Saturday, March 6, 2010

Not so Idol Brat

Title: Not so Idol Brat
Authors: Rolf and Ranger

Luke McNeil shook the last one and stood back, muttering. There was less than two hours to the concert and the authorities didn’t even have the fire exits prepared yet. And as the bodyguard to the star of the concert and the security manager, safety procedures were Luke's major interest in tonight's performance. The R/T at his belt blasted static once or twice and a couple of the lighting crew talked, their voices distorted by the echoes of the underground tunnel as McNeil walked back towards the stage. A second, louder blast heralded Henson’s voice, sounding distinctly fraught.
“Luke where the hell are you?”
Luke swiped the handset off his belt. “Checking exits.”
“Stop doing the secret service bit and get up here. His royal highness is about to pitch a good one.”
Luke quickened his pace, realising the music from up on stage had stopped.
“What’s happening?”
Henson grunted. “Huston, we have a problem.”
Knowing Henson, that could mean anything from armed terrorist attacks to poor ticket sales. Poor ticket sales in itself could be enough to cause major disaster when the star of the show found out. Val Quentin was a pop idol and he knew it: anything but a sell out tended to be regarded by the young singer as a personal affront. And an evening spent negotiating with a sullen, hysterical young Quentin could be little fun as Luke knew from personal experience. There had been one nightmare concert where Val had locked himself into his dressing room twenty minutes before the start of the show and flatly refused to perform. Luke had been forced to break the door down in order for he and Henson to talk the young man into meeting the screaming demands of several thousand teenagers in the arena below.
There was a small group of people arguing on the stage. Luke sprang up from the well of the arena, guessing he had no time to use the stairs. He cursed quietly as he saw Max Ryman. Val’s agent. Fat, balding and dressed in a suit which carried the smell of money about it, he was talking in his oh so reasonable voice and Val already looked on the brink of one of his more spectacular outbursts. Henson, the stage manager and the third party to the argument, looked up at Luke in sheer relief.
“Thank God. They’ve got some crazy idea about Val going down into the audience during the second half-”
“How?” Luke demanded. Val turned on him, spitting like a cat. He was always a nervous wreck before a show; Luke could see the adrenaline building up in his face and the slight, immaculately toned body. This was never a good time to push him, and they all, including the agent, knew it.
“Don’t you start Luke! This has nothing to do with you, this is showmanship- not stage bloody production!”
“It’s exactly my job, I’m responsible for your physical safety.” Luke said bluntly. “How?”
The agent answered him, soothingly. “Just a brief walk about with a microphone- perhaps encouraging the audience to sing along. It’s a necessary part of the image you know, the public need figures they can make contact with.”
“That’s what worries me.” Henson muttered. Quentin’s voice instantly rose up off the scale.
“You two wreck every show like this! You have no idea about performance, you drag your ridiculous and stuffy ideas into-”
“The answer’s no.” Luke said, interrupting what was rapidly becoming a fit of hysterics. “Non negotiable. I won’t even consider it.”
Quentin stared at him, trembling. Henson tried to touch his arm. “Val you know what the audience is made up of- kids, drinking God knows what, taking God knows what- you’ve been scared enough before when they’ve broken the barriers and got to you-”
Val wrenched away, shook his head at Luke and pulled off his dramatic, trembling retreat, a step at a time with his perfected expression of haunted tragedy. It ended with him making the run for his dressing room that Luke had expected all along. Luke raised his eyes to the roof and prayed briefly and quietly for patience. Val had the routines pinned down and perfected. He was nothing if not a world-class performer.
Henson cleared his throat quietly. “I’ll tell the lighting crew to cut that section of the show, shall I?”
“Yes.” Luke said shortly. Henson nodded and left quickly. Max Ryman gave Luke one of his rocks and crawling things looks.
“Your contract does not extend to dictating the terms of the concerts, Mr. McNeil.”
“It does where Val’s safety is involved.” Luke said calmly. “I’ve got the right of veto on every detail. And if you ever come here and upset him like this before a show again, I’ll ban you from the stage.”
Ryman gave him a grim look. “I wonder if Val’s sponsors would be pleased with your influence over Val? Personal AND professional.”
“Don’t ever threaten me, Max.” Luke said pleasantly. “The exit is that way.”
Ryman didn’t argue. Luke was larger, broader and considerably fitter than him. Luke watched him leave, took a brief look round at the staging crew still rapidly setting up around him with their forest of cables and lights, and went in search of the young star of the show. This was going to be no easy battle. Sometimes, Luke wondered if Max Ryman set up these scenes on purpose.
Luke found the dressing room, and the door locked as he expected. He decided to try the soft approach first, though that rarely, if ever, worked.
“Val, come on, open up. Please? Val?”
Val’s answer to Luke’s entreaties was to throw the closest thing to him, a plastic bottle of water, straight at the door. It hit the door with a loud thud, splattering water in all directions.
