The bar smells like every other bar Connor has ever been in, heavy with cigarette smoke, booze, and bodies. It's dimly lit for the most part, shadows and flashes of bodies, as if all the light in the room was reserved for the stage. When Connor gets up there, he knows it'll be blinding.
Laurel is already on stage, tweaking her drum kit so that it's exactly the way she likes it. Asher is messing around with his keyboard, making goofy, exaggerated faces with every chord. Wes is deep in a conversation with Oliver about one of their mics that's been on the fritz lately. Michaela isn't anywhere in sight, but she's probably hiding in the van, stringing and re-stringing her guitar obsessively even though that is literally Oliver's job as their roadie.
Connor is hanging out at the bar, wondering exactly who he'd have to blow in order to get a decent whisky in this shitty, Midwestern town. They've been on tour for the last two weeks, and Connor is pretty close to murdering the rest of the band out of sheer annoyance. He can handle them when they're at home in Philadelphia and everyone can fuck back off to their houses in between band shit, but on the road, they're all up in each other's faces all the time. No one has the temperament to deal with all five of them when they're all cranky. Even Oliver, who can smile (albeit nervously) when Annalise is on the warpath, starts snapping back at people when they tell him to do things.
Connor finishes his drink, slamming the empty pint glass onto the wooden bar, and thinks about getting another one. The bartender is cute in a vaguely androgynous twinky way that has never quite been Connor's thing (though he's never turned it down when it was on offer, either). Connor smiles at him, slow and a little flirty in a way that usually gets him laid. But the bartender just rolls his eyes at him, and goes back to serving a giant bear of a guy with a beard and an ugly scowl. Whatever.
Connor turns around, not wanting to watch the sad display anymore. He starts when he realizes someone's a lot closer than he thought she was. While he was trying to get a drink, Michaela showed up at his right shoulder. She raises one eyebrow at Connor, and Connor's known her long enough and well enough to know that she's about to give him a lecture. "This has gone on long enough," she says.
"What?" Connor says. He reaches for his glass so that he can take a swig of the terrible ale that this place has on tap, but it's empty and can't save him here.
Michaela rolls her eyes. "I know you way, way too well for that move to work on me, Connor." She folds her arms across her chest, and Connor has never managed to figure out how she can make her casually askew t-shirt look as formal as a business suit.
"I'm not trying anything," Connor says. He isn't.
"Stop avoiding each other. It's making everything about this tour super weird."
"It became weird when you decided to start fucking Asher," Connor snaps. He still doesn't get it, but Asher has been more mellow lately, and for all that she likes to pretend otherwise, so has Michaela.
Michaela snorts. "Stop changing the subject. This isn't about me and Asher, because we're fine. You and Oliver are barely talking."
"We talk," Connor insists. Just two hours ago, they had a semi-stilted conversation about getting Connor a new bass. They managed to exchange more than three whole sentences with one another, which was a new record for the nebulous time Connor thinks of as post-breakup.
"It's starting to mess with the band," Michaela insists. "Talk to him."
Connor looks at her. The thing about Michaela is that she believes, she truly believes, that if you work hard enough for something, you will get it in the end. "I have," Connor says, looking at the floor, because every word feels like it's being yanked out of him. "He still thinks that our relationship is still too messed up and co-dependent and that I should find someone else." He has to lean in and shout to be heard over the crowd chatter.
He refuses to look at Michaela's face. He doesn't want to see the pity there.
It's worse when he glances up and sees Oliver fiddling with one of the amps on stage. His back is to the audience, and his gray t-shirt is pulled tight across the breadth of his shoulders, showing off the strength of his back and arms. Connor wants to touch him so fucking badly.
The first time they slept together, Connor had pushed Oliver's button-up off his shoulders, had run his hands over the planes of Oliver's chest and back, had committed the feel of them to memory in a way that he still, still, can't get out of his head.
"Well, something is going to break eventually," Michaela says, chin out, pushing through the awkwardness. "I'd rather it not be the band."
"Fine," Connor bites out. He tosses a few bills onto the counter and climbs the stage without checking to see if Michaela is following.
Connor takes a deep breath and approaches Oliver.The stage lights behind him cast a dark shadow onto Oliver's left shoulder.
