Axl reflects on his past relationship with Slash as Christmas approaches.
“Did you remember to buy the candy canes, Slash?”
The guitarist cast him a worried look beneath his forest of curls. “If I say no, how angry will you be…?”
Axl let out a long, low sigh, and ran his fingers through his copper hair, letting it fall back into its natural position before replying. “It’s fine… I’m sure the guys will understand. We have booze and cigarettes. What do they need candy canes for?”
Slash bit his lower lip and watched Axl pace back and forth in their kitchen, his feet leaving slight, foggy marks on the linoleum.
“I can go buy some now, if you want,” he suggested, trying to make things right, and Axl stopped walking and turned to face the window overlooking Santa Monica Boulevard, clenching his hands tightly around the sink.
“All the stores are closed, Hudson,” he said, and Slash knew it was bad, since Axl never called him that. The redhead shook his head. “It’s Christmas Eve, for Christ’s sake…”
Then he turned to face Slash and his upper lip curled into a sneer. “Why don’t you go buy us some heroin, Slash? You’re good at that.”
The guitarist frowned and turned. “I don’t have to put up with this today,” he mumbled, heading for the door. “I’m going out. Steve and the guys should be around soon.”
“Fine,” Axl called as he walked out. “Leave me. See if I give a shit if you ever come back.”
Except then it was four hours later, and Slash still hadn’t come back. Axl stared around at the party goers, wondering who half of them even were; people from the streets, people Steven knew; maybe some fans of theirs? He walked over to Izzy, who was sharing a bottle of Vodka with Duff, and asked him where Slash was, but all Izzy said was:
“He’s not my responsibility, Ax. You shouldn’t have reacted like that.” Which, of course, implied that Slash and Izzy had spoken. And who knew what they’d said about the volatile lead singer in their conversation?
Feeling paranoid and irritated, Axl walked off, heading for the door that led from their apartment to the main stairwell. He slipped out silently and sank onto the cold concrete just outside, resting his head on the sweat-stained brick wall. He glanced at his watch and sighed. It was almost midnight. Almost Christmas. If Slash didn’t come back soon, he was going to miss the fireworks they were planning on setting off from the roof. Axl supposed it was technically his fault the guitarist was gone, but fuck… he couldn’t even remember the candy canes, and that was probably the simplest job Axl could have given him.
Still, maybe he shouldn’t have yelled…
The sound of knocking jerked Axl out of his reverie on the past Christmas. He lifted his head and called, “Who is it?”
“It’s Daren, baby. Lemme in; I forgot my key.”
Daren Jay. Drunk again, judging from the sound of alcohol slurring his words. Axl let out a soft sigh; he’d been down this road before. He got up and walked to the door; opened it and let his current lover in. Daren was half an inch shorter than Axl, making him the first guy Axl had ever dated who he didn’t need to look up to see, but he was probably also the sweetest out of any of the Indiana native’s lovers. And that’s why Axl stayed with him. Unlike Tracii or Izzy or Slash, Daren didn’t put Axl down, didn’t make him feel like a worthless piece of shit, didn’t hint at leaving him every other day just so that Axl would back off a little with his manic-depression, as if it was something he could control or put away until he wanted to use it again.
“Did you have fun at the party?” Axl asked quietly, as Daren shifted his lean, inked frame into the redhead’s arms. The younger man nodded and smiled, his lip rings winking in the fluorescent glare of the hotel lights.
“You should’ve gone, Ax,” he said. “Ron and Richard were there too, and no one noticed them…”
He meant, of course, that no one had noticed Ron and Richard being all over each other, as they tended to do, even in public. Daren was always saying that; he wanted Axl to go places with him, but Axl couldn’t afford it. He gave excuses all the time: he was forty-nine years old, he had to exercise his vocals, he had an interview… but the simple truth, usually, was that he was in a very dark place, and the thought of people talking about him, about his relationships… it was too much. It was hard enough faking it through three hour long concerts every night. Axl did not have to subject himself to more than what he offered. He never had felt the need to do that. He didn’t have the same arrogant, ‘life owes me’ attitude he’d had at twenty-eight, but he was still Axl fuckin’ Rose. And Guns was still his band.
