They're both here for work, no question about it. It's not in Billy's nature to leave an already cold country he calls home for another that's running even colder, even for a holiday, and Elijah would just as soon be traveling around weirder if maybe not warmer places, too. And as much as they’re both really into the wardrobes you start and end with every day of the Sundance festival, moving from showplace to showplace and having essentially weeks worth of outerwear handed to you with a smile and a camera flash, neither Billy nor Elijah really needs one more ugly sweater or coat, or the hassle it’ll all represent on the flights home.
No, the work is why they’re here, and while it feels different to be talking up projects that couldn’t be farther removed from Rings, it also feels good, and they’re both comfortable admitting that even as their eyes and ears and sometimes hands seek each other out across vast rooms or wide streets. Elijah had heard Billy before he’d seen him, a higher, familiar register among a handful of thick Scottish accents surrounding some overseas reporter in small niche of what might have once been a ballroom. Elijah’s head had nearly swiveled off his neck, so eager he was to confirm that noise as Billy’s, but the pain had been worth it; the moment Billy had caught his eye, something warm and perfect had made its way around the room for both of them, enveloping them in that strange safety they and only two others could rightly call theirs.
Another full day had passed before they’d made actual physical contact; both were easily physically swayed this way or that by co-stars, directors, producers, and/or good food or drink. But this time Billy had found Elijah, nearly tackled him, more like, grinning and coming around a corner with his back against it like the cautious cherub drunk Elijah’s so often seen him become, but with a shocking clarity in his eyes, all happy knowledge that they both really needed to get the fuck out of where they were, right then and there. Elijah hadn’t flinched at that tackle or that tug or even the traditional mild headbutt Billy doesn’t actually like to do but feels the need to honour or something whenever they (two or all) meet now, as if he’s afraid someone might catch him not holding up his end of a Fellowship bargain he’d never really signed.
Elijah loves that about Billy, that feeling that Billy adores every single one of them but could easily take or leave some of their traditions, some of their demands of each other. At first Elijah thought it was a sign of age; Billy probably didn’t have a lot of time for this forced-brotherhood shit, so only went with the parts of it that didn’t require too much of him. Now he knows that it’s more a sign of maturity (something really fucking different from age, and Elijah’s known that since pretty much birth); one of the few signs of Billy does exhibit when they’re (two or all) together, sometimes just for laughs, to be the butt of their jokes so no one else has to be, but more often for their communal safety. Don’t talk to me about safety, Dom had said, rolling his eyes expansively when Elijah had tried to explain it to him. We’ve already got a Health and Safety man, and he’s watching out for you, not the rest of us, ‘cos you’re the one most likely to need it.
That wasn’t necessarily true, and Dom and everyone else knew it. Sometimes Dom has needed reeling in, dragging back, taking down, far more than the rest of them, and no one’s better at all of the above than Billy, who even looking ready to crawl his way home reeking of sweat and lager can sober up in two ticks and slap or smirk Dom out of trouble and into--well, evidence suggests it’s mostly into bed, be it Dom’s own or--someone else’s.
Elijah loves that about Billy a little less.
Now’s not really the time to be thinking about Dom, though, not when Billy’s arm is firm around Elijah’s shoulders and his head’s in that persuasive tilt that makes Elijah laugh and nod and agree to things he hasn’t been asked or heard suggested. Billy always looks thrilled to see that nod, delighted to have his thoughts followed when they probably haven’t even fully formed yet, and that expression is one Elijah doesn’t see cross Billy’s face for anyone else. It’s something Elijah likes to think is reserved for him, and Billy’s never given him reason to think otherwise.
Billy’s mostly-unformed plan turns out to mainly be to just get a coffee and away from other humans, and Elijah’s more than up for it. Steam rises around their faces and waters their eyes as they walk back from the stand and rise above the throngs again, to a hidden balcony Billy’s found and shares now like the best of secrets. Watching the sun start to set over Park City, Elijah looks at Billy sidelong and brings up quietly a reminder that there’s some Gibson guitars lounge open later tonight, a little place to jam and ham it up, right when you’re starting to feel like you need the escape. Elijah reminds Billy too that they have friends here working the lounge, friends who would love to see maybe an actual singer and musician come hang out with them, as opposed to the small monkey with sticks they fondly call Elijah. Billy laughs and takes a deep breath, then lets it out hard and puffy-white in the frigid hair before he nods, says sure, yeah, we’ll do it. The we there makes that something weird and warm envelop Elijah again; when there’s a we, there’s sometimes a way, and Elijah thinks it might be nice at some point in this trip to maybe get his.
