Fandom: House MD RPS
Pairing: Hugh Laurie/Robert Sean Leonard (mentions of Hugh Laurie/Stephen Fry, Robert Sean Leonard/Gabriella Salick.)
Wordcount 14,483 (but it's a quick read.) Posted in two parts for length.
Disclaimer: This never happened (except the bits that did) and I'm not making any money for writing it.
Warnings: RPS-REAL PERSON SLASH-Including references to real people, their significant others, family members, children, co-stars, dogs, horses and agents. If this is going to bother you, please read something else.
Notes: Thanks to Beta Goddess Carol for telling me that it wasn't done when I thought it was and for every minor tweak and word selection we sweated over together. I couldn't do without you, hon. Hugs to all my gmail chatters and everyone on my f-list who put up with the whinging and whining along the way.
If you're new to the series, the Hugh&Bobby saga starts HERE All stories are linked.
Summary: Three days in Hollywood. Includes The Usual Suspects along with The Who, Jay Leno, smut, angst, guilt, jealousy and a whole lot of name dropping.
Musical note: This is the link to Mad About The Boy which Hugh listens to in the story.
He sat in the back of the limousine with a drink in his hand, thinking how this just wasn’t him at all. Keanu and Ethan, sure. They’d made their peace with stardom and learned to enjoy the trappings and privileges, but Bobby didn’t think of himself that way and didn’t want to. So what was he doing here? In a limo, drinking, unable to look away as Keanu and Ethan…Oh god…Keanu’s face, eyes open, but lost to the world, his mouth forming words that Bobby couldn’t hear but felt in his crotch. His head tilted backwards against the leather seat, exposing his neck to Ethan’s voracious mouth. He saw a close-up of teeth against skin and wondered when his subconscious had turned into a soft-core pornographer. Keanu’s hand moved inside the waist of Ethan’s jeans. The glass fell to the floor of the limo in slow motion as he dropped it so he could reach out for Ethan or Keanu or both, needing to be a part of this instead of just a watcher.
He’d gotten used to waking up from the dream with a hard-on, but this time he wasn’t alone and he wasn’t with Hugh.
“I think you were dreaming. And it feels like a good one.”
He was pressed up to her body, erection nestling against her buttocks through a soft nightgown. The hand that had reached out in his dream was encircling her waist.
“God, you’re frisky,” she said, turning over to meet his embrace.
What could he say?
“I’ve missed you.”
It wasn’t a lie…exactly.
Hope I die before I get old.
Too late for that, Hugh thought, feeling at least ten years older than whatever his publicity bio was admitting to these days.
A quote attributed to Frank Sinatra came to mind. Something about how you’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on. Hugh didn’t think he’d been that pissed last night, but he’d certainly raised a few. Possibly more than a few.
Well, why shouldn’t he? Instead of using the break in filming to fly home, England had come to him in the form of Stephen and two private box tickets to see The Who at the Hollywood Bowl.
Grunberg and the other band members had drooled with various levels of envy, depending on their own likelihood of scoring tickets to the already sold-out show. Only Bob Guiney had the bad taste to point out that Townsend and Daltrey weren’t The Who without Keith and John. He quietly agreed, but it was still Pete and Roger playing those songs, one of which he’d been attached to even before he’d played air piano to it in the first season of House MD.
According to Stephen, “the boys” thought it was the best use of any of their music since they’d started licensing, although it was the three CSI shows that really brought in the loot.
Hugh understood. Everybody had to earn a living, even if it was by growing a beard and saying rude things in a strange accent.
The idea made him smile, but smiling hurt. So did swallowing. He could tell what he’d done to his throat by singing along at the top of his lungs, not to mention the damage inflicted by doing shots with Roger Daltrey. That had to earn points on the “unbelievably cool but insanely self-destructive” scale. House would approve, but Hugh wasn’t so sure, especially since the major topic of conversation had been the accent. Roger wouldn’t shut up about how fucking hard it had been to do American when he’d been shooting a CSI episode a few months back.
Daltrey had also expressed a rather unseemly interest in whether Hugh was fucking “that hot bird.” At least that’s what Hugh thought he’d said, unless he was drunk enough to hallucinate a rock star who still talked like it was 1965. He assumed the “hot bird” in question was Lisa, but wouldn’t put it past an inebriated Roger to think he might have designs on Jennifer. Either way, he hoped he responded with a shrug and a gesture toward his wedding ring. That’s what he remembered doing, but what if he’d really downed another shot and bellowed something like, “No, but there’s this handsome bloke…”?
