The Sweet Satisfaction of Knowing the Answer: 3

by Miss Kitty E

On the plane, Sean thinks about perspective. He's been in need of it for months and suddenly has it in spades. He has left his problems on the ground and he is high above them. It was silly to have been so overwhelmed by what is now revealed to be so small. Of course, he still does not know what to do about any of it, but at least he will not need to know for a few days.

In fact, Sean decides, a few days not thinking about is probably precisely what he needs. He is sure that in three days he will be as anxious to go home as he has realized he was to leave. He will see his friend but miss his kids. He will have a good time but be glad to come home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Sean has never spent time away from home without desperately wanting to go back. Perhaps it's all been a matter of him taking things for granted. He congratulates himself on stumbling upon such a good idea.

His anticipation turns into anxiety when the plane lands. He knows there is no reason to get his nerves up, but there is some vague insecurity that Elijah will be somehow disappointed with him. He tries to dismiss it, and feels especially awkward among the joyous or somber reunions of other people in the airport. At the baggage claim couples and families stand with arms around each other, hands clasped, and he stands alone. Very soon, he tells himself.

He gives a taxi the address that Elijah emailed him and as they drive he looks out the window at the city he's come to. Sean has never loved New York. It has always seemed a city of cold, gray edginess where Sean is used to sunshiny sprawl. He tries to imagine Elijah walking out there in those streets, but is not entirely successful.

Thirty-five minutes later he is standing in front of Elijah's doorway, feeling the opposite of surprised. Elijah is not there. Sean reaches for his cell phone only to have it ring before he gets to it.

He knows who it must be, and makes his voice expectant, "Yes?"

"Hey," Elijah pauses briefly. "I'm not there."

"I noticed." Sean tries to sound as unimpressed.

"I am on my way, though," Elijah insists. Sean has never met anyone so unwilling to admit that they have trouble being on time. "And I'll be there soon."

"Well, that's nice," he says, with all the sarcasm residing in his apparent cheer. "I'll just make myself comfy here, in the hallway, outside your locked door."

Elijah made a noise like he was reaching for something, a solution, maybe. "Listen, take your bags and leave them with the doorman."

Sean frowned, not following the reasoning. "Why? I can just wait here for you."

"No, no, you shouldn't have to," he says quickly. "Just do it, trust me."

"Fine, fine." Sean does as he is told and takes himself and his bags back down to the lobby. He and Elijah chat idly about the flight; it was uneventful as usual except for the CEO beside him refusing to breathe through his mouth despite the fact that he was suffering from a cold and made this awful snorting noise every single time he inhaled. Sean had spent most of the flight trying to think of every way to get him to stop other than just asking.

Elijah waits patiently while Sean talks with the doorman, and then tells him, "Okay, now go outside my building. Go left and start walking towards the deli on the corner."

Sean goes out onto the sidewalk and feels momentarily overwhelmed by the noise of the street, the people walking past him. "What's this? You want me to pick you up a sandwich?" He starts walking, feeling jostled by the crowd until he moves closer to the curb. "I'm your gofer now?"

"No, no, when you get to the deli you're going to go across the street and then to your right." He laughs to himself, "This is so odd. I know you're here in the city, I mean, I'm directing you around my own neighborhood, but the phone makes it seem like you're still in LA."

"Well, I am here," Sean says fondly. "But a little confused."

"You cross the street, yet?" he asks.

He and a stoop-backed, elderly woman are waiting for the light to change. "Just doing that now."

"Now, um," Elijah seems momentarily lost. He finds himself, "Okay, you're going right?"

He is. "I am."

"Then you should see a coffee shop ahead of you? Jove's Java?"

For a moment, Sean only sees nondescript storefronts. He worries that Elijah has directed him to nowhere at all, but keeps walking for lack of anything else to do. Suddenly, there it is, "Jove's Java" is painted on a window with a note about the lunch special. "Okay, yeah. I see it."

"Brilliant. Okay, order yourself something nice, and I'll be there in twenty."

From what Sean can see, this place is really more of a hang out than a coffee shop. Inside the walls have been painted a dusky looking purple and been covered with the avant-garde works of some local starving artist. The sound system plays… something he knows he's heard Elijah play before.

