Slasha, Baby 2007

Only That Day Dawns to Which We Are Awake

Recipient: ocko_okate
Author: chaosmanor
Pairing: Viggo/Orlando
Rating: NC-17
Summary: In the end, only kindness matters
Post-Reveal Notes: thanks to crimson_bride and slashfairy


Music from the jazz band playing in another room leaked into the bar, and somewhere a woman's laugh rose over the hum of music and conversation.

"Of all the gin joints..." Viggo muttered, sliding his credit card across the bar and making himself smile faintly at the bar man.

"Certainly, sir. With tonic?"

Viggo blinked, then shook his head. "No, a double of Jameson, straight up."

The bartender shrugged minutely and reached for a glass, presumably used to indecisive customers.

In the mirror above the shelves of liquor, the images wavered and settled, and Viggo took his drink and credit card from the bartender. He couldn't stay at the bar, but it took far too much effort to amble nonchalantly over to an empty booth.

In the back corner of the booth, hidden in the shadows, he finally let himself breathe out. His first inclination had been to turn around and walk out of the bar, and his second had been pretty much the same, but dammit, they lived in the same city, worked in the same industry, and still had mutual friends, so it was inevitable their paths would intersect occasionally.

Viggo checked his cell— -- no new messages— -- and turned the damned thing off. Two hours' delay to his flight, traffic too vile to be worth driving home again and he'd already put his car into the long term car park. Didn't matter how he turned it around in his head, he was destined to wind up in the lounge bar at the Crowne Plaza, hiding from the roar of planes overhead and the madness of LAX.

The woman, a cookie-cutter blond in corporate clothes, extricated herself from the booth he was watching, hands cluttered by laptop, attaché case and purse. No leaning across the table and air kissing, so she was business, not pleasure.

The figure opposite her moved, lifting a hand in farewell, slipping earpieces in, leaning forward with his chin propped in his hands, staring at his drink.

It seemed impossibly sad, suddenly, that they'd come to this, to the point where Viggo would hide in the shadows in a bar, avoiding having to speak to Orlando.

The whole damned thing had been impossibly sad. It still was, even after all the time that had passed.

Sometime later, but before the double of whiskey had all gone, Orlando pushed his own glass away across his table, and gathered up his pack.

Viggo was ready to watch him walk out, ready to let that happen, but instead Orlando angled across the room, past empty tables, and slid into Viggo's booth, across the table from him.

They sat in silence, and Viggo found he could meet Orlando's gaze, maybe even hold it steadily.

"I guess I just wanted to apologize," Orlando finally said. "I'm sorry, for everything."

Viggo nodded. "Me too."

"I didn't plan leaving like that," Orlando said. "I wanted to talk with you, try and explain."

Viggo lifted a hand, intending to wave away Orlando's apology, and found it settling over Orlando's hand on the table instead.

"Mea culpa," he said. "All my fault, for working, and not coming home, and not calling you. For everything."

Orlando's face sagged a little, but his eyes were still clear. "I was an idiot. I threw away something precious."

Under the weight of Viggo's fingers, Orlando's hand turned, curling around his.

"I regret..." Viggo started, but found he couldn't go on.

Orlando nodded, acceptance or agreement, or something else Viggo didn't understand.

"Can we be friends?"

Viggo's chest hurt, and his lungs were tight, too tight to breathe. "If you want," he managed to say, his voice scratching. He should pretend his plane was due to leave, or he had to be somewhere else, anything to let him escape. Only his body wouldn't move, and he couldn't get his mouth to say anything—all he could do was curl his hand more tightly around Orlando's.

Orlando's lips moved, shaping ‘"Viggo?' but no sound came out.

A woman's voice brayed with laughter again, reminding Viggo that they were in a bar, a public bar, in sight of any number of cell phone and security cameras.

"I want to see you," he managed to get out. "Soon. Now."

"I have to catch a flight. You have to catch a flight," Orlando said. "If this was a fairy tale, we'd both..." He shook his head. "It isn't a fairy tale; it never was."

