Gates Of Dawn

BY : Massanie
Category: +Third Age > Threesomes/Moresomes
Dragon prints: 1568
Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.


CHAPTER 6: Falling Apart



CHAPTER NOTES

SCRIPTS:

'Thoughts'; ~visions~; **mind speech**; -l-Letters-l-



Outside of his rooms, Erestor almost gave in to the temptation of sagging against the walls of the corridor. His heart was pounding so madly it almost hurt and his anger was blown away like smoke in a strong wind.

Valar, what had he done?

Again the fear broke through to the surface of his very being, flooding him along with the knowledge that he had just had his façade shattered utterly and irretrievably.

Unconsciously he started to walk, quickly, as if to run from the implications of that fact.

Façades - they were a very important facet of Erestor's life, always had been and always would be, at least he couldn't imagine a life without his masks. He had maintain¬¬¬ed a façade of weakness and innocence for his family before his flight to Rivendell, that had made them underestimate him; one of vulnerability and helplessness for Thalion, meant to gain his unconditional assistance; one of false scars for Dírhael and Elrond so that they had refrained from questioning him about his past; one of haughty superiority and ruthless severity for his colleagues that ensured him their obedience when he could not afford the time and strength to argue; one of coldness and stoniness for the rest of Imladris to keep them at bay and one façade especially for Lindir because he couldn't tell him the truth about his past when he had lied to everyone else and because, frankly, no one was allowed to know him.

Erestor was aware that he was - in a way - all of these, and none of them completely, and even through the fear and anger and confusion rattling his mind he had still wanted to maintain them by all means, because they were always there, giving him security at the very least, more likely being the very pillars of the confidence others saw in him. But that wasn't possible anymore now, was it?

"Ai Elbereth!" Erestor whispered, his head reeling. Valar, he needed them back so badly!

For a moment the sudden sick feeling in his stomach almost made him gasp out and hold onto the wall for support, but he ignored it. He quickened his steps again instead, almost running from the truth.

He could not allow his façade to fall away. Surely Gandalf, Tauron and the others would not dare to spill anything, surely they would keep their silence about this? No, they wouldn't, surely they wouldn't. Deep down he knew that it would be folly to think they would.

"Damn them all!" he whispered to himself, half angry, half desperate.

'Play it down, then!'

He could, couldn't he? Blame his lack of sleep for his skittishness, accept rebuke for his aggressive hostility and take sleeping draughts to placate everyone… he'd bury himself behind a wall of aloofness and coldness again. That had worked just fine when he first came to Imladris, it would work again. It must.

He could play it down because people expected him to be hostile. It was alright, if he could just reaffirm his façades he would be able not to fall apart himself…

He would arrive at breakfast a little bit late but in control, hard and cold and strong, his mask in place and none of the witnesses of his earlier moment of weakness would keep him from getting his emotions under control once again.

But he could not dislodge the notion that his fears were too great an obstacle for him to overcome on his own. Only with flaring rage had he managed to overrule his panic mere minutes ago. But his anger had burned too hot and consumed its fuel too fast.

It had cost him his father and with him a possible ally.

And now with the anger gone, all his irrational fears flooded him again, sending the phantom pains in his scars flaring up. He felt as if he was being followed. A ridiculous notion, he *knew* that. Still, he threw a glance backwards before he berated himself harshly. There was no one there, *of course* there was no one there…

'In the same way that there was no one within your room the night of the attempt on your life?' For a moment his breathing seemed laboured as it had been after his attacker had thrown him onto his back on the stone floor and he had to gasp for air.

Then Erestor managed to push that thought away violently, fastening his steps.

But no matter how fast he walked, he could not escape the feeling of utter terror that had washed over him as he had seen Tauron reach out for him, could not escape the memories flooding his mind. Mithrandir's unjust accusations had roused them along with his righteous anger, because he had suffered *so much* for others and he remembered it all now: the images of those dreadful hours and days danced a macabre roundelay around his inner eye.

Whipped and kicked and beaten and stabbed and cut and burned and hit and violated and stabbed.

