"No, it just needs a bit more—" Ray trails off, and Mikey looks up to see him biting his lip and flapping his hand around. "Like. More like— Wait, let me see."
Mikey frowns down at his bass. They've been going through this one song for, like, two hours. They wrote most of it last night together with the others, and Mikey's been practicing his part on and off since then.
He feels like he's got it all worked out pretty well, but Ray seems to still want something more.
Mikey sighs and rubs at his eye.
"Okay," Ray says. "Wait, how about— Like this."
He starts playing his part again, and Mikey slowly joins in, a bit hesitant.
"No, no, do it like— Here, let me show you," Ray says, reaching toward Mikey's bass.
Mikey tightens his hold on the neck, looks away from Ray.
"Can we take a break or something? Just a couple of minutes."
"Sure," Ray says, sounding confused. Mikey glances at him. "I mean, we need to finish this by tonight—"
"I know," Mikey says. They're all on a tight schedule, trying to write more songs while fixing the ones they have. He hates asking for it, but he's seriously been at it for what feels like ages and it's not getting any better.
He can see what Ray wants, he can hear it, but he just can't make it work.
"I'm gonna go and get coffee," he says, and puts the bass down next to him.
He doesn't look at Ray as he leaves.
It's not really Ray's fault, of course. Mikey gets that Ray just wants them to be the best they can be. He watches the coffee machine working and tries to figure out where he can steal some extra time for practicing. He's just gonna have to work harder.
Mikey breathes out roughly, irritated, and starts again from the top. He's sitting in the corner of one of the backstage rooms, going through the toughest songs before the show starts. It's mostly empty, the others are probably shooting the shit somewhere, trying to relieve the pre-gig tension.
Mikey closes his eyes briefly before looking up from his bass. Frank's coming towards him, two bottles in hand.
"Hey," he says, beaming, as he reaches Mikey. "Here."
Mikey accepts the beer and promptly takes a huge gulp.
"Come on," Frank says. "Come hang with us. Otter scored us some of the good stuff."
Mikey shakes his head and takes another, smaller sip. "I need to practice."
Frank tilts his head, and frowns.
"Come on," he presses. "You should try to relax a bit before we go on, you know. Take your mind off it." He's smiling at Mikey, encouraging.
Mikey knows Frank gets nervous too, they all do. But Mikey’s currently riding the buzz before the real terror sets in and going over the songs helps him focus. Besides, he needs to; he's still not satisfied with Sorrows.
"Frank?" Ray pops his head through the door. "Hey, Mikey. Come on, you guys, Otter and Gee aren't gonna wait for us."
He's smiling, loose and easy, and Frank grins at Mikey and tugs him up and out of the room. Ray slings a hand over Mikey's shoulder and squeezes. Mikey holds on to his bass and lets himself be led outside.
Gerard stumbles into his room without knocking, like always.
They're home for a couple of days before leaving for tour again. It's the middle of the night and Mikey's spent most of it going through their set.
"Mikey?" Gerard asks sleepily, and plops down on the chair next to Mikey's bed. "Can't sleep?"
Mikey shrugs and looks down at the bass in his hand.
He slept for a little bit, just to make sure he didn't pass out mid-song or anything, and then got back up to make sure he had the new progression Ray came up with a couple of days ago just right.
"Thought I should practice." His voice sounds rough, a bit too loud in the dark.
"Hey," Gerard says, quietly. He gets up from the chair and settles next to Mikey on the bed. "You should try to sleep if you can. We're not gonna get much of it on tour."
Mikey shakes his head. "I— It's not good enough, yet."
Gerard scoffs. "Of course it is."
"It's not—" Mikey starts, frustrated. "It— I just need to practice more, okay. It's fine."
"Mikey." Gerard's voice is soft and quiet in the dark. He leans closer to Mikey, his body warm and heavy against Mikey's side. It's comforting. Mikey hadn't wanted to turn on the light at first, but as he kept working on the songs, it had started to feel like the darkness was getting even thicker. It's different with Gerard here now, though. He takes a deep breath.
"Mikes, it sounds great," Gerard says. Mikey sighs and rests his head on Gerard's shoulder. "You need to stop beating yourself up about it and get some sleep, okay."
"Why are you awake?" Mikey asks, turning so his forehead's pressed against Gerard's shoulder.
Gerard shrugs, making Mikey's head bounce a little. "Nightmare," he says. "'S different, though."
"Yeah," Mikey says. He kind of wants to tell Gerard about his own nightmares, the ones that push him harder to practice as often as he can, the ones that seem to pull back a little when he gets the hang of a new progression. With Gerard right here next to him, though, they don't seem as important, as scary.
"Come on," Gerard says, and pats his knee. "Sleep. Here, let me..." He takes Mikey's bass and pushes Mikey down on the bed, tugs the covers up roughly.
"Be careful with it," Mikey says, voice soft with sleep.
Gerard ruffles his hair. "Come on, what do you take me for," he scoffs. "Relax. Get some rest."
Mikey falls asleep to the sound of Gerard moving around in his room, cursing as he bumps into something.
Gerard blows out a breath, right into the microphone. Mikey looks up to see Ray shaking his head. Frank's frowning at his guitar and tapping his foot.
Mikey thinks he's been up for... for forever, it feels like. He knows it's probably been at least twenty-four hours, and even though he's had much longer stretches without any sleep, he's spent more than half of these hours practicing the new riffs they came up with, and the last three hours doing that with the rest of the band, and it's just— It's too much.
It doesn’t help that when he does get some sleep he gets woken up by nightmares, the ones that always start with him screwing up, in front of a crowd, in front of the others, and then turn worse — his fingertips starting to bleed as he tries to get back on track, and doesn’t look up, can’t, because he doesn’t want to see the disappointed faces of the guys.
