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“How the hell did they score this spot? What's their name again?”

The sounds of stage setup and an impatient/curious Times Square crowd surrounded Rory Stone, but Sam Champion had a trained broadcaster's voice and the púca had supernaturally keen hearing. Though spoken quietly, the Good Morning America weatherman's words carried clearly to Rory's ears, pulling his attention from preparations for his band's first nationally televised performance.

“They're called Breaker Street. Serptichore Records snagged them off the club circuit.” He could hear the shrug in the production assistant's tone.

“Serptichore ... so they're Rob Fellowes' new darlings, huh?” Out of the corner of his eye, Rory spotted the blond presenter taking a swallow of his coffee as he scanned the stage. “He must have called in some favors. We'll see if they're worth it.”

Thinking that was the end of the conversation, Rory focused again on tuning his guitar. A low snicker from the weatherman distracted him again. “So which one do you think Fellowes is screwing? My money's on either the lead singer or that little piece of fluff at the keyboards.”

The tall Irishman felt tension tighten his spine when the PA laughed in response. “We are talking about the Robbie Fellowes, right? Could be any of them. Or more likely all of them.”

“At the same time, no shit.”

Taking a deep breath through his nostrils, Rory forced his fingers to relax on Cliodhna's vulnerable neck. Damned if he'd damage his favorite guitar because of the snide speculations of a couple of smarmy media hacks. They'd learn. Breaker Street would give them their first lesson very soon now.

“You okay, Rory? You look tense.”

Deliberately unclenching his jaw, he gave his bassist a cheerful smile. “I'm fine, Nil. Just ...” He gave a nod to the still-growing crowd of spectators. “I've been spoiled by our club gigs, I think. They know how good we are already.”

“And this crew is about to find out.” Nil dropped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “C'mon auld boy, this is your element. They'll be eating out of your hand before they know it” Scanning the crowd, he chuckled and pointed at a couple of banners being raised among all the Hi Mom signs, one that read WE LUV U RORY and another that proclaimed BREAKER STREET 4EVER. “Besides, it looks like we have a good-sized contingent from the clubs anyway. Young Mr. Webster must have gotten the word out on the website.”

“He did.” Rory's smile relaxed into something less forced at the thought of his friend Peter. “He was sorry he couldn't make it himself, but his sister Grace threatened to bring a gang of her school friends.”

“We'll have to thank them. Must be more than a thousand people out there.” With a quick slap to his front man's back, Nil wandered back toward Kreske and his drums.

More than a thousand. More than five times the size of the largest audience Breaker Street had yet played for. Rory sighed as Nil's words forced him to confront the real source of his nerves. All those people waiting to be entertained. All that energy tugging at his consciousness, aggressive and demanding.

Doesn't matter. This is what you came for. This is what you committed to when you signed your name on that contract. This is what you wanted ... isn't it?

A sudden surge of warmth flowed from the medallion under his dark burgundy shirt. Pressing one hand to it, Rory lifted his eyes to find its source. Cait stood several rows back from the front of the crowd, bouncing lightly on her toes and grinning at him, Da and Abby beside her. Tension easing, he waved to his family, grinning himself when Cait held up a sign reading Go maire tú an lá!*

“Heads up, people!” The PA had turned all officious and businesslike, waving the band over to where Champion was now giving them the same affable smile that millions saw on their TV screens each morning. “It's almost show time. Mr. Champion will introduce you, and then he'll have a few questions for you after the song. We've got a limited amount of time, so keep it tight and to the point.”

“Rory ... Stone, right?” The weatherman scanned a card as he shook Rory's hand. “And then we have Jenny Cabriano--”

“Junie,” sighed the second guitarist, tossing her dark hair back from her face.

“Junie, of course.” Champion's eyes narrowed slightly at the correction, but his voice showed no signs of irritation. “And Nil Cameron ...” The bassist nodded. “... Dave Rackley ...” Dave grinned and bowed slightly. “ ... Sascha Brockmann ...” Unaware that the man had called her “a little bit of fluff”, Sasch flashed a bright smile. “... and Marcus – Kreske, is it?” Kreske gave a salute with his drumsticks.

“Right. Like Leo said, we're a bit pressed for time.” That practiced smile took on a bare hint of regret. “I may not get to introduce each of you, depending on when they insist we cut off after your song. But we'll definitely work in a shot of your CD and a few questions for Rory here.” Beaming at them impartially, he collected his mike. “So wait for your cue and knock 'em dead!”

