Ashes of Roses

by Chris J

Chris's love-hate relationship with industry parties was more on the hate side than the love side lately. They weren't a whole lot different than political fundraisers, really; no matter what lengths people went to to make them huge and vibrant and entertaining, the fact that there was business to be done was never far from anyone's mind. Most of the time the things weren't half as fun as smoking up in a friend's basement, even at Chris's age.

But when even Joey started to tell him to get his face out there before people started reporting he was dead, he figured he could hit a couple, maybe. At least they had good food and better drinks and he could usually score something on the side. And if he wanted to keep working in the industry, it was probably best not to let people forget that he existed.

"Another jack and coke," he said to the bartender, giving him a slow glance. There were people milling all around them, but it was the martini bar that was a hit, not this one. Chris could almost imagine he was just hanging out in a regular place, flirting with the bartender, people watching.

The drink was in his hand almost before he finished asking, and to his mouth before he could say thank you.

Post-award-show parties were the best of a bad lot. It didn't even matter what the awards were for, really -- winners threw a hell of a party to celebrate, and losers threw a hell of a party to forget. And all Chris had to do was smile and make small talk with a few of the right people, and he could sit back and enjoy the ride.

"Thirsty, huh?"

It took Chris a moment to realize that he was the one being spoken to. People didn't sneak up on you at these things. They pounced right in front of you and put an arm around your shoulders and flash went the camera. But it wasn't most people, it was the bartender, drying a glass with a white towel and looking like a cliché. Maybe he wasn't really a bartender at all, and Chris had been having a prop make him drinks.

"Hot in here," he replied finally, because he wasn't rude, and because the prop was kind of hot in a tall and blond way.

"Sure is." The bartender put one glass down and picked up another, like an automaton in a store window. Chris wondered if he'd go back to the first again after. "Man, I wouldn't mind getting me a piece of that." He gestured across the room and there she was, Paris in pink, leaning so far over the table Chris could all but see up her dress. Could see up her dress, if he'd had just a slightly different angle, but he didn't try that hard. She was JC's friend, and so she was by default owed that little bit of consideration, at least.

Didn't look like anyone else was giving it to her, though. And didn't much look like she wanted them to be, looking back over her shoulder coyly and giving the guy behind her a smile. The guy behind her who was distinctly not Carter.

"Who is that?"

"Paris Hilton!" said the bartender, shocked and appalled that Chris had had to ask.

"No, not her," he said impatiently. "The guy."

"Oh," he said, nodding his head, patently relieved. Clearly no red-blooded male should have to go through life not knowing who Paris Hilton was. "Don't know. Her new boyfriend?"

"No," said Chris, shaking his head. The other two guys sitting at the table she'd been leaving over to reach -- a drink, probably? -- weren't her boyfriend either. Her boyfriend was... Chris scanned the crowded room and finally spotted Carter on the other side, nursing a drink and clearly very much aware of where Paris was.

"Well, I don't know, then," the bartender said dismissively. He was kind of hot when he was dismissive. "What I wouldn't give for his view, though."

"Yeah," said Chris, and didn't mean it. He figured he had a better view from exactly where he was, able to size up all the players, not just the one flashing her pink thong. Sometimes going unnoticed was a good thing.

Paris was a tease, flashing, touching everyone, never taking it anywhere. Nick didn't look particularly happy. But then, he didn't look entirely unhappy either. Sullen was a good look on him. If it weren't for the keep-the-fuck-away vibes he was projecting, he probably would have had people pawing at him, too. Instead he just drank and watched Paris and made nice with the people too desperate or dense to notice he hated them all right then.

"She doesn't seem to be particularly choosy," Chris said finally, hedging his bets. No sense alienating the one person he'd spent any length of time with all night. Maybe the guy was into more than Paris Hilton's ass. "Maybe when you get off shift you should say hello."

"Nah, against policy," he said regretfully. "No mingling with the talent."

