Feb 14, 1984 in Boston
His hair pulled back and tucked under his hat and a trench coat on, along with a pair of dark sunglasses, Joe figured that he could make it in and out of the club without being spotted. His own band, The Joe Perry Project, was in town to do a show the next night, and when he found out that Aerosmith was playing here, tonight of all nights, he hadn't been able to stay away. He had cursed himself the entire time he had gotten ready. He had cursed himself even louder on the way here.
He hadn't been able to stay away, though. He should have. What was he going to do if Steven spotted him in the audience? Or hell, even worse, if Tom spotted him. Steven was likely to be drugged out of his gourd, but if Tom spotted him, he would point him out...or worse, try to see him.
Fuck, he missed them. He missed all of them. Mostly, though, he missed Steven. It was terrible without him. The pain never seemed to go away, as he had thought it would when he left. Both of them were stubborn bastards, though, and they hadn't spoken to each other since he had walked out of that studio in early '79. He had waited every day since then for a phone call, a drunken Steven on his doorstep, anything.
Five years had passed and every day he was still waiting. Tim, his manager, harassed him daily that he should make the first move. He told him that Steven was waiting, hurting, wishing, just like he was. He said that the drugs had gotten worse instead of better for Steven. That was what had made him come tonight, actually. If Tim was right, he had to do something, though what it was, he didn't know.
He headed into the club after he knew the warm-ups would be done, and before the band would be out for the show. Seating was rather limited, but he managed to find a table in the back of the room in the shadows. As long as they didn't go wandering through the crowd, he thought he'd be fine.
Fifteen minutes to showtime and Steven was in the dressing room, the door locked, having his ritualistic cry and shots. He did this every night for the last five years. Well, the crying part, the shots he had been doing longer than that, but before five years ago Joe would have been locked in here with him.
Fuck, he missed him. More than any words could say. Every breath he took and every move he made he thought about him. Sometimes if he did enough drugs he could forget, for a little while, that Joe wasn't there. But then he would turn to say something to him, and it would come back to him in full force that Joe was gone.
He couldn't count how many times he had called him, but hung up the phone without saying a word. How many of his shows he had gone to and hidden in the back of the crowd. How many times he had gone by his house when he knew he was home, but been afraid to knock.
He hadn't changed the locks. That thought had occurred to him more times than he could count. Every time he went by when he knew Joe wouldn't be home. He had gone in a few times, used his key and just sat in the living room, tears streaming down his face because not a damn thing had been moved. Everything was the same as it had been the last time they were there together. Down to the fucking picture of them on the mantle.
"Well if it isn't Joe Fucking Perry!" Brad said, pulling a chair up to the table in the back of the room that the club's manager had pointed him to with a smile.
"Brad? What the fuck are you doing here, man?" Joe asked. Brad had left the band a little over a year after he had. Joe knew, through Tim, that Brad and Tom still saw each other. Hell, he still saw Joey, too, from what he understood. He just wouldn't see Steven anymore.
Joe felt like crap over that, because deep down, he knew it was his fault. Somehow the rest of the guys had gotten in the middle of their fight. Brad hadn't been able to bite his tongue anymore and had told Steven to go to hell and quit the band, from what he understood.
"We just got done in the studio, and I'm home for a month or so before we hit the road. I came by to see Tom play. Didn't expect to see you here?" He stated, though it sounded more like a question.
"You didn't see me here." Joe replied, throwing his patented scowl at Brad, who just grinned back at him. Damn, he had known this had been a bad idea. And with Brad sitting with him, there was no way Tom, at least, and probably Joey, wouldn't spot him. All he could do was hope they wouldn't point him out to Steven.
"This the first one you been to, man?" Brad asked, sitting back in his chair and pulling out his pack of cigarettes.
"Yeah." Joe mumbled, taking one of the offered cigarettes and lighting it before offering Brad a light.
"Well, it's nothing to write home about, but..." Brad said, sighing.
It was obvious he hated saying that, or anything that could be considered slightly negative about their former band, but Joe could understand where he was coming from. He was always being asked about them in interviews, and he had gotten pretty good at dodging questions. He'd heard their latest album, though, and there was no way to say anything about it other than it was mediocre.
