Disclaimer: I own nothing, except the plotline. Even Gildor Inglorion isn't mine--Tolkien had him first.

Warnings: None except that it's slash. A faithful reviewer, Melanie, asked so nicely for this that I couldn't refuse. For anyone familiar with my previous work, this has a very different tone. Melanie wanted a tender, romantic little fic that discussed Gildor's and Haldir's relationship, so that's what this is.

Archiving: OLAS and anyone else who wants it, just let me know.

A/N: This is a continuation of my previous Unspoken story arc (Unspoken/Revelations/Changes.)

One Last Time

Part 6 & Part 7

By Rune Dancer


Third Age, 180: Imladris

Haldir had collapsed beneath Gildor, looking a bit overwhelmed, once perfect blond hair more than a little mussed, face a delicate shade of pink, eyes half closed and smiling from ear to ear. "You never cease to amaze, gwador," he murmured, drawing Gildor down to his chest. "But I think it may be awhile before I can . . .arrange things as I had planned."

"Then let me." A wicked spark glowed in Gildor's brown eyes; a delightful mixture of provocation, warmth and pure mischief.

Haldir's eyes opened fully at that, and his expression registered considerable surprise. "Are you sure . . . that is, I have no objection, but I wasn't certain if you . . . "

"Oh, I think I can manage," Gildor said softly.

Haldir did not hesitate, pulling Gildor into another long kiss and smiling against his lips when they came up for air. "I'm at your disposal."

Gildor decided to take him literally. If this was his only chance to possess what he'd waited centuries for, then let it be something to remember for the long years ahead. He took the little tub of salve Haldir handed him from the nightstand, and looked it over carefully. Of course, in theory he knew what to do, but that was different from having practical experience. If Haldir noticed his hesitation, he said nothing, continuing to run light caresses down Gildor's back and smiling contentedly.

Gildor decided he liked the scent of the light green lotion--it had a spicy undertone, but mostly smelled of open air and herbs grown under a summer sun. He scooped a small amount onto his fingers and thought back as best he could with the distraction of Haldir whispering naughty suggestions. It was not, Gildor reflected, part in amusement and part in sadness, at all an exact parallel to his only other experience. However, he thought, enthralled by the sight of the stunning golden body lying submissively under him, he did think he could manage.


Second Age, 3121: Somewhere in Mirkwood

It had all happened so fast; but then, these things always did. They had ridden for several minutes in the direction of the path, passing through the dense, labyrinthine growth of trees and underbrush as quickly as possible. Perhaps they had been too relaxed, considering where they were, but Gildor doubted it would have made any difference. The spiders liked the night and moved with uncanny speed within it, and they had spent centuries learning every facet of the woods. The two elves found themselves surrounded before they realised it, a net of soft, sticky strands dropping suddenly from the overhanging trees, pulling them from the horse. Both had reacted immediately, drawing their bows, but their weapons became enmeshed in the billowing strands almost at once and were rendered useless. Seeing his bow pulled into the branches of a tree high over head, Gildor kept his knives in their sheathes on his belt as he waited for the strands to all descend; he was unwilling to lose them, too, and doubted they would have much effect on the encompassing web.

A spider the size of a pony dropped from its lair in the trees almost on top of him; only the fact that he had begun to thrash about unpredictably allowed him to roll to his feet, sidestepping its reaching pincers. By doing so, however, he only became more securely enmeshed in the web, just as several slightly smaller creatures dropped into sight around him. Haldir's beautiful black stallion was stung by one of the larger spiders and dragged off with the help of several more. The arachnids then turned their attention to the last two victims, and rushed them all at once.

Gildor lashed out with a knife in his one free hand, the other being trapped in the webbing, striking blindly at anything that moved. He knew in the back of his mind that it was hopeless, but he intended to take at least a few of the creatures with him. He glanced at his companion to see Haldir looking determined and utterly without fear, his face calm and still, his knives in his hands. The spiders seemed intelligent--at least they kept out of range of the daggers while more of the horrible creatures massed around them. Soon, Gildor knew, there would be so many that they could not all be fought off at once.

