Received Pronunciation

by Mary the Fan

your feet slip in the sticky slick churned-up earth as gasps of air filet your chest like strokes of a knifeblade opening a sacrifice on the altar and charnalhouse stench of blood piss sweat coats dirty copper thick in your throat and dries tacky stiff under your nails where you ripped and tore and rent and bit in the shock of bodies battering and bruising against each other to cut with rocks and teeth and fingernails where metal has failed against the ocean of them flooding in again and again to break against the rock of you standing last desperate defense against the host poised to despoil poison rape your city family love bought back by the blood of a dead king so you sow the earth with your own blood sweat salt and you heave yourself upright to buy more time take one more to dine in hell with you as you hold hold stand hold with spear and shield and sword lost gone broken while screams and moans and death cries rise around you like birds released on tattered wings to climb to the gods in futile faith against evil omens prophecies of a city in ruins and dreams that snare and bind and lay hope in a tomb that can only be broken by force might strength of your arms that spread and hold back the darkness threatening all of them filling the bright blue sky when the arrow hits you with sudden breathtaking shock and throws you back and you're left on your knees in the slick sticky mud blood struggling to rise to stand to fight

Sean's knock goes unanswered, but the back door is unlocked, so he leaves the wine bottle and dinner provisions on the kitchen counter and leans around the doorframe to peer into the adjoining room. Viggo's things are the usual ordered clutter of open books and scribbled notes and contact sheets carefully moved aside to make way for the next project, which this day is a canvas set up in the space cleared for drop-cloths and paint. He's spreading a swathe of red across the stretched fabric, a wash of bright color like fresh blood on red clay, and Sean's skin prickles. His trainers squeak on the bare wood floor, but he doesn't realize he's across the room and his hand is hovering at the canvas until Viggo's fingers brush his wrist.

"No, of course not," he says, smiling - he knows better than to touch - but Viggo's calloused, paint-spattered palm slides around his hand, pressing it to the canvas as he tries to pull back.

His fingertips twitch in the thick, tacky paint, and he trails them through the cold glaze of color before pulling his hand away and staring at the coppery stain on his flesh. He needs it off, right now, and he scrubs his palm on his thigh in an instinctive, desperate spurt of motion. So much for that pair of pants.

"Here, Lady Macbeth," Viggo says with a laugh, tossing him an old cloth.

Later, over the gingered salmon, he tells Viggo about the dreams, how they started after Amon Hen, after they filmed his death. To be precise, they started after he watched the rushes, witnessed the illusion of his body rocking backward as the arrows seemingly buried themselves in his chest. It knocked the breath out of him in a way that acting the faked reaction shots never had done.

The canvas is sitting in the corner like a blind red eye, and Sean wants to roll his own eyes at his melodrama. Viggo's already gone back over it, spreading on another layer of red, fanning lighter strokes into the center as Sean chopped and sliced in the kitchen, but Sean knows his fingerprints are somewhere under there, indelible marks in the paint.

"Perhaps Boromir is speaking to you," Viggo says.

"You're the method actor," Sean responds with a light laugh, but it's uneasy . The dream is slightly left of Boromir's center yet he remembers the uncharacteristic desperation that welled in him as Viggo knelt above him on a forest floor under the lights and the eye of the camera, promising Gondor would not fall.

Sean is not disingenuously modest - he knows he's a good actor. But he knows it's acting, not living. There's a difference.

the arrow hits you with sudden breathtaking shock and throws you back and you're left on your knees in the slick sticky mud blood struggling to rise to stand to fight as your comrades fall and crawl around you torn flesh and shattered bone that once ran in the fields sparred on the training ground ate coarse bread and thick black stew in the mess slept on the hard cots beside you in your shining city on the banks of the river nourished together on the blood of heroes and your own desire determination honor that let you spit on the mass of slaves driven against you with whips at their backs as you stood together shoulder to shoulder one man's shield covering the next man's flank worse things to fear than death and the joyful mocking dangerous jest of dieneces in your ears to fight in the shade under the hail of arrows that darken the sky and bring you down to scrabble in the muck over the boy lying broken with his fierce bloodsmeared face reflecting your own as he reaches for you useless legs weighing him down fingers slipping over yours on the arrow in your shoulder wrenching snapping with a scream caught behind your teeth and you close his hand around his half of the broken shaft knowing he'll take one more with him when they stand over his body and his lips move repeating a dead king's words molon labe come and claim them and you know this is how freemen die you know your people will not fail as he looks up at you and your fingers close around the smoothness of a stone in the sticky slick mire

