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Disclaimer: This is a non-commercial, non-profit work of fiction under the names and likenesses of real individuals. This fictional story is not intended to imply that the events herein actually occurred, or that the attitudes or behaviors described are engaged or condoned by the persons whose names are used without permission.

Bagnio Indio

Author: itstonedme
Original Story: The Peepal Tree by tweedle_
Pairing: Ian/Orlando (Orlando/Elijah implied)
Rating: PG
Beta: The wonderfully supportive stormatdusk.
Summary: Ian returns to a favourite retreat where he meets an intriguing young man.
Author's Notes: "The Peepal Tree" is a vignette from tweedle_'s much larger and highly recommended India series. The peepal tree goes by several names, including bodhi, arali and pou. It is told that Buddha attained enlightenment ("bodhi") while sitting beneath a peepal tree. Botanical liberties have been taken in suggesting that banyan and peepal trees might thrive in an English


August 1934

The Bentley pulls around the curved drive and tailored lawns of the Bagnio Indio and draws to a stop before the steps of the immense stone manor. Two uniformed and gloved attendants immediately fall upon it, one drawing open the passenger door, the other assisting the driver with the luggage and other contents of the boot. Its journey from London has taken the better part of an hour. The route is familiar to the chauffeured occupant although one not recently taken, and despite it still not being noon, he has nodded off for much of it. To gentlemen of a certain persuasion and status, the bagnio is a favoured retreat -- extravagantly restrained, restful and discreetly bawdy. Which is why Ian Murray McKellen, 5th baronet in a well-respected line, has booked himself into a suite for the next several weeks, to recuperate from a bug -- now thoroughly evicted -- that he picked up in Delhi a few months earlier. He rouses himself and steps from the car.

"Sir Ian," the small, dark-skinned valet addresses in lilting, heavily-accented English, his maroon silk jacket and slacks resplendent in the mid-morning sun. He bows ever so respectfully, then breaks into an expansive smile, the whiteness of which would surely dazzle the King, if the bagnio were the King's bent. But it is not and so the senior manager's mannered charms are forever lost to him. "You deny us your presence far too long," he tells Ian, "and we are the lesser for it. You have been missed."

Ian extends a gloved hand. "Jay," he acknowledges fondly. "I have missed you too. But I suspect you have been amply entertained in my absence and as a result have been...hard pressed, if we are being truthful, to remember me." His eyebrow rises, and Jay feigns shock. Taking the arm that is offered, Ian leans in. "Later, when I am settled in the garden perhaps, I expect a full report of who's come and who's gone since I was last here. And please assure me that our dear Elijah's head has not been turned by some well-endowed, moneyed ne'er-do-well who has made off with him."

Jay lays his hand over the one on his arm. "Then rest assured. I think we've staked our claim on Elijah although it is not for want of offers. He confesses that we have spoiled him forever and that he would become bored without us."

"No doubt true," Ian agrees.

In the cool of the foyer, large bamboo ceiling fans, suspended high above the floor in staggered lengths, eddy the air about. Throughout the foyer and along the halls and corridors that spider off from it stand enormous plant pots, some as high as a man's shoulder, and the plants they hold rise upwards towards the vaulted ceiling. A few young men, their attire representing some cultural and historical aspect of Imperial India, quietly tend to the care of the building and see that the requests of its guests are fully met. It is an elegant establishment redone in the style of the Raj, named as much for the soothing waters of its spa as for the decidedly civilized decadence of its denizens. A middle-aged man approaches, his rich voice warm in greeting. The bagnio is both his charge and his property. "Good friend," he says, arms wide in greeting.

"Sean," Ian smiles and they embrace. "It is good to be back."

"You are well now?" Sean asks. "From your letter, I couldn't tell how sick you had been or how far along your recovery."

"I am better," Ian smiles. His eyes sweep the ceiling and he exhales long and deeply. "I think a month in the English countryside is exactly what I need."


