A reflection on the five times Slash and Axl kissed.
To be fair, he’s not as drunk as Axl—which is a surprise, because Axl doesn’t usually touch whiskey—but then again, he supposes that’s his fault, too. They’d played a remarkably good show at the Roxy Theater, and then, in a rare bout of camaraderie which Axl doesn’t show very often, even though they’re all living together at Vicky’s, the redheaded singer had slung his arm across Slash’s shoulders and bet him twenty-five dollars he could drink him under the table. And Slash had stupidly gone along with it, thinking he could beat Axl out easily, and now he’s sitting at a booth at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, his twelfth shot of Jack in his hand, watching in mild amusement as a completely shitfaced Axl Rose hurls half the contents of his stomach underneath their table. When the singer finally comes up, he’s sweaty and pale (paler than usual, anyway) and has an odd expression in his eyes that Slash cannot discern.
“You okay?” the guitarist asks, and Axl nods immediately, leaning slightly to one side.
“M’fine, Sl… Sla’…” His voice trails off and he falls forward slightly, his forehead making contact with the table with a low thud. Slash winces, glances around once, then gets up from where he’s sitting, finishes off his last shot, and hauls Axl to his feet. The redhead is surprisingly heavy for such a small guy, and Slash has to struggle against both the whiskey and at least one hundred and fifty pounds of passed-out Indiana native as he carries his singer out the Rainbow and onto the Strip. He has to drag him halfway back to Vicky’s apartment before Axl wakes up halfway and steadies himself against Slash’s arm.
“I got it…” he says, whiskey still clouding his voice, turning a set of watery emerald eyes onto Slash. He runs his tongue over his lips and manages to stand up straight for all of five seconds before falling over again, laughing this time, like it’s funny to be wasted out of your mind at three in the morning in the middle of Los Angeles.
But Slash supposes he really doesn’t have room to talk, so he just reaches down and helps Axl up again, and they walk the rest of the way home like that, with Axl half staggering in the dirt and asphalt, half supported by Slash’s rough, callused fingers. The moonlight is pale and raw on them, and the further they get from the Strip, the more stars appear. When they are nearly to Vicky’s place, Axl glances at the sky and mumbles something which sounds vaguely like, “…saw this in Indiana all th’ fuckin’ time, no big deal…” and Slash bites his lip to keep from laughing; reminds himself to never get Axl this drunk again.
When they are inside—and thankfully, no one else is back yet—Slash dumps his jacket on the kitchen island and half-carries Axl, who is still mumbling vaguely about Indiana under his breath, up the stairs to the room they share. It’s no big deal they share a room, really; they had to do it at Slash’s grandmother’s house, too, and they’re used to it. Besides, it gives them an excuse to occasionally indulge in some rather interesting threesomes. He dumps Axl down on one of the mattresses, cluttered with cigarette butts and empty bags of chips; starts to leave.
The fingers hooked around his arm are making that pretty difficult, though.
Slash looks down. Axl is awake again, and staring at him with such a fierce intensity that the guitarist is startled and a little bit scared. His eyes are bloodshot, and that just adds to the hypnotic effect his irises seem to have on everyone around him. Slash feels a shiver shoot down his spine and, clearing his throat, asks:
“What—” But the rest of his question is lost as Axl pulls him down the rest of the way, arm now hooked around his neck—almost possessively—and kisses him, hard. Almost brutally. The kiss is just as intense as the look in his eyes, and Slash would be scared shitless if he wasn’t so goddamn drunk—not to mention slightly turned on. Their tongues battle against each other, exchanging similar flavors, like whiskey and cigarettes. Axl smells like nicotine and sweat and something else, something darker than Slash cannot identify. But he’s pretty sure he doesn’t smell too much better, so he crawls onto the mattress, putting one hand on each side of Axl’s head and allowing the singer to continue his vicious assault on his lips.
