Romantic, wordy, and a tad goofy.

The Groupie Part 17



"So, Ethan, would you be interested? I need your answer now, or I'll have to call someone else."

"But… I've never done it before." I protested. "I have no idea what I'm doing, I wouldn't even begin to understand…"

"My dear, it's modeling, not astrophysics. You strike me as smarter than much of the talent." She sounded amused, and just a bit impatient with me. We'd been through this at least three times. And it's not like I had said NO, exactly, nor had I said yes. 

Modeling? Really? I knew, of course, there was a market for male models. But most of my exposure was through my furtive gay magazine purchases and online sites of questionable repute. There had been times where I had looked at fashion shoots for reference material, but in those cases they were simply figures in a scene. Thus the idea of male fashion models was oddly alien to me.

Christina's call was a surprise. After asking how I was doing, if I was still with that handsome lead singer of mine (it'd only been a few days! Did we seem so tenuous? Wait, didn't want that one answered.) she cut to the chase and asked if I was still in London. Once I had confirmed that I was, she offered me a last minute modeling job.

I'd been making a fool of myself for a good few minutes by this point, asking questions on such matters of what I should wear, and in several different forms, why me. Her patience was impressive.

Someone was now talking in the background, and she reassured the speaker she would be there in a moment. Then she upped her sell.

"Ethan, what are you going to do in New York again?"

"Uh, go to school."

"Art school, correct?"


"And how are you going to pay for art school?" I didn't really get a chance to respond to that. "Are you going to get a job? Wait tables? Scholarships?"


"It won't be enough, you know, it's never enough in that city, unless you want to graduate up to your lovely eyes in debt, live in a horrible apartment closet with 6 other art students, and live off of canned beans. But you have a genetic gift, and I have a need, and it's a gift and a need that is of the now, a need that is HERE."

I was silent. She'd done this before, sold this line. And this cutting, rational but very dominant saleslady was a bit scary. She'd certainly listened to my ramblings at the club that night closer than I believed she was doing at the time.

"I thought it was just one time?"

"Not if you do well."

She had tapped successfully into the cause for my most significant long-term anxiety: my financial situation in New York. Wow, what if it really was a way I could make some money on the side, steadily, on top of waiting tables? What if I really could… more importantly in the now, I could make more money for this trip, this furtively expensive trip. But I couldn't ignore my future forever.

And it's not like I had anything specific to do that day. There was following Zane and Snowborne around, of course, but that was a fluid occupation, not a fixed one. I had to laugh at myself a bit for thinking of being a groupie as an occupation at all.

"Okay. I'll do it." My voice sounded a bit squeaky. How embarrassing - I was glad she couldn't see me blush over the phone.

"Wonderful." Christina didn't sound like there had ever been any doubt. She laid out where I needed to be and when, and gave me a few tips on how I should show up.  For example, clean and with nothing in my hair. "Please, don't be high, it might calm your nerves, but it doesn't help when we're trying to give you instructions." I felt quite naive after that one. You wouldn't have thought I'd spent the last few days with a rock band, would you?

"Won't be a problem." I promised.

"As to your pay…" She mentioned a very solid amount for a simple day's work, I blinked. It was definitely more than I expected.

She misunderstood my silence. "I know it's not much, but you're a beginner, it's a UK only campaign, and male models get paid a lot less than the girls."

"No no, it's fine, really."



"Yes?" She sounded less patient now that I had agreed.

"Are you sure I'm right for this? That I'm… up to your standards?" couldn't resist asking one last time.

She laughed. "Oh, you are adorable, you really are. But that's a stupid question, isn't it? I would not have wasted time on you if I didn't think you were, Ethan. See you at 2."

And she was gone.

Stupid question? I put the room phone back down on the cradle slowly, and still wasn't quite sure what had just happened.

Modeling? Really? My first reaction was that it was ridiculous. Modeling. In London. Me.

Was I an idiot for agreeing? Was it going to be porn? Although Trafalgar Square was a somewhat strange place for porn, I guess. And she'd been with Bridget, who everyone in the world knew was a legitimate model, I mean, supermodel, really.

I didn't know much about designers, but I wondered if it was someone famous. Not that I knew many designers, but it would be kinda cool.

Oh my god I couldn't breathe.  What the hell was I thinking…

As I was in the midst of this little panic attack there was a knock at my door, and I opened it to Zane. He was leaning against the wall, looking ridiculously cool, per usual.

I hadn't been aware I looked upset, but he narrowed his eyes at me, and entered the room instantly, hustling me inside. "Something wrong?" he asked, his hand on my upper arm, squeezing in a pleasingly protective way.

Seeing him there, with his tight blue jeans and his green shirt and his ruffled hair was distracting; all my frustration and strange, horrible/wonderful confusion at his games last night came rushing back. But that meant I could feel an erection coming, and I knew now really wasn't the time. To fight it I re-concentrated on my anxiety.

"I, um. One of the people I met at the club, with Bridget, she, uh, called me. I'm… modeling today."

"Modeling?" Zane looked as puzzled as I sounded. "What are you talking about?"

Sense, I clearly wasn't making. "This woman, she's a model agent, I met her at the club -"

"You said that, with Bridget, the woman you were dancing with." His voice was bone-dry.

"yeah…. and, well, a model dropped out or disappeared or something, and she wants me to take his place. She said… she said I had the look they wanted. Or, something. And... I know you're busy today, and have a lot to do, and I thought, 'why not?'. So I said …yes?"  It wasn't the proper place for a question, but I was asking him for his permission, was I?

It was unclear if that was a good idea or not, but too late now.

"Hmmmm." He looked at me, bemused. Maybe he'd tell me not to do it? That would be a relief, rather. Probably why I asked him. But he didn't. "You'll be great."

I sighed.


"I'd hoped you'd tell me not to do it."

"Why would I do that?" I didn't know, and I didn't want to say that maybe I had hoped he'd make my decisions for me. No, that wasn't it. That was not, of course, really his role, I guess. "I'm sure you'll be excellent, Ethan. You certainly have the look."

"Uh huh." I must have sounded so unbelieving he laughed, and I lost myself momentarily in his rolling tones. I looked at his mouth, and suddenly hoped that he would kiss me with it, before he left, hmmm, maybe he didn't have to go so quickly… "I've got to go, but we'll be back late afternoon. Hit up the front desk when you get to the hotel, if we're not there."

Sigh. No such luck on the kiss, it appeared. Damn. But my heart skipped a beat when he stopped again to say -

"Oh, right. Promise me one thing. Don't sign a contract, or sign anything, until you bring it back here for Erica and I to look at it, got it?"

"Am I that naive?" I joked.

He gave me a wry smile. "How do you want me to answer that?"

Probably not at all. It stung a bit, but who was I to deny reality? Time to change the subject. I smiled. "Have a great interview!"

"Mmmm, I'm sure it'll be fine, if Jarod doesn't start rambling again." Annoyance flashed over his face. "Some of the crazy crap he says ends up being published, and we come off as party assholes."

"What do you mean?"

"There was the time he told Rolling Stone touring was like an endless buffet of women and drugs and how much he loved it. This becomes shorthand for the group's attitude, not just our damn bassist." he smiled. "Rick has threatened to kill him in front of journalists countless times, at this point."

"Oh." I thought about it. "I've never seen it that way - but that is how it ends up being? Read something from one member, and you figure the whole band is doing that." I was totally guilty of that.

"Exactly." His smile widened. I still wanted that kiss. "But really, there are worse things to have in print."

And as if he had read my mind (or maybe I was watching his mouth?) he leaned in, and brushed his lips against mine. "We'll call you when done. Have fun today. Remember," he said, quickly switching to serious, "no contracts."