Lest the universe or Elijah himself fall back into old habits of thinking him kind of a brat about this, Elijah remembers when he wasn’t yet wondering how much of a we there could be when it came to him and Billy. Those first weeks in Wellington when it was just the two of them and Sean, before--well, before--Billy had come to represent a lot of things to Elijah, mostly good things, good thoughts he indulged sometimes during adrenaline-fueled sleepless nights, before the real work began. Billy’s smile across tables in Peter’s house and in pubs had floored Elijah, in a way that he hadn’t understood at first and then understood all too well. He might have been young, but he hadn’t been stupid or sheltered or any of that shit; he knew what this was, what it meant, and whatever his mind had to do to catch up with his body didn’t mean a damn thing. There was something there, something idiotic and awesome, and for a little while it was theirs, even when it was really just Elijah’s.
They talked about everything then, but photography, first; the only time Elijah had ever seen a flash of jealousy cross Billy’s face had been when Elijah had pulled from one of his ratty messenger bags a Leica, one he loved like he didn’t much of anything else. He’d offered to let Billy borrow it, and he might as well have written the guy a check for millions, the way Billy’s smile had widened and then collapsed in some mix of shame at his own greed and giddy impatience for Elijah to hand the thing over. When Billy had returned the camera the following day in wardrobe, ruffling his hair and taking an insane amount of rambling time to admit how little he’d understood how to really use it, Elijah felt like he might be tripping backward on his ass in love. There’d just been something so fucking sweet about it, that guard Billy had suddenly let down, and what little of one Elijah had left around Billy fell then, too, making Elijah wrap himself around Billy in a deeper hug than usual, pushing his cheek against Billy’s bird-feather hair and the sudden-blush-warmed skin of his face.
Pulling out of the hug, Elijah had wanted to see what Billy was thinking, what those brilliant (a newish expression, a good one, one Elijah could say in the accent better than he could others) eyes were giving away, but what came next hadn’t belonged to either of them; rather, it had come from their missing puzzle piece, their already-prodigal hobbit finally home. The moment Billy and Elijah had turned to meet Dom, to throw themselves on and around him, the room might as well have spun them all on their asses. Yeah, there were sparks; yeah, those sparks went in all directions. But only Elijah seemed to understand that yeah, the three of them were completely fucked from that moment on.
Billy’s at the guitar lounge already when Elijah arrives, both of them fresh scrubbed and ready for something that requires nothing even remotely professional from either. There are some cameras, sure; you can’t get away from them entirely, and Elijah can see Billy already convinced himself not to waste the chance to smile for them in exchange for playing magnificent guitars for free. He’s effortlessly kind to anyone who gets near enough, leaning in for photos and the odd kiss, mugging for the more intense passersby who can only be thinking hobbit hobbit that’s a fucking hobbit over there. When they fade away, Billy’s inanity does, too; he gets back to his guitar, back into his little world of notes and truth, and he looks right there; it’s where he utterly belongs.
There’s something here Elijah likes to pretend is only for himself, too; this small look into another facet of Billy, the facet that cannot resist a microphone or one of those guitars. Yes, everyone around the filming of Rings knows Billy can belt or whisper just about anything (and play a little of everything else), but it was only to Elijah that Billy had murmured half-drunk one night about a band he’d had back in the day, about maybe in the future getting that band back together. Elijah had frowned (also against Billy’s hair, this time damp with sweat) and wondered for a moment why Billy wasn’t sharing this information with--well, with someone else, but then it had occurred to him that Billy found his own sort of safety telling Elijah instead, safety knowing that Elijah wouldn’t hound him to the ends of the earth about it, daring him to move on with those plans maybe before Billy was ready or calling him, even charmingly, even cheekily, a coward for putting them off. Billy had nodded, then, as if he’d read Elijah mind, then he’d sighed and fallen asleep against Elijah until that someone else had come to collect them both, laughing wildly.
