Before the days of Disbelief, Fuse had been a regular haunt for Jace. He had had many evenings on the dance floor, smashing his body against whoever else was there at the time. He would end up bruised and bleeding every night, while the familiar sting of pain consumed him. The usual mass of drugs buzzing in his bloodstream, he would await the first heavy beat and march straight into the fray. If his face wasn't red and wet by the end of the night, he would simply pick a fight.
Having returned to this place after so long, all of those old memories were now resurfacing. He had given up the drugs months ago, but every now and then, Jace could feel the old addiction pulling at his senses. He did all he could to remain focused on the lone figure that was his bassist. Paul was standing on the stage, bathed in the glow of a single spotlight.
"Our part may be over, but the night is just beginning," Paul was announcing into the microphone that he had only recently stopped singing into. "If you'd like to see more of us then that's up to you. Kindly do not shut up about us the next time you talk to your manager. It's time for the main event of the evening. The sound of music has never been so brutal and violent. So, here they come, yours for the night: the crunching guitars and screaming vocals of Bloody Breakdown!"
At once, the stage was bathed entirely in the light, revealing the top of the bill arrayed behind Paul. The guitarist quickly began a low, slow powerchord riff. As the rhythm peaked and the rest of the band kicked in, Paul leapt from the stage onto the mass of bodies congregated before him. Jace laughed to himself at the sight of his dearest friend being carried across the dance floor, passed back and forth with a dreamy smile on his face.
"Good night, then?" Ally shouted in Jace's ear, as otherwise she wouldn't have been heard. "The crowd love you guys; Paul's been on fire all night, Adam hasn't made any mistakes and Ed's embarrassed the entire world of guitarists. You've set yourself up with a ton of new gigs and made the headliners look pathetic."
"And, in-between all of this, we were given reason to be grateful towards your arse," Jace called in her general direction, without looking at her. "So, should I thank each cheek individually or just kneel down and bow to your almighty bum?"
Ally's giggle was consumed by the shouts of the crowd and the volume of sound escaping the amplifiers up on the stage. The redness of her cheeks, however, was unmistakable.
"Whose suggestion was it?" he inquired, as calmly as he could at such a level.
"Paul's idea was just the top," she replied without hesitation. "But you know me. I had the knickers made especially. It was worth it as well. I can see why you guys love being up on stage so much now, though I'm not going to be doing it often. Don't expect to be seeing any more, either."
Reaching an arm back to wrap around her shoulders, Jace pulled her close to him. "They fit your curves well, honey. I'm sure I'll have seen them up close before the night is through. I know what you're like, like you said." He gave her a close hug before continuing. "How's your loan looking nowadays though? New knickers and all, you know."
Jace caught the motion of Ally's sigh, though he didn't hear it. "I'm not rich, but I'm not poor quite yet. I can live until my next grant comes through. I don't go shopping anywhere near as much as I used to, but I do miss being able to buy decent food. I've been living off Guild food for the past few weeks and washing and wearing the same clothes all the time. This outfit's new though. I have curves to show off, don't I? Where's Paul going?"
Finally free of the hands of the crowd, Paul had marched off in the direction of the second bar, where their free drinks were not valid. Thirty pounds had been placed behind the bar closest to the stage for the use of Disbelief. Instead, Paul seemed to be heading towards the bar by the door.
"Right, I'll go find out," Ally shouted. "He can buy me a drink or two, I'm poorer than you are. You go and find Adam. You can see what he's doing, alright?"
"Alright," Jace replied easily. "You go and hunt alcohol while I have to hunt another guy. That's just what I was thinking. Later, little girl."
As she left him with a casual smile, Jace's eyes fell onto a group of people who were watching him. They were sitting in a corner, gathered around a small table covered with empty glasses. He could recognise at least half of them from the days of careless alcohol and drug-abuse. His former dealer was leaning against the table, yet still seemed to be the tallest. The rest were slumped or barely conscious. Some were shaking, some were sweating heavily and some were simply laying their heads on the table.
The dealer was looking directly at him with a smirk on his face. The others were simply following the supplier's gaze. They recognised each other at first sight. Years had not changed the man's face, nor his greasy black hair. His eyes were still cold and arrogant. Jace could almost guess what he was thinking. Easily, the drummer chose to turn away and wander into the crowd.
He was swallowed by the audience in seconds, abandoning the hunt for Adam. Bloody Breakdown were playing a rough and powerful song. The singer's screams, the pound of the bass drum and the crash of the cymbals, the blast of the guitar; it all came together to create just the rhythm Jace was after. As the music reached its chorus, Jace found his way into the centre of the crowd and let the pit smash against him.
Quite quickly, the crowd was out of control. Jace was hit from all different angles at once, with people all around barging him with their shoulders and punching him wherever they could. Fuse patrons were not polite - they were vicious and violent, but Jace did not go down. Instead he answered every strike with one of his own. He threw people against each other, pushing them down to the floor and, for everyone whose fist came at him, his revenge was swift and brutal.
The gloating face of the middle-aged drug salesman swam across his vision. His imagination working overtime, he could see it everywhere he looked. His victims, as they seemed once he was done with them, wore the smug and emotionless mask that the dealer always hid behind. Worse was the punishment he knowingly gave himself. He could feel the ache of his weary bones, battered by the onslaught of the very people he had previously performed for.
