Soft boiled by Brigantine

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Story notes: The Novice Chronicles series: Ian Finds a Man, The Way Dolittle Does It, Kneeling 'or Not, Beneath the Skin, Statuesque, Some Kind of Understanding, Soft boiled, From Push to Shove, Hooligan, Hardware, And the Grail as Well, Terms of Use, Rearranged, How Everything Is, The Ancient Art of Arranging Flowers.
<em>Sunday morning, 10:03</em>

Dave is sitting and idly scratching himself on a warm rock. He's not sitting on one of the giant buttresses that jut out into the surf, because they're all covered with aging seaweed, puddles of stagnant seawater, and sharp-edged mussel shells, which is fine for sea lions and pelicans, but a little rough on human anatomy. Dave is sitting on a reasonably smooth sandstone boulder, one of the many piled along the base of the cliff as part of the university's attempt to stabilize the erosive mesa.

Out past the giant stone sentinels Orlando, Eric and Karl slice along the water southward, riding turquoise green breakers. Eric is using Dave's board. His own was cracked in half about an hour ago when it shot out from under him and nose-dived into a bastion of barnacle-encrusted rocks, then was flipped over and lifted by a merciless seawater fist and bashed into the next rising crag of native basalt. Fortunately, Eric did not follow his hapless surf board, but dropped beneath the surge, was rolled oceanward along the bottom some by the outgoing pull, and then he popped up, bereft and slightly sand-scored, but essentially unharmed a couple of yards to the left of Orlando's elbow as he waited to spot a likely swell. The rocks that have eaten Eric's board, and might just as easily have eaten Eric are why beginning surfers do not frequent Campus Point.

Dave watches Karl paddle up behind the forming crest of the ride he's chosen, and set himself for the long, shallow diagonal glide between the rising face of the wave and the oncoming shore. Dave wonders whether Karl has any notion of the look of himself out there; wet and sleek, gleaming in the morning sun, and wholly intent on briefly harnessing the power of the Pacific ocean. Dave is certain that Karl is oblivious. Dave watches the way his shoulders twist, the way the muscles in his legs shift as he handles his board, spray shirring up as he slices through the curling water. Karl's momentum slows at last, and he drops into the foamy shallows, coming up shaking water from his dark hair, combing it carelessly back with his fingers and turning to grin at Dave as he collects his board. Dave wonders if he'll ever have the nerve to tell Karl all of what he sees.


<strong>Featherstone Museum of Antiquities</strong>

<strong>Tuesday afternoon, 2:14</strong>

"Who's a fine puppy?" a male voice croons.

Viggo pauses outside the door, wondering if he's just heard what he thinks he's heard, and who he's heard saying it.

"Who's got sharp little teeth then, eh? Look how lovely you are &#151; oop! Sally, your baby's just piddled on me desk. Grab some towels!"

Viggo peers around the corner of what he's been told by a helpful museum docent is Sean's office. Within, Sean leans awkwardly forward in his chair, holding a small beagle puppy draped over the palm of one hand and dabbing with an inadequate paper napkin at a fresh puddle in the middle of his large, cluttered desk. A young woman hurries in from the doorway opposite Viggo.

"Oh lord, I'm so sorry!" She trades Sean the wriggling puppy for a large wad of paper towels.

"My own fault," Sean assures her, dabbing some more. "I should know better."

Sally holds the puppy in question close to her, promising sincerely to take her outside more often, and neatly avoiding having the tip of her nose nipped by a rambunctious youngster who has no idea she's done anything out of the ordinary. "Anything important ruined?"

Sean surveys the damage. "Might want to run me off another list of who's workin' on Saturday, and that item list of what's arriving next Tuesday from Seattle." He gingerly crumples up the ruined pages. "Otherwise we're fine... " He turns at Sally's expression as she looks past him, and finds Viggo standing in the doorway behind him.

Viggo shifts uncomfortably. "Um, hi. Is this a bad time?"

