Title: Readme.txt

Author: Naisumi

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: Lance/Scott, Scott/Lance; Weasel/Forge, Forge/Weasel

Disclaimer: Still not mine, still not rich, still not famous. Damn.

Spoilers: Nada.

Warnings: Slash (m/m), AU (which means Alternate Universe, for those who don't know.)

Notes: Yay! It is Nai's first fic in a bit O.o;

This is an AU fic, where Scott is a journalist, Lance is a rock star, and Tabitha's still insane. Read on and enjoy :D It's funny! I swear!

Additional Notes: Thank you so much to my gals, the Evowriters :D I love you all!! *hugs* *gets teary-eyed* Omglet'srentacondoandhavesex. *sniffles*

Enjoy and Review!!!...please?


My name is Scott Summers, and I'm a journalist. No, not a reporter--a journalist. You see, there's a difference between simply reporting and being a journalist. Doesn't that sound more noble? Journalism. Lousy news anchors don't get an "-ism" at the end of their career field, do they? Anyways, in my opinion, they don't get as much satisfaction, either. It's like in the detective stories; I feel like being a journalist means you've got to go out in the world and piece things together slowly. Like one of those tangrams or tan-whatevers. You know, those puzzles where they give you two squares and a trapezoid and you have to figure out which way to rotate the pieces to make the bigger picture?--Or a Rubric's cube; you've got to keep twisting and turning to find the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

Okay, so maybe I have an idealized version of journalism in mind, but hell, I really believe it. The difference between being a reporter and being a journalist is that if you're dedicated, you're not just reporting things; you're getting in the story, and you're getting your hands dirty.

And you get a snazzy tape recorder.

Actually, a college-ruled, pocket-sized notepad after budget cuts, but hey, who's keeping track?

I work at College Press Times, which is a lot more legitimate than it sounds. It's actually named after the street it's on--the intersection on College Road and Middleton, right on the corner next to the stand selling yellow apples--but tons of people think that we're just a college newspaper. You've got to wonder what genius decided to call it 'College Press.' And then, as if that weren't asinine enough, they stuck a 'Times' after it. I think they're planning on changing the name, but people are starting to like it. They call it 'CPT'--as in, "Yeah, Fred, I'm pickin' up a CPT today after work."

Sounds like a surgical procedure, don't you think? An expensive one, at that.

There's one person who hates the name more than anyone else, though, and will always hate it, and that person is none other than the fabulous, irrepressible, man-hating Jean Grey. She's my best friend, and no, don't ask me to explain the 'man-hating' bit to you; I haven't been able to figure it out, either. I think she claims that she was some wacko, sect-leader femme nazi in a past life, but who knows. The story changes every time, even though the color orange is always somehow flamboyantly involved. If it comes to the gritty details, my only suggestion is: Don't ask. Come on, it's fun; you can pretend you're in the Air Force.

Jean works down in the business department manning the ads, but I think she hangs out at the copy desk during her coffee break. It pisses the copy chief off, but I'm pretty sure the rest of the copy desk is glad for the break. Jean can really be a sight for sore eyes, and I don't say that lightly, either. She's been a real lifesaver in some situations, and I think I'd devolve into some hideous noir film investigator-wannabe if she weren't around.

Jean comes up with outrageous headlines on her 'on' days. On her 'off' days, she stays strictly to business, which means that she yells at people for making the margins off or misspelling the name of our newspaper. Yes, folks, it does happen. Bizarre and kind of laughable, no? Besides outrageous headlines ("Iraq in infamous inquiry involving infrared instruments" being only one of them), Jean has been known to inexhaustibly attempt to convince editor-in-chiefs of the past to change our newspaper name. Or just to complain about changing the newspaper name. Today must've been an 'on' day.

"What about the Cornerstreet Inquiry? We're on a street, and we're on a corner, aren't we?" Jean was looking rather smart this particular morning, with a business-length skirt and a matching blouse. And heels. I am still amazed by how fast she can walk in a pair of heels. I'm amazed at how fast anyone can walk in a pair of heels. Can we all say "circus act"?

"I think that's possibly worse than what we're called right now," I told her.

"Okay, 'inquiry' is a bad idea," Jean said. She juggled the stack of manila envelopes in her arms, probably chock-full of photos and faxed statements. "How about...we keep the 'Press,' and we get rid of the 'College'?"

"The Press Times?" I asked. "Sounds like a Laundromat."

"Get serious, Scott," she said. "We have to come up with another name for this...this crummy...crummy--oh," She drifted off into mutters as she fumbled with a few envelopes. I slowed down and watched her nearly drop the whole lot of them. She glared at me, and I grinned as helplessly as I could.

"You're such a--man," she said.

"I guess I am."

"Ha," Jean smiled prettily, and we continued walking again. "Anyways, I think we should add some locality to our name--how about...how about," she got distracted again, glancing at an envelope that was probably obsolete, as she immediately tossed it with a quick motion of her wrist into the trashcan of the nearest cubicle. The trashcan clattered haphazardly from one side to the other before it settled down again, and a baffled, "Hey, what...?" sounded very briefly over the noise of the keystrokes. I grinned.

