1982 - Late August.
Life after rehab - day one.
Elton was terrified.
This was the start of his new life now that he had gotten his shit together and had finally asked for the help that he'd insisted he didn't need. Looking back on it now, he realised he had needed the help. Bernie had been right - it wasn't weak to ask for help, and he didn't even want to think about where he would be now if he hadn't finally listened to him.
If he was being honest though, he would probably be dead. He wasn't sure how he wasn't already.
He may have fucked up a little in terms of the fact that he'd finally cracked about an hour before he was supposed to go on stage at Madison Square Garden and had gotten a taxi to the rehabilitation centre instead - still in his stage gear. He'd called and left a message for John just to tell him what he was doing, that he was finally getting help and not to look for him, just so that he wouldn't put out a missing person's search or something. Still, he knew he'd be furious when he finally had to face him again. They weren't on good terms at all, but John was still officially his manager.
Speaking of Bernie, he had finally taken him up on the offer to go to his ranch with him. When he was finally well enough to leave the rehabilitation centre, he'd admitted to Bernie that he wasn't sure where he was supposed to go. He didn't want to go home, the place was far too big and too empty, and there were reminders of John everywhere.
Thankfully Bernie hadn't hesitated in asking him again to come to the ranch, where the two of them could just spend a little time together and get back on track. They were on better terms at least - after their fight in the restaurant shortly before he'd checked himself into rehab, Elton had been worried that he'd broken things between them beyond repair. Thankfully though, Bernie had come to see him in the centre, and they had been slowly mending their friendship.
This was how things were supposed to be - he saw that now.
He did wonder though, how things would have turned out if Bernie hadn't turned him down all those years ago on the rooftop. He was pretty sure he wouldn't have fallen into the same horrific spiral of booze and drugs, he doubted he would have fallen for John Reid and let him ruin his life. There was no point in thinking about that now though, what had happened had happened and there was no point in wishing things had turned out differently. He was just glad to have survived everything that had been thrown at him.
So he'd packed up what little things he had with him, and Bernie had come to collect him. He'd had to do his best to not burst into tears when he had seen Bernie's car pulling up outside, but it was time to be a man - he'd done enough crying over the last couple of years. He'd wasted tears over John, over his parents, he'd even shed a few tears over Bernie.
Bernie had gotten them a plane from New York to California, and then a car from the airport out to the ranch, and Elton was relieved to find that he was actually relaxing more at the idea of some down time.
He was a little ashamed to admit that he'd never actually seen Bernie's ranch before, despite the multiple attempts on Bernie's behalf to get him to come out and see it. Looking back on it now though, he was pretty sure the younger man had just been trying to get him to do what he was doing now - to slow down for a while.
The ranch was pretty much exactly what he'd expected it to be - a dusty looking farmhouse set in a couple of acres of dusty land, with a dusty looking stable out around the back. Well, he supposed, Bernie had always wanted to be a cowboy. It was the sort of place that he'd have turned his nose up at the idea of back when he'd been in the throes of his addiction.
"I know it's not much. I know we've definitely made enough money that I could have built some huge flashy ranch, but I just.. this felt more real" Bernie said as he was carrying one of Elton's bags in for him. Elton bit back a smile at Bernie's slightly embarrassed sounding words, as though he thought Elton would judge him for the ranch not being a four story mansion with a state of the art stable complex,
"It's wonderful, Bern. It's exactly the kind of place I need to be at right now"
He didn't miss Bernie's soft smile in his direction as he ushered him inside.
The inside of the ranch was as predictable as he'd thought it would be - all big windows and open floor plan. There were homely details though, that were all Bernie. Elton could see that in the cowboy hat hung on the wall, in the well-used looking acoustic guitar in the corner of the sitting room, in the rug that was put in front of the fire that he was pretty sure used to be in the flat they had shared years ago. He had to smile too at the sight of the piano in the corner.
"You can stay here as long as you need, as long as you want. I just want you to be alright, and I want to be there for you"
Elton was dragged out of his fond inspection of the ranch by Bernie's words, and he turned to find the younger man watching him with an expression in his eyes that Elton couldn't exactly make out. He could tell that he was serious though, so he smiled a little and nudged his shoulder with his own, "I know.. thank you, Bernie"
"There is only one bed though" He murmured, and the serious look in his eyes had been replaced with something a little closer to embarrassment. Still, he and Bernie were best friends, they had spent the first couple years of living together sharing a bed, when they had moved back into Elton's mum's house and had been sleeping in Elton's childhood bedroom. So he just shrugged, picking up his bag again, "It's fine, what better way to help mend a friendship than to spend the nights spooning" He teased with a slight grin, and to his relief, Bernie smiled too.
When he woke up, he could tell that the room was bright before he'd even opened his eyes properly.
They had been at the ranch for a couple of days now, Elton doing his best to assimilate to the new setting. There was a peacefulness here that he wasn't used to. Back in his mansion, there'd always be somebody milling around no matter what time it was - whether it was one of the cleaners or the pool boys, or John himself. Before that, he'd always lived in busy apartment complexes or on a busy street. The ranch was quiet and calm, and he was starting to see why Bernie loved being out here so much.
