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hard liquor mixed with a bit of intellect

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“Battle of the bands” Farrier smacked the flyer down between the three boys hard enough to make them jump, the quiet room filled with the sound of hand to wooden table.

“What?” Tommy had paused his tweaking of his bass to turn and look to their manager, who looked disarmingly excited for once.

“There’s been a call for local talent to participate, winners get their album published and forced into the airwaves,” Farrier explained, and upon looking to his bandmates, Tommy found that they both looked rather intrigued, a sentiment that Tommy couldn’t agree with based on the uneasy churn of his stomach at the idea of performing in front of anyone other than the crowd of 50 they were used to.

“Any entry fees?” Alex asked, making his way to the table, pressing his ringed fingers to the flyer, dragging it across the table towards himself, his eyes flickered over the page, but Tommy knew he would only be inspecting the pictures.

“Yeah, bout a hundred, but you lot could make a lot if you win- and considering what I’ve heard, you might be in with a chance- I haven’t looked into who else is enterin’ but I’m sure you fellas will be fine” Farrier was still almost buzzing with anticipation, he rubbed his hands together and looked over the three, Alex and Philippe nodded easily enough, the two both crowded around the flyer, grinning to each other like they were anything other than hesitant allies. Tommy wasn’t as sure.

He chewed the inside of his cheek, he could feel Farrier’s eyes on him but he refused to meet the other’s gaze, he felt very timid all of a sudden, he knew it was because his creeping fear of being ‘the bummer’ had been triggered by the springing of this ‘battle of the bands’ nonsense, but for once there was good reason for it. Bigger crowds meant bigger failures, louder heckling, and longer recovery time before they could show their faces after their defeat.

“Tommy, you okay, mate?” Farrier asked, and that one question was enough to distract Alex and Philippe from their study of the poster, turning to look at him with gazes that were concerned, but loaded all the same.

“Yea- just, sounds like a lot of people, is all… lot of pressure.”

“That’s rock and roll”

“It’s okay, we don’t have to if you don’t want to”

Alex and Philippe turned to glare at each other at the sound of the other’s words.

“Phil’s right, they’ll have it again next year if you’d rather wait. But I’m your manager, and I seriously think you lot would kick arse- I don’t like agreeing with Alex, but this whole music thing is about putting yourself out there and doing things even if you feel uncomfortable at first- I felt uncomfortable letting Alex become the lead singer, but it turns out he’s not as bad as I thought he’d be! C’mon Tommy, think about it” while Alex had glared at Farrier’s backhanded example, Philippe found it rather amusing.

Tommy drew in a long breath, Farrier hadn’t led them astray so far, even when he had to kick their arses into gear and shove them into the deep end. He supposed this was rock and roll. Whatever, he thought with a huff, “sure, I’ll do it, rock and roll and all that” despite the sour taste the words left in his mouth, he couldn’t ignore the lightness of his heart at the joyful smile Philippe wore at his words.

“Great, because I’d already nominated you, you perform in two weeks” Farrier announced, before making his way out of their space, likely on his way to post on Facebook about his #bossbitch moment

“Two weeks?” Tommy spluttered, making his way quickly to the bench and shoving between his bandmates, Alex shoving back with enough force to knock Tommy on his arse if he hadn’t been leant so heavily against the table. “He’s lucky I’m scared of him; I can’t believe he waited till we had two weeks!”

“You think he waited? He probably only found it yesterday- who uses flyers anymore? That dude needs to get his internet presence more set up” Philippe sighed, resting his chin a top Tommy’s shoulder.

“You reckon he knows the difference between a username and password?” Alex asked, moving away from the flyer, a squeaking sound signifying the fact that he was now fiddling with his mic stand- he didn’t use a mic during practice, but he liked to keep the stand for… ‘choreography.’

“Probably not- two weeks isn’t that bad, we just choose a song we’re good at,” Philippe pointed out, also retreating from the bench to sit behind his drumkit. Perhaps you wouldn’t peg Philippe as the ‘drums’ type, but boy could he smash out a beat on those bad boys.

Tommy was more predictable- the quiet one on the bass, almost silently holding everything together. Alex had claimed lead singer in a heartbeat, multitasking between vocals and an electric on their more hectic tracks, he may be an idiot in most other aspects, but he could play and sing at the same time without a hitch. Also, when he played the guitar his hands were too full to assault the mic stand, which was a bonus.

