Time's Passages 2

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'Time's Passages'

Chapter Four

The bank opened at nine, which meant Erestor wasn’t finished the morning’s business and ready to leave until shortly after ten. He arrived to find Elrond waiting in the Birkenhead’s plushly carpeted lobby. Erestor almost asked where his bags were before remembering just in time that there weren't any. Unexpectedly relieved to avoid looking stupid, he put on a bright smile and said, "Morning. Ready to go? You look tired, did you sleep all right? I'm never good first night in a new place."

Probably not much better than asking about non-existent baggage, he told himself, watching Elrond's eyebrows arch. Last night’s conversation over dinner still had him off-balance and it was showing. He sounded as bright and chirpy as a game show host.

"I slept well enough, thanks," Elrond replied mildly, going past him and through the revolving door. "You're probably seeing the effects of the rather stolid breakfast I’ve just eaten."

The car was parked almost directly outside in a no parking zone. Erestor got in and leaned across to open the passenger door. "I'm not much of a breakfast person," he admitted, "but I quite like hotel style as a treat. Did they have kippers? I haven't eaten them in ages."

This led to a general discussion about breakfast menus they had known, which tapered off even before they reached the outskirts of town. After this, Erestor gave his attention to the road while Elrond stared out the window for the most part, apparently lost in thought. He did not smoke in the car.

The coast road offered breathtaking views of the sea, but it was narrow and winding and took at least half an hour longer. Long before the turnoff, Erestor had decided instead on the quicker route through farmlands and over Sir Lowry’s pass. He doubted Elrond would mind either way. The approach to the pass ran between walls of raw rock, leaving grazing lands and apple orchards behind. Erestor, who loved the way the gash in the mountainside laid bare the different colours of the various rock strata, pointed it out to Elrond and received a glance and a polite murmur in reply.

Undeterred, Erestor turned off into the shallow viewing lay-by at the summit of the pass and brought Hal’s elderly Beetle to a halt. The car made clicking, settling sounds and the wind gusted lightly against it, otherwise the sudden quiet was almost startling. Below them farms and occasional clusters of houses stretched out like a checkerboard to meet the still-distant industrial area. To their left, the sea merged with the horizon in an apparently motionless line of blue, seeming almost to fade into the mountains on the far side of the bay. Elrond considered this picturesque vista then turned to Erestor, frowning.

“Is there a problem?” he asked. “Why have we stopped?”

Erestor wondered if he was being awkward on purpose. After last night, nothing would have surprised him. “You said you were exploring the tourist routes, so I thought you’d like to see one of the best views along the coast. I don’t know – do you have a camera? It makes a good photograph.”

Elrond looked at him with an expression that suggested Erestor was the one being difficult. “If I wanted a postcard, Erestor, I would buy one,” he said at last. “Though – it is pretty, yes. Thank you for stopping. You were always thoughtful.”

The smile was almost his old one, there and then gone. Erestor paused then plunged in, made bold by familiarity and the enclosing intimacy of the car. “Elrond, what? You’ve barely said a word in the past hour – and when you have you’re short, you’re distant. I would always listen if you needed to talk, you must know that.”

A shuttered look greeted this. “I… nothing’s wrong, Erestor. It’s just been a long month, and the car breaking down was the last straw, that’s all. You’re quite sure he knows what he’s doing, are you? I seem to recall he was well known for having a high opinion of his abilities.”

“Haldir?” From experience Erestor knew when a question was being passed off unanswered; he was a master of the art himself. Ditching the idea of begging a cigarette, he started the car and pulled back onto the road, which made a sharp turn before spiralling steeply down, rock on one side, an open drop on the other. “Hal’s brilliant with cars. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Even if Erestor had to stand over him with the manual open so they could work on it together. He assumed there was such a thing as an E-type manual, even though general mechanics probably didn’t have much call for information on sports cars. Before he left town, he decided he would stop off at one of the bigger bookshops and see if he could find one. Just in case.

While his yacht was being overhauled, Elrond was renting a holiday flat up on the hill in the older, more expensive part of Sea Point. The block had security but precious little off-street parking, so it took Erestor a few minutes to find somewhere to leave the Beetle – Hal was right, you could park it anywhere. The flat was on the fifth floor, and they rode up in the lift in silence.

