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dynamics and breathing in shades of grey.

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“Having a new guy in the band…I dunno. It screws up the dynamic, you know?”

Chad nods, looking away from Deron. “I haven’t noticed it, but then I’m not the one who…”

“Who what?” Deron snaps, sliding a cigarette out of the pack and standing up, walking as far away as he can in the tiny space the bus allows. Chad shrugs lazily.

“I don’t have to tell you, Deron. You might be an asshole, but you’re no idiot.”

He leaves and Deron’s hands curl into tight fists, almost singing his skin as he crushes the burning cigarette between long fingers that are absolutely not trembling at all.

***

He’s sitting alone on the bus, God knows how he managed that, when Matt stumbles across him, almost literally. Deron jumps and runs a hand reflexively, defensively, through his hair, blue eyes darting this way and that.

“Hey man. What’s up?”

Matt shrugs. “Thought I’d look for you. We’re due to sound check in a few and people are wondering where you’ve got to.”

Deron smiles at a patch on Matt’s shoe and nods. “Cool. Well, I’m here. I’ll be right there.”

“Alright, cool.”

But Matt doesn’t leave right away. Instead he squats down beside Deron, hands swinging loose between his knees.

“What’s up, Deron?”

“Nothing. I’m just hanging out. Needed some space or something, you know?”

Matt nods, staring at the bus wall with clouded eyes. “Deron, can I ask you something?”

“Shoot,” Deron forces himself to reply quickly, before the nervous jolt he feels at those words can take hold. Matt turns to him with a frown that’s just visible through the shadow the peak of his cap casts over his face.

“You’re not happy, are you?”

Deron smiles, hoping the expression reaches his eyes. “Why wouldn’t I be happy?”

Matt shrugs, adjusting his hat. “You just seem…off. Distant. Especially if anyone mentions your wife and kid. I just…”

“My wife and kid…that’s none of your business, Matt.”

Matt tilts his head and almost smiles, but not quite. “Relax, dude. I’m just a little concerned. So, if you need to talk or anything…”

“Look, I’m fine, okay? Don’t act like you know me,” Deron snaps, voice crackling with false self-assurance and irritation. Matt holds up his hands; the international sign of retreat, surrender.

“Alright, man. Sound check in like five minutes. See you then.”

“Yeah. See you.”

Deron is left alone in the semi-darkness and the dank smell of too many men’s sweat, biting his fingernails and trying not to think too hard.

***

Some nights he lies awake for a while, remembering how it all started. It was all supposed to be. So. Fucking. Simple. Auditioning for a new bassist. Fantastic. Except that everyone they tried either sucked or had an ego the size of a planet. Until this one kid walked in. Matt Deis.

Deron remembers the first time he saw him, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he stood in front of the three of them. He remembers how his gaze started from those feet and worked its way up, and when he reached the kid’s eyes, something made him wish he hadn’t.

He can still see the way that Chad smirked and relaxed back in his chair; the way his voice curled around the words “Alright, kid. Show us what you can do.” Then he remembers all of them being fucking blown away. Maybe in more ways than one. Matt could play bass alright, and Deron remembers the half-smile and concentration on his face as he first played for them that day. He remembers feeling himself smile and not knowing why, a drop in his stomach and a feeling like oh shit that didn’t really make sense then, but just might do now.

Deron recalls the way Chad turned to him, eyebrows raised, and he nodded with a smile starting to creep across his face, looking over to Jess to see a similar expression. Then Chad was saying “Congratulations, Matt. Welcome to CKY” and all Deron could see was the thrill on Matt’s face, lighting up his pale eyes like diamonds. He remembers a breathless handshake and close proximity eye contact for the first time; Matt enthusing “You won’t regret this, I swear”. Thinking oh shit again. After that it was the familiar whirlwind of touring that Deron could try and sink into, drinking way too much again with the same old excuse that hey, it’s a party, right? And that’s the way it goes, the way it is now.

