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I'm Not A Present For Your Friends To Open

Chapter Text

Elton is laying on his bed, wearing only a navy blue pair of briefs and a silk bathrobe. Everyone is gone, even the help. He is alone in this massive house, the rain hammering a steady beat against the window. In his haze, the staccato sound of the rain sounds like one of his tunes, maybe Daniel or...no, it’s Your Song. He is already fucked up from the whiskey and pills he had with his dinner, but that’s no surprise because he’s always fucked up, truth be told. He won’t admit that to anyone, of course, but everybody knows anyways.

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no,” he mutters as he stumbles across his bedroom to the attached bathroom. His dinner has started churning in his stomach, burning, and he suddenly feels like if he doesn’t get it up and out right now, he will explode. He clutches at his stomach, feeling grotesque, feeling obscene with the sheer volume of what he has consumed. He can’t even remember all of it what it was, but it was too much, and now he is full and it must come up. He falls to his knees and stares briefly into the porcelain bowl in front of him before shoving his fingers down his throat.

The familiar, acrid taste of vomit floods his mouth as he retches into the toilet. This is a familiar scene, one he’s engaged in often for many years, and it doesn’t bother him as much anymore. It is simply a means to an end. He vomits until there is nothing left, dry heaving weakly into the bowl a few times to be sure that there’s nothing hanging around unseen. He collapses against the wall, breathing heavily, and fumbles around on the vanity for the prescription bottle. He pays no mind to what he’s got, just takes three more pills, concerned that he’s vomited the previous pills as well as the food. He allows himself to rest.

The tile on the bathroom floor feels cool on his bare legs, and he begins to feel more calm as the pills kick in. Time passes in waves, though he has no idea how much time. When he finally stands, the rain is still coming down in sheets, and he stumbles and peers at himself in the vanity mirror. As usual, he is unhappy with what he sees. His hair is thinning, patchy in places, and he looks old. His eyes have huge bags underneath them, and the years are beginning to show on his face. Moving south, he scans the rest of his body with similar dissatisfaction. His middle carries the same extra fifteen or twenty pounds that will never leave, and he despises it. He’ll never be the lean rockstar that everyone wanted him to be.

He stumbles from the bathroom and heads back into his room, pours himself a glass of gin and knocks it back. He then throws himself on the bed, the room beginning that familiar spin. He suddenly feels as if he is trapped, and he thinks he might vomit again. The calm feeling is gone, replaced by this wild urge to rip off his own skin. He curls up into a ball on his bed, tears flowing freely, unsure of where this has come from. The feeling is awful, but not entirely unfamiliar. Every so often his body feels like it isn’t his own, feels like he found someone’s skin laying on the ground and crawled into it. He wishes to crawl back out now, but there’s no way to. This is his body, his life, and it consumes him with a strange combination of rage and apathy.

He reaches into the bedside drawer and draws out the singular razor blade that he keeps there. It has spots of dried blood on it, his blood, and he rakes it across his wrists. The pain is terrific, and he knows he shouldn’t do it, but he can’t help himself. It is the only thing that wakes him up. He drags the blade across his skin until he has dripped blood over the sheets, and his hands are full of it. It is warm and sticky and there, and he is finally able to close his eyes. He falls asleep finally, his hands slick with his own blood, the sleep dull and dreamless.

~~~~~~~~~~~

”Reggie? REGGIE!”

Elton jerks awake at the sound of his former name being screamed into the void. The only problem is, it hasn’t been screamed into the void, it’s been screamed into his face, and by the look on Bernie’s face, that wasn’t the first time he’d said it.

“Bernie? What you doing here?” He mumbles, opening his eyes to the blinding sun and squinting. Bernie’s face appears in his line of vision, creased with worry and curiosity, and a faint hint of anger, if he’s not mistaken.

“I’ve been calling you for ages and you didn’t answer, so I had to come. Blimey, would you look at this mess…” Bernie says, looking around the cluttered bedroom. Liquor bottles, pill bottles, and remnants of food are strewn about, and he does the only thing he can think of in that instance: he begins to clean. He scoops up trash and tucks it into the bin, ignoring the moans and groans coming from the bed.

Everything is hitting him at once, and Elton feels like shit. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out, but he guesses just the evening, if this hangover is proof of anything. “I need a drink,” he mutters, reaching over to his bedside table and fumbling around. His hands close on a bottle of gin and he is ready to pry the cap off and take a long, relieving glug of it when Bernie wrenches it from his hand.

Hey!” he exclaims, wincing at the pain shooting through his head. “I need that.”

“You need nothing of the sort, what you need is a good, healthy breakfast-one you won’t yak up for once- and a bath because you smell,” Bernie mutters, holding the gin an arms length away.

“Come on, Bernie, don’t be like this,” Elton mutters, reaching his arm out for the bottle. That’s when Bernie sees it, the deep, jagged cuts that march like a ladder down Elton’s arm. Bernie tosses aside the bottle and grabs at his friend’s arm, shoving the sleeve of his robe up to reveal the marks in all their glory.

Elton doesn’t fight. He has nothing left in him to fight. And this is not, after all, the first time Bernie has found him like this. Not the first time by far.

“Reg,” Bernie says softly, his voice taking on the sad, warm cadence of a man who is both deeply sad and disappointed. “You can’t keep doing this. You’re going to get hurt.” He rises and heads to the bathroom, trying to mask his disgust at the state of things-Elton had unknowingly missed the toilet at least once the evening prior-and returns with some antiseptic, bandages, and a warm washcloth.

Bernie takes Elton’s wrist gently in his hand and faces it towards him. He begins to use the washcloth to sponge away the dried blood, and, briefly, Elton struggles and tries to twist his arm away.

“That hurts, Bernie,” he says angrily, but calms down and allows his friend to continue.

“Yeah, it hurts, mate, you took a bloody razor to yourself,” Bernie mutters as he finishes sponging off the wounds. He applies antiseptic, eliciting another groan from the peanut gallery, and then applies large bandages to the area.

When he is done, Elton’s arm is clean and bandaged, and the cuts are hidden from view. To look at him, you might think he’d been in an accident of some sort. He looks innocent, and pale, and very tired. Bernie’s heart is broken just looking at him.

“Reg, you know, I don’t like this. We’ve talked before and maybe you ought to get some help,” Bernie says, but stops when Elton holds his hand up.

“I’m fine, I have an arseload of shows coming up and--”

“I don’t care about the shows, I care about you.”

Elton stares at him incredulously. “You don’t care about the shows? It’s everything, Bern, it’s--”

“It won’t be anything if you don’t take care of yourself. You’re drinking like a fish and pounding down pills and God knows what else, you won’t stop making yourself puke and you’re hurting yourself. You’re going to die, mate, if you keep it up.”

Elton closes his eyes. Bernie knows that he won’t hear anymore of it, but he is tired of cleaning up these messes. He is tired of not hearing from his friend for days, weeks, and wondering if he’s walked off a building or slashed himself to pieces. It is hard, loving someone who is like this. It is harder than he had ever imagined, watching someone you love and care for self-destruct.

In the end, Bernie cleans up the rest of his room. He throws away the trash. He wipes the vomit from the floor. He removes some of the pills. He dumps out the booze, despite protests. He takes the razors with him.

He can get more, of all of it. Within in an hour, he can have another small arsenal of booze and drugs at his disposal, if he doesn’t have more stashed around the house already. There are other sharp things. There is more food for him to abuse himself with.

But he has done what he can do, small as it may be.

Elton watches him go as he lays in his bed, curled up with the blankets thrown over him, his body impossibly cold. His arm hurts. It is real.

Chapter Text

Elton lay curled in the fetal position in his bed, blankets tossed over him while he shivered and Bernie cleaned up the mess he’d made. He didn’t have the energy to do anything other than lay there for the moment, although his body called out for booze, for pills, for a line, for something. He just kept his eyes closed and soon, he heard the clatter of bottles and running water cease. He opened his eyes tentatively and saw Bernie standing in the doorway, a bag of trash clutched in one of his hands.

They made eye contact briefly, and Bernie nodded just once before exiting the room. As soon as he was gone, Elton burrowed deeper underneath the covers, drowning out the world. Alone again, he sighed in content.

Bernie made his way downstairs and deposited the trash in the bin, taking in the mess that was the kitchen. He figured a maid would be by sometime later that day, but set to work cleaning that as well. It had been weeks since he’d seen Reggie, and he was not any better. He was much worse, if the state of his arm told any sort of story. He couldn’t think of a single thing to do, so he cleaned. He scrubbed the counters until they gleamed. He washed all the dishes. He took the rest of the trash to the bins outside. He mucked out the refrigerator, throwing away old and moldy food. He then popped by the grocery down the road and picked up a few things, then returned to the house and began to cook.

He would make Reg some breakfast. Another small thing.

Maybe if he could make him a decent breakfast, and eat with him, it would help. He would stay until there was no chance that he’d vomit it back up. He would make sure there wasn’t vodka in the orange juice. He would make sure there were no pills or powders downed with the eggs. It would be a start.

So Bernie fried up two eggs. He cooked some sausages, and cut up some of the fresh fruit he’d picked up at the market. He toasted a couple of slices of whole wheat bread, and poured a cold glass of orange juice into one of Elton’s expensive, garish crystal glasses. He arranged the food on a piece of his hideous, costly china, and then took the lot upstairs.

Elton was peeling at the bandages on his wrist when Bernie entered the room without knocking.

“Don’t touch those, you imbecile,” Bernie said in an agitated voice, and Elton ceased plucking at the wraps. “I just did those up.”

“What are you still doing here? I thought you’d gone,” Elton said in a surly voice, sitting up in bed and staring at his friend.

“I left, got some groceries, and came back to make you this.” Bernie held up the plate and set it down on the side table beside Elton’s bed. “I told you, you need a proper breakfast. So I made it.”

Elton regarded the plate with a wary eye. “Thanks, Bernie, but I’m not hungry.”

“Eat the food, Reg.”

“I’m not a child, Bernie, you can’t force me to eat,” Elton said, rolling his eyes.

“Could have fooled me. You’re certainly behaving like a child,” Bernie muttered, flopping lazily into a chair. “Do it for me, Reg. Eat the food. It’ll be gross when it’s cold.”

“I appreciate the gesture, but all I need is a little pick-me-up and I’ll be ready to go.” Elton rolled out of bed and made his way to his dresser and began to dig through the clothes, the distant sound of pills rolling in a bottle urging him onwards. After a moment, he plucked a prescription bottle from the bottom of the drawer and shook out two capsules.

“You’re really going to just do that in front of me?” Bernie asked angrily, striding over to Elton and plucking the bottle from his hands. “I knew you had a stash but Jesus Christ. All I wanted was for you to stay sober until after breakfast. That’s all I wanted.”

Elton said nothing, but tumbled the pills into his mouth and chased them with the glass of orange juice on his bedside table. He exhaled and then climbed back into bed, telling his body it could relax now. He had given it what it wanted so badly.

Bernie’s heart lurched. He had set out with the intention of preventing this, and he’d allowed it to happen. He should have knocked them out of his hand, he should have done a more thorough job of raiding Reg’s room, he should have…fuck. He couldn’t keep doing this to himself. It was driving him mad.

“At least eat, Reg, please?” He pleaded, hating the sound of his voice, hated himself for caring more about Reggie’s body than Reg himself did. But it did the trick. He sighed gently with relief as Elton picked up the fork and started slowly eating the plate of food.

“You were right,” Elton said quietly after eating his breakfast, washing it down with the last of his orange juice.

“About what?” Bernie asked from his chair in the corner.

“I should’ve eaten it when it was hot.”

It was strange, that that was the moment that would make tears prick in the corner of Bernie’s eyes and threaten to surge down his cheeks. He had been through so much with Elton-Reggie, really-and he’d taken it all stoically. There had been nights where he’d tipped his drunk friend on his side so he didn’t choke on his own vomit. He’d cleaned coke up from more tables than he could count. He’d rubbed Reg’s back while his friend retched into a toilet. He’d held his friend in his arms while he’d sobbed hysterically, so overcome that he was unable to speak. All of these things Bernie could handle, and he’d never asked for a bit of thanks. You didn’t, when it was your brother, and Reggie was just as good as his brother.

But this. The cold ingratitude, when Bernie had cleaned up so many messes-not just today, either-cooked him breakfast, stayed. For Elton to toss it in his face and imply that it wasn’t good enough, even if it was just a joke, was too much. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, a headache coming on.

Loving a self-destructive addict was messy. It was cold, and hard, and exhausting. It was long nights spent awake, wondering what was happening. It was weeks, sometimes months without contact, only being made aware of what was going on through newspaper articles and radio spots. It was biting your tongue when you were fully within your rights to let the selfish bastard have it. Bernie had taken this for years, but it was becoming too much.

“I really can’t believe you, man,” Bernie muttered.

“What?” Elton asked sleepily from his place on the bed.

“You’re incredible, you know that? I clean up your shit, try to keep you safe, cook you food, and you repay me by doing drugs in front of me and insinuating the meal I made you wasn’t good enough.”

Elton sat up and glared at him. “No one asked you to do that, Bernie. I didn’t tell you to come here. You don’t need to make me feel like shit, I know how pathetic I am.”

“Do you? Because it seems you just don’t care, Reggie.”

“I care, I just need this stuff right now, Bernie, I’m very stressed. And it’s Elton,” Elton said, drawing his robe closed over his bare chest.

“Then get some fucking help, Reggie, because normal people don’t blow their brains out with drugs and booze and carve themselves up when things get rough!” Bernie yelled. The look on Reggie’s face sent a punch straight through his chest. He looked...bloody hell, he looked awful. He looked sad and exhausted and heart-broken and betrayed.

There was a few moments of painful silence, moments in which Bernie alternately wished he could take back what he’d said and hoped that it would get through to him. Then, in a thin, quiet, cold voice, Elton said “I don’t need help.

Bernie let his arms drop to his sides and he sighed. “Alright then. I’m leaving.”

