Notes: Inspired by the actual fundraising campaign photo referenced in the story.
"I don't understand what the problem is, Sean. It's simply an advertisement. It's not real."
"You don't understand? Fucking look at it, Elijah." Sean held up the picture in a hand that shook. "ELIJAH WOOD IS DEAD. That's what it says. You're lying in a fucking coffin."
"But I've got my iPhone. You could always call me," Elijah said, not trying to be flippant but to defuse a situation that was rapidly getting out of control. He'd never seen Sean like this. He was a rational guy, not given to overreacting, but right now... Shit, his face was flushed, a vein throbbed at his temple and he looked truly angry.
"Do not make a joke out of this," Sean said furiously, and crumpled the paper in his fist. "Do not make light of my feelings." Then he flung the crumpled paper away and turned his back on Elijah.
Elijah was dumbfounded. "Sean, I'm sorry. Jesus, I'm sorry. I wasn't making light of your feelings. I just... I just didn't expect the photo to upset you." He stared helplessly at Sean's rigid back.
"You should have expected it. You should have thought. You should have consulted me first."
"But it's a fundraiser for a charity. We've never consulted each other on those kinds of decisions."
"If you can't see what is different about this situation then we've got a serious problem, Elijah." Sean sounded so grim that Elijah's stomach clenched with fear.
"Sean, I'm sorry," he repeated. "We're actors. This seemed to me like simply another acting job."
"Then act, Elijah. Put yourself in my place. Imagine I'm the one in that ad. Imagine I'm the one lying there with my eyes closed and my face like chalk. Imagine the ad says SEAN ASTIN IS DEAD."
Unwillingly, Elijah did, but his mind shied away from the very idea of picturing Sean, his vibrant, vital lover and partner, lying lifeless in a satin-lined coffin. He felt sick. "Oh Sean. Oh fuck." Quickly he crossed to where Sean was standing with bent head and hands fisted at his sides. He needed to touch him, needed his solid, living warmth to banish the terrible image from his mind. He slid his arms around Sean and rested his cheek between his shoulder blades. "Sean, I didn't think about how the ad would affect you and I should have. Forgive me. Please?"
Sean remained rigid in his hold then finally let out a deep sigh. Elijah could feel the tension draining out of him. Without a word Sean covered Elijah's hands with his own, gently drew them apart and turned to face him. His eyes were red-rimmed as if he were in truth a mourner, barely holding tears at bay. Still without saying anything, he pulled Elijah into his arms, gathering him close, so close that Elijah could feel the beat of his heart as though they were bare skin to bare skin.
"I try not to be superstitious," Sean said, "but that photo might have been a premonition, a vision of the future. It scared the fuck out of me. You look so fucking beautiful, but there's no beauty in death, Elijah, there's only pain and grief and loss, and I am not ready to lose you."
"You won't. Sean, you won't, I swear."
"You better make good on that promise, Elwood, because if you don't, I will call you on that fucking iPhone and give you hell." But the threat was spoken in Sean's usual voice, with an underlying note of wry humor.
The fear that had Elijah's stomach tied up in knots relinquished its fierce grip. The crisis was averted. Sean was Sean again. "Do you think AT&T gets reception in the afterlife?"
"Probably better than they do in LA."
Elijah giggled. "Yeah, I think you're right about that. The dropped call rate couldn't possibly be worse."
They held each other in silence then, and Elijah's senses were so heightened by the intensity of their near-argument that he found himself more physically hyper-aware of Sean than he had been since the eighteen months of principal photography on Lord of the Rings, when his skin would tingle and break out in goosebumps from his co-star’s slightest touch.
Maybe, he thought, moving his hands on Sean's back, the sensitive pads of his fingers mapping and absorbing every subtle rise and dip of muscle and bone beneath the shirt Sean wore, it was a good thing that this had happened. Maybe he'd grown complacent and started taking what they had for granted. Maybe it was time to reaffirm his love for Sean, to show him that the desperate, driving passion that could not be denied and had swept away all obstacles in their path still burned as bright as ever.
"Let's go to bed," he said, pulling back. "I want you so fucking much, Sean Astin." They were the exact words he'd said the long ago day they'd first become lovers.
"Not half as much as I want you," Sean said, repeating the words he'd said in reply, and his eyes were just as dark with hunger and need as they had been then.
Desire, sharp as a knife, cut Elijah with the sweetest pain and he welcomed its bite, for this was no lethal wound but one that fed his arousal and a hunger and need that more than matched Sean’s. The seconds it took them to reach their bedroom seemed endless to him and he almost sobbed Sean’s name as he pulled him down onto the bed without pausing to remove a single stitch of clothing. This, too, was how it had been in New Zealand.
Elijah couldn’t recall the last time they’d made love with such uninhibited passion. It was fierce, it was frantic, it was giddy and breathless and filled with a renewed sense of discovery and wonder.
Later, as he lay closely entwined with Sean in the aftermath of their lovemaking and listened to the steady beat of his heart, Elijah thought of a better photograph for an ad campaign: the two of them as they were right now with the caption:
SEAN ASTIN AND ELIJAH WOOD ARE ALIVE.