Title: Life Is Life
Summary: Once upon a time there was a fanfic called Believe In Me. This is the revamped version. "Left his house at midnight, resolute and young, in search of something greater than the person he'd become." AU Smitchie.
Author's Note: So I've been thinking for the past few days (and that might be a warning; I probably shouldn't be allowed to think about one thing for so long) about changing this story even more than I already have. I don't know if I will – there are pros and cons to the idea that's been swirling around in my head and I suppose I'll end up listing them and seeing which comes out on top – but I suppose I just wanted to bring it up, let you know what might be coming. Some of you might be able to guess. It's a long way away from this point though, so I'll forge ahead with Chapter 13. Sorry it took so long - the last part especially was very difficult to write. I also haven't edited it, so if anyone spots any mistakes I'd love it if you could point them out so I can fix them!
Disclaimer: Don't own.
Music: Only The Strong Survive – McFly
Got to keep on running
Stay on the attack
'Cause the day you quit's
The day you wish you had it back
They tell me that only the strong survive
The life of a member of a band is expected to be something of a glamorous affair. When Mitchie had dreamed about it, often during a very boring History or Science lesson (those were the subjects she detested the most), it had been busy and exciting and fun. Now that Mitchie was actually experiencing it, however, she was forced to concede that it was almost anything but for the majority of the time. She had woken up in a bed the next morning, one which was thankfully Shane-free (although it smelled like him, which was more distracting than she'd have ever admitted), and then spent the day watching another sound check, playing card games with the other members of Connect 3, and had ended up standing exactly where she'd been the night before; watching the second show in Rhode Island.
Or… almost. She'd be watching the second show in Rhode Island in approximately half-an-hour, which was when it was due to begin.
Mitchie hung in the background as the boys geared up for the performance – they had vocal exercises to carry out and masks of happiness on their face to get perfect. While they went about their less-than-glamorous lifestyles, she sat in an armchair in their shared dressing room (which was ineptly named, as none of the members of Connect 3 actually opted to get dressed in there), ignoring the odd looks she was getting from their manager and avoiding the thoughts that kept trying to force their way into the forefront of her mind. Sitting there she felt almost invisible to them all; almost like she was the fly on the wall that so many others said they wished they could be.
Well, she felt invisible to them all until her phone rang, cutting into the vocal exercises and dragging the attention of the people in the room to her and her Twist and Shout ringtone.
She blushed slightly as she scrambled to answer it, managing to note that it was Caitlin before she hit the accept call button. "Hey, Cait."
The attention of Nate and Jason moved back to their pre-show routine. Shane's gaze remained unwaveringly on her.
"I have a bone to pick with you, Torres," Caitlin greeted, disregarding the universally accepted 'hello' and going for something a little different. "You said you'd call me yesterday. Did you call me yesterday?"
"I meant to – "
"Because while you're off having this wild rockstar lifestyle fantasy, I'm stuck here in Cohasset, Mitchie. I'm living through you, while I cover for you."
"I know – "
"And it's not like I have to be here, Mitchie; I could go and tell your parents right now if I wanted to. But I don't want to and do you know why?"
"Caitl – "
"Do. You. Know. Why?"
Mitchie sighed; there was no reasoning with her best friend when she was in such a mood. The only thing she could do was to wait out the ranting and see if anything useful was to come of the conversation. Usually, nothing useful did come of the conversation. That was that.
Clearly, an answer wasn't what Caitlin Gellar was looking for. Caitlin Gellar just wanted an ear to rant at, so proven by the fact that the millisecond pause that Mitchie gave was enough to prompt her into speaking even more enthusiastically.
"Because I'm a good friend, that's why. Because I love you. Because I'm choosing to believe that you not getting in touch with me yesterday was a one-time thing and I won't have to deal with such shenanigans again."
"Did you just – "
"Yes, Mitchie. I did just use the word shenanigans."
"It's a good word."
"It is; I was mentioning it as a kind of congratulations on using it."
"Why, thank you. So what kept you so busy that you couldn't call me yesterday? What shenanigans were you up to?"
