Erestor walked slowly through the Hall of Fire, scrutinizing the decorations with a keen eye. It was the day of the Quickening, and he and his assistants had been planning the spring celebration for weeks now. Checking that everything was in its place was part of his work process, his final run through. The key to his success, he had always felt, is how he took his work seriously.
The banners of bright silk were hung carefully in place, the tables from the east wall moved to the south side, soon to hold the treats that the cook, Menel, and her crew had been working on for the past two days. Along his walk through, he passed the musicians’ alcove. Some of them were already tuning their instruments and going through warm-ups. This garnered a smile: he approved of timeliness, the fewer cases of last minute dramatics, the better.
Candles, carefully placed all about the room, were an important part of the festival and used to symbolize the promised light of Spring. Gorgeous and mood setting though he knew they would be, they were one of the most difficult parts of the planning process. Erestor doubted Elrond would appreciate the house burning up in flames because of a wayward dancer or an over-indulgent celebrator. He checked the arrangement of the chairs and benches, and made a mental note to remind Randír that they would need to be moved for Elrond’s speech. He noticed everything: a stray thread wouldn’t be overlooked.
The Quickening was one of his least favorite times of year. He understood the message well enough – growth, change, but also sameness, all part of the never-ending cycle. But while promising spring, the candles, the ceremony and all the celebration only meant one thing for Erestor: Gildor was going home soon.
Erestor had tried to be cheerful about it – he was a reasonable person, after all. Gildor and his company had wintered there for many years before he and Gildor became something more than friends with shared interests. He’d known and accepted that a relationship between the two of them would mean much time apart. Even so, his mood had taken a turn for the worst.
He reached over and straightened the edge of a tablecloth. The weave felt soft under his fingertips, and the colour vibrant from the dye. Purple, like the wild violets that grew along the path in springtime, like the amethyst pendant Gildor gave him on their first year together. Purple, Gildor’s favorite colour… A hand touched his shoulder from behind and jolted him out of his thoughts. Turning, he prepared to answer Randír, but Gildor was there instead.
“What are you doing here?” he frowned. “I thought you were busy with the twins this afternoon.”
“Been finished for a while now.” Gildor looked around the room. “Dan went off to find his date for this evening and Elrohir stayed behind to practice his ropework. This looks really good, by the way. You’ve transformed the Hall.”
Erestor pushed hair back out of his face – the braid had worked loose over the course of the day - and smiled, “You think so?”
“Yes, I do. You have a gift.” Gildor leaned in and kissed him lightly. “It looks really inviting. Are you finished with your walk through?”
“Almost, almost,” Erestor said absently, checking off the list of things that had been seen to. “I still need to go to the kitchens and check that the food will be set out at the right time and the wine needs to be moved from the cellar. Somewhere in there I need to find time to go back to my rooms and change…” He paused and considered Gildor. “Why?”
“Because I think you need some fresh air,” Gildor said seriously. “You’re flushed and you’ve been running around all day.”
“You’re crazy, there is too much to be done here!” He protested at the very thought, but he knew Gildor well enough to see when the stubbornness had kicked in, by the tilt of his head and the set of his jaw.
“I come by it honestly, pretty sure it runs in the blood.” Gildor’s smile was cheerful, but determined. “I know you’re busy, but even you need a break now and then. I know what time you crept out of bed this morning.”
Erestor sighed. It had been dark when he left their bed, Gildor waking only enough to try and fail to persuade him to come back. This had made for a very long day, driven by irritation and purpose. “Only for a little while. I really do have a lot to get done.”
Gildor took him out beyond the Hall of Fire, to one of the east wing balconies known for its view of the valley. Normally the balcony was busy, but it was curiously clear. The air was crisp and cold, bringing the sting of colour to Erestor’s cheeks. He breathed in deeply, and the fresh air cleared his head. Gildor was right, he did need that. When he looked over at his lover, the smug smile Gildor wore showed that he already knew.
“Insufferable, a bastard – I do know who my father is, thank you – and incorrigible. You’ve told me many times. It’s a good thing I never believe you.” Gildor produced a small bag from one of his many pockets, a character quirk that Erestor teased him about often, and offered it. Erestor took it and opened it, the contents spilling into his palm. Darkly crimson berries, dried after their harvest, with nuts and seeds filled his cupped hand. “I know you skipped lunch.”
“That obvious?” Erestor said ruefully.
“I know you.”
He sat on the bench near the railing and Gildor sat with him, arm around his shoulder, shielding him from the wind while he ate. Breakfast had been toast and juice – he didn’t realize how hungry he was until he tasted the tartness of berries on his tongue. “This is perfect, not too heavy either.”