It's a weekday afternoon and there is no one there but a set of dedicated regulars. An angry looking girl with a lip piercing and a notebook in one corner, two young looking guys, one in Buddy Holly glasses, the other in a vintage tee in the other, and behind the counter is a very disinterested barista. Sean feels utterly ridiculous standing there, and even more so when it takes him eight minutes to order something.

He sits down with a so-so latte and looks around at the sort-of art displayed. The whole installation seems to be just riffing off the idea of the innocence of childhood meeting the cynicism of adulthood. Near Sean's table is a small square quilt like a baby's blanket and on it is a smiling, blue panda holding three balloons. On each balloon are words that form the sentence, "You will fail."

Sean thinks of his own daughters and chafes at under such a negative opinion of childhood. Miss Angsty Notebook seems to think that he is looking at her and not the art. She rolls her eyes and flips her page. He looks out the window instead, at the people passing by, waiting for one of them to be Elijah. He doesn't like being here. He feels like a stranger, and old. That in and of itself is nothing new, Sean has felt older than everyone around him since he was thirteen. But here he feels his age makes him foreign, as if this is not a part of the world he may consider his own.

He finally sees Elijah walk past the window, heading for the door, taking a last drag on a cigarette. As always he makes smoking look like a positively painful ordeal. Elijah throws the butt on the ground, stamping it out and Sean realizes that Elijah probably fits in here. He begins to feel vaguely foolish, claiming someone like Elijah as a friend.

But once inside, Elijah- for all his youth, his faded sneakers and clove cigarettes- grins broadly at him. Sean stands up just in time to receive Elijah into his arms, and what was memory and a voice on the phone for too long is now physical reality. He closes his arms tightly around Elijah and each seem for a moment to be trying to squeeze the breath out of the other.

Sean's anxiety and discontent float away and when he pulls back he can only smile. "You look…" he actually stops to take a second look at Elijah. The details have all changed, longer hair, a persistent attempt at facial hair again, but the light behind the eyes, the sun eclipsed, is the same. "Different," he finishes, to acknowledge the superficial changes.

Elijah smiles, but does not really seem to care if he is changed or not. "And you," he says. "Every time I see you there's less of you to see."

Sean dismisses that comment immediately, but appreciates it being said. He and Elijah are still standing close together, hands on each other's shoulders. He does not know if they are waiting for him to motion to sit down or for Elijah to motion him to follow out the door.

"Did you want to get something to drink?" he asks, breaking the contact before he can seem awkward. "Me?" Elijah asks. He shakes his head, "No, the coffee here isn't too good, actually." He says this at a normal volume with the barista ten feet away. "I know the place more for the live music on the weekends." He shrugs in apology, "I didn't know where else to send you. Let's just get back to my place."

Sean nods and very gratefully leaves his half-finished latte, Miss Angsty Notebook, and Buddy Holly and his friend behind.

Elijah's apartment has clearly fallen victim to his piles method. On both sides of the door is the "things that he dropped immediately upon entering pile." Gloves, scarves, and boots taken off and never put away, bags of things there were bought but not immediately needed, flyers and receipts that had been held in his hand as he came in were scattered like confetti.

Along the longest wall of the main room was the "place to sit pile." A burnt-red couch with two gold pillows that he must have bought while furniture shopping with his mother is fairly hidden by a pile of laundry. Sean imagines it must be clean because of the deference given of elevating it off the floor.

Two additional chairs of a distinctly modern design face the couch and act as a catchall for Elijah's messenger bag, portable CD player, jacket and whatever else. The coffee table has no recognizable features other than its stout black legs, the top is covered in a layer of music magazines and rumpled scripts an inch and a half thick.

Directly across from the couch looms the "electronics pile," a TV, DVD, VCR, two game consoles, and a truly massive stereo system are piled atop each other and interconnected with loose, black wires into a living organism that likely achieved artificial intelligence when Elijah finally got the universal remote programmed. CDs and DVDs spread out from this like a fan, along with a single sock.

