Prague -- 5/14
Karl has plans. He's going to get up and do a few interviews with whatever press they've lined up in Prague, then he's going to ditch the band and spend the afternoon watching the Spring International Music Competition harpsichord finals. He's had these plans pretty much since he figured out that their European tour would be in the spring and he asked Bernard to schedule the date to coincide.
Elijah and Dom seem to think the harpsichord is "not bad, just. Well, kind of tinkly, you know?" (accompanied by a confused nose wrinkle) and "a bit poncey" (followed with a raised eyebrow), respectively, but Karl has never had a problem ignoring those two. He loves the harpsichord and even though it's practically perfect for them, they've never quite been able to work it into anything for Peter and Fran, possibly because Viggo tends to associate it with baroque music and he's never been fond of that. Still, Karl's been working on it and he thinks that this might give him some ideas. He's even called ahead to ask if he can talk to some of the finalists and Ian's got someone prepared to take a few photos. Karl's looking forward to it and the idea that it might fall through never even crosses his mind. Clearly, he's been out of the band too long, because things start to go awry before they've even left Germany.
First, they leave Berlin late. Very late. So late that Sala has to resort to bribing the venue staff not to kick them out onto the curb and Karl's pretty sure they agreed to pay a lot of overtime. They leave late because of an argument between Bernard and Viggo over whether it would be faster to drive or take the train. Daisy suggested it would be fastest to fly, but Viggo glared at him, so after that Daisy hadn't said anything else, just mumbled a lot under his breath and laughed when Dom rolled his eyes. Viggo finally won, not on the merit of his argument but because no one could find the train tickets.
Karl will never suggest that Bernard is anything but resourceful and even though it takes him quite a while to find somewhere to rent a van after midnight, he manages. and they're finally on their way to Prague in a fifteen-person van. The van may or may not have shoddy breaks, but since Karl doesn't speak German and didn't understand the woman at the rental place, he's going to assume they're fine.
Karl's asking Billy about reworking the string section on "Running Away From Fire," when Dom shouts, "Stop!"
Bernard, of course, doesn't stop. Dom climbs over Billy and across Karl and plops down in Orlando's lap. Orlando makes a soft grunt. "Bernie, really, stop. We need to take a side trip." Dom's side trip involves a bar in the Äußere Neustadt section of Dresden, a French cabaret with girls who may not be girls after all, something that Sean refuses to discuss that leaves lipstick stains on his cheek, Lawrence hopping onstage for a bit of a jig and a lot of German beer. Somewhere in the back of Karl's fogged brain, there's a nagging feeling that all this sidetracking is going to make him late, but he's listening to Viggo prattle on about learning German and also maybe Bulgarian, so he dismisses it and suggests they compose a Bulgarian sonnet for harpsichord in B minor.
Back in the van, Elijah's managed to sneak a beer from somewhere, which leads to a lot of drunken thrashing around until Elijah's Stella ends up all over Billy's hair and Bernard threatens to crash the lot of them into the nearest empty building. Too busy threatening to notice the animal crossing the road, Bernard finds himself needing to stop sharply. Apparently Karl's German is better than he thought and he did hear correctly earlier, because the breaks don't seem to work quite right and the van squeals a bit out of control, veering dangerously toward the guardrail before finally, finally stopping against the bumper of the car ahead of them. Dom tries to explain their situation to the not at all friendly driver and Viggo tries to give him a handful of Euros, but he refuses to take any of it. They have to wait for the German authorities before they can continue and Karl glances at his watch every three minutes, the alcohol quickly fading from his system leaving him with a bit of a headache.
After that, Karl's in and out of consciousness. In his sleep, he hears and dismisses as a dream Dom telling Bernard that the road stops somewhere before the Czech border and the subsequent certainly unrelated scraping noises that sound a lot like the bottom of the van against gravel. He thinks German beer must give particularly vivid dreams, because there's also Orlando and Daisy singing "We Didn't Start the Fire," Elijah and Dom playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and Bernard and Viggo arguing in what sounds like Pig Latin.
Eventually, Karl wakes up to find that the line at the border is much longer at eleven in the morning than it would have been at three.
"Bugger," Karl mutters, jumping out of the van to stretch and show his passport. He smiles at the border guard, tipping his head. "Um, not you, mate. Just," he waves his hand at the van and the sky and definitely at Dom. French cabaret at half-three, great idea. The guard doesn't look at all sympathetic.
