Roger can tell Freddie is nervous, though he’s trying hard to disguise it. It’s evident in the way he fidgets in his seat, the set of his jaw, the number of cigarettes he lights only to discard moments later.
“What exactly did they ask you to do, again?” Roger asks, picking the latest forgotten cig out of the ashtray and taking a drag off of it. Marlboro Lights. Not his usual, but better than to let it go to waste.
Freddie sniffs. “Charity ballet,” he says, examining his nails ever so casually.
Roger would roll his eyes if it hadn’t also made him feel so fond. “Surely they told you which ballet they were doing?”
“Mm. They did.”
“It’s The Nutcracker,” he finally mutters, as if Roger has forced the words out of him at gunpoint.
Roger can’t help it—he bursts out laughing, choking on smoke. The glare he receives from Freddie could have blistered paint, but it can’t stop his delighted wheezing. He can see just enough through the tears in his eyes to block Freddie’s hands as they swat furiously at him.
“It’s not funny!” Freddie screeches. Roger knows that he’s not actually angry—the dramatics give him away. Had Freddie actually been mad, Roger would be in his car driving home rather than bumming cigarettes in the sitting room.
“No, of course not. Not funny at all,” Roger clears his throat and tries to settle back down, just barely holding in the last few giggles. And he really does mean it, in all honesty. Freddie wouldn’t have agreed to do something like this for a joke. There have been plenty of comments surrounding the ballet that have followed them throughout the years, likely because it’s something Freddie takes rather seriously. “So. The Nutcracker?”
Freddie nods, keeping his hands to himself now that he’s seemingly satisfied with Roger’s ability to act like an adult when he so chooses. “Yes, The Nutcracker.”
Right now though, Roger is choosing to get one last shot in. He can’t help himself. “Great pick on their part, you’re pretty adept in that department. I’m sure you’ll feel right at home.”
Freddie looks like he’s genuinely contemplating strangling him. Maybe even parting with one of his prized Japanese porcelain bowls for the express purpose of smashing it over Roger’s head.
“Roger Taylor, I will send you home.”
“Sorry, I’m sorry.” Roger holds his hands up in surrender, snickering. “I’m done, I swear.”
“I mean it,” Freddie says, pointing a finger in Roger’s face. “See if you’re ever allowed in my home again.”
“Cross my heart, Fred.” Roger takes one last drag before stubbing out his cigarette in the ash tray. “I won’t interrupt unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Freddie eyes him warily, but eventually relaxes into his chair. Their teasing session had done enough to calm him down from the semi-anxious state he’d been in when Roger arrived, following a phone call where he had essentially been ordered to come over. To think he’d actually been worried that something was wrong, either with Freddie himself or one of his cats. Turns out it’s just the fine arts. Speaking of…
“I’ve been asked to be part of a charity performance of The Nutcracker hosted by The Royal Ballet,” Freddie says. His hand comes up to tug gently on a curl by his ear, wrapping it around a slender finger. “I’m not entirely sure why. They must’ve gotten into their heads that I can dance. It’s going to be a rather crushing disappointment when they realize their mistake.”
“Oh don’t say that,” Roger frowns. “Surely they know you’re not a professional. They can’t be expecting you to suddenly be the lead. Anyway, aren’t there children on stage?”
Freddie narrows his eyes. “I’ll be shown up by schoolchildren, yes. Thank you so much for reminding me, Roger dear.”
“That’s not what I meant, you sod.” A cat winds its way around Roger’s feet and he reaches down for her, hoisting her into his lap. “Look, I don’t think the Royal Ballet is out to embarrass you. It sounds like they want big names to attract more people. The Nutcracker with the standard ballet company is boring-“
“It is not boring!” Freddie looks so offended it’s rather cute. “Just admit you’ve got bad taste, darling. There’s no shame, you’re amongst friends.”
Because out of the two people sitting in a room decorated almost entirely in Japanese antiques, Roger is the one with poor taste. Right.
“All I’m saying is that The Nutcracker with Freddie Mercury is more exciting. That’s a limited opportunity.”
