I felt better as I made my way back to the stage. Thankfully, the director was sympathetic and didn't keep me much longer and by the time I returned to the marquee, Amber and Izzy were there, having acquired still-cold bottles of water. Gratefully, I took one and slipped outside the marquee again to find a place to rinse and spit, trying to rid myself of the lingering sourness I could taste in my mouth.

It was a bit unnerving, having to change amidst the lack of privacy in the open expanse of the marquee. I've never been that comfortable stripping off, and there was no quick way to get from almost naked, only my boxers protecting my modesty, into Davine's dress via her corsetry—even with Amber's help—very quickly. I know nobody was really looking, but I still felt rather exposed. I was glad when Daryll disappeared and Davine took control. She always did have more balls than I did.

The march was due to leave at midday. What a difference that hour or so made. The place was swarming with people, a lot of them already in parade formation, some with banners wavering above them, groups in matching tee shirts proclaiming their allegiance to one cause or company or another. I could hear the vibrant thrum of the drumming group that would lead the march already pounding their lively beat not too far away. There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation filling the air, the good weather contributing to the festive atmosphere. I scanned the crowd, appreciating the diversity of people preparing to march, to party all day; some of the youngsters were pretty beyond belief, there were muscled, hairy bears, cropped-haired scary dykes and everything in between. The rainbow was well and truly represented.

"We're going on the march, d'you mind?"

Amber bounced up to me; she loved Pride, loved the brashness of it, the out-there-in-your-face-ness of it.

"Course not, wave for me."

"Coming, Nathan?"

"Nah, you and Izzy go, I'll keep Davine company." He smiled at me.

My tummy churned in a completely different way. "I don't mind if you want to march."

"I want to stay with you," he murmured, his voice low. "We could have a quick look at the stalls while it's quiet."

"Deal!" I said, smiling back.

The march moved off exactly at midday; I was among a number of the performers from the concert who gathered at the departure point to wave them off. Before they went we posed for photographs amid the cheerful, colourful crowds, highlighting some of the groups and causes represented. Between the drums, the shouts and cheers and whistles, for a while the noise was amazing and wonderful and inspiring, and afterwards, the peace when they had passed from earshot, a relief.

We had plenty of time to wander. The march was scheduled to meander for ninety minutes around the city and I was due onstage mid-afternoon. We found Simon at the BoyzBitz stall and I left with a bag of wristbands and a pile of leaflets to give out.

"I don't suppose you want anything to eat, do you?" Nathan asked as we finished our circuit of the stalls.

"Afterwards, when Davine's done her stuff and I'm out of this frock and we can enjoy the rest of the day." I didn't want to admit that if I had anything other than water, I would probably throw up again.

"I'll even buy you a pint afterwards, to celebrate," he grinned at me.

"By that time, I'll be able to enjoy it."

As you always do at Pride, we'd both collected a bag full of freebies as we wandered round—it's part of the ritual. After our circuit, we made our way back to the marquee with our treasure, weaving our way through the swirl of people getting ready to perform, to the little space we had commandeered as our own. The chairs they had provided were not the most comfortable but I sat and closed my eyes, trying to relax against the anxiety that I could feel building again.

I must have dozed; the next thing I knew, Nathan was gently nudging me awake.

"Fifteen minutes until you're on."

Oh shit! I must have paled, despite the thick foundation; Nathan ran his hand up and down my bare arm, his touch gentle, reassuring, quelling the rising nausea as if by magic.

"You'll be fine, Daryll, you've got friends here, people who love you."

He stopped, his eyes widening as the implication of what he had said hit him. I didn't say anything, afraid that any word I spoke would break the spell. The silence hung between us, not awkward nor tense but full of expectation.

"I love you, Daryll."

It was a whisper, a breath caught on the moment, but I heard it and my world settled into place.

"I love you, too."

For a moment, we stared at each other, we were alone, nothing and no one else mattered, only the love we had admitted and saw reflected in each other's eyes.

"Dar! C'mon, they need you backstage, you're on next!"

Amber burst through the group of people to our right. "Stand up, Daryll! Turn round! Let me check the dress. Are you okay, Dar?"

I held Nathan's eyes for a moment longer as I stood. "I'm fine, Amber, really fine." I don't know if she could see the smile that played on my lips, the silly grin that filled my heart as she tweaked and fussed at Davine's dress, but I was fine, I was more than fine, I was soaring skywards.

Nathan and Amber came with me, waiting in the wings as I sashayed onto the stage as I was introduced.

The space in front of the high stage was full now, a sea of faces looking expectantly up at me. I couldn't see anyone from The Bone, but I knew they were there, Izzy, Max and Taff, Jordan even, and all the others.

This time last year I had been among that sea of faces, alone and staring up at the acts on the stage; in my bag, there was the leaflet, the time bomb that would change my life, save my life. Begin my life.

I glanced to the side where my lover and my best friend waited. I smiled, then stepped forward to greet the cheering audience.

"Bite me. bitches!"


A/N Thanks everyone who has read this story—and I know you are there because I can see the stats—and especially thanks to the people who have taken the trouble to review it. I hope you have enjoyed it. G.x