Title: Captivated All the While
Pairing: Potential Dom/Viggo.
Summary: Dom runs a motorbike courier service in London. Viggo is an artist with a missing package. It's an odd week, but Dom is feeling stranger on the inside.
Notes: Title is from the Natalie Merchant/REM collaboration, Photograph.
Post-reveal Notes: I left the finishing of this fic too late to employ a beta, but there was a lot of hand-holding and encouragement from tigertale7. All mistakes are very much mine.
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit, non-commercial work of fiction using the names and likenesses of real individuals. This fictional story is not intended to imply that the events actually occurred, or that the attitudes or behaviors described are engaged in or condoned by the real persons whose names are used without permission.
Dom leaned back in his chair, feet on the desk. The number of jobs in queue was 0, for the first time that day, and both the radio and the phone had been quiet. Every rider he had was either out on the job or out, full stop, and the office was, for the first time in what felt like forever, quiet.
He hesitated to even think the word, but let his mind wander for a moment as he looked up into the dusty pipes over the desk. The office was in an arch, nothing much more than the desk itself, the radios, their docking station and batteries, and the wall of lockers, but in an odd way it felt like home. It was just a motorbike courier service, but it was his courier service, and he was damn proud of it.
The thought crossed his mind a moment before the phone rang.
"Speedy's, how can I help you?" He set the chair carefully down on the concrete floor, reaching for a pencil as he did.
"My package has gone missing." It was a soft voice, male, American, and oddly intense, even given how soft it was.
Dom blinked, not sure of where to start, given the incredibly simple nature of the complaint, and the cool manner in which it was delivered. Problems with missing packages usually required about two solid minutes of calming and damage control before he could get the details.
"I'm sorry to hear that, was this before or after it was picked up?"
"After. I signed when the courier came to get it. He said his name was Ben. I just got a call from my client, and she says it was never delivered."
"Let me look into that," Dom said, turning towards the folder that held the day's receipts so far. "It could be that he's run into some bother and hasn't made very good time." He was struck with some worry that his rider might be in trouble. "Do you have a trip number?"
"Three four seven, three eight," again this so calmly that Dom could hardly believe that he was calling to complain. "And it was yesterday, so I sincerely hope he hasn't run into that much bother."
Dom's blood ran a little cold and he set the folder aside, turned to the computer instead. The receipts were scanned at the end of every day, and he pulled up the file, searched by number.
"And you are?" he asked, looking at the receipt.
"Viggo. Viggo Mortensen."
"Right, I'm looking at your receipt now," Dom said. "It looks like it was delivered yesterday, two-hundred Crouch End Road, and it was signed for by," he squinted at the name. "I'm sorry, I can't make it out. Looks like it might be Elizabeth, for the first name."
"Elizabeth Moore," Viggo supplied, and then Dom could see it, the looped and connected double-o. "But that's not her signature."
"How do you know?"
"Because she told me that she didn't get the delivery."
"Then it looks as though someone has stolen your package," Dom said, nearly grinding his teeth in worry and hoping the sound didn't carry through the phone.
"Don't your riders ask for ID before they hand the package over?" Viggo asked.
"They do," Dom said, fully aware of how stupid that sounded. Either he was being ripped off or someone had ripped Viggo off, and either way it sucked. "Listen, I'll get to the bottom of this. I'll talk to Ben and we'll figure out where this thing is, who took it, all of that."
"I'll come over, have a look at the receipt, just to make sure it's not her signature," Viggo said.
"That won't be necessary," Dom said, "she already told you she didn't sign for it."
"That's alright, I'm already here." The line went dead, and there was a knock at the door.
Dom strode over to the door, feeling his hackles go up. This was his business, his territory, and Viggo had a right to be irritated, but there was nothing to be gained by his literally invading Dom's space. When he opened the door, though, some of his irritation dissolved. Viggo didn't push his way in, merely raised an eyebrow at him as he looked into the dusty space.
"This is your own shop?" He sounded interested, not threatening, and Dom stepped backwards, letting him in.
Viggo looked around the mostly empty space, his eyes alighting on the row of lockers. "Did Ben have a locker here?"
Dom shrugged and nodded. It didn't make sense that he would stash a stolen object in his work locker, but it also wasn't worth arguing with Viggo when the solution was to simply open the door. Ben's locker was empty, only a half empty bag of Malteasers on the top shelf.
"I didn't really expect a result," Viggo said. "May I see the receipt?"
Dom walked to the desk and handed it over, his head turning towards the door as it swung open.
"Came back to base, the radio's been quiet," Matt said, tugging his helmet off as he ambled towards the desk. "Any jobs?"
"Not at the moment. Should pick up in a bit."
"Suits me, it's been mad lately. Oh, I did get a weird text from Ben, though." He acknowledged Viggo with a nod and a slightly quizzical look as he rifled through his deepest pocket for his receipts.
"What did it say?" Dom felt the bottom of his stomach drop out.
"He said to tell you he had to go back to Sussex, and he wouldn't be in for a while. I texted him back but he hasn't responded."
Dom rubbed his forehead. Ben had only worked for him for two weeks and while he hadn't been personable he'd been a reliable worker.
"Text him again, ask him if you can go to his flat to get his jacket," Dom said. If Ben had actually stolen Viggo's package then he was screwed. He was insured and bonded, but if this went badly his rates were about to go through the roof.
Matt did, then looked over at Viggo. "Hi." He looked perplexed, and for good reason--Dom couldn't remember the last time a client had actually come to the office.
"Matt, this is Viggo. He's missing a package that Ben reported as delivered."
Matt's eyebrows rose a fraction of an inch before he looked back down at his phone. "It's Ben. He says he's got it with him on the train, he'll post it back to us when he gets to Sussex."
"So he's not in his flat, then." Viggo's low voice was nearly devoid of inflection.
"No, I suppose he's not." Dom turned towards the chime of the iPhone propped on the desk, acknowledged the job request and printed the requisition. He turned to Matt, needing a moment of clarity, away from Viggo's piercing gaze. "Excuse me. Matt, you can take this one. Should be quick, just Canada Water back into the city."
