Pairings: Billy/Orlando, Billy/Dom, Billy/Elijah
Word Count: 3,874
Notes: Modern AU. I am crossing my fingers it's a fresh take on things, as requested - I hope so anyway!
Summary: On the Northern pubs and clubs circuit, it's a tough crowd for a small-time stand-up comedian like Billy Boyd - but with mates he can rely on, it'll turn out ok.
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit, non-commercial work of fiction using the names and likenesses of real individuals. This fictional story is not intended to imply that the events herein actually occurred, or that the attitudes or behaviors described are engaged in or condoned by the real persons whose names are used without permission.
It's funny. It's odd. But life on the road is somehow nothing like real life. Billy thinks about that as he rolls up to yet another working men's club to find out that he doesn't have a dressing-room - which is fair enough, he never expects one really, although it's nice when he is pleasantly surprised - but tonight he has less than even that, tonight he has no luck at all. Not only is the bog filthy, that he has to change in, to set up in, and breathe calmly in, trying to get his nerves under control before he goes on, in front of a dozen bored blokes at worst, or a hundred drunk and rowdy men and their partners at best. Go on, with his best style, and make them laugh, or at least make them smile, and make sure they don't throw bottles at him, or damage the club, because he'll get blamed, he knows, because it's happened before. Not only is the gents filthy, stinking of urinal cake and poorly aimed piss, but it's worse than that, in a less than ideal world, because he has to share it. Billy has to make small talk, to pretend to take an interest in another's small woes, someone else's trauma and tragedy, and still prepare himself to go on.
But it's part of the life. He wants to be the good bloke, a sound guy on the circuit, for them to say there's no trouble where Billy Boyd's concerned, yeah, we'll have him back again, his joke about the vicar and the tart was old, but I nearly pissed myself laughing, so I did. He wants his fellow comedian's respect, he wants their quiet word in a promoter's shell-like ear, he wants a pint bought for him on a bad night, he wants a clap on the back, a smile, a wink.
So he chats to the lad, Orlando's his name, young but not that young, and far too pretty. There's some crowds that would eat him alive - in Billy's home city of Glasgow, for example, they'd take the piss on principle. A bloke isn't meant to be pretty, stands to reason, but Orlando shrugs and smiles. He's yet to make it that far North, he says, he's come from the London circuit, trying his hand up here, and there's a lot more birds in the London clubs. Orlando goes down very well with the ladies, as it happens, and with students too. He plays a lot of student unions. It's a living, that's all that matters, and the beer is cheap as chips.
Billy nods, and joins in, offers his own opinions on the best gigs, the best venues, and that means he doesn't notice the cheap stinking aerosol smell in the air, or the water on the floor from the leaking pipe, and perhaps the right of it is to stay social, not just going it alone, for all the stage is the most lonely a man can be, out there under the lights with only his wits for company.
It's a good night. Billy with his tired patter and his comic songs, with his worn-out old guitar slick in his hand, comfortable, fitting itself to his fingers like an old friend. And the crowd is in a mood to be entertained tonight, roaring like an animal that wants its belly scratched, until it's rare when things feel so much like flying, but Billy's sure that this is the closest he's ever going to come. Orlando has a fine time too, he comes off the stage grinning fit to burst - and Billy's high has made him restless, itchy, with just enough of the adrenaline left in his system to make him sharp as diamond. Orlando's so pretty, his eyes are deep brown, and soft looking, with the stink of fresh sweat harsh in the air, reminding his hind brain that Orlando's not soft really, not at all, but Billy barely notices. He's too busy smiling at Orlando, his eyeteeth showing, and Billy wants to do more than smile, but he's the good bloke, the cheeky one, the nice guy - and it's a reputation he wants to keep, thanks, so he's grateful to whatever gods are left over from his childhood when Orlando leans forward to catch his lower lip in his teeth and bite down.
They're quiet then, no words, just the harsh pants they both make as they stretch and strain against each other, flesh going slippery, Billy's fingers in Orlando's mouth, pushed hard against the porcelain. The place is filthy, so nothing's exposed except the essentials, and that adds something somehow, the stretch of denim restricting all their movements, hands stuck under elastic, the cotton of boxer shorts pulled tight across balls. Billy grunts as Orlando's fingers work, and then comes, in a release that leaves him drained, and bone weary, but blessedly relaxed, the world retreating into ordinariness with its sharp edges and bright colours dulled to welcome reality. Orlando throws his head back as he comes in turn, throat long and lean, and Billy wants to bite, but restrains himself. He'll work with Orlando again, more than likely, down the road somewhere, and he doesn't want to push it.