“I am tired of you and your incessant muddlings with MY shows! I pay that fat slob of an agent for his influence, NOT YOU! I will NOT leave this dressing room until you tell them to.. to... OH BLOODY HELL, I’m NOT leaving!!! Just go away!” Val was wound up tighter than a drum. He WAS a little afraid of getting out into the crowd, but he was not happy that Luke vetoed the idea, taking it completely out of his hands. And if at anytime he saw a chance to thwart Luke, he was going to take it. It was a battle that Quentin loved.
Luke jumped a little when the bottle hit the door, but that was also a normal occurrence in the script they were following today, so not unexpected. But just as unappreciated. Luke had too much to do before the concert began to put up with any more nonsense from the spoiled brat. His voice didn’t raise exactly but Val knew the tone well and it was no longer persuasive.
“Val you have exactly three seconds to open this door or you know what I’ll do with it.
Silence. Val Quentin rarely lost an opportunity to push situations just as far as they would go and Luke began to look for weak spots on the door, even as he counted.
“Two. Three.”
Val jumped at the heavy thud and the shake of the doorframe and unwillingly grabbed for the door before it was broken in altogether.
“Okay okay I’ll open the damned door! You are such a gorilla!”
Luke heard the click of the lock turn and the battered door opened.
“Thank you.” he said grimly, closing it behind him. Val turned his back on his security manager and bodyguard and folded his arms tightly.
“You might be able to force your way in here but you can’t make me talk to you. I don’t WANT to talk to you.”
“Fine.” Luke said, holding on to his temper. “Listen then. All Max’s ideas are insane and you know it.”
“What do you know about performing?”
I watch a master every day, Luke thought dryly. “Just forget about it kiddo. There’s no point in working yourself up-”
“I am fed up of you and Max and everyone else in this damned business treating me like a child!” Val exploded, grabbing for the cup which had stood next to the now shattered bottle.
“Its about time you all started remembering exactly who makes all the money and attracts all the crowds around here!”

Luke saw the cup in the hand, ready to be thrown. This had gone far enough. His voice took on the warning tone. “Don’t you even think of throwing that if you know what’s good for you.”
Val jumped on that with all the gusto he could muster. He was a master at twisting conversations around to fit his wants and needs. “I DO know what’s good for me! That’s why I want YOU to stay out of my performances! If the fans want me, they’ll get me, and you have NOTHING to say about it! Noth-”
McNeil’s RT went off again, interrupting Val’s tirade. “McNeil, you’re needed at the front office, NOW!”
McNeil keyed the microphone “On my way.”
Val was so worked up and now the one he was going to take it out on was leaving. He threw the cup on the floor in complete frustration.
Luke placed his hands on both of Val’s shoulders, looking deep into those liquid pools of endless blue. Those eyes had been plastered over the tabloids hundreds of times, the blue color always intense, the lashes dark, thick and long. It was the feature that most people fell in love with first. Luke had to mentally keep himself from drowning in those eyes.
“I have a job to do. You as well. I’m heading out, but I will be back as soon as I can. I suggest you get that mess cleaned up before I return. I’ll not have anyone saying that you trashed a dressing room. Stay put.”
With that, Luke turned and headed back out into the controlled bedlam of a concert about to begin. Val stared after him in open indignation, unable to believe that Luke would simply walk away from him in the middle of a fight. He considered following his bodyguard and refusing to allow him to terminate their argument like this. Then he thought better of it and settled for slamming the door with all the strength he could muster. Luke froze on the stairs at the almighty bang. For a moment he considered going back and once and for all straightening out the brat he protected. Then he made himself carry on up the stairs. The show was too close. Now was NOT the time to push Val any further over his personal edges.
Val, thwarted and abandoned, sat down before the mirror and struggled with angry tears. Luke rarely coaxed or persuaded in the way that Max or Henson or most others could be managed into doing. But he’d snatched at that RT message like a drowning man at a straw, as though all he wanted was to get away. Val buried his head in his hands and refused to look at his watch. This close to performance he should be making the last minute checks with the musicians, changing, thinking about makeup, about summoning up the volumes of energy needed to stand in front of a crowd and perform. The rap at his dressing room door made him look up, half in hope, although he put as much of a snarl into his voice as he could manage.
“NOW what do you want!”
The door opened very slowly on one of the arena stewards, a pale, teenaged boy carrying a bunch of roses. “These uh- just arrived for you Mr Quentin-”
Better. This was how life was supposed to be at the top. Flowers and deferential stewards, not bossy and narrow minded bodyguards who had he-men complexes. Val graciously accepted the roses and opened the card. It could have been from any number of admirers. Val’s blood cooled rapidly as he saw the signature at the bottom under the scrawled message.
“You’ll have the audience eating out of your hand kid- just like you always do. Max.”
Max. Well the roses were a nice thought. Val put them down on the desk with his spirits high enough to think about getting dressed. The card he tucked into the side of the mirror, reading the message again. Then with more energy, he began to choose costumes.
(Just you bet I can make them eat out of my hand. Watch and learn, McNeil.)