Matt glanced at the slip, then folded it and slipped it into the biggest pocket on his jacket. "Right. Don't do anything stupid." He looked only at Dom, but his words were clearly meant for both of the other men in the office.
"You neither." Dom inclined his head towards the door. Matt communicated a clear I'm serious, the tilt of his head as clear as words, but cleared off.
As soon as the door shut Viggo spoke. "You could take me there."
"Take you where?"
"To Ben's apartment. To his flat. If he took my package he may have been sloppy enough to leave some of the packaging behind. It was mostly packaging."
"What was in the package?" Dom asked. He was well aware that there were times that his riders transported things that were not exactly legal, and if Viggo had his class A drugs stolen, well, that was hardly his lookout, though it could definitely make his life more difficult.
"It was a piece of art. Mine."
Dom sighed. "The problem with art is that insurance always pays out on an intrinsic value. How much did your client pay for this piece?"
"For the book itself, three hundred pounds. The sitting fees added to that however brings it up to well over a thousand."
"Worse comes to worse, I can get your three hundred back, and it's not like you can't recoup the sitting fees--just redo the book."
"It's not that simple. If the integrity of the book has been compromised then the entire project is moot. I would be obligated to refund the client's entire fee."
"And if we discover that Ben has stolen the book, what then? Isn't the integrity compromised as a matter of course, then?"
"Not necessarily. It will depend on what he has done with it." Viggo looked irritated, angry, in short, like a man who had had his property stolen, but he also looked keen for the chase.
Dom pulled open the file drawer that he kept the staff files in. Ben's was thin, no traffic tickets, no reprimands--until now, obviously--and his address wasn't that far, in an area where most of the buildings were older, no glass fronted lobbies there.
"If we go to his flat and he is, in fact, there, I won't tolerate you threatening him, even if he does turn out to be a thief."
Dom looked at the surface of his desk, trying to collect his thoughts. This was madness. The done thing would be to call the police, let them sort this out--but nothing would come of it. The theft of a small piece of art from a working artist wasn't going to take up much of their resources, and he would have to report the loss to his insurers. Depending on how zealous Viggo was it might in fact be the end of his business, and the thought of letting even one person go, now, made him feel ill. Then there was the fact that their mission might reveal a misunderstanding, an accident, a simple mistake, and Ben might be exonerated. He might even be on his way to Sussex, a bona fide family emergency prompting the unusual behavior.
"Alright, but this is how it's going to be. If I say we leave, we go. I'm not going to be done for burglary today."
"Some other time perhaps?" Viggo asked, his eyebrows nearly to his hairline, and Dom had the uncomfortable sensation that Viggo could see into his past.
"Not really my scene," Dom said. "We have to wait for one of the riders to come back, I'll put them in charge of the radio and we can go."
As if on cue the door swung open and Liv bounded in, flipping up the visor on her helmet and flourishing her receipts at him. "Record time, Boss!" she crowed as she tossed the papers on his desk.
"There's not a speeding citation in that pile is there?"
She laughed as she pulled the helmet off and her hair, tied back loosely, flowed out over her shoulders, shiny and lush even in the dusty light of the office. Dom had always thought it one of her best features, and so did Viggo, judging by his blatant stare.
"Nope." She helped herself to his chair, the insouciance of a favored child obvious. Well, he had good reason to favor her, Dom thought, and he was glad that she was the first one back to base.
"You're on radio for the rest of the day," Dom said. "Everyone's been nose to the grindstone today but the after lunch calls should be coming in faster. Be fair and take no shit."
"Aye aye," she said, shrugging out of her jacket. If possible, Viggo stared more, completely guileless.
Dom had a sudden idea.
"Liv, were you friendly with Ben?"
She tilted her head to one side, considering. "Not really. I didn't have a problem with him, but he kept to himself. I don't think I said three words to him, really."
"You don't happen to have his phone number, do you?" If Liv texted him out of the blue it would be strange, but if she already had had even the most rudimentary exchange with him he might open up to her.
"I don't." She looked between the two men. Viggo had trained his expression, finally, to something less than lecherous. "Is this about that missing package?"
Dom sighed. "You guys don't waste any time, do you?"
"Matt texted me, said you were about to go off on some kind of fool's errand." She favored Viggo with a smile and he smiled back, looking, suddenly, all the more human for it. "I told him he was wrong, of course, there's nothing foolish about you."
"Ha ha, thanks Liv." Dom zipped up his jacket and grabbed his helmet. "I'll be back in a couple of hours. I've got my phone."
"Right. Have fun."
Outside Dom took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the bright winter sun, settled his helmet on his head. He hadn't yet told Viggo where Ben's flat was, exactly, but he wanted to make sure that they arrived together.
"How did you get here?"
Dom pulled his helmet off. "I guess we're taking a cab then. There's a place up the road, I'll call them, have them drop us off near his flat."
"Your bike is clearly big enough."
Dom shook his head. "We're not sharing."
"Why not? I'm already out a book I spent over a week making, you've got potential to be out a great deal more. Why add the expense of a cab to it all?"
Dom looked at Viggo who was looking at his bike, a lovingly restored Triumph, and the penny dropped.
"You're keen to ride it," he blurted out, then wished he could stuff the words back in his mouth.
The look Viggo turned on him was reminiscent of the look he'd given Liv, and Dom could only assume that it was meant for the bike itself.
"And why not?"
A certain part of Dom's inner voice, the part he had long ago dubbed his inner Loki, spoke up, asked why not. It was already the maddest day with possibly the maddest man he'd ever encountered.
"Fine, but you're wearing one of the spare helmets."
He stalked back into the office, and Liv grinned at him.
"It's already getting busy, three dispatches and so far no one has questioned my authority."
"Good girl," Dom said distractedly, trying to decide between two helmets for Viggo. He grabbed the heavier crash helmet, not wanting Viggo's scrambled brain on his conscience if it came to that, and pointedly ignored Liv's teasing "awwwww" as he went outside with it.
Viggo was a competent passenger and by the time they got to Ben's street Dom had finally relaxed his guard, no longer worried about Viggo falling off or panicking in a corner and making him crash.
"How are we getting in?" Viggo was eying the fire escape up the side of the building, but Dom shook his head.
