Monday, February 8, 2010

Stalked Part 6

Title: Stalked Part 6
Authors: Rolf and Ranger




Val slept for several hours after the doctor left. Matthew wandered by the window, then drifted through the suite, finding it hard to believe where he actually was. The floor was a shiny beige marble, which you could only see in the entry way and in small patches between the various and richly appointed rugs.  The main area had a large wet bar, and two couches with a fireplace between them along the wall.  There was another sitting area with several chairs, tables and lamps. 

The bathroom could have had its own zip code.  Two sinks with their own very large countertops, a shorter area Matthew assumed was for putting on makeup as the mirror there was completely surrounded by bulbs.  A shower you could lay down on the floor and not touch any of the four walls, with enough water jets pointed at you to drain their own water tank about four times over before you were finished.  The tub was almost large enough to swim in, and Matthew spent some time with it to figure out how to get the water turned on.  Instead of a normal faucet, the water came out in a sheet about a foot up from the edge.  There were several brand new bottles of bubble bath in various scents, and controls for the whirlpool action of the tub.  Tired of the bathroom, he headed down a short hall to two bedrooms.  Walking into the bedroom was almost like walking into what he imagined would be a king's bedroom.  The bed was king-sized, with a mass of richly decorated pillows atop a red and golden comforter.  There was  a chaise lounge along one wall, two very large and ornate dressers, and a huge piece of furniture that Matthew was sure couldn't be supported by a regular floor.

Opening the front cabinets, he found a huge flat screen tv, a dvd player, a game console, a computer keyboard, and a small library of games and movies.  After checking out the titles, Matthew tried opening a set of double doors, and found himself in an empty closet the size of his bedroom.  There was a table in the middle with a mass of drawers, holes for what looked like shoes, and other built- in's along the walls.  When he closed his eyes, he could almost transport himself to the middle of the forest, with the overwhelming smell of cedar, which the closet seemed to be lined with.  Wondering how anyone could travel with clothes to make even a quarter of this closet well used, he headed out and opened another set of doors onto another balcony.

After a few minutes in the sun, he headed across the hall to second bedroom, finding it just as nicely equipped, if with a slightly smaller closet.  Just as he finished his tour, he decided that a trip to the toilet was in order.  He went back to the bathroom and shut the door, then pondered for a moment on the lack of a toilet in sight.  He'd assumed the door he'd seen led to a linen closet, but opened it anyway.  He was further amazed to find himself in a room just larger than his own bathroom, holding only a toilet and a bidet.  He laughed when he saw the phone, cordless no less, sitting within easy reach of the toilet.  Wondering if you had to multitask THAT much to afford to stay there, Matthew finished up and went to rejoin Rolf, eager to tell him what he'd found.

Rolf put a hand up to warn him to be quiet as he came into the sitting area. Val was curled up on the oversized cream couch, the quilt covering him until all that was visible was his dark hair. He looked remarkably slight and small, nothing like the dynamo that had stormed off the hotel roof at the head of a small army of people.

"This place is amazing," Matthew said in an undertone, sitting on the arm of Rolf's chair near Val. "Have you ever seen anything like this? We could move into the closet and still rent out space."

"I can't get over the floor alone.  That marble is rare, and there's got to be what, fifteen hundred square feet here?" Rolf replied, looking around.

"You think they live in places like this all the time?" Matthew went on. "Rooms like this? Can you imagine it?"

"I think there's a downside that goes with it." Rolf said quietly, putting up a hand. Matthew laced his fingers through Rolf's, looking past him to Val.

"I didn't think he'd sleep."

"I think he's probably in shock." Rolf gave Val another look that was slightly more anxious than he wanted Matthew to realise. "Best thing he can do for himself. Are you hungry sweetheart?"

Matthew nodded slightly, aware it had been a long time since the pastries and coffee. Rolf squeezed his hand gently and let go.

"Ring down and order something. And choose something I might talk Daniel into eating."

Matthew gave him a faint smile, hearing the change of name again. This was the person they knew- not Val Quentin, but the more familiar friend. Matthew got back to his feet and headed over to the desk.  Sitting down, he pulled open the leather binder marked room service.  He flipped slowly through the pages, mouth dropping open at some of the prices for the wines and some dishes Matthew had never heard of.  At least they came with descriptions, though sometimes even that didn't help determine what was in them.  Hoping that Val was paying for the food as well as the lodging, he ordered a couple of appetizers, three salads and three main meals.

Rolf was listening with slight amazement at what Matthew was ordering but hoping it distracted him, when he heard the tap at the entrance door. Matthew looked across to him, immediately anxious. Rolf signed to him to stay where he was and got up, going to the door and touching the intercom beside it.

"Hello."

"Mr Monet?" the voice was British, deep and calm. "My name is Bradley Jackson, I'm Luke McNeil's deputy on Val's security team. Is there any ID I can show you?"

"Something with a picture," Rolf said, looking out the peephole.  "Thank you, just a moment."  Rolf went and gently shook Val awake.  "Bradley Jackson your security?" he asked when Val's eyes opened.

Val blinked at him, foggy for a moment, then the blue eyes went wide and he fought free of the quilt. Rolf stepped back as Val ran past him, tore the door open and threw himself into the arms of the broad man in the black leather jacket. Two other men stood behind him, both smiling.

"You just get here?  Do you know how Luke is?  Who else is here?" Val asked, the questions almost becoming one in his haste. Brad hugged him tightly, lifting him off the ground.

"We just got here, we've been on planes for hours, there's currently four of us and the others WITH Diane will be here before nine pm. Rooms are booked for them, it's all set up. We got the tip off from the police this morning and Orion mugged Heathrow and got us on the first flight out. Are you ok? What happened to Luke? You got thin kiddo -"

"Please, come in," Rolf said, opening the door wider.

Brad put Val down and Val moved past him, dropping a kiss on George's cheek and returning Justin's hug. "Guys, this is Rolf Monet, who just about saved our bacon - this is Matthew Mocoso, his partner - Brad, George, Justin."

Matthew pulled the robe closer around him, feeling particularly underdressed after nodding hello.

"Pleasure to meet you, Rolf said, shaking each hand in turn as the group filed into the hotel room.  "We just ordered dinner, should we ask for three more servings?"

"We don't eat on duty, we'll sort ourselves out." Brad said calmly, closing the door. "We need to talk and to sort out what happens now- I heard Luke was hurt, Val, what's happened, where is he?"

"He got shot here," Val said, pointing to his upper chest.  "He's in surgery - Rolf?" Val asked, turning around quickly.  "No one's called yet have they?  How long did I sleep?"

"No, no one's called." Rolf said quietly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You were asleep a couple of hours."

"It took a while to find out where you were, which is good." Brad added. "Only the concierge had the full story. I'm guessing the first thing we need to do is to find a way to get Mr Monet and Mr Mocoso here quietly out of the hotel and home. The place is awash with press."

Matthew looked up with interest at that, only hoping he could finish his meal before they left.  Rolf only gave it a passing thought, looking to Matthew a moment to be sure, seeing Matthew's slight shrug.  "Val?  If it's all right with you, we'd like to stay until Luke's out of hospital."

He saw the immediate look of relief in Val's eyes. Brad's eyebrows rose slightly.

"Sir - there's all hell starting downstairs. This place is going to be a press circus, every move Val makes is going to be public, I know Val and Luke tried hard to keep you two out of the public eye here. You two don't need to be dealing with the harassment that'll come if it gets out that you know Val."

"I'm sorry, I think it's necessary I stay." Rolf said quite matter of factly. "I feel responsible for Val until Luke is released. Matthew and I don't need to be seen out of this suite if need be."

"That's kind of a big commitment?" Brad said doubtfully, looking at Matthew.

"Val is our friend," Matthew replied as he got up from the arm of the chair he'd been sitting on, heading out of the room and down the hall to the bedroom to get some clothes on before dinner.

"Val?" Brad said, putting his hands on his hips. Val nodded, stepping slightly closer to Rolf.

"We'll work it out. I'm glad to see you Brad. I need to know about Luke, please, can one of you go to the hospital now? They haven't called, I know he's still in surgery, I couldn't go-"

"I'm glad you didn't try," Brad said grimly, "You'd have had half America surround you and Luke would have wrung your neck."

"One of you, please? Justin?" Val pushed a hand through his hair and Rolf heard the first glimmer of tears in his voice, the first that day. He tightened his hand on Val's shoulder and Brad's voice softened.

"Our first responsibility is you. Let me talk to the US guys on duty now and I'll see if Just can get over there."

Val nodded, then turned and headed for the bathroom to try to get hold of his emotions.

"We'll head on out," Brad said to Rolf when Val had left the room.  "I'll be back with an update on what's happening here and with Luke as soon as we're settled," Brad said, writing on a card he'd removed from his pocket.  "Here's our room numbers and my cell if you need to reach me for anything,"

"Do you need to stay with him?" Rolf asked, nodding after Val. Brad shook his head.

"We'll have this room guarded- it's been guarded and patrolled the last three or four hours and you haven't noticed. We don't need to bother you to do a good job."

Rolf pocketed the card and showed Brad out, closing the door behind them. Matthew was still out of sight, changing. Slightly anxious about how Matthew was going to take his decision, Rolf weighed up the two of them and went to tap on the bathroom door.

"Daniel? Are you all right?"

"Yes." Val's voice was full of tears. Not convinced, Rolf pushed the door open. Val was sitting with his back to the giant bath, his head on his arms, tears running. Rolf slowly crouched down in front of him and smoothed his hair back from his forehead.

"Brad's gone to talk to the US team. There are people outside if you need them, he's got a number if you need him."

"I don't need them," Val said, "I need Luke."  He couldn't control it anymore and burst into loud, noisy sobbing.

Rolf sat down on the carpet beside him and pulled Val into his arms, holding him tightly. Val stayed in his tight huddle for a moment, then collapsed against him. Matthew came into the doorway and Rolf saw his face change at the sight of Val. He came in through the door, tears coming to his own eyes, and sat down on the carpet by Rolf, putting a tentative hand out to take Val's. Val put a little pressure into a squeeze back to Matthew and worked to catch his breath. Rolf rubbed his back, feeling his shuddering.

"No news is good news." he said eventually with a firmness he didn't feel. "We'll hear as soon as the hospital have something to tell us. You need to take care of yourself now. Come on Val. Let's settle in the lounge, we'll find something decent to watch, eat, and we'll be ready to sort out plans to see Luke as soon as he's ready."

Val took a few deep breaths, then slowly got to his feet with Matthew's help, who'd gotten up first.  Matthew went out into the lounge, leaving Rolf to rub Val's back as he cleaned up a bit at the sink.

Matthew checked the peephole when a knock came at the door, and let in a couple of hotel staff who were pushing a cart into the room.  They headed over to the dining table and set up the meal for the three of them.  He went back to the bathroom.

"Dinner's here."

"I'm not hungry." Val said shakily. Rolf steered him towards the table.

"We're going to eat anyway. There's enough here that there must be something you like the look of."