Behind him, Bernard is hissing at Viggo in what Karl guesses is supposed to be a whisper, but Bernard's never been very good at voice modulation, so everyone can hear him.
"I thought you were going to get that annulled?" Bernard asks.
Karl turns his head and sees Viggo shrug. "Why bother? The marriage's only binding in the Czech Republic and it's not like I'm here that often."
Sala looks over at Karl and rolls his eyes. Karl shakes his head, just as Dom appears and says, "Chin up, Bernard, she won't show up while we're here. She's in Thailand."
Karl climbs back into the van to wait, resting his head against the window and glaring at everyone outside.
Fifteen minutes later, they're finally moving again and the trip to Prague itself doesn't take too long. Karl might be sulking a little, refusing to talk to anyone and instead, passing time with the book he's reading. It's an annotated catalogue of harpsichord and organ music by women composers. It's out of print, but Liv tracked it down for him as a start-of-tour gift.
"Oi, Karl, you still going to make the contest thing?" Dom asks from the back. Karl grunts.
"He's cranky," Orlando laughs.
Karl wishes he had headphones.
At the hotel, Karl's talked Daisy into checking in for him, talked Sean into covering for him with Ian at the interviews and he's on his way out to catch at least part of the concert before showtime. At the door, he runs into Bernard.
"Karl, lad, perfect." Bernard shoves a few crumpled papers into Karl's hand. "Liv's flight from Berlin got delayed and the car refused to wait so now the poor thing's stranded at the airport. Run on and get her, please." Bernard's not asking, he's never asking.
"Bernard, I've got this thing. Can't someone else do it?" Karl feels bad: Liv is definitely his favorite right now, but she's also the one who got to spend the night in Berlin with her husband, pick up the baby and avoid the van trip from hell, so he doesn't feel too bad. "Dom's not doing anything," Karl offers.
Bernard looks over Karl's shoulder. "They've all gone upstairs and Ian'll probably have them with the press. It's you, lad." Bernard nods at the papers in Karl's hand. "All the information is there, Sala and Lawrence can drop you on the way to the venue and just grab a taxi back here-- use your per diem." Bernard heads inside, smiling.
Karl stares at the papers in his hand until Lawrence appears. "Karl, you coming? Bernard told us we had to--"
Karl doesn't finish, just nods. "Yeah, yeah. Coming." On his way to the van, Karl glares at the poster for the Spring Music Festival hanging on one of the posts outside the hotel, then sighs.
"Best laid plans and all that, eh?" Lawrence says, smiling sympathetically.
"Not with this lot, mate," Karl smiles back and climbs back into the van. It reeks of beer and Karl hopes Bernard has to pay that out of pocket.
Munich -- 5/16
The catering station has a row of dishes on it with names like hackbraten, gurkensalat, and dampfnudel. With names like these, Elijah feels sure he's in a truly astounding country. His belly full of cabbage, Elijah wanders into the break room and rejoins Orlando in their campaign to convince Sean, Karl, and Viggo that covering "The Right Stuff" is exactly what the show this evening needs to make it perfect.
Sadly, while repeated playing of the NKOTB Greatest Hits album during the drive to Munich won Liv, Daisy, and The Couple over to their cause, others are yet to be convinced. And Viggo demands unanimity in these matters.
Elijah's beginning to make Karl crumble when Sala wanders in with a plate full of sausage and announces that all of Peter and Fran is needed on stage for the sound check. Elijah experiences most of his time on stage through a headphone created buffer and he listens as volume levels are debated in muffled tones. The buffer also means he's able to pretend he missed the awkward moment when Karl forgets that Sean A. is not Sean B. and does not sing the second verse of "The Vowel Song." There's a jangly pause when Karl stops the song, but Sean is rather good at handling these things-- they happen rather frequently, so he'd better be-- and Liv continues on about elephants, Eeyore, and electronic mail without too much disruption.
Once every possible level and harmony has been accounted for, Elijah looks at Orlando and Orlando looks over at Viggo.
Viggo sighs. "Fine, but the two of you are arranging the damn thing."
Elijah steps forwards and shakes his hips. "The first time was a great time, second time was a blast, the third time I fell in love, now I hope it lasts."
