Well two of my current fascinations are with non-chronological story-telling and tense changes, both of which I've used here. I've also been fascinated by the phenomenon of synaesthesia for years and years, and have always wanted to write a story about it. Finally, slashababy gave me my chance! And here it is, for the lovely airgiodslv...
For: Happy Christmas, airgiodslv!
Thanks: To scotsnow for the beta.
Disclaimer: It's all made up!
Notes: Written for slashababy 2004.
"What do you think Billy and Dom are really doing right now?" Orlando asked, leaning back in his chair so that he was in full sun, crossing one ankle over the other and idly looking at the cafe's menu. One finger played with the scab on his bottom lip, the last memento of his accident. He tapped at it, feeling the slice of hardness beneath the pad of his finger, remembering the shock of cold tiles against his back and his teeth closing together with a sudden snap of pain.
"I shudder to think," said Elijah, something dark and uncertain in his voice.
Orlando pushed the memory aside and looked up, just in time to catch Elijah sliding his gaze away from Orlando's finger, Orlando's almost-healed lip.
"Probably something we'll regret on Monday," Elijah added, as he reached up and pulled at the sun umbrella until his seat was in more complete shade.
Orlando nodded. He forced his hand away from his lip, gripping the menu instead. Flapping it open and closed, open and closed. Cartoons of mochacinos and hamburgers winking in the sun. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear they were shagging like bunnies."
Elijah didn't look at Orlando, he was busy flipping open his packet of cigarettes. He pulled one out, looking it over critically for a moment, straightening an invisible bend, before sliding it into the corner of his mouth and lighting it up. "I know what you mean," he said, staring out at the vivid blue of the ocean as he took a long drag. "It's like they fucking channel each other or something."
They sat in companionable silence, Elijah puffing at his cigarette, Orlando playing with the sun's reflection on the laminated menu, letting the laughter of a group of women from two tables down wash over them.
A steady stream of people were walking to and fro along the beach below them, eating ice-cream, walking dogs, chatting, holding hands, power walking, dressed in an astonishing variety of skin and little else.
A waiter bought their tea and coffee, placing the drinks onto the table with a quiet efficiency, and then vanished back into the gloom of the cafe.
Elijah pulled a face and waved his cigarette at Orlando's tea. "I've never figured out why you like that stuff. It tastes like perfume."
A waft of burning cloves came to Orlando as Elijah spoke, and he breathed it in.
"You've never had the real thing, then," Orlando said. "Only piss-poor tea tastes like perfume. Like those fucking herbal things."
"I don't believe you," said Elijah. "It's all some English conspiracy."
Orlando snorted. With a dramatic flourish he poured half a packet of sugar into his tea, stirred, took a sip, rolled it around his tongue, then nodded, satisfied. "This," he said, lifting the cup, "this is tea!"
"Sure it is," said Elijah, laughing. "I really believe you!"
Orlando held out the cup to Elijah. "Don't think I'd do this for just anyone."
Elijah stared at the offering, then his gaze drifted up, up until he was staring into Orlando's eyes.
Orlando could feel the burn of hot glass beneath his fingers, the deep taste of the tea a pleasant phantom on his tongue with each breath he took. "Go on," he said. "Take a chance."
With a determined grind, Elijah stubbed out the cigarette and then reached out for the cup. He held it under his nose and sniffed. Then, with a wh wh wh, blew at the tea's steamy surface before taking a cautious sip.
"Well?" said Orlando.
Elijah closed his eyes. Took another sip. Just sat there, a smile tugging at his mouth.
"You like it!" Orlando accused.
Elijah's eyes popped open and he grinned. Then, without a word, he pushed his coffee cup over the table until it was resting in front of Orlando.
"Freak," said Orlando, feeling a well of inexpressible fondness as he picked up the teaspoon and ate a mouthful of chocolatey foam.
The silence swallowed them again. Each of them sipping occasionally as their drinks cooled and the sun beat down.
