“Stone, he’s not gonna answer,” Jeff mutters. “It’s been almost two weeks, might as well just kick the door down.”
“Eleven days,” Stone corrects, frowning in disapproval at Jeff’s words. “Besides, there’s a spare key under the rug. You can unlock the door if you want, I was just giving him a chance to answer.”
“Three chances,” Jeff mumbles, ignoring the look Stone gives him as he kneels to feel around under the rug. Stone snatches the keys out of his hand almost immediately and hastily unlocks the door.
“Chris?” he calls, poking his head in. No answer. Stone glances back at Jeff uncertainly. “Maybe this is a bad idea,” he whispers. “I mean, technically we’re breaking in. And wouldn’t he have called us if he wanted to see us?”
Jeff shakes his head. “Stone, you know how Chris is. We can’t let him slide back into the way he was when –” Jeff stops short, a pained expression crossing his face. “Anyway, he needs us.”
“Okay,” Stone says quietly, pushing the door open further and taking a few cautious steps in. “Chris?”
They look around the whole apartment, twice, before they find him – Stone is poking around in the bedroom when the lumpy blankets on the bed shift slightly. Stone whips around, flipping the lights on immediately, and sees a few stray curls poking out of the mess.
“…Jeff?” Stone calls softly, moving forward and slowly pulling the blankets down, almost afraid of what he might see. He nearly chokes with relief when the lump stirs again, and he quickly tugs the blankets down the rest of the way. “Chris,” he says gently, shaking his shoulder, and Chris moans quietly and doesn’t move. Jeff comes in then, eyes widening in surprise when he sees Chris. “Hey, man, what’s up?”
Stone shoots him a glare that practically screams, Shut up, you insensitive oaf! Jeff winces in apology.
“Chris,” Stone says again, gently, rolling Chris over so he’s laying on his back. Jeff makes a slight noise of horror at the state of him – Chris’s eyes are red and puffy, his face pale and drawn and streaked with tears, and his hair is matted and clearly unwashed. “Chris, what’s wrong?” Stone whispers, shooting Jeff a worried look, and Chris just stares at the ceiling blankly, a few more tears slipping down his cheeks.
“Dude, you stink,” Jeff says lightly, ignoring the death stare from Stone. “You wanna take a shower or something?”
“Yeah, maybe you should,” Stone adds, catching on. “Come on, let’s get you up –”
Together, he and Jeff heave Chris up, whose legs seem to have stopped working. They half drag, half carry him to the bathroom, where Jeff props him up and Stone gently wipes his face with a rag and helps him brush his teeth. Chris stares straight ahead miserably, occasionally glancing at Stone but mostly just staring at his own haggard reflection.
“Chris, do you think you could manage a shower?” Stone asks softly, struggling to get a comb through Chris’s untamed curls. Chris doesn’t move for a few minutes, before he slowly nods, another tear trickling down his face. Stone and Jeff exchange another concerned look, but Jeff utters a quiet, “Let him,” so Stone helps Chris up and into the bathroom, starting the shower and waiting for it to be a good temperature before he backs out and closes the door.
“Stone,” Jeff says immediately. “We gotta call somebody. Something’s wrong, I mean seriously wrong.”
“Jeff, we can’t,” Stone mumbles, sinking onto the couch. “This is hardly out of the ordinary, and besides, we can’t get wrapped up in this. We’re still trying to get settled with Eddie.”
“I’m pretty sure calling someone would get us out of being wrapped up in this,” Jeff retorts. Stone just rolls his eyes.
“And who exactly would we call? This hardly merits paying for an ambulance ride, and right now I’m pretty sure we’re his closest friends—”
But he’s cut off by a massive crash from the bathroom. Stone and Jeff immediately leap up and dash into the bathroom, yanking the door open without hesitation. Chris is laying in the shower, clearly dazed, one hand still gripping the curtain he’d pulled down during the fall. Jeff grabs a towel and quickly drapes it over Chris’s unmentionables as he tugs the singer up; after a moment of staring, Stone rushes to help.