“Been around for Yule, know how you get. Nothing heavy, keep it light, graze during the party, wine cup in hand.”
“It’s how I work best.” Erestor smiled and kissed Gildor’s cheek. “Thank you for thinking of me, I needed this break.”
Gildor returned his smile. “You are very welcome.”
Later that night, after the speeches and lighting of the candles and after the dancing, talking and storytelling had begun, Erestor felt another touch to his shoulder. This time it was no surprise. He turned and smiled at Gildor. "Yes?"
"How do you always pull it all off?" Gildor pressed a glass into his hand. The brandy sparkled in the light, and Erestor laughed.
“A lot of hard work and a single-minded focus that some people might call obsessive?”
“Those words sound familiar – I might have said them once or twice before.” Gildor grinned. “It is always rewarding in the end.”
Erestor surveyed the room. Elrond and Celebrian had joined the crowd for a dance, along with Arwen and her latest suitor. The twins were nowhere to be found. Normally this would have been a warning sign but Erestor wasn’t going to think about it. He’d find out tomorrow what they had been up to. The tables were filled with food and had been properly maintained throughout the night, the wine was paced nicely and should last the rest of the evening. So far, so good.
“Well, no one’s burned down the Hall yet,” he said dryly.
“See, it’s going brilliantly already. And they can spare you for a while.”
Erestor gave him a look. “You are tearing me away from work again?”
“It’s the Quickening, not just work. You deserve a few minutes of celebration yourself.” Gildor’s hand was warm around his wrist and Erestor couldn’t find it in himself to protest. “Now, you must tell me where the good brandy is hidden.”
A bottle of good brandy and a giggling couple they passed in the hallway later, Erestor found himself on the balcony from earlier, still curiously deserted. He turned abruptly and stopped Gildor.
“You arranged this, didn’t you? It is highly unlikely that there wouldn’t be at least one couple out here doing more than holding hands under the stars tonight.”
“I will neither confirm nor deny this accusation.” Gildor went over to the chaise on the eastern side of the balcony. A purple blanket, lined with fur was draped over it and Gildor set the brandy bottle down beside the chaise before sitting down. “Come here, Ery.”
Erestor hesitated. He could hear the laughter and music filtering out from the Hall. He knew he should return to the party, it was the responsible thing to do. If he joined Gildor, there was very little chance of him going back that night. Gildor watched him patiently, and he knew if he left now, there’d be no fuss. But he didn’t have the heart to go back inside. Erestor made his choice, walk over to the chaise and press a kiss to Gildor’s upturned face. He loved the smile this prompted, and was smiling in turn as he sat on Gildor’s lap, pulling the blanket over them both.
“We’re going to be that couple under the stars tonight, aren’t we?” he said, softly.
“Yes, we are.” Gildor looked at him, and it was like he did when they first were together, something Erestor remembered well. He felt the heat from Gildor’s look, slow and warming from the inside out, much like the brandy they drank.
He settled on the chaise properly, his back to Gildor’s chest and his head on Gildor’s shoulder. The blanket was warmer now, a cocoon for them against the cold night. Strong arms surrounded him and he relaxed. The sky was dark blue velvet studded with stars and the pale light from the moon. The valley was covered with a thick dusting of snow, the lights from the village peeking out from the blanket of white. Gildor was warm behind him, he could feel the rise and fall of his chest.
“I hate the thought of you leaving.” The words hung in the air and for a moment Erestor wished he could take them back. But they were there and he was practical about it. “I know that’s how it is, I understand all of the reasons, I know why it won’t change. It’s who you are, and I believe I am meant to be here, with Elrond and his family. Just…sometimes it is so difficult.”
When he finished, Erestor closed his eyes. Gildor was quiet for a time, before he spoke. “I know you’ve been unhappy, it’s been clear to me for a while. Spring’s coming, that’s what’s provoked all this, isn’t it?”
“Spring comes, you leave and I won’t see you until autumn. I used to quite like spring but your departure has made me entirely less fond of it.” Erestor turned and rested his cheek against Gildor’s chest.
“You know I would love for you to join me,” Gildor said quietly, his fingers playing with Erestor’s hair. “There’s always a place there for you in my company.”
“I know. You’ve always been clear about that. I want to take you up on it sometimes. But it’s… it’s just not what I am meant to be doing now. My heart and head go in two different directions sometimes,” he finished with a short, shaky laugh.
“I know how it feels. The company is my life, being with them is who I am. If I stopped, I think I’d probably have an identity crisis.” Gildor paused and threaded his fingers through Erestor’s. “But I love you, my heart is in your hands. And it means so much to me to leave and know that you’ll be here there when I come back. It makes it easier for me.”
