Everyone in the campsite was sleeping - except for Elrond, and the guard on watch - dreaming under the starlight. He however, was still upset with Thranduil for the stunt he had engineered earlier and could not relax his mind enough to sleep. His frustrations became fantasies as he imagined Thranduil publicly humiliated in return.
An idea came to him that seemed strangely poetic, and the longer he thought about it, the more it obsessed him. He sat up, abandoning sleep. No-one else stirred, some were snoring. He checked his pack - yes, he did everything that he would need with him. He hugged the tiny package of vials to his chest, savouring the knowledge that he was perfectly capable of so revenging himself against the insufferable Elvenking.
He stared up at the moonless sky, its absence from the heavens being the very thing that had caused him such vulnerability earlier. 'But that's a double-edged sword isn't it?' What left one elf vulnerable left all elves vulnerable.
He slipped two vials into his pocket, and stole across the campsite.
Thranduil was soundly asleep, his eyes staring dreamfully at the stars above. For a moment, Elrond just watched him, savouring the power he held over his sleeping tormentor. He didn't have to go through with this, even the first step would be cathartic.
Quietly he positioned himself out of Thranduil's direct line of sight, kneeling so that he could easily reach those star-bound eyes from above his head. The tiny vial now in his hand was a sleeping liquid designed to be administered as eye-drops. Carefully he uncorked it and drew up the thin reed contained within it, using it to stir the glimmering liquid to even potency. The familiar routine calmed him, and with professional dexterity he stoppered the reed and released a single, tiny drop just above the pupil, where it would cause the least noticeable sensation. After a moment, Thranduil blinked, spreading his liquid evenly across the surface of his eye. Elrond smiled to himself, and repeated the action above the other eye. Given the time of night, the Elvenking would oversleep heavily and be almost impossible to wake in the morning. It was a subtle and elegant revenge, and he tried to convince himself that anything more would be too much. But the memory of his humiliation still burned within him, and he wished for Thranduil to experience an equal share in his turn.
The ears of elves were extremely sensitive during the dark phase of the moon, and this had long been a taboo subject, even amongst elves. To engineer a situation where this fact was flaunted in front of mixed company would normally be unthinkable, but these were strange times.
His gut still churned with the memory of his shaming. Thranduil had been trading barbs with the dwarves in their company, and they had drawn Elrond into the rowdy conversation. This had led to Thranduil biting off a little more than he could easily chew, and Elrond might have overstepped the mark a bit in the infectious atmosphere of trading insult for laughs.
The Dúnedain with them were so easy in mixed company, that mimicry had seemed like child's play. Legolas had certainly adapted to their sense of humour, and had quickly become popular with the dwarves and Dúnedain for his dry wit. His father had followed his son's lead, and Elrond had been left the aloof outsider who became the easy victim of their barbs. And Elrond was not used to being the worst at anything.
He wasn't sure whether he had made a specific remark that had irked Thranduil, or if the Elvenking had just got carried away with the everybody-pick-on-elrond theme, but the shadow of satisfaction in those otherwise innocent eyes had claimed credit for the scenario which had yielded the most uproarious laugh of the evening.
Legolas had reacted with naïve and innocent shock, thinking the whole thing an embarrassing accident; an action made in complete innocence of the consequences by the most socially-crippled of the Dúnedain, as the man's expression had suggested. But his father's eyes told a different story. He had manipulated the young Dúnedan into publicly humiliating him. The dwarven drawl of "Well I never knew elves could make that sound." would probably become the punchline of many a joke told in Dwarven halls from this day forward. It had been a closely guarded secret for a reason, but the damage could not be undone. There was more than one embarrassing sound that could be drawn unwillingly from the lips of elves, and as a healer, he knew more than most. If he was doomed to burn evermore in the shame of notoriety, then he would not burn alone.
Most elves did not know how susceptible they were to other influences without the light of the moon to guard them, and Thranduil was about to receive an object lesson in the dangers of the same. The contents of the second vial were slightly thicker, designed to be applied to the skin with the tiny brush inside. Delicately he brushed a tiny amount onto the tips of the Elvenking's ears, and slipped away before the reaction woke anyone else.
Yet, five minutes later, he still heard nothing. Had he miscalculated the minimum amount? He had used the oil sparingly, knowing that the king would not be able to awaken. He crept back, curiosity getting the better of him. His erstwhile tormentor appeared unaffected, save for the pin-pricks his pupils had become and a tension in his jaw. He applied a little more, but nothing much seemed to change, save that the tension became more pronounced.
