It feels later than it is, and the wet pavement under the headlights rushes forth hypnotically, the white line by the side of the road undulating blindingly. Sean blinks and forces his eyes to open wide, hands tightening around the leather of the wheel. He steers the humming vehicle with deliberate care, hopefully forward, between lines rather than not. Gravel prickles at the side of the car like hail, keeping Sean awake, but barely.

Incoherent thoughts borne out of sheer exhaustion mingle with strings of rhythmic Shakespeare, recited just as mindlessly to himself, by habit, echoing tonight's flawless performance. Faultless, yet he remembers none of it; it feels as though he's longed for home ever since morning, when he stepped out into the shrill post-dawn grey that washes out colours but makes you squint your eyes. Driving back now, everything is a different shade of black as he rushes past them in a haze, hurrying back home, dizzied by the speeding asphalt unfurling beneath him.

Crushed stone crunches under the tires when he pulls into the drive, and the porch light beckons weakly but enough for Sean to fit the key into the lock, pushing the door inward on an exhaled breath. The inherent warmth of home hits his face, the change drastic coming in from the humid cold of night, and Sean smiles, maudlin languor dissipating by the time the door closes behind him.

Stiff fingers drop the keys by a week's worth of unopened post and Sean shuffles toward the kitchen absently, senses thawing, toeing off his shoes as he goes.

"There you are. I was about to send out a search party."

Sean starts at the voice and swivels where he stands, coat hanging limply from his elbows. His eyes go wide and they follow Elijah as the boy walks around the table to stand before him. Sean stares mutely, mouth poised as though to speak his surprise at Elijah's unexpected presence.

Elijah seems unfazed and smiles, reaching out to tug Sean's coat off his arms. "What took you so long? I was expecting you home half an hour ago."

The coat slips from Elijah's fingers and flops to the floor, weighed down by the contents of the pockets. Elijah curses softly and kneels to retrieve it, tapping nonexistent dirt from the charcoal wool with the flat of his palm.

Sean pushes his hand through his hair, breath shaky. "Elijah? What--What are you doing here?"

Elijah, sitting almost gracefully on his haunches, looks up at Sean with an unreadable expression before standing, coat draped carefully over his arm. His hand is still patting the wool, but his eyes are on Sean, and they suddenly crinkle with mirth as Elijah smiles with mischief.

"Happy to see you too, Sean."

The comeback would be petty coming from anyone else, but from him it is merely teasing, and punctuated by a quick lean of Elijah's body and a brush of lips against Sean's cooler ones. Before Sean can even breathe in a gasp, Elijah is across the kitchen again, chattering away.

His hands are busy smoothing the coat over a chair as if it matters. "I figured you had the play tonight, and I couldn't remember the way to the theatre house from here, from the time you took me there to see--what was it again? Doesn't matter, I didn't want to try and get lost in this weather. So I just came here and waited for you." He concludes with a blinding smile Sean's way and exits the kitchen into the sitting room. Sean stays rooted to the spot for a moment, gathering his wits before following.

Elijah is in motion, pulling curtains, turning on lamps, patting cushions. He turns on the television without looking at it, raising the volume before putting down the remote to play with the dials of the stereo.

Sean clears out his throat. "Elijah--"

Loud rock bursts out of the speakers, indistinguishable as it mingles with the television sounds to create a cacophony which doesn't seem to bother Elijah--usually a harsh critique of anything sound-like--in the least. Sean cringes involuntarily at the noise, watching as Elijah gathers empty glasses stained with gold rings of scotch sticking to the magazines on which they were put down, days ago.


Blue eyes suddenly jerk back to his, and Sean notices for the first time what Elijah is wearing. It's all wrong--too bright, too tight, too L.A. It's the kind of thing he wears in paparazzi pictures, the kind of thing Sean imagines he likes to dress up in when he goes clubbing with kids his age, back home. It doesn't fit this dreary country, Elijah's constant chill when he visits, or anything a sensible traveller would wear for a long flight. His hair is too wild, not flattened by humidity like it ought to be. His cheeks are too pink, the flush of alcohol spread across the bridge of his nose like freckles, yet he doesn't seem drunk, save for the small pink tongue darting out to wet pinker lips.

