The alarm goes off at 4:00, as usual, but this morning he hits the snooze button. He's going to wake up, but not to the beeping alarm clock. This is not how he's starting his day. Not today.
At 4:05, the phone rings, and without opening his eyes, he smiles and reaches for the button that puts it on speaker mode.
"Good morning, Simon," he says, half to the phone, half to the pillow, the words muffled and indistinct.
"Good morning, darling," the phone answers with a familiar, reproving voice. "Still lounging about at this late hour? It's after twelve."
"It's 4:06," Ryan says, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and gingerly pulling himself upright, blinking in the darkness until his eyes adjust. Four a.m. hurts no matter how often you do it. But Simon's not on Pacific time; he's on Simon Cowell time—in other words, the correct hour is whatever hour he has, no matter where he is at the moment.
"Lazy," Simon admonishes. "Did you sleep well?"
"No, actually," Ryan says, leveraging himself to his bare feet and padding into the bathroom, leaving the door open so he can still listen and talk. "Too excited to sleep."
"And why is that?"
"Well," Ryan says thoughtfully, "it's Friday, so there's the weekend coming up. I've got some great stuff for the show this morning. And this guy I've been seeing is coming back from England today."
"That does sound terribly exciting," Simon says drily. "Are you going to get lucky?"
Ryan grins. In the bathroom mirror, with his hair sticking up in every direction and his t-shirt wrinkled, he looks ridiculous. Ridiculous, but happy. "I'm certainly planning on it."
"Really. Tell me about these plans of yours."
"They're classified. You'll be debriefed when you arrive."
"I have some plans of my own," Simon offers up. "Would you like to hear them?"
"Nooo," Ryan groans in protest. "I'm on my way to work. Like I'm not going to be distracted enough already. I'll be lucky to get through the show."
"Can't stop thinking of me, can you?"
"Much as I would like to, no."
He can hear Simon's smirk through the phone. "I'll see you when I get in."
"Call me later."
"We'll have dinner. Behave yourself."
"I always do," Ryan answers, and the receiver clicks, and Simon's gone.
He rushes through a shower and dresses with his hair still wet, cool drops of water falling onto the shoulders of his t-shirt. On the way out the door, he grabs an apple, and he can't help tossing and catching it as he strolls out the door, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet.
Ellen gives him a capital-L Look when he walks through the studio doors, apparently still grinning like an idiot. She knows what day it is. She's been giving him shit about it off air all week. Now she turns away to inspect her manicure and starts humming "My Boyfriend's Back" under her breath.
"Shut up," he says, flicking her shoulder as he walks past and takes his usual seat.
"Ow," she protests. "Aren't you prickly today? Sounds like someone needs to get lai—"
"Ellen K., everyone," Ryan says in his radio voice, speaking into the mic even though it's not on. "The one, the only. Thank God."
Ellen beams unrepentantly at him, and he smiles back sheepishly.
"Gotta get yourself under control, Ry-Ry," she says, more quietly. "People talk."
"What?" he says, just to be contrary. "You act like I'm wearing a sign." But then he shakes it off, because he kind of is wearing a sign: his stupid happy face. Get a grip, man, he thinks, and then immediately backtracks, because getting a grip is the very last thing he needs to be thinking about on the day Simon comes back to L.A. after a month and a half away.
In all the years they've known each other, Ellen has never understood why he does this to himself: not the playing straight thing or the Simon thing. To the extent that they're any of her business—and she's his friend, so they kind of are—she doesn't approve of either. She wants him to come out, to date nice guys who respect him and who won't skip off to the UK at a moment's notice. She's as bad as his mom sometimes. And while they're right about the UK thing—it sucks—they're wrong about everything else. There's more at stake here than just his personal relationships. But while Ellen doesn't really get it, she respects his decisions and does what she can to rein him in—to keep him from doing or saying something he'll come to regret.
She shakes her head, half smiling, as she slips the headset over her ears, and a few minutes after that, it's five AM, and they're live.