Right now Elijah feels like he could act the collector later tonight, if need be. For the moment, Billy’s just calmly strumming along, placid rhythm and harmony on a basic acoustic model, more for the cameras than anything else, but there’s a low fire in those brilliant eyes, Elijah can see even from two rows of people away, one that’s ready to burn hard and bright, given the chance. The drummer beckons Elijah forward with a grin, and his steps to join them change the focus of the cameras for a few minutes, relaxing Billy as he plays a little harder, a little smarter. Elijah smacks away at the drum kit loosely, knowing he’s a lot better at this than anyone up here is about to admit to him or themselves, and Billy turns his head Elijah’s way, grinning merrily in thanks and praise and more of that pretty unnecessary persuasion.
Two songs later, Billy’s gained a puffy jacket against the cooling night and a microphone to go with his guitar; he’s belting now again, maybe even howling a little, really, just going with whatever next song the band’s ready to play. He seems to know them all, in some parts better than they do, certainly less hesitantly. The bass player and guitarist exchange looks behind Billy’s back and Elijah flushes with pride on everybody’s behalf; they sound fucking amazing, mostly because Billy doesn’t care whether he does or not. Elijah watches Billy’s natural pallor disappear, too, ruddiness flooding his skin the longer he’s up at the mic and his blood’s rushing with joy and passion Elijah hasn’t seen in him in a long time. If Billy doesn’t get that band going again, he might break down under the weight of not doing so, Elijah can tell but is in no way going to actually bring up to him—just watching this happen is making Elijah feel both incredibly comfortable and incredibly not; what Billy’s feeling has to be ten times better and worse.
In between songs, Billy turns away from his audience, shucking the jacket and some of the rush, exhaustion moving over his features while no one else is looking and then disappearing too, forced down by Billy’s desire for one more song, one more chance, one more of whatever he’s getting out of and giving to this. Elijah remembers the sound of Dom’s voice again, saying that if there were such a thing as a complete package, Billy’d be it; he’s got the looks, he’s got charm, he’s got talents he’s still hiding even from them. Dom had said it with no bitterness (surprise in itself), but also with no particular pleasure; it was just something he knew and must have thought Elijah couldn’t work out for himself, when he pretty much had days before Dom had even entered their lives. Elijah kept that to himself, not because he’s got that much more tact than Dom, but because there just aren’t that many secrets left among the three of them, and what he had left he intended to keep.
Among those secrets are this: that here in Park City, possibly here tonight, is the last time he’s going to test the waters around Billy, and he’s going to survive, whatever the outcome. When would they next be we, Elijah reasons; when would Billy be next this … available on every level or Elijah this brave or certain those waters could be tested again in the first place? Elijah steps away from the drum kit and off the little stage setup completely, slipping to the front of the small crowd and nodding his head, rocking back and forth on his heels in time to the music, urging Billy on with a fierce grin of his own and thrilling wildly again when Billy meets his gaze and holds it firm and fearless, that low fire of before now at full blaze, all thought of maturity and safety and whatever the fuck else gone.
The first time Elijah had felt this strongly about--well, Billy, his singing could have well caused it, too. That dinner party they’d put together, to celebrate some holiday half those attending didn’t give two shits about, had wound down into karaoke and then proper sing-alongs as the drinks kept flowing, and later, into a few of them taking turns in the front chair singing lead, holding the others’ attention by force of amusement or awe, depending on talent and drunkenness. No one had expected Billy to merge from one moving ballad into a raucous Tom Jones cover, and he’d bathed in the applause and perverted catcalls. Elijah vaguely remembers something about Viggo threatening to throw a chicken like a pair of scanties onto the stage the next time Billy had the balls to get up on one, but the memory’s too weird even for Elijah to enjoy now. Instead he remembers what he still feels and hears sometimes when he lets himself.</p>
The party had been nearing its end when Dom had moved from his perch on Elijah’s lap and into Orlando’s teasing, longer arms, and Elijah might have missed him if he hadn’t been distracted, too, by Billy surrendering the guitar someone had found in Barrie’s house, his expression off the deep end of pleasure and pride. Shirt untucked and voice raw, Billy’d been fucking devastating, and watching him, Elijah could hear himself breathing a little harder. Before Billy had the chance to give his host a proper goodbye, Elijah’d pulled him outside, to all intents and purposes for just a smoke, but really to suss (another newish word) Billy out, to see if he could somehow ricochet what he was feeling right back on Billy, maybe better.