Here and there, apparently for accent, are empty soda cans, drained wine glasses, and old take-out boxes. The windows and floors are bare, but the walls are adorned with three framed posters placed over the couch. The middle one is actually tilted, and Sean can't help but laugh.

Such an attractive mess. He looks at Elijah, who has added his jacket to the pile of things in the chair closest to him.

"Well. Here it is." He sweeps his arms expansively, asking for Sean's approval.

"It fits you," he says, smiling. "It practically is you."

Now that Sean is here, Elijah takes in his place with new eyes. "Well, it's not quite home." He looks back at Sean, "I guess it never will be, but I like it."

He goes into the kitchen, and briefly disappears into the refrigerator. He stands up holding two bottles of beer, looking at Sean in question. He thinks that 6p.m. is a little early to start drinking, especially when it only feels like 3p.m. to him, but nods anyway. They sit on the couch, Elijah reclining against his laundry, and sip uncomfortably at their drinks for a long minute.

"This is some start," Elijah chides him. "Why are we being so shy?"

Sean shrugs, and tries to puzzle that one out. "Well it isn't that I'm unhappy to be here." He nudges Elijah's knee playfully with his own, "I'm perfectly content, in fact, but I… guess I just don't know what to say yet."

Elijah considers that for a moment, "Tell me about the girls."

Ali and Lizzy are an easy subject and Sean happily goes through the list of their recent accomplishments. After half an hour the beer starts to kick in and the conversation becomes easier, looser.

Sean looks at his friend's face, feeling out all the changes that he can see there. Around the mouth is more pessimism, the corners are quicker to turn down, and his eyes seem slightly more narrowed, seeking clarity. "Whatever happened to Katie?"

Elijah's brow lifts a little, and he looks away from Sean for a moment. "I don't know. I just… we didn't see much of each other anyway, and after a while I just didn't really want to."

Sean nods, but provides no opinion. Elijah and relationships are two creatures that know very little about each other.

"I think I turned to her when I got here, just because I was lonely."

"And you're not lonely anymore?"

"Maybe not quite all that," Elijah says, shrugging. "But no longer in need of a crutch."

Sean nods again, and shifts the conversation away from failed relationships to work. Everything is compared back to Rings, and everything comes up short. Grumpy make-up women are declared nowhere near as bad as Dom's when he came back from surfing with an awful sunburn. Beautiful locations in Vancouver are nothing compared to Te Anau. Co-stars are all perfectly nice people, but distant and self-involved.

In a few hours, Sean feels as if he and Elijah are once again looking at each other from the same place. There is something missing, and though Sean feels around for it in the conversation, he cannot name it. Yet the shy feeling of not knowing how to fill the silence is gone, and now there is only a good mood and a bit of an appetite.

"Awesome," Elijah says when Sean states that he is hungry. He gets up and stretches, shirt rising up to show Sean a bit of white, soft belly. "I know the perfect place to get something to eat."

Sean puts on his jacket and watches Elijah disappear into the bedroom for a moment. He wonders if this perfect place will feel as foreign to him at the coffee shop, if Elijah and he will once again seem like a mismatched pair when he always thought they worked quite well.

Elijah comes into the living room with a tie in his hand. Sean sees that he now has one around his neck in a casual knot. "It's a tie kind of place," Elijah explains.

It's a blue tie with pattern tiny white dots that sort of goes with the blue stripes in Sean's baggy, button down shirt. Sean stands to take it, but Elijah just throws it around Sean's neck and begins to tie it.

"Um," Sean starts. Elijah stands close in front of him, hands at Sean's neck, eyes looking down at the knot. His face is free of irony, and Sean finds it quite disconcerting. It is somehow too intimate, although he knows they have been closer. He finishes his thought, "I can do that myself these days."

Elijah looks up at him briefly, and laughs suddenly self-conscious; "I'm going to blame this on force of habit. Hannah," he says.

He seems to consider stopping, but then his fingers go back to work, tossing, pulling round, threading through, and Sean watches them distractedly.

"She wears ties sometimes, my ties," Elijah continues. "But she refuses to learn how to tie them." He slides the knot up, and shrugs.