Elijah's paying frantic attention to him now and it occurs to Sean that he should say something, anything, before Elijah flutters away again. He speaks the first thing that comes to mind--"When did you get here?"--but it's drowned out by the din and Sean fumbles for the remotes until at least the television is muted and there's only Alice Cooper to disrupt the eeriness of the moment.

"When did you get here, Elijah?"

Elijah's eyes dance under his lashes and he licks his lips again. Sean finds himself mimicking the gesture in spite of himself.

"Aren't you glad to see me? I came to see you. I missed you. You're too far away, this isn't working, not like this, Sean. You here, me over there."

They've had this discussion dozens of times before, in varying shades of emotions, but Elijah's sudden anger seems out of place, just like everything else.

Sean suddenly aches to shake Elijah out of it, whatever it is. "It's not ideal, no. But it never was. Never kept us from trying."

The last thing he wants is to dredge up these issues, but he's going through the motions like lines of a play, playing his part, the words almost banal from repetition. He expects Elijah to follow the lead, but the boy moves, away then closer, and smiles into Sean's chest, pale arms coming to curl around Sean tightly enough to squeeze out whatever breath Sean had left.

Sean's arms wrap around Elijah by habit, but this is a much better part of their ritual, even though Elijah has the fight/make-up order all wrong. None of the hostility seems to remain in Elijah's posture and he seems calm, suddenly, eyes closed against Sean's shoulder. Sean isn't familiar with this rapid-fire palette of moods, not from this even-tempered boy; but then the boy he knows wouldn't just show up halfway around the world without notice, without making a hundred half-assed plans beforehand, without calling every time he thinks of something else they can do once he gets here. This isn't him--only it *is*, clearly, and there is no mistaking the warmth against him for someone else's.

"I just came to see you," Elijah says again, but it has none of the heat from before, is barely whispered at all, his breath hot and rushed against Sean's shirt.

Sean smiles into the softly spiked hair and lets himself take in the comforting presence. The rock blaring out of the stereo segues into some obsolete excuse for a power ballad; Elijah's arms tighten a fraction and Sean fights the absurd urge to sway him, to soothe, to lull away whatever is making him hold on so fast. This urge to coddle is new, uncharacteristic when it comes to his relationship with Elijah, which is problematic, belligerent at times, intensely bittersweet at best.

The body against him shudders. "You must be exhausted," Sean whispers, as if he wasn't weary to the bone himself. "Lets go to bed."

In all the time they've been as together as they can--from the week they met (a lifetime ago, it seems) to the strange situation they find themselves in tonight--they've never simply gone to bed like this; no matter how much they'd fought, regardless of moods, emotions, grudges, they would always enter the bedroom with hands peeling off clothing, fingers digging into hair, lips clinging desperately, eager to fix what was wrong, if only for the night. But tonight, Sean watches as Elijah, eyes cast downward and stifling a yawn, pulls the t-shirt off his chest, pushes denim down his thighs, kicks away his shoes. Sean watches without reaching out to touch, to help, because the sight of him--slight and slender and pale, so pale--is strangely fascinating, and Sean watches, observes, studies the easy movements, the inches of flesh uncovered with neither shame nor vanity. He removes his own clothing and pulls the covers away wordlessly, sliding in between the cool sheets next to the warmer body.

This part they do right; bodies curl easily, Sean's larger frame cradling Elijah's slighter one like a palm, limbs arranging themselves as if there was no problem at all, in or outside of the bedroom. Sean feels Elijah's breath, exhaled shakily as the boy closes his eyes with fingers digging into Sean's arm around him. Sean closes his eyes, cheeks and lips tickled by unruly tufts of hair smelling like cigarettes and styling gel. Sean feels the fatigue slam back into him, remembers the gravel hitting the sides of the car, then Elijah in his kitchen, and everything else after makes him so tired, numb from some unidentified ache, and his hold on Elijah tightens as he loses his weak struggle against slumber.

* * *

The shrill ring of the phone pierces through Sean's disjointed dreams and he blinks himself awake, squinting at the too-bright morning pouring through thin curtains. The space next to him is wrinkled, the pillow gently dented, his arms empty. Sean pulls himself up on his elbow groggily, unsurprised by Elijah's disappearance, another constant. The plastic of the phone in his hand is warmer than he feels.

