Disclaimer: This is a complete work of fiction, no disrespect intended.
Notes: For the 2004 Lotrips 'zine, organized and edited by angstslashhope. AU, OT3, and after all this time I still treasure it as something special.
Orlando’s the one to catch him, when he makes it halfway up the steps of the trailer and stumbles, hands moving much too slowly to stop his fall. Strong arms catch him under his armpits, pull him back to his feet and hold him steady.
“Jesus Christ, Elijah!”
Orlando’s chest is warm where Elijah rests his head against it, and he shivers, clutches at Orlando’s shirtsleeves. Orlando keeps one arm around his waist for support, the other holding the door open as he steers them both through it. “Dom!” he yells, and the sound reverberates through Elijah’s throbbing head, sending zings of pain into his eyes and cheekbones, stabbing at his temples. “Get in here!”
“What’s up?” Dom’s voice filters through the haze of vibration, and a moment later Billy’s echoes it, followed by a question that Elijah misses because Orlando tries to get him to sit and Elijah can’t make his legs cooperate.
“Elijah’s sick, can you call someone and let them know? He’s on the same shoot as you guys today, right?”
“Yeah, we’ve still got a couple of hours…” Dom’s voice fades, and Elijah squeezes his eyes shut, tries to close them tight against the exploding starbursts of red and blue behind his eyelids.
“Has he got a fever?” Billy asks, and Elijah makes a noise when a cool hand attaches itself to his forehead, but can’t conjure up any actual words.
“Yeah. How long do you guys have…?”
Elijah tunes out the voices, concentrates on ignoring the pain in his head and the ache all over his body. The couch is rough against his skin, scratching his bare forearms and the gap around his waist where his t-shirt and low-riding jeans don’t quite meet.
“Here,” someone murmurs, and Elijah pries his eyes open for long enough to see Billy carefully offering a teacup full of steaming liquid. “Tea,” Billy explains, as if concerned that Elijah won’t be able to make the connection for himself, and normally Elijah would be fairly pissed at that but right now he’s just grateful.
“We have to go,” Dom chimes in impatiently from the doorway, and he’s fidgeting the way he does when he’s not sure what to do. Elijah knows it only means Dom cares and is concerned, but can’t summon up the energy to reassure him.
“I can stay for another half-hour,” Orlando says. “He’ll be sleeping by then. We can take him to yours after filming ends for the day, yeah?” Elijah weakly summons up his filming schedule and realizes that after today they’re all off until Monday, which means that he has exactly three days to beat whatever this is.
“Yours,” Billy suggests, somewhere close to Elijah’s ear. Elijah doesn’t look up; keeps his eyes firmly focused on the tea to keep it from spilling over his shaking hands. “It’s bigger, you have that guest room…”
“Fine,” Orlando says, and then there’s an exchange that Elijah misses, flurry of whispers and protests. Dom and Orlando, most likely, they can’t be together without some sort of friction, and Billy’s voice soothing and suggesting. The tea jumps in Elijah’s cup, ripples and laps at its confines. “Fucking find him a blanket, will you?” Orlando snaps, and Elijah remembers belatedly that they’re in one of the communal hobbit trailers, and that Orlando doesn’t know his way around it as well as the rest of them do.
“Here.” Billy again, bless him, and Orlando lifts the teacup from Elijah’s unresisting hands to place it on the coffee table and wrap him in a musty afghan that Elijah’s never seen before but is sure someone brought from home. Elijah expresses his appreciation by clutching at it and falling sideways, curling into the corner of the couch.
“Should probably call the hospital, or the med unit,” Dom is saying, but Orlando countermands that with, “later,” and Elijah’s gratitude doubles.
“I’ll stay with him. It’s probably just a bug. Meet you here after, okay?”
There’s a chorus of goodbyes and plans and instructions, and then the door shuts and everything is blessedly quiet. Elijah presses his face into the arm of the couch and lapses into unconsciousness.
“’Lijah,” someone calls, and it’s got a patient, amused ring to it, as if this is the fourth or fifth time they’ve tried to get his attention. He manages to get one eye open, just enough to make out Dom, blurry and grinning, and then he grunts and tries to burrow further beneath the blanket.