They get through the show fine, of course. They always do. He's mastered the art of compartmentalizing; he just turns off the part of his mind that's dwelling on tonight and Simon and lets the part that's been doing this for years take over.
Throughout the morning, his BlackBerry buzzes periodically with texts from Simon, most of them innocuous. Brenda says hi. Eating orange, thought of you. Flight gets in 7 pm.
They wrap up at ten, and Ryan has time to eat chicken salad and a handful of almonds before he meets Giuliana on set at E!
She greets him with her usual smile and says, "So today's the big day, isn't it?"
He can't help smiling even as he makes a note to himself about discretion. "Yeah. But let's not talk about it here, G, okay?"
Giuliana makes a solemn my lips are sealed gesture. "Say hi for me" is all she says on the subject.
They do the news, which at least isn't live, so he doesn't have to worry so much about flubbing his lines and saying something stupid and incriminating. When it's over, he washes off the makeup and calls to make reservations for two at a place the paparazzi aren't known to haunt. The evening is approaching rapidly. He feels his stomach knotting up with every hour that passes. The anticipation's going to kill him.
He has meetings later, but they're over by five, which lets him slip away from the studios to go home and get pretty. He showers again, because it's L.A. in August, among other considerations. Once clean, he stands in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom, staring critically at his reflection. Simon hasn't seen him in six weeks. Ryan has been working out obsessively this summer, watching what he eats and everything, but if there's any difference, he can't see it. Standing there, he tries to remind himself that Simon doesn't care—that, quite possibly, Simon doesn't even notice when Ryan's gained a few pounds. It's the one thing that's off-limits for them, for some reason, Ryan's weight. Simon will mock everything else about him and his appearance—and has, often, on air and off—but Ryan's weight he never touches, not even teasing, not even when they're completely alone.
He gives up and goes to find something to wear.
Simon's car pulls up to the restaurant at eight, and Ryan tries to ignore the breath catching in his throat when he finally sees him again. It's been years. They've split and gotten back together half a dozen times. He shouldn't still feel this way. It's embarrassing and juvenile.
But then Simon catches sight of him and grins widely, and Ryan feels himself grinning back, so hard his face hurts, and he gets over his embarrassment before he knows it.
Simon greets him with an embrace, friendly and macho, but when he has Ryan pressed close against him, he leans in and whispers, "I can't wait to get you home," then pulls away before Ryan can do anything more than flush and open his mouth for a retort that never comes. He thinks that maybe they should have bypassed dinner, but Simon just got off a plane, and even though it's his own plane, he still needs time to acclimate and become human again. They've done this a lot. Ryan knows the drill.
They sit on opposite sides of the table, Simon staring at him the whole time like he's the main course, to the point where Ryan starts to squirm a little in his chair. It's been a while, and even though they talk and text every day, multiple times a day, it's not the same as seeing each other, being near each other. Simon sits across from him, the way he will all season long on the various Idol sets, and Ryan's not really prone to flights of romantic fancy, but he would swear he can feel electricity between them, sparks shooting everywhere.
They eat, chatting between bites about nothing of consequence, alternately making eyes at each other and ducking their heads. Ryan steals a cherry tomato from Simon's plate and thinks that this is bullshit. He should have just had Simon come right to his house. He could have cooked something. He likes cooking. And that way, they could dispense with dinner early and get directly to the main event of the evening, which is spending as much time naked as possible. And they could hold hands, which he really, really wants to do right now, as Simon tells him about his week in London and something that Piers said and something his "mum" did. Ryan's fingers actually twitch. But they're in a restaurant in West Hollywood, not in his kitchen at home, and even if there are no TMZ reporters stationed outside with cameras, there are other patrons. And as Ellen said—as he knows too well—people talk.
So he keeps his hands to himself and his mind on dinner and the conversation they're actually having, instead of the conversation he wants to be having, which is a lot dirtier.
