Slash sat at the bar and gazed into his glass. It was the twelfth one of the night and he felt pretty good. He'd almost completely forgotten why he was here, by himself in a bar, downing shot after shot of scotch. Then the stupid bartender had to turn on the stupid television, and it all came flooding back. Slash stared at that damn screen, his vision blurry, but his memory intact. That was the problem with being drunk, he looked and sounded the part, but usually just trying to quench his anger wasn't enough.
"And in entertainment news, the battle between ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist, Slash, and his former frontman, W. Axl Rose, rages on. Filing a countersuit to the claims that the singer tried to gain legal ownership of the name through false means....." The reporter was saying. Slash stopped listening. False means. Yeah, good one, Axl, Slash thought. If trying to get drugged-out, drunk bandmates to sign their legal rights over, without even trying to explain didn't count as 'false', Slash didn't know what did. That was why he was in this fucking bar, drinking away about a year's worth of hard-earned sobriety. Leaving that band was the second hardest thing he'd ever done. The hardest was what he still had to deal with on a daily basis. Seeing Axl in his head every day, and then having to see him on t.v. were two very separate things. The Axl in his head was the man he'd fallen in love with almost twenty years ago. The man he'd given every part of himself to, and then had it thrown back in his face. Dealing with the fallout from that every single day had left it's mark on him. But this new man on the screen staring back at him was something else entirely. His mouth, which had once smiled so carelessly and willingly, had changed into a bitter scowl. He couldn't even bring himself to look into his eyes. Slash's memories of Axl's eyes, the only part of Axl that Slash could ever read more clearly than anything, had to at least stay untainted.
His cell phone jingled in his pants pocket, startling him. Fuck, he hated that thing. Squinting at the screen, he saw it was Duff. Well, he didn't want to talk right now, so whatever Duff had to say could wait. Turning his attention to the daunting task of making it out of the bar and into his car while still standing upright was now his only thought. He made it past the pool table, only stumbling a little, and opened the door. The warm California air hit him, and he breathed in deeply. He pulled out his car keys, and plopped down in the front seat. He hadn't driven while intoxicated in almost a year and a half. He'd promised his friends and family that he was done with alcohol. But he'd forgotten to take into consideration the effect that Axl Rose still had on him. He was the only person, even from far away through all the lawyers and go-betweens that they had, that could make him feel this way about himself. He started the ignition, and started driving. The radio blared out his favorite rock station as he drove. The familiar notes of 'Sweet Child O' Mine' filled his car. Damn rock station, Slash thought. He shut the radio off, and tried to concentrate on driving. The lines in the street started to blur, and soon he wasn't aware if he was still in the right lane or not. He pulled into the nearest gas station, waiting for his vision to clear.
A sudden knock at his window startled him. Looking over, he saw a teenage kid wearing an Iron Maiden shirt.
"Hey, aren't you Slash?" He said, looking surprised. "What the hell are you doing in this part of town? And where's Axl?" The kid was obviously stoned, his eyes were just as bloodshot as Slash was sure his were. Where was Axl? Slash wondered, ignoring the kid as he continued to laugh and walk away. Where the hell was he? Slash thought angrily. Who the hell does he think he is, still going on about this stupid squabble between us after all this time? Why can't he just leave me alone? Does he have any idea how painful this is? Does he even care? Did he ever really care to begin with? Slash wasn't so sure anymore. He turned his car back on, and pulled out of the parking lot. He was pissed and he wanted the answers to these questions. He drove toward the only place he knew he'd find them.
Axl's house hadn't changed even slightly since Slash had last been there. He punched in the number on the security pad outside the gate, relieved that Axl hadn't changed it in recent years. He drove more slowly up the driveway, aware of the sound his tires made against the gravel. Somehow he made it to the wide double doors before loosing his nerve. What the hell was he doing here? He thought. What did he expect to see? Shaking his head, he turned to go, just as the doors opened. He froze as light poured out onto the darkened steps.
"Mr. Slash?" Said a familiar voice in a familiar accent. Slash turned around and sighed.
