Title: Idlewile

Author: Harper Kingsley

Genre: pop idol fic, science fiction

Other: Novel length

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Summary: Idlewile is one of the world's most popular pop idols. Chris is a television star. Two men that are from very different circles are drawn together when they are both cast in the same drama series. Pre-slash. PG-13 all the way.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

L.J. LaBarthe ( brbsiberia) for helping me find the turn of phrase that kept me from completely losing my mind.

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IDLEWILE

By Harper Kingsley

CHAPTER ONE

He'd been munching on crackers to try and settle his upset stomach, but now the wardrobe woman was scolding him and Mingh was giving him the stink eye. It just seemed as though there was no way he could possibly win.

"What were you thinking?" Mingh's arms were crossed tight against her chest and her mouth looked angry and pinched. "Eating a bunch of crackers right before you're expected to sing wasn't exactly the brightest thing you've ever done."

Idle flopped backward in the makeup chair, ignoring Mary's upset squawking as she jerked the makeup brush away from his face. "My stomach feels horrible, I think I'm getting the flu or something. It was either eat a handful of crackers, or end up hurking on the audience. What do you think was the better choice?"

Mingh sighed heavily, as though dealing with him was really such a great trial. "How are you feeling now?"

"A little less like I'm going to be sick," he said, giving her a closed mouth smile that probably ended up looking more like a grimace.

She clicked her tongue against her teeth and glanced at her white gold and diamond watch. "There's no time for anyone to run out and get you anything. I wish you would have said something earlier, but you're on in five."

"I'll be fine," he said. "This isn't the first time I've taken to the stage when all I really wanted to do was pass out. It'll be fine."

"For some reason, your reassurances don't exactly reassure me." She shook her head, her razor cut bobbed black hair brushing her cheeks. "If you won't be able to perform, now's the time to tell me."

Idle pushed Mary's hand away from his face and stood up, tugging the blue smock off and bundling it into her arms. "I'll be fine," he said. He stepped up to the mirror and carefully examined his appearance for any obvious flaws. There were some fans out there that were just completely obsessed with getting shots of him looking stupid.

"You better be."

He examined his reflection and had to admit that he looked good, even with the ridiculous amounts of eyeliner his publicist insisted was part of his image. It made him look dramatic at least, intense in a way that wasn't natural to him.

And it deemphasized the bags he could see under his eyes. He looked like he'd just dragged himself back from a serious bender.

"I look awful," he said, tugging at the bottom of his shirt.

"Stop fishing for compliments and get your butt out there," Mingh ordered.

"So mean," he muttered, then had to dodge the swat she aimed at the back of his head. "Watch the hair!"

"You watch the hair and get your ass out there and don't screw up."

He gave her a mocking salute, then straightened his heavily studded belt and headed toward the door. "I'm a professional," he said, then pushed the door open and stepped out into the embrace of the big guys running security and let himself be led toward the stage.

Just having Mingh scold him that little bit had made him feel better. There was just something so nice about having someone that cared about him and not the image he presented. It was a reminder that under it all he was still just a guy.

Idle didn't let anything show on his face when they reached the edge of the stage and a group of VIP fans were waiting there, tossing their hair and shooting him sultry looks. He gave them a brief nod and had to fight to keep from grimacing at the squeals and the grabby hands that brushed against his back before Security slapped them away.

The oldest girl-with her ultra-teased hair and her black tee shirt with his face on the front-couldn't have been older than sixteen. There was no way he was ever going to be led down the path of jailbait, and not just because he had no interest in these particular fans.

He did his best to ignore them as he waited for his cue. They were trying their best to capture his attention, but he refused to play their games.

"And now, we are proud to present Idlewile!" the MC-Siobhen Vang-announced, and pointed right at Idle.

He drew in a deep breath and bounded onto the stage with every bit of raw energy he could produce, pasting on a big grin. He hit center stage and spun around twice on his toe and grabbed the microphone with his right hand. "Hello, everybody! Who here is looking to have a great time?" There was a seemingly wordless roar of voices that he took to mean assent. "Me too."

