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Written for Scribewraith in the Yuletide 2007 Challenge!

Top Billing
by astolat

Wrapping up the details of the Hollywood Station deal turned into a fifty-mile slog through waist-deep mud, every day for a week dragging later and later until Eric was in Ari's office at two in the fucking morning, huddled over the speakerphone and the wreckage of takeout sushi, listening to Ralph Winter's people nit-pick details like they were his legal team instead of his management.

The third time Eric's head slipped off his fist, Ari hit the mute button. "Okay, times like these—" he started rummaging around in his desk "—call for desperate measures." He brought out a ziplock sandwich bag with a flourish.

"What, more powdered sugar?" Eric said. "Just the ride I was looking for."

"Only top notch Colombian for you, baby," Ari said, and cut two lines with a razor on a pocket mirror on top of his desk. Eric watched skeptically.

The speakerphone kept droning on. "You've got to understand we can't commit to some of these details at this stage, the rest of the co-stars haven't been nailed down—"

Ari rolled up a hundred dollar bill and held it out. "You first," Eric said.

"Oh ye of little faith," Ari said, but then he bent down and actually snorted one of the lines, and threw his head back and shook it all around like a dog. Then he held the bill out again.

Eric looked at the bill and the neat little line of coke lying on the polished desk. This was clearly the beginning of the end, doing coke with Ari Gold on a Friday night, just so he could get i's dotted and t's crossed.

"—so let's review the billing issue one more time, I think that's in paragraph twenty-four—"

"Jesus, kill me now," Eric said, and bent down.

"Look on the bright side," Ari said. "After we nail this down, the long form will be done in fifteen minutes."

"How the fuck is that the bright side?" Eric said, pinching his nose shut. "We still have to give the lawyers their five percent even if they don't do any goddamn work."

"Yeah, but they'll do it faster, and that means we all get our spectacular fucking checks a little sooner," Ari said, and unmuted the phone just as the rush hit.

It was like a handful of espresso beans washed down with a quadruple latte with six shots of syrup, followed by having the inside of your brain scrubbed clean clean clean with a brillo pad. "Shit," Eric said, out loud, and shivered. The speakerphone said, "What? We missed that, Eric," and Ari glared at him.

Eric flipped him off and cracked his neck muscles. "Nothing," he said, "just clearing my throat, but look, let me stop you right there, because there's just no fucking way we're going there with the merchandising," and suddenly he could hold the whole goddamn offer in his head.

They wrestled Winter's people back some more, Ari got them to give on ten percent of the gross, they wrapped up the merchandising and the likeness rights, and then they ended up stuck arguing the fucking credits again. "Not going to happen, people," Ari said, head tipped over the back of his chair as he threw his stress ball at the ceiling. "You've got to give our boy the top line. He's willing to share it three ways, but no fucking way are you dropping him to line two," and then one of Winter's people said, "You know, maybe we should talk to a few other people, see whether they like this offer more than your guy does—"

"What?" Eric said, lifting his head. "Wait a second, what?" He ignored Ari's frantic waving, and blocked his hands from the mute button.

"I said—"

"Yeah, I fucking heard," Eric said, "and let me tell you something, if you guys think we've been sitting here letting you jerk us around on foreign distribution percentages and audio soundtrack rights for the last week without a deal, you can go fuck yourselves," and he had Ari's hand pinned down on the desk now. "So shut up and listen to me: the price just went up to twenty million, and Vince gets top billing, solo, and you've got thirty seconds to tell me that we have a deal before the price goes up another five."

There was silence on the other line. Ari had quit fighting and had slid off his chair and was kneeling on the floor with his forehead pressed against his clasped hands, like he was praying or something.

"Ten seconds," Eric said, and the speakerphone said, "We have a deal." Ari slid off the desk and thumped flat on the floor. "Good," Eric said. "Then we'll pick this up tomorrow. Go get some sleep," and he hung up the phone and Ari crawled over and hugged his knees.

"If you ever do that to me again I will cut you," Ari said, his cheek pressed against Eric's thigh in a deeply disturbing way. "Also, I swear to God, say the word and I will blow you right now."