“Perhaps that’s best,” Elton said quietly, burrowing further underneath his covers again. “Thanks for breakfast.”

Bernie nodded curtly and stopped himself from telling Reggie to call if he needed anything. His footsteps echoed as he clattered down the marble staircase.

He heard the distant sounds of Reggie vomiting up that cold breakfast as he exited the house.

Chapter Text

After Bernie left, Elton stumbled to the bathroom and shoved his fingers down his throat. He had to get the food out of him, had to get every trace of Bernie and his disappointment in him out of his body.

After he was done, he dragged himself to his study where he laid out two lines neatly, then snorted them. He then went downstairs and found a hidden bottle of scotch that Bernie hadn’t touched, and sank down onto his sofa.

Fucking Bernie, Elton though, tipping the contents of the bottle into his mouth and letting the harsh liquid tumble down his throat. After his vomit session, it burned more than it ordinarily would. It wasn’t easy disappointing your best friend, but why couldn’t he leave well enough alone?

Half the bottle gone, his mind swimming, he looked down at his body. His dinner last night had meant that he had no intention of eating today, even though he’d gotten rid of it all the evening prior. That was how he did things, he didn’t eat and didn’t eat and didn’t eat, then when he did, he stuffed himself until he was disgusting. Then it usually came back up.

But then fucking Bernie had insisted on feeding him breakfast and now the whole day was shot. He knocked his fist against the side of his head, trying to get the angry thoughts to exit his brain. His mind was a tape recorder on some sick loop, calling him useless and fat and ugly and stupid. Telling him he was nothing but a charade, an act, something pretending to be a person. Telling himself his mother had been right, that he’d never be loved properly. Not even by John. Perhaps especially not by John.

When he looked down, he realized he’d finally pried off the bandages on his wrist. His fingers had been nervously plucking at the wounds, worrying at them until they’d begun to bleed again.

“Fuck it all,” he muttered, sinking down lower into the sofa and ignoring the way the blood stained the armrest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You self-indulgent bastard.” John Reid shook Elton’s shoulders roughly, snapping him out of the stupor he’d drugged and drunk himself into. Blood caked his hands and fingers, the arm of the couch, his robe. He looked bewilderingly up at John, the man he had trusted for so many years, the man who had done little but hurt him.

“Wha’s goin’--” Elton murmured, but stopped when John slapped him across the face roughly. A tiny whine eased out of Elton’s throat, but he stopped it almost immediately. John hated it when he whined, or moaned, or cried. It made everything much worse.

“You’re a fucking mess, you know that? Look at yourself. Mother of God…” John muttered under his breath, shoving himself to his feet and stalking across the room. “You’re supposed to be in the studio today. You’re supposed to be recording new music. Instead, just look at you.”

Elton’s face flushed as he looked down at his hands. He futilely tried to wipe the blood off, and situated the robe so it covered his chest. It did little to improve things. He knew he looked like shit, looked like a mess, looked as bad as he felt. He didn’t need John reminding him of it.

“You fucking smell, Elton,” John said, a look of disdain written so clearly across his face that if he hadn’t known any better, Elton would have assumed he was looking at a piece of roadkill or a pile of shit.

“I know, I’m sorry. I’ll...I’ll get cleaned up and get down there, I know I fucked up,” Elton said, and he pushed himself to his feet, if not a little unsteadily. His nap had dulled the sharpness of the booze and the drugs, and he was now in a comfortable place. He was between the high and the low, the numb place in between where he liked to be. He started up the stairs to his bathroom to take a shower, and John followed him.

Upstairs, John reached out and undid the belt on Elton’s robe and helped him out of his briefs. He stood there, naked and vulnerable, in front of John, a small part of his brain wishing he was anywhere but there. The other part of his brain, the larger part, the part dulled by drugs, didn’t give a shit.

“You look like shit, you know? You smell like vomit. Not that it’s done anything for you,” John sneered, reaching out and pinching the tiny inch of extra flesh at his waistline. “Pretty soon even those fancy outfits won’t hide everything.”

Elton willed himself to stay calm. It would only upset John more.

“The drugs are going to keep fucking up your music, too. It’ll catch up to you.” John stared deeply into Elton’s eyes, then shifted his gaze down. He grabbed Elton’s wrist roughly-not like Bernie, much harder than Bernie, the opposite of that-and stared at the ladder of gashes marching up his arm.

“What kind of self-respecting grown man feels the need to do this to himself? It’s disgusting,” John said coldly. “You know what your problem is, Elton? You’re selfish. You’re so goddamned self-indulgent that it’s embarrassing. You can’t stop yourself from doing whatever will make you feel good, whatever it might be. A grown man acting like this.” John paused, raking his eyes over Elton one more time, before spitting out, “Get in the fucking shower, we have a business to run.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The water ran down Elton’s back as he pounded his head over and over on the cool tile of the shower. The hot water stung as it cleaned the dried blood from his wounds, and he longed for a razor or something to pick them apart even further. It was no time for that, it would make John angry, it would delay him from the studio even further.

Maybe John was right. Maybe this was all about him being weak, and selfish, and having no will power. Fuck, he needed a line. Or two.

Suddenly, the door to the shower slid open, and he jumped a little. John slipped in beside him, and it was Elton’s turn to rake his eyes over his lover’s body. John’s legs were firm and muscular, and his belly was firm and taut. He took charge immediately, pressing the flat panes of his abdomen to Elton, and kissing him hungrily. Their teeth clashed and tongues tied together, and it hadn’t occurred to Elton until this moment how hungry he was for the touch of another person. He and John hadn’t done much of anything in a while, and his body was calling out for his touch.

John slipped his hand in between Elton’s legs and stroked his cock, bringing it to attention immediately. His body shuddered in waves of physical pleasure as John jerked him off, a pitiable consolation prize for allowing him to treat him like shit. It was the action of horny teenage boys trying to hide from their parents, not the sexual act of two grown, consenting adults in a mansion.

John could’ve taken him gently in his arms. He could’ve laid him in their bed, and licked every inch of him. He could’ve made love to him the way they had in the beginning, when Elton was utterly inexperienced and had no idea what was supposed to happen. Back then, John had been kind. He had been gentle, and sweet to this young man who had never been with a boy. He had shown him what pleasure could feel like. It hadn’t been like this back then. It hadn’t been a litany of insults that made him want to die, and then a rough hand job in the shower. It had been love, making love, and this was a poor substitute.

After they had both finished, John left and padded back to the bedroom to get dressed, and Elton allowed himself to quietly sob. This was not how he had pictured his life, or his life with John. The shame and emptiness racked his body.

Twenty minutes later, he was clean, bandaged, and dressed in clothes that hid his egregious mistakes. John looked him over and deemed him acceptable, and Elton went to the studio.

He marveled that his voice could still sound like there was someone in his vessel of a body.

Chapter Text

Bernie sipped at his cup of coffee and shook open the morning paper, unsurprised and unfazed to see a photo of his best friend looming up at him. ’Rocketman’ Elton John takes San Francisco by storm!, the paper screamed at him, and he shook his head at the photo of a grinning Elton wailing on his piano. The newest tour had started a couple of weeks prior, and Bernie hadn’t been to a single show yet. He hadn’t seen Reg in two months, since their disagreement, and as much as it occasionally drove him nuts, Bernie knew it was for the best.

He’d retreated to his quiet home for some alone time, and it was exactly what he’d needed. For the past five years, much of his life had been centered on Reggie. Was Reggie drinking too much? Had he been eating enough? Was he sleeping properly? How many pills was he taking? What pills was he taking? Was he still snorting coke? (Of course he was.) Was he hurting himself? Was today the day that his body would finally have enough?

It was exhausting, and it had taken this last disagreement, this last refusal of help, for Bernie to be able to step back and allow himself a break from it all. He wouldn’t wash his hands of Reggie-he would never do that, he couldn’t- but he would...take a break. He wasn’t writing anything, he wasn’t calling Reggie, he wasn’t working on any projects. He was just relaxing in his home, spending his days taking long swims in his pool and his nights reading and sipping the occasional glass of expensive wine.

He was very much content, and more relaxed than he’d been in years. But if he was being honest with himself-and he so often wasn’t-he couldn’t say that this time apart had shoved Reggie from his mind completely. He had only stopped checking on him.

And sometimes, again, if he was being honest, it drove him mad.

Usually at night, usually after he’d allowed himself a glass or two of wine, his thoughts would turn to his best friend, and he would feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. He wrestled with his mind during those moments, much as he didn’t want to, because what kind of best friend gets going when the going gets tough?

You didn’t, you stuck around a hell of a lot longer than most people would, and you’re not done with him, you’re just resting, his mind would tell him.

Yeah, but a real friend wouldn’t need a break. A real friend would keep going back, would drag him to rehab, would punch that insufferable John Reid in the fucking face, the other part of his mind would tell him.

It was a battle in its own, this damned break he was taking, and Bernie wondered if he would ever have a time in life when everything he was doing wasn’t peppered with the colors of worry and anxiety about Elton. About Reggie. He didn’t think so, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

He was lost in his own thoughts, and when he came to, the picture of Elton was still staring up at him. Bernie scrutinized it, unable to let go and just see what other people would see: Elton John, superstar rock-n-roller, dressed to the nines in one of his ridiculous outfits and putting on a show for the world. Bernie saw it, but he saw it for the superficial bullshit it was. When Bernie looked at the picture, he saw poor lonely Reginald Dwight, covered in glitter and sparkles and loud prints to cover up the fact that he was scared shitless. He saw the bags under his eyes, and the slight darkness to his nostrils that gave away the line or three that he’d shoved up there before the show. He imagined that underneath the expensive clothes were rows and rows of scars and cuts, made by his own hand. There were probably some bruises under there from fucking Reid, as well. Elton would never admit it, but he was sure that Reid had his way with him whenever he damn well pleased, and it made Bernie seethe with rage.

Looking at the photo in the newspaper made Bernie’s heart hurt, and it was too much for him. He folded up the paper and chucked it in the bin, returning to the table and holding his head in his hands.

Unbidden and unwelcome, a memory surfaced, one that Bernie had tried time and time again to banish from his brain, but one that kept coming back every so often when he thought about Reg’s struggles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A cold night. It’s snowing in London and Bernie’s still high from the show, the kind of high that only comes from watching his best friend perform their songs. It’s been three years since that first fateful show at the Troubadour, and they’ve been riding the high ever since. Every show, every song, every performance is magical, and Bernie can hardly believe that this is the life he gets to live, he and Elton.

Bernie’s perched at the bar, cradling a beer, unable to wipe the stupid smile from his face. He finishes his drink and then heads backstage, where he passes John Reid, the new manager Elton’s brought on, the one he’s been screwing. Bernie gives him a polite nod, but he already can’t stand the guy. There’s something off about him that Bernie can’t quite pin down, and it frustrates him. He tries to stay out of that aspect of it. For him, it is still so much about the music and his friendship. If Reid can handle the behind-the-scenes financial shit so he and Elton can make the music they love, then who is he to critique?

He shoves his way into Elton’s dressing room. He’s changed out of his stage gear and back into a pair of blue jeans and a tight t-shirt with some sort of saying on it, which is as plain as Elton ever gets. “That was fucking brilliant, mate--” Bernie says, and stops short as he sees Elton snort a line and then swallow the remainder of a glass of brown liquor. Elton coughs and makes eye contact in the mirror with Bernie.

This isn’t the first time he’s seen Elton do drugs, and Bernie’s no prude. He’s dabbled with the drink and the drugs himself, but only on an occasional basis. But it seems like Elton’s been doing it more and more lately, and he’d done a line or two before the show started, and he’s been drinking all day. What makes it feel wrong is that Elton is so even-keeled, as if he hasn’t been pounding down booze for the better part of the day and breaking up the monotony with lines of cocaine. He is his normal self, not falling down, sloppy drunk or high, and that is precisely when Bernie Taupin becomes worried about his best friend’s substance use.

“Are you...should you be...uhm…” Bernie stumbles on his words, and Elton raises one eyebrow at him in the mirror.

“What’s that?” Elton asks quietly, shoving himself up from his chair. “There’s a party, Reid said. Let’s go.”

The high from the show is gone for Bernie now, and he has suddenly never been more sober in his life. He wants nothing more than to go back to the hotel, order a bunch of expensive food and hunker down. He wants to do it with Reggie, and they can talk about how great the show was and then get a good night’s sleep. Maybe work on some stuff in the morning. He doesn’t want to engage in more drunken debauchery with his friend who doesn’t need to be doing that.

“Why don’t we just go back to the hotel and eat some dinner, get some rest? We’ve been hitting it kind of hard lately, d’you reckon?” Bernie asks as innocently as possible. Elton’s eyes narrow.

“This is the way it goes, Bernie, you know that. Come on, let’s go,” Elton starts for the door, but Bernie remains behind. “Are you coming or not?”

Bernie cannot stand the thought of watching Elton drink more, linking arms with that insufferable Reid, who he is sure has something somehow to do with this. He wonders if he ought to go, to keep him safe, but he can’t bare it. He can’t.

“I’m exhausted, mate. I’ll see you back at the hotel.”

Elton studies Bernie’s face for a moment, gives him a curt nod, and then leaves.

Bernie goes back to his room and orders the fancy food he had been thinking of but hardly touches any of it. He feels sick, wondering how long Reggie’s been getting worse and wondering how much worse it can get. He is not naive, he knows about rockstars and the drugs and the drinking. He just assumed it wouldn’t happen to them...maybe he has been naive.

He drifts off to sleep sometime after, and when he wakes up, the clock reads 4:03 a.m. Reggie sits in the dark, illuminated by the light of a cigarette. Bernie watches him unseen; it is too dark for Reg to see that he’s awake. A thick aroma of booze hangs in the air, seeping from his best friend's pores. Bernie watches as Reg takes the tip of the cigarette and moves it down; he hears the disgusting noise as it makes contact with his flesh; he hears Reggie’s sharp intake of breath as his body floods with the pain of it.

