The face of beauty is never enough.
In today’s world, a perfectly-sculpted, biologically-manufactured face means nothing if it is not perfect. Age, stress, hormones, mutilation—the fact that so much can happen in such a short time is almost hard to imagine. It’s like a ticking bomb waiting to explode. One minute it’s a perfect, cylindrical tube, then the next it’s a tattered piece of confetti, triggered by a manmade device that made it do the things it did.
Humans don’t get to control their trigger.It explodes naturally.
At only nineteen-years-old, Elijah Elmington possessed what many would call the ultimate natural beauty. With high cheekbones, a sharp jaw, supple lips and a pair of sparkling, light-blue eyes, many believed that he bore no more a gift than he did a curse. The color of his eyes often led many to believe him blind. Unbeknownst to them, Elijah was not blind, nor had he been for a minute of his life.  A spinal injury that nearly cost him his life as a child had brightened his eyes to the color of fine, virgin crystal. Those who chose to believe otherwise basked in ignorance.
Because of his beauty, men all of all shapes, sizes and ages flocked to Elijah, showering him with gifts, love and affection.
Only those men with wealth and fortune could own his heart.
Only those men ever would.
He went from lover to lover, man to man and person to person over the course of several years, many due to need, others due to necessity. He sat in back alleys, laid in strange beds, and walked on thin lines, all in order to find that one special person.
Elijah only settled down when he found him.
At twenty years his senior, Rudolph Ackles bore the distinction of a fine businessmen. Dressed in suits on the weekdays and corduroy shorts on the weekends, he spoke with a deep, rumbling baritone and a fine, elegant manner. He charmed his associates, wooed his clients, and won over his competition through decisive action and the force of will. He owned half a football team, a chain of supermarkets, and ran a beach resort in the spring.
They lived in the Florida Keys during the summer months.
In his mind, Elijah couldn’t get any closer to a perfect life.
With the man of his dreams, the location of his choice and a home fit for kings, he couldn’t ask for anything more.

Tropical mornings always began with orange suns. With an average temperature of seventy degrees, anyone could expect to wake up every morning in total bliss. The sun on their backs, the wind from the open window through their hair, the fluff of a feather pillow against their face and the breath of a loved one against their neck—a perfect, Florida Key morning could feel like Heaven on Earth, if only someone allowed it to feel that way.
Stirred from sleep by the shifting presence of his partner, Elijah came out of the dusk of dream and into the day of wake.
“Hey,” Rudolph whispered. “You awake?”
Elijah said nothing. He tightened his grip on his partner’s hand to acknowledge his words.
“All right. Just wondering.”
Settling down, Rudolph pressed his chest against Elijah’s back and curled his free hand under his young lover’s stomach. In this position—weighted down, but not completely crushed—Elijah couldn’t help but feel safe, protected from the cruel, harsh world that liked to judge without trial.
“I’m not getting up for a while,” Rudolph continued, gently kissing the younger man’s neck. “Don’t worry—just go back to sleep.”
Despite the words, Elijah already knew he wouldn’t. Whenever roused from a sleep so deep and satisfying without the ability to speak or move, he never returned to the land of dreams, to the place where diamonds ran free and sparrows turned green. He may lay there—seemingly asleep, but also awake—but he never returned to that dark, wonderful place.
Beneath the folds of his lover’s skin, Elijah sighed.
Tropical mornings began with orange suns.
Humid afternoons always followed.

As a catalyst to the day that would follow, breakfast always came first. Every morning at nine o’clock, Rudolph would push himself out of bed, into the shower, then into the kitchen, where he would begin cooking the morning’s meal.  By the time nine-thirty rolled around, Elijah crawled out of bed and made his way toward the front of the house.
Set in a place that offered a wide, expansive view of the beach, the entire western side of the kitchen was covered in windows. From top to bottom and left to right, they extended across the whole front of the room, leaving only enough space for a table and a long chain of curtains to be hung. While the view itself offered more pleasure than anyone could imagine, Elijah often found himself sitting at the table on long, sunny afternoons, watching men in shorts and women in bikinis chase after one another with the utmost abandon.
During those times, he began to long for the outside world.
