Heart In Chains
Haldir frantically bounded up the steps of the talan, leaping up several stairs at a time. Upon his return, Orophin had told him that Erestor had finally regained awareness and he was now eager to convince himself that the raven-haired Elf had really returned to them.
Storming into the room, his eyes immediately searched Erestor’s features. His heart missed a beat, seeing the large eyes open and blinking. “You returned to us!” He ignored Camfael and Celeborn, who were talking softly in the corner of the room and sat down on the side of Erestor’s bed. “I always knew you would come back to us!” Haldir took hold of Erestor’s right hand and soothingly rubbed the knuckles.
When he didn’t get a reply, Haldir’s eyes widened questioningly. Erestor was looking at him and the thin, nearly bloodless lips were moving, but the dark-haired Elf wasn’t speaking with him. “Meldir?” Worried, he searched Erestor’s eyes.
“He woke up a few hours ago,” said Camfael, who came to a standstill behind the march warden. “He has been asleep for a very long time and his body needs to adjust. I fear that he will have to relearn everything; speech, eating, walking… Everything.”
Camfael’s words dampened Haldir’s enthusiasm. “Are you telling me he is like a newborn?”
“Aye,” said Celeborn. “And we need to take care of him for a while. But I am confident that he will grow strong again.”
Haldir’s nostrils twitched, smelling urine. “What?”
“Erestor has no control over his bodily functions yet,” explained Camfael. “We need to clean him up.”
“I will do it,” said Haldir determinedly.
“Excellent. In that case you can also give him a sponge bath. He needs to get used to being touched again.” Camfael pushed back the damp sheet and with Haldir’s assistance moved Erestor to the bathroom, where he left the two Elves alone. He knew from previous experience that Erestor liked it best when he was alone with Haldir.
Celeborn worriedly looked at Camfael. “Galadriel probably already knows.”
Camfael nodded. “Will you be Erestor’s champion or will you abide solely by your wife’s decisions, my Lord?” He knew he was being bold, but Celeborn had to take a stand in this.
“I will be his champion, even if it means defying Galadriel.” During these last millennia his wife had changed, and at times he barely recognized the woman he had once loved so dearly. “I do not understand when things went wrong.”
“Neither do I,” said Camfael, resting a hand on his Lord’s shoulder. “But I do know that you need to be strong for Erestor’s sake.”
Haldir’s heart bled, seeing the lost expression in Erestor’s eyes when he removed the other Elf’s nightshirt. He could tell that Erestor felt embarrassed for not being able to control himself and quickly cleaned his charge. Methodically, he washed Erestor’s shivering body and then wrapped him up in a large, fluffy towel.
Now that Erestor was sitting down again, clean and warm, he lowered himself onto one knee and gathered the other’s clammy hands in his. “Erestor? Mellon-nîn, for so many years I hoped you would return to us and now you have. I knew you would not desert me!” Erestor’s pleading eyes made him enfold the trembling Elf in his arms. “I have already requested to be relieved from my duties and Lord Celeborn has given me his permission. I won’t leave your side for the next few weeks.”
Hearing Haldir’s words and determined, caring tone, Erestor managed to rest his head on the silver-haired Elf’s shoulder. It was Haldir who had made him come back. Often he had tried to step into the Halls of Waiting, but Haldir’s voice had always called him back. The sentry wasn’t ready yet to let him go and in the end, Erestor had given in. Now that he rested in Haldir’s arms, he felt safe. It was the strangest sensation. In the back of his mind he still sensed Elrond’s presence, but the half-Elf was happy and not drawing any strength away from him.
“I sat with you for so many hours, Erestor, but I never stopped believing you would come back to me.” Haldir lifted his eyes and stared into large, chocolate eyes. “So many things have happened, have changed since you… left. There is so much I need to tell you.”
Erestor hoped Haldir would ration his information. It felt like his brain was only capable of dealing with tiny morsels of information. Haldir’s arms tightened around him and he loved the way it made him feel - safe.
“You should return our patient to his bed,” said Camfael, who now stood in the doorway. “Erestor is still very weak and needs rest.”
