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Bond of Honor

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Never seek to tell thy love
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind does move
Silently, invisibly.

William Blake

Part 1

After the night-long battle, the hall of healing in Helm's Deep overflowed with a catastrophic number of injured men and elves waiting to be helped. Not a spare bed or pallet existed anywhere along the length and breadth of the stone structure. Anyone with even the remotest measure of healing skills was pressed into service.

As Éomer moved along the rows of wounded, low moans punctuated the air. He wished fervently that there was something he could do to ease the suffering of his folk and those who fought so valiantly with them, but he had no such healing skills to put to use.

In front of the bed where Aragorn sat, Éomer stopped, glancing down at the fallen Elf-captain and then back into Aragorn's grim face. "Is there nothing you can do for him?" Éomer asked softly.

Looking up at him, Aragorn shook his head, eyes bruised with lack of sleep and sadness. He smoothed the loose golden strands on the back of the elf's head. He lay on his belly, the wound to his back cleaned and bandaged, though still slowly oozing blood. "Nay. He will die, probably before the morn is out."

"Nothing can save him?" Éomer thought it wretchedly unfair that after surviving the whole night out on the ramparts, the elf should die now, when the battle was won against all odds.

"Were I in Rivendell or were I Elrond, I might be able to do something more," Aragorn said on a soft sigh.

Éomer put a hand on his shoulder. "I can have whatever is needed found and brought to you."

"What I need is more than you or anyone here can provide for me."

"What then?" Looking down at the fallen elf whom he had never seen conscious, Éomer thought he had the look of a warrior and his heart went out to him and his kin.

"I need an elven life force to bolster his own. He would heal quickly, if he had any strength left in his body to aid him."

"Legolas perhaps?" Éomer suggested, hoping that there might be something, someone who could help the elf.

"Legolas has not the reserves to spare. He fought all night as well as this morning. He sleeps now to make ready for the coming fight. By nightfall, when he would be recovered, it will be too late."

"What of the other elves? His comrades who fought so valiantly?"

"It is the same story as with Legolas. Those who have survived the battle do not have the energy to give now."

Éomer considered that and the fact that he owed this elf and all the others a great deal. "Must it be elven?"

Aragorn looked at him thoughtfully. "I've never known it done with a man."

"Would you try?" Éomer understood there would have been no keep to return to had not these elves fought alongside his uncle and their small group. "I owe him a debt I cannot begin to repay."

"Think hard on this, Éomer. I have only seen this done, and have never done it myself."

"But you can?"

"In theory. I understand how." Aragorn was uncharacteristically hesitant and that concerned Éomer.

Not enough to sway Éomer from his course. If there was any way, any way at all, to save him, it was his duty to try to do so. "Do you believe you can help him?"

Closing his eyes, Aragorn was silent for a moment and then nodded. "Yes. I do."

"All right then, let us try this. I would not have him pass beyond if I could do something to help."

"Again I ask you to consider what you do. Your energies will be joined to Haldir's."

"He will use my life force and be healed?" That seemed simple enough to Éomer. "I would give it gladly."

"For a time, you will need to stay together."

"How much time? We ride to Isengard in a few days."

"I do not know. As I said, I've only seen this done. I think you should be able to part when Haldir has recovered completely."

"How long will that take?" He looked down at the near-dead elf, wondering if he could really be saved.

"The wound will heal remarkably quickly when he has the energy to feed it, but it could take several days for his body to regain all of its energies and to completely recover from the wound's trauma."

"If this works?" Éomer saw the certainty in Aragorn's expression and that was good enough for him. "I can afford to give him those days. We must try this."

"It is not without risk to yourself, you do understand that?"

"I do understand. I would do what is required of me. Do this now." He met Aragorn's eyes. "Would you let your friend die?"

"Nay. I would not."

Éomer took a shuddering breath and forced the fear he felt away. There was no question in his mind that what he did was right. Looking at Aragorn, he waited for some suggestion as to what must be done.

"Sit beside him and take his hand." Éomer sat down, taking the elf's cold hand gently. He looked at Aragorn again, still waiting.

"Close your eyes." Éomer did as he was asked.

At first all he felt was Aragorn's hand on his brow and Haldir's hand in his. A cold fear slid through him as he began to feel another presence in his mind. He tried to pull away.

"Nay." Aragorn's voice seemed very far away. "Do not fight me."

Éomer tried to relax and let Aragorn do what was required, but he found it difficult to allow the touch in his mind. It felt unnatural, wrong somehow. He wanted to pull away. Only strength of will kept him sitting beside the elf when every instinct told him to run as far and as fast as he could.

After some amount of time, he could feel another presence, not even conscious, almost gone. Éomer wanted to reach out for it, draw it to him, but he was hesitant, afraid to do or say the wrong thing.

Sensing Aragorn's approval, he did reach out, drawing it forward, into the light. Small and shriveled, cold, he held it in his hands. Feeling significant pity for so damaged a thing, he could not help but try to warm it, give hope to it, tend it.

It grew brighter, more beautiful, taking what he offered of his strength. Taking more and more until Éomer felt himself slipping away, and fought against it. He wrenched away as hard as he was able, but could not get free, silken bands held him tightly.

Nay, please do not go, he heard a voice imploring him, and he stopped struggling, turning back just as the blackness took him.

When Éomer opened his eyes, he found himself lying on his own bed, with no clear understanding of how he came to be there. Looking to his right, he found the elf asleep beside him, still on his belly. There was no one else in the room.

His rooms in Helm's Deep were unadorned, for he used them rarely. He kept several changes of clothes and various weapons there. The gray walls had no hangings to keep back the chill permeating the stone and the room was cool. The sun's rays came through the glass insets of the narrow windows and told him it was early afternoon.

With a great effort, Éomer sat up. Groping by his bedside table, he found a glass of water and drank deeply. His shaking hands refilled the glass twice before his thirst was quenched.

His back ached along his spine. He must have been put down on the bed wrong when he'd been moved. Stretching his arms over his head, he tried to work out the kinks, but was unsuccessful.

Glancing again at the elf, he saw that his wounds were newly dressed, and no longer leaking through the bandages. Taking his hand, Éomer was pleased to find it warm. He held it for a moment, stroking his fingers along the back. Realizing what he was doing, he stopped and dropped it back to the bed.

Beside him, the elf groaned softly and started to turn. He did not make it onto his back, only as far as his side, before he opened his eyes. Searching the room, he focused on Éomer.

"Thirsty," he said, his voice scratchy and raw, not at all like the usual dulcet tones of his kind.

Éomer poured another glass of water and helped him to drink it. "More?" Éomer asked when he had finished.

He nodded. "Please."

Éomer refilled the glass again, and the pitcher was empty. "We will need to refill it." He smiled down at the elf. "This healing is thirsty work."

A puzzled look drifted across his face as he seemed to finally focus in on his surroundings. "You saved my life, but I know not your name."

"Éomer, son of Eomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark." To have earned such a title so young was an accomplishment and Éomer didn't try to hide his pride.

"Ah." The elf did not sound impressed. He struggled to move and Éomer helped him into a sitting position. "I am Haldir of Lothlórien."

Affecting the same tone that Haldir had used, Éomer replied, "I have been told. You led the elves that fought with us last night."

"Yes. Honoring the old alliance of Elves and Men." Shifting once and again, he seemed to be trying to get comfortable against the pillows of the bed and did not appear to be having any success. Finally, he leaned forward with a groan, both hands steadying himself on the bed.

"Are you well enough to be sitting up?" Éomer asked, certain that his injured back would not love him for the constant movement.

"I'm doing it, so I must be." After a moment more, sweat broke out on his forehead, and he sighed, closing his eyes, and gritting his teeth. With another sigh, this one of resignation, he lay back down upon his side.

Éomer shook his head, but didn't smile even though he wanted to. "Stubborn elf. You were very close to death not that long ago."

"I am very well aware of that." He looked up at Éomer. "Appearances to the contrary, I feel much better now."

The way he said it amused Éomer, despite his worry that he might re-injure himself. "So I can see."

"In no small measure due to your intervention. I thank you for my life." The words were quiet and full of sincerity.

He could respond in no other fashion, "You are most welcome."

"I would know why."

Éomer looked toward the window. "I owed you and yours a debt I cannot hope to repay. It seemed fitting to give some of my life so that you might reclaim yours."

Haldir looked at him again, puzzlement still lighting his silver eyes. "I would not have thought that to be true."

Anger flared at the comment. "You think Men lack honor?"

"Nay. I..." He trailed off, looking away and said no more. "I did not say that at all."

Putting a hand on Haldir's chin, Éomer gently forced his face back. "Then, say what you mean."

Shaking off his hand, Haldir glared for a moment. "I would not think men, or many elves for that matter, would go to such personal expense of trying to save one they do not know."

"I know you. Perhaps not personally, but I know a warrior when I see one. One who has saved my county with his bravery deserves as much as I can give in return. It seemed a small enough effort." Even were it a great effort, Éomer would have done it and much more to settle the debt between them.

Haldir nodded, seeming to understand, and then he smiled. "I would wait to say that until you have attempted to get out of this bed."

Now, it was Éomer's turn to feel puzzled. "I feel fine. You are the one who is injured."

Raising an eyebrow, Haldir continued to look at him.

Éomer swung his legs over the side of the bed and made ready to stand. A wave of dizziness swept through him and he swayed as he moved. Putting both hands on the side of the bed, he was determined not to let the weakness show. He tried to lever himself up, but could not manage more than a weak struggle.

Beside him, Haldir snickered. "I told you it would not be so easy."

"What is wrong with me?" The last time he had felt so weak he had been severely injured. Aside from his back aching, Éomer had no other wounds, only odd muscle fatigue.

"You gave me much of your strength. Now, we will both have to wait to be restored completely."

Éomer sat back, leaning against the headboard, his legs stretched out in front of him. He noted now that he had been stripped down to his underlinens. Looking over at Haldir, he also noticed he was naked beneath the sheet.

"How long?" He looked away. Innocent though it was, he'd never slept quite so intimately with another man.

"Until we are both better?" Haldir considered it for a moment and then shrugged, unaware or uncaring of their current circumstance. "I do not know. I only know that we will recover together since I share your strength."

"Oh." Éomer tried to draw his mind away from the expanse of pale skin, or how the muscles moved under it when he shifted. As inappropriate as Éomer knew it was, he could not draw his eyes away.

Haldir shifted again, the sheet riding lower on his hips and gave Éomer another inscrutable look. "You did not know this?"

"I did." Once he had decided on his course of action, he would not have been dissuaded from it without a better reason than that.

"Perhaps you would not have been so quick to join our strengths had you fully understood what was involved." Behind the exhaustion in Haldir's eyes, there was real curiosity.

"I did what I felt was required. And would do it again." He told himself again that Rohan owed these elves, more than they could ever repay. What was his discomfort when compared to that?

Haldir laughed. The sound coming from him was musical and sweet and Éomer could have listened to it for a long time, but Haldir sobered quickly. "Tell me that in a week's time."

"I had not thought it would be that long." Éomer yawned, fatigue settling on him again. Letting all his disturbing thoughts go, he turned toward Haldir. "We should sleep."

"Yes. We should." Rolling onto his belly, Haldir buried his head once more in the pillows.

Éomer could swear he felt it when Haldir dropped into sleep. Sliding down into the bedding, he tried to find a comfortable position, and could not. With his lassitude so great, sleep took him quickly.

Éomer awoke again hours later, feeling stronger. The ache in his back was almost gone. Aragorn sat in a chair by his bedside. "Are you well?" he asked when he saw that Éomer was awake.

"Yes. I feel quite recovered." Éomer sat up, with much less struggle this time. "How is the elf?"

"He is fine," Haldir said beside him. "My back seems nearly healed."

"Let me check the bandages." Aragorn stood and went to the other side of the bed.

Haldir nodded, and subsided back onto his belly. Pulling back the sheet, Aragorn gently removed the pads.

"How is this possible?" Éomer gasped. The wound was complete closed and scabbed over. It looked a month old or more.

He chuckled, turning his head towards Éomer. "You wrought this change. I thought you realized that."

"But so quickly?"

"Elven magic," Aragorn said. "By tomorrow, you can ride with Théoden and some twenty of his Riders to Isengard."

"What of my archers?" Haldir turned over and sat up. "How many survived the night?"

Taking a breath, Aragorn shook his head sadly. "Barely seven hundred."

"Out of two thousand?" Haldir looked down, his eyes glittering for a moment. He took a breath. "It is a foul thing that so few survived."

Anguish rippled across Haldir's face and Éomer put a hand on his bare shoulder. "I know what it is to lose men. I am sorry."

"Your losses were far worse, for not all of your men were soldiers," Haldir said, his voice low and deep. "How many orcs?"

"Too many to count. Too many to bury or burn. Their carcasses are piled outside, near the hold, in great heaps." Aragorn's lip curled in distaste.

"I should like to hack them into little pieces and scatter them through the Riddermark," Éomer said through his teeth. His rage for the slaughter would do him no good now, he knew. Best save it until he could do something constructive with it.

"I should like to help you." Haldir's voice was a raw growl.

Their eyes met, and Éomer saw a warrior's understanding in Haldir's gaze. The same look was in Aragorn's eyes.

"We ride tomorrow. I must go now. Your uncle holds a council in the main hall." Aragorn stood.

"Aye," Éomer said. "I'll join you there as soon as I dress."

Éomer watched as Aragorn closed the door behind him, then turned toward the elf. "I am stunned by your recovery."

"Yes. I did notice that. Elves heal quickly." He got out of the bed and stretched, seeming to Éomer rather like a sinuous cat. Although he was more solidly built than some of his kind, his body was still long and lean, with pale skin over hard muscle.

He should have averted his eyes, but Éomer's curiosity would not allow it. He was finely made for a man... Not a man, he corrected himself, an elf.

Different from him. No hair on his body. None at all, save the mass on his head and that reached almost to the small of his back in a straight gold cascade. For a moment, Éomer wondered if it were as soft to the touch as it looked.

He shook his head at his own folly. It was not as if he really wanted to find out.

Catching Éomer's eyes on him, Haldir favored him with a knowing smile. "Do you find me pleasing?"