Haldir spoke coolly in his ear. "You hold them off and I will try to cut us loose." Gildor nodded, jabbing at a spider, which skittered back out of range at the last minute so that his knife sliced only air. He did not want to cause Haldir to lose his concentration by talking to him, but he really wished he'd hurry. More spiders, in sizes ranging from dog or cat size to ones almost as big as a horse, were gathering all about them. How much longer they would fear his two little knives was debatable, but he did not think they had much time left. "I think I have loosened it enough that we may be able to break through, if we work together," Haldir hissed in his ear, after what felt like an eternity. "On my mark, push forward." He counted down, and they pulled simultaneously, attempting to tear through the silken strands. The web was as strong as rope, but it had an elastic quality that defeated their efforts; the threads stretched, but they did not break.

They stopped struggling after a few moments, as another charge by the now frighteningly large group of spiders required deflection. Panting and exhausted, they rested back to back while the creatures regrouped, their black, cluster eyes staring at them with what looked to Gildor a great deal like hunger. Then, just as Gildor was certain they were doomed, something happened that he would remember in awe the rest of his life.

A low, menacing rumble shook the ground under his feet and echoed through the trees. He looked up to see a predator of the most dangerous sort looming overhead, its glowing torchlit eyes straight out of a creche-tale, with leathery wings and scales that glittered like diamonds in the pale moonlight. So, some part of his mind that wasn't busy screaming remarked conversationally, that's a dragon, is it? He had no time to voice any inanities, however, as the next instant the forest erupted in a rush of sound and strange, crimson flame. There was a sudden, ear shattering boom and a flash of painfully brilliant light, just before a fireball came right at them. It was beautiful, Gildor thought, red and orange, with little green tongues of flame lapping at the edges . . .

A hand jerked at his tunic, sending him sprawling onto the ground as the fire passed overhead, hitting a venerable old oak a few dozen feet behind him, causing it to explode in a cloud of burning bark and dried leaves. Gildor vaguely realised that the spiders were fleeing the area when several of them scurried past, within a foot of him, but they did not seem to even notice his existence in the urgency of their flight. He had no time to be thankful, however, as the dragon was on a rampage, devouring the larger spiders in a few gulps before beginning to pursue the smaller ones that darted in and out and up the trees in a vain attempt to escape. Haldir half pulled half dragged Gildor away from the area in the confusion, but before they had gone a dozen yards, he collapsed against a tree, clutching at it for support before sinking to the ground.

Gildor quickly realised that at least one of the spiders must have stung Haldir, who was exhibiting all the symptoms of poisoning. Sweat poured off him, yet he was clammy to the touch, his usual pale skin drained of all colour to the point that even his lips looked white. "Go, get away--I'll be fine," he managed to say, as his eyes went glassy and he fought to maintain consciousness.

"Of course you will," Gildor replied, rolling his eyes. Looping an arm about Haldir's waist, he dragged him further in what he hoped was the direction of the path. His sense of direction was usually excellent, but after everything that had happened, he was no longer certain of the way. However, anything had to be better than the place they had just been, from which sounds of carnage could still be heard.

Gildor found his companion to be almost a dead weight and, after a few minutes of struggling through dense undergrowth, he stopped to rest where a clump of smaller trees ringed a huge old oak. Haldir dropped to the ground like a sack of sand as soon as Gildor was no longer supporting him. Rolling him over, Gildor was confronted with the disquieting sight of half-open, unseeing eyes in a dead white face. Deciding that he needed to ascertain his companion's injuries before dragging him further, Gildor hauled him into the hollowed out trunk of the huge tree, spreading his cloak on the ground in an attempt to soften the underlying roughness. He supported Haldir's head and managed to get him to take a few sips of miruvoir while he checked him for injuries. There was a nasty looking gash in his side that could have been made by one of the spider's pincers, but no other serious wounds. Gildor carefully removed his tunic, then used his knives to cut his shirt into bandages, which he wrapped around the wound. Under the circumstances, there wasn't much else he could do except hope that Haldir's natural healing abilities could overcome the venom.