The police wanted written details about where the crowds were supposed to be, how they were to be contained and about the entry and exit procedures. Luke handed over the pre prepared notes with the adjoinders for this particular town. After three months of touring, this part of his job was routine. Keeping track of Val Quentin remained an ever changing and highly complex battle with no two days ever the same. Luke headed backstage as soon as he had finished with the organisers, half worried he’d find Val still sullen and distraught. Val’s dressing room was empty and the mess remained where it had been left, which made the bodyguard mutter, but he was relieved to see the star of the show in the wings with the musicians, and still more relieved to see him dressed, laughing and holding court with all the charm and vivacity with which he was capable. Val’s eyes cooled at the sight of him but he bowed with only a little sarcasm to Luke’s genuine comment,
“You look amazing.”
“Why thank you, Tarzan. Good crowd?”
“Close to sell out.” Luke said honestly. The arena was filling allright. He slipped an arm around Val’s shoulders and gave him a rough hug, feeling the tremble of adrenaline through the younger, smaller man. By this point, Val always looked white and drawn and far too fragile to withstand this kind of stress alone.
“Break a leg.”
“You wish.” Val gave him a flash of that enchanting smile and moved to the edge of the wings. Luke took up his accustomed position where he could watch the movements of both the audience and the star. A few minutes later he heard the audience go wild and saw Val stroll out onto the stage with all the confidence and presence to hold the entire arena spellbound. Luke watched as the drawn, fragile young man transformed into a vibrant, sexy heartthrob within just a few words sung of his current number one hit. He fed off of the audience, soaking up every bit of the screaming masses, belting out song after song, dancing across the stage as if on a wonder drug, bursting at the seams with electric energy. The fifth song on the card was a slow one, and the band stayed quiet except for a single guitar, as Val began singing.
Luke was always in total awe at this point, as the entire audience, men, women, children, all began to sing along. He got lost in the song, watching the audience’s reaction, and let his eyes stray from Val for a moment. It was that moment that Val chose to ignore the advice/order from Luke, and started down the steps, intending to walk a bit out into the center of the audience. The crowd surged back to give Val the space to come down. By the time Luke looked back to the stage it was too late. His bellow was lost in the music.
Val was on the floor of the arena and the crowd surged around him. Luke saw it happen even as he started running, seeing Henson and one of the stage hands catch on and run to join him and a couple of police constables began to push through from the back. One minute Val was singing, moving slowly through a welcoming throng. The next there was a sudden, violent rush within the crowd and Val’s voice cut out. Almost instantaneously from Val’s last point in the crowd, Luke saw camera bulbs begin to flash like mad fireflies in the semi darkness. Henson was bellowing for houselights, the police whistles were starting to blow which was only exciting the crowd to push and move more frantically to see what was happening.
Luke plunged off the edge of the stage and shoved people out of his way without mercy for the frightened teenagers in front of him. More stage crew were following as he reached the knot where the cameras were still flashing and hacked his way through into the tightest knot of people. Val was down, his arms over his face protecting himself as much from being trampled as from the hands and cameras attacking him. The movement of the crowd packed them into a tight and dangerous knot that threatened crush injuries if something wasn’t quickly done. Luke grabbed the RT from his belt and thundered into the mike, trying to make himself heard.
“Someone for fucks sake turn the sprinklers on! Turn the bloody sprinkler system on!”
Someone in the control tower was thinking. The lights came up on full, the music cut out and a second later the sprinklers in the roof burst into life, drenching the crowd beneath. In the few seconds where several thousand people froze in shock, Luke grabbed Val by the scruff of the neck, hauled him to his feet and snatched a camera out of the hand of a man impeding his way. The bulb flashed in their faces, then the camera fell to be smashed beneath many feet. Henson and the stage crew were joining forces with the police, forcing an avenue back towards the stage. There was no time to look at Val, no time to worry if he was hurt. He wasn’t moving although he was more or less keeping his feet. Luke stooped and picked him up like a child, carried him through the narrow gap and into the cool and relative quiet of the stage wings. The screams and roar of the crowd dulled a little behind them.
Luke found a box, and sat Val down on it, wanting to check immediately if there were need for a doctor. Val, for all his bravado of earlier, all his vibrancy of earlier, had now shrunk back down to childlike stature, shocked by the suddenness of trouble.
“I’m....I’m fine. LUKE, I’m fine! Quit poking and prodding, I’m fine, really.” He felt like a child as Luke checked him out from head to toe.
By this time the pandemonium from outside had quieted some, as the sprinkler system was turned off and people were directed towards the exits. The pandemonium backstage was just beginning.
The band, stage crew, and various other interested parties had all gathered around Val and Luke, peppering them with questions. The press was quickly gathering. Once Luke had made sure Val didn’t need a doctor, he quickly radioed for his second in command.
“Clark, you’re in charge. Make sure to get everyone out of here, and get the cleanup crews started quickly, can’t have the water destroy all of the equipment. I’m vacating the premises with Mr. Quentin. As soon as I get him set up in his hotel room, I’ll return for briefings.”
“Yes, sir” Clark radioed back, diving headfirst into the fray.
Val became immediately indignant. “Hey gorilla, I HAVE to perform. These pe-”
“PERFORM?” Luke roared as his temper was spiked with the gorilla comment. “You are finished tonight!”
