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Candy Striped Hell

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This is the Life

This is the life. The whole fucking life. Tommy’s lost track of time, lost track of where he is in the world, lost track of everything except the music, and it’s exactly where he wants to be. His fingers fly over the strings, and he can feel the atmosphere take a running jump into flat out insane.

Adam is singing, on his knees in the front of the stage, and Tommy doesn’t need to look to know that on his face is the biggest, most blissed-out look he could ever imagine. It’s a natural high, brought on by performing, because Adam is Adam, and Adam is a performance whore; always has been, always will be. He would say something, would make a joke out of it because it’s Adam and attention, but he can’t. Because he’s the same. He might not be on his knees tonight, but it’ll happen at some point, and Adam isn’t the only one who can get pumped up and ready to go just from the roar of the crowd and the sky-rocketing temperature onstage. Tommy Joe has learned to be honest with himself about how performing makes him feel. 

Adam grins as he stalks over to Tommy, all teeth and smiling like a predator. That’s what performing does for Adam - he’s not sweet and kind and cute at the moment; he’s all about passion, teeth, and nothing about him is soft. Nothing. He runs a be-ringed hand through Tommy’s floppy mohawkish hair, and Tommy leans in close, his throat exposed as Adam licks a stripe up pale, sweat soaked skin.

 It drives the crowd wild, but Tommy can hear laughter over the radio from the various crew members, and a deep, throaty chuckle that he knows that’s coming from Sutan. Sutan should not have a mic pack - he is not part of the roadie crew, and has no need of a mic pack during a live performance - but he probably charmed someone into giving one up for him. It wouldn’t exactly be out of character for him. Nobody says no to Sutan. 

Tommy shrugs, throws a glare into the depths of stage left, hoping that Sutan sees it. He knows they’re getting predictable, but really, he doesn’t care. Adam does it again, knows he has Tommy by the hair and more, and he’s doing it because he can. Tommy can hear someone (probably Neil) in the background, groaning out “I don’t need to see this shit”. He doesn’t give a flying fuck - Neil’s a big boy, and he’s seen much worse - and Adam chuckles in his ear, and Tommy knows that Adam heard as well.

Rule one of being backstage - don’t give Adam ideas .

Neil’s about to see a whole lot more than he bargained for.  

They haven’t planned this, but Tommy leans in close, pressing himself against Adam’s bare chest under his waistcoat, his throat exposed as Adam whispers something to the skin over his pulse. A bite, just a hint of teeth, but it’s a lot more tame than it looks. 

Kind of. 

Tommy loves it when Adam plays like that, and so does the crowd.

Adam adores winding the crowd up, takes great delight in using Tommy to ratchet up the tension in the already overheated venue, and like clockwork, the deafening roar of approval echoes around the park. The crowd loves it; they’re screaming like a bunch of wild animals as Adam grabs him by the hair on the back of his neck, bites just a little bit deeper, enough to leave marks in skin, and oh, that’s… that’s new. 

He kind of likes it, and by kind of, he means a lot. Neil should give Adam ideas more often because he could get used to this. 

And the whole time, Tommy Joe’s fingers don’t let up. They keep right on playing because this… This is what he does. He carries on while Adam uses and abuses him while performing. Because it feels good. Because he can. Because pushing the limits is what they do, and it works, and they like it. He’s just in the perfect headspace, and Adam can feel it as well, can see that Tommy’s gotten to the point that his fingers are moving without his brain even telling them what to do. Adam’s smiling at him, all teeth and lips, and Tommy leans in for a quick peck, but Adam catches his hair and pulls him close, close, closer, and it’s a good ten seconds before they break for air.

Offstage, Adam is funny and dorky, and he’s more often than not the least threatening person in a room. He’s sweet, and kind, and he likes to please people, and he likes to take care of people. That’s how he shows he loves them. Tommy loves that Adam just as much.

 But here, on stage, this is his domain, his place, his game, and Tommy is just there for the ride. 