The music started and lights strobed around him and the audience was nothing but a blur beyond the edge of the stage. He could have been alone under the hot lights, but he knew they were watching him-some to see him fail, but most to see him fly. It was a very powerful sensation, to know that he was the center of all of their worlds, just for this little while.

"There was a moment, when I first saw you, that I knew you were meant for me.

"My heart rushed fast and my breath stalled out, you knocked me down to my knees."

He danced and spun and dropped to his knees on cue and it was absolutely perfect. He could feel sweat sticking his shirt to his back, but it didn't matter at all. He just whirled like a dervish and let the music take him where it would.

"I can't breathe when you're not there, I'm oxygen deprived.

"I can't make myself care about anything when you're not there, it's a wonder I ever survived.

"Can you feel my heart beating under my skin, pounding away to let you on in?

"You belong to me, and I belong to you, every molecule of my being is calling out to let you in.

"A single glimpse of your face, you lift me up with your grace,

"You knocked me down to my knees, so baby please, say that you're meant for me."

The song ended with him once again on his knees with his hands up in supplication, his chest heaving slightly from the energetic dancing. He smiled and bowed his head when the audience clapped and screamed his name or just screamed at the top of their lungs to make noise.

"That was the amazing Idlewile," Siobhen said, striding back on stage. "Everyone give him a big round of applause. He deserves it."

Idle stood and gave one more nod to the crowd, then turned and left the stage, his solo part of the evening's entertainment done; for the rest, he would be one of many. He could hear the flash of cameras behind him as he headed out of the backstage area toward the waiting room where he wouldn't have to deal with the slavering fans and their demands for his attention.

He pulled open the green room's door and hurried inside, slamming it behind him. "Whoo, I think I need a vacation," he said, then looked around the room.

The whole of the girl group "Shan-Wei" were huddled together in a corner, trying their best to ignore the advances of the teenaged members of "QT Pi." It was kind of funny: the taller young women in their short black ruffled dresses with the cute and girly white bloomers underneath, and the smooth cheeked boys in their leather and chains trying their best to act all tough.

There was a bunch of actors near the snack table. He felt a perk of interest when he realized one of the women was Jessica Turan. He turned toward her, seriously considering asking her for an autograph, when his attention was caught and held.

Sitting on the reddish-orange couch against the wall were the five members of "Alta Vita." The leader, Danny Soshin, had looked up at Idle's entrance and met his eyes. A rather nasty sneer pulled his lips and his pretty blue eyes were narrowed and cold.

"Well, who would have thought that Idlewile himself would make an appearance here," Soshin said, spreading his knees a little wider and giving Idle a razor blade smile. "Or didn't you know I was going to be here?"

Idle shifted uncomfortably, finally tucking his hands in his jacket pockets. "It's true, I didn't know you were going to be here." He licked his lips and looked down and away from Soshin's eyes. "How have you been, Older Brother?"

"I'm not your Older Brother," Soshin growled.

Idle bowed his head, his hair falling over his eyes to hide his expression. He could feel that they'd caught the attention of everyone in the room and he wanted to straighten his shoulders and pretend that everything was okay, but he just couldn't do it.

There were only two people in the world that could make him feel this way, and Soshin was one of them. It just completely stripped all sense of pride from him.

"It's good to see you again," he said. He backed toward the door, reaching behind him to grab the knob. "I'm glad to know that you're well."

He opened the door and slipped back through. He would rather wait in the hallway than risk seeing Soshin again.

There were just too many memories and too much pain whenever they were in the same room with each other. It was simply more than he could bear.

.*. .*. .*.

"What was that about?" Jeremy Kines asked, nudging Chris' shoulder.

"I have no idea," Chris said. It had been strange and kind of sad.

Idlewile was one of those characters that popped up and disappeared just as fast, though he seemed to have enough talent that he didn't look to be going anywhere anytime soon. He just looked so wild and untamed with his bleached blond hair and his clothes and his neatly trimmed beard.