"I don't think it works a second time."
"Don't you change the subject on me."
"There isn't really much to say on the one you chose."
"Are you with them? Right now? Do you not want to gush about how awesome it is because you're in a room with them?"
"That's the most ridiculous thing – "
"You are then. Okay. Whatever. I understand. I'll get you gushing one day though, Torres. One day." This threat was uttered in Caitlin's best sinister voice, evidently meant to incite the fear of God into Mitchie, but failed on account of the fact that she just couldn't give it long enough to settle. She was off, talking about something else, mere seconds after the ominous words fell on Mitchie's ears. "That wasn't what I called you about though."
"Nope. I was mad that you didn't call, but I was planning on seeing how long it took you to call so that I could yell at you even more when it got to Day Eleven or whatever and you rang me up all sheepish and whatnot."
"Why am I friends with you?"
Caitlin laughed at this, and Mitchie could almost see her rolling her eyes at the handset. "I'm calling because your mom called. And wants to speak to you. And will only accept the 'she's in the bathroom' excuse so many times."
"How many times have you tried it?"
"Twelve. At least."
"She may be getting you a doctor's appointment because she's so concerned about your weak bladder."
"Of course I am; how were you going to be able to get to the doctors? You can't even call me back when you say you will."
Mitchie sighed, chancing a glance up to see if Shane was still watching her. He was, out of the corner of his eye. She looked away again quickly. "Are you saying I need to call her?"
"I'm saying we need to call her. I've got a nifty three-way-call button on my phone that I've been dying to try out."
"Did you – "
"You're insane. Did you eat a thesaurus for dinner last night?"
"It doesn't taste all that bad if you add copious amounts of ketchup."
Mitchie laughed, the wave of affection she felt for her best friend in that very second bringing a pang of homesickness to her.
Unaware of the feeling of sadness that had washed over the person on the other end of the phone call, Caitlin spoke again, breaking the pause of about three seconds. "So we'll call her? Say it's on speakerphone?"
"I don't know if I can lie to her again, Caitlin," Mitchie admitted, leaning further back in the chair that she was occupying.
"Mitchie." Caitlin's voice was scolding and the expression on her face was something that Mitchie could only imagine as being determined and ferocious at the same time. "It'll be easier, if anything. You're not lying to her face. You're lying to her ear. And need I remind you that it's the only way this plan is ever going to work?"
Groaning, Mitchie stood up from her seat and headed for the door, deciding that it would be much better to get this phone call done somewhere with much less noise. "Fine. Just… give me a second."
She didn't notice Shane's gaze following her as she left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. A little way down the corridor was a small alcove, and it was here that Mitchie sat, sliding down the wall and stretching her legs out in front of her. There was very little background noise – the corridor was fairly well-removed from the auditorium where people would be finding their seats – and all the setting up had been done a few hours ago. This was the limbo-time; everyone was waiting for the show to start with nothing to do until that moment.
"You'll have to do most of the talking, and I'll just chip in and we can pretend it's on speaker, okay?"
"Okay. I'm sitting down, it's quiet… ready as I'll ever be."
Caitlin didn't say a word, but Mitchie knew that she'd be pressing buttons on the touch-screen, bringing up the number that would call her mom. She could recite it, and for a moment she very nearly did, but then she heard the dialling tone and held her breath, both willing her mother to answer and willing her mother to be out at the same time.
Mitchie exhaled quickly, the sound of the rush of breath meaning that she didn't notice the noise of a door opening a little further along the hallway. "Hi, Mom. How are things?"
"Mitchie! I was beginning to think you'd forgotten all about us."
"Could I ever? No, just been busy with school and homework and stuff. Caitlin made us watch a scary movie last night – "
"Hey!" Caitlin interrupted, shouting as though she'd been burned. "I did not make you do a thing. Hi, Mrs. Torres, you're on speaker!"
Connie laughed, and her daughter resisted a sigh of relief at the sound. Laughing usually didn't go hand in hand with suspicion. Laughing meant that she was probably getting away with this. "Hey, Caitlin. I spoke to your mom this morning."
