My Twenty-Ninth Year by Lbilover

This is based on a quote from an interview with Elijah in which he said: My 29th year was significant in terms of self-reflection and recognizing some things that had always been a part of me that I didn’t realize ‘til then. I had to sort of figure them out. It got me to thinking about what he meant and a possible explanation. Also, one of my biggest S/E kinks is Sean being gay for Elijah. But what if Elijah was gay for Sean just once?

As far back as I can recall, the rumors followed me like a second shadow. 'He's gay. Elijah Wood is so, so gay.' It never bothered me much, because hell, even I thought my giggle sounded gay and yeah, externally I fit the mold. But I also believed, honestly and truly believed, that I was heterosexual. I'd never been attracted to guys. Rumors to the contrary, I never dated guys. If I'd been bi-curious, I had all the opportunity in the world to satisfy my curiosity working in the movie industry. I never did, though. Got hit on plenty, as you can imagine, but never took anyone up on the offer.

People think the rumors started with 'Rings'. They didn't, but it sure as hell ramped them up a few billion notches. And it gave people a laundry list of potential gay partners for me. If you didn't know better, you'd think every guy in the Fellowship was gay, when in fact only Ian was out and proud. The 'Fellowship of the Gay' provided us with a lot of fodder for taking the piss out of each other, and for taking it out of others, too. Did we play to our audience? Hell yeah.

First and foremost it was assumed that Dom and I were lovers, with increasingly bizarre and convoluted conspiracy theories emerging to explain why we never came out. This, of course, meant that every woman I dated up to and including Pam was a beard, paid by New Line (or my agent or my mother) to 'date' me so that the truth about me and Dom wouldn't get out. Total bullshit, all of it. I loved Pam, as much as I was capable of loving any woman. We had (gasp) sex and plenty of it, and mostly it was good. For a while, I honestly believed that she was the future Mrs. Elijah Wood, the future mother of my kids. What happened to us? Ultimately, I wasn't, as I thought, ready to commit to being a husband and father. The harder she pushed me, the more I resisted.

Pam understandably wasn't willing to wait forever for me to make up my mind, and I became increasingly certain that I never would. In the end, we didn't so much implode as fizzle out. I had regrets. How could I not when we'd been together for so long? But my strongest emotion was relief. Should that have clued me in to things about myself that I'd been suppressing? Maybe. But with the benefit of hindsight, I'd say that's when I got my first inkling that a relationship with a woman wasn't what I wanted.

Like I said, at one time or another every member of the Fellowship was presumed to be involved with me - except for one: Sean. Sean Astin, that is. He was the Married Hobbit, the guy with the wife and kid along for the ride. Yeah, there were a few fucked up fans who believed that Sean was madly in love with me, insanely jealous of Dom and obsessed with sabotaging our 'relationship', but for the most part, Sean was the one guy who escaped the gay rumor mill.

Which is ironic as hell, because Sean, the Married Hobbit, was the one guy who actually did fall for me.

He never by word or deed made it obvious. He never hit on me, he never uttered a single inappropriate remark, outside the occasional good-natured goofing about Frodo and Sam. I'm very sure he had no idea I even suspected it. But I knew. How could I not when we worked so closely together? He might fool the rest of the world, but not me, not the person he spent upwards of fifteen hours a day with for four years.

It ate at me, because I cared about Sean so fucking much. The thought that I brought any pain into his life or discord into his marriage, even if it was inadvertent, hurt. It hurt like hell. I loved Sean as if he were a brother, but only as a brother. Even if I'd returned his feelings then, I hope I wouldn't have acted on them. I liked Christine and adored Ali, and being a good husband and even better father meant so much to Sean.

In the end, I figured it was a passing thing, like Tolkien's shadow, and that once Rings was done and we went home, Sean's infatuation with me would die a natural death and that would be that. He'd get on with his life, I'd get on with mine, although of course we'd stay friends. I didn't know, then, that it wasn't infatuation, but something deep, lasting and true. I didn't know, then, that he never got over me.

All I did know was that as the months passed, Sean gradually pulled away from me, although I tried to reach out, tried to create opportunities for us to meet, like at Mardi Gras. Did it hurt? Sure it did. But I assumed... See, the problem is that I made a shitload of assumptions about Sean, most of them completely wrong. He'd always been the most skeptical about the enduring nature of the Fellowship and our bond. He'd get this look on his face when I said we'd all be friends forever - not a cynical look, because Sean's no cynic, but a sorrowful one, as if hard experience had taught him never to trust that a relationship forged on a movie set would last. So I don't think he ever allowed himself to believe that I was right, and when he pulled away, went nearly silent, it seemed an inevitable outcome of his skepticism.

