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No Longer

Chapter Text

It seemed eternal autumn in Rivendell, and the home that they knew and loved was no longer as it was remembered. Forever did the leaves fall now, in shades of crimson and ginger and gold, rasping softly on the dewy ground and tumbling like a warning through the open halls and courts, ever mindful of the wind, which almost seemed to carry the scent of the ocean and birdsong with it.

But life went on, while their numbers dwindled, and those who could ignored the signs, turning away from the wind, sidestepping the leaves, and deafening their ears to the calls of the gulls in their dreams.

Away in the heart of the open buildings, betwixt rushing waters and spindling bridges, tucked in a low garden away from the wind and surrounded by granite and marble statues which had stood for more than an age, sat two elves still as the sculptures themselves. A low stone table rested between the low stone stools they sat upon, unconscious not only of their mirrored images, but also of their mirrored postures. Long dark braids fell around hunched shoulders; high foreheads were smooth above large, dark eyes intent on the low table. Pale hands alighted on firm thighs spread to accommodate the stone slab.

Unaware that he was breaking the perfect balance between them, one of the figures breached the stillness and reached for the board, hopeful eyes flitting up toward the other as he did so. “Why do we no longer wrestle as once we did, brother?”

Elladan looked up from the board to glare at his wide-eyed twin with some measure of disapproval. “Because we are too old. Brother.”

Elrohir glowered good-naturedly as he returned his eyes to the board. “We were not too old a century ago. What is a hundred years to us?”

“Indeed, it is as the passing of a wind. But to a mortal, it is a lifetime,” he said, distant dark eyes returned downward.

“Since when have you been concerned with the lifetime of mortals?” asked the other, their stances again in faultless symmetry.

Since I desired to be one…since I heard the call of Mandos, Elladan answered in his own mind, saying, “Since I met one who deserved more.”

“Ah, do you mourn already a man still in the blossom of youth?”

Elladan’s answer came after a moment’s hesitation. “Our foster brother is a good man who will only become greater. I should hate to see the sun of his life set so quickly.”

Elrohir looked up from the game once more, but Elladan’s gaze remained cold and steadily focused on the player’s board. Elrohir stared thoughtfully at him. “Do not despair, brother. His blood is not as that of weaker men and he may yet live the course of countless happy moons here beside us.”

The game continued in silence for many hours until Elladan toppled Elrohir’s king in victory. “May it be as you have said. Brother.”

///***///

“You don’t suppose he’s late?”

No answer came.

Annoyed, Elladan poked his brother in the side.

“Ow! What? No. I suppose we are early.”

Elladan, ever enduring, was never more patient than Elrohir. “If that is the case, I do believe we have a miscommunication in the ranks.”

Elrohir smirked at his brother, who returned the look. “True, perhaps. We have been waiting… how long now?”

“Five hours, twenty-three minutes,” the other growled.

A laugh met this answer. “I know you are right, but I still marvel at your time sense.”

“You’d think you would have come to find some normality in it, as you have all my other qualities.”

“Other qualities?” Elrohir said with a smile.

“Why yes, just as you’ve come to know my endearing humor, charming manner, and unparalleled good looks will ever outweigh yours, you should come to equal acceptance of my unfailing sense of time.”

Thus stated with a look of such innocence, Elrohir burst out laughing, a sound musical as a tinkling brook or summer birdsong and ever so much more joyful than either, and Elladan looked on him with wonder.

The mounts wandering the grass beneath their tree started at the outburst. Elrohir held his sides, grabbing hold to the branch beside him to keep steady as he exhilarated in his brother’s rare humor. But his laughter soon dwindled when Elladan did not join him. “Why Elladan, do you not laugh at your own joke? You have never failed to do so before. Surely your own wit does not bore you?”

There was no answer, and though he was but an arm’s length away, Elladan now peered into the distance as if he hadn’t heard a word.

“Elladan?”

Elladan swiftly glanced beside him and away again quickly, as if fearing to hold a steady gaze.

The younger brother reached toward the other in questioning fear, for why should Elladan behave so?

But whatever inquiry Elrohir would have made was halted when Elladan jumped to his feet on his branch. “Ai, here he comes now; what ho! Mithrandir!”

///***///

His knife stuck the orc like a gutted pig, black blood spurting out as from some obscene nightmarish fountain. The weapon went in to the hilt and he pointed it down, letting the last beast slip from the blade that supported its dead weight.

A dozen dead traced the path of the battle, but Elladan did not stop. He withdrew a cleansing rag to carefully clean his weapons. He sheathed them, and bent to grasp the orc’s wrists.

But a black-stained hand fell on his shoulder. “Peace, brother,” came the soft lilting voice, a balm to sooth the unexpectedly frayed nerves resulting from what should have been a routine hunt. “They can yet lie a little longer. You need rest, as do I. Here now,” the hand moved down to grip his elbow. “Let us—”

“No!” Elladan forcefully shoved away the warm, friendly touch, throwing his brother off-balance.

Elrohir’s eyes impossibly widened and his expressive face drew an air of wounded affection as he stumbled backward from the astounding violence of his twin.

Elladan barely recovered himself, but could not face his brother. He looked down to the dirt, blood-encrusted braids swinging to hide his face. “Let us dispose of this waste before we bother to wash, for we would only dirty ourselves again in this aftermath. The fire can be out by nightfall while we rest over yonder glade.”

Even if his voice faltered, his words were reasonable, but Elrohir was far more concerned about the elf’s reaction. “Very well,” came his eventual answer. “But later, we will speak of this together, brother.”

Would that ‘later’ should never come, begged Elladan silently, stooping once more to the grisly work.

Wet pools shining in his dark eyes, Elrohir silently watched the beginnings of the clean-up as Elladan efficiently moved the bodies, seemingly uncaring of the blood dripping from his hair, his face, his hands and clothes. Elrohir’s own hands were bloodstained, but rarely had he seen a fellow elf in such a state as this, pale as though wounded, a straight splash of black blood across his cheek and lips. He didn’t even bother to wipe away the filth where it could seep into his mouth. His hands seemed bathed in blood and his clothes would have to go the way of the fire, even the soft leather shoes.

Realizing that in his shock, Elrohir had allowed the other to do most of the work, he quickly set about helping and the fire was soon blazing, the scent of burning orc-flesh turning his stomach as it always did.

Elladan allowed himself to finally cast a glance toward his brother. “You are ill, Elrohir. You always are after such tasks; I know, though you say nothing. Go bathe while I watch the fire.”

Elrohir turned to him in astonishment once more, though Elladan was now gazing intently at the blazing pyre. “But brother, we always work and rest together. My need is not so pressing; I will watch here with you and we both shall go.”

Elladan turned so that his discomfort would not be visible. “As it pleases you. Elrohir.”

------

The fire had indeed completed its job before the setting of the sun, but Elladan insisted on burying the remains straight away, so that the moon and stars dominated the sky with no sign of the sun in the west when they finally wound their way, leading their brilliant white mounts, to the pool.

A natural hollow had been carved by a short series of falls before the water continued its journey down the Bruinen to sea. Here, the horses drank their fill and the brothers properly cleaned and checked and stowed their knives, arrows, and bows.

After that, Elrohir was quick to the pool, throwing aside his clothes as always and diving headlong into the rippling waters with as mighty a splash as he could manage.

Elladan, as always, carefully folded the ruined clothes, reverently laying aside the leather shoes. He knelt at the river’s edge and slipped silently into the waters.

Elrohir broke the surface behind him without a sound and reached out to gather the bloodied black hair in his nimble hands to comb out the dirt. Frozen for a moment in surprise, Elladan then batted the hands away with a small growl and dove beneath, never turning toward his brother.

Hands still poised in the air, clutching at nothing, Elrohir’s heartrending look of sorrow at the rejection went witnessed by none but the horses. “This must cease,” he vowed to himself, diving down after Elladan in a sudden fury.

Elladan panicked at the strong grip on his hips as he was pulled toward the surface.

His instinctual defense halted when they burst into the air, wet hair silver in the starlight, fanning about their heads in twin arcs in the natural instinct to shake it out of their faces, hundreds of tiny water droplets showering the rippling surface and each other. “Elrohir…?”

“Enough, Elladan. I have had enough.” Elrohir grabbed the other’s bicep in so strong a grip it bruised and then hauled them both up onto the grassy bank. Elladan sat in a huff where he was thrown, glaring at the dark waters, reflecting the moon and stars in kaleidoscopic patterns, pulling away when Elrohir touched his shoulder, a feather-light whisper of skin on skin. “You’re doing it again,” Elrohir accused, withdrawing his hand though still staring intently at his twin.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Elladan responded fiercely.

“Touch me.” He held out his hands.

Elladan’s heart jumped. “What?” he said, shivering not from the cold.

“Look at me.”

“What?” Elladan echoed himself.

But Elrohir did not answer, and Elladan did not look. Bitter silence reigned until finally, no longer caring to sit—wet—on the chill ground in the cold night air, Elladan gave in, as he knew he would: Elrohir always having been the more patient of the two. He turned his head, black blood still running in the wet waterlines down his cheeks, to meet his brother’s gaze.

The large dark eyes, luminous and sparkling, peered as if into his very soul and he found himself forced to again turn away.

“There,” Elrohir finally spoke. “Again. Again, you turn from me, brother. Have you forgotten the many years behind us when we spoke with no more than a gesture? A look? And now, your eyes fail to meet mine on the simplest of occasions, and you pull away from my touch every time. What is it that you fear from me? What is it that you cannot bear to see in my eyes?”

It was impossible to ignore the hurt tones of that buttery voice now marked with pain and sorrow and Elladan finally did turn toward the sound of that voice, reaching out to clasp cold hands in his colder ones. But his eyes remained fixed on that joining of laced fingers, as if fearful to look elsewhere. “I do you great ill, Elrohir. I was not aware… I am sorry, truly, for ever has my comfort been in your eyes and your hands,” he confided, also recalling those not-so-distant times when a glance communicated all and a soft hand soothed away the shadow of nightmares.

“Then why?” Elrohir begged, the silvery tears finally spilling to mingle with the river water and slide hotly down his pale face. “Why do you always turn away?”

“Because… what I fear,” Elladan spoke with difficulty, “is not in you, but in myself. I do not wish to hurt you, Elrohir—”

Elladan suddenly sprung up with the lightness of a cat, and strode to his pack, removing his only other clothes and pulling them on in near-clumsy haste. “I am sorry. I am sorry, but I must go.”

Still sitting in bewildered shock, Elrohir did not think to move until the steps of his brother’s horse were no longer audible. “Elladan, brother…”

------

 

Elladan did not respond to any that came to his door. Elrohir, fairly burning with a fear bordering on hysteria, attempted to open the door, but in his many years, he’d never learnt to pick a lock. Elrond would not surrender the only other key and he had not the heart to steal from his father, or to vandalize the door. So, climbing the thin birch outside his brother’s window, he leapt onto the balcony and crept within the room that night.

“Elladan! Answer me!” he shouted softly.

His footsteps but a whisper on the cool tiles, he drew further in until he saw a small heap in the center of the bed. He drew back the covers: Elladan lay sleeping like the dead, still in his traveling clothes, face and hands stained faintly with blood, black hair tangling like a soft thorny crown about his head.

“Oh, my brother,” Elrohir sighed, kicking off soft shoes and crawling upon the mattress to curl himself protectively around the older twin, bringing the blankets up over them, determined to keep the elf at peace as he had not since childhood.

------

Elladan awoke, chasing away the last screams of the dream, realizing he felt fairly more content than he had in a long while upon waking. The blazing sun shown near full upon him, with his window to the east, and the whole of Imladris was just beginning its day. He curled into the unusual warmth of his bed with a soft sigh of pleasure until he fully awakened and comfort became terror.

