"Dad? The part about dreams again?"
"Do you remember where it is?"
"Right after the lines from Die Meistersinger."
"Yes, yes. All right, then. "
Exene used to tell Viggo that he was dooming Henry to a life of angst and existential torment, and Viggo would reply that it was better than dooming Henry to a life of being just like everyone else. Exene always won this argument, because she always came back with, "Baby, everyone else is tormented."
Viggo didn't get that. He still doesn't -- who has the energy to be sad and tormented all the time? He's not tormented. Sometimes he's sorrowful, and once or twice he can recall being distinctly sulky, and every once in a while he does realize that he has regrets, but he drowns those in whiskey and poetry, and life goes on. Life always goes on; that's what he likes the best about it. It goes slow and it goes fast and it zig-zags, but it always goes.
When Henry was particularly colicky as a baby, and, once he grew older, asked for bedtime stories, Viggo would read to him from the only work of Nietzsche's worth the time it took to read properly out loud. "The Birth of Tragedy" isn't a stunning piece of art and thought by any means, but it's beautiful and when you pull pieces of it out of context, they make a perfect sort of sense that any actor or thinking person should be able to appreciate.
What Exene never understood about Nietzsche was that he was a man panicked by the idea of the death of meaning. He wasn't a nihilist -- he was afraid that nihilism was taking over the world. Rightly so, because if the only thing that mattered about this world was counting the years until you hit the afterlife, how could anything you do matter? A lack of matter equals, in Viggo's head, the crashing of structure and an absence of meaning. Nothing means anything until you're dead -- he knows how Nietzsche felt.
If he could instill that fear in Henry young enough, then at least one person will be alive after Viggo is gone to find meaning in this world. That's the part that matters the most.
When Liv first came to him, her lips trembling at midnight, unable to sleep for her homesickness, he misunderstood what she wanted from him, and tried to be as kind as possible in turning her down -- but she set him straight; she only wanted company, and would take either Viggo or Aragorn, she didn't care who. But the Hobbits were too rambunctious (or, in Sean's case, too solicitous), and Orlando was too intimidated by her, and from most of the others she just wasn't comfortable with asking this.
Viggo understood homesickness only slightly better than he understood allowing yourself to be tormented and angsty all the time, but it wouldn't do for an elf princess to have bags under her eyes despite the attempts of makeup to cover them, so he pulled her close, and pulled out "The Birth of Tragedy," and let her fall asleep on his shoulder, his stomach, his legs. He felt comfortably paternal with her by the third night, and missed her on the nights she didn't come, although his voice was grateful for the rest.
A few weeks later, she began bringing along Elijah. Viggo wouldn't have objected in any case, but Elijah had a particular look in his eye that warned Viggo to tread carefully. Elijah's oversensitivity about being a child actor and his worry to always appear the consummate professional were both things Viggo caught on to very quickly. It was easier to pretend that Elijah was there because he was having trouble sleeping because the filming was becoming more rigorous, or because he was fighting with Dom or Billy.
And when Liv went home, Viggo expected Elijah to stop coming around, but he kept on. When Liv was there, she claimed the spot next to Viggo, her head on his thigh, her hair draped over his lap. She fell asleep easily as he read, and slept calmly. Her mouth was always red, her skin always pale despite the strong New Zealand sun, her hair just too black to be real. She reminded him of a young Elizabeth Taylor, and he wanted to dress her in old-style clothing and photograph her in dim light. When he said this to Elijah, looking at him over the top of the blue and orange book, Elijah only scowled and lit another cigarette from the first.
Viggo always started at the beginning, at "A Critical Backward Glance," and Liv was always asleep by the discussion of empiric reality. Elijah stayed awake, watching Viggo's mouth move, chainsmoking, ashing into one of the many cedar ashtrays Viggo had learned to keep on hand; he would listen until Viggo stopped reading.
Viggo always stopped before his favorite part, because there was never enough time. If Elijah couldn't fall asleep by the fiftieth page, he wasn't going to -- and he never did. But brandy into Elijah's goodnight cup of tea, and he'd fall asleep curled into the corner before the last sip, before the fifty-third page. Viggo let him sleep with a quilt Fran had given him, all the materials made in New Zealand, by natives, and Elijah always pulled it over his head, made himself a cocoon in his sleep.