"How about you give it up, Jean," I suggested, gently taking the envelope she was currently inspecting with a deep frown, "because I hear upper management's gotten a change."

"No, really?" Jean rolled her eyes and made a deliberately girly gesture with her hand. "You'll have to tell me all about it at the water cooler. We'll dish."

"No one says that anymore," I said, standing to the side. We had reached my cubicle. Ah, home away from home. Well...it had coffee, at least.

"How would you know?" Jean asked slyly, walking by me and snatching the envelope back. "We girls have a clubhouse and password now, you know."

"How 21st century," I said.

"I'll see you at lunch," she called over her shoulder.

"1 o'clock," I agreed and reached up to brush my bangs from my forehead. I'd have to get them trimmed sometime. They were beginning to get to be a bother.

My cubicle has all the essentials: a computer, loads of coffee, air freshener, and a stapler to fend off intruders. All I'm missing is a bathroom, bed and extra clothes, and I could do without the last two. As for eating, who does that anymore? There's nothing that will make me a tormented literary "arteest" more than a tenacious internal struggle with chain-smoking and bulimia.

Can you tell I've been spending too much time in coffee shops? I think I've begun developing intense bitterness toward the world in general, but I think that started a long time ago in an incident involving Jeeps, bungee cords, and lots and lots of mud. Yes, high school was the most fabulous time of my life. No, I'm not bitter. Maybe I will laugh at all of the drunken losers that work at McDonald's when I see them all at our high school reunion.

Usually I have a few minutes to get settled in my rat cage--check my e-mail, stuff like that--but this morning, I found a post-it note on my computer monitor telling me to see the editor-in-chief. An obnoxious, neon yellow post-it note. Jesus, how professional.

Recently, upper management had a haul-over. Our previous editor-in-chief, Ororo Munroe, left the CPT for bigger and better things. I hear she's gracing the staff of some Florida-based newspaper--the Miami Herald, I believe--as the head honcho. Their editor-in-chief is reportedly MIA, something to do with a freak accident involving, so I hear, iguanas and truckers. I don't know how true the last bit is, though. What I do know is that our new editor-in-chief is a sleazy slob.

His name's Pietro J. Maximoff, and the only reason he's our editor-in-chief is because Daddy Maximoff decided to give his son an early birthday present: A new powertrip. Hurray. This kid's only 23 years old; fresh out of the university bakery with all the scents of prep-school pricks up the wazzoo. He didn't even major in journalism specifically--he majored in business relations or something equally as CEO-tyrant-ish. Look: Just thinking about him is making me so angry I'm making up new words.

As soon as he moved into Ororo's old office, he threw out the clock and bought a new chair. He also bought these new, asinine post-it notes for the sole reason, I suspect, that he can. Jesus, I hate him. Jean does, too, but for another reason. Well, another reason other than the fact that he's a man, apparently; he's been trying to sleep with her step-sister, Katherine Pryde, since forever. Just another notch on his bedpost, too. I think Jean hired someone to make a voodoo doll of him. I think she should've asked for a sticker on his ass that said, "Caution: Ego is in direct inverse proportion to the size of this replication." I think I'll tell her that.

Right after a visit to the Wonderful Wizard of Ostentation.

Pietro--I know I ought to call him 'Mr. Maximoff,' but I always refer to him as Pietro in my head--had completely redone the office. Ororo had always kept things efficient and well-lighted; everything was practical and everything had a purpose. Pietro's office, on the other hand, just screamed "sexual harassment." Yeah, Jean was going to love this.

"Scott Summers," Pietro said when I knocked on his open door, "just the man I wanted to see."

He had his feet propped up on his desk. When I came in, he grinned at me. Obnoxious little snot.

"How's Red?" he asked.

"Fine." Jean hated it when anyone called her "Red." Said that it made her feel like chewing gum.

"Mm-hm," Pietro said in a voice the obviously showed that he hadn't really given a damn anyway and had just been asking for the sake of small talk.

"You haven't changed at all," I told him. We'd gone to the same private high school; I had gotten a scholarship, and he had gotten a loving withdrawal from Daddy's bank account.

"Thanks," Pietro said with a brief flash of his pearly whites. I hadn't meant it as a compliment, but chose to refrain from speaking. God, it was like riding an airplane. Please remain seated and keep your accurate, though albeit offensive, comments in an upright, completely shut manner until you have left the office. Jesus, water cooler talk, my ass. Jean was going to have an absolute aneurysm after she saw this guy again.

"Now, you usually write news articles, correct?" Pietro was now shuffling a few folders, looking very important. Yeah, real fucking important. You're moving papers from the left side of your desk to the right. Thrilling.

"Yes, I usually do the investigative--"

"Well," Pietro wet a finger and flipped a page in one portfolio. I held back a shudder. Maximoff cooties. "I'm afraid that you'll have to make do with an Arts and Entertainment article for the time being."

'Make do'? Who the hell says 'make do' anymore? What 23-year-old says 'make do'? Jesus, I was getting a headache already, and it was only eight in the morning.