"Hello," he croaks, then turns away from the phone to clear his throat.

"Sean?" The voice is distant, broken up by static. Familiar.



He hasn't spoken to Orlando in months, but he's past being able to show surprise at this point, and settles back into the sheets, rubbing his prickly throat.

"It's early, Orli. What is it."

"There's, um. There's been an, an accident."

Sean's eyes flutter open to his ceiling, grey and flaking. Dread squeezes his throat pre-emptively; no matter what happened, no matter who it is, the next thing Orlando says will change things, he's sure of it.


"It's. I meant to call earlier, but I thought-"



Strange how one word, three beloved syllables, can break you.

"Elijah?" His own voice is small, foreign, strangely calm but feeling like cold sweat on his lips.

"I'm sorry, Sean... We were going home from this party--me, Dom and him, and he, he was sober, it wasn't him, it was the other guy, rammed his car from the side, he didn't even have a chance to react, I saw it, right in front of me-- but he's, he's okay. I mean, he's not d-dead or anything. Well, he was, for a little bit, but they brought him back, yeah? He's in ICU, it's--he's in critical condition, but we think--he's a strong guy, you know? He'll pull through, he'll... yeah."

Orlando's voice shakes and Sean can hear his tears, but his smile too, hopeful, so... so *Orlando*. It occurs to Sean that he should be crying too, or yelling, or cursing, or everything at once, but there's nothing, just this terrible tightness in his chest, a knife in the heart, but relief, too, and that's just enough to allow him to breathe.

Orlando is still talking, Sean realises, but the arm holding up the phone falls limply to his side and Sean sits up, boneless, numb. He puts a shaking hand to the empty space beside him and can swear he can still feel the warmth of a small body, and maybe he can feel it on himself too, but that may just be the sun, blinding and sharp, bringing everything around in stark contrast--alone, he's alone, Elijah left--

But he was never really here, was he?

* * *

Billy looks just as jetlagged as Sean feels when Sean gets there. Sean's shoes squeak loudly on the spotless hospital floor when he stops at the foot of the bed, ignoring the gazes turning to him but unable to disregard the tubes and braces and bandages and oh god, the small body, this little boy--not a boy, of course, but nobody could tell like this, and did the other driver take a chunk of Elijah with him, or does he only look small like a child, swaddled in white and red and colourless flesh, because Sean wants to pick him up and rock him and peel the tape off his eyelids until he's okay again, like he was last night, in his own home, in his own bed?

* * *

The coffee is terrible, beyond terrible, like lukewarm watered down rocket fuel, and it pours like sludge into the tiny styrofoam cup, spilled because Sean hasn't slept in four days and has had too much of this caffeinated mud. He doesn't notice Dom approaching, hovering at his elbow, anxious, fidgeting, uncharacteristically succinct.

"He's awake."

He's been imagining hearing those words, and now that they are spoken they barely register at all. He turns to look at Dom blankly, clutching his cup, and Dom eventually puts his hand on his arm and guides him back to the fourth floor, where Elijah has been stuffed into a vast but claustrophobic room. Dom elbows past a few press people who somehow got past security, and pulls Sean into the room, where Orlando sits by the bed with a grin threatening to split his face in half. His hand is wrapped around Elijah's fingers where there are no IVs or bandages, knuckles a desperate white from squeezing so hard.

A dull blue is barely visible through the drooping lashes, but Sean sees listless eyes turn to him, drugged and glassy, but at least they're open, and they stay on Sean for a long enough moment before closing again with thick morphine sleep. His lips remain unmoving around the plastic tube taped to his mouth and the beeps of machines don't falter, just even out nicely, regular rhythms finally soothing.

Sean laughs, a little hysterically, and sinks into the chair by the door, where his hands dig into the knees of his jeans. Dom stands by him--Sean hasn't seen him sit once since they've been here--and scuffs his runners on the linoleum, arms wrapped tightly around himself. He too is sporting an elated smile, and Sean reflects how odd it is that so much cheer can be brought on by a mere flutter of lashes on pallid cheeks.