Chris hadn't been able to help noticing that Idlewile really wasn't very tall. He was maybe even a little less than average height, and in person it was obvious to see that he used his clothes to make himself seem bigger and more intimidating. Just by looks alone, he had seemed as though he was about to cause trouble.

Then Soshin had said something and it was like all the sound was sucked out of the room, everyone's attention drawn toward Idlewile's suddenly slumped shoulders. Soshin said something else, then Idlewile was backing toward the door and quickly left.

Chris shot a furtive glance toward Soshin and saw him slumped back on the couch. Soshin reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, smoothly putting them on. Every line of Soshin's body showed that he just didn't care.

"It must be very hard for them," Jessica's accented voice said.

Chris turned toward her. "What do you mean?"

She gave him that fondly exasperated look he'd come to expect her face to wear. It just seemed as though that was the only way she could look at him anymore, since the romantic love had faded away for the both of them. They were still friends though, so he expected the light slap of her hand against his sleeve. "Honestly, it's like you were raised in a cave or something. Idlewile and Soshin were in Anathema, remember them?"

"I have no idea," Chris said.

She rolled her eyes and tossed her long golden curls back over her shoulder. "They're an idol group, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised you don't know them. It was after the group broke up that Idlewile became popular as a solo act."

"Oh." Chris nodded his head. To him, it had just seemed as though Idlewile had suddenly appeared one day as some strange finished product-beautiful singing voice and a sense of wildness about him. He should have known there was no way someone could get that good so quickly and effortlessly.

It was just hard for him to imagine Idlewile in an idol group. He just didn't seem like the type.

He smiled at Jessica. "Have you moved into that new place yet?"

"Yes, actually, I have. Mattie really loves her new room and is excitedly waiting to show it to you," she said.

"I'll stop by next weekend," he said. "My schedule's pretty busy until then."

"All right," Jessica said. "We'll be expecting you."

"Thanks," he said, and he really meant it.

Jessica was beautiful and smart and funny and probably the nicest person he knew. Still, he'd been amazed by exactly how amicable their divorce had been and how easy it had been for them to make the custody agreement for Mattie. What probably should have been one of the worst experiences of his life had ended up being, while not pleasant, not all that bad.

It was tolerable.

They were even still able to talk to each other like people, and that was great.

The door to the green room opened and a stage hand stepped through, her clipboard tucked close against her chest. "It's time for the finale," she said, "you're all needed in position on stage."

Chris moved with the rest of the group toward the door. They'd all gone through the finale sequence several times in practice so he wasn't too worried. He wasn't that great at live performances, but he was basically just being background, so he didn't have to do a whole lot more than walk out and smile. It didn't seem all that difficult and it was for a good cause.

"Stars Shine Bright" was a charity benefit that practically all of the entertainment industry had gotten involved in. There were actors and actresses and musicians and sports figures and comedians, and they had all come together to raise money for children with cancer and life threatening illnesses.

From what he could tell, he figured they hadn't done so bad. They had more than made their goal amount and the show had flowed smoothly. In all, it had been a pretty big success.

There was singing and music coming from the other side of the curtain as he took his place with the others in a neat row. Then, at a particularly loud bang effect, the curtain shot up and he was momentarily blinded by the stage lights. He moved by instinct, following the others in taking three big steps forward and swaying side to side with a big smile he hoped didn't look too pasted on.

The main attractions for the event were singing and dancing energetically across the stage in their rather risque looking costumes-top hats and glittery vests for the men and women both, though the men wore trousers and the women wore fishnet stockings and black boots. They whirled and strutted and they sang some kind of burlesque number he'd never heard before but that he couldn't help swaying a little to.

Then suddenly a rich voice broke out over the rest and Chris couldn't help the way his breath caught.

Idlewile hadn't donned a costume like the other singers and was still wearing his customary jeans and leather jacket, though he had put on a dark purple top hat and a silver and green feathered eye mask. Even from the back, his strut was all arrogant confidence and his hips rolled in an interesting manner.