By early afternoon, having been to his room and changed into a light shirt and linen trousers, Ian has installed himself beneath the shade of several large banyan and bodhi trees that separate the back patios and gardens from the vast lawns of the estate. The trees are old, diligently cultivated in the previous century by a former owner who had spent several extended postings in the Gujarat at the height of the Empire. A light lunch of smoked fish, cheese and cut breads has been brought by a wheaten-haired young man clad in the fashion of an Indian household servant, if Indian household servants had ever been permitted to run about half-naked: short linen trousers, an embroidered damask vest and beaded silk slippers. A multitude of gold bands adorn his upper arms and kohl rims his eyes.

Ian sips his sparkling water and peruses the grounds. Here and there, a variety of games and activities are under way: lawn bowling to the left, badminton on the courts to the right. From back behind the hedgerow, the rhythmic thwack of several tennis games issues. At centre-lawn, a group is setting up for croquet. Others have taken to the shade at the perimeter of the lawns, reading, reclining on chaises as they enjoy a drink and cigarette. A young man, in full dress uniform except for headgear, completes a series of parries and lunges by himself in the fullness of the sun. Ian finds that whether it is Britain, India or elsewhere, it is always thus: mad dogs and Englishmen etcetera. The young man has only recently come out to practice for what Ian bemusedly surmises might be his next duel. But he is slim and pretty and a pleasant distraction as Ian awaits the arrival of an Italian pinot.

A chilled carafe and stem glass are placed on the table to his left, but before he can thank the server, two hands descend over his eyes and lips brush his ear. "Guess," they whisper.

The corners of Ian's mouth curl and his chin rises. "Hmmm," he considers. "The lingering aroma of cloves. The delicate touch of small but terribly nimble, terribly competent hands." Ian can practically hear the satisfied smile. "It must be my sweet William."

"Stop!" Elijah laughs, and his hands slip to Ian's chest as he leans around to deposit an affectionate welcoming kiss. "The grapevine says you're here to convalesce, not tease me."

Ian slides Elijah into his lap, reacquainting with the endlessly enchanting blue eyes, flawless skin and the pressed whites of afternoon attire. He sighs, not unhappily. "You're not here to sit with me, are you?"

Elijah raises his chin towards the croquet pitch. "As much as I'd prefer your company to swinging a mallet in the afternoon sun, I'm spoken for this weekend, Ian. But tell me, you are well? Can we catch up Sunday evening?"

"I am well, and nothing would delight me more. But if you must desert me, then tell about this one," and he nods towards the duelist.

"I knew he'd catch your eye. He's such a showboat," Elijah dismisses, but Ian can tell by the sudden flush on Elijah's cheeks that he's hardly complaining.

"Yes, now before you berate him too badly, tell me his story."

"Up from Canterbury, been here a little over three months, widowed mother recently passed on so things are a little tender, lost his father as a child. Very popular with the guests, athletic, naive to the point of clueless sometimes, but sweet-natured and ready with a laugh. Studied drama in London for a bit. He's been organizing little theatrical pieces on occasion for the guests, Kipling-inspired after-dinner entertainments really, employing some of the housekeeping staff, to hilarious and well-received response." Elijah draws a breath and falls silent.

"Theatre, is it?" Ian muses. He's spent a bit of time on the boards himself; no matter where he's lived, he has managed to find a local troupe with which to insinuate himself. "Name?"

"Orlando," Elijah replies. "It would figure, right? You look like that, you'd have a name like 'Orlando'."

Ian hums in appreciative acknowledgement and tilts his head, still sizing up the sword play and the young man performing it. "And how does young Orlando fuck?"

Elijah draws a deep breath. "Like a dream," he sighs.

Ian snorts and his face crumples in delight at the sheer thought of these two in flagrante. "Dear boy, I can always count on you to impart a restorative effect upon me. Now go and swing your mallet, but would you be so kind as to ask Orlando if he would delight an old man with his company while he enjoys a little break in the shade."

Elijah turns and kisses Ian on the forehead. "Never old, Ian," he whispers. He stands, adding more sprightly, "And I will try very hard not to be jealous."

The saber slicing the afternoon sunlight ceases as Elijah approaches. Ian sips his wine, watching the young men stand close in conversation, Orlando shyly glancing once towards Ian before turning back and tilting into Elijah's upturned mouth for a brief but openly exploratory kiss. He sheathes his sword, laughing at whatever Elijah has uttered as a parting shot, and comes over.