Rome -- 5/17
Viggo once read somewhere that excavators in Rome, looking for Year Zero, had to clear eighteen feet of debris to reach the right stratum. Looking around the small basement warren of dressing rooms of tonight's venue, he wonders which year he's sitting on right now, while he tunes the smaller of the two Columbian sistils. The wall he's leaning against is painted cement, cool through his t-shirt, and he thinks of it for a moment as a dam holding back a tide of earth and an accumulation of human material, imagines bits of pottery, paving stones, the skeletons of small animals floating in an immobile sea.
The city makes him a bit claustrophobic, but he's glad to be here at the instant of spring, like the stroke of midnight, when things seem beautifully suspended. Uncharacteristically early in the cool of the morning the band leaked silently out of the hotel. Viggo saw Orlando slip out in sandals and a thin shirt on foot, Liv in an unapologetically spring-like sundress with Karl and Daisy holding Milo, climbing into a taxi. Viggo took his own ramble in the early afternoon and all the smoke and noise and stone made him miss the house in Montana.
The basement dressing room is quiet and uncrowded. He's managed to corral some time with Elijah, too, which he prefers to do before every show, if he can. There are a mess of instruments to tune and Elijah's unerringly perfect pitch is the only tool that Viggo trusts. He could do it electronically - Elijah has pointed this out, many, many times - but wherever possible, Viggo would just as soon leave the machines out.
There's a noise outside and then Karl pops his head in the door and hands Elijah a small black case. "Dulcimer. Ta," he grins as Elijah sets the case down on top of a jumble of other black cases, all odd angles and curves.
"No problem," Elijah sighs.
"You've got the mandy already?"
"Yep," Elijah sighs.
"See you in two hours," Karl calls over his shoulder. "I'm going to try to catch the sunset from one of the hills."
Elijah pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Elijah," Viggo says, "Sometimes I wonder if you really enjoy this time we have together with the instruments."
"Viggo," Elijah says, "I have three words for you: fretless Sudanese tambura, okay?"
"You know, the tamburas from Djibouti are made of gourd," Viggo goes on. "Wish I could get my hands on one of those. The gourds are a succulent variety, and, ah, the pulp has to be scraped out using a special type of hook through the neck to -"
"Okay, gourd, wood, styrofoam, whatever," Elijah puts in. "It's still flat. Just like always."
"You know, I wonder if it maybe it's supposed to be slightly flat," Viggo says, thoughtfully. "Sort of atonal, you know, a lot of the instruments of the Sudan and North Yemen sound kind of, ah, jangly to Western -"
Elijah looks like he might throw up his hands, but he's still holding the tambura. Someone's coming down the hall, whistling.
"Want to try the balalaika next?" Viggo asks hopefully.
"Ciao, ragazze belle!" Dom calls out, coming through the door in sunglasses. His arms are full of black cases. "Zither, guitarron, and bandolin, I think."
"Oh my god," says Elijah, "I need coffee."
"Not coffee, mate," Orlando's voice comes through the doorway behind Dom before he slides through, holding a small cup with spoon. He grins. "Coffee gelato." He extends a spoonful of something cool and glistening and gets a bit on Elijah's chin. "Oops."
"Holy shit, that's good," Elijah moans, swallowing, pawing uselessly in Orlando's direction. "Give me that."
"Not likely," Orlando dances away toward Viggo's chair, smiling. "I'll get you some before show."
Viggo looks up from the sistil in his lap and smiles at Orlando, his bare toes and his sunburnt nape, his tight shirt. Orlando smiles back easily.
"You want some too," he says, and it isn't a question.
"I wouldn't say no," Viggo replies, and allows himself to give Orlando a friendly once-over before accepting the spoon.
"I'm off to find supper with Bills," Dom announces, sounding amused. "Anyone else want? I'm going to try that pasta named after prostitutes, puto-what's it. Something."
"Puttanesca," Orlando says, giving Viggo another spoonful of gelato. Viggo tastes crème fraîche, syrup, something thick. Eggs, maybe. Orlando moves a bit closer and Viggo hooks a finger in his belt loop, tugging gently. Orlando shoves him lightly and laughs, holding the gelato cup out of Viggo's reach.
"C'mon, Lij, you're looking a bit peaky," Orlando's saying. "We'll eat someplace outside, yeah?"
Elijah makes a mournful, hungry noise. "That's it," he says, setting the tambura down and standing up. "Gimme an hour, Viggo. I'll be right back," he snatches up his messenger bag from the corner and almost leaps for the door. Orlando nudges Viggo's shoulder and follows Elijah out.
"Good man," Dom nods. He looks at Viggo. "Maestro?"