"I'm not entirely sure she's talent."

"I'm not entirely sure she's not."

Chris would give him that much. She certainly had a talent and was merrily showing it off, accepting a drink from one guy and slipping into the lap of another. And then looking right at Nick.

He was looking back. Not staring, just looking, just watching. He sipped his drink slowly, and people were leaving him alone. He was looking a bit surly about the edges. Just the way Chris liked 'em.

"What's he having?" said Chris, gesturing in Carter's direction.

"Who, him?" The bartender squinted in his direction. "No idea. Nothing from this bar, anyway."

Chris just nodded. "Gimme two more jack and coke then," he said, sliding his empty glass away from him.

"Two more?"

"I'm on a kamikaze mission."

The bartender gave him a knowing look, which made him look a little less hot. It was kind of a relief. "Sure," he said, and slid them over. Chris turned right around to pick them up, one in each hand, and the bartender tilted his head to the side for a moment as he looked Chris up and down.

"Do I know you from somewhere?"

"No," said Chris and turned back around and headed towards Carter, breaching the no-entry zone with impunity.

"If you're here to take pity on me," said Nick without looking up, "you and me are gonna have to take this outside."

"You used to like that kind of thing," said Chris, "but no, I'm here to give you a drink." He slid the glass across the table, and Nick put down the empty, red plastic cup he'd been drinking out of. The edge was slightly chewed.

"So you are alive, huh?"

"Rumors of my death are highly exaggerated," said Chris, taking a seat that wasn't offered. "Joey started them." Nick snickered and picked up his drink. "I'm not going to ask you to talk about it."

"Good. Didn't think you were," said Nick. He wasn't looking at Chris, he was still looking at Paris. Paris in pink, dress matching her coyly blushing cheeks. "You just want someone to drink with who thinks about something besides his perfect teeth and getting to fuck my girlfriend."

"Maybe," admitted Chris. His bartender was, in fact, still watching Paris, who had moved on to doing body shots in her surprisingly well-lit corner of the room. It was, of course, hard to let people watch you when you were in the dark. "You miss her."

Nick made a sound halfway between a snort and a sigh. "I was getting laid twice a day, no strings attached."

Chris was pretty sure there were always strings but even so, he Felt Nick's Loss. Twice a day, man. "You loved her?"

Nick turned his head and just looked at him. "Laid," he said, enunciating clearly. "Twice a day." Chris nodded. "She used to tell me I was smart. And pour breakfast for me."

Across the room, Paris had her legs crossed and looked like she was about to have a Sharon Stone moment. "So which one is she with?"

"Oh, none of them," said Nick. Chris looked at him dubiously, and tried to read if it was a lie of if it was just dumb. Nick rolled his eyes. "No, I know. She has two other guys on the side, has for a while. But not those guys. I don't know who those guys are."

"Convenient, would be my guess," said Chris. Pretty, vapid Hollywood boys. "She likes 'em solid, huh?"

"Yeah," said Nick. It was nice to see him enjoying that drink, though maybe not enjoying it so quickly. Then again, Chris's was already gone. "She told me that once. She said it was one of the things she liked about me."

"It is one of your finer qualities," agreed Chris. "Not the only one, of course. I also hear you're fantastic in--"

"Did you see that?"

Chris sighed. "The part with the hand or the part with the tongue?" Not that he couldn't have done either one of them better than she could ever dream to. It was nothing to get excited over, really.

"Both," said Nick with a sigh. "She's real good at that." Nick did, Chris had to admit, have a lot to compare her to. Nick had more experience by the time he was nineteen than most guys got in a lifetime. "Can't give a blowjob to save her life, though. Who woulda thunk it?"

If he'd ever taken the time to think about it, Chris actually would have guessed that was the only thing she was good at. "She's a girl," he said finally. "She can only get so good at it anyway."

"Well," said Nick after a prolonged pause. "At least she was eager to try."