"Arts and Entertainment?" I asked.

"Yes, they tell me that our main A&E writer is out with mono."

Ah, that'd be Kurt. Someone ought to tell our beloved Pietro here that Kurt was out with mono every other month. Of course, the line starts ten years from now, and I wasn't about to be at the head of it. Ororo had managed to figure it out herself--though Kurt suspects that she had help from her wayward nephew Evan, who had been trying to score points as the resident intern--and we had liked Ororo. I can't imagine Pietro ever finding out simply because everyone would probably even help Kurt cover up. In fact, I think I'm coming down with something myself.

"Oh, really?" I asked, feigning concern.

Pietro eyed me and slid the portfolio over to me.

"I want you to interview him," he said, pointing at the name circled at the top of the folder, "and then write a very detailed report about the inside rock 'n' roll scene."

He grinned at me, and I reminded myself that Pietro was our editor-in-chief, and no, you don't climb the corporate ladder or any ladder, for that matter, if you violently mutilate your boss.

"I don't know anything about rock music." And he knew it, that bastard.

"Then I'm sure it'll be a learning experience for all parties involved," Pietro said.

Yeah, screw you. "What am I supposed to write about?"

"Oh, I don't know, Mr. Summers," Pietro said, watching the oh-so-interesting ceiling now. He had obviously gotten distracted. Jesus, he's like a chimpanzee. "This guy's only the most influential artist of his fifteen minutes."

"Really?" I asked.

"Says Rolling Stones," Pietro said. And enter name-dropping from the right wing.

"Oh," I said, mainly because I was too busy thinking mean and dirty words. I can't multitask too well. If I'm cursing someone out in my head, most of the time I can't simultaneously carry on an intelligent conversation. Which doesn't really matter, anyway, at this point in time, since I'd get interrupted by the evil little gremlin who was accidentally appointed editor-in-chief out of some horrible mistake involving tax returns and the soup of the day. That's only my opinion, of course.

"Anyways," Pietro said. "Read up, because tomorrow you're going to one of his shows. It's investigative reporting, you see, Scott," he grinned at me again. "It's right down your alley."

I'll tell you who's right down my alley. Being strangled beside a conveniently placed dumpster, that is. "I don't know about this, Mr. Maximoff."

"Just improvise," Pietro waved his hand. "Figure out the effect of rock 'n' roll music on the youth of today or something."

"How's that relevant?" I wondered aloud, hoping that none of my sarcasm slipped through.

"Who knows," Pietro said. "Maybe every time he pierces his unmentionables, the stock market rockets."

Thanks for the lovely mental image. "Okay, then."

"You have, oh, I don't know, a week or two."

"A week or two? Isn't that...extensive?"

Pietro gave me a decidedly bored look, "I gave it to you early so that you could follow him around. You know, get a feel for the scene, "

Follow him around? Like a stalker? "Oh."

"Anyways, his people have been informed that you're to replace Mr. Wagner. All the details are in there," Pietro nodded at the portfolio I was holding. Well, gee, thanks, Charlie. I'm glad that the Angels and I are getting advance notice.

"Alright, I'll get on it," I said.

"Mm-hm," Pietro said, now deeply scrutinizing the latest edition of USA Today.

I showed myself out, portfolio in hand, and surveyed the damage.

Bright side: I had been running out of neutral comments to make, and now there was no longer the threat of accidentally blurting out that I thought his severed head would make a fantastic conversation piece.

Flip side: I had to write an article on rock 'n' roll. Kurt and his kissing disease were going to get a visit.

"Man, you get to interview him?" Kurt sounded just dandy. But wait--was that a touch of static on the phone I sensed? Life-threatening, I'm sure.

"What, are you a fan?" I asked.

"Me? Pfft--no," Kurt laughed a little, perfectly awake for someone with mono. "But tons of people are. Vhat's your slant?"

"That's just it," I said, rifling through the packet of information the A&E editor had prepared for me. It might've been written in gibberish for all I understood. "I have no clue."

Kurt laughed even harder. "Vow, they couldn't have chosen a vorse person, huh?"

"Thanks," I said sarcastically.

Kurt Wagner was another high school classmate of mine, though my sentiments toward him were completely different than those toward Pietro, the Head Brat. Kurt and Jean dated for about two days before she banned him from her personal space, and so they parted ways. It'd been a bad idea from the beginning, in my opinion; Jean and Kurt are complete and total opposites. Jean managed to organize the entire world--color-coded with little plastic tabs, too--in cabinets, drawers and closets. With Kurt--forget about actually taking the effort to shelve things; he actually couldn't find anything if it wasn't on the floor or in plain sight. Jean liked nice little bistros with amaretto coffee and biscotti. Kurt liked extra-sized Pepsi, burgers and vinyl seat covers. Jean's idea of a good time was dancing and movies. Kurt's was the glorified sports of paintball and laser tag.

Yeah, that was going to work out.

