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When Even Your Best Friend Says,

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Two months in and Bernie doesn’t like Reid.

Not for lack of trying, because of course he’s tried. He owes Elton that much. Elton, who put up with Heather and Jasmine and Margot and Maria and Ruby when they came and went within the span of a week by sleeping with a pillow over his head. Bernie can at least try and stand just Reid. He can stand just Reid, even if Reid gets too loud too easily and is rude to the staff and has an annoying habit of popping his jaw after he thinks he says something particularly clever, something guaranteed to make Elton laugh but leave Bernie confused and concerned.

Which is new, because--

Bernie knows, in the back of his mind, that Elton isn’t an ordinary bloke. Even aside from the obvious-- or not so “obvious” for about the first year he knew him-- Elton was just different. He was prone to performing for everyone, even offstage. Bernie couldn’t begin to count the times he’d walked out from taking a piss in a club bathroom to find Elton with a woman on his shoulder, in his lap, feeding him booze while he chatted with club owners or band members like he didn’t have a care in the world. The club girls always cried when he got in the cab with no one but Bernie, in the end, because, simply put--

Elton’s faker than anyone, in good and bad ways. But he’d always been frighteningly real with Bernie. Bernie had always been the one in on the joke, on how LA is full of tit jobs and people who only play records in the background for something to fill the silence, lonely cokeheads and sad divorcees desperate for fame wherever they can get it. Bernie got his sense of humor, and Elton got his. They could make fun of the fake tans and flashy cars for what they were, nothing but posturing and overcompensation, and it was always them,  the new John-Taupin wunderkindagainst all of them. But. Now.

Now Reid leans in over Elton’s shoulder, whispers barely a sentence into his ear and he has him in stitches. Elton whispers back, puts a self-satisfied smirk on the man’s face as they go back and forth and back and forth, from their position on a loveseat, enough space between them for plausible deniability if anyone thought to do a double take. If there’s enough liquor in Reid, then there’s a hand on the back of Elton’s neck for the night, twisting the few strands of hair that Elton isn't sensitive about.

They’re close, aren’t they, Ray says, leaning against the doorframe, and Bernie says ask yourself after your Christmas bonus, and neither one of them laughs.

And now, Elton laughs at things Reid will say that Bernie doesn’t understand. The two of them will trade in speculations about everyone from Lords to TV producers, references to a scene Bernie didn’t even know existed, though he surely doesn’t know when Elton had the time between shows to discover this new, secret world. 

(He thinks about the times he would drag a Cynthia or a Patricia back to his hotel room, when he would push down the guilty image of Elton alone at the club by pushing his head up a skirt, reaping the benefits of having a chart topper. Now he wonders if Elton didn’t go to different clubs, didn't slip off to different hotel rooms right under Bernie’s nose--)

Good for him, Bernie supposes. He’s not stupid. He knows there are things that, no matter how many coins Elton throws in a wishing well, Bernie can never give him. There are things Reid can. Bernie’s secure enough to admit that. But.

It’s that sort of thing that makes him--

Well--

He used to be the one who made Elton laugh, in the backs of taxi cabs. Pressed together on an overcrowded bus, hidden in bathrooms backstage. It used to be the two of them, locking the rest of the world out with a couch pressed against the door for good measure, and laying upside down with their legs against the hotel room wall, taking the piss out of reporters and women and whatever album other than theirs was making threats towards number one. Elton used to preen for him, and compliment his more clever bits of lyric, and clutch at his sleeve when he was boozy and insecure with it.

Now, Elton hangs off of Reid when the three of them go out. Where he used to go to the floor with Bernie, Elton now gravitates to the more shadowy sidelines with Reid, playing their personal, two-man game of Risk, rolling the dice with touches skimming the top of waistbands and gazes held too long for polite conversation. Bernie will glance away from his Caty or Katie to check on them and notice them gone, sometimes, or making their way back from the restrooms with self-satisfied grins, and it almost makes him angry how obvious it is, how careless they are with--

He wonders, sometimes, when booze makes him guilty, if he would be able to put up with it if John was Jane, but he pushes that down as quickly as possible. He’s no bigot, and even if he was raised in the North he’s seen too much and known too many people in the industry to be able to forgive himself if he was. He’s just worried. There are four billion people or so on the planet, and not all of them are as sympathetic. 

Though Elton does alright for himself, Bernie guesses. With the press, at least, he sends enough hints towards imaginary female objects of affection, makes enough jokes about football at parties to distract from any suspicion that he might be more than fond of some of the footballers . He’s properly tight-lipped about anything personal when they’re out with company, even when drunk, though he’ll joke with the filthiest of them until Bernie’s in tears with laughter. 

The press call Elton soulful and private for all of a week after they hit America, and then he’s flamboyant and raunchy. It’s all lies, Elton says to a reporter in Chicago, I’m a darling behind closed doors, I just don’t want you all to get put out of work, and Bernie laughs for the first time since they left the West coast. But he still worries, when interviewers ask about the piercing, or his favorite clubs to visit, or when there will be a lady on his arm, a June Carter or a Yoko Ono to start drama over, and that’s when Dick dutifully redirects about releasing “Daniel” as a second single, and Bernie can exhale.

So, no, he doesn’t like Reid. He smiles tightly at him when they’re left alone, tries to find a middle ground to start conversations with, but there’s never enough time before Elton dances back from whatever he’d been distracting himself with to collect either one of them and ramble about art collections or sushi bars.

Bernie tries not to care if, more often than not now, Elton leaves with Reid rather than him.

Chapter Text

In December, Reid is the one who calls him to let him know that the letter came through. He loves your work, Reid says politely, like always. It’s the exact tone of voice he’d use to talk to his client’s lyricist, and it unsettles Bernie to no end. Around the same time that Bernie realized Reid disliked him as much as he disliked Reid, they came to a mutual arrangement-- they could be civil enough, even friendly enough, to avoid letting Elton know that they can barely tolerate each other at best. He’d even moved past asking Elton if he was sure, really sure about Reid. So Bernie pretends not to hear the bitterness in Reid’s voice when he follows that up with a lengthy description of Elton locking himself away, convincing Reid to bring his dinners up to him and then ignoring the meals in favor of drinking anything caffeinated, alcoholic, or both. He sounds like Maxine at her worst, and the thought picks at Bernie until he eventually feeds Reid some bullshit excuse to put the phone down.

Elton locking himself away to work is something Bernie can believe, understand, even. But Reid wasn’t supposed to last longer than a few months, wasn’t supposed to become the person Elton told to call Bernie for him. Wasn’t supposed to be Elton’s Maxine.  

That just wasn’t--

There was a period where Bernie can admit he lost himself writing for the new album. It happens occasionally, if he gets in the right mood. Sometimes he can’t bear to look at his own writing, convinced he hasn’t done anything good since this whole business started, but sometimes, he writes Elton novels of new material. So what if he hadn’t called in the past month he’d been writing, or he’d been with Maxine in the country before that? He’d seen Elton and Reid together recently enough that nothing could have really changed. He must have done.