Val tried to get another word in. “I can-”
“FINISHED!” Luke bellowed, silencing Val immediately. Luke turned away from Val, looking for Henson, spotting him on the left. “Henson, you can handle things for a while? I’m taking Mr. Quentin to his room and I’ll return later to help with the cleanup.” Without ceremony he picked up Val, easily throwing him over his shoulder and walked away from the bedlam as fast as he could. The reporters broke out of their shell shocked state first, and started to follow Luke down the hall. Luke turned, glaring at them.
“Not now” was all he said, stopping all of them in their tracks.
Val was so suprised he didn’t give much of a struggle. Luke dragged him to the car, opened the door and pushed the kicking Western world’s media idol down into the front seat.
“If I were you kiddo, I would shut your mouth NOW! Quit while you're still ahead!”
“DONT shove me around-”
“When I get you somewhere quiet, believe me, shoving is going to be the least of your problems!” Luke drowned him out, turning the engine over.
Val shut his mouth and watched sullenly as the car flashed past the streets now rapidly filling with wet audience. Luke concentrated on the road, blocking out his own temper, his own fright but not able to stay oblivious to the damp and still trembling boy sulking beside him.
“I only did what Max-” Val began as they reached the hotel. Luke ignored him, turning off the engine and getting out of the car. Val refused to move, staring blankly ahead. Luke folded his arms on the car roof, remaining calm with intense effort.
“Unless you want to be on the front page tomorrow morning, being dragged into that hotel kicking and screaming, I suggest you get out of the car.”
Val glanced up at him resentfully. Luke looked straight back. Apparently Val believed him as he slowly got out of the car and trailed him across to the reception desk. The steward had the key ready and his eyes were like saucers at the sight of the much valued and dampened visitor. Luke took the key and held the lift door, waiting pointedly until Val joined him. The walk to the room was conducted in icy silence. There, with a dignity Luke could only admire, Val took the key out of his hand and gave him the Vassal Being Dismissed look.
“Thank you for seeing me home, Mr. McNeil-”
“Oh no you don’t my lad.” Luke said flatly. “I want a word with you.”
“I’ll call security-”
“And I wouldn’t make one more threat you don’t intend to carry out!” Luke said sharply. “Give me the damned key and move!”
Val, flushed, surrendered the key and moved ahead of Luke through the  doorway opened for him. Luke slammed the door behind them, flung the key down on the dresser and pointed at the couch in the large and over furnished suite.
“SIT down. I don’t want to hear a word from you!”
“I will-”
“SIT!!!” Luke said, staring hard at Val, not breaking eye contact until Val threw himself down on the couch in disgust, muttering under his breath.
Luke was going to ignore the muted mutterings as long as he could. The phone rang just then, as Luke expected it would. He walked over to the desk to answer it. “McNeil here” he said gruffly.
“Mr. McNeil, this is Fiona Jackson, from the National-”
“Ms. Jackson, there will be a public statement made by 10pm tonight. If you want to retain your reporter’s license, I suggest you don’t call here again.” With that, Luke disconnected the call, and dialed the front desk.
“This is McNeil, Room 240. Please hold all incoming calls until further notice.”
Luke knew the press would start calling, along with panicked and upset concert personnel, looking for him, looking for answers. Luke would take care of that in a while, right now he had one mega star brat to take care of and he wanted no interruptions.
Val listened to Luke in sullen silence. Who did he think he was, holding all his calls? He was the star, he was the breadwinner, he paid the bills. Luke wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for him. He started to get off the couch, when Luke turned, shooting a look to kill. As much as Val wanted to argue, that look chilled him to the bone, and he dropped back onto the couch.
“I’m not doing this because I’m scared of you, you know.” he said resentfully. Luke pulled his jacket off and dropped it on the desk.
“Shut up Val.”
“Don’t you EVER-”
Luke drowned him out effortlessly. “QUITE apart from the star performance you threw this afternoon when we discussed the matter, you knew damn well Henson, I and everyone else told you to stay on stage!”
“MAX said-”
That whine shot Luke’s temper a notch higher. “And where was Max when you were being trampled? Looked to me like you were on your own!”
“And a big thank you to the gorilla for the lifesaving techniques!” Val spat, blowing him a kiss.
Luke shook his head. “Kiddo, you are on very thin ice.”
Val glowered at him. Luke’s uncompromising scowl met his head on. The bodyguard had a look of implacability to him that the young star really didn’t like. Eventually he dropped his head and resorted to the one other infallible Val Quentin method of controlling jerks. He burst into tears. Luke heard the sobs rapidly move towards hysteria. Within a few minutes, he knew from experience, Val could turn himself into a wreck, beyond listening to anyone. He put a hand on the young man’s neck, pulled him to his feet and steered him towards the bedroom. This was more like it. Val worked on the hysteria, delighted with it’s success. He didn’t notice the transition into the bathroom until cold water suddenly drenched him and he gasped, shrieking with shock and outrage. Luke turned off the shower and pulled him out.
“Feeling better?”
“You are a bastard!” Val exploded, tears completely forgotten. “You are a primeval fucking APE-”
That remark earned him a swat which made him yelp. Luke pushed him towards the bedroom.
“Get out of those clothes. Now!”
“Move! And unless you want another cold shower I’d keep your mouth shut!”
