To the City

This is a (very) short story about Fox's character, Backbeat, and her relationship with Talen's character, Fatal Harmonic. It follows up to an earlier fic of Talen's, Sliver and Scar.


She sighed, shifting the guitar over her knee, and paused. The action itself made her realise how long it had been; how long since this thing she loved had been permitted her full attention. Had it been like this before the Project? She tried to recall. Those days seemed to have an air of freedom about them now, followed by a melancholy longing entirely at odds with the brutal and violent reality.

She dismissed it as the rosy tint of memory. Down that road lay depression, lay wallowing and misery - the kind of utter self-depreciation that only the utterly self-interested could muster. Oh, poor me, I swore to protect the whole world and now I'm sad because don't have any time for me any more. The hell with being that person.

Her mind wandered as she checked the tuning. Tuning wasn't something you ever forgot; the sound of an echoing note sliding up the scale cut into your memories like the first time you smelled fire, or the first days of autumn.

It was for the best, she reminded herself. She had always told herself that she wouldn't mind if it didn't work out - it was just a possibility, and if he was into it, cool. Of course, she hadn't expected it to turn out like this.

What bothered her - what really bothered her - was how wrong she had been about him.

He really wanted her, this amazing, ethereal, fantasy girl in the music. When she'd first heard about it, Backbeat had figured he'd get past it - or at least realise that anybody who came out of those songs would be the very definition of damaged goods. But without her realising it, he had become so serious about the girl. So determined to do everything to chase her, make her real, give his life to this… this pathetic, self-depreciating, clingy victim

Did he think so little of himself? Did he think that was what he deserved?

She had tried. She had tried to be something real, something comforting… and even something only for him. But it wasn't what he wanted.

She gave a humourless laugh, unable to stand the silence. "Damn, kid… I thought I raised you better than that…"

Once - a long time ago, as twenty-seven-year-olds go - she had told him why playing music made her sad, even though she loved it. She couldn't create. She wasn't like him; she couldn't pick tunes out of thin air and play like she'd known the instrument since it was a tree. She could remember any tune, pick it out by ear and play it without the aid of writing - but she couldn't make anything of her own. She'd never understood why. It just wouldn't happen.

Apparently, it had been waiting for this.

The intro was long and meandering, a delay to words that eventually had to come. But they came.

Say
Did you notice how it's all turned grey?
Did you realise how every day
There's nothing really changing, nothing new?
I
I thought that it could work out fine
But now it's like we're half alive
When we're going through the motions, nothing moves

I believe
That something's got to give

So follow me
On the inside, not the outside,
Walk with me and on your own
Sing my song
Like a hymn to my city
And let me see you smile when I get home

So
I think that I can make it flow
And I'm sorry that I had to go
But hesitating never got me far
And me,
I'm everything I want to be
If only I can make you see
That you're better than the fool you think you are

I believe
That something has to change

So follow me
On the inside, not the outside,
Don't think of the many, but the few
Let me go
With your anger and your sorrow
And let me do the things that you can't do

Sing my song
Like a hymn to my city
And don't look for me, look for you

I believe
That some things never change…


It was some time later, near the walls of the city limits, that she stopped. A more romantic city would have had a train line running out into fields, or a hard-beaten path marked only by the feet of those gone before. This was King's Row, though; their city had a tacky government-built monorail and mile-high walls, and a six-lane highway tunneling under it. It wasn't romantic. But it was theirs.

"So, um…" she looked around, not exactly sure what she was expecting. "I dunno if you're here or not. Hell, I'm not sure if you really exist or not. But Harlem says you do, so…" she shrugged, fishing a bottle out of the duffle bag on her shoulder. "Look… I gotta go away. I'm not gonna be around for a while. So, I guess… take care of things, okay?"

She bit the cap from the bottle and spit it aside, another decoration in the Row's window. Then she tipped it slowly, watching solemnly as cheap beer splashed over the concrete and rubble.

"Take care of him."


There were instruments all around her apartment. A piano, from back in June, way more than she could afford. A mandolin, one he'd noticed a couple of times in the pawn shop window before, without warning, it had showed up here. A harmonica bought from a homeless man, which still smelled of beer and dirt and grass.

Now there was another one. He picked it up slowly, as if he didn't already know where it had come from. The dark, smooth wood was the colour of her skin, like it had always been. The shoulder strap smelled of her - blood, dust and oil.

After a moment of silence in which his breath trembled in the air, he pulled the folded paper out from between the strings.

Good Luck.

- B

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