All Rivers by Esteliel
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ethuil

It was not his first visit to the Golden Wood.

That first time, he had been a child, awed by the majestic trees with their bark of silver and their leaves of gold, whose gentle rustling in the breeze was a song as sweet as the playful tinkling of the waterfalls of his home.

There had been many new faces, all of Lórien turned out to greet their returned daughter, and his grandparents, golden Galadriel and silver Celeborn who were as tall and majestic as the trees as they towered over him, and as gentle and playful as the song of the leaves as they hugged and kissed him.

There were the warriors who had come with them all the way from home, lead by shining Glorfindel who already was the hero both Elladan and Elrohir fervently loved and admired. There were warriors of Lórien too, strange and frightening as they dropped silently out of the trees when they entered the forest, invisible among the leaves in their green and silver garb. There were nobles and courtiers dressed in fine silks the color of jewels - and there was he, standing a little apart from the other soldiers, as strange and frightening as they were in his silent strength.

Elladan studied him from the safety of his grandfather's arms. He had gasped and buried his head against his mother's breast when the man had appeared out of nothing in front of them, as if from one of the tales of magic Erestor liked to tell. There was something about him that frightened Elladan and drew him at the same time - strength, competence, a quiet aura of what could almost have been arrogance if he had not at the same time given Elladan the feeling that whatever pride this man felt in himself and his accomplishments was well earned.

Of course, it was only later that he could put his feelings into such words - later, when he spent many a waking hour turning all their meetings around in his mind, holding his memories of Haldir like a precious gem.

Back then, he had simpler words for what he saw and felt. There, safely perched in his grandfather's arms, he pointed at Haldir and said, with such awe and adoration that many centuries later, his parents would still chuckle at the memory, "Silver Glorfindel!"




laer

By all rights, it should have been the summer of his life when he saw Haldir again. The awkward youth grown to his full promise, slender and strong as a young tree, fair with the power he would grow into.

Instead, when three warriors of the Galadhrim rode into the courtyard, he sat there scowling and morose, glaring at his laughing brother, battered and bruised from losing yet another fight. There were tears of frustration in his eyes at his brother's seemingly merciless ribbing, and just when the hooves of the Galadhren steeds beat a thundering tattoo into the stones of the small bridge that lead towards the courtyard, he got up with cry of petulant despair, throwing his sword at his brother's feet before storming off.

It was not his finest action. It was, in fact, an event Haldir learned not to mention unless Elladan was well and truly drunk, for even centuries after, when he would only lose a fight to the likes of Glorfindel, Elladan would blush and quail at the memory.

He had all reason to, for that was how Haldir found him minutes later, cheeks wet and snotty from crying, his face scrunched up and ugly. He was a mess, and he knew it, and yet he couldn't let go of his jealous rage even now that Haldir was sternly looking down at him, carrying the sword he had thrown at his brother in a sullen fit.

Elladan had thought of Haldir every now and then, growing up. He remembered the way his hair gleamed, and most of all the strength of his body, the sternness of his face, the way the gray wool of his tunic would stretch across the brood chest.

Just as it was now, Haldir standing before him, impossibly forbidding and all Elladan knew he would never be and never have.

"I know why you are here," he said, trying for a sneer though all he did was sniffle miserable, his face splotchy. "I don't know what you want but y-you can just as well l-leave. This doesn't concern you. Just - g-go away."

Haldir raised a brow, and then, he did not what Elladan had expected, which was what any of Glorfindel's warriors would have done: thrust the sword at him together with a stern lecture about a warrior's duties and how neglecting his blade in such a way was foolish and would only harm himself in the long run.

Haldir, instead, held the blade loosely in his hands, testing it and nodding in approval before he gently laid it aside and came to settle on the ground next to Elladan.

They were silent together for a long time, with another of Elladan's miserable sniffles disturbing the silence every now and then until at last, his tears were mostly dried, though his cheeks were still red with humiliation and the remnant of his anger.

