Actions

Work Header

a fact or a weapon

Work Text:

You’re setting the final polish to a Ring at your workbench – it’s only a lesser work, as these things go, but you’re still proud of the theory it proves; and you catch yourself smiling at how easily you think of it as lesser, now – when Annatar rests a hand on your shoulder, leaning in to watch you work.

“Is it adequate to your standards, then?” you ask, raising an eyebrow.

“I thought better of you than that to be content with adequacy, Tyelperinquar,” Annatar says, with a faint smile; but he’s already reaching out, attention clearly caught. “May I - ?”

You let him take your hand in his, and he raises it to inspect the Ring more closely; his expression slightly abstract in the way that makes you suspect him of using senses other than vision. The light from the window picks out the tools still set out upon your workbench; the loose strands of hair that fall across Annatar’s cheekbone as he focuses on your work.

“Interesting,” he says, at last. “The resonance is clearly – “

When he glances up at you, his eyes are intent, close enough that you can see the striation of the iris as the pupils contract, bright gold against darkness. You watch him as he speaks, his touch firm and unmoving against your skin.

You might have found it unnerving, once.

“Annatar,” you say.

He pauses. You turn your hand, pressing the Ring between your palm and his, and link your fingers together; meet his gaze.

“Tyelpe – “

And –

You can’t help smiling, seeing him respond almost despite himself, expression warming; feel his own grasp tightening against yours, the elegant long fingers and the sense of controlled strength.

“What we have made together,” you say, still looking at him, “is all the best of my work. And yours, I think.”

Hesitation. He – starts to draw back from you; and you close your hand more firmly over his in response, moving closer. You can see something like uncertainty in his face.

“Well?” you ask. You stand near enough that you are already almost touching; you raise your other hand from the workbench to lightly touch his wrist, and he – closes his eyes, for a moment, the lashes dipping.

“You continue to defy my expectations, Tyelperinquar,” he says, half-smiling, a little rueful. “Yes. Alright. So what next?”

You lift his hand to your mouth, and, carefully, press a kiss against the back; watching his smile widen, surprised and fond and helplessly pleased.

***

You shove the door closed behind you, almost absently, as Annatar gives you an impatient look. It’s not as if you haven’t spent the evening in your rooms with him enough times before – working through a design; arguing language or philosophy or mathematics, or the half-serious combinations of all three that Annatar has a way of coming up with; sometimes purely to be contrary, you think.

You can’t help noticing, in the familiar surroundings, the slight flush that stands in his cheeks as he leans against your desk, watching you intently despite his seemingly casual stance.

“Yes, but,” you say, picking up the argument you’d somehow started out in the corridor, “are you going to argue with the results? You like Eregion.”

“It’s simply that if you’re going to be effective,” Annatar retorts, “you need to think at a larger scale, Tyelperinquar. Your people have hardly seen any of the East – or, well, I suppose there are still Avari living there, but – “

“Weren’t you telling me just the other day that the real problem with mortals is impatience?” you point out. You glance across the room; drop a stack of sketchbooks on top of a box of uncut gemstones, to let you shift a half-dismantled miniature orrery onto your desk from the couch. “If we can get things right here first – “

“A failure of ambition at the outset can hardly lead to great results at the end; it’s not at all the same thing – “

“I don’t think you’ll be satisfied until you’ve arranged the whole of Middle-earth to your liking,” you say, and Annatar smiles at you, eyes narrowing in pleasure.

“No,” he says, fondly, “and neither will you, Tyelperinquar. Don’t pretend to a humility you don’t believe in.”

You make a face at him, and he laughs, reaching out from where he stands beside you to run a hand through your hair, stroking it back from your temple; so that you – shiver, suddenly caught by – by –

Annatar pauses, an expression of analytical interest passing over his face, and then repeats the gesture; and you tilt your head into the touch, eyes involuntarily closing for a moment.

When you glance up at him again, Annatar is watching you intensely, and you lick your lips against the sudden dryness of your mouth.

“Annatar – “ you start.

He steps in closer to you; touches your face.

“You were speaking,” he says, “about ambition. And satisfaction, Tyelperinquar.”

“Do you think the one precludes the other, then?” you say, shakily.

“I should hope not,” Annatar says, mouth curving upwards; and you lean in to kiss him.

It’s –

You step in to wrap an arm around him, pulling him closer; feeling him sway into your touch. You can’t seem to stop smiling, delight running through you – the solid warmth of him under your hands –

Annatar pulls back, for a moment, a hand at your jaw to still you; and looks at you with obvious affection.

“Is this what you want, then, Tyelperinquar?” he asks.

