"How many hours for the photoshoot?" Luke said flatly. Max gave the bodyguard a look of dislike. He was propping up a windowsill, ankles crossed, arms folded across his chest as usual.
"Not that many. Maybe two days to get the pictures. A photo call for the general press. Maybe an interview or two if we get an offer we like."
Luke scowled at the back of the agent's head. Max was scenting money in this, and a lot of it. It was the only motive he ever had for coaxing Val into anything.
"Val, the last time you did a photoshoot," he said, ignoring Max, "It was two ten hour days on top of the travelling and you were dead on your feet by the end of it. You've got the two week run at Birmingham starting Saturday. That's going to be hard enough in itself. And I'm still not happy about eight concerts being scheduled inside fourteen days."
"We've gone over and over that," Max complained to Val, "Does he HAVE to be in on all of this? Can't he sit in the corridor or something?"
Val had been sitting with his arms around his knees, not looking that happy, but that request raised a brief flicker of amusement.
"YOU make him wait outside."
Luke gave Max a pleasant smile. Max valiantly drew Val's attention back to the file.
"This is only the first offer, we'd be out of our minds not to take it. One little ad campaign, a little more publicity, your face seen a little more often, that's what draws the big contracts in."
"What am I advertising?" Val read the logo and shrugged at Luke. "Bizazz? What's that when it's at home?"
"A new mixer drink- like bucks fizz, that kind of thing-"
"He means one of these alcopop things." Luke said bluntly. "Aimed at getting teenagers to drink without noticing the alcohol content."
"Aimed at the young professional market." Max said, ignoring Luke. "I can contract you for a set number of hours-"
"No more than six a day." Luke interrupted.
Max glowered. "Six. What an excellent suggestion. Which would give you plenty of time to enjoy yourself-"
"And no more than one engagement a day." Luke went on. Val stifled a laugh at Max's face. The agent caught Val's eye and forced a smile. "Of course. I'd hate to see you run yourself into the ground before you start on Wembley. That really will be the big event of the year."
Bastard, Luke thought silently at Max's head. Max picked the file up.
"I'll fix the contract then."
"When do you want us back to sign it?" Luke said softly. Max looked round from the door.
"No need, I can sign on Val's behalf."
"Oh I think Val should sign himself. When he's read the final version." Luke detatched himself from the windowsill. There was something about the long, lean man that made Max Ryman extremely nervous.
"Yes. Fine. I'll bring it in tomorrow. Anything special you want in there, Val?"
"Mmn." Val looked up over his knees which he was still hugging. "Plenty of bananas for the gorilla."
Max left, bemused. Luke picked up the information Max had left on the resort, glanced at it and then roughly tousled Val's hair.
"You've played bigger venues than Wembley."
"Its THE British venue."
"You'll be fine." Luke repeated firmly. The scenery in the brochure was definitely attractive. Luke flicked through the pages of white snow and log fires, surrounded by young people in ski suits, drinking anything other than alcopops. Val was wound up tighter than a spring at the moment with the Wembley run ahead of him. A few days somewhere different, and somewhere likely to catch his interest would be no bad thing.
"If I only have to work 6 hours a day, what ELSE is there to do? It doesn't seem like such a great idea to me."
"What else is there to do? Live of course. Ski, shop, relax, whatever.You could use a few days to relax before the long haul. Don't you agree?"
"Didn't think so. But it'll be good for you. And by the time we leave, I'm sure you'll be feeling much better."
"Whatever." Val said, untangling himself and slowly getting up out of the chair. "Why do you torture Max so?"
"Torture?" Luke said, a slightly bemused expression upon his normally stern and rugged face.
"He practically ran out of here with his tail between his legs."
"I don't know what you're talking about, kitten. I never said one threatening word to him."
"You are such a -"
"Gorilla, I know. Oh, and thanks for the bananas, I'll need something to fortify myself for some relaxation."
The two headed out of the office in an easy silence. Luke was looking forward to the small "vacation" himself. It had been a long couple of busy months, filled with concert upon concert, endless piles of security paperwork, interrupted by the wonderous and tortuous moods of young Val, riding the highs and lows of a concert tour in full swing.
He was braced for Val's most inventive emotional tortures when Max presented them with the airline tickets. Airports were nightmares anyway: Val never went anywhere without Max scheduling as many photographers as possible to be present and Val usually rose to the occasion with the full prima donna performance, turning a hard couple of hours into a complete nightmare. The kid that hung at his elbow, buried behind large, mirrored sunglasses and a turned up collar, was not Val. Val stalked through crowds with the unhurried arrogance of a lion that knows damn well it's beautiful and the centre of attention. This time the photographers shouted in vain to get Val to turn as Luke moved him through the barriers at Heathrow, his head down, his face mostly hidden until Luke unwillingly stopped him at the gate.
"Kitten you need to give them one good shot- you know what stories they dream up if you seem different to usual."
Val didn't argue but the look Luke got was distinctly unhappy. He hesitated, then pulled the shades off and turned back towards the photographers, turning on the famous smile and responding to a few of their questions, but to Luke he looked tired and washed out. He moved protectively behind Val as they boarded the plane. With strictly limited working hours ahead of them, Val would have some time to remember he was in fact only twenty.
Flights were usually tortuous for Luke, as Val usually couldn't sit still for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. Today was different, though not any less tortuous. Val wasn't interested in getting up and moving around, but he was in a totally defiant and bratty mood. Nothing was pleasing him at all.
"Luuuuuke, I'm thirsty. Will you get me a drink, uh...bloody mary would be nice."
"Coke it is." Luke said, signaling the flight attendant.
"I want a DRINK, not coke." Val said, his voice rising.
They were only thirty minutes into a four hour flight, and Val's attitude was already rearing it's ugly head. Luke had to stop it before it got out of hand. He nailed Val with his cold as steel eyes and said warningly
"Don't do this kitten. I'd hate for the rest of the passengers to see you get your bare butt warmed, wouldn't you?"
Val took one look at Luke's face and decided he wouldn't press for that drink. "Fine. Coke. And some chips. No, make that a steak, with a nicely done baked potato. And a chocolate cake for desert."
Just then the flight attendant made her appearance. She knew Val, and thought herself his number one fan. Her voice shook a little when she spoke. "W..what can I do for you?"
Luke noticed all the signs of a rabid fan. Not what he needed, as Val sometimes used these situations to his advantage. "A coke for him, and I'll have some mineral water, thank you."
The flight attendant barely acknowledged Luke, she was too busy staring at Val. "Anything else? Maybe you'd like to see the cockpit, I'm sure the captain would be glad to meet you and show you around."
"Thanks, bu-" Luke started
"YES! I'd LOVE to see the cockpit." Val began to unbuckle his belt. "Excuse me, please." Val said to Luke as if speaking to a minion.
Luke's hand snaked out and caught his wrist in a grasp that reminded Val that Luke was a lot bigger and a lot stronger than he was.
"Now you know how exhausting stardom is. You sit there and relax and this nice young lady will get you that coke and everything will be fine. Won't it?"
Val hesitated, then did one of his Vivien Leigh flops back into his seat with sufficient tragedy to radiate at least twelve rows back from his seat. Luke saw the attendent's eyes go wide with sympathy and swore quietly. Val was an accomplished performer. Within two minutes the entire cabin would be alive with pity for the poor little rich boy suffering in brave silence. Luke resisted the urge to clout the suffering performer sharply upside his designer haircut and gave the girl a smile.
"Executive stress. The coke would help."
The girl left. Luke unclipped his belt, leaned across to Val and spoke gently in his ear.
"If you keep this act going another minute more, I'm going to start enlarging on my role and I'll make sure that everyone knows you've got a reason to feel sorry for yourself. Got it?"
He got Val's hot under the eyelashes look. Not surrender. Far from it. Val might know better than to push that particular trick, but this flight and this paddy was far from over.
Val promptly turned away from Luke and stared unseeingly out the window. This flight was going to be a long one, and Val was in no mood for the overbearing gorilla.
Luke saw the tenseness of Val's shoulders through his thin shirt. There was no way this kid was going to sleep, one of the only ways that Luke was even able to think about relaxing. The flight wouldn't end soon enough as far as Luke was concerned.
Val was thinking the same thing.
The flight attendant returned with the requested drinks. "Here you go sir. And here's the coke for...Val."
Luke took the drink from her hand, as Val wasn't even acknowledging her presence. "Here you go Val."
Val pointedly ignored Luke.
"Thank you." Luke said, dismissing the flight attendant.
