Billy's sitting on the ground in the wings watching a group work through the cha-cha, and he can't help but flinch when he sees exactly where he and Cristina went wrong in their practice. It was only half her fault, and he makes a mental note to make sure they get it right when it's finally their turn. The throbbing across the bridge of his nose is even better motivation to not screw it up than the risk of getting cut. Okay, it's almost as good of motivation.
The group on stage finishes, and Billy closes his eyes for a minute, running through the routine again. Picturing it going right this time. It's not quiet. There are too many nervous people everywhere for it to really be quiet. He's pretty sure that even if everyone managed to sit still and shut up, the whole place would still be buzzing a low anxious hum just from the collective anxiety.
When Billy open's his eyes, there's someone sitting next to him. Sort of. Unlike Billy, the guy is sitting in a chair. He's turned it backwards, his arms crossed and resting heavy across the backrest. He's sweaty, but Billy is too. And Billy's the one who's got a cold pack pressed against the bridge of his nose, so he's definitely losing if there's a sudden contest for who looks most like an idiot.
"Hey," The guy says, running a hand through damp hair. "That looked painful."
"Nah," Billy says, shrugging. "I've had worse."
"Well, yeah." the guy smiles, and damned if Billy can remember his name, though he definitely hasn't forgotten that backflip in his solo from earlier. "And at least it was just your face."
"Right?" Billy agrees, and god how screwed up is this life that even for the split second he'd been afraid his nose (his whole face) was broken, all he'd been able to think was relief that it wasn't an ankle or knee. He finally pulls the icepack away, dropping it next to his hip. He presses his fingers carefully against the bridge of his nose, testing. It's tender, but it doesn't pull tears to his eyes, and he's not bleeding anymore. They guy is watching, cringing in sympathy. Billy's already trying to figure out who he'll be able to borrow cover-up from, he's going to have a hell of a bruise in an hour or two. "I've had worse."
"Well, sure. But I bet the others weren't caught on video for national television. You know they're gonna keep that in, right?" The guy (J-something, Billy thinks. Maybe.) nods toward one of the camera men weaving around the small clusters of people on stage.
"Everybody loves a good facial injury." Billy laughs. It comes out maybe just a little more rueful than he means it to, and he triples his resolve to get it together and kick the cha-cha's ass. Because there's no way he's going to burn up his fifteen minutes of fame on an elbow to the face. "I'm Billy, by the way."
"Yeah. I know. Jakob."
"Jakob, right. Sorry," Billy holds his hand up and Jakob grips it in his. Strong, but not like a mind-game or anything. He's not trying to be intimidating. "Contemporary."
"Yeah," Jakob nods. "The competition."
"I'll watch my back," Billy says, but Jakob is smiling, not the kind of semi-polite thing Billy has seen at so many auditions. Something big and wide and genuine, and Billy realizes that he's matching it.
"The competition," Jakob says, again after Billy emerges victorious and relieved from facing down green mile (and he still can't quite believe that they've all been so thoroughly Stockholmed into thinking about the show as life or death).
"You're finished, man," Billy says, trying to school his expression into something like a scowl, but he knows he's beaming. "I'm taking you down."
Promo is... annoying. If Billy has to talk about seeing breakers in Florida one more time, he's going to do something. He's not sure what, but something.
"That was great, but could you do it again, a little more energy."
Billy sighs and does it again. When he looks over the PA's shoulder, Jakob is making faces at him, eyes crossed, tongue sticking out and waggling, arms bent like pretzels around his head and shoulders. It's enough, and Billy manages to sound like he's telling a brand new story. He knows that'll be the last time he has to talk about it.
It's not the cha-cha that takes him out. Not the paso either, no matter how much he thought that was going to be ballroom that got him. He wakes up two days after they film the exhibition dances and he can barely manage to get his eyes open. He's been tired before, worn to the bone and aching with the exertion of pushing himself too hard. This is something else entirely. He hurts to the tips of his eyelashes all the way down to his toenails.
He calls his mother first. Then the producers, they call the medics and before he even really knows what's happening he's shuffled into a car and on the way to the hospital.
"Mono." Billy can almost feel the word falling out of his mouth with a dull thud. He knows even before they tell them what it means. No show. He's too tired to care right now. There will be plenty of time to be pissed off and disappointed when he doesn't have to put all of his energy into remembering that blinking involves opening your eyes, not just closing them.
His mom fields the first few calls, including the first one from Nigel and he listens to her side of the story, trying to figure out what Nigel's saying on the other end of the line.
"Thank you, Mr. Lythgoe. -- Yes, we think so too. -- No, I'm sure he understood the rules." She brushes her hand carefully over Billy's head and he feel s nine and ninety at the same time. "Yes. Yes. Oh, thank you. I know that would mean the world to him."
"Hmmm," Billy says when she hangs up. Hopes she'll know what he means.
"They must like you an awful lot, kiddo," she says. "You're going to have to try out again, but they'll let you come back next year."
"Cool," Billy mumbles, and lets everything fade away.
"Punk," the voice says when Billy picks up the phone. Not hello, not how ya doing. Just punk.
"Jakob." Billy puts the best sneer he can into the name, but the yawn in the middle ruins the effect.
"See, I knew I was better than you, but I didn't think you'd go all infectious invalid on us just to get out of losing to me." Jakob's the first person Billy's talked to in a week who hasn't apologized to him for something. He didn't realize how annoying it had gotten.
"I was gonna kick your ass from here to Julliard," Billy says, sitting up (and hey, he can do that today, cool). "People were gonna fall in love with me. I had the sympathy vote already. Me and my poor battered face."
"You were scared of me, admit it. I know I'm intimidating. A force of nature." Jakob says. "I learned that when I played football."
"Yeah, that's it," Billy says. "I was totally scared off by your pee-wee league posturing." Somewhere behind Jakob he can hear laughter, lots of it, and someone calling Jakob's name.
"That's what I thought. Hey, I've gotta go. They're making us redo the group photos with the new guy. So thanks for that. You going to watch us?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'll watch." Billy says.
He does. He tunes in every week, never quite sure how it's going to feel. That strange relief that it wasn't him left with the short-straw of the smooth-waltz right out of the gate, the strange twist of envy at not getting Wade's routine. By week four he stops thinking about where he would have fit it -- which routine might have been his, when he would have worn out his welcome -- and just watches.
He leaves a voice mail for Jakob after his contemporary with Ellenore.
"Jakob, hey. It's Billy. Bell. You probably know a lot of Billy's. I don't know where you are, but I hope you're out celebrating. I watched tonight's show and that. Man, you really are that good, aren't you?"
Jakob doesn't call back. Billy's not too surprised. He only got the briefest taste of the schedule, but it was enough to know that it's a killer. There's text message the net afternoon, though. "Told you."
Billy saves it.
He watches the finale and he can't really say he's surprised by the results. Russell is likeable, talented. Everything that Jakob is too, though maybe not everybody at home knows just how funny Jakob is. They probably don't get rambling emails about how he's pretty sure Wade's going to start choreographing routines about demonically possessed garden gnomes. Billy thinks that's maybe just a him thing.
It's a few days after though, before he hears from Jakob. He's not waiting, and he definitely doesn't grab the phone half way through the first ring and wait two more just so he doesn't seem to eager.
"I would have won," Billy says.
"You and your poor sympathetic face." Jakob says, solemnly.