“Do I know you?”
Michael had heard variations of the question for over three years now, and he both loved and hated it. The recognition Smallville had brought him opened doors he’d dreamed of stepping through since childhood. He had fans, which was really cool, and he’d gotten to be in a movie with Steve Martin, which was awesome. But after a long day of promoting the show on the WB Press Junket – something he had a full three more days to look forward to – he’d prefer to be an anonymous schlub unwinding with a drink at the hotel bar.
Michael stopped watching the moisture droplets race down the side of his beer bottle and turned to the person who’d addressed him. Tall and thin, with fat lips and strong cheekbones, the man was a few years younger than Michael, but Michael didn’t recognize him. Someone who’d caught a commercial for the show, Michael figured, or had seen Michael in a magazine. Hopefully, the type who would go away after a few polite words.
“I’m an actor,” Michael said, and it still made him proud that he could really claim that label. “You’ve probably seen me on television or something.”
“No, that’s not it,” the guy said, squinting slightly, as if that would make Michael appear different. “You aren’t a model, so I haven’t seen you at any shows…”
“I’ve been in a few clothing ads.” Michael wondered if maybe this guy knew Tom, since, with his words and his looks, it was apparent that he was a model. Perhaps he’d seen a picture of Michael and Tom together for the show and recognized Michael by association. “My best friend is also a model.”
And what a perfect model Tom was, hard and smooth and almost too pretty to be a man. But Michael knew first hand (and mouth and ass) that Tom was one hundred percent male.
Michael felt a stirring in his jeans and thought ahead to the telephone call he’d be making soon to his partner. Phone sex was fun, though he’d have preferred Tom to make the trip with him to New York so they could fuck in person. Tom was overly cautious about their relationship remaining on the QT, however, especially when press pictures showed them touching with too much intimate familiarity after a supposedly platonic embrace.
“That’s right. That’s how I know you,” the guy said. “You’re Welling’s rentboy.”
The words hit like a physical blow to Michael’s chest. He stopped breathing and felt the blood drain from his face. The sounds around him became amplified: the clink of the bartender filling a glass, the conversation between a couple at the far end of the bar, the footsteps of a person walking by.
“I’m Scott. Room 1353.” Scott raked his gaze down Michael’s body. It was like a touch of unwanted hands and Michael’s skin crawled. “I could use you for the night.”
Sandpaper scratched Michael’s throat. He could barely get his tongue to move. “I don’t do that anymore.”
“That’s right, you’re an ‘actor’.” Scott’s smile made Michael’s stomach drop. “I heard they were doing some press thing here. You’re a part of that, right?”
Michael nodded faintly. His fingernails bit into his clammy palms. He was going to puke.
“I wonder what they would say if they knew what you really were.” Scott let the threat hang in the air, pressing down until Michael felt smothered by it. Then, he touched Michael’s shoulder, leaned closer, and said in his ear, “Room 1353. Thirty minutes. That should give you enough time to shower first.”
Michael swallowed the vomit that rose in his throat, as Scott left the bar. He clamped a hand over his mouth and fled to the restroom. He banged into a stall, crashed to his knees on the hard tile, and threw up. Alcohol and acid burned its way up and out his nose and mouth as he heaved into the toilet bowl. His heart hammered loudly in his ears and slammed violently against his chest.
Breathing harshly through his mouth, Michael closed his eyes and clung to the bowl. His body shook, trembling wildly in horror and fear. Someone knew what he’d been and was going to tell. He would be finished as an actor, his dreams shattered like glass. His picture would be plastered everywhere, the press eating up his misfortune like vultures. He’d become recognized as the celebrity whore. His mother would know.
Shame caused him to vomit again, choking on a sob of despair. Tom would also get the caught in the fallout; his name smeared with implications of prostitution. He would lose his job and his future prospects after he’d worked so hard to learn the craft. And he had been in a Steve Martin movie, too.
Worse, he wouldn’t be able to look at Michael anymore, knowing that Michael was responsible for destroying his life. He would leave and Michael would be alone with his shame and his broken heart. The best thing he ever had would be gone.