Speaking of Bernie, the younger man was still dead to the world, close enough that Elton could feel his presence beside him. Although he'd joked about it, he had been a little apprehensive at first about sleeping in the same bed as Bernie, after everything. Still, it turned out to be fine, and sometimes it almost felt like they were back in his childhood bedroom.
Reaching out, he grabbed the pair of glasses on the bedside locker, sliding them on before he turned properly on his side to just watch Bernie as he slept. His face was slack with sleep and he let out a soft sigh as he was jostled a little when Elton turned. He had a touch of morning breath, but Elton was pretty sure his own wasn't the best either right now. This close, he could make out the tiny laughter lines etched into the skin around his eyes, at the corners of his mouth.
They weren't kids anymore - he realised with a pang - as he took in the greying hair around Bernie's temples. They weren't old by any means, Bernie had just turned thirty-two and Elton himself was only thirty-five. He felt old though. While living out on the ranch and having slowed down a little over the last couple of years had done Bernie a lot of favours - he had a healthy California glow and he just looked refreshed - Elton was definitely feeling the toll the last few years was taking on him; he was exhausted, and his eyesight and hairline were worse than ever. Although he supposed living in the depths of addiction to drugs and alcohol would do that to a person.
Still, they had grown up - or Bernie had anyway. Gone was the seventeen year old boy who wore his hair in his eyes, and had bounded up to Elton in that cafe where they had first met and had sang Streets of Laredo at him until he had joined in. He'd gotten a little more serious, a little less enthusiastic. Although Elton supposed the novelty had probably just worn off in the last fifteen years - they were on first name terms with Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen for God's sake, as well as other huge names. Still, he had to suppress a smile at the thought of their first show at the Troubadour; back before he had gone on stage and Bernie had rushed up to him with a drink in each hand, gushing about how he'd seen Neil Diamond at the bar with half the fuckin' Beach Boys.
Still though, Bernie was his closest friend, he was the best friend that he'd ever had. They'd certainly had their fair share of bumps in the road - especially since John had come into the picture - but Elton had never been more relieved that they were back on track.
On that note, he took his glasses back off, settled down again, and went back to sleep.
When he woke up again, he was alone in the bed.
He could hear Bernie singing quietly along to the radio in the kitchen though, so he dragged himself out of bed, pulling on the dressing gown he'd brought with him before heading out in the direction of the kitchen.
Bernie had his drinks cabinet open and was pulling - from what Elton could see anyway - everything out of it. He leaned against the doorframe as he watched him taking a bottle down and pouring the contents of it down the sink before throwing the bottle into the bin. He couldn't help but feel a pang of shame as he watched him, he knew Bernie was fond of the odd drink in the evenings, and it was pretty obvious that some of the bottles he'd had up there weren't exactly cheap,
"You don't have to do that, Bernie, I am gonna try and stay off the drink"
Bernie turned back to look at him when he spoke, a smile spreading across his face, "I know, but I want to do everything I can to help you with this, and I don't drink that often these days anyway" He shrugged, letting the last dregs drain out of the bottle he was holding before dumping it into the bin, the glass of the bottle clinking against the ones that were already in there.
Elton sighed, biting his lip gently as he ran his fingers through his short hair, "I don't want you to feel like you have to babysit me, though. I am doing a lot better" He said, risking a quick glance in Bernie's direction. He was glad to see that the lyricist looked a little abashed, he really didn't want Bernie to feel as though he had to be watching him every second of the day. Still, he had to admit that maybe it was a good idea to throw out all the bottles of drink though.
"Sorry, I know that. That's not what I meant" He said, before holding out the bottle that he was holding, "D'you want to help, might be cathartic?" He asked with a hint of a grin.
Elton hesitated for a moment before taking the bottle, and he was half tempted to take a swig of it before Bernie could stop him. Still, he supposed it was progress that he was only half tempted, and it was that knowledge that had him pouring the remainder of the bottle down the sink, "Y'know, even if I wasn't an alcoholic, this would be breaking my heart"
"Mate, it's a bloody crime" Bernie responded with a grin, and there were those damn laughter lines creasing the skin around his eyes again. Elton couldn't help but smile back, before dumping the empty bottle into the bin. He was surprised to feel pride in himself blooming at what he'd just done, at the fact that he'd been strong enough to actually pour the alcohol down the drain.
When he looked back up at Bernie, he could see the pride in his eyes too, and right in that moment? He was determined to beat this just to make Bernie proud if nothing else. Maybe some day soon he could take Bernie back to his own house and they could do the same thing. Not yet though - baby steps - he'd only gotten out of rehab yesterday, he knew he wasn't strong enough for that step yet.
Bernie grinned and clapped him on the shoulder, his fingers pressing fondly into his shoulder for a moment, "I'm proud of you, Reg"
"Me too.. and you're right, that was cathartic"
It was actually, it had felt damn good to do that. He knew that before, there was no way he'd have been able to pour nearly a full bottle of expensive whiskey down the sink. Now he'd only slightly struggled internally rather than grabbing the bottle and running with it.
