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The Sound and the Fury

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Brian’s footsteps echo down the deserted hallway. Physicists are night owls, and there is still light coming from the odd lab or office, but at ten at night the bustle of the day has dimmed down to quiet, solitary studiousness. It suits him well, not having to dodge other students as he hurries along, frustrated with himself. He wanted to turn in early, try to catch up on some much-needed sleep, but first he completely lost track of time at the library (where he only intended to look up a reference), and then, when he stepped outside into the freezing cold rain that had started to fall, he realised that he had forgotten his jacket in the rehearsal room

He gets a bit out of breath as he jogs up the stairs to the lecture theatre they use for band practise. Although ‘lecture theatre’ is a bit euphemistic. It might have been one, at some point in the late seventeenth century, when the last coat of paint had been applied, but these days it’s more of a disused attic than anything else. And Smile’s rehearsal room, of course.

Or rather Queen’s, as they’re now apparently called. Freddie had been clever about it, first sweet-talking Roger into taking his side before telling Brian. Not that it’s a bad name. It’s not unfitting either. And the way Freddie and Roger explained it, it all makes sense for the direction they’re taking, artistically. Brian’s just not quite sure how it’s going to help them find a record label or score gigs.

His thoughts are dispelled by a faint, rhythmic patter coming from above him. As he takes another flight of stairs, it’s becoming clear that what he’s hearing is the intro to Stone Cold Crazy, that unfinished mess of a song they’ve all been wrestling with this week. And he only knows one person who drums like that, steady and precise, yet full of energy at the same time.

What on earth is Roger still doing here, almost four hours after they’ve wrapped up rehearsals, Brian wonders as he walks up the final flight, slowly this time. They’re not sure the song - Freddie’s idea, initially - is going anywhere, so it’s odd that Roger would spend his night trying to perfect it, and with the next show more than two months off at that. Also, Roger had seemed rather distracted during practice, like he was eager for it to be over.

Brian pushes open the door.

There’s Roger, behind his treasured drum kit. He doesn’t notice Brian stepping inside, focused as he is on the music (and before Brian got to know him, he wouldn’t ever have thought to describe solo drums as music). He’s in the same faded t-shirt with the rolled up sleeves that he wore during their earlier practice session, despite the fact that it’s almost as cold in the room as outside. There’s an open window right behind him, and the heating must already have been shut down for the night in this peripheral area of the building. Brian can see Roger’s laboured breath condense into white puffs.

He plays until he reaches the transition into the verse section, where the idea is that everything stills except for Freddie’s vocals and a chattering of the hi-hats. But instead of stopping or continuing with the next section, he immediately starts again from the top. Only faster than they have ever played it before and with a harshness that has Brian hesitating to approach him.

And when he’s through, he launches into the same passage yet again.

This time, Brian doesn’t allow himself to get distracted by the driving beat. This time, he really looks at his friend. And now that he is looking, he sees the strands of hair clinging to his face, not just damp, but soaking wet with sweat. He sees the glassy sheen to his eyes, the harsh, ragged rise and fall of his chest, and the greyish tinge to his skin.

When he reaches the end of the section again, Brian deliberately steps into his line of sight. “Rog.”

A brief flicker of blue eyes in his direction is the only indication that his friend has noticed him. Without the slightest hiccup, Roger keeps on playing. There’s little of Roger’s usual smoothness left in the drumming now, the rhythm full of jagged edges as he drives it forward. This isn’t about working out a song, or practising a difficult pattern. This is about something else entirely.

Brian doesn’t wait around until he’s finished with the section this time. He walks up to Roger until he’s standing right next to the drum stool. “Roger.”

Again, he is ignored, but he can feel the negative energy radiating off Roger, as if it’s trying to repel him. Brian wavers. Although never one to shy away from debate, or argument even, he hates to intrude. God knows he doesn’t want people to pry when he is in one of his moods (although at times he wishes someone would at least try.) But Roger is not him, brooding and reclusive, and this is not like Roger at all. Then again, perhaps everyone needs some time to work things out on their own, and in their own way?

That is when his eyes fall on the tape carelessly wrapped around Roger’s hands. And on the pink and brown stains that have seeped into it.

He’s reaching out for his friend’s shoulder before he can stop himself. “Roger, stop.”

