The flat stepping stones leading to the cottage were faded and worn by both time and weather. The observation struck Glorfindel by surprise – he’d walked them many a time without a thought. But it wasn’t urgent, or at least not more pressingly urgent than the rest of his fix-it list. He pushed open the door with a sigh, and went in, heading to the kitchen and putting his bags down on the table. He paused for a moment, trying to pick what was out of place.
The cottage was quiet. He could hear the chickens in the garden, the soft bang of the window shutter from the wind, but – no sound of anyone else. He checked the mantle in the living room, the kitchen table, in the bedroom, but there was no note, no explanation for absence. Frowning, he went outside, through the back door this time. A rabbit poked its head out of a bush by the garden. Glorfindel added another chore to his list: repair the fence surrounding the vegetables. On the horizon he could see the sea stretching out far before him, but there was a good length of sand and a small drop before the water began. There was a small fishing community not far to the west of them, he could see their harbor filling up as their working day drew to a close and they prepared their boats to weather the storm ahead.
He looked to the eastern stretch of the beach and his eye caught on one lone figure, a sharp contrast to the pale sand. Relieved, he picked his way down the natural shelf and onto the beach proper. As he drew near, he could see the familiar features of his lover come into relief. Erestor sat cross legged in the sand, a grey-blue patterned blanket wrapped around his shoulders. The strong salt air played with his dark hair, free from its normal braid, and the seawater waves pulled up to the shore just a foot or two in front of him. He didn’t register Glorfindel’s arrival, not by glance or word, eyes fixed on some far distant point in the sky.
Glorfindel paused, looking down at him, before giving a small shrug and sitting down next to Erestor. This Erestor saw, Glorfindel noticed, with a side glance of his dark eyes before returning to the horizon. The signs of the oncoming storm were clear – he heard the fishermen talking about it while he was in town, but he would have known himself from the clouds, the way the wind picked up, slowly and steadily and the white caps forming further out.
“Going to be ugly soon.” Glorfindel leaned back on his hands. “You been out here long?”
For a time Erestor was quiet, then he finally said, “A while, I guess. I needed a break. Felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
Glorfindel stayed still, giving him space, though his immediate urge was to reach out and touch him. They’d been together a very long time now, and he had learned to wait. The way Erestor held himself was self-contained, back straight, the folds of his blanket held close. The blanket, Glorfindel realized, was a birthday present from Erestor, who had teased him over his love of blue but had also made use of the blanket more than Glorfindel himself had. It usually worked like that. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything?” Erestor laughed, short and joyless. “This place, the glittering beaches, even the Valar-blessed air.”
Glorfindel took a deep breath; this was an old wound, one that both of them had dealt with, but for Erestor ran even deeper. “One of those days?”
He received a nod from Erestor. “Came out to listen to the birds. All the poetry, songs and stories about how the seabirds bring about sea-longing and sailing west, and now that I’m here, all they remind me of is home.”
“Those loud, messy birds you’d complain about normally?” Glorfindel inquired.
“Yes, Glorfindel, those birds. Don’t make me hurt you.”
He hid his smile but barely; he’d heard that enough times to discern a real threat or irritation. The sky rumbled threateningly and the tumbling waves encroached closer and closer to Erestor’s dry patch of sand. His smile faded, and he reached out to touch Erestor’s arm.
“You should come in, love. This is going to be bad.”
“I’m staying out here, I like a good storm.” There was just enough stubbornness in Erestor to make things difficult, but Glorfindel had finished a long, difficult day working with the reborn community and didn’t want to deal with the miserableness of a soaked and cold Erestor, which was not unlike dealing with a wet cat.
“Then you can enjoy it from inside,” he replied firmly. “Look out of our nice big windows while I get a fire going and we have dinner.”
Erestor’s eyes widened as he looked at Glorfindel. “I didn’t make anything, I completely forgot it was my turn.”
Glorfindel got to his feet and extended a hand to Erestor. “Well, you’re in luck, I have something to eat. But you’ll need to come with me.”
Erestor considered his hand for a minute, and Glorfindel watched as he decided whether to go or stay. Finally he took it and unfolded himself from his sitting position, moving a little stiffly, and Glorfindel wondered how long he really had been sitting out here.