A soft kiss—chaste and brotherly—to his cheek drew his body taut as a bowstring and Elladan barely noticed when Elrohir’s hand lifted from his stomach to his arm for the aching heat burning all through him with his twin pressed along his entire body. “Good morning to you, brother.”

At that single moment, the only thing Elladan wished more than to be anywhere else was to stay right in that very moment forever. But yet again, he closed his eyes, reached deep down inside himself to the dark crevasse where he’d hidden his heart, and pushed it even further into the depths, forcing a coldness into his voice that he did not truly feel. “Elrohir. We are both clothed and dirty. Please release me and leave, so that I may wash.”

Elrohir petted the tense arm before smoothly slithering his way out from between the sheets. “Speak for yourself, brother. You may still bear the dirt and blood of last night, but I smell fresh as a newly furled snowdrop. And I will leave when you explain to me the precise insanity of your actions yester eve.”

Drawing upon the last reserves of his courage, Elladan turned to face his younger twin, just barely catching the gasp in his throat at the sight of the rumpled elf bathed in the light of the new day’s sun, twisted black hair shining, pale skin glowing. “I am afraid my answers will not soothe you: the battle quickened me to some nervous fear, and I have been feeling ill of late.”

“Ill?” Elrohir asked, baffled. “How ‘ill,’ brother?”

Elladan sighed, knowing he’d said the wrong thing, and sat up to draw his hands across his face wearily. “Ill in spirit, Elrohir.”

The rumpled elf stared quizzically down at him, head cocked. “You will speak of this to father, or I will do so myself,” he warned sternly.

“No,” Elladan waved him off, fearing such a thing should come to pass, but not showing it. “No, that is not necessary. I am simply brooding is all.” He, too, climbed from bed and stood opposite his brother, their proud postures forming a near perfect mirror image.

Finally, Elrohir smiled. “You always were too serious. Ill? Never! Brooding? Eternally!” he laughed as he spoke. “I see you are yourself again, my brother. All is as it should be. Get you to wash! And I will see you at breakfast,” he added, turning to leave the room.

The door closed and spirited footsteps passed away.

Elladan collapsed to the bed, a stained hand clutching at the smooth linen of his tunic.

His brother’s voice echoed through his mind, All is as it should be…

“Why?!” A million times, why.

Chapter Text

The garden, with its fragrant flowers and weathered statuettes remained unchanged and a sight familiar to many in the city could be seen there, if any had bothered to look.

The game was a Man’s game, but had sat with it’s carved stone pieces in that elven garden for the better part of an age, and its elven players held those pieces with obvious familiarity, moving them about on the checkered marble board.

A wind whistled down into the garden, playing with the frolicking leaves there, but the brothers took no notice, so intent were they on the game.

The silence of hours was at long last broken by a hesitant plea, a question soft and tentative, fear evident in the quavering of the voice. “Why do you no longer call me ‘brother?’”

Because I wish you were not so, Elladan’s heart pledged. But he could not say the words, could not wreak such havoc with Elrohir’s own heart.

“You have not called me brother since that day we slew the orc-band east of the Bruinen. Ten years ago it was; do you remember?”

How could he have forgotten? “Aye.”

“So brother, why…” Elrohir left the question unasked.

And Elladan considered his words long before answering, in a voice of practiced offhandedness, “I was not aware that the lost term of affection was a worry to you, brother, and apologize for any harm I have caused in my neglect.” Elladan looked up from the board, taking in the sight of his twin’s anxious hopeful face. He then reached across the table to clasp Elrohir’s shoulder close to the neck, a gesture reminiscent of their forever-ago childhood. He could feel the soft heat through the smooth linen. Only a force of great will kept his own eyes locked with his brother’s.

Elrohir studied the dark eyes many moments before he responded with only a dazzling smile.

Elladan fought the instinct to recoil lest he be tempted by that smile, finding an answering one of his own, though not nearly so heartfelt or true.

The brothers kept their exchange a moment before Elladan slowly withdrew, his hand shifting down to the board.

Elrohir sighed with a smile. “You win yet again, brother,” he stated happily as the clunk of the falling king thudded dully around the garden.

///***///

The library was near empty; on such a fine autumn day, most sought the open air, but Elrohir had developed another obsession and spent his time—as he had the last month—buried amid dusty tomes, searching and digging through ancient texts.

He had claimed a high desk for himself, in the center of a raised circular platform at the end of the long room lined with shelves, and a rounded book case stood round him like a cylinder except where a few steps led down to the lower level. There he stood, dead to world with his nose buried in some obscure text, muttering to himself as he meandered back toward the desk already piled high with scrolls and notes and books.

“Elrohir?”

Elrond’s son jumped near a foot in the air, dropping his book and shrieking with girlish fright at the sudden interruption. “Glorfindel!” he accused with but a name, glaring at the tall sprightly form just beside him.

“It was not my intent to frighten you,” Glorfindel explained, his curving pink lips belying the statement.

Elrohir sighed out a deep, calming breath, letting go the tension of shock. He delivered a reprimanding glare to his elder before stooping to retrieve his book. “And why are you sneaking about?”

Glorfindel held aloft the plate of food Elrohir had not noticed in his flustered state. “Lord Elrond asked someone to deliver this, thinking you may have forgotten to take lunch, even after missing breakfast. Again.”

Apologetically wide-eyed, Elrohir smiled sheepishly, ducking his head as he accepted the platter of bread, cheese, and seasonal fruit: apples and late berries. “I thank you.”

“Mmm,” he replied, “You are welcome, Little One. Tell me, how is your research coming?”

“Slow,” the dark-haired elf admitted, sliding back toward the raised desk as he nibbled a scrap of bread. Long-fingered white hands danced along the parchments as he spoke distractedly. “I thought I’d hit upon something in the dwarven histories that struck me as profound, but I’m having difficulties making the connections…”

After he trailed off, Glorfindel abruptly asked, “Are you well?”

Elrohir furrowed his brow, taking a quick bite from the red-skinned apple to gain time. Only after chewing thoughtfully and swallowing, did he reply. “Well? Of course. Why shouldn’t I be?”

Glorfindel shrugged pale blond locks over his shoulder with a casual toss of the head. “It seems to me I recall a time in your youth when you would drown your troubles in a book rather than seeking out the stables like your brother. You realize, of course, that Elrond and I knew right off when something was the matter: you lost yourself in books or Elladan disappeared into the stables for days on end. I don’t believe either of you have changed in that respect. Come now. Tell this old man your thoughts.” The older elf pulled up a tall thin-legged stool to the table Elrohir had taken over.

Elrohir dropped into his own seat, balancing the ceramic plate precariously atop an already swaying stack of books. “You do know me too well.” He sighed out a whispery breath, leaning forward, elbows on knees, hands flopping down in defeat. “Truly, I do fear for my brother.”

“Ah,” Glorfindel answered. “As do I,” he murmured, clearly troubled. “In fact, I meant to speak to him, but I could not find him, so here I am to question you.”

Elrohir looked up suddenly. “What do you mean, you could not find Elladan?”

“Did you not know? Neither of you came to breakfast. You have been here all day, but his bed was empty, and his stallion is gone.”

“Not again,” Elrohir fearfully muttered as he sprang up from his seat, rushing past Glorfindel.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

Dark hair fanning about him, he turned, rushed back, grabbed up his apple, and hurried away again, calling over his shoulder, “Something is wrong, I must find him!”

The crash of the falling plate resounded through the library.

------

The apple was devoured by the time Elrohir reached the stables. He waited neither for assistance from the grooms nor for an order of food from the kitchens, simply checking his mount before galloping out and away from the Last Homely House, Nimlos carrying him proudly on her back.

------

Where would he have gone? There were several candidates for hideouts in their land.

Elrohir scanned the trails in an arc circling Rivendell until he found the distinctive markings of his brother’s heavy warhorse; they’d gone crashing through the underbrush with no dignity whatsoever. He had been in a hurry.

The tracker urged Nimlos onward, galloping after his brother.

------

Elladan’s trail led straight northwest for many miles. This he followed for hours and hours, only slowing to rest the horse, until dusk found them well north of the Trollshaws Forest nearing the River Mitheithel.

------

So blinded was he by concern that he reached the river only to look about and see that he had lost the trail. Elrohir swore out a violent oath, leaping from his mount to kick the broken, rocky ground. A far-off whinnying snort halted his self-flagellation before it could truly begin and he turned northward seeing Elladan’s sturdy steed prance forward to greet his own slender mare. Snow white the horses were, greeting each other fondly before bending long graceful necks to the water.

“Gil-eithel,” he softly addressed his brother’s mount. “Where is Elladan?”

But of course, the horse did not answer.

Elrohir fondly patted them both before wandering the shoreline northward in the direction the horse had come from.

------

Stony outcroppings of rock dominated the landscape before fading out to thin forests and grasslands, tiny brown weeds constantly struggling through the cracking stone and offering up diminutive flower buds of blue and yellow. Elrohir respectfully sidestepped the sprouting weeds, casting his gaze over the flat stones in the barest hopes of a hint of a trail.

Striding along, Elrohir suddenly stopped short, nearly throwing himself face forward to the ground. He looked about in wonder, a memory suddenly wheedling its way to the forefront of his mind as a twisted patch of forest sprung into view overlooking a wealth of high rocks. Those sickly trees’ gnarled branches nearly covered the remains of a small forest fire that had burned here almost an age ago, and Elrohir darted forward; his elvish agility would have appeared unnatural to an outsider as he scaled the steep smooth rock of small caves and precarious undercuts to leap onto the overhanging roots and pull himself to the top, creeping within the dark, thick forest of small scratchy branches and large thorny brambles.

He halted again, peering into the darkness.

He had been here before.

Elrohir turned, walking back out onto the overhang, looking onto the slowly flowing river, the horses white specks in the distance. He’d stood on this very protrusion once before. He’d been but one hundred years old.

The intent look in Elrohir’s dark eyes faded away to be replaced by a distant sorrow, recalling that day.

Their father had called the boys to his study for a meeting. They had gotten in trouble with Erestor again, and apparently Elrond had planned his punishment.

But what the Lord of Imladris truly had in store for his sons was far worse. I think a time of separation is in order, the unforgettable decree reverberated through his haunted mind. It is not natural to so depend upon one another as you do. Elladan, you will be journeying to Mirkwood with Glorfindel to visit King Thranduil. You shall further your studies of horsemanship and take up knives there. And I think your archery shall improve beyond measure. Mirkwood’s archers are the best. Elladan’s face had paled horribly as he gripped tightly to his brother’s hand. Elrohir, when the sentries from Lothlorien return home, you shall be going with them, under Haldir’s care. Lord Celeborn—your mother’s father—is a generous host and excellent woodman. I am sure your skills will improve tenfold with his instruction. Elrohir had clutched his twin’s hand so hard, he thought he felt bones moving beneath the skin.

Father, you cannot—

I can do as I please, Elrohir. Elladan. You must learn to survive on your own. Separate rooms and baths for both of you from now on. They have already been arranged. Elladan, you leave tomorrow. Elrohir, within a fortnight. You are dismissed.

They had dismissed themselves all right, all the way to the stables where Glorfindel had been waiting.

I thought you two might be headed this way, he had spoken kindly, blocking the narrow side-entrance. His smile faded at the tears on their faces. The old elf had sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with a slender hand. Your father will kill all three of us for this, you realize? Now, Little Ones, tell me exactly where you are going.

Elrohir had spoken. He had always been the first to speak. Glancing to his twin, their gaze had held. The caves off the River Mitheithel.

