Written for the 2014 Cotton Candy Bingo square prompt 'forever'. Keep in mind as you read that Cotton Candy Bingo is all about fluff and schmoop. :-) Also, I know as little Italian as Sean, so corrections from those who do know it are most welcome. The tradition with the locks is real. Google it and look at some of the photos. You can see why the authorities finally put the kibosh on it. This story was partly inspired by an interview with Sean in which he mentioned Florence as the most romantic place to visit. I've been there and it's pretty darn romantic.
Late afternoon sunlight was setting the red brick roof of the Duomo aflame when Elijah at last lifted his tired fingers from the guitar strings and bowed to the appreciative crowd of Fiorentini gathered round. He was amazed to see how late it was; time had no meaning for him when he was lost in his music.
His gaze found Sean; he was clapping and whistling, his eyes aglow with love and admiration. President of the Elijah Wood Fan Club, Sean jokingly called himself, but Elijah knew it was true. His confidence in his own ability, both as a musician and a performer, had grown by leaps and bounds since Sean came into his life.
After adroitly fending off the propositions and invitations from those who had fallen under his spell (as Sean liked to put it), Elijah knelt beside Sean. He was counting the coins that had been left in the guitar case at Elijah's feet.
"What are we going to spend our money on this time?" he asked. "Looks like we can afford another visit to the Uffizi if you want."
"I'd love to," replied Sean, "but we might need this money to keep us out of jail."
"Out of jail?" Elijah said in confusion. "But busking isn't against the law here. Hell, I noticed that a few polizia stopped to listen."
They'd learned early on to check with the local authorities when they arrived in a new city, after a near disaster in Reims. Only Sean's charm (according to Elijah) or Elijah's blue eyes (according to Sean) had kept them from being arrested by a very cranky gendarme.
"I didn't say it was." Sean scooped up a handful of Euros and let them cascade into the leather bag he'd taken from his pocket.
"Then what did you mean? You're not planning on stealing the David, are you?"
Sean laughed. "That would be a pretty tall order. Anyway, I have my very own David: you. You might have been Michelangelo's model, Elijah. Who knows - maybe you were in a previous life." He was perfectly serious.
Elijah blushed; Sean was always saying things like that. "Stop embarrassing me, please, and tell me what you meant."
"Not just yet, oh curious one." Sean added the last coins and pulled the drawstring tight. He stowed the now nicely plump bag in his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. "C'mon, let's go." Without waiting for Elijah, he set off across the Piazza del Duomo, skirting a group of tourists making a beeline for the church entrance.
"Hey, wait for me!" Elijah called, but Sean only gave him a quick mischievous grin and walked on. Elijah bent and picked up his guitar then jogged after him, not at all unwillingly. Sean obviously had a surprise up his sleeve. He liked to surprise Elijah and Elijah liked to be surprised. Sean's surprises were always good ones - in bed or out.
"You're a stinker, Mr. Astin, you know that?" Elijah said when he caught up to Sean on the Via dei Calzaiuoli.
"But you love me anyway." Sean didn't slacken his pace.
"But I love you anyway," Elijah agreed and tucked his free hand into Sean's, which closed warmly but carefully around it. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"You'll see. But it's not a long walk. I know you're tired and hungry. We'll get dinner right after, I promise."
"Nice try, love."
Elijah giggled. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
The Via dei Calzaiuoli was a Mecca for shoppers, but Sean walked by the upscale stores with their elegant, elaborate displays. Whatever he'd planned for his surprise, Elijah thought, it wasn't shoplifting a new pair of leather shoes from Furla or a handbag from Gucci. At the Piazza della Signoria, Sean kept right on going. Two more quick turns and the Arno River was immediately before them and the entrance to the Ponte Vecchio. Sunset reds and golds had yielded to shades of mauve and lavender and periwinkle, and Sean's hand unconsciously tightened around Elijah's.
"Is it any wonder so many great artists have made their home here?" he remarked softly. "The sky, Elijah. Just look at the sky. Only God could create such colors, but what artist could resist the urge to take them and make them his own?"
Elijah did look, but it was the light of wonder and delight in Sean's eyes that held him rapt and motionless. "I can't believe you were ever a salesman for a medical supply company," he said. "You have the soul of a poet, Sean Astin."
Sean huffed a laugh. "I wasn't a happy medical supply salesman or a particularly successful one. I made my quota, but I'm far better at being a busker's roadie."
"And lover. Speaking of which..." Sean gave Elijah's hand a gentle tug. "The light's fading fast. I don't want to do this in the dark."
He led Elijah onto the Ponte Vecchio, where they'd already passed several delightful hours browsing the gold seller's shops. He didn't stop until they reached the center of the bridge, where a bust of Benvenuto Cellini held pride of place. It was set on a tall pedestal and surrounded by an ornate black wrought-iron fence.
"Here we are," Sean said.
"Um, Sean, I don't think it'll be much easier to steal this statue than the David, and to be honest, I'm not sure why you would want to. No offense to Benvenuto, but David is much better looking."
"As a matter of fact we're not here to steal anything. Quite the reverse." Sean reached into his pocket and removed something. Holding out his hand, he showed it to Elijah.
Elijah wrinkled his brow in puzzlement as he stared at the piece of smooth bronze metal resting on Sean's outstretched palm. "A padlock?"
"A love lock," Sean corrected. "Look." He turned the lock over and Elijah saw that Sean had written their names on it in black marker, separated by a simple red outline of a heart. "There's a tradition here in Florence that if a pair of lovers place a lock on the fence around Cellini's bust and then throw the key in the Arno, their love will be eternal."
