|Some New Kind Of Hello
Elijah's favorite thing about New York City - one of them, anyway, after all the really great clubs and the fact that it isn't L.A. - is all the tiny, no-name Chinese restaurants tucked into buildings so small that they shouldn't be buildings and basements that look dank and disgusting until you walk through the door. He can get Chinese food any hour of the night if he wants it, and he thinks that's really fucking cool.
He's walking home through the cold air and nasty sidewalk slush, trying to remember if there's anything in his refrigerator that hasn't gone bad, when a tiny neon sign advertising LO MEIN AND EGG ROLLS catches his eye. It's tucked underneath a basement stairwell, hardly visible, and if there's anywhere in the city, he thinks, that he can have a meal in absolute peace, it's this place.
Elijah has an intense paranoid fear about eating alone in restaurants. Eating take-out Chinese alone on his couch in front of the Daily Show is one thing; eating by himself at a table for two is entirely another. He knows that he's completely neurotic about it, but he can't help it. He also knows he doesn't really try very hard either, though.
Hannah, sitting across from him in a swanky upscale French restaurant in L.A. where he'd taken her for her birthday, said that it had to do with his fucked-up ideas about fame. He tried not to look at her like she'd grown a second head, but apparently he didn't hide the expression very well because she rolled her eyes and threw a chunk of bread at him and explained in the most put-upon voice she could manage.
"You don't like to eat alone because you're famous, and because you're neurotic enough to believe that if people see you, a famous person, eating alone, they will think you are some kind of anti-social managed-to-get-famous-through-blind-luck loser." She paused then, and dropped her napkin down on top of her empty plate. "You are a loser, but not, you know, like that. Eat dessert without me, it'll be good for you."
She stood up and walked out. Elijah ordered himself crème brulee and decided that his mother should never have let Hannah read anything having to do with psychology, ever.
Every Chinese restaurant in the United States has the same fish tanks, enormous back lit glass boxes full of overfed goldfish - koi, he can hear Hannah's voice in his head, reminding him, they're called koi, you moron and look, you're sitting alone and the world didn't end - scales glowing from the strange neon track lighting also present in every single Chinese restaurant in the country. The fish all sort of creep Elijah out, if he's going to be honest about it. It's just that ... well, how do you know that some fish didn't flop out of the tank onto the floor and in the effort to use all the resources possible, enterprising chefs didn't just toss said fish into your orange chicken or your pork lo mein?
This place he's sitting in isn't bad, though. There's a top on the fish tank, for one thing, and the lighting's even darker than most Chinese restaurants, so he's hidden in the shadows of a booth away from nosy autograph hounds, and when the waiter saw him tapping an unlit cigarette on the table and fidgeting, he crept away quietly and returned just as quietly with an ashtray. It's New York, he's not supposed to be smoking anywhere but outside on the freezing cold, slushy grey streets, but he isn't going to complain if this place wants to break the rules a little.
He's the only guy in the place, after all. It's not like the smoke's bothering anyone.
He orders spring rolls and pork dumplings and hot and sour soup and shrimp lo mein and chicken fried rice and a bottle of cheap red wine, and it's too much for food for him to eat, but he doesn't really care. He'll take the leftovers home and stuff them in his fridge and forget about them until they start to grow mold, and even then he won't throw them away until the mold is nearly sentient, but right now, he wants to order enough to fill the table, and so he does.
His silent ashtray-bringing waiter friend scurries away again and comes back with his open bottle of wine and two glasses, and Elijah doesn't have the energy to wave one of them off, so he lets the guy pour two glasses of wine and set one at the place opposite him. He'll finish his and then drink that one.
Elijah lights another cigarette and fishes this week's Voice out of his bag. He hates the Voice, thinks it's trashy and over-rated, but it's something to read. Hannah told him before he left L.A. for New York that if he had to sit alone and be neurotic about it, he should at least make sure he had something to read.
"You look less pathetic that way," she said.
"I am not pathetic!" he protested, and Hannah just rolled her eyes at him. Elijah thinks that one of the best things about leaving Los Angeles is that he's not going to have to see his stupid sister's stupid eye-rolling for months, at least. When he wasn't paying attention - maybe when he was in New Zealand - she grew up and got a personality and he isn't quite sure how to deal with it.
"I didn't say you were pathetic," Hannah said. "I said you'd look pathetic. If you're sitting by yourself at a restaurant, you have to look like you want to be there alone. You'd just look like you couldn't find a friend to go with you."
"See?" Elijah said. "I told you that I looked like a loser."