Dom’s laugh is low and rumbling, and warms Elijah as much as the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He loves being the one to make Dom laugh, loves the connection they seem to have that surpasses words.
“’Lijah, come on. Up. You can sleep in the car.” Dom plucks the blanket from his hands, and the cold air hits his body like a slap. He makes a little confused vocalization of protest, and Orlando suddenly enters the picture, yanking the blanket from Dom’s hands and wrapping it around Elijah.
“Don’t do that, we have to keep him warm,” Orlando says, and if Elijah could resurface for long enough to focus, he would try to figure out what was putting the irritation in Orlando’s tone. Not just Dom, not just Elijah. Something else has gotten under his skin, to make him lash out like that.
“He’s sweating,” Dom says, and “he has a fever, you cunt,” Orlando replies, and then both of them retreat to the other side of the room and Billy is helping Elijah. It shouldn’t be this much of a chore to stand, and the journey to Billy’s car is positively epic in proportion. Elijah tries to explain to them, halfway there, that he’s given up and is going to sleep right on the ground because it’s easier than trying to walk, but he can’t put enough words together for them to understand, or even pay attention.
“Take him to the hospital,” Dom says again, and Elijah expresses his disapproval of this idea by squeezing Dom’s arm as hard as he can and refusing to walk until Dom relents. Yet again, Elijah is grateful that the two of them can communicate without words. It makes arguing much easier.
“We’ll take him tomorrow, if it gets any worse,” Billy soothes, and Elijah allows himself to be bundled into the car, secure in the belief that Billy won’t put him through the indignities of a hospital visit and all of the subsequent treatments and examinations that come along with one.
He blanks out, lulled by the vibrations of the engine and the underscoring of the radio, and only wakes up when Billy opens his door and talks to him, a steady stream of words that Elijah tries to focus on and as a result misses the trial of walking from the car to the house, where he is promptly taken by Orlando down the hall to the guest room.
He kicks his shoes off, with a bit of help from Billy, and shivers during the transfer from warm blanket to cold sheets, but the coolness of the pillow under his cheek is actually a relief. He abruptly wants Dom, wants his awkwardness and inability to do anything useful, but it’s Orlando who tucks him in, and strokes sweaty strands of hair from his hot forehead.
“Just get some sleep, okay, ’Lij?” Orlando tells him, and then the light clicks off and the door creeps shut, and the murmur of voices down the hallway isn’t enough to hold him, to keep him from falling back into the emptiness of sleep.
He wakes up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and with a mouth that tastes like wadded cotton, disoriented and confused. His body hurts, heavy ache in his legs and arms and a stabbing, throbbing pain in his back, just beneath his shoulder blades. Orlando is suddenly there, blinking sleepily in the unexpected light from the bedside lamp, eyes dark and concerned.
“What’s wrong, Elijah?” he asks, and Elijah doesn’t know, can’t say, can only curl up harder and shake. Orlando’s weight shifts the mattress as he sinks onto the bed, touches the back of his hand to Elijah’s damp forehead. “Fever hasn’t broken yet,” he informs Elijah tiredly, and then his hand absently tucks a strand of lank hair back over Elijah’s ear. “Do you need anything?”
Elijah shakes his head, but changes his mind almost immediately and croaks, “water,” with a sleep-fuzzed tongue.
“Yeah,” Orlando answers, and then he gets up, bed shifting again with his absence, and Elijah waits for a moment or two before he gives up the fight and starts to drift. “Here you go,” Orlando’s voice reaches him, somewhere in murky gray depths, and he struggles back to waking. The water is cool, and Orlando actually holds it for him while he drinks. Elijah can’t imagine being this sick with anyone else, except for maybe his mother. Or Billy.
He protests when Orlando gets up again, and when Orlando asks if he wants more water, his arm ventures beyond the cocoon of blankets to reach out. “You.”