Bernie realizes that this is Reggie, not Elton. This is what Elton is doing to Reggie. This is what becoming Elton is doing to Reggie. This is what killing off Reggie is doing to Reggie.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Bernie sniffed and wiped tears from his face that he hadn’t been aware were falling. He then grabbed the sheet of paper with all of Elton’s tour dates written on it. The next one was in two days in New York City.

He booked a flight.

Chapter Text

Elton came off the stage from his second show in San Francisco after his encore, adrenaline pulsing through his body and the applause ringing in his ears. He was grinning, a smile entirely splitting his face in half, and he felt like he was flying. He closed himself in his dressing room and stared at himself briefly in the mirror, marveling at how happy he looked. This was why he did what he did; there was simply nothing else in the world like the feeling he got after he was finished performing. It was like magic and euphoria and fear and gratitude and elation all wrapped up into one. It coursed through his blood, it sent shivers down his spine, it raised gooseflesh on his arms. Everything that had been wrong in his life before the set was gone, for the moment at least. He could’ve danced in the street, signed a million autographs, written ten new songs. There was no limit to what he could do, it seemed.

Then there came two short raps on the door to his dressing room, and the doorknob turned. John entered, impeccably dressed in a suit as per usual, and the two men stared at each other. Elton’s body tensed, and the happiness running through his veins slowed. In the back of his mind, he remembered when seeing John after a show would’ve amped up that happiness to another degree. He remembered a time when the sight of his lover would’ve sent him over the moon, instead of locking up all the muscles in his body.

“It was a good show. You killed it, love.” John offered a smile to Elton and took a few steps towards him. Elton nodded at him once and John placed a hand on his shoulder. Elton nearly went weak in the knees. John’s hand was firm, and reassuring, and confident.

Elton craved touch like no one else John had ever known, and he used it to his advantage. He knew that a hand on Elton’s shoulder, a finger traced down his cheek, a gentle touch on the small of his back, were all it took to bring down his business partner and lover. He used this knowledge to get what he wanted, to keep Elton’s trust in him, and Elton was none the wiser. John smiled at him once more, and bent to his knees to untie the outlandish sneakers gracing Elton’s feet.

Elton was wearing a bedazzled red jumpsuit, his name emblazoned on the back and covered in crystals, another pair of over-the-top spectacles, and those bloody sneakers. John finished untying them and Elton toed them off quickly. John then reached out and began to tug down the zipper on his jumpsuit. When it was unzipped, John pushed the suit off of Elton’s shoulders and moved his hands slowly down the other man’s sides to tug the suit down until it pooled at his ankles. Elton then stepped out of it and left it on the ground near his sneakers. John then removed his glasses, and the world went blessedly fuzzy.

He now stood in front of John almost completely naked, wearing nothing but his briefs, and he immediately cast his eyes downward. He knew what John could see, and he couldn’t bare to see the disgust in his eyes.

The cuts that Bernie had tended to seemed like a lifetime ago instead of just two months. They had healed, they always healed, and were now just another series of scars on his wrists. He’d since added more, some still scabbed over, some fresh. Truthfully, he’d been cutting much more since he’d last spoken to Bernie. The nights had seemed longer, and lonelier, and quieter. He couldn’t turn his mind off, even when he wanted to, no matter how many drugs or how many drinks he had. When it got like that, he couldn’t help but turn to a blade or a lighter or, as was the case three nights ago, the shards from a liquor bottle that he’d smashed against the wall in a fit of rage.

He’d been coked out of his mind, his brain swimming in drugs and alcohol and thoughts of Bernie, of John, of his mum and dad. He’d started screaming to try to drown out the insipid voices in his head, and that was when he’d chucked the bottle. He’d licked the booze from the walls like an animal, imagining the scotch soaking into his bloodstream through the rough wallpaper, and then he’d collected the pieces of broken glass from the floor. He’d kneeled on some accidentally, and he swept it aside, his knee sporting tiny pinpricks of blood. He’d collected the largest piece, jagged and glinting in the harsh fluorescent light that filtered out from the hotel’s bathroom, and dragged it impulsively across his belly. The blood had welled and flowed downward, collecting in a pool at the tight waist of his shorts, some of it slipping down and running down his thighs, hot and sticky and bright. He’d held the hotel’s white towels to the wound, ruining them with his blood.

He had hidden it from John until now, but he had known in the back of his mind that he wouldn’t be able to hide it forever. It was a 50/50 toss on whether or not John would find somebody else to screw around with after the show, or whether he’d come back to the dressing room and inspect Elton. Elton knew that John sometimes found strangers, random men to have a torrid shag with before returning to the home or hotel room they shared at the time. He hated it, but sometimes he preferred it, because it was also a 50/50 toss on whether or not John would treat him with some measure of kindness or whether he’d rake him over the coals.

Elton flicked his eyes up, afraid to look but needing to, and could tell by the gleam in his eyes that he was in, again, for the latter option.

He’d learned over the years that they’d been together that there was a small window of tolerance that John could handle when it came to Elton’s indiscretions, and the window changed often. He could tolerate the booze and the drugs on the days when he performed; he’d told Elton before that whatever it took for him to transform was good enough for him. If John was otherwise occupied, by either work or play, he couldn’t have cared less if Elton stayed home and did a bunch of drugs or drank himself to sleep. But if John thought it had gone too far-and the bar for that changed depending on the day, it seemed-he had no trouble making his objections known.

And John Reid could not, and would never, be able to tolerate Elton’s proclivity for self-harm.

The tiny burns that peppered his upper arms like constellations made John shake his head. The web of silvery scars that were crosshatched over his wrists made him sneer. Any mention, sight, or smell of his bulimia made John practically spit with disgust. To John Reid, these were signs of Elton’s complete lack of self-control, proof of the man’s self-indulgent nature, and a threat to the business the two had spent years building. And it was not to be tolerated under any circumstances.

John reached out and traced the deep wound on Elton’s stomach; Elton sucked in a shaky breath. “This looks deep.”

“It is,” Elton murmured, his eyes cast to the ground in shame.

“What brought that on?” John asked, and Elton allowed himself to believe, for a tiny moment, that this was John being sincere.

“Dunno. I was...fuck, I was fucked up and it just happened, I guess.”

“These things don’t just happen, my love. Someone does them. That someone was you,” John said simply, suddenly grabbing Elton’s chin and forcing him to look up and meet his eyes. “That someone was you, wasn’t it?”

“Suppose,” Elton said in a low voice, and John narrowed his eyes at him before backhanding him across the face. He cried out in pain, and John did it again. Elton sank to the floor, holding his hand to his cheek.

Do not lie. It was you and you know it. D’you ever stop and think about what could happen if anyone ever saw these little marks you make on yourself? Someone besides me, that is? It would ruin everything, Elton.” John lit a cigarette and then crouched down, blew a puff of smoke in Elton’s face. “I won’t allow that to happen, do you understand? Taupin might have filled your head over the years with nonsense about needing help or needing to talk about it, but what you really need is to get the fuck over yourself. Be a man and suck it up.”

Elton choked out a sob against his own will, and John aimed and delivered a kick to his ribs. Elton cried out and clutched his side, his face flooded with tears.

John then went to the door. “There’s a party but you need to clean yourself up and go to bed. You’re on a flight to New York in the morning, whether you like it or not.”

Elton’s arms encircled his body and he rocked lightly, trying not to cry again. John watched for a moment, feeling no pity or sadness for the man he had once claimed to love. All he felt was disgust.

“I know it seems harsh, but one day you’ll see that I did this for your own good, my love. You’ll thank me, I promise.” John winked at him subtly, then excused himself. Elton allowed himself to break down, sobbing and rocking fully back and forth.

He wished for a line, a drink, a pill, a razor. He wished for Bernie.

Chapter Text

While Elton was in San Francisco getting the shit kicked out of him by one John Reid, Bernie was at his ranch folding shirts and trousers into his battered suitcase, preparing for his flight to New York the following afternoon. His mind was focused solely on his task, blissfully unaware that somewhere in California his best friend was whimpering on a floor, desperately wanting him. It might’ve killed Bernie if he had known.

Just as he finished sliding the last of his clothes into his suitcase and zipped it shut, he heard a key slide into the front door lock and turn. He exited his room and headed to the front of the house. Alexandra, he thought.

Sure enough, Alexandra it was. She came in and quietly shut the door behind her, and Bernie was drawn, as always, to how beautiful she was. Her hair was dark brown and reached almost to her waist, and her eyes were the palest green. She was small and slight, almost ethereal, Bernie thought dazedly as he watched her walk over to him.

Bernie had been seeing Alexandra on and off for a few years. They went for long stretches of time as an item, exclusive, and then one or the other would get spooked and cool it off for a time. The fame, fortune and parties were often too much pressure for Alex, and Bernie couldn’t commit to anyone long term to save his life, at least not thus far. They were both a match made in heaven and each other’s worst bad habit. But Bernie loved her, no matter where they were at together, and she was the only one who had a key to his place.

She came forward and slipped her arms around Bernie’s waist, laying her cheek softly against his chest, saying nothing for a time. He held her tightly, almost too tightly.

“I’m sorry, I know you’re doing the lone wolf thing for a while, but I just wanted to check on you, maybe make you some dinner if you were up to it,” Alex whispered into his chest. Her gaze fell across the room to where he’d set his luggage. She pulled away. “Are you going somewhere?”

He sighed. “Alex…”

“No, Bernie. No.

“You don’t understand.”

“Do not go to him.”

“Alex, love, this is complicated. He needs me.”

Alex ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “No, Bernie. He doesn’t need you. You need you, to take the break you told me you would take and relax.”

Bernie crossed his arms. “I’ve been taking a break for two months, I’m fine.”

Alex scoffed haughtily, and Bernie felt himself growing irritated. “What’d he say this time, Bern? How’d he get you all upset so that you’d rush to him?”

“He...he didn’t. I haven’t even spoken to him in the last couple months. I just know that he needs me,” Bernie said quietly.

“Then why are you going? How in the hell could you possibly tell that he needs you if you haven’t even spoken to him?” Alex asked angrily.

“I can just tell,” Bernie said, and he realized how stupid it sounded as the words left his mouth. The truth was, he’d had no sign that Reg needed him. Nothing had changed, he’d simply seen another photo in the newspaper. He just knew that this separation was over for the time being and that he had to be by his best friend’s side. He couldn’t explain to Alexandra the link between Elton and himself. He understood her frustration, and from anyone else’s perspective, it must’ve seemed so black and white. Elton’s addictions and tantrums and problems had been almost the sole focus of their relationship for a long time now. They still made music together, but it was no longer the creative outlet either of them needed. From the outside, their relationship looked unhealthy and messy and one-sided.

Bernie couldn’t explain to Alexandra, who was kind and smart but also stubborn and short-sighted, that nothing Elton ever did would drive him away completely. He couldn’t make her see that the love they had for each other was unconditional and that he wouldn’t allow something as insidious as addiction drive it apart. He couldn’t make her understand that he knew it looked like Elton just took and took from him, but that he also knew it was just his turn to do that in their relationship.

“I’m sorry,” Bernie said quietly, reaching out and grabbing her hands. “It’s hard to explain, and it’s complicated.”

“Then make me understand. Please. Tell me why you continue to allow him to run your life. I know you have history, but you just deserve so much better,” Alexandra said softly.

“He’s my brother, love. That’s it. That’s the whole of it,” Bernie answered her, squeezing her hands and pulling her closer to him again. He wrapped his arms around her, and she buried her face in his chest again. “Hey. I’ve a flight to New York tomorrow afternoon, why don’t you stay tonight? I’d love that meal you mentioned,” he said, running a hand down her back.

She paused for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, alright.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The entire plane ride to New York had Bernie going over and over what he would say to Elton when he got there. He planned out the exact words he would say to make his friend see that he needed help, and that it was okay to ask for it. He would tell him that it was okay to accept his own limitations. He would tell him that he could still be Reggie Dwight and be the same unbelievable musician. Giving up his vices didn’t mean anything about his artistic form or his talents.

He was confident that he had made the right decision, but as he looked out at the clouds that enveloped the plane, he couldn’t help but replay his conversation and evening with Alexandra the night prior. She’d been much quieter than her normal spirited self, and Bernie knew she was disappointed in his decision to not put himself first. He knew that she couldn’t understand his ties to Elton, because he wasn’t really his brother, but blood meant nothing to Bernie.

She had put a tiny nugget of concern and doubt in his brain, and he didn’t like it. If he was good at anything, Bernie was good at being a friend. He was good at caring for Elton, and while he knew that Alex had come from a place of love and concern, he didn’t like the conversation they’d had. He wasn’t used to putting himself first, and her insinuation that he should made him uncomfortable. She doesn’t get it, he told himself, but a quiet voice in the back of his mind said that maybe she did. Maybe she did and maybe she was right.

He shook his head and continued to stare out the window. He would see Elton tonight, before the show. He would make him see, finally, what his issues were costing him.

Or maybe tomorrow, after the show. Maybe tonight he would check into his hotel, relax, get ready to see him. It had been a while, after all. He was within his rights to take a little extra time so he wouldn’t be as anxious. Maybe he’d go to the show and see him after.

Bernie closed his eyes. He wished, not for the first time, that he had someone who could tell him what to do...someone who wasn’t Alex, or Bernie, or Elton, someone who knew what was going on and how it would all turn out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Bernie’s plane made its way towards its destination, Elton lay curled in his bed in his hotel room, high out of his mind, breathing shallowly around the pain in his ribs from where John had kicked him the night before. The drugs had dulled it, but he could still feel the bruise pulsating underneath his robe.

“Bernie,” he muttered in his haze, his hands twisting in the fabric of the scratchy hotel comforter. He’d tried to work up the courage all day to call Bernie, to ask him to come, to tell him he needed him. But Bernie had made his position on their relationship clear during this hiatus, and Elton was nothing if not completely hard-headed.

