A Band Called Fish

Author's Notes: Beta, hand-holding and encouragement by sparktastic.

Prologue - July 1st

From where Boots is standing, he can hear the roar of the crowd already, and he taps his fingers nervously on his guitar. The camera man from the documentary crew following them around told him earlier that there are ten thousand people at the venue tonight. Ten thousand, ten thousand people who turned out for the first night of a tour for their new album.

He glances around the tiny space the band is crammed into. Everyone looks edgy, but in the best possible way, winding themselves up for a show, listening to the crowd scream their names. The camera guy is close to Bruno, zooming in on his face, but the documentary maker is, mercifully, silent, watching them as they jitter around one another.

"Thirty seconds!" Big Dave calls, suddenly, and Boots wriggles his fingers, moving them comfortingly in the first sequence of chords he'll play.

Bruno turns to him, his shit-eating grin wide and toothy. "Best idea ever?" he asks, the way he asks before every show.

"Best idea ever," Boots replies, and he hears Bugs echo the words behind him.

"You're on!" says Big Dave, and that's it, they're running on to the darkened stage, into the strangely stifling space at the front of the crowd. Boots can see Bruno reaching for the microphone.

"All you beautiful people of Ottawa," he yells, "We are A Band Called Fish!"

The lights come up, Boots runs his fingers over the strings of his guitar, and the crowd howls. At the microphone, Bruno tilts his head, looking over his shoulder to meet Boots' eyes. "Let's go," he says, and Boots catches his breath as Bugs beats out the pulse of their first song on the drums.

January 9th

The band are sprawled out in the most comfortable seats in Boots' living room, listening to Adam translate the latest album figures and merchandise sales out of business mumbo jumbo and into English. "In conclusion guys," he says, sensing he's losing his audience, "You're doing fine, your accountants are happy, the tax man is happier, and yes, Bruno, you were right, everyone in Canada wanted a 'Canadians: We Know How To Rock' t-shirt for Christmas."

Bruno, who is wearing one of the t-shirts himself, waves a fist. "I knew it!" he says, then subsides back into his armchair.

Adam coughs. "So, the documentary..." he starts, and everyone groans. Bugs tosses a throw pillow at Adam. "What? You said you would think about it, and I told them they could come in and pitch it to you again tomorrow."

"Why are you punishing us, Adam?" Boots asks, "Like we don't do enough interviews and promotion and god knows else what."

"It'll be a big hit next Christmas. You know the fans love that stuff," Adam says, "On the road footage of you guys just doing your thing, some live concert footage from the shows, some stuff from the studio while you're recording, and then talking head stuff, you guys on a sofa just talking about the band."

"You can't want to have a film crew on the bus when we're touring, Adam," Bugs complains, sitting up. "Seriously, man. No."

Adam shrugs. "We do it right, we limit their time with us," he says, "No worse than the MTV thing we did last year."

Everyone groans again, and Bugs throws another pillow at Adam and lies back down. "Because that went so well," Boots mutters. "We almost got arrested in a Zellers in Saskatoon. Bruno broke three camcorders. There was the whole incident with the hippo."

"It wasn't that bad," Bruno protests, and Boots stares at him in disbelief.

"We almost got arrested," Boots repeats, "In Saskatoon."

"Well, anyway, they're coming tomorrow to talk to you. But we need a new album before we can do any of it though," Adam adds, prosaically. "If we want the first show to be on Canada Day, they're saying we have to have the album done and mixed by the first week in May. First single drops in June, album drops end of June, then we tour. The label wants us to work at their place in Toronto in late February and book up studio time for March. It’s going to be tight, guys, that’s a tough schedule."

There is a long pause, and Boots sees Bugs and Adam look at one another across the room.

"We'll be able to do it, will we?" Boots asks, and his voice is carefully casual. "We're sure of that?"

Bruno stands up and stretches. "Of course we will," he says, confidently, "We're Canadian. We know how to rock."

Unedited Documentary Footage. Timestamp: 2:36pm Feb-15

The band is sitting on a leather sofa in the corner of a room with white-painted walls, slumped down into their seats. Boots is at one end, Bruno next to him and leaning in slightly. Bugs is sideways on the sofa at the other end, his feet half-hidden in the gap between two cushions. They are wearing jeans and t-shirts—Bruno is in layers, and the uppermost t-shirt is an ancient white one, thin with washing and ragged at the collar. A crest, circled with the words "MacDonald Hall", is barely visible.

Off-screen, the disembodied voice of the documentary maker asks, "I know you've probably told this story a million times by now, but can you talk about how you got started?"

"The band started with Bruno, of course, the first version of the band," says Boots, nudging Bruno, who is yawning. "We were at my house, it was during the summer vacation before we started grade thirteen."

"I said: let's start a band at school this year," Bruno says, "We were watching, I don't know, some band on MuchMusic. We were lying on the floor of the living room watching MuchMusic, and I thought: yeah, we should do that."

Boots laughs. "And I said: us, with our wealth of musical talent?" he says, and turns his head to grin at Bruno. Bugs is smiling too, quietly drumming on his knees while the other two talk.

"Ha!" Bruno snorts, "Like lack of musical talent ever stopped anyone from being in a band. So I was like: who cares about that. Let's start a band and call it Fish. And Boots said you're crazy. No-one will come listen to a band called Fish made up of two guys who can't play."