They take Simon's car home. No cameras follow them, so Simon chances a reach across the seat to squeeze Ryan's knee. Ryan bites his lip, and it's all he can do not to dive face-first into Simon's lap right there in the car. He shakes himself a little and thinks about how incredibly gay that is, and then he tries to picture Nigel Lythgoe naked, which kills his ardor. Simon pats his leg reassuringly and steers them back to Ryan's place in Hollywood Hills in that nerve-wracking "I've been driving on the left my entire life and why don't you silly Americans get your roads properly straightened out" way he has that always makes Ryan mentally count all through the things in life he hasn't done yet, absolutely sure he's going to die at some point before the car stops safely in his driveway. It's a long list, this list of things he wants to do before he bites the big one. Alarmingly, a lot of the items involve Simon in some way.
They get home in one piece, though, because Simon might have learned to drive on the wrong side of the road, but he's still an ace behind the wheel, no matter what country he's in, and that's just one of the many reasons Ryan's a little bit crazy about him. They get out of the car, Ryan trying his very best to walk normally, and he manages to at least get the door shut and locked behind them before Simon pushes him up against it and kisses him like they've been apart for six years rather than six weeks. Ryan goes with it. What the hell. Simon has arms that can bench press him; Ryan's okay with ceding control sometimes.
Though not always. The door not being a good enough surface for Simon, he starts to steer them towards the stairs that lead to Ryan's bedroom, but Ryan's been waiting six weeks and he's impatient. He pushes back, half brawling with Simon before Simon gets it and they end up on a couch, Ryan on top and struggling to stay there. Simon takes advantage of their position to rid Ryan of his shirt, fortunately without tearing it or costing Ryan any buttons, which has happened more than once, and Ryan still hasn't really forgiven him for the second time. Ryan is self-conscious, but Simon just drags him down for a kiss and then executes some kind of clumsy ninja move, and the next thing he knows, they're on the floor.
"Oof," Ryan says eloquently as Simon pins him and gets a little more naked. Ryan paws at him for a while, and somehow buttons and zippers are loosened until there's bare skin against bare skin and Ryan's pretty sure he's never been this happy in his life. He tells Simon as much with kisses, and Simon answers in kind. Ryan wraps both arms and a leg around Simon and makes a mental note to have the carpet cleaned. Simon rocks against him and sucks on his neck, saying things Ryan can't understand to the pulse point under his jaw, and it's about five minutes before Ryan comes all over himself, and Simon, right on cue, follows.
Then Simon squashes him. It's one of his less endearing qualities. Ryan's never actually been with a guy smaller than himself, mostly because there are no guys smaller than himself, unless you want to get into some serious fetishes that he is just not down with. But once, just once, he'd like to participate in some post-coital squashing. He's squashed a few women in his day, but it's not the same.
Still, Ryan can't be too pissed about being squashed, because it's been six weeks, and the weight of someone else—of Simon—on him is more than welcome, even if the scratch of the carpet under him isn't so great. He's getting too old for this. Simon, fifteen years his senior, apparently doesn't care. He seems like he'd be content to lie on the floor all night.
Ryan stretches under Simon, scratches his back, and kisses the side of his neck. "Get off me," he says, and after a moment of challenge, Simon gives in. He even gives Ryan a hand as they both work their way up to standing again. Simon pulls his jeans up. Ryan follows suit. If his life were an episode of Arrested Development, he'd probably be a Never-Nude.
Simon holds him close again, hands stroking down his back, and says quietly, "I think your bedroom is upstairs."
Simon's tongue is in his ear and Ryan can't think of a damn thing clever to say, so he just answers in the affirmative. The bedroom hasn't moved since Simon was here last. Then Ryan gets the hint and starts moving them in that direction. Simon's almost a vampire like that—won't come in unless he's invited.
On their way up the steps, Ryan has to stop when Simon's cool hands press against the heated surface of his back, stroking him almost too gently.
"You have rug burn," Simon observes.
"And whose fault is that? You're the one who had to roll us onto the floor."
"You're the one who couldn't wait to get to a proper bed," Simon answers, still touching Ryan's back.
Ryan arches, wincing a little, and Simon's hands immediately move southward, which makes Ryan chuckle.