"No contracts." I agreed, and with one last grin he was gone.

‘You'll call me,’ I thought ruefully. It was a hell of a lot better than it had been, but I was still just a little bit uneasy about us. He would call, right? Right. No need to worry about it any more.

Luckily (or maybe un-), I had this wacky modeling thing to focus all my anxiety into, and distract me from my constant Zane-musings.

I almost chickened out of the shoot several times. All that kept me from doing so was a sense of responsibility and a knowledge I'd feel like an ass. What I did was arrive in the area more than an hour early, knowing that it'd be harder to wimp out if I was just around the corner.

It was a blur, and what I remember was mostly that it was an interesting experience. There were about 8 people involved on the tech side of things, lots of light stands and equipment, lots of tourists looking on. The man in charge was a skinny gentleman in his 50s, and everyone treated him with the utmost respect. Not the photographer, but seemed to be some sort of creative director for the client.

Christina was there, and relief was plain on her face when she spotted me. That I had been pegged as a possible flake-out was embarrassing, and I was glad I had showed.

There was a little makeshift booth with minimal privacy, and young, pushy, very attractive people ordering me around in British accents. They clued in quickly that I'd never done this before, and most just rolled their eyes at me. But the one guy who did most of the minding of me, a not much older man named James with hipster glasses and the calm air of someone with experience, was very patient. He explained what we were doing, what the concept of the shoot was (young country gentry in the city, with an anachronistic twist; we were supposed to be men out of time, so to speak.), and how easy what I had to do was going to be. 

I exchanged a shy hello with the two other young men changing with me - I was the shy one, not them - and I probably would have given them a serious once over if my mind wasn't all tangled up in the vibrating mess that were my nerves. One was blond, one black, that's all I got.

The actual shoot flew by, despite some discomfort. We were dressed in clothes created for Fall and thus it was quite hot, and having to pose in front of such a large and public audience was difficult. But all they wanted us to do was stand, look at the camera, look away from the camera, walk, sit, etc etc. It made me feel a bit inhuman at moments, like a very large doll. And yet there was a peace to that fact, a distancing calm gained by turning myself over this team of image masters.

When I started to freak out I put myself into dance mode. As in, back when I had done ballroom dancing as a junior competitor. The crowds weren't people, they were paintings, or moving video at the periphery of my vision. The important thing was to concentrate on what was expected of me, what my body needed to do. All in all, it seemed to work. There were a couple of times were I had to have a command explained in detail, but I tried not to make the same mistakes twice, and commit what they told me to memory.

A sub context to the whole shoot was that I was somewhat constantly thinking about Zane. Maybe it was watching these made-up, beautiful men pose, having to admit they were undeniably attractive, that brought it all back. Zane. Sex. Emotions. Him wanting me to stay. It was kinda distracting.

At one point the other model to my left, Samuel, (we were chatting at one point, and he mentioned he was from the UK, but parents were Senglenese. He was so good-looking it was almost blinding) started dropping me hints, which was very useful. The other guy, Thom, was more into the occasional witty comment, but they were only barbed, not cruel. They were good guys. I'd been a bit worried they'd be divas. Divos? Jerks.

When it was over, 4 hours later, I was a strange sort of exhausted. My inner peace was seriously strained. I'd not been perfect, and I was starting to worry that, honestly, I'd been a disaster. Too much time standing and thinking, really. I liked that about waiting tables - the non-stop action, It didn't give me much time to THINK. Or overthink, as the case might be.

I went back to the booth, and started to undress.

"You get to keep the clothes." James unexpectedly appeared behind me, his expression turning amused as he took in my shock.

"Really?" I looked down at what I was wearing,

touching the lapel, with the touch of respect I believed such nice things deserved. It was a shiny charcoal outfit, a casual suit with a blue vest underneath and a blue T-shirt under that. The pants were tapered, but not too tight. It was worth far more than I could afford, honestly. "Seriously? But it's so nice!"

"Seriously. Although it's a bit hot for that coat." He helped me take it off, and handed it to me. "It's a bonus of this firm, they believe if they treat the talent well they'll get treated well in return, and the ones they want will come back." He then told me not to expect that treatment on most shoots - I really wasn't sure if I was actually going to be ON any further shoots, but I just nodded and thanked him profusely. Christina wasn't around any longer, or I'd have also thanked her.

My plan was to slip out as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, despite not feeling even faintly unobtrusive in my snazzy suit, but I was stopped by Thom and Samuel.

"You're lucky, you are," Thom sounded amused. People were constantly amused by me, it seemed. Maybe I should just get used to it? "That's one of the best outfits we wore today." He looked down at his, which was rather a variation on the one I was wearing, except in black. "I feel like I'm going to a funeral."

"That isn't exactly Thom's usual style," Samuel confided, arching a perfect eyebrow. "he's more into punk shite, torn jeans and all that."

"Fuck you, cunt," Thom mock-snarled, "You're always done up like you're heading to church, all proper."

"Nothing wrong with a touch of class."

"You saying I've no class?"

They started to squabble, and I had to grin. They'd worked together before, it appeared. Still, I had to fight the urge to fidget. To be completely honest, I was hoping there would be a call from Zane when I got back to the hotel, and was a touch impatient.

"I'm heading back to my hotel - um, it was really nice to meet you."

"Yeah, where you staying?"

I told them, and they looked impressed. I tried to dispel that quickly "I'm staying with a friend." I put my hands in my pocket. "Not for long, actually."

"Long enough to hang out?" I blinked at Thom, and he grabbed a piece of paper off an assistant. "Here's my mobile, give me a call." He gave me a huge, pearly white smile, and I noticed something lionesque about him. He was a really interesting looking guy, and I'd been too distracted to notice until that moment. Beautiful. There was something hungry in his eyes.

"Okay." It was nervous, but heartfelt.

We said goodbye, and they grinned at my bumbling. Sigh. I was like a one-man sitcom. No, wait, probably not that interesting - youtube series, maybe.

When I got back to the hotel it was obvious the band weren't in their rooms, so I hit up the front desk, as requested.

I was then sent to the concierge desk, and the slim, charming blond gave me a piece of paper and a cell phone, a slick smartphone with a lot more going on than any phone I'd ever had in my possession. Customers at the hotel, yeah, or some of my rich friends in high school. But personally? As if my mom and I could justify something like this.

Wow. Well, maybe Erica would have another use for it once I was gone.. I mean, I'd only have it for a little while longer, right?

What upset me more was that it also came with an envelope of money. I sighed to myself as I stuffed it in my pocket, blushing and hoping the desk clerk wasn't judging me behind that smooth, solicitous expression. I really wished he'd stop that. Zane, I mean. And his money. It made me uneasy.

I called the number the concierge gave me, and Erica was the one to pick up. She sounded a little tense, but told me to take a taxi to some recording place called Abbey Studios on a Wright Road. She did say I couldn't miss it, and just to make sure to get one of the official, uniquely shaped little licensed cabs that the band had been taking everywhere, not a knockoff.

"Okay, mom." I said it cheerfully and with amusement at her tone of worry, and she snorted at me at me before hanging up the phone.

And that reminded me of something, with a heavy dose of guilt as a rider. I knew I should call my own mother. I'd been avoiding the question of whether I should tell her about my run in with dad. Okay, it was actually a pretty simple question to answer, that would be a big fat 'NO'.

I was also avoiding the question of whether I was going to call my dad or not. I was leaning towards 'not', but it wouldn't have been true avoidance if I was anywhere even near a decision on that one. Which I wasn't. I had a feeling I'd acted like an idiot, that showing up and saying nothing had been needlessly dramatic and accomplished nothing.