"Way too many people around, and besides, it's not going to be that difficult. Ben has flatmates, probably three or more, given the size of this place. I'll just get them to let me in."
"I'm going in too." Viggo followed him to the array of buzzers.
"Not at first you're not. Stand by the bike and look inconspicuous." Given the fact that Viggo had not yet taken off the helmet, Dom suspected that that would not really be happening.
The buzzers each had a slip of paper in a plastic sleeve next to them, but they were so beat up and damp that the names had been nearly worn away. One of them had more ink than the others, suggesting a flat full of single people, and he was raising his hand to ring that one when the front door opened and a young woman hurried out, her backpack bulging and even more books in her arms.
"Sorry," Dom interrupted her. "Do you know Ben?"
"Ben, yeah, he lives in the top flat," she said, clearly hurried, taking no notice of the fact that Dom had his foot jammed in the front door. "I think he's gone back home though, to Sussex, he said something about it last night. Said he'd left his job." She paused, taking in Dom's attire. "Are you his boss?"
"I came by to collect his jacket. They're not cheap."
"Ooh, sorry, I'm pretty sure he's gone. I'm sure he'll post it to you if you ask him though. Good luck." She hurried towards the bus shelter, awkwardly raising her elbow to the approaching bus. Dom waited until the bus had pulled away before he opened the front door the rest of the way and slipped inside.
At the top of the stairs there was a single door. Dom held his breath, listening carefully, then knocked three times, firmly. When no one stirred he took a credit card from his wallet and easily jimmied the door open.
It was a small bedsit, crammed under the eaves, sloping walls on all sides and cheap acoustic tile covering the peak in the roof. It was cool but not freezing, the heat still on, and the humming fridge revealed that he'd not had the electric shut off. Dom opened the fridge, found it nearly barren, but there was a frozen pizza in the freezer.
A pile of mail, mostly junk, was on the arm of the battered sofa, and Dom flipped through it quickly--all addressed to Ben, and no one else. Well, it was safe enough to say that he was in Ben's flat. He looked around, wondering where the book might be hidden, then remembered Viggo, waiting outside for him. With a muttered curse he ran down the stairs, opened the front door and beckoned to the other man who had finally taken the helmet off.
Once inside the flat Viggo started looking under the sofa, pulling away the cushions, even scanning the small bookshelf.
"It's not going to be on the shelf, if it's even here," Dom said. "He really did go to Sussex, or some place, so it's a decent chance that if he stole it, it's with him."
"I think he didn't leave at all and it's here," Viggo said.
"Yeah, why?" Dom asked, poking through the small dish cupboard. Just dishes and a nearly empty crisp packet.
"Just a hunch."
"Well, in that case." Dom pushed the single kitchen chair to the middle of the room and set it on the grungy carpet. There were four spots that looked a little more compressed than the rest of it and he laid the chair down over them, precise as he could. "In that case he's hiding it, most likely, and scared. So, we have to think like thieves." He braced himself for the comment that would surely be coming, some variation on like that will be a stretch for you, but it never came. Maybe Viggo hadn't guessed so correctly after all.
Dom stood on the chair and pushed up on the acoustic tile, unsurprised to feel that the tile felt far heavier than the actual heft of the material should have been. He slid it back over the neighboring tiles, making a space that he could fit his hand into, felt around until his fingers hit a solid weight. He wasn't as tall as Ben, or else he had shifted the box over much by tilting the tile back and forth, but either way it was a struggle to bring the box to the edge of the opening where he could lift it out.
"Is this what you were missing?"
Viggo's face was turned up, his mouth partially open, and Dom found himself staring when Viggo licked his lower lip, his tongue leaving the pink skin there shining in the low light.
"That's the box," he said, guardedly, as if he didn't want to know if it were empty.
"It's heavy," Dom said, handing it down. Viggo walked away immediately once he had it in hand and Dom steadied himself on the back of the chair as he hopped down.
Viggo had set the box on the worktop in the galley kitchen, opened it as Dom came up behind him. Dom usually gave people their space, was accustomed to not prying in terms of the contents of his client's packages, but for this one he'd done a bit of B+E, and he felt entitled to some satisfaction reading just what it was in the box in the first place.
It was a book, as Viggo had said, tooled leather cover, simple but well done. Viggo flipped through the pages too quickly for Dom to see what the subject was, then left the book, still in the box, on the worktop and stalked away.
"You have to call him."
"Is something missing?"
"I need to know what he did."
Dom opened the box and ran his finger over the surface of the book. It was cool and smooth, with just the right amount of tack to show that it was real leather. Viggo wasn't looking at him, might have been hacked off that he was touching without asking, but he hadn't ever been able to keep his hands off of anything that he wanted to know more about.
"It seems pretty obvious to me. He forged the signature on the delivery, freaked out, quit his job, and hid the evidence in his ceiling."
"Why not take it with him?"
"He wasn't in his right mind. Didn't really want it, anyway. Maybe he thought it was drugs, in the first place, figured he wouldn't bother carrying it with him. It's not exactly light." It was smaller than A4 paper but not by much, opening so that the pages were wider than they were tall. Dom opened the book and turned past the first blank leaf to the matte black and white photo on the first page. A black and white photo oriented in the center of the page of a tall slender woman in a black dress standing before a tall window, her fingertips resting on the pane. The light defined her cheekbones, made a thin line down the center of her lower lip. Dom suspected that the photo had been posed and lit, or the light waited for, to make her look slightly younger than she truly was, though there was something timeless about her stance.
He turned the page. There was one photo per leaf, so the left side of the book remained blank, an extravagant waste of space that served only to highlight the picture. Her back was turned, the low back of her dress revealed as she stood in the middle of the room, the light from the window visible now though the window was not. The dark furrow of her spine made him think of the bright line down the center of her lip in the previous photo, and he wondered if it had been intentional.
