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Another sleepless night, punctuated with the rising sun.

Erestor blinks against the light, streaming through the open balcony and he wants to plead with it, just five more minutes. The text, long forgotten, and long before he had quite pretending to read, rolling the nib of charcoal across the desk absently. Something was coming, a stirring in the air. Something he couldn’t quite place, a steady march, like the many booted feet of some army just on the periphery of his vision and too often did his eyes stray to the doorway, to the balcony, and all the muscles in his body tense to go and see.

It is but a dream. He tells himself, one more time, stretching in the hard, wood chair. Another sleepless night, another fear to be quashed. And yet, and yet.

He stands, shaking the cobwebs from his mind and smoothing the wrinkles from his robe. Breakfast, then the library. Nothin for the soul but the endless search for knowledge, some distraction.

Yes. And he tells himself this with a forced smile. Breakfast and books, a visit to his Lord and a moment to soothe his own fears without saying as much.

And yet, he lingers there, just past his desk, the doorway to the balcony. In his mind’s eye he can see it like the slow creep of twilight, a darkening. If he closes his eyes he can see it clear.

A shadow, like the stretch of some boney hand, fingers pointing as the army marches and marches. Darkness on the horizon, a red dawn. A rhyme on the tip of his tongue, fool me once.

When he opens his eyes there’s a sigh on his lips.

“Breakfast.” His shaking voice cuts through the silence. “And then the library.” Both a comfort, both pinpoints in the darkness, anchors. Something to ease his troubled mind and his restless hands.

The halls are empty, guards to what barracks they need, the rest to the halls, and his footsteps echo over stone, hands clasped tight behind his back and his mind a thousand years before. Something is coming, he can feel it in the air, the electric crackle of change, that taste of earth before the rain and the headiness of it. He can feel it now, the shift of the earth beneath his feet, a minute roll, reacting to something. Something coming, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, some forewarning they might have had before and he finds himself chastising himself, it is but a silly thought.

He has no stomach for breakfast now, turning away and down another long hall to the library. The comfort of old books and the yellowing scent of them, history and incense, a comfort and he forces himself to breathe, to breathe deep as he steps inside. Midday meal, he promises himself, drifting down one row and then another, looking for something he does not know. His fingers linger on the spine of some tome when he hears a shift, a breath and he knows he’s not alone.

“Who’s there?”

Someone laughs, and he knows the sound of it, a scowl turning down the corners of his lips.

“Tis but I,” and another chuckle, a duck of blonde hair between the shelves. “You are not at  breakfast.”

“And neither are you.” Erestor says, rolling his eyes. “What brings you here?”

“Perhaps the same as you.” And he can see him now, between the cracks in the books, grinning. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Were you here all night?” He turns away, looking through the shelves for something, anything. He hears footsteps approach, and keeps him back to the other elf. “I did not think you such a scholar.”

“I leave the scholarly demands to such as you.” Glorfindel says, too close now. “It’s quiet here, and I can think.”

“You can think in your own rooms.”

“As can you.”

“Yes, well.” He has no answer, and tells himself he needs no answer, turning his attention back to the shelves. To rows and rows of books he has read already, nothing that would reassure his restlessness, and Glorfindel does not leave, hovers just behind him and feigning some interest in the books. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“I could not either.” How easy it is for him to admit such a thing, Erestor can feel the careless shrug of shoulders, the casual admittance of it. There is no weight to the admission, no shame, no worry that carries. It simply is, and for a moment he envies him that.

There is a hand on his shoulder then, a bid for his attention to turn from the books and he finds himself moving with it. Glorfindel looks older than his years and it’s like a shock of cold water to remember all the other has seen, all he has loved through and all that he hasn’t.

“Erestor--” He has never known Glorfindel to not speak his mind, to not simply say what he means and yet he can see a struggle there. “Lord Elrond wishes to see us, you, after breakfast. I have not been able to sleep for it, my  mind is troubled.”

“Tell me.” His mouth is dry, a thousand fears coming to head and in the distance he can hear the march of a thousand heavy footfalls.

“I do not know yet, but I have my suspicions. And I think you do as well, else you would not be here at this hour.” And then he laughs, so carefree even now, his hand removed from his shoulder and running fingers through golden hair. “Though in all the years I have known  you, you never cease to surprise me. Perhaps the lure of these dusty tomes are more a temptation than a hot meal.”

He could agree, could shrug it off and try to be the wiser one. All have their place, and his is here and Glorfindel’s is -- well, his is wherever he is needed and more than that, wherever he wishes.

Do you remember --

He stops that thought in its tracks, tries for a casual shrug. “I have been unable to sleep.” He wants to leave it there, and then the words spill from him, unguarded. “I find myself drawn to the windows, watching the valley, looking for something. I feel like -- well, the truth is I do not know what it is I feel. But it is something, and I do not like it.”