But Elton’s always been the one to call Bernie about the music, usually only a day after the letter arrived, holding the speaker up so Bernie could listen to the trumpets, or his choices in the chord progression. A year ago, he’d picked up a call at eleven at night, Elton baiting him into a discussion about New Orleans before he could get a word in about the time difference between LA and France. He didn’t hang up until Maxine gave him the eye, the one that meant that her real job started at eight and she’d be in bed with or without him. Anything new, she’d asked politely, putting her curlers in for the night. Tap dancing, he’d responded, not at all untruthfully, and she’d just given him the eye, the one everyone gave him, the one that said he was properly insane and he’d be lucky if he wasn’t releasing albums from an institution. And she was right, they’d both gotten a little light in the brain since the critics really took notice of Elton’s talent and Bernie’s words-- but who doesn’t like being told that, frankly, they’re the new shit? They’ve both been a little high on it.

Truth is they’ve been fucking greedy for it.

Since Château it seems like he’d been in a fever dream, mind always only half present. He’d written the album after in a trance, high on praise, following Elton to shows only to be pulled backstage to a piano as soon as possible to hear some runs of songs that didn’t even have lyrics yet, just a title. Elton had asked him, once, if he’d ever felt like he just couldn’t write fast enough. He hadn’t understood what he had meant, back then, but now--

Bernie wonders if they have double rooms in institutions, for when the Americans eventually get tired of the music and just toss them in the bin together.

But now Reid’s picking up for Elton, complaining about him barely stepping away from the piano like his mum, and Bernie’s not so much upset as he is confused. He didn’t know it was like that with them, even when they moved in together, even when they spoke to each other’s parents. He didn’t know two men could be like that, never really expected it, or thought about it for too long, because if two men who lived with each other and called each other’s parents were queers, then, well--

Bernie doesn’t let his mind dwell on it. He has the urge to take Maxine away for the week, out to their house in the country, or a hotel somewhere in Europe, away from the suddenly suffocating atmosphere of the ranch, and for once she isn't complaining about his spontaneity.

The phone rings again the day they’ve finished packing, barely forty-eight hours since Reid last called. It’s your wife, Maxine says, and Bernie can barely spare her a dirty look before he’s picking up the receiver. It seems like Bernie's brain hadn't processed that it'd had been months since he's seen Elton until hearing his voice through the phone that second, slightly hoarse but filled with that familiar energy. It feels reassuring to hear Elton after the call from Reid earlier, like some cosmic wrong in the universe had been righted. He spends a minute just listening to Elton's voice, leaning against the wall, until--

It’s done, Elton is saying, voice barely audible over the tinny speaker on the ranch phone. I’ve written it all-- Even Saturday Night, the fucking beast, don’t know what you were thinking but that bit’s absolutely brilliant-- 

Bernie can barely process what Elton's saying until there's an obvious pause in his rapid-fire speech, a break where the speaker must get pressed to his chest as he talks to someone else in the room. Elton's composed as much as he could on his own, ready to go off to Jamaica as planned. Bernie's been excited about the prospect, some of their favorites had been recorded there-- their favorites because their tastes have leaned basically parallel for years, now-- but Maxine's still waiting in the sunroom to talk about visiting Zealand. Bernie needs to postpone, or let Elton know he can't make time until the end of the month, but a split second after he realizes that, the guilty, dark part of his mind comes to the verdict that he absolutely does not want to do that.

He can picture it in his mind's eye: Fine-tuning the verses over breakfast together. Waiting by the pool for Elton to feel secure enough to let Bernie in and listen, to let him lean over his shoulder as he plays him ideas, humming softly, saving his voice for the recording. Smoking in the evenings, celebrating in the hotel after because of course it'll be fucking brilliant, Elton's music always is, absolutely genius arrangements of his words that Bernie couldn't come up with in a million years. It'd be a bit like the sixties, staying together with barely any elbow room between the two of them and a piano, except for the band and likely Reid, but even then that thought can't bring Bernie to complain.

Elton's picked the speaker back up, despondent, John can't make the time to come down until February, but I can hardly wait, he'll just have to bugger himself until then, I'm ready to leave as soon as the new year comes if you are.

Bernie can't stop himself from grinning, staring at Maxine smoking in the sunroom when he tells Elton he's ready whenever he is, absolutely sorry to hear John couldn't make it.

Elton, always perfectly connected to Bernie's mood, laughs.

Chapter Text

It’s an endless cycle, from city to city, venue to venue, signing to live radio performance to hotel room to airport. Bernie tries not to feel too bitter about it, especially since he’s not the one doing all the work, just the one with the free booze and drugs and women whenever he feels like it. He walks into a Chicago hotel room to unpack and walks back out of one in Milwaukee, unable to remember the time between. Life seems like a repeat of the same scenes, the same calls home, the same women, the same highs. Fame isn’t a good look on him, Bernie thinks, it hasn’t been even before their latest work sent them into the clouds--

Bitterly, he thinks it’s ironic that the album about just going home, back to the country, back to his old one-room house, is the one that hurled Bernie up here, to this world that feels like a movie set where the lights never turn the fuck off--

He stays behind in the hotel more often than not, now, at first under the pretense of a headache before he learned (from a certain someone’s example) that he was famous enough to get away with a distinct amount of bitchiness, and moved on to just locking himself in with some dope or some faceless, nameless women. No one to write sonnets to, just someone who likes the sound of his name. In the time afterward, the moments when he’s truly alone, the most sober he’s been in days, he’ll find himself floating away his own body. He looks down at himself as a spectator, as someone from the nosebleeds in one of Elton’s shows, and that terrible, shameful sensation of being caught out in a lie spreads from the crown of his head all the way down to his spine, building and building until--

He’s awake, some boy (skinny with long hair, shirt dangerously unbuttoned-- one of Reid’s) prodding at his shoulder. The woman had left, the rest of their entourage had shut down the hotel lobby for a late breakfast. The boy is rattling off some itinerary for the day, all the while with this same look on his face, like he’s trying to hold a lemon in his mouth. Bernie stares at him blankly while he talks, rather wishing he would just go back to warming Reid’s cock, almost saying it out loud, but he’s not cruel enough to voice the thought. Just tired, on behalf of himself, On behalf of Elton, since the bastard seems to have endless energy no matter how hard he works. Maybe Bernie has been tethered to Elton for so long he’s feeling the burden for him, he thinks bitterly, his own personal painting stowed away in the attic, wasting away while Elton parties all night and performs all day, with more than minimal chemical help--

The boy’s finished his speech, strutting out of the room on ugly, uncomfortable platforms. Bernie thinks he owns the same pair. 

It takes him a minute before he decides to move.