It took very little for Matthew and Rolf at least to realise they were hungry. They were eating and Val was picking when the phone rang and Val jumped up so hard the table rocked.

"WAIT." Rolf barked sharply enough to stop him, and got to the handset himself, lifting it off the wall.

"Hello? Yes, he's here."

Val jumped up.  "Is it Luke?!"

"It's Justin, he's at the hospital-" Rolf stepped back fast enough to avoid being knocked over as Val grabbed the handset.

"Justin? How is he? WHERE is he?"

"He's right here," Justin said, handing the phone to Luke and speaking to both of them.

"Hello Kitten," Luke said quietly, having only been awake for less than thirty minutes.

Val put a hand tightly over his mouth for a moment to stifle the automatic wash of tears. "Hi." he said thickly when he had himself under control. "Are you all right? Are you ok? I'm coming there now-"

"No.  I'm fine, the doctor's said the surgery went well and I'll have only a small scar.  You're doing the right thing by staying put," Luke said, wishing he had the strength to get up and walk out of the hospital there and then.  He could tell Val was near tears and he wanted nothing more than to curl up with him at the moment.

"How bad are you hurting?" Val said, hearing the strain in his voice. "Was it dangerous? What was hurt?"

"I'm still on morphine and not hurting," Luke replied, trying to blink to clear his vision.  "The bullet fractured a rib and nicked a lung, which was why it got hard to breathe there for bit.  It did no serious damage to anything else and I'll be fine."

The relief was overwhelming. Val shut his eyes, taking the first deep breath in hours. "I want to come down. Brad's here, Justin, George, the others are on their way. I want to be with you."

"I want to be with you to, but not yet.  I need to rest, and you need to see to Rolf and Matthew," Luke said, having been briefed shortly by Justin.  "You sleep well tonight, listen to Rolf and Brad, and I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?"

"No!" Val said in a panic, not at all ready to deal with Luke putting the phone down. "Luke please - please, I'll take all the precautions, I swear-"

"I love you Kitten.  Be good," Luke said breathlessly, very near tears himself and trying hard not to let Val know.

Val took another choking breath, not able to answer, and Rolf put an arm around him and took the phone firmly out of his hand. "Luke. We've got him, he's all right, we'll stay until you're released. Concentrate on getting better, we'll take good care of him."

"Thank you," Luke said gratefully, before handing the phone over to Justin.  It took a few moments for him to relax, the tenseness of his body making the wound hurt.  He quit fighting the drugs and dozed off.

Rolf hung the phone back up and Val took another long, shuddering breath. Rolf hugged him firmly, wrapping both arms around him. "He's ok. He's going to be fine, you heard him."

Val nodded against Rolf, leaning hard against him as the pent up worry was finally able to escape.

The evening was an oddly disconnected one. They sat, in the luxurious suite in the middle of Memphis and watched movies on the massive TV, drank the hot chocolate room service brought up and periodically one of Val's discreetly dressed team looked through the rooms, checked the windows, gave them a brief smile and went out again. From what Rolf could glean the full team was now present, but they weren't interfering. He drew from that both reassurance that they clearly felt Val was in safe hands and the conviction that had bothered him: that if he and Matthew left, Val - or Daniel, the person underneath the Val Quentin front- would be left entirely alone.

When Matthew started to doze where he sat Rolf glanced at his watch and got up.

"Daniel, you'd better sleep in here tonight. Go wash up and get ready for bed. You too Matt. We're not short of bathrooms in here."

Just then a knock sounded at the door.  Rolf got up, opening the door when he saw the ID of Diane.  "Come in," he said graciously, opening the door.

"Mr. Monet?  I'm Diane, Val's -"

"DIANE!" Val yelled happily, coming over quickly for a hug.

Diane stepped around Rolf and hugged Val tightly, the tears falling against her control.  "Oh, I'm so glad you're all right.  I was so worried, I can't believe he almost got to you, and it was from my computer -"

Val stepped back a minute, shocked.

Diane looked back at him and winced, putting a hand up to wipe her face.

"You didn't know? The leak came from my secretary- my computer. MY team, and Luke took you out of the country because he thought HIS team was breached-"

"No, no," Val said quickly.  "It's not your fault.  I shouldn't have sent that message in the first place.  Really, it's not your fault."
"Does Luke know about that?" Diane said cautiously. "I'm not looking forward to seeing him I swear--"

"He won't blame you," Val said firmly.  "It's not your fault.  Did you talk with the local P.A.?" Val asked, pulling Diane over to sit on the couch with her.  "Can I get you some tea?"

"No, I don't need anything." Diane sat down, giving Rolf and Matthew a quick, apologetic look. "I spoke to Brad and to the PA. You've got an appointment at nine in the morning, an interview- make up and hair people are here at seven thirty, we're sorting out clothes for you. The band will be here tomorrow afternoon, you don't need to worry about a thing. What happened to your throat?"

Rolf directed Matthew back to their room to get ready for bed, leaving Diane and Val a few minutes of time to sort out the schedule.

"He...he had a knife to my throat," Val said, holding his hand over the spot for a moment.

Diane whitened, taking a deep breath. "He - he GOT to you? He actually got to you?"

Val put out a hand to cover Diane's.  "Luke got him before he could do any more damage.  I'm okay, really."

"Val?  If you've got to be up at 7:30, I think you should get ready for bed." Rolf said from the doorway.

Val looked up, responding instinctively to that tone and finding more comfort in it than he would have believed. Diane too looked up as automatically she did with Luke and got up. "Yes. Are you coming down to your suite love?"

"For a moment," Val said, looking to Rolf first.  "I need some clothes, but I think I'll stay here."

"Brad's outside, he'll come down with you." Diane gave Rolf a brief smile. "I'll meet you at eight at your suite."

"I'll be right back." Val said to Rolf and took Diane's hand, walking with her into the hall. Diane paused outside as Val closed the door, her eyes a little wide.

"Who are they? The fair one is sweet but that dark guy- Monet?"

"Scary?" Val said under his breath, grinning. Diane breathed out.

"Oh yes. Friend of Luke's?"

"Good friend of us both. They're absolutely ok, we've been with them for most of the last week. They took us in when we got to the states, I don't think that was in Luke's plans but it was about the best part of the last entire month."

"Well Brad's cleared this floor entirely," Diane said, starting to walk with him towards the elevator. "Mr Monet and Mr Mocoso are the only ones on it. And there is nothing on your floor anyway but your suite and the entrances to staff accommodation, so you're quite safe moving between the two suites. The hotel are pretty clued up and used to dealing with security issues with guests, and Brad says the US team know what they're doing, they've slotted in with our guys very well. You don't have anything to worry about. I think the entire security team will hang themselves if they let anyone else past them. They were devastated when you and Luke did your vanishing act. The entire lot of them came to a meeting at Orion the day after you left, and then they all hit the nearest pub en masse, I'm staggered it's still standing."

"Where are you staying?" Val pushed the button for the floor below as the elevator doors opened, revealing George and Brad waiting for him.

"I'm on the seventeenth floor, very comfortable, don't worry about me." Diane leaned over to kiss Val's cheek as the elevator reached Val's floor. "Sleep tight, I'll meet you in the morning. So happy to see you're ok love."

"Goodnight." Val headed out into the corridor and Brad opened the door of the suite for him, leaning against it.

"You're just collecting clothes and going back I here?"

"Yes, I'm going to stay with Rolf and Matthew tonight." Val paused in the bedroom, realising he'd chosen clothes for photo opportunities and not for practicalities like sleeping, but a glance into the closet revealed that Diane had thought where he hadn't. Pyjamas, bathrobes, work out clothes, comfortable jeans and tops – the closet was already prepared and laid out with the essentials of life. Gratefully Val grabbed what he needed.

"Diane told you the floor below is now empty?" Brad said when Val emerged from his room. "We'll keep the corridors secure, and the lifts. So you won't be needing to climb the balconies again, will you?"

Val grinned, watching him lock up. "Who told you?"

Brad snorted, following him to the elevator. "When we arrived the US team were panicking, they'd lost you and they'd been outside the door the whole time. We had to explain about your Spiderman tendencies. You won't do that again, will you Val?"

Val gave him a wide eyed look and grinned as Brad shook his head.

"Not unless I really need to. 'Night Brad."

Rolf, who had kept an ear out for the door into the suite, met Val's eye as he came in and said nothing at all but raised one eyebrow very pointedly. Val hurriedly shut the door, flushing.

"I won't. Really. I'm only kidding."

"Good." Rolf said succinctly. "Bed, come on, it's late. And quietly; Matthew's asleep."

Val had actually been dreading being alone – he had more than an idea that when everything finally stopped, when he was alone in bed with Luke in a hospital somewhere in this entirely unfamiliar city, that everything he'd just about kept handled all day was going to hit him hard. As it was, with Rolf standing over him Val found himself hurrying through the preparations for bed, settling under the covers of the huge bed in the second room of the suite, and almost as soon as he lay down he was asleep. Rolf waited for a while in the darkness until he was sure Val was neither faking nor likely to wake again, and then left his door standing open, hoping that if Val did stir that he would hear.

*

Matthew was vaguely aware of Rolf slipping away at some unhealthy hour, and of doors closing and low voices in the vicinity. When he woke however, the suite was filled with bright daylight and padding barefoot and sleepy into the living area he found Rolf, dressed, still damp haired from the shower and buried in a newspaper. Matthew slid over the arm of the chair and manoeuvred between Rolf and the paper to get into his lap, running his fingers very gently through the back of Rolf's hair to find the cut from yesterday. The bandage was gone, and other than a distinct flinch when he got too close to the tender spot, there appeared to be little sign of damage. Thoroughly relieved, Matthew gave him a hug and curled up, happy to be close and to finish waking up.

"Where's Daniel?"

"Doing an interview; he left early this morning." Rolf put the paper down and wrapped his arms around Matthew's waist. "The police had to be called in to control the crowd, apparently the hotel is under siege. The British press arrived overnight, and apparently no few of his fan contingent are trying to get flights out here. There are about five hundred people out there at the moment, they're planning on that going up to several thousand. The papers are plastered with the pictures from yesterday's photo conference."

"Mmn." Sleepily Matthew's fingers found their way into Rolf's collar and not recognising the shirt he got his eyes open and frowned. "What are you wearing anyway?"

"One of the people who came by yesterday demanded clothes sizes from me." Rolf said dryly. "They brought several changes of clothes over this morning, which I'm not sorry about as I got blood all over my jeans yesterday. Go and find something you like the look of and I'll order breakfast."

They spent a lazy hour eating and reading the papers, then one of Val's security team tapped on the door and offered them the use of the hotel pool which had been cleared for them, the situation being somewhat calmer downstairs while Val was away. The novelty of being smuggled through the staff lifts, through the kitchens and into the pool area through the staff entrance was enough to keep Matthew entertained, and the hour they spent swimming, the sole occupants of the pool, was welcome relaxation. They were eating lunch when the phone rang, and Rolf recognised the voice of Val's PA, Diane, sounding somewhat harassed.

