After, the second thing Billy does is call Dom. He hasn't had the number memorized for years and it's not even familiar when he looks it up on his handheld, but at least he has it. He gets stuck there for a minute, hunched against the wind, staring at Dom's name in neat little black letters. Dom answers on the fourth ring and he didn't think this through at all, takes a deep breath and swallows a cough at the sudden shock of cold.
"Hi, it's Bill," he says.
"Billy Boyd!" crows Dom, surprised and pleased and familiar. "Long time no speak! How're you?"
"Ah, well, you know. We've been running Harrison's Forest for almost two months, so getting a bit bored. You?"
"I'm fine. Up to my elbows in paperwork for colleges."
"Yeah, Katie's starting in the fall. How time flies, right? She's applying to conservatories, too, so we'll be spending the spring flying over the country for auditions." He sounds proud despite the complaint. It makes something in Billy's stomach draw tight, as if the odd, brittle numbness that's gripped him since he found out might snap at any moment. He isn't sure what would happen then. Anger is one of the stages of grief, he thinks a little randomly, or maybe it's the other way around.
"So what's the occasion?" Dom is saying. "I haven't talked to you in ages."
"That's just it, actually. I was thinking that we should spend some time. I could fly over to the States."
"I'd love to! We should plan a trip somewhere exotic this summer, maybe. Somewhere with an ocean- you still surf, don't you?"
Two cars drive by, then a third one that turns at the corner.
"Er, I was thinking a little sooner than that," Billy says.
"Really? When did you want?"
"Before Christmas, maybe. I have some free time after Forest."
There's a slight pause. The wind picks up; Billy jams his free hand further into his pocket.
"You weren't kidding about sooner," Dom says. "Yeah, I think that'll work."
"Look, I have to go. I'll call you with the details or email or something."
Another pause. The knot in Billy's stomach cinches itself tighter.
"Alright," Dom eventually says, confusion clear in his voice. "Later, then. It was good to talk to you."
"Yeah, you too. Bye."
He hangs up and stands there, some random street, watching the cars and the people in the cars going about their lives. The wind gusts again and he turns away from it. After a minute he puts his other hand in his pocket, too.
After, the first thing Billy did was sit very still and stare at the wall until he thought he could breathe without choking.
He buys a round trip ticket with no return date and less than three weeks later a taxi is dropping him outside Dom's house. The front yard is halfway between garden and jungle, a riot of plants and trees organized in no way Billy can make sense of. There's something odd about the house, too. It takes Billy a moment to realize that the whole thing is done over in solar panels. It's all very Dom, really, which reassures him enough to stop delaying and knock.
The door opens and there's Dom, breaking into the same grin he's always had, too wide and uncontrollable to be called attractive.
"Billy! Come on in!" he says, and hugs him as soon as his bags are on the ground. "It's good to see you."
"Yeah, it's good to be here," Billy says, and then doesn't know where to go from there. There's a moment of awkward silence before Dom bends down to grab his suitcase.
"Come on, I'll show you your room. You're lucky you weren't here a few months ago- I just repainted about half the house, everything was a mess. There wasn't even furniture in here, just a great stack of stuff in the middle of the room."
"It looks great," Billy offers. The walls of the guest room are something that might be termed bold periwinkle.
"Thanks! Shall I take a wild guess and assume you'd like some tea?"
"Mm, that'd be perfect."
"I'll go put the water up. Make yourself at home."
Billy sits down hard on the bed once he's gone. The strange near-panic had disappeared not long after calling Dom, giving way to a sort of quiet resignation that was easy enough to carry. Now that he's here, though, he's on edge again, tense and uneasy with all the ways this might fail.
The shriek of the kettle startles him and he makes his way back to the kitchen, trying unsuccessfully to smother a jaw-cracking yawn. Dom turns to smile at him from the counter.
"I see the grand tour will have to wait until tomorrow. Sit before you fall, Bill."
He sinks gratefully into a chair. The kitchen is painted a rich orangey-gold that should remind him of Mexico but doesn't, really, and he wonders about that until Dom sets a mug of tea in front of him.