"And you said what you always say, which was of course they'll come, duh," Boots says, pulling a face. "So I made my mom buy me a cheap guitar, and took it back to school with me, and we started to practice. We were only allowed to play in our dorm room once, and then we were sent to go practice in the pump room next to the swimming pool because it was the furthest building from the dorms and the principal's house," Boots says. "But the acoustics. They were amazing, all those tiles and reflective surfaces. The first year, we thought we were so much better than we were, just because we rehearsed by the pool."

The interviewer breaks in. "There's this rumour, a persistent rumour, that the original band wasn't all male, you had a female vocalist, someone Bruno has been, how can I say this, romantically linked with in the past. Is that true?"

Boots laughs. "I don't know where people get this stuff from, really, I don't even remember this stuff. We got, I mean, so, the original line-up had a different guy on drums, our friend Wilbur, and yeah, our good friend Cathy was singing with us, but after like, four practices, she gave up because..."

He looks over at Bruno. "Wet cats thrown together in a bag screeching sound better," Bruno says with a shrug and a laugh. "She'll kill me for saying that, though she says it herself."

"That's when we figured out that Bruno could actually sing," says Boots, "I tried, but yeah. No. But Bruno, he never sang a note at school, even mouthed the words of Oh Canada, you know. Of course it turns out he can sing. And originally we had a bass player, too, a guy called Sidney, but then he quit while we were still at school and sold Bruno his bass, and so he sang and I taught him to play, which is kind of unusual, but it's fine, it works."

Bruno laughs. "I guess you could call it the lesser of two evils. Sidney was, well, it's no secret he was kind of accident-prone. We were worried he was going to fall in the pool and electrocute himself while he was playing. It was actually easier for me to learn the bass myself than keep him safe during practice."

There's a pause, and the interviewer says: "And your first show?"

"Our first show was, okay, so our school, there was a girl's school right across the road, and they had this thing called the Grade Ten Dance-A-Thon," says Bruno, and he's already half-laughing. The camera zooms in tight on his face. "Cathy convinced them to get us in to play, and that was our first show. It was. It was actually pretty terrible."

"Horrible," affirms Boots, and the camera pans out again, to the two of them smiling at one another in recollection.

"What did you play?" the interviewer asks.

"Bad cover versions of Green Day and the Police, mostly," says Bruno, "And... what was that song Miss Scrimmage wanted?"

"I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," they suddenly chorus, and the interviewer, off screen, laughs along with them.

"Dusty Springfield. So very not rock," says Bugs, seriously.

"We could really only go up from there," Bruno says, and he leans a little further into Boots' space. Boots doesn't move away.

February 16th

"And there's this great drum part," Bugs is saying to Bruno, before he whirls into action on his kit, crashing out a frenetic rhythm, shouting over the noise he's making, "And that's, there, that's where the guitar comes in, dum de dah, doodle deedle dah. It's awesome. Better than even Jellyfish Sunburst were at their best. Adam is a genius, especially, you know, considering he started out as a flute-guy."

"Flautist," Adam corrects him automatically, from where he is sorting through a pile of papers with Boots. The band has gathered at Bugs and Adam's house, in the studio and practice area they have set up in the soundproofed basement, getting ready to start working on the new album. Boots can't think of anywhere he less wants to be right now, even though he's aware that he's the reason they're already behind schedule.

"So, have you written anything new?" Adam asks, paging through the sheets in front of him. "Because we only have five songs right now, and that's really not enough. We have music, but I need the words, Boots, before I can finish writing."

He looks anxiously up at Boots, who shrugs, and looks down at the pages in front of him.

Adam drops his voice to a whisper. "It's still not happening?"

Boots shakes his head, and lowers his voice as well. "Bruno says not to push it, but, god, Adam. I haven't written anything new in weeks. I sit down every day and I look at a blank piece of piece of paper, and I can't. I just can't seem to. I can't."

Adam pats his arm consolingly when he stutters into silence. "Bruno's right, of course. You can't force it," he says, but Boots can see the lines on Adam’s forehead from where he’s trying not to frown. Boots turns away, and they watch Bugs run through the section he likes so much, again, saying, "Best since Jellyfish Sunburst, man, I swear. Adam, come show him how the next bit goes."

Adam sets down the pages he was looking at and, with an apologetic glance at Boots, walks over to join the other two, sitting down at the piano in one corner to pick out the tune.

Boots stays where he is, watching his friends play; Bruno now picking out the bass part as Bugs plays the drums, nodding approvingly as Adam plays the melody on the piano.

The problem isn't, Boots thinks, that he doesn't have words. The words beat at him night and day, wanting to rush out of his fingers, onto the page and into Bruno's voice. He just can't seem to give them the right order any more, can't seem to stop them from saying things he's not sure he's ready for a thousand kids to sing back to them, for bored housewives to stand humming absently in supermarket aisles.

So the problem isn't the words. He looks back over at Bruno, now tapping his fingers idly on Bugs' cymbal while Adam and Bugs argue over the timing in the piece they're practicing. As if feeling Boots' eyes on him, Bruno turns around to look directly over at him, and Boots feels hot, then cold, as if the words he's trying so hard not to commit to paper are already written on his face. Bruno looks surprised for a second, opens his mouth as if he's about to say something, and then Bugs, apparently exasperated, flings his arms in the air, and says: "Boots, come over here and play. We need to hear it all together before we can decide what we want to do here."

