It’s the season for wild fire and summer fire and arson.
Erestor is suspicious when he arrives at work and there’s a box of cupcakes on his desk. They’re decked out in blue icing which is commonly known to be his favourite colour, revealed during a never-to-be-forgotten office party, which he can’t really remember because it turns out that their boss has a heavy hand when it comes to mixing drinks.
He looks around at his colleagues, wondering who the likeliest culprit is. They’re all studiously ignoring him. He clears his throat.
“What have I missed?” he asks. He leans his cane against the desk. He is met by a room full of innocent faces.
He doesn’t believe them, even slightly.
Erestor’s the head of the administrative department. He runs a tight ship, he thinks, but an efficient one. FireHouse One-Oh-Three has all the best ratings and the best response times and is generally a happy place to work. Of course, Rivendell itself is a happy place to live. All the opinion polls say so and it’s been voted Best Place To Live for five years running.
Erestor is one of only two men in the admin department; the other is Lindir, who’s young and occasionally clumsy but very keen.
Next to the cupcakes, there is a closed, brown file. On top, there’s a note, written in Elrond’s elegant cursive.
Not that I would ever tell you how to do your job, Erestor, but give this guy a look. He could do with a helping hand.
Frowning, Erestor flips open the file. It’s an application form for volunteer firefighting. The applicant, whose name is Glorfindel, is former military. The form, though completed inexpertly, is still very impressive. His writing’s just about legible and, as Erestor taps his pen against the side of the page.
“He came in with Elrond, you know.”
“He’s very good-looking.”
Within days, rumours spread about Glorfindel.
He was a soldier, they say, with wicked PTSD.
He has no family, they say, but Elrond adores him, and this is Elrond’s town.
He’s friends with Elrond’s sons, too, and just as prone to wandering.
He’s one of the bravest soldiers there’s been, they say. He just never talks about it.
He’s very rich. Maybe the richest man in Rivendell, after Elrond.
They say that he died. That his heart actually stopped for minutes on end but the EMTs got him back.
They say he has a lot of scars.
Erestor would be surprised if he didn’t. His hand tightens on his cane.
It’s not an affectation, whatever the office rumours. Glorfindel might be the hero of the picture but Erestor has fought too, and hard, and long, and he was a soldier by necessity, not by choice.
His hip sometimes seizes up on bad days and his knee is more metal than cartilage-and-bone and his is a quiet authority, that often passes unnoticed. He often works Saturdays because it’s quieter and it’s not as though he has a family to go home to; there’s a cat, of course, because every single man of a certain age must have a cat. She’s fractious and recalcitrant and doesn’t care how hard he works (he works hard).
It is Saturday and it is the first time he sees Glorfindel. There was an early call-out and Elladan and Elrohir come tumbling in and there’s no way that they should have ash on their cheeks but they are laughing so Erestor assumes that there has been no tragedy.
“Just kids lighting bonfires,” says Elrohir.
“Just Friday night,” says Elladan, rather dreamily. “In fall.”
“You should call by later,” says Elrohir. “Mother says she misses you.”
“Not true,” says Elladan. “She says she misses sensible conversation.”
“It’s much the same thing.”
“Have you met - ?”
“Have you met - ?”
Glorfindel’s handshake is strong and warm and his smile is like sunshine and it reaches his eyes, though there’s something like pain pinching the edges of his features. “I’m Glorfindel.”
“And these are a pair of horrors,” says Erestor. “I’m Erestor.”
“Oh, you’re the boss around here?”
“Not technically true,” says Erestor, rubbing the back of his neck.
“It’s entirely true,” says Elladan.
“He’s the boss of Father, you know,” says Elrohir.
“Come tonight,” says Elladan. “Glorfindel will be there, won’t you, Glorfindel?”
Erestor supposes that that is a little tempting.
He goes home at three o’clock, which is late for a Saturday. His relief, a kind woman by the name of Angariel, successfully shoos him away once one of the Elrond’s boys calls to tell Erestor that dinner is at six sharp.
Erestor sits at home with his cat and maybe he could be a wonderful villain, fingers buried in her fur as he contemplates his excuses for the evening. Any reason not to attend would be instantly recognised as a lie, he is sure of it, and it has been a long time since he has spoken with Celebrían.
Erestor gets ready, a little slowly and stiffly.
It is not that he dislikes people, or that he dislikes being sociable. He understands his duty all too well.
Dinner is enjoyable and Arwen is almost entirely grown up, which is almost entirely disconcerting. She smiles and laughs and so everyone smiles and laughs.
Glorfindel is not particularly talkative and Erestor wonders if he is naturally shy or simply overwhelmed by the ebullient twins and the effervescent Lady of the House.
“Where are you from?” he asks, after dinner, when the men stand around drinking brandy from large glasses.
“You’re a long way from home,” Erestor says.
Glorfindel looks pensive and then he nods slowly. “Perhaps.” He flashes a smile, wide and willing. “Or maybe I’m looking for a new one.” He runs his thumb over his scarred knuckles and Erestor sees one of the fabled scars, running from the back of his hand, under his sleeve.
“You served,” he says, as though he did not read Glorfindel’s resume.
“Regularly,” says Glorfindel. “‘till I ran out of campaigns.”
“I fought in the Nirnaeth,” says Erestor, after a moment. He never talks to anyone about it and he can’t say why he’s talking about it now, except that Glorfindel’s face is open and looks as though it might be on the verge of crumpling into some unhappy expression.
“So did I,” says Glorfindel. “First Regiment of Gondolin.”
Erestor nods slowly. “Hithlum’s Second,” he says.
“I’m sorry,” says Glorfindel, after a moment. “Your losses - ”
“Fingon was a fine king - ” Erestor looks down. Glorfindel’s fingers are curled around his wrist.