And once again from the beginning…

He himself had pulled them to the surface and Gandalf had had the effrontery to ridicule them.

This whole morning had been one terrible mistake, he thought frantically as he strode towards the dining hall, his hands absently travelling over his robes, smoothing out any wrinkles.

He should have buried all those memories of pain and humiliation and *helplessness*. Now that he had forcefully reminded himself of all the gory details they just didn't leave any more, tearing and rattling at the fragile construct of his sanity. How could Tauron reaching out to him have unbalanced him like this? And his embrace …

Erestor stifled a quiet sob, walking faster still. With agitation he kneaded his fingers, cursing the fact that they just wouldn't stop shivering.

Then suddenly he stopped and blinked in surprise as the soft clattering of dishes and the buzz of many voices drifted through to his consciousness.

He had not noticed that he stood merely some feet away from the doors to the dining hall.

Erestor breathed heavily as he stood there indecisively, unsure whether he could stand to stay in close proximity with others right now, accepting fleeting touches, speak the words they expected him to speak…

But this was the first breakfast after their return, the last breakfast that lady Galadriel would attend as she planned to depart in the early morning hours the following day. His absence would already have been noticed and would be questioned. If he entered now, he would be too late, but so was Gandalf; he could apologize, maybe say he didn't sleep that well - which would get him compassionate glances and access to sleeping draughts, but he was sure they would not question him further. If he didn't appear at all, they would take a deeper interest and not leave him alone until they knew what had caused the stoic, conscientious advisor to stray from his duty.

They would question Gandalf and then the soldiers and learn of his shameful behaviour.

He could not allow that. He didn't want Elrond and Glorfindel to know and have the image they had of him tainted so.

Carefully he let his hands travel over his robes for what seemed the hundredth time to straighten them out once again, taking deep calming breaths all the while and forcing all emotions from his face, even though he was sure that his eyes still held the turmoil he felt. And he willed the memories to just *leave*.

In that moment, Erestor froze and ironically his wish was granted as the images of the past faded into pale, wraithlike ghosts hovering threateningly over the sudden numbness in his mind, his eyes resting at his feet. His bare feet.

Erestor tried to swallow around the lump in his throat, but couldn't and distantly felt his eyes tearing up and he blinked the salty wetness away frantically. He was not even able to hate that display of weakness, though normally he would have. As it was his mind was frantically trying to decipher just why there was pale skin instead of soft leather, unable to form a coherent thought but 'How?'

He had forgotten. Gandalf and the soldiers had literally scared him away from his own rooms in such a haste that he had forgotten…

But he had not noticed, how could he *not* have noticed during the way to the hall?

Erestor gasped for air wanting to banish the taste of bile, but he didn't manage that either.

Vaguely he was aware that he shouldn't stand here in the corridor mere feet away from the open doors to the dining hall where anyone could enter and see him in his dishevelled state. He must be giving such a foolish image and he would crumble if anyone saw him now.

'You already have.'

Erestor closed his eyes. Yes, he had. First Tauron and then Gandalf had torn away all of his fragile self-control at last and now he was not even able to keep up the façade.

But that didn't mean that anyone had to witness his graceless downfall.

Slowly, still feeling sick and confused and scared and … many other things he could not concentrate enough to identify, Erestor turned slowly on feet that were so unwilling to bear him now to return to his chambers; Gandalf or not; there was simply no other place he could go to.

Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder and Erestor's mind went blank in the flaring panic. Only his body remembered Glorfindel's lesson's still and he whirled around, twisting sideways to escape the grasp that he was too startled, too far gone to recognize as light and merely attention-seeking.

His attacker's flank was bared to him, the arm that had reached for him still raised, providing the needed opening for his fist.



Elrond watched with his brow knitted as Glorfindel kept drumming his fingers on the polished tabletop, ignoring the bowls of fresh, deliciously smelling bread, the plates of cheese and assorted cold meat and the various jars of jam and marmalade and honey that were laden on the shining wood; the Vanya was merely nursing a cu¬¬p of tea that Elrond had poured and sweetened for him - after one glance at him had made the Half-Elf realise that his husband was unlikely to abandon his current endeavour of agitating himself over his charge's absence and help himself to the calming, hot liquid on his own.

