Rating: R
Fandom: Hard Core Logo
Pairing: Joe/various, Billy/various, Joe/Billy
Warnings: Drug use, violence, angst
Thanks: Huge thanks to Sage for smart, demanding beta and the online research party

Four Things Joe Found Out, and One He Didn't

by china_shop


1978

Joe still remembers the first time he realized they were good. Until then, he was forcing the whole endeavor along by sheer fucking will and desperation. Make people pay attention. Make them take Peckerhead seriously. Make Billy believe. But this one gig at Gil's Hole in the Wall, a tiny dive bar in Downtown Eastside on a Tuesday night, he stopped faking—no idea why—he just let go, let his guard down and let the music carry them along.

Billy's guitar was clean and sharp, Mitch and Danny on drums and bass were keeping up good enough, and the songs suddenly made five times more sense, tumbling out of him. It was such a high that Joe punched a hole in his shell, let his tough act fall away, and strutted out of the remains with a new fuck-you tilt to his head and more confidence than could comfortably fit inside of one single human being.

They were good and that justified everything. Anything for the music, which meant anything for him and Billy no matter what the cost. Anything to keep them together.

After the show Mitch and Danny packed up the drum kit lightning fast 'cause they had to get it to Club 16 by midnight for a gig with their real band. "Thanks, guys," said Joe. "I owe you." And he and Billy stumbled back stage, while Jim Morrison purred come on, baby, light my fire out of the sound system, and the crowd—okay, only a dozen and change, but not bad for a Tuesday, and they were a rowdy bunch—barreled off to the bar.

Billy put his guitar away and leaned tired and sweaty against the emergency exit door, trails down the side of his face, his torn black t-shirt clinging to his chest. "I fucked up the bridge of Bite the Bullet," was all he said.

"It doesn't matter." Joe thrust a hipflask into his hand, grinning, and tugged a pack of smokes out of the back pocket of his sweat-damp jeans. "We kicked ass."

Billy jerked his head to the side—half pleasure, half dissent—and Joe's attention latched onto the angle of his neck, the gleaming wet skin and the faint throb of a pulse just beneath the surface.

He licked his lips and bounced on his toes a little, excitement coursing through him. He watched the muscles flex as Billy gulped whisky from the flask, and didn't hear what Billy said next.

Billy shoved him lightly. "Asshole. Pay attention."

"What?" Joe blinked slowly, and dragged his eyes to Billy's face. "What?"

"Asshole," Billy said again, grinning. He looked at Joe like he could see right inside, like he understood Joe better than Joe did. "We gotta find a real drummer."

"Yeah. Yeah, of course we fucking do." Joe swayed closer, then stepped back. "We will—and a bass player, too. This is the big time, Billy-boy."

 


1979

So maybe Joe got a little obsessed with Billy for a while after that. Too aware of him. They got the band together and changed their name to Hard Core Logo, and Billy and Joe bought electric hair clippers and gave each other Mohawks. On stage they were cool, but off-stage Joe had to hide behind booze and a tough shit-kicker attitude—and teasing that got meaner and more obscene as the months passed by because it just made Billy laugh.

It got harder to show Billy songs he'd written. It felt dangerous, like Billy might crack the code and see that Joe needed more, that Joe wanted things that weren't even supposed to occur to him. If Billy figured it out he'd twist the screws—Joe knew it—and maybe even leave, so Joe locked it down, covered it up, wrote songs about fucking pussy and fighting the Man, and only let himself think about it when he was jerking off.

Yeah, then he could let his mind wander, his imaginary hands gripping Billy's imaginary waist, fingernails raking down to his bony hips, the fuzz of tight-curled hair. Sucking at the bright new black and red tattoo on Billy's shoulder. Jerking imaginary Billy's imaginary cock until he shot spunk everywhere, hot and unmistakable, until all the triumph had leached from his eyes, and then rolling him over and ramming into him, fucking him long slow hard till they were both shaking and swearing.

