[identity profile] slashababy-mod.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] slashababy

Title: An Unexpected Party
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] slashfairy
Author: [livejournal.com profile] itstonedme
Pairing: none, just a cast gathering from The Hobbit: Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Kerr
Rating: PG
Summary: : During filming, Martin joins his cast mates for an evening out in Wellington.
Notes: A new Tolkien, a new trilogy! Enjoy, dear [livejournal.com profile] slashababy! And thank you for the challenge of requesting new characters. Title borrowed from Chapter One of The Hobbit.

It's Orlando who first suggests it.

Naturally.

"Yeah yeah," Orlando tells Martin enthusiastically one day during down time on set and well within Ian's ear shot. "Have Ian take you round to whatever that gay club was he took the hobbits and me to when we were filming Rings. A real eye-opener. What was the name of it, Ian?" Orlando calls out.

"Hmm?" Ian asks because it's not that he ever means to eavesdrop, even when he hears his name coming out of Orlando's mouth. Notwithstanding the fact that Orlando has since married and spawned, he's still able to leave Ian with the impression of being a loose social cannon, even dangerous perhaps, although Ian can't rightly point to any recent proof, and he wouldn't want to be quoted. He's lost touch with all the abseiling, zip-lining and board surfing, but as things currently stand, Ian is still feeling more than a little protective of his latest Bilbo.

"That gay club you took us to back then, during Rings. What was the name of it?"

Ian purses his lips in an effort to show that he's thinking, can't remember, doesn't consider it important even though he's been back there every second week or so since principal shooting started.

Martin cringes a little inside. He doesn't much think his eyes need opening on the subject of gay clubs, not that he's seen the inside of one, well maybe one, if he's to be honest, okay, maybe three, but not voluntarily, not really. For Martin, an evening out with cast mates should at least allow him to stay within his heterosexual comfort zone. Really.

"Motel!" Orlando grins. "That was its name. We need to grab a few dwarves and take Martin there."

"Oh, I don't know," Ian rumbles kindly, winking to assure Martin he's perfectly safe, and Martin smirks back because Bloom's shoot is going to be over in a few weeks and anyway, Orlando's got a pretty family newly-transplanted that he's apparently dying to go home to each night.

*

"Martin, I'd like you to meet my missus. Miranda, come here, my love. Come meet our Bilbo."

They're standing on the sidewalk in front of Motel, as if there was ever going to be any doubt, and all kinds of club patrons are wandering in and out of the doorway, staring at their party as it collects and grows along the curb. Miranda swans over from the taxi in her high-heeled boots and shy smile, and like a hydra, the heads of two dwarves materialize with grinning interest over Martin's shoulders to stare at her, two hands thrust past Martin's elbows to say hello.

"You made it!" Orlando crows and proceeds to introduce his wife to Aidan, Dean and Martin, his Kili, Fili and Bilbo, before he stands back to watch the three men vie to outwit each other and generally act like school boys. It never fails. He knows they'll settle down once they get used to being around her. He was no different. Beautiful women have a way of doing that.

"You brought your wife," Martin observes to Orlando a few moments later while the dwarves charmingly distract her. If he'd known women were allowed, he would have packed his makeup assistant and wig mistress to populate his buffer zone.

"Yeah, well, you try telling her that she couldn't come after she learned where we were going. Women and gay men, it's like a sisterhood. I don't get it."

There's a sudden increase in cell phone flashtography that announces Ian has arrived, and they are abandoned momentarily as attention shifts to the much-loved Knight Bachelor emerging from his chauffeured car.

"Let's go inside," Ian says as he joins them, "and leave off with the onlookers." He turns to Miranda, who is wide-eyed at being in his presence. "And you must be the lovely Mrs. Bloom," he smiles, tucking her arm through his so that they can walk in together. She melts into him, head tilted to hear whatever delightfulness he has to discharge.

"What did I say," Orlando tells Martin as he throws an arm over his shoulders. "It's a fucking coven."