"Hello, Beta." Slash greeted Axl's housekeeper. She'd worked for Axl for years, and Slash had no reason to be uncourteous to her. "How are you?"
"I do well." She said. "But what are you doing here?"
"I just thought I'd drop by...." Slash left the sentence hanging. Beta knew everything that was going on between Axl and his former bandmates. "You know why I'm here." He said. Beta just nodded.
"Come in, sit down." She ushered him in, taking him to the couch. Slash had to force himself to keep his composure. Being back in this house was NOT something he was prepared for. "Can I get you something, coffee or tea?" She asked. Slash shook his head, still gazing around. "Alright, I'll go get Axl, then." She sighed, resigned. Slash bit his lip. He should just leave, right now, before this got any worse. He wasn't prepared for this, and he sure as hell didn't want to see Axl. Not like this, anyway. The many times that he'd imagined seeing him again, he was sober in the very least. He stared at the door, willing his legs to move. But they were planted and not going anywhere.
"Wasn't sure if she was telling the truth or not." Slash heard the voice behind him. His heart did a backflip. Despite everything, all the years of bitterness, and the heartache, all the stupid shit that was going on between them, Slash was suddenly aware of how much he needed to hear that voice. How much he'd yearned for it. "Well well, look at you." Slash didn't care if it sounded angry, or bored, or whatever. It was here, within his reach, and he craved it. He turned around then, and took him in.
He didn't know what he'd expected, if anything. He knew Axl would've changed. He'd seen him in the paparazzi photos, in the news casts. But he'd changed the channel every time before he could ever get a good look. It still hurt too much. But now, here he was, in the flesh, standing before him. His once long red hair, one of Slash's favorite features, was now pulled back into cornrows. He'd gained weight, but not much, and Slash acknowledged that it was in all the right places, making him look firm and powerful. Slash lingered on his mouth, those lips that he used to spend quite a long while observing. He finally forced his eyes to meet Axl's. There they were, unchanged just as Slash had prayed. The exact same color, dimmed in just the right way, changing slightly in the light. And Slash was pleasantly surprised to remember something he'd always known about Axl....he was still the most beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes on. This all happened within a few seconds, as Axl stared back, probably assessing him as well. And Slash realized something that he'd been trying for too long to deny. Slash had left his heart behind the day he'd quit the band. And Axl still possessed every part of it.
"So?" Axl said, breaking into Slash's thoughts. "Am I supposed to guess why you're here?" Slash cleared his throat, knowing that he had to get through this without showing any signs of weakness.
"What the fuck, Axl?" He asked, grateful that he could speak in an even tone. "What the fuck are you doing?" Axl crossed his arms over his chest, tilting his head to one side. Slash recognized Axl's expression, knowing that he was deciding what to say next. He waited. Axl rubbed his fingers over his chin, staring at Slash. After about a minute, he finally spoke.
"You know it should belong to me. I started this band, and I'm the only one carrying on-"
"Don't give me that shit." Slash interrupted. "You can try all you want to convince Duff and Izzy of all that, but I can smell your bullshit a mile away, Axl. I've always been able to. Where the hell would you be if not for us?"
"You knew the answer to that once." Axl said. "But I guess you forgot." Slash wasn't expecting that answer. An image of Axl and him huddled around a fire on Christmas morning blew through his mind. He shook it away, unwilling to think about it.
"I didn't forget." Slash said, unconsciously lowering his tone.
"So? You just decide to come to my house, in the middle of the night, after nine years of nothing....I don't get it." Axl said.
"I was pissed. Am pissed." Slash said. Not to mention the effects of the alcohol were starting to wear off, and he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Axl glared at him, squinting into his eyes. Slash involuntarily blinked.
"What have you been doing?" Axl asked. "I thought you stopped drinking."
"Now we're gonna talk about my sobriety?" Slash said, bemused. "Didn't know you were so concerned."
"I'm not. It's none of my business." Axl shrugged. "Your life stopped being my business the second you walked out the door."
"It stopped a helluva lot sooner that that." Slash said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Axl said.