Sean stares for a moment, dropping the dampened papers in the waste basket. "Ehm. No, no, crisis averted. Except I should go wash my hands." He stands, motions for Viggo to come in, and points to a heavy leather chair near the window. "Please. I'll just be a minute."

Viggo accepts the chair as Sean disappears through the same doorway as Sally did, but stands a moment later, to wander nervously about Sean's generous office. The open window near the chair overlooks a sunny garden enclosed by a white stucco wall. He can just hear the traffic and pedestrian chatter from Cavanaugh Road, and the ardent squeak of a hummingbird proclaiming its territory from a large old pepper tree draping gracefully in the corner to his right. The bright magenta flowers of bougainvillea arch up and downward from the left, and thornless blue agave grow with smooth geometry beneath the window. Beyond is a flagstone patio supporting a small wrought iron table and three mismatched chairs, and Viggo wonders how one gets out of here to sit there, and how Sean got that deep purple bruise blossoming out from just under his right eye.

He's admiring a framed poster from a 1999 exhibit at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art when Sean returns.

"So. You've come, then. Good." Sean blushes faintly, shoves his hands into the pockets of what look to be expensive blue trousers. His voice evens out, smooth as whiskey and cream. "What brings you here today?"

Viggo realizes just in time that he is ogling Sean's pockets, where long, graceful hands have disappeared. "Oh. Yeah. School."

Viggo stands there staring at the quizzical expression on Sean's face for a moment before adding hurriedly, "Er yeah, I'd like to bring a few students from one of my art classes in to check out that new Sumerian exhibit you've been advertising out front, and I was wondering if we could have a docent."

"Oh!" Sean beams. The effect is stunning, and Viggo wills himself to not lunge forward and lick Sean's smile.

"A special tour for your class then?" He perches sideways on his desk, one foot still on the floor, and Viggo wonders if there is anything the man does that isn't sexy. Aside from cleaning up puppy puddles. Nobody does that sexy, as far as Viggo knows.

"Yes. Exactly. That'd be perfect." Viggo sounds entirely sane, and he is quite proud of himself.

"So when did you have in mind?" Sean pulls a small spiral bound notebook from under a short pile of books on his desk, making an irritated noise as the top book slides onto the floor. He frowns to himself and licks his fingers thoughtfully, flipping through the pages.

Viggo watches the tip of Sean's tongue rest just at the corner of his mouth, and starts guiltily when Sean looks up. "Can you come in a couple of weeks? Saturday, the twenty-eighth, maybe the twenty-ninth? We're sort of busy until then. Other tour groups, and all that." He shakes his head. "We always need extra staff for the big group tours. They keep wanting to bring along milkshakes and sandwiches and to take flash photos of everythin', and it doesn't seem to matter in how many languages we post 'Do not take fuckin' flash photographs,' they never listen."

"You actually post, 'Do not take fuckin' flash photographs'? How do you express that exactly in, say, Korean?"

Sean snickers. "So which will it be?"

"Saturday. The twenty-eighth."

Sean nods and scribbles it down, muttering, "... green devils, curse 'em... "

"Excuse me?"

"Hmm?" Sean glances up distractedly.

"Green devils?"

"Oh." Sean smiles apologetically. "M'football league. We play Constantine's Green Devils on the twenty-eighth. They're good. We'll have to work for it." He grins masochistically, "I'll pay for it come Sunday."

Viggo nods, "Got it," feeling an ache of disappointment upon finding that Sean will not be here when he brings his students. He's not sure whether he wants to show his kids off to Sean, or Sean off to his kids. "Is that where you got the shiner?"

Sean twitches his cheek, searching for the ache of the dark bruise. "Aye. Football played rugby style." His smile turns wolfish. "I don't mind."

They stand not staring at one another for a few moments suddenly, oddly tense, and Viggo is about to try for a graceful exit when Sean asks him, "Ehm, say, we've got some over-boiled coffee and truly foul doughnuts, or something like 'em in the back, and they're unloading a very fine exhibit of Chinese jade, and bronze vessels on loan from San Francisco. D'you want to, I mean, opening crates isn't all that exciting, but since you're comin' with the class, y'know &#151; "

"Yeah," Viggo smiles, feeling something loosen in his shoulders. "Yeah, horrible pastries and watching other people work. Sounds good."

