~Silent Strains~
It is his silence that wakens me.
He has the strange habit of singing in his sleep. It is soft, and nearly inaudible unless one knows to listen for it. Even now I will purposefully stay awake so that I can simply listen to him. Many a night have I fallen asleep, cradled in his arms, and wrapped in his lullaby.
I roll over and up onto my side so that I am facing him. He is lying flat on his back, with his legs tangled in the thin sheets that lay atop our shared bed. One hand is wrapped around the opposite elbow, and the other is white as ice, and just as cold, as it grips the edge of the mattress. His jaw is clenched so tightly that my own teeth ache in sympathy, and the veins in his neck and forehead stand out.
“Elrond?” I reach out and brush his cheek with the tips of my fingers. “Elrond, my love,” I whisper.
He awakens with a start, his entire body tensing like a spring that has been coiled far too tightly. His hands clench beside him, and for half of a breath, he falls completely still, even the breath freezing in his lungs. It is how he always reacts when I wake him in the night; he freezes, so as not to lash out. When we were first wed, he was deathly afraid that he would hurt me accidentally, for he had the habit of striking at anyone who touched him while he slept. I think it is a product of the many years he spent at war, and the various experiences he had during those elder days of violence and strife. Yet he never has struck me, and even if he had, I would not hold it against him. Never will I leave his side, not while I still draw breath.
“All is well,” I tell him as I prop myself up on my arms so that I can look down at him. His eyes are wild, and I can tell that what he sees is not this room, nor me, but a figment of his imagination or a fragment of memory. He cannot hear me, trapped as he is in his darkness.
I throw away all remnants of caution and lean down until my lips brush his, one hand cupping his cheek.
He tenses again, but this time it is different. It is more of a twitch rather than a cramp, and a heartbeat later the tension flows out of the muscles, his body relaxing beneath me. He blinks, and his eyes lock onto mine, turning from grey to silver.
“Are you awake?” I ask, although I already know the answer.
“Yes,” he replies after a moment, and smiles softly. He reaches up and covers my hand that rests on his cheek with one of his own, then pulls it away, wrapping his long fingers around my own. He turns his head and kisses my palm and now it is my turn to smile.
He doesn’t let go of my hand, but pulls me down so that I am lying against him with my head cushioned on his chest. He wraps his arms around my waist, my hand still held in his own. My head rises and falls in time with his breathing, and I find that it is very soothing. Yet I can also tell that he is still wide awake; that he is lost somewhere in thought.
“Would you like to talk about it?” I ask him, and wriggle sideways so that my head is now resting on his shoulder. I turn so that I am looking into his face.
“Hmm?” Elrond murmurs, looking down and meeting my gaze.
“Something is troubling you,” I tell him; it is not a question. “Tell me,” I urge. Normally I can sense his thoughts and his fears, and yet tonight all I can feel is his turmoil.
He sighs deeply, as if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. But then, perhaps he does.
“It is nothing,” he tells me, and attempts to smile reassuringly. To many, it would have sounded like a sincere confession, and most would have smiled in return and walked away. I, however, know him better than that.
“Elrond Earëndilion, do not lie to me. It is unbecoming of you,” I admonish.
He sighs again, but this time it is of a sign of resignation. “It was a nightmare of an age gone past, nothing more,” he tells me. But there is more to this dream than he will tell me.
“Elrond, Love, what is truly worrying you. Tell me,” I plead.
I would gladly share his burdens, if he would but confide in me. Yet he has this stubbornness, this pride that will not allow him to ease his suffering. Perhaps it is his way of attempting to protect everyone, including me.
The silence stretches on between us, and I begin to worry that he will turn away, that he will refuse me and my help.
“Celebrían…” he whispers finally, and in that single word I hear just how broken and afraid he is. Of what he is afraid, I do not know, but it chills me and makes my heart ache. He brushes his fingers across my cheek and gazes into my eyes. I can see the indecision hidden deep within the silver depths.
Elrond looks away first. He slides his arm out from beneath my head and sits up, the sheet pooling in his lap. I follow his example, but instead of leaning against the headboard, I sit so that I am facing him, and can look into his eyes.