It wasn't that Elrond didn't share Glorfindel's concern over Erestor's absence - his chief advisor was notorious for his punctuality and strictness and had never been late once in 400 years whenever his presence was required; not a minute, let alone fifteen like he was currently.

Well, maybe that one time when he had just entered the Half-Elf's household and had to say his goodbyes to the Sindar soldiers who had helped him escape. But aside from that exceptional one-time situation Elrond really couldn't recall just one incident where the black haired elf had strayed from his usual almost fanatical timeliness.

Still, it was safe to say that Glorfindel was not an elf easily put out of sorts. That the seneschal and captain of Imladris, the sworn protector of the peredhil family, who was usually so serene and in control and had faced balrogs, dragons and nazgûl in his long life should now show his unrest so openly over a petty matter such as tardiness did nothing to cool Elrond's own worry.

And he was. Worried that is. Valar, *everyone* who cared for the dark haired Sindar was worried; Lindir kept glancing to the hall's open doors as if expecting his friend to appear any moment, tensely ignoring every attempt to calm or comfort him that Haldir made; Arwen was worrying her lips with such vigour that Elrond was surprised it didn't bleed yet; Elladan and Elrohír continuously threw him questioning glances as if he could alleviate their concern like usual with a few well-thought up words of reason, or as if asking for the permission to seek the wayward chief advisor, which he was reluctant to give. Even Galadriel was particularly silent.

And everyone else, while not concerned per se, was at least dying of curiosity. Disapprovingly Elrond watched them now and then glancing towards the high table, no doubt gossiping about the already developing rumours surrounding the ruling family of Imladris, one certain chief advisor and the fiasco on the High Pass and in Mirkwood. He dared not envision what monstrosities they would picture to each other, as the stories grew more colourful and *absurd* with each repetition to another's ear.

But there was something else causing his husband grief. If Glorfindel were merely concerned about Erestor, he'd simply search him and ensure his safety instead of venting his frustration and agitation on the table.

Of course Elrond and Glorfindel had, more than any of the aforementioned, been aware of just how close Erestor was to losing it, had been watching him do a precarious balancing act in trying to keep his control over his emotions. He had done quite remarkably but still the happenings in Mirkwood had taken their toll and Erestor had come dangerously close to breaking and consequently been particularly waspish, even more than usual.

And still that didn't explain Glorfindel's unusual turmoil. He had handled worse situations with more sangfroid and determination. After all it was not as if they had expected Erestor to just keep functioning as if nothing had happened: the healer in Elrond had even waited for Erestor to break down, had known that it must happen in one way or another for him to start healing truly and he had waited for any sign that Erestor was not only hiding all the horrors of the past weeks in a remote corner of his mind, where he could forget that they had ever happened, where they could smoulder and grow darker, colder and more fearsome until they would be able to really break him if ever they resurfaced.

Elrond had hoped, though, that it wouldn't happen until they were settled again in Imladris, where he would have the chance to keep it all quiet and away from prying eyes. He had hoped to ease his young advisor into dealing with his memories. And so far it had seemed as if he would have the time to do so.

Next to him Glorfindel broke his steady drumming on the table and set his cup down with a sudden clang, crossing his arms instead and lean back in his seat, his whole body tense.

Gently, Elrond touched his husband's mind with an affectionate, hopefully reassuring, caress.

**Glorfindel, what is it?**

**Did it occur to you that after his rescue there was only one other night aside from the past one during which Erestor slept alone? And that was the night he was attacked by that scum who tried to drug him with the water from the Enchanted River.**

Elrond furrowed his brow and bit his lip as the stinging realisation dawned that Glorfindel spoke the truth: Erestor had had his lord's family or Imladrian guards surrounding and following him afterwards constantly, that or the company of his brothers who were capable soldiers themselves.

What if leaving him alone to face his nightmares had been too much too early? What if he had - finally - snapped?

