The Dance of Shadow and Flame

A Step into the Light

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.

"Wake up, Glorfindel!"

Glorfindel started. A pair of dark eyes glittered into his. The night was dark.

"Erestor?" His breath came in a gasp. He pulled himself upward, muscles creaking heavily under damp hair. He ran a weary hand down his face. The flames he had seen were engulfed in quiet shadows, and there was but a gentle tap of a dark crystal before his eyes. He blinked, allowing his breaths to calm.

"Tell me I wasn't screaming again." He smiled weakly.

A shadow moved off of his bed, and a cool hand came to rest upon his forehead. "You were not screaming again."

Glorfindel thanked him profoundly. "Go eat an orc."

A light laughter rolled in the darkness. Erestor reached out, gently touched Glorfindel's chin, prompting him to meet his gaze. "You are all right?"

Glorfindel nodded. With a great heave of breath, he regained his composure. "Were you sleeping in the halls?"

"No," came the answer. "The garden."

Glorfindel glanced toward the windows. The curtains billowed gently against the windowsill, cooling his heated breaths. "Well, since you decided to drop by," he murmured, "why don't you spend the night."

Erestor raised his eyebrows. Glorfindel's hand upon his arm tightened into an iron grip. "Sleep with me."

The advisor glanced down at the balrog slayer's hand; Glorfindel released his hold, surprised. Erestor smiled. "I am not even dressed for bed."

Glorfindel smiled feebly in return. "That can be remedied." He swung his feet around Erestor's form and strode toward the wardrobe. Erestor watched yellow hair slide down his back as the tall elf shuffled through his robes. "Let me see, where were those night"

"Elrond should send more troops with you."

Glorfindel paused, and glanced back. The slender shadow sat upon his bed, outlined by the faint blue of day.

Darkness was passing. And yet it lingered, silent.

"They are not ready to face what I will face in this march." A hand came to rest upon a white night robe.

"Then he should call to Lorien."

The voice was crisp. Slowly, Glorfindel turned. Under his gaze, the shadow stared back, a sleek river of black against the passing night. Death, Glorfindel suddenly thought, perhaps that was passing too. Just like all else in the great cursed tapestry.

"I will not fall."

"You already did."

The night never did completely pass. It only waited. But so did daylight.

Erestor dropped his gaze to his hands. A faint breath scattered into the darkness. "They were all strong, those who fell," he whispered.

Glorfindel leaned against the wardrobe door. "But the difference between them and I, friend," he said, "is that I returned."

The shadow was still. Dim blue seeped into the horizon, promising another day, another time of light. And he was suddenly weary, eternal, this mourning shadow. Glorfindel's heart scorched.

Erestor slowly let out a breath. His whisper melted into the breaking dawn.

"Tell me about your dream."

Straightening, Glorfindel approached in an easy gait, and bent down to place the robe and an extra pillow by the lithe elf's side. He looked up, into Erestor's glowing eyes. "Will you listen to a foolish elf's prophecy, my lord?"

With a faint smile, Erestor nodded, silent.

Morning was coming. The birds would begin to sing soon.

Glorfindel lowered himself onto his knees. "I shall no longer burn," he said softly, fingering threads of tangled yellow hair, "and you will lead this house to prosperity." He smiled. "You and I will be seated by a great fire, laughing in the warmth of winter, surrounded by many dear friends."

Erestor smiled. "You skipped the nightmares."

"They won't mind."

Erestor rolled his eyes. His gaze lingered on the wall. "One friend is too many," he murmured.

Glorfindel leaned closer, and rested his hands on Erestor's knees. He breathed out a sigh. "Same for me, Erestor," he whispered. Deep blue eyes narrowed, shimmering with a distant light. "Same for me."

The world was whitening into gray. And the ravens would cry.

Winter approached. Glorfindel rounded up the last of the troops and came home.

Elrond greeted him at the front steps of the Last Homely House, but the advisors who usually stood with him were nowhere to be seen. "We didn't think you'd return so soon," said Elrond, a smile twinkling in his eyes, "and so unscathed." He touched Glorfindel's arm and led him into the gardens, where Glorfindel proceeded to give his reports throughout their leisurely stroll.

"It's good to have you back," said Elrond, after Glorfindel finished the reports. The fair-haired elf smiled briefly in response, and stood still as Elrond pulled a squirrel out of his tangled yellow locks. "And I think our Chief Councilor's project is quite a success."

Glorfindel said nothing. He excused himself and left in search for the Chief Councilor.

