Erestor glanced around his office. He had worked long past nightfall, and the room looked interesting and mysterious in the half light now that he had snuffed all but one of the candles and put out the lamp. And neat, he’d left it very neat at least. Every item on his work list had been seen to, with reports and memos in a tidy pile for his successor to deal with tomorrow. His desk looked bare, he’d packed up the personal effects he kept there and they waited in a basket by the door for him to leave.
The offer had been sudden and unexpected, and his own impulsive response had still not quite sunk in. He had been surprised to see Galdor; the old sailor seldom left Mithlond, but Círdan had entrusted the letter to him, with a covering note for Elrond, and he supposed it was a mark of respect that the old man should send someone he rated so highly.
The request had been simple and flattering. Círdan wanted him to move to Mithlond, to take control of the passenger lists for the Aman-bound voyages and, when necessary, liaise with important transients, be they coming or leaving. It was a varied and interesting offer and he had worked for Círdan before, a very long time ago, and had also lived in Lindon and used to love it. The work in its way would be every bit as challenging as what he did for Elrond, but with more free time, because there would be intervals between ships when his time would be his own.
All in all, it was an excellent opportunity. Also, if ever there was a time to relocate, it was now.
Elrond had been most put out and made no effort to hide it. Celebrían had wrinkled her forehead and worried about who would take over from him – he had to admit the most likely candidate was that ass, Melpomaen – and how Elrond would manage when he was gone. But yes, she understood that he missed the sea, though he would find Mithlond much changed. Well he knew that. The person who had made Mithlond sparkle and breathe was long dead and the once bustling capital of the green land between the mountains and the sea was now falling into disrepair, a way station for refugees returning to a home many of them knew only from grandparents’ tales.
But still, the position would have prestige, and he was always telling people how he missed the sea.
The fact that he felt so reluctant to finish packing up the rest of his belongings and getting on the road was annoyingly sentimental. True, he would be leaving friends behind, plus he was very fond of Elrond, for all his fussiness, and of Celebrían who he had known for years. But sometimes it was pure common sense to put distance between oneself and complications. And he had always been sensible.
Not that there was anything complicated going on, of course. There might have been, but his days of living dangerously were well and truly over now. No, it was a good career choice and would turn out for the best.
He opened the office door and light from the hallway lamp flooded in. He took a final look around, snuffed the candle, hefted the little basket of odds and ends – shells, carvings, painted stones, a little wreath of dried flowers and twigs – closed the door behind him and for the last time walked the twisting corridors of the Last Homely House to his rooms.
One of the maids had been in to light the lamp and the fire had been set and waited for the touch of flint. Boxes were stacked on one side of the room, but not as many as there should be. He had no idea where all the possessions had come from, he had learned to travel light while crossing the land with Gildor’s people but somehow he had accumulated – things – in the few centuries he had lived in Rivendell.
He put the basket down and went through to the bedroom. His bed was heaped with clothes, lying where he had left them. He could remember when he’d had three changes of outfit, but that was a long time ago. Since then he’d lived in Lindon’s capital and developed a taste for colour and good cloth that had never quite left him, even during his years on the road. He sighed and looked around. There was no time left for procrastinating; he supposed he had better get on with it.
It was annoying that he was not more excited. It was an excellent offer.
He spent the next few hours packing, though Galdor would have to wait till after lunch before he was ready. The rooms looked strange, denuded of the things that had made them home for so many years. He told himself not to be a child, he would make the next place just as comfortable. He was not bound to place or person, he had walked alone since the turning of the present age. But the sight was depressing and there was still a lot of work to do, so he went for a walk instead.
There was only a sliver of moon, but he could have found his way to the river path with his eyes closed. In fact he knew most of the valley as well or better than many who had been born there, because he had spent months exploring it after he finally settled there, tired at last of the free-ranging lifestyle of the wanderers. Hoping to change his mind, Gildor had given him a couple of missions that could only be termed spying, including one down south to Gondor, but in the end he had ruefully shaken his head and told Erestor to go put down roots for a while, get it out of his system.
A right turn would take him to the bridge over the Bruinen, while left led down to the village and the valley beyond. He turned left, crossed the open terrace and moved into the dappled shadow of bushes, clumps of flowers and occasional trees. He was paying little attention to his surroundings – there were few places on Middle-earth that were safer than this valley – so when a shape detached itself from the shadows he almost jumped.
“Creeping away in the dark without a goodbye, Ery?”
