Sleep When We're Dead

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'Sleep When We're Dead'


Sleep When We're Dead

The water splashed on impact, fountaining white up around them, then dipped and rose as it settled, dark as oil under the sunset sky. From on board ship the sound of raucous laughter and imaginative curses cut the air, rising above the creak and snap of sail. Erestor broke the surface spluttering, shaking back hair that clung to his head, sleek as a seal's pelt. Something struck the water near them. "Swim," Glorfindel yelled. "Come on. We're sitting targets."

Erestor turned in the water, spitting mad. "You stupid bastard!" he shouted, the three words weighted with baleful sincerity, "Of all the mindless..." He made a sound of disgust and struck out, long strokes carrying him away from the ship. Glorfindel grinned briefly and followed. Had the situation been reversed, had Erestor been the one who had gambled too long and shown himself too lucky, he might not have been so restrained.

"This way," he called, turning north-east where he’d been told the closest land lay. Erestor ignored him, kept moving on some inner tangent. He had an uncanny sense of direction, and after a moment Glorfindel gave up and followed him. The light was uncertain and they were too low to see where they should be going. A glance back over his shoulder showed the bulk of the merchant ship black against the sky, heading off for its next port of call, having divested itself of the two so-called traders, one of whose gambling skills and religion, or lack of same, had marked them as ill-omened cargo.

A wave lifted him from behind, dropping him into a trough on the down curve. He rode it, came up spitting salt water, trying to spot Erestor’s dark hair against the gloom. A voice near his ear said, "Wind's coming up. We need to keep together." Erestor was treading water, trying to divest himself of his boots and knot his hair back. Glorfindel set to doing the same, bobbing in the rising waves like a cork till he'd done. There was no need of words, they had been together too long. When they were done, they set out determinedly, swimming a short distance apart, keeping check of one another, not wasting breath on chatter.

Varda's lanterns were winking on in the sky, the horizon blended into the sea. Glorfindel could taste salt on his lips, felt the burning at the back of his throat from swallowing sea water. The ocean was vast and chill around them, the only good he could find in nightfall was he could check Erestor's instincts against the stars. He wondered how long they could swim for, how far to Syracuse, how much elf endurance would count for after weeks of bad rations and scant exercise. He spared a worried glance for Erestor, the lighter, less physically strong half of the team; he was already in that silent, focused place he sought when the task was heavy and the hours had been long. What Erestor lacked in strength he made up for in stubbornness.

Arm through the water, over and pull, over and pull. The night wore in, grew darker. They rested at regular intervals, conserving their strength against the cold. When they rested they talked randomly about their possible destination, about how to get back to Athens, which was where what remained of their money was held. After the first outburst, Erestor had said nothing more about Glorfindel's dubious judgment in the choice of transport. They might or might not revisit it later, right now survival was their priority. They were good at survival, centuries spent wandering the Hither Shore since the Rings crossed into the West was proof of that.

"Fuck --- Glorfindel!" They very seldom used their true names now, except in private moments usually involving passion. Horror radiated off Erestor as he swam closer. "Look --- fins!"

Glorfindel considered. "It’s just two, Ery, not an entire horde. And they might be dolphins..."

"Oh come on."

"No, probably not." He stopped, trod water carefully. "Do as I do," he said quietly. "No splashing, no flailing - we can't outswim them, so we need to bore them. If we swim, they'll think we're turtles or something. Just stay still and let them pass."

The water eddied around them, little wavelets smacking against them as though against harbour bulwarks. Lack of movement let in the cold, he had to force himself to relax so the shivering would stop. Erestor had a hand on his arm, otherwise he was looking out into the dark as they both practiced the age-old elven technique of being not-there. The sharks slid past and kept going. They stayed shivering where they were long after the fins faded into darkness before finally Glorfindel said, "All right, we can chance it now. Try and move smoothly."

They fell back into the rhythm that had been set before. The night closed in around them, the water grew colder yet, the air was icy. Their clothes clung about them, their hair drew the chill in through the tops of their heads. They were taking a break, treading water against the current with an eye on the stars to avoid getting turned around, when Erestor asked thoughtfully, "How far down is it below us, do you think? If this was a mountain...?"

Glorfindel snorted. "Further than you could dive before you ran out of breath? Higher than that pass on top of the world that we crossed with Alexander?"