The advisors said he had retired to his study. When the skies are gray, they said, he sits before his writing table by the window, and writes on and on – had Lord Glorfindel never seen him do it? He had not done it recently –

And so he was. Glorfindel leaned against the doorframe as the oblivious elf sat before his writing table and wrote carefully into a great volume. As the quill moved in measured strokes, Glorfindel watched, silent. Erestor paused at length, blowing on the ink.

"It's about me, isn't it?"

Erestor looked up in surprise. He dropped his gaze, his hands faltering.

"I did not mean to go on so," he said, haltingly. " took long, to return."

Glorfindel ambled forward. He stood by Erestor's table and peered down at the fine handwriting. Erestor tensed. Glorfindel remained unmoving as his eyes followed the script upon the page. Slowly, a callused hand reached out, and gently turned the page to read the previous entry. He remained as still as the stones of Eregion – nay, Gondolin, Erestor thought to himself forcefully – as he read.

At length, Glorfindel straightened again, and brushed back wayward strands of hair. He turned to Erestor. The councilor could read nothing from the placid expression upon the older elf's eyes.

"You don't do this when I am here."

"No." Erestor smiled ruefully. "You are here."

Glorfindel returned the smile with a faint one of his own. He stood unmoving as Erestor reached out and brushed dust out of his lackluster hair. The dark gaze followed the weather-worn armor of gold and green. "I didn't think you'd be back today," murmured Erestor. "Is it not another anniversary, only a few days from now?"

"I thought I'd celebrate at home this time. How did you know?"

Erestor lowered his eyes. "You talked in your sleep, the night before you left," he murmured. "I meant to ask you-"

"It is all right." Glorfindel fell silent. "I can tell you."

Erestor raised his eyes. Glorfindel was staring out the window, the faint light of day pale upon his ashen face. The ravens were circling the sky.

Erestor rose. "If you wish me to stop-"

"No." Glorfindel turned back to Erestor, forcing a smile. The scent of the hills and the wind unfurled, enveloping Erestor in a heady rush, as the warrior turned and headed to the door. He glanced back, his smile softening. His dusty armor shifted wearily.

"I will tell you, little by little – I promise."

Erestor nodded.

Winter came early, and the lands quieted into frozen silence. Elves began to spend more time indoors. Lord Erestor was busy keeping the ever-crowded house, and didn't seem at all surprised or even aware that Lord Glorfindel was conspicuously absent on a particularly busy day.

It was a dark afternoon when Glorfindel entered his chambers, and found Erestor sitting on his bed. He stopped. Slowly he went to a wall and unclasped his armor.

"What brings you?" He did not turn to look as he brushed warrior strands out of his face.

A fleeting smile. "'Tis a gray day."

Free in his thin tunic, Glorfindel turned, and slowly neared the bed. Erestor looked up as the tall elf came to stand before him.

"Where were you?" whispered Erestor.

Glorfindel smiled a little. "Gondolin."

Daylight would be gone soon. But not yet.

Erestor reached out a hand. Glorfindel slowly twined it with his own, and stared impassively down.

Erestor tilted his head.

"You never had a chance to mourn, Glorfindel of Gondolin."

Glorfindel was silent. Erestor pulled his hand closer. Glorfindel slowly fell to his knees, gaze lingering on the wall.

In the fading light, Erestor's crystal gleamed gently gray.

"I saw every one of them."

He let out a weary sigh.

"The king. The children. Rog, Elgamoth. Everyone was running, screaming. Falling. So many dead..."

Promise me, Glorfindel, he had whispered, and he could feel fingers digging into his arm. Promise me you would wait for me.

He had tried. But he knew he would break that promise, in the end.

For even as he fought to keep his promise, he knew his friend would not keep his, for as the Golden Flower battled their way under Glorfindel's cries, they treaded the blood of their brothers of the Fountain, who rallied at the city square under Ecthelion's cries, knowing – as all valiant saviors that held fort in the heart of darkness knew – that there they would fall, and songs would be sung, of the blood and screams and shouts and chaos and despair and hope as they placed themselves between their fragile successors of life and impending death.

He lowered his head onto Erestor's knees. Golden tresses slid carelessly down his shoulders.

And the Lord of the Golden Flower had gone on, to carry on the fragile torch, and had leaped up to place himself between the breath of fire and the untainted souls that shimmered with life. But as one House after another fell and he watched the battle wane, as the silver fountain fell silent – he was weary. So weary.

"But I couldn't find Ecthelion."

He had searched. Searched everywhere, had begged the Valar to let him see him again, to forgive him his sins. To forgive him for falling, despite his promise not to fall. To wait – to live.

Gentle hands ran through his locks. Erestor gathered the golden head into his arms. In the warm embrace, Glorfindel blinked, dazed.

"Brave Glorfindel," he whispered, "how lonely you must have been..."

