Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and all characters belong to Tolkien.
Author's Note: This is the sequel to 'Inside the Darkness'. The drawing was made by Nellas
Part 7 - Guilt
Elrohir knocked on his father's door, hoping he wasn't waking Elrond from a healing sleep, but then he heard soft giggling and figured Glorfindel was keeping his father company and it might be safe to enter. "I do hope they are decent," said Elrohir jokingly, and winked at Erestor, hoping to cheer up the elder Elf. But Erestor's expression remained strangely haunted, and the smile didn't reach the dark eyes.
"Ada? Can I come inside?"
Elrond quickly straightened his robes, and swept Glorfindel's hands aside when the blond tried to 'assist' him, causing more mayhem in the process. "Behave and open the door." Elrond sighed regretfully, wishing Elrohir had waited a little longer to pay them this visit. He had finally convinced Glorfindel to cuddle up to him, and had even stolen some hot kisses from the Elda's lips.
Glorfindel rose reluctantly and made his way over to the doorway. "Elrohir..." He raised an eyebrow, seeing the wheel chair and wondered why Erestor was there as well. The dark haired Elf had already visited earlier, discussing affairs that couldn't wait. "What is -that-?" He pointed at the chair that Elrohir now pushed inside.
Elrond immediately realized what the chair was for. "I should have thought of it." He gave Elrohir an approving nod, proud that his son had constructed this chair for him. "You did well, Elrohir."
Elrohir heard movement behind him and looked over his shoulder. Erestor was about to sneak out of the room, but Elrohir quickly grabbed the elder Elf's wrist, pulling him toward the bed. "It was Erestor's idea, not mine, Ada."
Elrond raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Thank you, Erestor." Erestor was his chief advisor and he trusted the other Elf with his life, but Erestor seldom showed his feelings these days. It had been different in the past, but after that incident, Erestor had changed. "I am grateful you thought of this. It will make moving about much easier."
Elrohir's gaze rested on Erestor and he wondered about the blush that crept across the elder Elf's face. It almost seemed like Elrond's compliment made Erestor uncomfortable, but why?
"A stroke of genius!" teased Glorfindel. He tried to catch Erestor's gaze, but the other Elf averted his, making it impossible to probe the dark depths.
"Please excuse me," said Erestor in a shaky tone. "I need to read the latest reports and..." Briefly, his gaze shifted to Elrohir, but then he quickly averted his eyes, staring at the doorway.
"You are excused," said Elrond softly, sensing Erestor's unease. "We will discuss those reports later."
Erestor nodded and left in a hurry the room.
Elrohir looked at his father questioningly. "Ada? What is the matter with Erestor?"
Elrond sighed, concerned. "Sit down, Elrohir... There is something you need to know about Erestor. You are now old enough to understand."
Curiously, Elrohir sat down on the side of the bed. Glorfindel and Elrond exchanged looks and apparently reached a decision. "Ada?"
Elrond locked eyes with his son. "It started when the Orcs attacked your mother."
Elrohir briefly closed his eyes, reliving that horrific time. "What started?" Opening his eyes, he stared at Elrond and Glorfindel. Their fingers were entwined and they seemed to draw strength from each other.
"You know that these foul creatures tortured your mother," continued Elrond in a heavy tone.
"Aye." Elrohir frowned.
Elrond cleared his throat. Glorfindel reassuringly rubbed his lover's knuckles and Elrond finally found the courage to continue. "You were so busy tending to your mother that you never realized someone else was hurting as well."
Elrohir's eyes narrowed, suddenly recalling that Erestor had accompanied his mother on that trip. "Erestor was there as well."
Elrond moistened his lips, suddenly wondering if he should tell Elrohir or not. Maybe this was too personal and Erestor didn't want the twins to know. But it was too late now and he had to finish what he had started. "Aye, Erestor was in command of your mother's escort. The Orcs singled him out because he was in charge, and they..." Elrond bit his bottom lip, hesitant to continue.