“There are few things you do like, Erestor.” Glorfindel fights a losing battle against the smile that pulls at his mouth and it’s infectious and he feels his mood lift for a moment, just a moment.

“Tell me about your fears, and I will tell you mine.”

The words are there on the tip of his tongue, how easy it would be to simply tell them. To speak freely and yet. And yet.

“It is nothing.” He says at last, turning away, and he sees Glorfindel’s smile fade as he does. Something aches, just behind his ribs and he does not -- tries not to dwell on it. He is a councilor first and a kinsman last, it is not his place to speculate wildly, to feed unfounded fears.

“Lord Elrond is sending me to scout towards the west. He has heard whispers of some evil.”

There is ice in his veins, cold and sluggish coursing through him and he feels his lips part. He wants to say no, and wants to say not you and wants to ask what it is. “How is it you have heard before I?” It comes as a whisper.

“Because I asked Elrond about the misgivings I had.”

How easy it is for him to admit it, and Erestor turns, shock written across his face. “When?”

“Soon.” And Glorfindel shrugs, as if it is so easy. “Come with me, we can still grab something to eat and sit with Lord Elrond just us three and talk.”

The books are a shield now, and his fingers itch to take one, to hold it between them like some holy symbol to keep this darkness at bay. As if to say, no, I shall read instead , and it would all go away. He nods, lets himself be led away with one last, lingering look to the library.

----

Glorfindel is leaving.

Those bright blue eyes flashing at the mention of the Enemy. He was one of four chosen to scout in all directions, to look for the Black Riders, to learn all that Lord Elrond could not.

To stave off the darkness just a little longer.

His feet carry him down the hall, past doors and doors and to a set of chambers he has never breached before and now he cannot remember why. Each footfall echoes like the beat of war drum, the first notes of some terrible thing approaching.

He cannot stop him, he wouldn’t dare, and yet here he is and he does not know why.

His fist raps against the door, harder and more desperate than he meant and when the lock turns, when the hinges creak open and he sees those bright eyes he does not have the words.

“May I come in?” He stammers through it, and Glorfindel opens the door a little wider. His pack is sparing, just what he needs. A sword, some dagger, some provisions and little else and Erestor cannot help the panic that settles deep into his chest.

This is a nightmare, he closes his eyes against it and wonders when he started to care so deeply.

“We knew this day would come.” Glorfindel says, and Erestor’s eyes open wide, his fingers curling into fists. “The Enemy is not so easily defeated.”

“I have never known you to shy away from a name.”

“Sauron, then.” Glorfindel says, with that same carelessness and Erestor feels his mouth go dry. “He has awakened, it was only a matter of time.”

“How can you be so --” He doesn’t have the words, and what an irony of that. That Glorfindel could speak so easily of this and he, Elrond’s right hand, can not bring himself to speak of it.

“It is what it is.”

It’s too simple and he wants to scream for it. When Glorfindel turns to him, those bright, burning eyes seem to stare into him, reading every secret written on his spirit.

“You’re overthinking this.”

His mouth moves, forming words he cannot speak. “Do you remember the siege?”

Glorfindel stops, freezes, hand on the straps to his pack and watching him out of the corner of his eyes. “Which one?”

Erestor barks a laugh. “Angmar. Do you remember? How they marched upon us, one day peace and the next the wall of bodies at our door?”

“How could I forget? But where are you going with this?”

“I don’t know!” He says, his body heaving with the cry. An inhale that rattles in his chest and exhales in a half-forgotten scream behind his teeth.

“You are scared.”

“And you’re not?”

“I am. But I have long learned and hard won the lesson that fear does not keep you safe.”

He cannot remember what madness drove him here tonight. He wants to say why you and wants to say have you not suffered enough and wants to beg stay here with me instead  and yet the words will not come.

Thousands of years stretch behind them both and he thinks, perhaps, the time has come and gone to ask any of that and so he grapples with it, turns it over in his clenched hands and comes up with nothing.

“Do you remember the siege?” Glorfindel asks, and Erestor’s head snaps up, eyes wide and lips parted. “We were not ready.”

“I still think back to those days, they don’t seem so long ago now. How did we not see?”

“And yet we are still here.” Glorfindel sits on the edge of the bed, pats the space next to him and Erestor finds himself moving, as if his feet have a mind of their own. He sits heavily, looking to Glorfindel as if their positions were reversed, as if Glorfindel sat upon the council and voted yea to send him away to meet the enemy. “Why is now so different?”

Because you will not be here.

Because I cannot keep an eye on you so far away.