"Chucking it in a bin might only have brought attention to it," Dom mused as Viggo paced. He turned the page. She'd not moved, nor had the camera, but she'd slid her arms free of the dress and it hung at her waist, her back bare now, the fabric hanging over her hips like the petals of an inverted tulip. He felt his breath catch in his throat, a strange sensation, a thrill and fear at the same time. There was more skin to be seen on some adverts, enough pornography available at every moment of the day if he should choose it that his eye skimmed over naked bodies without really seeing them, now, but this simple photo caught his eye like nothing had in some time. It might have been that she was a real person, known to Viggo, or that this was apparently one of the only prints in existence. Or perhaps it was something simpler, the base contrast between black and white drawing him in.
He heard Viggo approaching him with intent, now, no longer pacing, and he felt almost guilty as he turned the page, but at the same time unable not to.
The dress was still at her waist, but she was turned towards the window, standing within its frame, turned just so, the curve of her breast visible but her nipple obscured either by the angle or the bright exposure. Dom found himself staring at her face. He'd have expected her to look defiant, daring, or perhaps apprehensive, even scared. Her face was not a blank--he simply could not say what, other than perhaps a quiet determination, was there.
"Maybe he kept it because he liked it," Dom said.
Viggo stood behind him, reaching forward to gently yet firmly shut the book, closing the box again. Dom couldn't move away, the worktop to his right, Viggo to his left, so he held still while Viggo seemed to surround him.
"If he reproduced it in any way, that would be a significant problem."
"Because of the embarrassment to your client?"
"That, and the dilution of the product. These are copyrighted. If he's spread them about through electronic media their value is lessened. This was a private project but parts of it may be used later, in a show or another, less personal, book."
"It's not pornography."
Viggo smiled, leaning back on his heels, an easiness to his stance that had been entirely missing before the book was recovered.
"You know it when you see it?"
Dom shrugged. "I guess that's a good way to put it."
Viggo looked serious again. "An American judge used that as his definition of pornography in a federal case. You didn't see the whole book in any case. Context is everything."
The fact that he was in Ben's apartment suddenly weighed heavily on Dom's shoulders, the walls closing in. He took out his phone and rang Ben, listened as it went to voicemail.
"Ben, it's Dom. Are you in some kind of trouble? I came to your apartment looking for your jacket, the door was open and the package from yesterday was on the floor. No one knows where you are. Ring me back as soon as you get this." He closed the phone and looked at Viggo. "We're leaving." He stepped back up on the chair and pulled the ceiling tile down, the metal strips holding it mostly in place but creating a credible if unlikely picture of a tile that had slipped due to an unaccustomed weight on it. He replaced the chair at the tiny kitchen table, scuffed over the indentations in the carpet, and walked to the door, pointing to Viggo's helmet so the other man would not forget it inside.
Viggo waited until they were outside to speak. "That was four lies, Dom, in short order."
"All for a good cause."
Dom returned his gaze, but didn't speak, was saved from having to tell him to put his helmet on by the ringing of his phone.
"Ben!" He didn't have to fake the concern in his voice--he was, in fact, very concerned as to Ben's whereabouts.
"Dom, listen, I'm sorry, but I can't talk." The naked panic in Ben's voice tore at Dom's heart, even as he longed to shout at him.
"You can talk, Ben, just tell me where you are, and what's happened."
Ben sighed, almost a sob, and Dom strained to hear what the noise was in the background. Echoes, voices, a loudspeaker.
"Ben. Where are you?"
"Just tell me, was my flat all trashed?"
Dom struggled to keep up with the direction of the conversation. "No, Ben, the door was unlocked and one of the ceiling tiles had fallen down a little bit. The box was in the middle of the floor. Everything else looked normal." Lies on top of lies, but the spirit of the answer was the same. Ben needed to know if anyone (else) had broken in, and the answer was no. "Where are you? I just want to talk to you."
"You're going to sack me."
"Of course I'm going to sack you, Ben, you forged a signature, stole a package, and then did a bunk without returning my jacket. You are irrevocably sacked, but that doesn't mean I'm not worried about you. And you still have my jacket." He risked a look at Viggo and saw the other man rolling his eyes so hard it was a wonder they didn't pop out of their sockets. "Just tell me, where are you?"
"Not far," Ben said, his voice nearly breaking as he paused. Dom waited, because he knew that tone too well. Resignation coupled with relief, ready to tell someone so his trouble could be, if not halved, then at least lessened.
Dom ruminated on that as he drove back to the shop. Ben had been at the train station, truly intending to go to Sussex (and to someone so deeply entrenched in lies, a firm intention felt as much like the truth, sometimes). He'd nearly bolted at the sight of Viggo following Dom in, but a single word from Dom and he stayed. There was something deeply sad about that. Dom had been his employer, not his mentor, and had hardly exchanged more words with him than needed. How hard up for friendly faces did he have to be that he would trust his ex-employer of only two weeks over the chances of running?
In the end it turned out that the trouble he was in was petty, or had been, before he added forgery and theft to his list of sins. He'd thought that diverting a package full of drugs would be a quick way out of some small debts. When he opened the package and discovered that Viggo actually was an artist and realized that the book would be missed and sought after he panicked, decided to head home to his parents' house, and that was when it all turned into a farce, of negative balances on bank cards and no cash, and every small fuck up spiraling into a larger one.
Ben managed to convince Viggo that no one else had seen the package, and was so obviously miserable that Viggo had left it and wandered off to stare at the exposed buttressing in the station. At least, that was why Dom thought he wandered off, to give them some space--it was just as likely that Viggo was sincerely interested in train station architecture.
In the end Dom had bought Ben's ticket home to Sussex with the admonition that he come clean, if not about the theft then at least about the fact that he was hopelessly over his head living in London.
Once Ben was gone, Viggo had informed him that Dom would be bringing both of them to Crouch End to make the delivery, with Dom's apologies. Dom thought of his insurance premiums and swallowed his pride, making the journey to Islington with Viggo clinging to his back like a limpet.
And now he was on his way back to the shop, to relieve Liv of her dispatch duties. Except for the call from Ben the phone had rung not at all, and that was a testament to either her leadership capabilities, or the fact that there had been an utter mutiny. He steered the bike into its usual place near the arch door, compensating for the extra weight. As he stood up and stretched he realized that he might have asked Viggo where he lived, rather than bringing him back to the office.
"You said earlier today that you'd walked."