Joe fucked a series of groupies—sometimes one or two a night—to try and brainwash himself back into wanting girls. It worked well enough. They were hot and willing and dirty, and they thought it was cool to do it hard and rough in the dark against the side of the club, getting turned on when Joe trash-talked and spat and told them they were full of shit with their boring lives and their stupid thirty-dollar faux punk haircuts.

He didn't know how to be nice to them, and they didn't want him to be nice to them, so that all worked out fucking fine.

"Jesus, you're a whore," Billy told him one time, grinning up at him from the floor of the van. "You keep your grubby hands off my sister or I'll have to beat the shit out of you."

"Too late," Joe sniggered. "And anyway, you couldn't take me." He let Billy wrestle him to the ground and sit on top of him and call him names. Joe couldn't stop laughing, didn't, until Billy hit paydirt—punched him in the solar plexus and stole the coke out of his jacket pocket—and after that they fought for real. Joe called Billy a cock-sucking fag and Billy retaliated by giving him a black eye.

Meanwhile Billy's girlfriend, Suniti, avoided Joe like he had leprosy, even while she was giggling and wiping his blow from her pointy little nose.

They played a tiny loser bar in Bellingham with twenty-six people in the audience, half of them old guys watching the hockey. Billy got stoned with John the bassist before the show and barely noticed when Joe switched the set list so they had five songs straight with "fuck" in the chorus. The new drummer, Pipe, noticed and grinned like an idiot through the whole first half. John was following the old set list and spent the night scrambling to keep up.

During the break between sets Joe went outside and breathed in the small town air, swore to himself that even if his whole life turned to shit, he'd never end up somewhere like this, like those old guys with only the Saturday night hockey to keep them alive.

He kicked a trash can just to listen to the hollow rattle-boom. When he turned to go back inside, there was a skinny kid, maybe a couple of years younger than him, leaning against the doorframe watching him, his face an invitation.

"What're you looking at?" said Joe, and shouldered past him, back inside.

He did the whole second set with a hard-on and when he went back outside afterward—leaving Pipe and John watching the goddamned game and Billy fucking a tired-eyed Siouxsie Sioux clone in the john—the kid was still there waiting.

"What?" snapped Joe around the cigarette clamped between his lips, not breaking stride. He went over to the van and unlocked the back. In a warehouse across the other side of the street, someone was playing Rock'n'Roll Damnation.

The kid slouched after him, his sweater too tight around the armholes, his jeans too big. His dark hair was short and messy. He had three earrings in his right ear and a too-soft sneer.

Joe dumped the guitars in the back of the van and pointed at the kid with his cigarette. "What the fuck do you want?" he asked, each word rolling like a bitter little pill off his tongue.

"Nothing." The kid's voice was husky and flat. Joe gave him a look, and the kid shrugged and rested his hands on his belt buckle.

"Is that so?" Joe twisted around to fish a bottle of gin out from his bag, then leaned on the open back of the van and studied him. Nothing like Billy. Nothing. A wave of exhaustion swept over Joe, leaving him feeling old and washed up at the age of eighteen and a half. Should've stolen some of Billy's coke—turn about. He drank from the bottle instead. "And what makes you think I want it?"

The kid shrugged and took a step back, his sneakers scraping against the parking lot gravel. "Nothing."

Joe took a long drag on his cigarette, blew it out white against the black sky, and rubbed his eyes. "C'mere," he said, keeping his eyes shut.

The scuffling footsteps came closer.

 


1983

So Joe fucked girls and thought of Billy, and sometimes in secret he fucked guys and thought of Billy, and it was fucked up and he knew it, but he didn't know how to stop.

Billy was a planet, trapping Joe in orbit, and no matter how much Joe lashed out he couldn't break free. They got high together, got drunk and stoned, played guitar and wrote songs, and drove around the country looking for trouble with their freakshow sidekicks, Pipe and John. They fought and yelled and joked and mocked. Joe carried a wad of TP for when Billy got bloody noses, and Billy made sure Joe never puked inside the van. Billy was Joe's buddy, his best friend.

And—suddenly—Billy was standing in the doorway of the club holding an amp and a guitar case, watching Joe get blown by a guy in glasses and an ugly brown cardigan.