Having made his companion as comfortable as possible, Gildor sat beside him and tried to think. As terrifying as the dragon had been, it had mercifully scared away the spiders, but for how long? They must have nests somewhere nearby, for so many to have turned up so quickly. With considerable unease, he remembered the stories he had heard of them, such that they were like their smaller counterparts in habitually storing up food for lean times. Meaning that the two horses they had already taken that night would not satisfy them; as soon as they returned, he and Haldir were in serious danger, especially without their bows and with no horse to convey them quickly back to the path. That was, he thought, stifling an absurd urge to giggle, if the dragon didn't set them alight or eat them for dessert first.

Normally, they would have run for it, but as long as Haldir remained unconscious, they were at a distinct disadvantage, for he weighed as much as Gildor himself, thus making any rapid progress while carrying him impossible. Besides, Gildor realised nervously, getting back to the path was hardly a smart move as long as the dragon remained in the area, as it would only make it easier for it to see them. He sighed. If running and fighting were both out of the question, then hiding, at least until morning, was the only option.

All his well-developed instincts for danger were screaming at him, but he couldn't sit there mulling over options forever. Exiting cautiously from the hollow, Gildor quickly rounded up as much undergrowth as he could and arranged a camouflage in front of the opening as he had been taught. He then passed behind it, rejoining Haldir and scattering more branches behind him. He had no idea what other senses besides sight the creatures had, and could only hope that his work would be good enough to fool them. As he settled back beside his companion, Haldir began to move, arching his back and crying out indistinct, broken syllables. Gildor's blood ran cold at the thought of what would happen if he was heard; he darted a protective hand over Haldir's bandaged side, trying to hold him down so that he did not injure himself further, while at the same time attempting to calm him. He must be silent, or any chance they had of survival was gone.

It was harder to control his companion's violent movements than Gildor had expected. At one point, Haldir's arms closed tightly around the Gildor's ribs, hard enough to force the breath from his lungs; then he recoiled, thrashing violently enough to lift him partly off the ground. Between spasms he moaned and muttered incoherently, while Gildor lay still and gasped for air, trying to summon strength for the next spasm. Finally, Gildor managed to find a position that seemed to calm him, sandwiching Haldir tightly between his own body and the inner trunk of the tree.

Haldir looked completely different asleep, Gildor thought. Younger. Frailer. Hesitantly, he rubbed his cheek against the disheveled hair and found it as soft and fine as a baby's. His fingertips explored the pale upturned face, moving over the curve of his brow to the half closed eyelids with their thick gold tipped lashes and down the soft cheek. As his fingers passed over the pale throat, Gildor realised with concern that the heartbeat seemed very faint, and he clutched Haldir in sudden fear.

"Please, Haldir, be well. I need your strength," Gildor said, hugging him desperately. "I need your experience and serenity, your confidence and calm. Please don't leave me." He brought his cheek down and tenderly laid it on Haldir's forehead, while continuing the murmured entreaty. He felt Haldir sigh, and he turned to bury his face in Gildor's neck. He was quiet for a time after that, then suddenly began to moan loudly as if in the grip of a nightmare. Gildor, inches away from those unseeing cobalt eyes, his hands already occupied holding Haldir in place, did the only thing he could think of to shut him up--he kissed him. It was either the best or worst thing he could have done--Gildor would debate that point with himself many times afterwards, and fail to come up with an acceptable answer.

Haldir immediately deepened the kiss, tangling his hands in Gildor's hair and molding himself against him. Gildor tried to move away, afraid of causing further harm to his wound, but Haldir would not allow it, pulling him into a fierce, nearly brutal kiss. Before he fully knew what was happening, his shirt was open and Haldir's experienced hands were exploring his chest, sending new and unsettling vibrations through his body. He tried to tell himself that now was hardly the time for this, and to keep his attention on any possible threats from the forest, but when Haldir's mouth followed his hands Gildor's brain seemed to largely shut down.