Michael couldn’t let that happen. He loved Tom. So much that it scared him at times. He’d spent a year without Tom before they were truly together and had woken up every day missing him. He didn’t want to lose Tom for any reason. But how could he prevent it?
Scott wanted sex. He’d all but spelled out that he expected Michael to service him tonight, or the press would learn the truth. Shit, there was no other way. Michael would have to do it. He’d have to have sex with someone other than Tom. There was no guarantee that Scott wouldn’t blab anyway, but it was a certainty if Michael didn’t show up.
Michael wiped his mouth with toilet papers, flushed, and climbed shakily to his feet. A glance at his watch showed he had twenty-two minutes left before he was expected in room 1353. He needed a toothbrush, a shower, an enema, condoms and lube. He’d have to improvise on the third, but he had a water squirt bottle. He could use hand lotion for lube, though it wasn’t the best, and condoms only required quarters in the machine on the wall. Michael happened to have two-fifty’s worth in his pocket.
The machine spit out two glow-in-the-dark condoms and Michael held back a hysterical laugh. Instead, he went upstairs to his hotel room and got ready for the worst night of his life.
Michael’s tinted glasses didn’t hide the bruised rings of sleeplessness or shade the trapped, slightly wild look in his eyes. He was on edge, shoulders tense, headache pounding fiercely in his temples. He hadn’t eaten since Thursday at lunch, his attempts only successful in causing him to puke. He twitched at the edge of his chair, unable to sit still in his anxiety. His favorite black shirt, the one that Tom had bought him so long ago, clung to his sweaty skin and probably stunk because he’d worn it two days in a row; but it was his lucky shirt and so far, his luck was holding out.
None of the journalists had asked about the taste of condoms or the number of johns he’d had. No one had inquired about the rules of prostitution. No one had hinted that he’d spent last night and the night before on his knees, giving head and getting fucked, and then being paid a dollar “to keep it business.” No one inferred that he’d return to room 1353 tonight and allow Scott to do anything to him as long as he didn’t tell.
The press junket was four days long and then he could go home. His contract wouldn’t let him leave early and he’d be afraid to go, anyway. Scott knew Michael’s time in New York was limited and had made vague promises that, if he performed well, he’d conveniently forget the name of the rentboy he’d bought. Michael had little faith it would hold true, but he couldn’t chance it.
The phone in his hotel room rang as he stumbled in the door. The day had passed in a blur of repetitive questions and answers, concerned looks, and a lot of coffee, which only made him twitchier but he couldn’t look at a water bottle without feeling his stomach churn.
Michael didn’t want to pick up the phone. He wanted to curl up in the corner and die. “Hello?”
“Hey. I thought you were going to call me.”
Oh god. Tom.
“Sorry.” Michael rubbed the heel of his hand against his chest, where a stabbing pain lay just under the surface. “I went out. With the others. The WB people.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay then, that you didn’t call. Did you have fun?”
“Yes.” Michael squeezed his eyes shut. He had to get off the phone. He couldn’t talk to Tom, couldn’t be reminded of the best thing that ever had happened to him when he had to go spread his legs for someone else in less than an hour. “We’re going out again. I promised I’d go. I can’t stay on.”
Michael could hear the hurt underscoring Tom’s casual tone. The pain in his chest increased tenfold and he bit his lower lip to keep from crying like a girl.
“I’ll let you go, then. Say hello for me.”
“I will.” Michael’s voice hitched and he had to swallow twice before he could continue. “Talk to you later. I…” Oh god, Tom. “I love you.”
“Bye.” Michael hung up, stumbled into the bathroom, and dry heaved into the toilet. The phone started ringing. A sob broke in his throat. He wanted to die.
Pushing up to his feet, he ignored the phone and the trembling of his hands as he stripped off his clothes. The shower scalded as he scrubbed his flesh raw, inside and out. But the filthy feeling remained, clinging to his skin, reminding him that this was who he was supposed to be.
Whore. Rentboy. Trade.
