Shadows

by brooklinegirl

brooklinegirl@rcn.com

1/2004

R for language, probably

Disclaimer: Hard Core Logo and its characters belong to Terminal City Pictures, Shadow Shows, Michael Turner, Bruce McDonald, and Noel S. Baker.

John watches Joe and Billy. Takes place back then, when they were simply a band. Things werenít easy, but they were less complicated.

I am, as ever, honored to have had the talented SnowFlake on the step-by-step beta of this for me. A great debt is owed to Qlara, for enabling me in my HCL obsession, and for getting me thinking about the boys to the point where I had to write this scene. And thanks to Abelladonna for encouragement above and beyond the call of duty.


It's hard to not look at them. There's this connection between them, a focus, and it's like a protective shield that keeps everyone else out. When they're together, it's like they get the joke that everyone else missed. It's funny, though, because you can't even really be jealous of them. There's this click there, like this bond they have creates a sort of cosmic balance. Like however fucked up it is, it's meant to be.

And you can't fault them for it, can't fault them for keeping you out, because whatever it is that they've got there between them, it's important. And most times I just feel lucky to be able to watch. When they get like this, they're not even aware of me. They're not aware of anything at all except for this balance that they find only with each other.

It's late - or early maybe - and nights like this, they put Pipe behind the wheel. He's good for late-night driving. He puts on music and just grooves to it, singing along, tapping his hands on the steering wheel, his eyes everywhere at once, but he keeps the van going further on up the road. Me, I can drive during the day, but nighttime isn't good for me. I get lost at night, lost in my head, and forget to focus on things like lines and headlights and roads.

So I just sit here in the near-dark of passing headlights and scribble.

I'm curled up against the rear doors. Joe takes the low couch that rests along one side of the van and Billy lies on the floor beside him, swathed in his long black coat. The hum of the road under the wheels and the wind outside muffles sound in the van and creates a sensation like we're traveling outside of time and space. Joe and Billy talk quietly, totally intent on each other. Billy has his head resting on his hands as he lies there on his stomach, and you'd think it would be him who's at the disadvantage here, but it's Joe who's leaning ever closer to hear what it is that Billy has to say.

Watching them together as they lie next to each other in the dark and speak soft words meant only for each other, I think that I will never understand them entirely. But again, I feel sort of honored to be part of this regardless. To be able to blend here, invisible even in the same van, and watch this. Watch them.

Billy twists over onto his back, reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out his smokes (he's smoking American cigarettes again). He pushes one between his lips, offers the pack to Joe at the same time as he starts digging under his coat, searching his jeans pockets for his lighter. Joe shakes his head at the offer of a cigarette, watches Billy dig around a little bit more before Joe tosses him a lighter that he pulls out of his own pocket. Billy catches it gracefully and lights the cigarette, his head lifting up off the floors as he does so. For a second, his face is cast in silver by the moonlight through the window.

He lies back down and attempts to blow smoke rings at the ceiling. Joe watches him, his face relaxed, as open as Joe gets. Billy turns to his side, to face Joe, tugging his long coat so it doesn't get caught under him. He's got his cigarette in his mouth, talking quietly around it, and it isn't very long before Joe reaches out and takes it from him, smokes it himself.

Billy curses at him mildly, but settles back down, watching Joe smoke, and after a while Joe slips the glowing butt back into Billy's hand. Their words are low, but the tone intent, and I can watch the way Joe is listening, attentively, to what Billy is saying, his eyes focused and absorbed. What do they talk about? About the music, that's one thing for sure. I've seen them writing songs together, and it's as tender as any kiss you'll ever see. Joe has a habit of moving Billy's fingers on the frets, and Billy observes this, moves with him; this is natural for him, for them. This makes sense to them.

But I can't help but wonder what else they say, how close they get. Do they talk about love, about fear, about where they've been, where they're going? There is no "we" about this, not an all-inclusive "band" conversation. I know this; I have always known this. Pipe doesn't know. I don't know that he'd particularly care if he did. He's here because he's here, and we'll see where it goes. Wherever it goes, Joe and Billy will be together. Me and Pipe? We're just back-up.

The two of them together are something. Together, they are more than they ever could be apart. But Christ, it's not easy between them. They have their moments, like this one, relaxed and close in the sway of the van. But they earn these moments, I'll tell you. It's like they're looking to share the same spot of land, the same spot of existence, and can't figure out that they can do it together. You can't have one thing without the other, I guess, and for them it works out to mean that you can't have this kind of love without some hate to go along with it.

The two of them carry a whole lot of anger with them, and they're not afraid to show it, sometimes with fists, more often with words. The violence works for them, mostly. Blows off a lot of steam real quick, and half the time, they get over it right afterwards and are grinning and smoking together even while theyíre still bleeding.

Worse is when it comes out with words. They know each other so damn well, too damn well. They know how to hurt each other bad. Joe is mean, sure, he is right-out-there, openly nasty. Billy is different - he's mean too, but it comes in subtly, from behind, when you don't expect it. Heís malicious that way. At least Joe is an asshole right up front, and he'll get right to the point about what it is you're doing that's pissing him off.