Then he was gone, pack over one shoulder, striding out of the bar, to the hotel lobby.

Viggo closed his eyes briefly, avoiding the curious stares of strangers.

It only took a moment to decide, no time at all, and Viggo grabbed his pack and laptop bag, pushing past the people leaning against the bar.

The lobby of the hotel was cluttered with tourists, suitcases and bellhops on acres of glistening floors, but no Orlando.

Out onto the sidewalk, the teeming chaos of LAX looming in the background, people and taxis everywhere, the dirty gray sky masking the sun. Noise rattled at Viggo's brain. An airport shuttle had stopped on the hotel forecourt, and Viggo thought of the tiredness in Orlando's eyes, and the weight of his own pack and laptop.

The shuttle opened its door again, when Viggo pressed a disappointed palm against the glass. A teetering stack of luggage spilled into the aisle, and people glared at Viggo as he pushed past them. Behind him, someone whispered, "Oh my God, did you see who that was?"

Orlando was down the back of the bus, slouched down in a seat, hidden behind hat, sunglasses and his hand luggage, but even behind his sunglasses, Viggo could still see the surprise in his eyes.

"This is crazy," Viggo said, grabbing for a hand strap as the bus lurched over a speed bump. "This is not a script; we have control over the whole damned thing. If we want it to be a fairy tale, then we just make it that way."

The bus shuddered to a halt, and the driver called, "Terminal One, Southwest and US Airways," over the microphone.

People bustled around them, picking up luggage and squeezing past, but Viggo ignored them.

"What are you saying?" Orlando asked, and Viggo would have given just about anything to not be doing this in public, and in a hurry.

"What do you want me to say?" Viggo said. "Do you want to keep this simple?"

Orlando nodded, and they both leaned across the seat to let a woman carrying a dog in a box past.

"Where are you flying?" Viggo asked. "Right now?"

"London," Orlando said. "BA0282."

"Then I'll come with you," Viggo said. "It doesn't have to be complicated, we just let it become that way."

"Of course it's complicated," Orlando said, but he didn't argue. He just shook his head ruefully, and there was enough affection in his smile to make Viggo's gut churn. "Where are you supposed to be going?"

Viggo had to think for a moment. "New York," he said. "It can wait." It couldn't, and people would hate him for missing the meeting, but he didn't care.

"Terminal Two," the driver called, then he rattled off a list of airlines.

At Terminal Three, Viggo slid the strap of his pack onto his shoulder more securely, nodded to Orlando, who smiled back at him with something like his old warmth.

In a perfect world, he wouldn't have to climb off the airport shuttle a stop early, to avoid them being seen walking into an airport terminal together, but right at that moment, it was a concession Viggo was willing to make.

He found a restroom in Terminal Three, and locked himself in a stall. In the pocket of privacy, pack and laptop still weighing down his shoulders, Viggo took long breaths, inhaling the smell of disinfectant and piss deep into his lungs. He felt... he wasn't sure what. Scared, absolutely terrified. Hopeful, for the first time in years. He pressed his hands against the wall, spreading his fingers against the cold tiles, bracing his arms.

He felt grateful that the universe, and Orlando, had opened the space for this opportunity. He felt grateful.

He sailed past the British Airways booking clerk with the Oxbridge accent who didn't blink often enough, right through security, and into the Executive Departure Lounge, in search of Orlando. He didn't use the damned lounges often, but right then, it was a good thing to not be warehoused at some toxic airport departure gate, listening to piped muzak and watching interminable commercials on giant TV screens while surrounded by screaming babies.

The Executive Departure Lounge was blissfully quiet, a maze of comfortable chairs in groups, potted palms and workstations, littered with the usual mix of frequent travelers with eye masks and earphones, and bewildered cattle-class travelers who had been upgraded for some reason, and who now perched on the edge of armchairs, sipping free champagne and whispering to each other over their bags of duty free.

Viggo paused, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the discreet lighting, and an attendant glided up to him. "This way, sir," he murmured something suspiciously like amusement in his eyes.