“Piss off,” Roger wheezes, and redoubles his efforts. The pattern is barely recognizable now, as technique gives way to pure thrashing, furious and violent, without rhyme or reason. It’s something that Brian has never seen Roger do before. The noise level is enormous, filling up the room, an almost physical force pushing Brian away.

Brian is still debating what to do, mystified as to what has come over his best friend, when one of the sticks breaks. Roger keeps playing for another couple of seconds - whether it’s because he doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, Brian has no idea - but when he misses the crash cymbal for the third time, he jumps up from the stool and, with a howl of rage, hurls the useless stick across the room. It bounces off the wall and clatters over the floor, the sound loud in the sudden silence of the room. The second stick soon follows and then, having run out of things to throw, Roger reaches for the cymbal stand.

This time, Brian doesn’t let himself be fazed. He wraps both of his hands around Roger’s forearm from behind the moment he grabs the stand and holds him in place, so he can’t lift it. Whatever is going here, Brian will not allow him to thrash his kit. Roger will thank him for it later.

Once Roger is done trying to bash Brian’s nose in with the back of his head, “Leave me the fuck alone!” he rages as he tries to escape Brian’s grip, hissing and writhing like an angry cat. He’s let go of the stand, turning around to get his hands on Brian instead, so Brian pulls him backwards and away from the drum kit. He doesn’t have time to muse about what on earth has got into his best friend, too busy is he escaping his furious kicks.

But as much as Roger is raging and railing, it’s surprisingly easy for Brian to hold onto him, especially once he takes advantage of his long arms and gets them wrapped tightly around his friend. It’s not that Brian is particularly brawny. If anyone had asked him before now, he wouldn’t have given himself much of a chance against Roger in a fight, despite his taller build. But when Roger drums his fists against Brian’s back, shouting at him to let go, there is little force behind them.

So he just holds on while Roger shakes and flails about. His efforts to break free grow more sporadic with every passing moment, until finally he stills, arms hanging limply by his sides. Still, except for the great, heaving breaths rattling his body. Roger’s shirt is clammy under Brian’s fingers, but he can feel the heat still rising from his skin.

He always feels out of his depth in situations like these. He never knows the right thing to say, or when to preserve the silence, when to break it. But for now at least, Roger seems to welcome the… the hug for want of a better word, because that’s what it has turned into. Brian bites his lips to keep the questions from spilling out. What’s happening? Are you alright? Did Geoff slip you some of his home-made experimental drugs? (If it’s the latter, Brian will flay him with own two hands. Or at least banish him from ever entering into his line of sight again.)

When Roger finally moves to step away, Brian lets him. He tries not to stare at his friend, only observing out of the corners of his eye how Roger turns away and wipes his eyes.

“Are you alright,” Brian mumbles, and immediately rolls his eyes at himself, because of course he isn’t.

“Yeah,” Roger replies, predictably, with a voice that’s barely there. Without looking at Brian, he shuffles towards the table where he has put his rucksack and jumper. “Gonna head home.”

It’s patently ridiculous, this pretence that everything is just dandy, but Roger is nothing if not stubborn. Stubborn and proud and completely infuriating. However, right now he looks small, more than anything else. Moving slowly and without his usual impatience that always demands everything, right now. And yet Brian might have let him get away with it, would have let him leave and never brought it up again, because he wouldn’t know how, except…

There’s a rug in the middle of the floor, a ratty old thing that is more dust than fabric, and that serves no actual function apart from always having been there so no one ever thought of removing it. Roger’s foot catches on the edge, and whereas he’d usually have no problem regaining his balance with a few quick steps, now it sends him flying forward. He crashes into the table, barely just managing to stay on his feet by clinging to it with unsteady arms.

Brian has crossed the room in seconds. No way is he going to let Roger make the hour-long trip to Barnes on his own. He might not know how to help Roger with whatever is going on inside his head, but he can make sure he doesn’t stumble into oncoming traffic.

He picks up Roger’s jumper, but hesitates before holding it out to him. It’s still pouring down outside, and the knitted wool is not going to hold much of it off. So he reaches for his jacket instead - the one that he came to pick up in the first place - and briskly puts it around Roger’s shoulders. The fact that Roger doesn’t even offer a token protest tells him all he needs to know about the state he is in.

“Let’s go to mine,” he says as he pulls on Roger’s jumper, which just about comes down to the tops of his hips. “It’s closer.” Also, there’s no knowing what is happening at the house in Ferry Road on any given night. Or how many people have decided to crash there.