They make their way through the club's foyer, Orlando shepherding his threesome like little chicks, turning to greet people more times than they can count so that he can knock fists, grip thumbs, tap foreheads and do whatever it is that nowadays replaces the common handshake. Obviously, he's known here and not just for his celebrity. Judging by some of the greetings he's getting, it's like old home week. Orlando is very inclusive with his baby chicks, making sure everyone meets everyone, and if it weren't for all the guesswork fumbling about with mismatched knuckles in order to say hello, plus the loads of eyeliner, Martin would think he's just walked into any old club back home.

Up ahead, Ian is bussing cheeks with people he knows, and so is Miranda, since anyone who's a friend of Ian's is a friend of theirs. Walking in with a supermodel who matches him in height but not in sex or age is to DIE FOR, apparently, given the fawning going on, and Miranda is laughing and chatting them up like bosom buddies. Eventually, they all spill into the main floor of the club, where lights are spinning and music thumping and where more greeting has to go on.

"You seem to have made an impression the last time you were here," Martin shouts into Orlando's ear given all the hellos he's been getting.

"See that bar, yeah? Dom Monaghan and I did a strip on it."

Martin swallows against this news. He'd have worn more clothes and better underwear if he'd known that beforehand. Actually, if he'd known that beforehand, he'd have phoned in sick.

A quick glance at Aidan and Dean lets him know he's not the only one feeling a little out of his element. They're all smiles, looking like they're game, but they don't really know where to start either. A good-looking young man with a towel and tray saves them by asking what they'd like from the bar. Orlando steps in and pulls the waiter's ear to his lips, twirling his finger to indicate that whatever he's ordering, they're all getting it. Realizing now that they are part of The Hobbit tribe, the young man points across the room to an empty round table, indicating that it is theirs and he'll bring the drinks there.

The drinks arrive in the form of double shooters of single malt whiskey. "It helps if you brace yourselves," Orlando yells out as he throws one back. Three elbows rapidly tip back to follow suit. Martin decides to chase the first with the second.

Now that he's out of traffic, safely cocooned and double-braced with his mates, not feeling the need to second-guess every shoulder bump and hip nudge as people walk past, Martin is a little more comfortable with where he is. There's that whole business of shared experience and team bonding, and the table is a glorious example, he rightly figures, of how a physical object can differentiate, as in Us from the many Not Us. Which is very important to him at the moment. Why this should be is patently ridiculous, he knows this, but it appears to be a somewhat primitive reaction on his part, and it's hard to reason one's way out of this kind of primordial goo.

"Do you want to dance?" Dean yells over at him. He's patting his thighs like he can't wait to shake his ass.

Martin stares at him blankly for a moment, his brain scrambling through eleven months of filming to determine what cues he might have missed about his mate Dean and if he actually heard him right.

"There you go," Orlando says encouragingly, nudging Martin with his elbow. "Can't get asked any nicer than that."

Martin looks at him and then to Dean, finally arriving upon good manners by default. "I don't think so," he yells back to the offer, then raises his brows and smirks a head tip to indicate a lad a few chairs over who might be interested, given the visual mine-sweeping he's levelling Dean's way.

Dean's not biting. He turns to Aidan. "What about you? Care to dance?"

"Piss off," Aidan laughs. "I know what you're doing, and it's not going to work."

By now, Miranda has caught up with their table, but she's not looking inclined to sit.

"Excuse me," Martin waves politely to a waiter passing by. He points to his two empty glasses and to Miranda, and Aidan downs his second shot to get in on the order.

"Would you like to dance?" Dean asks Miranda.

She nods her head vigorously, like, bloody right, what took you so long? and they're off.

"That may be the last time I see her tonight," Orlando remarks. "Oh, look," he says, standing respectfully as Ian comes over. "We now officially have a knight at our round table. Would you like mine, Ian?" he says, hand sweeping to offer his seat.

