|of new york and rome
in the cathedrals of new york and rome
Airports are lonely places. Particularly the week before Christmas, particularly if you're traveling alone. Airports are sterile, non-descript – there's no trace of anything humanizing about them, except for the teeming throng of people you don't know and will never know. They're depressing, and if you're in an airport, either you're leaving or someone's leaving you, and that's not a happy sort of thought.
Billy is not a big fan of airports.
Even if you are on your way to a terrific adventure in New Zealand, or just to see your best mate in Los Angeles, they're depressing.
He hadn't meant to spend the week before Christmas in Heathrow Airport, waiting on a flight to L.A. via Chicago that's been delayed twice now, fog in London and snow in Chicago. He hadn't meant to spend the week before Christmas waiting, full stop. Billy had meant to spend it with Ali, in Glasgow, doing the sorts of things that people in love do at Christmas time, but Ali had left to spend the holidays with her parents, and she had also left, full stop.
"You aren't all here anymore," she told him. "And I don't know if it's the work or if it's something else that's taking up my space in your mind, but I just can't keep this up."
Billy thought about protesting, but he didn't think very hard, because when he did – well, Ali was right. She was right a lot of the time, and if she'd wanted to, she could have told him that it was Dom taking up space in Billy's brain instead of her. But Ali was, among many other things that honestly did make Billy love her, tactful and kind, and she'd kissed him sadly and told him that she'd move her things out over the New Year's hols and then she was gone.
Billy could have sat in his flat for Christmas, surrounded by things that belong to a woman who can't love him anymore, but that was just depressing. More depressing, even, than sitting in an airport.
He changed his ticket. He called Dominic, who answered the phone in some place that made him sound far away and underwater, and Dom said, "Fantastic! When's your flight?"
Dom didn't ask why the plans had changed, and this twists in Billy's stomach. Either he is better at concealing that he's hurt that Ali's gone than he thinks he is, or Dominic simply doesn't notice the false bright note in his voice, the note that used to be Dominic's cue to ask what's wrong.
Billy almost tells him not to worry – he's changed his mind, he'll see Dominic at New Year's, and yes, of course, everything's fine, Ali's lovely, Glasgow's grey and foggy. But if he doesn't fly to Los Angeles, he'll spend the week before Christmas sitting in his flat, full of things that belong to the woman who can't love him anymore, staring at photos of his best mate, wondering what the hell everything means.
Billy has never sunk to that level of melodrama yet, and he hopes never to.
Which is why he is sitting in Heathrow Airport with his eyes closed, waiting for a plane that may never take off, and listening to other flights being called around him, never hearing Chicago.
New York. Paris. Berlin. Prague. Venice. Rome.
Billy listens to the loudspeaker litany of cities he's visited and cities he's never seen, and he wonders why he chose Los Angeles to run to.
The answer is easy and it's one he doesn't want to think about, the way he doesn't want to think about why Ali's really gone.
Los Angeles, because Dom is there, and Dom, because he is home.
Dom is driving with the windows down, the air cool but not cold, sunglasses on and a fag dangling from his fingers, spinning ash out the window onto the highway behind him. The fingers of his free hand tap impatiently on the top of the steering wheel, traffic ebbing and flowing from start to stop to start again in front of them. Dom isn't talking; not angry, Billy thinks, but the knot of wrinkles between his brows suggested preoccupied – with the traffic, or something else entirely.
The silence is somewhere between reassuring and irritating to Billy; reassuring, that he could still sit with Dom and not have to talk if they didn't want to, but irritating as in an itch crawling up the back of Billy's neck. It wasn't so much a desire to fill the empty air, but one to spill the entire story. Dom wasn't stupid, even if he was occasionally blind. When Billy had emerged from the terminal, Dom had been signing an autograph for a little girl who couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old, smiling at her like she was the only person in the world. Her mother had shaken Dom's hand and Dom had favored them with one more brilliant smile before they walked off.
Billy knows that smile, the one that says you're the only person I see in this room. He's been on the receiving end of it more than once, and he knows in that moment exactly what Ali had meant, that he wasn't all there.
Which was the same moment that Dom tosses his fag end out of the window, makes a disgruntled noise at the stop and go traffic on the freeway, and turns to Billy. "I thought you were spending the hols with Ali, mate. Not that I'm not glad to have you, mind, but is there something you'd like to tell me, Bills?"