“Typical. Everybody wants to talk to the front man,” Kreske chuckled, giving Rory a nudge as Champion moved to his corner of the stage.

“Okay, places everybody!” The PA made herding gestures intended to get them on their marks, then headed offstage. Rory heard the director's voice in his earpiece. “Mikes live, cameras rolling, we go live in five ... four ... three ... two ... one--”

The crowd, sensing that something was about to happen, surged forward slightly. The hungry focus of all those people washed over Rory, over senses attuned to the energy of an audience. He felt it buzzing in his chest like something alive, reducing the hoots, cheers and even Champion's introduction to something heard from the other side of a wall.

“All right, people of New York and the US of A! We have a new act for you this morning, fresh from the clubs with a single from their debut CD. Playing 'Sweet Rhythm Overload', let's hear it for Breaker Street!”

A roar rolled over him, through him. Every voice, every eye, every heart with the same demand: Show us something. Give us something. You think you're up for this? Prove it – now!

He answered them with a raised hand and a beat counted in a low, lilting baritone. When his hand dropped, the first bars of the music erupted. Junie's guitar, Nil's bass, Sascha and Dave's keyboards and Kreske's downbeat, rushing forward to merge with his own notes. Their support surged into Rory, balancing the audience demand, answering it.

You want something? Here. It. IS.

Circuit closed, energy flowing, Rory turned his focus back on the crowd and launched into the first verse.

Sun's low, gotta go
Never found your way to no
Sun's down, hit the town
Searching for the magic sound

(You're feeling restless tonight, so very restless tonight)

Back beat, so sweet
Makes you wanna move your feet
Back door, on the floor
Burning for a little more

Fight it, hide it,
You know you can't deny the rhythm
Rhythm on overload
Ohh yeaaaahh, sweet rhythm on overload

Affirmation from those who had heard Breaker Street before mixed with the oh hey of realization from those who hadn't. Already people were bouncing and swaying, turning to dance with those next to them. More. They wanted more. Entreating, compelling, hypnotic. Rory moved with their motion, reached deep into his gut and gave it to them.

Tight jeans, closet queens
Making plays and making scenes
Tight moves, in the groove
Know you have it all to prove

(You got the hunger in you, can't kill the hunger in you)

Sweet eyes, sexy thighs
Selling truth and telling lies
Sweet touch, not enough
Need it just a little rough

Play it, say it
You know you won't escape the rhythm
Rhythm on overload
Ohh yeaaaahh, sweet rhythm on overload

Sam Champion's eyebrows were climbing to his hairline. Out of camera range, the PA was bopping in place and grinning like a maniac. Rory barely noticed as Junie and Nil stepped up to either side of him. Thirty fingers, eighteen strings and three hearts joined in the bridge to the final verse. Rory felt his own manic grin, saw it echoed on his friends' faces, and knew they felt the moment as he did. They owned it.

(You don't know why to fight it, don't even try to fight it)

Hot sound, getting down
Gotta feel your pulses pound
Hot lights, take a bite
Gonna take you home tonight

Drop it, cop it
You know you'll never stop the rhythm
Rhythm on overload
Ohh yeaaaahh, sweet rhythm on overload

(don't even say it baby)
Yeaaaahh, rhythm on overload
(you gotta play it baby)
Oh yeeaaahhh, sweet rhythm on overload
(you feel the yearning for it)
Yeaaaahh, rhythm on overload
(your blood is burning for it)
Oh yeeaaahhh, sweet rhythm on overload

The cheering hit its crescendo as the song came to a close and Breaker Street came forward to take their bows. All doubt, all uncertainty washed straight out of Rory in the wave of approbation from the crowd. Their approval hit him like a drug to his bloodstream, burning bright in his eyes and smile. Still applauding, looking as smug as if he'd discovered them himself, Champion started toward the six musicians for his interview. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered to Rory but the audience. They were his.

And he was theirs.

* = Congratulations!

Also, my apologies to Mr. Sam Champion. I'm sure he's not that smarmy in real life. *^_^*

Muse: Rory MacEibhir / Rory Stone
Fandom: The Grey Horse by R.A. MacAvoy
Word count: 1654
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