A mix-up reunites two old friends.
"I know, it was a really great practice." Slash said to Duff as he grabbed some drinks out of his refrigerator. "I think it's coming together pretty well." He tossed Duff one of the cans of soda and went into his living room. Switching on the television for some background noise, he checked his messages.
"Yeah, but it's gonna be a while 'till it's done." Duff said. They had just completed a session in Slash's basement studio, recording a few things for the new Velvet Revolver album. The past couple of years had been long, but Slash was starting to pull through. Ever since that night with Axl, Slash had found it harder and harder to concentrate on work. The band had been patient, but only Duff knew the real reason he'd been so aloof with everyone for so long. But they were finally getting back on track, and Slash couldn't have been more elated about it. The album had a spring due-date, and an international tour was already in the works. They were debating who they wanted to open for them.
Slash let his mind wander as Duff continued to talk. He thought about all the things they'd already accomplished, but still had a long way to go in terms of recording and editing. He was lost in thought when he heard an all-too-familiar name mentioned on the t.v. He whipped his head around, staring, his mind unable to comprehend what the letters meant that now scrolled across the screen.
"Axl Rose found dead in his Las Angeles home Tuesday morning....." The news anchor was saying something, but Slash was unable to process it. He felt the cold soda slip out of his hand, and was vaguely aware of someone calling his name. Everything faded away very quickly after that......
"Slash!" He felt a sharp slap across his cheek. "Slash!" Duff called again.
"Ow. Cut it out." Slash mumbled. Why was Duff yelling and slapping him? He sat up, realizing he was on the floor, a cold wetness clinging to his shirt. Looking down he saw the dark stain of the soda he'd spilt. "What the hell?" He looked around, trying to figure out why he'd passed out. He looked at the television, and his heart jumped into his throat. He crawled closer to get a better look, shaking.
"Tuesday morning at 10:15 AM, paramedics were called to the home of W. Axl Rose. They pronounced him dead shortly after...." Slash stopped listening. He couldn't listen because it wasn't true. It couldn't be. Axl wasn't dead. They'd made a terrible mistake. Someone somewhere was playing a horrible joke. He could barely breath, his hands shook beyond his control.
"Slash?" Duff knelt next to him, speaking softly. "Are you okay?" He shut the television off, and looked at Slash. Slash stood up, trying not to let his knees buckle.
"Not time." He said, unable to get his voice above a whisper. He looked around desperately, trying to remember where he'd put his keys.
"What? What's not time?" Duff asked. "Slash, look at me!" And he did. Duff, the only real constant in his unstable life. His voice, always the voice of reason, would help him now. He took a breath, and tried to ease the panic swelling inside of him.
"It's not time for him to go." Slash said. On the table, he noticed his car keys. He grabbed them, and headed out the door. It was starting to bubble over the edges, the panic.
"Slash, just wait!" Duff called after him. But he couldn't. He had to see for himself, needed to go right now and make sure. He drove off in a blur. He couldn't quiet his mind, and it was yelling at him, full blast. Why didn't you stay with him?! Why didn't you call him?! How could it be he's been dead for two day without you knowing?!!!! Two days.......Slash almost veered off the road. The reporter had said Tuesday...two days he's been....But no, Slash wouldn't think the word. Because it wasn't true. It wasn't and he was sure of it. He was just going to prove that it wasn't true....So why in such a panic? He thought. But how could they get something like that mixed up? They did somehow.....It had to be....
His phone rang, making him jump. Looking at the number, he saw it was Duff. He ignored it, knowing Duff would somehow try to talk him out of going. After all he'd been through, to have it end like this was....unthinkable. The phone rang again.....he ignored it. And then again.......he hesitantly picked it up.
"Not Axl!!" Duff blurted. "Slash, are you there? It's not Axl!!" He sounded out of breath. Slash was confused, and he'd just missed his exit.
"What?" He asked, turning around.