When Slash looks back on it in the morning, he barely remembers anything, beyond a few flashes of teeth—which would explain the bruising on his lower lip—and the heady scent of cologne after Axl realized that they probably would need it to spray down the sheets. He also remembers the feel of Axl’s skin on his, and how strangely soft it was, how completely unlike his personality. He wishes he knew if the discarded clothes on the floor mean anything—did they fuck? Did someone suck someone else off? What exactly happened, for god’s sake?—but he figures if he ever remembers, it’ll be a long time from now, if at all, and Axl…
Well. If Axl remembers, which he probably does, considering how he avoids even looking in Slash’s eyes the next morning, he’ll never say. Never do anything about it, either. Axl’s a homophobe; who could blame him, after what happened with his dad? They were drunk, and they can chalk it, and any fleeting memories of writhing limbs or tangled sheets or soft cries, up to the Jack Daniel’s making a name for itself in their systems.
But after that night, Slash notices, Axl never again bets any amount of money, at any function, that he can drink anyone under the table.
The second time it happens, Slash is less drunk, more stoned. It’s 1987, and he’s reeling off the amazing success of Appetite for Destruction—who the hell would’ve known it would sell so quickly? As far as Slash is concerned, that album was composed in various god-awful places—in the back of a truck; on the floor of a grimy bathroom stall in some dingy restaurant; while completely wasted on the drink of the week—and the album is nothing more, nothing less, than a slew of angry songs by gritty, sweaty, drug-fueled barely-adults who managed to pull out a few notes and have them all be in key. But no one else thinks so, apparently, and oh god, Slash is so grateful—all the album sales mean more drugs, more whiskey, his own apartment, even a car.
He’s got the joint balanced between his fingers and is staring at his TV when there’s a knock at his door. Slowly, he gets up to answer it, feeling lazy and young and pretty carefree. He lifts the little curtain barring his apartment life from that of an outsider, and is surprised to see Axl standing there. Normally, Axl doesn’t associate with the rest of them, apart from when they’re in the studio or at a dinner together—which means that, until their tour officially starts next week, they have all pretty much figured they aren’t going to be seeing any of the redhead at all. Still, Slash steps back, taking another hit as he does so, and Axl walks in, surveying the apartment with an expression of slight disgust on his face. Which, of course, pisses Slash off—like Axl could do any better, even on the budget they’re starting to rake in?
He doesn’t realize he’s spoken out loud until Axl turns to face him, his expression stony. “I am not fucking criticizing your stupid piece of shit apartment,” he snaps. “I’m just looking. Jesus fucking Christ. Everyone’s so goddamn jumpy today.” He moves on, into the room where the TV is, and Slash hears the springs on his sofa creak a little as Axl settles himself down there. He sighs; puts the joint out in an ashtray, and goes to join the singer. His shoulders are tense, and though Slash knows better than to ask, he wonders if it has to do with Erin—a supermodel Axl’s been dating since 1985. She’s nice enough, but she’s also a complete bitch, and often if Axl’s in a nasty mood, it’s because of her.
Slash sits beside Axl. For a while both of them are silent, then Axl looks over and says:
“Why the fuck can’t I just be like you? Smoke marijuana, play guitar, shoot up, and everything’s fuckin’ fine.”
At first Slash thinks he’s being reprimanded for his drug use, and he’s about to jump to the defensive—well, fucking Steven’s off way worse than I am—when he realizes that the tone in Axl’s voice is lacking in harshness and completely full of… what is that, wistfulness? Sadness? Both? Technically, they’re interchangeable, and especially with Axl’s mood swings being like they are, but still… Slash has never heard Axl speak with this much vulnerability, this much raw emotion. Not in two simple, short sentences, anyway. He sighs.
“What’s going on, Ax?” he asks, but of course Axl doesn’t answer him, and after a minute, he sighs again. Whatever it is, it’s obviously something big, and because Slash can’t deal with that right now, because he doesn’t know how to deal with it, because it makes him ache to see Axl hurting all the time, he leans in and kisses him. There’s still marijuana lingering on his breath, but Axl doesn’t really seem to care—his hand comes up and tangles in Slash’s curls, and he pushes him back against the sofa. He seems to have anticipated this, because he’s dominating the entire scene in all of two seconds, his hips rocking gently against Slash’s as he crawls into his lap, his free hand snaking its way up Slash’s shirt, his tongue tracing gentle pathways inside the guitarist’s mouth. Axl pushes Slash backwards against the cushions, and slides his hand out of his hair, down his body, and into his pants.
