"Last night never happened." Axl denies his feelings while Izzy reveals some truths about him that Slash didn't know before.
Then Axl stirred behind me, the warmth of his body leaving mine as he rolled over and stretched. He mumbled something in a hoarse, sleep-logged voice, and sat up. For a second, I thought he didn’t recognize me, but then he said:
“Morning, Slash,” and gave me a quick half smile. I sat up too, smiling back. Our shoulders brushed, and I felt another jolt of that electrical current pass between us. For a little while, we were silent; Axl had his hand resting lightly on top of mine, and the contrast between his beautifully pale skin and my caramel tones was exquisite.
Then he said, “You want breakfast?” and I nodded, shooting a quick glance at the clock. It was almost noon, which meant I was six hours late. Still, I supposed I could afford to miss a few hours—after all, it was my zoo.
Axl swung himself over the side of the bed, lightly brushing my legs as he went. He pulled on a pair of jeans and headed out, and I felt a sudden, brief shiver run through my chest. It occurred to me, as I got up and began the search for my clothes, that I had slept with Axl Rose.
Breakfast consisted of chocolate-chip pancakes and hash browns. Axl seemed strangely quiet as he served us, and I wondered what was wrong; but, again, I felt too shy to ask. It was almost like he had built up an invisible, emotional wall between us.
“So,” I said, as Axl sat across from me, “are you gonna start accepting animal requests pretty soon?”
He nodded, staring down at his plate. “Got anything in mind?”
“I want a kangaroo,” I said. “And a Gila monster… and can I have some Galapagos turtles?”
Another nod. A faint smile grazed his lips, but it was fleeting.
“If you really want exotic, Slash, I can get you some animals from South America.”
“Okay. You mean like the rhea or the quetzal?”
“Anything.” He took a bite of pancake and stared off into the distance; the same almost-vulnerable look in his eyes. After a few seconds, it occurred to me that he wanted me to ask what was wrong.
“Axl,” I said, and he jumped, turning to face me.
“Yeah…” he mumbled, reaching up and absently running his fingers through his hair. “It’s just… uh…” He swallowed. “Last night… that was the first time I’ve ever done something like that willingly, and I don’t really know how to feel about it, so…” He hesitated, taking a deep breath. He locked his eyes onto mine for the first time all morning, and suddenly a flash of his usual, powerful self crossed his face.
“Until I can decide how to feel about this… last night never happened. All right?”
I sighed. “Okay,” I murmured, though of course I wasn’t okay with it at all. I thought about his hand on mine, about the taste of his mouth, and I wondered how I’d be able to face him at work. It wasn’t fair that I had to contain my feelings just to appease him. For a second, I wanted to tell him that not everything is about him, but I didn’t. I couldn’t afford to fight with him, not now; I didn’t want to go through two more days of not talking. We spent the rest of breakfast in a semi-uncomfortable silence; I helped him clean the kitchen, and he gave me a ride to work.
Mark lit into me the second Axl and I arrived, his dark eyes blazing and furious.
“Where the fuck have you been?!” he screamed. “I had to open the zoo and let everyone in and—”
“Fuck off, McDunn,” Axl snarled, as I tossed my keys onto my desk and clocked myself in. “It’s your zoo also, or have you forgotten that? Slash can be late sometimes; he’s the one who came up with the goddamn concept of this place to begin with.”
“Six hours, Hudson,” Mark said, ignoring Axl. “You’d better have a damn good explanation for that.”
“I, uh…” I glanced at Axl, realizing for perhaps the first time that I was already almost entirely dependent on him. He rolled his eyes slightly and rocked back on his heels.
“Slash and I went out for a drink last night. We ended up taking a couple hookers back to my place. I don’t set an alarm, and so we overslept.” He shrugged. “Not that big a deal, y’know?” Then he turned away from both of us, muttered something about having to get permission from a zoo in Argentina to take a rhea family, and slipped out of my office, fluid as a snake.
Mark frowned at me. “What the hell is going on between you two?”
I felt my cheeks heat up. “Nothing,” I mumbled, which, technically, was true.
He looked skeptical, but didn’t press it. On his way to the door, he paused, turned.
“I hope you understand, Slash,” he said, “that the more animals you get Axl to deal, the more money we’ll have to spend.”
“Of course I understand that. I’m not stupid.”
“I’m just saying…” Mark sighed. “Look, no offense, but this is a pretty low budget zoo. I’m just concerned that, when the time comes to hire more workers to care for the animals you ship in, we won’t have the money.”
“We’ll be fine,” I said, not meeting his eyes.
“Okay, if you say so.” I heard the door open and shut, and I let out a sigh of relief. I really wanted to talk to Axl, but I didn’t know how welcome my presence would be in his office. Besides, I had work to do. Reaching over, I took up a stack of papers from the corner of my desk, riffled quickly through them, and began to work.
At around two-thirty, there was a knock at my door. I felt a brief, fluttering hope in my chest that it was Axl, but I knew how unlikely that was. I’d gone for a walk around the zoo earlier and ran into him by the lynx cages; he’d avoided eye contact and walked off before I could say so much as ‘hey’ to him. Still, I called come in, and was surprised to see Izzy walk inside.
“Hey,” he said quietly, shutting the door behind him. “Listen, Ax told me what happened between you two last night—”
“He really hurt me this morning,” I said. “He told me to forget any of it ever happened.”
“Yeah, well… Axl does shit like that. Look, I don’t know if he told you this, but… in Indiana, right before I came out to L.A., he started speculating that he might be bisexual. And since I’m gay, I… we tried some shit. Together. I liked it; he didn’t. Or he said he didn’t. Either way, it took four years and half a dozen countries between us to get him to move on. We’re cool again, but… all I’m saying is, Axl’s gonna be fuckin’ weird about this.”
“He never told me that.” I was a weird mixture of confused, hurt, and pissed off. “He only told me about Mark trying to rape him.”
“Yeah, well, Axl don’t like to think about the jolly times we had back in Lafayette. I wasn’t the only one who tried to screw around with him. I’m not really at liberty to say this shit, but… Axl’s past is fucked up. An’ if you can get him to open up and talk to you, then that’s great. But don’t let him capture you. Because he will.”
Izzy smiled sadly, staring at his feet. “Axl’s a great guy if he trusts you. But he has the ability to hurt someone with a greater capacity than anyone else I know. Get to know him, Slash. Don’t let him hypnotize you.”
“You’re the second person to say that to me.”
“I’m not surprised.” Izzy looked at me for a second, then back at his feet. “Good luck, by the way. I think Axl genuinely likes you. And that’s fuckin’ rare.” Then he turned and walked out, leaving me to stare after him, trying to process this brand-new, slightly confusing information about the red-haired anomaly.