Whatever Idlewile was singing, it wasn't in English. It might have been Swedish or German, though Chris' tin ear couldn't be sure. All he knew was that it sounded really catchy and it was probably going to become the next hit song. The kids would totally love it, even though they didn't understand a single word.

Chris and the rest of the background celebrities hadn't been present during the rehearsals with the main stars and now he was kind of regretting it. The show they were putting on was wild and sexy and there was Idlewile right in the center of it all, drawing every eye to him effortlessly.

It was strange that Chris had barely even noticed the singer before, but then again he'd only heard a few of the songs and had never bothered to take a close look at the guy. But now that he'd seen him... there was no way he was getting that out of his head.

He felt an elbow nudge his side and turned his head just enough that he could see Jessica out of the corner of his eye. "What?" he hissed.

"That's what I was wondering," she spoke without moving her mouth; it really was quite a neat trick. "Try to look a little less deranged."

He grunted and turned stiffly forward. Though he had to wonder if maybe he'd been making a stupid expression on live television.

Idlewile was dancing wildly with the girls from "Teen Age Dreams." He grabbed A-Yong by the hand and spun her around almost violently, her coattails flipping when he caught her and gave her a quick dip before grabbing C-Sharp. The pink haired girl laughed delightedly, the sound rippling across the stage and out over the audience. Then Idlewile was swing dancing with B-Ko so fast that their feet barely seemed to touch the floor, her stiletto heels flashed as she showed off her sexy long legs in a quick kick-step.

Throughout it all, Idlewile was singing with the rest, right into the big finale where his voice soared upward and he abruptly snapped his mouth shut and froze along with everyone else on stage for a long moment. Then they all relaxed and Idlewile's shoulders hitched up and down with his panting breaths and Chris wished that he'd been able to watch the show from the front instead of just seeing the backs of everyone.

He very rarely felt as though he were missing out when he was at an event, but he really wished he'd been able to see this one.

Siobhen Vang ran back out on the stage, his bright orange high-top sneakers a striking contrast against his navy pinstriped suit. "All right, everybody, that's it for our show tonight. We all hope that you've had a wonderful time, don't we guys?" He turned to face them and Chris followed the others in shouting out "Yes!"

The audience clapped and cheered and Chris waited until he could leave the stage with the rest. He was proud to have been part of such a worthwhile event, but he was tired and wanted to crawl into bed. He had a busy shooting schedule in the morning and he didn't want to show up looking like crap.

"You guys wanna go out to eat after this?" Jeremy Kines slung an arm over Chris' shoulder and his other around Jessica's waist.

"I have a busy schedule tomorrow," Chris said, then his stomach rumbled, "but I am pretty hungry. I'm not up to any kind of partying, but I could eat. What about you?" he looked at Jessica.

She rolled her head on her neck. "Well, I suppose I could stand your company for a little while longer." She smiled that quirky smile she'd made famous. "What I'm really craving right now is a hamburger."

"That sounds great," Jeremy said and started tugging them toward the door.

"Wait, what about my stuff?" Chris tried to pull away, but Jeremy just tightened his grip.

"My assistants can grab all that. Geez, man, you need to get at least one PA in your life or you're gonna go mad."

"I'm perfectly fine," Chris said.

They were almost to the door that would take them out of the backstage madness and open them up to the madness of fans, when there was the loud squeak of sneakers on the floor. "Excuse me!"

Jeremy let him go and Chris was able to turn and see who was talking to them, or to Jessica rather.

Idlewile was slightly out of breath and he seemed completely oblivious to all the people hovering around him, desperate to catch his attention. "Ms. Turan," there was a faint blush on Idlewile's cheeks and he kept his eyes downcast, "do you think I could get your autograph?" He glanced up from under long lashes. "I'm a really big fan."

Chris glanced at Jessica and saw the pleased smile on her face. "Oh, I'm really surprised. I'd be happy to give you an autograph."