But in the fading daylight, in this cold lumpy bed that wasn’t his, in this empty hotel room with John Reid off God-knows-where fucking God-knows-who, with a deep purple bruise blooming on his side and his jaw slightly swollen, he could no longer find it within himself to be stubborn. He wanted his friend. He needed his friend.

He was just too fucked up to try to do anything about it.

Chapter Text

Unknownst to Elton, a plane landed in the same city as him in the late afternoon, with a tired and cranky Bernie aboard. The flight had been long, and stuffy and he’d spent most of it trying to decide how to approach his best friend, a man he’d known for many years, a man who was a brother to him. He was aggravated because he felt so anxious and didn’t know why, beyond his conversation with Alexandra the day before, but he had spent a good deal of his time on the flight trying to push that out of his mind.

As he disembarked the plane, his carry-on luggage in tow, he decided that he would check into his hotel and relax. He’d head to the venue tomorrow evening, before the show, and see Elton then. He knew that no matter what, his name would be on the list to go back and see him, and he would just say hello and keep it casual. They could talk more afterwards.

Bernie collected his checked luggage and fetched a taxi to his hotel. He had booked a room in the same place Elton always stayed when he played New York, a ritzy hotel that cost a fortune but was frequented by celebrities, excellent at both security and keeping people away from its famous occupants. He figured that Elton would be there, but figured the chances of running into him were slim. Elton usually checked in and locked himself away, the medicinal contents of his luggage typically the only thing he needed.

As the front desk clerk ran his credit card, she smiled up at him. “Business or pleasure, Mr. Taupin?”

Bernie lent her a small smile, and reached for his card back when she offered it. His heart sank slightly when he thought about his real reasons for being in New York. Just here to check on my drug addict best friend, you might’ve heard of him, Elton John? “Oh, a little of both, I suppose.”

“Lovely. Well, we’re happy to have you here. Please call down if you need anything. You’re in room 312.” She passed his keys over the counter.

“Brilliant. You’ve a restaurant here, correct?”

“Oh, yes, sir. The food is excellent and our bartenders can mix up a delicious cocktail, as well. It’s just through there,” the clerk said, pointing through a set of double doors just beyond the lobby.

“Sounds good, thank you,” Bernie said, scooping his keys to his room up and bending to pick up his luggage. He headed to the elevators, went up to the third floor, and unlocked his room. The dimly lit room offered little pleasure to his eyes, but he didn’t bother lighting anymore of the lamps. He slung his luggage across the room and flopped on the bed, scrubbing his hands over his face. He was exhausted but starving, and knew if he didn’t eat now he’d be out of luck in a few hours, because the restaurant would close and he didn’t feel like going to scrounge for anything else in the city.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The hotel restaurant was as upscale as everything else, with expensive crystal glasses and chandeliers everywhere. Bernie was seated in a small booth tucked away in the corner, and he ordered a whiskey and a cheeseburger. All he could think about was eating and then going upstairs to bed. He was beat.

He only had one drink, but even that small amount of booze dulled the sharp corners of his brain blissfully. He felt his body relax as the whiskey took over his exhaustion-addled mind, and he sank down lower into the booth. He doodled lyrics and sheriff stars on his spare cocktail napkins, the taste of whiskey coating his tongue as he waited for his food. He hadn’t written anything in months, all of his spare energy and creativity being tied up in worrying about Reg and their future together. It felt good to allow the words to flow from his pen again, even if all he was doing was decorating used napkins that would get swept away like so much trash.

Bernie was halfway through his cheeseburger when he saw him from across the bar. John Reid, drinking a martini and dressed down compared to his normal attire in jeans and a tight-fitting black sweater. Bernie was instantly at attention. John had a naturally confident air about him, even from across the room, and Bernie watched as John looked deep into the eyes of the young man sitting next to him. Bernie’d seen John look at Elton the same way, several years ago, and it filled him with rage. John then gestured to the bartender and back at the man sitting next to him, ordering the fellow a drink.

Bernie finished his meal while he watched the show John was putting on. The two got closer and closer, John laying a hand gently on the man’s thigh, moving it north, fingering the man’s collared shirt with his other hand. The whiskey and food churned in Bernie’s stomach, remembering when John had been just this way with Elton. Elton had had the same look of adoration in his eyes as this fellow, and Bernie figured him to be just as inexperienced as his friend had been. John had a type, it seemed, and his type was meek and inexperienced. The young man’s face was flushed, from both alcohol and lust, Bernie surmised, and John pulled him close for a kiss.

When the two locked together, John’s gaze drifted over his shoulder, and that was when he noticed Bernie. One of John’s eyebrows arched in surprise, and he broke the kiss apart shortly thereafter. He then said something to the young man, who nodded vigorously and then excused himself out of the restaurant. John grabbed his drink and made his way over to Bernie.

“Well, well, Bernie Taupin. Fancy seeing you here,” John Reid said, and gestured to the empty space across from Bernie. “May I?”

Bernie nodded curtly, stacking his plates and silverware together for the waitress to collect when she came back around.

“What are you doing here, Bernie?” John asked, swirling the contents of his glass around lazily.

“Might ask you the same, John. Last I heard, you were still fucking my best friend, and now you’re here in a bar kissing some strange bloke. Although something tells me you’ll always find a way to fuck Elton, one way or another,” Bernie said, draining the last of his whiskey. He raised a finger at the waitress and ordered another.

Reid smiled wryly, and it took everything in Bernie not to punch the look off of him. “Elton and I have certain arrangements, which are really none of your business.”

“Everything to do with Reg is my business. End of story,” Bernie said, narrowing his eyes.

“Respectfully, I disagree. Your business-the one in which you’re compensated handsomely for, I might add-is to write the lyrics to the songs. Everything else about Elton and his affairs, romantic or otherwise, is simply not your concern,” John said.

“He’s my best friend,” Bernie said in an icy voice. “You know that.”

“Do best friends frequently disappear for months at a time while the object of their friendship is struggling? I’ll admit, I’m something of a loner, but no friend of mine has ever acted like that,” John said in a fake innocent voice, plucking a leftover french fry from Bernie’s plate and popping it into his mouth.

It felt like Bernie had been socked in the gut. Fucking Reid, his mind shouted, but inside he wanted to die. Every insecurity that had been playing around in his head over the last days had come back, and he almost had to give Reid credit for being able to pick the one thing that would really sting, and bring it up to him.

“Fuck you, Reid. Just...fuck you,” Bernie said, pounding down the rest of his second drink with fervor.

“Yes, that seems to be the consensus most of the time,” John purred, and Bernie resisted the urge to sock him again. “You never told me what it is you’re doing here.”

“Just here to check on Elton. It’s been a little while.”

John cocked his head. “No need for you to check on him, Bernie. I’ve things under control.”

“Yes, and you’ve done such a wonderful job at that so far, haven’t you? Last time I saw him Reg was so strung out on the pills and the booze that he was hurting himself all the time, and I think it’s mostly because you work him like a goddamn dog. He won’t go get help partly because you’ve got him on such a schedule that he can barely go to the fucking bathroom without you whining about the money it’s costing,” Bernie spit out at John, the rage pulsing through his body like a lightning bolt.

“Very impassioned, but not quite correct,” John said, staring at his perfectly manicured fingernails as though this conversation wasn’t worth the effort it would take to meet Bernie’s eyes. “You may not like hearing this, Bernie, but Elton isn’t the wounded puppy you seem to think he is. He’s just selfish, and if he would just learn to face reality like a real man we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. He doesn’t need help, he needs to suck it up.”

Bernie stared at John with his mouth gaping open like a fish, hardly able to believe what he was hearing. He’d always suspected John felt this way, but now he had confirmation. Bernie didn’t understand how John could be around Reg day in and day out and not see that the things he was doing to himself were a problem. Bernie had seen Reg wrestling demons for years, and he knew the drink and the drugs and the self-harm were what kept the monsters at bay. How could Reid look at Elton and not see a man suffering?

Bernie struggled to think of something to say, nothing coming to mind for several moments before spitting out, “You’re disgusting, you know that? He’s sick, and all you do is push him harder and tell him it’s because he’s weak. I’m actually afraid of what you say to him when it’s just the two of you.” Bernie had no real idea of the abuse John had peppered into Elton’s life. The punches, the kicks, the slaps, the snide remarks, the sneers, the screams. Elton had always been silent on that front, insisting that John was a good boyfriend and an excellent manager, but Bernie felt in his gut that that wasn’t the case. He now had proof-John’s subtle indiscretion at the bar-that he at least wasn’t a good boyfriend.

John clicked his tongue in mock sympathy at Bernie. “It’s sad that he has such a spell over you. He’s just a person, a weak man who can barely wipe his own ass. He has all the best that money can buy, opportunities that other rockstars would kill for, and he spends all his time doing his best to piss it away. And the worst is that he’s stringing you along, too. You ought to go home, Bernie. Let me deal with things. You know I love, Elton, of course I do, but it is hard seeing him like this. I’m going to straighten it all out, please believe me.” John laid a hand over his heart, staring deeply into Bernie’s eyes.

“I know what you’re playing at, and you can shove it. You can’t get rid of me that easily, you don’t give a shit about me or what seeing him like that does to me...and you only care about him as long as he makes it on stage or to the studio. I’m going to see him after the show tomorrow and perhaps I can finally convince him to get some help and leave you. Preferably both. Good night.”

Bernie shoved himself up from the booth and marched out of the restaurant, refusing to turn around to see the look on John’s face. He knew John Reid was a relatively unflappable man, and he wouldn’t be scared or intimidated by the likes of him. It didn’t matter to Bernie, though. All that mattered was getting to see Reg. It was too risky to see him tonight, with John hovering so nearby, but after the show he would see him and set it all to rights. At least make sure he was okay.

He let himself into his hotel room and paced for a few moments. He was keyed up beyond belief, the booze working against him now, and against his better judgment he threw back a Xanax to help him sleep. He cracked a wry smile as he downed the pill, imagining that for once in their professional lives, he and Elton were probably both doing the same thing.

Bernie removed his shoes and pants and crawled into his bed in just a t shirt. “I wish I’d never bloody gone away from him,” he muttered, before allowing the effects of the pill to overtake his mind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After Bernie stormed away, John sat in his booth for a moment more. Bernie had been right on one account: John wasn’t easily shaken up. And while he wasn’t scared of Bernie’s threats, he was a touch concerned. Elton was indeed a weak man, and one that John had spent years learning just how to manipulate and control. He knew how to touch him, speak to him and breathe life into him in order to get him to stay and perform properly. He’d let his temper get the best of him the night prior, though, and with Bernie around spewing garbage about getting help and being all supportive, John was afraid that the fresh memories of their encounter would have Elton finally listening to Bernie after all these years.

Simple enough, though. He knew what he had to do. John smiled as he took the elevator upstairs.

Chapter Text

John let himself back into the hotel room he was sharing with Elton as quietly as possible, closing the door with a soft click. The room was dimly lit, the only light coming from the bathroom across the suite, and John wrinkled his nose at the smell. It smelled like alcohol, drugs, excess. It was a smell he’d come to associate with Elton over time, and one that never failed to make him turn up his nose. It was the smell of debauchery, of Elton’s insipid habits. John Reid was more than fine with living large and the finer things of life, but this was beyond that. This was...slovenly.

Elton was in the corner, slumped over in a large overstuffed armchair, an empty liquor bottle at his feet. John could barely make out the shadowy outline of a pill bottle on the coffee table in front of him. The fact that Elton was sleeping meant that he hadn’t opted for the fine white powder that he was so fond of shoving up his nose. The same razor that would have been used to chop the lines up neatly lay beside the pill bottle, and John plucked it between his fingers. There were tiny spots of dark, dried blood, and he had no way of knowing when or where it had come from.

Yes, John knew what he had to do. It wouldn’t be easy, but he could do it. Lord knew it wouldn’t be the first time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elton was sleeping the sleep of the drugged when John came in, curled up in the chair in the corner. He’d downed the better part of a bottle of whiskey, chasing it with a few pills he hadn’t bothered identifying. He needed sleep, but at first it had only succeeded in making him fucked up beyond all reason. Finally, though, he had settled down in this chair and slumped over, sleep finally becoming his own. He didn’t realize John was there until he finally felt the soft trace of a finger down his cheek.

He startled awake and looked around wildly. When his eyes finally focused, he saw John, crouched beside him so they were eye-level. His heart started to beat madly in his chest, unsure of what was going on or where this encounter would go.

“Whatch’ doin’?” He mumbled, pulling away slightly and tensing his body as he waited for the blow he was sure would come, punishment for pulling away.

“You alright? You look exhausted, love,” John murmured, still crouched beside him.

“I’m okay,” Elton said warily.

“I don’t think that’s entirely true,” John said softly, reaching out and grabbing his hand. He gently tried to turn Elton’s hand over in his own, so that his wrist was facing up, but Elton resisted. John looked at him and his eyes were soft, pleading. “Hey. It’s okay.”

The fight left Elton’s body and he allowed that which was most vulnerable to him be displayed. At some point before the pills had finally allowed him to sleep, he’d taken the razor to himself yet again. There were gaps in his memory already from this evening, and he was suddenly filled with even more shame. Even his drugged out self seemed hell-bent on self-destruction, even when he wasn’t in his right mind, even when he couldn’t remember doing it, even when there was nothing overtly wrong beyond it being a Tuesday night.

“I’m sorry,” Elton said with tears in his eyes. “I know how much you hate this. Please...please don’t…” he trailed off at the end of his sentence, unable to bear the thought of John inflicting more pain upon him but unable to fully express it, too. The pain of his self-harm and the pain of John’s abuse existed on two different planes for him. He thought that if John hurt him tonight, in any way, he couldn’t take it. It would be too much.

“I won’t hurt you. I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I know I haven’t dealt well with this. It just...kills me to see you this way, El,” John said softly, bringing his lips to the wounds and kissing them gently. He kissed each of them in turn so softly, his lips like soft pillows, and Elton watched with tiny pinpricks of tears in his eyes. John stood up and sat into the chair opposite Elton and held out his arms. Elton came over tentatively and crawled onto John’s lap, like a small child, and John folded him in his arms. He murmured sweet words of comfort into his ear, rubbing the small of Elton’s back. Elton buried his face into John’s shoulder, his hand gripping his sweater on his back.

