This fic surprised me, because it's another stream-of-consciousness jobby (like Manifesto). I couldn't work out why I was suddenly fixated on this technique until this morning, as I was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling and gently prodding at story ideas, when I realised that it's all cesperanza's fault. I recently re-read her fantastic dueSouth fic, Wildy Dangerous Ways, and it contains a truly inspired use of stream-of-consciousness. If she actually read rps, I'd go and lay The Guilt on her, but as it is, I'll let her live on in blissful ignorance of what she's caused me to inflict upon you, dear readers. :)
I'm not sure how much I like my attempts at stream-of-consciousness, actually. It seems a bit forced to me, and I think it might get a bit wearing after a while. But on the other hand, I'm very, very happy indeed with my puerile puns!
Title: The Trouble with Poker
Pairing: EW/OB, LotR RPS
Length: 3,200 words
For: msilverstar, thank you so much. It means the world to me. (I know it's not a different pairing, but I promise that'll come later, when I'm feeling less stressed :)
Disclaimer: I don’t know any of these people—it’s just a lucid fever-dream.
Summary: Elijah overthinks games of chance.
The Trouble with Poker
If you had asked Elijah yesterday if he liked playing games—which was, in fact, not a random hypothetical proposition, but an actual question that Miranda had asked him yesterday during lunch break—he would, like a complete dork, have said, "Yeah, sure. Sounds great." And as though that wasn't bad enough, he would have gone on to add, "What time should I be there, and do you need me to bring anything?"
That moment of stupidity was dwarfed, however, by the utter imbecility Elijah had demonstrated when he'd actually turned up at Miranda's flat to play games, and she'd asked him whether he wanted to play Monopoly with Billy, Dom, Ian, Liv and Cate, or whether he wanted to play poker with Orlando, Sean and Miranda herself. Because he'd actually gone with his gut response of don't play any game involving money or alcohol with Cate ever, ever again, and chosen, instead, to play poker. Which would, on the face of it, seem a sane and logical choice. Except, of course, for the fact that he was now seated in the only chair at the poker table with an unobstructed view of the other table. Or, more precisely, an unobstructed view of what was happening underneath the other table. And, really, how could he have known the horrors such an unobstructed view would bring to his evening? It's not like he had ever been blessed with precognition, unfortunately, because if only he'd had some inkling... and it's not like he went around thinking about what other people might be doing beneath tables when they thought no one was looking at them, and now that he'd been forced into the position of starting to think about it, he heartily wished he could stop again.
Elijah had never given much attention to the concept of Thought Police, other than to vaguely like the edginess of the phrase enough to stick it away at the back of his mind for further consideration, one day when he was stuck on a set with crap-all to do maybe. But as he stared, or rather, didn't stare at his cards—or more precisely still, pretended to be staring at them with great enthusiasm so that he didn't have to look at what was going on beneath the other table, but actually failed to stare at them quite hard enough—that phrase, Thought Police, kept sliding into the front of his shell-shocked mind, taking up all the space in which he usually stored his wisecracks, sarcasm and other emergency coping mechanisms.
He even knew why that phrase was there without having to expend any actual mental effort, which was just as well, because he was pretty sure an MRI of his current brain activity would just show a big dark patch. Except maybe in the primitive, non-sentient bits that controlled things like fear, and adrenalin. And yes, if he was being totally honest—and let's face it, he didn't have the brain power to spare right now for self-delusion—the sex centre of his brain would probably be glowing bright, radioactive red on that hypothetical MRI. Red for danger. Serious, life-as-you-know-it ending kind of danger. And, boy, wasn't the whole concept of fight or flight sounding appealing right now? Except the fight idea just made him think about getting pounded, and that was a) unprofessional, because there was only so much that even prosthetics and make-up could hide, and 2) he was kind of worried about exactly what form the pounding might take.
Which left flight, didn't it? Except no. Because those little flashes of movement underneath the table that his eyes kept tracking, no matter how carefully he angled the cards, meant that he wasn't going to be standing up any time soon—not unless he was ready to embarrass himself in a way that was too hideous to even contemplate. And standing up was, he was pretty sure, an integral first step to running away. Which meant flight was out, even though that's what he really wanted to do.