The living room was large and airy, with a view over the rooftops to the sea. Looking around, the first thing that struck Erestor was the lack of personal touches. The furnishings were tasteful but anonymous, and there were no photographs, no little ornaments, no plants. It looked as barren as a hotel room. He opened his mouth to say as much, then snapped it shut again. Elrond had made it quite clear invasive comments were unwelcome.

“If you’d like, I can make us coffee?”

He turned and smiled at Elrond, who looked almost tentative for a change. “Coffee would be good. Mind if I go out onto the balcony? You have quite a view from here.”

Elrond shrugged and produced a key. “It’s all right, yes. Go ahead. The weather’s good, we may as well enjoy it.”

The view was indeed ‘all right’. The balcony had a waist high wall with a double row of metal tubing above to act as a safety break. The Atlantic seaboard was spread out before him, stretching in a criss-cross of streets down to Beach Road with its shops and restaurants, and on further to the promenade along the beachfront and the sea itself, blue and still. Out in the bay he counted three ships waiting to berth in the harbour and in the distance lay the island, a smoky purple mass on the horizon. Beyond that the ocean stretched on into an endless distance, all the way to Antarctica.

Elrond almost startled him, coming up beside him and holding out a ceramic mug filled with expensive-smelling coffee. Erestor took it with a half smile. Even after all this time, he still found espresso an acquired taste, but he said nothing, merely sipped briefly. Like Fin, Elrond was apparently a believer in minimal sugar. Erestor had learned to drink coffee in the Middle East and still judged each new experience against the thick sweetness he had grown to love in Istanbul.

“It’s an amazing view,” he ventured instead.

Elrond shrugged. “They make you pay for it,” he said dryly. “But it’s a good address. Less questions if you live somewhere like this.”

“Yes, I know. Money in Europe, here to look around?”

“Ah. You’ve done it before.” The grey eyes softened, warmed briefly. They had been good friends once, back in Imladris when Erestor had worked beside him. In those days, he had been more often on the receiving end of that look of animated interest. Memories of those times had been behind his earlier attempt to reach out in the car. Well, time passed, Erestor supposed. It had been quite a while even by elven standards since their paths had last crossed.

“More than a few times, yes,” Erestor agreed before the pause grew too obvious. “Different situations, but it’s a good line, it adapts to any number of circumstances. By now we’ve done just about everything you can think of. Some things better than others,” he added, unable to suppress a smile.

Elrond nodded, ran a finger around the rim of his coffee mug, his eyes on it, pensive. He slanted Erestor a sidelong glance. “You and Haldir – how long have you been together now? I hardly liked to ask, but… I was – surprised. I never imagined you and Glorfindel would separate. He sailed then?”

Erestor blinked, following his thought. “Oh, no, no.” He tried not to laugh; it would be an insult to Haldir who was his closest friend in all the world. “No, nothing like that. Friends, we’re friends.”

The waiting expression Elrond turned on him was identical to the one he had faced long ago during debriefings of a very different nature. “We met up in Genoa a few centuries back. Fin and I are still together. This just means we don’t have to be in each other’s faces year in, year out. Sometimes we’re in the same place, sometimes, like now, we’re a world away. Fin’s – more self-sufficient than I am, I guess. I like company and Hal and I get on well.” He thought back, smiled slightly. “Being apart’s easier than it used to be, too. Telephones, reliable mail…”

“Ah. Neither of you mentioned him, and I didn’t like to ask. Where is he then? What’s he doing?” Just a hint of – hope?

Erestor drank coffee and watched a cloud of seagulls flocking above a building that backed onto one of the side streets. Restaurant, he decided. They always knew where there was a chance of food. He loved the gulls. Looking back he had no idea how it was that Glorfindel’s name hadn’t come up yesterday, but this at least explained why Elrond had seemed only nominally curious about him and Hal. There’d probably just been no right moment. “He’s in the Middle East with the Red Cross: earthquakes, famine, wars, and general disaster. This time it’s some refugee camp in Lebanon.”

“Why?” Puzzlement traced Elrond’s fine features. “Why would he be involved with something like that?”

Erestor was not someone to placidly accept a situation. He had asked this same question centuries ago, and kept asking until he had properly understood the answer. He could even remember where and when acceptance had come; night, a small house near the river in Athens back in the time of classical greatness, lying in bed in a darkness far deeper than any city on earth could now offer, listening to the insects while the quiet, hesitant voice beside him talked about responsibility, about a mentorship laid down too swiftly.

“He likes to go where people need help.”