Elton’s craving for touch, love and affection- from John, especially-was so great that he wasn’t sure he would ever let go. He’d loved John for years now, almost eight of them, and for much of that John hadn’t been much more than a sexual release. Elton liked that, too, but he missed the days past of their affection, when it hadn’t just been about sex. It had been about hand holding and spooning in bed and soft kisses in hallways. It had been about touching each other, really touching each other, touching each other so much that he got drunk off of it.

And then it had been about the money, the gigs, the tours, the business, the abuse.

It had been so long since John had held him this way that Elton was willing to crawl into his arms like a small, vulnerable boy and be comforted. John continued to rub his back slowly, and he felt his whole body relax in a way that he hadn’t in a long time.

After many moments like that, John said quietly into his ear, “Have you eaten anything, darling?”

Elton shook his head no, his head still laying on John’s shoulder. John kissed his forehead gently.

“You really should have something to eat. Do you want me to go see what I can scrounge up?”

Elton shook his head no again. “Not hungry,” he muttered, closing his eyes and feeling himself start to fall asleep again.

John nudged him awake gently again. “Okay, let’s just go to bed. Come on.” The two men eased themselves to their feet, and John guided Elton over to the bed. He helped him undress to just his briefs, and then covered him up gently with the blankets. By the time John returned from the bathroom, having dressed in his own pajamas, Elton was practically asleep, his eyelids fluttering softly as he tried to keep himself awake.

Elton wanted more. He didn’t want to sleep and miss a moment of this strange turn of events, of John’s unexpected and sudden change of heart and affection. John slipped underneath the covers and took both of Elton’s hands in his own.

“It’s so hard to see you hurt yourself.” John stroked the deepest of Elton’s cuts with the pad of his thumb, ghosting over it gently so as not to hurt him. “I love you, and I don’t ever want to see you do this.”

“I’m sorry,” Elton whispered sleepily, the leftover remains of the pills he’d taken fighting against his wishes to stay awake. “I’m really sorry.”

John shook his head. “Shh. Get some sleep. Things’ll look brighter in the morning.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

John Reid watched as Elton snoozed, admiring him as he slept. Elton’s face was so much softer in sleep, so much younger, and he was struck as he always was by just how beautiful Elton really was.

John did not fancy himself a man made of stone. He had at one time loved Elton John very much, and still did carry a deep affection for him. He supposed he always would. The man just made it so damn hard all the time. He didn’t just make it hard to love him, he made it hard to do just about anything. His proclivity towards self-destruction made it hard to run the business John had fought so hard to build with him, and that was what enraged John so much.

So was he made of stone? No, of course not. John preferred to think of himself as pragmatic. Life was not always sunshine and roses, and if Elton was going to insist on behaving the way he was, then John considered it his job to remind him of this. That was where he had been coming from all this time. Elton needed discipline.

But Bernie fucking Taupin. Bernie had thrown a wrench into his life.

John could tell that Bernie’s trip to New York was pointed, and he aimed to get Elton to make some changes. They could not afford to make changes, whatever those might be. They were not part of the plan, especially not with them in the beginning stages of this expansive world tour.

John had decided that he would throw Elton a bone or two. He would play the part of loving, devoted partner. He would comfort him, and make him smile. He would build up his confidence in both their relationship and himself, and make him see that all he needed to do was suck it up. Bernie would either accept that things were okay, or he would simply leave.

He would simply align Elton with his side of things, versus Bernie’s.

John stroked Elton’s face gently as he slept. Christ, but he was beautiful.

No, John Reid was not made of stone. He was simply sturdier than most, and willing to do whatever it took.

Chapter Text

That night, after John has told him it’s going to be alright, after John’s shown him more affection than he’s had in ages, after John’s touched him as gently as if he’d break into two, Elton drifts to sleep.

Sleep has always been a fickle friend of Elton’s. It seems that when he needs it most, it won’t always come. He’ll stay up for days, his eyes itching with want and desire. When he is going through the thick of it, he’ll lay in bed for ages and pray that the pillow underneath his head will trick his brain into shutting down the way he so desperately wants it to. Other times, when he least expects it, sleep will come and lay like a thick fog over his days. He’ll spend days, weeks, at a time barely able to get out of bed, waking up only long enough to take a leak and have a drink. He welcomes those times, and associates them mostly with a small measure of calm.

It is rare that he can lay in bed and purposefully drift off the way other people do. Sleep is almost always chemically induced for him, and tonight is some of the same. He had taken God knew how many pills earlier, in a desperate attempt to shut down and rest before the show tomorrow. But then John.

John has held him in his arms, the way he hasn’t in years. He has kissed his lips, his cheek, his forehead, his jaw. He has touched Elton in some of his most vulnerable places.

So his sleep tonight is aided in part by the drugs, but it is mostly born of the measure of relief that he is feeling. He hasn’t felt safe in so long, and tonight he feels safe laying next to John in bed.

When sleep comes, he dreams of Bernie.

He dreams of the first time he realized that he loved Bernie.

A sunny Sunday morning, in the same small cafe where they’d met. Bernie has made the trip back out so they can meet face-to-face again; they’ve been sending lyrics and tapes back and forth for a couple months now, and Elton had asked if they could meet again to go over some things. They’ve hung out a handful of times, going to the cinema, eating dinner, and smoking weed in the alley behind Elton’s house. He has never felt so connected to another person.

“Got some more for you, mate,” Bernie says, sliding an increasingly-familiar brown envelope across the table. Elton snatches it up and digs into it hungrily, flipping through the pages and scanning the lyrics quickly. Music has already started to fill his brain, and he closes his eyes briefly, letting it flow through him. It’s like magic.

“I can already hear this one, Bernie, fuck,” Elton says quietly, and when he looks up, Bernie has the oddest look on his face. The corners of his mouth are turned up just slightly, and his eyes are so bright. He looks as if he is a combination of perplexed and intrigued. “What you looking at me like that for?”

Bernie’s smirk turns into a full-fledged grin, one that Elton has no problem answering back. Bernie shakes his head lightly, and then meets Elton’s eyes again. “It’s just...watching you read my lyrics? I can see the wheels turning in your head, man. It’s incredible. It’s like I can practically hear what’s going on in there. I’ve never seen anything like it. I love it.”

Elton’s heart skips a beat, and he is filled with a feeling that he hasn’t gotten often in his life. He is not used to people complimenting him, telling him good things about himself, telling him that he’s special. He feels whole, and loved. He feels content.

That is when he feels his first rush of love for Bernie, but it isn’t romantic love, not in the slightest. It is one of the purest forms of love, the kind where nothing is expected and there are no dubious intentions afoot. It’s a love he hasn’t had much of in his life, and there is no romance in it at all. He mistakes it for romance the next summer, briefly, but he is wrong then, when he tries to kiss Bernie. He doesn’t feel that way for him and never will.

It is a blessing, plain and simple. It is the kind of love where someone chooses you, with all of your faults and insecurities, and adores every wonderful, maddening bit of you. Most importantly, it is the kind of love you can never fully realize the impact of.

He smiles at Bernie. “Brilliant, mate. You’re brilliant.”

Elton has the first satisfying night’s rest that he’s had in ages.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Bernie wakes up, the sun is shining in through the curtains he’d forgotten to draw last night, and his head is pounding. He isn’t sure if it was the whiskey or the pills he’d taken that has left him in this state but he feels like shit. He rolls over and buries his face in his pillow, staying like that for another twenty minutes before glancing at the clock. He’d slept until noon, the combination of mind-altering substances he’d consumed effectively knocking him out.

New respect for Elton, if he feels like this and goes on playing, Bernie thinks idly as he rolls out of bed and starts making coffee. He drinks from the steaming cup and thinks about how he has ages to go before seeing Reg. He’ll spend the day in the city, perhaps pick up something nice for Alex while he’s here, then pop in and see Reg before the show started. They can talk more after if they have to, and he hopes they will.

The truth of it is that Bernie misses Reg.

He doesn’t miss what he’s become, not really. The person Reggie is now is hard to love, if he’s being honest. This person is messy and distant, continuously shoving Bernie away with his angry words and destructive actions.

No, Bernie misses the old days, the days when it had just been the two of them, some sheets of paper and a piano. Bernie remembers feeling like the two of them could do just about anything back then, and that Reggie was something special. They were special together.

He still is, of course. They still are special together. Bernie stares out the window of the hotel room, sipping at his coffee. The problem is that they haven’t been together in so long that it’s all starting to slip.

Bernie scrubs his hands over his face and leans his elbows on the table in front of him. When did things get so complicated? He’s always thought that people who complained about the pressures of being rich and famous were a bunch of twats, that if you were just real and down-to-earth, nothing would ever really change. He realizes now how stupid that had been.

As he stares out at the sunny Manhattan morning, Bernie does something he hasn’t done in years. He sends a quick prayer out that Reg is receptive to him today. He prays that he can figure out what the hell it is he wants to say to his friend, and find the strength to do it. He isn’t sure who he’s winging the prayers out to-he’s never been clear on that, not once-but it doesn’t bother him. It feels right.

He finishes his coffee and decides to go have a shower. He has a long day ahead of him before he can meet up with Captain Fantastic later.

Chapter Text

They both slept until noon, the sleep of the comforted, though both were comforted for different reasons. When Elton woke up, he was tangled up in John, their legs entwined, John’s arms around him, his head on John’s chest. He’d smiled.

They’d showered together, hot water running off their bodies. He’d been afraid it would be like all the previous times, John slipping into the shower with him just to get his rocks off, to use Elton’s body as a vehicle for his own needs and frustrations. Instead, John started the water and made sure it was just hot enough. He stripped Elton of his clothes and then stripped himself of his own, washed his body, held him close. John’s lips ghosted over the inches of Elton’s body: his cheek, his jaw, his neck, his chest. John ran his hands everywhere, and Elton reciprocated. They joined together in ways they hadn’t in ages, and it was maddening, heartbreaking, exhilarating.

After they were dressed, John went to get them both a late lunch. He came back bearing bags of food, all Elton’s favorites, and built him a plate. “Eat, love, you’ve got a big show tonight,” John said once they’d settled down with their meal, and for once Elton did. He tucked in properly, allowing himself to eat a normal meal. For so long it had been mostly everything in sight or nothing at all, and though it felt a bit strange to eat normal portions of food, it also felt good. When he was done, Elton felt like he hadn’t in a while. He felt...normal.

“You feeling nervous about tonight?” John asked, pushing his food around on his own plate. Elton shook his head.

“Not particularly. Another show, another city. It is what it is,” Elton said, taking a long drink from the second vodka and soda John had mixed for him.

“That’s good. You’ve got this, don’t forget that. You’re Elton fucking John, and you are here to kill it,” John said, reaching out and grabbing Elton’s hand from across the table.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As John squeezed Elton’s hand, he could see as the vodka began to soften his eyes. Part of his plan had not been to clean Elton up entirely. It was about cleaning him up enough so that the show could go on.

The show could not go on with Elton sober, and the show could not go on with Elton blitzed beyond imagination. The idea was for John to find him a happy medium. So he’d allowed Elton a few drinks with his meal, and figured keeping a small amount of food in his belly couldn’t hurt things. There’d be his typical pre-show routine, of course, which involved a measure of cocaine that John had no problem with. No razors, no vomiting, no entire fifths of liquor and no pills unless they aided in his musical abilities.

Yes, keeping Elton on a baseline of intoxication was the key. They’d toed the line too closely lately, and Elton needed John to step in and define what was appropriate. Thankfully, after a few cuddles the night prior and a hot shower together, Elton was like putty in his hands. He could mold his lover into whatever shape and size he needed, and this filled John with a measure of calm.

Again, there was nothing overtly malicious about this. It was business, plain and simple. Sure, one could argue that the business might run more smoothly if Elton dealt with whatever demons he had inside of him and kicked the vices to the curb.

But getting Elton sober was no guarantee. What if he chucked Elton into a hospital and the man who came out lost the edge he’d had before he went in? He’d been playing and creating music while drunk and on drugs for so long that John couldn’t be absolutely certain that the man who had become a multi-millionaire by the age of 25 would still exist without it.

No, sober Elton was an extreme gamble. Sober Elton would take time they could ill afford to take if they were to keep their empire from crumbling.

John smiled at Elton over his own martini.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bernie arrived at Madison Square Garden an hour before the show was to start, slipping in through the back door and identifying himself. As always, he was on the list, and security ushered him in through the back and towards Elton’s dressing room.

Bernie hesitated outside of the door, willing himself to knock. He wasn’t sure what he’d find on the other side, and it terrified him. The Reg he’d left behind hadn’t been in a good place, not at all, and he had little faith that time alone had made it much better. He wished briefly that he was back on the ranch, hidden away in his little oasis. It hadn’t been perfect, but fuck, it had been simple.

Simple had never factored into Bernie’s relationship with Reg, though, and it never would. He knew that. Simple didn’t factor into loving someone with your entire heart, through the good and the bad, and that was just the way it was. He thought wryly that it was quite like marriage, their relationship: in sickness, in health.

Before he realized it completely, Bernie was knocking on the door.

“Come in, darling!” he heard Elton call, and Bernie, puzzled, pushed his way inside.

“Perhaps not the darling you expected,” Bernie said with a smile on his face, and Elton snapped his head over from his chair in front of the mirror and took Bernie in.

“Oh,” Elton said softly. There was a moment of pure silence in which a thousand words were exchanged. The you left me!s and the how could you?s and the it was too hard!s flew between them without ever leaving their mouths.

“Captain Fantastic,” Bernie said quietly, and it was all that was needed to make Elton’s face break out into a huge smile.

“Brown dirt cowboy,” he replied back, and they both walked over and hugged each other, clinging to each other helplessly.