“Do you want to make me say it?” you ask, half-laughing in turn. “Yes. Annatar. I want you. How many times would you like to hear it?”

He gives a hum of pleasure, pressing close to you, sliding a hand down your back.

“I’ll let you know,” he says, satisfaction still resonating all through his voice, “if it becomes tiresome. Come here, Tyelpe.”

When you kiss him again he fists a hand into your hair; teases your mouth open, tilting his head to deepen the kiss, until you shudder, needing more. You half-stumble onto the couch together, almost falling as he tugs you down, impatient; you’re almost in his lap when you have to stop and gasp, a little overwhelmed.

“Are you – “

He strokes a hand through your hair once more, tender, and you lean your forehead against his shoulder.

“Are you,” you try again, a little muffled, “cheating – “ and you feel him laugh as much as hear it.

“You did realise that you’d settled on one of the Ainur, my Tyelperinquar – “

You consider.

“I think,” you say, “this suggests certain lines of experimental enquiry into the similarities between hröa and fana, if not also the relationship of the indwelling spirit with each – “

He laughs again, and you turn your head to take his earlobe between your teeth, working your tongue around his jewellery; smiling to yourself as you hear the intake of his breath, leaning against him to feel his chest against yours. He slides a hand over your hip in retaliation, then reaches further, until you have to stop again, all at once, pressing urgently into his touch.

Annatar – “

“Tyelpe – here, now, go on, it’s alright – “

You push forward into his hand, as he strokes you gently – you can’t stop being amazed all over again by how good it is, to have him touch you this way, to be able to touch him in turn – and then, with considerable effort, make yourself draw back enough to tug at his robe, undoing the fastenings without looking as you press your mouth to his throat.

He makes a – almost a surprised noise, and you grin to yourself, then reach down, slow and careful, until he hisses with impatience and pulls you against him, shifting position so that you can rock your hips against his, his thigh pressing against yours. You kiss him, open-mouthed, heat and the faint taste of metal, wanting to – to –

When you meet his eyes you can –

It’s not new, to know him. You already know him so well; it seems only natural, to have so much pass between you without speech, to have such shared understanding.

You’ve already been so much to each other. You want to know everything.

Tyelperinquar,” Annatar croons, and you can hear – no, you can feel – how much he wants you, the hungry blaze of it. That focus all on you.

He reaches up to cup your face in his hands, pupils gone wide and dark, the heat of his body against your own. You could lose yourself in him.

You can. You don’t have to hold back.

“Yes,” you say, “Annatar, yes, I’m yours – “

He pulls you close; and you press yourself closer, kissing him again and again. Brightness flares behind your eyes.

***

You shift, letting Annatar stroke a hand down from the base of your skull, arching a little into the sensation. A hum of contentment seems to run all through you – or him, the both of you. It hardly seems to matter.

When you touch him you can feel its echo in your own flesh. He runs fingers through your hair in turn, the braids all undone, and one of you smiles, feeling the strange solidity of muscle and bone – it warms you, the steady imperturbable flow of breath and heartbeat; and you kiss his jaw, affectionate.

“Is that you?” you find yourself asking, after a while.

“Hm?”

You stretch; resettle against him. You can feel him studying you, each half-formed thought or flash of associative memory gently touched and considered; turned over again with new fascination – oh, so this is what you

It’s – not unpleasant, although you rather doubt whether your thoughts are capable of bearing much in the way of intellectual scrutiny, at present. You catch Annatar’s amusement, at that – fascination, at how different the tenor of your mind is from his own; an almost reluctant acknowledgement of how pleasant it is, to do nothing more than lie curled drowsily around you, knowing that you’re finally his.

“Well,” you say, failing to hide another smile, “there’s a certain degree of reciprocal obligation, as I understand.”

A tender bite at your shoulder, only just enough for you to feel the teeth.

“Don’t worry, Tyelpe,” Annatar says, lazily, “I do take good care of my things, you know.”

“You’re very lucky I love you,” you say, amused in turn, “or I’d never let you get away with that.”

The statement sends a sharp flash of happiness through you both, and you lean over to kiss him again, successfully distracting each of you for a while. There’s still so much new to learn about each other; and yet you can hardly imagine that familiarity would lessen any of what you feel.

Echoed agreement. Annatar does, after all, understand permanence. The nature of your spirit a known and studied thing – for all that you are unique, Tyelperinquar – and yet so endlessly interesting in its otherness –

You’re not sure if – eventually – you sleep. One of you, perhaps. Your dreams are all fire, and a ceaseless watching flicker, on and on.

***

Galadriel raises an eyebrow, with considerable eloquence. You grin back.

Really, Celebrimbor?”