Orlando was in a cordoned-off section of the lounge, behind a screen, and the attendant took the tip from Viggo's hand with a wink, then glided away.

He must still have been smiling when he dropped his pack onto the couch opposite Orlando then sat down, because Orlando grinned back and said, "What's so funny?"

"Don't think I can explain," Viggo said. "Even if I tried."

Orlando pushed an empty cup and saucer across the coffee table to Viggo, and waved a hand at the pot of tea. "God, it's good to be going home again," he said. "Even the airline tea tastes better."

Viggo poured himself a cup of tea, just to be sociable. "London's home now?" he asked. "You've made some changes; tell me about them."

"Hate this festering place," Orlando said. "But you know that."

"I remember." He did; it had been part of the problem. "I hate the place, too."

Orlando pulled his hat off and stuffed it into a jacket pocket, then ruffled his hair, making it stand up in clumps. "How are you?"

"Right now, scared witless," Viggo said. "What about you?"

Orlando smiled again, and this time, it was the slow smile that once upon a time had lit Viggo's life. "I'm surrendering control over this journey," he said. "I'm not traveling anywhere, except home, and I have no goal, apart from returning home."

Viggo looked at the shape of Orlando's words, and he thought he saw echoes of the Four Noble Truths there, about suffering and craving and relinquishing, but he would accept Orlando's words for what they seemed: an invitation to share time.

Orlando leaned forward, across the low table between them. "Don't be scared," he said. "It's not like we're strangers."

"I think we are," Viggo said. "And I don't want it to be like that."

Orlando looked up. The smirking attendant hovered beside the screen, clearing his throat. "Your flight is ready for boarding, gentlemen," the attendant said.

In the first class cabin, Orlando flopped down into his seat, stretching and yawning. Viggo sat beside him, while a pert, young flight attendant fussed over his pack and laptop and offered refreshments.

"Tea, please," Orlando said. "Before we take off and the air pressure makes it all wrong."

"We have pressurized tea-making facilities on board now, sir," the young woman said. "For the purists who travel with us."

When she'd gone, to settle other passengers and make tea, Orlando reached across the armrest between them and briefly touched Viggo's hand. The gentleness of his touch, fingertips against the dryness of Viggo's skin, made it hard for Viggo to meet his eyes.

The tea-bearing attendant said, "Your tea, sir," and Orlando lifted his fingers and reached out for the cup.

Once they were in the air, the hum of the jets muted the voices of the other passengers and the only the occasional passing attendant disturbed the illusion of privacy. Beside Viggo, Orlando pulled a threadbare scarf from his pack and wound it around his neck. Viggo was vaguely aware that he was staring, but he couldn't quite believe the moment was real. It felt like a dream.

"I want to apologize properly," Viggo said. "For everything that happened between us, for all the times I didn't listen to you, for everything I never said, and even more for what I did say. I'm sorry."

"You were right, about everything," Orlando said, and it was possible he was only swallowing to get his ears to pop with the change in altitude.

"I was a bastard," Viggo said. The memory of what had passed between them was a weight upon him, painfully present, and some of the hope that had made him find Orlando on the bus slipped away. "Your generosity, right now..." He shook his head.

"Do you want to know what happened?" Orlando said.

When Viggo glanced across at Orlando, Orlando's gaze was locked on the screen set into the bulkhead in front of him, watching the tiny avatar of the plane tracking its way northeast.

"I do," Viggo said, but Orlando didn't look at him.

"I woke up one morning in a hotel in Florida, and I hated the world, hated you, hated my life, but I particularly hated myself." Orlando's hands twisted together, but he didn't stop. "I had to do something, before it killed me, so I started unraveling the past. I needed to make a home for myself, I needed to stop working so hard, I needed to let go of you and all the pain."

"You've got a home now," Viggo said, and he could hear his voice scratching. "Have you done the rest?"

Outside the double glass of the window, just past Orlando's face, towering castles of cloud passed, brilliant white in the sunshine. It was easier to watch the clouds, billions of ice crystals, than to see the creases beside Orlando's eye, and the dampness resting against his eyelashes.