Roger nods quietly, seemingly miles away. This entire time, he hasn’t looked Brian in the eye even once. The worry that is sitting in the pit of Brian’s stomach intensifies. He has seen Roger in a low mood before, after a fight with his girlfriend, or when he was frustrated with his studies or the lack of success with the band. But never anything that comes even close to this.

He tries to stave off the litany of disasters that present themselves before his mind’s eye - he never has troubles with conjuring up worst-case scenarios. Perhaps he should be glad if it turns out it’s just one of Geoff’s creations gone wrong.

“Come on then,” he says and picks up both Roger’s rucksack and his own bag. He slings an arm around Roger’s middle, expecting to be rebuffed with a gruff “I’m not an invalid, for fuck’s sake, Brian.” But Roger allows that, too.

And as Brian steers him down the steps and out of the building, supporting half his friend’s weight as the icy rain patters down on them, he sends a silent prayer of thanks to whoever made sure he returned to the practice room once more tonight.

~~~

Outside the wind is howling. The old window panes rattle in their weather-worn, wooden frames, painted a crisp white a long time ago but now chipped and grey. Roger stares at the blur of falling rain in the sickly, yellowish light of the street lamp in front of Brian's living room window. The steady patter of raindrops against the glass blends in with the white noise inside his head. There's a flurry of thoughts, and the moment he tries to hold on to a single one it's torn away from him and drowned amongst the others. It’s so frustrating that he wants to crawl out of his skin. Wants to get a grip, as his father would say, and why that comes to him now he doesn't know.

So many old memories, dredged up from the depths of his mind since the letter of summons arrived. And he feels stupid, because it isn't like he didn't know that it would, one day. But on some level, perhaps, he had truly begun to think - to hope - that perhaps it would all just blow over somehow. Resolve itself without his involvement.

He had allowed himself to imagine that he'd never be held accountable, and presented with the consequences of what he had done, years ago.

An involuntary shiver runs through him. They got caught in the rain on the way over. The jacket he’s wearing is damp and cold. Realising that it's Brian's, Roger slowly stirs out of his stupor and pulls it off, depositing it beside him on the sofa. He brushes back the wet strands of hair plastered to his forehead and curling by the sides of his face. His arms are covered in goosebumps. He should have probably taken off his shoes as well, wet and muddy as they are. Tracking all that muck in straight to the sofa. And that thought, now, is his mother's voice through and through.

Roger lowers his eyes to look down at himself, but instead of his shoes, his gaze catches on his hands, lying in his lap. Palms facing up. He wriggles his fingers a little, feeling the tape pull at broken skin. The cold has numbed the pain, although now that he's warming up he can feel his hands throbbing.

The white grip tape is an ugly brown in places, saturated with blood. Acting on impulse, he reaches for the end of a strip of tape on one finger, where it has come unstuck, and pulls it off. And once he's started, he can't leave the rest. It's like a compulsion. All of it has to go, now. He winces as he tears away the rest of it, bits of skin and dried blood coming loose, and crumples the used tape up into a ball, tossing it onto the coffee table.

He studies the patches of skin with a frown as he turns his hands over. Rubbed raw. Torn blisters and blood. It feels as though his hands should be trembling, but they're not. The anger and adrenaline has seeped out of him and there's nothing left but the stifling weight of guilt and hopelessness.

There isn't anything wrong with his hands. His hands will heal. They'll be alright in a matter of days.

And he can't imagine what he would do with himself if it weren't so.

Blood looks black in the dark, pitch black and unreal, spreading out on the tarmac underneath Pete's crumpled body. There’s more of it covering Rick's pale face too, his eyes wide and terrified. Laughing and joking only minutes ago, they had been— minutes before screeching tires, the impact knocking all the air out of his lungs and a shower of broken glass.

It's inescapable, the sense of dread that turns his stomach. Panic that has him in a chokehold. The worst part isn't even the fear of what might happen to him, but the knowledge that he deserves it. Because no matter what anyone says, there is simply no denying the fact that it was his fault.

What happened to Pete that night.

'It could've been worse,' some of his friends had said, later on. 'You reacted so quickly, just think-'

But it doesn't help.

No one knows what could have been, had Pete been driving. He might have swerved out of the way faster than Roger had been able to.

He might have reacted a split second later and killed them all.

No one will ever know what could have been.

What Roger does know is that it had been him who'd been so bloody keen to drive the van that night. Just seventeen, the driving licence in his pocket crisp and new like a freshly minted coin. It had been him who hadn't seen the lorry parked right on the road.

It had been him who should have been sitting in the passenger seat that night. And not Pete.

The whistle of the tea kettle startles him out of his thoughts. Roger blinks and takes a deep breath, sitting up straighter. He can hear Brian pouring the water into the mugs and all of a sudden fervently wishes he'd just gone home. It might have been easier to go unnoticed and just turn in for the night without anyone pestering him at the overcrowded flat. That is, as long as he could manage to avoid Freddie.

All the same, alone with Brian, he can't help but feel exposed. Especially after what happened earlier in the rehearsal room. Embarrassment is already settling into the pit of his stomach, an uneasy tension, like he wants to breathe deeply but can’t.

He doesn't want to have to explain. Doesn't want Brian to look at him that way. The way he looks at him when he returns with the mugs, no longer wearing Roger's jumper. (It must have been soaked.) He’s looking at him as if he half expects Roger to- what, burst into tears? Well, he's not going to.

"Here you go."

Roger bites the inside of his cheek and gives a small nod of acknowledgement when a steaming mug is placed down in front of him. "Cheers."