Startled, he blinked, clearing the fog of want over his eyes.
Rudolph stood at the opposite side of the counter, shirtless and stooped over a pan of bacon.
“Yeah?” Elijah asked.
“Something wrong?”
“No. Nothing’s wrong.”
“All right. Sit down—this’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“At the table, or—”
“By the counter.”
The counter.
He forced himself not to sigh as he seated himself on a black, leather-embossed bar stool.
Rule one of the Ackles household—pretty boys don’t get to sit in the sun.
Because they’ll get sunburnt.
Burned—not burnt. Rudolph always said sunburned as sunburnt, a vocal habit that, while not irritating, seemed to mock him all the more. It mocked the fact that he couldn’t sit in the sun, for the fact that, if he did, his naturally-pale skin would be tanned, darkened to a milky shade of caramel.
Elijah learned early on that Rudolph liked his men white—no more, no less.
Looking up, Rudolph flashed a smile, one Elijah found hard to return.
He’s not that bad, he thought, crossing his arms. At least he cares enough to watch out for my wellbeing.
Did keeping your boyfriend out of the sun count as caring for your wellbeing?
Regardless, Elijah didn’t care. He didn’t work, cook, or keep up with the chores as best as he could. He figured if he had to sacrifice one thing, a stroll in the sun would suffice.
“Here you are,” Rudolph said, pushing a plate of eggs and glasses of milk and orange juice across the counter. “That enough for now?”
Somehow, he managed to nod.
Even if he asked for more than a handful of scrambled eggs and two drinks, he probably wouldn’t get it. It was how Rudolph worked.
Rule two of the Ackles household—pretty boys don’t get fat.
Gingerly stabbing at his eggs with a small, three-pronged fork, Elijah watched Rudolph gather up a plate of eggs, bacon and hashbrowns before walking around the counter to sit with him.
“I’m heading to the gym after I’m done,” Rudolph said, stabbing a hashbrown with his knife, “then I’ll be at work until around four. You have my cell if you need anything.”
“I know.”
“You need me to get you anything while I’m gone?”
“No,” Elijah smiled. “You know me—I’m pretty good at entertaining myself.”
“I know,” the older man chuckled, pulling Elijah forward for a sloppy, side-of-the-face kiss. “You’ve always been good at that.”
Nodding, Elijah turned toward the window.
You learned to be good at entertaining yourself when you had nothing else to do.

Waves used to crash in his mind whenever he thought of the ocean.
Now they didn’t even exist.
Like gulls bound to the endless torture of the rise and fall of the sea, they sat stagnant out on the open water. Longing to be free—to escape both the terrible agony of encasement and the harsh torture of crucifixion—they drifted from sea to sea and shore to shore, endlessly shifting in the murky wells of life. It seemed that no matter where they went, they faced constant rejection. The back of a hand, the wires of a cage, the scream of a lover or the fist of a friend—they belonged elsewhere, away from the things they wanted but couldn’t have.
Elijah belonged with those waves.
Closing his eyes, he leaned back in his seat and began to count to ten.
Ten, he thought, exhaling a breath.
At the age of ten, he remembered falling in love with the sight of blue water and the beaches that barred its passages. He remembered that, on his tenth birthday, he asked to go to the beach, to see the blue and everything it had to offer. He begged and pleaded, cried and sighed and tried and tried, but no matter what he said, his parents refused to take him.
In the end, he got a cake with ten candles lining a long, milky shore, complete with blue sea frosting and sugar-coated palm trees.
Looking back on his life, he couldn’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to move to the sea. With its warm, tropical waters and its long, sweeping shoreline, you could walk a thousand miles and never have to turn around. Why not eat the coconuts off the trees and the fish in the sea, if not to enjoy one last, final adventure before life took its toll.
One adventure I never got.
Although he didn’t regret his decisions, he often doubted them. On warm, late night’s under Rudolph’s gentle, reassuring weight, he couldn’t help but think about his past and the things he’d done to get to this point. He couldn’t help but remember how, on one fateful night, he walked out of a gas station only to run into a man that would eventually become his partner; how, over the course of a few weeks, he fell in love with a bearded extrovert who wrapped his arm around his shoulder in public and held him close; and how, despite his beautiful flaws, Rudolph accepted him for the person he was. In a way, it helped him realize how lucky—and cursed—he was. Lucky to have a partner who dawdled over him day after day, cursed to have one who loved him so much.