Orlando laughs, and Elijah almost manages a smile in response, although his eyes won’t open to see if Orlando is looking at him. “I’m not going to bed with you while you’re in this shape,” Orlando tells him, and Elijah can’t make all of those words fit together, can’t hold onto more than one or two at a time so he chooses ‘you’ and ‘bed’ and renews his attempt to bring Orlando’s warmth back, to wrap around and hold him. He wants more than the warmth, he wants Orlando, but that’s something else he doesn’t have the energy to think about now.
“You’re going to make me sick, doodle,” he hears Orlando sigh, but then the mattress shifts again, gentle bounce as Orlando settles behind him, laying on top of the covers with one arm resting securely over Elijah’s torso, and if he had Dom to hold onto this would be perfect; which is an odd thought, but one that rings true.
He wants to say ‘thank you,’ but he can’t stay awake long enough to remember how.
“Ridiculous,” someone says, Dom’s voice, and Elijah forces himself to wake up enough to hear what’s being said. His eyelids feel as if they’re being held down by weights, and it’s hard to get them all the way open but he manages, blinks blearily at Dom and Orlando in the doorway.
“Shh, you’ll wake…” Orlando starts, and then glances over at Elijah and doesn’t finish. He crosses to the bed instead, settles on the side and says quietly, “hey, you.”
“Hey, me,” Elijah answers, because he’s tired in spite of having just woken up, and because it makes the worry-creases on Orlando’s forehead soften and smooth out when he smiles.
“How’re you feeling?” Orlando asks, and while Elijah takes a moment to stretch and think about it, Dom comes over to hover awkwardly at Orlando’s shoulder. They’re almost never far apart, even when they probably should be. They look good together, comfortable, and that makes Elijah’s head throb with something unidentified and aching.
“Hurts,” Elijah states truthfully. “And cold.” He’s stopped shivering, though, which is a relief because his muscles are exhausted from trembling. His shoulders burn, and he rolls carefully to the side to keep pressure off of them, ignoring the bright spark of pain that makes itself known when he moves.
“Billy should be coming over soon,” Orlando informs him, and his hand makes the now-expected trip to touch Elijah’s forehead, gauge his temperature. “Feel like moving to the couch? We’re here to entertain you.”
“Being sick is more fun with mates, right?” Dom says, and Elijah smiles weakly and nods. Dom’s eyes watch him, dark and unreadable, and Elijah would reach out for him if Orlando wasn’t standing right there, being considerate and helpful, and if he knew what would happen if he did reach. He thinks that Dom would understand, maybe even better than Elijah himself does right now.
“Up you get then,” Orlando decides, gently slapping Elijah’s rump through layers of covers, just as they hear the front door opening and Billy’s voice calls, “Orlando?”
“In here, be out in a minute,” Orlando calls back, and then he gets up and pulls Dom with him to the door. “The bathroom’s right across the hall, we’ll give you a minute, all right? Yell if you need anything.” Dom hangs back for a moment, looking lost and worried, but Elijah smiles reassuringly and he finally leaves. It’s more of a loss than a relief, but Elijah shrugs that thought off and concentrates on his own mobility.
The bathroom isn’t hard to maneuver, and neither is the hallway, but when he reaches down to pick up the blanket on the couch something pulls at the skin and muscle of his back and sends spangles of red-white pain through his entire body. Billy is at his side instantly, asking what’s wrong, and Elijah can’t say anything because his teeth are clenched against the agony in his back and his vision is swimming disturbingly in and out.
“Here, let him lie down,” Orlando offers, and then there are two sets of hands on him, and one presses against his shoulders to support him and Elijah screams.
“What the fuck?” Dom yells, and Elijah whimpers when Orlando lets go and Billy eases him onto the couch. There are tears stinging his eyes, and his back is on fire.
“I don’t know, what did I do?” Orlando answers, and Elijah shuts his eyes and curls up, trying to ignore the fact that he’s cold while he concentrates on riding out the pain.
“Nothing, you just touched him…God, he’s soaked through, grab another shirt, will you?” Billy’s voice is calm and unperturbed, giving orders as if this were an everyday occurrence. Sturdy, reliable Billy. His fingers comb through Elijah’s hair briefly, and then there’s nothing for a handful of seconds before Orlando returns.