They walked back, hand in hand, to the cottage. The chickens were out of the yard by now, already taking shelter in the coop. The wind tugged at their clothing, a sharp, stormy smell warning the weather ahead. Erestor went inside, while Glorfindel stood in the doorway, looking out across the sea. The seagulls flew high, heading for shelter, he assumed, their sharp cries echoing in his ears. Then he stepped inside, shutting the door firmly behind him.
The cottage was well made with a comfortable collection of rooms. Glorfindel started a fire in the fireplace, adding light and warmth to the living room, while Erestor went through the bags on the kitchen table, putting his purchases away and pulling out the deep earthen dish Glorfindel brought home with him.
“What is this?”
“Fish pie, from Branhiril. She always sends me home with something, just need to heat it up a bit.”
“I swear she thinks neither of us knows how to cook.” Erestor grinned briefly. “But her food is always good. How is her boy – what is his name again?”
“Silad. And he’s doing all right, all things considered. Think his memories are coming in too quick for him to process them properly; he’s dealing with nightmares, like I did. Had a talk with him today about not pushing them, letting his first life come back more slowly so it isn’t a shock to his system.” Glorfindel put the flint and tinder away and brushed the wood debris off his hands. The fire crackled and popped as it started to get going well. “Give me the pie.”
“I remember your nightmares. Would never wish them on anyone else, particularly someone that young.” Erestor walked over to the fireplace with the dish, gave it to him and Glorfindel fitted it in the hob to heat.
“No. But sometimes they need to be reborn as a babe and grow through that process. Usually it’s because of the way they died.”
Erestor shivered at that - with reason, they had both known too many people whose lives ended brutally. Glorfindel stood and reached for him, clasping his lover’s wrist warmly. “Come here. You are cold.”
Erestor shook his head. “No, we need to light some candles, the fire isn’t enough and it’s getting darker by the minute.” He slipped out of Glorfindel’s grasp and went to get a long, thin stick from the kitchen cupboard. He lit it from the fireplace and then went around the room, light spreading in his wake as he touched the flame to candles’ wicks.
Glorfindel picked up the blue blanket from where Erestor had thrown it over one of the kitchen chairs and brought it back into the living room, leaving it in a pile on the couch. The rain splashed heavily against the glass windows and roof as it began to rain in earnest. He went into the kitchen and selected one of their wine bottles, which he uncorked and poured into glasses. When he came back in the living room, Erestor was curled up on the couch and wrapped in the blanket.
“You need to talk to me,” Glorfindel said quietly, before handing Erestor his glass. He settled in beside him, almost close enough for their knees to touch, shortening their physical distance but allowing emotional space.
Erestor tasted his wine, gave a slight nod of approval and then shrugged. “There isn’t anything you can do, Findel.”
“Maybe not, but I can listen. I’ll always listen to you.” He took a sip of his wine, waiting for Erestor’s reaction.
Erestor looked at him and Glorfindel met his glance. The light from the fire and candles reflected in his brown eyes, turning them into gold-dark honey. Glorfindel reached for him again, sliding his hand under Erestor’s dark hair to trail his fingers along the smooth skin of his neck. This time, Erestor didn’t pull away but leaned into the touch.
“I was working on the histories again. I have a whole section to ‘edit and revise for content and tone.’” Erestor changed the timbre of his voice slightly to mimic the voice of someone else. Glorfindel wasn’t familiar with the subject of his imitation, but he was well aware of the histories. Their cottage had been taken over with stacks of paper over the past couple of months. Elrond specifically asked Erestor to help with the official chronicle of the last years in Middle-earth. It was a joint effort between Valinor's historical council and historians from Imladris, Lothlórien and Rivendell. Sometimes the inter-departmental cooperation was – complicated, to say the least.
“Yes?” Glorfindel encouraged, rubbing small circles against the base of Erestor’s neck.
“Oh, you can keep doing that.” Erestor closed his eyes and breathed deep. “Just going over the last years again, gathering everyone together, building the boats. Recounting the numbers, checking the important details.”
“Time passed so quickly then, just a blur of work and organizing. And you swearing you weren’t going to get on the ship.” Glorfindel remembered that well, could still see the stubborn tilt of Erestor’s head, hiding the deep heartbreak.