Haldir was unwilling to part from his charge and gently lifted Erestor in his arms. Entering the bedroom, he nodded thankfully at Celeborn. The fact that his Lord had given him permission to take care of Erestor meant that Celeborn had chosen Erestor’s side after all. He gently placed Erestor in the center of the bed now that Camfael and Celeborn had changed the bed linens. “Camfael is right, you know. You need to rest.”
“But first he needs to eat and drink something.” Celeborn had accepted the tray one of the servants had brought and placed it on the nightstand. He immediately noticed the stricken expression in Erestor’s eyes, understanding. “We will take you to the bathroom in time. You won’t have another accident.”
Erestor sighed deeply. He was trying to move his hands, but his fingers refused to cooperate. Feeling utterly helpless, he wondered how he was ever going to manage.
“Let me help.” Haldir first pulled Erestor against him and then curled his fingers around the cup, helping his charge sip the tepid, herbal tea. “How does it taste?” His heart fluttered, pleased, when Erestor released a soft moan of approval. “It does not matter how long this will take, you will recover.”
Erestor wished he shared Haldir’s faith in him, but he didn’t.
“Try again and take all the time you need.” Haldir’s heart ached, seeing the self-loathing in Erestor’s eyes. “You can do it.” Erestor was trying to take hold of a piece of bread but his fingers were too stiff and unused to functioning at all to curl around it. “Do not push yourself.” Haldir wished there was something else, something more he could do to help, but Erestor needed time to recover.
Releasing a frustrated growl, Erestor gave up. His hand, which had been poised in mid-air, fell back onto the bed. “Can…not…” He had woken up four weeks ago and during this time Haldir hadn’t left his side. The silver-haired Elf looked tired and depressed and he felt sad, knowing he was the reason Haldir was in this way. “Go… r-rest…” Camfael had practiced speaking with him, but his words were still slow and slurred. He felt like he would never recover.
“Erestor, remember what Camfael said. It will take you one year at least to fully recover.” Haldir knew he couldn’t remain at Erestor’s side for a whole year, but he hoped that Camfael, Rumil, Orophin and Celeborn would look after Erestor during the times when he was gone. “Try again, please.” Haldir folded his fingers around Erestor’s hand and gently supported the limb when his charge reached for the bread. A brilliant smile was born on his face when Erestor’s fingers curled around the morsel of bread. “See, I told you that you could do it.”
Erestor couldn’t help it. Tears slid from his eyes and he dropped the morsel, grabbing Haldir’s fingers instead. He wanted to thank Haldir for his continued support, but the words wouldn’t come to him. His thoughts were chaotic and at times he even forgot his friends’ names. But they always reminded him in a kind voice. So far, he had managed to push away the memories of his sons’ funeral. A mere thought of them was enough to pull him under again and, after millennia of cold loneliness, he didn’t want to give up on Haldir’s company. It was amazing; Haldir had become the most important person in his life.
Haldir in turn wondered about the strange expression in Erestor’s eyes. “What is it?” He gently squeezed the powerless fingers in an effort to comfort Erestor.
“Out…s-side…” Erestor had no idea if Haldir understood what he was trying to say, but he had to try. His greatest desire was to go outside and sit under an ancient tree whilst watching Arien’s rays play hide and seek with the wind and the leaves. Would Haldir understand?
Erestor’s big, needy eyes told Haldir everything he needed to know. “Let me fetch you a warm cloak.” Seeing Erestor’s relief, he gently stroked the long, raven hair. “I know a charming spot near the lake, which is normally deserted at this time of the day.”
Erestor managed a weak nod and his eyes followed Haldir through the room when the silver-haired Elf gathered a warm riding-cloak from a chair. It was probably Haldir’s, Erestor realized. He sighed approvingly as Haldir wrapped the warm fabric around him. Aye, it was Haldir’s all right. The cloak exuded the sentry’s pleasant scent.
“You are welcome,” whispered Haldir, reading gratitude in Erestor’s eyes. The dark-haired Elf groaned in protest when Haldir pushed his arms beneath him. “You are still too weak to walk. Let me carry you.” He hoped Erestor would let him. “I like doing these things for you.”
