On the advice of their therapist (and five weeks isn't long enough to get them whole and happy and fixed again, but it's all that they've got), they re-do the setlist to mix things up a bit, start fresh, or something.
Jon cuts (You Want to) Make a Memory first, and no-one says anything, but Dave looks at him and - he's a professional, yeah? He's shown up to every fucking show this year. So he gets to make some of the tough choices.
"What else?" he asks, probably a little too brusquely, but, hey. It's been a long tour.
He vetoes Diamond Ring and Superman Tonight and Just Older, and he tries to cut Whole Lot of Leavin', too, but David finally intervenes (and fuck him, fuck them all. Lemma can sing "You used to live to say you love me," to Richie if he loves the song so damn much).
"Lay Your Hands on Me and Stranger?" he asks Richie, and without waiting for an answer, he pencils in (R) after the titles, and, yeah, it's something they haven't done since last tour, but it's a peace offering, or some shit.
Richie raises his eyebrows. "Thanks," he mumbles (has the sense not to push for Come Back as Me, just yet, but he will, Jon knows, because he knows Richie; he'll ask, and Jon'll say sure, whatever, and they can all sing about their fucking feelings some more).
"Yeah," is all Jon says (wonders if this is as good as they're gonna get).
"A full run through?" Richie asks, incredulously, and Jon's teeth are already on edge. It's gonna be a long month. Hell, it's gonna be a long day. "I remember how to play, Jon."
"It's just - been a while," Jon says (and he's aiming for placating, but judging by Richie's expression, he's missed the mark a little. He probably could'a tried harder).
"I know my shit," Richie insists.
"And I'm not asking," Jon says, and it's too clipped, too everything-he-promised-he-wouldn't-be, and their tempers are already fraying.
"Yeah, well. Maybe you should," and OK, Richie's just being a dick on purpose, now, because they talked this out on a therapist's couch (and he's not stupid. He knows what Richie pointedly wasn't saying; Jon's a megalomaniacal control freak. And if he doesn't deny that, yeah, maybe he does have some issues with control, Richie can't deny Jon's the only reason the band's still together) so he stares at Richie, and Richie stares at him, and he'll be fucked if he's backing down now.
"Just one run through," David interrupts, changing a couple of settings on the keyboard, so perfectly casual and disinterested that Jon could kiss him. Then, looking up, David adds, "Teek could use the practice," and Tico flips him off with both hands, but it breaks the tension a bit, and Richie's sort of smiling, just a little, but-
"I've been playin' this for twenty years," Richie complains, when they get to I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, "Pretty sure I wrote it." And Jon, Jon is rising above, as David and Tico come to a stop, too.
Jon glances at Richie for a long moment (and where, in the past, there'd be an easy smile, an agreeable shrug, Richie just stares back at him).
"Yeah, OK," Jon finally relents (and he might be a brand-spankin'-new Richie, or whatever he's trying to prove, but Jon can still read him like a fucking book, so he doesn't miss the surprise that flits across his face). "Just - some of the newer stuff?" Jon doesn't really ask.
"Sure," Richie says, more genially, and Jon switches to What About Now, wordlessly, and waits for the others to catch up.
(But he can't let it go (never lets anything go, and maybe that's half their problem), and he follows Richie outside when they take a break, because, apparently, they can't spend more than an hour in the same room, anymore-
"I'm not gonna get down on my knees every time I need you to do your fuckin' job," Jon says, and when Richie looks genuinely amused, Jon hates him a tiny bit more.
"Jon Bon Jovi on his knees?" Richie mocks, not lightly, and there's a heat prickling at the base of Jon's neck because Richie's got a long memory too and he knows (knows Jon does get down on his knees, gets down and gets off on the vague submission of it all, gets off in a way their therapists'd have a field day with; knows he likes it best when Richie pulls his hair and holds him there until he can barely breathe-)
"Go to hell," he says, evenly, and he's actually proud of his restraint.
