Steven's voice was on the edge of hysteria and Joe scooted forward so he was sitting next to Steven, "So what brought this all on, then?" Set early 2010. Steven/Joe established relationship.
Ring, ring, ring...
"Yeah. Steven, I..."
Joe slammed the phone down then sent it a death glare that usually made even the bravest roadies run for cover then scurry off to do the guitarist's bidding. The darned object just sat there like it wasn't completely ruining his life and Joe was sorely tempted to throw it across the room just so it couldn't annoy him any longer. He shook his head. Sleep. That was what he needed. Personifying inanimate objects just wasn't normal.
Of course, it wasn't the phone that was ruining his life. Oh no, it was that fucking bastard Steven. For the fifty hundredth time in their... What was it? Relationship, friendship, romance, disaster..? Complete fuck-up was what it was. An out of control runaway train that had finally crashed. Had maybe crashed a while ago. The whole debacle that surrounded Steven's fall hadn't been the catalyst. Joe had tried to convince himself, time and time again, that it was what started the breakdown of whatever it was they had. When he finally couldn't lie to himself any more, he realised that it had begun a long time before that, maybe even before they were famous. He couldn't pinpoint an exact date or time, but they were always arguing, always splitting up, weren't they? Had been since the beginning of time, or so it felt. And now Steven was ignoring him and it felt like his whole world was going to shit. At least this time Steven was ignoring everyone and Joe could tell himself that it wasn't his fault. That it wasn't just him. It was everybody. Hell, it could even be Steven just acting like a complete and utter prick for no reason other than to annoy him. Them. Whatever. The little fucker could burn in hell for all he cared. They'd get a new singer and just move on. But somehow, it all kept coming back to Steven, didn't it? They wouldn't be Aerosmith without the singers distinct rasping vocals. And he wouldn't be half of Tyler/Perry any more. And that was what was really killing him.
He wasn't fucking taking this any longer. Steven was going to have to face up to whatever was making him act like this. Joe refused to dismiss it as Steven being Steven. And the loss of his mother just wasn't enough to cause all this. They'd talked about it at the time, even if the conversation had been unusually brief, and it just wasn't enough. He'd never done this before and if he was completely truthful, that scared the hell out of Joe. Hell, Steven wasn't just going to have to face up to himself and his demons, he was going to have to face up to Joe as well. He'd tell Joe what it was he'd done to deserve this treatment from the man who was supposed to be his best friend. Some best friend. He sighed, pulling himself out of his chair, grabbing a leather jacket and his keys, quietly letting himself out of his apartment.
Ten minutes later he was standing outside Steven's apartment, soaking wet and dripping from the downpour he'd just been forced to run through, and yelling bloody murder at the older man, "Steven! Steven, get your ass here right now and open the fucking door! I'm fucking drenched and it's all your fucking fault! Steven! Fucker... I know you're in there, I just fucking spoke to you, you little piece of shit!"
The door slowly opened, "Fucks sake, Joe. Stop shouting. Last thing I need is the neighbours complaining. Again." The singer added gloomily, "You coming in or not, then?"
Once again shaking his head, droplets of water flying off in every direction, Joe followed his friend through into the kitchen, peeling off his jacket and draping it over the nearest chair.
Steven frowned at the water staining the wood but said nothing, preferring to stare out of the window as if Joe wasn't even there. Then he said quietly, "Get changed, yeah? You're fuckin' soaked. Borrow some of my clothes..." He waved in the general direction of the bedroom, knowing that Joe already knew exactly where it was, "Beer?" He called after the guitarist.
They were already slipping into familiar patterns and Steven wasn't too sure how he felt about that. When Joe came back, dressed in tight ripped blue jeans and an old Motley Crue t-shirt that was too large for Steven now but fitted Joe just right. He tossed him the cold beer and said, "You can keep that. 'S too big for me."
Joe didn't answer, just stared at his friend for a second then asked, "You want to tell me what the fuck you're playing at then?"
"Guessed that." Steven took a long drink from his beer then looked Joe straight in the eye, "What do you want me to say?"
"You tell me, Steven. Why the hell are you doing this to us? To me?"
Steven dropped the bottle and ran from the room.