Boots stands up and picks up his guitar, and although Bruno looks at him searchingly for a moment he doesn't say anything. After a few moments, they are all playing, Adam still providing the melody on the piano and calling instructions as they fumble over the new music. The moment's passed, Boots thinks, as he misses a chord and Adam flaps a hand at him, this moment, and another, and another, and there's no way the words will come together tonight either.

Unedited Documentary Footage. Timestamp: 4:12pm Feb-21

The band are on the same sofa, but now Bugs is sprawled in the middle, with Boots and Bruno on either side. Bruno is leaning on the arm at his end of the sofa. He's wearing a T-shirt that says "It's Rock O'Clock".

"We really only played, what, three shows while we were at school," says Boots, turning to lean against the other arm of the sofa, looking over at Bruno. "Three?"

"Four," says Bruno, "If you count that thing for my dad's friend."

"Yeah, so, three, four shows." Boots shrugs. "I mean, lots of fun, but all we played were covers, and it's not like we were serious about it. It was just something to do."

Bruno grins. "Yeah, for you, you thought you were going to be a teacher. We were going to go to university and you were going to be an English teacher."

"Hey," Boots protests, but he's smiling, "It could have happened." He turns back towards the camera a little. "We finished school, and Bruno and I went home for the summer to Toronto, but our drummer lived over in Kingston, so we couldn't practice as a group. And honestly, I thought, you know, we had time at high school, but university was going to be different, we were going to be pulled in all kinds of directions, and I didn't think the band was going to be something we did."

There is a long pause, and the interviewer rustles some papers and then says, "But?"

Bruno shrugs. "But when we moved into dorms, and later when we shared an apartment off campus, I brought my bass, and Boots brought his guitar, and yeah, we practiced some more, we got a few shows, still playing covers. Nothing fancy, nothing that really paid anything. And we did that for two years."

"We played like, old people's homes a couple of times," Boots adds, and Bugs starts to snicker. "And we thought we had nowhere to go but up from Dusty. We had to play Stevie Wonder a couple of times."

Bruno starts to hum, and then he and Bugs break into song, harmonizing, badly, to I Just Called To Say. [the film flickers—there's obviously some kind of pause in recording. The band has moved a little, and laughter is just trailing off when they resume.]

"This was when you met Bugs?" the interviewer breaks in, seeing none of them prepared to pick up the story.

"Yeah, around that time our drummer, who was a great guy, he's still a friend, a friend of the band," Boots says, and the other two nod, "He met this girl, and he didn't have time really to practice or anything. And it was weird, because right around then was when we were actually doing stuff that wasn't like, Stevie Wonder. We got a show as a warm-up band for a local rock band, just covers, again, just like a hundred kids in a club, but we got up on stage and realized: no drummer. He didn't show up."

"Umbilical Echo," says Bugs, with a dreamy look on his face, "That was who you were opening for. They were awesome, their guitar guy, he had this thing..."

Boots grins at him. "Yeah, so Bugs was there to hear Umbilical Echo, really. And Bruno is there, looking at the drum kit like Wilbur—that was our drummer's name—like Wilbur is going to suddenly appear and start playing, and he's got this expression on his face..."

"The world was crumbling around me," Bruno interjects, and Bugs chokes on a laugh.

"And then out of the blue this voice goes, hey, do you guys need a drummer," Boots continues, "And this guy gets boosted up on the stage by his friend—and the guy turns out to be Bugs, and his friend is Adam, who's our manager and songwriter and friend, these days—and he sits down and Bruno says, do you know Basketcase, and that's it. He just starts to play, and he's awesome, and Bruno and I are struggling to keep up with him. That was the first time, I think, that the audience sang along with us, that people really stopped and listened to us."

"And then you were in, you were part of the band?" The interviewer sounds distracted, and there's more paper rustling.

Bugs looks vaguely annoyed, but shrugs and says: "No, not then. It was cool, yeah, but I used to play with big name bands, you know, they used to let me get up on stage and play with them. This was the first time I played with just some random guys. I wasn't looking to join a band permanently."

"So how...?"

"After the show, Bugs was just like, yeah, it was fun, see ya, and he was going to leave, and then Bruno started talking," Boots says. "Bruno is very, well. He's very persuasive when he wants to be. We knew, we knew that Wilbur wasn't coming back to the band, so we needed a drummer. And yeah, Bruno is persuasive."

Bruno laughs.

"I had kind of a reputation," Bugs says, and he's a little more relaxed again, leaning back into his seat. "Bruno had heard of me, a few people had heard of me, I'd been on the circuit for a few years, never really playing more than one, maybe two shows with any one band. I just love to play, you know."

Boots rolls his eyes. "We barely see him now on breaks. He's always off recording with other people, doing shows for other bands."

Bugs grins, and picks up a set of drum sticks from a table out of the view of the camera. "Yeah, I like to play, man," he says, playing a drum roll on Bruno's knee. "What else am I going to do when we're on a break?"

"It took a few weeks," Bruno looks over at Bugs, who shrugs, "Two months, maybe, before he agreed to join us, and he brought Adam with him. Adam wanted to write, to write music, and he was already Bugs' manager and they were writing music together, but they didn't have a band, and they didn't have any lyrics."