That he could hold back a blush at the question pleased Éomer. He knew already that it would not do to give this one any encouragement. "I find you different."

"Fair enough." Haldir's tone smug with confidence. Turning his gaze onto Éomer, he slowly raked his eyes along his body. "Men are hairy," he said. "All over."

"We are." Éomer stood up and turned his back on him, reaching for his clothes, and hoping he had managed to hide his discomfort. "I must speak to my uncle, now. Will you ride with us tomorrow?"

The bedropes squeaked a little as Haldir sat back down. "I had not thought to, but perhaps I will have to."

Haldir watched him, Éomer knew, could almost feel those light eyes boring into his back. He said nothing, dressing as quickly as he could.

As he would have left the room, he stopped, unable to push the door open, unable to move beyond the point he'd reached. He looked back at the still lounging elf. "You must come with me."

"I fear we have our answer. Although I like it not, I will ride with you tomorrow," Haldir said quietly as he rose from the bed again and started for the door.

"You might consider putting on some clothes before leaving." Éomer could not help but smile at the thought of him walking naked through the halls. Comely or not, he'd cause quite a stir.

Turning back to stare at him, Haldir raised an eyebrow, but his full lips were twitching with obvious amusement. "Why?"

Éomer tried not to smile in return. "You do not want to scare the children, now, do you?"

"There would be no scaring of anyone. I am more than passing fair." Haldir spoke with assurance, seeming to know his own worth. Looking around him, he then frowned. "It would seem that I have no clothes. I suppose yours will have to do."

It was Éomer's turn to smirk at him. "If I am of a mind to lend you anything, you mean."

"As I see it, there are two choices here. Either you lend me something or I leave here in nothing."

There was no doubt in Éomer's mind that Haldir would do just that. Part of him admired the elf for his flair, and part of him was appalled that he would even consider doing such a thing. "You may have what you wish from the trunk at the foot of the bed."

Rummaging through the clothes, Haldir finally pulled out a pair of leggings and an embroidered tunic that Éomer had always found too fussy to be comfortable wearing. Despite the fineness of Haldir's features, the garment didn't look quite as... feminine on him.

After quickly braiding his hair, Haldir joined Éomer at the door.

Entering the hall with Haldir at his side, Éomer glanced around. Sunlight showed through the cracks in the hastily repaired door to the keep. Many of the signs of battle had been cleared away, and some semblance of order had been restored to the room.

There were several tables in the center of the hall. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli sat to one side eating their midday meal. Éomer wondered briefly where Gandalf was.

A pang went through his heart at seeing so few of his uncle's riders scattered amongst those gathered. Swiftly he pushed it away, as now was not the time for such sorrows. He went directly to his uncle's table. Several other Marshals stood as he approached and they saluted the king, acknowledging him with a nod as they passed and left the room.

"My lord, I apologize for my earlier absence," Éomer said, bowing.

Théoden waved him to a seat. "I know and approve of what you did for our guest." He looked at Haldir and then nodded for him to sit as well. "We pay our debts."

Haldir inclined his head. "Quite well," he said without inflection.

"We ride for Isengard in the morn?" Éomer asked.

"Aye. Gandalf requests our presence as he goes to speak to Saruman." Théoden seemed weary, worn out. "I would say a few things to the wizard myself."

When last Éomer had seen his lord, he looked nearly dead with the witchcraft of Saruman and Grima. His heart was gladdened by seeing him so much like his old self. "My lord, we have not the men for a battle."

"Nay, we do not. We must do these things as well as we can. We will go quickly and come back so. I would hold an assembly of all that can bear arms, on the second day after the full moon."

"Yes, my lord." Éomer bowed his head in acknowledgment.

The king turned to Haldir. "I am glad to see you well. Will you ride with us to Isengard, or will you return to Rivendell?"

Haldir leaned forward slightly. "It appears that I will be unable to return to my people just yet. So it is without choice that I ride with you."

Théoden looked askance at him. "Why?"

Haldir's eyes dropped, looking uncharacteristically disconcerted. "Elven healing is a complicated matter, my lord."

"What he means to say is that..." Éomer squared his shoulders. "We are, at present, unable to part from each other's company."

"How will you ride tomorrow?" Théoden demanded, dismay apparent in his red face. "You cannot hope to ride two to one horse and keep up."

Haldir shook his head. "I think we may ride side by side -- that should suffice. We need not be touching, only within a certain distance."

"I, we, hope that we will be able to part in a few day's time." Éomer had no idea if what he said was true or not, but he earnestly hoped it were so. He glanced around the hall and nodded for Aragorn to join them. "We are not certain."

"Aragorn," Théoden said when he'd reached the table. "Do you know of this? When will they be able to part company?"

"I do not know. I do suspect that when the injury to Haldir heals completely, they should be able to part company for a time."

"A time?" Haldir looked troubled. "I thought this would be temporary. It always has been in the past."

"I have never known it to be permanent, true." Aragorn said, but his voice lacked surety. "It is only while you heal that you will need to be close."

The thought did not bring gladness to Éomer's heart. "Could it be permanent?" he asked, a shudder running through him.

Aragorn shook his head. "I do not think so." He did not sound as certain as Éomer would have preferred.

"Ah," Haldir said, the single word making his extreme displeasure known.

"We have no time for this now," Théoden said, his patience reaching an end. "Stay together and ride with me tomorrow. We have need of every rider."

"I am in need of a bath," Haldir said as they left the great hall some hours later.

"You would bathe? Now?" It was late, and Éomer was tired. All he wanted was his bed. "Why?"

"Because I am dirty. There is still blood in my hair, and on my skin," Haldir said, with a sneer of distaste. "I have no wish to ride thus tomorrow."

"I'd rather go to sleep." Even as he said it, Éomer changed directions, heading towards the bathing room. Perhaps the hot water would relax him.

"I would not," Haldir said.

His tone nearly stopped Éomer dead, but he reminded himself that the elf was an honored guest to his country. Pushing open the door, he led Haldir inside. "Come."

Even at this late hour, the room was humid, and very warm. Three round stone tubs were built into the floor, and were filled from pipes that brought the water in from a mountain stream. Several fires kept the pipes heated so the water was hot.

Éomer felt sweat break out on his skin as soon as he stepped through the door. An attendant stood ready to help them, but Éomer waved him off.

Stripping off all of his clothes, he washed carefully. It did feel good to wash the last of the sweat and grime of battle off his body. Moving to one of the bathtubs, he sighed in pleasure as he lowered himself into the hot water.

Haldir moved around, spending a great deal of time in cleansing himself. Éomer felt the water move as he climbed in beside him. Closing his eyes, Éomer ignored everything, forcing himself to let the warmth of the water relax him.

"Do you understand what happened to form such a bond? I do not," Éomer said, breaking the silence that had fallen around them.

Haldir shrugged. "I have a small amount of healing skill, as do most elves, but not enough to ever attempt what Aragorn did. I do not know exactly how it was worked, if that is what you are asking."

"I was. I am not comfortable with the limitations." With the smallest bit of luck, Éomer was not going to have to tell him just how discomfited he was.

"I have not seen it cause such a barrier as we have experienced." Haldir met his eyes, serious. "It has only been a few days. Let us not worry about this now, for we do not know what will come to pass."

"If the worst does occur, must we not make provisions for it now?" The situation could get very complicated and his life was complex enough to start with.

"I would not fancy staying here. I assure you of that." The words lacked emotion, but the look in Haldir's eyes conveyed his thoughts easily.

"I would not fancy the necessity." Éomer frowned. "It would make my life much more difficult."

"Mine much more so."

An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Éomer closed his eyes, dismissing all thoughts of staying and leaving. It would not come to that.

"I am ready for my bed," Haldir announced a few minutes later. "Are you done?"

Éomer nodded, not bothering to point out that it was actually his bed they were going to. That thought disturbed him.

Standing up, rivulets of water sluiced down Haldir's pale body. Éomer found he was incapable of drawing his eyes away from the sight. A stirring of lust slithered through him, desire that had never been associated with a male before that moment. Some part of him was horrified by what he was experiencing, and another part didn't care, wanting nothing more than to lick the wet muscles on the elf's chest.

For one moment, the sensations paralyzed him. He took a breath and then another, banishing the very concept from his mind. It must be the bond making him think such foreign thoughts. However, he did not feel reassured.

The Riders of Rohan would turn a blind eye to what lay between shield brothers, but it was hardly acceptable to the rest of the country. It would be less acceptable for the nephew of the king.

When he realized he was staring, Éomer shook his head in disgust. He stood, grabbing a towel. He reached for his clothes, dressing with alacrity.

Part 2

The next day was cold and clear. The carcasses of the orcs were stacked in huge piles on one side of the keep. There were mass graves dug for the slain elves and men in the fields beside the keep. A marker would go up later to honor those who had fallen.

Éomer stood next to Haldir at midday to pay last respects to their dead. The elves sang a sad lament in Elvish. The music was haunting. Although he did not know the high Elvish language, Éomer felt the heart-break in the words to the depths of his being.

Haldir stood next to Éomer, tears on his face as he sang for his fallen comrades. His voice was beautiful, rich and lyrical, painful in its exquisiteness. Moved by the music, heart-sore by the cause, Éomer's eyes burned and he blinked several times before he could see clearly again.

Théoden shoveled the first bit of dirt into the grave and then moved away, wiping his eyes. Many of his House had been killed. Éomer could not begin to think of the losses to his family and of his friends and comrades. It was too much. If they survived, and when there was time, he would consider all that had happened.

The people at Helm's Deep wept and keened and then began the long task of cleaning up and returning to their homes.

"We ride in two hours," Théoden said to Gandalf and the rest of those gathered.

"Come," Éomer said to Haldir. "We must find a horse for you to ride."

"Thank you." Haldir's voice was thick. He said nothing more as he followed Éomer.

Éomer looked at him, seeing his unchecked grief as they strode across the keep. "Are you all right?"

"No. I have lost almost two-thirds of my elves, many of whom were dear friends. Many of whom I have known for millennia."

"I am sorry. I cannot begin to understand what it is to lose a friend or comrade of such standing, but I've known loss, myself." He put a hand on Haldir's arm, offering what comfort he could. There wasn't much in him left to give.

Haldir pulled away and met his eyes. "I am sure you do. We live in dark times now. I fear we will all know a great deal more loss before this is done."

The warning chilled him for its truth. Éomer shuddered. "Would that it were not so."

Again Haldir's eyes pinned him hard. "Do not think to hope for anything less, for you are sure to be disappointed."

"You didn't have to come here," Éomer pointed out as they continued across the yard.

"Nay, I did not. I volunteered to lead the elves here." Despite the number of his losses, and his sadness, his tone held no regret.


Haldir looked away for a moment, out at the field where the dead were being buried. "Because I believed, still believe, that the cause is just. One worthy of risking my life for. I would not see Men perish from the world."

Éomer found himself smiling at that. "I had not thought you held the men of this world in such high regard."

"Individually, perhaps not. As a group, however, I know your kind will live on after all the elves have faded and are gone from this middle-earth." Haldir's tone sounded too cavalier, too certain, and it rankled.

"A noble sentiment, I'm sure," said Éomer, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. He was too tired and grief ridden to really care about being polite.

"As I'm sure you realize, Elves are noble creatures." Haldir looked evenly at him, giving every indication he was serious.

Since the statement was certainly true, even if the tone of his voice grated upon Éomer's already taut nerves, there was nothing he could say that would not be an insult. Enraging the elf seemed petty to him, and he would not do it. They would ride together soon. Remaining silent, Éomer pushed open the door to the stables.

They camped that night along the Isen river. Exhausted, Éomer was ready to sleep almost as soon as they stopped. He was pleased to sit by a fire alone and not think about Haldir, even if he were no more than twenty feet away, sitting with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.

Gandalf and Théoden were in conference and Éomer was not privy to their conversation.

As if he knew what Éomer was thinking, and wanted to stymie him, Haldir said good night to the others, and came to sit beside him.

How he would like to wipe that impassive look off Haldir's face. Éomer sighed instead, stilling the impulse. If they could not part company, then they needed to learn to find common ground until they could. Éomer thought hard for a comment that would not cause insult. "How old are you?"

The question clearly startled Haldir, for he looked at Éomer as if he had gone insane. "Why do you care?"

Biting back a retort that would no doubt anger him, Éomer shrugged his shoulder, wondering if they could ever find a point of contact without strife. "I am curious, nothing more."

The answer, simple though it was, seemed to satisfy Haldir, for he nodded. "Nearly four thousand years."

That could explain a lot, Éomer thought. "I am twenty-eight."

"Twenty-eight?" Haldir repeated as if he could not believe it. "Elves do not reach their majority until they are past fifty. How old are men in Rohan?"


"Even past your majority, you would still be considered quite young, a child still." Haldir's tone was not unkind, but there was the slightest amusement in it.

Annoyance flared in Éomer. "I am considered a man amongst my people. Old enough to have earned my rank."

Haldir sighed and looked down. "T'was just a comment. I meant no insult."

Éomer shook off his anger. Perhaps he had been unfair. "I'm sorry. I know I must seem young to you."

"I am considered somewhat young." Haldir smiled at him.

Éomer found it alluring and beautiful, and then chided himself on his own fancy. Closing his eyes, he was silent for a while. "What shall we do?"

Haldir did not pretend he did not to know of what Éomer spoke. "I expect that there is nothing we can do until the bond wears off."

"I fear that it will not."

"I do as well. Yet, it has only been a few days. I am ever hopeful that it will fade with time." Haldir looked at him. "Do not take this as an insult, but I have no wish to remain in Rohan."

Éomer shook his head. "I am not insulted. I understand. I could not follow you to the Golden woods. Even if I were welcome, I could never stay there."

"Why not?" There was a note of warning in Haldir's tone.

"Rohan's wounds are grave, and even if we win the coming battles, I could not abandon my king or country."

"I see." Haldir looked at him and there was an almost grudging respect in his eyes. "I have been Guardian of the Golden Woods for most of my life. It is not something I could or would give up willingly. When the time comes and all my kin have left our lands, I will sail for Valinor."

"Do you wish for the sea?" He'd heard that when the calling was upon an elf, it was irresistible.