They were quiet for the next couple of minutes while they poured out the rest of the bottles, and before they knew it; Bernie's drinks cabinet was empty. He smiled as he looked across at the lyricist, feeling warmth bloom in him at the fact that Bernie was giving him the same bright smile, "D'you want to meet the horses, actually?" He asked, and Elton raised his eyebrows. Obviously he knew Bernie would have horses - living on a ranch and all that - but he hadn't thought that he would actually be meeting them.
Clearly his surprise showed on his face though, because Bernie smiled and rolled his eyes, playfully elbowing him in the ribs, "Come on, get changed and we'll go out to them" He told him, shoving the bin back over to where it was supposed to go.
After changing into the clothes that he'd deemed most acceptable for going out to the horses, Elton followed Bernie out to where the stables were. Once he'd gotten out there, he was surprised to find that it was more than the four wooden walls that the stable had looked like from a distance. It was rather nice actually, even if the smell was exactly as he expected it to be.
There was a corral a little way away from the stable, and that was where he found Bernie with the two horses. They weren't as huge or intimidating as he'd expected them to be - which lead him to believe that maybe they were females - but then again, he knew pretty much nothing about horses.
"Oh, there you are. C'mere" Bernie said with a smile as he noticed Elton had joined him. Elton had to suppress a slight smile at Bernie's denim shirt and cowboy boots, seemed he was fully embracing this new cowboy lifestyle. Then again, it had always been his dream. He followed him over, noticing that one of the horses was already saddled and reigned up, "This is Stella" Bernie told him once he had reached them, indicating to the horse than was already saddled. She was a pretty thing, Elton had to admit, dark brown but with a white streak up her nose.
"Hello, Stella" Elton murmured with a small smile, reaching out tentatively to brush his fingers through her mane,
"Melanie is over there, I'm gonna show you how to get her saddled up and then we'll go for a ride"
Elton's attention was dragged back to Bernie at his words, raising his eyebrows, "We what now? Bernie, I don't know how to ride a horse"
"I'll show you. It's not hard, it's just a stroll"
Elton was still quite apprehensive as Bernie lead him over to the other horse. He was glad to see that she was a little smaller than Stella, and she definitely seemed to be the least feisty of the two - although he was pretty sure that was why Bernie had chosen her for him, he guessed Bernie was probably an expert at horse-riding by now, "Alright, Melanie" He said with a nervous smile as they approached her. She was lighter in colour too, closer to beige than actual brown.
Bernie let him get acquainted with her while he went and got the saddle and the rest, dragging them back over afterwards, "Bernie, are you sure about this?" Elton asked, and the younger man flashed him a quick smile, "It'll be fun, I promise you'll enjoy it" He told him. At Elton's still worried look, he smiled and rolled his eyes, "I'll get her ready, then we can get you up on her and if you're still not sold then well forget about it, yeah?" He asked, and Elton nodded. Okay, he could give him that much at least.
So he stood back and watched as Bernie got Melanie ready, securing the saddle onto her and arranging the reigns and bit. He had to admit actually, as he watched him work, that Bernie had beautiful hands - they were made for hard work like this. He worked with his hands too, playing piano, but his hands were manicured and polished and taken care of. Bernie had hangnails and callouses, and it somehow suited him.
Before he knew it - before he was mentally ready too - Bernie had finished, and he turned to him with a smile, "Alright, come on". When Elton simply stayed where put, he smiled again and rolled his eyes, grabbing the older man by the hand and pulling him over to the horse, "Alright, it's easy enough to get up, I promise. What you're gonna do is put your left foot in the stirrup, then hold onto the front of the saddle and as you pull yourself up, swing your right leg over, yeah?" He asked, quickly demonstrating how to get up onto the horse before hopping back down - and, alright, he'd always had eyes for Bernie, but he'd somehow managed to make getting up onto a horse look sexy.
"Easy for you to say" Elton muttered. Bernie made it look so effortless, whereas he was pretty sure he was going to end up on his ass. Still, he'd promised Bernie that he'd try. So he did what he was told, and after a couple of attempts where he'd lost his nerve halfway through, he finally ended up atop the horse.
He flashed Bernie a slightly nervous smile in response to the bright smile the younger man was giving him, before watching him crossing over to Stella and climbing up onto her. Once he had gotten settled, he nudged her sides gently with his heels, making his way over to Elton and Melanie, "Alright there?" He asked with a grin, and Elton nodded, "Come on, dig your heels in slightly to get her moving and then just guide her with the reigns, we'll just go slow"
Elton was surprised to find that it was actually easy enough to get her moving, and he soon fell into step next to Bernie and Stella. He was glad they didn't go far though, or that they weren't going too fast. He'd never ridden a horse before, and he was pretty proud of the fact that he'd managed to get up on her at all without landing on his ass. The last thing he needed right now was for Bernie to insist they went show jumping or something.
So they just settled for walking slowly in and around the stable and the corral, Bernie rambling on about his daily routine with the horses while they walked. Elton had to admit though that he wasn't really listening, he was more just watching the younger man. Bernie looked so at home here, his long hair tied back in a ponytail, his jeans dusty and worn. He knew they had worked together to get famous, that it had been Bernie's lyrics as well as his music and voice that had projected them to stardom - but he still felt a little bad for dragging Bernie down into his world with him.