Where the fire burned last June, Elladan had finished.

Glorfindel withdrew to let them pass. Be back tomorrow noon. No later.

Aye, Glorfindel, came the unison reply as mounts were led to the back entrance.

Miles they had ridden, the very same path he taken this day, through forests and over meadows and past wilderness landscape to the site of the fire. The horses ran free along the shore, just as they did now, though the steeds themselves were different. And Elrohir had seized his brother’s hand tightly as they ran up to the outlook where he now stood.

Here the twins had embraced fiercely, Elladan’s silent tears mixing with Elrohir’s unrestrained sobs. He can’t do this! He can’t!

He can, Elladan had sadly contradicted. You know he can, and he will.

Why?!

Because he thinks it is best. This is not the end, brother. It is a journey. A task. A time of growth. You know he means it as passage to adulthood, that we should not eternally depend on one another. It is not the end. We will come back, and see each other, and never be parted again.

Do you swear?

By all that shall grow anew here. I swear. I swear by the everlasting sun and I swear by our own undying love. We shall be together forever in spirit, and once this foolishness is ended, we will never part for any reason.

Oh Elladan! I love you!

Elladan had hugged him all the harder, not a slip of air visible between the two mourners. And I you.

Now, Elrohir let slip the wetness from his eyes, tracking down cheeks flushed with remembered hatred and love. His father had done them his only wrong that day.

Elrohir turned with purpose. He remembered the huge hollowed log they had spent the night in, entwined like baby squirrels in a nest. He doubted the rotting tree still lay as it had near an age ago, but he now knew where he would find his brother.

------

Elrohir’s practiced steps were silent, barely disturbing the grass he hardly trod upon. Sensing a disturbance in the air, he halted, tilting his pointed ears to the wind. Wild sobs laden with misery reached him, fading in and out with the gentle breeze. Never had Elrohir heard sounds quite like these, so desperate, so lost. He sprinted through the undergrowth, insensible to the shallow nicks and cuts from the smothering thorny vines and low sticky twigs.

Coming to a sudden opening in the brush, Elrohir halted, tipping forward on the balls of his feet. There, entangled within the low heavy roots of a giant tree, was Elladan. Pale, long-fingered hands covered a distraught face as these tremendous howls were unleashed, his whole twisted form rising and falling and shuddering with the intensity of severe sorrow.

Tears now streaming down his cheeks in soul-strangling empathy, Elrohir rushed to his brother, long arms reaching to rest comforting hands on the quaking shoulders. “Elladan!”

Elladan stifled his cries, looking up from where he’d scrunched himself almost under the tree in the natural hollow of giant roots. “El-rohir,” his tortured voice cracked on the name, as incomprehensible desolation dulled dark eyes rimmed in red. “What,” he coughed suddenly, shaking violently until the tremor ceased. “What are you doing here?”

Elrohir’s tears dripped onto his brother’s hands and he pulled his distraught twin forward within the circle of his arms. “Doing??? Looking for you! You-you disappeared—again!—and I knew… something had h-happened, and here you are and I don’t know and PLEASE! What is wrong!” He drew back to meet his brother’s gaze, but once more, Elladan dropped his eyes.

“It is not a pain that can be fixed. Leave it, leave me—”

“Leave you!? No!”

The younger twin tugged at his brother’s sleeves until the elf crawled from his hidey-hole to stand on unsteady feet, but turned away and only hugged himself tight.

Elrohir stared as the panicked trembles began to subside and said nothing until the anger and fear melted away to empathic misery. “Elladan. No more of this. Tell me. What is this grief?”

How that soft concern reached out to touch his hidden heart. We are not alike, Elladan reminded himself, knowing how he would have ranted and raved in such a position, not turned to gentle words and gentler touches. A brother’s wrath he could have fought, but not this ever-hopeful support, this whole-hearted love. Elladan turned again, bravely confronting his brother as he wiped irritably at his tear-stained face. “It is a torment only solitude can teach,” he vowed breathlessly.

“But I am here; we will be together.”

“It is a pain borne of unnamed fear.”

“Name it; we shall confront it together.”

“It is a misery of the heart.”

“Share it; we will bare it together.”

Elladan shook his head vehemently. “We cannot; we cannot!”

“But why?” Elrohir desperately asked.

And for that desperation, Elladan could not lie. “It is a love denied.”

A love denied. A love denied? What love? Elrohir could not prevent the hand that strayed up to clutch at his chest where his heart pounded desperately with greater pain than he’d ever known. He felt faint, but remained upright. He felt nauseous, but remained steady.

What was this sudden tightness in his chest? Why this sudden sorrow, why this tortured ache? The loss of a brother to love should be gladdening, not this inexplicable… anguish. “Never have you spoke of this before,” Elrohir proceeded slowly, his voice weak, his heart tearing itself to shreds for he knew not why.

“It is hopeless. Why speak of it?”

“Because I am here to listen.” He then wondered who had reduced his brother to this and blinding hatred overcame sorrow. Calming himself, Elrohir stepped forward, taking Elladan’s hands, also scratched from the journey through the brier, and held them tight. “Then tell me, who is it that hast done you such ill? I shall take your revenge,” he vowed hotly, tears again threatening.

But Elladan shook his head hopelessly, now meeting those dark eyes without fear. “Nay, Elrohir. They know not their harm.”

“Harm?!” Elrohir retorted almost viciously. “You mean they do not know that a lord of our people is truly wasting away, pining after a love he has not even sought!”

Elladan looked to the hands joined between them, shaking his head again in that slow, resigned manner.

“Who is the one worthy enough to have gained my brother’s love?” Elrohir asked quietly, his voice quaking.

He received no answer, and the pain of Elladan’s confession worked through his head into a pounding ache. He squeezed shut those murky dark eyes, more tears escaping as he tried to focus. “Tell me, and I shall do as you wish,” he swore, his own misery evident in the low tones. “Court her for you, or deliver her to your door? Escort you to her side or give my blessing? Ask and ye shall receive.”

Elrohir could not help the sudden jump as Elladan twitched violently away at those words, giving forth more tears. Again, his hand drifted to his chest as he watched his brother dissolve in pain. A love denied. Love. This was love; this could be fixed; this could all be made right, if only Elladan could see it. And Elrohir’s mind told him to be joyful, but his heart spoke more true. I am not ready to part from him, I cannot let him go.

Chapter Text

The player’s board in the center garden was again occupied, but only the little songbirds interrupted the elves, who did not mind at all. Yes, the birdsong was sweet as ever it had been, and the sun could be no brighter, shining down full upon them, illuminating the brown highlights in otherwise straight black hair. There were no other disturbances and the light wind was warm. Tumbling gold leaves collected about their feet, and the brothers did not mind.

One by one, the stone pieces fell, giving way to the strongest, and granite’s remorseless knights nearly cornered marble’s king.

“Why do you no longer speak with me, brother?”

Elladan sighed long-sufferingly. “I speak to you daily, brother.”

“Yes you do,” Elrohir readily admitted. “You speak to me. You talk at me. But we do not converse.” Getting right down to it, Elrohir spoke boldly, “You have pushed away your love for this unnamed one, and with it goes all other love.”

“That is not true,” came the ready defiance.

“It is,” Elrohir gently protested, confident in his words. “You do not spend time with anyone but me, and then it is in the far wilderness hunting orcs and speaking hardly at all. Otherwise you are always out on your own with your horse or holed up in your room—and do not deny it,” Elrohir added the last bit when Elladan looked up to protest.

“Fine. I do not deny it. But I do wish you would not make it sound so melodramatic.”

“No histrionics here,” Elrohir protested. “I speak only truth.”

“Mmm. Just like you told father you hadn’t the slightest idea what had happened to Erestor’s entire wardrobe?”

“It could very well have been pixies,” Elrohir defended himself.

“Pixies knot your hair and spill your soup,” Elladan argued, moving his granite wizard closer to the marble king. “They have not the strength to move Erestor’s complete and, may I add, ludicrously huge collection of clothes out to hang on the front gate. Especially not in one night. They’d make do with a whole sock and lose interest. Besides, last night, you said, ‘brownies.’”

“It could very well have been brownies,” Elrohir agreed, watching Elladan topple the marble king in victory.

///***///

Elrohir sat across the desk from Elrond, receiving a glare he had not seen in many a century, not since childhood pranks had terrorized Erestor and the cooks, and the twin sons of Elrond had been sent to their father for punishment. But now, the Lord of Imladris spoke not.

Elrohir finally addressed his father, no longer able to sit under that penetrating gaze. “If the squirrels have got in the kitchen again, ‘tis none of my doing,” he said, recalling a fond incident long past.

Elrond barely smiled. “This has nothing to do with squirrels, nor Erestor’s wardrobe, I might add.”

Having the decency to look abashed, Elrohir lowered his head.

“I wish it were the case, but I’ve called you here to answer to a matter of the heart.”

Elrohir, surprised and unsure, looked up.

“For my heart is troubled,” Elrond continued, his great age suddenly perceptible in the clear, sad tones of his voice. “I see a… despair in Elladan, and to be truthful, his quiet anguish frightens me.”

Nodding, Elrohir sat back with a troubled sigh. “I know of what you speak,” he said softly, barely audible in the great room.

“And have you an answer to this melancholy?”

Elrohir sighed again, the tight pain in his chest threading up to encircle his head. His own despair was etched in the haunted depths of his dark eyes. His usually mellifluous voice faltered and choked as he quietly and slowly replied, “I would not willingly reveal what was admitted in confidence, but where else but to a father can one turn when in fear for a brother’s life?”

“His life?!” Elrond nearly yelped his horrified shock.

Elrohir pushed away the pain, placing his hope in his father. “A secret terror has been growing in my heart these last decades as I witness Elladan pulling every day further away from me.” Sorrow carved Elrohir’s fair face in a frown as he looked to the white hands clenched tightly in his lap. “The last years have been the worst; I’ve seen him in states I only recall from childhood.” Elrond leaned forward in frozen expectation as Elrohir’s carefully controlled voice broke with his emotion. “You remember how he cried and cried when Mother went away, and never shed a tear after? He has now; I’ve found him in the deepest darkest places in our lands, sobbing like a human child, lost to this unnamed grief. He only ever stops when he frightens me to tears myself, and I beg him, beg him like I’ve never pleaded for anything in life, to tell me, to explain, What is this weighted shadow of despair that claws at his soul?”

When Elrohir stopped, Elrond could not bear the tension. “And has he told you?”

“At long last, he has.”

Elrond waited for his son to continue, scarcely daring to draw breath.

“He claims that his heart is so full of love, it is near to bursting with the misery of knowing he cannot ever obtain it.”

Elrond’s heart fluttered wildly as his eyes shut in pain, feeling for his sons, both of them. Elrohir had suffered much in silence thus far, witnessing his own twin, rock-hard and steadfast Elladan, fall to the agony of hopelessness. And equally did his soul weep for Elladan, for few wounds can kill an elf, but despair is the most lethal of all.

Finally, he sighed out, “But for whom does his heart break?”

Elrohir’s dark eyes looked mournfully up to his father’s. “He will not say.”

///***///

Again did Elladan seek sanctuary in the stables. He’d taken up residence in his white stallion’s stall once more, and the grooms had left him to his sort of peace. He brushed the white coat over and over, though the hide had gleamed for many hours, as he pet the horse’s neck, whispering his name, which in the common tongue was Starwell. The steed suffered through his rider’s depression with only small annoyance, soothed by Elladan’s smooth, low tone. “Gil-eithel, I am here with you, my own Gil-eithel…”

Light, uneven footfalls sounded in the stable, and the elf listened carefully.