"I do. Not badly. There is much I would like to do before I go." Haldir spoke with a strange light in his eyes.

Éomer wondered if the longing was more desperate than Haldir had said, or if he longed for something else. "Then we must hope that the bond fades speedily."

Haldir's silence surprised him. He would have thought he would agree readily. "Do you not wish to be parted from me?"

Seeming to shake himself out of his reverie, Haldir stood. "Of course, I do." He offered his hand to Éomer. "Let us go to bed."

Éomer took his hand, and rose silently, following Haldir back to their bedrolls.

Isengard proved a revelation to Éomer. Meeting the hobbits, Merry and Pippin had been akin to addressing something out of a legend. Before actually seeing them, he'd never quite believed the halflings existed. Treebeard and the other Ents were also a marvel, but somehow less so than the hobbits.

It had pleased him considerably to see Saruman cast out of his order and his staff broken, but some part of him had hoped for more punishment for the crimes he'd committed. Gandalf assured him that being cast down would be punishment enough for one who had been so high. Night fell and they camped along the river again.

"Let us test this again," Aragorn said to both Éomer and Haldir. "Éomer walk in that direction, Haldir the opposite."

Éomer nodded, walking away from Haldir. After a certain distance, if felt as if he had collided with an invisible wall. He could go no further. Turning back, he was disappointed to find he had not gone very far.

"What say you?" Legolas asked, looking at Gimli. "About thirty feet?"

"I would say so." Gimli stood back to judge the distance. "No more than thirty-five."

"Not far enough." Haldir came back, his face impassive even as his eyes showed his frustration.

"It has been less than two weeks." Aragorn looked sympathetic. "And you can move farther apart now then you could to begin with."

"As he said, not far enough." Éomer did not care how he sounded. He wanted this to be done with. "I would have thought it done by now."

"In its own time, I'm afraid." Putting a hand on his shoulder, Aragorn seemed to know what he was thinking. "I am sorry for this."

Éomer shook his head. It was not Aragorn's fault, nor did he blame him in any way. "Nay. It is frustrating, yes, but I do not regret saving his life."

Aragorn nodded towards Haldir, amusement flickering in his eyes. "Even if he drives you mad?"

"He might at that," Éomer said, one corner of his mouth twitching up into an involuntary smile. "No matter what happens, it was still the right thing to do."

"I am glad you continue to feel that way," Haldir said, joining them. "I am not sure I would be so generous."

Éomer just looked at him. He was lying and they both knew it. "So you would say."

"So I do say." Haldir smirked. "So I have said."

"We ride in the morn," Aragorn said, yawning. "Much has happened today and I am for my bed."

Haldir stepped next to Éomer and they sat together on their bedroll as the other three moved away. Éomer sighed heavily.

"Are you troubled?" Haldir asked.

"Nay." Éomer shook his head. "It has been a long day. I had not thought to meet hobbits in this life."

"They are an interesting lot, are they not?" Laughing softly, the fire light glinting off his hair, Haldir was beautiful.

As was becoming his habit, Éomer pushed the thought away, attempting to bury it. He could not cope with the ideas the bond was manifesting in him. The sooner it faded, the better off they would both be. He took a deep breath, reaching for anything to divert his mind. "You know the hobbits?"

"I met them when their quest had but started. Months ago, in Lothlórien. Frodo the Ringbearer was with them then. And Boromir of Gondor."

"If you would not mind, tell me this tale?" As tired as he was, Éomer had come to love listening to Haldir weave tales. When he was not being annoying, he excelled at story telling.

In a seemingly amicable mood, Haldir nodded. "I would not mind. Though I fear you will fall asleep before I finish."

Éomer lay down and pulled his cloak around him. "Probably. Then you shall just have to tell it to me again."

"I am ever at your service," Haldir said with considerable amusement in his tone. Then he started his tale.

As Haldir had predicted, half-way through the cadence of his voice was so soothing, so relaxing, that Éomer could no longer keep his eyes open.

The peace of the night was shattered as evil had emerged again with poor Pippin as its victim. No harm was done, according to Gandalf, and he and Pippin rode to Gondor. After the strife of the last days, the last few hours, King Théoden wished to move the company toward Rohan under the cover of darkness.

"Each time someone rides away, I wonder if we shall see them again," Éomer said, as he and Haldir rode slowly towards Helm's Deep with the rest of the company.

"You worry for Gandalf? He knows what he is doing. Of that I have no doubt." Haldir sounded assured, but then he always did, even when he was not so sure.

Uneasily, Éomer nodded. "And the little one, Pippin. He seemed both frightened and humiliated by what happened. That he could be duped so easily."

"It is no easy thing to find that you can succumb to evil. Even to evil that is much greater than your own strength. Hobbits, and Men for that matter, are not such simple creatures." Haldir's tone seemed more broad than it needed to be.

"You speak of my uncle?" Éomer stood ready to defend his king against attack, even from the elf.

"Nay. I judge him not. He could not help what was done, any more than young Pippin could have fought against stealing the Orthanc-stone and looking into it. It is the way of evil."

"You seem to know much about it," Éomer said, wondering what Haldir had seen in his long life.

"I have fought against such evil as I've found, the whole of my existence. Worry not. Hobbits are made of sturdy stuff, as are some men." Haldir smiled a little, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"So you have told me." Éomer fell silent, searching in the darkness for any threat they might find; hoping there would be none, but expecting to find it.

Éomer was more than grateful when it was not found. What they found instead was the Dúnedain and the sons of Elrond on their trail. They joined the company just beyond the Fords of Isen, and accompanied them back to Helm's Deep.

When they arrived at Helm's Deep, Éomer wanted nothing more than his bed and to sleep what was left of the night away. With a few words exchanged with his uncle on tomorrow's duties, and a bite or two of bread, Éomer nodded to Haldir to follow.

Haldir fell into step beside him, but when they would have turned towards Éomer's rooms, he stopped. "I wish to have a bath before we go to bed."

"You are joking." Éomer looked at Haldir in disbelief. He was too tired for a struggle. "No. I can see that you are not."

Standing his ground, Haldir's jaw was set, his arms folded across his chest. "I would not go to bed dirty."

"I do not wish to bathe now. It is late and I am tired." Mimicking his stance, Éomer glowered at him.

"You would not bathe at all," Haldir sneered, contempt lacing through his tone. He did not seem very inclined to listen to reason.

It did not endear him to Éomer, and he was not of a mind to fight. "I am going to bed. You may do as you wish."

He started down the corridor, expecting Haldir to follow. He did not. Very shortly, Éomer came to the end of his invisible tether, reaching the healing bond barrier. He stopped, looking back at Haldir. "Come now."

Elven eyes blazed with obstinacy. "No."

Frustration, exhaustion and anger washed over Éomer and he threw himself against the barrier, hoping to break through it and be done with the contrary elf. Pain exploded down his spine and he fell to his knees struggling to breathe. Behind him, he heard Haldir cry out.

"You stupid man! Do you wish to kill us both?" Haldir pulled him to his feet, his breath coming in harsh pants, fingers digging into Éomer's arm. "I do not believe you were so foolish."

"Quiet!" Éomer could only deal with one thing at a time and the agony in his body took precedence over Haldir's tantrum. "Speak no more."

Haldir gripped his arm and started to push him towards the bathing rooms. "I will bathe and you will come with me."

"No. I will go to bed." Éomer stopped, planting his feet firmly. He was not going to suffer this. Shaking off the arm that held him, he said, "You will obey me."

Haldir looked scornfully at him, drawing himself up to his full height, gathering his Elven dignity around him. "You think you can command me? Think again, man. It is you who will do as I say."

"You are the one who needs to think again." Éomer's tone was grave as he squared his shoulders, crossing his arms over his chest. He glared at Haldir with as much menace as he could muster, enough to send most men to their knees. Haldir gazed back at Éomer, face impassive, but his hands were clenched into fists. He and the elf were the same height, though he was broader in the shoulders and heavier. If it actually came to a fight, Éomer was still not sure he could win. There was much strength in Haldir's slender body.

"Is there a problem?" Aragorn asked, his lips twitching as though he were attempting not to smile. By his side stood Legolas, both seeming to have just appeared out of nowhere.

"We go to bathe," Legolas said, also looking as if he were trying to hide his amusement.

Éomer tried to smile pleasantly. He had no grudge with either of them and would not cause insult to his guests if he could avoid it. "No. There is no problem. We were just on our way to b--"

"--Bathe," Haldir interrupted him. "We will join you."

"That would be very agreeable." Legolas' eyes twinkled with glee. "Would it not, Aragorn?"

Aragorn nodded. "Oh yes. It would be very agreeable."

Trapped, Éomer gave in as gracefully as he could. He would avenge himself later. "Fine, we bathe."

To Éomer's surprise, the bathing room was not empty. Elrohir and Elladan already sat soaking in one of the large stone tubs. The one across the room was also being filled with water.

Stripping off his clothes, Éomer scrubbed the accumulated dirt from his body. As much as he was loathe to admit it, even to himself, Haldir might be right about being clean. It did feel better to have the grime gone.

Haldir washed silently beside him, and then got into the tub with the twins, his back toward Éomer. He immediately started to speak in Elvish to them.

With a sigh, Éomer climbed into the other tub, relishing the sense of not having Haldir hovering so near. He heard the water splash and opened his eyes to see Aragorn getting in across from him. Legolas had joined the other elves.

"Do you speak Elvish?" Aragorn asked as the group of elves started to laugh at something Haldir had said.

"Enough to know that he did not compliment me just now." Éomer said ruefully. He didn't understand every word spoken, but he could make out the gist of it.

Aragorn closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the tub. "You must understand, it is almost an offense to them to have to remain dirty when water, even cold water, exists that they might use."

It wasn't that Éomer didn't appreciate the differences in culture. He just had his priorities straight. "I have no objection to soap and water, but I'd rather sleep. Tomorrow we have another very long day."

"True enough, however, I find I sleep better when I am clean." Aragorn sounded amused. "I was raised in Elrond's household."

"Caught between the two worlds?" Éomer asked, curious about what Aragorn's early life in Rivendell must have been like.

"Nay. I am a man, like any other." He said it as if he meant it.

Éomer knew Aragorn was much more than that. "More than most men, I think."

Inclining his head, Aragorn had a somber expression on his face. "That is not for me to judge. At some point in the future, we shall see. " He looked at the elves and then back at Éomer "What happened?"

"I tried to go through the barrier. It hurt us both." Éomer shuddered, ghost-fingers of the pain flickering down his spine again.

Aragorn's mouth twitched, and plainly he was holding back his mirth. "Was bathing so objectionable?"

"No, but allowing Haldir to have his way seemed very much so, then." Now, as well. Allowing the elf to dominate him in any way vexed him beyond bearing. That he seemed to push Éomer whenever the opportunity arose did not help matters either.

"You disagree?" Aragorn said, stating the obvious. "Is not compromise possible?"

Éomer could only nod his head. There seemed to be no point of agreement between yes and no. "I cannot find it."

"If this bond does not fade, you will both need to learn it."

"I think he needs to learn to obey." Even as he said it, Éomer knew the likelihood of that happening was very small.

Aragorn opened his eyes, amusement written on his face. "Haldir? You jest."

Chuckling with chagrin, Éomer could only agree with that sentiment. "He is most difficult."

"Elves are, in many ways. Beautiful in many others." Aragorn sighed, seemingly with deep longing.

"I do not find him beautiful." The words slipped out too fast and too hard for them to be true. Even in the damp humidity of the bath, Éomer felt his face flush hotter.

Tilting his head, a knowing smile spread on Aragorn's mouth. "Is that the way of it, then?"

"It is not." Admitting his attraction to Haldir was not something he found he could do easily, even to himself.

"Elves are both easy and impossible to love." Again, there was much longing in Aragorn's face.

If any man would know the truth of elves, he supposed it would be Aragorn, but Éomer was not in the mood to hear it. Glancing at Haldir, Éomer saw him engaged in conversation with the rest of the group, seemingly paying no attention to him. Éomer looked back at Aragorn. "I do not love him. Most days, I do not even like him."

"To deny what you feel will not make it go away." Aragorn's tone was both sage and amused.

It aggravated Éomer's already disgruntled mood, but he took a breath and tried to answer in a reasonable tone. "I deny nothing. He is a thorn attached to my side. Not at all company I would willingly seek out."

"He is also beautiful."

Something in the admiration of those words made Éomer look sharply at Aragorn. "You find him so? He is a man... an elf."

Aragorn laughed. "Were I you, I would avoid calling an elf a man. But to answer your question, yes, I find him very beautiful."

"But..." He would never have suspected that Aragorn, of all people, would have such feeling for another male, not when he was promised to the Lady Arwen. "You are..."

"Pledged I may be, but I am far from dead. Haldir is magnificent, even amongst elves, who are all beautiful. Tell me you do not find him or the others quite beyond compare."

He stole a glace at the elves again. Yes, Legolas was beyond passing fair. So were the twins, but he felt no call to them. Only Haldir made him want to touch male flesh. "He is beautiful, I will grant that, but the fact remains that I do not wish to see him as such."

"That is another matter, my friend. One you must decipher on your own. For now, I am for my bed." Aragorn stood.

Éomer watched him get out and dry off. Aragorn was a handsome man, he could see that objectively, but again, he felt no calling beyond that of a friend and brother-in-arms.

A moment later, he stood. He'd had enough. As he got out, he looked over at the others. "Come, elf. I would sleep."

The muscles on Haldir's back bunched and then settled. "Fine. I am done, anyway."

The walk back to Éomer's rooms was silent. When they arrived, Éomer barred the door, and turned to find Haldir starting to remove his clothes for sleep.

"We must speak of what happened before." Éomer would so much rather crawl into his bed and pull the blankets over his head and forget that Haldir ever existed. However, he was certain the problem would not be gone when he awoke in the morning.

"I thought you were tired." Haldir folded his arms over his chest, and glared. "Speak, if you will."

"I will not have another incident as before. You will obey me."

The look on Haldir's face grew haughty with contempt. "Where do you get this notion? I am not sworn to you. I have no cause to serve you. I am a guest in your country."

Éomer nodded. "You are correct. I am very grateful for the help you have given. But I am tied to you and you to me. One of us must yield." It was not going to be Éomer doing the yielding.