Kurt's first choice for a career wasn't actually journalism; he currently had a side project going on: a little comic book called Blind Fish in a Deuce. I have no idea what the hell it's about, but he likes calling it Biffed. He'd tried explaining the plot to me and failed miserably. I think he realized how much of a lost cause I am when he mentioned some guy named Jhonen Vasquez and I looked at him like he was completely nuts. Then, when he started talking about some comic book--Lenore, I think it was called; something about little dead girls and killing--and I asked what he was talking about, he completely lost faith in me. He's got this whole thing about manga or magna or whatever, too. I think he was ready to kill me when I asked what some group was--CLAMP, I think it was. So sue me if I'd rather read a good ol' fashioned book instead of a graphic novel! Jesus.

Fanatic that he is, Kurt and I get along pretty well. You'd think we wouldn't, since I tend to quietly sidestep the crazy, extremist type, but we're pretty good friends. He teases me for being--in his words, not mine--a "cardigan-bound prude," and I make fun of how he is very German and very un-Japanese, as he'd rather be. I think he also hates my music --jazz, classical, things like that. I kind of like oldies, too. Kurt, though, I think, would be termed a "head-banger." I don't know. He's pretty crazy about his music, but he listens to a whole load of different stuff. I think the only band we've ever agreed on was the Beatles, or maybe the Eagles, who he likes for some reason.

"Look," Kurt said, "Vhy don't you come over tonight, and I'll tell you all I know?"

"I don't know," I said. "I have a ton of stuff to look over."

"Oh, Bobby prepped you?"

"If you can call it that," I said wryly. Bobby Drake knew what he was writing about, but the problem is that I don't. Even terms that are probably standard--like 'EP' and 'LP'--are completely foreign to me. In other words, I was screwed.

"Why couldn't he've just given me an article about the exponential increase in the financial instability of automobile investments?" I complained.

"Vait, back up," Kurt said, sounding mildly alarmed. "Define 'he.'"

"Oh, right," I said. "While you were out on sick leave," here Kurt made an enormous and valiant attempt to sound like he was coughing up his spleen, "we got a new editor-in-chief."

"Oh, no," Kurt actually sounded disappointed. "Ororo left?"

"Good for her, I say," I said, "but her leaving isn't the worst part."

"Oh, no," Kurt repeated. "Vho exploded in a mass of pink slime over Jean again?"

"No," I said, "I really mean it. This is bad." Welcome to the grapevine, Scott Summers. I'll just pour myself some fruit punch and make a nametag that says "Operator."

"Vhat is it?"

"Pietro Maximoff," I said, trying to hush the harsh sound of the x in Pietro's last name, just in case.

There was a stunned silence over the phone. Then: "Vell, I'm done."

"What?" I blinked.

"I quit." There was the sound of paper ripping. "Two veek's notice, ja?"

"Shut up," I said. "You're not quitting."

"Fuck, man," Kurt actually did sound sick now. "I hate that guy!"

"Which is why you have to stick around," I said.

"He'll fire me," he said.

"Not when he can make you work weekends."

"Fuck," Kurt said again.

"Language," I reminded him.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," he said, just for my benefit. "Maybe he's gotten better?"

"Sorry," I said. I could practically hear him wilt. "I saw him a few minutes ago and, if anything, he's worse."

"How's that even possible?" Kurt exclaimed. "I vas ready to rig his locker vith explosives ten years ago!"

"Yeah," I said. "Take that anger and crank it up fifteen notches."

"Jesus," Kurt groaned.

"Anyways..." I could still hear Kurt emulating the wildlife of the seventh ring of hell. I was just the harbinger of joy today, wasn't I? "I have to get back to work."

"Jesus," Kurt said very emphatically, as if he were trying to summon the first born of the Virgin Mary Himself.

"Now click your heels together and wish for home," I suggested.

"Oh, shut up--God, I can't believe--!" Kurt's voice became a distant, angry blur of noise as I set the phone down discreetly in its cradle. I had the feeling that this was just the motivation that Kurt needed to get his comic book finished. Maybe he could change the title of it to fit the occasion more, too, like: "Operation: Avoid the Coming of the Anti-Christ," or "And It Came From The Swamp." Hmm. I'm kind of getting inspired to plug away at the drawing board myself.

All joking aside, it was four-and-some hours later, and I still had no clue about what I was supposed to write about. I'd looked up some of the aforementioned terms and I had brainstormed a few broad, generic questions to ask ("Who or what were your influences?"), but I was still nowhere close to being ready for tomorrow. It was 12:50 already, and I still didn't understand what math rock was--or indie, for that matter. "It's like porn"? Thanks, Epitonic.com; that's plenty helpful.

"Sco-tt," Jean was looming over my keyboard the minute I finally chose to stop willing QWERTY, the mystical savior of 'I Can't Type' land, to end my misery.

"Je-an," I said. I must've looked really pitiful, too, because she just ruffled my hair and tugged on my shirt collar,

"C'mon, you look like you need to get boned."

"No male strippers," I warned as I let her lead me out of my cubicle complex.

"They have an hourly rate, if it makes you feel better," Jean replied over her shoulder.

"Jesus, Jean," I said. And, to show you how braindead I was from all the rock-metal-punk-what? gobbledygook that I'd been trying to comprehend, I added, "None of them is that hot anyway."