“I thought I might find you here.”

Elladan turned toward his visitor, almost smiling. “Ah, Aragorn, how does my sister?”

The rugged outdoorsman grinned. “She does well,” he respectfully responded. “But I did not come here to discuss Arwen.”

Elladan looked back to Gil-eithel, pulling a fine comb through the long loose mane. “Oh?”

“I wonder if you would speak to me of what ails you?”

“What have you heard?” Elladan asked curiously.

“Nothing. No one speaks of it, but we all see you withdrawing. Is it Elrohir?”

Elladan’s hand stilled of its own accord at the mention of his brother.

“What else could it be?” Aragorn offered the rhetorical question when Elladan remained silent and still. “He is ever by your side; he is your constant. You draw strength from each other, but now your bond breaks and strength seeps away. It is clear to me that you are both… withering. And I wondered if it appeared so to you.”

“I see no difference in my brother, but for his over-grown concern for me.”

“Then, perhaps you ought to look deeper,” Aragorn suggested, leaving the way he had
come.

Elladan shook his head, moving the comb again and speaking to his stallion in whispered breaths. “And if I do, what shall I see?”

///***///

The occasion of summer solstice demanded a celebration from all creatures on Middle Earth, and Elrond’s household was no different. Preparations had begun months before, and on the fine summer’s morning of the event, the cooks had risen early. Rivendell’s residents and guests awoke to the scents of fresh meat and sweet bread, of baked fruit pies and candied yams filling the air to be carried throughout the whole of Imladris on the breast of a midsummer breeze.

Out in the main courtyard between the gate and the doors, a small congregation had assembled, setting up woodpiles for the bonfires and climbing the many trees to hang brightly colored banners that rolled and furled in the light wind. Their free laughter, ringing voices, and joyful songs carried up to the high balcony occupied by two still figures overseeing the early-morning spectacle.

For a long while they watched over Rivendell in silence as guests rose from bed and roamed the grounds and the halls, the gardens and the courts. Dwarves, elves, and men, of all shapes and sizes and colors, gathered together on this day. Fears and quarrels were set aside, voices both heavy and light mingled on the air, and a spirit of freedom entangled them all in anticipation of the evening to come.

But when Elladan finally opened his mouth to address his father, Elrond was the one to first speak. “No.”

“But… I haven’t even asked you yet,” was Elladan’s grumbling, almost disbelieving answer.

Elrond glared sideways at his son. “I said no.” He focused again on the activities below. “Besides, you are whining.”

“But—”

“Are you ill?”

To this, he could not speak truly, for it would demand more than he was willing to give. “No.”

“Are you engaged?”

To this, he could not speak falsely, for it would demand an excuse he did not have. “No.”

“Then, you will be at the ceremony. You have no reason to be moping about in your room and even less reason to spend the holiday in the stable, Elladan.” Elrond eyed him critically. “You and your brother both will attend. As will Arwen, Estel, Glorfindel… even Haldir of Lorien will be here to revisit your brother. You have always enjoyed the festivities in the past…” Elrond trailed off, realizing he spoke not the truth.

Elladan humphed, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Leaning dolefully forward on the intricate curving banister, Elrond sighed. “I cannot force you, and I will not order you, but I should like my own sons to be there.”

Elladan turned away, ashamed of his selfish attitude. “As you like it. I will come.”

------

The feast was, as always, excellent: the mountains of food delicious, the gay music divine, and the great company exceptional. Elrohir watched with detached amusement as lively conversation fell to bawdy jokes, the guests taking full advantage of the open taps, especially on this of all nights.

When the majority of the food had been devoured, the party moved outdoors where three giant bonfires illuminated the night. Elrohir passed among the guests as a fish through water; only slightly affected by his drink. The atmosphere around him became a whirlwind of flashing colors, sparkling lights, rolling music, and overall, a cheerful, heated din.

Within the triad of high conflagrations, a court for dancing had sprung up, the flat walkway now covered by the multitudes who danced, tramped, pranced, and twirled about on it.

When Haldir laid a friendly grip on his shoulder, Elrohir allowed himself to be dragged into the jig as the women and elf-maidens cleared the floor to watch the circle of men and elf-lords dance wildly about.

High were their steps and loud was their drunken laughter as unsteady dancers collided together, leaving off the routine to dance wildly to the music of their souls. Those more sober found themselves pushed to a smaller circle within the outer one, and Elrohir moved forward with them, hands clasped one to another and held high as the intricate footwork of the difficult circular jig became a contest of accuracy and speed. To the dark-haired elf’s right was his old mentor Haldir, concentrating through his more than slight inebriation and looking straight down at his slow feet as if to better control them. Further on was Glorfindel, missing the steps not because of his drink but because he was so amused by the less clear-headed dancers. To Elrohir’s left was Aragorn, smiling with the others at his own folly, for all the rest of the inner circle were elves, and he could not keep up with them. Swiftly grew the pace, feet flying faster, the circle moving counter-clockwise at ever growing speed.

Soon the women and other spectators were clapping their hands to the steadily increasing beat, shouting out the old challenge:

“Kick it low! Kick it high! Boots to the floor, fists to the sky!
Too much wine, too much mead—keep you from your dancing deed!
Loosing pace, loosing face, get you gone for skill disgraced!
Slower feet lose the beat, take them out; take a seat!”

And the dancers followed the rules, leaving the circle when the pace was too hard. Haldir was the first forced back, his drunken giggles drowned by the loud cheer still repeating. The competition had begun in earnest, and Elrohir fell easily into the fast cadence, as did Glorfindel, who concentrated on the music now rather than his fellow dancers.

Soon Aragorn was left out for his sluggishness, and others swiftly followed suit, stepping or falling back from the circle, sometimes dragged away by their friends. They joined the outer circle, stamping their feet and clapping their hands and belting out the old rhyme.

Gradually the tempo gained and the dancers waned. Twelve. Eight. Six. Four. Three.

Until only two were left. Elrohir and Glorfindel faced off. Their hands were flat; palm-to-palm they met, staring one another down intently as if daring the other to misstep. Expertly they struck out the kicks, stamps, jumps, spinning together wildly in a near frightening display of elvish speed and agility, almost floating when both feet were in the air and twisting madly to the beat. Expertly did they make the transition to the partner’s dance, now moving not only their feet, but also the way in which they gripped each other’s hands, shifting to more complicated and ever-changing holds, spinning about ever faster.

Finally it was Glorfindel who lost the rhythm, landing a moment too late. The crowd cheered fiercely and he readily backed off, grinning at his defeat.

Elrohir howled his triumph, his arms still held high as he flung back his head, turning the sideways jig into a spinning tornado, black hair flaring loose around him, garments whipping about at his speed.

He did not topple to the ground as did less experienced victors, but struck out to prance along the outer circle in a circuit of triumph.

Glorfindel, taking second place in the unofficial but highly respected—if rarely remembered—competition, had already been bestowed a wreath of freshly woven flowers about his neck, mostly weeds, dandelions, poppies, and brown grasses as was tradition for the ‘loser.’ He carried in his hands the victor’s garland. Elrohir danced round to meet him at the center where he knelt on one knee and bowed his dark head, allowing Glorfindel to crown him with the time-honored headdress of hollyhock, oak leaves, yellow jasmine, daffodils, thyme, coreopsis, lantana, daisies, grape leaves, and hyacinths.

Glorfindel stepped back and Elrohir arose to the frantic cheers of the spectators. He flung his arms high and grinned widely, turning in a slow circle, a final moment of rejoicing.

Only then did he catch the shining black eyes that mirrored his own. Elladan stood far away at the main doors, open to the crowd, beside Elrond. Erestor was a silent shadow behind them. And still the crowd cheered, but Elrohir was blind to them all, seeing only the vibrant light in Elladan’s eyes and his open countenance. Never had he seen such a loving, mournful, unguarded expression on that face, which in all rights was his own as well.

Elrohir faltered momentarily, then took up his glory once again, but never did he look away from his brother. The opening chords to the next dance seemed forever in coming, but finally they did, and the younger twin hastily excused himself, moving for the doors of the Last Homely House.

But the crowd was thick and where he had weaved through them easily before, he was now buttressed in and had to force his way through. At one point he glanced downward to avoid running down a young human girl. When he looked up again, Elrond and Erestor stood unmoved, but Elladan was gone.

Then the crowd eased, as if knowing their duty to fate was completed and Elrohir wound his way through them unmolested. He nearly collided with his father in his haste, halting just before the door. “Elladan! Where did he go!?”

Elrond looked about in shock. “Why, he was here but a m—”

“Yes!” Elrohir cried, his frustration mounting, “But where is he now!!!”

Elrond scanned the crowd with the advantage of his height. “I do not see him.” The Half-Elven Lord then closed his eyes, a hand to his temple as his face lined in concentration. After an eternal moment of waiting, he looked up. “The stables. GO!”

Elrohir did not need to be told. He was already shooting away, calling, “Nimlos! Nimlos!”

Within the stable beside the main gate, Nimlos was frantic to heed her rider and leapt the stall door, meeting him at the livery entrance.

Elrohir did not halt, flying swiftly onto her back with ease. “To Gil-eithel! Like the wind!” was his desperate order, and Nimlos obeyed, streaking after Elladan and his stallion.

------

They struck out along the southern road, following Elladan, but like the twins themselves, their horses were matched for speed and endurance, so Nimlos neither lost nor gained distance on Gil-eithel.

But when the leaders turned eastward, Elrohir took a chance, cutting southeast through an older trail to run parallel with the Bruinen, anticipating his brother’s destination.

------

Elladan pushed his horse remorselessly. I cannot stand him any longer… I must get away! He followed the south road to the trail he and Elrohir had worn down over the centuries, no longer conscious of his direction and letting Gil-eithel have his lead to go where he will. The stallion, originally facing south, followed the road he knew best, and Elladan only realized where he was when the horse came to a halting stop on the rocky bank of the Bruinen. Elladan slipped off the creature’s back, and ran his hands over the sweating flanks reflecting silver in the full moon’s light. “Oh my Gil-eithel, I am sorry, so sorry…”

The white stallion snorted in what might have been a forgiving manner, shaking his head before bending down to drink. Elladan swiftly turned, ignoring the tears that threatened, to step lightly onto soft green grass and approach the old, gnarled tree closest to the bank. He climbed within the familiar seat of its twisting arms and closed his eyes to the world, clinging closely to the centuries-old apple-tree.

How often had he and Elrohir come here to this very spot? More than half an age surely it had been since they discovered the wild apple orchard on the western bank of the Bruinen, barely a two-hours easy roundabout ride from home. The trees withered and died over the years, but saplings soon sprung up from the fallen fruit, and over the decades they had tended the untamed, natural garden together, Elladan coaxing the wild irises and ivy vines from tired soil while Elrohir sang to the birds, oh how he always sang so sweetly to the feathered beasts. Now their private garden was a sanctuary of birds and never was it without their high watching eyes and variegated songs. Even now he could make out the call of a nearby owl, and for many years had a particular family of robins found a home in this the eldest of the apple trees, making their high twiggy nest out of reeds and grasses and brightly colored ribbon yearly supplied by Elrohir.

Ah, Elrohir, fairest and kindest and gentlest of elves. Elladan had never known a moment’s peace when Elrohir was not beside him, and yet it had been countless years since he could find peace with him. The constant ache in his repressed heart again swelled, and Elladan covered his distraught face with pale hands, the now common tears streaming from dark eyes, not in another bout of hysteria but in haunted silence, a well-known and eternal despair. How I love him, dearest of brothers, fastest of friends.

“Ai, Elrohir…” was his whispering plea.

“I am here, brother.”