Mitchie froze and hundreds of miles away she imagined (and wasn't far off reality) Caitlin doing the same thing.
"Oh, really?" Caitlin asked, her voice only slightly giving away the fact that as nonchalant as she was sounding, she wasn't entirely nonchalant at all.
"Yes, I thanked her for letting Mitchie stay there while she and your father are away," Connie went on. Mitchie was waiting for the turn in tone, waiting for the moment where she revealed that the situation was totally busted. "She said she was very happy to oblige – said that it made her more confident, if anything, that the house was going to still be standing when they returned!"
"Well, you know Mitchie," Caitlin said, and Mitchie got the distinct impression that she was hiding a 'phew' of relief. "Goody-two-shoes."
Mitchie wanted nothing more than to hang up the phone, than to get this conversation over with, and that wasn't something she usually felt when conversing with her mother. This time, however, guilt was coursing through her veins and she didn't know how much longer she'd be able to keep up the charade. Would she have to call again tomorrow? The day after? She didn't know how much her nerves would be able to take.
"But you guys are doing okay?" Mitchie's mother was still talking, the topic having moved on a little while Mitchie had zoned out to have a mini heart attack. "You're eating well and getting to bed at a normal time? Not staying up all night talking, I hope!"
"No," was a reply from Mitchie, who reckoned she'd been silent for a little bit too long. "No; when we're together for most of the day there's not really all that much left to talk about at midnight."
"Oh, I'd trust you girls to find something," Connie said, the smile on her face evident in her voice. "I have to go, honey, the dinner is almost ready and I don't want it to burn. Love you! Do you want to speak to your father?"
This was a rhetorical question, proven by the fact that Mitchie hadn't even had time to answer before her father's deeper voice was booming down the telephone line.
"Mitchie; Caitlin! How are you girls doing?"
The two girls gave their positive responses in unison.
"School going okay?"
Mitchie didn't know who he was directing this question to, but being his daughter she supposed it was probably her. "Yeah, it was fine today."
"That Connect 3 rumour still going around?"
The question was posed perfectly innocently – she had, after all, told her parents that someone had met up with the boys when they'd been in Cohasset – but Mitchie still felt her mouth go dry at the very mention of the band.
"No," Mitchie replied, her voice croaking just slightly. She hoped her father would think it was just the phone line. "No, that one died down a little bit. I think someone just made it up, all the excitement of them being in town."
"Probably," Mr. Torres agreed. "Hey, listen, Mitchie, I miss you. Your mom even sets you a place at the table at dinner."
For a moment, the brunette couldn't find the words to reply to him; tears had suddenly sprung up in her eyes and she didn't trust herself to form any sentences because she wasn't sure they'd come out like sentences at all. She was in another town, in another state, in another world, trapped in a big web of lies.
"Miss you both too." She eventually choked out her response, willing her best friend to take the reins for her now, at least until she had composed herself again.
Her best friend seemed to read her mind: "I'm taking good care of her though, Mr. T."
"I hope that's not supposed to put my mind at rest, Caitlin."
"Mr Torres, what are you implying?"
Mitchie laughed lightly, wiping her eyes with the back of her free hand. "It's okay, Dad. Suffice to say, I'm the one doing most of the looking after. She's like a three-year-old."
"I can imagine," chuckled the man on the phone, a slight lull following these words before he continued. "I think that's dinner ready, Mitchie, so I'd better go. You don't have to call us back, we just wanted to check you were doing okay, all still alive, all body parts still accounted for, that sort of thing."
"All my limbs are intact, Dad."
"Though I think I misplaced my big toe down the back of the couch last night," Caitlin chimed in.
Mr Torres laughed, the big hearty guffaw that many associated him with, before he said his goodnights. The phone line was severed only seconds later.