“I’m sorry,” says Glorfindel, again. “Is that where you - ?” He nods at Erestor’s cane.
Erestor can only shrug. “Our retreat wasn’t a clean getaway.”
He hadn’t wanted to leave.
It is only when Erestor is home, and rubbing his fingers lightly over his wrist, that he realises he never asked Glorfindel how he found Firehouse One-Oh-Three on his first day.
Monday is predictable.
“Is he as gorgeous as they all say?”
It’s not that Erestor hasn’t noticed. It is very difficult to ignore Glorfindel’s beauty; clear blue eyes, a whole sea of pain, and blonde hair, unlike anyone Erestor has ever seen.
“Rivendell is a depressing mess of brunettes,” Celebrían once said.
“But you married one of them,” said Erestor, laughing.
“Eru help me but I did.”
Tuesday is unexpected. There is a message for him, from Glorfindel, asking if he’d like to have coffee some evening.
Erestor never drinks coffee after lunchtime but it doesn’t occur to him to decline.
“Thank you,” says Glorfindel, standing up when Erestor comes into the coffeeshop.
Erestor wants to ask if he’s feeling well, if there’s something amiss, but he thinks that might be overstepping bounds.
“How are you finding Rivendell?” he asks. It’s far too early to ask if it’s home, yet.
“I like it,” says Glorfindel. He sits down and wraps his hand around a rather utilitarian white coffee mugs. His lips quirk into a smile. “There aren’t many fires.”
“There are enough to keep me in a job,” says Erestor. “Don’t worry. When bonfire season starts up in earnest, you’ll look back on this day fondly.”
Glorfindel laughs. “What will you have?”
“Just - just tea, please.”
More of the admin staff volunteer for Saturday cover. Erestor knows why. He works with remarkable women, whose names are flowers and nobility and bright, bright colours, and they are as susceptible to a pretty face as he is.
“He always stops by your desk.”
“That’s because my desk is in front of the door,” says Erestor.
“Yes, but even when you’re not there. He stops.”
It’s been four months since Glorfindel arrived in Rivendell. Tuesday evening coffee has become a habit, or a standing date, or something comfortable, when Glorfindel sometimes laughs and Erestor tells him just why Rivendell has been voted Best Place to Live for five years running.
He wants to tell Glorfindel that it could be a home but perhaps it is too soon for that.
“Would you like to come for dinner on Friday?” asks Glorfindel. “It’ll have to be early,” he says, almost apologetically. He smiles. “I work on Saturdays.”
I know, Erestor wants to say, and so does half my department, just for a glimpse of you. And so do I, he wants to say, for a glimpse of you.
“Dinner would be lovely,” he says. “Can I bring anything?”
Himself is damaged, of course, and he is not as old as he looks but the years have not been kind. He looks at himself in the mirror, with a critical eye, and his cat weaves around his ankles, meowing cantankerously.
He looks at himself in the mirror and wonders why, and why a man like Glorfindel should choose to spend time with him.
It’s strange that he never wonders this when he is with Glorfindel.
“I’m not a very good cook,” Glorfindel says but dinner is delicious. There is salad to start and some sort of sea-food pasta that he says is a recipe from Lindon and Erestor thinks that maybe Glorfindel has lived everywhere.
Glorfindel laughs. “Maybe I have,” he says. “The world keeps changing and I keep moving with it.” It’s like little wrinkles in the carpet and cracks in the pavement that he keeps sidestepping.
“Save room for dessert,” says Glorfindel.
“I’d really like to kiss you,” says Glorfindel.
Erestor stands up. He uses the table for support. Glorfindel looks startled. Erestor leans down and touches his lips to Glorfindel’s. It is a little dry, but then it is warm, and one of them sighs against the other’s lips and somehow Erestor is on Glorfindel’s lap.
“How emasculating,” says Erestor, as Glorfindel’s fingers trace shapes on his thigh.
They kiss again (and again).
They forget to save room for dessert.
“I win,” says Elrohir.
“You win what?” asks Erestor.
“He wins the Erudamned spread-bet,” says Elladan, scowling. “On whether and when you and Glorfindel were going to stop this dancing around.”
“Hey,” says Erestor, mildly. “In comparison to your parents, we were positively timely.”
“In comparison to our parents, continental drift is timely.”
Be careful what you wish for.
There is a fire. One of the schools is in imminent danger because some children started a fire in the woods.
It takes four crews five hours to get the blaze under control. The volunteers come in, including Elrond’s sons and Glorfindel, too.
Erestor leaves the office. Lindir is happy to man the phones and Erestor says that he wants to coordinate from the ground but everyone knows why he is making his way to the scene of the fire.
Glorfindel is at the top of a ladder, hose slung over his shoulder, and his face is grim and he is nowhere near the flames but Erestor can feel a cold sweat breaking out.
Victory is declared in the mid-afternoon and Erestor raises Glorfindel’s gloved knuckles to his lips.
Is it home yet? Erestor wants to ask, but he doesn’t.
“I thought there’d be more rescuing cats from trees, in truth,” says Glorfindel, sliding into bed.
“Maybe I can coax Mabel up a tree and call it in,” says Erestor, sweetly.
Glorfindel snorts. “The day you can persuade that cat to do anything will be a cold day in Mandos.”
It is six months and that is not very long in a whole long life of fighting and fires.
Glorfindel does always stop at Erestor’s desk, first.
They eat dinner together every evening, and breakfast in the morning.
They sleep together and they fall asleep together and war wounds aren’t so bad when they don’t need to be explained.
“It’s home,” whispers Glorfindel, against the back of Erestor’s neck, one cold night. It’s the season for chimney fires and gas leaks and arson but that is all it takes to send heat rippling up Erestor’s spine.