A Barry & Charlie Digital Embrace (Foregoing Gender Hexpectations) - MusikKeyKid, The_Lavender_Creator (2024)

The rules of online safety are rather easy to follow. Never say which story you have, never give out your true name, never say which castle you live in or near, etc. Easy!

Or, Blondie thinks it’s easy. She’s been doing rounds online for nearly three years now and she’s never once had the urge to talk about her destiny, her name, or her address. Hell, her online friends aren’t even aware of her being a girl! Her middle school computer teacher suggested that anyone nervous should just pretend to be something completely different so not to be taken advantage of, and Blondie took that and ran.

“She” is known as Barry, and “her” friends aren’t even aware of Blondie’s enrollment at Ever After High. They know that Barry’s favorite class is media, and that Barry runs his school’s newspaper. They never connect the dots between their friend’s vague newspaper stories– with all details changed to protect the innocent– and the frequently viral Mirrorcast Shows produced by Blondie Lockes.

Blondie manages a large array of digital friendships, but one stands out among the rest.

She was simply scrolling through Readit when she stumbled upon a forum discussing a story. It’s one of the ones covered by the Storybook of Legends kept at the Grimm school, but due to unfortunate timing, the last generation of this story have already passed into the story, and the next generation is too young to go to her school. As such, she has no personal attachment to the characters, and decides it would be fine to go into this forum.

As soon as the page loads, Blondie is hit with the possibly most controversial take she has ever laid her eyes upon. A post written by the user "CharliesAngel" reads:

So many people on this forum have the devil all wrong. That's just a guy. He's not malicious, he's just a loser. A mama's boy.

Blondie stares at this post for a while, baffled by the fact that someone even had the guts to defend the literal devil. She co*cks her head, her thumb hovering over the "comment"-button for a moment before she presses down on the screen and begins to type. Under her username, LockAndKey, she writes:

"A loser," you are talking about the devil? The actual, literal devil? The guy most commonly associated with death and general misfortune? He killed a bear and made some poor guy wear its skin, that's evil! How can you say that he isn't malicious?!

Blondie shakes her head and continues scrolling, looking at different posts. Most people are discussing the latest generation that just finished living through the story, select others are discussing the story as a whole. When Blondie scrolls past another post about how hot the current princess of the tale was, a notification pops up at the top of her screen.

A response from Readit user CharliesAngel.

Tell me you haven't read Bearskin without telling me you haven't read Bearskin. He didn't kill the bear, the bear was about to kill Bearskin and he just warned him and Bearskin killed the bear. The Devil did nothing to harm that bear.

Blondie presses her lips together. That was quick, she thinks to herself.

He still made him wear its skin!!! That's gross! Who does that???

This time, the response is almost instant.

It was part of a deal! He literally gave him a magic coat with endless money to balance out the deal they made and by the end he made Bearskin a rich gentleman! He kept his end of the bargain.

Now, you can't call Blondie particularly invested in this story or even the characters, but what Blondie is invested in now was this discussion. She opens a new tab and within a few minutes, she returns to the forum, armed with knowledge. She notices another response under their thread.

This is the forum for Devil with the Three Golden Hairs, not Bearskin.

Blondie ignores this comment, instead replying directly to CharliesAngel's last response.

He indirectly killed two people.

She doesn't have to wait long for a response, as she expected.

I'm about to indirectly kill you in a minute.

Blondie writes out her response, a response that was surely very mature and totally not fueled by spite, but when she hits the send-button she is faced with the very odd error message that her reply failed. Soon after, the page for the entire forum disappears, replaced by an infobox that states she was banned from the forum entirely.

Instantly, Blondie sits up, phone in hand.

She had never been more offended by anything in her entire life. Blondie is about to turn to MyChapter to complain, but then a single DM pops up on her Readit account.

A DM from the user she was just arguing with.

"Did you just get banned too???" CharliesAngel asks in text, and Blondie wonders if this person is just as offended as they were.

Her fingers flitt over the keyboard. "Yes! It's so dumb!"

"I know! We were having a totally civil discussion!"

Blondie has to agree. They mutually decide they were probably banned for not staying on the topic the forum was made for, having derailed to talk about an entirely different fairytale. After all, there are much more aggressive discussions one could read online than theirs, but the moderators aren't removing those, or even giving the participants a warning. To Blondie's surprise, she finds herself texting with user CharliesAngel - "Charlie", as she learns - all day. Despite their initial meeting, they actually get along quite well.

Charlie was almost immediately her best friend. Er, Barry’s best friend. They’re mostly knowledgeable about more monstrous stories– and they even say they go to a school oriented around that type of thing– but they were still horrified when Barry subtly mentioned the Storybook of Legends (as something that existed at a school he Totally Doesn’t Go To.)

They’re also the first person Barry met who goes by they/them pronouns, and they didn’t blink at Barry using he/him. They didn’t even ask if he was really a guy, which was refreshing. It made it easier to keep up the act. Even though it doesn’t feel like much of an act while Barry is online.

In fact, if anything feels like an act, it's the days spent as Blondie. Days that quickly hit speed bumps. Through a conflict of schedule, which Blondie chalks up to time zones and Charlie doesn’t elaborate on, the only time Charlie is free to hext is while Blondie is attending classes. Which results in her phone being tucked between her knees, the button locations memorized as Blondie types with her hands and answers questions correctly with her mouth. It goes swimmingly until Mr. Badwolf barks at her to put her phone on her desk.

She puts it there, and her phone immediately starts to vibrate with DMs. It vibrates, and vibrates, and vibrates until it falls off the desk. Blondie grabs it and tucks it into her lap, about to unlock her screen when Mr. Badwolf taps on her desk. She looks up, imagining her eyes meeting those of the Devil’s. “Detention, Miss Lockes.”

Blondie goes pale. She'd never gotten detention before. Her palms start to sweat. The word "detention" hangs over her head like a heavy rain cloud, a sign of shame unbecoming of a "Royal" like herself. Royals don't get detention (unless you are in Rumpelstiltskin's class, everybody gets detention there). Detention is for the rebellious students, the troublemakers who refuse to listen or do homework. Blondie isn't a Rebel.

Blondie isn't a troublemaker, Blondie is an attentive, diligent student, who always did as she was told.

Except today.

Blondie is sitting in detention, a large, empty room with barely any students. It's quiet, the only sounds filling the room being tapping on the wood of the tables and the scratching of pen on paper.

She is only half-focusing on the work she has to do, her attention split between it and her phone containing Charlie's last messages before Blondie was caught and sent to detention after school. Luckily, the head of detention isn’t as attentive about phones as Mr. Badwolf is.

She reads their messages over and over, her face heating up the more she does. She hasn't responded yet. She doesn't know how. Charlie has no doubt gone to sleep by now, so they wouldn't know how long it takes Barry to respond to their very overt flirting.

How do you respond to flirting? Should she flirt back? Should she skillfully ignore it like so many things in her life and just move on like it never happened? Would it even be right to flirt with someone who doesn’t know who she truly is?

But somehow only the back of her head cares about the last bit. Charlie does know her. Just by a different name and gender standard. That last one might be a barrier to romance for most, but Charlie is pansexual. That can’t possibly matter to them.

Blondie switches tabs, switches logins, and opens up her Mirrorcast. She frames it as an article she’s going to be doing: accepting all advice on flirting and romantic relationships!

An almost immediate reply is a link to a podcast entitled Flirt it Up with Cupid! Blondie pops in her earbuds– as yellow as her hair, so they’re rarely seen by teachers– puts her head down, and listens.

Once detention ends, Barry flirts back. Like a sparked match dropped into gasoline, or a wall crumbling.

Blondie spends more time on her phone-- even more so than before. Her friends notice that she can't even eat lunch without her phone vibrating every few seconds next to her. Blondie had never been one to flirt or date before, her peers in Ever After are all just… not just right. Too tall, too short, too pretty, too not; no matter how shallow, Blondie will find any justification to not be interested in anyone she knows.

Charlie is different, in a way Blondie isn't sure how to describe (a first for this brilliant reporter). She's never seen their face, and yet she feels something deep inside her chest whenever they exchange hext messages, whenever their name pops up above a new notification.

Moreso, she feels an itch in her brain, something that made her so, so happy, whenever they called her by her name.

Her “name”.

It's not really her name, of course. Her name is Blondie, not Barry. Why it brings a smile to her face whenever they call her Barry instead, Blondie doesn't understand. Why it makes her cringe and sends a shiver down her spine whenever someone violently rips her out of her fantasies by calling the name she was given is a mystery to her too.

She chalks it up to the simple fact that the name is coming from her Charlie at first. That any mention of the other name is proof that her Charlie isn’t around to verbalize it, or to correct anyone else with a good-natured smile. Not that she’s seen their face. Not that they’re actually together yet, but her mind has branded them as her’s. As true as her family of stuffed bears, there for her specific comfort and love and no one else’s. It’s selfish. She relishes in it.

And then the news.

Charlie was moving. To any average high school couple, or not-couple, or devoted pair, this would be a death sentence. A ruining. A fin to end their lovely little story before it ever had the opportunity to begin. But to a relationship untouched– or, rather, neglected– by space, it’s merely a point of excitement and theorization. And, of course, the joking hope that Charlie will move their way into Barry’s life. A joke so as to not get either of their hopes up, and so Blondie doesn’t have to face the inevitably that would come with Charlie expecting Barry and being ultimately disappointed with Blondie.

And then, the first proper photo was shared between the two of them.

Charlie was the most beautiful person Barry had ever seen. A beauty that was only distracted from due to the fact they’re standing in front of Blondie’s school’s sign.

Barry types, You’re so handsome! Is that your new school?

Blondie shoves the side of her thumb into her mouth and bites, trying not to scream in the middle of Professor Nimble’s class.

Charlie replies, Thank you! It is, I’m settling in today. Dorms yk? Apparently, there’s only one person who doesn’t have a roommate so they have to get her permission.