"Ach, sorry." He scrubs a hand over his eyes. "My thoughts don't even make sense right now."
"Don't worry about it. How was the trip, other than long?"
"Well, long, mostly. Terrible food, terrible movie, don't know how many hours I've been awake. Didn't lose my luggage or anything, though." He sighs. "Life would be so much easier if I could just learn to sleep on a plane."
"It's a skill. You could take something, you know, to knock you out for the longer flights." Dom laughs as Billy's disapproving expression is interrupted by yet another yawn.
"I'm sorry. My body thinks it's-" he checks his watch, takes a depressingly long minute to do the math- "three in the morning."
"I understand. Look, why don't you just go to sleep? You can start adjusting your schedule tomorrow when you're at least awake enough to function."
"I'll be okay-"
"No, you won't. It's really fine, I promise. Go on."
Billy goes, taking his tea with him. Getting into bed is a relief, not only because he's exhausted, but also so that he can put off facing Dom- facing the space between the two of them- for another day. He's almost asleep when there's a soft knock on the door.
"You awake?" Dom whispers.
"Mm, sort of."
"I brought you a towel for the morning. Sorry, I completely forgot to lay one out. I'll put it on the chair here, okay?"
"Thanks. G'night, Dom."
"'Night." The door closes, then opens again as Dom sticks his head in.
"Oh, and Billy? I don't know if you noticed, but...you're completely bald."
There's a part of Billy that's been whispering a steady mantra of too late, too late ever since that phone call. Now, listening to Dom's sniggering recede down the hallway, he thinks that maybe there's hope after all.
He wakes suddenly and completely with the knowledge that he's finished sleeping for the day. It's almost four in the morning. He hadn't thought to pack a book or anything else to pass the time, so he just lies still. It isn't a hardship, really. He's been running on automatic for the past few weeks and keeps finding himself stalled when there's nothing immediate to do, standing in place and not thinking about anything at all.
Now, he breathes, idly timing each inhalation to the beats of his heart. After a while one impatient bird begins to call, repeating the same insistent two-note cry until its fellows join in. Billy looks at the corner where ceiling meets wall. When it lightens enough for him to distinguish white against startling purple instead of shades of grey he gets out of bed, dresses, and wanders out to the rest of the house.
It looks different in this light, the beginnings of dawn drawing sharp edges out of the gloom. There's a living room behind the kitchen that he didn't see last night. It boasts a wall of wooden bookshelves from which Billy selects the complete Hitchhiker's and then turns toward the promise of the sliding glass doors.
When Dom finds him curled in a lawn chair he's lost track of time, but the sun is bright and Arthur Dent is learning about fjords.
"There you are," Dom says, "I was starting to worry. I didn't see you when I got up, so I thought you were still sleeping, but eventually I figured that no one could sleep that much, jetlagged or not. And just think, you were hiding out here the whole time."
"Sorry. I woke up around four, I think."
Dom grimaces in sympathy. "I should've realised that would happen with the time difference. I wasn't thinking."
"It's not a problem, just don't let me go to sleep so early tonight. Actually, I had a perfectly fine morning. It's nice to be sitting outside in December."
Dom hums an agreement and stands in silence for a moment, enjoying the weather.
"Can I interest you in something to eat?" he asks after a minute. "I've already snacked a bit, but I'd be happy to sit with you."
"There's nothing wrong with having a second breakfast, anyway," Billy says, and Dom grins and shakes his head.
The day goes fairly well. Dom gives him the promised tour and takes him out to lunch, where they spend most of their time dusting off all the old anecdotes and inside jokes from New Zealand. By dinnertime Billy's smothering yawns, trying to concentrate on his food and the conversation. Dom slaps him lightly on the arm from across the table.
"Still with me, Bill?"
"Fading fast. Is there something caffeinated I could have?"
"Absolutely. Coffee or tea? Or soda, I guess."
"Coffee," Billy says with a sigh. "I think I need it. Why did I tell you to keep me awake, again?"