"I did." The street lamps were coming on, and in the thin orange light Dom could see a small vertical scar over Viggo's top lip. There was another small scar over his right eyebrow, and earlier Dom had noticed a scar on the web between his thumb and first finger, precisely the kind of scar one got from grabbing an assailant's hand during a knife attack, having the knife slip through their hand. Given all of those marks, and the fact that he'd apparently been openly smoking pot when handing off the package to Ben, it was no wonder that Ben had assumed the package was full of one thing and one thing only.
Who are you, why are you living in London, where did those scars come from, are we even now? Dom had a lot of questions that he wanted to ask, but only one came out when he opened his mouth.
"Where do you live?"
"Just up the road."
"Should have told me, I'd have given you a lift."
"We still have the matter of my loss to contend with."
Dom remained silent. They'd recovered the book, but Viggo had a point, in that he'd refunded his client the cost of the book itself. Then again, they'd broken into a flat at Viggo's insistence, so it already felt even to Dom.
"It is a loss of three hundred pounds, not to mention the time away from my work today."
"You did recover your package, which I believe was the object of the exercise of breaking into my employee's flat," Dom pointed out.
"You broke in as well, so there's no point in trying to leverage that on me," Viggo said. He turned his head and looked at the ground for just a moment, and Dom realized with a start that the corners of his eyes were crinkling; he was biting his lip. Dom almost laughed, with incredulity as much as anything else.
"Yeah, yeah, mutual assured destruction, all in a day's work for me," Dom said. "Get to the point. What do you want?"
"It's more like a prisoner's dilemma," Viggo murmured, but didn't elaborate, just shook himself a bit and looked at Dom once more. "I enjoyed working with you today."
"Thanks?" Dom usually prided himself on taking things in stride, but this was testing his limits.
"Come model for me. Two sittings. That's what I want."
Dom could feel the incredulous look on his own face, opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by a simple wave of Viggo's hand.
"Not like the book you saw today. Some portraits, some candid, maybe some action shots. Wear whatever you like, just your normal clothes. I need to update my portfolio and I don't have anyone like you in it."
The sudden sensation of being a butterfly pinned to a board hit him in the gut, and Dom almost refused outright.
"Anyone like me, what, from Manchester?" It was a weak cover for what he wanted to say. Like what, ugly? Skinny? Struggling? But there was no one word that would have covered all of that in any case.
Viggo laughed, a soft easy sound. "Age and gender," he said. "Will you?"
Dom thought about the woman in the book. She'd commissioned those photos-- it might not even be typical of his usual work. The third photo was the one that had stayed in his mind, not the shape of her body, but the expression on her face. If he were in front of Viggo's camera, even fully clothed, he might find out.
"Saturday, eight o-clock." Viggo handed him a card.
"In the morning?"
"Of course." He smiled. "It really was an interesting day."
"I'll give it that. Good night."
When he walked into the office he was greeted by the welcome sight of only Liv and Matt sitting at the desk. Liv was scanning the receipts while Matt talked, describing something with broad gestures. He stopped when Dom walked in.
"You made it back," Matt said. "I was waiting to be your one phone call from prison."
"Thanks very much, and what makes you think it would be you?"
"I'm your brother," Matt said, hand over his heart. "You wound me."
"I'd call Liv, at least I know she'd answer."
Liv just smiled and winked at him, still scanning.
"I've got to go anyway," Matt said, "just glad I was able to stick around long enough to make sure you were still alive and all."
"Ha ha," Dom said dryly. It had been an odd day, but not on par with his more youthful transgressions. Matt punched him in the shoulder as he walked by and Dom reeled comically, then sank into the chair next to the desk once Matt was gone.
"So?" Liv asked, after Dom had been silent for some time.
"Ben really is on his way to his parents' house. We got Viggo's package back. It was a book of his photographs. He's not taking a claim against the insurance, which is good. I agreed to model for him, to make up for the loss, because he gave his customer a refund on the book anyway."
"What kind of modeling?" Liv asked, her eyes searching his face as she gathered the papers up into a folder.
"Portraits, normal stuff." He smirked at her. "Your mind went there pretty fast Liv."
"He's a pretty intense guy."
"I noticed. If he'd stared at you any more I would have had words with him."
"Ooh!" She pretended to swoon as she stood up, grabbing his upper arm and squeezing as she grinned at him. "My hero."
"He was obvious. The creepy ones are the ones who can hide it. But you noticed him looking at you too."
Liv shrugged as she pulled on her jacket and gathered up the few belongings she had scattered around the desk. "It makes sense, that he'd look right at people if he's a photographer. But he was. You just didn't notice because your caveman instinct kicks in around me. It's cute."
"Just what every guy wants to hear." He stood by the door, ready to arm the alarm, then walked out with her as it beeped at them. "Liv, do you know what a prisoner's dilemma is?"
She nodded, speaking through the open visor on her helmet. "It's like a game, about how people cooperate. Two prisoners can either turn each other in, both insist that they're innocent, or one can insist that he's innocent and the other might turn him in. If they're both insisting that they're innocent, they still stay in jail for a week. If they both turn each other in then they stay in jail for a while, a few months, but if one insists that he's innocent while the other one turns him in, the one who said he was innocent stays in for a year. They don't know what the other person will say, so in the end they have to decide based on how much they trust the other person to go along with the right plan. If one person wins big then the other person loses a lot, or they can both win, or they can both lose just a little."
Dom nodded. "Viggo had mentioned it, like he thought I would know what it was." He tried to figure out where they fit in to that, given that the day hadn't deteriorated into them being actual prisoners.
"You were cagey tonight," she said as she walked away. "Tell me more tomorrow."
Any reply he might have made would have been drowned out in the starting of her engine, so he didn't bother, just shook his head as she drove away.
Dom was prompt on Saturday, despite the early hour, and found himself standing in front of a massive wooden door, looking up at the brick walls of a warehouse. There was a buzzer next to the door, but not an array of them, nothing to indicate that this was one of the many warehouses being converted to chic flats and studios. Dom thought of the plain wood floors and high ceilings in Viggo's photographs, craned his neck to see the panes of the windows. He pushed the buzzer, feeling the seconds stretch out as he waited for an answer.