"I've tried, and I keep trying, every day. Today, when I saw you there, you were so sad. You still are. I wanted to do something to heal the breach, for both of us."

Orlando turned his head to meet Viggo's gaze, and it felt like the plane was plummeting down, about to obliterate them both off the planet, rather than soaring higher and higher, above the clouds.

"Now, we're at the raw truth," Orlando continued. "Did we hurt each too much for there to be any healing?"

Orlando rolled halfway round in his seat, knees pulled up and arms wrapped around them, waiting. He was wearing scuffed and worn sneakers, and his socks looked like they were hand-knitted, bunching around his ankles in folds of moss green.

Viggo reached across the armrest between them, touched Orlando's hand where it gripped his bony knee, then his cheek. "My hurt is that I let you go, not that you left."

"And mine is that I left, not that you let me go."

Moisture slid down Orlando's cheek, resting against Viggo's cracked fingernail, seeping around the worn joints of his index finger. He could feel answering wetness tracking down his own face, and he felt like he might slip his skin, right at that moment, to sail through the sky.

Orlando lifted his hand, touching the stubble on Viggo's chin, then Viggo's top lip for a moment, before resting his hand curled against Viggo's neck in the touch of an intimate.

"Tell me about this fairy tale of ours," Orlando said. "Write a new dream, because the old one has gone and there's a space inside me."

The heel of Orlando's hand pressed warm against Viggo's throat, making each word purr. "There's a place, for you and me. It's not for family, or for work, or for noise, or for sharing with anyone else."

"A magical place?" Orlando asked, and Viggo nodded, so Orlando's fingertips moved against the cords of tendon in his neck.

"But this is a different sort of magic, not involving fairy godmothers or treacherous wishes." He was vaguely aware of the flight attendant appearing, menus in her hand, then melting away again. "This is the magic that comes from kindness."

Viggo moved his hand, stroking Orlando's cheek carefully, treasuring the prickle of new beard, and Orlando said, "And what happens in this magical place?"

"That's a secret," Viggo said, his voice a whisper.

Orlando leaned closer. "Can you tell me? It's my fairy tale, too."

He was close enough now, leaning across the armrest, that Viggo could let his lips hover close to Orlando's ear. "We cherish each other."

"And ourselves?" Orlando asked, and Viggo stifled a moan as his lips touched the whorl of Orlando's ear.

"Each other, and ourselves," he whispered. Orlando's hand, on his neck, had slid around to the back and was drawing him closer, so his lips closed over Orlando's earlobe.

"How does this fairy tale end?" Orlando whispered.

The smell of him, rolling off his skin in waves, was inside Viggo's head, warm and alive, so that Viggo's heart felt like it was going to implode in his chest from the unbearable joy of the moment.

"I don't know," Viggo whispered, letting his tongue flicker against Orlando's neck. "Have you seen the end?"

Fingernails dug into the back of Viggo's neck, sharp crescents, and Orlando gasped.

"I don't know either."

Viggo could taste salt on Orlando's skin, as though the ocean had washed over them both. Orlando's mouth met his, mutual breaths rasping. Orlando tasted of tea, and love that Viggo had thought was gone from his reach.

When Viggo lifted his mouth slowly from Orlando's, the kiss lingering long, Orlando's eyes were still closed, his eyelashes clumped together, the lids flushed, then he opened his eyes.

"I can wait to find out how the story ends," Orlando said. "There's plenty of time. It's enough to know the beginning."

Orlando leaned back in his seat, with the twisting stretch Viggo remembered so well, but his hand found Viggo's, and their fingers intertwined.

The flight attendant came back, and the meal passed in a blur where Viggo's plate was barely touched and the food was sawdust in his mouth because it was nourishment enough to watch Orlando slowly eating, lingering over each mouthful, his jaw moving under the skin of his cheek as he chewed. Viggo had felt that skin many times before, but it seemed like he'd never truly touched it until that day.