Why else would he have chosen to prostitute himself over working at a gas station, or trying his hand at fast food over waitering, or doing what he did at the end: filing paperwork in an office, while struggling as an unemployed actor? Why else would he have been so good at it? Why else had he built up a client base, had business cards and standard prices? Why else had he done it for years, until Tom had come along and they had enacted their own version of Pretty Woman?
Tom. What was he going to do about Tom? How could he ever look at Tom in the face again? Deep down, Michael knew he was a whore, bought heart and soul by Tom, whether he’d returned the money or not. Instead of having three or four clients a night, he had a single long-term one that he bent over for and was paid for with affection.The head of the water bottle slotted in his asshole and he squeezed with two hands. He needed to stop kidding himself and get used to the fact that he was trade who sidelined as an actor.
Michael finished his shower, toweled dry quickly, brushed his teeth and slapped on deodorant. He wiped off the condensation on the mirror and stared at his water-blurred reflection. Haunted blue eyes stared back at him, ringed in purple like a raccoon’s mask. Stubbly hair covered his head from not shaving his scalp. His scarred lips twisted in derision, and he leaned forward and kissed the mirror. “‘Who loves ya baby?’” he quoted mockingly and left the bathroom.
The lubricant he’d purchased between night one and night two was crammed in his duffle bag, along with condoms. He spread the towel on the bed, knelt over it, and finger-fucked himself until he felt stretched enough for quicker penetration later. He decided he would charge more than a dollar that night; if he was going to be a whore, he would be a professional.
And maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to live with himself after this was all over.
Michael nearly kicked him when he rounded the privacy wall jutting out beside his hotel room door. “Tom!” he gasped, heart catching in his throat. The keycard in his hand began to shake.
Tom woke from his doze and blinked blearily up at Michael from his seat on the floor across the doorway. “Hey. ‘Bout time you got back.”
“Why are you here? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Fear like he’d never felt before swamped Michael. A wad of bills bulged in his jeans pocket, he had condoms and the tube of lube in his jacket, and he reeked of sex. It had been his last night servicing Scott on top of his last day at the press junket. He’d be going back to Vancouver tomorrow and he could forget about this nightmare.
Only, he had a new nightmare and it rose in front of him with perfect lips and green grape eyes.
“You sounded weird over the phone and I thought I’d surprise you, since we still have another week off. I thought maybe we could do New York or something.” Tom studied him intently. “You look like shit.”
Words caught in Michael’s throat. Not here, not now, not like this. He didn’t want Tom to know.
Tom sniffed and his eyes widened briefly before narrowing in anger. His voice lowered in a hiss. “You smell like sex, too. Is that why you didn’t call? Is that why you sounded like you were going to cry over the phone?”
“Not in the hall,” Michael managed.
“Jesus, Mike. I can’t believe you.” Tom’s features were tight with anger and hurt. He shoved past Michael and stormed up the corridor.
“Tom!” Michael burst out, even though it would be better if Tom left now. He was going to leave anyway, once he learned the truth. The thought pierced Michael’s gut like a knife. “Wait, please!”
Tom stopped, his shoulders and back a line of tension. The silence in the hallway hurt Michael’s ears.
Tom turned and marched back over to Michael. He folded his arms across his chest and glowered. “I am seriously pissed off at you. We agreed to be monogamous. You have one chance to explain.”
Michael dropped his eyes, staring blurrily at the floor. Shame and self-loathing clogged his throat. “I got paid,” he mumbled.
“You paid?” Tom’s arms dropped and he released a harsh breath. “Okay. Okay. Maybe I can deal. You were alone, and I know how horny you get when you’re ‘on’ all day and need to relieve tension. If you paid, it didn’t mean anything, just physical release. You didn’t like the person. Whores are nothing, anyway.”
“Yeah.” Michael closed his eyes against their sting. Whores were nothing, anyway.
Tom took the keycard from his limp hand and opened the door. “Go take a shower. I’m going to go down and get my bag from the concierge.”
