Time's Passages 2

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'Time's Passages'

 

Chapter Two
 

Astor Bay, CE 1979.

 

“A bit of this and a touch of that.”

They were sitting in the kitchen of Hal and Erestor’s small, rented house, with the back door open to the sunset and the scent of newly-wet grass and soil.  The front room was for watching television, the kitchen was where they entertained, except for the times when Hal needed the couch and a little privacy. 

 

From the front the property was unprepossessing, as could be expected from an all male household – a low wall enclosed a straggle of lawn and two overgrown red hibiscus bushes,  there was a frangipani tree and a row of fading petunias. The back, by contrast, was the preserve of the elves, a riot of scents and colours bordering velvet green grass. There was no planning, nothing was organized. Occasionally one or other of them brought home a cutting or a small, carefully uprooted plant that had caught the eye, and it was planted in the first likely-looking space.  A handful of compost, a few whispered words of encouragement, and every addition to their garden grew, including plants that had no business looking strong and healthy so close to the sea.

 

The kitchen was functional; a stove and fridge, an ancient twin-tub washer, cabinets with doors painted a strange shade of pumpkin that had looked rather better in the can than on the wood, and a round table with four chairs. Erestor sipped cheap white wine and studied Elrond out of the corner of his eye while they talked. Some things were the same, some clearly different. He wore his fine, dark hair short and neat, his toned body exuded confidence as did the neat and tastefully expensive clothing.

 

Surreptitiously Erestor glanced down at himself, noting the contrast presented by his cream button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled back, light denim jeans, and bare feet now that he was at home. He wondered briefly if Elrond had a single item in denim in his wardrobe before returning to his scrutiny.  The grey eyes were almost as he remembered, a little tired, but still gravely intelligent, perhaps a trace more watchful. Elrond had always treated the world with a healthy dose of suspicion. And the rare smile – that hadn’t changed.

 

“This and that?” Erestor asked lightly. “Sounds familiar. I say import, export when we’re between work – people get sidetracked with James Bond-type jokes. Though that’s not often these days. We make a good team, and there’s always place for a good garage manager and a skilled mechanic. We keep busy.”

 

Elrond nodded. “If that kind of thing appeals to you, yes, of course it would work. I travel. Never in the same place long enough for questions to be asked. I stay a while, I move on.  I’ve seen the world this way.”

 

“Several times over by now, I imagine,” Erestor agreed politely.  “As have we all. But – that must get wearying, Elrond? Surely? I find it hard enough to uproot after ten or fifteen years, let alone keep on the move indefinitely. It must get lonely too - it even does for me, and I seldom travel alone.”

 

Elrond flicked him a glance, his eyes inscrutable. “I seldom find any incentive to stay in one place for long,” he replied briefly, a warning implicit in his tone. “Leaving doesn’t bother me. Except the boat, of course. I’d miss that. I’m fond of the boat.”

 

“Boat?” Haldir had been watering the garden and came in now, stamping his feet briefly on the mat to dry them, his cut-off jeans showing splotches of wetness. He headed straight for the fridge and a cold Carling, his plain t-shirt setting off the ripple of muscle moving under clear, tanned skin. He found the opener, flipped the top off the bottle of beer and drank deeply, leaning against the fridge. “You have a boat?” he asked, wiping his hand briefly across his mouth on a satisfied sigh.

 

Elrond gave him a look that suggested cut-off jeans and cheap t-shirts had no place in his world. Nor, probably, did beer direct from the bottle. Erestor bit back a smile and settled down to watch.

 

“Ketch. Forty foot, sleeps five – four comfortably.  Won her playing baccarat with a millionaire in Monaco. Since then I’ve been all over with her.“

 

“You have a boat big enough to transport a car?” Haldir looked impressed, Elrond less so.

 

“At forty foot? Hardly. I sent the Jag out on a container ship well before I left London. Then I picked up crew and sailed down here. We arrived at more or less the same time as the car.”

 

Hal grunted. “So – you’re settling here then?”

 

Elrond looked pained. “And leave London?” The word ‘civilisation’ was implied. “No, I thought a year, possibly eighteen months. Just for a change. Enjoy the sunshine. I have the Adagio berthed at the Yacht Club, and I’ve been sight seeing while she goes through the usual overhaul after a long trip. Afterwards I have plans to sail up the coast. This, according to the guide book, was supposed to be a short, pleasant drive, a little early in the year for whale viewing but perfect for a day trip.”