A hand seized him roughly by the hair from behind, jerking his head back. A fierce whisper in his ear demanded, "What, in the name of dragon-fire, are you DOING to him?"
Inarticulate with surprise and horror at being caught, he said nothing.
"He's burning and he can't wake up!"
The extent of his error hit him then. Not only had the Elvenking bonded with the young Dúnedan he had recruited to humiliate Elrond in front of the group - closely enough to call out for aid through shared dreams - he had trapped the elf in a looping memory of his worst experience.
A hushed snarl demanded, "Fix it!"
Equally quietly but utterly hopelessly, he gasped, "I can't! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"
"Liar!" The hand pushed him to the ground and, feeling he thoroughly deserved such rough treatment, he did not resist. "I'm not lying," he whispered brokenly, "I can't reverse the effects with anything I have with me or can be found locally. I can't help him!"
A light - to the body of an elf - punch to his kidneys emphasised the next words, "I didn't say reverse it, I said fix it!"
"I can't! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." A light scrape caught his attention, and from where he was laying, he locked eyes with Legolas' now animated gaze - the young elf had shifted slightly to loosen his blade in its sheath. Horrified, he pleaded to those eyes, "I didn't mean to hurt him."
"So stop the pain!"
"It won't work. It doesn't work like that, not for us. His hroa isn't what is in pain."
The voice in his ear dripped with contempt, words punctuated by an occasional blow that came nowhere near the pain-threshold, "You think I don't know that? You take me for a fool? You will fix it! Stop trying to wriggle-out of it with your "I'm sorry"s. You made this mess. Now fix it!"
"I only have battlefield vials, nothing more!"
"Since WHEN does a renowned healer need such crutches? You're an elf!"
"I'm not a god!" He protested, wincing in pain. The man had finally settled on literally twisting his arm, efficiently pinning him to the ground for real instead of in token gesture. "I can't fix this!"
"Then you can endure it with him!" and calloused fingers seized the tender flesh of his ear and twisted, hard.
Elrond's screams woke the entire camp, but Legolas stood guard over them, blade drawn. "This is nothing to do with any of you. Stay out of it."
The pain leaked into his soul, and his soul bled. Bled into the fingers of his torturer until he could feel the pain which fueled this violence, until beyond it he could feel the distant sensation of dragonfire melting elven flesh, until he could smell it, until he could hear the screams of the dying.
No joke, however cruel, was worthy of this repayment. Thranduil had endured this once, but now this moment would repeat itself until he could awaken, many hours from now. He might not even be sane by then.
"You can FIX this! You CAN! FIX! THIS!" he heard more in his mind than aloud. His own screams were blending with the rising noise of the camp.
"I don't know how!" he screamed back, aloud and silently. Then he saw the answer in their shared minds, and his blood chilled in horror. His screaming became choked with tears as he begged silently, "I cannot!"
"It would be worse than dying, for all of us!" But the sight of Thiadwen engulfed in dragonfire, screaming away her final breath, was thrust before the eyes of his soul, to be replaced by the compounded image of his own wife in the same position.
"What is death to this? What could possibly be worse than this?" Distantly Thranduil's soul-broken voice pleaded with him, begging him to end this nightmare.
"He must live." The Dúnedan insisted. "You must do this! Only you did this! You must fix it!"
The Elflord broke, tears streaming down his face. He was released, but only physically and mentally. He was now bound by obligation to do something that would corrupt him beyond all hope of reprieve. Celebrían would never see him arrive in Valinor, for he could not face her after this.
Slowly he pushed himself off the ground, resuming his former kneeling position. "Please leave," he requested, loudly enough to be heard by those nearby in the campsite.
"I'm staying," Legolas declared. "Others can leave if they wish."
The Dúnedan stood behind him. A silent pressure of obligation as unmovable as the mountains themselves. "No more time. You MUST begin."
His mind blanked as he leaned over the soul-dying Elvenking. There was no more time. He must begin. With tender care he reached out with both hands and pinched the tips of the stricken elf's ears between thumb and forefinger. Thranduil gasped in sudden real-pain, and Elrond's own ears ached in sympathy. The Elvenking's body shivered in reaction, but he was not aware enough of the physical world to twist away from the painful sensation.