“Help me relax,” he mumbles, before his fingers start working inside the denim. It feels like he’s done this before, but Slash could care less—homophobic or not, Axl is fucking amazing when it comes to this sort of shit. Again, he marvels at how soft Axl feels, and he wonders, vaguely, not for the first time, if he might not be just the tiniest bit in love.
The third time it happens, Slash can’t help but feel like he’s taking advantage of Axl.
Of course, he felt like that the first two times—though he can’t exactly remember that first time, and the second time was purely for his pleasure and lasted all of five minutes—but this time, it’s worse. It’s different. Because this time, Axl is suicidal.
It starts because of a phone call. Izzy is worried about Axl—they aren’t touring for Use Your Illusion yet, and Izzy’s been avoiding them ever since he decided to go sober, but he has tried to call Axl a few times, and the singer has yet to return his calls. He wants someone to call—he, like everyone else, has heard about Axl and Erin’s bitter divorce, and he’s scared for his friend, because everyone knows how attached they were, and everyone knows how badly Axl is probably taking the whole thing. Duff can’t call, because he’s busy with Mandy and trying to get his out-of-control drinking under control, and Matt won’t call, because he hates Axl already, and Dizzy… well, he’s just fucking weird. So Slash calls, and Axl doesn’t answer; but unlike Izzy, Slash has the means of quick transportation, so he drives over to the mansion overlooking the Pacific. He buzzes himself in, parks, walks to the front door, and knocks.
There is no answer for a long time, and Slash is getting worried, but then Beta opens the door. Slash has never seen her in person, but Axl was right—she’s definitely a mother. She smiles at him, nods, and lets him in, like she was expecting him. Slash walks in and is immediately assaulted by the smell of cigarettes mixing with the smells of various disinfectants. He coughs, winces, and mumbles, “Jesus,” before shutting the door behind him and heading for the stairs.
“Axl isn’t up there,” says Beta, her accent heavy. “He’s downstairs. In the basement.”
Slash snorts—of course Axl has a goddamn basement. He probably calls it a bomb shelter or something creative and weird and cynical. He heads for the stairs which lead to the basement, and is halfway down when a sudden sense of foreboding fills his chest. He doesn’t know what the fuck it is, but it makes him lean against the wall for a second and clutch at his heart, like he’s having some sort of attack.
When he straightens up again, he’s sweating. Badly. He tries to shake the unnerving feeling off, but it won’t go, so he finishes his descent.
The basement is dark, cold, and damp. There is barely any light coming out of the dusty fluorescent lamps installed in the ceiling; the chain hanging from one of them is rusty and reminds Slash, for some reason, of a horror movie prop. He gets another premonition, this one in the form of a chill that shakes his entire body. Swallowing, he calls Axl’s name, but there’s no reply. At least, not at first.
And then he hears:
“Who the fuck’s there?”
It comes from one of the darker corners of the basement, and Slash has to move several boxes to get to its source. At first, all he sees is Axl hunched over, shoulders shaking a little, and he’s relieved—so Axl’s crying, so he can take care of that.
But then he sees the blood.
Goddamn ruby splashes on the wall, and Axl’s staring at them too, and laughing mirthlessly, a knife blade stuck in his wrist, digging deeper with each flick of his wrist. It’s creating a Rorschach pattern on the white plaster, and it would be beautiful if it wasn’t Axl doing it to himself.
“What the fuck?” Slash says—he doesn’t mean to sound angry but he can’t help himself—and he reaches down and grabs the knife handle. He can’t get it out of Axl’s grip, but he manages to stall any more movement, and that’s good enough. The singer looks up, and there’s nothing in his eyes, nothing but death and cold and that emotional wall he’s been building up since they fired Steven.
“Go away,” he says dully. He looks awful, like he hasn’t eaten in a while, or showered, or slept. Slash wonders fleetingly how this all escaped Beta’s notice, but then he sees the mattress Axl is sitting on, and realizes that Axl’s been down here for weeks now, maybe even months.
“Jesus, no wonder Stradlin couldn’t reach you,” he says, more to himself than to Axl, but the redhead asks anyway:
“Izzy’s been trying to reach me?”