Luke put the drink down on his tray and ignored Val. He polished off his mineral water in short order, flights always left him dehydrated. Within about 30 minutes, during which Val continued to stare out the window, Luke had to go to the restroom. He got up and headed to the back of the plane.
As soon as Luke left, Val unbuckled his seatbelt and headed towards the front, intent on searching out the flight attendant.
Luke took his time walking back, enjoying the chance to stretch his legs. The sound of one of Val's albums on the intercom made him hesitate. Most people were looking interested, some openly enthusiastic, one or two annoyed. The intercom clicked a man's voice took over.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a surprise guest aboard this flight. Many of you will be delighted to hear that we have aboard none other than Val Quentin!"
Even in business class, that raised some obvious interest. Luke swore as he heard a far more vocal response from further down the plane in tourist class. Val had just trebled the risk of complete strangers wandering up here in search of him. Quite apart from the risks, the flight attendents would be put through hell now trying to keep passengers from sneaking into the business class cabin. He headed back to his seat, intent on pointing out to Val that some weapons were not to be used in their personal fights. Val was nowhere in sight. Luke gripped the back of the seat and felt his heart start to thud, even though rationally he knew Val was most likely to have taken up the attendent's offer to look around the cockpit. Val was still out of his sight, in the middle of a very public environment, surrounded by God knows who and as always, completely oblivious to any risks.
He ran Val to earth in the flight cabin where he was charming the socks off the two pilots. From the sweet smile Val gave him, Val was well aware Luke was in a position to do absolutely nothing with him or about him. He waved a hand between the two pilots, addressing himself mostly to them.
"Ah there he is! Gentlemen, this is my bodyguard, Luke McNeil? Luke I shan't be needing you up here, why don't you get yourself a drink or something? He does worry.." he added to the pilots in a tone that made Luke's teeth grate. Luke fixed Val with a gaze that should have turned him to stone and quietlyshook his head at him. Val's look was just as hard and completely wicked. Luke had no option here. He left the cabin, folded his arms outside the door and waited. A flight attendant approached Luke. He saw a man with a military bearing, a set chin, and a steely look in his eyes. He was a little hesitant, but spoke up.
"Sir, I'm sorry but you'll have to return to your seat. The regs require it."
Luke thought about arguing, but then decided there really wasn't a point. "Yes, sir." He said as he strode back to his seat. Since they were in first class, Luke didn't think he had much to worry about as no one could get to Val without going past him first. He had serious thoughts about getting a leash for his young charge, one that could be tied down to keep this from happening again. He sat in frustrated silence for 15 minutes.
Val was enjoying his freedom from the gorilla. The pilots were young enough to be totally thrilled with their star passenger, and they showed Valeverything they could in the cockpit. Val kept waiting for the door to explode inward, the gorilla having lost his normally good sense of humor. It never happened, which suprised Val as he knew how upset Luke was with him. He pushed the nagging thoughts of trouble from his mind, intent on enjoying himself fully.
The flight attendant that had given Val the coke opened up the door to check if the pilots needed anything. She saw Val there. "Hey, I see you finally made it up front. Are they taking good care of you?"
Val turned his megawatt smile towards the young lady. "Very good care.... Lucie. And you could help love. Would you bring me that drink I asked for earlier? The bloody mary?"
"Whatever you want, I'll be right back." Lucie stepped out of the cockpit, a huge smile on her face. Val had called her...love. She was close to swooning.
Luke saw and recognised the look as she emerged from the cabin and raised his eyes to Heaven. Just how far did Val intend on taking this? His blood pressure started to boil as he saw what Lucie was mixing at the bar. He changed position in the chair, gripped the arm rests and stared out of the window, repeating to himself that there was no way he could cause a scene here. Once Val had his drink and had strutted around the cabin for a while,proving beyond doubt he was the centre of attention, there was little else he could do except come back to his seat. At which point, Luke had a fewpointed matters to which he intended to direct Mr Quentin's attention.
Lucie finished the drink and headed back into the cockpit. Her hands were shaking as she was about to hand a drink to such a well known person.
Val turned as Lucie entered. He batted his eyelashes playfully and actedlike Lucie was giving him the best present in the world. "Why thank you love." He took a sip of the drink. "That is absolutely perfect my girl. Never had better."
Lucie smiled and quickly left, unsure that her legs would keep her standing.
Val turned his attention back to the pilots, while quickly downing his drink. If Luke didn't see him with it, what harm would there be? Val remained in the cockpit for another 10 minutes.
"Mr. Quentin, I mean Val, we are approaching some rough weather. I'd love to have you stay here, but we don't need headlines tomorrow about you sustaining injuries from turbulence. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, and come back anytime."
Val looked around the cabin, spying the third empty seat. "May I sit here?" He asked, not wanting to return to Luke.
"Sorry, regs don't allow it. I would if it were at all possible."
Val shook the proffered hands of both men, thanking them and leaving. He still had the empty glass from the drink and didn't know quite what to do with it. Just then Lucie opened the door. Val shoved the empty glass towards her. "Thanks, really love. Do me a HUGE favor?"
Lucie smiled "Anything."
"Get me some breath mints, and make sure Luke there doesn't know that drink was for me. He's just a tiny bit over protective. May I stand over in your station for just a minute? Oh, and do you have any bananas?"
Lucie was loving this. She felt like the luckiest person on earth, being asked to conspire with *the* star of the day. "Of course, come on" she said, taking Val by the elbow and steering him out of Luke's direct line of sight. "Here's the mints, and I think I have a bunch of bananas, yes here they are." She pulled a bunch out of a bin.
"Great! Luke just LOVES bananas. Give him a couple for me, and I'll wait right here. He'll really appreciate it."
"No problem." Lucie floated away down the aisle, mentally planning several phonecalls she intended to make to her entire collection of friends when she got home. The tall, grim looking bodyguard had one knee propped up against the wall, and his expression was anything but friendly. With luck the bananas would cheer him up. So nice of that sweet Val Quentin, every bit as nice as he looked on stage- so thoughtful towards his staff.
"Excuse me sir? Luke? Mr Quentin asked me to give you these with his compliments?"
Luke looked in silence at the bunch of yellow bananas held out to him. Then he reached out a hand and very gently accepted them.
"How very thoughtful of him. Would you tell Mr Quentin I'm sure they'll build up my strength perfectly for the day ahead?"
The girl smiled and happily went to relay her message. Luke flipped a banana over in his hand and counted slowly to twenty.
You're not going to do it, Val. We are NOT going to make a scene here. We are going to wait for a nice, quiet, private hotel room, and THEN I am going to strangle you.
Lucie returned to her station to find Val with a mouthful of mints, chewingnoisily. "I think those bananas will help cheer him up. He said thanks, they'll help him build up his strength for the day. Got some big plans?" She asked innocently.
Val about choked on the mints as the words registered in his brain. They had NO plans for the evening that Luke would need strength for.... He swallowed the mints and was about to speak when the pilot's voice echoed from the speakers.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now at 30,000 feet and two hours into our four hour flight. We are approaching some heavy weather here shortly, nothing to worry about but we will probably experience some turbulence. Please make sure your seatbelts are secure. The flight attendants will be making their way down the aisle shortly to collect any drinks or food stuffs that need to be disposed of. Thank you."
Val was all set to ask Lucie where he could sit when Luke made his presence known by clearing his throat.
"MISTER Quentin. There you are. I've been keeping your seat nice and warm for you."
Val gave Lucie a sickly smile and gave in to the steel hand closed on his upper arm.
"Although," Luke went on quietly in his ear, "Not half as warm as you will be the minute I get you somewhere private."
"It was a joke." Val said hopefully. "A great joke- looks like I really had you going?"
"Ha ha." Luke fed Val into the seat ahead of him with exaggerated courtesy. "Have a banana. They go great with bloody marys so I hear."
Damn. Val slumped into his seat, annoyed, thwarted, and once more feeling depression creeping over him.
"Seatbelt." Luke said flatly, taking out a newspaper. Val ignored him, folded his arms and gently kicked at the seat in front of him.
"I'm warning you..." Luke said without looking up.
Val huffed in frustration, but put his seatbelt on certain Luke wouldn't let him out of the seat anytime soon. He remained in a horrible mood, hating having to sit still for so long, especially so close to a gorilla who radiated frozen steam.
About fifteen minutes later the plane began to hit the turbulent clouds. The plane bucked and tossed for the next fifteen minutes, leaving Val with a pounding headache, partly from the liquor, partly from the movements of the plane. He pushed the button for the flight attendant before Luke could stop him.
"Quentin, what do you want?" Luke said icily.
"I've got a freaking headache. I want some aspirin. I don't think you have any in your pockets, do you? I didn't think so."
