Just met but just like the first time
You saw me you said 'Now there's a guy
Who never sticks around' I guess we
Have that much in common and that's
Why you hunted me down.”
-Without Me, Pinhead Gunpowder
Billie Joe panics every night before they go on stage. He doesn’t always have a panic attack, but there is always that heart-gripping fear in him. No matter what the size of the crowd, how much they’ve practiced, it’s always there. A demon on his shoulder, telling him he’s going to fail, he has no talent, that he’s a waste of flesh and blood and bone.
Tonight they’re at a fairly large place, bigger than the usual basements they play anyway. It’s some venue, Aaron had told them, similar to the Gilman. Really it looks just like any other converted hovel, years of graffiti layering all across the walls, their messages blurred, loosing what little meaning they may have once held. There’s a crush of people all moving and sweating together, each man or woman or teen trying to be heard and seen as unique, an individual, in the end they all come together as one, a mural of the times, of the scene.
Billie Joe is standing in the center of the crowd when he feels it, a shifting in his brain, or his heart, and he’s suddenly disconnected from everything. His breath clogs in his chest and his hearing fades, the energetic music from the band playing distilled to a dull rhythm in his head.
He has to get away, has to go somewhere and curl into a ball and cry; has to get away from all these god damned people.
The small man swallows dryly and slowly begins to make his way to the edge of the crowd, each step he takes becoming more and more unsteady, every blink of his eyes making his vision more and more blurred; but fuck if he’s going to break down and cry in front of all these people.
Finally he makes it to the wall, his fingers slipping unfeeling across its peppered surface. He stumbles, almost falling then, but manages to keep his footing. His feet feel dead in his Chucks, this attack the worst he’s had in months. He wonders fleetingly if maybe he’s dying, and if, maybe, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
There’s a small room off the bulk of the building, little more than an alcove really, and Billie Joe is relieved to find it empty. He staggers in, wishing briefly that there were a door he could close so that no one would stumble in and find him mid-breakdown, but he doesn’t really care anymore. Let the whole world know that Billie Joe Armstrong is a coward, a worthless little shit.
He trips over his feet a bit as he makes his way to the far corner, when he finally reaches it he presses his back against the cool wall, sliding down slowly to a sitting position and pulling his legs up against his chest. His whole body is numb; the only thing he can still feel is the rapid beating of his heart.
The young singer rests his temple on the wall to his right, pulling in a long, shaky breath, forcing the air into his lungs. He needs to calm down, they have to go on stage soon and they’ll need him, talent-less as he is; he can’t be freaking out all the time like this, not if they want to keep the band alive. The band is all he has.
He closes his eyes as the first tear falls, burning a trail down his cheek. His arm shoots out and punches the wall in frustration. He knows that should hurt, that he’ll probably bruise, his fingers swelling up, but he doesn’t feel it, damn it, so he keeps going, pummeling the wall until his knuckles are cracked and the wall is smeared with blood.
Billie Joe stops suddenly, looking down at his torn knuckles, wondering fleetingly if he’ll still be able to play guitar tonight, deciding that he doesn’t care as another crash of panic hits him, ripping more tears from his eyes. He chokes and hugs his legs tighter to his chest, resting his forehead on his knees and sobbing into the torn denim of his jeans.
Oh fuck no, not now. Billie Joe’s head snaps up so fast the back of it smacks against the wall behind him. He blinks, fighting a wave of dizziness, willing his vision to clear so he can see who’s found him and tell the person off properly. When he finally brings the silhouette into focus he sighs, his anger being replaced by dull annoyance; the new guy, Jason.
“Go away.” The singer croaks, flinching at how hoarse his voice sounds, before resting his head again. Had be been shouting? He didn’t think he had, but he wasn’t sure of anything right now; the idea that he could have been screaming without knowing it only serving to fuel his panic. Wouldn’t it be fucking wonderful if he’d made his voice even shittier than it already was?
The taller man shifts a bit, looking back over his shoulder at the sweaty crowd, and for a moment Billie Joe thinks that he might actually leave.
After a moment Jason moves hesitantly into the room, his shoes falling dully on the dusty floor, his pace slowing with each step. He stops a few strides from the broken man, his hands fidgeting a bit before resting nervously in his pockets.
“You okay?” His voice is quiet, not teasing or hurtful, nothing but concerned.
Billie Joe looks up, his puffy, tear-worn eyes meeting Jason’s gentle ones and any thoughts of telling the other man off slip away. He tries to breathe but the grip of panic has gotten even worse now and he coughs, choking on his own breath.
“No.” He finally managed to squeak out, his whole body shaking now.
Jason is beside him suddenly, joining him on the dirty floor; he pulls Billie Joe into his lap and holds the small man’s head to his chest. The singer tenses, every muscle going rigid and every nerve screaming to move away, that this is too close; he’s not used to being held, not used to being comforted, not used to people giving a damn. He’s only just met this man, barely known him even a couple of months, why the fuck does he care?