He never knew how Haldir managed it, for he could swear those talented hands never left his chest, but somehow he found his leggings around his ankles and Haldir sliding a hand between his thighs. Looking down into those still clouded eyes, Gildor tried once again to move away. He did not want Haldir to take him unknowing, uncaring who it was he pleasured. But his actions pulled another groan, this one of protest, from his companion, and Gildor quickly kissed him again, trembling from nervousness and growing desire as he did so. Haldir grasped Gildor behind the head and kissed him back with soft lips moving sensuously against his skin, a silky tongue twining around his, sucking and exploring with increasing ardor. The combination of the intimate little bower, his heightened emotional state from their near miss, and the sensuality of Haldir's movements soon had Gildor in such a state that he no longer cared about the possibilities of danger.

Haldir reversed their positions, his body lithe and sinuous in its movements, until he pressed Gildir down into the blankets. The next few minutes were a confused muddle for Gildor, despite the many times he would later try to sort them out. He discovered both agony and bliss as Haldir claimed him, without the benefit of much preparation and with strength and passion. When it was over, Haldir almost immediately slipped back into insensibility with a soft sigh. Gildor ignored, as much as possible, his own extreme discomfort to curl up by his side and wait for dawn, a sense of loss and loneliness so deep it was overwhelming washing over him. He stared into the chilly night, eyes burning, breathing laboured, feeling like there was a heavy weight on his chest.

Morning finally came, dawning with a thin, watery yellow light that was all that was able to penetrate Mirkwood's denseness. Haldir looked much improved, Gildor noticed; some colour had returned to his face with the dawn and his eyes were clear again, showing that he had been able to overcome most of the effects of the spider's venom. Gildor had not thought he would remember anything of the previous night's activities, but something must have registered or perhaps Gildor did not hide his agitation as well as he had hoped.

"It happens. It is nothing to be distressed about," Haldir commented as they prepared to leave their makeshift camp.

Gildor turned his tearstained face away and regarded the dawn, fighting for control. It? He thought wildly. What did that mean? Being ensnared by creatures out of a nightmare? Nearly getting cooked and eaten? A quick grope in a dark forest? For a moment he was overcome with emotions--shame, anger and that same, deadening sense of loss warred for supremacy. Anger won, and he was grateful for the strength it leant him, dissipating his near panic and flooding him with an icy calm. "Then I hope we can put it behind us."

"Certainly," Haldir replied coolly, before striding off in the direction of the path. Gildor trailed in his wake, vowing never to bring up anything of that night's activities. It was a promise he kept for 500 years.


Third Age, 180: Imladris

Gildor had learned that, in the midst of joy, there could be great pain. It was a lesson he had had plenty of time to mull over in the centuries of haunting loneliness, of aching, ceaseless craving that followed. He had not forgotten the lesson, but found that it was no longer enough to deter him. He put his hands on Haldir's hips and spread them open, running an unsteady finger over the small opening that was revealed. All his senses seemed heightened, magnifying every small sensation a thousand times. He groaned, grabbing onto the hips before him and pulling the other man back, burying himself completely in one smooth motion.

The longing for intimacy now wracked him more than it had ever done, ironically just as he finally claimed his lover. Haldir was perfect--they fit together as if meant to be--but Gildor's desire was not quenched despite his rapid climax a few moments later. The physical was never all he had wanted, was not, even, the main thing. He wanted to scream that he loved and be told that he was loved in return. But Haldir didn't say it, had never said it. He had to give him that--there had never been any lies between them, except those he told himself.

"Are you sure . . . you have never done that before?" Haldir gasped when he was once more able to speak.

"No, never."

"Then you have an incredible natural talent." He turned over, sweeping Gildor into a lingering kiss. "Just incredible." He smiled at Gildor's flushed face. "Give me a few moments and it will be your turn."

Gildor melted into his companion's embrace, but his thoughts, for the first time that day, were far away. That morning in the forest, so long ago, he had decided that their affair must not continue because he didn't think he could survive being put aside afterwards. To have held and loved and be granted his greatest desire for a moment, then have it all torn away would be worse than anything he had previously felt. Yet he knew that was now inevitable, as soon as Haldir tired of him, which would probably not take long. Somehow, considering how long he had been expecting it, it almost came as a relief to feel his heart breaking.