He closes and uncurls his fingers, weighing up his desire to take a sip of hot tea against the reluctance of touching weeping blisters to hot ceramic.

"That looks pretty nasty."

Roger can feel Brian's eyes on his hands and folds them into each other self-consciously. “‘s alright.”

"I think we’ve some plasters." Brian offers hesitantly, pointing a thumb towards the bathroom. "Would you like me to check?"

Roger gives a non-committal shrug, then nods, staring down at the steam rising up from his tea. "Yeah, okay," he adds the words as an afterthought, realising that he must be only making it worse, acting like this. Only it's as though he's forgotten how to just act normal. "Thanks."

"No problem," Brian replies, and lingers a moment before he gets up again.

It isn’t long before he returns with a tin of plasters and a towel in his hands, and Roger is no closer to the answers which will be expected of him any moment now.

"I don't have any antiseptic," Brian starts apologetically.

"Don't worry about it." Roger all but cuts him off and reaches for the towel. It's been soaked in warm water on one side. He proceeds to dab the sores on his hands, leaving bloody stains all over the fabric. "I'm ruining your towel, I'm sorry," he mumbles, carefully drying his hands next.

"That's alright."

He can see Brian shake his head a little out of the corner of his eye, cradling his own mug in his hands. However, when Roger is just about finished drying his hands, Brian sets it down.

"Look, let me." He's quite matter-of-fact about it as he taps his fingers on top of the tin of plasters. "It'll be easier, won't it?"

"Suppose so."

Roger doesn't argue. He just doesn't have it in him right now, and Brian seems almost surprised when he simply stretches out a hand in his best friend’s direction. But then Brian takes his wrist and lays Roger’s hand down on his knee, reaching for the tin.

"Not sure if there's enough in here," Brian comments when he pops the tin open, finding it almost empty.

"That's okay." Roger glances at his hand. It's a nonsensical thing to say, because nothing is okay.

"I'll just do the worst ones," Brian murmurs quietly. He says no more while he gets to work. The wind is still raging outside, whistling through the cracks and sending sheets of rain battering against the bay window. A faint cough is heard from the other room. Brian's flatmate is home, of course. Who’d be out at this hour, in this weather?

Slowly, as Brian methodically wraps the plasters around his fingers in silence, Roger finds himself exhaling a breath he didn’t realise he was holding. Because Brian doesn’t seem to be in any rush to question him, and for that Roger is grateful. It isn’t even that he absolutely doesn’t want to talk about it. It’s only that he doesn’t know where to begin and doesn’t feel like explaining it all in great detail.

Or so he tells himself, because that is kinder than admitting he is afraid - it feels like once he starts talking, it will all come pouring out of him, ugly and desperate. And a shoulder to cry on is not what he needs. Not what he should need. How old are you? his father’s voice scoffs in his head. And it’s true. He is a man, not a child.

Man up.

“Rog.”

“Huh? Oh.” When he looks up he realises that Brian has finished with one hand and is looking at him expectantly, eyebrows raised. Roger shifts on the sofa to turn towards him a bit more to give him his other hand, then reaches across his own arm for his mug. There’s a small frown on Brian’s face, a familiar look of concentration, frizzy curls hanging into his face. All his efforts to straighten his hair into submission have gone to pot spectacularly what with the rain. The corners of Roger’s mouth twitch and he looks down at their hands, taking a careful sip of hot, milky tea. “Thanks,” he says earnestly.

“Not quite finished yet.” Brian reaches for the last plaster in the tin.

“No, I mean…” Roger trails off, realising he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence in a way that doesn’t make him sound a bit pathetic. Thanks for taking me home. Thanks for taking care of me. Thanks for caring. “Thanks for the tea,” is what he goes with, eventually.

“Don’t mention it.” Looking up with a small smile, Brian returns to the task at hand and finishes with the last plaster. “There, that’s the best I can do.”

Roger pulls his hand away, wiggling his fingers a little as he turns it over. “Good work, Nurse May.”

It’s the right move - the humour, that is, and he knew it would be - because Brian looks a bit relieved. “You alright?” he asks finally, after a moment’s hesitation.

Roger takes a breath and nods. “Yeah.” The tea is nice. Just the way he likes it, and Brian would know. It’s strange sometimes, to think they haven’t known each other for that long, in the grand scheme of things. Just a year and a half, really. Roger has older friends, childhood friends, school friends. Roger has many friends, but very few close friends, and Brian is one. “Yeah, I’m a bit better now,” he tells him with a dry chuckle, and finds that it isn’t a lie.

“Good.” Brian nods as he reaches for his own mug again. “So…”

The sound of his flatmate’s door opening cuts him off, and they both look over at Trevor as he steps into the living room.

“Oh. Hullo,” he murmurs, raising a hand in greeting. Roger mirrors the gesture automatically.

“Hey.”

“Got caught in the rain?”

“Yeah,” Brian and Roger sigh in unison.

Trevor grimaces sympathetically and makes his way to the kitchen, leaving the door wide open. This Roger notices when he glances over his shoulder, not sure whether he’s relieved or annoyed that Trevor chose that moment to emerge from his room. As he turns back around he locks eyes with Brian, and quickly looks away before his friend can glimpse his uncertainty. Neither of them speaks for a minute or two while they sip their teas, and Brian absently tidies up the small strips of paper left over from the plasters, collecting them inside the tin.

“You’re not thinking about going back out there, are you?”

The question makes Roger realise that he’s staring out of the window. He raises his eyebrows, turning to Brian.

“I mean.” The guitarist shrugs. “It’s getting late. You might as well stay over.”

“Yeah?” Roger tries not to sound too hopeful. It’s not that he needs the companionship. He could go out there, find his way to Barnes, sneak into the room he shares with Freddie and pretend he’s just been out at the pub. He doesn’t need coddling. He’s fine, more or less.

“Course,” Brian says, putting the lid back on the tin. He drums his fingers against it for a moment before he gets up. “Let’s see if I can scrounge up a spare blanket.”