Dom chuckles. "You'll make it. Liv's show is on tonight, then you can go to sleep."
"Liv has a show?" Bill asks. Yet another thing he's lost track of, and he feels suddenly ashamed. If Dom is disappointed, though, he doesn't show it.
"'Between Us'. It's probably not showing in Scotland, actually." Not that Billy couldn't buy it online. At some point he just...stopped bothering. "You know, I just heard that it's been renewed for a third season, so I guess it counts as legitimately good TV. And staring at Liv for an hour a week's certainly no hardship."
"Cheese, fine wine, and Liv Tyler, hmm? Who would've guessed?"
"Yeah, and Orlando."
"Bloody elves," they chorus, but it's been a long time since New Zealand and Billy joins in half a beat too late.
Dom apparently enjoys the show for far more than just Liv. He's totally engrossed, tearing his eyes away only to give Billy hurried spurts of explanation when he deems them necessary. Billy loses interest fairly quickly. He's awake, but it's the strange kind of artificial awake that keeps his eyes open well enough but doesn't do anything to focus his thoughts, and despite Dom's efforts he can't really follow the show. He watches Liv, who plays a single mother with a rebellious teenage daughter. It's bizarre that she's old enough for the role. He spends a while turning that over in his mind, getting used to it, but in the end it just brings him back to Dom.
Dom, who is somehow simultaneously just as he remembers and bafflingly different. The makeup is gone, and the blond highlights- in the brighter glow of the commercials Billy can see the very beginnings of grey creeping into his brown hair, which suits him frighteningly well- but he still wears a jumble of rings and one fake-leather wrist cuff. He's funny and understanding and sarcastic, but he also cooks complicated meals and has a house filled with photography and mementoes. He's the kind of man who organizes his front garden so it reflects his life, including a tree for each daughter and flowers that have the same meaning as their names.
He's an adult. Not that Billy ever thought of him as immature or a child, but all the same he's changed, he's matured, and Billy just feels like himself, the same him he's always been. It's shifted the dynamic between them, he realizes. Only a tiny bit, but enough to account for the way he's felt slightly off-balance all day. Somehow Dom's figured it out. He knows who he is and has what he needs and is settled comfortably into this beautiful life, whereas Billy's life…well. Billy's life sent him running all the way to California.
"This is shit," Dom says the next day. "Utter, absolute shit." He waves the hand not holding his beer at the projector screen. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I could write better dialogue."
"I'm pretty sure you have written better dialogue. It's a shame we never finished that movie,you know. We could be watching that instead of this atrocity, which is, in all fairness, one of the worst pieces of television I've ever seen."
"Our movie!" Dom sits up and turns on the sofa to look at him. "D'you know, I'd forgotten about that. Why didn't we finish it?"
Billy shrugs. "Never got around to it, I guess. Hang on." He pulls out his handheld and starts thumbing through the menus. "With any luck I've still got it somewhere."
"Seriously? You put it on there?"
"I just transferred everything from my old computer. If you think I'm a packrat in real life, you should see me online. Yeah, here it is." He tosses the handheld into Dom's lap. "Set that up, would you?" Dom gives an exaggerated sigh, but gets to his feet to set it in the dock and turn it on. There's a sudden silence as the TV show is replaces by a simple looking Word document.
"Did we really call our movie The Best Script Ever Written In The History Of The Universe And Also That Will Ever Be Written In Its Future, or, Of Chipmunks and Kitchen Appliances?" Dom asks after a minute. He sets it to scroll slowly and flops back on the couch.
"I think that was just a working title. Though I've no idea what the chipmunk bit is about." Dom nods absently, already reading the first lines as they appear.
It takes about twenty minutes to read the whole thing, which is made up of chunks of dialogue interspersed with explanations and various plot ideas.
"It's not that funny," Dom pronounces, as if a great deal of thought had gone into producing those words.
"No, I mean, it's funny. It's just…I remember thinking that it was you know, the best movie in the history of everything and all that. The most hilarious thing ever created. And, well, it's pretty good, but it wouldn't have brought us fame or fortune.