“I suppose we could be counterfeiting marriage somehow,” you say, cheerfully, “although I can’t actually think of any method to do so, offhand. Speaking as your cousin, I didn’t think you’d particularly want proof, but – “

She makes an irritated noise, trying not to smile. The silver-gold of her hair shines pale in the morning sun, as she tends a fruit-tree with a bottle of greenish, sharp-scented water – you might ask, on another day, but trying to sidetrack your cousin is rarely effective; and you don’t want to avoid the issue, anyway.

“Look,” she says, after a while, “taking as read the extremely obvious points I could be making about your appalling lack of taste – no, alright, I won’t start – “

“I’ve never much understood what you see in Celeborn, to be honest,” you note, helpfully. “I mean, I suppose he’s unobjectionable, most of the time, but – really, cousin?”

She snorts at you. You raise an eyebrow of your own, in turn.

“Oh, alright, I suppose I deserved that,” she says, not very sincerely. “Well, congratulations – may the One bless and guide your path, and so forth; am I getting that right?” She smiles, for a moment, reaching over to press a hand against your shoulder; and you beam back. “Only, Celebrimbor – “

She hesitates. A cobweb behind her glitters with dew, each strand of its design weighed down with light.

Odd, to remember that you’re more or less the same age, really. You’ve always thought of Galadriel as an elder kinswoman, but a century or so hardly seems much of a difference, not after all you’ve both lived through.

“Yes?” you ask, curious.

“You – do know how long I spent in Doriath.”

“We’re hardly Melian and Thingol, if that’s what you mean,” you say, half-smiling. It’s not an unflattering comparison, or not coming from Galadriel, but – well. There are altogether too many aspects of the past that you’d prefer not to repeat.

“Yes,” she says, still hesitant. “But – do be careful, cousin, anyway. Melian was my friend, but – “

You’d think she could try to trust your judgment, occasionally.

“I think I can do a little better than Thingol,” you say, with some asperity. “Silmarils being in shorter supply than ever, these days. But I’ll remember your concern.”

***

You turn the uncut sapphire over in your hand, thinking about the best uses for it – you half-imagine being able to feel how it came to you, metal and rock and a long, slow refinement in fire deep below the earth, the restless heat at last turning outwards to the green, rain-washed surface of the world, with its layered seas and clouds.

Annatar makes a slight, almost startled noise; but when you glance across at him he smiles at you, chin propped on his hands, and hooks an ankle companionably around your own. You beam back.

“The difficulty, I suppose,” he says, thoughtful, “is to go from bringing out what already lies within the raw material, to making something new from it. I’d like to think we can achieve a little more than merely refining what’s been there since the beginning.”

“It’s certainly true,” you say, dropping the gemstone back to the table, “that I’d like more than simply to recreate what’s already been done. A fairly cursory look at the past suggests it can’t be that difficult to improve on in some respects, after all.”

Annatar grins at you in turn, a sharp flash of teeth.

“I can’t say I disagree. I do like your ideas, Tyelperinquar.”

You skim the jewel across your papers with a finger, absently noting the coloured reflections it throws out; the rough sparkle of the surface. Opposite you, Annatar tilts his head to one side, studiedly casual, hair falling around his face – almost enough for you to miss the sharp inquisitive workings of his mind behind it.

When you talk about improving on the past, it catches at something in his thoughts – older than you, strange enough that you can barely reach towards comprehension –

“Oh, come on,” you say, abruptly.

“Tyelpe?”

“Do you really start thinking about improving on Eru Ilúvatar,” you say, “whenever someone mentions – “

“Well, you said it yourself,” Annatar says, putting on a wide-eyed expression. “Considering the overall condition of the world, it doesn’t seem an especially difficult prospect – “ and you put your head on the table and start laughing, despite yourself.

***

Everything seems so easy, now.

You wrap an arm around Annatar and lean against him, curious, as he works carefully with pliers and an engraving tool – you’ve tried other designs, some more seriously than others; but you keep coming back to the ring-form to hold the power you need.

Watching him, you can see – how readily the metal follows the flow of his thought, even the smallest parts of it drawn to dance through its patterns – and yet –

You make a suggestion.

Matter falls into alignment. Cycle; repeat, reaching out absently to rearrange the system of mirrors and lenses around the workbench to channel the light as needed, the metal shining more brightly even as it takes up the illumination, draws it into itself. Annatar, working with the quick precision you have always struggled to match, adding detail to the design even as you consider and – but why not try that

Dimly, you have the feeling of time passing outside yourself. At some point, the sun through the skylight is replaced by the cold light of the lamps; but you can use that, too.