Deron squeezes his eyes tighter shut, running the scene over and over in his head, trying to understand what was so important about it. Why he can’t sleep now for thinking about it. Mostly, he just remembers this blue eyed boy staring at him in awe, and it displaces something deep inside of him that makes him chew on his fingernails until they start to bleed.

***

He’s trying to refine this acting normal thing down to a fine art. It’s gonna take some time to get to grips with though, especially when he barely even knows why he has to fight so hard now just to be himself, like he used to be. Before he met Matt.

So he’s not too surprised when Chad throws an arm out in front of him as he’s leaving the bus one afternoon, stopping him in his tracks.

“Hey. You alright?”

Deron nods and smiles. “Sure. Just going for a walk.”

Chad stares levelly up at him from where he’s reclining in his bunk, and Deron tries not to blink first but eventually he has to and looks away. Chad sits up, swinging his feet out of the bunk and to the floor.

“Deron, man, something’s up, and if it’s this Matt thing…”

Deron attempts a laugh. “What Matt thing?”

Chad raises his eyebrows and Deron feels panic starting to rise in his chest. It’s not right that Chad should know more than he does. Fuck, it isn’t fair. With a sigh of resignation he sits down beside Chad, turning to him expectantly.

“Fine. You know so much, tell me what my problem is.”

For a few seconds Chad doesn’t reply, just studies him warily, judging how genuine Deron’s words are, whether he’s just looking for an excuse to lash out verbally at someone. Finally he takes a breath.

“Look. All I know is, you’ve been drinking too much. You’ve been avoiding us after shows, especially Matt. And I’ve…”

“What?” Deron leans forward, needing to hear what Chad has noticed, knowing that the older man is often more perceptive than he is. Especially when it comes to things that he doesn’t want to see.

“I’ve seen the way you look at him,” Chad continues softly. Deron turns away and frowns down at the worn carpet, a sudden pulse drumming at his temples. “Deron, you need to get the fuck over this and deal with it. So just fuck him already or whatever you need to do…”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Deron stands and makes to leave the bus again. “That’s fucked up, Chad. Acting like you know what I want…why would you even think that? You’re disgusting.”

Chad sighs. “Deron…”

“No. Just shut the fuck up, man. Seriously. We’re done,” Deron snaps, stalking away down the bus hallway. As soon as he’s outside he lights a cigarette and drags deeply on it, eyes closed, pulse still throbbing against his skull.

Five minutes or so later Chad leans out of the bus door and sees him still standing there, blue eyes frowning vacantly at the clouds. He sighs again and wordlessly passes Deron a half empty bottle of Jim Beam.

“Just quit being such an asshole about it, alright?”

Deron glances at him and half smiles, reaching for the liquor.

“Sorry. I’ll be fine in a day or two.”

Chad nods wordlessly and withdraws, leaving Deron’s thoughts to run themselves in dizzying circles. He stares at the sky and all he can see are grey-blue eyes staring back at him until he forces his own eyes shut and just breathes.

***

It’s been two months, or close enough. Two months, twenty seven tour dates and way too many bottles of whiskey since Matt joined the band and Deron lost his mind. He swears at himself loudly and stubs out his cigarette on the wall. Through the bus blinds he can see a cluster of fans still outside the venue, waiting for him, but they can’t see him hiding because he left the lights off, sitting in the streaks created by the streetlights outside.

It’s then that he sees Matt amongst the crowd, talking to the fans like they were old friends, always with a smile and a hug for anyone who wants one. Deron’s gaze lingers, stuck for a few seconds until he can tear himself away, anger at the both of them heating his skin. Stupid kid fucking everything up. His hands curl into fists, nails biting deep crescents into his palms, his teeth locked together in something of a snarl, his body definitely not shaking.

Suddenly the bus door is opening and he jolts, blinks out at the crowd from which Matt is now missing and feels that tug in his guts again. Oh shit.

“Hey, man.”

Deron wants to spit, but instead he replies, “Hey. Good show tonight.”