But should I care? I mean, really, he was the king of the empty gesture, the belief that brief drama equaled substance. Maybe it was time for him to get his own back.

But conversely, I didn't want to be my dad, or to act like him in any way. No, no, avoiding all of that.

I went up to my room, wondered if I should change from my outfit from the shoot, but I had to admit I felt pretty good. Spiffy.  I took off the jacket - too hot for that in any case - but kept the rest, and grabbed my sketchbook. If they were busy in a studio I didn't want to get in anybody's way, and I could keep myself busy for endless hours if I could draw.

Got in a cab per instructions, and it wasn't long until I was at the studio, a slick, professional place on a business-y street. I got out of the cab and was surprised to see about a dozen young women and a sprinkling of men there, cooling their heels. A few were more solidly girls and boys than adults.

The outside looked strangely familiar, and I couldn't quite place where. It was just a stretch of nice London road, a crosswalk, etc.

The girls eyed me as I went to the door. I was about to open it when one of them, a dark haired girl who was pretty despite her hip-but-shapeless clothes and a lot of makeup, approached me. "You here for Snowborne?"

There was a touch of confrontation to the question, and I did have to parse her words due to a heavy British accent whose cadences I'd never heard before. It had a lot of personality. I wondered where she was from.

This was all figured out later, of course, and at the time wasn't fast enough to ponder my answer. "Yes."

This was a bad idea.

"REALLY?" She shrieked, and I winced. The other girls inched closer, eyes wide and more than a little feverish. It took work to not back up against the wall, clutching my messenger bag to my chest. "Are you working with them? Are you a musician? Are you a producer or something? Have you met them before!"

"Um, I'm just a friend?"

They groaned, and I wasn't sure if it was because they were disappointed in my mundane designation or if they were jealous. (Although I wasn't myself even sure if that was a fair claim to make, 'friend'. "Screwing Zane Butler" seemed like a bad plan, however. For many reasons.)

"So, you're, mmm, fans?" I asked. It was probably a needless question.

"Oh, yeah!" The dark-haired girl said, whose name I soon learned was Vanessa, nodding vigorously. She then started to explain to me, at a speed so breakneck and sometimes using slang I've never heard that I didn't get it all, that they were their ultimate fans in England. Been following them since the first album, every concert in the UK, worked two jobs to afford it, they had a Twitter feed that tracked the band's movements and they were the first ones to hear they went into the studio so they were there and there'd probably be more in a little bit and all the new fans that were coming on after the new album were just fair-weather and didn't understand them and wasn't it cool they were going to record here Zane was a god and he once said her name and then another girl started to talk about how she was RICK'S #1 fan and he was the prettiest and -

My vision started to get blurry at some point. Their enthusiasm and endless talking was making me want to crawl into the alleyway and whimper incoherently.

"Um, that's great, I'll tell them you were here…" I said weakly with as much of a smile as I could muster, and slipped through the door before words could come out of Vanessa's open mouth.

I got inside the small lobby, and damned if I wasn't sweating. How did they handle it? I'd thought it before when seeing the band mobbed after concerts, but I really didn't ever want to be famous. It wasn't appealing to me whatsoever.

"Can I help you?" The well-dressed young man behind the desk asked, eying me with a touch of suspicion. It made me wonder if maybe Vanessa and her friends had tried to get past him already.

I told him I was there as a guest of the band, and despite my fears he lead me back through a small maze of hallways and very nice equipment to a large sound room.

I'd never been in a studio before, only recognizing the room from TV and movies, and I tried not to gawk. So many buttons and levers and panels and dials and… It put me in awe of the people who worked with all that.

Zane and Erica were standing near the front of the room, near the booth glass, talking to a stout middle-aged man in a suit with an American accent. Jared was sitting on a black leather couch at the back wall. Possibly napping. Dustin was beside him, tapping something out quietly with his sticks, drifting in his own private world.

Rick was standing near his band mate and his manager, listening to the conversation but not joining in. His aspect was bored, per usual. There was a serious looking guy in a polo shirt and glasses sitting at the consul, looking at the dials and writing something in a notebook.

They all looked up as I came in and the man who'd lead me there left, closing the door behind me. I nodded and smiled at them, stopping for a moment for a greeting, but changed my mind. It was probably best that I get out of their way as soon as possible, not wanting to interrupt the conversation in progress.

"Who's that?" The big guy said, narrowing his eyes at me. I instantly didn't like him. Arrogance radiated from him in waves.

"My cousin, Ethan," Rick said smoothly as he gave me an arch look full of feigned indulgence, and I resisted the urge to give him a massive stink eye. "He's hanging out with us here in the city. Don't pay attention to him."

The guy grunted, and went back to holding forth.

 I moved towards the couch, nodded in greeting at Dustin, and sat next to him.

I noticed that the drummer would occasionally move his tapping over to the snoozing bassist's arms and legs, causing the latter to twitch and snort in protest but settle quickly until it happened again. I had to grin.

I also surreptitiously watched the conversation going on a few feet away. Neither Zane nor Erica looked overjoyed at the situation. Zane's expression was a blank slate, as it often was, and from what I could gleam from Erica's body language she would prefer to punch him. Her lips were tight and drawn, her fingers digging into her crossed arms. From what I could hear he was telling them how he though they should go ahead and use their new single from the movie as a centerpiece for everything they did, and needed to be more assertive in marketing.

It was not a discussion, it was a push, and even listening to his voice across the room was grating.

I pulled out my sketchbook and started drawing, hoping that would avoid any attention from the people in the room who I'd rather be ignored by.

Unfortunately, Rick was blatantly bored and I was an obvious target. A couple of minutes after I began drawing he was next to me, looking down.

I flipped the page I was working on to a fresh on and tried to ignore him, but, of course, it was pretty impossible. He was on the arm of the sofa, looming, looking down and smirking.

"How was the modeling, pretty boy?" he asked quietly, his trademark snarl on display.

"Fine." I looked at him. "But you're prettier."

I don't know where that came from. I guess I meant it as an insult, although I believed it was true. Rick, in my eyes, was all sorts of 'pretty', what with his androgynous blond looks, his dramatically hipster / emo way of dressing himself. It wasn't really my way to be as flashy and eye-catching as he was.

Another reason that came out of my mouth was the fact that I had just been surreptitiously drawing him. I know, I know, it didn't make much sense to try to ignore someone and avoid their attention by concentrating on them, but it'd been hard to resist. Like Zane he was naturally eye-catching, and his outwardly scornful body language was fun to try to capture. He'd never be as sexy as Zane was to me, but I'd be lying if I didn't at least admit he was indeed attractive.

"Prettier?" He lifted an eyebrow. He seemed a bit taken aback by my out from-left-field comment, a half-snarl on his face. "I doubt that."

"Yeah, that's a hard one." Dustin looked up from his knee/Jared drumming, his expression drolly serious and thoughtful. "You're both pretty. But very differently pretty. Hm."

Now Rick started to look offended. "I am not 'pretty', you cueballed wanker. I'm not the one who was just prancing around in fancy clothing - which he seems to have brought with him - for money."

I furrowed my brow. "You prance around a lot more on stage than I did today, actually… in pretty dramatic outfits. You do THAT for money."

Dustin chuckled.

"This is a ridiculous conversation." Rick noted testily.

"You started it." I said, knowing it was childish.

"You did, too." Dustin agreed with me.

"Shut up, Dustin."

I went back to my drawings, proud to have possibly scored a couple of points. Maybe I just needed to say what I thought and stop letting him steamroll me. He didn't seem used to someone actually talking back to him - which marked him as a true bully. 