"Slash, it wasn't Axl that died!" Duff said. "I just called Izzy, who heard the news report also. They got it terribly wrong. It wasn't Axl that died, it was Beta!" Slash's mind still refused to slow down. It was unable to comprehend Duff's words.
"Not....Axl....?" He breathed.
"I guess she had a heart attack or something. Someone called an ambulance, but she was pronounced dead on the scene. The paparazzi saw them take someone out in a body bag and assumed....Slash? Are you there?" Slash was gasping for air. His eyes were blurred with tears, and he was forced to pull over.
"I....I...Duff?" He managed to say.
"Slash, Axl is not dead." Duff said, calming his voice. "Come home." Home....yes, he should turn back...Axl's fine...he's okay. Beta, not Axl.....Beta? Oh no, Slash thought. If Beta really was dead, then he didn't even want to think of the state of mind Axl must be in.
"Duff.....I'm going." He said. Another punch to the stomach...seeing Axl again.....But it was time. Past time.
Slash drove down the familiar streets, turning a few times, becoming more and more anxious as the stop signs and red lights slowed him down. He finally pulled onto the private road, waving off the security guard that came out of his little hut. He weaved through a few more streets before stopping in front of the house. It was exactly as he remembered, but somehow different. It seemed darker, more looming somehow. He took a deep breath, still unsure if he'd made the right decision. It's now or never, he thought. He pulled into the driveway, stopping in front of the gates. Rolling down the window, he looked at the security pad, wondering if Axl had changed the code since his last visit. Praying that he hadn't, he punched in the numbers. He held his breath....and the gates slowly swung open. Slash closed his eyes, feeling himself beginning to perspire, he slowly pushed the gas, and pulled up the winding driveway.
The first thing he noticed was the lack of cars. As he remembered it, Axl's place was always crawling with all types of his entourage, and various people on his paylist. But only one car stood in front of the house. Slash stared at it, a rush of nostalgia hitting him as he remembered the day Axl had bought it.
"You think it's too much?" He'd asked, eyeing the price. Slash had chuckled.
"Is anything too much for you anymore?" He'd asked, not knowing how he'd meant that comment to be taken, but recognizing the bitterness in it.
That had been the last real thing they'd done together...two months later, Slash had left. He shook his head violently, his curls bouncing around his head. He couldn't let himself get caught up in the past. He'd closed that door more tightly than anything else in his life. That nagging ache in his chest threatened to come back. Taking a shaky breath, he grasped the door handle with more force than was probably necessary as the last of his willpower began to disappear. He walked up the graveled drive, stopping in front of the massive double doors. He chewed his lip, even now, when there was no turning back, he was still undecided...His arm lifted, almost of it's own accord, and his finger, having momentarily taken on a life of it's own, rang the bell. He heard the echo ring throughout the house, and stood, trying not to hyperventilate. That's all that he needed now, to have Axl open his door to a gasping, choking Slash. He froze as the handle turned. The door swung open...................And there he was. Axl. His Axl. He stared into those familiar eyes....Eyes he hadn't seen in years, but still new every particle of. The eyes that had haunted and tormented his dreams. And they were dead. He was staggered, shocked, and left dazed. He'd seen these eyes every day in his mind, always with mixed emotions seeping out of them. Angry, happy, confused, jealous, sympathetic, passionate, and most times, clouded and brooding. But the eyes he stared back at right now were none of those, for all those were now gone.
This all happened within the space of a few seconds. Recognition spilled across Axl's face as he stared at Slash. And suddenly he was broken. His face fell, and tears sprang into his dead-eyes.
"What are you doing here?" He demanded in a cracked and frail voice. The hole in Slash's chest screamed angrily at him, biting along the edges. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat with great effort.
"Axl...I heard about Beta..." He started. Axl's face became an emotionless mask. He turned back into the house, not bothering to close the door. Slash took that as a somewhat invitation. He followed him in. It was dark...too dark for the California afternoon. Slash looked around, seeing that all the curtains had been drawn. Axl went and sat on one of the couches in his living room.
