Beneath the Stain - Part 5


Part Five



Mackey is great at taking a leap of faith into a crowd—but taking one into a relationship and a future is a totally different animal. When he and Trav decide to take a risk that Mackey’s healing can hold up to them together, they know it’s going to be a long, difficult road. Mackey proves he can handle the stress of performing on his own, but when it comes to the demons that broke him in the first place, that’s a whole other song.


The first time Mackey tries to go home, it sends him into a palm-sweating, stomach-heaving anxiety attack, and Trav has to concede that Mackey is still on loan from the things that almost wrecked him when he was still a kid. When news arrives that affects the entire band, Mackey can either go home and face his demons, or let them haunt them forever.

The Difficult Kind




muscles flexed under the sting of the needle. “’Kay,” he told the muscular woman with the black-and-purple hair and heavy eye makeup, “I’mma roll my ass here a little and let out some tension. You ready?”

“Go,” she said, and the electric buzz of the needle paused while he took a deep breath and adjusted his position. His cock tightened in his jeans, and he tried really hard not to be embarrassed.

The nice woman behind the needle got
out of the way. “Don’t worry ’bout the package,” she said, her voice carrying over the death metal echoing through the parlor. “Happens to some guys—especially this area.”

Mackey looked down at the waistband of his jeans and grimaced. The waistband was at his standard jean fit, so odds were good none of his other pairs would rub on this thing in the next ten days.

“Well, it’s tender,” he muttered, and then the needle returned. Once again he grabbed the bar at the head of the backless couch he was stretched out on and tried hard to get back into that Zen place in his head where the pain didn’t matter.

It was hard when dumbshits kept trying to talk to him.

“Trav’s gonna be pissed,” Blake said dubiously.

Kell looked at him, puzzled. “Why’s Trav gonna be pissed?”

Blake and Mackey met eyes and Mackey grimaced. “He can’t possibly be that—”

Kell wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, I know you’re banging each other, Mackey, I’m not that stupid. I ran into you both when you were pushing your dresser and music stand into his room, okay?”

Mackey suddenly grinned at him. “So what you
wanna say is that Trav’s got no reason to be pissed one way or the other, right?”

Kell nodded, an “of course!” expression on his face. “Man, it’s not his fuckin’ skin. He’ll like the tat or not like it. He don’t own you.”

you!” Mackey hissed. He appreciated the sentiment, but there, right where his happy trail would be if he hadn’t just gotten waxed—that there was

Blake grunted and shook his head. “Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s been a while since I had a steady girl, but you know? People want a fuckin’ say. I mean, did you even tell him about this before he left?”

Mackey scowled and concentrated for a minute. He had, he figured, another hour, maybe two, to go. And he had to be honest in the middle of it.

“No,” he grunted after some deep breathing. “There was no discussion of the tat. In fact, the only discussion was about how I wasn’t gonna go do no fucking chemicals when he was gone for four days. This is day three. He’s meeting us in Oakland day after tomorrow. I figure I’ll get this fuckin’ thing on my stomach and surprise him.”

Kell laughed a little. “Surprise the fuck out of the fans too, huh?”

Mackey grinned. That was part of the reason he was doing it. Trav had gotten a late invitation for the band to play at one of those holiday festival sort of concerts for the week after Thanksgiving. The concert was in Oakland, and the band was high up on the rotation, so Trav figured they could practice some of their numbers for their tour. They tended not to do too many light effects, which was good because so far Mackey hated all their damned light engineers and loathed a good many of their crew. Yeah, he was pretty sure that was backlash from Tony, so he kept it to himself, but seriously. How hard was it to come up with a light effect that hadn’t been done to death? But it didn’t matter, because they had the people they had, and all he wanted to do was play the damned music.

And that was what they were doing. Two tracks from their breakout album,
It’s Not Catching
, and then six from the CD in postproduction,
Goin’ Viral
. Trying to pump up interest for their full-length tour, which Trav was planning to launch in February. According to Trav, it wasn’t that hard.
It’s Not Catching
had sold multiplatinum, which Mackey had always thought sounded really cool, even though he had no idea what it meant besides they had money now.

And Mackey finally had a head clear enough to know what he wanted to ink on his body.

“That’s a great tat,” Blake said, eyeing Mackey’s stomach appreciatively. “I think we should all get one.”

Mackey grimaced. “You already got a dragon there!” It was a nice piece too, with scales that practically glittered.

“Well, not the same place,” Blake laughed. “I got some room on my shoulder here, right?” Blake didn’t wax, and his chest hair was creeping up, but it looked sort of raw and cool, so Mackey didn’t criticize. Blake pulled the neck of his T-shirt down, and sure enough, he had room for the black-and-white version of the screaming monkey from their first album cover, bursting out of stylized, fractal pieces of a shattered mirror to fit. The band’s name was reflected in the pieces, and done in red and black, and it was haunting and fun at the same time.