Sitting up, unfortunately, brings Bernie’s senses back to him. He understands the disgust, now, feels a bit of it himself-- the room smells like skunk, last night’s meal is sitting on the bed half-devoured, and Bernie himself smells like sweat from falling asleep high and overheated. The air of the room is freezing against his wet skin, his head is pounding, and he--

He pushes himself towards the bathroom, wonders how happy Reid will get if Bernie’s conveniently too late to go out, opens the door and tries to tear off his wet shirt, fuck the buttons--

Elton’s already in the bathroom, hunched over the sink, looking considerably less fucked than Bernie in the respect that he’s at least dressed for the day, even if his suit jacket is off and hanging back on the shower rod, same pattern as the mauve curtains back in Bernie’s suite. Considering the expression on his friend’s face, Elton also didn’t remember that their room was connected through the bathroom until this second.

(Bernie, regrettably, did remember for a very long while. Elton and Reid stay in less often than they go out, but when they stay in, they stay in with flair. )

It smells like vomit in the bathroom, and one of the hundred-dollar hand towels is conspicuously missing from the rack by the sink. Elton didn’t used to drink hard-- Bernie remembers that booze always made Elton tired and insecure if you let him drink unsupervised, so even when they were young enough to handle it, he avoided it. But Elton hasn’t been unsupervised since 1968, and must be just as hungover as Bernie if he’s throwing up right after breakfast. 

They stare at each other in silence: Elton’s hands flexing under the water from the sink, Bernie trying not to fall arse-end forward into the shower. He can’t remember the last time they’ve been alone together, definitely not since the beginning of this tour, probably not since the most recent release. Bernie’s been tempted to write something banal just to get them back in the studio together, just to have an excuse to talk to Elton by himself, because for someone living on his best friend’s plane he seems to never see head or tail of him, especially when there’s an awful lot of tail to see.

Was the ladies’ full, sweetheart?  is what Elton ends up saying after a moment, relaxed and easy, like the past seconds had never even occurred. He feels jealous, suddenly, that Elton can be so at home while on the road, happy to be with the entourage, surrounded by adoration and never getting sick of it. Bernie’s startled into laughing bitterly, and he can feel something stupid like God, where’ve you been? crawling up from his throat into his mouth, ready to be spoken, before--

Reid knocks on the door one millisecond before entering, white shirt completely unbuttoned but his gold chain and watch perfectly placed, pants pressed and shoes polished. He startles when he sees Bernie, mouth making threats towards a frown instead of his typical straight face, but he recovers quickly enough, only sniffing derisively before turning towards the third person in the room. Elton shuts off the sink immediately, sparing Bernie one last, secret look as he straightens up, a silent I know, right? before kissing Reid’s cheek in greeting, already moving on to soothing their manager’s stress about whatever event they’re clearly missing the time frame for. Bernie fights back a smile. 

Bernie thinks back to the times when they could get drunk off just a bottle of wine, sitting on the floor of some stranger’s bathroom. They’d dragged in a rug because Elton thought the tile was too cold, laughed themselves absolutely silly over the looks on the other guests’ faces--

John will kill me, Elton whispered conspiratorially, trying to smooth out the corners of the very expensive rug against the very dirty bathroom wall, he’s absolutely anal about me causing scenes, lately.  

I’m sure he is, Bernie had mumbled into the bottle, setting Elton off so hard he batted at Bernie’s shoulder, putting on his favourite, screeching falsetto, you scoundrel, hush!  

Bernie had shrugged, smiling dopily, an excellent manager is always on top of things, said too airily to truly be any sort of insult towards Reid. Being with Elton had always boosted Bernie’s ego, since the silly bastard would laugh at anything, and he always gave back as good as he got. The warm mood distracted him from Elton’s smirk, the tell-tale giggling at his own mind he had to smother before he could snark back.

I’m sure he wishes he was, faux-carelessly, and Bernie had spat out his forty dollar wine on the really, very expensive rug, sending them into hysterics until some poor fucker managed to unlock the door--

Now, talking about Reid is painful for Elton. Bernie swears he must know about Reid’s boys, must know about Reid’s temper, must know about things Bernie can’t even see from the outside, but then again. It’s hard to see through the people you love, and Bernie generously thinks that you’d have to love Reid to stay with him like Elton does, even if the pair seem to be arguing as often as they’re fucking, now. The paperwork to get Ray out of the picture will be final by the time this tour is over soon, and Bernie wonders how long it will last, with Reid. What will happen if it doesn’t.

What will happen, he thinks with dread, watching Reid pinch Elton’s waist while he dries his hands, if it does.

We’re going to the Mayflower if they’ll make an exception , Reid is reporting to Elton, less of a suggestion than a statement. Elton just shrugs, pasting on a smile, prepping some sort of joke--

This early? Bernie asks, inserting himself into the conversation on accident, confused as could be. Elton frowns, concerned, while Reid checks his watch.

It’s a quarter to one, Bernie, are you-- Elton asks, concern heavy in his voice, but Bernie’s busy connecting the dots. Of course Elton was already dressed, if he’d been out for the day, of course Reid was pissed if Bernie's slept through it all. The bathroom briefly turns around him, dizzy with the realization, but Elton’s hand against his forehead brings him back to reality.

I’ll call his wife, tell her he’s heartsick, Reid says, patting Elton on the ass nonchalantly before strutting out of the restroom, snapping for a phone in the distance. Bernie, from this angle, can see Elton open, his mouth, considering snapping back, before sighing, complacent. 

You ought to go home, Elton says softly, go write, if you need to. His hand hasn’t left Bernie’s forehead. He knows he’s not sick, knows that Elton wants him here, with him. He’s already so close to flying into the sun even with Bernie here, throwing lavish parties in hotel rooms and risking another step past the line of propriety with each day. Bernie wants to be here for his friend, but--

It won’t be the end of the world if he goes back to the country. Back to Maxine, where he can pretend he hasn’t been a terrible husband, where she can pretend to stand his business and Elton, who she calls a bitch less and less affectionately with each week Bernie's away from home. It won't be the end of the world. Not for Bernie, but--

As soon as he makes eye contact with Elton, his blown-out pupils, the tension in the corners of his eyes, the guilt pools in his stomach. Elton is a grown man, he doesn't need a babysitter, but. He's someone who would do a lot to keep people's attention, to keep people near him, like a child who won't let go of a blanket. He drops a fifth of his net worth on gifts for Reid, tries anything he shows him, does anything to apologize after one of their explosive fights. For god's sake, he  mails Ringo fucking Starr thousand-dollar wines, and they haven't spoken in over a year. 

Elton doesn't like it when people leave, and Bernie knows that.

He knows what he should do.

Yet.

When he lands, he wraps Maxine in his arms so hard her feet leave the ground, kisses the side of her forehead until she bats him away for being gross in public. But nobody recognizes Bernie Taupin in airports, and with any luck, it will stay that way.