Third Age, 180: Imladris

Haldir knew something was wrong, but had no idea what it could be. Gildor had been perfect, everything was perfect, but the body he held in his arms was trembling in what was obviously an attempt not to cry. He was trying to think of a way to ask what was wrong without diminishing what had just happened between them, when the door to his room flew open and there stood his two miscreant brothers. He had no idea what Rumil and Orophin, who when he last saw them had been setting out on their usual duty patrol along the Northern Fences, could possibly be doing in Imladris, but it was just like them to show up at the worst possible time. Haldir was not, of course, embarrassed to be caught in bed with his lover--he had lost count of the number of times his brothers had done something similar to him in the past--but Gildor was already upset, and he worried how he would take it.

Drawing Gildor into a closer embrace, Haldir glared at his brothers. "Yes?," he inquired frostily, "Was there something you needed?"

"We should have known," Rumil told Orophin, a smile breaking out on his face. "Despite the fact that it's almost noon, never burst in on big brother. He'll always be with someone." Turning to Haldir, he smiled cheekily. "Sorry to interrupt, but we need a place to rest. The Lady Galadriel was in a tearing great hurry to get here and we've traveled all night. We're exhausted."

Haldir felt Gildor flinch next to him, and struggled to keep his temper. "Is Imladris suddenly so short of rooms that it cannot house you elsewhere?," he inquired caustically. Orophin, at least, had the grace to look slightly abashed, and tugged at Rumil's sleeve.

"We can find other accommodation, brother," he said, sending Gildor an apologetic smile.

"Not as long as no one can find that lazy chatelaine," Rumil replied, stifling a huge yawn behind his hand, which still wore its riding glove. "I swear this house is in an uproar. Everyone hung over, even the servants, and no one can find this Erestor who is supposed to have the room list. So no one knows what rooms are available. And the Lady Galadriel has disappeared somewhere, so we can't even ask her." He flopped onto an oversized chair near the window and yawned again. "Not that she was in the sort of mood to make me want to anyway." He caught sight of Haldir's increasingly irritated expression and sighed. "Truly, brother, we will be no trouble. I for one, would not notice if you bedded every pretty face at Imladris; I just want to sleep!"

Haldir was about to give Rumil a serious dressing down when Orophin suddenly started, looking at Gildor in surprise. Then he laughed, and shook his head in mock dismay. "You have my sincere apologies," he told him. "Although you have no cause to believe it, Rumil and I do not make a habit of constantly interfering in our brother's private affairs. And to interrupt you both a second time . . . well, I can only apologise and remove myself and my appallingly bad mannered brother. Come, Rumil, let us leave them in peace. We'll find a nice, quiet glade where you can nap."

"A second time?," Rumil asked, sitting up and peering at Gildor in curiosity. Gildor clutched the sheets a little closer around him, but did not, Haldir noticed, look as confused as he himself was feeling. "Oh. I know you. Let me see," Rumil looked thoughtful, then suddenly laughed. "Oh, of course! Well, we do have bad timing brother," he agreed.

Orophin smiled. "I believe that is what I used as a defense last time. Let us go, Rumil."

"Last time?" Haldir was beginning to wonder if he had missed something important somewhere. As Orophin tugged a grinning Rumil out the door, Haldir turned to regard Gildor appraisingly. Something was familiar, he thought, but it skirted the edges of his consciousness, making it impossible to pin down. Gildor looked uncomfortable, but did not seem inclined to enlighten him, just clutched the sheet against his chest as if in need of comfort. That gesture stirred a distant memory, and suddenly, Haldir knew. He saw again the frightened elfling who had run from his talan all those years ago in Lorien, and wondered at himself that he had not known before. Of course, it had been a very disturbing week, he had been extremely drunk last night, and the elf beside him had changed somewhat from the timid young creature he remembered, but still . . .

