ECHOES

Prologue (subtitle: 'Six Weeks')
(c)2003 B Stearns
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O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Splendor Falls
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3/10/00, NY

Rehearsal.

Neal Schon stood off a little, staring into the middle distance like he was mentally calculating the square footage of Avatar Studios. His hands were still for once, the guitar slung across his shoulders and held, but remaining silent. It would have been the perfect picture of him, settled and engaged at the same time. At peace. Finally.

Jason, Neal's guitar tech, made a move for him, wanting to check the pickups on the guitar Neal was holding.

Jonathan Cain, still keyboardist for Journey despite receiving other offers of a less musical nature, recognized the set of Neal's shoulders and the distance in his eyes, and held a hand out. "Wait," he said.

Jason paused. "But I gotta - "

"Hold on," Jon said softly, trying to keep it from sounding like a demand. "Give him a second, he's...working on something."

That had to do. Because the truth made no sense, made him sound insane. He's talking to our ex-singer, who also happens to share his mind, body and soul just didn't roll off the tongue.

Jason looked at him for a second, trying to get Jon to say more, but Jon shrugged. It was a shrug that got used often in his part of the world, a small gesture that conveyed a suggestion of damn us artists, we're eccentric folk!

They'd been there since the third. They had the day slated for writing and rehearsal for their first album without Perry, the ex-singer in question, and the distance was beginning to tell on Neal. Sooner or later, one of them was going to have to cut the act and find a way to get within arm's length at least briefly, to renew the connection they held. It was much better than it had been, but there was still a lot of work to do.

Not that they'd been able to shut each other out completely. Steve wasn't above teasing Neal when the guitarist was trying to get something done, and Jon wasn't above shouting at him to knock it off, and anyone not in on the joke had begun to believe Jon was yelling at Neal.

Still, nothing stood out in Jon's mind like that last few minutes in the hallway at his house, the day they'd left for NY. Bravado and all the same old bullshit.

* * *

"Yeah, well, I'd imagine me and Jon together long before I'd imagine you and me," Neal said.

"And the two of you would be boring as hell," Steve said. "You'd be goddamn happy all the fuckin' time, and agreeing with each other all over the place. And I thought you said there is no you and me."

"There isn't," Neal said. "If I was gonna go to the dark side, I'd've done better than you."

Steve snorted. Then he started to laugh, and Neal rolled his eyes. "Yeah," Neal said. "Great, another fuckin' Star Wars analogy." He paused. "I gotta go."

Steve sobered. "It won't be that long. Not really."

"No, not really. We'll figure it out."

They stood and stared at each other for a long moment, not committing each other to memory or being sentimental, just having a look at themselves and each other through perspectives they were slowly becoming accustomed to.

"Be careful," Steve said.

"I don't know how, and you damn well know it."

Steve nodded a little, a smile in his eyes but not his face. "Gotta cover the bases, gotta do the proper farewell thing. Not like you can get away from me anyway."

The staring went on a little longer, longer than either realized. Neal grabbed Steve by the front of his shirt and pulled him in, embracing him for the sake of the connection. They stood and held each other wordlessly, enjoying the physical realness of it, never knowing Jon had come to stand in the doorway. He stood there and kept quiet, realizing what tangled meant and that the tour was going to be hard in ways they'd never imagined.

Finally, in the gentlest tone he could find, Jon said, "We're gonna miss our plane."

Steve opened his eyes to stare at him over Neal's shoulder. He looked genuinely sad.

"Don't worry, Steve," Jon said, almost forcibly light. "I'll keep him out of trouble."

"Liar," Steve said, and they pulled apart. "You don't have an army with you, or nothin'." Steve dropped his eyes, purposely not looking at Neal anymore, and Neal stepped away. But not before brushing the backs of his fingers across one side of the singer's face.

Realizing he shouldn't have seen it, Jon dropped his eyes, trying not to feel like a complete intruder. He turned and walked out, and Neal was right behind him.

* * *

The trip thus far hadn't been easy on anyone; Jon's kids were too young to come along, and Liz was home alone with them. Neal's eldest, Miles, made the occasional appearance and was too quiet and polite to satisfy anyone's kid fix. Ross had a field day with any relation of Neal's having any idea about politeness. Are you sure that kid's yours?

But it was only six weeks, after all.

Neal had Amber; young, blond, gorgeous Amber, and the two of them were about as ridiculous as Jon had ever seen. Whether it was Neal trying to compensate, or distract himself, he was still overdoing it. They were insanely in love, and Neal in love was generally amusing on any scale. That never changed. What had changed was that he was never alone with her, could never be, and had no intention of ever telling her. They'd be getting married when they could decide on a date.

Neal would have to learn to stop talking out loud to himself, then. Ross and Jon kept warning him, but so far he wasn't getting the hang of it. And Aug wasn't helping; making comments intended for Steve was another habit everyone was trying to break.

Jason had gone off to mess with something else, and Jon went back to watching Neal. Chances were he was telling Steve to perch himself somewhere while they played, because the singer would be incapacitated the minute Neal made anything resembling music. It was a warning he'd become accustomed to giving since serious rehearsals had begun for the new album.

Life would have been normal, sane and predictable, if not for Steve's voice in Neal's head. Because nothing had come calling on them, not Siarion or any member of the Six. The Ender was still trapped in the glass of a world that very few beings knew existed.

There was nothing to do but wait for something to happen, and be as ready as they could when it did. So they spent it living life the best way they knew how, making plans and music.

* * *

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