"Yeah?" Viggo's voice, crackling through the speaker, sounded sleepy.
Another pause, and more crackling. "I'll come down and open the side door. Go to your right."
Dom walked down the alley on the right side of the building, a plain metal door opening just as he got near.
Viggo was holding it open, leaning forward, his thin shirt and bare feet unequal to the task of stepping out onto the pavement.
"Come on up. There's a lift but it takes forever." He ran up the concrete stairs, his feet slapping against the smooth surface of two flights while Dom tried to catch up. The metal door at the top of the steps opened on to the broad open space that Dom had seen in the photo book, stretching away the length of the building, but the width had been truncated by a room that had been built in to it, neat white walls closing in one corner of the building. Instead of a proper door, though, there was a duvet hung over the door-shaped opening. Viggo pushed it back and waved Dom inside.
"Home sweet home," he said as Dom looked around.
It was a bedsit, essentially, though bigger than most Dom had seen. A small sink and a cooktop in one corner, an unfolded futon covered in bright blankets and pillows in the other, and bookshelves lining every flat wall. Then there was the stuff in the middle of the room--an easel with a canvas, plywood cubes a metre to a side, beanbag chairs, an exercise ball, and a pile of canvas cloth that looked like it could have been a whole sail at one point. The only thing that seemed not part of the chaos was one tidy leather chair and a guitar stand next to it, an island of calm amongst what seemed to be a mess of props. There was no ceiling on the room, and it had been built around a corner where there were three tall windows, all without shades.
"It must get cold," Dom noted. He was fine, even a little warm, but he was still wearing his jacket.
"It does, sometimes. I've got enough sweaters to insulate the place myself if I had to." Viggo reached to the top of the nearest bookshelf and pulled one down. It was an off white cabled jumper, and it looked as if it had been knit from an entire yak. "My grandmother in Denmark has been sending me a sweater a year since I was a child." He tossed it to Dom who caught it, surprised at how light it actually was. "You can wear that one if you get cold. Take off your jacket and stay a while."
Dom set the jumper down on a cube and took his jacket off, looking around for a likely place to hang it, found none, and left it on the cube. He wasn't cool yet, but he sank his fingers into the jumper anyway, testing the fabric. Viggo was busy at the cooktop, measuring out coffee, humming to himself as if he were alone.
Every time Viggo spoke, Dom realized, it didn't answer any questions, but rather opened up new ones. He tried to formulate a question that would sound polite enough but still render some kind of answer.
"Do you have a lot of family in Denmark?" There, polite, and without the tinge of where are you from that he'd been trying to avoid.
"My mother's mother, and her sisters, and my mother's brother, his wife and their children, and some of my mother's cousins.. A fair amount." The coffee started percolating, the dark scent filling the air, making the room feel warmer, somehow.
Dom cast about for his next move. Where are your father's family was too potentially fraught.
Viggo spoke again, saving him, his voice clear even as he rummaged through a cupboard, his back to Dom. "The rest of my family all live in western New York state, but I grew up mostly in Argentina." He found the box he'd been looking for, emerging and looking back over his shoulder at Dom. "We lived on a sheep farm. The year I was sixteen my mother's mother came to visit us for the winter, and that sweater is knit with wool from the sheep."
"Wow." Dom lifted the jumper, looking at it more carefully. "There's probably not another one like it in the world." A handknit Danish sweater, made for an American, out of Argentinian sheep, had to be unique.
Viggo was in front of him suddenly, taking it from his hands. "It's held up well, too." He turned it over and ran his fingers over a section near the bottom where the yarn looked brighter white than the rest of it. "About six years ago I caught it on a fence, and I couldn't quite find yarn to match."
"You fixed it?"
Viggo nodded, already wandering away again. Dom had a sudden urge to don the jumper, just beginning to feel chilled, but he set it aside and wandered towards the bookshelf.
The books looked almost as if Viggo had just bought them by weight and color, an odd array of subjects mixed with fiction, literature and paperbacks; even the languages were mixed together. He wasn't surprised to see a handful of novels in Spanish, but couldn't keep his hands to himself when he came to a section of the shelf that held novels in Norwegian fonts. He pulled one down, a hardcover book with a binding like a library might have, a simple sentimental picture of a girl walking through a flower-filled field, and all of the words full of consonants and o's slashed through like do-not-enter signs.
Dom heard a sound like a click and a sigh near his head and turned around, only to see Viggo standing quite near him with a camera.
"Those were my mother's. She gets rid of a few more every time she moves."
"Can you read them?" Dom heard the question form in his own mouth instead of the question he was really thinking about, which was how long have you been taking my picture? He reached up and touched the edge of his ear, wondering if Viggo had gotten off any of the shots so that his ears would look like jug handles from the back.
"I can. And as for the other, I've been photographing you since you put my sweater down."
Dom didn't even bother to ask how Viggo would have known what his question would be. He knew that he touched his ears, a fairly obvious tell.
"Thought I was supposed to be posing for you."
"I had mentioned candid shots." Viggo smiled, not apologetic. "But if you'd prefer to pose for me, by all means, go ahead."
Dom turned away rather than challenge him, rather than ask what is that supposed to mean, knowing that Viggo would just tell him that it meant just what he'd said.
"Is that what all this stuff is for?" He started wandering around the cubes and other obstacles. "It's like a small animal habitat in here."
"Less sawdust on the floor, surely," Viggo said, snapping a picture of him stepping up on to a cube.
Dom shifted his weight to one edge, letting the cube rock on to one edge, let it teeter back before he jumped down. From the clicking sounds emanating from Viggo's camera he must have taken a dozen photos, but when he turned around the camera was held loosely against his hip.
"You're not even looking," he said.
"I don't always have to." Viggo set the camera down on a beanbag, pressing it in so there was no chance of it rolling away. Dom busied himself at the bookshelf again as Viggo returned to the kitchen, pouring coffee. Out of the corner of his eye Dom could see two mugs, felt relieved that he wouldn't have to ask. Viggo didn't seem to be the consummate host, after all, and Dom wasn't really a guest as much as a temporary employee.