“What songs are we good at?” Tommy asked, pulling the strap over his head, the weight familiar over his neck and against his hands.

“We’re good at the songs people like- that’s why we’re good at them,” Alex mumbled, grabbing at the stand, shifting it about just to have something to do. “Why don’t we do ‘war talk’? That one’s a hit,”

“Alex that’s about your devastating breakup, you almost threw hands with… something, last time we played it” Tommy exclaimed, and ‘something’ was the right word for it, Alex had been rather worked up at the song, and from what Tommy could see from behind the other man, he’d been raring to fight what seemed to be the speaker in front of him pointed to the crowd. It had been the most nerve wracking four minutes of his life.

“What about ‘first signs’?” Philippe suggested, and when Tommy looked at him, he was twirling his sticks in his fingers.

“What? The song about how you and Tommo fell in love? I don’t think so mate, audience would be snoozing” Alex hated that song, hated it with a passion, hated how left out he’d always feel, so much so he’d allow Philippe to take vocal lead, leaving the former to moodily strum his guitar until the song is over. Tommy and Philippe found it rather funny, but he supposed they don’t want Alex sulking at an important gig like this.

“Okay, calm down Alex, what do you think of ‘golden kiwi’?” Tommy suggested, and despite already knowing Alex liked the song- like really liked it- he was still relieved when Alex nodded and turned back around.

There was a lot of mystery behind this song- the lyrics of which Alex had cooked up during a spirit quest of all things, and required almost unbelievable energy from all three of them- especially Alex, who had to belt out the vocals and play the electric- both of which were very high energy. This was their finisher, both because it would finish them on a high note, and because by the time they were done they were all well and truly exhausted. Alex to this day refused to tell them what ‘kiwi’ had to do with anything, but the ‘golden’ was eluding to the meaning of the lyrics, which in parts were based off the ‘honeymoon phase’ of whatever relationship Alex had been in when he came up with this song. It was an overtly sexual song about the honeymoon phase, that’s all Tommy could say about it, and people fucking loved it.

“They’d only want one song, right?” Philippe asked, and he almost made himself cough at how hard he sighed in relief at Alex’s confirmation. “Alright, GK it is.”

“I knew you two would make a good decision one day” Alex hummed, making his way to his unopened guitar case, slinging the instrument over himself before moving back to the mic stand, fiddling with the cords and electronics of it all before he told Philippe to count them in.

They were good at this one, Tommy wasn’t hesitant to admit that, they were really good. Like Alex had stated; they were good at the songs people liked, and this was one of the best.

Alex never toned it down for rehearsals if this song was being rehearsed- even with limited space he swung his electric around and belted out the lyrics like someone had a gun to his head, ready to pull the trigger if he disappointed in the least. Tommy had no clue how he could move like he did with a heavy guitar hanging off of him. Every time he hit the gap between verses where the instruments took over, he’d prance around and act like someone had dropped itching powder into his trousers. But the audience always appreciated it, and that was all that mattered, Tommy supposed.

They ran through GK over and over again until an hour and a half had passed, Alex was prepared to do more, but Tommy had work in the afternoon and Philippe had started to complain that his arms ached from smashing at the drums.

“I think I might enquire about our competition- suss them out if Farrier knows their whereabouts” Alex announced as he wiped his brow with the back of his hand, swinging his guitar over his head to put it back in its case.

“Sure- just don’t try anything weird- seducing the competition will not work for you” Tommy knew even with his pleas, if Alex wanted to do something, he’d do it, but then again there was no harm in trying to get through to him, right?

“Whatever you say, Tommo- I’ll text you if I find anyone” Alex promised, and the brunet putting his bass away could only sigh, looking to Philippe who shared the same sceptical look aimed at Alex.

**

“The fact that he hasn’t text me yet is worrying” Tommy blinks at his screen in the darkness, glares at the ‘no unread notifications’ like it’s withholding information. Like Alex could be doing something illegal right this second and Tommy is powerless to stop it.

“Maybe Farrier didn’t tell him anything” Philippe suggested from where he lay against Tommy, head against his chest, dark hair a stark contrast to the paleness of the other man’s skin. Tommy hummed, shifting a bit against the mattress, before resting a hand against the back of Philippe’s head, fingers lazily running through the strands.