"Save it for Mrs. Ari," Eric said, "and put that shit away, it's fucking dangerous."

About halfway home driving 100 miles per hour on the empty freeways, it hit him: twenty million dollars, twenty fucking million dollars, he'd just shoved Vince straight across that big fat A-list line, and he pounded the steering wheel at the exit onto Sunset Boulevard and yelled, "Holy fucking shit!" out the sunroof at the top of his lungs, and he burst into the living room, where Vince was sprawled on the couch, disheveled and half asleep and flipping channels, and took the remote right out of his hand and turned the TV off.

"You got it done?" Vince asked, yawning, stretching out long.

"Nah, we're still wrapping up some details," Eric said, casual, "but I did get you twenty million dollars."

"No fucking way," Vince said, and tackled him to the floor, Eric laughing too goddamn hard to keep from going over, and he squeezed the life out of Vince while they rolled across the floor together. "I don't fucking believe you, man, balls of steel," Vince said, after he'd made Eric re-enact the whole phone conversation, and they slapped hands and went and busted out a bottle of champagne from the back of the fridge.

"Did Ari really offer to blow you?" Vince said, grinning, swigging from the bottle and passing it over.

"I think he was serious, too," Eric said, wiping his mouth. "I'm so fucking wired, I'm almost sorry I didn't take him up on it. I could really use a blow job right now."

"Are you kidding me?" Vince said. "You got me twenty million dollars, I'll give you a blow job," and while Eric was still cracking up over that, he leaned over and took Eric's face in his hands and kissed him, and that was how the night ended up with Eric flat on his back in Vince's king-size bed, with his hands in Vince's hair and his cock in Vince's mouth and his head somewhere above the stratosphere.

His cell phone rang on the end table at six am, and he flailed for it, trying to get his fingertips on it with Vince curled up around him and not going anywhere without some serious leverage. "What the fuck?" he said into it.

"Rise and shine, baby, rise and shine, we've got a twenty million dollar deal to close," Ari sang at him, and Eric groaned and put his hand over his face, and Vince said groggily, "Jesus, is that Ari? What time is it?" and Ari was totally silent for about one second, maybe, and then he said, "Eric, you stupid, motherfucking, asshole. Tell me you didn't fuck Vince," and Eric said, "I'll see you at the office at nine, Ari," and hung up on him and tossed the phone back onto the end table.

And then he was awake and he was in Vince's king-size bed and he'd just thrown away his excuse to get up and get the fuck out of there, and meanwhile Vince wasn't doing any of the casual hey-let's-untangle moves.

"So you've got three hours," Vince said, and slid a hand down Eric's thigh while Eric was still wondering how they were going to maneuver their way out of this. And okay, his brain still wasn't firing on even half its cylinders, but that was a pretty fucking hard-to-miss sign that they weren't anywhere near the same page, and then he also noticed that unless he wanted to get Vince in the face with an elbow, he was about to get kissed.

He did get kissed, plenty, and then Vince was on top of him rocking their hips together, and Jesus, okay, it felt good, and he put his hands on Vince's sides and went with it and tried to figure out what the fuck to do.

"I'm going to kill you," Ari said, the second Eric walked in the door.

"Don't even fucking start with me," Eric said, and collapsed on Ari's couch. He'd showered and he'd drunk most of a pot of coffee and half a carton of Tropicana and Vince had caught him on his way out the door and kissed him again, and he'd spent the drive in some kind of fugue state; he didn't actually remember a minute of it.

"You stupid fuck," Ari said. "I should've known you couldn't hold your coke."

"Will you calm down?" Eric said. "We're not going to be holding hands in Spago."

"Oh, like that's what I'm worried about?" Ari said. "He nearly self-destructed over Mandy fucking Moore, what the fuck do you think he's going to do this time?"

"He thought he was in love with Mandy Moore," Eric said. Ari just stared at him hard, and Eric rolled his eyes. "Come off it, Ari."