"I've got some oats but I don't really want to make them," Viggo said, leaning against the worktop. "Haven't really got any other breakfast food in other than cookies."
"A cookie is a breakfast food?" Dom had been waiting to be offered the coffee, but Viggo apparently felt that its presence on the worktop was invitation enough. He walked over and looked over the worktop briefly.
"I didn't offer you milk because I don't have any."
"Sugar?" Dom asked, hopefully.
"I think so." Viggo opened a drawer and rummaged about through what sounded like a variety of utensils, and pulled out a battered flat white box, about the size of a package of cigarettes, and handed it over.
Dom opened it carefully, expecting it to be full of sugar, but it felt as though it were full of small rocks. He tipped the box carefully into his palm, and out slid a solid maple sugar sweet, the granules pressed into the shape of a leaf.
"Care package from home," Viggo said, taking the box and shaking another leaf and a good quantity of sugar granules into Dom's palm as well before taking the box and shaking the crumbs that were left into his own mouth. "It's maple sugar."
"Yeah, I figured. If this is the last of it you can," he held his hand out.
"No, it's fine, I've got more somewhere. Put them in your coffee, they'll melt."
Dom dropped the lumps in, leaving his palm covered in sugar. While he waited for them to dissolve he brought his hand up to his mouth, tried to quickly lick off the sticky mess, but it was tenacious, and when he looked up Viggo was taking his picture again.
"Cookies are a fine breakfast food because if you eat them first thing in the morning, you've broken your fast. Hence, breakfast food." Viggo spoke as if there'd been no intervening time at all. "Or a biscuit, if you prefer."
"I think I'll be full up on sugar, now," Dom said, taking the spoon that Viggo handed him. He licked it off, running the warm metal between his lips as if he were in his own home and he sighed with resignation as he set the spoon on the counter, realising that Viggo had surely taken his picture in that moment too..
"I told you, these are regular photos, for my portfolio. Nothing else."
"I know." But my mind keeps going there. He tried to banish the thought.
Viggo sank down on to the floor gracefully, moving easily in worn jeans. He cradled the camera in his hands as he looked up.
"What does it taste like?"
"Coffee and sugar. It's sweet."
"I mean, maple. What does it taste of?"
Dom sipped his coffee, tried to separate out the taste of the sugar from the bitter silk of the coffee itself.
"It tastes of maple," he said, realizing that he'd never had to compare it to anything before, not that it was a taste he'd encountered often. He sipped again. "It's sweet, but the sweetness is stronger at the back of my mouth." He kept drinking. "It's a bit like toffee, but not salty. It's like butter but it's not oily. It reminds me of vanilla but it doesn't taste of vanilla." He drank until there was a thick sludge of the sugar at the bottom of the mug. He tilted his head back and drained it, let the grains sit on his tongue for a second, filling his mouth with the indefinable taste, until the sweetness made his mouth water so much that there was no choice other than to swallow it down.
Viggo was smiling at him when he looked down, but a different smile this time, softer, no teeth.
"What does it taste of?" Dom asked. "How do you describe it?"
Viggo shrugged, leaning back on his hands, in no hurry to stand up. "I don't know. I just wanted you to be thinking about something other than me for a while."
"It worked." Dom moved around the room again, meandering through the cubes and the beanbags, tried a silly walk, then walked from cube to cube, stretching, at one point, to avoid the floor. He over corrected and teetered on a cube, looked up to see Viggo not two feet away.
"And you've finally begun posing." At some point, when Dom hadn't been looking, he'd put on a thick green jumper and a pair of trainers.
"Am I posing, or has the carpet become hot lava?" He jumped down, tilted his head as if considering. "I am not burning up, so I guess I was posing."
"Right." Viggo walked away, through the duvet door and out into the open warehouse. Dom grabbed the jumper and followed.
It was cool enough in the open space that he pulled the jumper on immediately. It hadn't seemed to smell of anything when he had been holding it, but there was a subtle sense of being wrapped up in Viggo, once he put it on, something like warm, clean wool, tobacco, and freshly cut lumber.
He was shorter than Viggo, and the jumper went halfway to his knees, the sleeves dangling over his fingers. He wrapped his hands up in the cuffs, and wandered towards the window.
His first impulse on getting to the space was to follow Viggo, but there was a long lens on the camera, and besides, Viggo could follow him. He stepped up on to the broad brick sill of the window, nearly his whole body fitting into the indentation in the wall. The panes of glass were too warped and dirty to allow for the illusion that he was standing on the edge of the building itself, but in a way, he reflected, he was, and the distortion of the adjacent building and the alley below was mesmerizing. He held on to the sides of the bricks lightly, the wool over his fingers catching on the rough surface, and moved his head back and forth slowly, watching the world undulate.
He was startled back to the present by a hand on his belt, pulling him back, Viggo gripping him through the layers of the jumper to bring him down off the sill.
"The windows are old," he said, the softness of his voice in contrast to the strength of his hand, still gripping Dom's belt, jeans tight against his hips, as if Viggo were trying to hold him down to the floor. For a moment Dom thought Viggo was going to pull him backwards, Dom's back into his chest, but he let go just as Dom was leaning into the anticipated movement, and Dom wound up stumbling as he turned around.
"I know what you were doing. It's easy to get dizzy, fall forward. I don't know if they would hold you." Viggo reached out and pressed against the sash, and they listened to it creak in the quiet room.
Viggo nodded and walked away and Dom fought that urge to follow him, fought a stronger urge to reach back to where he could still feel the imprint of Viggo's knuckles against his lower back, sure that even with his back turned Viggo would see him.
Even though the room was empty the sheer space and size of it was enough to hold Dom's interest for some minutes. The wooden boards of the floor were worn, and looked burnt in some places, or soaked with oil. He looked at the marks as he walked, trying to imagine the machines that had been there, or the pallets that were stored there at one point, maybe not so long ago. He looked back at Viggo's little room, jutting out into the void, looking like an installation in an art museum itself.
"Is this whole space yours?"
"In a manner of speaking. It's mine until someone else actually pays for it."
"What about your flat, do they mind that you've built a flat in their warehouse?"
