Title: The Dead Pictures
Author: Seana Renay.
Pairing: Billy Tallent/Joe Dick.
Rating: Slash, R. (Drug use. Disturbing imagery. Language, Joe and Billy.)
Summary: Wherein the scene begins in 1995 and ends in 1979, Billy and Joe take pictures and make promises, and Pipe and John are, as usual, little more than ambient scenery. (Sorry, guys.)
Disclaimer: Not mine. No money. Don't sue.
Notes: The idea for the dead pictures comes from something three friends of mine and I did a couple years ago, back in my goth-punk-poseur stage. I was thinking about it the other day, and it just seemed so Joe. Dedication: For Andy, Heather, and Precious Brian.
Date: February 2001.
In the top drawer of his dresser, under two stacks of flannel shirts, a spare set of strings, and a pile of t-shirts, tucked in Joe's Hard Core lyric spiral notebook between "Something's Gonna Die" and "Who the Hell," Billy kept a picture of Joe with a bullet hole under his chin and his blood and brains spattered against the dingy white tiling in the bathroom of the Hard Cores' old apartment.
He didn't know why he kept it. John's and Pipe's had been lost a long time ago. He was pretty sure that Joe had kept his, too, and that he'd find it someday, stashed in a CD case or a book in Joe's Old Stuff. It wasn't wildly original, but he called it that because 1.) it made sense, it had been Joe's stuff, and it was old, and it was Joe's old stuff because Joe was dead and Joe obviously wasn't going to come back for it, not this time, and 2.) that was what John had scrawled across the top of the cardboard box he'd packed all of the stuff into, after the funeral, after they found out for sure that no one else gave a fuck or probably even knew that Joe had died, and who else would want his weird-ass CD collection and ripped up t-shirts and scribbled, beaten up lyric books, anyway?
John had packed up Joe's stuff after Joe's death. John, with his nervous condition and his stutter and his pills and his twitchy, freaky episodes. Fucking John had been more together, had been better equipped to deal with it than Billy had been or ever could be. At the funeral, John had been the calm one, the comforting one, the shoulder to cry on. But no one had cried. Pipe had been high as a fucking kite, feeling no pain. John wondered if he would have, anyway, wondered how much Pipe really gave a shit about any of them. Billy hadn't shown.
It made sense that Billy could look at Joe's dead picture without any trouble, without feeling like he'd just had his stomach and his heart ripped out, even though Billy wasn't able to go to the funeral, wasn't able to look in the newspaper or at the fucking quarter page blurb in Rolling Stone about one more aging rocker who'd offed himself, wasn't able to watch Bruce fucking asshole liar manipulator murderer fucker fucker fucking bastard McDonald's fucking movie.
Bruce's fault. Bruce's fault. If Bruce hadn't opened up his big fucking mouth, and Billy had maybe gotten a chance to explain to Joe, to apologize, or just to say, "Too late, you asshole, you fucked me for the last time," maybe things would have been different. Joe would have been hurt, and Joe would have been pissed, but maybe he wouldn't have been so fucking lost and desperate as to. . .
That was all bullshit. It was Billy's fault, everything about it had been Billy's fault, and Billy knew it. Fucked if he'd admit it, even to himself, but he knew it.
Joe's dead picture wasn't real. Everything else was. Everything else was more real than anything Billy had ever had to face up to in his life.
They'd been scared as shit that night when they came home, ripped as usual, having a great fucking time, and found Joe covered in blood, slumped in the bathtub, his eyes closed, a hole in his head. Pipe started to shout. John started talking to himself. "Gotta call 9-1-1, shit, shit, gotta call somebody, shit, fuck, gotta think." Billy got very quiet. Nobody noticed that there wasn't a gun in Joe's hand. After what seemed like an hour and might have been, Billy went into the bathroom and touched Joe's face. "Joe?"
Joe's eyes immediately opened, and he grinned. "Looks like you got the Jesus touch, Bill. Hey, Pipe! Did you piss yourself or what? Pussy fuck. Nobody even called an ambulance for me. Shitty friends you are. Billy, go get the fucking camera."
Billy hit Joe, and Joe's head cracked back hard against the linoleum, so when they finally found the camera, some of the blood was real. The rest was ketchup mixed with a little water and chocolate syrup to thin and darken it. Joe's brains were cooked ramen noodles. Pipe ate the leftovers while Billy took pictures and John shook his head and swore at them.
The Polaroids developed, and they looked legitimate. Pretty fucking cool.
"It's your turn, Billy," Joe said, climbing out of the tub. He looked completely surreal, like a zombie. He cleaned up the mess in the bathroom, while Pipe and Billy argued about the ways Billy was likely to die.
Billy got beaten to death. "For being a smart-assed cunt," Joe said. He needed bruises, lots of them, and Joe offered to work him over free of charge, but they ended up using some of that funky stage makeup John kept getting. John helped cover him with blackish purple bruises and lots of blood. Pipe tore up a shirt that was already ripped a little on the side. No one was sure whose it was. They went outside, Billy dropped into the gutter on his back, and Joe snapped some photos.