“I missed you,” Elton said quietly, and Bernie nodded into his shoulder. He could see the small tin of cocaine on the vanity.

“Missed you too, mate. You’ve no idea.”

“What’ve you been up to?” Elton asked, taking his seat at the vanity again. Bernie watched as he tried to surreptitiously slide the drugs out of view.

“Just went home, Reg. I needed a minute to breathe.” Bernie dragged a chair over and took a seat next to him. “How are you...doing?”

Elton paused for a moment, and Bernie watched as a muscle ticked in his jaw. “Doing great. Things are wonderful, actually. I’m glad you’re back, because I think I’m ready to start working on something new. Have you got anything for me to take a look at?”

“Hang on, hang on.” Bernie held his arms up a little. “Slow down, Reg. We don’t have to jump into work right away. I just wanted to know...how you’re doing. How you’re really doing. Something tells me not many people ask you that and want to know the real answer.” Bernie leaned forward and met Elton’s eyes directly. “You know that I do.”

Elton sighed but continued to look directly into Bernie’s eyes. “I told you already, I’m doing fine. Great, actually. Did you come back just to bust my balls, Bern? I’m on stage in 40 minutes. I need to be getting pumped up, not dragged down.”

Bernie rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you may think you’re slick but I’ve seen exactly what you’ve been doing to pump yourself up.”

Elton glared at him. “Oh, get off it.”

“You smell like booze, too, so that’s not changed either. You still hurting yourself every night? I’d be willing to bet yes,” Bernie said in a low voice.

“Oh, fuck off, Bernie!” Elton yelled, slamming his fists down on the vanity before him. “If you’re just going to lecture me like you’re my bloody mother then you can get the fuck out!”

“I’m not going anywhere, Reg. You need me more than you know,” Bernie said, sitting forward in his chair. “I know things are not going well for you, but I can help you fix it. You don’t have to be afraid of giving up all this shit.”

“This isn’t any of your business!”

You are my business!” Bernie yelled, pointing a finger at Elton. “You are my brother and I will not stand by anymore and just let you waste away, killing yourself with booze and drugs and the rest of it! I won’t let you stay with a complete cunt like Reid, either!” Bernie’s face was beet red, his chest heaving, tears pricking the corners of his eyes.

“You leave John out of this!” Elton said, tears of his own threatening to let loose down his face.

“Oh, Reg, John Reid is the reason we’re in this mess in the first place, and if you can’t see it then you’re bloody blind,” Bernie said sadly, hanging his head and running his fingers through his hair.

“Things with John are really great right now, actually, and I won’t have you running your mouth about it. I might go overboard sometimes but it is not his fault,” Elton said, crossing his arms defiantly, like a toddler.

“Really, because I saw John last night at the bar and--”

“I don’t care, Bernie! I don’t care what you claim you saw and I don’t care that you think John’s the problem. He’s got my best interests at heart and that’s all that matters to me,” Elton said, drinking long and hard from the glass of cabernet on his dressing room table. Bernie cast his eyes downward.

“I am the only one who has your best interests at heart, Reggie. I wish you could see that,” Bernie said quietly, feeling like his heart was caving in again.

“Stop calling me Reggie!” Elton yelled, and Bernie stumbled backward slightly. Reggie’d never said that, not in all the years they’d been friends, not in all the years they’d been making music, playing shows, doing press. In public he might be Elton, but in private he’d always been Reggie to Bernie.

“I think it might be time for you to go, Bernie.” The hairs on the back of Bernie’s neck stood up at the sound of the Scottish voice that came from behind him. He turned around and came face-to-face with John Reid, who had a look of concern on his face-mock concern, Bernie knew. “Elton’s on stage momentarily, he doesn’t need to be riled up anymore.”

“Fuck off, Reid--” Bernie said, but was cut off quickly by Elton.

“He’s right. Get out of here, Bernie,” Elton said quietly. Despite it all, Bernie’s first instinct was to grab his friend’s shoulder and wipe the tears off of his cheeks. Instead, he took a deep breath and headed towards the door.

“This...isn’t how I wanted this to go,” he said softly from the doorway.

“Well, this is how it went, Bernie,” Elton said angrily.

“You shouldn’t believe him, Elton,” Bernie said. “If he’s being nice to you, he’s just manipulating you, he’s--”

Get out!” Elton yelled, and John slammed the door in Bernie’s face as soon as he’d stepped into the hallway. Bernie stalked off down the hall and waited until he’d turned the corner to sink to the floor and let himself sob.

Chapter Text

John slammed the door as Bernie exited and then tried to quickly pull himself back together. He was livid-beyond livid, actually- and trying to hide it from Elton.

Bernie Taupin had been nothing but a pain in his arse since the moment he’d met him. The morning following their first romp in the sack, Elton’d dragged him along to the Troubadour for his next show. The whole way there he’d chattered endlessly, the sunny afternoon and his passion lighting up his eyes like a carnival, and John had marveled at him. That was what Elton was then, a marvel, and it took everything in him to keep his hands still in his lap instead of running them through the other man’s hair, gripping his neck, pulling him close.

Elton had prattled on and on, about the show the night before, the party, how surreal it all was. “Bernie told me I could do it, I didn’t believe him though. Oh, you’ve got to meet Bernie, John. Bernie, he’s my best friend, my lyricist. He writes everything and then I just set it to music. I’m out front but Bernie’s the brains behind everything. He’s a complete genius and the most wonderful person. You’ll love him, John.” Elton had reached out slowly and twined his fingers tentatively through John’s.

Yes, John had known that Bernie would be an issue just from the way Elton had described him. He almost sounded like he was bloody in love with this guy. John had always been a loner, had very few close relationships of any caliber in his life, and believing that Bernie was just a friend while hearing Elton wax poetically about him was unfathomable.

Elton and Bernie had greeted each other with enthusiastic hugs and slaps on the back, while John had stood stonily behind him waiting. The two men continued the same chatter that John had heard the entire way to the venue, and he knew then that was where Elton got it from. Finally, after a few moments, Elton turned around.

“Christ, I’m sorry. Bernie, this is John Reid. John, this is my--this is Bernie,” Elton said, grabbing John’s hand and pulling him closer.

John reached out and shook Bernie’s hand, offering him a cool smile. “John Reid.”

“Bernie Taupin,” Bernie had said, and returned the same smile, devoid of any personality. It was a perfunctory smile. In that instant, John knew what he was dealing with when it came to Bernie.

He knew that Bernie wanted to protect Elton, and that he didn’t trust John. It was instantaneous, this connection of negativity between the two, and John knew that for as long as he was involved with Elton, he would always be in competition with Bernie. He would always be fighting to be the guiding force for Elton, and it annoyed him from the get-go.

It was a challenge he was up to, but annoying nevertheless.

He’d dealt with it for years, and he hadn’t expected Bernie to stay away after seeing him in the hotel restaurant the evening prior, but coming around the corner and hearing their enraged voices screaming at each other had sent John over the edge. Who the hell did Bernie think he was, placing pressure on Elton and trying to get him to see John as the bad guy?

Bernie had to go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As soon as the door was slammed, Elton threw himself back into the chair at his vanity and buried his face in his hands. He felt his body start to shake slightly, and then he burst into tears. Great, heaving sobs tore from his throat as he allowed himself to break down. He and Bernie had screamed at each other, and the very idea of that was so sad to him that he could no longer continue to put on a brave face.

He could remember a time when the idea of gnawing his own arm off would have been more plausible than the idea of yelling at Bernie. There had been a time in his life when his love for Bernie had outshone anything else, had taken precedence over anything else, and vice versa. They’d gone from all-night music sessions and laughter to months of no contact and screaming at each other in dressing rooms. Elton suddenly missed his best friend more than he could say, and he was so devastated at the way things had turned out that he couldn’t stop himself from crying.

In the distance he thought he heard John’s voice saying his name, and then felt rough hands on his shoulders, firm and squeezing tightly.

Elton!” he heard John say firmly, and he winced slightly. The edge in his voice brought him right back to the way things usually were, with John standing over him and berating him, and it made his chest hurt. He looked up and met John’s eyes, as blue as the a cloudless day in June, and felt the tears snaking down his face. He sniffed and hiccuped, knowing that he was a mess, not giving a shit.

“Elton, you need to get it together. You’re on stage in twenty minutes,” John said sternly.

“John, I--”

“No.”

“What just happened was--”

“I know you’re upset, but you can’t let this rattle you. You know how important this is. Bernie should have never come here and gotten you so upset just before you go onstage. Would a true friend do that? Because I don’t think so. Someone who truly cares about you would know how important it is for you to be calm before you go onstage so you can focus and be the best you can.”

Elton listened to John’s speech quietly, still sniffling occasionally, as a nugget of doubt crept into his mind. He recalled the many times John had screamed at him before shows, hitting him, kicking him, slapping him. There had been so many instances where he had been left unsure of how he would be able to go onstage after the way John had treated him, only to pull it out at the last moment. Elton looked up at John again, and John used the pads of his thumb to wipe away a few stray tears.

“Elton…” John began quietly, “I don’t want to upset you, but I think it may be time to decide how important Bernie’s presence is.”

Elton snapped his head up. “What?”

“Listen, I know you’ve known him for a long time and he’s been important creatively for you, but he is not the only lyricist around. There are plenty of other writers out there to work with. Some that might even be better than Bernie,” John said quietly, grabbing Elton’s hands and squeezing them tight.

“I know we don’t always see eye-to-eye, but it’s...John, it’s Bernie. He’s my best friend, he’s my brother. I can’t just drop him,” Elton said timidly.

“Is he still your best friend? Because it seems that every time we speak about him, it’s because he’s been pressuring to do things you don’t want or need to do. I just think that you need to evaluate what really matters in your life. Does my opinion mean nothing to you, Elton?” John asked angrily.

“Of course your opinion matters, love, it’s just that...so does he.”

“It’s just something I want you to consider. You don’t need this kind of strain or pressure,” John said, squeezing Elton’s hands one last time and kissing him dryly on the cheek.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Elton said quietly, and John nodded proudly.

But it’s Bernie, Elton thought to himself. It’s Bernie.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bernie hunkered down in the hallway and let himself have a good cry before pulling himself together enough to go out front and watch the show.

As always, he was astounded by the performance. There was truly something magical that happened when Elton sang their songs, and it did wonders at lifting his mood and his spirits. He could hardly believe that the showman in front of him was the same broken, sad man who so desperately needed help. Bernie could still see past the facade, but he knew why he was the only one who could. Elton was a force to be reckoned with. By the end of the gig, their disagreement seemed miles away, almost as if it hadn’t happened, or had happened some time ago, and Bernie was ready to try again.

No more talk of rehab and leaving John, not tonight. Tonight he would take Elton back to the hotel, and they would just talk. Catch up. In order to get back to the way things used to be, they had to be, together. He would start small.

Bernie skirted the crowds as best as he could and went around to the side where he’d gone to Elton’s dressing room. The security guard stopped him. “Name?”

“Bernie Taupin.” Bernie flashed the guard a smile.

The guard scanned the list in front of him, and looked back up. “Sorry, man. Name’s not on here.”

Bernie stared at him incredulously. “Impossible, mate. I was just back there before the show. Look again.” He waited as the guard scanned the list again, and peered over the clipboard as best as he could. One of the names had a big black line through it, and Bernie’s heart thudded in his chest.

“Sorry,” the guard said without an ounce of regret in his voice.

“Man, I’m the fucking writer of all those songs! Elton’s my best friend!” Bernie said and the guard stepped forward warningly. Bernie backed up slightly. As he did, he looked over the guard’s shoulder and saw John standing there, a sadistic smile on his face.

“John, you--” Bernie called, and the guard stepped in front of Bernie, obscuring his view. John, however, stepped forward carefully and regarded Bernie thoughtfully.

“Don’t fuck with me, Bernie,” he said quietly, studying his fingernails. “Ta, love.”

John turned and walked down the hallway, his expensive shoes clattering smartly on the tiled floor. Bernie watched him go, feeling truly hopeless for the first time in his life.

Chapter Text

“Here’s a copy of the bill. If you could just review it and then sign at the bottom, Mr. Taupin.” The front desk clerk at the hotel slid the sheet of paper across the counter to him, and Bernie scanned the bill quickly. Dinner both nights, nuts from the mini bar, and the bottle of scotch he’d downed the night prior. He didn’t need a bill to remind him of the scotch, his head was doing that perfectly fine on its own, thank you very much. After he’d returned from the show last night he’d called the airline and booked the next flight out of this godforsaken city, ordered in the booze and had himself a right fine pity party, drinking every drop and puking everywhere. He’d cleaned up the best he could, leaving the place tidy but smelly, overall no worse for the wear.

He hastily signed the receipt and pushed it back across the counter at the woman. “Thanks,” he muttered, stooping down and picking up his luggage.

“Thank you, Mr. Taupin, I do hope your stay has been pleasant,” the woman said cheerily, and he threw her what he hoped passed for a smile. His stay had not been pleasant, though at no fault of the hotel. Bernie made his way across the lobby towards the double doors, thinking only of catching a taxi and going to the airport, boarding his plane and hunkering back down on his ranch, allowing the pity party to continue.

He paused as he walked by the hotel restaurant, catching a view of Elton and Reid out of the corner of his eye. They were chatting and smiling, and Bernie raised an eyebrow, unable to believe that Elton was out of his room and down in the view of the public eye, though the restaurant appeared to be practically empty. He allowed himself to watch for just a moment, watched as Reid reached across the table and stroked Elton’s hand, watched as Elton grinned and grabbed Reid’s hand in return. They looked like a normal couple, enjoying breakfast, and damned if Bernie didn’t see a single drop of alcohol in sight, typically unheard of.

