Bernard rings Sean's mobile while Sean's caught in traffic on the way home from a job. Bernard reports to be in the back of a taxi in Manhattan, equally gridlocked.
"So we're in New York, for the album release, then," Bernard is saying, "and then a week or so for shilling, I think. It'll do the lot some good, though. You know how it is, middle of the tour, wheels are starting to come off a bit."
Sean's got his mobile balanced in between his cheek and the crook of his shoulder. When he talks, the plastic vibrates against his skin. "Not literally, though, right?" Sean asks. "That's got to be an improvement."
"Honestly," Bernard says, "I think I'd almost prefer it that way. At least I know how to change a tire."
"Without a jack, even," Sean says, right on cue.
"Or a spare."
"Or a flashlight."
"Just chewing gum and my wits," Bernard finishes, laughing. "No, no," he says then. "Everything's swimming along just fine."
At this, Sean reminds himself that Bernard probably feels no guilt when it comes to lying about how things are going because he still thinks there's no harm trying to convince Sean to re-enlist. If Sean said, "Okay, if I leave now, I could still be there in time for the first L.A. show," Bernard would no doubt say, "Smashing. Just so you know, Elijah's in jail, Orli may have a head injury and Viggo and Karl haven't spoken in sixteen days."
"So the rave-up for the record, that's on Friday?" Sean asks.
"Well, fuck," Sean says. "Have the pull to get a mate in or what?"
Confirmation of tickets and accommodations are waiting for Sean by the time he gets home. Bernard insists on paying for everything; says he'll skive the cost off Karl's "medicinal remedies and herbal supplements" allowance.
A day and a half of hurry-up-and-wait traveling later and Sean gets more than a little bit of amusement out of giving his name to one of Ian's underlings at the door of the club -- a young lass who's near busting out of her blouse -- and saying, "Believe me name's on the list, love." Even after everything, he'll still admit the gig has some nice perks.
Once inside, some things become clear in rapid succession.
First, Bernard didn't tell anyone that Sean was coming. Sean wasn't sure, but thought that Bernard might have held it out in front of the rest of them like a lolly if things were as bad as he made it sound. But the fierceness with which Daisy and Elijah crash into him at once as Billy shouts, "You bloody bastard! Too good to ring for a lift from the airport, even?" suggests otherwise.
It also suggests that Bernard beat Sean at his own game, saying everything was fine, then making it sound like he was fibbing when he was actually telling the truth. As he accepts kidney-crushing hugs and enthusiastic insults all around, Sean can see they're all just right, maybe a little weary, and careful with each other (Karl steps on Astin's foot in the shuffle and says, "Sorry, didn't see you") like they might have had a row a few days ago. But they're not being ginger with each other the way they were when he saw them in Sheffield and they're certainly not tiptoeing around nervy-like the way everyone was right before things all went to hell last time.
The last set of arms belongs to Ian, who kisses him on the cheek, business-like, and says, "Sean Bean, beautiful. Would you please remind the zoo here that they're supposed to be making nice with the members of the press and that they can molest you later?" His voice is dripping with its usual syrup of sarcasm, but his eyes are twinkling. "Good of you to come," he says. As everyone reluctantly disperses, Ian snags Sean by the elbow. "Maybe you could do me a little favor," he whispers. "Keep these two from shagging right out in the open?" He cocks his head at Orlando, who's got one arm wrapped around a tall man Sean's never seen before.
The last two things Sean rapidly realizes, in between Orlando saying, "You want a drink? Let's get you a drink," and the man offering his hand and saying, "Hi, I'm Eric, I've heard a lot about you," are this: Sean hasn't even seen Viggo yet and Orlando has a bloke. Apparently.
Sean ends up standing near the bar, nattering with Orlando and Eric, who seems like a nice fellow, teaches chemistry at a university, is devastatingly normal and therefore, probably will not last.
"Yeah, I've never been to a record release party before," Eric is saying.