Some people waited their whole lives to be with someone like Rudolph.
Some people never got to be with that someone.
Why doubt myself now, after I’ve been here for almost a year?
He’d made the right choice. If he hadn’t, he would’ve figured it out by now.
Standing, Elijah crossed the room and settled down at the table by the window.
Whatever Rudolph couldn’t see wouldn’t hurt him.
As long as he was gone, Elijah had all the time in the world.

An hour before Rudolph usually came home, Elijah pulled out a recipe book and began to look for something that he might be able to cook. Flipping through the pages with the utmost care and selfish, material abandon, he riffled through recipes of salads, jellos, omelets, anything he found he might be able to make. After what seemed like ages, he finally came across something that didn’t seem to take much effort.
Broccoli cheese soup, he thought, grabbing a highlighting sheet from the book’s plastic sheath. Let’s see…
Beginning with the vegetables, he ticked off the ingredients on a mental checklist until he came to the cheese. Once there, he reached up, ran a finger across his slightly-stubbly chin, and began to go to work.
By the time Rudolph walked through the door, the soup was almost done.
“Hey,” Rudolph laughed, taking a deep breath of the rich, steamy air. “What’s all this?”
“I cooked,” Elijah chuckled. He didn’t bother to turn away from his cooking, already knowing his partner would step up to the counter.
In the silence that followed, Rudolph came forward and wrapped his arms around Elijah’s waist.
“What made you want to do this?” the older man asked.
“I wanted to do something nice for you.”
“You know that you’re all I need, Elijah.”
“I know.” Elijah paused. Amidst adding a block of cheese and stirring the soup, Rudolph pressed his lips to his neck and began kissing the sensitive flesh between his collarbone. Elijah couldn’t help but shiver.
“I have something for you, baby.”
“What?” he frowned.
“I have something for you,” Rudolph repeated.
Releasing his grip on Elijah’s waist, Rudolph stepped back and made his way for the door.
“Rudolph,” he sighed, turning the bottom burner off. “You shouldn’t…”
“Shouldn’t… what, Elijah? Treat my partner to a little gift here and there?”
“I don’t have anything to give you.”
“I don’t want anything. I already have everything I want—you.”
Elijah blushed.
Grinning, Rudolph reached into a bag and pulled out a small, black box. The finely-monogrammed stenciling along the front cover echoed in Elijah’s head like a harsh yell in a tight space.
“You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to. Just do me a favor—look at it and tell me if you like it. It’s the least you can do.”
Yeah, he sighed. It is.
Reaching forward, Elijah took the box from his partner’s grasp and examined the lettering along the front. Running his finger along the cover, taking in each flush and curve, he followed the name from the beginning to end, all the while trying not to set the box down and push it back to Rudolph.
He shouldn’t be doing this.
Maybe not, but he couldn’t refuse the gift, not after Rudolph had already gone to the trouble to seek it out.
Taking a deep breath, Elijah opened the case.
Only within the confines of something so dark could something be so beautiful. With its leather band and its beautiful, bold surface, it shined like a thousand stars in the blackest night as the light reflected off its surface and cast it back in his face. Though blinded by warmth and bedazzled by trust, it wasn’t the leather wristband that startled him, but what lay atop it.
“Is this—”
“Yes,” Rudolph smiled. “A diamond.”
Crystal in clarity, it appeared to have bathed in the finest waters of the Caribbean before humans ever laid hands on it. Under the intense scrutiny of the setting sun, rainbows danced from its surface and nearly blinded him with color.
“Elijah?” Rudolph paused. Frowning, he reached up to run a hand through the hairs on his chin. “Do you like it?”
“You shouldn’t have bought me this, Rudolph.”
“Because… it’s too expensive.”
“How do you know how much it costs?”
“Look at it,” Elijah laughed. “It’s a diamond for Christ’s sake.”
“You know there’s no amount of money that could amount to what you mean to me.”