At some point, the cool factor wore off and Roger was still ranting about how Hugh made the fucking accent look so easy. Even the girls that Hugh assumed were groupies were starting to look bored. He’d never been so grateful to have Stephen as a chaperone.
“Sorry, gents. It’s been a pleasure, but Mr. Laurie serves a cruel taskmaster. I was only allowed to borrow him for tonight’s festivities with the promise that I return him in time for an early call.”
This was complete rubbish. They’d put enough shows in the can to schedule a week’s break before they came back to shoot the Christmas-themed show.
The roadies started clamoring for plot developments. One of the groupies insisted on giving him a phone number to pass on to Jesse. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that Jesse and Jen were rather nauseatingly infatuated with each other. Hugh vaguely remembered stumbling off the bus and into the cocoon of the waiting limousine, but very little afterwards.
“Who paid for the car?” he wondered in the croak that seemed to have replaced his usual speaking voice. That would sound lovely on Leno, but having committed, Hugh wasn’t about to cancel.
“Those who count beans for Fox prefer to offer baksheesh instead of honest filthy lucre.”
Upon opening his eyes, he found Stephen contemplating him with an expression made up of equal parts amusement and pity, although his own eyes were still too bleary to pick up any nuances. He wore tan slacks and a violently pink shirt, although it might not be any more violent than anything else in Stephen’s wardrobe, much of which was currently strewn about Hugh’s studio. The “baksheesh” included a room at the Chateau, but Stephen preferred being able to say that he was staying with his good friend, Hugh, even when the statement was a slight misrepresentation.
Stephen had, in fact, stayed in West Hollywood while shooting his previous guest appearance on Bones, but Hugh had been firmly and nearly too happily ensconced in Venice Beach.
This trip of Stephen’s happened to coincide with Gabriella being in town, resulting in a comical scene at Bobby’s temporary abode as he and Bobby rooted out any evidence of Hugh’s presence, particularly garments that couldn’t be passed off as either Bobby’s or Ethan’s.
Hugh cautiously pulled himself into a sitting position. His head had a thing or two to say about it, but nothing that couldn’t be silenced by a cup of tea and his first cigarette of the day.
A glance under the covers confirmed that he was decent to walk in front of Stephen so he made the trip to the loo that just wouldn’t wait and returned feeling relieved and refreshed, if not shaven. Two and a half years and he still hated that part of the endeavor, no matter how many women, or men for that matter, babbled about House’s sexy, scruffy look.
Stephen hadn’t spoken since his initial response to Hugh’s query about the limo. Perhaps he was waiting for Hugh’s full engagement before starting the day’s monologue on the concert or the party or the morning news. Maybe this was the beginning of a depressed phase. Despite his own experience with depression, he’d never quite understood what triggered Stephen’s moods. He’d seemed perfectly fine last night, doing his endearingly ludicrous “rock and roll” dance, but Hugh knew how quickly things could change. A phone call from Daniel, a bad dream, something on the internet…
One of Stephen’s many laptops had taken up residence on the kitchen table. Hugh had to go in to start water for tea and, not surprisingly, the computer was already on. There was an open web page on the screen with a picture of a woman seen from the side wearing a blue dress with white polka dots. Why did that look so familiar? He scrolled through a page of ridiculously small font, wishing he’d remembered to put his glasses on, before absorbing the fact that he was reading the blog of Pete Townsend’s girlfriend which included a nugget about the previous night’s show:
After the show, I met Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie who were being very funny about giving people blowjobs to get on Pete’s bus to say hi.
All he’d done was a bad impression of a New York hooker saying “Who does a broad have to blow to get on this thing?” just before Pete and Roger showed up to welcome them aboard.
Hugh was torn between embarrassment that this little tidbit was now preserved for all time and chagrin that he and Stephen had only earned a one-line mention while a visit from David Caruso the night before had garnered a photograph and several paragraphs of gushing. Apparently Rachel was avid to get a guest spot playing a corpse.
Still, it didn’t make sense for Stephen to use the event as an excuse for another round of bad manners, considering that he was the one who’d followed Hugh’s joke by pretending to be a pimp, talking up the value of the “goods.”
