L.A. is the yin to London's yang: warm, thick smog and wide roads; bronzed pre-fabricated people and the gleam of novelty. The city is young, as cities go, even American cities, yet seemingly lodged in some timeless era of American pop culture.
Simon thinks he's in love. He gazes out the window of his hotel room, admiring the evening from twenty-three stories up, and unknots the tie he had to wear earlier to court the American network execs. He hates the things, never wears them. But there are things he hates worse.
He drops the tie on the bed and his jacket over the back of one of the chairs. He considers changing into jeans but decides against it. If Max's description of the place is accurate--and Max is never wrong, which is why Simon hired him--then he'll be fine as he is.
There's a car waiting for him outside. It's late September and hot, even at this late hour. He unfastens the top two buttons of his shirt as he opens the car door and slides into the backseat, tugging at his collar. That, too, will be appropriate attire tonight.
The music as he enters the building is briefly deafening, until his ears adjust to the volume. He gives his eyes a moment to adjust, too. Beyond the entryway, everything is dark, broken with intermittent flashes of light glinting off the glasses at the bar and the bodies of the patrons. It could be bright as broad daylight and he'd still blend into the crowd. He's forgotten what it's like to go out in public--to a club, even--and not be recognized. America is still unconquered territory. For now, he thinks with a small smile. He spares a thought for the network to which they pitched the show earlier. Those poor bastards will be kicking themselves in under a year. Someone is bound to get fired for passing them over. It was sad, really, but that was show business.
He makes his way to the bar through the crush of people and orders a beer. The music is something fiercely electronic that he doesn't recognize. He can feel the bass pounding in his chest. This is not his kind of music, but you can't very well cruise to Sinatra.
There are a few women here and there. Simon doesn't mind them--in fact, he loves them--but that's not why he's here tonight. It's become impossible to do this back home. Going out, looking over his options, being able to choose anyone from a crowd of hundreds of guys--it's a luxury, one he can afford only here in the "colonies."
For now, he's content to nurse his drink in the dark, soak in the atmosphere, and watch the dance floor. The men--most of them hardly more than boys, really--are invariably trim, muscled, and gorgeous. He wonders how many of them are here in L.A. to be movie stars. Probably not less than half, he guesses. So much beauty ready to throw itself begging at the feet of fame.
He orders a second drink and turns around, and that's when he sees him.
The boy--he can't be more than 26, and at 42, they're all boys to Simon now--squeezes his way out of the throng on the dance floor and walks to the bar. "Walks" really doesn't do it justice--"swaggers" would be more appropriate, perhaps. His jeans leave nothing to the imagination. His t-shirt is two sizes too small; as he turns around and leans back against the bar, he lifts the hem, revealing smooth abs and slender hips. Simon watches, transfixed. Blond hair in every direction, wide mouth, the kind of cheekbones most women would kill for, that slim but muscled body type Simon likes: a total twink. He looks like L.A. itself, like the living male embodiment of Hollywood. Simon thinks that if he's not already on TV, he will be. That, or in porn.
Mr. Hollywood gets his drink and leans back against the bar again, shirt pulling tight across his chest. The sight of his throat as he tips his glass to his mouth and swallows makes Simon feel things he doesn't usually let himself feel, not when he's at home, anyway. But here, where nobody knows his name or face, where he's completely anonymous, he lets himself feel.
Simon knows what it is to sense the weight of someone's gaze on him, and so does Hollywood, as he turns and meets Simon's eyes in the dark. The spastic club lights flash across his face, alternately illuminating it and casting it into shadow.
The music changes and Hollywood smiles directly at Simon before tossing back the rest of his drink and wading back into the crowd.
Simon can still see him through the thick mess of other dancers, moving fluidly with the staccato notes of the song, dancing briefly with another man and a moment later against a woman. His face has a slack, dreamy look; Simon considers what drugs he's likely taken tonight. Whether his face will have that same look later, when he's sprawled naked on Simon's bed.
The song ends. As another starts, Hollywood emerges from the dance floor once again, this time marching directly up to Simon. As he approaches, Simon suddenly realizes how small he is; he can't be more than 5'9".