Billy isn't much of a liar. He thinks about it, considers just smudging the truth a little, and he knows in his heart that Dom will see right through that. "Ah," he says. "Well, we've split up. She's split up. She's left, I mean. Left me."
"I see," Dom says slowly, in a way that suggests he's keeping other observations to himself until they're drunk enough to not come to blows over whatever Dom had wanted to say. "I suppose you need a drink and a shag, eh, mate?"
"Something like that," Billy says.
I'd like to shag you, Billy does not say.
It's probably for the best that he doesn't.
Someone – probably Orlando, but possibly Viggo – has put Christmas lights on the palm tress outside of Dom's place. It's strange and familiar all at once, an anomaly in this Los Angeles where temperatures are not below freezing, where the weather at Christmas time doesn't require hats and gloves and seeing your breath on the air.
Billy's flight was late enough that it's dark by the time they arrive, but still warm enough to sit on the porch, watching the lights flash and sparkle as the breeze pushes the palms around. Dom's lazing against the front steps, beer bottle dangling from his fingers, face half turned in shadows. The streetlights and the Los Angeles hazy city glow cast enough light for Billy to see his features blurrily, almost painted over with darkness but not quite. Dom is staring at him, that much is clear.
Billy is grateful that the chair he's collapsed into is far enough from the porch's edge that his face is thrown almost entirely into shadow. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the sink in the loo, and he almost didn't recognize himself. When did I get that old?, he thought. When did I get this tired?
"So, Ali's left," Dom says, after a long pull on his beer. They've rambled through every other topic of conversation: the filming for Lost that starts again in a few weeks, Billy's most recent work, the weather in Glasgow, Los Angeles, Honolulu and New York, Orlando's latest stunts and Viggo's latest disappearing act. (No one's heard from him in weeks, but Dom suspects him on the question of the Christmas lights.) This is the only topic that's been left untouched, and now that there are a dozen beers between them and the reality of the world, it's fair game.
"Aye," Billy says. The facts with the details behind them are enough for him. Anything beyond the barest facts (and another three beers) gets dangerous. He isn't drunk, yet, and Dom doesn't sound it, and Billy is here in L.A. and he thinks that is enough, for now – he doesn't need anything else.
Even if he wants something else.
"She's left, and you're here, and what was the problem, mate? She just get tired of looking at your ugly mug every day? You'd scare the shite out of ghosts, with that hair of yours when you wake up in the morning. I don't blame her."
"Aye," Billy says. "Exactly that. Ali's the sort of bird who flees at the first sight of my frightful hairline."
Dom's face darkens even further in the shadows; all the nearly ever-present humor has drained from his voice. "Ah, Bills, please. You're not such an actor that you can hide it. Not from me, at least. What's happened?"
Billy tilts his beer back and slurps the last of it from the neck of the bottle. Unlike Orlando, he's able to do it without being seductive. He'd kill for that talent of Orli's about now, though. Show, not tell – that's what the common wisdom is.
If you don't have to actually come out and say it, you shouldn't. But fellating a beer bottle in the dark on Dominic's porch while they talk about why Billy's lovely girlfriend's left him – that just obscene.
"I need another beer, mate," he says instead of answering. "You want one?"
"Yeah," Dom says, balancing his own empty bottle on the porch railing above him. "Ta, mate."
When Billy comes back, all four beers that remained in the icebox in his hands, Dom is smoking another fag and staring at a point somewhere to the left of the still-blinking palm trees. The smoke is wreathing around his head, catching light in tiny stripes, and it makes Dom look unreal, ethereal. It's the sort of image that his mind snaps a photo of; the sort of memory that he will sink into months from now, the sort of memory that has led him here to begin with.
"Oy, wanker," Billy says. "Beer."
Dom turns to him, eyes still dark and serious, and snags a bottle from between his fingers. "So you don't want to talk about this," he says, "but you could. If you wanted. Unless it has something to do with me." He crushes the butt out against the floorboards and flicks it out towards the dark yard.
Billy is still standing, three beers dangling from his fingers, speechless. Dom often leaves him speechless. On most occasions, this involves public nudity, setting things on fire, or torturing Elijah (Billy had never imagined that there were so many ways to torture Elijah involving public nudity and setting things on fire), but on no occasions has this involved intense emotional issues, or Dom being serious.