"All my lyrics were like yay, drums are cool," Bugs adds, and Boots rolls his eyes.

"He's not even kidding. He'd still write that into every song if we let him." Bugs mock punches Boots, and they shove at one another for a second playfully. The interviewer clears his throat.

"Sorry, yeah, and that's when we started to write our own songs, and I guess, really, that's when we became A Band Called Fish for real," Boots finishes, and there is a moment where the band all exchange looks, and they smile.

February 22nd

Boots smiles as politely as he can as the woman crowds closer to him. "You're taller than I imagined you'd be," she says, and creeps her hand nauseatingly along the shiny material of his sleeve. She leans in closer until he can smell the alcoholic punch of the drinks she's been throwing back, even beneath the overpowering scent of her perfume. "And ooh, muscular."

He grits his teeth. "I like to swim," he says, hoping to distract her, and turns and backs away a little until she has to let her hand drop or lose her already precarious balance on her spiky heels. "Can I get you another drink?"

"Oh no," she says, and Boots desperately tries to remember her name. Suzanne? Suzette? Something like that, he thinks, a weather girl turned some kind of celebrity after being on a reality TV show. "I have everything I want, right... here."

She presses closer on her last words, and Boots takes another step back, coming up against the wall. "I," he says, hastily, trying to dislodge her without causing a scene. "Will you excuse me?"

The woman blinks at him. "Oh, you Canadian boys," she sighs gustily, and Boots flinches back from her alcohol sodden breath, "You're so beautifully polite."

"Canadian girls, not so much," a cheerful voice intervenes, and Boots turns gratefully to greet Diane, who has come to stand alongside him. "Hands off, Suzie, he's all mine."

"Diane!" Boots exclaims, turning to kiss the cheek she offers. "You're here!"

"Where else but by your side, honey?" she says, and slips an arm around his waist. Boots smiles distantly at Suzie-the-weather-girl as she pouts at them, and allows Diane to lead him away. "You owe me so bad," she hisses at him, smiling as they walk through the throng. "If she had even half a brain she'd remember I'm married. When are you going to learn that having a reputation for being all sweet and unattached and 'me? dating? not my thing!' is like inviting piranhas into your swimming pool?"

"I'm not sweet," Boots mutters back, forcing himself to smile at a record company executive as they walk past. He hates industry parties. He hates the whole fake, glittery whirl of the Toronto social scene that the label forces them into from time to time when they're here to record. "Where are you taking me?"

"Bruno, he needs you," says Diane, and pinches his arm when he tries to pull away. "Smile, keep smiling, I'm interviewing this guy on my show next week. Bob!" Diane's voice changes suddenly, "How wonderful to see you! We absolutely must catch up, just let me deliver Boots here to his friends. No, I'm sure he'd be delighted to sign something for your daughter. Boots?"

Boots smiles feebly at the man Diane is greeting. "K-A-T-I-E? Yes, fine. No, I'm glad she likes the album. Will you excuse us?"

The man is putting his napkin back in his pocket when they walk away, still arm in arm, and Boots whispers harshly, "What's up with Bruno?"

"Cornered by the bitch," Diane murmurs, raising a hand to someone, Boots doesn't care who. "Cornered and drinking."

They step down through an open doorway into a large, plant-filled room, and Boots sees a small group of people gathered around a table, Bruno lazily leaning back against his chair in a way Boots instantly recognizes and dislikes. Crystal, every inch the bitch Diane calls her, is next to him, and even from here Boots can see the little looks she is shooting at Bruno from beneath her lashes.

"She hasn't forgiven him yet, then?" Boots hears someone on the fringe of the little gathering say, and at the table, Crystal says something that makes the others seated there laugh, and Bruno reach for the glass in front of him.

Boots pulls away from Diane's hand. "Thanks, I'll take it from here," he says, sparing a moment to look back at her gratefully.

Diane raises her eyebrows. "You both owe me," she says, sweetly, and Boots gulps, nods, and then forgets even that potent threat as he turns back to Bruno.

"Don't you agree, Bruno?" Crystal is saying as Boots approaches, still unnoticed. She's looking older, Boots decides, harder than he remembers her being the last time he saw her, though her make-up is as perfect as ever, and her nails are the same talons that used to drum impatiently on the table when Bruno brought her over to the bus, back in the days when Crystal's band was the biggest thing on their tour, when she thought Bruno's worship was just what she was owed.

Boots misses Bruno's answer, lost in memories for a moment, but the sycophants that Crystal collects around her are laughing nervously while the woman herself looks equal parts publicly amused and privately furious. Boots steps in to intervene.

"Bruno, we're filming tomorrow," he says, smiling as charmingly as he knows how at the crowd. "We should probably go."

Bruno is on his feet by the time Crystal realizes Boots is there, Boots' hand unobtrusively under Bruno's elbow. "Oh, the sidekick is here," she sneers, and one or two of her hangers-on snicker.

Boots just smiles at her, tugging gently at Bruno to pull him away. "Crystal," he says politely, even while he's wishing he could yell at her, toss out a few unpalatable truths: you were never good enough for him, none of you were ever good for him.

She tosses her head, but says nothing more, or nothing that he can hear, although the people nearest her laugh again, and Boots eases Bruno out of the crowd and back towards the door, smiling and waving to a few people, but not giving anyone a chance to stop them. Bruno is uncharacteristically silent beside him until they get to the driveway outside, where Boots asks for their car and props Bruno up against a wall to wait.

