Fic: The Unfanoning of Orlando’s Shirts

Billy was reaching innocently for a teabag, when a thing appeared next to him in line at the coffee and tea table. Blessedly, he couldn’t see most of it properly without turning around, and there was no way in a month of dog’s bollocks — or, he conceded, something — he was going to do that. But it was sticking a tentacle out in front of him, a hideous tentacle that could not be ignored, a tentacle that had a perfectly nice, squarish but elegant hand coming out of the end of it, but was nonetheless hideous and unignorable.

“Orlando,” Billy said, “what in the bloody hell is that?”

“What’s what?” Orlando said. And, good God, now there were two tentacles, because Orlando was reaching past Billy to hold his polystyrene cup under the spout of the urn, and tilting the lever with his other hand.

Billy steeled himself, and because it seemed as though he would have to in order to explain, he touched the nearest tentacle.

“Oh,” Orlando said alarmingly chirpily, “this?” He did not wait for Billy to respond, but put his cup down on the trestle table and said, “Isn’t it cool? It’s, like, my tea-drinking shirt. It’s the colour of tea with milk, and these bits…” Orlando poked at several places on his own chest, pointing out the intermittent, small, dark brown paisley swirls on the shirt. “Are like little teapots.”

Billy thought the paisley swirls looked more like tiny cartoon ducks with no legs than teapots. He thought the background colour was an awfully strong cup of tea, if it was tea; he thought it was more like something one would certainly not want to put in one’s mouth. He replied, “Uh-huh.”

“And feel!” Orlando said. He grabbed Billy’s hands and rubbed them, palm forward, up and down the front of the shirt. “It’s all soft. Like something your gran would get you to keep your kidneys warm.”

“Yeah, it’s flannelette,” Billy said, in a rendition of unconcern, as Orlando’s nipples skated past repeatedly under his palms.

Orlando grinned, in a loopy sort of way.

Dimly, Billy realised they were holding up the line: it was curving away in an arc from the end of the table now. He had not even put water in his own cup yet — it was just sitting there on the edge of the table, dangling its neglected teabag accusingly. He tried not to look at anyone. Orlando still hadn’t let go of his hands.

 

Sean Bean was in the conference room before the Rivendell council read-through, sitting at the table and talking to John.

Orlando came in, and Orlando was wearing this shirt. The shirt was little-girl pink, musk-lolly pink, plastic-jointed-legged-dolly atomic-strength-antibacterial-hand-soap childhood-tonsillitis-medicine pink. And it had substantial ruffles.

Then Peter came in and convened them, and Sean didn’t have to remember what he had been saying to John.

There was something about Orlando’s face that just changed, as decisively as a slide, when he decided to be Legolas. His normal concentrating-face had a certain rascalry to it, all expressive forehead creases and jaunty balls of the cheeks, but when he was being Legolas, it all simply flattened away into an almost featureless elegance.

When it was time, Orlando exclaimed in Legolas’s voice, “He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance.” The pink ruffles down his front jiggled.

Sean found himself terribly interested in how Aragorn, son of Arathorn, was going to take that.

“Sean,” Peter said. “Your line.”

On the way out, Sean said to Orlando, “Nice shirt.”

“Yeah,” Orlando said, “it’s cool, ay.” The creases in his forehead had sprung entirely back to life, and he tugged happily at the ruffles. “It’s, like… all like dinner-dance carnations, you know?”

Sean said, after a pause, “Yeah.”

 

Orlando liked people noticing his shirts. He liked how they would try not to notice, not to comment, but their eyes just kept dipping as though they were attached to rubber bands, and eventually they would have to say something. He liked how, eventually, inevitably, they touched the shirts: they touched Orlando through the shirts, as if Orlando were a fluffy puppy — the way no one can resist touching a fluffy puppy.

Sometimes, admittedly, Orlando helped people along toward the inevitable. He picked up people’s hands and put them on his shirts. It was just that Orlando liked his shirts, and he liked talking about them, and that was what the people and he were doing. And texture was a part of that, and sometimes he needed to illustrate.

 

One day when they were doing read-throughs again, Orlando wore a shirt that had swirling flowers all over it, each about the size of a square of chocolate. Some of them were also the colour of a square of chocolate, and some of them were a purply, cornflower blue, and some of them were lemon yellow, and some of them were a verdant green like healthy grass. The shirt had a big, white, starchy collar, and big, white, starchy cuffs.

Billy’s eyes had been doing the rubber band thing all through the last scene, and when the session broke, Orlando could tell that Billy was trying to get out of the room without talking to Orlando about the shirt. Orlando was considering whether he should pounce on Billy and make him get it over with, or whether he should let the inevitable happen at its own pace and wait for Billy come to him. But then there came a touch on Orlando’s shoulder from behind. Orlando straightened, stilled. The touch slid down over Orlando’s shoulderblade.

A voice said, “Interesting.” The voice was low, rich and American — it was Viggo’s.