And deep currents broke, deep seas churning with sorrow. Glorfindel slumped as Erestor bent forward, streaks of raven hair spilling across the golden form, covering the limp body in its protective warmth.

Daylight was ending. When dusk fell, darkness came, and dawn broke, the ravens would return. And they would circle the empty skies, join in their cries for the dead.

The raven overhead raised its beady eyes. Spreading its ebony wings, it soared – and after a silent flight, it let out a long wail, and flew on.

Elrond was walking in a dark corridor when he heard the yelp. He halted, and peered through the darkness. It was too late for elflings to be getting snacks. A loud crash followed.

He did not bother to knock. Promptly he swung Glorfindel's doors open, and stared impassively at the sight before him. Erestor sat on the bed, one leg outstretched, staring back just as impassively.

"Is there a problem, Erestor?" Elrond raised an eyebrow.

"A small one," replied Erestor, raising an eyebrow in return. "I seem to have a miniature balrog under my bed."

At the receiving end of Erestor's outstretched leg was Glorfindel, half awake and still rolling on the floor. He blinked as he looked up at Elrond.

"Why, good evening, Glorfindel." Elrond glanced at Erestor's white night robes. "What ever are you doing, harassing my councilor at this hour of the night?"

Glorfindel's eyes cleared. "Me? Harass him?" He pointed indignantly toward the elf on the bed. "That councilor of yours is the most violent sleeper I have ever seen! You should see him kick!"

Erestor lazily twirled a strand of hair. "You get your due for failing to warn me of your sleeping habit." He let go of the strand, allowing it to fall down to his waist.

"Oh." The sleeping habit. Elrond had gotten his share in the war camp.

Glorfindel glanced toward the elvenlord. "Very funny, Elrond." He muttered a string of undecipherable words in Quenya, and rubbed his ribcage. When he rose, Erestor attached himself to the wall.

"I get the wall side," he warned. "I fell off the bed three times this night and I'm not getting dragged down again."

Glorfindel spread his arms dramatically. "Do you see, my lord? Here he comes knocking on my window, so I offer him company this lonely eve – and what does he do? He kicks me off the bed! Is it my fault I'm affectionate?" He dodged a violent hurl of a pillow. "Ai, the cruelty!"

Watching the advisor launch a barrage of attacks at the evasive warrior, Elrond leaned against the doorframe. "Shall I leave you two now, seeing as you two enjoy each other's company?"

"No!" The cry was simultaneous.

Elrond began to turn, and paused.

"Tell me," he said, "what happened to that long-begotten bet of yours?"

Glorfindel glanced back, catching a pillow mid-air behind his head. "What? That one's over, friend." He tossed the pillows back toward the bed. Erestor thanked him by throwing them back at him.

Elrond raised an eyebrow. "So, who is the victor?"

Erestor stared at Elrond as if the lore master had grown a beard. "We both lost."

Elrond raised both eyebrows. "Oh?"

Glorfindel, arms full of pillows, approached the bed. He resolutely dumped the pile on top of Erestor. Erestor jumped, bringing the balrog slayer down in a headlock.

As a scuffle ensued and random items began to spin out of the bed and onto the floor, Elrond decided that his presence was not required. He was about to turn away when Glorfindel suddenly stopped, releasing Erestor's ear.

"Speaking of which," he said, "we should do another bet. One we can both win – how about one against a third party?"

"Grand idea," called Erestor, untwisting Glorfindel's arm. He hugged a pillow close. "I wonder why our lord is wandering the halls at this late hour?"

Glorfindel made a horrified face. "An ailment of a heart, perhaps?"

"A palpitation, that's for sure," agreed Erestor. "Insomnia! A great cause for distress, surely!"

"Something must be done to remedy this."

"Indeed. Perhaps we could ask for the wisdom of the Golden Woods?"

"Ai, Erestor, you are wise. The Lord and Lady would be worried sick!"

"Enough to personally send their daughter to see to our lord's ailment-"

"I am going to bed," cut in Elrond. "You two, not a sound more. Do you understand? Good night." He disappeared out the door.

"Where are you going?" Erestor's voice called out. "Take the balrog with you!"

"I resent such endearments."

The door slammed.

Entangled in sheets and pillows, Glorfindel and Erestor looked at each other. Glorfindel smirked.

"I begin to think he's jealous of my company."

Erestor snorted as he lifted himself off of the other elf. "Your self-flattery never fails to astound me," he mumbled, and lay on his back. "Hug me again and I'll throw you out the window."

After some more fidgeting and bantering, and some curses from Erestor and yelps from Glorfindel, they eventually fell asleep in companionable peace.

And that night, neither woke from their sleep.

Glorfindel getting kicked onto the floor didn't quite count.

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