"Mr Monet? It's not my place to say- I just wondered if you wouldn't mind coming down to Val's suite and giving him a little moral support? He's understandably a little rattled and he's-"

Behaving like a brat. Rolf mentally translated the tact without effort.

"I'd be glad to. Am I all right security-wise to come onto that floor?"

"There's no one in the suite but professionals." Diane said thankfully. "No one to worry about."

"I'll be right down then." Rolf put the phone back on the hook and gave Matthew a quick smile across the table. "Daniel's getting a little stressed. I'm going to go down and see if there's anything he needs. Stay put? You've got computer access and enough dvds to keep Marc busy for a week, you ought to be all right for half an hour."

"Anything I can do?" Matthew asked, pouring another glass of coke from the bottle room service had brought up. The door buzzed and Rolf went to answer, expecting the bodyguard he found in the hallway.

"I won't know until I talk to Daniel. I'll see you in a while. DON'T leave the apartment."

"Want to write it down?" Matthew invited. Rolf grimaced at him and followed the bodyguard into the elevator.

He could hear Val long before he saw him. It sounded a lot less like Val being a little rattled, than Val throwing a tantrum a toddler would have been ashamed of. The crash of glass breaking interrupted the shouts for a second, followed by a heavy thud as something hit the door. The bodyguards in the hallway gave Rolf a rather harassed look, and a man carrying make up brushes appeared out of the doorway, running a hand through his hair.

"SHEESH. Some you have to coax and some you can jolly out of it and SOME need a strait jacket and a gag! I'm going for a cigarette while his majesty lets it all out, if he gets in the mood to work give me a shout."

This was clearly going to be fun. Rolf opened the door of the suite and went inside.


Upstairs, Matthew looked at the shut door again, starting to feel a bit jealous with the attention so firmly on Val.  He waited a couple minutes, then opened the door and looked out.

"Going somewhere?" one of many bodyguards Matthew had seen over the last few days asked from where he was propping up the wall outside.

Matthew flushed guiltily.  "No," he said quickly, shutting the door.

The bodyguard smiled for a moment, keyed his radio, then went back to patrolling the quiet hallway.

Looking around the lounge again, Matthew spotted the balcony doors and remembered how Val had come down the first night.  Heading out into the sunshine, he peered over the balcony railings.  His heart caught in his chest, wondering how on earth Val had even gotten his feet off the floor of the balcony.  He had just decided he was brave but not stupid, when yet another voice interrupted him.

"Enjoying the sun?" asked a different bodyguard from the balcony to the right.

Starting to feel like a fish in a fishbowl, Matthew shook his head no and retreated inside, shutting the doors firmly behind him.  He headed back over to the television and thumbed through the movies, then the games for the game system.  Nothing jumped out at him, everything the same from when he'd perused them earlier that morning, and the day before.  Stretching, he headed in the direction of the bedroom to see if anything looked exciting or different in there.  He'd made it two steps past the bathroom before he changed his mind and walked back to enter it.

As usual, when he turned on the light he was taken aback at the luxurious ness of the well appointed room.  He had been wanting to try the bath out since the moment he'd seen it but hadn't yet done so.  Since he was stuck in the room for however long, he decided now was the time to experiment.

He shut the bathroom door just in case, before walking over to the water controls for the tub.  He adjusted the water to a comfortable temperature and watched in surprise at how quickly the huge tub filled up.  Deciding he needed to pick a flavour of bath additives, he searched through the shelf of choices.  There were about five different scents of powders to be used if you wanted the whirlpool jets on, and about five other scents of bath bubbles if you felt like a quiet bath instead.  He picked the strawberry powder and dumped a healthy amount in where the water was still pouring from the wall.  Wondering if that had been enough for the amount of water, he continued sprinkling until he was satisfied, leaving the pungent scent of strawberries in the air. He'd removed his shirt when he had the bright idea of calling someone while he was soaking.  Grabbing the phone from the toilet room, he put that in what he suspected was a holder designed for it, right next to a spot that looked perfect for a drink.  Deciding if he was going to do it he might as well do it right, he grabbed a drink and a bag of the fancy snack mix before sinking into the strawberry scented water.  He turned on the jets and sank up to his chin in the hot water and let the first fifteen minutes run out on the timer.  When the water was quiet again, he picked up the phone and dialled Chris

"Hello?" the switchboard said before he finished punching the number right out. "May I help you?"

"I...I was trying to call a friend," Matthew said, sitting up in the bath.

"That's fine sir, I'll set you an outside line directly. We're just shielding this line because of Mr Quentin." the woman's voice said dispassionately. "May I have your number please and I'll connect you."

Matthew gave the number to Chris's house, and listened as it began to ring.  "Can Val not even dial his own PHONE?" Matthew grumbled, hoping to catch Chris at home studying.

A tap at the door was followed promptly by the door opening and another of Val's security team appearing and crossing to check the window.

"Excuse me sir." he said cheerfully to Matthew as he passed.

Matthew almost sank under the water, remembering at the last minute he had the phone pressed to his ear.  He slid forward and spun around sideways as he tried to keep himself from sinking under the water, the tub large enough that he couldn't get purchase with his feet to keep that from happening. The bodyguard gave him a smile and went out, closing the door softly behind him.

"Hi?" Chris said on the other end of the phone. "Speak creep, or I'll hang up."

"Aw, SHIT," Matthew muttered, grabbing a bath towel to wipe the bottom of the phone, which seemed to have gotten wet in the sloshing water as he tried to settle himself without drowning.  Putting it experimentally up to his ear, he spoke.  "Hello?"

"Matt?" Chris said more cheerfully. "Hey! Where did you go? All we heard was you two had vanished on a sudden vacation. What is this, a long dirty weekend?"

"Chris!  Oh my gosh, if I was having a dirty weekend, it wouldn't matter because you can't HELP but get clean in this tub, it's as big as our pool, I swear!  We're here with Val in Memphis, they caught the guy did you see?  We went to the cabin and stayed with them and - "

"You're WHAT?!" Chris interrupted.

"We're in Memphis, it's true!  Val was being stalked, and they came and stayed with us, but you can't tell that to anyone, and he found us, Rolf was cut up, I had a gun pressed to my back, it was so scary, but now we're here -"

"You're babbling, what the hell are you talking about? Val? Val Quentin? What happened to Rolf?"

Matthew stopped for a breath, wondering why Chris couldn't quite grasp the whole situation.  "YES, Val Quentin, THE Val Quentin for god sakes.  He's here, in Memphis, we're staying in a suite the size of our house almost, there's bodyguards all OVER the place, we can't leave until Luke's out of hospital, he was shot -"  Matthew stopped as the dial tone in his ear finally registered.  "Hello?

Chris?"  He shook the phone for a moment, then pressed the end button, waiting a moment before he pressed the talk button again.  The same irritating voice answered, but this time Matthew was ready.  "I was just talking to my friend, and we got dis- Damnit!" Matthew muttered, hearing the ringing phone again.  She was STILL one step ahead of him.

"Home for the criminally insane?" Chris said on the other end of the phone.

"I wouldn't doubt it.  Sorry, must have pressed the disconnect button here, the phone is pretty touchy."

"I hit the disconnect, since you're either drunk or nuts." Chris said matter of factly. "What are you babbling about?"

Matthew's mouth dropped open for a minute, digesting that.  Then, slowing down for the criminally ignorant, he started again.  "Val Quentin.  You know him, right?"

"The British pop star, yes. He's all over the papers this morning."

"Okay, good.  It said he was safe, after having been stalked, right?"

"Yes, Joe saw the news conference last night. The guy apparently tried cutting his throat, one of his bodyguards was taken out, ABC are saying he was dead-"

"No, not the bodyguard.  That was Luke, Val's partner.  He was shot but he's going to be fine.  The stalker was taken out by Luke, I think is how it went.  Anyway, that all happened at the cabin, then before I knew what was happening, we're here in Memphis at this swank hotel, in a suite and I'm sitting in the bathtub the size of a swimming pool, in a bathroom as big as our bedroom at home, talking to you on the phone while I drink coke and eat snacks from my tub side service here.  What are YOU doing?"

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Then Chris, half joking.

"You're having me on - what were YOU doing with Val Quentin?"

"Just a sec."  Matthew looked at and pressed the mute button on the phone before yelling, "HEY!  Is anyone THERE?"

"Excuse me sir." the bodyguard this time was the older one - Brad or George, Matthew couldn't remember the name - and he looked somewhat concerned.

"Might I ask who you're speaking to sir?"

Matthew was leaning over the side of the tub, holding the phone out.  "Can you say 'Hi Chris?'  He doesn't believe I'm in Memphis."

"I need his identity please sir." The bodyguard came into the room and gently took the receiver.

"It's just my friend, Chris," Matthew said, alarmed at how serious the man was being.  "It's ok.  I didn't mean to bother you."  Matthew remained pressed to the side of the tub.

"Chris who?" the bodyguard repeated.

"Stevens.  Chris Stevens.  I'll take the phone back," Matthew tried again, holding out his hand.

"Mr Stevens, I'm afraid I need to intercept this call." The bodyguard said into the phone. "Thank you for your time." He hung up and gave Matthew a very grim look. "Who is Chris Stevens and where is he? Jase?" he added, touching his radio. "Call down to reception, trace the call made out of the 18th floor suite please, stat."

"Wha...What are you doing?" Matthew demanded, eyes wide.

"If that gentleman was a journalist sir, you're in very serious trouble." The bodyguard said grimly. "Out of the bath please."

If possible, Matthew's eyes went wider still.  "A.. a journalist?" he stuttered, not moving.  "He's not a journalist, he's my FRIEND!"

"What proof do we have of that?" the bodyguard said dryly. "Or guarantee that he won't go direct to the press and alert them to your presence and involvement?"

"He's my FRIEND!" Matthew repeated, thinking that meant everything.  "He's not going to the press, he doesn't even know where we're at, he doesn't even CARE."

"We have no guarantee of this sir and I have a job to do." The bodyguard picked up a towel and held it out, waiting pointedly.

Matthew didn't know what to think.  There was anger at his call being interrupted, anger at not being trusted, but somewhere under all that was fear he'd done something majorly wrong, and that Val and/or more importantly Rolf, would be upset with him over, without even understanding what it was that he had done.  He leaned over and snagged the towel, slowly getting to his feet while making sure everything was covered.

The bodyguard took him to the door and handed him a robe, then steered him into the sitting area.

"Have a seat please sir. I'm going to need to have a word with Mr Quentin."

Matthew sat down in the chair, critically near to tears.  Trying not to let the bodyguard see how upset he was, he curled up in the chair and looked away from him, towards the window, keeping his arms wrapped tightly around him.  He was wishing desperately that Rolf was there and telling the bodyguard to leave him alone.


Downstairs, Rolf walked through the inner door into the sitting room. It was set up with bright lights, flowers, cameras and a crowd of people all of whom were looking worried. In the bedroom leading off the sitting room Val was in the process of hurling the second of two books at the door, his voice raised and furious.