He compressed his lips at the shortening of his name and the confident, slightly mocking tone. “You seem to be the one creeping around in the dark tonight. Did you run out of drinking companions?”
“I never run out of drinking companions.”
“I have noticed this, yes,” Erestor said, acid sharp.
“You’re not really going, are you?”
“What do you mean, I’m not really going? It’s all arranged, right down to my replacement.”
Elladan snorted. “Oh, right. You should hear my mother on the subject. She’s horrified and sees herself having to help Father with anything more complicated than filing papers. She has ideas though. Come back in six months and you won’t recognise the valley.”
Erestor flinched and tried not to remember some of Celebrían’s more experimental suggestions. She might be Sindarin royalty to look at with that wealth of silver hair, but her imagination was Finwëan, and not in a good way. “Melpomaen will be fine once he’s settled in,” he said firmly. “She’s worrying for nothing.”
“She can’t understand why you want to go without even taking time to think about it,” Elladan persisted. “Nor does Father. Nor does anyone really, except me.”
“Because you can read my mind, of course.” He shot a quick glance over his shoulder, but they were secluded from view by the formal shrubbery that lay between them and the house and by the overgrown arbor where Elladan had been waiting.
Elladan shook his head. “I don’t have to read your mind. I know why you’re going. You’re running away.”
“Child, I have never run away from anything in my entire life. I’m not about to start now.”
Elladan moved closer and Erestor could see him properly now. His hair was loose and he had no cloak, yet he seemed to warm the air around him despite it being a cold night. His eyes glittered in the pale moonlight. “You are running, Erestor. You know it and I know it.”
“I’m accepting a very flattering offer of employment back in my former home working for someone I…” There was no one around and even if there had been, the sound of the river would likely cover their words. Visual cues were a different thing of course, and someone catching sight of them might wonder. He stepped back to keep the distance between them proper. Elladan, who was useless at taking a hint if he chose not to, simply followed him.
“Out of the blue without any hint that you wanted a change of scene? How likely would that be?”
“You’ll grant I don’t share my innermost thoughts with you,” Erestor countered, taking another few steps back.
“You don’t have to,” Elladan’s voice was low, only just audible above the rushing waters of the Bruinen. “Let me guess. Something happened in your life, you panicked, Galdor showed up at just the right moment, you grabbed the chance with both hands – all my life I’ve been hearing about the way you can think on your feet.”
Erestor made a dismissive gesture. “Right. From babyhood people have been telling you ‘got to watch out for Erestor, he’s a quick thinker’.”
“Stop trying to turn the subject,” Elladan snapped. “It won’t work.”
Erestor took the next few steps back, feeling like he was taking part in some kind of dance. “I’m not trying to turn anything, you brought it up. Look, do you think we can just agree that I know my own mind, say goodnight and one of us go in? There’s nothing to talk about, I already accepted…”
“Círdan won’t even know that till you get there,” Elladan said reasonably. “And all you have to do is tell Galdor you’re sorry, but you’ve been made a better counter offer, or you feel too guilty leaving Elrond to the tender mercies of your designated successor. Or that my mother threatened you. That’d work on most people.”
“I’ve never found your mother threatening,” Erestor shrugged. “Your grandmother, yes.”
“Different life experiences there,” Elladan said. “Anyhow, you can think up an excuse for him while you’re unpacking. And find one for Father too, though he’d be fine with you admitting you decided you’d miss us all terribly.”
“Elladan, are you drunk? And stop crowding me like this. Anyone coming down from the house can see us.”
“We’re not doing anything,” Elladan pointed out. “We’re just standing here talking. You’re supposed to be leaving tomorrow. They’d just think I was saying goodbye, instead of explaining why you’re not going.”
“What part of ‘riding out of here tomorrow’ do you not understand? I’m not staying, it would be – it’s not a good idea.”
Elladan’s eyes fastened on him intently, rather like a hunting hawk sizing up prey. “Why isn’t it a good idea?”
“You bloody well know why it isn’t a good idea.”
“No, no I’m slow. Tell me. We might be talking about different things.”
“If you don’t get away from me…”
“You’ll what? Tip me in the river – which is where you’ll be if you step back much further.”
Erestor glanced over his shoulder and retreated from the grassy edge. “This is ridiculous.”
“No, you’re ridiculous. You’re running away because you’re scared of…”
He gritted his teeth. “I just told you I don’t scare.”
“You and I ended up on a storeroom floor a couple of weeks ago and you’ve been in denial about it ever since. And if I thought it was because you woke up the next morning and your first response was ‘what was I thinking?’ I’d understand, but that isn’t why.”