Idlewile flashed a set of white teeth and began patting his jacket and pants pockets. His smile turned into a worried expression. "Crap, I don't have any paper." He frowned then looked at one of the hangers on. "Do you have paper and a pen?"

The girl nodded dumbly and hurriedly held out an expensive looking notepad and a pen. "H-h-here."

"Thanks!" Idlewile didn't seem to notice the way the girl swayed and would have fallen if her friends hadn't caught her. He just turned to Jessica and held out the pen and paper with a hopeful smile. "I've watched all your movies. I was really excited to find out you were going to be here tonight."

"I'm surprised," Jessica said, "but thank you. It's always nice to be appreciated."

Chris couldn't help once again admiring her cool aplomb. She'd always been so laid back and comfortable in her own skin, but he would have thought she'd have been a little rocked at least. Idlewile was a big celebrity in his own right, so it should have been very flattering to have him ask for an autograph and say he was a fan. But Jessica was taking it with ease, smoothly signing the paper and writing a quick message.

"So what are you doing now, going to an after party?" she asked chattily.

Idlewile shook his head. "Naw, I thought I'd head home."

"Oh, well after your performance you must have burned a butt load of calories," Jessica said. "We're about to go get something to eat, why don't you come with us?"

Jeremy had this expression on his face like he didn't quite know what he was doing, but he quickly wiped it away and stepped forward. "Yeah, you should come with us. You can tell me how you did that thing with your leg and got B-Ko to flip around like that. It was nearly kung-fu."

There was uncertainty in Idlewile's eyes, and Chris couldn't help wondering if no one had ever invited him anywhere before. "Well, are you sure you want me to go too?" He licked his lower lip. "I'll have to change real quick and tell Mingh where I'm going."

"We can all meet up there," Jessica said decisively. She never let anything throw her. "I'm thinking Ballos. They have the best hamburgers in the city, and they have a serious no media policy."

"Cool, I'll call them and arrange a table," Jeremy said. He glanced at his watch and looked at Idlewile with something approaching awe, though the singer didn't seem to notice. "We could meet up there in about an hour?"

"Sure!" Idlewile sounded pleased and there was a rather cute smile on his lips. "I'll meet you there!" He turned and hurried back down the hall toward his dressing room. There was an energetic bounce to his step.

"I would think he'd be exhausted after all the dancing he did," Chris said.

"Yeah," Jessica said.

Jeremy pushed open the door and hustled them across the lobby. "I can't believe he's going to eat burgers with us. This is totally going in my diary."

"Why are you acting so stupid?" Chris asked.

Jeremy paused to give him a look. "Seriously, did you ever expect that we'd be eating dinner with Idlewile?"

Chris had to be honest. "No."

"Exactly. He's probably one of the most introverted guys I've ever heard of," Jeremy said. "He tries to completely disappear when he's not doing a show and paparazzi are always trying to track him down but he's like a ghost. Haven't you ever watched StarPop?"

"You know Chris," Jessica said in a tone of long suffering, "he's too good for that kind of thing."

"Yeah, I know him," Jeremy said.

Chris was somewhat offended. "Hey!"

"Come on." Jessica linked her arm with his and they stepped out through the doors and faced the red carpet gauntlet to get to their shared limo, Jeremy clambering in behind them.

Chris sighed and flopped backward on the leather seat. He reached up to loosen his tie and sighed heavily. "What a night."

Jessica had already gotten out her phone and was talking directly to Angel Ballos, her voice oozing charm as she talked him around to having a table ready for them in the back. It sounded like he was pretty busy, but there was no doubt he was going to give her everything she wanted; she'd been one of his best customers since he'd started the restaurant.

"Do you really think Idlewile is going to show up?" Chris asked.

Jeremy shrugged. "I think so. He seemed really excited about eating with us."

"Yeah," Chris said.

He felt a little weird at the idea of seeing Idlewile and he didn't know why.