“Maybe”

“You worry too much” Philippe sighs, pulling the phone from Tommy’s hand and putting it back on the nightstand, his lips are soft when he presses them to the Brit’s cheek. “You sure you’re okay to do the competition?” he adds after a beat of silence passes between them, then there’s a hand against Philippe’s jaw and then Tommy is turning to press their mouths together.

“I’m fine- just caught me off guard is all- besides, audience will be too busy watching Alex ascend onto the astral plain to pay any attention to us” Tommy wasn’t lying- he’d been thinking about it, GK was tried and true, there was no way they could stuff it up at this point, not with this song, not with Alex loving it as much as he did. Any remaining nerves were shoved to the back of his mind- scared or not, panicking over it wouldn’t help nobody.

“We’ll be fine, worried or not I want you to know that- and so will Alex, so you can stop stalking your phone” Philippe thought that would be the end of that, but not even ten seconds after he stopped talking, the phone started ringing furiously.

“Alex wants to video chat- cover yourself” Tommy announced, sitting himself up against the headboard, Philippe copied him, sitting himself up and staring down at where the duvet gathered at his lap, good enough.

Alex was obviously in a bar or something, he was coloured in a bright shade of blue by the lights, and Tommy’s room was filled with the sound of what had to be live music.

“I found one of them” Alex announced, shouting over the music and the sound of the people around him. From what Tommy could make out the song sounded very alternative, definitely not anything like their own sound, but then again that’s what made competition interesting, he supposes. “Group of three, lead guitar is also on vocal- shares it with the drummer, they got a bass too- not bad to be fair” Alex explains, and Tommy wiggles, trying to shift a pillow wedged uncomfortably between his back and the headboard.

“What’s their stage presence like?” Tommy asked, tilting the screen a bit for Philippe to have a proper look, Alex had flipped his phone at the question, and through the throng of bodies and flashing lights the two men could make out the trio, a young blond in front never quite making eye contact with any of the audience, skirting over all of them like he’d lose interest, almost like he was baiting them, baiting them into trying harder, screaming louder, trying to grapple at an iota of attention from him. It was strange to see, considering Alex did everything but ignore the audience, but Tommy couldn’t say it wasn’t working.

“He’s been ignoring them all night, either he’s an idiot or he’s a fucking genius” Alex shouted into the phone, turning it back so the screen was filled with the brunet’s face again. “The drummer’s doing most of the audience work, nice looking bloke, nice voice. Kinda wanna kick the blond kid’s arse” Alex grumbled, bringing a glass of… something to his mouth and downing half of it.

“Are you leaving after their set?” Philippe asked, pressing himself against Tommy’s side. In response Alex shook his head, cheeks puffing out before sucking in as he swallows his mouthful of drink.

“Nah, might try and make some introductions”

“Not with the band, Alex, you’ll get carried away- you’ll get us disqualified before we even perform!” Tommy exclaimed, wishing he could reach through the screen and shake the other man by the shoulders.

“You worry too much, Tommo, can’t hurt to get to know your competition a little” Tommy rolled his eyes at Alex’s words, the next person who tells him to worry less was going to have a bad time, friend or not.

“I worry because I know you, Alex, and you know that I’m right in worrying about you” Tommy knew Alex would quickly grow tired of Tommy’s mothering, that he’d hang up and then do the exact opposite to what Tommy wants him to, it was Alex’s talent- ignoring the wishes of those around him. Tommy just hoped the band didn’t get the tail end of whatever the other man chooses to do after the oppositions set ends.

“Be good Alex- does this band have a name? Have you heard of them?” Philippe piped up, sighing against Tommy’s shoulder like he just wanted Tommy to hang up so they could go to bed.

“Yeah, Teacher’s Pet or somethin’, lead singer’s certainly moody enough for it” Alex scoffed, rolling his eyes, most likely at something the band on stage was doing.

“Alex, leave the singer alone” Tommy warned, his tone bordering on irritated.

“Alright, alright, you two look tired, I’ll see you at rehearsal tomorrow” Alex was trying to get rid of them, they knew it and he knew it, but all Tommy could do is sigh and wish the other man farewell, before their call was brought to an end and all Tommy could do was shuffle under the covers, wrap an arm around Philippe, and pray that Alex behave himself for one goddamn night.