Stephen was making the bed, looking alarmingly Jeeves-like, even in his casual clothes.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“We’ve already established that you don’t give a damn about me, but do you really think Jo’s going to put up with this?”
Moods were one thing, but Stephen appeared to have gone completely round the bend.
“This is nothing. Typically British poof stuff. Does anyone even read that thing…besides you, I mean?”
“I don’t mean that.” Stephen fluffed up pillows with a great show of energy before turning around to face Hugh. “I mean what happened last night.”
Hugh’s morning was taking a sharp turn for the worse, punctuated by the shrill whistling coming from the kitchen, which exacerbated his hangover.
“Tea time,” he announced, wondering why all their conversations ended up sounding like a comedy sketch or a soap opera.
He went to the kitchen to make the tea, concentrating on what he might have done last night to raise Stephen’s ire so harshly after nearly two months of relative peace in Fry-land. Things were still a bit hazy, but the smell of Earl Grey helped bring the picture into focus.
They’d come back to the condo drunk, tired and happy. Hugh smiled until he realized they’d also fallen into bed, like many drunk, tired and happy times before. If something had happened, he really couldn’t blame Stephen. He’d feel guilty about Bobby, of course, but he was already living in a state of nearly perpetual guilt, so how was cheating on a new lover with an old lover any worse than cheating on his wife?
But if they’d had sex, why was Stephen in such a bitter mood, and why had he woken up with his boxers still on? There was no clue in Stephen’s expression as Hugh poured the tea. Or maybe he’d rejected Stephen, but then why bring up his sins against Jo?
Where was one of the writers, Doris perhaps, to make him look as brilliant as House, or at least give him some funny lines as he tried to figure out what was going on in his own life?
Perhaps the self-deprecating approach was worth a shot.
“Obviously I should never try to out-drink a rock star fifteen years my senior.”
“If you’re going to try and blame this on drink, I suggest you consider taking the pledge indefinitely.”
Hugh sipped his tea, slowly.
“Stephen, I give up. What have I done now? If I pushed you away, I’m sorry, but…well, we’ve been over this.”
“On the contrary, you were exceedingly affectionate. Rather like the old days.”
Hugh sighed, resigning himself to the idea that he had done the deed. Oh well, nothing to be done about it now.
“There are many names I will answer to when a man has his hands on my arse and his tongue in close proximity to my ear. ’Bobby’ is not one of them.”
“And I don’t think Jo would much appreciate it either.”
Bloody fucking hell.
“Damn,” he muttered, trying not to spill his tea.
Just when things had been going so well.
“Jo invited me over.”
“Joe who?” Robert muttered, squinting at the New York Times through his sunglasses.
Gaby had so many friends and acquaintances all over the world that it was impossible to keep track, especially when he’d just taken his first sip of an Arnold Palmer and neither the caffeine nor the sugar had kicked in yet. They were at Figtree’s Café, waiting for their breakfast orders to arrive.
“Jo Laurie. She must have called when I was on the plane. She left a message saying I should ‘come round for scones’ next time I’m in London.”
That woke up Bobby up nearly instantly without benefit of stimulants, especially because Gaby’s imitation of Jo’s accent was spot on, and therefore somewhat similar to Hugh’s.
Interest in the headlines evaporated. He searched his fiancée’s face for a hint that he was totally screwed, his big secret about to become tabloid fodder when Gaby announced to the press that she was breaking up the relationship and why.
Right. You’re that big a star. And she’d actually do that.
The voice of caustic reason was drowned out by fear for himself and the other people involved, specifically one person and his loved ones.
“She and Daniel decided I need to be inducted into their secret society. I think it’s sweet. I’ll have to take her up on it.”
“Yeah. Definitely. Assuming the show stays on the air long enough.”
“What are you talking about? Aren’t you number one?”
“No, American Idol is number one,” he reminded her, somewhat ashamed of knowing that fact.
“Big deal. You’re number one for real shows, right?”
“Sometimes,” he admitted, grudgingly, remembering how Hugh shared his gloomy view of the business and the low probability of continued success. Gaby could verge on being a Pollyanna.
The food arrived, allowing him to deal with the tofu scramble instead of his guilt for comparing Gaby to Hugh in any way, much less one that put Gaby in a bad light.