“Here,” Orlando says, and Billy coaxes Elijah’s sluggish limbs into responding so that he can slide Elijah’s damp t-shirt over his head. Billy lets him go for a second, and Elijah feels the sickening pull and stretch of skin when he leans back into the couch.
“Shite, there’s blood on this,” Dom says, and Orlando’s startled “what?” overlaps with Billy’s, “give that here.”
Elijah feels nauseous, and almost considers getting up and trying to make it to the bathroom when Billy’s hands settle, cool and confident, over his shoulders. “Lean forward, ’Lijah,” Billy commands, and Elijah follows the urging of his hands, bends over and feels air circulating against his skin instead of uncomfortable, itchy fabric.
“Holy fuck,” someone breathes, and then Elijah settles against Billy’s chest as one of the hands leaves his shoulders and reaches back. Something moves against his left shoulder, brush-tickle-sting, and then…
The pain takes him completely by surprise, ten times worse than the ache residing in his body up to this point. He screams again, drowning out the chorus of exclamations from those around him, and unceremoniously blacks out.
“…can’t do anything for him,” is the first thing that enters his conscious brain, and the pain has receded to a dull burn now; he’s almost numb. Which is a surprise, so he wakes up a little more to take stock of himself physically. He’s lying on his stomach, with a pillow stuffed beneath his head and another under his chest, and there’s a cold weight pressing down on his back.
“…going to freak,” is the next bit he catches, followed by someone else saying, “Who said they have to know?”
“We can’t keep this a secret,” someone says, and that’s Dom, Elijah can tell by the deep rumble of his voice and the sarcastic edge to his tongue. Something has ruffled Dom’s feathers, apparently, and that would make Elijah frown if he weren’t so curious about the subject of their conversation.
“Why not?” Orlando asks hotly, and Billy says something too quiet for Elijah to hear; he only catches the tone of it, placating and patient.
“Well, we obviously can’t take him to the hospital like this,” Orlando rejoins, and now he just sounds tired, deflated, as if Billy’s words, whatever they were, have sapped his energy and will to fight. Elijah hates that tone of voice, so he rouses himself, shifts enough to get his arms beneath him and tries to push up.
“Elijah, hang on, you can’t…” Orlando tells him, and there’s a hand on the back of his neck, gentle but firm. “Don’t move or you’ll upset the ice packs.”
That explains the numbness, then. And the cold. Elijah blinks and cranes his neck until Billy drops into his line of sight, kneeling beside the couch. “Elijah, we have something to tell you,” he says slowly, and then looks up to something outside of Elijah’s field of vision, which Elijah supposes must be Orlando, since he speaks next.
“It’s more that we…well, I mean, it’s nothing to get upset over…”
“Certainly not,” Billy says, and gives Elijah his most sincere look, the one that Pippin has used to get out of untold numbers of scrapes over the course of his childhood. Elijah watches him suspiciously, all-too-familiar with Pippin feigning innocence.
“The thing is…” Orlando starts, and then hesitates. Elijah moves restlessly, feels water from the warming ice packs trickle down his spine to the small of his back. Dom is apparently out of patience, because there’s a muttered oath and Billy is elbowed out of the way to make room.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Dom snaps as he perches on the coffee table, eyes narrowed in annoyance and challenge. “Elijah, you have wings.”
Elijah drifts for a while, thinking and not-thinking, keeping his eyes closed to pretend sleep while he works things out in his own head. The others wisely give him space, respecting his chosen reaction to Dom’s outburst by tiptoeing around the house and talking quietly over lunch.
Elijah ignores the offer of sandwiches when it comes, even though it’s Dom who’s offering, and of the three of them, Elijah thinks that he can actually stand to deal with Dom, who is keeping a level head and not trying to coddle or protect him. They have a silent conversation which consists of Dom arching an eyebrow and Elijah closing his eyes, and Dom shrugging when he reopens them. Dom can’t help, and Elijah doesn’t want to deal with it right now. End of conversation.