“Yeah, but—”
“I know you might feel like I’m spoiling you just because I can, but you’ve got to understand something, Elijiah—I wouldn’t buy things like this if I didn’t want you to have them.”
“I know, but—”
“Honey,” Rudolph laughed, sliding around the counter and taking Elijah’s face in his hands. “Please, quit trying to sidestep the question. Do you like the wristband or not?”
“You don’t have to ask. You already know I love it.”
“I’m glad.”
“Thank you, Rudolph.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” the older man smiled, bringing Elijah into his arms. “Now… if you don’t mind me saying, that soup’s one of the best things I’ve smelled in a long time. You ready to eat?”
“Whenever you are,” Elijah whispered, setting his head on Rudolph’s shoulder. “It’s ready.”

There were times when after lying awake for long periods of time, a person could hear the ocean rumbling beneath their house. Like the softness of a kitten’s purr or the blatancy of a giant’s sigh, the enormity of the waves quaking across the oceans could still someone’s heart and move their mind. Oftentimes, the last thing Elijah would hear before falling asleep was the shifting pebbles washed ashore by a silent god who slept during the day and woke during the night, not the even, peaceful breathing of the man who slept beside him.
Closing his eyes, Elijah drew the sheet further up his body and sunk back against Rudolph’s chest.
Why have I ever doubted him?
Opening his eyes, Elijah set his sights on the wristband resting beneath the welcoming shade of the country lamp. Despite the faint amount of light passing through the open window, the diamond that rested on the band’s surface continued to sparkle, occasionally winking at the apple of its eye.
Although Rudolph’s overprotective, often-overbearing habits tended to get in the way of regular life, that didn’t mean he didn’t care about him, did it?
Of course he cares about me.
But if Rudolph really, truly cared, why keep him in the house, away from the fun and the people in the sun?
Because he cares.
Reaching forward, Elijah curled his fingers around the wristband.
Before he could pull it back, a sharp, stabbing pain lit the top of his hand.
Startled, he snapped his hand back just as quickly as he had pushed it forward.
Like an unwanted, uninvited guest, a crack about an inch in length reclined against the top of his middle knuckle.
What the hell?
Where did that come from?
Could the diamond have done it?
No, he thought, because the diamond isn’t sharp.
Upon further examination, he found that to be just the case. He traced his finger along the side, over the top and around the base of the crystal—even going so far as to examine the multiple metal studs that bordered the length of the band—but nothing he touched could have broken his skin.
The table?
No—he’d come nowhere near the table when reaching out to examine his precious gift.
The lamp?
Again, his hand hadn’t touched the lamp or anything around it.
That had to mean only one thing.
Oh God, please don’t let it be my skin. Please, God—don’t let it be my skin.
What would he do?
What would he say?
How would he feel when, tomorrow morning, Rudolph woke and asked about his hand?

In compliment to the previous night’s worries, the following morning brought clouds and rain.
Rising at his usual time of nine-thirty, Elijah wandered into the kitchen to find Rudolph at his regular station—shirtless, over the stove, and whistling some bizarre, obscure tune he couldn’t even begin to place.
Upon noticing his arrival, Rudolph smiled. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Elijah yawned.
“You sleep ok last night?”
“A little,” he shrugged. “I woke up a few times.”
“I don’t know.”
God, I wish I didn’t.
He hoped the brief glance at his hand didn’t give himself away.
Shrugging, Rudolph returned to his cooking, looking up only when Elijah slid past him to get to the sink.
“I don’t think you’ll be doing the cooking anymore,” Rudolph laughed.
“Your hand.”
This time, he couldn’t help but look down at the crack in his middle knuckle.
“Oh,” he mumbled. “I didn’t get that while cooking.”
“You didn’t?”
“No. I got it in the middle of the night.”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, flicking the excess water on his hands back in the sink. “I woke up and wanted to look at the wristband. When I reached out to grab it, I thought I hit my hand on something, so I jerked it back.”
“That’s when you found the crack?”
“Uh huh.”
“Hmm,” Rudolph frowned. “You’re ok though, right?”
“Yeah—I’m fine.”
