Chapter One: Tibo
The Hollow Heart
He was exhausted, elated, high as a fucking cloud, all screwed up inside, but this was the second encore. Time to go out big. The mental shift was easy, like opening a familiar puzzle box in his mind, and then he reached into the spaces between, reached for the dark energy thrumming alongside all the electrical bonds of the visible world. This was what he was born for, his one true talent, the strange electric thrill racing through him as he converted dark energy to emotional currents.
Stone steady now, he waited as Dave's sticks counted them in, then as Eck's Gibson played the soft, plaintive intro. Head still down, Tibo raised a hand slowly, pushing tendrils of sorrow into the audience as he sang the first melancholy lines,
Two dozen bracelets, all hand-made
A painted pony cavalcade
A tortoise comb, three strands of hair
One tiny bird of earthenware
As the litany of items grew, Tibo slowly raised his head, increasing the tight flow of sorrow as his voice and the band's volume built slowly. A lover gone without explanation, leaving only random objects and heartbreak behind, and oh, the crowd ate this shit up. They knew he manipulated them. It wasn't some trade secret. They knew and they craved it, reaching for him, crying out to him, floating on the fantasy that if only they could reach him, they could make it better.
At the guitar bridge before the first chorus, Rolly let out a long, mournful wail as only a banshee could. Not the killing kind, of course, Rolls would never do that, but the one that pierced the heart with a thousand needle shards. You heard that wail and couldn't help the tears, even if you didn't have a fucking clue why you wanted to cry. Tibo dropped to his knees, head flung back as he pulled the energy Rolly spun into his own magic, hurling it over the crowd as he belted out the chorus.
On this hollow earth, still see you dancing.
Beneath this hollow sky, still hear you sing.
On the gray horizon, there's your shadow,
Walking on the edge away from me.
He had to concentrate hard as he hunched over his mic in dramatized agony. The front rows of faces streamed with tears, many concertgoers clinging together as the grief howled through them, and he wanted to grin in triumph. Not yet. It would break the spell, the shared, jagged catharsis as one music critic had written. The crowd hung there, breathless, while the band silenced their instruments and he whispered the last line. Always on the edge away from me.
Tibo's last tremulous note faded, and the fans erupted in shrieks and applause, surging toward the stage where he still knelt while security moved in fast to block them. He raised his head to smile for the audience, flashing his sharp teeth, but there was no fucking way he was getting to his feet on his own. His legs shook so hard, his boot toes were thumping on the stage.
"Hey." Rolly was suddenly leaning over him, speaking close to his ear to cut through the crowd noise. "Do I help you up or carry you?"
Tibo held out a hand in answer. Better if he could walk off the stage. With a grunt, Rolly hauled him up, steadying him when he staggered.
"The fuck?" Tibo protested when Eck pried the mic from his fingers. "I need—"
"I got it, Ti. You get backstage before you take a header." Eck winked at him, the lines around his amber satyr eyes crinkling as he turned a huge smile on the crowd. "Thank you! You've been wonderful! Tibo and the Flying Mantas! We're in Boston next week if you're up that way! Good night, everyone!"
The stage lights went dark as the house lights came up and Tibo leaned heavily on Rolly as their bassist half-supported, half-dragged him offstage.
"Rolls?" Tibo let his pounding head rest against Rolly's chest, taking comfort in the scent of his sweat, his skin, his fabric softener, for fuck's sake. He wanted to say stupid things like, stay with me tonight or, you know I love you, right? But he lost the moment, for better or worse, when Sean bustled up to them.
"Is he all right? Headache starting? Ti, look at me. Oh, gods, yes, looks like a bad one." Perfect manager that he was, Sean took him in hand so Rolly could go towel off and put his instruments away. "Come on, tiger. I've good chocolate and a nice dark beer waiting. Just what you need. Have you fixed up in half a shake."
"Fuck off, Sean," Tibo said wearily as he watched Rolly walk away. Yeah. Always walking away. Except with them, there'd never even been a chance to start. He behaved, letting Sean tuck him onto the couch backstage and fuss over him. Fine. Yes. A good beer and chocolate did wonders for his post-magic-overuse headaches, but irritation still prickled under his skin.
Everyone else whirled around him, giving him the impression that he was the fulcrum, the center around which everything turned. Where the band was concerned, that was true. Musically, they were his. They'd follow him anywhere. But some nights, he wished it would all stop for a bit. Made him dizzy.
"Ti…Tibo!" Sean had been calling him. Damn it. How out of it was he?
"The ones over by the door, you all right with them?"
The ones…? Oh. Tonight's Sean-vetted groupie selection. He wasn't sure he was up for partying, but he had a reputation to uphold, he supposed. "Not the redhead." Too close to Rolly's shade. "The others are fine."
Still in a fog, Tibo let them whisk him into the limo and found himself sprawled across someone's lap. Human. Dark eyes. Nice hands. It would have to do.