A brief look into Axl and Slash's thoughts and feelings on a bad morning for Axl.
Unfortunately, Axl was already stirring, and Slash knew better than to try and move out of bed before his lover was fully awake. The redhead shifted a little, pale skin contrasting against the white sheets, then his eyes opened. The green of his irises was thrown sharply into focus by the blood red of his sclera. He had dark circles under his eyes, and Slash could tell that he’d been sleeping fitfully, that he probably hadn’t gotten more than two or three hours of sleep. He groaned, passing one hand over his forehead, then sat up, wrapping his arms around his legs.
“Whose fucking dog is that?” he snarled after a bit.
Slash made a gesture towards the neighbors’ lawn. Axl immediately got up and, walking to their window, threw the gauzy white curtains open and stared down. There was a brick wall separating their yards; covered in heavy vines and curling ivy, it was impossible to see over from the first floor. But from up here, Axl could see everything: the white wicker on their patio, the carefully tended-to oaks… and that damn dog. He was chained up as usual, lunging for something just out of his reach and barking furiously. Axl slammed his palm against the window. Why was he barking now? He was usually quiet. They left him out all night and brought him in around nine a.m., and he was usually a good dog.
“Get the phone,” Axl said to Slash. The guitarist hesitated for a second, and Axl spun around.
“I said get the phone!” he yelled, fists clenching. “Goddammit, Slash!”
“Jesus, Axe,” said Slash quietly, sliding himself out of their bed and padding down the hallway until he reached the office, where they kept their typewriter and portable phone. “Calm down, okay?” He made sure to say it when he was well out of hearing range of the singer. Today was a bad day, and Slash would need to use all his common sense to keep himself from getting hurt.
When he returned from the office, he found Axl still standing there, arms folded across his chest as he gazed out the window. The dog was still barking, and the sound echoed across their yard.
“Here,” said Slash quietly, holding out the phone. Axl snatched it from him, chest heaving. He looked drained, exhausted. As he searched through the automatic contacts for the number, Slash asked quietly:
“Did you have a dream about your father last night, Axl?”
But the singer didn’t hear him. Slash wondered sometimes if Axl ever heard anything anyone said to him when he was angry. It was like he went off into his own little world. The guitarist wished, sometimes, that he could join him there, if only to understand him better.
After a while, Axl found the number and slammed his thumb down on the ‘call’ button. He stood there, phone pressed against his ear, drumming his fingers against his forearm. Slash watched him, unconsciously tensing himself, preparing for the worst. Axl was like one of those tigers they’d seen at the San Diego Zoo once: powerful, beautiful, deadly. There was a lot of danger lurking just below his surface; one wrong thing could set him off, could tip his scales and send him flying off course. Living with Axl was amazing when he was in a good mood, but when he wasn’t…
“Hello?” said Axl after a while. “Are you Mr. Johnson?”
Slash bit down on his lower lip, feeling bad for their neighbors. After a few seconds, Axl continued, “Well, yeah, I’m your neighbor. And your dog woke me and my boyfriend up, and we’d really prefer it if you’d shut that damn thing up because it’s really setting my nerves on edge.” He glanced over at Slash, one eyebrow raised slightly, and the guitarist nodded, half smiling to let Axl know he was doing great, just fine, that he was in complete control of the situation. It’s what the singer wanted: to be the authoritative dictatorial voice at the head of everything, and the only way he was ever really able to assure himself of his power was by thinking that he and Slash were a team, working against all the enemies he’d built up in his head.
Another pause. Then:
“I don’t think it’s any of your fucking business whether I’m gay, bisexual, or transgender. I think I called you up and asked you for a very simple request, and you should comply with it before I take care of it myself.” The words were calm, like a negotiation in a business deal, but Axl’s tone was so threatening that it sent chills up and down Slash’s spine. After a few more seconds, Axl said, “Okay,” then hung up and threw the phone across the room. It landed on the bed, puffing the covers up around it.
“Why did he have to make such a huge fucking deal out of that?” snarled Axl. “It’s not like I was asking him to go out and shoot the dog in the head…” He glanced over at Slash, but the guitarist was staring out the window now, watching for their neighbor. He came out, a balding man clad in a ruby-red terrycloth robe and matching slippers. He grabbed the dog by its collar, unhooked the chain, and ushered it inside with occasional, furtive glances at Axl and Slash’s house.
