The Cook, the Bookbinder, His Sister and Her Kids

Note: My contribution to the challenge. Also indulging my Billy!book and Billy!singing kink somewhat. 🙂 My apologies for the slightly silly title – I'm just no good at naming things and this was the best I could come up with…
Beta: Thanks to and for encouragement and suggestions!

Billy had never left Scotland. His dream of becoming an actor had been long since discarded, trashed in the rubbish bin of reality after his grandmother died, and he hardly ever thought of it anymore.

He was mostly content living his small life, taking part in Margaret's family life and going to work at the antique bookstore every day, where he carefully restored valuable books. He had started as a bookbinder in a factory, but after a couple of years he had had enough of mass-produced paperbacks and the smell of cheap glue, and had decided to change career.

While he was going through the apprenticeship with the grouchy old craftsman who was still his employer, Margaret had paid most of the bills, something he was still grateful for and tried to repay by looking after his nephew and two nieces every Saturday, giving Margaret and her husband some time off. So when they asked him to come with them to Manchester, where Bob's company was holding a convention over a long weekend, in order to help them with the kids while the parents attended the company dinner on Saturday night, Billy readily agreed.

It was his first trip to England, and he was looking forward to spending his free time exploring the city like a tourist. He also wanted to check out the music scene. In Glasgow, Billy played in a band with some friends and one of them knew some musicians in Manchester who might let him play a set with them Sunday night. So Billy bought a disposable camera, packed his guitar and squeezed into Margaret's big family car.

After a couple of hours drive with only minor drink-spilling and only twenty repetitions of "Are we there yet?" the family arrived at the hotel where the convention was held. It was by far the poshest place Billy had ever stayed in and he would probably have hidden in his big single room until dinner, if his nieces and nephew hadn't appeared at his door and convinced him to go exploring by simply grabbing him by the hands and pulling him down the wide corridors. Giggling they went around corners at high speed and shrieked at every near collision with another guest. At first Billy tried to calm the kids down, but car rides always made them go wild and Billy found that he quite enjoyed sliding over elegant marble and wooden floors, having forgotten to put on his shoes again after testing his bed. Soon he was laughing just as loudly as his three charges, only making sure that they didn't knock anything over and kept to the less populated parts of the hotel.

Their chase brought them finally to an empty dining hall, where tables were being set for the opening dinner of the convention. Since no one seemed to be around, Billy let the kids run loose for a bit. They settled into a game of "touch the tables", first making Billy their referee using his watch as timer, but then Mike challenged him to a race, which Billy couldn't refuse. After all, he would be damned if he was beaten by a ten-year-old! He started racing around the tables, touching each as he passed it, and felt he was making good time, when he suddenly collided with something and landed on his ass.

"Shite!" he cursed, the race of course now lost. Plus, his bum was hurting something fierce – stupid carpet!

"Sorry, I didn't expect to find a Formula One race going on here…" The voice came from a young man wearing a white chef's uniform and grinning widely. Only then did Billy realize that he had collided with someone entering the dining hall from the kitchen. The bloke smiling cheekily at him should have looked funny, but he didn't, not at all, and Billy felt himself blush, even as he accepted the hand the other man was offering and pulled himself off the ground.

"No, I should apologize – I shouldn't have indulged the kids like this, but all four of us were kind of itching to get moving again after driving here, and I thought that this room was not being used at the moment."

"You came down from Glasgow?" There was something in the chef's eyes that made Billy's inside melt just a little, and he felt himself trying to stand taller and look less embarrassed. It was not often that he was attracted to men, but this big-eared lad with the storm-grey eyes definitely fell into the category. Except that the children were here, crowding around him and laughing because he had fallen down. Billy barely managed to answer the question as little Susie started using him as a climbing tree, pulling his hair and singing into his ear:

"Uncle Billy's lost the raaaace, Uncle Billy's lost the raaace!"

It was definitely time to bring them back to their parents – Margaret and Bob would be so thrilled to have them back even more wound up than they'd been to start with… So he started to lead them back, giving the young man an apologetic shrug and a smile he hoped wasn't too pathetic. He could still feel the grey eyes on him when they left the room.

At dinner, Billy couldn't help but look around for the young chef. Whenever he saw someone in the white uniform, his heart did a funny little jump, no matter how often he told himself that he was being ridiculous. Billy did okay for himself in the romance department, but he had to admit that it had been quite a while since a casual meeting had had such an effect on him. It really wasn't like him to be so excited at the prospect of catching a glance of someone he had not even had a real conversation with. Not that it mattered, since the bloke did not seem to be working the dining hall. He did not even appear when all the chefs came out to receive a polite round of applause for the food, and Billy resigned himself to the fact that he probably had the weekend off. Just his luck!