Bernie had signed up for the fame and the music and the pretty girls, he hadn't signed up for Elton's downward spiral, or his addictions, or however many times he'd nearly killed himself. He somehow only realised that now, with seeing how happy Bernie seemed to be out here away from all of that.
Somehow he'd always taken Bernie for granted, he'd always assumed that he'd still be right there no matter what sort of shit he'd put him through, he'd always assumed he was fine with it. He realised now that it wasn't fair on him.
All of a sudden, he felt a little like the walls were closing in on him, and he didn't realise that he'd slowed nearly to a stop until Bernie turned Stella around to trot back to him, "Reg, you alright?" He asked, raising an eyebrow, and Elton raised a shaky hand to run it through his thinning hair, "Bern, I.. I need to get down"
Bernie hopped down off the horse straight away, rushing over to Elton to help him down off of Melanie. He took a deep breath once he had gotten down, rubbing his face. He could feel Bernie's hands on his shoulders, on his cheek, trying to coax him to look up at him, "Reg, mate, what's wrong?" He asked, and the concern in his voice made Elton shake him off,
"How the fuck am I still alive, Bernie?" He snapped, and Bernie looked taken aback at his question, "Wh-"
"I have been abusing myself for the last nearly ten years, I have put unimaginable amounts of alcohol and drugs and all sorts of shit into my system, I nearly killed myself with an overdose and played the Dodger Stadium two days later, I gave myself a massive heart attack at thirty-one, and after all that I still let Reid treat me like shit.. and I dragged you into all of that"
"Reg, I d-"
"You wanted to write music.. you didn't sign up for any of the shit I've put you through, and you certainly didn't deserve the way I've treated you over the last few years. I cou-"
"Shut up and listen to me, alright? No, I didn't sign up for the drugs and the alcohol, and I certainly didn't sign up for John Reid. But I signed up for you. We made it because of each other, and no matter what sort of shit we dragged each other through, I was never just gonna wash my hands of you, alright? You're my best friend, you're the most important thing to me in the world. It killed me to see what Reid was putting you through, what you were doing to yourself.. and I know I lost my temper sometimes, that we took a bit of a break, but I was never gonna walk away from you for good, no matter what"
Elton could feel himself choking up a little as he listened to Bernie, and it wasn't until the younger man had stepped forward and wrapped him in a tight hug that he let go and let himself cry, clinging to Bernie's shirt, "Shh, it's alright. We're both here, everything is alright. This is all part of your recovery, we knew it wouldn't be easy but you're over the worst of it" Bernie murmured as he rocked them slightly from side to side,
"I know, and it's okay. It's okay to let yourself feel things again"
Elton could barely even begin to comprehend how much hearing Bernie say that meant to him. Back when he'd been in the hardest parts of his addiction, when he'd start to crack around the edges, John would just offer him another bump of coke. He'd simply been trying to keep him numb and pliant.
Bernie pulled back from the hug slightly, just enough to smile at Elton as he wiped his tears away with his thumbs, "Come on, we'll get the girls back and go inside. Go on, I'll follow you in"
Later that evening, they were sitting out on the back porch over their dinner, mostly just listening to the radio rather than actually talking. Or well, Bernie was wolfing down his dinner, Elton was mostly pushing his around his plate. While he was slowly starting to beat the drug addiction and the alcoholism, he was struggling a little with his bulimia. He hadn't had the strongest stomach anyway since he'd gotten properly addicted to the coke, and he'd found it even harder to keep food down once he had gotten used to making himself puke it back up. Still, he was trying, and he was glad Bernie didn't mention it much.
He felt pretty bad about his meltdown earlier, but Bernie had reassured him that it was fine, that it was all part of the process. He was just relieved that Bernie was encouraging him to feel, that he wasn't asking him to keep his emotions and his feelings bottled up.
He was enjoying the calm of the evening actually, it was nice to just sit out here on the porch and relax. From where they were, he could hear the horses whinnying quietly out in the stables, the hum of the crickets. He barely even realised his mind had been wandering until he was snapped out of it by Bernie's voice, "What was that?" He asked, redirecting his attention back towards the lyricist,
"I said, it'd be nice to just do this forever, wouldn't it? We could just retire and stay out on this porch forever" He repeated, stretching a little where he was slouched in his chair across from Elton,
"We could.. don't know how long it'd last though; John would probably hunt me down and kill me if I retired out of the blue" He said with a weak attempt at a chuckle. He'd meant it as a joke, but he wondered how much truth was in his statement. He wouldn't put it past Reid, if he was being honest.