"You know what it means. We were over way before I made the decision to leave. We were barely acquaintances." Slash said. He rolled his eyes. "This isn't why I came here. I'm not gonna stand here and air out our dirty laundry. I came here to ask you one thing. Stop this ridiculous lawsuit." He stared at Axl, refusing to be the one to break eye-contact. He'd obviously forgot who he was dealing with. After a few minutes, he sighed and sat on the couch. Axl followed. Slash was itching to leave, but couldn't think of anything to say at this point to make a dignified exit.
"You want some coffee?" Axl asked suddenly. Slash nodded. He followed him into the kitchen, still struck by how little Axl's house had changed since he'd been in there. "I'll make it strong, maybe help you sober up a bit before you go off driving again." Slash noticed a hint of a smile at the corner of Axl's mouth.
"Hey, you only have yourself to thank for my situation here." Slash said. "You're the one that had to file that stupid lawsuit."
"And how is your getting drunk my fault exactly?" Axl said, pouring water into the coffee maker.
"Like I said, I was pissed." Slash said simply.
"Thought you'd sobered up after that little scare when they put in that defibrillator." Axl said. Slash looked up.
"You know about that?" Slash asked, surprised.
"Of course I know about that. Scared the shit out of me." Axl said, now pouring the coffee. He handed Slash a mug. Slash was confused.
"Why...I don't get it." Slash said. Axl sat down across from him, blowing into his mug.
"When I heard you might die, Slash.......of course I was concerned." Axl said. "Plus, the things that I do shouldn't effect you like that anymore."
"Well, they do." Slash said quietly. "Things that happen to me shouldn't scare you." He shot back. Axl just shrugged.
"They always have, it's a hard habit to break. I hear something about you, and I can't help it...When I heard about your heart thing, I was about two seconds away from forcing myself to see you." Slash didn't know what to say to that. Instead, he stared into his coffee, trying to find a segway.
"So, how are things going with Chinese Democracy?" Slash regretted the words the second they came out of his mouth. He knew it was a low blow. He forced himself to look at Axl, who was smiling. Then laughing. Then full-on cracking up. Slash smiled in spite of himself, letting the sound of Axl's laugh calm him.
"I wouldn't even begin to know where to start with that subject." Axl said breathlessly after a few minutes. He continued to chuckle.
"It's that bad?" Slash asked.
"It's a disaster." Axl said. "But I will finish it someday."
"Then what?" Slash asked. Axl shrugged.
"I've been working on this thing for so long, I don't even know what I will do when it's done." He said. "Probably get a new band." Slash snorted into his coffee, and Axl smiled.
"What is up with that anyway?" Slash asked. "Why not stick with the guys you have?"
"None of them feel right." Axl said. "They don't have any of the qualities I'm looking for. Basically none of them are you."
"Dammit, Axl." Slash said. "Why do you gotta say things like that?" Axl shrugged.
"I know you gotta feel that way too, at least sometimes." Axl said. "I've seen that Scott Weiland....he's no me." Slash knew exactly what Axl meant. He knew he wasn't being cocky, but rather he was talking about the chemistry. Something that Slash hadn't been able to reproduce.
"No, he's no you. But he gets the job done." Slash said.
"Not to mention, he's not too shabby looking." Axl said.
"Please, it's not even like that." Slash said. "Scott is way too flamboyantly hetero for that." Axl laughed again.
"I hear that Buckethead has got some prettyness goin on up under that chicken bucket of his." Slash retaliated. Axl made a derisive noise.
"That guy is fucking weird." He said. "You know he wants a chicken coop built into the studio?" It was Slash's turn to laugh. He shook his head.
"Guess it's not that surprising." Slash said. "You really know how to pick 'em." Axl nodded, staring into space. They sat in silence for a minute, lost in their respective thoughts.
"Okay, I'm at a loss." Axl said. "What now?" Slash shrugged.
"I actually hadn't really thought this visit through. It was kinda a whim type thing." He said. "A drunken pissed-off whim type thing."
"Well, it's not like it changes anything." Axl said.
"I know." Slash sighed. "But dealing with the ramifications of this night is going to be hell."
"Yeah, the press can be harsh. You know someone's gonna eventually find out about this." Axl said. He stood up and poured the rest of his coffee in the sink.
