Nearly tripping over his own feet and stumbling over the threshold, Elladan unceremoniously flung the great doors wide open and was already half-way down the hall before even having a chance to think of closing them behind him. He didn't care. He was home.
Rounding the corner, he vaguely noted the stares of the usual array of company present in his household as he passed them-advisors, counselors, visitors, friends. But they were nothing more than wide-eyed blurs of inconsequential faces at the moment. He didn't even give them a fraction of an acknowledging nod in greeting. It was not that his complete lack of attention for them was intentional, however. But there was only one face he cared to see right now. One face that had been dominating his anxious thoughts for the past several days—the last two in particular, since beginning the trek home. And that face was the same face he would have just seen, had he paused to glance in the large, gold-trimmed mirror mounted on the wall he just passed.
But he didn't pause, and he didn't so much as even notice the mirror, let alone stop to glance in it. For it was not his own face he was interested in seeing. It was the indistinguishable face of his twin brother. The brother, whom last he'd seen, was battered, bleeding, and lost in an unconscious battle with a pernicious poison. The same brother whom he wanted nothing more than to see alive and well and whole again.
Slowing his stride, Elladan gathered his breath as he at last approached the doors to his brother's bedroom. They opened silently as he cautiously stepped into the room. The curtains were half-drawn, allowing a decent amount of light to fill the quiet space. They fluttered ever so slightly as shadows of leaves danced behind them in a gentle breeze.
Four steps in front of him lay the still figure of his brother, a light sheet partially covering his heavily-bandaged chest. His face, a colorless, blank mask, offered no indication of his current condition. He would have almost looked peaceful if it weren't for his pale coloring and unnerving stillness. His eyelids didn't flutter, his body didn't stir. Elladan just stood, watching. Hardly discernible, the sheet was rose and fell in a light, but steady pattern. That was all Elladan needed to see, proof that his brother was alive and breathing.
Elladan exhaled deeply and a flood of worry and fear accompanied the anxious breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Elrohir was okay. Their father had patched him up nicely, and he was here, home, just an arm's length away, sleeping and recovering soundly.
Relief and gratification quickly replaced all the doubt and worry he had been plagued with, and Elladan contentedly reached for the ceiling, stretching his fatigued body to its extent. He couldn't contain the yawn that followed, and he only then began to notice just how exhausted and sore he actually was. He was about to turn and go, perhaps to collapse on his own bed, when he noticed his twin's eyes were open and staring blankly up at him.
Elladan dropped his arms mid-stretch, the remainder of his yawn finishing as a gasp. "Elrohir!" he exclaimed, "You're awake!"
Elrohir blinked several times, willing his surroundings to come into better focus. "Ell," he managed weakly, his brow furrowed in confusion, "you look like hell."
Elladan gave a short, exasperated snort, "Oh thanks, Elrohir," he said, offering a sarcastic smirk, "You're looking awfully sharp yourself, you know."
Confusion still sprawled clearly across his face, Elrohir attempted to push himself into a sitting position, but quickly changed his mind as a gasp of pain sprang involuntarily from his lips.
"Easy!" Elladan admonished, stepping quickly to his twin's side. "Don't move, 'Ro, you'll dislodge your stitches," he said, gently pressing his twin's shoulder back against the pillow. "You need to lie still."
The grimace of pain faded from Elrohir's face as he relaxed back against the pillows. He blinked once more up at his twin, getting a closer look at him. "Elladan, what happened to you?" his hoarse voice riddled with concern.
Elladan had no idea what he looked like at the moment, but he could have taken a decent guess. The multiple blows he'd received from the humans were still quite fresh in his memory, and the tenderness and stinging hadn't yet begun to fade. Cuts and bruises aside, however, there was still his general appearance of unkempt hair and filthy tunic to clearly indicate he hadn't had a chance to bathe in a while. He probably didn't smell all too lovely either, he mused.
Elrohir was still studying his twin with a perturbed expression, when the flood gates finally started cracking open, and the memories slowly began leaking in.
Pain. Darkness. Rain. A warning shout of orcs nearby. The stables. Elladan unconscious. A drugged water pouch. That dream. That blasted dream.
Elrohir's eyes widened as each scene flitted through his memory. His gaze snapped to meet his brother's, his expression betraying nothing of the horror and guilt that was washing over him.
Elladan, watching him closely, could see his twin's recollections were finally starting to kick in. "Everything's coming back now, huh?"
"Elladan, I'm so s—"
"What were you thinking, Elrohir?" Elladan couldn't contain his exclamation. The frustrations of the last week had been pent up far too long, and it was finally time for them to let loose.
Elrohir winced slightly at his brother's tone.