Tom’s hand on Michael’s shoulder burned. “I’ll forgive you once, Mike. When I get back, I’ll remind you why you should’ve waited for me.”
Tom ushered Michael into the hotel room and left. The door swung shut behind him and locked automatically. Michael stood in the entryway to the dark room, biting his lower lip. Tom had misheard him. Tom didn’t know. Tom hadn’t left him, yet.
Michael was going to hold on to him while he could.
The shower made Michael feel even dirtier than before, but he made use of the water bottle again and scrubbed until he was pink beneath his body hair. He brushed his teeth, washing the latex taste from his mouth, and took a piss. His bare toes cracked as he left the bathroom.
Tom wore only his jeans, lounging on the bed in the dim light from the lamp. A single condom and the lubricant stood on the night table. He watched with heavy-lidded eyes as Michael approached and his lips parted with desire.
Michael’s heart wrenched. He wanted Tom in him desperately, right now, filling him up, holding him down, ridding him of the feel of Scott. “Tom…”
His desperation must’ve shone in his voice, because Tom met him as he crawled onto the bed and devoured him with his lips. Tom’s large hands gripped him firmly, almost too tightly. His tongue dominated Michael’s mouth, claiming possession in a soul-rending kiss. The corners of Michael’s eyes stung.
Tom said nothing when he broke away. He manhandled Michael onto his stomach and Michael buried his face in the lumpy pillow. He spread his legs and clenched his hands into fists beneath the pillow under his head. He could feel Tom move between his thighs, hear the flick of a button-fly opening and then the rip of the condom wrapper. Time wasn’t wasted fingering Michael, after years of bottoming he readily accepted a cock up his ass.The only cock up his ass had been Tom’s, though, since they’d met, until this press junket. Until Michael’s past was shoved in his face and he was forced to suck it.
Tom blanketed him, pushing inside in one long, burning thrust. The rough rub of denim caught the hairs on Michael’s legs. Tom’s smooth chest pressed against his back, his hot breath gusting across Michael’s neck. Michael expected to feel the difference immediately, but the cock filling him just felt like a cock, and it could be anyone on top of him: Tom, Scott, a former john. An impersonal fuck in a hotel room much like the ones he used to go to and got paid for it.
Bile burned like acid in the back of his throat. Sex with Tom had never been impersonal, not since the night they’d met. Sex was fun and laughter and a bright sort-of love that hit fast and stuck. It was hot and messy and loud, electricity always rushing through his veins. It was Tom and Michael, and Michael and Tom, and it was good and right and perfect even when it was bad.
Michael bit the pillow and fought not to break down in an emotional wreck. Tom fucked him with hard, possessive strokes, jealousy and anger taken out on Michael’s ass. Michael’s body took it, but didn’t react like usual, his limp cock trapped against the bed. His shame and self-loathing and the fact that he really was nothing but a whore – and whores were nothing – kept him pinned without protest or lamenting voice.
Tom finished with a bit-off curse, slapping against Michael’s ass and pumping it full of come. It hurt when he pulled out, but not a physical pain. The bed shifted as Tom rose, to get rid of the condom. Michael didn’t move.
Tom returned and the bed shifted again. Mouthy kisses were pressed against Michael’s shoulder and a bare thigh rubbed his own. Reciprocation was evident in Tom’s touch.
Michael schooled his features not to reflect what he felt inside but failed. He wasn’t an actor, anyway. He turned his head on the pillow and looked at Tom. Tom’s anger had washed away with the sex, leaving unhappiness in its wake. His forehead lined as he studied Michael’s face. “Don’t you want…?”
“No.” Michael wanted to crawl inside Tom and never come out, but he didn’t want sex.
Tom cupped Michael’s shoulder, stroking the skin with his fingertips. “I’m sorry.”
It was unexpected and it threw Michael. “What are you sorry for? I was the one who…” He swallowed the rest of the sentence.
“Just… I don’t want to lose you, Mike,” Tom said.
Michael’s throat tightened. He moved into Tom’s arms, burying his face in the crook of Tom’s neck.
They lay like that, in the glow of the lamplight, long into the dawn.