Billy names a noncommittal noise. He feels a little hurt by Dom's critique, which is ridiculous because Dom had an equal part in writing it and it was so long ago, anyway. He envisions asking Dom if he wants to finish it, to fix it, but that presumes too much when it's no more than a fond recollection for him.
"Why are you here?"
He stops, then takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. This was bound to happen sooner or later. It's been the elephant in the room since he arrived, although Dom's a good enough friend to reign in his curiosity for a little. He's given Billy a comfortable few days of safe conversation, catching up and reminiscing about Rings. The kind of things any old friends would do. Dom isn't the kind of man to just let it go, though, not when it was so obvious from that phone call that something was going on.
He rubs a hand across his eyes, gathering his thoughts.
"My gran used to have this phrase," he says finally. "Christmas card relations. It was what she called the distant cousins and such that you only heard from in Christmas cards, and you'd kind of think, oh, I remember them, what nice folks, but that was all."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
"And the other day I thought…I thought, you and I are Christmas card friends. I get a card from you or I see one of your movies and I think, I should really get in touch with Dom, but I never do it. You just drifted out of my life somewhere along the line. I don't know how your daughters are doing, I didn't know you bought this house, I don't know if you working or not or what you're doing with yourself these days." He pauses, searches for words.
"I mean, you were my closest friend in the world. If you'd told me this would happen back in New Zealand I probably would've thought you were mental, but here we are. And I was doing Christmas cards and thinking, I don't want to lose Dom." He smiles a little and looks up from where he's been picking at the label of his beer bottle.
"And, well, here I am."
Dom looks upset, which is not at all the reaction Billy had been expecting. Everything he'd said had been true, even if it wasn't exactly the reason he'd come, and the voice that used to say too late suddenly reappears. What if Dom didn't mind the way things were between you? it says, what if he liked it that way?
"Christ, Bill," Dom says, pulling him out of his thoughts. "I don't know what to say. You're absolutely right, you know. I'm so sorry."
Dom gives him an incredulous look. "Relationships do take two people. It's just as much my fault as it is yours." He scrutinizes Billy for a moment. "You just took all the blame yourself, didn't you?"
Billy nods. He hadn't thought of Dom's part in all this, really. It's hard to reconcile with his new image of Dom as so organized, so in control.
"I don't…I don't know how it happened," Dom starts, but Billy cuts him off.
"Well, it won't happen again. We'll make sure." Dom nods, then gets up and comes over to hug him.
"Thank you for getting on a plane and coming to see me out of the blue," he says seriously, and Billy flushes with something uncomfortably close to guilt.
Things get easier after that, maybe because Dom's stopped waiting for the other shoe to fall, or maybe just because they're getting used to each other again. Their conversations stop having awkward pauses and regain their old, easy back-and-forth. It feels more and more like nothing's changed in all these years- and then Dom's daughters come home. He'd mentioned that he had them for the weekend but Billy had somehow forgotten, so he's startled when the door opens and closes and a girl's voice calls out,
"In the living room," Dom calls back, and a moment later a brown pony-tailed head appears around the doorjamb.
"Anna, this is Billy. I told you he'd be here for the weekend, remember?"
Anna steps fully into the room. She's thin and a little gangly, with the look of someone who's just getting to the uncomfortable parts of puberty. She's wearing jeans and a sort of blouse and has a backpack thrown over one shoulder.
"Hello," she says, smiling shyly. There's an awkward moment when Billy doesn't know whether or not to get up and shake her hand. In the end he stays put and lifts his own hand a little in a kind of aborted wave.
"I almost didn't recognize you- you were about this high last time I saw you," he says, then wishes he hadn't. He'd always hated that kind of thing as a child. From this perspective, though, he has some sympathy for the adults who'd said it to him. It's not just inane chatter; it's being shocked at how time has passed, how life goes on and how much you've missed.