"Axl, I know I wasn't invited...." Slash began, still not sure what to say.
"Then why are you here?" Axl asked, his voice still dead and uncaring.
"I thought....maybe you'd want to see me..." It was feeble, and Slash knew it. "I mean, I know how much she meant to you...." He gave up, and sat on the couch. Axl sat quietly, staring at nothing. Slash was at a loss. In the past, he would know exactly what to say, or not to say. He'd hold Axl, or let him be....But now, it was like being with a complete stranger.
"Are you planning on going to the funeral?" Axl asked, still gazing into the darkness.
"Uh....I don't know. If you want me to." Slash said uncomfortably. He'd never really known Beta that well.
"S'up to you." Axl said. "It's tomorrow."
"Okay." Slash said. "I'll be there." Axl nodded.
"You can go now." He said. Slash sighed. He clearly shouldn't have come. Axl was in no shape for anything like his visit right now. Slash stood up, watching helplessly. Axl was lost in something that he couldn't pull him out of. Too much had happened between them. He'd let too much time pass. He walked slowly to the door, the hole in his chest screaming in protest. He grabbed at his heart, catching himself on the doorpost, trying to hold himself up. He took ragged breaths as he dragged himself to his car. His keys had somehow gained about a hundred pounds...he had trouble lifting them to the ignition. Finally he fit them in, and twisted. The engine roared to life, and he slowly put the car into drive. All the debating and uncertainty of the past few days crashed in on him.
He stared back up at the house, looming like an alien in front of him. It was unfamiliar, and malevolent. Like a lifesucking leech. He saw Axl's eyes in his mind again. But this time not the loving madness that he was used to. He saw the dead, uncaring eyes that had looked back at him not five minutes ago. At that moment he made a decision. He would go to the funeral, and he would talk to Axl. A real conversation. He'd follow him home if he had to, and if Axl had him arrested, he'd post bail and come back to the house. He would do whatever it took to make things right between them. Axl could be as unwilling as he wanted, unbreakable. But Slash knew every trick Axl had, and he'd find a way in. Even if it took another thirteen years, he'd find his way back to him. Of that he was certain.
With his newfound conviction came new strength. He pulled out of the driveway and drove away from the house, an odd calm coming over him. "Don't worry." He muttered, watching the house shrink in the distance. "I'll come back for you."
Slash stared out Axl's window, holding the hot mug of mint tea to his lips. It had been almost two weeks since Beta's funeral, and Slash had only left Axl's house twice to take care of some business. The funeral had been a very quiet ceremony. Quiet unless you counted the hordes of photographers waiting just outside the cemetery gates. It had started out with a modest dozen, then when they saw Slash emerge from his car and follow the party inside, their numbers quadrupled. He hadn't gone in with Axl, but he came out with him. He even drove home in his car, leaving his own to be driven home by his assistant. Since then, he'd barely left Axl's side. It had been very difficult at first to convince Axl to let him stay. He'd told him to leave, saying he didn't want him there. But Slash saw through it right away. He wasn't going anywhere....not anymore. He knew where he belonged.
So he stayed. And stayed. And stayed. Eventually, Axl opened up, telling him everything that he was going through. Even for Axl, it sounded pretty intense. Axl had talked until he was hoarse, gradually falling asleep with Slash curled protectively around him. Slash had begun to chip away at the wall Axl had erected around himself, but he still had a long way to go. He'd taken care of all of Axl's business, taking his phone calls, answering his messages. He'd also learned that Axl had fired every single person that had worked for him. Everyone except his assistant, manager, and Dizzy, of course. To say it had surprised him would be an understatement. But, they'd talked, and Slash was beginning to see the immense changes Axl was going through.
"They were like a poison." He'd said. Slash could definitely understand. He never understood Axl's need to have so many people around him in the first place. But after spending hours talking with him, he'd begun to see it from Axl's point. It was like he needed those people to keep out everyone whom he could never trust. In the last few months before Slash had seen him, he'd gotten rid of almost everyone.