That had thrown him when he heard it. Steven was a perfectionalist, hell, they both were, so hearing that from them had worried him. Steven's voice had still sounded good, so had Tom and Joey, but, well, there hadn't been any chemistry with the new guys. It was like they were just filling in, and even the studio hadn't been able to hide that.
Joe was drawn from his reverie by the lights going down. The crowd hushed in anticipation, and Joe and Brad were no exceptions. Together, they waited with baited breath.
"Showtime, Mr. Tyler!" A voice called through the door. One of the stagehands, but Steven wasn't sure which one.
Fuck, he didn't want to do this. He didn't want to go out on that stage and play and sing and act like everything was alright. Especially not in Boston on Valentines Day. He had to, though. He didn't have a choice, not if he wanted to keep what was left of this band together.
He made his way to the side of the stage, standing between Tom and Joey. Tom was looking anxiously through the crowd, and he wondered how many of their friends were here. That was the worst part of playing Boston. Everyone wanted to talk to him about Joe, had he heard from him, tell him what he was up to. Fans did that everywhere, but here it was worse. This was home, for all of them.
The lights went down, and they all took their places on the stage. As soon as he was out there, he felt it. Something was different tonight. He felt, he didn't know for sure, but it almost felt like Joe was with him. He had that feeling sometimes, but tonight it was stronger than it had been in five years.
His head turned, and he looked where Joe should be standing, and his heart fell to see Jimmy there. He thought he could cry, but still, he could feel him. He must be going crazy, that's all there was to it.
Joey did the opening to 'Walking the Dog' and Steven automatically went into the song. It didn't sound as good without Joe's voice. Nothing did, and he needed to start getting used to that. There were only so many songs he could cut out of the set, refusing to do without Joe before the fans rioted. They were already having hissies because he wouldn't do Sweet Emotion or Walk This Way. There were so many more he wanted to cut. Alright, he would admit it to himself; he didn't want to do any of them without him.
He couldn't take it. It was painful to watch them. Steven and Tom spent most of their time seeming to cower to one side of the stage. Crespo and Dufay were on the other side, looking completely out of place. Joey was playing halfheartedly. There was no energy to the band, and some of the crowd were already leaving.
It broke his heart to see them like that. He could tell it was breaking Brad's heart to see it, too. He caught Brad's eye in between songs and nodded. Both men rose to their feet and moved forward, placing themselves right in front of Steven and Tom in the crowd.
It was a testament to how bad off they were that it took several minutes for them to realize they were there. The reaction was comical, he thought. Steven stopped singing and just stared. Tom, quickly realizing what was going on, stopped playing. Joey stood behind the drums, his eyes wide and staring at them. Only Crespo and Dufay kept playing the song, Kings and Queens.
He could feel the connection as his eyes and Steven's locked. He could feel the heat rising between them, the electricity, as though they hadn't been apart for five minutes, much less five years. His heart stopped as he saw the look of longing in Steven's eyes and he was powerless to resist as his feet began carrying him forward towards the stage.
"Sneer at death...fear only loss of pride..." Steven belted out into the mic when suddenly his eyes caught on Joe's face. For an instant, he wasn't sure if he was really there, or he was hallucinating, but then their eyes caught and he stopped singing.
He didn't notice as the rest of the band slowly, one by one, stopped. He didn't register the crowds parting for them. He didn't comprehend the cheer of shock, joy, and surprise that sounded loudly in the air as they met at the edge of the stage.
The only thing that registered for him was Joe's arms enfolding him as his arms went around Joe. How his heart accelerated as they clung to one another, their lips meeting over and over as they clung tighter and tighter.
"Guys!" The hissed whisper of Joey into Steven's ear caught their attention and their heads turned simultaneously to give him twin looks of sheepish embarrassment, then all five of them were standing at the edge of the stage, enfolded in one tightly hugging group. Tears streamed down all five faces, but Steven and Joe had finally stopped kissing each other. Well, that the audience could see, anyway.