Bernie didn't laugh though, and the two of them lapsed back into silence before Bernie spoke again a couple of moments later, "I'm sorry"
"For.. everything. Like you said, for leaving every time things got too real.. for letting Reid do what he did for you, for not decking him for doing what he did to you.. for not kissing you on the rooftop that time"
Elton honestly didn't know how to respond to that. He'd never resented Bernie for that, he'd respected the fact that he didn't feel that way for him and that was fine. He knew Bernie loved him, just that he wasn't in love with him, and that was fine. Still, he could see the regret in the younger man's eyes, and he knew he couldn't just sit here in stunned silence,
"It's okay, Bernie. You stuck by me in the long run and that's all I could have asked for. As for the rooftop.. I never held that against you. I never lied about my feelings for you, but.. back then I needed you as my lyricist and my best friend - not my boyfriend - and you were both of those things. We were both young and eager and we could have ruined everything if we had gotten together and it ended badly"
"If it hadn't though.. Reid never would have gotten his claws into you, he wouldn't have hurt you like he did"
"I can't guarantee that he wouldn't have. When I first met him, he was flashy and confident and everything I thought I wanted - and if we'd been together when I'd first met him, it would have ruined everything. Like I said, I needed you as a best friend, not a lover"
Elton just looked at Bernie, biting his lip gently. He could see no discomfort in the younger man at the conversation though, he just looked a little embarrassed, maybe slightly unsure. Still, what was Elton supposed to say? He'd fallen in love with John and John had ruined him, but he'd never stopped loving Bernie. So he just shrugged a little, giving him a small smile, "Like I said, I never lied about my feelings for you, and they haven't changed.. so it's your call"
Bernie looked hesitant, opening his mouth to speak before shutting it again, and Elton was about to say that maybe they should go to bed and finish their conversation tomorrow, before he spoke again, "You're just starting to get better.." He murmured, and Elton understood his hesitation. So he gave him another small smile, reaching over to link his fingers gently through Bernie's,
"And you're helping me with that. You know how I feel about you, and I'm okay with however you feel about me.. whatever way that might be. You're not going to send me spiralling or anything if you decide you don't want this, you're still my best friend"
He was relieved that his words seemed to reassure Bernie, as the lyricist visibly relaxed as he spoke. They seemed to make up his mind too though, as he tightened his grip on Elton's fingers slightly before leaning over to him, pressing their lips together. The kiss was so sweet it made Elton's heart hurt - hesitant and slightly unsure, but he could feel the love Bernie was pouring into it.
It was only when Bernie raised a hand to rest against his jawline and Elton could feel how his fingers were shaking did he pull back from the kiss, just enough to look the younger man in the eye, "Alright?"
"Yeah.. just, new is all"
Elton smiled as he settled back properly into his own chair, although his fingers stayed twined with Bernie's. He was surprised by this turn of events, if he was being honest, but he certainly wasn't complaining about it. Bernie just smiled at him, running his thumb back and forward along Elton's knuckles,
"I'm sorry I didn't- back on that roof, I lied when I said that I didn't love you like that. I was scared, was all"
"Scared of what? I'm just me"
"I was nineteen, and you were my best friend. I'd just started seeing girls and we were finally getting somewhere, I was scared of admitting how I really felt about you and then ruining everything. I was kicking myself for it, but when I met Heather, I assumed it was for the best that I'd said nothing and that she would be the love of my life.. I was far too young to get married though" He murmured, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Well yeah, Elton had to admit that maybe he was right about that. Despite all the shit he'd gone through with Elton, Bernie had grown into a good man - the best person he knew - and yet, he was still on the good side of thirty-five and had already been divorced twice. He didn't get it, he didn't understand how anyone could possibly fall out of love with Bernie. Then again though, maybe that was just because he'd been trying for fifteen years and still hadn't managed.
He just smiled a little, leaning over to press a quick kiss to Bernie's forehead to snap him out of his thoughtful mood, "Maybe this is a little selfish of me, but I can't say I'm disappointed that neither of your marriages stuck" He teased with a grin, drawing a laugh from Bernie.
"How the fuck does he manage by himself?" Elton muttered to himself as he rummaged through Bernie's cupboards.
Bernie had gone into town for the afternoon to do a bit of shopping, and while he'd asked Elton if he'd wanted to come with him, the older man had said he'd stay here and try and get something together for dinner. He wasn't the best at cooking - considering he hadn't had to do it for himself for a long time - but he figured it couldn't be too difficult. Seemed he was wrong though, because Bernie never seemed to have anything in the cupboards that could come together in a cohesive meal!
He'd found some pasta and there was a lump of beef in the fridge as well as some onions, so he figured he'd just have to make do and try and get something together out of that. He was a little concerned about giving them both food poisoning though, considering he didn't really know how to cook.
He'd been just rambling about for the last while in his boxers and an open dressing gown, deciding that he'd shower and get dressed once he had made dinner. He crossed the kitchen with a yawn to switch on the radio, although he smiled a little when he caught sight of himself in the mirror hung on the wall - more specifically when he caught sight of the tiny bruise on his collarbone.
Nothing more had happened between himself and Bernie other than a few sweet kisses, but that was more than enough for him. He knew this was all new to Bernie, so he didn't want to rush into anything. They had just been laying in bed the other morning, Elton running his fingers absentmindedly through Bernie's hair which he was wearing loose for once. The lyricist had been still half asleep, and he shifted over to press his face into Elton's neck, pressing a soft kiss to the bare skin at his collarbone. It had surprised Elton however, when instead of another kiss, Bernie had sucked a mark into the skin just over the bone.