Chapter Text

The monster of a fucking tour is finally over, after what feels like years. He can’t imagine how long it was for Elton, performing more often than he wasn’t. Bernie spent most of his time on the tour fading in and out of sobriety-- of reality-- on that plane, but even he was conscious enough to know nobody was sleeping on those flights. Certainly not Elton, who considered an hour’s worth of staring into space and one or two lines equivalent to a full night’s sleep. But he kept pushing himself onstage, dressed like a wino one night and a wine glass the next. Bernie would get sent photos, sometimes, from the band members. See them in the papers. The caption would be a different venue, a different city, but the image was always the same: stage gear that fit Elton at the beginning of the tour would be varyingly too loose or too tight, glasses Bernie had seen months ago would have been fitted with darker lenses, either to protect from the stage lighting or to cover up the--

Or maybe he was overthinking it.

Bernie did have a tendency to work himself up, after all; he had spent the first week of his break wondering if he’d permanently cocked it all up this time, replaying the moment he said goodbye to Elton in the cab in his mind on a near-constant loop. He knows he feels overly guilty, knows he’s making Maxine fucking miserable-- she’s seeing her husband for the first time since he went to record in the summer, and he’s greeted her by wasting away beside the phone like a military wife.

Of course he was the one to call first.

He’s with John, the receptionist had prattled off, bored of Bernie from the second he made it clear who he was, one of Elton’s pet heteros and not a more entertaining conversationalist.

Reid? Bernie had asked, phone line twisted around his finger.

No, Lennon, they’d said, hanging up while Bernie was searching for an appropriately catty way to respond.

Bernie had complained about the joke when Elton had called back the next night, voice shot from performing and a bit bitter from Bernie’s departure. Well, Elton had said thoughtfully, I know you’re a George girl, but the smart one just really does it for me-- And Bernie had told him to shove it, made some sort of crass Lennon-McCartney joke, and suddenly it was like old times again, like Bernie’s most recent memory of him wasn’t day drinking at LaGuardia, but writing frantically over a paper, nose to nose in his childhood bedroom. It makes Bernie smile, even as the receiver is burning red hot against his cheek.

A week later, Elton and Lennon are on stage together, and Bernie wants to strangle him, able to picture Elton laughing as soon as he hung up like he was in the room. Bastard.

Because even as Bernie settles down, falls back into the rhythm of walking to the grocery, spending tender nights in with Maxine, Elton keeps climbing higher and higher. Barry White to the Queen Mother, Kermit the Frog to John fucking Lennon-- he’s on lists Bernie didn’t even know existed, on TV weekly, on the nights he’s not performing he’s in the papers for some sort of scene, drugs or a diva fit, if they're lucky. Every time he opens the paper he dreads the headline they all know is coming, the one Elton won’t be able to bounce back from, but Reid--

Even if Bernie can’t stand him, he knows how to keep things under control. He hopes.

He--

He gets a call, one night, after Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone. I have to tell her, don’t I, is what Elton says in lieu of a greeting, and Bernie, naturally synced with him, doesn’t have to ask who he means. What he means. There’s only one person on the planet Elton uses that tone for.

Afraid so, he says, with more than a small sense of deja vu. Bernie can hear Elton breathing unsteadily on the other end of the line, but he doesn’t say anything else. He tries to guess where he might be, New York or LA, his home or a hotel. When a minute passes without Elton saying anything, Bernie clears his throat, lowers his voice.

I’m sorry, Reg, he says softly, treading dangerous water. He hopes he’s comforting, thinks Reid might be better suited to it since Bernie doesn’t know what it’s like to-- well, doesn’t know what he would do if--

Elton inhales sharply, and suddenly Bernie’s listening to the dial tone.

He doesn’t get any calls for a while after that.

A month later, though, Elton’s on the TV again-- Bernie doesn’t like to watch specials, thinks they’re campy at best, overdone at worst. When he gets home, though, Max has it on, sprawled out on the couch with a screwdriver in her hand. One’s set out for Bernie, too. Since he’s gotten back, things have been...

Well. No marriage is perfect. It’ll work out soon enough, he thinks, with Bernie spending more time at home. The last time Bernie left their estate in the country was for Elton’s party right after the end of the tour, which--

Well. He’s not saying he’s a saint, but he’s trying now. 

Maxine’s making running commentary at the TV, over Elton’s answers to the interviewer's questions. Some of her jokes are so spot-on Bernie feels guilty for laughing, but some of them-- 

Elton, honey, won’t you tell us about the cars? In the grumbling, deep voice she’s given the female interviewer, then, in an impersonation of Elton’s tenor-- Actually, love, I don’t know! The ol’ ball and chain’s been hiding the keys since I tried to drive through the garage last fall, and--

Christ, Max, He chokes on his drink, caught off guard. Suddenly feels the need to get up off the couch, trying to ignore the live audience in the background. The sudden change in his mood has thrown him off balance, soured the food in his stomach.

She blinks at him, only mildly concerned with his reaction, still more focused on the TV special, What? darling, I’m not serious, and a hand on his shoulder.

He shrugs it off. He doesn’t know what brought on his sudden discomfort, the prickling on the back of his neck. His drunken brain is just all too ready to provide the image of Elton, dangerously high or frighteningly sober, driving himself right off the road, like so, so many stars who let themselves burn out too quickly. And once he sees that, well--

Passed out in a lawn chair, heart depressed with alcohol and god knows what else to the point it's not bothered to beat--

Choked on his own vomit--

In the tub, arms spread out and--

He doesn't like to think that it would ever get that bad, go that far without Bernie, or Reid, or someone who cared finding out. But he knows Elton, knows how good he was at keeping so many secrets for so long, and--

I have to make a call, he says, and Maxine rolls her eyes. He knows she thinks he's being dramatic, told him more than once that if he's desperate to mother hen Elton he could at least do it in person, outside of their home, but this urge isn't like that, this feeling that if he doesn't hear Elton's voice in a few seconds something very, very bad is going to happen.

The line rings three times before anyone picks up.

-oddamn house. Hello?  Is the first thing Bernie hears, Elton clearly just finished fuming at someone, and more than likely under the influence of whatever he's pushing through his veins to cope with his impossible setlist, but his voice is there, still delightfully present, and Bernie suddenly feels very drunk and very, very stupid.

'Lo, Reg, winces at his own voice, the unnatural volume. Across the pond, Elton must too, because Bernie can hear a sharp breath sucked in over the receiver.

Bernie, what's-- he starts, whatever anger he was feeling before covered up with false cheer and a camp inflection to his voice.

Just the wife, he interrupts a bit callously, since Maxine is still within hearing range, but a second later he hears the volume on the television set creep back up and knows he's not started another fight, just slipped a bit farther away. Forces himself to be cheerful as well, you know how it is.