Joe went cold all over and his hard-on shriveled in cardigan guy's mouth. He shoved the guy off, sending him sprawling on the pavement, and tucked himself away hastily. "What?" he growled at Billy. "What? You got a fucking problem?"

Billy's smile gleamed with wicked amusement but he walked right past Joe and offered the cardigan guy a hand up. "Ignore him, man," he said. "He's a fucking asshole. Here, come on—I'll buy you a drink."

"Fuck that," said Joe. "You don't—" But the two of them were already disappearing into the club.

Flushed with embarrassment, like he could hear exactly what that guy was telling Billy, Joe crawled into the van and dug out Pipe's secret bottle of scotch. He drank it as fast as he could, gulping and choking, spilling it down his shirt. Kicked the van wall when it got too much. Kept drinking till he passed out.

The next day Joe felt like death and Billy was wearing the ugly brown cardigan and dabbing at his bloody nose.

They didn't talk about it. Instead they fought about who was going to drive the van, and whether Billy had taken Joe's coke again, and where to stop for lunch. Then Pipe told them to chill out and they both turned on him, snarling.

"Stop the van," said John. "Stop the fucking van, Billy! I'm outta here until you guys kiss and make up."

Billy swerved onto the shoulder, and Pipe and John climbed up a rocky outcrop, bared their asses at the sky, and sat there, waiting.

"Fuck this." Joe slid to the floor of the van and stared blindly at the band posters and porn plastered on the far wall, wondering if more booze would kill his hangover. "We should just fucking leave them here, the motherfuckers."

Billy sniffed and wiped his nose. "I'll leave you here. Fag."

The silence rang and Joe scrambled for a comeback, swallowing hard to keep down the bile. "I'm not. I'm not—it was just a fucking—"

"Yeah, that's what Owen said, but I know you, man." Billy climbed over the seats, all long legs and spiteful angles, and crouched against the wall in front of Joe. "I know you're a pansy sonofabitch fag to the core."

"Who the fuck is Owen?" spat Joe, cornered.

Billy tugged on the collar of his ugly new cardigan. That was Owen.

And shit, Billy knew too much. Billy would figure it out, and he was in no state to be cool about it, his eyes shrunk to gleaming pinpricks, his fingers twitching. "I'm not a fag." Joe sounded too desperate, too scared. "Fuck you, I'm not! You're the fucking fag—what did you have to do for that? It's not me!"

"You think I don't know?" Billy drawled. "You think I haven't seen you watching me, checking out my ass?"

Joe tried to laugh. "You're fucking paranoid, Billiam. I don't—"

"I know what I know. I know you better than you know yourself." Billy leaned his head back against the wall of the van, baring his throat. "Fag."

Joe scowled, sensing a trap, but it was too late to back out now. "You don't know me. You don't know shit."

Billy let that hang in the air a moment, scratched his chin and then went in for the kill. "Prove it."

"What?!" Joe stared at him, hating him for real. This Billy, all cold gray eyes and clammy skin, was a mind-fucking sadist, and Joe had nowhere to run. "What the fuck do you mean, 'prove it'? What the Jesus fuck?"

"You heard me. If you're so true-blue hetero, fucking prove it." Billy's words tripped over each other, and he wriggled out of the cardigan and threw it at Joe. It twisted in mid-air and landed on the floor between them with Pipe's porno magazines and Joe's half-eaten burger.

Joe growled and launched himself at Billy, his fists pulled back and ready to strike. "What the fuck do you want from me?"

Billy batted Joe's fist aside, jittery and flushed, and pulled him close, licked up his neck, making his skin crawl and his dick throb. "I want you to prove it," he said. "Prove you aren't gay for my ass. I want you—" He jabbed him in the chest with a finger. "—to fuck me. And not come."

Joe froze. The hair on the back of his neck prickled and he wondered if he was going to throw up. "Jesus Christ!" He shut his eyes, and when he breathed in, he smelled smoke and sweat and Billy. "You're fucking out of your mind!"

"If you come, I'm gonna leave." Billy bit his ear, hard enough to hurt, and said, sly and cruel, "I dare you."