 

He glanced around as though the town itself was somehow responsible for his mechanical problems. Hal looked suitably unsympathetic. “Day trip, yes. Two hours from town,” he agreed, hooking a chair away from the table and turning it so that he could straddle it, resting his folded arms on the back. He took another deep swig from the bottle. “So. What happened to the car then?”

 

“I have no idea,” Elrond told him. “It kept – cutting off. I managed to flag someone down, and he arranged for a tow. I saw a larger garage on the outskirts of town – I’m sure someone there…”

 

“No, no, Kobus likes heavy duty vehicles, that kind of thing,” Hal said confidently.  Not a lie so much as a huge exaggeration. “Transmission, probably. Should be a two day job, and that doesn’t include waiting for the part from town.”

 

“And you would know this, because…?” Elrond looked sceptical.

 

“I would know this because it is my job to know this,” Haldir informed him, speaking slowly as though to a not very bright child. “I had a good look this afternoon and that’s what the problem is. Don’t worry – you’ll get a full inventory. We’re not in business to rip people off.”

 

“Two days? I have no intention of sitting around here for the next two days.” Elrond held out his glass wordlessly for Erestor to give him a refill before continuing, “I’m also quite sure it needs the attention of a specialist mechanic, not a self-taught…”

 

Haldir sat up straight, bristling. “Elrond, it would be a major undertaking to have your car towed back to the city,” Erestor cut in hastily. “Think of the way the road winds down the pass. And it would be expensive and draw attention to you, and I’m sure, like us, you try to avoid that. And if Haldir says he can fix it, he can fix it.” 

 

He and Hal supported one another, sometimes flying in the face of common sense. It was one of the cornerstones of their friendship.  “If you like, I can take you back tomorrow morning, and one of us can bring the car through when Hal’s finished with it. Two days plus however long for spares delivery, right?” he added, glancing in Hal’s general direction, although being careful not to make eye contact. The Mighty alone knew if Hal had any idea what he was doing and now wasn’t the time to ask.

 

“I had no plans to stay over, Erestor. Where…?”

 

“Plenty of hotels,” Erestor told him quickly before Hal could do the predictable thing and extend an invitation for Elrond to spend the night with them. He could somehow not picture Elrond sleeping on the couch where Haldir had recently seduced Marta who worked in the novelty shop on Main Street. “It’s end of summer so there should be plenty of space. I’ll give the Riviera a call, organize accommodation. You’ll like it - lovely rooms, and it’s right above the beach.”

 

~*~*~*~*~

 

“What a wanker.”

 

Erestor sighed and went on brushing his hair, watching fine strands leap away from his head then slide back into place. He was wearing blue cotton pants, a white shirt shot through with a pattern of blue wavy lines, and a thin navy tie. He had even debated tying back his hair, but he had no need to impress Elrond at this point in their lives.  With that in mind, he decided against a jacket.

 

Haldir displayed no sense of occasion.  His good jeans were topped by a paisley shirt, the predominant colour of which seemed to be green, and his shoes could best be described as comfortable.

 

“You’ll have to wear a tie with that,” Erestor pointed out mildly. “The Riviera won’t let you in their dining room without one. And he is not a wanker -  just moves in different circles to us. And that is a matter of choice. I’m sure I could afford a yacht if I wanted one, and to berth it at the Yacht Club, too. Which I don’t.”

 

“Can see Blondie’s face when he wanders in from do-gooding and finds you living the life of the idle rich, yes,” Hal said cheerfully while he scratched through Erestor’s open wardrobe. “Not too attached to worldly goods, him. This one all right?”

 

‘This one’ was a purple tie with a geometrical design, a gift from a former employee. Deciding that any tie was better than no tie at all, Erestor restrained a shudder and nodded. At least it matched the purple in the shirt.

 

“You can take it off soon as dinner’s over,” he suggested, giving his hair a last stroke and then shaking it back.

 

“Why would I put it on just to take it off again? You want me to wear a tie, I’ll wear a tie.”

 

“It’s not me wanting you to – it’s the hotel and its dress code, remember?

 

“Why are we doing this again anyway?”

 

Erestor gritted his teeth. “Because Elrond invited us for drinks and dinner so that we could catch up, and someone,” he gave Haldir a pointed look, “thought it would be fun to say yes?”