"I have brothers too," Haldir said conversationally at last. "It's not always easy - you love each other, but you also have the ability to hurt each other like no other person. Because you love them so, and you trust them. To have that turned against you - it hurts."

Elladan nodded tersely after a long moment, not quite sure what to say. Yet Haldir did not seem intent on conversation. They simply sat close to each other, Haldir's arm brushing Elladan's, and as the time passed, so did his humiliation at his loss and his brother's ribbing, though his embarrassment at having Haldir observe him act like a child never lessened.

He turned his head, just a little, and, when he found Haldir staring off into the copse of trees to their left, he studied him more closely. Haldir truly was a warrior, with a warrior's body; strength and grace combined with the easy confidence of a man well used to leading men into battle.

Elladan envied - and Elladan wanted. He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as he remembered Elrohir talking about how he had kissed a girl at the last Midwinter celebration, and though he had not been able to understand the appeal at the time, oh how different, how right it would be to kiss Haldir, he thought hazily.

Then Haldir turned his head, and their eyes met. All thought fled from his mind, and yet it was as if Haldir had known exactly what he had been thinking, for suddenly his face turned kind and apologetic - much like the look of Erestor if Elladan had drawn the wrong conclusion from a historic event or memorized a false property for a herb.

Elladan jumped up, humiliation burning on his cheeks anew as he fled, running and running to hide between the trees from the terrible sense of loss and aching shame that hurt much worse than all of Elrohir's unkind remarks ever had.




iavas

After that, it should have taken a long, long time until he saw Haldir next. Unfortunately, that was not to be. With their mother's frequent visits to the land of her parents, Haldir was often seen in Imladris, for most of the time it was he who was given command over the warriors who guarded Celebrían's return to her husband.

Elladan, for the most time, kept his distance, remembered shame warring in him with the exuberant stirring of what he was beginning to fear was a great and tragic doomed love straight out of the tales of lore of the First Age.

Yet those fears passed in time, along with his youth. Haldir, of course, stayed true to his character and left Elladan to his own thoughts, as much as Elladan might bemoan that. At the same time as his youth receded and his experience grew, he and Haldir seemed to grow closer, drawn together not by desire or love but, most times, simply by expedience. Elladan was giving more rigorous exercise, greater challenges; in time, he was given more responsibility too and at last, it only caused the barest trembling of his fingers, a strange lightness of his heart if he found Haldir signed up to take a patrol with him.

Decades passed like that, yet as much as Elladan had grown in age and experience, they never spoke of that moment so long ago, when they had looked at each other and Elladan had revealed all of his youthful longing and desire with one helpless, entranced gaze.

There was one moment Elladan would remember for centuries to come. One moment when it was not he who wore his heart on his sleeve.

For all that Haldir was a formidable warrior and captain, when it came to matters of the heart, he was impossible to read. For long years Elladan had thought his longing unrequited.

Oh, there were many things that spoke against such a love, Elladan knew it all too well. For a man in his position, son of a lord, scion of a family that had always had a hand in turning the hands of history... Many would look askance should his desires ever be shown to be more than youthful fancies.

Yet Haldir was no such thing. Haldir was -

What was Haldir?

Elladan did not even know how to put into words what he felt.

Was it love? Was this love? When none of them had ever acknowledged it?

He might have continued like that for decades, wondering, dreaming, fearing, if not for that one moment that showed him beyond all doubt that, however doomed this might be, this was no wishful thinking or idle fancy.

It was no orc attack, no heroic wound taken in battle, no moment of sudden insight when his beloved took an arrow meant for him.

Instead, it happened suddenly, the ground that was strewn with leaves of red and gold slipping beneath them in a sudden slide of mud and leaves the brilliant gem colors of autumn. They took no harm from the fall, though he did not know that then as he rolled from where his horse threw him, scrambling to find purchase on the sodden mud that had lain hidden beneath the treacherously beautiful leaf cover.

Haldir was on the ground as well, his horse standing above him with shaking sides and rolling, spooked eyes, torn between the desire to bolt and run and its loyalty to its Master.