Just then Lucie appeared. "What can I do for you Val?"
"You can get me a bar of soap." Luke said under his breath. Val glowered at him.
"I'll have another bloody mary and a couple of aspirin love. And if there's another seat free I'd appreciate it. It's getting a little crowded and stuffy in here."
Luke began to fold his paper with calm, deliberate movements. "That's an excellent idea Val. Is there anywhere a little quieter I could take Mr Quentin to cool off?"
Val's look became abruptly aprehensive. Lucie looked from one to the other of them, confused.
"I er- I'm not sure. There's the steward's cabin, I could open that up for you."
"No, I'll be fine, I'm sure." Val said quickly, "Just get me a coke and a couple of aspirins and I'll sleep it off I'm sure-"
"No I think you'd settle down a lot better for a little peace and quiet." Luke said sweetly. "That's such a kind offer, miss."
Lucie shot Val a look that he was finding less appealing by the minute. "Oh nothing's too much trouble for Mr Quentin here."
"Isn't that the truth?" Luke said, bowing Val out into the aisle ahead of him.
Val was NOT happy with the turn of events. He thought he'd be safe at least until the hotel room. Time to turn on the charm. He tried to stop in the aisle, but Luke's hold on his arm remained strong, and Val ended up stumbling from the pressure Luke applied to keep him moving forward. That ticked Val off as they were moving past several other passengers, and Val felt like a small child in the grip of an angry father. Val tried to stop again.
Val saw several passengers look his way, so instead of making a scene he continued the few feet to the steward's cabin, which was located between first and business class.
"Here you go. There is a bunk for sleeping, you can relax there. I'll be right back with the drink and the aspirin." Lucie said.
"Water and aspirin, thank you." Luke said smiling gently at Lucie.
"Water and aspirin it is." Lucie moved off unsteadily down the asile, as the plane was still pitching a little.
When Luke let go of his arm, Val immediately jumped into the bunk, intent on keeping his backside as far from Luke as he could. He was feeling decidedly
unwell, and didn't feel the least bit inclined to have to parry with Luke in the language before punishment. He turned on his puppy dog eyes, blinked slyly at Luke, and said in a pitifully small voice
"My head hurts sooooooo bad. A nap would do me good. Thank you Luke, for taking such good care of me."
"You want to make me nauseous too?" Luke shook a blanket out from the end of the bed, dropped it over his brat and folded his arms, looking down at him with no visible softening in his face or voice. "You stay here, you stay put and you keep your mouth SHUT for the rest of this trip, do you understand me? One more foot wrong and I'll stop caring how thin those bulkheads are and I'll straighten you out here and now with the rest of the plane listening in."
Luke wasn't given to idle threats and Val knew it. And the temptation to lie down and rest was getting stronger by the second. Luke snapped off the lights by the door, took the aspirins from Lucie and shut the door on her.
"Get those down."
"What time is it?" Val peered to see Luke's watch in the dimness. Luke took the empty glass from him.
"Another hour at least in the air. I'll wake you in plenty of time, sleep this off."
The fact that Val did as he was told took a lot of the edge of Luke's temper. Usually Val would have pushed his luck not just to breaking but to shattering point, making a showdown nothing less than inevitable. Luke shut the door to the cabin and took the steward's seat outside, settling himself for the final hour's journey in peace and quiet.
Val breathed a HUGE sigh of relief as the door closed and he was left in peace and quiet. He promptly fell asleep, the plane's engines sounding almost like a lullaby.
Almost as soon as he thought he had closed his eyes, Luke was waking him up.
"Kitten? Wake up. We're about to land and need to be in our seats. Val?" Luke shook Val's shoulder until he heard the grumblings of a brat awakened too early.
"Go away! I'm still sleeping...." Val said slurring his words.
Luke tried one more time. "Val, come on, we're almost there. Get up sleepyhead."
"No! Leave me be." Val tried to snuggle up in the covers.
Luke yanked the blanket off and quickly swatted Val's seat three times in rapid succession.
"OW! Okay, okay!!! I'm up! Val quickly rolled over, away from the punishing hand. He sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "I can't go out there like this, Luke. My hair, my face..."
"You look fine Val. We have GOT to get in our seats, now. Come on, you can freshen up at the airport."
"LOOK this may not matter to you, Mr ripped jeans and last years sunglasses, but I've got an image to-"
Val squeaked as Luke collared him, hoisted him to his feet and pushed him
towards the door.
"Are you walking or am I dragging? And even think about kicking me and I swear I will blister you here and now. WALK!"
Val walked, swearing under his breath. Luke followed him, thinking longingly about wringing his neck and wondering if it were possible to make it a condition of his contract that he and Val always travelled in separate planes. Or that Val conducted all future plane journeys under heavy sedation. Or that he found the courage to forget all sense of responsibility and took this kid firmly in hand, twenty four hours a day.
The airport was filled with a number of fans that made Luke scowl. Max had obviously briefed the press. He passed their bags to one of Val's numerous aides and himself took a firm grip on Val's hand, pulling him close enough to growl in his ear.
"Walk with me, quickly, quietly-"
"You were the one who said I should chat to the press." Val snapped, trying to free his hand. Cameras were already flashing. Luke drew a deep breath, tightened his fingers as far as he dared without Val staging a public bout of hysteria- which he would not hesitate to do- and pulled the young man with him through the corridors lined with crowds. Val refused to be dragged at anything faster than a leisurely stroll, waving and showing off with the stagecraft that made the photographers love him. They hit a bank of photographers by the main doors and Val pulled his fingers out of Luke's with a dexterous twist that meant he was gone before Luke realised.
"Damn." Luke swore when he realised he was holding nothing but air. He tried to quickly follow Val, but the crowd of photographers surged around him, cutting him off.
Val made a beeline for a particularly good looking young man, intent on nothing but aggravating Luke. The guy had press credentials for some American magazine that he hadn't heard of before. He turned on his megawatt smile and began to ooze the charm. The flashbulbs around him were popping like mad, and all the reporters were anxious to get a question in, making it nearly impossible to hear anything that was said.
Luke began roughly shoving people out of his way, intent on corralling his charge as he had just put himself in a very dangerous situation. Luke continued to scan the crowd for any signs of security issues. The security of the airport had been beefed up as they had been alerted to Val's arrival, and they were having a time of it, trying to control several groups of screaming teenagers. They were a little upset with Val as they had hoped that he would make a beeline for the exit. The increased foot traffic and sceaming kids made normal security for the airport a lot tougher. Luke was well aware of the disapproving mutters of the airport security staff and the eyes flickering towards him that silently demanded what he thought he was doing, leaving his charge to walk unprotected around such a crowd. Luke resorted to swearing steadily under his breath as he tried to force his way through to Val. In front of so many press he could hardly stage a scene, yet he knew well that Val would do nothing for him now without brute force. Val's self destruct button had clicked: he would take this battle of wills to ridiculous extremes and care nothing whatever for the consequences until he was actually facing them.
Val took his time, doing every last thing he knew Luke hated. Shaking every hand outheld. Accepting any flower or soft toy offered to him. Stopping to chat with his sunglasses off and his hands in his pocket in anything like the defensive positions Luke had trained him in. Knowing he was driving Luke absolutely crazy.
Luke was well aware of the disapproving mutters of the airport security staff and the eyes flickering towards him that silently demanded what he thought he was doing, leaving his charge to walk unprotected around such a crowd. Luke resorted to swearing steadily under his breath as he tried to force his way through to Val. In front of so many press he could hardly stage a scene, yet he knew well that Val would do nothing for him now without brute force. Val's self destruct button had clicked: he would take this battle of wills to ridiculous extremes and care nothing whatever for the consequences until he was actually facing them.
Val took his time, doing every last thing he knew Luke hated. Shaking every hand outheld. Accepting any flower or soft toy offered to him. Stopping to chat with his sunglasses off and his hands in his pocket in anything like the defensive positions Luke had trained him in. Knowing he was driving Luke absolutely crazy. He was certain that no harm would come to him, Luke was just too overprotective, and didn't ever understand what was needed to keep everyone screaming his name.
Val turned away from the reporters and caught a glimpse of Luke. The look he got turned his stomach inside out. Luke looked absolutely ready to kill, and was headed straight for him. Val turned quickly away, searching for an opening, some way to get away from Luke, or at least stall him from being able to leave. Val realised he had gone way beyond the rules of proper behavior, and that Luke would more than likely take it upon himself to show Val the error of his ways, in a way that Val would find much more than heart warming.