Elton's laugh is so bitter it startles Bernie. I'm sure I don't, he ends up saying, before there's a commotion on the other line that makes Bernie recognizes as Elton's picking up the phone, taking the side table out with it. He'll do that, sometimes, when Bernie calls him in that ridiculously big house. Pick up the phone and lock himself into one of the many guest rooms, sometimes humming as he walks if he's in the right kind of mood.

Bernie thinks he can hear something familiar-- the bridge of St. Peter-- but Elton keeps cracking at the higher notes, too aggressive with his rendition. John was watching the game, Elton says as an explanation for the move, despite Bernie being well aware that Elton is the only football fan between the three of them. Bernie's awkwardly silent, trying to figure out if he should pretend to believe him or not-- stay on the line or not, since he's got what he's needed, of course, confirmation of Elton living and breathing. 

He's about to make a similarly bad excuse to hang up when Elton sighs, rearranges the receiver. Listen, I'm not supposed to tell, but John's set something up for later in '75, really far ahead, and I need-- I want you to come. For the weekend before, I don't know when exactly that is, but--

Yes, Bernie cuts him off, knowing how long Elton can talk about nothing when he's on blow, I'll be there, brother. 

Yes, Elton repeats dumbly. Exhales quickly from his nose, in what could either be leftover anger or amusement with Bernie's antics. Yes. Bernie jumps as something falls over in the background, someone yells and then laughs in quick succession. They're both silent again, then, nothing left to say. Elton huffs, occasionally, and Bernie gets the impression that he's focusing on something else, something too distant for Bernie to see.

Going to go back to the game?  He interrupts cautiously, and Elton only huffs again on the other end, voice warmer than when he picked up.

Our club's loosing, Elton murmurs, and Bernie puzzles that over in his mind in the second before he hears a quick love you, bye, preceding a shuffle and the sound of a line gone dead.

The house has gone dark and quiet, Maxine bored with the TV and off to bed sometime since Bernie called. He feels tired with what he's felt, aching a bit all over.

He's hyperaware of the faults in his existence, right now, the darkness around his quaint country home, the cracks in his marriage, the seemingly never-ending list of Elton's struggles across the pond, but--

It can only go up, next year, in the last quarter of the century. The last leg of the race before they compose some sort of magnum opus, and Bernie runs off to a ranch with his retirement money, and Elton gets over his fear of wearing less than three layers to come visit from whatever posh corner of the world he ends up roosting in.

Bernie knows thoughts like those are pointless, but he's a millionaire, and drunk, and so he lets himself cheat.

He lets himself look forward to the new year.

 

Chapter Text

Reid is high when he answers the door. Bernie can tell because, firstly, autumn in LA is just summer in LA and he sincerely doubts anyone could support Reid’s penchant for thick suit jackets and heavy chains without chemical help, and secondly, Reid is smiling. Bernie can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen Reid smiling without Elton right beside him, and he thinks the last time it happened he’d simply imagined it as a coping mechanism.

Reid clicks his tongue and winces theatrically, No side-piece tonight, hm? and hands Bernie a drink before twirling back into the vastness of the mansion. Bernie’s half-tempted to just throw it at him, but he knows that coke makes Reid think he’s Steve Martin, and that despite being close to his fiftieth million in the bank Bernie couldn’t foot the drycleaning bill for whatever brand Elton’s draped Reid in tonight. Instead he weathers on, taking a drink before he even sets foot in the place, and spends a few seconds picturing Reid covered in whatever concoction of liquor he’d just been served-- Bernie was no lightweight, but whatever’s in his glass was awakening memories of trying to brew under his bed in year eight: pure alcohol covered up with the taste of overly sweet fruit that had him struggling to stand after half a glass. 

Realizing he’s been standing on the outside of the house for an unreasonable amount of time, Bernie steps through the threshold, knowing what he’s going to be greeted with even before his eyes adjust to the brightness.

Because he’s been to a number of Elton John parties, and even a few John Reid parties, he knows the general layout rather well. The foyer, filled with the guests who are really just friends-of-friends-of-friends, the boys and girls the band members keep around and random strangers who could provide powder at a moments notice. The ones milling about and giving every minor thing an awed stare, like kids who just learned within the span of seconds that not only is Santa real, he’s invited you to the North fucking Pole, and there’s plenty of snow to go around. Bernie makes his rounds, lets himself get a little buzz from the recognition in people’s faces, the whispers traded a little too soon for him to be out of earshot. He hates fame, mainly, would die if he had to live a life like Elton’s where he can’t even go to get gas without being accosted, but when Bernie’s in the right mindset it feeds him, boosts his ego and ups his high. After he passes through, mentally marking some women down for later-- if he wants to take a break fucking let him, not like there’s anyone left who’d care-- Bernie floats on up to the second floor, suddenly desperate to see a face he recognizes.

There's a group around Davey, lying down on a circular couch Bernie’s sure as hell never seen before, engrossed in a very stoned conversation about Stevie Nicks that Bernie is both too sober and too uninterested to insert himself into. Further down the hall there’s a young man and an older woman dangerously close to public indecency, two drag queens making fun of them from the opposite corner. More faces he recognizes come and go, some stopping to say hi, some simply nodding at him as they make their way to a bathroom or a guest room to discreetly take the edge off. It’s always the same at Elton’s parties. Bernie would consider himself an expert, probably the most common attendee other than Reid, but on his behalf he’d had a lot of free time since--

Since Max--

Well.

Since Bernie’s had more time to himself, he’s found himself on Elton’s door more often than not. In the early months just dropping by guaranteed him a night of Elton’s attention-- Bernie’d been more and more absent since the end of the tour, and he knew it. Knew it in the same way that he knew Elton, while outwardly sympathetic and woman-hating and everything a best mate should be when his friend’s been, well, tossed out, inwardly was reveling in the time together. Reid, already uncomfortable with any sort of negative emotion, seemed almost afraid of Bernie at his most maudlin, and would squirm while serving drinks and then high tail it to the other end of the house with the cheap excuse of paperwork. With the booze and without Reid, Elton unwound, content to be whatever Bernie needed-- and all these years later he was still eerily good at knowing exactly what that was. Whether he was trying to cheer him up, or joining in on attacking her, or letting him cry on his expensive throw pillows, Elton just knew, and that--

Bernie had wanted out of it for a while, wanted out of the touring and constant performing since his friend started drifting towards a permanent Elton state, burying Reg Dwight under layers of sequins and fur and booze and coke. But the moments like those, when Bernie was two bottles in and practically melting into the million-dollar upholstery and Elton was still there, rubbing his shoulder and filling his glass and saying fuck her, Bernie could squint and see his friend from ‘68, the one who was afraid to wear bright shirts without a dull overcoat and would ask Bernie to order for him when they went out to eat. And that’s who Bernie had missed the most-- that little bit of Reg peeking out from under the shiny exterior was more comforting than any drink Elton could pour. 