Before Barry could finish reading the message, his fate was sealed. “Blondie Lockes, please report to the Headmaster’s office!” rings through the classroom. Blondie almost faints, rocketing out of her seat and taking all of her stuff with her despite Professor Nimble’s protests. She’s marching towards doom. She might as well bring her stuff to her grave.

The tension in the Headmaster's office is thick, almost too unbearable to breathe. At least, it is to Blondie. She feels as though the air in her lungs isn't enough, her chest tightening with each sharp breath she takes.

She is sitting in a chair, her bag at her side, leaning against her legs. She is staring straight ahead, at the headmaster, not daring to turn her head to look the other chair, the one right next to her, the one where her new, future roommate– his ‘friend’– sat with their legs crossed and a peaceful, perfect smile on their face that Barry knows will melt his heart if he catches a glimpse of it.

The Headmaster clears his throat, his voice booming through the office. "Miss Lockes," he starts, firm and commanding, "This is Miss Cupid, she will be your new roommate from now on."

"Actually, it's--" Charlie opens their mouth, the words they want to say don't meet the headmaster's ears before he already starts to speak again.

"I trust this won't be an issue for you, will it?"

Blondie wants to sink more into her chair than she already has. She can feel both the headmaster's and Charlie's eyes on her, the latter looking almost apologetic, if Blondie has to guess.

Blondie opens her mouth. She doesn't want to speak for fear of Charlie recognizing her (an unnecessary fear, Blondie knows, since they’ve never heard her voice before), but her head feels too light to shake. "No", she utters, her voice much smaller than it usually is, "not at all."

Headmaster Grimm smiles like a bear trap. “Wonderful. Show Miss Cupid to her new dorm, and would you mind giving her a tour of the school while you’re at it? You’ve been excused from the rest of your classes for the day.”

Blondie nods. Bribery. Do the administration’s work, and you get to deal with make-up work. She hates this f*cking school. Why did Charlie have to be the one to transfer?

The second Charlie clicks the door to the Headmaster’s office shut behind them, they turn to Blondie. “So, um, this is awkward, but he introduced me wrong. My name is Charlie. My pronouns are they/them. I hope it won’t be too weird to room with me.” They look so apologetic, and almost meek. Blondie would pay her weight in gold to never see Charlie look that out of their depth again. They deserve their typical digital confidence.

“Not at all.” Blondie’s mouth stays open for a moment as she tries to figure out her own introduction. Instead, she clamps her mouth shut and leads Charlie away. Charlie scrambles after her, probably thinking she is rude. Oh well. Charlie can think whatever they want about Blondie Lockes. As long as they’re set on Barry, it’s fine.

Charlie catches the name ‘Blondie’ from the steel nameplate in front of the door. They giggle and say Grimm mentioned he was going to order a golden one for their room. They didn’t appreciate Blondie muttering that only Royalty gets gold. Charlie tries to say that they aren’t royalty, and Blondie tries to bite back an “I know.” Of course she knows. She feels like she knows everything about Charlie. She can barely breathe.

Her hand lingers on the doorknob for a moment before she opens it, stepping aside so Charlie can enter with all their things in tow without the door slamming into them.

She doesn't say anything once she steps foot into her - their - room, not even when she sees that most of her things had already moved to one half of the dorm, the half her bed was in. The room was now split in half right through the middle, blue and pink. Hers and theirs. Another bed rested on the pink side, a new one. Someone must have redecorated while Blondie was in class.

She gives Charlie time to move in, letting them unpack in peace. Only occasionally does Blondie pass a fleeting glance over to her new roommate.

As Charlie is busy unpacking, Blondie focuses her energy on her laptop, cracking her knuckles and beginning to write the script for the next episode of her MirrorCast to get her mind away from the blindingly handsome deity in her room.

"What are you writing?" Charlie asks, currently putting pictures of themself and their family and old friends up on the wall and on her dresser.

Blondie freezes, almost, not for long. "A script", she says.

Charlie co*cks their head. "Like a movie script? That's pretty cool, are you a writer?", Blondie hears them blow dust off of a picture frame.

"No", Blondie replies. "I'm a journalist."

Charlie makes a noise of acknowledgment. "Do you post your stuff anywhere?"

"I have a show," her words have an air of pride around them. Blondie loves her show. How could she not? it's her creation, conceived by her own mind and built from the ground up with her bare hands.

"Hey!" Charlie exclaims, their voice nearly making Blondie jump out of her skin. "I have a show of my own too, we should cross-over some time!"

Blondie responds with a murmur, and Charlie goes back to unpacking in silence. They don't ask anything more after that, and Blondie wonders if it's because they can feel the awkwardness radiating from Blondie the more they speak. Or maybe it’s because they’re thinking of the times Barry rambled on and on about his journalism show.

Blondie dreads the moment they would announce they are done unpacking, that they could finally start their tour of the school grounds and the town that sat right at the foot of the mountain Ever After High is built on.

They don’t.

“Hey, um, would it be okay if we did the tour later today? I need to catch up with some of my friends.” They hold up their phone.

“Totally.” Blondie’s heart picks up double time. Enough beats for her and Barry to share. “I’ll–”

“Can I have your mirrorphone number?”

“Yes, of course.” Neglecting to connect her mirrorphone number to Barry’s Eris account has finally come in handy. Blondie hands her number over and hurries out of the door. Barry immediately receives a message from Charlie. A message that turns into a flurry as he sprints to the library, looking for a place to hide and reply.

Blondie watches Charlie from over a pile of strawberry whipped cream, sitting in her favorite window booth at Hocus Latte. They’re stunning. They’re telling her everything they could possibly want their roommate to know. And they’re practically twisting and turning Barry’s heart between their hands.

And just when she thought it couldn’t be worse, Charlie takes a big breath, lets it out in giggles, and says, “By the way, I’ll probably stay up really late some nights. There’s this guy I’ve been hexting for ages and I’m trying to work up the courage to ask him out…”

Blondie swallows hard. She can practically feel the sword hanging over her, the tip barely brushing the top of her head. “Are you sure about that? I mean, long-distance–”

It was a calculated move. Charlie proceeds to go into a rant Barry has heard at least two dozen times before about the merits of long-distance relationships and the validation of online ones. It’s perfect. It eats up about twenty minutes' worth of thinking time.

Finally, Charlie lets out a long sigh and leans back against their side of the booth. Their arm folds up on top of the booth, and Blondie wonders how warm their embrace would be. “Anyways, do you have any special guys in your life?”

Blondie swallows so hard it’s practically audible. “Um. I.”

Charlie raises their eyebrow in a near devilish smirk. “Oh, you’re totally down bad.”

“That’s one way to put it… But it’s not a guy, exactly.”

“Oh, what’s their pronouns?”

“They/them.”

Charlie lights up. “Oh, sweet! I’m not the only nonbinary person around here after all!”

“Oh, of course not. There’s Cerise– and, and Kitty– and you’re making a mental note of them, aren’t you?”

Charlie giggles, also villainously. It sends a shiver down Blondie’s spine. How many nights had she laid awake in bed, wondering what their laugh would sound like? And here’s the answer she’s been yearning for, thrown out on the table like a stack of napkins. “Sorry, but I love love! I can’t wait to nudge you two together–”

“Wait! No, no, no, no, no. That’s just not right. I’m not in love with Cerise or Kitty.”

“Then who is your dream enby?” Charlie leans across the table conspiratorially. Blondie’s heart feels far too tight in her chest.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think you could help me.”

They smirk. “You’d be surprised.”

Blondie shakes her head. "No, you wouldn't--" she cuts herself off, afraid she'll reveal too much if she keeps talking. "You just can't."

"Why not?" Charlie asks, co*cking their head to the side.

Blondie sinks into her seat. "It's complicated."

Charlie places her head in her hands, and Barry's heart skips a beat. "I'm all ears."

Blondie bites her lips, avoiding eye contact. Her mind is going a hundred miles an hour, trying to think of a believable excuse to give Charlie. "They are..." she ponders for a moment. "from out of town."

"Oh!" Charlie smiles. "Don't worry, I'm an expert with long-distance relationships too!"

"No, uh--" she thinks harder. "They don't know what I look like!"

"Then show them."

"I can't," Blondie says quickly.

Charlie thinks for a moment. "Well, knowing what someone's face looks like doesn't really matter if you love them, does it?"

Blondie grips her drink tighter. "I don't think I am who they think I am."

"Why do you think that?" She gasps and leans back. "Did you lie to them?!"

"No!" Blondie throws her hands up defensively. "Yes? No! I don't know, maybe?" She scratches the back of her neck.

"Maybe?"

"I don't know!"

Charlie purses their lips. "That is complicated... But nothing I can't handle, I'm sure!"

Blondie covers her face with her hands. “Thank you for offering, but really…”

“I’m not going to give up just because you don’t have any hope for the situation!” Charlie gets this brilliantly determined look. If Blondie was looking up at them, her heart would race even faster. “You’ll get them, mark my words.”

Blondie smiles against her palms despite herself. “I sure hope so…”

Through the rest of the tour, Charlie positively bombards Blondie with questions about her sweetheart. She answers as vaguely as physically possible, even cringing at how bland she’s describing them. It feels even worse when she looks over to see Charlie’s eyebrows knitted together, trying to figure this person out.

Blondie is relieved of the conversation when Charlie goes back to their dorm to unpack their delivered luggage. Blondie runs off to the media room, drowning in Mirrorcast plans and trying to figure out a new way to do her hair for next semester’s videos. She escapes it all so thoroughly that she ignores hexts from Charlie. Both to Blondie and to Barry, with tones so wildly different Blondie is half-convinced her Charlie and his Charlie are different after all. But then they send the same photo of their half of the room to both Blondie and Barry, snuffing out all hope.

Blondie mulls over her phone now, less focused on the work she actually wanted to get done. She has to respond both as Blondie and as Barry, and she has to respond differently for both, lest Charlie gets suspicious. It's evident they expect different responses.