After several moments, during which all five men seemed to talk nonstop, as one they seemed to remember their audience. Stepping back, they all grinned at once. Joey went back behind his drums, a huge grin on his face, the first that had been there in as long as any of them could think of. Tom, on the other hand, went to the edge of the stage and got two guitars. One of his own and his bass that he always carried with him, as he figured it would be in bad taste to grab one from Crespo and Dufay.
"Ladies and gentlemen, on bass...Brad Whitford." Steven said as Brad and Joe took the guitars from Tom. Brad played a quick riff before nodding and making a couple adjustments to it. Steven grinned as he watched Brad walk over to next to Tom, their customary position from years gone by. His own arms were still draped over Joe as he wrapped himself around him. Joe leaned back against him, a smile on his own face, feeling like he had come home, finally.
"And on lead guitar and vocals...Mr. Joe Fucking Perry." He continued, chuckling as Joe played a riff of his own before giving Tom a thumbs up, signaling that the guitar was tuned to his liking. Of course it was, every guitar tuned by an Aerosmith tech was tuned to Joe's standards, even after all this time. Steven demanded it that way.
Maybe it should have felt weird, standing on this stage with Steven's arms wrapped around him from behind, getting ready to start a song, and not even knowing what the set list was supposed to be. No one seemed inclined to tell him, either, so he guessed it was his choice.
It didn't, though. It felt more right than anything he had felt in five years. It was a mix of coming home, excitement that was just never the same without these guys there to share it with him, and excitement of a different kind at the feel of Steven pressed tight against him.
Almost absently he noticed the looks of disgust and disappointment on the faces of Crespo and Dufay as they walked off the stage. Part of him felt sorry for them, as this was happening with no warning, but then he was too happy to really feel anything for them. A smirk came to his face as he started the opening riff to the song Back in the Saddle, thinking that was the perfect song for them to do first. It seemed to fit, more than any other right now.
The crowd got into the music a lot more now that the five of them were playing together. The chemistry there was something that just couldn't be matched. They went through several songs flawlessly and Joe thought that was a little odd. There should have been some mistakes. After all, the five of them hadn't played together in years, not to mention he refused to do any Aerosmith songs in his sets, though Steven had agreed, through Tim, to allow him to play any of them that he wanted. They had written them together, and according to Tim, Steven had felt that Joe had as much right to them as he did.
Finally, they were finishing Walk This Way and Steven lifted up to whisper a song into his ear. A smile came to his face at the thought of the song he wanted to do, though he wondered how Steven was going to manage to hold onto him as tightly as he had been doing this entire time and play the piano at the same time. He found that he wasn't exactly liking the thought of Steven letting go, either. Dream On was one of the fan favorites, though, and they had already been playing longer than the set was supposed to last, but all five of them had lost track of time, not wanting to let go of this feeling and face whatever was going to happen when they got off stage.
The feeling they were getting from the crowd was electric, but all Steven could focus on was the feel of Joe in front of him. He sang, he put his heart and soul into it like he hadn't done in quite some time, but still he never let go of Joe. He thought that may look a little odd, and he just knew that the papers the next day were going to be filled of pictures of them like this, but people were used to seeing them draped all over each other back when they had been together before, and they could deal with it happening now.
Finally he spotted the club's manager giving them a signal that he wanted them off the stage. Damn, they'd been up here a lot longer than he thought. He wanted to do Dream On for an encore, but he wasn't sure how he was going to manage it. Finally he decided they needed to do it, and worked up his nerve to pull away from Joe and headed over for the piano. A huge grin lit his face when seconds into the song, he felt Joe sit on the bench beside him, he could feet the heat from his body, the breath on his cheeks as he leaned in to sing it with him.
Fuck, he'd forgotten how beautiful their voices sounded together, whether they were singing, talking, or screaming in ecstasy. His eyes turned to Tom and Brad, his smile growing wider as he saw how close they had stayed to each other, as well. He turned to look at Joey, who was just grinning at the four of them. He knew it wouldn't take long before Joey was bitching good naturedly at them to behave themselves, but he was feeling it too, tonight.