"Unless SOMEONE sends me a stylist who knows what they're doing I'll be doing my own make up! Doesn't anyone in this God-forsaken country KNOW how to do a basic camera set up? What's the MATTER with you people!"

Rolf walked around all the rigging, careful not to trip over the multiple wires leading away from the area.  He stepped around the two books leading into the bedroom and shut the door, raising his voice.  "DON'T THROW another book."

"I don't CARE-" Val began at the top of his lungs, turning a face to Rolf with eyes bright enough to warn that he was perilously near tears.

Rolf didn't move, nor flinch in the face of Val's anger.  "Calm down, right now."

"I don't want to hear it." Getting up from the desk, Val flounced into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Rolf mentally awarding the flounce six out of ten for effort if not style, gave the stylist a polite smile.

"Perhaps if you'd all like to take a ten minute break?"

"No problem." The stylist said with relief. "Hey everyone? Clear the set. Mr Quentin needs a break."

Mr Quentin needed a sharp slap in the right place in Rolf's opinion, but he didn't argue, simply waiting until the outer door of the suite closed.

Once the suite was clear, Rolf headed right to the bathroom door.  "Open the door, Val.  Right now."

Val didn't answer but Rolf caught the distinct sound of extremely pitiful sniffling.

With the way their bathroom was set up, Rolf wasn't worried about invading Val's privacy.  He pushed open the door and walked in.  "Daniel?"

Val, flopped on the thick bath rug with his head in his arms, didn't look around.

Rolf bent down to his knees, thankful the rug was as thick as it was, and put his hands on Val's shoulders.  "What's wrong?"

"They're making a complete mess of my face." Val said without moving, sounding absolutely shattered. "This is too important to screw up and NO ONE knows what they're doing-"

"Let me see," Rolf said quietly, letting Val have the lead.

"I don't want anyone to see." Val said pitifully. "He's making a mess of it, he doesn't GET this-"

"I'm sure he's better than I would be," Rolf said with a smile in his voice.  "And I'm also certain that no matter what he has done, he can't wreck your face."

"You don't understand anything about this." Val flared, rolling to his feet and heading to the sink where with tissue paper he carefully dried under his eyes. "LOOK at it! This isn't some modelling shot, this is VITAL."

"And it isn't a mess," Rolf said from behind him, looking at his face in the reflection.

Val snorted, looking again at the makeup in the mirror. "It's not RIGHT."

Rolf took Val by the shoulders and turned him to face him, knowing that he wasn't yet to the point of being able to listen.  And not being able to listen meant there was still a danger of explosion.

"If it's not right, then you need to work with the stylist on what's wrong.  BUT" Rolf raised his voice to cut across Val's immediate response, "you do not throw a tantrum that a child would be ashamed of.  I doubt very seriously that Luke would appreciate that behaviour, and I know I don't.  When I walked in, everyone was uncomfortable, and that is NOT the way to treat those you work with, is it?" Rolf demanded, looking firmly at Val.

Val, beyond caution, simply shrugged, not losing the pout. "Whatever."

Rolf took Val by the arm and turned him sideways, landing several very firm swats across the seat of Val's pants before he knew what hit him.  Before Val had a chance to catch his breath, he was facing Rolf again.

"There is NO excuse for that behaviour and I'm not going to put up with being spat at either, is that clear?"

Val looked at him with his mouth open, somewhere between shocked, and too breathless to let go the screech he was half inclined towards.

"Don't make me do anymore than that," Rolf said, with his firmest look in place.  "I don't want everyone to have to wait longer than their ten minute break, but I will if you make me."

That was a familiar suggestion in a familiar tone. Val took a breath, still not entirely sure.

"If things aren't the way you want them," Rolf went on, "then you need to calm down and sort out with the people that can help you, what you're looking for.  I'm certain you can tell the stylist how you'd like to be made up and why.  If you can't, Diane is perfectly capable of dealing with it as well.  I don't know what I can do to help, but if you need me to do something in particular, I'll do my best.  But you are NOT going to throw ANYTHING, and that includes physical items as well as another tantrum."

The sharpness of that order made Val's eyes drop in a hurry. Taking another breath, feeling his face start to burn, he slipped his hands into his pockets, embarrassment starting to rule over a confused blur of anger, confusion and insecurity.

"I know these days aren't the easiest," Rolf said quietly, sensing the change.  "But we're going to work on keeping everything as normal as we can until Luke is released from the hospital."  Rolf lifted Val's chin up to meet his eyes.  "Which means you need to behave as you would around Luke, because the consequences are going to be the same, even without him here.  And I don't think you want a laundry list of bad behaviour to go through when he gets here, do you?"

That was said as bluntly and as matter of factly as ever Luke said it, and Val found himself in no doubt at all that Rolf would do exactly as he said. Very reluctantly he nodded, hands still deep in his pockets.

Rolf gave him a long steady look, making sure that things were settled between them.  "All right then.  You have two minutes to get yourself straight, then I want you out in the next room.  You owe a blanket apology to the room, and a personal one to the stylist.  Then you need to work with him and anyone else on the look that you want and get these pictures taken.  I'll wait outside."

"I don't want to say anything to the stylist, I still think he sucks." Val said half mumbling it to the floor.

"You wouldn't be back talking me, would you?" Rolf asked, half turning back towards Val.

"No?" Val said, half in alarm at his expression. "But I don't want to tell him I'm sorry, I'm NOT sorry. I can't lie about it."

"The fact that you haven't told him how you'd prefer the makeup done isn't his fault, is it?" Rolf inquired.

"I have told him," Val said plaintively. "He doesn't CARE, he isn't LISTENING-"

The piteous, 'poor me' tone was flooding out complete with Bambi eyes. Matthew did it too, and in Rolf's opinion it was a toss up at who had the greater talent.

"You know very well how to get people to do what you need them to, Rolf said, hand on the doorknob.  "Apologise, then talk with him or whoever else you need to get it right.  You can handle it."  Rolf shut the door behind him, hoping he'd gotten through to Val and got him settled down enough to handle the rest of the photo shoot.

Annoyed that the conversation had somehow been ended- and with reduced wiggle room left at the end of it, Val sat down on his hands and glared at the floor. It sucked without Luke here. Everything sucked without Luke here. There was no one to do anything but him, no one who understood anything, no one who realised just how HARD this was. Reaching the point of despair he got up and went to the window. The dressing the doctor had taped over the cut on his throat itched and the cut was sore when he turned his head. Yesterday some maniac wanted to kill him, and now everyone just expected him to get up and carry on. Val Quentin, everyone else's property. Smile Val. Pose Val. Give us a quote Val. Suck it up and apologise Val.

That was the end of it. Throwing caution to the wind, Val got up and went to the window, flinging it open.

Rolf hadn't let go of the door, unsure of Val's reaction and wanting to be near if Val needed him.  Hearing something from inside that wasn't connected to getting ready, Rolf pushed open the door to find Val leaning over the windowsill.  Three quick steps brought him within reach of Val and putting a hand in Val's waistband, pulled him back into the room.  Ignoring the indignant shrieks of protest, Rolf pulled Val over to the sink, and finding what he was looking for, applied about a dozen sharp swats to the jean clad bottom with the hairbrush.

Val squirmed, twisting away and trying to put his hands over the seat of his jeans, his voice moving rapidly from protest to wail.

"Rooooooooooooolf, I was just LOOKING-"

With his target blocked, Rolf turned Val to face him.  "Is that the truth?" Rolf asked conversationally, keeping Val pinned under an icy blue glare. Val kept his hands very firmly over the seat of his pants, eyes very wide. "YES."

"And Luke would believe that in this situation?" he continued, not wavering.

Val opened his mouth, and then hesitated. "I hadn't climbed anywhere." he pointed out. "If the window's open and I'm there I haven't actually-"

"Gotten away with it," Rolf finished for him.  After another long pause, under which Val's eyes dropped, Rolf continued.  "I don't appreciate being ignored when I ask you to do something you know very well you ought to, nor of continuing a tantrum I thought we had finished.  I FURTHERMORE don't appreciate being lied to when I ask you a direct question."

"I DIDN'T -" Val began, still rubbing at the smart of that hairbrush with the growing feeling he'd made a serious mistake.

"You don't need to lean that far out of a window to get air, and that isn't what you were doing, was it?" Rolf asked again firmly.

"I," Val began, feeling less and less assertive. "I,"

"You can go wait for me in the bedroom."

Val wasn't even surprised, Rolf could see it in his face. Unhappy, extremely anxious, but not surprised. Which said a great deal.

"I won't," he said appealingly, "I didn't and I won't, I'll tell the stylist I'm sorry-"

"Yes, you will," Rolf replied, pointing the way out of the bathroom.  "Go wait for me."

Luke used that tone, and Val had heard it from Rolf before at the cabin - apart from which Rolf's expression made it extremely clear that refusing was a very bad idea. Stomach starting to twist a good deal harder than it had earlier, and with a much more immediate concern, Val meekly did exactly as he was told and hoped that made a difference.

Rolf waited a moment, putting the brush back down on the sink.  He really didn't look forward to it, but Val's actions were begging for a spanking to take place.  It would be seriously unfair of him to leave Val without the boundaries it was so clear he needed at the moment, when his personal life had been turned upside down with Luke's hospital stay.  He considered himself a friend to both Val and Luke, and being a friend meant supporting them however it was needed at the time.  Right now, Val needed to have the boundaries replaced that he wasn't sure still existed.  He was almost one hundred percent certain that not another soul had ever imposed discipline on Val aside from Luke, and that brought its own concerns.  But Val's entire demeanour suggested that he knew what to expect, and that as much as he'd claim he didn't want a spanking, he was going to accept it as having been earned, and knowing that, that the boundaries were in fact there, and supporting him.

Rolf took a breath and headed first to the door to the suite.  Finding most everyone already there, Rolf apologised.

"I'm sorry, but Mr. Quentin needs a few more minutes."  He looked at his watch before continuing.  "He'll be ready and willing for work in half an hour.  Thank you."

Rolf closed the door, and taking another deep breath, started in the direction of the bedroom. Val, sitting on the bed, gave him a distinctly apprehensive look, and perched on the end of the bed with his hands under him he looked a good deal younger and without any of the brashness that had been in his manner when Rolf first walked into the room. It confirmed again that Val Quentin and Val were two different people, and it was Val feeling abandoned, confused and miserable that was the problem. And that was not an issue, as Rolf knew only Val. Val Quentin was an image, nothing to do with the lively and beautiful boy who had shared the cabin over the last week and who was looking at him now with as much need as attention. Rolf took a seat on the end of the chaise lounge that sat against the wall.  He looked up, holding out a hand and without anger said,

"Come here."

Val got up very slowly. "I AM sorry," he said a good deal more penitently and without the acting of earlier. "I will tell him I'm sorry."

"I know," Rolf said kindly, taking Val's hand when he got close enough and pulling him between his legs to sit on his right one.  He wrapped a strong arm around Val.  "I know how upsetting things must be without Luke here."