He won’t argue. That kiss was damn fine, and he’s a happy, happy man leaning against his speaker block and staring deep into Adam’s eyes. Baby blues, all the way, that’s how he’s gonna go, he thinks, and he’s not smirking, he’s smiling, sweet and in love. He’s so fucking gone it’s not even worth mentioning it anymore but Adam chucks him under the chin, smiles right back at him, lipstick smeared all over his mouth. 

Of course, it can’t continue. There’s a show to go on and a crowd to please, and Tommy has to stop. Adam has to leave him alone for a while after that, because he knows that you have to give them what they want and then take it away again, and it’s hard for Tommy to let him go.  While Adam goes to hassle Ashley, chasing her around while he hits outrageous high notes, Tommy is left to his own devices. Part of him knows that Adam is playing up to the crowd, giving it large because that’s what he does, but part of him really likes it, and when Adam leaves, he has to go back to being on his own. He settles back to his guitar, propping himself on the edge of an amp just to have something to stabilise his world for a second. Being around Adam is weird, is intense, and he always has to take a moment, breathe deep, make sure he’s got both feet back on the ground before he can continue. .

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees some guy in a crew t-shirt, hovering around the edge of the exit off stage, but Tommy ignores him. There’s always some, usually the newbies who haven’t seen all the bands yet, who want to see a live performance up-close and personal. He gets it. There’s something amazing about seeing a performance like this live - something that could never be put on a DVD or streamed through a screen, and he’ll never get tired of it. Never. Until the day he dies, he won’t ever stop loving it. 

Adam’s voice is soaring tonight, though, reaching the rafters and back again, and Tommy allows himself to drown in it just for a moment, a tiny breath before they pick up again for the climax of the song. 

 It’s hard to drag his attention away from the notes, but Tommy has to focus hard, get through the song. If he fucks up, someone will end up kicking his ass backstage. Brian is a professional, and even though he’s pretty chill about a lot of stuff, he won’t tolerate Tommy being off, no matter how much Adam tries to fuck with him. There’s a moment of hush, when Adam wraps up the last song before intermission, and then the crowd is applauding so loudly the bottle of water on the stage beside Tommy vibrates, just like in Jurassic Park.

Fucking A, man.

Adam rushes off to do and do a costume change, and the rest of the band lay aside instruments to go have a piss, grab a bite to eat and drink, or just take a moment to come down off a high that has been building all night. This is a moment to breathe, to catch themselves before the second half of the show, to inhale sanity and exhale the performance rush.

Isaac claps him on the shoulder when he brushes by, and Tommy sends him a wide mouthed grin, because they’re both loving this; it’s what they signed up for in the first place. 

His bladder is calling out for some relief though, and he heads off into the mess of backstage, finds the taped off corridor that’s just for the band . He shuts himself in the bathroom, slamming the door on the world for a moment to breathe. He’s too hyped up to relax properly, but they’ve got another hour on stage, and he wants to keep the good energy going. 

When he emerges from the bathroom, Sutan’s right there, waiting for his turn but not before pushing a bottle of water into Tommy’s hands and giving him a look. Sutan does looks very well. Tommy’s learned many of them over the last few years; that particular one was shut up and drink. He knows why though - it’s insanely hot out there, he’s pouring with sweat, and there will be no repeat of three weeks ago in China. Thus, he opens the bottle, chugs half of it, and when Sutan comes out from the bathroom, he pats Tommy on the head and calls him a good boy.

Tommy tries to bite his hand, but he finishes the bottle anyway. Adam always comes over and checks to make sure, anyway, and good luck trying to get out from under that mother hen act, because he’s been trying for weeks, and it still ain’t worked.

Intermission is far too short - only enough time for Tommy to eat the half of a sandwich Ashley shares with him and drink a few mouthfuls of the orange juice that Adam forces into his hands as he rushes past. They weren’t even supposed to have a proper intermission today but the heat and humidity is this close to ruining everything, so… fifteen minutes, in a warm, unpleasantly moist corner of backstage, drinking ice cold juice and eating warm sandwiches it is. 

Adam eats half a salad and some raspberry smoothie as Sutan redoes his hair, rolls his eyes at Tommy as Sutan bitches about the state of whatever it is he creates, and then it’s time. The noise from the audience hasn’t even properly died down before Tommy is shepherded off to the side to get rewired for the stage, a new battery pack taped to his belt by a roadie with cold hands.