They watched a group of teenagers throwing a frisbee to each other down on the sand. It was a shining disc that hurt the eyes, thumping into outstretched hands like it was on a string, guided somehow, as though it was easy to throw and catch like that, requiring no sweat, no effort, no acrobatic leaps that garnered appraising wolf-whistles and claps from the other teens.
When one girl leapt onto the back of another to grab the frisbee out of the air, Orlando felt like applauding too.
Elijah picked up his cup. Stared down into the amber depths. "Do you think they're lying?"
Orlando tore his gaze away from the frisbee and raised an interrogative eyebrow.
"Billy and Dom. About fucking each other." Elijah waved his cigarette. "About not fucking each other."
Orlando picked up the menu and started playing with it again as he thought about that for a while. "Nah," he said at last. "Their body language is wrong for fucking. I think they really are just friends." He smiled at Elijah, lifted his cup and drank down the last over-sweet dregs of his coffee. "They're just close. Like us."
Elijah watched Orlando drink, his gaze lingering once more on the mark scarring Orlando's lip and, for a brief moment, Orlando was back in the bathroom, re-living the accident. The distant sound of gulls felt like pipe cleaners tickling the insides of his elbows and tightening his belly, the orange flowers on the table sounded like a rushing heartbeat when he looked at them, the salt-laden breeze sparkled like fireworks everywhere it touched his skin, and the feel of Elijah's gaze on his lip tasted just like a kiss.
"Yeah," said Elijah, gaze moving on, until it came to a temporary rest on the restless rise and hump of the sea. "Close. Just like us."
When Orlando opened his eyes he was in a hospital, and everything was back to normal. There wasn't even pain, just the dull distant feeling that signalled the presence of serious drugs. Orlando knew the dullness would resolve into suffering later, hopefully once the worst of it was over.
Viggo was the first person he saw. Viggo held his hand tight, so tight it almost hurt, called him an idiot, asked him what the fuck he'd been thinking. Viggo's eyes were kind and worried and too intense, which was typical Viggo, but too much for Orlando to handle on top of everything else. It was a relief when he finally left.
After that, the Doctor, a bright-eyed woman who smelled of coffee, flashed a light into his eyes and asked him questions.
The light just felt like light. Which was also something of a relief.
The sky outside the tinted window was full of hope when Orlando stared out into it, after the Doctor had left and before Dom and Billy had arrived full of laughter and jokes at his expense. It was just the normal kind of hope though, just the way the sky always looked when he woke in a hospital knowing that tomorrow would be a day of unexpected living. The wheeling blueness of it was reassuring.
"Hey," said Elijah, appearing out of nowhere, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Peter says you'll be out tomorrow?"
It was much later, Orlando realised--inky night reflecting the room in the half-shuttered window--so maybe things weren't quite normal yet.
"Yeah," said Orlando, feeling the unstoppable weight of tiredness still pulling at his eyelids. "That's what the Doctor said."
Elijah sighed, his expression relieved. He put his hand on top of Orlando's. "You're one lucky son of a bitch. You know that, right?"
And it was only then, as Orlando looked down at Elijah's bitten fingers pressing gently against his skin, that Orlando realised that it had been Elijah who had saved his life.
"Lucky?" Orlando echoed, Elijah's face exactly the same, but the meaning of it changing even as he looked. Flashing back to that moment in the bathroom. The tiles cold and hard beneath him. The taste of blood. Blue eyes, wide open, staring at him. Fingers tangling warm sweet reassurance into his hair.
"Are you really okay?" Elijah asked, still looking at him with deep-blue worry.
Orlando shook his head, feeling his own eyes tearing up. He lifted Elijah's hand, pressed it to his cheek. "The world isn't the same, Lij. Everything feels different." And there weren't the words to express it, to tell Elijah how much it meant.
"Different?" Elijah frowned. "Should I call the Doctor?"
"No," said Orlando, remembering the feel of autumn warmth sliding through his hair. Wanting it back. "I just mean..." he hesitated, trying to find the right words, but all he could find were stilted, shallow phrases, not coming anywhere close to the surging tide of feeling crashing through his insides. "I love you. You know? I really love you."