 


1990

New York, New York. They were finally here, and it fucking rocked. The crowds loved them. Billy was sweet for once, not baiting Joe, playing that mean fucked-up game of drawing him close and taunting him at a distance, back and forth till Joe's head split in two. No, here Billy was smiling, the combination of possibility and coke making him glitter.

Joe flew. The band was tight: everyone was pleased to meet them, everyone had something to give—crack, smack, crystal, acid, offered in supplication. And they deserved it all, deserved the best, did Hard Core Logo. They were coming out on top.

The world was a beautiful place, and once Joe shot up, it only got better: haloes around people's faces, reflections and the raucous irresistible tide of the music pulling him along, Siren song, The Ramones bleeding into Jane's Addiction, and a whirl of gigs—their own and others'—and sex. Fuck, the women in New York were hot, with legs all the way up, and there was a guy, too, one night when Billy had gone out and no one would know. A skinny blond guy who looked close enough and who didn't care when Joe kissed him.

The scene was magic and they took their rightful place in it, on top of the world, until one night, just before their gig, the gig, the one all the buzz and glitter was swirling toward and around, when Joe took the stairs up instead of down, couldn't say why, maybe he heard something or maybe it was fate, but he took those stairs and it all crashed to a halt.

Billy's hair, curled and dark with sweat, bobbing up and down, giving head to Seymour Stein. Billy's hands hooked on the arms of the chair, like claws, to take him out of time.

 


1995

Fast forward zzzzzzwip five and a half years, and what's lost is found. Both of them still breathing heavy from the benefit concert triumph. They stumble into the Tiki Lounge, and Joe buys Billy a beer and Billy buys himself a coffee, and they pretend they're cool, that all that need and nastiness has died out in the intervening forever since they saw one another last.

Joe's hyped up just to have Billy there, back from Califuckingfornia, putting color back in his life, giving him a chance to get back on the stage like it used to be, like it was supposed to be, the two of them with Joe in the lead, the crowd treating them like gods. Like always, always when they're playing, none of their bullshit matters. He's drinking his own beer, then Billy's, and pitching a tour and Billy's hardly looking at him. They're still playing buddies for the camera, though, keeping it clean.

Still keeping the past locked down deep. Ignore it, hope it goes away.

"Okay, I'll go," says Billy, a private little grin on his face. "I'll go go go go go—"

And something wild breaks free in Joe till it's all he can do not to scream triumphant. He plays it cool as he can, which isn't very. Fuck, it's good to have Billy back—like the world's spinning a little bit faster, the coke's got a little more zing.

And maybe Billy senses that—that he's given too much. Should've held out longer. He starts bitching about babysitting and buddies, and Joe thinks now, maybe if he takes this tiny rift in JoeBilly/timespace and uses it, puts something real on the table along with his cards, maybe then they'd both be okay, okay together. Maybe then this could be the start of something instead of the end.

His heart hammers in his throat, and it takes a second before he can work up the courage, and then he says it: "I got something for you, just so you know I'm thinking about you."

He starts pretending to search his pockets, babbling, stalling for time, because the moment he lays that picture—the sharp square edges poking holes in his coat lining—the moment he reveals that, then he's got no place to hide.

Billy's turning toward him now, yeah, got the cunt's attention, and that's fucking classic, because Billy still knows this is all about him, all about how much Joe needs him.

And Joe freezes inside. He can't give him proof.

He flashes on what will happen when Billy takes the picture—will he laugh, taunt, sneer? Joe can't, he can't risk losing the tour. Billy's said he'll go but he can always take it back. Don't rock this boat, don't risk it. "Oh, got it."

He pulls his fist out of his pocket, middle finger up, and grins. "Put batteries in it—"

'That's not buddies," says Billy, disgusted, his body language shutting down, pulling back.

It's all I got, thinks Joe as Billy hunches in on himself and flicks his lighter to flame. He burns up a tiny umbrella, the pink paper flimsy as dreams.

"It's funny, though," Joe tells him. "To me, it's funny."


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