All too soon, there’s a hundred people pushing them back on stage, and Adam’s his usual fabulous self in a new costume, waiting for his moment to get back on stage and kill it again. Tommy can’t resist bumping shoulders with him, not quite a hug but enough to say, I love you. Adam doesn’t respond the same though. He runs a finger down Tommy’s neck, brushes over the red mark that’s sure to turn blue black in the next few hours. Fuck it, Tommy’s got goosebumps running down his back, spreading like wildfire, rippling out from the burning line of that finger. Adam knew that. He growls low in his throat, and Adam chuckles at him, pushing him onto the stage, and Tommy promises that he’ll pay him back later.

Maybe he’ll stick his ice cold feet on Adam’s stomach again. Adam squealed like a stuck pig when he did that last time. He’s never lived it down. Ha. He’ll deserve it, hot blooded freak. S’not Tommy’s fault he runs like fifty degrees cooler than Adam.

There’s no time to do it now, though. The growing noise from the crowd demands attention, and Tommy has a job to do. 

Twenty minutes later, Tommy’s feeling damn fine. They’re now about two thirds through their full ninety-five minute set, been through the introductions as well, and Tommy’s totally in the zone, living through the music, and it’s just perfect. Everything’s just coming together perfectly. He can’t remember the name of this city off the top of his head - he’s lucky he still remembers his name, if he’s honest - but he’ll find out from Lane, so he can make them play here again on the next tour. He avoids wondering whether there will be another one, because the crowd here is perfect, and the stage and the crew and everybody is just so amazing.

It just works. 

After six months of tour, after months of prep, after the hell that has been the last year, he was ready to throw in the towel at the start of today, barely able to get out of bed, but the little voice in his head was wrong. This is the best fucking show he’s played in a long time, a show of a lifetime. 

He loves it.

The guy is back again, the new roadie from earlier, and he’s got a strange little smile on his face. Whatever, sometimes music makes you feel weird. He’s standing a little further forward - almost visible to the crowd, and Tommy knows that the roadie dude is going to get nailed by Ashton, their stage manager. He does not tolerate intruders onto the stage. In about three minutes, Ashton is going to pop up like a jack-in-the-box, whisper get the fuck off the stage in this guy’s ear. 

It’ll be the best three minutes of his life, though. 

Tommy’s not one to judge what music does to people. Everybody in the band, the dancers, even Sutan, they understand what happens. There’s always a song that turns people’s minds upside down, it makes everything right, and they want to get up to dance and move or fuck or whatever. It speaks to them, inside, and they just get it. There’s something intoxicating about Adam as well. He pulls people into his performance, rides on the crowd’s energy and then amplifies it into pure power. For someone who’s never seen it, it’s mind blowing. Not that Tommy’s used to it yet. Not by a long shot - every time he goes on stage, it still hits him. Almost four years in, and it still feels just as awesome as the very first time. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Adam and the dancers appear from the edge of the stage, and that’s his cue. He turns away from the other guy, focuses on Adam, who’s loving on Brook right now, and the crowd, once again, goes wild. They’re loving him, as always.

Tommy just shrugs off the gaze he feels burning into his neck when he turns his back on the guy again.

The band is pushing it tonight, raising the game, and Adam is as well. This is what they wanted - a bigger system, more speakers, better bass; it’s deeper than what they could do before, pushing the limits between rock and pop, and it’s Tommy’s new home. He grins as he watches Ashley’s solo, the bass deep and almost verging on jazz, and Adam follows it, hips swaying, and laughing. He’s so happy. 

Adam’s loving the new sound that he and Tommy have been working on for a while, and it’s what they wanted, together, as a band. This isn’t from the album - it’s fresh, new, something that’s a special treat just for this show, and it shows - the crowd loves it. Adam swings into the second new song - caressing the old fashioned microphone stand he bought just for this, and the band flows on, more lyrics, riffs, drum beats, without a break. The crowd is getting into it; the atmosphere is electric. The hairs on Tommy’s arms are standing on end. It’s like the moment before a storm, the rush before the climax, and Tommy’s right where he needs to be. 