The phone rang for the hundredth time that day, and Slash was beginning to lose patience. Sighing, he picked it up. It was his PR.
"I told you, nothing is decided for sure yet." Slash said. "Just because I went to a funeral doesn't mean that--"
"I need an answer, Slash. I need to know what to tell these hounds." Slash had had this same conversation for the past two weeks. Everyone was suddenly so interested in what was going on in Axl Roses house. Slash didn't blame them, after all his car had been parked in Axl's driveway for quite some time. It was only natural for them to be curious. But it wasn't the time to tell them, or anyone, what he'd decided. Axl and he hadn't even talked about it yet.
"Just tell them I have no comment, alright. And don't make up some shitty excuse, just 'no comment'. I want those exact words, alright?" Slash was tired of all the false rumors going around. He heard Axl coming down the stairs, and ended the call.
"Who was that?" He said, rubbing his eyes. He had finally started sleeping almost regularly, and Slash felt relieved by it. He'd never really given Beta the credit she deserved. She must have had her days worth of work cut out for her taking care of Axl's shit. There was definitely a lot of it. For someone who'd only put out one record in the past fifteen years, Axl had a helluva lot of business to tend to.
"Just more questions." Slash answered. Axl rolled his eyes.
"Why don't those people just fall off a fucking cliff already." He said.
"How'd you sleep?" Slash asked, handing Axl his tea. Axl shrugged.
"As well as can be expected."
"More dreams?" Slash asked. Axl had been having nightmares, a constant reminder to Slash of their past. Axl nodded, sipping the tea. Slash looked at him, worrying. Axl just rolled his eyes.
"Don't look at me like that, Slash." He said. "I'll admit, I was a bit fucked up at first, but loosing Beta was a real shock. But I'm a big boy, okay? I'm not like I used to be, I can deal with my demons in a healthy way now, alright? I'll be fine." Slash had to admit that Axl was dealing with things way better than he'd expected. He really had changed.
They spent the rest of that day just hanging out, being with eachother. Slash cherished every second of it. Axl answered a few calls, as did Slash. But it was still too soon to discuss what Slash had decided the second he'd stepped foot on Axl's front porch. At least, he thought so until Axl brought it up that evening.
"I need to get back in the studio." He said as they sat listening to old records. Slash looked at him, trying to interpret his meaning. "Label's been riding my ass non-stop."
"You got any new songs?" Slash asked. Axl looked at him, bemused. Slash just laughed. "Right." He said. Axl always had tons of songs stored either in his head, or the countless notebooks he kept.
"You wanna hear 'em?" He asked. Slash didn't know what to say. Of course he wanted to hear them. He was desperate to hear them. But at the same time, he just couldn't bring himself to listen to Axl's voice played over another guitarist. That was the sole reason he could never listen to Chinese Democracy. But he wasn't about to back out now, so he just nodded. Axl smiled, and they headed out to his car. Ignoring the paparazzi that had set up camp outside his house, they drove off. The ride to the studio was quiet and comfortable. Axl's hand lay lightly on Slash's. They talked, and Slash felt completely at ease. Axl pulled into the parking lot, and Slash followed him inside. It was small, but Axl had made it his own. Slash recognized a few odds and ends, but some were new. He started toward the back, but Axl led him straight into the recording area where the instruments were set up. Axl's grand piano dominated most of the space, and he situated himself on the bench. He smiled up at Slash, who returned it, completely relieved. So he wasn't going to hear a pre-recorded Axl, but the live one. Axl's fingers tickled the keys for a few seconds, finding their groove. It had been so long since Slash had heard Axl singing. He was absolutely entranced. Axl's playing was so natural, and the melody was so simple, but flawlessly beautiful. Slash was reminded just how talented Axl really was. He'd picked up on the tune and was already hearing his own guitar in his head. Axl hadn't even started singing yet, and Slash already loved the song. He went to the other side of the piano, where a guitar was leaning against the wall. He plugged it into the amp, and began plucking along with Axl. They played for a while, just getting a feel for eachother. Slash was almost shocked at how easily it all came back. Axl didn't even need to tell him about the cord change, but Slash almost felt it rather than heard it. This was where he belonged, and he knew it.