Mitchie knew that her best friend was still on her line – she could hear Caitlin's breathing – but she ignored that for a moment and allowed the loneliness that she'd felt upon hearing her dad put the phone down to fill her up. She'd been so busy getting to know Shane and Nate and Jason, so busy seeing the ins and outs of tour life, so busy traveling through the country, that she hadn't had any contact with her mom and dad. And she felt so guilty about that. They had always been there for her, always been ready to listen and to put a smile back on her face, and here she was, rebelling against them? Lying to them? Lulling them into a false sense of security?
"Mitchie – " Caitlin began, and Mitchie got the awful impression that Caitlin was feeling exactly the way she was.
"Caitlin," she interrupted, her voice harsh and cutting the other girl off entirely. "No offense, but if you're about to say what I think you're about to say, I can't hear it. I need you to be the one convincing me to stay."
"I think you should stay, Mitchie, of course I do. That was just harder than I tho – "
"Can we not, Caitlin? Seriously."
"Okay. Yeah. Sure. Fine. How is it? How are… Connect 3?"
Mitchie smiled slightly, her free arm moving down to pick at a hole in her jeans. "Pretty cool."
There was a pause as Mitchie processed everything that had happened with Shane, none of which Caitlin was privy to. The good-natured arguments about music and movies and TV shows. Falling asleep on the couch together. The girl in the diner. The way he'd sought her out the moment he got off stage yesterday. None of it made sense and yet… none of it was weird, either. It was like second-nature, like something that had always been meant to be.
"Yeah," Mitchie said, eventually. "Yeah."
"Are you – " Caitlin started to ask a question, but she didn't manage to get to the point of it. At that moment one of the stage managers stepped out of the door that led to the stage and called out, loud enough for anyone in the backstage area to hear.
"Five minutes until show-time, guys! Five minutes!"
Mitchie stood up, leaning her back against the wall. "I have to go, Cait. But I promise, I'll call you soon."
The girl who was standing in her bedroom in Cohasset, Massachusetts, was quiet for a few seconds, clearly not enamoured with the situation, clearly wanting to ask the question that was still lingering on her lips. But, it seemed she had no choice in the matter, and it was this realisation that prompted her next words: "If I have to call you again…"
"Holding you to that, Torres."
"Willing to be held to it, Gellar."
"Fine. Have fun at the show, I'm insanely jealous."
"It's getting old now."
Caitlin laughed. "Think how Shane Grey feels."
"I prefer not to do that."
Caitlin laughed again. "I commend you on that choice. I'll talk to you later."
"You will," Mitchie promised again. "Bye."
For a few seconds after Mitchie Torres had hung up the phone, she didn't move. She wouldn't be able to bring herself to stand and watch the show while she was feeling so homesick, and so while she stood, staring at the device in her hands, she quashed the melancholic emotion.
When she turned around, the boys of Connect 3 were just leaving the dressing room. Jason gave her a broad grin as he walked past, Nate offered a small wave and Jeff shot a curt nod in her direction, all three of them disappearing to the stage area. Shane was the last to leave the room, and she expected him to duck through the door too. He didn't.
Walking up to her, Shane kept his face passive, not wanting to let on the fact that he'd been listening, the fact that he'd heard it all. He was a little ashamed of it, in fact; what business of his was it to go around listening to Mitchie's phone calls? He'd been unable to help himself, though, and that had been the part that had scared him most. Why had he been unable to help himself? He didn't feel it necessary to listen to the conversations of his other friends. And with that thought came the question he'd been asking himself for days on end: why her? Why Mitchie Torres?
"You coming, Mitch?" he asked, as soon as he got close enough.
She frowned, a crease appearing just above her nose. "Yeah, I'm coming, Shan."
Shane laughed, waiting for her to start moving before he did so himself. They walked to the door together, the chanting from the auditorium getting louder the closer they got.
"Caitlin okay?" he asked, as he held the door open for her to walk through.
Mitchie nodded, stopping in the wings. "Yeah. She says have a good show."
Shane grinned, hooking his earpiece in place and preparing to run out into his starting position. Just before he did, he shrugged and spoke, a telling smirk spreading across his face: "I don't know, I feel like it's getting a bit old now."