Erestor studied Haldir and wondered what was really prompting the march warden’s actions. /Is it because he still feels indebted to me? Do I really want to know? I am fortunate to have such a friend./ Haldir lifted him and Erestor succeeded in partly moving his arm around the sentry’s neck. The warm smile that Haldir gave him took him aback. No one had ever looked at him like that. And for some reason he was reminded of something Eärendil had once said; that it was time for him to find a mate. /Aiya, Elbereth, do not let Haldir fall in love with me. I am not worthy of him and… I am already bound to Elrond Half-Elven. I would make Haldir unhappy./
Haldir sensed some of Erestor’s thoughts and quickly hid the love he felt. But at the same time, he realized he would have to tell Erestor shortly.
“Hap…p-py,” mumbled Erestor blissfully. Haldir had put him down beneath the sheltering leaves of an ancient mallorn tree and the silver-haired sentry had then maneuvered him closer. His head now rested on Haldir’s thigh and the march warden’s fingers gently moved through his hair. He purred his contentment, which made Haldir laugh.
“Ah, Erestor, I have seldom seen you this relaxed.” And with that realization came regret. “I talked to Lord Celeborn and he will try to make your life more enjoyable from now on.”
/Enjoyable? How can I possibly enjoy life when… when my babies are dead?/ But he quickly pushed that thought away. /Nay, not now./ He didn’t want to think about his guilt, his weakness and cowardice. But was he entitled to feel this happy? His babies were dead whilst he was still alive. Tears built in his eyes and, as he was unable to wipe them away, he turned his face away from Haldir instead. If only his body would start cooperating!
“Do not cry, Erestor. Please do not cry.” Acting instinctively, Haldir leaned in closer and pressed a chaste kiss on Erestor’s clammy brow. “Do not cry. You have already shed too many tears.”
Feeling Haldir’s lips pressed against his brow made Erestor’s eyes widen. Had the sentry just kissed him? Why?
Haldir had the grace to blush. “I… I hope I did not cross the line by doing that. But you looked so lost.”
“W-why?” Why had Haldir kissed him? Had it been pity?
“I…” Haldir hesitated, cleared his throat and then took heart. “I have feelings for you. I am not sure what their nature is, but I care deeply for you.” The shock that radiated from Erestor’s eyes made his heart miss a beat. “I know you are bound to Elrond and that you cannot accept me as your lover, but I would still offer you my love.”
Erestor slowly shook his head. “N-nay… You… un…h-happy.” Accepting Haldir’s offer would make the sentry miserable in the end. He couldn’t do that! No matter how much he longed to be enfolded in the warmth Haldir radiated. He wasn’t even sure if the bond would allow Haldir to touch him intimately.
Haldir gazed into Erestor’s sad eyes. “I would also be unhappy if you rejected me. Erestor, I do not know how far we can go, but I want you to know that you have a true and dedicated friend.”
Erestor’s eyes swam with unshed tears and Haldir bent forward again, placing butterfly kisses on his eyelids. The raven-haired Elf trembled beneath him, and when he pulled back to make eye contact, he found that Erestor had fainted.
“Erestor? What happened to make you faint? Erestor?”
With difficultly, Erestor identified Camfael’s voice. “Hal… dir?” His memories came rushing back to him. Haldir had kissed him! Panicking, he tried to elbow himself into an upright position, but the healer’s hand settled on his chest and it worried him how little strength Camfael used in order to make him lie down again. “Where… is… Haldir?” He quickly scanned the room in search of the silver-haired sentry.
“Haldir brought you here an hour ago. I berated him for taking you outside whilst you are still recovering.”
“Where… is… he… now?” Driven by panic and the fear of losing Haldir, his stutter lessened. He tried to grab hold of Camfael’s hands, but failed.
“I sent him to his talan to rest. He looked tired and worried.” Camfael stroked his patient’s sweaty brow. “You need to rest as well, Erestor. Going outside was taxing. What did he think he was doing?”
“I… asked him… to take me… outside,” whispered Erestor with his last strength. “Not… his fault.” His eyes became vacant, and he slipped into a healing sleep.
Camfael made eye contact with Celeborn, who stood next to the window and out of Erestor’s sight. “They are becoming attached to each other.”
“Is that a good thing?” asked Celeborn thoughtfully. Studying Erestor, he realized it would take months for the raven-haired Elf to recover from his ordeal. The hardest test would come when Erestor visited his sons’ tombs.