"Shut up," Hannah said. "I told you that you looked like a loser. You didn't tell me anything. Now do you want my help, or not, dipshit?"
"Yeah," Elijah said.
"Then make sure you have something to read. You look less pathetic that way. Bonus points if it's, you know, something cool to read."
At least the writing in the Voice is good. That helps it suck less, but it just takes itself too seriously, and so Elijah can't take it seriously at all. They don't print paparazzi photos of him, though, like the Post does when it can get its hands on them, so there's another point in its favor.
His soup arrives before he gets very far into the paper, and he slurps it up and sips his wine and takes half-hearted drags from the cigarette burning down in the ashtray while he reads. He hears the door of the restaurant open, the tiny bells attached to the top tinkling happily, and hopes that whoever it is, they won't bother him for an autograph. Or a photo.
Or anything at all, actually. He's sort of enjoying sitting here alone, eating his soup and reading his paper. He hates that Hannah could be right, that he didn't have to be neurotic about this.
He drains the last of his wine from his glass and grinds out his burnt-down cigarette. A voice on the other side of his table says, "Oh, you poured a glass for me? Thank you so much, darling."
Elijah winces at the familiarity; he doesn't know anyone here who'd talk to him like that, ergo, it is a stranger who wants something. He says dismissively, without looking up, "I'm not signing any autographs tonight, sorry."
He lights himself another cigarette and hopes that his disinterest will send this particularly obnoxious fan on their way without any other interruptions. Whoever it is slides into the booth opposite him.
Elijah looks up, and his uninvited guest, sipping from the second wine glass like he'd been sitting there all along, isn't a stranger.
"And if you run into someone you know at the restaurant, and they're alone, you should ask if they want to sit with you." Hannah paused, and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Unless you can't stand them, in which case pouring a glass of wine in their lap should discourage them."
"You're making all this up," Elijah said, half a challenge and half a sulk.
"I am not," Hannah said loftily. "I am an experienced and serious people-watcher, and this is how it works, buster." She punched him in the arm, hard, and repeated herself. "So if you see someone you know, you should ask them to sit down and have a drink."
That's all fine and well, Elijah thinks to himself, but what if they just sit down by themselves?
He'd never been properly introduced to Zach Braff, but Elijah knows that he was on Scrubs - which Hannah tapes and then denies that she tapes - and Elijah recognizes him on sight.
Zach doesn't bother with pleasantries or introductions or small talk. "Have you ever thought about directing?" he asks Elijah, and snags a spring roll from the plate that Elijah's waiter has slid onto the table in front of them. Elijah sighs, flaps his hands in what he hopes is an approximate gesture for "another set of chopsticks, please", and folds his newspaper up.
"Yeah," he says. "I have. Hasn't everyone?"
"Seriously, have you really thought about it? Because I'll tell you what, it's harder than it looks." Elijah grabs the second spring roll from the plate before his uninvited but oddly charming guest can eat it; Zach had consumed the first one in three enormous bites. He gives Zach a once over. He's sort of good-looking, in an odd, lumpy way - the way Dom is good looking, with awkward features but mostly a lot of charm. A memorable face for TV, but not, Elijah thinks, for the movies. And he looks tired, dark circles under his eyes and a slump to his shoulders that read long hours and hard work.
"It's not much my thing," Elijah says, mouth half full of spring roll. "I mean, yeah, you think about it, but it's Sean who really wants to do that stuff. I like the other side of the camera just fine."
He doesn't want to seem rude, but he isn't sure why this guy is sitting across the table from him, eating his food and asking reasonable but unexpected questions. He tries to remember if they have any mutual friends, anyone who might have told Zach that Elijah was in New York and would do him a favor, and he can't drag up any names.
"I'm sorry," he says, trying for a teasing tone and ending up with quizzical and confused. "But did you need something, other than half my dinner?"
"Oh," Zach says. "No. I'm just ... it sounds stupid to tell someone else in the business that you like their work, doesn't it? But, you know, I didn't know you were going to be here or anything." He pauses and finishes the glass of wine he'd stolen when he sat down. "This is one of my favorite places in the city," he continues, waving his wine glass at the restaurant, still empty but for the two of them and the team of silently efficient waiters, who Elijah has decided are ninjas. The rest of his food has appeared on the table and he didn't even notice the waiter leaving it there.
"This is one of my favorite places," Zach repeats. "And I'm not stalking you, just came in to get some dinner, and I saw you, and I thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity. Not too often you get to meet the man who's largely responsible for the billion-dollar Lord of the Rings franchise, right?"