He spied a young lady that was holding out a stuffed toy. It was a gorilla! Val headed straight for her, intent on taking the toy and presenting it to Luke, making a big deal of it in front of the press. A gorilla for *his* gorilla. Luke's hand snagged discreetly on his belt before he got there and a voice breathed in his ear,
"You take one more step and I'll do it HERE!"
Val gave Luke a sweet smile, leaned across and took the toy gorilla, taking the time to kiss the outstretched hand as he did so. Then he gently put the gorilla into Luke's hand.
"Hold this for me Luke?"
Luke looked at him. Val almost laughed in sheer nervousness. He could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears.
"I didn't take a single step! Chill!"
Luke's hand transferred to his and from the way the bodyguard's fingers closed around his, Luke would break them before he let go. Val waved cheerfully to the press and followed him through the crowds, out of the front door where the airport staff were guarding the route to the car. Val got in, watched Luke slam and lock the door as he followed, and leaned to the window for one last wave as the car drove away. Then he lay back and looked at Luke.
"That was fun."
"Kiddo, you are asking more of my self control than is safe." Luke said grimly. "If I were you I would shut up and sit still."
Val lowered his eyelashes, giving Luke one of his little boy looks. "Are you cross with me Luke?"
"Cross doesn't even begin to touch it."
"But Luuuuuuke, Max called the press, so I HAD to put on a show." Val had to do some fast talking, try to fix the damage from the plane AND the airport.
Luke of course knew this. And he wasn't in the mood for playing any games. "Quiet, kiddo." He said sternly, taking out some of his paperwork for the thirty minute ride to the lodge.
Val realised Luke was going to concentrate on his paperwork, and he began to work towards a tantrum. His breathing picked up, a sign that Luke recognised immediately.
"One word, one movement, and so help me I'll blister that butt of yours right here AND when we get to the lodge."
Val snorted in frustration and turned away from Luke, staring out the window at the passing scenery. So much for wonderful views, they seemed to be in an ugly part of town. Val had to work on a plan of action for arrival at the lodge. He did NOT want to be left alone with the gorilla.
Luke folded his papers the minute the car slowed down, glanced out at the lodge and held out a hand to Val in silence. Val hadn't even had time to consider refusing to get out of the car before those fingers once more locked around his and yanked him firmly onto the tarmac. SOMEONE had influenced this choice of venue: Val recognised it instantly. The genuine retreat of the rich and famous. No one rushing to take bags, no press within five miles, discreet and constant security. A real dive. He was towed in the front door and within seconds a key had been presented to Luke without any word to Val or hint of recognition. Luke led Val after him towards a broad an elegant stairway, refusing to let Val slip his grasp.
"Why don't you just buy me some God damned handcuffs?" Val demanded under his breath.
"Don't tempt me." Luke said just as softly.
"Who CHOSE this boring, low heeled little-"
"I'll give you three guesses." Luke paused outside a polished oak door and found the key.
"Gorilla, Gorilla, GORILLA!" Val said, again under his breath.
Luke opened the door, never letting go of Val's hand. He towed the youngster into the room and shut and locked the door behind him.
"This isn't very pretty. Matter of fact, it's pretty shi...ugly." Val actually caught himself about to curse, and thought twice about it.
"Well then, no need for you to strain yourself looking at it. There's a nice corner, right over there, put your nose in it." Luke said dryly, with an edge to his voice.
Val started to back pedal, not even realizing that he had left himself open for that remark. "Oh, so -"
Luke grabbed Val's upper arm and marched him, sputtering, over to the designated corner.
"Not a word, Quentin. Face that wall, shut your mouth and stand STILL."
"Still? You are so tight arsed do you know that? Can I breathe? Mind if I stand and breathe? Can I stand like this?"
Luke turned his back on Val glowering at him and balancing on one foot. Val was into last-ditch mode now and would do or say anything. There was no point in taking it at face value. Dear Mr Quentin was safe, he was in one place, he was unlikely to come to any harm, and he was hurting no one by keeping himself entertained in the corner. Luke drew several deep breaths and ignored him. The room had been designed with high security in mind. No routes led up or down from the windows, the room was a long way from any others with only one entry door to the two bedrooms and sitting room connected. And Val was right: it was small and plainly furnished. Val was too young and too jaded with opulence to recognise the extreme good taste exercised in the plainness of the decor.
Luke dealt with the several cases already delivered to the room, changed out of clothes he felt like he'd been wearing for several years and flopped full length down on the bed for a minute. He could hear Val next door, doing the huffing and flouncing that meant he felt he had been cornered for an unnatural and brutal length of time. He glanced at his watch. Mr Quentin had been examining the painwork for nearly eight minutes. As far as Luke was concerned, he could get used to that corner for the rest of the day: the journey had been a living nightmare. Once he started to think about it, the sheer audacity of it began to hit him. Luke's lips twitched and his strained temper flowed into something a lot more controlled, amused and far more certain. He looked at his watch again.
Val was thoroughly bored with the corner. He felt like he had been standing there for hours upon end. When contemplating possible punishment, the corner was the LAST place Val wanted to be. When faced with the corner AFTER punishment, he found a sort of comfort there, though wasn't any less bored. Luke was managing to ignore his not so subtle messages that he was ready to leave and it was irritating him more than he was initially. He knew better than turn away no matter HOW bored he got, that was one lesson that Luke had made a great impression upon him. He knew Luke was
furious, knew that he had made a mockery of the issues that Luke took so seriously. And he knew that Luke would punish him for it, it was just a matter of
when and how bad. So Val did the only thing he knew how to do absolutely to perfection (yes, BESIDES being a brat!) ......he began to sing. It was one of his favorite love songs, and he was a master at singing it. "I like the feel of your name on my lips, and I like the sound of your sweet gentle kiss, the way that your fingers run through my hair, and how your scent lingers even when you're not there..." He began slowly and quietly, and his melodious voice rose with each word, till he was fairly certain Luke could hear him.
"I am going to kill him." Luke thought, staring at the ceiling. "This is it. I am going to walk in there and throttle him, I swear it."
Val's beautiful voice lifted and grew, caressing each word he spoke in the way he did on stage that stopped Luke's breathing on some nights. There was a depth to each note that held the sound in the air with all the richness of an orchestra playing. Luke shut his eyes.
Quentin stop it. I am mad at you. I ought to break that little neck of yours.
Val leaned his head against the wall, soothed by the music as much as his intentions of distracting Luke, listening to how the sound reverberated against the surface. He hummed softly, following an instrumental break over it's delicate complexities, aware now that the whole room was still and attuned to the sound. Luke's rapid footsteps made him break off abruptly, his heart pounding. Luke was moving fast, the speed and dispatch of a very angry man. Val turned in self defence, alarmed by the grimness on Luke's face, aware he was about to find himself yanked face down across the knee of his furious bodyguard. He lifted his hands in self defence and Luke took absolutely no notice. His hands grabbed Val's shoulders, Val felt his head jerked up and his mouth was covered with the hardest and most thorough kiss in his experience.
It left Val breathless, so totally in shock as to be absolutely speechless. His body tingled from the ends of his dark hair to the tips of his toes. It was almost as if an electric shock was being transmitted by the very touching of the lips.
Luke ended the kiss and took a step back, not letting go of Val's shoulders. He watched the play of emotions across Val's face as Val was taking in what happened. What he saw surprised and pleased him.
As soon as Luke ended the kiss, Val wanted to melt into a puddle on the floor. The electricity left his body and took with it every ounce of strength he thought he possessed. The adrenaline rush of thinking punishment was at hand, combined with the kiss left him giddy yet limp as a ragdoll. He looked into the face of the gorilla, wanting an explanation, wanting affirmation that it wasn't a joke, that it meant as much to Luke as it did to him. The usually steely grey eyes held a different light, one that sent a tingling sensation through Val yet again. Then he noticed a glint of amusement growing in the eyes. He stiffened in anger, but before he could put into words what he wanted to say, Luke crushed his lips yet again, wiping away any thoughts of anger as Val was not a bystander the second time around. Val's arms slid independently around Luke's neck and fastened in a stranglehold, Luke nearly had to prise his wrists back to see his face when he finally came up for air. They stared at each other again for some time, then Luke smiled very faintly.
"Well Kitten. That's a new way of shutting you up."
Val grabbed him before he could back off. "So do it again."
Luke's hands tightened on his wrists, then slid up his arms to his shoulders, to his face.
"I shouldn't be doing this," Luke said almost under his breath, "I have got to be out of my head-"
Val's eyes flashed beneath his with the spitfire imperiousness mixed with the little boy face.
"Stop rabbiting McNeil and get on with it!"