“I wish I hadn’t, sometimes.” It was spoken quietly, and it didn’t surprise Glorfindel but it still made him ache with pain. He tempered his gut response and asked a question instead.
“It is not home. Home is back over the sea, where my blood, sweat and tears are. I should have been able to stay, it should have been my choice to stay and carry on. Not herded onto a ship and told it was a one way ticket. And then to get here and deal with these ‘historians’, who have spent too much time in their libraries and not enough time making history of their own. To have to listen to their nattering opinions of how we dealt with events, when they weren’t there, when they didn’t live it!” As he spoke his voice grew more heated.
“You can’t let them get to you,” Glorfindel said. “They don’t always have a proper perspective, it’s academic for them.”
“I know, dammit,” Erestor snapped, but then he caught himself, let out a low breath and apologized. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be taking this out on you.”
Glorfindel shook his head. “Don’t need to apologize, love. Don’t you think I miss it too? Not a day goes by when I don’t think about home.”
Erestor sighed. “I know, but it’s different. You, at least, were born here.” There was that stubbornness again, a quality he loved about Erestor, even when he found it incredibly frustrating at different times over the years.
“My earliest years were here, it’s true. But I left when I was young, and my heart has always been drawn to Middle-earth. It’s where I’ve fought, loved, died…came back again, couldn’t keep me away.”
Erestor laughed quietly and shuffled closer to Glorfindel, who opened his arms and enveloped him in a hug. There was a moment of silence as they shifted their positions and Erestor shared his blanket with Glorfindel.
“I miss it so much. I miss how the air smelled, the sounds of the world…even the sun and the moon look different here. Why can’t I go home, Findel?”
“Because it’s not our home anymore, love. We cared for it as best we could, but it’s not up to us anymore. The world changed, the responsibility passed onto Men.”
Erestor shook his head. “But Valinor isn’t ours either. It belongs to the people who stayed; they’re just making room for us. And sighing heavily in the process.”
“I think there’s an adjustment time before it’ll be ours as well – and in the meantime, there are other good things to focus on. Families have been reunited – you’ve seen Elrond with Celebrian. That has been so good for him, and the twins too. It was painful and uncertain, and they all needed to grieve Arwen, but – that’s one family of many whose lives are very different now.”
“He smiles more than he did before. His life has not been kind or soft.”
Erestor admitted, his care and affection for Elrond clear.
Glorfindel stroked his dark hair, the strands like silk beneath his hand. “No, it hasn’t for him and many others, but they carry on. Just as we do. And there is plenty of work to be done still, plenty of ways to help everyone settle. My work with the reborn community helps me in my restless days. You could help me with that, when your histories are done.”
“Who, me?” Erestor tilted his head up and looked at him.
“Well, it’s not like you lack experience. You helped me through my worst times of readjustment.”
“I just was there. It wasn’t that much.”
“Oh Ery, it was everything. You were there, changed sheets after I’d wrecked them, listened to me – gave me something to hope for in a world that didn’t always make sense.”
“Because I loved you. I would do it all over again if you needed me to.”
“I know you would.” Glorfindel found one of Erestor’s hands in the blanket, brought it to his mouth and kissed his fingertips. “Just think about it. A little less time with the memories, a little more time with people. It’ll help you on the bad days.”
Erestor sighed. “I’ll think about it. Just need to finish my work first and try and stay sane through the process.”
“You will.” Glorfindel said confidently. “You’ve made it through even worse and come out the other side.”
While they talked the rain had eased, but they heard a distant rumble. Erestor raised an eyebrow at him. “Was that your stomach or thunder?”
Glorfindel grinned. “Well, it was a long day. I want some of that fish pie.”
“Oh, I see how it is.” Erestor sat up, pushing away from Glorfindel. “Less drama, more pie.”
“I would never say that, I know better.” Glorfindel gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
Erestor squeezed back, then stood. “We’d better feed you then.”
They ate dinner together, finishing off the wine and sharing news about their day. The rain continued, a light drum against the roof, while Erestor read and Glorfindel carved a dog from a piece of wood he’d found on the shore a few days prior. Without words, they both decided to go to bed, putting book and carving down. Erestor opened the door and Glorfindel snuffed the candles before joining him. Their eyes grew slowly accustomed to the dark, the light breeze was fresh and cold. They stood together, looking out into the night, the misty rain gentle on their faces.