Sean slips the tail of the tie under the tag, and shakes off strangeness of the moment. He smiles at Elijah and shrugs on his jacket, "Well, shall we?"

Dinner conversation turns to the most difficult topic for an actor: the future. Sean has always sought stability and has found that in a wife and home, but not his career. The Fellowship is taking the shift back to the B-list, and the odd jobs with varying degrees of acceptance and grace.

"Some band friends of mine want me to direct a video," Elijah says, off-hand. Sean makes an interested noise, "I think they just wanted my name attached to it, but I don't know. Seems like a neat thing to try and do."

"It's never been something I looked at," Sean says. "But you can do a lot with them. Do you have any ideas?"

"Not really." He pokes at his food a little, finally spearing a carrot. "What would you do?"

Sean realizes Elijah is looking for advice. "Jeez, 'Lijah, hell if I know. Do I watch MTV?"

Elijah nods like he should have known and says nothing for a while.

Sean searches his mind for something vaguely intelligent to say about something he has no experience with. "It seems to me that whatever you do, you should not do a typical video." His mind takes that assertion and spins it out, "If you think about it, the ones that go down as classics did something that wasn't been done before. These are like commercials, just quick flashes of what you're trying to sell, one right after the other. Yours has to stand up grab attention or else no one will register it."

Elijah frowns thoughtfully, "How do I do that?"

Sean shrugs, mouth full.

"I haven't said yes," Elijah clarifies. "And I guess I won't until I know I can do something original."

"You can," Sean assures him.

"Well what about you, huh?" Elijah asks. "You haven't had much to say about what's in talks."

"Well there's the same old stuff," he says, sidestepping. "And there's the stuff I want to do. The stuff I want to do, no one seems to want to back, but at least the same old stuff keeps paying the bills. So as long as people keep writing earnest, no-balls characters, I'll be fine."

Elijah raises his glass, and says importantly, "To never playing a romantic lead now that we're older than seventeen."

"Indeed," Sean clinked their glasses together humorlessly.

They are outside the restaurant when Elijah turns to ask him, "What now?"

Sean doesn't have much of an idea, and he feels no real desire to be entertained. He could happily go home and continue talking, but he knows that's not exactly an exciting Friday night for twentysomething. He tries to think of what would be bearable to him, and interesting for Elijah. He struggles over the question, and is none too subtle about it.

"I could call some friends of mine," Elijah offers. "We could catch a show, grab some drinks, rent some movies."

Sean bites his lip and wonders if he is being boring. Probably. In his short life, Sean has managed to be called every name and euphemism for boring. He knows that he has no desire to share Elijah, and especially not with people he doesn't know. Still he shrugs, and says, "I don't really care." He'll let Elijah choose, and happily follow.

They wait patiently for the valet, and Elijah gets lost in planning. Everything he thinks of seems to be vetoed immediately. His face gets thoughtful, "Here, do you know what we need to do?" Sean has no idea, "I know this place, this really awesome toy store. We can pick up gifts for the girls."

Sean shakes his head emphatically upon hearing that. "Gifts from Dad are a sore point in the house right now."

Elijah waves his hand dismissively, "Well, these aren't gifts from Dad. These are from Uncle Elijah who didn't remember any birthdays. It'll be fun."

"What kind of toy store is upon this late?"

Elijah jogs round to the other side of his car, "You'll see."

Sean has to admit that he'd had his doubts about a toy store that was open at 11 o' clock at night, but it is actually quite a nice place. It's eclectic toys, toys from Japan and Africa and Europe, wooden toys, electronic toys, vintage toys. Sean has been in many, many toy stores but none so filled with sound and saturated color. Elijah drags him from section to section, trying almost everything out, and becoming enamored with toys that are entirely a bad idea.

The music section especially fascinates Elijah. Every manner of instrument has been shrunken down, made into plastic, and simplified for children. All of them make way too much noise for Sean's taste.

Elijah says he understands that the girls don't need any instruments, and insists he's there for his own amusement. But that is quickly forgotten when Elijah suddenly exclaims, "Oh my god, Sean, it's a tiny steel drum! How fucking cute is that?"