The jibe had the effect Val hoped for. Luke growled but his weight pushed Val back against the wall, the two of them crushed at an awkward angle against the dignified plaster while they necked like teenagers. It was Val who moved them, barrellling his full weight against Luke's chest to move them step by step through the open doorway into Luke's room, and Luke came to enough to kick the door shut behind them.
And I knew it, Luke thought, watching Val sometime later. Sprawled and sleepy and beyond any thought of being difficult or dramatic.
I always knew the way to bring you down. It just isn't something we can do at 2000 feet on a jet plane.
He ran a finger down Val's back and Val twitched, too comfortable to move.
"Come here, you'll get cold."
Val moaned but rolled over and let Luke pull the covers over him. "Shouldn't we be going somewhere or doing something?"
"Not until tonight. Thought you'd need time to get over the flight."
Val grinned, eyes still closed. "And how right you were, Mr McNeil."
Luke pulled him closer and dropped another kiss on his lips. "I told you to shut up."
"Make me." Val demanded. Luke shook his head.
"I knew I was out of my head."
"You're not. Forget it." Val wrapped himself around Luke, preventing the older man moving, and Luke felt him drift back into a comfortable doze. The kid was relaxed. Calm. And he damned well ought to be. Luke lay still, not wanting to disturb him, but not able to shake the nagging edge of guilt.
He laid still until he was sure Val was deeply slumbering, then slowly disentangled himself gently from beneath him. He pulled the covers back over Val and gently kissed his forehead. He gathered up the clothes that had been strewn around the room a few hours earlier and walked into the sitting room to get dressed closing the door softly behind him. He sat in a chair, his head cradled in his hands, silently cursing himself for the complexity he had just created within his working relationship with Val. There would be no denial of his feelings, he had always made that clear, though he had never acted upon them as he had done today. He had known since that first day he had met Val that it would be more than a job to him. He cared deeply for that boy, and would always do whatever it took to make sure no harm came to him. If that meant spanking that lovely round bottom 15 shades of red when the kid acted dangerously, he'd do it. And he made up his mind that should the kid deserve punishment, he'd take care of that business immediately, but privately.
There were going to be tough times ahead, and Luke was well aware of it. He was sure the record company wouldn't want it known that Val was in ANY sort of relationship, much less the one is was in now. He had to seem available to everyone, that was part of the selling job they did. Luke understood these things, but he was unsure whether Val would or not. Val had made his feelings perfectly clear just a few hours ago, but Luke remained unsure of whether Val truly meant them. Only time would tell.
Luke let Val sleep for another hour before deciding it was time to get him up and ready. They had a reception to attend, a meeting to discuss the next few days and what was expected of Val.
Val's immediate response to being woken was first to produce a cat like mew of pleading, then when Luke shook him again, to roll over and grab Luke in
a way that risked them never making the reception at all. Luke fended him off, wondering just where the kid had learned this sort of expertise.
"Hey. There's no time. You need to get up and shower, there isn't long to the reception."
"There's long enough..." Val coaxed. Luke smiled but moved out of his reach, leaving Val to pout but roll to his feet and find his watch.
"Hey there's hours yet!"
"Not by the time you've eaten and decided what you're going to wear. And there's still some things I want to discuss with you about the journey out here."
Val's eyes went wide and then his lower lip slipped outwards, giving his already angel face a look of near irresistible pathos.
"You can't be serious!"
"Oh I can." Luke said candidly. "You may be gorgeous Quentin. You are still a brat and I still have a job to do. Go and shower."
"Now." Luke said firmly, pointing. "Go on Kitten, move."
Val hesitated, not quite sure what he wanted or how to ask. Luke hesitated too, balancing on the brink of more confusion than he was sure he could cope with. Then he lifted Val's chin, kissed him firmly and gave him a push towards the bathroom.
Val took a few steps in the direction of the bathroom before turning around with a hot look under the lashes "join me?"
Val proceeded into the bathroom and jumped in the shower. He sang the entire time he showered, enjoying the great accoustics of the bathroom walls. When he finished with the shower he brushed his teeth and shaved, then went to find Luke. He was certain he could talk Luke out of any punishment, especially since they had enjoyed such a lovely afternoon.
He found Luke with the phone glued to his ear. He went over to the well stocked bar, looking for something to quench his thirst. Luke looked up when he heard bottles rattling, to find Val with a beer about to be opened. "Just a moment." Luke put the call on hold. "Val, you'll probably have something to drink tonight, I don't think you need to get started this early. Find something else, please."
Val grumbled "Gorilla" but put the beer back, pulling out a mineral water instead.
Luke went back to the phone. "And the press will be there after the shoot tomorrow, right? One interview, an hour long at best? Thanks." Luke hung up.
"Who was that?"
"That was Max. He called to confirm an interview tomorrow immediately after the photoshoot. He has you blocked for an hour, then we'll take off and enjoy the rest of the evening."
"What IS there to do around here?"
"Plenty, kitten, plenty." Luke got up and put his hands on Val's shoulders. His loving look was replaced by something a little more stern than Val would have liked. "We need to discuss your behavior this morning."
"We don't." Val assured him. "We really don't."
"We do, believe me. If you think I am ever going to swallow you acting like that in public or anywhere else-"
"I was stressed," Val said with charm and disarming ingenuity, "I was worried about the photoshoots and I didn't feel too good and you wouldn't believe how sorry I am-"
"You're right, I don't." Luke said bluntly. "You were headed for the brat of the year award from the moment you boarded the plane. Apart from making a total exhibition of yourself, being thoroughly rude and unpleasant to everyone concerned and putting yourself in serious danger from me breaking your neck, you put yourself into actively dangerous situations for no other reason than to annoy me. Didn't you?"
"Not exactly-" Val said uncertainly, not keen on the direction of this argument. Val shook his head.
"If you're going to find something dangerous to do every time something happens that you don't like, I am going to have to start laying down much tighter rules on where we go and how. If I can't trust you to behave in public, I can't possibly offer you any real protection. If one of the crowd today had been carrying a knife or handed you anything nasty, you'd got yourself into a place where I couldn't have helped you. And you did it for no other reason than to make me as mad as you could get me. Didn't you?"
Val opened his mouth. Luke looked at him. "Didn't you?"
"Noooo-" Val began to whine.
Val just looked at the floor, unable to come up with any way to logically get himself out of the corner Luke had just put him in.
"That's what I thought. Well kiddo, you managed to make me very angry today, and I suggest you never do that again, because from now on, you behave like that in public, and I'll punish you, in public."
Val's mouth dropped open in indignation. "You can't do that! People would talk, the...the record company wouldn't allow it!" Val was practically stuttering in indignation.
"I didn't say we'd be in front of anyone. But I'll be sure to find a quiet restroom or office, and I'll take care of business then and there. If you have to walk back out with a sore tail and tears in your eyes, you'll have to deal with it. I'm sure that anyone will be able to help me find a quiet place for our business, so remember that."
"B..b..but you -"
"I WILL. I will because I care deeply for you, and I won't allow you to put yourself in danger like that again. I will because I want you to be the best you can be. I will......because I think that is what is needed, like now." Luke captured Val's wrist and sat down on the bed, pulling Val across his knees.
There was never any point in arguing once Luke reached this point but logic had nothing to do with it. Val twisted, trying to get his bottom out of it's vulnerable position upturned over Luke's lap and failing miserably as Luke unbuttoned and pulled down his trousers, then his briefs.
"Luke this is ridiculous! One little flight- just a few hours! I was kidding! That was all, it was just a joke!"
"Then you need to think long and hard about your sense of humour kiddo." was all that Luke said before his familiar and hard hand landed hard on Val's bare bottom. Val yelped and squirmed to lever himself up off Luke's lap. It was a hopeless attempt and he knew it. Luke was unmoved and uninterested and the strength behind that smack reminded Val horribly of just how annoyed he had managed to get Luke this morning. By the time the second smack fell, still harder, Mr Quentin was bitterly regretting ever having heard of bananas or gorillas, bloody marys or fans.
"Luke I'm sorry, really I'm sorry!"
"Sorry for what?" Luke demanded, pausing. Val bit at the air.
"For making you mad?"
The pause lasted long enough for Val to gather some hope. Then Luke's hand lifted and Val felt the first of a downpour of spanks that made him wail.
Luke never paused, just kept the hand falling, rapidly turning the white flesh to pink, then to a darker shade of red. He covered every inch of the wriggling and clenching bottom, making sure to hit every spot hard, and at east three times.