“We’ve established you can read my mind, yes.”
“Yes, I can.” Elladan was completely serious now. “Well maybe not your mind, but your body language, the way you don’t look at me but look anyway, the way I feel when I look at you…”
“Your feelings don’t have anything to do with what I’m thinking.” He knew it was a poor objection. His tongue was normally equal to better challenge than this, but he was starting to feel cornered.
“Yes, they do,” Elladan said simply. “When you’re being admired, you know, your body reacts to it. Come on Ery, this is stupid. You don’t want to leave.”
“A good job offer on one hand, and the risk of repeating a once off that’d get me thrown out of Imladris on the other. Very difficult choice, yes.” The sarcasm was meant to bite, but Elladan was impervious.
“Stop lying to yourself, that was never just a once off – I know what those feel like, and that was not it. That was like – like summer lightning. Out of the blue, unlooked for. And you’d only get thrown out…” the grey eyes looked black in the moonlight, “… if we got caught.”
“Elladan, you are impossible,” Erestor hissed. “Listen to me. Your father would never, never accept or tolerate…”
“Ery, stop and think a moment. Am I not old enough to have sex?”
“Keep your voice down!”
“Oh come on, who’s going to hear me? Well, am I?”
“What I think doesn’t matter. What your father thinks does. And your mother. And…”
“What do you think?”
They stood glaring at each other in the faint light glinting through the leaves from the pale moon and the stars, with the river gushing past too close for comfort. Erestor could hear distant voices laughing, probably leaving the Hall of Fire, where it was warm and friendly and there was plenty to drink and always a good song and no complicated, dangerous conversations like this one.
“If I didn’t know you were old enough, do you think I’d have let you convince me to do something about it? “
“No,” Elladan said softly, “you wouldn’t. It’s not who you are. But you did, so it must be all right, even if my father would have a heart attack.”
Erestor shuddered. “Don’t you see? That’s why I have to go. It’s an abuse of my position, of his trust, of my common sense even. I said at the time it must never happen again, but you keep showing up looking like —like that. So it’s better all round if I go. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in exile, you fool.”
“Ery, no one is going to find out.” Elladan’s voice was smooth as silk. “Believe it or not, I have enough sense to be careful and you’re so neurotic, you won’t make any mistakes. And you’re not betraying anyone. We’re agreed I’m probably old enough to know who I want to see naked…”
“There is no one around here, damn it.”
“I don’t care, don’t even think it too loud. Dan, no. I know I’m right. I’ve decided…”
“You made a spur-of-the-moment decision because you were in a flat panic about us, that’s all. You’ve had time to think. Make another decision. Stay. If it’s between career and romance, there’s only one choice you could possibly make.”
“Yes,” Erestor said firmly. “Career.”
Elladan snorted. “Oh come on. No one with hair and a mouth like that should let his career come first.”
The voices were growing louder, closer. With barely a glance and without having to say a word they moved into the deeper shadow that had originally cloaked Elladan from Erestor’s sight. The world smelled of green things and rich soil and wet stone and the river. And Elladan.
Something occurred to Erestor and he frowned. “What were you doing down here anyhow? You couldn’t have been waiting for me, even I didn’t know I was going for a walk.”
“I wanted to think and people kept talking to me so I came down here,” Elladan admitted after a long pause. “And yes, all right, I was walking around outside and saw you going down the steps and I know you like it along here so I took the short cut.”
“My personal stalker,” Erestor said dryly.
Elladan shoved him, none too gently. “I did not have to be honest,” he pointed out.
“What were you thinking about?” Erestor asked in a softer voice. Elladan’s hand remained on his shoulder, light but warm. He knew he should move away but it felt good. Grounding.
Elladan‘s famous confidence seemed to falter. “How to make you stay?” he said, as quietly. “What to say to change your mind.”
“Ery, we are magic together. You know I’m right. Look at me and tell me I’m not right.”
“Damn it, it was once, in a storeroom.”
“On the floor.”
“Yes, and I’m well past that sort of thing.”
“Tell me I’m not right.” Elladan hooked a lock of Erestor’s hair, let it run through his fingers, then wound it round and drew him closer. The voices had died away and they seemed alone in the world. Overhead leaves showered droplets onto them but he ignored it. “Go on, look at me. In the eyes.”
“You are an unspeakable brat,” Erestor said, but he kept his voice down and didn’t try and pull free.
“Yes, I know. You’ve told me that for years. In my eyes, Ery. Tell me we aren’t magic.”