"Gildor," he said hesitantly, wondering if his companion's melancholy was due to his poor memory. It was, he supposed, possible that Gildor felt insulted, but then, it HAD been a very long time, and Haldir couldn't very well be expected to remember every elf with whom he'd ever flirted. Besides, Gildor could have mentioned it himself, if he considered it to be that important. Still, Haldir supposed he would have felt annoyed, at the least, had someone with whom he'd traded a few kisses and shared some rather harrowing adventures, forgotten his very existence when next they met! "Gildor, why didn't you remind me, that we had met before?"

Gildor turned away, presenting Haldir with the view of a very nice shoulder, but depriving him of a chance to read his expression. "It isn't important."

Haldir regarded him with mild annoyance. He wanted to remark that, if it was so unimportant, why then was Gildor so obviously upset? He refrained, however, instead thinking back to their previous meeting, and trying to come up with some reason why Gildor would be acting . . . well, almost hurt. Nothing important came to mind, however. There had been that time by the spring, of course, and he supposed he really shouldn't have teased him as he had, but he had been so sure Gildor would come out of hiding and join him. When he had discovered that the elfling had gone to bathe at the furthest point from Caras Galadhon, he had naturally assumed that it had been with the idea of Haldir following him to a place they could be alone and relatively free of any chance of interruption. He had taken Gildor's discarded clothing along, with the idea of returning it to him and of enjoying a most pleasant morning, but the elf had fled his very presence. Haldir had been forced to assume that his initial impression had been incorrect, and that Gildor was not attracted to him after all. Perhaps, he had thought at the time, there was someone special waiting back in Imladris, who he did not wish to betray. So, he had left the clothing and returned to the city, promising himself to keep his hands off Gildor in the future.

He had kept that promise, he remembered now, insuring that their interaction on the trip to Mirkwood had stayed at a casual, friendly level. He had noticed Gildor watching him, but had done nothing about it. If the elfling decided he wanted anything from Haldir, he was perfectly capable of asking for it, or of indicating interest in no uncertain terms. Haldir would not take the initiative again until Gildor made it very plain what he wanted.

Was that what he was upset about, Haldir now wondered, the fact that no relationship had been forthcoming? Perhaps he had thought that the one kiss they had shared in Mirkwood, after Gildor had made the incredibly brave, if unbelievably foolhardy, action of coming in after him, had been indication enough of his feelings. Still, Haldir thought in puzzlement, surely he could not fault him for failing to act on his impulses at the time? They had been in terrible danger, as was quickly demonstrated by the mess that had followed. They had barely gotten out of that alive, and then only due to the almost unbelievable coincidence of the dragon's fireball burning through the last of the spider's webbing. Haldir remembered with a repressed shudder just how close it had been; the gash in his side that cursed spider had given him had taken weeks to fully heal, the poison retarding his usual quick regenerative abilities. He had almost died that night, which he still only remembered as a haze of fever and pain; the next day, when he had thrown off at least the worst effects of it, Gildor had been remote and uncommunicative.

At the time, Haldir had assumed that Gildor was just shaken up by their experiences. Certainly the events of that night were enough to disturb anyone, and it had been with no surprise that he had seen Gildor's pale face and haunted expression once morning came. However, the elf showed no signs of injury, and had agreed with him that it was best to put it behind them and move on--which they had, into even more trouble, Haldir remembered with wry amusement. That whole trip had been one long disaster, now that he came to think about it.


Second Age, 3121: Somewhere in Mirkwood

They had finally found their way back to the path, but without a horse, it was going to take quite awhile to catch up to the others. Haldir was not, in truth, completely unhappy about that, as traveling with Tuor had been a bit of a strain. He had wished the elf would just make his move and be done with it, but instead, those calculating eyes had merely watched him, waiting for a vulnerable moment. Haldir much preferred to make his way with only Gildor as company, although he occasionally felt like laughing at the spectacle they made. Both had lost their bows and, in Gildor's case, a large part of his shirt had been sacrificed to provide Haldir's bandages. Gildor still wore the tattered remains of it, which his tunic largely concealed, but he had also managed to lose a boot in the scuffle, and so limped along as best he could with only the one. Haldir still felt weak and disoriented from the poison, not all of which had left his system, and he occasionally stumbled as they traveled on. What annoyed him most was that his new, beautiful leather vest was now scrap, as the spider's pincer had ripped right through it, as well as the tunic and shirt below.