But eventually, there would be days when Bernie would find himself on Elton’s door, and instead of a moping Reid or an overworked secretary, the sight he was greeted with was--

Bernie knew that while he had retreated into the country Elton had retreated into… other things, things that fueled the fears of America’s heartland, things that lit a fire under a preacher’s arse, but seeing it up close and personal was... another story. Bernie would only have to ask and Elton would bring the party to him, prattling off names for Reid to call, people who knew how to bury anything in coke and sex and jewels. Bernie couldn’t fault him-- sometimes he was so impressed with the arrangement he was tempted to applaud him-- but burying things under sequins and fur and coke and booze and women and men only left him feeling emptier and emptier with each morning after.

Many times he’d strained to loop his arm over Elton’s shoulder, leaned in to whisper Do you really like all this? and all variants thereof. He’d wanted Elton to shake his head guiltily and drag Bernie upstairs, to lock themselves in a room together like they used to, but every time he’d only get a blindingly put-upon smile, or a pat on the cheek, called precious, darling, absolutely precious, before finding himself with an armful of nothing. Any attempts to find Elton after that would lead to nothing, so eventually Bernie--

It’s just minding his own business, he would rationalize-- Elton has his own things to bury, and then half the Pointer Sisters are by the pool, and any worries Bernie had about the continuous assassination of Reg Dwight are thrown to the back corners of his mind. Parties, and everything they entailed, were a good way to push anything to the back of his mind. 

While Bernie had been drifting off someone had maneuvered him into a guest room, some vaguely familiar, surprisingly funny woman laid across his lap while his eyes try and fail to focus on the smoke trapped against the ceiling. His mind feels too bogged down with memories, Elton and Reg and Maxine’s faces morphing into each other every time he closed his eyes, and he suddenly needed another bump more than anything he’s ever needed in his life.

When he’s stumbling from the chaise to the exit, the room saturating and desaturating, he only has a second to wonder if he should really be this fucked from just booze before he’s opening the door--

He comes face to face with Reid, sans suit jacket and tie and quite a few buttons, with Elton leaning on him a bit heavily, sharply dressed in a pink windbreaker over a garish sweater Bernie’s never seen before and hopes he never sees again. Reid stumbles forward awkwardly, having leaned forward to grab the doorknob and suddenly found it absent, and Elton laughs harshly despite nearly ending up on the floor with him. Bernie can glimpse a shadow of a bruise on Reid’s collarbone, as exposed as Elton is covered up, and for a second Bernie fears he’s in the middle of something he definitely does not want to be in the middle of, but then Elton’s being thrown in his arms and Reid’s making a beeline for the mantle. Bernie watches in bemusement as Reid stands on his toes and pulls an unopened bottle of tequila from behind a vase, wondering if there’s hidden booze in every room and briefly wanting to find them all, like an alcoholic’s scavenger hunt. 

Get some food in him, will you? Reid sounds bored, opening the bottle on the edge of the mantle in what the bastard probably thinks is an impressive move-- sadly for Bernie, it is.

Not arsefu-ucking hungry, Elton snaps into Bernie’s shoulder. Despite being apparently unable to support himself, Elton pushes against him so hard he stumbles backward, landing himself on the chaise next to the woman Bernie’d been entertaining. Bernie watches him lay there for a moment before, noticing an absence of Reid’s response, he rights himself, and in the same accusatory tone-- What’re you doin’? 

Reid doesn’t look away from his reflection in the silver art installation above the mantle, Checking for greys, Lord knows ‘ve earned them by now, he says without any bite. Elton, realizing the fight he’s gearing for isn’t going to happen, lays back down on the chaise. Bernie sits on the end of the guest bed, a full-size king that he hopes he can sink all the way into before he has to deal with another hour of domestic disputes. Luckily, Reid is out of the room as soon as he was in it, apparently satisfied with his choice of drink and Elton-sitter, winking at someone out of sight as soon as he passes through the door. Elton, dazed and a bit pitiful, blinks and looks around after noticing a distinct absence of Scotsmen. Bernie watches as Elton squares his jaw, schools the momentary drop in his expression back into absentminded enjoyment, and turns to the woman Bernie had just been speaking to, Mercedes, darling, where’s the powder?  

She pulls a box out of her top and hands it to him wordlessly, and he kisses her hand in thanks before propelling himself up on unsteady legs to try and find a flat surface. Bernie’s mind, heavy with booze as it is, is momentarily set on red-alert. Elton’s never really toed the line towards overindulgence so much as pissed all over it before doing whatever the hell he wants, and Bernie knows this just as well as he knows Elton loathes being told when to stop. But something about the leanness on him, the way he’s clearly near blacking out after nothing much at all--

Think you might want to eat first? Is all Bernie hazards, interrupting Elton’s stumble towards a coffee table. He shoots Bernie a look that could make his insides rot, but doesn’t snap at him. He’s only been snapping at Reid, lately, more likely to walk on eggshells with Bernie after that disaster of a tour. But when Reid doesn’t take the bait--

I had a large lunch, housemum Taupin, Elton lies, throwing his jacket off and frowning at the hem of his sweater, as if he can’t remember what's underneath. Bernie marvels that anyone could wear as many layers as they do in the suffocating heat of an overcrowded LA mansion, but then again Elton and Reid have always been a step out of touch from Bernie and the rest in millions of tiny, insignificant ways. 

And it’s nearing three in the morning, Bernie reminds him, rolling himself off the bed to try and steer Elton away from the table before realizing, yet again, that Elton’s obsession with raised heels has placed him miles above Bernie’s drunk mind. You’ll fuck yourself if--

Jesussshit, Bernie, did I ask the fucking peanut gallery? Elton slurs, finally, anger from before coming back to the surface as he weakly dodges Bernie’s attempt to put a hand on his shoulder. Elton’s moods have always been mercurial, changing based on any number of things he sees that no one else cares about, thousands of imagined slights, but Bernie’s only recently been on the receiving end of it, and before he can work out how to react Elton’s shaking power out of the woman’s snuffbox, rolling some sort of bill he’d had in his pocket into a straw and--

The worst part is, really, that Bernie knows this is all because of Reid’s disinterest. Elton doesn’t seem to give a damn what anyone but Reid thinks, sometimes, and he can only imagine how rough it is that Reid doesn’t think about much of anything other than whatever gigolo is waiting for him down the hall. Elton and Reid always used to be at each other’s throats, fighting or fucking, and it used to shock Bernie, how quickly they could match each other’s energies, how they’d feed off it.

His fucking temper, Elton had bemoaned a year ago, right before Reid’s trial. Bernie still doesn’t know if Elton had found the whole ordeal more distressing or amusing, but they’d both loved imagining Reid in stripes. That night they’d snuck out to smoke, semi-legally, on the balcony of their Australian suite, and he’d regretting asking if Elton ever expected this as soon as the words left his mouth. But they’d been loose, in the middle of a rare, calm moment and-- 

He’s never-- Bernie had said, suddenly more serious than the conversation really warranted.

