didn’t think it had happened yet, not in the reality he was in now.
The words on his arm were just as present as ever, the hot African sun beating down on him as he followed Jer into the house.
Roger had never much liked looking at the photos of any of them before they met, it was always funny to laugh at John's grumpy baby picture, or a young Brian being all nerdy. But there was something he never liked, something so incomplete about the faces trapped in the paper time.
Like they weren’t finished yet, maybe because he knew how much was to be done for those faces.
But now there was a face looking up at him in stolen time, and the big brown eyes made him want to die.
He hadn’t seen them since that night, their last night. Freddie had looked a tiny bit scared, under the calmness that Roger now knew was acceptance of the end. He had always been able to read Fred’s eyes so quickly, except that fucking night.
He should’ve held his hand, kissed his cheek, told him it was going to be okay. He should’ve done more to make him happier before it was too late.
But then it was all over.
And now it wasn’t.
Roger hadn't known what to expect, like in the books he'd read; perhaps the universe stopped, or some last nugget of wisdom passed down or something, some sort of demon or demigod to pop out of the cupboard and jeer some riddle at him. Or perhaps Freddie would tell him what to do, this small four year old, he could tell him what to do.
No, those eyes looked young and grumpy, as if he wasn’t keen on Roger staring down at him speechlessly. It was mundane compared to the fiction he'd been expecting.
"I do hope you will stay for lunch, Mr Taylor," Freddie, maybe just Farrokh at this stage, didn't look best pleased. "I've been waiting."
"I…" what could he say? He almost wanted to roll his eyes, or breakdown. "Of course."
The boy grabbed his hand and dragged him away to the kitchen, and Roger was thankful it was colder there, feeling the weather or stress boil him up inside.
There was a lot going through his mind, he just wanted to hug the poor boy, but that was probably the creepiest thing he could do. Still, he wanted to know more - this had to mean something, even if he was just playing with his own brain in some sort of fever induced dream - it didn’t matter, he was seeing Freddie again.
"How old are you again?"
"Six, Mr Taylor," Farrohk told him, holding up seven fingers before correcting himself, he looked a few years younger, Roger realised, "I'm a proper grown up now, going to big school tomorrow too."
Oh. He was excited about it, Roger could tell. Which means he had so far to fall, so young too. Roger knew what had happened there, how it would shape him for years to come, but he’d always imagined big Freddie there, even knowing he was a kid. He never imagined for a second that this was the poor soul that was sent away.
"Does that not scare you?"
"No," Freddie had the plate placed in front of him, the house must've been staffed by the women that seemed to wander the halls, synchronising their work around the family, handing them what they needed. "Bapa says I'll be a better person after. That I can have a job."
"It's still a long way away," Roger told him, "And you'll have to make friends and everything "
"I know," the boy seemed confident, Roger wouldn't have questioned it if he hadn't seen the lip quiver. The same one he'd seen countless times from his drums, during late night drinks and on long trips in dingy buses. "But I'll be proper after this. That's what everyone wants."
"Fre- Farrokh," Roger took his shoulder, looking at the boy, "You don't have to be what everyone wants. You don't have to listen to them, cause trust me, you don't need them."
"Then what, Mr Taylor?" Big brown eyes looked at him again, "I don't understand.."
"Me neither, but it will work out," Roger told him, "You'll shine so bright… You have no idea how much love people will have for you.”
“Mama says I won’t be anything if I don’t start studying.”
"Don't worry about her," Roger told him quickly, "One more thing before I leave-"
"Are you leaving? But you’re the best tutor I’ve ever had, you can’t go."
"I don't know, so just listen. You are so loved, okay? It's going to be a bollocks to get through life, but I promise you, I'll look out for you." Had he though? Had he looked out for Freddie? “We’ll meet again, you can hold on for me, yeah?”
“I don’t understand, Mr Taylor.”
“It’s okay, Freddie,” Roger insisted, seeing the light get brighter around him ceaselessly, “Just hold on.”
Was he going home? Or somewhere else?