A boot to his backside reminded him to hurry, and he increased the pressure, causing Thranduil to start screaming aloud, his back arching. He felt a soul, not his own, bleed into him through his fingertips, bringing pain with it. Bringing the fire. He dropped into a trance, drawing that soul into his, burning himself from the inside-out, enduring beyond the point where he felt he could not possibly take in anymore, until he felt the bond to the Dúnedan bleed in through his fingers.
Sobbing openly with the pain, he pushed into that bond, like thread into the eye of a needle. Wrapping himself around it and pulling it back into himself. He felt pressure on his back as the Dúnedan sank to his knees in pain and slumped against him. Arms wrapped around his torso from behind, tightening in agony. With this as a guide, the Dúnedan attempted to match his rhythm of breathing to the elf's, as Elrond concentrated on matching his heartrate to the man's, until the sensations of their individual bodies began to blur together.
Then he pressed into the wall between their souls in a place where it was unthinkable to do so, until the divide breached and the base instincts of Mankind bled into his half-blood soul. Goaded on by the pain, he drew upon these mortal, survival instincts and, begging forgiveness, he broke them; twisting them back on themselves until they ruptured, spilling into his soul and corrupting it, spreading like wildfire through him and into Thranduil.
They broke into a place of numbness, gasping in relief, and Elrond fought to keep them there for as long as he could hold off the inevitable fall. Awareness of his surroundings bled in as he fought not to overbalance from that knife-edge. Legolas still stood there, along with two dwarves and another Dúnedan too curious or stubborn for their own good. He vaguely recognised them; the dwarf responsible for the one-liner, the older dwarf who had been bugging him about Elven healing, and Legolas' closest friend as yet among the Dúnedain. "Leave," he begged, "Please. I can't stop the fall forever. It will be worse than before."
"Worse?" the group's gag-artist asked, "Worse than you all squealing like a herd of pigs set on fire?"
"Please, leave now. I can't hold it much-" He partially lost his grip on Thranduil, and the Elvenking's face relaxed into bliss, his pupils widening. "Go!"
But the cliff crumbled beneath him, and they fell into painless fire that burned through their flesh in pleasurable-agony. He did not know which one of them cracked first in the heat, but it wasn't the man behind him. A visceral gasp was torn from him as he ached with pleasure. He breath came in shortening pants, and his mind blurred as the fire consumed him from inside. Parts of him that weren't supposed to react until he chose to beget a child, stirred to life. He released the Elvenking's ears, but the damage was done. They were joined by a twisted soul-bound, and what one felt, from now on, all would feel. Through that sharing, the Dúnedan anchored them into associating fire with pleasure instead of pain. Thranduil's nightmare had been chased away, but Elrond felt the throbbing of Thranduil's ears firsthand, felt the swelling in the Dúnedan's groin firsthand. When the man tried to ease the tightness there by shifting, Thranduil moaned like an creature in rut. That note of unfamiliar pleasure went straight to his own groin, causing him to lose control in turn. The man pulled away, to no avail. Thranduil continued to react, locking into the memory of his son's begetting and dragging Elrond into similar recollections. The man's influence upon them however, perverted these memories into carnal affairs, twisting them into recollections of intense, personal pleasure instead of the transcendent moments they had truly been. Yet, now he came to it, sharing the looping moment that Thranduil was now caught-up in - sightless, dilated pupils staring up at the stars - was preferable to seeing the image of their wives burning to death as they too, writhed in agony. Something brushed against his burning ears and he and Thranduil yelped in unison.
"What's happening to them?" a dwarven voice asked, so changed from its normal tone by strain that he couldn't tell which one.
"They're linked," Legolas deduced.
"They burn together like men burn," his friend observed in turn.
"Wait; you mean like, you know, for women?"
Elrond felt a hand on his arm, but whether he tried to move away or brush it off, he could not escape from it.
"They remember my begetting." Legolas clarified in a strained tone.
"It wasn't like that," the bonded Dúnedan murmured, "Before the fall. My body now leads, because I recall the fires of passion. They had no such idea before. What you see is not your begetting, Legolas. He needs you to know that. That it wasn't like that between them."
Elrond managed to steady his own breathing to speak, "It is desirable, only compared to watching her agony as she burned to death. Yours was a creation, a joining; not a destruction, a parting. I've corrupted that memory forever, in both of us," his voice broke at this, "But he will survive the night."
"Sorry to ask this, but er, you elves are all about, you know, staying pure and such. Are you, er, sure that he er, he wanted to live?"