Sean's banished Orlando from the pot of spaghetti sauce not just to preserve the dish from the lad's attempts at cooking but because he needs something to do while he's trapped inside with his thoughts and the nervous energy under his skin. They're flying out tomorrow, rescued from their watery exile to rejoin the other members of the Fellowship, and Sean's not looking forward to the trip.

Orlando is practicing being Elvish, Sean can look at him all coiled serenity in a chair and tell, but he's willing to bet no Elf ever drank his wine out of a plastic cup.

"What, then?" Orlando asks at Sean's grin, and Sean shakes his head. He's looking forward to seeing his girls, but he realizes suddenly how he'll miss Orlando and Viggo and all the others when he flies back to England in a couple of weeks for Christmas. He wonders how they slid so quickly under his skin.

Orlando gets up to top off their cups, and Sean repays him by stealing his chair, but Orlando merely folds himself down onto the floor, watching Sean, all big dark eyes and expectation.

"What, then?" Sean parrots.


"About?" Sean wonders why he couldn't have been trapped with Viggo, who at least understands the value of a certain laconic bit of downtime and would probably be out photographing more trees, anyway. He supposes he should be glad Orlando is so focused on being Elf-like he's not crawling all over everything, including Sean, the way he often gets with the hobbits.

"Anything. What you dreamed last night."

Sean looks at him sharply, but Orlando's a good actor, too, able to project whatever he'd like by expression alone. Sean isn't sure if his restless sleep woke Orlando in the small cottage or if the suggestion is innocent.

"The Fellowship," he says, wondering if Viggo's correct and that's truly what the dreams are about. He believes that less and less - there are men dying with him in the dreams, and men, not Orcs, dying under his sword and his hands - but who knows how his mind works?

"Isn't it fantastic?' Orlando's lost the aloof Elvish facade. "I never thought, when we came, I'd end up with mates like you lot."

Sean remembers Orlando talking about Andre - Atti -his supremely confident love for his best friend shining through the stories of boyish adventure, and he detects something of the same tone when the Fellowship comes up. Sean's had mates but never like this, never the fierce, visceral connectedness that he felt in the dreams, that he feels growing among the Fellowship.

"Bit different from what I'm used to," he says, studying the wine in his cup. He looks up to find Orlando has crawled across the floor and is kneeling up in front of him. "What?"

"Hug," Orlando says simply, holding out his arms. He's in shorts and a shirt that's surely a rummage-sale reject, and if not for the sharp, angled impression lent by the bizarrely shaved hair, he'd look all of 5 years old, Sean expects.

Orlando's body against his is familiar yet not, lean with whipcord muscle from the training that built in Elvish reflexes and deadly grace.

"Don't worry, man," he whispers in Sean's ear. "I'll hold your hand in the helicopter tomorrow."

Sean pushes him away with a laugh and directs him to go see if he can manage to boil pasta without ruining it.

you know this is how freemen die you know your people will not fail as he looks up at you and your fingers close around the smoothness of a stone in the sticky slick mire clenching convulsing digging into your palm as you try to push yourself up and then he's there he him your other half hauling you up staggering under your weight bracing himself against you as you stand stand hold stand together dioscuri twinned as always on the training ground in the field in the bower sneaking into his or your window like a younger man visiting your wife under cover of darkness in the same tradition training that taught you stealth and cunning when you foraged in the fields cozened chickens eggs vegetables from gardens like all the other boys left deliberately hungry avoiding detection or revealed and beaten not for the theft but for getting caught and always in your mind the tale of the boy who let the stolen fox hidden under his cloak scratch out his guts with sharp sharp claws rather than betray his crime in the back of your mind when you touch him feel his touch his kiss his lips on yours and his fingers on your body the love of children not put away at the threshold of manhood slick sticky on your fingers like the blood mud on the stone resting in your palm as you brace one shoulder against his chest hurl your makeshift weapon at your enemy and the force of the throw takes you both down again in tangled painful parody of an embrace

"Greek," Viggo says, and Sean puts down his menu, perplexed. He's only been back in New Zealand for two days, and Viggo has gone cryptic on him already.