“That’s good.” The potatoes in the pan sizzled. Swearing, Rudolph grabbed the spatula, flipped them over, and moved them onto the second burner. He reached up to wipe a bead of sweat off his forehead a moment after. “Shit. Almost burned your food.”
“You’re not eating?”
“Can’t. Gotta get to work.”
“But you’re not—”
“Dressed? I showered earlier—all I need to do it put my shirt on.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to—”
“I’m sure,” the older man chuckled. He pulled the shirt resting on the counter over his head, grabbed his keys, and made his way toward the door. “Don’t forget to put lotion on that. You don’t want it to get worse.”
“Yeah,” Elijah mumbled, flinching when Rudolph planted a quick kiss on his cheek and made his way out the door. “I won’t.”

Roses bloom.
Pain expires.
Skin dries out.
Like a fissure opening across a wide, grand plain in a foreign, third-world country, Elijah’s hand continued to crack open over the next few days. Beginning at his knuckle and ending near his wrist, the lines crisscrossed the surface of his epidermal layer until nothing but red could be seen. Pain flared in his hand whenever he curled his fingers, shame lit his heart whenever Rudolph looked at him, and doubt plagued his mind whenever he tried to access the situation.
After all this time—after all this beautiful, marvelous time—he was starting to develop skin problems.
So it is true, he thought, turning his eyes away when Rudolph glanced in his direction. Beauty really is fickle.
A thorn in your side, an ache in your mind and a crack in your palm—beauty never lasts forever.
“El?” Rudolph frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“My hand hurts,” he murmured, somehow resisting the urge to look down or clench his fist. “It’s been hurting for the past three days, Rudolph.”
“What’d you do to it?”
“I didn’t do anything to it. I already told you—I reached out to grab the wristband and my knuckle cracked open.”
“Maybe you’re allergic to the leather,” the older man offered, stepping forward. “Elijah, baby, come here.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Maybe you should go to the doctor.”
“And what? Get told I have eczema or some shit? Come on—be realistic.”
“Be realistic? Look at your hand for God’s sake. There’s something wrong with you!”
“Then why are you arguing with me?”
“BECAUSE I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” he cried. “I can’t take this, Rudolph! It hurts too fucking bad! I can’t move my hand, I can’t bend my fingers, I can’t pick something up without it hurting.”
“Come on.”
“I said come on. We’re taking you to the dermatologist.”
“Rudolph, we can’t—”
“Don’t argue with me, Elijah.”
“See this?” the older man asked, gripping Elijah’s upper arm and bringing his hand into view. “This isn’t going to get any better unless we do something about it. You want it getting infected?”
“Don’t argue with me. Get dressed—we’re going downtown.”

“Hmm,” the doctor frowned, carefully lifting Elijah’s hand into view. “You said this only started happening a few days ago, Mr. Elmington?”
“Yes sir,” Elijah nodded, grimacing as the dermatologist placed his hand on the cool, metal table. “I noticed the first crack in the middle of the night, after I thought I scratched or hit my hand on something.”
“I see.” Pausing, the doctor pulled his glasses off and ran a hand over his forehead. “Well, Elijah, I don’t see what all we can do right now. We can run a blood test and a skin graph if you’re willing to let me cut into you—which you’re probably not, given the state of your hand—but until I have a definite answer about what this is, I can’t prescribe anything.”
“What do you think it is?” Rudolph frowned. “I mean… if it only happened a few days ago and it’s this bad—”
“I think, Mr. Ackles, that your partner may have some form of eczema. Now don’t quote me on that, because I’m not particularly sure, but Mr. Elmington’s hands here show a fair amount of similarities to the condition.”
“You can’t give him any cream or something?”
“You mean like numbing cream?”
“Hell no,” the man laughed. “I don’t mean to laugh at your expense, Elijah, but numbing cream wouldn’t do you any good.”
“Then what do you suggest I do?” Elijah frowned. “You expect me to suffer with this until the tests get back?”
“That’s really all we can do at this point. Mr. Elmington, would you like me to take a skin sample?”
“Will it scar?” Rudolph asked.
