Two Steps Back
by Calico


He shouldn't have given him the poetry.

No, Viggo thought, increasing his pace, it was worse than that: he shouldn't have given him the orange. Looking back, he wasn't sure what had made him turn that into a provocative act, what had stopped him just handing over a segment and nodding his good-bye. Something about the way Orlando seemed incapable of walking through a room without igniting something traitorous in Viggo's pulse.

On reflection, that wasn't Orlando's fault.

The sensation of Orlando's mouth on his palm, though, that had a hold of him now. He had a terrible feeling that the spark he could feel in his own eyes was going to ruin vital scenes in the movie; not to overestimate his own importance, or anything, but they were supposed to let the script speak for itself. Any homoerotic tension really ought to be restricted to that which Tolkien intended.

And now - he shouldn't have given him the poetry. Now, with the recurring ghost sensation of Orlando's breath against his throat melting into the slow, surreal press of his mouth, "thankyou," Viggo was paying for that lapse. It had been one of those impossible nights awake, though, wracked with memories of Orlando's expressions blending into each other in transparent resentment. Orlando dared say things, dared do things. Dared suck Viggo's thumb, turning citrus into foreplay. Dared tell him to-- well, yes.

It had been a combination of regret and unfamiliar insomnia that sparked the idea of giving him the tape, and then it had slipped into a quiet excitement, steaming over him until he was lying dry-mouthed at 6am and the envelope had been taken away by the night porter. It was precisely the feeling he'd initially disliked about email: he had sent his message, but wouldn't be there to explain it. If Orlando misunderstood--

Viggo smiled dryly to himself. Difficult for Orlando not to misunderstand a message Viggo didn't entirely comprehend himself. And Orlando would dare run with that misapprehension, because Orlando always dared, or maybe just react - but regardless, the drama of it would undoubtedly leave Viggo feeling exhilarated and cowardly, like such things always would. It had to stop.

The alternative was... not an alternative.

The alternative, Viggo thought relentlessly, was to build Orlando's hopes up even more than he had already, and probably tumble into bed, and find out the next morning that Orlando wanted to play house, or have a covert affair, or never talk about it again.

He was being unfair.

"Viggo," his prop manager had called, before he'd even selected which muffin would grace his plate this morning, far too involved in pretending that Orlando wasn't clinging to him like a happy limpet at high tide.

He'd glanced over, and felt Orlando slither back from him. Professional, at least, he'd thought, although he wasn't supposed to be thinking things like that, wasn't supposed to be trying to see the bright side of having led a young man on like they hadn't a conscience between them.

"You said eight-thirty," his prop manager had said, meeting his blank look with one of harried patience, and Viggo had remembered, and cursed, and felt Orlando sag behind him like a disappointed child.

"Can I get breakfast, at least?" he'd asked, and then heard himself, realised what that would convey to Orlando, and so he told himself he saw extra impatience on the prop guy's face, and said, "okay, okay, sure. I'll grab this," and brandished a muffin, not even sure what flavour, "and - okay, I'm with you now."

"Bye," Orlando had said, and Viggo had relented and turned and walked backwards away from him for a second, waving apologetically, because he couldn't stand Orlando sounding so defeated, and - fuck, he was one screwed up individual. Viggo, not Orlando. Orlando was screwed up in a different way, in a puppyish way, and Viggo had felt a warm lurch inside him when Orlando had mouthed some indistinguishable words, and this had to stop. It just. There was no telling where it could go.

He was walking down to the common room, where Orlando and the others hunkered down most evenings after supper. He'd missed supper already - some people might say he'd avoided supper, but he would tell them quite simply that he hadn't been hungry. And there'd been phonecalls to make.

He was on his way to go stop it now.

It was difficult to open Orlando's door tonight, because he had one of those locks that clicked fast and stubborn, and Viggo only had one hand free, the other holding a large mug of hot milk by the handle - but he persevered, because Elijah had extracted himself from a feisty game of Ludo and given Viggo the key, and said clearly, without meeting his eye, "He's sick. He wasn't at supper. He could do with a nightcap, or something."

Viggo had dallied in the cluttered Self Catering kitchen as long as he could, then accepted that he'd already worked out how much honey he was going to put in the milk, and had acquiesced his way across to the fridge. Nightcap it was, then. For a "sick" elf.

He felt like he was back in school - this fluttery unstable mess in his head, heat rearing in his stomach every time Orlando wrangled another inch closer. It would have been fine if it hadn't felt like pincers closed around his brain with every pulse of heat. It would have sincerely been a lot easier if Orlando never flirted again.

"I brought you a nightcap," he said, propping the weighted door open with his foot. He felt like his eyes were over-bright, and it was an effort to keep his voice soft.

There was a noise from across the room, like a grumble. Noise of a teenager disturbed before 10am; a noise that needed to emerge from a heaped duvet to perfect the onomatopoeia. Viggo waited patiently, loathe to let the door swing-click closed, trapping him in this warm, cushioned, treacly dark. He thought: Orlando is barely an adult, for all his twenty-five years.