Elijah smiled, sudden and sunny, the worry melting away. "I love you too, Orli," he said. And then, leaning forward conspiratorially, "Don't tell anyone, but I feel like Superman right now."
"Yeah. My hero," said Orlando, smiling back, still clutching Elijah's hand. "I won't tell. It can be our secret."
The smile faded from Elijah's face and he leaned forward even closer, breath puffing intimately against Orlando's ear. "You scared the shit out of me," he whispered. "I was so fucking scared, Orli."
"Me too," said Orlando, wrapping his free arm around Elijah's neck and tugging him down onto the bed. "I thought I was going to die."
"Don't you dare!" Elijah let himself be pulled down against Orlando. He turned, lifting his legs up onto the bed, pulled his hand free of Orlando's, where it was still pressed against his cheek, and draped it instead across Orlando's waist, heavy and uncompromising, achoring Orlando to the bed. "I'll never fucking forgive you if you die."
The ceiling was a harsh white, made harsher by the fluorescent lights, but Elijah was warm and soft beneath Orlando's touch.
Orlando turned his head, pushing his nose into the citrus tang of Elijah's hair. "Don't go. Stay."
"Yeah," Elijah agreed. "I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me."
With a citrus-scented sigh, Orlando shut his eyes and let the tension and fear of being back in a hospital fade away, let his senses fold around the comforting reality of Elijah, even as he sank deep, deep into the pleasant non-sense of sleep.
They left the cafe as the long shadows of evening fell, the air filled with bird-call, heat still radiating from every surface.
"Let's go for a swim," Elijah said. "I feel fucking melted."
They stripped down to their shorts, dumping clothes and shoes in a muddled pile, and then sprinted for the waves. The air was a purple haze of failing light, and the water felt tepid.
Elijah's skin was like porcelain, fragile and untouchable. Like a challenge. Like a goad.
Orlando grabbed at him, dunking him under the gentle swell of a wave.
Elijah broke back through the skin of the water, sputtering and shaking his hair like a dog. "Right!" he said, but there was laughter beneath it. He lunged for Orlando, managing to get a hand around his neck, one of his feet pushing hard at Orlando's knee.
Orlando grabbed back, hands sliding around Elijah's waist, and they both went under, rolling together beneath the surface. Bubbles tickling all around them, turning everything into champagne, into wonder. Turning them both into strangers in a strange sea.
They emerged into the night air, still entwined. Elijah's hand moving from Orlando's neck, up his face, to finger the scab on his lip.
"Does it hurt?" Elijah asked, watching his finger pressing a dent into Orlando's mouth. "The salt?"
Orlando shook his head, unable to speak. The taste of Elijah's kiss was back on his tongue, strange and exotic. He wound his fingers through Elijah hair to keep him steady as the water tried to pull them apart.
"I thought I was going to have to give you CPR," Elijah said, finger rubbing back-and-forth. "I thought--"
He tasted of salt and cloves and tea and something unmistakably Elijah, his lips smooth and giving beneath Orlando's. He made a throaty, sighing sound into Orlando's mouth, his fingers pressing harder into Orlando's skin, pressing in bruises, pressing in other, nameless things. His teeth grated against Orlando's lip, legs wrapping around Orlando's hips, and they were both hard, pressing together like a wrecked ship on rocks, moving against each other with every slap and surge of the sea.
Beneath the sharp passion of Elijah's teeth, the scab ripped off Orlando's lip with a bright flash of orange pain, and the salt did hurt then, but not enough to make him stop.
Orlando's mind was a million miles away as he cleaned his teeth. He was deeply involved in a detailed fantasy in which Legolas was universally admired by critics and audiences alike, becoming a stepping stone to other, bigger roles as soon as the first Lord of the Rings movie hit the screens, leading, inevitably, to Orlando's name being a feature on the Hollywood A List and his face adorning countless magazines.