The show passed in a blur very much the same as the blurs that had been the other shows; it felt like no time at all before the band were shouting their goodnights and bounding from the stage, grabbing towels to wipe the sweat from their faces.
Shane hadn't made a beeline for Mitchie this time, but had instead pulled Nate in a post-show conversation. It wasn't something Nate was used to – usually Shane stormed away after a performance, often adding profanities into the mix for anyone who dared speak to him – but he seized the opportunity to speak to a civil Shane Grey with both hands. As Mitchie made her way over to them, dodging the guys who were already dissembling the stage, Shane said something that made Nate laugh and for a moment she just stood and watched the boys laugh together. Then Shane caught her eye and excused himself, not waiting for a reply from Nate before he started to saunter over to where she was standing just a few feet in front of him.
"You were listening to my phone call," she accused, as soon as he was close enough to properly hear what she was saying. It didn't matter that an entire concert had happened since the event; she was a little bit annoyed and was going to let that show.
"I don't believe you have any evidence that supports that," Shane retorted, shrugging easily as he spoke and came to a halt right in front of her.
"You practically quoted it to me!"
"Yes! Just before you went on stage you said the exact thing that I said to Caitlin."
"I think that might be something I like to call a coincidence."
Mitchie folded her arms across her chest and glared. "Was not."
"Was too." Shane challenged easily, mimicking her pose.
"It was not!"
"It was not!"
"It was to – ugh!"
Shane laughed - and as Mitchie reached out and slapped his arm lightly, he exaggerated a wince. "Ouch."
"You're insufferable," she said, scowling at him.
The boy in front of her merely shrugged at this comment, his expression serving to make her even more annoyed – but at the same time, not annoyed at all.
The rest of the Connect 3 entourage had left the wing area to return back to the hallway where Mitchie had taken her phone call, and this was where Shane and Mitchie walked slowly to as she silently glowered and he audibly laughed. As they reached the throng of people, they heard someone clearing their throat to speak over the conversations that were going on between the groups of people gathered there.
"Right! The band needs to get back to the bus. The instruments need to be accounted for and put on bus B – " Jeff Witcombe ticked off each instruction on his fingers as he announced them, despite the fact that this was the routine that happened every night. Everyone in the room knew it back to front, he was well aware of that fact, but if something went wrong then at least he could absolve all responsibility by citing that he'd gone through it with everyone who needed to know. If something went wrong it would be someone else's job on the line.
Shane tuned out almost as soon as the speech began and for a few seconds he just stood and watched Mitchie, who seemed to be interested in what the manager had to say. He supposed that Mitchie still found all of this fascinating – especially as it hadn't been a part of yesterday's routine, considering they were in the same venue – while he just found it monotonous and dull. It was meant to be exciting, this life. Almost every other band he'd ever loved said that they found touring the best part of their job. Shane had decided that their tours couldn't be anything like this one, not if they loved it so much. Still, even though she was new to this, he couldn't imagine why Mitchie would be so riveted in what Jeff was saying.
The truth was, Mitchie couldn't have cared less about what Jeff was saying. She wasn't listening to what he was saying; she was just appearing to be listening to what he was saying. In reality, she was thinking about everything, just as she had been doing almost constantly since she'd boarded the tour bus outside her house in Cohasset. What was she doing? Why was she doing it? Why her? The questions had been swimming in her mind for five days and she still hadn't come up with a definitive answer to any of them. She wasn't entirely sure why she was still trying to come up with a definitive answer, because it seemed like it was going to be impossible to get such a thing.
Especially with Shane staring at her the way he was at that moment.
Mitchie turned to look at him quickly, taking him by surprise, whispering her question: "What?"
"Nothing." Shane asked after a pause in which he'd scrambled to come up with something to say. Clearly, he hadn't come up with anything of worth.
The brunette frowned, a crease appearing between her eyebrows. "You were staring."
"I was not," Shane hissed back, prompting Mitchie to roll her eyes.
"I'm not starting that again."