Ten minutes later, Chris sits on the couch in tattered jeans and a massive sweater, Stone and Jeff on either side of him. “Chris,” Stone says. “What the hell is going on with you?”
“Soundgarden broke up,” Chris says flatly, and Stone and Jeff jump, exchanging looks. It’s the first time he’s spoken so far, and his voice is rough and gravelly with disuse. “Susan’s divorcing me,” he continues. “Karen died last week, and I wasn’t invited to the funeral, which is tomorrow. Susan’s going after full custody with no visitation rights, and she wants my guitars.”
Silence follows his words. After a minute, Jeff half-whispers, “Who’s Karen?”
“His mom,” Stone replies, equally quiet. “Chris, I’m so sorry.”
“Chris, why is Soundgarden breaking up?” Jeff asks softly, like he’s afraid Chris might shatter if he speaks too loud. Maybe he would. “I haven’t heard anything about that, and I was out with Matt just last night.”
Chris shakes his head and doesn’t answer. He’s crying again.
“Fuck,” Jeff says, and Stone glares at him. “Fuck,” Jeff says again. “I’m calling Kim.” He gets up and disappears into the kitchen, and Stone turns to Chris.
“Chris, what happened with you and Susan, man?” he tries, and Chris doesn’t even blink. “Chris, I’m trying to help you.”
“She –” Chris starts, his voice ragged, but then he sobs instead and Stone quickly pulls him into a hug, trying not to think about how desperate he is to get out of there. “Where the fuck is Jeff?” he mutters, and Chris quickly pulls away with a quiet “sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” Stone says quickly, internally cursing himself. He nearly cries with relief when Jeff comes back in.
“Kim says you guys didn’t break up,” Jeff says, a perplexed expression on his face. “He says you’re on hiatus, so you can all get your ideas out of your systems and go back to metal. What the fuck, man?”
“Jeff,” Stone warns, but Chris only lowers his head slightly.
“He says hiatus, but I know they’re not coming back,” he murmurs, wiping at his eyes. “Why would they?”
“Because you’re a fucking amazing singer!” Jeff says, a little too loudly, and Stone glares again. “And because you’re a great guy,” he amends quickly.
“No,” Chris says clearly, and nothing else. Stone frowns.
“Yes, you are,” he says sharply. Chris just shakes his head.
“Look, what exactly is going on?” Jeff asks, clearly getting impatient. He’s not the type to sit around all day and talk about feelings, and it’s clear Chris’s obvious distress is taking a toll on him.
“Jeff,” Stone says, again. “Stop it.”
“Everything is falling apart,” Chris says, and then he puts his head down and begins sobbing for real. Stone and Jeff stare at each other in horror for a solid ten seconds before Stone hesitantly hugs Chris, rubbing his back and gently telling him it’ll be okay. Jeff swears loudly and leaves to call Susan.
They sit like that for a good five minutes, listening to Jeff yelling in the kitchen, before Chris calms down and pulls away from Stone, apologizing again. “I’m just a mess,” he says. Stone doesn’t disagree.
Jeff comes back in then. Good timing, Jeff, Stone thinks sarcastically. Avoid all the drama and blow off some steam in the process.
“Susan’s a bitch,” Jeff says, and Chris snorts, scrubbing at his eyes. “What the fuck happened, anyway? I couldn’t get much out of her, aside from how terrible you are and how great she is.”
“That’s Susan,” Chris offers weakly, attempting to smile. “I just got sick of it.” He closes his eyes and takes a deep, steadying breath. “She was hitting me, anyway.” He says it in an offhand way, like he’s describing her skincare routine, but Stone’s jaw drops. After Andy, he took a considerable amount of time to educate himself about domestic abuse. Jeff, apparently, did not.
“Why would you let her do that?” he demands, looking utterly baffled. Chris buries his head in his hands and doesn’t answer, but he’s trembling. Stone pats his back awkwardly and shoots Jeff a murderous look, something he’s getting quite good at. Jeff looks, if possible, even more confused.