The night only gets worse from there. He manages a reintroduction to Katie when she arrives home, gets thoroughly in the way while Dom tries to cook dinner, and spends most of the meal muddling through stilted, polite conversation. Anna's a freshman who spends her free time at the local ballet school; Katie's a senior who plays clarinet in more kinds of ensembles than he thought one school could have. He thinks back to his phone call to Dom and asks her about the conservatories she's applying to, but then he hasn't heard of any of them and that line of conversation peters out spectacularly.
Katie asks a few questions in return, which are welcome but not terribly helpful attempts to keep the discussion going. Anna, not as schooled in politeness, keeps lapsing into anecdotes about people and events that are meaningless to Billy. He almost wishes Dom and Katie would forget about his presence as easily as she does. When the conversation turns away from him they suddenly transform, teasing and warm and relaxed, a family comfortable in their home and their routine. One of the girls might as well have turned to him and said, this is Dom's life now, don't you see? You don't have a place in it.
"Listen, I'll go into the city for the weekend," he says after dinner. "You should spend time with your kids."
"It's fine, I told them you'd be here. They don't mind. Besides, Anna has rehearsal for the Nutcracker both nights and Katie would rather practice than speak to people these days."
"But we've just spent the whole week together. It's really not a problem. I don't want to keep you from…I don't know, family time." Dom, of course, looks at him like he's crazy.
"Billy. I'm raising two teenage girls. The only contact they want with me is when I'm feeding them or giving them money."
"They're your family, and you only see them over the weekend. I'm not going to keep you from that."
"Exactly- I get to see them all the time. But you flew all the way here and I haven't seen you in years. It's fine, really."
Billy decides it's not worth arguing and calls a cab.
The problem is, he doesn't really have anything to do in the city. He checks into a hotel and then sits on the bed for a while, considering. After about an hour he goes out again, asks directions to the nearest bookstore, and buys himself a copy of Hitchhiker's even though he has one at home. It gets him through most of the night.
On Saturday he thinks about calling up some of his old acquaintances in the area. He can't give them more than a day's notice, though, and he doesn't particularly want to answer any questions about how he's been. In the end he calls Viggo, who might not even notice that Billy was avoiding personal questions, or else might give him some incredibly sage and helpful advice. Or might conceivably bundle him into a car and take him llama roping or something; he's never been any good at predicting Viggo. In the end it doesn't matter. He gets an answering machine and can't bring himself to just leave a message after all these years, so he hangs up, back at square one.
On Sunday he entertains the idea of buying Dom a Christmas present. It would be the polite thing to do, really, as a guest this close to the holiday. Besides, he wants to. He wants to find something absolutely perfect that Dom will appreciate- which is where he runs into trouble. Everything he can think of is too connected to Lord of the Rings and he doesn't want that, doesn't want the friendship they're rebuilding to be entirely based on the past. Eventually he gives up and goes back to his hotel room to read Hitchhiker's a second time and wait for Monday.
He doesn't get a taxi back to Dom's until the afternoon, out of some vague idea that it will seem like he was actually doing things and not just wasting time over the weekend. Dom opens the door with a smile.
"Well, fancy seeing you here!"
Billy smiles back and elbows Dom in the side as he goes to put his suitcase back in the guest room. On the way out he gets sidetracked by a strange light coming from the living room and goes to investigate.
There's a fully decorated Christmas tree occupying the middle of the room. It stands in a truly enormous ceramic bowl. Dom probably replants them when he's done, which really makes perfect sense. Billy remembers an uneven line of pine trees along the side of the backyard and wonders if he could use it to measure the years Dom's spent in this house.
"Gorgeous, isn't it?" says Dom, coming into the doorway as Billy walks slowly around the tree.
It's practically drooping with adornment. Ropes of lights swirl around it, crisscrossing with strings of popcorn. There are baubles in all shapes and sizes, figurines of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, of Santa Claus and reindeer and angels and things he can't even identify. He's sure Dom could tell him the story of each and every one of them, gift or purchase. What makes his throat tighten uncomfortably, though, are the homemade ornaments. They're crude and falling apart but proudly displayed, reindeer made of clothespins and uneven paper snowflakes, the products of school projects and rainy days. The whole history of this family is encompassed by the tree, each year the girls grew up, every carefully placed ornament with its own significance. It's all so picture-perfect that Billy has to stop and lean against the wall for a minute, trying to calm the roil of feelings that he's been holding at bay so, so well until now. He closes his eyes, but he can still see the coloured lights blinking on and off. It's hard to breathe again.