I'd hoped he'd move away, but he didn't, although he was there in blissful silence for at least 15 minutes or so. Erica was now talking in a voice tinged was frustration, but her antagonist kept talking over her in a way so disrespectful and condescending it made me wince. Zane couldn't have spoken more than once or twice. I went through a few sketches until I alighted on an idea I enjoyed broadening.

I'd actually forgotten Rick was sitting there, lost as I was in my drawing, until he snorted.

I looked up, and saw he was peering down at my picture, a caricature of the guy Erica and Zane were talking to. I'd done my best to pull out the slimy and self-impressed aspects of his personality and carriage, exaggerating his features, and had written "blah blah blah" coming from his gaping mouth.

"Nice." He said, grudgingly, a small smile on his face.

Dustin leaned over, giving Jared a good "bonk" to the side of the head with his stick that caused the bassist to jerk up, snorting himself out of sleep.

"That's fantastic, Ethan." the drummer complimented, and I hoped I wasn't blushing. It was nice to hear them praise me, especially Rick, as much as it annoyed me that I felt that way. He wasn't just a bully, he was an effective bully.

"That's fucking HILARIOUS." Jared said in a voice that was far too loud, and we all winced, as it was impossible for it to not draw the attention of the group across the room.

I closed my sketchbook guiltily, which probably didn't help the situation.

With the strange sensitivity of the self-impressed human who knows, somehow, he's being mocked, the guy in the suit looked at me with narrowed eyes.

"Something funny over there?"

I wasn't sure what to say, opening my mouth but nothing came out… and Rick came to my rescue.

"Yeah… my cousin's just drawing some silly cartoons, we were just admiring them."

"Fucking AWESOME cartoons," Jarod chimed in with a tone of voice that he probably thought was insider-y but was actually a bit too revealing. It was tempting to poke him with my pen. He was like a little kid.

The guy's lip curled, and there was a moment where it looked like he was going to storm over and demand to see my sketchbook. He was certainly on the edge of getting very angry at us, and I was briefly terrified I was going to get Snowborne in trouble.

"It's nothing," Rick shrugged, sensing the same thing I did. "We're sorry to interrupt." Jarod chortled, but Rick had diffused the situation enough if Suit came over he'd look like an idiot, and clearly, his decision was that it wasn't worth it.

"Rock bands," He snarled, shaking his head. "You're all just a bunch of goddamn monkeys, you know that?"


How could anyone answer that? No one tried.

His annoyance clear, he wrapped up with Erica and Zane - "It would be in your best interest if you took everything I said very seriously, or you'll squander your new lucky fame, like so many bands have. Better bands." He added maliciously, and then he left.

There was a moment of silence in the studio room, where even the engineer had looked up from his fiddling and was watching us in bemusement.

It was Erica who broke the silence. "God I hate that arrogant bastard! What the hell does he think we are, children?"

"'Goddamn Monkeys' was his exact phrasing, I believe." Dustin noted.

"He's an ass." Zane agreed, his voice tight. "But one we can't avoid."

"Of course we can't avoid him, he's our boss. But he's still a chauvinistic, nasty asshole. He's so fucking infuriating…."

"Who is he?" I asked, overwhelmed by curiosity.

"Greg Mariton, head of our division at the label." Erica flopped down in a chair with an angry 'woof' of air. "He's not the usual person we have to deal with - thank god, or I don't think we'd be with Tropical any longer - but he'd come by to ostensibly congratulate us on the rising popularity of our single. That's not how it came out, of course."

"Seemed more along the lines of 'aren't you a bunch of lucky fucks, it's not going to last, so hawk this movie and song as much as you can and make us more goddamn money before you fall off the radar, assholes'", Rick said dryly.

"He's famous for treating his talent like musical cattle." Zane explained, walking over to stand near us. I suddenly had an urge to draw cows in skinny jeans and jamming on instruments. "This is actually his second label that he's worked for in 3 years; he's a really old-school type of music exec."

"…But we still can't afford to piss him off. Unfortunately." Erica said darkly. It was easy to forget how young she was most of the time, what with the authority with which she carried herself and took care of Snowborne business, but at that moment she didn't look much older than anyone else in the band.

"Makes success less appealing, somewhat, if we have to see more of him." Dustin spun a stick in his fingers thoughtfully.

" More than a bit." Zane agreed. "So…" He turned to me. "What were these 'cartoons' that had you all so amused?"

I turned the book to the offending page, and silently leaned forward so he could take it from me.

He started to laugh instantly, a deep, honest sound I'm not sure I'd heard before. Oh, I'd heard quiet, intimate laughs, but this was so sexy. I wanted him to laugh like that at me all the time. He handed it to Erica, who giggled.

"That's wonderful, truly, Ethan. Just perfect."

The sound guy even asked to see it, and I showed it to him, and he nodded with a grin. "Excellent." he winked at me. "I wish I could take it and put it up on the glass. So many of 'em look like that." 

"You got his fat, sweaty face just perfect, you really did." Erica sounded a lot more chipper, and I was glad to have made her smile. She'd been good to me. Oh, yeah, I needed to thank her for the phone.

"We going?" Rick stood, boredom heavy in his voice, crossing hi8s arms in his usual way. Too much attention on me, most likely.

"Yeah, we're not getting anything done here today, and they're paying for us to come back, we're not." Erica sighed, and picked up herpurse from a chair near the engineer.

"You're back on Thursday, right?" The sound guy asked.

"Yes… hopefully we'll get something out, then. We have to, we're really kicking into the tour after that." Zane smiled his charming, professional smile at the guy, who smiled back. Always charming people, he was. The guy got on the phone, and the roadies came in to start hauling the stuff while the band went in to pack up.

I envied the fact they all had a use to the band. I asked the engineer some random technical questions, and he patiently answered them for me.

Rick was done faster than the others, because he was back in the sound booth in a second. I'd moved back near the door, because Erica and the engineer were talking again.

 Once again with the blond shadow. Sigh.

"You do have talent, I'll give you that."

I sighed. "Oh, thanks."

He cocked a sneer. "Oh, that not enough praise for you, brat? You need more?"

"No." I turned to him, exasperated. Why was he always so focused on ruining my mood? Damn it. "Look, I know you hate me, but can't you hate me in silence? Please? Or from across the room?"

There. I'd stood up for myself. Hopefully it didn't sound as plaintive as it felt in my head. It was probably the strength granted from having people approve of my art, but I hate to ride it when I had it.

He just looked at me, eyes half-lidded. I waited for the verbal whiplash.

And then he surprised me.

"What makes you think I hate you?" he drawled. "Did I ever say that?"

"Uh…." I blinked. "Not in so many words, but…"

"I think you're possibly a freeloading sex toy," Ouch, "and I don't know what you're doing here, but hate's a bit strong, don't you think?"

"I don't know," It was hard not to begin to yell at him, "but if I treated someone like you treat me, it would probably mean I hate them."

"Oh, no." Unexpectedly he leaned in, and his face as inches from my ear; I tried not to jerk out, knowing he was just trying to fake me out. "If I really hated you," he breathed, "I'd ignore your sorry ass."

Then he was out the door.

Two things went through my mind at that weird little encounter.

One, he was a liar. I believed with all my heart that he had, at the very least, once out and out hated me. It was a hard emotion to mistake, even on a stranger as twisty and manipulative as he was. For some reason he was changing the narrative on me, and it was confusing as hell.