John's turn was next. He didn't want to do it, but Joe had turned it into a Thing, so he knew there wasn't going to be much of a choice to make. He was in Hard Core Logo. If you were in Joe's band, you played Joe's games, and if you didn't bitch, you didn't get bitched at. Fun for Joe was, effectively, fun for everyone.
John slit his wrists. So much blood, blood everywhere, what a fucking mess.
Billy kept getting scared. "I don't ever want to see this," he said to all of them. "You want to do shit like this, you do it somewhere where I'm not gonna be the one to find you."
Pipe was excited, which surprised no one. Pipe was more jittery and annoying when he was clean than when he was coked up. He wanted something cool, and he was visibly disappointed when Joe looked him up and down and said decisively, "Overdose. Heroin. Bill, we got any needles here?"
Pipe protested, but Billy chilled him out. "You get the classic rock star death, unglamorous as it is," Billy said. "I get the shit kicked out of me in a fucking gutter." John made some pretty convincing track marks on Pipe's arm and tied it. Joe argued that Pipe should stick the needle in his arm. He backed off when Pipe threatened to stick the needle in Joe's eye. The pictures came out good. Scary as all hell.
Billy, Joe, and John took quick showers and changed. Billy sprawled out on the tattered, cushionless couch. Joe sat in front of him on the floor, on one of the couch cushions. Pipe was still in the bedroom, lying back on his mattress. He hadn't moved since he'd positioned himself there for the pictures. Joe said Pipe was thinking. Everyone laughed. John was drinking in the bathroom, probably downing more Vicodan, wherever the hell he'd gotten it from, pretending like the rest of the band didn't know. Pretending like they would have cared if they did.
"Tell me something," Billy said.
"Do I get a specific topic or do you want just a general something?" Joe asked, smiling. He rested his back against the couch and draped his arm across Billy's knees. "Come down here, if we're talking."
Billy moved down to the floor. "How long were you lying in the bathtub there tonight?"
"Don't know exactly. You went out, you took my watch." Billy reached for his wrist, and Joe shook his head. "I was dead, anyway," Joe said. "Not like I could have looked at it."
Joe nodded. "I died. You weren't here."
"You died because I wasn't here."
Joe smacked him on the back of the head. "Did I say that? You're an arrogant son of a bitch, Billiam. I said I died and you weren't here," he repeated, punctuating each word with a sharp poke to Billy's shoulder. He sighed loudly. "You should have been here. Fucked up that you weren't."
"Well, next time, I'll be there."
Joe cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. "Did you just make a promise to me, Billy?"
"I said I'd do something, didn't I? Is that a promise?"
Billy drew his knees up to his chest, and began to bump his left knee against Joe's right knee. He smiled, and Joe smiled, but Joe was looking at him like he'd lost his mind.
"Can I help you?" Joe finally asked.
"Promise me something now."
"A little needy tonight, aren't we, Billy?"
Billy laughed. "Just do it, fucker."
"Well, when you sweet talk me like that, what am I gonna say?" Joe turned sideways and faced Billy, an openly amused, completely condescending expression on his face. "What would you like, Billy?"
Billy rested his elbows on his knees, pushed his fingers through his hair, and looked at the floor. "Promise me. . ."
"Fuck off, man, I'm trying to say something here," Billy snapped, glaring at him.
Joe blinked and, with exaggerated effort, he sobered his expression. "I'm sorry, man. Go on. I'm listen--"
"Promise me you're never gonna pull something like that for real someday," Billy said quickly, looking over Joe's shoulder at the closed bathroom door.
Joe was shocked. He looked at the floor, looked at Billy, looked at the floor, scratched the back of his neck and said nothing for a long time. "You're serious. You mean that."
"Sure as fuck I'm serious," Billy said, the words coming more easily now. "You gave me a fucking heart attack tonight, I swear to God. I didn't know what I was gonna do."
"What do you mean?" Joe asked immediately.
"What do you mean, what do I mean?"
"What do you mean, you didn't know what you were gonna do. You thought I was dead, and you didn't know what you were gonna do about what? Funeral arrangements? Finding a new singer who sucks a little less than me? What?" Joe pressed him, doing the little knee bump thing, grinning like a four year old.
Billy grinned back. "Without you. Okay? You happy now? I didn't know what I was gonna do without you."
Joe's mouth dropped and he put a hand over his heart mockingly. He smiled, frowned, smiled again.
Billy was used to the quick change. He waited it out.
"You didn't say anything when you came in," Joe said, his tone even. "How did it feel?"
Billy thought, remembered. "Like the floor cut out from under me. Like I was falling. Not original, granted, but that's really what it was like." He laughed. "Sobered me up right the fuck quick, I'll tell you that much. Never been that scared in my whole life."
Joe opened his mouth, but Billy clarified, "Scared to be alone," before Joe had a chance to ask.