“Chris, we have practice with the new guy today,” Stone tells him, deciding it’s best to just change the subject. “You’re coming with,” he adds, in case that wasn’t clear. Chris raises his head in surprise, his face smeared with tears again.
“He doesn’t want to meet me,” he says with conviction.
“Yes, he does,” Stone says impatiently. “But he doesn’t have to today if you don’t want to talk to anyone. You’re coming with either way, though.”
“Okay,” Chris says, and he looks too exhausted to argue.
“Okay, you’ll meet him?” Jeff interjects hopefully, and Stone wishes, not for the first time, that his bandmate would go die in a hole.
“Okay,” Chris says again, and puts his face back in his hands, slumping against Stone. Stone braces himself.
“Chris, we kinda have to leave now if we’re gonna make it on time. To practice, I mean.” He’s barely finished speaking when Chris starts shaking his head.
“I can’t yet. I need to rest, just a little longer.”
“You’ve been in bed for over a week,” Jeff says disbelievingly, and it’s Chris’s turn to glare at him. “How can you possibly still be tired?”
“Maybe because he hasn’t eaten,” Stone offers quickly. “Why don’t you go make him toast or something?”
“No bread,” Chris says, lifting his head again. “And Jeff can’t cook.”
“You don’t need to know how to cook to operate a toaster – fine,” Stone snaps, getting up so fast Chris tips over. “I’ll just go make something myself then.”
It takes Stone twenty minutes of hopelessly searching Chris’s cupboards before he resigns himself to microwaving the frozen corndogs in the freezer, which are apparently the only edible food in the whole apartment. He sticks three on a plate, even though he knows Chris probably won’t even manage one, and paces while he waits for the timer to go off. A lone post-it note on the fridge catches his attention and he goes cold all over when he recognizes the name of Andy’s dealer. Stone rips the note off the fridge, stuffing it in his pocket, and retrieves his corndogs, vowing to talk to Chris about it once he’s back on his feet.
Back in the living room, Stone and Jeff sit in silence, watching Chris miserably nibble on the end of a corndog. Stone is silently debating if he should pull Jeff aside and tell him about the number, but he’s saved from deciding when Jeff gets up to call the guys and tell them they’ll be late. Stone stares at Chris for another five minutes or so before he finally becomes impatient, yanking the corndog out of Chris’s hand.
“Fine, don’t eat,” he snaps, grabbing the plate and dumping it in the trash. Chris just sighs slightly and leans back onto the couch. After a minute, Stone feels guilty. “You know, I can drive you to that funeral,” he offers, shifting uncomfortably on the floor. “If you want to go, I mean.”
“I wasn’t invited,” Chris says blankly, not even looking at him. Stone shifts again and prays that Jeff will come back.
“Yeah. But, I mean, you could always go anyway. It’s your mom’s funeral, you have a right.”
“Oh.” Chris slowly turns to look at him. “Okay.” It seems like he’s trying to say something for a minute, until finally he blurts, “You know Lily isn’t even mine.”
“What?” Stone definitely did not know this. “You said –”
“I know,” Chris interrupts. “But Susan told me –” He stops. “I still love her, anyway. I still feel like she’s my daughter. How fucked up is that?” He laughs miserably. “But that’s hardly going to hold up in court.”
“At least you don’t have to pay child support,” Stone offers weakly, cringing at the insensitivity even as he says it. Chris doesn’t answer.
Jeff comes in then. “Stone, we gotta go,” he says. “They’ve been waiting for like thirty minutes for us.”
“Okay.” Stone jumps up instantly, relieved. “Come on, Chris.”
Chris slowly pushes himself off the couch, then makes a funny noise like a whimper and sinks back down again, hiding his face. Stone shoots Jeff a meaningful look and together they pull Chris up and help him out to the car, where Stone slides in the back with him. He wraps his arm around Chris’s shoulders and Chris leans into him, letting out a shaky sigh. Jeff starts the car.