If they had more beer, he might have let them slip out of his fingers, but he doesn't want to risk spilling the last of the alcohol all over the porch. He might need it later. He might need it now.
Billy sinks slowly to the step Dom is lounging along. He balances the three bottles along the edge of the boards, and uses Dom's lighter to lever the cap off one of them. He takes a long sip, and tilts his head in Dom's direction, not quite making eye contact but not quite hiding in his own shadows, either. "Ali," he says slowly. "Ali has left. Because, she says, I'm not all here – there – anymore. I'm not all there for her."
"Ah, of course not, Bills," Dom says, the familiar carelessness seeping back into his voice. "You're an actor. You're always off somewhere else. She knew that starting out, she did. If she can't live with it now, you're best off being rid of her."
"No," Billy says.
"No? No, you'd be better if she'd stayed and made you miserable by demanding attention when you weren't all there. Of course you would be. It's just how you are." Dom sounds angry for the first time since Billy had arrived, angry laced with something maybe like frustration.
"Jesus Chris, Dominic," Billy says. "No, not that at all. No. No, I meant, no, that's not what she meant. Why she left. Any of it." He took a long sip of beer and weighed whether continuing this conversation or turning it abruptly towards Man U's chances in the spring was the better idea.
"If you won't tell me, I shall be forced to invent embarrassing reasons why she's flown the coop and then I shall be forced to spread those rumors to all of our friends and the tabs."
"She thinks," Billy says slowly, weighing the amount of alcohol in his veins against the gravity of what he thinks he might be about to say. The alcohol is winning, by a slim margin, and he closes his eyes tightly for a moment, seeing the imprints of Christmas lights on the backs of his eyelids, feeling the buzz of beer in his blood. When he opens his eyes again, Dom is still staring at him, his eyes showing deadly seriousness and his mouth quirked in a tiny grin. Typical Dommie, Billy thinks. The world could end, and he'd still be smiling.
"Ali thinks that, perhaps, you're more important to me than she is."
Dom's face breaks into a relieved smile, the tiny grin spreading all the way up to his eyes. "Of course I am! I'm your best mate, after all. Glad to know she's got some brains, finally."
It is clear to Billy that Dominic hasn't understood him, and he cannot make himself plainer without saying something that is not in his nature to say. He's private with his emotions; he doesn't need to paint a billboard on the freeway to tell Dommie that he loves him, but apparently Dom needs him to.
"You're a daft fucking wanker, Dominic," Billy says. "I'm surprised you haven't killed yourself through utter incompetence yet."
Dom slaps the back of his head, not hard, but more sharply than just teasing. "Apparently in Scotland, they learn how to speak English without actually saying anything," he says sharply, and sets his empty bottle on the railing carelessly, knocking three of the others off into the front garden, which is not a garden at all.
Dom told Billy once that Viggo had tried to make it a garden, but Dom kills any plants smaller than a large tree, no matter how careful he is, so even with Viggo's careful instructions, the front lawn looks like someone's been driving across it (which is a possibility Billy is willing to consider) and all the plants that might have been there once are brown and dead and crushed underneath empty beer bottles.
It should be a garden, but it isn't.
This should just be a friendship, but it isn't.
"Earth to Billy," Dom says. Billy blinks a couple of times and tries to focus on Dom. He suddenly feels bleary and more drunk than he probably is, and when he brings Dom's face into focus, finally, with the Christmas lights on the stupid palm trees blinking in the background, Dom's features have gone soft, the tiny grin still twitching on his lips.
"What?" Billy says.
"I think I know what Ali meant," Dom says, and carefully moves the two beers still sitting between them out of the way. He inches closer to Billy, and Billy's brain screams that the only thing Billy could possibly do here is to get up and run far, far away, because no matter what he wants, this can't possibly end well.
Then Dom is kissing him, and Billy is too surprised to close his eyes so all he can see is Dom's forehead and the lights on the trees, out of focus like stars, behind them.
By the time Billy gets around to fisting one hand in Dom's hair and trying to kiss back, Dom has pulled away, resting his forehead against Billy's. "Let's just say that I think I understand why Ali left," Dom says. "And let's say that she's a good-hearted bird who understands you almost as well as I do, and let's send her a nice gift, and let's not talk about it anymore."
Billy pulls Dom's mouth back to his, and he is perfectly willing not to talk about anything anymore. It's all he wanted to begin with.