"Yeah, I know. But I wasn't talking about the press." Slash said, staring at Axl's back. "I was talking about me not being able to deal with it on a very healthy mental level."
"What do you mean?" Axl asked, turning toward him. Slash sighed, twisting his mug in his hands.
"Axl, when I left....I can't even begin to explain those first few months. I was completely useless. I don't think I left my bedroom for an entire week. I was lost, terrified....." He swallowed. He couldn't believe he was actually sharing this with Axl. He'd never talked to anyone about that time...that horrible time after he'd quit the band and had nowhere to turn. "It wasn't just about me not recording with you anymore. It was something much more significant. It's like I left something with you that I'm never going to be able to replace." He looked up at Axl, trying to read his expression. His eyes were contemplative. "It wouldn't have changed, though." He continued. "If I had known then what I was in for, I still would've left. Axe, I was dying. I was slowly wasting away, mentally and emotionally. It was like you had disappeared from me. I couldn't reach you anymore, and it made me sick. I blamed myself for your situation, always telling myself that if I had just been more observant, tried talking to you more...." Axl wasn't looking at him anymore. He was staring out the window, his face expressionless. But Slash had waited long enough for these words to come out, and he was telling the only person he knew they'd matter to. He wasn't about to stop. "Axl, I gave everything I had. I was completely empty when I left...or so I thought. The first morning I woke up after I had quit, when I realized that I wouldn't be seeing you anymore....I had a panic attack, and it was really bad. At one point, I could barely breath. It's like you were a drug that I had to go through withdrawal from. I had to clean you out of my veins, out of my head. But even after all these years, I still find myself waking up some nights, with that same sense of fear, that same panic. I can't tell you how much of a toll it took on me leaving you." He took a deep breath, and was quiet for a moment. He felt drained, but in a good way. Like he'd finally let that weight on his shoulder's lessen slightly.
"I thought you seemed happy." Axl whispered.
"I am, in some ways." Slash said. "But even at my happiest, it never compares to even the mediocre times with you."
"Slash, I know you tried, and believe me, I know that you needed me." Axl said. "I tried to be there, but honestly, do you have any idea what I was going through?"
"No. And that was the problem." Slash said, shaking his head. "You never let me in. You stopped trusting me."
"I didn't." Axl said. But Slash knew it wasn't true.
"Axe, I didn't know a lot about the symptoms of being manic depressive, but I do know that you were very paranoid. After a while, you stopped telling me anything. You didn't even tell me when you're mother died. But when I found out, I tried to be sympathetic. I at least tried." Slash said.
"I didn't try to shun you." Axl said. "You don't know what it's like. I found you to be so important to me, that I had somehow convinced myself that if I kept myself too attached to you, it would only end up hurting you. Obviously I was wrong. And now we both have to deal with the consequences. You think you have it bad? Slash, I've become basically a fucking hermit. I cannot deal with too many people, it makes me too nervous. I get jittery. You were the only person who could comfort me in those types of social situations. Plus, waking up in a panic seems like a blessing compared to what I go through. I don't think I've had a full night's sleep in six years. Insomnia is a true bitch of a condition."
"God, look at us." Slash said. "Unable to function like normal humans with or without eachother." He stood up, his heart pounding. He didn't want to leave, but things were getting heavy, and he was sure to have at least a few months of unquenchable heartache ahead of him. But an hour with Axl seemed completely worth it. He turned toward the door, forcing his legs to move. "Guess I should head out now." He said. Axl nodded.
"I'm really glad you came, Slash. It's been unbearably too long without you." Axl said. Slash couldn't have agreed more. Axl held out his hand, and Slash took it. He curled his fingers over Axl's hand, feeling the warmth coming off of it. His resistance quivered, and he had a sudden urge to pull Axl toward him. Barely breathing, he broke the grip, turned, and opened the door.
"Bye Axl." He whispered. The walk to his car seemed like a hundred miles. Every step was a test of his resistance. The voice in his head was screaming at him to turn around. Just as he was forcing his hand to reach for the car, the door behind him opened.