Startled to the core, shocked to the extreme, Elladan jumped and took to trembling violently, clutching at the close branches for fear of falling when his eyes opened, meeting those of his brother’s so close and seemingly intimate as he, too, rested among the branches and limbs, his own limbs carelessly thrown about him as he relaxed there. “Ai, Elrohir!” he repeated frantically, “Mean you to frighten me to my very death?!”

Still crowned by summer foliage with black hair falling loose, Elrohir offered a small smile. “No indeed, brother. I was waiting when you came, but in your self-absorbed gloom, you saw me not and paid no heed to the signs of Nimlos’ passing.”

Elladan closed his eyes to calm himself while trying to steady his breathing. Was he so far gone? “I am s—”

A serious tone interrupted him. “Do not think of contrition, Elladan. I sought you out not for excuses or apologies. But I will not let either of us leave here until we sort this out.”

“What?”

“This… whatever-it-is between us.”

“There is nothi—”

A warm hand pressed against his mouth. “Neither did I come here for lies.”

Elladan dropped his gaze and Elrohir dropped his hand. “Aye, brother,” he promised. The elder remained frozen, staring down into the black shadows cast by the bright moon, but Elrohir, kind and patient Elrohir did not push and waited calmly by his side, expecting, at the least, justification for the shadow on both their hearts, some reasoning, however small or unclear, to explain how they had come to such a sad state.

But Elladan found that he knew not what to say. So, he looked up. Elrohir’s pale face shown white in the night, raven hair falling straight over his shoulders to untamed curls at the very ends. Set about his head was the victor’s wreath, the greenery adorning him like some vagrant wood sprite. His pale-rose lips were parted in a small frown, but those dark eyes, huge and luminous in the night, caught all Elladan’s attention and breath stopped in his throat.

And it seemed not possible that those eyes could widen further, but they did, as Elrohir again saw that free and open expression, as though a weight had been lifted from his brother’s conscience. In reality, it was the lack of the mask Elladan had worn for near as long as he could remember, now so caught off his guard that the facade of brotherly love, of steady virtue, was irretrievable.

Elrohir did not know he had moved until the glimmer of his own white hand was before him, and he halted his reach before touching that wondering face. Startling himself, he withdrew the hand again, though he still leant toward Elladan, staring at him closely. “It is as I always said. Whatever you tell me, stays between us. You know that. Whatever plagues you, it is killing me as well. You know that. Friends fall out, yes. Allies are lost. Lovers divide. But we are brothers forever, Elladan.”

“Those words should give me comfort,” came the rough murmur, “But you cannot know how they increase my pain.”

Elrohir’s face crumpled in flustered self-recrimination. “How can I harm you so? …And not even know it!—This is madness!”

“Yes,” Elladan agreed. “Love is a madness.”

“Nay, say not love,” Elrohir protested. “Love is good and pure. Passion, hatred; these are madness. But you say love and neither of these others. You are not mad.”

“Then you know not my passion nor my hatred.”

Taken aback, Elrohir actually shifted away from his brother, recalling the few incidents of unrestrained violence in him. “From what deep well spring these harsh emotions, Elladan? I knew not you had such…”

“Evil in me?”

“Darkness in you,” Elrohir corrected.

“My well of passion has sprung from the well of hope that dried, and hatred also is there, when love is denied.”

“Again comes this love denied,” Elrohir marveled. “Who is she?” he pleaded, desperation in his voice, misery in his eyes.

“I cannot say; I will not say.”

“But you must!” Elrohir suddenly demanded. “If that is the source of this aggression in you, this darkness, you must confront it!”

“Nay, I cannot; do not ask this of me!”

Elrohir suddenly stood upon the tree’s branches, looming over his elder twin. “But I must! When you are blind to the world, I will be your eyes! And now I’m telling you, look out!” Elrohir sank down again, closer still, his gentle heat rolling toward Elladan. “For I can see your folly. Please, tell the one person in all the world you could ever trust.” A new fear dawned in Elrohir’s eyes. “Unless… unless you trust me no longer…”

Elladan heard the alarm in Elrohir’s voice and immediately gripped his shoulders. “Never think that! You ARE the only one I trust!”

“Then…?”

“I do not trust myself, can you not see that, you who are my eyes?” he confessed.

Elrohir managed a small smile. “We all have blind spots, Elladan. And never could I see a fault in you. But now I realize you see your own faults too clearly. Elladan, remember, you are the elder, the stronger, the harder. Without you I am nothing, and I will be without you unless you answer my questions.”

Elladan kept hold of Elrohir’s shoulders as the other grasped his arms. Within the circle they created, they blocked out all else. Gone was the garden and the river and moon. Only each other did they see. Resigned to his fate, Elladan agreed, “Then ask your questions. I will answer.”

Slowly, Elrohir sat back and Elladan did the same, so that they gripped each other’s hands before them. “Your love, the one you cannot have, what is she that you cannot reach her?”

“Brilliant and strong as I am not and could never be.”

“That is nothing if you love her; I still do not understand… There is something you are not telling me…” Elrohir leaned forward again, reading the truth reflected in the elder’s eyes. “You cannot attain this love…” he mused to himself. “Then, is she pledged to another?”

“No.”

“Is she still in her minority?”

“No.”

Elrohir racked his brain. “Is she human? Or some other race?” he asked doubtfully.

“No.”

Thinking that perhaps Elladan could not choose between a brother and a lover, he then asked, “Does she dwell in some distant land, far from home?”

But, “No,” came the easy answer.

“Is she…” Elrohir could not piece together a game without all the parts, and this game was no child’s play. “Is she…” but then another thought occurred to him, “… a she?”

Elladan still held the steady gaze, but remained silent. Elrohir raised an eyebrow. He would wait.

Elladan chose not to. His reluctance gave way to inevitability: “No.”

“Ah,” Elrohir simply answered. “Does he know of your affections?”

The younger twin suddenly felt nearly crushed by the unexpected intensity of Elladan’s gaze. “No,” was Elladan’s deep rumble.

Elrohir hardened his heart. He would not stop now. “Has he sworn off men?”

“No.”

“And he is not wed.”

“No.”

“Do you love him?!”

“Yes!”

“Then why do you not court him!!” Elrohir asked fiercely, not allowing Elladan’s flowing glittering tears to break him.

“I cannot!”

“But why?!”

“Because he is my brother!”

Chapter Text

Elrohir’s first rational thought was 'But Aragorn IS human.'

Elrohir’s second rational thought was '…Oh.'

A trembling hand fluttered up to cover the perfect ‘o’ of his mouth. “Oh…”

“Yes, ‘oh’,” admitted Elladan, flushing red. He ripped away his hand from Elrohir’s and dropped nimbly through the twisting black branches laden with fruit to land on the soft grass at a run.

Even in his shock, Elrohir did not hesitate to follow, copying the other’s movements. But Elladan had not gone far. He stood on the rocky shore, arms wrapped tight about himself—now a familiar pose—and staring distantly at the running water rippling with the light of the moon and a million bright stars.

“Elladan…”

Elladan turned to glare at him, shouting, “Speak not if your words are of pity! Talk to me not of ‘it-can-never-be’s! No apologies, remember? And think before you speak,” he quietly added a favorite adage of their father’s. “Tread lightly with your words,” he warned, “for the wrong ones will pierce the remainder of my heart.”

Elrohir stepped back, examining his wilting brother, his twin, his mirror image. And he wondered. “Speak plain,” he softly requested, an odd lilt to the voice. “Who is it you do love?”

Elladan turned away. “In truth, I do love you.”

Like he had in the bramble grove, Elrohir found his hand pressing against his chest. He felt the strong beating heart there, and the pain that had been growing since Elladan’s first confession of love, the suffering that had consumed his mind and body, melted away. It was burned away, because now he knew what it was. It was love. It was only love. It needed no stipulation or condition, no prefix, no added words. Love was, in the end, simply love. And he loved his brother. He always had. And now, he too knew the passion Elladan spoke of, the overwhelming fire, the everything that consumed him. And the hate. For who would not hate themselves who coveted one they could not have? Who would not hate themselves who desired only what was forbidden?

And Elladan did not see his twin smile. But Elrohir soon found the courage to speak. “Ah, Elladan. Yes, the elder, the stronger, the harder. You learned to strengthen your facade, I see, and harden your heart. But what was it they always called me? Elrohir, the younger…”

“The smarter, the sweeter,” Elladan finished.

“Yes, that was it. And a good thing too. Not only do I have to see for both of us, but think for both of us, as well. And sweet.” Elrohir’s grin widened. “I always resented those who called me such, though never you.”

“I only ever called you sweet…”

“Before father separated us,” he acknowledged, bitterness creeping into his voice as he, too, looked to the river. “I don’t know that I ever quite forgave him for that.”

“I have.” Elladan spoke clearly, but still hunched into himself. “It was for the best, but did no good. For here we are, because the moment I saw you again, everything… shifted. We had been apart, but I needed you still and always have, until this very moment and forever more. Not as my brother, but as my twin, my constant, my hope, my joy, my love…”

It was then that Elrohir’s heart truly broke, and Elladan heard it in the keening wail let loose when Elrohir collapsed, his knees landing with a splash in the water, his sobs echoing across the river.

Elladan forgot himself, rushing to Elrohir’s side, falling to kneel beside him and take the broken form in strong arms. “Elrohir! Ai!—I am sorry!”

“No,” Elrohir chastised, looking up, smiling through his tears. “No apologies; and don’t you start as well!” he said laughingly, reaching up to brush away new tears. Then, he flung his arms around Elladan in a steel embrace, crying and laughing and ignorant of the other’s total confusion. “I never knew until this moment…”

“Knew what?”

“Knew what my heart was capable of. When you told me you loved another, my heart nearly broke, though I couldn’t work out why… but your own love and sorrow were my undoing: I love you!”

“You… love me?”

“You oaf!” Elrohir screamed playfully, pushing at his brother. “Of course! I love you as Elrond loved Elros, and as he loved Gil-galad!”

“As a twin. As a warrior.”

“Yes! And I love you as Haldir loves Celeborn, and as Elrond loves Aragorn!

“As a son, as a father.”

“Yes! And I love you as Maeglin loved Idril, and as Beren loved Luthien!”

“A love forbidden, a love damned.”

“Yes! And I love you… I love you as I always have and always will!”

“As a brother.”

“Of course. And to hell with right and wrong, damn the laws of our people, because now I have you I shall never let you go!”

Elladan’s own tears now became those of joy. “You made that same promise after we’d been apart for three-hundred years.”

“And I kept it, did I not?”

“Always,” Elladan finally smiled. “And I vow the same.”

Elrohir again pulled the other close, sharing warmth and love and newfound delight.

Elladan returned the ardent embrace. “I never hoped…”

“No, you didn’t, which is why you have suffered so,” Elrohir agreed, petting the back of Elladan’s head, running long fingers through black hair.

Shivering, trembling, perhaps at those words, perhaps at new hope, Elladan wept.

Elrohir shifted back from the water, drawing Elladan as close as possible and beginning to rock, swaying smoothly to the inner rhythm twins inevitably shared. Amidst the light breeze and gentle swinging of branches and the song of the running water, a voice rose out. Light and sweet it was, and bitter too, but soothing to Elladan as he clutched tight to his singing brother.