Freddie gets up and—ignoring Roger’s protests—steals his cat back, cradling her in his arms like a baby. He scratches softly on her furry head and decidedly does not look at Roger. “And that is precisely why I don’t want to cock this up. Imagine paying all that money just to watch me lark about.”
As if that would ever happen, Roger thinks. Freddie is quite possibly the most meticulous person he’s ever met, specifically where public performance and large scale productions are involved. Nothing less than perfection for Freddie. It’s something that occasionally drives Roger absolutely mad, but he respects it immensely. Freddie is not one to take a challenge lying down.
A particularly bittersweet thought, considering the two of them have been playing some kind of pathetic game of back-and-forth, a will-they-won’t-they that happens without fail on every tour. It’s charged glances exchanged in dressing room mirrors; it’s a careful correction of Freddie’s eyeliner as an excuse just to touch him; it’s nights spent in each other’s hotel rooms, the impersonal white linens making it that much easier to justify that this is just a casual thing. But it’s the in-between times when they’re home—times like now as he watches the sunlight stream in through the windows and glow softly on Freddie’s hair as he cuddles Tom—that Roger isn’t so sure he’s okay with ‘casual.’ Sometimes it seems like the only challenge Freddie won’t accept is him.
“Men in tights prancing about for an audience? That’s practically your forte.” Roger grins when Freddie purses his lips against a smile. “You act like they’ve asked you to be the nutcracker prince or something. They haven’t, have they?”
“Oh heavens, no. I can’t-“
“The Mouse King, then?” Roger says, cackling when Freddie gives him the bird. “Although I suppose Great King Rat would be more fitting.”
He finally draws a laugh when he suggests the Sugar Plum Fairy, Freddie’s bright smile on display before his hand comes up to cover it.
“Can you imagine that?” Freddie manages through giggles.
Roger can. “I think you’d look absolutely lovely in the tutu. Show off your legs.”
Their eyes meet and for a second, neither of them say anything. The tension is nothing new but here, in Freddie’s sitting room amongst all his personal belongings, it feels far more dangerous.
Roger clears his throat and tears his eyes away. “Well, who have they asked you to play then?”
“The godfather,” Freddie says, overcoming the awkwardness between them. There’s a glimmer of excitement coming into his face now. “I’m the one who gives the nutcracker to Clara.”
“So you don’t have to wear tights?” asks Roger, trying to keep from sounding too disappointed.
Freddie frowns apologetically. “Afraid not, dear. You’ll have to wait to see my legs another time.” And then the bastard winks.
Roger undoes the tie again and throws it down on the bed. He’s being silly, overthinking this. It’s only a ballet performance, it doesn’t require formal dress. Overdressing would just draw attention. He just needs to look nice, which he thinks he’s achieved in the new sport coat he’d bought and his dress shirt unbuttoned enough to be sexy but not completely disheveled. He genuinely debates messing with his hair but figures he’s already spent far too much time fussing over his appearance. If he wastes any more time, he’ll be late. And if he’s late, Freddie will actually murder him.
His hands are clammy on the steering wheel the entire drive to the opera house and it’s not until he’s standing in line at will call to pick up his complimentary ticket (courtesy of Freddie) that Roger realizes he’s nervous. Nervous about what, he’s not so sure. After all, he’s not the one that’s going to be standing on stage in a cape later. He’s still thinking about it as he makes his way to his seat. He’s nervous for Freddie. Not that he thinks something will go wrong, or that Freddie will make a mistake; he’s treating this as seriously and professionally as any Queen concert.
He’s also practiced far too much for that. Freddie had been invited to rehearse with the company for two weeks leading up to the performance, where they had him at the barre and everything. Roger would know, Freddie had complained about it to high heaven (“It was murder! It was hurting me in places I didn’t know I had, dear!”)
So no, Roger is not afraid that his friend will make some careless error. He’s nervous because he knows how important this is to Freddie and wants so desperately for everything to go well. It’s incredibly brave of him, to do something so widely outside his comfort zone. Roger’s hoping maybe he can be brave tonight too, and finally tell Freddie that he’d love him the same in hotel bedsheets as he would laying under the quilt from his mum.