~~~

Brian has little idea what to do with this strangely pliant version of Roger he has ended up with.

The practical matters are simple enough - a spare toothbrush, an old borrowed t-shirt, an extra pillow from the sofa that migrates to Brian’s bed. But somehow, the raging, frantic man he’d found in the rehearsal room has turned into something quiet and subdued. He’s even offered to sleep on the sofa, despite having a declared it a crime against humanity the one time he ended up on it after a party. He’s had zero compunctions about taking up most of the space in Brian’s bed from then on after.

And he still hasn’t said a word about what the matter is, with him.

Brian feels as if he’s failing some kind of test. Surely, a real friend would do more than just offer tea, plasters and a place to stay the night. If Freddie were here, he’d be gently coaxing it all out of Roger with a sympathetic look, a hand on his shoulder and a well-timed “oh my poor darling”. Or perhaps he’d have just got out a bottle of vodka and got them both too drunk to stand. Anyway, he’d have done something to help, instead of just papering over the cracks and pretending nothing unusual is going on.

Roger settles into bed next to him with a mumbled “G’night” and switches off the bedside lamp, making it clear that no explanation will be forthcoming. Brian lies on his back in the dark, hands folded primly over his belly and the wall pressing against his right side. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see the curve of Roger’s shoulders outlined against the dim street light falling in through the curtains.

Minutes pass by, both of them lying perfectly quiet, but Brian knows that Roger isn’t any closer to sleep than he is.