Joe followed him, finally finding him curled up in a ball on his bed and sobbing like a little child. Joe sat down next to him, crossing his legs in front of him and pulling Steven into his lap, holding him tightly as his body shook, carefully rubbing circles on the singers back and running comforting fingers through his long brown tresses. When Steven was a little calmer, his tears more infrequent, although they still rolled down his cheeks every so often, Joe helped him sit up, both of them leaning against the headboard, long legs stretched out in front of them, Steven with his head on Joe's shoulder, Joe with his arm around Steven, holding him close.
"Better?" Joe asked.
Steven sighed shakily, "Yeah. Some."
"Good, 'cos you're fucking scaring me. So, what's new with you?"
Joe's tone was suddenly so casual that Steven had to let out a small laugh and the small smile that appeared on Joe's face was almost enough to make him break down again, "What's not?" He said morosely, staring down at his lap, fiddling with a loose thread on his jeans.
"Steven..." Joe's tone was stern and Steven felt, for some reason, compelled to speak. Moments later he was busy spilling his guts. Trying to.
"I... It's not... Look, Joe... Aw, fuck it, I don't know what the fuck's going on, okay?"
Fed up, Joe started to get up, but was pulled down again by hands roughly grabbing his t-shirt, "I swear I don't know! P... please don't go? Don't leave me..." Steven sounded small and afraid, and Joe couldn't help sitting down again, even against his better judgement.
"All right, talk me through it and we'll figure this out together, okay?"
"I think it might be a little late for that..."
"Yeah, I know, I... I know."
"I remember..." Joe started to say slowly, realising that maybe he needed to start this himself, to give Steven something, a lifeline of sorts to grab onto, "I remember seeing some interview, back in, like, '83 or something, and you said you couldn't go it alone. You said you didn't want to. So, I'm confused, what changed?" He didn't add scared, hurt, upset... They were implicit and Steven knew it all too well.
"Nothing. I still can't. Look." Steven waved his hands randomly, gesturing towards the empty rooms of the flat, "You see anything fucking happening?"
"I just... Couldn't do it any more, I guess. 'S not like I want to quit but... It was just getting really hard." Steven sat forwards, knees drawn up to his chin and his head resting on them, "It's like... This panic at the back of my mind that I can't do this... That I need space and time but then I don't want to waste that time and it's just really confusing and useless and..." He sighed, "I don't know what to do." He finished simply, rubbing is hands over his eyes.
"Yeah. Pretty much."
"Have you talked to anyone about this?"
"I just did, didn't I?!"
Steven's voice was on the edge of hysteria and Joe scooted forward so he was sitting next to Steven, "So what brought this all on, then? Something happen I don't know about?"
"N... No. Not really." Steven's tone was the most depressed Joe had ever heard it, and frankly, considering the shit that had gone down in Steven's life over the forty odd years they had known each other, that was saying a lot.
"Just life, huh?"Joe said softly.
"I guess..." Steven's voice drifted off as he stared into his lap, eyes unseeing as if he were a million miles away, in some different time or place.
Joe sighed, more worried than he had been since Steven had started acting strange, "C'mere." He said, making a decision. He wrapped his arms around Steven from behind, pulling him close so that the singer had to lean back to keep from falling, "It'll be okay. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. Okay? Go to sleep and we'll talk about this tomorrow."
Steven looked up at him doubtfully.
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes." Steven's reply was steady and convinced.
"It'll be okay. I promise. Now, sleep."
"'Kay." Steven rolled over onto his side, shuffling down so that his head rested in Joe's lap as he curled into a foetal position, "Love you."
Joe couldn't help but let a grin spread across his face, "Love you too," He told his already sleeping lover, "More than you know, you idiot."
The next morning, Steven woke to the smell of frying bacon and Joe's distinct brand of cursing. Laughing softly, he slid out of bed and padded into the kitchen, "Hey."
"Hey! How're you feelin'?"
"Okay, actually. Best night's sleep I've had in a long time."
"Good." Joe smiled at him warmly and Steven felt his stomach somersault as he remembered just why it was he loved Joe so much.
He stared at the bacon, "Not really hungry though..." He let the sentence hang, flinching as an expression first of hurt and then of disapproval appeared on Joe's face. The guitarist took in just how thin his friend looked and decided right then that he wasn't going to let Steven get away with this.