They say their goodnights then, as they adjust clothing, and Billy decides against a pint - he's got whisky back in his digs, and he doesn't want to find there's awkwardness. But Orlando seems ok, a good bloke himself, and much less pretty and more real, with his hair mussed from Billy's fingers and come on his shirt. He grins, and then hugs Billy, which is a surprise, but it means that Billy goes back to his cheap B&B with a smile on his face, so it's not all bad. Not bad at all.
Sometimes though, there are the bad nights. He's in Manchester, in some tinpot club that thinks it's something more, all red velour and shiny black wood, that Billy knows is chipboard and melamine, if he scratches at it. The audience is rowdy, and just as cheap looking, all used car salesman suits and white high heels. His songs are falling into some black pit because there's something wrong with the sound system, and he'd be tearing his hair out if he had any left to lose. He keeps at it because that's all he can do, look bright and chipper, paste on a smile, continue to throw his patter out there like it's meat to wolves, but the murmur of the crowd is turning to a roar of indifference, and in some ways that's worse than hostility because they're not even looking at him.
Things are switched up suddenly with an electronic howl, feedback going crazy, a mike too close to the stacks, and then an electronic guitar is thrust into his hand. It startles the audience, a sea of white faces turning to face him, mouths all open, and Billy's heart is pounding with the shock of it, of ad-libbing, of going somewhere he doesn't have planned. He turns around to see a cheeky face, its grin a little off centre, thrusting a different mike into his hand. There's a whisper that he's fixed it, this one anyway, and the power for the axe is live too.
His set is different then. The songs are given a harder edge, the screech of the new guitar reinventing the lyrics, until he can almost imagine himself in some alternative line-up, heavy with political satire, dropping bon mots on chat shows, or even competing on TV for a quiz show crown. His confidence takes a left turn too, and he tries out material he'd once thought too shocking for him, for Billy Boyd, nice guy and ordinary bloke, and snaps back his comebacks as slick as anything while the crowd becomes his, roiling and sparking in the palm of his sticky hand.
It's a good set in the end, a disaster turned around. The club owner shakes his hand when he comes off stage, admiring and complimentary, but Billy only has eyes for the guy who follows him, who goes on and effortlessly surfs on the back of his warmed up crowd. Billy takes the club owner's praise and doesn't even gently take him to task regarding the shit equipment, although he thinks about it. But he's not big enough yet, not important enough, it's not his place. He asks instead after the guy on stage and is told his name is Dominic Monaghan, a local boy, always popular, and Billy's heard of him, in fact he should have recognised him. Knows he's burning his way up their particular greasy pole like a meteor.
Billy's both eager and reluctant to greet Dominic when he comes off stage, because he owes the man, but he doesn't know him, doesn't know if he's a wanker or not, too precious with the fame that's gone to his head, or still got his feet on the ground. He needn't have worried though, Dominic - call me Dom - is a right laugh. He throws an arm around Billy's shoulders and drags him to the back of the club itself, because, surprise, there's no dressing room - and buys him a pint without taking no for an answer, and then proceeds to be as funny off stage as on it, causing Billy to nearly choke on his own tongue. Dom's eyes are a stormy blue, and they light up every time Billy giggles into his pint - which he'd prefer not to do, for grown men don't giggle at all, but he can't help it - because Dom's anecdotes about the business are as true as they are hilarious. He has a wealth of scandalous stories about well known comedians he's shared a bill with over the last few years, and Billy's ears are burning - because Dom doesn't know him either, he might be an untrustworthy bastard, for all he knows. It's an enormous show of faith, or a idiotic piece of stupidity, and Billy can't make up his mind which.
But in the end, as they have another pint, and then another, and then a whisky chaser, Billy decides that Dom's an ok bloke. A little impetuous perhaps, but solid in a crisis, as he's already demonstrated - his dad is a science teacher it turns out, and apparently that's how he knows how to re-wire broken mikes at the drop of a hat. But Billy also gets the feeling there's some frustrated rock star in there too, a lot of hours in a spotty teenage bedroom with a knackered electronic guitar and half a set of screwdrivers. It says something brave and honest of Dom that he didn't go down that path, that he chose another way to fame, maybe one he's better suited for, more talented even, and maybe that's why he seems so friendly to Billy. With his song writing abilities, and his magic fingers. Because they do, they really do get on, Billy and this rising star, and he marvels at it a little, in between laughs, watching Dom's snub nose wrinkle, watching his solid chin shift sideways as he grins.