"News flash, E," Ari said. "Our boy's so crazy for you that he's thirty seconds from going down on his knees any time you're in the same room, and if you're actually so much of a moron that you didn't know, that makes exactly two people in this town who didn't: you and you."

Eric stared at him.

"Is the magnitude of the complete fucking disaster hitting you yet?" Ari said.

"What's hitting me is that you're out of your mind," Eric said. "Come on; call Winter's people, let's get this done."

It took another three-hour phone call to nail down the last details. They were both sitting on the couch with their heads tipped back when Lloyd stuck his head in and said, "Vince is here," and Eric sat up.

"If you mess him up before this is signed I will kill you," Ari hissed really fast, and then he was bouncing up and slapping Vince on the shoulder, yelling, "The twenty million dollar man himself; how does it feel, baby."

Vince dropped down next to Eric on the couch, grinning up at Ari. "Seriously, I've been waiting all day for you guys to call and tell me it all fell through." He stretched out his arm along the back of the couch. Eric carefully didn't look over his shoulder at it, and then he nearly jumped, because Vince's hand slid onto the back of his neck.

Ari was glaring at him with the burning hatred of a thousand fiery suns. Eric glared back at him, he was fucking crazy, Vince was not—Vince was just—Vince was—anyway, they weren't going to fucking talk about this, they were going to end this meeting and pretend it hadn't happened and never talk about it again, seriously.

"Look, Ari," Vince said, "if this is going to be a problem—"

"It's going to be a problem," Ari said immediately.

Vince shrugged, what-are-you-gonna-do, "—that's just too bad, because we're not stopping," and, what the fuck did that mean, they weren't stopping, there wasn't anything to stop, except for whatever the hell Vince was doing right now to Eric's neck.

"Vince," he said, trying to keep his voice steady.

"Come on, let's get out of here," Vince said, jerking his head, and he tugged Eric up and steered him away. Ari mouthed something that looked like I WILL KILL YOU and dragged a hand across his throat exaggeratedly as Eric looked back. Eric rolled his eyes, and then he was being towed down the hall.

"Okay, listen, we need to talk—" Eric started to say, except the elevator doors closed and Vince had him up against the wall and was shoving his tongue down his throat, and Eric started thinking maybe Ari might not be totally insane, but Vince clearly was.

Vince kept his hands on Eric's waist all the way down to the garage, stuck with him even after Eric turned around and tried to eel away to give Marco the stub for the Maserati. "Hey, Marco," Vince said sunnily.

"Heya, Vince," Marco said, and didn't bat an eye, getting them the car.

"Hey, let's go to the Bel-Air for lunch," Vince said, bending over to breathe it out in Eric's ear, purry and low, his fingers curling into Eric's belt loops.

"The Bel-Air on a Saturday—you're kidding me, right?" Eric said. "You want to fight six wedding parties for table space? I'm not going."

After they ordered, Vince reached over and wrapped his hand around Eric's where it was resting on top of the table. Eric stared down at it. "Uh," he said. Fuck, this was worse than Spago.

Vince smiled up at their waiter. "Hey, can you send somebody to track us down when our food is ready?"

The waiter said, "No problem, Vince." He leaned in and murmured, "There's nobody around the bell tower right now—a wedding just cleared out of there."

"Thanks," Vince said, beaming back at him, and Eric got hauled out into the dumbass fancy gardens. Vince started nuzzling at the side of his neck halfway down a cobblestone path, just as his cell phone rang.

"I need to take that," Eric said, swallowing.

"Go ahead," Vince murmured, working around back, teeth grazing Eric's nape. His thumbs dug into Eric's shoulders, pressing on the knots.

"I'm out of my mind, huh?" Ari said.

"Shut up, Ari," Eric said through his teeth. Vince leaned over his shoulder and said, "Hey, Ari."

"Ha, ha, you two lovebirds making out again?" Ari said, hollowly.

"Shut up, Ari," Eric said. He clamped his hand down over his belt buckle just in time as Vince's hands wandered around front.

"It's the middle of the day," Ari said. "Where the hell are you?"