“Hey,” said Axl. “Hey, Slash, look at me. Look at me.”
Slash turned slowly. Axl was glaring at him, arms folded again. He flipped his hair out of his eyes, looking irritated.
“You wanna go back to sleep now that the dog’s finished barking?” Slash asked. He hoped to god that Axl would say yes, because he really didn’t feel like dealing with him, not right now. The redhead frowned slightly.
“I’m awake. I don’t think I’m going back to sleep. I’m going downstairs and I’m gonna play the piano.”
“All right, Axl. I think I’m just gonna go back to bed.”
“Whatever, Slash,” muttered Axl. He started for the door, and Slash let out a sigh.
“What is it, Axl? What did I do wrong?”
“I think you know.” Axl turned long enough to give Slash a level gaze, then opened the door and walked out. The guitarist sighed again, then walked out after him.
When he caught up with Axl, he was in the piano room already, settling himself down in front of the grand, ivory instrument, running his long fingers over the keys. He leaned against the doorway, watching his lover in his element, then he asked:
“Axl, are you okay? You seem out of sorts this morning.”
Axl turned slightly, his head tilted like he was considering Slash’s question seriously. “I’m fine, Saul. Other than the fact that that fucking dog woke me up before I was ready to wake up, and other than the fact that you pretty much kicked me out of the room—”
“What?” Slash stared at Axl, mouth slightly open. “You said you were going downstairs! I was the one who suggested going back to bed!”
“You suggested that,” Axl said coldly, “so that I wouldn’t keep mouthing off that guy next door. I’m not stupid, Slash.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” muttered Slash, without thinking. In a flash, Axl had him pinned against the wall, his fingers wrapped around his neck, nails piercing into his flesh.
“What did you say? What did you say?!” He smelled like cigarettes and, strangely, whiskey—strange, because Axl didn’t drink. His eyes were blazing, almost black. He dug his thigh into Slash’s; then, without warning, lifted his free hand and smashed Slash across the face. The guitarist’s natural reaction was to retaliate, which he did—cuffing Axl’s jaw with his palm. Instantly Axl had him down on the ground, slamming his fist into his face and holding his neck with his other hand.
“You wanna fucking touch me?” he screamed between hits. “You wanna start acting exactly like him? You wanna sink down to the level of the shit I had to put up with for seventeen years? Fuck you, Slash! You’re a fucking pathetic waste!”
Slash did not have to ask what Axl was talking about; nor did he have to wonder any longer whether Axl had dreamed about his family the night before. He lifted his hands in defense, shielding his face from the incoming blows and curling up slightly into the fetal position.
“Stop, Axl,” he said.
“Stop, Axl,” the redhead whined back, mockingly. He hit him again, once more, for good measure; it was always best to do it at least one more time after they started begging, just so they could see who the real person in charge was. He sank back on his heels, removing his hand from Slash’s neck, where purplish bruises were starting to form. A lone tear streaked down the guitarist’s cheek and Axl couldn’t resist hitting his partner once more, spitting out:
“Only weak fucks cry, you shit. Don’t fucking do that in front of me ever again; that’s so disgusting.”
Slash didn’t think it was politic to mention right now that Axl cried, often, when he was ranting or going through psychotherapy. He straightened up slowly, so that he was at eye level with the vocalist again.
“I wasn’t kicking you out of the room, Axl,” he said quietly, because Axl didn’t seem to be on the verge of another attack. “I don’t want you to get out of my life; you know that. All I was suggesting was to go back to sleep—it’s early, and I know you’re exhausted.”
“Whatever,” muttered Axl, running a slightly bloody hand through his hair and turning away. “Go fix us some coffee or something if you want. I’ll be in here.”
Slash stood, feeling a brief, unreasoning surge of anger rush through his chest. Why did Axl feel like he could switch moods so fast like that, and expect everyone to just play along with it like it was normal? It wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t fair. Slash didn’t care how many mental disorders Axl had, he should at least learn to control his temper in the company of others. Particularly the man he lived with on a day-to-day basis.
“If you want coffee, fix it yourself,” Slash grumbled. Axl, who had gotten up as well and was sitting at the piano again, turned to stare at the younger man.
“I thought you said I was stupid,” he snarled. “I’m taking that to mean I can’t do anything, even fix my own coffee.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, Axe—” Slash sighed heavily. “Look, I didn’t mean that. You know I didn’t mean that.”