Hollywood stops in front of him, then leans in, smiles disarmingly, and over the thump of the bass shouts, "Do you want to dance?"
His eyes are pale--blue, maybe green. It's hard to tell in the dark like this. Simon takes another swallow of his beer. "I don't dance."
Hollywood ducks his head, looks up at Simon through his eyelashes, and with a different tone, asks, "What do you do?"
There are many ways he could interpret this question. Hollywood's eyes sparkle a little; his smile is mischievous and smug. Simon can't help smirking back. "I'm in the music industry."
At once, Hollywood brightens, instantly looking years younger. "Me too," he says, and then he appears to catch himself, to shut down. "Maybe we shouldn't talk about it," he adds, more soberly.
"Perhaps not," Simon agrees. Unknown (for now) or not, this is Los Angeles. And this is not that kind of club. He is not that kind of guy.
The flirtatious grin comes back. "Buy me a drink?"
Simon does. He gets them each one, and they find a corner to be out of the way. They lean in close to be heard over the music.
"You're not from around here," Hollywood says.
"No. I'm just in for a few days. Business."
"Business," Hollywood nods, the picture of understanding. "You see much of L.A.?"
"No," Simon says. "It's just been meetings. I'd love to see more, but there hasn't been the time. And I'm leaving tomorrow."
"That's a shame," Hollywood says, moving close enough to Simon that their shoulders touch. "I'd love to show you around."
Simon takes a drink, feeling his face heat despite himself. "I have time for you to show me a few things," he says mildly.
Beside him, Hollywood laughs. "Where are you staying?"
"The London," Simon answers, and Hollywood half chuckles.
"That seems appropriate," he says dryly.
"I can get a car," Simon offers.
"Mmm," Hollywood agrees. "Sounds good."
Simon pages his driver. Beside him, Hollywood sways in rhythm with the music pounding through the speakers. Simon reaches, wraps an arm around his shoulders, and pulls him close, and then Hollywood lifts his chin to be kissed.
His lips are soft, pliant, surprisingly tentative for someone who had been so forward just a few minutes earlier. Simon cups his jaw, feels the soft flesh of an earlobe and the rough scrape of what will be stubble in a few hours. He pushes further, sliding his tongue into the man's mouth ... and that's when Hollywood pushes back, without warning, kissing him hard and fighting him for dominance. Hollywood's hand slides around the back of Simon's neck, angling him for better control. Simon puts an arm around his hips, pulling him in tight, pressing their bodies together until he can feel the heat of the Hollywood's body all down his front. All the way down. Simon breaks the kiss. "Outside," he says, leaving no room for argument, and then he turns for the exit, still holding Hollywood by the arm, practically dragging him along.
The air is cool outside compared to the stifling heat of the club. He takes a moment to breathe it in and clear his head before he spots the car and points to it. Simon glances back to make sure Hollywood is still with him; he is, following close on Simon's heels with his head ducked low. Simon frowns momentarily, wondering if he's missed something about this boy, if maybe he's somebody in this town. Or maybe he just wants to be.
They get into the car. "The hotel," Simon tells the driver, who pulls away from the curb, a wordless response. Hollywood leans heavily against Simon's shoulder, smelling of hair product and aftershave, and then his hand slinks behind Simon's head again and he steers Simon into another heated kiss. Simon kisses back, pushing Hollywood into the plush seats of the car, back against the padded door. Hollywood fights him, but only a little, nipping at his lips and pulling at the collar of his shirt. His mouth is hot and soft and insistent, moving easily against Simon's, with no lack of confidence. Simon likes this mouth. He likes it a lot. He likes everything else he can touch and see, too; he runs his hand from Hollywood's shoulder down his lean, muscled bicep, then crosses to his chest, hard and hot under the fitted t-shirt. He works out. Of course, this is L.A.
Hollywood does his fair share of groping, too, sliding a hand into the open collar of Simon's shirt while the other plays at the waistband of Simon's trousers, not quite unbuttoning, not quite slipping inside. He breaks from kissing Simon's mouth to licking along his jaw, sucking hard at the pulse point on Simon's neck, a hot little vampire. Simon hisses at the contact, just this side of the pleasure-pain divide, and digs his fingers into Hollywood's narrow hips.