" – I want us all out of here by 11:30, maximum. If we go past midnight, it costs me extra. Thieving bast – "
"I thought you had something on your face," Shane whispered after a short pause.
Just as Mitchie asked the obvious question – "What?" – Shane continued speaking, as though he'd meant to carry on all along – "Your nose."
(As a result, the conversation sounded very much like this: "I thought you had something on your face." "What?" "Your nose." and that is what prompted Mitchie's subsequent reaction.)
"Right." Mitchie couldn't help but smile as she elongated the vowel in the word, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Have you looked in the mirror lately? Because I hate to break it to you, but you've got yourself a nose too."
A flustered Shane Grey was a rare occasion indeed, but Mitchie got to witness it first-hand at her words; he shook his head vehemently and stuttered for a second or two before the words fell out coherently. "Wh – no – Mit – " He sighed. "You know that's not what I – you started speaking before I'd fini – oh, whatever."
Jeff finished his speech at this, so the laugh that Mitchie gave was drowned out in the sudden sound of conversation starting up between the band and the roadies and the bus drivers again. The two teenagers began walking towards the exit, back to the bus as per their instructions, and Nate and Jason weren't far behind.
"Was that victory for Mitchie?" Mitchie asked, nudging Shane with her elbow as they fell into step with one another.
"Are you speaking about yourself in third person?" Shane avoided the question, cocking an eyebrow as he glanced at her.
"I don't think that was an answer."
"I don't think it counts as a question."
"Of course it counts as a question; it's a question."
"I think you'll find – " Shane reached the door and pushed it open, his gaze still on the brunette by his side. "That it – "
A bright flash went off – causing their eyes to snap away from each other and to the scene before them – and that flash brought a tide of other flashes with it. Accompanying the many clicks of cameras was yells of the paparazzi, the same kind of people who had been waiting outside the bus on the morning that Mitchie had woken up there, and Shane felt an overwhelming urge to break the noses of every single person crowding.
As soon as he'd worked out what was going on, Shane had jumped in front of Mitchie – hiding her from view but facing her at the same time, hoping to reassure her with his expression that this was all going to be fine. He doubted he'd succeeded in that endeavour, mostly because he had no idea if this was going to be fine. There had definitely been pictures taken of Mitchie, and those pictures were bound to end up on the Internet by tomorrow morning. Mitchie had lied to her parents; what if they saw a picture? What if the press worked out where she lived? What if they called her house and told her mom and dad where she was?
Nate and Jason ran up behind them, Jeff hot on their tails.
"What the fuck are you people doing here?" The manager yelled, and Shane had never appreciated the man more than he did in that moment. "I call the press conferences around here! This is disgusting!"
Disgusting it may have been, but the photographers and reporters had no shame. This was their job, it was what they were paid to do, it was how they put food on their tables at home. They couldn't feel guilty about any of this, so it was not surprising at all when nobody even flinched at the words of Jeff Witcombe. They couldn't quote him; after all, he wasn't the celebrity. No, they wanted to hear from Shane. They wanted to hear from the mystery Mitchie Torres.
"Who's your friend, Shane?"
"Are you two dating?"
"She's the girl you were pictured with in Massachusetts, right Shane?"
Shane looked down at the girl he was still shielding and was momentarily surprised to see that she was staring right back up at him; their eyes had locked in an instant. "We're going to have to walk through them, Mitch."
"I know," she muttered, inhaling sharply after she spoke. "This is crazy."
Shane was quiet for a few seconds, at a loss of how to reply, before he settled on: "I know." Then he nodded to the watching Nate and Jason and, without thinking, grabbed Mitchie's hand. Jason began to steer his way through the crowd, forging a path for them to go through. Shane followed, his hand holding tight to Mitchie's hand, keeping her as close to him as was possible. She followed him, pressing against his arm as they walked, keeping her head down. Nate went after her, also sticking close (though not as close as Shane; he had a feeling he would kill him if he got too near) so as to ensure nobody could pull her away from them.