Ah, well, it was a good thing I had some how been moved from the "absolutely loathed" category, I guess. Maybe he was more amused by the picture than he let on, or it was my drunken antics the night before… who knew, I sure as hell didn't. And I still didn't trust him to not be a tool; I wouldn't be relaxing around him any time soon.

The other thought? I wasn't very impressed with myself when my heart skipped a beat when he came close to me. But it was hard to deny he was an incredibly good looking guy. Still. Of all people… blagh. My dick was leading my head more and more lately, and I wasn't sure what I thought abut that.

The rest of the band was done quickly and Zane came to grab me in the booth.

"Ready?" He smiled warmly, if with distraction.

I mentally replied to that with: ‘Yes, I am more than ready to do dirty things to you.’ You can see where my mind was at that particular moment. Damn sexy rock boys; hanging with them was a little torturous. But I just smiled back and nodded.

"Excellent." I turned to go so we could leave the room.

"Oh, and by the way…" Zane leaned in, brushing his lips minutely against my hair and pressed his fingers to the small of my back. "You look fantastic in that."

It was, briefly, a bit hard to breath. This was beginning to be a day that involved a lot of erection-fighting.


As we left the studio, the fans - there were now several other girls, they were probably up to at least 15 or so now - mobbed the band, and asked Zane and Rick especially to sign various pieces of papers, posters, and CD cases. There was a lot of camera phone photo-taking. I kept a little back from the tumult until Erica started to herd us into cabs, attempting invisibility.

But as I passed Vanessa I slipped her the picture I'd done of Zane and Rick talking to the producer. I was too embarrassed to catch her face, as I didn't want her thanks, I just thought she might like it. I hurried into the second cab with Erica and Zane.

I didn’t know why I'd bothered to do so.

No, not true, I did projection.

Oh, Vanessa was crazy and obsessed, sure, and if I hadn't been lucky enough to have such close contact with the band I'm not sure I'd have understood her obsession on a purely fanatic level. It'd never been the way I'd approached even my favorite musicians and artists.

But, let's be honest: How different was I than her, really? If she'd had the opportunity to sleep with a band member, I think she'd be right there. Just like me.

On the way to dinner I learned a bunch of things I hadn't known as Erica and Zane chatted, and it was a bit dizzying. "Let it Rise" wasn't just getting big, it was going globally massive. It was catchy enough to be played in clubs, and there were already a couple of hot remixes by big DJs out there. It was flying up the Billboard charts in the states, and the BBC One channel was getting a ridiculous amount of requests for it. They were invited on some talk show the next night that made them really excited, obviously a big deal.

Both of them had a gleam in their eye. Zane was almost buzzing with excitement. It was, as always, a subtle thing, but energy was pouring off of them.

This was big. If these two were any indication, this was REALLY big.

There was a little voice in my head asking about me, what was my role in all this, when was I going to go home. But I pushed it out, not seeing any point. I had to live in the now, right?

When we got back to the hotel I asked Zane if I could leave for a bit, head down the street to the internet cafe. We had a couple of hours before their concert, and they were all talking about going their own way, getting some space from each other, ordering room service or grabbing some food close-by. That made sense to me. It must have been hard for them, what with how closely they worked together. They really more or less only see each other's faces again and again.

Probably why so many groups broke up, right? From even the little I'd seen, band life was a pretty crazy and intense thing for the bandmates. For example, I loved Scott (once, maybe, I could have said I was *in* love with him), but a several month trip around the world with him as company sounded difficult.

I was also thinking that thus perhaps Zane'd like some time to himself, no one hanging off him. This was probably an offshoot of my concerns about my presence in general.

"Where are you going?" he asked when we were alone in the lobby. His eyes were intense, and he ran a hand back through his hair. The agitation was still there, and strong.

 I was a bit surprised he asked. I hadn't elaborated when I'd asked, not sure if he'd care. He was so distracted.


I explained about the internet cafe down the street. "I'd not written to Mina and Scott in a bit, and I'd really like to." And tell them about my dad, and talk about the single and Snowborne getting bigger, and… I had to be all cool around the band, and I had a lot of excitement that I wanted to express. And see how they were doing, of course, if their pseudo-relationship had advanced or backslid. From the little I'd heard it was all turning out stupidly dramatic. Sometimes I wished I was there to calm them down and be their rock.

He thought for a moment, not looking me in the eye initially, "Can you wait until we head to the concert? We could hang out until then." Okay, cliché time, but total heart flip.

It was a no-brainer question - of course I was going to hang out with him. I nodded, and he gave me a little smile in response. For some reason it seemed like it had been hard to ask. He turned somewhat suddenly, and with a blink I followed him.

We headed to the elevators. That itchy need to touch him came back again. Was I thinking about what we'd possibly do as we 'hung out'? Hell, yes. Of course, didn't want to get my hopes up, he was so out of it, maybe he just wanted a nap, or something.

I hoped not.

 We stood waiting for that efficient 'whoosh' and the silent slide of the doors as they opened to the spotless, shining mental walls. That moment where we were the only ones there was interesting in its intimacy - we were only half looking at each other, half at the doors.

It was public but private. I was very aware of how close to me he was, and yet how far away. His tall, lanky frame just called for touching… to press against, stroke him, calm him down. Well, calm him down in one way, excite him in another. Now I was the one getting agitated.

"Have you been going to the cafe regularly to write emails?" Zane asked rather suddenly. I started. Loved how his deep voice bounced around the metal walls.

"Um… sorta. I guess?" He was confusing. Asking me questions and yet at the same time obviously distracted and thinking about something else. That 'something' being the success and madness starting to swirl around them, madness that didn't seem quite like a reality yet.

But there must have been a lot on his mind. I knew he was thinking about their successful single, the upgrading of their tour, all the things that were suddenly happening. I'd be distracted, also. Those concerns that I should consider myself a bother came back. But thinking like that wouldn't do me any good, really, and hadn't exactly so far.

But, catching a look at his profile - he'd fallen contemplative after asking me about the internet cafe, I was guessing moving on to more important things - I recognized my little idle was probably coming to an end.

I believed I was starting to gain a bit of insight into Zane, and that insight was telling me things were coming to an end. He might not know it yet, since he hadn't exactly had time to consider it, but if things were really moving as quickly as it sounded like… there wouldn't be much room for me soon.

If I was going to be confident, if I was going to believe I had a right to be here andto enjoy it while I could, well… I also had to face it was going to end.

And I had to get as much Zane as I could, then. Yeah, you don't want to leave with regrets, I told myself firmly.

Zane opened the door to the lovely, modern room, and I stepped in.

Wow, I was almost humming.

I sat on his bed, took off my coat; watched him as he did the same. I watched the lines of his muscles down his back down to his ass as he did so. So perfect.

And he didn't even notice; his movements distracted. I tried to make myself settle down, tried not to think about him naked, and moved backwards on the bed, up near the pillows. Relax, don't get turned on…. relax, don't get turned on…. relax… I looked out the window at the now cloudy skyand thought about how quickly English weather could change from nice to rainy.

He sat down on the bed, finally, but instead of settling in next to me he was sitting, his butt on the edge, arms tensed out behind him. I couldn't see his face. I gave him a couple of moments, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts, but after a while I couldn't help it.

Before I could ask him how he was doing he turned to me just enough so I could see his profile. "So how was the shoot?" His tone was a bit forced in its conversational lightness, but I followed his lead.

"Um. Yeah. It was… interesting?"


I sighed. "I'm not used to be stared at like that, by so many people. I didn't really know how to pose for the camera." I laid back, basking in his presence, glad to be in this quiet room, with him.

He quirked a smile. "Was it hard?"