For Barry the picture is proudly showing off the room they'd be staying in for the coming semester, a private glimpse into their personality via something other than hext. For Blondie that same picture is a simple indication that they are done decorating, maybe they are even asking for approval.

Blondie will have to respond appropriately to both. Or maybe she doesn't have to. Maybe she can just respond as Barry and ignore that Blondie exists. For a while, at least.

Barry responds with enthusiasm, something he doesn't have to fake, absolutely delighted over just how Charlie their side of the room looked, how it fits them just right, and gushing over small details.

And now Barry is glued to his phone again, his work completely forgotten. She only remembers when she looks up at her computer screen to find her plans staring back at her, like it’s trying to guilt her into working.

She purses her lips. Maybe she will cut her hair for next semester's videos. Her face turns into one of confusion. She shakes her head. Where did that come from? She can’t cut her hair. Her mom would be so disappointed when she returned home for summer. Unless she cut it just enough that it could grow back to its standard length by the season’s end…

No. She can’t do that. It just seems like too much work for no reward. Besides, she’s probably only thinking about that because of Charlie’s hair. They have such a lovely, short pink style. Blondie’s cheekbone rests on the heel of her hand, her body hunched over the desk. If anyone walked in, they’d think she’s bored herself while reading over her plans. But her eyes aren’t focused on the words blinking over her screen; they’ve retreated inward to the mental image of Charlie that has been circling the back of her mind since the school sign photo was sent.

When she returns to their dorm room for curfew, Blondie tells Charlie her cheeks are red because it’s cold in her workroom. Somehow, they buy it.

Blondie’s mother always said that the first week or so spent doing something is always the hardest, and everything after that is just right. She supposes she must be right, and that living with Charlie will get much easier once the first week is over. Not that living with Charlie is hard– it’s exhilarating. And, to a much lesser extent, exhausting.

Being the newest Lockes, Blondie managed to be raised knowing exactly who her mother’s Bears were, and had regular dinner parties with them as she aged. Her mother’s Poppa Bear spent his pre-Poppa years in a circus of sorts where he’d juggle while balancing on a big ball. Blondie tried a few times, and always wound up with at least one bump on her head. She just couldn’t keep track of all the balls, and one would always land right on the center of her head.

And now she’s found herself juggling things much heavier than balls, with a lot more force behind them and a stronger willingness to scar.

She spends her morning as Blondie, his afternoons as Barry, and her late-late nights putting Mirrorcast videos together as Blondie. She’s stretched as thin as taffy through two sets of teeth, and the bags under her eyes prove it.

It’s during one of these late-late nights that Blondie peels her eyes off of her video editing program to find a new message from Charlie, to Barry.

Sorry, I know it’s late, but I can’t sleep.

Blondie stares at her phone, trying to switch out of Blondie mode since the only response currently bouncing to the surface of her mind is about the Diplomacy test she has in the afternoon. Before Barry can embarrass himself in the only persona he isn’t willing to let ruin things with Charlie, another message is sent.

I just can’t stop thinking about you, you know?

Barry is suddenly very, very awake, shocked by the heat in his cheeks. He scrambles for the mirrorphone, almost dropping it as another message vibrates through his fingers.

My roommate isn’t here, and I’m just imagining if you took her side of the room instead. I’m thinking about proximity. I’m thinking about– well– kissing you.

Barry swallows hard. When the facade of Blondie pops back in later, she’ll be offended about that. Until then, he’s just flattered. He types, You’re thinking about kissing me?

Mhm. Do it a lot. A lot more lately.

What do you think that means? Barry’s heart races. He realizes he’s smiling when his cheeks start to hurt.

I think it means I should make you my boyfriend.

Boyfriend. The word tightens Barry’s chest like a tight hug, or like something binding him to an idea greater than himself. I think I agree.

Good. I think I can sleep a little more soundly wrapped in that idea.

Me, too. Barry sends it and leans back in the chair, looking up from the mirrorphone when Charlie’s profile goes offline.

Everything shifts back to Blondie when she sees the editing screen again. Her chest tightens again, this time with anxiety, and Charlie drifts back out of her head. They’ll colonize it again when Blondie returns to her own bed. Until then, she edits.

The next day, Blondie sits with the other Royals at lunch in the castleteria, picking at the food in front of her as she tries to push the memory of last night away, at least for a little while, until Barry can gush about his new partner in peace without anyone raising an eyebrow.

This, however, proves to be very hard when Charlie is sitting right there, right next to her, kicking their feet with their head in their hands, a grin on their face so wide it might rival the Cheshire Cat's.

Introductions were already made a little while ago, and the table had dissolved into wild conversation at this point. Blondie is too absent-minded to listen, trying to focus on shoving her feelings far, far away at the expense of her food.

She is only snapped out of her trance by the word "boyfriend" leaving Charlie's lips, her head jerking up in a way that the rest of her friends definitely noticed.

Blondie's cheeks flush red. She avoids eye contact as she bows her head back down.

Charlie raises a brow. "Why are you surprised? I told you I have a boyfriend!"

Blondie chokes– ironic, considering she hadn't taken a single bite yet– swallows hard, and takes a sharp breath. "I..," she hesitates. "I must have been too tired to register what you said last night!" She emphasizes her sentence with a laugh.

A weak, unconvincing laugh. Breathless, struck by how real the word sounds spoken, how crushing it is in a somehow delightful way.

Luckily, it's enough to get most of her friends off of her back, the bags under her eyes doing a fantastic job at supporting her lie as the table moves on with the discussion about Charlie's new boyfriend.

They talk about Barry like he’s the sun. Like he’s the world’s gravitational pull. Like he’s the binding holding their story together. Charlie’s fork spins between their talented fingers, and Blondie wonders what it would be like to die by them. She feels like she’s dying. She feels like she’s never lived. The world stretches and narrows around her, vision filtered through carnival glass. She can’t breathe. She doesn’t want to breathe any air that hasn’t glided directly off of them.

Blondie can’t tell if it’s an overdose of affection for them, or if she’s having a panic attack.

She excuses herself from the table, running like she’s pursued by her own bears. Charlie blinks while Briar asks what Blondie’s deal is, standing up and straightening their wing feathers.

“I’ll go check on her.”

Charlie’s down the hall in a flash of feathers and bone, following the hint of golden hair at the end of the hallway. They follow it around bends and turns, until Blondie corners herself in her mirrorcast room. Charlie stands in the doorway, looking at Blondie with an almost offended, almost hurt look.

“What the hex, Blondie?”

Blondie swallows hard, breath rattling around her ribs, refusing to stick before purging itself out in a pant. “What? What, what what?”

“What’s your problem? I mean, I know it must not be nice to have a dormmate when you started the year without one, but that doesn’t mean you can just spend every night off in your little workroom and ignore me and run away when I’m happy!”

“No, that’s not–”

Charlie doesn't let her finish. "Honestly, I know we've only known for a few days, but it almost feels like you hate me!"

Blondie's head shoots up. "No!"

"Then what is it?" Charlie demands, and it takes everything in Blondie's power not to look into their eyes, afraid that if she does Barry's heart will be torn to pieces.

Blondie feels her palms start to sweat and she is sure Charlie can see her face grow paler with every passing second she doesn't respond. So she resorts to what she always does, hiding behind a screen. Pulling up Eris, melting into their usual chat.

Charlie starts to say something about how rude it is to go on her mirrorphone in the middle of an argument when their own phone vibrates, like an arrow shaking the air around it. Blondie watches them hesitate before reaching into their pocket and pulling out their phone. She watches the way their expression morphs.

“Barry?”

Charlie pulls their fingers through Blondie’s hair like they’re in awe of her, a sentiment that leaves Blondie shivering a little more after each pass. Her face is cradled in the nook between Charlie’s shoulder and neck, a space that almost seems carved specifically to hold her head. She’s using all the power she has coiled up in her body to keep from crying. Barry can hear Charlie's heart beat against their chest, like it wants to jump out and comfort Blondie's own, hammering heart.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Charlie asks, their hand not seizing its motion of running through Blondie's hair.

Blondie relaxes and sinks into Charlie's arms, she takes a sharp breath before she opens her mouth to speak, and as she does she finds she no longer has the power to keep her tears from falling. Barry wraps his arms tighter around Charlie as he sobs into their shoulder.

Charlie doesn't say anything, but Barry feels their hand on his back, stroking it gently. Words can wait, and the truth that will come with them. He always tells them everything, after all. It’s time they get caught up.

Telling Charlie is as easy as exhaling, once Barry actually has time to catch his breath. So easy that there is barely any thought put into it; the words are simple and the facts are straight. Barry feels trapped– in his body, his life, his destiny– and he found something like freedom in his relationship with them, only for it to be threatened by their arrival at Ever After High, so he panicked.

What he expected in turn was an obvious rejection. For the hook that dragged him to Charlie in the first place to be ripped away, for him to be cast back out into the unforgiving sea of their now shared realm. For the name he’s stuck living by being raked through the mud, and the name he slides on every night to be pinned on the former like a scarlet letter.

Charlie could never be so predictable. They forego any and all expectations Barry had, cupping his face and whispering something simple. “I’m not angry with you, handsome. I just want to know what you’re comfortable with now.”

Barry swallowed, staring at Charlie’s eyes. Like twin galaxies, brimming with a sort of cosmic love the muses would sing about. “Really?’

“Mhm.”

“So we’re still–?’

“Together? Totally. If you still want to be, at least.” Charlie swipes some curls out of Barry’s face. Sweet and thoughtless, already settling into the domestic simplicity that comes with an in-person relationship. “If you don’t then I get it. You’re going through a lot–”

“No, writers–!” Barry’s chest tightens with something almost sharper than panic. “I want to be with you, I promise.”