"God, I've missed you," Simon says.
"I'd be a lot more likely to believe that if you said it to my face and not to my butt."
"I've missed your face, too," Simon says, and without even turning around, Ryan can hear the smirk. He stretches again, and Simon sighs.
"I can't believe how long it's been since I've had you," he says, almost reverently—by Simon standards, at least.
Ryan, still paused on the staircase, says, "Want to set the clock back to zero?"
Simon pats him on the ass in response, and Ryan heads up the stairs with a little more speed in his step.
Simon would be the first to admit that he's vain. Spoiled, conceited, whatever—he holds a high opinion of himself and feels he deserves the best of everything. He appreciates the finer things in life: good wine, expensive cars, and certainly the view of Ryan's backside as he fairly scampers up the stairs to his bedroom. Ryan himself is one of the finest things in life—at least in Simon's life—witty and lovely and wonderful in bed (or on the floor, case in point) and the only man Simon has met who is even vainer and more self-obsessed than him. Six weeks is a long time to be separated.
He follows Ryan at a more leisurely clip, preferring to take his time this round. When he reaches the landing at the top of the stairs, Ryan is waiting for him, looking impatient.
"You can't possibly be ready to go again this soon," Simon says.
Ryan shrugs and smiles. "What's the matter, old man? Can't keep up?"
Simon narrows his eyes and then half lunges at Ryan, grabbing him around the waist and making him shout in protest. "Simon," he gasps, scandalized but laughing, and then the yells get louder when Simon actually lifts him clear off his feet and carries him—hauls him, really—the rest of the way to the bedroom.
Ryan beats futilely at Simon until Simon dumps him without ceremony on the bed. "Barbarian," Ryan accuses, glowering up at Simon, face and chest flushed pink. His jeans are still unbuttoned and he looks more than just a bit like a porno Simon saw once.
Ryan sees something in his eyes, Simon knows it, because he stretches, arms over his head, which makes the loose jeans slip lower over his hips. He spreads his legs a little. Simon draws a breath and Ryan gives him a look, the X-rated version of the ones he gives Simon all the time on stage, and Simon just had this downstairs on the rug, but damn if he doesn't want it again. Right now. All of it.
Simon generally gets what he wants.
Ryan is warm and limber under him, welcoming him home—to Ryan's bed, at least—with a kiss and two hot little hands that go straight for the waistband of Simon's jeans.
"Miss me?" Simon breathes into his ear, which always makes Ryan squirm.
"No." Ryan snorts derisively. Then he reaches down and smacks Simon firmly on the behind.
"You're such a liar," Simon grins. "You're so hot for me. Look at you, begging for it."
"Shut up and take off your pants," Ryan answers, thumbs hooked through Simon's belt loops.
He doesn't need to be told again. He leaves both their jeans in a pile on the floor and lies atop Ryan, enjoying the naked expanse of warm, bronzed skin. Now that they've got through their first frenzied reunion, they can take their time. Deep, wet, messy kisses that seem to last forever; the slow, sweet process of getting reacquainted with each other. Simon could spend hours like this: licking the shell of Ryan's ear; worrying his tight, hard nipples; kissing him just above the navel, where he's surprisingly ticklish; coaxing him open with fingers and tongue. Simon takes his time, drawing it out, so that when he finally sinks into Ryan's warm, pliant body and starts to move inside him, it's a matter of seconds before Ryan convulses against him and comes again, moaning and gasping for air.
He rocks into Ryan, fucking him slow and deep, and Ryan murmurs encouragement to him: Yes—so good—harder, Si—more. Simon gives him more, gives him everything, and then he holds Ryan tight against him as he shudders out his climax.
Ryan is a floppy pile of limbs as Simon clambers off of him and goes to the washroom to dispose of the used condom. He returns with a wet flannel, which he uses to wipe up as much of their mess as he can. Ryan, his face the picture of bliss, hums his contentment.
"Do you want to go out later?" Simon asks, moving the cloth in slow circles on Ryan's belly.