I respected his space and accepted his decision. I did get on with my life and left him to get on with his. Years passed with little or no contact. I heard bits and bobs, mainly from Dom who was still in touch with Mackenzie. When Isabella was born, I sent Sean a congratulatory text and got a thanks in return. I wasn't invited to her christening.

Such was the pattern of our lives, mine and Sean's. Living and working in the same world, but on parallel tracks that no longer intersected. It seemed set, certain. Sometimes I jokingly thought, 'Well, we'll always have New Zealand'.

And then I turned twenty-nine.

You know, people say that your thirtieth birthday is the one that hits you hardest, the one that forces you to confront your mortality for the first time, forces you to realize that you don't have as many years left to do those things in life - marriage, a family - as you always thought you would.

Only for me that happened when I turned twenty-nine. My relationship with Pam had just ended, and I faced an uncertain future. I remember in my early twenties, during innumerable Rings interviews, I said that I wanted to be married and starting a family by the time I was thirty. Well, here I was, knocking on the door of thirty and farther from that goal than I'd ever been. It pulled me up short. That wasn't my happiest birthday, my twenty-ninth. While my film career had more or less thrived, and I had Simian and my DJing and a ton of friends, I was newly single and dreading a return to the dating pool. In truth, I felt unsettled and unfulfilled, sort of hollow deep inside.

After my birthday, I went into social hibernation mode, I suppose you could say. A few people knew what had happened between me and Pam, but not many. Obviously word got around that we were through, and I wondered occasionally if Sean had heard the news. He'd met Pam once, at Mardi Gras, but it was after that that he started withdrawing, and he never met her again that I'm aware of.

I kept busy, filming Wilfred in March then making the rounds of the talk shows to promote it in July. Returning to New York was a bitch; I'd spent so much time there with Pam. Oddly, though, it wasn't Pam I thought about as I walked the streets and rode the subway. It was Sean. He'd helped me move into the apartment I'd briefly rented in the city right after Rings. He'd been there during the black out and, in typical fashion, braved the dark and gotten involved in rescuing people stuck in elevators and other places. Crossing a section of Central Park, I recalled the photo shoot we'd done there for a newspaper interview. The flowery, even intimate, poses had us joking that it was as if we'd just gotten engaged, but I'd glimpsed a hint of wistfulness in Sean's expression.

In a flash of insight, I realized that at this, one of the lowest ebbs in my life, I wanted my Sam. Almost I succumbed and called him, but recalling that wistful expression, it seemed a selfish thing to do. I'd fucked with his emotions once before and I didn't want to risk doing so again.

So I put my phone away without tapping his number, and went home to LA. It was about a week later that I got the shock of my life one evening when I answered the doorbell and discovered Sean standing on the stoop. He looked like hell: exhausted, unshaven, his clothes a wrinkled mess. When he saw me, his face crumpled, kinda like Sam's did when Frodo told him to go home. Only this devastation was real.

He sobbed out a few garbled words among which I made out 'Christine', 'left' and 'over', and god, my heart broke for him. I said something, I don't recall what, and pulled him into a tight hug. Maybe I'm a selfish shit, but I have to be honest: a part of me was uplifted by the knowledge that despite the years of near-silence, in his time of greatest trouble, Sean had come to me.

Quite simply, it’s love. It is that unconditional love that says: regardless of what you do or where you go, I will always be there for you.

I said that once about Frodo and Sam's relationship, but I could as well have said it about mine and Sean's. Only, I hadn't been certain if that was still the case, and I understood now how badly that had hurt, how much the hollow sensation I'd been experiencing was due to his absence from my life. So label me selfish if you will, but as I held his shaking body in my arms, I felt a sense of completion that I hadn't in years.

Deciding it was prudent to get out of eye and ear shot, I drew Sean inside and closed the door. Then I steered him to the couch, got him a cup of chamomile tea, and let him talk. People find catharsis in different ways, getting shit-faced drunk maybe, or punching something out. Sean's a talker. What he told me will stay between the two of us, but it's a familiar story, I suppose, of two people growing in different directions and finally, painfully, pulling apart. He said nothing about my role in any of it, if I had one, and I didn't ask.