Ian thinks that it's a very good idea, putting himself between Orlando and Martin, and accepts. His long coat is the first thing he shrugs off, his fedora the next, which he sits on the shelf behind Martin.

"Can I get your drink?" Orlando offers Ian. "Laphroaig? Am I remembering right?"

"There's one already on the way, thank you," Ian tells him. "Sit. Where did that beauty you married get away to?"

Orlando hooks a thumb back towards the dance floor with nary a glance, and Ian nods sagely.

"So," Ian says to Martin in his warmest manner because judging from Martin's body language, Ian fears his cast mate's butt cheeks might at the moment be squeezed so tightly, the possibility exists of them disappearing up his rectum like some kind of corporal black hole. "How do you like this little rathskeller?"

"Very nice," Martin says politely, spine erect, shoulders back. "People seem very friendly."

"Oh, they are," Ian tells him. "Unpretentious, straight shooters as they like to say in America. One knows where one stands. New Zealanders are wonderful in that regard."

Ian's drink is placed before him by way of pronouncement from the waiter, who rhymes off the brand and age and a quick "cheers, Serena," making sure everyone else is taken care of before leaving.

Martin's not missing a trick. He makes note of the waiter's retreating back before he leans towards Ian and says, "I think that all this time, you've been keeping secrets."

"Have I?" Ian murmurs, savouring his first sip. "How so?"

"I think," Martin says, scanning the room, "that you've been coming here more often than you let on."

"Do you?" Ian smiles.

Sometimes Martin doubts that anyone can get more mileage from two syllables than Ian.

"Yes, well," Ian says, "one does like to be around like-minded people from time to time."

Orlando has moved into Dean's empty seat to save Aidan from feeling overexposed on the periphery and to tell him about the last time he was here, as if that will help. Apparently it does because Aidan's looking rather saved and grateful to no longer be the focus of the lad the next table over who started eyeballing him the moment Dean up and left, and by about a half dozen other fellows nearby.

"If you tell yourself that we are all just people who enjoy being with other people, I think you'll find it rather fun," Ian continues in Martin's left ear. "No one is going to ask you to go home with them. You needn't worry."

"No, no, I don't," Martin agrees because by saying it, he might begin to believe it.

"You're just too straight for their way of thinking," Ian smiles. "No offence."

The next round of drinks is now arriving, and Martin descends upon his as enthusiastically as Aidan. Their eyes meet, and it's Aidan who's first to break out a smile full of teeth. "Kia oro," he salutes, glass raised to Martin's, who nods in reply before they down them together.

Scotch in the blood stream appears to have the predictable loosening effect. "So," Martin says, leaning across the table towards Orlando. "Can we expect a repeat of your last visit here?"

Orlando grins. "One never knows. Although it was all Dom's fault, if you want to know the truth of it. He knew what daring me after I'd had a few drinks would do. I'm stupid that way."

"Good to know," Martin grins and picks up his next shooter to toast Orlando into taking a shot. They clink and down.

Aidan stares at Martin, then starts to laugh. "I am putting it on the record right now that this hobbit," and he points to Martin, "will either be on this table, under it or in someone's lap by," he raises his wrist and angles it towards the closest light source, "twenty-two thirty."

"Forgive me, Orlando," Martin directs across the table before turning to grin at Aidan, "but let me just say, mate, I am absolutely, decidedly and incontrovertibly not stupid that way."

"Oy!" a voice calls out in their general direction. Martin peers up at some bloke, about six one, dark haired and everything he once wished he'd grow up to be, grinning down at him from across the table, one hand thrust out towards him. "Dr. Watson! Cheers, mate, and welcome to New Zealand. Where's Holmes?" He's offering up the glass in his other hand for a toast.

Aidan slides his reserve shooter Martin's way since he's been caught empty-handed and Martin shakes the fellow's hand before they clink glasses. He gets this all the time. Before he can answer, the fellow has turned towards Ian, arms opened wide, and he swoops down on the wizard. Apparently, they have some degree of acquaintance, for they kiss lip to lip before the fellow pulls away and grabs the back of Orlando's once-occupied chair, asking Ian, "May I?"