“Yeah.” Slash’s heart, which was okay until now, suddenly starts hammering against his ribcage—it hadn’t occurred to him until this exact moment that everything he says from now until this nightmare is over, every word he dispels, is going to determine whether or not this man lives to see another day. “Yeah, we all have.” A lie, but what the fuck, Axl needs this lie. “We’re worried sick about you.”
“No,” says Axl. “You aren’t. You could give a fuck about me. All you care about is drugs. That’s all any of you fuckers care about. Well, that’s fine. Let me just finish what I started, and you can go back to spiraling down into the fucking vortex of opiates and narcotics.” It’s not the words that scare Slash so much as the tone—Axl should sound angry, but he doesn’t. He should sound bitter, but he doesn’t. He sounds empty, void of emotion. Like his eyes, he’s closed his voice off of anything he might be feeling—but judging from the slit in his wrist, Slash finds himself unsure as to whether Axl is actually feeling much of anything right now anyway.
And then he realizes what a stupid thought that is, because why the fuck would Axl be attempting suicide unless he was feeling way too much?
After that, everything becomes a blur. They fight; Slash never lets go of the knife, Axl relaxes his grip and Slash tosses it to the other side of the room and Axl immediately starts screaming about how Slash is invading his privacy, taking his last means of any way out away from him. Slash asks why the fuck he wants a way out, when he has everything he needs here, and that makes Axl cry just as much as it makes him scream at the guitarist about various things, like you don’t know shit, or it’s been hell here since she left, you don’t fucking get it. Technically, of course, Slash knows he doesn’t get it—his girlfriend, Renee, is a good lay, but nothing much more than that, and he doubts he’d feel much of anything if she left—but he’s not going to say that. They yell for a while longer, Axl’s eyes blazing hellishly green and looking more alive than Slash has seen in a long time, and then somehow they’re both standing, and Axl hits Slash, and Slash hits Axl back, and Axl launches himself at Slash, but before he can start a full-on knockdown, their lips meet.
It’s angry and it’s fierce and it’s full of a million emotions, most of which are a strange combination of lust and fury. Slash can feel something warm and wet on his neck, and he knows it’s probably Axl’s blood, but he’s gone through far worse, so he keeps quiet—about that, anyway. They fall back on the mattress, still gripping each other, still writhing, still furious. Axl is crying—or maybe Slash is, they can’t tell, because both of them have wet cheeks. Slash pulls his fingers through copper hair, a quiet sound escaping the back of his throat. He’s still shaking. There’s a tightness forming in his stomach which has nothing to do with the nervousness over the knife, and with a sudden fluidity he rips off his clothes, and Axl’s, and tosses them aside. They fuck, heat spilling over their bodies, combining perfectly with the tangle of emotions both of them are feeling, and Slash marvels over how hate and heat are very much the same thing during sex, just with a slightly different arrangement of letters.
Later, they smoke a cigarette down together, wrapped up in the blanket Axl has been using. Axl reaches up and gently twines their fingers together, and even though the singer doesn’t say anything, he’s clearly thanking Slash for saving his life.
The fourth time it happens, they are fighting again, and it’s worse than before. Not to say they haven’t been fighting, but it’s over so many different things now, it gives Slash a headache. And it’s all masked by drug use, and drinking, and it’s confusing as hell, which is why, when Axl says:
“Guns is fucking nothing without me,” Slash replies, without thinking:
“You aren’t a single band, you stupid piece of shit; Guns is an entity to itself, and maybe if you would get your head out of your ass, it could become what it was nine years ago.”
Axl hits him. He’s not surprised. But he’s tired, mostly of being shoved around and treated like dirt, so when he looks up, his eyes are—he hopes—empty, and he says, “That’s it, Axl. I’m leaving.”
The green in the singer’s irises is blistering. “You aren’t going anywhere without my permission,” he snarls, and he slams Slash against the wall, and fuses their mouths together, and Slash finds himself cheating on Renee for the first time since they were declared legally married. Not like it matters, since they’re getting a divorce soon enough, but still… it’s strange. Not entirely unexpected, not really unpleasant. He hates the timing, but he loves how Axl feels against him, so he lets him continue doing whatever the hell he wants—it’s not going to make Slash stay, but Axl doesn’t know that.