That tone as much as the arm around him went straight to the heart of the problem. Val hesitated for a moment, then as he had done last night, turned and wrapped his arms around Rolf's neck, clinging for comfort. Rolf just held him, waiting for a response.

"Nothing's right if he's not here." Val said eventually, unsteadily. "He always runs things like this- we always do it together."

"It's a lot nicer when he can be here, but you're quite capable of handling this on your own, aren't you?"

"Nicer?" Val's voice rose painfully. "NICER? I WANT TO BE THERE!"

"I know, I know," Rolf said, rubbing Val's shoulder as he spoke.  "I'm sure that Luke would like to see you too, but at the moment it's just better if you don't."

There was too much going around in Val's head to even try and articulate. How nearly Luke had died. What he would have died for yesterday. Whether any of it was actually worth it at all. Whether Val himself was at all worthy of that kind of a sacrifice.

"His job right now is to rest so he can check out of the hospital and return to your side, where he belongs," Rolf continued, knowing how upset Val was.  "Your job is to keep things running here so he doesn't have to worry."

"I can't do this." Val said very softly. "I can't."

"Honey, you can.  I've seen you.  You handled everyone flawlessly yesterday and I know you can continue that today.  You've only got an hour here left to work and then you're done for the day."

"I don't want to." Val said even more unsteadily, putting a hand up to try and brush off the tears that against his will kept on gathering. "I don't want to do anything. I don't want to move, I don't want to talk, I don't want to do anything at all-"

"Daniel, listen to me.  Listen," Rolf repeated, keeping his hand comforting.  "You can't stop your life just because Luke isn't here.  I know that's what you want to do, but you can't.  You're very much your own person, and you can function on your own when you need to.  Right now is one of those 'need to' times. "

"I should be there." The tears overflowed and Val angrily pushed at his eyes, smearing make up. "I should be with Luke, I should be there, not carrying on here as though I'm the only thing that matters anyway - I can't smile and look pretty and talk when he's-"

"You're supporting Luke by continuing, do you realise that?" Rolf asked gently. Val growled.

"That's the only reason I'm doing it. This is the only way to keep the situation secure and to keep the press attention in the right place, that crowd down there are keeping people OUT as much as they're keeping us IN-" He paused, taking a few breaths to steady himself. He was sharp enough to know the business, he and Luke were used to playing this particular system and Val knew exactly how.

"That doesn't change that he was nearly killed yesterday and that I should be with him, not pratting about here."

Knowing how Matthew would feel in Val's situation, or for that matter how he'd feel if it were Matthew in the hospital and he couldn't even check in to make sure he was okay, Rolf couldn't agree more.  There just had to be a way to get Val in for even a few minutes, just to set in his mind that Luke was going to be okay and home soon.

"Luke hasn't called yet, has he?"

Val shook his head. "I won't call him. He needs rest, I don't want to wake him, I know he'll call when he's ready."

"When he does, we'll see if there's any way to get you over there for a very short visit."

That wasn't what Val wanted. It was kind, it was an offered conciliation and Val knew it - but that didn't deal with the yawning issues and misery ruling him at this moment. Rolf didn't wait for an answer, knowing that was only a small part of the whole problem.  He squeezed gently and spoke.

"In the meantime, you and I need to discuss what happened in the bathroom."

Val shook his head, sitting back from Rolf and folding his arms. "We don't. I just have to put up, shut up and cope, that's all I can do and I HATE it."

Rolf shook his head, not unsympathetic but undistracted. "No, Daniel, that isn't the case.  You simply need to behave in an appropriate manner with those you work with," He put Val on his feet.  "And you need to remember that the truth is a far less painful way to go.  Pull down your pants, please."

That was appallingly, horrendously unfair. Val gave him a furious look, vaguely aware that he would ordinarily have been either horrendously embarrassed or very frightened. And actually all he felt right now was miserably angry. Rolf waited a moment, then said in the same matter of fact tone,

"I warned you Daniel, and you chose to ignore that warning.  We can do this the easy way or the hard way, but either choice you're still getting the spanking you deserve."

It was almost a feeling of possession. Distanced, furious, knowing exactly that he was stepping directly out of the frying pan into the fire, Val folded his arms and returned the steady look with a glare of his own.

"I see," Rolf said, before reaching out to work on the button and zipper of Val's jeans.  In one swift motion, the jeans were pooled at Val's feet, and before Val could argue or get himself into any deeper trouble, Rolf pulled him across his knees and anchored him firmly, before pulling the shorts down just out of the way. Val shrieked in outrage when he found himself unable to move.  Rolf paid only enough attention to the yells to determine they weren't of real distress and began spanking the wriggling bottom.  A few circuits around the area turned the angry shrieks into breathless excuses including that Luke would never spank him while working.  Knowing that work was probably mostly the reason FOR any spanking, Rolf continued, the light pink and cool flesh getting steadily warmer and redder.  Val had lost the battle with tears almost as soon as the spanking started, but was still fighting the all out sobbing that was choking his throat.  Rolf listened as Val tearfully promised no more windows or tantrums, continuing his steady work on Val's bottom.  When Val's wriggling ceased and the sobs were all Val could manage, Rolf paid a bit more attention to the area just under the curve of Val's buttocks before he stopped.

He eased Val to his feet almost immediately, helping him to redress to preserve even a shred of dignity.  He didn't give Val any time to wonder how to react after being spanked by someone other than Luke, just sat back on the lounge and pulled Val to him, rubbing slow circles on his back as he worked to regain control. Val flopped limply against him and sobbed, burying his face in Rolf's shoulder. The tension was gone from him, the destructive energy, the desperation. Rolf soothed him, letting him take his time, aware that he was calming down now fully instead of going through his rollercoaster emotions. It wasn't just the spanking he was letting out either. Val had been through enough the last few days to throw anyone, never mind someone as volatile as Val was: alone, frightened, he was doing what came naturally to him. Rolf waited until Val pulled away on his own, wiping uselessly at his tearstained face.

"I'm really sorry," Val with only a couple of sniffles.

"Thank you," Rolf said simply, nothing else needing to be said at the moment.  Val was once again relaxed, he could feel it in the muscles and see it in his eyes. He gave Val a few more moments to calm himself, before he gave Val one last, tight hug and put him on his feet, prepared this time to take control of the situation and organise it if that was what Val needed in order to cope.

"Everyone will be back and ready to work in about fifteen minutes.  I'd go ahead and wash your face well and let the stylist start from scratch again."

Val nodded a little, going quietly towards the bathroom. He looked tired and depressed now - although that was better than agitated. At least now he was listening to and wanting comfort. Rolf went into the outer hallway, hoping devoutly that the soundproofing of the apartment hadn't failed them.

"I'm sorry about the wait." he said to the stylist outside. "Mr Quentin's had a very stressful and difficult few weeks as you can imagine, his nerves are a little ragged right now. We'll try and get through this as quickly and easily as possible."

There were distinct looks of sympathy from the gathered team of people, and they went back to their work in the sitting room amongst the lights and cameras with a hushed atmosphere. Rolf gave Val the full fifteen minutes to finish gathering himself before collecting him for the stylist.  He sat within Val's line of sight, both reassuring and staying on his feet with enough in his expression to keep Val fully warned at one and the same time.  To Val, the two elements were probably two halves of the same coin: it was the comfort and support he needed. Outwardly, Val stayed subdued, not even realising that everyone around him was acting pretty much the same as he was, minus the mental 'ow's Val did at regular intervals.  He was in the middle of the set when a knock sounded at the door.

The man there looked apologetic but grim, and Rolf, seeing potential trouble approaching, unfolded his arms, stopped looming over Val and went to the door. He had no idea what was going on around him, the world of tv and recording was an entirely foreign one for him and all he could do was work on learning fast.

"They're about to start shooting." he said quietly to the guard at the door, "Can I help?"

The man looked past him at Val, who was still looking distinctly fragile, and nodded.

"A little trouble upstairs Mr Monet. I'm afraid your partner's conducted a major security breach, I need to speak to you and Mr Quentin immediately."

Thoughts of Matthew jumping from balcony to balcony swam through Rolf's head as he quickly stepped over to where Val was getting situated for a shot.

"Excuse us," Rolf said to the cameraman who was directing Val.  "A security matter has come up.  I need Mr. Quentin for a moment out in the hall."

Val looked up at him quickly, going white. Rolf quickly took his hand, shaking his head. "Not Luke. Not Luke, it's ok. Come with me a minute."

He took Val out into the hallway where Brad, arms folded, nodded at Rolf.

"Val, we've had a major security breach from this guy's partner. He's alerted someone to your being here, told them the story-"

"Wait," Rolf said, waving his hand for emphasis.  "Matthew CALLED someone?" he asked, still certain Matthew had been running around the hotel.

Brad, who did not look forward to tangling with the big, dark man looming head and shoulders over almost everyone else in the room but was quite prepared to do it if necessary, continued looking at Val. Who leaned back against the wall and to the surprise of both Rolf and Brad, began to laugh.

"Who was it? Mike? Chris?"

"Chris Stevens to be exact," Brad said, slightly perplexed.  "You know the gentleman?"

Rolf was still simmering slightly at the perceived attack on his partner, particularly after being frightened it was something far worse.  "Matthew called a friend of ours and you're assuming it's a security breach?" Rolf asked rather politely, considering the storm that seemed to be crossing his face at the moment.

"Easy." Val said, patting Rolf's folded arms and trying to stop laughing. "Deep breaths. Brad it's ok, I know of Chris and we'll handle this. You might want to tell the switchboard no outside calls unless we clear them with you first."

"This is a serious issue." Brad said rather grimly. "I can't let this go Val. We don't know where that information is going. This guy may be selling it, he may not be the friend he looks like-"

"I will call Chris and get this 'security breach' settled.  He's a VERY good friend and Val's safety is not in any danger whatsoever," Rolf said firmly.  "Val, go on in, they've waited long enough.  I'll be back as soon as I check on Matthew and Chris."

"Val." Brad repeated. "I'm not happy. I don't know this guy, we're still on a red alert here, we're down Luke, I'm taking NO risks - if this information is being sold -"

"It's not being sold." Val said with conviction. "We can contain it."

"I want proof of that." Brad said, looking at Rolf. "Or I'll be needing to get the police involved."

"My partner is very much a prisoner at the moment," Rolf said slowly to avoid losing his temper.  "He's not used to the confines of a life in the public eye.  He further did not know he couldn't make a phone call to a friend without a five alarm security breach, otherwise he wouldn't have done so.  This was a simple mistake and easily fixed with another phone call.  Unless, of course," Rolf continued, eyebrow going up at Brad, "you intend to fly him out here for a signed release statement?"

Even Brad, experienced as he was, hesitated. Val gave Brad a firm nod.

"Track down the number. Talk to Chris, Christopher - Stevens is it?"

Rolf nodded, eyes still on Brad.