“We’re going to make it, you know,” Glorfindel said, his arm around Erestor’s shoulders. “Even when it doesn’t feel like it.”
Erestor’s gaze was distant, looking at a world far away. After a moment he turned to Glorfindel and said, "I know. Just – grieving. Grieving for the home we lost.”
“I do too.” Glorfindel said simply, “I do too.”
Erestor breathed deep and moved away from the door to shut it. “Bed?”
“Yes, bed. I’ll be there in a moment.”
Glorfindel watched Erestor disappear into the bedroom. He loaded up the fireplace for the night and got himself a glass of water before joining him. Erestor was already in bed by then, tucked under the duvet and blankets. The bedroom was significantly colder away from the heat of the fire. Glorfindel washed up and changed his clothes, blowing out the candles and slipping under the covers as well.
He sighed. Lying down felt blissful after his day, and he waited for the covers to warm up. There was quiet in the room for a while, just the sound of the rain and their breathing.
Glorfindel felt himself sliding into sleep when he heard Erestor’s voice.
“How do you stay so optimistic?”
He blinked and turned on his side to face Erestor. “Me?”
“Yes, you. You seem to handle all... this, better than me.” Glorfindel didn’t have to see Erestor’s face, he could hear the pout in his voice.
“I wouldn’t say I handle it better, just differently. I know, for instance, that trying to build a ship to go back won’t work, despite the talk you had with Gildor on the subject.”
“Be fair, Findel, I think we were drinking a little much at that point.”
“Well, I know a plot when I hear one, especially with you two. And you know better - if you really believed that would work, you would have already tried.”
Erestor moved closer to Glorfindel, covers shifting as he pressed the length of his body against him. “Maybe?”
Glorfindel snorted. “I know you, I’d come home to a note: ‘Off boating with Gildor, see you sometime.’”
“Well yes, because I’d come back and visit you.” Erestor kissed the corner of his mouth. “I’m not utterly heartless.”
“You’d miss me eventually, yes.” He rested a hand on Erestor’s hip. “All joking aside, the reason I stay optimistic is because I know home isn’t just the place, it’s the people. And our people are here, and more of them are being reborn all the time. Staying and fading in Middle-earth isn’t the answer.”
“If it’s really true that we would have faded,” Erestor pointed out.
“I don’t have the energy to second-guess the Valar, love. And I know that staying on and fading into the fabric of Middle-earth appeals to your dramatic sensibilities…” Erestor let out an indignant ‘hey!’ and smacked Glorfindel’s chest, who in turn captured his wrists, shifting his weight against Erestor and pinning him playfully to the bed. “Come, it’s true. Just a little bit.”
Erestor glared up at him in silence, so Glorfindel continued. “As I was saying, while there’s some appeal in the idea, I’d rather spend the time instead focusing on our present. It'll take time, and I don't think the pain will ever fully go away. But it will get better. And while I'm waiting for that to happen, I'm focusing on helping people and loving you. That's what gets me through, that's what makes me smile and gives me hope.”
Erestor’s glare melted away and his body became pliant underneath Glorfindel. “You are so…”
“Wonderful? Intelligent?” Glorfindel supplied helpfully.
“Bloody soft in the head was what I was going to say.”
“Your tongue doesn’t dull with age.” Glorfindel rolled his eyes.
Erestor grinned up at him. “No, it never will.”
“I’m okay with that, as long as we make sure its other talents stay just as sharp.”
He was answered with one dark eyebrow raised. “Is that a suggestion?”
Glorfindel considered it seriously before shaking his head reluctantly. “Maybe in the morning? Not that you aren’t surpassingly gorgeous, but it was a really long day.”
“It’s your favorite time anyway. All right then, get off me.”
Glorfindel obligingly moved over onto his back, and Erestor slipped under his arm to lay his head on Glorfindel’s shoulder and rested a hand on his chest. Glorfindel covered his hand with his own and they lay together, listening to the rain on the roof.
Just as sleep began to take him he heard Erestor say, barely above a whisper, “I love you, Glorfindel.”
Glorfindel pulled him closer. “I love you too.”