The bondsman answered, "He must live. Too much is at stake. He must not die."
"Is there anythin' we can do fer them?"
The ranger drawled, "Not unless you've suddenly developed a desire for elf-men."
"Would tha' help at all, or are ye just being an arse?"
"Compared to what? Watching their loved ones being defiled for the next few hours? It must be like watching your wife being raped whilst being the rapist. This is the Fall of Elves. It is whispered in dark corners that orcs were made from elves, but none dare speak of how that might have been done. I believe that this is what they do not want the Enemy to know."
"But, if the Enemy made orcs, don't they know already?"
"Orcs make more orcs. But they do not take prisoners to do so. If they knew, then they would be unstoppable."
"So does that mean that these three here, they are like some, massive security breach?"
"They are Fallen. The Valar will turn their faces from them. The sun will begin to burn them, if nothing can be done before the moon is full once more."
"An how d'yer propose we do tha'? Tha greatest elven healer known lies there, all hot'n bothered over a false memory tha' isn't even hus own in tha firs' place. An' he wus tha one tha' did thus t' 'em enniwei."
"He looks cold."
Elrond was actually shaking with supressed reaction. Making noises only made the experience worse.
"Mebbe we shud jus put em owt of their misery."
"Oi! Now I've heard just about enough outta you. No-one's killing anyone. Including you, elf-boy, so you can stop lookin' at us like we're some kind of bearded goblins."
"So what do you propose, master dwarf? To lie with another male, not even your kind?"
"No-one is touching my father!"
"To touch one is to touch all, as you have already pointed out, young prince. There is no dignity in privacy left to him for you to defend."
"If orcs wer tha wei, then they woudna be so hard t'kill. Thus is all jus pur speculayshun at thus point. Myths an tales, no actual evidence."
"Right, well, right. Er. So we er, we need to know what's real from what's not. Right? Right."
Elrond gasped, flinching away from the sensation of a small hand touching his side. Thranduil whimpered with need, and the bondsman groaned softly in turn.
"If yer gonna be wuth any of em, yer might at least pick the prettiest of em."
"Aside from having the young prince standing right there an lookin' for an excuse to kill somethin', I don't rightly fancy touchin' someone up in their sleep. It jus ain't sportin', if you know what I mean. At least this poor sod can knock me hand away, if it scares him what I'm doin'. Besides, he's got a beauty of his own. Mebbe he didn' have no choice not to help, but he's still the one who stepped up in the end."
All of them, excepting Thranduil, had their eyes closed; partially to watch the stars seen through his eyes which he was concentrating on so fiercely, and partially to avoid triple vision. Their shared-mind didn't want this, but their bodies craved it. The hand returned, and Elrond didn't flinch from it again, allowing them to be touched by the only one willing to do so, in preference to being stuck in the corrupted memory. They had already internally debated the merits of trying once again to send the voyeurs away, but the idea of touching themselves was repulsive to the two elves, and at two to one, they ruled in favour of being passive in their own corruption. Only respect for the united wishes of his Eldars was staying the bondsman's hand at this point. Sheer need was driving them all nuts in a very different way than the pain of burning to death.
As he was curled up in a foetal pose, there wasn't much that the dwarf could do but run a hand down his side, and yet, even this was intensely erotic to them.
"On the one hand," the nervous dwarf continued prattling, "There's absolutely nothin' right about doin' this. On the other, you can't say that they aren't enjoying it, as responsive as they are."
The hand wandered lower, daring to stray onto elven buttocks, and Thranduil twitched uncontrollably, keening softly in need. Elrond was in no better shape, his breathing ragged and heavy with the same need, his body shivering with suppressed movement.
A hand came into sight as Legolas broke rank, crouching to haul his father into a more comforting position, curled up in his embrace, head tucked under his son's chin and his eyelids gently closed. He held his father tightly, helping him to suppress the undignified movements, and they knew gratitude for this even though they had been robbed of the sight of the stars.
Shared-paranoia caused Elrond's eyes to fly open as he jerked away when someone stroked their ear, but no-one was in sight from the position he had hunched himself into. The bondsman opened his own eyes to reassure Thranduil that it wasn't Legolas, only to discover that it was.
"If we are going to do this," the prince offered, we can at least do it properly.
Thranduil wanted to demand how his son knew of any 'proper' way of doing such acts, only to fall silent as a picture of him doing the same thing to his wife was offered up in explanation. A platonic kiss brushed their forehead, "Just for a little while, father. Until you are feeling better."