By the time the lights go down to signify the start of the ballet, Roger is tense with anticipation. Reading through the program in his hands had made it seem like it would be ages before Freddie was due to be on stage but suddenly there he is, sweeping in with his grand cloak and that damn mustache. Roger hates that mustache like he’s never hated anything in life before. He’d insisted on growing a real one, despite the fact that wardrobe offered plenty of fake ones. Freddie says it’s a commitment to authenticity. Roger says he’s full of shit.
The audience applauds when Freddie makes a show of presenting the young woman dancing Clara with the wooden nutcracker and Roger’s heart feels full with pride. All that worrying Freddie had done— the assertion that he’d disappoint the Royal Ballet company or, worst of all, disappoint the audience—had been for nothing. They love him. Roger loves him.
The rest of the ballet passes in a daze, Roger’s attention turned towards thinking of Freddie’s performance and what he’s going to say to him later. The Sugar Plum Fairy dances her variation, Clara and her nutcracker prince ride off in a sleigh, and then Roger is startled by the curtain call. Freddie is on stage again and when he looks out into the audience, Roger knows he’s seeing only him.
Standing in the lobby afterwards, waiting, Roger finds himself wishing he’d brought flowers. His hands feel empty and he’s not sure what to do with them.
He turns to see Freddie in the crowd and doesn’t hesitate to envelop him in a hug when they meet. Fuck what anyone else has to say about it.
“You were amazing!” he says around a mouthful of Freddie’s hair.
“You really think so? Oh thank you, darling!” Freddie pulls back just enough to Roger to see his face. He’s flushed, his cheeks a soft pink and not just from adrenaline.
It’s a strong effort, but Roger just barely refrains from kissing Freddie right here in the middle of the crowded opera house lobby.
“Of course I think so. I’m so proud of you. You’re a fearless son of a bitch, you know that?”
Freddie’s laugh is tinged with nerves. “Please, I was scared half to fucking death. I think I gave wardrobe a fright, they were worried I’d be sick on their costumes. I can’t say I blame them. Those stains would never come out.” He shudders and finally steps back from Roger’s embrace, standing patiently while Roger checks him over and assuring him that, yes dear, he’s fine.
“You don’t have anything left to do here, do you? Do you want to get out of here?” Hopefully back to one of their homes, where Roger can show Freddie properly just how much he appreciated his work tonight.
“Let me do one last thing and I’m yours.” Freddie squeezes Roger’s hands and then disappears into the crowd again to head backstage. He’s not gone for very long though, returning within minutes. “Ready?”
Roger assumes that Freddie’s already told his driver that he isn’t needed as there’s no one waiting outside as they walk to Roger’s car. He opens the passenger side door for Freddie because he knows that it’ll make him laugh but also please him, just a little.
“Such a gentleman,” Freddie coos, fluttering his eyelashes, “You look very nice tonight. Did you dress up just for me, darling?”
Roger starts the car up and then reaches over to take Freddie’s hand. “Any excuse to buy new clothes.”
He can feel Freddie’s eyes on him the entire drive back to Stafford Terrace. This time though, it doesn’t feel uncertain or uncomfortable. Instead, Roger’s practically aching with desire by the time he parks the car. Without the noise of the engine, the silence feels intimate.
“I meant what I said earlier,” Roger starts, reaching out to keep Freddie from opening the car door. “I’m so damn proud of you. You were all worked up for nothing.”
Freddie stares back at him, eyes wide in the dark. “It wasn’t nothing. I was worried about disappointing you. Silly of me, though, wasn’t it?” And then suddenly his lips are on Roger’s own.
For a second, Roger can’t breath. This is hardly their first kiss, but it feels different from the other kisses they’ve shared. Maybe it’s the lack of post-concert adrenaline or no dull haze of various drink and drugs. Or maybe it’s that sitting in the front seat of Roger’s car, Freddie’s hand on the side of his face creeping up into his hair, it no longer feels like they’re longing for something they can’t have. Or maybe it’s that fucking mustache. He kisses Freddie back anyway.