"If one of us must yield, I promise you that it will not be me." Haldir's tone was implacable, his eye hard with resolve.

For a long moment, both he and Haldir stared at each other across the room, saying nothing. The set of Haldir's face, and the stiffness of his body spoke of stubbornness that would not yield.

The impasse seemed insurmountable and Éomer started to fear what the rest of his life might be like should the worst happen.

Without warning, Haldir's face softened, his shoulders relaxing a little. "Perhaps we might find a way to compromise?"

As good as the idea sounded in theory, the reality would not be so simple. "I don't know how we can do that when neither of us will yield."

"You know better than that. Do you always get your way?" He looked at Éomer reprovingly, waiting for him to reply.

"It would depend upon with whom I was dealing. I obey, when I must." Éomer admitted to himself there were few who could order him to do anything beyond his cousin Théodred -- when he'd been alive -- and the king himself. Even then, it would likely as not be worded as a request.

"So, it is all one way or another with you? And from what I see, mostly one way."

"Is it not that way with you?"

Haldir shook his head. "No. I serve my Lord and Lady. It is not the same."

Silence fell for a moment as Éomer considered it. "Our situation is not like any other I've experienced."

"You are correct in that. Have you never had an equal relationship?" Haldir asked, then before Éomer could answer he added, "With a lover, I mean."

"We are not lovers." Closing his eyes, Éomer could feel his face heat. Had Haldir heard him? "And no, there has been no time to find more than fleeting company."

"When the darkness starts to creep into your land, it is all you can do to fight it." Haldir seemed to be considering. "Our interactions cannot truly be equal, I understand that, however, I do not serve you and am not required to obey." Haldir met his eyes. "And I will not."

There was truth in that, Éomer thought. "As you said, you are a guest here."

"I should be accorded some consideration," Haldir said without acrimony. "Maybe we can find a way to both have something of what we want, if not everything."

"I would be willing to try. Until we can part." Éomer resigned himself to many more baths than he would have taken. He'd get used to it, he supposed.

"I will as well." Haldir stepped closer and put a hand on his cheek, fingers moving along his beard. "And I thank you."

Some part of Éomer wanted to pull away, but he found himself captivated by the tender look on Haldir's face. "Why?" he asked, his voice embarrassingly breathy.

"I did hear the compliment you paid to me." Some of the tenderness melted into amusement.

Still, Éomer could not pull back. "You were not meant to."

"Elven hearing is quite acute. Anything you say in sight of me, I shall likely hear. You might remember that in the future." Haldir leaned in and brushed his mouth across Éomer's.

The kiss held for a brief moment of tenderness. A sweet, heady sensation washed over Éomer, stirring him greatly.

As Haldir started to pull back, some madness gripped Éomer and he slid his hands into the golden hair, leaning forward, pressing his mouth hard onto Haldir's.

A soft sound came from Haldir's throat, his lips becoming soft and pliant and warm. Moving his hand down Haldir's back, Éomer held him nearer. Strong hands gripped him in return, pulling him forward, pressing him closer.

The kiss deepened; tendrils of desire spiraled into Éomer's belly, coiling through him. His mouth molded to Haldir's, moving softly, sinking further and further into the kiss. Haldir's tongue begged entrance and Éomer parted his lips in invitation. Surprised and then pleased, his tongue pushed and pressed and played with Haldir's, tasting, savoring, relishing the flavors of the kiss.

Éomer was lost in the whirl of sensation and hunger, mouth devouring and then being devoured in return.

Haldir pulled back, putting a finger on Éomer's lips. "Not yet," he said, regret coloring his tone.

Part of Éomer wanted nothing more than to lay Haldir down and possess him, but most of him could not believe what he'd just done. To cover his confusion, he simply nodded. "We must ride again in the morning."

"Yes." Haldir got into the bed. "I am weary."

"I did not think elves required much rest." Éomer's smile turned into a yawn. He was too tired to think beyond this moment.

Haldir snorted. "In general, most do not, but I am tied to you, and your weaknesses. When you need rest, so do I."

"So it would seem." Éomer got into bed, acutely aware that Haldir was getting in beside him. He closed his eyes, hoping sleep would take him quickly. To his consternation, the kiss played itself over in his mind, and it was a long time before he slept.

The King and company, along with Merry, the hobbit, parted ways with Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Dúnedain after a single night's stay at Helm's Deep. The journey back from Helm's Deep to Dunharrow was long and slow through the mountain passes.

They stopped only a few hours at a time to rest, continuing to press onward, adding to their ranks as they moved toward the mountain fortress.

After so little rest on the journey, Éomer was looking forward to a hot meal, a warm bed, and seeing his sister again.

"I worry for Aragorn and his company," Éowyn said as they walked towards the main hall. Haldir followed at a discreet distance, allowing them some semblance of privacy.

"I do as well, my sister. I think it is folly for him to attempt the path he follows." Éomer could not believe Aragorn would be so ill-advised as to try going that way. "The Paths of the Dead will be the end of him, I fear."

Éowyn nodded, her eyes bright and glittering. "I fear so as well."

"You care greatly for him, I think." He put his arm on her shoulder. "You must know that Aragorn's heart is given to another." Too long had Aragorn's heart belonged exclusively to Arwen for Éowyn, even as beautiful as she was, to have any hope of capturing it.

She nodded her understanding. "I know. We cannot help how we feel."

"No. I suppose we cannot." Éomer looked back at Haldir and then to his sister.

Éowyn caught his movement and her eyes widened for a moment. Then, she smiled at him. "You care for the elf?"

"No," he said too quickly and felt the blood rise in his face. "Not as you mean it. I am not inclined that way." Even as he said it, he knew he was lying. Along the endless hours of the ride, he had thought hard about that kiss, and while he had come to no conclusions, he did not regret what had happened. Truth be told, if only to himself, he would do it again.

"He is more than passing fair." She turned and looked back at Haldir. "You could do much worse for a lover than he."

"I do not find him so beautiful as that." The words were form only, and he feared that Éowyn knew it, too. "I am shocked you would suggest such a thing."

She cocked her head up at him, amusement in her blue eyes. "It is not unheard of amongst the Riders of Rohan. You know this as well as I."

"And you know it is not something we speak freely of, either." His tone was admonishing, but he could not truly be angry at her.

"I think you do not know your own heart, my brother."

"I think you should hold your tongue, little sister. The elf and I ride together out of necessity, nothing more." He glanced back again and saw Haldir smirk at him. He had forgotten elven hearing. "Let us go into dinner now and discuss this no longer."

"Will you fight with me if I suggest a bath tonight?" Haldir asked as they walked towards the room Éowyn had made up for their use.

Éomer sighed, he was too tired to fight. Part of him railed against giving into Haldir on anything so easily, but his stiff muscles thought perhaps hot water might not be such a bad idea. "No. Though you do seem inordinately fond of soap and water."

"Elves appreciate being clean," Haldir informed him as if he were imparting great wisdom.

The statement did not bother him as much as such things usually did. Perhaps he was getting used to the elf. Or perhaps he was too tired to care. "So you have said. Men do not require it."

Haldir wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Men stink."

Torn between annoyance and laugher, Éomer just shook his head. "That is true. But since we all stink, we do not care so much as that."

"Those of us who do not smell badly, do care. A foul odor will take all the beauty out of the world."

Éomer sighed. "Elves. Let us bathe before we sleep."

"I long for my bed," Éomer said, after their bath, as he stepped into the room his sister had prepared for them. A wooden bed dominated one corner of the room, and rich tapestries hung on the walls to keep back the cold. The fireplace crackled with a bright blaze. A small table had been set with wine and fruits.

Éomer started to throw off his clothes, and then stopped. Looking at Haldir, he tried not to think about how the fire light played on his skin and hair, tried not to think about anything, and especially not the hum of tension that wrapped around them.

"What troubles you?" Haldir asked, gazing back at him calmly.

Turning away, Éomer's face grew hot. He tried to tell himself that he was too old to feel such nervousness, but with little success. "Nothing. I wonder how far we can part?"

"You would sleep alone?" Haldir looked surprised and maybe a little hurt by the suggestion.

Éomer shook his head. "I care not. But..."

"Let it go. We tested it but a few nights ago. I doubt the distance will have changed in that time."

"We ride to Gondor tomorrow." As much as he wanted to fight the evil there, to help drive it off the face of Middle-Earth, the thought that they could not move apart filled him with unease.

"We will manage as we must." Haldir got into the bed. "Come. Lie down. I will not bite you." Then he grinned, his expression changing, becoming playful. "Unless you ask it of me."

Éomer's face burned and resentment flared. How he hated that Haldir could reduce him to this. "I wish you would not say such things to me."

"It is amusing to see you, a hardened warrior of some standing, blush like a boy." Haldir's laugh was infectious.

Smiling despite himself, Éomer sat on the bed, and pulled his boots off. "You seem to know just what to say. Do you practice?"

"I have said it all before to seduce a lover."

"Would you seduce me now?" Éomer was torn. Had he been free of the bond, he would have found a willing wench to slack his apprehension and lust upon. Remembering too vividly the kiss he and Haldir had shared, he knew that no wench would satisfy him tonight.

"Are you ready to allow it?" Haldir's interest was not feigned, nor was the look of desire in his eyes. "I would touch your fire."

More tension flooded into Éomer. Maybe he could find release in the elf's body. "Fire? Do you think me so passionate as that?"

"I find mortal men's passion, your passion, to burn quite hotly." Haldir grinned, pulling off the last of his clothes. He stood naked and completely at ease before him. "More so, I think because of the shortness of your time."

Impressed, Éomer doubted he could stand thus with as much innate dignity. "Would I not burn you, then?"

"It is the kind of flame I would dance in, glorying in the heat." Haldir's gaze was deep and rich and hot.

Even as the look sent sparks along his spine, Éomer couldn't help but laugh. "Elves are overly poetic sometimes."

"Aren't we though?" Stepping up to him, Haldir slid a hand into his hair, carding his fingers through the strands. "I find the color fascinating. Dark and light, mixed together. Elven hair is not thus."

"The sun bleaches the top," Éomer tried to keep his voice steady, but increasingly, Haldir's presence seemed to set him on edge.

Haldir curled his finger around a lock, and pulled him forward.

Closing his eyes, Éomer felt soft, lush lips close over his own and he groaned. Like flames to kindling, he caught and blazed. Pressing forward, he moved his hands into the golden mass, and anchored Haldir's head, trying to take control.

Haldir would not yield. They struggled fiercely, kissing hard, their tongues pressing and sliding against each other. Haldir's hands caught on his clothes and shoved them out of the way, or pulled them off completely.

Naked at last, they continued their struggle on the wide bed, pressing and fighting and groaning.

Never had Éomer felt this depth of passion, never had he felt this driving desire to make anyone submit to him. And Haldir would not yield, indeed, seemed to be trying to make Éomer acquiesce instead.

It would not happen, Éomer promised himself, pressing into Haldir, who was momentarily beneath him. Almost as soon as the thought occurred, he was on his back again, wrestling for supremacy, Haldir pressing into him.

They rolled again. The heat continuing to build, waves of pleasure washing over him, as he pressed down into Haldir over and over. He would not surrender to it. After too short a time, Éomer felt his body contract sharply, the rush of orgasm flowing through him. Finally, bliss crested through him uncontrollably, and he had no choice left. He threw back his head and cried out, succumbing at last to the moment.

Arching his back beneath him, Haldir also cried out.

Éomer lay on atop Haldir, breathing hard, sweat drying on his sated body. Haldir's hands still stroked him lightly, the after effects pleasantly running through him, Éomer closed his eyes, content to just lie still.

"I suppose that was to be expected," Haldir said, none of his usual smugness in his tone or in his eyes.

"Expected? I didn't expect it to be like that. Not so quick or so bright." Éomer started to move away, and Haldir's hand caught his, and they rolled again.

Haldir on top, his hair spilling down in a golden curtain, but his eyes were tender as he leaned down to softly kiss Éomer. "I didn't either. I should have, though."

"Because you are, oh so experienced?" Éomer snorted, even if he did know it were true.

"As it is true, yes. We have been heading in this direction for some time now. I am surprised you could not see it."

Éomer sighed. The tension between them had to find an outlet. After the shared kiss, he'd been a fool to think it would be other than what it was. "I did not want this."

"You lie. If you tell me you did not enjoy it, I will call you thus again."

Looking away, Éomer could not acknowledge the truth in the words. He said nothing, considering what they had done, absorbing the new experience.

Haldir's naked flesh lay against his, their legs interwoven, their chests and hips pressed together. Every movement of muscle and bone seemed intensified, more real than any touch he'd known before this one. Éomer's hand stroked down Haldir's back. Strange as it was to lie thus, yet, he could not say that it was unpleasant.

Putting a hand on Éomer's face, Haldir moved it to look at him, eyes bright with barely suppressed joy. "Admit that you enjoyed my touch."

Hard pressed to deny him with that smile on his face, Éomer still gave it his best effort. "Never. I admit nothing."

"I could force you to admit it." The leer that accompanied Haldir's words sent a shiver down Éomer's spine.

Éomer knew he fought a losing battle, but was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to give up the fight. "A forced admission is worthless."

"The forcing might be quite enjoyable. I promise you would enjoy it." Haldir wiggled his eyebrows at him.

Laughing despite himself, Éomer took hold of Haldir's wrists and rolled again, pressing him into the bed. "You wish to be forced?"

Haldir leaned up and kissed him hard, his tongue pressing into Éomer's mouth. He pulled away. "No. I said I would force you. If you are a mind to let me."

"If I let you, then it is not forced." The conversation was becoming far too absurd to continue. "That is not what we were talking about."

"No, we were not," Haldir agreed, and met his eyes. "Tell me you enjoyed what we just did."

"Is that so important?"

"Yes." Haldir looked up at him, hair fanned out, eyes soft and genuine.

While he was not sure it was the right thing to have done or that he should do it again, despite how much he wanted to repeat it, he could not lie or joke when asked so sweetly. "I did enjoy it."

"Good." Haldir's expression changed again and Éomer found himself on his back. The long hair tickled his face. "We will do it again."

"Let me up." Éomer made it a command.