Orlando slept, after eating, curled on his side and with a British Airways blanket wound around him. Viggo lay beside him, while Orlando's breathing slowed and his face went slack, aware of the planet below them turning, the sky around him dark and the stars bright, and his own thoughts sliding away.

He didn't mean to sleep, didn't know he'd even fallen asleep, until a hand shook his shoulder hard and Orlando's voice hissed, "Viggo!"

Viggo jerked awake, his heart pounding, no idea where he was, the remnants of a dream scattering.

"Take it easy," Orlando said, and his hand on Viggo's shoulder squeezed reassuringly. "You were dreaming."

Viggo's fingers fumbled, then he found the control on the seat arm to bring himself upright again. "Oh, God," he whispered. "Sorry..."

When he stumbled back from the bathroom, face wet and brain mostly awake, Orlando was waiting, his book put aside.

"Feeling better?" Orlando asked.

Viggo nodded. "Almost alive."

That damned flight attendant was back, with coffee, as Viggo sat down again, and he forgave her for interrupting.

"What were you dreaming?" Orlando asked, as the first blessed mouthful of coffee hit Viggo's system and his brain managed to work out he'd been asleep for hours, and they were close to landing.

"Can't remember," Viggo said. "Something sad, about being lost..." He shook his head. "It's gone."

Orlando's gaze was steady on Viggo's face, and he looked... resigned perhaps, or determined.

"I've been thinking," he said, and his voice was firm with resolution. Viggo knew that voice, knew it from phone calls and disappointments, and he had to work to keep his own face steady.

"'Bout what?"

"This, whatever this is that's happening to us. About kissing you, and what I want."

Viggo nodded. Disappointment; he was right. This would be where it slipped away from him, because one crazed kiss and a fairy tale did not a reconciliation make.

"Tell me," Viggo said, knowing he'd wasted the past few hours asleep when he should have been treasuring his last chance to see Orlando, to breathe in his rhythm, to feel his warmth.

"Hey," Orlando said, reaching across to touch Viggo's forearm, where he was using his coffee cup to conceal his sadness. "Not like that. I just want..."

Viggo put down his coffee, clattering the cup, then grabbed both of Orlando's hands. "Whatever you want," he said, the words tumbling out. "I'm begging here, if it's not obvious. Right now, I have no pride, no dignity, and no over-inflated opinion of my own importance."

Orlando laughed, but Viggo could tell it was the kind of laugh that was perilously close to crying by the way Orlando's hands were trembling. "I was going to say that I want you to come to my place with me, rather than a hotel, if you'd like that."

"To your home?" Viggo asked, and Orlando nodded.

"To my home."

Walking out of the airport terminal, right beside Orlando, just two anonymous travelers in the crowd, Orlando slipped his hand under Viggo's elbow. "So, taxi or tube?" he asked.

"Which is quicker?" Viggo said, and he would have hugged Orlando, right then, if some stranger hadn't just hit him in the knee with their suitcase.

"Tube," Orlando said. He was laughing, possibly at Viggo, and Viggo had to laugh, too.

"It's going to be okay, isn't it?" he asked, glancing behind him at Orlando, on the tube station escalator.

Orlando, hat jammed down over his ears again, nodded. "Yeah, it is."

Orlando's home was the entire second floor of an old house, and when Orlando unlocked the front door, then disarmed the security system, they stepped into a large mostly-empty room. The floorboards gleamed, the tiles around the fireplace too. One large sofa, a simple lamp, an empty coffee table and drapes, all in old wood, warm ocher and cream, no mess or clutter, just silence and calm.

Orlando dropped his pack down, beside the sofa, and tossed his hat onto the coffee table. "I'll show you where the bathroom is, and get the heating turned on."

"This is..." Viggo began, and Orlando flicked a light switch, lighting up a dining table and kitchen through an archway.

"Minimalist?" Orlando suggested. "Yeah."

Viggo lived in a maelstrom of mess, a wild whirlpool of art supplies, books, grime and paintings.

"My place must have driven you crazy," Viggo said, following Orlando as he disappeared down a short hallway.