"Well, no. I wouldn't say that." Man, I wanted him lying next to me. "But it was strange. I felt… sorta like a big doll. And I didn't feel like I fit in, necessarily, with the other models, although they were very nice."

He twisted his torso and leaned on his elbow, so he was now on his side, looking at me. I was glad to see he was noticeably relaxed from a moment ago.

"Why wouldn't you fit in?" He casually laid a hand on my ankle. "It wouldn't be a looks issue."

"Actually… they were REALLY good-lucking. I don't feel that good-looking, not like them." I admitted.

"I know." He lifted his eyebrows at me. "It's idiotic."

What to say to that? I rushed past it. "And… sophisticated. Funny. You know. Professional. I really didn't feel in any way professional. They were just impressive. Beautiful, smooth, etc. Something more." I was probably failing at my description, because something had passed over Zane's face, a strange expression. "I'm not making any sense, am I? But I don't know how you do it, was so many eyes on you all the time. It's strange."

"So you really liked them?" Strangely tense; he'd taken his hand away, which I was unhappy about.

"I…guess? They said they wanted to hang out, but they were probably just being polite." I sighed.

"I doubt it." He sat up.

I looked at him. There was a definite unhappiness there. Was it something I said?

"Zane?" I leaned forward. "You okay?" I leaned forward and lightly touched his shoulder.

I felt his body tense up in response to my touch, and I pulled my hand away, stung.

He must have sensed it, because he sighed, and turned so his profile was to me, over his shoulder.

"Sorry, Ethan. Maybe I shouldn't have asked you up here." An expression passed over his strong features, one of annoyance and conflict. Quiet again.

I could tell he didn't really have anything to say to me. I started to get off the bed. "I'll just -"

"NO." I blinked at him, startled at his vehemence. It was my favorite expression on him, the intense one that made him so beautiful and lupine, but this wasn't sexual. His long fingers dug into my arm.

"You sure?"

"No." I started. "Yes. Please." He sighed. "I don't know what to say, but I don't want to let you leave. Sorry. I don't know why I was getting upset."

It was easy to stay - I didn't actually have any desire to leave him. And I was worried, he was being strange. It was difficult, but I also started to let my ramping desire go. This didn't exactly seem like a situation that was going to lead to sex… and it was selfish of me to think so much about that.

"You sound like me, in Chicago - remember?" I smiled. He made a noise that may have been amusement, but it was so short I wasn't sure.

I really want to chew on the back of your neck, wonder if that would make you feel better… came unbidden to my mind, and I smacked it down like a pesky mosquito. Selfish hormones…

Almost getting off the bed did get me closer to him, so I stayed there, although not touching. (My fingers twitched, no lie.)

The silence was getting uncomfortable, and I was going to ask again what was wrong, but it was him who broke the silence first.

"It's overwhelming." His voice was quiet, and it took me a moment to figure out what he said. "Fuck, I don't know what we're doing."

"What do you mean?"

He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it all messed up and spiked. "All… this. Success. This song. Hitting it big. It's going to be a disaster."

"A… disaster?" I furrowed my brows. "Why would it be a disaster? You're definitely good enough, you deserve it."

"Deserve?" He snorted, sounding contemptuous. "What's 'deserve' in this goddamn scene?" His voice was rising, the agitation higher. "There are thousands of bands as good as us, better than us, that 'deserve' to be famous, deserve to hit it big. So now we're actually getting mainstream airplay. Do you know where we're playing tonight?"

I shook my head. "The Royal Albert Music Hall." It sounded familiar…. "It's huge. It's one step down from stadiums, it's where they play the proms."

"Didn't you already know about it, I mean, where you were going to play?" I asked, confused.

"Of course, but… it used to be a hot band pile up, 6 of us, up and coming, no headliner. And now… We're sorta the headliner. They've changed how they're marketing it. It went from okay ticket sales to sold out. We didn't expect that." He rolled his eyes. "From one song."

"It's a great song… people want to hear more. Isn't this… sort of how it works?" It surprised me, how unhappy he was with his success. I wasn't sure how to navigate this, but wanted to help him. 

"Yeah, it's a great song; we're a big hit, great. So is this it?"

He whipped his head around to me, eyes wide. He looked angry. And scared. And young. Of all the times I'd noted 'I'd never seen this Zane before', this was the most off the center of what I knew of him. He was so… animated. There was nothing subtle about the emotion pouring off of him.

"If this is our only hit, this will be all we're remembered for. We will become 'the band that sang that Miracle Row song, a side note on one-hit-wonder trivia. I mean, fuck, the Royal Albert Hall. Will this be our only time there?" He closed his eyes.

"But you don't know that'll happen." I pointed out. "You don't know anything that'll happen, really." Maybe this wasn't the most helpful thing, but I had to be honest.

"No… but there's so much that could go wrong." He breathed deeply. "SO MUCH. This is what I wanted, this is what I've worked for, and now that it's here… And, hell, can we keep it together?"

I was confused. "What do you mean, 'keep it together'?"

"Jared, and all his stupid drug habits. And he actually hates Rick. Rick in turn thinks Jared's an out-of-control idiot. Which he is, but it doesn't help when Rick antagonizes him. Dustin really wants to be home with his wife at heart, but knows he can't turn this opportunity down to be a successful working drummer. But once he feels he's solid, how much longer will he be with us? He's not been the perfect husband at moments, and he hates himself for it. The rock life is a little poisonous to him." What? Was he suggesting Dustin had cheated on his wife? That made me sad, somehow - but it all made sense, putting Dustin's rueful, introspective attitude into prospective.

I said the first thing I thought clearly, which was the truth. "I didn't know you were such a worrier. Isn't that my job?" 

He wasn't sure how to take that, not sensing that I was teasing. "I'm sorry," he said stiffly, turning away again. "I'll stop talking."

"No. No!" I touched him, grabbing his shoulders, and this time he didn't throw me off. "I just thought ”I” was the worrier here, not you." I smiled. "I'm just surprised. And trying to make you feel better."

I scooted closer to him, leaned my shoulder against his back. "Is everything you've built so far really so fragile?"

There was a silence. Zane seemed to be considering my question in earnest.

It was weird, but even as Zane looked like he was falling apart, I felt stronger. Not because I was happy he might need to lean on me - that was breaking my heart, a bit, and I would deal with seeing this side of him later - but because I was raised to be like this.

After dad left I'd spent my formative years as helpmate, soulmate, and general emotional clean-up crew to my mother. I went through a stage of anger, of not wanting to listen, of course. I was only 13.

But it didn't take long to recognize that tantrums only made things worse… anyways. I learned to listen. It came easily to me. I'd learned the secret was in not feeding the pathos and self-pity yet never trivializing it.

And, hell, Zane wasn't even drunk, making him much easier to deal with than my mom at her worst.

Unexpectedly he leaned back, putting some weight on me. "I don't know. We haven't had any hard times, despite everything I'm worried about. I've made sure we haven't had any hard times, taking the edge off the sort of stresses that drive bands apart in the beginning. Nasty hotels, ridiculous accommodations, etc." Deep breath again. "And I did want this, of course. I love singing, I love music. I like people enjoying music. But… do I want fame? Like, Fuck-you-there-goes-your-life FAME? Fame, that flighty, mind-screwing bitch?"

It was a good question. I'd wondered that before, how much was fame, how much was love of the music.

Zane's head fell back, and his head rested on mine. I could smell his shampoo, and his delicious Zane-ness. Argh. Listening sympathetically became more difficult when you were deeply sexually attracted to the speaker. Wanted to ravish the speaker and put your tongue to unspeakable but wonderful places.