How can he look so happy? Bernie wondered to himself. The looks on both Reggie and John’s faces were effortless, carefree, and Bernie was left wondering if he’d imagined the night before. The shouting, their confrontation, Reid’s banning him from backstage, all of it. It had been one of Bernie’s worst nights, not just in recent memory but one of his worst nights ever, and he hadn’t been able to shake the feeling of hopelessness since.

Despite the seriousness of Reggie’s issues, the impending doom Bernie often felt about it all and the truly terrifying reality that he’d been subjected to, Bernie had never lost hope. He’d always believed, in the back of his mind, that his friendship and love for his brother-because despite it all, that’s what Reg was, his brother-would help save him. He often felt arrogant at this thought, but there it was. He believed wholeheartedly in the inner strength he knew Reggie had, and he believed in the power of the two of them together. There was little Bernie knew in life, but he knew Reggie. Elton. He believed in the togetherness of them both, as hokey as that might sound to an outsider.

And last night, Reggie and John Reid had helped smash that belief into pieces.

Bernie’d never felt so lost, and he’d never been left with so few options. Last night, Reggie-well, Elton- had made himself perfectly clear. He didn’t want help. He didn’t want to leave John. He didn’t want Bernie. They’d screamed at each other, and it made Bernie feel foolish, as if he’d fancied himself a white knight on a stallion all these years, and the fall from the horse had been painful. He imagined it would continue to be painful.

So to see Elton and Reid enjoying breakfast together as if the evening prior had never happened...well, it hurt. It was the latest punch to the gut that he’d slowly become used to over the last few years. He vowed that he wouldn’t lose himself to anyone else again. He adjusted his grip on his luggage, left the hotel, and hailed a taxi.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What Bernie didn’t know, as he pushed his way out into the city feeling lonelier and more despondent than he ever had, was that Elton watched him walk away. He’d seen Bernie out of the corner of his eye while he and John ate breakfast, and he’d frozen in the middle of a sentence, watching as his best friend left. He cast his eyes downward and began to push the food around on his plate nervously.

John watched Elton fiddle with his breakfast in silence for a few moments, a long stretch of unspoken words between them. Finally, John sat back and lit a cigarette, taking a long drag off of it before speaking. “Love, don’t look so sad.”

Elton said nothing, his eyes still cast down and his fork still pushing his eggs around. He chewed on his bottom lip nervously.

“I know you’re upset but this is for the best, truly. You’ll see that in time. There are plenty of other artists to work with, people who’ve been jumping at the chance to work with you for years. This is going to be a whole new era, and I personally can’t wait to see what happens,” John said with a smile, reaching across the table and taking Elton’s hand again. Elton, however, showed no signs of cheering, and John narrowed his eyes at him.

“You agreed that a break from Bernie would be helpful. We talked about it last night, remember?” John prodded.

Elton sighed exasperatedly and finally looked up at John, a look of clear annoyance written across his face. “Yes, John, I certainly remember agreeing, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it, do I? This is hard,” Elton said, an edge to his voice that had rarely crept in when he spoke to John, a harshness to it that neither of them were used to. “I need a fucking drink.”

John’s brain flared with rage, everything momentarily turning red and hot, overtaking. He dug his fingers impulsively into Elton’s wrist, hard and rough. Elton gasped and tried to wrench his arm away, but John’s grip on him was too tight. He was suddenly transported back to the many times this had happened before, and it was suddenly hard to breathe.

“You will not speak to me like that, do you understand?” John hissed under his breath, and cast a look around the restaurant. They were still, mercifully, alone, save for the waiters. “I’m not some fucking plaything that you can treat any way you like. You will respect me, Elton, have I made myself clear?” John punctuated the end of his sentence with a final squeeze of Elton’s wrist before letting it drop to the table.

Elton stared at the imprints on his wrist, nodding his head vigorously in response to John. This scene was familiar, and it was almost too easy for him to slip back into his role. Oh, but it hurt. It hurt, in more ways than one.

The next morning his arm was ringed with five purple bruises, the exact size and shape of John’s fingers. He stared at them in the dim light of dawn that filtered in through the windows, touching one gently. He rolled out of bed from beside John and quietly swallowed two pills, his eyes transfixed on the bruises. He sat in a chair and looked at John’s sleeping form, his body lean and muscular, his jaw slackened with sleep.

He didn’t mean it, his now drug-addled brain insisted. An accident. Not like before, just an accident.

Just an accident.

Chapter Text

It started small, the way it had in the beginning.

The way it always did.

It started with those bruises that had bloomed around his wrist, like a violent purple bracelet stained onto his skin for the next week.

When they showed up, John kissed them each in turn, his hands holding Elton’s softly, his eyes looking sorrowful and unhappy. “Never again, love,” John had murmured softly. He didn’t apologize though, as if the mere assurance that the bruises wouldn’t occur again was enough. As if they’d appeared there by some tragic turn of fate, instead of his lover’s egregious anger.

Elton watched as they faded, the violet lapsing to a sickly yellow-green as the days went on, then fading entirely. As if they had never existed. As if they would never exist again.

For a while, they didn’t. John kept his word, kept his hands to himself. They kept busy as they always did, with press junkets, studio time and sold-out shows. John was still kind to Elton, taking him in his arms at night, kissing him deeply, smiling at him. It was enough to keep Elton going, to believe that John still loved him. It wasn’t enough to curb him of his habits completely, but it helped keep them somewhat at bay. He was still drinking and doing drugs, but he wasn’t fucked up all the time. He started eating a little more regularly and throwing up a little less. He wasn’t hurting himself.

Still, small traces of the old John began to shine through, slowly but surely.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One night they were laying in bed together after a delightful romp in the sack, John rubbing Elton’s back. Elton’s body trembled slightly, a reaction to John’s hands running across his skin. He was working his way slowly down his body, and it felt amazing...until he felt John’s hands still as they lit upon his hips.

It was subtle, he didn’t say a word, and if this had been Elton’s first time at the rodeo he might not have noticed anything. Any other person wouldn’t have noticed the small hesitation, the moment’s pause. But John’s hands feeling the small inch of extra flesh that had accumulated on Elton’s hips, evidence of years of abusing his body with food, didn’t go unnoticed by him. They harkened up images in Elton’s mind of times past between him and John, conjuring up memories of John sneering at him and calling him fat, looks of disgust on his face. Elton’s face flushed a deep red, and he laid his head on John’s bare chest and pretended to fall asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As he was getting dressed for an interview, Elton stared at himself in the full length mirror in his bedroom. He smoothed his shirt flat against his stomach, grimacing at his reflection. He felt silly, but ever since that minute interaction with John in bed a few weeks prior, his body image issues had accelerated, almost back to where he’d been before.

He didn’t see what most people in the world saw when they looked at him: a superstar, a force to be reckoned with. He also didn’t see the truth of what this short time of improvement in his eating disorder and eating habits had done. He may have gained a couple of pounds in his midsection, but his face was fuller and his skin was glowing. He looked almost healthy, despite the presence of the drugs and alcohol still in his system, and better than he had in years. It was true that his body was not perfectly slim, but he also was not the grotesque land whale that his brain-and, inadvertently, John’s hands-had fashioned him into thinking. He pinched the same extra inch that John’s hands had stalled on a few weeks prior and grimaced again. Suddenly he realized that John had appeared behind him, and he had no idea how long he’d been standing there.

“A little exercise could get that right off, love. Don’t want to let it get too out of control,” John said sharply, a no-nonsense tone in his voice. Elton nodded hastily.

John cooked dinner that night, and while he was outside on the patio smoking a cigar afterwards, Elton snuck upstairs and bent over the toilet, shoving his fingers down his throat in an all-too-familiar gesture and emptying his body of what he knew it didn’t need.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elton fastened the buttons on his jumpsuit, eying himself in the mirror. He had never noticed it in the first place, but the healthy glow on his face from weeks before had faded. There were bags under his eyes and his skin was pale. He looked exhausted, and he was. John had been working him like a dog lately, a never-ending revolving door of interviews and recording and performances. He felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks, and he was wired from all the coke he’d been shoving up his nose.

During his few lucid moments, when he wasn’t either fucked up from the drugs or the booze or so exhausted that he could barely move, he thought that John was keeping him so busy in order to avoid him thinking about Bernie.

It wasn’t working. He thought about Bernie constantly, a revolting combination of shame, anger and devastation flooding through his body, mixing in his stomach, making him ill. Tears flooded his eyes as he thought about Bernie, and he tried desperately to make them go away.

Best not to think about him, not now, not before a show. He looked around the dressing room. Where the hell am I? he wondered, realizing with a start that he couldn’t for the life of him recall where he was about to play.

The door to the dressing room suddenly banged open, and Elton jumped slightly. John pushed a water bottle into his hands. “Thanks,” Elton murmured, taking the bottle from John. The coke made him thirsty. His hands shook as he brought the bottle to his mouth and took a long drink. He felt like shit. He wanted to go to bed, not on stage, he wanted to lay in bed and fucking forget about everything. He looked up and saw John studying him, questions coming out of those blue eyes, and he offered a shaky, unconvincing smile.

And then John was on him, kissing him the way only John knew how to do, pressing his body against Elton’s, snaking a hand around the back of Elton’s neck, and Elton was afraid he’d have to go on stage rock hard, or worse. He was suddenly filled with energy and Elton nibbled on John’s lower lip, thrusting his hips against John and allowing a low moan to escape from the back of his throat. John knew how to play to him, how to make him weak in the knees and everywhere else.

“You’re so hot, Elton, fuck,” John hissed into his ear, and butterflies briefly replaced the gall in his stomach.

“I fucking love you,” Elton whispered and John smiled. He gave Elton one last long kiss, and then slapped him on the ass.

“Plenty more where this came from after the show,” John said, and Elton moaned again, this time a whine of indignation and frustration. John marched over to the dressing room mirror and studied himself, straightening his tie.

“You know I hate when you do that, John, don’t start things you have no intention of finishing,” Elton said as he too straightened his jumpsuit, wishing he had time to beat off before he had to be on stage but knowing there was no time.

A spark of irritation flared for John, recognizing the easy way in which his lover had mouthed off. “I’ll start what I like and finish what I like, Elton,” he said coldly, and Elton’s head snapped up, registering the change in tone.

“Sorry, I--”

John held up a hand, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Save it. You really ought to think before you speak you know.” John narrowed his eyes at him. “And perhaps before you eat, as well. You need to figure it out, Elton, because you’re starting to look downright fat, you know. We’re running a business, one that doesn’t include an aging rockstar looking like he’s going to seed,” John said coldly, then grabbed his suit jacket and spun on his heels, slamming the dressing room door behind him.

John never returned that evening, not after the show, not at the after party, not even back at the hotel late into the night. Elton sat in his opulent hotel room, still unsure of where exactly the hell he was, fucked up out of his mind. John’s words rattled around in his drug-addled mind, and he buried his head in his hands, trying to get them to stop echoing.

He felt fat, and ugly, and disgusting. He wanted to claw his own skin off, every hair on his body standing at attention, every fiber of his body trembling. He stumbled over to his suitcase and dug around, finding the one thing he knew he needed. He drew back his dressing gown, revealing that which was of utmost shame to him, and drew the razor blade across his belly. He inhaled sharply as the pain flooded his senses; it had been a while since he’d done this, and he’d forgotten the pain, forgotten how good it felt. Blood poured from the wound, and he added a mate to it, a perfect set. He fell asleep holding a washcloth to his cuts, staunching the flow of blood, his body finally not shaking and sleep finally claiming him.

In the morning, he woke to find John standing over him, ripping aside the washcloth and revealing his indiscretions from the night before. He looked up at John tentatively, afraid, so fucking afraid, and yet still refusing to believe that it was like before. Still refusing to believe that John Reid was a bastard of infinite proportions, refusing to believe that there was anything at play in their relationship other than love and concern. He’s concerned, that’s all, Elton thought to himself.

“You’re disgusting,” John said quietly, and Elton knew it to be true.

Chapter Text

The ranch was dark and quiet when Bernie returned after his disastrous attempts to save his best friend from himself, and that was exactly the way he wanted it. He had hoped that his flight home would raise his spirits somehow; that putting some distance-both physically and emotionally-between he and Reggie would help.

Instead, he’d sat in his window seat and stared, ignoring everyone and everything except the flight attendant when she came around asking after drink orders. All he could think about was John fucking Reid, the bastard, and the casual, happy way in which Elton had been looking at him that morning. He’d looked at John the way you’d look at a soulmate, and it turned Bernie’s stomach. So he’d downed a few too many in-flight cocktails and when the plane finally landed, he was unsteady on his feet. The only thing that was any sort of comfort to Bernie was the idea of being alone, secluded on his ranch.

When he arrived back at home, he reveled in the quiet comfort, tossing his bags in the foyer and throwing his broken, exhausted body on the sofa. He had promised to call Alexandra when he returned-she’d wanted to know he’d gotten on alright, and he imagined she was curious about what had happened-but she’d have to wait. For now, all he could manage to do was lay on his sofa, stare at the ceiling, and try not to think.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

For the next few weeks, Bernie took great pleasure in doing nothing besides laying in bed all day and getting piss drunk. He found it a small source of amusement that he had spent so much of his time and energy trying to get Reggie sober, and now that they’d had a falling out, he was using the very same bad habit to cope.

He hadn’t intended on it being this way. He’d slept on the couch the evening he returned home, waking up with the early morning sun streaming in, his face smushed into the couch cushions and his back aching from being curled up all night. He’d intended on getting a load of laundry going, sorting through his mail, calling Alex. He had things to do, and while he was still upset about his trip, he would begin to move forward. He would look at what life looked like now, make a plan, stick to it.

And then the phone rang.

Bernie had rolled off the couch, a low moan escaping his lips as his body unfolded from his spot, and grabbed the ringing phone from the kitchen. “‘Lo,” He said, his voice deep and still husky from sleep.

“Taupin. It’s John Reid.”

The sound of the Scottish accent through the phone sent a swift punch down to Bernie’s gut, and he was simultaneously filled with rage and sadness. This was the man responsible for so much of Bernie’s pain, and Reggie’s. He sounded nonchalant, uninterested, and Bernie could almost see John buffing his fingernails on his suit jacket through the phone. It took everything in Bernie not to hang up, imagining the sheer satisfaction of being the one to pull the rug out from under John for once.