How could such a brilliant woman possibly be as clueless as he desperately needed her to be? On the other hand, she had already made a decision that he thought was hopelessly naïve, not to mention insane, and there was nothing he could do about it. Gaby had purloined the sports section and was picking at her veggie omelet.
She shrugged. By mutual decision, they abandoned the so-called food and got smoothies to drink while walking along the beach. Gaby started talking about some lectures she was already planning for the University of Tel Aviv. The topic of scones with Jo Laurie and Daniel Cohen was completely dropped, leaving Bobby to wonder if there’d been any reason for her to bring it up in the first place besides giving him a heart attack.
Hugh had once told him that the price of infidelity is constant paranoia. He ran through every moment since Gaby had arrived the day before, trying to remember if he’d said or done anything that might lead her to suspect he was having an affair with Hugh. Not just a dirty little physical fling, but something that had turned almost alarmingly serious with declarations of love, walks along this same beach, and fear of exposure at the hands of Hugh’s best friend.
Stephen had been a factor from the beginning, even before Bobby knew about the emotionally tortured aspects of Hugh’s and Stephen’s relationship. The more he found out, the more he developed his own jealousy of the years they’d spent together as partners, professional and otherwise. It was insane, but the whole relationship fit that category, including a growing conviction that the writers were trying to imply more than just friendship between House and Wilson. The night they broadcast the episode with the autistic child, Uma had called from Connecticut to scream about Wilson’s jealousy when he saw Cameron sitting on the desk, and instead of thinking “leave me alone, you crazy woman” as usual, he’d found himself nodding. It would certainly have pissed him off if he were Wilson.
He should probably stop talking to Uma after every episode. For one thing she screeched into the receiver and for another she was starting to make sense, which was just scary.
He definitely needed to stop mentioning Uma when he was talking to Gaby. They’d never particularly hit it off and Gaby’s response to Ethan and Uma breaking up had been a polite variation of “Good riddance,” and an implication that Uma was talented and beautiful but not all that bright.
Bobby wondered if he should call Hugh and let him know about Jo’s invitation. Jo and Daniel and Gaby couldn’t possibly be a good thing. Because even if Jo didn’t know what was going on, was it possible that Stephen’s partner had no inkling?
“Would Stephen be there?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
Gaby had moved on from Tel Aviv back to the various appointments she had lined up with what Bobby mentally lumped together as “horse people” that afternoon.
“The tea and crumpets.”
“Oh, that. No, I don’t think so. Jo acted like it was just “the girls,” very ha ha. But I’ve been getting emails from Stephen.”
Bobby tried to wrap his head around that piece of information as he chucked the remains of the smoothie into a garbage can. He also tried to cover up the loud chorus of shit, shit, shit that was singing three-part harmony in his brain.
“He’s got about a zillion computers. Buys them five at a time or something. Did you see that article in the New Yorker?” he asked cautiously.
“Poor thing. He’s really the sweetest man. I seem to have been added to his list of internet friends, so I’m always getting little articles and tidbits. I think he’s here right now working on some show, so he must be staying with Hugh.”
Bobby knew very well that Stephen was in town, working on an episode of Bones. He was, in fact, staying at Hugh’s apartment, which had exactly one bed, which Bobby had been trying very hard not to think about.
“Maybe we can all have dinner together,” she added.
Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea.
“Hugh sees enough of me when we’re working.”
“Oh come on. I thought you guys were such great friends. Besides, I’ve never gotten to spend any time with him. Hugh and Stephen together? That’s got to be amazing. At least give him a call. Please?”
Bobby tried to think of a plausible excuse. There was none.
He knew that Hugh and Stephen had been on the outs, mostly because of him, and that they’d recently made up, pretty much because he couldn’t keep himself from showing Hugh an article in the New Yorker. Now he could only hope that Hugh would veto anything as ridiculous as this dinner idea.
August had been an exceedingly chilly month between Hugh and Stephen, as in no contact whatsoever. Not even one of those innocuously amusing emails that regularly went out to Stephen’s vast circle of friends.
Hugh knew he’d been thoughtless of Stephen’s feelings, but he wasn’t going to apologize for his own. There was only so much guilt a man could live with and Hugh felt he’d reached his limit. He hated when things were like this between them, but it couldn’t be helped and frankly, he had other things to worry about.