Simon hears the driver clear his throat before he realizes that the car has come to a stop in front of the hotel. He separates himself from Hollywood only with great effort, turning his head so he can't see Hollywood's flushed face and swollen lips. He straightens his shirt, then reconsiders and yanks it down, trying and mostly failing to cover the front of his trousers. He gives Hollywood a little shove towards the door and then follows him, handing the chauffeur an American fifty on his way out.
Hollywood strolls through the lobby like he belongs there, and Simon has another moment of cognitive dissonance, wondering if this is something all L.A. boys know how to do. Simon follows him into the lift and presses the button for his floor. They stand at opposite sides, Hollywood with his hands in the back pockets of his too-tight jeans, pulling them even tighter across the front, across the obvious outline of his cock. Simon finds himself licking his lips, then stepping to the other side of the lift and licking Hollywood's lips instead.
They stumble down the hall to Simon's room, kissing all the while, which makes it difficult for Simon to get the key card into its slot--but he perseveres, and finally he's tumbling Hollywood through the door and into the shocking darkness of the suite. He'd forgotten to leave a light on. They fumble for a moment longer before Simon can find the switch and cast the room in a dull golden light. Perfect for Los Angeles. Perfect for Mr. Hollywood, who is rather golden himself, whose fingers are nimbly unfastening the buttons of Simon's shirt. He works from the bottom up, and when he reaches the last button, he slides his hands under the fabric and pushes it over Simon's shoulders and down his arms.
Simon reaches for the hem of Hollywood's t-shirt but freezes when he catches Hollywood's flinch. "What's wrong?" he asks, hands still hovering near Hollywood's waist.
Hollywood shrugs, a bit awkwardly, and then pulls the shirt over his head himself. "Nothing," he says, and then leans in to press his mouth to Simon's again, skin against skin, so Simon runs his hands down the smooth hot surface of Hollywood's chest, around to his back to cup his ass, and forgets about it.
His hands slide easily into the back pockets of Hollywood's jeans and then inside, and suddenly Simon can't get them off of him fast enough. He stops kissing long enough to find the button and zipper at the front. Hollywood licks his neck and he nearly forgets what he's doing for a moment, then gets it together and gets the jeans down over Hollywood's hips.
"Bed," Hollywood whispers into his ear. Simon doesn't need to be told twice.
They kiss, wrapped around each other, for what feels like hours, considering the time and the reason Simon brought him back here. He doesn't usually do this with one-nighters, but Hollywood can kiss; he kisses with single-minded focus, as if kissing is what he was born to do. They kiss even while Simon slips out of his trousers and pushes them off the end of the bed, even as Simon slides his fingers under the waistband of Hollywood's underwear and divests him of his last bit of clothing.
Simon rolls them over so that he's on top, with Hollywood beneath him, flushed and panting, and then reaches for the table by the side of the bed, grabbing a condom and the bottle of lubricant he'd set there earlier. He drops them on the bed next to them. Hollywood immediately goes still.
"What is it?" Simon asks.
Hollywood looks at the condom and lube. "I don't--I don't fuck one-night stands," he says.
Simon hesitates, but only for a moment. "That's fine," he says smoothly, "I'm happy to be the one doing the fucking."
"No," Hollywood says, shutting his eyes briefly and shaking his head. "You know what I mean. I don't, not on the first--not the first time. It's dangerous."
"So is going home with strange men you meet in bars," Simon says.
"I can take care of myself," Hollywood says defensively, and while Simon inwardly scoffs I very much doubt that, he adds, "Besides--you're safe. I can tell that you're someone who has as much to lose as I do. But I still don't fuck on a first date."
Simon watches him very closely. "All right," he says at last. He picks up the stuff and drops it back on the bedside table. If those are the rules, he can play by them. Perhaps Hollywood isn't as L.A. as Simon first thought.
Hollywood looks contrite for a moment, and then he drags Simon back down for another soul-searing kiss, his mouth full of apologies, full of promise. "I do other things," Hollywood murmurs against Simon's lips, nipping at him with bright white teeth.
"I just bet you do," Simon answers. "Show me?"