Val’s resentful look held a lot more genuine tears than before, but he was not keen on cold water Luke stood, arms folded, waiting while Val divested himself of the cold, wet clothing, throwing the items around as he undressed. He left his underwear on, and looked up at Luke.
“Thanks to your shower, and the air conditioning in this freezer, I am going to catch a cold and not be able to sing, will you THEN be happy?”
Luke stood with his arms crossed, staring at the brat, his brat. “We will be fixing the temperature for you, and I know you will be singing, but it will be a completely different tune. Now get those clothes up OFF the floor and into the bathroom.”
Val tried to stare down Luke. He had yet to ever win that contest, and he dropped his eyes and went to pick up the clothes, muttering under his breath.
“Who the hell does he think he is? Gorilla...ape...caveman... Pick up the clothes... posh....” He started towards the bathroom, not looking at Luke as he passed him. He stopped muttering long enough to go around, then started right back at it when out of arm’s reach. “We’ll fix the’ll be singing a diff...” As soon as Luke realized what he said, he also realized what it MEANT. He went into the bathroom and slammed the door shut, locking it quickly. No, it WASN’T going to happen. He would NOT let Luke punish him. Let him beat the door down, the ape that he was. Not in THIS nice hotel. Ha.
Luke watched Val picking up the clothes. He was pleased that Val was cooperating, even if he did have a vile mouth on him. He would take care of that problem in just a few minutes. He stood still as Val walked towards him. He had serious thoughts about swatting Val as he walked past, but controlled that urge. A nice long spanking would get the message across, at least for as long as the spanking took. Val tended to have a VERY short memory. He jumped when the door to the bathroom slammed shut, knocking a picture off the wall, the glass shattering as it hit the ground. The sound of the lock turning was just as loud.
Luke turned around and stared at the closed door for a minute, then resisted the urge to slam his head against the nearest wall. Locked doors were one of Val’s specialties. And the kid got altogether too much attention with that particular trick whenever anyone was stupid enough to let him play it.... Luke made himself stand still and think. Val was no doubt banking that he would not dare to break down a hotel door. Possibly, underneath that, the broken door and the drama were exactly what Val wanted and was trying to provoke him into.
Luke walked away from the door and took several deep breaths. There was no immediate necessity to extricate Val. He was safe in the bathroom, the worst Luke thought he could do was throw things around, and in a confined space he wasn’t likely to find that much fun. And really, it didn’t matter how long he stayed in there. There was nowhere else they needed to be. Luke felt his temper come down off boiling point. The kid was a master of manipulation. In a life of adulation combined with uncertainty, a routine frequently divorced from all reality, with far more power and control and stress in his hands than he had the age or the experience to handle, Val expected to be the stage director of everything. He was good at it to the point where at times like this, it took Luke hard effort not to find himself being duped into following Val’s plot.
He looked out over the lights through the windows, the anger slowly dispelling into resolve.
(You are NOT in charge of this, kitten. This is never going to go your way. And if it takes all night-) Luke glanced back to survey the locked bathroom door, lips twitching as the humour of the situation filtered through the last of his annoyance, (-you’re going to work that out. Again.)
Quietly, aware that by now his brat would be straining his hearing for the shouts, orders and threats he expected, Luke sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up the phone. The switchboard rapidly connected him to Val’s long suffering PA who was already collating information for his press agent.  ”Diana? It’s Luke.... yes, he’s fine. Tired and a little shaky but it’s been a long tour.... yeah. No, no statements tonight. I’ll leave it in your capable hands. Yeah. I’ll take good care of him.... thanks love.”

There was still no sound from the bathroom as he hung up. Luke silently locked the suite door from the inside and pocketed the key. No other doors led from the suite and the balcony was too high and too far away from any other handholds even for the most ambitious stalker or terrorist. Or an outraged and defiant brat. Luke’s vigilance stretched to checking for Val’s escape routes as much as for outside entry routes when checking out the security of new residences. Val had utilised windows more than once when out of temper.
Having ensured the entire suite was locked up, secure and silent, Luke turned out the light and lay down on the wide double bed. If Val felt inclined to spend his night alone in the discomfort of the bathroom, Luke was quite prepared to indulge him. When Val tired of it and was ready to continue the conversation of last night, Luke would be available. And Mr Quentin might just realise he’d achieved nothing more than a delay- not a stay of execution. He might even begin to understand that his bodyguard had no intention of allowing him to stage manage this particular show.
Val had backed as far from the bathroom door as he could manage. He was just waiting for the primeval roar from Luke, the loud knocking on the door. But there was.......nothing. No yells, no curses, no threats. Finally he heard Luke talking to someone. Val walked back up to the door, straining to listen. He heard the handset going back into the cradle of the phone. Who had he called? Val was cold, and snagged one of the large, fluffy bathrobes off the back of the door, wrapping himself tightly in it, sitting on the bench in the bathroom. The bathroom was huge by normal standards. Two sinks, a makeup mirror, and a sunken tub the size of some swimming pools. Val would normally LOVE to soak in the tub, but not now. Now he just wanted out of his prison. He was confused. Luke was silent, not saying anything at all. Val was expecting a knock down, drag out fight to get him out of the bathroom. There wasn’t even a whisper of anger. Tears threatened to well up in his eyes, and he angrily wiped them away. This was NOT the way it was supposed to be. Luke was ignoring him. Him, the star of the show! The love of teenagers everywhere! He could ask for an receive whatever he wanted. He could buy whatever he wanted. He had an income the size of some smaller countries. He was IT, so why didn’t Luke see that in him? Why didn’t Luke treat him that way? Why was Luke the ONLY person that made him keep his feet firmly on the ground?
