Happy twelfth birthday, Billy. Getting shoved down the stairs was a great present, thanks dad!" His voice was cynical, and Slash felt very disturbed. "The reason I can't stand small spaces is due to his little 'repentance closet' that he'd stash me in for hours at a time when he was sick of dealing with me. Usually, there wasn't even any light in there."
"Axl-." Slash started, but was cut off.
"No, this is good, Slash." He said, angrily pacing the room now. "You wanted to share, so that's what we're doing.
"Okay, okay." He said. "We don't have to do this, Axl-"
"No, you wanted to hear it. Here it is." Axl said. "Did you know that I used to wear long sleeves, even in the summer, just to cover up the bruises?" Axl looked down at his arms, covered them with his hands. Slash wrapped his arms around him.
"I'm sorry." He said. Axl was physically trembling, and Slash held him tighter. "Axl, I'm sorry. We're done, okay? It's over." Axl was taking shaky breaths, his mouth clenched in a frown. Slash held him for a few minutes while he calmed down.
"Is that what you wanted to hear?" Axl asked. "And even when I was able to escape, and get out of that fucking house for a while, I still wasn't away from being hounded. I'd love to tell you about all the times I was arrested, thrown in prison like a fucking dog for no fucking reason. How about the time three cops surrounded me, and harassed me just for walking down the street? Let's go into detail about the fucking Lafayette cops."
"Axl, I'm sorry, okay?" Slash said. "I won't bring it up again, I promise."
"But you did bring it up, Slash." Axl said, pulling away from him. "Now you know my sad little story. Poor Bill Bailey and his fucked up childhood."
"Axl, thats not what I-" Slash started, but was cut off again.
"No, it's fine, Slash, really." Axl said. "Now you're 'in', as you put it. You get a bit of a glimpse of something I've been trying for years to bury. Thanks for bringing it all back up." Slash didn't know what to say. He tried to touch Axl's shoulder, but was shrugged away. "You know what? I'm not feeling so tired anymore." He walked out the door. Slash followed him out, but Axl turned around.
"Don't even think about following me, Hudson!" He got into the elevator, and Slash watched, astonished, as the doors closed. Axl had never called him by his real name before. Slash didn't know what to think. He was left in the hallway, gazing at nothing but the silver doors of the elevator.
He went back to the room and sat on the bed. Great, he thought, Axl's not even back for five hours, and they were already fighting. He put his head in his hands and lay back. What the fuck was he supposed to do, he wondered. Axl's mood swings were really starting to wear on him. He knew he'd sit there and take it, simply because it meant being with Axl. And not being with Axl.....he couldn't even comprehend that possible reality anymore. So he sat and waited.....and waited.....and waited.
He looked at the clock for the thousandth time that night. Four hours. Four hours had gone by, and nothing. He'd paced, sat, lay down, and had even played himself five games of solitaire with the playing cards Axl had brought with him. Finally he got up. He was tired and pissed. He didn't want to sleep, and he didn't want to stay in the hotel anymore. Grabbing his jacket, he headed out. He had no clue as to where Axl had gone, and he wasn't intending to find him.
All that he had wanted was to have a conversation with him. Simply state what he'd been worrying profusely about for the past few weeks, and Axl had gone off on him as usual. Granted, he knew getting into it that Axl never talked about his past. But that was no reason to.....to what? Slash knew he should've handled it better, or not brought it up at all. Or, he should've completely ignored his dreams, and just dealt with them inwardly. He punched the elevator door as he walked out.
"Dammit!!" He shouted. "Dammit dammit!" He hated this. Blaming himself for something that clearly wasn't his fault was something that he'd been doing more and more often. It wasn't fair that Axl should be let off so easily. He wondered if Axl ever felt pains in his stomach when they were separated. Wondered, not for the first time, if he meant as much to Axl as Axl meant to him. Everything he did revolved around Axl. It wasn't fair. He remembered the anger he'd seen in Axl's eyes when he'd stormed out. "Fuck it." He said, hailing a taxi as he stepped into the cool night air. "Fuck it all." Making up his mind, he told the driver to head in an Eastern direction.
He found Steve, Duff and Izzy at one of the bars they had frequented over the past couple of weeks.
"Yo, Slasher!" Steve said when he saw him. "You changed your mind."
"Damn straight, I did." Slash said. He ordered a bottle of vodka, and sat down.
