He could feel the sweat dripping from his fingertips, and from his hair. It was long enough to tie back now, but he had chosen against it in favour of the rock n' roll image. At this point, his forehead wet and his hair sticking together, he was not sure that he had made the right decision. Down on his knees beside the microphone, Paul was letting the joyous roar of the crowd wash over him while he panted heavily, barely able to even hold his bass guitar away from the ground.
Adam was not kneeling. He was on the floor, flat on his back, with his guitar laid across his chest. Disbelief's ability to stand seemed to be severely impaired. The last song had obviously taken the last of Adam's energy away, which was to be expected. In this show, there had been no chance to relax and no chance to soothe their muscles. They had given Fuse their all tonight and, hopefully, Fuse had been appreciative. Judging by the riotous applause, everything had gone marvellously according to plan.
Ed was seemingly unaffected by exhaustion and, though he could be seen to be sweating profusely, he was still standing proudly at the front of the stage. For this, they absolutely loved him. They were cheering him, and he was playing to their affections. His instrument had been turned down so that they couldn't hear anything coming out of it, but it still hung over him as he bowed.
Jace came towards him, taking short and careful steps. For a moment, Paul was a little worried that even Jace would be unable to keep his footing, but the next, Jace had wrapped his arms around Paul. It wasn't a hug, it was simply a grip by which Jace might drag him across the stage, bass guitar and all, towards the little doorway that led into the management corridor. He left Paul there for a moment while he went back onto the stage. Next, he did kneel down, but only in order to lift Adam bodily from the ground and throw him over his shoulder. It was both heart-warming and marvellously comical to see Adam hanging there in Jace's careful grip. Ed followed behind with a skip in his step and, with that, Disbelief were done for the night. One arm holding Adam still and one arm on Paul's collar, Jace pulled his band behind him through the corridor and into the back room again. There, he dumped his cargo and collapsed into a corner himself.
"I really don't want to go back out there just yet," Jace said between taking frantic gasps of air. "I know we're supposed to be out there mingling and getting ourselves known, but my arms just don't want to be shaking hands right now."
"You're not alone," announced Adam from his spread eagle position on the floor. He left it at that. Paul was more surprised that he was actually conscious.
A minute later, just as Paul managed to drag himself up to a wall that he could lean against, the door opened and Ed wandered in with a smile and a thumbs each to each of them. Right behind him, the Fuse owner walked in, bearing quite a smile himself.
"Well I heard you were good but that was pretty much exactly what I was looking for," he announced happily. "Why on Earth didn't you guys play this stuff the first time around? What was with all that screaming stuff you used to do?"
"Screaming?" inquired Paul as loudly as he could, which was roughly his usual volume. "I think you might have us mixed up with a completely different band. We only did three songs last time; we were opening for Bloody Breakdown. Sevenfold, Maiden and Metallica? Ring any bells?"
In response, the absent-minded owner simply looked at Paul blankly, which was pretty much exactly the answer that he had expected. "Anyway, we don't do screaming," Paul continued. "We never have. Our performance out there was what we always do. We've got a good few dates here to do it all over again, so I do hope you work out that we're Disbelief and not some other band who's name you also can't remember."
"Well, whatever you did, I liked it and so did everybody else, so I'll probably book you again," he said with a nod. "I'll send your check on to Mr. Cooper, he'll knock it into your account and we'll talk some more. Anyway, I best go and see about setting up the headliners. Have fun with your free drinks guys," with that he left, closing the door quickly behind him and leaving Paul more puzzled than he had been in a while.
"Wait, weren't we the only band?" he asked of his friends, turning away from the door towards the three of them. To his surprise, Adam had finally managed to get himself sitting up, but the glare that he was offering was not entirely called for. Unsure of what to say, Paul turned his attention towards Jace, but he offered a similar expression of anger. Slightly worried, Paul pointedly did not look in Ed's direction for worry of seeing something other than a smile. "What's going on guys?" Paul unquired. "Why is nobody answering me?"
"So Matthew Cooper got us this gig then?" Adam asked quietly. "Is this what's got you and Jace making spiteful comments at each other all day?"
"Well I did go and see this Cooper guy at the Fire Brand building once I found out about having him book gigs for us," Jace pointed out, to Paul's shock. "We had a chat about you. Supposedly you've been down that way quite a few times. Going to tell us why?"
"You're asking me for a reason why I go somewhere, isn't that a little like a needy girlfriend?" asked Paul, fully aware that he was avoiding the question. Quite suddenly, he felt more than a little on the spot.
"You're not answering me though, are you?" continued Jace. "It's weird how Cooper didn't even know about the dates we've got lined up with Colt. And yet, he knew quite a lot about your tastes and opinions, as well as Ally's. You maybe going to tell us why you were given the Indy's gig?"