Orlando smiles and shrugs. "It's rather boring, really," he says. "Like, I don't even know most of the people here, you know?"
"The important thing to remember," Sean says, "is to drink up, because it's the last time you'll be able to get the label to pay for anything."
Eric swirls the ice in his plastic cup. "Good idea," he says. "Can I get for anyone else?"
Eric slips away toward the bar and Sean looks Orlando up and down. "So," he says. Orlando eyes him in return. "Well," Sean says, deciding he might as well cut to the chase. "Where's Viggo, then?" Because, really, if getting him here was just part of a plan to ease into telling him that Viggo's gone off to be yogi in India, well, he'd rather have it come out while he's still relatively sober.
Orlando shrugs, but it's easy rather than helpless. "No idea," Orlando says. "You know how he hates this part."
"He still on about the glass room?" Sean asks, leaning into the wall and shaking his head.
Orlando raises his eyebrows, his expression suggesting that Sean's a git for even needing to ask. Viggo has always hated this part, and has said more than once that celebrating the existence of an album of music is like celebrating the existence of gravity. Back in Wellington, when they released the first record, Viggo said they should just set up a room with folding chairs and a boom box playing the album for anyone who wanted to listen while the band got drinks at the pub down the street. Over the years, this idea turned into suggestions for a much more elaborate performance piece with the reviewers in a glass room listening to the record on individual sets of headphones while the band stood outside and watched them. In some ways, it was typical Viggo, always working toward trying to excuse his need to do things his own way on his so-called commitment to living his life as art.
"But other than that," Sean asks, "things are well?"
"Other than what?" Orlando asks.
"Other than the usual," Sean says. He knows he's only himself to blame because he brought Viggo up in the first place, but he hates the way that Viggo still seems to take up all the air in a room, even when he's not there. It's stupid that it should be like that between him and Orlando, of all people, although looking over Orlando's shoulder at Eric waiting awkwardly at the bar, Sean imagines there's probably a lot of it going around lately.
"Oh. Right," Orlando says. "Yeah, things are good. I mean, like," he waves his hand a little bit, "even the usual's good. You know?"
"I do know," Sean says, and then, "And Eric," twisting his head in the direction of the bar. "That's good?"
Orlando tips his chin toward his chest. "Eric is good," he says, smiling. "It's very good."
"He coming out on the road?" Sean asks.
"He has been, yeah," says Orlando. "Since Boston, actually." There's a forcefulness there that makes Sean think he knows now what the big row was about. He gives Orlando a look that says "don't make me waste me time by asking what you're on about" and Orlando shrugs and says, "It's different for you, you know? You didn't come back because you changed, it can't surprise you that anyone else has, too."
Sean thinks Orlando thinks more of Sean's capacity to appreciate that Orlando has boyfriends now than Sean deserves, but then again Orlando didn't exactly do a bang-up job of hiding his resentment at "didn't come back" so they might as well call it even.
It's true, though, he didn't come back. Sean broke up the band last time, but not in the way all the reporters in the room probably think he did.
"Well, you know what they say, I guess," Sean says.
Sean shrugs. "The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?" he says.
The way it started was that Viggo was the kind of mate who'd drink a bottle of wine with you at dawn just for the pleasure of watching the sun rise. He was the kind of person who lived in the moment, but he also spent every moment he wasn't living analyzing every moment he'd lived before. And Sean was much more the type to just drink the bottle of wine and skip everything else.
Not quite matching up worked alright for Viggo and Sean for more than a couple years, the same way you forgive your best mates their dirty socks or their really bad jokes. But then Viggo buggered off to Tibet. And then, well, Viggo came back from Tibet.
Orlando frowns, like he's been thinking it over. "Like, what does that even mean, though," he says, "you know?"