"Hi," Connor says as Oliver turns to face him.
Oliver's lips twitch upwards, but it's not really a smile. "Did you need help with something?" Oliver asks. He's carefully professional, but it wouldn't take much for Connor to puncture that. Hurting Oliver was the only part of their relationship that was ever easy. Well, that and the sex. Even after a year of dating Oliver, relationship and sex are still separate categories in Connor's mind.
"Michaela gave me the third degree," Connor says. "She wants us to talk some more."
Oliver sighs, and Connor sees it more than he hears it. "Fine," he says. "Let's go outside."
The alleyway behind the bar is dark, lit only by one sad orange street-light. It smells like piss and rotting food, awful enough to make Connor's nose twitch.
"So," Oliver says. He's standing half in shadow, but Connor can see how wide and sad his eyes are. He always wore every emotion across his face. "What should we talk about? This isn't about that groupie you fucked yesterday, is it?"
"No, it's not," Connor says. He runs a hand over his face. "I don't know. I don't know what I can say to get you to take me back." They broke up in a shitty motel room, and Connor would have worried about everyone else hearing through the thin walls if it wasn't for the fact that there wasn't any yelling. It was disgustingly quiet. Connor didn't even slam the door when he left.
Oliver's shoulders sag. "It was-- I was bad for you, and you were bad for me." He's talking about the way he deleted e-mails from another band, looking for a bassist; about the string of lies Connor has told him about how he ended up in this ragtag group of people they call a band.
"Yeah," Connor says, but it's not really true, because Oliver has always, always made Connor want to be a better person than he is.
Oliver doesn't have anything to say to that, so it gets quiet except for the occasional car that rolls down the street and the hum of bar noise that's loud enough to make its way outside.
"I-- I do miss you," Oliver confesses eventually. His voice is soft, barely audible. He's too far away for Connor to touch him without moving from his spot. Oliver has always been like that, just one step out of reach.
"Okay," Connor says. He thinks it's pretty obvious that he misses Oliver back.
"There was this guy--" Oliver says. Connor flinches. "-- there was this guy I met back in Cincinnati." Cincinnati was four days ago. "He disappeared with an emergency as soon as I mentioned that I was positive."
"Yeah," Connor says. "He doesn't matter." Most guys are morons about that sort of thing. And Connor would be angry about it if it wasn't for the fact that it means Oliver's still available, still looking for whatever the fuck Connor couldn't give him.
"Things were easy between us, weren't they?" Oliver asks.
Connor thinks of the fights, the time he slept with a guy in the interests of getting a gig at his club before they were exclusive, the icy cold shoulder Oliver gives to everyone when he's angry. "Except for everything that wasn't."
Oliver laughs at that.
The bar door bangs open behind Connor. "Hey, bros. I know you're all about to fuck out here or something, but we're needed on stage," Asher says. He smirks, like he thinks he said something clever.
Connor glances at Oliver. Oliver's lip twitches up, like he's holding back a smile. One eyebrow raises in a way that means, I can't believe this guy. Connor can still read that as clear as day. "Yeah, okay," Connor says.
"You're just lucky I'm the one who found you," Asher continues. "Laurel was going to do it, but you know, I wanted to make sure you came back with all your limbs intact."
"Thanks," Connor says, deadpan. "I owe you one, man."
Asher squints at him, like he's not sure whether or not to take Connor seriously. "Sure," Asher says eventually. He disappears back inside, the heavy metal door slamming shut behind him.
And then it's just Connor and Oliver again. Connor takes the moment to step into Oliver's space again, to smell Oliver's hair spray and sweat and aftershave. "I'll find you after the show, okay?" He doesn't let himself touch Oliver.
Oliver nods, his expression still withdrawn and open, so open, and Connor is aware of how easy it would be to hurt him again. It makes his chest feel tight, a fragile, ugly, beautiful feeling sitting right at the center of him. In that moment, Connor knows Michaela is full of shit. It's going to take a lot more than one conversation to fix this, to fix them. But maybe, there is a path forward. Maybe there's a way out of this where no one ends up miserable and heartbroken.
Connor pulls open the bar door again, bracing himself for the rush of noise and energy that comes with it, and he goes inside.