"Molon labe," Viggo says, his inflection - Sean shouldn't know - not quite right.

He remembers the last days before his return to England, watching the rushes and seeing Liv on the screen, false blood on her cheek, fierce against the Ringwraiths - "If you want him, come and claim him." He'd shuddered, a full-body quiver that had Viggo turning to him questioningly, brows drawing together as Sean's lips moved - Molon labe.

Come and claim them.

"It's Greek," Viggo says, as if Sean should have expected Mr. Erudite would spend the holidays tracking down the reference. "'Come and get them.' Leonidas at Thermopylae when Xerxes told him to surrender his weapons."

Sean huffs out a breath, nodding and looking down. He wishes he could explain it as a schoolboy lesson buried somewhere in the back of his brain, jarred loose by the swords and spears of the movie, but the turn the dreams took in England weren't the kind of lessons he'd ever been taught - British schoolboy stereotypes notwithstanding. The schools Sean attended didn't go in for that sort of thing.

A waiter brings glasses of water, and Viggo moves aside the paper he'd been scribbling on when Sean arrived - bits of Elvish, a table of rune-like letters. Sean studies Viggo's sharp profile as he orders, but it's with clinical detachment. He can't see the face of the man in his dreams, but surely he would know if it were Viggo. Some new awareness, some melodramatic rush of blood and fire, something other than this easy, companionable closeness would warn him, wouldn't it? Whatever these dreams ... fantasies... illusions ... are trying to tell him, Sean is sure his brain works in a fairly straightforward, logical manner. At least, it always has in the past. Now, he's not so sure.

"You're dreaming again," Viggo says, unfolding his napkin.

"Still," Sean responds and looks up as a dark-haired man approaches their table.

"Hugo," Viggo says in greeting, and, "Sean, have you met our Elrond?"

Sean stands to shake hands with Hugo, and it's like an arrow to the chest, knocking the breath out of him, knocking him back, and he knows.

you brace one shoulder against his chest hurl your makeshift weapon at your enemy and the force of the throw takes you both down again in tangled painful parody of an embrace and you remember you remember him sticky slick on your fingers and sharp salt under your tongue his hands combing through your hair his body arching against you remember him hard against you all muscle and sleek sinew and compact strength pulling you in to him remember the rough gentle fingers tracing and scraping your jawline and the tender skin of his inner thighs and his flanks remember the touch and taste and feel of him tumbling you down tangled in coarse sheets moonlightsilvered pale flesh and dark shadowed silken hair across your palms remember his curses his breathless panting pleas his laughter the warmth of his mouth the deadly skill of his tongue drawing your own moans and pleas from deep in your chest remember wrestling pushing straining against each other in warm sunlight remember the secret smiles the hand on your shoulder the voice low in your ear worth more than any younger more appropriate lover could ever be remember the slow pulse of blood under the thin skin of his wrist where you press your lips remember his hand on your chest holding your heart his body heavy against your back as he falls into sleep battle death behind you

Hugo's laughing at the other end of the table, and Sean forces himself to look away. He's too old for this, too old to follow this man around with the kind of puppyish adoration and hero-worship Dom and Orlando display in Viggo's presence. He finds himself wanting to touch, catches his hand reaching out without conscious will, and Hugo is friendly but distant in a way that leaves Sean vaguely disoriented, unable to believe this connection isn't palpable to the other man.

The relief of Rivendell has been no rest for Sean. He watches Hugo move around the set in his elflocks and embroidered robes, waiting for a familiar tilt of the head or a customary arch of the eyebrow or - most precious of all - the hearty laugh that doesn't sound like Elrond but simply and solely like Hugo. Sean's got a quiet, dry wit Hugo seems to appreciate, and he employs it as often as he knows how, but when Hugo goes out for a drink at the pub on their off-nights, he claps Sean on the back and moves on to hear the latest news from Orlando, leaving Sean waiting for unspoken words and staring stupidly at something as utterly prosaic as the strength and grace of Hugo's fingers wrapped around a mug. Sean searches Hugo's eyes for some spark of recognition and understanding, but all that's there when Hugo looks at him is friendliness.