"I don't know," I answered honestly, venturing to lean my head so my face was closer to him. One of my hands was on his arm. "its never something I wanted - I'm pursuing art because I don't know what else I could do the rest of my life, honestly." I thought for a moment. "What do you have to lose if it goes badly, if you fall apart, or this is your only hit?"

"My band. Everything I've worked for, everything I've…" he stopped himself there. "…everything I've built. Erica and I have built. I don't want to fail. Fuck, I don't want to fail. Could I do it all again, start all over?" He put his hands up to his eye sockets, rubbing his palm in. "You shouldn't be here. I should have let you leave. I'm sorry. I don't know what I'm saying. People don't see this. I don't let people see this."

What was 'this'? Emotion? Breaking down? So human, so without cool at that moment. So LOST. Was this what was beneath his eternal chill, his distant charisma? Like when he had asked me not to leave to go home… he seemed so PRESENT. And not much older than me, and not much more mature any more. Suddenly he was less intimidating, less in control. Like two nights before, it was disturbing and goddamn sexy. Disappointing, but more reassuring.

"You're not going to fail. You're too good." He snorted at that one; obviously, 'it'll be all right' wasn't what he wanted to hear. "But if you do fail, if it all falls apart… why couldn't you build it up again? In music, in art, people do it all the time. So if your band falls apart, make a new one. Become a solo singer. Try new styles of music. Try AGAIN." I was getting passionate, pushing a strand of hair out of my eyes that had started resisting the gel I'd put in it and had fallen downwards. "You're so good, Zane, you're so natural at this, at singing, at being in front a crowd, of making people want to listen to you and follow you and see you. You have it ALL. Failure, failure would just make you better next time, you know? Yeah. No matter what happens, you'll be great. there's no way you can't be great."

I'd gotten so wrapped up in what I was saying - all of it 100% from the heart - that I hadn't noticed that he'd lifted his head just a bit, and was starring at me.

And it was the intense eyes again, inscrutable. Maybe I just found every one of his expressions goddamn sexy. "What makes you so sure?" His voice was deep down husky again.

It was a good question, but I tried to answer with confidence. "I just am. I just…" I didn't let my gaze leave his. "Know."

He laughed.

And then he kissed me. There was also some lightly applied pulling pressure involved, and we were both on the bed, flat now, with his kiss blowing my mind.

Then Zane pulled back and leaned into his palm to stare at me thoughtfully. "So you don't want fame, huh? Then what do you consider success, in art?"

"I…" I'd never thought about it, truthfully. All I'd considered is how much I liked art, and how much art seemed like the right thing to pursue to stay happy. How much my art had always been the one thing about me that made me feel special, different. TALENTED. But, yeah, what did I want, then? "I don't know." I sighed. "I don't know what that means, aside from yeah, I want to do art… but I'm still not sure what kind. I can't just scribble my way through life, sketch endlessly. Would I like to be successful? Not have to worry about money any longer?" not have my mother have to worry about money any longer. "Yes, definitely. But… most artists don't get there, most don't even get close. Who am I to believe I'd ever get to that point. I… want enough to live off of. I'd be happy with that."

"Huh." Zane tapped a finger on my wrist in a rhythm only he heard. "So… you can believe so strongly in me, but not in yourself?" It was a matter-of-fact question.

"I'm not you," I said firmly. "You've proven you've got what it takes."

"It's a lot of luck, Ethan." There was that thoughtful, sweet smile again. "Tons of luck."

"And lots of work."

"You don't work hard?" He challenged. "Working full time to go to a very expensive school in a very expensive city? Making sure your dad doesn't have to give you a dime?"

"How do you know that?" I asked, startled.

"You mentioned it last night."

This was why being drunk was a problem, I guess. When did that happen? I couldn't remember for the life of me. "Damn."

"And you were really cute when you said it." He grinned.

"Nice to hear." I flushed, embarrassed. I was such a stupid whiner…

Before I could start to brood his legs snaked around me unexpectedly, and I fit myself into the recesses of his body, wrapping my arms around his torso and his upper back. He felt so damn good. He smelled so damn good.

"So you just 'know' it'll all be okay, huh?" He breathed playfully in my ear. "Ethan, Ethan, Ethan."

"What?" I said, feeling foolish now.

"You have a distinct skill in making me comfortable, you know that?" His hand was in my hair, and the other was now on my ass. I arched into it happily. I pressed back into his touch, and I was the one kissing him this time.

I wasn't sure how to answer his compliment… I was glad what I had said wasn't beyond stupid. Or, even if it was, at least it had made him relax. Talking to him at this level was so new to me.

Made him relax and kiss me, which was the best part about it.

We rolled around, removing each other's clothes - I dragged my palms over his chest as I lifted his shirt over his head. He undid each of my buttons with teasing procession, at one point gently putting a kiss on my collar bone.

I lifted my hips when he got to my pants, undid my fancy belt and pulled back with a mischievous smile and a yank - and my hard-on stood to attention, signaling my excitement. Damn, it was nice to be free - I'd been struggling with it for a while now, wanting nothing more than - oh, god, that, as he slid his palm up my cock. At some point I also took off his pants, or maybe he did, but at that point I wasn't paying much attention to detail.

Oh, except the detail of him. That I was most certainly paying attention to. His cock, so, elegant, I didn't know what else to call it, only a touch darker than he was, the way everything about him flowed into everything else; the muscle tone that you wouldn't know was quite so defined unless you saw him naked… he could front as just a skinny man underneath his clothes. It surprised me a bit every time.

Zane was now crouching over me wearing a satisfied smile. Wanting to taste that grin I lifted up just enough to meet his lips, nibbling while I ran my fingers below his sac and gently up to his erection. He shuddered, coming down so more of his weight was on my legs and torso, and I could feel more of his heavenly skin on my own cock.

I knew what I wanted. Damn, did I know. My ass damn near ached for it. My whole body ached for it. With a sudden movement that got his attention I dug my fingers into the top of his lean ass, and squeezed before letting myself fall back into the bed. His eyes widened in surprise, although he certainly didn't seem to mind. This wasn't easy to say, but I had to. "Fuck me."

He looked at me with the most unreadable expression. Something that sounded an awful lot like a growl came from his throat.

Breathing hard, stone hard erection, I could tell he wanted it, and that my request had turned him on. Stretched, I let him see all of me; I was naked, vulnerable, and part of my brain was screaming in embarrassment.

But after a day of being filmed, of being told what to do and where to look and being treated somewhat like a very large action figure, I found myself much less self conscious than usual.

The lens wasn't really so very different than someone's gaze, I guess. Although right now, here, his was the only gaze that really mattered to me.

I was fevered, on the edge of sweating, in the short interval before he answered. It was torture on his part, especially in light of what he said next.

Then Zane smiled, wolfish, the dying light of the day through the window creating beautiful shadows on the planes of his face. "No."

"No?" I blinked at him, and my heart started to crumple. The sense of feeling sexy was going away, being replaced with the distinct sensation of being foolish. Very, very foolish, and an idiot. No? He didn't want me?

It might have been the condom and lube issue again, but I couldn't help but feel that if he wanted to fuck me, he'd have those on hand by now. And, while it might not have been the smartest thing, I had to admit - I didn't care what he used or didn't. At that moment, all I wanted was his cock inside me, the feeling of his body moving with mine… didn't care if it hurt, I sorta wanted it to hurt, to mean something.

And… no?

"Can you not?" I had to ask. "Do you not like to? I thought you'd…" I was really confused. Damn, maybe I was a selfish prick for even asking, although… he'd suggested before he wanted to, and there'd been no hint of any of the above. But…. confused. No other word for it.

He shook his head, and gave me a veiled smile. "Not yet."