Ian makes introductions around the table. The bloke is named Danny, and his presence appears to have pressed the starch into Ian's knickers and the glint into his eyes, for the two fall in, Ian explaining that Mr. Holmes is indeed to report onto the set of The Hobbit shortly, that he's voicing Smaug. "No bloody way!" Danny exclaims, looking over to Martin. "Bring him 'round! That's a promise, yeah?"

Before better judgment can gather momentum, Martin finds himself agreeing wholeheartedly and more enthusiastically than his brain means to impart. Funny, that. But he perversely suspects Benedict would be fun to throw into this room, given the innuendo swirling around whether Holmes does or doesn't.

Martin fails to register that it's Queen Cate approaching their table with Thorin Oakenshield in her wake until they've nearly arrived, and he's delightedly surprised. He's on his feet, as is every man at the table, arms outstretched, and she zeroes in on him before all others, which only makes him feel fit to bounce.

"Martin," she says slyly, leaning forward to kiss him. "You look like mischief has swallowed you whole. Your cheeks are pink."

"Alcohol," he confesses. "Poured it down with no regard for consequence."

"Oh," she says with a twinkle that could match Ian's. "That does sound like fun in the offing. Are you making new friends?"

Actually, he isn't, he realizes, and suddenly feels rather socially inadequate and rude. He's thinking about this as Cate turns to greet Ian.

Whereupon a grizzled Richard looms into his frame, having just hugged, locked fists and tapped foreheads with Orlando. "Martin," Richard acknowledges, hand out.

"Thorin," Martin replies as they clasp because it's the booze talking. "I had no idea you and Cate would be coming. The more the merrier."

Richard sizes up the lay of the table: Cate hovering, Danny star-struck, Ian glowing and Martin, well, Martin glued to the back wall as if he thinks his ass has a target pinned to it. "Cate," he interrupts, and in a neat little ballet, he tugs Martin's hand that he's still gripping so that Martin has to step away from his seat to keep from toppling into the shot glasses. "Sit beside Ian and be comfortable. What can we get you to drink?"

"A white pinot if they have one, and water. Thank you, Martin," she directs to him serenely. "Now I can watch the whole room."

Orlando is promptly on his feet to go place the order, including Richard's, electing Aidan to help him cart everything back from the bar.

"There you go," Richard points out to Martin, nodding towards Aidan's chair. "A free seat."

"Yes," Martin smiles weakly. "Quite."

Richard completes his greetings, leaning across to buss Ian and shake Danny's hand. He steals Orlando's chair and leans back in it, stretching out his long denimed length. Arms crossing, he looks at Martin. "How are you making out? Found anyone you fancy?"

Some type of noise erupts in Martin's nasal cavity, in no small part because he's much more accustomed to a reserved Richard by the light of day: a taciturn, thoughtful, sometimes overly serious colleague light years removed from the relaxed, confident tease cheekily staring him down. Martin decides that if this is the game, he can be up for it. He's an actor, after all, and an important one at that. Richard is only broody moody Thorin, whereas he is The Hobbit, as in the one this whole mega voltage film they're making is about. So he lifts his chin and sassily answers, "Maybe."

"Oh," Richard laughs, his eye lines creasing. He's clearly not buying it. "Let's guess who, shall we?" He's up and rearranging both his and Martin's furniture so that the two of them have a better sweep of the room. It's only then that Martin realizes he's really in the front seat so to speak, that there's nothing between him and the rest of the club now that their chairs are turned out, and that more than a few heads are trying rather unsuccessfully not to look their way. Richard seems oblivious. "Lad in the grey t-shirt and jeans," he says. "Three down from Aidan at the bar. Nah, maybe not for you. He's too busy checking Aidan's arse."

Martin tracks his sight line, to where Orlando and Aidan are chatting along the rail as their order is being filled. He scans to the right. "Oh," Martin laughs. "He is. Goodness, he is."