Hollywood stops kissing him and answers with a look. Then he pushes, rolling Simon over onto his back, and scoots down the bed. He catches a nipple in his mouth on the way down, sucking gently, then harder. Simon groans in answer. This is a preview, he supposes: how very L.A.
Hollywood moves, sliding further down the bed, until his breath is hot and wet against Simon's cock. Simon digs his fingers into Hollywood's shoulders. It feels like he's been hard for hours, even though it can't have been more than forty-five minutes since they left the club, and he's not going to suffer this kind of teasing much longer. He slides his fingers into the stiff blond spikes of Hollywood's hair--dyed, he now realizes--and tilts his head up so Simon can meet his eyes. They're green.
"Suck me," he says in a low voice, not quite a command but certainly not a request.
A corner of Hollywood's mouth quirks into a half-smile. Then he bows his blond head and sucks Simon into his mouth.
Tight, wet heat. Simon lets his head drop to the pillow, mouth open, groaning. This is better than fucking. He was right: Hollywood sucks cock with the same focus he uses to kiss, hot mouth around Simon's dick, taking him all the way in, sucking him down. He sees Hollywood's lips wrapped around his cock, the sight filthy, obscene; he watches as Hollywood tightens a hand around the base and hollows his cheeks, sucking in earnest.
Hollywood pulls back, letting Simon's cock slip from his mouth, wet and shining with spit, and then he slides down again, agonizingly slow. Simon moans and--he can't help it--starts to move with it, shallow thrusts at first, just to see if he can. Hollywood lets him, lets his hot wet lips go slack and loosens his hold on Simon's hip just enough so that Simon can fuck his mouth.
"Oh. Oh, god," Simon says, barely above a whisper. He looks down, watching his cock slide in and out of Hollywood's gorgeous mouth, feeling Hollywood work him all over with that tongue, and he tightens his grip on Hollywood's hair and warns, "Close, I'm close--"
But Hollywood doesn't stop, doesn't stop what he's doing with his tongue and doesn't stop Simon from rocking into his mouth again and again, pushing forward into that incredible, irresistible heat, and a moment later, Simon gasps and swears under his breath as he comes. Hollywood takes it--just lets Simon spill into his mouth, face dreamy and eyes closed. Simon watches for as long as he can until his own eyes fall shut.
He feels rather than sees Hollywood draw away, letting Simon's softening cock fall from his mouth. The mattress shifts as he moves. Simon hears the sound of water running in the next room. When he opens his eyes again, he sees Hollywood standing at the end of the bed, his cock at half-mast, looking unsure of himself.
Simon grins. "Do you the same favor?" he offers.
Hollywood's eyes on him are liquid heat. He takes the last step forward and climbs back onto the bed, crawling his way up Simon's body, and then he stretches out on top of Simon, pressing their bodies together, and catches Simon's mouth in a kiss.
Simon runs his hands down the sides of Hollywood's body, feeling the hard press of Hollywood's cock against his thigh. He takes it in his hand and strokes once, twice, watching Hollywood catch his lower lip in his teeth and close his eyes in pleasure. Simon rolls them over to get a better angle, slides his thumb over the silky soft head of Hollywood's cock, and watches Hollywood arch off the bed and dig his fingers into Simon's shoulders.
When he falls back onto the pillow again, Simon follows, licking at the tender skin of Hollywood's neck, then moving lower to bite one dark nipple between his teeth. The keening noise he gets in response to that goes straight down his spine. He keeps stroking Hollywood's cock, coaxing more sounds from Hollywood's throat, soft moans and increasingly desperate pleas: Yes, yes, like that, yes yes yes--
Hollywood writhes and his cock jerks in Simon's hand and he comes all over both of them.
Simon lies next to Hollywood for a moment, watching his chest rise and fall as he regains his breath, and then he gets out of bed and goes to get a towel. He wipes himself down in the washroom, just a quick swipe, and then returns to the bedroom and tosses the towel to Hollywood, who catches it in two hands. He pushes himself up to a sitting position with a low groan as Simon sits back down on the edge of the bed.
"Thanks," Hollywood says, waving the towel at Simon, before wiping the drying come off his belly with a slight grimace.