Sun, again.

The metal blazes.

You rest your weight against the worksurface, feeling suddenly conscious of the dryness of your mouth; the unsteadiness of your limbs, shaky from overexertion. Annatar, glancing up at you in concern, reaching over to rest a hand against your forehead.

“Here,” one of your fellow-smiths says, leaning over to hand you a glass of ice-water – was she there, earlier? Annatar makes an acknowledging noise and takes it from her, raising it to your lips for you to drink.

At some point, you seem to have attracted an audience. People gather round, questions starting to rise – in all honesty, you’re not entirely sure of everything you’ve done. But –

Annatar raises a hand, smiling, casually scooping up the Ring, promising answers – later, later; accepting admiration as readily as always. Links a hand around your wrist.

“Honestly, Tyelperinquar,” he complains, “you have to tell me if you need – food, or rest, or whatever tiresome physical requirements you happen to be susceptible to at any particular moment – “

You can see the pleasure in his eyes, though, as he turns the Ring over in fascination; and his touch against you is very gentle, as he strokes your hair and kisses your temple, drawing you away.

***

“Well, it’s all energy, really,” you say, drowsily. “I don’t know why light shouldn’t transmute to almost anything else, now I think about it.”

Annatar hums, thoughtfully, still turning the Ring over in his hand; occasionally slipping it on to try the feel of it. You can sense the power of it, when he does, his own spirit brought to a sudden gleaming focus around you, keen as a knife.

“A useful resource, certainly. And your kind seem to be particularly inclined to work with it – there’s a reason, I suppose, that the Eldar seem to fixate so on starlight and Treelight.”

“Not exactly the same thing,” you note, and yawn, tipping your head against his shoulder. Annatar glances down at you; gives you a fond look, combing fingers through your hair. Hums again, softly – you can barely feel the resonance in his chest – but with a note of Song in it, soothing and affectionate; if not quite healing, on its own.

You’re halfway asleep, feeling warm and cared-for, when someone raps out a knock against the door and you sit up against the headboard, suddenly awake. Annatar’s sharp annoyance echoes through you –

Celebrimbor,” Galadriel calls, “are you there?”

“Come in,” you call back, as Annatar frowns at you. You’re still tired, but – whatever it is between Annatar and your cousin, if Galadriel has something she felt the need to disturb you for, you want to hear it.

She sweeps in, hair braided up to look like the crown she was named for; spares a moment to exchange glares with Annatar before crossing to you and setting a hand to your forehead. You try to look reassuring.

“Well,” she says, after a moment, “at least you don’t seem to have done anything you won’t recover from. What was that?”

“What do you mean?” you ask, curious. It’s not hard to guess, but –

Her gaze falls to the ring Annatar slid on again as she entered, ignoring Annatar’s cold stare.

“I could feel that halfway across the city,” Galadriel says, after a moment. “I suppose it’s too much to ask for him to have any restraint, but you do realise how badly you could have injured yourself – “

“I suppose,” Annatar says – and still so intertwined with him, you can feel the chill of his anger – “it would be too much to ask for you to realise anyone else might actually know what they’re doing, particularly in a field you have neither interest nor competence in – “

Galadriel bristles.

“I’d prefer,” she says, icily, “to think you simply failed to understand the risks, but if you’d rather tell me you really have such little regard for my cousin’s welfare, then by all means, do insist that was deliberate.“

Annatar’s fingers close on your shoulder, gripping almost painfully.

“Oh, but do tell me about your own selfless concern,” he says, his tone pleasant. “I’m sure that’s what it is – “

That focus is –

Not on you, but all around you, knife-sharp, until the air seems to bleed with it; coiled and tense as if about to strike –

Annatar,” you say, suddenly angry yourself, sitting up and trying to shake off his hand. “Stop that. And – “ You glance at Galadriel. “Cousin, I’m sorry to have worried you, but would you believe I’m not actually fifty anymore; consider the possibility that I am capable of making my own decisions.”

Galadriel – flushes, high across her cheekbones.

“Oh, are you,” she says. “Then I wish you joy of your choices, cousin. I look forward to picking up the pieces afterwards – that’s the usual pattern with our family, isn’t it? But don’t tell me you weren’t warned.”

She turns in a swirl of embroidered silks before you can manage a response, slamming the door closed behind her, leaving you – shocked isn’t quite the right word –

“Well,” Annatar says, looking after her. “She does like feeling superior, doesn’t she? I suppose she had to notice at some point – “

You shove him away from you.