"Do you have any idea what kind of danger you put yourself in? Do you have any clue how worried we all were? Do you have even the slightest comprehension of the extent of your idiocy this last week?" Elladan certainly had not been intending to attack his twin, but even with the relief and joy of knowing Elrohir was safe and well, the injury of all the painful anxiety Elladan had endured so recently was still too fresh on his mind.
Elrohir gave his brother a pleading look. "Elladan, I—"
"I came to in the stables, Elrohir," Elladan went on, "after being drugged by my own brother. And Finleann shows up in the middle of the night, raving about an orc ambush, and saying he has no clue where you are," he hardly paused for a breath, "And so of course Father and I go out of our minds with worry," he went on, gesturing heatedly, "and the search team can't find you, no one can find you, and I have to give Glorfindel the slip, which isn't easy, I might add," his voice rose slightly, "just so I can be allowed to continue searching for you..."
Elrohir grimaced at every pause. His eyes squeezed shut, he couldn't help wincing at the tone of his brother's voice and each new decibel it reached. He knew his brother wasn't advertently trying to attack him, or make him feel like a complete wretch (although he wasn't doing too bad a job of it, anyway), and it wasn't so much the actual accusations as it was the tone of his brother's voice that was cutting into Elrohir like a knife. He had never heard such hurt in his brother's voice before. He had never before heard such desperation or pain behind his brother's words, and Elrohir could tell that Elladan had suffered an ordeal. And he'd suffered because of him. Because of his foolish actions. And not only the pain behind his voice was manifest to it, but the visible signs of abuse clearly present across his face. Elrohir slowly raised his eyes to better study the bruises on his brother's face. The black eye, the swollen cheek, the gash on his lip, the multiple discolorations of bruises; those all happened to his brother because of him.
A new kind of guilt flooded through Elrohir and a wave of disgusted nausea quickly followed. His body attempted doubling over in a type of dry heave, but the stiff injuries and tight bandages only allowed for minimal movement. He rolled to his side with a sickened groan.
"…And then one of the humans had the bright idea of—Elrohir!" Elladan's fervent rant broke off and he instantly grasped his twin's shoulder in concern. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Elrohir couldn't keep the grimace of pain from his face, as he attempted to bury it in his pillow. He wasn't sure what hurt more at the moment, the unpleasant jarring of his stiches or the realization that he alone was completely responsible for everything that had happened to his brother. Even though he didn't know the details yet, he knew enough just by looking at him. And each detail he had been able to gather from Elladan's rant only cut into him deeper and deeper. He was almost afraid to hear the whole story.
"Elrohir," Elladan pressed, grasping his shoulder tighter, "What is it, what hurts?" he asked, all note of ire gone from his voice.
Elrohir rolled back to face his twin, unable to hide his pained expression. His eyes darted across his twin's face once more, paining him further. "It was all my fault," he stammered, "That happened to you because of me," he said, desperately scanning his brother's injuries once more.
Elladan took a step back, suddenly a little self-conscious. Still unaware of what exactly his condition looked like, he regretted not taking a moment to glance in a mirror before confronting his brother. It hadn't even occurred to him that his appearance might have caused his brother distress. Sure, he had wanted to confront Elrohir briefly about the whole ordeal, but now he could see his brother was taking it in a way that Elladan had never intended. He often forgot that Elrohir could be very self-deprecating sometimes, and that was not what Elladan had meant to encourage at all.
Elladan avoided his brother's gaze as he casually tried to deflect Elrohir's comment. "Me? I'm just fine, 'Ro, it's you that—"
"Who did that to you?" Elrohir asked, his voice steadying slightly. "You mentioned humans. Did they do that?" he asked, nodding towards his brother's face, a distinct tone of anger now present in his voice. "Did they beat you?" he asked, his breathing getting shallower as his anger increased.
"Elrohir, calm down, I'm fine," Elladan said, willing himself to sound as casual as possible, though he was kicking himself mentally for inadvertently getting his brother worked up.
"No, tell me, I want to hear the rest of the story," Elrohir demanded. "What did they do to you?"
"Elrohir, it's fine, it's all over now. The only thing that matters is that we found you and you're going to be okay now."
"How many were you outnumbered by?" Elrohir pressed, "Were you tied up or did they just hold you down?" His breathing increased as his voice rose, shaking slightly once more.
Wishing he could back-track the entire conversation, Elladan desperately tried to placate his twin. "Elrohir, everything's fine," he urged once more, wishing he knew how to better talk his way out of the situation.
"No, Elladan, everything's not fine," Elrohir insisted, his voice rising by the moment. "They couldn't be further from fine," he said, his eyes getting noticeable brighter. "I spent weeks tossing and turning at night, waking from that same Valar-forsaken dream time and time again. I worried constantly that I was seeing an actual vision of you. You in danger; alone, wounded, and crying for help. It scared me, Elladan. It really terrified me. I had to do something, anything, to keep it from coming true," his eyes were welling up further, and his voice was shaking noticeably. "I would have done anything," he stammered, "Anything to keep you from getting hurt. And look what I managed to accomplish," he said, gesturing weakly to his brother. "I put you in danger too horrifying to imagine," The tears were threatening to spill over now.