By the time they arrive at the dingy warehouse they practice in, Chris is fast asleep on Stone’s shoulder. Stone almost doesn’t want to wake him, because he actually looks peaceful for once, but he shakes Chris anyway until the singer stirs. Jeff’s already gone inside to tell everyone to avoid Chris (and also to avoid Chris himself, Stone guesses), so it’s just the two of them, and Stone is hoping to maybe get more out of him before they go inside.
“Chris,” he says hesitantly, stopping him from getting out. Chris frowns, sinking back into his seat. “Listen, I know what you said isn’t everything. I mean, yeah, it’s bad enough to be everything,” he adds quickly. “But I’ve known you for a long time, Chris.”
Chris just shakes his head, and Stone can see tears forming. He quickly backtracks. “Look, you don’t have to tell me. It’s fine. Just –” He stops, trying to find the right words. “You can talk to me if you want, man,” he finishes, awkwardly patting Chris’s arm. Chris nods slightly, mumbling his thanks, but Stone knows he won’t take him up on the offer. He sighs and slides out of the car, helping Chris stand when he follows. Together they trek inside.
The practice room falls dead silent as they walk in, Stone’s arm casually swung over Chris’s shoulders (but actually holding him up). “Hey, Chris,” Mike says hesitantly, and Chris nods. Matt gives a little wave and Chris stares at him in hurt and confusion.
“Matt?” he murmurs, seeming almost dazed. “What are you…”
“These guys asked me to play for them,” Matt says guiltily. “Just because Soundgarden’s on hiatus, man, it’s not permanent.” Chris doesn’t bother responding, just sinking onto a tattered couch facing the setup. There’s an awkward silence for a moment, the rest of the band taking in Chris’s wrecked appearance, before Jeff says, “Hey, Chris, this is Eddie,” gesturing to the young man awkwardly standing next to the mike stand.
“Andy’s replacement?” Chris says sharply, not looking up, and Stone cringes. “Chris,” he says quietly, and Chris buries his head in his hands. Stone can see the way his back is heaving and realizes he’s about to have a panic attack. He rushes forward quickly and sits next to Chris, rubbing his back. “Come on, Chris, it’s okay, calm down,” he whispers and after a moment Chris raises his head, his face screwed up with effort, and sinks back into the couch, his breathing slowing. Stone lets out a breath of relief – crisis averted, he thinks – and stands, walking back to the band. They’re all shamelessly staring and Stone takes a moment to viciously glare at each of them before he picks up his guitar and waits for Eddie to count them off.
Five songs later, they’ve just started playing Footsteps when Chris jumps up, startling them all. “You can’t play that.” His voice is shaky. “That’s Andy’s song, you can’t let him sing that.”
Silence. “Chris,” Stone says quietly, pleadingly. “Eddie wrote his own lyrics and melody, it’s fine.”
“No, it’s not!” Chris’s voice is getting higher, more hysterical. “I know that song, Andy played it for me and he can’t play it!”
“It’s okay, we can skip that today,” Eddie offers quietly, but Chris cuts him off.
“Not just today,” Chris insists, his hands clenching into fists. “You can’t play that song, you asshole, that’s Andy’s song and you can’t play it –”
“Chris!” Stone yells. “Jesus Christ, he is not an asshole. It’s just a song. Andy wouldn’t want you to –”
“You fucker!” Chris screams, grabbing the lyric sheet from Eddie’s hands. “You fucker, you have no fucking idea what Andy would want. He’s fucking dead, and I –” He stops suddenly, almost gasping and suddenly going white, covering his mouth with shaking hands. Stone doesn’t hesitate, wrapping Chris in a hug immediately.
“It’s okay, Chris,” he says as gently as he can. “You’re okay.” Chris lets out a few helpless, uneven sobs before he pulls back suddenly.