“Oh, and you’re so different?” you snap. “You started that, Annatar – I am so tired of you two fighting over me, as if – “

You pause, taking a breath, your eyes stinging. You didn’t – expect

Tyelpe,” Annatar says, at once all startled sympathy; and you can feel him reaching inwards to find whatever’s upset you, following the chain of memory back, into a past you thought you’d left behind you, moments you never expected anyone else to see.

You –

“Get out,” you say, flatly.

“Tyelperinquar – ” Annatar starts, soothing, putting a hand out to stroke your hair; and you knock the gesture away.

Out,” you say. “You’ve still got your own rooms, haven’t you? I didn’t – stop that – “

A moment’s confusion. You are in Eregion, Annatar watching you in concern; you are a thousand years ago and a lost continent away, lamplight touching carven walls, as you watch events unfold in helpless misery; you are trying to look through your own eyes, wanting to understand, odd flickers of recognition at Finrod, fierce and betrayed, and Lúthien’s stormcloud hair –

You make a noise.

Annatar pulls you against his shoulder, and you let him, turning your face into his neck and shaking, hurt and afraid. He puts his arms around you, drawing you closer, tucking your head under his chin; and you feel the way he coils around you, intense and protective.

“Here,” he soothes, “Tyelpe, shhh, it’s alright. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – here, now, it’s alright – “

You shudder, and he kisses your hair; hums low in his throat, rubbing a hand against your back. You want to be comforted, as much as he wants to comfort you, and you lean into him, aching, letting him warm you through.

It doesn’t stop. You can still feel him watching you, inexorable, even when you close your eyes, trying to end the restless unhappy progression of your thoughts, and fall at length into exhausted sleep.

***

You hammer out metal in the forge until you can barely think.

It’s rote work, taking scarcely a fraction of your skill, but – the physical effort it takes is familiar, for centuries on centuries, the heat and the ringing blows of metal upon metal; concentration that draws you back down into your body, breath and muscle and the hammer like an extension of your hand.

Late in the day, pausing to drink water and wipe your face, you brush your fingers against your hair where Annatar braided it up for you that morning, and fight down unreasoning distress; feel his attention sharpen upon you for a moment, until you turn back to your work. Until you are so tired that you can almost stop feeling anything at all.

It had been – oddly easy, to find a way to avoid him. You have the sense that you are being allowed it.

But – in the back of your mind, in the quiet place where you are almost unobserved –

You trust Annatar. Of course you do.

You can’t work with someone the way you have with him and not come to know them, too closely to question. If you doubted him once – it feels distant, as if it were far more than a bare few centuries ago, to remember a time when he was only a stranger at your gates. One of Aulë’s Maiar – and Annatar had more than proven that, craft and skill and a fierce intelligence that you had to strive to match; a challenge to meet, a friend whose hand is in all your works, now.

It would be so – pointless, after all of that, to worry about Annatar’s past. Wasn’t there enough that you – you think back to the memories called up yesterday, and wish for a moment, bitterly, that you could at least have done something more. How stupidly you had watched things unfold, and done nothing more than feel wretched about it, when there were a thousand ways you could have intervened –

Even Galadriel had left enough blood staining the docks at Alqualondë, in the darkness and terror of that first night you ever knew, when kin turned against kin.

But you –

You breathe, carefully. Lose yourself in motion, physicality, until you no longer feel strongly enough for the memories to touch you; until you feel Annatar turn back to his own work, only a thread of attention left with you.

You can’t seem to disentangle yourself. And it’s – you wanted

***

That evening, you let him press you back against the sheets, his mouth hot against your throat as he holds you carefully – so carefully, a hand circling your wrist –

You knot your fingers into his hair; close your eyes as you kiss him, breaking off only to gasp for breath, pulling him against you like an apology. You don’t know why you’re upset, so he doesn’t, either; it echoes between you, until your eyes sting again, even as he pants into your shoulder and you shudder with the pleasure of it, your name on his lips, feeling as if you might shake apart at each touch.

***

Your cousin’s receiving room is marble and glass, windows open so that the breeze comes in, scented with the clean wet greenery of the garden outside. You study the patterned floor, coloured stone in a spiralling design you planned out when you first came with Galadriel to Eregion, set here and there with golden flowers.

Galadriel herself stabs at the embroidery in her lap, tugging at her needle with unusual vehemence, folds of pale silken fabric spilling down from the sewing-hoop she holds as she bites her lip.

“I wanted – “ you try; and then pause as she looks up, her eyes fierce, the keen silver of the Noldor beneath her bright hair.

“Cousin – “ she starts, and then bites at her lip again. You tug restlessly at the hem of your sleeve, feeling the emptiness of your hands.