“Hey,” Charlie’s voice softens. They lean in, pressing their foreheads together. It’s the closest thing to peace Barry has felt in too, too long. “It’s okay. We’re okay. Don’t worry about it.”

Barry swallows hard against that knife of a feeling, waiting as it dulls. “I– I really want to be with you, Charlie. I’m sure of that.”

Charlie hums with a smile. “Is there… Anything else you might be sure of?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, are you my boyfriend, my girlfriend, or what?”

Barry stares at Charlie as the knife feeling sharpens to a razor point. He has to be calmed down yet again, and only manages to half-listen as Charlie assures him they’ll talk about it another day. They just kiss his head and tell him that they’ll tell his teachers he’s feeling sick so he can rest after the day he’s had.

And then they’re gone and Barry is felt to lay back in his– Blondie’s?-- bed, a new thought bubbling up to the top of his mind despite the sheer amount of things that have happened already today.

He really liked when Charlie called him handsome.

Blondie has never felt happier than she is during the days she gets to spend with Charlie with no lies and no double life to get in their way– sort of. Their friends still don't know that Barry: Charlie's boyfriend, and Blondie: Charlie's roommate, are the same person.

Meanwhile, Blondie is facing another problem.

Barry.

The name, the idea, the very concept of Barry has been plaguing the back of her mind for weeks, and it has only grown more and more prominent since the day Charlie held him in their arms and Barry confessed.

Charlie still uses "Barry" to refer to Blondie, even verbally in addition to their regular hexts. It generates a strange feeling in Blondie's chest, a tingling that rises to his face and makes him grin like a love-sick fool. Blondie doesn't entirely get why, or rather, she doesn't entirely believe why. He can make an educated guess, of course, but she isn't entirely sure of himself just yet, denying what the logical part of her mind is trying to tell him.

Blondie sits at his table one evening, playing with his Scrying Pencil (a much more affordable knockoff of the Poisoned Apple Pencil produced by Snow White’s company).

Blondie is a girl, Blondie has to be a girl, doesn't she? After all, Goldilocks is about a girl breaking into the three bears' home, not a boy.

… But does that really matter? If Blondie had been born a boy, would anyone have batted an eye? Many of the students at Ever After High are different genders from the parents they’re inheriting their role from, like Jillian Beanstalk. So, does it really matter, or is it all just a poor excuse so Barry can keep being in denial about who he really is?

Without meaning to, Barry audibly groans to himself. He’s been doing so, so well at keeping this turmoil within the confines of his mind. Especially since Charlie has started keeping him company in his mirrorcast room. They’ve even moved their radio show things into the space, cementing their place.

They don’t look up from the script they’re working on. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” The response is immediate, with a tone typically reserved for Blondie’s mother. That earns Charlie’s full attention.

They sit up with a sigh, crossing their legs and placing their hands neatly in their lap. “Barry, lying just isn’t right.”

He swallows hard, shame flooding through him in a way Charlie couldn’t have intended. That’s just what Barry says to them when they lie about how they feel. They don’t know his mom says that. He still avoids telling them about his mom, even though they know she’s Goldilocks now. “I feel…”

Charlie waits, an eyebrow raising by the moment. “You feel…?”

Barry hesitates for far too long before finally answering. “I feel good when you call me Barry.”

Charlie blinks at him. “Okay? That’s your chosen name, you’re supposed to feel good when you’re called it.”

Barry blinks at Charlie. “What the hex is a ‘chosen name’? Like, username?”

Charlie suddenly looks like they’d really like to facepalm. "No," Charlie says, "It's a name you choose for yourself, one that's different from your birth name."

Barry opens his mouth.

"Don't you dare ask me what a birth name is."

Barry closes his mouth.

Charlie glares. "Tell me you were not going to ask what a birth name is."

Throwing up his hands defensively, Barry asks, "So it's like a nickname?"

Charlie takes a very deep breath, leaning back in their chair. "Barry."

"Yes?"

"Do you..." they bite their lip. "Do you know what transgender means?"

Barry co*cks his head. "That's something with languages, right? You take one language and transgender it into another?"

Charlie pinches the bridge of their nose. "Oh my gods."

"Wait, no, that's when you write something down that someone else says."

By now, Charlie is sitting hunched over, holding their head in their hands, "No."

Barry thinks so hard his eyebrows knit together. "...When something is clear?"

"That's the worst one yet. It’s almost impressive!"

Barry put his hands on his hips. "I give up, can you just tell me?"

Charlie stands up in a very exaggerated manner and walks over to the door, motioning for Barry to follow. "Good thing I still have my gender presentation from my old school."

A few minutes later, the couple sits in the computer room, in front of the computer that Blondie uses to edit her mirrorcast episodes.

Barry watches as Charlie struggles to log into their email account.

"What do you mean, 'this email doesn't exist'?!" They type in their email address again, more carefully this time. "I know it exists! Show me my emails, you useless hunk of scrap metal!"

"Try a VPN", Barry suggests after noticing Charlie's e-mail address looks distinctly not like an Ever After address.

Charlie turns to Barry. "A what?"

"A VPN." Barry repeats.

"What's that?"

"A Virtual Princess Network?"

Charlie blinks at him.

Barry falls silent.

Moments later, after Barry thoroughly explains what a VPN is and what it does, Charlie is able to log into their email account and access the presentation without any trouble.

It was a very educational day for the couple. Charlie learned what a VPN is, and Barry discovered he is transgender. One is a little more monumental than the other. One leaves more shockwaves.

Almost every lunch period for the next week or so included Barry staring down at his mirrorpad with a near-blank expression while Charlie did their absolute best to keep the attention off of him. Their mutual friends don’t need to know that he’s been spending every free moment since the gender presentation staring at photos of boys, trying to come to terms with the fact he wants to look like them rather than snip their most jealousy-inducing features off and sew them into a perfect man.

Charlie also commits themself to not telling Blondie about their old friend who worked through their gender in the same way. These things are best handled one at a time.

When the idea finally settles in Barry’s mind and spirit, it manifests into a gender envy mood board that Charlie tries very hard not to giggle at. Instead they pull everything together to smile, kiss the top of his head, and tell him this is possible. That it’s possible for Barry’s destiny to be bent around the man he is. That it’s possible for his appearance to be shifted to match. And, even, that the people in his life have the possibility to accept him.

He doesn’t believe the last assurance, but it’s there. Spreading roots in the bedrock of his mind. Settling, just as he settles on the idea of cutting his hair someday.

Charlie books a hair appointment with Poppy O’Hair for the end of the month, the farthest out she’s willing to schedule an appointment, and Barry is left with churning anxiety.

What if he cuts his hair and he winds up hating it? What if he cuts his hair and he loves it? What if he skips it entirely? What if he overcorrects himself so much that he accidentally asks for extensions? What if Poppy asks why he could possibly want to chop off such lovely hair?

And what if their friends make the connection between him and Charlie’s boyfriend?

They talk about him. Of course they do; love bursts from Charlie in ways impossible to downplay, it spills into every smile and pours from their words. Charlie promised to keep Barry’s secret, and he intends to keep it. But it would be so easy for an accident to happen. A slip of the tongue. A deadname, a few too many details, or even Barry walking in during a radio show and accidentally blowing the long-distance cover they’re still hiding under through an instinctual “Hello, love!”

Barry tries to pick up a nervous tick, but none of them are right enough to fall into. Another upsetting garnish on the porridge of his life.

Days, weeks fly by much too quickly for Barry to process, and before he knows it he is already sitting in one of the many chairs at Poppy's hair salon, holding on to the armrests as if his life depended on it.

Charlie is right there at his side, having held his hand very tightly the entire way. Barry wouldn’t have been able to flee even if he wanted to.

The girl's face staring back at him through the glass of the mirror is filled with dread, a million thoughts running through both of their heads.

He had chosen a hairstyle long beforehand, flipping through the shiny pages of multiple magazines and scrolling down the endless void that is the mirrornet's image search to find a haircut he deemed just right. Not too short, and not too long, his locks would still somewhat shine through if all goes well, and he made absolutely sure that the haircut would compliment the shape of his face.

He had planned everything about this haircut. Thought it through down to the smallest detail. It's perfect. It will be perfect. It has to be perfect.

Barry grips the chair harder. He hadn't exactly told anyone about his plans to cut his hair short. Blondie had mentioned having an appointment with Poppy O’Hair, but she hadn't mentioned that this time, he wasn't there for just a trim or general hair care. Her friends would be surprised, it will probably take some time to get used to for both Barry and them, and Barry worries that they won't ever get used to it, that they won't accept his decision to cut his iconic hair this short, to change something so significant about herself, something that had been so set in stone for as long as they've been friends.

Barry takes a breath when she sees Poppy approach him in the mirror. She greets him as she usually does, with a smile and a "hello" and a "what would you like today? The same as usual?" and this is the moment Blondie has to break from their usual script and confess what he actually wants, and once he does there will be no turning back.

"No," he responds confidently.

Poppy continues to smile at him, but says nothing. It takes Blondie a moment of silence (and a gentle nudge from Charlie) to realize she is waiting for him to elaborate.

"Oh," he blushes, scrambling to find his words. "I want it cut."

"What, all of it?" Poppy co*cks her head.

Blondie holds up her hands, waving frantically. "No, no, not all of it, just most of it!"

“Okay, how do you want it?”

“Uh…”

"She has a reference," Charlie interjects.

"I have a reference!" Barry repeats, searching his bag before handing the reference to Poppy.

Poppy inspects the image. She looks from the image to Blondie then back to the image. She purses her lips and, eventually, she nods and smiles. "No problem, it should be easy enough!" Then, she looks at her nice, clean floor. "That's gonna be a lot of hair to sweep later..."

“I’m sorry,” Blondie squeaks, moving to get up. Charlie shoots him a glare so sharp that he leans back instead.

Poppy shakes her head. “Oh, don’t worry about it. Just part of the job! Besides, you’ve brought me a great canvas to work on.” She runs her hands through Blondie’s hair, humming. “Ready?”