For a moment, Haldir hesitated, but when he looked at Éomer, he obeyed. "What is wrong, now?"

"How to explain this," Éomer muttered more to himself as he sat up and leaned against the carved wooden headboard of the bed. "As I have said, amongst the Riders of Rohan, shield brothers are ignored. But..."

"But you have never had one, perhaps?" Sitting up beside him, Haldir's face was serious. "Did you think I did not know this?"

"I have never been interested..."

"Until now." Seemingly without a thought to his nakedness, Haldir got out of bed and moved over to the table that held the wine. He held a goblet up to Éomer. "Would you like some?"

"Yes. Please." He suspected he would need what fortification he could find to get through the coming discussion. "It is the bond that creates this between us."

Returning to the bed, Haldir handed him a goblet of wine. "You may blame it on the healing bond, but think of this: my two brothers shared a healing bond when Rúmil was wounded--"

"You hadn't mentioned that before." Éomer took a deep drink of the wine, savoring the fruity flavor.

"It was a very long time ago. Rúmil was injured in a scuffle with an orc and left for dead on the border of Lothlórien. After much searching, we found him barely alive. The Lady joined him to Orophin and after a few days, they were both well again." Haldir met his eyes. "I assure you, they did not feel about each other as you feel about me."

"As I feel about you?" Éomer asked, dangerously, setting his cup on the bedside table. He could not believe he was alone in this. "You would have me believe that you feel no drawing towards me?"

"No drawing to you?" Haldir stilled, looking at him, his brow arching up. "Surely you joke. You are a most magnificent creature. Filled with light and beauty and fire. I have craved you since I first awoke and saw you. How could I not?"

"Now, you joke at my expense." He simply could not believe Haldir thought so highly of him. "You must."

Shaking his head, Haldir drained the last of his wine, and set down the cup. Reaching out, he touched Éomer's cheek, pushing a lock of hair off his face. "I do not lie. You are most lovely. As well I think you know."

"Not so well as that," Éomer admitted, looking away from the intensity in Haldir's eyes. He knew his appearance was adequate to his needs, but he'd never thought himself worthy of such reverence. "Yet, you've said nothing before this. I do not understand."

Haldir's expression turned amused, but his eyes still shone with fondness. "Is it required that I say it aloud? To let you scorn me? I think not."

"But..." He would have liked to have said he would not have done so, but that probably was not true. After much thought, he could only now accept what they had done together.

"I made my attraction known to you. Is it my fault that you pretended not to see it?"

Éomer thought back to the first few days, and supposed that Haldir had been subtle about it. He had no wish to insult Haldir, and nothing he could say would be anything else. "I did not see it as such."

"You cannot hope to lie to me effectively." Haldir's tone was haughty and superior, but his look was indulgent.

"I can try." Éomer knew he'd never succeed. Haldir's experience made him very wise in the ways of seduction and he felt his lack of the same most gravely.

"If you wish, pen-neth." Putting a hand in Éomer's hair, Haldir fingers carded through the strands.

"Don't call me that," Éomer snapped, pulling away from the touch. Every time he started to feel at all affable towards him, the blasted creature would say something that would pull Éomer back, to remind him this was not a situation of his making or his liking.

Haldir raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you even know what it means?"

"It means young-one, in your common tongue."

Surprise lit Haldir's face. "Do you know my language?"

At least he had managed that much. "I know some. In better days, there was the occasional elf visitor to our hall. I listened, and picked up a bit."

"Then you know that was not an insult. In truth, it is what you are to me." He reached out to touch Éomer again.

"You make it an insult," Éomer said harshly, but allowed the touch to his face.

"I do not." Haldir's fingertips caressed lightly through the hair on his face. "I meant it as an endearment."

Éomer leaned back. The touching made it hard to hold his anger, made it hard for him to think at all. "You would press home the point of the differences in our ages and experience."

Haldir lowered his hands to his lap, looking away. "Those remain. No matter what else happens between us, those things are ever present."

"I would have us deal with each other as equals. One warrior to another." To him, it was the only way they could survive the situation they had found themselves in.

"One warrior to another?" Haldir's asked, clearly amused by the thought. "We can pretend if you would like to. However, we are not equals. There are so many inequalities in our lives that we could not even hope to count them up and divide them out between us."


He cocked his head, a grin on his face. "I did wonder if you knew my name. You so rarely use it."

Looking away, Éomer glanced down at the blanket, his fingers tracing along the border to gain time. What was it about this elf that made him feel so young and foolish? "There is not that much inequality, for one thing evens out the other."

"Your status and my age. To point out just two."

"Yes, I am now presumptive heir to Rohan. And you are older, and presumably wiser than all else. I see those as equaling factors."

"You are a dreamer, Éomer, if you think those do not matter."

Becoming frustrated, Éomer sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Then, I ask you how can we hope to deal with each other with all of this between us?"

"As best that we can." Haldir smiled, and leaned forward to kiss him. "For as long as we can, until we must part."

Allowing it, no, wanting it, Éomer responded to the tender kiss and for a time they did not argue. Haldir's touch was soft and knowing, eliciting responses from Éomer that surprised him with the depth of feeling.

"I do not wish to part from you quite yet," Éomer said, kissing him again.

Passion mounted quickly, and Éomer soon found himself on his back, with Haldir leaning over him, stretched out between his spread thighs.

"I would have you this time. If you will let me?" Haldir asked, desire clear in his blue eyes.

"Have me? As in..." Éomer gulped. He had hoped to have Haldir and had not thought about allowing him to do that to him.

Haldir seemed to read his thoughts. "I will yield, but only after you do."

That did not seem quite right to him. "Why must I go first?"

Kissing him softly, Haldir's hands made a good case for allowing him whatever he wanted. "Because I will show you how to love this way."

"I understand how it works." He sighed as the caresses grew bolder, touching him with alarming accuracy and much tenderness.

"I would make sure you know how. It is not always perfect or comfortable the first time."

"Do you even remember your first times?"

"Dimly. Elves possess very long memories." Leaning down, Haldir nibbled along his jaw and down his neck.

It was becoming increasingly difficult for Éomer to breathe, let alone to think. "I am not afraid of pain, but I would not willingly submit to it."

"I can promise you that I will not hurt you."

Something in the phrasing surprised Éomer. He would have thought Haldir would assure him how good it would be. Pushing at him, Éomer moved just far enough that some thought could return. "Would you be lying to me to say thus?"

"Possibly." Haldir's face was serious, eyes honest. "I have the knowledge and skill to see that you enjoy what I would do to you. But you must relax and let yourself do so or all my skill will be for naught."

Éomer appreciated that. Despite all of his reservations, one thing was clear to him: he wanted Haldir. If he were being truthful about equality between them, then he would have to submit as well. Maybe it was better to face his fears first and get it over with. "All right."

Haldir pressed him down into the bedding, kissing him deeply. The preparations were lengthy, drawn out and quite marvelous. Éomer squirmed and writhed under Haldir's touch. His mouth and hands went to places Éomer would not have believed anyone would ever touch, causing such amazing pleasure that he was left gasping.

The moment came when Haldir deemed him ready, oiled and stretched. Éomer was not fond of the position he found himself in, on his hands and knees, exposed. Still, the pleasure of the preliminaries hummed through him, and he wanted something he could not even name. Unfortunately, the pleasure faded quickly as Haldir tried to enter his body.

"It burns," Éomer complained through his gritted teeth. Much more so than he'd expected it to.

Haldir ran a gentle hand along his back. "Relax, Éomer. The burn will ease."

"How am I to relax when you are trying to shove into me something that will not fit?" Sweat had broken out over his body with the first breaching and had continued as he struggled against what was happening.

"If you will but relax, it will fit."

"I think you are incorrect." Éomer could feel him slide in a little more and the burn increased. He held his breath to keep from calling out.

"Why must you make this so difficult?" Exasperation laced Haldir's tone, and he pressed a kiss to the small of Éomer's back.

If it hadn't hurt so much, Éomer would have laughed. "It is not I who is making things difficult."

"If you would cooperate with me..."

"If I were not cooperating, you would not be torturing me now." Éomer shifted, sweat dripping from him as he tried to manage the pain. "I feel as if you are splitting me in half."

"I am not." Haldir's hands moved soothingly over Éomer's belly and flanks. "Please relax. There can be no joy for me, if I hurt you."

The soft tone surprised him and Éomer took another breath and let it out slowly. The burn lessened infinitesimally. "I'm trying."

"Try harder." Haldir held both of his hips and eased the rest of the way in. "Press back against me."

That did help. "Somewhat better."

"Good." He pulled out slowly and then pushed back in.

The burn returned, but not nearly so badly.

"All right?" Haldir asked after a few more strokes.

"Fine." Éomer resigned himself to allowing this. He would not ask for that which he did not give, he reminded himself as Haldir moved slowly in him.

Was this what a woman felt when a man did not take care with her? The thought bothered him on many levels. Haldir should have known how to do this better. Even as he contemplated it, he knew he wasn't being fair.

Haldir sild into him again, changing his angle slightly, this time raking over a spot deep inside that lit up Éomer's body with sparkling sensations.

Involuntarily, he gasped out loud.

"Ah. Good. I was beginning to think you did not have such a spot." The surety of the tone would have annoyed Éomer greatly had not Haldir hit that spot again, and by the time he'd recovered, Éomer had forgotten about his grievances.

A few more times over it and Éomer remembered nothing else save the feeling and the need for more of it. "More. Faster. Now," he ordered pressing back into each thrust, losing himself in the sensations, the total bliss of each movement.

When the passion crested, Éomer gave everything he was and everything he would ever be to the moment, crying out sharply. He came hard, harder than he could ever remember doing. Behind him, Haldir also cried out his pleasure and they both went down in a tangle of arms and legs.

"So, was I correct?" Haldir asked, his breath still coming in pants.

"You were correct. The pleasure was..." It took Éomer a moment to think of how to express what he was feeling. "Intense. No. It was more than that, but I have no words to describe what it was."

"Sometimes there are none. It is better to just enjoy it." Haldir leant in to kiss him again. "I would have you do that with me."

That was why he'd agreed in the first place. "I would do so."

"Do you think that you would like to repeat it this way?" The question was honestly asked, and Haldir did not seem at all sure of the answer.

"I would." Éomer wanted to hide his face as he said it, embarrassed, by both the admission and the desire that raced up his spine at the idea of having Haldir possess him again.

"It would seem that you wish it were not so. If you enjoyed it so, why are you ashamed?" Haldir's continued amusement only added to his humiliation.

He would not meet Haldir's eyes. "You used me like a mare, and I am not."

Haldir laughed outright. Éomer felt his face heat further and his anger rise. He tired to pull away, but Haldir easily held him as he struggled. It was easy to forget how strong Haldir was.

"I'm sorry," Haldir whispered against his cheek his hand stroking along his shoulders. "I forget how young you are sometimes."

"My age has nothing to do with this," Éomer snapped, annoyed at the condescension, his nascent desire ebbing. "I will not do this with you."

Petting his hair, Haldir kissed his neck softly. "I am sorry. Truly. Pleasure is to be shared. How it occurs no longer matters so much to me."

"How can you say that?" Éomer was stunned. "I allowed you to dominate me and worse yet, I enjoyed it."

"Who was saying more and harder? Who was obeying the commands?"

"You were still..." Éomer trailed off, not yet ready to admit what Haldir was trying to tell him.

"What? Inside you? Atop you? If you were with a woman and she asked to go or to stop or to move in a certain way, would you not accommodate her?"

"I would. But it would be my choice to do so."

"Ah, so it is control we speak of."

Éomer felt his face heat again. "Yes. Of course it is."

"As you now see, there is exhilaration in surrender, too."

All he knew was at war with what he had found. He looked at Haldir, thinking he was as dominant a creature as Éomer had ever met. Strong and sure of himself. "Do you? Have you?"

Seriously, Haldir met his eyes and held them, making it a challenge. "Yes. Of course I have. It is my greatest joy to find a lover who will accept my surrender."

Éomer's heart beat faster and he continued to hold Haldir's eyes. Leaning forward, he put both hands on Haldir's face, kissing him softly. "Soon."


Before the dawn, Éomer awoke, wrapped warmly in someone's arms. His mind supplied who and a few choice details. He sighed. Still torn on all the issues he'd had to start with, he could not deny how greatly he had enjoyed what he'd done and what was done to him last night. Turning, he caught the just waking Haldir in a long kiss.

He could feel Haldir start as the kiss deepened, and then his answer to it. Calloused fingers trailed freely over Éomer's body, eliciting a sharp response, desire surging. Anticipation sang through him, and Éomer rolled, pinning Haldir beneath him. His hands slid into Haldir's hair, holding him for another deep kiss.

"My turn, I think." Éomer looked down, waiting for permission.

Haldir's eyes crinkled at the corners with his amusement. "As you please."

Bending back down, he kissed Haldir's neck, nibbling along the flesh he found, upwards towards a pointed ear. Taking the tip into his mouth, he sucked on it, his tongue flicking over the tip.

Beneath him, Haldir bucked suddenly, a deep moan escaping him. His hands tightened on Éomer's buttocks, no doubt leaving bruises.

Éomer raked his teeth lightly over the tip, and Haldir's response was similarly ecstatic. Filing the knowledge away for future reference, Éomer moved back along his neck, and jaw, kissing and nipping.

With the same thoroughness he used for tracking, Éomer explored Haldir's body, noting differences and similarities between them. That he'd never thought to do this with a male did not change the fact that he was doing it and hoped to do it well. He would not allow himself to be found lacking as a lover.

From the sounds Haldir was making, he judged he would receive no complaints. Éomer applied his hands and then his mouth in ways he never believed he would. Knowing what he liked helped, and he picked up the rhythm fairly well, but he was not nearly so graceful as he would have hoped.

Under his touch, Haldir groaned and shivered, finally putting a hand on his head to signal he was close. Éomer let it happen as it would, surprised by the taste, bitter and slick, but not so bad as that. He would do it again -- if for no other reason than to hear Haldir cry out his name in just that helpless tone of voice.

First though, he would do a few other things. Kissing Haldir deeply as he came back to himself, Éomer rolled him over onto his belly. He stroked his fingers down the indentation of Haldir's spine. His skin was smooth, like silk over steel.