When he limped, exhausted, to a halt, I did ask Sean if he had a place to stay. He said he was going to a hotel, to which I replied very rudely and informed him he'd be spending the night at my house. He didn't put up much of a fight. Not that it would have mattered if he did. No way in hell would I have allowed him to go off to a hotel all alone in his current state, even if it meant stealing his car keys.

"You're welcome to stay here for as long as you need," I told him.

"I don't want to intrude, Elijah," he said, but I could tell he was beyond grateful for my offer.

"It's no intrusion, Sean," I said gently. "You know that, man. Now sit tight and I'll get your stuff out of the car and put it in the spare bedroom."

And that's how Sean came to live with me. Originally we had settled it that he'd move out as soon as he got his shit together and found an apartment. But somehow that day never came. He got his shit together: hired an attorney, worked out a settlement and custody arrangements. It was pretty amicable as Hollywood divorces went, and before long his kids were leaving stuff scattered around the house and decorating my fridge with drawings they'd made in school. It was great to reconnect with Ali, growing into a beautiful young woman, and to get to know Elizabeth and Isabella, to whom I became, in short order, Uncle Lighe.

Sean and I never really discussed him staying; it's how things evolved, quite organically. We joked that we were like the Odd Couple, but in truth we got along far more than we collided. I'm not quite the slob I used to be, and Sean's never been Felix Unger, so we meshed for the most part. It helped that we'd spent so much time together in New Zealand. There wasn't much as far as irritating habits that we didn't know about each other. That's not to say there weren't adjustments on both sides that needed to be made, but at heart, we were basically the same guys.

A few days after he moved in Sean said to me, "If you ever need me to make myself scarce, just tell me, Elijah. The last thing I want to do is get in the way of your personal life."

I laughed. "Trust me, you won't," I said. "I don't even have a personal life right now. At most I might invite a few people over for a barbecue and to listen to records. You're more than welcome to join us."

"But what about Pam?" he asked. "How will she feel about me being here?"

Which answered the question of whether or not he'd heard the news. "We broke up at the end of last year." Sean went quiet; his expression grew almost troubled, then he said how sorry he was.

"So, we're both single again. LA area women, watch out," he added with an attempt at humor that made me feel more like crying than laughing.

I thought it might do Sean good to have some distraction, so I shrugged off my hermit-like mood and held the first of a series of record parties. Bills was in LA with his family at the time, so he and Dom were the first people I invited, along with Viggo. We had a mini-Fellowship reunion, and it definitely lifted Sean's spirits. We entertained on a regular basis after that, his friends or mine, sometimes a mix of both, and you were as apt to hear passionate discussion of politics or running in my house now as you were music or horror movies.

Ultimately, though, the best times were the quiet evenings we spent together, just the two of us. There weren't a lot of them, especially in the beginning. We were both busy as hell and Sean was understandably occupied with his personal affairs. But even after Sean's divorce, after life settled down, often one of us was away on work.

Truthfully, I expected to appreciate having the house to myself again when Sean was gone, but I discovered that I missed him. When I returned home after being away, I looked forward to seeing him more than I ever imagined I would. Increasingly I came to rely on his presence in my life, and without quite realizing it began to think of his presence as permanent, fixed.

And in case you were wondering, no, we never went out on the town looking for ladies.

Was I blind to what was happening with me? Not willfully so, but after so many years of telling myself I was, in Ian McKellen's words, 'resolutely heterosexual', it simply didn't compute. As for Sean... Although later he told me that he'd never stopped loving me, ever, I didn't see it. Either my blindness extended to blocking out Sean's feelings for me as well as mine for him, or Sean had gotten more expert at hiding them over the years. But I'd have called what we had a close friendship or maybe, as Dom jokingly termed it, 'a fine bromance'.

Until one day we went to the beach for a few hours. We had a quick swim, then spread out our towels and lay down. We didn't say much, just lazed in the sun, enjoying the chance to decompress after a busy week. A while later Sean announced he was going for another swim. "You coming?" he asked me, but I shook my head. "Once was enough," I said.

Arms folded beneath my head, I watched him stride across the sand toward the water, and an errant thought slipped into my mind.Fuck, he's got the most gorgeous ass. I caught myself up short. The fuck? Had I just been admiring Sean's ass? Apparently so, and hard on the heels of admiration came an urgent desire to get my hands on that gorgeous ass, preferably naked.