It had taken less than a minute to back Billy against the stone wall, Elijah’s lips brushing over stubble and soft skin. Billy had released the softest little sound, a careful encouragement Elijah chose to hear and feel as more. Billy’s hands on him were rougher than Elijah had expected, stronger, and his eyes were dilated and dark, strange but yeah, fucking brilliant, too. For the briefest second Elijah had wondered if this was what it was like between Billy and Dom, and that second had been almost enough to break his own spell, to step back from Billy in fear and unearned anger, too. Billy might as well have read his mind then, too, pushing a hand up in Elijah’s hair and holding him still when he might have moved away, but then loosening his grip and shaking his head slowly, that kindest smile of his searing Elijah to his bones.
"You’re the most perfect thing," Billy had slurred sweetly in Elijah’s ear then. "And what you’re seeing’s not what you want."
"You don’t know--" Elijah had started, but Billy had shaken his head again, this time in the most beautiful fucking despair Elijah had maybe ever seen.
"Go get broken a little bit, Elijah, and not by me."
Later, Elijah had been able to believe that they’d stopped each other from doing something incredibly stupid, that Billy’s alarm of sudden sober safety had rescued them from more than either could have handled, but for a long time he’d burned with a kind of anger he’d never known before, a feeling of being patronized for the first and only time by Billy, who had otherwise treated him like an equal from the moment they’d met. On no level was Elijah perfect, and he’d wanted to scream that from every mountain he had to climb with Billy for weeks, months after that night, but in the end he’d come to understand what Billy had meant, even if he still hated it.</p>
He’d come to understand more about Billy, too, and about himself.
Over time they’d become closer than even before, enough that Elijah could crawl into Billy’s bed at strange hours of the morning and be welcomed there, and sometimes be woken with a brush of Billy’s lips against his forehead or the sound of another visitor’s lower, more ferocious morning, kid near his ear. Yeah, sometimes Dom was there, too; yeah, sometimes the sparks flew in every direction again, and yeah, they were still about as fucked as they could be. Some mornings Elijah would wake between Billy and Dom, nearly held down there, and he’d wonder if everyone else they knew could smell them on each other, if they’d become the one unit it would have been most practical to be. Elijah doesn’t miss Dom as much now as he thought he might once Dom had moved out, but he doesn’t not miss him, either; the guy’s in the same city, sometimes back in the same bed, breaking and being broken, all in good fun but also as part of the strongest bond Elijah can imagine having. But Billy, well--neither Elijah nor Dominic are quite broken enough for him, even now, it seems, and maybe that’s okay.
And maybe it’s not.
When Billy turns away for the last time from the mic the lounge is probably now deeply regretting having set up, he looks wrecked, just done and almost horrified with himself for having let things get this far. Elijah’s jaw drops a little, but his hand rises, reaching to curl around Billy’s bicep when Billy looks like he’s about to fall to one side. Broken, Elijah thinks and then shakes it off violently, remembering to smile when Billy frowns at him, confused.
"Let’s go to bed," Elijah says, the words flying from his lips before he can take them back, and Billy doesn’t flinch, doesn’t laugh or toss him that mock-innocent gasp he saves for those more intense types sometimes drawn to him. Instead Billy leans against Elijah, says I could sleep, yeah, and seems to mean it. They run the gauntlet of more photos, more embraces and offers of one more drink, but then they’re back out in the freezing night, laughing finally, properly, as if all at once stunned to find themselves here.
The walk to his hotel is longer than Elijah remembers, and on the way there Elijah feels his blood pounding in his ears, just over the sound of Billy’s sudden relapse into rambling explanations and apologies and fuck knows what else. Neither of them is drunk, Elijah knows, but there’s a lot they could say to gloss this over if they had to later, tomorrow, next week, in the next life. Or maybe in the next few seconds, Elijah thinks when they reach his door. That hesitancy is back, cold and cruel in his mind, but Billy doesn’t notice it this time, and it passes when Billy’s hand falls on the small of Elijah’s back and pushes gently just before Billy’s lips find the back of Elijah’s neck.