**It would be just like him to stay up the whole night, too frightened to sleep, too proud to seek someone out, listening to every noise in the silence of his rooms…**

The Vanya ground his teeth audibly at the vision he had painted and scowled at the assembled elves enjoying their breakfast who were so utterly ignorant of what the generally disliked chief counsellor had gone through to keep them safe.

**Do you think we should look for him?**

Elrond asked, keeping his scrutinizing, intense gaze trained on his husband. Glorfindel turned his head away to avoid looking at him and Elrond saw the muscles in his jaw flex. 'What has you so agitated, beloved?'

For a long moment there was only a deep ache permeating through the bond, making the Half-Elf reach forward to let his fingers glide along his husband's upper arm to comfort him and reclaim his attention.

**Shouldn't we ask Lindir or one of the twins to do it?**

Elrond frowned, honestly surprised and taken aback by that question. **Why? I don't think my sons have enough understanding of Erestor to handle him if the situation you described should actually be true. And Lindir equally has no experience in such matters.**

Glorfindel curled his lips - whether in frustration or irritation at himself or Elrond, the Half-Elf couldn't tell. **He … trusts them more.**

Elrond nodded calmly, not because he believed it to be true but because he had used the same argument, trying to keep himself from rushing to the darkling's side whenever he had woken from his horrid nightmares during their travels and shivered from the remembered pain and fear in Elladan's arms. The eldest prince had found a common ground in the shared experience of their captivity at Fiondil's hands, which had brought forth a fragile bond of trust and friendship between them that Elrond and Glorfindel lacked.

But no understanding. Elladan was as ignorant as he had ever been of Erestor's moods, of the way he reacted to certain situations, what made him uncomfortable and what caught his interest.

And Lindir, though he had been good for Erestor, had never been a particularly *calming* influence. Their friendship most often seemed to be based on the fact that Lindir was stubborn and unconventional enough to provoke a reaction of some kind out of Erestor - and of course on their shared love for music and the arts. Otherwise every discussion between the pair seemed to end in some argument or another and Elrond knew that the gentle minstrel was often blissfully and maybe intentionally unaware about his friend's darker streaks. There was for example the one incident when a relatively young artist from Mithlond with a notoriously high lifestyle had tried to court Imladris' chief minstrel only to find his reputation hopelessly slandered and himself suddenly abandoned by all his patrons only months after rumours about his alleged philander had reached the Last Homely House. Though it remained unproven, everyone but Lindir seemed to all but know Erestor to be the source of the defamation of character that had led to the youngling's downfall.

No, Lindir was not well-suited either for the task at hand. Furthermore, Elrond highly suspected that it was not a lack of trust but a misplaced self-consciousness and embarrassment at his deeds that had Erestor keeping Glorfindel and himself at a distance. The advisor had always tried his utmost to impress them both and earn their respect.

**I don't think so, no.** he told the Vanya. **And even if it was true, they are not capable of giving what he needs at the moment.** Calmness, security and understanding not questions and pity.

Then Elrond cocked his head, regarding his husband curiously. **Besides, weren't you the one confessing your love for him not even a month ago? Please don't tell me you changed your mind, because both of us know it would be a lie and either way: *I* didn't change my mind.**

**Of course not.** Glorfindel had hesitated only a moment too long, the muscle in his jaw flexing again as he ground his teeth.

**But this is not exactly the moment to pursue him.** At that, Elrond had to nod his agreement. Erestor had just been sexually assaulted, the last thing he needed right now was to be confronted with the romantic attention of elves whose station was too imposing for him to spurn them.

**If that moment ever comes. I just want what's best for him, Elrond. And if he needs others to comfort him right now, then so be it.**

The Half-Elf studied his husband, surprised and a little bit taken aback again at the unusually barbed tone in the golden elf's voice. The self-contemptuous bitterness was so unlike the proud Vanya that Elrond couldn't really recall if and where he had seen it before.

Surely not since Celebrían had left and Glorfindel had dealt with his grief and self-reproach because he hadn't been able to save her.

Was that it? Did Glorfindel feel guilty because he hadn't kept his charge safe like he had promised? He knew that his beloved had never been able to cope well with his own failures but that was a little bit too much, wasn't it?