Shouldn’t he try at least? Roger might shrug him off, or pretend he hasn’t heard, but perhaps there is a small chance that he’s waiting for Brian to ask. Not that Roger usually waits for an invitation to share his thoughts. But there is nothing usual about this whole situation. He ponders the thought for some time, formulating and then discarding one phrasing after the next, turning the words around and around in his head.

Or perhaps he should just let his friend rest. He looked exhausted. Perhaps a good night’s sleep is all he needs.

“I’ll have to appear in court.” It’s almost a whisper, but it’s still startling enough that it jolts Brian out of his musings. “In Bodmin in six weeks time.”

“Bodmin?” For some reason, that’s the point Brian decides to pick up on.

Roger throws him a look over his shoulder. “Yeah. It’s in Cornwall, near Truro.”

“I know where…” This is really not the point here, is it? “I mean. What happened?” For the life of him, Brian can’t remember anything Roger has done since they’ve known each other that would necessitate a court appearance. And if it’s just as a witness, surely he wouldn’t be this worked up about it.

There’s another pause, long enough that Brian thinks Roger might have changed his mind. “It’s about that accident. With my band.”

Brian knows Roger had been involved in a car crash before he moved to London. Before he finished school even. But… “But that was years ago, wasn’t it?”

Roger huffs out a breath. “Yeah. It was,” he says with a choked off voice.

He’s only ever mentioned it in passing. Lightly, like something that was long behind him. Although now that Brian thinks about it, he remembers that time they drove past a crash site on their way to a gig. The way that Roger - who usually had no problem munching popcorn through the kind of gory films that makes Brian’s stomach turn - had turned pale and gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles had turned white, staring straight ahead as they drove past.

It’s a relief that Roger has brought it up, because it means that finally, Brian can ask. “D’you want to tell me about it?”

For a couple of moments, Roger doesn’t answer, but in the stillness of the room Brian can hear him swallow hard. Then there’s a rustling of blankets as Roger turns around, facing him. Automatically, Brian does the same, tucking his legs in slightly, until they mirror each other, knees almost touching on the narrow bed.

And then Roger begins to talk. About the gig at Dobwalls Village Hall they were so excited about. About their blue Ford Thames that they all barely fit in, his mates and their girlfriends and their instruments, seven people altogether. About how it was Pete’s turn to drive, but how Roger had talked him out of it, because he’d only just got his licence, and he loved driving, and wouldn’t let any opportunity go to waste.

About the lorry appearing out of the darkness, right behind the bridge on Goss Moor.

And how he found himself lying on the street, in a sea of splintered glass.

“Were you badly hurt,” Brian asks quietly, when there’s a break in Roger’s flow of words.

“Barely a cut on me,” Roger says tonelessly. “Val’s shoulder was completely smashed, and Rick’s face all cut up from the glass, and Pete-” He cuts himself off, taking a couple of ragged breaths. “We couldn’t get him out of the van. He was all… caught up and twisted. And the cars behind us, they were honking at us as if we could have just… Pete was fucking bleeding out, and they were honking at us!”

Brian feels his hands go cold. He’d had no idea any of them had been injured so badly. He wrecks his brains, trying to remember a Pete among Roger’s Truro friends. There are always so many of them. And it seems than half the lads in Cornwall were in a band with him at some point. “Did he,” he asks as gently as he can, “did he make it.”

Roger nods, and rubs his hand over his eyes. “Spent a year in hospital. Blood transfusions, skin grafts, the works.”

“But he got out eventually?”

“He’ll never be able to use his right hand properly again.”

“Shit. I’m sorry.”

“It could’ve been me.” This time, Brian doesn’t overthink. He reaches out and throws his arm around Roger’s shoulders. It’s not quite a hug, but their foreheads are pressed together, and with the hand that is resting on Roger’s back, he can feel every shuddering breath his friend is taking. “Should’ve been,” Roger grinds out.

Brian doesn’t know what’s worse, the thought of Roger being permanently injured, or the raw pain in his voice as he blames himself.

“Shhh,” he whispers and rubs soothing circles between Roger’s shoulder blades. He still has no clue what he’s doing, but the fact that Roger, who is so good at hiding his hurt, is allowing him to do this, must mean he’s doing something right.

They stay like this for a long while, until Roger’s breathing evens out again and the tension in his shoulders relaxes minutely. Then Roger pulls away and turns onto his back. He presses his palms against his face for a moment and inhales deeply. “So,” he says finally. “That’s what the court case is about. Finding out who’s at fault, awarding damages to Pete and his family.”