Elijah blushed without meaning to. "Um," he says.
"Sorry," Zach says. "I sounded like a screaming twelve-year-old girl, didn't I? I didn't mean to. But you have to admit it - it is not every day that you walk into a Chinese restaurant in New York City and discover that Elijah Wood has poured you a glass of wine and ordered too much food for just himself, is it?" Zach's eyes crinkle at the corners, and he grins at Elijah, who's rendered positively speechless. Hannah had no etiquette lessons for this situation, but she'll be pissed that her stupid big brother had dinner with Zach Braff and she didn't.
"More wine?" Elijah says, because there's not much else he can say.
"Unless it's a date, always split the check on accidental dinners with a friend," Hannah said.
When the check came, they'd eaten everything he'd ordered and managed to have an entire conversation about music and movies without the words "New Zealand", "Lord of the Rings" or "Peter Jackson" being mentioned again. They'd also drunk another two bottles of wine; when the check arrives, two fortune cookies balanced on top of it, Elijah tosses his credit card down and snaps open the cookie without thinking about Hannah's advice.
He's flush with wine and cheerful about having made a new, totally-by-chance friend who had excellent taste in music, and he's laughing too hard at Zach's fortune cookie - "Nice and soft words indicate a weak cause ... in bed" "Abuse your partners, then! Everyone loves being called a flaming asshole in bed!" - to think that paying for dinner, all of it, might send the wrong idea.
By the time they control their laughter and drop uneaten fortune cookie halves on the table, the pro-smoking ninja waiter has run Elijah's credit card and brought the receipt and a pen back to the table. He signs it, leaves a generous tip, and looks up to ask Zach where he's heading, and if he'd like to catch another drink somewhere before going home.
Zach's staring at him as though Elijah has, in fact, just given him the entirely wrong impression about whether or not a random meeting in a random Chinese restaurant was, in fact, date.
Elijah squashes down embarrassment and a rising blush that he can feel burning up his neck, and attempts a nonchalant shrug. "You didn't order all this mess. Don't worry about it."
Hannah didn't teach him to be nonchalant very well. In New Zealand, he didn't need to be. If he did something stupid there, he'd just be teased about it for weeks until he could laugh at himself. Dominic Monaghan and Orlando Bloom did not, unfortunately, prepare Elijah very well for dealing with the rest of humanity at large, though if Elijah were ever faced with a rampaging horde of good-looking British men with wicked senses of humor, he'd be cool as a cucumber.
And, his brain pipes up while he's staring distractedly at Zach's bottom lip, you're not sure you don't want this to be a date!
His brain sounds an awful lot like Hannah. At this particular moment, he doesn't like his brain or his sister very much at all. If he walked outside and some crazy guy on the street offered him 10 bucks in exchange for his brain, Elijah would gladly hand it over right there.
"Do you want to go get another drink somewhere?" he says instead.
Zach, who has been sitting utterly still with an expression that's somewhere between shock, surprise and amusement on his face (while Elijah ran through his entire internal monologue), crooks up the corner of his mouth like Dom does before he's going to say something utterly wicked. "I'll even pay. Thanks for dinner, honey," he drawls out sarcastically.
Zach stands up. Elijah has to give himself an extra thirty seconds of sitting down before he's sure his knees won't give out when he stands up.
"Never expect sexual favors in exchange for buying someone dinner," Hannah told him. "Just because you paid for a meal doesn't mean you get a blowjob. Unless you're out with Dom. Then it's okay."
"Are you suggesting that Dom's easy?"
"I'm just saying," Hannah said. "Dom seems like the type to have a t-shirt that says 'Will Blow You For Food'."
Elijah ignored that remark and said, "Right. No blow jobs for food. Got it."
It's snowing when they stumble up the stairs to the street. If there's one thing that Elijah really loves about New York, it's the weather - they don't have weather in L.A., they have sun and natural disasters. The snow is appealing; swirling between the buildings, light against the dark sky, it makes the city look less dirty.
There's really something gorgeous about New York in snow and under streetlights.
Zach's standing next to him, hands crammed in his pockets, and Elijah realizes that he's been standing there and staring at the snow for at least a couple of minutes. "Sorry," Elijah says. "I'm just a little ... the snow is still sort of new. California."
"You're not from there originally, though, right?" Zach asks, and he's shifting on his feet, whether from the cold or something else, Elijah can't tell. Personally he likes the biting air on his face, after he's been in stuffy restaurants with the heat turned up too far, after eating a huge meal and drinking too much. He feels vaguely more sober already.
