"There’s a weakness
In the window.
I place my footprints
In the dark room.
There’s a bullet with your name on it. Isn’t that what the old soldiers say? His had found him in El Paso, whizzing through the dark night like a tracer, winding its swift, sparking trail through the strobe of lights and the swirling smoke.
Had he seen it coming? Oh, yeah. There had been plenty of fair warning. And this was exactly how he’d always wanted to go out. Fighting. Weapon in his hand. Snare hammering behind him like automatic rifle fire; beneath him, heat radiating off the stage.
All around him, heads nodded slowly. Then one looked up. Just… maybe he never imagined it would be ‘friendly fire’? Tom’s brow wrinkled in perplexity.
It was a fair question. No. No, Matt shook his head. They’d both always understood how it would be.
"It was a mindset all its own, y’ know? I can’t… You can’t know what it was like," How strange, Matt thought, listening distantly to the tale he heard his own voice telling. His tone, the measure of the words, sounded neutral enough. Or, was that finally apathy? How apathetic can a man become when he’s got his head in the stocks? He wondered. Over time, he’d begun to realize, he simply must have gotten used to it.
"Well, I think I know something about what it’s like, in general," Tom replied quietly. Which, Matt reasoned, was probably true up to a point. "And," Tom continued, "I know exactly what it’s like the moment the thing you’ve been doing for so long and with such a passion suddenly turns into something else." Like, being pilloried every night. "And Matt, it doesn’t have to be that way."
So, it started. Another courtship. Another cosmic battle between the fire that burns and the one that brings the light.
"There’s lonely voices,
like a scarecrow,
In the hallway,
like a lost ghost."
"If it’s Tuesday this must be… Milwaukee?" Little joke. She’d smiled back at him with a twist of irony on her lips.
It was Boston. Just a one-night stand with a band he’d previously only known in passing. And, truth be told, it had been a while since he’d play that kind of city-after-city, don’t blink or you’ll miss it, frenetically paced tour schedule where the bus stopped somewhere in the middle of another look-alike urban landscape and you searched the road signs trying to figure out where the hell you were.
Tonight, it was something totally different. This was his invitation to the ball, and Boston could never be any other place than Boston. Not for him, at least.
On top of that, there were women here. Not groupies, not fanwhores. Not femme-bots on the other end of techno leashes who drifted in and out at the touch of a text message, but real women. Women who alternately smiled and sighed. Who would lug their own suitcases. And who, he’d been told, would occasionally order the entire mission to a halt somewhere along the highway for the sole purpose of going off to buy juice boxes for the kids. Here, there was one woman in particular who snuggled warmly, and kissed gently, and wore the scent of home.
"Of course," Tom remarked quietly. "They’re part of who we are. Just not all of who we are."
"In the bedroom
I see a shadow.
From the moon
With light from a candle.
On a bed frame lies a girl.
Her reflection in the mirror."
Matt gazed over at his new front man maintaining a long, sustained silence. He told himself he was merely entertaining a purely analytical interest in Tom, and nothing more. The coarse backstage lighting chiseled at the contours of his openly expressive face, making him look older than he did in pictures. He was taller too, Matt was thinking, realizing it was a completely relative sort of comparison, but one that made him feel safe. As if perhaps this man might be someone he could actually lean the weight of his life on, and Tom would bear it.
The club itself was dark and practically sooty with the years of accumulated cigarette smoke, but it echoed with the crowd’s energy. They knew exactly who they’d come to see. Matt wrestled nervously with the low vibration of all their aggregate anticipation. This could still go wrong. Sure, he’d been rehearsing affably enough with the band for a while now, but suddenly he was worried it was too much, too soon.
David’s shoulder nudged up against his as they stood side by side in the blue-black shadows.
"Not getting cold feet, are you?"
"Nope," Matt lied.
"Good," the guitarist nodded. Then, after a moment of silence, he added, "The first time I played a gig with Tom it was at home in San Diego in front of only about, like, five hundred people. But I was so nervous, he had to remind me to breathe."
An almost silent huff of amusement escaped Matt’s lips. "When you play your first gig with Jared, you’re lucky if he lets you breathe." In unison, his startled companions choked on sudden spurts of laughter. "Air," Matt drawled slowly, "is a privilege Jared reserves for your third or fourth show together."
"That bad, huh?" Tom’s eyes twinkled at him through the dusky half-light.
"Nah, I’m joking." Sort of. "I don’t really know how Jared got that reputation. For being difficult. Yeah, he can be demanding, and exacting, but he’s also very supportive." In fact, it was tough to put into words precisely what sort of bond Jared shared with his band mates. Extremely. So, Matt didn’t try.
From a short distance away, one of their techs gave Tom the thumbs up. Immediately, David moved off, getting ready to make his entrance from the other side of the small stage. Unhesitatingly, Tom’s hand made its way around the back of Matt’s neck, radiating warmth into the tight muscles there. He drew him closer. So close that, when he spoke again, a ghostly resuscitation of warm air brushed delicately over his new bassist’s lips.
He said, "Breathe."
"It’s a dark night.
On the west coast.
Then a soft breeze. As the sun rose.
Then the phone rang.
Like a gunshot.
Like a Siren.
On the beach rocks."
Don’t forget to breathe tonight. Tonight’s the last so say goodbye.
If only it were that easy.