Erestor compressed his lips and glared, which was a waste of time because it was too dark for anything that subtle. “It’s a game you’re playing, or you’re collecting scalps and I was a high aim, or…”
“… or you’re the apple at the top of the tree, the perfect one no one can reach, and suddenly my hand was right there.”
“And when you get bored, in a week or a month, however long it takes of sneaking around and grabbing moments, and you go your way, I’ll be left to regret my last chance to work in Mithlond again.”
“Oh for the love of… Ery, you don’t want to go work in Mithlond. A month ago you were perfectly content here. And it’s miserable there in winter, you’ve said so yourself. You can‘t tell me no, can you? Because I‘m right, aren‘t I?”
“Gods, would you stop nagging!”
Their faces were so close they were breathing the same air. The rest of the world faded away, there was no river, no house up above them, no waterfall further down shouting into the night, just the two of them and Dan’s voice and his hand. Without thinking Erestor took a step forward and their lips met.
Elladan’s arms went round him instantly, one hand cupping the back of his head, fingers tangling in his hair. The kiss was deep and intense with tongues searching and twining, hands roving, clasping ungently. When they finally broke apart breathing hard, Erestor gasped, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Well almost the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
“You need to tell me what the stupidest one was,” Elladan said on a gust of laughter that was warm against his cheek. He had moved back a little but kept a hold of Erestor’s arm. “Just – look, just stay, all right? Stay and see what this is and where it goes? I don’t know if it’d burn out in a month, no, but I want to find out. Don’t you? And I know you don’t take me seriously, I know I have a reputation, but this isn’t a game for me. I understand the stakes.”
“And there’s no spice like danger,” Erestor muttered, trying to get his hair back in order. “Don’t I know it.”
“Maybe not, but I’ve taken chances before, you’re not the first man I’ve been with and we both know how my father would react – he doesn’t understand things like this somehow. But you’re different. You’re Erestor.” And very quietly, “I want you.”
Erestor realised his hand was resting flat against Elladan’s chest, that touching him felt so natural he hadn’t even been aware of it. He pulled a face. “On paper I’m twice your age too. That can’t be good.”
He felt Elladan relax a little. “You didn’t seem quite that old and decrepit back in that storeroom.”
Even in the dim light he could see the flash of teeth and the sparkle of eyes that denoted one of Dan’s more wicked smiles. “You’d laugh if you weren’t such a stubborn beast. You’ll give it a chance, not run away to the coast?”
“I wasn’t running away, I was just creating distance from a potentially awkward situation that might get me exiled to Gondor or further,” Erestor retorted. “And I have no idea how I’ll explain the news that I’ve changed my mind. Right after packing up my office, I might add.”
Elladan was openly grinning now. “I’ll be my parents’ dutiful, helpful firstborn and help you unpack again.”
“You’re dreadful when you get your own way. And no you won’t, people would wonder.”
“You worry too much. Anyhow, come on, we don’t have much time. You’ll have to tell Father before he goes to bed. Though he looked set to stay in the Hall a while. He’s swapping First Age stories with Glorfindel.”
Erestor nodded and brushed his clothing down, an automatic response for which there was no real need. “That should take a while. Right, are you following me or going to your rooms or…?”
The grip on his arm tightened and he stopped. They looked at each other. Erestor shook his head. “Now? Are you out of your mind? Where?”
“You see, that’s what I always liked about you,” Elladan said. “You don’t waffle around a problem, you go straight to the core. Just down there among the willows is a bench, though you can’t see it in the dark. That’s where we’re going.”
“If you know it’s there, so do any number of people,” Erestor pointed out.
“That, Councillor, is why we aren’t staying long, just enough time for you to bend over the bench, and me to ravish your gorgeous ass and give you a hand job. And then you can go explain how you’ve had second thoughts and that someone will have to pacify Mel. Does that work for you?”
Erestor considered this, then shook his head. “Not quite, not if I have to sit on one of those hard chairs near the fire while I tell your father I’m staying. And anyhow, you already got what you wanted so now it’s my turn. It’s only fair that tonight I should be the one on top.”
Elladan touched his cheek briefly then took Erestor’s hand, carding their fingers together. “I got what we wanted, you mean,” he corrected. “And in this too. Now come, it’s getting late. Time to seal this with something more than a kiss.”
AN: Written for the Library of Moria‘s International Day of Slash 2015 Tarot challenge, using the Page of Swords, the Lovers, and the Moon cards.
Beta: Red Lasbelin