Despite his astonishing lack of constraint where Haldir was concerned, there were a few caresses that Éomer was not quite ready to try yet. Reaching for the oil on the bedside table, Éomer spread it on his fingers. Haldir opened for him nearly immediately.

It took all of Éomer's control not to come like a virgin as soon as he was sheathed, the heat and tightness disarming him completely. He shuddered and forced a breath into his lungs, his hands gripping Haldir's hips hard. Pressing in slowly, deeply, Éomer moved with great care, looking to give the same magic he'd received last night.

When Haldir gasped, he knew he'd found what he sought. Thrusting firmly, steadily, Éomer held back as long as he could, his hands pleasuring Haldir as he moved on him. Pleasure and tension built in him, higher and tighter than he'd had a chance to allow it go, breaking only when he heard Haldir cry out again.

He groaned out loud, and allowed himself to be carried away by the fire and light of his passion. With a deep breath, he moved off Haldir, petting him gently and gathering him into his arms.

"Very good." Haldir said in a hazy, sleepy voice. "You ride well."

Closing his eyes, Éomer was torn between laughter and embarrassment. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"To be certain. I would like to enjoy it again."

"Not just now, I think." As if to punctuate the point, there was a knock at their door. Sitting up, Éomer groaned again. He reached for his robe, and threw the blankets back over Haldir. "Cover yourself."

"If you wish," Haldir said drowsily.

Éomer answered the door. A page told him that breakfast was on and his uncle wished to speak to him. "We must dress."

"So it would seem." Haldir sat up and stretched his arms above his head. "Let me see to your hair."

"My hair?" Éomer pushed it out of his face. "What would you do to it?"

"I would braid it away from your face to keep it neat." Haldir motioned for him to sit on the bed.

"I wear a helm; that should keep it in check." At Haldir's look, Éomer sat down anyway. "Fine. Do as you please."

Feeling Haldir's fingers in his hair, desire started to rise again, but he tramped it down. He would need to think on this new twist of his life. Now, however, was not the time.

Part 3

The company left Dunharrow and rode swiftly to Edoras, stopping only a short time there, before heading onward toward Gondor as fast as they might. Six thousand rode behind King Théoden. What remained of the elven archers had been added to the Eastern unit that Éomer commanded. He and Haldir rode together at the head of the column.

Éomer glanced quickly at Haldir, a prickle of desire sliding through him with the accuracy of an arrow. He was glad of his helm and the coolness of the wind, for he would not have anyone see his thoughts written on his face.

The ride was hard physically, but allowed his mind some time to think. He could not decide what he should do. By the time they bedded down for a few hours of sleep on the hard ground, Éomer was too tired to worry about it anymore.

Haldir lay close to him, wrapped in his own cloak. As tired as he was, Éomer found sleep elusive. He turned, and saw Haldir did not sleep either. The sounds of the camp settling down, and the occasional sigh of pleasure surrounded them.

"You must sleep," Haldir whispered. "Tomorrow--"

"Will no doubt be another hard day. Yes, I am aware of that." Éomer knew he should not speak thus, but he did not care to be admonished.

"I meant no offense, only concern." There was annoyance, exasperation, and something else in Haldir's hushed voice.

"I know. I am sorry."

"What troubles you so?"

"Nothing. I am as well as can be expected." Given they rode toward a battle they would probably not win.

"Do you think on what happened last night?" Almost tentatively, Haldir moved a little closer to him.

"That does not trouble me overmuch." Éomer moved a little closer too, telling himself he was cold and knowing it for a lie.

"Come," Haldir held up his cloak.

Hesitating, Éomer took a breath and then gave into what he wanted. "Nothing now."

"Of course not." Haldir kissed him lightly on the brow as he settled.

Sleep came much easer in Haldir's arms.

In the hours that followed the battle of Pelennor Fields, there was much confusion. Éomer shoved aside his grief for his uncle and the worry for his sister, to work with his uncle's, no Éomer corrected his thought painfully, his marshals to get camp set up. Even though they could not be more than fifty feet apart, Haldir did not interfere with his work; indeed since the battle he had not seen Haldir at all.

Coming back into the tent they would share, after talking to the last of his marshals, Éomer found Haldir singing softly to himself as he notched and cleaned his arrows. The sweetness of both Haldir's voice and the melody enraged him. "How dare you sing, now?"

"What do you have a problem with?" Haldir asked in his most sneering tone. "Surely you can see I am busy?"

Éomer glanced pointedly looking at the work Haldir did. "This is unimportant!"

Haldir turned to look at him, his face carefully devoid of any expression. "I grow weary of you. I grow weary of your complaints. Leave me. Return to your marshals."

Anger bristled through him. He would not suffer to be ordered as if he were a recalcitrant child. "Do not begin to speak to me so."

"Then remain silent whilst I tend to my weapons and sing for my dead. Or have you forgotten just how many more elves fell today?"

"Less than men, I would say." Éomer winced inwardly at his own harsh tone. Even with so few as were there, the elven warriors made a difference, helping to hold off Sauron's forces until Aragorn could arrive.

"Only because they had already died saving Rohan." Fury etched in Haldir's face, and he took a menacing step forward. "Leave me."

"Nay." Éomer took another step closer, and they faced each other, chest to chest, breathing hard. "I will not."

"Then I shall leave you."

As Haldir made a move to leave, Éomer gripped his arm and glaring at him. "No," Éomer growled. "You will not."

Haldir's eyes flashed, dangerously. "Let me go before I do something we shall both regret."

Éomer's rage doubled. Almost of its own volition, his fist curled and he drew back, and hit Haldir in the face. Pain radiated up his arm, and Haldir held his ground. There were few enough men who could withstand a hit of that force and remain on their feet. Despite everything, some part of Éomer was impressed.

"Is that all you have to say? To answer words with violence? How young you are. I fear for Rohan as you are her king," Haldir spat, with utter contempt, seeming to have reached the limit of his patience.

Blind now with fury, Éomer stuck out again. This time, Haldir caught his arm and he could not follow through. He struggled against the hold, but could not break it, surprised again to find such strength in Haldir's slender body.

"You will yield." Haldir pushed him without letting go, and he had to take a step back to remain on his feet.

"I will not." Éomer growled frustrated, pushing back hard.

For a time, he struggled with Haldir, pushing and clawing for purchase, remaining upright with great difficulty. After several more shoves, they both went down, their scuffle continuing. Éomer was breathing hard, indignation and heartache making him blind to all else. He was going to show Haldir who was in charge this time, or die in the trying.

Then, just as suddenly, they were kissing instead, hard, passionately. Desire was too strong to deny, too strong to fight. Éomer pushed Haldir flat, hands moving to his clothes, tearing them when they did not give way immediately.

Éomer's hands were not gentle as the clutched at Haldir. Lying beneath him, Haldir responded to his demands, yielding to him, allowing him to possess what he required.

He took Haldir hard, pausing only long enough to minimally prepare him, for even in his outrage and sorrow, he would not hurt him. Thrusting in deeply, he moved on Haldir, pushing in and pulling out until he knew nothing beyond the movement of his body and that of the body beneath him.

Haldir gave everything to him, allowing Éomer to have what he would take. Crying out in his exhilaration, Haldir let loose a wordless bellow of pleasure that filled the tent and Éomer was sure that those around the heard it as well. Still, he did not care as he moved inexorably toward his own completion. When it took him, he wept in grief and rage and passion.

Even as passion ebbed, he could not stop.

Turning, Haldir embraced him, holding onto him tightly. Éomer wept bitterly against Haldir's chest, tears flowing freely at last. Haldir murmured incomprehensible words of comfort to him softly, soothingly.

"You let me do that to you. Why?" he asked when his tears had finished and he could talk again.

"I have ever said that I would dance in the flames of your passion." Haldir's arms loosened about him, and his fingers traced delicately along Éomer's spine.

He shivered at the touch, passion spent, the after effects still pulsing through him. "Do elves not feel great passion?"

The look on Haldir's face was one of great indulgence. "Oh, we do. Not as Men do. Not as you do."

"Did I hurt you?"

"That I would not allow." Haldir met his eyes and then nodded towards the tent opening. "You must see to your troops. There will be no secrets in this camp."

"I suspect that there were few to start with." Éomer reluctantly moved out of Haldir's embrace.

Haldir looked at him, expression concerned. "Are you bothered by that?"

There was no time to consider it yet. "Not at present."

"I think that you shall be."

"Truly, I do not know." He touched Haldir's smooth cheek, cupping his face. "I only know that was kindly done."

Haldir leaned into Éomer's touch and smiled. "Have I not told you that elves are noble creatures?"

"I am inclined to agree with you now." Leaning forward, he kissed Haldir softly. "We must dress."

"We have barely undressed." Haldir said, looking pointedly at his torn tunic, and leggings pooled around his ankles.

Éomer looked at Haldir and then back down at himself. He threw back his head and laughed. After a moment, Haldir joined him.

After meeting with Gandalf, Aragorn and the other captains, Éomer had agreed to lead his riders and troops to the Black Gate for what would be their final battle against Sauron. It was a battle he knew they could not hope to win.

He found time to walk through the city to see his sister. Her injuries still plagued her. Returning to his tent, Éomer was tired from too much grief and too little hope. At his side all day, Haldir had lent him much needed support.

"I thank you for today," Éomer said. "Your help was greatly appreciated."

Haldir stepped forward, standing in front on him. "Which parts of today? I seem to recall much help provided."

"All of it, I think." Éomer looked away and then back at him. "I am grateful for your presence."

"You are most welcome."

It seemed to Éomer that Haldir wished to reach out, but for some reason, restrained himself. Inclining his head, Éomer focused on Haldir, detecting a hesitance where normally there was none. "Do you wait for leave?"

"I do," Haldir said, his expression as always impassive.

Éomer found that odd. "Since when do you require it?"

"Since you became the King of the Rohan," came Haldir's simple reply.

"Would that it were not so," Éomer whispered, his chest tightening and he had to close his eyes for a moment.

"You do not wish to rule?" Haldir raised an eyebrow in question. "Or you do not wish me to wait for leave?"

"You need no leave to touch me." Éomer fell silent. Until very recently, it had never occurred to him that he would rule. Now he would have to make his own way, without guidance. "I always believed I would serve Théodred after Théoden. I loved him as a brother."

"His passing grieves you." Haldir's expression said he understood.

"His, and now my uncle's, whom I loved as a father." He felt hot tears flood his eyes and he turned his head away, mortified. He'd shed enough tears already. "I fear for my sister."

Haldir's hand was gentle as he turned Éomer's head back and kissed him sweetly. "There is no shame or weakness in tears. They cleanse the soul of the hurts it suffers."

Giving him a wan smile, Éomer blinked several times, trying desperately to get himself under control. "How is it that you always know what I am thinking? Do you read my mind?"

"I can guess from the look on your face that you are not comfortable with your emotions. It has been a grievously hard day for you today."

Éomer nodded. "It has not been an easy day for anyone."

"You sister lives. Take hope in that."

"I will go into the city again tomorrow to see her before we depart for Mordor." Éomer closed his eyes.

Nodding, Haldir took him into his arms and held him tightly, whispering to him. "The next battle shall see the end of our quest. One way or another."

Éomer tightened his hold on Haldir. "I suspect we will buy the halflings time to destroy the ring with our lives."

"If they can complete their task, then I shall consider it to be well spent."

"Very true." He sighed into Haldir's neck, clinging to his warmth. "If they fail, then there is no hope left."

Part 4

At the Black Gate, the battle first seemed hopeless, but then the tides changed. The halflings destroyed the ring, and the war was won.

After that, Éomer could do nothing more than follow the chain of events: the long, jubilant march back to Minas Tirith; the honoring of Frodo and Sam; Gandalf putting the crown of Gondor on Aragorn's head.

The day before he was to leave the White City, Éomer had a final meeting with Aragorn. Many people witnessed their embrace and each said a few words to seal their formal bond of friendship.

After a time, Aragorn led him off to the side of the hall where they might speak privately for a few minutes. Éowyn and Faramir also moved away from the crowded hall to say their more private good-byes.

Tracking Haldir's progress, Éomer watched him stop to converse with Legolas and Gimli, both of whom would remain with Aragorn.

"You leave tomorrow for Edoras?" Aragorn pulled his pipe from his doublet and a bag of leaf.

"We do. The healing of my land must start and I must be there to see it happen." There was so much to do, so much caring for the lands and his people that had to be attended to, Éomer felt ill-prepared to even grasp the task in front of him.

Aragorn nodded, great understanding in his eyes. His lands too, lay in ruins and would require much restoration. "I am sorry you will miss my wedding."

"I am as well. Would that I could be here, but time does not allow it. I shall return presently. I will be honored meet the Lady Arwen when she stays at Edoras before coming on to Minas Tirith." Elladan and Elrohir were to ride back to Edoras with Éomer's company, and then escort Arwen and Elrond back to Minas Tirith for the wedding.

For a time, they were silent, watching the people milling about.

"I see things have changed between you and Haldir," Aragorn said, smiling with approval. He lit the pipe and sucked on it.

Éomer was confused. "Of what, exactly, do you speak?"

With one finger, Aragorn traced the braids that pulled Éomer's hair back from his face. "Every elf who has seen you knows what those mean."

"What do the braids mean?" He kept his voice level, without inflection.

"They are elven love braids." Aragorn looked thoughtfully at him. "You and Haldir are not lovers?"

Closing his eyes, embarrassment washed through him. Éomer thought back on all the elves he'd had dealings with in the last few weeks. Elladan and Elrohir had smiled so mysteriously at him and now it made sense. "We are, but--"

"But you did not wish it told? Would you hide your affections?" Now, Aragorn sounded disapproving as he took another puff on his pipe.

Fairly so. Éomer sighed. "I suspect I have few secrets left where he is concerned. However, he did not bother to mention to me what it meant."

"Would you have allowed it, had he asked?"

With a shrug of his shoulders, Éomer stopped to consider the question carefully. "When first he braided my hair, perhaps not. But now. I would not deny it."

"So, finally, you admit you have feelings for him?"

"You seem unsurprised by this revelation. Is it so common amongst other peoples? It is barely tolerated in Rohan."