The sound of burly young men cracking open wooden crates accompanies Viggo's unconvincing insistence that the coffee really isn't all that bad.

He and Sean lurk out of the way in a corner of the receiving bay, feeling the warm air drift in through the broad arch where the big steel doors drop down at night to seal it off from the loading dock. Sean makes a face over a heavy paper cup and vows, "One of these days I swear I'm gonna get one of those electric kettles in here so a person can make a half-decent cuppa. God, this is worse than I thought. Sorry, Viggo!"

Viggo chuckles and reaches for one of the rapidly hardening pastries, wondering whether by dunking the thing perhaps this time two wrongs could actually make a right. "Show me those bronze spear heads?"

"Oh, yeah!" Sean's eyes brighten as he points. "They're over in this room, away from the dust until &#151; " He whirls suddenly, glaring at a young staff member who has just pulled a small, dark item out of an opened crate and lightly tossed it to another young stevedore some yards distant.

"Oi!" Sean's shout echoes off the receiving bay walls, and all activity comes to a full and immediate stop. There is a collective gulp of terror. Sean scolds, "Don't be treatin' that like a fuckin' football, that's a &#151; "

He mutters at Viggo, "Shit, I can't tell from here what it is!" then roars back at his mortified staff, " &#151; really, really old thing, dammit!"

Someone manages to squeak, "Sorry, Sean! Won't happen again!"

He nods sharply. "Right. Carry on then," and the receiving area tentatively returns to life. Sean glowers mildly at Viggo. "What are you laughin' at?"

Viggo shakes his head, trying to swallow a mouthful of coffee that tastes like a melted truck tire and not choke himself smiling.


<strong>Tuesday, 6:23 p.m.</strong>

Sean wishes he could quit thinking about Viggo for five minutes. He stands at his kitchen counter, staring at nothing while he's supposed to be fixing supper for Mycroft and Ophelia, who wait with rapidly waning patience at his feet.

"Shit," he mutters. He wonders how much Viggo heard when he caught Sean playing with Poppy. Lord, talking baby talk to a dog and mopping up puppy wee. What a dignified picture that must've made. He doesn't need this.

Sure, the whole point of him going along with Ian's advice is an attempt to get out of the emotional box he's been in, see where it all leads. But this... Viggo thing. This thing with Viggo. Or this non-thing with Viggo, really. He's trying to concentrate on learning what he can from Dave, on getting himself sorted out. On top of that it's football season, for heaven's sake. He lied to his annoyingly observant team mates in the shower last week that his naughty bits are shaved due to a drunken dare and that he's too cowardly to let the hair grow back yet on account of he's worried it'll itch something horrible. Which it probably will. Sweet Jesus he felt like an idiot then, didn't he. He doesn't need <em>this</em> distraction right now on top of everything.

Damn. When Viggo smiles he smiles with his entire face. Viggo smiles like some beautiful lunatic. Probably has his own peculiar way of relating to the world, and Sean suspects that on any given day it might or might not match anyone else's, and why should it? Dammit. Sean has never felt such an urge to put his hands to someone's face, explore how the lines and angles of it might feel under his fingertips, the palms of his hands. Sean doesn't need this. Not when it will just end up coming to nothing, the way these things always do.

Still, Viggo called it a shiner, that bruise on Sean's face, as though Viggo might have got one of his own at some time, and he was merely curious as to how Sean had got his. Maybe that's all right. Maybe he and Viggo can be friends. Perhaps there can be that, but all the old scars left over, deep down, are cautioning Sean that if he allows himself to let it be anything else, it will follow the old pattern, and he'll end up losing both a lover and a friend, and he's not sure he can take that again. He can't handle that pain again. Not yet, not so soon, not now. No, he doesn't need that.

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