"Slash!" Axl yelled. Slash wasn't even aware of making the decision to turn around, or of bounding back up the steps. All he knew was that one moment he was unwillingly opening his car, and the next he was in Axl's arms, kissing him. It was intense to say the least. Slash felt Axl's lips against his, and all else faded away. He was where he belonged, and that hole that he'd left in his chest was finally satiated.
"I can't believe you were about to let me walk away again." Slash said. He wrapped himself around Axl, who pulled him inside.
Slash slowly came back into consciousness. He was buried underneath his blankets, his head under the pillow, his favorite position. He kept his eyes closed, trying to remember why he felt so content. He remembered it had something to do with Axl. He smiled. It must have been a particularly good dream for him to feel this great. He inhaled, and his smile widened. He breathed in again, trying to force the memory of the smell to linger a while longer. He loved it when he could still smell Axl after he woke up. He lay there, trying to remember what the dream was. There had been drinking....a lot of drinking. And there had been Axl, of course....but something else. They'd talked, but Slash couldn't remember the specifics. Then they'd been in his room.....he blushed, very pleased with the clarity of this dream. He slowly realized that the smell was still there. He inhaled deeply again. Yes, the scent definitely wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't fading like it usually did.
He lifted his head above the pillow. White sheets? What happened to his black ones, he wondered. And the light was coming in from the wrong side....He looked over at the window....Not his window, he discovered. He shook his head, trying to remember where the hell he was.
"Hey." A voice came from next to him. He whipped his head around, seeing Axl sitting across from him.
"Oh!" He gasped. Last night had actually happened, he realized with excitement. He sat up a little too quickly, his head swam. So the drinking had really happened, too. He gazed at the face he'd longed for so long to see again. And here it was, after the best kind of reunion, smiling back at him. It was almost too much for Slash to take in. "Hey." Was all he could get out. Axl laughed, and leaned toward him. The kiss was soft and perfect. Slash put his hand on the back of Axl's neck, still unused to the rough texture of his cornrows in contrast to the softness of the hair he remembered. He moaned softly, moving closer. He pulled Axl on top of him, curling his arms around him. They spent the next few minutes in eachother's arms, Slash never allowing Axl's lips to move too far away from his own. Finally they broke away, Slash gazing into the eyes he'd seen only in memory for too long.
"How'd you sleep?" He asked. Axl sighed, smiling.
"The fact that I slept at all is a testament to your affect on me." He said. "I don't remember the last time I slept that peacefully. It's the actions the happened prior to the sleep that I'm grateful for, though. Last night was......." He smiled again, at a loss for words. Slash knew how he felt. He took Axl's hand and pressed it against his heart.
"You've never stopped owning this, you know." He said. Axl lay his head over it, resting his hand on Slash's cheek.
"Could say the same thing to you." He said. They lay in silence for a while, neither breaking the peaceful calm that had settled over them. Suddenly Axl's bedside phone rang, followed by Slash's cell somewhere on the floor in his discarded pants pocket.
"Damn." Axl said. He made a move to sit up, but Slash held him down.
"Not yet." He said, desperate for this time to linger as long as he could make it. Gradually both phone's stopped ringing. Axl settled back down against him, moving up until his head was laying between Slash's chin and chest. Slash breathed him in, making sure to savor this moment, committing it to memory. After another while, Axl sighed, and sat up. This time Slash let him.
"Ok, here's the thing-" Axl started, but Slash cut him off.
"Look, before you say anything, I can pretty much guess what it's gonna be. So just let me say this...." Slash waited, gazing at Axl, dreading the end of their time together. "The second our feet touch that floor, it's gonna be back to reality. I have responsibilities, and so do you. We both know that this can't last. Axl, getting over you was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through. And I still was never quite there. So, before we go our separate ways again, can we please just....be? Just for a while?" Axl considered him for a moment, and leaned closer. He pressed both hands against Slash's cheeks, pulling him forward.
"Let's just say that the floor is a hundred miles away." He said quietly. "I don't even know where it is, honestly....I think it disappeared." Slash grinned, and wrapped his arms around Axl, pulling him down, trying his damndest to conserve this small slice of heaven...however brief it might be.