“But it’s not your fault! The way you told me, there wasn’t anything you could have done.”

“Could have gone slower.”

Knowing Roger, there’s probably some truth to that. “Were you over the limit?”

“What, in that old thing with a piano in the back? Couldn’t have if I wanted to.”

“Well then.”

Roger chews on his lower lip. “I don’t see that well at night. My eyes… I thought it was alright. But if Pete had been driving...”

“You’ve got the best reflexes of anyone I know. I bet you, no one would have hit those breaks as fast as you did. Hey!” Brian reaches down to rub his smarting shin.

“You bloody tosser,” Roger grumbles. “Weren’t even there but already think you know better than me.”

“What…” Brian gapes at him. He’s trying to help

Roger turns his head to look at him, and Brian is relieved to see the lopsided grin on his face. “Should hire you as my attorney.”

“Do you need an attorney?” For God’s sake, could Roger go to prison over this?

“Not really. It’s the lorry driver who’s being sued.”

Brian breathes a sigh of relief. “Good.

When Roger speaks again, his expression has become solemn again. “Pete will be there. And his family.”

“Are they angry with you?”

Roger shrugs. “They say no. But. How couldn’t they be? If I imagine something like that happening to Clare...” He’s playing with the edge of the blanket, twisting the fabric this way and that between his fingers. If they were at his place, he’d be smoking by now. Hell, if he asked, Brian would allow him to light one up right there and then. The bed is right under the window, after all.

“I don’t see how they can blame you. I mean, you-”

Roger silences him with a shake of his head. “Remember the gig at St. Paul’s last year? The Church hall?”

“Dimly,” Brian replies honestly. He doesn’t have the best memory for that sort of thing. He remembers the highlights well enough, but everything else tends to bleed into one.

“Wasn’t that special. Well, what can you expect from a Church Hall. Anyway.” Roger falls quiet for a couple of seconds. “Pete was there. He even said hi after.”

Brian racks his brain trying to remember. “Sorry, I really don’t recall.”

“Of course you don’t. Because we exchanged all of three words before I made up an excuse to get us out of there. Sorry, gotta dash, gotta head back to London early. Like a fucking coward.”

Something stirs in the morass of Brian’s memory. “Wait, wasn’t that when we had a gig in London the next day? So we did have to leave early?”

“As if that would have stopped me.”

Brian smiles. “But I would have.” God knows how often he had to drag Roger kicking and screaming from a party because they had to get up early the next morning.

Roger doesn’t smile back. Brian tries to imagine this weight pressing down on him for three years now, for something that happened when he was seventeen. He wants to tell him that it’s not his fault, that it’s normal to avoid being confronted with something like this. But something inside him tells him it’s not going to help much.

“Can I come with you,” he asks instead. “To Bodmin?”

Roger huffs out a hollow laugh. “Why on earth would you want to do that? It’s going to be a long, boring, extremely awkward day.”

Brian rolls his eyes although Roger’s not looking. “Because you're my friend,” he says, in a voice that heavily implies a silent “you pillock.”

The silence that follows is so long that Brian thinks he might not get an answer at all.

“Would you do that,” Roger asks, in a small voice. As if he’s honestly doubting it.

“Of course I’d do that!” And then, because whenever he ignores the chatter of thoughts in his head and follows his instinct it turns out alright, he reaches out and puts his hand over Roger’s, which is still gripping the blanket tightly. After a heartbeat or two, Roger’s fingers relax and he turns his palm up, the plasters pressing against Brian’s skin.

So he’s holding hands with his best friend. It should feel weirder than it does, and Brian thinks to himself that he’d put a tea cosy on his head and perform a tap dance out in the streets if it made Roger feel a little better. (He’d first have to learn how to tap dance of course.) Instead, Brian holds on just a little tighter, mindful of the blisters.

“Thank you,” Roger whispers, and his voice sounds a little choked up again.

“Of course,” Brian whispers back as they settle their joint hands down between them comfortably. “Anytime.”

The rain is still falling outside, pattering against the window pane. Brian has no idea if his presence has made any difference tonight, but he’d like to think so. Roger’s hand in his, clinging on tightly, tells him so. If only there was something more he could do.

But all he can do is be here. And hope that it might be enough.