"I'm fine, see you in an hour," says Viggo, distracted again. Under his hands the sistil still sounds thin and quavering. He wants her softer, the sound fuller, rounder somehow. The South American instruments are always temperamental.
Dom hesitates a moment. "Don't make us send out a search party," he says, with a small, almost crooked grin. "You know Bean was the only one with any sense of direction."
Viggo looks up, and then surprises himself with a laugh. "That's not true. I have an excellent sense of direction."
Dom snorts fondly. Viggo hears him shut the door and follow the others down the hall, whistling.
Zurich -- 5/18
It's about an hour before the show is supposed to start and Daisy studies his face in the mirror, leaning forward so that his nose practically meets its reflection. The light's not very good in here, but he'd rather not look like he's made himself up like a clown when they get out under the lights.
Daisy doesn't do full drag for Peter and Fran shows, at least not that often, not anymore. But there's no reason not to look your very best, he thinks, and the routine of applying his make-up relaxes him. Besides, with this lot, the make-up room is the only corner of the venue that's always empty and quiet.
He smudges shadow on the underlids of his eyes and hopes it's just the light making him look like a raccoon. He's about to pick up the eye pencil when he hears behind him, "Well, hello."
Revise: usually empty and quiet.
In the mirror, he sees Dom and Billy in the doorway, Elijah, Orlando and Sean just behind them. "Hey," Dom says. "Do me next, yeah?" He slides over and hoists himself up so he's perched expectantly on the make-up counter.
So Daisy lines Dom's eyes with a dark pencil while the others watch, apparently with nothing better to do. "There," Daisy says after a minute.
Dom grins, his bright eyes made brighter by their black trim. "Very good, excellent, very, very good," he says, adopting a German accent. Then he claps his hands together. "Sean's turn!" he shouts.
"Oh, no," Sean says, throwing up his hands and edging back toward the door. "No, no, no. Not me. Take Orlando!"
"No fun," Dom says, stroking his chin. "He's already too pretty. C'mon, Sean." He jumps off the counter and grabs one of Daisy's eye pencils -- the turquoise one, and Daisy really hopes that he doesn't break it -- and moves toward Sean. As an after thought, he adds, smiling, "It'll only hurt for just a minute."
When Karl pokes his head in the door, Daisy is leaning against the counter so he won't fall over laughing and Billy, Elijah and Orlando are only somewhat successful in pinning Sean to the ground while Dom attempts to assault him with the turquoise eyeliner pencil, mostly managing to get the occasional swipe of blue-green across the bright red of Sean's cheeks.
"Ahem." Karl clears his throat, and when this goes entirely unnnoticed, he does it again. "Ahem. Excuse me, ladies." The scuffle on the floor freezes, Sean with his hand tight around Billy's wrist, Elijah with both arms around Sean's midsection, Orlando grasping Sean's ankles and Dom with the liner pencil poised over Sean's nose.
"Warm-ups, anyone?" Karl says, arms crossed.
"Right, right," says Billy, pulling loose from Sean's hold.
"Good man," says Elijah, standing up. They quickly untangle themselves and Daisy thinks that he should check and see if his eye make-up ran when he laughed so hard that he cried when Elijah almost sat on Sean's head, but there's no time now and he wouldn't be able to tell in this light anyway.
Waiting at the door not unlike a beleaguered shepherd as they each exit, Karl says to Daisy, "You look nice." He points to his own eyes. "New color?"
Daisy frowns, amused. "Yeah," he says.
Karl nods. "I like it," he says. "C'mon, then, we better hurry up."
Amsterdam -- 5/20
Sean's purchased a Fodor's for planning activities on their day off. Once the show's over and they hit the hotel, Sean tries to include Elijah in his planning.
"So," he says across his opened suitcase and over to Elijah who is balling up socks into moderately matching pairs. "Amsterdam man, we should go see those famous tulips."
"Um." Elijah shoots Sean a look that he doesn't quite understand. "Yeah, that sounds lovely Sean, really, but I think I'm going to hit the town tonight and crash tomorrow. Yeah?"
Sean doesn't quite see the appeal in that, there are bars everywhere and they all serve alcohol, and then Elijah's talking on the room phone to Dom about purchasing filters and rolling papers and jumping around and changing t-shirts like some sort of metaphorical college freshman heading out to his first frat party.
Frankly, Sean's a bit disappointed in the younger members of the group. He rather wishes Viggo or Bernard would set some guidelines, or at least accompany them wherever they're headed off to, but Bernard's booked a room at a different hotel and Viggo's visiting friends for the night.