On the surface, the transition was swift if not altogether painless. That last night they'd worked together Matt hadn’t been able to decide if he should mention anything to Tim about what was likely to happen next, or let him find out on his own. Lost in the whirlpool of his indecision, he’d ended up saying nothing by default. Maybe it was just as well.
Taste of Chaos had toured on. Oddly, except for whenever the lights came up at night, 30 Seconds to Mars’ new bassist was practically invisible. Given only those little bits of detail that had leaked to the public, outsiders were having a hell of a time reading into this latest Marsian mystery. But plainly, Matt realized, at the last moment something must have gone wrong. It was clear Tim was having no trouble meeting Jared’s challenge on stage, but off stage seemed to tell a different story. Or, maybe it was Tim who was deliberately keeping his distance? Subtly, pleasantly, cheerfully to be sure, but still.
Somehow the overall effect of his suspicions left Matt feeling like he was caught in a strange, unpleasant kind of limbo. Not that Jared still retained any sort of hold over him in the contractual sense. No, nothing like that. While they hadn’t been able to make a perfectly clean break of it, the only real leftover mess was strictly the type of thing lawyers and bean counters could fix up without any input from him, or Jared. Forget about it, Matt counseled himself about Tim's situation. It’s none of your fucking business. He presumed to move forward with his own life, exactly as he’d intended.
First, there was the small house in a quiet California suburb and a lease with an option to buy. And then, there was the silence that came with it; long days of relaxing into the nothingness of "being." Until, finally, he’d noticed how the formerly therapeutic stillness had suddenly become nothing more than a droning background buzz of waiting. And the nerve-wracking emptiness of an ill-defined future based on a personal quest to find "happiness." Followed by the cracking, splitting sound of things collapsing under the weight of those expectations.
That’s when the phone rang.
Immediately, the voice on the other end plowed over him like a steamroller. It paused for only a split second to identify itself, Tom DeLonge. Matt caught himself clutching the cordless handset to his ear a trifle too desperately while enthusiasm beamed out of it like solar rays. Momentarily, he experienced a brief sensation of vertigo, and a peculiar déjà vu caused by the passionate outpouring of words rushing past him. Even if he’d ever had any intention of telling the man on the other end "maybe," somehow it came out "yes." After hanging up the phone and standing for several long moment in motionless perplexity--wondering how the hell that had happened--he realized, much to his dismay, he had been very well trained. Very.
When finally he confessed to all over dinner, she’d taken the news a lot better than he thought she would. In fact, she took it so well, she started helping him pack as soon as the dishes were done.
"I do this from time to time
where I can never wake from a bad dream,
I do this from time to time
where I can never say the things I mean."
Now, weeks--and no small measure of confusion--later, Matt found himself sitting in a recording studio listening to Tom’s softer, less driven voice sharing some of his deepest feelings and his sense of vision for the new record. Not that he was displeased, he emphasized, with Matt’s tentative contributions so far. But, musically, he was saying, something more needed to happen between them.
The playback ended abruptly, leaving them in a penetrating silence. Matt’s head bounced up and down thoughtfully. At least he hoped he looked thoughtful, not petrified. Why, he wondered, did these things always start in the recording studio? Late at night. When it was only the two of you, surrounded by the intimacy of low light and the thrumming bass pulse of that ever-present life force tuned just below the threshold of human hearing.
"Let’s take a break." Hands slid under Matt's guitar strap, slipping it over his head and leaving him feeling undressed. "I hope I didn’t say anything that upset you."
"No! No…" he blurted, letting the casual flip of his hand assert denial. But, there was no way to shrug off the simple, heartfelt concern beneath Tom’s question. It hung in the air surrounding them and clung to Matt’s skin demanding more of an answer. "I, uh…"
Predictably, perhaps, the sensation of phantom fingers suddenly clenched closed around his throat, choking off any further response. Dazedly, his faltering gaze latched onto the way Tom’s hands were cradling his bass. Gently, they lowered it into its stand, and then returned to rest on Matt's shoulders.
"It still hurts." Tom’s voice probed knowingly into Matt's silence. His eyes were a warm, receptive hazel brown.
This guy never blinks either, Matt thought, his mind recoiling and digressing defensively, wondering where the hell that other band came up with the name... "What?" he coughed, as if he didn't understand.
"Here." The soft part of Tom’s hand stroked across his neck, right where the unresolved tension was tightest. "And here." Leaning up and forward, warm, dry lips brushed against Matt’s temple. So carefully.
A single, achingly constricted word of confession escaped the vacuum in Matt's lungs, "Yeah," then sank into the soundproofing without leaving a trace.
"It doesn’t have to. Not anymore. Not if you don’t want it to."
Recognition stabbed at him. Intuition flared. Like lightning, splitting open the dark place just beyond his comfort zone. His eyes snapped closed, searching the sparkling darkness behind his eyelids. And exactly fucking when, Matt wondered, had he started wanting it to?
There were arms slowly gathering him into the warmth of an embrace. His response felt raw and uncensored as he slid into its consolation. The tightness around his throat spread sharply downward to his chest where a light stroke of fingertips trailed after it. With a small gasp, Matt’s eyes flew open barely in time to see Tom’s parted lips hovering less than an inch above his own.
"I like your eyes wide.
I’m knocking at your backdoor.
Nervous like a knife fight.
Be careful what you ask for…"