"Do you think he'll make a move?" Richard says, dipping his head towards Martin. "Look, he's positioning for eye contact."

Martin has quite forgotten he's supposed to be buttoned up tight. This is all he needed, he thinks – the leader of their merry workday band who'd have his back in a scrum. Or in the back bathroom hallway, heaven forbid if it should come to that. He's beginning to understand why women go to the loo in teams.

"That's it, mate," Richard's muttering in his play-by-play, eyes riveted on the bar. "Go on. Just about, just about…"

Over at the bar, Aidan uses that moment to look towards the dance floor, and the grey t-shirt inches into his sightline and nods.

"I called it!" Richard explodes. "Christ, I need a drink to play this game."

"Is that Miranda?" Cate asks from behind them, having glanced at the dance floor. "Oh my God, it is!"

Martin turns towards her to reply, but Cate is already on her feet and trying to inch delicately past him. "You know her?" Martin asks as she's moving past, but Cate is already on her way, angling through the tables towards the dance floor. When she arrives, there's a squeal of reunited estrogen, both of them with their arms up in the air to slap palms before hugging, and then they are dancing with each other, two graceful willows swaying in a sea of muscle. Dean wanders back before he finds himself cornered by a new dance partner.

"Your wife knows Cate?" Martin asks as Orlando returns with a precarious load of glasses bunched between two hands, Aidan bringing up the rear in similar fashion.

"They met at a fashion thing in Sydney," Orlando says. He dips closer to Martin. "Australian women are even a bigger sisterhood than gay men." He successfully deposits the glasses and passes them out. "Here," he tells Martin, pulling a water bottle out of his jacket pocket. "You need to hydrate, hobbit. Your cheeks are pink."

"You took my seat," Aidan accuses Martin.

"But not for long," Richard replies, throwing back his drink and planting the glass firmly into the table top. "Bring your water," he cheerfully tells Martin. "Time for a walkabout."

Martin starts to bluster, but Richard merely stands and grabs the water bottle in one hand and Martin in the other, tugging him up and off his chair since he seems so skilled in that regard. They depart, Richard leading and Martin tripping afterwards, threading tables to a retreating pair of catcalls from Aidan and Orlando, bound for the dance floor.

"No, Richard, really, no," Martin protests pointlessly because he does not dance. Does not.

Much like he doesn't go into gay bars.

They jostle through the crowd, which seems to have grown in appreciation around Cate and Miranda, given the layers of irregularity the ladies are treating the regulars to. Richard slides up behind Cate to take her hand, one arm around her waist to set her twirling into a pirouette. She laughs when she realizes who it is, and they begin dancing.

Martin's never felt more like a hobbit: all feet, too short and far, too far from home.

Miranda is much too intuitive and sweet-natured to let Martin stew very long in his juices. She turns to him, and collecting both of his hands in hers, launches into a version of the Hustle that has Martin looking to see exactly what his hairy feet are up to.

Bad move, looking down. Five double-shooters are staring back up at him as the room dips a little.

"Ah-ah-ahh," Miranda giggles, snugging her finger under his chin. "You've got to keep your head up."

Which isn't hard, considering she's looming seven inches above him.

"Bounce at your knees," she smiles and starts dipping and crossing in front of him as if she were the exotic dancer and he were the pole. Next thing he knows, she's gesturing like a flight attendant, pointing out the exit sign, diagonally down to the floor lights, back to the exit sign, again to the floor flights. Tracking her hand makes his head want to spin all over again. Five or six fellows nearby start imitating her, and Martin thinks he's just been dropped onto the set of Saturday Night Fever, what with all the electric sliding going on around him. He can't help but laugh and follow suit, Miranda all dimples and dancing eyes, her pony tail whipping around with every twist of her head. Bloom's a lucky bastard.