Erestor tilted his head up to look at him. “It does? How?”
“Yes. Spring is never easy, but while I’m out on the road, I know winter is always coming. And when the leaves turn, it’s the world telling me to come back to you, it’s time.”
Erestor shifted, moving to straddle Gildor so he could look him in the eye. The blanket slipped and Gildor’s hand brushed against him as he moved to adjust it around Erestor’s shoulders. “Didn’t know you were such a romantic,” Erestor teased, keeping it light but with his heart in his throat.
“I’m not,” Gildor smiled easily. “Never claimed to be. But I love you.”
Erestor slid his arms around his neck, bringing them closer. The admission wasn’t something Gildor gave often, and it always meant a lot to Erestor when he did. “I love you too.”
“Always good to hear.” Gildor looked intently at him, and Erestor’s gaze flickered from his eyes to his very distracting mouth. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” No hesitation.
“Then trust me that I’m always going to come back. Because we do love each other, and we work. Very well, I believe. Much better than I would have guessed.”
“You say that like you considered it before you kissed me,” Erestor laughed, “I know better. You just wandered in and walked off with my heart.”
“What can I say, sometimes when I go places things just – leave with me.” Gildor reached up and pressed a light kiss to his mouth. “I did think about it beforehand though, I didn’t want to risk your friendship.”
Erestor slipped his fingers in dark red hair, fingertips running along his warm scalp. “Didn’t hurt us. Made us better.”
“Yes.” Gildor’s arms went around him, hands resting on his bum. “Now, relax. Enjoy me, and let me enjoy you. Our time is not over yet. We have brandy, we have the stars and a balcony to ourselves.”
“Yes. No more wasting time being sad.”
Gildor kissed him, taking worry, sadness and his breath away. “There’s no room for sadness tonight. Just us.”
Erestor woke shortly after morning light filtered through the windows, but he didn’t move to get up, choosing instead to snuggle further into the blissfully warm covers. They had returned to their rooms late that night, with much laughter followed by not entirely sober hushes as they made their way through the hallways. The air had grown colder during the night, an extra layer of snow had fallen thickly on the ground. He normally worked the mornings after a major festival, even though there were generally allowances made for late bedtimes, revelry and alcohol.
It was rare that he stayed in, but after last night he didn’t think he could get out of bed yet for anything. There was nothing on his schedule that couldn’t wait until this afternoon. Gildor lay beside him, still sleeping, the gentle rise and fall of his chest catching Erestor’s eye. He turned on his side, rested his head on the pillow, tugged up the slipping covers and looked at his lover.
Gildor made his breath catch in his throat and his heart pound. Memories of last night, loving under the stars filled his mind and warmed him from the inside. Sometimes he wondered if he’d still feel this way if they were able to spend more time together, if they ever had enough time in the same place to take each other for granted. He shook his head, it being entirely too early for introspection, and moaned when it gave a low pulsing reminder of how much brandy they had drunk last night.
“How’s your head?”
Erestor looked up at Gildor’s face, smoke-blue eyes now wide awake, mouth curved into a smile.
“It’s seen better days?” He moved closer, resting his head on Gildor’s shoulder and a hand on his chest. “I’m not moving from this bed, can’t make me.”
“Oh good, I was worried you’d be gone when I woke up, already busy.” Gildor moved just a little and made them fit together just right.
“Love me then leave me the next morning.”
“You’re tough, I know you can handle it.”
“You are so cruel to me, maybe I should leave now.” Gildor’s hand trailed down the bare skin of Erestor’s back, and he shivered, though not from the cold.
“You won’t. Have you looked out the window? It snowed more, might extend your stay a little.” Erestor was unable to keep his smile hidden.
“The gods heard your unhappiness and decided to bless you.” Gildor’s fingers brushed hair back off Erestor’s face and tucked it behind his ear.
“Even if they hadn’t, I am ready for when you leave now. Because you will always come back.”
Gildor rolled over and leaned on top of Erestor, bracing most of his weight on a forearm. Erestor’s breath left him with a hiss at the press of their bodies together. Red hair hung heavily around them and Erestor reached up and played with the strands. “Yes, I will. Every winter I will come back here and win you all over again.”
“Well, I don’t mind the thought of being won over regularly,” Erestor smiled. “But I’m already yours. Doesn’t mean you can’t demonstrate your technique before we have to leave for breakfast, though.”
“That I can do,” Gildor said, kissing him and then proceeding to demonstrate a technique so thorough that they ended up missing breakfast altogether.