Affectionately, Elrond stroke the blonde's shoulder. He would need to address that issue soon, but not now.

**Come, beloved. We really should search him. And never think there was an elf in all of Imladris, Mithlond, Lóriën or Greenwood you were not worthy of, Gondolinion**

Again, Glorfindel turned to him with a pained smile, still full of impatience and irritation.

**That's not it… it … doesn't really matter right now. Let me just get Arveldir and Tauron, they can help us search.** He said somewhat evasively. Not inclined to reveal to his husband what troubled him yet, he started looking for the two soldiers with ostentatious movements, even though he felt a little bit reluctant to take them along - especially Tauron was a little bit meddlesome at times, not least towards Erestor; but both of the soldiers had proven themselves trustworthy and discreet when necessary in the past and had more than once kept an eye on the little Mirkwood plague, making them familiar with the advisor's habits.

Glorfindel's eyes scanned the lower tables where his soldiers and their families sat together, a jovial, colourful lot. Usually he felt quite content to listen to the occasional, clear laughter and watch the light mood of those who wielded their bows and knives so grimly and deadly in battle beside him. Now his narrowed eyes swept over them with impatience and irritation, frowning as he saw Arveldir sitting there with his wife but noticed that Tauron and his usual cronies were not among them at the breakfast tables.

And that certainly made him feel queasy. They had far too much interest in Erestor of a kind that - though innocent and well meant - his advisor most assuredly didn't want, like or need in any way right now.

"Elrond, something is not right. We should *definitely* search him."

Elrond nodded but looked at the Vanya inquisitively, wondering what his husband had discerned now. Well, at least it seemed that whatever it was, it had successfully distracted him from his earlier worries and helped him come to a decision of some kind. He made to stand.

"That won't be necessary" Galadriel cut in, raising her head for the first time in long minutes. Her gaze was unsmiling and hard, her eyes gleaming with an intelligence and wisdom that only millennia of experience, of both bitter failures and losses and great triumphs, could achieve. "He is standing in front of the doors."

Then she looked down again, her eyes unseeing as if she was focusing all her attention inwards.

For a moment, both the Half-Elven and the Vanyarin lord stared at her in obvious bafflement, then with wary alertness. Erestor was a generally realistic elf; if he thought himself well enough to join them, then certainly he was? But Galadriel's voice was too severe for it to be good news.

"But you *should* go outside. He is not well." Galadriel continued gravely, looking up again with piercing eyes.

Elrond leaned forward, staring at his former mother-in-law with a gaze so intense that it made Galadriel recall perforce that this was the same elf that had battled Sauron's forces in Eregion even 2000 years prior to the Last Alliance where again he had faced those same evil, this time victoriously; the same elf that Ereinion Gil-Galad had named Viceroy and entrusted the greatest of the three elven rings to.

Glorfindel next to him had stood also by now, and Galadriel was sure he would have rushed out for his charge if not for Elrond's unrelenting, hard grip on his forearm. All his earlier uncertainty and indecisiveness had fallen away, his ire and unrest pushed aside for now and for a moment Galadriel idly mused that it was no wonder the Witch-king had fled at her cousin's appearance at the battle of Fornost if this was anything like he had looked then: determined, unyielding and terrific in his power. A formidable pair, those two. 'Ai, Celebrían, you never had a chance.'

"What do you mean, Galadriel. I know you cannot read him. He always managed to prevent you from that. And most importantly: what ails him?" Elrond demanded, pulling the lady from her thoughts. He needed to know what he was dealing with once he stepped outside and if he could attain that information at the cost of lingering for a moment longer, he would do so.

"His control slipped just now." she murmured, keeping her voice soft and low, only for Elrond and Glorfindel to hear "I still cannot read his mind and I don't know what happened, but he is in turmoil: confused, scared, and angry."

Before she had spoken her last words, Glorfindel had ripped his arm free and stormed towards the open doors, Elrond on his heels.

Galadriel sighed as she was left to deal with the numerous inquiring glances directed her way not only from those sitting at the high table as more and more elves became aware of their lords' rushed departure while hoping that her cousin and former son-in-law would prove themselves sensible enough to handle Erestor's undoubtedly delicate state.