The next day Billy went to explore the city, making sure to be back in good time for the big dinner to relieve Margaret of the children. His feet were hurting from walking around all day, so he suggested that they go see a movie together. There was no way he was running after them again! Luckily, all three kids were in favor of the idea, and Margaret agreed under the condition that they were not to see anything too violent. Billy kissed her cheek, grinned and crossed his heart. He had checked out the local listings and knew just the right movie for all of them.

"Sooo, who wants to go see whether Frodo can save Middle Earth?" he inquired as they reached the theatre, delighted when three pairs of eyes lit up in anticipation. He'd been reading them The Hobbit, and his FotR and TTT Extended Edition DVDs had proven to be the perfect way to while away rainy Saturday afternoons. It was funny how the three normally unruly kids could sit still for three hours straight when it came to Lord of the Rings…

It was their little secret, since Billy had no desire whatsoever to be ridiculed by his brother-in-law, who was already enjoying the fact that Billy was a professional bookworm a bit too much for Billy's taste. No need to add to Bob's arsenal of good-natured but annoying barbs by telling him that Billy had been reading Tolkien's books every year since he turned sixteen and was now doing his best to subvert the children. Billy had of course seen The Return of the King several times already, including at the very first screening in Glasgow. But seeing it again with Mike, Kathleen and Susie would be no hardship and he was all set for a nice evening. They would probably have more fun than Margaret and Bob at their big dinner.

After popcorn and soda had been bought and they had braved the queues in front of the bathrooms one last time, they settled into their seats comfortably. The seat next to Billy was still free, so they piled their jackets onto it. But just when it got dark for the commercials, someone coughed politely – and Billy looked straight into the stormy eyes of the chef from the day before.

"Sorry," he mumbled, silently sending a little prayer of thanks that he hadn't been eating or drinking anything up to heaven. Billy felt his heart start to race as he hastily threw the jackets onto the floor, banging his head in the process and cursing under his breath. The other guy didn't say anything, but Billy could feel his eyes on him and, although he was busy stuffing Susie's bright red coat under his seat, he was sure that the young chef was smiling. Then he sat down, and Billy straightened in his seat, staring at the screen without seeing anything. For some reason he could feel every inch that separated them, as if the air itself was alive. Billy desperately tried to find something to say, but his mind was blank, completely focused on the man beside him.

Suddenly a surprisingly big hand touched his arm lightly and Billy almost jumped as an electric jolt went through him. A surprised squeak escaped him, and this time there was no mistaking the amused snort from his neighbor.

"Didn't mean to startle you, mate – just meant to ask whether the kids made you come here or the other way around… Yesterday they had you running around tables, after all."

Billy laughed with joy. He remembered! It was nice to know that he hadn't gone completely unnoticed. "No, that's definitely my idea. I must admit I'm a bit of a fan, so I think it's my duty to pass on the torch, so to speak, seeing that my sis and her hubby hardly know what a hobbit is…"

"What a sacrilege! Where would we all be without hobbits, after all – they saved Middle Earth and therefore the world… at least according to the Professor." They exchanged a look of complete understanding, and Billy felt himself relax completely. There was something natural about sitting here, talking about hobbits.

"Definitely. Really, I don't get all this talk about Elves and Men – it's all about the Hobbits, for me. Pity that they didn't shoot the movies here, I'm sure I'd have been an excellent hobbit extra!"

This got him another laugh, and Billy found himself quickly becoming addicted to the sound. "A hobbit with a Scottish accent – now that would have been something! On the other hand, the movies are definitely lacking a certain Mancunian influence…"

Before Billy could answer that, he got a firm elbow from Mike, who was sitting on his other side. "Be quiet, Uncle Billy, the movie's starting!"

"Uh oh, we're annoying the audience! We'll have to continue our conversation after the movie – Billy. My name's Dom, by the way." Billy's name sounded like a caress on… Dom's tongue, and Billy shivered as the last part was whispered, hardly more than a breath of warm air against Billy's ear. Then, with one last glance, his neighbor settled down to watch the movie.

Billy did the same, but for some reason this time the movie didn't quite hold his attention the way it normally did. Dom! Forming the name in his thoughts felt strangely right, as if he had said it a million times, and Billy's mind was full of his closeness, the way their legs brushed against one another in the confined space they shared, the calm rhythm of his breathing, the way his hands, adorned with silver rings now that he was off duty, curled around the armrest, sometimes twitching slightly, although the rest of his body remained completely at rest. Billy spent the next three hours recording all of this, even as he got pulled back into Middle Earth.

Once they emerged into the dim evening, the kids unusually quiet after the scene at the Grey Havens, Dom following them without a word, Billy knew with absolute certainty that he wouldn't let this stranger get away. There would definitely be a third meeting – this time without the children.

"So, do you have any plans for tomorrow night, Dom? Because I'm playing this gig…"

Yes, Billy would definitely do everything he could to get this smile again… It simply felt too right, too much as if this was meant to be. And Billy didn't even believe in fate.