And the final burning question, the question that Val had yet to figure out an answer to, was why did he love that... that.... that gorilla so much? Where was he?
Val quickly became tired of his own thoughts, and decided the next course of action would be to open the door. Open the door and sneak quickly over to the suite door, down the hall, and find someplace ELSE to sleep. He was NOT looking forward to the conversation he knew Luke would insist on. He cracked open the door just a bit, staring hard into the darkness. Nothing. No movement, no sounds. He tiptoed quietly across the thick carpet and tried ever so slowly to turn the knob. It wouldn’t budge. Damn that gorilla! He was locked in.
Plan two. He would get the key from the obviously sleeping Luke. Yes, that would show him. He tiptoed back into the bedroom, having trouble seeing as it was so incredibly dark. He had just crossed the threshold of the door when the light beside the bed flashed on, blinding him in the white light.

“Going somewhere, Val?”
Val spun angrily towards him. “You know I can’t you bastard, you locked the door!”
Luke propped himself up on his elbows and surveyed the distraught and shivering young man.
“So I’ll assume you’re not yet ready to talk to me?”
“Then I hope you find the bathroom comfortable.” Luke said and turned the light off again. Val was silent for a minute in sheer shock, then produced a screech at a third of his usual volume.
“Luke that’s MY bed!”
“I know.” Luke said without opening his eyes. “But you’re not going to be using it until we’ve talked, so you’d better find something else to do. And quietly. I don’t see why I have to stay awake with you.”
“You can’t do that!” Val wailed, beyond indignation. He could hear the smile in Luke’s voice.
“Val, I AM doing it. Do you want to talk?”
“Then goodnight.”
Luke lay and listened to Val stand still and bewildered at the foot of the bed. He was braced for the sound of sniffles and aware that should he hear them, his resolve was in danger of crumbling. One very tired, very upset brat shifted from foot to foot in the darkness.
“Oh, this man is impossible!” Thought Val.
“Oh, this brat is impossible!” Thought Luke.
“Damn,” they thought in unison, Luke flipping the light on as Val sat on the end of the bed.
Luke didn’t think that Val was ready to talk and was shocked that he had sat down. Val was shocked that Luke had turned the light on, almost as if expecting him to start speaking. Their eyes met and held for several minutes, each judging the other. Val again dropped his gaze first, as his foot made circles on the carpet, his hands doing the same thing on the coverlet. Luke waited, afraid to break the silent truce, wanting to give Val room to talk, let the emotions free. He waited for several minutes, and finally decided to press the issue, but gently.
“Val, are you ready to talk? I’m ready to listen.”
Val heard the tenderness in the voice and almost broke down. He took a deep, shuddering breath and said in a quiet voice “I’m sorry Luke. I...I just wanted to prove you wrong. I wasn’t thinking straight, I thought the crowd would be fine. I WAS afraid to go, but....but I wanted to show you I could handle it. I’ve made a mess of things, haven’t I?”
Val raised his eyes up to Luke’s, looking searchingly, hoping for a reprieve. He knew Luke had trouble denying him when he flashed his eyes at him.  Luke almost fell back into those lovely pools of blue. He mentally took three steps back. No, he could not let this brat get away with his behavior yet again. He endangered his own life, as well as those in the crowd. His actions started the sprinkler system, causing thousands of dollars in damages. On top of that, he was completely disrespectful and vile mouthed, and that was something that Luke would NOT let him get away with.
“You know why I didn’t want you to go down off the stage, don’t you?” he asked, almost to give himself time. Val flushed and his eyes dropped.
“Yes... it wasn’t safe....”
“Not just for you but for the other kids in the crowd who got trampled tonight. I haven’t talked to Diane yet, I don’t know how many people were hurt.”
That was a fabrication, but Val didn’t need to know that. Luke softened his voice slightly, aware that the kid was actually listening to him.
“Max doesn’t know the first thing about an audience. You do. You know how they react.”
“I thought I could handle them.” Val said almost inaudibly. Luke resisted the urge to tousle the scattered hair now drooping in his eyes.
“You can from the stage, brat. I don’t know anyone could from the floor. But I’m not half as mad about you pulling that stunt as I am about the way you’ve been behaving all evening.”
“Luke that’s not fair!” Val lifted his head, scenting trouble. “I was scared stiff about what happened-”
“So was Henson, Diana and everyone else, I didn’t hear any hysterical tantrums from them.” Luke pointed out. He rested his elbows on his knees and watched Val’s mobile mouth sink into a pout.
“I was upset, that’s all!”