The mud sucked on his feet and hands as he tried to make his way towards Haldir. It was only a few steps, yet by the time he reached him, he was out of breath and painted all over with brown mud, one of his boots lost to the mire.

"Haldir," he said simply, his worry showing on his face as for a moment, there was no answer. Then Haldir turned his face, and fear shot through Elladan like a bolt of lightning at the tears glistening on his lashes.

It took a long moment until he realized that Haldir was laughing, gasping for air with helpless gulps as another guffaw broke free.

"Oh Eru - your face - Elladan!" he gasped, then sank back into the mud, surrendering to another round of laughter that shook his entire body. "You - you look -"

Elladan frowned, torn between worry and the urge to join in the laughter.

"You look like an orc!" Haldir gasped and reached out to wipe a smudge of mud from Elladan's nose.

Only, what happened then at that single touch had nothing to do with the hilarity that shook him. Haldir's eyes grew wide and dark, a heat kindled deep inside them that grew until all of a sudden, it was Elladan who found himself breathing hard, trembling with fear and uncertain desire.

Elladan stared at Haldir's lips, studied them - chaffed and dry after their long ride and dirty now after their roll in the mud, and yet Elladan found himself overwhelmed by the need to know what it would be like to gently bite and nibble that full lower lip, to slide his tongue over them, between them into the heat of Haldir's mouth to fill all his senses with his taste and his feel until he was drunk on the sheer perfection that was him...

He swallowed and licked his own lips, unable to tear his eyes away, then simply whispered "Haldir," a strangled, guttural sound of need, and then he could feel him, the heat of him, so close now, so close, and at last he would know what this was like, what he had always only dreamed about-

And then Haldir's face shuttered as the voice of Glorfindel resounded from among the trees, accompanied by the rustle and muffled voices of riders searching through the undergrowth, exclaiming with fear when they came to the point where the slow decline towards a small arm of the Bruinen had slid down in a torrent of heavy mud and taken them with it.

Elladan shook his head once, pleading with his eyes, asking just for that one touch, that one kiss to carry with him to safeguard against his doubts and fears, but Haldir's face was turned away, his eyes closed, and when Glorfindel carefully made his way down to meet them, Elladan's hand fell and he surrendered to the pain of a terrible loss.



rhîw

Time heals all wounds, it is said, and Elladan found after long years that what had once been the pain of a terrible wound, a blade thrust right to his heart, had faded to a lingering ache that was always there, although there were moments when he nearly forgot about it.

Haldir wanted him, that much had been certain. He had seen that look in his eyes, the same almost desperate longing he felt when desire and need overcame the rigidity of their upbringing and the awareness of their position and the responsibility it brought, of which they both were acutely aware.

And yet, there was something more now. There was... possibility. A balm to his pain, the thought that maybe, one day, if circumstances would ever allow...

For Haldir loved him, he did not doubt that anymore. He knew that Haldir took no lovers, and likewise was he known to be a dutiful son who had long put the demands of his father and his people before his own desires when it came to the temptations of beautiful maidens.

A temptation his brother was often gently chiding for succumbing to maybe a tad too often, yet even when he himself was declared a shining example for his brother to aspire to, Elladan never dared to voice the truth: that he no desires for maidens. That his desire was reserved for his own silver Glorfindel, for strong, stoic Haldir, steady and reliable and strong, and with that hidden core of hot need which Elladan had been allowed to glimpse only once.

Over time, they began to exchange letters. Always they were courteous, the sentiments of friends, of warriors who respected each other. Elladan trusted the couriers to deliver the letters safely only to their intended target, and yet he could not bring himself to write down the words he longed to hear one day from Haldir's lips.

There was year after year of letters, and with every passing year, Elladan became better at reading the words Haldir left unsaid. Haldir was still as skittish as he had been before the assault of young Elladan's youthful rush of emotion, and yet, there were hints, tersely described dreams of a future without war, of a home among trees – or maybe, Haldir once added, close to the mountains, or near a spring, for he thought happiness might depend more on whom of his friends might be near than on the golden trees he had lived beneath all his life.