"Ali's cheating on me," he says.
"What?" He opens his eyes to see Dom staring at him, apparently having trouble forming words. "Are you sure?"
Billy exhales a shaky little sound that could be a laugh. "I'm sure." There's a pause. Dom looks away, bites his lip, looks back.
"So that's it," he says. "That's why you got on a plane and flew all the way to California. None of this 'I missed you and your friendship' crap, I was just second choice. You know what? No. It doesn't work like that. I might have waited for you once, but that doesn't mean you can just keep me in reserve for all these years and expect to fly out here when things go wrong at home, and expect me to be grateful that you've finally showed up. I'm not going to just drop everything for you. In case you hadn't noticed, I have a family now, I have my own life, and even if I didn't I wouldn't just be your…your plan B."
Billy stares, too shocked to be offended. "What?" he manages. Dom glare begins to melt away.
"No," he says slowly. "That wasn't why you came out here."
"That wasn't why I came out here. At all." Dom slumps, drops onto the sofa.
"Oh, god. I'm sorry, Bill."
"It's okay," he says automatically, though he's not sure it's really true.
"It's not, it was completely out of line. I swear I don't actually think that of you. It was just…a long time brewing, I guess. I'm sorry, I shouldn't be talking about me right now. You said…Ali?"
"That is why I called you, actually, though not for the reason you thought," Billy says, accepting the change of topic. Looking at Dom is no easier than looking at the Christmas tree, so he focuses on a framed photograph on the wall.
"The thing is, I wasn't angry. I wasn't even surprised. Well I was surprised right at that moment, but it made perfect sense." He pauses. It's harder to put into words than he would've guessed. "We lost it. We started out as two people in love and now we're just two people who've gotten good at sharing a house and I don't even know when it happened. We just got caught up in our routines, in day to day stuff, and lost track of the rest. Forest for the trees and all that. The thing is, I didn't notice. Not until that day. And then I realized that I'd let everything important go and I didn't want that to happen to you, too."
He sighs, rubbing a hand over his eyes, and goes to sit on the couch. "How on earth is Astin the only one of us who got this right?"
"What do you mean?"
"Still happily in love, as far as I can tell. Not that I've been in much touch with him, either."
"Well, I don't know," Dom says. "I fell in love and had some wonderful years. And yes, they ended up with a divorce, but also with two wonderful daughters who I wouldn't trade for anything in the world."
"And that's another thing," Billy interrupts. "How did your kids end up a musician and a dancer and mine's a genochemist? I love Jack, I do, but it feels like we live in two separate worlds that just happen to rub edges every once in a while." He shakes his head. "You know, when Katie was born I had this fantasy that the two of them would get married someday and we'd be in-laws."
"He's too old for her."
"He's not that much older."
Dom glares at him. "Everyone's too old for her. No man is ever going to touch her and one day I'm going to have adorable grandkids through immaculate conception."
He looks so determined that Billy has to laugh, which was probably the objective. It does break the mood a bit, though, and now that he's not so caught up in himself Billy remembers something that's been lurking at the back of his mind.
"You waited for me?" he asks, turning to look at Dom (who is apparently the braver of the two of them, because he allows the eye contact).
"Yeah. Until Jack was born. That's the only thing that finally made me realize you were well and truly settled and not about to come running back to me." He laughs, shaking his head.
"I'm sorry, Dom."
"Don't be. It wasn't your fault." Billy raises his eyebrows at that. "Really. You never asked me to wait. It was my decision. You didn't promise me anything or lead me on. Hell, we never did anything except that one drunken kiss during filming."