He wondered if he was in for a shock, a trap. An I-waited-for-you trap. Orlando was easily capable.

"Lij?" Orlando croaked, and Viggo waited out the itchy envy that crept through him at hearing that, at hearing Orlando gasp out another man's - boy's - name, gasping it like Elijah was water to Orlando's throat's desert.

"It's me," Viggo said, going closer and hearing the whuff of the door hurrying shut, well aware that only vanity was preventing him from naming himself.

The bed scuffled, and Viggo could barely make out a lump scrambling upright. "Viggo," Orlando breathed, and Viggo let his imagination fill in the gaps, the huge upturned eyes and the shiny mouth and the shadowy body tense beneath the duvet, the shadowy tension electric in his gaze. His imagination was all too happy to oblige.

"I brought you a nightcap," he said, wondering if Orlando could see him clearly enough to make out the mug in his hand, if it sounded as ludicrous as he suddenly felt. Apparently not a trap, so it followed that Orlando was genuinely sick - and in turn, that Viggo had brought him hot milk, without even knowing what was wrong.

"Oh," Orlando said, and then, "okay, then," and Viggo realised the flaw in bringing a drink was that now he had to hand the damned thing over. The mug was chunky pottery, textured like the field of bee hives Viggo had photographed when he was seventeen, and the heat was seeping through it fast enough that Viggo could foresee fingers colliding in the hand-over. As he held it out to Orlando, he realised he was bracing himself. He tried to relax and wound up nearly dropping it on the floor.

Very composed.

The next picture on his camera, after the one of the bee hives, was of his friend's father in a bee-keeping suit with the hood down, smiling like he knew a secret. Viggo had kept all those photos locked away, because that one had tainted - enchanted - the rest.

"Thanks," Orlando mumbled, snuggling down amongst his covers again. Their fingers didn't touch, and a little fairy of anticlimax fizzled out in Viggo's stomach.

"What is it, then?" he made himself ask, and Orlando rested his mouth against the rim of his mug, sipping with his eyes closed. Viggo felt far too tall, looming here, looking down on him imposingly. Some sort of visiting uncle, crowding the sick. He should go. Orlando clearly wasn't up for a talk about clear consciences and the leading-on of certain hypothetical people by certain other hypothetical people. Orlando was giving him far too much time to think, here, too, with the pausing. He should definitely go.

"I dunno," Orlando said eventually, and sighed little fluttery ripples across the surface of the milk. He looked - really fucking young, face-wise, but with oversized hands, like someone else was holding the mug for him.

"Sunstroke?" Viggo teased, and realised he was hunching slightly. He straightened his shoulders, rubbed at a taut nugget of neck muscle with one hand. "Inhaled too much ocean for your own good?"

"The latter, probably," Orlando said, voice at half-mast. He sounded amused, Viggo supposed, but with none of the rainbow vibrancy normally crowding his voice. "I've had sunstroke before, didn't feel nothing like this."

Viggo fought down a bizarre urge to correct his grammar. "No?" he said, instead. Just because Orlando looked childish right now really didn't mean he should be treated like one.

"Nah," Orlando said, and took another long sip, loud and pitiful. "It," he said, then giggled, then sipped again. "It," he said eventually, still smiling, "um, it was last summer, and I lost my hat, so I was going all day bare-headed and it was hot - wow, so hot - and I almost, by nightfall, yeah? I was just crawling round my hotel like one of those huge cow things on the Serengeti just before they die of thirst. I drank from the sink, 'cause we didn't have any water for the minibra. Money for it. Minibar," he corrected himself, and giggled again before subsiding. "Sorry."

"Buffalo?" Viggo said, smiling, and Orlando's private grin spread blissfully, and he opened his eyes and gazed up at Viggo like Viggo was some sort of god. His eyes were all pupil, huge in the gloom, and the rest of his face looked seriously pale by contrast. Viggo coughed. "I should be getting going," he said, and added, inventively, "I promised I'd see Sean--"

"Don't-- don't go," Orlando said, eyes narrowing a little. He almost looked hurt at the prospect. "Please."

"Well, I'll," Viggo said. The imaginary Sean was waiting, he thought. The imaginary Sean gave him a cheery little wave. "Okay," he said. He'd wait until Orlando had finished his drink. That way, he could take the mug down again. That was - useful, yes. Excellent. He'd even wash it up. "So it's the bad side of half-drowning, you think?"

Orlando nodded. "It wasn't sunstroke," he said, and Viggo wondered sharply if there was something wrong with the boy, if he had hit his head on the bottom or something, if there was anything Viggo should be doing to help. "I've had sunstroke."

"You said," Viggo said, gently.

Half an emotion flickered through Orlando's eyes. "It gets you on the day, mostly," he said. "You don't know what you're doing." He wetted his lips, and Viggo wondered distractedly why Orlando didn't just take another drink if he needed moisture, and then Orlando was saying, "I knew exactly what I was doing," and Viggo - understood.