For a long moment, all is silent.
“There is a shadow and a fear growing in my heart,” he finally says. Again, the silence stretches on, but I do not move or speak, for I know that he has more to say. “I am afraid…” he swallows, and his eyes flicker to mine, “It is as if there is something wrong with the land. But you know this already,” he adds derisively. “There has been no rain for three months, and even the Bruinen is drying. Crops are failing, the forest is dying, and there is not even food for the wild deer, let alone our herds. Disease has ravaged both the human and the animal populations, and I have found nothing that can stop it, or even slow it down. I fear that it is only a matter of time before it somehow manages to infect the elves as well. I fear that I will not be able to protect my people.” The last sentence was spoken in barely more than a whisper, and again I hear the pain, and the unadulterated fear. So we have come to the true heart of it.
“You have never failed them yet,” I tell him fervently, “and you never will. This I know beyond a shadow of doubt. You are the greatest man that I have ever known, Elrond Peredhel, and I love you with all my heart.” I force his chin up, and he looks at me reluctantly. “Just as I love you, so do the rest of your people. They will follow you, no matter what happens, for they know that you love them as well, and that you will always do what is best. We do not doubt you, so do not doubt yourself.”
He smiles weakly, and his eyes are filled with an unfathomable emotion. “How can you have such faith in me?” he asks. “I am weak,” he adds bitterly. “I cannot even stay in control of my emotions. That was not the first panic attack I have had.” His tone is deriding, and there is shame in his eyes.
“I have faith because I know you, and who you truly are. You are kind, and compassionate, loving, and brave. You are the other half of my soul; you are my heart and my light. You are not weak, Elrond. You never have been, and you never will be. Even naneth has suffered from anxiety attacks before, and it took both Adar and Haldir to keep her from completely losing her sense and injuring someone, most likely herself.” A wry grin twists across my lips at the memory, and Elrond looks at me incredulously.
My smile fades, and I look at Elrond intently. “Even if you do not trust in yourself, trust in me. Trust in our love, and do not let yourself despair.”
For a long moment, he cannot speak. His cheeks are wet, and I realize that he has been crying silently. I tenderly wipe the tears away, and take his face in both my hands. “I love you,” I tell him.
“I love you too,” he replies shakily. He leans forward almost hesitantly and kisses me softly. “Thank you,” he whispers, drawing back a fraction of an inch. I do not reply with words, but instead reach up to kiss him again, and I pour all of the love, hope, and joy that I can into the simple gesture.
Elrond’s fingers tangle in my hair, and I press myself closer to his chest, losing myself in his taste and his scent. Unlike the first kiss, which was tender, this one is passionate.
After a long moment we break apart, both of us breathing much heavier than we were before. Elrond brushes the hair away from my face, and his fingers trace the tips of my ears. I shiver at his touch, but do not stop him or pull away.
“I love you,” he says again, this time in a much stronger, more confident tone. No longer can I sense any trace of fear in his eyes, or his voice.
“I love you too.” I smile, and lean forward so that I am pressed against his chest with my head tucked beneath his chin. His arms automatically encircle my stomach, pulling me even closer.
Elrond slides down so that his head is resting on the pillow, and his legs are stretched out beneath the blankets. Once again I find myself lying with my head on his chest, with his arms around my waist.
“Sleep well,” Elrond says after a moment of silence, and he reaches down and kisses me on the top of the head. I smile, although I am sure he cannot see it, and nestle my head into a more comfortable position.
No more words are spoken; none are needed. We listen instead. His heartbeat thrums heatedly through his chest, beating out the tempo of love. His chest expands and deflates with each breath, marking the pulse of life. Outside the window a nightingale trills, and a breeze whispers over the land.
I am hovering tenuously between the worlds of waking and dreaming when I hear it; a soft melody twines with that of the night. It is barely audible – hardly even a murmur – and no more than four notes. It is beautiful in its simplicity. There are no words, yet I still know what it means.
I love you.

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