It takes less than a minute for Elijah’s back to hit his mattress, Billy falling there beside him, a laugh caught in his throat. Elijah turns toward him and then stops, staring at Billy’s eyes not nearly as dark and dilated as they’d been that time before, only tired and soft and older. They are all so much older, and after so little relative time.
"You’re the most broken thing," Elijah says, out loud and smiling the way he’d practiced it vengefully a hundred times so long ago. Billy does flinch then; it’s less what Elijah’s said than it is the echo of his own words in it, and Elijah only just softens the blow with another nudge of lips and cheek, sliding over Billy’s gently.
"And I’m still not what you want," Billy says finally, and Elijah can hear the laughter he wants back in his voice but can’t force.
"You don’t know," Elijah tells him then, and doesn’t let Billy cut him off this time. There are things someone’s got to find out for himself, and this has to be one of them, this has to be something he’s earned by now. They take turns moving against each other, Billy exhausted but strangely needy now he can’t pretend otherwise, Elijah eager but strangely cautious, too, now he knows he’s in better shape than Billy. They laugh again, nervously, and then Billy leans in, butting heads with Elijah once more but this time honouring something different; there’s no mandated brotherhood tradition here, only a desire for familiarity, confirmation they’re both still who they’ve always been, and aren’t likely to change no matter what or who else life and all that … work brings. The touch isn’t spontaneous, and it sure as hell isn’t violent; it’s love without either of those things, and when Elijah tilts his head on the return he finds Billy’s smiling, weaker than before but still kindly. In this strange safety they’ve recreated, the waters Elijah’s testing around Billy go still and Billy gives way, offering himself up a little and letting Elijah figure out for both of them if maybe he knows better what they both want.
Most of the next morning passes before Elijah gets his head around what had happened next; sitting at a table outside, hands wrapped around another coffee and eyes hidden behind Billy’s sunglasses, he can better understand his quick, jumpy reactions to Billy’s slow, heated actions of the night before. And when the chair opposite him scrapes on the pavement and there’s Billy’s pleasant hello, Elijah finds a way to match that friend’s smile.
"Never took you for a bolter," Billy laughs, low and filthy. "And you’re not supposed to bolt from your own place anyway; have you learned nothing?"
"Yeah, well," Elijah says, looking around at the streets, at the people mingling, meeting everywhere. "I had work to do."
They sit in peace, then, smiling, knees pressed together under the table. Whispers of hobbits hobbits those are fucking hobbits passes, but Billy and Elijah ignore them. They’re not here as hobbits, after all; they’re just themselves, maybe seeing each other that way for the first time, too.
"We should do this more often," Billy says then to the sky. Elijah’s jaw drops again, and he works to follow thoughts he didn’t imagine Billy having. "No, we should," Billy continues, his voice raspy. "I’ve missed the fuck out of you. I had no idea."
"You and Dom are the only people I know who can flatter and fuck someone up at the same time, Bill."
"You live in Los Angeles; don’t even try that one on. And can we not talk about Dom? I don’t get a chance to miss that bastard; he wouldn’t allow it."
Elijah nods, understanding that, at least. "Okay, so. We should, we as in us, as in you and me. What are we supposed to be doing more often?"
Billy smiles at Elijah, but doesn’t answer; instead he drinks the last of Elijah’s coffee and then stands, reclaiming his sunglasses and laughing when Elijah moans at the sky’s glare hitting him hard. Billy leans to kiss the top of his head, lips warm on Elijah’s scalp, and Elijah closes his eyes, wondering how Billy’s found the one spot he hadn’t already somehow marked in the last several hours but admiring his commitment to the cause.
"I’m off," Billy murmurs, and Elijah looks up, hearing the difference in his voice. "Going to get myself mended, see."
"I didn’t mean that," Elijah says it simply, plainly, and Billy shakes his head
"No, I deserved it. And you’re right about more than you think." Billy’s expression is still, pale and calm, then breaks warm and wonderfully again before he leaves, disappearing into the work. Elijah watches him go and then looks down at the table, eyes settling on what Billy’s left behind.
We should do this more often, Elijah hears again as he pockets the hotel room keycard and rises from his chair. Where there’s a we, there will always be a way, and whatever this is, however continually fucked up, Elijah’s going to enjoy it while he can.