They sit like that, side by side on the bed, for what feels like several minutes. Simon isn't looking at the time; he's looking at the blond hairs on Hollywood's thighs, his softening cock, the indentation of his navel.
Finally, Hollywood speaks. "What time is your flight tomorrow?"
Simon stares at Hollywood's bare, hairless chest, golden-brown in the dim light. "Half nine," he says. "Half past nine," he amends when Hollywood gives him a blank look. "In the morning."
The corner of Hollywood's kiss-swollen mouth curves up, and then he looks away. "Should I go?"
"Yes," Simon says, "you should," and then he tumbles Hollywood backwards onto the bed and kisses him like he might never stop.
L.A. hasn't changed. Simon stares out the window of the car as it glides down Santa Monica Boulevard under the care of another anonymous besuited driver. It still carries the gleam of things expensive and yet somehow cheap.
The American version of the show was picked up, as he knew it would be, although not by either of the networks he'd courted on his last trip here. Their loss. He'd spent weeks arguing with himself and Simon Fuller about judging the American version, but now that he's back on the ground in Los Angeles, he realizes he'd been kidding himself. The magnetic draw of this place is too much to bear. If he hadn't come to do American Idol, he'd have ended up back here eventually for something else.
Of course, the paycheque and the prospect of being on American television hadn't hurt, either.
The Fox studios are buzzing with activity when the car pulls up. He follows an assistant through the carpeted halls, takes a seat, and accepts the cup of tea he is offered. He's already met Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul; now he's here to see the American version of Ant and Dec they've found to host the thing. He's been briefed on them: one a stand-up comedian, essentially unknown; the other a well-liked Los Angeles DJ with a few minor TV credits under his belt. Apparently neither of them knew the other until they were hired. Simon has his suspicions about the likely success of that arrangement, but it's the format that worked back in the UK, and he's not here as a producer.
When he's in his darker moods, he doesn't know how the show will do in the states. Their reception could be totally different. Pop Idol could have been a flash in the pan, a one-hit wonder. He doesn't know a thing about the American music industry, American television audiences, American people. He's drawn here, to California, but he's a tourist. He's confident--all right, he's cocky--but the reality is that anything could happen.
There's a knock, and then the new American hosts walk through the door, and Simon's heart stops in his chest.
His hair is longer, or perhaps taller would be a better choice of word, as he's wearing it gelled straight up in messy spikes, and his clothes aren't as slutty, but the blond host is unmistakably the same twink Simon picked up the last time he was here, the one with the wide mouth and the wicked tongue. Simon barely even notices the other man, the shock of recognition is so powerful. He's entirely captivated by the blond. But from the way the two of them cross the room, Simon doesn't think it's an isolated effect. Hollywood outshines his partner already, before either of the two has even spoken.
A producer does the introductions. Simon gives Brian a cursory glance, nod, and handshake. Hollywood--Ryan--he gives a closer examination, but there's nothing behind the toothy smile and blank, friendly expression, or at least nothing that Simon can see. They shake each other's hands like true strangers, as if that long night at the London in L.A. was nothing but a fantasy.
Simon continues to stare at him throughout the meeting, only half-listening to the Fox people prattling on about the new American updates to the original format, watching Ryan's face and remembering the flush of his cheeks and the arc of his neck as he came that night--the second time he came.
When the meeting ends, Simon takes his time at leaving. He finds Ryan at the doorway, hands on his hips, that same bland friendliness on his face, apparently waiting for Simon. He smiles as Simon approaches and says, "You don't waste any time, do you?"
Simon freezes for just a moment before collecting himself. Is that a sign? Some kind of acknowledgment? His face must betray his confusion, because a moment later, Ryan adds, "Judging, I mean. You were staring at me the whole time we were in there. So how'd I do? Do I measure up?"
Simon stares. He met this boy in a club, dressed like a hustler, all dirty smile and tight jeans, and then took him back to a hotel and screwed him. Today, that fantasy is here as a professional, earnest smile and safe, all-American wardrobe that doesn't say "do me" so much as "hire me." His face gives away no secrets.
"We'll see," Simon says and brushes past him, out the door.