Red Ink

by Erestor

Disclaimer: I own nothing pertaining to The Lord of the Rings. This story was written for entertainment purposes only, and not for money.

Warning: AU.

This is for Ithiliel Silverquill, because she dared me to write it.


Glorfindel wakened abruptly from tangled red dreams. His transition from unconsciousness to awareness was so sharp, so sudden, that he found himself sitting half-upright in his bed before he even realized that his nightmare was over. He took a deep breath, carefully relaxed his death-grip on his blanket, and slid his fingers through his hair, easing out the snarls and knots.

Ink.

For a reason he could not understand, ink was suddenly all he could think about. Red ink. Red ink seeping through a piece of parchment. Red ink on his fingers as he tried to mop up the mess. Red ink, cool and sticky. Very, very red.

Nightmares are odd things, with wills of their own. A nightmare that had come to him often had gone on its usual course for a time, before twisting into something else, something he felt must be significant.

Red ink was all he could think about. He did not know why. Glorfindel tore his thoughts away from it, confused and alarmed, and slipped out of his bed, pulling a robe around him. Its warmth was reassuring. It was soft, old, comfortable. He paced, and it swirled around him.

Red ink.

He had seen ink on Erestor's fingers that afternoon, as he had sat in the library, avoiding the multitude of Elves who wanted him for something. They needed this done, that done; they needed his opinion on this thing, that thing; they wondered if he would be available then, now. In the presence of Elves so eager and busy, Glorfindel had quailed. He had hidden himself away in the library. Just for one afternoon.

Erestor had been there, because Erestor was always in the library. Erestor had important work to do, and, like Glorfindel, he did not like to be surrounded by other Elves. He wanted solitude and quiet, and, like Glorfindel, he found it in the library, which was rather dark and dusty and cool even on hot summer days.

Red ink.

Glorfindel was at his window, remembering his conversation with Erestor. They had discussed red ink that day, but only briefly, because it had stained Erestor's hands.

"You look as though you were working in a slaughterhouse this morning."

"I spilled some ink. It should all wash away eventually."

A slaughterhouse! Why had he said that? Glorfindel clutched at the sill of his window, staring out over Imladris with eyes that did not see the beauty before him. They saw something else.

His nightmare again. Glorfindel had not slept well, not since the fight. Not a fight: a massacre. An ambush. All others dead. He lay in his blood. Too weak to get up. The dark forest. The trees whispering. He was measuring the seconds in his lifeblood. He was dying. He was alone.

His nightmare was a memory, and that was what made it terrible. He dreamed it every few nights, remembering the feeling he would never forget. Despair.

That was why Lord Elrond let him hide in the library. Glorfindel, the beloved Elf of Imladris, had not yet recovered from the tragic event. Glorfindel needed time to put his life together again. He needed lots of time, thought Glorfindel to himself: he needed forever. No one except Erestor would help him, because it had been Erestor who had saved him.

Red ink.

In his nightmare, in his pain and fear, Erestor emerged out of the darkness, as he had that terrible night. But this was a nightmare, not reality, and so instead of speaking words of comfort, Erestor only sat by Glorfindel and laughed.

"Oh Glorfindel," he said. "Glorfindel, there is so much you do not understand."

That was when Glorfindel usually woke up. But not this night. This night, he had suddenly been sitting the library, writing something, and then he had knocked over his pot of red ink, and it had washed over his piece of parchment in a scarlet tide. There had been red ink on his hands, so much like blood.

Glorfindel took a quick step away from his large window, and nearly flung himself across the room, in a panic. He tore open the door, and then his body jolted with alarm, because Erestor was there, standing in the dark hallway, looking up at him.

"Erestor!" exclaimed Glorfindel in astonishment. He had never seen Erestor outside of the library. It was strange, somewhat frightening, to find him in the hallway at night.

"Yes," said Erestor. "Here I am. You needed me." He slipped soundlessly past the other Elf, entered Glorfindel's bedroom, and stood beside the window, watching.

Glorfindel was grateful for the Elf's presence, because he hated to wake up from his nightmares and be alone. He feared complete solitude more than everything, after that night, that massacre. "Do you always come when I need you?" he asked, smiling.

"Of course," replied Erestor. "I came to you that night, did I not?"