Billy - well, he doesn't generally choose to be as nasty as Joe is. But Christ, when he does? He's a fucking bastard about it. Points out just what you don't want anyone to see. Real focused. Real cruel. Each word barbed and pointed to where it's gonna do the worst damage. He doesn't do it much. Mostly he's just watching, almost as much as me. But when he's drinking - and when he's mad (and mostly when he's mad at Joe) - that's when it comes out, that real focused mean streak.

Joe gets the brunt of it. I think maybe he likes it. He knows Billy's fronting, and he likes Billy to be focused on him, mad or not. Knows all these words are there to protect them from what they really want from each other. Can't be all one way or all another. Get too close and you're gonna get hurt. I think they know that what's there between them is pretty damn fucking special. And they don't know what to do with that. Maybe they think they're not good enough for it. So they fight it tooth and nail. Fight each other tooth and nail. And end up closer than ever, clutching at each other hard as they can. Scared to hold on, scared to let go, scared to even admit that they're scared.

I'm fucked up, but I can take care of it with the right drugs at the right intervals. These guys? There ain't enough drugs in the world to help them out, so long as they're fighting it so bad.

Sometimes the fight drains out of them. When they're settled into the tour, when they're tired but not too tired. Not as guarded as usual. Not as careful as usual. Nights like tonight, when Joe's not coked up, when the two of them are buzzed but not real drunk, they just sort of settle real easy, into each other, into how damn simple this can be.

They don't notice me sitting here scribbling about them. They don't bother to notice, because they are lost in the fascination they have for each other. That's what it is. I can't explain it any other way, they're fascinated with each other, and I think a little bit scared, a little bit amazed, by how fucking good it can be when they quit fighting it. Thing is, the fighting is a part of what makes this work between them. They are neither of them real gentle guys. They have to work out those hostile tendencies, have to push each other around, have to get it out before they can lie here together and allow themselves to relax.

It occurs to me suddenly that if they either of them ever heard me refer to what they have as tender, they would get together to mutually kick my ass.

It's love. I can see that real clear. They know it too, but can't look at it head-on. They're cool, they're tough, can't talk about it like that.

Joe's said something that got Billy laughing, there on the floor. Joe's watching him laugh and his face is so damn open, it hurts to look at. I don't think he even knows it, how right now his eyes hide nothing. He can shut it down if he tries, can make his eyes blank and cold and you'd never even know he had a soul.

But mostly - mostly when he's looking at Billy - it's right fucking there on his face. How he'd give goddamn anything to have Billy by his side forever. Christ, these two crazy fucks are meant to be. No one else could even come close for either of them. Something clicked the day these two met, and there was no turning back.

I think I'd be terrified to be part of something that intense. Looking at them, I think they are too. Thatís something big, that's something major, to find your other half. The person who makes you more than you are by yourself. That's huge. And mostly they fight it, because it's scary, you know, to know that standing on your own is never gonna be the same again.

But now - Billy's on his side again, watching Joe. You can see how intently Billy's looking at him, how he's getting lost in this. I don't know - I don't know much of anything, I'm just John, just crazy John, always have been crazy, always will be, but anyone with eyes to see can tell you how the Joe and Billy show works. You watch them together, and there ain't nothing better. Can't question it. It shouldn't work, but it does. They work. Together.

Up front, Pipe is singing madly along to the radio, hunched forward, fingers drumming on the wheel. Back here, I'm invisible, with my notebook and pen. We're passing through headlights as cars flash by us along the road, and across the van, the two of them flicker in and out of darkness. As the light passes across their faces, I can see that they're not talking anymore, but are just lying there, watching each other. The shadows flash across Joe's face and his eyes are darker than I've ever seen them. Shadow flashes again and Billy has pushed up on his elbow. Dark and light are crossing each other and my eyes and my brain have never been a perfect match, so maybe what I see is a trick of the shadows. The lightís fading in and out, painting Joe in a sort of distorted chiaroscuro as he leans down towards Billy, and Billy leans up, their lips meeting in the cross between darkness and light.

I jump as the screech of a chord cuts its way across the van.

"Turn it the fuck down, Pipe, you fucking cunt!" Joe yells from his bunk. And everything surges back towards normal and it's just the four of us, who've been in the van too long, with too many cigarettes and not enough sleep, and a hell of a lot of driving ahead of us. Billy crawls over to his guitar case to dig out a new pack of cigarettes, and Joe rolls over on the bunk to face the wall.

Billy calls my name from across the van, offering me a smoke. When I nod, he tosses me one, which I catch, barely. I light it, then toss Billy my lighter, knowing he'll pocket it and I'll never see it again. I lean my head against the window, the glass cold against my forehead, and watch the road go racing by. Smoke my cigarette slow, and think, once more, how maybe itís worth anything to be a part of this.

~end~


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