"And talk to his partner, Joseph. Explain that the information given was inappropriate, and mustn't be repeated. Rolf can confirm that information to them in a while."

"Thank you," Brad said, turning and walking back down the corridor where it was a little warmer.

"Thanks," Rolf repeated, giving Val a wan smile.  "Pictures, before these folks turn into an angry mob.  I'll check on Matthew and be right back."

Val gave him an only semi mocking salute and went back into the apartment, leaving it to Rolf to head downstairs. Matthew was in a bathrobe, dripping and clearly terrified; the relief that came into his face when he saw Rolf made Rolf no happier.

"I was only calling Chris, I didn't mean to do anything wrong -" Matthew started, before being drawn into a very warm and comforting embrace.

"It's okay.  You didn't know about the security here.  *I* didn't know," Rolf said, letting Matthew step back.

That was extremely reassuring. Matthew scanned Rolf's face, well aware from his tone and the crispness of his movements that he was angry, and equally well aware that it was not aimed at him.

"What happened? I'm so sorry, I really wouldn't have done it if I'd have thought for one moment-"

"This isn't our ball game." Rolf said, putting out a hand to touch his face. "We know now. Better not call at all without checking first, the bodyguards are still very nervous."

"We could use our cell?" Matthew asked.

Rolf grimaced and shook his head. "No, that would only cause more problems.  We'll continue going through the switchboard, and will need to explain to a bodyguard who we're calling and why,"

Matthew nodded a little unhappily. "Are you done downstairs? What's happening?"

"Daniel's not finding it easy to work, he's too upset." Rolf went across to the wet bar, looked for a moment rather longingly at the beer and then took a bottle of iced water. "I'm going to go and stay with him until he's done, and get it over as fast as possible. He'll be much better up here with us."

"If you'll give me a few minutes to get dressed, I'll come with you."

"No, you really don't need to be mixed up in this." Rolf said with certainty. "Trust me, you'll be far more comfortable and entertained up here. I'm going to pull Daniel out as soon as I can."

Matthew scowled as Rolf kissed him, then trailed to shut the door as Rolf left the room.  He went into the bathroom and locked the door for added privacy, before deciding the fun of the tub was over.  He popped the drain and headed down to the bedroom to find something to wear.  The clothes that someone had brought up were nice, but being new weren't all that comfortable.  He found something in his own suitcase that hadn't been worn, then settled on the bed to watch a video.


Carrying the water, Rolf went back up to Val's suite. The interview was finished, Val was on the sofa, changing angle and face while the photographer worked, and Rolf paused to watch, surprised at the technicality and smoothness with which the photographer and Val worked together, picking up the poses and faces wanted. It was another five minutes or so before the photographer finished, smiled at Val and Val got up, coming straight to Rolf.

"We're done. That's a little difficult- a magazine wants what they want, the photographer wants what he wants and it still has to be what Orion and we want too. I need to stay and see the computer shots, and check there's nothing awful they'll use."

"Good job," Rolf said, smiling.   "How long does that usually take?"

"Only two minutes." Val nodded to the camera man who was already calling up the programme on his laptop to look at the frames. Val accepted a towel and a glass of water from one of the many people milling around - as far as Rolf could see for no apparent reason - and walked around one of the boiling hot and glaring lights to look over the photographer's shoulder. He was rapidly flicking through frames one by one, and he paused over one or two, marking them on screen.

"That's a good one - and that one - Val?"

"Thirty four." Val said, considering and having a closer look. "Forty eight - fifty one - no, fifty four. That's a good one."

"One more, how about sixty-three in this section?"

"That's good," Val said, as the photographer closed that set and opened up the second file with the full length pictures.  They made three choices from that selection, with Val marking three to be immediately deleted.

"Done?" Rolf said behind him, anxious to get out of the suite as soon as possible. Val nodded, stepping back. "There's three bad ones, but nothing that I wouldn't want seen. Or that Orion would flip at. Thanks Phil."

He leaned down and hugged the photographer one armed, smiled at the director and let Rolf usher him out into the hall.

"You look ready for a shower," Rolf said as they followed the security guard down to the elevator bank.

"Definitely." Val pressed the button, sinking visibly from the professional working mode to the quiet and tired limpness Rolf had seen earlier. They went down to the suite and the security guard pulled the door closed behind them. Matthew gave Val a slightly sheepish smile from the couch and waved a message paper at Rolf.

"Can you check with security and call Joe please, he's freaking."

"I'm not at all surprised." Rolf said dryly. "Daniel, go shower and find something comfortable to wear."

Val headed down the hall without another word, more than ready for a shower.  Rolf kissed Matthew before taking the note and picking up the phone.

Matthew, with half an ear on Rolf making reassuring noises to Joe, flopped down on the sofa. It felt like the day had been going on forever.

It took a while for Val to come back, and when he did he was damp, make-up free and looking far quieter, although no less stylish despite the jeans and shirt. He curled up on the sofa by Matthew, tucking his feet under him.

"How did it go?" Matthew said, looking sideways at him. Val gave him a subdued smile.

"Pretty good. Good photos, the magazine will love it."

Matthew nodded and Val leaned over to hook an arm around Matthew's neck and hug him. "Don't let Brad upset you. It's all noise, he's as soft as butter when you know him."

Matthew ducked out from beneath Val's arm, though not meanly.  "It's okay," he said, face flushing a bit at the still embarrassing memory.  "Did the shoot go better after Rolf got there?" he asked, looking for a quick change of subject.

He saw Val's quick change in colour and his eyebrows rose. "He didn't?!"

Val hesitated, abruptly horrified. He had no idea how Matthew would take the idea of his having got quite so - personal - with his partner.

"He DID, didn't he?" Matthew pressed, watching Val's face closely.

"Yes," Val said more or less under his breath, apologetically. "I seriously asked for it - I'm sorry, do you mind?"

It was Matthew's turn to look shocked, not quite understanding what Val meant.  Spanking was quite personal, but there were never any sexual undertones to the act.  If Rolf had a sex kink and needed to spank someone - anyone - then he'd have been the first to know.  As it was, Matthew knew that Rolf only did it as a last resort with anyone, and only if he knew that's what someone needed.  He didn't pressure people into being brats, just responded as he thought he was most needed at the time by those he called friends.  He'd known Rolf to make several comments about groups of kids, or adults for that matter, that a spanking would be good for them, but he'd never once acted on it.

"Me mind?" Matthew replied, trying not to laugh.  "Shouldn't I be asking YOU that?"

Val, painfully aware of trying to avoid Rolf over hearing any of this, gave him a look of complete bewilderment.

"Why would I mind?" Matthew asked, confused at Val's lack of understanding.

Val shrugged a little, looking still more embarrassed. "Never mind."

"No, really," Matthew continued.  "It's not like he's cheating on me.  Unless he did," Matthew added, trying to goad Val into replying.

Val went still a darker red. "I didn't mean - I'm sorry-"

"If it makes you feel any better, Rolf has spanked Chris before.  And Michael and Todd I think.  At least once.  I hadn't really thought about it being something that bothers me.  I just figure that Rolf is doing what he thinks needs doing, and since they're all my friends, then it must be in their best interests.  Does that make sense?" Matthew asked, looking to Val to judge his reaction.  He'd never had anyone question what happened before and he was worried about Val's perception of him.

"Yes-" Val said with some relief, taking that information in with mixed feelings. "I just-"

Rolf put the phone down, having calmed Joe, and it promptly rang again. Picking it up, Rolf recognised the voice of Brad, the senior bodyguard.

"Mr Monet? You might like to let Val know, Justin rang from the hospital. Luke's out of intensive care."

"That's wonderful news," Rolf said easily.  The earlier words were all but forgotten by him.  "I've got a request," Rolf said, walking away from Val in case the answer was impossible.  "Do you think there's too large a risk to get Val in to see Luke for a few minutes?  Just to see him, assure him that Luke is actually going to make it?"

Brad hesitated. The thought appealed to him as well - the security team, for all Val's complexities, were genuinely very fond of him and they were well aware of how unhappy he was - "I don't know." he said in the end, honestly. "Having seen him this morning... if he melts down or flips out we're in a difficult situation and he can get very unpredictable."

Rolf thought on that a moment.  He really didn't anticipate Val giving anyone a problem on a visit to Luke, but the coming away might.  The last thing that needed to happen was getting Luke upset.

"If he melts in the street or the hospital," Brad said gently, echoing his thoughts, "We're in a difficult situation. It gets potentially very risky from our point of view and we're on red alert- this kind of thing sets off all kinds of psychos, copy cats, you name it. And we don't have Luke to handle Val."

Rolf had no idea how much Val's team knew the true depth of Luke and Val's relationship.  They definitely had to be close enough that things could be figured out, but Rolf wasn't going to put any of that into words.

"Val is understandably stressed at the moment.  He seemed to start a meltdown earlier, but we managed to get through the photo shoot without any problems once I joined him," Rolf said carefully.  "How about I have a talk with him about it?"

"I think it's going to take more than that to cut it." Brad sighed, a short, exasperated sound. He wanted to do this as much as Rolf did, and Rolf's hint was more than enough to help. "I'd consider it if you'd come with us and keep Val calm. And if you can promise me you can handle him as well as you did earlier if he starts to flip."

Rolf considered that for only a moment.  "I'd love to, as I know that should help the both of them."

"Right." Once committed, Brad's tone became business like. "We don't want you recognised, you'll need to look like one of the security team. Dark clothes, casual, I'll brief you about what to do on the way there. I'll set it up and we'll go in half an hour."

"Thirty minutes," Rolf replied, hanging up before the full sense of what Brad had just said hit him.  He laughed, making his way back over to the couch to the two young men who both looked a little shell-shocked - or guilty, Rolf wasn't sure.

"Daniel," he said, choosing not to pursue the guilt. "How would you like to go and see Luke?"

"YES!" Val said, jumping up from the couch.  "Now?  Can we go now?!"

"Yes. Brad wants us to change, I'm coming with you. Get yourself ready."

"YES!" Val screeched, running back to find his shoes.  Matthew looked back to Rolf.  "You're going too?"

Rolf waited until Val was out of earshot and sat down. "They want me to go and keep Val calm, they can't take him otherwise. They can't risk him getting too upset. I don't think we'll be gone more than an hour and this is more than important to Daniel."

"I know," Matthew said sincerely.  "Can I go too?"

"I'd love you to come," Rolf said regretfully, "But I don't think security will buy it. They're only letting me go if I'm dressed and looking like one of the security team."

"You're going as a security guard?" Matthew asked incredulously.

"Apparently so. They want me in something dark, what else it'll involve I don't know." Rolf got up, giving Matthew a grimace. "I'd better see what I've got here that looks vaguely bodyguard like."

Matthew's disappointment was forgotten as he followed Rolf back to their bedroom, ready to help him play dress up.  "You could wear this," Matthew said, pulling out a pair of black jeans.

Rolf took the jeans and began to change, watching Matthew rummage for a dark t shirt and jacket.

"There's no black shirt," Matthew said, getting to the end of the items in the closet.  "Now if this thing were full....."

