When the first distant boom of thunder sounded, Elijah went still and lowered his book. "Looks like a thunderstorm is moving in," he said.
"If my Italian is reasonably on target, I'm pretty sure they said on the radio earlier that there was the potential for one in the afternoon," Sean replied. "But it's a mountainous area, so that's not too surprising."
Elijah only nodded, but Sean could see his knuckles whiten as he tightened his grip on the book.
"Are you all right?" he asked in concern.
Elijah drew a deep breath, released it slowly and nodded a second time. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said, and returned to his reading.
A couple minutes later a picture perfect bolt of lightning was briefly framed in the window over the caravan sink opposite them. Elijah visibly flinched and raised the book to shield his eyes. Sean had always enjoyed watching thunderstorms, as long as he was someplace safe and sheltered. It had never occurred to him that Elijah didn't feel the same, for in Sean's experience thus far, the young man had proven to be entirely fearless.
Sean got up from the banquette. "I'll close the curtains," he said gently.
"Thanks, Sean," Elijah replied with real gratitude.
Sean drew the white curtain across the small square window, then made his way around the caravan, closing the others in turn. "You don't like thunderstorms?" he asked when he was finished and had resumed his seat beside Elijah.
Elijah hesitated. "Not really, no," he finally said. "A tornado came through our neighborhood once when I was a kid. There was a lot of damage - the house across the street from ours was completely destroyed and one of my best friends ended up in the hospital. It was a pretty... intense experience. But that was a long time ago, Sean. Honestly, I'm fine."
He didn't quite meet Sean's eyes as he said this, though, and Sean suspected that in fact Elijah wasn't fine at all. But he decided not to press Elijah to talk more about it since he seemed clearly reluctant, and he only said, "Okay, if you say so."
The afternoon grew darker as the black storm clouds moved in. With the curtains drawn it became difficult to see, so Sean got up again and turned on a few lights. The thunder came more frequently now, louder and closer, and though Elijah was ostensibly still reading his book, Sean didn't observe him turn a single page. His shoulders looked set and tense, and every thunderclap had him flinching again, as if in anticipation of a blow.
Maybe a distraction would be a good idea, Sean decided, setting aside his own book. Elijah's guitar was propped by the caravan door. Sean reached over and picked it up. Elijah had been giving him lessons, and though he had not an ounce of Elijah's natural ability, and no one would ever drop coins into a guitar case or scatter flowers at his feet if he were playing, he had conquered, more or less and with a ridiculous amount of pride in the achievement, a few simple tunes.
"Practice time," Sean said with forced cheer, shifting sideways on the cushion and setting the guitar on his knees. He strummed a chord and Elijah gave him a smile, but for once the smile didn't reach his eyes. Sean launched into his small repertoire, playing loudly in an attempt to drown out the thunder and the metallic drum of the rain now hitting the roof of the caravan.
The performance was an abysmal failure; Sean gave it up and stopped playing. "I guess I'm redefining what Roberta Flack meant by 'killing me softly with his song', huh?" he said, setting down the guitar, but the joke was no more successful than his playing in distracting Elijah.
There was a blindness about his eyes when he looked at Sean, like some panicked wild thing. Then the loudest thunderclap yet exploded with a sound sharp and startling as a rifle shot, and next moment Elijah was burrowing frantically against Sean, his entire body shaking uncontrollably.
"Oh Elijah," Sean said, pity and love filling his heart in equal measures, and without a second's thought, he scooped Elijah up in his arms and carried him to the back of the caravan. He lay down on the bed, still holding Elijah close - not that he could have done otherwise, for Elijah clung to him like a limpet. He made not a single sound, something Sean found more worrisome than if he'd sobbed and wailed. Sean didn't know what else to do but rock Elijah gently in his arms, one hand cupped protectively at the back of his skull, and croon nonsensical endearments into his dark hair as the full fury of the storm broke above and around them, rattling the windows and shaking the caravan from side to side.
After what seemed to Sean an eternity, the howling wind began to abate as the storm moved past. The thunder faded from a lion's roar to the hiss of a kitten, and the interior of the caravan brightened. Elijah's trembling gradually stopped, and he rested limp and exhausted in Sean's embrace.
"You okay?" Sean asked after a few minutes. He stroked the tumbled curls back from Elijah's warm forehead and pressed a kiss to it.
"I hate that you saw me lose it like that," Elijah whispered, breath damp against Sean's collarbone.
"You've seen me lose it a time or two, Elijah," Sean softly reminded him. "I'm only sorry you were affected so badly by the storm and I couldn't do more to help you get through it."
"Oh Sean, that's not true. You did help, believe me." Elijah raised his head; though his eyes held a lingering trace of remembered fear, they were clear again. He cupped his palm around Sean's cheek, cherishing it. "You didn't judge me. You didn't make fun of me or tell me to grow up and get over it. You have no idea how much that means to me."
"Are you telling me someone has actually given you grief about it?" Sean was appalled, and starting to understand why Elijah had tried to gut it out.
"My dad for one. Don't you know guys aren't supposed to be sissies about stuff like thunderstorms?" Elijah said with some bitterness. "Someone might actually think they're gay."
Anger surged up inside Sean. He knew Elijah was estranged from his father, who disapproved of both his music career and his sexuality, but every new tidbit that Elijah shared sent Sean's blood pressure rising. With some difficulty he tamped down the anger and said with forced lightness, "Guess we both hit the insensitive asshole dad lottery, huh?"
"Big time," Elijah agreed.
"More fool them, I say, 'cause if you ask me, we're pretty fan-fucking-tastic."
Elijah smiled, a genuine smile that touched his eyes this time. "Two unemployed gay guys kicking around Europe in a caravan, living hand to mouth?"
"Hey, I hear it's what all the fan-fucking-tastic gay guys are doing these days," Sean quipped. "And speaking of hand to mouth, we've got some fabulous panna cotta waiting for us in the fridge. I don't know about you, but I could do with a sugar boost right now. We can open that magnum of champagne we've been saving, too."
"We'll get drunk and I'll play you bawdy songs on the guitar," Elijah said.
Sean laughed. "Sounds like a plan."
They disentangled and got up, and Elijah ran to draw back the curtains. The sun poured in, glad and golden, and chased the last lingering shadows away.