An hour and a half later, they were still in bed, the blankets strewn across the floor. Slash turned toward Axl, smiling breathlessly. "That was fun." He said. Axl nodded and reached down to pull the comforter on top of them.
"I haven't done that in a while...." Axl said. "I'd forgotten how truly......satisfying it is." He laughed.
"And I'd forgotten how aggressive you are." Slash said, allowing him to wrap them in the blanket. Axl growled.
"So, what now?" He asked, settling over Slash. "You hungry?"
"Not in the way you're implying, no." Slash answered. "I've been hungry for nine years, and now my appetite is somewhat quenched..." Axl chuckled, nodding.
"I completely agree." He said. He began mindlessly twisting his fingers through Slash's curls. "I think I'm feeling that floor getting closer, though."
"Well, then, we just need to adjust your focus of gravity." Slash said. He pulled Axl up until he was completely on top of him. "How's that?"
"Better." Axl said, planting a soft kiss on his forehead. "Thanks."
A sudden knock at the door made them both jump. "Axl, you've got a meeting in less than an hour. Don't make me come in there and get you!" They heard Beta call from the hallway. Axl groaned.
"Shit." He said. "That's important." Slash nodded. They both sat up.
"I guess we should...." Slash swallowed, loathe to finish the sentence. That horribly familiar ache was starting to tug at his chest.
"Yeah." Axl said. He looked just as unwilling to get up as Slash was. He stared at the floor, willing it to really disappear. But it stayed there, seeming to get closer and closer. After a few minutes, Axl took a breath and stood up. Slash followed, a sense of vertigo coming over him. He shook his head, trying to get rid of the dizziness. Axl suddenly turned around, his eyes intense.
"Stay." He pleaded. It took all of Slash's strength not to agree wholeheartedly to do just that. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart.
"Axl...." He said.
"Come back." Axl pleaded, grabbing Slash's hands. "Slash, I can't live in this hell anymore. I can't.....can't......" His breaths came out in gasps, like he was choking. Slash pulled him into a bonebreaking hug. They embraced, neither one looking at the other.
"Axl, we both know what this is." Slash whispered. "Like we said last night, it doesn't change anything. It can't. Not on these terms....it can't be in a moment of weakness, or longing. If ever this is truly meant to happen....it's gotta come from a place of strength. At a point when we're both really ready for it. You know that time isn't now. Maybe someday...." Slash was finding it increasingly hard to stay talking.
"Someday." Axl scoffed. "That'll never happen, Slash. We've gotta make it happen."
"We'll fall apart." Slash said. "And I will not allow that to happen, not again."
"How can I live through losing you again?" Axl said, turning away. "I did it once, and it nearly ended me." Slash grabbed Axl, forcing him to look at him.
"Listen to me." He said, his eyes burning. "You've got to believe me when I say this. It is not the end, alright? Not yet. This experience was meant to happen, I truly believe that. But neither one of us is at that place in our lives where this can be permanent. But one day we will be. Do you trust me?"
"I've always trusted you with everything I have." Axl answered.
"When I left the first time, I didn't know if I could survive, because I didn't know if I'd ever see you again." Slash continued. "But now I know I will. That knowledge will help me through until we can be together again. Can you live with that?" Axl swallowed. Closing his eyes, he pressed his forehead against Slash's.
"I suppose I'll have to." He said. "But it won't be easy."
"It'll be hell all over again." Slash agreed. Axl smiled, kissing Slash lightly on his lips. They kissed harder, and even harder until they were both tangled around eachother. Neither one wanted to be the one to break contact, but suddenly they were apart. Without another word, they turned away from eachother. Slash threw his clothes on, reached for the doorknob, and was out of Axl's bedroom. Down the stairs, out the door, in the car, and out the driveway. And just like that, he was gone. He watched Axl's house shrink in the rearview mirror. His phone rang then, and he saw it was Duff trying yet again to contact him. He decided to answer this time.
"Hey, man, where the fuck you been?" Duff asked, a little annoyed. Slash smiled, reliving the past twelve hours.
"It's a long story." He said.
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