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Ballos was the same as the last time he'd been there with Jessica. An elegant and warm restaurant that catered to celebrities and their privacy.

Angel himself met them and led them to their table. He'd clasped Jessica's hand in his own and was happily chatting away to her about his new grandson.

They were seated in a booth in a back corner. Chris and Jessica on one side, and Jeremy on the other, a flickering candle resting on the table between them.

"We're expecting one more," Jessica said, "so can we just get some bread until he arrives?"

"Of course," Angel said. "Then you must try my new recipe."

"Sure," Jessica said with no sign of hesitation. "What's it called?"

Angel shrugged with a woeful expression. "It has no name yet. Perhaps I'll name it after you if you like it. You would like that, wouldn't you?"

Chris listened to the man flirt with his ex-wife and all he felt was amused. He ran one finger along the creased edge of his napkin, feeling the fabric.

Finally Angel bustled off and Chris looked across the table at Jeremy. "Looks like we just might end up being the maids of honor at dear Jessica's wedding."

Jeremy laughed. "Yeah. I can just see us all now in our beautiful burgundy brides maids dresses."

"Please," Jessica snorted elegantly, "burgundy is so passe. For my next wedding it will be cobalt blue all the way."

Chris turned toward her. "I'm still invited though, right?"

"Of course." She quirked her lips. "You're the first one invited to all my weddings."

They shared a warm smile and once again Chris was grateful that she was so entirely understanding and wonderful. This was the mother of his child, the woman he'd thought he was going to spend his entire life with before things had gotten so out of control. It was nice to know that she was just as beautiful as when he'd first met her.

There was the flicker of motion out of the corner of his eye, and he leaned forward to see past Jessica as a waiter led a young man to their table-or at least Chris assumed it was a young man. He was dressed all in black, from his pants to the rather bulky jacket he was wearing. He had a black baseball cap pulled low over his face and kept his head ducked down.

"And here is the rest of your party, sir," the waiter said politely.

"Thank you," the voice was nearly a whisper, it was so low. Idlewile peeked out from beneath his cap and looked at Jeremy. "Do you think I could sit on the inside?"

"What? Oh, sure." Jeremy slid out of the booth and stood to one side so Idlewile could slide in, their sleeves barely brushing in passing.

"I will be your waiter for this evening. My name is Jean-Paul." The waiter gave them a polite half-bow. "May I get you anything to drink?"

Chris and Jessica both ordered wine and Jeremy cheekily asked for a beer, but Idlewile kept his head down and asked for a soda. It made Chris wonder for a moment if the guy was even legal to drink, but it wasn't like it was any of his business.

"Can you also get us one of the big appetizer platters?" Jessica asked. "The one that has some of everything, please."

"Of course." Jean-Paul nodded his head at them all, then turned and walked away.

"Hey man, I wasn't sure if you were really going to come," Jeremy said.

Idlewile finally lifted his head, though he kept the cap on and didn't meet anyone's eyes. "I didn't know if I was going to make it," he confessed. "There were a lot more people waiting to get my picture than I thought there were going to be. Mingh had to get me out of there."

"And who's Mingh?" Jeremy asked curiously.

"She's my manager. She takes care of everything for me." Idlewile gasped slightly and sat up straight. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't introduce myself properly." He clasped his hands together under his chin and bobbed his head quickly. "I am George Idleston, but you can call me Idle. It is a pleasure to meet you."

"Oh, there's no need for formality," Jessica said, though there was a hint of pleasure in her voice. She had a fondness for people with manners. "Do you know Jeremy Kines and Chris Hart?"

"We have not met," Idlewile said. His eyes met Chris' for a brief touch, though he quickly glanced back down at the table. "It is very nice to meet you." He smiled at Jeremy shyly. "I enjoy watching your show. It's very funny."

"You really think so?" Jeremy cocked his head. "You should come on sometime."

"Really? You want me on your show?" Idlewile pointed at his chest questioningly.