He raises a fist, smiles loud and proud because oh, he dreamed of this, even as he stares at his boots, drinks in the noise, the smell of pyrotechnic catalyst, the light show cascading across the floor.

He’s made it. 

Then the screaming for Adam turns into real screams of fear, and Adam is shouting at him to get down, and in his ear someone is shouting at him





When Tommy looks up again, the crew guy has a gun in his hand, black barrel staring Tommy down, unblinking in the laserlight. The strange smile is still there. The gun is pointed straight at Tommy, and the guy’s hand is rock steady, even with the screaming, and the eyes on him, and the eleven million cameras pointed in his direction.

And every bit of sound drains out of Tommy’s world in a quick rush with a sucking sound, and a breath of wind rushes through his skin. And his world goes down to his electric guitar under his fingers, the guy with the gun, who mouths, “I love you, Tommy Joe” at him, like it’s a secret, something between the two of them, I love you so much

I don’t know you, Tommy wants to say, wants to scream it at this guy who’s acting like they’re in this together, like he should have known this was coming. But he can’t say it because his mouth is dry, and his words are all gone, and there’s nothing to say anyway because all he can think about is the fucking gun. 

Tommy Joe can feel every camera flash from the audience, can see every shimmer from the glitter on the stage from where it's been thrown by the fans, and he thinks there’s no secret here. He's all on his own in this sea of people; him and a psycho with a gun, a gun with a trigger that is being molested by the blonde in a crew t-shirt that Tommy realises isn't actually a crew t-shirt at all. Someone’s in his ear again, shouting at him, telling him get down, get down, get down .

That finger on the trigger is pulling it back, fractions of an eighth of an inch at a time, so slowly, so slowly, he can barely see it, but he can hear it, even though he knows he shouldn’t, the click, click, click of a trigger, ratcheting back, and back, and back, until it’s pulled just enough - 


In an instant, the world explodes into sound.

His guitar's neck shatters in his hands, the body splintering a split second behind, the sound of screeching feedback deafening because he’s standing next to an amp bank and he can feel the noise in his bones, and Tommy wants to look up, wants to see what’s happened, but he can’t. His head is heavy, and it’s like someone pushing him down, pushing him to the ground with heavy hands; only there’s nobody there except him and the guy with the gun. He falls to his knees, long and slow, like someone cut his strings from on high in the rafters, slumping against the pillar that Adam had just pushed him against, made out, hot and heavy, in front of thousands of people. 

Only, that was then, and this is now. 

His head rolls back. He’s looking up into the roof of this concert venue. Someone’s left a strip of candy striped safety tape dangling from one of the spotlights, and it waves in the breeze, backwards and forwards hypnotically. It’s such a stupid thing to notice, but there’s so much happening that he takes a moment to reset his brain, to focus on something small, because in a minute he’s going to have to get up and deal with the fucker who just broke his electric mothefucking guitar.

He loved that guitar.

He’s gonna have to fuck up the fucker who broke his fucking guitar, and then because he fucked up Adam’s show, and fucked up Tommy’s high as well, and that’s just not fucking cool, man, not cool at all. It’s his fucking guitar, you know, his fucking guitar, and his show. How he earns a living, and the fucking fucker just broke it, so he’s gotta break the fucker right back, because he’s a rock star now, and rock stars don’t just lie down and take it like he’s doing. They get up and punch shit up.

He wants to do it, push himself away from the floor and rise up, go after this bastard, lay into him like he used to in back alleys and dive bars, but he can’t. Just when he thinks he can, he sees the gun go up again; a riptide he didn’t expect pulls his knees out from under him. He feels his body shuddering under his instrument, and something hits him in the chest, pounding into him like nails in a board. Tommy has the strange, irrational thought of, oh, now, it’s bad, because he knows that’s a lot of bullets. Suddenly, getting up is a lot more difficult, and he’s lost his grip on the amp that he was using to haul himself upright.