“It’s highly unlikely, given the state of his hand,” the doctor frowned. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I’m self-conscious,” Elijah said, glancing at his partner out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve been like that since I had my… my accident when I was twelve.”
“Oh.” The doctor nodded. “I see. Well, there’s no need to worry—I’ll only be taking a sample of the cracked portion of your skin. Once we get you a decent medication or find out if this was caused by an allergic reaction, you’ll be good to go.”
“All right.”
“I’m going to numb you up a little, just so you don’t feel this. It won’t hurt immediately, but you’ll feel it later. You ready?”
“I’m ready when you are,” Elijah sighed, bracing himself for the needle.
A pain like this only lasted a moment.
The experience lasted a lifetime.

“What was that all about?” Rudolph asked.
“Don’t start this,” Elijah sighed. “We just got home.”
“You weren’t supposed to—”
“I didn’t do anything. Why did you ask if it would scar, Rudolph? Huh? Because—”
“I thought—”
“Because you thought what?” Elijah laughed. “That I’d care? Don’t give me that.”
“You little—”
“You’re the one who always seems preoccupied with my physical condition. You’re the one who won’t let me go out in the sun. You’re the one that always makes sure I eat only the minimal amount every day. I’m not the one who starves or forces myself to put makeup on every morning before I walk into the kitchen, so don’t even think about blaming what you asked on me.”
“Elijah,” Rudolph sighed. “I just—”
“You just what? Want me to be pretty? Want me to be beautiful?”
“I just want you to be all right!”
“Well, too bad—I’m not. I had to listen to a doctor give me a possible eczema diagnosis and have part of my hand cut off today. I’m not in a very pleasant mood.”
Elijah turned.
Hands balled in fists, Rudolph simply stood there, red and fuming.
“Fine… what?” Elijah asked, voice softening. “Rudolph?”
“If you’re in such a bad mood, I’ll leave.”
“I didn’t say—”
“You didn’t say—yeah, I get that, but you don’t have to say anything, Elijah. I know you.”
“Know me? What are you—”
“Look,” the older man said, raising a hand as if to stop himself from stepping forward. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then expelled it before returning his attention to the younger man in front of him. “I don’t want to fight anymore, ok? We’ve already made it more than obvious that we can’t get along right now. So… instead of fighting, I’ll leave.”
“Why can’t I—”
“Because you can’t drive, for one. Besides—I honestly doubt you could make your way back here by yourself. It’s a small island, sure, but a small island you don’t know.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” he murmured. “I just want you to quit yelling at me.”
“I wasn’t,” Rudolph started, then stopped. He took another deep breath to regain his composure. “Never mind—don’t worry about it. Like I said, we need some time to cool off so we don’t kill each other.”
“Why would we—”
“Just… don’t. No more, El. Go lay down, watch TV. Do something. We’ve both had a rough day.”
Before Elijah could say anything, Rudolph turned and walked out the door.
Something in the pit of his stomach told him there was something more to the fight than just cracked skin.

Rainy evenings usually ended with hurt feelings.
Half-naked and entangled within the folds of his bedsheets, Elijah opened his eyes in time to see the first flash of lightning on the distant horizon. Arcing across the sky and bouncing off the clouds, the resounding, echoing light continued on for a brief moment until fading away entirely.
No more than a minute later, the rain began.
Slapping against the window, pounding against the glass, crying to get in—a banshee to his doubts, a demon to his fears, it demanded entry, shrill cry rising, then falling as its fellow brethren shrieked in the distance. Shadowy nails scratched at the siding as crystallized drops of ice began to fall from the sky.
Perfect, he thought, drawing the blanket around him. Just perfect.
All he needed was a thunderstorm to end a perfectly-miserable afternoon.
Rolling over, Elijah set an arm over his brow and stared at the ceiling. Above, the fan shifted, beginning a spin caused not by human interaction, but by the quaking in the distance.
Giant’s feet.
They’d be moving, those men in the sky. Hammers and axes in tow, they’d march across the wasteland in search for things not yet found. Stone monuments long since crumbled, bronze statues long since destroyed, mythical kingdoms and magical castles felled by the elements and those around them—nothing they searched for would be found.
The giant’s would be angry.
The storm would continue.