Chris just bet she was, and gave himself a bit of a mental smack for thinking so. JC liked to tell him what a sweet and interesting girl she really was. But then, JC wasn't here watching her mess with other guys in front of her boyfriend, or her recently-ex-boyfriend. He wasn't sure which.

"I think you're supposed to have a dance-off now," said Chris solemnly. He gestured at his bartender for another pair of drinks, but his bartender was still watching Paris. "Isn't that how these things are normally resolved?"

"She doesn't look all that interested in dancing," said Nick. It did look a lot like dancing to Chris, though, if he cocked his head the right way.

"Well, you know her better than I do," he said, rattling the ice left in his glass.

"Yeah, I guess I do," said Nick. Maybe too well, from the look on his face. Sometimes knowing what was coming just made it worse.

"Awwww," said Chris, exaggerating it only a little. "You can do better, believe me."

"Oh God," said Nick, shoving his glass away. He knocked the plastic cup over, and a few pale droplets dribbled out onto the table. "Just do not try to cheer me up. All right?"

"I'm not trying to cheer you up, I'm trying to pick you up. And I'm a little insulted that you can't tell the difference."

"Oh," said Nick, and stared at his hands. "Okay, yeah, missed that bit. Most people are a little more obvious."

"Well, I might be an old fucker who doesn't care much anymore," said Chris, "but you've obviously been cultivating a pleasantly heterosexual image." Someone appeared at his elbow with the fresh drinks that he hadn't managed to order, but he wasn't going to complain. Chris waited for him to move on before speaking again. "I was going for subtle."

Nick just shrugged a little, then finally looked at him. Chris met his eyes for a moment then looked away to Paris, who watched them from the corner of her eye. He couldn't tell if the look on her face was a smile or a smirk.

"So what, is this a game between you two?"

"For her, maybe."

Chris licked his teeth, rattled his ice. "A game two can play?"

Nick understood, that much was clear from the sly, sidelong glance he gave Chris, but he didn't say anything. He waited for Chris to go on.

"Of course, there's your heterosexual image to think about."

"Right," said Nick, nodding his head, licking his lips. Chris would have thought he was unaware of what he looked like while licking his lips, if Nick's eyes hadn't been locked with Paris's as he did it. "Everyone's watching her," he added finally. "And she's the only one watching me."

"She's not the only one watching you," said Chris. He didn't even have to look around to know that. But then, that might have been exactly the wrong thing to say. "Anyone ever tell you you're cute when you sulk?"

"Not lately," admitted Nick. That was almost a smile on his lips, Chris could sense it.

"It's something about those lips I think," Chris pushed on, and reached out like he was going to touch them. "Who in their right might would give up these lips?"

Nick licked them again. "I've done worse than this, at bigger parties," he said finally, an audible hitch in his breath, "and gotten away with it."

"Game on?" said Chris, then wished he hadn't, because wow with the lame. Nick nodded, though, and leaned back in his chair and set his feet apart. Confident, relaxed, not intimidated.

Chris dipped one finger into Nick's fresh drink, then offered it to him, the tip of his finger just touching Nick's lower lip. It left a droplet of whiskey hanging there until Nick darted his tongue out to lap it up. Then he opened his lips wider to take half of Chris's finger inside, tongue wrapping around it warm and wet to suck up every last drop.

Chris didn't care if Paris was watching. He didn't care if Paris was there. And he didn't want to think anymore about whether Nick did or not. Whether he was thinking about her when he licked Chris's knuckles, when he looked at Chris with dark, hooded eyes. Nick was exactly as good as he looked like he'd be and Chris wanted a chance to try everything out.

Maybe tomorrow Nick and Paris would be cuddling all over the gossip pages again. Maybe not. Either way, that was then and this was now, and Chris would worry about everything else when the time came.

Nick licked his lips and smiled.

For meteredlines, on the occasion of her birthday (10 days late). March 15, 2004

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