Maybe if Elijah focused on that thought, like a mantra, it might help encourage some follow-through. It was worth a shot, right?
Running away was what he really, really wanted to do.
Really, really, really. Uh-huh.
Running: he wanted to do it.
He really wanted. To do it.
Yep. Running away.
He really. Really.
Wanted. To do.
Orlando... Why was Orlando looking at him like that, dammit? And how was he meant to mantra thought into action when everywhere he turned there was... Stuff he wasn't going to think about.
Except, actually. The whole not-thinking-about-it concept? Kinda more on the not working side of things. Which was why that phrase, Thought Police, kept popping up, every time he found his cards dipping and his eyes edging to the left without any conscious volition on his part, because, dear God, he really didn't need to be thinking about what was happening under that table, and holy shit, he hadn't known Billy's toes were prehensile, but fuck, they were certainly pretty tightly wrapped around Dom's...
"Peanuts?" Orlando asked, pushing the packet at Elijah. "If you make me eat all of these, I'm going to get salt poisoning and shrivel up like a prune, and I'm going to tell Peter it was all your fault that he ended up with a desiccated elf." He jiggled the packet enticingly.
And, God help him, Elijah was enticed. Although he was pretty sure Orlando was actually trying to entice him to eat snack food, rather than trying to entice him to visualise Orlando as a salty plum, which was something of a problem right at this particular moment, as the idea of sucking on a salt-rimed Orlando was strangely, compulsively more-ish; not that Elijah had ever sucked Orlando before, so he couldn't, technically, have more of it, but still.
It wasn't helping that the packet was making that crinkly foil sound as Orlando thrust it at him—just like a condom packet, his lizard-brain offered up proudly, which was a totally unhelpful sense memory, and he really didn't need any more stimulation along those particular lines, thank you very much—but dammit, Orlando was trying to get Elijah to eat his nuts!
Which was exactly why having a squad of Thought Police around would be pretty handy right about now. Because, obviously, nothing short of a brutal telepathic intervention was going to derail his current mental train-wreck.
Elijah could even picture them: a whole squad of Thought Police bursting into his mind. They'd be big, burly telepaths with bulgy foreheads and the ability to stop Bad Thoughts right in their synapses.
Not that the thoughts he wasn't admitting to thinking about were innately Bad as such—and didn't that sound like a weasel-worded attempt at denying an underlying homophobia?—but really, it wasn't so much that he was terrified at the idea of being gay, although, admittedly, he was kinda freaked out that his dick was hard just from not watching two guys he wasn't particularly hot for playing semi-public footsie on the other side of the room. But that wasn't the main event, the nub, the big enchilada—and now even his metaphors were getting disturbingly suggestive, but on the other hand, if ever a phallic metaphor was totally appropriate, this was the moment—because the key contextual issue here was that having a Sexual Identity Crisis was a really Bad Idea if you happened to be starring in a billion dollar film, which was shooting a million miles from home and everything familiar, and especially if said Sexual Identity Crisis was sparked by speculation about two of your co-workers' personal lives, plus, of course, another co-worker innocently offering you peanuts.
"... doing, Elijah?" Sean asked, with the slightly-too-loud volume of someone who was asking a question for the second or third time.
Miranda rolled her eyes, "You're over-thinking it, Doodle," and stuck her hand deep into Orlando's bag of nuts, pulling out a huge fistful.
Elijah hastily threw some money into the pot. "I'll see you."
Orlando smirked—or maybe he leered, Elijah couldn't tell anymore—and lay down his cards. "Straight. King of Clubs on top."
And that was the other problem with poker...
"You're up," Orlando said. "Spread 'em, Lij."
...it was so spectacularly suggestive.
Elijah reluctantly revealed his hand, which was, of course, "A flush. Queen of Hearts high."
Miranda licked her fingers—and Elijah didn't know whether to be relieved or appalled when his dick twitched at that—and lay down her cards. "Read 'em and weep boys. Number of the beast and Aces in the hole."