Val moved beyond recognizable language into the pleas and quickly beyond that to the moans and mewls of a well spanked young man. Nothing he did lessened the hand impacting on his backside, no matter how hard he tried to move. He sorely regretted making Luke mad at the airport.
Luke stopped, his hand stinging and hot. He was certain Val was very uncomfortable. He held on to Val, massaging his back while he calmed down some. When Val's heaving cries subsided into jerking breaths, he pulled Val up, then sat him back down in his lap.
Val moaned as his toasted backside made contact with Luke's leg. He threw his arms around Luke and sobbed into the neck as Luke held him tight.
Luke carressed the silky hair and whispered words of comfort into Val's ear until Val was mostly silent. "Why did I just spank you?"
Val remained quiet for a bit, trying to find the right words. "Because I put myself in danger?"
"Yes, kitten, because you put yourself in danger. Mostly that, but being a brat figured into it as well. You've got to learn that I mean I've had enough when I say I've had enough."
Luke heard a soft "gorilla" escape Val's lips and smiled in spite of himself. He easily picked Val up and stood him on his feet. He then got up and kissed Val lightly on the forehead, both thumbs wiping the tears from the cheeks. "Go get yourself cleaned up love, and get dressed. I'll order room service, and then we've got to leave."
The party was like the hotel: discreet, quiet, civilised, and to a young man used to far more dramatic parties, very boring. Max was in the lounge with a collection of suits that Luke recognised as from the advertising company, the alcopop manufacturers and from Orion, the record company. Luke saw the little collection of them as they came down the stairs and snatched a moment to grasp Val's hand and draw him out of sight into the hotel's diningroom. Val's blue eyes lifted to him in surprise. Luke pushed the door to after them. "Kitten listen to me a moment. Do you know what the regulations are in your contract about getting involved with people?" Val frowned. "I'm not supposed to be photographed as part of a couple- something about it gets done in my own time and discreetly, but Orion's got no real control over that." He was wrong, he was alarmingly naive and this was no time to scare him. Luke pushed his fingers through Val's hair, speaking gently. "They won't be thrilled about you and I getting too close. It'll affect-" "Affect the image, I know, but it's nothing to do with them." "The image is their property, kitten, and it earns them a lot of money. Listen to me. This is no secret from anyone we like or anywhere we're safe from photographers or anyone who'll report back to Orion, but in public this is going to have to be a well kept secret. And I mean that. I won't endanger your career for love." Val's eyes were very serious. Luke made his own tone still more serious. "Don't EVER use it because you're annoyed with me or you want a fight. The day you make it a public display because you're having a tantrum, I'll swear to you now I'll take your pants down, turn you over my knee where ever it is we are and no matter who's watching, and I'll spank you until you're wailing. Got me?" Val flushed and shifted slightly in front of him, still very aware of his well spanked bottom from just a few minutes ago. Luke made his eyes still sharper. "Do you understand me?" "Yeah." Val said softly. Luke hesitated, then slipped a hand around the nape of his neck and kissed him gently. It was still so new, and yet it came as easily as if they'd been lovers for months. "Good boy. Come on then. Behave."
Val rolled his eyes at Luke, but managed a quiet "okay" before they headed towards the reception.
Everyone stood up and introductions were made, Luke disappearing into the background. Val felt a sense of loneliness when he realized Luke wasn't right there, holding his hand. He plastered on his smile and turned on the charm as best he could. He was handed a drink, offered a seat, and the meeting began in earnest.
The advertisers put on a brief presentation of the ads that they wanted to run, and the pictures that they wanted to achieve with Val. The threedays of shooting were scheduled, Val being told where to be, what clothes he was going to be wearing, and how he was going to be posed.
Luke stood quietly against the wall in his normal pose, his arms crossed, his legs opened slightly. He observed the meeting, making sure that Val wasn't being asked to do anything untoward or too strenuous, as the "players" always tried to make last minute moves. He was pleased as Max actually put his foot down when the advertisers asked if Val could be shown without his shirt.
The meeting lasted about an hour, with drinks and friendly discussion for another hour after that. Val quickly became bored with the whole thing as there was no music, no photographers, no adoring fans. He searched for and found Luke, nearly camouflaged against the wall. His look of appeal was more than Luke could resist. No one else would have noticed where he was standing or even that he was there, no one looked twice when he approached the table and stooped quietly by Val.
"Phone call for you."
"Thankyou." Val said with open relief and got up. "Excuse me gentlemen."
Luke followed him out into the hallway where Val grabbed his hand and towed him through the foyer and into the hotel garden.
"THANK you! I was about to fall asleep in there!"
"Just ten minutes," Luke warned, "I don't want Max changing the deal the minute I'm not listening."
"Max wouldn't let anyone go out of my best interests." Val said dismissively. Luke didn't argue.
"Do you need a drink?"
"Luke you saw what I was drinking in there-"
"I saw what you were putting away, yes, that's why I want to know if you want a real drink."
Luke expected the half smile and the flash of blue eyes: he didn't expect the arms flung around his neck which made him stagger slightly.
"You are such-"
Luke produced a realistic gorilla growl and swept Val off his feet, making him shriek and then laugh, struggling as Luke bit at his throat.
"Okay, Okay I give up! Get me a stupid drink!"
"The intelligence of fluids is beyond my control." Luke put him down and let him go. "Stay put."
Val grabbed him and snatched a kiss, only brief but enough to make them both fleetingly consider forgetting about the rest of the meeting. Luke pulled himself together with an effort and went inside. Val stretched like a cat in the sunshine. The glint of glass made him jump and whip around. After months of being followed by photographers, he recognised a lense when he saw it. The man on the other side of the hedge gave him a lazy smile.
"That looked interesting."
"Price." Val said with loathing. "I'll call security."
The man laughed. "Give me the exclusive and I won't sell that shot on the open market."
"You didn't see anything." Val spat back. "And you didn't get the picture, I'd have heard it."
"I'm sure I can get some evidence for my story. You're a good friend, Val. You're just about making my career for me."
Val opened his mouth, knowing Luke was out of earshot. "McNeil!"
Price drifted away, waving a hand. Val collapsed on a bench, shaken and furious. Luke jogged down the steps towards him carrying a bottle of water which Val accepted without a word. Luke pushed his chin up anxiously. "Are you that tired Kitten?"
"No. Just hot out here." Val flipped the top of the bottle and drank deeply. Price was a swine. A dangerous swine. And suddenly he was a tremendous risk. "I won't endanger your career for love." Val remembered Luke saying. This was something he'd have to handle on his own. He wasn't about to lose what he just found because of that swine.
"Come on kitten, back to the meeting. Not long now, I promise."
Val took a quick look around before stealing another quick kiss. "Do we HAVE to go back?" He asked playfully.
"Yes, we do. You've got a job to finish then we must get you to bed."
"You'll be coming with me, right?" Val said as he wandered back inside.
"We'll see." Was all Luke said.
Luke again melted into the wallpaper as Val finished up business. The record executives were making plans to wrap up business at the bar, inviting Val to join them.
Luke stepped in. "Val, you need to be fresh for your pictures tomorrow, lets say we get you upstairs, shall we?"
Val looked gratefully up at Luke. "Yes, I am tired. Another time gentlemen?" Val got up and shook hands all around, before finally getting out the door and upstairs, Luke trailing behind.
Halfway up the stairs, Val caught another glimpse of a face watching from the diningroom. He touched Luke's sleeve.
"Luke? I've left my watch in the lounge, I won't be a moment."
Luke shrugged and went on upstairs. Val slipped across to the reception desk.
"Excuse me? That gentleman in the diningroom- with the tweed jacket? He looks like an old friend of mine but I don't want to bother him while he's eating-" the charm slipped out without effort. "Is he resident in the hotel?"
The receptionist glanced through the open door and smiled. "Yes sir."
"Wonderful. I'll catch him later- would you mind giving him this?" Val tore a sheet off the hotel writing pad and picked up a pen. The note was short and to the point and would certainly get Price's attention. Val straightened his jacket and ran upstairs after Luke.
The next morning found Val in torn jean shorts, a skin tight white t-shirt practically painted on, and flip flops. He was in a big sandbox, complete with umbrella and lounge chair. They were taking shots for summer ads today.
Luke again stepped back fading into the background as everyone fussed over Val, making sure his makeup was right, the hair right, and that he ALWAYS had one of their drinks in his hands. Luke watched to make certain that Val wasn't drinking them and that he always had a steady supply of water on hand.
After three hours, they took a thirty minute break for lunch. Val looked around for Luke to join him, but Luke shook his head no. Val started to voice a complaint, but shut up at the sternness with which Luke mouthed "no".