Galadriel had never trusted Annatar, and you still don’t think she has good reason for it; you’ve always thought them simply too strong-willed for each other, neither of them willing to just let things go, for all each would protest otherwise. But –

Be careful, she’d said –

“I’m sorry for snapping at you,” you say, uncomfortably, meeting her gaze. “Only – I wanted to ask what you meant, when you told me – “

Oh,” Galadriel says, dropping her embroidery to one side, her face crumpling. “Oh – I didn’t – I’m sorry, Tyelpe, I shouldn’t have – “

She stands and crosses the room to take your hands in hers, as you blink, taken aback, too startled to speak.

“It’s so easy, to keep coming back to family between us, isn’t it?” she says, and you realise abruptly what she is thinking of. “I can – it’s like knowing I have the winning card, to play at any time; but it’s not fair of me at all, to use your feelings that way. I’m sorry, Tyelpe. I wish I hadn’t said it.”

“I – “ you say. “It’s – alright. Truly. I – cousin – “

She clasps your hands more tightly; gives you an unhappy smile.

“It isn’t, really,” she says. “But thank you, all the same. I’m – “

She hesitates, while you try to gather yourself.

“I suppose I ought to stop allowing your husband to bait me,” she adds, rueful. “I hate admitting he had any sort of point, but – well, it’s been long enough, hasn’t it? I’ve liked thinking of you as my little cousin, but that was a long time ago; I should trust you to know what you’re doing.”

She leans over to kiss your forehead, a brief brush of lips.

“Anyway,” she says, mouth twisting upwards, “I’d like to see Annatar’s face if I start calling him kinsman, wouldn’t you? I’m glad he makes you happy, Tyelpe. I’ll try harder to trust – both of you.”

***

You find him in your rooms, standing in the light – jewels glittering on his hands and in his hair; holding up the Ring you made, all bright gold, the sun catching the elegance of his features.

“Tyelperinquar,” he says, his tone neutral.

You take a step, and hesitate, setting your hand against the edge of your desk, feeling the grain of the wood under your fingers.

“Annatar,” you say. “Are you – can we talk?”

He glances at you, sidelong, expression cool.

“I rather thought you’d already spoken to your cousin,” he says, pleasantly. “Or is there anyone else you’d like to air your doubts about me to? I’m sure if you’d like to invite, oh, Elrond Half-elven over to talk some more about his bad feelings you’d find him amenable. I thought we were past this, Tyelperinquar, but apparently you’d rather confide in anyone but me.”

You wince, a little.

“I know,” you say. “I’m sorry. I’ve been going about this all wrong.”

Another flickering glance; but he sets down the Ring, his hands stilling.

“Annatar – “ you say, and step across to him, closing the distance between you, reaching out to him. When you put a hand up to cup his jaw he – relaxes, a little, into the touch.

If you weren’t – but you did hurt him, too. You lean against him, breathing in, and – despite everything, it does help you feel better, feeling the tension unwind slowly between you, until he closes his eyes, raising a hand to interlace his fingers with yours.

You kiss him. Then –

“Annatar,” you say, calmly, “I have to know.”

His eyes snap open. But you are already reaching past –

***

A brief confusion of perspective.

Your lover is inclined to object; and he is, after all, stronger than you are. More practiced, communion of thought coming more naturally to him than speech – a brief, dizzying memory, tearing at your comprehension, unspeakable, wordless, something that is not music, metaphor failing –

And yet he is, in the end, already yours –

***

You stagger back, almost falling, scrabbling for purchase against the wall.

“Tyelperinquar,” Annatar is saying, in some annoyance, “really, you could have asked – “ and you bark out a laugh, horrified, your hands shaking.

Asked? I – “ Your throat closes; you cough, wetly, trying to speak. “I – when were you going to tell me – “

He looks at you. Then, more gently, sighs.

“Tyelpe,” he says, “How old do you think I am? Of course I can’t tell you everything at once – here, now, you’re getting overwrought – “

You dig your fingernails into your palms, trying to focus. It isn’t –

At the back of your mind, you can feel your thoughts sliding into alignment, connections snapping into place. Annatar, coming to you – gifts and knowledge and power – and you have been so stupid

“What were you planning to do with us?” you ask.

“Tyelpe?”

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean,” you snarl. “What were – you’ve been using us – me – “ You can’t keep the waver from your voice, and you raise a hand to your mouth, fingers at your lips, trembling. You have given yourself to him. Everywhere he touched you –

A flicker of hurt.

“As you used me, to help with all your projects?” Annatar says, frowning. “I did think there was some level of mutuality, Tyelperinquar – the best of all my work, isn’t that what you said? It’s not as if I didn’t tell you what I wanted – “

You sob out loud, once, before you can swallow it down, and he stops abruptly, looking at you again.