When Viggo came back from Tibet, suddenly Sean was more than Viggo's best mate, he was this person who Viggo thought had told him all these big truths about himself, things that seemed self-evident to Sean, like, "When you walk away from something, sometimes it falls apart without you." and "No matter what, you're still going to come off as the leader if you make yourself the center of the universe." Really, the big truths Sean told Viggo were just shit that anyone couldn't help but notice if they spent that many years watching someone make the same mistakes. There wasn't anything Sean said to Viggo when Viggo got back from Tibet that everyone else in the band didn't already know, they just never bothered to tell him because they either thought he wouldn't listen or that he already knew but didn't care.
"I don't know," Sean says. "I actually haven't any idea."
Viggo took Sean pointing out that Viggo spent a lot of time running away from conflict and fighting against reality for being something more than it was, because Viggo equates brutal honesty with love, which is probably why there are only about six people in the world he can really talk to, and why he's never noticed Orlando is more than a little bit in love with him.
"Hey, hey, hey, you guys."
Sean turns around and Astin's behind him, a woman who looks to be a reporter at his elbow and Dom and Billy hovering behind them, Dom rolling his eyes exaggeratedly at Sean and Billy with his hand pressed over his mouth to stifle laughter. Eric's finally back with the drinks, and he's standing awkwardly at Orlando's hip.
"Hey, Sean," Astin says. "Can you please tell this nice woman that we didn't kick you out of the band because you were addicted to Echinacea?" Behind him, Billy snickers louder.
"Absolutely," Sean says, offering a hand to the reporter. "Love to."
Sean's not exactly sure how he ended up stuck between Dom and Billy and a reporter from Rolling Stone, but it's clear that he can't leave now, otherwise they'll tell the reporter that they traded Bean for a mountain goat and the mountain goat has a xylophone solo on the new album.
Speaking of: "--does seem like there's a bit of a revolving door, though, right?" the reporter is saying.
Sean catches Dom doing a not-very-good job of pretending not to roll his eyes, and Billy says, "Oh, you know what they say -- us and your grannie on the banjo and it's a Peter and Fran gig."
"Sean Bean's here tonight," Sean says. "So, I mean, I want to tell you, we're all still very good friends. I think this is a good opportunity to, you know, to recognize how difficult it can be to be a working musician as well as a parent. I know; I'm a father of two myself, and--"
"Right, great, absolutely," the reporter says. Over her shoulder, on the other side of the room, Sean can see Bean chatting with Orlando and Orlando's flavor of the -- Orlando's boyfriend, Sean forces himself to amend. Right.
"So," the reporter says, snapping her gum. "The album's just out but you're actually halfway through a world tour at this point, right? How is that, do you find that people are responding to the new material?"
"It's been a good test market," Dom says, hands waving. "There was this one song we were going to put on the album, but every time we played it everyone in the audience got ill and blood gushed from their eyeballs and the like, you know?"
"So we were able to pull that one off the track listing," Billy says, and then makes a show of shaking his head, adding, "Shame about those people, though."
Sean decides to not even dignify that exchange with an explanation. The reporter laughs politely and then says, "What's it like being back on the road? Is it hard learning how to live with each other again?"
"Oh, very," Dom says, and elbows Billy in the side. "Especially this one. It's brutal, I tell you."
Billy pinches Dom around the middle and starts to say, "What he means is --"
"What he means is," Sean cuts in, because he can never tell what Dom and Billy are doing when they're in America, not that they shouldn't do whatever they're comfortable with, but. "What he means is that we all stayed very close," Sean says. "When we're not on tour, we talk all the time, Dom, he's come over and babysat my kids, you know?"
"Well, you know, I needed the money," Dom offers brightly.
"Nice of Sean to give you that job. Keep you off the streets." Billy claps his hand to Sean's shoulder. "A real decent guy--"
"Anyway," Sean says.
He glances around for Viggo, thinking this would be a good time to bring him in to the conversation so he could engage in twenty minutes of subterfuge about the resonance between sonic dissonance and the cultural diaspora, but Viggo's nowhere to be found. The reporter actually seems amused, though, and is snapping her gum and taking furious notes.