Billie Joe is about to pull away when Jason’s hand starts rubbing wide, gentle circles over his back. And that’s when he breaks, his entire body practically collapsing against Jason. Numb fingers fumbling at Jason’s shirt, trying to grip and hold on, as if the other man were the only thing between him and the raw oblivion of anxiety. He buries his face against Jason’s chest, his small frame trembling with silent sobs.
Jason shushes him quietly, his warm breath breezing over Billie Joe’s sweat soaked hair, his hand never ceasing its soothing movement.
“What’s wrong?” Jason’s voice is little more than a whisper.
Billie Joe shakes his head, smearing tears and blood on Jason’s unfortunately white shirt. He tries to say something, anything, but the words lodge in his throat and transform into a low wailing sob.
Jason pauses, unsure if he should continue but finally deciding that getting the small man to talk it out would probably be for the best. “Billie…” He breathes, placing a feather-light kiss in his dark curls. “Relax Billie, everything’s going to be ok, just breathe slowly.”
Billie Joe takes in a slow, shaking breath, coughing as he does. His mouth moves, lips forming soundless words before he finally manages to get something out, his voice hollow and defeated. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Billie…” Jason sighs, holding the small man a bit tighter. “You’re just having an attack…”
Billie Joe’s head snaps up, his eyes blazing, pushing away slightly, his voice regaining some of its usual strength. “How the fuck do you know about that?”
“Aaron and Bill told me you tend to get panic attacks before shows.” Jason voice keeps its steady, soothing tone.
“Fuckers.” A light, uneven blush colors Billie Joe’s pale cheeks and he looks away, his eyes focusing dully on some random, distant point.
“Hey…” Jason pulls Billie Joe close again, and the singer once again collapses onto him. He’s still shaking, but his sobs have slowed to silent tears. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I… can’t do this…” Billie snuffles, bringing his sleeve up and wiping at his nose.
“Can’t do what?” Jason’s hand once again moves to rub the back of the shaking man, his other hand hesitantly wiping away his tears.
“Sing… be in the band… I can’t…” He pauses, fists clenching, chewed nails biting into the flesh of his palms. “I fucking suck Jason. I have no talent, never will, Aaron was crazy thinking I could handle more of the vocal work after Mike left.”
Now it’s Jason’s turn to be angry, and if the man in his arms weren’t so very fragile right now he’d probably hit him, because that was just nonsense. Instead he sighs, the breath taking most of his frustration. He grips Billie Joe’s chin with the fingers of one hand and gently tilts the singers face to look at him. He stares into those sorrowful eyes.
And before Billie Joe can argue Jason’s lips are covering his; gentle and caring and so different from the last kiss they shared. Billie Joe squeaks, eyes going saucer wide, but he doesn’t pull away. He doesn’t do anything really, just sits there, dumbstruck and confused. Wondering who this man really is and why, for the second time now, he’s been able to make everything seem okay with just a pressing of his lips.
When Jason pulls away he still can’t answer, Jason is speaking again, and Billie Joe’s fried brain is working furiously to keep up.
“Don’t ever say anything like that again.” Jason’s voice is soft as he speaks, not commanding, but still leaving no room for argument. “Billie,” he cups the other man’s face in his hands. “This is going to sound taboo but your music, your voice, should be heard by millions, not just a handful of wasted punks. Never question your talent like that.”
And Billie Joe doesn’t know what to say to that. What can you say to that? What can you say to a man who’s just kissed you and then given you the biggest compliment you’ve ever received, given it like it were common knowledge? Like the whole world knew it and he was just being a stupid asshole.
So Billie Joe doesn’t say anything as he rests his head against Jason’s chest again, his mind a jumbled mess. He hardly even registers the fact that his panic is gone, melted away by the caring man beneath him. Now there is only this odd feeling that he can’t quite define, pushing it away to think about later, if at all.
“C’mon.” Jason says, shaking Billie Joe slightly and rising to his feet. “The others are probably wondering where the hell we are; Aaron’s probably pacing a trench in the floor out there.”
And Billie Joe laughs lightly, letting Jason help him to his feet, brushing the dust from their clothes.
“Your shirt…” Billie Joe trails off, running a hand through his hair and giving Jason an embarrassed look.
“Your hand…” Jason ignores his shirt, taking the singer’s bruised hand, rubbing a callused thumb over the wounds and flaking away the dried blood. “Does it hurt? Can you still play?”
Billie Joe’s eyes are watching Jason’s; marveling at the concern there, and all he can think is why does he care? He shakes his head, clearing his thoughts, and flexes his fingers, surprised at how numb they still feel. “Yeah, it doesn’t hurt too bad.”
Jason smiles and brings the cracked knuckles to his lips, kissing them gently, and Billie Joe is blushing faintly again, confused, but strangely happy. He chooses to ignore the slight flutter in his chest. Instead he pulls his hand away, slapping Jason’s back and making the younger man jump.
“See you out there.” He waves once, green eyes flashing brightly before disappearing into the crowd.