Not yet?!! What the hell?! I started to lose my hard-on, started to want to start to melt into the bed, but Zane wouldn't let me.

Moving his hands up my legs, he kissed the inside of my knee, and then my thigh, and was moving slowly as I pouted and decided for once I was actually getting sorta goddamn mad at him…

"Fuck, Zane!" I swore, jerking, and then moaned. With a small burst of speed he'd taken me in his mouth, and at the same time slipped a finger into my hole. How he did it so smoothly I didn't know, and didn't care.

As his digit gently swirled in my ass, and another slipped in, I jerked.

Oh, no, he didn't, distracting me, taking control of it. He was ALWAYS doing that, and it did truly drive me crazy. I pulled away, and he looked startled, until I positioned myself between his legs, and my ass was in his face. Fine, he didn't want to fuck me, I'd do my best to drive him crazy other ways. I swore he checked, and then his fingers were in me again, so fast I jerked. And his lips playing with my balls, jabbing and torturing.

"Goddamn you," I said in a tone somewhere between a snarl and despair, and started to suck him almost savagely, pulling harder than I usually would. My confusion and weird anger overrode my usual worry I was doing the wrong thing and I also moved my hand between his checks, feeling the tight ring of muscle and pushed my ring finger in, felt it welcome me. He made a noise of surprise and pleasure, and in response added a second finger to join the first, making me shudder. I matched his movements, while at the same time using my tongue and lips to play with his shaft and balls, jabbing at the ridges, reveling in his clean but slightly musky taste.

The hand not inside me wrapped around my cock, and after using his mouth to add lubricant he jacked me in rhythm to his fingers fucking me, an incredible double sensation that made it very hard for me to both stay angry and concentrate on doing the same to him.

With a moan I took him into my mouth and focused on the feel of him moving in and out, moving my ass to his into his fingers, oh god it felt so damn good I could feel his head strain in my mouth and his balls tighten and the his finger touched my prostrate at just the right moment and-

The fact that he came first made me feel briefly like I 'won', which was pretty stupid, and it was only by a second that I came next. Trying to keep it together to swallow while my whole body exploded in ecstasy was really, really hard, but also really enjoyable.

My hand clutched around one of his lean thighs, digging in, letting him feel me come and maybe causing him a bit of pain.

After a moment we lay there, spent, but my mind wasn't quiet. We were still at opposite ends, one of my hands simply resting on him, one of his making lazy patterns on the back of my leg.

My thoughts were myriad and twisty. Why WOULDN'T he have sex with me? Was it something about me? Obviously, from what he had said, it was important to him. Alright. And yet he had no reason, no excuse. So was it me? Had something changed?

"I should go soon…" His voice rumbled, muffled. "I don't want to."

"So don't." Okay, so I sounded pissy, despite my best efforts not to.

He turned his head, his dark eyes searching my face. "What's up?"

 I couldn't tell if the fact I maybe upset bothered him or not.

"I'm fine," I told him, mostly truthfully, meaning to stop there. "But you confuse me." I couldn't resist adding, a bit of the indignation coming back. "I don't know what you want from me."

He was quiet for a moment, looking almost upset before his expression smoothed again. "I want you. I want to enjoy you." he said, simply. "But right now, I'm not sure it's a good idea to do more than what we did tonight."

"Why?" I asked in exasperation.

"Because," was all he said, and ran his finger down my back to the top of my ass, causing me to shudder and make a noise that was equal parts frustration and pleasure. He smiled. I wanted to growl at him. "You're adorable." he said in my ear, and rolled his head over, getting comfortable against me.

I fell back, closing my eyes. There was a surge of anger, of a sense there was something really weird going on here.  I'd never been angry at Zane before, and it was a very strange feeling. It was also somewhat empowering. I felt played with again, oddly abandoned, tired of games, like I'd been a couple of days before. When I was ready to leave.

But I wanted him, I wanted him so badly. And, damn it, I could TELL he wanted me from the way he touched me, the way he moved against me… he wanted to fuck me. He could fuck me. It occurred to me, as we laid there, this was part of his weird control thing, his strange distancing mechanism… just like pushing me away when I first got here had been. That there wasn't a reason that he could give me, it was just Zane being Zane. I didn't know where these games came from yet, but I was starting to get an idea of their shape and existence.

And I didn't like them. No, no, that wasn't quite right. My pulse shot up as one of his hands lazily ran up my arm, showing me he wasn't asleep. If I didn't like them, would they get me every time?

I wanted two things. 1. I wanted in on the game, I wanted to understand what was going on, in his head, why he did the things he did. And 2, I wanted him, and I wanted proof he wanted me. He'd tie me up, he'd tell me no when I offered myself to him, on a platter. I mean, fuck, it's not like I'd ever done that before. For the first time, sex was IMPORTANT to me, both because I goddamn wanted it and I goddamn wanted him to be the one to fuck me.

I knew we were running out of time, here. Soon they'd be too busy to even deal with me. So if I wanted things to happen…

I'd have to make them happen. I swallowed silently, glad Zane had his eyes closed.

I had a plan. A test. A way to get me what I wanted. I never thought I was manipulative or a game player, but I was about to convince myself differently. Being around Zane had taught me a few things. Like the time two days before that he had convinced me to stay, he had said he didn't like how I made him feel out of control.

So did I have that power, or didn't I? He'd called me trouble for him. What the hell did that mean? The way this was making me feel was an echo of that night.

What had changed from when he said he wanted to fuck me? That technicalities were the only issue?

Not long after that - or maybe longer than I thought - Zane sighed, squeezed my thigh, and got out of bed. "I should go."

I watched him get dressed with narrowed eyes, considering and thinking and trying not to let my facial expression reflect my thoughts.

"You should have a couple of hours to go the internet cafe, grab some dinner. I wish I could join you, but I have to meet some twat music journalist in the hotel restaurant." I almost believed him, when he said he'd prefer to be with me. Perhaps my belief would have hit 100% if I wasn't peeved. "Are you going to come to the concert tonight?"

He knew I was sorta miffed, I could tell - he was actually worried I wouldn't come. But, hell, no, I was going.

"I'll be there."

"Great - we'll meet you there, everyone's doing their own thing." He sat on the bed, eyes searching mine. His hair needed straightening. Fingers twitched, but I ignored it. But then he had the temerity to straighten MY hair as he talked, which felt so stupidly good.

"Just grab a black cab, you can get there anytime from 8:30 on. But the earlier the better." He smiled, melting butter, charming me. "I'd like to see you as much as I can."

I nodded, expression still blank.

Zane got up to leave after a pause and him obviously deciding he wasn't going to get anything more from me, but not before surprising me with a goodbye kiss that lasted a damn long time. Unexpected to myself I growled in his mouth as it opened the can of my frustrations all over again, and bit his lips to show him my frustration. A noise between a laugh and a groan came from his lips, and he pulled away ruddier than before. "You really are on fire when you're angry," he said, breathing in my ear that the sexy fuck knew drove me crazy. "You make me want to stay and say fuck it to the journalist."

"My Sex is on Fire, huh?" I noted dryly. "Thanks." He rolled his eyes at the Kings of Leon Reference, licked my ear in a way that had me stifling a moan, and was gone.

If I hadn't had my plan, I so would have yelled at him right then, let him have it, told him what I thought of his damn mind games. Bastard was lucky I'd decided to get back at him in other ways.

Muttering to myself in this way was really helping, somewhat. I even kinda believed it.

As I dressed I thought about what I'd do over the next several hours. How I was going to make this work. First I'd have to ask the front desk a very embarrassing question…



To Part 18