"Just a little reminder that I'm yours" He whispered with a smile, trailing his fingers along Elton's jawline.
John had done the same thing to him a few weeks back, but instead of the small sweet mark that Bernie had left, John had left a huge ugly bruise high on his neck - impossible to cover most of the time - which he'd said was 'to let everyone know that you belong to me'.
It was only now that Elton realised the difference in the two gestures. Bernie had just left him with a tiny private reminder that he loved him, whereas John had been staking his claim.
He was dragged out of his train of thought by the sound of somebody rapping on the front door. It had been a couple of hours since Bernie had gone out, plus the ranch was pretty private, so he assumed it was probably just him returning back. The younger man had a tendency to forget his keys when he went out anyway. On that note, he went out to open the door, yawning as he went. As he unlocked the door, he was distracted for a moment by an opened letter that Bernie had left discarded on the hall table. Due to this, he didn't realise who it was at the door until he was shoved back against the wall of the hall,
"I should have known you'd be hiding here, you little prick"
He blinked for a second as he regained his composure, the back of his head throbbing painfully where he'd knocked it when he'd been slammed against the wall. It was only then that he realised that it was John who had his hand fisted in the front of his dressing gown, and that he looked furious, "John? Wh- how did you find me?"
"Oh, please. Did you really think that I didn't know you'd be here? I've just been dealing with the fallout from your little stunt back there. Madison Square fucking Garden, how dare you put me in that position?"
"I was getting help. I was running myself into the ground, and I needed help"
"No, you wanted an excuse to hide away out here and live out your little fantasy with Taupin as though he did actually feel that way about you" John snarled, and Elton didn't miss the way his eyes dropped to the bruise on his collarbone. John's features twisted into a smirk once he realised what he was looking at, and his expression made Elton feel a little nauseous,
"Or maybe he did change his mind.. tell me-" He murmured, leaning in close to speak in Elton's ear, "-was he good? Or did you spend the whole time imagining that it was me fucking you instead?" He asked, and Elton barely had the time to even try to think of a response before John was dragged backwards off of him.
In a second, it was John who was shoved up against the wall, Bernie holding him there by the front of his jacket, "What the fuck d'you think you're doing here?" He asked, and Elton could tell that he was seething. Bernie was a quiet man in general - when he was mildly annoyed or inconvenienced he would get slightly mouthy, but it was always obvious to Elton when he was truly furious, as he would sink in to this silent rage.
"Ah Bernie, I was beginning to wonder where you'd gone off to. Elton and I were just discussing how nice it was that you had finally gotten down off your high-horse and fucked him like the slut h-"
John didn't even get a chance to finish his sentence before Bernie's fist connected with his face with a crack. This time it was Elton dragging Bernie off John, holding onto his arm once he had dragged him away. Not that it hadn't been incredibly satisfying to watch that, but he really didn't want this escalating into anything more than it already had. He'd been on the receiving end of John's punches before, and he really didn't want Bernie getting caught up in this,
"Just.. go, John. I don't belong to you anymore"
John just scoffed, wiping at his bloody nose with his handkerchief before turning back on the pair, "Oh, yes you do. I've got a contract which you signed that says so. Your next concert is in Philadelphia next Tuesday and so help me if you don't show, you'll have wished that you'd killed yourself already"
It was with that that he turned and stalked away, Bernie shaking off Elton's grip on his arm to slam the front door behind John. Once he'd gone, he turned back to Elton who was watching him with a slightly helpless expression, "Oh, Reg.." He murmured, stepping forward to draw the older man into his arms. Elton wrapped his arms back around Bernie, tucking his face against the crook of the lyricist's neck as he just held onto him, "Bernie, what am I gonna do?"
"I don't know, I'll think of something"
Elton was getting antsy, if he was being honest. And he hated to admit it, but he was getting pretty frustrated with Bernie. After their little altercation with John, he'd decided he needed to talk to a few people, and had spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone. That had been hours ago, and Bernie was still shooing him away every time he approached him to ask what he was up to.
He'd well and truly gotten himself into a sulk by now, and was now sitting out on the back porch with his arms folded. It was just.. it was unfair, he knew he had signed contracts with John, but that had been back when they were happy and - so he thought - in love. He didn't think it would come back to bite him in the ass. He was just starting to get better, he knew he'd end up sinking back to his old ways if he went back on tour right now.
Bernie came out and joined him not long after, smiling fondly at the pout on Elton's face, "Oh, come on, cheer up" He said with a smile, sitting next to Elton who continued to sit with his arms folded and a pout on his face, although he leaned slightly into Bernie's side - he wasn't really pissed off at him, after all. It was just the situation.
"So, I spoke to a couple of people, and I'm afraid Reid has us in a bit of a vice since you signed the contracts"
Elton sighed and put his head in his hands as he listened to Bernie. Great, what was he supposed to do now? He couldn't go back on the road, not with John by his side trying to lead him back to his old ways. He wasn't that strong, not yet, he knew he wouldn't be able to resist.