The manuscript of the new book had come back from copy editing festooned with post-it notes in an array of colors. There were changes, deletions, suggestions and demands, each one requiring a response, leading to a flurry of transatlantic calls and emails as he was forced to defend each comma and conjunction.
Then there was the movie. Did he really want to spend another summer in LA, in a third-billed part, with Keanu Reeves of all people? There was the famous, never-ending house hunt, seemingly destined to go the same way as Malkovich’s intention of producing The Gun Seller, but the illusion had to persist. He didn’t want to admit to himself or Jo that they were really destined to live this way as long as the series lasted, even though his natural pessimism insisted that it couldn’t possibly be more than another year.
Hugh felt he could be forgiven if it wasn’t his first priority to hop on a plane to London and grovel so Stephen wouldn’t be cross with him.
The cold spell had lasted until a day in September when Bobby showed up at his trailer with a magazine in his hand, which turned out to be the previous week’s New Yorker. Bobby loved the magazine and often showed Hugh articles, but he didn’t usually drop by the trailer to do so.
“Have you seen this?”
Perhaps their luck had finally given out and there’d been something written about them being more than friends, but The New Yorker hardly seemed the place.
Hugh took the magazine. It was folded back to an article entitled “Petrified” by John Lahr. The subtitle said “The horrors of stage fright.”
He still didn’t understand Bobby’s immediate interest until he read the first line, In February, 1995, the thirty-seven-year-old British actor and comedian Stephen Fry was starring with another popular British comic, Rik Mayall, in the West End production of Simon Gray’s “Cell Mates.”, and felt his stomach lurch.
Any mention of Cell Mates inevitably led to memories of Stephen’s breakdown, the suicide attempt and subsequent disappearance. Eleven years had gone by and he could feel the fear that Stephen was gone forever as vividly as he had during those horrible two weeks until Stephen turned up in Hamburg. His hands shook, rattling the magazine pages.
“You never told me about this.”
Bobby’s tone implied that he had a right to know. Maybe he did, but that didn’t make Hugh any more inclined to discuss it. He peered at the illustration, a caricature of an actor, possibly Shakespearean, who appeared to be literally “petrified” being carried onto the stage by a burly fellow in brown, still unclear as to why this story was appearing in The New Yorker now.
“It’s an article about stage fright.”
Hugh nodded. He’d never considered the incident to be a result of stage fright, although he knew that Stephen, although a natural genius, was not a natural actor, able to overcome the terror of the audience the way other actors, such as Bobby, could.
Before he could read further, a PA arrived to summon Hugh and Bobby to the soundstage that been set up as “Atlantic City hotel room” where they were shooting a scene with John Laroquette, one with pages of fast-paced dialogue, heavy emotional content and the usual surfeit of medical jargon. He didn’t think he could remember any of it, despite having the whole scene memorized before Bobby arrived to play show and tell. This had to be taken care of now.
“I’ll be right there,” he assured Donna, who looked annoyed, and Bobby, whose face still wore the shock of learning just how emotionally fragile Stephen could be.
As soon as they were out of earshot he pulled out his mobile phone to ring up Stephen and apologize for being a stupid git. He did not apologize for screwing Bobby or promise that he would cease to do so.
It became the unspoken topic between them. At least Stephen had stopped issuing threats to expose the affair to Gaby, Jo, The Sun or Rupert Murdoch. Hugh suspected that the new strategy was simply to bide his time until the show ran its course. It was hard to imagine things continuing after that.
On the other hand, he obviously had his current lover firmly embedded in his subconscious, leading to last night’s faux pas. What else could he do but sigh and apologize and get ready to face Jay Leno?
“Stephen, I’m so sorry.”
“Aren’t you always?”
“Are you sure you want to come? You really don’t have to.”
Gaby was looking at her Blackberry, checking the list of horse farms and equestrian patrons they were due to visit, including a workout with Sandstone.
“No. It’s OK. I want to.”
“You know you’ll be bored shitless.”
Bobby had to smile. She was right. A little bit of horses and horse people went a long way, but she’d done her fair share of industry events and red carpets where the press treated her as though she were invisible. Gaby had been there applauding for him since his first walk-on part at Columbia, back when they were the geeky misfits who hung out together, and you had to be pretty geeky to be considered a geek at Columbia.