Michael smiled at Tom, his first real smile since this nightmare began, when Tom suggested they visit the stadium where the New York Rangers played hockey, the following morning. It was Monday, the day Michael was supposed to fly back to Vancouver originally. But Tom had been serious about staying in New York for a few days, playing tourist before they had to return to work, and as much as Michael wanted to just go home, the lure of maybe seeing the Rangers practice made him agree.
“I need to tell the front desk that I’m not checking out yet,” Michael said, stuffing his feet in his gym shoes.
“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Tom called from the bathroom.
Michael slipped on his coat and the key card for the room. “I have the key.”
Stepping over the breakfast tray, with its empty coffee cups and half-eaten food on the plates (Michael couldn’t get anything down but the coffee), Michael let the door to the room close behind him and headed to the elevators. His reflection in the elevator doors looked sickly and his glasses hid his haunted eyes, but he didn’t appear as on edge as he had the past few days. The press would’ve mostly left the night before and he wouldn’t be under as much scrutiny. He smoothed the front his wrinkled Partridge Family t-shirt. He’d wanted to wear his black shirt again – he still needed someone to believe in him, desperately – but it had been rank and Tom would’ve questioned him if he’d worn it anyway.
The lobby was fairly empty when Michael emerged from the elevators. He went to the chest high counter and received a pleasant smile from the employee behind the front desk. “May I help you?” she asked.
“I’d like to extend my stay, if I could,” Michael told her. “Michael Rosenbaum, room 2217.”
“That would be fine,” she said, typing on her computer. “How long will you be staying for?”
“A few days. Maybe the rest of the week. I’m not sure. Is that okay?”
“Just let us know the night before when you want to check out.”
Michael smiled for the second time that day. “Thanks.”
Wandering from the desk, Michael planted himself in view of the elevators near a window. Outside, people bundled in their coats walked briskly past the hotel. The forecast on the television news hadn’t predicted rain, despite the grayness of the day.
“You’re still here.”
Michael tensed at the voice. He didn’t turn. He could see Scott’s clear reflection in the window, standing behind him. “Yes.”
“If you’re sticking around, I wouldn’t mind arranging for a few more nights,” Scott said. “I’m stuck here all week, waiting for a show.”
“No,” Michael said hoarsely. “I can’t.”
He waited for the threat of blackmail, but instead heard something worse. “Tom Welling, you skank. Long time, no see.”
In the reflection of the glass, Michael saw Tom approach and shake hands with Scott. He couldn’t breathe.
“Yeah. It’s been a while. Gotta show?”
“Friday, with Michael Kors. I’m just killing time ‘til then.”
“Maybe we’ll get together some night this week. Mike and I will be here until then. Have you met Mike?” Tom gestured to Michael in the reflection.
“Yeah. He serviced me the last few nights.” Michael swayed dizzily, the ground shifting beneath his feet. “I tried to buy him for the rest of the week, but apparently you must have him already.”
Tom’s expression froze. “What?”
“I understand why you’d want repeat business,” Scott went on. “He claimed he wasn’t selling any longer, but I managed to… persuade him.”
“How?” Tom demanded.
“He said he was an actor and there were all sorts of reporters here over the weekend.” Scott sounded surprised by Tom’s tone. “Do you have some sort of exclusive arrangement with him or something? I remember you paying for a three-day years ago, but I didn’t think you were the type to set up anything long-term.”
“Scott,” Tom said flatly, “I think you’d better leave. Now.”
“Um, okay.” Scott looked perplexedly between Michael and Tom. “Call me later, if you want to go out. I’m in room 1353.”
A bellboy passed, pushing a cart of luggage. Scott followed him out the automatic front doors. Michael saw him pass by the window, as the world came to an end.
Tom’s soft entreaty caused Michael to turn automatically. The tender despair on Tom’s face broke what was left of his self-esteem and he fled through the lobby, into the bar where his misery started, and to the bathroom in the back.