"Where's Axe?" Duff asked. Slash just shrugged. Duff looked confused, but Slash wasn't about to explain. He sat and cradled his bottle for the next half hour, accompanying it with shots of scotch. There were quite a few people with them at the bar, an assortment of roadies, crew members, and hangers-on, that soon the place was full. Someone had a house nearby, so they decided to move the party there. It was loud, cloudy, and the alcohol and drugs ran rampant. Slash allowed himself a free run of whatever he could get his hands on. He'd taken some pills from Steve, not even bothering to look what they were, and downed them with his now almost empty bottle of vodka. He stumbled into a room where he found a few people doing lines, and gave in. He didn't know how much coke he'd done, or even how many pills he'd taken. After almost two hours of being there, he wasn't even aware of himself anymore. The last thing he remembered was Duff grabbing his shirt, and pulling him into the bathroom.
The next thing he was aware of was a slow and steady beeping. He slowly opened his eyes, but closed them quickly again. The room was bright white. He also noticed the smell. It was too.....clean, he thought, like disinfectant. Trying a second time, he got his eyes halfway open, but kept them squinted. He tried to swallow to alleviate his dry throat, but immediately gagged as he felt like he was swallowing fire. Looking around, he discovered he was in a hospital bed, hooked up to different beeping machines. He raised his hand to rub his eyes, and saw an IV connected to it. He groaned, feeling the fire in his throat again. Something near his leg moved, startling him. He looked down, and saw Axl slumped on a chair, his sleeping head right beside Slash's hip. Slash rubbed his eyes again, making sure he was really seeing Axl there. He was, to Slash's great relief. Still feeling a bit disoriented, he tried sitting up. His head swam, and he quickly lay back down. The motion woke up Axl, who immediately sat up, and looked at Slash with desperation.
"Oh!" He gasped, noticing he was awake. "Oh, god, Slash!" He was beside him in an instant. Slash looked at him closely, noticing the dark circles under his red puffy eyes.
"What-?" Slash was able to choke out.
"You're in the hospital." Axl answered his unspoken question. "You OD'ed at that party a few nights ago." A few nights? Slash's eyes went wide. How long had he been in here, he wondered. "It's been almost three days." Axl answered again. "They had to pump your stomach the second you were brought in. Then you...." Axl stopped, unable to continue. He touched Slash's face, barely brushing his skin. "I'll go get the nurse." He said. He turned to leave, paused, and turned back. He placed a soft, quick kiss on his forehead. "I'm so glad you're awake." He whispered, and Slash noticed moisture in his eyes.
The next hour was filled with doctors and nurses coming and going, asking questions, taking notes, and taking his vitals. Axl was always lingering in the background, staying out of their way, but never leaving the room. When they had a few minutes, Axl sat next to him, and grabbed his hand.
"So, what really happened?" Slash asked. Axl looked away, a pained expression on his face.
"I'll never forgive myself." He said quietly to himself. He took a breath, and turned his eyes back to Slash. "Duff called me at the hotel a few nights ago. It was after our fight. I was gone for a few hours, and when I got back, you were gone." Slash remembered. "Anyway, Duff said you'd gone to a party.....had taken some pills and stuff...." He didn't need to continue. Slash could fill in the blanks. He didn't remember the party at all. He remembered meeting Steve and Duff at a bar, but nothing beyond that. "I got here after they'd already pumped your stomach. But, then you went into cardiac arrest. They had to use the defibrillator....." He stopped, and took a breath. Slash was gazing at him. His reaction told Slash everything. If he'd witnessed the same thing happening to Axl, he didn't know what he would do. And watching Axl now put an end to the question of whether he was less committed than Slash.
"Hey." He said, squeezing Axl's hand. Axl took a shaky breath, and looked at him. He held his composure for a good two seconds until he broke down. Axl's over-tired eyes filled with tears, and they fell down onto Slash's shoulder.
"Slash, I thought.....I thought you...." His voice broke, and he gripped Slash with a fury Slash had never felt. Slash was taken off-guard, but he reacted instinctively. He grabbed Axl, unable to bare seeing him in pain. Axl cried, and Slash did whatever it took to soothe him.
"Axl, please don't." He pleaded. "I'm okay now, see? I promise never, ever again. I won't put you in this situation....Axl, please!" Slash could feel his own composure starting to break as Axl continued to collapse in front of him.
"I'm so sorry, Slash!" Axl said, his voice muffled as he pressed his face into Slash's shoulder. "I will never storm out on you like that again. If you want to talk about something, we'll talk, okay? It doesn't matter anymore. I'll tell you anything and everything you want to know."