Billy would have liked to push for more, to get to know Dom even better, but they're in public, and he doesn't want to be crass. There's something magical here, and he doesn't want to ruin it with base lusts, so he makes do with wide expansive gestures and patting Dom on the arm. A lot. They end up heading back to their different digs arm in arm, while singing at the top of their lungs. Dom doesn't look like he's had so much fun in years - and it's his idea to finish the evening by sitting in Queen Victoria's lap at her monument in Piccadilly Gardens, waving his scarf in the air. It's the souvenir that Billy gets to keep when he wakes up alone the next day with his head pounding - that scarf, and the picture on his camera phone. It always makes him smile.
As it happens, sometimes there are replacement acts. It's always a complete bugger, because although any one of them could be playing anywhere from Blackpool to Barnsley, on the circuit you get to know people, and he's usually told ahead of time who he's supporting, or who's supporting him. Mostly that's good, as it means he knows who are the guys to watch, who's a solid bet, who has to be carried, and he can plan for it, in a loose kind of a way. Although Billy's trying to plan things less these days, and he's bought his own electric guitar. His songs have more of a bawdy edge to them now, entendres that barely count as single, never mind double, and there's political satire too. He's good, well, he was always good, but now he's better, and the grapevine knows it. His rep is for slyness now, for sneaky filthy humour, and he's not just a good bloke, good old Billy Boyd.
So Billy supposes he shouldn't immediately complain, arriving to find out he's not supporting that surreal comic, Viggo Mortensen - who's either ill, or joined a Buddhist monastery, it's not entirely clear which - because he's been bumped up to top the bill. That's great news. But the replacement isn't anyone Billy knows, and that's disconcerting - the guy must be really new, actually wet behind the ears new, for Billy not to at least have heard his name. But then he stops his worrying, because that's the old Billy Boyd, the one he's trying to leave behind a little, the Billy who buried his parents too young and worked in a bookbinders for much too long a time before gathering his courage and signing up for an open mic night at the Stand.
Maybe this Elijah Wood has just never done the Northern pubs and clubs before. Maybe he's a Londoner, like Orlando was, or on a different circuit, maybe he's trying something new, or slumming it from his world tour - it could be anything. Billy tells himself these things and doesn't worry, he doesn't. He finds it ironic that in the end he's both right and wrong. Elijah is American, and he's very young indeed. But he's not a newbie, far from it, he's been touring, he's done stand up, and hosted comedy club shows all over the States, and Canada too, he tells Billy proudly, blinking at him and smiling. Now he wants to make his name here in England, and he'll start at the bottom and work his way up, just as he ought, to get his name out there.
Elijah's naked ambition is almost refreshing, because he's so charming with it, Billy realises. He's not going to show a bloke up, or at least, not deliberately, Billy just better make sure that he's as good as Elijah, that's all, and the spark of competitiveness that engenders has his spine straightening and his fingers itching for his guitar. He feels alive just watching Elijah from the wings, anticipating how he can bounce right off Elijah's brand of quirky patter. He does a kind of robot act at one point, opening his truly large eyes wide and not blinking once - it's such an unnerving stare that it makes many in the audience laugh spontaneously, without Elijah needing to say a thing. And he falls over a lot, pratfalls seem to be a speciality, and physical comedy of all kinds. Billy finds he's laughing and aching in sympathy before Elijah's set is even half over, before he closes his mouth in sudden wonder at Elijah's sheer raw ability.
Elijah knows what he wants too. Billy envies him his single-mindedness, and at such a young age. It comes from more-or-less growing up in the business, he supposes, so when Billy comes off stage in turn, his own set having also gone well, more than well in fact, just fucking fantastic, Elijah is waiting for him, with a clap on the back, and praise of his own. It's good that Elijah's generous, it'll mean he'll likely keep his friends and he won't make enemies, or so Billy hopes. But it also means he's not exactly shy - he pulls Billy flush against him by the strap on his guitar, and sticks his tongue down his throat, right there in the wings. Billy's surprised, but he's not going to say no, Elijah's beautiful, and eager, and talented. It's just what this night deserves, a little cherry on the top, and even when Elijah slides to his knees in their dressing room - provided for once, although the door doesn't lock - Billy can't get over the fact that he might even deserve this, that he's worked bloody hard for this. For recognition, and respect, and a certain amount of fame, if not actually a beautiful boy on his knees. But he's not going to kick him out, damn if he's not.