“Your behaviour on stage towards Max and Henson would have disgraced a four year old.” Luke said sternly. “Two locked doors when you ran away from conversations that weren’t going in a direction you liked. Language I’ll take a guess you must learned from a group of Shanghai pirates. Accusations in all directions, screaming paddies- just how many things have you thrown today? You can’t treat people like this, Val.”
The pout said differently. Val hung his head and didn’t answer, but Luke could almost hear the thoughts running through Val’s mind and they were a long way still from penitence. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, no longer having to try to hold onto his determination.
“You’re not going to behave like this and get away with it while I’m around.”
“I said I was sorry.” Val pleaded, retreating. Luke caught his wrist and pulled him gently closer.
“If you’d been able to say to me or to anyone else on stage what you said to me a minute ago, I would have accepted you’d made a mistake and you’d learned from it. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t translate as, ‘stop being mad at me’ and when you use it like that to me, it isn’t going to cut much ice.”
A firm pull and Val found himself tipped over Luke’s lap with a powerful arm hooked around his waist. He twisted instantly, trying to lever himself up, but Luke might as well have had him in a vise for all the movement he could make. He stopped struggling and resorted to his other armoury range, trying to see Luke’s face.
“Luke please- please don’t, I swear this will NEVER happen again- honestly, I promise.”
Luke looked down at Val and said, “I’m glad to hear that.” Luke raised his  hand up and brought it down directly across the center of Val’s upturned  cheeks, instantly leaving a scarlet handprint.
“OOoooowwwwwwWWW” Val screeched. “I said I’m sorry - please don’t - not anymore - pllleeeeaaaaseee.” Val tried twisting again, to no avail.
“Why does it take me to put you in this position before you see the error of your ways? Why can you not listen to me before now?” Luke landed two more solid smacks, one to each cheek in rapid succession.
“Ahhhh....OOooowwww, stop it, please, stop it....AAAHHHHH.. OOOOWWWwwww”
Luke landed two more spanks. “Why do I need to continue doing this?” Luke said, each work punctuated with a loud swat, and an equally loud verbal response from Mr. Quentin.
“You don’t HAVE to continue doing this! I’m NOT a child, you can’t DO this to me!” Val had reached back down into his reserve of indignation, not wanting to believe that yet again, he found himself in this position, over his man’s knees. He tried to squirm away from the hand that was punishing him, but Luke left NO room for movement.
“For someone who isn’t a child you behave an awful lot like one, Val. And not a particularly NICE child either. And you’re still not listening. I asked you a question. Why is it I need to keep doing this? Why can you never listen to me without me putting you in this position first?”
Luke’s implacable hand fell again and again. Val kicked and wailed, outrage becoming harder to focus on. “Luke stop it! Luke!”
“Do you WANT the reputation of being a brat? You know how fast things get into the papers, people are watching you every hour of the day! The fact you smashed up your dressing room last night would be plastered all over the tabloids this morning if you hadn’t come up with a better story on stage! You are NOT going to drag your attitude around every stadium and arena in this country just so stage hands can earn a tenner from sneaking reporters looking for dirt! You think I like the rumours and jokes I hear when you’re out of earshot? You think I LIKE hearing you lampooned in every paper and on every talk show? Do YOU get some sort of kick out of this?”
That particular shot went home. Val found himself remembering the horrible incident a month or two back when someone, despite Luke and Henson’s efforts, left a particularly spiteful article lying around and he’d read it. He’d finished the two concerts left at that particular venue only through Luke’s persuasion and insistence.
“M-max was- he said-” Val struggled, heart thudding and very near tears, “Damnit Luke there are libel cases!”
“You only win a libel case if you prove there’s no truth in the accusations.” Luke said brutally. “Can you tell me- honestly- you don’t earn that reputation?”
“All right, I’m a brat!” Val spat, near to biting whatever part of the bodyguard he could reach in sheer desperation. “So stop! Are you happy now?”

“Not with that particular tone of voice, no.”
“Is this tone-” Val started in a high pitched voice, being immediately interrupted by Luke spanking with renewed determination, turning the slightly pink bottom a darker shade of scarlet.Val wriggled and squirmed, not being able to move an inch. His anger quickly dissolved into tears, as he realized Luke wasn't going to stop anytime soon. 
Luke stopped the spanking as soon as Val began crying. “Was that a VERY dangerous stunt you pulled, going into the crowd?”
“Yyyyyesssss, I'm sorryyyyyy, plea..OOOoowwwwwww” Val said as Luke stopped the pleas with a heavy swat again.
“I want clear, concise answers to my questions, Quentin. No pleas for mercy, no whining. Answers, Quentin. Are you EVER going to go against my orders?” Luke asked, knowing what the answer would be, and that it wouldn't hold water for more than a few days at best, but obligated to ask it anyway.
“Nnoooo,” Val said hiccupping as he tried to stop his sobbing.
“Are we going to behave like the well bred young man I know you to be?”
“Yes, yes....I promise..plea-”
Luke placed two more well aimed swats across his brat's already hot backside. Val hated this part of his punishment. Luke spanked just enough to get his attention, then dove into the answers and questions with vigor, knowing he was a captive and attentive audience at this point. Val wanted the spanking over, he knew there were a LOT more swats to come, and he dreaded every one.