"That's dark." Rolf took the nearest t shirt. "That and the jacket should do it, they always look fairly casual. This ought to be interesting."

Brad's voice came from the outer room and Rolf shrugged into the t shirt and took the jacket. Val was dressed, impatient and Brad looked Rolf over and nodded shortly. "That's fine. Stay close to Val, there'll be a group of us around you, two cars which is usual. I've got a couple of guys waiting at the hospital, the police are managing the crowd downstairs. If we get rushed, get hold of Val and let us deal with it, we'll make a ring around him and walk him through that way."

"I can do that," Rolf replied, looking to Matthew to make sure he didn't seem frightened by those words.  Instead of fear etched on his face, he saw a devilish glint in his eye.  "What?" Rolf asked pointedly to Matthew, in a tone only Matthew fully understood.

Matthew grinned and held out a large pair of reflective, dark sunglasses.  "Don't forget those, they make the outfit."

"Over Luke's dead body." Brad said dryly. "The point is not looking too obvious. Unless we have a particular reason for wanting to look obvious. Going to watch this on tv?" he added to Matthew.

Matthew couldn't help the scowl at Brad, the earlier episode not forgotten as easily as Rolf and Brad had.  "What channel?" Matthew asked without looking at him.

"I'd think most of the news channels, every media station from the US and the UK is downstairs." Brad gave Val a look over and headed for the door. "Ready? I'll get the lift."

"I won't be long," Rolf said to Matthew with a look.  "We'll get dinner when I return, and not before," he said, walking with Val out into the hallway.

Matthew waited until the door shut, and then grabbed for the phone, ringing down to the hotel room service. "Hi? It's Matthew Mocoso in suite 1818? Can you bring up a video tape please? I need to tape something."

*

All hell was going on in the foyer as the lift doors opened. The rest of the security team were waiting outside the lift and they surrounded Val and Rolf, leaving Rolf to follow close to Val's shoulder as they walked through a roped area to the front door. And outside stood several hundred people who erupted in cheers and screams and whistles as they saw Val.

Rolf was expecting some fanfare but was completely unprepared for feeling like he was in the centre of it.  Far different from what he saw on television, the crowd had a feeling all its own, like an angry or frightened beast unsure of its next move.  It was almost tangible, and quite separate from the happy cheering that was going on above it.

Val simply responded as though it was perfectly normal, waving from the door and smiling at people in the crowd as Brad and several of the other guards pressed close to him and Rolf, walking them swiftly towards the car. Rolf did his best to follow the movements of the other guards, keeping his eyes on Val. Thankfully the car wasn't too far away and they were inside and on the way to the hospital before it got too crazy.  put a comforting hand on Val's leg and squeezed, looking out the dark windows at the crowd, still screaming and yelling.  A teddy bear got thrown, falling short of the car right before they pulled off.

"Some lethal weapon." Rolf said dryly, looking at Brad, who shrugged.

"We get weirder things than that thrown."

Val didn't comment, his thoughts on very little other than Luke. Guilt, longing and distress were thoroughly tangled up in his stomach until he felt sick and had to fold his arms tightly to keep it in place. Rolf watched outside, shocked when they took a turn and it seemed like half of Memphis was following them.  When the car reached the hospital a few short minutes later, it was less of a surprise that there were throngs of people behind hastily erected barricades.

"We're going to stay close together," Brad said to Val as much as Rolf. "I'll do the close cover, the others will do the perimeter, we'll walk quickly. If we get barged, we'll make a circle around Val, holding forearms or waists if we have to, and we'll walk him through inside the circle."

Rolf nodded his understanding, waiting until the team had surrounded the door.  He stepped out first to an excited crowd, who only got more excited when the fair headed Val stepped out behind him. The crowd roared. Val paused just outside the car, managing something close to his usual smile and waving, and stood in the shelter of the car door with the other guards assembling around him he let the cameras flash for a minute, responding to the usual calls from the photographers to catch his attention.

"How are you feeling Val?" a journalist shouted over the racket.

"Pretty good thanks" Val called back cheerfully. "Everything getting back to normal."

There were more calls, but he pushed gently against Rolf's back, desperate to see Luke.  They moved forward slowly, and everyone took a deep breath when they entered the off limits area of the hospital.  They made their way easily to the elevators and up to the fifth floor where Luke was located.  Rolf followed Val closely as the rest of the guards stopped and the one sitting in the hall outside Luke's room came to join them.

Val gave the young man a brief hug, but his eyes were on the door and the guard leaned to open it for him. Rolf caught a brief glimpse of Luke, half sitting, half lying against pillows, bare chested with a white bandage taped to his upper chest and an IV in the back of one hand, and his eyes lighting up as he saw Val. And then the guard closed the door, and they left the two alone.



The guards waited, with Rolf among them, for the next half an hour. They had this area of the corridor controlled and safe; they were relaxed and Rolf joined in the conversation with them until a nurse came down the corridor, tapped at Luke's door and let him know that she would be back in a few minutes. Knowing that had to be the end of Val's visit, he waited a couple of minutes, then knocked and opened the door.

Luke's eyes flashed up at once and Rolf gave him a smile, closing the door softly behind him.

"Are they treating you well?" he asked Luke.

Luke, who was holding Val's hands as Val was sitting on the edge of the bed, spared his attention long enough to give Rolf a brief smile.

"Not bad. I'll be glad to get out of here and it should only be a couple more days. How are you doing?"

"Enjoying the very civilised accommodations," Rolf said dryly.  "I wish we could stay longer, but I think it's time we headed back to the hotel.  Are you ready Val?"

"No." Val said matter of factly. Luke freed his hand from Val's clasp with difficulty and cupped his face, stroking his thumb over Val's cheekbone.

"Want to give us a minute?" he said more as a request rather than a question. Rolf took the hint and went outside, leaning against the wall with the other group of men who were equally at ease. Six of them. Two more, Rolf knew, had stayed with the cars downstairs. It was another five minutes, but Val finally did emerge, pale and red eyed, but on his own. Rolf saw his expression and his arms went out to Val without conscious thought, and Val's eyes promptly flooded in response. He buried himself in Rolf's hug for a moment, and then conscious of the group of men, tried to settle as best he could, pushing away from Rolf.  Rolf understood and gave him his space, only putting his hand out to prompt him to move along down the hall. Now that the visit with Luke was over, they needed to get back to the safety of the hotel room and get something ordered for dinner.

Brad was watching Val warily, and aware of his glances, Rolf kept within reach of Val. He hadn't known Val long enough to be sure how Val would react in these kind of circumstances, but Matthew, when upset enough, could be unpredictable himself unless you understood how his mind worked. Val however kept his eyes on the ground and walked mechanically as far as the stairs - where he stopped and abruptly sat down on the top step, wrapping his arms around his knees. Brad raised his eyes to heaven, casting a quick look around for danger and to the bodyguards rapidly spreading out to cover the area against the unexpected since corridors led off in all directions.

"Val, we can't do this. This is not a safe place, we have a job to do-"

Rolf sat down next to him on the stairs, putting an arm around him.  "We need to head back to the hotel."

"Val we really can't do this." Brad said more sharply. "This is not a safe place, we need to keep moving."

"Just a minute." Rolf said over his shoulder to Brad with the politely freezing look that worked on most people, upto and including traffic cops.

"I want to stay here, with Luke, where I belong," Val said through clenched teeth.

"That isn't safe and you know it." Rolf said simply and a good deal more gently.

"I don't care," Val spat in return, arms tighter around his legs.  "Luke needs me here."

Rolf didn't argue, keeping his arm around Val's shoulders. Brad muttered something increasingly annoyed from behind them.

"Luke's going to be fine and I know, would prefer that we get back to the hotel quickly and in one piece.  Can we do that?" Rolf asked quietly, pitching his voice for Val's ears only.

Val didn't move, folding his arms tighter. Rolf shut his mouth and waited, feeling the internal battle. Brad was fidgeting behind them: Rolf was aware and somewhat amused with what part of him wasn't concerned for Val. This was not exactly challenging, or flipping out or unpredictability- it was extremely logical action for someone who had just seen their partner for the first time after major surgery and now had to leave them again. He sat for a moment more, saying nothing, doing nothing but letting his arm rest around Val, and finally Val took a deep breath and without saying a word, got up and began to walk once more.

Rolf followed, quelling the very unprofessional childish urge to stick his tongue out at Brad, smiling at the silliness of it.  The smile was gone by the time they exited the hospital, all business along with the rest of guards.



If possible, the crowd at the hotel seemed to have gotten larger, and a lot more raucous knowing that Val would be returning soon. Val did his best: Rolf felt him pause outside the car and flash out something like his smile at them, making eye contact, and he managed a wave, but this time as they started to walk down the pathway that the police were keeping clear there was a sudden flood of people past the barriers, and the crowd moved in a surge like water with a speed and force that startled Rolf. A second later he heard Brad bark "Circle!" and smoothly, with amazing speed, the bodyguards closed from their apparently casual formation around Val and Rolf found Brad on one side, gripping his forearm tightly, and George on the other, five of the seven men forming a tight circle around Val. People buffeted against the circle but no one broke it, and Val, walking without pausing despite the mayhem, moved untouched in the middle.

Rolf tried to gather strength from Val, moving with him without stopping.  Even though the individuals nearest to them weren't actively trying to harm Val, it certainly didn't feel like that overall.  Rolf couldn't remember feeling less safe around people in his life. It seemed to take hours, with people thudding against his back, elbows jabbing, knees and feet and screaming that appeared to be directly in his ear, and all the time the crushing grip on his forearms that warned him the guards were prepared for attempts to break the circle.

The short walk seemed to take hours and the outdoor air sucked away from them by the crowd.  Rolf didn't feel safe, nor did the guards relax until Brad, Rolf, Val and Justin were on the elevator.  Rolf put out a hand on the railing to steady himself, taking a deep breath to steady his quickly beating heart.  He wondered yet again how Val managed trips like this almost constantly, seeing in the younger man a deeper strength than he'd seen before.  Feeling far more himself, they stepped out onto the 18th floor and made their way far more casually down the hall.

"All right?" Brad said gently to Val as they reached the suite. Val gave him a preoccupied nod and went in ahead of them. Rolf saw Matthew lying full length on the sofa watching tv and returned his wave before he turned back to Brad.

"I'm starting to see what you mean and why you take the precautions you do. That was not pleasant."

"That's fairly normal." Brad said wryly. "You don't want to see a bad crowd. And I wouldn't go near one with Val without Luke either. Are you ok? Bruised?"

"A bit." Rolf admitted. "Elbows in the ribs, but I'll live."

"Hot shower." Brad advised. "Thanks for your help."

"And yours," Rolf said before shutting the door on the suite.

"How was it being a big, bad bodyguard?" Matthew asked, sitting up.

"Come over here," Rolf invited, taking his jacket off, "And I'll show you."

Matthew laughed and got up, making his way over to Rolf.

