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couple with hands holding mugs
holding mugs, source unknown

Emma is cursing when they get home.  She bangs things around in the kitchen, throws herself into a chair at the table, and points at steaming mugs of tea sitting on the table.

“Thank you,” Dance says, and settles into his usual chair, and sips carefully at the hot fluid.  After the lift of the chatter and jokes in the car, he is suddenly exhausted.

Drin drops into his chair, scrubbing at his hair with both hands, and then leaning on the table.  He looks at the tea like he had something stronger in mind.

“Just heard about it from Amalia on the phone just now.  Did he hurt you?” Emma demands.

“No, it was nothing much, not even so hard as a dojo workout, honestly–”

Drin reaches over, tugs at Dance’s shirt.  “Just show her.”

Dance pulls his sweatshirt off, holds up his hands.

Emma leans in, peers at his chest, touches his ribs, and nods.  “You might get some bruises there.”

He shrugs, and sips some more tea.  They have that exchange of looks where she’s looking at his chest for other reasons, and he knows it, and she knows he knows it, and Drin is grinning at them, and she’s annoyed at Dance for distracting her.  It cheers him up.

Emma smacks his knee, and sits back, satisfied.  “I heard from Robert at the ER, too.  Couldn’t wait to spread it around.  Young broke two fingers and needed his knuckles sewed up, and may have sprained a knee.”

Dance shrugs again.  “We were trying not to injure him.”

“I wasn’t that careful,” Drin says.

Emma looks at Drin.  “I bet.  Probably a good thing I wasn’t there, huh?”

“Yes,” Dance says, and smiles at her crookedly.  “You with the bad ladyheels.  You might have got your purse scissors out.”

“Not the scissors!” Drin hugs himself, knees together, with a silly grimace, and they laugh.

“Damn, I oughta just spank your ass,” Emma says, and smacks Dance again on the knee.

Dance smiles.  Then a yawn catches him by surprise.

“Losing your temper like that and letting Young pull a full-on stompin’ hissyfit–turns out there’s just one thing you didn’t think of.  Amalia and I were talking about it.  The schedule.”

Dance feels his shoulders sag.

Drin says, “What about it?”

“Young’s contracted for the next three concerts, before the guest conductors come up on deck.  Don’t know if we can come up with anybody at such short notice.”

“Dance, if they have you back to work, can you act as Concertmaster and conduct next week?” Drin says.

Dance nods.  For the last four months he’s been working up memorization of the entire orchestral score, prepping how to smooth out transitions, as a routine backup.  It’s been a lot of extra work.  Getting Brian up to speed as his backup has been more work.

Emma shakes her head.  “The Board will never go for that if the insurance lags dealing with it.  They won’t like it if there’s a fuss in the papers, especially if Young gets his version out there first.  But half of them know any PR is better than none, and they’ll whip it up for all it’s worth.  They’re gonna talk all about how Dance is an unranked martial arts nutball or whatever, that Young was at danger of his life and fought him off and all kinds of nonsense.  They’re gonna make us put up with Young showing up for another performance, possibly all three.”

Dance can feel the cringe all over his body.  He can’t imagine how Rosie will feel when people remind her of this.

“He fucking assaulted you, Dance,” Emma growls.  “They just got lucky it was you, because you know how to handle it.”

“No, my choice.  Mine.  I did not want him to bully Rosie.  She is fearful with large men.  Drin always gives her lots of space so she is calmer.”

“Oh God, Dance,” Emma says, and puts her hands over her face.  “Oh, that poor girl, when the gossipmongers get hold of her–”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Poor kid,” Drin says.

Emma says, “Plus the Board will have a union problem if they make people work under Young’s supervision.”

“Well, the other way doesn’t work either, politically.  They’ll accuse Dance of provoking Young’s infamous temper to get rid of Young at the last minute, just so he gets to lead the performance as Concertmaster,” Emma says.

“You have a very nasty politicking mind, young lady,” Drin says.

“But I don’t want to–” Dance begins.

“Of course not,” Emma says.  “You want Young to do his damn job, gods rot him, so you can do yours, which is playing, and maybe I’m the only one who remembers that any more?”

Drin chuckles.

Emma levels a warning finger at Drin.  “You guys and your damn testosterone–”  And then she gives a big sniff.  “You should have heard Amalia talking about how you damn well marched in and rescued that poor little punk Rosie.  God, I could just–” She stands up, puts both arms around Dance, and squeezes him very hard.

He hugs her back, and kisses her cheek, and leans his face into her shoulder.  She always smells good to him, even when she’s practically metallic with rage and leftover worry.  It’s even better when he feels Drin’s long arms loop around them both, and Drin kisses them.  Dance heaves a big sigh.  The pressure of their bodies quiets the nerves sparking and tingling in the base of his spine.

“Better, Em?” Drin murmurs.

Emma sighs.  “Yeah.  I needed that.”

“Me too,” Drin says.

Everybody sits back down, shuffling around clumsily.  They look silly, and Drin pats Dance on the shoulder, chuckling.  Dance watches gravely as Emma refills their tea mugs again.  “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Emma says.

“Any ideas?” Drin asks him, leaning in.

Dance nods.  “Rosie and Amalia and I could excuse ourselves on this first concert.  Brian is Concertmaster.  That makes it possible if the Board insists on Young this one time.  After that, to conduct, Young will have to practice somewhat with players, and as you say, his supervising is unacceptable now.  Insurance and the union will not like it.  If insurance will be okay with Amalia conducting, I can get her ready on the rest of the parts.  I’ve been saying she would make a great conductor, she’s been to more modern workshops for conducting than Brian or me.”

“Isn’t that going to dump a really big performance on Brian in your section, and on Robert in the cellos?” Drin asks.

Dance nods.

“You look tired out, love,” Emma says.

Dance nods again, making it a silly puppetlike gesture.

She says, “Well, I bought extra deli sandwiches for lunch tomorrow, but we can have those for dinner and let you go to bed early, love.”

Dance nods wider yet, and grins.

Drin chuckles.  “Now I want to hug you again.”

“Just because?” Emma says, chuckling, and she gets up.  She ruffles his hair in passing, and lays her hand on Drin’s shoulder briefly.  Drin pulls out his phone and starts dialing numbers, murmuring messages, arranging for a seven AM meeting.  Dance sighs, and closes his eyes, and leans back in his chair, trying to find a position that eases the tingling in his tailbones.  He’s asleep before Emma even opens the fridge.

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