“And what exactly constitutes a well bred young man?”
“Nope, not a good answer.” Luke punctuated his sentence with a couple of swats hard enough to make Val wail. “Try again.”
“Ow! Oh I HATE you!”
“That's fine, Val, I've got all night. Take your time.”
Val wriggled and sobbed, knowing he was out of luck and not wanting to keep up the fight any more.
“All right all right! Ow! I shouldn't swear!”
“That sounds good to me.”
“Or lock doors- ow Luke, please stop it-”
“Ten out of ten. Anything else?”
“I don't know!”
“How about respect?” Luke asked, spanking hard with each word.
“Aaahh, okay, OKAY, I respect you! OW! Ple-”
“Respect for EVERYONE. Henson, Diane, the fans, myself. EVERYONE, and that includes yourself as well. You have GOT to lose that 'holier than thou' attitude you carry around all the time. You are just as human as the next person, no better no worse. Drop it now, or the next tabloid will carry pictures of me paddling your bare bottom. I won't care who is around, or where we are, I'll just remove those pants of yours and make sure you remember what we've talked about today. Is that clear?” Luke punctuated that last sentence with a few more well placed swats.
“Luuuuuuuke!” Val screeched, “you wouldn't dare!”
The reply to Val's question was a new volley of spanks, covering the area again. Val squirmed and screamed and finally simply sobbed, convinced and approaching unconditional surrender. Luke administered a last few, thorough smacks to the now scarlet and very hot bottom upturned in his lap, then reached for Val's shoulder and pulled him back to his feet.
“Corner. Now.”
He expected a face full of defiance and was more than ready to turn Mr Quentin back over his knee if necessary, but Val seemed more than grateful to have somewhere else to be. Luke sat and watched him shivering a little and crying, his head against the immaculately painted hotel wall. Almost he got up and went to the youngster, wondering if he'd gone a little too far. Then he made himself sit back down again. Val might be little more than an over grown child in some ways, but the life he led and the things he had access to made him all too vulnerable to his own willfulness and innocence. At the moment, Val gave every impression of their discussion having made a strong impact on him and Luke didn't want to dilute the message. He made himself sit and wait, watching the younger man slowly calm down. If the throbbing of his own hand was anything to go by, Val Quentin was not exactly comfortable right now. When fifteen minutes had passed by the ornate clock on the wall he stirred.
Val didn't respond. 
Luke got up and went to him, put his arm around the younger man's shoulders and pulled him around. “Are you going to talk to me?”
“I thought you'd done all the talking you wanted to.” Val said bitterly.
Spitfire, Luke thought, looking at the ceiling. He wasn't about to let the kid get to him any further: he'd made his point.
Val was staring at the floor, unable to look Luke in the face. He was still feeling entirely TOO vulnerable for his own tastes. Luke so wanted to throttle Val, but instead, took the face in both hands and brought it up so he could look into those pools of blue. The eyes were simply gorgeous, the tears intensifying the blue to greater depths.
“You scared me kiddo, scared me good. I looked for you on stage, and saw you in the crowd. I saw your magic working on those teenagers, your music moving their very souls. Then in a second you were gone, swallowed by the mob. The music stopped, and all I heard were screams. You and your voice, vanished in an instant. I don't want to ever relieve that feeling, okay? Promise me?”
Val could only nod silently, the depth of his feelings overwhelming him.
Luke placed a feather light kiss upon Val's forehead. “Let's get you to bed kiddo, you've had a long day.”
Val didn't protest, allowed himself to be led over to the bed, still warm from where Luke had been sitting earlier. Val climbed in, face down for obvious reasons, and curled up as Luke pulled the blankets up. Val was absolutely worn out, from the long day, the terror at the concert, and the spanking itself. He snuggled down deeper into the covers, savoring the slight scent of Luke's aftershave on the pillow.
Luke tousled Val's hair “Goodnight love. I'll be back before you know it.”
Val was asleep before Luke had even left the room.
The arena was more or less deserted, only the remainder of the stage crew were left shutting down the lights and equipment under Mick Henson's capable eye. He glanced up and grinned when he saw Luke.
“How's his royal highness?”
“Scared.” Luke said briefly. “Shaken up.”
“His own damn fault.” Henson said without interest. Luke quietly withdrew a small card from his pocket and held it out.
“This was sent to Val before the show.”
Henson read it and shrugged. “Yes?”
“You know Val. After the row we had before the show, that was a challenge. You saw the photographers, Mick. You saw the flash bulbs go off the minute the crowd went out of control.”
“The crowd's always full of press.” Henson said darkly, seeing where Luke was going. Luke shook his head.
“They were in the right place, ready and waiting. Max set this up. He set Val up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I'm not sure or I'd knock Max's head off his shoulders, but you know Max. Val's a walking fortune to him, he'd do anything likely to get Val publicity and he wouldn't care if the kid got hurt. All the more media interest.”
Henson gave the taller man a steady look, then turned his gaze back to the HGVs being loaded with lighting equipment.
“What do we do?”
“We watch Val.” Luke said bleakly. “Not much else we can do for now.”

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

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