And just like that, Billy remembers. He hasn't thought of it in decades and the memory is disjointed, little bits of sensation all jumbled together. The ridges of Dom's spine under his fingers, the wall against his back, the sound Dom made when Billy bit a little too hard at his neck. The sheer frustration that being drunk enough to do this meant being too drunk to do it at all. And then…nothing. He frowns, trying to remember the next morning, but to no avail.
"Why didn't we do anything else in New Zealand?" he asks. "I mean, it was obvious we were both quite willing." Dom's looking at him incredulously.
"You really don't remember?"
"Not a bit."
Dom laughs. "You didn't want to."
"You didn't want to. The morning after that kiss we talked about it, and you said you didn't want a relationship with me." Billy wracks his brain. There's still a total void.
"I have no idea. You spouted off some ridiculous reason, but it was obvious that that wasn't really what was bothering you."
"And you didn't try to find out?"
"No. I mean, you clearly had a reason why you didn't want it and you clearly didn't want to tell me what it was. I wasn't going to try to, I don't know, peer pressure you into something against your wishes."
That strikes Billy as one of the funniest things he's heard in a long time. He starts to laugh and then doesn't want to stop because it feels so good, loosening the tension in his chest that talking about Ali has created. It's possible he may be bordering on the hysterical.
"Dom Monaghan," he says, once he's calmed down enough to speak, "you may possibly be too wonderful a friend for anyone's good."
Billy wakes up early the next morning. He decides to make tea, but stops in the doorway when he's greeted by the sight of Dom doubled over into a impossible-looking pretzel position in the middle of the living room floor. It shouldn't be surprising, really, but somehow it didn't dawn on him that Dom still did yoga. He walks around the periphery of the room so as not to disturb him.
Dom unfolds and catches Billy's eye as he stretches out again, smiling a little, and Billy is completely arrested by the sight. He's gotten to the point where it takes a while to work the stiffness out of his knees in the morning, but Dom is just as fluid and graceful as he's always been. It's mesmerizing. Billy forgets about his tea and stays there, watching, matching his breathing to Dom's.
"You're welcome to join me," Dom says as they're clearing up breakfast.
"Doing yoga. I start every morning at six."
"You're the one who keeps mocking my age instead of respecting it properly. I don't think I'm nearly flexible enough."
"It doesn't matter, you just start with whatever you can. I'll walk you through it, if you like."
"Thanks, but no thanks. You can keep to your talents and I'll keep to mine."
"Oh, wait a minute. That reminds me." Dom dries his hands and disappears into his office with no more explanation than that. Billy's followed him as far as the living room when he returns, holding out an old guitar that Billy remembers seeing on his tour of the house. "Here, I've been meaning to ask you. Play me something."
"What? Right now?"
"Yes, right now. I haven't heard you play in years. What happened to Beecake, anyway?"
"We got old, I guess." He sits down on the couch and plucks a few strings. Dom probably knew he wouldn't be able to resist. "Billy moved away and Rick's got his grandkids living with him now." He shrugs. "What do you want to hear? I can't promise it'll be any good, I'm horribly out of practice."
"Whatever you want."
He tries a few songs but can't get anything properly started. It's been too long since he's played, really, and either the lyrics are gone or his fingers won't work properly.
"I'm sorry, Dom. I can practice a bit, I guess."
"There has to be something. I don't believe you've just forgotten how to play the guitar altogether. It's like riding a bike, right?"
"Not really, no." But Dom won't be dissuaded and eventually talks Billy into picking out an old drinking song. They go a few verses with Dom singing loudly and unashamedly out of tune while Billy tries figure out the chords, but he gets it in time. By the third run through he's belting it out right along with Dom, tapping his foot and closing his eyes.
A flash goes off and Billy opens his eyes to see Dom grinning guiltily, holding up the other item he retrieved from the office.
"What was that for?" he demands, putting down the guitar and making a halfhearted lunge for the camera. "It probably looks terrible."
"It's quite good, actually. Here." Dom holds up the display so Billy can see, although he keeps it carefully out of reach. It really isn't a bad picture. His mouth is open mid-word, but he looks like he belongs there, lost in a song, cradling a guitar on Dom's couch.