"I think it is more tolerated than you would believe. Amongst most peoples." Aragorn sounded like he knew this for a fact. "Amongst the elves it is commonplace."

"I gathered as much." Éomer sighed again. "I find it hard to believe of myself. That I have allowed this to happen."

Aragorn chuckled with considerable good nature. "Elves are hard to resist. It is not so bad a thing to have an elven lover."

Feeling young and foolish, Éomer could not look at him. "It is not the elf part that concerns me."

"Ah. So, were Haldir a female elf, all would be well?"

"Although I like him as he is and would not change him, even if I could, it would still make my choices easier."

"I would not make such a distinction," Aragorn said, with some certainty.

Éomer looked at Aragorn. "Thus you have implied in the past. I find that hard to believe."

Aragorn chuckled. "Do you think that I have never known the taste of male flesh?"

"I would not have thought so, despite your implication. You love elsewhere."

"'Tis true that I have loved my lady since I was but twenty, but we have been apart for much of that time."

"You have known others in that time?" Éomer could not imagine being forced to that.

"It is no few years we speak of, my friend." Aragorn met his eyes. "It was near to thirty years before Arwen accepted my suit. And nearly forty more to bring us to this point."

"I had not realized that you were that old." Éomer tried to keep his voice neutral, astonished to learn Aragorn's true age.

Aragorn shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "Númenórean blood."

"You have loved others then?"

"Not loved, no, for only my lady do I adore." Aragorn sighed. "But when the need was great, I found my comfort amongst those who would have me."

"Oh." Éomer felt a moment's shock at that, and knew he was being foolish. "I know such comfort exists amongst the Riders of the Mark, as well."

"But never for you?"

He grinned ruefully and shook his head. "I would blame it on the bond."

"But you do not?"

"I do not know. It exists still, between us, but when I look at him..." Éomer trailed off, embarrassed to admit how deeply his attraction ran, how intensely Haldir affected him.

"The plainest elf is more than passing fair. When they are truly exquisite, they are beyond what words can begin to describe."

"They are that." Éomer's breath caught as he watched Haldir laugh at something Legolas said to him. He shook his head at his own folly. "I find him beyond magnificent."

Aragorn smiled in understanding. "When they choose to be, they are the most loving and loyal of companions." "

"Ah, but therein lies the problem. I am not his choice. Nor, truly, he mine."

"You would deny him?" Aragorn looked at him, confusion now in his face.

"I do not have that choice, nor does he."

"The distance you may be apart continues to grow greater." Aragorn folded his arms over his chest. "This bond will fade yet."

"Hope that it does not. For when it does, I think it shall break my heart."

"Only if you allow it."

"I am not sure I shall have a choice at all."

Aragorn sighed, looking exasperated. "Come, let us go back and have dinner."

The ride back to Edoras was uneventful. When he arrived in the city, he stood outside the golden hall and many people gathered around.

"All hail, Éomer, King of the Mark," cried out Gamling.

Everyone around him knelt as Éomer stood with a crown on his head, his heart beating hard in his chest. Closing his eyes for a moment, he prayed to be worthy of this task. "Arise." He spoke firmly.

Later, he sat on the carved wooden throne, in the great golden hall, and one by one his marshals knelt before him. They offered their swords, swearing fealty to him. Accepting each as if it were his due, Éomer felt unequal to the role and the deference paid him.

In the days that followed, putting his kingdom back into order seemed to take all of Éomer's energy and time. Spending less time in the saddle than he did at his desk, he attempted to put the many ills of Rohan to right. He read report after report on the progress of rebuilding, replanting, and replenishing.

Soon, he would return to Minas Tirith to bring his uncle home, but the endless streams of details seemed to weigh him down more each day.

"My lord," Gamling said, after bowing. He set a book in front of Éomer. "This is the register of accounts."

Éomer looked at him. His knowledge of numbers was only fair. "All right. What exactly would you like me to do with it?"

Gamling cleared his throat. "Hama died at Helm's Deep. He kept the record last on Grima's command."

"Do you not know how it is used?"

"No, sire."

Éomer opened the book and looked at it. Rows and columns of numbers. He could make no sense of it.

"If I may, my lord?" Haldir appeared at his side. He seemed to hover around the edges of whatever room Éomer found himself in.

Gamling took a step back and looked wary. He had never been rude or in anyway unpleasant to Haldir, but his discomfort was plain.

Éomer looked at Haldir. "Do you understand accounts?"

"Yes. I spent a few decades as my lord Celeborn's seneschal."

"A few decades?" he asked, reminding himself that elven time was different than time in the Mark.

"Yes, my lord. When I was much younger. I did not care to stay in the city after my brothers left to guard the northern border. I missed them too much and my lord let me go to them."

"You are a guest here." Gamling said, looking even more discomfited. "We could not ask--"

"Do you think you can make sense of this for me?" Éomer asked Haldir. He closed the book and pushed it towards Haldir, but Gamling was right. "You need not do this."

"I would help you in any way that I could." Haldir smiled at him in such a way that Éomer had come to know had nothing to do with helping him with accounts.

Clearing his throat, he tried hard not to think about the promise in Haldir's eyes. "You will have my endless gratitude."

Looking at Gamling, Haldir smiled, then leaned forward and whispered into Éomer's ear, "I thought I already had that, and other things as well."

Despite himself, Éomer laughed. "Possibly. Go."

Haldir picked up the ledger and inclined his head. "As you wish."

He disappeared into the room next door.

"My lord. I have another matter I would discuss with you," Gamling said, looking down at the floor and then back at the door through which Haldir had gone through.

"And that is?" Éomer asked, warning in this tone. He would hear nothing derogatory about Haldir.

"You have not moved into the king's chambers."

His chest tightened and Éomer nodded. "I shall not take those rooms until my uncle has been laid to his final rest."

"Yes, sire." Gamling remained standing, clearly gathering his courage around him. "What about the elf?"

Éomer sighed. He should have seen the question coming. "What about Haldir?"

"Does he move into the rooms with you?"

He did not hesitate in his answer. "Since we can't be parted, I would say that he does."

Gamling's face turned red and he looked away. "Yes, my lord."

A knock on his office door sometime later startled Éomer from his work. "Come in."

"It is time for supper," Haldir said, coming into the room and around the desk, leaning against it. "You work too hard."

"I have a lot to do." Éomer pushed his chair back, and looked up at Haldir. "Did you make sense of the ledger?"

His face grim and angry, Haldir nodded. "If I am not completely mistaken, Grima Wormtongue has been robbing your kingdom blind for some time."

Anger washed through Éomer, but not surprise. His finger twitched with the desire to do severe harm to Grima. "He was as evil as he was weak. Would that there had been more punishment for him for his crimes."

"I can only hope that there will be." Haldir crossed his arms over his chest. "However, you are not without assets, so the situation is not as grave as it could be. I will have to look further for a more detailed report."

Éomer put his hand on Haldir's arm, squeezing a little. "Do you truly not mind being put to work like this?"

"I do not. I am not one for an idle life. I would be working, were I home." Haldir looked into his eyes. "The war is done. The time had come for healing of the land and its people.

"This is not your land. These are not you people." He said it as kindly as he could, and some part of him wished it were not so.

"No, they are not. However, I would help you, if I am able."

"I appreciate it." Éomer stood and leaned forward, pressing his mouth softly to Haldir's. For a moment, he let himself get lost in the taste and the feel of the kiss, and in Haldir's arms holding him. Then, because he had to, he pulled back. "We must eat."

"So we must. Come." Haldir took his hand, and led him to the door, letting go before they went out into the hall.

Éomer chose an éored of his finest men to accompany him, his sister, and Haldir back to Minas Tirith to retrieve his uncle's body. Much work had gone into preparations for Théoden's final ride home. The journey there took only a few days. The journey home, with the accompanying entourage, took fifteen.

After the Rohirrim said their grave good-byes to their fallen king, singing to his memory, many of the elves gathered, including Haldir, sang a sad lament of some length and much beauty in his honor as well. Éomer had tears on his cheeks by the time they had finished, as did many of the others gathered.

The thing that tore his heart the worst was seeing young Merry Brandybuck weeping on his uncle's mound, saying he was like a father. Théoden had that effect. He had been good to Éomer when he and his sister had come to live with him.

As was the tradition, once the sadness had passed, there was a great feast and Éomer announced the glad tidings of Éowyn's betrothal. He loved his sister well, and was glad to see her finally settled with someone who would make her happy. Some part of him wished he had as much hope for his own happiness, but it did not seem so likely to him.

Looking across the hall, he spied Haldir deep in conversation with the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood. Haldir nodded and then knelt before them. Celeborn put a hand on his head, smoothing back his hair as one would a child.

Éomer did not care to see his arrogant elf upon his knees before anyone, even if it were to his own Lord. Presently, Haldir rose, laughing brightly at something the Lady said to him.

It did belatedly occur to Éomer that Haldir was not his elf and that he had no say to whom Haldir gave his service or devotion. That did not settle well in his belly, either.

Later, when Haldir returned to their rooms, Éomer caught him in an ardent embrace, kissing him passionately. Desire rushing through him, he slid his hands along Haldir's body, touching him through his clothes.

Haldir grinned merrily at him when they pulled apart. "To what do I owe such an honor?"

"I wished to kiss you, is that so unusual?"

"Not under most circumstances; however, this seems a little premeditated." Haldir laughed and kissed him quickly before stepping back.

"Perhaps it is a statement of my intentions." Catching his eyes and holding them, Éomer's whole body throbbed with need. "If you are of a mind to allow me my way tonight."

"I think I could be persuaded." The light and joy on Haldir's face said he was more than willing.

"I shall do my poor best to do so, then." Éomer pressed him back against the bed, gently lowering him onto it.

"I am ever at your service."

When he had taken all he could take, and given as much, Éomer held Haldir to him, kissing him deeply.

"Did you enjoy your time with your kin?"

"I did. I only wish that my two brothers had accompanied the Lord and Lady on this journey."

"Why did they not?"

"They care not for travel from the woods. It has ever been such. They do not speak much Westron either, so it makes it more difficult."

"You, I think, are different."

"Yes. I have traveled abroad much in my life. I enjoy new experiences."

"I am relieved to hear that, since all you have had these last few months is new, I think."

"New and old. Much I have done." Raising up on an elbow, Haldir looked down at him. "You are a new experience."

"Good or bad?"

"Mostly good." Haldir grinned at him. "Very good at times."

"Shall we try for better?" Éomer asked, rolling Haldir over and kissing him deeply.

In the shade of an old tree, Éomer found Galadriel sitting on a bench. The garden courtyard of the previous queen was shabby with lack of tending, the flower beds overgrown, the rose bushes heavy with thorns and weeds. It was one of many things that needed rejuvenation in his lands.

Galadriel, however, would put any garden to shame. Each time he looked at her, he was astonished by her ethereal beauty. She looked up as he approached, and with a nod, her maidens left silently.

"You wished to speak with me, my lady?" Éomer asked. King of the Mark he might be, but she was as mighty and as old as the forests, and deserving of much respect. He had come to her at her bidding; he would do so for no one else.

"I thank you for you indulgence." She waved her hand to the bench she sat on. "Come and sit by me, young king."

"It is my honor, my lady." Éomer inclined his head. With so many people in the hall, it was pleasant to find a moment of quiet to speak to anyone. Sitting beside her, he felt his youth more so than he had with anyone else save Elrond himself. "What may I do for you?"

"I would speak to you of Haldir." Galadriel looked up at him. "He is very dear to us. He has asked for and been granted permission to leave his duties in Lothlórien."

"He had said he would ask." Éomer wanted to say he was sorry, but he wasn't. That Haldir would remain with him filled his heart with great joy.

"It is his reasoning that concerns me."

"The bond?" Éomer felt unaccountably nervous. "It makes parting impossible."

Galadriel looked at him, and he felt her gaze to his very bones. "There are many things that make parting impossible. However, the bond you speak of is not amongst those things. It was never meant for humans to share with elves."

"I understand." He could not look into her eyes. "It is done now, and cannot be undone."

"Nay, young king, it is not." Her voice was only a whisper on the wind, but it penetrated everything around the small courtyard. "For the bond has faded with the passing of time, as it was meant to do."

"My lady, it has not." Even as he would deny it, Éomer was not sure. The very thought brought a clenching of his heart and he would not have it so.

"When was the last time you tested it?" Galadriel glanced around. "You are parted from him now."

"Yes. It has been a few weeks since we have needed to be in the same room." Éomer sighed. "When we tested it last, we could walk the length of the hall, but could not go beyond it." He had been so relieved when he had finally encountered the familiar barrier. He dreaded the testing now, rather than the restrictions.

"Were you to test it now, you would find it more faded still."

"But there?" Éomer could not help the pleading in his tone. "Could it still be there?"

"It might be. I think that if you tried to go through it now, you would find that you could."

"I did try it once and would not do so again." Éomer shuddered, remembering the pain of the attempt. How long ago that seemed to him now.

"The bond was strong then. If it still exists, it is very faded and someday it will fade completely." Galadriel smiled at him. "There are other more permanent bonds that could be given and received that would bind you and him, soul to soul for all eternity."

Éomer looked out at the leaves blowing along the stones. "I would have to choose this. And I cannot."

"I see. As long as you can assign the blame to the healing bond, you may continue to love Haldir. However, of your own free will, you do not." Her tone carried scorn and disappointment. "I think he deserves better than that."

Blinking the sting out of his eyes, Éomer nodded. Haldir did deserve better. "My lady, please understand. I must marry. I must sire an heir for my kingdom."

"You need not marry to sire an heir," she pointed out gently. "You are correct, though. Your duty is first to your people."

Éomer knew this. It was the first tenet of his life. "I would not have it thus. I would choose him if I could."

"The world is changing. You must change with it. The elves will fade and go into the west." She stood. "Think hard on your decisions, Éomer. For if your heart is true, you may find a way."

"Yes, my lady."

"If you decide with your heart, come to Lothlórien before the next year is gone. I shall offer you the binding you desire. And it will not fade with the passing of time."

"Would that I could," Éomer said, taking her hand and kissing it. "Thank you, my lady, for your kind words."