Erestor considered this, tightened his knotted hair. Finally: "Well we'd better keep swimming then."

The world was dark and empty, there seemed nothing left, just themselves and the endlessly moving Mediterranean. Glorfindel was in Erestor's wake, had been for some time. His mind kept slipping into daydreams, and more than once his partner had looked back and snapped at him to keep up, stay awake. They both knew the dangers as the temperature of sea and sky dropped, losing all of the day's heat. When Erestor stopped abruptly to tread water he almost swam straight into him. "What's wrong?" He was wide awake now, praying the answer wasn't cramp.

"There." Erestor pointed. He was out of breath as he hadn't been earlier. "Look, just off to the side there."

He squinted along the line of Erestor's arm and his heart lurched. "It's a light. That's --- either a ship or we've found land."

"The land wasn't lost," Erestor said logically. "It was just a long way north. And it must be land. See, it's not moving."

Having a goal gave them new energy. They must have swum for another hour, and Glorfindel thought a mortal would have died long since, given in to the pull of the deep and gone down under one of the larger waves they had to keep riding. As it was, the distance had taxed even elven endurance close to its limits. They let the tide bring them in towards the shore, listening as they tried to understand where it was they had arrived.

"Not going through all this to get dashed on the rocks somewhere," he shouted, raising his voice above the sound of breakers crashing ahead of them. "Can't see a damn thing."

Erestor was moving sideways, trying to lessen the force of the waves against him. He swam like a dolphin, as at home in the sea as one of Ossė's children might be. "It - sounds all right. Should we just take it carefully, try and keep straight ahead?"

"No other choice. Let's go."

Waves rushed in to the shore, lifting them, tossing them around. The relative calm of the open sea was gone. White water broke over his head, forcing him down, and he had to fight against it with all his strength, trying to find the way up to open air. He broke free, looking around automatically. "Ery? Erestor!"

There was no answer. His racing heart skipped, skipped again and his stomach twisted with fear, then his eyes found a dark shape struggling in the water and a few strokes brought him to Erestor. He grabbed an arm, shaking it. "Stop it, we're fine, we're clear, there's some kind of a beach up ahead. Come on! Almost there."

They stumbled out of the water, his arm around a coughing, spluttering Erestor who staggered a few steps along the stony beach and then sank to his knees, retching. Glorfindel joined him, lying prone, panting. The sobbing sounds beside him finally stopped, and then Erestor crawled to him, collapsed over him, head against his shoulder blade, arm over him. "Oh gods, that was the worst.... the absolute worst. I will never set foot on a ship again."

"Just - be sure we have coin enough to lose if there’s gambling, and double check who's worshipping what god."


Glorfindel waited till his heartbeat settled to normal and Erestor's weight started being troublesome, then moved, shrugging the sodden wetness of dripping clothes and hair off of him. "Come on, we can't stay here. Need to find shelter, get dry. Get out of sight, too."

"Will never be dry again," Erestor muttered, sitting up and trying to wring out his hair. "Look at this! I'll probably die of a fever too."

"We don't die of fevers generally," Glorfindel told him, grinning. He got an elbow in the ribs for his trouble, then Erestor struggled to his feet and looked around.

"There's steps up the rock," he stated. "Want to see what's up there, or...?"

"Can't hurt."

"You said that about begging passage on the Coriander."

"You're not letting that go, are you?"

"What? You nearly got us killed by drowning this time. That's ridiculous, elves aren't meant to drown."

"A whole lot probably did at the end of the War of Wrath?"


They finished crossing the small beach in silence. The steps were rough-hewn and there was no rope or railing to grasp onto, legs that had worked for hours in the water burned at the final effort. They reached the top, neither looking back down, and hauled themselves up onto a gravel path, to be confronted almost at once by a rush of sound followed by violent growling. The dog was huge. Glorfindel wasn't sure but he thought he had ridden smaller horses. It barred their way, barrel chest heaving, front legs straight, back arched, ready to spring. Erestor just kept walking, the pure fed-upness radiating off him in waves. He made a sound low in the back of his throat that had to be heard to be believed, somewhere between a snarl and a shriek, and the dog froze, then turned tail and ran back down the path, whimpering like a puppy.