The last strands of the song finally played out and he once again introduced the band, smirking when Joe grabbed the mic from him and introduced him, as well. The five of them hurried off the stage as the crowd continued to cheer.
The first thing he saw when they got backstage was their roadies. All of them were grinning just as much as the five of them were, and really, it was a heady feeling. All of them were really like a family, and for the life of him right now he couldn't figure out why he had left. Whatever it was, it wasn't important any longer, to any of them evidently. No sense crying over spilt milk...literally.
He also saw Tim grinning at them, and he just had to shake his head. That Tim was here, and backstage, and that, really told him something. Tim was a good friend, out for what was best for him personally, as well as professionally, and honestly you didn't find many managers like that.
For several long moments, the five of them stood there, savoring the feeling of homecoming, but eventually broke away to head for the band's dressing room. Joe wanted to be alone with Steven, but he also wanted to have a little time with all of them together. Some time to talk, to come to grips with everything. It was all happening so fast that his head was spinning. He didn't want to stop it, fuck no, it exhilarated him to much for that, but he did want to slow it down, to savor it.
They went in and closed the door behind them, locking it after a quick word to a stagehand to cancel the meet and greet always scheduled after a show. Another night would be soon enough for that, tonight was just about them.
"Fuck, guys, you have no idea how much I've missed you." He said quietly, dropping onto a couch, Steven falling naturally into his lap.
"It's about time you came home, you asshole." Joey joked, falling into a chair next to the couch the other four members of the band were occupying before flushing as he noted the two figures sitting on the other couch.
"Nice of you guys to warn us." Jimmy said, sulking on one end of the second couch. "I mean, you never lied and said it was anything more than temporary, but shit...it's been five fucking years."
"I'm sorry Jimmy, but we didn't know any more than you did." Tom said, shaking his head sadly.
Joe glanced over at the two replacement guitarists, a quizzical look coming to his face at the sight of the soft smile on Dufay's face as he watched them. The contempt and anger on Crespo's face he could understand, but he wasn't sure what was with the look on the bassist's face. He arched his brow at him and tightened his arms a little more around Steven. "No one expected this to happen. It just did."
"I'm glad you're back, the both of you. There's nothing that sounds as right as the five of you together." Rick said quietly.
Steven smiled over at Rick at his comment. He had known Rick would be thrilled, as thrilled as they were, honestly. He'd been a great friend throughout all of this. He'd been there for him with everything. The nights where he wanted to cry because Joe wasn't there he had sat with him and listened to him tell stories about Joe tirelessly, even telling him a few of the ones he had heard about the two of them, always making him smile. The days when he had done too many drugs or had too much to drink, he had been there with the stern admonishment that Joe would likely kick his ass if he managed to kill himself before they got around to not being childish anymore and got back together. The evenings when he would have avoided the clubs and skipped out on his responsibilities to the band he had been there with the reminder that he had to hold things together or there would be nothing left for Joe to come home to.
The seven of them talked for a while before Rick gently, and with as much respect and kindness possible, ushered Jimmy from the room, closing the door behind them. Steven sighed as they left and settled back further against Joe. This was nice, he thought, the five of them being together like this. They were all joking and laughing and happy. It seemed like only minutes had passed since they had been together, not years. It was honestly like they were all comfortable like this, and the time that had passed had been a dream.
He really wasn't sure how it was possible, and honestly, he didn't care. He just knew that's how it was. There was none of that awkwardness that should have taken place at this first meeting. There was none of the uncomfortableness that should have been taking place where they all tested to see where the boundaries were now. There were no boundaries between them.
Hours passed like minutes as they sat there and talked. The club had long since closed down and the streets were dead as they left the building. They made plans to all get together the following afternoon and head to Joe's concert together, as they would need to give both Joe's band and Tom's band the news. Legally, they figured it would take at least a month, more likely six of them to be able to formally advertise that they were all back together.
Informally, though? Informally they figured their presence tonight, and the following re-union for those who hadn't heard, or didn't believe what they had heard with Joe's gig would tell the world what they couldn't say yet. In their minds, though, their family had been reunited on Valentines Day. "So, baby, your place, or mine?"