 

“He said it like we wouldn’t know which knife and fork to use,” Haldir grumbled, struggling with the tie. Erestor resisted the urge to knock his hands down and do it himself. “So I said yes. Show him we’re civilized and all the rest.”

 

“He knows <i>I’m</i> civilized,” Erestor said dryly, putting his wallet into his back pocket and looking around for the car keys. “About you, he’ll just have to take his chances. Come on, get finished. We’re late again, we’re always late. You have no time sense.”

 

“Why couldn’t he have stayed somewhere normal like the Astoria? You don’t need a tie in there.”

 

“Because he’s Elrond? I don’t think he’d recognise a pie and chips eaten at the bar as dinner.”

 

~*~*~*~*~

 

The hotel was less than half full this late in the season, and Elrond had managed to organise a window table. Erestor could see the moon-bathed sea and a portion of the small beach behind the reflection of lights and movement.  It was a different world out there, still familiar and welcoming, thousands of years away from the brightly-lit dining room, the clink of cutlery, the steady drone of voices occasionally punctuated by laughter.

 

“But are you making any money out of it?”

 

They had just finished dessert, chocolate mousse for Erestor, fruit salad and ice cream for Elrond, who had left a portion uneaten, and a concoction of ice cream, banana, nuts and cherries for Haldir. Biscuits and cheese had just been served, Irish coffee for Haldir and Erestor, a liqueur for Elrond.  Haldir had been put out to discover Don Pedros – a popular ice cream and Kahlua drink – were not served at the Riviera.

 

“Well, yes, but it’s more about keeping busy,” Erestor explained. “That and – I don’t know. Being useful? Helpful? We try and keep our prices reasonable and do reliable work.”

 

“And much they thank you for it, am I right?”

 

Erestor arched an eyebrow, surprised. “Well, we get business by word of mouth, and there’s a steady flow of customers, so I guess people are happy with the service we offer? And yes, of course we get thanked. How not?”

 

“My experience of mortals,” Elrond said quietly, “is that they are more likely to take advantage of good intentions than respect them. They might go through the motions, but survival of the fittest is ingrained.”

 

There it was again - the bitterness, the dark, inward look, the barely contained disdain whenever either Erestor or Haldir referred with any enthusiasm to their work, their customers, their lives over the past few decades.  Erestor rested his elbows on the table and sipped the whisky-laced coffee.  “You don’t like them very much, do you?” he asked, hints giving way to blunt inquiry.

 

Elrond looked almost blank for a moment. “Liking hardly seems relevant. I try to avoid getting involved, if that’s what you mean? No more than necessary for basic comfort and convenience. The couple I told you about who crewed for me are a good example. Part of the agreement was that they would go their own way as soon as we made port.”

 

“But… then what is the point of being here?” Erestor asked, genuinely puzzled. " Nothing forces us to sail, but there’s nothing to make us stay either. So why? There’ve been other ships since the so-called Last Ship. At least one a year, in fact - well, so Thranduil says anyhow. Círdan’s still here. We do not fade unless we choose that road, but part of staying involves accepting the world belongs to the Second-born. If you don’t like being around them, why remain?”

 

Annoyance crossed Elrond’s face, vanished. “I will sail if and when I feel the urge, Erestor,” he said evenly. “Until then, I have money enough to live in comfort and an urge still to seek out new places and hopefully have the occasional new experience.”

 

“And have as little as possible to do with the ones who inherited Endor from us, yes, I see. Well, as long as you’re enjoying yourself…”

 

“I suppose we all have our reasons,” Haldir said, reversing the natural order of things by kicking Erestor under the table while making a show of lighting a cigarette. “There’s more reasons for being here than spending time with people and helping where we can.  I mean – I was born here. No wish to see the Other Place. Maybe one day but…”

 

Haldir the diplomat. Who’d have thought. Erestor sipped his drink and hid a smile. Hal liked everyone to think he was laid back and unsentimental, but he had a good heart and more common sense than he was normally given credit for.  Still, something was wrong. Elrond might look the same, but something was out of place here. The warmth, the interest in others, the compassion - they might not be gone, he refused to believe that, but they were currently very well-hidden from view.

 

Taking his lead from Haldir, Erestor reached over and helped himself to crackers from the platter. “So you’re busy sight-seeing? Have you been to any of the vineyards yet? Robertson’s pretty this time of the year.”

 

If Haldir could do it, so could he. Once upon a time, a very long while ago, diplomacy had been Erestor’s job.

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 3

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Beta: Red Lasbelin