Elijah blinked against a prickle of hot tears. "Oh Sean. But why aren't there any other locks? Surely there should be hundreds if it's a tradition."
"Not hundreds. Thousands. So many, in fact, that the authorities finally decided to put an end to the tradition. There's a pretty stiff fine if you're caught, Elijah. Enough to use up everything you earned today and then some."
"Ah, now I understand what you meant. And you know what? I can't think of a better way to spend that money." Elijah smiled at Sean. "Let's do it."
Together they went to the fence. Together they looped the lock's shackle around one of the rails, and together they firmly clicked it into place, securing the lock to the railing.
For a long moment they stood looking at the plain brass lock and their simply written names, and then Sean said in a husky voice, "Are you ready to throw away the key?"
"I am," Elijah replied solemnly, and it was a vow.
They moved to the stone wall behind the monument. Dusk was deepening, but they were facing west and a glimmer of light still shone on the river, making it gleam like onyx. Sean held up a small silver key. Elijah joined his hand to Sean's; they leaned forward, stretching their linked arms out over the water.
"On the count of three," Sean said. "One, two, three."
The key fell from their hands. It glinted briefly as it turned over and over and then it was lost to sight, sinking beneath the Arno's dark waters to join the thousands of other lovers' keys. Their fingers twined, gripped almost painfully hard; both were struck with the symbolic weight of the ceremony they had just performed. Around them streetlights were winking into life, illuminating the bridge and casting a golden sheen on the river.
Sean said quietly, "That's what you've been to me. A light in the darkness. Before I met you, I was miserable, living in fear, afraid of who and what I was, denying my true self. You set me free." He set his hands on Elijah's shoulders and turned him. His eyes were dark and intent, more serious than Elijah had ever seen them. "Elijah, I love you. I will always love you, until the last breath leaves my body and beyond."
"Before I met you, I thought true love was a myth. I felt stifled inside the caravan with Jason. But not with you. When I'm there with you it's limitless, as if the entire universe was ours to command." Elijah lifted Sean's hand and cherished the palm against his cheek. "I love you, Sean," he said, "and I will always love you, until my fingers no longer have strength to play and beyond."
Their lips met in a kiss as profound and meaningful as any shared after an exchange of vows in a church.
"Forever, Elijah," Sean whispered, caressing his brow.
"Forever, Sean," Elijah whispered back.
The sharp blast of a whistle startled them apart. A tall man in the distinctive uniform of the Florence police force stood by the fence. "Hai fatto questo?" he asked sternly, giving their padlock a little shake.
"Scusi, but my Italian is not buono," Sean replied, although there was little doubt what the man was asking. Time to face the music.
"But happily my English is a little good. What I ask is: did you do this?" the policeman said.
"We did," Sean said without hesitation. It would be a betrayal of their love to try and deny it, and he knew Elijah felt the same. "I'm Sean and this is Elijah."
"It is against the law. Did you not see the sign?" The policeman gestured to a sign fastened to the fence where it couldn't possibly be missed. It was in both Italian and English and spelled out clearly the illegality of what they'd done.
"We saw it, but we ignored it." Sean shrugged and raised his hands in an unconsciously European gesture. The months they'd spent traveling the continent in the blue caravan had had that effect. "We're prepared to pay the fine."
"This is not good." Frowning, the policeman came up to them. His gaze fell on Elijah and the guitar case by his feet. His eyes widened. "Ah, but I know you. I watched you outside the Duomo, playing come un angelo." The frown vanished, replaced by a look of undoubted admiration. "Ecco, I make a... how do you say?" He thought for a moment and then his brow cleared. "A deal - that is the word. I make a deal with you."
Sean and Elijah exchanged a quick, somewhat apprehensive glance, wondering what the man had in mind.
"What sort of a deal?" Sean asked cautiously. While the man's reaction was nothing new, for indeed Elijah did play like an angel, admiring him from a respectful distance was all either of them would tolerate.
"Not to worry, please," he quickly reassured them with a smile. "It is only this: my wife's mother loves guitar music and tomorrow is her birthday. If you, Elijah, will come and play at her party, I, Paolo, will forget I saw you on the Ponte Vecchio. Deal?"
"Deal," Elijah said. "I'd be honored to play at her party." Then he added, "If Sean can come, too, that is."
"But of course." His smile widened. "And now I trust you with a secret: the night before we were married, my Vittoria and I put a lock on this fence. I understand well what it means. Love in eterno: for eternity."
He wrote down the address and directions for them and they promised to be there promptly at seven the next day. "Bene, bene," he said. "Mia suocera will be very happy. And now I must return to my job and you must leave this place before any other polizia see that lock."
They bid him farewell and took his advice. "It's time for dinner anyway," Sean said as they left the Ponte Vecchio, heading back to the city center. "Seeing that we have all this extra money to spend, how about splurging on a really good meal? I feel like celebrating. We could have been spending this night in jail, you know. Our friend Paolo seemed pretty unsympathetic until he realized who you were."
"I"m sure you would have talked him round," Elijah said confidently.
Sean halted. "How do you always manage to do it?" he asked.
"Make me feel about six foot ten and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound."
"Because to me you are and you can. Although, I actually prefer you at five foot seven. I never cared for guys who towered over me." Elijah hugged Sean's arm to him. "Now come on, Sean, let's go splurge on that meal. I'm starving."
They hurried on, vanishing into the crowds thronging the Via Por Santa Maria. By this time next day their lock might be gone, but not what it symbolized: love in eterno.