But it is not merely the weather, he thought, his lips tightening into a thin line as he regarded the grey clouds that shrouded the valley, obscuring the light of day's end. On the desk, the books that he had brought out at the start of the day still lay closed, untouched--his energy had been sapped by this chill, his inspiration shattered--and he suddenly chuckled quietly.
"My connection to him is still so strong," he mused aloud to the room.
Amused eyes turned to scan his room: the dusty shelves that spanned the room from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, overladen with the books that he had accumulated over the years. Others called him a hoarder, but he did not consider himself one. It was more of a reflection of the life that he had made for himself in this realm, of the life that Elrond had asked of him. He reached out to run his palm over the surface of one of the books, watched dust come off on his fingers. In his mind, he replayed his last significant meeting with Elrond, when Elrond had returned from the Havens. The Lord of Imladris had looked deceptively well, but his brief words to him conveyed the depth of his pain.
"I wish to remain alone for some time. In that time, I would like you to continue to lead the council in my stead. Do not disturb me - not for any reason."
Erestor exhaled. It had already been almost a month since Elrond had confined himself in his room and the realm's residents had been instructed not to trouble him with matters concerning his duty as leader of the realm. Erestor sometimes wondered if he should call on him in spite of the order, if he should chastise him like the child who once paid attention to him, test those bonds between them. Just like he had done when Celebrķan had last returned to them.
"Why are you here, Erestor?"
Standing in the bedroom doorway, Erestor opened his mouth to respond, but before he could do so, Elrond spoke. "I do not need to be lectured."
"I think you know why I am here," Erestor replied, turning to look at Celebrķan's sleeping form on the bed. He scanned her peaceful expression, then looked back at Elrond, eyes narrowing when he saw his lord's tight features. "I wish to speak to you. Now, would you rather I spoke plainly or in riddles?"
"I would rather that you did not speak at all," Elrond said. "Let me be."
"The illness of the Lady Celebrķan is not a sorrow that belongs to you alone," Erestor said quietly. "It is a sorrow that is felt by all the residents of Imladris and many who reside outside the borders of this realm."
"And does that mean that I may not watch over her until she regains consciousness?"
"No." Erestor's gaze slid back to the bed. "I was merely suggesting that you share your burden. You do not suffer alone, Elrond, but... Imladris is currently alone. Or..." He looked back at Elrond. "...would you have your councillors take charge of Imladris until you regain your own health."
Erestor's expression hardened. "It has been over a week, Elrond," he said. "You know that your council is ineffective without you until you allow one of us to appropriate your powers. In any lesser person, I would accept that their duties to their family override their duties to the realm, but in your case this is unacceptable!" Elrond's face tightened; Erestor ignored it. "The next council meeting is tomorrow morning after breakfast," Erestor said. "We would appreciate the attendance of our lord." Then, with a bow, he turned and left the room.
That meeting was canceled, and the next, which Elrond attended, was conducted after Celebrķan had finally opened her eyes. In that brief time between her recovery and her relapse, Elrond had attended to his duty as ruler of Imladris with his usual admirable vigour and enthusiasm. But when her health had faded, he disappeared once again. When Erestor had again visited Celebrķan's room to ask after him, he had found only Celebrķan. 'Twas she who had asked him to take up Elrond's duties and told him of her intentions to depart for the uttermost west.
His brows knit as he recalled her affectionate expression, her hands on his face as he knelt beside the bed.
"Elrond is not himself at the moment," she had said. "One day, you will fall in love and understand the beauty and agony of that bond."
Truly, he admired their love, but he could not deny that it also saddened him. Elrond had never changed so much as he had done when he had fallen in love. To Erestor, who had raised him under Gil-galad's instruction, seen Elrond blossom beneath his tutelage, seen Elrond excel and surpass him in all areas, it had been no surprise to observe Elrond achieve what he had never done: to fall in love. But this event had also widened the gulf between them. And after that day, the youth who once looked up to him started--perhaps unintentionally, or perhaps with a new wisdom that Erestor could not perceive--to look down.
To be criticised, even laughed at, for something that he had never anticipated Elrond could find in him to ridicule had hurt him more than he had expected. And then Celebrķan had said that...
"One day, you will fall in love."
"Such ignorant words," he whispered. His voice shook.
He started when he heard the supper bells rang out, echoing through the passageways. As the noise faded, he turned his head to look back out of the window at the valley. The sun had set and now a starless darkness flooded the realm, its fathomless depths reflected back to him through the windowpane in the depth of his eyes.
He no longer understood himself.
He rose and turned to leave the room, dimming the lamps on his way out. As he made his way down the passageway and passed the stairs that led to Elrond's rooms, he wondered, yet again, if he should ignore the order--ignore the rejection.
What did he have to lose? In the unlikely event that he pushed Elrond so ruthlessly that he was sent away, he always had places to go, connections to exercise. So he reached out and took the rail, made his slow ascent of the stairwell. At the top, he crossed the deserted passageway to enter the dim confines of the bedroom of the master of the realm.
It was cold in the room: the doors to the balcony had been left wide open, and leaves lay scattered on the floors, trembling slightly in the chill breeze. As Erestor neared the bed, his face softened.
Elrond lay asleep on his side beneath the sheets, dark hair strewn about him, cascading over the white sheets and his motionless form in rivulets. His eyes were closed in the manner of mortals, head burrowed into the junction of pillow and mattress, hands curled limply together before his pale face.
"A child," Erestor murmured as he moved to stand over Elrond, peer down at the haggard face. And in that moment, he fancied that Elrond had not changed at all, that the small child he had found all those many millenia ago had never left--never left him... still needed him. Tears sprang to his eyes, and he raised a hand hurriedly to his mouth to muffle the choked breath.
He folded his arms and turned to make his way over to the open doors that let in the wind. As he leaned against the jamb and stared into the darkness, felt the curtains brush and well around him, felt the first tendrils of winter seep through his clothes and into his skin, he supposed that after winter came spring. And when spring came after the harshest winter, it would surely bathe the realm in even more brilliance and love than ever before.
Until then... nay, even beyond that spring... even when all the seasons had come to pass and another winter waxed before them, he would watch over him as he had ever done. Forever.