He’s practicing harder than ever, but it doesn’t feel like he’s getting any better.
And now Gerard got it into his head that they need to really step it up for the next row of shows and they're running through their set, and Otter keeps messing up the rhythm, and Mikey can't help but follow that. Even when they get it mostly right, Mikey still can't play through the new arrangements without stumbling every once in a while.
"Fuck," Ray says, and usually Mikey would feel at least a little bad about how disappointed he sounds, but he just can't do this right now.
"Let's just— Let's go again," says Ray, and Mikey can feel something inside him snapping.
"What's the point?" he says, and lifts the guitar over his head. "It's never gonna be good enough."
"Mikey," Ray says, startled. Mikey shakes his head and places the bass on the chair nearby.
"Mikes—" Gerard starts, but Mikey doesn't stay to listen. He rushes out of the room, not even sure where he's going. The house is too small, and he feels trapped by it.
Eventually he ends up in the kitchen, and heads for the fridge to find something to drink. He stares at it, clutching the fridge door, but decides on coffee in the end.
His hands shake just a little as he's pouring it into the cup.
No one comes after him, and he's grateful, mostly. He figures it must be Gerard's doing, he can pretty much always tell whether Mikey needs to be alone or needs Gerard to follow.
He feels bad for blowing up like that, childish. He sips his coffee and tries to calm down, take deep breaths. He almost chokes on an inhale, and ends up coughing for almost a minute straight.
At least it takes his mind off it, though.
He sighs and runs a hand over his face, tries not to think about how pathetic he's being over this.
Ray finds him later in the practice room, running through the new stuff. He went back for his bass after he calmed down and stayed when he saw that it was empty. He heard the rest of the guys moving around in the building, but it seems they were all giving him space, at least for a while.
"Hey," Ray says, quietly. Mikey takes a breath and looks up. Ray's standing at the door, hands in his pockets. He looks awkward. More than that, he looks worried.
"We should probably talk," Ray says. "I mean... Definitely, we should definitely talk."
Mikey holds the bass closer to himself, and draws his knees up a little. "Yeah," he says. "Okay."
Ray still looks awkward, runs a hand over the back of his neck, but then his expression turns determined and he steps forward, sits next to Mikey.
He doesn't say anything for a minute or two, so Mikey offers: "I'm sorry about—"
"Wait," Ray says, holding up a hand. Mikey frowns. "Just— You don't have to apologize, okay. Let me just— Okay. So." He seems to steel himself, then turns fully toward Mikey and looks him in the eye. "So, Gerard told me that you've been practicing a lot. I mean, I— I noticed, but I guess I didn't really think about it. Mikey..."
Mikey shakes his head. "It wasn't— I just need to get better."
"Hey," Ray says, reaching out a hand. Mikey takes a deep breath and looks at him. Ray looks a little frustrated. "You're a great bass player."
Mikey shakes his head again, automatically. "How can you— I can't even get the new progressions right. I—"
"Mikey," Ray interrupts him, laying a hand on his arm. "I've been too hard on... On all of us, I guess. But that doesn't mean you're not great at what you do."
Mikey shrugs, looking down again. "I'm not like Frank and you," he says quietly. "It's so easy for you, and I, I keep practicing, but—"
He cuts off with a soft gasp when Ray pulls him close and hugs him. He tenses at first, but Ray rubs his back, his hand warm and big, and Mikey lets his body relax.
"Hey," Ray says again and pulls back a little to look Mikey in the eye. "You're really fucking talented. Like, I know you've heard it before—"
Mikey sighs. "Gerard—"
"Mikey," Ray says. "You know that Gerard doesn't just say it because he's your brother, right?"
Mikey breathes out, and Ray rubs his thumb over his collarbone, gentle and soothing.
"It's true," says Ray. "And I should say it more often, too. And I get that you want to practice and improve, but— I'm really sorry if I've made it seem like you're, I don't know, not good enough or something. 'Cause that's not the case at all."
Mikey shakes his head and looks down. "It's— Yeah, okay."
He doesn't— It feels a little bit like betrayal, that it means more to hear it from Ray. He knows that even though Gerard's biased, just the same as Mikey, it doesn't make it not true, but it's just different with Ray. He's really fucking talented, and now he's sitting here and telling Mikey that he's good and Mikey can see that he's not lying, fuck, he's pretty sure Ray wouldn't, not about this, not about music.
"Hey," Ray says, and leans in to hug him again. "We're good?"
"Yeah, of course," says Mikey, relaxing in Ray's arms. "It was never— Of course we are."
"Okay," Ray says, and rubs at Mikey's back. Mikey can hear the smile in his voice.
"Look," Gerard says. "All I'm saying is that you should keep your mind open to it. Also, we need another player."
Frank throws a fry at him. Gerard tries to swat at it and misses. "Fucker, you're not even listening."
Mikey snorts; Gerard’s been trying to get Frank to join him in D&D for ages. He looks back down at the bass in his hands. He was running through some of the songs at first, but he's just messing around now, warming up.
"Oh, that's good," Ray says from behind him. Mikey raises his head, looks back at him to see Ray grinning. "Keep playing."
Mikey turns back and starts going through the progression again. He hears Ray grab a stool and drag it over behind Mikey's chair.
It’s fun to not have to concentrate so hard on getting everything perfect; just playing for the sake of it and sometimes suggesting new riffs to the others. He feels more relaxed — if not really on stage, not yet, then at least when they’re practicing. Sure, sometimes he still gets frustrated, but it doesn’t really come with that panic that drives him to stay up at night until he gets it.
Ray leans over and joins Mikey on the strings, his arms encircling Mikey. Mikey hears Frank giggle, and when he looks up, Gerard's grinning at them, warm and happy.
Mikey smiles and keeps playing.