And while Elijah was still staring in slightly horrified admiration at the three sixes in Miranda's full house (and wondering, despite his innate scepticism, if there really was something to this whole mystical, new age, holistic mental energy bullshit after all) Dom exploded out of his seat—jacket casually clenched in one fist, which just happened to be poised right in front of his crotch, and why, oh why, had Elijah not worn a jacket tonight?—and yelled, "Fuck! I've left the fucking hot plate on! Bills, we have to go. Now!"
Dom, it turned out, had a perfectly honed flight instinct. Elijah watched him disappear out the door with something akin to religious awe, and not a little envy, and wished that he'd had the wits to think up such an elegant strategy of retreat.
Billy was a little slower off the mark, managing an apologetic, "Night, all," as he made his way to the door, counterpointed by an eloquent shrug that said, "That crazy Dom, but what the fuck am I supposed to do? I can hardly let innocent kiddies and old folks lose their lives in a hot-plate induced inferno of death."
It was entirely convincing too, apart from the untied shoelace on his right Nike, which no one other than Elijah seemed to notice.
If further evidence had been required to prove that Elijah's mental processes were seriously disabled, he would have had it then (although not in Spades, because Orlando was only just reaching out to gather up the hand of Hearts in front of him, and hadn't yet started dealing a new round), because it took several moments of staring at the empty door while listening to Miranda chew peanuts, and Cate, in the background, gleefully redistributing Dom and Billy's Monopoly holdings, before Elijah realised that he might just be Saved. Billy's prehensile toes were out of the picture. Dom sucking on a finger while his body went alternately lax and rigid... also gone. It was, surely, only a matter of time before the situation had fully deflated.
Elijah embraced his salvation fervently, and happily waved a quick mental goodbye to the idea of calling in the Thought Police before banishing them to the inner depths of his psyche.
"Fuck," said Orlando.
Elijah turned to look, his sense of humour restored and a lewd quip ready on his tongue. It died, stillborn.
Considering the amount of noise that both Cate and Miranda were making in their own uniquely annoying ways, Elijah wouldn't have thought it possible to hear a pin drop onto Miranda's rather tacky bone-coloured carpet, let alone a handful of playing cards. Yet the whisper of cards falling out of Orlando's hands seemed as loud as the sound of Elijah's frenetic heartbeat. And it was with a deep sense of injustice that he watched Orlando, who seemed to be moving in slow motion, slide his chair back, slip onto his knees, kneel next to the table for one endless, horrifying, unstoppable moment, before crawling underneath to pick up the fallen cards.
Time stopped. Or rather, time rushed in a dozen hypothetical directions at once. Orlando was under the table! At eye level with Elijah's erection! Would Orlando even notice? (Of course he'd notice! How could he not notice? It's not like it was small!) Would he yell, upset the table and reveal Elijah for all to see? Would he say nothing and politely pretend it was business as usual? (But this was, after all, Orlando, who had strange notions about what was and was not embarrassing.) Would he say something... make a joke? (Oh, God, please no!) Or... would Orlando crawl closer (and Elijah couldn't really believe he was actually thinking this, because it wasn't helping the situation. At all.), slide his hand up Elijah's leg, rest his chin on Elijah's knee, and... breathe? Warmly? More than breathe? (Elijah didn't think he could handle more than breathing without rapidly returning to a scenario of total embarrassment. But, on the other hand, what a way to go.)
Orlando crawled back out from under the table. The world didn't end. He didn't make a joke.
He dealt a new hand of cards.
"You better not have stacked these cards while you were under the table," Sean said, frowning at his hand.
"Nah," Orlando said. "I was too busy perving up your trousers."
"You bloody would too," Miranda said, making sucking sounds as she licked the salt off her fingers before picking up her hand. Then, as an affectionate afterthought, "Pervert. Gimme two."
Elijah kept his gaze on the table top, refusing to make eye-contact, knowing he'd blush fire-engine red if he did, and that kind of strain on his available blood supply couldn't be good for him. So he kept his eyes down. Looked at his cards, one-by-one, as slowly as he could manage.
"So, Lij," Orlando said, voice sounding breathy and... enticing.
Elijah couldn't help it. His gaze seemed to come unglued from the cards without any conscious thought. He looked up, and found that Orlando was looking right back at him. Watching him with the strangest expression in the depths of those endless eyes.