No-- Well... no. Not really. He’d sighed, trying to be nonchalant. Nothing that--

Bernie tried to fill in the blank. Nothing that if I ever--

I’d never speak to you. Elton had said mildly, and Bernie nodded while sucking on his cigarette. But with me and John, it’s-- It wouldn’t be like with you and your-- and a woman. I don’t think. We… He laughs, self-deprecating I deserve him.  

Him, not it, which hadn’t reassured Bernie, but had at least made sense. Reid and Elton could scream each other hoarse, wreck everything in the hotel room, and still wake up the next morning ready to perform a full house in Monaco. Reid would bat his eyelashes or Elton would buy a vintage wine and everything would be business as usual.

It was terrible to watch from the outside, but it was better than whatever was happening now. They couldn’t be in the room together for more than a second without one or the other simply leaving, searching out a new boy or a new drug, and when they were forced together in those rare moments, there was just--

Nothing beneath the surface. Whatever superficial reason they’d had for staying together had slowly gotten lost over time, and now all that was left was the arguing and the quiet after. No eyelashes, no vintages. Just a blank, empty stretch of time.

No wonder Elton needs something to fill it. 

Bernie looks at Elton, who’s been leaning back for a long moment after his hit, knees on the floor and head tilted up towards the ceiling, staring at something far off. In that pose, he can see the moment the coke reaches the ends of Elton’s nerves, the tremor that takes up in his hands, and the expression when it all goes blank for him, all white and shiny and good again.

He kisses Bernie’s cheek on the way out, mumbling something about catching the train in time, and then Bernie’s staring at a blank space, just him alone in the room.

Well--

Mercedes is a lovely name. He tells the woman, who’d been watching the proceedings with an odd sort of detachment, as if it was just another day in the life, another thing she saw on the regular. She probably did.

I chose it because of the horsepower. She says mildly, and Bernie spends a second pondering over what the hell that means before she’s up too, striding over to the bed quickly only to pat him on the cheek. I’ll look after him in the morning, sweetheart, you go find someone. Enjoy yourself while you can, this weekend is going to be--

The reminder of the show is so heavy it makes him close his eyes in an attempt to shut it out, but then--

When he opens them again, it’s close to light outside, and there’s an entirely different woman who looks almost sober enough to drive shaking him awake, asking him if he wants to go home with her, and, well.

It’s something to fill the time.

Chapter Text

Reid would be the kind of person to chain smoke outside a hospital. As Bernie stumbles out of the taxi-- too fucked to drive, too rushed to find his driver-- Reid is the first person he sees, lighting another cigarette and ignoring the male nurse shooting him a pointed glare. Bernie thinks he can see Reid make a face behind the nurse as soon as he wheels his coughing patient past, but he also thinks he might be drunk and a little too creative with how mean he remembers Reid being.

And now Reid’s spotted him. Bother. Bernie had hoped to drink some professionally terrible hospital coffee to sober up before placing himself in a mile’s radius of Reid, but even in the cab he’d known he couldn’t just slink up to Elton’s room and lock himself inside, write My Alcoholic Friend Took The Big Swim on hospital napkins while he slept. Not this easily. He doesn’t even know if he wants to. Elton had always been an all-or-nothing person, swinging from one extreme to the next like he’d forgotten the middle ground was an option. He was prone to strange bursts of anger, both at himself and others-- the same man who would get waiters fired for serving him cold food would shove his head in an oven to avoid breaking the heart of a woman he didn’t like. Bernie knows he should be arsed to care about it this time, to feed into it, and yet.

Here he is, outside his third hospital of the day, trying to ignore Reid staring at his back as he tries pushing the pull-open door. 

They won’t let you see him, Reid says, more venomous than Bernie would expect, family-only policy. Bernie, thinking he has far more of a right to be mad about that than Reid, doesn’t say anything, only steps back from the door. He’s on Bernie’s list for whatever he’d done the week before that lead to this (because of course it has to be a part of one of their month-long disputes, one of the only things that energizes Elton at all anymore) but he doesn’t think he’d lie to him. Not right now. Instead, still silently, he holds a hand out for Reid’s pack of cigarettes. They’re Virginia Slims.

Bernie raises an eyebrow, holding back a comment, not trusting whatever would come out of his mouth if he opened it. Reid seems to know what he’s thinking anyway and stands up straighter, speaks more clipped, I think I managed to get it through their thick fucking heads that he shouldn’t have any visitors at all until it’s time for his discharge. 

Bernie, who’d been occupied trying to light up and smoke while still mildly drunk, freezes. Reid really didn’t have the right to--

If you were me you’d do the same, he says defensively, reading Bernie’s mind again, no one wants Sheila to be the first thing he sees when he wakes up. And Bernie--

Well, he has to give him that one. Reid may not always go about it the best way, but after five years, he knows best what Elton needs. If you asked him, he’d say he knew better than Elton himself, who was still struggling to navigate fame and LA and the other thing, the important thing only Reid seemed willing to help him with. Bernie wishes, now, that he’d taken more time to listen to him, to try and understand better so that maybe he could be that person Elton needed to turn to. But Bernie still knew there was that gap between them, that gap that would never really go away, even if it narrowed to the point of being crossable.  

Did you know that he-- Reid laughs, here, numbly, he took an entire bottle of valium right before? I thought the fucker was just drunk, but they found out when they pumped his stomach for the chlorine water. 

Bernie blinks, dully shocked at the news. Getting drunk and falling in the pool while surrounded by people won’t kill you. Neither will attempting to suffocate yourself while leaving the window open. 

Seventy Valium just might.

It registers slowly, in his drunk mind. It’s a slow, almost natural train of thought to follow while smoking in silence.  Elton really did want to kill himself. Bernie doesn’t start to shake, or sweat with fear, or anything like that, because it’s not a present worry anymore-- he’s upstairs in the hospital, being watched over by some nurse who’ll ask for a raise to keep quiet at this very second. He’s not worried about Elton dying on him. He’s hardly even surprised at the notion because his brain’s painted the picture for him an unimaginable amount of times. He can hardly even be confused because while he doesn’t understand how Elton’s mind works any better than Elton does, he does know how it could get to that conclusion. That existing at all was too tiring. 

No, I didn’t. Bernie tells Reid, the first words he’s spoken to him since he pushed him aside to see Elton on that stretcher. Reid frowns. But Reg’s always taken the pragmatic approach.