"C'mon. 'S not like I've burnt anything for once! Please?" He made puppy eyes at the singer.
"I'm really not hungry."
"Please, Steven?" Joe looked really hurt now.
"No!" Steven yelled, suddenly bolting for the bedroom in the same way he had when things had gotten to be too much for him the previous night.
"Steven!" Joe followed him into the room, frowning, his curiously piqued at the same time as his anxiety over Steven's health bloomed once again.
The singer was sitting huddled in one corner of the room, his body shaking, not because he was crying, he wasn't, but, it seemed, from sheer fright and panic. Moving slowly, recognising the warning signs in his friend and not wanting to startle him, Joe crouched down in front of him, "Hey, you want to tell me what's going on? Since when did food cause panic attacks?"
"I..." Steven shrugged, gasping for breath, "N... not sure. Can't... breathe..?"
"Right." Joe ran back to the kitchen, found a paper bag, raced back to Steven, and went through the various things he knew to do in the event of a panic attack.
He held Steven tight, knowing that the attacks scared Steven more than the triggers did, the loss of control was Steven's worse nightmare and one that seemed to come true far too often. Once Steven had calmed down, Joe began to rub slow circles on the singer's back, wanting to give him as much comfort and reassurance as he could before asking the inevitable question, "When was the last time you ate?"
"I dunno. While ago." Steven was still talking in short, simple sentences but it was an improvement on his monosyllabic speech from a few minutes before.
"Dude, you gotta eat."
"I know." Steven looked down, biting his lip, "I just... I'm not hungry Joe. Honest."
"You're not eating again, aren't you? Steven, tell me this isn't like last time. Tell me."
"It's not like last time." It was a wholly unconvincing statement.
"Fine. I... Look, I just... Joe, you gotta understand... I... It's... Look, I need control over something, okay! It's the only thing I can..." His voice fell away, replaced by sobs instead. He was still sitting in Joe's arms and the guitarist tightened his embrace once again, ruffling Steven's hair fondly.
"Please eat. For me? I can't lose you, Steven. I need you." Joe said quietly. It was his turn to bite his lip and look down.
Steven turned slightly to stare into Joe's face, "What?"
"I..." Steven's mouth hung open, "You need me? Joe, you... You're the strongest man I know. You don't need me for anything. I'm weak and stupid and..."
"Shut up. Just shut up. Right now." Joe ordered, suddenly angry, "You are not weak. You are not stupid. And anyone who tells you so is a colossal bastard."
"Thanks, I think..." Steven said, "I think you just complimented and insulted me at the same time..."
"You seriously think that about yourself?! You... you... Steven, I fucking love you, okay? I don't say that to just any old man. I don't make love to just any old man. You're amazing and intelligent and beautiful and I love you. I need you because... Life just... It wouldn't mean anything without you. I'd be missing half of myself. It's a huge cliché but you complete me."
Steven just stared, "I never knew you... Wow." He said quietly, the last part almost to himself.
Joe chuckled, "You may not be stupid, Steven, but you sure can be blind at times. How long have we been a couple?"
"And in ten years, you never noticed how much I love you? How we can be in a crowded room, full of people, and the only one I have eyes for is you? How the rest of the world seems to disappear when we share a mike?"
"I never..." Steven stopped and Joe could see him thinking intently about how to word what he wanted to say.
He leaned forwards, "Just speak from your heart Stevie."
Steven smiled at the pet name, "I've never thought of it that way. Always been so busy feeling sorry for myself, I guess."
Joe sighed, "There's been so much crap over the years... The drugs, the alcohol, the ligament thing in the nineties, the throat surgery, the hepatitis..." Joe shuddered when he thought of the pain Steven had been through, "Then your mum..." He didn't even want to think about that. Steven's mother had been a lovely woman who had never objected to, instead approving of, Steven's relationship with Joe, "Steven... I forgive you for being a blind twit. You've almost always been there, even through everything you went though, all of that, ready whenever I needed you."
"Which is like, never. Whereas I'm a needy little bitch."
"You. Are. Not. Needy! Stop fucking putting yourself down Steven! I wouldn't fucking be here if you were fucking needy! I'd've left a long time ago." Joe finished quietly.