Glorfindel cleared his throat, drawing Elrohir's attention. "What your father is trying to say is that the Orcs tortured Erestor as well... Maybe even in worse ways than Celebrian. He tried to distract the Orcs from tormenting her, and... You were so concerned about your mother that we decided not to tell you. But there are nights, especially when there is a full moon like tonight, when Erestor remembers everything much too clearly."
Elrohir shook his head in disbelief. "You kept this from us?"
"Celebrian demanded your attention, and Erestor preferred it that way." Glorfindel released Elrond's hand, left the bed and sat on his heels in front of Elrohir. "You know what those creatures did to your mother; Erestor suffered even worse, trying to draw their attention away from her."
"I cannot believe this," whispered Elrohir, shocked. Staring at Glorfindel, he wondered how Erestor had managed to keep this a secret. "Why did he not tell us after mother had left?"
"Elladan and you were hurting, and he did not want to add to your sorrow by telling you what happened to him. Elrohir, Erestor is very strong, much stronger than you think, but there will be times when he feels... uncomfortable." Glorfindel inclined his head, hoping Elrohir understood.
"I am surprised you never noticed in the past," muttered Elrond, raising a hand to signal his lover to return to his side. Glorfindel quickly moved back to the bed and clasped his fingers around Elrond's. "But then again, you spent a lot of time away from home, hunting Orcs." Elrond studied his son. "There is something else you need to know."
"What is it?" Elrohir massaged his temples; a headache was beginning to pound away in his head. Erestor had suffered so much and never told them? How badly had he suffered at the Orcs' hands? What had they done to him? Elrond had hinted Erestor's burden was even heavier than his mother's. "Ada?"
"Erestor blames himself for what happened to your mother. He was in charge of her escort and when the Orcs attacked; he did his best to fight them off, but there were too many of the foul creatures. He thinks he let her down, and this guilt has been eating away at him for a long time. After the attack he turned quiet, trying to 'atone' for his 'failure'."
Elrohir's fingernails dug into wood, listening as the horrific tale unfolded. "But he did not stand a chance! There were about forty Orcs, and mother's escort consisted of five archers and Erestor!" They had never thought Orcs would dare attack so close to Imladris. "It was not his fault!"
"We know that," said Glorfindel, "but it is different for Erestor. The archers did not survive the attack and your mother..." He quickly glanced at Elrond. "Celebrian was hurt body and soul... She could not face us and left... Erestor made the decision to stay and 'pay' for his failure..."
Elrond interrupted his lover. "I have assured Erestor countless times that he was not to blame, but... he feels guilty because he survived and for finding the courage and strength to continue."
Elrohir sat stunned, trying to deal with this new insight into Erestor's personality. "I did wonder why he grew quiet after the attack, but I never realized..."
Elrond's features briefly contorted. "Celebrian could not bear my touch and my healers looked after her; one of them even accompanied her to Valinor. I took it upon myself to care for Erestor, as your mother did not want me close. Just believe me when I say you that Erestor was gravely wounded... Even more emotionally than physically. I tended to his injuries, and it took him several weeks to recover. You probably do not remember because you were so worried about Celebrian. Erestor was hesitant to face you and Elladan, and stayed in his chambers until after your mother had left."
"I never suspected anything..." Elrohir grew angry with himself for not noticing Erestor's anguish. "I never paid his silent moods any attention."
"Perhaps I was wrong to tell you," sighed Elrond, almost regretting burdening Elrohir with this knowledge. "Do not tell Erestor you know... He might retreat even farther within himself. "
Elrohir shook his head. "I cannot continue as if I did not know, Ada!"
"Then show Erestor compassion, but not pity. Give him the respect he deserves and do not treat him differently because of this knowledge." Glorfindel's gaze was warm when he addressed Elrohir. "Once the full moon is gone he will become less restless."
Elrohir recalled that night when they had found their mother, bleeding and crying. A full moon had illuminated the night and had cast a ghastly shadow over Celebrian's face. "When we tended to mother..." He looked to Glorfindel for answers.
"I tended to Erestor and took him back to Imladris."