"You could have asked first," he grumbles. "Why did you feel the sudden urge to do that?"
"You're not on my wall," Dom says, waving a hand to encompass the house. "All the pictures here are my photography, and here you are in my life and not on my wall. Obviously something had to be done."
And, well, he can't really argue with that.
Liv's show is on again that night. Billy's actually awake this time, but he still can't follow much of the plot, especially because Dom's stopped giving his helpful explanations. He lets his mind wander, mostly. About twenty minutes into the program a thought presents itself from somewhere, fully formed and not quite new, and it won't go away. He turns away from the projector where Liv's daughter is being fired.
"Can I kiss you?" He's not nervous, really, which is not at all what he would have expected.
"Why?" Dom asks eventually. He considers this.
"Because I want to."
It's evidently the right answer, because Dom's turning and lifting a hand to Billy's cheek and they meet easily somewhere in the middle. It's not at all like the kiss Billy remembers. There's no desperation, no hurry, just the two of them taking their time.
Dom pulls back after a minute. "How far are you planning on going with this?" he asks. Billy shrugs, smiles.
"As far as it'll take us."
"I'm so glad you said that." He stretches, now full-out grinning. "Twisting like that is hell on my back."
They go slow at first- it's been a long time, and neither of them is as flexible as they used to be. In the end, though, Dom is panting Billy's name into his neck and Billy is clinging to him, one hand in his hair, the other leaving a crescent of fingernail marks on his shoulder blade.
After, they seem to run out of words. A minute or two later Dom levers himself up and goes to rummage around for some tissues. Billy lies still and looks at the ceiling. Dom cleans them up and climbs back into bed, tangling their legs together, and only then does Billy speak.
"You're supposed to say, I've been waiting for this for so long. Or something."
Dom laughs a little, pushes his face into Billy's shoulder.
"You say it."
Billy breathes. In, out.
"I love you," he says, which isn't exactly the same thing, but does have the advantage of being true.
Billy wakes up alone to sunlight and an incredible smell. He lies there for a bit until his stomach gets the better of him, then pulls on some clothes and wanders into the kitchen.
Dom's standing sentinel over two frying pans. "Good morning," he says, smiling like he can't help it. Billy beams back at him.
It reminds him of New Zealand, he suddenly thinks. Not the particulars, not seeing Dom cook or anything like that, but the feeling he has. That confidence that the day will be good and life will be good and everything might have its ups and downs, but in the end it will turn out okay.
"Grab some plates, would you? These are almost done," Dom says. He blocks Billy's way with the spatula and kisses him quickly before letting him go.
"What are they?"
"Cottage cheese pancakes." He grins at the face Billy makes. "Try them before you judge. They're delicious, I promise."
They are in fact delicious, a point which Billy is happy to cede. He's through his second pancake and about to the point of slowing down so he can converse and eat at the same time when Dom says,
"I got you something."
"Reservations. I know you didn't book a return flight when you came out here, so I got you a ticket. The flight leaves this afternoon."
The bottom drops out of Billy's stomach, leaving him suddenly cold and uncomprending. He manages to swallow the bite he's chewing.
"Is this because we…" he gestures with his fork. Dom laughs, which doesn't help at all.
"I sincerely hope I'm old enough now that I don't panic and kick out the people I sleep with. No, it's not about that."
"Then why..." he trails off.
"Look, Bill. I love you and I'm glad you came and I don't regret anything, okay? But you have another life now, just like I do. You can't ignore it forever. My house is always open to you, but it's not a magical never-never land where all your problems disappear. You need to go home. Talk to Ali, try to connect with Jack a bit. Figure out what you want to do now. And if that involves coming back to California, well, I'm here."
Hope starts to grow again in Billy's chest.
"You're supposed to say, I'll wait for you, no matter how long it takes. Or something."
Dom smiles, gentle and happy, sunlight catching in his hair.
"It's been a long time since I waited for you, Billy Boyd," he says, "but I think I can remember how."