"Axl, you didn't make me go to that party. You didn't make me drink, and take whatever else it was I took." Slash tried to comfort him. He couldn't stand seeing Axl this upset, he was desperate to make him stop. He grabbed his face, forcing him to look at him. "This wasn't your fault!"
"Yes, it was!" Axl said. "I'm the one that left that room. If I'd stayed, this wouldn't have happened."
"No!" Slash growled forcefully. "I won't let you take the blame for this." Axl just stared at him, shaking his head. Tears continued down his cheeks, and Slash pulled him into his arms. He didn't know what to say.
"Oh....sorry." They heard from the doorway. Looking over, they saw Izzy, Steven, and Duff standing awkwardly in the doorway. "Just, uh, thought we'd check on you." Izzy said. Axl stood up, sniffed, and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He cleared his throat, and looked back at Slash.
"I'll let you guys talk." He said, his voice breaking. Slash nodded, and Axl left the room. The others parted, letting him through. They came in, surrounding Slash's bed.
"Hey, man, how you feeling?" Izzy asked.
"Okay, I guess." Slash said, not quite sure how to explain what they'd just walked in on. "Uh, about that little scene just now..."
"It's okay, man. We already know." Izzy said. Slash looked at him, surprised.
"You know?" He said, confused.
"Uh, yeah." Izzy continued. Slash looked at Duff.
"Hey, I didn't say anything, I swear." Duff defended.
"Actually, it was Axl." Izzy said. "I mean, he didn't outright admit anything, but when he got to the hospital.....he kinda lost it."
"He broke my wrist!" Steven exclaimed, showing Slash a cast on his right arm.
"What, why?!" Slash said, completely confused now.
"Shut it, Steve." Izzy said. He took off his sunglasses to reveal a deep bruise underneath his left eye. Slash looked more closely, and noticed a cut running down his upper lip down to his chin.
"Okay, what the hell happened?" Slash asked.
"Well, basically, Axe got to the hospital in a fury. He started yelling, asking us who gave you the pills, how much you took, blah blah blah. Anyway, I tried to calm him down, but he wasn't having it. Then, he found out you'd gone into cardiac arrest....." A pained expression came over Izzy's face. "Your heart stopped for eight minutes, man. We thought you were dead."
"It was really bad, dude." Steven said. He patted Slash on the shoulder. "Glad you're alright." Slash nodded, but Izzy wasn't finished.
"Anyway, when we heard about that, Axl.....I mean, I've seen Axl angry before...but, he was like a totally different person. He went ballistic. Steve made the stupid decision to tell him that he'd given you some pills."
"Hey!" Steven said. "He was losing it, I had to say something." He looked at Slash. "He was fucking ferocious, man." Izzy just rolled his eyes.
"He went after Steve, and I tried to stop him. I've never been in a fight with Axl before, I mean like a full blown fight. I now feel kinda sorry for everyone's he's ever beaten up. The look in his eyes.....It took three doctors to sedate him." Izzy took a breath. "So, that brings us to now. Look, Slash, I know I'm not the talkative one, but I notice things, alright? I've been noticing for a long time now something going on between you two. I wasn't sure what it was, but you guys were getting along better than you ever had, so I left it alone. But lately, I don't know....I'm kinda surprised I didn't see it. And then Axl's reaction when he got to the hospital....You know he hasn't left your side once? He's slept maybe, like, three hours in the past three days. That's why I know I can't have a problem with this. I don't. Because I've known Axl a lot of years, and I've never seen him as dedicated to anything as he's been to you."
"Really?" Slash said. Izzy nodded.
"But you really should've told us." Steven said. "Dude, you're my best friend, why would you think I'd have a problem with this? As long as you're happy, be with whoever you want."
"Thanks, Steve." Slash said. He didn't think they realized how much this meant to him.
"Yeah, yeah." Steven said, never one for sentimentality. "So, when do you get out of here? We've already had to cancel the next three shows."
"What?!" Slash said, sitting up fast. He got a head rush, and lay back down.
"Well, yeah....I mean, you're in no condition to play, and look at me." Steve held up his broken wrist. "How'm I gonna drum with this thing?"
"Shit." Slash said.
"Hell yeah, shit." Steve agreed.
"I'm sorry for this, guys." Slash said, rubbing his forehead.
"Hey, we don't blame you." Duff said. "Not even a little bit."
"Actually, it's kinda our fault." Izzy said.
"What? No it's not." Slash said, shaking his head.