For a long time after the lady left him, Éomer neglected the responsibilities to his other guests, and sat looking out at the Mark, watching the debris scattered across the plain.

Serving his people would be a heavy duty, one that he would not willingly shirk from, but right now, he wanted nothing more than to have his heart's desire.

As if the thought could conjure, Haldir found him a moment later. "Your guests ask where you are, my lord." His voice was chiding, yet ever indulgent.

"I suppose that they do." Wearily, Éomer stood.

Haldir looked at him and smiled, the wind fluttering his hair around his face. "Come, then. See to them."

"I will." Éomer was stuck by the tender regard in Haldir's eyes and he touched a braid at his temple. "You are very beautiful."

Haldir's eyes twinkled. "I did wonder if you noticed that."

"I am remiss in telling you? Forgive me." Éomer looked around and then leaned forward to kiss Haldir's mouth.

"You are ever forgiven." Haldir stroked his fingers through the hair of Éomer's beard and smiled. "Do not forget to tell me again."

"I shall not." He touched Haldir's braids a second time. "You did not tell me what these meant."

"So, you know now." Haldir looked down and sighed. "Did my Lady tell you?"

"Aragorn did. Before we left Minas Tirith."

"The first time? Months ago?" Haldir met his eyes. "Yet you continue to wear them."

"Aye." Éomer smiled at his incredulity. "Do we not continue to be lovers?"

"I thought that more of a..." Haldir sighed. "More of a convenience for you."

"You are not a convenience." Éomer laughed. "Quite the contrary, in fact. You can be quite inconvenient at times."

"Yes, I am." Haldir laughed, too, but the light did not reach his eyes.

"Why did you not tell me what they meant?"

Haldir looked away, his mouth turning down in a frown. "I can pretend, too."

Shaking his head, Éomer's chest tightened and he wished he could draw Haldir's gaze back, but he could not. "This is not pretense."

Finally, Haldir glanced back at him. An expression Éomer could not interpret crossed over his face and was gone in an instant, too quick for him to understand.

"Come, we must see to your guests, my lord." Haldir moved away from him, quickly, back into the hall.

Éomer was left in confusion. What had he just missed?

A week had passed since all of his guests, save Faramir, Imrahil and Arwen Evenstar, had left the hall. Éomer knew he could no longer delay speaking to Haldir. For all that they could now sleep in separate rooms, neither had suggested it and no one else would dare.

"Haldir." Éomer closed the door to the room they shared. "Please sit."

Looking at him, Haldir seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. "Éomer, what troubles you?"

"I spoke with Galadriel before she left and she said--"

"That the bond has faded? She said as much to me."

"You did not think to mention it?"

Haldir looked down at the floor, his shoulders stiffening slightly. "No. We do not know it for certain. If you wished to test the distance again, I was sure you would say so."

"I fear it is so. I think you do as well."

"If the bond is faded, then I must leave." It wasn't posed as a question, rather as a statement of fact, and spoken in Haldir's perfectly unaffected tone.

Éomer took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. He wished to deny it, to beg Haldir to stay, but he could not. It would not be fair. "If I can, I must marry. I would not ask you to bear witness to this."

"I would not care to do so." Haldir breathed out sharply, still not meeting his gaze. "I shall leave in the morning."

It felt as if a knife had cut into him, though no wound he had ever received caused such injury as Haldir's quietly spoken words. Éomer wanted to gasp out loud, but managed not to humiliate himself. "So soon?" he could not help himself from asking.

Haldir shrugged, seemingly carelessly. "There is little here that is mine. And I would not linger where I cannot stay. Better to go quickly."

"I suppose that is true. I will send two of my best riders with you." Éomer felt his chest tighten mercilessly and he blinked to clear his vision. "Stay with me tonight."

Haldir nodded; his face held endless sorrow as he stepped forward, hands going to the ties and clasps of Éomer's clothes.

His hands slid into Haldir's hair, unbinding each braid until the mass fell smooth and straight. Tilting his head in, Éomer kissed him, softly, slowly, with all the emotions he could not bring himself to speak of.

Haldir received it, taking it in and giving it back in true measure. They moved in concert, their clothes falling away as greedy hands sought to touch flesh and muscle.

Slowly, very slowly and with much tenderness and attention to detail, Éomer took and was taken in turn, giving and receiving all that he could. Lying in Haldir's arms sated, but still hungry, he fought the rush of tears that would leave him with no defenses.

In the hours before dawn, when Haldir seemed asleep, Éomer slipped from his arms. Dressing quickly, he left the room. He could not bring himself to watch the sun come up and know it was the last time.

As he left, the guard rose to attention. Éomer waved him back to his chair. Despite the early hour, the hall was far from quiet. He spoke briefly with Gamling.

Wandering slowly through the hall, looking for a peaceful spot to think, he finally came to the small courtyard where he had spoken to Galadriel. Éomer sat on the stone bench, and leaned his head on the trunk of the old tree.

Closing his eyes tightly, he refused to give into the despair that dogged him. That he and Haldir must part seemed wrong to him, but he would do his duty. He knew of no other way to live his life.

A noise made him look up. The Lady Arwen came into the courtyard, her long robes dark against the early morning sky. As he had told Gimli when they settled their wager, her beauty was quite beyond compare. He did not begrudge Aragorn for his luck in capturing so great a prize as her heart, but he did envy his friend being able to keep it.

"My lady, it is late." He moved to stand, but she waved him back. "Does something trouble you?"

"I think it is not so late as it is early. I suspect that it is you who are troubled, my lord. Would you speak of it?"

"Do you care so much for my troubles?" Éomer asked, knowing he was being unfair. She had ever been gracious and friendly.

She was no less now. "I do care. For Haldir as well, for I have known him long. He served my Lady Grandmother for much of his life."

"Forgive me. I meant no harm. My heart..." Unable to speak the words, lest it be true sooner than it had to be, Éomer fell silent.

"Your heart grieves for what you will lose in a few hours?"

He looked away, blinking. "Yes, my lady."

"You need not lose it," Arwen said gently.

"I cannot change that I must have an heir."

"No, that you cannot change. But how you achieve it need not be by traditional means. Your sister will soon marry."

"Her intended will also need an heir. Faramir, though he does love her dearly, would not be pleased if their son went to serve Rohan."

"She would do it, though. And like it or no, he would allow it."

"She would." Of that, Éomer had no doubt at all. Éowyn would always be a shieldmaiden of the Mark before anything else. "But I would not ask it of her."

"I think that she will offer." Arwen smiled generously. "So, perhaps there is hope."

"There is none. Had he wished to stay with me, he would have said as much." While Haldir had not been eager to leave him, he had not seemed that eager to stay, either.

Éomer understood only too well. The work here would be arduous, with little reward, especially for Haldir. Despite all he had done for Rohan already, there were some who would never be at peace in his presence.

"You might ask him that question." Her voice was gently chiding in the way of elves who found something he did or did not do silly.

He could not grow angry with her, for he knew she meant well. "My lady, it is far more complicated than that. The ways of the Rohirrim are different, even from Gondor, about such things."

"Are you not King of the Mark? Who would gainsay you? Could you not change things?"

Éomer looked away. "I could not move quickly enough to bind myself to Haldir and have any hope of it being accepted."

"So, you would move not at all, and deny that your heart breaks?"

Taking a deep breath, Éomer hoped to loosen the constriction in his chest. Even so, his voice broke when he spoke. "Even if I dared, he still does not care enough to stay with me."

She put a hand on his shoulder. "My lord, I think you are incorrect. He asked and has been granted release from my family's service. This was not done lightly. He wished to stay with you."

"Only because of the bond, because he had no choice. When given the choice, he could not be gone quick enough." If Haldir truly cared for him, he would have said so.

Arwen shook her head, giving him another chiding look. "You think he did not know the true nature of that bond?"

"Between two elves, perhaps. It was different between an elf and a man. It lasted far longer than it should have." Long enough for Éomer to begin to hope it would be permanent.

The sun started to move over the horizon and Arwen glanced at it. "It is dawn. Go now to Haldir before he leaves and ask him to stay."

Éomer wanted nothing more in his life than to follow Arwen's advice. He rose and kissed her hand. "I will think on what you have said."

"Think not too long, for Haldir rides soon."

Returning to his rooms, Éomer found Haldir already gone. No note or any kind of good-bye tribute. Éomer supposed they had made their farewells last night, nothing could say more than that. Leaning his head on the bedpost, he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. His heart cried out for one more kiss, one more caress, one more amused look from blue elven eyes.

Shaking his head, he knew he was being a fool. With his head held high and his shoulders squared, he strode out of the room and into the hall. He could not stay there, and moved out onto the veranda outside Meduseld Hall, watching the plains. As he stood there, he saw Haldir and two of his riders move past the gate into the open.

His chest tightened, his eyes prickling in a way unbecoming a king, Éomer watched as Haldir rode out of his life. His duty to his people never seemed so heavy as it did when Haldir crested the slope that would take him out of sight of Edoras.

The riders stopped. Éomer watched Haldir turn back and look at the city, could almost feel his gaze searching for him.

For a long time, Haldir sat on his horse, looking back and Éomer stood watching him, waiting for the inevitable.

"Go," Éomer whispered harshly to the wind, blinking several times.

"You do not mean that." Éowyn stood at his side, her arms crossed over her chest, looking exasperated with him. "I know you don't want him to leave."

From somewhere inside himself, he found the courage to speak the truth at last. Too late. "No. I do not want him to leave me."

Éowyn shook her head. "Then stop him, you great fool. Or you will regret it for all of your life."

"There is... I...."

Putting a hand on his arm, she pushed him. "Go. Your horse is saddled and awaits you at the edge of the stairs."

Hesitating for only a split second to lean down and kiss her, Éomer ran for his mount, praying that whatever had made Haldir stop would keep him there a few minutes longer.

At the gate, he paused, seeing that Haldir remained on his horse, still looking back at the city. His riders stood with him, their horses prancing nervously. Slowly, Éomer started across the grassland that separated them.

As soon as he'd cleared the gate, Haldir saw him, and started forward, moving towards him at the same speed. They met in the middle of the field, dismounting and signaling their horses to stay.

Éomer could feel the eyes of all of Edoras on them. The only eyes that mattered to him were the ones that glittered beside him.

"I think," Haldir said, licking his lips, as they stood in front of each other, too far apart to touch. "I think that Galadriel was wrong."

"She was wrong?"

Haldir cleared his throat and took a step forward. "I reached the point where I would have passed out of sight of you, and found I could go no further."

"I thought my heart would stop beating when you approached the crest," Éomer agreed, stepping forward until he was directly in front of Haldir. His stomach clenched hard at the expression of hope on Haldir's face, and knew it must be mirrored on his own.

"The bond..." Haldir hesitated, closing his eyes for a moment, then opening them to look at him. "It has not faded."

It was not enough. Not nearly enough. Éomer needed something other than an excuse. "Might it not be more than that?"

"More than a healing bond gone astray?" Haldir's eyes were bright. "If you wish it to be more, then it can be more."

Breathing in and then out, Éomer met Haldir's eyes, looking deeply into them. "I love you most dearly and would not have you leave me," he whispered softly, moving still closer.

"Then I shall not leave."

Relief, profound and immediate, threatened to buckle Éomer's knees. "Not ever." His voice broke. "I cannot allow it."

"I would not think to disobey you, my lord." Haldir's lip twitched with the prevarication.

Éomer cleared his throat. "Of course, you would not. Ever are you an obedient elf. My elf."

"Your elf." A look of joy appeared on Haldir's face, his smile bright and pure and beautiful. "I have accepted my doom. For I love you, too."

Éomer's breath caught in his chest as Haldir stepped back and drew his sword, handing it to him hilt first.

Kneeling in front of him, Haldir's voice rang out strongly and clearly. "I do swear fealty and service to Rohan, and to the Lord and King of the Mark, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Haldir, once guardian of Lothlórien, now of Rohan."

As tears rose in his eyes, Éomer had but one thought: Haldir was his. Finally, unalterably his.

Éomer blinked several times before he could speak again. "I accept, my love. Thank you."

Haldir rose gracefully, and took back his sword, sheathing it before stepping close again. "I would still go to see my kin off to the Havens." He took an audible breath. "I shall miss them most grievously."

"I know. In a week's time, we can be ready to go to Lothlórien. Whatever binding ceremony you would choose, I will partake of it with you." Éomer looked at him, sadly. "I wish I could acknowledge what is between us amongst my people, as you shall be able to, but I cannot."

Haldir nodded, no censure in his eyes, only clear understanding of the situation. "Would that you could. Will you marry?"

Giving him a sharp look, Éomer felt a moment's insult. Then sighed with frustration. Given all that had happened, it was not an unfair question. "Nay. No one else shall have what should rightfully be yours."

His eyes now glittering, Haldir nodded. "Good. What of an heir?"

"If you allow it. I will find someone willing. If not, my sister's children will have to suffice." Éomer moved closer, putting a hand on Haldir's arm. "You shall ever be my most trusted advisor and counselor, my closest confidant. People will whisper that we are shieldmates, but no one will confront us openly about it."

"I understand that we will need to be discreet."

"Perhaps not so cautious as that, for I would have our love exist in the light, rather than be hidden in the dark." Éomer leaned closer, his hand moving up Haldir's arm to his shoulder, nudging him closer. "Besides which, I am ten seconds from kissing you in front of everyone in Edoras."

"Why do you wait so long?" Haldir's gloved hands slid along his neck into his hair, nudging his face forward.

Éomer leaned in and pressed his lips gently to Haldir's. Although he had not meant for it to do so, the kiss deepened and for a time, he forgot the rest of the world in his joy in having Haldir's mouth on his.

Too soon, Haldir pulled back, fingers easing out of Éomer's hair.

"We have indeed had the whole of Edoras watching us," Haldir said, nodding his head toward the city. Many stood at the gate and on the walls, all watching them, some with approval and others not.

Éomer could feel his face heat even in the coolness of the day. But he did not care. There was much he would do for his country; he would die for his people. Giving up Haldir, however, was the one thing he would not do. "So I see. Come, let us get back to the warmth of the hall."

Haldir's smile was breathtaking and he inclined his head toward Éomer. "Yes, my king."