“I might as well fix my own coffee,” said Axl after a while, as though Slash had not spoken. “You might poison it.”
“Fuckin’ paranoid...” muttered Slash, turning and walking out. He heard something hit the wall as he left, and wondered if it had been something of his that Axl had thrown.
Slash was about halfway through with pouring the coffee into the hot water when he heard the first chords come crashing down: loud and angry; they sounded like a tsunami about to hit, or an earthquake, or Hell itself opening up. The guitarist didn’t understand the piano, he’d never learned how to play and didn’t really want to start now, but he understood enough about Axl to know that the singer was venting his rage through the instrument now, not through his actions. And that was okay. He listened to the piece unfold itself as he continued to make the coffee; gradually, the angry discordance of it stopped and a sort of pattern developed. Pedal was added, and then, as Slash poured the steaming coffee into two cups—two, because he knew Axl would be pissed if he’d taken him seriously about not wanting any—voice was added as well. It was Estranged, set to a slightly different beat and with slightly different wording of the lyrics; the ones that Axl had specifically dedicated to Slash, saying later that he’d written it as a cry for attention because he felt like Slash was ‘drifting away’ from him:
“I don’t know how you’re supposed to find me lately,” Axl howled, “you ask too goddamn much of me; we’re too far apart to save ourselves; maybe I’ll get it right next time…” It didn’t rhyme, or go with any particular beat, but… good lord; Axl was making him feel guilty. And Slash didn’t like that. He walked back into the piano room with the mugs and found his lover hunched over the Steinway, tears streaming down his cheeks as he played. Instantly any thoughts of bitterness over the guilt he felt evaporated. Slash set the coffee down and sat next to Axl. Had he been a different type of person, he would’ve mentioned something about how Axl was crying, but he wasn’t like that. He reached out and gently rubbed at the redhead’s shoulders, and Axl unconsciously relaxed into the touch.
“Play Moonlight Sonata,” said Slash quietly, after a while. “That one’s my favorite.”
Axl nodded slowly, striking out the first notes to Beethoven’s masterpiece. He played hard, keeping the pedal down, body swaying; and Slash watched him over the mug of hot coffee, eyes following his every move. Axl was still clad only in his boxers—he’d been sleeping that way for years now, ever since they’d shared a room at Ola Sr.’s back in 1985—and Slash enjoyed observing the way his muscles rippled beneath his tattoos. A slight dipping of the hemline, and the guitarist caught a glimpse of a tattoo that no one knew Axl had—on his hipbone, in black lettering with a rainbow shadow finish, was Slash’s real name, emblazoned on his lover’s pale skin permanently. Slash had the same thing on his hip; Axl in black, but with a stronger rainbow background, to show up better against the caramel tones. They’d gotten them in ’86, one drunken night, but it wasn’t regretted. Nothing they did together was ever regretted. Hell, Slash didn’t even regret letting Axl think that they were partners in whatever crimes he’d allowed his manic-depressive mind to cook up. If it meant staying with the singer, he’d do it. He’d even quit his drugs and his drinking if Axl wanted—probably.
When Moonlight Sonata was finished, Axl turned to face Slash. His eyes were still full of tears, but they were less angry now, and Slash took that as a good sign.
“Coffee?” the guitarist offered, and Axl took his lukewarm mug and drained it in three long swallows.
“Sorry about this morning…” he mumbled, because Slash was the only person in the world Axl would ever break down for. It was something he both loved and hated about the guitarist: that hold he had on him. It was almost scary at times, actually, but Axl knew that without Slash, he’d probably die. They needed each other. They were the only thing they counted on when no one else was there…
“It’s okay,” murmured Slash. He set his mug down and, taking Axl’s jaw in his hand, lifted his head to meet his. “It’s okay,” he repeated, capturing Axl’s lips between his own.
“Thanks for putting up with my shit.”
“I’d do anything for you,” Slash affirmed. “Anything at all. I love you, Axl.”
It was something they said to each other about twenty-five times a day, but Axl never got tired of hearing it. He smiled faintly. The voices in his head were growing fainter now. Maybe there wouldn’t be another outburst today. Maybe nothing else would set him off.
Maybe, for once, Slash’s presence would be enough.
“I love you too, Saul,” he whispered. He buried his face in the crook of Slash’s neck, hesitated, then, in a voice so soft Slash had to strain to hear him, he added:
“Thanks for saving me… don’t disappear.”