After lunch, round two and three more hours of pictures. Val was becoming increasingly bored and frustrated and let his displeasure start to show. And he began to take several sips of the drink he seemed to have glued to his hand.
Luke scowled, but Val was deliberately evading his eye and there wasn't much he could do apart from storm across to Val and rip the glass out of his
hand. Which was an attractive idea but not feasible. Instead he found Max and tapped his elbow. Not gently.
"He's getting tired, I think you should call it a day."
"Do you realise how much all this costs per hour?" Max demanded indignantly. "There are people earning thousands on this lot-"
"You can replace everyone but Val, Max. And I'm pretty sure I could talk him into replacing you if I tried hard enough."
Max glowered. Luke nodded at the sandbox.
"Three days? And that almighty London gig at the end of it? Don't push him Max. Not at the moment."
Max stalked across to the director, muttering. Luke found himself wondering if Max had scheduled this shoot deliberately. The publicity was huge when stars pulled out of shows at the last minute- especially under stress or illness. Positive or negative publicity, it made little difference to Max or Orion, either way translated as money to them. Val was replaceable at a cost. Luke looked serious dislike at the agent's back and heard Max's booming voice as he swept across to Val, sounding downright maternal.
"Now I said that's enough! He looks exhausted, I insist we stop here-"
Val so far was keeping his mouth shut and Luke looked at him with affection for how well he was behaving in a situation which would have snapped far more controlled tempers than his. His arms were folded, he looked white and fed up and the explosion was not far away, but he said nothing as Max drew him inside. Luke followed, aware of Max feeding Val several more drinks while the management team discussed retakes and schedules for the following day. It was nearly an hour before Luke managed to extract Val, get him into the coolness of the airconditioned interior and out of sight. There, Val stalked across the hall and kicked the nearest door frame, hard.
"I don't BELIEVE the time these damn things take! I've got another two days of THAT?"
"Why don't you change," Luke said softly, "We'll get out of here for a few hours and you can let off some steam? Its finished for today."
Oh that was tempting. Val looked at his watch and only just managed to hang on to the illusion enough to be convincing.
"I'm sorry Luke, I'm just really tired. I could do with a few hours on my own to sleep."
"Fine, I'll come with you."
Val spun on him, stressed enough that he didn't have to try to make himself sound convincing.
"LUKE! Damnit I've had people all over me all day, talking and pawing and carrying on, I just want a few hours to be on my own! Alone! Is that TOO much to ask?"
Inside, Luke's mouth dropped open in complete surprise, and hurt feelings bubbled up. But on the outside, he looked the same as he managed to say "No, not too much to ask. Sleep well, kitten." and turned on his heel and headed to the bar.
Val felt bad for his outburst, and almost went after Luke to apologize. But he held back as he realized that he HAD to take care of Mr. Price tonight if he were to have ANY hope of a relationship with Luke. He'd make it up to him later. He bounded up the stairs and to his room to change.
About 20 minutes later he slowly made his way downstairs. He looked around for any signs of Luke and found none. He headed over to the hallway of guest suites and conference rooms that were located there on the main floor for entertainment purposes. One suite was open, it looked to Val to be a wedding party in full swing. He made his way past that, two doors down to Suite 103. He still wasn't quite sure what he was going to do. He thought if he gave a scream that at least he'd be heard without too much trouble, and that was the only thing that mattered right now. He went in, sat down, and waited for Mr. Price to arrive.
The bastard made him wait. Price excelled in getting his victims in the right frame of mind to spill their guts for cheap journalism. Val looked up at him with open dislike when the reporter finally wandered into the room and gave him a friendly smile.
"Val. What can I do for you?"
Val ran a finger slowly across the top of the desk he was sitting at. "If I talk to you- give you the exclusive you want- will that buy you off?"
"Oh for now, certainly. The story would be worth - well." Price winked. "About the same as they pay you for an hour posing in front of cameras. Do you want to talk business?"
"I'll talk." Val said flatly. "But not here."
"Where then?" Price's eyes narrowed. "I'm not messing about Val. This is a business transaction, I've got a living to make."
"This way." Val indicated the door that opened onto the garden. Price shrugged and moved ahead of him, pulling his jacket off as they moved towards the heat of the patio.
"You have to understand kid. You're public property and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Isn't there?" Val said coldly. Something in his tone made Price stop and look around. Val looked right back.
"There is something I can do Mr Price."
Quite deliberately, Val reached and pushed over a table and a chair. Price's eyes widened with shock.
"What the hell-"
"You're going to learn not to mess with me, Mr Price. Or with my lawyers."
Price suddenly caught on as Val put his own hands to his shirt collar and tore. "Quentin! For God's sake, you wouldn't!"
That sunk any last qualm Val had. "Oh wouldn't I?" he said grimly, and let loose a scream that shook the windows. It was followed by shriek upon shriek, loud enough that there was no hope of it going unheard. Price's immediate and instinctive response was to grab Val, who flailed at him, tearing at his clothes, Price's fumbling hands crushing his sleeves and bruising his wrists as Val yanked against his grasp, struggling as though he was terrified.
"For God's sake!" Price was imploring, scared stiff, "Val PLEASE be quiet-"
The door burst inwards. The hotel, for all it's discretion, kept a well stocked security staff. The scene the staff rushed in on was so self explanatory that there was no hesitation. One terrified, slight and distraught young man was helplessly struggling against the onslaught of a much larger, much older man who was trying hard to intimidate him to silence. Val collapsed to the floor in a limp heap, sobbing breathlessly as two guards grabbed Price and wrestled him to the floor. The third man, a junior manager, grabbed Val's shoulders, near panic.
"Mr Quentin? Dear God what happened? What did he do?"
Val buried his head in his hands and sobbed in rising hysteria.
Just then Luke burst in upon the scene, having heard the screams and thinking he could be of some assistance. When he recognized Val's small form curled in a ball on the floor his heart rushed upwards, nearly choking him. He ran to Val, falling on his knees as soon as he got close. He took Val's hands from his face and brought the tear stained face up to his. "Val, what happened? Are you alright?"
Val's face flooded with relief at the sight of Luke. He had managed to work himself into a true state of near hysteria and knowing Luke was near helped him to calm down somewhat. "Th...that man, Mr....Mr. Price....he at...attacked me." He said, hiccuping.
Luke's face darkened considerably as he rose to his feet. He hadn't had time to think of anyone but Val but now his hard and cold as steel gaze sought out Mr. Price.
Mr. Price was stuttering in frustration as the two security guards hoisted him to his feet, his hands securely handcuffed. When he looked up, he completely lost his voice, and almost his bladder as he spied Luke. Luke looked every inch of his six foot six frame, and just about as broad in muscle. And the look on his face was murderous.
Luke stormed towards Price his voice starting at a menancing grumble and rising rapidly "What have you done TO VAL YOU BASTARD!"
One security guard let go of Mr. Price to catch and hold Luke, who looked like he was about to murder the man. "HOLD IT! STOP!" Luke struggled against the grip of the guard, but sanity returned and he stopped the stuggle.
Mr. Price's eyes were about to bug out of his pudgy face and sweat was dripping onto his shirt. "N..n...nothing! He set me up! I've...I've done nothing, you've got to believe me!"
"Pigs will fly before I believe that shit! What did you do?!?"
The manager helped Val to his feet. Val was still sobbing, but he had settled down enough to have seen Luke almost go beserk. He saw the muscles rippling in Luke's arms as Luke flexed them. He looked to Val to be a bulldog ready to kill.
Somewhere between frightened at what he'd unleashed, at the raw emotion in Luke's face and a little excitement at the sheer drama of it, Val looked at Price, swallowing on a little satisfaction. This should teach the little wretch to go threatening celebrities and wrecking their private lives.
Luke's fists were still clenching and unclenching. Finally he spun away from Price.
"Call the police."
"Luke.." Val said pitifully. Luke pushed past the manager and put an arm tight around his shoulders.
"It's okay kitten, it's all over. Lets get you out of here."
That suited Val fine. He clung to Luke, letting him steer them both in a wide circle around Price and up the broad stairs. In his room upstairs, Val curled up in the corner of the couch where Luke put him and released the last of the hysteria in several minutes far calmer crying. He was aware of Luke pacing by the window, apparently admiring the view.