Flat on his back, Tommy wonders what happened. It feels like the guy with the gun has been there for a while, but why is nobody helping? Where is Adam? Why doesn’t security come, lay down the smack down, and then Tommy can carry on with the show, can get up from the floor, jump back into the show?  

And the crowd is screaming again, but it’s muted, and fading as fast as the warmth is spreading at his back, and Adam’s face appears above his. Tommy Joe feels like he should smile, should say something reassuring. He’s not good at speeches, not good at being comforting, but he’s never been caught short for words, he thinks. He has a smart mouth, his dad always told him, and the years have only made it smarter. 

He watches tears in Adam’s eyes well up, tears that shouldn’t be there because this is a good show. They’ve been good to the crowd, and the crowd has loved them, and why is Adam crying? Tommy wants to trace those tears, wants to brush them away with his hand because they shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t mark this occasion with sadness because it’s a good place. He watches the tears turn black, stealing eyeliner from his waterline, streak down his face. 

It’s making Tommy think once, twice, makes him think thrice, as the black begins to slide down the face of the man he knows so well, after all this time.

Because Adam doesn’t cry like this, not in front of everybody. Because Adam doesn’t grab his hand and hold on like he’s the only thing keeping Tommy Joe in this world, gripping his fingers so tightly they slip and slide between his larger ones. 

Adam’s brave and bold, and he cries at night, when it’s just them and a bed, and it’s all gone by the time the sun rises the next morning. 

Because Adam shouldn’t fight Ashley when she and Neil pull him back, shouldn’t try to force his way through Ashley’s arms and Neil’s hands towards Tommy. But he does. Adam shouldn’t fight; that’s Tommy’s job, but now he’s fighting, screaming something that Tommy can’t hear even though Adam is barely a few feet away, and he wants to hold onto Adam. Please don’t take him away; please don’t leave Tommy Joe alone. He knows that this is all wrong because then Adam goes to his knees, clinging onto Ashley, and she’s so small, but next to Adam. She looks so big. 

And Tommy watches as Adam is held back from him by people they love. 

He wants Adam because he doesn’t know what’s going on, but maybe Adam does because that’s how they work - Adam knows things and Tommy follows - and they can figure it out together, over beer or whiskey and burgers, but when Tommy tries to get up, it hurts and hands push him down and he doesn’t understand what happened between the amp and now. Someone wearing a fluorescent jacket and carrying a big old box of shit pushes past Adam, reaching for Tommy, starts shoving his shirt this way and that. Scissors flash bright in the lights, as they work, snip, snip, snip, cutting away his only protection off of him.

He wants to protest when they cut the strap of his guitar off of him, wants to say something when Ashley takes the guitar from them, fingers slippery with scarlet, because that’s his guitar damnit, how could they take it away from him, because how they could they, how could they, how, how, how, how….

And suddenly the world catches up with him at the same time as he reaches out for Adam, but when he tries to call out, blood bubbles up in his mouth instead of words, and something inside of him is cold, cold like fire. It curls around his guts, deep inside of him, making him shake and it makes him feel sick, snaking between his ribs, up his throat, and closing in behind his eyes until he sees nothing but grey mist.  He chokes, coughs, parts the mist to see the wide eyes of the guy holding a fistful of gauze to his chest, splattered with red foamy blood on his arm, on his neck, on his hands, on his wrists. 

He knows that’s not good. 

Everything stops making sense. He wants Adam, he wants Adam by his side, but there are more people in bright yellow, pressing deep into his flesh, shoving needles under his skin that he’s irrationally aware of, and he wants to tell them to leave him alone, but he doesn’t have enough air anymore. 

Ashley is clutching onto Adam’s shoulders with a grip so tight her knuckles are white.

And there’s only silence, and Tommy really wants to say something, wants to ask what happened, because everything starts hurting. It hurts like he can’t explain, deep and slow, in waves that come and go over his whole body and it feels like the ocean in Cabo. He really, really can’t help the tears welling up in his eyes, and Sutan is going to give him hell when he gets up in a minute, because he’s made his makeup run all down his face, and it’s supposed to be waterproof, and the fucking packaging lied. Again. But there’s more red bubbling up from his lips, so that’s good. Sutan won’t have to do that part for him, because he’s already got enough smeared around them to make him look like a vampire. 