"Mostly," Rolf told him, pulling him over, "It was wrestling, with a big of elbow digging involved-"

"Hey!" Matthew objected, squirming from Rolf's fingers in his ribs,

"And then a certain amount of strong arming," Rolf went on, locking his hands together in the small of Matthew's back and pulling him close.

"You can guard me anytime you like," Matthew said, leaning up for a breath stealing kiss. "I have you on tape you know, looking armed and dangerous, it was all on tv-"

"The bedroom is back there," Val said, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge.

Rolf smiled and let Matthew go, going to pick up the phone. "I need something stronger than water, and I'm hungry. Afternoon tea sound good?"

"YES," Matthew said, after scowling at Val.  "I'm starved to death."

"Then we'll order a decent meal and settle down to watch some tv and chill out, we're done for the day." Rolf said, dialling. "Daniel, put your jacket and shoes away and you can settle down on the sofa please."

"I've kept it warm for you," Matthew sneered, the boredom of the day coming out towards Val.

Val gave Matthew a blank glare and flopped into a chair. "I'm comfortable here thanks."

"Good. Go and change anyway." Rolf said without looking around.
Val scowled at Rolf's back, but got up, the spanking of earlier not yet forgotten.  Matthew saw the scowl and after a moment, followed Val into the bedroom.  He leaned against the doorframe.

"You don't need to scowl at him, you know."

"You do when he's bugging you," Val said shortly, stuffing the jacket in the closet. "And if he thinks I'm going to lie down he's got another think coming."

"You can lay down, I've been doing it all freaking day."

"And no one made you." Val shot back irritably.

"What am I supposed to do while you're taking all of Rolf's attention all damned day?  Huh?"

"Want a suggestion?" Val said, slamming the cupboard door.

"Not from you," Matthew said, sneering at Val and happy with the effects his words were having on him.

Rolf could tell the voices had changed and his immediate reaction was to head down the hall and put a stop to it.  He remembered Luke's request that Val be given a chance to argue at the lake, which seemed like years past, and chose to not interfere, hoping it didn't come to blows this time.  He knew that Matthew was irritated with having been left alone the better part of the day in strange surroundings, scared by Brad and the security questions too.  And Val had finally been able to see Luke, only to have to leave him and then face the crowd reaction downstairs, his nerves were twanging like piano strings.

In the bedroom, Val was changing into a sweater and sweat pants with a face like thunder, his back pointedly turned towards Matthew.

"I've got a few for you anyway. First and foremost PISS OFF."

"I WOULD IN A HEARTBEAT!" Matthew shot back.  "But someone has to stay here for YOU."

"I didn't ask you to!" Val thundered back. "I'm SICK of people hovering around and telling me what to do!"

"Well, get USED TO IT, because that's what friends DO!" Matthew yelled, before turning to stalk off, thinking Rolf would be there any second and he'd have his head removed for him.

The pillow whacked him squarely over the back of the head.

"HEY!" Matthew yelled, turning around.  He picked up the pillow, and being taller than Val, advanced on him menacingly.  Val grabbed another pillow and threw that, taking a third in both hands, waiting for Matthew to get within reach.

Rolf, who had heard the first whack, winced and came towards the door, but quietly enough not to interfere. By the time he got there, Matthew had raised his pillow in both hands, swung hard, and Val, leaping up onto the bed for added height, was whacking back with interest. The whole situation had all the aggression in it of a pyjama party. Matthew's first few whacks had anger behind them, same as Val's.  But when one of Matthew's one handed swings knocked Val on his ass on the bed, he couldn't help but laugh at Val's shocked expression.  Val scrambled back to his feet, the comforter getting bunched up in the process, and swung with all his might at Matthew's head.  Matthew ducked, then when Val was off balance, jumped on him, bringing them in a crashing heap upon the bed, both of them laughing by now.  Rolf shook his head and decided the maids were going to need a bigger tip and left the two younger men wrestling on the bed.


*

"It can wait until next weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek," Matthew said, refusing to budge from the table.

"By next week, it'll be knee deep." Rolf dug his fingers into Matthew's waist which had the effect of making him squirm to his feet instantly. "Come on. The quicker it's done, the quicker we can leave."

"I need to use the bathroom," Matthew said, wriggling away from Rolf.  It was a hot day and he had absolutely zero desire to head out into the heat to mow.

"Two minutes." Rolf warned in the 'out of patience' tone that meant he was done kidding. Matthew pulled a face and loitered upstairs. The bags were packed by the front door, ready to go - they had a long weekend ahead of them and were planning to spend it at the cabin. The first time since they had been helicoptered out with Val and Luke, nearly three weeks before.

He finally ran out of things to keep him busy and had his hand on the back door when the phone rang.  Glad of the distraction, even if it was a sales call he yelled to Rolf he had the phone and went to answer it.

"Matthew's lawn service, please don't leave a message."

"Did I time it right?" Val asked dryly. Matthew grinned.

"Perfect, he's just started now. You got my email then? You're in London?"

"We flew in last night." Val, from the sound of things, was relaxing back in a bath, Matthew could hear the echoes. "Mauritius was wonderful, I recommend it."

"Where is that again?" Matthew asked, pulling out the kitchen chair and sitting down.

"The middle of nowhere." Val said with satisfaction. "We had a tiny island more or less to ourselves, beautiful weather, golden beaches, small private hotel, all very discreet. We walked, swam, slept and sunbathed and ..... ahem. For the whole two weeks."

"You didn't bust any stitches on Luke did you?"

Val laughed. "Tested them out, but no. The hotel medic took the last ones out last week. He's fine. He was a bit tired and sore for the first few days, but you'd never know now - he was out jogging again this morning."

"Matthew," Rolf began from the doorway in a very meaningful tone.

"That didn't last long," Matthew groused.  "Give my love to Luke and I'll talk to you soon," Matthew said, before hanging up the phone.  "It was Val, they made it home.  Why can't I be like him?  He doesn't have to mow," he complained.  The swat he got from Rolf was his only answer and he hurried past to avoid a follow up.

Two hours later they were on the road, both still warm from the mowing job.  They were going to wait until they'd gotten to the cabin to shower, wanting to spend as much time as possible there.    Rolf stretched out in the passenger side and once they were away from the town, picked up the phone and hit the speed dial button for Luke. The answer was prompt, as though Luke was sitting by the phone.

"Hello, McNeil."

"Hi. We heard you were home." Rolf glanced up as Matthew turned onto the highway and shifted into a more comfortable position. "How are you feeling? Good flight?"

In a London hotel overlooking Hyde park, Luke got up from the table, leaving the paperwork scattered, and walked over to the balcony where Val was sitting reading.

"Pretty good thanks. Wonderful holiday, one of the most peaceful we've had. How are you two? No trouble settling back to work? I hope you didn't have any trouble with all the time off you two needed."

"We're both lucky enough to have the time available, and bosses who understand when emergencies arise," Rolf replied.  "We're doing fine.  My hair hasn't yet fully grown back, but the bump has gone along with the soreness.  Did Val settle down and enjoy himself?"

"He did. He's looking a lot less tired and gaunt." Luke paused to admire his other half, who grinned and stretched to show it off better. "And a good tan. We're back into the circuit from tomorrow, we're planning for a show next week and we have to start rehearsals for it. And the recording we abandoned when all this started. And I have to go over to the court case at some point, Val's going to be called to give evidence too but I hope just the once."

"Have the US police released the stalker's body yet?" Rolf asked, picking up on the last conversation they had had two weeks ago about the arrangements in place.

"He arrives in the UK tomorrow." Luke said grimly. "I'm officially supposed to be available to the police until it all comes to court, but it's cut and dried. They found all the evidence we needed when they searched his flat, they can't debate that I attacked him in self defence, and the US forensic evidence supported everything we needed it to, along with your and Matthew's statements."

"What about his accomplice, even if she wasn't knowledgeable?" Rolf asked

"That's been nastier." Luke said grimly. "She enabled him, even if she didn't realise what she was doing, and it was against all office regulations."

"You still didn't have to fire her." Val said from his chair.

"I did." Luke said without doubt. "She might have got you killed. I don't care how sweet she is."

Aware of a discussion that had clearly been bubbling for a few days, Rolf tactfully didn't ask any further.

"It sounds like everything is winding down peacefully," Rolf replied.  "Just glad that everyone is okay and returning to normal.  You and Val know our door is always open if you'd like another visit,"

"We'd love to." Luke said warmly. "Although we hoped you might come to us this time, maybe for Christmas? I don't think the weather is as warm or the scenery as pretty, but it would be nice to show you the cottage, and that IS somewhere we feel fairly secure."

"Thank you, we'll definitely consider that," Rolf said, before ending the call.  The thought of the English countryside was inviting, and they did owe Val and Luke the travelling time.

"How does he sound?" Matthew asked, glancing over.

"His usual self." Rolf said simply. "They've invited us to England. Possibly Christmas time. If we feel like Christmas in the rain."

Matthew grinned and flicked the radio on, and Rolf settled back in his seat, enjoying the time alone and together. They both needed a long and quiet weekend alone.

A couple of hours later they drew up outside the cabin - which looked remarkably unaffected for all the action that it had seen. Matthew opened the boot and Rolf went to unlock the door, going back to help with the cases. They were stacking them inside at the foot of the stairs, when Matthew saw something on the tv screen. A small pink note.

"To Matthew, for those long evenings."

Matthew looked back at the television, the same one that had been there when they'd left, although it seemed a little out of place.  His eyes went wide when he saw the reason for it, a satellite receiver sitting next to it with the remote on top.

"LOOK AT THIS!" he yelled, turning on the television and pressing a couple of buttons on the satellite remote.

There wasn't an answer.

"Rolf!" Matthew bellowed, and heard Rolf's voice from the back porch.

"Matt? You might want to see this-"

Matthew went through the kitchen to the open back door. Rolf was looking with some bemusement at a large, tiled and inviting hot tub which had been sunk into their porch, nicely covered and sheltered by the cabin wall.
Matthew stared with him, and then leaned down to peel off the small purple note there.

"To Rolf, for prising Matthew away from the tv. Love and many thanks. Val and Luke."

~ The End ~



Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

4 comments:

Sierra said...

reading these stories has been one of the most satisfying reading experiences ever. really lovely and well done. Congratulations

Monu said...

Wow! Loved Val and Luke! How wonderfully picturised! Loving ur style of writing... Falls ranch was different, and this is completely yet another different track....! Enjoyed it really!:)

Anonymous said...

This story was nerve racking! I loved it!...I love your writing style, every detail was covered and mentioned. I wish you would write more of this couple!

Though I think Val shouldnt be spanked by anyone except Luke. based on what I gathered from Luke's character, he wouldn't be happy.

Ruwa Maraire said...

i am a big fan of this series, and hope you make more.
keep up the good work😤

PS DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING (INCLUDING YOUR WRITING STYLE)^o^

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.





Do you want to read the FCR Books
and Short Stories on your E-Reader?
Well, lucky for you, e-book files can be found in
both the Yahoo Group and the Discussion Forum.