Glorfindel silently took in Erestor out the corner of his eye: soaked, barefoot, black hair clinging to his shoulders, face grim. He looked Glorfindel's way, a shimmer of eye in the faint light. "Had enough. I am not taking that shit. I am not swimming for hours and then being chewed up by a farm dog. Don't worry, I wouldn't do it in front of strangers."

"Relieved to hear it. Haven't heard anyone see off an animal like that in ages." He softened it with a smile and held out his hand. Erestor thought about it for a minute, then took it and they continued along the path, keeping to whatever shadows they could find. There was no sign of the dog, and the odds were good it would keep a healthy distance. Erestor had called up race memory for it of predators who roamed back when its forbearers had first learned to seek the safety of men’s fires. The experience would not soon be forgotten.

They skirted the house, considered the chicken coop, but agreed in low whispers that the noise wasn't worth it. The barn beckoned, a less than savoury place offering stabling for two horses and shelter to a couple of goats. Erestor gave them a death glare and they kept their distance. Glorfindel suspected he was hungry, never a good time to cross him.

Glorfindel claimed the shadowy corner furthest from the door for them. The horses had kept to the other side and the straw was almost clean. Erestor found some more and piled it in place, making a bed, and Glorfindel found a horse blanket draped over a wooden strut and brought it over. "Doesn't smell too bad," he suggested. Erestor sniffed it, wrinkled his nose and nodded, then sunk down tiredly on the straw. Glorfindel joined him, placing the blanket beside them.

"Get out of the wet clothes," he said. "We can hang them over something, let them air a bit before morning."

"That'll be fun if we're caught, running for our lives stark naked with our clothes over our arms." He started undressing anyhow, few things warmed the blood better than body heat.

Glorfindel took the clothing, hung it where it was least likely to be seen, adding his own as he went along. Going back, he sat beside Erestor who already had the blanket around him. He held an edge out, offering to share, and Glorfindel settled beside him, an arm around him, the blanket wrapped around them both. The head resting against his shoulder was cold and slick, as was the skin pressed up against his, but it was Erestor, and that meant he was home.

"Going to smell like horses."

"Yes, well, you were moaning about wanting to have a nice, long bath, weren't you?"

"Very funny."

Glorfindel leaned down, his lips brushing Erestor's temple. "Fresh and clean now. Bit horsey in the morning, but there's worse things."

"If that goat comes near us..."

"That goat is dead scared of you, don't be silly."

"What do you think you are doing?"

"Getting my hand warm."

"Between my legs? Oh right, yes, perfect place."

"Mm, yes, might well be."

“I haven’t forgiven you yet.”

“No, of course not.” He didn’t move his hand, and Erestor didn’t insist.

They sat quietly for a while, then Glorfindel lay down, bringing Erestor with him, and they fitted together, wriggling to get the blanket to cover them both properly. Glorfindel's hands moved over slowly warming skin, rubbing firmly. Every so often he let his hand slip down where it had begun and each time he touched Erestor, he was harder, more inclined to push into his touch. It was a simple thing to go from rubbing to kissing, his body covering the sleek, wiry form beneath him, neither of them in need of warming now. He brushed back smooth, damp hair, his hand cupping Erestor's face. "Sorry. That was a mess."

"Was a mess, yes. You need to make it up to me."

"How would I do that?"

His lips following the line of Erestor's jaw before pausing to worry the lobe of his ear. He traced the inner sculpting with his tongue, and Erestor made a small noise in his throat, moving restlessly in response. Glorfindel's hand travelled down his body, coming to rest on his hip bone. "Go on. That'll do it,” Erestor hissed.

"Ha. You're easy."

"I know. Cheap too." Erestor turned over, skin like satin under Glorfindel’s hand, leaned up on an elbow and looked down at him, pale face framed by black hair. "Love me," he said softly. "Won't cost you more than time."

"Time?" Glorfindel smiled up at him, feeling the lines of muscle and bone as his hand glided down Erestor's back to rest on a firm, rounded cheek. "We have all the time in the world, so long as we're out of here before daybreak."

"No problem," Erestor said softly, moving closer to kiss him. "Who needs sleep anyhow? We can sleep when we're dead - which won't be by drowning, I might add. I think I just developed an allergy to large bodies of water. Permanently."


Beta: Minuial Nuwing