"You got that from Fire Brand?" said Adam, his voice beginning to show traces of anger. "You just said it was a mutual friend and I didn't ask for more. What else have you been doing for this guy? We're supposed to be a unit. Ed ripped up his card rather than work separate from Disbelief, but what, you're signed with them and we're not? Are you going to find out that you've been playing bass for some other band next?"
"No," Paul near shouted, though he couldn't quite manage to do so despite his urge to make the point. "I can promise you, I haven't been playing bass for any other bands, alright? Is that what you need to hear? I've been talking to Matthew Cooper in the hope of trying to get Disbelief a good deal, and we've had some bloody good deals because of it. I met Colt in there, and he's giving us gigs. Cooper himself sorted out this one for us, as well as all the rest at Fuse. He's even setting up a web page for us. There's a high chance that, somewhere down the line, we could end up in a good position to-"
"Cause And Effect," Jace said, slowly and dripping with withheld anger. Paul stopped talking right away. His feeling of exhaustion was amplified by his feeling of panic. He had already lost Ally and, by the look of things, Cooper was going to threaten his relationship with his band as well.
Unable to think of something to say that would adequately answer the unasked question, Paul hesitated for a few moments. "What do you mean by that exactly?" he asked eventually, watching Jace very intently. He was fully aware that Adam was also watching carefully, though Ed's reaction was still untested.
"You know what I mean, Bass," replied Jace through gritted teeth. "You're always very careful with what you say, aren't you? You're not lying; you've never played bass for another band, but you've been singing lyrics on Cause And Effect's new album. I'm completely aware of that. Cooper mentioned something about it, so I went down into the music store to check it out. Your name is on the back. If I would have had the money I would have bought it to show everybody, but I guess the name alone is enough."
"So you were just going to not mention that were you?" Adam demanded, getting to his feet with a wobble, though he was still leaning against the wall. "That's brilliant. You're doing all of this behind our backs and you're still claiming that it's all for us. Is it just the one band? You know what, don't answer, what's the point? How many times have you lied already?"
"Listen, guys," Paul began. His voice was shaking more like slightly, much like his body, "I think you're rushing into things now. You haven't let me tell you what's actually happened yet. Let's just cool down for a bit now. There's a bit too much going on today and we're exhausted. You're worrying me a bit here."
"That's rich," continued Adam, as though there had been no interruption. "You think we're overreacting? Why is it that you didn't tell us any of this then? Sounds to me like you know exactly what our reaction was going to be. Are there any shows for Disbelief that don't already have something to do with Fire Brand Records? I bet there isn't. I can't believe this. You're letting a record label piss you about without ever actually signing you. You're doing all of the work for no pay, and we've been doing it completely unaware; playing along like ignorant idiots. I don't get how you can still think that there's an upside to this."
"Well it's a quick way to get a leg up on playing this bloody game, isn't it?" countered Paul. "It's hard enough making it in this business with all of the other bands performing regularly around this city. I know we're not signed, but there are a million and one different ways we can do things. With the progress I've made then chances are we'll be ideal for signing. We've been playing shows that Objective Insanity have trouble playing and we've doing them regularly. This following we've got is all because of that. People don't care about talent anymore. It's all about getting on to MTV and making yourself as loud as possible. I was just playing along."
"F*** that, I'm out of here," announced Adam. He tried to push himself away from the wall, but he stumbled back down onto his knees. Thankfully, Jace was there for him. Offering him a hand, Jace was surprised to see Adam backing away with fear on his face.
"Oh, for the love of god, you guys have your own drama," Paul told them. Finally looking over towards Ed, he didn't see a smile or a frown. Instead, he saw nobody. Ed had ghosted silently out of the room at some earlier point, taking his guitar with him.
"I can't trust any of you," Adam said loudly to both of them. He was standing now, his hands balled into fists and his eyes set. "Why can't anybody just be honest and give me some clue as to what's going on? I've had enough. I'm leaving and you can't stop me."
He marched away, past Paul and straight out of the door, leaving it open behind him. Paul tried to call after him, but his anger was such that he was gone in seconds. Turning back to Jace, Paul didn't see anger or hatred. Instead, all he saw was a cold and heart-wrenching resolve.
"I'm following him," he began quietly. "Sounds to me like you've just killed Disbelief. You know I had a lot of bloody chances at this game of yours, and I chose Disbelief because I thought that we had the most chance because of actual talent, but you couldn't trust us to get by ourselves. You just wouldn't wait. You've been trying to follow Ronnie all your life, but you're a different man, try living your own life. Maybe when you do that I can be a part of it again, but, until then, you can piss off."
Moments later, Paul was left alone in the back room.