"You're the pickiest gay guy I've ever known," Jean complained. "You're almost like a woman."

"Yes, queen me with a Maxipad, and let me join your clubhouse," I mumbled, my inherent irritation toward the world shining through despite it all.

"Wow, you're so sunny I can't help but wonder why you don't have a boyfriend," Jean replied sarcastically.

"Oh, bite me," I grumbled.

Jean arched a fine eyebrow at me and elbowed open the glass door to our local Arabica, asking, "Who got beaned by the grouchy fairy?"

"The same person who missed his naptime," I said.

Jean found a corner booth with low lights, and I immediately buried my head in my arms when I sat down.

"Guess who our new editor-in-chief is," I said, feeling my breath waft back at me, warm.

Jean grinned at me, green eyes flickering up briefly before returning intently on her purse, which she was rummaging through.

"I actually asked people not to tell me so we could dish," she joked.

"Pietro Maximoff," I said dully, my voice muffled.

There was a loud clatter and a sharp, "Ouch!" and when I looked up, Jean had the tip of her ring finger in her mouth, nursing a paper cut.

"You're joking," she said darkly. "Scott, that's not funny!"

"I'm not trying to be funny," I protested. "I saw him this morning."

"Did he poof up in a cloud of brimstone and fire?" Jean was now glaring at her purse.

"Unfortunately, no," I said, grinning a little at the thought. Jean, on the other hand, made the most offended sound I've ever heard in my entire life and stood up.

"I'm getting a turkey club," she said, practically spitting out the word 'club.' I would've laughed if I didn't share her sentiments.

"Get me one, too," I told her glumly, handing her a fiver.

"Pietro Maximoff," Jean repeated when she had finished ordering and had sat back down. She shook her head in disbelief. "I thought we'd seen the last of that little creep in high school."

"You didn't have to go to college with him," I reminded her.

"Well, yes," she chewed on her bottom lip, "but at least you two had different majors. You didn't run into each other that much, did you?"

"No, we actually didn't." I'd finished most of my general education requirements when Pietro had entered the undergrad program. However, I suspect the little tyrant had deliberately sought me out to bother me. That bastard.

"He took the liberty of assigning me some half-assed story," I said as Jean returned with our lunches. I picked at the crust of my sandwich. Jean had gotten us both lemonade was now swirling the ice cubes around in hers with her straw.

"What's it about?" she asked. I could tell she was still fuming about Pietro's gall to exist.

"Rock music," I sighed.

Jean stifled a giggle. "You--rock?"

"Shut up," I grumbled. "It's not funny. I have no idea what to write."

"Mm," she was mid-sip, "Do you have to interview someone?"

"Uh--yeah," I tried to think of the name. "A, uh--Lance...?" Yeah, that was it. Some guy who sounded like he belonged in a boy band. "Lance...Alvers?"

Jean stared at me, her sandwich halfway to her mouth. She then took a small bite, set it down, and promptly reached over and grabbed my hand in the grip of death.

"You're joking."

"No, I'm really not," I said. What, was everything I said so unbelievable? I should carry around a polygraph with me to show people that I'm not lying. Jesus.

"You're joking!"

"No, no--Ow! What is it?" I made a face and attempted to pry her fingers off of me. "Do you know about him or something?"

"Have you seen him?" she asked.

"God," I rolled my eyes, "is he an Adonis or something?"

"Well, no," Jean said, now thoughtfully crunching on one of the 'non-greasy, full of flavor' potato chips they had given us. "He's not pretty like you are."

"Oh, thanks," I mumbled. I honestly hated it when she talked about things like this. And I wasn't pretty, dammit!

"He's hot, though," Jean concluded. "Kitty really likes him."

"She does?" Kitty also liked NSync. This was starting to disturb me.

"Yep, weird, huh?" Jean grinned at me, and I shook my head, finishing my sandwich and leaving a suspiciously yellow pickle by itself in the black, plastic basket everything had come in.

"Jean," I started. "I really don't--"

"Trust me, he really is," Jean said.

I made a face. Jean liked Heath Ledger and Leonardo DiCaprio.

"Why don't I judge for myself?" I suggested mildly. Jean had that wild look in her eyes, the one that meant she was about to rant about men and how we should all live in giant breeding houses and be branded on the asses with the Snapple logo. I'm not sure how she was going to pull that off and simultaneously attempt to convince me that Mr. Alvers, Rock Star Extraordinaire, was hot, but I'm certain she would've found some way for it to work.

"I think I have a picture of him in my purse," Jean said.

"You have a picture of what in your purse?" Since when did Jean carry around pictures of celebrities in her purse?

She sniffed a little. "I'm holding it for Kitty."

Ri-ight. "Okay."

"I am."

"Okay!" I coughed and sat back a little. Maybe I shouldn't have told her that Pietro was the new editor-in-chief; it seemed to have knocked something loose in her skull. Like common sense. Completely gone--just like that. Oops.

"Oh, here it is." Jean withdrew a small laminated piece of paper the size of a business card. It had the initials "K.P.G." on the back, so I guess it really was Kitty's, but come on. Do you really think I was going to let Jean go that easily?