"No, and it's not as if I live there. It's strictly a studio. I may fall asleep from time to time if I'm working, or fix myself a cup of tea, but it's just a studio."
"So where do you live?"
"In there." Viggo nodded towards the room they'd just been speaking of. "But it's not a habitable space, according to health and safety. So to keep everyone happy, I say that I don't."
"Dangerous game for someone like you," Dom said.
"Like me?" Viggo stood near one of the north-facing windows and beckoned to him.
"You're an American. You can't just squat in a warehouse forever. You'll be caught, eventually."
"You seem sure of yourself." He pointed at the windowsill, and Dom sat down, his legs stretched in front of himself.
"You're not worried?"
"I've got friends in big open spaces." He laughed at his own joke, a low rumble with no mystery to it, just easy mirth. "Alright. Now I'm going to tell you what to do. Put your hands out to your sides, right, lean back a bit--don't touch the glass."
Dom posed the way Viggo asked, moving through the motions he described easily, his mind drifting. He thought about work, his bike, the strange week. He put his arms over his head and wrapped his fingers around the sash on the window, stretching, feeling the paint crumble under his fingertips, and thought of Ben, wondering if his parents had taken him in with the same loving resignation that his parents had, once long ago.
Viggo told him to lean forward, elbows bent on knees, hands clasped. Dom recognized the pose in his mind's eye, typical for actors in their over-the-interview shot. He looked up when he was told, dared to think of himself as potentially handsome, felt the corner of his mouth quirk at the thought.
"Bend your back," Viggo said. "Your shoulders are near your ears." Dom tried to comply, but only made it worse.
Viggo stood in front of him, leaned over and pressed one hand in the middle of his back, one on his shoulder, and pushed. Dom felt his shoulders move back, his chest forward, chin coming up too, a posture he'd never assumed on his own.
"Right. Look at me." Dom could feel the question on his face, the peaked brow. "Take a deep breath. Sigh." When he did he turned his head, looking towards the window at the opposite end of the room, and felt his spine relax as he was no longer oriented straight forward, as if he were about to run towards a fight.
He let his mind wander again. The mad week, Ben's apartment, the expression that he still hadn't figured out.
"Stand up." Dom did, waited for more instructions, but Viggo stood before him, moving him gently until he was turned to the side in front of the window. Viggo's fingers beneath his chin were cool, tilting his face up. He tried to be pliant, loose, but the way his neck moved was wrong, and Viggo wound up smoothing his hands over Dom's shoulders, trying to move them down again.
"Look, like this," Viggo said, not touching him this time, but standing so close that Dom could feel his breath on his face. Viggo was taller so he had to look up, tilting his head, nearly bumping his nose against Viggo's chin.
"Yes, like that," Viggo said, holding his arm out to the side to take the photo, just as Dom smiled, pleased by the simple praise.
Viggo stepped away, carefully, his murmured instructions clear, don't move, keep looking up. Dom could still see the barest outline of Viggo's face in his persistence of vision, green afterimage clearer on the side closest to the window's clear pale light. He moved only to breathe deeply, feeling his lips part when he sighed, an expression he'd never felt on his own face settling in like a mask as he waited for Viggo to say that he was done.
It was a pose, but easily held, easier than balancing on a tilting cube, easier than staying balanced on the cusp between awake and asleep, though it felt something like the same. His vision nearly whited out, snapping back into color only when Viggo was standing in front of him again, hand on his chin now because Viggo was worried, not adjusting him.
"Thought you were about to faint."
"No, I just figured something out, something I've been thinking about for a while." He'd felt it-- he'd been wearing the woman's expression on his own face, and it was... he searched for the fleeting feeling that he'd had in that moment. A sort of guarded hope, happiness, anticipation of something new, and good, tempered with the knowledge that it might not be easy. He shook his head a little, feeling his chin rub against Viggo's thumb. That wasn't quite right, was it, too much explanation, in the end, but the best he could do.
Viggo slid his hand along Dom's jaw until he was cupping the back of his head, still looked worried.
"What did you figure out?"
Dom looked at Viggo, who kept staring at him, worried, yes, but not only about the bother if Dom should faint, really, properly worried, though the worry was fading as Dom kept standing upright. Viggo's eyes were roaming over Dom's face, as if he were mapping it, as if it were really something worthy of regard.
Dom tried one more time to recall the expression on the woman's face, but it was fading now, overwritten by the image in his mind's eye of his own face, and the newer realization that Viggo, while intense, was not static in his own expressions. He opened his mouth but the words weren't there.
"What is it, Dom?"
Dom huffed out a short laugh, said the thing that came closest, even if it wasn't quite right.
"I think I just figured out that a picture is worth a thousand words."
Viggo laughed too, one soft breath, slid his hand up to the back of Dom's head and pulled him slightly forward, gently tapping their foreheads together before he stepped back.
"And that's you done for today.
Back in the little flat Dom accepted a glass of water, thirsty as if he'd been doing actual work, and his jacket. Viggo ushered him to the door, and Dom tried not to show how reluctant he was to go.
"Come back next week, same time. We'll go to the park, do some external shots. I might even have some food in next time."
"Good, yeah, I'll see you then."
Dom felt the tumultuous yet light jumble of words and thoughts welling up in him as he bounded down the stairs, his mind trying to define more than it was able. He tried to let go of that need to name it, tried to just feel it, a sort of giddy excitement that he tamped down as he got on his bike.
He focused on the road the whole way home, only realized when he was hanging up his jacket that he was still wearing Viggo's jumper.
I've still got your jumper on, he texted, wondering how he hadn't felt the extra bulk as he drove home.
He wandered around his kitchen, realizing that it wasn't much better stocked than Viggo's. He decided on cheese on toast, was cutting the moldy end off of a block of cheddar when his phone chimed.
I saw. Come by tomorrow.
Dom stared at the text. I saw. And he'd let him leave with it.
Dom wrote. Was it that you wanted to know if I was a thief, or that you wanted me to have a reason to come back? His thumb hovered over the key to send the text, not entirely sure that he wanted the answer. He erased it and wrote 9 o clock. It'll be Sunday, need a bit of a lie in.
The response was swift.
See you then.