"She's a bitch, isn't she?" Bruno asks, barely slurring his words.

Boots looks at him, assessing how drunk Bruno is—not very drunk, but still regrettably drunk, he decides. "Yeah, she kind of is."

Bruno nods. "Thought so," he said, and slung his arm over Boots' shoulder. "Let's go home.”

The car drives up, and Boots lets Bruno slump into him despite the spacious interior, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket when it buzzes. "U BOTH OWE ME" the text says, and Boots groans. "Diane says we owe her," he says, when Bruno looks at him curiously, and Bruno presses his forehead into Boots' shoulder with a moan.

The house is dark when they arrive, and Boots wrestles Bruno up the stairs but then follows helplessly when Bruno veers out of his control, ending up facedown in the enormous bed in Boots’ room. Sighing, Boots helps Bruno out when he becomes hopelessly entangled in the layers of clothing he is trying to remove without standing up. Eventually, Bruno lies still, still in his designer jeans but having at least shed his shirt and shoes.

“Okay,” Boots says, “Go to sleep now.”

Bruno pats the space beside him. "Come sit, talk to me," Bruno says, "It'll be like old times."

Old times didn't include jeans that cost more than a month's rent for their first apartment, Boots thinks, or a house -- arranged by Universal -- so ridiculously huge that they could have fit most of Dormitory Three in the kitchen, but he doesn't say anything, just sits down next to Bruno on the bed. He can't think of a thing to say.

"It'll be fine, you know," Bruno says, suddenly, and Boots almost jumps, startled out of his thoughts. "The words will come back."

Boots nods, and Bruno reaches out and strokes a hand over the nearest part of Boots, which happens to be his knee. "I miss you, you know," he says, and Boots wants to protest, wants to say he's been there all along, every day, but Bruno's breathing changes, and Boots knows from years of Room 306 and more of vans and buses and touring that Bruno is asleep.

For a while, he just watches Bruno breathe, but then he starts to feel restless, and after a while he picks up a pen, pulls his notebook from the drawer of his nightstand, and starts to write.

Unedited Documentary Footage. Timestamp: 11:57am Feb-23

The scene has changed to a diner. The band is sitting around a table playing some kind of card game. Bruno and Boots are sitting opposite each other. Bugs is next to Bruno, and Adam is next to Boots. The camera jerks a little as someone pushes past the cameraman, and for a moment one leg of the interviewer is visible, clad in khaki pants. Bruno is bundled into an over-large sweater, and has sunglasses perched on his head despite the weak spring light. Boots looks tired, and yawns as he shuffles the cards in his hand.

"You started writing your own material after Bugs joined you, is that right?"

None of the players look up from their card game for a moment, but after a long pause, Boots starts to speak. "Yeah, up to that point, we didn't really have any of our own material, but once we had Bugs, but maybe more importantly, Adam, that was a direction we started to take."

"Adam, how do you come into this?"

Adam looks up, straight at Boots, pulls a face, and then turns to look at the camera. "I was the one who, I guess, introduced Bugs to these guys. We told you that story. And once Bugs decided to stay with them, be their drummer, he came to me and said, look, one of these guys writes lyrics, he doesn't know they're lyrics, but they are, and I think they'd suit the music we've been writing."

"And that was you, Boots?" The interviewer is really having to work to get responses today, and even Boots, who had seemed so easy-going in the first round of interviews, barely looks up from the card game.

"I wrote poetry. I wanted, I think I mentioned, I was majoring in English Literature, I wanted to teach English. I wrote fiction, mostly, but some poetry, verse, that sort of thing." Boots slaps a card down. "Aha! Beat that!" he says, and Bruno groans.

Adam picks up the story when no-one else seems in a hurry to carry on. "Bugs brought back a poem that Boots had written, that he'd ended up with by mistake, and I read it, and started trying to fit it to a piece of music I had been writing."

"And that was your first hit single?" the interviewer asks.

Boots nods, and then shakes his head. "Yes. Well, no. I mean, it became that single, eventually, but it was around a long time, when we were touring the first time, even. It was our first song, but even though it's the one everyone knows, for a long time it was just part of our set. And we were still playing covers, we only had a half a dozen of our own songs in there."

"It was the first song people sang back to us, the first with our own words," Bruno says, finally joining in. "It was the first song we played together at a show after Bugs joined us officially. It was our first hit as a single, so it's important to us. But then, we didn't know any of that then. It wasn't really more important to us than any other song we'd written at that point."

"You're proud of it though," the interviewer says, after another long pause in which the only sound is the slap of cards on the table.

Boots shrugs. "We still like it, yeah."

February 24th

"We have words!" Bruno says cheerfully, coming in to the kitchen where Bugs, Adam and Boots are having breakfast. "Good words! Here, catch! I've marked the three that I think we can use right away, but I know there's more in there."

Boots, startled, looks up from where he is tuning his guitar to see an ominously familiar notebook sail through the air from Bruno's hands to Adam's. Adam immediately opens the book and starts to skim through.

"Uh," he starts, and Bruno comes over to lean on him companionably while Bugs and Adam pore over the first few pages of the notebook.

"They're so good, I sat on them for a couple of days. I almost didn't want to hand them over," Bruno says now, squeezing Boots' shoulders, "I don't know why you left them for me to read first, but, god, Boots, I knew when you broke through the writer's block you'd do something amazing."