"You stole it from your little sister?" I pretended to be horrified.

"Don't make me beat you," Jean warned and slid the card over to me.

"Yeah, like you'd--"

And then I gawked.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I actually did gawk.

"Find your soulmate?" Jean smirked.

"Shut up," I said listlessly and picked up the little 3x5 slip. Well, damn. I guess I was wrong. This guy didn't belong in a boy band, unless this was the Bizarro world. Jesus, though. If this guy was the one I was supposed to...

"Shit," I said.

Jean practically cackled. "Not bad, is he?"

"Is that--a mullet?"

"Oh, you're just picky," Jean said loftily, reclaiming the picture and tucking it neatly into her purse. I grinned at her.

"So, Miss Grey," I said. "What do you know about rock music?"

She smiled very prettily at me, though I still felt like I was the main course of lunch from the expression on her face.

"You can come over," she suggested, "and I'll let you listen to my boyfriend's CD collection."

Ray Crisp, Jean's boyfriend, was a little crazy. He listens to what I term "hairball" music. In other words, half the so-called lyrics to the songs he listens to is either profane or incoherent. No, boys and girls, "mmphhziigbah!" is not a word. If you have any doubts, please refer to the unabridged Mr. Webster so that he can kick your ass with his heavyweight-championship-winning 2,000-some pages.

"That's okay," I said. "I already got an offer from Kurt."

"Oh," Jean said darkly. "I see."

If I had any sense of self-preservation at all, I needed to get out of Arabica now and return safely to my cubicle.

"Uh, well..." I cleared my throat and tried to look very important, glancing at my watch and looking around for a clock to verify the time.

"You're calling me tomorrow," Jean informed me, "after the interview. Okay?"

"Sure," I said.

"Scott," Jean said, quirking an eyebrow.

Dammit. What did she think I was? One of her ditzy girlfriends? Did I look like Amara?

"Yeah, yeah, alright," I groused.

"Oh, good," Jean beamed at me. "Kitty'll be thrilled, you know."

"Could you maybe not tell her?" I asked.

"Are you joking?"

No, I'm not, okay?! "Would it really kill her to not know that--"

"That her sister's best friend was mere inches from her idol of the month?" Jean gave me a withering look. "Do you want me to die?"

"How horrible would the death be?" I mused.

"A horrible, beanie baby-induced death," Jean supplied creatively, "like being smothered in tie-dyed marshmallows of doom."

"Oh," I said. "How pleasant."

"Yeah. Get her an autograph, would you?" Jean pulled out a pad of post-its, wrote me a brief note, and, peeling it off, stuck it on my forehead. She grinned. "Please?"

"Well, since you asked so nicely..." I said, looking at her purse. Jesus, she was like Mary Poppins or something.

"Mm-hm," Jean uncrossed her legs, stood up, and emptied our baskets before leaving them on top of a nearby trashcan.

I unstuck the post-it with my forefinger and thumb and eyed with distaste the cross-eyed smiley face that was sticking its tongue at me. Beside it was written the words, "Don't forget!" All in caps, too.

"Real mature," I observed.

"Why, thank you," Jean laughed and linked our arms. I rolled my eyes at her as we left Arabica and wondered why the day was going so damn slow.

Jesus, I was in hell.

No, actually, I was just in extremely close quarters with about eighty tons of tightly packed teenage punk-rocker, all of whom were trying to outdo the spikes on the person next to them and that person's pet hedgehog. There was a green-haired girl wearing a bright yellow tank top and a skirt that looked like someone had trashed a disco ball and wrapped it around her hips. Next to her was a kid--I couldn't tell if it was a guy or a girl--dressed almost entirely in fishnet except for the essentials, which had patchworks of orange and green vinyl for protection.


Bits of their conversation wafted over to me.

"...artsy emo vomit of everyone else today," said the nongender-specified kid. "God, I hate them all."

"I hate them all, too," the green-haired girl agreed, sounding half-asleep. Yeah, and I'm sure 'they' all just love you. I rolled my eyes and pressed close to the entrance hall's wall. As I crept past them, I secretly thought up names for them.

"Fucking posers," the Fishnetted One replied.

"Oh, my Goddess, yes," said Miss Sleazy Cindy loudly. She looked around to see if anyone had heard her, as if she had said something declarative of her status in the 'in' crowd.

'Oh, my Goddess'? What the hell was that?

I had gotten completely lost in the swarm of waiting fans now, and I couldn't help but wonder who the hell would give a concert at two in the afternoon anyway. Luckily, I made it out of the jungle of angry, angsty teenagers and found the more reserved and slightly less angry, angsty college crew.

I must've looked really out-of-place (like I didn't know that before) because one kid clapped me on the shoulder, yelling, "Bogart!"

Now, tell me how that makes sense. 'Bogart'? First of all, if they're referring to my vintage coat, then they're just wrong. Humphrey Bogart wore an entirely different shade of brown on the set of the movie, so I'm told. Second of all, what?

Of course, I still jumped practically forty feet in the air.

"Christ," I muttered.