"Yeah, it is." Duff said. "I mean, we know you've been working on your sobriety, and we're not helping any. We've always got our booze and everything strung around. We're gonna try to stop doing that."
"Hey, nobody has to do anything like that for me." Slash said.
"We do, and we're going to." Izzy said. "We don't want to end up in this kind of situation again."
"Well, thanks." Slash was starting to feel drowsy. "That would really mean a lot to me, guys." Just then, the nurse walked in.
"Alright, boys, I think it's Mr. Hudson's time to rest." She said, ushering them out.
"Well, see ya, man." Steve said. They all waved and left. The nurse came back and fiddled with some of the machines around him, and adjusted his IV.
"Hmm, I see your shadows not here." She commented.
"My what?" Slash asked.
"Irritable red-head with the attitude." She explained. Slash chuckled. She increased his morphine, and he drifted off to sleep thinking fondly of his 'irritable red-head'.
"Does this look infected?" Steven asked, holding up his wrist. Guns was now almost three weeks back on the road, and Steve was due to get his cast off in two days. He'd cut his arm fooling around with Duff, and had fallen off the stage right onto one of the lighting rigs. The cast kept rubbing against it, and now it was turning a deep purple.
"Gross, Steve get that thing away from me!" Axl said, shoving Steven away.
"Steve, you do know that you're supposed to be the drummer, right?" Izzy asked, sliding playing cards across the table toward Duff and Slash. They were on the bus headed to their next show. "You can't keep getting yourself fucked up like that."
"Yeah, I know, Iz." Steve said, scratching his cut. "But it's not my fault Mr. Schitzo over here had to go ape shit all over everyone." He indicated Axl. "If he hadn't freaked out on me, I wouldn't be in this stupid itchy thing." He continued itching his arm.
"God, Steve, it's infected, alright? Stop scratching, and leave it alone!" Axl said. "You're so disgusting." Steve responded by shoving his cast in Axl's face.
"Yeah, take a big ol' whiff." Steve said. "Smells, huh?"
"Augh! Stoppit!" Axl shoved Steve harder, knocking him onto the floor. The others just laughed. It had been like this with them ever since the hospital. Steven was taking every chance he could get to dig at Axl for breaking his wrist. They had temporarily replaced Steven with someone on their crew who had played drums for another band. It was definitely an ego-boost for Steven every time the new guy went onstage and the crowd booed and called for him.
"When are we gonna fucking be there?" Steve whined, not bothering to get up. "I'm so bored!"
"Play with us." Izzy said. Steve just rolled his eyes.
"You guys have been playing the same fucking game for three days. No one is gonna win." He answered, stretching across the floor.
"Let's play something else, then." Duff suggested. "How 'bout strip poker?"
"Yeah, that's only fun with chicks, Duff man." Steve said. He suddenly blushed bright red. "I mean, uh....you know...it's only fun for Iz and Duff and I.....But, if you guys wanna play...."
"Steve, shut up." Slash sighed. "You are making this a lot weirder than it has to be." They all knew that Steven was having the hardest time being okay with Axl and Slash. He kept putting himself into these awkward situations. "Like I said, just treat us like you usually do."
"But usually, I'm trying to get us both laid." He pointed out to Slash. "And you always turn down my ideas for scoring chicks, which I'm now realizing why..."
"Anyway." Duff said, pointedly changing the subject. "Let's do something else then. Anyone have any ideas?"
"We could moon passing cars again." Steve suggested.
"That's only a game that you play, Steven." Izzy reminded him. He got up, and grabbed his guitar. He strummed a tune, and Axl mindlessly hummed along. Steven drummed his hands on the floor, and Slash and Duff continued their card game. Duff was taking a particularly long time to choose his next move, and Slash's mind wondered.
"What?" Axl said, smiling at him. Slash came out of his reverie, realizing he'd been staring at Axl for the past few minutes. He blushed as everyone had noticed.
"Nothing." He said, looking back down at his cards.
"Googly-eyes." Steven said, rolling his eyes. "Slash only makes that face when he's drooling over a new guitar." Slash blushed more, and put his face down, letting his curtain of hair fall between him and the rest of his band.
"What was that tune?" Duff asked, finally picking a card.
"Oh, just something we've been working on." Axl said. "It doesn't have any lyrics yet."
"It sounds good, you should keep working on it." Duff said. Axl nodded. It took almost an hour for Slash to finally get bored of the card game. Duff had all but stopped trying, and Slash tossed his cards onto the table.