The stall door thumped against him as he crashed to his knees. His glasses clattered on the floor. The coffee stung his throat and nose coming up, as he vomited in the toilet. He clung to the porcelain while the earth spun out of control.
He felt a body behind his, a familiar hand rubbing his back, and he hiccoughed harshly as he tried to breathe. Nothing was said as he lost it, with loud, racking echoes in the empty bathroom. Nothing was said as he pulled himself together again, the silence shrouding like death. Toilet paper pressed into his limp hand and he barely lifted his head from the bowl to mop his face.
“You should’ve told me,” Tom said finally.
Michael barked a hysterical laugh. “Right.”
“Did he blackmail you the whole weekend?”
“Since Thursday,” Michael confessed, staring at his wavering reflection in the clean bowl of toilet water.
Tom was silent again for a long moment. Eventually, he spoke once more. “I can’t make this better, can I? Even if I kill him.”
“No.” Michael moved from hanging over the toilet to slump against the wall. Tom crouched in the remaining space of the stall, holding the earpiece of Michael’s tinted glasses. One of the lenses was cracked.
“Will you still let me be with you?” Tom asked quietly.
Michael’s lower lip trembled and he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t see why you’d want to.”
“Because you’ve never been a whore to me, Mike. Never.”
Michael dropped his hand to his lap and looked at Tom with an ache in his soul. “I wish I could believe that,” he said almost inaudibly.
“Mike…” Tom closed his eyes briefly, as if in pain. He opened them again and met Michael’s gaze with unwavering intensity. “We can’t be gay in the industry, but I’d declare it for you.”
“Shit.” Michael knew Tom was serious. Being outed was practically a death knell in Hollywood. Tom had dreams of his own and was saying that he’d give them up for Michael. “Shit.”
Tom’s mouth quirked. “You said that already.”
“It bears repeating. Shit.” Michael shook his head. “You can’t. We can’t.”
“I would if you wanted to,” Tom responded simply.
“I love you,” Michael croaked.
A wide smile spread across Tom’s face, wrinkling his nose and brightening his eyes. “That’s all that matters.”
“You’re insane.” Michael pushed to his feet and made a beeline for the sinks after Tom moved. “We’re not going to come out.”
“No?” Tom cocked a hip on the edge of the counter.
“No. We’re not changing anything. I’m going to flirt with everything, you’re going to be reclusive, and we’re best friends who share space in Vancouver because it’s convenient.” Michael looked at Tom in the mirror. “I need you, Tom, but I need my dreams, too.”
Tom’s smiled again, softly this time. “I understand.”
Michael felt his heart tug. “I’d kiss you, if I didn’t have puke-mouth.”
“I appreciate your restraint,” Tom said dryly.
Michael rinsed his mouth with water and splashed his face. He dried off with a paper towel Tom passed him, waded it up, and tossed it in the trash. “Room first, so I can brush my teeth, then I want to go see hockey.”
“What if they’re not practicing?” Tom said.
Michael unlocked the bathroom door – smart, Tom – and tugged it open. “Then, we’ll ice skate ourselves.”
“I don’t skate.” Tom followed him out of the bathroom.
“I know you don’t skate. I’m going to make you.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“You’re going to skate even if I have to throw you on the ice.”
“Maybe we should call the arena first and see if the Rangers are practicing. That way, we don’t have to waste a trip.”
“Nope. We’re going.” Michael pressed the button for the elevator in the lobby. “I’m bringing my camera, too.”
“Yeah, that makes me want to cooperate.”
Michael batted his eyelashes at Tom. “You’d do anything for me, wouldn’t you?” he asked in a breathy falsetto.
Tom snorted, as they stepped into the empty elevator. “Unfortunately.”
“No, I won’t wear ice skating tights.” Tom stabbed the button for the twenty-second floor. “No sequins, either.”
Michael laughed, and even though he still felt emotionally like crap and would probably need tons of therapy, he would survive, as long as he was at Tom’s side, where he was supposed to be.
“I have a better idea: how about we stay here and I’ll teach you the proper way to body-check.”
“I think I could go for that.”The elevators doors shut.