“Hush, hush now, rest little bird,
And I’ll sing to you a lullaby you have never heard.
When fathers shake their fists and mothers take to sea,
You still have naught to fear, because you are with me.
Hush, hush now, rest little lamb,
And I’ll sing to you a lullaby of what and who I am.
When all shall turn against you, close and bar their doors
You still have naught to fear, because I alone am yours.
Hush, hush now, rest little deer,
And I’ll sing to you a lullaby to push away the fear.
When shadows fall upon us, and all the world is grim
You only have to close your eyes and sing with me this hymn.
Hush, hush now, rest little elf,
And I’ll sing to you a lullaby I’ve made up by myself.
When hatred overwhelms you and fear comes your way
You must remember just our love and what I’ve said this day.”

Elrohir’s sweet little song rocked them both to peace and stillness, finding a tranquil serenity by the rippling water surrounded by old trees and birdsong and that sweet lullaby.

When Elrohir’s voice broke sadly off, Elladan took up the gentle melody, and swayed his brother in his arms.

“Hush, hush now, rest precious love,
And I’ll sing to you a lullaby in our apple grove.
When you lose the beat and cannot sing the song,
You still have naught to fear, for I’ll carry the words along.
Hush, hush now, rest brother dear,
And I’ll sing to you a lullaby only we can hear.
When troubles come upon us and exile is the cost,
You still have naught to fear, for with me you’re never lost.”

Elrohir squeezed hard at this last line, grinning even as soft tears fell hotly between them. “You sing so sweetly.”

“Because we share a voice.”

“Perhaps.” Abruptly, Elrohir asked, “What do you want from me, Elladan?”

“Nothing you have not already given,” he replied, looking at last with unshuttered love and truth in his eyes. “Why do you ask?”

“Because,” and Elrohir suddenly dropped his eyes, as blood rushed to flame in his cheeks. “Because I will be your brother no longer, if you will take me as a lover.”

Elladan froze at the oath, suddenly all too conscious of the other elf nearly in his lap. “It is wrong,” he confided softly.

Elrohir looked at him with great dark eyes, ever truthful. “How can a love be wrong?”

“Brothers…or lovers?” Elladan reached tenderly out, brushing a tendril of hair behind a pointing ear. “Can we not be both?”

------

And Elladan led Elrohir up the grassy bank, where he laid him down beneath the apple tree and took the trembling hand in his own pale one, lacing together the long fingers. He gazed down at Elrohir with such love, the younger could hardly bear it.

Elrohir reached up with his other hand to Elladan’s face, at last softened and nearly smiling under the light of the moon and stars. “Mmm, I am glad you are with me.”

Elladan did indeed smile at that. “Forever.”

“Kiss me?”

Elrohir watched with pleasure as Elladan’s eyes darkened and his breathing changed, becoming shallower and speeded. “Kiss you? I fear I may lose myself in your kisses.”

“And what is wrong with that?”

Elladan chuckled. “We shall see…” He grasped Elrohir’s other hand where it lay against his cheek, and pulled it a fraction away. Keeping his eyes on his brother’s face, Elladan bowed his head, placing his lips against the palm, barely brushing them against the heating flesh.

“That is not a kiss…” Elrohir breathlessly protested.

Elladan’s lips curved in a secret smile as he moved them down, pressing a kiss against Elrohir’s inner wrist, feeling the strong pulse there beneath soft skin. When he slowly pulled away again, he let his lower lip drag along the dampened pulse point. He smiled as Elrohir let out a hiss between closed teeth. “And I’d thought my torment was over…”

A ruthless grin answered him. “It is just begun,” Elladan pledged, pulling Elrohir’s wrist, forcing him up, and letting loose his other hand to slide his arm beneath Elrohir’s arched back. Closer he moved, bending over to look clearly into Elrohir’s dark eyes.

Suddenly the younger stated, “I am yours and you are mine.”

“Bound together in love are we. You are mine and I am yours,” Elladan soberly replied.

“We are bound together in love,” Elrohir finished.

The twins froze, holding their breath. But there was no sudden rush of wind, no lightning bolt come to smote them down in their folly.

Just then a small songbird burst into song in the darkness, a misplaced happy warbling in the dead of night.

The lovers jumped in their fright, but then smiled. “Only one of your birds,” the elder chuckled.

Elladan then dropped the wrist, reaching instead to place his own palm flat over Elrohir’s heart. Elrohir mimicked the gesture with his freed hand over Elladan’s heart, wrapping his other around those strong shoulders.

“Bound in love,” Elladan murmured before gracefully bending his head down.

Elrohir, having finally let go his eternal patience, leant forward to meet him.

Their lips met for the first time since the innocence of childhood, and this first kiss was no less chaste; soft and sweet it was amidst more happy weeping before they drew apart.

The sons of Elrond held each other close and rested their foreheads together. Finally, they were at peace; finally, they were content.

------

Elrohir was the first to lean back, meeting his brother’s eyes, and after such a long silence, they could again take up that silent communication. He shifted his hand to the back of Elladan’s head and brought him down, bending his neck graceful as a swan to place flitting kisses over the well worn tear tracks down that pale face.

Elladan’s eyes fluttered shut, the dark quivering lashes brushing Elrohir’s cheek softer than flickering moth’s wings. He leaned into Elrohir as his kisses lightly rained, falling on his eyes, his nose, cheeks, and jaw. Almost hesitant was the move to the exposed neck, and Elladan shuddered as his newly bared heart flared in something still repressed, something far more fierce and forceful, something primal and almost dark within him.

Elrohir’s last kiss landed at the hollow of his collarbone where the first shirt button had slipped open.

Elladan growled and suddenly shoved Elrohir down, pulling him close as he covered the other’s body with his own, and crushed their lips together. He felt Elrohir’s lips curve in a smile as Elladan plundered the innocent mouth, gripping at his muscled back with bruising fingers, pulling off the crown of flowers to thread claiming fingers through the loose black hair.

His hands wandered their way to Elrohir’s chest, pulling at the buttons impatiently and shoving away the vest and tunic. When he reached the belt, his frustration grew and Elladan had to break the kiss with an angry snarl to concentrate on his work.

Elrohir laughed. “You needful thing,” he teased, swiftly undoing the knotted belt himself and allowing Elladan to finish disrobing him. He still laughed when Elladan set upon him, a worship ardent and vicious and sweeter than any sensation either had known as he visited every inch of his brother’s flesh with lips or hands or tongue, and Elrohir’s laughter turned to feral moans and sighs and whimpers. “Ai, Elladan… I need you.”

Elladan thought himself past words, and simply ripped off his own solstice robes until—finally—skin met skin, smooth and hot and so right, so right: no one could tell them this was wrong.

Elladan’s lust surged through him in waves and Elrohir felt the same as a new ache spread through his limbs, almost a fatigued strain in his muscles as he pushed at Elladan, rolling him back onto the soft green grass and attacking his twin in turn as fingers twisted at peaked buds of flesh, teeth tore at reddened lips, legs wound together, throbbing flesh driving against one another.

Elrohir felt that burning ache grow, and he pulled himself away to look Elladan in the eyes. And after centuries of lowered eyes and closed expressions, they had returned to their wordless ways.

Elladan pressed Elrohir back again and then climbed over to straddle his thighs. Their hands were still, simply holding one another as they met in another sweet kiss, Elladan’s shining black hair—now pulled loose from the lord’s braids—trailing in silken erotic paths over Elrohir’s sensitized flesh.

When he sat up again, he moved forward, feeling Elrohir’s need hot against him. Never looking away from the intense gaze, he reached back and levered himself upward.

Elrohir reached up a moment to still him, despite the overwhelming desire, to intently ask, “Have you ever lain with another?”

“You know I have not,” Elladan whispered in a shaky voice.

Elrohir began to squirm away. “Then we should—”

“No,” Elladan fervently protested. “Pain. Pleasure. I need all of you.”

“But—”

“I will heal.”

Elrohir’s lust-filled eyes slowly blinked as he surrendered.

And Elladan completed his maneuver, allowing Elrohir to breach him.

------

A strangled scream burst forth, but he gripped Elrohir’s shoulders and would not let him pull away.

Elrohir could not prevent his hands from attaching themselves to Elladan’s narrow hips, but he forced them to remain still, not pushing down.

And still their eyes met. Elrohir saw the pain mixed with the delight in those dark eyes. Elladan could not manage a smile, but his expression displayed the want easily enough, and he slowly sank down, taking Elrohir inside him.

Then, Elrohir let slip the control, thrusting upward and gripping Elladan tightly. He wondered at the sound that ripped from his own throat. Never had he heard such a shrieking, needful cry; never had he known he could make such a noise, nor feel such all-consuming pleasure, but Elladan smiled at this release and simply held still, allowing Elrohir to come to grips with being inside him and allowing his own body to adjust to this first lovemaking.

Elrohir’s eyes were unfocused in his passionate desire, breaths coming in harsh pants, as that heated ache coursed through him. When he could properly meet Elladan’s gaze again, Elrohir was taken aback at the smirk on those pink lips. “Elladan?”

“Are you all right?” Elladan asked, voice thick with his own pleasure. “Do you think I shall be the death of you after all?”

“Nay, not death,” Elrohir said. “But I may break on the soundless shore of madness if you do not MOVE!”

Elladan’s smirk grew to a full-fledged grin as he issued Elrohir a silent challenge with a single raised eyebrow.

The younger elf glared at his brother. “You think me not brave enough?”

“No indeed, I know you are. I simply think you do not WANT the control.”

Elladan’s words had barely left his mouth when Elrohir swiftly rolled them over, thrusting fully into Elladan and swallowing his surprised yelp with a demanding kiss.

Elladan moaned into the kiss as he wrapped long legs about his brother’s waist, connected so intimately, so passionately, so lovingly. When they parted, silent but for sighing breaths and motionless but for wandering hands, they looked again to one another.

Elladan stretched out an arm to clasp Elrohir’s shoulder, fingers curving around the back of his neck, thumb caressing the hollow of his throat. “Love me.”

“Yes,” Elrohir agreed, nodding his head.

Elladan’s hand shifted around to Elrohir’s back where his other was already splayed against the hard muscle.

Elrohir’s hands came up under his elder twin’s arms to closely grip his shoulders.

Never breaking eye contact, he began the slow rocking, first a barely felt rhythmic movement, an easy push and pull that had the elves sighing in newfound bliss in their garden.

Eyes darkened in mirrored pleasure and hands gripped tighter in mute desperation as the perfect harmony between them grew swifter, Elrohir lengthening his delving strokes and kissing whatever flushed flesh he could reach.

Elladan cried out at the deeper penetration, clutching with bruising strength, his thighs a vice about the other’s waist. “By Elbereth, do not stop!”

Elrohir had no intention of stopping.

With pure devotion and without restraint, the twins made love beneath that old apple tree, sighs evolving into gasps and moans and sobs as the passion rolled through them, fanning the fire of their untempered lust. Wrapped together in love they tossed their heads in reckless abandon and frantically cried out each other’s names.

Elladan’s pain and pleasure spiraled together in overwhelming joy, in love, in ecstasy, until he held desperately to Elrohir, shouting his name and releasing himself to the pulsing, pounding knot of desire that was his need.

Feeling Elladan stiffen, clench around him, brought Elrohir to the peak, that ever-building ache falling into the brightest flash of dizzying pleasure when Elladan’s seed spread between them, and he joined him in his release.

Then, slowly they swayed together, petting moistened skin, lips meeting in lingering kisses, and murmuring barely heard words of affection, of allegiance, and of love.

------

The stars still shone brightly though the moon had passed beyond the tallest trees, and two elves in their wild garden still lay entwined together, unmoving and soundless and perfectly happy.

“I wish we could stay here forever.”

“Mmm,” Elladan mused. “Alas, that cannot be, but we shall be together always, I promise you.” As he spoke, the elder reached for a prematurely fallen apple and pulled out the long stem, twisting it into a circlet. This he tied about Elrohir’s finger. “No matter what happens. I will fight to keep you. I will run away with you. Whatever it takes.”