Boots looks at him, speechless, just opening and closing his mouth like an idiot until Adam comes over. "Did you write this one with that slow music in mind, the one I played for you last week?" Adam asks, excitedly, pointing at something on the page. "Boots, this is perfect. I'm.... I'm completely blown away."

Bugs, coming up close behind Adam, grins at the rest of the group. "Man, this album? This is going to be the best album since Starlight Train came out with Tracks to Heaven," he says, and he grabs the notebook from Adam, "We'll be in the practice room, we're going to do some work on some of this."

Boots finds himself nodding, mesmerized, as Bugs and Adam leave the room, already trading broken, half-finished sentences back and forth about how to set some of Boots' words to music.

Bruno gives him one last half-hug, and ambles over towards the kitchen table. "Is there any milk left? I want cereal this morning."

"They weren't meant for you," Boots finally says, and Bruno looks up, startled, before looking down at the box of Fruit Loops in his hand.

"Seriously?" he says, "I think we can afford another box of cereal if this one runs out."

"Not the cereal, you idiot," Boots says, rubbing his hand over his face. "The lyrics, the poetry. It wasn't... I didn't mean."

Bruno is just blinking at him, confused. "You didn't mean what?"

Boots sinks down into the nearest seat. "They weren't meant for the band," he says, finally. "I just. I didn't want them to be lyrics."

"What?" Bruno says, still bewildered, and Boots almost wants to kill him for not understanding, wants to die, wants the last few minutes never to have happened. "But, Boots, they're awesome lyrics."

“They weren't lyrics," Boots says, despairingly, "Look, it doesn't matter, okay? I just. They weren't lyrics. I didn't mean for you to read them."

"They were in your notebook, the one with LYRICS on the cover." Bruno says, almost belligerently, "You left them next to me in bed. You wrote them with my pen, for crying out loud, which I know because it was still clipped to the front of the book."

"I did," Boots agrees, his head in his hands. "I know I did."

"Well, then, what the hell?" Bruno throws his hands in the air, and Fruit Loops fly out of the open box and rain down all over the kitchen. "Shit."

Boots starts to laugh, but quickly shudders to a halt, and Bruno sits down next to him, moving slowly. "Boots? What's going on? You leave me these lyrics, these fucking beautiful lyrics, and they weren't for me? They weren't for the band?"

Boots takes a deep breath. "I wrote them... You asked me to stay with, that night after the party. You asked me to stay, and you fell asleep, and I started to write. I've been using that notebook to write down all the things that were only meant for in my head. I didn't mean to leave it out. I never meant for you to read it."

Bruno is the one doing a fish impression now, Boots thinks, and he wonders, irrelevantly, if Bruno showed that expression to the label they'd want to put it on the album cover.

He's waiting now, just waiting for Bruno to make the leap he least wants Bruno to make, and right on schedule, Bruno sits up and says, "Sleeping," and then pauses. "Sleeping, that was about me. In the notebook?" he finally continues.

Boots cringes, but nods.

"How many others?" Bruno almost whispers, and Boots lifts one shoulder. "All of them?"

“No, not all," says Boots, stung, "Not all of them."

"But most, right?" Bruno asks, and Boots is ready to hit him, to punch him in the face if Bruno is just even the least bit self-satisfied. He isn't though, when Boots looks over at him. His face is shocked, pale. There isn't even a hint of smugness there. "Oh, oh God. The first song. Our song. That's me?"

Boots ducks his head again, and Bruno reaches out to touch him for the first time in this conversation. "That's me," he says again, but his tone is different, awe-stricken. "Boots..."

"No," Boots says, and he stands up so quickly his chair falls over. "No, we are not doing this. We are not talking about this, and we are not doing this."

He dodges Bruno's suddenly outstretched hand, and he crunches quickly away over the fallen Fruit Loops, goes up to his room and locks the door. He plugs his noise-cancelling headphones in, and he pretends he doesn't hear the soft knock at his door a few hours later, Adam's voice saying "Boots?"

Bruno doesn't knock.

Unedited Documentary Footage. Timestamp: 9:06am Feb-28

The band and Adam are once again on the leather sofa. This time, Bruno is wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "I'm a rocker. I rock out." Adam and Bugs are sitting close together in the middle. Bruno is sprawled in one corner of the sofa, Boots is sitting on the arm of the sofa at the other end.

The interviewer is obviously paging through notes. "So then. You'd released the first album, you toured with it, you fought a legal battle with your label and won. You had just come back to the studio and recorded the second album..."

"Bandits in Albany, yeah," Bruno says.

"And then, okay, then what?" the interviewer prompts

"We went on tour again, I suppose, the Bandit tour," says Bugs, "Or, we recorded the video for the Bandits single first, then we toured, our first tour really as headliners."

"And that was, sorry, that was when the story about you and Adam broke, right?" the interviewer says, and the camera closes in tightly on Adam and Bugs' hands, for a moment, which are millimeters apart on the leather seat, before panning out to the whole band, whose expressions are still bland but now somehow unfriendly

"That was when," Boots starts, then pauses, glancing along to Adam, who nods jerkily. "Yeah, we went, all four of us, to a party. And Adam and Bugs were together, had been together a long time, and they were maybe less discreet than they usually were, because you know, we were at a party, a party being held by one of our friends, full of people we thought of as our friends."