With emphasized leisureliness the Lady of Light stood, gesturing for her concerned and surprised looking Grandchildren to stay seated.

"Please stay." She told the twins who had half risen from their seats. "And make sure that we are undisturbed during the next fifteen minutes."

Then she gestured for Haldir and her other galadhrim to remain seated also and gave her captain a pointed glance towards Lindir. The less people Erestor was confronted with now, the better.

Gracefully she glided towards and through the hall's large wooden doors, closing them silently behind her.



Glorfindel didn't really know what he had expected to find outside in the corridor. For all that his Mirkwood plague had been through, he had always been in control: even knowing that he was about to let himself be caught by Orcs and faced hour after hour of the cruel torture, Erestor had still had the presence of mind to play him brilliantly, had stalled him, and tricked him, mixing his lies with just enough truth that Glorfindel, who was thousands of years older than the young chief advisor, believed them without questions.

But then, only two weeks later, Erestor had been so small and panicked and broken when they finally had him safe in their midst and he had woken that first time. Since then Glorfindel was painfully aware that Erestor *could* lose his notorious control and now he knew exactly how he looked like when he did; and he was aware of how close Erestor had come to losing his control over and over again since then but still the idea of him doing it so completely unchecked was too abstract, too unreal to picture.

Certainly the image paled against the vision of Erestor's bowed form shuffling on his bare feet along the corridor in such a painful contrast to the usual confident and harsh stride of Imladris' chief counsellor.

"Erestor?" he heard Elrond's voice next to him, calm and soothing, as if he was talking to a spooked, injured animal.

Erestor kept walking as if he hadn't heard and Glorfindel more felt than saw Elrond moving forwards.

"Erestor?" he called again, a little bit louder this time, and concern crept into his voice.

If the advisor had heard the Half-Elf, he ignored him. In actual fact it seemed as if he walked quicker instead of slowing his steps, his naked feet almost inaudible on the smooth wooden piles.

Elrond reached forward and his fingers had barely touched the rich robes of the chief advisor, when Erestor whirled around his left axis, ducking into the movement to burrow his fist into the Half-Elf's left flank. But the movement was erratic, lacking the Eldar's usual grace, and Glorfindel recognized it as one he had taught the younger elf himself so many years ago.

Quickly he thrust his husband aside with his own body, grasped the wrist of Erestor's right arm and pushed it further into the gyration so that the fist missed the Half-Elf's torso and he used the strength that Erestor had put behind the blow to spin him around until the younger elf's back was pressed into Glorfindel, his fist held securely pressed against his owner's heaving chest.

The moment he had stabilized Erestor's stance, he let go and stepped out of reach with trained swiftness, watching as Erestor whirled around to face him, ready to fend him - his perceived attacker - off. It was obvious that the younger elf was in no condition to allow anyone to touch him in a prolonged manner right now.

Fervently Glorfindel wished for the thousandth time that he had killed that abomination of an elf when he had had the bloody chance. He liked to entertain the self-torturous image that it would have spared Erestor the trauma of a repeated near-death experience, and maybe, maybe he would not be in such a state now. At least he himself might feel better, knowing he had taken revenge for the horrors his Mirkwood plague was reliving now.

Instead he had failed to heed his charges pleads for rescue and done *nothing* at all.

**Are you all right?** Glorfindel asked his husband through their bond, but he kept his eyes trained on Erestor unswervingly as the dark elf scrambled backwards, and he lifted his hands palm upwards in a placating gesture; because he could do nothing else for lack of an idea as to what to do and because he felt as if he had not the right to even get closer.

Within a heartbeat, the realisation of what he had almost done dawned on Erestor's pale face and his expression - shaped by wild fear - shattered into a complex myriad of emotions, visible only for the split of a second before the young elf hid his face away with a horrified gasp, sagging against the corridor's wall.

"I am well, nothing happened." Elrond said clearly next to him, more for Erestor's benefit than to answer the Vanya's question; Glorfindel felt the gentle, mental caress as a response to his inquiry in a way that the young Sindar couldn't.