Elrohir suddenly recalled that Asfaloth had carried two riders that night, not one. But aye, Elladan and he had been too focused on their mother to pay much attention to anything else. "Ada, what did they do to Erestor?"
Elrond bit his tongue to keep himself from speaking; he couldn't tell Elrohir the complete truth.
Elrohir thought back to that night. "They beat mother, burned her soft skin and tore out her hair. These foul creatures... touched her..." Elrond had never confirmed their suspicion that Celebrian had been raped, but now he had to know. "Ada, did they... force mother?"
Elrond swallowed convulsively, wishing Elrohir hadn't asked him that question. Glorfindel's thumb moved over the back of his hand, soothing him. "Nay, Elrohir, I do not think so. The healers did not find any evidence that she had been forced."
Elrohir frowned. Why was his father this nervous all of a sudden? Was Elrond lying to him in order to protect him? "And you believed them?"
"I cannot be sure, Elrohir - they might have twisted the truth, trying to save her honor. I just know that she could no longer stand my touch." Elrond looked pleadingly at Glorfindel; this conversation exhausted him.
Suddenly Elrohir's eyes widened. "Ada... Did they... What about Erestor? Surely they did not..." By Elbereth, he didn't dare ask Elrond if they had forced Erestor as well, but his father had hinted that the dark haired Elf had suffered worse than his mother.
Elrond averted his eyes. "I cannot tell you that, Elrohir."
The words pounded in his ears. "They did, otherwise you could have reassured me they did not. By Elbereth, how did he survive? Endure the pain?"
Glorfindel spoke softly. "Elrohir, you and your brother were so young - still are - and you have suffered a great loss. We kept this from you as best as we could and... it was at Erestor's own request."
Elrohir nodded absentmindedly. "I can understand that he does not want anyone to know, but... He helped you raise us! The two of you, mother and Erestor are our family! We could have supported him..." It hurt, knowing that even after so many years Erestor kept this pain to himself. "I do not know if I can keep this a secret."
"What will you do?" Glorfindel frowned.
Elrohir shrugged. "Right now I feel an overwhelming urge to hug Erestor..."
Elrond smiled brightly and squeezed Glorfindel's hand. "Be careful when you do, Elrohir. Erestor still reacts defensively when someone gets to close to him."
Elrohir locked eyes with his father. "I will not chase him away by holding him?"
"Did you in the past?" asked Glorfindel, amused.
"I did..." Elrohir's eyes narrowed, realizing something. "He always was nervous when Elladan and I hugged him."
"And now you understand why," said Elrond in a tired voice. "Glorfindel? I need to rest... I am tired."
Glorfindel pulled Elrond close and encouraged the half-Elf to lean against him. Glorfindel's eyes suddenly gleamed with mischief. "And you, Elrohir, were you not going to hug someone?"
Elrohir realized he was being dismissed. "Ada, thank you for trusting me with this. I will keep the secret... At least I will try."
Elrond nodded wearily and enjoyed his lover's soft touch as Glorfindel stroked his dark hair. "Do no blurt out what I told you when you meet Erestor. Be subtle for a change."
Elrohir blushed. "I will be careful," he promised as he headed for the door. "Will you join us for dinner later?"
Glorfindel stopped Elrond from answering that question and addressed Elrohir himself. "Maybe, it depends on how tired your father is."
Elrohir smiled warmly. "I feel reassured, knowing you are looking after Ada..."
Glorfindel gracefully accepted the compliment and waited for Elrohir to leave the room before locking eyes with Elrond. "You raised them well, meleth-nīn."
Elrond allowed a grin to surface on his face. "Aye, -we- did. -We- raised them well. I could never have done it alone."
Glorfindel kissed the tip of his lover's nose and watched Elrond doze off. "I hope Elrohir does not scare Erestor by springing that hug on him..."
Erestor stared at the rising white moon in the darkening skies; the disk was already announcing the full moon that would illuminate the dark night. He fought the horrific memories as they crept back over him, trying to pull them under the dark sea in which he was drowning. Ai, Elbereth, how he hated nights like these. When he was young he had loved to walk beneath the full moon, but the Orcs' attack had changed everything.