"I'll save you a seat," Richie replies, too pleasantly, like none of this is bothering him
(and maybe it isn't)).
One interview, they agree, before the first show, because they don't want this to be a thing; Richie missed a couple of shows, and now he's back. The end.
"And everything's - everything's good?" is the soft-ball question that gets lobbed to them on Mexican TV (and if he wasn't so focused on smiling, Jon'd almost be impressed with just how wide a berth they're giving
(The Edge, ego, money, rehab, clean tours, inferior shows)
everything everyone's wondering about).
"Yeah, look. We're family," Jon non-answers, warmly, patting Richie's leg just long enough to look genuine.
"Are you having fun, being back on tour?" the woman asks Richie.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Richie jokes, and Jon covers his face with a hand in mock dismay, "It's good to be back," Richie says, normally, and Jon drops his hand and grins at him, and Richie grins back, and they're just one big happy family-
(until the cameras stop rolling; their smiles disappear almost instantly, and Jon rises, unclipping his mic and thanking the interviewer, and Richie's obviously in no hurry to follow, taking a long sip of the water in front of him).
It's - muscle memory, he guesses. He bows down to Richie's solos because it's as familiar as the first few notes of Wanted; this is what they do. He doesn't have to like it.
It's - it is what it is. Jon tosses out a quick, "Good to have you back, Mr. Sambora," because it's what's expected, and just keeps going.
"You used to live to say you love me," he sings, and why'd he ever even write this? "Now you got one foot out the door. Then you turn around and ask me, 'Do we got it anymore?'" there's the practiced pause and he knows if he turns to his right, Richie'll say, like he always does, "You got it, baby,"-
so he turns to his left, and Lemma just nods, earnestly (they've been doing it this way for the better part of a year, and David still hasn't quite mastered the banter, the pantomime, but whatever).
And Richie doesn't react, and Jon figures that, maybe, he's not going to, until he sings, "blow me one last time," in That's What the Water Made Me, and it's so loud, there's so much going on, that Jon's probably the only one who even notices, but he's not going to turn around until the end of the song, when he heads back for his water.
"What the fuck was that?" he asks Richie, under his breath.
Richie's still facing the crowd, and Jon knows he can't hear him, not over the screaming and in-ear and Tico, but Richie shrugs, face a caricature of innocence. "Guess I'm just out of practice."
When they finish up, Jon wraps an arm around Richie and grins, like he's genuinely happy to see him.
"And they said you couldn't act," Richie grins back (just a joke, light ribbing, but it cuts where it hurts, and Richie knows that, because Jon Bon Jovi hates to fail, and Richie knows that - knows him - better than anyone on this planet), and if he honestly thinks they're doing this here and now-
Jon squeezes Richie's shoulder a little tighter, "Fuck you," he says, with finality, through too-white teeth, barely moving his lips (and there are so many cameras on them right now).
Richie throws his head back and laughs (laughs like they're still friends, or partners, or - whatever. Who cares? Not Jon), grabbing Jon high on his waist.
"My brother," he says, and he knows Richie's mocking him again, mocking every Southern affectation of Jon's Richie's ever hated, "You already did," and Jon pushes him away, like they're kidding around, and Richie's grinning his stupid, stupid grin, even as he tosses his pick to a blonde in the front row, with a quick wink.
They go to bow again, and Jon reaches for Richie, one more time (they have to do this, he knows, have to pretend, have to make it look like everything's OK), and Richie presses against his side, too close and too warm.
He follows Richie back to his dressing room; "Don't you ever-" Jon starts, slamming the door behind him, and he's so angry, he can't even finish a thought, "Not on stage-" and Richie just grins at him, unrepentant.
"Yes, boss," he says, flippantly, and that's the tipping point; Jon knocks Richie's hat off and shoves him against the wall and Richie actually looks a little surprised. Good.
Richie reaches for Jon's fly, slowly, and Jon tightens his grip on Richie's shirt, but doesn't stop him.