She’d stood by as a friend while he went through the whole Dead Poets Society insanity and the whatever-it-was with Gwyneth, until he stopped being an idiot and realized he was in love with her. Going down to Orange County for some glad-handing the day before Gaby was competing in the Revo Classic was the least he could do.
Gaby actually enjoyed driving, no doubt a product of her Southern California upbringing. She maneuvered the Ford Mustang as smoothly as she rode the other kind of horse. Her mastery of the wheel provided Bobby with the opportunity to relax and enjoy the scenery, such as it could be seen from the car, but the paranoia kicked back in with Oldies 93.
She hadn’t mentioned anything about this morning. Why should she? There was nothing unusual about a man waking up horny and making love to his fiancée, even if they’d also done it the night before. She had no way of knowing what he’d been dreaming about, or exactly how much sex he’d gotten used to having in that exact bed.
The mention of Jo’s invitation and the whole “let’s have dinner with Hugh and Stephen,” which he still hadn’t followed up on, could all be perfectly innocent. His friendship with Hugh was no secret. Friends. Like him and Ethan, freaky dreams notwithstanding.
There was no reason for her to suppose that a Saturday afternoon devoted to getting rid of evidence had led to a fierce encounter on the stairs when Hugh responded to Bobby’s description of his recurring dream with a show of possessiveness that left Bobby both bruised and breathless.
Maybe Hugh had left marks, besides the usual stubble burn. Gaby had brought him a whole box of spa products, including some Black Sea Black Mud. He’d accepted gratefully, using the typical actor’s complaint about the make-up being rough on his complexion, and threw in something about the salt air and the smog.
Almost as soon as she’d put down her bags and changed out of her travel clothes, they’d been on the road to Thousand Oaks to see her family and tell them the big news. “December 27,” she’d said, as though it were another lecture date or a show-jumping event instead of giving up her US citizenship and moving to Israel.
It wasn’t a surprise. She’d been talking about it on and off since the 2000 elections. She had friends in the small Israeli equestrian community and a standing offer to lecture at the University of Tel Aviv. That didn’t make it any less of a shock to hear an actual date.
Naturally her parents had gone seven brands of ballistic and Bobby had made it clear he supported her decision 100%. That was his job. He’d saved his own concerns for the ride to Orange County.
“Why now?” he’d asked.
“The elections are this week.”
“Bob, it’s not about politics. It’s where I belong.”
He resisted the impulse to say anything as melodramatic as “I thought you belonged with me,” or even worse, “What about us?” because she would just remind him of how little time they spent in the same city, state or country as it was. Maybe their separate vagabond lives were what had kept them together this long, but some part of Bobby’s mind couldn’t help thinking this might be a ploy to get him to set a date so she could stay home and be a Hollywood wife.
Are you on drugs?
He loved her deeply and what had once been gawky and geeky was now sweet and adorable, especially her crooked grin, but she’d always put the riding ahead of everything.
“It’s dangerous,” he insisted, unable to stop himself.
“So’s the 405,” she replied, merging into the fast lane.
Gaby had no way of knowing when they made love that night and again in the morning that some part of him, which he hated and felt deeply ashamed of, didn’t mind the fact that she’d be farther away for longer than usual, leaving him more leeway to be with Hugh.
The guilt sent him to Orange County to smile and shake hands with the people Gaby cultivated for her work on the board of the Southern California Equestrian Society. Schmoozing and fundraising were as much a part of the job as the riding itself. He watched with a certain fascination as she went about the process with dignity and patience. He smiled and nodded and allowed his picture to be taken with various big-money types who were probably voting Republican the next day but all claimed to watch and love the show.
At the Anaco Ranch in Anaheim, she finally got to see Sandstone Laurin for the first time in nearly a month and take him out on the course. Bobby knew they needed some time together, so he sat on the bleachers watching. As far as his uneducated eye could tell, the horse looked fully recovered from its injury.
He owed her so much, including a dinner with Hugh and Stephen if that was what she really wanted. He had to at least try so he could then shake his head sadly and explain the logistical problems and make apologies on Hugh’s behalf. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Hugh’s number. It was a calculated risk if Stephen was nearby, but Hugh could always let it go to voicemail. After two rings, he assumed that was going to happen and prepared to leave his brief message. Instead he heard Hugh’s voice.