Bruno shifts in his seat, but although everyone looks at him, he doesn't say anything. After a moment, Boots continues, "The next morning I get this call, from Cathy, our lawyer, she's also an old friend. She says, you need to take a look at this website, this video website, you need to look and then you need to call Adam and Bugs. And at first I think she's kidding, because she's a joker, is Cathy, but I look and then I start making calls."

Adam clears his throat. "I hadn't told my parents. So, you know, whatever else I forgive that person for, for making my, our, personal life into a public thing, I'm not sure I'll ever forgive them for taking away my decision about how and when to tell my family."

"And, your family?" the interviewer asks.

Adam lifts one shoulder in half a shrug. "Weren't happy with the way they found out, you know, but they were supportive. All our families have always been supportive."

Bruno breaks into the short, uneasy silence that follows: "My mother has always said that whatever she thinks of me being in a band, at least I'm not in jail. Yet."

"What was it like, touring after the story broke? I remember a critic called you guys 'the gayest band in the world', even before the video hit the internet, because of some of the things you do on-stage." The interviewer presses on, though the body language of the men on the sofa is far from encouraging, three of the four sitting with their arms crossed, and Adam leaning forward, looking at the floor.

"We sold out our San Francisco venue in four hours," Bruno says, and everyone chuckles, but it sounds rehearsed, and Bugs and Adam are looking away from the camera.

"Yeah, there were kids in rainbow shirts, and Pride t-shirts, in almost every town. And we got letters, saying how well we handled it, how kids looked up to us for it, how it made them feel better about themselves to know about us, and I'm glad, I'm always glad about that. But there were other letters, and there was Detroit too, and that was ugly, really ugly. Three kids were seriously injured and Dave, one of our security guys." Adam says, his eyes on his hands.

"That was when someone threw a, what was it, a glass bottle with acid inside," the interviewer says, as if he is reading from notes.

"Yeah, and it hit the edge of the stage and shattered, nowhere near the band, but right where the kids at the front were, and security. That was a bad day, and we. We never forget that that happened, that some innocent people got caught up in something like that." Adam says, and he turns to look at Bugs.

"We'll always be sorry about that," Bugs says, solemnly, "But I'll never regret anything else about Adam."

The camera zooms in on their faces for a moment. Suddenly, just on the edge of the frame, Bruno stands up, and there's a lot of rustling noises. After a moment of confusion, the camera pans back out again. Boots is pale, his knuckles are white where his hands are clenched in his lap, and Bruno is standing, his face half turned away, struggling with his microphone pack.

"I don't want to do this right now," he says, jerking at the cable, "Get this thing off me."

A woman rushes into view to take the microphone, and then Bruno leaves, leaving Adam and Bugs staring after him in astonishment, while Boots just stares at the floor.

February 28th

"What the hell?" Bugs yells, after they get rid of the interviewer, claiming Bruno hadn't been feeling well, food poisoning, explosive diarrhoea, come back tomorrow, or next week, maybe, before shoving him and the curious camera crew out of the door. "Bruno, what the hell? That was not cool, man."

Bruno is pacing up and down in the living room of the too-fancy house, tugging at his hair until it stands on end.

"You!" he says, pointing a finger at Boots, "That was what you were trying to do all this time? Protect me from that, from what happened to Adam and Bugs? That is why you won’t talk about it, why we aren’t doing this?”

Adam's eyes widen, and he slaps a hand over Bugs' mouth, muffling his continued protests about the hasty eviction of the documentary crew.

"No!" Boots says, "I mean, yes. But, no, it wasn't like that!"

"So you just decided not to tell me?" Bruno says, flailing his arms around wildly, "You don't tell me for years and years and years, Boots, that you're in love with me, and you let me date. You let me date Crystal, and she hated you, and she hated our songs, and now I know why. You let me stand there and sing your damn songs, and you don’t tell me what they mean? You don’t give me the chance to have the good parts, just protect me from the bad? You don’t let me know that this is here?"

"Yes," Boots says, almost in a whisper, and this is it, he thinks, this is the argument he’s going to have to talk about one day on Behind The Music, because he’s just spent four days not talking to Bruno, and it’s the hardest thing he’s done since Bruno himself put masking tape down the middle of their dorm room.

"Yes, what?" Bruno roars, and Bugs and Adam blink and move closer together.

Suddenly, Boots is angry, really angry, because, damn it, Bruno knew, he had to know if he’d read that notebook. And yeah, okay, maybe Boots leaving it out the other night, while not quite deliberate, wasn’t quite accidental either -- maybe it was just time.

"Yes, I didn't tell you," Boots says, stepping into Bruno's space and raising his own voice, "Yes, I was protecting you. Yes, I carried on protecting you, because every time we got bigger, more and more of the kids at our concerts were there to drool over you, and you didn’t need to know what it would be like for that to go bad for you. Yes, I was protecting us, as a band. Yes, I was protecting me, because you were the most important thing in my life a long time before I understood exactly how I felt. Yes, the songs were about you, some of them, because, yes, I've been in love with you for years and years and years.”