"Hey," I heard from behind me, and I nearly went into cardiac arrest right then and there. I turned around, and there was a guy dressed in the slouchiest jeans possible and a baggy black t-shirt with the word 'Pavement' scribbled across the front in brick red. He also had on this hugeass spiked collar. I swear, if I ever try one of those things on, I'll take a breath or something and immediately die from puncture wounds.

"Uh?" I tried not to look too confused.

The guy quirked an eyebrow at me and glanced down at something in his hands. "You dropped your, uh...press pass, yo."

"What?--Oh!" I hastily grabbed the pass from him and nearly asphyxiated on the spot. "Thanks."

"Hey, you from a newspaper or something?" The girl next to the kid leaned a little closer to look at my pass, and I instinctively took a step back. She reminded me of the guy in fishnets; she had a funky violet number on that was solid on her torso but had fishnets from shoulder to wrist, and she was wearing loose bondage pants, not to mention an entire barrage of silvery metal piercings, rings, bracelets and other jewelry. Shit, how did these people get through metal detectors?

"Um, yes. The College Press Times," I replied, feeling slightly nervous.

"Never heard of them," the girl said flippantly, and her boyfriend--apparently, from the way he had his hand in her back pocket--asked,

"You here to see Antisthenes?"

"Uh, yes," I answered hesitantly. Antisthenes was the name of the ever-sought-after Lance Alver's band. I thought that it was an interesting choice myself; I remembered reading some of Antisthenes' works in college. He was a Greek philosopher from around 444 B.C. who founded Cynicism, so it'd be interesting to see if the band's music gave a nod to him.

"Shibby," the kid grabbed my hand, shook it once, and gestured to his bored-looking girlfriend, who'd lost interest in my existence; "This's Wanda, and I'm Todd."

"Umm, Scott," I said, smiling weakly.

Todd grinned secretively at me, "Y'know, Wanda and I were just headin' to the side door."

"Side door," I repeated.

"Yeah, man," Todd jerked his head to the side; his longish bangs had been in his eyes slightly. "You wanna hang 'round with these jerk-offs, or do you wanna get backstage quick?"

"How do you know about it?" I asked, surprised. They hadn't mentioned any side entrance to me.

"Hell, I'm tight with one o' the security guards," Todd waved it off. "Follow me."

Todd--Tolensky was his last name, age 20, Bayville University, majoring British Lit--led me down a dimly lit hall, chattering all the while. He had lots of energy, and ten minutes in, I realized that I didn't have half a clue about what he was talking about--but he did.

"Wait," I said, "so you've been following these guys from the very beginning?"

"Well, not the very beginning," Todd said.

Wanda snorted, walking a good distance from her boyfriend. "You'd never think it from the way he goes on."

"Shit," Todd said, "I knew one of their guitarists--Jinx?"

Jubilation 'Jinx' Lee--I'd read about her.

"Yeah?" I asked. "How'd you know her?"

Todd grinned, "She was in one of my remedial summer classes in high school--art. Nice chick; I think her parents're pissed that she's in a fuckin' rock band, though."

"Really?" I blinked. "Even after all the critical acclaim they've received?"

"Eh," Todd shrugged, "you know parents. Nothin's good 'nough for 'em."

"Oh," I said. Whatever you say.

"Todd," I heard someone call. I turned to look and saw a big guy all decked out in professional black along with a headset. He waved us over.

"Hey, Freddy," Todd said, lighting up.

"How's the band comin' along?" Freddy asked.

"Oh, 's okay," Todd said.

"He has a band?" I asked Wanda.

"They're crap," Wanda said vaguely.

How supportive of you. "I'm sure they're not that bad."

"They play this lo-fi shit," Wanda replied, rolling her eyes.

Lo-fi? What was...? Lo-fi, lo-fi--I think I'd read somewhere that Antisthenes was "lo-fi."

"Isn't, you know, Antisthenes...lo-fi?" I asked, seriously hoping that I wasn't saying something completely asinine.

Wanda shrugged. "It's different."

Yeah, great. I bet Antisthenes is indie, too. Like porn.

"Hey," Todd said then, leaning an elbow on my shoulder, "this is Scott."

"Hello," I said nervously. I really hoped this wasn't illegal or something. Maybe I should've just waited up front like everyone else?

"Hey," Freddy said.

"He's got a press pass," Todd said and nudged me. I held it up, and Fred squinted at it.

"Okay," he said. "This way."

"Are we getting through?" Wanda asked.

"Hell, we would've gotten through anyway," Todd said.

"Shit," Wanda said. "Are we gonna meet the band?"

"I don't think I'm allowed to let you do that," Freddy said, holding the door open. "But you can head out to th'pit."

"Um," I said.

"Shit," Wanda said again and latched onto my arm. Ow. Sharp nails. "Aren't you gonna interview Lance?"

"Well, yes," I began.

"He's gonna write an article," Todd said, grinning, "so of course he's gonna interview 'im."

"Well, fuck," Wanda said. I think I was beginning to lose feeling in my arm. "Can't you just take me with you?"

"I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to do that," I said mildly.