Barry swallows hard, looking at himself in the mirror. Then up at Charlie, with the most reassuring smile they could possibly muster. And, lastly, at Poppy, with eyes already working through the steps she’ll take to make Barry’s dream cut a reality. Neither of them look nervous.

He nods, hands shaking in his lap. “Ready.”

“Let’s get to it!” Poppy drowns Barry’s hands under a cape and gets right to work.

Barry stares at himself in the mirror, his heart fluttering, his eyes tearing up. He does his best to take it all in, does his best not to sniffle, does his best not to smile too wide.

Poppy brushes some hair off of his shoulder. “There you go! What do you think?”

The smile breaks out despite himself. “It’s just right.”

Barry stands before his friends in study ball, grinning awkwardly as he shows off his new hairstyle. Not knowing what else to do, he extends his arms and takes a breath before exclaiming a very unconvincing: “ta-da!”

His friends stare at him. He struggles to read their faces, uncertain of what they mean.

The wait for an actual verbal reaction, which only lasts for a few seconds, feels like an agonizing eternity.

Ashlynn is the first to do anything besides stare, giving him a gentle smile. “It looks lovely, Blondie,” she says, “it suits you!”

Barry’s heart soars, his face flushing. His hands reach for his hair, playing with the now much shorter strands.

“Looks great, it could have been a lot worse!” Briar says. “I mean, I totally get the instinct to just cut your hair, it’s such a hassle to deal with sometimes.”

Barry looks to Charlie for help, unsure of whether any of this is a compliment or not. Charlie only shrugs, his equal in confusion.

Briar purses her lips and whips out her phone. “Actually, I think I’ll call Poppy right now to get mine cut, too.” With her phone on her ear, Briar leaves the group, leaving the rest puzzled.

When Barry finally manages to tear his eyes away from where Briar stood, his gaze meets with Apple’s, and his blood runs cold. Apple looks at him with such obvious, visceral disgust that Barry has to literally take a step back. He feels the color drain from his face as he watches Apple open her mouth, knowing that each word will stab his heart like personalized knives.

“What did you do to your hair?!” she asks, her voice somehow even higher-pitched than usual. It might as well have been a shriek.

“I… I cut it?” Barry mumbles, teetering on the edge of being its own question rather than a response.

Apple puts her hands to her face. “What about your story? It’s named after your family’s hair after all!”

Barry’s lip quivers. He feels Charlie’s hand on his shoulder. “What’s it matter to you?” he hears them say, rather defensively.

“It’s part of her story!” Apple says, gesturing wildly at Barry’s new hair. ”That is a mess!”

Barry shrinks into himself, nervously touching his hair. It’s still blonde. It’s still what his story needs from him. Why does it matter how long it is? He isn’t Holly O’Hair.

“What happened, Blondie? Are you okay?” Apple asks with concern, concern Barry can no longer identify as real or not. “You were so pretty…”

Apple’s words slash at Barry’s heart, making it metaphorically bleed, he feels his throat tighten as something bubbles up inside of him, something hot and fierce. “I don’t want to be pretty!” Barry says firmly, his hands balling to fists. “I want to be handsome!”

Apple stares at him. “Handsome is for boys, Blondie. You’re not a boy.”

“Yes, I am!” Barry shouts, he shouts so loudly it echoes off the walls of the study ballroom. “I want to be a boy!”

“But you’re not!”

“I am!” Barry insists, with tears he didn’t know he had rolling over his cheeks. “I don’t want to be a girl!”

“Blondie—“

Barry doesn’t let her finish, he doesn’t want her to finish, he doesn’t even want to look at her face right now. He takes Charlie’s hand and storms out of the room, leaving Ashlynn and Apple behind as he drags Charlie with him.

Barry runs out of steam about halfway to their dorm, stumbling over his own feet. But Charlie is there to catch him, as they plan to always be, and they carry him to their personal safe haven.

Barry stares at his own face, misery etched into every flake of skin. Charlie stands behind him, with one comforting hand on Barry’s shoulder and the other working his favorite hairbrush through his hair. It glides through, just as easily as it always has, and Barry’s hand lays on top of Charlie’s so he can make sure they aren’t a fleeting presence.

He loves his hair. He loves his hair, to a degree that makes him wonder if he’s ever loved anything physical about himself before. After a few more brush strokes, he comes to the conclusion that he hasn’t.

Another shudder ripples through Barry. A common sight since the study ball incident. Charlie’s grip tightens a comfortable degree. Barry squeezes their hand, just a little too tightly, and swallows a sob.

“You’re thinking about Apple again.” Their voice is almost sickeningly sweet, like Barry’s feelings are flies they need to tempt rather than blatant truths. He was always so good at hiding what he feels before they came around. He was even good at hiding it from himself.

“Why would she say those things to me?” A sentence that has been repeated in his head over and over again. Somehow, it’s only now coming to voice.

“Because,” Charlie leans down, laying their chin on his shoulder. He lets his head plop against theirs. It’s such a simple thing, yet he would’ve killed someone for it before they moved in. “Apple clings to her story for dear life, and thinks everyone else should have to as well. It’s sad. It’s a very sad stance to take, and I really hope she comes to her senses before something forcibly snaps her out of it.”

Barry swallows hard, eyes trying to fall to his lap, where he’s been clutching a teddy bear for dear life. An ‘I’m so sorry one of your best friends ruined the best thing to ever happen to you’ gift from Charlie. Well, maybe it’s the second-best thing. But that hardly matters anymore. The bear has quickly been raised to comfort status. The great thing about being in charge of the local news is that there’s no one else refutable enough to spread gossip about him carrying stuffed animals to class.

Charlie clears their throat gently, coaxing Barry’s eyes back up. “What I’m trying to say is that Apple is a sad, sad girl who can’t pull her head out of her ass long enough to let anyone else be happy.”

Barry smiles for the first time since Apple said those terrible, terrible things. Half-smiles, but smiles. “That’s rude.”

Charlie shrugs. “I know, I know, you’re the rude one. But you’re on a break right now, and love-based defenses are under my jurisdiction. As such, I have full rights to call Apple a–”

Barry bursts into laughter before Charlie can say something the writers would regret letting them say later. Charlie smiles, warmer than they usually do when he smiles. Because, of course, they smile anytime they get a glimpse of his happiness. A hand comes up, petting his short curls.

“Have I ever told you how handsome you are when you’re laughing?”

Barry’s laughter is cut off by a squeak, so cute that Charlie chuckles. Not that either of them would admit it. His head snaps towards Charlie, finding his face hovering just a few millimeters away. It’s hard to kiss when one’s chin is on their target’s shoulder, after all. He swallows, his voice as soft as his hair, his smile. “No. I don’t believe you have.”

Charlie leans in, breath dancing against Barry’s lips, cheering him up with a shiver. “Then it’s long overdue.”

Barry lets out a purely happy breath, smiling as he breaks the distance between them. He smiles through the entire kiss, of course. It’s Charlie’s favorite one that they’ve had to this point. When they pull away, they lay their foreheads against each other.

Charlie waits for Barry to open his eyes and witness their evil grin before they speak. “Do you want me to shoot Apple with a lead arrow?”

Barry groans, rolling his eyes. “Enough about Apple. I don’t even care enough about her to wish her harm.”

Charlie gasps. “Wow. A first.”

He smiles again. “Oh, hush. Let’s just ignore her. Besides, you can put that energy towards better things.”

“Like?” They raise an eyebrow.

“Like,” Barry leans back towards Charlie, “calling me handsome again. It felt just right in a way I can’t even begin to describe.”

Charlie gets a wide smile, almost Chesherian in nature, and proceeds to tackle anything and everything they can think of about their boyfriend with an urgent need to label it all as “handsome”. Being a love god and, above all else, a lover, it comes as naturally as breathing.

People stare when Barry walks down the hall. Not for malicious reasons, Barry can see brief confusion in their eyes before they recognize who he is. Most of them smile awkwardly and wave to make up for the amount of staring they are doing, but it does nothing to ease Barry's nerves.

As much as he doesn't want to, his mind wanders to what Apple had told him just the other day, her words repeating over and over in his head. What is he supposed to do during lunch? He can't sit with them now, not after what happened. Will he have to sit alone?

Barry shakes his head. No, of course not. He has Charlie, Charlie will always be his companion, no matter what. The two of them would just have to find a different seat. Somewhere else, with other people that Barry might not know that well.

Barry lets out a defeated sigh. He could sit with Dexter, or Humphrey, he's sure they won't mind, and they've been working together on Blondie's Mirrorcast Show for almost a year now. But sitting with them also means sitting with whoever they sit with, too. Barry takes a breath. Surely, finding a seat during lunch is the least of his concerns.

During class, he sits as far away from Apple as he possibly can, not even bothering to pass her a single glance. Then, during lunch, he looks anywhere but his usual table, trying to find Dexter or Humphrey in the crowd. He spots Dexter first, sitting at a table near a window with some of the other boys from their year, and his brother, and decides to approach, Charlie following behind.

"Blondie!"

Barry halts, turning to where he thinks the call comes from and is surprised to find the Rebel table waving him over. He hesitates, but after a gentle nudge from Charlie his feet move on their own.

And now he is standing at the head of the Rebel table, gripping his lunch tray. They scoot over to give him and Charlie space to sit.

"I love your new hair," Cedar blurts out as soon as he sits down.

Raven nods in agreement. "Very rock and roll," she says. "We noticed you were... uh..." Raven trails off, as do her eyes.

Barry follows her gaze, instantly regretting it. Raven is currently locked in a staring match with Apple several tables away. Barry has never seen Apple look at anyone like this, she is figuratively glaring daggers at Raven. Barry turns back to Raven and leans to the side, interrupting their eye contact. "You were saying?"

"Right..." Raven shakes her head. "We noticed you've been avoiding Apple all day, we thought you might be more comfortable over here."