“Maybe next time,” he said, kissing the top of Daren’s forehead before walking to sit on their mattress. Immediately Daren followed, twining himself around Axl again, resting his head on his shoulder.
“For New Year’s, you mean,” he said, hopefully, and Axl nodded, his gaze shifting absently to the Christmas lights outside their hotel window again.
“Yeah, sure,” he murmured, feeling Daren’s fingers snaking their way up his shirt. “Whatever you want.”
At eleven forty-five, a familiar pair of Converse appeared at the top of the stairs. Axl’s emerald eyes slowly ran up the pair of lean legs attached to them; over the caramel arms dangling from a black T-shirt, to the curly hair and half-hidden face of his lover. Slash walked over to Axl, and the singer stood up, brushing dirt off his ass. He’d been sitting there for almost half an hour, and he was freezing.
“Where have you been?” he asked, by way of greeting. Slash sighed and held up a grocery bag.
“You wanted this,” he said, “so I went and got it for you. It’s not exactly easy, going by bus all the way to San Fran from West Hollywood on Christmas Eve, especially not in the afternoon.”
Axl took the bag and looked inside. There they were: ten candy canes, enough for half the people at this party, maybe, if they split them. Slash reached into the bag as Axl stared, inexplicable tears rising in his eyes, and pulled out two canes. They rested comfortably in his long fingers, the white contrasting with the ebony black of his hair as he lifted one to his lips.
The guitarist held out the other cane and shook his head. “These are for us,” he said, setting the bag down. Axl put the peppermint to his lips and Slash did the same. Despite the chilliness of the air around them, a slight heat rose up against their bodies as they watched each other pull and suck, slowly, sensuously, on the candy.
Eventually Slash let his go, on the dirty concrete, and moved forward, taking Axl in his arms. Automatically, the singer dropped his too, and felt Slash’s skin, rough, callused, warm. He shut his eyes and mumbled something about being an idiot, and Slash told him to shut up, because he was ruining the moment, and when they kissed, everything stopped. Slash tasted like nicotine and whiskey and his lips were just as sticky as Axl’s, peppermint residue still clinging to them. Axl lifted his hands and put them in Slash’s hair, and Slash sighed softly, moving his hips against Axl’s, wishing they were alone.
“You’re cold, baby,” he mumbled when they pulled away from each other.
“Not anymore,” Axl murmured, his lips and cheeks reddened. He smiled a little, and Slash chuckled softly, tucking a strand of his copper hair behind his ear.
“One day, everyone’s gonna know how sweet you are,” he said. “And then all your tantrums will be for nothing.”
“No one will ever know except you,” said Axl, his voice catching on an edge which should not have been there, implying things which shouldn’t have needed to be implied. Slash hesitated, then leaned in and kissed him again, gently, before leaning down and picking up the fallen bag.
“Let’s go in and set the firecrackers off,” he said. Axl just nodded, allowing Slash to lead him to the door. They paused again before going inside, and Slash turned and set his eyes fully on Axl’s, something he rarely did.
“I love you, Ax,” he said. “I am so damn lucky to have you.”
Christmas lights twinkled red and green outside, around other apartments, barely visible from where they were. They caught in Slash’s chocolate brown eyes and made him look ethereally beautiful.
“I love you too, Saul,” Axl whispered, and they went inside together, candy cane residue still clinging to the edges of their lips as they entered a world of cigarette smoke and the scent of leather.
“Are you all right, Ax?” Daren asked, once again bringing Axl out of his reverie. The singer nodded, and was startled to discover tears clinging to his fair eyelashes. He reached up and wiped quickly at his eyes before turning to face Daren.
“I’m fine,” he reassured. The guitarist hesitated, like he wanted to say something else, but just then Axl’s iPhone chirped its usual midnight alarm—the first three notes of This I Love—and the younger man’s worried expression turned to one of happiness.
“Merry Christmas, Axl,” he said, as the fireworks sounded outside their window. “I love you.”
Axl looked up and sighed, forcing a smile on his face as he ran his fingers through Daren's soft, dark hair. “Merry Christmas, Ash,” he mumbled. And then, silently, to Slash, who was probably sitting in his home right now with that wife of his and not even thinking of his redhead, I love you, Saul Hudson. I’m coming for you soon.