"C'mon, Wanda," Todd said, tugging on her sleeve. "Let's go out and watch 'em set up."

Wanda finally let go of my arm and gave me the dirtiest look I've ever seen before sniffing and following her boyfriend.

"Jesus," I said.

"Yeah, she's a bitch," Freddy said, eyeing Wanda with distaste.

"You don't like her?" I asked.

Freddy snorted incredulously, "Yeah, right. I think she's just usin' Todd for free concerts."

"Oh," I said. Hm. I wonder if this made her a "fucking poser"? I bet Miss Raver Barbie and Druggie Lestat out there would've loved her.

"Fifth door on your right," Freddy said to me then. "You wanna look for a chick named Tabitha Smith."

Ah. Antisthenes' agent.

"Alright," I said. "Thanks."

I decided that I hated rock shows as I ventured down the corridor. That, and I was pretty sure that this place had questionable sanitation. I wasn't about to try to find out for sure, of course, by doing something stupid like actually going to one of the restrooms, but, in any case, I had a feeling that I'd be able to testify to the amount of beer and vomit that was on the floor by the end of the night. Jesus, what was that thing called again? The pit? How cheerful is that? One thing I knew was that I was staying the hell away from it. Didn't they mosh there? Moshing is bad. And painful. At least, I'd imagine so. Maybe it was actually very relaxing? Or maybe not.

After passing a few doors with suspicious dark stains on them (were those teeth marks?), I found one that had a placard on it. A very professional and high-quality placard. Made out of construction paper. It had a half of a name on it written in gold marker, "Tabith," which trailed off into squiggles. Oh, the marvelous glory of the music industry.

I started to knock on the door, but it opened very abruptly right before I touched it just as an all-too-chipper voice called out,

"Mr. Summers!"

"Ms. Smith," I said hesitantly. Tabitha Smith stood, limbs akimbo, and grinned at me with black lipstick and dark mauve eyeshadow before ushering me in by the elbow.

She was a snappy-looking blonde who was wearing bright pink tube socks with brighter purple heels and a sporty red business skirt-and-blouse combo to top it off. She also had huge white seashell earrings that were bright against her hair, which was about chin-length and had been spiked to fan out behind her head.

Great. Agent or bandmate?

"From the College Times, right?" Tabitha asked me, practically flinging me onto a sagging couch. She likewise hurled herself into the desk chair and propped her feet up on the desk opposite me. Oh, look, how nice: She has an anklet that says 'sex.'

"Um, College Press Times," I corrected quietly. "I'm here to--?"

"Of course you are," Tabitha beamed and inspected her fuchsia nails. They were tipped with mint green. I could practically feel Jean twitching from aesthetic pain.

"Now, I hear your little editor-i-c is paying for this little tête-à-tête? Two weeks, honey, that's a lot."

"They won't even notice me," I promised. Looks like Daddy Maximoff was a proud sponsor of rock 'n' roll, whether he knew it or not.

"It's real unusual," Tabitha remarked, now peering at her thumbnail. Yes, Ms. Smith, an uneven tip is much more important than the band you represent. And my, how...colorfully you represent them, too. "But I don't think we should have a problem."

"Okay," I said. "Should I--?"

"We're going to Cleveland tomorrow," Tabitha grinned. "So pack up and meet us at the Linx hotel lobby tonight, okay? Eight o'clock sharp. Actually, your interview's a dinner date, isn't it? Fantastic. Alright then, swing by and drop your stuff off and then--"

"Wait, what?" I asked, startled.

Tabitha laughed, "Oh, you little sugarcube, I could just eat you with a spoon."

Was I supposed to be flattered by that? "My boss didn't say--"

"Oh, c'mon," Tabitha said, now filing her unruly nail. "You get a free roadtrip. You get to do the band. See those kids out there waiting for the doors to open?"

She grinned at me. "They're all hating you right now."

Great. Just what I wanted. Busloads of angry, angsty, potentially mentally disturbed kids and perpetual teens to hate my guts. That is, busloads of angry, angsty, potentially mentally disturbed kids and perpetual teens with sharp objects conveniently on their persons. Jesus, I hate the world. More specifically, I hate one very damned Pietro Maximoff.


"God, what do you use on your hair?" Tabitha pitched herself across the desk and liberally molested my bangs.

"Um," I said. "White Rain?" Don't think about it, Scott. Just don't.

"Mm," she said. "Coconut?"

"Um," I said again very coherently. Scott, you're going to that bad place. Don't think about it!

"Oh!" Tabitha sat back down again and glanced at her Kermit wristwatch. "Showtime, pretty boy!"

"What?" I asked.

"C'mon, Mr. Sooner," she said, hopping up and hauling me to my feet by my elbow again. She very happily dragged me out of the office just as I began to wonder whether or not I accidentally wandered into an insane asylum.

"Um, it's Sum--"

"You wanna go in the pit?" Tabitha asked cheerfully.

"Actually, I'd rather no--"

"Okie-doke," she said. "In you go!"

"Wait, I--" I began, nearly at a shout, but she had already pushed me through the door, down the ramp, and--guess what?--back to hell again.