“Aye, I think it is.” Camfael leaned back into the comfort of the chair. “As Erestor’s mate shows no interest in him, I am beginning to think that it would be best if Erestor sought comfort in someone else’s arms. Haldir is a compassionate soul and he seems right for Erestor.”
“Erestor’s mate…” Celeborn fought his inner demons, sighed, and then continued, “Erestor’s mate does not know about the bond. We never told him.”
Camfael’s eyes flared with anger. “What?”
“Erestor formed a healing bond to pull him back from the Great Halls of Waiting. But as this Elf was traumatized, Galadriel and I decided not to burden his soul with a bond.”
“You did what?” Camfael rose from his chair and glared at his Lord. “This Elf did not bind himself to Erestor in turn?”
“Nay,” said Celeborn, his features contorting. “And he is now happily married and father of three lovely children.”
Camfael’s voice grew colder than the ice at the peak of Cradhras when he spoke next. “And I assume you never told him Erestor lost their children.”
“That would only have added to the trauma.” Celeborn cringed at the way that sounded.
“And Erestor has not been traumatized?” Camfael’s hands changed into fists now that the normally peaceful healer was losing his temper. “I suggest you leave now. Haldir and I will look after Erestor.”
Celeborn nodded, resigned. “If it is any consolation to you, I never wanted it to turn out like this. I always hoped Erestor and the Elf he is bound to would reunite one day.”
“There is little hope of that now.” Camfael walked over to the doorway, opened the door and bid Celeborn to leave.
Heavily burdened by guilt, Celeborn complied.
Camfael returned to Erestor’s side with more understanding of the Elf’s tragic life. “They played and manipulated you, Erestor. It is a shame. I do think Haldir would have made you happy.” But Erestor was no longer free to bond with Haldir. “I wish things had gone differently, Erestor. You deserve someone who makes you happy.”
“Rumil, let him sleep.” Orophin had dressed himself and was now preparing to join his fellows on today’s patrol. “Haldir has attended to Erestor these past few weeks and needs his rest.”
“But he will be cross with us if he wakes up and finds no one is sitting with Erestor.”
“Camfael is attending to Erestor,” replied Orophin, who now reached for his bow. “If it were up to me, I would stay as well, but it is my turn to lead today’s patrol. I won’t be back until tomorrow evening.”
“Then I will sit with Erestor,” said Rumil in a determined tone. “Orophin?” He glanced at his brother with questioning eyes. “Have you noticed the way Haldir --”
“Looks at Erestor?” finished Orophin for him. The silver-haired Elf sighed worriedly. “Only heartache can come from this.”
“Do you think we should stop Haldir from –”
Orophin cut his brother short. “Nay, Haldir is old enough to make his own decisions. But we will be there for him when things fall apart.”
“You expect things to go badly?” Rumil didn’t like the sound of that.
Orophin looked deeply into his brother’s eyes. “As long as our Lady continues her scheming, Erestor will get hurt. And now, Haldir will get hurt as well.” He didn’t want to ponder this in depth. “I suggest you write Haldir a note and then leave to sit with Erestor.” He waved his good-bye to Rumil and then hurried to meet up with his fellows.
Rumil did as Orophin had suggested and was sitting at Erestor’s bedside within the hour. The dark-haired Elf was still asleep, but what worried him was the way Erestor’s fingers clawed at the sheet. This was not a healing sleep.
When Erestor woke an hour later, his eyes immediately searched for Haldir. At first he rejoiced seeing a silver-haired Elf sitting next to the bed, but his mood darkened upon realizing it was Rumil. /Does Haldir no longer want to see me? Does he regret kissing me?/ Awkwardly moving about on the bed, he managed to draw Rumil’s attention. “Hal…dir?” He had to know the truth, no matter how hard or painful.
“Haldir is asleep,” said Rumil soothingly. “He was exhausted.”
That didn’t quite reassure Erestor, but he couldn’t tell Rumil what really worried him. He had to endure this uncertainty.
“Camfael told me to make sure you exercised today,” said Rumil, trying to distract Erestor. “Why don’t we start with your daily exercises and then go for a short walk?”