That night. Glorfindel had not known Erestor had existed before that night. Theirs had been a chance meeting, and a very fortunate one. Without Erestor to talk to him, to keep him from panicking in the darkness, Glorfindel would not have been conscious when Elrond had come upon the disturbing scene. Erestor had given Glorfindel a hope to which he could cling. Erestor had given Glorfindel a reason to live, and Glorfindel was thankful for him.

"Erestor?"

"Mm?"

"Thank you for being my friend."

A smile glimmered on Erestor's face for a moment, a rather knowing smile. "I shall always be here," he said, "whenever you need me."

That was all that Glorfindel wanted: someone who would not leave him to be alone. He did not want to be alone. When his nightmares were over, and he woke, he would find himself alone in the darkness and silence of his bedroom. That was the worst part of his nightmares. Waking. It should not have been that way.

Glorfindel was cold. He shivered, and wrapped his robe more tightly around himself.

"You had bad dreams?" asked Erestor, tilting his head to the side. "The usual kind?"

Glorfindel had told Erestor about his nightmares; Erestor had been sympathetic. The question did not catch the Elf off his guard. "Yes," he said, "except for the ending. In the end, I dreamed of red ink."

Erestor was quiet. Then he said, softly, "There is so much you do not understand, Glorfindel."

Glorfindel froze.

"And you are afraid to understand," said Erestor. He did not sound mocking, as he had in Glorfindel's nightmares, but he frightened Glorfindel all the same. "If you tried to understand all this, you could, but perhaps the knowledge would shatter you."

Red ink. The red ink was important. Erestor had spilled it. It was on Erestor's hands. Erestor had been writing. Writing with red ink. The red ink was important.

There was a knock on Glorfindel's door. Glorfindel's eyes did not leave Erestor's shadowy face. He did not know what he was searching for, but he knew that he was trying to understand, whether or not the knowledge would shatter him.

"Come in," he said. Or perhaps Erestor said it.

The door opened, and Lord Elrond entered. "Glorfindel," he said kindly, "I saw a light under your door, and I was worried about you."

"Worried?" Glorfindel turned to face his lord, composing himself somehow, and managing half a smile. Elrond had not noticed Erestor yet, he was gazing into Glorfindel's eyes as though looking for something, and he did seem worried.

"You were in the library all day," said the peredhel, "and you didn't emerge for meals. I wondered if you were suffering from a relapse."

"I have not been in the library all day," said Glorfindel. "This morning I..." But he could not quite remember what he had done that morning. It was rather a blur. "...I did some weapons training, I think," he said.

"I saw you go into the library this morning," said Elrond. He looked mildly confused and even more worried. Glorfindel realized that he was not being reassuring.

"I was outside this morning," said Glorfindel, "and this afternoon I read in the library and talked with Erestor."

Elrond nodded. "Perhaps I was mistaken," he said. "Who is Erestor? A friend of yours?"

Glorfindel smiled. "Yes, a good friend," he said, nodding in Erestor's direction. Elrond peered into the shadows by the window curtain, and then glanced at Glorfindel with a bewildered look.

"Glorfindel, no one is there," he said.

Glorfindel felt the panic rising up within himself again. It was the panic of waking abruptly and being alone in the darkness. Panic that he knew well. Erestor was standing by the curtain, in the moonlight. There was no way that Elrond could not see him. "What is happening, Erestor?" he asked. "Why can Lord Elrond not see you?"

"You know why," said Erestor. "You know."

Red ink. Glorfindel covered his eyes with his hands, but he still saw red ink. Red ink everywhere. Red ink spilling on pale parchment. Red, red, red.

When he opened his eyes, Elrond was standing in front of him, and Erestor was gone.

"Glorfindel, are you all right?" Elrond's voice was sharp with anxiety. And fear. "Glorfindel, take a deep breath."

Glorfindel breathed, shakily, and looked at the window curtains. They were long and dark. Erestor had been there, but now he was gone. He had left him. Glorfindel ran to the window and stared out of it, as if he expected to see Erestor somewhere in the gardens beneath. But Erestor was gone. Gone, gone, gone.

"Where is he? Where is he?" asked Glorfindel frantically. "He left! He must have slipped out the door when I wasn't watching. Where is he now? Did you make him leave?"

"Glorfindel," said Elrond, grabbing Glorfindel by his shoulders and shaking him. "There is no Erestor. Not in this room."

"He's gone," said Glorfindel.

"There is no Erestor," repeated Elrond. "You were speaking to yourself."

Glorfindel shattered.