Maxine had always called them codependent, attached at the hip despite rarely seeing each other those years. She’d prodded at him all the time, asking him when he was really going to get serious about them, accused him of splitting his time between his two wives, her and--

And it hadn’t all been untrue. There was a time when he would have done anything for Elton. When he was a teenager he was starstruck by how easy it was for him to just read something and hear it all in his head, natural as breathing, and when he got to see him perform three years later he was dazzled all over again. And he would get drunk on the knowledge that Elton felt the same way towards him, the easy compliments he would pay his writing, the refusal to work with anyone else because it was them two churning out the hits. E. John, comma, B. Taupin billed on every pop chart. And it was so easy to ignore the little differences cropping up, the increasing stretches of time spent apart, until it wasn’t.

Elton was desperate, Bernie knew, for people like him. For that tentative sense of community some queers in the industry could get away with. And it was that gap between them, widening in the wrong ways as Elton stepped towards that life and Bernie held onto his. Elton acted outrageously because he couldn’t pretend to be ordinary, Bernie forced himself to be ordinary because he was afraid of the outrageous. He walked through his quaint village around his unremarkable home and thought about Elton’s million-dollar mansion, filled with everything he could want, public and private, and then--

And then he’d write. And he almost hadn’t even shown Elton some of what he’d written that year, that year when Elton was making a million dollars a night and Bernie was sleeping on the couch. Until he’d gotten himself drunk and mailed it all over to him. It felt too personal to handle sober. Like if he looked at it with a clear mind, if he mentioned it--

It would break.

Elton had looked at him a lot, during the sessions he was there for. But he hadn’t said anything either, afraid just like Bernie of breaking the spell that let them work together on this, that let them repress anything other than the happy, nostalgic memories of writing for other bigshots. Don’t think about anything too dangerous, like those nights on the roof of Arabella’s flat, those afternoons crammed into Elton’s childhood room. Even Reid was quiet on his visits, like he knew something was different this time. It wasn’t going to be another week of mad creativity that ended with twenty new singles-- it was their longest time spent working, and their best, and for once Bernie wouldn’t care if everyone on the planet hated it so much they burned it.

He almost felt bad for Reid, standing in the recording booth, listening to Elton lay down the vocal track for Writing over and over again, staring straight at Elton while Elton stared at Bernie, I know you and you know me. Then, after Gus had paid the usual compliments, he’d left the booth wordlessly. Bernie had caught him doing a line a little later, coming up smiling, complaining his voice was shot for today, he wanted to do the next one tomorrow. Whispering in his ear, almost afraid of other people hearing, it’s good , before stumbling off. 

They didn’t record “that next one” until the last day, somehow managing to skirt around the entire album before finally getting to it. Bernie felt uncomfortable with the attention, with the looks the rest of the band were sharing while Elton sang. The eyes on the back of his neck, the short silence that lingered after Elton had stopped, only broken when Gus had mumbled about splitting it into two parts for the album. Elton nodding quietly, jaw twitching, holding something back. 

They hadn’t needed to record it a second time.

Bernie thought about that story, where the girl sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain, the husband sells his watch to buy her some fucking hairpins, or something. He felt, that entire session, like he had just given something up to Elton that Elton no longer had any use for.

And after that, after Bernie hadn’t really wanted to go back to Lincolnshire but had, after Elton hadn’t really wanted to go back on tour but had, everything… shifted. 

Reid was more bitter, Elton was more outlandish, Maxine was more distant. Bernie had apparently missed the day where everyone had decided it’d all gone to shit, the exact moment where everyone seemed to realize they were stuck in their position for the foreseeable future and hated it. He doesn’t know when it happened for him, either-- maybe it was Maxine serving him, maybe it was just an hour ago, watching Elton fall into that pool-- but he knew the feeling. 

Elton was always trying to fill that tiny little space inside of him, that space where, for most people, all the good little things people get in their childhoods lived, with outrageous outfits and spritely young men and dazzling shows. Bernie figured it must be like that for everyone who was… different, everyone who had tried as a kid to be good and honest and normal but had realized some fateful day that no matter how hard they tried they could never reach that ideal because they would have to learn to make it second nature to lie. To cover-up. To keep people the right distance away by being too funny to be taken seriously, too mean to be liked-- creating those kinds of gaps that keep the Bernies away from the Reids and Eltons. Reg made sure no one looked too closely by becoming Elton, filled that tiny, vacant space by becoming Elton, and never felt the need to turn it back off. 

Bernie looks at Reid, right beside him, smoking women’s cigarettes while his partner’s sleeping off a coma in a room he’s legally not allowed to enter, and wonders what he fills that space with. Wonders if it’s Elton. Wonders if it’s that secretary he runs off with, or if it’s alcohol, or maybe just that feeling of power that managing the unmanageable gives him. 

In another world, maybe, Bernie could clear that gap between Elton and himself, maybe even know Reid better than his fits and jokes. Maybe not be as afraid of the extraordinary, not as worn out with the performance. Maybe he would have been used to it. Maybe he would have known exactly what Elton knew when he decided to dump out that bottle and stumble onto that diving board and--

Can you please stop fucking staring at me, Reid snaps, dropping his cigarette and stomping it out. It’s gotten darker in the past twenty or so minutes they’ve been here, the sun finally going down over the hills in the west. Bernie laughs through his nose, soberer than he was before, the cool air autumn in LA brings after dark bringing him closer to reality.

You know it’s over after this one, right, is what Bernie says back, and maybe it’s not that other world where he would be sure of what he’s talking about, but he does feel confident in this. Whatever you did to cause this… it isn’t one you can come back from. You can’t just woo him with some Carpenters and some wine. He’s not twenty.

Not everyone has reasons for what they do, Reid tells him quietly, least of all Elton. This may be true, but Bernie just shakes his head. He and Reid are the same age, but Reid had always seemed more mature, with his official career and sharp suits and contingency plans. Now it seems like Reid is the childlike one, refusing to apologize for another temper tantrum and instead acting like it never happened. Something has to change after this. Either Reid, or the booze, or the performing, or the music-- something’s going to give. Bernie’s positive. Back in sixty-eight, when Elton had last tried to escape, they’d ended up living with his parents, writing in a frenzy, living out of each other's pockets. It wasn’t good, but now Bernie yearns after those days. Maybe Elton’ll stay with him for a while again, even though realistically Reid would be the one to move out. Maybe he’ll have the same nostalgia, the same sense of deja vu, and it’ll be just like so long ago. The tin pan alley twins and no one else.

Still, Bernie says, stamping out his cigarette similarly. Not saying anything after, just adjusting himself in his coat. Reid’s brow dips in the center, forming a V on his forehead. Either considering Bernie’s words or genuinely mad at him-- either is likely. They had never really clicked together. I’ll see you for the show tomorrow.

Reid just nods, still silent, still contemplative. I’m going to stay the night, he says, with no further goodbye. Bernie wants to tell him it won’t make any difference, but he just nods before turning back to the street. Elton had always been all-or-nothing, and while that suited Reid when it was directed at others, he wouldn’t love it when it pointed at him. Bernie can’t wait to feel vindicated.

Ready for the next, better phases of their lives to begin again, he calls a cab.