"Are you Mitchie Torres?"
"How old are you?"
"Are you dating Shane?"
"Are you on tour with them?"
"Are you sharing a bed on the tour bus?"
The calls came from all around them, mostly blending into one inaudible noise, but every so often a specific question would be shouted loud enough for Mitchie to distinguish. She just wanted to answer them, to get them to leave her alone, but Shane was pulling her along at a pretty quick speed and there was no time to even pause to catch her breath. No time, that is, until one particularly ruthless member of the crowd pushed his way out in front of them, severing the link that had been Shane and Mitchie's hands. The man easily blocked Shane's attempts to dodge around him, all while focusing a lecherous grin on the teenage girl in front of him.
"Let her past," Shane demanded, reaching out in some sort of crazy hope that he could catch her and pull her to safety.
"All in good time," the man said, his gaze still on Mitchie. "First things first though, sweetheart, how about you tell me your name? Are you Mitchie Torres?"
"Fucking let her past!" Shane cried again, and Mitchie could see that every ounce of his mental strength was being focussed into not punching the guy into next week. She was about to answer the question, if only to appease the man in front of her, if only to stand a chance of getting past him with relatively little harm done, but the boy behind her acted first.
Nate put his hands on Mitchie's shoulders, his glare bordering on murderous, but the sleazy reporter didn't even flinch – in fact, it made his smirk a little deeper.
"As far as you, and all of you other bottom-dwellers are concerned, she's Rumpelstiltskin. Get lost." Nate spoke, his voice low and his tone level. He wasn't the vocal one of the group, that title was easily awarded to Shane, but if anything that worked in his favour. When he actually did take an opportunity to make some waves, people got very interested. People listened to what he had to say.
Well… they listened to what he had to say for a short minute, and then they went back to doing what they did best. Digging.
"Rumpelstiltskin gave the lady three guesses, did he not? And he answered truthfully to each one of them. I only have one guess, love, but you still haven't answered me. Hardly fair, is it?"
Shane's growl was almost animalistic, and Mitchie snapped her gaze away from the reporter and onto him, holding his eyes to hers and speaking directly to him.
"Shane, you break another person's nose and I swear, I'll never speak to you again."
"He has to fucki – "
"Shane, you say fuck one more time and I swear, I'll never speak to you again."
"I'm not just going to stand here – "
"Shane, you say one more word and I sw – "
"Never speak to me again. Got it." The dark-haired boy muttered these last words, audible enough for him to be heard by Mitchie, audible enough to tell her that he was less than pleased but that – for now at least – he was going to co-operate.
The confidence that had swelled up in Mitchie from the moment that Shane reacted the way he did – from the moment that he growled, really – was like nothing she had ever felt before. All she could think about was the moment that Shane had broken the nose of Matt Baker from Hot Tunes, all to ensure that she could get to safety, and she knew two things for certain. One: she couldn't let him do something like that again. Violence was never the answer, and he might not be so lucky with assault charges this time around. Two: this time she didn't need him. She didn't need him. The last time hadn't worked in the long-run, had it? Someone still saw her, someone still leaked her name. It didn't really matter whether she confirmed who she was or not, because these reporters would just print her name in their papers anyway. She didn't need him to punch someone, because the truth was she might as well just deliver a metaphorical punch herself by doing what the paparazzi least expected. She might as well just answer the question.
It was with that thought running through her mind that she turned back to the leering man, tilting her chin up and hoping that her eyes were full of the steely confidence that the rest of her was.
The man looked surprised, though he composed himself rather quickly. "What?"
"You asked a question. The answer is yes."
"I asked a few questions, sweetheart. You're going to have to be a bit more specific."
Mitchie felt the inkling of a smile creep over her face, and she turned her head to look at Nate, who was still standing close behind her. "Oh. He did ask a few questions, didn't he?"