It takes a good ten minutes for Sean to convince Elijah that Ali does not want a miniature steel drum with song and instruction booklet.

In the end, with much advice and insisting from Sean, Elijah buys Lizzy a pressed felt purse filled with quite a few little things like plastic jewelry, stickers, a pop-up book, and a wand. She's young enough to be impressed by quantity instead of quality and everything ends up getting smashed and discarded anyway. Ali gets a rather elaborate karaoke set for her sleepovers, and a pink feather boa.

The boa trails out of the bags and gets them some funny looks as they walk back to Elijah's car. They drop off the bags at Elijah's apartment (they are immediately dropped in the pile near the door).

Elijah promptly turns around and announces, "Sean? We're going to a bar."

Sean is not drunk, not even by half. He never liked the sensation of losing control, and he hates and dreads hangovers, or worse, just plain puking. He is currently exactly where he likes to be after a few drinks. His neck and face are warm, radiating heat out to the rest of his body, and his joints feel looser, but that's about the extent of it. It's easier to laugh maybe, easier to lose a train of thought, but he could drive if pressed.

He is not pressed, Elijah smirks and says one of the reasons he chose this neighborhood was the decent pub within walking distance. They walk back to his apartment building, paths swaying apart and together, apart and together. Later, in the elevator, they find themselves alone after the third floor. Sean leans up against the corner, and Elijah moves to stand beside him.

"This has been a really good night," he says, laying his temple to Sean's shoulder in a show of easy, slightly exaggerated affection.

Sean smiles and presses his cheek against the pillow of Elijah's bed head hair, having nothing to say but the obvious. He glances up at the little line of numbers, six more floors. Elijah, tired or content, has not lifted his head, so Sean puts his arm around his friend. He realizes this is what he's been missing, it's taken them too long to realize they can still do this. Elijah lifts a hand to Sean's neck and suddenly they're embracing. Sean can see their reflection in the mirrored panels of the elevator door. He looks himself in the eye and then at the whole picture of them.

He feels a painful spot inside him exposed and as always, there is the impulse to prod the bruise, to see how bad it really hurts. Sean jabs his finger into it, asks himself why holding a warm and friendly body should wound him and he realizes it's the sudden pang of hunger one feels at the smell of food. He's reminded of that fact that he's been starving for this, for some sustained, adult affection. He tightens his arms around Elijah's waist a little, feeling suddenly greedy and the door pings open.

A middle aged black man with a gray mustache stares at them, not entirely good-naturedly. Sean lets go hastily and ushers Elijah out of the elevator. They walk down the hall nonchalantly until they hear the elevator doors shut, and then Elijah bursts into laughter. He hooks his arm around Sean's neck, and he, still starving, catches Elijah's waist. They hinder each other's walking, and stumble down the hall laughing. It's all so easy and perfect.

They break apart so that Elijah may open the door, and though Sean stands close behind him, he cannot reach out. He berates himself tiredly, he never can be satisfied.

Elijah rebuilds his piles, the shoes beside the door, the jacket and the wallet in the chair. He stretches happily, and looks at Sean. "What now then?"

Sean shrugs, as if he doesn't know, but he does; something that will keep Elijah awake and close by him.

Loosening his tie, Elijah looks around the front room, "We could watch a movie. But I don't think I'll last through a entire one."

Sean starts to feel like bad company. "You're probably more tired than I am. I've got three hours on you." He shrugs, "I can read or something. You don't have to stay up."

"That doesn't seem like much fun," Elijah says. He folds his tie carefully his left hand and reaches for Sean's. "I'll be taking this back now, thank you."

As before, Sean finds the position strangely disconcerting, but it's different now. Undressing, instead of dressing, and it brings to mind the thought of a kiss. Elijah has tugged the knot loose and is now pulling the tie from Sean's neck. Sean feels pulled too, and leans forward to capture the funny curve of Elijah's upper lip between his own. Just pressing his lips there, and curling them in slightly to draw Elijah to him as he has been drawn.

Sean is profoundly satisfied until he looks at Elijah and realizes what he's done.

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