He pokes Bruno with one finger for each repetition of 'years', and Bruno retreats a little. Boots takes another step forward. "But I did not make you date Crystal, or any of the other girls who've flitted in and out of your life. I did not make you put up with girlfriends who hated everything about us. I've been here, I've been here the whole damn time, just one bed over, right next to you in the van, in the next bunk or the next room, since I was thirteen years old, Bruno. And you could have seen. You could have seen me any time you chose."

He steps back, panting, and he knows the whole thing – the band, his life is balanced on Bruno’s next words.

"And if I’d asked," Bruno says, slowly, "You wouldn’t have tried to protect me then?"

Boots freezes for a moment, and then he looks Bruno in the eye, and shakes his head. He’s always thought, known, that this moment would happen one day, and over the years he thought he might be angry, triumphant, eloquent in the face of it. He didn’t imagine it happening on a cold February morning in a rented house, with a fascinated audience of two, or that his answer would come down to one single word:

"No," he says, and Bruno gulps audibly.

"And if I asked now, even though I've spent half my life with you and been too stupid to know? Even though we'll probably have to hide, at least for a while?" Bruno says, unsteadily, his fingers reaching out to trace Boots' collarbone.

"I… No," Boots says, and he sways where he stands.

Bruno is leaning forward, leaning so that Boots almost feels the heat pouring off him, when a cough breaks the silence, and his eyes fly open to meet Adam's amused gaze across the room.

"We'll, uh, we'll just be going now," Adam says, his hand still firmly clasped over Bugs' mouth. "We're going to be in the nice, soundproofed practice room, with all your love poetry -- I mean, lyrics -- where we won't hear a thing you do, really."

He winks at Bruno, and drags Bugs away, finally taking his hand away from Bugs' mouth as they reach the door. "Damn!" Bugs exclaims as they leave the room. "We really are the gayest band in the world!"

Inside the room, Bruno watches them leave, and then turns to Boots, tugging him in closer with a hand fisted in Boots' t-shirt. "You know," he says thoughtfully, and Boots, who has grown bashful in the minute of interruption, looks up to meet his eyes and blushes, just a little, "I think I'm having maybe, the second best idea I've ever had."

He bends his head, a little, and their lips touch. It's... it's surprisingly awkward, at first, for two people who know each other so well, who have exchanged every kind of easy intimacy in front of a crowd of thousands. Boots reaches up, slides his hands over Bruno's shoulders and into the curling strands of hair at Bruno's nape, and the second kiss is better, sweeter and darker at the same time.

After some, uncounted time, Bruno pulls away, breathing hard. "Okay," he says, "Maybe my best idea ever. Just don't tell Bugs."

Unedited Documentary Footage. Timestamp: 7:06pm Mar-8

The band are back on the sofa, Bruno and Boots and Bugs all pressed together in the middle of the seat, Boots in the middle of the group in a t-shirt that reads: 'Canadians: We know how to rock', Bruno wearing a striped brown and yellow shirt.

"The next thing?" asks Bruno, "Yeah, we're not going to say anything different from any other band. We're touring with the new album, which you know because you're coming with us. We think, we think the fans are going to love the new music, and the new show."

Boots grins at the camera. "We'll drive each other crazy on the bus for a week, then we'll, well, Bruno will drive every around us crazy, especially our opening acts."

"You drive each other crazy?" the interviewer asks, and the band all laugh.

"You'll see. We're four grown men living in a really small space. We drive each other insane the first few days. Then we get used to each other again, and the craziness spirals outwards," says Boots, and Bruno is laughing, leaning into Boots' shoulder, and Bugs is grinning widely.

"Last year some of the guys travelling with us, especially our tour manager, nearly had nervous breakdowns. Bruno was always up to something," Boots says, and Bruno elbows him hard. "They're mostly back with us this year though, so it can't be all bad."

"I can't wait," Bruno says, "I love touring. I love being with my guys, with Boots and Bugs and Adam, seeing the fans. It's going to be amazing. I just know it. Starting a band was just my best idea ever."

"Best idea ever," Boots and Bugs chorus, their smiles wide and genuine.

Epilogue - July 1st

Bruno's voice has the little raspy edge it gets at the end of a really intense show, and Boots feels himself shiver when Bruno yells out to the crowd. "You've been amazing. You've been amazing, we just never want to stop. But we're going to have to. We have one last song for you tonight, to carry us all home."

Boots strums a little on the guitar, but the sound is lost in the wordless, disappointed roar of the crowd. "We're going to sing," Bruno stops, and turns to look over at Boots, swivels to catch Bugs' eyes, "We're going to play our first big song," and he pauses while the crowd screams its approval, the kids on the barrier with their serious, almost anguished expressions reaching out, stretching out their arms to him as if they can make the distance between the front row and the stage disappear. "These are the words that Boots wrote for me, for us, sitting in the apartment we shared when we lived here in Ottawa. This is the song that Bugs first played with us as an official member of the band. This is the song that made us. This is our song, and we are A Band Called Fish."

He turns away from the microphone, and Boots starts to play the guitar intro, turning to watch Bugs count himself in and then pound in on the drums, a fierce, happy grin on his face. Boots turns back, and finds Bruno watching him, leaning on the microphone stand and grinning, looking for just a second like the thirteen year old boy Boots had first met when he walked into Room 306 for the first time, and nothing like a rockstar at all. Boots' fingers almost stutter over the familiar notes, almost, when Bruno winks at him and then looks away, looking out into the shifting, swaying mass of the crowd, and starts to sing.


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