Orlando was just practicing the witty yet modest opening of his Oscar acceptance speech, wondering if he should begin with something British like a thanks to his Mum, when he started smelling an intense odour of ozone and something else... something unfamiliar and overpoweringingly sweet. As he thought, Strange, and groped for the name of the smell, he suddenly realised, with the feeling that his thoughts were sliding together in an unusual way, almost as though he was high or drunk, that he was smelling the ozone and the other nameless sweet odour through the sole of his left foot, which seemed a little odd, and that, furthermore, along with the foamy mint taste of Colgate toothpaste on his tongue, he could taste something else with his ears. It was a sharp, high pitched taste that reminded him of seagulls fighting over a packet of left-over fish and chips, and it was making his throat hurt.
Then his wife was standing in the doorway asking him something. Demanding something.
Orlando could see her lips move, could feel the waves of her voice hitting his skin, like ripples... lush purple ripples that reminded him of grape jello.
His wife's eyes were large and blue and wore an expression that reminded him forcefully of Frodo in moments of extremis.
Orlando tried to reply, the fingers of his right hand twitching with the words, What is it, sweetheart?
And then his wife was pulling off the sunglasses racked in the fluffy mess of her dark hair, reaching over the sink and, with one of the plastic earpieces, flipping off the power switch he'd plugged his electric toothbrush into.
The toothbrush rolled out of Orlando's left hand, leaving behind a hot, harsh bruise that sounded like thunder. His eyes tracked its arc as it left his hand, and before it reached the floor, Orlando's knees buckled, his left foot sliding through the puddle of water on the slick chocolate custard/Chanel Number 5 tiles, and he fell backwards through the laugh-track air, his arse touching down just a moment before his head, with a glitterball of pain sliding down his spine and the taste of ripe red strawberries beneath his thundering palms.
Blackness rose up to swallow him even as his wife's loving, nailbitten fingers were brushing through his hair like the colour of warm, late-afternoon autumn sunshine.
Warm, soft mouth against his--a contradiction--because the kiss is brutal and Orlando feels his lip split deeper under the pressure, the tang of blood, the scrape of Elijah's teeth against his tongue, his cock aching, throbbing painfully inside the cloying tangle of wet shorts with every hard grind of Elijah's hips.
He falls into Elijah, falls down forever, until there's sand on the carpet beneath his knees, sharp against his skin. Sharp like mint or eucalyptus leaves.
Elijah makes soft, animal sounds as he tugs at the knotted cord of his own shorts. His desperation unhidden, uncoiling in Orlando's ears, no longer secret. "Fuck."
Orlando pushes Elijah's hands away, unpicks the knot, slides the shorts down, revealing the arrow of hair pointing down Elijah's belly, the hot upthrust of cock. Hair crinkles like soft cellophane beneath Orlando's lips, and he leaves behind a smear of blood in his wake.
Elijah leans over and pulls Orlando's shirt up and off, dropping it on the floor like driftwood. His fingers grip Orlando's shoulder, each one speaking a different word for need against Orlando's overheated skin.
Orlando bites, sucks, makes little teeth-shaped shells on the alabaster of Elijah's skin, and above him Elijah chokes, his fingers biting harder, pulling Orlando in towards him like the Earth pulls the Moon.
He swallows Elijah's salty cock, feeling a grit of sand mixed with the taste of sea. Orlando's tide is running high at every wet slide of his tongue against pearlite smoothness. He twists his tongue, lathes the head, sets in motion a flawless rhythm, relentless now, now, now like waves on a beach, and he can feel the blood pounding in Elijah's veins to the same beat.
Elijah tastes like electricity.
There's a booming thud as Elijah's head bangs against the whitewashed wall, and he sighs in a way that goes straight to Orlando's cock. As simply as that, Orlando knows this is never going to be enough.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, his want for Elijah right on the surface, recognised as desire. It was supposed to be a hidden fantasy, allowed out only in the safety of deep dreams. It was supposed to be friendship. Good mates. The same as it's always been, the way it never will be again, because Orlando is sure now, even surer when Elijah's fingers unclench from his shoulder and twine through his where they're gripping Elijah's thigh, that no matter how much Elijah gives him, it will never be enough.