It's like a Jane Austen novel gone horribly wrong: Sean's sure Hugo greatly esteems him. Sean, himself, feels weightless, incomplete, a puzzle piece waiting for his matching half to snap into place.

There's a touch on the back of his hand, and he looks up at Viggo..

"Come back to us," Viggo says. "You're gone too much these days."

He opens his mouth to protest that he's been around but closes it without making a sound because he's not stupid and he knows what Viggo means. He's lost in his own head.

"The dreams," he says, as if that's enough explanation.

"They're not real."

"I know things I shouldn't," he tells Viggo, quietly, desperately, and he does: Molon labe; the dream that holds the key; her voice in his ear -not with ten thousand men could you do this, you march to certain death - so clearly as he spoke the words that he wanted to turn and look at her, though he knew she wasn't there on a soundstage a double thousand miles and years away. The implacable look on HugoElrondHugo's face as he laid out their only deadly option, the texture of his hair slipping between Sean's fingers, the taste of wine and stolen honey in his mouth, the feel of his calloused hand on Sean's thighs.

"Perhaps it's another life," Viggo says, and Sean glares at him.

"You're not helping."

"It's past," Viggo says. "They're images, nothing more. You have to let go. Live now." He's folding up the swatch of black cloth he brought back from wardrobe. They'll be wanted back on set soon.

"Don't you hold on in those paintings and photographs?"

"A remembrance, captured and preserved but gone. There's no way to live in them. They're not alive, Sean. Not anymore."

Sean understands what Viggo's talking about, insects in amber and the curving sweep of unearthed fossils, starkly beautiful but long dead.

It doesn't lessen the ache.

his hand on your chest holding your heart his body heavy against your back as he falls into sleep battle death behind you as you wallow in the slick sticky mud blood mire with the screams and moans of dying men rising around you like birds on tattered broken wings and you struggle to your knees before the arrow hits you with sudden breathtaking shock and throws you back sprawled broken bent shattered on top of him as gasps of air filet your chest grow shorter sharper like strokes of a knifeblade and blood rises thick and smothering in your throat coats your mouth stains his cheek where you rest against him hand to his still heart flesh growing colder watching the broken boy beside you with his lips moving repeating a dead king's words and his hand clutching a sharp broken arrow shaft last desperate defense to take one more to hell with him as darkness closes in

Liv's sitting on the sofa sipping her wine and laughing at Elijah, who's crawled on Orlando's back and is refusing to be shaken off. Viggo may be sorry he's invited some of the younger members of the Fellowship to this dinner if the havoc spreads to his randomly ordered piles of papers and books and contact sheets, Sean thinks.

He's leaving in the morning, flying back to England again to see his girls and try to squeeze some other work in before he returns to New Zealand to film Moria and Lorien, the dark and the light. He'll be gone a few weeks before the rest of the Fellowship scatters for three weeks of April offtime, but he has no desire to stay in New Zealand right now, no desire to see Hugo in armor, streaked with dirt and grimed with sweat, on a battlefield with Orcs and Elves playing at dying around him.

"The Boromir picture is done," Viggo says behind Sean, wiping his fingers on a dishtowel. "Would you like to see it?"

Sean's not entirely sure he would, but he follows Viggo over to the open, sunlit area, trailed by Orlando with Elijah still on his back. They look at the painting: red-washed background, Elvish script, the tree sinking its roots deep into bloody ground and the scavenged remnant of Boromir's cloak like a stark, solitary figure standing to one side, frozen in time. Sean's fingerprints are somewhere under there, indelible marks in the paint.

"He looks so alone," Sean hears Elijah say, and he doesn't realize he's stretched out his hand, that his fingers are hovering at the canvas until Viggo's fingers brush his wrist.

"No, of course not," he says.

He knows better. He knows not to touch.