Eric seriously didn't want to answer that. Vince leaned forward again and said, "The Bel-Air." He'd given up on the belt, but he was sliding his hand down, cupping Eric through his pants, and holy fuck—

"The Bel-Air? —E, you son of a bitch, you had better not be heavy breathing at me because Vince is blowing you in the gardens at the Bel-Air, or I swear to God I'm going to come over there with a baseball bat and beat your fucking head in," Ari said.

"Shut the fuck up, Ari," Eric said, and hung up on him. He broke away from Vince long enough to turn around. He was getting ready to say "okay, Vince, what the fuck," but Vince hauled him in and kissed him so deep Eric's tonsils were getting action. By the time they came up for air, it was down to "Vince, fuck," and the waiter was coming to get them.

"So has he let you fuck him yet?" Ari asked bitterly.

Eric picked his head up off the pillow to make sure Vince was still in the bathroom and the shower was still running. "First of all, none of your fucking business, and second of all, no, you asshole," he said, and shut his mouth on the part where Vince had started talking about condoms until Eric had shoved him over on his back and kissed him and jerked him off just to shut him up. "Look, he's just—he's in a phase—" He stopped, because he didn't know what the fuck Vince was doing, but that sounded fucking stupid even to him.

"Yeah, the same fucking phase he's been in since he started wanting to suck your dick in kindergarten," Ari said.

"We didn't even meet until we were in first grade, you moron," Eric said.

Ari ignored him. "Listen to me, there's only one thing to do here—"

"Ari, I'm not talking to you about this."

"Shut up, E, we're doing dinner with Winter's people in two hours, we need a fucking strategy to deal with this fucking mess you made," Ari yelled, and Eric sat up in the bed because fuck, he'd forgotten.

"All you got to do is just keep it together, baby, for me, okay?" Ari was saying. "Just for a little while—I know he's good in the sack, right? How hard can it be? Just tell him you want to keep it on the down low and lie back and think of ten percent of twenty million dollars—"

"Oh, fuck you, Ari," Eric said, and hung up on him. The shower door opened and Vince came out in a cloud of steam, toweling his hair, naked all the way up and down. Eric rubbed his hands over his face and got out of bed.

They had dinner at Nobu. Before the sake even landed, Vince casually slid his hand on the back of Eric's neck again. They were sitting against the wall in clear view of the whole room—Philip Seymour Hoffman having lunch with his agent one table over, two execs from Paramount in the other direction, and Rick and Natalie on the other side of the table three fucking feet away. Nobody batted an eye.

Somewhere between the first and second bottles, Rick said, "Listen, I just wanted to raise the hypothetical question—"

"Not unless you call Ralph right the fuck now and have him come over here and ask Vince for it personally," Eric said, cutting him off, because he didn't need a neon sign to know that was headed right back to the billing question. He smiled to keep it fake-friendly and waved over the waitress. "Jesus, you guys don't quit. Let's get another round—" and thank God Ari jumped in with the order to show off his Japanese some more, because that was when Vince, the asshole, slid his hand under the table and curled his long fingers snugly around Eric's thigh.

"Sorry, Eric," Natalie said, smiling back, showing teeth. "We had to try?"

"Yeah, sure," Eric managed. Rick kept talking, but Eric lost track of what he was saying, because Vince had started running his fingers up and along the line of Eric's dick, outlining it through his jeans. At that point Eric couldn't eat anymore, because chopsticks were beyond his range of motor control, so he put them down. Or dropped them, kind of. At least he could still manage the sake cup.

"Blah blah DVDs blah seven percent blah blah one million units," Rick finished, and paused expectantly, looking over at them.

"That's great, Rick," Vince said sincerely, and Eric managed a weak, "Yeah, great," which made Ari start glaring at him some more, seriously fucking unfair. Vince just smiled at Natalie across the table and swiped some edamame off Eric's plate with his free hand.