It still had its familiar effect. Homina, homina, homina.
“Hey. Hugh. How was the concert? It must have been amazing.”
“I think I’ve almost recovered my hearing.”
Bobby could sense a certain over-precision in Hugh’s speech. He wasn’t alone.
The silence was too charged to last long.
“She wants to have dinner. All four of us.”
“Really? That’s an interesting idea. Let me check with my social secretary.”
Stephen must be nearby. Hovering. He short-circuited a rush of jealousy by reminding himself that he was capable of facing a live audience in a play, something that the oh-so-accomplished Mr. Fry apparently could not.
It was a mean, petty thing to think and he instantly felt guilty about it.
“Dinner for four it is. Tomorrow night, then?”
“I guess. Gaby’s competing tomorrow and we’re going to Lisa’s to watch election returns, but we could do dinner first.”
“Are you sure? Is this a good idea?” he asked trying to convey his concern without getting Hugh further in dutch with his best friend.
“I can assure you, we’ll both be on our best behavior. If any riots are started, they will be on your side of the table.”
“You’re doing Leno tonight, right?”
“Indeed. We’re on our way to Burbank right now. In a limo.”
Hugh enunciated the last word emphatically, making Bobby feel he’d been sitting out in the sun too long, both hot and slightly dizzy.
“I’ll be sure to watch.”
“Break a leg.”
“Only if it means I can get out of this. I’ll ring you up tomorrow.”
Poor Hugh. He had to go out there and play the “public consumption” version of himself yet again, which Bobby knew was as much a performance as putting on House’s accent and limp.
“How are you holding up, sweetie?”
Gaby had joined him on the bleachers. She was holding her riding helmet, but had already changed back into her “meeting the money” clothes.
“I’m good. You looked great out there. He looks great.”
“Thanks. I think we’re going to do well tomorrow.”
“And we’re on for dinner tomorrow night.”
“With Hugh and Stephen? That is so awesome. I can hardly wait.”
“Me either,” he said, trying to sell it without going over the top. “Hugh’s doing Leno tonight.”
“I know you don’t want to miss that,” she replied, smiling just knowingly enough to make him start worrying all over again.
The green room at the Tonight Show studio was not green, but Hugh had compensated by turning a bit chartreuse around the gills.
Stephen watched, trying not to show his amusement at Hugh’s distress, especially since he knew it was the equivalent of a tantrum thrown by a child who didn’t want to do his homework.
“Are you sure about the shirt?”
“The shirt is perfection itself.”
The shirt was, in fact, Stephen’s. Wearing it on national television was the pound of flesh he had demanded to let Hugh off the hook for the previous night’s faux pas. It was the palest pink and the television lights would blanch it to almost white, but he would know that under his grey jacket, Hugh was wearing a shirt monogrammed SF. He owed Stephen that much.
Perhaps he should have let things continue even after he heard the other man’s name. Hugh might have been miffed in the morning, but he’d have no one to blame but himself and Jack Daniels. It wouldn’t have been an unpleasant experience. Stephen knew what Hugh liked and he was more than willing to match his own prowess against this Bobby-come-lately. He berated himself for his stupid pride. At least he could console himself that he’d done the “right” thing, even if it was for the wrong reason.
Suffice to say, Hugh looked a treat in the open-collared shirt. His morning hoarseness had given way to tea and a few lozenges. He’d already been through the pre-interview and there was no reason for him to be acting the diva, pacing the green room, which they were currently sharing with America Ferrara, her publicist and her publicist’s assistant. The room was considerably larger than anything afforded to guests on a UK chat-show, although the alarmingly named Cheetah Girls were being held elsewhere, hopefully in a secure cage.
Hugh and Ms. Ferrara had exchanged air kisses and show-business pleasantries before she retreated to one side of the room with her entourage while Hugh commenced pacing and worrying about the shirt. It was a relief when Hugh was called into the studio leaving Stephen to watch the ordeal on one of the monitors.
“You all know my first guest, an Emmy-nominated actor who plays the brilliant, abrasive Dr. House on the hugely popular series House. The show is aired on Tuesday nights on Fox. Also a fellow motorcyclist. Hugh Laurie, ladies and gentlemen!”