If life were a cartoon, a giant light bulb would have appeared over my head then, or perhaps an Acme anvil would have dropped from the sky and clobbered it. All joking aside, I will remember that moment forever with absolute crystalline clarity. Because I wanted Sean, yes, but not only his body. I wanted his heart, too. I was in love with him.

It was a hell of a thing to have happen on a public beach in Venice, let me tell you.

When I saw Sean returning, dripping wet, his swim trunks plastered to his muscular thighs, I lay back and closed my eyes, pretending to be asleep. My mind was awhirl. I didn't know what to say or do, how to act. Years ago Sean had wanted me, but I had no idea if he still did. And even if he did, would it be wise to act on my feelings? Would it ruin everything? But how could I live with him now and not act on them? I'd never been hesitant to let a girl know I liked her. I was no shrinking violet.

Round and round my mind went like the mill wheel in Hobbiton, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt a light cool touch on my arm and Sean said, "You're going to get burned, Elijah."

I sat bolt upright. "Yeah, you're right." Despite the sunscreen I'd used, the skin on my stomach was faintly pink. "Maybe we should go home."

My eyes having been thoroughly opened, I found Sean way too much temptation wearing only swim trunks. This sort of desire, sharp and sweet enough to make me cast my inherent sense and caution to the winds, was as new to me as my feelings for Sean. I do nothing by halves, I suppose, and I wanted Sean with a fervor that I'd never felt for Franka or Pam or any other woman. Ironic, huh?

Before we even got back to the house I figured out one thing. It would never work, trying to hide my feelings. I suck at that kind of subterfuge. Even as we drove home, Sean sent me a few sidelong glances, as if sensing the turmoil inside me. How the hell was I going to keep it under wraps? And I didn't want to. Truthfully, if I'd been certain that Sean still felt the same about me, I'd have jumped his bones the instant the door was closed behind us. Like I said, I'm no shrinking violet.

I showered and changed, and went into the kitchen to start supper. Sean joined me ten minutes or so later, and my nose twitched at the smell of him, a mix of soap and the spicy aftershave he favored. I tried to focus on what I was doing - measuring rice and water to put in the rice cooker - but again I felt Sean glancing at me as he had in the car, and it was distracting.

He opened the fridge and took out a Ziploc bag filled with salad greens that he set down on the counter near where I was working. But he didn't open it or reach for the salad bowl. Instead he said quietly, "Elijah, is everything all right? You seem kind of... I don't know, upset? Is it anything I did?"

His left hand was resting on the countertop. Barely a trace of white remained at the base of the third finger where his wedding ring had been. Maybe it was that evidence that his marriage was well and truly over that gave me the impetus to do what I did then. I'm not certain. But whatever the reason, I reached out and deliberately laid my right hand on top of his. Sean went still. It wasn't as if we never touched, but this was different, and we both knew it.

"I suppose you could say it's something you did," I said breathlessly, sliding my hand underneath and lacing our fingers together. "But I'm definitely not upset, Sean. Quite the reverse." Lightly I brushed the edge of my thumb against his palm.

He'd been staring as if mesmerized at our entwined fingers. But at my caress he slowly lifted his eyes and in his clear green gaze, open and vulnerable, I saw such a depth of love and desire that I cursed myself for a blind fool for missing the truth for so long.

Sean swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Elijah, is this what I think it is? Are you..." He swallowed again.

"Hitting on you? Yes, I am. So how about it, Astin?" I didn't mean to be flippant, but I couldn't help it. I was giddy.

"How about it? You're ten years behind me, you slacker," Sean said, and I guess he was feeling pretty giddy himself. I can't recall who made the first move, or maybe it was simultaneous, but I can say that Sean's reputation as a great kisser is totally justified.

What happened after our first kiss is between me and Sean. But I suppose Sean summed it up best when he said some hours later, "Well, that was an eye opener and no mistake, Mr. F." Truer words have never been spoken.

My house is now our house, legally and financially, but more importantly in spirit. It's a house filled with joy, with laughter, and most of all with love. Although I'm blessed with three totally kick-ass step-daughters, I still want kids of my own, and we're considering our options. If our brood gets too big for the Venice house, we'll find someplace larger. As long as we're together, that's all that matters.

And so you have it: the story of my twenty-ninth year. Most people will probably define it as the year Elijah Wood finally discovered that he was gay after all. But I prefer to think of it as the year I discovered something much more important: the love of my life, Sean Astin.