If Matt’s wondering why he’s sitting in the dark again he doesn’t show it, just takes a seat beside Deron on the sofa. Deron becomes acutely aware of how his body is now twisted fully towards Matt from where he had been turned to look through the window behind him and he stiffens but doesn’t move. He’s trying to work through this--no, scratch that, there’s nothing to work through. He just needs some alcohol to loosen up some. He’s always uptight after a show, no big deal.

“Deron, look…”

Jesus, he does not like where that sentence is headed. But his throat defies him and seizes up; he can’t change the subject or even breathe, hardly. His mind is throwing out pleas, he doesn’t even fucking know why, to anyone that will listen; why can’t Chad just step through that door right the fuck now and give him some familiar ground?

But his eyes drift and find where Matt’s would be, hidden by that cap again but even so he can imagine them sparkling, and he fucking hates that he can imagine it. Then Matt’s hand is on his arm and he doesn’t think he’s even taken a breath for half a minute, but he must have because he’s still alive.

“I think I know what’s going on here, and I just wanted to tell you…I’m cool with it.”

Deron shifts to sit properly, inching towards the edge of the sofa, slipping away from this shit that he doesn’t want to deal with. He doesn’t answer but Matt fills in the gaps as if he had.

“I talked to Chad, and…you know, I’m not like that or anything, but if that’s what you…I mean, for the band, maybe it’s best…I’d just be okay with it.”

Jesus Christ.

Deron doesn’t even have time to think or to run the fuck away before Matt is leaning over him, overpowering him somehow although he’s three inches shorter and eight years younger; these calculations don’t make the reality of Matt this close to him any less and fuck, he’s kissing him. He leans forward half an inch involuntarily, feeling a whisper of soft lips against his own that almost makes him gasp and then its over.

Their lips barely touched but Matt still draws in a deep, slow breath before he opens his eyes, holy shit, he had his eyes closed? Deron’s own breath catches in his throat, trying to suffocate him, and now he’s not so much shaking as he is vibrating. He clears his throat and speaks hesitantly, as much to himself as to Matt.

“So…you’re saying…you want this?” His mind finally catches up with him and he wants to punch himself hard in the head, yeah, no shit, Deron. What the hell did you think all this was about?

Matt had been watching him steadily but now he looks away, and Deron’s beyond glad, grateful, relieved, that he still can’t see his eyes at all. He honestly doesn’t want to know.

“I’m saying I’m willing to do this, Deron.”

Deron’s brain decides to switch itself off right then, or maybe it’s gone forever, he doesn’t know, and he reaches out for Matt, licking his lips nervously. His hand settles on the other man’s shoulder, twitching before his thumb finds the tendon in his neck and strokes gently along it. Deron’s eyes focus only on his hand, laying against warm skin that threatens to burn right through him, and he inches closer until his mouth finds Matt’s and his eyes slide closed altogether. Matt responds slowly, parting his lips and not flinching when Deron’s other arm slips around his waist to keep him in place, no going back on a promise now. Deron has definitely stopped breathing this time; he almost chokes on a groan and fuck, since when has he wanted this? Since when does a stupid fucking kiss feel so amazing? His lungs burn with the lack of oxygen, his chest tightening, but he ignores it, pressing closer to Matt, pushing deeper, holding tighter to this thing that doesn’t make any sense at all, but his brain is still missing and so for a brief, glorious time he simply does not care. One of his hands slips underneath Matt’s shirt and makes the younger man’s breath catch sharply, but his eyes stay closed, not tightly but definitely closed. Deron inhales finally, pulls in Matt’s scent and heat and breaks away to just. Breathe.

His eyes flutter open and he looks at Matt, his cap at an angle now, his lips shining in the dull orange light from outside. Deron finally looks at him for five long seconds, watches how his eyelids flutter but never open, before he moves back in again, sliding Matt onto his back, crawling on top of him and diving back towards his mouth again, his hands crawling down his body without being stopped. And of course it isn’t love, hell it isn’t even mutual attraction, but for some reason Deron needs it all the same, and for the sake of his sanity he’s finally decided to take what he can get.