He came away from the dance floor without knowing what marks might have been left on him. He could feel the affect of their attacks, but alcohol and love of pain had numbed his perceptions a little. He pointedly ignored looking in the direction of the addict's table, where the gathered drug-abusers would undoubtedly be looking over to catch him. In their current stupor, the dealer would likely have complete control over their every thought and action. Jace felt sick to the stomach knowing that, previously, he was one of them.
He found Adam at a table near the first bar. The wide smile he was sporting was quite unsettling, but Jace decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Typically, a happy Adam would talk for hours about why he was happy, while a sad Adam would talk for hours about why he was sad. It was a habit that was potentially very annoying, depending on the person who was listening. Jace was not one to endure that sort of self-obsessed speech for long. Every now and then, though, Adam needed somebody to listen. He was a little overcast by his friends after all. He was a second guitarist and a second singer in a band. He was vital to their sound, but not in a way many people would recognise.
Jace took a seat beside his friend, finding a drink there waiting for him. They weren't very close, but Adam knew that Jace was a vodka drinker. Though the constant smiling was rather disconcerting, Jace refused to instigate the conversation. Adam, as expected, began to speak almost immediately.
"I met a girl," he said. If possible, his smile widened. "I think she's trying to come on to me."
Jace laughed to himself, though that didn't so much as falter Adam's maddening grin. "What are you doing sat down here on your own then?" he queried. That did make Adam's expression change. Jace could almost see the question wandering around his mind. "If some girl wants you, then you shouldn't be sat alone, even if you're waiting for us. Go and get her."
"But what about Veronica?" Adam asked quickly. Evidently, the very idea of pursuing another female had not even crossed his mind. The concern was clear on his face.
"Well, what about her?" Jace answered without thinking. "She left you and she won't even answer your calls. I think it's fairly obvious that she's not even interested. Go and have some fun - you don't have to sleep with her to have a good time. It's just important that you have fun."
"I didn't really think about it like that," Adam replied thoughtfully. His eyes wandered across the room, undoubtedly looking for the aforementioned woman. Jace found Adam's innocence quite amusing, though he would never say such a thing to Adam himself.
"Well go have fun," Jace continued. "I'll find something to do with myself, I'm sure. You go enjoy yourself. Drink up and go and dance."
"Okay," Adam said, lifting his drink to his lips as he did. Jace matched him with his own drink, which was so far untouched. Adam took a large amount, but Jace drank his in its entirety. He wasn't in the best of moods right now. His old group was weighing heavily on his mind, or at least what was left of them. His mind wandered briefly, wondering where the others might be now. Two ideas played across his mind. They might have quit like him, through willpower and close friendship. Or they might also have overdosed. He wouldn't know. In fact, try as he might, he could not even summon the energy to care.
Adam patted him on the shoulder before he left the table. The smile had returned and the feeling of confusion had passed Jace by. Now he was quite proud of the first year student who, as always, seemed so young and inexperienced. Adam had flourished under Paul's attentions, but he was nowhere near as good with women as Paul was. Paul had a natural talent with people but, for some reason, he could never see it about himself. Jace saw it often. Up on stage, Paul was a consummate entertainer. Up close and personal, their singer portrayed pretty much exactly the same image. If not for his desperation to have Ally, he could likely have had any woman he wanted.
The two of them on his mind made him look towards the bar where he had last seen Paul. Alone, and with an empty glass, he considered going over to see them, but they both seemed to be speaking to somebody. There was a tall man there with short, black hair. He looked almost as confident as the drug dealer from earlier, leaning on the bar, holding a drink and smiling calmly. In comparison, Paul looked beyond nervous. His mouth was moving quickly and he was fidgeting with his now shoulder-length hair. Ally still seemed red-cheeked and giggly. It was not something he was particularly familiar with, and the sudden suspicion hit him that this man might have been something to do with it.
Curious, Jace decided to go over and see who this man was. Somebody who could make Paul nervous was an interesting man indeed. To make Ally blush however, was an even greater feat. Before he'd taken more than five steps however, Adam had caught him up and taken hold of his shoulder. The guitarist looked somewhat worried as he leaned in to shout in Jace's ear.
"I can't find her," he shouted over the sounds of the performing band and the cheering crowd. "Can you help me? Her ID says she's eighteen but she looks a bit younger, and she's wearing a blue dress. She's got long, blonde hair, alright? She's here somewhere. She won't have taken off."
Jace sighed, taking his eyes away from the stranger at the bar as he did. "Alright," he answered simply. Adam thanked him profusely, then disappeared again, likely to the hunt. Jace cast his eyes around the room, looking for the blue dress amongst the hugely differing outfits he could see. He moved slowly further towards the dance floor, feeling the attraction of the pain that it could offer him, but not surrendering. It was as he stopped to look back for Adam that he saw the girl his band mate was looking for. He moved swiftly to a table where he could find his friend and grabbed hold of him. As he did, he saw the young looking female glance their way and open her mouth in shock. It seemed as though his little sister had recognised him just as he'd recognised her.
"You found her," Adam shouted, a broad grin overtaking his face. "Awesome man, I'm going to go and have some fun."
Quite suddenly, Jace was seized by a reckless and ferocious anger.