Elrohir smiled and reached for a fallen leaf, methodically stripping away the green flesh of it until only the one strong center vein was left. This he tied about Elladan’s finger. “Whatever it takes,” he vowed. “Nothing shall come between us: I won’t let it.”

“We were made for each other,” Elladan whispered, taking Elrohir’s hands in his own and leaning in for one more kiss.

------

When the stars began to dim to a dull gray in the east, the brothers finally arose from their wedding bed to gather the strewn clothes from the ground. They dressed each other once more amid soft kisses and gentle touches and quiet laughter as they searched for Elladan’s mithril buttons that had been torn off and now lay hidden in the deep grass.

Eventually, everything was accounted for, and the brothers walked hand in hand to the river. Elladan let out a high-pitched whistle to carry over the riverbed as Elrohir called in his ringing voice, “Nimlos! Nimlos!”

In the distance, the two white horses rounded the bend, splashing through the waters edge and along the rocky shore.

“Hi, hail, Nimlos!” Elrohir joyfully greeted the mare, feeding to her an early apple. He swung up onto her ready back and turned to look at Elladan, already seated proudly on Gil-eithel’s back, glaring at his brother.

“What?” the younger asked.

Elladan shook his head. “I still think Snow White is a stupid name for a horse,” he teased, kicking his mount to a gallop.

Elrohir pretended to scowl and urged poor Nimlos to a run, calling out in affronted dignity after his brother.

Chapter Text

Though the golden leaves eternally fell in Rivendell, autumn had set upon the whole of Middle Earth, and the calling wind was at its worst, rolling the tumbling leaves throughout forests and dells and plains. At Imladris, the waterways were nearly plugged with leaves, turning and roiling about in the white water of the falls and rapids.

The courtyards were empty on this bitter fall morning. None were there to take note of the wind or watch the leaves go tripping past on the harsh breeze. But in the garden that sat away from the wind, flowers still bloomed and the statues stood as they had for an age. The players’ board at the center, however, was vacant. The stone stools sat alone and unused pieces were carefully tucked in their places amid the low stone shelf of the table.

The wind that managed to find its lonely way to the place left in disappointment, for none were there to heed its call. So the air went gusting upwards to whip around the towers and turrets and upper hallways, seeking cracks under windows and doors.

Finding a window open to the morning breeze, the air went whirling inside, playing at the tapered curtains and sliding a draft toward the bed.

Still sleeping, Elladan shivered in the morning breeze, drawing instinctively closer to his brother. Elrohir smiled, and did the same, tugging the blankets closer around them as Elladan awoke.

Elrohir snuggled into the now conscious embrace, mumbling sleepily against the bared chest, “Why do we no longer play chess, brother?”

Smiling, Elladan answered, “After a lifetime of it, I grew bored of always winning. Besides, we have other ways to entertain ourselves.”

Elrohir smirked as he lay silent for some time, feigning to consider that response thoughtfully. “Quite right,” was his eventual and enthusiastic reply, laying a kiss to the warm skin beneath his lips. “Why don’t you remind me?” he requested, batting dark lashes.

Elladan grinned and rolled them over, pinning his lover to the bed and claiming his mouth with a kiss.

///***///

Aragorn found his foster brothers picnicking in a small glen not far from Rivendell’s western gate.

“Estel!” Elrohir leapt up from his seat on the grassy clearing beside the burbling stream to greet Aragorn with an enthusiastic hug, despite the grime still clinging to him from his journeys through the wilderness. “We did not expect you for another week at least!”

Elladan also rose, gripping his human brother’s wrist and smiling. “Good to see you home again.”

“I am glad to be home,” he admitted. “One of our party—you know young Luinmir?—took an arrow in the side, hence we brought him swiftly hither for your father to see to him.”

“And is the wound serious?” Elrohir asked with concern.

“Nay, he will heal within a moon,” the ranger reassured them.

“Please,” Elrohir offered, reseating himself beside Elladan. “Sit, join us.”

Aragorn nodded. “I thank you,” he said, lowering himself to the ground and reaching for an apple. “Erestor said I might find you here.”

“Indeed,” Elladan began, “Strider returns from the depths of the forest with an injured elf, and rather than seeking a sorely needed bath, hunts instead for his brothers merely gone for a stroll. Is your desire to see us truly so great?”

Aragorn bowed his head. “I admit I was worried not finding you at home. But from what I gather from Erestor, things are greatly changed between you.”

The twins shared a nervous look that the man did not see. “We have talked through a great many things,” Elrohir admitted.

“Well, I can see right off that you are again easy in each other’s company. It is a relief to my heart to see that, no matter the cause,” Aragorn pronounced, and the elves could see the truth in his grey eyes.

“You might say we have come to our senses and not let needless doubts and worries come between us,” Elladan suggested.

“Then I wish I might learn your courage.”

Elrohir grinned, reaching out to grip Aragorn’s shoulder firmly. “You shall,” he promised. “I know it.”

///***///

Elrohir perched at the edge of his brother’s bed, nervously licking his lips as was his habit when upset.

Even more distressed was Elladan, who paced the length of the room parallel to the open balcony, wringing his hands and glaring darkly at the floor.

“We cannot hide from him like children,” Elrohir finally addressed the shadow that lay between them.

“I will not hide,” Elladan affirmed. “But I feel the reality of our situation is coming clear to me.”

Elrohir offered a smile. “Mithrandir can have that effect on people. Myself, I thought father would see all at once. But he has said nothing. Nor Glorfindel, who is like a second father to us. Nor Erestor, who has looked over us since childhood. Nor Arwen, newly returned from Lorien—she has seen no difference. Nor Aragorn, who perceived no queerness between us. Perhaps even the Grey Pilgrim is blind to hidden truths.”

Elladan eventually ceased his incessant traipsing about, turning to face his brother. “I hope you are right.”

------

As Aragorn had suggested, Elrond had newly commissioned a table to be constructed. Perfectly round it was, and huge, and took up most of the main dining room, where guests were seated in no particular order, though Glorfindel had taken his preferred seat at Elrond’s right hand. To the Half-elven lord’s left was Mithrandir, arrived from some distant land for a session of peace and rest at the Last Homely House, where he was always welcome. Beside the humble istari was Arwen, listening—like her father—attentively to Mithrandir’s tales of travel and amusing anecdotes.

Though the twins had attempted to seat themselves among Luinmir and his many sisters on the opposite side of the table and far from Mithrandir, Glorfindel had drawn Elrond’s sons into grudging conversation and they now sat side by side to his right, trying to watch the wizard without being observed themselves.

But when he eventually tired of talking about his own adventures, Mithrandir turned his attention to Elladan and Elrohir. “Well, my boys, what have the two of you been up to since I last visited your father’s house?”

Thankfully, the dinner was considered informal, and the brothers could speak without fear of being scrutinized, with many other conversations going on about the table. Elrohir, of course, spoke first. “Naught of interest, Mithrandir. This winter has been quiet and we have done little but hunt and patrol the borders, though we are planning another sojourn into eastern orc territory with Aragorn our foster brother this coming April.”

“I see you still attend your duties and have not grown idle; that is good. Though I imagine you spend enough time in the library, Elrohir. And you, the stables, Elladan?”

Elladan answered, burying his nerves as he had once buried his heart. “Not as much as we have these last years, though I often find myself dragged into our father’s overlarge collection of history annals when Elrohir believes he has found something of interest. I believe the better part of three months was spent researching the origins of hair-braiding among our brethren, though for what purpose I cannot as yet tell,” Elladan spoke lightly, earning a disapproving glare from Elrond at the mention of his over-stocked records and a sigh from Elrohir at the mock disrespect shown to his research.

Mithrandir only smiled as Arwen giggled at the understated humor of her brother. Glorfindel watched with interest, smiling to himself and picking at his dinner.

To the twins’ right, Erestor watched all in silence.

------

“Well, I believe our sins have gone unnoticed again,” Elrohir sighed, falling back onto Elladan’s bed.

But Elladan stood at his balcony, overlooking the main courtyard as dusk settled upon Rivendell. “I would not be so sure. That old man oftentimes speaks much and says little. And he hears what is unsaid as well as our father, perhaps as well as our mother’s mother.”

Elrohir rolled to his side. “Have you no hope?”

Turning to walk within, Elladan smirked. “You have taught me hope, dear brother,” he said, sitting on the bed and leaning down to kiss Elrohir’s brow. “And I dearly hope that Mithrandir stays no more than a fortnight, and with his knowing gaze focused elsewhere.”

///***///

The brothers jumped apart from their close embrace at the sudden rapping at their door. Elladan swiftly straightened the bedcovers and laid back nonchalantly as Elrohir did up his collar before striding to open the door. “Yes?”

Erestor stood, proud and distant as always, reciting, “Mithrandir departs today.”

“We have not forgotten; we have already said our goodbyes,” Elrohir informed him.

“That may be, but he awaits you both at the gate.”

Elrohir thanked his father’s warden and quickly shut the door, turning to lean back against it, looking fearfully to his brother. “I knew a month was too long. When he spoke to us earlier, I feared the worst… though he said nothing. But now he calls for us. What do you suppose this means?”

Elladan stood without hesitation. “I do not plan to mope about it,” he stated proudly, protesting Elrohir’s edgy mood. “Let us go to him at once.”

------

Elladan and Elrohir walked with matched strides out to meet Mithrandir at the main gate. “Ah, my boys, so glad you could come. Perhaps you will walk an old man down the road a bit.”

“Of course,” Elrohir replied, moving to stand beside the wizard where he was already mounted upon a dull brown horse. Elladan walked beside his brother and the three immortals set off down the meandering road from The Last Homely House west of the mountains.

Once they had gone quite some way, Mithrandir pulled his horse to a stop and turned to face the twins. “Truly, I am glad to find you well. And before I leave, let me say to you: When the time comes to face the consequences of your decisions, I will stand beside you.”

And with that, he turned his horse to the west and galloped off, not awaiting any answer from the stunned sons of Elrond.

///***///

The winter winds had died away and the fresh air of spring wafted in through the open window where Elrohir had again stole into his brother’s room and lay now wrapped in an unconscious embrace. He smiled up at the sight of his sleeping brother and held him close.

Invariably he was the first to wake, and though his brother would rouse as soon as he stirred, neither particularly minded. Elrohir was content to rest in those strong arms, and Elladan did not mind awaking to morning kisses.

Elrohir turned his dark head to look out at the new spring morning, bathing in the light of the rising eastern sun.

Elladan shifted at the movement, but did not wake, and Elrohir lazed half atop his nude form, laying his head against the chest to hear the beating heart.

*THUMP THUMP THUMP*

“Elladan! Elladan, are you awake?”

A surge of fear coursed through Elrohir and before he could even slip out of bed, the door to the room was flung open and Glorfindel burst inside, a cluster of old papers in his hand. “Elladan, I’ve been looking for your brother; you can’t imagine—”

The three elves froze, two pairs of dark eyes staring up at Glorfindel’s shocked blue gaze.

Well aware of what was going through both his brother’s mind and Glorfindel’s, Elladan hugged his brother tighter and met the elder elf’s eyes with an expressionless stare.

Elrohir’s soul-deep pain and fear, however, were all too evident in the shining depths of his eyes, but he managed an even voice. “Glorfindel. I do believe your mother taught you HOW to knock?” he said, even as he cursed himself for taking no mind to the lock.

Standing still in mid-step, as though not moving meant not having to deal with the situation laid out before him, Glorfindel stood flustered, the old documents gripped tight in one hand, the silver doorknob in the other.