This was getting way too out of hand. Elladan had to bring some sense back into the conversation. And the threat of tears was getting more and more uncomfortable by the second.
"Elrohir!" Elladan said firmly, "You didn't do this to me," he said, pointing emphatically to his face. "And it really doesn't matter now who did. All that matters is we're both home, it's all over. So, please calm down or Ada will kill me if he sees how worked up I've made you."
"Elladan," Elrohir pleaded, his eyes shining, "I'm so sorry." The tears finally spilled over and Elladan had to look away. He had never felt worse in his life.
"Elrohir," a note of pleading had entered his own voice, and Elladan vaguely noticed a slight burning in his own eyes as well. "Please," he stammered, searching for words, while wishing the tears would stay far away, "You don't know…We were so worried, Elrohir," he didn't know what he trying to say, and he still couldn't meet his brother's gaze. But knowing Elrohir was going to blame himself for the whole ordeal and hate himself for it as well, it really hurt.
Elladan blinked back the wetness and forced himself to look his twin in the eyes. "You know I'd do anything," He said firmly. He wasn't always the best with words, but he knew his twin would understand exactly what he was trying to say. No matter the circumstances, no matter the outcome, no matter whose "fault," if his brother was in trouble, he'd be there. Everytime.
Elrohir nodded, a silent indication of complete understanding and mutual feeling. He quickly drew a hand across his face, wiping it dry. "I'm still going to kill those humans though," he stated stubbornly.
"You're too late," Elladan said, crossing the room to finally get a good look in a mirror.
"The search party had to take them all out. Things were getting a little ugly. All but one of them," Elladan said, examining himself in the mirror. "All but two, actually."
"All but two?"
"Wow, you weren't kidding, Elrohir," Elladan said, pushing his hair back.
"I look like complete hell," Elladan said, touching his face tenderly.
"Told you. Why all but two though?" Elrohir asked, trying to get back to the subject.
Elladan returned to the bed and briefly related to his brother the details of the heroic acts the boy named Damus had displayed. He told him of their encounter in the night, and of Damus' selfless care and protection towards Elrohir during his unconscious ordeal. He told him he had extended an invitation to Rivendell in hopes that Elrohir would be able to meet him when he awoke, but that Damus unfortunately had to decline.
"He was a brave and admirable kid. I wouldn't have been able to find you without him."
"Wow," Elrohir said. "I wasn't aware my life could be so indebted to someone I've never even met. I wish I had a chance to thank him."
"Oh!" Elladan exclaimed, suddenly remembering something important. "Speaking of which, I promised Damus I'd have a reward sent to him in Bree!"
Elrohir's face brightened.
"You don't suppose—" Elladan began.
"That Ada would let us deliver it to him?" Elrohir finished excitedly.
The sound of a throat clearing suddenly snapped their attention to the doorway. "I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you."
The lord of Rivendell crossed the room, an ever-so-subtle grin present on his face. Leave it to his boys to be reunited at home for little more than an hour, banged up, bruised, exhausted, and not to mention still in very deep trouble for their recent antics, and already plotting their next intended adventure.
"What do you mean 'don't get our hopes up?'" Elladan asked dejectedly.
"We'd be so careful, Ada"
"And Bree's really not all that far…"
They continued bouncing what they considered very persuasive points off each other as their father crossed the room, shaking his head, but still unable to keep the subtle grin from spreading, so relieved was he to have his sons home.
He drew them both into a tight hug as he reached the bedside, and let out a long-awaited sigh of relief.
"It would really only be a week," Elrohir offered.
"Five days," Elladan countered.
"Don't get your hopes up, boys."
"We'll bring it up tomorrow," Elladan whispered to his twin.
Elrond snorted and gave his sons a tight squeeze. "Will that be before or after our long talk regarding the appropriate behavior of an elven lord's son towards his entrusted escorts, Elladan?"
Elladan winced ever so slightly.
"Or perhaps, Elrohir, it will be after our long lecture of recurring dreams, and the importance of not keeping them from someone who might happen to know a thing or two about them?"
It was Elrohir's turn to wince.
"Yes, I'm sure you'll find time to bring it up," Elrond laughed, "but I'm telling you now, don't get your hopes up."
Elladan caught his brother's eye and gave him a subtle wink.
"Don't think I didn't see that, Elladan."
"But it would only be to Bree."
"Don't think your incessant whining won't be taken into account during our discussions tomorrow," Elrond countered, trying to keep his grinning as minimal as possible. How he had missed these two.
"We could do it in four days, Ada."
"Stop while you're ahead, Elladan."
Elrohir's laughter carried down the hall. It felt good to be home.