"Sure! It would be great and I'm sure the fans would enjoy seeing you." Jeremy jerked his thumb toward Chris rudely. "This guy refuses to go on because he doesn't do so well with a live audience. He freezes up pathetically."

"Hey, that's really rude," Chris said.

"Rude, but true," Jeremy said. He smiled at Idlewile, suddenly oozing with charm. "You should be on the show. I think you'd really enjoy it."

Idlewile covered his mouth with his hand for a second, then lowered it and smiled. "Sure. Just call Mingh and tell her when you want me. She handles all the scheduling, but if you tell her I want to do it, she'll be glad to figure things out. She's said before that she wants me to do some variety shows, but I've always been too nervous to do them before. But you wouldn't be mean to me, would you?"

Jeremy quickly masked his surprise and shook his head. He'd obviously not expected Idlewile to so readily agree to appear on Game Play. "Of course not. I always try my best to keep my guests having fun as much as possible. Happy people make better entertainment, you know."

Idlewile smiled and nodded. "Be kind with me, and I will be happy to be on your show. It always looks like you're having a lot of fun."

"We do have fun," Jeremy said, "and you better believe I'm going to call your manager and arrange your appearance on Game Play."

"Okay," Idlewile said softly. His lashes were incredibly long, brushing his cheeks as he kept his head slightly bowed.

Chris realized his mouth was hanging a little open and hurriedly shut it. He had just never expected someone that gave the kind of impression that Idlewile did would have the mannerisms of a shy schoolboy. He should have been the powerful singer, exuding raw sexuality from every pore; instead he was completely different from anything Chris expected. There was something oddly refreshing about it.

Chris couldn't help the way his lips curved slightly upward.

Jean-Paul came back with a round tray with their drinks balanced on one hand and a large platter that steamed gently in his other hand. He set the tray of drinks on a nearby table, then turned to set the platter in the middle of the table between them. "Here you go," he said, then froze for a second when he lifted his head. His eyes widened and he sucked in his breath. The pulse at his throat fluttered the surface of his skin. "You're Idlewile."

Idlewile nodded his head, his eyes downcast. "Yes."

"Oh, I shouldn't be doing this." Jean-Paul stood up and looked around somewhat furtively. Then he leaned closer to the table. "Do you think I could maybe get an autograph later?"

"Of course," Idlewile said. "Considering I asked Jessica Turan for an autograph earlier, how can I say no now? If you bring some paper and a pen, I'll sign it for you."

Jean-Paul's smile was bright enough to light up the room. "Thank you." He hurriedly turned and grabbed up the tray and served their drinks. He was visibly trying to get back into a professional mindset. "Are you ready to order now?"

"Angel said he wanted me to try some special thing he makes," Jessica said, "but Chris here wants a hamburger and extra fries."

Chris furrowed his brow at her. "Are you planning on stealing my food?"

"I really want a burger," she whispered, giving him a pleading look. "Please share with me. I'll love you forever."

"You're ridiculous." He shook his head, then looked at the waiter. "I guess I'm having a hamburger tonight."

"With extra fries," Jessica insisted.

"And I'll have the pot roast," Jeremy said. He looked at Idlewile. "Have you ever eaten here before?" At Idlewile's shake of the head, he grinned. "You've really been missing out. Their pot roast is the best I've ever had, even better than my grandmother's."

"It sounds delicious," Idlewile said, "but can I just have some kind of vegetable soup? Anything's fine really."

"I'll bring you something really good," Jean-Paul promised. He clasped his empty tray to his chest and hurried away.

"He's not going to tell everyone that I'm here, is he?" Idlewile asked, slumping down on the bench seat. "I don't think I can handle it tonight." He looked up at Jessica, all sparkly eyes and white teeth, though he only met her gaze in a flashing glance. "I just couldn't turn down the chance to meet you, so I had to come."

Jessica gave a delighted laugh and there was a rosy blush to her cheeks. "You're wonderful," she gushed. "How could I have never met you before? I think now that I have, I've really been missing out."