It was too much for him. The nostalgia rushed in on him, making his fingers falter. He swallowed, trying not to let the rush of feelings overwhelm him. He stopped playing, taking a deep breath. Axl stood up, and walked over to him. He took the guitar, placing it back against the wall.
"Axl...I-" Slash started. But he couldn't find the words.
"I know." Axl said softly. He gently covered Slash's cheeks with his hands. "I know." He whispered again. They leaned against eachother, their foreheads barely touching. They hadn't been even slightly physical with eachother yet. That first night that Axl had fallen asleep in Slash's arms was the furthest they'd gone. But Slash's heart was beating so fast, and he felt every loving emotion coming off of Axl. He sighed and their lips met with tenderness. The pressure increased slightly, Axl wrapped his arms around Slash's neck. It was all Slash could do not to attack Axl right then and there. His love felt amplified almost to an impossible degree. He knew he'd never be anywhere else again. They broke apart, panting slightly. Axl bit his lip, unsure of what to say next.
"Playing with you again...." He started, but couldn't finish.
"Brings back a lot of memories." Slash said. Axl nodded, looking down.
"So many things I did wrong with you. We can never get it back....I know it's my fault, but-" Slash stopped Axl talking by placing his mouth over his.
"Don't try and take all the blame now. There'll be none left over for me." He said. "Can you do something for me?" Axl nodded. Slash took a breath and continued. "Can you try and put the past away? I don't mean completely, just.....stow it away for now. Let's bring it back when we're really ready to dissect it."
"You've been more help to me than you'll ever know." Axl said. "I think I can do that for you." Slash smiled and nodded. He followed Axl back to sit at the piano.
"So you like it?" Axl asked.
"It's beautiful." Slash said. "Can't wait to come up with some cords and put it down." Axl looked at him puzzled.
"What are you talking about?" He asked. Slash rolled his eyes.
"Axl, I'm never recording for another singer ever again." He said. "I made that decision when I saw you standing in your front door two weeks ago." Axl stared at him, slowly smiling. Taking his hand, they both headed for the door. Axl paused to flick the lights off.
"And what if I refuse?" He said.
"And force me to live out my days fiddling around with my guitar, with no one to record with? I don't think so." Slash laughed. They headed to the car, Axl giving Slash one last peck before closing his door.
It was almost a year later, and Slash was getting ready to go onstage. Slash always loved playing in England, and Axl sitting across from him left a content feeling inside of him. They had just released they're first album together in over fifteen years, and it had shot straight to number one within days. Of course, appearances from Izzy, Duff, and Matt on a few songs kept things interesting. Duff had been very understanding of Slash's decision, but was very hesitant to participate at first. But after some heavy convincing, he'd finally agreed to do a couple of songs. He and Axl had talked for a while, getting reacquainted. There were still a few sore spots between them, but it was getting much better. Matt didn't understand, but didn't try and force anything. Izzy was ready to go the second Axl had told him the news. He wasn't officially part of the band, yet. But Slash and Axl were working on him. Steven, to Slash's immense disappointment, hadn't been able to clean himself up. The offer was always open, if and when Steven was ready.
It was one of those rare times when Matt, Duff, and Izzy were all free. They'd flown over from their different locations to do this one show. The stadium was packed almost to bursting, they could hear the crowd from their dressing room.
"Five minute warning." Came over the intercom, and they all got ready to head onstage. Matt, Izzy, and Duff went out, and Slash grabbed Axl's hand, holding him back.
"You ready?" He asked, already pumped. Axl smiled.
"Absolutely." He said. He kissed him, pulling him close. Slash smiled as Axl stared at him, his green eyes as beautiful as ever. Watching him head off, Slash couldn't help but be thankful for this moment. Everything he needed was walking just ahead of him. He smiled, and headed out into the lights.