/And Elrond knows what is haunting me... as does Glorfindel. They know I am falling into shadow again. I saw it in their eyes./ Like so many nights before, he wondered why he hadn't died that night, or one of the long nights that had followed. He shouldn't have survived the abuse and yet he had, though he had no idea why he still refused to surrender and find rest in the Halls of Waiting. During those dark nights when Elrond had sat at his side, tending to him, he had wondered what was giving him the strength to stay at Arda, instead of leaving life behind.
Only a few days ago he had realized the truth; it was love that kept him here at Imladris. He didn't know when it had happened, but he had long lost his heart to Elrohir. His love had simmered in the dark for some time, but only know did he realize that Elrohir was the object of his desires.
At first he had been able to act normally around Elrond's youngest son, but being around Elrohir was getting harder; especially when Elrohir was close the entire time, like he had been since Elrond's return. He longed for the day when Elrond would finally recover so he didn't have to be around him that often.
Being in love and feeling the way he did made him feel immensely insecure around Elrohir. Acting on his feelings was impossible, for he didn't want to betray the trust Elrond had placed in him during these last few years when he had trained the twins in matters of state. /I should stay away from him. Maybe I can convince Glorfindel to work with me, instead of Elrohir. I could say that Elrohir lacks necessary experience. Elrond would surely except my explanation./
"Erestor? Are you in? I want to talk to you... Please?"
Erestor was startled, hearing Elrohir's voice and involuntarily sucked in his breath. He considered not answering, but was afraid that Elrohir might search the house until the half-Elf had finally located him. He had better face Elrohir now.
"Aye, I am in. You may enter." Erestor moved to a chair beneath the window and sat down, wrapping his robes around his trembling form. Only a few candles illuminated the room, and he hoped the shadows would hide his troubled features from Elrohir's inquisitive gaze.
Elrohir entered slowly, briefly halting in his tracks as he caught sight of Erestor, the elder Elf's face hidden by shadows. "Erestor?"
"Aye?" He slowly rose to his feet, and reluctantly met Elrohir's gaze, trying to act calm and composed. "Did anything occur that demands my attention?" The reports he had received had spoken of no immediate threat.
Elrohir shuffled his feet, peeked at Erestor and wrung his hands. "Erestor?" He took a step toward the dark haired Elf and noticed Erestor's raised eyebrow.
Elrohir's behavior puzzled Erestor; the half-Elf seemed oddly shy. "Is something wrong, pen-neth?"
"Actually, there is..." Elrohir took another step closer toward Erestor... and another....
Erestor suddenly realized that Elrohir was now only inches away, already invading his personal space. He barely refrained from backing away, but the expression in those dark eyes convinced him to stay in place. Elrohir apparently needed something from him; some reassurance? Advice? "Can I help?" he offered innocently.
"Aye, you can." Extremely slowly, Elrohir raised his arms and wrapped them loosely around Erestor's shoulders, burying the elder Elf in an embrace. Erestor tensed, and Elrohir almost pulled back, but he stubbornly shook his head, unwilling to let the past gain a hold on the present. "I need... to hug you close..."
Erestor's eyes narrowed suspiciously, barely tolerating the embrace. He only managed to stay in place because this was Elrohir; the half-Elf he was in love with. "Why?" Why did Elrohir want to hold him? Unexpectedly, the hug tightened and he desperately tried not to let his anxiety get the better of him. Elrohir was very dear to him and the half-Elf would never, ever, hurt him!
Elrohir moistened his lips; he had come here with every intention to tell Erestor he knew what those Orcs had done to the Elf, but now his vocal cords refused to comply. Erestor's shame and guilt would only increase, realizing one of the twins knew his dark secret. "It has been so long since I showed you how much I care..."
A sudden chill coursed through Erestor's form; Elrohir couldn't know what had happened to him that night! The twins had focused on Celebrian, not him. There was no way Elrohir could have found out the truth; Elrond and Glorfindel would never betray his trust! He wouldn't be able to bear the pity in Elrohir's eyes, which would certainly appear once the twin knew the truth. /Maybe it's because he was afraid of losing Elladan... He is probably relieved that Elladan safely returned./
Raising an arm and returning the embrace was one of the hardest things Erestor had ever done. He had to show Elrohir that everything was fine and when the half-Elf had been upset as a child an embrace had always done the trick.