"Yeah," Ryan says, "give me five minutes," and then he falls fast asleep with his mouth half open. Two minutes later, Simon pokes him. There's no response.
Simon gets out of bed and finds his robe—the one he keeps here for exactly this purpose—and steps outside onto the veranda with his lighter and a pack of cigarettes. Ryan doesn't like him smoking in the house. Actually, Ryan doesn't like him smoking, full stop, but he can only be so courteous, even with Ryan. Especially with Ryan.
He lights up and leans on the railing, looking out over the Hollywood skyline. So very different from anything you'd find in England. The geography, the architecture, the people: even after all these years, coming to L.A. from London or to London from L.A. is still like stepping onto another planet.
After the first cigarette, he checks on Ryan again. He still hasn't moved. Simon decides, in his generosity, to take it as a compliment. But it's only 9:30—even jetlagged, he's not ready to fall asleep yet. Instead, he digs swim trunks out of "his" drawer and goes out back.
Even this late, more than two hours after sundown, the air is still holds the heat of the day, making the night pleasantly warm. And the pool is heated, which is even better. The outdoor lights go on automatically as he steps into their range, bathing the lawn in soft yellow. There are crickets chirping somewhere in the woods.
He sits on the edge of the pool for a moment, his legs in the water, before slipping off and submerging himself. It's cool and smells of chlorine. He swims a few laps, lazily, no concern for form or speed, just stretching his limbs and letting the water run over his body.
After a few minutes, he pauses at the end of the pool and looks up to see Ryan at the other end, wearing swim trunks. Ryan crouches and then drops into the water. He paddles over to Simon and settles, wrapping his arms around Simon's shoulders. "Sorry about that," he says, referring to his earlier comatose state.
"I knew you'd never make it past nine."
Ryan shrugs, smiles a little, and then leans in, kissing him languorously. In the water, Ryan weighs nothing, so it's easy to pick him up—his legs wrap around Simon's waist and hold tight—and steer him around the pool. Ryan laughs against his neck.
"Are we going to have a good series?" Simon asks rhetorically.
"The best," Ryan answers, for once not challenging him on series versus season. It's an old argument between them; Ryan says it's season since America invented television, and Simon says it's series because England invented the language. They usually agree to disagree.
"Where are we going?"
"Mmm," Ryan says, and kisses him again. "Boston. Atlanta. I don't remember."
"Best one yet," Simon says.
"Best one yet," Ryan agrees. "Not getting bored?"
"With you? Never." As if that's what Ryan is asking.
"Been a long time," Ryan muses.
"Yes," Simon agrees, pressing a closed-mouth kiss to his neck, "it has been."
"Si." Ryan pulls back and looks hard at him.
"What," Simon says, mimicking Ryan's sober tone, his serious face.
"They've offered me a three-year contract," Ryan says.
"I guess someone thinks you're not entirely useless," Simon says quietly to Ryan's ear.
"In addition to next year. So—four more years."
"Ah, you want to talk about the future."
"I like to have a plan."
Simon smiles. That's an understatement; Ryan needs to have a plan, he can't function without one. It's one of the things that's made him so successful. Simon grudgingly admires him for that. "And what is your plan this time?" he asks.
Ryan looks away, over the hillside at the Hollywood skyline. "I love the show," he says. "I mean, not all the time. It's exhausting. Some of the audition rounds—I get a splitting headache. But it's fun. It's familiar." He looks back at Simon, seriously. "And I sort of like working with you."
"I want to do it. That is," Ryan adds, "if you're up for it."
"Mmm," Simon agrees. "I am absolutely up for it."
"The show, Simon." Ryan turns his face away to escape Simon's mouth, shaking with what can be described only as giggles. "The show."
"Well, of course," Simon says, taking his hands back. "What did you think I was talking about?"
Ryan pulls him closer, shivering a little. It's getting cooler outside.
"Four more years," Simon says, "and then we'll see if America is sick of us yet."
He feels Ryan smile against his neck and takes that as a yes.