"Sir Ian," he smiles, hand extended. "Orlando, and meeting you is an honour."

There have been times in Ian's life when the clarity of a moment becomes crystalline, as if the optics picked up by the nerves are defined with a razor's sharpness. Usually, some overwhelming emotion triggers it: glimpses of the family home receding behind the oaks when he first is sent away to boarding school, alone, not yet seven. A sun-misted dawn on his first voyage to sea as the steamer on which he is a stoker draws into the junk- cluttered harbor of Kowloon. The sudden, shattering death of his only child in a riding accident when the boy has just turned ten. At these moments, when the parts are brilliantly frozen because the whole cannot be grasped, cannot make sense, Ian is left feeling profoundly alone with his maker and profoundly human.

With the passage of years, he has come to accept the emotional nakedness of these random times as something necessary for his journey. Sometimes the world does tilt sideways, for good or ill.

Therefore, when he takes Orlando's hand -- a large firm one somewhat moistened by its exertions upon the saber's grip -- he is at first surprised that the clarity which immediately haloes the young man, that makes the air about him shimmer as if transcending another dimension, is completely unaccompanied by any personal emotion.

...so things are a little tender.

Ian releases Orlando's hand, smiling at the warm brown eyes turned upon him. "Allow me to earn the honour, Orlando, but I thank you." He indicates a nearby chair, and then catches the attention of the kohl-eyed waiter so that another wine glass and sparkling water can be brought.

Orlando unsnaps the white baldric buckled at his waist, laying scabbard and belt across the arms of the chair Ian has pointed to. He begins to unbutton his jacket, then stops. "Do you mind?" he asks, because it is obvious as the front placket folds back that Orlando has forgone a shirt or any kind of under garment due to the day's heat.

"Perfectly fine," Ian allows because he knows it will be.

The saffron jacket is folded neatly and added to the chair, and Orlando runs his hands through the thickness of his sweat-steamed hair. "Bleeding hot one," he concedes.

"Here, take this," Ian offers, topping up the wine in his glass since the waiter has yet to return. Orlando throws it back quickly, then wipes his mouth with the back of this hand.

For an instant, it is there again, the sharp clarity, the suspended moment, and then it vanishes.

Ian squints, as if trying to see something just beyond his vision. Who are you? he wonders.

Orlando reaches to unbind the stay on the red and azure cummerbund tidying the waistband of his trousers. It is clammy, and already the sweat from his torso has darkened the back and sides.

"Wait," Ian commands gently, holding up a hand. "If it wouldn't inconvenience you to leave that on..."

Orlando ducks his head and blushes, realizing how his shedding of clothes might be construed. "Right," he says. "Too much too soon?"

"Actually, no," Ian chuckles. "But if you might trouble me to wear it just a little while longer."

Orlando cocks his head to the side, curiosity piqued, then folds himself gracefully and sinks cross-legged upon the grass at Ian's feet.

The kohl-eyed serving boy appears, placing water and a wine glass on the table to Ian's left. Ian pours the water into both wine glasses and serves Orlando first.

"Do you believe in kismet, Orlando? Do you believe that what happens to us, even if we exercise our free will in making it happen, is predestined?"

For a moment, the levity on Orlando's face vanishes, and a weight descends that is nearly visible. "Yes," he answers. "Even as I wish it weren't so, I do believe that."

Ian takes up his own water-filled wine glass and stands. "I do as well," he says, walking over to one of the bodhi trees. "Perhaps it is my puny attempt to make order out of the chaos of this life. Or maybe it's my way of freeing my mind from its childish need to control that which it cannot. But I do believe it too."

He gently swirls the water around the bowl of the wine glass, rinsing it, then empties it against the trunk, where the water finds its paths down the smooth, patchy bark to drain into the sod at its base.

When he turns, Orlando is leaning back on his hands, watching him closely. The fragility about his edges refracts ever so delicately.

"Would you indulge me a favour?" Ian asks. "Even though you might find it a little foolish? There are some things I need to know."

Their eyes never waver from each other. "Of course," Orlando answers with absolute certainty.