Elladan kept all of Haldir's letters safely hidden away in a wooden box that had once held the treasures of his childhood – an eagle's feather, wondrously shaped rocks, little trinkets given to him by friends. Now that box held that which was dearest to his heart: all of Haldir's letters, each sheet of paper a visible proof of Haldir's affection. Perhaps to anyone else it would not have been enough, but both of them had learned to read between the lines over the centuries. And after all, what better proof was there than knowing the other facing centuries of silent disapproval from family and friends when each proved opposed to marriage or even casual trysts...

Elladan knew their time had come when Aragorn's fate had been fulfilled, and his own sister's doom would take its course.

Oh, he did not fault her for her decision – how could he, when the choice of his own heart was even more questionable? And yet, what awaited him was happiness, even if said happiness might possibly be bought with the loss of his family's approval. Still, unlike Arwen's own happiness, his would last until the end of Arda itself, for what Haldir had written so many years ago was true for him as well. He would be happy as long as Haldir was by his side, whether they lived on a small flet deep in the Golden Wood, long after all others had succumbed to the call of the Sea, or in a mansion on the endless, verdant pastures in the golden light of Aman.

He stroked Haldir's latest letter with a fingertip, smiling as his finger brushed the loose coil of silver hair that had somehow found its way into one of Haldir's letters years ago.

Yes.

Yes, there had been promises. Not in words perhaps, no, but...

They were promises nevertheless. And their day would come, when all responsibilities and concerns would be past them. He looked out, the mountains on the horizon still covered in snow, the waterfalls loud with the beginning snow-melt. A patrol had recently returned, for the snow in the courtyard had turned to gray slush, trampled by hooves and boots.

His patrol had returned, all of them his men now, his responsibility, those that had stayed instead of taking a ship.

How long would he himself stay? They had asked that, of course, his father, his brother. The truth was – until Haldir came. He would stay for him, wait as patiently as he always had. Haldir would come to him, as surely as the snow would melt and rush toward the ocean.

He smiled as he stood at the window, listening to the roar of the falling water. How wide, how far it traveled, and yet, at the end, all rivers led to the sea...

It was still winter when Haldir arrived. He came before the first signs of spring, before even the first snow-bell raised it's head from the white blanket to greet the fulfillment of something Elladan had wished for so much longer than his sister had loved her Dúnadan.

For them, at last, there had been none of that. No throne to claim. No evil to vanquish. What had stood between them had been the simple, unsurmountable ice of what was expected of men in their positions.

Now, though, Galadriel had sailed, as had his father. Haldir was freed from his service to the Golden Wood; Elladan, who intended to guide the events of the valley that had been his home for a while longer, was free at last to making his own rulings. His brother was still skeptical, still not as happy as he would have been had Elladan found a maid at last, and yet - what could Elrohir do, after the many centuries had proven both Elladan and Haldir's hearts to be true and set on their course?

No one was in the courtyard when Elladan stepped out to greet Haldir. The snow that had fallen had covered all traces of the men and women who had chosen to remain with their lord's sons in Imladris, and when Haldir rode up to him, snow began to fall again. It landed on Haldir's hair, silver frosted with white like hoarfrost growing on the lake's ice, yet his eyes were filled with warmth.

Elladan reached out take his hands before he could even dismount, and for a long moment, they simply stood there, hands tightly clasped, looking at each other as the awareness of their freedom grew.

Then Haldir slid from his horse and into Elladan's arms, warm and strong and real, from the freezing tips of his nose to the reek of his wet, woolen cloak.

"I am not leaving again," Haldir said softly, and Elladan, overcome, shook his head.

"Don't," he said simply. "Don't leave again," and then, at last, their lips touched, Haldir's almost blue from the cold of the frozen mountain passes, though in time he warmed and they did not even feel the snow that settled all around them.
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