"This game is never gonna end." He said, frustrated.
"Told you." Steven said, still on the floor. Axl was lightly napping, his head against the window, and Izzy was reading a book he'd bought at their last stop.
"We're here." Their driver called, pulling into a parking lot.
"Finally!" Steve hopped up, running to the front of the bus. Duff and Izzy followed, and Slash nudged Axl's foot.
"Hey, time to go." He said. Axl inhaled deeply, rubbing his eyes. He looked up, and smiled.
"Hey." His voice was caked with sleep. He looked out the now-dark window. "What time is it?"
"Nearly show time. We got an hour of soundcheck first." Axl cleared his throat, and stood up, stretching. Slash followed him out of the bus, wrapping his arms around him. He was so glad that he didn't have to hide anything from the band anymore. They were still careful around all the people at the new venues, but were becoming more comfortable.
Soundcheck went off without a hitch, a first for them. Axl was in a good mood which put everyone else in a good mood. The stadium started to fill with people, and they waited anxiously for their cue to go on. Finally, they took the stage. The roar of the crowd was deafening, and they were all pumped up. Steve watched from the side, cheering just as loudly as anyone. They started with Nightrain, the energy starting high and only going up as the concert progressed. By the end of their two-hour set, they were sweating, gasping for air, and completely ecstatic.
"Wooh!" Steve yelled as they walked offstage. "Guys, that was intense!" He high-fived Duff, and pounded Izzy's back. They hung out for a while while their gear was packed up. While the rest of the band stayed back and had beers with the crew, Axl and Slash headed to the bus. Slash grabbed Axl by the waist, and swung him on top of his shoulders.
"Hey!" Axl laughed. "Put me down!" Slash flung him onto his top bunk, and jumped up with him. Axl was laughing, and Slash couldn't help but laugh with him. It had been a really good show and he was in a good mood. He reached out with his foot and kicked the door shut. He looked at Axl, and made a playful growl. Axl pulled him in, their lips crashing together.
"Ow." Axl mumbled, licking his lip. It had a small cut, but that didn't stop him from going at Slash with even more aggression. They were just getting started, when the door was pushed open.
"Yo!" Duff said, blanching. "Seriously? Why is it always me that walks in on this?" Slash quickly jumped down, straightening his shirt. Duff was followed by Izzy and Steve.
"Whats going on......" Steve's eyes travelled from Axl on top of Slash's bunk, to Slash. "Oh...." He quickly turned and walked back out. "Okay, we gotta set some ground rules!" He called. Izzy just chuckled, shaking his head.
"I agree." Duff seconded.
"Sorry, guys." Slash said, he could feel the heat coming off his face. He looked up at Axl, who just shrugged. "Okay, you're right....we should have some kind of rules on the bus."
"Well, if we can't bring chicks on the bus, then you two shouldn't...you know...."
"You know what, Steve, for once you're right." Axl said, hopping down. "Slash and I will cool it when we're on the bus, okay?" Duff sighed, nodding gratefully. The driver started the bus, and they all sat as they pulled out. No one talked for a while, and Slash felt the awkwardness growing.
"So....." Steve said. They all looked at him. "Nevermind."
"What, Steve?" Axl asked. He just shook his head. "Obviously it's something, Steve. Just say it."
"I was just wondering....I mean, people don't just decide to go gay...." He said. Slash groaned. He knew this was gonna come up sooner or later.
"Yeah?" Axl said, raising his eyebrows.
"Well, I mean....why did you guys....you know...." He didn't have to actually word the question right for Slash to get it.
"Do we have to talk about this now?" Slash asked, really not in the mood.
"No, I'm sorry...I was just curious." Steve said, shaking his head. Slash sighed. He knew Steve meant well, and he wasn't upset at him for asking. He knew the others were curious, too. The difference was they had a little more self-control.
"Okay, who wants to open the topic?" Axl said. "I know you're all wondering the same thing." Duff and Izzy looked hesitant. Izzy lit a cigarette, and sat back.
"Actually, I am kinda curious...." Duff admitted. They looked at Izzy, who just shrugged.
"Whatever." He said.
"Okay, to be honest, Axl isn't the first guy I've ever been with." Slash said. Axl already knew this part of him, but he wasn't sure how the other's would take it. "Umm...Steve, you remember that kid we used to hang out with in tenth grade? He went to all the concerts with us." Steve thought for a second, then he remembered.
"Randy Henley?" He asked, clearly confused. "What about him? I remember he got wasted and threw up on my mom's front la