Rick and Ari started talking about Tokyo, Natalie went to the bathroom, and Vince leaned over and whispered, "Man, when we get out of here, I want to blow you in the car." Then Vince actually fucking licked his ear, like he didn't care the people who were going to be signing his twenty million dollar paycheck were right there watching.

Eric waited for the explosion, but nothing happened. Rick and Ari kept talking. The waitress came by with another round. At the next table over, Philip Seymour Hoffman smirked, and tipped his sake cup in their direction.

Turtle and Drama were punching each other out on the Wii when they got home, yelling in the living room and swinging the remotes around crazily. "Will you guys fucking put on the wrist straps before you break the TV again?" Eric said, and collapsed onto the couch. Vince handed him down a cold beer, which felt good against his forehead.

Vince sat down next to him and heeled off his shoes, and then he lay down on the couch with his legs hanging over the arm, and pillowed his head on Eric's thigh. Eric automatically dropped his hand to Vince's head, and then he froze.

"Hah!" Drama yelled, as Turtle's guy on screen went down. "Best of five, asshole! Who's buying the drinks tonight?"

"Yeah, what the fuck ever," Turtle said, and chucked his remote on the coffee table and dropped himself into a chair and looked over at them. "We're going to Natasha's party, you guys gonna come with?"

Vince tipped his head back over Eric's thigh and looked up at him. "You want? Or should we get an early night?"

"Uh," Eric said, "uh, we should—we should go, you know, with the deal and—"

He didn't even know what shit came out of his mouth, but it got him safely to Natasha's place in the Hills. He ditched the guys and wandered off around the pool with a beer in his hand and his head buzzing, trying to get some air and figure out what the fuck was going on, because Vince apparently wasn't going to enlighten him. Okay, maybe it wasn't a phase, but Ari had something fucked in his head too. Eric didn't know why anybody else wasn't noticing Vince was fucked up, but he was, because he wasn't in love with Eric or anything fucked like that, it was just—

Eric turned the corner. Vince was standing at the other end of the pool near the open bar, talking to Ali Larter, and he wasn't flirting. Not even the way Vince was always flirting, with the lazy curve of his smile, the tilt of his hips, raising his eyebrows—it was all switched off, like somebody had slapped a TAKEN sign on him, bright enough that she wasn't even trying back.

"Oh, fuck me," Eric muttered, and swallowed the rest of his beer. Jesus Christ, Vince was fucking in love with him.

Eric went inside and found an empty bedroom somewhere on the second floor with an en suite, and he ran cold water on a washcloth and lay down with it over his face. People opened the door a few times and closed it again without saying anything, which was the plan.

He didn't know what the fuck to do. Vince was in love with him. This wasn't going away, this wasn't going to be something they laughed off a year from now, hey, remember when we fucked around for a few weeks. Vince was going to fucking fall apart on him and Eric wasn't even going to be able to pick up the pieces, because he was the one with the sledgehammer. Fucking headcase Vince, twenty years and he'd never once said a word, and now he was going for it, with a twenty million dollar deal on the table ready to grow legs and walk away.

Twenty million dollars. Two million of it going into Eric's pocket. Eric wiped his face down with the washcloth and balled it up tight in his hands, staring at the ceiling. Jesus, was that it? Vince was going for it because he thought Eric wasn't going to say no right now because of the fucking movie?

"This had better be Eva Longoria calling for phone sex," Ari said groggily. "Ow!" he said somewhere away from the receiver, muffled. "Just kidding, honey."

"He has a fucking strategy," Eric said.

"What the fuck are you talking about, and why am I being forced to listen to it at two in the fucking morning?"

"Ari, he planned this! He's—" Eric braced his forehead with his hand. Holy shit, Vince had planned this. "Jesus, he's not clueless at all, he's doing it all on fucking purpose. How the fuck am I supposed to talk him down from this?"

"Okay, listen to me, E," Ari said, in a low and deeply reasonable tone. "It's going to be a month before we get the paperwork. All you have to promise me is just keep it together that long. That's all I ask—"

"Why am I even talking to you?" Eric said. "That's your fucking advice, pimp myself out to my best friend for a fucking movie."