Once there was no Liv to put her head in his lap, Elijah crept closer each time he came over. Sometimes it was every night and sometimes it was only once or twice a week -- and every time he sat closer and closer to Viggo's customary position at the corner of his settee.
Finally Elijah took Liv's position next to him, and Viggo would run his fingers through Elijah's hair the way he used to run his fingers through Liv's. As with Liv, he would sometimes need to pull glue from Elijah's scalp and ears, and would let his fingers find the knots that needed soothed away. Viggo knew his fingertips were rough, and they only became rougher the further into shooting they got, but Elijah's skin was abornmall soft and smooth, despite the glue and the wind and the sun. He traced patterns on Elijah's skin -- and when he realized he was doing it, he stopped, but Elijah whined, and so he continued, and felt like the most perverted of old men.
Elijah spent more and more nights with Viggo, fewer and fewer out with the others smoking too much in lieu of drinking too much. Viggo didn't know whether or not Elijah was ever one to go home with pretty barmaids, but if he was, he'd stopped now. Even on the nights Viggo went into the woods and slept under the stars, Elijah came along, and they slept close together -- to, as Elijah said to him, conserve their body heat. It was a shallow excuse, but Viggo took it, and recited poetry to sing him to sleep.
As with Liv before Elijah began coming along, once he was asleep and breathing regularly, sooty eyelashes resting on strawberries and cream skin, Viggo would snap a few pictures by candle light, on grainy 3200 film. The pictures were always blurry and too grey, but Viggo liked them, because they looked like sleep, and he sent them to Henry with quotes scrawled on the prints in silver Sharpie.
A few he kept for himself -- the one in which Elijah's mouth was slightly open, tobacco stained teeth visible; the one in which Elijah's wrist was thrown over his eyes and the shadows made him look as though he were fading away.
Sometimes he and Elijah talked over their last cup of tea, instead of reading. Elijah was very American, in his opinions and thoughts and word choices -- and he'd never read half the plays Nietzsche referenced. Viggo was hard pressed to understand how Elijah could have skipped over all sorts of philosophy on acting and drama, especially since there was so much.
Elijah's reasoning was that there was too much, and there was no point in diluting his own beliefs with that of others, especially long dead old white men who had never tread the boards. Viggo hooted at this -- he couldn't help it, and was sorry for it a split second after he did it, because Elijah's eyes dimmed and darkened, and his mouth turned down.
"You've never tread the boards in your life, kid," said Viggo, and cuffed him on the back of the head.
"It's a metaphor, you bastard." Elijah punched him in the ribs, and it hurt, and Viggo had to remind himself that he was only 18, but couldn't stop himself from correcting Elijah --
"It's not a metaphor, it's -- "
"Just go back to fucking reading." Elijah drained his tea, lit a cigarette, and put his head on Viggo's thigh.
Viggo tried very hard to feel paternal, and failed, so he cleared his throat, and continued, skipping forward to his favorite part.
"What were you thinking of, overweening Euripides, when you hoped to press myth, then in its last agony, into your service? It died under your violent hands; but you could easily put in its place an imitation that, like Heracles' monkey, would trick itself out in the master's robes. And even as myth, music too died under your hands; though you plundered greedily all the gardens of music, you could achieve no more than a counterfeit. And because you had deserted Dionysos, you were in turn deserted by Apollo. Though you hunted all the passions up from their couch and conjured them into your circle, though you pointed and burnished a sophistic dialect for the speeches of your heroes, they have only counterfeit passions and speak counterfeit speeches.'"
Viggo paused for a moment with his eyes closed, and drew breath in steadily. He could repeat the beginning of part eleven without referencing the page -- Greek tragedy perished in manner quite different from the older sister arts: it died by suicide... -- and when he opened his eyes again, Elijah was asleep, one hand tucked under his head and under Viggo's thigh, burning through fabric into skin, the other covering his own mouth. The cigarette was left burning in the ash tray, and Elijah's face was tracked with salt marks from tears Viggo hadn't noticed.