**

They didn’t understand how valuable Alex’s sleuthing was going to be- when he knows what they’re like, knows the extent of their prowess on stage. He’s going to be no less than a hero when he gets them a valuable leg up on some of their competition.

Alex leans back against the bar, throwing back the remainder of his drink before placing it down on the counter and requesting another. He was waiting for the band to come out from behind stage- usually most performers enjoyed a drink afterwards, enjoyed the mingling with fans that often led to a little more when you’re high off adrenaline and tipsy off the alcohol on the other person’s lips, Alex hoped this lot wasn’t any different.

But a while passes, he finishes another drink, and the droning of the music from the speakers slowly meshes together into one long line of noise filling Alex’s head.

He almost jumps when a voice appears next to him, a dull sound against the thud of music and Alex might not have paid much attention to it if the owner of the voice didn’t lean so heavily against Alex to grab their drink.

He turns and he can’t help the surprised noise that escapes him, it’s likely drowned out by the noise of the bar but the blond from ‘Teacher’s Pet’ turns to look at him all the same, taking a long pull of his drink so that Alex has time to bask in the sight of his Adam’s apple bobbing against the skin of his throat. When he puts it down, the brunet eyes off the softness of his features, the bite of the squareness of his jaw offset by thick pink lips and round blue eyes, blue eyes that sat atop stark cheekbones tinged pink by the heat of the stage he’d been performing on not twenty minutes prior.

“You even old enough to drink?” Alex asks, rather amused, shifting over slightly but not enough that he had to strain to listen to whatever the other boy had to say.

“Are you?” he replies, quirking a brow, and his accent is pleasant enough, though he sounded as if most of what he said lingered on the side of smartasrsery and prickish comments. His blond hair looks damp, whether it’s product or sweat Alex isn’t sure, but the strands stick together in spikes and it adds yet another bit of harshness to a boy whose DNA couldn’t decide if it wanted to be sweet or sour.

“More legal than you are, mate.”

“I haven’t seen you here before” the boy points out, and Alex hums, a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

“Can’t imagine you’d see many people- didn’t look at nobody all night.”

“I have superb peripheral vision- and you were glaring at me the whole time, even when you were talking to someone on the phone,” he’s smirking and Alex can only smile back, his teeth digging into the insides of his cheeks in an effort to keep his smile on the pleasant side.

“Usually folks pay attention to their audience- you looked like you think you’re above all of ‘em.”

“I am, strictly speaking the stage is raised, you see. I think if you spared a second to look away from me, you’d find my audience is very much encouraged by my ignorance.”

Alex takes another drink from his slowly draining glass, he exhales after he swallows, eyes glued to the other lads, the bastard was challenging him, though to what remained to be seen. “Encouraged enough to make laying pipe after a show easier?” Alex asked, bringing his drink again to his lips, tonguing at the rim as if it was covered in something sweet a moment before drinking in more of the hard liquor. It wasn’t unheard of- whoring yourself out on stage to make people want you after the show- making it much easier to grab a hot piece and leave quickly, but completely ignoring someone to make them want you was a tactic he hadn’t seen before on stage.

The other man was unblinking, staring at the glass like he hated it, “dunno- you feeling easy yet?”

**

Alex woke to the ping of his phone- it was abrasive, his message tone, it was audio of Tommy trying to hit a high note in GK after downing almost half his weight in liquor, it was terrible and making it his message tone was the best decision Alex had made- although it was horrendous to hear this early in the morning.

‘This early in the morning’ turned out to be 11 in the morning when Alex pried his eyes open to check his phone, he felt unwashed and sticky with sweat that dried a long time ago as he shifted to look over the phone screen- it was a message from Tommo, asking if he knew they’d organised a practice for today, fuck. He sent back an apology, his fingers tapping at the keyboard and autocorrect fixing almost every word, by the time he placed the phone back down on the nightstand, his eyes burned at the light of the screen. The blinds did a most wonderful job at blocking out the mid-morning light, his phone didn’t have the same courtesy.