“I ain’t got my stomach done yet,” Kell said ruminatively. “You know, I might not regret this one—that’d be nice.” Kell had gotten some godawful artwork inflicted on his body in the last year. Mackey’s favorite was the pinup girl on her stomach with two left feet dangling over her ass. The thing that killed Mackey was that the tattoo artist had made it up to Kell with
another free tattoo
. That one was a Celtic knot that, swear to fucking Christ, was tangled. Mackey had been pretty high, but he vaguely remembered telling Kell in all seriousness that they could put out a hit on that guy and no one would ever know.

“So you guys want—” He winced, because apparently that close to the inside of his belly button was a mite bit sensitive. “—to get matching tattoos?” Wasn’t
Sweet Valley High?

“Yeah,” Blake said, nodding. He made deliberate eye contact with Mackey. “It’ll be a celebration, right? I mean, forty-five days out of rehab, right?”

Mackey nodded soberly back. He hadn’t wanted to say anything because he didn’t want the others to worry, but that had been what drove him out of the house, searching for a thing, a thing,
to do, to escape the restlessness, the craving for something in his head.

It had been hard watching Trav leave without him. They’d only
moved Mackey’s shit into his room, and although nobody had even acknowledged that they were doing the thing, Mackey had been somehow comforted by the idea that everybody knew they were doing the thing.

Waking up with Trav, even for a week, had been…. It had made his stomach jumpy. It was like, he’d be running or playing his guitar or even watching television when he was actually
touching Trav
, and it would hit him. He’d remember what it felt like to wake up next to Trav’s warm body, or the feel of Trav’s hand rubbing circles on his back or his stomach, which he did when they were both almost asleep.

It made him want to cry, but in a good way.

And then Trav just walked into the room one day when Mackey was practicing and said, “Mackey, can I get into the closet there? I need my suitcase.”

“Where in the
are you going?”

Trav laughed, probably because he didn’t hear the panic in Mackey’s voice, and said, “I’ve got to run to England the day after tomorrow—apparently one of your venues just got shut down. We need to find another place or cancel the gig—they need me there. This dogging each other over the phone bullshit is

Mackey’s heart was thundering practically too hard for him to hear his own voice. Not leaving. Not really. Business trip. Gerry had needed to take them. Happened all the fucking time. Trav had even gone to New York when Mackey was in rehab—Mackey just hadn’t really registered it because, well, rehab, when the whole world had been about Mackey and other people didn’t need to bother him with their relocation bullshit as long as they were available on the little glowing box.

“Yeah,” he said, being as natural as possible. “Whatever. Let me know when you’re going—I’ll take the car with you to the airport.”

Trav smiled, looking adorkably shy for such a hardass. “Yeah? You’d, uhm, see me off?”

Mackey blinked and shrugged. “Yeah. Why not? I mean, you may be all ‘It’s no big deal’ and shit, but my people, until last year, we didn’t do planes. Still a big deal.”

Trav nodded, that tiny half smile still on his face, and then, in a way that was still wonderful, walked up behind Mackey and bent down to nuzzle his ear. “Will we get to have goodbye sex?” he asked softly.

Mackey giggled like a high school kid. “Can we have hello sex and howyadoin’ sex and all the sex in between?”

Trav’s low groan did things to him—sweet things in his stomach. They had made love three nights running, and Mackey’s body was starting to thrum, satiated, replete, like a fully powered amp. It was like his skin felt more during sex than it used to—and not just because of being off drugs. He tried to remember those moments with Grant, the two of them touching roughly, quickly, in secret and dark corners, and all he could remember was wanting more, trying to pull more from the air like a sponge pulling rain from overhanging clouds.

With Trav, he always had enough, even when he wanted more.

And now that that was going away, even for a week, Mackey was trying not to be needy, trying not to be greedy, but the truth?

The minute Trav got out of the car with his luggage, Mackey had felt it. A low-grade gnawing in the pit of his stomach, a restless flutter, a terrible need.

Trav had texted him as the car pulled back into the driveway, and Mackey stroked the face of the phone with his fingertip.

Boarding now. Text you when I get there. Scary word.

Scary word back.

And that was it. It was just Mackey knocking around the house like a rubber ball, trying not to think about the thing he used to do to pass the time.

So the first day, he went running by himself, and then came back and worked the bag downstairs. He sort of loved that—fighting without hurting anybody—but he had to be careful. No breaking his fingers or anything—had to keep in shape, right? They had a concert when Trav got back.

But that first day, he wore himself out before he rehearsed with the guys. It was pretty smart of Trav to get a house with studio space—that sure did make shit easier on them when they wanted to rehearse. They didn’t need to record there, and they didn’t set it up with tiles or acoustics or anything, but they had a place where Mackey could practice his showmanship, and they didn’t have to risk the paparazzi to get there. (Mackey wondered if maybe Trav could just pay those fuckers off. The ones who hung on doggedly after the whole “coming out” thing had faded seemed more in love with Mackey and the twins than anything else. Maybe some money and some willing head would just make them go the fuck away.)

But Mackey could, in good conscience, only do so much in the home studio. The guys wanted to go out and do shit—Christmas shopping, surfing, whatever—and Mackey couldn’t make them hang out with him and practice ad infinitum (or he could, but he was trying to recover from his workaholism as well), and he couldn’t hide from the outside world, paparazzi and all.

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