His immediate mental response to the news was ‘no, I don’t,’ followed by the instinct to reach back and prove that his denial was justified, but he knows better than that. They wouldn’t lie to him about something like this, no matter how amusing a practical joke it might be.
And there is something wrong back there, he can still feel the pain – split skin? – concentrated right under his shoulder blades. He experimentally rolls them once and nearly blacks out again, breaking into a sweat when the aftereffects of that little trial stab knives into his torso. And something else stretches and moves; just a fraction, but he can still feel it. Maybe not something wrong, but definitely something different.
Billy leaves after another hour or so. Elijah can’t tell, can’t keep track of time with so much else crowding his head. Billy pauses to change the ice packs and check Elijah’s temperature on his way out, careful not to disturb him even though Elijah’s sure Billy knows he’s faking. “Fever’s broken,” he says softly. “Must have been antibodies, fighting the…”
And then he stops, and Elijah fills in for him. Wings. Because he needs to start thinking it, if he’s ever going to be able to actually deal with it. He doesn’t think that Billy has reached the point of being able to deal with it quite yet. Elijah has little sympathy for him, but suspects that Billy is going to go home and get thoroughly wasted, and wishes him well in that endeavor.
Dom and Orlando talk in the background, a murmuring undercurrent to Elijah’s thoughts that he tunes out. He can guess easily enough that they are talking about him, but he doesn’t particularly care what they have to say. He’s the one who needs to be dealing with this, not them. They won’t have to live with it. With them. The wings.
He starts to fall asleep eventually, and somewhere on the periphery of his awareness he hears the rumble of Dom’s voice get closer, feels the press of light disappear from his closed eyelids, accompanied by the click of a nearby lamp. “He’s asleep,” Dom says softly, and it’s close enough to the truth that Elijah doesn’t bother to contradict him. He doesn’t want to be moved, anyway.
“Do you mind if I use the guest room?” Dom asks, and he sounds wearier than Elijah expected. Other people wear on Dom, sometimes. But not usually Elijah. And not Orlando.
“I’d need to change the sheets,” Orlando says, and Elijah thinks, right, blood, but it doesn’t make him feel ill like it did before.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it,” Dom replies, and then there’s a hushed pause before Orlando speaks again.
“You don’t have to,” he says, and some part of Elijah knows that tone, has wished for it to be turned on him for more nights than he cares to think about.
There’s a long silence, punctuated only by the rustle of fabric, and it’s fairly clear what’s going on, Elijah doesn’t need to open his eyes to see. And he doesn’t want to, isn’t ready for that on top of this, can’t understand how they could throw all of this at him at once and expect him to be able to handle it.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Orlando asks, hushed and breathing harder than he was a moment ago, and Elijah tries not to hear but can’t shut them out entirely.
“What did you want me to say?” Dom returns, and then there’s more of that silence-that-isn’t, because Elijah is listening to it, and you can’t listen to silence.
“Come to bed with me,” Orlando breathes at last, and Elijah wants to scream in frustration because those words should be for him, from either one of them, should be his, and won’t be, now.
“Elijah…” Dom whispers, and for a single, horrible second Elijah can’t tell whether he’s being given as a preference or an excuse. But then Orlando hushes Dom, and the rustling of clothing and anticipatory breathing fades away from him, down the hall.
He bites down on the pillow and flexes his shoulders, tears of pain driving away any of regret. He listens to the bedroom door shut and makes himself fall asleep before he can hear them moan.
When Elijah wakes up again, there’s sunlight filtering through the curtains and the steady twittering of songbirds outside the window. He takes a few minutes to run through the events of the day before, to evaluate himself physically and mentally, before gingerly pushing himself up onto his hands and knees and stepping off of the couch.
He realizes he’s famished, and heads straight for the kitchen before realizing that his center of balance is off slightly from where it should be. He staggers, catches himself on the back of the couch after overcompensating, and makes a detour to the bathroom, curiosity and apprehension – mixed with what feels suspiciously like the buoyancy of anticipation – driving him in front of the mirror.