He looks up and Elijah's staring at the ceiling, at nothing, eyes wide in pleasure. Elijah's thighs are shaking and he's making noises that Orlando can feel and smell and see. They smell like rain and look like scythes, cutting the air into new shapes.
"Oh... oh. Don't fucking stop."
Orlando closes his eyes, but he can still see the scythes, cutting into his flesh. He sucks harder, swallows, wanting Elijah inside him.
And then Elijah calls his name, as though he needs to ask him something important. He opens his eyes and Elijah is looking down at him. Wide and blue, open summer sky, endless hope, alive and deep like forever, staring into him, fingers hooked into his as though they've dissolved together. The smell of ozone and sea and sex, just sex, not like it's ever been before, just this simple thing that hollows him, opens him to the core, turns him inside out.
Elijah shudders, still staring, still connected, choking out Orlando's name, and Orlando can taste it when he comes, bitter and metallic, but he can barely feel it at all because it's the same temperature as his tongue as though it really is just another part of him, and it's not a surprise when Elijah says I love you, not a shock as his knees buckle and he slides free of Orlando's mouth, nothing but good as he slides down the wall and onto Orlando's lap.
The kiss is like life, like there will always be another tomorrow, and another, and another, like Elijah will always be in his arms, their tongues warm and languid, sliding into each other's mouths.
"My turn," says Elijah, his breath a promise against Orlando's chin.
Orlando's shaking, his skin tensing in expectation of touch, his muscles a liquid ocean of want.
Elijah pushes him down, his tongue everywhere, sucking, sliding, soft and ticklish as he licks his way towards Orlando's cock. He pushes Orlando back onto the sandy carpet, wrenches Orlando's shorts down, leaving them tangled around his knees, breathes on sensitive skin.
Then Orlando is nothing but skin, caught in the endless ebb and flow of Elijah's mouth on his cock, and nothing else matters. Nothing but this: the humming sounds of bees against his glans, the unbearable pleasure of a finger pressing against his arse, the soft caress of a thumb against his balls. The occasional scratch of teeth and the counterpoint of restless tongue.
Orlando scrabbles at the carpet, trying to thrust up, up into that warm, relentless pull, a fingernail tearing with a bright pain that makes the pleasure more intense, his lip throbbing as he worries it with his teeth. His nerves are burning and needy, and deeper, under the surface, something clicks. The world stops changing; it settles into a hot, tight ball of "Yes, Lij. Please," and he doesn't feel ready for this, not ready at all, but his body's not asking his permission, it's too focused on Elijah, and there are tiles under his back and his head's aching, and nothing makes sense and then he comes with a sound like dying, just like dying, just like that, and then everything goes white.
When Orlando opens his eyes he's in a hospital. The ceiling a harsh white made harsher by the fluorescent lights.
It's bright blue outside, the sky an endless stretch of hope the shade of Elijah's eyes. And for a moment he panics because his arms are empty and Elijah isn't there.
He reaches for the buzzer, hot tight dread in his throat, and then the door opens and Elijah comes in carrying a cardboard cup of coffee, his clothes wrinkled with sleep, his hair standing on end.
He holds out his other hand, another cup, and smiles, his gaze flicking to the scab on Orlando's bottom lip--zinging though Orlando like a kiss.
"I bought you a cup of tea," he says, putting the cup down on the hospital table, wheeling it into place over the bed. "They only had teabags though. Is that okay?"
Orlando nods, unable to find words, everything still scrambled up inside his head, searching for a way out.
"Drink up then," says Elijah, hand hovering above Orlando's for a moment, as though not sure of his welcome, before settling down, skin against skin. "Then we can get the hell out of here."
And when Orlando takes a sip of tea, it's weak and perfumed, not real tea at all, but underneath that there's another taste, deeper, more real. He closes his eyes, rolls it around his mouth, trying to place it... and, yes, there it is, familiar now, easy to recognise, warm and amber against his palate.
He opens his eyes and Elijah is still there, his fingers tracing gentle shapes on the bruised surface of Orlando's palm.
And every time Orlando breathes he tastes the tea, like late-afternoon autumn sunshine in his hair.