 He wants to giggle hysterically at the thought, and part of him wonders why it’s so funny. Adam doesn’t seem to approve, but maybe he can’t hear the words in Tommy’s head, so he tries to share them, tries to get them out, but all that comes out is more blood, bubbling up from deep instead, making everything taste like copper and iron, and bursting out with foam and red instead of his words. Tommy doesn’t know why Adam can’t hear him because he still has tears running down his face. 

Tommy reaches out to him. 

He worries that Sutan will be mad at him for ruining his make-up, because he doesn’t like it when Tommy ruins his masterpieces, but he doesn’t know why he’s so worried about that as he sees Sutan come running, come sprinting from the back of the stage with his brush pouch on and foundation still mixed on his hand.  Tommy wants to say sorry for messing it all up, but Sutan doesn’t look mad or like he’s gonna chase Tommy through the halls of the venue with a shoe and a pair of curling tongs. 

He looks sad. 

And Sutan isn’t sad. Sutan is brave, and Sutan is good, and Sutan doesn’t whisper things at him like, stay with us, Tommy, and he doesn’t hold onto Adam with tight fists that make his rings glint in the bright stage lights.  

And then there’s more black and grey creeping in the sides of his vision, and he doesn’t like that, because that’s not what he needs right now. He needs Adam, and someone to tell him what happened, and why is there red everywhere, all over Adam’s chest and his hands and the knees of the guys surrounding him, actually climbing the green fabric like some alien infestation.

It’s too much effort to keep straining his neck around to see Adam, who is white faced beneath the glitter and the eyeliner, kneeling on the floor beside Ashley who is the only one still standing. Neil has sunk to the floor, and Neil’s hands are holding on to Adam’s while his face is buried in his big brother’s neck. And Tommy wonders why he’s hiding like that. Behind them, in the distance, Tommy can see Isaac’s standing on the drum platform, and his mouth is hanging open, with his drumsticks clutched in his hand, but there’s no beats playing, no music going, the floor isn’t pounding with the bass drum, going boom, boom, boom in his ear. 

The floor is swaying, so gently, like the boat on the ocean in Cabo, rocking him to and fro. 

The lights are bright, and looking at people is difficult now. And his eyes want just to focus on the important things, so Tommy looks at Adam. He watches the tears fall, traces one from birth to when it falls, and he wants to wipe it away because he doesn’t like watching Adam cry. He wants to say that, but the guys around him keep pulling at him, keep trying to talk to him, pushing needles into him, and pushing on his chest, his thigh, deep into his belly, and suddenly all Tommy can think about is how much it hurts how much it hurts how much it hurts how much it hurts how much it hurts how much 

His head is too heavy to move, so he goes all boneless and relaxed, like he does when he’s on the couch on the tour bus, with a blanket that his mom made him special for the big tour. He can almost imagine his head on Adam’s lap and Adam’s fingers brushing across his head, as some shitty TV program plays in the background.

The last thing Tommy Joe hears is his heart beating off time in his chest, swishing back and forth like the waves on the beach, and he can smell the sea salt, and he’d be back there, back in Cabo, laughing and loving, if he wasn’t so fucking cold; this bone chilling ache that causes his teeth to press together with the pain, as if that can stop it.

He wants to look at Adam, see Adam and tell him everything is going to be just fine, because he’s a rock star now, and he can just walk it off if he could only get off the floor. But his body isn’t responding, isn’t working like he wants to, and nobody’s listening to him, nobody’s able to hear Tommy Joe anymore. No words come out, no sound goes in, he’s stuck in a world of silence and cold, the floor swaying, swaying, swaying, in time to his heartbeat, that’s so very quiet now. 

And all he can do is look up at the roof as his vision flickers in and out, and he closes his eyes, and they’re too heavy to open again.  

The last thing he sees isn’t Adam, isn’t his band, his friends, isn’t anything he loves. It’s the candy stripe piece of tape swinging in the breeze, like a

little warning flag

                                              that he didn’t

                                                                                bother to pay

                                                                                                                      attention to.