Ian returns to one of the side tables and moves it in front of his chair, Orlando scooting back to make room. Emptying the wicker basket atop it of its fruit, he points to the bodhi tree. "I need you to climb this old and very wise tree and select some leaves. Pick as many as you like but remember that you will need sufficient to form three piles when you descend."

Orlando cocks his head again and smiles. He removes each boot, placing them neatly beside the chair bearing his scabbard, and stands. The branches of the tree hang several feet overhead; he strides several paces for momentum before leaping up and grabbing a thick branch around which he scissors his legs. Once he rights himself, he is able to climb freely, shimmying along the branches with ease and assurance, out to their more slender tips where the leaves cluster in ever smaller groupings. He begins to pick, careful in his selection, choosing different sizes and variations in colour. The leaves themselves are delicately veined and very pleasing to the eye for they are elegantly heart-shaped with a long tail that makes them appear as if they are melting.

Or weeping.

By the time he leaps to the ground, several of the leaves have escaped his grasp and preceded him, but all are soon collected and, sitting cross-legged once more before the table, Orlando begins the task of dividing. "We will read them, then?" he asks.

Hardly clueless, Elijah.

"We will," Ian nods. "If you are inclined to see meaning in such things, as I do, these leaves might have stories to tell."

"My gran used to read my tea leaves when I was young," Orlando says, and his remembrance is of unaffected fondness. "She never did it when my parents were around because they thought it was daft. But she did it when we were alone and I asked."

"Then you know how it works," Ian replies. "As you divide them, think about your life -- what has been, what is, what might come."

When Orlando has completed his piles of uneven count, he looks up.

Ian motions for him to gather the first bunch and hold them high over the empty basket. "Let them fall as they may."

Orlando lifts his arms and loosens his hands, and the leaves float downwards, some landing inside the basket, some not.

Ian leans forward and studies the picture of the past that has been drawn for him. A young leaf balances precariously on the rim, alone, not supported or burdened by others; nearby, a pair of leaves cross; and surrounding all is a riot of leaves of various age and coloration, busily connected. Among them is one of amber hue, shiny, at the peak of its perfection.

"What do they say?" Orlando asks softly.

"They say that the love of those who filled your life was released, and it left you in jeopardy."

Orlando looks up, his eyes liquid and questioning. "Released? Released how?"

Ian regards him. "Yes," he finally nods. "You have asked the right question." He sits back. "Show me another."

Orlando carefully collects the displayed leaves, returning them to a separate pile, and gathers up the second group he has prepared, once more extending his arms above the bowl, this time closing his eyes as his fingers slowly loosen their hold. He has released a smaller collection and of those that fall, only the count of one hand enters the basket. Orlando opens his eyes, and Ian leans forward.

All five leaves -- some fresh and young, some more mature -- lie connected, although only one -- a leaf now passing its prime -- touches them all. A wistful smile settles upon Ian's face, and he motions Orlando to remove what he has dropped.

"Ian!" Orlando pleads, his voice catching. "Tell me!"

Ian looks up as if from far away, surprised at the brightness of Orlando's eyes, the stricken manner of his expression. He smiles gently and passes his hand over the leaves. "It is telling us about our present, I suspect, for we are both here, Orlando, amid others."

"But what does it say?" Orlando asks.

"It says there is a fellowship, a communion, that the isolation has passed."

Orlando's relieved laugh breaks shakily as he exhales. He carefully gathers the displayed leaves and adds them to the first pile, then collects the final group so that they too cascade from his outstretched arms. As they fall, Ian stands and walks around Orlando and the table, studying how the leaves have fallen, the varied groupings, the range of colours, the absence of others. What they show is what will be, and what will be contents him.

He reaches down and picks up the basket, tossing the leaves so that they drift and spin around them, smiling down at Orlando's upturned face kindly. "I would consider ourselves well met, my friend," he murmurs, resting his hand lightly atop Orlando's head, feeling the young man lean into it.

"I would too," Orlando whispers.

"Come now," Ian says, offering Orlando his hand, for that cummerbund must surely be proving awfully uncomfortable. "All will be well."


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