"It's not exactly an awkward transition," Sean says. "I mean, certainly, some things have changed," he eyes Bean, Orlando and Eric as he says this. He's about ready to hand the reporter off to Bean in a minute, give him a taste of what he's been missing. "You know what they say," Sean says finally. "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Ian catches Elijah after shuttling Bean off to chaperone Orlando and Eric and says, lightly, "Here's the petite genius himself. Full production credit, I see, though I must say it's about time, isn't it?"
"I'm," starts Elijah, trying not to slosh his drink all over Ian's glossy sleeve. "What?"
"Just when I assure myself once again that you all do, in fact, speak English," Ian is muttering. "Of course no one told you."
"Wait, what?" Elijah tries again. He's not nearly drunk enough to be hearing things this early in the night.
"Young man, I suggest you peruse the production credits listed in your album notes at your earliest convenience. Before you leave tonight, there are exactly thirty-seven very important people I must introduce you to," Ian is saying, "but do us a favor first and find your fearless peerless leader, won't you?"
Ian shoos him off in the direction of some potted trees and Elijah is beginning to suspect that he's being gotten rid of like a child until he finally spots Viggo skulking off in a corner behind a potted palm, one foot up a chair like a cowboy on the range, contemplating his drink or the wallpaper or the sacred cycles of the roving herd or some shit. Elijah stopped feeling guilty about interrupting Viggo's deep pauses several years ago when he'd asked Viggo once what he was thinking about and Viggo had looked him straight in the eye and said simply, "Lunchmeat. And sex."
"So," Elijah says, sidling up alongside Viggo with more good humor than grace. "Full production credit, Viggo? Were you going to tell me about this, like, at any point?"
Viggo sips his drink and plants both feet on the ground. His lip twitches once as he says, "Yeah? Who told you that?"
"I had to hear it from a very gay English publicist. What's your excuse?" Elijah punches Viggo in the arm, but he's smiling so hard his face might crack in half and his aim's off to boot and so he ends up sort of smooshing his hand into Viggo's right lapel. "Asshole," he laughs.
Viggo smiles crookedly behind the rim of his glass and rocks easily with the soft blow. He moves back onto his heels and then forward again and slings an arm around Elijah like an affectionate see-saw. Across the room Dom and Billy are holding court and Sean's sandwiched between them looking put-upon. Then there's Bean and Orlando having some kind of very interesting pow-wow by the bar and Elijah's had a few drinks, but he can tell just by the way Viggo's breathing in right now that Viggo's spotted Bean, and sometimes this whole band is just one big fucking crazy see-saw. Elijah wishes he had a napkin; he'd write that one down for his memoirs. This always happens to him.
"I wish I had a napkin," Elijah finds himself saying. "I'm always so fucking profound when I'm drunk, you know?"
"I know," Viggo says comfortably, and pulls him behind the palm tree. "Do you think if we smoke back here someone will come throw us out?" he asks hopefully, patting his pockets.
Elijah laughs and digs around for his box of cloves, and fishes two out, warm and slightly curved from sitting in the back pocket of his jeans. "I don't think so. Can they throw us out of our own party?"
Viggo sighs once around his droopy borrowed clove. "Probably not. Let's find out anyway."
Elijah snorts and after a moment says, quietly, "Thanks. You know."
Viggo shakes his head. "You've only got yourself to thank. I had nothing to do with it." He grins suddenly. "Probably why the album turned out so well, in fact."
"Well," Elijah says, and they look at each other for a minute.
"Well," Viggo agrees.
Elijah peeks around the palm tree and watches Bean and Orlando as they drink and draw straws to decide who's got to be pointlessly in love with Viggo for the next two years.
"The more things change," Elijah trails off, takes a drag.
"The more they change," Viggo finishes, like it's a decision he's suddenly arrived at.
Elijah waits but Viggo only nods once, with a manic gleam in his eye, and when Liv walks past their corner they leap out from behind the tree and she shouts and nearly drops her drink. Elijah's laughing as heads turn all around.