Sean, however, is fully committed to seeing the more family-oriented and historical aspects of the city. The next morning he makes sure that there's a supply of water and fruit waiting for the rest of the group whenever they choose to wake and dress, and he heads out to marvel at old buildings and canals.
First there's Rembrandt's home, which gets an entire roll of film dedicated to it so Sean can mail photos home to Allie. Next there's the Hortus Botanicus which has a three-hundred year old cycas palm in its possession and it is, frankly, astonishing. After wandering down and around a few canals for a bit, and only getting moderately lost once, Sean makes sure to be heading back to the hotel in time for dinner activities.
Elijah's sitting out on the balcony chain smoking some sort of dark brown cigarette and looking exhausted.
"Elijah," Sean leans back on one of the sliding glass doors and peers down at him. "You look like you need a meal."
"Yeah," Elijah shrugs, "I guess. I'm not all that hungry though."
"Some vegetables or something," Sean nods. "My guide recommended a great Indian place."
"Well," Elijah grinds out his cigarette and reaches for another one, "I kinda made plans with the sex fiends in the other room there. Whenever they're done with that business."
The moment he stops talking there's a loud moan through the wall. Sean sighs. He feels relatively sure that he knows what their evening is going to turn into and he takes some comfort in knowing that the singers in the group aren’t engaging in the same type of activities. Not that he knows where the others are. At least when he wandered off he left everyone a note.
Really, Sean rather hates Amsterdam and he misses his wife.
Paris -- 5/21
Dom runs backstage and into the green room. It was a perfect show, as close as anyone can get to perfect anyway, and he dashed off stage before the applause had completely died out to get a few minutes of quiet before it's time to talk it all over.
He shakes his hair out, water and sweat spattering everywhere and then stands still, panting. A count of fifteen and then he's moving again, pulling off his Stone Roses t-shirt and tossing it into a waiting laundry basket. He takes a towel from the neatly folded stack next to it and dries off a little before collapsing on the couch. He closes his eyes and waits.
The show was good, probably the best of the tour so far. Paris is always fun and the band has been on tour long enough that they've really found their groove. Just sleep-deprived enough that everything has an edge, refamiliarized with all the old music, understanding the new enough that they can play it in their sleep, and if there was any awkwardness in the beginning, they're over it.
His heart won't slow down, so he tries deep breathing, remembering New Zealand and meditating in the morning on the beach. It works a little, but his skin is prickling and his thoughts are scattered, flying across years and countries, other concerts and other trips to Paris all at once.
It's only a minute or so until he hears everyone else coming towards the room. Elijah is shrieking about some stalkery fan who, as far as Dom can make out, attacked Orli in the hallway backstage. Orli's laughing, though, so Dom decides it's all fine. Viggo's voice is low, rumbling quietly and Daisy and Liv are singing the harmony from "light side of bland and normal."
Dom opens his eyes, stares at the ceiling and keeps waiting. Five, four, three, two, one and "ooof," he grunts as the air is forced out of his lungs when Billy flops onto his chest.
"You reek," Billy says into Dom's neck, following the words with a kiss. "Do we have a shower here?" He kisses higher up, just below Dom's chin and Dom can feel the scratch of stubble on his skin. Dom shakes his head no and smiles as Billy's mouth drops onto Dom's.
The kiss is more calming than the stillness or breathing. Billy tastes like beer and excitement, a little like electricity, and Dom presses his fingertips under Billy's shirt and into the dip of his lower back. He counts to fifteen, breathes slowly through his nose, then to fifteen again before Billy lifts his head. He's grinning, eyes bright with energy and the reflection of Dom's eyes.
"Good show," Billy whispers before jumping up to chase Orli around the room, squealing like a teenage girl running away from bees.
Dom nods even though Billy isn't watching him to agree, takes two more deep breaths and throws himself off the couch, hanging into the air for a millisecond before his feet touch the ground, like he's on the verge of flying.
"'Lij," he says, snapping his towel in the air. "What the hell was that skipping thing during 'bard,' 'cause I fucking loved it. We need to rerecord it like that before the album gets mastered."
Elijah smiles, brighter than the lights Dom remembers from the stage, and Dom can hear Orli laughing as Billy finally catches him and they topple to the ground. Dom nods at Elijah and doesn't wait for him to nod back before running to join Billy.