"Iowa," he agrees. "But, you know, it's been a while since I've seen snow on a regular basis."
Zach considers this briefly, and says, "There's a bar a couple of blocks over that's dark enough to hide even your eyes."
Elijah isn't sure for a moment if he's being made fun of or not - Dom has warped his ability to judge tone of voice, because even the most innocent statement out of Dom's mouth could be and usually is a joke - but Zach's eyes crinkle up and he fails to hide a snort of laughter at his own joke.
"Which way?" Elijah says.
"You should never be allowed to get drunk," Hannah said.
"What does that have to do with eating alone and my neuroses, and why the hell are you such an expert on my behavior, anyway?" Elijah was annoyed, and Hannah was sitting across the sofa from him, grinning smugly and looking him up and down like his hair and his dirty t-shirt held all the answers to his weird public behavior.
"It doesn't, but it's true. When you get drunk, you do one of three things, or sometimes all three: you talk too much, you sleep with Dom, or you throw up all over the bathroom."
"So it's a bad impression to leave on a date, the man who'd bought her dinner vomiting all over the taxi on the way home, that's all."
"I didn't think we were talking about dates!" Elijah wailed, and Hannah threw a couch cushion at him.
That was the end of the discussion about how Elijah could overcome his neuroses and be able to eat alone in public, and it had ended up being about his sex life and his drinking habits.
His sister was useless.
So it wasn't a date. He was just sitting in a dark bar, smoky and rumbling with a jukebox turned up too loud, with a nice guy who happened to be cute and share some interests with him.
And who, Zach was hasty to inform him, "really isn't stalking him, despite the possibly staggering breadth of random information he knows about Elijah."
That makes Elijah laugh, and he hasn't taken Hannah's no-drinking advice, his hand wrapped around a pint of Guinness, and since he's more than a little drunk, the laughter tips him off the bar stool and straight into Zach. He steadies himself with a hand on Zach's thigh, his head resting against Zach's shoulder, and it takes a moment for Elijah to realize where he was and what he was doing and that the guy he was practically groping wasn't Dom or Orli or even Sean.
Which is a bit of a problem.
He straightens up, trying not to think about how Zach's laugh had rumbled in his chest, against Elijah's cheek, and hopes that the bar was, in fact, dark enough to hide the blush that was creeping up his neck.
"Um," he says. "Possibly I'm a little bit tipsy."
Zach flaps a hand at him, as though to say, "whatever, no big deal", and tips the rest of his pint back. He blinks rapidly several times, turns a slightly bleary face to Elijah, and blinks again. "You," he says. "You are entirely too ... something. You're too something, but I'm not sure what that something is right now, because you have taken me out and liquored me up and now I am drunk." Zach comes down hard on that last word, and then he hiccups, just once, and starts laughing again, tipping forward to lay his head across his arms on the bar. His shoulders are shaking, and Elijah's stifling his own giggles, and his hand is still resting on Zach's thigh.
The bar is empty, except for the bartender, and even he disappeared somewhere ten minutes ago, lugging an empty keg.
Because he is drunk, and because he accidentally took Zach Braff on a date, and because Hannah's advice is always crap and he knows it, Elijah stands up - rather shakily - and grabs Zach's arm. Zach's skin is warm through his shirt, and he's pleasantly, drunkenly pliable. He blinks again as he lifts his head from the bar to stare at Elijah's hand, and then smiles cheerfully up at Elijah before sliding off the stool and losing his balance. He nearly tumbles both of them over, and he clutches at Elijah's waist to steady himself.
When Zach balances himself, his fingers are wrapped in Elijah's belt loops and Elijah's hand is still on Zach's arm. He opens his mouth as though to say something, and Elijah doesn't want to hear it, so he sticks his tongue in Zach's mouth, because that always works when Dom is saying something that Elijah doesn't want to hear.
Zach shuts up and twists his hands tighter in Elijah's belt loops, the tips of his fingers brushing against Elijah's waist where his shirt has ridden up. Elijah shivers and backs Zach towards the bathrooms, where he'd seen one of those convenient old-fashioned phone booths, the sort with a door. One of the best things about New Zealand was a proliferation of that sort of phone booth; if the bar owners had known what the hobbits had gotten up to in those phone booths, they wouldn't be national heroes, they'd be national outcasts.
But that is neither here nor there, because Zach's mouth is very warm and wet and tastes like somewhere between red wine and Guinness, which is not as disgusting as Elijah would have believed, and one of his hands is inching up the back of Elijah's shirt, and they've just knocked three bar stools and a table into a heap on the floor because they didn't bother to separate before trying to make for a more private corner.