He doesn’t even understand. You can still feel him prying at your thoughts, trying to pull comprehension from you as if there were some answer you were hiding from him; as if you were a problem to be solved, an equation waiting for its variables to fall into place –

“You were never as successful as you like to pretend, do you know that?” you say, voice unsteady. “Of course I knew you – you – as if the Valar would send someone to help us – you don’t lie as well as you think, Annatar. I only thought that – I suppose I was stupid enough to think I could trust you anyway – “

“Tyelperinquar – “

Do you know what you have done,” you say. “Do you really think that – do you think I could love the – the abhorred one, misshaper, torturer, the Enemy’s right hand – “

You pause, chest heaving, panting as you try to breathe past the constriction of your throat. You can feel the knowledge welling up inside you, each calculated cruelty, the War all seen from the other side –

A moment’s stillness.

“Oh, but Tyelpe,” Annatar says, gently, his mouth curving upwards. “What did you think I wanted from you? Last and least of your kindred – and yet you still manage to disappoint me. I was too generous, I suppose – “

He smiles at you, eyes all hot gold, and you –

“You can’t lie to me,” you say, wretchedly. “Do you not understand.”

“I suppose it’s been amusing,” Annatar says, lightly. He smiles, again. “A pleasant diversion, at least. Is that what you want to hear, Tyelperinquar? You were so eager to offer yourself to me; I wouldn’t want you to think it had gone unappreciated.”

When you laugh at him – choked, hardly recognisable as laughter – he recoils with a snarl, eyes narrowing. Your head aches, vision blurring as he rifles through memory and emotions already in turmoil. You are not reacting as expected, and it angers him, searing you.

You laugh again. It turns, halfway through, into a sob, and you put your hands to your face, trying to force it down enough to speak.

“Beloved,” you say, and he freezes, staring at you. “I know you. You’re – you’re mine – it doesn’t matter. I can’t stop.”

You keep crying, raggedly, wiping at your face. He still doesn’t move.

How could you,” you say at last, raw, and he snarls at you again, starting to step towards you and then pacing back, all taut interrupted motion.

“What do you want from me, Tyelperinquar?” he snaps, furious. “What is your – what are you objecting to, do you have any sort of sensible point – “

“Annatar,” you say, miserably, “that’s not how it works.”

“You are not explaining,” he tells you, teeth bared. The pressure in your thoughts worsens, raking at you, and you shudder.

But when you put out a hand to him, he comes to you; and you let him hold you, for a moment, hands at your shoulders as he examines you, gaze sweeping up and down your body, as if he could take from your flesh the answers he can’t force from your mind.

Then you shove him back.

You have only the advantage of surprise, and very little of it; but you let the anger and pain and longing and grief rise up inside you and show them to him, all at once, in a confusion he can no more sort through than you can, and his eyes widen. You are so tired of him picking through your thoughts, pulling out what he chooses to see – and that hurts, too –

You stumble down together, scraping your knee against the floor, and the pain makes him wince. “Sauron,” you say, hissing the name at him. You splay your memories out for him, every atrocity of the War, and the captives who made their way back from Tol-in-Gaurhoth twisted and scarred – who looked in horror at their own limbs, at yours, something broken and wrong behind their eyes –

Stop that,” he snarls at you. “That wasn’t you, Tyelperinquar!”

“It could have been me! It could have been anyone – “

Hypotheticals,” he snaps, and you clench your hand in his hair and show him –

An odd, doubled memory, emotions a chaotic tangle, your own grief and guilt and his cold amusement, interest kindled at the near-challenge, the bright Elven-king fallen before the throne he set up for himself. You have almost the whole story between you, and the clash of emotion is agonising – you had never wanted to see Finrod like that, you had never imagined – and his regret at nothing but defeat.

You bare your own teeth at him in revulsion, and he hisses, starting to twist away from you. You can’t hold him against his will, not really, but you lean your weight against his chest and hold on to him, and the pain in your wrists makes him flinch again as he grasps too hard, trying to push you back.

“No you don’t,” you snarl. “Is that what you do, whenever someone tries to make you face actual consequences? How long are you going to keep running away?”

He tenses at the challenge, glaring at you.

“What do you want, then, Tyelperinquar?” he snaps again. “What are you trying to get out of this – “

You’re crying again, hot with anger.

“I love you,” you say. “How could you do this to me? How could you turn out to be this?”

He raises his chin, still glaring, all pride – and then flinches, at the surge of memory it evokes from you, looking at you with real unhappiness, his hands going slack against your grip.