"Oh," Barry's cheeks redden. "Thank you."

Barry looks around at the others sitting at the table. Cerise is paying little attention to him, focused entirely on their lunch. Maddie, meanwhile, is looking at the sky, her head tilted to one side, an inquisitive look on her face. She looks like she is about to say something, but she doesn't because the question she wants to ask would spoil the plot and I really, really like this story and, for a change, would appreciate it very much if, this one time, just this once, Maddie didn't say anything in regards to the narration. Just today. Please.

Maddie smiles and lets her head roll over her shoulders before setting it straight and looking at Barry. "Nice hair! Very handsome!" She winks at him.

"Thank you, I think so too!" Barry can't help but start to grin. It's small, shy, but it's there. Suddenly, all his worries about Apple are forgotten, replaced with the euphoria of being called handsome.

Wait, do I have to misgender him on purpose now?!

Maddie! You can't just think at me without warning!

You asked me not to say anything!

Right... Well, yes, you do. For now. Not for long, don't worry. Just until the dance!

"You have to work during the dance?!" Maddie suddenly bursts out loud.

Not all night! I'll be with you first thing after the story is done, I promise!

Maddie huffs. "You better be."

"Huh?" Charlie blinks, they look at Barry in confusion, Barry just shrugs. Much like his peers, he is completely used to Maddie having one-sided conversations.

"So, what happened with you and Apple?" Raven asks, leaning on her arm.

Barry's lips dry, his smile fading.

"Maybe it's his new haircut," Cedar says. Then, she puts a hand to her mouth, surprised at the words that just left it. "His new haircut," she repeats, "his haircut!"

Cerise glances up from their food.

"What's going on?" Cedar asks. She gives Barry an apologetic look. "I'm so sorry, I don't know what's happening."

Barry grins from ear to ear. "It's okay," he responds, pressing his lips into a line, trying to repress his smile with no success. Cerise is giving him a knowing look.

After a moment of silence, Raven asks: "Was it the hair?"

Barry bites his lip. "Yeah, the hair... was a part of it."

"What a--"

"Raven! Language!" Maddie interrupts. Thankfully. Thank you.

Maddie nods, kicking her feet under the table. There would be a comment on how cute it is, if it weren’t for the current scene.

Raven puts a hand on Barry's shoulder. "Whatever she said, don't pay her any mind. For what it's worth, you're always, no matter what, welcome with us. You know, in case there's anything going on and you need a group of friends who support you."

Maddie jabs her side. Luckily, what Raven is trying to imply flies right over Barry's head, who only smiles softly and says: "I will keep that in mind."

Charlie takes a breath. The entire conversation that had played out since the two of them sat down has sent him on a rollercoaster of emotions. Mostly confusion. They have very little to no clue what was happening fifty percent of the time. However, while Charlie is curious as to why Maddie is talking to the ceiling and why Cedar is unable to call Barry anything but his preferred pronouns, they decide to focus on what came after. They can see it in their faces, the knowing, and Raven is being less than subtle about it.

When Barry looks at them, they smile, grateful that their boyfriend found a group of people who accept him as he is, even if he did appear mostly oblivious to it. What more could Charlie want for him?

Well, a wardrobe to match his true self. And it just so happens that Charlie has a golden Olympus credit card burning a hole in their toga pocket, yearning for the many tailoring shops littering the streets of Book End. And, of course, one particular shoe shop.

Charlie didn’t tell Barry that they were on a quest to build out his masculine wardrobe before they left the dorm. He would have shied away from it, after all, or worse. In their (admittedly short) time being with Barry, Charlie has already learned the number one rule of interacting with a Lockes: always avoid letting him realize there’s options for things, because he’ll always insist on picking one thing, and it has to be a perfect thing.

Shortly after they started dating, Charlie accompanied Barry on a trip to the Poisoned Apple store so he could pick out a new mirrorphone case, and they didn’t walk back out of the store for another three hours. He didn’t find one that was just right enough, either.

There will not be a repeat of the mirrorphone case incident.

Charlie avoids it by saying they’re going to the Glass Slipper Shoe Store for themself, though with Ashlynn fully aware of the situation. She’s ready when the pair walk in, entertaining the idea of sending Charlie home with a variety of lovely heart-themed shoes, but quickly getting carried away by offering Barry some of the store’s more masculine options.

Ashlynn offers no room for comparison, just as Charlie drilled her beforehand. A simple question for each pair: is this good? Yes or no. And once he gives an answer, they move on to the next pair, with neither Ashlynn or Charlie offering to let Barry re-try a pair and with neither of them making any comment on the past pairs. It keeps him present and out of his labyrinthian mind. He walks out of the store with far more pairs of shoes than he expected, and with only one pair for Charlie.

Barry is about to question it when Charlie ushers him into the next store.

"I'm not sure this is a good idea", Barry says as soon as they step into the next store. A clothing shop, run by the Brave Not-So-Little-Anymore Tailor and his son. They have everything, from dresses and petticoats to shirts and pants, they also have some snazzy hats and vests.

Charlie gives Barry a questioning look. "Why?"

"I've never been a fan of going shopping," Barry admits. "I never buy anything."

Charlie tsks and takes Barry by the hand. "Of course you're not going to buy anything if you don't like what you're offered."

Barry arches a brow, but says nothing, letting Charlie lead him deeper inside the store. Much, much deeper than he'd ever been before. They walk past where Barry used to look around when shopping with his friends. Rarely did things catch his eye, and when they did he usually couldn't afford it anyway.

Charlie stops in the middle of a "knights, princes and other such heroic occupations" section Barry hadn't known existed until this very moment.

"How long has this been here?" he asks his companion. "And how do you know more about this place than I do? You've been here for a few months!"

Charlie only shrugs and gives him a devious smile. They spread out their arms and gestures all around themself. "So, see anything you like?"

"You."

Barry receives a playful shove from Charlie. "Clothes, Barry!"

Barry purses his lips and looks around. His feet carry him through the rows and rows of different patterned shirts and trousers, and he examines them with great interest. Something about the different patterns fascinate him. Then, his eyes fall on something that makes his face light up. "Charlie!" he calls eventually. "They have one with bears!"

Charlie smiles fondly as they watch Barry hold up a blue, tacky, short-sleeved, button-up shirt with small, cartoon bear heads strewn across the fabric. "You should buy it," they comment.

Barry looks around himself more eagerly, picking up different shirts and pants and jackets he finds interesting and even plucking a pair of blue dungarees from the shelf. And Charlie watches, they watch him as he explores the store with growing enthusiasm, enthusiasm that evolves into utter euphoria as he tries on his chosen garments in the dressing room.

"What do you think?" Barry asks, presenting to Charlie what is quite possibly the tackiest outfit combination Charlie has ever seen on a man in their entire life. (Well, on anyone in their entire life, but sometimes accuracy can be sacrificed out of fond exasperation and love.) Somehow, Barry makes it work. Charlie is unsure whether they are simply blind-sighted by the love they carry for Barry, or if Barry is just a fashion genius.

Maybe it's both.

"Very, very handsome," Charlie says, sighing wistfully. "You should buy it."

Barry laughs. "You've said that about all of them!" he argues.

"And I've meant it every time!" Charlie stands up from the chair they've been sitting in. "I'll help you carry everything!"

Barry smiles widely, as he has done for the past hour since he had stepped inside the dressing room. "Do you think they'll let me keep this on?"

Charlie can help chuckling at his eagerness. It’s rare to see Barry so earnestly happy about something, especially in a public space. “I’m sure they’ll make an exception if they don’t usually allow that.” They don’t specify that the exception is probably due to the card they carry, but they don’t need to.

Barry and Charlie carry the clothes to the checkout area together, and Barry leans this way and that so the poor cashier can scan the tags on the clothes he’s wearing. They snip the tags off once the payment goes through, and Barry walks out of the store carrying all of his bags. Charlie watches with fond amusem*nt, reminded of little boys who insist on carrying everything they possibly can themselves to prove their strength, no matter how ill advised.

It’s cute. It would be Charming, but Barry still isn’t the hero type of man. Charlie allows it, fluttering by and making sure nothing falls out of the bags as they finally return home to their dorms.

Barry hums, sliding his new shirts onto hangers while Charlie folds whatever needs to be folded into neat stacks on his bed. The bags that held his clothes litter the floor, stuffed with removed tags and tied at the top when they’ve overflowed. They had been good about taking the bags out of the room once they were done with them at first, but the work quickly piled up until the pair decided it would make a lot more sense to just wait until everything was done. Then they could carry the trash down and the more feminine clothing pieces they’ve since purged from Barry’s closet at the same time. Though, the clothes are going to a clothing drive Lizzie Hearts runs.

They forgot to close the door properly once they turned their shared attention to setting up the closet, though, meaning it was cracked and ready to creak open at the slightest touch. It does just that when Dexter Charming knocks.

He blinks as the door opens, then again when Barry and Charlie’s eyes turn to him. He turns a little pink. “Sorry, I didn’t mean– I didn’t think it would open.”

“It’s fine,” Charlie shrugs, turning back to their folding. “It does that all the time.”

Barry rolls his eyes, deciding not to defend the way their lock can’t stand up against his natural Lockes abilities. “What do you need, Dex?”

Dexter clears his throat, looking down at his arms for a clue about why he’s there and finding his mirrorpad. “Oh! Right– Uh, Maddie hexted me about her segment on next week’s mirrorcast. She had to cancel her tea review. Apparently her mouse is going to have a tummy ache during it and she needs to nurse him back to health?”

“Odd.” Barry sets his mouth sideways, trying to think of something to fill the time slot. But he doesn’t have a lot of time to properly think, as Dexter’s eyes wander off from his mirrorpad.

“What are you two doing?”

Barry doesn’t respond for a moment, lost in scheduling thoughts. Charlie taps him on the shoulder, snapping him back. “I’m sorry, what?”