Elrond frowned. “There is no point,” he said. “They live, they die. It’s the way of it. And should they even begin to guess who and what he is, do you think they would thank him for his help?”

“It’s nothing to do with thanks,” Erestor responded, choosing his words carefully. He was speaking for Fin after all, not for himself. “He does it because it’s important to him, they’re important to him. Still our younger siblings, he says. Still our responsibility anywhere we can make a difference.”

“Glorfindel always was a dreamer,” Elrond said tartly. “Not you though. I’d have thought you’d have sailed long since.”

Erestor had some more coffee then turned fully to face his former lord. Keeping his tone casual, he asked, “What about you? You hardly seem impressed by their brave new world. Why are you still here? It must surely get lonely at times? That’s the main reason Hal and I teamed up.” Some instinct stopped him from asking what had happened to the girl.

Elrond was eyeing him coolly. “There is… even less waiting there for me than I have here,” he stated, his tone clipped and emphatic. “Therefore, I remain until someone gives me a good enough reason to leave. Now – not that I wish to impose, but would you be able to give me a lift to a few places before you go back? I have errands to run and an obvious lack of transport.”

‘A few places’ turned out to be an understatement. A call at Elrond’s bank and a stop to pick up his dry cleaning were followed by a brief visit to the yacht basin where Erestor sat in the car while Elrond ran in to some office to check if his application for a different berth had been successful. Erestor suspected he was praying no one associated him with the rather dusty WV Beetle that looked uncomfortably out of its element parked amongst its flashier cousins.

Elrond got back into the car, closing the door twice, at first lightly then the second time, remembering earlier advice, slamming it firmly. “Right, that’s fixed,” he said. “Now, I don’t suppose you could take me through to Hazeldene? I need to pick up my riding boots. Just had them re-heeled. They’re good boots, I could hardly take them just anywhere,” he added in answer to Erestor’s eloquent look.

Hazeldene was on the other side of the city, nearly half an hour through traffic. Boots collected, Elrond suddenly turned all gracious host and insisted on buying them a late lunch at a small, Greek establishment he had apparently visited before. Erestor tried not to make too much of looking at the time and instead ordered a salad and hoped for light traffic on his way home.

“Do you come to town often?” Elrond asked him. “If so, we should get together next time you’re here. I never expected to run into anyone from the past this far south.”

“Nor I,” Erestor agreed, carefully sampling some anonymous item of ‘seafood’ in amongst the lettuce. “We try and keep up with everyone we know, and it’s happened quite often that we’ll run into elves eventually if we stay somewhere for long enough, but not here till now. The chances of having met you are…”

“Yes, Valar-inspired,” Elrond said blandly. “Though what their point might be, I could hardly begin to guess. You’re sure Haldir will only be two days fixing the car?”

Erestor nodded. “That’s what he said. From when he gets the part he ordered, anyway. Then he’ll bring it through for you.”

“He’s going to drive my car?” Elrond put down his fork and contrived to look horrified.

Erestor traded him a level look. “Yes, he’s going to fix your car and then he’s going to drive it. Hal has almost an… empathy for his work, and he drives a damn sight better than I do. He was the one who taught me, if that’ll set your mind at rest. You got here in one piece, after all.”

Elrond let it pass. “So, as I understood it last night, he does the repairs and you see to the business side of things?”

“I can do a basic service.” Erestor was quite inordinately proud of this fact. “So if we’re really busy, I pitch in. Otherwise, yes, I run the office and look after our finances and he does what he calls the real work.”

General topics followed, careful topics, nothing that could turn in on itself or lead round to more talk about the past or about why Elrond was still here. Erestor finally cut to the heart of it, asking the question that had been sitting near the front of his mind since last night’s dinner.

“What about Celebrķan? Surely she’d want to know about her children? Were you able to send her word?”

The air around them tingled, the sounds of the few other patrons talking and laughing and the quiet cacophony of the kitchen all seemed to fade. Elrond looked at him, and his grey eyes seemed to go almost black. Erestor remembered that look and had to forcibly remind himself that this was not Imladris, and he was no longer answerable to the half-elf’s authority. But he and Celebrķan had been friends, good friends. He had a right, almost an obligation, to ask.

“Celebrķan is not your concern, the rest of my family even less so,” Elrond breathed softly. “I will thank you to take your famous curiosity and put it on a leash, Erestor. This is none of your business.”


Chapter 5


Beta: Red Lasbelin