Idlewile ducked his head, the bill of his hat covering his face. "You're much too kind."

"Adorable." Jessica reached out and took one of the small plates from the middle of the platter and quickly began to fill it with some of everything. "Here. Idlewile, here."

He looked up and Chris saw his surprised expression before he quickly reached forward and fumbled the plate from Jessica, setting it down on the placemat in front of him. "Thank you."

"Eat up," she ordered, wagging a slightly greasy finger at him. "You may like to wear those big clothes, but seeing you up close I can tell you're way too skinny. I might just have a talk with Mingh to let her know she needs to take better care of you."

"Oh, please don't," Idlewile said. "She'll make my life a misery."

"Then you need to eat more," she commanded. "The next time I see you, you had better be a lot plumper and healthier looking than you are now."

Idlewile looked at her for a long moment, then picked up some kind of fried roll between his finger and thumb and took a tentative bite.

Jessica watched him closely, then gave a satisfied hum and began to fill another plate with the appetizers. "You really are quite a cute boy."

Chris chewed the inside of his lip and didn't say anything.

.

Later, after they had left the restaurant and dropped Jeremy off and were on the way to dropping Chris off at his own place, he turned toward Jessica in the back of the limo. His limbs felt heavy and his eyes were sleepy and dry, but his nerves jangled in that way that told him he was going to have a hard time getting to sleep. Which was going to make going to work tomorrow terrible.

"I'm curious, why did you start treating Idlewile like that?" he asked. "I was kind of surprised he took you talking to him that way so easily. I would have thought he'd be offended."

Jessica tsked lightly, then smiled at him cheerily before flopping sideways to lay her head in his lap. She didn't even care that her expensive gown was getting crumpled up-her easy nature was one of the things that had drawn him to her. "You're a man, maybe that's why you didn't see it, but it was obvious to me that Idlewile has missed out on a motherly figure in his life. He has Mingh, but I've met her before-talk about a cold fish. No, she might have given him all the practical things he needs, but I highly doubt she's given him the affection he craves."

"What are you talking about?" he asked. "I swear, ever since you decided to go back to school, it has been more and more difficult for me to understand you."

She reached up to stroke a hand across his chest, a gesture she knew he liked. "It's very simple, Chris: Idlewile is a man without a mother. He may think he's strong and independent, but somewhere inside him he's desperate for a positive female influence in his life, preferably an older woman that will give him all the love and affection he never got as a child. It's very sad really."

Chris gave her a suspicious look. "I'm onto you," he said. "There's no way you picked up all that tonight just from having dinner with him."

She looked him straight in the eye for a long moment with a very serious expression, but he was firm and she finally broke. She grinned and gave a little laugh. He couldn't help the faint surge of triumph that went through him.

"Fine, you're right," she said. "There's not very much information about Idlewile out there, but it's a public fact that he's an orphan. And I've heard talk before about Mingh Cheney, like that she's a ball buster and probably one of the coldest women anyone's ever met."

"So he's a mama's boy without a mama," Chris said, shaking his head. "I guess that's kind of sad."

She sat up and crossed her arms with a thoughtful expression. "I was very surprised by how sweet he was. I would have thought he'd be very different, considering he was practically raised in fame. He certainly dresses as though he'd have a bad attitude."

"But he was a pretty good kid," Chris said.

"Exactly." Jessica flashed him the corner of her eye as she faced straight ahead, a sliver of a glance. "I think I'm going to keep a closer eye on him."

He sighed. "You're going to make him into one of your projects, aren't you?"

"I really think I am," she said firmly, turning her head to look out the window. They were getting close to his house.

Chris didn't know if he was supposed to feel sorry for Idlewile or not. Jessica could be tenacious once she decided to take someone on as a project, and there really was no denying her.

She was Jessica Turan and it was pretty much a given that the whole world should bow to her whims. And he was part of the world, so all he was going to do was watch as she pulled Idlewile into her wake as she'd done to so many in the past.


AN: Half looking around for a beta reader.