"So what am I supposed to do? Just go back on the road with him? You know what he's like, the second we get back out there, he's gonna start plying me with alcohol and drugs again and I don't think I'll be able to resist. Bernie, I c-"
"Let me finish. Officially, there's not a lot we can do. But I spoke to your publicist, your tour manager, and we're gonna do a phone interview with MTV tomorrow"
"Obviously you can't say a lot but you're gonna need to admit that you've been to rehab, that you're on the road to recovery, but that you're not in a great place yet. I have no legal obligation to Reid, his contracts are all with you, so there'll be no fallout if I say you're not ready for the tour and you're being forced to perform. You need to just lay the groundwork by admitting you're trying to get better"
Elton swallowed, running a hand through his hair as he listened to Bernie. He wasn't sure about all this, about admitting to the whole world that he was struggling, that he'd needed help. He glanced back up at the younger man, biting his lip gently, "D'you think it'll work?"
"I don't know, but it's our best chance. We just need as many people to know that you're not ready, that Reid is forcing you into it. I'm just hoping the backlash he'll get will be enough for him to agree to cancel the tour"
It wasn't the best plan, but it seemed to be all that they could do for now. Bernie was trying his best to fix this when it really wasn't his problem, so all Elton could do was appreciate it and hope that it worked. He smiled a little, dipping his head to press a quick kiss to Bernie's cheek,
"Thank you, it'll work"
The next day, he could feel the nerves starting to set in as one o'clock drew closer, which was when they would be doing their phone interview with MTV. He'd never liked phone interviews, but it was the easiest thing to do right now, rather than either flying out to MTV to do an in person interview or flying someone back to the ranch. The sooner the interview was on the radio, the better.
"Alright?" Bernie asked with a small smile, squeezing Elton's finger's gently, who gave him a smile of his own in return.
"Let's get this over with"
L: "I'm Louise Jackson, and I'm here with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the two men behind some of the biggest rock and roll hits from the last ten years. Wonderful to talk to you both. We haven't heard much from either of you in the last few months, what have you been up to?"
E: "Uh.. we're just taking some time off at the moment. It's been a tough few months, I've been getting myself sorted out"
L: "Last we saw of you was that show at Madison Square Garden that never was.. That was a brave stunt you pulled, a lot of people were very disappointed at the last minute cancellation of the show. What happened?"
E: "I'd like to apologise, firstly. I know I disappointed the fans that were at that show, and I can't even begin to say how sorry I am for that. But I needed to slow down. I was a cocaine addict, an alcoholic, and I realised that I needed professional help. So I went from the venue to a rehabilitation centre and checked myself in"
L: "It can't have been easy, admitting that. How are you doing now?"
E: "I'm okay.. I'm over the worst of it, I think. Bernie has helped me in ways that he doesn't even realise, and it's done me a lot of good to just take a step back from everything. I still have bad days, a lot of them, but I'm on the road to recovery"
L: "You're scheduled to play the Spectrum in Philadelphia next week, how is the preparation for that coming along?"
B: "If I may.. I don't think he's ready. He's come so far, but I think it's too soon to jump back into a full fledged tour. I know the last thing he wants to do is disappoint the fans, but it's still early days"
L: "So why is the tour going ahead?"
B: "Legal obligations. His whole team is aware of the fact that he's been to rehab, and they're sympathetic and think we should postpone. He has contracts with John Reid though - who's insisting that the tour go ahead, regardless of Elton's emotional stability"
L: "Do you feel ready for the tour, Elton?"
E: "Not really.. There's a lot of preparation to go into a tour like this, and I haven't had the time. It's not my call, but I'm not in exactly the right head-space for a major tour right now"
L: "You've got a personal relationship with John Reid as well as a professional one, has that been affected by all of this?"
E: "Our personal relationship is over, it's purely professional now. He's still my manager, but that's as far as it goes"
B: "Elton is doing a lot better since he and Reid have separated. Maybe it's a correlation, maybe it's not, who knows?"
L: "Indeed. Now then, every time we've spoken to you two, you've had something new up your sleeves. Has there been much writing going on or is this total R and R time?"
B: "Well I've been brainstorming a little. We haven't officially written anything, but there's been ideas bounced back and forward"
L: "Well hopefully we'll get to hear some of them soon. Thanks for this, it's been wonderful talking to you both. We all wish you the best of luck with your recovery, Elton"
E: "Thank you"
"How d'you think it went?"
"Good. We got the point across but you were respectful and didn't say anything that John can use against you"
"Your head might be on the chopping block though"
"Ah.. I can handle Reid"
Elton just hoped that they had done enough, that they hadn't said anything that Reid could use against them if he decided to sue or take them to court. All he knew for certain though was that he couldn't be in Philadelphia for that show, he wasn't ready, but he certainly didn't take John's threats lightly - even if Bernie seemed to be sure it would all work out.
Their answer came in the form of a phone call from John two days later - spitting out that it wasn't worth it, that Elton wasn't worth it. He was cancelling the tour and severing their contract, and while it would cost them both a lot of money to do so, Elton was prepared to pay it just to be free of him.
"Good luck without management. You'll regret this" John had snapped, before hanging up the phone.