Luke was actually fighting the urge to go back downstairs and kill Price. Every sob, every soft sound from the sofa tore at his heart and raised his sense of rage still higher. Val was only a kid- a slight, small kid with no real worldly knowledge and no means of fighting off a man like Price. Anger turned over into self blame. Luke had no other option. He had left Val alone. He had been the one supposed to - paid to- watch and protect him from attacks like this. Few attacks could have been more distressing or damaging for him. Luke shut his eyes, pressed his hands to them and tried to calm down. So much was hammering in his brain he had no idea what to do first, and the hardest task was the one that most needed doing. He steeled himself and sat down on the sofa, making his voice sound calm and reassuring, making his hands gentle when he wanted to grip and clutch. "Allright Val, it's okay. Everything's okay. Listen to me. Come on baby, you've got to tell me. Are you hurt? Are you sure?"
"No.." Val sat up, sniffing. Luke gently peeled his sleeves back and found the bruises, red and purple on his upper arms. "Is this all? Think, love. You were scared as hell, you might not have felt it."
"I don't think so."
Luke pulled his head down and pressed his lips hard to Val's forehead.
"Allright. I want you to get out of those clothes- don't do anything with them, just leave them- have a shower if you want, check yourself over. I'll come and help in just a minute, I've got some calls to make?"
"Who?" Val said shakily. Luke's intensity was starting to scare him. Luke sighed but didn't try to bluff.
"Orion. Max. The hotel manager. There's a lot of balls I've got to set rolling here. Don't you worry about it kitten, leave it with me. The important thing is that you're allright."
"The shower kitten, now. Please?"
Val could tell that Luke was already planning his next moves and little that he could say would change things. He got up and slowly walked to the bathroom, wondering exactly what was going to be said, how it was going to be handled. Now that he had time to calm down from the anger and sadness, he began to worry if he had done the right thing. He hadn't thought beyond the immediacy of trying to shut Price up. He hadn't thought about anything really happening other than Price disappearing. He slowly peeled the clothes from his body and jumped in the shower.
Luke thought about all the calls he needed to make. Then he thought of Val in the shower. He was more interested in making sure Val was taken care of now than in the phone calls that would just start a nightmare of more phone calls, inquiries, press, police, and everything else that would accompany that first call. He decided to put off that first phone call until he put Val in bed, make sure he really WAS allright. He headed into the bathroom.
Luke decided he as well could use a shower, and what better way to check Val out. He stripped and entered the oversized shower with Val.
Val looked up in surprise as the curtain opened and in waltzed Luke. "Hey, I thin-" was all he got out before Luke was locked onto his lower lip, nibbling slowly, sucking the moisture from the soft skin. Val almost melted down the drain, as Luke's hands massaged his body, the lips worrying his own.
Luke pulled himself away, not wanting to go any farther. He grabbed the soap and began washing Val from head to toe. Val stood in an almost comatose state, enjoying every bit of the ministrations of Luke. All too soon Luke finished.
, satisfied and reassured Val was at least unmarked and not too distressed.
"Kitten, put a robe on and go and sit down. Call room service, get yourself a drink or something. Can you do that?"
"Come with me?" Val pleaded. There was something in that tone that made Luke look at him. It implied Mr Quentin had several ways in mind of spending the rest of this day and it wasn't exactly the tone of someone distraught from fighting off an attacker. Val had been jostled plenty of times, he'd been assaulted a time or two when a crowd got out of control, he'd even been shot at- but this seemed blase even for him. Luke wondered just how badly he was in shock. He pulled a robe off the rail and pulled it around Val, towelled himself off and got a pair of jeans on before he steered Val into the sitting room and put him down on the couch once more. Room service responded rapidly with promises of hot tea and a meal. Luke pushed his wet hair out of his eyes with both hands and willed himself to find the right words for this as he sat down beside Val.
"Allright Kitten, listen to me. I need you to tell me what happened. Take your time, you don't have to talk to anyone but me right now, but I need to know exactly what went on between you and Price."
Val looked down at his hands. Luke waited, wanting to touch him and not sure whether that would make things worse. Val drew a few deep breaths.
"Who AM I going to have to talk to, Luke?"
"Certainly someone from Orion." Luke said honestly. "Probably the police too, but Orion's got the legal forces to stand in with you and I'm not going anywhere. It's going to be okay, just talk to me first."
Val hesitated, then took another deep breath and swallowed.
"I - I couldn't sleep up here. It was too hot. I was coming down to look for you and I saw Price in the hallway- he called me over and said he wanted to talk to me- he had a business proposition."
Luke looked at him. Val shrugged. "He's a bastard, Luke! I know him. He's written some terrible things about people I know and he crucified me once before when he caught me drunk somewhere. I thought I could handle him. I thought I could shut him up."
"Why didn't you call me?" Luke said softly. Val shook his head, eyes down on the floor.
"I needed to handle it myself."
"So where did he take you?"
"Into that room- I think it was a conference suite? He started talking- I don't remember much of what he said- and then he grabbed me. I think I started screaming then."
"Val?" Luke tried to catch Val's eyes. "What was he trying to do? Was it a fight?"
Val shook his head mutely. Luke waited.
"Kitten? I need to know, it's going to be something the police want to know. Was he trying to take you somewhere?"
"He was coming onto me." Val looked up defiantly. "All those bloody press are rapists, he was coming on to me Luke!"
He saw with no small sense of satisfaction that he'd made a serious impact. Luke's eyes were once more blazing and there was a kind of exultation in the sheer power and rage Val knew he'd called up. The temptation was too much. Val was a performer, a craftmsman of drama and stage presentation and he was starting to convince himself with every word he said, as though he was performing one of his own songs.
"Look at me! I'm small, I'm not exactly heavily built- you know what the press think of me anyway! That's the way Price always tries to paint me- some sort of empty headed, easy whore. That's how he thinks of me and you know it. It's probably true."
Luke swallowed some of the rage upon hearing that last comment from Val. He willed his body to relax, then gently took Val's hands in his own. "Kitten, there is nothing to what Price said. You are not, and never have been an empty headed anything, much less a whore. You know you can't believe anything the press says. And Price, the swine, has probably never said anything truthful in his life. Don't believe them, kitten, believe me, and believe in yourself."
Val threw his arms around the shirtless Luke and hugged him tight. Just then a soft knock on the door heralded the arrival of room service. Luke got up and opened the door, allowing the server to bring the cart in and set it up for Val on the couch. The server left, Luke shutting the door behind him.
"Join me? Looks like enough food for an army."
Luke walked back over to Val, ruffling the hair on his head. "No kitten, you eat what you can. I've got some phone calls to make which I'll take care of in the other room."
"Eat." Luke said as he walked into his adjoining bedroom.
Val huffed in frustration, but he was hungry so he quickly began eating. He heard Luke move about in the other room.
As soon as Luke cleared the doorframe and shut it, the rage that he had hidden so well from Val started to bubble over. He paced a couple of times willing himself to calm down, but the rage just kept climbing. He exploded, one quick, violent punch to the wall coupled with a grumble from deep within. The wallboard shattered inward, plaster falling to the floor in a small cloud of dust.
Val heard the impact, and again felt a sort of pride in knowing how upset Luke was. Just thinking of him being that angry because Price had tried to destroy their relationship made him smile, thinking in the back of his head "You messed with the WRONG bodyguard, swine."
Luke's hand hurt from the impact, though not badly. It hurt just enough to snap him out of his rage. He sat down in the chair, his head in his hands, letting the last of the fury drain away before he made the first phone call to the police.
Orion were not impressed. Neither was Max, whom Luke narrowly managed to keep from racing up to their room. Nor, finally, was Storm Quentin. His message was short and succinct, but Luke put the phone down far from happy. He glanced through to next door where Val was still curled up in the chair, head against the arm, no doubt still too shaky to be paying him much attention.
With a deep breath and more distress than he could handle with Val in sight, Luke retreated to the desk, sat down and began to draft his resignation. It took him 10 minutes to properly put his thoughts down on paper. As soon as he signed his name, he heard a pitiful voice call for him.
He got up slowly, steeled his nerves and headed into the sitting room. "What is it kitten?"
"I'm tired, Luke. Will you lay down with me? Rub my back? Please?"
Luke could hardly refuse Val when he was in this state. "Come on." Luke helped Val to stand and let him into the bedroom. He pulled the covers down took the robe from Val.
Val crawled under the covers and patted the bed. "Luke?"
Luke sat down, gently rubbing Val's back in slow circular motions. It hurt him beyond belief that this would be the last night he'd spend with the boy.
Val was aware that Luke was not in a good frame of mind. He captured Luke's hands in his and pulled him down on the bed. He snuggled into Luke's strong shoulder, his body pressing tight against Luke.
Luke let Val cuddle, and hugged him back. Luke was exhausted with the mental struggle going on in his mind, and didn't want to unload on Val right now, not when Val needed the reassurance. Without meaning to, Luke fell asleep.