He rolled over onto his side, he’d bumped against something warm grabbing his phone, and now he let himself inspect just that something. It was the guy from last night- turns out Alex had been feeling easy, easy enough to go home with the bloke. Easy enough to let him ride you into the mattress, easy enough to beg for him to look at you and easy enough to cum on the spot when he finally did. Alex wasn’t one to blush, but thinking about it made him feel too hot under the thick duvet, it crinkled quietly when he sat up against the headboard, reaching out a hand to slide it over a fair shoulder, he could see his rings sitting in a pile on the nightstand on the blond’s side of the bed, he couldn’t recall taking them off, but he was glad he did.

He wriggled over till he could lean over the other man, lips close to his ear and voice a soft whisper when he spoke, his voice so deep and scratchy from sleep he sounded barely coherent, “I’ve gotta go, I’ll leave my number on a sticky note or somethin’” he let a hand drag through thick blond hair still crusty with what must be product, the young man groans at the contact, but doesn’t open his eyes as Alex gets up.

Alex is quick to pull his clothes on, he’ll have to shower after practice, fit a quick one in before work- there’s no chance he’d survive work feeling like this. He doesn’t bother putting his rings back on, just slides them into his palm and shoves them in a pocket. He moves to a desk in the corner of a room, grasping at a notebook and tearing off a piece of the blank back page, scrawling down his number in pen before making his escape.

It takes him a ridiculously long time to get to the studio- when Farrier picked them up, he told them Alex’s dorm wouldn’t suffice if they were going to ‘go places’ and none of them could turn down a proper rehearsal zone. Alex has to stop by his flat to grab his guitar and gear before taking a bus to the studio. When he finally bursts through the door he’s almost an hour and a half late, and Tommy and Philippe seem to be practicing amongst themselves, plucking and tapping at the tune of GK with quiet focus, a quiet focus that isn’t fazed by Alex’s presence, until a few moments later that is, when Tommy stops playing and faces the newcomer with an upturned nose.

“Why do you smell weird? You smell like a fuckboy”

He’d put on some cologne in the guy’s room, Paco Rabanne Invictus, he’d cringed when he saw it, but it was his only choice in a hurry.

“New cologne”

“Same clothes from yesterday? Alex what happened” Tommy was focused on him now, eyes squinted in a glare- the game was up before it had begun.

“Nothing, just thew it on, didn’t wanna waste time picking a new outfit- kept you boys waiting long enough.

“Of course- because you definitely listened when I told you not to pull any funny business last night” Tommy wasn’t normally suspicious of people- it was a blessing and a curse, a blurse- but the bastard could still be nosy when he wanted to be.

“Of course” Alex mimicked back, irritation creeping into his voice as he placed down the case of his guitar, not looking up at Tommy as he opened it and pulled out his guitar, he could still hear Phil quietly tapping away at his drums in the background, not wanting to get involved in the spat as always, it would be honourable if it didn’t mean Tommy was free to get as hectic as he wanted.

“Good- because if you had, you would have told me by now, would’ve owned up so we could have a civil discussion about what to do about it” now he was making Alex really annoyed- civil? Did he call shouting and ‘I can’t believe you’ve done this’ guilt trips civil? What a joke.

Alex clenched his jaw and groaned, rolling his eyes, he supposed if this blew up, he could always leave and have a quick fuck with the bloke before work out of revenge. He sighed, before placing his guitar back down, throwing his hands up in defeat, “I fucked one of them- I fucked a Teacher’s Pet, you got me, detective Tommo” he quietly revelled in the harsh bite to his sarcastic tone, the way it made Tommy’s lip twitch in silent distaste for the man’s words.

They stood there staring at each other a moment, and just as Alex opened his mouth to ask ‘what now’ the Tommy dam broke, and out came his wrath in heavy waves.

“Alex what did we tell you? You promised! You said you wouldn’t go looking for trouble, you always lie like this- you could be sabotaging the band, you realise that, right? What did you even achieve? What could you achieve? You need to think about things, Alex- this isn’t a joke!” Tommy’s voice was raised, threatening to become a shout, his fingers twitched against his sides like the anger and frustration filling his body was too much, bubbling over and falling from his fingertips.