Orlando had a tiny moment of almost-panic, uncertain whether he should turn around. Then he thought that of course he should, and he did, and Viggo was looking at him, and Viggo had a small tweak in the corner of his mouth, but looked quite serious all the same.

“Very Matisse,” Viggo said. And without Orlando having to do or say a thing, Viggo was taking Orlando’s wrist gently in one hand, and lifting it, and with the other hand he was taking the puff of fabric that emerged above the big, white cuff between his fingers.

Orlando smiled what he hoped was knowingly. The drawers in his mental filing cabinet rumbled. Viggo’s fingers moved on the fabric. Scritch, scritch, it went, very softly, like the sound of thunder played back at infinitesimal volume.

Then Orlando thought, of course, Matisse, those smeary flowers, people had them on posters on their walls. Viggo had probably only said it because it was obvious-even-to-a-lay-person, totally uh-duh. Possibly that meant Viggo thought Orlando was uh-duh. But on the other hand, it was good that Orlando knew enough to know it was uh-duh, wasn’t it? Maybe Orlando should think of a way to work the uh-duh-ness of it into conversation.

And then Viggo let Orlando’s wrist go. The other corner of his mouth tweaked for a moment as well, before he turned and left the room.

 

Across the pub, in the dubious light by the bar, Orlando saw what seemed to be a familiar silhouette. Orlando skirted some tables, avoiding bags and jutting chairs, and still he could spot no one else he knew. Now he was this close, the shape at the bar was certainly Viggo.

Orlando crossed the empty floor between the tables and the bar. He peered suspiciously, one last time, toward the darkness of the corner booths. Where were the rest of them?

Viggo was leaning over the bar, trying to catch the attention of the barman — from behind, he had that long, stretched, craning posture to his spine.

Viggo did not turn when Orlando came up next to him at the bar. Orlando bumped his forearm into Viggo’s, and then Viggo turned. And then Viggo saw him, and turned around entirely, and entirely missed the barman walking past, which Orlando tried not to notice, so Viggo wouldn’t either.

“Hey,” Viggo said. Viggo’s voice was still smooth when he raised it above the din of the pub, Orlando noticed. Orlando’s tended to turn into a glottally squawk that sometimes surprised even him.

“Hey,” Orlando said, not too squawkily. He did not usually say hey, on account of it being rather American.

“So, uh,” Viggo said, “how are your significatory practices going today?” His eyes flicked over the barman’s back, then found Orlando’s again, then dipped lazily, before returning.

This evening, Orlando’s shirt was red, with a long, wide collar and a narrow line of flat ruffling down either side of the buttonhole interfacing. Without quite meaning to, Orlando touched his own chest, just below the open collar, where it seemed Viggo had been looking.

“It just… suggests the other one,” Viggo said. His hands, thumbs first, were coming toward Orlando. Then he was running the tips of his thumbs down Orlando’s chest, tucked under the two lines of ruffles. The heels of his hands ran down beside his thumbs and — oh — over Orlando’s nipples.

“The pink one,” Orlando said.

“Yeah,” Viggo said, bringing his thumbs all the way up again, lifting the ruffles as he went, bumping Orlando’s nipples again.

“You remember that one,” Orlando said.

“Yeah,” Viggo said. “I remember lots of them.”

Orlando had no idea what this “significatory practices” business was. But he wondered, from the way Viggo had said “suggests” before, if Viggo was using it as some sort of technical term — there was something in the way he paused for a fraction of a second before saying it, and then pronounced it so carefully. It sounded the same as the way Viggo sometimes pronounced the word “interrogate” when he used it in relation to things that weren’t people, and therefore it didn’t make any sense as far as Orlando was concerned; or the way he used the word “problematic”, which Orlando presumed just meant “a bit dodgy”, but obviously meant more than that when you paused beforehand and said it in the right way. Orlando suspected you could just make this shit up, if you got the pause and the tone right. If only Viggo’s shirt suggested something, so Orlando could practice — but it was white.

Orlando nodded and tried to look enlightened, in a critically interrogatory sort of way.

Viggo’s hands splayed out across Orlando’s ribs. He said, smiling, “You need a whiskey, don’t you?” He turned to look for the barman.

Orlando did not care for whiskey, but he did not disagree.

Viggo had to take his hands off Orlando to sort the drinks out with the barman. But then he put them right back on again. He fiddled with one of the narrow, red ruffles for a solid seven or eight seconds, without any encouragement from Orlando at all. And then Viggo said, “Is it cold in here?”

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Michelle December 2nd, 2011 7:20 am

    Hilarious! And absolutely brilliant – how Viggo is singlehandedly messing up Orlando’s grand plan of shocking everyone with his shirts had me in stitches. And the shirts of course had me laughing as well. They were truly atrocious!

  2. Eyebrow of Doom January 3rd, 2012 4:19 pm

    Hehe, glad you liked it. Those shirts came from deep in the bowels of my subconscious.

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