But, still. This was his one link to Reggie. He couldn’t deny that, even now, even in his frustration about their argument.

“What on earth could you possibly want, John?” Bernie had said coldly, crossing his arms.

“Just want to clear the air on a few things, tie up some loose ends, you know.”

“And? Make it quick, I’m busy,” Bernie had muttered.

“Ay. Elton and I have talked it over and while he greatly appreciates you and your contributions, he thinks it’s time to explore working with other artists. I quite agree,” John had said silkily.

Bernie had felt his heart drop, and he had wanted to throw up all at the same time. “You mean you want Elton to work with other people. That’s what this is about, it’s all about controlling him,” Bernie had said, his voice laced with anger.

“Oh, Bernie, please don’t be disillusioned. I’m not perfect but I have his best interests at heart. And we both agree on this front. That’s not to say that you’ll never work together again, but...a break, it would be nice. It’s necessary,” John had said.

Bernie had paused for a long moment, so long that John had briefly considered the idea that the other man had hung up. Finally, voice shaking and tears pouring down his cheeks, Bernie had spit out, “Well, you tell Elton...tell him…” Tell him to go to hell tell him to get his head out of his arse tell him you’re a selfish bastard Reid tell him...tell him I love him “Tell him that I’m amenable to working together in the future.”

“There’s a good lad. Ta,” John had said, and Bernie had heard the receiver click on the other end. Bernie had stood in his kitchen, in wrinkled jeans and a rumpled t-shirt, staring at the phone in his hand while he cried. The hopelessness from the day before had returned with a sick vengeance, and it was worse. Far worse.

With little fanfare, Bernie had decided to take it easy, and by ‘take it easy’ he had meant that he would stay in bed, doing nothing but drinking and eating and having the occasional drunken sob. He did not do laundry. He did not call his girlfriend. He did not move very much. He’d never been this depressed.

And that was how he had ended up here.

The thing is, Bernie thought that morning as he poured a healthy shot or two into his orange juice before crawling back between his sheets, I am devastated.

That was the whole of it. Bernie was devastated.

He had been through breakups in his time, more than his fair share. He’d broken hearts and been the broken, an inevitable side effect of the kind of lifestyle he led. He’d yet to find ‘the one’, and trying to do so usually meant that somebody was going to end up hurt. He’d experienced loss before, from several different angles: his nan had died, when he was a boy, and he’d been denied over and over as a lyricist in the early days. Bernie hadn’t lived a sheltered life. He had seen hardships.

And yet, somehow, none of it had compared to this.

None of it compared to his best friend choosing that fucking waste of space, John Reid, over him. He was not only devastated that Elton had hurt him like this, but he was also devastated because of the entire scenario.

He’d never felt more isolated in his life.

Sometimes, usually in the dead of night when he was exhausted and drunk, he tried to get angry. He tried to hate Reggie, tried to blame him for everything. He made choices, every day, didn’t he? Everyone did, and Reggie was no different. He chose that bastard Reid, he chose the drugs, he chose to hurt himself, he chose all these things.

But even in the heart of it, Bernie really didn’t blame him. He knew that John Reid was a manipulative bastard, and that someone who had been hurt as much as Reggie had in his life was susceptible to believing the shit that came out of Reid’s mouth. Elton was sick. Addiction was an illness, Bernie knew, and it killed him knowing that Elton was essentially on his own, battling this shit on his own. He knew there was nothing more he could do for him at the moment, knew that he’d done all he could do for now, but still. It tore at his heart, his stomach, his very being, to know that he’d been cut off at the quick.

One night, as he stared blearily at the wall, moonlight falling across his face, Bernie wondered how he would be able to crawl out of this. He wondered how long he would lay in bed, wallowing. He wondered if this would break him. He feared that it would.

And yet. One morning, when the sunlight lit across his face, he didn’t shrink away from it. He allowed himself to soak it in, and contemplate, and then he knew. He knew that despite the devastation, despite the sheer hopelessness of his situation with Reggie, Bernie knew, in the back of his mind, that he would get up. He would put aside the booze, and make his bed. He would wash his clothes, take a shower, and eat a proper meal. He would call his girlfriend. He would clean his house. He would take out the trash and mow the lawn and continue to live. Perhaps he’d even find some people to work with who weren’t Elton. He would make himself strong, so that when the time came, he would be ready. He didn’t know what he was getting ready for.

Bernie had no way of knowing that while he had laid in bed, and then while he got up and tried to piece his life back together, that John’s abuse was slowly becoming more prevalent again. He had no way of knowing how things would turn out.

The only thing he did know was that he wouldn’t give up on Reggie. Everyone else always had, but he wouldn’t. There was no mistaking the fire that burned deep in his belly, the tenacity inside of Bernie.

As he began the process of putting his life back together, Bernie wondered if Reggie had that same spark in his belly, or if he had been born without it.

Maybe it just went out, Bernie thought idly as he brushed his teeth. I hope I can light it again.

Chapter Text

Nine months passed in the blink of an eye, and both Elton and Bernie had gone about their business, carving out a life without each other, figuring out what things looked like now that they’d been estranged.

Bernie took a break from writing for a while, finding himself creatively blocked for longer than he cared to admit, but then eventually began working with a couple of other musicians. He broke up with Alex for good, unable to deal with her enthusiastic reaction to his separation with Elton-she’d gushed about how good it was for him, how he could finally move on, and at the time he’d been entirely too raw and emotional for her words to do anything but feel like a knife ripping through his guts-and he hadn’t dated anyone since. He was just keeping his head down, working and tending to his ranch and trying to avoid thinking about his best friend.

It didn’t work, though.

Bernie’s thoughts turned to Elton in his spare time, and almost every time that he was writing. Night time was the worst, when the ranch was blanketed in the ink black sky and it seemed like the whole world had stopped spinning, he would find himself wondering what Elton was doing, wondering if that insufferable Reid had gone back to his old ways. On really bad evenings, he would wonder if this was the night, the night Elton’s vices would catch up to him. He worried that that would be it, and he wouldn’t be there to save him.

He wasn’t sure if he would be able to live with himself if that happened.

But he’d been told, in no uncertain terms, that he was to stay away. There was the phone call from John, and the banishing words from Reggie in that backstage room all those months ago.

As difficult as it was, these last few months had provided him with a small measure of perspective on the situation: there was only so much he could do, and if he was going to be thwarted at every turn by both John Reid and Elton himself, then he had to admit that right now, there was nothing else he could do.

It didn’t mean Bernie had given up. It just meant that he’d recognized his own limitations, and he was trying to respect them...for Elton and himself.

It didn’t mean they didn’t hurt like hell, though, these limitations. They ripped at him from the inside out, leaving him breathless and angry and constantly nauseous. They’d turned him into this quiet man who paced the halls at night, yearning hungrily for the next sign. It hurt, being separated from the man who he had come to know as his soulmate.

So he paced, and he waited.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elton, meanwhile, was faring even worse than Bernie was.

The nine months had passed for Elton in a haze of new music, sold-out shows, drugs, and increasing distance-and abuse-between him and John.

Everything was fucked up, and everything hurt. Everything.

It hurt in the mornings, when Elton woke up and John wasn’t beside him and he felt that he had no choice but to start neatly chopping up a line. It hurt in the afternoons, when he would start to feel empty and hollow, so he would stuff four peanut butter and bacon sandwiches down his throat and then force them back up, staring at his reflection in the porcelain bowl until vomit obscured himself. It hurt when he was recording new music, words that weren’t Bernie’s flowing out of his mouth, every syllable tasting like betrayal and abandonment and hot, heavy need. It hurt in the evenings, when John would come home with unfamiliar cologne clinging to his skin, smelling like sweat and debauchery and come, not caring if Elton noticed his wrinkled shirt or soiled pants. It hurt when John screamed at him, his words harsh and angry and just as painful as the slaps on his face, the blows to the back of his head, the kicks to his shins that John had started raining down on him like hail.

Elton’s body was covered in bruises and scrapes, scars and wounds, from both John and himself. When he looked in the mirror, an activity he avoided as much as possible, he was disgusted at the sight of himself, though that was nothing new.

He missed Bernie.

He missed having his person around, the person who cared about him at all costs. He had started to realize what he’d lost by pushing Bernie away, and fuck if that didn’t hurt the most of all. He had really fucked that up, he reasoned. The last time they’d spoken, he’d screamed at Bernie, screamed at him the way John screamed at him. He’d told him never to call him Reggie again, and he had caused an unmistakable hurt and pain in Bernie’s eyes, the kind of pain that mere time couldn’t erase. Bernie would never come back, probably not even if he begged or pleaded. He wouldn’t blame him in the least.

These were the thoughts that consumed Elton late at night, while he should’ve been sleeping. They were often drug and booze-fueled, and he would sit in his dark bedroom, staring out the windows and thinking about how much he missed Bernie while he drank and occasionally hurt himself.

That was what he was doing the night everything started to come to a head.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was dark and windy, and Elton was starting to think that John wouldn’t be coming home that night. He was probably in bed with one of his many conquests, he thought bitterly as he stared at the brilliant shiner John had gifted him with the evening before. The bruise had bloomed around his eye when he woke up that morning, bright purple and trailing down his cheek like a vine. He couldn’t remember his crime, had been too fucked up, but it didn’t matter. Whatever he had done, he was sure the punishment had fit.

Bernie wouldn’t think so, he thought, looking out the window at the stars, and suddenly he was crying, crying the way he hadn’t in months, sobs that tore out of his throat and sounded like the howling of a small child. He knew that Bernie would never believe that he deserved this kind of treatment.

He was drunk and stoned and sad, and before he knew it he was holding his bleeding arm, a fresh wound having sprouted there almost by magic, the kind of magic only he could work with a razor blade, and he was still crying. He could taste his own salty tears as they ran down his cheeks and landed on his lips. Another feeling had joined his devastation, and he recognized it for what it was: anger. He didn’t know if he was mad at himself, or John, or even Bernie, but he was suddenly angry, and he hadn’t been properly angry in a while. He was too busy being fueled by apathy.

He found himself stumbling down the grand staircase and across the living room, making a beeline towards the kitchen. His anger and the drugs and alcohol coursing through his veins had emboldened him, and he had to act on it now before he lost his nerve.

He picked up the phone that hung on the kitchen wall and stabbed his fingers against the numbers, the numbers he knew by heart that would connect him to the one person he needed.

THe phone rang so many times that Elton almost slammed it back down in a fit of rage, before a bleary, tired voice answered, “Hello?”

“Bernie. Bernie, it’s me.”

Bernie’s stomach dropped when he heard Reg’s voice, and his hand shook as he gripped the phone tightly. His palms were sweaty. “Reg?”

“Yeah. It’s me.”

“Christ, how...how are you? It’s been a while,” Bernie said, and the words sounded flat and lame, even to him.

“I’m...I’m fine, Bernie,” Elton said quietly, and it was all Bernie needed to hear to know that he wasn’t fine. He could tell Reggie was fucked up, though that wasn’t a shock. His words sounded like they were thick, and blurred at the edges, and he just sounded worn down. Bernie had never heard him sound so despondent.

“It’s okay if you’re not, Reg, you know? It’s okay if you’re not fine,” Bernie said softly, and he heard Reggie start to cry quietly again. Hot tears of his own pricked at the back of his eyes, and he tried to keep it together.

“Guess I’m not then,” Elton said, pushing down hard on the cut he’d made on his arm, wincing at the pain. “I hurt myself again, Bern. I keep...I keep…”

“Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here,” Bernie said, his heart hurting.

Elton leaned his head against the wall, sniffling. “I’m fucked up. I’m fucking it all up.”

“How do you mean?” Bernie asked cautiously.

“My music’s shit, my relationship is shit, my life is just fucked up. I ruined everything with you. It’s all fucked,” Elton said through fresh tears. He was crying harder now, unable to stop, unable to stop himself from sounding like a mess to Bernie. This wasn’t how he’d really pictured this going.

“Reg? Hey, calm down for just a second, okay? Calm down.” Bernie waited until he heard Reggie’s sobs quiet down, just a bit. His palms, still slick with sweat, continued to grip the phone and press it hard against his ear. “There. You didn’t ruin things with me, okay?”

“I didn’t?”

“No. Never. What we have can never be ruined. I was just trying to respect you, and that’s why I haven’t been around. I swear, if I knew things were this bad and you wanted me there, I’d be there. I swear it,” Bernie said urgently.

“John said...it would be good, us being apart,” Elton mumbled, chewing on his bottom lip.

“I know. He told me, too. I think he’s just trying to isolate you, so you’ll be more vulnerable and I...I wish I hadn’t bought into it, but I felt like I had to,” Bernie said urgently, and Reggie was quiet for a few moments.

“Miss you,” he finally said softly, and Bernie nodded furiously through his own tears, even though Reg couldn’t see him.

“I miss you, too, so much,” Bernie said sincerely.

“I think it might be too late for me,” Elton blurted out, and he sounded so desolate, so lonely. Bernie’s heart stilled slightly. These were the words he’d been dreading to hear, that Reggie had been thinking about giving up.

“Listen, it’s never too late for you. No matter how bad things look. Listen, Reg, I have some commitments I have to honor tomorrow, but I can be on a plane to you the day after next. I swear it. I’ll be there,” Bernie said insistently.

Elton shook his head back and forth, even though Bernie couldn’t see him. “‘S okay. You don’t need to. I’m just afraid that this is it for me, Bernie--”

Suddenly, Elton felt the phone yank out of his hand, and watched as John Reid slammed it down into the receiver. The phone made a loud briiiiing as it was slammed home, and Elton looked over at John in shock and surprise.

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” John asked, his voice as dangerous and cold as ice. It sent shivers down Elton’s sign, and he knew he was in trouble.