Because somewhere in the timeline, I began to care more than I should.

“They were upon us before we even knew it, and it was not the first time.” Erestor says, soft as a whisper. “And now again, it feels like a nightmare we are doomed to live over and over and over again. What if --” What if you do not come back?

What if what luck has carried you so far has finally run out?

What will I do then?

He looks to his hands, folded in his lap, fingernails pressing half moons into his palms and Glorfindel reaches for them, brushing fingertips over the marks there. “It will be alright.”

“How can you be so sure?”

If not this, then what next?

“I cannot, but neither can you.”

The candlelight flickers, sparking off the edge of a ring given to him long ago when he took his place at Elrond’s side, and his fingers twitch, numbly moving to pull it over his knuckle. “Take this.” He says, his tongue feeling heavy in his mouth. “This way, you will have to come back.”

There is something else, a weight behind those words he does not want to explore. Not yet. He expects Glorfindel to laugh at him, to refuse it, to tell him he is silly or absurd or worse, overstepping his place.

And yet Glorfindel holds out his hand, palm up, and then simple golden ring rests in the middle. They both look at it for heartbeat, and Glorfindel turns it over, looks him in the eye as he slips it onto his left hand, the smallest finger and there it sits like it belongs there somehow.

“I will bring this back to you.”

Maybe it’s a lie.

Erestor breathes it in, lungs aching for it, needing it -- lie or not.

He cannot stay here.

His feet are clumsy, half-tripping over themselves as he makes for the door now.

“Bring my ring back.” He says, wishing it were any other token in the world.

----

Once upon a time, an enemy marched to their gates.

Erestor stands at the edge of the balcony, breathing in the night air as he remembers.

Once upon a time a shadow moved through the valley, scarring the land and cutting down trees as they surrounded Imladris. How had it happened? One day peace and the next a siege, a thousand bodies at their doorstep and all hope of escape surrounded, cut off from the world. The fires of the enemy burning bright into the night, the sound of drums beating like a sick heartbeat into the sunrise. The smell of meat cooking, the clamor of voices shouting some ill-begotten victory, two sides fumbling for a stand-off, each side trying to starve the other out.

The halls echoed with the silence; somewhere in the heart of Imladris swords and shields rattled, and yet for days, for weeks, for months they waited. Each side waiting for surrender.

And yet here they were. They survived, and not without loss. Not without blood, the blood of their kin. Not without loss and how the halls echoed with the sounds of mourning.

How much more must they lose? How much more must they suffer?

And for a selfish moment, Erestor wonders how much will he lose.

His hands grip the white stone, remembering. The fires, the smell of rot and decay, blood under the hot sun. It catches him breathless, and he stares, wide-eyed and unseeing, caught in a dream.

The fires of Orodruin, like a nightmare, so far away from where he gripped a sword and vowed to never raise arms in war again. This is it, and it is over , or so he had promised himself. Taking his place at Lord Elrond’s side as advisor, as council, it had once seemed more ceremonial. He would take his place amongst the books, a politician.

A coward.

The worst of it was supposed to be past.

He can remember, behind his eyelids, the relief that flooded through him when he saw him, golden in his glory and black blood flecked across his face. Sword raised to the sky in victory and how Glorfindel had swept even him into a hug, one that lifted him off his feet and spun him until he was dizzy with it.

It’s over . He had said. They both had said, tears in their eyes. It’s over.

It would never be over. An army marched upon them a thousand years later and they never saw it coming. And now, and now.

And now Glorfindel had gone into the thick of it again while he hung back, once again.

This time will be different. He tells himself, white-knuckled on the stone railing. This time will be different.

There’s an indent where his ring once sat, and when Glorfindel --

-- if Glorfindel--

--when Glorfindel returns, he will make the effort. He will be the one to sweep him up into an embrace. He will be the one to say it is over. It will be over. It has to be.

When he closes his eyes, he can see the march, can hear the boots against the damp earth, can smell the fires.

It will be different this time.

---

Not him.

The Council passes like a blur of color and sound, and at last, when it ends, he feels like he can breathe again.

Hide the ring.

Even then he knew it was folly, and yet despair and desperation gripped him. Not him, anyone but him.

And in the end, he watched the nine of them march from the gates of Imladris and felt the disappointment from Glorfindel, a lingering melancholy that he was left behind.

“It is for the best.” He says softly, watching as the figures became smaller and smaller, nearly vanishing into the horizon.

“I should be there.”

“Should you? Have you not done enough? Let someone else shoulder this burden. The halfling volunteered, would you take this from him?”

Glorfindel looks down at him, expression unreadable and Erestor feels almost ashamed.

“Come. Have a drink with me.”