Billy sees Elijah's name on an increasing number of bills after that, which doesn't surprise him in the slightest, and he doesn't even resent Elijah for his friendly and outgoing nature, not even when he walks in on him and Orlando on one memorable occasion at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. With him, Elijah had just been saying hello, in his own unique way - Billy's not going to begrudge him that, not at all, instead he's going to smile and be glad that he's got solid support at his back when he goes out to face the roar of the crowd. He knows what matters, after all.
Sometimes there's magic. Call it fate, call it kismet - call it working steadily, paying your dues, making contacts, getting yourself known, but sometimes things just fall into your bloody lap. It's Dom. On the phone. And when did he get Billy's number anyway, and how did his own phone know it was Dom? The little shite must have pinched it at some point and programmed himself in, and that's all so massively beside the point that Billy can't believe he's even thinking about it. Dom sounds excited, as well he might be, because he's hired a venue, out of his own pocket mind, for Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival - bigger than the original it's named for these days, and a mecca for comedians of all stripes. Do well at Edinburgh and you could be made, there might be a radio series on the cards, or even TV. Win a Comedy Award (the award formally known as Perrier) and it's virtually guaranteed.
Billy's not thinking straight, Dom's making noises but none of the sense of it is going in. He digs his nails into his palm and tries to concentrate. Dom's venue is huge, it's a 1,000 seater, which is massive for Edinburgh, and with all the competition at the Festival, what is Dom thinking? Especially considering he's a not especially well known stand-up comedian, for all his reputation is growing on the club scene - he's Mister Nobody where it counts. They all are.
But Dom, he dreams big, he wants it all, and he's willing to put his money where his mouth is - which Billy admires so much. Except, of course, there's a catch - isn't there always? He can't do it alone. He wants to put together a show, and he's thought of Billy, his first choice, so what does he reckon? Does he think they can work together? Does he want to?
Billy's heart is pounding. He remembers a particularly special night, glazed with the sheen of alcohol, but important to him nonetheless. He knows there's a certain picture on this phone that he treasures, and that there's a warm grey scarf tucked into his bag back at the B&B. He knows that he could stay safely in his comfort zone - he's built up a satisfying repertoire, and a nice range of venues, that know him, that cheer for him now, that people turn up to just because he's on the posters, and it's not a bad little life as it goes. But it is a little life, and he didn't leave Glasgow for that, now did he? He didn't leave his sister Margaret and all his friends, just for a set of filthy dressing rooms, and a free pint at the end of the evening if he's done well. He wants to make people laugh, and he loves it, the immediacy, the edge of the seat stuff, but he also wants more. Good comedians, the hungry ones - they always want more.
He says yes. Of course, he says yes. And when he and Dom start working together Billy discovers they bounce off one another like they've been born to do it all their lives. They're writing sketches, and songs, and comic dialogues, it pours out of them like some great creative orgiastic wave, Billy's never known anything like it. And they laugh, so much, and they make each other laugh even more, and it's brilliant, fantastic, like some kind of surreal otherworld. Then Dom decides they need warm-up acts of their own, and Billy suggests people he knows, good people, who'll jump at the chance, and Dom's nodding, agreeing, because he knows them too. And that's how Orlando and Elijah come on board, and then suddenly it's August, and they're all climbing into Orlando's battered van on their way to Edinburgh.
The van's suspension is made of utter shite, and Billy's feeling sick. He's jolting and rolling his way back to Scotland, to his own country, that he left years ago, and he feels like he should be returning like the Prodigal Son, to fame and fortune, but it's far more likely that he's heading for penury and humiliation instead. He's sat next to Dominic Monaghan, his new comedy partner, who's completely broke but doesn't seem to care, and Billy's scared witless that it's all going to go so horribly wrong. What kind of mad risk is this? But Dom's eyes gleam in the dark with his own particular brand of brave insanity, and then he leans across to ask whether they're going to be Boyd and Monaghan or Monaghan and Boyd? And while Billy's spluttering over the suggestion, over how can it be Boyd and Monaghan, when there's no proper rhythm there, it's just Dom being a gobshite, that's all... It's then that Dom pushes in and kisses him.
Billy stares at him in shock, his lips tingling. While Dom half grins at him, and says, we're going to be brilliant, you know. We're going to be sensational. It's ridiculous, it's stupid, because how can he be so certain, but Billy's heart lifts anyway, because this is his Dom who's saying it. And this time, as the van jolts again, and sways them together as it rounds a corner, this time Billy kisses back.
(And Dom isn't wrong. Because they are. Brilliant.)