"I saw you checkin' out that girl," Jon murmurs, as Richie unzips his jeans.
"Mmnn," Richie doesn't deny it, wrapping his hand around Jon, and Jon sucks in a noisy breath. It's been so long since they've done this; too long. "Jealous?"
Jon snorts. "No," then, as Richie strokes him, firm and sure, "You've always had a thing for blondes," and it's meant to be a jab about Heather, but Richie just shrugs a little, and Christ, that's not what he meant, like, that's not a jab, that's stabbing him with a fucking kitchen knife or something
(because Richie's loved Jon for the better part of thirty years, and they both know it).
Richie tightens his grip a little and Jon starts rocking into him, dropping his head and mouthing at Richie's neck, "Yeah," he says, so far gone he doesn't even care that his voice catches, "Yeah." (He's gonna come, and he's gonna come first, arousal and embarrassment flushing his chest as he does just that, spilling over Richie's hand, their shirts).
He sags against Richie for a moment, catching his breath, and it's only when Richie wraps an arm around Jon's hips, low and loose, that he pulls away, tucking himself back into his pants.
Just like he expects, Richie asks to swap out Stranger for Come Back as Me their second night in Brazil, because Richie Sambora has never been much of a puzzle to him.
He's heard it, yeah, but that was before, back when it was just a B-side, a forgotten track from Aftermath. Now, it's "not Frankie, not Dean", and Jesus, he hasn't always been the King of subtlety, but this - from Richie, who's far less literal than Jon - he should've just called it Fuck You, Jon and been done with it.
Backstage, Jon pulls on a clean, dry shirt and grabs another bottle of water (fuckin' hot out there tonight), and Richie's up there, for Jon and the world to see, the part of Richie that always wanted to be more than comic relief, always wanted to be the frontman (and there are a lot of thing's Richie's still pissed about, and Jon's sorry, but this is one he can't change, one they've never even alluded to; he's a better frontman than Richie, and he always will be), and in a move so unplanned he's almost impressed with himself, he tells a stagehand to grab Richie's acoustic.
"Gon' change it up a little, right now," Jon decides, when he returns to the stage, grabbing the mic stand and clipping the mic in. He half-turns to look at the others (Jon Bon Jovi? Going off-book?) and David's hands are hovering over his keyboards, ready, ready for whatever Jon's doing. Jon grins at him. "Stand down," he orders, hand curling around the mic, before he glances at Richie. "Well?" he demands, jokey and showy, "What are you waitin' for?" and the stagehand's there, ready to swap Richie's guitars, and Richie takes it, moving towards Jon a little hesitantly. "Try an' keep up," he says, lowly, but it's into the mic, so Richie knows it's a joke.
And, for all of his faults (and Jon could list them, Jesus, and right up there's number two: his tendency to fuck off in the middle of tours, and he's not going to pretend he's not still angry), the man's got an undeniably almost preternatural musical sensibility, and Jon only gets out the first three notes of Diamond Ring before Richie joins in.
Their hands are moving in unison, tonight, moving in synch, and they fucked this up so many time on the last tour, fighting to lead, singing and playing all over each other, that they don't play it as often as they used to.
Jon moves to the side a little, so Richie doesn't have to crane as awkwardly to get to the mic (and yeah, sometimes, he does stand straight on and make Richie bend around him, and sometimes Richie yanks his head away like he's on fire before he's even finished his note, but they're doin' OK tonight).
Richie wraps an arm around Jon's neck and pulls him close, when they're done.
"I don't need your pity," he murmurs, and when he pulls away, Jon doesn't move for a moment and maybe, maybe he's never been much of a mystery to Richie, either.
(He blows Richie back at the hotel in apology, until his eyes water and his jaw aches, rubbing Richie's thigh almost affectionately, and Richie threads his fingers through Jon's shower-damp hair too gently, because his biggest fault's always been loving Jon too much).