The reassurance didn't seem to reach Erestor's conscience or if it did, it hadn't the calming effect it was intended for. A shudder ran through Erestor's shoulders then spread through his torso, his arms, his hands. His legs went out under him and he slid down with his back against the wall.

Glorfindel rushed forward instinctively without thinking, ready to catch and steady his - whatever it was Erestor had become to him, but Elrond's slender hand reached out and stopped him, a warm, constant, unyielding pressure against his chest. **Don't touch him right now!**

Slowly Elrond glided forward until he knelt down still some feet away from Erestor's crouched form, tugging his robes out from under his legs so they wouldn't trap him and hinder his movements.

"Erestor?" He whispered, his voice thick with the pain he felt at seeing his chief advisor so lost and broken. Glorfindel knew that his beloved deliberately let his emotions seep into his words, Elrond had always been able to keep them out at will or to give exactly what he wanted his opponent to hear. Now he wanted to show Erestor that he cared.

"Please, what happened?"

The Half-Elf reached forward, letting his hand hover in the air half a meter away from the Sindar's head, not daring to touch after what had happened the last time.

Sure enough Erestor flinched away, his haunted eyes following the Half-Elf's movements out of the corner of his eye - he did not dare to face his lord as he started to murmur apologies over and over in a never-ending cascade. "Elbereth, I'm sorry! I didn't, really didn't want to … I'm so sorry, please, please forgive me! By your father's star, I'm sorry! Saes, goheno anim…"

"Cease that, Erestor!" Elrond ordered, the gentleness of his voice betraying the harsh words. But he lowered his hand, letting it rest on the floor a foot away from where Erestor sat. "*Nothing* happened. There is *nothing* to forgive. It was my own failure for startling you, I should have known better. I apologize for that."

A mad laugh gurgled from the advisor's lip with a sudden jolt of his shoulders, the desperate sound quickly transforming into violent sobs that shook the other's body. "You … I'm … I … did …"

Elrond felt helpless as he had to watch the younger elf weep, unable to touch him, to pull him into his arms for fear of making everything worse. Wordlessly he reached out to his husband in his mind and felt Glorfindel come up behind him to squeeze his shoulder for a short moment in comfort.

"Erestor, please, let me help you." he whispered, reaching out again. It hurt as he was denied with a jerky shake of Erestor's head.

"Do you want me to fetch something from your apothecary?" Glorfindel asked quietly, wide, pained eyes trained on the black haired elf on the ground.

Erestor pressed a shivering hand against his white lips at hearing those words, feeling ghost hands tangling in his hair, pulling at the tresses unrelentingly, mercilessly, to tilt his head back. 'A Elbereth!'

He clenched his mouth shut even though he knew someone would grasp his jaw in a moment and force it open. Soon he would feel the burning alcohol mixed with bitter herbal extracts pouring down his throat.

With a sudden groan Erestor bent forward, vomiting stomach acid onto the piles.

Gentle fingers reached out to hold his hair back from his sweat damped face, making him scramble backwards, gasping for air. Never. Never again would he allow someone to drug him. Not ever. No.

"No!"

"Hush, Erestor! It's alright." Glorfindel tried in a voice that was meant to soothe. Erestor only shook his head frantically, his eyes tearing up and his breathing laboured from vomiting.

Elrond gathered his robes, clearly about to move towards him.

"No! You're *not* coming near me!" Erestor exclaimed, shooting up from his crouched position but the lack of sleep, nutrition and the emotional exhaustion made him stagger backwards and fall against the wall with a dull thud.

"I won't." Elrond said calmly but emphatically and took a step backwards to lend weight to his words. "See?"

At a loss of what to do, Elrond turned his head for a moment, worried that someone might leave the hall any moment and stumble upon them trying to calm down a totally frantic and panicked Erestor. He didn't want anyone to see his advisor this distraught and vulnerable and he didn't want Erestor to be confronted with a whole frightening crowd of notoriously curious elves.

Instead he saw Galadriel's solemn, tall form leaning against the closed doors as a silent guard, the hands behind her back keeping them closed. She gave him a curt nod, as much to tell him to proceed as to assure him that she would not allow anyone to disturb them.