Except later, when they are lying in bed together, Slash realizes that Axl did know, all along, which is why he let Slash lead, why he called him Saul in that sensual tone, why he all but said I love you to the guitarist when they were going through their simultaneous climaxes.
Slash knows he’s stupid for staying. But where the fuck else is he going to go?
The fifth time it happens, it’s bitter. Sweet, but bitter, like mixing a glass of Chardonnay with a candy cane. Slash is angry at Axl for being such a dictator, and Axl is angry at Slash for letting the whiskey control his life, and both of them are terrified because Guns is falling apart and it’s the closest thing to a family either of them have ever known. Slash knows he said he was sick of Axl three years ago, but this time he means it—he’s got Perla, a new girl, to think about, and he’s got the Snakepit, and his other various side projects. He doesn’t need Axl, and Axl doesn’t need him. It’s pretty damn clear that they’ve both moved on, in mind if not in body, and Slash needs to sever the ties.
So why, when he goes to Axl’s house, does he find himself crawling into the singer’s lap, instead of staying in the doorway? Why does he find himself stroking away Axl’s tears, kissing his forehead, his nose, his lips? It’s a gentler kiss than they’ve ever exchanged—forget the fevered, frenzied lust of their youth, this is serious fucking passion. Axl’s thighs tremble as Slash enters him, and both of them seem to know, on some level, that this is the last time, because they take it slow, and they try to feel as much of it as possible, and when it’s over, and Axl gets a cigarette and hides his tears behind a fringe of titian, smelling of jade and dust and nicotine and every memory Slash has ever accumulated of himself, the guitarist can’t help but kiss him again before getting up and pulling his jeans back on.
“So that’s it,” says Axl, voice raw, shaking a bit, and Slash nods.
“That’s it,” he says.
“Aren’t you even going to tell me why, Slash?” Axl sounds disappointed, like Slash has somehow let him down, but the guitarist is too tired and too sad and too confused to even try and dissect why, so he just shakes his head and walks to the door.
“A fuck-and-run,” Axl calls, bitterness staining his voice and making it even more cynical than usual. “Never thought I’d fall victim to that trick.”
Slash should turn back. He knows it, and Axl knows it, but he also knows that he won’t give in, not this time. Heart pounding, he walks out of Axl Rose’s life, and it’s not until he’s in his car and driving away that he realizes—of course he let Axl down.
Slash left, even though he promised he wouldn’t.
Just like everyone else.
So there isn’t a sixth time. Or a seventh. Or an eighth. Slash half hopes Axl will let him back in when he goes to apologize, but he’s drunk, and all he gets is a few curse words and a lawsuit. So he moves on—tells himself he’s moving on, anyway—by fathering two sons with a woman whose only good attribute is her chest size. And he makes that album with everyone—except the only person he wants to make it with. And he’s wrapping up the Myles Kennedy shit in the studio, and he hopes to god everyone likes it, because he sure as hell doesn’t.
Sometimes, late at night, when Perla and Cash and London are asleep, Slash watches old Guns videos on the computer. He wants to see exactly where it all started to go downhill, but in the videos, it’s impossible to tell, and every night, he’s left disappointed, with an aching in his chest that nothing can fill—except maybe whiskey, but there’s none of that in the house, not anymore. He hates what he’s become, hates how it’s mostly his fault—and then hates himself for thinking it’s his fault that Axl drove him to leave.
He lies awake, thinking about Axl, wondering if Axl ever thinks of him, doubting it. He still remembers the touch of that soft skin, still remembers those five times they were together in so many ways, still wonders why he didn’t allow it to ever get further than it did. He wishes for that again, longs for it in a way that is so deep and primeval that it’s impossible to put an exact name to it. He aches to feel that hair again, to have those limbs twined around his, to dominate, to stroke, to bite and be bitten until there are bruises and blood soaking the mattress. There is still the smell of sex for him and Perla, but it’s not the same as it was with Axl—not without the cigarettes lingering in the background, the candle wax scent his skin always carried on it after they got rich. He wishes, he wants, he needs… he hopes, one day, Axl will forgive him for what he did. Hopes they will be able to make a life for themselves outside of the hollow shells they’ve become.
He wonders if he was ever really in love with the redhead, or if it’s the memory of those days he still feels such a powerful ache over.