"A TWENTY MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, MOTHERFUCKER!" Ari howled, then, "Sorry! sorry, baby, go back to sleep—"

"Oh, fuck off, Ari," Eric said, and snapped the phone shut. It started ringing again thirty seconds later, so he shut it off. He sat up and put his head in his hands.

The door opened. Vince came in and shut it behind him, and leaned back against it. "You okay?"

Eric raised his head. Vince's voice had wobbled, just a little, and Vince wasn't really looking at him.

Vince's dad had moved out in ninth grade. Vince had told Eric at lunch recess, out in the yard between two games of handball, like it didn't really matter and all he wanted was for Eric to punch him on the arm and say, "Sorry, man." He hadn't asked for anything. He wasn't asking now, either; he was just risking a twenty-million-dollar movie and his whole fucking career.

In ninth grade, Eric had put his arms around Vince and hugged him, and then he'd taken an unexcused absence and an F on the chem exam he'd been studying for the past two weeks, and dragged Vince off school grounds. They'd taken the train to Coney Island and hung out on the beach, eating Nathan's and not talking, just sitting there on the boardwalk, even though it got dark around five and cold as fucking hell, and somewhere around ten Vince had put his head in Eric's lap and cried, and Vince had fallen asleep on his shoulder on the train back home.

It was dark in the bedroom except for the glow from the yellow and orange spotlights drifting back and forth over the pool outside, bouncing in through the window and throwing weird shadows everywhere. Vince had his hands tucked behind his back and one leg propped up against the door, a smile on his face, and Eric only got to see how fake it was during the split-seconds when the light was striping over him.

Eric swallowed. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm okay. That door lock?"

Vince just stood there, and then he lit up slow, going up and up and up, like a chandelier rising on a dimmer switch. "Yeah," he said. Then he actually looked at the door. "Uh, wait. No."

"Fuck it," Eric said. "Get over here anyway," and Vince lost half his clothes before he even got to the bed. They tumbled over together kissing, Vince's mouth wet with tequila-courage and laughter, stripping Eric's shirt up over his head. Vince sat back on his heels straddling Eric's thighs and got to work on Eric's belt and pants.

"Man, I don't believe you," Eric said, lying back and watching him, hands resting on Vince's lean bare thighs. "You pull this out of nowhere—"

Vince stopped long enough to spread his hands out. "You're the only one who didn't know, E. It's not my fault if you're a little slow."

"I'm straight, you asshole," Eric said, lifting up so Vince could shove his pants down. "I don't know what the hell you were thinking."

"Come on, who wouldn't want this," Vince said, motioning up and down. "I knew you'd go for it."

"Please, you were shaking like a scared little pussy." Eric hauled Vince down. He put his hands on Vince's hips, smoothed them down with his palms and notched his thumbs on the lean curves and rocked them together slow and easy. His pants were bunched up around his thighs, and Vince still had his shirt on, but his legs were braced around Eric's and their dicks were bumping together.

The door opened. "Oh, sorry," somebody said, closing the door again, not before Eric heard "Was that Vincent Chase?" drifting faintly back in. He didn't stop kissing Vince. Who the fuck cared. Vince's hips fucked into him with little desperate jerks, back and forth. "Christ, I want to fuck you," Eric said, copping a feel off Vince's ass, rubbing up and over the curve. Man, tight as a drum.

Vince arched into him like a cat stretching, heavy-lidded. "See, that's what I'm talking about, E," he said smugly.

"Yeah, whatever," Eric said, but there were way better things to do than argue with Vince right now, like—slide his hand up Vince's back and pull him in closer, kick his own pants off the rest of the way, flip them over so he had Vince spread out on the bed under him. The spotlights were still rolling over the room in slow waves, full of swimming-pool reflections. Vince's eyes were dark and turned-on and still a little scared. Eric stopped and stared down at him.

"Hey," he said softly. "I'm not doing this for a commission."

Vince swallowed. "See, I knew it all along," he said, just a little roughly. "You're totally in love with me too."

"Yeah," Eric said. "I guess I am."


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