Joe nodded. "I don't really want to do anything like that," he said. "I don't think I'd do that to you."
"You don't think?" Billy asked.
"But the jury's still out on it, is what you're saying? I mean, you're not a hundred percent sure?"
"Fuck, Billy, nobody's sure about shit like that." Joe started fidgeting, cracking his knuckles, his neck, and Billy knew he was done with the conversation. "I'm trashed, kid," Joe said. "Where you sleeping?"
They all had separate places to sleep. Pipe and Joe had mattresses on the floor, Pipe's in the bedroom, Joe's in the living room. John had a sleeping bag in the bedroom. Billy took the couch some nights, unless he was sick or extra pissed or had a chick over, and then Joe switched with him. But mostly, he slept with Joe, because he didn't like to sleep alone.
It was never Joe's idea. Joe never had to convince him, persuade him. Pipe and John seemed to think that Joe had. No one could ever believe that Billy, cute Billy with the easy grin, angel Billy with his blonde halo and big blue eyes, would touch Joe Dick of his own volition, sober and consenting.
Billy nodded toward Joe's bed. "You care?"
Joe shook his head. He never cared. He got up and checked on John and Pipe, passed out in their separate rooms. He debated on dragging John into the bedroom, and decided not to bother.
When he came back, Billy was already curled up, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep or away. Joe took off his sweater and balled it up under his thin pillow. He lay down on his side, propped up on his elbow, and nudged Billy's shoulder. "What, you don't wanna talk to me anymore? You hiding from me, Billy? You still here?"
Billy opened his eyes. "Here."
Eye contact got a little too intense, and Joe broke it, laughing, rubbing his forehead. "I didn't like seeing you tonight, either. You don't end up like that, you know. That's not it for you."
"What is, then?" Billy asked in his Tell Me A Story, Joe voice.
Joe lay down on his back. "Fucked if I know. No," he corrected, sitting back up, "you'll drop from old age in your fucking hot tub in your fucking, you know, Hollywood Hills mansion, surrounded by cute teenage chicks and fucking platinum records and all that shit. And your tombstone will say 'Here Lies Bill Boisy, Would-Be Punk Legend Turned Corporate Whore.'"
"And you're gonna come and piss on my grave, won't you, you fucker?"
Joe shook his head with a small smile. "Nah. I'll be long gone."
"Don't say shit like that to me," Billy said, moving closer and pressing the length of his body against Joe's, putting an arm over Joe's waist to hold him there, and leaning his forehead against Joe's chest.
"What the fuck, Billy?" The room was suddenly twenty degrees hotter and Joe was having trouble trying to breathe. Billy's hand snaked down toward his crotch, trying unsuccessfully to stay quick and inconspicuous. Joe grabbed it, pulled it back up, held it white-knuckle tight between their bodies. "I mean it, William. Look at me. What the fuck?"
Billy frowned. "Don't get fucking pissy. Like you're not gonna let me do it."
"Thought you were gone tonight. Gotta get you back with me."
"I'm right here."
Billy shook his head, suddenly sounding a hell of a lot less sober than he'd claimed to be earlier. "Come on. Let me. You want me to. You know you do. I want to."
Joe laughed. "I never thought you'd have to convince me to let you get me off."
"Yeah, neither did I. So stop being a contrary bastard and let go of my hand. You're gonna leave a fucking bruise."
"You left a real nice motherfucker on the back of my head after you brought me back to life, Billiam, if you're forgetting all of a sudden."
"You deserved it, you scared the shit out of me."
Joe laughed again, loud this time. "And just what the fuck do you think you're doing right now?"
"That's not buddies, Joe," Billy said softly, leaning closer to Joe's face.
"Neither is this." Joe squeezed Billy's hand hard and let go, shoving it back against Billy's chest.
Hurt and sleepy-drunk, Billy rolled onto his back, letting his hand rest on his stomach. For a while, he was quiet.
Joe put his head down and closed his eyes.
"Maybe we're not buddies, then," Billy said.
Joe's eyes stayed shut. "Maybe we're not."
"Joe?" "Go to fucking sleep, or I swear to God, I will beat you."
Joe's eyes opened, bright and cold. "What?"
"You never promised me."
Joe breathed loudly and stared at the ceiling. Dirty cracked chipped paint, single bulb swinging on a string. Billy hated this fucking place. He hated that Billy hated it. Promises. He and Billy had never made a single promise to each other before. It saved them the trouble of constantly breaking them.
"You never promised me, Joe," Billy repeated.
Joe turned away from Billy and closed his eyes again. "Didn't I? Huh."
Three minutes later, Joe was pretending to be fast asleep. He heard Billy sigh and curse, felt him start closer, move back, give up and roll away, huddling on his side, carefully and deliberately not touching Joe. When his breathing became deep and his muscles relaxed, Joe waited. When Billy didn't stir again, Joe climbed off the mattress, pulled his boots on, and left to go get drunk.
Fifteen years later, Billy still hadn't gotten his promise.
Saved Joe the trouble of breaking it.