"Why didn't you?" Steven asked, his tone and expression serious.
"I love you." And with those three, simple little words, Joe broke down, sobbing into Steven's hair. His shoulders heaved as he let go the emotions that he'd built up inside over the past couple of months of separation between the two men, "S... sorry." He managed to mumble.
"Don't be." He heard Steven say, "It's okay."
Numbly, he felt Steven shift so that he was now behind Joe and could hold him the way he had held Steven. The guitarist felt arms snake around him, then buried his head into Steven's shirt until the tears had stopped and he had to emerge for air.
"I'll eat. I promise." Steven looked so scared that Joe couldn't think of anything to do but kiss him, right on the lips, something that he hadn't done for what felt like an eternity, even if it was only a couple of months in reality.
"Th... thank you." Joe stuttered, sniffing away tears that threatened to fall again.
"I... Joe, I'm gonna need your help."
"Could you get off me first?"
Joe couldn't help but giggle, "Oh, yeah. Sorry." He stood up then reached down to pull the singer up, "God, you're so light." He frowned.
"I like it." Steven told him, "But... but I guess a couple of extra pounds won't change much."
"Except your health." Joe reminded him as they walked back to the kitchen.
"Yes Mr Sensible."
Steven stopped, grabbed Joe's arm, turned him round, and looked directly into his eyes, "I did. And I meant it."
Joe got Steven seated at the table then frowned, "You do realise I'm going to have to start again, right? Because this," He brandished the frying pan, bacon and all, at Steven, "Has gone cold. And slightly burnt..."
"Yup." Steven had a smirk on his face. He seemed cheerful enough now, but Joe knew that they had a long way to go. Getting Steven to agree to eat had been too easy, there would be something else to it, later on down the line. Now, though, Joe was just happy that his friend was smiling and had at least agreed to eat something, even if his starved stomach would just regurgitate it sometime later. It wasn't the first time that Steven had refused to eat and Joe was certain that it wouldn't be the last. As the singer had said himself, it was the one thing that Steven could control, both his love life and health being out of his hands much of the time. Joe had always been the stronger, emotionally and physically, and Steven's health had never been that great. If he could have controlled it, Joe was certain Steven would never have got sick. The singer just wasn't able to deal with pain very well. The number of times he'd had to sit and watch the man he loved lying in a hospital, hooked up to a drip and god knows how many machines haunted Joe every day, so much so that he was very well aware that he was extra-vigilant around Steven, always on the lookout for signs that the singer wasn't doing so well.
Later, sat at the kitchen table, watching Steven eat a healthy breakfast, Joe could finally relax and take a look at his friend. They still had a long way to go but at least now he could be reasonably sure that the singer's recent odd behaviour had not been down to drugs as he and Joey had speculated. Of course, that meant it was some underlying, dreadfully complicated psychological problem that would end up causing just as much of a problem, if not more, than the original theory. Steven was very thin, his hair was unwashed, his clothes looked as if he'd been wearing them for a few days, but his eyes were bright, a wide grin split his face, and he was talking so quickly that Joe only caught every two or three words. Joe had never really been able to define what attracted him to Steven, what the link between them was that had the strength to survive all these years of fighting and arguing. It certainly had to do with the energy and enthusiasm that Steven was displaying right now, the best bits of which could, somehow, shine through everything to light up Joe's life and make him feel more alive than anything else in the world ever could.
"Yeah, Steven?" He'd been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed the singer stop talking.
"What'cha thinking about?"
Joe stuck his tongue out, "Fuck you."
Steven waggled his eyebrows suggestively, "Well..." He shrugged, grinning.
"Aw, do I make you horny?" Joe teased. It was Steven's turn to stick out his tongue. "No, I am not having sex with you. Not until you have a fucking shower."
"How long does it take?"
Steven stuck his head out of the bedroom door and arched an eyebrow at Joe, "You do realise who you're talking to?"
"You big girl!" The guitarist ruffled his friend's hair affectionately, "Just hurry up, yeah?"
"All right, all right." Steven grumbled, darting back to the mirror and re-organising his hair the way he liked it, "I hate it when you do that."
"I know. That's why I do it."
"You love it."