Elton couldn't even find it in himself to care.
He spent the next few days just trying to come to terms with the fact that he was finally free, that Reid had decided he wasn't worth the effort anymore and had dropped him. Okay so he knew that it would be a lot to deal with when he eventually got back to touring, he'd have to find a new manager and a whole new management team, but he was prepared to put the work in. Maybe he would call Ray, see if there was any possibility of them giving it another shot.
He woke up that morning to the sound of music playing from the kitchen, as well as Bernie's slightly off-key singing. He took a couple of moments before getting up to just think about the whole situation, and to come to terms with how genuinely happy he was right now.
He thought back to the conversation he'd had last week with Bernie out on the porch, about how nice it would be to just retire and spend the rest of their lives doing this. He could just go back to being Reg Dwight, and the two of them could live out the rest of their days tending to the horses.
He knew he wouldn't, that he'd pack up his things and go back to touring eventually, but he was determined to be in a better headspace when he eventually did. The lifestyle that came with touring wouldn't tempt him anymore, he would be able to stay away from the alcohol and the drugs. Plus he would have Bernie by his side, and that meant more to him than he could ever say.
When he eventually dragged himself out of bed, he was distracted for a moment by a notebook that Bernie had left on the bedside locker on his side of the bed. There was a song scrawled on the front sheet in Bernie's messy handwriting, titled "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues". He hummed a tune to himself as he read the lyrics, tapping his fingers on the top of the bedside locker in an attempt to try and figure out a beat.
When he eventually reached the kitchen, he smiled at the sight of Bernie - who hadn't yet noticed his presence. He was shirtless, his hair tied back in a loose bun as he idly danced around the kitchen while making breakfast. It was nice to see how relaxed he was, how at ease, and it struck Elton suddenly how in love he was. He'd thought that what he'd had with John was love, but really it had just been him searching for something that hadn't been there. He realised now that this was the love he was looking for.
He smiled when the song on the radio changed to something much more familiar, watching Bernie singing quietly to himself as he stepped in time with the music to retrieve something from one of the cupboards, "As I walked out in the streets of Laredo, as I walked out in Laredo one day"
"I saw a young cowboy, wrapped all in white linen.. wrapped in white linen, as cold as the clay" He sang in response, grinning back at Bernie when he turned around to him with a bright smile,
"Great song" He remarked with a smile, putting down the pan he'd been holding to cross the kitchen to Elton, looping his arms loosely around his waist, "Good morning" He murmured, dropping a soft kiss to his lips. He went back to making the breakfast after a moment, humming quietly as they both listened to the rest of the song. He'd always have fond memories of that song, memories of when he'd first met Bernie in that cafe, the other customers staring at them as they sang to each other, Bernie slapping the table in time with the lyrics.
"Are you happy?"
Bernie turned back to look at him, raising an eyebrow. It had only just occurred to Elton that - while he was so wrapped up in his own issues, with the alcoholism and various addictions - that he never really took the time to check Bernie was doing okay. Bernie had always been his rock - he enjoyed a drink and Elton had seen him well and truly shit-faced drunk a couple of times, but he'd never fallen into alcoholism like he had. He knew Bernie had done coke occasionally too, but he always seemed to be able to say when enough was enough, and had never become addicted to the substance. Bernie had always been stronger than him, but he knew that didn't mean that everything was okay.
Still, Bernie smiled, crossing the kitchen to him again to take Elton's chin gently between his thumb and forefinger, brushing his thumb gently along his lower lip, "I'm so happy, you've got no idea". Elton couldn't help but smile in response, reaching up to take Bernie's hand instead, "I found the song you were writing, it's good" He said, crossing over to the piano in the corner.
He propped the notebook on the piano, humming to himself for a moment before starting to play a tune on the keys, "And I guess that's why they call it the blues, time on my hands could be time spent with you. Laughing like children, living like lovers, rolling like thunder under the covers.. and I guess that's why they call it the blues" He sang, continuing to play for a couple of moments more before he turned to Bernie to see his thoughts on it.
The younger man was watching him with an unreadable expression, his teeth sunk into his lower lip. Honestly? Elton wasn't sure what he was thinking, if he approved of what he'd done with the song or if he hated it, "So.. how was that?"
"I love you"
Elton could feel his heart hammering in his chest at Bernie's admission. He knew Bernie loved him, he'd reassured him of it before when he was in his lowest moments, and they had fallen into this somewhat relationship with each other, but he just.. this was different. This was Bernie admitting that he was in love with him, and he realised now that this was all he'd ever wanted.
He smiled as he rose from the piano, taking Bernie's face between his hands as he pressed their lips together in a firm kiss. They simply stood there for a couple of moments, licking into each other's mouths, Bernie's hands twisted into the material of Elton's t-shirt while his own continued to cradle the lyricist's face. He smiled once they had pulled away from the kiss, his forehead still resting against the younger man's, "I love you too"
His name was Elton Hercules John. He was an alcoholic, and a cocaine addict, and a sex addict and a bulimic.
But now he was in love.. real, genuine love with his best friend. And he was getting better.
He would be okay.