Charlie smiles fondly at him, looking over their shoulder at Dexter. Barry is once again distracted, this time by the divine way Charlie’s curls fall over their shoulders. “Blondie and I just went shopping, we got a whole new wardrobe for her.”

“Oh! That’s cool. And I like your haircut.”

Barry doesn’t respond again, lost in enchantment. Charlie clears their throat. “Sweetheart, he likes your haircut.”

“Oh, thanks, Dex.” Barry smiles, a hand unconsciously going up to his hair. “I really like it, too.”

Dex smiles softly. “I’d heard you had gotten a haircut, but I didn’t think it would be such a change! It really suits you. You look really happy.”

“I am happy.”

Dexter’s smile only widens, and Barry is struck with a sudden thought about how great of a friend he is. How great of a friend Humphrey is, too. And how nice it would be for them to know.

“Um, Dex, would you mind doing me a favor?”

“Of course! Anything, uh, as long as it doesn’t involve any slaying.”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. I was just wondering if you could get Humphrey and meet me in our mirrorcast room in… Let’s say an hour and a half?”

Charlie blinks and raises a perfect eyebrow, but doesn’t interfere.

“Oh, yeah, totally. Is it about Maddie’s spot in next week’s ‘cast?”

“Something like that.”

Dexter nods. “Do I need to bring anything? I can loot the art storage closet on my way–”

“No need! Just get Humphrey and meet me there.”

Dexter nods again, then feels weird about nodding twice in a row. He accompanies the nod with a thumbs up at just the right moment for it to feel more awkward than it needs to be. He backs out of the door with the same awkward air. Charlie tries their best not to giggle at it once he’s away. Barry doesn’t react to it, an almost blissful calm feeling swelling through his chest. He should be nervous, shouldn’t he? He’s been nervous. He’s been a wreck. Why is it that he isn’t freaking out over this new idea?

“Oh, you’re almost out of hangers. I’ll go pick up some more while you get ready for… Whatever it is you’re going to do with Dexter and Humphrey, okay?”

Barry smiles with a nod, kissing Charlie goodbye on the cheek before they go. Okay, maybe he has an idea about how calm he is. And when he catches his hair in the mirror, he gets a second idea, intertwining with the first, reinforcing the feeling. This will be perfectly alright. He’s so sure of it, he doesn’t even have to think the words properly. He knows.

Barry clears his throat, his hands folded neatly behind his back, standing as he would before presenting something to a class. Which is essentially how he has Dexter and Humphrey set up. Barry is standing at the front of the mirrorcast room, while Dexter and Humphrey are sitting in two of the desk chairs, which he had conveniently rolled to the front for them while he was waiting for them to get there.

Did he think this through too much? Potentially. His theory is that he diverted all of the brain power that would normally be consumed by anxiety and channeled it into making this situation as right as possible. But that doesn’t matter anymore, because Dexter and Humphrey are here, and the words are ready. Settled on Barry’s tongue like a perfectly filled glass of water, only kept calm by surface tension.

“I have gathered you all here today–”

“There’s two of us?” Humphrey asks.

Barry sighs, almost laughing. “Okay, I’ve gathered you both here today–?”

“Better.”

“Because I have some exciting news to share!”

Dexter smiles preemptively. “Did Headmaster Grimm approve our application for more funding?”

“Nope!”

He blinks, his smile waivering a little. “Did Maddie’s mouse get better? Er, um, will Maddie’s mouse be better? I– is she going to be able to do the mirrorcast next week?”

Barry smiles through closed lips. “Nope, now please stop guessing so I can get on with it.”

Humphrey laughs a little. “You’re getting annoyed already and you haven't been interrupted for a third time!”

“That’s three, Humphrey.”

He blinks. “Oh, right. Sorry, Blondie.”

“It’s actually about my name, sort of!”

Dexter and Humphrey manage to raise their eyebrows perfectly in sync.

Barry clears his throat. “The name ‘Blondie’ is far too feminine for me. Just like how long hair was far too feminine for me, and dresses, and being called ‘she’. But it turns out,” he sighs wistfully, his posture relaxing against the professional air he tried to carry into this. “It turns out that being called ‘Barry’ is just right for me. I’m transgender. And if you don’t know what that is, then don’t worry– Charlie has an entire presentation about it that they can show you. Basically, I’m–”

“A guy!” They both say. Dexter says it first and Humphrey follows, like a voice-cracked echo.

“Yes! A guy!” He laughs, his hands dropping from behind his back and sliding up to his hair, twirling it around his fingers.

Dexter stands up from his chair, and Humphrey follows suit once he’s sure he won’t tumble over as soon as he stands. Dexter puts a tentative hand on Barry’s shoulder, “I’m so happy for you! And I’m so happy to have another guy at this school.”

Humphrey raises his hand despite the fact they aren’t actually in class, then puts it down when he remembers he has full rein to speak. “Does this mean our mirrorcast time is guy time? I’ve always wanted to have guy time. It doesn’t really feel like guy time when it’s just me and Dexter, and we don’t have a lot of other options.”

Dexter nods. “Guys are like an endangered species at this school.”

Barry laughs. “No, mirrorcast time is still mirrorcast time. But any time we’re hanging out together without working on the mirrorcast would be guy time.”

Humphrey’s eyes widen hopefully. “So we’re having guy time right now?”

“Nope.”

The hope in his eyes is immediately squashed, like a witch under a house.

“Because!” Barry clears his throat dramatically, “I have decided that in lieu of finding something to fill Maddie’s intended segment next week, I will instead fill the time with a proper coming out video.”

“Are you sure?” Dexter raises an eyebrow. “I mean, if you are sure then I think it’s a good idea. But that seems really public. People can be really mean.” His eyes flit to Barry’s hair. Barry figured what he had heard about Barry’s haircut before seeing it was all sour, and here’s the proof.

Barry nods. “I want it to be something public. Raven proclaimed her destiny to the school, didn’t she? I want to do the same.”

Dexter’s concern melts into pure support. “Perfect.”

Humphrey almost raises his hand again. “When do we film?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

Barry swallows hard, squaring his shoulders and rehearsing his speech in his head. It’s rather bland for his taste, but it’s clear. It gets his message across. It leaves no room for questions.

It’s just right, in the clinical sense.

Humphrey hums, adjusting some settings on their decades-old camera while Dexter fiddles with some wires. “About ready, Barry?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Great. Five, four, three, two–”

The door to the shared mirrorcast and radio show room bursts open, revealing an utterly frazzled Charlie, back from a side quest. “Barry!” They pant. “I have news.”

Barry blinks. “Charlie, sweetheart, I was about to film–”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but it’s big!” Charlie flutters over to the recording desk, their eyes glowing with excitement.

Barry melts, turning to Humphrey and Dexter. “Take five, okay?”

Humphrey nods, standing there awkwardly for a second before he walks off. Then he comes back, snapping Dexter’s attention away from the wires he was working on and pulling him out of the room as well.

Barry turns his full attention to Charlie, smiling despite himself at the look on their face. “What’s going on?”

“I’m throwing a ball!”

Barry’s eyes widen. “Really?”

“Yes, and it’s super cool– I was looking though these books in the library and found out about this holiday called True Heart’s Day!” Charlie begins pacing around the room as they recount all of the information about the holiday to Barry. From the traditions to the themes. And, finally, they look back at their own true heart’s desire. “It’ll be perfect. It’ll be perfect for us! We’ll get to show everyone how much we love each other.”

“And I’ll get to dress up like a guy.”

Charlie’s hexcitement only strengthens. “Yes! You will! How wonderful is that?”

Barry smiles wide, a new idea lighting up his mind, brighter than the one that led him to come up with the coming out video idea. He stands up, gesturing to his chair. “How about I get Humphrey and Dexter back in here and you film a segment announcing your ball for next week’s mirrorcast?”

“Okay!” Charlie hurries over, then blinks. “You weren’t going to do something else for Maddie’s spot, were you?”

“No, not at all.” Barry pushes Charlie’s chair in once they sit down, kissing the top of their head. “I had an idea, but I’ve got a way better idea now. Don’t worry about it.”

Barry winks at Charlie, then retreats to find his video crew.

Barry watches the week’s mirrorcast appear at the top of his screen after his tenth refresh of the morning, then smiles to himself and turns his mirrorphone off. He looks over at Charlie, who’s fussing over their idyllic appearance. He waits for them, without a shred of impatience.

Charlie finishes up and stands, offering a hand to Barry. He doesn’t have to look at the offer, knowing it instinctually. “Ready to go?”

“Ready. Hexcited. You’re going to look so handsome in everything you try on.”

Barry laughs, his cheeks turning Charlie’s favorite shade of pink. “Everything looks just right on you, sweetheart. Are you thinking about a suit or a dress?”

Once more Barry and Charlie's feet carry them through the village of Book End on the hunt for more fitting attire, to a destination Barry is only vaguely aware of existing.

He has never been suit shopping before, he never had a reason to. He does now. There is a dance, and for the first time, Barry is going to wear a suit instead of a frilly, heavy dress. The thought makes him feel giddy, putting a spring in his step and a smile on his face.

He is so quick on his feet that Charlie struggles to keep up with him, grinning at his boyfriend's excitement as they attempt to yell directions at Barry just before he takes a wrong turn.

Soon, the two of them find themselves in front of a double door, behind which will be Barry's future formal attire, hidden among what Barry is sure to be many, many other choices for him to pick from. Surely, there has to be one that is just right for him. Barry puts his hand on the silver door handle, takes a deep breath, and enters the store.

As soon as he takes his first step, his senses are flooded by the sheer amount of colors and styles and smells all across the room. They have suits and dresses in every color imaginable, in every combination possible, Barry hadn't known suits could be made to look so elaborate, so fancy. The only people he had ever seen wearing suits this nice and detailed are Dexter and his older brother, Daring. Is he even allowed to wear something like this?