The banshee’s cries would be heard.
“Great,” he mumbled, grimacing as a crack of thunder shook the foundation. “Here I am, laying in bed while my boyfriend’s out doing God knows what. You’re such a dumbass, Rudolph—such a stupid, fucking dumbass.”
Pushing himself up, he ran his hands over his bleak eyes and looked out the window.
A chain of lightning lit up the distant, churning sea.
No—there couldn’t be a hurricane, not with the shutters open and Rudolph out of the house.
Rolling out of bed, he reached for his shirt, pulled it over his head, and started for the door.
In the hallway, a crack of thunder shook a portrait on the wall.
How ironic that the exact picture that would noticeably shake enough to catch his eye would be a sea scene. Drowned in the midst of a storm and shaken in the wrath of waves, a far-off ship floated half-on, half-off a swell, mast torn and barely-visible windows broken.
A chance of wind, rain, possible thunder and hail. Citizens are advised to stay indoors, wait out the storm, and expect the worst.
Hurricanes could roll in at any time in the Keys.
Last he’d heard, none had been reported.
We hardly ever watch TV too.
The news, the occasional late-nighter, the black woman on screen and the lesbian on the scene—the flat-screen TV that took up half the northeastern wall sat neglected and was hardly ever on unless boredom required it.
In the kitchen, Elijah started for the phone, bad hand stretching to take the receiver.
The door opened.
Gust billowed in.
A figure stood in the threshold.
“Rudolph?” Elijah frowned. “Thank God. Where the hell were you?”
The rain-soaked figure stepped into the house and closed the door behind him. Turning, he slid his arms out of his coat and hung it on the nearby rack.
“Rudolph,” he repeated. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” the older man grumbled.
“Where were you? I was getting worried.”
“Out,” Rudolph said. “I was… out.”
“Well… I know that. Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I was just upset about what I just had to go through. Come on—let’s get you out of your clothes and into the shower. You’ve got to be freezing after being out in the rain for so—”
Rudolph said nothing.
Separated by no more than ten feet, the older man walked to the fridge, took a deep breath, then drew a knife out of the nearby stand.
“Ruh-Rudolph?” Elijah asked. “What’re you doing?”
“Then why are you—”
“You’ve broken my heart, baby. Now I’m going to break yours.”
“Rudolph,” Elijah said, taking a few steps back. “Put the knife down, babe. Come on, don’t do this to me. We’re good now, right? We’ve made up—we’re sorry for what we said to each other earlier.”
“You broke my rules, Elijah.”
“You sat in the sun. That’s why your hand’s fucked up.”
Long afternoons sitting in the sun, watching the beachgoers run through the sand and the tide. Scantily-clad bodies in bikinis and Speedos, laughing, having fun as they bathed in that one horrible, forbidden thing, the one thing he couldn’t have.
“The sun.”
“Yeah,” Rudolph chuckled, brandishing the butcher knife before him. “So you admit it.”
“I wasn’t… why would you—”
“You’re supposed to be perfect, Elijah. Nothing’s supposed to be wrong with you.”
“No one’s perfect Rudolph.”
“No one but you.”
It took one moment for the man he loved more than anything else in the world to run forward and stab him in the side.
It took two for Elijah to reach up and slam his diamond-studded wristband into his loving madman’s head.
It took three for the knife to come out of his side and lash at his throat.
Ducking, screaming in pain, he rolled behind the counter and pushed a bar stool out in front of him. Rudolph jumped back just in time to avoid having his foot smashed by the metal finishing on the seat.
“You gonna hide?” the man asked, blood trailing from the blunt wound near his temple. “Is that how we’re gonna do this?”
“Leave me alone!” Elijah screamed. “Leave me alone!”
A nearby window shattered.
Glass showered the kitchen in a million starbursts.
Buffeting the house, the banshee rushed forward and slammed into Rudolph’s body.
Screeching, neck muscles bulging and chest heaving, the man who used to be Rudolph Ackles threw himself forward.
Elijah closed his eyes.
This is it, he thought, casting another stool in his path. This is where your life ends.
As the knife drove itself into his chest, Elijah could only think about how much he loved the man above him.

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