“I should go,” he whispers, wiping his eyes furiously. He turns and addresses Eddie, “I’m sorry, I didn’t, I mean,” he closes his eyes and turns away again.
“No,” Stone says quickly, grabbing Chris’s arm. “Come on, just sit on the couch and watch, okay?” Chris is shaking his head, and Stone looks around for help. Jeff steps in. “Chris, come on,” he says quietly. After a minute Chris sits down again, his head bowed, and Stone turns back to the group.
“Okay,” he says uncertainly, “let’s try a different song.”
Two hours later, after a hushed discussion with Eddie, they decide to try Footsteps again. Chris’s head jolts up when the song starts, but other than that he doesn’t react, thank God. Except, halfway through the song, Eddie’s voice trails off and he hesitantly says, “um” into the microphone, causing Stone to look up sharply. Chris is doubled over on the couch, gasping and clutching his chest. “Stone,” he says weakly, and Stone realizes that he must’ve been saying his name. “Shit,” he mutters, yanking his guitar off.
“Chris,” Stone says loudly, sitting next to him, and Chris just shakes his head wildly, shaking his hands out and wheezing. “Chris,” Stone says again, and touches his arm cautiously. Chris jerks away, making a strangled noise, and Stone quickly pulls his hand back. Jeff walks over and hovers uncomfortably nearby, and Stone sits silently next to Chris as he gasps for air, sobbing so hard he’s nearly choking. The band stands, silently, watching them. Stone tries again.
“Chris,” he says, and gently puts his arm around the singer. Chris lets out a painful moan and grabs Stone, gripping him so hard it’s painful. He has his eyes screwed shut and he’s still frantically wheezing for breath, tears streaming down his cheeks. “It’s okay, Chris,” Stone whispers, pulling him into a close hug. “It’s okay, calm down. Just breathe, you’re okay.”
“No,” Chris finally chokes out, tilting his head up in an attempt to get more oxygen. After a moment he slowly slumps against Stone, his breathing evening out. Stone looks over in surprise and realizes that Chris has passed out.
“What the actual fuck is going on with Cornell?” Mike demands immediately, watching as Stone and Jeff lower Chris onto the floor. Stone frowns in confusion.
“I thought Jeff explained it,” he says. Mike shakes his head.
“No, man, he just said not to bug him.” Stone shoots Jeff a killer glare, and Matt cuts in, “Soundgarden’s on hiatus, but that’s all I really know. I think maybe he was having relationship problems or something too.”
“He’s getting a divorce,” Stone tells them, deciding it’s best to leave out the reason why for now. “And his mom just died. Oh, and he’s very convinced that no one in Soundgarden is coming back, so you might want to clarify that.”
“Shit,” Mike cuts in. He opens his mouth to speak, then stops and turns to Eddie. “Eddie, can you go get him a cold rag for his face?” He waits til Eddie nods and leaves the room before he speaks again. “Man, is this gonna be like –” He lowers his voice. “Is this gonna be like how he was with – with Andy?”
“No,” Stone says firmly. “No, we won’t let it be.”
Eddie comes back then, and they all clam up. After a minute he says uncertainly, “Is he okay?”
Stone nods, wiping Chris’s face with the rag, and he can’t help but smile slightly. Eddie isn’t Andy, but at least he’s nice, especially considering how Chris had acted towards him earlier. Stone’s thoughts are interrupted when Matt suddenly blurts, “You know, if something’s wrong we gotta be really careful or he’ll be the next Andy.”
The memory of the note on the fridge hits Stone like a ton of bricks and he snaps, “How, exactly?”
“You know, like a fucked-up junkie. That’s all Andy really was in the end, anyway.”
Stone jumps up, his vision going red. “You didn’t even fucking know him!” he yells, throwing down the rag. Chris stirs. “Why the fuck would you even –” He stops when his vision becomes too obscured with tears. The room is dead silent, except for a quiet groan from Chris on the floor. After a moment it becomes too much. “Fuck you!” Stone spits, and storms out.