Out of the three Connect 3 band members, Nate Daniels was the smart one. He was the one who came up with the plans and he was also the one who thought about the consequences. He was unhappy in the career path he was following, but he knew better than to go the route that Shane was going because he knew that when things did change he didn't want a reputation that would take an age to rid himself of. He was intelligent, he knew what he was doing. Nate was the smart one. And because he was the smart one, he picked up on Mitchie's point almost instantly. The slight turn of his lips told him that much, and he picked up the ball that Mitchie had dropped in his court immediately.
"I believe he did, you know. First of all, I think he asked if you would tell him your name. And then he asked if you were Mitchie Torres," Nate said, the smile growing wider as he spoke. He would win no acting awards, but that barely even mattered at this point. "But – " and on this word he paused, cocking an eyebrow in the direction of the very bemused looking reporter, who was becoming less effective at blocking their path by the second. "I think he also asked whether Rumpelstiltskin gave three guesses, and whether it was fair that he only had one. There were also some questions thrown from other people, if we're counting them?"
Mitchie turned back to look at the guy in front of her; his arms had dropped by his sides, his nose was wrinkled in confusion. The upper hand that he'd had - Mitchie's naivety, Mitchie's fragility when it came to dealing with situations like this – had evaporated, and now he was just looking at a girl who would keep playing these sorts of games all night.
"Yeah, I think we can count them," she said, tilting her head to one side as she fixed her stare on the sleazy reporter.
"In that case, there was also the 'are you on tour with them', the 'are you dating Shane' and, my personal favourite, 'are you sharing a bed with him on tour', all of which could be possibilities."
"So they could." Mitchie took a step forwards, a step nearer Shane, and felt a last surge of confidence make its way to the surface. "But, see, I don't really feel like being more specific. So in true Rumpelstiltskin spirit, how about you have a guess as to which question I was answering?"
The blonde man looked stunned, opening and closing his mouth a few times as he attempted to come up with anything to say. He wanted to sound remotely clever, he wanted to sound a little bit suave and unfazed, but he couldn't even summon words that would make him sound stupid.
"No? Shame." The sarcasm dripped from her voice, and confident Mitchie seized the opportunity to slip around the human blockade.
Someone's fingers threaded through her own and Mitchie didn't need to catch his eye to know that it was Shane. She didn't particularly want to catch his eye, mostly because the confident feeling she'd had just a millisecond previously was being replaced; a feeling of utter mortification was bubbling up from the pit of her stomach and she didn't want Shane's face worsening that.
He held her hand – though she was fairly certain it wasn't in an affectionate way but rather in a I'm-pulling-you-through-the-crowd-because-we-need-out-of-here-now way – up until the moment she had ascended the stairs of the bus. He'd waited at the bottom, his hand locked in hers to steady her on the steps.
She hadn't looked at him up until the moment she was at the top when she turned back around to say… what? Thank you? That was crazy? You can speak now? Whatever it was that she was planning on saying, and truth be told she wasn't entirely sure, the words never left the tip of her tongue when she caught sight of the expression on his face.
Shane had watched the entire scene in awe. He wasn't the smart one in the band – though he wasn't the stupid one either – and so had had no idea what on earth Mitchie was getting at with her initial comments. The pieces had fallen into place, however, and there could remain no doubt in his mind that he was impressed. Very impressed.
He was also scared. He'd never felt like this around anyone before, and it was getting to the point where he couldn't ignore it anymore. Mitchie had been on tour with them for two days – in his life for only five – and yet he was falling into a hole that was deeper than he could have ever imagined. Was there any way he'd be able to get through this without completely ruining things, for him, for her, for them (if there was any possibility of there being a them)?
If Mitchie hadn't been scared before she saw Shane's expression, then she was after it. She could tell he was impressed, she could tell he was proud, but she could also tell he was very handsome – something she hadn't thought in years – and she could see hints of caring. He cared about her. And of course he cared about her; he would have to at least care about her to do all of this for her, to give up his bed, to invite her on tour, to buy her breakfast and let her into thoughts that he hadn't shared with anyone else. This was the first time she'd really thought about it though, the first time she'd taken note of the evidence right in front of her face.
She cared about him too. She hoped that showed in her expression.