"You want something from me, Lij?" Orlando asked, voice like golden syrup. He was holding up the deck of cards, but not really talking about cards at all.
And that, right there, was the trouble with poker.
Orlando's tongue was showing, just a little, a flash of pink against his lips. And surely. Surely. That couldn't be accidental?
Oh, God. He'd seen. He knew.
And he was, godammit all-to-hell, propositioning Elijah with poker entendres!
Elijah could feel a huge bubble of panic expanding in his chest, because he wasn't ready for this. But here it was anyway, and he didn't have any idea what to say. He didn't have any idea what he wanted. Or, rather, what it was safe for him to want.
He kinda wished, now, that he hadn't been so hasty with sending off those Thought Police, because maybe they could have helped, maybe they could have delved into his subconscious and dug out an answer. The right answer. Any answer.
Orlando was still looking at him, even though Elijah knew he'd been silent too long. And sure enough, there it went... the sparkle was starting to blank out of Orlando's eyes; he was taking the invitation back. Not that Elijah could blame him, because, let's face it, even someone as confident as Orlando wouldn't leave himself open to rejection forever.
"Hit me," Sean said.
Elijah opened his mouth to say, "Hey. It's still my turn." Except he didn't actually need to, because his mouth was already open, and Sean's wasn't.
Sean wasn't even looking at Orlando. Sean was still staring at his hand in consternation, a little frown etched in a straight line between his eyebrows.
Which had to mean...
Orlando was smiling at Elijah, the invitation back in his eyes even brighter than before. "Okay, then. What'll it be?"
Elijah looked down at his hand. Hearts again. Typical.
Well. No use doing things by halves. In for a penny, in for a pounding. Anything worth doing was worth fucking up royally. And really, this whole procrastination thing? Getting old.
He carefully closed his cards and placed them in a neat pile on the table, then pushed them towards Orlando. "Everything."
"Ah," said Orlando, with what was definitely a leer. "A man after my own heart."
And even as Elijah was admiring the truly suggestive way in which Orlando was dealing out the cards, a warm, sneakerless foot traced its way up his leg.
Elijah had always enjoyed the fringe benefits of being an actor, but he couldn't remember a time when he'd been quite so grateful that he was actually good at it. He nonchalantly picked up his cards, and congratulated himself on disguising the fact that he couldn't really focus on them at all; and, while he was thinking about things to be grateful for—and, God, Orlando was really, really good at that, possibly even better than Billy, prehensile toes notwithstanding—Elijah was utterly grateful that he wasn't playing against Cate, because she'd no doubt have his cash cleaned out in an embarrassingly short time, given his current... preoccupation. He glanced over at the other table—as he leaned down to scratch an imaginary itch, while actually untying the lace on his own shoe, because, dammit, if he was actually going to go with this then it was about time he got to be the doer instead of the doee—and vaguely noticed that Cate seemed to be staring very intently at the utility cards she had in front of her. She was directly opposite him and would—he realised, in a rather stunning feat of deduction given that Orlando chose that moment to slide his foot along the inside of Elijah's thigh—have an uninterrupted view of what was happening beneath the table.
"I've changed my mind," said Elijah, and was gratified at Orlando's sudden look of trepidation.
Elijah winked, surreptitiously patted Orlando's paused foot, and slid his own toe underneath the edge of Orlando's pants. "I've decided that I do want some nuts after all."
At the other table, Cate went a quite unbecoming shade of pink, and forgot to buy a hotel.
Orlando grinned and offered him the packet of peanuts.
The foil made a particularly lewd crinkly sound as Elijah took it, and suddenly the world seem full of unexpected possibilities. For instance, now that he looked at it properly, the nuts were in a very large packet—Super Economy Size it said in chunky, diagonal yellow letters—and unless he was very much mistaken, it would be quite large enough to serve as a defensive shield in the event of a rapid evacuation. And furthermore, it occurred to him, as he chewed happily on a handful of nuts and ogled Orlando's biceps, that he could get a sudden, debilitating migraine that would require someone to drive him home without delay, or, on the other hand, he could do that later on, and vicariously footsie Cate into bankruptcy first.