Stephen could look at Hugh indefinitely. Listening to an inane rehash of bits that Hugh had been dispensing to interviewers for years was another matter. It was a necessity of the business, but having spent the better part of six months exposing his demons to the camera for the documentary, it galled him more than a little to watch Hugh glide by on the same old glib façade.
“Emma Thompson was on the show last week. She said she basically discovered you.”
“Ah yes, well, I suppose you could say that.”
“And you…you two used to go out.”
He had to resist the impulse to call Emma and remind her she no longer had to parade herself as proof of Hugh’s heterosexuality. Perhaps he would enlist her support by outlining the current situation in the hopes that she would get on the phone and give Hugh what for, along with a demand that he break up with the interloper and recommence shagging Stephen immediately. It was, he hated to admit, more likely that she would scold Stephen for behaving like a lovesick schoolgirl and tell him to go home to the man who adored him, and she’d be right.
Stephen hated feeling this way, hated watching House with that sick feeling that came up whenever House and Wilson exchanged one of those looks. Hated himself for needing to take to bed for a good wank while envisioning Hugh, back in the Jeeves days, well dressed and smooth-faced in a dressing room on his knees. Hated the amount of pain he must be causing Daniel, who had to have some idea what was going on.
There were no illusions that Hugh would leave Jo and show up on his doorstep in West Bilney for a lifetime of fun and fellatio. Stephen loved Daniel and didn’t want to cheat, or want to want to cheat, but the knowledge that Hugh was having a full-blown affair drove him to a completely irrational desire to reclaim his rightful place in Hugh’s life.
”I have a wife and teenagers back in London. I’ll be seeing them in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. Not that we celebrate Thanksgiving, of course.”
He knew he should take responsibility for his own feelings, but he wasn’t the one playing the good husband on the telly knowing full well what he was getting up to practically every spare moment. On the other hand it was impossible to stay angry at Hugh, especially when he was wearing Stephen’s shirt.
Stephen’s pique, inevitably, focused itself on Mr. Leonard. Bobby, he thought with extreme distaste. By the time Hugh was joking about giving Leno a liver transplant, Stephen had worked himself into a state of fury toward Hugh’s current paramour, with whom he’d already agreed to break bread the following evening. Hugh had reported that Ms. Salick thought it would be “fun” for all four of them to dine out.
Stephen hardly noticed Leno wrapping up the interview and the music playing Hugh off the set, so intent was he on the prospect of facing his rival head on and wondering exactly how he could make the evening work to his own advantage. He had no desire to hurt Gabriella but he was tired of suffering in solitude.
America Ferrara left for her turn on the couch as Hugh returned to the room, looking rather pale and clammy.
“Remind me to have my agent flogged if he suggests doing this again. Was I the world’s biggest prat out there?”
“That would be your gracious host, but honestly I’m surprised you’ve never heard from the Presbyterian Anti-defamation League. You can’t blame it all on them, you know.”
“So now I’m the Mel Gibson of anti-Presbyterianism?”
“Certainly. And I’m not sure you really want to alert the Los Angeles Police Department of your propensity to nod off on the road.”
“Yes. I’m a Rodney King just waiting to happen. Especially if they’ve been watching the show.”
“Ah, the little stunt with the thermometer.”
Hugh nodded, grinning at his character’s cheeky behavior. Stephen had detected a certain amount of animosity toward the actor playing Detective Tritter, who seemed to be doing a grand job of making himself completely loathsome.
“Shall we grab a bit of supper?” Hugh inquired.
“And miss the Cheetah Girls? I should say not,” he announced in a voice of high outrage, causing Hugh to crack up with laughter. At least he could still do that. “Actually, I was thinking of making it an early evening.”
Hugh managed to stop chortling long enough to raise a skeptical eyebrow.
“I hate the idea of the room at the Chateau going to waste. And some of us actually have to work in the morning.”
Stephen tried and failed not to be hurt by Hugh’s visible relief that he was moving out.
“Are you all right with this dinner thing? We can claim prior commitments, late filming, visit to a friend in rehab.”
“Wouldn’t think of it. In fact, I’ll take care of the arrangements,” he said in his most soothing tones, which he hoped would throw Hugh completely off the scent.
By the time they were in the town car, Stephen had sent a few text messages inquiring about potential dining spots and received a very interesting reply. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but he’d discovered the perfect place for it.