Alex was ready, had been since the other man had started his enquiry. “I didn’t promise nothing- I said ‘alright’-and bollocks to your ‘always lying’ bullshit, you’re worse than my mother!” if Tommy had sparked the flame, Alex was pouring gasoline over it, he never was one to back down from a challenge. “M’ not sabotaging us- the bloke had no clue who I was! Still doesn’t! This is rock and roll!” Alex hadn’t moved from where he stood by the desk, “and I do think, I was thinking about trying to help us get a leg up. Right now? I’m thinking that I’m fucking leaving and you two can do whatever the hell you want” he was partly lying- he’d gone in with the intention of possibly getting some information, but every that happened after that blondie pulled up next to him at the bar went right against any actual logical plan he could’ve thought up.

“Don’t you dare leave!” Tommy had made a run for it, throwing himself against the door before Alex could even turn around. “You can’t make us wait and hour and a half for you and just leave because you’re pissed off that I told you off for being stupid!” Alex could easily take down Tommy, throw him aside and get to that door, the question was if Philippe would step in, the bloke was small but he was broad as all hell, and Alex wasn’t stupid enough to underestimate him and whether or not he could kick Alex’s arse in Tommy’s honour.

Tommy was right, Alex would know that if he took a moment to think about it, but he wasn’t in the position to be admitting that his opposition was right.

Then, from the back of the room “both of you cut it out- Alex get your guitar out and stop fucking around” Philippe sounded appropriately done with them, and Alex was about to brood about being the only one being told off when Philippe spoke again “Tommy, get off the door, we’re not going to be disqualified, you’re both acting like children.”

So, under the command of their drummer, the two men silently got themselves ready- Alex hastily tuning his guitar before coming to take his usual position. His anger subsided quickly, he couldn’t afford to be emotional when he performed GK, it was much too exhaustive, even when they were rehearsing.

They managed to get a fair bit in before Alex had to excuse himself so he could go home to shower and make it to work on time. He could feel two sets of eyes on him as he put his guitar away, and as he stepped through the doorway he stopped.

“I promise not to fuck this up for us.”

**

Alex didn’t see the blondie again until the competition. He’d received multiple texts from the bloke- his name was Peter, turns out- requests to meet up, asking whether this was the right number, more requests to meet up, and then a ‘fuck you’ when Alex still withheld a response (out of respect for Tommy and Philippe and their band, not out of disinterest).

They’d upped the rehearsals as the competition neared, and by the time they’d performed in the qualifiers, they’d been exhausted- hopped up on energy drinks, coffee, and adrenalin when they performed that first time. He hadn’t seen Teacher’s Pet then, but he’d seen them at the round after that- the one that mattered, the one that decided which band was the winner.

He’d looked shocked to see him, even more so when Alex turned down his offer to make out in a rehearsal room during another band’s set. Alex couldn’t risk it all now- Tommy was positively wired with nerves, Philippe a wracked mess making sure they were prepared, making sure every instrument was perfect, that everyone was perfect.

**

It was hot on stage, the lights blaring down on the three men as they made their way up, the audience was a head aching sea of noise and flashy glowsticks and movement, Tommy’s hands shook where they rest against his bass, he looked back at Philippe to see similar apprehension, nervous fingers twirling the drumsticks between them. Alex appeared the least nervous, he believed in himself, believed in them- he’d sacrificed too much to fuck this up now.

The hammer of the drums made the ground under their feet vibrate, the ferocity of Alex’s voice over the roar of the audience made the air electric and as the three men threw their heart and soul into the instruments they felt as alive as they’d ever been.

It feels like they’d only just stepped onto stage when they finished their song, the three boys looking around at each other with wide eyes and a smile so large it made their cheeks ache. They threw arms up at the crowd as they filed off, jostling each other to move quicker. Their skin tingled and fingers itched under the ache of playing their instruments harder than they’d ever played them, but that couldn’t dull the excitement that continued to bubble long after they’d put their instruments down, enjoying the sound of the other performances until the fateful moment they were called on stage to face their judgement.

The three stumbled into a hug, tired arms tangling around shoulders and necks and waists, three similar but different heads of dark hair shoved together in the centre of them, they were sweaty and hot and positively alive. They were a real band, and Alex had proven Tommy wrong, and that’s all that mattered.

That, and maybe that prick from Teacher’s Pet that glared at Alex as all the bands walked on stage to face the music, no pun intended.