Still, his mood was actually fairly light that morning, for they had survived, and that was the main thing. Bows and vests could be replaced and, he consoled himself, at least no lasting damage had been done to either of them. There was also no reason to worry over the fate of the mission, as they had plenty of time to rendezvous with the others, who could not, in any case, make a move until Lord Glorfindel gave the signal. Knowing Glorfindel's reputation, Haldir would not have been at all surprised if diplomacy alone resulted in Lord Erestor's release, obviating the need for any flight through the mountains. At least, he would vastly prefer that outcome, having already had enough adventure for one trip. With that idea in mind, he pressed on as quickly as their condition would allow, as he did not wish to be anywhere near the spider's nest when darkness fell once more. Of course, distance would not help with the dragon, which could easily fly anywhere it chose, but he fervently hoped it would find enough sport among the spiders to keep it busy. In any event, while the sun shone, it, too, probably slept.

The quickness of their journey allowed little time for discussion, and Haldir was too preoccupied with the sharp pain in his side to want to try to talk much. Gildor, too, seemed to prefer silence, but made no protest at the speed of their journey north. They did not pause even for lunch, as their provisions had been lost along with the horses, and it would take much time to hunt and prepare food, especially without their bows. Haldir himself felt little hunger, as the lingering poison in his system was making him nauseous.

It was not until evening that they finally caught the team, which had made camp alongside the road. Lord Glorfindel had found them, and was speaking with Tuor and Valandil when they limped into camp. Gildor immediately collapsed by the fire, and after ascertaining that Aikanaro was attending to him, Haldir joined the tactical discussion going on. Glorfindel, strangely enough, seemed almost relieved to hear that a dragon was rampaging about Mirkwood.

"You are certain--you saw it clearly?"

Haldir quirked an eyebrow at him but refrained from his usual sarcasm. Anyone who could kill a Balrog was not a person to tease, no matter how long a day it had been. "We were as close to it as to that tree," he replied, indicating one growing just across the road.

Glorfindel looked pleased. "I thought as much," he murmured, and the other elves exchanged uneasy glances. Glorfindel might find the idea of fighting a dragon appealing, but the rest of the party had definite reservations. Very few elves who had encountered one had lived to tell about it, and most made avoiding the creatures a top priority. As Glorfindel explained, however, there was no such option at the moment. It would be beyond all honour to leave the elves of Mirkwood to face such a threat alone. Tuor was the only one who did not seem to share that opinion.

"Forgive me, my Lord," he said respectfully, "but Lord Elrond sent us here to rescue Lord Erestor, not to hunt dragons. Surely, if the king has now moved him out of the dungeons, there is no reason why he cannot be smuggled out of the palace. Then you may leave the rest to us."

Glorfindel regarded Tuor with a pleasant expression. "You think that would be best, do you?," he murmured, and Haldir felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to rise. He controlled an instinctive reaction to back slowly away from the two of them, and, glancing at Valandil, saw the older elf twitch slightly. Tuor, apparently, noticed nothing.

"Yes," Tuor said eagerly, pressing his advantage. "There must be a way of getting Lord Erestor past the front entrance; perhaps you could indicate to the king that he could be of use on the hunt, and have him ride out with you. We will conceal ourselves along the route you mean to take, and he can slowly begin to fall behind the main force. Then we can overpower the last few guards, free him, and ride for the mountains. If you could distract the king for an hour or two before making your own escape, it would help to give us a head start, but we can do without it if you do not wish to take the risk."

At that, Haldir and Valandil both took a large step backwards, and Haldir held his breath. Glorfindel seemed pleased about something, however, and actually placed a casual arm about Tuor's shoulders. "You know," he said, smiling amiably, "I had a piece missing in my plans which you have helped to provide. I do most heartily thank you, my dear Tuor. Come, walk with me and tell me more of your intriguing plan."