“Glorfindel,” Elladan spoke. “You’re letting in a draft.”

Immediately, the fair-haired elf dropped the papers, which fluttered like falling leaves about him to rasp against the tiled floor, and slammed the door shut behind him. He still stared, dazed, at the scene he had walked in upon. “Sorry, I—” But he could not continue. “What… what is this?”

“This is precisely what you cannot fathom,” Elrohir explained.

Glorfindel finally managed to overcome his shock, and he bowed his head, eyes painfully shut, hands pressed flat to the door behind him. He searched for some comforting words to say, but none could be found. “I have a duty to our people and our laws,” he finally explained in a low, dull tone. “Deeper still is my loyalty to you. Yet even greater is my allegiance to your father. I cannot lie to Lord Elrond.”

“Then we will not ask you to,” Elladan assured him. “Go to.”

Glorfindel bowed as he rarely did to acknowledge his dismissal and quickly gathered the loose papers before slipping silently out the door.

Silence reigned in the bedroom.

“Elrohir?”

“Hm?”

“I cannot feel my arms.”

“Oh!” Elrohir jumped away before reaching out to soothe the deep purple bruises he had inflicted on Elladan’s biceps throughout his strained terror. “I am sorry!”

“I know.”

Elrohir continued the massage as he ignored the pricking of tears in his dark, solemn eyes. Elladan still stared at the closed door, quickly thinking through everything that had just happened, and every option that lay before them.

Finally, Elrohir addressed the thoughts in a trembling voice. “Do we wait? Or approach him ourselves?”

Elladan had already reached the decision he knew would have to be made. “Make him come to us while we hide like war criminals? I think not.” Elladan brushed warm lips over Elrohir’s sweating brow. “We have done no wrong.”

Hesitantly removing his hands, breaking the comforting link of touch between them, Elrohir nodded. In despairing quietude, the brothers crept from their bed to quickly dress themselves. Wordlessly, they selected matching traveling clothes from Elladan’s closet and after leaving the room, broke into a run.

------

Glorfindel wiped the tears from his eyes and slowed his pace at the sound of pounding feet behind him. He turned and was surprised to see the law-breakers approach. “Elladan? Elrohir? What are you—”

“We will not shirk our duty,” Elrohir explained.

“We will wait in the anteroom while you report,” Elladan elaborated.

Glorfindel regarded them curiously, but then nodded his acceptance and turned to lead the way to Lord Elrond’s study.

------

Glorfindel grimaced to himself as he knocked firmly on the door. The twins had seated themselves on a nearby bench and watched him with faces expressionless but for pained eyes.

“Come,” he heard through the door, and opened it to glide in as Elrond bid him enter.

The chamber faced west and was poorly lit this time of day, though elves needed no more light to see by, but it seemed rather dreary and depressing to him suddenly as he slowly approached the elder elf. “My Lord,” he said.

Elrond looked upon him, a question ready on his tongue, but at the expression of fear and sorrow and shock on Glorfindel’s face, changed his words, rising as he spoke. “What has happened?” he demanded.

Still stunned, Glorfindel stared in silence a moment before finding his voice. He could not meet Elrond’s black eyes and looked to the tiled floor as he said, “It is your sons, my Lord. They have committed a grievous crime.”

When the fair elf faltered, Elrond managed in his shock, “Well?!”

Glorfindel jumped at the sudden bellow laced with stunned disbelief. He forced himself to continue. “Against the laws of our people, they have known each other—”

Wide-eyed, Elrond stood speechless. “This is a serious accusation, Glorfindel,” he then said, calmly but for the hint of a growl.

“Yes Lord, and they would not lie to me.” He managed to look up and meet the cold gaze burning into him. “Nor to you.”

Elrond considered him a moment, and saw no falsehood there. Only sorrow. “Very well. Find them. Escort them to me hither with all haste.”

Glorfindel stood erect and proudly reported, “They know my duty to you, Lord Elrond, and theirs as well. They only await your call.”

Elrond sighed. He would not even have a moment’s peace to think. “Brave boys, brave sons,” he muttered. “Bring them in.”

------

The twins turned away from the muted conversation within their father’s chamber, turning instead to whisper uncertain words of comfort while they awaited their doom.

It was not long before Glorfindel emerged. He came forward and bowed. “Your father waits upon your convenience.”

“Thank you,” Elrohir tried to say confidently, frightening himself when it came out a breathless murmur.

“We go at once,” Elladan said, his own voice firm and resigned, but still forgiving.

Glorfindel looked at him meaningfully, fair head cocked to the side, before stepping away.

Elladan rose, but Elrohir could not move, and so the elder held out his hand, which the younger nervously gripped. Pulling him up, Elladan led them both to the closed door and firmly tapped it with a sharp knuckle.

Elrond muttered an invitation and the twins entered.

Their father was moving about the room, lighting various candles where they were, filling the chamber with a warm yellow light. At their entrance, he ceased his task, returning to sit behind his great desk.

Hand in hand, the twins approached to stand before him, ignoring the chairs made ready there.

Elrond surveyed them with pained black eyes, an almost lost expression on his ageless face. “Glorfindel has accused you of incest. Is his claim true?”

“Aye,” his sons answered him in unison, their striking images even more amazing for the exact clothing and expressions they wore. And for the first time in over two thousand five hundred years, Elrond found that he could not tell his sons apart.

He only knew when the first spoke which was which. “Yes. It is wrong,” Elrohir acknowledged.

“We have always known this. But I cannot look to Elrohir, the younger, the smarter, the sweeter, in anything other than complete and utter devotion, a love that cannot, should not be.”

“I have lain with Elladan in love and love alone. No one can tell me this is wrong, but I will accept our punishment, I will pay the cost of our crime, as long as it be not that of division. If you part me from Elladan, we will leave you. Punish us, banish us, yes, imprison us for our crime, but do not ask us to part.” Elrohir ignored the well of tears that overflowed in two pearly tracks down his pale cheeks. “That would be greater evil still and the despair you have witnessed in your sons over the years would only overwhelm us entirely.” Elrohir still clutched Elladan’s hand desperately. “I know I could not survive it.”

“Hate us. Damn us,” came Elladan’s voice, low with unnamed emotion. “But divorce us not.”

Elrond looked to his desk, no longer able to bear the weight of his sons’ double stares. It seemed an eternity the three of them stayed fixed, awaiting some sign. But eventually, Elrond stood of his own accord, and came round the desk to stand before the lovers. Tears, too, adorned his paled face and the tenor of his voice wavered with its unrestrained intensity. “I know well the laws of our people. I know too the great love between you; it should have been easy to see. And I would not divorce you for a kingdom, nor banish you, nor punish you.”

The twins shared confused, hopeful glances.

“No, I would never do such a thing.” Elrond moved forward and raising his arms, enfolded them in a tender embrace. “You are my only sons, and I love you still. I will contest the Valar themselves for your sake; I will cast away the laws of our people. In my eyes, you have done no wrong.”

Elladan and Elrohir let loose their tears as they fell into their father’s embrace tightly. Elladan’s sobs were muffled in Elrond’s velvet robe, and he was beyond words, but Elrohir spoke, begging, “Then we do not dishonor you with our ‘thaur mel’?”

“Oh,” Elrond sighed mournfully through his own steady weeping. “How can any love be wrong?”

------

The three Peredhil sat in silence, lazing about Elrond’s study among the many cushioned chairs. “We are agreed then?” Elladan asked.

“Mm, I agree that despite his shock, I do not think Glorfindel is truly surprised. And Erestor, despite is upright ways, would say nothing if I did not disapprove. And you may be right. Perhaps Arwen knows her brothers better than I. You may tell her if you wish.”

“I do not think Erestor should know,” Elrohir again protested quietly from his lounge chair.

“We need not tell him,” Elrond eventually agreed. “All I mean to say is that should he discover you, he will not pursue any course against you without my leave, which he shall never have.”

Elrohir nodded.

Curious, Elrond could not suppress his next question. “Did you bind yourselves?”

“Yes,” Elrohir answered. “Before we…”

Elrond smiled when his younger son trailed off. “Well, that should give me some comfort, I suppose.”

Abruptly, Elladan asked, “Do you think Glorfindel still waits?”

“I instructed him to,” Elrond said, his mind elsewhere.

Elladan and Elrohir shared an amused look. “Then perhaps you should ask him in before he wanders away to spread the news.”

“Hm?”

“He has been out there since before breakfast. It is past noon.”

Coming back to himself, Elrond finally realized that he’d left his servant and dear friend guarding the door and awaiting an edict for over four hours. He jumped at once to his feet and raced to the door, throwing it open with an echoing boom. “Glorfindel!”

In the hall, the fair elf shrieked, leaping to his feet from the bench and clutching at his pounding heart. “I come,” he nervously stated, walking uncertainly to the door.

“Yes thank you,” Elrond said, standing aside to let him pass. “And I apologize; I did not mean to startle you.”

Glorfindel only nodded as he brushed past Elrond and entered the room to see the twins’ amused expressions.

Elrond closed the door and placed his hand to the small of Glorfindel’s back, leading him toward the lounge area. “We have some things to discuss, the four of us, and a request to make…”

Neither elf noticed Erestor’s shadow-swathed form standing still as stone at the end of the long hall.

------

“Are you content?”

“I am,” Elrohir answered where he lay unclothed atop his brother in his bed. “Our father will not betray us. Neither will Glorfindel. Nor Mithrandir. I consider myself not only content but also safe with three such allies. And,” he added with a smirk, “we shall remember to lock doors.”

Elladan lay silent, absently stroking long fingers through black silk hair.

“Elladan… are you content?”

“I am at ease with much and blissful always with you.”

“Yet something still troubles you.”

The elder slowly blinked, their old way of saying yes. “Elrond is a good elf, a good lord. I never thought him one to put himself or his sons above any law.”

“Yet he accepted us without hesitation. No terms, no demands. And you would question him?”

“I would,” Elladan confirmed. “And I will. Tomorrow. I cannot leave this matter to die between us; I must know his reasons, even if it is only his love for us.”

Elrohir considered this carefully. “Do what you will. But I will not accompany you: his word is enough for me.”

“You are too sweet,” Elladan finally smiled, tipping up his brother’s chin and meeting his lips in a slow kiss.

------

Elrond looked up from his reading at the respectful tapping at his study door. “Come.”

Elladan slunk into the room and padded silently to his father’s desk to stand before him there.

“Ah, Elladan, you wished to speak with me,” Elrond acknowledged, setting aside his book and rising from his seat.

“I do. There is something I must know.”

Elrond bowed his head and turned away, long robes trailing behind him as he wandered to the western window where the sun melted into the horizon, blazing intensely across the evening sky. “Then speak.”

Disconcerted at having to face his father’s back, Elladan gathered himself once more and addressed the Half-elven Lord with his concerns, a rare passion and intense curiosity in the normally even voice. Soft and slow and dear were his words. “I have asked myself countless times since I was blessed with a love equal to my own, ‘How can this be? After all we’ve learned in our long lives, about good and evil, right and wrong, how, HOW can he love me?’” Elladan wavered a moment, remembering those early questions before he resumed his plea. “And now I must ask… how can you accept us, you who have seen the fall of kings and kingdoms, the passing of ages, how can you accept this of your own sons?”

Elrond still looked to the uncommon beauty of the sunset, the blue dome split by a multitude of pinks and oranges, reds and purples, and shot through with a golden light. At length, though, he turned away from the sight to meet the dark, expectant gaze of his son, and in that moment, the great age, the wisdom, the suffering of a thousand lifetimes was visible in those shining eyes as he offered his simple answer. “I, too, had a brother.”

= = = = =

 

(But that is another story.)

The End