Elrohir smiled against Erestor's shoulder, feeling a hesitant arm fold around his waist. When he had first reached out, he had been afraid that Erestor would flinch away from his touch, but it seemed like the elder Elf had come a long way since that dreadful night.
"Your father and brother will be fine, Elrohir. Let go of your worries and enjoy their company." Erestor hoped the words would soothe Elrohir's obviously troubled mind. /Why come to me for comfort? Why not seek out Elrond, Elladan or Glorfindel? Why me?/
"Erestor, it is -you- I worry about... You look weary and pale, and I am afraid you are not taking care of yourself. When was the last time you slept? Dark circles show under your eyes and seeing them worries me. And when did you eat last? You look so thin..." Elrohir pulled back to look at Erestor's eyes. "You are very important to me and I do not want you to slowly fade away."
Elrohir's tone alarmed Erestor. Did he really look that exhausted? "Aye, I have been working long hours and I might have forgotten a meal or two, but do not worry about me, pen-neth. I am old enough to take care of myself."
"Will you let me fetch you something to eat?" Elrohir looked at Erestor pleadingly. "Seeing you eat would make me feel better."
Erestor smiled weakly. "Is it that important to you that I eat?" Elrohir's concern warmed his chilly soul. The youngest twin had always been his favorite, but it had never showed in his dealings with the two half-Elves.
"Aye, Erestor, it does." Elrohir felt pleased; Erestor had not made any attempt to flee the embrace. Apparently the raven-haired Elf had found ways to deal with the effects of the torture he had suffered in the past. At least Erestor was able to bear his touch, something Celebrian had never managed. /And Erestor suffered much worse./
Erestor was beginning to feel uncomfortable now that Elrohir continued to hold him close. Slowly, he edged away from Elrohir, and thankfully the half-Elf didn't question his retreat. "I am honored that you worry about me, Elrohir, but there is no need to fret over me."
Elrohir smiled warmly. "I will fetch us something to eat. I am hungry as well."
Erestor cringed privately, realizing Elrohir intended to stay. "Elrohir, I am bad company tonight, maybe you should seek out Elladan instead."
Elrohir played his trump. "Nay, Elladan is in love and can only think of Thranduil."
Erestor's eyes widened in surprise. "Thranduil?" What was Elrohir talking about?
"Ah, you do not know yet that Hynduil is Thranduil in disguise? Let me tell whilst drinking some sweet wine, Erestor. I will head for the kitchen and bring back food and wine. Then we will settle down and I will tell you what happened at dinner last night."
Erestor sighed resignedly. Elrohir seemed determined to do this. "Then fetch the food and wine, pen-neth, and I will add more wood to the fire. It is turning cold in here."
"That is an understatement! It is -freezing- cold in here!" Elrohir grinned and marched out of the room, heading for the kitchen.
Erestor shook his head in disbelief. "I wonder what has gotten into him. Why worry about me now?" Well, he had to admit that he might have acted uncharacteristically, and he had been neglecting his needs. The last time he had eaten was two days ago, but he would never admit that to Elrohir. /Ai, Elrohir, you are such a gentle and caring soul. How could anyone not be fond of you?/ But it went deeper than that. That fondness had turned to love during long and lonely years; a forbidden love, and one he could never admit to openly.