Despite himself, when the song morphs into the next track, he moves right along with it, his arms doing strange things like churning the butter and starting the lawn mower. By now, Richard and Cate have turned towards them so that the four can dance together. Sometimes he's dancing with Cate, sometimes he's even dancing with Richard which, as odd as it should seem, doesn't seem so strange after all. And sometimes, when he turns, he's dancing with whatever fellow happens to be shooting him a thumbs up and yelling, "Good on ya, Watson!"

When the girls decide to call it quits for the time being, Richard grabs Martin's arm to stop him from following and tells him he needs at least one dance on a floor full of men before his life is over, now's as good as ever. And so he stays because Richard's a good mate and he has to pursue the quest with him come Monday.

While he tries in vain to find his inner disco boy, Martin can't help looking at Richard who is being plain silly and very entertaining. There's the open chambray collar, rolled sleeves, neck sweat shining, scruff hugging his cheeks and jaw, and Martin thinks, bloody hell, forget Danny. This is who I'd fantasized about becoming when I was twelve. Even though Martin's perfectly comfortable with the man he has become, there's always the vanity wishbone that wants occasional pulling. He smiles as he's thinking this, and Richard catches his eye and winks back. Martin knows that Richard's got his own inner wishbone; he's on the record for having hated his nose, probably still does, and hated his lankiness. No need to worry any more, mate, Martin thinks. You were just a late bloomer. Wait until the world meets Thorin Oakenshield.

There's a constant bump and tussle going on around him, more than a few gropes and grinds among the assorted players from which he quickly diverts his eyes. He senses more than hears Richard laughing, and he looks up, realizing he's the object of it. Richard reaches out and grips his neck to steady Martin's ear next to his lips. "When you signed on, did you figure you'd find yourself here, dancing the night away?"

Martin shakes his head, grinning.

He feels a pair of hands slide onto his hips from behind, and his mojo grinds to an abrupt and nervous halt. "Hey sexy," a voice breathes against his ear, "where 'ave you been hiding all my life?"

He turns, sober-faced, and Orlando gives him a hip check, cackling and prancing around to face him. "You should see your face!" Orlando laughs.

"You little…shit," Martin grins. "How did you ever get to first base with your woman, chatting her up like that?"

"Other talents," Orlando winks. "I've come to spell her off." He laughs and thrusts his pelvis at Martin twice to the punctuation of the bass rhythm.

"I'm not going to dance with you," Martin bandies back, doing exactly that as he bounces at his knees and keeps his chin up.

Orlando starts thrusting a little harder. "What? You'll dance with Richard but not with me?"

"That's right. Dancing with you will lead to lewdness. I'm safe with Richard. He is my loyal leader. He has my back."

Richard slides to the rhythm of the music up behind Martin and slips his arms around his waist. "I heard that," he growls in his best salacious baritone. "Lovely back it is too."

Oh God, Martin rues. Not Richard too. This place must have bad voodoo or something.

Orlando dances forward and reaches out past Martin to hook his thumbs on Richard's belt loops. "Hello Richard," he grins past Martin's head. "Nice of you to leave me Martin's front. Word has it the best bits are here."

"Depends on your point of view," Richard says, snaking his pelvis lightly up Martin's backside. He grips Martin's hands just in case he's thinking of flight.

"Um, gentlemen," Martin starts.

Orlando lets go of Richard's jeans and starts plucking at Martin's shirt, pulling the tails out of his trousers. "These need to come out," he says, staying close to stop Martin's fidgeting. "And this needs to come open." He unbuttons the top three buttons of Martin's shirt, folding them back. "There you go. Cooler, yeah? You need to show off your manly bits, advertise the goods." He ruffles a few of Martin's newly exposed chest hairs and quickly dances back out of harm's way.

But Richard has already let go of Martin's hands and pulled him into an affectionate headlock so that he can tuck down and kiss his crown. "All right," he says, "no more piss taking. Let's leave Orlando to the dance floor. This was all his idea in the first place. We'll see just how long he can last out here on his own." As they leave, they both turn as one, with a finger salute to Orlando who just sticks out his ass and turns to shimmy with the natives.