“Then give me something to do, Tyelperinquar,” he says, at last. “Tyelpe. Please. Let me fix this for you – “

“You can’t,” you say, despairing, and lean down to rest your head against his shoulder, shutting your eyes against your own tears.

***

The great map painted on the council-chamber wall shows oceans, forests; the crumpled line of mountains running down the centre of the continent, white with snow at their peaks; cities picked out with jewels.

“You’re right,” you agree with Galadriel, who manages to look regal even with ink-stained fingers and papers stacked in front of her; she gives you a slightly wary smile. “We didn’t stay in Middle-earth to build lovely cities and then sit in them for another Age; if all we wanted was our own private paradise, we might as well have gone back to Valinor when we had the chance.”

You spread your hand on the table, your latest Ring shining on it. If your own smile has a certain bitterness to it – well. No-one comments.

Tell her –

No.

A quick exchange of imagery. Annatar is, by most measures of the term, a more talented politician than you are: you remain disinclined to take his advice. Nonetheless –

“We should send our own ambassadors to Númenor,” you say, glancing around the room for reactions. “I don’t doubt Gil-galad’s ability to represent our interests, but it’s time we reached beyond our borders and spoke to them ourselves. Even the Men of the West are forbidden Aman; it’s only a matter of time before they start to look here, instead.”

The policy is only an extension of Galadriel’s. But it’s you people look at, when they cast their hands in favour of the vote.

***

“You’re – different, these days, cousin,” Galadriel says, a little uncertainly, after the meeting.

“Am I?”

Her smile is wistful, as she reaches out to brush your hair back from your face, a tentative gesture; you can’t help but shy away.

She lets her hand fall.

“Well,” she says, looking rueful, “I’m glad you’re – more assertive, these days. I’ll – leave you to your work, in that case. I – let me know if you need anything, that’s all.”

You wonder, for a moment, if Annatar ever felt like this when he lied to you. But you know better than that, really. The thing you have no choice about, with Annatar, is knowing.

***

You’re in your study, sorting absently through a disorganised stack of notes, when he finds you, stroking a hand through your hair as he leans against your shoulder.

“Was there anything you wanted?” you say, coolly.

“You pretend at disinterest very badly, Tyelperinquar.”

“Consider the possibility that my life doesn’t revolve entirely around you,” you suggest. He presses fingertips into the base of your skull, and you tip your head back, closing your eyes; you feel his satisfaction without having to see his face.

You reach up to catch his hand.

“Although I do,” Annatar says, “accept that your devotion to making things as difficult for yourself as possible is sincere.” He shifts, pulling away. “If you’d just let me help you a little more, Tyelpe – “

Help,” you say, flatly. “I can hardly stand to look my cousin in the face as it is. Although if you meant lessons on abusing people’s trust, I could do without them, honestly.”

Frustration.

“Let’s not pretend,” Annatar says, his own tone colder, “that you disagree with me, Tyelperinquar. I notice you haven’t exactly rushed to denounce me to your fellow citizens.”

Really,” you snap, swinging round to face him. “What would you do if I did, Annatar? What choices are you giving me, here?”

“I’m sorry for being reluctant to indulge the inevitable hysterics – “

But it hangs between you: what would happen. There are people who – it’s not as if Annatar lacks for friends and admirers; there are enough of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain who might give him a hearing, at least, if you asked it of them. If you begged, perhaps, anyway. And then there are the people who never would, no matter what you said or did, as soon as Annatar admitted to the name Sauron.

If you thought Galadriel could kill him, you might –

You can’t turn against each other, though; or not without the other knowing. And you can’t – it’s not that you want

Annatar sighs, watching you. You can feel his unhappiness – at your own distress, at least, if nothing else.

“But isn’t this better, Tyelpe?” he says. “What else are you expecting from me?”

“Than what?” you say, bitterly. “If your standard for better involves not letting you and my cousin try to kill each other – I thought we might do more than that together, once.”

He kisses you. You reach up, knotting your fingers into his hair as he holds you, his hands coming up to cup your face; the bright gleam of the Ring you still wear glinting as you close your eyes, for a moment.

“We still can,” Annatar says, pulling back to look you in the face. “Listen – ”

Ambition, still, before you: Middle-earth, made fair as Valinor, more beautiful than it ever was, in that first dawn of creation. This world, which you love –

You close your eyes again, grieving, for the things you thought you had, together.

“Tyelpe – “

“I still want you,” you say. “Annatar. Sauron. It’s still – “

His fingers press against your skin, hard enough to be painful, and you both shudder.

“You’re still mine, Tyelperinquar,” he tells you, low and angry, and you kiss him again, tugging at his hair, and pull him down.