"It did," Orlando admitted. "I hated staying there. Bathroom's here." He pushed a door open, turning on more lights. "Guest bedroom is on the left, if you need some downtime."

Viggo grabbed Orlando's arm, drawing him close. "What if I don't?" he asked.

Orlando touched his cheek, pressed his lips against Viggo's briefly. "Then we're going to freeze, if I don't get some heat on."

Viggo didn't give a fuck about freezing, not right at that moment. He wanted Orlando, preferably naked, but he was willing to compromise on that if it was seriously cold, and he wanted him right then.

"My bedroom is across the hall," Orlando said, then he was gone, and Viggo could hear him clattering and muttering to himself.

"Shower," Viggo told himself. "Quickly."

The bathroom, completely gleaming white, was another lesson in what Viggo hadn't known Orlando wanted. Like the rest of his home, it was an object lesson in simplicity, and in how incompatible their lives were. Viggo left his pack and laptop in the hall, along with his doubts, and dropped his rumpled clothes onto the bathroom floor.

He showered quickly, brushing his teeth at the same time, then stepped out of the shower and pulled on the robe behind the door. His feet left damp footprints on the polished boards, and Orlando was right, the place was cold.

Orlando's bedroom door stood ajar, his bed low to the ground and simple, with plain white bedding. A low table, on one side of the bed, held a lamp and a small pile of books. One wall was open shelving, holding folded clothes, more bedding and cane baskets. A door off the room, presumably to an en suite bathroom, opened, and Orlando walked through, dripping wet, wearing only a towel.

Orlando was lean, without any of the bulk he'd had last time Viggo had seen him shirtless, put on for the Pirates franchise. He'd lost his tan too, his skin cream rather than bronze, but he was still quite possibly the hottest man Viggo had ever seen, and he was winding his arms around Viggo's neck, deliciously close.

They kissed, slowly and carefully, then Orlando unwound himself, bending forward to pull the soft cotton blankets back, then rustle the sheet. Orlando lay back on the bed, his towel slipping down, and Viggo lowered himself carefully over Orlando. The weight of his body settled, with the first real touch as Orlando pushed his robe open, and they both gasped.

"Please," Orlando whispered, his hands inside the robe, touching Viggo's back, "please."

Mouths together, chests, bellies, cocks, then Viggo shifted his mouth to Orlando's collarbone, sudden against his skin.

The air was cold on Viggo's back, but he was on fire inside as Orlando's hands guided him down, his mouth across a nipple, then Orlando's belly.

"Please," Orlando said, and Viggo dragged his tongue the length of Orlando's cock, slow and wet. Orlando's cock, heavy and precious, inside Viggo's mouth— --no dream, no fantasy—-- and Orlando's hands on Viggo's neck and shoulder, urging him on. "Please."

Desire burned hot in Viggo's belly, his hands urging Orlando's legs wide apart, scooping spit up, sucking hard and sliding a finger across Orlando's ass. He wanted to fuck Orlando, the thought by itself was almost enough to make him come, but it was too soon and too fast, and he would give Orlando what he was asking for right then.

Orlando yelled, then he was coming, so fucking hot and wild, leaving Viggo breathless and trembling on the edge of coming, too.

The first curl of Orlando's fingers, then the feel of his mouth, broke Viggo, shattering him in ways he didn't know he could break, so that Orlando had to hold him afterwards, whispering kisses against his raw skin.

The winter light through the blinds paled, and the room faded slowly, but it was warm beside Orlando, under the bedding, being held.

When Viggo lifted his head, Orlando wasn't asleep, though his face was peaceful.

They kissed, brush of lips, and Viggo put his head back onto Orlando's shoulder, sighing with contentment at the touch of Orlando's fingers down his back.

"Recovered?" Orlando asked, his voice a whisper against the hum of vehicles on the street outside, the sound of people coming home on the floor above.

Viggo moved, sprawling a leg across Orlando's, finding his hip and thigh to rub against. "Yeah," Viggo said, and when he lifted his leg across Orlando's hips, Orlando was hard, too.