"I'll catch up," Richard tells Martin, indicating the bar with a head tip. "Need a new drink."

Miranda is standing with her arms open as Martin returns to the fold. "We saw!" she soothes, pulling him to her chest. "They are naughty monkeys, those two."

"They are indeed," Martin pouts but he's feeling as if he's passed through some kind of trial because the room looks different this time around, lighter, brighter, louder, happier. Danny's pointing at him, telling him he owes him a turn on the floor, there's no way the night's ending without a waltz with Watson, and Martin holds up his hand and tells him a waltz might just be pressing his luck. He empties half of his forgotten water bottle, and Aidan hands him his beer to chase it with. "You'll get better mileage than with the fancy pants Scotch," he tells Martin.

More chairs have been brought around, and Martin drops into one, his back angled to Aidan, who starts to massage his shoulders. Martin looks out over the room, content, tired – they had an early start to the day – and sees Richard at the bar, waiting on his drink. He's standing there chatting, laughing, head forward to hear what's being said. His drink arrives, but he doesn't seem in any rush to end his conversation.

Interesting, that. He's talking with the younger fellow in the grey t-shirt.

Martin takes another sip from his water bottle, reflecting on a collage of thoughts: the ghost of Richard's pelvis against his ass, Richard's ease flowing into the crowd on the dance floor, the open comfort of his posture at the bar. He turns back to his companions at the table, where he finds Ian looking at him. Ian raises one brow, and Martin smiles back. Right.

The waiter comes by again, being sure to keep the table plied and pleased, and Martin takes Aidan's advice and switches to lager.

"You haven't been up for a dance yet," Martin says to Aidan, now that he's feeling all cocky and confident.

"Not you too," Aidan says back.

"C'moooon," Martin jests. "If I can do it, you can do it." He turns and looks back over this shoulder to where Orlando is grinding away, arms above his head and about three inches of boxers showing below his navel. "That bastard elf started to undress me out there. We owe him one."

"You think?" Aidan laughs. "I've noticed, by the way, that you've not tucked back in."

Martin grins.

"Are you going to go save him from himself, or do I have to?" Miranda chimes in with a nod towards the dance floor.

"Nah, we'll do it," Martin says, standing up and grabbing Aidan's hand. "Off your arse, dwarf. Time to go give the boys a thrill. You'll look back on this in forty years and remember how young and stupid you were."

"Oh, I have no doubt," Aidan says, firmly planted but Martin can tell this isn't going to be a tough sell.

"They're just blokes," Martin says with the newfound wisdom borne of a distillery barrel. "C'mon. They'll love you." Aidan sighs and gets up. "That's really not what I needed to hear."

*

Monday morning, Martin drifts, eyes closed, at his makeup table, having a nice cuppa while his makeup assistant goes about her craft, setting his ears and face paint. He asks her if she enjoyed her day off, which she had.

His mobile chirps on the table top, and he reaches forward to check the message that's just come in. It's from Orlando, but there's no text.

Only photos.

Of Martin sitting on Danny's lap, Ian's arm draped around both their shoulders and Ian's lips firmly plastered to Martin's grinning cheek as he stares at the camera.

Of Martin standing on their little round table top, shirt fully unbuttoned, hands parked behind his head and pelvis thrust forward towards Miranda and Cate, Cate clapping her hands to egg him on and Miranda shielding her eyes while her dimples peek otherwise. Dean is leaning forward in the background like a drunken loon and yes, he's still being ogled by the lad next table over.

Of Martin standing with Orlando, arms around each other and posing gloriously for the camera, Orlando exposing his sun tattoo and Martin showing off his own scarlet happy face version, which seems to have been newly applied with someone's lipstick. What looks like paper money is tucked into the waist band of his chinos.

He texts back: At least I kept my trousers on.

The reply comes a few seconds later: Not sending those over the Internet.

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