"What are you waiting for?" Charlie asks, ripping him out of his thoughts and giving him a gentle nudge. "Go on!"

Barry hesitates for just a moment before he ventures further into the store. He thought about what kind of suit he wanted before: baby blue, to match his eyes, and something pink, somewhere, to match his partner. Now, all of Barry's expectations are out the window, and he is faced with a world of possibilities he hadn't even considered. He hadn't even thought about what color his shirt would be, maybe yellow? Perhaps a different shade of blue? White? And what style does he want? Plaid? Stripes? Plain?

His eyes sparkle as he stares at the options he is presented with, and mentally he judges each and every one. This shade of blue is too dark, this one too light, Barry doesn't like the trim on the next one, and the fabric of the one after that. The lapel on that one is too big, and too small on this one, he likes the collar on the one in the corner, but not the color, and he likes the color of the other one, but not the collar.

Barry purses his lips. He wants his first suit to be perfect, absolutely perfect, down to the tiniest detail.

Then, his eyes land on a suit. Blue with golden trims and details, it's beautiful in every way, and it fits his pre-established aesthetic too. Without thinking, Barry reaches for it, pulling it out of the rack and holding it by the clothing hanger.

"Found something?" Charlie asks.

He rushes to the changing room without further response, with Charlie following closely behind. There’s rustling as he puts it on, followed by a moment of silence as he looks in the mirror.

His breath catches in his throat.

He stares at his reflection. Is that really him? Is that Barry? Or is that someone else Barry is mistaking for himself? He touches the glass of the mirror.

No, that's him. It's actually him. Him.

Something tickles inside Barry's chest, it tickles so much it brings a smile to Barry's face, a wide, genuine smile as his heart flutters into his throat. He lifts his arms, then lets them drop again. He turns, looking at himself from the side, then returns to his previous position. He lifts his hands and feels the collar, the lapel, and the cuffs, lightly tugging at them. Forget about just right! It looks perfect. He looks perfect.

Then, he takes a breath and steps out of the changing room, a confident smile on his face.

Charlie doesn't say anything for a moment, only staring as a blush creeps up on their cheeks.

"What do you think?" Barry asks proudly.

Charlie opens their mouth, then closes it again, then opens it again. "You look amazing," they say.

Barry grins even wider. "I know!" he exclaims. "I'm so handsome!"

"Yes, you are," Charlie agrees.

"I'm so happy!"

"I can tell!"

"I feel like I could kill god!" Okay, don't push it.

Charlie laughs. "Let's save that for another day, huh, sweetheart?" Don't encourage him! You're literally a god too! Or— no, hang on... Your father is!

Ugh, right, they can't hear me complain. Whatever. Anyway, they both smile and laugh and hold hands as Barry changes back to his non-formal outfit.

"So," Charlie starts as they hang the suit Barry wants over their arm. "What else are you going to get?"

"Huh?" Barry looks at him, confused.

"You know, what shirt are you going to wear? And do you want a tie or a bowtie or a cravat or...?" Charlie trails off when he sees Barry's bewildered face. "You were so caught up in finding the perfect suit you forgot about the other stuff, didn't you?"

Barry nods slowly.

Charlie smiles. "Then what are you waiting for? Go have another look around!"

Barry beams as he runs off again into the depths of the store.

Barry hums to himself, leaning against the door to one of the many, many boy’s bathrooms on campus. Due to some law, Ever After High was required to have the same amount of bathrooms for guys as it does for girls, which pretty much means each of the guys roaming the halls of the school gets their own. It’s great for skipping classes, and apparently, hiding out to completely rebrand your online presence before a school dance. It’s also great for giving Charlie a space to get ready, since the school hasn’t caught up with the idea of nonbinary students. Oh well.

Charlie is fixing their makeup while Barry takes approximately twenty-thousand selfies of himself in his spiffy suit, thoroughly admiring each one and then culling down the numbers until he finds indisputably perfect ones. Those ones get set as profile pictures, because Barry wouldn’t be caught dead using the same picture on multiple accounts, and are saved along with the name change. Barry was right in the assumption that no one would be looking at Fatesbook or MyChapter before the dance, giving him a perfect opportunity to update it before revealing himself to the world.

“And… done!” Barry beams, already looking more sure of himself. “I am officially Barry, in every way except legally.”

Charlie smiles, returning their mascara wand to its pretty pink bottle. “I’ll talk to my aunt Athena about that. After the dance, of course. You have to have your grand reveal before getting into a courtroom drama. I’m sure you’ll want to make a whole Mirrorcast season out of it.”

Barry smiles. “You know me so well.”

“Well enough to know you must want a picture of us together to post before we’ve gone out there.”

“Well, almost! I’m sure my followers check when I post. They won’t see my updated profiles until I actually post something, so I was thinking of refraining until after my debut.”

“So, you want a picture of us together to post the second we do go out there.”

“Yes, exactly.”

Charlie giggles, stepping into Barry’s embrace for a series of pictures. Only one will be posted– and it’ll be flooded out of everyone’s feeds by pictures of them at the actual dance soon enough. It’s just something to grab attention, not the proper documentation of their first dance together.

Barry gets a picture he’s satisfied with and saves it into a post draft on half a dozen different platforms. Then, they’re off.

They take a winding path through the school, mostly sneaking past empty classrooms and giggling behind closed hands when they narrowly miss over dance goers. Then they finally slink out of one of the many dorm exits and dart across Ever After High’s brilliant lawn, before coming to a stop right outside the dance venue.

A shared breath, and they enter, together, a united front in silk and glitter.

Charlie is a vision in pink, of course, their feathered wings fanned out behind the pair to give them more of an entrance than is strictly necessary. Their hair is adorned with laurels, their neck is draped with a golden heart-shaped locket, and their dress sports a sweetheart neckline wrapped around their bust in a sort of baby blue fabric before giving away to the sea of pink silk underneath. Elegant, and a soft way to match with their own sweetheart.

Despite Charlie’s literal divine beauty, Barry still managed to steal the spotlight. It’s his debut, after all, and he made it count. He’s adorned in a baby blue suit jacket with a delicate gold bear pin holding down the pressed lapels. Underneath, a powder white shirt with a precise collar that Barry intends to boast about being straighter than its wearer. There’s a matching cravat (which is in no way tied to the fact Barry is still yet to master the knot of tying a tie, thank you very much) spilling into the collar. His pants are the exact same color as his suit jacket, with gold embroidery eating its way up from the hem, depicting swirls reminiscent of hair and arrow-tip points. A pop of pink ties him to Charlie in a more subtle way than their splash of blue, residing within engraved hearts on his cufflinks, a last minute gift from his lover.

And he has a cape, of course. His partner has wings, and he had to match them somehow! If one of them was going to be show-stopping, then they both were.

All heads turn to them. Well, all heads that aren’t busy gazing into the eyes of their dance partners, or busy admitting a trick Maddie is showing off in the corner involving a tower of spinning plates balancing on a stick which, itself is balancing on the toe of her shoe. Very impressive, but unfortunately irrelevant to the plot. (Though she does look gorgeous tonight, in this Narrator’s humble opinion.)

Cedar Wood looks over, and then swats at Raven Queen’s arm to get her to look as well. Raven cheers, which then gets Dexter’s attention. He yells, “Woooo, look at Barry!” Which really gets the attention flaring.

Charlie leads Barry with them over to the DJ booth while Barry waves to his peers, smiling at the attention. Charlie lets go of him to walk onto the stage, giving him a few crucial moments to hide behind a speaker and post the drafted photo from earlier. By the time Charlie finishes giving a speech the pair had written out a few days prior, introducing Barry proper and beckoning him on stage, Barry’s posts had fully posted, cementing the digital change.

Barry steps onto the stage, accepting the microphone from his lover as Apple White storms out of the dance. But that’s just well and good, since this isn’t her story. It’s Barry’s, and he’s smiling.

“Hello, fellow Ever After-lings! I’m Barry Lockes, he/him, and I bring you the news.” A few laughs ripple from the audience. Wonderful, because Barry intended on leaning into it anyway. “We’re having a clear night tonight with a brilliant amount of star shine, but none of you care about the weather report. The big news is about your host,” he gestures to himself in a self-important way that he mastered a long, long time ago, “and about the secret True Heart’s Day ball being hosted tonight. I’ll return the microphone to my partner, Charlie Cupid, for more information about just that. And thank you for your time!”

Barry returns the microphone to Charlie, receiving an on-stage cheek kiss for his trouble, one that will no doubt be plastered across his social media feeds tomorrow morning. Just how he wants it to be. Charlie smiles, waving to the audience and giving themself an unneeded introduction before explaining the dance and its lore. Brilliant stuff, as far as Barry is concerned.

He lingers on the stage as Charlie explains the additional complexities of the True Heart’s Day berry things. He didn’t really pay attention to that part of the briefing, and he doesn’t pay too much attention to it now. He just knows it’s very important, and he knows it’s important for him to accept the one Charlie offers him on stage.

He does just that, then escorts his lover down to the dance floor as pixies hand out other berries to the other dance goers. Despite himself, Barry doesn’t pay attention to who received berries from the pixies, nor who they gave their berries to. It would have made for excellent Mirrorcast and gossip material, but his attention was funneled elsewhere.

To his Charlie. His best friend, his lover, his number one supporter. And, above all else, his True Heart’s Desire, and the desires they helped him fulfill within himself.

They wrap themself in his arms and lay their head on his chest, listening to his content heartbeat as the world sizzles to a blur around them. What more could matter beyond the two of them tonight? The approval and the bigotry will come tomorrow, as will the outpour of attention and outrage. And, of course, Headmaster Grimm could find out about the dance and come after Charlie for it. But those are concerns for tomorrow, for any time other than now, because all either of them desire right now is each other.

And that’s exactly what they have.

A Barry & Charlie Digital Embrace (Foregoing Gender Hexpectations) - MusikKeyKid, The_Lavender_Creator (2024)
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