It’s too easy, how quickly this being flits from one emotion to another and yet Erestor finds himself following him, feet padding after him like some chastised boy. Down the winding halls towards a set of chambers he has come to know too well of late. The door shuts behind them with such a finality that sends a shiver up his spine and yet Glorfindel so easily pours them both a glass of some heady, red wine. Passes him a glass and seems to toast to it all, “You seem relieved I am not amongst them.”

And he finds he cannot lie, not here, not now. Takes a sip of wine to try and gather his thoughts and finds them even more scattered. “We need you here.”

“Is that so?”

“I need you here.” It comes all at once, and he can easily change the tone. Glorfindel is one of the few reasons they broke the siege before. Glorfindel is, at heart, a force to be reckoned with, and what if the enemy returns. “We need you here.”

“You need me here?”

Erestor looks away, and Glorfindel is too close, far too close now.

“I’ve grown rather fond of you.”

A grins stretches across his face, lazy and knowing all at once. “Oh?”

“Have you not enough victories to be told?” Erestor says, holding his cup as a shield, taking a sip when his words fail him yet again.

“You cannot live in shadows, Erestor.”

It washes over him in a wave, how infrequently the other elf used his name and how much he loves the sound of it on his lips. There is no wine that could replicate the feeling of it, and he wants nothing more to hear it again.

And how did this come to be? When did the half-rivalry become something more? When did he begin to feel so safe, this close to the other elf? Glorfindel, one he has known for millennia now and yet he knows not at all.

“Do you remember?” He begins, and words fail him.

“I remember much, try me.”

Do you remember the smell of rotting bodies under the sun on the slopes of doom? Do you remember the beat of the war drums, not once but twice against our doors? Do you remember what it was like to be afraid?

“Do you remember how much we used to fight?” Erestor says, smiling around the rim of his glass. “How different our ideas were, once upon a time?”

“I remember.” Glorfindel says, straightening, even as an answering smile played across his lips. “Nothing I ever said or did was right by you.”

“I’d say that was untrue, but I have never been a liar and I do not plan to start now.”

Glorfindel laughs, loud and free and Erestor lets it wash over him, savoring the sound of it. How close he came to not hearing that sound, perhaps never again, and the fear of it washed over him.

He was careful, cautious, always the one to caution to wait, to watch and see. And now they were swiftly running out of time. Hope lay in a fellowship of nine, and he did not dare to hope for anything.

And yet, he runs his thumb over the ring on his finger again, a promise kept.

“Were that more were like you, Erestor, perhaps our troubles would be fewer.”

He can feel his face heat, and takes another long drink of wine, feeling it warm in his fingers, his toes, down his throat and he cannot help but laugh in turn. “Were there more like me, you would get nothing done.”

Glorfindel’s hand is upon his and he looks up, not daring to hope. He is not the brave one, not the bold one, not the brash one to take risks and yet he cannot search those bright eyes for anything, cannot read anything in that soft expression and so he let himself dare.

Closes the distance with a brush of lips against lips, a whisper of a touch and whatever happens, happens. He can blame it on the wine, on fear, on any number of things.

But then there are fingers tangling in his hair, tugging him forward into another kiss that steals all the excuses from him. It’s wine-drunk and foolish and yet he lets himself fall into it, hands on Glorfindel’s shoulders to brace himself as his head spins, the earth tilting beneath him where he sits and he remembers.

Remembers the way he felt when he saw himself that day on the battlefield, golden in his glory and sword raised, screaming victory. Each time, every time. There was always and only him, Glorfindel.

And maybe he fought because he did not ever want to forget what that looked like. He never wanted to see anything different.

Hands moving from shoulders to the back of his head, gripping tight, holding him there, them there, them here , in this now that says Glorfindel is here.

The smell of old books and yellowing pages, an anecdote in some tome and then here, alive and laughing, breathing, warm and solid against him.

Here, safe. With him.

He tilts his head, needing more, to taste to touch to feel to breathe him in, needing more. Needing to know that he is safe and alive.

Not him. How the words spilled from him, the way Elrond had looked at him, knowing. Not him , and he didn’t need to say a name. Nine were chosen and nine left and Glorfindel was left behind, left with him. And he would need a lifetime or two to get used to it all but they could start with this.

I need you here . He tried to pour it into the kiss, more than he had at the council, deferring to Glorfindel when he had never before. I need you here, with me . And it came with such a finality that it left him breathless, pulling away to look at the other elf. I need you , and it was a frightening thought but as with all things, he threw himself into it, fingers tangled in hair, clutching at his tunic as Erestor took another deep, shaky breath.

“What now?” He asks, not knowing what he meant and yet Glorfindel smiles at him all the same, as if he know.

“Whatever happens, happens.” He says, leaning in for another kiss.