It hurt. His teeth were suddenly chattering as he shivered, and his thoughts fell apart and became useless. He tried to take a step back, and the world danced, blackness narrowing his vision. He stumbled, regained his balance, sat down on his bed and babbled up at Elrond, "No. No, I wasn't. I was speaking to Erestor. He was here. In this room. Didn't you see him?" His voice rose. "He was by the window. I've spoken to him lots of times. He saved my life." And then Glorfindel thought of something, and said, with relief, "He's probably gone back to the library now. He doesn't like having to talk to other people. He left when he saw you. That's why he's not here. You can go and find him in the library."

"Calm yourself," said Elrond soothingly, and he sat on the bed beside Glorfindel. "Tell me when Erestor saved your life."

"Remember four years ago? That night."

Elrond closed his eyes, and when he opened them, they were filled with pain and sadness. "Yes," he said.

Of course. That would not be a good memory for Elrond. His wife had not been there, not with the other dead Elves, because Orcs had taken her. Glorfindel swallowed hard. "Forgive me for failing you," he said, his voice hoarse.

"You did not fail me," said Elrond. "Go on."

"I was dying," said Glorfindel. He ran his fingers down the long scar that remained of his injury, and winced with remembering. "Erestor came, and he spoke to me. We talked about lots of things, though my memory of that time is limited. I was so afraid of dying alone, and he saved me from that fate."

"Where had Erestor come from?"

Erestor had come from the night. He had formed himself out of moonlight and darkness, and the soft swish of his robes was the whispering of the trees."I thought he was with you, with your party," said Glorfindel. "I did not see him on the return journey, but that was because I was unconscious most of that time. And when I was well again, I visited him in the library. He was always there."

"There is no Erestor," said Elrond. "There never was. I could name all the Elves who came with me that night, and Erestor was not among them."

This time it was Glorfindel who closed his eyes, tightly. "You cannot mean to say that I have been talking to myself all these years!" he said, the panic coming again.

"You needed someone to keep you from dying alone," said Elrond, "and your mind created Erestor."

"No!" cried Glorfindel. "No!" He scrabbled across the bed, away from Elrond, shaking his head frantically.

"Yes," said Erestor. "Now you understand."

He was leaning against the window curtain again. Glorfindel stared at him, and his presence was no longer a comfort. "You aren't real," he murmured. "You aren't real."

"I am very real," said Erestor.

"The next time I talk to you in the library, I shall be alone," said Glorfindel. "All these years, I've been alone, and I did not realize it."

Erestor was silent. He was faltering, flickering, becoming insubstantial again.

"Come back!" Glorfindel was by the window in an instant, he grabbed Erestor's robes in his hands. "Come back! I still need you!" The curtain. He was holding the curtain. Not Erestor's robes. Just a curtain.

"Glorfindel, I am the part of you that you have not yet explored. I shall always be with you."

There was no comfort in that anymore. Glorfindel pressed his hand over his mouth. No more words. No more talking to nothingness. No more Erestor.

Glorfindel slumped against the window, alone once more –but he had always been alone– his hand still over his mouth. He felt fragile, desperate, hopeless. He would break if he were shaken again.

Elrond laid a hand on his shoulder. "You'll be all right," he said, murmuring kind nonsense as though Glorfindel were a frightened animal. "We shall find a way to cure you. Do not worry. You'll be all right."

Glorfindel said nothing. He took another shuddering breath.

"Erestor was keeping you hidden in the library," said Elrond. "He was delaying your recovery."

Glorfindel was beginning to understand. The answers had been there the entire time. He could have known if he had wanted to know. But he hadn't wanted to know.

He stretched out his hand so that it touched the moonlight.

Red ink.

His hand was stained with red ink, red as blood. Erestor had died, was gone, and this was his blood, on Glorfindel's hands. Glorfindel had killed him by understanding him, understanding what he was.

This morning Erestor had been writing something, and he had spilled red ink. He had tried to mop it up, and had only made the mess worse. It would wash off eventually, Erestor had said, Glorfindel had said. Glorfindel had not touched red ink that day. Erestor had been the one writing with it. Writing something in the library. Red, red ink.

"Glorfindel?"

Elrond's voice, quiet and questioning, broke through Glorfindel's tangled red thoughts.

"The library," said Glorfindel softly. "I need to go to the library again."

"Why?"

"Because there is something in there that I have written," said Glorfindel, "and I would like to read it."

THE END