Somewhat relieved, he turned back to Erestor, who still leaned against the wall, fighting against the vertigo, eying them with as much wariness as fear and dawning shame.

"Let us escort you to the healing wing."

"I'm not ill!" Erestor hissed hoarsely.

"To your chambers then." Where Elrond could oversee his advisor and hopefully instill some sleeping herbs into him. But first he had to get him away from the hall: within minutes the corridors would be swarming with elves.

To his surprise, Erestor looked mildly horrified and shook his head vigorously.

"Then come." Glorfindel said, gesturing for Erestor to follow him with a nod of his head in the direction of Elrond's and his chambers. He did not extend his hand, knowing the other wouldn't take it in his current condition and might even bolt again.

But inwardly all the pain Glorfindel felt at seeing Erestor like this turned to fiery rage. Something had happened in the darkling's chambers. He couldn't believe that mere memories had put the young elf into such a state, never. If someone had attacked him, he swore by all that was good and holy, he would call for a chase that would rival Orome's hunts on Morgoth's creatures and when he got hold of whoever had done this to his little Mirkwood plague, he would flay them alive, inch by inch.

Meanwhile Elrond turned to the Lady of Light. "Galadriel, if it doesn't inconvenience you, would you mind getting Arwen so that she can have someone clean this up?" He vaguely gestured towards the vomit.

"Of course." Galadriel replied quietly, her eyes seeking his out. **He didn't sleep at all, Elrond. Then this morning he tried to face all his memories at once. He was already pretty far gone when some soldiers showed up and Gandalf. They seem to have pushed him further inadvertently. At this point I can't make much sense from his scattered thoughts. But all his mental barriers are down. Be careful of everything you do and say. You don't know how he'll react.**

**I will.** "Thank you, Galadriel." With that he raised his hand to cover his heart and bowed his head to her in respect for a moment.

Then he gazed at his chief advisor, who had detached himself finally from the corridor wall's support and he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Erestor seemed more composed now, his tears having subsided finally. But with his eyes red-rimmed and swollen from crying and his arms hugging his own chest tensely he still seemed like a wounded deer about to bolt.

Erestor took a step back, away from them.

"I am…" he croaked, hoarse and worn from his weeping and he cleared his throat before trying again "I am sorry for attacking you, my lord. I don't know what possessed me."

Another step.

"I'll just…"

"Daro, Erestor!" Elrond ordered with a clear voice that he knew Erestor as his chief advisor would not dare to disobey.

"I told you not to concern yourself with this. You are not to blame and you should know that I can't let you leave on your own right now in your current condition. Your own rooms, the healing wing or Glorfindel's and my chambers. Either will be fine with me. But I and Glorfindel will accompany you. I promise not to make you take any drug or medicine and we won't force you to talk. But you will eat and you will rest."

Erestor paled a little bit and grit his teeth to keep himself from worrying his lip. The idea of following the two elven lords somewhere or to have them follow him was not frightening per se, now that he had calmed a little bit. But the idea of having them in his chambers or to go with them to theirs…

He could have returned to his chambers on his own and face Gandalf and the soldiers who might still be waiting there for him to return. But if the two lords accompanied him and saw them… the conclusions they might draw!

He equally couldn't let himself be put to bed in Elrond's and Glorfindel's chambers, by Elrond and Glorfindel. Elrond. And. Glorfindel. That was just … Valar, in his present condition he might just say something unfortunate and endlessly stupid. And he couldn't just take the torture of seeing the rooms of the couple he would never be part of but loved nonetheless.

Great. Now his tears were welling up again. He blinked for a moment and sniffed.

"The healing wing." he mumbled, at least it would provide a highly impersonal surroundings. But by Este, how he hated healing chambers. White, overly clean and sterile rooms where some unknown person would stuff drugs down one's throat, forcefully if necessary. He had had enough of that in his life.



CHAPTER END NOTES

saes ~ please

goheno anim ~ I'm sorry, forgive me

daro ~ stop, halt

 



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