The crash doesn't bring the bartender running, though, and Zach is hauling Elijah backwards at an alarming rate while Elijah fumbles with the buttons on Zach's shirt - he has enough trouble with his own buttons when he's standing still, and this is nearly impossible - and Zach trails a series of bites that may or may not bruise down the side of his neck.
The rickety folding door of the phone booth folds outwards under Zach's yanking hand, and Elijah trips on the edge of the floor, falling straight into the booth and pinning Zach up against the back wall.
One hand still trying to undo buttons, Elijah uses the other to close the door behind them with a crash; if that noise alerted anyone to their presence, he can't be arsed to care. He hasn't gotten laid since he told Dom he was moving to New York, and not for lack of trying, and this whole evening is surreal and strange and not something he's going to want to think about in the morning, and he just doesn't care. Plus Zach's fingers are popping the button on his jeans open and there are about thirty better things for him to be thinking about right now.
Elijah abandons his attempts to unbutton Zach's shirt and fastens his mouth on the hollow of his throat instead, sliding a hand between them. His hand brushes against Zach's, which is twisting to undo his zipper and slide inside his boxers, and against Zach's cock, hot and hard under his jeans. Elijah undoes the top button and tugs until the zipper gives, but before he can slide his hand inside, Zach's fingers wrap around his own cock and he has to collapse against Zach, his forehead resting on Zach's shoulder, for just a minute while he finds his feet again.
Elijah lets out a breathy little noise, nothing bigger than an "Oh", and turns his head to capture Zach's mouth again. He can feel Zach smiling against the kiss, his tongue pushing back against Elijah's, and he gives Elijah's cock an experimental tug. Elijah tries to bite his own tongue to keep from crying out, bites Zach's instead - which results in a tiny grunt and a slightly painful tug on his cock - and gives up, contorting himself so that he can reach Zach's cock. Zach's stroking with a determined rhythm, and his cock is heavy and hot when Elijah wraps his hand around it.
There's a hitch in Zach's stroke when Elijah squeezes, and when he starts to twist and stroke Zach, Zach shoves his hips against Elijah's. The whole thing is an acrobatic feat of the highest order, the two of them pressed together in a tiny phone booth with a bare light bulb shining down on their faces, casting strange shadows and showing the sweat glistening at the base of Zach's throat. They kiss frantically, Elijah leaving bite marks deepening from red to bruise-purple along Zach's neck, and stroke and moan and Elijah comes first, spurting sticky all over Zach's hand and his hand and their clothes.
He rests his head, panting for breath, in the crook of Zach's shoulder and speeds up his pace, come slipping underneath his fingers and sliding slippery under his palm. Four, five, six strokes and Zach's back stiffens and he explodes, doubling the sticky, sweaty mess pressed between them.
They stay twisted together in the tiny phone booth for several long minutes. Elijah pulls his hand from between them and tries to rub it clean on his jeans before twisting it into Zach's belt loops; Zach extracts his and tucks his arm around Elijah's back, pulling him towards his chest. Elijah doesn't want to give a post-coital happiness sigh, but it slips out before he can stop it and he feels Zach laugh, a low rumbling in his chest that makes Elijah think of Viggo laughing at the hobbits.
It's a comforting feeling; the whole evening might have been surreal and possibly a hallucination, but it's been satisfyingly surreal. He can live with that.
He trades cell numbers with Zach after they've used the bathroom to mop themselves up at least a little; Zach tosses a twenty on the bar when they still can't find the bartender before they leave. "For use of his phone booth," he says with a leer that makes Elijah snicker behind his hand.
It's not awkward; there's no false I'll-call-yous or awkward do-I-kiss-him-goodbye-or-nots. It's just your standard, run-of-the-mill, handjob-with-a-semi-stranger-in-a-phone-booth.
My life is so weird, Elijah thinks as he and Zach stumble out the door of the bar together, shoulders bumping. This wouldn't happen to anyone else.
They walk a couple of blocks together and part with a handshake and rather unmanly hug; Zach turns one way, Elijah the other. He pulls out his cell phone as he hurries through the cold towards his apartment, pushes the speed dial button for Hannah. Her voice mail - he's leaving a message about eating alone and paying for dinner with sexual favors which will make her call him and shriek in his ear while he refuses to tell her details. He's trying to sound lewd, but thinks he probably just sounds tired, when his call waiting beeps. He speeds through his goodbye, and thumbs the button for the other line.
"I know this great Indian place," Zach says. "I'll buy."