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Bird Never Flies

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They couldn’t have been more different if they tried.

Ari was absurdly tall and loose-limbed, with an awkward, nervous energy that made him seem endearingly younger than his years. You barely noticed Doug at first; his lean, compact form almost vanishing in Ari’s giraffe-limbed shadow, but his steady, self-contained energy and ageless calm was something that, once seen, could never quite be shaken from the mind.

They played off one another perfectly; Ari shifting and seemingly unsure up on the stage, um-ing and halting his way through the story of this song and that one, underscored at rare and fleeting intervals by a few murmured words from Doug, barely loud enough for the microphone to catch.

“So, we came up with this call-and response sort of chorus,” Ari explained, shifting a step to the side and nearly knocking over the wineglass resting on the stage with the heel of his battered Converse. A few shouts from the audience drew his awareness down to the glass; he sidled away from it and started the explanation again. “On the album, there’s about fifty of me singing along, but here, there’s only one of me, and one of Doug. So what I’d love you guys to do, if you’ve had as much to drink as I’ve had -”

At the drum set, out of Ari’s vision, Doug lifted his own glass in silent salute.

“ - and a little more than Doug’s had -”

The raised glass was tipped into the conveniently close mouth, a faint smile half-hidden by the two-day scruff Doug was affecting this week, and the audience chuckled appreciatively. Ari didn’t bother to look, knowing perfectly well what Doug had done.

“ - we’d love you to just follow along with Doug on the chorus. Just... pretend that you’re in the shower, because everyone sings in the shower. And pretend Doug is in there with you.”

A ripple of dubious laughter meandered its way through the little coffeehouse, and Doug peered a bit wistfully at his emptied wineglass for a second before turning back to the microphone. “I’ll be gentle,” he offered blandly, just as Ari had paused to take a sip from his own glass.

Ari snorted a cough as the wine nearly went up the back of his nose; someone at the table closest to the stage sympathetically offered him a napkin. Ari mumbled his thanks as he took it, covering his nose and mouth with the rough white paper as he coughed a few more times to clear the alcohol from his sinuses, shooting Doug what, by Ari’s standards in any case, passed for a glare.

Doug smiled beatifically back, feathering the cymbal to keep time, even as Ari shoved the napkin in his pocket and muddled his way through setting his nearly-empty glass down and adjusting his guitar.

The truth was, Ari had been singing it in the shower that morning, as he crouched to scrub his hair under the too-low showerhead in the cramped hotel bathroom. And Doug, pausing every few minutes to wipe the mirror free of steam while he tried to brush his teeth, had automatically spat the mouthful of toothpaste into the sink to join the chorus when Ari had sung ‘Darlin’ don’t cry -’

“I won’t give you up -”

But instead of ‘don’t you know why’, the third line of the chorus had vanished into a combination of laughter and gurgled gasp, as Ari’s epiphany was dampened by the water getting into his mouth.

“What,” Doug said, not even a question, as Ari’s head poked out around the edge of the shower curtain, water and shampoo running down the sides of his face to frame the sudden ear-to-ear grin splitting his face.

“That’s how we get the audience to sing.”

“...what?” And it was a question that time, because there was a leap of logic somewhere here that you apparently needed to be half-drowning yourself to see. “We tell them they’re in the shower?”

“Yes! And you’re in the shower with them!”

“Going to get crowded,” Doug answered, and went back to brushing his teeth while Ari cursed and ducked back under the water to rinse the shampoo out of his eyes. But they tried it, and it earned a chuckle. So, at the next venue, they tried it again.

“...so just pretend Doug’s in the shower with you. Don’t be nervous or anything, he’s really good in the shower.”

The laughter was a little quicker, a little louder this time, so they played off it, let the joke fly like the bird never did.

“...so just pretend Doug’s in the shower with you. He’s very gentle, I promise.”

Laughter from the audience, fast and easy this time; even if they hadn’t heard the joke before, Ari had warmed to it, and the delivery came smoother and easier, the implications steadily deeper.

“Stuff happens on tour,” Ari said, in response to some inquisitive look from the audience, with a faint shrug-eyeroll-yeah-don’t-ask-expression combination that left Doug shaking his head and grinning as he tapped the cymbal, wondering about Ari’s sanity at making jokes about this in Virginia of all places, but the audience was eating it up, almost every one of them singing along as Ari launched into the chorus, Doug and the audience giving the responses back without hesitation.

It wasn’t until after the show, when a woman from the audience who had probably had more to drink than Doug and Ari put together, staggered up with a newly-purchased CD for them both to sign, giggled out a ‘You are such a cute couple!’ that both of them stopped short, their eyes meeting as the weight of what they’d been teasing the audience with finally impacted.

Months on tour together, sharing cheap rental cars and cheaper hotel rooms, had left them as familiar with one another as most people were with their spouses, and it showed. Their easy banter onstage was eclipsed only by their comfort together off of it; even now, casually trading the lone silver Sharpie they had managed to find back and forth to sign the autographs the fans requested, they moved, not in synch, but in a complementary rhythm, each of them part of a melody they weren’t aware they were creating.

The ride back to the hotel that night was silent, and the conversation once they reached their room limited to who was showering first. That turned out to be Ari, who was as brief as he could be in the undersized facilities, and came back into the room still dripping to grab his guitar from the bed as Doug quietly went to take his turn.

When he exited the bathroom after a not-at-all brief shower, skin still flushed from the heat of the water, Ari flicked a glance at him through heavy eyelashes and rapped a his knuckles lightly on the body of the Gibson.

Even before Ari started singing the words, Doug recognized the rhythm, the steady beat that started one of the few of Ari’s songs that he truly joined his voice to.

“Dead end driving in the dark, we don’t know what we’re headed for...”

“And it ain’t no way to make a mark,” Doug sang back, the second end of the chorus, and Ari flashed him a grin, the flash of teeth white and startling against an hours-old five o’clock shadow. The melody changed, shifted under that smile and the long fingers dancing over the strings of the guitar.

“I’d be willing to go there, if I knew you’d say yes...”

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“People are going to talk,” Doug remarked absently the next morning, as they finished loading the rental car that they both hated, stuffed to bursting with Doug’s abbreviated drum set and Ari’s two guitars and keyboard, already full even if the two of them weren’t in it yet.

“Let them,” Ari answered simply, folding himself into the driver’s seat and fiddling with the seat controls in a hopeless bid to get a little more room between himself and the steering wheel. “It’s not going to hurt anything.”

Doug simply smiled to himself and shuffled through his iPod playlist. Maybe this morning called for a little Bonnie Raitt.

~END~