Erestor nodded, resigning himself to his fate. He hated being subjected to these exercises, but knew they were the reason he was still able to move after millennia of catatonia.
Rumil pushed back the sheet and began to massage Erestor’s feet. Camfael, he and his brothers had done this so many times that it had become second nature to them. He manipulated arms and legs, occasionally asking Erestor to push back against him or lift his limbs. “This is getting easier for you,” said Rumil pleased. Hopefully Erestor would be able to walk again unaided in a few weeks.
“Does… not hurt… that much… any longer.” The first time Camfael had put him through this – after he had woken up – he had cried bitter tears of pain when his tense muscles had protested.
“Excellent,” said Rumil in a pleased tone. “And now how about a trip to the bathroom? I will support you, but you have to walk the distance.”
Erestor sighed, knowing Rumil was doing this because it was in his best interest. “Aye.” He allowed the silver-haired Elf to fold his arms around his waist and then, aided by Rumil, he pushed himself slowly onto his feet. Camfael had told him that he was making excellent progress, but Erestor wished it would go faster. He didn’t like being this helpless.
“And now we will eat breakfast,” announced Rumil, glad that their trip to the bathroom was over. Even after assisting Erestor several times, he still felt awkward when helping the dark-haired Elf relieve himself. And he could tell by the expression on his charge’s face that Erestor hated it as well.
Erestor resigned himself to more torture, trying to feed himself with uncertain and staggering movements. His fingers were beginning to cooperate, but coordinating the movement to his mouth still proved difficult. He managed a few bites and then sighed, fatigued. “I will… never… learn…”
“That is not true!” Rumil firmly shook his head. “Look at the progress you have made in just a few weeks! When you woke you could not speak and now your stutter is nearly gone!”
Erestor gave Rumil a hesitant smile. “Could not… have done it… without… all of you…” They had to grow tired of him eventually, but in the meantime he would soak up their attention.
Rumil smiled broadly. “That is what we have been trying to tell you all along, mellon. We are all here for you.” He just hoped the Lady Galadriel would leave Erestor alone from now on.
“Sleepy head? Wake up for me.” Haldir had relieved Rumil and now took his place at Erestor’s side. Studying the pale face, he realized Erestor needed more fresh air. But first they needed to address his kiss. Erestor’s reaction to it still baffled him. /Why did he faint?/ As Erestor didn’t stir, he tried again. “Erestor? Wake up.”
Haldir’s voice finally reached Erestor and his eyes filled with awareness. Finding Haldir at his side instantly reassured him, but then the memory of the kiss returned and he had to know why. Whilst pushing himself into a sitting position, he whispered, “Why?”
Haldir swallowed hard in understanding. “It felt right.” He sat down on the side of the bed and gathered Erestor’s hand in his. “It seems so unfair that you have to suffer in this way when Elrond is happily married. You are entitled to a loving touch as well.”
A lump of emotion formed in Erestor’s throat. “You will… end up… hurt. I cannot… bind myself… to you.” He didn’t want to see Haldir hurt because of him.
“I know that, lirimaer, and I wish things were different. I still hope Elrond will find out one day and thank you for everything you have done. I hope the two of you will get together, because then you will feel whole again. But in the meantime, let me try to make you happy.”
Erestor released a strangled whimper. Haldir was selflessly offering himself to him. It was an offer he should refuse, but could he? He yearned for a tender touch, a caring embrace, a soft voice telling him someone loved him. After being alone for so long, he found he couldn’t go on in that manner any longer. His greatest fear was hurting Haldir at some point, but he also realized the sentry made his own decisions and was going into this with his eyes wide open.
“No one knows what will happen in the future,” said Haldir, making one last effort to convince Erestor to accept his proposal. “But we can make the time we have left much more pleasurable. I give myself freely, Erestor. And should there ever come a time that I have to let you go, I will be able to do so because I care so deeply for you.”
Erestor’s eyes filled with tears and fastened on Haldir’s. “Aye…” he whispered eventually. He didn’t really know what he was saying yes to. All he knew was that he couldn’t stand being alone any longer.
When Haldir leaned in closer to gather him in his arms and press a gentle kiss upon his lips, he accepted the intimacy and clung to the silver-haired Elf as a drowning man to a floating log.
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