He unfolded Orlando, unmade him one layer at a time, using hands and mouth and lips and tongue, kissing and touching. The years fell away, and the sadness, so that when Viggo moved into the space between them, Orlando's eyes were clear and true, and his gaze never wavered.

Orlando's arms settled around his neck, his mouth as welcoming as his body, and when the joy built, slow and intense, Viggo didn't break, didn't shatter. He lay there, breathing hard and laughing, sweat and come between their bodies, still joined, and had no doubts, not when there were such moments to be found together.

Later, they ate a meal that Orlando had made, rice and something from his freezer, tasting of chili and lemon, sitting on the big sofa, in front of the gas fire. "I've been thinking," Orlando said, "about this magical place, the place you've imagined."

"And?" Viggo asked, smiling because Orlando was grinning around a fork loaded with rice and potato.

"Let's do it," he said. "But let's do it right this time. Are you willing to commit to that?"

Viggo nodded, and Orlando wriggled his toes, where his foot was tucked under Viggo's robe, against his leg.

"I've still got my ring, from before," Orlando said. "What about you?"

Viggo had never had a ring; he'd always refused, mistrusting the trappings as, well, traps, but that didn't mean he couldn't grow up. "You want me to get your name tattooed across my back in inch-high letters? I'm up for that," Viggo said. "You want a fucking huge celebrity wedding? I'll even put on a tux for you, babe."

"Fuck you," Orlando said, flicking rice at Viggo. "I've dodged that bullet once already, thank you, and I'm not going there again. I'll take you up on the tattoo, though."


The house, perched in the Olympus Mountains outside Seattle, was wreathed in fog, rolling up from the harbor, impenetrable, smothering all sound, so not even the rain dripping from the trees could be heard.

Viggo sat on the front steps, mug of strong coffee in his hands, the fog settling wetly on his face, the moss on the paving cool and dense under his bare feet. He loved the fog, the silence, loved the rain, too.

Huge glass windows pressed against the forest, the moss crept up the stone walls of the house, and serenity and order reigned. The white of the fog filled his mind, muffling the images and colors with peace, so he was in no hurry to move. He was tempted to go back to bed, bury himself under the rumpled covers to read and think.

Sidi plunged out of the fog, shaking moisture from his fur, bounding happily across to be hugged by Viggo, licking and squirming, but not even his yips of happiness really disturbed the silence.

Orlando appeared a minute later, out of the fog, his jacket collar turned up, scarf wound around his head, hands shoved into his pockets, out of the rain. He sat beside Viggo, on the steps, long legs stretched in front of him, and Viggo handed him the half full mug of coffee.

They sat in silence until Orlando took a deep breath and sighed, then smiled.

"Good walk?" Viggo asked, because Orlando was back from wherever he went inside his head, wherever it was that he found peace.

"Wonderful," Orlando said, putting the empty coffee mug on the step between them. "The world is so close, right here, and I can reach it and belong."

Viggo retrieved the apple he'd carried out of the house from his pocket, held it cradled in his hands for a moment, and then bit into it. The apple's skin was taut, against his teeth, the flesh crisp and moist. He chewed the mouthful of apple, letting the sharp acidity sting his tongue, and handed the apple to Orlando, who took a bite.

They sat, sharing the apple, Sidi rolling in the wet dirt in front of them before throwing himself theatrically at their feet. The sun rose above the trees, burning off the fog, and Orlando leaned against Viggo.

Sidi ran after the apple core, when Orlando threw it across the clearing, bringing it back and dropping it at their feet hopefully.

Later, Orlando wandered into Viggo's studio among the spruce and cedar, Sidi beside him picking through the mess in the hope of a forgotten snack.

Viggo didn't look up from the long email he was reading. Orlando would wait for him, just like he gave Orlando time and silence.

When he lifted his head, hands settled on his shoulders, gentle over his new ink, and Orlando kissed the top of his head. "Cloud's cleared," Orlando said. "Want to grab a sandwich and sit in the sun?"

He followed Orlando, back through the house that was just for them, where the only magic was kindness, and out into the sunshine.

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