Guided by such insights, delicate fingers found the nerve cluster easily. Elrond screamed in reaction, twisting onto his back as he writhed in a hopeless attempt to press into the pressure. Thranduil moaned gutterally, unable to do anything about his position.
"So that's how you make him make that sound. Hold up, I want a turn."
Eyes wide open, Elrond stared up at that bearded face in combined horror and need. The dwarf promptly straddled his chest, pinning his arms to his sides and holding him down. Small as they are, dwarves can make themselves very solid and heavy when they have a mind to do so; Elrond would be hard-pressed to buck him off. Small fingers found his ear tip, gently massaging until the writhing moans became a full-blown scream of reaction.
"Aye, ya've got yaself a right squealy pig there laddy." The other dwarf agreed, for Thranduil had only cried out in deeper tones.
Tears of shame filled his eyes at this reminder; he had doomed them all to endless torment by being so upset over his memorable reaction to such stimulus. Within his mind, Thranduil apologised unreservedly for having started all this, which honestly didn't make him feel any better. The dwarf leaned down to whisper to his captive. "You have no idea what that sound does to me," he confided, "I swear to you, it goes straight through me, whether I want it to or not. I'm sorry for teasing you about it earlier," he said gently, wiping away the unshed tears, "I didn't know how to react. I'm the pig for being such a boar about it. It makes my guts ache just thinking about hearing you squeal like that."
Their own body ached in sympathetic resonance with the dwarf's confession, and honestly, Elrond felt a little better. Not much, given the scale of the consequences, but a little.
"But do you know what I really want from you?" the dwarf continued in hushed tones which he quietened even further, "I want to discover what noise you make when you hit your peak."
Both elves whimpered in reaction to this declaration, though for once, Elrond's was the louder voice. The responding look in the dwarf's eyes made them shiver, though not all for quite the same reason.
"Right then," the dwarf continued at normal volume. "Legolas, you take one side, and I'll take the other, and we'll see if we can't put these fine folk out of their misery, eh?"
The explosion of sensation had Elrond writhing and squealing in seconds, and it only got more intense. Soon he broke down, babbling incoherently in elvish, screaming himself hoarse through his tears as he mindlessly bucked and thrashed, unable to unseat the dwarf.
The dwarf looked to Legolas for guidance, but the elf was huddled over his squirming father - eyes closed with tears streaming silently down his face unheeded - and offered no translation. The bondsman's resolution broke next, an experienced hand slipping under his waistband, unable to hold out any longer.
The elves both reacted powerfully to that added sensation. Thranduil was struggling against Legolas now; had he been capable of waking up he would have injured both of them before registering that he was awake. Elrond was shouting in his effort to remain sane, but it was a losing battle as both physical and mental tension ricocheted between the three. He pleaded helplessly - all languages but his mother tongue lost to him - to anyone who could hear him, begging for release from this, promising everything and anything he could think of in return for intervention, offering up his immortal soul for this to be over, for it never to have happened. His eyes closed as the tidal wave of peak hit, screaming wordlessly in the final moment for Darkness itself to take it all back...
And awoke in darkness, tears choking him awake, thrashing clear of the sheets which had tangled around him; rushing to ground himself in the clarity of the now before those rushing footsteps reached him.
"My Lord Elrond ... are you alright?"
"Just a nightmare." he insisted, though he might be trying to convince himself more of that than anyone else.
Lindir was skeptical; elves do not have nightmares, but his lord was technically half-man, so maybe. Yet if he was susceptible to such things, why had he reached such a great age before having his first ever nightmare? "Are you unwell, my lord?"
He certainly felt unwell. He pulled his sheets around him, chilled as if the very Light of the Eldar was leaking out of him.
"I'll fetch you some tea."
Alone, he considered the possibilities, finding no comfort in any of them. He had never prayed before in his life, but he did so now; almost silently, but continually, until Lindir returned. And he did not send him away, even when the young elf dozed off near dawn.
It might have been the first time, but it was not the last. Thankfully he never had the same one twice, and some he could speak reasonably openly of to select individuals, but they kept coming.
Sometimes his body felt things he knew it should not, especially near the new moon. Sometimes he was afraid to go to sleep, as if he might become trapped there. Sometimes he awoke to find himself in poses that made him glad that he slept alone these days. Even his deliberately sought foresights grew dark and worrisome with increasing frequency.
Life just did not seem to promise joy anymore.