He forced a smile. "I noticed."

"I can't see you up there," Orlando complained, lightly. He tilted his head. "Sit down?"

"I'm - okay, standing," Viggo said quickly, and the smile was working for real now, because this was outrageous, Orlando's charm, the way he was totally fucking adorable pretty much twentyfour-seven. "You could sit up, though, if you want?"

Orlando handed him the milk, and Viggo set it quickly on the bedside table and ducked to help - anxious to help - and Orlando knocked his hand away with a grin, shoving his pillows about and eventually smushing them into the wall with his shoulders. "Can't trust another man with my pillows," he said, as if by means of explanation, and Viggo realised he must've had an odd expression on his face. A questioning one, perhaps.

"No?" he said, stalling for time. An embarrassed awareness of the hurry he'd been in to set down the mug and get his hands free for Orlando had started to blossom in the back of his mind, and he'd rather a little distraction right now. There were so many things he didn't particularly want to talk about.

Orlando closed his eyes and wriggled a little. "Can I have my drink?" he said, politely, cupping his hands patiently around the air in front of his chest, and Viggo handed it over carefully, taking his sweet time. "Mm," Orlando said, and squirmed, and when he stilled again, the room was quiet, settled over like drifting silk tissue.

With the tip of his thumb, Viggo rubbed at an itchy place on the inside knuckle of his little finger. "We should talk," he said, almost as an afterthought.

"Go for it - though my voice isn't up for much," Orlando said, without opening his eyes. He appeared to have no idea that certain words should strike fear into the heart of any crushee, and that his oblivious behaviour bordered on callous.

"It's about yesterday," Viggo said, then decided he should have said, it's about earlier, since yesterday involved a lot of things. Match-making, and sandcastles, and - aquabatics, Dom had called it, proudly. Falling splashily, but with style. And the pigs were due for take-off any minute now. "It's about--"

Orlando squirmed again, scowling like there was a puzzling pain in his stomach, or perhaps his elbow had just bent further than he'd expected in the wrong direction. Perplexed. "Yesterday was lovely," he said, at odds with his expression, and the frown deepened even more. "Definitely not sunstroke, though."

"Right," Viggo said. "Are you alright?"

"Mm," Orlando reassured him, unconvincingly. He'd perked up, at least. "As alright as before."

"Which was...?"

"I didn't have any tea," Orlando said, apparently injured that Viggo hadn't taken this into account already, and Viggo thought that that held a certain irony, that Orlando was in here suffering while Viggo avoided the dining room because he didn't want a confrontation. Ah, that is, while Viggo made important phone calls. Yes.

"Are you hungry?" Viggo ventured, figuring that the important thing now was to make sure that Orlando was comfortable before trying to start a discussion.

"no, no," Orlando said distractedly, then gave an exasperated growl and slithered forwards on the bed. His dim-checked t-shirt was irredeemably rumpled, and Viggo wanted to rip it off. "Bugger," Orlando hissed, bashing the pillows behind him with both fists, and then he was hauling in another huge sigh and sliding back against them, breath petering out on a delighted groan.

"That's exactly how they were earlier," Viggo said, and he wasn't trying to make a point or anything, but it did bear saying. So.

"They're not," Orlando said, tilting his head back in apparent luxury. "is better."

"Mh," Viggo said.

Orlando blinked at him owlishly. "Wanna feel? You could--"

"No, no, I better shouldn't," Viggo said quickly, "uh, better not. Shouldn't. Anyway." He was backing away. "Good night."

"Come back," Orlando moaned - whined, really, extending all the syllables far too far - and Viggo paused, hand reaching behind himself and closing blessedly on the door handle.

"I really shouldn't."

"I'm siiiick," Orlando insisted, and Viggo knew exactly where this would end up, because he - because he wanted to take it there, wanted to accept the offer he could sense Orlando putting into words even now, wanted to crawl in beside him and warm his feet and let Orlando sleep on his shoulder and it could be innocent, but it wouldn't be.

He dredged up as convincing an apologetic shrug as he could manage. Thankfully, it was pretty gloomy. "Sorry," he said, forcing out the words, "I have to meet Sean, go over some sword stuff."

He edged out the door, and Orlando sighed piteously. "I have a sword you could--"

Viggo shut the door quickly behind him, with a click.

They didn't even use the same language, half the time, and for Viggo, yes, that drove a particularly sharp peg home. "You've got a keen body, for an old guy," Orlando had said, yesterday, arriving at the beach, and Viggo hadn't been entirely sure if that was a compliment until Orlando slapped him on the ass, winked, and scampered off down the shore. His heels had scuffed up little sprays of sand, drawing Viggo's eyes up the back of his thighs, to the filmy wet cling of his shorts, to the slant at the base of his back, the whole damn package turning golden brown. Keen.

Author note: with thanks to Megolas and Schuyler

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