Orlando’s bedroom door is closed, so he assumes that Dom and Orlando are still asleep. Which isn’t really a surprise, considering that they were probably up late…which isn’t something he wants to be thinking about, he needs to turn it should have been me into at least they have each other, but it’s just too hard right now. Maybe later, after he gets some distance and stops feeling so light-headed and turbulent. Maybe after he deals with his own feelings and whatever the hell is happening to his body. One thing at a time.
He turns around and cranes his neck, and there’s… something… there, but it’s hard to see what. He rifles through the medicine cabinet, upsetting bottles and rearranging Orlando’s personal items, but comes up empty-handed. Finally, he slams a hand down on the counter in frustration and pants, fighting not to let the breaths turn into sobs even though he’s certain that he’s earned them by this point.
“Here,” someone says softly behind him, and Elijah jerks his head up to meet Orlando’s eyes in the mirror. Elijah turns around, conscious of how close Orlando’s body is in the small space, shirtless and nearly pressed against Elijah’s, a hand mirror held out in offering. Elijah takes it, holds it up over his shoulder and tilts until he can see, and then he just stares.
“They’re something, aren’t they?” Dom says, and Elijah tears his eyes away to see Dom lounging, bare-chested and scruffy and unrepentant, in the open doorway.
“They’re black,” he answers stupidly, and Orlando laughs.
“What colour did you think they would be?” he asks, and Elijah shakes his head and goes back to looking in the mirror, at the tiny tufts of feathers emerging from the rough, reddened skin.
“I don’t know,” he says honestly. “I never thought about it.”
Elijah turns to face the mirror, to face himself in the mirror, and Orlando leans forward, resting his hands on Elijah’s hips and his chin carefully on Elijah’s shoulder. “They’re amazing,” he says, and Elijah just looks into his own eyes, trying to see if he can spot any changes.
There’s nothing, only the same face he’s seen in the mirror every day of his life, the same eyes. It’s Orlando who’s different, a little, when Elijah meets his eyes again in the mirror. Sparkling. Dom’s not looking at them in the mirror, but Elijah knows he would see the same thing in Dom’s eyes as well.
One of Orlando’s fingers strokes, barely-there gentle, over one of the feathers, and Elijah shudders and closes his eyes. Touch me, he pleads silently. Touch all of me. Orlando strokes over him again, feather-light, and he keens softly under his breath in response.
“Elijah,” Dom says, and Elijah turns before he can stop himself, reaches out and pulls Orlando in, curves a hand around the back of Orlando’s neck and pauses with their lips only a fraction apart. Please.
Orlando smiles and teases him again, fingers combing through the feathers a little more surely when Elijah moans and pulls him the rest of the way, sucking softly on Orlando’s lips. And then Dom’s hands curve around his waist and Elijah reaches for him blindly, feeling more decadent than he ever has in his life when Orlando relinquishes him to Dom’s lips, Dom’s hands, Dom’s early-morning stubble.
He wants them, both of them, so much that it almost hurts, and nothing seems to ease the ache except their bodies and their whisper-soft words as they soothe him.
They all freeze when Orlando’s fingers tickle the base of Elijah’s right wing, when Elijah reacts instinctively by flexing muscles, and the wings flutter.
“Jesus,” Dom breathes, and Elijah laughs, giddy and liberated, and flutters the wings again. Orlando, his hand still pressed against the place where the skin parted to allow the wings to sprout, makes a choked noise and yanks Elijah closer, so that their bare chests are pressed together and Orlando’s tongue is exploring the inside of Elijah’s mouth.
Elijah has to pull away after another minute, because Orlando and Dom are sharing him like he’s the last piece of chocolate in a box of truffles, and he’s beginning to feel overwhelmed. “Stop,” he begs, when their hands and mouths and bodies blur together and he’s threatened with sensory overload. “Wait. I can’t…”
And both of them are laughing at him, or with him, their hands still stroking but gentler, more restrained. His wings flutter unexpectedly and he startles, nearly cracking his skull against Dom’s when he jerks back.
“Don’t worry,” Dom says impishly, as Orlando looks at him with something like awe and mischief combined, and Elijah can’t ever imagine being without this now. “You’ll get the hang of it.”