Sighing worriedly, he collapsed onto his chair. Could he deal with Elrohir fussing over him? Maybe if he ate Elrohir would let him be. /But I do not want him to let me be... I enjoy his company. I am less lonely when he is close, but.../
/You do not deserve his company, nor his affection!/ A cold, berating voice echoed through his head, making him cringe. /You failed his mother! He does not remember you were meant to protect her, but if he did, he would loathe the very sight of you. -You- could not protect Celebrian! -You- are to blame!/
Erestor released a strangled sob. The voice never left him alone, haunting him day and night. /I tried my best, but there were so many of them and so few of us/
/Excuses! -You- should have fought harder! Instead you let them capture her! Celebrian was -your- responsibility and -you- let them hurt her!/
/Nay, I tried to distract them, but it was already too late. They had hurt her... But I stopped them from hurting her even worse!/
/-You- got everything you deserved for failing her, Erestor. Elrond might hide his disgust for you, but that does not mean it is not there. You can see it in his eyes if you look close enough, but -you- do not dare to look him in the eyes!/
"Nay, stop it..." Erestor let his dark hair fall in front of his face, trying to lock out the taunting voice. "I tried..."
"Erestor?" Elrohir frowned concerned, seeing Erestor this distressed. Through strands of dark hair, he thought he saw tears. He almost considered leaving Erestor alone, but in the end his concern won and made him clear his throat, announcing his return. Erestor's head whipped back up, and he quickly wiped at his eyes. /Ai, he -is- crying... By Elbereth, how can I help him?/
"Elrohir, I would prefer to be alone tonight. I seem to have lost my appetite and..." Erestor wearily eyed Elrohir as the half-Elf placed the tray with food and wine on the floor next to him. His stomach betrayed him, growling softly. The freshly baked lembas smelled deliciously and Elrohir had warmed their wine, just the way he liked it. He hadn't thought Elrohir would remember he liked his wine hot. "I am not hungry any more."
Elrohir shook his head determinedly. "Erestor, you -must- eat something. You are wasting away. Will you tell me what ails you? I am a good listener; you told me so yourself." He picked up the goblet filled with warm wine and pressed it into Erestor's shaky hand. "Drink. It will warm you from the inside."
Erestor grew more worried with every passing moment. "Why are you this concerned about me, Elrohir?" It was his greatest fear that Elrohir would somehow find out about his past. If the half-Elf truly knew what had happened, he was tempted to leave Imladris to avoid the confrontation. "I should return to the study and read the latest reports. I also need to write Celeborn and..." He grew silent when Elrohir's stare became pleadingly. "What do you want from me?"
"To unburden your soul."
Erestor's scared expression told him to stop pressuring his friend. A change in topic was needed to reassure Erestor. "Elladan's soul is burdened as well..." said Elrohir.
"You mentioned something about Thranduil?" Erestor welcomed the changed subject, hoping to distract Elrohir. /Do not worry about me, pen-neth. I am not worth it./
Elrohir had hoped Erestor would confide in him, but the elder Elf seemed reluctant to even hint at the things that haunted him. "Elladan is falling in love with Thranduil... Remember Hynduil, the Elf that rescued Elladan? He turned out to be Thranduil..."
For the next hour Erestor listened to Elrohir's soft and soothing voice and, without realizing it, he drifted off into sleep.
Elrohir noticed Erestor's slow, yet steady breathing and removed the now empty goblet before it could drop onto the floor. "You cannot be comfortable in that chair." Gently he pushed his arms beneath Erestor's knees and back and lifted the dark-haired Elf. Surprised at the low body weight, he raised an eyebrow. "You have not been eating, Erestor..."
He placed Erestor in the center of the bed and pulled up the covers, tucking the blankets around the elder Elf's body. Elrohir pulled up a chair and rested his feet on the side of the bed, watching Erestor thoughtfully. /You are always there for us when we need you... And yet I never noticed you needed someone as well. Maybe I can now return the love and attention you gave Elladan and me./
Recalling Erestor's painful past, he continued to study the face, which was now relaxed in sleep. "I will stay here tonight and watch over you..." Terrible nightmares and waking visions had tormented Celebrian after the attack, and he wondered if Erestor was prone to them as well. "You need a good night's sleep, Erestor... I will keep the nightmares away." His protectiveness of the Elder Elf didn't really surprise him. Erestor had always been there for him when Elrond or Glorfindel were too busy to spend time with him. Love and affection had blossomed in his heart long ago, and he smiled tenderly, vowing to help Erestor fight his personal demons.
Beta read by Ilye, thank you!
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