The two walked further up the road, near to where Glorfindel's white stallion waited to convey him back to the palace. Haldir heard Valandil sigh next to him, shaking his head slightly. But the elf walked away without comment, and Haldir likewise volunteered nothing. He had the definite impression, however, as he heard Glorfindel's delighted laughter ring out across the evening air, that he no longer had to worry about keeping an eye on Tuor.


Third Age, 180: Imladris

Yes, Haldir decided now, that night had been the first time he noticed that something was wrong with Gildor. Glorfindel had returned to the palace, humming a happy tune, and Tuor joined them about the fire, shooting Haldir a triumphant glance as he did so. Haldir had not bothered to try to figure out what that was about, but instead approached Gildor and squatted down beside him.

"Can you check my wound, gwador? I cannot see the full extent of it, as the wretched creature sliced open half my side." Aikanaro passed Gildor some bandages and a healing salve, which felt wonderfully cool on Haldir's skin and took the worst edge off the pain. It had not been until he was bandaged and sitting beside Gildor that he realised the young one was still saying virtually nothing. Gildor had remained quiet as they ate, and ignored Haldir's few attempts at humour. He had put it down to exhaustion and applied himself to the excellent meal Aikanaro had put together, feeling hungry for the first time since their ordeal. Gildor curled up near the fire with his back to Haldir soon thereafter, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Haldir distinctly remembered now that the elfling had awoken the whole party halfway through the night, screaming something incoherent. Haldir had tried to pull him into his arms to comfort him, but Gildor shied away, eyes big and fearful in the glow from the fire's embers. Haldir had tried to sooth him, assuring him that Valandil, who was on watch, would not allow any danger to come upon them unawares, but it had not seemed to help. Aikanaro had given Gildor some Miruvoir and, eventually, everyone went back to sleep. But Haldir had lain awake for some time, watching the tangled brown curls of the elf huddled into a ball on the far side of the fire, and wondered what he had missed. It was, he thought as Gildor remained turned away from him now, a very familiar feeling.


Second Age, 3121: King Thranduil's Court

Erestor was incredibly bored. This was almost worse than those seemingly endless weeks in lock up. At least then he had been able to fantasize about what was going to happen to Thranduil when Glorfindel arrived. He had never suspected that his dear fellow counselor could possibly be so stupid as to actually fall for him. True, Thranduil charmed or otherwise subverted everyone he thought could be at all useful, but Erestor had thought Glorfindel would have more sense. So now here he was, surrounded by luxury in a beautiful suite of rooms, and left with absolutely nothing to do until Glorfindel dealt with whatever-it-was in the forest, assuming he managed to do so without getting himself incinerated--again. For which, undoubtedly, Elrond would blame him.

Valar! Elrond. Erestor threw himself back on the huge bed and let an arm fall over his eyes. Elrond was going to kill him. Either that, or Glorfindel would have blackmail material for the next age. It was just too insane, that someone of his experience should now be saddled with a ridiculous elfling who kept looking at him through big, adoring eyes . . . he shuddered. Elrond could NEVER find out about this. Somehow, he had to get rid of Legolas before the elf followed him like some lovesick puppy all the way back to Imladris.

He looked up to see the mischievous blue eyes of his latest conquest regarding him from the doorway. Legolas had, he saw gratefully, brought enough food to feed an army, and balanced the large tray with ease as he gracefully made his way over to the bed. His own dark eyes rueful, Erestor reflected that most elves would consider that they had been blessed by the gods with such a gift, for their was no doubting that Legolas was beautiful, almost cat-like in his lean muscular grace. Glorfindel's words echoed eerily in Erestor's brain, however, and he shuddered at the image they created. No, the elfling had to go.

Erestor sighed and began eating, listening to Legolas' plans for their future with increasing dismay. How in Arda was he going to do this? He vowed, as Legolas lovingly fed him a few choice tidbits from the tray, never again to get involved with anyone under the age of 500 at least, and even then to make sure they understood the type of relationship he favoured. I really must tell him, he thought in distraction, as Legolas pushed the tray out of the way and snuggled up against him. Yes, and he would, too, he promised, but maybe . . . tomorrow . . .

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